Marlae rubbed furiously at her eyes with the back of her hand. The unshed tears on her lower lashes had begun to crystallize, burning her skin with their cold. For the first time, she was thankful that the nature of the event precluded wearing armor, as her leather gauntlets undoubtedly would have proven less-than-effective for the purpose of blotting tears. Then again, had she been wearing her armor, she might not have cried half so much.
”...though enemies mounted on either side,” Patriarch Hubaere droned. “Our Baron Teried, first of his name, sixth Baron of Roesone, never lost sight of his friends and his allies, drawing them close, sharing the light and the law of Haelyn with…”
“He looks good, doesn’t he?” Daenal whispered. Marlae considered punching him in the mouth, thought better of it, and pinched his side hard enough to leave a bruise instead. “Ow-OW-” Daenal bit down on his yelp and finished, “-ouch. Damnit, Marlae!”
“Don’t speak that way about the dead,” she hissed back.
Her younger brother just glowered and returned his attention to the stone bier at the front of Proudglaive’s Temple of the Impregnable Heart. Teried Roesone had been laid out in state, wearing a carefully crafted replica of the Arms of Roesone, the lacquered black armor dramatically offsetting the Baron’s cold white skin and wild black hair. In truth, the priests of the Impregnable Heart had done their job well. Looking at the Baron’s peaceful face, an onlooker might never suspect that he had been found frozen to death in his own bedchamber on the Eve of the Dead, his face contorted into a wild rictus of terror. They might have gone a bit heavy on the rouge, though, Marlae thought, and then was horrified at her own irreverence.
The ceremony ground itself to a halt and the onlookers thronged silently from the temple, first the commoners, then the minor landed nobles and knights, and then at last those counts and courtiers who had no inclination to pay last respects to their deceased Baron.
Marlae stood at her father’s side, holding Daenal’s hand, her ordinarily irrepressible brother subdued as he looked down at the once-imposing Baron. Teried Roesone had never been a wildly popular ruler, as evidenced by the scant handful of nobles who had gathered around his bier in this final hour. Even to his children, he had grown distant, detached, indecisive after the death of his beloved wife Misoele.
”...dead of exposure…in his own room, in his own bed,” the Baron’s brother Raederic whispered in a broken voice. His wife, Marsiye, burst into a renewed fit of weeping. The epithet, “Daen’s curse,” drifted from a knot of commoners still huddled in the pews. Marlae turned to glare at them furiously, but the shopkeepers studiously avoided meeting her gaze.
“Speaking of Daen’s curse,” Daenal murmured, “where’s Vilnik?”
“He was held up at the Abbey,” Marlae murmured back, at the same time that Gaered Biersen, from Daenal’s other side, added dryly, “Off shirking his duties as son and heir, that’s all.”
No sooner had the seditious words left the seneschal’s lips than the double-doors of the temple lurched open, blown by the stiff winter wind, and Vilnik, first of his name, seventh Baron of Roesone, stood framed by the darkening sky, staring down the length of the nave toward his father’s corpse.