On the day after the summer solstice in the year 403 of the New Calendar, Kyrionik ward-Safroy defe-Safroy admir-Safroy hold-Safroy attended his own funeral.
As a noble family, the Safroys were expected to hold two ceremonies. One would be private, reserved for family, close political allies, those in the High Watch who thought it prudent to show respect to a member of a rival faction currently out of power, and however many of Kyrionik’s former friends his mother felt obligated to invite.
By tradition, it should have already happened. Somber guests would have worn their mourning whites. Servants wearing hoods of muslin gauze would offer each a cup of bitter tea, to represent grief, followed by drams of honeyed brandy, which represented happy memories of the loved one who had passed. After a few moments of silence, polite guests would talk about family, friends, newborn babes, aging parents—anything concerning the way people live their lives—to remind the grieving family that life goes on. Impolite people would try to talk business.
Kyrionik’s mother was a former member of the High Watch, the parsu of the Safroy family, and a rich, influential woman. She was always surrounded by impolite people.
The private ceremony was ordinarily held at home, usually in a garden or courtyard. For the Safroys, that meant everyone would be high enough on the slopes of Salash Hill that the family could mourn in direct sunlight, without the unpleasant tint of the light from Suloh’s bones. Perhaps they’d gather in the east hall, with its floors made from smooth white marble imported from Koh-Gilmiere. Or maybe on the southern deck, with its skywood and commanding view of the sea. Or the gardens, where Kyrionik and his brothers used to—
No. Those memories were from his old self. The one who lived among the wealthy, high-born Salashi. That man was long gone. Kyrionik had a new name now.
Now he was Kyrioc, child of No One, which marked him as lower than a commoner. He was an orphan. Unlike the high-born Kyrionik, poor Kyrioc had no family, no titles, and no inheritance.
But he did have an obligation.
The public funeral for hapless young Kyrionik was being held in High Square, at the southernmost end of the Upgarden deck, and Kyrioc, child of No One, stood in the long, long line of complete strangers waiting to pay their respects.
Kyrioc could not have attended the private ceremony without revealing himself. Without reclaiming his old name. The idea of reuniting with his family, of the joyful tears, the celebrations, the calls that he explain where he’d been and what had happened…
What he’d done…
And they would embrace him. His hands, responsible for so much death, would touch his mother’s small frame. They would feel her warmth and movement. Her breath. Her life.
Just the thought of it made him flinch and close down. He shut his eyes and stopped shuffling forward with the rest of the line. He could hear screaming, as fresh in his memory as if he’d heard them that morning. Then he remembered burning figures running through the jungle at night, then the darkness itself coming to life, and the sound of steel on flesh, and the smell of blood, and—
Kyrioc jumped, hand reaching for a weapon he no longer trusted himself to carry.
The woman who had spoken was a Free-Cities merchant. She’d dressed in an open green linen robe over cream-colored tunic and trousers. They complemented her bronze skin, setting her apart from the dark-brown faces all around her. Instead of a hat, she had pinned a small block of perfumed wax atop her rather ordinary bun. It had barely begun to melt into her hair, but the sharp, flowery smell was overbearing in the still air.
Her right eye was surrounded by a web of scars and was dark brown. Her left eye was hazel. If she could afford to replace her eye, she probably did not spend much time around people like him, but funerals bring together the high and the low.
She was gaping at him. He lowered his hand.
“You stopped walking,” the woman said with more kindness than he deserved. “Are you all right?”
“I’m sorry, good madam. Bad memories.”
“Ah. I thought you were grieving, and that perhaps you knew the deceased personally.”
Kyrioc wasn’t sure how to respond. “I would have been a stranger to him.”
The line was still shuffling forward without them. Kyrioc mumbled another apology and hurried to close the gap.
For the day, Kyrioc had worn simple black trousers with a black cotton tunic and vest. They were the funeral clothes of a poor man—a man with disfiguring scars and shaggy black hair hanging in his face—and they were supposed to let him blend in with the crowd.
High Square, where the Safroys awaited the long queue, was nearly two blocks away. Kyrioc could not let himself fall into a reverie again, not if he was going to hide himself in this long line of stitches.
He wished he could summon his cloak of mirrors, but that was impossible in the midday sun.
Kyrioc looked up and down the street, checking for Safroy guards. There were none this far from the square itself. Instead he saw city constables, private shop security, and the usual flash and bustle of the main street of the Upgarden deck.
Here at the southern end, with High Square and the terminus of The Freightway nearby—and with the gate to The Avenue just behind him—Upgarden was at its most luxurious. Not only were the streets themselves constructed from pale, beautiful skywood, so were many of the stores. This close to High Slope, the shops sold only the finest goods from around the Semprestian: silks from Carrig, spices from the Free Cities, furs from Katr nomads, jewels from Koh-Benjatso, Koh-Gilmiere, and Koh-Kaulma. If there was a piece of finery with the poor taste to have been made right there in Koh-Salash—or anywhere along the shores of the Timmer Sea—it was sold downcity, where the shops were made of ordinary wood and people walked about in the pale orange like of Suloh’s bones. Continue reading