The Queen, Funeral
“Damn dude’s got words…”
Such grandstanding, the Queen thought, looking down below. Choirs have sung of your greatest battles. Orators recited your most famous speeches. Your family from afar has reminded us of how good you were. I am the one who forgot the man I loved ages ago. If only that man had died instead of the drunk bastard. Thereby, they will remember me as the faithful wife.
They had dressed the Queen in a purple dress covering her whole body, gloves, and a veil over her face. All an attempt to hide her cadaverous appearance. The poison that took her husband is slowly killing her. It is a well-guarded secret only known by the late king's most trusted companions. Everyone else thinks she's wearing the color of mourning.
Talking became tiresome, and her hands lost the strength to write days ago. Living depends on servants and a wheelchair. Spending all the time in her mind, she hopes her turn comes soon too. Sitting high on the balcony, between all the advisors and family members, the Queen can only look at the golden coffin. A short, portly man with a thinning ring of hair around his head turns to her; she didn’t know he did. He is weary and tired but still smiles, one that is amiable, withal mournful. He is Jouhn, and he managed the late king’s finances.
“Milady, I must say something. Do forgive me if I misspeak about our recently deceased king. I believe it’s a portent of our changing times. His passing will ignite a new flame in us all. To carry on his vision. If you could nod, I know you’d agree, my Queen,” Jouhn said.
If I had the strength, I’d slap him. What vision? That man was king for years and only went far as conquering three kingdoms. He had ambitions, but his vices took most of them up. Oh yes, he became spoiled by his kingly life. I wonder which was bigger? The seams of his pants or the advisors he hired to do his work? I’ll never know, just as we didn’t know the foreign wine was poisonous, and neither did the merchant who bestowed it upon him. Indeed, he enjoyed his privileges to the end. He never declined a bottle as he did… Ah…
Tired of hearing her thoughts, the Queen’s attention goes to the preacher, who wears an extravagant robe. She can’t make out the details from high up. She knows it’s new, made for this occasion. I wonder, how much did that robe cost? Perhaps more than what half the citizens earn to eat. Stop talking me.
“No, keep talking. It keeps me entertained in this drool funeral,” a disembodied voice said.
What? Who is there? If only I could call the guards!
Materializing from nowhere is an ebony hair woman. The Queen didn’t realize the woman had appeared before her; like the stranger’s existence didn’t actualize immediately. The Queen notice’s the clothes. What strange raiments you wear, a strange pattern swirling with colors. I cannot tell if it is your skin or not. Are you perhaps a spirit?
“You are funny, mortal. First, you berate your husband's funeral. Now you confuse me with a lowly spirit!”
You are not a spirit? What are you?
“Ha! A spirit wishes it could attain something as magnificent as me. I am Shi. The one you mortals call the Mistress of Death,” Shi said.
It cannot be! The Mistress of Death is not such a beautiful woman. She is a skeleton that carries a lantern in her right hand.
“I did that centuries ago to spook you all.”
Slowly, did the Queen accept the Mistress of Death, wife of Yom God of Death, King of the dreaded Underworld. She fetches the souls of the deceased for her husband. The Queen gazes into ancient eyes. She tried to fathom the centuries, the millennia those sapphire eyes of Shi had seen. It was all too much for her. The feeble woman’s mind cannot encapsulate the unimaginable by her mortal mind. But, she came to understand one thing. I-If the Mistress of Death is before me…
“Worry not; my husband has not foreseen your fate. I will have to ask him if you are to overcome this. After all, only he knows the inner workings of fate. I only guide the dead,” she says.
I am, not to die? I once feared dying. I am only numb to the thought of it. What I am now is worse. I welcome it. Please, Mistress, take me with you.
“I can only take those my husband has told me to take. He’s picky about it. When I do, he chides me about the delicate balance of something. I forgot. He often tells me I am too kind. Now, back to your unbridled emotions. Pray tell mortal Queen; why do you hate this funeral?” Shi asks.
It must be because you are before me, for I have told no one my true feelings. Very well, I shall tell you, Mistress.
He swept me from my home with promises of a kingdom I dreamt of as a girl. When I got here, he made good on his promises. For that day, oh, that wonderful day, I shall never forget it. How exotic it all was. Jesters performed tricks I've never seen, to strange animals being on display. I witnessed the most thrilling sword fights I've ever seen. I held my breath through them all. The food, everything paled in taste afterwards. When I am truly despondent, I remember the slice of cake. Not a big slice, just the right size—it makes me smile. Oh, the unforgettable music. Wondrous melodies, the songs, the performance—calms my nerves when frazzled. The dream continued when he took me to the bedroom, and we made such passionate love. The next day I woke up happy. The bliss was over. He wasn't in bed.
I found him fucking a maid in the kitchen. I was furious and hurt, and I ran off. I told the servants to pack my belongings. Hurriedly, I had a scribe write a letter to my father; for him to send a ship for me. He spoke sweet words to me. He made me believe he wouldn't do it. How foolish I was, a girl in the jaws of a rat—the dirtiest of one. Oh, Mistress, I was a girl in love. Do remember it; as this sorrowful tale continues. Where was I? That's right. The next day later, he was found drunk in bed with his friend's wife. I did it again, and he spoke those words. Soon, it became common to see me running off in tears to pack, how they ridiculed me for it. I didn't care. I loved that man back then, like a maiden in a romance tale. The great mountains would've gotten moved by me if he told me to do it. Alas, the dreamlike day became the reason for me to fight for him. The finest form of tragedy and comedy, is it not Mistress? Your face, It seems my tale interests you greatly more than before, I shall go on. As I told you, they ridiculed me, never to my face. Their whispers, I listened to them for a year. Eventually, a maid was with the child. I snapped...
She stops speaking, and Shi tilts her head in curiosity. The Queen felt the smoothest skin caress her face. The hand is warm for a Death God. The Goddess rubs her gaunt cheek like a child—of course, everyone is a child to her. The sensation is like getting embraced by her mother. It’s the first time in years she ever cried, ever felt at peace. She wants to remain like this forever, but the Goddess speaks.
“Why do you cry mortal, Queen, hm? These are not tears for your husband, nor for anyone else here. Tell me.”
After discovering he had fathered a child, I became mute. Oh, the gifts he tried to give me. All of his extravagant parties, the exotic animals, and people from far-off lands; he gave it all to me. If only that foolish girl was alive to receive those pitiful gifts, I would’ve raised the child myself. No, I hated him. Mistress. You must understand my hatred, being who you are. Their whispers became an open mockery, his lies—the rat was still expanding his brood. I wanted the bastard to suffer. S-S-So, I did a horrendous thing. I ordered the execution of the maid he impregnated the first time, her baby too. I had the others he impregnated, their children kicked out of the castle, and forced them to work in brothels. He wept and begged me to stop, but I didn’t relent. She died by the rope. The child smothered. The others... Many of them didn’t survive long in the harsh streets. The mockery became silent...
Shi caresses the Queen’s cheek while she recounts her past. The dying woman almost believes the strange action is out of pity, until remembering who is doing it. Staring into the eyes of the Goddess is like the final judgment. She couldn’t hide her emotions. Shi kisses her forehead and disappears. Jouhn and her son stood before her. Were they there the whole time? She thought about their worried expression. There are servants and guards waiting. When Jouhn moved out the way, she saw for a brief moment the preacher looking up to them and two other beings. Is that my husband and Shi? He is waving goodbye… Why? Did he not hate me? Servants block her view. Her son speaks up.
“Mother, they’re here to return you to your room. Attending father’s funeral is too much in your weakened state.”
Jouhn ushers the servants this way. They are all dressed in what her husband deemed appropriate for his funeral. Such ridiculous gowns these servants wear look too small. You had them dress the guards like they’re some toy soldiers. Truly, your ego—Ah, stop it. He has gone to the Underworld. What can this hatred do for me now?
The servants have just left the Queen, giving her water. She is at peace, strangely. Earlier, she had her head turned and saw night had fallen. Time has no passage when one is a vegetable, the Queen learned. Alone, her thoughts drift back to the Mistress and husband, even the maids. She told the Mistress of Death secrets she had kept to herself for years. I’ve told you what no one else knows. The King’s new found fidelity became a hallmark of his reign. He played that part. Oh, they would praise our performance and dedication. If they only knew the truth, if only I knew the truth. After giving birth to our son, I didn’t see him. I saw the baby who was sentenced to death. The price was far too great... The tears, the snot oozing out of her nose. She pleaded to spare her child, a true mother. Alas, I wasn’t me. I was something else... Oh yes, the others too. They pleaded at my feet for mercy. I often wonder about the face I showed them all. I asked no one, not after all these years; the actor doesn’t break character in front of the audience. Our son turns thirty-three in the coming months. That is how long I’ve carried the guilt. Every so often, the maid appears while dreaming. Pleading… No, she was begging to spare her child. ‘Please, he’s innocent. Just a baby, spare him.’ When waking up from that dream, my son is the first thought on my mind. As he grew up, I thought of that child and how he would be right now. Are you listening Mistress?
She appears before the Queen like she is coming into existence. In the dark, her skin glows with an aurora never seen before—it’s silvery, like the light of the moon is radiating from her. More so than earlier, Shi is exceedingly beautiful; to a mortal like the Queen, she looks like a natural force of the universe. The Queen wanted to gasp in awe, but her body couldn’t do it. No matter how much she wants to express her reverence, her frail condition denies her.
“You have a sharp mind, Mortal Queen. Though, I am curious. That balding mortal, he seemed to speak as if you loved your husband.”
Oh, yes, that. After I had done what I did, my husband replaced the entire castle staff, including the royal advisors. He sent them around the world. Gossip has it he murdered anyone who dared speak of my actions. After which, he impregnated me, and we became the perfect royal family. After our firstborn, my husband never touched me again. I like to think, much as I traduced him, the man must’ve cared for me in his own way. He could’ve just sent me back home, found another wife, and gone back to his ways. Yet, we stayed married for so long. I cannot comprehend why not even now.
“I know your story now. Tell me, who was your departed husband?” the Goddess says.
He was the famed New World King; his conquering of these lands and savages are stuff of legends. He promised equality for all and the Powers of the Queen, that was how I did what I did. He was a great man, ages ago. Our romance remains the topic for poets, griots, and bards.
Tell me, Mistress, did my husband speak of me? They say the dead tell you their last words in a dream by you for whoever needs to know them. I am prepared to hear it, no matter how unsavory they may be. Perhaps it will be what I need to assuage the hatred of mine.
“The departed don’t speak. They are merely souls.”
They don’t speak? I shall never know my husband’s last thoughts before his death...
The Mistress is about to speak, when a voice spoke to her, only she could hear his soft-spoken words. People are on the verge of dying and she must guide them toward the underworld for eternity, and he beacons her at his side. Shi holds a solemn face, but the Queen cannot comprehend the expression of the Goddess, her mortal mind cannot fathom Gods bound by emotions. Even earlier, Shi expressed sadness when she told the Queen the truth. Even now, she is sad once more. A sadness only Shi knows for what she must do. I am too kind.
The Queen never thought how it would feel to die, when the Mistress of Death touched her. She cannot remember the sensation being strange and fast. She cannot speak, neither hear, nor feel. The regret and anger she carried for decades, the love of her son. All the worldly things she knows are gone. She cannot recall ever being alive. Shi points behind her, and the Queen turns to her son—Lucius II, crumbled onto the floor, Jouhn saying something to him. The Queen waves goodbye to them. Shi then took the Queen by the hand and they vanished.
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