Stop, drop, and rock and roll!! -- Sixties anti-fire slogan

The Fire Ceremony
by John C Adams ©2020

As the noblemen of Murkar rode home from defeat against the Reliatrans, word reached Zwaarstad that Remi van Murkar had fallen in battle. The ravens that had flown south from the bloody scene carked out the news that the king's body was being carried home for burial.

As soon as she understood their meaning, the widowed queen, Anika, gathered the noble women around her in the great hall and asked for her son Jerome to be fetched. The lad arrived, already aware that he was now King of Murkar, surrounded by a bevy of guardsmen already becoming used to referring to themselves as the king's guard.

Anika held out her hand and her son grasped it warmly with a gratitude that buoyed her heart through her grief. She led him up the steps and over to the throne. The young man stroked the carved wood thoughtfully then he sat, settling himself against the smooth back and resting his large hands on the ornate arms. Anika nudged him.

"One day, your son will sit upon this throne. You will marry, father boys aplenty and prepare your own crown prince to be King of Murkar after you."

Jerome nodded. He was almost old enough to marry, and his mother could tell that he was undaunted by the prospect, even though it would mean uniting himself with a stranger who was a princess from a foreign land.

"I stand ready to serve my people, Mother. I wish to ride to the border and accompany Father's body home."

Anika's eyes filled with tears at the mention of her husband. How she was going to miss Remi! Then she remembered the Fire Ceremony and knew that the best way to honor him was to go with him in death.

"Your father always spoke of being cremated. I wish to go with him into the Great Beyond when the Gods claim his soul. Let me do this! Please agree to my participating in the Fire Ceremony!"

Jerome blanched at her request, but to her delight he granted it. The royal party gathered outside the inner keep of the ancient city, and Anika proudly rode at the head of the procession next to her son. Their departure was slightly delayed by Jerome's insistence that he kneel in prayer in the small Sept his mother kept for religious observance high in the castle tower. Word was sent ahead that the old king was to be burned to ashes on a pyre when they arrived.

Three days later, they reached the site of the battle against the Reliatrans. A ceasefire had been negotiated and, out of respect to a fallen foe, the King of Reliatra and his five sons had remained with the Murkan commander Prince Aart to witness the ceremony.

Anika dismounted and strode to the pyre. She clambered onto it and lay down next to her husband. The kindling was lit and, as the flames licked the logs, Anika prepared herself to journey into the unknown with her husband. Soon they would be greeted by the Gods and ushered into the Great Beyond.

Out of the billowing smoke, Helga, Goddess of Death emerged and stood before them, preening her beautiful, silky, waist-length hair. She bowed to the dead king.

"Welcome, Remi. Go! Find your kinsmen and women in the Great Beyond and be at rest! You fell honorably in battle, and your son is now King of Murkar."

However, when Anika tried to follow her husband she lost her hold on him. The smell of ash and woodsmoke, the crackling of flames, the heat of the burning on her skin seared into her.

Helga blocked her path, pressing her palm against Anika's chest.

"You will return to us at a great age, bent double with infirmity. By then your grandson will be king. You will be welcome here then. For now, your son needs you. Return to him and do your duty by helping him to learn to rule."

Anika tried to shove past, but Helga stood her ground.

"Three days ago, King Jerome knelt in prayer, and we Gods answered his summons. As a reigning king, he has the right to demand our appearance, and we answered his call. He asked something of us, and we granted his request. It was a reasonable one, after all."

Helga sounded irritable. Anika reached out, but the outline of the goddess was already drifting away in the swirling mists surrounding the old king. Remi was gone, and Anika was left alone to mourn him.

The burning intensified until the crackling deafened her. The stench of the smoke overwhelmed her, but there was no pain. Anika lay still as the fire burnt itself out. She felt nothing. When the pyre was reduced to ash, a terrible silence pervaded the battlefield.

Jerome stepped forward and held out his hand.

"Come, Mother," he said. "Murkar's new king needs you. I had faith when I asked the Gods to spare you. Now you must have faith in their wisdom and do as they ask."

Anika scrambled to her feet. She staggered through the great piles of smoldering ash to reach her son. Her hair was streaked with soot and the heat she had absorbed from the burning pyre radiated from her skin. She turned to the pale-faced Reliatrans and smiled. The expression in her glowing red eyes so unnerved them that they turned and fled in disarray, leaving the young Murkan king in possession of the territory his father had died trying to defend.

x x x

I used to do things that would burn my mom up, too. I'll never forget how she often got so mad at me she couldn't remember my name (Cosby wasn?t kidding). Loved her a LOT, though, so I tried to avoid making her that angry. Evidently John C Adams's -- AKA Jacqui Adams's -- protagonist in this tale loved his mom as much. And how much do you love this debut tale? Let us know on our BBS. - GM

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