The palanquin-bearers entered the Maiden Palace by the Southern Gate, as was their duty, mandated by custom, and tradition.
“Keep your balance,” said Aedward to his grandson, as they walked down the Path of Lilies.
“I’ve carried a palanquin before, grandfather,” said Hereward.
“Yes, but not a Great Palanquin,” declared Aedward. “This is one of the defining moments of your life, Hereward, where you will render Queen Yolande the greatest service you are capable of. Only four times does a Queen Regnant of Tintagel use a Great Palanquin--on the day of her blessing, when she is a young Princess, on the day of her coronation, when she becomes Queen, on the day of her wedding, when she leaves the Maiden Palace for the Crimson Palace, and on the day of her funeral, when she leaves the Crimson Palace for the Great Tomb.” A smile touched the old man’s face. “I have carried the Queen on two of these, and I will carry her on this, the third. But unless the Seven are very kind to me or very cruel to her, I will not carry her on the fourth.” He looked at Hereward. “That will be your duty. And your burden.” Hereward nodded.
Aedward’s face tightened. “And it is a great one. Never let anyone tell you otherwise. Never let yourself be drawn from the path of loyal service to the crown. The Holly Throne is great. Those who reflect its glory share a small portion of that greatness.”
Hereward nodded again. He knew his grandfather was speaking--obliquely--of Hereward’s father, Aemund, who’d embezzled funds, and been cast from the service, and died a ruined drunk. It was, perhaps, a bit heavy-handed--but then Aemund had nearly ruined their family. It was a great honor that Hereward had actually been allowed to gain this post--and a sign of how loyally his grandfather has served the Holly Throne. He would not fail him. He would prove an honor to his family, and a pillar to the Throne.
The palanquin reached the Great Rosewood Gate, where the Queen stood, flanked by sixteen ladies in waiting, eight on each side. These were the daughters of the great Ministers of the Right and Left, the twin courts that kept Tintagel functioning. As Yolande walked towards the palanquin, they cast rose petals before, to make sure that the Queen’s feet never touched common clay.
The palanquin-bearers knelt before the queen. “My lady,” said Aedward. “It is a pleasure to be at your service.” He positioned himself before the palanquin‘s door.
Yolande raised a hand, her violet eyes regarding Aedward gently. “Rise, old man. I will not burden your aged back with my weight.”
Aedward looked up at her, nervously. “My lady--it--it is no burden, I…”
“I will do it!” said Hereward, rushing from his place to kneel before the palanquin’s door. “Use me instead!” He gulped. “My… your… Majesty.”
Yolande smiled at the young man. “Why thank you, young sir.” She stepped on Hereward’s back, and then entered the palanquin. The bearers stood up, Aedward smiling at his grandson.
“Well done, lad,” he noted quietly, as they prepared to lift up the palanquin. “Now--onto the docks. The Prince awaits.”
Hereward glanced back at the Queen, as always the image of perfection, not a pale blonde hair out of place. Queen Yolande was the Life and Soul of Tintagel, Living Symbol of the last bastion of the Holy Empire. And on this amazing day, she would marry Amfortas Pescheor, Prince-Regent of Leonais, tying the two true heirs to that Imperial authority together. It was the start of a new era, of prosperity, of glory, of the victory of Light over Darkness.
Hereward smiled. Today was a good day.