Closing the Cottage

      In the late afternoon light, the Priest of Priests and his cousin ride from Amber. Early summer has placed a banner of bright green leaves over their heads; this is all the fanfare they recieve, and all that is wanted.
      They ride at a steady pace; neither has a desire to hurry. Both are relieved to see Amber behind them for a time. It is a place of explosive personalities and fierce tempers. It hurts both of them to see how family loyalty is treated in that bastion of supposed order. Both of them, upon induction in the Royal Family, wondered if this is truly how it should be. Are these, then, the giants who cast forth all the reflections in the Universe? the Priest of Priests wrote in his journal that first night. Both of them have been deeply disappointed by their royal parent. These are their bonds, though they've never spoken of them.
      There is one other bond that lies between them, and that is love-- not mutual love, for they don't know each other very well, and neither of them is reckless, but they hold certain people in common in their hearts. That bond is what draws them forth on their journey today. They are journeying forth to close the cottage of the Priest's venerable and reknowned grandmother, Griselda of the Order of St. Rilga.
      Griselda was a great woman, practical and kind, learned and wise. And recently she died-- a horrible death, a murder, they say, struck down by an enemy of Amber unexpectedly. Her absence has torn a great hole in the fabric of many lives. It will not be soon forgot.
      That is why they travel-- for Eve loved Griselda too, and Raphael wants her company. Why? He thinks he knows why, but he is still uncertain. He wants a chance to study this woman he has seen in visions, who has enthralled his father.
      Yes-- it might be as simple as that.

      They spend two days on the road, companionable and comfortable. They talk of family and religion. They talk of his visions, and how he had no faith in them. But as they get closer to the cottage, Raphael becomes quiet.
      They break through the trees at midmorning. Timon greets them cheerily; it is with a heart that hears no music that Raphael tells him that Griselda has gone to the other side of life and death. Timon breaks into tears, gusting great sobs like summer storm. Raphael leads the old servant off to his room, to grieve in private.
      When he comes back, Eve is standing in the middle of the great kitchen, looking out at the river, and the sunlight that seems green because of the great trees all around. For a moment, he feels Griselda's presence all around him. He closes his eyes, to hold onto the moment. When he opens them, Eve looks curiously at him, and asks if he's all right.
      He is. He's sure of that.
      They spend the day sorting through all the personal effects that someone can gather in a life-time; spoons and dishes and linens that he decides to leave for the next shrine keeper-- books that he decides to keep-- staves that he will send to his father and to certain favorite students of his grandmother.
      Her legacy is more than the things they are sorting through. There is no question of that. But he still feels this whole ritual devalues her life to being just about things. He works quickly that first day, a gnawing depression keeping him silent.
      But the second day, after a night in his old room, surrounded by the stacks of books he will send to Glendon, Raphael can feel her again. The morning light is rich with her presence; the air seems perfumed by her perfume. If he strains, he can hear her voice.
      He goes downstairs, and finds Eve sorting through a box of jewelry. He's told her that she can have any of it she wants. She's holding a golden St. Rilga medal, examining the front of it carefully.
      "What is it?" she asks.
      He tells her-- explains that it's for guidance, especially in the dark, when you've lost your way. Sailors wear them on cloudy nights. She seems intrigued, and of all the collected wealth of Griselda's two hundred years, Eve chooses only this medal.
      There is a part of Raphael now that knows that the St. Rilga medal is an important source of church income. That part is the Priest of Priests, who must concern himself with the wealth of the church more than the welfare of souls. He has spent the last few weeks learning to hate his new position for just this sort of reason. He thinks back to days when he never worried about the wealth of the church-- it wasn't very long ago. This always seemed the provenance of his large, gruff father, who carries the weight of an entire order on his back. And now, the weight of all of those orders, his father's included, rest on Raphael's shoulders. He calculates the cost of putting out a new St. Rilga medal, with a portrait of Griselda on the other side. But today he hates this mercenary thought less than he did previously, for he has caught sight of Griselda's picture of the Hospital at Fazriar. Griselda once shamelessly manipulated the Prince of Fazriar into endowing that hospital, because it was needed, and the Prince had the money.
      Raphael is very young still, and he knows this. He knows that the Kingdom of Amber put him on the seat of the Priest of Priests because they think that he is young and tractable, and at the very least, does not want war with Amber. But there is still a mystery surrounding his accension. He has to wonder if it is not the magic of some of his cousins that caused the Unicorn to appear and choose him, but he did not think so; he felt it was truly She who came to him. Which seemed to him even more improbable than his cousins manipulating the unseen forces of the universe.
      Raphael sits down to drink a cup of tea, mulling over the past and the future. In the still waters of his teacup, he has a brief vision of Eve, crouched on the ground, looking up through a haze of blood, with her sword out and blazing, crying out in pain and anger; this disturbs him so much that he shakes the cup violently, and spills scalding tea over his hand.
      Eve looks up from the medal which she is still examining, the box of other jewels still open on her lap. The pain melts away, and he realizes that whatever impulse made Eve chose the plain medal from the shining box is probably the same impulse that made the Unicorn choose him from the multitude of other churchmen.
      The moment passes, and his hand starts to throb. Eve comes over and pours cool water over the burn. In spite of the pain, though, Raphael realizes he's content, even happy in this moment. With the spirit of Griselda close, and the joyful memories of this kitchen-- well, perhaps that is enough. He closes his eyes to savor that happiness. He knows it may never come again.