The new torc was heavy around his neck. The bulbs at the front ends pinched his neck if he turned the wrong way. He stuck a finger in the gap and adjusted the heavy gold and electrum ornament. He wanted to rip the blasted thing off and toss it to the ground.
“Easy, lad,” murmured Finn from his side. Lorcan glanced sideways at his bodyguard. The man looked markedly different in his new clothes. His previous garb apparently had been unbecoming of the Tanist’s man. Not that Lorcan officially had the title yet, not that he was sure he wanted it. Servants had shown up the day after the king’s dreadful news and provided new clothing for the old soldier. Now the garments were fine wool with ornamental decorations, and he had new trousers and boots. He’d politely but pointedly declined a new belt, griping under he breath about “new leather”.
Lorcan fingered the new torc again. I went with his new wardrobe. He didn’t really know what to do with silk, and preferred the fine wool and linen he’d grown accustomed to. It was warm, at least. The unseasonably warm weather had vanished, it seemed, with the news of Tadgh and Queen Neala’s death.
“Cease your fidgeting,” the king snapped under he breath from his place ahead and to Lorcan’s right. The prince complied. The ancient despot stood at the fore of their little group, which was composed of most of the inner circle of the King’s Council. The High Lord of War, Tobin mac Guinness, stood the king’s other shoulder. Both en were resplendent in the colors and ornamentation of their garb, but his grandfather’s appeared the more military.
The king stood with straight and unbowed by time and in complete defiance of pain. Whatever trace of compassion Lorcan had detected in his grandfather earlier seemed completely expunged now, several days after that horrid meeting. He thought about the intervening days, about council meetings, and men yelling at each other, arguing with and belittling each other. That the whole affair had not combusted into challenges seemed insane.
The whole of them stood assembled on the front steps of the old keep, looking out over the upper bailey and waiting… for his mother.
She was coming in from her castle to the capital to attend her eldest son’s funeral, and see his body. Lorcan had already seen what remained of his brother, and the memory burned in him. It had carved out a hole in his chest that felt empty still, days later. Lorcan was sure his brother had fought to his very end, the wounds were grievous. They would cover the body for the funeral.
Shouts of recognition and the clatter of iron shod hooves on paving stones echoed from the middle bailey. Around the corner, through the inner gatehouse, the procession arrived. Two knights led the way, servants of the house, of his mother, not kingsmen. He recognized their colors, remembered the men but dimly.
The Lady Aelwyd mag Guin ua Néill rode in a carriage. Lorcan’s heart sank. Where was her treasured white gelding, Scamall? She never rode a carriage in all of his life’s experience. Except now.
The carriage was pulled by four large horses, and seemed big enough to fit six passengers. When it stopped two of the knight escorts moved to flank the door while a servant in Ua Néill tartan opened the door and placed steps. The party waited several moments until a young maid descended, offering assistance tho a frail looking woman dressed in black, who descended with care, gripping the maid’s shoulder.
Lorcan felt the punch to his stomach when he realized the woman was his mother. He remembered a tall woman, fit and handsome, with flowing locks of auburn hair and a smile that was equal measures joy and mischievous humor. After his father’s death that had dimmed for a time, but she had regained her good spirits, even if they were different.
But it had been almost four years since he’d seen her last. The Irish Sea was not the best of waters to travel in winter, and she had chosen of late to remain at Castle Mann, where she ruled in regency for Tadgh. The terrible news must have wrought this.
He tensed to move, to go forward, but stopped himself. It was entirely proper that he, as tanist, stand here and await the supplicant’s approach to the throne. Power never went, so said the king. The words and lessons cascaded in his mind, from his mentor to his grandfather. In a moment he discarded them all and broke rank. He evaded a grasping hand and strode to meet his mother.
“Boy!” The word snapped like a whip into his shoulders, and he flinched, but he didn’t slow. His pace quickened as he approached. The two knights flanking Lady Aelwyd at first put hands to sword hilts, but lowered them at the sharp command of the maid holding his mother’s elbow and hand.
Lorcan stopped a half pace away from crashing into his mother. He wanted to crush her into his embrace, but she looked frail enough that he suddenly feared shattering the woman. She was so much smaller than he remembered.
She met his eyes through the back lace of her veil. His soul shivered. Her gaze seemed hollow, as if her soul were an empty cavern with no light left in it.
Her lips trembled, and he barely made out the words “my son.” He stepped forward and embraced her. She fell into him and returned the embrace. He wasn’t sure who started crying first.