A lone man stood at the edge of the dense tree line and stared down at the gleaming city beneath him. Even the magnificent sight could not lessen the gravity of his expression. There was no salve for this fresh wound he bore, yet he stood unbowed beneath the weight of his burdens. A sword lay lengthwise at his feet, as if placed there by reverent hands. For a moment the man towering above it glanced down at the brilliant blade. The light from the heavens above reflected back at him from its face. Already the intricate markings were fading from the sword, echoing the waning of the world he occupied.
He could not follow her. His oath kept him tethered to this strange realm, a vow that now lay heavily upon him in her absence. He would keep his silence as he was bid. Perhaps silence was the more merciful sentence for his tongue, for how was he to explain, what words of his could bring solace to a grieving husband, a devastated daughter?
He was surprised by the grunt of amusement that momentarily shook him. Not surprised by the cause, but by the depths of his own arrogance. As if she needed him to tell her. As if she didn’t already know her mother was gone and would never again return to this forsaken place. He did not think he could bear to meet her eyes and see the truth written there. The last Daughter of Avignon would bear her burden alone. Her sentence was passed long before he was called out of the darkness of sleep to awaken here in her service. The gods do not suffer defiance, even by one of their own favored daughters, or perhaps especially by one of their own favored daughters. He wondered if she knew what awaited her, or was the childlike innocence she seemed to regard the world with unfeigned? Was the loss of her innocence the price of her refusal? He didn’t waste time on further useless speculation. For how could he probe the unfathomable motivations of those he served?
Besides, he had another duty to attend to. One he couldn’t avoid. Maybe he too already knew the news that would greet him when he woke this cursed day. A giant of a man, a near silent king. If he was ever bothered by the fact it was his wife who held the people’s hearts and fates in her gentle hands, he never indicated as much by either word or demeanor. Now the burden would fall to the king, a near impossible circumstance for his subjects to accept. The kingship was a ceremonial title only. The royal blood flowed through the Queens of Avignon, untarnished, mother to daughter, but Princess Marin was too young to ascend the throne. The people would be crushed. The princess desolate. For a little while only could the king hope to shield his daughter from her destiny. The people would look to the princess, regardless of the king’s intent to protect her from their expectations. So heavy a burden to rest upon such slight shoulders.
The silent man vowed he too would stand in front of her to offer his life in exchange for hers, but commendable as it might appear, he understood his sacrifice would be a hollow one. A man standing on the beach when a tidal wave strikes is at the mercy of forces far beyond his meager strength. So too would his defense of the king’s daughter prove. A mere man does not challenge the will of the gods and remain unscathed. Nor apparently does a beloved daughter.
A last look at the city that bore her name and then the man standing alone in the trees bent down and retrieved the sword at his feet. It must have been a final blessing she bestowed upon him that allowed him to lift the blade from its resting place. It was written no man could wield the sword while a Daughter of Avignon lived. For a moment stark terror gripped him at the thought. Then he looked at the sky. The stars still shone. She lived. His heart slowed its frantic pace. When the last Daughter of Avignon was no more, the stars would fail and so would the ancient world his feet rested upon…