“What do you mean you will become Pluto?” Sanctus asked in confusion. I despised this aspect of being a co-leader. Mater was to be Proserpina. I was to be Pluto. It was the positions we held within Caeruleum. Hades and Persephone – the givers, the protectors. Pluto and Proserpina – the takers, the grievers. There were days when it extended from the conference table and the running of the people. There were days when we both had to face down a hole in the ground and say goodbye to one of our own.
Sanctus eased a hand on my arm as I fidgeted with the sleeves with impatience. “May I?” he asked as he reached for the hem. I nodded, trying to keep my emotions in check. He helped me pull on the deep-sleeved indigo robe and settle it across my shoulders. I waited as he helped tie the large red belt around me, cinching in the robe. My black Hades robe was folded and put away, hopefully to be brought out on a better day.
“Why are you dressing like this?”
“Co-leaders act as the two halves. I represent Hades and Pluto. Maria Mater is Caeruleum’s Persephone and Prosperina. We use these robes for the good and bad events that affect the community. Gemma and Mercurius both executed their co-leaders five or six years ago, if I remember, so you probably never saw her conduct the ceremonies with a Hades or Pluto before.” I wrapped the calves of my pants tight to my leg and shoved my feet into a pair of boots that I reserved for these occasions. Waterproofed and to the knee, they’d keep mud at bay.
“Gemma killed a man in front of me when I first was taken into her halls. My first introduction of what she threatened she’d do to me if I didn’t do what she wanted. She would call me her captive Hades as a pet name. Was the man she killed her co-leader?” he asked, sitting on the bed to give me room to pace and put myself together.
I turned to him at that admittance. “That’s horrible. Probably.”
“Then, my sister is probably Mercurius’s Proserpina?” he continued on his line of thought.
“What would that leave your brother?” I asked.
“If he has been named Liber, there will be no known ends to cruel irony.” Liber, the god of liberty to the Plebes, brother to Proserpina.
“You going to be okay, Lunam?”
“It’ll be what it is.” I deflected. I motioned him out of my room. He let me trudge without interruption. The mile walk from the base to the graveyard did nothing to clear my head. We were burying Mercator on The Feast of Hades. Medicus had taken me at my word and not performed an autopsy. He had instead spent the last several hours with Hyacinthus and Iocus, trying to seek some semblance of solace. I had gotten Mercator out of the box. Maria Mater helped me clean and wrap him. That sure as infernus had done nothing to assuage the hatred in my system.
We walked through the arch to be met by too many hollow eyes, too many tears, too many sallow faces. “Argenti took Solis and Astrum when you sent everyone out. I’ll go keep them company. Need anything?” Sanctus whispered in reverence for the location.
“Thank you, Sanctus. No. I’m…” I sagged, exhaustion and grief pushing aside my anger, “I’m going to go make my home in a hole for a while. I’ll see you above ground. Can we take the Accendium for a walk after? I’m going to need to clear my head.”
I took up my position with Mater, bowing formally to her. She took a small pot of blue crushed shell mixed with oil and mint. I knelt one knee to her feet.“We beseech you, Pluto, join with us.” She drew a line under my hood from my hairline to the tip of my nose. It was cold and would remain so for the rest of the day while we worked. I hated this. “Pluto, take unto yours ours for your keeping.” Rage burrowed into my bones, and sorrow swamped my senses. I stood, bowing once more before jumping into the hole. I stood at the head of the white shroud, six feet in the ground. Mater stood behind me on ground level to see to the initiation of the funeral. I despised the times that came when I had to say goodbye to my men. It was never something I was prepared to do.
Mater turned to the candle stands on either side of her. She touched a finger to the wick on each of the black candles, lighting the wicks to bring forth light in as the last rays of sunset blanketed the gravestones in gold rings. She turned from her candles to a small wooden bowl filled with water and herbs. She flicked the droplets over the shroud and myself as she spoke. “We commit you, dear friend, back to the earth, that you may continue with us through the flowers and the trees. We lay you to sleep, that you may find peace in this quiet wood. We bid you farewell at the door between spaces, that you may remember us on the other side. It is with a grieving heart that we commemorate your life with us.” Mater rang a bronze bell over his open grave. Medicus passed me the end of a sky blue and white scarf and walked to the other end of the grave above me. I waited until he dropped the weighted end down to drape over Mercator’s toes.
“You were a good friend and a beloved brother, Mercator. You served well and will be greatly missed. Find peace, and keep a spot open for me when you do.” I whispered to him as I laid the other end of the weighted fabric over his head. I swallowed, willing the tears to wait. I spotted Hyacinthus, fighting just as hard, as she came up to me and passed me a necklace of bronze and tin.
“Time will pass. I have collected your soul and have issued you to your final home. We will continue to speak of you and keep your memory alive here. You will be remembered as you were loved.” I knelt down in the clay and carefully laid out the elaborate amulet, resting the bright blue glass gem on his sternum and easing the filigree across his collarbones.
Iocus came forward after hugging his mother. He handed me a bouquet of wildflowers tied with the remainder of Mercator’s blue thread. I closed my eyes as I received the small gift in an effort to not look at the tears that spiked his eyelashes.
I laid the flowers on Mercator’s chest and ducked to touch his forehead with my own. “May your life live on in us, to come forth like blossoms in the spring. May you never be forgotten. May you show yourself in the wild pockets of our memories when your name is but a taste on our tongues. Be free.” While I was face to face with death, I took a moment to lay a hand on his shoulder, no longer bound to recitation. “I’m sorry old boy. I’m so sorry,” I whispered, tears dripping and brushed his shroud into shape one last time. I dragged myself away from the grave and accepted assistance from Cortex and Tempestatis in getting out of the hole. I nodded to Maria Mater as I knelt behind her, flattened my hands, and bowed my head to the ground. She motioned for the congregation to filter through the line and deposit handfuls of dirt on Mercator’s shroud. The whole of Caeruleum had turned out for the man.
I sought out a pair of cognac-coloured eyes, if only to ease my heart. He stood with Sam and Abby, waiting near the end of the line to deposit their lumps of dirt. He nodded reassuringly to me, and I was finally able to draw in a breath past the dam in my throat.
“I’ll buff,” Sanctus hissed, his teeth flashing in the firelight. A bonfire smouldered in the graveyard fire pit. Most of Caeruleum had left when Hyacinthus took Iocus home. Those that remained were close to Mercator. Medicus had passed out drunk on Mercator’s grave. I had thrown my Pluto robe over him to keep him warm.
“Sanctus?” Maria Mater asked. He rarely spoke clear Imperian, especially among as many people as were left around the fire pit.
“I’m a Providentia. I’ll buff.” He reiterated.
“For what, Sanctus?” Cortex’s voice was hollow, and tears hadn’t stopped from him since we had opened up the earth.
“To get rid of Mercurius.” His eyes were an unholy shade in the gleam of firelight.
“You okay to do that, Sanctus?” I asked.
“There was no reason for Mercator to be put in the ground today. They threatened Abby and Sam.” He was boiling.
“We’ll take all the help we can get.” Tempestatis tossed another stick into the fire.
“What of Medicus?” Mater asked, flicking a glance at the man.
I studied him. My heart sunk into my stomach at his state. I had put him there with my Repercussion and my hasty decisions. “He stays. He won’t function for a long time yet. Cortex, Tempestatis, you, Sanctus, and me. We go in. We go in quiet. I’m not sending another messenger. I won’t lose another man. I can only assume what he has done with our engineers.”
“We sneak in and do what? Murder him in his sleep?” Cortex muttered. He was coming out of it now that there was a plan being laid.
“No. I don’t plan on surprising him. I plan on knocking on his front door. He sent the message for me.”
“Snake.” Mater quoted the letter.
“The dice. The double slash on his neck, like when I go for someone’s throat.”
“You can’t blame yourself for Mercator’s death. You know that, right, Lunam?” Mater asked.
“There were other ways to take Solis and Astrum from Aurantiaco. I could have sent literally anyone else, and Mercator would be alive right now.”
“You don’t know that, Lunam.”
“No one dies if I didn’t kill that guy.”
“He was looking for an excuse. He was angry from the Heads Meeting too, or have you conveniently forgotten about that?” Mater hissed at me.
“Either way, he’s not going to be tolerated anymore.”
“We can agree on that.” Sanctus’s response startled us all.
Chapel Orahamm (C) 2022-2023. All Rights Reserved.
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