Chapter One- The Funeral- Part 3
But the prince was overwhelmingly handsome, charming in speech, and strong in will, and none of the women who joined his court could resist him. Mikel had shielded her, his importance as a blacksmith affording him a few privileges. But now she was exposed, husbandless. Their ruler could take her as an act of charity, sparing her destruction.
Some of the wives came forward to offer their condolences and admire her fine mourning clothes. Mikel would have loved this dress. It contrasts perfectly with my pale skin and pink lips. Her neighbor Madelin approached her with hugs and kisses, wishing her good fortune in seeking her next mate. Adel, already a veteran of six marriages, tried to introduce her to a potential suitor, one of her distant relatives. How can they be so cold? My dearest friend and husband is suddenly gone, and they choose this moment, his memorial, to begin the matchmaking.
Mikel was Erin’s first husband. Will I ever bond with another mate only to lose him as well? He carried my heart away with him that night. I have nothing left for another. In a culture where arranged marriages and third and fourth husbands were the norm, it seemed love was a luxury few women enjoyed. But for Erin, life would forever be divided into two parts: life with Mikel and life without him. Her loss was a fortress surrounding her, separating her from the kindness of others. She refused to be comforted, preferring instead to remain captive in sorrow.
After crone singers opened with a solemn song, the mayor began the memorial, saying many fine things about her husband. He praised their blacksmith’s every accomplishment, from the shoeing of the prince’s famous steeds to the construction of the elegant village clock. After he was finished, the prince’s representative delivered a stirring eulogy praising the marvelous weapons Mikel had forged. Erin’s step-father and sister sat dabbing their eyes and sniffing. Her mother’s striking features were dry, her pale green eyes narrowed slightly as her gaze fell on her eldest daughter. Erin sat next to but far apart from them, trying not to get caught up in their grief, having too much of it herself to take on more.
Next was Old Tong, who shared his memories of training Mikel as his apprentice. Old Tong had been a precise craftsman in his day, concerned with every detail, from heating the forge to shaping a nail. This eye for detail stamped into young Mikel as well, as the elder blacksmith spent many hours insisting that they adopt standards of excellence. “Hot forge, cool head, steady hand, stout heart,” he’d always said. Mikel was the finest student he had ever trained.
Erin listened to her husband’s teacher, brimming with pride. But her face and body betrayed no emotion at all. She knew if she allowed any feelings to show she would lose all control. It was hard enough to keep the knives quiet in her heart without allowing tears to seep through. She had not cried since she was a young girl. Crying made her eyes look puffy. She kept her eyes on her lace gloves. They seemed to need constant adjustment.
After all the words were shared, songs sung, tears wept, and family members hugged, the crones took the children home to bed while the rest headed over to the pub. After assuring her sister that she would soon join them, Erin allowed herself to relax in the empty room. As difficult as it was to attend her husband’s memorial, somehow some of the crushing weight was gone.