Funerals Are for the Living
It wasn’t a long walk from the castle to the cathedral, but Gerard’s funeral procession felt long.
It was normal for rich people to pay pallbearers instead of having their family do it like normal people did, but Gavin and Gabrielle had decided they didn’t want to do that for their dad’s funeral. So Gavin, Gabrielle, Owen and Franz were carrying the casket, along with the head of Gerard’s bodyguard, Sir Pascal, and some nobleman named Bartimaeus, who was Gerard’s cousin.
The casket was made out of oak and it was heavy on Owen’s shoulder, but he knew it was heavier on Gavin and Gabrielle. The funeral was obviously a public event, so the streets were packed with people and even though the knights and city guard were keeping order, they still couldn’t exactly race to the First Church. That wasn’t how a funeral worked.
Owen just hoped Gavin was okay. He couldn’t exactly take his hand and ask right now. And he was standing so strong and proud in front of Owen, he was. But that was because he had to. And he’d have to keep it up all day, through the funeral and Gabrielle’s coronation after, and a short party after that, though a short party for royals meant it would take most of the night. He would keep it up, because he had to. And that wasn’t something Owen could help him carry.
Owen had heard people talk sometimes about being worried they’d drop the coffin during the funeral procession, but he didn’t think that was a real concern. He wished they could walk a little faster, not because he wanted it to be over but because it was one thing to carry a body to be buried, but another thing to make a spectacle of it. But Gerard had been the king and everything was a spectacle, so he figured he’d better just get used to it.
It was weird, a little, he thought. There were so many people out here and they all seemed so upset. Owen knew that people cared about the royal family, but he was trying to picture himself as a normal person living in Great Scar being sad for more than a minute or two upon hearing the king had died. It was hard, because he was sad, but he didn’t think if he didn’t know Gerard he’d be that upset. Maybe living in the capital was different, but it was odd to Owen to see so many people who definitely had never met or probably even seen Gerard up close crying at his funeral.
But it wasn’t his job to tell people how to feel. Death left holes behind it and it wasn’t always obvious where those were. Kings were symbols and symbols mattered. Owen and his family were sad about the person. There was nothing wrong with other people being sad about the symbol.
So it was a long walk. It was a chilly, overcast morning and the walk from the castle to the cathedral took over an hour. They were all silent as they walked, though the crowd wasn’t. Georgina was walking just behind them, with Gloria and Grey Rain and Greg, with some of Franz’s family just behind them.
They’d built a big wooden ramp over the cathedral steps so they didn’t have to climb stairs. The doors were open for them and they went inside. For Franz and Gabrielle’s wedding it had been full of colourful flowers and ribbon, but all that was gone now and it was even more austere than usual, a few black draperies hung on the walls to cover some of the normal decorations up. Who said a funeral couldn’t have decorations?
There was a plinth at the head of the church that wasn’t normally there, and they brought the coffin all the way up there, carefully turning, and setting it down with a thud. They all moved back and Owen was finally able to put his arm around Gavin while the High Presbyter stepped in with a few other priests, who said some quiet prayers before opening the coffin.
Nobody else would be allowed in the church until Gerard’s family was done saying goodbye. Georgina went up to the coffin and looked down, and they all gave her time. “He’d have hated this,” Gavin muttered, quiet.
“Yeah,” Owen agreed. “All this quiet, all the decorations taken down.”
“Yeah. He’d hate it.”
“I guess nobody would like their own funeral, though.”
Gavin nodded, eyes fixed on the coffin.
After a few minutes Georgina got Gavin and Gabrielle to join her, and Owen pulled the boys over to him.
Gavin came back, taking Owen’s hand. “Gabrielle wants a few minutes with Franz,” he said. Georgina was standing back too.
Owen nodded, and they let them have it. There was no reason not to let everyone have the time they wanted. After a few minutes, he and Gavin went over with the kids.
Gerard looked almost like he had when he’d been alive, even after a week. Owen didn’t know if they’d used magic or what to preserve him, but if his face weren’t so slack he could almost be sleeping, maybe. But he wasn’t. The kids were hanging back a little. It’s okay if you don’t want to look, Owen promised them.
They both nodded, but Grey Rain did come forward, looking down at Gerard’s body. There were tears in his eyes, and after a second he looked around, found the nearest Hand of God. I don’t know if you can see me, he said. But I hope you take really good care of him.
He can see you, Gavin promised.
Owen could feel Greg shaking, and he put his hand on Greg’s back. “You’re okay,” he promised.
“I know,” Greg whimpered. “I think it’s important to…see him. To know that it’s really real.”
“It’s also important not to hurt yourself doing it, okay?” Owen told him. “Funerals are supposed to help us feel better, not worse.”
Greg nodded. He took a step forward, and looked down into the coffin. “I’m really going to miss you, Grandpa. I love you.”
He hugged Grey Rain, whose tail was between his legs as he hugged Greg back. I love you, he signed one-handed. I hope you’re happy in the big sky castle. That was what he thought heaven was. Probably Owen’s fault for not explaining it well enough.
Owen patted both their backs as they went to go sit, and then he stood there with Gavin, who was trying to stand on his own, wavering like a tree in the wind. “I’m so mad at you,” he whispered to his dad. “I’m so scared and I’m so mad that you’d die and let me be this scared.” He shook his head when Owen tried to touch him. “I miss you and I wish I’d spent more time with you but…I know you were proud of me and I know you loved my family and I know you wanted me to be happy. And I will be, I just…wish you’d stayed longer to see it.”
Now he let Owen hug him, putting his face on Owen’s chestplate for a minute. “He’s not really mad,” Owen whispered. “You know what he’s like when something he didn’t expect happens. He’ll be okay. I’ll make sure he is. I promise. Your family is my family too, so…I’ll take care of them for you. Maybe not the way you would have, but I will, promise. And I’ll miss you while I do it.”
Gavin sniffed, wiping his face as he looked back at his father’s body. “Yeah,” he agreed. “What he said. I’m not really mad. I just miss you. I love you, Dad.”
They stayed beside the coffin a minute longer before stepping back to let Gloria talk to him, then Gerard’s cousin, then Sir Pascal. Georgina went up again for a few more minutes, crying audibly. The High Presbyter joined her after a while, and she seemed comforted by that. Owen led Gavin over to the rest of the family for more hugs. In a minute they had to go out and greet people and accept condolences as everyone came into the cathedral. But for now it was just their family, just quietly grieving in the part of the funeral that was only for them.
Gerard would have hated the decorations and the atmosphere, but not this part, Owen thought. Not his family all standing together and taking comfort from each other. He’d have liked that.