A Sphinxian would have considered the raw, autumn wind no more than brisk, but it was cold for this far south on the planet of Manticore. It swept in off Jason Bay, snapping and popping at the half-masted flags above the dense, silent crowds which lined the procession's route from Capital Field into the center of the City of Landing. Aside from the wind noise, and the whip-crack pops of the flags, the only sounds were the slow, mournful tap, tap, tap of a single drum, the clatter of anachronistic hooves, and the rattle of equally anachronistic iron-rimmed wheels.
Captain Junior-Grade Rafael Cardones marched at the horses' heads, his spine, ramrod straight, and his eyes fixed straight ahead as he led them down the stopped-time stillness of King Roger I Boulevard between lines of personnel from every branch of the service, all with black armbands and reversed arms. The crowd watched in unnatural, frozen stillness, and the solitary drummer—a fourth-term midshipwoman from Saganami Island in full mess dress uniform—marched directly behind the black-draped caisson. The amplified sound of her drum echoed back from the speaker atop each flagpole, and every HD receiver in the Manticoran Binary System carried the images, and the sounds, and the silence which somehow seemed to surround and swallow them both.
A midshipman from the same form walked behind the drummer, leading a third horse—this one coal black, saddled, with two boots reversed in the stirrups—and more people followed him, but not a great many. A single, black-skinned woman in the uniform of a captain of the list and the white beret of a starship commander walked behind the horse, gloved hands holding the jeweled scabbard of the Harrington Sword rigidly upright before her. Her eyes were bright with unshed tears, the sword's gems flashed in the fragile sunlight, and eight admirals—Sir James Bowie Webster, CO Home Fleet, and all seven uniformed Lords of the Admiralty—were at her heels. That was all. It was a tiny procession compared to the pomp and majesty the stage managers of the People's Republic might have achieved, but it was enough, for those twelve people and those three horses were the only sight and sound and movement in a city of over eleven million human beings.
Hats and caps were removed throughout the crowds of mourners, sometimes awkwardly, with an almost embarrassed air, as the cortege passed, and Allen Summervale, Duke of Cromarty and Prime Minister of the Star Kingdom of Manticore, stood beside Queen Elizabeth III on the steps of the Royal Cathedral and watched the slow-moving column approach. Very few of those watching the wheeled conveyance pass by had known what a "caisson" was before the newsies covering the funeral told them. Even fewer had known that such vehicles had once been used to tow artillery back on Old Earth—Cromarty had known only because one of his boyhood friends was a military history buff—or the significance they held for military funerals. But every one of those spectators knew the coffin the caisson bore was empty. That the body of the woman whose funeral they had come to share would never be returned to the soil of her native kingdom for burial. But that was not because she had been vaporized in the fury of naval combat or left to drift, forever lost in space, like so many of Manticore's sons and daughters, and despite the solemnity, and the quiet, and the grief flowing on the cold wind, Cromarty felt the anger and the fierce, steady power of the mourner's fury pulsing in time with the drum.
A sound like ripping cloth and distant thunder grumbled down from the heavens, and eyes rose from the procession as five Javelin advanced trainers from Kreskin Field at Saganami Island swept overhead. Bold, white contrails followed them across the autumn-washed blue sky, and then one of them pulled up, climbing away from the others, vanishing into the brilliant sun like a fleeing spirit, in the ancient "missing man" formation pilots had used for over two thousand years to mark the passing of one of their own.
The other four planes crossed directly over the cortege. Then they, too, disappeared, and Cromarty drew a deep breath and suppressed the urge to look over his shoulder. It wasn't really necessary, for he knew what he would see. The leaders of every political party, Lords and Commons alike, stood behind him and his monarch and her family, representing the solidarity of the entire Star Kingdom in this moment of loss and outrage.
Of course, he thought with carefully hidden bitterness, some of them are here only because it is a funeral.Well, that and the fact that none of them quite dared turn down Elizabeth's "invitation." He managed not to snort in disgust and reminded himself that a lifetime in politics had made him cynical. No doubt it has. But I know as well as Elizabeth does that some of those people behind us are delighted by what the Peeps've done. They just can't admit it, because the voters would tear them apart at the polls if they did.
He drew another deep breath as the procession finally entered the square before King Michael's Cathedral. The Star Kingdom's constitution specifically prohibited the establishment of an official state religion, but the House of Winton had been Second Reformation Roman Catholics for the last four centuries. King Michael had begun the construction of the cathedral which now bore his own name out of the royal family's private fortune in 65 After Landing—1528 Post Diaspora, by the reckoning of humanity at large—and every member of the royal family had been buried there since. The Star Kingdom's last state burial in King Michael's had been thirty-nine T-years before, after the death of King Roger III. Only eleven people from outside the royal house had ever been "interred" there, and of that eleven, three of the crypts were empty.
As the twelfth non-Winton crypt would be, Cromarty thought grimly, for he doubted, somehow, that Honor Harrington's body would ever be recovered, even after the People's Republic's defeat. But she would be in fitting company even then, he told himself, for the empty crypt which would be hers lay between the equally empty crypts of Edward Saganami and Ellen D'Orville.
The procession stopped before the cathedral, and a picked honor guard of senior Navy and Marine noncoms marched down the steps in perfect, metronome unison, timed by the endless, grieving taps of the drum. A petite, black-haired Marine colonel followed them, her movements equally exact despite a slight limp, and saluted the captain with the sword with parade-ground precision. Then she took the sheathed blade in her own gloved hands, executed a perfect about-face while the honor guard slid the empty coffin from the caisson, and led them back up the steps at the slow march.
The drummer followed, still tapping out her slow, grieving tempo, until her heel touched the very threshold of the Cathedral. Then the drumbeats stopped, in the instant that her foot came down, and the rich, weeping music of Salvatore Hammerwell's "Lament for Beauty Lost" welled from the speakers in its stead.
Cromarty inhaled deeply, then turned to face the mourners behind him at last. Queen Elizabeth headed them, with Prince Consort Justin, Crown Prince Roger and his sister, Princess Joanna, and Queen Mother Angelique. Elizabeth's aunt, Duchess Caitrin Winton-Henke, and her husband Edward Henke, the Earl of Gold Peak, stood just behind them, flanked by their son Calvin and Elizabeth's two uncles, Duke Aidan and Duke Jeptha, and Aidan's wife Anna. Captain Michelle Henke joined her parents and older brother after surrendering the sword at the foot of the Cathedral's steps, and the Queen's immediate family was complete. Only her younger brother, Prince Michael, was absent, for he was a Navy commander, and his ship was currently stationed at Trevor's Star.
Cromarty bowed to his monarch and swept one arm at the cathedral doors in formal invitation, and Elizabeth bent her own head in reply. Then she turned, and she and her husband led the glittering crowd of official mourners up the stairs and into the music behind the coffin.