36. The Last Honor

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For an entire day, Sir Isenbard lay in front of the altar in the small chapel of Luntberg castle, while Ayla held vigil at his side. Even so, she felt that it was not enough. If things had been different, she would have staged a great event in the old knight's honor, invited nobles from across the land, and have monks hold vigil at his deathbed for days on end, saying prayers for his noble soul. If things had been different she would never have put him to rest here, but conveyed him back to his own estate where he could be interred beside his beloved wife Irene, who had died before Ayla had even been born.

If things had been different…

But the army of the Margrave was still outside the gates, still threatening everybody's lives, now more than ever. So, one day was all the time she had allowed the men to dig a grave, all the time she had allowed herself to grieve. She sat beside Sir Isenbard while his face grew pale and his lips turned blue. She sat beside him as the sun rose and sank again, slowly moving towards the horizon.

Nobody disturbed her. Not one of the villagers Isenbard had died to protect came into the chapel. Not one of the guards he had fought with showed their face. Even Reuben was gone to God only knew where. She was alone, totally alone.

“Tell me,” Ayla whispered, clutching her hands together. “What should I do now?”

Sir Isenbard's cold lips did not give an answer.

There came a soft knock from the door.

“Y-yes?”

Looking over her shoulder, Ayla saw one of the castle servants showing his pale face in a crack between the door and the wall.

“Um... Milady? Everything is ready, as you commanded.”

“Already? But it is...” Only then did Ayla notice that the light of the sun was almost gone. Stars now glittered through the stained glass of the chapel window, and Sir Isenbard's face appeared even more lifeless in the harsh light of the moon.

Her day with him was gone.

“It is time, isn't it?” she asked, her voice wavering.

“Yes, Milady.”

With strength she didn't know she possessed, Ayla rose to her feet. “Then there's no sense in delaying any longer. Let us proceed.”

The words felt as hollow as she herself did. Two guards entered, their eyes downcast, not daring to look at her. One stopped beside her for a moment.

“Milady? Are you all right?”

She blinked her tears away.

“Hans, isn't it?”

“Yes, Milady.” The guard nodded, an unreadable emotion on his face.

“Well, Hans... If I'd say I'm all right, I would be lying.”

He swallowed.

“I'm sorry, Milady.”

“Why? It's not your fault.”

He seemed to want to say something more, but then hurriedly turned and went to where his comrade was waiting.

They picked up Sir Isenbard's litter—no, his bier, for that's what it was now—towards the door. The servant hurried in front, opening doors, while Ayla wandered behind, caught in an endless nightmare. Still, she was not thinking Isenbard is dead. That thought was too horrible to contemplate. No, instead, a thought almost as painful wouldn’t leave her mind: Nobody came to say good-bye. Nobody.

They reached the door of the keep. As before, the servant hurried out first, holding the doors open. There was a strange sound from outside, like the rustling of leaves, but Ayla didn't bother. What did it matter? She was alone.

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