Chapter 11 Part 4 | Son in Sorrow | IHGK Book 2
Emsa approached Harsin. In her hand was a knife, exquisitely sharp, knapped from slick black obsidian. Harsin took it from her and began cutting away the simple white dress on Ansella's body. "All this is fleeting, all this is lost, all this is unnecessary," said the King.
"All this is ending, all this is beginning, all this is needed," answered the rest, Friends and family in gentle chorus. Temmin did his best to follow along. He knew the words but they kept sticking in his throat.
"Life is fleeting, life is lost, life continues," said his father.
"Her life has ended, her life is beginning, all this is needed," came the response.
Mama's body lay naked now on the stone table, pale but for her still-bright hair, and so small, almost childlike. Her belly was flaccid from the birth, and Temmin flinched, thinking of his new sister. Part of him wanted to hate the baby for living, but the better part of him loved her as the last part of Mama left behind.
Harsin cradled his wife's head in his hands; he bent over the stone basin before him and began to cry in earnest, letting his tears drop into the salt water filling it. Temmin's tears began again, and beside him Sedra folded herself into broken sobs. The Friends wiped away the siblings' tears with a soft cloth, but for Ellika. She remained stoic, face so blank Temmin wondered if she understood.
Emsa took the soaked cloth and dipped it into the basin, spreading the tears through the water. "See, our tears are endless as the ocean," she chanted. "See, our tears make up your bath." Emsa wrung out the cloth and gave it to Harsin, who began washing Ansella's already clean face. Her children took cloths as well, and the four gave their wife and mother her final bath. The Friends turned her on her side. They washed her back and laid her down onto the shroud again; Sedra arranged her mother's long gold plait over her left shoulder. Harsin picked up the braid and used the black knife to cut it off; Emsa accepted it from him and wrapped it in a red velvet cloth.
Harsin took up his mourning braid, woven from the hair growing at his left temple and omitted from the queue at his nape. A flick of the knife severed it, and he placed it on his wife's chest above her heart. Temmin did the same. The knife tip cut him; he could see his blood on the braid he placed beside his father's, and he pressed a handkerchief against his temple, swearing to himself. Sedra unfastened the mourning braid at her left temple, cut it off and laid it next to the others; the dark hair coiled down Ansella's chest from her shoulders to her navel. Sedra handed the knife to her sister.
Elly set her mouth in a firm line and looped her full braid around her hand in a tight twist. Sedra cried, "No, Elly, don't!" just as Temmin realized Ellika had no smaller mourning braid and reached for her himself. Ellika sawed her entire braid off at the shoulder before anyone could stop her. Harsin gasped and sputtered something Temmin didn't catch, and his chest squeezed harder as Ellika laid the thick braid where Ansella's own had been; its color matched but for a few gray strands among the Queen's. "Oh, Elly!" choked Sedra.
Ellika pulled a hand through her ragged, newly-bobbed curls. "It doesn't matter."
"It would have mattered to Mama!" her sister replied through renewed tears. Ellika shook her head, still dry-eyed.