The aroma of camomile, sage, and lavender hung heavy on the summer air. The Den Mother found it cloying and took a deep breath through her mouth to avoid the scent. It didn’t matter, she could still taste the herbs and it made her mouth take on a flavor too bitter to swallow. Lemongrass, ginger, thyme, and more. The mourners brought their bundles, some elaborately braided and plied, others offered little more than a fist full of loosely collected weeds. All spoke the same words, “I have come to honor your fallen. Please receive this as a symbol of his strength…”
Or some variation thereof.
And with a small nod from the Den Mother, they laid their tributes next to the tiny casket sitting near the hearth stone.
The King had ordered a funeral in the style of the old way, an affair typically reserved for the most decorated and gallant of warriors who had passed to beyond the veiled realms. It was full of rituals, rites, and days of preparation preceding internment. Den Mother spared a glance over towards the hill where a sept cemetery had been constructed out of necessity years before. Indeed, the young theurges were blessing the ground where the burial would occur.
One would have thought this was the memorial of a grand hero. But this was no warrior who lay in state. No songs would be sung of this one’s bravery or prowess on the battlefield. No one who gave the gifts had ever even heard of, let alone met the deceased. Den Mother felt her stomach turn and forced herself to respond each time, “You have honoured Samuel Bryce Falconhand. Grandson of of….Son of… Brother of…” It was rote phrase, befitting the ceremony, but not to the little boy in the coffin. Honestly, she didn’t know what else to say.
But truth was, no one would remember what they had never known. The mourners were either currying favour with the King, or perhaps his father. In the Garou nation, a dead kin child wasn’t to be widely mourned. After all, there were plenty of kin to go around. But Den Mother remembered. She remembered a little boy who’d come to her kitchen looking for ice cream just two days earlier. He’d wanted two scoops, one chocolate, and one vanilla. She’d bargained him down to a single scoop. Chocolate had won. Now she wished she’d given him both. It wouldn’t have harmed him, and might have given him more delight in his last days. She regretted that very much.
The pile of herbs grew quickly surpassing the height of the hastily assembled casket. It had been colored with the same white paint they’d used to freshen up the lodge house a month or two back. Den Mother had liked that shade back when the sept had gotten together for a painting party. They’d all been laughing and talking about the future. Sam’s entire family had been there. Kids running around outside, and adults conversing easily about how it would be different once the children took charge of the place and so what was the point of painting it anyway? Many drinks consumed, more cheers raised into the night. To the future of Thunderheart! Now she felt an irrational hatred of the color. It didn’t feel like the future anymore. In the old tradition, herbs were offered in lieu of flowers. With their pungent scents, it was said they masked to odor of the deceased better. Den Mother disagreed, but kept her opinions to herself.
Normally the highest ranking relation of the deceased would have accepted mourners. But the little boy’s family remained in isolation being tended to by the elder theurges. They had said the family had been in a terrible car accident. That it was simply a bad turn of luck, an unfortunate roll of the bones. Den Mother wasn’t buying that any more than she was buying the manufactured tears of strangers who came calling.
She’d seen Morgan early that morning. He was unshaven, his dishevelled hair pulled every which direction from his customary tidy braid, and with circles darker than the night surrounding his eyes. She’d offered him coffee, perhaps a bite to eat.
As if it had taken a moment to even recognize who was speaking to him, his gaze finally settled on her. His normally bronzed skin was flushed angry red and spread so tightly over barely contained muscle and veins that it seemed he might burst apart at the seams. She could see the predator in him, yearning to slip out with every pulse of his heart. The easy going alpha she knew was fighting to keep his head above water and not slip down a rabbit hole of savagery. Who could blame him? His son was dead. Morgan had responded to her offer with a guttural, “No” and moved on. Everyone had given him a wide berth. It seemed wise. Den Mother knew then that what had happened was no simple car accident. She’d seen her alpha grieve, she’d seen him angry, even outraged. This was different. This had felt like he was going to war. Against who, she couldn’t say. But she knew that whomever the target for Morgan’s ire, well… she predicted they had a poor prognosis for long term survival.
But even as the King had ordered a grand funerary in the moments after her encounter with Morgan, there was no one to stand with little Sam. His father was attending the rest of the family who were gravely injured and lucky to be alive. Those who weren’t injured stood guard on the bawn. Another sign that what had happened was no accident. And so, Den Mother stepped in to stand with Samuel. After hours of trivial platitudes and politically motivated condolences, she kind of wished she hadn’t.
And then Xavier stepped up. His face was its usual unemotional mask. Den Mother never really knew how to read him, and since he wasn’t much of a talker at any given moment he could have been perfectly content or ready to wage war. His face and body language never changed no matter the circumstance. Den Mother had always taken him for being cold, unemotional, and certainly never sentimental. She waited for him to say the traditional words. Instead, he silently brushed many of the herbs aside placed a battered blue teddy bear upon the coffin. Den Mother could hear the gasps from the line of mourners who stood in line behind him. It was, to their thinking, a grievous breach in protocol and manners. Den Mother recognized the toy. It was a favorite of Sam’s. Her eyes burned with tears. That Xavier, of all people, had thought to bring it.
He spoke: “I thought he might want this for his journey.”
Den Mother bit her bottom lip hard enough to draw blood so she could speak. “You have honored him.” It was the first time she’d spoken truthfully all day.