Ashes to Ashes

She died as she lived. Fearless.

Her pyre sits in a clearing near the Yiral Sea at her kingdom’s center. Long, auburn hair rests atop the armor in which she perished. Some argued she should be changed, to reflect her status as Lavolia’s ruler, but I knew she’d never forgive me for that. In her armor, she shall rest.

Next to the pyre sits a glass birdhouse, large enough to fit a man, but here, the phoenix waits. All of Queen Allannia Roffiron’s life, the phoenix served her, but as tradition goes, as one ruler falls, so shall its phoenix. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

“Conall!” A large hand slams down on my shoulder as Helion takes a seat beside me. He’s adorned in full armor, as if he expects a fight. His white hair descends to his chest while his pointed ears peek out on each side of his head. “My condolences, friend. I know you two were close.”

My lips form a tight line. We are not friends. But today is not the day for bickering. Today is the day for mourning our queen. “Helion, thank you for the kind words. She will be sorely missed.”

“Do they know what happened?” he asks. “With such mystery surrounding her death, her subjects whisper in the streets.”

“An investigation is underway. Do not worry yourself with such bureaucracy, Helion.”

My tone brooks no rebuttal, and Helion takes the hint and walks away to another seat. I take in the scene around me as everyone settles in for the private service. Those who attend reveal the tapestry of life in Allannia’s kingdom. Fae mingle with vampire who mingle with orc. Lavolia isn’t perfect, no, but Allannia brought peace to a land where there used to be none, and worry etches across each face at what her death could mean for that peace.

Our Abbot steps to the front of the crowd, and everyone quiets as he opens our holy book, ready to begin her remembrance, when Helion abruptly stands from his seat. I grip the blade at my hip, but a warmth running through me stills my hand.

Wait

Her voice, forever guiding me. I lean back, relaxing, as Helion ushers the Abbot away.

“Comrades,” Helion starts. “Today is indeed a sad day for Lavolia. Queen Allannia, brutally slayed in the dead of night. May she forever rest in peace.”

Low murmurs weave through the crowd, and my keen ears pick up every word. No one knows what Helion has up his sleeve.

“While I am sure you came here hoping to say your farewells and mourn the loss of our great Allannia,” Helion continues, “tradition commands that anyone having information regarding the fall of a Lavolian sovereign must speak their truth before the pyre’s first spark.”

My breath hitches, and this time, I don’t hesitate when my hand grips my broadsword. True, when I spoke earlier of an investigation being underway, it was no lie, but we have no idea what happened to my great love, my kind, powerful Allannia. I awoke seven nights ago to an empty bed and a note left on her pillow. 

Meeting in the SilverWood. Be back soon.

The SilverWood marks a small, neutral territory bordered by Lavolia and a rival land, Ixtora, whom Allannia worked to broker peace for over one hundred years. When word arrived the next morning of the discovery of her body, we assumed the obvious and kept the meeting quiet in fear that news of her slaying by the Ixtoran could spark a war Allannia would never have wanted. But now, with Helion’s every word, I’m not so sure we know the whole story.

“It’s no secret I disagreed with Allannia’s pursuit of total peace,” Helion says. “I believe enemies are worth having in this world. So as Allannia’s mission came closer to fruition, I knew I could not stand idly by.”

A sheen of sweat breaks out over my body as I force myself to stay seated, to hear his truth as tradition demands.

“One month ago, I murdered an Ixtoran prince. The firstborn, Orym. Within a week, word reached their king through an anonymous source that Queen Allannia ordered the execution.”

I hold my breath, knowing what’s to come, knowing how Helion will twist our lore to fit his wicked schemes. I won’t allow it. I stand, unleashing my broadsword as Helion narrows his gaze on me to speak his final truth. 

“Allannia is dead, murdered by Ixtoran assassins, but by my hand, my deceit. So as we harp on tradition today, let me remind you all of what that means. Allannia’s reign is over, and I shall rule in her stead.”

At the revelation, a deafening shriek releases from the phoenix, and our gazes pivot as it bursts into flames, smoke and ash consuming the birdhouse. Simultaneously, Allannia’s pyre ignites from an unseen spark. Grief and rage consume me as I ready myself to charge Helion, but gasps soon abound behind me, and I tremble at the sight unfolding before us.

The smoke clears, and from the ashes of the phoenix, Allannia stands, naked as the day she was born. My heart pounds, but I make no move toward her or Helion. He is struck dumb, his skin turned a ghostly white. He falls to his knees as Allannia exits the birdhouse. Stepping to her pyre, she reaches her hand into the flames and retrieves her greatsword. Helion blubbers apologies, but she pays him no heed as she raises the sword and swings it down, slicing cleanly through Helion’s neck. His head rolls to lie at my feet as his body tumbles to the ground. The crowd stays deathly silent as Allannia, our Queen, takes us in, her bright blue eyes finally settling on mine.

“My love. My Lavolians,” she says as she wipes Helion’s blood from the blade, that all-knowing smirk dancing upon her lips. “My reign has just begun.”

**Ashes to Ashes was written for NYC Midnight’s 1000-word Flash Fiction contest in July 2021 and placed 6th in round one. The required prompts were: Fantasy (genre), Funeral (location), and birdhouse (object).

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