Mariusz lay on the silken sheets in his room, panting slightly. He said “Pfft” to the narrator. He always spoke for himself. Somehow, though, he wasn’t that bothered by the intrusion. Someone else should do more of the work around here, he thought.
The light filtered through the shutters on the windows that had been closed to keep out the three day snowstorm that had been raging. It was warm and cosy in his room, though, the drapes moving slightly as the air circulated round the room, the fire glowing comfortingly in the hearth. The uncomfortable feeling inside him had been growing over the last few weeks, and he had decided to take a break while the storm kept everyone indoors. Now it all sounded still, but he didn’t feel like moving.
There was a knock at the door. He raised his head but didn’t care whether anyone came in. They entered anyway, brushing snow from their shoulders. It was Saku, his mad scientist professor and stalwart companion of so many years. The things they’d seen together!
“I think, my Lord,” he said, looking at Mariusz with a keen eye, “that it would be wise to allow your faithful retainers to administer to your comfort. They await your command.”
Mariusz sighed. He didn’t want to be fussed, but his retainers, Aurora and Wagon, were always attentive to his needs, and maybe he could use a bit of assistance. He nodded and Saku left him.
He lay back and entered the realm of memory, dreaming of his life as a young boy in the slums before he escaped and took up with his grandfather and the drinks business. Then he roamed around his memories of the deeds and misdeeds he’d led others through – and those companions and henchmen. Willow, Briareus, Sparkie, so many names. He smiled to himself and twitched as he remembered narrow escapes and loves he had known. So many loves! He was vaguely aware of being helped to take drinks and some gruel being spooned into his mouth, but he didn’t really fancy it. He just wanted to sleep and dream of foreign lands. The Castle of Buckmore, the ladies of Arbor, Chateau Dimerie, the Rajah’s palace….
The sun now glinted on the sheer drapes around the room and a few more people stood around, talking in hushed tones. He didn’t really want them there. He gazed into Aurora’s eyes, letting her know how much her love and care had meant to him, but he was ready to go now. And he closed his eyes, and slept the final sleep.
Out in the sky courtyard the clock was stopped and a single bell rang solemnly, tolling his passing. The standard made by the ladies of Arbor was lowered to half mast and it waved gently in the crisp, cold air. All the household of Castle Hattan stood to attention in silence for three minutes, and messengers were sent out and a worldwide announcement made on the iParsnip, so cleverly invented at HUGS Inc.
Across the ocean at Castle Buckmore, the Lady Nimrod ordered the house should go into mourning and arranged for a memorial service to be held seven days hence. She donned her black lace veil and went out to tell the news to Prince Lupin, even though he had been lying in his grave on the hillside a year since. The snow was still lying thinly on it, but on the mound the first crocus leaves were just breaking the surface, a sign of spring not so far off now. She wondered whether The Princelings had heard at the Castle in the Marsh.
They had, of course. King Fred and the Royal Engineer George exchanged glances as the household dispersed from the breakfast table and by unspoken agreement they made their way to the topmost tower, their favourite haunt. They looked out over the marshes, watching the wind as it moved the reeds and made the ice crack, pondering the life of the stranger they had met in their strangest adventure, the one that had started it all.
And knew that Mariusz’s spirit was now one with the wind.