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Chapter Three

The interior of Protector's Cathedral was like some huge, living jewel box.

Honor sat in the Stranger's Aisle to the left of the nave, immediately adjacent to the sanctuary. She, her parents and siblings, James MacGuiness, Nimitz, and Willard Neufsteiler, all of them in Harrington green, shared the Aisle's first pew with the Manticoran and Andermani ambassadors and consuls from each of the other members of the Manticoran Alliance. The two rows of pews behind them were solidly packed with officers in the uniform of the Protector's Own: Alfredo Yu, Warner Caslet, Cynthia Gonsalves, Harriet Benson—Dessouix and her husband Henri, Susan Phillips, and dozens of others who had escaped from the prison planet Hades with Honor. Their uniforms and the diplomats' off-world formal attire, in the styles of more than half a dozen different worlds, stood out sharply, but each of them also wore the dark, violet-black armbands or veils of Grayson-style mourning, as well.

That touch of darkness ran through the cathedral like a thread of sorrow, all the more obvious beside the rich, jewel-toned colors of formal Grayson attire, and Honor tasted its echo in the emotions surging about her. The emotional overtones of the Church of Humanity Unchained were always like some deep, satisfying well of renewal and faith, one she could physically experience thanks to her empathic link to Nimitz. But today there was that strand of sadness, flowing from every corner of the vast cathedral.

Brilliant pools of dense, colored sunlight poured down through the huge stained-glass windows of the eastern wall, and more spilled down like some chromatic waterfall through the enormous stained-glass skylight above the sanctuary. She tasted the grief reaching out from those deep, still pools of light and from the drifting, light-struck tendrils of incense on quiet feet of organ music. It came in different shapes and gradations, from people who had been personally touched by Howard Clinkscales to people who had known him only as a distant figure, yet it was also touched with a sense of celebration. A swelling faith that the man whose death they had come to mourn, and whose life they had come to celebrate, had met the Test of his life in triumph.

She gazed at the coffin, draped in both the planetary flag of Grayson and the steading flag of Harrington. The silver staff of Clinkscales' office as Harrington's regent and the sheathed sword he had carried as the commanding general of Planetary Security before the Mayhew Restoration lay crossed atop the flags, gleaming in the spill of light. So many years of service, she thought. So much capacity for growth and change. So much ability to give and so much kindness, hidden behind that crusty, curmudgeonly exterior he'd cultivated so assiduously. So much to miss.

The organ music swelled, then stopped, and a quiet stir ran through the cathedral as old-fashioned mechanical latches clacked loudly and its ancient, bas-relief doors swung ponderously open. For a moment there was complete and total silence, and then the organ reawoke in a surge of majestic power and the massed voices of the Protector's Cathedral Choir burst into soaring song.

The Cathedral Choir was universally regarded as the finest choir of the entire planet. That was saying quite a lot for a world which took its sacred music so seriously, but as its glorious voices rose in a hymn not of sorrow but of triumph, it demonstrated how amply it deserved its reputation. The torrent of music and trained voices poured over Honor in a magnificent tide which seemed to simultaneously focus and amplify the upwelling cyclone of the emotions all about her as the procession advanced down the cathedral's nave behind the crucifers and thurifers. The clergy and acolytes glittered in rich fabrics and embroidery, and Reverend Jeremiah Sullivan, resplendent in the embroidery and jewel-encrusted vestments of his high office, moved at the center of the procession, with the violet-black mourning stole around his neck like a slash of darkness.

They advanced steadily, majestically, through the storm of music and sunlight and the great, glowing dome of faith which Honor wished all of them could perceive as clearly as she herself did. It was at moments like this—vastly different though they were from the quieter, more introspective services of the faith in which she had been raised—that she felt closest to the heart and soul of Grayson. The people of her adopted planet were far from perfect, yet the bedrock strength of their thousand years of faith gave them a depth, a center, which very few other worlds could equal.

The procession reached the sanctuary, and its members dispersed with the solemn precision of an elite drill team. Reverend Sullivan stood motionless before the high altar, gazing at the mourning-draped cross, while the acolytes and assisting clergy flowed around him towards their places. He stood there until the hymn ended and the organ music faded once again to silence, then turned to face the filled cathedral, lifted both hands in a gesture of benediction, and raised his voice.

"And his lord said unto him," he said into that silence, "Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord."

He stood for a long moment, hands still lifted, then lowered them and gazed out over the cathedral's packed pews.

"Brothers and Sisters in God," he said then, quietly, and yet in a voice which carried clearly in the cathedral's magnificent acoustics, "we are gathered today in the sight of the Tester, the Intercessor, and the Comforter to celebrate the life of Howard Samson Jonathan Clinkscales, beloved husband of Bethany, Rebecca, and Constance, father of Howard, Jessica, Marjorie, John, Angela, Barbara, and Marian, servant of the Sword, Regent of Harrington Steading, and always and in all ways the faithful servant of the Lord our God. I ask you now to join me in prayer, not to mourn his death, but to commemorate his triumphant completion of the Great Test of life as today he enters indeed into the joy of his Lord."

* * *

For all its rich pageantry and centuries of tradition, the liturgy of the Church of Humanity Unchained was remarkably simple. The funeral mass flowed smoothly, naturally, until, after the lesson and the gospel, it was time for the Memory. Every Grayson funeral had the Memory—the time set aside for every mourner to recall the life of the person they had lost and for any who so chose to share that memory with all the others. No one was ever forced to share a memory, but anyone who wished to was welcome to do so.

Reverend Sullivan seated himself on his throne, and silence fell once more over the cathedral until Benjamin Mayhew stood in the Protector's Box.

"I remember," he said quietly. "I remember the day—I was six, I think—when I fell out of the tallest tree in the Palace orchard. I broke my left arm in three places, and my left leg, as well. Howard was in command of Palace Security then, and he was the first to reach me. I was trying so hard not to cry, because big boys don't, and because a future Protector should never show weakness. And Howard radioed for a medical team and ordered me not to move until it got there, then sat down beside me in the mud, holding my good hand, and said 'Tears aren't weakness, My Lord. Sometimes they're just the Tester's way of washing out the hurt.'" Benjamin paused, then smiled. "I'll miss him," he said.

He sat once more, and Honor rose in the Stranger's Aisle.

"I remember," she said, her quiet soprano carrying clearly. "I remember the day I first met Howard, the day of the Maccabeus assassination attempt. He was—" she smiled in fond, bittersweet memory "—about as opposed to the notion of women in uniform and any alliance with the Star Kingdom as it was possible for someone to be, and there I was, the very personification of everything he'd opposed, with half my face covered up by a bandage. And he looked at me, and he was the very first person on Grayson who saw not a woman, but a Queen's officer. Someone he expected to do her duty the same way he would have expected himself to do his. Someone he grew and changed enough to accept not simply as his Steadholder, but also his friend, and in many ways, as his daughter. I'll miss him."

She sat once more, and Carson Clinkscales stood, towering over his aunts.

"I remember," he said. "I remember the day my father was killed in a training accident and Uncle Howard came to tell me. I was playing in the park with a dozen of my friends, and he found me and took me aside. I was only eight, and when he told me Father was dead, I thought the world had ended. But Uncle Howard held me while I cried. He let me cry myself completely out, until there were no tears left. And then he picked me up, put my head on his shoulder, and carried me in his arms all the way from the park home. It was over three kilometers, and Uncle Howard was already almost eighty years old, and I was always big for my age. But he walked the entire way, carried me up to my bedroom, and sat on my bed and held me until I drifted off to sleep." He shook his head, resting his right hand on the shoulder of his Aunt Bethany. "I never knew before that day how strong and patient, how loving, two arms could truly be, but I never forgot . . . and I never will. I'll miss him."

He sat, and an elderly man in the dress uniform of a Planetary Security brigadier rose.

"I remember," he said. "I remember the first day I reported for duty with Palace Security and they told me I was assigned to Captain Clinkscales' detachment." He shook his head with a grin. "Scared the tripes right out of me, I'll tell you! Howard was a marked man, even then, and he never did suffer fools gladly. But—"

At most Grayson funerals the Memory took perhaps twenty minutes. At Howard Clinkscales' funeral, it took three hours.

* * *

"It's always hard not to feel sorry for myself at a funeral," Allison Harrington said as she stood between the towering forms of her husband and her elder daughter. "God, I'm going to miss that old dinosaur!"

She sniffed and wiped her eye surreptitiously.

"We all are, Mother," Honor said, slipping an arm around her diminutive parent.

"Agreed," Alfred Harrington said, looking across at his daughter. "And his death is going to leave a real hole in the Steading."

"I know." Honor sighed. "Still, we all saw it coming, whether we wanted to talk about it or not, and Howard saw it more clearly than any of us. That's why he worked so hard getting Austen brought up to speed for the last three or four years."

She looked across the quiet, beautifully landscaped garden at a middle-aged—by pre-prolong standards—man with silvering, dark-brown hair and the craggy chin which seemed to mark most Clinkscales males. Like Howard himself, Austen Clinkscales was tall by Grayson standards, although far short of a giant like his younger cousin Carson.

"I think Austen is going to do just fine as regent," she said. "He reminds me a lot of his uncle, actually. He doesn't have as much experience, I suppose, but I think he's probably a bit more flexible than Howard was. And he's a good man."

"That he is," Alfred agreed.

"And he adores the kids," Allison said. "Especially Faith. Isn't it funny how all these firmly patriarchal Grayson males seem to go absolutely gooey inside when a little girl smiles at them?"

"You're a geneticist, love," Alfred said with a chuckle. "I'm sure you realized years ago that the species is hardwired to produce exactly that effect."

"Especially when the little girl in question is as cute as one of my daughters," Allison observed complacently.

"Somehow, Mother, I don't think anyone has applied the adjective 'cute' to me in quite a few years. I certainly hope not, at any rate."

"Oh, you hard-bitten naval officers are all alike!"

Honor started to respond, then stopped as Howard's three wives walked across the garden towards them. Carson and Austen Clinkscales followed them, and Bethany, the senior of the three, stopped in front of Honor.

"My Lady," she said quietly.

"Yes, Bethany?"

"You know our customs, My Lady," Bethany said. "Howard's body has already been reclaimed for our Garden of Memory. But he made an additional request."

"A request?" Honor repeated when she paused.

"Yes, My Lady." Bethany extended a small wooden box. It was unembellished by any carving or metalwork, but its hand-rubbed finish gleamed brilliantly in the sunlight. "He requested," she continued, "that a portion of his remains be given to you."

Honor's eyes widened, and she reached out to take the box.

"I'm deeply honored," she said, after a moment. "I never expected . . ."

"My Lady," Bethany said, looking her in the eyes, "as far as Howard—and my sisters and I—were concerned, you truly were the daughter you called yourself today. When you established the Harrington Garden for the armsmen who fell in your service, Howard was more pleased than he ever told you. We've always respected your integrity in refusing to profess faith in Father Church for political advantage, yet you've always demonstrated a personal sensitivity to and respect for our religion no Steadholder could have bettered. I think Howard hoped that one day you would embrace Father Church, if you should decide it was truly what the Tester called you to do. But whether that day ever comes or not, he wanted to be a part of the Harrington Garden." She smiled mistily. "He said that maybe that way he could 'hold your place in line' until you catch up with him."

Honor blinked stinging eyes and smiled down at the shorter, older woman.

"If the day ever comes that I do join the Church of Humanity Unchained, it will be because of the example of people like you and Howard, Bethany," she said. "And whether that day ever comes or not, I will be honored and deeply, deeply pleased to do as Howard asked."

"Thank you, My Lady." Bethany and her sister wives curtsied formally, but Honor shook her head.

"No, thank you, Bethany," she said. "The Clinkscales Clan has served me personally and this Steading with a devotion and a skill far beyond anything I might reasonably have expected. My family and my people are deeply in your debt—in all of your debts—" she raised her eyes to look at Austen and Carson, as well, "and as Howard served me so well, and as Austen has agreed to serve me in his stead, so you've made yourselves family, not simply servants or even merely friends. My sword is your sword. Your battle is mine. Our joys and our sorrows are as one."

Bethany inhaled sharply, and Carson and Austen stiffened behind her.

"My Lady, I never—that is, Howard didn't make this request because—"

"Do you think I could not realize that?" Honor asked gently. She handed the wooden box to her mother and bent slightly to embrace her dead regent's widow, then kissed the older woman on the cheek.

"This is about service that went beyond any formal oath or obligation," she went on as she straightened once more. "It's about service that became love, and I should have done it long ago."

She looked at Carson again over his aunt's head, tasting his astonishment, and wondered if he'd been aware she even knew the formal phrases by which a Grayson steadholder created a legal familial relationship with another clan. The complex interweaving of clan networks had been integral to the Graysons' survival in their hostile planetary environment, and the creation of what equated to blood relationships between the great houses of the Steadholders and their closest allies and retainers had played a major role in forging those networks. In a sense, what Honor had done subordinated the Clinkscales Clan to the Harrington Clan, but it also bound Honor and her heirs personally to the defense and protection of Howard Clinkscales' descendants forever.

It was not a step to be taken lightly or impulsively, but Honor realized that her decision had been neither of those things. And that she truly ought to have done it much sooner, while Howard was still there to see it done. Well, no doubt he still could, from wherever he was at the moment, she thought fondly. And then her lips twitched as another thought struck her.

As Steadholder Harrington, she was the senior member of the Harrington Clan, which she suddenly realized, made her legally Carson's "Aunt Honor" under Grayson legal practice. And that meant . . .

Her lips twitched again, and she saw a sudden twinkle in Carson's eyes as the same realization hit him. They looked at each other, and then they began to chuckle. Honor felt her own chuckles segueing into full-bodied laughter, and gave Bethany a quick squeeze and stepped back.

"I'm sorry, Bethany!" she said. "I didn't mean to laugh. It's just that, I suddenly realized that—"

She broke off with another laugh, and Bethany shook her head with a fond smile.

"My Lady, I can think of many things that might have upset Howard. Having you laugh on the day of his funeral would never be one of them, though."

"That's a very good thing," Honor said with a smile, "because there's going to be more laughter before this is all over, you realize."

"My Lady?" Bethany looked at her quizzically.

"Of course there is," Honor said around another bubble of laughter of her own. "Faith and James were used to calling Howard 'Uncle Howard,' and I've heard them calling Austen 'uncle,' as well. But now she's going to be 'Aunt Faith' to him and Carson!" She shook her head. "We're never going to hear the end of this."


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