The Death of the Aisharian Queen

The Kung Sah did not understand it.

They had figures in power. They understood having someone in charge who could decree death when enforcing tribal law. They understood order; order was often the difference between life and death on the steppe. But they did not understand what a Queen was. Their Hetman was not a King. He was addressed by name, and was not venerated but, rather, respected.

They saw, and, to their minds, they were witnessing a truly foreign event: The Aisharian Queen was dead.

The unapproachable and reclusive Aisharian Queen was all but dismissed in the minds of the Kung Sah as they mingled with the happy tribe. The voice of the Queen was the scribe Kastikan, and it took little for the Kung Sah to treat him as the Aisharian leader even though they knew he was not. But he spoke for the tribe and where the ultimate source of those words existed seemed of little consequence to the practical Kung Sah, the results were the same, and the Kung Sah saw no reason to split hairs.

They never even knew she was sick. Now the Aisharian Queen was dead.

As the mingled camp settled in for the night and the noise of life became hushed, the Kung Sah heard a strange sound in the distance. A low moan slowly crawled through the Aisharian camp, picking up a voice here and a voice there. Growing, swelling, the moan became a cry and the cry became a wail. Kung Sah left their sleeping furs and stumbled out of their yurts in surprise as the wail spiraled louder and louder. Soon the alarmed Kung Sah found themselves staring at a people whose voice had become a raw howl of anguish.

The Aisharian Queen was dead.

The bewildered Kung Sah could only stand by helplessly as they watched the Aisharian camp suffer its grief. The shy and pretty Aisharian girls cut their arms with sharp stones, their tears streaming their faces; the men hacked hair from their heads and sobbed with their faces in the dirt; old women held each other and wailed. No food was cooked, no chores were done, life stopped on that grassy plain and would go no further.

The Aisharian Queen was dead.

Confused, the Kung Sah did what they could. They offered their food and cleaned up where they had to. They watched the neglected Aisharian animals and hoped with all their might that someone would come along and explain what was going on so they might understand. Was this queen a goddess? they asked themselves. For a wife or a husband to feel such pain at the loss of the other was natural; for parents to wish to tear their hearts out when burying a child was normal. That kind of grief had passed through Kung Sah hearts many times and would always do so for all they knew. And death came to all. They knew that too. But outside of the family, death was something quietly accepted. The wife would throw herself upon the mound that hid her husband’s corpse, but the other women would be strong and gather her to themselves. The warriors would sit at night with the grieving husband but would not themselves cry. For a whole people to throw themselves howling on the burial mound, now that was alien. There was nothing they could do.

The Aisharian Queen was dead.

The grief spent itself, as all grief does, but as the loss of a child does to a parent, the death left a void in the hearts of the Aisharians. Their laughter quieter, their gaiety muted. They performed their elaborate funeral rituals before the saddened eyes of the Kung Sah, and the pyre burned for several days.

Afterwards the Aisharians drifted off, as if the reason for which they had banded together no longer mattered. Some young girls, their youth less visible in their eyes, stayed with their Kung Sah boyfriends. Some young men settled in with newly found Kung Sah mates. But most of the Aisharians dispersed into the countryside; the families setting out wearily like guests leaving a party at a very late hour, too tired to care. Colorful groups of Aisharians soon formed sad little islands that drifted off into the distance as the Kung Sah moved on.

Not too many days passed before there was nothing more in the Kung Sah camp but the browns and duns of the Kung Sah themselves. The color and the laughter of the Aisharians were now but a memory. The Kung Sah knew that something beautiful had died, but were unable to comprehend its killing.

The Aisharian Queen was dead.