Home > Last Sacrifice (Vampire Academy #6)(6)

Last Sacrifice (Vampire Academy #6)(6)
Author: Richelle Mead

The coffin's route was easy to spot. Poles strung with red and black silk banners marked each side. Rose petals had been strewn on the ground the coffin would pass over. Along the sides, people crammed together, hoping to catch a glimpse of their former queen. Many Moroi had come from far off places, some to see the funeral and some to see the monarch elections that would soon follow over the next couple of weeks.

The royal family escort--most of whom wore saleswoman-approved black velvet-- were already heading into the palace building. Lissa stopped outside to part ways with Christian since he certainly had never been in the running to represent his family for such an honored event. She gave him another fierce hug and a light kiss. As they stepped away, there was a knowing glint in his blue eyes--that secret that was hidden from me.

Lissa pushed through the gathering crowds, trying to get to the entrance and find the procession's starting point. The building didn't look like the palaces or castles of ancient Europe. Its grand stone farade and tall windows matched the Court's other structures, but a few features--its height, wide marble steps--subtly distinguished it from other buildings. A tug at Lissa's arm stopped her progress, nearly causing her to run into an ancient Moroi man.

"Vasilisa?' It was Daniella Ivashkov, Adrian's mother. Daniella wasn't so bad as royals went, and she was actually okay with Adrian and me dating--or at least, she had been before I became an accused murderer. Most of Daniella's acceptance had come from the fact that she believed Adrian and I would split up anyways once I received my guardian assignment. Daniella had also convinced one of her cousins, Damon Tarus, to be my lawyer--an offer I'd rejected when I chose Abe to represent me instead. I still wasn't entirely sure if I'd made the best decision there, but it probably tarnished Daniella's view of me, which I regretted.

Lissa offered up a nervous smile. She was anxious to join the procession and get all of this over with. "Hi,' she said.

Daniella was dressed in full black velvet and even had small diamond barrettes shining in her dark hair. Worry and agitation lined her pretty face. "Have you seen Adrian? I haven't been able to find him anywhere. We checked his room.'

"Oh.' Lissa averted her eyes.

"What?' Daniella nearly shook her. "What do you know?'

Lissa sighed. "I'm not sure where he is, but I saw him last night when he was coming back from some party.' Lissa hesitated, like she was too embarrassed to tell the rest. "He was ... really drunk. More than I've ever seen him. He was going off with some girls, and I don't know. I'm sorry, Lady Ivashkov. He's probably ... well, passed out somewhere.'

Daniella wrung her hands, and I shared her dismay. "I hope nobody notices. Maybe we can say ... he was overcome with grief. There's so much going on. Surely no one will notice. You'll tell them, right? You'll say how upset he was?'

I liked Daniella, but this royal obsession with image was really starting to bug me. I knew she loved her son, but her main concern here seemed to be less about Tatiana's final rest than it was about what others would think about a breach of protocol. "Of course,' said Lissa. "I wouldn't want anyone to ... well, I'd hate for that to get out.'

"Thank you. Now go.' Daniella gestured to the doors, still looking anxious. "You need to take your place.' To Lissa's surprise, Daniella gave her a gentle pat on the arm. "And don't be nervous. You'll do fine. Just keep your head up.'

Guardians stationed at the door recognized Lissa as someone with access and allowed her in. There, in the foyer, was Tatiana's coffin. Lissa froze, suddenly overwhelmed, and nearly forgot what she was doing there.

The coffin alone was a work of art. It was made of gleaming black wood, polished to brilliance. Paintings of elaborate garden scenes in shining metallic colors of every hue adorned each side. Gold glittered everywhere, including the poles that the pallbearers would hold. Those poles were draped with strings of mauve roses. It seemed like the thorns and leaves would make it difficult for the pallbearers to get a good grip, but that was their problem to deal with.

Inside, uncovered and lying on a bed of more mauve roses, was Tatiana herself. It was strange. I saw dead bodies all the time. Hell, I created them. But seeing a body that had been preserved, lying peacefully and ornamentally ... well, it was creepy. It was strange for Lissa, too, particularly since she didn't have to deal with death as often as I did.

Tatiana wore a gleaming silk gown that was a rich shade of purple--the traditional color for royal burial. The dress's long sleeves were decorated with an elaborate design of small pearls. I'd often seen Tatiana in red--a color associated with the Ivashkov family--and I was glad for the purple burial tradition. A red dress would have been too strong a reminder of the bloody pictures of her that I'd seen at my hearing, pictures I kept trying to block out. Strings of gemstones and more pearls hung around her neck, and a gold crown set with diamonds and amethysts rested upon her graying hair. Someone had done a good job with Tatiana's makeup, but even they couldn't hide the whiteness of her skin. Moroi were naturally pale. In death, they were like chalk--like Strigoi. The image struck Lissa so vividly that she swayed on her feet a little and had to look away. The roses' scent filled the air, but there was a hint of decay mixed in with that sweetness.

The funeral coordinator spotted Lissa and ordered her into position--after first bemoaning Lissa's fashion choice. The sharp words snapped Lissa back to reality, and she fell in line with five other royals on the right side of the coffin. She tried not to look too closely at the queen's body and directed her gaze elsewhere. The pallbearers soon showed up and lifted their burden, using the rose-draped poles to rest the coffin on their shoulders and slowly carry it out to the waiting crowd. The pallbearers were all dhampirs. They wore formal suits, which confused me at first, but then I realized they were all Court guardians--except one. Ambrose. He looked as gorgeous as always and stared straight ahead as he did his job, face blank and expressionless.

I wondered if Ambrose mourned Tatiana. I was so fixated on my own problems that I kept forgetting a life had been lost here, a life that many had loved. Ambrose had defended Tatiana when I'd been angry about the age law. Watching him through Lissa's eyes, I wished I was there to speak to him in person. He had to know something more about the letter he'd slipped me in the courtroom. Surely he wasn't just the delivery boy.

The procession moved forward, ending my musings about Ambrose. Before and ahead of the coffin were other ceremonial people. Royals in elaborate clothing, making a glittering display. Uniformed guardians carrying banners. Musicians with flutes walked at the very back, playing a mournful tune. For her part, Lissa was very good at public appearances and managed the slow, stately pace with elegance and grace, her gaze level and confident. I couldn't see outside her body, of course, but it was easy to imagine what the spectators saw. She was beautiful and regal, worthy to inherit the Dragomir legacy, and hopefully more and more would realize that. It would save us a lot of trouble if someone would change the voting law through standard procedures, so we didn't have to rely on a quest for a lost sibling.

Walking the funeral route took a long time. Even when the sun started sinking down toward the horizon, the day's heat still hung in the air. Lissa began to sweat but knew her discomfort was nothing compared to the pallbearers'. If the watching crowd felt the heat, they didn't show it. They craned their necks to get their one glimpse of the spectacle passing before them. Lissa didn't process the onlookers so much, but in their faces, I saw that the coffin wasn't their only focus. They were also watching Lissa. Word of what she'd done for Dimitri had blazed around the Moroi world, and while many were skeptical of her ability to heal, there were just as many who believed. I saw expressions of wonder and awe in the crowd, and for a second, I wondered who they'd really come to see: Lissa or Tatiana?

Finally, the cathedral came into view, which was good news for Lissa. The sun didn't kill Moroi like it did Strigoi, but the heat and sunlight were still uncomfortable for any vampire. The procession was nearly finished, and she, being one of those allowed into the church service, would soon get to enjoy air conditioning.

Books
     Vampire Academy (Vampire Academy #1)
     Frostbite (Vampire Academy #2)
     Shadow Kiss (Vampire Academy #3)
     Blood Promise (Vampire Academy #4)
     Spirit Bound (Vampire Academy #5)
     Last Sacrifice (Vampire Academy #6)
     The Meeting (Vampire Academy 0.9)      Homecoming (Vampire Academy #6.5)