Some people would describe my father as arrogant. Others would claim he was never able to know when to mind his own business. And a select few would describe him as a fiercely loyal friend who would never rest if he thought they needed help.
My brother and I? Well, to us Father was just that. Our father. He was the man who read us stories at night, took us for walks and rides, rewarded us for good behaviour and punished us when we were bad. He was the man who took our orphaned cousin under his wing and helped her correct her early mistakes as a Leader.
My father taught me to ride when I was five years old. I remember him lifting me onto the back of that pony. “Don't be afraid,” he told me. “You're going to do just fine.”
“You won't let me fall will you?” I'd asked, glancing down. It certainly looked like I was a long way off the ground from my perspective. My head was about equal in height to my father's shoulder! But my fears subsided when my father put his hand on the back of the saddle.
“I'll be right here with you,” he promised. And he was. My father must have given me candlemarks of his time that day, walking in circles around the Manor grounds and then more running beside the pony when I became confident enough to trot.
“You can let go now, Daddy!” I'd called at last, laughing as I bounced in the saddle. “It's all right! I think I can do this on my own.”
“Are you sure?” my father had asked, smiling at me with pride – and a hint of tears. “You don't have to if you're still worried.”
“No, it's all right,” I'd assured him. “I mean, it's still a little bit scary, but I'm ready, Daddy. You can let go, I can do this.”
“That's my brave little girl,” he'd told me, releasing the saddle and stopping. For the rest of the afternoon he'd just watched me ride, smiling and sharing my childish joy at this first taste of freedom.
The memory makes me smile as I strode quietly through the equally silent halls. It should have felt oppressive, but it didn't. There was a feeling of peace in the air that made the silence comforting even as it brought a tear to my eye. Without any conscious decision, I made my way into my father's study and found, as usual, my eye was drawn to the family portrait hanging over the fireplace.
I'd hated the long hours of sitting for these as a little girl, and resented every change that had prompted my father to commission a new one – except for this last one. This portrait always brought a smile to my face, even if it was out of date now. It was the only painting that showed the entire family. My father had his arm around my mother, my brother and second-cousin sitting at their feet, my cousin standing between my father and I as I rested my head on my husband's shoulder while his sister stood beside him. We all looked so happy then. All of us together, for what proved to be the last time.
Father said my mother had all ways been affected by the stress of the early days of their marriage and it had drained some of her strength. Certainly she hadn't had the strength to fight the illness that took her life, but I preferred to remember her as the woman she was in this picture. Strong, proud and full of love for her family.
We'd both been amused by my father's actions on my wedding day. I would always remember that moment, standing between the two men I loved most in the world and the priest had asked who gave me away. My father had hesitated, just for a moment, as if that moment would mean I'd change my mind and run out of the temple. Instead I'd just smiled and whispered, “You can let go Daddy. It's all right, I'm ready to do this now. Your little girl is ready to move on on her own.”
“I know,” he'd whispered back, still holding onto my arm. “Doesn't mean your old father is ready to let you go.” But he'd looked at me, smiled and announced proudly, “Her father, the King, gives her away.”
“Lumi? Are you ready?” I turned to see my cousin in the doorway. There were tears on her cheeks. “You know it's time, Lumi,” Ann continued, looking up at the painting with a sad smile. “We have to let him go... You know he's only holding on for us.” I hesitated, then nodded and took Ann's hand.
Together we walked into my father's room, where the man who'd been the strongest force in my life was laying on his bed, nearly as pale as his sheets, bone thin and worn looking. My brother sat on the edge of the bed, clearing trying to be the strong man of the family and not cry. I didn't bother with the pretence, weeping openly, if silently, as I crawled up onto the bed next to my father. Ann sat on the end of the bed, sniffling.
“We're going to be all right, Daddy,” I whispered into my father's ear. “Your little girls and boy are going to be all right if you go to Mummy now. Yes, it's still a scary thought, but we're all ready to go on alone now, and we'll be just fine. You can let go now.”
As the sun rose on the new day, King Shadow Brightmore slipped into Taed's arms and I, Luminous Brightmore-Redway, greeted my first day as Queen.