England, June 10
(A small secluded village somewhere in the south of England)
The birds sang merrily that warm hazy morning, as if rejoicing in some magnificent eventof which only they knew. A robin fluttered down from the tall apple tree and perched on theopen windowsill of a small, thatched dwelling. The proud-winged creature, with its brightred breast worn as if a medal, hopped down onto a small oaken table next to the bed. Itlooked about the bedchamber, chirped, ruffled its fine plumage, and fluttered to the bedpost beside Philippe’s head.Poppa smiled at the bird then gazed lovingly into the face of her sleeping father, PhilippeDomfront. He was just a few days away from his seventy-ninth birthday. She knew the datewell because her father and his long-departed brother, Alan, had never forgotten eachother’s anniversaries or those of their children, Emma and Poppa.Philippe opened his eyes to gaze back at his red-breasted friend staring down at him.“Thora and Alan, they’re waiting for you, Philippe,” the robin chirped fluffing itsplumage. “Come along, we have a journey to undertake.”“Just a little longer, old fellow . . . I’ll come with you in a little while. I wish to remembermy friends,” whispered the old man, smiling at the feathered messenger sitting impatiently beside him. Poppa gestured around the room, her pride shining like a beacon into her father’s eyes.“We’re all here, Father. Cedric is here, too, as are your beautiful grandchildren, Cynwiseand Hereward. They’ve come to say goodbye to the sweetest, bravest, gentlest man that everlived.” Her face was wet with tears.Philippe scanned the room and noticed Cedric step forward, and he grasped his handgently in his own. Philippe gazed deeply into Cedric’s azure blue eyes and smiled. “You’renow a full-grown man, the son of a great warrior king, and the good father of mygrandchildren. I knew you would never let your father down, or my daughter.” Philippestated, as he squeezed Cedric’s hands with affection.“Your hold is still vice-like, sir,” Cedric said, smiling. “When you visit with my father,would you tell the king that he is always with us?” Cedric’s eyes filled with the glisteningwetness reserved only for such great men.Poppa’s hand reached out across the bed to place it upon that of her husband as herchildren slowly surrounded their grandfather.Emma moved beside Poppa. In her arms, she held a baby girl; the child was not morethan a week old. Emma leant over her Uncle Philippe
to show him his first great-niece. Theold man’s hand rose to touch the sweet softness of the sleeping child’s cheek, and smilingproudly, he nodded his patriarchal approval of the family’s latest addition. “The child shall be called Aleine. Alan would appreciate such a beautiful name,” Philippe said as he lookedinto the face of the child he would never see run and play.