The procession wound its way through the narrow streets of the capital, over the cobbled streets it went lined with loyal subjects from all over the country alternatively dressed in black and white, just as the keys of an enormously long piano. The elaborate coffin was draped with ells upon ells of heavy silks, which made the bearers sweat viciously due to their added weight. So soaking wet from all the sincere tears the bystanders shed, they were forced to move slowly on the slippery ground so as not to drop their precious burden.

It happened that at this time there was a traveller in the city. Curiosity had drawn her to the procession and when the coffin finally came into view she asked the woman standing next to her who the person in the box might be.

“Oh dear, you don’t know? Well, it is the late Queen, of course.” One the bearers finally slipped but quickly recovered himself, preventing her majesty from tumbling to the ground sooner than expected.

“What happened? How did she die?”

The woman gave her a curious sidelong glance. “You really do not know, do you? Because the King killed her, of course, that’s why”, upon which the traveller exclaimed and puzzledly expressed her amazement.

“How could he do that, you ask? Why, because that’s his right, dear, as is the custom here in these lands. He’s the one who kept her alive all these years and he’s the one who can take that life away from her. Of course he did not exactly kill her in the usual sense of the word, although he tried, but what he did amounts to basically the same, if you look at it. Before he worked it out, he tried to stab her, push her out of the window, poison her, shoot her, burn her at the stake, sometimes several of these at once, but always she came back. The King loved her dearly, you must know. So much that he could not stand even the mere thought of being with her. It devoured him from the inside, he lost pieces of his heart and one of his eyes, you see, that’s why he doesn’t like being looked at from the right-hand side”, her voice dropped to a hoarse whisper.

“But some day he figured it out. He simply stopped believing in her. He still saw her every day, he woke up next to her, he held her hands, but he just did not believe in her anymore and she started to fade. This”, she indicated the procession and all the attendants, “is the last any of us will see of her, this will be the last time that she has any weight, any substance at all. When we wake up tomorrow, she will be gone, because today we know that she will be gone and forgotten. Once I even heard that before the reign of our current king, no, wait, even before the reign of his grandfather, it was a common punishment reserved for the most odious of wrongdoers to be forgotten. There was no torture, no extraction of confessions, no pain; after some time they disappeared, and when people stopped thinking about them, remembering them, their names disappeared from the chronicles and history books all by themselves.

The only thing we still remember is the process of forgetting itself. Elaborate books have been written on this topic, rumour has it that one of the wings of the royal library building is entirely dedicated to theoretical and practical tractates on the art and science of forgetting – and believe me, the royal library is vast. There are even supposed to be guards to prevent the untrained from entering the more arcane corridors of that wing, as they tend to get lost and are forgotten in turn. The only thing that remains of them is a vague feeling that there was someone you knew at some point in your life but you can and will not remember more than that, they become inverted memories, just like the Queen will. I do not even remember her name anymore, to be honest. I wouldn’t even be sure that there is still a proper body in that coffin, it could well be that it is the mere memory making the bearers pant so miserably. But as long as it is, it is heavy, believe me, my old bones are full of memories I do not any longer know about, but I feel them.”

When the traveller finally turned to look the coffin again, she noticed that the bearer’s backs were a little bit straighter, their knees a little less shaky, but she could not tell why.

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Aside

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