Burning Water

It was a nice hill. A simple mountain. Hard to climb, easy to fall from. And that was it. The two Gruagachs sat without a word amidst the pensive stillness. It was a long rest before Yeweth’s pipe ceased to cast its calme, trailing drizzle of smoke toward an auburn-greying skye. His gaze alighted on the trees far below.

“Sunsets. Never seen s’mth’n so radiant and so sad at the same time as them.”

The younger brother’s eyes darted to the horizon.

“Don’t stare straight at it, your eyes’ll be blinded,” Yeweth spoke, affording the lad a gentle poke with his pipe. Another silence.

“I must leave, Kjern.” Water, pooling in two glass chalices, reflected in a distant fyre on the edge of the mountains. Yeweth looked down, watching as Kjern’s brown eyes began to fill with burning water also. The younger’s shoulders heaved ever so slightly, and a raw, sharp taste pierced the elder Gruagach’s mouth as though he had bitten into the bitter blade of the sword by his side. “Forgive me. I have to.” Each word seemed to him as severing every bough and root of every tree on every hill before them and echoing into the glittering mountains against the distant wall of ember. He had tossed pebbles off the edge of a very deep chasm, and they were still plunging, bashing all the jagged edges of unseen, barren waste-land and shadow. A few wavering breaths later, Kjern’s boyish voice gave a sort of half-hearted, bewildered murmur.

“Why?”

But the words would not formulate. The elder brother could not meld them to the hearkening of a lad of nigh-seven years. Instead: “War is coming, brother. The company departs tomorrow at dawn.”

“Why does the enemy want you?”

But it wasn’t him they really wanted, was it? “They want all of us.”

“But you’re coming back?”

Deep grooves etched the elder brother’s countenance. The searing rivers were swirling now, trying to bleed. He watched a sparrow hop-flye in a merry dance above his head. When he finally replied, the words were gratingly low. “You’re trying to make a sunset a sunrise, and it can’t be done. I’ve already tried, lad.”

Kjern began to weep upon his shoulder. The horizon’s orange and golden hues melted into a thin pink veil, splattered with dusty red and retreating in the face of an ever-spreading grey-blue night. It was growing colder as each minute passed, the quietude sundered only by the muffled sobs of the younger.

“Brother.” Kjern’s face turned upward at his kin’s gentle beckoning. Yeweth tried to smile though it pained his jaw a little to do so. “You do realize that the light of every sunset goes on much further than th’eyes can perceive, ja? It’s got the whole horizon to shine upon after all. Aye, there’s plenty of shadow, but it would be a shame without a sunset to comfort us before the night. It is, I think, a magnificent way to say good-bye. It’s not over, brother.” Yeweth alighted a gentle tap upon the young pate.

The sickening grating of chains jarred him, clenching the memory and crushing it. He forced his bloodshot, scarred eyes to open. Only one afforded him any vision of the lowering guard. Not that it mattered much anyway, for the cell’s illumination was little greater than grey fear. The looming figure leered, spewing into the face of his captive a stench of rot and death.

“Rurk no longer finds any use with you, sprite. The traveler is gone. Your treachery ends now.” Snarls began to sift through the oppressive dungeon aire. Shadows surrounded them; the ulvör lurked closer. At the sharp command, the first beast sank its fangs into the neck of the prisoner.

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