Days of the Dead 1 - Evroulf McTyr

When he finished burning her body, he buried the ashes in the wet earth near the lake, and kneeled down, exhausted, just a few inches away from the improvised grave. With the dagger still covered in dry blood, he carved her name in a crooked piece of wood. A single twig, pointing at the sky, seemed more fitting than the roadblock of a cross. There, in the cold, the ranger hummed an old threnody, with no other accompaniment than the occasional howl of his faithful hound who refused to leave his master’s side, not even to chase down a harpie or a snail.

As the night approached, Evroulf brought down the tent where they had been living for the last few days, and extinguished the fire where they cooked under the canopy, packing the witch’s belongings as carefully as he could, amidst the mud and his sorrow. It had been raining a lot. The soil was moist and strong scented, and it was only with difficulty and training that the ranger managed to kindle a flame despite the dampness. But the body had to be burnt. He was not going to leave his friend to rot slowly, until some deranged mage decided to make a lich out of her bones.

They could still make it back to Marali before the darkness was too thick, in those new days of the moon, where there’s no light but the eyes of the owls in the trees. But, the path they used to trot so swiftly, seemed excruciatingly long and desolate this time, with Evroulf’s feet marking the spondees of his brooding, and the rain starting to pour again.

A plum tree on the way reminded him of Emma, his late aunt, who used to give him plums for supper whenever she returned from her scouting excursions in the woods. So much death, since. So much loss. In a way, he felt guilty for all of them, for each occasion where he hadn’t done enough, for all the “if onlies”, “if only” he had acted sooner, “if only” he had been there, “if only” he had told the person how much he cared. If only he had eaten those plums, instead of giving them to Anthea to woo her, and then lose her to a higher bidder, as if love had no meaning and he always focused his attention on the wrong person. No, he was the wrong person. Anthea was pure and kind, and all things nice, forced by his parents into a marriage she never sought. They were both the children of the military and bargaining material for intercity diplomacy. There was only so much they could do with their little freedom.

In the last few years, he had found in Istra a natural friend, perhaps the last misfit of their generation, off beat and out of tune as she may have been. Now, all that was left of her was a pouch, a pipe, and a book, and that bloody dagger she insisted in carrying. He would have to warn Ginger that the Gellansha needed a new captain. Few news were that hard to speak. He would have to warn N’eroth, too, maybe give him the pipe. The dagger, he would keep for himself, as a reminder of the Falvos from Marali. Or maybe he should just throw everything in the lake, and let the news carry themselves, as they always do, one way or another. He looked at Kang for guidance, and the hound urged him on through the weather.

Things were not too bad in Marali. Peytra Grey was safe, Rydelia was eager and strict (just like the military liked it), the Vanguard counted with valuable soldiers. But Evroulf needed a heart now, a shoulder, a hand, something human. A pair of eyes that would understand him. He thought of Mother Mei. She had seen so much, she understood so much, but she hardly knew him. He thought of Nial, a constant friend, but not so intimate that he could show him his weakness. He thought of Eechie Ochie, but his sadness was so great that he fear burdening the old man with it. And there he was, alone but for his hound, both moving slowly towards their city.

When they finally reached the walls, Evroulf had to become Commander McTyr again, greet the guards, ask sternly not to be disturbed until the morning. He had been away for a while, so the letters were piling up on his desk when he reached his quarters. It was too late for that. All his body ached, and he needed a cup of tea. Boiling some water in the fireplace, he searched for some ginseng in the wizard’s pouch, hoping he still knew enough about plants to recognise it, even if smashed amongst other herbs.

Then he decided to do it. He had nothing to lose. He sat at his desk, drinking the warm tea, and grabbed a piece of parchment. All those years later, it was time to write to Anthea, to propose a meeting, and, who knows, to sing in unison again, even if hidden from her gong of a husband. He wrote a few words out of emptiness, rather than joy, but giving in to that one thing that dies the last. Maybe things could be less bleak. Maybe…

When he finished, he sealed the letter with wax and prepared the bed. Kang licked the remaining tea in his cup, which made him smile. “Mr. Kang, the fine hound who drinks tea!” he said, petting his friend. He would usually take him to the stable at this hour, but he needed the comfort of the company. The dog was happy to stay, jumping on the bed as soon as Evroulf blew off the candle. And so they remained, dog and master lying against each other, growing cold into the early hours of dawn.
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