The Weaver's Lament (Symphony of Ages #9) - Elizabeth Haydon
THE YEAR 1008, SIXTH AGE THE CITY-STATE OF HACKET
In the inconstant torchlight flickering around the dark glade, it seemed that the grave would never be deep enough.
The soldiers, exhausted after the hauling of the thickset body from where it had been found in the hut, the stench of rot and decay, and the shifts of digging, were sweating profusely in the warm night air. They glanced every now and then over their shoulders, keeping their reconnaissance brief, then turned back to the task at hand.
Their leader alone stood watch, lending no aid.
“Make quick work of it, boys,” he muttered, refusing to observe their undertaking.
Finally, after far longer than any of them wanted, the task was considered complete enough.
The exhausted Firbolg soldiers paused, awaiting approval.
Their leader finally looked back at the massive mound of displaced earth, then down into the hole in the rocky ground, and nodded reluctantly.
The unit scrambled. While the Sergeant-Major looked away again, they hurried into the trees of the glade and dragged forth the large body, carefully wrapped in strips of cloth that had been soaked in brine and pungent herbs to help combat the odiferous state to which it had devolved.
Then, with newfound energy, they hoisted it high enough to carry as a group to the grave and, using the ropes that had been attached to haul it, lowered it carefully into the hole, slipping only once before righting it again.
After a few moments, the most senior of the Bolg soldiers cleared his throat politely.
The broad-shouldered Sergeant, an even more massive man than the one they were burying, did not seem to hear him.
The soldiers exchanged a glance in the dimming torchlight.
After another long moment, the senior soldier tried again.
This time, the Sergeant turned and looked over his shoulder. “Eh?”
The Sergeant finally came around. “One moment, please,” he instructed, his voice stronger than it had been earlier in the night.
He reached into his weapons bandolier and pulled out a sword, a jagged weapon smelted with points up the blade, known affectionately as the Old Bitch, named after a hairy-legged harlot he had known long ago in the old world. It was actually a replica of several such swords that had seen combat with him over the centuries, but its age hardly mattered.
He crouched down at the grave’s edge, near the corpse’s feet, and held the sword, point down, in front of him for a moment, thinking.
“’Bye, then, Trom,” he said quietly. “Sleep well, an’ Oi’ll see you on the other side o’ the Gate.”
He rose and tossed the weapon into the open grave, then signaled to the troops.
“Fill ’er in,” he said.
When the task was accomplished, he pressed his foot into the new mound of earth in a few places, then looked at his bone-weary troops again.
“Know you lads’re tired, but it seems like a good time to go out an’ have a lit’le fun,” he said. “Just to deliver our respecks to the ones what put ’im in the ground. Whaddaya say, boys?”
At first there was no answer.
Then, one by one, the soldiers shook off their exhaustion and let loose a war cry, from deep in the throat, aimed at the stars.
The Sergeant smiled for the first time in a week.
“Well, then,” he said, making his way back to his horse, “let’s ’ave at it.”
THE PROPHECY OF THE THREE
The Three shall come, leaving early, arriving late
The lifestages of all men:
Child of Blood, Child of Earth, Child of the Sky
Each man, formed in blood and born in it,
Walks the Earth and sustained by it,
Reaching the sky and sheltered beneath it,
He ascends there only in his ending,