I stood on the edge of High Farrow and looked out across Farrow Lake. Below me the Five Falls thundered into its glistening waters, while to the west, the Levels stretched away to the smoke-coloured blur of the Western Woods.
My pit-house home lay at the far end of the lake, and beside it, the pinnacled roofs of the webfoot village were glinting in the early morning light. Below Midridge, the ugly scar of the great trench stood out amid the desolation of the eastern shore, and close by, on the lakeside, was the battered hive tower of my friend, Hedgethorn Lammergyre.
Without him, I wouldn’t be standing here now, I thought.
He had found me on the battlefield and tended my wounds patiently for weeks, until I was strong enough to get up. And when I had, the first thing I did was to walk up here to High Farrow. I needed a crutch and stopped frequently on the path to catch my breath, but as the dawn broke, I reached the remembrance stones.
There were many of them, bearing the names of people I knew and people I did not. The fallen of the Battle of Farrow Lake. I had snapped a twig from a lufwood tree on my way and, clutching it in my hand, I searched among the stones at High Farrow’s edge. At last I found the remembrance stone I sought. Looking down at it, I read the name chiselled into the blue-grey rock.
ALCESTIA, of the Farrow Lake Militia, it read, May Open Sky Take Her Soul.
I knelt before it and traced the words with a finger. Alcestia, my Alcestia, was gone. She’d died of her wounds on the second day of the battle, the white trogs of the water caverns powerless to save her. As the smoke from the shattered Eastern Woods began to drift away, they had brought her body here to the edge of High Farrow for sky burial.
As I lay in Hedgethorn’s hive tower fighting for my life, they had prepared the lufwood pyre and laid Alcestia upon it. Then, with flaming torches, they had set fire to the buoyant logs and the pyre had risen into the darkening sky. Higher and higher the burning wood took her, until at last, she disappeared into Open Sky. Open Sky, where we all came from, and Open Sky, where we all must go…
I fumbled in the pockets of my topcoat and, drawing out a flintbox and matches, I lit the lufwood twig I had brought. It flared into purple flame and, letting go, I watched it soar up into the golden glow of dawn.
‘Farewell, Alcestia,’ I said, tears flowing freely now. ‘We’ll meet again… in Open Sky.’