The small boy sat under the ash tree at the top of the cliff and stared through glazed, red-rimmed eyes at the grey sea. The sun was just beginning to slip beyond the horizon, and the early spring sky was streaked with pink and gold. The cold wind that rolled off the waves tugged his black hair and cut through his thin woollen tunic, but in his anguish he barely felt the shivers that passed through his body. Tear tracks had left their thin lines through the soot and dirt on his round face.
Half a mile or so behind him, the black smoke of the funeral pyre still rose sickeningly upwards. The boy had fled when the first torch had touched the dry kindling that surrounded his mother's body, shrouded in white linens and daubed with death runes of the red clay mud from the river. He had pushed his way through the sober crowd of black-clad family and friends, aunts and uncles, well-wishers and people he barely knew, and ran blindly for any solitude he could. In the hollow trunk of the storm-blasted tree he had wept his grief to the cold earth and prayed in vain to all the gods he knew, that they would give his mother back to him. Eventually, alone, exhausted and empty of tears, accepted what he had known all along; she was gone, and she wasn't coming back.
"There you are!"
Startled, the boy leapt up. But it was Duneln, the old druid, and the boy knew him well enough to relax slightly, but not so well that he let his guard down completely. The druid's raven Spirit-Guide, herself aging and grey around her black eyes, croaked hoarsely and flew to the branch above the boy's head. She landed clumsily and stared down with beady eyes at the boy, who met her gaze with a steady, if weary defiance.
"Gods, boy, you nearly had the whole village out looking for you! Your Uncle's going spare and Eilda's about to have kittens."
The boy remained silent. The druid studied him, and decided perhaps a different approach was necessary.
"You ought to come back inside, you know. The feast will be starting soon, and this cold isn't good for anyone."
Still, the boy did not move. The old man sighed. He leaned heavily on his twisted yew staff, and followed the boy's gaze, out across the sea to the distant sun. "She had a strong spirit, your mother," he said , after a pause. "She'll always be honoured here, but her spirit might linger here if you mourn her too long. You have so let her go, so she can start her journey."
The boy nodded. The raven watched him, ruffled her feathers, and said to the druid, It's hard for him, to lose his parents so young. First his father, and now his mother too. He is not yet eight summers old. The raven looked down at the boy again. Sometimes the Gods are too cruel, she said.
We will all meet with death, Kavaesta. He would have had to bear this burden some day. Perhaps it is best. Now he has more time to prepare.
The raven carked angrily. No matter how long he has he will never be ready! The line of the First Kings has grown thin, old man. The tattered remnants of the Gift passed down through the years have withered like leaves on a tree in winter. He has barely a single chance of success, and you know it. It is too much that you ask of him.
Have a shred of faith! The druid barked. Would you prefer it if I did nothing? If I sat back and watched the world fall to ruin without even raising a hand? We must try, Kavaesta. Even if we have but a single chance at all. And how many times must we have this argument?
The raven harrumphed and glared at the druid, but said nothing.
The boy, though he couldn't hear them, knew that some kind of communication had passed between the old bird and the old man. He glanced between them suspiciously, but he said nothing. Man, boy and bird sat in silence and watched the sea devour the sun, spilling its blood across the waves in a glorious sunset. After a while the boy spoke, his voice heavy with emotion and fatigue.
"Where will she go, Duneln?"
The wizened old druid looked up at the darkening sky behind them, where the first stars where beginning to show in the fading light. And his grey eyes smiled.
"She dances with the spirits now."
AN: - The very short prologue to an ongoing project of mine, that may of may not be posted here. Depends if I get any interest. Will not whore self out for reviews, will not whore self out for reviews...
If there are any glaring mistakes, feel free to let me know!