NOTE: This story is part of a series. For the recommended reading order, see Beryl's Storyline.
Beryl wrapped the body in her cloak, and she carried it into the forest, until the house where the woman had died vanished from sight.
It was important, Beryl knew, for the dead to be buried away from where they fell. Her mother had explained to her, once, just why this was so, although Beryl could not remember the reason. Beryl’s immediate concern was more practical. She wanted to dig the grave someplace where Layna could visit, without having to see her ruined home.
The body was more ash than bone, really, so Beryl swaddled it in her arms like a child as she walked, taking each step carefully. She crossed through frozen fields to a stand of thin, wispy pines, and it was there, at the base of the tallest tree, where she started to dig.
The ground was frozen, so Beryl had to melt it. She worked her magic careful, and slow – calling just enough of the fire to loosen the soil, so that she could turn it with a spade, but not so much as to turn it to mud. She was worried she might not find a spade to dig with, in which case she would have used her hands. But, among the ashen remains of the house, she found all the tools of the farmer’s trade: a hoe, a plow, a spade. Their handles were blackened, burnt, and useless, but the head of the spade had survived, so Beryl carried it back with her, and, dropping to her knees on the melted ground, she began to dig.
In so far as Beryl could tell, the riders had not stolen a thing. All they had done was murder, and destroy.
Beryl fought back tears, as she scraped a shallow hole in the earth.
The grave did not need to be deep; there was little left to bury.
The work was rough. The soil was hard, and thick with roots. The smaller ones Beryl cut with the spade. The larger ones she had to burn. Her fingers and knuckles bled from the effort. Without her cloak, she must have been cold, too, although she hardly noticed.
Eventually, though, she got the grave dug, and, as day turned to night, she carefully arranged the bones.
She left the body inside her cloak, laying it out like a shroud. Her knowledge of anatomy was limited, and fire had twisted the remains. But Beryl did her best to place the woman in a state of repose, and, when she was done, she closed her eye, and she said a few words to the Gods, if the Gods were listening.
Something glinted in the moonlight, and caught Beryl’s eye. Kneeling close, she found a silver ring through the soot, still clinging to one of the dead woman’s fingers. Beryl reached to pick it up, but hesitated. She didn’t know what the customs of this world were. Did the departed pass their keepsakes down, or were they buried with them?
In the end, Beryl decided to take the ring. She would give it to Layna, and Layna could decide what to do with it. If it was supposed to be buried, then Beryl would bury it, later, after Layna had had the chance to say her goodbyes, and to cry, if the tears would come. If the memories the ring held were too painful to carry, then Layna could throw it into the sea.
But the girl should have something to remember her mother by, Beryl thought. That was what she had wanted, when she had been Layna’s age.
In the silence of the winter night, Beryl shoveled loose dirt onto the grave. It was only when she was finished that she realized she had no stone, nor anything else with which to mark the spot. So she wiped the spade clean with the edge of her robe, and she laid it on the freshly-turned earth, where it shone in the moonlight. Kneeling, she traced a pattern onto the hammered metal, and, as the rune took, it flared white beneath her fingertips, then flickered yellow, like a prayer candle flame.
It was a simple ward – one of the first Beryl’s mother had taught her – offering protection from rust and the elements. It would do nothing to ease the passage of the dead. But it would at least keep the memorial clean.
Then Beryl pulled some low boughs from the sheltering pine, and she braided them together, into her best attempt at a wreath, which she placed atop the makeshift grave.
“I’m sorry,” Beryl said, to the darkness as much as the departed. It was all she could think of to say.
Then Beryl stood, wiped the dirt from her hands, and went to find Aloise, and Layna.
Aloise Hartley is an original character created by RuwinReborn for the Expanded Multiverse.
Magic: Expanded Multiverse is not associated with Wizards of the Coast. This is a transformative work of fanfiction, protected in the United States under the laws of Fair Use.
All works copyright their respective creators.