Theodas and Jehan started riding as soon as dawn came. They had been riding south for a few days with no clear purpose in mind, just following the roads from one village to the other, asking a few townsfolk if they had seen a red-haired gnome, but the same answer would be given to us every time. None had seen her.
That day had started with a red sun rising above a purple sky. A bad omen, Theodas thought. The air was heavy with steam, and it looked like the clouds could turn into a storm at any time. Yet, they pushed on.
After an hour-long ride, they arrived in front of a field and were struck by the smell of blood and death that was clinging on the place. An overturned cart was lying there, in a shallow pool of murky water. The horse was dead; his entrails spilt from its belly onto the ground, still saddled and harnessed to the cart. The cart itself was severely damaged. Arrows were stuck in the wood, slashes from different types of blades could be seen all over it, and a wheel had broken off.
The goods the cart had been transporting were laying on the ground. Broken vases and crates, torn silks and wools… Everything the thieves couldn’t take in time had been left to rot in the sun and wind. Theodas and Jehan stopped their horses next to the cart and climbed down to examine it.
The driver was lying dead a few feet away from the cart. A couple of arrows had pierced his back, and his head had been taken clean off with a powerful strike of a sword or axe. The man had been in his fifties. Slightly small with a big belly, he did not seem the fighter type. He did not even carry a weapon, Theodas noticed as he searched his body. He found nothing of interest there, except a couple of silver coins that he pocketed.
Jehan was inspecting the cart itself. Inside, she found two more bodies. A woman, in her forties, with old grey hair tattered with dried blood and a boy, no older than twelve, hiding behind crates. Both of them had been shot with bolts from crossbows. Shot, without anyway of being able to protect or bury themselves. Jehan stood as if she had been struck dumb.
Theodas came to join her and glanced at the corpses, already rotting at the back of the cart.
“They were going to start anew… Finding a new life…”, said Jehan, “Look here. You can see they had packed everything they possessed. The thieves did not even take half of it.”
“They only took the gold. They did not care for the rest.”, replied Theodas in a dark tone.
A whimper broke out the silence from around them. A small, frail whimper. A girl’s voice. Theodas and Jehan looked in the distance. Half covered in mud and dried caked blood, a little girl, no older than ten was lying there, her blue eyes looking straight at them.
She was extremely pale, and as the pair of them approached her, they noticed her arm was missing to the elbow, and she had been shot with a crossbow bolt in the chest.
Theodas looked at her and knew in an instant. He could not save her. The bolt had pierced the lung, and the rot had spread into the arm up to the shoulder. She was bleeding out slowly, and the crows were already flying over her, waiting patiently for the girl to die.
Jehan knelt next to her and looked at her frail body. Tears were filling her eyes as she understood what Theodas had seen almost immediately.
Theodas knelt by the girl and brushed her hair over her ear. He took out a flask of water and opened the girl’s lips slightly. A trickle of water ran down her cheeks as he poured it into her throat. She coughed weakly and moaned in agonising pain.
Theodas approached the girl’s ear and started singing in a gentle and peaceful voice.
“Larya nîn mëlissè… le sinte îma sinomë ána sama lemî oloorë. Le ar’uunèr ana kaurë. uur’anor wannëa, isilme va’arya, telume siila tere. Vàrna mi’olör türma ei ràumo. Sinomë”
The girl’s breathing was soothed by the music of the words sung by the elf. Theodas kept singing in a gentle voice. Without a sound, he drew his dagger and plunged it deep into the heart of the girl. She shuddered for an instant. Life escaped her, and her agony was over.
Theodas closed his eyes and trembled. He knew he had to do it, yet he would have given anything to have been able to save her.
Jehan put a gentle hand on Theodas shoulder and took the dagger away from him, putting it on the ground.
Theodas opened his eyes to the corpse of the young girl. He looked at her face and her lifeless eyes, staring at the purple morning sky.
“What did you sing to her?”, asked Jehan.
“An old elvish song. Lament of dreams and lullaby to sleep… My mother used to sing it to me, a long time ago…”, Theodas answered in a whisper.
Theodas eyes filled with tears as he closed the eyes of the girl. He rested her arm along the side of her small body and cried. Jehan looked at her and shed silent tears for that young girl.
After a few minutes, Theodas stood up and went to his horse. He took out a shovel from his saddle and started digging on the hard frozen ground.
Jehan stood up and looked at him with surprise.
“I thought we couldn’t…”
“I know what I said!”, interrupted Theodas, in a harsh tone.
Theodas continued to work on the grave, digging away fiercely, each new strike into the ground, burning more of the grief that was bursting his heart. After a few minutes, Jehan finally joined him.
It took two hours to build a decent grave for the girl. Theodas didn’t stop digging, not for a moment, and it was with bloody hands that he lifted the corpse of the young girl and laid her gently into the grave.
Jehan let him do it. She allowed him to recover the corpse with earth and she let him stand in silence over the freshly dug grave. After a moment, Theodas put his hand on the ground and whispered a few words. A single blue flower sprouted from the ground to mark the grave.
Theodas stood up and looked at the flower, tears falling from his eyes like pearls.
“No one should ever have to bury a child.”, he said.
Yet in these words, he knew he said more than he ever could. He felt he was back, that evening, digging a similar tomb for a similar child.