Here”s Ester pov. Ester Runehawk, poor old Rook’s sister.
She was watching vultures circle in the sky above her and all she could think of was that they had been feasting on her family, on everyone she had ever known.
It had been two days since Farview had burned. Since the mist came. Still she stayed within the stone circle that the moorfolk called the Sorrow Stones. That seemed apt. She had spent most of those two days crying and when sleep finally came there was no freedom from her grief there. Sleep only brought Rook. He was frozen. He wouldn’t come to her. She would call for him again and again in her dream but still it would be the same as in life. Something would hit her and there would be darkness.
“When will they go away?” she said as she watched the vultures descend towards the ashes of Farview. The Sorrow Stones were away to the east of the Moor Road where the moors started to rise towards the far off mountains.
“When they stop being hungry, I suppose,” said a voice.
She turned on to her side.
The pigboy was gutting a rabbit ready to roast it over the fire for dinner. His two pigs were sleeping beside the fire. She knew she should think of him as Glump but that was a silly name. He was the pigboy but she had to get used to calling him Glump. Glump, his name is Glump.
His pigs were always with him and he even had a slightly upturned nose like a snout. He was quite ugly really. Just her luck to get stuck with the ugliest of her father’s wall guard. There were many handsome men serving her father who had smiled at her enough times. Or there had been. They were all dead now. There was only Glump.
He was stupidly big too. A giant. She had half expected him to be as dumb as he was tall but he spoke well and more importantly he knew how to survive on the moors, what they could eat and not eat, where to find water. He had wanted them to get moving on the first day but she refused to budge. She knew she had to leave soon, follow the road north to Carentol and her father’s family, but the thought of leaving made her ill. She would rather stay on the moors and suffer the cold. It meant she was still close to them. Or to their bodies.
That thought hurt her most. They were bodies now. Her father, so strong and brave. A knight, a Blade of the Stone Lands, brother to a king. Now he was just food for vultures. Her mother too with her hair that smelled of lavender and her fine silk dresses. Even her friends, Abagel and Rowenne, even Gillice Thwaite. She had hated Gillice Thwaite all her life. Gillice was the daughter of her father’s captain and Ester hated how she would flirt with every wall guard or serving boy that passed her. Hated how she would flutter her eyelids and laugh at the silly jokes the visiting knights would tell. But now she wanted nothing more than to see Gillice, to hear her laugh, her over-sweet laugh. But Gillice was dead. She had seen her body, her eyes wide, her mouth open. No laughter, no fluttering eyelids. Just death. She had seen them all die.
She put her hand to her head. The wound was healing well. When Glump had found her, carried her from the fires to the moor, blood had covered her face. The cut had been deep, almost to the bone. It would scar, he told her. He told her too that he’d thought she was dead when he first found her but then he felt her heart beat, faint and slow, and he knew she would live. In the first day she wished she had died. Dead with them all so she didn’t have to mourn them.
Poor Rook, she thought to herself. Every time she thought of her brother she felt the tears welling again and the pain in her forehead woke. They were twins and though they had never been alike she had always loved him more than even her parents. She had protected him, watched over him. He liked the stories she read to him best. Sometimes, when he had his worst fits, she would be the only one who could soothe him. She would read him a story and as soon as he heard her voice he would calm down and lay his head against her shoulder and she would read and read until he slept. My poor Rook, she thought again.
Glump yanked the skin from the rabbit, pulled it hard so he was left with just a naked, pink rabbit. Her stomach lurched. She had eaten rabbit many times but never had to see one skinned. She wished she wasn’t so hungry but now the poultice Glump had made for her wound was starting to work her appetite had returned in strength. She touched the wound. The poultice was hard now and she tried not to think of what was in it. He had applied it to her head before she had woken on the first day but it was the stink of it that finally woke her. Urine and cow muck, that was the stench. It had lessened now and the pain had almost gone, unless she thought of Rook.
“Will you eat some?” asked Glump.
She sat up.
She was wrapped in his cloak, a dirty thing covered in odd stains with the grey hawk mark sewn upon it. She was still cold though. Ever since the strange mist had moved south the weather had turned bitterly cold. It was meant to be summer but the sky was forever overcast and on their first night on the moors a light snow had fallen.
“The world’s gone to pot,” Glump had said with confidence. He didn’t seem afraid of what had happened. Of the mist, the shadows, the strange weather. He only seemed certain that bad times were coming. He almost accepted the prospect like anyone else might accept a rainy day. She was afraid. Every time she remembered what had happened she saw the shadows. What were they? They had no face, no eyes. Just black shadows. When she had first woken she had been convinced it was all warlock magic but Glump had told her she was wrong.
“That weren’t magic,” he had said, again with certainty, “that were older and stronger.”
Those words had scared her even more.
Now Glump shoved a stick through the rabbit and balanced it over the fire. His pigs woke up at the smell of meat cooking and so too did Ester. She stood up and, pulling the cloak tight about herself, she made her way over to the fire.
“Won’t be long,” said Glump. He had found some wild garlic and some blackberries too so they ate those while the rabbit cooked. One of the pigs, the one he called Cracker, pushed his head against Ester but she pushed him away. The pigs stank worse than the poultice. She couldn’t understand why Glump kept them but the wall guard seemed to love them.
“Are you feeling well now, erm, my lady,” he asked her.
She smiled. It was nice in a way for someone to still call her that even if they said it as awkwardly as Glump. My lady. But what was she lady of, she wondered. She looked off to where Farview had been. To where the three towers had stood tall. To where the wall that encircled the town had stood for a thousand years. Now it was all gone. Just a black scar on the land.
“I’m feeling better, thank you Glump,” she lied.
He smiled back. It wasn’t a reassuring smile. Glump had no front teeth and the rest of his teeth were yellow or black. He couldn’t have been more than a year older than her and yet he looked sometimes as old as her father. He was broad and had a wide face with deep set black eyebrows and his black hair was matted and tied back in a ponytail. At least he had his axe.
The axe was almost as tall as Glump. She had tried lifting it but Glump had laughed at her. It was so heavy, she wondered how even Glump could lift it.
Maybe, she thought, as Glump took the rabbit from the fire, I should be glad I’m with him. He lived after all. He lived when everyone else died.
The rabbit was good. She ate more berries and Glump made a tea with some leaves he had found. They tasted of mint.
“Moor-rose tea,” he said though the black leaves he had stewed looked nothing like roses. The tea was sweet and warm. It made her feel almost safe.
“Will we be making a move tomorrow?” asked Glump. He had asked her that on the first night and then again on the second.
She sipped her tea. She closed her eyes and she hoped beyond hope she wouldn’t see Rook again. See him taken.
She saw nothing.
When she opened her eyes she saw the two pigs tucking into the last berries and Glump gnawing at a rabbit bone to get at the marrow.
“I think we will,” she said.
There was nothing here for her now, she knew that. She wasn’t even sure anymore why she had stayed. Maybe it had been for some vague hope that someone had lived. Yes, that must have been it. She had lied to herself that she had to stay in case someone needed them but now she knew the truth. They were all gone and she had only one place to go now. Carentol. Her father’s brother Yewen was king of the Stone Lands and though she hadn’t seen him since she was a child and knew none of her family there she knew it was the only place she had left now. She had to start again. There were only ashes of what had been her life left on the Night Moors now.
That night she slept without dreams and in the morning they followed the Moor Road north. By noon they were nearing the village of Moonflower Rise. She could see the jagged peaks of the Carn Mountains beyond and knew that somewhere past those giants was Carentol.
“How far is it to Carentol?” she asked Glump.
He was chewing on a blade of thick grass. His pigs were walking beside him, one either side, like obedient dogs. The one with the black spot on its rump was Cracker and the one with a brown spot on his left ear was Bacon.
“Not less than eighty miles, I’d say,” answered Glump.
The Moor Road rose to a steep incline. At the top of that was the village. They could see smoke rising from chimneys, one tall stone house rising higher than the other thatched houses and the steeple of a chapel. That was good, she thought, maybe she could go to an Arl and pray for Ont to take care of her family’s souls, her friends’ souls. Maybe she could even pray for whatever the shadows were to die though she wasn’t sure if shadows could die. The ones who came to Farview didn’t seem to fall beneath the blades and arrows of her father’s guard. She had seen a spear pass cleanly through one and the astonished guard had had barely a second to wonder at what was happening before he fell.
“How long will it take us to get there?” she asked.
Glump chewed on the grass.
“Not less than a week I’d say,” he said.
She sighed. Her feet were already blistered and sore. She had never walked so far in her life. She turned to look back the way they had come. In the distance she could see the gentle rise and fall of the moors. The river Mud wound this way and that to the east. A thin line of smoke still rose from Farview. And then she noticed something moving on the moor. A rider, alone, moving slowly, coming the exact way they had come.
Glump had seen the rider too now.
“Come on, erm, my lady,” he said and he put a huge hand gently on her shoulder, “we should be moving. Best to be inside tonight.”
She didn’t follow him immediately. For a moment she thought maybe the rider was her father, riding Gunner to find her. She hadn’t seen him fall after all. Maybe he’s alive, she told herself. But as she watched the rider slowly moving over the distant moorland she knew it was not him. He was gone. They were all gone. For a while at least she would have only Glump and his pigs.