Content Warning: Grisly images
Turning to Mave, she placed her foot on the dead woman’s hip to hold the body still. “Pull out the pike,” she said. “Then drag the body to center of the square.”
While Mave removed the first corpse, she tore down the second, and Lavena removed the pike from the body of a young man whose face had also been slashed and burned after his death. All told, twenty-two bodies lay stacked in the middle of the square by the time they had finished this gruesome work, and they stood looking down at the miserable heap in silence for some time afterward.
Finally, Mave said, “One or two of the buildings were made of stone. We can raise a cairn over them.”
“No,” she said. “A tomb is just another thing to be desecrated. We must burn them.”
“But then they cannot go on—”
“Whatever is left of them has no need for this body,” she said. “The dead have nothing to do with us. We only care for their remains to ease ourselves; it matters not how. Find wood; there must be some remaining that isn’t entirely burnt up.”
Shaking her head, Mave turned away to seek wood, and Lavena took a step after her, but her step-mother took her by the arm. “This will only worsen,” she said. “You should return to our home, where you will know nothing of it.”
“How could I do that?” asked Lavena. “You will fight, and Mave will fight. I must fight beside you.”
“Someone must tend to the house and the animals,” she said. “You were not made to endure this.”
Lavena shook her head. She pulled away and followed after Mave, running to catch up to her older sister.
When they had gathered sufficient fragments of wood to construct a rude bier, they placed the first body on it and prepared to light it with a few embers Lavena had found among the ashes. Mave, holding the glowing coals in the helmet of a fallen soldier, was just leaning over to empty them onto the bier, when a sudden shift in the wind sent a chill running up her step-mother’s spine.
“Stop,” she said to Mave, and both her daughters turned to look at her. Without another word, she flung herself to the ground and pressed her ear to the blackened grass, drawing slow, even breaths.
“What is it? What do—” said Mave, but she held up her hand for silence.
“Keep still,” she said, and resumed her vigil. She lay on the ground, motionless, while the moon sank slowly toward the horizon, then sprang to her feet at last. Looking away toward the west and north, her heart shrank in upon itself, and she turned to look at Mave.
“Burn them,” she said. “Make sure it is done before dawn, before anyone can discover you. I will return.”
Before either of them could protest, she broke into a run and disappeared into the fading night.