I do not know the burial rites of humans, nor the specific rites of the woman who was our healer. She told me of her god once, some kind of sun deity who was a protector of life. In the end, her god could not protect her. Humans have so many gods, it is impossible to know the rites of them all. Walk from the top of the world to it’s center, and you will find that all elves worship the same, but humans diverge, name their gods different things, make gods of night and darkness, gods of stars and stars into gods.
When she was killed, Kirik agreed that we should take her body back to her homeland for proper burial. The journey was long, for we had wandered far on our adventures, so I cast a spell of preservation on her dead flesh, wrapped her in a shroud, and strapped her to Kirik’s stony back with leather cords. We make quite a pair, Kirik and I, he as tall as a barn, his body made of the rock of mountains, and I, a long and lean elf, with the elegant armor of my people.
We move though the night and day, never ceasing. I could, on my own, move faster, but I would not want to go alone, through this treacherous country. Kirik tells me that when he sleeps, he will sleep for years in the heart of a mountain, and till then, he is awake all day and night. I require little sleep, and when I do rest, Kirik scoops me up onto his shoulder, and I lean on his rocky head, and dream of my golden home. What a strange picture we must make; the elf, the rock giant, and the corpse.
Her name was Miremna, and over our adventures together, she had become our pillar of strength. When the wolves ripped my flesh in that impossibly long night, it was Miremna who called on her god to heal me. My flesh came back and fed the wolves again, the torture of teeth and the bliss of her healing. Then when the ghosts of the ashen fields occupied the body of my stone companion, it was Miremna who called on her gods to drive them out.
She had, over time, become beautiful to me. It is impossible to look at a human without seeing the creases on their face that will become wrinkles, the falling of their flesh from their skin. No matter how young the human is, I see in their face the ages that will come, the old person trapped inside.
In Miremna, I saw all this, and at first it repulsed me. In her young face there was an infirm woman, crooked and strange. Then, under the hands of her healing, I began to see that old woman was kindly, and in her own way, beautiful. But Miremna never got the chance to become that old woman. The Hill Tribe killed her with a barrage of arrows, and her healing power could not work on her own body. The Hill Tribe was a clever lot, no one before them had known that the true strength of our group was in the tiny human who hid far from us, muttering golden words. She made us stronger than we truly are and now we return from that lie, and again fear the cut of a sword and the point of an arrow.
“Let’s go through the mountain,” Kirik says, pointing down a stone road.”There is a city of stone giants there.”
“Do they allow elves?” I ask
There was the rumbling of rocks in his belly. Laughter? “By invitation,” he tells me.
I look into his iron face. “I’m not invited.” I tell him.
“We’ll see,” he says. Neither of us speak many words. Miremna used to carry all conversation. Now we listen to the wind.
When we get to the iron door of the stone giants, there is a guard there, a giant far larger than Kirik. I realize then, that Kirik, despite his size and his jagged stones, may be a young man among his people, an adolescent, as I am. Miremna may have been the eldest among us, at least, in the ages of her people.
“No elves,” rumbles the great giant in front of us. He has a massive ball on a giant chain swinging in front of him. I know that weapon would easily kill me, if I were to let it hit me, and then I realize that it would kill Kirik as well, Kirik, for whom arrows bounce off his chest.
Kirik does not respond in the trading tongue, but in his own, and after a moment, the great giant leans down and cups Kiriks chin in his great, stone hand. Their eyes meet, and then the guard opens the door.I follow Kirik, stunned.
“What did you offer him?” I ask, as we walk into the darkness of the mountain.
“Nothing,” rumbles my companion.
“Then how did you barter for my admittance?”
Kirik turned to me, and my eyes began to adjust to the lamplight, the many glowing orbs, like stars, lighting the long hallway before us. “You are blind,” said Kirik, “in many ways.”
“I can see in this light.” I tell him.
“Among my people,” said Kirik, “I am considered to be very attractive.”
I took a step back, and looked at his stony face, his deep jeweled eyes and large hands. “You. . .flirted?” I ask, and he nods. I bowed to him. “I am sorry,” I said, “I am,” I paused, considering if I should tell the truth. Then I bowed my head. “I am forty-three,” I said, “not two hundred as I told you.”
Kirik put his hand on my shoulder, or rather, around it, without leaning any weight. It was a careful gesture, as he could crush my bones if he was thoughtless. “I am eighty-six,” he said, “a baby among my people.”
I patted his hand. “Maybe we’ll grow up together.”