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Compline

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The fire leapt and danced on its glut of fuel, yellow tendrils licking the sky. Hair--black, blonde, grey, brown--shrivelled to instant ash while fat and skin sizzled a sickening length of time, a dirge they couldn't escape and none of them tried. The wind washed them with ashes and stench while they watched, unmoving, in the tiny ring the five of them formed.

Hotter than the Holy Land's deserts, the flames dried their tears the moment they formed. They were too few, this handful of them left living, for even their bottomless well of grief to touch that conflagration.

Tears gave way to sweat as they buried the singed, cracked bones, the last remains of their dead. Their shaking hands brushed each other's, cold living flesh covering cold remains, as they laid the mingled, indistinguishable mass of bones of wife, child, mother, grandfather...unborn babe together in a small pit and smoothed earth, rich and damp, over the mound.

They'd lived together, died together, and would lie together till the end of time.

God keep you safe, she'd said to him, the last words he'd ever hear in her voice. He couldn't bring himself to say them back to her now, but bowed his head and let the others' murmured invocations flow over him in the darkness behind his closed eyes.

Later, as the Berber, Calo, and Ash sought the heat and life of the horses to huddle near, none of them having the stomach to light another fire, Wilkin went into the cold of the long night ahead. Toran was a dark blot except where the weak light of the crescent moon caught in his fair hair. Wilkin shivered as he sank down beside him and leaned his back against the fallen oak, but he knew the iciness was in himself, not of the earth.

Toran didn't move, the gleam of his eyes unwavering as he stared forward. Wilkin lay his sword down beside him, a match to Toran's lying at the ready on his other side. Toran had accepted the sword back into his hand with the same firm, unhesitating grip as Wilkin had grasped the two of them when he'd dug them up from the dirt corner of his burnt home and unwrapped their protective oiled cloth, birthing them back into his life as shiny and deadly as when he and Toran had put them away from themselves.

They sat in silence, shoulders pressed together, as the moon set and the Great Wain lit the northern sky. Exhaustion tugged at him, but he sat waiting in silence until Toran's quiet voice finally sounded, hard and sure:

"We shall take our vengeance, however long it needs and whatever price it exacts from us."

Wilkin took a deep breath and let it out slowly.

"Yea," he said, a pledge and promise, and moved closer to the only point of warmth left for him in the world of the living.

They lay down together in the shelter of the great oak's carcase, leather creaking as they settled against each other, their hands moving to shift the swords with them, old unthinking custom guiding their mirrored movements.

"Yea." Toran's whisper brushed against his temple like the floss of a cobweb, deceptive as everything about Toran except the warmth that came with his breath.

Toran's arm tightened around his back and Wilkin closed his fingers around Toran's other wrist, drawing in the tangled smells of dirt and blood, smoke, and rage Toran embodied. Buttressed, they faced down this first night of emptiness together as they had countless other such nights through the years, in forests in strange lands or battlefields streaked with gore.

Wilkin fell asleep to the pulse of Toran's warm, vital life against his fingers.