The Song of His Deeds
Broc had gone cold.
The tears that soaked Breanna’s face were dry. She no longer choked on her sobs but the grief seemed so monstrous it felt as though it choked upon her.
There was only her grief.
Only the hollow empty gnawing.
There was no wind, no sky, no trees, no mountains, no dragons, no Leasha, no one.
Breanna was alone with the body of her brother and the hollow pit in her life that he had left behind.
Into her misery came a sensation. A sharp tug to her side. It didn’t matter. The snagging or pulling upon her clothes was irrelevant.
She ignored it.
But then the tugging became a prodding. A sharp sudden dig into the soft flesh of her right side between her hip and ribs. She yelped. Then looked about for whatever stick or stone intruded upon her.
She stared. Unblinking.
It was a creature.
A sleek black-feathered bird at least two feet in size. Its dark feathers seemed to contain a thousand colours all of their own and its black eyes glimmered with the fire of intelligence as it looked at her, cocking its head from side to side and hopping about.
It loomed over her. Its grey-black beak was menacingly sharp and its clawed feet appeared strong enough to gouge her flesh from her bones.
It was a monster.
If Breanna had seen this bird a few short days ago. Back when she had lived in the distant forests, far from the concerns of Druids and Dragons, then she would likely have been terrified. She might have taken off at a run, speeding back to her village screaming, crying, and not looking back.
But now, beaten and bruised by days upon days of journeying, having seen creatures and people she never thought possible, having watched life torn from bodies, young old, Innocent and foul, and having sat uselessly as her brother died in her arms… she just stared.
Her left hand tightened upon Broc’s clothes.
If this bird was here for a meal she would run it though.
Moving very slowly while keeping her eyes fixed on the bird, she took hold of the axe her brother had given her.
She would spill her first blood with it if she had to.
“Get away,” she warned.
“Get away,” the bird replied. It was sudden and terrifying. It shocked her that a bird would talk especially with a voice so uncannily like her own. It should have sounded like the caw of a crow or like the sharp rattling bark of its cousins not like the smooth dulcet tones of a maiden.
It unsettled her.
“Get away,” he bird repeated, this time with a spreading and fluttering of wings that were so huge Breanna could have easily lain across them. It peered at her with one eye almost as if it was assessing its success at terrifying her.
She was unmoved.
The damn thing could complain all it wanted to.
She turned back to Broc.
She would never abandon him. Never abandon his body. But as the sun began to sink in the sky. She knew with dread the rites she had a duty to perform for him.
There was no one else who could do them.
No other kin to perform the rites while she hid away in her hut. No big brother to walk at the head of the procession while she clung to her aunt’s skirts at the back.
The creature fluttered and demanded.
She shook her head, did the bird have no respect?
She reached over to Broc’s eyes and lay her hand gently upon them, closing them for good. He would never look upon the sky again.
As the world darkened around her, she knew it was time.
Light or not. She would have to prepare the rite.
She hauled her heavy body to her feet, her hands still covered in blood and looked around.
The bird became excited; cawing as it danced around her, always just far enough out of reach that if she were to swing the axe, it would swing clear.
‘Poor stupid bird,’ she thought, ‘the accursed creature thinks it’s won.’
It fluttered its wings delightedly as she walked away from Broc’s body. Then watched quietly as she gathered branches and sticks from the surrounding undergrowth. Its head flitted from side to side as it performed its strange dance.
Then, as she walked back to the body, it grew excited again. Cawing, fluttering its huge wings and jumping.
It took Breanna several journeys back and forth collecting piles of bracken and sticks before the bird accepted that she wasn’t leaving. She wasn’t even responding to the bird’s cries.
But rather than leave, it watched.
Back and forth she went. The sun was dipping below the horizon and she only had the twilight to work by. She had gathered all she could find and there was barely enough for a campfire let alone the pyre of a warrior. But Breanna didn’t have any choice.
She had no wise woman here to perform any rituals. No elders to speak to the ancestors.
Broc could not wait.
He would ascend at first light and without a pyre to release him and guide his way, then his soul would forever stalk the land, never finding his way to the ancestors and never joining his father at the great hunter’s feast.
Breanna had to do her duty.
It relieved her when the foolish Iskia finally grew bored. It jumped a few more times, spread its wings and leapt into the sky.
But Breanna was surprised that once it had left her, the sudden isolation bit at her.
She bowed her head and continued her lonely task until suddenly; the Iskia returned.
Its deep black silhouette shone against the last light of the sky. Then landed with a flutter.
Breanna stared. The silly creature had brought her a branch from the forest.
Did it think this a game? Did it think it could buy her off with a stick?
But she watched open-mouthed as the bird took the stick not to her but to Broc. The Iskia danced about for a moment, seeming to decide what to do, before placing the long three-foot branch down beside Broc and then taking off into the sky again.
As Breanna gathered her few sticks in the half-dark, the Iskia brought more and more large branches. Each time the bird would examine the wood building up around Broc, place the new branch carefully and then flutter back into the sky. Without so much as a caw or a cry.
The fullness of the stars were bright against the velvet black and the half-moon rested on a distant mountain, as finally, the pair of strangers had completed their nest of sturdy branches to cradle the body of her brother.
There was nothing more for her to do but wait until the first light of the sun crept over the horizon.
She sat on the bare grass, staring over at the pyre. With nothing for her body to do the wave of grief found her an unwilling victim and she fell once again into sobs.
Torn between guilt at his fall in battle and the terror of a future in which he played no part. The wide-open space of tomorrow stared at her, taunting her and she didn’t know how she would walk through.
She was alone.
The Iskia fluttered back. A branch within its grasp. The bird placed it expertly within the network of intertwined branches and logs but rather than taking off again it noticed Breanna and hopped over.
Despite all the bird’s expert help, Breanna reached for the axe at her belt. She wiped the fresh tears from her face, ready to scare the thing off if it went for her. She wasn’t leaving. She wasn’t abandoning her brother for the sake of a bird.
But the Iskia did not taunt her. It did not tell her to go.
Instead, it took up a position next to her. Its strange clawed feet clung to a felled log, it flurried its feathers and settled in.
Warily, Breanna lowered her axe.
It wasn’t what she had expected but the strange company was a comfort. She glanced once at the Iskia then shuffled closer. Her lips felt too nervous to talk about her brother. Too wary to sing of his deeds.
She knew that once she did, once she spoke his life, it would be over.
But she had to speak it… for there was no one else who could.
“My bother…” her voice cracked, it croaked with the grief that stained it, she took a deep breath and started again, “My Brother was Broc of the woodland hunt, Son of Coinin, born on the third day of harvest, he lived through twenty-three springs and summers and his deeds are many…” as she talked of him she remembered their life together. She spoke first of the stories she had only heard from the time before she was born. How the little Broc would climb to the roof of huts and refuse to come down, how he tamed a woodland goat to act as his steed and crafted his first sling.
But then she spoke of him after she was born, how her parents had thought he would act badly, so long had he been their only child, but he took to his brotherly duties as he had taken to life. With zest, care, and honour.
She spoke of the day after she was born, of the story she’d heard told so many times across the fire by her father; her mother, sick after a difficult birth, had been too ill to perform the duties of introduction and her father, busy attending to his wife, had not noticed Broc take the new baby.
Panicked they searched for him everywhere, believing the worst of a jealous sibling but they found him, just five springs old, performing the duties himself, carrying the tiny bundle, huge for such a small child, around to each hut in the village to ask for their blessings.
Into the darkest part of the night, she spoke of her brother’s life. She related all she knew of his duties his tasks his achievement and his unwavering loyalty and kindness. All night the Iskia sat with her. Patient, unmoving, hearing her grief and learning the life of the young man now parted.
Eventually, cold to the bone, sore, and achingly thirsty, Breanna crawled to her feet and took some kindling and rummaged for her flint. It took a few sparks to light the bundle, she tended to it, shielding it from the wind and blowing gently until it began to flicker. Like a tiny flaming bird newly hatched, she carried it over to her brother and laid the fire at his feet.
With a little gentle encouragement, the fire was soon blossoming all around the nest that the Iskia and Breanna had so carefully built.
It was time for her brother’s soul to rise up to the stars.
She knew she ought to sing the coronach… but she had no words to guide him on his way. And so it was in silence that Breanna and her strange new friend watched Broc’s golden aura slowly lift up on the smoke and enter the breaking dawn of the new day.