Caught between two enemies, the Dacouvri turned to the goddess of the mountains for protection. But what does that protection really mean – and what does it cost? [14 min]
Yelto’s fingers scrabbled at the loose earth, and for one moment, just one bright and hopeful moment, he thought he might fall and die. But then he caught hold of a spur of rock, embedded deep enough in the soil to hold his weight; and he hauled himself up and lay, breathing heavily, at the top of the cliff. The air was thick and damp in his lungs. He rolled onto his back and sucked in great draughts of it, as if it were patxo smoke.
But it was not patxo leaves that were burning. It was the village of Duilhac. His home.
“You should not be out of breath from such a climb, little brother,” Riantxa scolded him. He looked up at her, a silhouette against the sky.
That was all she ever did. Nothing he had done had ever been good enough for Riantxa. She was the perfetta, the virginal knight of their village. She had been a paragon, and everyone had loved and feared her as they loved and feared one blessed.
But she was here. She was here at the top of the cliff, with him, where the Dacouvri had died before he was born, and while the Dacouvri were dying in the village below.
He took her proffered hand, and hauled himself upright, to stand blinking in the bright light. Or perhaps the smoke. Even here, five hundred spans above the village, the smoke was swirling, sharp in his face.
The smoke of a funeral pyre. The pyre of everyone he had ever known.