When it came time to carry her father’s soul down from the mountain, she had nothing to carry it in. The bowl her mother had carved from heirloom ivory, fit together like a puzzle mosaic and watertight without needing glue, had been shattered just that morning in an argument with the father’s retainer. No other bowl had been carved with the requisite love for him. But her father’s soul couldn’t be left up at the temple on Mount Ossus, so she went with the pilgrims to claim him before the sun did.
She stood in rank with them as the soul-preparers poured distillations from the cleaned skulls of the dead. When they came to her, a girl whose name was soonafter forgotten, she set her jaw and cupped her hands out like a beggar. “Give me my father,” she said.
They did. She took him down the mountainside cupped in her hands, tightening her fingers until they ached against every drop, until the piercing blue sky gave her terrors because it, too, was the color of soul water and it had spilled across the horizon, out of her hands.
The path, which had once been a broad road, was pitted with holes. Back in the heyday of the fort, the paving stones had been interspersed with scraps of iron the humans had salvaged from their own defunct machines. It had hurt to march that road—our feet had burned, and my regiment stayed to the verge and fields whenever possible. In the years after the Elven triumph we had sent out details of Men to pick the poison from the earth here and the other places they had defended against us, and throw it into the sea.
Jessica was wearing loose silk for me. A cool breeze came down out of the hills and played the fabric over the smoothness of her shoulders. I delighted in the sensation, and she knew it. I smiled at her, and my beloved hesitantly returned my gaze for a moment. Our pair-bond was still new enough that she found it disorienting at times; looking into each other’s eyes could throw her into an infinitely recursive image of ourselves, with a vertigo that twisted both our guts. She would require gentle handling, for a while. It had been so with my first wife as well: an awkward initial adjustment period that settled into centuries of intimacy and trust, ever strengthened by the continual sharing of our five senses. I knew every facet of her life, and I would not have traded a moment of it, even during those last long years of pain when her illness gripped her more closely than I could. When she died I was amazed to find that I had not gone with her, and for decades afterwards I had no use for this drab and colorless world, or even for our own. Although it is not often done, I think it was wise to choose a human for my bride this time; they are frail and short-lived, and I will not be faced with another such lingering illness or the same depth of love.