The inadequate shelter of trees were huddled in the cleft of the hill, their wood all hung in nighttime languidity. The branches were kept long by the caretaker, and remained unstirred by the man who was prostrated beneath them. A sky ever weaker of illumination coated the cemetery with soundless observance. It watched him as he laid down, from the time the grass turned wet until it dried under the noon sun. Noon back to night, wrinkles imprinted deeply into the fabric of his clothes as more hours passed. The folds of his disheveled jacket and the creases of his trousers were the least ruined, though, of his person.
He whispered delicately to the odd box that rested next to him, the grain of which blended away into the shadows and patterns of grass between them. The specifics of the wood consumed his attention as he conversed with the undertaker, yet the words now, so carelessly impassioned, rightly paled all he had ever spoken before. His ear betrayed him, and it felt as though the world deadened all sound against him. He raised his voice and no echo returned from against the box. His voice trembled in saddened frustration until he imagined that the leaves above shook in chorus. His throat croaked in dry exhaustion.
“Who will I walk with now? The festival was yesterday, and I have nothing now,” he moaned, unbothered by speaking his thoughts openly to the coffin of his son.
Night, sky, and trees layered heavily upon him with immaterial contact. Everything around the old vintner bowed him mercilessly. He had no energy or will to move from this spot. Unintelligible, unprovoked imaginations of a barren future played out inside. Where this loss would be compounded by the loss of the few others he held closest. His precious Annaline passed too few summers ago, too few for Tarmen to have been taken also.
Taken scarcely five days prior. His conscious mind refused to accept the amount of time, nor the violence he saw in the street then. The maelstrom of unhappy memories and tormented portents bore him down into sleep.
“Garmen, please,” a gentle voice spoke. A man shrouded in a square, hooded, black cloak reached down and awakened Garmen’s still form. From his kneeling position, the solitary hand was intended to comfort the aggrieved father until he rose.
Once Garmen came to himself from the sorrow, he slowly pivoted to face whoever disturbed him. He looked up to the face above him, and suddenly became aware of the raw ground biting him.
“Segrus,” Garmen said. He thought hard to recall when he met Segrus. The mysterious figure appeared from a crowd and seemingly sought Garmen out sometime after his tragedy. Segrus’ sorcerous look was not unheard of in O’waen, due to its proximity to Ovvern City. Garmen finally answered, gruffly, “Find yourself another grave, and desecrate that.”
Segrus was unperturbed by the insult, and continued, “Sir, I found you help. Two capable men to lift this burden with me and put your son to ground. I bound myself to this task. Let me take you up.”
“Why do this? Leave me here. I want nothing of you,” Garmen stated without emotion. Garmen attempted to seem fierce, but the flame of any anger he mustered was quenched by the deep sadness he resigned himself to.
It seemed to Garmen that Segrus sensed his helplessness, his inability to resist. He wondered if the eyes deep inside the black hood pierced his being.
Slowly, without a word to further conversation, Garmen was lifted gingerly up and out of the way. He made every effort to study who arrived with Segrus from his new distance away, leaned against a tree, yet somehow they were even more mysterious. Neither of the men helped Segrus, and awaited for Segrus to lead them in preparing a hole for the coffin. Darkness hid their faces. By their clothes they lived near, torn in places as a laborer might have.
Nobody spoke in the course of the hard work to shovel dirt. Garmen saw the commanding hand signals Segrus used periodically to indicate where to dig and place the dirt. He watched while they worked hard until a soft glow showed through the sparse clouds above. A deep hole for the coffin appeared from their handiwork, and they quickly lowered it into place before refilling the dirt over it. When they were done, Segrus sent the others ahead to speak to Garmen.
“Good sir. I leave you here now. I am deeply sorry for who you have lost,” Segrus said softly, his face visible enough for Garmen to notice his sincerity, “This is all that I can give you.” Without waiting for a reply, Segrus took the shovel he brought with him and departed.
Much later, Garmen rose from where Segrus left him against the trunk of a gum tree. The light of the morning began to light the familiar path back to life from this place of death. He took the path. Sore and unprepared for what lay ahead, for himself or how to face others, he wanted to find a way.
Near the exit of the cemetery, up over the hill and through many reserved plots, Garmen stopped in shock. Two ornate statues were erected long ago by the town for the purpose of marking the souls of the unknown. Their sharply etched features were worn over time yet the twin maidens remained with solemn, youthful faces and a hand open for candled censers. One leaned on a shepherd’s crook as a guide for the dead, and the other maiden was known as the judge. At the feet of their robed forms had fallen two men.
Their faces were desolate of normal color and soul. In the state of death, neither of them had been dead for a short time. Both of them were still clothed, their fate he assumed was not from robbery. The smell of rotten meat began to waft into his face in grating supply. Garmen backed away and placed a hand over his face while he continued staring in horror. Town authorities would interrogate him in time over what he saw, so he studied the faces more.
It was then, for Garmen, more than the sun dawned on him. Their form and body and profile matched in certain likeness the shadows of men from two nights of his life. As they laid without blood or strife, throats cut in ceremonious contempt, he wondered at what it could mean.