He should dig a grave before leaving. The old man should receive the honor. And then Barrin could decide what to do.
His father would tell him, “Duty first, Barrin. You are the fifty-first generation to dwell in our tower, and you bear the weight. Duty!”
His father was dead. As dead as the old man whose body lay in the snow.
Barrin pressed his lips together. He would not sob. No. He had a duty, and it did not permit such a display.
He crouched in the snow as he thought, as he mourned. The fingertips of one hand brushed the cold, cold snow.
The wind caressed his face. “What should I do?” he asked the breeze.
He allowed the wind to turn his face to the lands below the tower. Far below, far away, the wall held in the gardens. The guardians there would have dispatched escorts by now. Escorts to make sure he arrived safely. Escorts that would urge him to rekindle the hope of the trees, to remind them of their duty.
How could he remind the trees to do their duty if he didn’t do his?
But how could he do his duty when he knew the old man lay in the snow, unburied, unsung? He should have a song and a fire, like the forty-nine generations that had come before he sat upon the chair within the tower. No, he should be doing his duty. Why was he dead? The old man had to go west. He had to speak to Mother Sun. Who would go now?
Fifty generations before Barrin. All gone. The steps that bore their names scattered in the snow by the trembling of the tower.
If the old man couldn’t do his duty, how could Barrin? If the tower couldn’t do its duty to stand, how could Barrin? The tower had stood for so much longer than he had been alive. And if it feared the end of summer so much it would rather fall, how could he possibly stand?
He had to move soon or his fingertips would turn blue.
Barrin stood from his crouch. He would bury the old man.
He wished the old man had told him his name.
No, tradition upheld them. It was necessary. As necessary as the names of the generations on the steps.
Barrin cast about in the ruin of tower for some cloth and made a litter. He dragged the old man’s body onto it, and dragged that to the cave on the east side of the mountain, not far below the peak. He set the body in a niche, one of countless in the great cavern. The fingertips of one hand brushed against the cold, cold stone.
As he paced around the cavern, surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, Barrin sang.
He sang the songs his father had taught him. Songs of the One who began the Thousand Endless Summers. Songs of promise. Songs that he didn’t have time to sing.
He sang anyway.
Finally he left the cavern and set out for the east. He would do his duty first. Perhaps, perhaps someone else would fulfill the old man’s duty, now that he couldn’t. Barrin tried to set it out of his mind. Someone else would have to remind Mother Sun of her duty, or she would never return to her palace in the sky. But for Barrin, he had a duty to the trees.
He could not fail them.
This is the sixth chapter of Summers’ End.