Mother was in the back room with Agnes. Behind the thick wooden door the menfolk could hear the wailing and crying. It was always like this when the woods took a man. Fyodor was in my party when the mist separated him from Cahill and I. Although concerned I knew Fyodor was a seasoned hunter and knew the woods as well as anyone. When the mist cleared by mid-morning he’d rejoin the party and together we’d find the game we were searching for. But he never appeared. We found him 2 days later in one of the nameless ravines that haunt the woods. The mist took him, Cahill told me. Everyone nodded in agreement. The mist was just as dangerous as any of the bear or bobcat that lurked in the woods. We carried him home to Agnes and laid him out on the sturdy table so Agnes, Mother and the priestess could anoint his body according to custom. Tonight, the second night we would send him to the ancestors above.
The outer door opened and a strange tall man stepped through the door. His face was withered with dark creases but he wore no beard. As strange to us in the vale as any man ever was. He cast his eyes around the room until he spied me. He stepped forward until the hair on my back stood out in tense apprehension. He made the gesture of the dead, bowed low and introduced himself.
“I am Tardain, of the grassland over the range. I share the sadness of your family at the impending passing of our brother Fyodor. I have a gift I would like to share with you in his final hours.”
I was wary but asked him what gift he could bestow when custom demands that all of Fyodor’s possessions, including Agnes, be sent to the ancestors.
“Why, if you permit me, I would like to give Fyodor the gift of bonfire. One so magnificent and grand that it alone would satisfy the desires of our ancestors. Agnes would not have to accompany Fyodor on his journey.
“Why would you do this? Why us?”
“Tis a simple answer, if permitted, this gift would become common knowledge within the vale. All I would ask in return is a small trifle, a token upon which I could find lodging and food and untimely stay in the vale. You will see. My bonfire will be grand and will light up the sky where the ancestors dwell. If I am wrong, a second bonfire may be necessary for Agnes and her possessions”.
“And you, Tardain? If the ancestors are displeased, you as well. Agreed?”
The plain faced man looked me deep in the eyes and simply whispered in agreement.
That night Fyodor’s bonfire illuminated the night sky, even rivaling the moon in its brilliance. Some said it even rivaled the sun, but none were so brash to say so publicly. Agnes, was reprieved and would not have her own bonfire until I was simple ash that drifted high into the night sky.