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Adiún blinked smoke from the funeral fire out of his eyes. Most of the villagers had walked away from the pyre, but he would stay until morning, watching over Melle and her babe until the fire died.
One figure remained on the far side of the flames and approached when Adiún raised his head.
"You will leave us now, I fear," the old man said.
Adiún regarded the village story-father with bleak eyes. "Fear? Rejoice instead, for I go to bring the other half of our stories back to us."
"And have you spoken with the mab rhi? Surely your father objects."
Adiún looked into the story-father's startling eyes--in his wrinkled, ruined old face with its faded tattooing they glistened like new coals, dark and full of promise. "I am not first son, and I am no one's father." He swept his hand to take in the fire. Melle and the infant were no longer discernible within it.
"You will not return."
Adiún blinked hard, this time from surprise. Sometimes the story-father saw true. "If I do not, then our stories die with you." Perhaps it was unkind to remind the story-father of his oncoming death, but the winter that just passed had taken so many, and had also taken Adiún's tact.
"The oldest ones remind us that half our stories are dead already. We burned them with my story-sister months ago. There is no balance without them."
"So even if I find Devi and bring him back..." Devi! His love's name, spoken as the fire took his hearth-mate and Devi's sister, wrung his heart.
"Even if you find Devi and bring him back, and with him the stories my sister taught him, half the stories, the ones Itaught Melle, die a true death."
Adiún looked out over the water at the little rounded fishing barks ranged along the shingle. He couldn't imagine this old, pocked coast without this village. It had always been here, so it seemed.
"Surely half our stories are better than none," he countered, feeling like a child begging for reassurance.
The old man regarded him evenly. "Is half a heart better than none?"
"It's worse than none," Adiún whispered.