"It's only a marker."
They were walking, letting the horse rest. It wasn't the first time they'd had this conversation. "It's a symbol," said Parn. "I want to pay my respects. As long as we're out this way."
Deed's ears twitched. The set of her shoulders said it wouldn't be the last time they had it either.
"Don't high elves bury their dead?"
She shrugged. "I'm not old enough to remember."
"What about..." Did high elves have kings? Parn wasn't sure. "What about famous sages? Or heroes? Don't you commemorate them somehow?"
"Of course! We high elves are known for our ballads."
"But you don't make statues? They don't have tombs?"
Deed glanced back at him, her face puzzled. "We carry them with us in our hearts. Dead stone would only remind us that they're dead, not that they lived."
"Well, it's different for humans," he said helplessly.
Beside them, gold and scarlet leaves drifted in the water. The air had grown chilly since they'd left Valis. "Well, if it's important to you..." said Deed.
They camped by the stream. Parn could feel her eyes on him in the dark. He couldn't explain it to her. He wasn't entirely sure himself. His father was buried somewhere far away; if anyone knew where, they'd never told him, and he hadn't gone looking. He didn't think that was why, really. Probably. But this was where they'd seen Woodchuck the last time: it was as good a place as any to start looking.
Back in the village, everyone had been in charge of keeping the graveyard in order. He'd visited his mother there often. He'd never thought about it. He rolled onto his back. The canopy was sparse this time of year; a few bright stars peeked through gaps in the leaves. Parn drew his cloak over his face. He wondered what dwarves did with their dead.
The forest gave way to scrub and then to bare rock. The horse picked its way up the slope, its breath puffing in clouds in the morning air. It was colder today.
"Up that way," said Deed. Her arm came up, pointing to the lefthand track.
Parn nudged their mount. "It all looks the same up here to me."
They rounded a bend in the cliff. "There." Deed pointed again.
Parn could just see it in the distance: a pile of stones rising out of the flat ground. He'd built the cairn himself.
It was just as he'd left it, Ghim's axe still leaning against it. Deed looked at him expectantly. The wind whipped her hair about her face. The dust was making Parn's eyes water. "What now?" Deed asked.
At home, it was simple, but here... "I don't know," he said. "I'd leave flowers, only..." He waved his arm to the bare rock, the cliffs, the grit-filled air. They'd left the plant life behind further down the slope.
"Flowers?" She looked thoughtful.
"I guess it wouldn't make sense to an elf."
"Not at all. Flowers are living things." She fished in one of the pouches at her waist. "I should have--"
The seeds were almost too small for him to see. She cupped her hands to protect them from the wind. Points of green light flickered between her fingers as she murmured.
They blossomed before his eyes, green tendrils reaching up to the axe, buds swelling, opening. Parn gasped. "They're lovely!"
Deed smiled. "We call them windflowers. They'll grow even here."
The horse whickered. Parn held out his hand. "Shall we?" Woodchuck was out there somewhere. They'd find him; Parn was sure of it.