He tied his boat off and started to climb the cliffs. He knew that no one had lived to tell what was behind the cloud, but still he climbed.
Rasai, his dead sister, he carried in his belt pouch. She had told him where to find her bones, when the beetles were done feasting on her flesh, and it was she who had supervised the delicate exhumation, counting off every bone in a sing-song voice. She exclaimed sadly over the skull, which was nearly unrecognisable. The left side had been stove in, and all that remained of the orbit and the sclerotic ring were mere slivers of crusted and stained bone. The beak too had been broken off, sheared away with a viciousness that surprised him. Scarcely any bone had remained intact and true.
It had taken him a week to find all of Rasai’s bones, and she had not been satisfied even at the end. But the wandering moon was fast catching up to its shepherd, and would soon be occluded. If he didn’t undertake the journey to the clouded land now, it would be seasons and seasons before he could free Rasai. So he had knotted the bones up into the pouch, clambered into his coracle, and spreading his feathered arms, sailed for the clouded land from which no one had ever returned.
Nobody had waved him off. Nobody had cried funeral songs for him. Nobody had tried to stop him.
If there had been anybody left, he did not think he would have had the courage to free Rasai, even though he was but a lowly male. If there had been anybody left to fill the silence, to cover up Rasai’s constant whispers with the loudness of their breathing, he might never have done his duty.
But there was nobody left. The land was too quiet. His sister’s dead whispers were too loud.
“Don’t think I can’t tell that you begrudge me this,” said Rasai as he laboriously clawed his way up a slippery incline. His phalanxes slipped in the scree, and he felt his body slam against jagged stone, accompanied by a sickening snapping sound. Her bones, not his, he realised with guilt.
“You did that on purpose,” she accused.
Had he? He didn’t think so.
“In the old days,” Rasai said, “You would have come here with an honor guard of the brothers. There would be seven of you bearing my bones to the clouded mountain.”
Seven of us to die for one sister. Yes, well, times being what they were, you only have one brother left to sacrifice, Rasai, my queen. One brother, one subject, the tiniest of kingdoms.