There were three firekeepers appointed on the eve of the summer festival exactly one year ago. Hazel, the swift footed woman that I had known from my youth, was appointed first. She came from a long line of firekeepers, and her lamp was a beautiful antique piece passed down.
Renfrey was a new firekeeper. He had fashioned his lamp from the bough of a walnut tree. He spent six weeks making his lamp to prove to the elders that he was worthy to begin a lineage of firekeepers.
His lamp was intricately carved with various flora and fauna that could be found near our settlement which represented the offerings that the Earth gave to keep us alive.
Finally there was I, Fiver, whose father was the first firekeeper of my line. I had big shoes to fill. I was appointed to the third beacon, the most important one but also the furthest from our settlement.
If I was unable to light the third beacon, it would mean that the beacon lighting was pointless, as the next settlement over would never see it.
I rode out to the beacon each morning, the mist of the moors dampening my clothes and skin, but the lamp strapped to my back was well insulated. It had been carved by my mother, the chief's daughter.
My parent’s love story has been told to me over and over. My father had come from another settlement as an envoy, yet had stayed when he fell in love with my mother. She carved him the lamp to convince him to stay, but judging by the way some of my family talks about it, he was never going to leave anyway.
All day I sat in the beacon tower, I thought about how my father’s lamp was the most precious connection I had to my parents. They had been killed in a raid from an enemy settlement when I was a baby. Things had become safer since then, less fighting and more diplomacy, but the beacons must stay tended as our ways describe.
Despite firekeeping being a highly coveted job, life as a firekeeper was typically quiet. I would sit in the beacon tower each day, tending my lamp and the beacon kindling. Watching for the second beacons flame, and yet knowing it isn’t likely to flare up.
At least I had the day schedule, so I could go back to the settlement each night for evening meals and to talk with the other firekeepers. Hazel and I had begun to grow quite close since our appointment, much to Renfrey’s dismay. I knew he had been crushing on her since before our appointment, but I didn’t think too much about it.
At the end of my first year as a firekeeper, after a long and difficult winter, our settlement celebrated the first spring, and the beginning of hunting season. One evening, Hazel and I had been drinking in the hall when Renfrey found us together. One of my arms had been lazily slung over her shoulders and Renfrey was not having it.
In his anger he had wrenched me up from where I sat at the table and challenged me to a fight. I accepted, and we agreed to meet early the following morning before our shifts at the beacon towers. Hazel was annoyed that I had accepted his challenge, but I assured her I would not lose.
"That isn’t what I am afraid of," she had grumbled, "Renfrey is an artisan, not a fighter."
I ignored her and went to meet him anyway. As I travelled out to the second beacon where we had decided to meet, lamp strapped to my back, I realized how eerie the moors were.
The wet of the drizzling rain was usually a bad sign and a firekeepers worst nightmare. That morning was no different as the splashing of rain in the paddies off the trail were invisible beyond the mist, but the pattering of rain made every sound feel close. I could barely see ahead of me through the fog.
Renfrey was already waiting at the base of the tower when I arrived. I dismounted from my steed and brought her to the small sheltered stable where his mount waited. Renfrey's lamp sat beside his mount, casting a tiny glow across the space.
Renfrey watched me from a ways off, the rain pattering down on his head and shoulders. His jaw was set in an angry scowl. He wasn't particularly tall, nor wide in build, but he seemed to channel a great deal of energy into trying to appear foreboding. The shadows cast by his lamp didn't help much and I couldn't shake a sense of dread that sat heavy in my stomach.
"I don't suppose we can talk about this rather than fight?"
My father, the Outlander, had always taught me the art of offering to talk. It's amazing what can be done with a few words instead of fists.
Renfrey's scowl didn't drop and I sighed. Of course, words can only go so far. I fastened my lamp to my mount's pack and stepped out from underneath the stable shelter, stepping into a fighter's stance as I did.
Renfrey rushed at me immediately, arms swinging. I dodged and he went rushing past. I twisted and made a grab for him yet miscalculated his size ever so slightly and he met my arm with his shoulder. It had been a desperate swing out again though, as he ended up on top of me as we toppled over.
The back of my head hit the ground and I blinked quickly, slightly dazed. He rolled away, trying to get up and I stood too. I swung out on the offence and landed a hit that knocked him down.
"Come on," I said, "Just give it up."
He coughed and pushed himself up onto his hands, looking up at me. His face was streaked with mud and his scowl had not lessened.
"You don't know what it's like," he spat.
"What?" I asked.
Renfrey said, "You're the golden boy, the son of the matriarch and a firekeeper. I come from nothing. My parents were on the fringe. Now you just have to unite with Hazel and have your perfect little settlement all figured out. I love her!"
I looked at him, reeling from that statement. Renfrey coughed from where he knelt low to the ground. I offered out a hand.
"Oh come on," I said, "we're both firekeepers! Ka alaa, keep us warm!"
Renfrey looked at my hand and accepted it.
"Ka alaa, keep us warm," he mumbled.
In our settlement, Ka alaa was the life giver, our first spark as it is sometimes explained. Not only the creator of flames, but of life itself and what we believe makes each settler unique, what connects but also divides us. Everyone knows this.
I said, "It is hard for me too as there are a lot of expectations on me. Hazel and I bond over it."
"I never considered that," he said.
The night shift firekeeper came down from the tower, stirred by the sound of our fight.
"Everything alright?" He asked.
Renfrey responded, "Yeah it's fine. How was the night shift?"
"This rain is never a good sign. I hope it clears up."
I looked back along the trail at the first beacon. The beacon could be seen from there, but it was barely visible.
"Renfrey, you should head up the tower now. I'll be heading along to the third beacon. We can talk about this later."
"Indeed," he replied and nodded at me, "I need to clean up anyway."
We shook hands and I looked back at tower one for safe measure before remounting my steed and setting off.
The trail to the third beacon was a long road, as it was most of the way up a mountain so the settlement on the other side could see. The moors fell away and the sky cleared of clouds a little as I rode, meaning my lamps' flames grew stronger which brought me a little peace of mind. It was almost shaping up to be a nice day when I heard the whine of a mount behind me.
I turned and saw a bloodied and mounted Renfrey pounding towards me, pursued by settlers clad in white, marking them as being from the Entell, clansmen from the next settlement to the south.
"Go, Fiver, go!" Renfrey yelled.
I turned and clicked my heels, pushing the pace higher as Renfrey pounded down the path.
The clansmen were holding spears and one of them lobbed hers at me. The spear whistled passed to my right and I barely managed to vault over it when it came up on the path. The third tower was in sight by then and I glanced back to check on Renfrey, right as he vaulted the pole. One of the Entell tumbled on it, but the other one remained at our heels.
At the tower I dismounted and unhooked my lamp, running up the tower stairs but I paused as Renfrey reached the tower. The Entell chucked her spear at Renfrey's mount and he bailed as it went down, but he yelled "keep going" when I paused on the stairs.
The Entell rushed past Renfrey after me and I continued up, knowing our settlement's only chance of survival was if I got this beacon lit.
Since I was weighed down by my lamp, the Entell woman caught up and pushed me, causing us to brawl near the top. I was barely able to kick her away. At the top the previous firekeeper was waiting.
I threw my lamp into the beacon and the firekeeper began to turn the wheel to raise it high into the air.
I yelled the other half of the prayer, "Ka Alaa, keep us safe" as the beacon caught and I turned to see the Entell woman at the top of the tower stairs.
"Now our allies from the north will come here and drive your settlement out of the forest of Ka Alaa once and for all," I triumphantly announced.
The woman spat and shrieked, saying "This isn't over. Your forest will be ours one day."
She leapt from the balcony and turned into an eagle and flew away. I returned to Renfrey's side, and we waited for the northern settlements to arrive. I tended to his wounds and we talked.
A horn in the distance meant that help was on the way. When we peered over the edge of the tower, we saw our settlement's caravan making its way towards the tower. Hazel rode on her mounts back right at the front. She was bloodied, but beautiful.
At the base of the tower I ran to Hazel's side.
"What happened? Are you alright?" I asked all in a rush.
"The Entell struck at the time the firekeepers were changing shift."
"And yet the caravan has arrived as the Godar have yet to come," I wondered aloud.
Hazel smiled, "I went to your house early, and when you weren't there I started out to see if I could catch up and saw the Entell take out our beacons. I immediately alerted the other warriors to their plan."
Another horn blared through the air and we turned to the crest of the hill that the beacon sprouted from. The Godar settlement's warriors were mounted in a line along the crest, early morning sun backlighting the crowd.
The settlement chief in the front thrust his fist in air as his horns-master blared his instrument once more. We cheered and our settlement surged forward to embrace their united allies.
Renfrey stepped towards Hazel and I. He looked apologetic. Hazel raised an eyebrow.
"Are you alright?" She asked.
"No," Renfrey said, "I've quarreled with a fellow firekeeper, and lost sight of the true flame: the flame that warms us all and sets our code."
"And yet," I offered, " You recognized the light of Ka alaa in Hazel and I."
Hazel looked between us.
"You know, I never officially 'chose' Fiver over you, Renfrey."
I jerked my head in that direction, "What do you mean?"
"Let's go take back to our settlement soon," she said before breezing away to greet the Godar warriors.
Renfrey and I watched her go before Renfrey let out a belting laugh. I shoved him. He shoved me back. Our fires burned for another day.