Chapter 6: Sonora
Brandyé of course did not die of his illness that winter, and in fact recovered not long after having been thrown into the snow by his grandfather. Reuel seemed somewhat stuffed up and ill-disposed for some time after, however; it was uncertain if he had merely caught the cold that had afflicted Brandyé, or if he was disaffected by coming so near to losing his grandson, and the wild things Brandyé had uttered while under the mad influence of his fever.
For many weeks, Reuel did not leave the house, other than to go out, well-wrapped, for small provisions. The worst of the winter weather had passed, and they found themselves less needing of firewood, which was fortunate, as the pile outside the house was growing rather small. Reuel did not even visit the Burrow Wayde on Fridays, to the point where the regular patrons began to wonder where he had got to, and what exactly was happening with the odd little family of two that lived at the top of the hill. Nobody knew of the wolf Brandyé had seen, for neither Brandyé nor Reuel spoke of it, and Farmer Tar was oddly silent about his encounter with Brandyé on the moors on a cold evening.
Brandyé, for his part, was content to remain at home, and busied himself with writing and drawing. He began to follow Reuel around the house, and became quite adept at cooking – and burning – simple meals. He felt badly that Reuel had had to take such intensive care of him while he had been ill, and became aware that his grandfather often did more than his share of household work day to day. He began to more regularly tidy the parlor and kitchen; it was great fun emptying the parlor’s large hearth of ash, and Brandyé found it impossible to sweep the dark-staining char out of the house without raising great clouds of dust and soot, which would then need dusting off the furniture before it could again be used. Reuel taught him to wield an axe, and he began to spend hours outdoors finding and splitting logs and branches. Reuel began to rest more and more, and Brandyé didn’t mind for he knew his grandfather was old, and had worked hard all his life. This new work kept Brandyé’s mind busy, and he quickly grew strong and tall.
His sleep was again fitful and blank, and he did not travel during his sleep any more, either to distant ocean cities or dark woods. Yet, he could not clear his mind of what he had seen, both with his waking and his sleeping eyes. The memory of the Fierund among the distant moorland trees was ever clear and precise, and how the beast had emerged from the woods and gazed upon him directly, as though it knew where, and who, he was. The memory of the seven wolves in the far distant forest was yet sharper, for they had been nigh upon him before the dark figure had emerged from the trees. The claws, the fur, the long and dangerous teeth were nothing to the dismal, haunting red eyes whose gaze bore through his soul and emptied his mind of all that was good and right.
Yet above all, the one memory that remained untainted by fear, thought or the passage of time, was that of the woman in black. Of her he was not afraid, yet knew she was of great importance. Her skin, pale and cold, held not a trace of age, and she might have been twenty or two hundred. He remembered the darkness of her robes, they way the reflected no light, and remembered her eyes, which were of equal depth and blackness beyond measure. He remembered the jewel, dark and crimson, the color of blood, which hung at her breast and was the only mark of color upon her at all. He felt he could stare endlessly into the depths of that jewel; he saw every detail, the silver adornment at its top, the tiny loop that bound it to the cord which looped around her neck, and the way in which the color deep within it seemed to dance and change, and draw life into itself.
And also, he remembered her voice, clear and pure. She had spoken in a tongue he did not recognize, yet it felt familiar, and he did understand this. She had called him by his name, and had smiled at him, and he was sure she had also known him, as had the Fierundé. And while the intent of the Fierundé seemed clear (to eat him), what this woman in black had to do with him was beyond his reasoning. She had seemed kind, yet cold, and there was such a sense of darkness about her that he was intimidated. One word kept coming back to his mind as he thought of her, and that word was Death.
It was well into Spring before either Brandyé or Reuel felt well enough to spent a great deal of time out of doors, and since there had been so sign of Fierundé, wolves, or any other beast, and since Brandyé had not since spoken of any other such waking vision, Reuel relented and allowed Brandyé to once more venture away from home, and take the path down to the village, or roam the moors, whose sparse flowers were now beginning to awaken. There was a condition, though, that Brandyé would not pass onto the moors beyond sight of the house, and was above all forbidden from descending into the further valleys where the rows of trees and woods began. He also was not to venture onto the moors alone.
This did not bother Brandyé much, for in fact he was growing older, and spending endless hours acting out his grandfather’s tales and imagining himself as a brave knight conquering all manner of demons began to hold less interest for him. This is not to say his imagination was failing, for he continued to picture far away lands and places, but rather that containing his thoughts to his own mind was no longer enough, and his curiosity began to turn to an outward desire to explore, discover, and extend the boundaries of his own experience.
To this end, Brandyé was scarcely alone, for the Dottery’s son, Elven, shared with Brandyé his delight in exploration and discovery. Elven’s parents, Timothai and Arian, were two of the few adults in Burrowdown who did not mind Reuel and his odd grandson, and were on good terms with both of them. For them, the strangeness of Reuel’s past, and the circumstances of Brandyé’s birth, were not of their concern, and they saw but an old man who cared deeply for his grandson. Though they had not known them, they felt sorry that Reuel had lost not only a wife but a daughter, and saw how important Brandyé was to him.
Elven had inherited his parents’ lack of concern for the odd and inexplicable, and greatly enjoyed spending time with Brandyé. Of the two, Elven was the more heedless, and while Brandyé would take much time to consider the consequences of their actions, Elven would not hesitate to plunge into danger (or such circumstances as seemed dangerous to children). Inevitably, they would return, often dirtied, bruised and scratched, but triumphant that they had been able to loose Farmer’s Tar’s bull from its paddock, or pull a gnarleck (a large fish with three rows of needle teeth and a temper to match) from the River Burrow and drag it home for supper, much to their parents’ astonishment.
Elven had also three sisters, two of whom were older than him, and one who was younger. The two older sisters had little interest in what the “little boys” did, and indeed the eldest, Maria, was already engaged to a local farmhand and was due to be wed in the fall. The second eldest, Julia, though very pretty, seemed to spurn the attention of the other boys her age, and indeed showed great interest in artistry; her creations – from woven baskets to rugs and great, multicolored candles that could burn with blue or green flame – were second to none, and she sold many of them, much to the annoyance of Marion Myrtlehüe (she of the little pillows and the goat).
The youngest Dottery, though, Sonora, who was some years younger than Elven, was enamored of the two older boys, and saw them as being very brave and daring, especially when they would return from an adventure scratched and bloodied, grinning like fools and talking of their feats as though their very lives had been in danger (quite possibly, sometimes, with truth). She listened, her bright green eyes wide with wonder, to their adventures, and Elven and Brandyé, pleased to have such a willing audience, enjoyed very much regaling her with their exploits.
Sonora enjoyed also to hear Brandyé’s tales of ages past and the ancient world; she was of course too young to visit the Burrow Wayde, and as their families rarely visited each other, she had not heard Reuel’s great stories, and of course came to believe that Brandyé himself was the author of these yarns. Brandyé, having learned the art of embellishment from his grandfather, added his own details to each story, and a surprising number of the characters in these tales carried the name of Sonora, which gave the young girl a feeling of great importance, believing her name to be descended from such grandness.
Elven was very fond of Sonora, and would often bring small gifts back for her when he and Brandyé returned from their play; sometimes an unusual flower from a distant meadow, or a pocketful of ripe berries (which hopelessly stained Elven’s vests and got him in much trouble with his mother), or a small stone from the riverbank that seemed to let light pass right through it when held up to the sun just right. She delighted in these small gifts, and longed to go with her older brother on his adventures, and share in the wonder of exploration.
As kind as the Dotterys were to Brandyé, the other families of Burrowdown were not always so. Many of them would not look past his terrible birth, or the strangeness of his grandfather, and turned from him as he passed through the streets. When Brandyé was quite young, their children would merely stare at him as he passed, often from the windows of their homes, as their parents would shoo them indoors to keep them away from him.
Most children, of course, are not taught by their parents to think, and as they grow up, they become unconsciously filled with the prejudices of their parents, and where once there was curiosity about the strange boy, there now was dislike, and a few of the older children began to confront Brandyé when he was in town, and would often tease him, or refuse him passage down a street unless he gave them a coin. Reuel had long feared that such confrontations would happen as Brandyé grew older, and hoped that his own patience would pass on to his grandson, but sadly it was not so. Brandyé’s pride would not let him back down from his tormentors, and these altercations would often end with Brandyé returning home to explain his bruises to his grandfather.
Soon, much to the alarm of his parents, Elven also became ostracized for his friendship with Brandyé, and while the children of the village would rarely bear down on him alone, they would not hesitate to include him in their aggression if he happened to be with Brandyé at the time. Matters were not aided by Elven’s own brashness, and while Brandyé would usually react to their taunts with stinging words, Elven would launch himself upon them with his fists. Despite this, Brandyé soon learned that the excuse, “Elven started it,” did not assuage his grandfather’s disappointment in these scraps.
So it was with caution that Brandyé and Elven began to venture out of their homes, and they increasingly avoided the village of Burrowdown itself in favor of the open countryside. One of their favorite pastimes was to journey to a certain low hill, some three or four miles to the South from Burrowdown. This hill was singular in that it stood, alone, in the otherwise flat southern countryside, as though placed there by a giant in ages past. Atop this hill stood an ancient oak, whose branches began very low, and whose highest leaves swayed in the breeze some hundred feet above. Elven had named the tree Soleheart, for he said it was a brave tree to live for so long alone at the top of the hill. Naturally, it was an excellent climbing tree, and Brandyé and Elven would often scale Soleheart for some seventy or eighty feet, and just before the branches became too thin to support their weight, there grew a particular tangle of branches upon which they could quite comfortably sit, side by side, and look out upon virtually all of the land of Consolation. It felt very much that they could gaze upon the entirety of the world from that height, and would spend hours enjoying the isolation, discussing matters of great importance (such as what their favorite meal was, or which of the village bullies they would most like to see fall face-first in the mud). Occasionally, they would forget the passage of time, and only start the journey home when the sun began to sink below the western horizon. They would be in much trouble when they returned home in the dark, but for them it was worth it, for it seemed that no one else in all the lands knew of this secret spot.
Unbeknownst to them, Sonora had for some time begun to follow them when they went out, and though she at first would turn back after only a few minutes, the excitement of seeing what her older brother was up to spurred her to trail them for longer and longer, always keeping back and hidden from their view, lest they should turn suddenly and spy her behind them. It was not long before she too knew of the great oak atop the hill, and envied them and wished she too could climb the tall branches with them. She believed, though, that they would be angered if they knew she had followed them, and knew her parents would not like her traveling so far from home, and so remained hidden in the tall grass, silent, until they started back, and again would trail them secretly all the way home.
It became so that she knew the way to the hill without needing to follow the two older boys, and often she was pass ahead of them, and arrive at the tree before them. One time, she did not know that Brandyé and Elven had stopped on their trail to watch a wild cat catch and devour a small frog, and was very much surprised to find that when she arrived at Soleheart, there were already people there.
Some five or six boys, some of whom she knew from the village, were gathered near the base of the tree, and seemed to be surrounding something that lay upon the ground. Some of them were pointing and laughing, and she felt their laughter was not of good humor, and became uneasy. These boys seemed mean, and she was worried about what lay between them. She drew herself, keeping low in the grass, closer to the circle of boys, so that she might see what they were doing. While she knew it would not be something she thought of as “good”, her young mind could not fathom the cruelty of boys, and she was not prepared for what she saw.
In the centre of the circle of boys, flapping awkwardly and clearly hurt, was a small bird. It had a sharp, curved beak, and its feet ended in very sharp talons, but one of its wings was bent, and it was scrabbling at the earth as though in terror. Some of the boys were in fact throwing stones at the creature, and cheered if it hit home. One of them brandished a long stick, and would jab out at it occasionally, ensuring it did not escape.
Sonora watched, aghast, and felt sick. Such was her horror that she could not prevent a small cry escaping her lips, and at the sound, each of the boys rounded on her, searching the grass with unpleasant eyes. One of them pointed and said, “Look, there – in the grass; it’s a little girl!”
Two of the others rushed forward, and before Sonora could move, they had grasped her wrists, and hauled her from her hiding place and held her, struggling, before the first boy. He stood taller than the others, and commanded a presence that the rest of the boys submitted willingly to. The first boy, the tall one, glared at her. “What’re you doin’ all the way out here?” he demanded.
Sonora did not reply. She was greatly scared, and a small tear leaked from her eye. She did not want to anger the boys further, but an instinct told her they were looking for an excuse to do something terribly unpleasant to her, and was afraid to speak lest she unwittingly give them that reason. The boy stepped threateningly toward her, and repeated, “What’re you doing? What’s a little girl like you doin’ all by her lonesome? Are yer parents near?” He looked around, and for a moment seemed nervous. Seeing nothing, though, he turned back to her. “Are you mute? I spoke to you, you’d better answer!”
Sonora trembled. “Please,” she whimpered, “please let me go – I won’t tell anyone what you were doing!”
The boy’s eyes narrowed. “And jus’ what exactly were we doin’?” he growled.
Sonora bit her lip, but did not speak.
“Answer!” the boy demanded.
Sonora cast her gaze away from him, and murmured, “I saw you hurt that bird.”
A corner of the boy’s lip curled, and he said, “I could hurt you, ’course, too.” Sonora began quietly to weep, but the boy saw, and swift as a whip, lashed out a hand and slapped her check. Sonora’s head was flung back, and her cheek stung and grew red. “How do I know you won’ speak?” he said. “P’raps we should make so as you can’t return home,” and he raised his hand again.
It was at that moment that a voice called out, high and angry, “Oi! Leave her be!”
The boys turned towards the sound of the voice, and Sonora looked also. Appearing on the far side of the hill stood Elven, fury on his face, and Brandyé beside him, looking astonished. He was not certain by what he was most surprised – that Sonora had found her way to the hill, or that six boys, some of whom he knew from the village to be particularly nasty, were surrounding her with what appeared to be an intent to cause her great harm. Elven had no such consideration; his only thought was to bring all his might upon his sister’s tormentors, and he was not a weak boy.
The leader of the boys moved away from Sonora, and the rest of them followed him. The two who had held her tight released her, and she turned and ran as fast as she could down the hill and toward home, now weeping freely. The sound of her cries enraged Elven yet further, and his teeth ground so that Brandyé heard them.
“You dog!” yelled Elven.
Brandyé was angered now also, and spat, “Cowardly filth! You would strike a girl half your age? Perhaps because you have no courage to face someone who is your equal in strength!”
The group of boys approached them with loathing, and the leader cried, “I don’ need to be afraid of someone my size, or anyone else! Your little girlfriend got what was comin’ to her, and you’ll get the same!”
“You speak of my sister!” cried Elven, and without a further word threw himself at the tall boy.
The boy was a head taller than Elven, but such was Elven’s force that he was thrown back, and the two fell to the ground, Elven swinging in blind rage at the boy, bloodying his nose with his first hit. Swiftly, the remaining boys fell upon him, tearing at him and kicking him and pulling him by his hair to free their leader from his blows.
Brandyé stood back for a brief moment to consider the fight, saw the boy who was bringing his foot down upon Elven with the greatest force, and rushed up behind him and wrapped his arm around the boy’s throat. The boy gave a startled, strangled cry, and Brandyé pulled him away from the scuffle and down to the ground. He drew his arm ever tighter around the boy’s throat until his struggles ceased and his cries turned from anger to fear of choking, and then released him and pushed him away. The boy did not get up, but rather lay on the ground, clutching his throat and gasping for breath. Brandyé turned back to Elven, and began to feel fear at what he saw.
Despite Brandyé’s help, Elven was yet pitted against five boys, all larger than he, and he was no longer atop their leader. The tall boy had staggered to his feet, and though Brandyé was pleased to see his face bruised, cut and bleeding (and, he was sure, a tear shining on one cheek), the other four were now upon Elven, who lay upon the ground, crying out in anger and pain, but unable to rise to defend himself.
Without thought, Brandyé picked up a large branch from the ground and brought it heavily upon the head of the nearest boy. To his astonishment, the branch did not break, and the boy wordlessly fell to the ground and did not move. In a moment of surprise, the other three boys turned away from Elven, who took the chance to crawl painfully from them.
Brandyé faced them, heaving breath, and raised the branch for another blow. One of the boys approached him, and he swung hard at the boy. The branch hit solidly against the boy’s arm, and though Brandyé thought the crack was of the wood, the boy screamed, grabbed his arm, and fled without another word. He raised the branch once more, and was then thrown suddenly to his knees and saw for a moment nothing but a flash of light.
He had too soon forgotten about the first boy, the one he had nearly strangled, and as his vision cleared, he saw the stone with which he had been struck drop to the earth beside him. Elven had crawled far enough from them that the remaining boys did not see him, and now bent all their attention on Brandyé.
“Hold him!” the leader screamed, and Brandyé was pleased to hear tears in his voice, but he knew what was to come would hurt very, very much. His sight was still blurred, but he felt both his arms grasped with painful tightness, and the tall boy now stood before him. He was out of breath, and sniffling, but he seethed with fury and cried, “I hate you!”, and brought his boot with all his might into Brandyé’s stomach.
Brandyé once more lost his sight, lost his breath, and vomited on the ground. He thus did not see the second blow, which struck the side of his head and threw him to the ground. There he lay, unable to move, and faintly heard the tall boy curse him, and sensed that the boys then moved away.
It was some time before Brandyé was able to draw himself up, and he felt as though his stomach were missing entirely from his body. He had never known such pain, and felt blood when he raised his hand to his head. Yet, he did not think any of his bones were broken, and knew that his other wounds would heal. He began to look around for Elven, and eventually found him, huddled on the far side of the tree, weeping softly. His clothes were torn, his face swollen greatly, his lip stained with much blood. Brandyé sat painfully beside him, and was quiet.
After some time, Elven looked up and him, blinked his tears away. “They hurt my sister, Brandyé.”
“We hurt them back,” replied Brandyé, and at this, Elven smiled.
“I heard you break one of their arms,” he said.
“You should have seen the tall one,” Brandyé said. “You made him cry.”
Elven seemed pleased at this, and did not speak again for a while. Gradually, they became aware of a quiet sound from nearby, and cast their gaze around. Suddenly, Elven cried out, “Look! There’s a bird!”
Indeed, the bird the boys had been tormenting lay still on the ground, its wing still bent, and was cawing in pain. The two boys approached it, and saw that it was very young, and terribly wounded. Elven let out a sob, and said, “It is one thing to cause harm to another man, but this…this is inexcusable.”
Brandyé, likewise, stared at the bird, disbelieving that anyone would want to cause harm to such a small creature. “Do you think she will live?” he asked Elven.
Elven knelt, and picked the small bird up. It flapped its good wing anxiously, but Elven was gentle, and it did not try to escape. “I think her wing is broken,” he said. “But I can make a splint at home. If her wing recovers, I think she will be fine.” He stood, and cradled the young bird, who seemed to relax into his arms. She was no longer cawing, and seemed content to allow Elven to carry her. “She’s a falcon, you know,” he said to Brandyé. “A young one; I do not know where her mother is. See how her beak is short but curved to such a point?”
Brandyé lowered his head (with pain, it must be said), and peered closely at the bird. “Look at her eyes,” he said to Elven. “They are green.” And indeed they were; the young falcon’s eyes, which faced forward so that the bird of prey might more easily see her prey, shone with an emerald glint, and Brandyé felt he had never seen such beautiful eyes. “She looks like Sonora, you know.”
“She does,” agreed Elven. And so the falcon became known as Sonora, and recovered, and lived with Elven for many years to come.