Chapter 8: Elven Begin’s His Apprenticeship
Many months passed, and there was no word from the South, and no sign of retribution from Garâth of the Fortunaé. The people of Burrowdown returned to their daily business, with anxiety at first, certain that at any moment soldiers of the Fortunaé would bear down upon them and set their town alight. Gradually, their nervousness faded, and as spring passed into summer, the incident became of increasingly less concern, and on late evenings in the Burrow Wayde people would even begin to laugh about what had happened.
“D’you see his face in the mud?”
“Aye, I never saw such a sight in me life!”
“He were so proud, standin’ on his golden carriage–”
“–and then, face down in muck–”
“–he weren’t so proud then, were he!”
And they would pound the table in mirth, and began even to say that the Fortunaé had learned their lesson, and would not trouble them further.
Yet for Brandyé and Reuel, life was not so pleasant. If they had been feared and mistrusted before, they were now outright hated by nearly all the village. Brandyé found he could not walk down the road in town without insults, taunts, and sometimes stones, thrown at him. Even Gloria in her dairy, though she did not outright turn Brandyé away, no longer spoke with him, and his visits there became so miserable that he stopped going altogether, and so found himself with very little to do. He discovered it was easier to pass around the village entirely – a trip which took over half an hour – to visit Elven and his family, who were some of the only people left who were still kind to him.
As for Reuel, he was no longer welcome at the Burrow Wayde; even if Mrs. Heath, who in fact did not mind him, for she found him always to be polite, not loud, and never rowdy, were to permit him to enter, he would not likely have survived for more than a few moments at the drunken hands of the farmhands and laborers who held him responsible for the fate of Garâth, and the invisible threat under which they now lived. Yet Reuel was proud, and not ashamed of protecting his grandson, and still went into the village for milk, and eggs, and to visit the market each Saturday. However, he no longer went to the inn on Fridays; instead, he began to do something Brandyé had not seen before: each Friday evening, for three hours, he would lock himself in the forbidden room at the top of the stairs. Brandyé would entertain himself by the fire during this time, and he would hear no sound, and saw no change in his grandfather when he reemerged and prepared for bed.
And then, as autumn crept into the land and the trees’ leaves turned crisp and gold, a messenger from the Fortuna house, kept well by a dozen guards, entered the village in the evening. He did not speak to anyone, even if they stopped to speak to him, but instead busied himself by affixing a notice to walls and posts and gates and fences around the town. In the end, he must have posted over two hundred of them, and the town looked as though it had a new coat of wallpaper. When he had finished, he and his guards departed, leaving the bemused villagers to wonder at his visit. Few were able to read the notice, which was this:
NOTICE TO THE RESIDENTS OF THE VILLAGE OF BURROWDOWN, IN THE NORTH OF THE LANDS OF THE FORTUNAÉ
ON THIS, THE FOURTEENTH DAY OF THE NINTH MONTH, THE LORD AND MASTER GARÂTH OF THE FORTUNAÉ WISHES TO BRING TO YOUR ATTENTION A RISE IN THE ANNUAL PAYMENT TO THE AFOREMENTIONED LORD FAMILY, FROM ONE TITHE TO EIGHT TITHES OF EACH FAMILY’S PRODUCE. THIS IS TO BE PAYED TO THE LORD FAMILY’S BAILIFFS AT THE END OF EACH MONTH OF HARVEST, WITHOUT DELAY AND WITH DUE DILIGENCE THAT THE PAYMENT BE INCLUSIVE OF ONLY THE HIGHEST QUALITY STUFFS.
SHOULD ANY FAMILY FAIL TO PROVIDE A DOCUMENTED EIGHT TITHES OF THEIR PRODUCE, OR SHOULD IT LATER BE DISCOVERED THAT THEY WERE IN ANY MEASURE DISHONEST WITH REGARD TO THE AMOUNT, QUALITY, OR ANY OTHER ASPECT OF THEIR PAYMENT, THE LORD GARÂTH OF THE FORTUNAÉ WILL HAVE NO CHOICE BUT TO COMMAND THEIR FIELDS BE STRIPPED BARREN AND THEIR HOUSE BROUGHT DOWN.
THERE WILL BE NO EXCEPTIONS, AND ANY PETITION OPPOSING THIS RISE IN PAYMENT MUST BE PRESENTED, IN PERSON, TO THE LORD GARÂTH’S BAILIFFS IN THE TOWN OF DAEVÀR’S HUT BY THE FIFTEENTH DAY OF THE NINTH MONTH.
LORD GARÂTH, TWENTY-SECOND HEAD OF THE HOUSE OF FORTUNA
When the people learned what the notice meant, there was great outrage. The entire village would be left with less than a quarter of their usual provisions to last them out the winter, and if they could not persuade the neighboring towns to show pity and send them aid, it was sure they would starve. When they discovered their lord had given them but one day to protest, when Daevàr’s Hut was at best a three day ride from Burrowdown, they knew this was their penalty for the Fortunaé’s misfortune.
It was then that people remembered what had precipitated Lord Garâth’s humiliation, their hate towards Reuel and his grandson was rekindled. Bitterly, they wished the odd boy had taken his whipping, and left the rest of them in peace. Now, they were all to suffer for the family’s insolence.
Now, more than ever, Reuel and Brandyé were not welcome in Burrowdown. Brandyé found himself pelted with stones and rotten vegetables should he pass near to any house, and he soon did not venture into the village at all, not even to visit Elven. The farmers would no longer sell their produce to Reuel at the market, and even Gloria, who did not entirely blame them, would not give them milk, if for no other reason than she had none to spare with the new tax upon them.
Brandyé had never felt so lonely, or so ashamed. Though the villagers had never truly liked him, nor he them, he had been tolerated, and seldom treated unkindly. Now he had the weight of an entire village’s hate and blame upon him, and he found it began to crush his spirit. More than anything, he felt deep guilt that so many people were suffering because of him.
Reuel recognized his grandson’s dejection, and spoke to him of it. “You must not blame yourself,” he said. “It is not for a boy to decide the fate of a village. Indeed, it should not be for any one man to decide the fate of many. What the Lord Garâth has done to them is terribly unfair, but such is the wont of men in power. They are bitter, and they are angry, and it is easy for them to place the blame upon us, so that it does not fall upon their own shoulders.
“The truth is, the Lord Garâth would have brought this upon us regardless; it has been a harsh season across all of Consolation, and the Fortunaé will not see their own go hungry, even to the ruin of others. Our produce is wealth to them, and the village shall not starve; they will sell it back to us, and we will be poor, but not hungry.”
Reuel’s words were sensible, but upon one thing Brandyé did not agree, though he did not speak of it to his grandfather. Though his life had not been long, he had seen enough to know that people, in numbers, could not design their own fate, but would take the easiest road, wherever it may lead. If one man who was selfish could bring ruin to a land, then surely one man who was selfless could save it.
In any case, Brandyé did not see how this would help them; though the reassurances of his grandfather that the village people would not starve relieved him of much of his guilt, he yet worried for their own fate. The villagers would not sell them food, whether it came from their own making or from the Fortunaé themselves. But as autumn progressed and winter came on, Brandyé learned a little more of his grandfather’s ingenuity, and began to understand how it was that he had survived outside of Consolation for so many years.
For lack of fresh vegetables, Reuel constructed a kind of garden hut, made of thin canvas stretched over a thin wooden frame. Within this, he dug through several feet of poor soil, and piled this against the sides of the hut, thus giving it strength. He then filled the hole in with rich and musty earth from the stream to the North, and planted many vegetables – carrots, onions, potatoes, leeks, even pumpkin and tomato vines that eventually grew around the entire roof of the building.
The most cunning part of this, though, was how Reuel kept the garden hut heated through the winter. He had built this hut on the east side of the house, nearest the kitchen, and in this wall he carefully removed a single brick. He then disconnected one of the many pipes that led away from the large kitchen stove, and redirected it through the hole (which he then stuffed to seal it up), and led it under the earth to the hut. It was in this way that Brandyé learned of the purpose of these pipes, which he had always assumed were part of his grandfather’s eccentricity.
Though it was great fun planting and rearing roots, Brandyé wondered what they would do for meat now that they could not buy pork from the market, and he asked his grandfather what they were going to do about it.
“We will hunt,” he replied. He brought to Brandyé two items, and asked him if he knew them.
“This is a bow,” Brandyé said, pointing to the long, curved, and beautifully carved yew longbow. “And this one…it looks like a bow, but it is too small. What is it for?”
“This is a crossbow,” Reuel replied. “You will begin with this. It is smaller than a longbow, but it is more powerful also. Come.” He led Brandyé outside, where several logs were stood on their ends some distance away. He handed the crossbow to Brandyé, and his face was severe. “This is a weapon,” he said, “and it will kill a man. You are not ever to arm it until your prey is in view, and you are not ever to carry this in places where there are people.” He lowered his voice, and continued, “These weapons have been outlawed in these lands. We are going to use them for our survival, and so must disobey this rule. You are not to speak of this device to anyone.”
Brandyé nodded, for he understood. He was thrilled, yet afraid, to be holding an instrument of death. He felt like a soldier of old, from his grandfather’s tales. His grandfather passed him a quarrel. “Fix it to the stock, like so. Good. Do you see the small crank on the left? Turn it three times – not more. Rest your finger on the trigger − that is the small lever beneath the stock. Aim, but carefully. Try to hit one of those logs yonder.”
Slowly and carefully, Brandyé brought the crossbow to bear upon a log, which was some fifty feet distant. He took a deep breath, and pulled the trigger. The quarrel flew from the bow, passed high into the air, and missed the log entirely.
Reuel laughed out loud. “Good, son! It is not easy. You will improve. Leave the crossbow here, and fetch the quarrel. One does not waste an arrow.”
So Brandyé practiced, and became better, and learned to hunt. At first Reuel would not allow him to slay an animal, until he was able to hit a potato from a hundred feet, for, as he explained to Brandyé, an animal must be brought down by a single arrow. To kill an animal for survival was necessary, but to cause it suffering was unacceptable. Instead, Brandyé would watch as his grandfather skillfully slew hares, sheep (“Who would miss a single sheep?” he said), and occasionally a deer, should one be found. When Brandyé was finally allowed to bring down his first kill, it was a small stag, and though it fell from his first shot, he was quite ill to look upon it as it lay dead, and could not watch as Reuel skinned, cleaned and butchered the animal. In the end, the stag provided them meat for two months, but Brandyé could not eat it without thinking of the animal’s empty black eye, staring at him and the sky. Still, he understood the nature and purpose of hunting, but vowed to himself that he would not disrespect a living creature by killing it for anything other than his own survival.
It was in this way that Brandyé and Reuel passed the winter, and in fact lived in relative comfort to the village below, which suffered greatly from the lack of wood, food and beer, which was sorely missed in the coldest winter months. Reuel, for his part, did not seem to suffer the loss of his weekly visit to the Burrow Wayde, although he did take up smoking a pipe of his own carving, the smell of which delighted Brandyé greatly, though he was not allowed to taste it.
When the snow became softer, and the air began to carry the breath of new life, Brandyé knew spring was coming, and began to wonder about Elven and his family. He had not seen or heard from his friend since early autumn, and found he missed him greatly. He was also anxious to discover if Sonora had recovered, and whether she had been able to return to the fields and moors of Consolation.
Thus it was that, as soon as he was able, Brandyé set out to Elven’s house, though snow still lay in places and the trees were yet barren. The moorland was yet frozen, and so he was able to pass with ease across the empty land, and so avoid the town and roads entirely. The country was still and silent, and though the sky was clear, it seemed to Brandyé that somehow the day was darker than it ought to be. There was not a creature to be found, and the long grass, where it appeared through the snow, was dry and brittle. The trees, barren and leafless, seemed haunted by a despair greater than the loss of their green, and it seemed the whole of the land was starved and strange. He wondered if it was his imagination, or if perhaps it had something to do with the cold and hunger of Burrowdown.
It was not until he was approaching the Dottery household from the East that he saw a sign of life. At first it was no more than a speck, a dot of black against the cold blue sky, floating with serenity, and he was not even sure if it was a bird or not until, with astonishing swiftness, the speck arced around and plummeted at the ground at a great velocity. Brandyé stopped and watched in wonder, and saw the speck disappear into the snow and grass, and thought perhaps it was dead, when quite suddenly it reappeared, and was now closer and he saw it was a sleek brown bird. In its talons was a small field mouse, and the bird bore down upon him with such swiftness that he ducked, afraid it meant to prey upon him as well.
Instead, the bird fluttered to a stop before him, and dropped the mouse at his feet. It then settled to the ground a short distance away, and seemed to be waiting. Brandyé rose, glanced briefly at the mouse, which was quite dead, and then stared at the bird, and recognized it. Though much larger than the last time he had seen her, he knew immediately that it was Sonora, and his heart gladdened to see her, and know that she was indeed well. He spoke to her, and the falcon seemed greatly pleased.
“It is good to meet you again, Sonora,” he said. “I see you have healed well; Elven’s skill was not mistaken. You seem to have given me a mouse, but you should know that, as much as I appreciate the gesture, it is not suitable food for me. You may have it, if you wish.”
The bird laid its head to one side, and gave the strongest impression that it was listening carefully to him. As Brandyé took a step away from the mouse, Sonora leapt forward, and began to tear into the mouse with gusto. Brandyé wrinkled his face, but said, “I hope you enjoy your breakfast, Sonora. I will hope to see you again one day.” As the falcon continued to feed, he walked calmly around her, and continued on to Elven’s home.
He arrived a few minutes later to a great commotion. He heard much calling and shouting as he made his way through the back garden, and much banging, dragging and scuffling as he entered the kitchen.
On the table was piled a great many things: several large trunks, many blankets and tunics and undergarments, baskets of fruit, piles of ham, cheese and bread, knives, a pair of boots and also a pair of well-shined leather moccasins, among others. Most of these were half stuffed into the trunks, as though in haste. There was at the moment no one in the kitchen, but from upstairs he heard voices.
“I cannot find it, mother!”
“Elven! I have told you more times than I can recall that it is your duty to keep that thing! If you cannot find it, you will have to leave it here.”
There was a sudden loud crash, and then Elven cried, “Never mind, mother! I found it!”
“What on Erâth just happened?” replied his mother. Brandyé heard feet bounding down the stairs, and as Elven appeared suddenly into the kitchen, his mother gave a great scream, and shouted, “Elven Dottery! Your bed is on its side! If you have chosen not to prepare sooner, that is your responsibility, but you will not leave this house in such a state!”
Elven, who was out of breath and clutching a flap of leather in one hand, glanced briefly at Brandyé and said, “Oh – hello! I will return in a moment!” And then, running back up the stairs with, “I am sorry, mother – I should have gathered my things two days ago, like you said.” There was another bang – presumably as Elven returned his bed to its upright position – and then he fairly leapt down the stairs again, called out, “Brandyé is here, mother! Everything is now downstairs; I will pack it quickly. The coach should not arrive for half an hour yet.”
“Do what you wish, son,” called his mother, “but woe to you should your trunks not be packed when the south carriage is here!”
Elven’s father, Timothaï, appeared in kitchen, and was surprised to find Brandyé there, apparently very bewildered and staring at the pile upon the table. In fact, he seemed rather worried to see Brandyé, but said, “Good morning! Forgive this chaos – Elven is…well, I shall let him tell you. It is good to see you.”
Elven returned to the kitchen, now wearing a new coat with real brass buttons, and was still holding the leather flap. He looked from his father to Brandyé, and Timothaï, sensing his son’s eagerness to speak with his friend, said, “Go, son. Spend your time with Brandyé. I will finish packing here.”
Elven smiled, and said, “Thank you, father.”
As Elven pulled Brandyé back out of the kitchen door, his father called out, “But – do not tell your mother!”
Elven then fair dragged Brandyé into the back garden, past the sheds, and finally stopped to sit on a large stone upon the moor. As he caught his breath, Brandyé finally found his voice. “Is everything all right?” he asked. “What is happening?”
“Oh, Brandyé,” said Elven excitedly, “It is wonderful! I am to be apprenticed to a healer! I leave today to live with him, that I might learn the art of healing man and beast.”
Brandyé felt a shiver of shock pass through him. “You – you are leaving?”
Elven looked apologetically at Brandyé. “I meant to come to you and let you know,” he said, “but the winter has been so harsh, and mother was worried what the villagers would say should they see me traveling to your house. I do wish we could have had a chance to meet before today, but I am glad you came – I did so want to say goodbye!”
Brandyé did not know what to say. He had not expected to find his best friend – his only friend – was departing Burrowdown. He knew that Elven would soon find an apprenticeship; he and Brandyé had spent many hours over the past summer discussing what they should become as they grew older, which included anything from farmer to swordsmith to dragon hunter. But he had never considered that such an apprenticeship could mean leaving the village of Burrowdown. “I am glad for you,” he finally said. “How did this come about?”
It is because of Sonora,” Elven replied. “Mother and father were greatly impressed by how I bound her wing, and asked how I had known what to do. I told that I did not know – it seemed the only natural thing to do. You should have seen her – her wing was as good as new in a month!”
“I did see her!” Brandyé exclaimed. “Only today, as I was passing over the moor. I did not know what she was at first; she caught a mouse. She brought it to me!”
“Oh, good!” Elven replied. “Anyway, mother and father began to ask the farmhands to call upon them should any animal be harmed, and they would bring me along. The farmhands knew of course what to do, but they would ask me what I would do. It was wonderful, Brandyé, to know I could bring health back to those that had lost it. So my parents sought the best healer in the land, and asked if he might take on an apprentice. At first he would not, for he is old, but they assured him I would work hard, and would pay him whatever he desired. In the end, he would not accept payment, but said only that he expected me to live with him for the six years of apprenticeship, and should I not learn well, he would send me home in disgrace. But I will learn well, Brandyé – I will! His name is Sörhend, and I am so pleased!”
Brandyé suddenly found himself on the verge of tears. The thought that he might be without his friend for six years was more than he could comprehend. He blinked rapidly, and to distract himself, said instead, “You do not seem surprised that I saw Sonora on the moor.”
Elven’s eyes widened, and he grinned conspiratorially. “Come,” he said. “I have something to show you.” He led Brandyé some way into the fields, and took the flap of leather he still held. It was thick, and had fastened to it a large buckle, which Elven wrapped around his wrist and pulled tight. It formed a gauntlet around his forearm, and looked very impressive. Elven then placed two fingers of his other hand in his mouth, and gave a loud, shill whistle. A moment later, a cry answered from the distance, and soon Brandyé could see the familiar black speck appear in the distance, and close swiftly upon them. Soon the falcon was circling them, and with a gentle flutter of her wings, settled neatly upon Elven’s outstretched arm, her talons digging into the gauntlet.
Elven beamed at Brandyé. “Isn’t she wonderful?” he said. “When she was healed, I brought her out her and bade her go, but she would not go. I took her further out, and left her, thinking she might need to be deeper in the moorland, but that evening she was waiting at my window. She does not want to leave me, and nor I her. I have been training her, and she knows my voice. Her talons are fierce, though, and so I made this gauntlet to keep her from mauling my arm. She will come with me to Daevàr’s Hut.”
Despite the wonder of discovering Sonora’s loyalty to Elven, this last statement brought back the shock of Elven’s departure. “Daevàr’s Hut?” he exclaimed. “That is almost a week’s journey! When will we see each other next?”
Before Elven could reply, he heard his mother’s voice calling, frantic: “The coach is here, Elven! Come, swiftly!”
Elven looked suddenly nervous and excited. “It is here! Come, Brandyé – I would have you wish me farewell.”
Brandyé followed Elven back into the house, where all of the items piled on the table had now been neatly packed into the three large trunks. His father was hauling them through the front door to the road, and the two boys joined in to help. Sonora was placed reluctantly in a large cage for the journey, where she, rather contemptuously, finally settled on the floor and went to sleep.
The carriage arrived mere moments later, and without a pause, two footmen descended and heaved the trunks upon a large rack at the back. The door of the carriage was opened, and Elven stepped inside, joining several other passengers who appeared rather impatient, and did not want to share the journey with a boy and a bird. The entire Dottery family had now appeared to bid him farewell – Timothaï, Arian, Maria, Julia and little Sonora, also, who wept outright at the departure of her older brother. Brandyé stood with them, and watched as Elven paused at the carriage door, and turned to face them.
“Goodbye, mother and father! Goodbye, sisters!” he said. “And goodbye, Brandyé. I will not forget you! I will return, and you shall see, I will be a great healer!” With that, he seated himself between two large and unfortunately pungent men, and the door was slammed shut, and the coach started off, the footmen once more clinging to the the rear and the driver urging his horses on.
Brandyé watched the carriage make its way down the south road, until it disappeared over the ridge. He felt overwhelmed, and knew not what to think. In half an hour, he had been reunited with his friend, discovered the falcon they had rescued the previous year was now a loyal companion to Elven, and said farewell for what might as well have been forever to the only boy in the land who had ever deigned to speak with him. He felt, at that moment, lonelier than he had ever been in his life.