Chapter 10: The Road to Daevàr’s Hut
It was two years before Brandyé was to see Elven again. Though Daevàr’s Hut was a six-day ride from Burrowdown, this made it nearly a month by foot, especially over the rough country. The south coach (and its return) was expensive, and as an apprentice, Elven earned no pay. As for Brandyé, though he and Reuel were not strictly short for coinage, travel was not undertaken without purpose, and they had no business in Daevàr’s Hut that would warrant the journey.
His life became quite different after Elven’s leaving. For many months – well into the summer – he wandered the southeastern plains, often making a day’s trip to Soleheart, where he would sit, sometimes beneath the branches and sometimes among them, gazing for many long hours across the plains and to the horizon beyond. He would scour the skies, and though he often saw solitary birds along with the flocks that migrated this way and that through the seasons, none ever approached him, and he found himself missing Sonora.
He was not exactly jealous of Elven; he understood that Elven had an unusual talent, and was glad he would learn to use it to great advantage. Yet he could not helping comparing himself to Elven’s fortune, and felt ever aware that he had no particular talent himself, or at least, not one that he knew of. He knew nothing of healing, nor of building, or ironmongery – but what was worse is that of all the possible skills he could choose to gain, none held his interest.
He began to spend an increasing amount of his days wandering the empty parts of the countryside with his crossbow, and would practice shooting until he was able to hit the smallest of marks from over five hundred feet. He found an empty kind of happiness – a distraction, perhaps – in this, and he became very good, yet his dejectedness prevented him from seeing this as a valuable skill. What good was there in a talent for weapons in a land where such instruments were outlawed?
Despite his increasing confidence in bowmanship, he would not hunt. He kept to his vow not to kill a beast needlessly, and Reuel had begun to return to the village market and would get what bacon they needed from there. Though he was still held in contempt by the village people, they had begun to feel the weight of their enslavement to the Fortunaé’s new tax. Already, two families had been turned out their homes for disobeying the lord’s commands and providing less than the requisite eight tithes, and had not the money or skill to rebuild their ruined houses. Reuel’s prophecy came to be true, however, and the Fortunaé began to offer commodities and food to the villagers, at greatly exaggerated prices. Thus they were now no longer hungry, but instead very poor, and welcomed Reuel’s coins, which seemed to be in no short supply, and for which they despised him.
Reuel, for his part, began to consider what was to become of his grandson, and it bothered him that Brandyé was so sullen and disinterested in all that occurred. He saw that one of the few things that could rouse Brandyé was his crossbow, and so he began to allow Brandyé to learn the longbow also, and his skill with this weapon was soon even greater than with the smaller crossbow. Though it concerned him that Brandyé’s talents seemed bent towards violence, he bore it with sufferance, for he increasingly began to fear that Brandyé’s future lay not in Consolation, and these skills might one day preserve his life.
To counter this, he began to give Brandyé small tasks, but they were far from the ones he was used to. Each week, Reuel would tell Brandyé to discover a particular thing, such as how a bird flies, or how a water pump works. At first, Brandyé would return moments later, with answers such as, “By flapping its wings,” or, “You push down on the handle and the water comes out of the tap.” He soon found, however, that Reuel was not satisfied with these answers, for he would say, “How does the flapping of the bird’s wings allow it to fly?”
Though Brandyé did not realize it, Reuel was engaging him in an apprenticeship of his own, though it was of quite a different nature to Elven’s, or most others in the land, for that matter. Where most children went off to learn trades and skills, Reuel was, gradually, teaching Brandyé the art of thought. It had the effect he desired, also: Brandyé became ever more interested in the discovery of new things, and this kept his mind off his loneliness. Soon, Brandyé began to seek out knowledge without his grandfather’s prompting, and discovered that through very careful observation, he learned things he had never knew could be learned. One of the greatest epiphanies of this time was one spring morning, as he came across an orb spider and watched her spin her web. He was astonished to discover the careful and precise way in which she spun her thread between the tall blades of grass: she began by flinging a thick line across two blades, and then dropping a second line towards the ground. Many further spokes of silk followed this, before she began, very carefully, to weave the sticky thread for catching her prey in a long spiral, and rested, finally, at the centre of the beautiful web. It was in this way that Brandyé learned of the startling intelligence behind even the smallest of creatures, and realized his own thoughts were but one form of intelligence.
His journeys of discovery began to lead him further and further from his house, and he began to spend entire summer days walking through empty fields, always looking for something to take in. It was to his great surprise, then, that he one day encountered Sonora – the girl, this time, and not the falcon – in a dry plain far from the village.
“What brings you this far from the village?” she asked him, for she was as much surprised as he was.
“I am walking,” he replied. “Why are you here?”
Doleful, she looked to the ground and said, “I have little else to do. Maria is now left and lives with her new husband, and Julia spends all her time now painting. Mother and father are most anxious, for they do not understand why she will not create things that are useful to people. She says they do not understand her. Elven is gone, and I am left now to amuse myself. But–” and she looked now right at Brandyé “–I do not seek amusement! I am older now, and I feel I must find a worth for myself, or I shall go mad!”
Brandyé could not but agree with her; indeed he had hardly recognized her at first, for it had been a year since they had last met, and she was indeed older. She had cropped her hair shorter so that it only brushed her shoulders, and her face had become lean and dark from much time in the sun. She spoke with a confidence he had not known in her before, and wondered at the change in her. “You are like me,” he said finally. “I have also not found a use for myself, beyond the simple chores of keeping house. But–” and he paused “–I have begun learning.”
“What have you been learning?” she asked.
“Everything,” he replied. “Come, I will show you.”
Intrigued, she followed him in the meadows, and so it was that they began to spend much of their time together, and Brandyé found in her a new friend that he had not thought he could have, and she in him a teacher.
They spent many hours together, and Brandyé’s eye for detail and her excitement for novelty led them to discover and experiment a great many things. When crossing a stream by way of a thick branch one day, the branch snapped as Brandyé was halfway across. With a shout, he fell into the stream, and Sonora, who had been standing on the end of the branch, was propelled into the air. Both entertained and curious, she wondered how high something might be propelled in a similar manner. Together, they bound together a great many branches into a long stave, balanced it over a large boulder, placed a friendly stray cat on one end of the plank, and jumped from a height onto the other. Sonora gave a cry of joy as the cat shot some hundred feet through the air and landed yowling in a tree, and Brandyé grinned at their construct, which was in essence a veritable trebuchet, though he did not know it.
In this way passed two years, though they did not spend as much time together during the winter months. For some time now, the snows had been deeper, and lasted longer, and the skies were darker, and the very winter air had become forbidding. Brandyé and Reuel kept to themselves in their home, and Brandyé became aware one day that almost all of the daily chores were now in his charge, and Reuel spent ever more time musing by the fire, or alone in the room upstairs, which Brandyé had yet not seen.
Despite the house work that now kept his hands busy, and the company of Sonora that kept his mind busy, he still very much missed Elven, and longed for his impetuosity and reckless adventures, though he had no desire to return to fighting with the other boys of the village, whom he successfully avoided each day.
Thus it was to his great surprise and delight that, one day late in spring when the trees were full in blossom, Reuel came to him and told him they would be taking the south coach to spend a week in the great town of Daevàr’s Hut. “There is business I must attend to there before the year is out,” he said, “and the weather is fit for traveling.”
Brandyé was greatly excited, not only for the chance of reunion with his friend, but also to lay eyes upon the great town, and for the journey it would take to get there. Brandyé had never seen more than the local villages around their home, none of which were particularly grander than Burrowdown (which itself could hardly have been called grand). He had also never ridden more than a donkey, and the prospect of spending a week riding in a carriage, albeit a crowded and smelly one, seemed like a great luxury to his mind.
Reuel, who had made the journey before, was under no such illusions, and instead bade Brandyé prepare well. In fact, he had only once taken the carriage from Burrowdown to Daevàr’s Hut and back, and that had been many years ago, when he had first learned of his daughter’s death and the survival of her son – Brandyé – in the flames. Brandyé’s case had been most unusual, and it had been required that a minister of the Fortunaé preside over Reuel’s taking on wardship of the child, and to authenticate his claim to the boy’s bloodline. This in itself turned out to be difficult, as no one in Daevàr’s Hut particularly knew who he was, and no one much at all had known Brandyé’s parents. In the end, of course, he had left the great town with the child, and had taken the coach then to bear the infant home to live with him in Burrowdown.
The coach had been unpleasant then, also, and Reuel would happily have ridden himself, but he now owned no horses, and was too old to have ridden for five days, even if he had. So it was that he had Brandyé assist him in preparing for the journey, in such a way as to make the trip – and their subsequent stay in Daevàr’s Hut – as pleasant as possible.
To this end, they gathered together a great many things, and divided them between a large duffle for the coach and a small sack for Brandyé’s shoulders. Into the smaller pack went many provisions – bacon, cheese, bread, five carrots, many small satchels of nuts and other small items, and two large gourds that they filled with water from the stream near the house. Into this there went also a short knife. In the larger bag went provisions against the weather: two blankets, a canvas for forming a tent, five pairs of socks, well-wrapped tinder and a flint, and several pans, among many other items. Also into the large duffle Reuel placed a narrow tube, sealed at both ends, of which he would not speak to Brandyé.
Finally, the day of their departure came, and quite a pair they made as they left their home on the hill and marched down the path to Burrowdown: both garbed in heavy cloaks against the early spring mist, yet one still slightly shorter than the other, a satchel on his back and the duffle carried between them. Reuel bore also a long staff, which he used to support himself these days on longer walks. They attracted many stares as the passed through the village proper; they could not avoid it, as the south coach left from before the bridge an hour after sunrise. It is likely many of the villagers wondered whether they might simply not return, and were probably gladdened at the thought. Reuel and his grandson had kept largely to themselves since the incident with the Fortunaé, and the townspeople had not missed them; it was clear from the hush that followed them down the road that they were as unwelcome as always. Reuel seemed above such disapproval, and Brandyé had long become used to their contempt, but he had never entered the village with his grandfather to such shunning, and found it disturbing.
Brandyé’s mind was set to wondering once more about his grandfather’s childhood, and the events that caused him to seek life outside of their lands. He knew Reuel was disliked as an old man for his audacity in venturing beyond the borders of Consolation, but now Brandyé began to wonder what made him leave in the first place. Had it been mere curiosity, or had something happened, something so shameful that he had felt compelled to go? If that was so, he felt he understood what his grandfather must have felt; what good was there in living amongst a community of people who wanted nothing to do with you?
This was perhaps the most compelling reason Brandyé had for visiting Daevàr’s Hut, beyond seeing the town or even discovering Elven there; he desired nothing more than to lose himself in a crowd of men and women he did not know, and who would not look once, and certainly not twice, at him or his grandfather.
They were not long at the foot of the Burrow Bridge when the south coach came slowly into sight; the mist was beginning to lift under the morning sun, and the driver had flung aside his cloak and was perspiring as he drove his team onward. He pulled the horses to a halt before Reuel and Brandyé, and together they flung the duffle onto the roof of the coach, and climbed in to join half a dozen other travelers. No other villagers were journeying south that day, and so the coach set off duly, stopping only once at the well to refresh the drafters, and began the long journey towards Daevàr’s Hut.
The first day on the road passed largely uneventful; the other passengers were traveling alone, and alone, it seemed, they preferred to keep. There was no talk, and what little conversation Brandyé attempted to engage them in resulted in an occasional grunt, and more often more silence.
Perhaps it was the cramped, hot atmosphere inside the coach, or the prospect that they would not arrive for five more days, but even Reuel, who usually always had a tale to tell, seemed lost. At first, Brandyé thought he must be sleeping, for he kept his eyes closed, head resting against the bumping and swaying coach, but he would mumble a few words now and then when Brandyé spoke to him, but that was all. So it was that, when the party halted at midday, Brandyé did not return to the coach with the others, but instead mounted the front of the coach and sat beside the driver who, for his part, seemed pleased to have the company.
“Why aren’t you in the back, like the others?” he asked Brandyé.
Brandyé glanced back at the coach, which continued to jostle along behind them. “In truth? It smells,” he said.
The driver laughed. “Aye, it does.” He peered curiously at Brandyé. “Ye’re an odd one,” he said. “No one’s ever sat up ’ere with me before, leastways not a boy. Ye’re bold. Who’re you with?”
“My grandfather,” replied Brandyé. “He is in the carriage, sleeping. I cannot sleep on such a rough road.”
The driver grunted. “You should’ve seen it before it were a road. Nought more’n a mud path across the land, it were, an’ havoc on the coach.”
“How did the road come to be?” Brandyé asked.
“A fair question,” the driver commented. “In truth o’ fact, no one’s right sure. Each road’s different, lad, but then, each road’s the same, also. What I mean is, no two roads go the same way, but they all grows the same way.”
This was intriguing to Brandyé; he had never thought of a road growing before. “What do you mean?” he asked.
“’Bout what? The roads? Well you see, roads is a way o’ gettin’ from one place to another. Simple enough, right? When you leave your front door, how do you get to market?”
“I walk down the path,” said Brandyé.
“Right,” said the driver. “A road is nothin’ more’n a path what got a little bigger, is all. When you leave your house, you can see where you want to get to, and you goes there. After you’ve done it a hundred times, all the grass gets weared out, and you’ve got yourself a path.
“But, what happens when you can’t see where you’re goin’? How does you get from Burrowdown to Daevàr’s Hut when you can’t even see the way? Well, who knows when, some clever sod figured out the way usin’ the sun or some such nonsense, and put some stones along his way every so often. He did is so as you can always see the next stone from the one you’re at. That way, people could go the same way he did.
“Now mind you, not too many people goes to an’ from Daevàr’s Hut – those what lives there stays, and those what don’t, don’t go. That’s why this coach is so seldom – very rare, it is, to have such a full one. But still – there’s one person who uses the roads commonly, and he demands they be kept in good order. Can you guess who that is?”
Brandyé already knew the answer: “The Fortunaé,” he said.
The driver roared approval. “So it is, lad! You’re a bright one. His lordship don’ like gettin’ mucky, and so he rides around in his very own coach. But he also don’ like bein’ bumped around an awful lot, so he sent out all these folk to make the road wide, and smooth, so he’d be comfortable.”
“But the road is not smooth,” Brandyé argued. “Our wheels dip into many ruts.”
“Like I said,” the driver replied, “it’s better than it were.”
“It must have taken those men a terribly long time to create the road,” Brandyé said.
“Aye, their whole lives, like as not. That’s your lot, if you work under the lords.”
That night, as Brandyé and Reuel sat around a small fire they had made, Brandyé asked his grandfather about this.
“Filaéus” – for that was the driver’s name – “says men built this road for the Fortunaé,” he said. “He says they gave their lives for their comfort.”
They had finished a supper of bacon and bread, and were sitting wrapped in their blankets, watching the fire die a little before turning in for sleep. The weather was genial, and they had not erected a tent; the stars were bright and cold above them, a few of them blocked by the dark silhouette of a tree.
Reuel sighed. “It is so,” he said. “The Fortunaé are demanding. The tithes they have been taking for so long are generous by their standard. The people are outraged at their new tax, but in truth they are not surprised. This has happened many times before. The Fortunaé will stock themselves well, and when a fruitful summer comes again, they will lower the taxation once again.”
“What about the road?” Brandyé asked. “Who would want to spend their lives in such labour?”
“Choice has little to do with it, son,” Reuel replied. “They are those who have failed to deliver to the Fortunaé; those who have, in their eyes, committed a crime against their rule. There is no questioning their judgment, and their justice is long-lasting. Few are outright killed, but enslavement is common.”
“It is not right,” Brandyé said vehemently. “One should not suffer an eternal fate for a single crime. There is no forgiveness!”
“Such is the price of dwelling in a land not yet overrun by Darkness. If you prefer freedom in the company of Fierundé, the Fortunaé will not stop you.”
Brandyé fell asleep with these thoughts in mind, and considered it still as they resumed the road in the early morning mist. What he was learning about the people who lorded over the lands he called home was fostering in him a deep dislike of them. Their children found delight in tormenting small animals; their fathers would whip a boy for defending himself. They drove men to death because they could not afford the tribute they demanded.
Though these matters occupied his thoughts for much of the remainder of the journey, Brandyé did not fail to observe the land around them as they travelled. On the third day they began to pass though increasing wetlands, and even as the road continued southward, the land on either side dropped away into pools and bogs. There were many creatures to be seen here – frogs could be glimpsed diving beneath the waters, crickets the size of a mouse that scuttled across their path, and many, many birds that swam and fed in the swamps. Yet, it was not these birds that Brandyé noticed most of all. That evening, as the sun grew low and the sky reddened, he became aware of an astonishing sight to the West. At first, he thought it might be a low cloud, passing across the sun, but it moved too swift, and as it drew nearer, he saw it was a flock of enormous white birds, their necks long and beautiful, flying swiftly towards the East. What was awesome about this sight was their number – at least two thousand there were, in great sweeping formations, and as they passed overhead, Brandyé could hear them calling to each other, and it seemed to him there was a sense of urgency, of importance, in their calls.
“Swans,” Reuel told him. “The most graceful bird in Erâth. Yet…I do not know whither they go. It is too early in the season for migration, and they would pass to the South were that the case, not the East.”
The following evening, they were granted yet another astonishing sight. At near the same time, just as the sun was drawing itself below the horizon, low over the fields came yet another vast flock of birds. These were not swans, though, and they were traveling in almost exactly the opposite direction to the swans – the passed from the East, and continued on into the West. Their number was greater even than the swans – some ten thousand there were.
“Crows,” said Reuel, and his tone this time was not of admiration. “They do not migrate now, of this I am certain.”
“Perhaps they have been frightened?” Brandyé suggested.
“Of the swans, that I might believe,” Reuel replied. “But then, why do the crows travel in the other direction?” He looked away towards the enormous population of birds, even as they drew distant once more. “I am not concerned, yet it is a strange omen. A group of crows is called a murder, you know,” he said to Brandyé.
Brandyé shivered at this; no group of animals should be so named, he thought, except perhaps the Fierundé. He had seen crows around Burrowdown, and as he thought of it, he recollected that they always seemed somehow sneaking, as though they were plotting and watched men carefully as they did. But such a terrible title for their crowd was unsettling. Why would they be so called?
These considerations, and those of the Fortunaé, occupied Brandyé for the remainder of their journey which, fortunately, was from then on entirely uneventful. It was three days later that they arrived in the largest town of the land of Consolation: Daevàr’s Hut.