Chapter 10: Daevàr’s Hut
The town was large – perhaps two or three thousand people dwelt there at any given time. There were also visitors, men who would come and go, but for the most part its inhabitants would live, and die, without straying from its furthest edges. The only time any significant number of people entered the town was on Great Market Day, on the first Sunday of each month, when the surrounding farmers and artisans would set up stalls in the central square and sell their goods.
The town was built in the down of a broad valley, carved by the river Rühsteur that flowed West across Consolation, and was the largest in the land (the Burrow emptied into it many miles downstream). As such, the approach from the North brought one upon the town from above, and afforded a great view of the town, the valley, and the upstream falls that cascaded upon the vale and filled the air with the endless, soothing rush of water.
The town was large, and spread outwards from a large, central bridge that was so wide as to allow the free passage of several carts side by side with comfort, and could be seen easily from the valley’s lip. The tallest dwellings were built here, some four or five stories high, and were arranged in odd patterns around the bridge. Daevàr’s Hut was the only town in all the lands to have actual streets, and cobbled ones at that; though most were narrow and dim, it gave to the town a defined structure that indisputably identified the ruling district from the lesser areas that surrounded it. Near to the bridge on the South bank was the largest and greatest building of all; twice the breadth and height of any other, it stood proud among the dwellings around it, its dark stone contrasting with their wood and adobe, and was called the Hut. This was the seat of the lord families of Consolation: the Fortunaé of the North, the Sànvedé of the East, and the Lapronadé of the South. They dwelt in separate, smaller, yet nonetheless grand, homes on the North, East and South sides of the Hut, but it was here they would convene, and discuss the ruling of their lands.
For many generations, the Fortuna family had held dominance over the Sànvedé and the Lapronadé, and it was the head of their house whose voice was final on any and all matters of policy. The other houses were not strictly content with this arrangement, but so it had been for too long, and the Fortunaé held the court and the constabulary, and could not be bought.
So it was that the South coach came over the top of the vale and began to descend, and Brandyé was allowed his first view of the capitol of their lands. To his eye it was all quite beautiful, with the East falls glinting the sun’s light, and the great town sprawled at his feet, and he felt like a lord coming down upon his very own land. He was once again seated next to the driver, and that day Reuel had also joined them. Perhaps it was the approach to their destination, or a turn in the weather, for it was now quite warm and pleasant, but he seemed to have recovered from the brooding that had taken him since their journey began.
“Daevàr’s Hut,” announced Filaéus. “Grandest place in all the land. Still smells like a donkey’s rear end,” he confided to Brandyé. “No fresh air, y’know.”
“It is the seat of power for our lands,” Reuel told Brandyé. “All the lord families live here, when they are not traveling their fiefdoms.”
“I have been curious, grandfather,” said Brandyé, “about how the town’s name came to be. Is it not an odd appellation for such a large place?”
“It is,” replied Reuel, “but not so odd once you know the history of this town. Did you know it is the oldest settlement in all of Consolation?”
Brandyé shook his head. “It is?”
“Indeed. Long ago, after the great war of Darkness, a king of the northern lands sought solitude from the death and ruin of his lands and left his rule, and journeyed long and far. He was the first man to lay eyes upon these lands, and his name was Daevàr.
“He sought nothing but a quiet and solitary existence, and built for himself but a small dwelling; a far cry from the great palaces of his kingdom. For many years he lived thus alone, but gradually others from his kingdom, also seeking refuge from the ruins their homes had been left in, came across the land also, and discovered this man living there, and came to live there also. The first few who built upon the land called it simply Daevàr’s Hut, and so the town has been known to this day.”
“So the town below is built on the very spot where Daevàr first lived?” Brandyé asked. It was an exciting thought, that he was soon to tread the ground a true king of old had once stood upon.
“Do you see the large building, made of stone?” Reuel asked him, pointing.
“Yes, grandfather,” replied Brandyé.
“It is known as the Hut. An interesting name for so large a dwelling, do you not think?” There was a twinkle in his eye as he spoke this.
“It is where Daevàr’s old home once stood!” exclaimed Brandyé.
Reuel laughed. “Very good, son! Sadly, it is probably not true. The king’s hut is long lost, and no one is certain where it once stood. It is possible, certainly, that the Hut is built upon the very site, but I am not convinced. I would ask, why would Daevàr, traveling from the North, choose to settle on the South bank of the river? There is nothing to be had there that cannot be found on the North side, and there was of course no bridge to ease the crossing.”
Filaéus had been listening all this while, and said, “You seem to know an awful lot ’bout the place, old man. You’ve been here afore?”
“I have,” Reuel replied. “Once, long ago.”
They had, by now, reached the lowland of the vale, and drew upon the town itself. The road they were on ran into the town directly, and formed the main road that led between the homes and buildings, to the central square and the bridge over the river. The coach began to rattle as it passed onto the cobblestones, and the horses’ hooves clacked loudly. Yet the noise of the passing was nothing to the sounds that now surrounded them from all sides.
The town was busy, for it was a Sunday, and as it happened, it was Great Market Day. There were many, many people – men, women and children alike – crowding the streets, passing in and out of their homes and issuing forth from the many small streets onto the road, making for the square. As such, Filaéus could make little progress through the throngs, despite his calls of, “Get outta my way! You’ll get a tramplin’ from my drafters, you daft cattle!”
Smells there were, also, and Brandyé understood now what Filaéus had meant. A mélange of scents and odors passed through the air, and not all were pleasant. Among the indiscernible, Brandyé caught brief draughts of bread, and ale, and roasting meat, and oranges, and lilacs, but also rot, and mud, and dung, and sulphur. Greatly overwhelming, it was some time before Brandyé grew accustomed to it.
So slow had the coach become, unable to pass through the crowds that filled the street from edge to edge, that Reuel said to their driver, “We shall take leave here, if it is the same to you.”
Filaéus grunted, and nodded agreement. “I don’ know where you’re off to in town, but you’ll not get much farther here.”
Reuel and Brandyé heaved their duffle from the coach roof, bid their farewell to the driver, and left the coach and set off into the stream of people.
At first, it was difficult finding passage through the street; with the duffle between them, and the large sack on Brandyé’s back, they unavoidably collided with passers-by, particularly as they were attempting to proceed across the crowd’s direction. Reuel seemed to have a particular destination in mind, however, and pressed on with determination, and soon they had left the butler behind them for the labyrinth of side streets that made the town. They turned this way and that, proceeding on for some time, and the crowds became less until they were soon able to walk freely side by side, all the while carrying the duffle between them.
Brandyé began to look around, and was fascinated by what he saw. Each building they passed was two or three stories high, and many had shops of varying sorts opening onto the street. There was food in the form of butchers and bakeries and fishmongers, and luxuries in the form of tailors and seamstresses and even one that seemed to sell nothing but brass. Some were not shops, and these were simpler, with not more than a front door and a window, most with the curtains drawn.
But it was the people that fascinated Brandyé the most; here, in the depths of the town, there were far fewer than on the main road, Brandyé saw that many watched them carefully, and with suspicion. Many of the shopkeepers, dressed in their smocks and vests, stood before their windows and watched as they passed; the men in the streets, many in rags, would turn their heads as they passed, and Brandyé became aware that he and his grandfather looked very much like outsiders, wearing country tunics and breeches. He mentioned this to Reuel, who said, “They know we are from the country, and most people here are naturally suspicious of those who come from elsewhere. But few mean us harm, and still fewer would deal it, for fear of the justice of the Fortunaé.”
After some time, Reuel brought them to halt before an inn, and looking up, Brandyé read the sign that hung outside the door: The Stone Rose. “We shall stay here,” Reuel said. “It it not expensive, and the sheets are clean.” They entered, and in the gloom, Brandyé saw a large man, bald yet with a great beard, come through a door and address Reuel. “What can I do fer yeh, good sir?” Brandyé had not heard speech such as his before – somehow melodious yet gruff, and it added to his fascination of the town.
“I wish board for myself and my grandson, for six nights,” Reuel replied. “One room will suffice.”
The man paused, and leaned forward towards Reuel, squinting. “Yer from the North, ent yeh?”
“We are,” replied Reuel with a small smile. “Does that change the rate?”
“I know yeh,” the man said softly. “I swear it.”
“You might well,” Reuel replied, “for I have stayed here before. Sixteen years past, now. Your name is Ron.”
Ron’s eyes widened, suddenly. “Yer the man who ’ad the fire boy!” he exclaimed. “Some sort o’ business with the Fortunaé, wern’t it?”
Reuel made a small bow. “The very same,” he acknowledged.
The man’s eyes turned now to Brandyé. “By the lords,” he said, “Yer ’im, all growed up!”
Brandyé did not reply; it was an unsettling feeling to think that even here, so far from his home, he might be known.
“Follow me,” Ron said. “I’ve got the best room for yeh both, yeh’ll see if I ’aven’t!” He led them down a narrow passage and up a flight of stairs, to a thick door that hung crooked upon its hinges. He opened it, and entered the room. As Brandyé stepped in, he was given cause to wonder what Ron’s worst room was like, if this was his best. There was a single bed, small and sagging, beneath a single window that looked out upon the wall of the neighboring house. A wood chair stood in one corner, beside a nightstand on which was a small copper pot. There was a tiny hearth opposite the bed, and Ron bent to lighting a fire as Reuel and Brandyé finally put down the heavy duffle on the bed. After a moment, smoke began to fill the room, and Ron stood, seeming pleased. He turned to Reuel and Brandyé, and said, “Yeh’ll haf to forgive the smoke; a rat or some creat’re got stuck up there, an’ I guess it must o’ died, ’cause no smoke’ll go up there now.”
“It is quite all right,” Reuel assured him. “I am certain we can open the window.”
Ron scratched behind his ear for a moment, and said, “Window’s stuck too, I’m afraid. But yeh can leave the door open,” he added brightly.
“That is quite all right,” Reuel repeated.
“Ah – well, good then,” Ron said. He glanced from Brandyé to Reuel, who stood still by the bed, gazing calmly at Ron. “I’ll, eh, I’ll let yeh get settled, then,” he mumbled. “If yeh need anything, yeh jus’ let me know.”
“Thank you very much,” Reuel replied, and with a grunt of satisfaction, Ron left the room. Brandyé crossed to the window and peered out. He could see a tiny alley below their room, and if he looked sideways across the street, he could just see the top of the Hut, in the distance. Reuel spoke to him. “It is Great Market Day today,” he said. “If you wish, you may go out and discover the town.” Brandyé turned, excited. “I ask you only two things,” Reuel continued. “Return by sundown, and do not pass into any side street between the square and here.”
“I understand, grandfather,” Brandyé replied. “I will not be long – I wish only to explore the town.” With that, he took his leave of Reuel, left the Stone Rose, and made his way through the streets of Daevàr’s Hut, ambling in the general direction of the main road on which they had entered the town.
The sun was just past its zenith, and the streets were awash in a pleasant blend of warm light and cool shadows. Without the packs, no one seemed to pay much mind to Brandyé, and he ambled casually along one street and then another, always following the sounds, and the smells, and the people. Occasionally he would be called upon by shopkeepers and cart owners, but he merely smiled at them and passed on; he had a few coins in his pocket, but did not wish to waste them before reaching the Great Market itself.
Eventually, the streets he passed through grew filled, and after a final turn, he found himself faced with the Great Market, and it was indeed a sight. The square in which it was set was, in fact, not a square at all, but a vast half-circle of cobbled stone. The river Rühsteur made the straight edge, and in the center of this the Rühsteur Bridge gave passage to the South bank. Opposite this, entering the court from the North, was the South road (known here as the North road, of course). On a quiet day, it was an open place for people to meet and pass through and acknowledge the splendor of their lords’ town, but today the very ground could scarce be seen for the number of stalls, carts and coaches, some with beasts still harnessed to them, that haphazardly filled every part of the square. Where there were not sellers, there were buyers – hundreds, it seemed, passing this way and that, some laden with coins and some with their wares. At every cart could be seen a dozen or more townsfolk and villagers clamoring and bartering for a sack of potatoes, an earthenware jug, or a small bottle of tonic filled with a clear, tasteless liquid that seemed oddly like water, but for an ability to cure all known ailments and complaints. Despite the noise, each stall keeper seemed entirely comfortable carrying on ten conversations at once, keeping straight the price for each loaf of bread and what each person was willing to actually pay, and beating off the urchins that tried always to pilfer a bun or trinket with a long stick.
Brandyé had, naturally, never beheld such a scene of delightful pandemonium, and he was terribly excited by all he saw. A desire came over him to visit every stand and taste of every victual, and with a grin, he plunged into the crowd. For some time, he allowed the ebb and flow of the throng to carry him where it would, and he passed a great many novel sights. Many of the stands bore food of exotic natures – jars of nettle leaves for tea, smoked frogs hung by the dozen, small pots of jellied snake eggs, and one stall that seemed to have nothing but the heads of a number of fierce and ugly fish (he wondering idly where their bodies were). Others sold trinkets and commodities from the countryside; hemp-woven baskets, rat traps made from twine, bait, and a great tangle of dried rose thorns, small wood-carved figures, and many, many other things also.
Brandyé finally pulled himself free of the flow of bodies and stopped in front of a stand that had laid out on a wood board a great display of knives and blades, each beautifully carved and crafted, with every style of blade Brandyé could imagine, from straight, single-edged carving knives to curved and serrated hunting knives, and even ornate, bejeweled daggers that could surely be only ceremonial in design. Brandyé let his gaze pass slowly over this collection, and the monger behind the display approached him.
“’Ello there, lad! I can see yeh’re taken by the blade. Tom Brunt, maker o’ the finest and keenest knifes west o’ Deep Glen, at yer service.” He picked up a long and fine-pointed bayonet, and balanced the tip on his finger. “Each o’ my blades are sharpened on a special grindstone, ’ose like ent to be found in these lands.” He watched as Brandyé brushed a thumb over the blade of a large hunting knife, and put the bayonet down. “But I can see a keen tip ent to yer likin’,” he said encouragingly. “Yer in fer ’unting, an’ no mistake. That there’s a bloodfoil, used fer throat-cuttin’ o’ yer wounded prey.”
Brandyé, who had been only half listening, looked up at this and said, “If you were a true hunter, you would have no need for this blade; your arrow would bring the beast down in one blow.”
The man’s smile hardly twitched as he said, “O’ course not! ’Tis a coward’s weapon, an’ no doubt ’bout it. No, fer a true ’unter this here’s the only blade yeh’ll need.” He picked up a short, flat and curved blade with a hefty handle. “Once yer prey’s down, yeh’ll still need to skin the beast; this ’ere’s the best tanner yeh’ll ever find.”
“What is that one?” Brandyé asked abruptly. His eye had been caught by a knife, perhaps ten inches in length, which lay alone on the far end of the counter. It was different from any other that lay there; its blade was forged of a black steel unlike any Brandyé knew, and the grip was bound in leather, also black, so that the whole appeared more as a shadow, than something real and tangible.
The knife monger’s grin slipped for just a moment, and he moved over to the blade Brandyé was pointing to. “This? This ’ere, you’ll not want this one. Not fit for ought, an’ I should know. No, yer better off with–”
“Did you forge this blade?” Brandyé interrupted.
The man’s face grew somber, and he leaned forward, and said lowly, “This is a bad blade, son. It were used for killin’, once, and I daresay it’s all its good fer.”
Brandyé ran his thumb over the blade’s edge, and drew it back with blood. “Then why do you sell it?” he asked.
Quite suddenly, the man let out a roar of laughter. “I don’t!” he cried. “It’s only fer scarin’. Keeps the folk interested, yeh see. No one ever actually wants it.”
His eyes still on the blade, Brandyé said, “I shall buy it.”
All joviality left the man at this, and he appeared ready to argue the point when a voice called Brandyé’s name, loud and excited, from behind him.
In great surprise, Brandyé turned, and found himself facing a taller, older, but still unmistakably impetuous Elven, pushing his way through the crowd towards him. His face was cracked in a broad grin, and as he rushed to Brandyé, breathless, he grasped hand in both of his, and pulled him into a great embrace, and did not release him for some time.
“It is good to see you, old friend!” he exclaimed.
“You also,” replied Brandyé. He surveyed Elven head to foot. He was dressed in the manner of the townsfolk; a white blouse and fabric trousers, and the blue vest of an apprentice over his shoulders. He was much changed from when Brandyé had seen him last, though he did not doubt he also appeared different from Elven’s memory. He felt his mind unsteady, as though he had been pulled forcibly from a dream, and his joy at seeing Elven after so long was confused with the sight of the black dagger.
“What brings you to Daevàr’s Hut?” asked Elven, still excited.
“My grandfather has business,” Brandyé said. “If I am honest, I do not know what – I did not ask. I came also to see the town, and to see you! I did not except our encounter to be so soon, though!”
“We have much to discuss!” said Elven. “I have learned much since I have been here. Sörhend is a good master, stern but generous. I am allowed each Sunday to myself, and so it is I find myself at the Great Market, and find you also! Come, have you found something of interest?”
Without meaning it, Brandyé’s gaze was drawn back to the black dagger. The knife monger stood yet solemn, unmoved by the joyous reunion of Elven and Brandyé. No doubt, he was still perturbed by Brandyé’s interest in the knife. Eyes always on the blade, Brandyé said softly, “I have seen this item; I know not why I should have it, but I feel it calls to me.”
Elven glanced at the blade, and said, “If you like it, have it. I would help, but I am not paid and so have but what my master allows me on Sundays.”
Brandyé drew forth his purse, and asked the man, “How much for the black blade?”
The man was now outright fidgeting, and said gruffly, “Yeh couldn’t afford it.”
Brandyé seemed to consider this for a moment, weighed the sack of coins, and then placed the entire purse, unopened, upon the counter. “This is ample payment, I believe,” he said. “Have you a sheath?”
Wordlessly, the man offered Brandyé a simple leather cover, and Brandyé accepted it and slipped the black dagger into it. He placed it in his tunic, and turned to Elven, and finally, he smiled at his old friend. “You have changed so!” he said. “Come – tell me all! How goes your apprenticeship? What is the life of this great town? Show me where you live!”
And so Brandyé and Elven spent the remains of the day wandering the town together, Elven speaking enthusiastically of all he had learned of healing, and showing Brandyé his favorite spots – a corner pub with the best kidney pies in the town, a secluded arboretum where a white-leafed tree grew, and a great bell tower from whose height the whole of Daevàr’s Hut could be seen. Well into the dusk they stayed together, until the sun’s red glow began to fade from the streets and night’s shadows stole across the courtyards. The Great Market had long since dissipated, and the crowds were now of men and women passing here and there on their way home, looking for warm meals and comfortable beds.
“We should retire,” Elven said as they descended a flight of stone steps into the central square once more. “It is getting dark, and the constabulary will soon be on patrol.”
“Is that something to be avoided?” asked Brandyé.
“If you are innocent of crime, no,” replied Elven. “But innocent in truth and innocent in their eyes are not always the same. Do not worry – we shall be home in due time. Where are you staying?”
“The Stone Rose,” Brandyé told him.
“That is far from here,” Elven remarked. “Come – stay with my this evening. I am sure your grandfather will not mind.”
Brandyé recalled Reuel’s instruction to return by sundown, which was in fact now already upon them. “He has asked me to return to the inn before dark,” he said. “I do not wish to cause him worry.”
Elven smiled conspiratorially. “He will not. Come with me, and I will show you an amazing thing.”
Intrigued, Brandyé assented, and followed Elven as he led the way towards Sörhend’s home, and his own dwelling.