Chapter 14: The Constabulary of the Fortunaé
The following morning, Brandyé felt his mind clear and his decision was made. The call to ride to Elven was too strong to resist, and he began to consider how he might make his departure. To the best of his knowledge, there would be no coach to the South for many weeks, so he would thus need a horse. A good one, if he could – Elven’s message inspired urgency, and he would not take longer than needed, if it was within his power.
The issue, then, was of where to obtain one. He and Reuel had not any steed, and there were few in the land who would easily part with one, and certainly not to a Tolkaï. Worse, should he approach any of the folk regarding the borrowing of a mount, he realized he could not provide them with a time at which he would return. Elven had not been specific in his message, and Brandyé knew not whether he would find himself in Daevàr’s Hut for a week, or a year.
Briefly, he considered the possibility of purchasing a horse outright, but ultimately felt this would be an extravagant expense, and was not sure even that he had the necessary coinage. Finally, his thought settled on the one person who might have a horse to spare, and would evenly lend it to him: Farmer Tar.
This decision brought to his mind a new consideration, and he recalled the events of the night before, at the Burrow Wayde. If he was to depart and leave his fellows of the Scythe’s Blood alone in Burrowdown, it was then all the more important that they be warned of the danger that now faced them, in the light of the villagers’ misled hunt for witches. This would not be an easy subject to broach, he felt, as the very problem had, in his mind, been of his own doing. Had he not mentioned witches, the folk would not now be seeking in fear for any sign of out of the ordinary behavior. Once again, Farmer Tar came to mind; of all those who knew of the Scythe’s Blood, he was the oldest, and second to Brandyé was seen very much as being in charge. He would listen to Brandyé, and though he might indeed scold him, he would understand the danger and act.
With these decisions now firmly in mind, Brandyé turned to leave his bedroom and set out upon his tasks. There was much he had to do before he could go, and he would not spare a moment. Yet even as he thought this, his eye fell upon Sonora, now resting atop his small desk, her head tucked deep beneath her wing. He ought to send word to Elven now, so that his friend might know of his plans. But the sight of the bird recalled the open window and the dark, and the fear he had felt climbing the stairs, not knowing what danger lay in his room. His grandfather would stay here, of course – yet was it right to leave an old man so, tending to himself for an unknown length of time?
And with this came yet a further thought – what reason could he give to Reuel to explain his sudden departure? He could think of no way to broach the subject with him without revealing himself, and he was yet afraid of what his grandfather’s reaction might be.
With great confusion, he left Sonora sleeping, and descended to the parlor to see his grandfather awake and in the kitchen, bacon frying soothingly upon the stove. Seeing Brandyé, he turned and said, “Good morn’, son! I did not see you return last night – I must have fallen asleep. It is such comfort to doze by a fire when you are old.” He paused to turn the bacon, and continued, “I hope all was well last night, for you must have returned late. Nothing to fear, I expect?”
Yet again, Brandyé felt himself wondering at his grandfather’s words. Not for the first time, he felt certain Reuel somehow knew of his secret doings. He had not mentioned Sonora or Elven’s message – how was it Reuel knew that he had, indeed, had something to fear the night before? He spoke, “No grandfather – all is well.”
Reuel nodded. “Ah – good. I thought perhaps Elven’s bird had brought you a message.” He remained with his back turned to Brandyé, his face thus unreadable. Brandyé felt caught in a lie, and heat came to his cheeks.
“You knew Sonora had come last night?”
“Indeed,” replied Reuel. “Who do you suppose let her in through your window?”
Brandyé felt he began to perceive his grandfather’s intentions. Reuel clearly knew more than Brandyé was aware of, and he wished Brandyé to know this, without revealing the extent of his knowledge. Brandyé found himself greatly disconcerted by this; his grandfather had never been particularly secret with him, and he could now not fathom his grandfather’s thoughts. Eventually, he found words to speak.
“Elven wishes I visit him,” he spoke carefully. “I have thought I might borrow a horse, rather than wait for the next coach.”
Anxious for the questions that were to come, Brandyé was further surprised when Reuel merely replied, “I see. Whose horse might you borrow?”
“Farmer Tar has a steed he might lend me,” said Brandyé.
“His mare, Isabella, is a strong steed,” Reuel commented. “She might bear you swiftly.”
Not once yet had Reuel asked him one of a thousand questions that might reveal his intentions, and Brandyé felt yet more confused than ever. Did his grandfather know of what he was planning? If so, why was he not asking him of it? If he knew nothing of his intentions, why was he not asking of that instead?
Yet Reuel seemed satisfied; he spoke no further, but split the bacon between two plates, and bid Brandyé eat his breakfast. The two did not speak as they ate: Brandyé out of nervousness, and Reuel, apparently, out of nothing more than a desire to finish his meal while it was still hot.
After he had finished, Brandyé prepared to depart, and pass over the fields to visit Farmer Tar. As he stepped through the door, a call from Reuel stayed him. He turned back, and saw his grandfather standing calmly behind him. With a fixed gaze, he spoke, “Take care, son, in your travels, for you know not yet fear. If you think you are afraid when climbing dark stairs in your own home, you will find yourself ill-prepared for the true terrors that dwell in the dark places of Erâth. You must be ever vigilant.”
To this, Brandyé had no answer. He felt at that moment that Reuel knew every thought in his mind, and was disturbed by his words; what terrors did he speak of? He knew of the Fierundé, certainly, but there would be none of those where he was going. All he could think to say was, “Thank you, grandfather – I will take care,” and when Reuel nodded – though he did not smile – he turned, and set off.
It was a cool Spring morning, and mist lay still upon the moor. Brandyé walked swiftly across the land, across the fields to the South, intending for Farmer Tar’s home. It seemed now that it should always have been the natural course of action, to bring his concerns to Farmer Tar. Once he learned of the danger in Burrowdown, and the urgency with which Elven requested his presence in Daevàr’s Hut, he would not hesitate to allow him to take Isabelle, and would take charge of protecting the remnants of the Scythe’s Blood in Burrowdown.
His path led him around the south of the village, past the Dottery household, and he was startled, though perhaps not surprised, to find Sonora waiting for him as he came upon their home. She had wrapped around her a great cloak that appeared far too large for her. He perceived she had been waiting some time, for she had drawn the cloak tight around her, and though her arms were folded across her chest, he believed she was shivering in the morning cold. As he drew abreast of her, she called out to him.
“Brandyé! Where are you going?”
He did not pause as he replied, “I am going to speak with Farmer Tar.”
She fell into step with him, and exclaimed, “I knew you would pass by here this morning! It is about last night, is it not?”
At this, Brandyé faltered in his step. He turned to look uneasily at Sonora: “What of last night?”
“Have you not heard?” she said. “There is talk of the hunting of men among all the villagers! They say they have caught someone passing through at night, and some of the folk have captured him and have strung him before the bridge! Come, I will go with you!” She pulled anxiously at his arm, and he resumed his course, though with great trepidation.
“Do you know who they have caught?” he asked her.
“I have not heard,” she replied, and excitement and fear was in her voice. “I dared not go down to the bridge and see.” She cast a look at Brandyé. “What if they have captured one of us?”
Brandyé had less doubt of this than she; so distracted had he been by the message from Elven that he had entirely forgotten to send word to the others, and he knew now that the gathering outside the Burrow Wayde had been for the purpose of hunting what they considered as witches.
Sonora, meanwhile, continued to speak fervently. “You truly did not know of this?” She had asked him. “I thought perhaps you would have seen this at the Burrow Wayde last night.” A though then occurred to her. “If you did not know of these events, why do you make for Farmer Tar?”
Brandyé, lost in thought, was awoken by this question, and realized he had not an answer for her. He worried to tell her of Elven’s message, and his intention to travel to Daevàr’s Hut. She would insist on coming with him, and this he did not want: she was far too young to be subject to such danger, he thought (quite conveniently forgetting that he was scarce two years older, and knew not precisely what danger lay ahead). Instead, he said, “I wished to hear the news from him, though it seems I now have heard much of it from you.” He smiled. “I am certain he will know all regarding this matter.”
Together, they arrived at Farmer Tar’s home not more than fifteen minutes later, to find half a dozen men and women surrounding his front door. Farmer Tar himself was standing in his doorway, as though preventing them from entering. Brandyé found this peculiar, for he knew these people – they were members of the Scythe’s Blood.
Farmer was speaking to them, and he seemed heated. “I told you, it ain’t safe to be seen here any more! You’ve all heard what happened to ol’ Jim, and I can’t say I know we might pull him out o’ this. For now, you’ve got to leave! Folk’ll be wonderin’, they will.”
“How’ll we know what to do?” cried Ari, a boy of twenty who lived with his family to the West, outside of the village. “We’ve all trusted you’d help us, and now we’re in more danger than if we’d stayed at home!”
“You’ll be in more danger if you stay here!” Farmer Tar fair shouted. “From me, more’n the folk down in the village. I’ll fetch my fork, if you like!”
Brandyé stayed in the background, watching the scene; it seemed he had not been the only person to seek answers from Farmer Tar. Since the early days of the Scythe’s Blood in Burrowdown, he had been seen as a leader of sorts, not least as it was his barn that housed their safety. Now afraid, they had hoped he would have solace, and were angry he did not.
Eventually, with a few more heated words, the folk began to depart, and Farmer Tar then noticed Brandyé and Sonora, standing low behind a fence. He beckoned them urgently, and they swiftly crossed the yard and entered his home.
It was warm inside, and they were grateful for this, and the smell of breakfast was mouthwatering. Yet Brandyé found he had not the stomach to eat, though his grandfather’s bacon had not filled him, so wretched was his spirit.
“What brings you, then?” Farmer Tar asked him. “I daresay you might o’ heard o’ the happenings?”
“I had not, in fact,” Brandyé told him, “until Sonora made me aware. I would discuss this with you, but of another thing, also.”
Farmer Tar looked from Sonora to Brandyé, and saw that Brandyé wished to speak away from the girl. “Come,” he said, and bid Brandyé follow him through a doorway. He followed, and Sonora made to come also, until Brandyé said, “Wait here, Sonora – it is a matter of a personal nature, and will not take long.” She began to protest, but before he could allow himself to hear her words – for he knew he would not be able to keep his intentions from her should she argue with him – he followed Farmer Tar into the next room, and the door was shut upon her. From behind it, Brandyé heard Sonora’s indignant exclamation, but turned to Farmer Tar.
“I understand a terrible event has befallen us here,” he said, “but I fear I may be of little help. I have received word from Elven, and he wishes me to join him in Daevàr’s Hut with great haste.” Farmer Tar did not speak, and Brandyé swiftly told him of Elven’s message, and his intention to ride to Daevàr’s Hut if he could.
“Aye,” Farmer Tar grunted. “You’ll need a horse, there’s no doubt. I can’t say I wish you to go – we need you here as much as anywhere. But as I understand it, Daevàr’s Hut is where it’s all at, so to speak – and I’ve no doubt if Elven says he needs you, you’ll have to go. It’s the gettin’ there that’s the trouble. Even if you took Isabella, you’d not be there before four days. D’you think that’ll be swift enough?”
“It will have to be,” Brandyé replied.
“When will you leave?” Farmer Tar asked him.
“Immediately,” Brandyé said. “I wish to return home to collect a sack, and I must leave grandfather with some wood and food should I not return for some time, but I intend to make for the South road by noon.”
Farmer Tar acknowledged this, and so they went to find his horse and prepare her for travel. Brandyé was surprised when they came from Farmer Tar’s parlor to find Sonora was no longer there, but his mind was too full already, and he had not room to consider. As they prepared Isabella’s saddle and brushed her down, Farmer Tar briefly told Brandyé of the events of the previous night. Jim Ganatha had been discovered by some of the crowd from the Burrow Wayde in the dark behind some houses. Despite his protests that he was merely looking for a stoat that had been eating his celery, they had in their zealousness dragged him through the mud and streets, and now held him strung to a rude stock they had constructed in the heat of their drink. He stood there still that morning, moaning and crying, as the men taunted him and told of how he would kill no more of their animals.
“The terrible thing is that he was never of the Scythe’s Blood,” sighed Farmer Tar. “We will find a way to free him, but I fear the others will expose themselves to an equal fate. I must convince them to stay their tongues and their actions.” Seeing that Brandyé was becoming torn between his obligations to Elven and those in Burrowdown, he added, “Ride, now, with haste – do not concern yourself with us! If you should be successful in Daevàr’s Hut, we may not need worry here much longer!”
And so Brandyé did. He had not much experience at riding, but Isabella was a patient steed, and trotted not too fast over the fields, bearing him around the town and onwards to his home. As he saw his grandfather’s house appear once again over the land, he felt quite suddenly that it had lately grown frail, as had his grandfather. A sense that it would not long last the coming darkness fell upon him, and he chased the thought with the false reassurance that nothing could happen to Reuel, so strong with life was he.
Yet as he swiftly brought wood and provisions into the kitchen so that Reuel might not have to labor himself, he was reminded that this was not so. His grandfather was old; not so old that he need worry, but he recognized that even as he had aged, so had Reuel.
He soon had stocked the house with every sort of item imaginable, to a point that Reuel bid him depart already, lest he leave no room for him in the house also. He aided Brandyé in collecting a small sack of provisions of his own to bear with him on his journey, and bid him a fond farewell as he laid the sack over Isabella, and prepared to mount her.
“I will miss you, grandfather,” he spoke, and Reuel nodded.
“I will miss you also, son. You are strong now, and you will bear yourself to a strong fate. Trust in your own.”
Brandyé thanked his grandfather, and pulled himself up onto Isabella. His grandfather, it seemed, had great faith in him. He still was not certain whether Reuel knew of what he went to face, but his own confidence was not so sure. It was for this reason that Brandyé had in secret packed two further items without his grandfather knowing, and these two items gave to him a hope of strength, and a burden of great anxiety.
Isabella was indeed strong, as Farmer Tar had promised, and she bore him swiftly around the village one last time to the South, and within a few miles they had rejoined the South Road, and she settled into a brisk and comfortable trot, and he trusted her to take rest as she saw fit.
The South Road was bereft of other folk, and though two villages lay along it on the way to Daevàr’s Hut, Brandyé was not surprised, for with the darkening of the land the people of their villages ventured no more to their neighbors. He in fact did not expect to encounter anything at all until arriving upon Daevàr’s Hut entirely, and so it was with curiosity that, perhaps twenty miles from Burrowdown, a single person stood, unmoving, in the middle of the road, and seemed almost to have been waiting for him.
The person was short, but cloaked, and their hood covered their face such that he saw little but a chin, and could not discern their nature, or their mood. Cautious that this person could indeed mean him harm, he brought Isabella to a halt some yards away, and called out. “Greetings, traveller! Have you need of help? You seem alone here.”
For a long moment, the figure did not speak, but raised its head to gaze upon him, and Brandyé felt uncertain: what could this person wish of him? He waited, and was ready to speak again when the figure drew back its hood, and he knew her at once.
“You are a coward, Brandyé!” Sonora accused him angrily. “You would not even speak to me of what you intended this day!”
Brandyé looked upon his friend in disbelief, for she had travelled twenty miles by foot since only that morning. Yet he also understood why she had left so suddenly while he had been speaking with Farmer Tar – she had heard through the door of his intentions, and sought to meet him where he could not hide. Finally, be brought himself to speak, and felt ashamed at his words.
“I did not wish to alarm you,” he said. “I must go to Daevàr’s Hut, and it is likely danger awaits me there. I would not have you worried.”
At this, Sonora drew herself high and spoke indignantly, “You have brought worry upon me, whether you would have it or not! Wolves, witches, dreadful marks in the dark – I have been in fear since ever I have known you!”
“This is different,” he countered, though he felt falsehood in his words. “You are too young to know this.”
Sonora now scowled at him. “You are hardly older,” she spat. “You must certainly think much of yourself if you believe you will arrive and rescue Daevàr’s Hut from the Fortunaé.”
As they had been speaking, Isabella had been shifting impatiently, and now she snorted, and Brandyé felt very much she was suggesting they both stop bickering and allow her to continue her journey, which she had been so far quite enjoying. He sighed, and said, “Even so – why did you travel so far? You will not make it home before dark.”
“I am not going home,” she said, and there was no argument, for Brandyé would not have her left here through the night. Isabella was certainly strong enough to bear the both of them, and so the both of them continued onwards to Daevàr’s Hut, Sonora feeling quite triumphant, and Brandyé feeling even more anxious than before.
Yet for the following four days all went well, and as the landscape changed around them, the weather remained warm, and Brandyé found he did not need his blanket and night, and offered it to Sonora, who accepted it gratefully and slept soundly through each night. Neither swan nor raven crossed their path, and apart from the crickets, frogs and marmots, they encountered no other living being until they came upon Daevàr’s Hut itself, on the morning of the fifth day.
Brandyé had grown increasingly impatient to see the town, for Elven had spoken of great changes, and he was nervous to know what they had been. As the town came into view over the last hill, however, and they looked down upon it in its valley, he saw he could not have been prepared for what now greeted their eyes.
While the town itself seemed largely unchanged – the great square was still visible before the Rühsteur bridge, and the large dark stone of the Hut towered over it on the opposite river bank – what astonished Brandyé to see was that, since he had last stood here and looked upon the town, the entirety of Daevàr’s Hut had been encircled by a wall, twice the height of a man and nearly as broad. It ran from bank to bank, north and south, and it became apparent that entrance to the town was impossible, except for a single entrance, through which the main road upon which they had travelled ran.
Brandyé brought Isabella down the hill towards the town, and as they approached, they saw that the wall was guarded, and that many men stood, or walked to and fro, upon its height. The gate was barred, two heavy oak doors swung shut against them, and as they approached they saw there stood there also several men, each bearing a spear and short sword at their waist. They bore the blue collar of the constabulary, but the jackets he remembered them in had been replaced by mail, and they appeared verily to be at the defense of the town.
Brandyé and Sonora approached the gate, and one of the constables stepped forward to meet them. His face was stone, and his eyes dull as he spoke, “What business brings you to Daevàr’s Hut, the city of Fortuna?”
Brandyé had not heard of Daevàr’s Hut spoken of as the City of Fortuna, and wondered at this. “We wish to visit a friend,” he said. “He is an apprenticed healer in the town. We have travelled a great distance to speak with him.”
“No one is permitted to enter the city unless they bear the business of the Fortunaé,” the constable replied. “You may not pass.”
“We intend no harm,” Brandyé said. This was a lie, and he was reminded of the two secret items he had brought with him. “Do you mean to say it is forbidden to visit old friends?”
“No one is permitted without leave of the Fortunaé,” the man repeated. “You will not enter through these gates.” With this, he turned, and retreated to the gate where the other constables stood. With his back to the gate, he stood tall, grasping his spear before him, and had all the movement of a statue. Brandyé looked over his shoulder to speak with Sonora.
“What do you think?” he asked her. “We seem to have come to a halt.”
“We shall not enter through the gates,” she spoke softly to him, and a grin took her face. “We may well be able to enter elsewhere.”
Brandyé looked again at the guards of the gate, and up at the men on the wall above, who he now recognized as constables also. These men had been dangerous when he had last visited the town, he recalled. Their justice was their own, and if you were not in the service of the Fortunaé, you could be certain they would mete a far worse fate. What risk did they take should they attempt to pass into the town without their knowledge? Brandyé did not want to consider the consequence if they should be caught. Yet he knew also, with sinking dread, that there was little choice; they had travelled far from their home, and Elven and the Scythe’s Blood were waiting. They dwelt daily with this new fear; what use could he be to them if he allowed himself to be turned back by the constabulary before even entering the town?
Slowly, he led Isabella away from the large gate and the imposing constabulary. These men would be a treacherous foe, he saw. He hoped only that the cunning shared between himself and Sonora would prove enough to keep them safe.
If it did not, he had with him still the two secret items. This held little comfort.