Chapter 15: The Scythe’s Plot
Brandyé and Sonora passed an uncomfortable night in a field perhaps half a mile from the great gates to Daevàr’s Hut. The weather had turned against them during the afternoon, and now the light had dropped from the clouds, a thick and chilling mist filled the air, and forebode rain. Their cloaks were soon damp, and Brandyé found he could not light a fire, and they ate a little stale biscuit and hard cheese, and were hungry. Even Isabella, though her hide ought to have kept her sheltered, seemed disaffected by the dark gloom, and settled some paces away, and spent the night snorting indignantly.
He would bid the horse return the following morning, Brandyé thought, for she was of no more use here. Had they been able to ride her into the town, they might have found her a stable and hay, but it was not right to leave her tied in an untended field, and she would fare better to return to Farmer Tar. He felt certain she would know the way.
Eventually, Sonora made a pillow of her hood and a rock, and seemed to pass into sleep. For Brandyé, his thoughts were too full to allow him such rest, though he knew he would need his strength the following morning. But even behind his closed eyes, he saw the constables before the gate, and recalled the terrible deadness of their eyes: they killed under the command of their lords, and the power this gave them had in turn bereft them of thought. Some were stronger than this, of course, and he thought of the man who had intervened when he had attacked the villain, Howarth, and how he had struck Freyd Longboot before knowing even if he were innocent of crime.
Brandyé knew little of the ways of the nobility and life in Daevàr’s Hut, but he had learned from Elven, Aiden and the others that the constabulary formed the sole and final justice of the town, and the lands in general. In fact, it had been they who had accompanied Garâth to Burrowdown many years ago, when Brandyé had been faced with the repercussions of his fight with the lord’s son, and he supposed it was they who lay to ruin the farms of those who had been unable to pay the raised tax that had followed.
Yet all that while, they had remained constables, and dealt in justice. Now, however, in their armor and helms, spear and sword in hand, they appeared far more ready to deal in death.
He recalled his grandfather’s old stories, of great battles and armies going to war, and he imagined the constables looked much like those soldiers of old. He dwelt upon this word – soldiers. The armies of darkness had had soldiers, with which to fight the armies of light. Theirs had been of men, but of beasts and demons also. There were no beasts in Daevàr’s Hut, but he wondered if the lords of Consolation were of light and dark. Such a thought had not occurred to him; always these terms had been of fantasy, lost to the far-distant past.
His grandfather had spoken once of the origin of the town, of how it bore the name of a great king of old. Daevàr, who had left behind his kingdom, had sought a land far from pain, where the war of soldiers was unknown. What would such a man say of his town, if he could but see it?
Somewhere between these thoughts, Brandyé finally allowed himself to doze, for without quite being aware, it was morning and Sonora was shaking his shoulder, bidding him to wake. He felt unwell, and at first his eyes would not focus on her. Reaching for his sack, he drew forth his waterskin and drank deeply. The water was cold, and having refreshed himself, he bore his attention once more upon Sonora.
She, it seemed, had been awake for some time, for she was in a state of great agitation, and began to speak almost before he could listen.
“It is dark this morning,” she said, “and I think it is later than the clouds would have us believe. The men on the wall patrol all the more since we have arrived, and at the gate their number is redoubled.”
Brandyé wondered at her; while he had dozed, she had ventured back to the town and taken account of the defense against them. A veritable spy, it seemed she was. “Were you seen?” he asked.
She shook her head. “The mist is excellent cover. I do not believe these constables are familiar with grass and countryside; they look out, but they do not look down. If what you say is true, and this wall is a new thing, they may not be used to guarding it.
“This will give us hope. I followed the wall to the south, and discovered where it falls into the river. They have built it so that it forms a bridge over the water, and there is no bank on which to stand.”
“The water is fast,” Brandyé said, “and with the chill of the air, I do not think we could swim around the wall.”
“They would see us there in any case,” she replied, “for the wall is lower there than in other places, and the ground would be easily seen. But there is another place, where the wall is of a great height, that we may gain our entrance!”
Brandyé was puzzled at this. “How might we cross the wall at its height?” he asked.
“We will not cross it,” she exclaimed. “We shall pass through it! At the base of the wall, there is an opening of some size. I did not venture close, but I believe it may be a place through which the water and waste of the town passes. If we can enter there, it may bear us through the wall.”
Brandyé did not feel as certain as she, and said, “How can we know that the other end may be passed? It may be of a smaller size inside the town.”
Sonora, however, was not dissuaded, and shrugged: “Then we will return, and think of another way.”
Still uncertain, Brandyé bid her eat, though he himself had no hunger. When they had finished, they began to prepare for the next stage of their journey. Gathering their things, Brandyé collected what he felt they might need into two small sacks, to be carried upon each of their own backs. The rest – a small pot, an extra waterskin, their blankets – he fastened to Isabella, and then spoke gently to the horse.
“You have borne us well thus far,” he said, “but you cannot follow us where we now pass. Go now – return to Farmer Tar, and rest when you arrive. You know the way – the road is easy to follow.”
Isabella snorted and dipped her head, seeming to look at both him and Sonora. The girl was sad, for she liked this horse a great deal, and did not wish to part with it. Isabella came to her, and lowered to muzzle to Sonora’s cheek. She laid her hand upon the horse’s own face, and whispered, “I will miss you, Isabella. I will see you again soon, I am certain.”
Isabella seemed satisfied with this, and turned. With a final sniff at Brandyé – stern, it seemed to him – she set off slowly, and vanished into the mist.
Brandyé followed Sonora then through the long and wet grass, and though he could not make out where they were heading, before long the long black shadow of the wall loomed high above them, and he knew they were close to the town. Sonora paused, and said, “Listen – the men are high upon the wall, though we cannot see them yet, nor they us. We must crawl – it is not far.” She fell to her knees, and Brandyé did the same, and they passed thus through the grass towards the wall. From above, they were well hidden, and the guards who roamed the high wall would have seen little but a gentle swaying of the grass.
Before long, Brandyé could make out the stone of the wall itself, and he saw the opening of which Sonora had spoken. They approached it, and he now saw that passing through it would be more difficult than they had anticipated. Not only was its stench overpowering (he did not doubt now that Sonora had been right – this was a waste outlet for the town), but a thick and heavy grate barred its entrance.
Sonora seemed to lose her excitement, and looked at the grate in disillusionment – it had seemed so simple from afar. “I am sorry,” she whispered to Brandyé. “It was not clear from the distance. We cannot pass here; we must find another way.”
But Brandyé did not hear her, for he quite suddenly knew of a way they might pass. He laid a hand on the grate, felt its cold and solid iron beneath his fingers, and then swung his pack from his back, and drew forth the first of the two secret items he had brought with him: the black dagger.
He did not know what compelled him to act thus; certainly, there was no reason to think such a small item could harm such an immovable obstacle, but he felt his mind not his own, and moved without thought. He brought the dagger’s tip, sharp as ever, to bear upon the grate, and he saw that it was greatly rusted where the blade pressed upon the bare iron. Gently, he pressed the blade forward, and Sonora gasped as the dagger passed wholly through the bar, severing it from its housing.
Continuing on without mind, Brandyé passed the dagger through the grate’s other bars, each of which was peculiarly weak and rusted at just the point he wished to break. As the final bar gave way, the whole heavy thing dropped, and collapsed inwards upon the opening with a terrible bang.
At the sound, Brandyé seemed to see what he had done, and saw the black dagger in his hand. Swiftly, he returned it to his sack, and slung it once more over his shoulder. Sonora was staring at him. “How did you know?” she asked. But Brandyé did not answer, for he knew not himself. Instead, he pulled himself up to the opening, and crawled inside.
It was indeed a tunnel, which passed gently upwards through the wall. It was very black, and the floor was cold and slimy beneath him, but he crawled forward nonetheless. Sonora followed him with trepidation, and soon they were both lost completely to the darkness.
It was perhaps no more than five minutes that they spent in such desolate black, but it seemed to them both that they had passed a day or more. Small sounds surrounded them: the faint trickle of water as it ran past them; the soft squelch of their progress through the muck, and the skitter of tiny legs and claws passing about them. Brandyé was quite glad of the darkness when he heard these last noises, for he did not wish to see the creatures to which they belonged. All the while, the stench of rot and waste grew ever stronger.
Finally, when his heart was close to panic, Brandyé eyes began to recognize a faint light ahead, and knew they would soon emerge. Some minutes later, he and Sonora found themselves in a small chamber, no more than three feet high, at the top of which was a small opening. Through this, they could see stones and a wall, and Brandyé knew they sat just below a street, with a building not far. He saw no feet passing, and hoped that they might be in one of the many side alleys into which few people went.
“We shall have to climb through that opening,” he said doubtfully., for it seemed too small for them to pass.
“I will go first,” Sonora said. “I am smaller. If I fit, I can help pull you through.” She removed her sack, and moved closer to the opening, peering through it both left and right. “I see no one,” she said, and gently pushed her head through. She passed easily through, and with a small push from Brandyé, she was soon standing in the alley. Brandyé passed both of their sacks through, and then began to crawl through himself. It was not so easy, for his head and shoulders stuck, but Sonora tugged at him with all her might, and finally he also emerged, wet, filthy and stinking, into the alley.
It was indeed a tiny street, no more than four feet broad, and the backs of houses surrounded them. It was their fortune, he thought, that they had not emerged somewhere such as the great square, where they should easily have been seen.
He looked at Sonora, and she at him, and quite suddenly, it struck him as greatly amusing: here they stood, two young people, secretly in a town they had been forbidden from, uncertain what next to do, and they were drenched in filth and reeked of waste. For a moment, he laughed, and Sonora laughed with him. It had begun to rain since they had entered the tunnel, and he felt quite unworried as they both stood, the rain washing away the muck, giggling like children.
When he had quite come to his senses, Brandyé saw they must discover where in the town they were, and how to reach Elven’s home. He dared not lead them on any large road, and their task was thus all the more difficult, for he was not familiar with the small alleys and streets of Daevàr’s Hut.
Yet he knew they had passed through the wall on the east side of the town, and Elven’s home lay to the west of the main road, and so he began to lead them in this direction. As they passed through ever larger streets, they began to encounter other folk, but they seemed not to pay them mind; whether because they wished to avoid their smell, or feared to look around them, Brandyé could not tell. Their nervousness returned, as they saw blue-clad men walking here and their, always with a sword at their side. For Sonora, who knew nothing of the town before now, the fear was of the constables and their blades. For Elven, the fear in his heart was deepened by the disturbing changes in their demeanor in the years since he had been here. There were far more, it seemed, and each wore an expression of bitterness and loathing.
Still, despite the ever-present worry that they might be discovered, even the constables seemed uninterested in confronting two rank beggars, as they surely appeared, and Brandyé eventually found himself walking down familiar streets, and knew they were within reach of Elven’s home.
The sky was darkening by the time Brandyé arrived on the small street that housed Sörhend’s apothecary, and though the shop below was dark, he was encouraged to see the windows above lighted. He pulled upon the bell cord, and heard from within a faint conversation stop, and footsteps cautiously descending a staircase. A dark figure moved through the shop, bearing a lantern, and stopped at the window, staring out at them. Quite suddenly, the figure nearly dropped the lantern, and moved swiftly to the door, and unlatched it. The door swung open, and Elven, dressed in nightwear, stood before them.
Though the lantern light was dim, Brandyé saw his friend was changed. A scar marred his cheek, and though his eyes looked upon him fondly, no smile graced his lips. Wordlessly, Elven drew Brandyé forward and embraced him, and it was then that he saw his sister standing timidly behind him, still drenched in the rain.
At this, Elven finally spoke. “Is that – Sonora, is that you?” His mouth hung open, and his eyes stared at her, wide.
Nervously, Sonora replied, “Elven – I have missed you!”
For a moment, Elven continued to look upon her in disbelief, and Brandyé felt certain of facing his friend’s wrath at having brought his own sister into such danger, but it did not come. Instead, Elven rushed forward, bare feet in the rain, and threw his arms around her so that she was lifted bodily from the ground. “Oh, sister – I have missed you so! My heart is warmed to look upon your face once more; I thought I might never see it again!”
And so Brandyé and Sonora were welcomed into Elven’s home, and they washed, and warmed, and ate, and slept.
The following morning, Elven brought them fresh clothes and warm breakfast, and introduced them to Sörhend, whom Brandyé had never met, despite having stayed in this very house. Sörhend was an old man whose beard was wholly white, and he leaned heavily on an ash staff as he moved slowly around the home, directing Elven here and there in the brewing of tea and frying of eggs. As they sat in parlor at a table by the window, Elven asked them of events in Burrowdown. The rain still fell heavily outside, but the fire crackled soothingly, and Brandyé felt calm for the first time in months.
“It is dark there, as it seems to be in much of the world,” he told Elven. “New dangers are rising – some natural, and some not.” Brandyé was cautious, for he did not feel he should reveal too much in the presence of Sörhend. “There are many things I would speak to you of, Elven – perhaps at a later time?”
Elven, who was sitting on a low bench beside his sister, seemed to recognize Brandyé’s concern, and said, “Fear not, friend – we are in safe company here,” and so Brandyé learned that Sörhend was a part of the Scythe’s Blood also. He was surprised at this, for Sörhend appeared too old to be concerned with the Fortunaé, but he did not speak of it.
Elven, on the other hand, seemed curious to learn of Sonora’s presence. “I sent word for you to come, Brandyé,” he said, “but you arrive with company, and as pleased as I am, surprised am I also.” He looked at Sonora. “You have grown greatly,” he said, “but it is a dangerous road to take. Why have you come?”
Sonora did not answer at first, and so Brandyé began to tell Elven of all that had occurred in Burrowdown since they had last spoken. He seemed disturbed to learn of the wolves and the deaths of the livestock, and grasped Sonora’s hand as Brandyé spoke of the attack on the bridge, when Farmer Tar had rescued them. He was positively shocked to learn that Sonora was part of the Scythe’s Blood, and the concern did not leave his eyes even as Brandyé spoke of how strong she had been, and how they would not have passed into the town at all if not for her.
“It did not occur to me you would not be allowed to pass,” Elven said. “The surrounding folk are still allowed into the town for Great Market Day, under the eye of the Grim Watch.”
Brandyé spoke of his tale of witches, and how it had incited the town to a fury, and how it had led to Jim Ganatha’s capture. “I do not know what will become of him,” Brandyé said. “Farmer Tar assured me they would rescue him, but I fear for what the folk will do.”
Sörhend, who had been listening quietly as Brandyé told his tale, spoke now: “You are worried, child, of the actions of your townsfolk. I hear the guilt in your words.” Brandyé looked at him, and knew the old man saw into him. “You should not feel so; you provided merely the reason for their actions. Had you not told them of these witches, they would have acted on another intention.”
But as much as Brandyé spoke, Elven would not answer his own questions, and would not even speak of his scar, which was not large, but prominent nonetheless on his cheek. “These are things we will discuss elsewhere,” he said, and would say no more.
Later that afternoon, when the rain seemed to relent for a brief moment, Elven suggested they go for a walk, and so they dressed warmly in cloaks and set out into the dismal and went streets of Daevàr’s Hut. Sörhend did not come with them, though he bid them farewell at he door, and locked it fast behind them.
There were few folk in the streets, perhaps because of the rain, but ever present were the constables, who eyed them warily as they passed, certainly curious as to the business of three young people in the rain, hoods drawn far over their heads. For some time they meandered the streets, and it because apparent Elven was leading them somewhere, though Brandyé was not sure where.
Eventually, Elven brought them to a halt before an old building, and looking up Brandyé saw that it could not possibly be inhabited, for it had been burned out in a fire some time ago, and the windows were empty panes, and the roof little more than a charred skeleton. Yet Elven nonetheless led them behind this house, and at its rear was a flight of stone steps that descended into the ground. Elven led them down these steps, and knocked hard the door at their foot.
There was a pause, and then a voice called, “Speak.”
“For without a voice, we all shall perish,” replied Elven, and Brandyé thought it an odd thing to say, until the door swung back to reveal a man he recognized, and knew it had been a password. Elven led them in, and the man slammed the door shut behind them.
They were in a dark stone passage, lit only by the lantern carried by the man who had let them in. The man turned to Elven, and then scrutinized both Brandyé and Sonora. Then he spoke. “You will be the end of us, Elven,” he growled. “First you bring this one–” he pointed at Brandyé “–into our circle without our knowledge, and now, you bring another! Who is the girl?”
The voice was so familiar that Brandyé drew closer to peer at the man’s face, and he realized that this man was Harmà, the man who had so gruffly welcomed him, when Elven had first introduced him to the Scythe’s Blood.
“This is my sister, Harmà,” Elven replied, “and I hope you will not believe she will give us away.”
Harmà grunted, and turned down the passageway. “Come,” he muttered. “It is good you are here. We have much to discuss today.” He led them down the passage, and they soon found themselves walking a labyrinth of rooms and corridors, and Brandyé marveled, for their certainly were no longer merely in the cellar of the ruined house above. Eventually, they turned into a large chamber with a low ceiling, and many torches on the walls gave it a good light, if a little sombre. Nearly a dozen men were here, gathered around a large table, and they looked up as the four of them entered.
“Who are these?” asked a man from the table Brandyé did not know, and Harmà replied, “Elven has thought to grace us with yet more outsiders. This is his friend, and his sister – apparently.”
The man bade them sit, and began to speak. “We have much to speak of, my fellows,” he said. “But we have also much to do, and this is what I would speak of today. For many months we have spoken, and our talk has led to nothing! Tell me – why do we call ourselves the Scythe’s Blood, if we have shed none?”
There was a murmur of agreement from around the table, and Brandyé felt their agitation. He wondered who this man was that seemed to be their leader, and it occurred to him that Aiden was not here.
“It is three days until Faevre is to be tried,” the man continued, “and we have yet done nothing.” He looked around those at the table. “This man has only ever served us, though he knew not of what we conspire to do. For many years, his inn was our meeting ground, and our carelessness allowed the Fortunaé’s Watch to capture him and tear down his livelihood. Some of us did not escape with our lives. And now, he is to be tried, which is to say he is to be put to death.”
Brandyé listened to this man, and was disturbed greatly by this news. He had met Faevre only once, as the inn keeper at the King’s Den where he had first been introduced to Aiden and the Scythe’s Blood. The man had seemed pleasant and kind, and he felt a thrill of anger at the thought this man might be put to death.
“We must act to rescue this man,” the man at the table continued, “but this alone will not be enough. If we reveal ourselves, the Fortunaé will win a swift victory, and destroy us all. Instead, we must use this opportunity to cast our own blow to the Fortunaé, one so heavy that they will not recover from it.”
“We have tried such things before,” another at the table called out. “Each time it has only brought worse to us all!”
“Aye, remember Gordin?” another spoke. “When they resisted the Fortunaé, he lost his wife. And now, his children have lost him.”
Their leader spoke again, and they fell silent. “Our actions in the past have taught us but one thing, and it is this: we can no longer resist the Fortunaé. The wall around us is proof of this: when the Fortunaé learned that dissent might come from the farmlands, what did they do? They have offered no shelter to those who are now prey to the wolves that roam our lands, but instead have walled themselves in and surrounded themselves with constables, who now call themselves the Grim Watch!
“The time has come, my fellows, to strike a terrible blow. The lord Garâth will be present at Faevre’s trial, of course – he would not miss witnessing this poor man’s death. And as ever, his ill-minded son will be with him. I have spoken with some of you already of my intention, but I will now share it with you all: we will kill the lord’s son.”
At this, the table erupted, great and hot debate raging between all who were there. At a word, though, their leader called them to silence. “I know there are some of you who feel this is an evil deed we plot, and I will not disagree. Those of you who knew Aiden know he did not approve of dealing death. But I say to you now, though Aiden is no longer with us, he would not have Faevre put to death. What is one life, against the countless lives the Fortunaé had ruined over the ages? If his son dies, there will be no successor to their line, and the Fortunaé will be ended.”
There was an unhappy murmur of consent, and finally, Elven spoke. “This is not right, Eldridge. How would you even have us commit this terrible deed? Certainly not one of us could approach the lord or his son with a weapon in hand.”
The man, Eldridge, nodded. “You need not believe it is right,” he said. “But I would have you believe that this wrong deed will right the many we have suffered for so long. And you are right, certainly, in the difficulty we face. I would bring this subject to you all, now, for question: how might we carry out the act, so that we would be assured of success?”
And quite suddenly, Brandyé spoke, and at his words, Elven went white and Sonora covered her mouth. “What if we had a weapon that could deliver a fatal blow from afar?” And with that, he drew forth from his sack and placed upon the table the second of the two secret items he had brought with him.