Chapter 17: The First Tragedy
The light was dim on the following morning, even as Brandyé left the house of Elven and Sörhend and the sun was not yet risen. Certainly, the sun would not rise for as long as the dark clouds hung low over the town, and Brandyé wrapped his black cloak tight around him against the chill. This was no spring air.
He thought no more of the place he had visited the night before. He did not understand how he came to be in these places, nor how he returned, and each time, it seemed, the place he found himself in was yet more dreadful than the last, and upon his return, a terrible and fell deed occurred shortly thereafter. These were not thoughts he wished for this morning, and cast them from his mind, choosing rather to think only of his feet, as they took ever more steps towards the doom that awaited him.
The streets were quiet and bare, but the Grim Watch still walked here and there, and Brandyé felt their eyes upon him. Not one approached him, and he supposed they thought he merely wished to be early at the trial. He hoped fervently that the nervousness in his step did not reveal his reasons for arriving early.
When Brandyé arrived at the square, there was already much bustle. A large cart had been brought to a halt before the bridge, so that none could pass across, and many carpenters were busy before this crafting a wide podium that stood some four feet above the ground, the better to see the trial from the crowd that would soon be gathering. All was lit by Watchmen, carrying great torches.
Hood far over his face, Brandyé kept far back from the crowd, and sat himself with his back to the wall of a building, resting upon the ground. After a moment, the Watchman paid him little mind, and he felt as a shadow, silent and black behind the evil that was being constructed before his eyes.
As the carpenters and other men labored, the construction grew tall, and Brandyé began to understand what was to happen on this morning. The center of the stage, as it were, had behind it the carriage that blocked the bridge, and its door opened to steps that led to the construction. Over this they had constructed a canopy, wide and blue, and under this was placed a large seat – a throne of sorts. It seemed this would be where the lord Garâth would seat himself.
To the left of this, a smaller wooden frame was being built, and it had round openings through which a person’s limbs might pass. Each featured a loop of rope that could be fastened tight by drawing it back through the frame. At its height was a larger hole, that might hold a head or neck, and it appeared that the person tied into this stock would be left hanging upon his arms and neck, his feet trapped below and not touching the ground.
The day was lighter now, by the time these men were finishing their work, and many folk were now beginning to enter upon the Great Square. They were themselves oddly silent, speaking in soft tones. Curiously, each was handed a small stone by one of the Grim Watch as they passed into the Square, which they held or placed into a pocket.
Brandyé remained where he was upon the ground, but began to wonder at his position. He lay his hand upon the crossbow that was concealed beneath his cloak, and his finger drew across the quarrel that was already fastened to the stock. It was sharp and ready, but he was not. From where he now sat, the gathering crowd was now obscuring his view of the stage, and no matter the sureness of his aim, he could not fire a bolt through such a crowd.
He began to look about him, in search of a place where he might better view the stage. Oddly, the consideration of where best to kill a man from brought a settlement to his mind, as though the very thought committed him to the action. To the west of the Square, he thought, it seemed there might be a stair from which he could raise himself.
As he rose, a word at his back caused him to turn. Behind him stood Elven, and he bore also a cloak of black so that from a distance, he appeared a very twin for Brandyé. “You will do it, then,” he said.
Brandyé considered him, but could not see his friend’s shadowed eyes beneath the cloak, and knew not his mood. His voice carried no emotion. “It will happen this morning,” he said. “See what they have built before the stage: it is a device of torture, where the Fortunaé will sit and laugh at Faevre’s pain.”
Elven said nothing, and did not look to the stage, but reached out to grasp Brandyé’s arm. His grip was tight and his fingers trembled. Brandyé placed his hand over his friend’s, and spoke, “What of Sonora? Where is she this morning? I would not have her witness this deed.”
“She will not come,” Elven replied, and his voice rasped. “I have forbidden it, and she has no cloak with which to disguise herself. She will not come.” He released Brandyé, and without a further word slipped back into the crowd.
Brandyé felt a small relief at this, though it did little to quell the dread in his heart. He walked away from where Elven had gone, towards the stair he had spied earlier. It seemed to be a narrow passage, leading up from the square to a raised area between many buildings. Already, people were settling themselves upon the stairs, and Brandyé realized he was not the only one who wished a clear view of the events. He saw this would make his shot difficult – he did not wish those around him to notice his crossbow. Still, he could think of no other choice, and continued on.
Then, quite suddenly, Brandyé was hailed by a Watchman, and he felt sick. The man was approaching him, and, striding tall in his mail coat, was intimidating. “You!” he called. “Where are you going?”
Greatly agitated, Brandyé fought for an answer. “I slipped in from the east,” he said. “Threadnot Alley.”
The Watchman glowered at him, and looked over the crowd in the direction Brandyé had spoken of. Another Watchman stood there, and appeared to be greeting each person as the entered the Square, handing them something as they were directed into the place.
“Where is your stone?” the Watchman said.
Brandyé was uncertain what this meant: “What stone?”
The Watchman growled, but did not speak. Instead, he passed to Brandyé a small, flat stone, black in color. “Take this, and do not lose it!” Brandyé accepted the stone with a confused nod, and the Watchman seemed satisfied. “Now,” he said, “pass forward toward the podium – there is space yet there to be filled.”
Brandyé’s eyes widened as the man spoke this, and was glad of the hood that hid his face. “I had rather hoped to sit up there,” he replied. The Watchman’s face was stone, and he appeared ready to repeat his command to Brandyé, and Brandyé spoke again, though it pained him greatly: “I wish to see the traitor’s pain.”
The Watchman did not seem pleased, but did not command Brandyé again, and merely grunted and gestured towards the stairs. “Go, impudent fool,” he spat, and Brandyé passed then around him, terror still in his heart at the thought that he might have been discovered, or made to go to a place where his shot would be prevented.
Instead, Brandyé passed through the crowd unheeded, and arrived at the foot of the stairs. Looking up, he saw they went on for some thirty steps, and people had gathered upon them in a great crowd. There was yet space near the top, however, and he pushed his way through the people, many of whom were grumpy and felt he should have remained in the Square below.
When he reached the top of the stairs (yet more people were descending from above him), he turned, and looked out upon the scene. The vast crowd was now filled almost edge to edge the folk of the town, and it seemed that every person in Daevàr’s Hut must have turned out to watch the trial of Faevre. Yet there was not the great noise one might have expected from such a gathering, and the sound that settled over the Great Square was one of low voices, uncertain and cautious. Brandyé thought perhaps it was not of their own will that they were here this morning, and saw the Grim Watch moving still through the crowd, who all gave them space as they passed.
Brandyé’s view of the Square was in fact restricted here by the high walls that rose on either side, but he had a straight sight to the stage, and could see both the stock that was to hold Faevre, and the sheltered throne where the lord and his son would be. The whole thing must have been some two hundred yards distant, yet Brandyé felt he perceived every detail and nuance of what he saw: the weave of the lord’s canopy, the shifting of the boards as men walked upon it, even the very splinters of the wood that would bind Faevre.
And then, as his eyes roamed further, Brandyé saw the hoods of black amid the crowd of grays and browns, and knew his fellows were with him. They had spread themselves throughout the crowd, and he saw no two together, but worried nonetheless: from this height, they were yet easy to see in the crowd, and it might well be that the Grim Watch would notice this as well.
Brandyé waited, and it seemed waited a great time, and he wished almost that the trial would begin, so that he might strike his blow and be done with it. The sky thickened once more with clouds, and soon a light rain began to fall, and quite suddenly there was a great noise from the crowd, and movement from the stage.
To a great roar, the lord Garâth emerged from the coach behind the stage, mounted to the platform and walked out to greet his people. This was the first time Brandyé had seen this man since he had sought to whip him in the street in Burrowdown, and though he stayed back under the cover of his marquee, Brandyé saw him all too well.
He was tall as always, but older, and was gray. His belly had rounded, and his back seemed not to support him fully, so that his shoulders stooped slightly. His face had drawn upon it more lines, but it was still the same hard, unforgiving countenance Brandyé remembered so well. A surge of loathing came to him, and his resolve to carry out his deed strengthened.
Then, from behind the lord Garâth emerged two further people, and one was his son, grown tall now with bristles on his chin, his look as ugly as his father’s, and other was certainly his mother. The son moved forward to stand only just behind his father, staring out at the crowd, but the woman stayed behind, very near the coach, and seemed as thought she wished very much not to be there.
For some moments, the lord Garâth allowed his people to cry his arrival, and then raised his hands to silence them, and spoke.
“Greetings, my fellow people of Consolation!” he cried. “We are gathered here today to witness the judging of one who would have us all cast into darkness! He would conspire with the most treacherous of folk, those who keep for themselves a terrible and frightening name, who would have all the land cowering in fear and terror before them. You know of what I speak: the Scythe’s Blood!”
At this, the crowd once more raised their voices as one, and the tone was of anger; yet Brandyé was not certain whether this intended for them, or the man who now addressed them. A shiver passed through him, nonetheless: how was it that the lord Garâth knew of their name? Certainly, he must have known there were those who would see his downfall, but their name had forever been kept a secret unto themselves.
“I would speak to you, for a moment, of this town, and our livelihood. We are all of us fortunate to live within the walls of the greatest town of our lands – the greatest town in Erâth! Daevàr’s Hut: founded by that king of old, so that we might forever know peace and justice! From this, our lands of Consolation have forever been, and will ever be, kept safe!
“Yet there are those who do not wish it so. They would see the downfall of your lords, and the ruin of us all! These monstrous folk, who call themselves the Scythe’s Blood, would have you believe that your lords, the family of Fortuna that has ever kept justice for all, are the very evil that would bring you harm!”
The lord lowered his voice now, and the crowd hushed ever further to hear his words. “I know well there are those of you, among the crowd today even, that align yourselves with these foul people. Their lies have corrupted you, but you will witness today that such falsehoods will not be tolerated.” As it had been in Burrowdown, Brandyé was struck by the command this man possessed over his crowd; every person in the Square was now shifting uncomfortably, as though he had accused each and every one of them with treason.
“Think of those words: Scythe’s Blood! They speak of wanton death, of the corruption of good and right to evil! Would you have such terror in your midst?” And the crowd as one cried their disapproval.
“But I come before you today to tell you that this will not be so for long. We, the Fortunaé, as your lords, are bound to your protection, and protect you we shall. Look verily to the wall we have built around our town – when we saw there were those in the country who would harm the people of this great town, we bent to the task of protecting those who are loyal to their country. No man has, or will, pass these walls but by the gates our Watchman guard night and day!”
Brandyé felt a small victory in knowing the falsehood of these words, for he and Sonora had passed those very walls only three days ago, and with little difficulty. He found he was as enthralled with the lord’s speech as those around him, and recalled his purpose, and felt once more the crossbow under his cloak. He grew once more nervous, and knew the time was soon. The lord’s son, however, remained behind him under the cover, and he could not clearly see him. He would wait, he thought, until the lord retreated, perhaps to his throne, and left a straight view to his terrible son.
“So it is,” Garâth continued, “that we have captured on of these deceitful traitors, and we bring him before you now so that justice may be done upon him! Bring forth this creature of wrong!”
And at this, from behind him, two huge guards, both of whom wore a long black cloak, whose hood was high and cast their face into shadow. It struck Brandyé quite suddenly that these were the same cloaks he and the others of the Scythe’s Blood were wearing, and wondered at their provenance. It appeared, though, that such judgements were uncommon enough – or such cloaks common enough – that those around him did not notice the resemblance, or he was certain the folk would have moved hastily away from him at their appearance.
Veritably carried between them was a thin, haggard figure, whose chest was bared and showed many scars, not long healed. His trousers were mere rags, and his feet dragged on the wood of the dais. Brandyé had no doubt, of course, that this was Faevre, but had he not been told, he would not have known: the man’s face was obscured entirely by a great black mask, featureless but for an opening through which he could draw breath. There were no eyes, and Brandyé watched with grief as the man struggled, not knowing what was passing around him.
Faevre was brought to the stock, and within moments the guards had fastened the rope around his wrists and feet, so that it indeed hung backwards against the stock, his chest bared to all.
“See this man!” Garâth shouted once more, and he pointed at Faevre. “This is the very man who would bring us to ruin. Before his judgement is passed, we will hear of his crime.” Garâth drew forth a scroll, and began to read: “Faevre Wilbur Meaden, of the King’s Den Inn: you stand before us this day in shame, guilty of the high crime of conspiracy, deceit, and treason against your lords, the families of Fortuna, Sànved and Lapronad. Knowingly, and willfully, you harbored and gave shelter to those very worst criminals of this town, Daevàr’s Hut: The Scythe’s Blood! These men, who seek the downfall of your lords and would bring destruction upon every man and child in Consolation, have called you their friend. They have consorted with you, and you protected them! For this most terrible of crimes, there is but one justice: exile by the Mark of the Outcast!”
There was roar from the crowd, and Garâth wound his scroll, and appeared pleased. He called to the crowd: “Show this man now what you think of such treachery!”
And then a terrible thing happened, that made Brandyé sick. As one, every person within range of Faevre, as he hung helpless on the dais, lifted the stone they had been given by the Watchmen, and cast it at him. The stones were but small, but by the dozens they fell upon him – upon his hands, his feet, his hidden head, and his bared chest. Not a sound did he make, even as the stones brought blood, and when the stones were used up, the lord Garâth stood once more, and approached Faevre.
“Let this be known to you this day, traitor,” he cried, “your fellows of the town of Daevàr’s Hut do not call you their own! They would have you cast out, and so you shall be!” He turned, and called once more to the guards, “Bring forth the Mark of the Outcast!”
So mesmerized and terrified by what he was witnessing, Brandyé had forgotten what he had come to the Square today to do. Far from rescuing Faevre, he was merely watching as the man was tortured before the town. He drew his attention back once more to the covered stage and the lord’s son, who lurked still near the back of the stage and out of shot.
From one side, the two guards appeared once more, and bore between them a great cauldron, filled with embers and gushing with thick smoke in the rain. They placed this upon the stage, near to Faevre, and Brandyé saw the man flinch from the heat of the thing. The guards disappeared again, and a moment later one returned, carrying a long, iron rod, and thrust its end into the coals.
Brandyé realized now what was to happen, for Sörhend had spoken of it: Faevre was to be branded, the heated iron thrust against his bare skin so that the Mark of the Outcast would forever scar him, and people would know him for a traitor to the end of his days.
He could not allow this to happen, Brandyé thought, and began to draw the crossbow forth from beneath his robes. He must act swiftly, for he knew the brand would be glowing and smoking in only a few minutes – he had seen cattle thus branded as a child. He brushed the folds of his cloak aside, so that the quarrel might peer out without the instrument being easily seen by those around him. Certainly, the folk standing upon the steps beside him were not watching him, but rather gazed raptly at the stage and the tied man, waiting breathlessly for what was to come.
Brandyé began to watch the lord’s son with great care, but he did not seem to wish to move from his place, and Brandyé’s view of him was obscured. He could wait, he thought, but not long; if the man did not emerge from the canopy, he would have little choice but to aim his best, and hope his quarrel found its mark. Perhaps it would merely wound him, but even that might be distraction enough for the Scythe’s Blood to loose Faevre and allow him to escape.
At even as this passed through Brandyé’s thoughts, two things occurred and Brandyé did not release his shot. The lord’s son, perhaps wishing for a better view, moved quite suddenly to the edge of the stage, and stood before his father, so that Brandyé had, for a brief moment, a clear and straight aim. But even as he brought his crossbow to bear upon him, he saw the brand lifted from the coals, and it glowed brightly, and it came into Brandyé’s mind that he knew its shape, and could not recall where from. His hand paused upon the release, and he stared at the smoking rod, trying desperately to recall where it had seen its like.
Suddenly from behind him, a low voice whispered urgently, “You have the aim, Brandyé! Take the shot!” Brandyé glanced behind him, and saw Eldridge, dark and menacing in his own black cloak. “Do not lose this chance, boy, or we will not have another!”
But even as Eldridge spoke, Brandyé heard a terrible cry over the heads of the crowd, and saw the guard plunging the brand hard against Faevre’s chest, and hold it there for an age, even as the prisoner wrenched himself against his bonds. Brandyé watched in horror, and as the guard finally withdrew the iron rod, leaving Faevre’s chest now smoking, Brandyé saw the mark over the man’s heart and knew it, and a dread unlike any he had ever known dropped upon him. The mark was of a six-pointed shape – a large, curved V against which was set a smaller A, and it was the mark of the Demon Lord’s terrible sword, as he had imagined it from his grandfather’s tales so many years ago. It was impossible that it could be the same, for it had been a shape of his own invention, but it was nonetheless burned horribly into the man’s chest, and was the very same.
From behind, Eldridge grasped his shoulder with great strength and rasped, “Now, boy! Do not pause!”
Without seeing, without thinking, Brandyé brought his crossbow finally upon the lord’s son, and tugged on the release, and with a soft twang that was lost in the roar of the crowd, the quarrel flew high from his bow, far over the throngs and down, down towards the stage.
It was a sure shot, and the quarrel passed directly at the man, who knew nothing of its coming. And then, quite without warning, the quarrel did something it should not have done: it veered wide from its course, and within a moment had plunged into the crowd beside the stage. At first, Brandyé held hope that it had passed between the bodies below, and perhaps struck merely the stone, but alas, it was not so.
Without a sound, a circle of people widened, and in their center, yet standing and alone, was a person, and it was with awful, awful horror that Brandyé saw that it was Sonora, who had disobeyed her brother and come to the trial of her own accord, and had hidden amongst the crowd in her own dress so that she would not be seen as the Scythe’s Blood, and his quarrel had pierced her heart, and she fell upon the ground and did not move.
Even as the crowd around him erupted, even as the black-cloaked figures in their midst pushed violently through the crowd, some making for the stage and others for Watchmen, even as Eldridge behind him shoved hard on a person before him and sent folk tumbling down the stair, even as he was lifted by Eldridge’s strong grasp and dragged back, and away from the scene of doom, Brandyé heard no sound, and saw no sight, but the sound of Sonora’s voice as she spoke to him of grass and trees in the fields of Burrowdown long ago, and the sight of his own arrow, protruding from her breast, and the smile on her face as she fell.