Chapter 18: Brandyé’s Retreat
The town of Daevàr’s Hut was thrown into fear and confusion, even as Brandyé was dragged from the Square into the labyrinth of alleys that crossed through the town. The Lord Garâth and his family retreated hastily from the stage, and for some time the crowd, in their panic, overpowered the constabulary and fled, seeking the refuge of their homes, or at least a nearby inn.
Brandyé did not see what happened to Faevre, although he was assured later that he was freed from his shackles, and carried from the scene. In the end, however, he could not remain in Daevàr’s Hut, and was nonetheless taken outside of the town, forever to live in the fringes of Consolation. Yet it was by the hand of the Scythe’s Blood, and not the constabulary, that he departed from the town, and so he was accompanied in his flight, and suffered not the isolation he might otherwise had endured.
For many minutes Brandyé was pulled by Eldridge, until they were far from the Great Square, where he finally released him and turned on him, bitter and fuming. “To kill a person is unheard of in our lands, and when we had found the courage to do the deed anyway, you strike down one of our own instead! Do my eyes deceive me, or does the girl you brought with you lie dead upon the stone of the Great Square? Come – speak!”
But Brandyé could not speak. Indeed, Eldridge’s words had passed as a distant sound by his ears, and he knew not what he might say, even had he understood him. Rather, he heard nothing but his own breath, and the roar of the crowd as they realized one of their own had been killed from an unknown distance, and fear came upon them that they might be struck down also.
Eldridge spoke once more: “The Lord’s son stood before you – even I could see there was nought between you and he. You assured me your aim would not fail! Were all your words but lies? We are now two-fold doomed: not only does the Lord’s son still draw breath, and will thus continue the foul reign of his father, the Scythe’s Blood will now be sought as murderers, and will not be tolerated by any in all the land!”
And still Brandyé did not speak, but rather felt he was becoming weak, and he fell back against the wall of the alley, and his arms fell to his sides. The crossbow, which had been in his grasp all the while, fell upon the ground, and Eldridge stared at it as though it were a novelty.
“This weapon must not be seen in the hands of the Scythe’s Blood,” he said, and it seemed he spoke more to himself than to Brandyé. “The constabulary will be seeking for it, and the one who bears it…”
A scream pierced the air, and Eldridge was broken from his thought as Elven appeared at the alley’s mouth, and rushed upon Brandyé. Heedless, he threw Eldridge to the ground and grasped Brandyé’s cloak, hauled him upright and hurled him back against the wall.
“She is dead!” he screamed. “She is dead! My sister is dead! She lies in this beastly place, and our mother will not know why!” A great sob wrought itself from Elven’s throat, and he landed a blow upon Brandyé’s head that felled them both, and he continued to beat upon him as they lay on the ground in the rain, and Brandyé would not defend himself from his friend’s blows.
“Monster!” Elven cried. “You were not to take her life! She should not have been in this place at all, and it is your fault – it is your fault! Bows, and arrows, and instruments of death – how did I never question your possession of such terror? You! You led my dearest sister astray, with your wicked death! I lay my trust in you, you were not to bring her into such grief! There is no forgiveness for you – there can be no forgiveness!”
Elven was now sobbing uncontrollably, and Brandyé lay against the wall beneath him, his lip now cut and bleeding, and even as his sight diminished and the world drew away from him, he felt his friend’s words pierce his heart as his quarrel had Sonora’s, and he felt verily just as dead.
Over Elven’s cries another sound could be heard, and Eldridge, who had stood by without thought, now became urgent and pulled Elven from Brandyé. “Hear, the horses of the constabulary!” he rasped. “We must not be seen here – come!” He started away from Brandyé, hauling Elven much as he had hauled Brandyé before. Elven struggled greatly against him, but Eldridge’s grip was firm, and in a moment he had pulled him out of sight.
Brandyé, though, did not move. He lay, beaten, and even as the constabulary passed by the alley in which he lay, he passed from consciousness, and so his grief and horror were momentarily relieved. By some fortune, the constabulary did not spare him more than a glance, and passed by without recognizing his black cloak, or the crossbow that lay hidden beneath it.
It was quite dusk when Brandyé awoke again, and he was still in the alley, now cold and wet as the rain fell ever on him. For what seemed a very, very long time, he still did not move, and felt every drop on his brow, and every stone beneath his back. He found he still knew not what to think, though he was not faint as he had been before. He saw still the quarrel in its flight before his eyes, but there was no feeling now attached to this vision, and he felt as though he might equally fly away himself.
Eventually, as the light grew dim, he knew he could not remain here, and brought himself to his feet. He was weak, and his stomach turned uneasily. He was uncertain what he was now to do; Elven and Eldridge had left him, and Elven’s last words still rang in his ears: no forgiveness. Dare he seek refuge with Elven and Sörhend? Surely he could not remain in the streets alone, for the constabulary were certain eventually to spy him and question his doings.
Even as he resolved to at least make his way to their home, a man passed by the alley and saw him. Though Brandyé wished very much for him to pass on, the man stopped, and approached him with caution. He saw Brandyé’s bruises, and the blood on his chin, and his brow furrowed with worry.
“Are yeh all right, brother?” he asked. “Yeh look somthin’ worse fer wear.”
Brandyé forced the words from his lips: “I am fine – thank you for your concern.”
The man stepped nearer, and in a lowered voice said, “I shouldn’ be askin’, but were it the constables what done this to yeh? They’ve been on a rampage since what happened this mornin’.”
Brandyé shook his head. “It was a friend,” he replied.
The man’s eyes widened. “I daresay he might not be callin’ yeh ‘friend’ much longer.”
A bitter smile touched Brandyé’s lip as he said, “No…I shouldn’t think so.”
“Listen,” the man continued, “Yeh best not stay ’ere, they’ll not take kindly to folk what stay out at dark. What’s yer name? D’yeh have a home yeh can go to?”
“My name is Brandyé, and I am not certain where I might go,” Brandyé replied. “I would have stayed with my friend.”
“Yeh’ll stay with me tonight,” the man said, “though the constables wouldn’ take kindly to it. They’re suspicious o’ every man, huntin’ down the killer in our midst. What an evil man he must be – killin’ a young girl, what done no wrong to no one.” The man grasped Brandyé’s shoulder, and he drew back sharply, and the crossbow clattered once more to the ground.
“Well, there’s no need to be like that,” the man began, and then he saw upon the ground the thing that had fallen from Brandyé’s cloak. His eyes grew wide, and he looked into Brandyé’s face, and their gaze locked for a brief moment. “That’s a bow, an’ no mistake,” the man uttered, and he turned and fled.
Hastily, Brandyé gathered up the bow, knowing not why he wished still to carry it, and watched the man hurry from the alley. What might happen now he was not certain; the man knew him as the killer, and knew him by name. It was yet dark, though – perhaps he had not been able to recognize Brandyé’s features, and would not recognize him in the light of the day. Still, he had yet more to fear now, for if the man should seek the constabulary, they would now know who they sought.
It was then that Brandyé fled from the alley, and as night descended he sought desperately for the home of Elven and Sörhend. As he made his way through the streets, he saw the aftermath of that morning in the actions of those around him; those who remained out of doors went by in groups, loud and worried voices carrying their thoughts. The constabulary were everywhere, walking and riding through the town, and they called to all around to hasten home, lest they be considered guilty of that morning’s crime. Lanterns burned brightly through curtains drawn, and doors were to a one barred and locked.
Brandyé kept to the shadows, passing through the smallest of streets, until he came finally to Sörhend’s apothecary, and saw light from the upstairs window. He was by now cold to his very marrow, and wished for nothing more than to remove his cloak and sleep for the remainder of his life before a fire, so that he might not ever think again. He would discard the cloak now, but for the rain and the cold, for it was another sign that might identify him to the constables.
He approached the door and rapped heavily upon it. The voices from above, soft as they were, halted, but no person descended the stairs, nor came to the door to grant him entrance. He rapped again, and when no answer yet came he began to despair and called above, “Elven! It is I, Brandyé! Will you not let me in? As a friend, as a brother, will you not do me this one last kindness?”
The voices above did not answer, but nor did they resume their conversation. “Elven!” Brandyé cried once more, and this time an answer came, but it was not from the home of his friend.
“What business do you have at an apothecary after dark?” called a constable, dark and shadowed from the end of the road, and his horse advanced upon Brandyé.
In sudden fear, Brandyé turned, holding his cloak tight around him so that his crossbow might not be revealed. “I – my sister is ill,” he lied, “and I had hoped to find a medicine on her behalf that might yet rouse her.”
“There is death in this town today, boy,” the constable replied. “Your sister will wait ’til the morn, or she will die – either way, you will return home.”
Brandyé did not reply, but merely turned from the constable and from his friend’s home, and wandered slowly away. The constable watched him go, and moved on only when he was out of sight. Brandyé spend an hour wandering without direction, always with an eye for the constabulary so that he might avoid their eyes, and eventually found an abandoned cart behind a butcher under which he spent a long, sleepless night.
Come the morning the rain had finally ceased, though the sky remained dark, and when Brandyé crawled from under the cart he left his cloak behind, and sought breakfast in a nearby inn. The innkeeper, a large woman called Greta, seemed curious at Brandyé’s state – wet, shivering, filthy and dark-eyed – but did not question him as she brought him eggs and bacon and black pudding.
Brandyé did not want to eat, but he knew he must, for his strength was to be needed soon, he felt. He forced the food into him, and when he was finished pulled a chair by the fire, and for a time he dozed, though he was far from comfortable. Even as he warmed, he kept his arms carefully folded, concealing the crossbow beneath his vest, for he still could not bring himself to be rid of it, evidence of death thought it was.
It was almost noon by the time Brandyé began to come to himself again, and the inn was filling with folk. The weather outside was yet glum, and many of the folk had hung their own cloaks on a row of pegs near the inn’s entrance. Moving from the fire and making to leave, Brandyé snuck quietly to these cloaks, and took a large one for himself. In its place he left his coin sack as payment for the stolen item, for he felt he would not need it any longer.
Now warmed and concealed beneath a new hood, Brandyé once more followed his feet to Sörhend’s apothecary, but even now in the day, the shop was closed and locked, and knock though he might, no answer was forthcoming. Thinking perhaps they had retreated to the Scythe’s secret cellar, Brandyé made his way there, but found no one there either. In fact, the door to that place was not locked, and when Brandyé entered, despite the dark and gloom he saw that it had been emptied of any sign of their deeds, and only bare furniture now remained.
Returning to the street above, Brandyé began to wonder at his future. The Scythe’s Blood, it seemed, had abandoned him. Alone now, in a town that did not look kindly upon outsiders, he wished now for nothing more than to be home, to return to his grandfather, and to hope beyond hope that he might seek comfort there.
It was then, as Brandyé was wandering the streets without aim, that he noticed a peculiar thing. The constables were ever present, as always, but now some of them were passing from place to place, affixing posters on walls and doors, and the folk around would stop and stare at these in their passing. Brandyé was reminded of the notice the Fortunaé’s constables had left in Burrowdown informing them of their decision to appropriate a further seven tithes of their produce, and he approached the nearest crowd with dread.
The poster, a rough-torn parchment nailed to a door, bore no words this time, but instead a picture, drawn hastily in charcoal. The picture was of a person, and despite its crudity, Brandyé recognized it instantly as his own likeness. It seemed the man in the alley had seen him better than he had hoped, and Brandyé saw his doom settle upon him: the constabulary now had a face and a name to their prey, and had enlisted the help of all the people of Daevàr’s Hut – every man and woman in the town now knew his face, and would be afraid of him and would denounce him.
Brandyé turned and made his way swiftly from the crowd, pulling his hood’s cloak far over his face. His mind was awhirl, and he knew now he must escape from the town, for it was no longer safe for him here. Yet how could he leave? The walls still surrounded the town, and Great Market Day, the only time in the month when the town’s gates would be opened, was yet some weeks away. It would be useless to try and scale the wall, so guarded was it; besides, the drop on the outer side would be likely to kill him. Briefly, he considered whether he should not leap from the wall anyway – it would be only fair for his life to be taken in payment for Sonora’s. Yet he knew this was a thing he could not do, and quite suddenly, he was overcome with the sudden recollection of a thing his grandfather had once said to him, long ago: “All things must have their purpose, whether you would see it or not. The greatest joy and the deepest tragedy – all these occur for a reason, and it is not for us to question it.”
Brandyé was questioning this, for he could see no reason for Sonora to have been taken from him, from Elven and all those who had held her dear, but the quarrel’s waver in its flight came to mind, and for just a moment he thought he glimpsed something deeper, something far beyond his own small life, and it was something great, and dark, and sinister, and it called for him yet to live.
He must find the sewer, he decided, though which he and Sonora has passed into the town, and hope that the grate that barred its entrance had not been discovered and repaired. It would not be easy, he felt, to find the small opening in the street again, but he knew it lay on the east of the town, and so he set off in search of his escape.
It took the rest of that day, but find it he did. He passed in and out of alleys, trying to recall the look of the stone and the walls, all the while keeping his head down and covered so that he might not be recognized. Evening was approaching when, finally, he stepped into an alley and saw, in one corner, the opening in the ground he sought. There were few people about him, and he hoped he might slip into it unnoticed, but alas, it was not so. Even as he began to slide his feet into the dank and the darkness, he heard a cry, and turning saw people calling and pointing at him, and knew that he had been recognized.
Swiftly, he began to pull himself deeper into the sewer, but not before three constables entered the alley. As he pulled his head through the opening, he looked upon them and they upon him, and they knew him and sounded a great call. He would be caught.
Brandyé dragged himself deeper into the filth and muck, the stench passing into his senses and blocking thought, and for and endless time he passed forward through the tunnel, knowing all the while that there was for him no escape.
When finally he approached the end of the tunnel, he saw the grate lay still on its side, and when he pulled himself from its maw, grateful for the free air, he saw that he was very much alone. It occurred to him that the constabulary might well not know where the sewer led to, and might yet be searching throughout the town. This might perhaps give him time enough to escape, and the darkening light would aid in this, making it difficult for the patrol atop the wall to see him as he passed away from the town.
Brandyé began to make his way carefully through the tall grass, passing just as he and Sonora had in entering the town, but he had made his way no more than a quarter of a mile when, quite suddenly, the world lightened around him. Looking back at the town, Brandyé saw that, for the first time in many, many months, the clouds above had parted, and a bloody sun was casting its light upon the town and the fields, and in that light, Brandyé heard a call, echoed along the walls of the town, and knew that his retreat was not safe – he had been seen.
Turning, he forwent the cover of the grass and began to run, losing breath as he passed over the hill on the edge of the town, knowing even as he fled the constabulary were mounting their steeds, and passing through the gate, would outpace him easily. But then, as he passed over the ridge of the valley and the town began slowly to disappear from sight, Brandyé saw a beast approaching him at a gallop from the North, and its white hide glowed in the red sun. It was Isabella, and Brandyé wondered at her appearance.
Brandyé stopped, for his lungs ached, and Isabella came to a halt before him, and brought her muzzle to his cheek.
“Oh, Isabella,” he moaned, “you could not know what terrible things I have done. How is it you come to be here? We sent you home days ago!”
Isabella, unsurprisingly, said nothing, and Brandyé merely said, “Be how it may, I am glad to have you. Bear me home, I plead of you – I can not bear to be here any longer!”
Isabella lowered herself to her knees, and Brandyé flung his legs over her. As she regained her hooves, Brandyé called to her, “Ride, Isabella – outrun these cowards!”
And then, as the horse was about to start off, she reared suddenly in fright at a thing she saw in the distance, and Brandyé followed her eye to the East, thinking she saw perhaps the constabulary now approaching. What he saw instead froze his very blood.
Approaching from over the valley’s edge, dark silhouettes against the bleeding sun, were no less than four fierundé, and their own red eyes glared from the deep shadow of their grim faces. They were advancing slowly, at a walk, but it was without doubt that they came for him, and before Brandyé could even consider their presence, Isabella had bolted, and it was all he could do to grasp her mane as she fled in terror over the fields.
At her speed, the fierundé burst also into motion, and Brandyé now saw the speed of these demon wolves, for they matched Isabella easily, and even as Isabella settled into a gallop, the beasts drew ever nearer, and Brandyé began to fear for the horse, for he knew she could not keep this pace for long. For all her strength, Isabella could not outrun them, and she certainly could not fight them.
If she could not, Brandyé thought, then perhaps he could. The closest fierund had closed greatly upon them, and pursued them on the left not more than a hundred yards distant. Reaching for the crossbow beneath his cloak, Brandyé felt a spur of requital at the thought that the instrument that had brought down Sonora might now also bring down such evil. He had yet three quarrels with him, and though he knew he thus could not bring them all down, he might yet seek to redeem himself in the destruction of some beast of terror, before he himself was destroyed.
Yet even as he loaded his bow and turned to face behind him, doubt clouded his mind. He had never taken a shot from the back of a horse – at a gallop no less – and his confidence in his aim was greatly weakened. He brought the weapon to bear upon the beast, who seemed to recognize his efforts and redoubled its pace, as though seeking to throw itself upon him before he could loose his arrow. Though he shook with terror and the movement of his horse, he released the bolt even as the beast flung itself at him, and though he closed his eyes, he heard the fierund’s yelp as his bolt found home.
Opening his eyes, he saw the fierund had once more dropped behind him, but to his dismay it was but wounded – the bolt protruded from its chest, but it continued on nonetheless, undeterred. Around it, the others grew close.
Brandyé loaded yet another quarrel to his bow, and loosed it again upon the beast, and this time watched as it struck the fierund in the throat, and this time the beast fell to its knees as it ran, and its movement carried it forward in a terrible sprawl. Uncertain, its companions now slowed their pace, and came to halt around it. Even as Brandyé watched, though, the beast attempted once more to regain its feet, and he loosed his third and final quarrel, and though he was now a great distance from them, it sailed through the air and passed between the beast’s eyes, and it dropped its terrible maw to the earth, and lay dead.
Onward Isabella sped, and as the remaining fierundé howled after him, the clouds closed once more over the sun, and Brandyé rode on to the North, and into Darkness.