Chapter 19: The Second Tragedy
It was a small victory that Brandyé had brought down a fierund, and his terror of the beasts diminished as he knew they could be slain. Had they come upon him during his sleepless nights on the journey north he might not have been so assured, but as it was he remained remarkably undisturbed, and in only three days drew near to Burrowdown.
It was only as he felt the influence of the fierundé leave him, and the horror of Daevàr’s Hut grew further away, that the weight of events began to settle upon him. He could not give reason to the flight of his bolt, other than perhaps a breath of wind, but it had been a still day. Yet great thought his grief was, he now saw a deeper darkness behind the trial, and Sonora’s death.
His thoughts were drawn to his grandfather’s tales of the darkness that existed outside of Consolation. As a child he had been enthralled by the tales, of course, but the implications of such darkness had passed him by, for he had been but young. “We have had fortune so far, and darkness has not yet crept into Consolation,” Reuel had said. But that had been many years ago, and he began to fear that the creatures of darkness might now have set themselves upon Consolation, finally after so many thousands of years.
Should he have known? He had seen the fierundé, before now, that day on the moor in the snow. It had not wished to enter far into their lands then, and remained hidden in the trees, but now there were fierundé as far south as Daevàr’s Hut. Where else in their lands might these creatures now be roaming? How had they entered the lands without being perceived? Above all these considerations, though, was the thought that they had revealed themselves just as he fled Daevàr’s Hut, and the tragedy he had wrought there. He was deeply unsettled by the thought that the fierundé might share a connection with that town, and the deeds of the Fortunaé. He looked to the sky, and the clouds were ever heavy, and he thought that perhaps it was this, the gradual darkening of the land itself, that the fierundé had been awaiting; a darkening that seemed to have grown even as the Fortunaé’s strength, might and fear had.
As the first houses appeared along the road, Brandyé turned his thoughts to what he must do next. He wished nothing more than to fly home, return to the warmth of his home with Reuel, and never leave again. Yet he owed Farmer Tar the return of Isabella, and though he wanted nothing more to do with the Scythe’s Blood, he wished to learn of the fate of Jim Gantha also.
Before any of this, however, there was another place to go, and though he dreaded it like nothing ever before, he knew it was a thing he must do. So it was that he directed Isabella along the path that would bring him to the Dottery home. It was not long to arrive there, but as he rode the path he was caught by a sight he did not expect.
A lone bird was floating southward along his very path, and as it drew close to him, low to the ground as it was, he saw that it was Sonora, and a message was tied fast to her leg. For a moment he thought perhaps she made for him, but she passed him by without a glance and continued on her way south. He watched her go, even as Isabella trotted onward.
He soon was upon the home of Timothaï and Arian Dottery, and smoke issued from the chimney and the curtains were drawn. Leaving Isabella to feed herself on the grass at the edge of the road, he brought himself on weak legs to their front door, and knocked three times.
He considered perhaps bolting even now, so that they might not see him, but even as he thought this, the door opened, and Arian stood before him with tears in her eyes, and he saw at once that they knew of Sonora’s death.
For a long moment, Brandyé could not speak, and when he found his voice it sounded weak and treacherous. “I – I am sorry,” he said. “Your daughter – Sonora – she is…” and he could not finish.
“She is dead,” Arian replied, and miserably, Brandyé nodded. “Please,” she said in a hush, “come in.” She stood back to allow him entrance, and he passed the threshold, feeling all the while a coward and a traitor. Was it possible they knew not who had ended their daughter’s life?
She led him into the parlor, where Mr. Dottery was sitting, staring into the fire. He looked up as Brandyé entered, and his face was a mirror for his wife’s. “Brandyé,” he said, “you have returned so swiftly. Do you bear news of Sonora’s…of her fate?”
“I can tell you of it,” he replied, and felt his face burn.
“Sit, dear,” Arian said. “I will bring tea.”
And as she set the kettle boiling over the kitchen hearth, Brandyé found he could not look upon Timothaï, lest his heart burst for shame and regret. Mr. Dottery, for his part, seemed content merely to stare once more into the fire, and the flames reflected on his dull and red eyes, and it seemed as thought he was considering throwing himself among them.
Eventually, of course, Arian returned with the tea tray, and set it upon a small table, handing a cup to Brandyé, taking one for herself and her husband. Timothaï held it without considering it, and Arian looked upon him for a long moment, before turning once more to Brandyé.
“We knew not where she had gone,” she said. “Our fear was that she was lost, but when we learned you had gone to Daevàr’s Hut to see Elven, our hope was that she had gone with you.”
Brandyé nodded, his lip between his teeth. “She did come with me, ma’am. She…she caught me off my guard. Waiting for me many miles south of here, I – I had little choice. I did not know what we were to face.”
Timothaï stared yet into the flames, and Arian laid her hand upon his arm. “You must forgive us,” she said. “We learned only of this news moments before your arrival; Elven sent Sono – his owl, as soon as it happened.”
Hardly daring to know, Brandyé breathed, “What…what did Elven write?”
Arian looked upon him deeply for a moment, and without a word passed him the curled letter that lay beside the tea tray. Brandyé lifted it, trembling, and read:
Mother and Father;
I cannot bear to be the one to bear you this news, but I must: Sonora, your daughter and my sister, is dead. She was killed in a riot this morning.
My heart grieves, and I cannot fathom your pain. I am so sorry.
Brandyé folded the letter, and returned it to Arian, and tried to speak past the choke in his throat. “There is a thing Elven has not told you,” he said, voice tight and sick. Arian looked upon him without understanding, and he spoke, “I cannot think why he would omit this detail, for certainly if it is for my protection, it is a boon I do not deserve.”
Arian’s hand was now shaking, and her finger was white about the teacup in her hand. “What happened, Brandyé?” she whispered.
With the greatest of effort, Brandyé forced the words: “It is by my hand that she is dead.”
Not a sound followed this for a long, dreadful moment, other than the soft crush of Timothaï’s cup shattering upon the rug. Yet still he did not look at Brandyé, but buried his face in his hands and began to sob.
“Please believe me, it was not my intent—”
“Speak no more!” cried Arian. “Please – leave!”
Tears in his own eyes, Brandyé placed down his own cup, stood, and moved to the door. As he pulled it open, he looked back to Sonora’s parents, but there were no words to say, and he stepped out into the chill, and did not look upon them again.
Isabella was waiting for him, and she nuzzled him as he approached her. “You should not show me kindness,” he spoke to her, “for I do not deserve it.”
Isabella snorted her thoughts on this, and allowed him to mount her once more. “Come,” he said. “We must return you to your owner.”
Brandyé hastened away from the Dottery household, and could not bring himself to look back as he rode. He could not ease their pain, and what he felt himself was poor justice for his deed. It was likely Elven would return, and he would comfort his parents as best he could.
Isabella fared well over the hills, and it was not long before they were upon Farmer’s Tar’s house, and the windows were lit from within here also. He called as he approached, and Farmer Tar appeared in his doorway, and hailed him. “You’ve returned already!” he said. “I were thinkin’ you’d’ve been longer!”
Brandyé once more dismounted from Isabella, for a final time, and brushed her side as he answered, “My business did not take long.”
“I weren’t sure,” Farmer Tar said, “when Isabella didn’t come back at once, whether you’d been successful or not. It seems you was.”
“It was no success,” Brandyé said. He did not wish to discuss further Sonora’s death, and spoke instead, “What news from Burrowdown? What events have passed since I left?”
For a moment, Farmer Tar seemed to hesitate. “We’ve managed to keep things quiet-like,” he said. “Some of us managed to cut ol’ Jim loose at night, though it weren’t easy – they’re watchin’ now, the folk, always for us ‘witches’. He’s gone now to stay with Maggie Mae out of town, which I don’t reckon were so bad for him – he’s had an eye for her for a time!”
Brandyé smiled weakly. “I am gladded to hear he has been freed. It was a burden on my heart.”
Farmer Tar once again seemed sobered, and said to Brandyé, “You have only just arrived – not returned home yet?”
Brandyé shook his head. “I – I have ridden here direct,” he said, not wishing to speak of the Dotterys. Farmer Tar would undoubtedly hear of it shortly from the folk.
Farmer Tar looked down. “I wouldn’t have been the one to tell you, lad,” he muttered, “but I got some news for you that might not be too pleasing to hear.”
So exhausted from grief and lack of sleep was Brandyé that at first, he did not understand what Farmer was saying. “Unpleasant news? There is no news that could to me be unpleasant at this moment,” he said.
Farmer Tar appeared quite confused, but said: “It’s about your ol’ man,” he said. “Ol’ Reuel – I’ve been hearing in the town he ain’t – ain’t doing too well.”
“What jest is this?” Brandyé said. “There is nothing wrong with my grandfather – I left him in health not two weeks ago.”
Farmer Tar seemed unwilling to argue, but nonetheless said, “I hope you’re right, lad; I jus’ want to let you know, before you hear it from the other folk in town. They said he ain’t left his house in days now.”
“He never leaves,” said Brandyé. “Is that unusual?”
“Perhaps not,” said Farmer Tar. “Certainly, I hope not. But – some says no smoke rises from his chimney, neither. And at night, they say they’ve seen no light.”
“You are giving me great concern,” Brandyé said. “You speak in earnest?”
“I wish I weren’t,” said Farmer Tar.
“I must go,” Brandyé said to himself, “I must see him.”
“Go,” Farmer Tar urged him. “Take Isabella – she’ll bear you fast. It seems she’s taken quite a likin’ to you.”
Brandyé looked up at Farmer Tar, and it seemed he saw him now truly for the first time. He grasped Farmer Tar’s hands, and spoke, “You have ever been kind to me. I will ride to my grandfather, and I hope to find him well and these rumors prove false. I will return Isabella to you if I am able. Thank you.”
Farmer Tar nodded, and with no further word spoken, Brandyé leapt once more upon Isabella’s back, and urged her once more back toward the village.
Brandyé would in the past have taken the fields around the village to his grandfather’s home, but he grew now too afraid to waste what little time he might have. He spurred Isabella to a gallop, and fled down the hill and into the village, heedless of the stares from the folk as he passed them swiftly by. He plunged down the main road, passing the Burrow Wayde, and as he drew upon the Burrow Bridge he saw the remains of the stock that had held Jim Ganatha, and saw that it bore an unsettling resemblance to that which had held Faevre captive in Daevàr’s Hut.
Leaving the village behind, he rode up the hill towards his home, and as he approached, he saw with dismay that despite the chill and the cloud, there was indeed no smoke issuing from their chimney, and no candle burned in the window.
He fairly leapt from Isabella’s back as they approached – much to her dislike – and hurled himself through the door. The house was cold, the kitchen dark, and the parlor was empty. He called aloud: “Grandfather! Are you here?”
For a long moment the silence terrified him; and then, though weak, a reply came from Reuel’s own bedroom. “Son – is that you?”
Brandyé entered into his Reuel’s room, and saw before him his grandfather in his bed, blankets pulled tight around him. At first, it seemed there was little out of place, until Brandyé saw the bowl and spoon that lay tumbled on their side upon the floor, the spent candle by the window, and the water glass that stood, empty and dry, beside the bed.
“Grandfather – are you unwell?” Brandyé drew himself near to Reuel, and knelt on the floor beside him. Closer now, he saw the skin hung loose upon Reuel’s face, and the old man’s lines appeared deeper than ever he had seen them. This, and his grey skin, seemed to answer his question without the need of words.
Reuel reached out a hand and grasped Brandyé’s hand, and his hand was cold, his grip weak. “It is good to see you again, son. I had feared I might not.”
Brandyé shook his head. “What do you speak of, grandfather? Why would you not see me?”
Reuel gazed calmly upon his grandson. “Can you not see?”
“No – you are unwell, but you have been unwell before. Come – I will light a fire, you will see.”
Reuel smiled weakly. “This is not an illness that may be cured, son,” he said.
But Brandyé would not listen. He left his grandfather’s room, and went through the house, lighting every candle and hearth they had. Soon, the parlor fire was roaring, the kitchen stove was hissing steam, and tea was brewing upon it. As the house grew once more warm, Brandyé returned to Reuel, and helped him to rise from his bed. Reuel was weak, and Brandyé had to very much lift him bodily, and was dismayed to discover how little his grandfather weighed.
He brought Reuel before the parlor fire, and once more wrapped fast a blanket around him. Reuel nodded gently as he sat, and Brandyé passed to him tea, which he did not drink.
Brandyé sat on the floor before him, much as he had once done as a child listening to his grand tales, and said, “Come, grandfather – what has occurred? You were well when I left, and it has been but two weeks.”
“Hm?” replied Reuel. “There is little to tell. I am old – and I am ill. Such things happen.”
“But you will regain your health,” Brandyé said.
“I will not,” Reuel replied. “You are kind to rouse me, and to warm me, but I am not to be bound to Erâth for long now.”
“It cannot be,” Brandyé said. “You cannot die.”
“If it were only so,” Reuel replied. “But come – as you have returned so that I may speak with you one last time, tell me: what has come of your time in Daevàr’s Hut?”
But Brandyé would not speak to him of it, and for several days, bent his will to the tending of his grandfather. Though he remained by his side through every waking moment, and kept him awake by the fire and fed him what meagre stews he was able to cook himself, and though he bade Reuel to sleep in his own bed so that he might be warm through the night, the old man seemed only to weaken, and it was not long before Reuel was unable to rise from his bed at all.
“Son,” Reuel whispered, for he could no longer raise his voice, “son – grandson. You have ever been by my side, and your spirit has kept me light through many years that might otherwise have been dark.”
“Grandfather,” said Brandyé, “do not speak so, I beg of you.”
But Reuel gently shook his head. “Such words are not often said, but should be spoken. You are my grandson; your mother, Aimi, was my daughter. Éalora, my wife – she was your grandmother, and Aimi’s mother. I have seen my wife die, and I have seen my daughter die. I am gladdened to know that I will not see my grandson die; so it should be.”
“Do not speak of such things,” Brandyé spoke. “I would not bear my thoughts upon such darkness!”
“Come, son – there is no darkness in death, though the two are often seen together. Death is dark only if we allow it to be so.”
“You know not of what I have seen!” cried Brandyé. “Of what I have done! I have seen the darkness in death, and I would have no part of it!”
Though it was with great effort, Reuel raised himself upon his pillow, and said gently to his grandson, “Tell me, son – tell me of Sonora.”
Brandyé looked upon his grandfather, bewildered, and knew not how he came to know of Sonora. And before he quite knew what he was doing, the horror and the shame burst forth, and he found he was telling Reuel of all that had come to pass, and he at last wept openly, and Reuel but listened, and allowed his grandson to grieve.
When he had finished speaking, and his sobs had quietened, Reuel spoke to him. “You know what you have done, and I will not lay further guilt upon your head; you will do so on your own, and it will come upon you from those around you. It is unfortunate that you should choose a path of violence, though I have for so long told you of the dangers such a road possesses. But your choices are you own, and you are grown, and your choices are your own.
“Heed this well, though, son, and learn, if it may be my final lesson to you: once you start down a path, you will soon reach that place where there is no turning back. If you seek violence, you will find it, and it will draw you along its road.”
“I would never strike another person so long as I live!” Brandyé sobbed.
Reuel smiled. “I doubt that will be so, son, though your intention is noble. Come – would you like to hear one last tale?”
Brandyé smiled himself through his tears, and as Reuel began to speak, slowly and painfully, he felt once more as a small child, and that Reuel’s words and soft voice would make everything right once more.
“Long ago, before the time that we know,” Reuel began, “there were two kingdoms that would have nothing to do with each other. This was perhaps after the great war of darkness, though I am not sure – it would seem sensible that it was. For many years, these two kingdoms had lived uneasily with each other, their hatred for each other wrought from a terrible betrayal that they felt could not be forgiven.” Reuel looked intently at Brandyé. “I will leave it up to you to decide whether there are such deeds as are unforgivable.
“Yet from these two lands rose a man and a woman – one a simple soldier, the other a princess of royal descent. And it was that these two loved each other.”
I have not heard that word used so,” Brandyé said. “What does it mean that they loved each other?”
“It is not a word you will hear these days, for it is a rare thing to possess. Love is the knowing that there is a person for whom you would do anything, even lay down your life.”
“So it might be said that I love all those that I care about,” Brandyé said.
“It is yet more than that,” Reuel replied. “When you love a person, truly love them, you learn that the world is incomplete without them. You know in your heart that you were born to live with – and for – that person. And when you love someone, they can never die, for they will live with you always.
“These two people of the ancient days loved each other, though it was said they could not, for they were from different kingdoms. When the king learned that his daughter had given her heart to a mere soldier of their enemy, he locked her within their palace, and forbade her ever to leave.
“When the soldier heard of this news, he vowed he would rescue her, and crept into the castle at night to bear her to freedom. Yet the king lay in wait, and fell upon him with sword and shield as he entered her chambers. For hours the halls rang with the clash of their steel, and in the end, there was a death – but it was not of the soldier, or of the king.
“So overcome with the fear and hate of their battle were they that they had not noticed the princess, in trying to stay their hands, had borne herself a mortal wound, and lay dead upon the ground. Wretched, the soldier cast himself upon his own blade, and with them died love for all of Erâth.”
Brandyé spoke not a word, for his voice had left him, and for a time both of them fell into silence. Brandyé watched as his grandfather closed his eyes, and as his breath grew ever shallower. Eventually, his breath began to rasp, and was a moment before Brandyé realized his grandfather was trying once more to speak to him. He leaned close, laying his ear to his lips, and heard his grandfather’s final words: “You are strong, son; do not fear yourself. Do not question those who would stop you, and do not stop for those who question you.”
And with these words Reuel left him, and as his breathing ceased, Brandyé knew that he loved his grandfather.
Brandyé buried his grandfather behind their house, before the great, circular parlor windows he had loved so much. He felt that, with such a view, he might forever watch upon the lands to the North, and thus keep the beasts of darkness at bay. He knew such thoughts were folly, of course, for those beasts were already within their lands, but as a symbol to the darkness that he would not be so easily swayed, he felt it was appropriate. And if nothing else, his grandfather would face the lands to which he had travelled, and where he had met his wife, without whom he, Brandyé, would not exist.
In a rare occurrence, the clouds parted on that day, and as Brandyé stood over his grandfather’s grave, a spade in his hand and sweat on his brow, it seemed that, for just a moment, the darkness had lifted from the world, and that perhaps not all was lost.