Chapter 22: Brandyé’s Trial
It was three days before Brandyé perceived signs of pursuit. He continued to pass East, though his progress was slowed through the woods of the Far Burrow Hills. The ground was rough, and there were many trees, and he could not bring Isabella past an easy trot. He was content, however, to know that he was beyond the constables of Garâth, and within perhaps a week he would have passed beyond the borders of Consolation and into the Tresté Mountains.
However, he soon began to sense that he was not alone among the trees, and that things other than the birds and squirrels were watching him, and waiting. He slept uneasily in the dark, staying awake for large stretches of the night, looking out beyond the fire, but he did not see the red eyes he was expecting. Rather, it seemed he was being kept solitary with deliberation, and he felt that it was the darkness itself that kept a sinister watch over him.
On the morning of the fourth day, Brandyé awoke to a lifted fog and a light rain that glistened on the leaves and dampened the earth, raising the smell of mould and rot. Farmer Tar had provided a cloak for him, and he drew its hood over his head, and was wet all the same. A wide brook crossed his path, and he turned South against its flow, seeking a shallow where he might ford it.
Perhaps a mile upstream, he caught, over the forest floor, a scent of damp wood smoke, and saw in the distance, among the trees, the faint light of a poor fire. Though he knew he should not, he halted Isabella and dismounted, feeling he must know whether these were merely vagabonds, hiding in the woods as he was, or something worse.
He approached, slow and quiet, and as he drew nearer the voices of men carried to him.
“Damnable weather,” one grumbled. “What I would’ give for a fire, ale an’ a warm bed.”
“It wasn’ so bad before the rain,” another replied, “but look – can’t even get a decent fire goin’.”
“Bread’s soaked,” said the first. “Here – throw it in the fire, dry it out a bit.”
There was silence for a moment, other than the soft sound of rain, and Brandyé drew himself ever nearer, wishing to see these men for himself. He could not tell their provenance from their voices, though they sounded as though they hailed from the South. He brought himself so he could see their fire, and counted three horses fastened to trees, and the three men to whom they belonged, crouched miserably around the low and flickering flames.
They were constables indeed, he saw now: they bore the blue livery of their position and carried short swords at their sides. It seemed he had not been so fortunate in his escape as he had hoped, and he wondered that there were only these three, and thought perhaps other parties might be elsewhere in the woods.
Against his instinct he rested a moment longer, taking in these men. They seemed no different from those he recalled in Daevàr’s Hut, barring their riding cloaks and boots, and he was struck that they seemed but men, wet and miserable, and he hoped the Lord Garâth’s wrath would not be to harsh should they fail to capture him.
“You’ve burnt it now, fool!” the second man berated.
The first stabbed the bread he had cast into the fire with his sword, and lifted it, charred and smoking, to his nose. “Bah,” he grunted. He took a bite, chewed it a moment, and spat it out. “Filth!” He pulled the burnt bread from his blade, and cast it behind him, in Brandyé’s direction.
Brandyé moved to avoid the missile, and as he did so slipped on the wet leaves beneath his feet. He fell against the tree he had been hiding behind, and gasped as his elbow struck the hard roots.
The third man, who had so far remained silent, looked up sharply. “Shet up,” he said to the others. “You hear something?”
“Only Cartha’s moanin’,” said the second man. The first man, Cartha, growled at him, but said nothing.
For a long moment, the third man gazed deep into the woods, a crease on his brow. For a longer moment, Brandyé remained on the wet ground, breath held still in his throat, and dared not move. Eventually, the man turned back to the fire, and spoke in a low voice to the others that Brandyé could not hear.
With fear in his chest, Brandyé slowly raised himself from the ground, and made his way back to Isabella. “Come,” he whispered to her, “we must go. There are constables on our trail, and there may be others nearby we do not know of.”
Isabella continued onward up the stream, as still and quiet as she could manage, and Brandyé began to hope they had left the constables behind, when a swift whisper passed through his ears and a spear pierced deeply into Isabella’s flank.
The poor horse reared and cried in agony, and Brandyé was thrown from her back, and fell into the deep and swift water. He was hardly able to fight the current, and heard when his head was above the water the shouts and cries of the constables that had, in secret, moved ahead and lain in wait for him.
He felt certain he would drown as he passed swiftly down the stream, when quite suddenly a terrible pain pierced his shoulder and a constable’s blade stuck him, and he moved no further downstream.
Rough hands hauled him coughing from the water, and he was quickly bound and brought on his knees to the third constable, who now seemed to be their captain. He saw Isabella, still by the stream, her blood flowing away with the water, and felt grief at her passing.
“So we have you,” said the constable. “You’ve given us some grief, followin’ you through these stinkin’ woods.” He struck Brandyé across the face, and spat upon him. “The Lord Garâth’ll have some fun with you, though, without a doubt. Bind him to your saddle!” he called to Cartha. “He’ll walk ’till we reach the carriage, and then he’ll have the last comfort of his life!”
Brandyé spoke not a word as he allowed himself to be tied to the horse’s saddle by a long cord, and felt despair that he had not escaped. He also felt that, whatever fate awaited him, it was not undeserved.
The carriage was no comfort, being closer to a prison on wheels. Brandyé was locked in a small compartment with neither seat nor bed, and what little food the constables chose to give him was thrust roughly through iron bars, so that he had little choice but to eat like a beast, on his hands and knees.
They had briefly tended to the wound in his shoulder, doing little more than applying a salt press and bandaging it with a length of dirty cloth. The blade had thrust deep, and he could not move his arm greatly, and was glad it was not his strong arm that was injured. It continued to pain him as they travelled, the rough passage of the carriage causing him to fall often against the sides of his cell.
The carriage soon reached a road that led West, and Brandyé knew they were bound for Daevàr’s Hut. The three constables who had led his capture had been joined by two other parties, so that they numbered nine in total, with a tenth being the driver of the coach. It was a five-day journey from where they had captured him, and in less than two Brandyé had developed a fever and grew faint.
The constables stopped that evening in a village called Ponton-on-Leigh, and their captain grew concerned at seeing Brandyé’s state. “It won’ do us any good if he dies before we reach the Hut,” he said. “The Lord Garâth’ll exile us, like as not.”
So it was that a healer was fetched, and as the rest of the party ventured to the local inn, Brandyé was released from his imprisonment, under the watch of the captain, while she tended to his wounds.
“It’s deep,” she said, “but not fatal. You’re ill from infection.” She unwrapped the wound, and cleaned it, and Brandyé cried out as she opened it to see its depth. “It’s little healed,” she said, “but don’t fear; I’ll treat this with garlic and rose bark, and you’ll be feeling better in only a few days.”
And so she did, pressing the ointment deep into the wound, and dressing it once more with clean linen. All the while, the captain stood silently by, and when she had finished thrust Brandyé roughly once more into the carriage cell. He offered the healer several gold coins, but she held her hand: “I would not take payment for this man; he’s been ill-treated, and I’ve done this as a kindness, for I fear he’ll be receivin’ little where he’s goin’.”
The captain snarled at her, but withdrew the coins and hissed at her to leave. She had not been wrong, however, for the day they arrived in Daevàr’s Hut, Brandyé’s arm pained him much less, and his fever had retreated. It was fortunate that it did, for much pain awaited him.
The constabulary brought Brandyé to the Hut directly and into a courtyard shielded from the eyes of passers-by. Here they removed him once more from the confines of the carriage cell, and held him upright as he was hardly able to support his weight after so long in such a small space.
He was led below the Hut, into the catacombs, and the light here was dim and the captain bore a torch to light the way. It was a place of dread, a labyrinth of wet stone walls and bolted doors, and Brandyé felt stronger than ever the presence of a darkness deeper than the shadows that lay in the corners.
In the furthest depths of the dungeon was the prison keep, and it was into a cell here that Brandyé was led. It was small, and dark, and the bed was a slab of stone. Iron bars caged him in, and when the guards left he felt drowned in the silence.
After a while, however, he discovered that his breath was not the only one in the dungeon, and he saw a figure lying still in the cell beside him. He moved softly to the bars that separated them, and looked upon the man, and he seemed familiar.
The man’s breath was short and ragged, and he seemed to be asleep, but Brandyé could not rouse him, and after a moment he ceased, sitting still and watching him. It was then that the exhaustion of his flight began to steal upon him, and Brandyé himself fell asleep sitting on the stone, his back against the cold bars.
Brandyé was awoken by hands lifting him bodily from his stone bed, and they held him to his feet as he opened his eyes to many torches born by constables. Amidst them, standing tall and forceful, was the Lord Garâth, and he seemed to be contemplating him with pleasure.
“Our paths cross too often,” he said softly to Brandyé, and through his fear, Brandyé could not help but agree. The Lord Garâth shook his head gently. “You defy me before your villagers; you take part in the plotting of the Scythe’s Blood; you murder one of your own before me. And now, you are my prisoner.”
Brandyé did not speak, for he had not a word to say. Garâth’s words brought with them the memory of Sonora, and his loathing was diluted by his grief.
Garâth leaned closer to Brandyé and spoke, “I know what it is you sought. You would have had my son murdered, so ending my line. It is not to be; you should know this. The strength of our house grows with the darkness of the land, and we will not be so easily defeated.
“I do not care that this girl is dead, but my people demand justice. You will stand trial, and you will be exiled, but you will first be broken before me.”
He stepped back, and spoke to the guards, who moved to fasten thick rope around Brandyé’s wrists, and passed it through a hook that hung from the ceiling. When they released him he hung from the hook, his feet brushing the ground, and the Lord Garâth let fall to the ground a length of stiff leather that Brandyé recognized with dread.
“Many years ago, I sought to teach you a lesson,” Garâth spoke, and raised the whip. “I shall now finish it.” He brought the whip hard across Brandyé’s back, and the pain was searing and unlike anything Brandyé had known. He did not wish to cry before this man, but the tears came to his eyes nonetheless, and Garâth seemed to delight. “You will beg before me,” he said, and brought a second terrible stroke upon Brandyé. He cried out, and Garâth brought a third, and a forth blow, and Brandyé’s tunic was parted and long welts raised across his back.
“Cry, dog!” Garâth cried, and Brandyé sobbed as three more blows struck him, and with a pause for breath, Garâth said, “That will do for now. Fear not – there will be more.”
Brandyé hardly noticed as the guards lowered him from the hook and cast him upon the floor, from which he was for many hours unable to rise. Every move brought agony, and it was only with the greatest effort that he finally drew himself to the stone bed, and sat upon it.
It was some time before Brandyé realized the man in the cell beside him, who had lain silent during his torture, was now speaking to him. “Forgive me,” Brandyé whispered, “but I cannot turn to you.”
“Do not bother yourself with it,” the man spoke back, and though his voice came weak from his throat, Brandyé recognized it.
“Eldridge – you have been captured?”
“They knew,” Eldridge said, for it was he in the prison beside Brandyé. “The constables are fools, but the Lord Garâth is not. He suspected we would strike against him at Faevre’s trial. He did not think we would attempt to assassinate his son, but no matter, for it failed.”
“Please, Eldridge – I would bear no more guilt for my deed,” Brandyé spoke, and his voice was broken.
“I no longer hold you responsible,” Eldridge replied. “Some other force is at work here, and it conspires against us. Many of the Scythe’s Blood have fled from the town, and others have been taken here to live out their lives. I am to be exiled, but I think the Lord Garâth will tend to you first.”
“You do not sound well,” Brandyé said.
“I will die soon,” Eldridge spoke. “I have borne a grievous wound that they refuse to heal, and I feel my life draining from me.”
“I am sorry,” Brandyé replied.
For a moment there was silence, and then Eldridge spoke, “Do not be. Your capture is not wholly by chance.”
“You gave me to them,” Brandyé said.
“I did,” said Eldridge, there was shame in his whisper. “I hope you did not wonder at the months before they found you; I did not speak for many weeks. The Lord Garâth would visit me each day, and each day he would reopen my wound, until I cried stop.”
“How did they learn of my home?” Brandyé asked.
“Elven,” he replied. “You and he hail alike from the same town.”
A terrible thought occurred to Brandyé, and despite his pain he turned to face Eldridge. For a moment he did not speak, for upon seeing the man truly for the first time since the trial, he had become pale and gaunt, eyes sunk and skin loose. Scars crossed his face, and he held his hand always over his abdomen, covering a wound that ever leaked. “What did you tell them of Elven?”
Eldridge smiled painfully, and said, “They did not care for Elven, and I did not speak of him. The Lord Garâth spoke only of you; he is bent upon your demise.”
“And he shall have it,” Brandyé said, and did not speak again to Eldridge.
For seven days Brandyé remained in the dungeons of the Hut, and the Lord Garâth had not been wrong; Brandyé could bear no more of the pain, and begged that the torture cease – but it would not. Sometimes it was with whips; other times with knives, shallow cuts on his arms that hurt little each, but which in numbers sent screaming agony through his body. It seemed, though, that the Lord Garâth did not want permanent damage inflicted upon him, and this in itself was of a greater terror to Brandyé: what worse was yet to come?
On the seventh day, a guard came and said to Brandyé that his trial was to be held the following morning, which was a Sunday. He was not tortured that day, but rather left without food in despair, and his cuts and scratches and bruises and welts healed, so that he was in less pain by the evening. He did not sleep that night, but spent the dark in silence, listening to Eldridge’s breathing, which had slowed greatly. He held no great hope for the following morning, for there were certainly no Scythe’s Blood left in Daevàr’s Hut, and if there were they would surely not attempt to rescue him. He was very much alone, and he was to be exiled, and would live and die alone.
Surprisingly, the thought brought some comfort; he had, in some manner, been alone for most of his life, and though the manner of his exile was to be surely painful, he would at last be free from those who had never taken him in, and perhaps in the forests and mountains he might seek peace.
It was yet early when they came for him, and he was granted only a brief glimpse of the grey dawn before a black sack was forced over his head, and he was dragged away from the Hut. He could see nothing, and was dizzied as he was led this way and that, uncertain always of where he was going and whether he might not be simply led to step over a pit or into the river Tuiraeth[Corruption of Tuathé Miren Naraeth (lit. Bringing Life to the East)] itself, to be swept away by the current.
As they led him further, however, he became used to hearing his surroundings, and knew they were indoors once more when he heard wood underfoot and the echoes of footsteps on the walls. Through a corridor, it seemed, they passed for some time, and when he sensed they moved once more outside, he could hear, in the distance, a hammering and knew his trial stage was being built.
The guard leading him grunted, “Steps,” and it was all the warning Brandyé had before he was thrust roughly up a short flight of wooden steps, falling to his knees and bruising his shins on the threshold. It was little enough pain against what he had enduring in the dungeon, but it stung nonetheless.
He was dragged to a seat, heard a door latch, and suddenly he was moving, and knew he was in a coach. He wondered if he was alone, but could not move for his bonds, and could not hear for the noise of the wheels over the stone streets. Gradually, however, the noise of building grew louder, and his throat caught as he was brought closer to his doom. He had not been spoken to of what his trial would comprise, and he hoped it was not to be worse than that of Faevre. He knew the Lord Garâth was treacherous, however, and held little trust that he might not merely execute him before the crowd.
When the coach stopped, he heard the door open once more and the footsteps of a person descending the stairs, and knew he had not, in fact, been alone. For an endless time he sat and waited. He called tentatively to the black around him, but there was no answer, and he knew not if he was now alone, or if his guards chose merely not to answer.
Minutes – perhaps hours – passed, and the sound of construction slowly ceased, and the sounds of a gathering crowd took its place. There grew a great din of voices, and their tone was of bitterness and of venom. There was no doubt in the crowd today, as there had been for Faevre, and Brandyé knew why with a heavy heart: in their eyes Faevre had, perhaps, been innocent of anything but governing a small inn; he was guilty of the worst crime they could imagine.
They were not wrong, he thought; whatever punishment was to come could not bear justice for Sonora’s death. If he did not die that day at their hands, he knew he would live the remainder of his days and not find redemption in himself.
In his ears the crowd suddenly erupted in a great roar, and casting his mind back to his memory of Faevre’s trial, knew Garâth had appeared before them. He waited, breathless now, for the Lord’s words, and they were not short in coming.
“My people!” he cried, and Brandyé heard it clear through the carriage walls. “Not many days ago, we saw ourselves in this very place, to witness the judging of a criminal in our midst. Little did we know that a terror far greater was waiting!
“You remember with horror that one of us – a young girl, no less, who had done no wrong – was slaughtered before us; before I! Slain, without remorse, by a creature of the vilest evil!”
The crowd erupted in anger, and Brandyé saw in their voices his fate; he would suffer no mercy from these folk.
“We have lived in fear for our very lives since; the murderous villain might be prowling verily among us – any person of our great town might become the next victim.
“But I would have you know that the Fortunaé do not cease in their oath to your protection. We sought far and wide for this malefactor; we questioned every vagabond and thief in Daevàr’s Hut. We discovered whence he came, and hunted him like a dog.”
The Lord Garâth paused, and Brandyé felt certain he was thrilled by the fear he was sowing amongst the townsfolk. “I am here today to tell you: we have caught this wretched creature!”
Quite suddenly, a rush of movement surrounded Brandyé and he was lifted wholly off his feet by many hands, and dragged from the coach. The sack was torn from his head, and Brandyé had the briefest glimpse of wood and cobble and grey sky before hard and rough wood was thrust upon his face and fastened behind his head. They had placed upon him the mask of shame, and he was to be brought now to the crowd’s mercy. He understood the mask’s purpose, but today it served another, for he would be unable to see the fear and hate in their eyes, and was grateful.
“Bring forth the murderer!” Garâth cried, and Brandyé was once more torn from his place and hauled upon the stage, his feet unable to find balance. He heard the crowd roar, felt the splinters at his feet, and in the distance, caught the scent of burning. The guards that held him were not gentle, and he was fastened to the stock in pain, the rope burning at his skin, the weight of his body hung from his neck and hands. Blackness was all that he saw.
“This terrible, vile beast would have innocent children slain!” Garâth spoke once more. “His crime is greater than any known in the history of our lands. Think of this treachery – Consolation, land of peace and rest, torn apart by evil! I will not read of his wrong, for it is known to you all, and his guilt is certain. He was caught with the very bow that slew the girl!”
Brandyé had been waiting in dread for the Lord’s command, the one that would set the crowd upon him with their stones, but it did not come – the Lord did not need to speak it. Without notice, Brandyé heard the dull knock of stone on wood, and his mask shuddered. A moment later came yet a sicker sound, as a second stone struck his chest, and the pain was great. He felt a cut, and knew these stones today were not the flat, round ones he knew before; they were rough, with many points, and would break his skin.
And then the rest fell upon him. Stone upon stone was flung at him, and they struck his chest and his stomach, and cut his feet and his legs and his hands. Brandyé thrust his teeth into his lip, and moaned behind the mask, and tasted his tears, and knew agony. Even as his mind threatened to flee him under the pain, he recalled the sickness he had felt as he had seen Faevre suffer this same fate, and saw he could not have imagined the terror his had suffered.
The stoning drew on for many, many minutes, and Brandyé thought he surely must die, and felt relief that he might not see what was yet to come. He did not die, though, despite the blood that flowed from a hundred wounds. A final stone was hurled, a final bruise raised, and all that was left was the rage of the crowd, almost as though their fury was that there were not enough stones.
Dimly, Brandyé heard the Lord Garâth speak again, and the meaning of his words were lost until he felt a sudden great heat beside him, and heard the sound of scraping iron.
“You will be cast out,” Garâth called, “from not only this town but all of our lands!” His voice grew softer, and he sounded suddenly very near, and Brandyé wondered if he was speaking to him directly. “I have consulted with many about your fate, beast. There are those who believe death is the only justice for your crime. I would show you more mercy.”
The sound of his voice grew far and loud once more, and Garâth addressed the crowd: “This man will be sent from out lands, past the Perneck gorges, and to the West. He is never to return again! If he meets mercy beyond our borders, he may live alone for the rest of his days. If not, he may find a slow and terrible death. He shall be forever marked, that he might carry the weight of his guilt with him to his grave! Bring forth the Mark of the Outcast!”
And then it seemed suddenly that Brandyé could almost see the guard lifting the iron, now glowing brightly from the coals, the smoke that wisped from its end trailing in the cold air. Every curve, every line stood out vivid in his mind, and the shape drew brilliant terror to his heart: the mark of the Demon Lord, the terrible shape that dominated the black tower, the mark of evil itself.
And he then had little else to think of as the brand was pressed hard against his chest, and he felt his heart explode and smelled his flesh burning, and before he lost all thought entirely, the image of the lady in black passed before him, hood drawn and head bowed, and she was weeping.