Chapter 23: Elven’s Last Words
Brandyé did not awaken for much time, and when he did he was once more in the prison beneath the Hut, his face pressed against the cold stone of the floor. He could see little in the dimness, and closed his eyes once more, and passed out of thought once more.
When his senses returned once more, he remained awake, yet did not move. He could feel little of his body, could not feel the cold of the stone nor the sting of his wounds. He would move his head, fearing what he might see. He was not sure all of him was still there; he did not wish to see the damage wrought upon his body.
He thought, perhaps, that he was yet awaiting his trial; his memory of what had occurred was indistinct, and he wondered if it had been an unbidden imagination, a prediction of the terror to come. Certainly, he felt no pain, and this above all confused him greatly.
Perhaps he might stand, and find his body whole and uninjured, and pass words for a moment with Eldridge, in the cell beside him. Eldridge might comfort him, and speak to him once more of forgiveness. This, he desired above all else, and he felt certain that no pain that was to come could be worse than the knowledge of what he had brought upon all those he cared for. All those he loved.
Such strength was there in this thought that he moved at once, brought himself to his knees, and in an instant the agony of every wound and hurt on his body passed into and through him, and his thoughts left him, and he screamed. Every cut, poorly healed, cracked and opened with his movement, and as he fell once more upon the floor he saw fresh blood spilling forth over the dried and peeling rust that already covered his skin.
He wept, and felt gladness that he could feel every finger and toe, and fear that he might yet die of his agony. His face alone was unharmed, and his tears were cool and washed the dirt from his cheek.
The pain did not subside, but rather grew consistent in its burn, and after some time he was better able to tolerate it, and raised himself to the stone bed, and sat upon it. He fought for breath, and below the pain of his surface, his chest felt verily crushed, and look as he might upon his limbs, he could not gaze upon his chest; he would not see the horror that could not be removed, and could not be healed.
There was bread, and water, near the bars, but he had not the strength to fetch it, nor the hunger to eat it. Eventually, he found the courage to inspect his wounds, and they were grievous, and he knew he would not die of them.
His legs and body had borne the larger number of strikes from the people’s stones, and his clothing was all but shredded. There were cuts beyond measure, many shallow but some deep. Where there were not cuts, there were great bruises, the flesh swollen and dark. Few had damaged muscle or tendon, and he moved his toes and fingers slowly, and though it caused him further pain, there was no loss of sensation.
For long, long moments he sat, and sensation was all there was. His back bore the strokes of Garâth’s whip; his front the stones of his people; the hard bed beneath him hurt to sit upon. Eventually, sleep came over him, and he was glad of its emptiness.
When he awoke, there was a woman in the cell with him, and standing tall and cloaked, he thought wildly that it was the woman in black, here to take him away. Whether she took him to life or to death, he cared not, for it would be away from his pain, both of his body and of his mind.
It was not, however. The woman approached him and dropped her hood, and he saw it was the healer from Balley-on-Leigh, who had tended to his shoulder, wounded from the constable’s blade. Yet that village was three days’ ride away, and he could not fathom her appearance here.
She knelt on the ground before him, and stopped as her eyes rested upon his chest, and he knew the horror at which she looked. “They have been so cruel,” she spoke softly.
Brandyé’s mouth felt rusty as he spoke, “It is but what I deserve.” His words came twisted, and he marveled that she understood him at all.
“No one born to these lands ever deserved such a fate,” she said, “no matter their crime.”
“You do not know mine,” he whispered.
“I don’t need to,” she replied. She pressed gently on a cut on his leg, and he cried out quietly. “I can clean these, and relieve some pain,” she told him. “But you’ll carry these scars with you forever.”
A smile, bitter, graced his lips, and it felt wonderful to feel his mouth move so. “More than you know,” he replied.
She did not answer, though she glanced once more at his chest, before calling out quite suddenly, “Bring hot water, and salt, and linen! Be certain your cloth is clean!”
Brandyé moved his eyes to see out of the cell, and there was a guard standing by, and he had not seen him before. The guard grunted, and repeated her call down the dungeon halls, and some time later, a servant appeared bearing a sloshing and steaming bucket, a smaller pail of salt, and many clothes upon his shoulders. These he dropped upon the cell floor, and she bit at him: “Not there, fool! Does this floor look clean to you? Leave the bottom one, put the others beside us. Get out!”
The servant, nervous, did her bidding, and retreated hastily. She poured the salt, all of it, into the bucket, and began to soak the cloth. “This will hurt,” she spoke, “but it’s necessary; it’ll prevent further bleeding.”
She did not lie; as she lay the cloth over his legs, his feet, his stomach, he could feel the salted water seeping into his wounds, and its sting renewed his pain yet further. Yet tears did not come this time, and it was soon over, and she was drying him gently with a new cloth.
“These wounds will heal in a few days,” she said. “I’ll bandage them; but there is a cut on your leg that’s deeper; it’ll need a stitch.” Weary from pain, Brandyé did not reply, but merely watched as she drew forth a curved needle and strong thread. “This will hurt also,” she spoke, “but it will not last long.”
And she sewed his leg, and when she had finished three tight loops of thread bound his wound shut, and she cleaned the blood from his leg. She took fresh cloth and bound his legs and stomach, so that he felt clothed once more, and finally brought her attention upon his chest.
Over his heart, seared deep into the flesh, lay the mark that he dreaded to see. The skin was blackened, peeling; she brushed against it with cloth, and it peeled away, and was bright and red beneath. Oddly, he felt no pain, even as she cleaned it away. “It’s a clean burn,” she told him. “It’ll not infect, and over time, it’ll fade, but will never be gone. You’ll not likely get the feeling back over your heart.”
“Nor in it,” Brandyé mumbled, and she paid him no mind. Rather, she grasped his hands as she knelt before him.
“I have done all I can; you’ll not heal swiftly, but heal you will, whatever they do to you.” She looked at him, and pity was in her eyes. “For what it’s worth, you seem decent enough to me,” she said. “I’m sorry.”
She turned, and the guard opened the cell for her to exit. As she did, Brandyé felt compelled to call out to her: “What is your name?”
She looked back to him, and said simply, “Anna.”
“I will not forget you, Anna,” he told her.
She smiled. “Nor I you.” And she left.
It was some time before he was seen again; he slept, and his pain was less when he woke. He brought himself to eat, and thought he would seek comfort in conversation with Eldridge, but when he approached his companion’s cell, he was gone.
So it was he spent two days in isolation, not a sound to hear nor a person to see, save for when a meal was brought to him. Once it was gruel, cold, and he ate it nonetheless, for hunger had stolen over him.
On the third day, by his reckoning (there were no days or nights in the depths of this dungeon), he received a further visit, and it was this time the son of the Lord Garâth, accompanied by two guards, and he paused outside the cell, looking upon Brandyé’s broken form.
He bid the guards unlock the cell, and entered, the guards outside, and stood before Brandyé. For many moments he gazed at him, and bitterness was in his eye. Brandyé returned his gaze, briefly, then looked upon the floor.
“Will you not look upon your lord’s son?” the man asked. “Heir to the seat and power of Consolation?”
Brandyé did not move, did not speak, and the man stepped closer to him. “I did not know your name,” he spoke, “but through all these long years I have hated you. I have waited, hoped beyond hope, that I might see you once more, and bring you to your justice.”
At this, Brandyé looked up at him again, and spoke: “You would hold this grudge against me, for striking you as a child, years past?”
The man’s face became sour as he spoke, “You struck the son of the Lord Garâth, and so you struck him. This is a deed that goes not unpunished.”
“It should grieve you, then, to know it is not for this deed I am sentenced,” Brandyé replied.
“No,” the man answered. “It is not. You are sentenced because you were not meant to be in this world, and we are to send you out of it. You are a brute, a criminal, a thief and a murderer. With the beasts, perhaps, should be your home. Perhaps it yet may.”
“I would prefer the beasts to your company and your country,” spoke Brandyé.
“Not the beasts that lie in wait for you beyond the borders of our lands,” the lord’s son replied.
At this, Brandyé’s courage, tenuous as it was, failed him. “What do you know of the beasts beyond Consolation?” he whispered.
The lord’s son smiled. “They are terrible – oh so terrible,” he said softly. “They hunt; they kill. And they will not long remain in the outlands.”
“You have brought them,” Brandyé muttered. “You have brought darkness.”
“You speak without sense,” the lord’s son said. “They are but beasts. My father seeks to use them to control the far fields. The other lord houses will bow before us in terror.”
At these words, Brandyé learned the Fortunaé were not only filled with greed, but were stupid also. “You will not survive them,” he said.
The lord’s son curled his lip, and Brandyé saw the hate within him. He took a step towards him, and leaned suddenly over him. He grasped Brandyé with great force upon the shoulder, and pressed his thumb to the wound on his shoulder, from the constable’s blade in the forest, which remained the deepest of his hurts. Brandyé moaned, and he submitted to the lord’s son, fell on his side from the pain, and could not open his eyes.
“You will fall to them first,” he whispered. “I will soon rule in my father’s stead, and you will be in the belly of the beast before the week’s end.”
He stood, and stepped a pace back. “You are to be held for four nights in the Grand Square, so that the people of this town might see you and know you, and speak to you of their hate. They will not be permitted to throw stones – my father wishes you unharmed for your exile – but I imagine they may find suitable replacements.”
The man turned to leave, gesturing to the guards, and as he had done with the healer, Brandyé called after him: “What is your name, son of Garâth?”
The man turned on him, and Brandyé was surprised to see fear on his face. “Why do you ask?” he spoke bitterly.
“I wish to know the name of the boy who cried before me,” Brandyé replied.
The man’s eyes widened in fury, and in a swift motion he crossed the cell once more and struck Brandyé to the ground. “I am called Danâr, of strength given to me by my father, and you will know it as the name of he who brought to you your doom.”
Danâr left, and Brandyé remained upon the ground. His blow had brought little new pain, but in it he felt he saw the weakness of this man, and the tiniest of hope was rekindled in his heart that the rule of the Fortunaé might yet not last forever.
The guards entered the cell, and drew Brandyé once more to his feet. They were again not gentle, but his wounds had begun to heal, under the excellent bandages of Anna, and he bore the pain of their grasp without a tear. He was led through the dungeons, and upon rising a series of steep stairs, emerged into the mist of an early morning, and saw the Tuiraeth before him. Its waters, cold and dark, flowed silently into the East.
They led him across the bridge that led to the Great Square, and it was yet early enough that there were few people about. A great iron cage, the height of a man and half the width, had been placed at the very center of the square, and it was to this he was now led. Great bolts had been driven into the stone, and held it fast in place; a single cage door opened to the river, and could be fastened by many locks.
They had prepared the cage for him with straw, and it was warm and soft underfoot after the cold and rough stone of the streets. He allowed himself to be thrust into the cage, and turned to watch as the guards, under the watch of many constables, latched and fastened every lock, and were satisfied he could not escape. He was not to be guarded, they said, for he could not escape: the people of Daevàr’s Hut would keep watch enough.
So began the first day of five days in which Brandyé would remain, in view of every person in the town, and it was a torment of a new nature, though no less painful than what he had endured thus far. By noontime, he had become a spectacle for the crowd, and while many were content merely to see him – to set their eyes on the demon who killed for pleasure – there were others who felt, perhaps, that his justice had not yet been fulfilled. Taunts, jeers, curses and threats were spat at him, and each one stung as their stones had before. He had done nothing to hurt these people; he had never wanted to hurt them.
He spoke to himself that he ought to be used to such torment; it was little different to that which he had suffered as a child in Burrowdown, when all the other children were afraid of him, and disliked him for his oddities. Then, he had borne it as a fear bred of ignorance, and though their childish words had hurt him, roused him to anger, he had always held hope that, as children, they knew not what they said.
Now, though – these were no children. Their insults were aimed to hurt, and it was hurt they brought. He knew in his heart he deserved their punishment, that no vengeance could redeem him; yet he could not but wish for their forgiveness, their acceptance.
It was during these five days, cold, exposed and injured, that he came to realize that it was this he had, above all, wanted from the folk of Consolation; this, that he had received from Elven and Sonora and their family, this that he had received from Reuel, and ultimately from Farmer Tar and Aiden and Eldridge. Whether they had been good folk or ill, they had been those few that had not questioned him. That cared not whence he came, nor what he did.
It was these folk, ignorant, poor and misled, who judged him on his deeds, that he was now left with, and it was in this he saw the depth of his misery. In their eyes he was but a monster, and so a monster he must be; always he had been the person others saw him to be, and there were none left now who kept faith in him.
By that night, his straw lay littered with the pulp of tomatoes and gourds, and the browning leaves of dying cabbages. He had, earlier, attempted to clear the cage of these rotting vegetables, but the sight of it had excited a rage in the crowd, and they had rained upon him yet further filth, in such a quantity that he soon gave up hope.
Now the Great Square was quiet, and under the dimness of only a few torches, Brandyé scraped the muck away from the floor, and settled upon the ground to sleep. There was not room to lie, and he sat with his feet against the bars, his head rested between bars, and his back against bars, and found he could not doze. It began to rain, and by the morning he was wet, and cold, and felt ill.
On the second day, men came with sticks. They could not strike him hard through the bars of the cage, but he was defenseless against them as they pushed the ends through the bars, and poked at him ceaselessly. Many of his wounds were reopened, and the men drew great delight at seeing the blood seep up through the bandages, now wet and filthy.
A last trace of pride told him this was goading not to be tolerated, and at one point he grasped tightly the rod as it was thrust at him. Swiftly, he drove back against the man who held it, and it struck his chin and threw him to the ground. The man cursed as he regained his feet, and spat blood, and Brandyé’s resistance was soon regretted, for they fell upon him with renewed anger, until Brandyé was left cowering upon the ground, weeping, and the men’s rage was spent.
Such was his pain that he could not move, and remained upon the ground throughout that night, shivering against the cold, until the following morning. Come the lightening of the morning clouds, he risked rising, and though the bruises were numerous and terrible, he found they had broken no bones, and he stood, looking for yet further tormentors.
During that third day, he suffered much as he had on the previous two, and he bore their abuse in silence, and did not respond. Later, when the crowds began to leave for home and inn, he found one man remained, looking at him from a distance. As the Great Square grew ever quiet, the man slowly approached him, and Brandyé saw he knew him.
“How is it I know you?” he asked him.
The man looked upon him without speaking for some moments. “It were I what raised the alarm with the constables,” he spoke finally. “We met, that night after the trial.”
“You knew me,” Brandyé said.
“Yeh had yer bow. I knew what yeh’d done,” he replied. Brandyé had no response to this, and after gazing at him a moment longer, the man spoke again: “Yeh don’ look so bad. What made yeh do it? Why’d yeh kill the girl?”
So torn was Brandyé’s heart at this simple question that he could not speak. A thousand answers came to his mind, and through them all was the knowledge that there was no reason, none at all, that would answer that question better than this: Sonora was dead because he had wished to deal death. A single sob choked his throat, and he fell upon the ground.
The man continued to watch him for some time, until it was quite dark, and finally he spoke one last time: “No – yeh don’ look so bad. I hope they don’ hurt yeh too much when they send yeh off. P’hraps yeh’ll find a better life.”
And he wandered off, and Brandyé was never to see him again. On the fourth day, the day before he was to be exiled, the folk of the town had begun to accept his shameful presence in the Great Square, and paid him less mind. He would occasionally be spat upon in passing, or hear a curse thrown his way, but he was not beaten, and for this he was thankful. The brand upon his chest had begun to hurt mightily, for new skin grew around the scar and was tight, and there was for this no relief.
The day passed into the night, and for the final time Brandyé was left in the dimness of the Square, and was nearing sleep when quite suddenly there was a voice near his ear, and he was startled. However, when the voice spoke his name and he knew it, he felt for the first time in many months something other than grief in his heart.
“Elven – why are you here?” he asked.
“I have not come to free you,” his friend replied.
“I had not held hope for such a fate,” Brandyé replied, and indeed he had not. He was glad beyond measure only to know his friend had returned to speak with him, and he would hear whatever words of shame he might have to say.
For an age, the two looked upon each other, and Brandyé could not see Elven’s features beneath his hooded cloak, and was certain Elven could see the tears upon his own face.
“Are you in pain?” Elven asked, finally.
“It is bearable,” Brandyé said.
“It is not,” Elven answered. “I have seen what they have done to you.” He pulled from beneath his cloak a small flask, and passed it through the cage to Brandyé. “Drink this. It is a remedy Sörhend has taught me. It is a poison in large quantities, but it will relieve some of the pain.”
Brandyé was grateful, and put the flask to his lips. For the briefest moment, he considered that Elven might in fact be trying to poison him, but even this would have been a relief from his suffering, and so he drank it nonetheless. He passed the flask back to Elven, and within moments the ache eased from his muscles, and his wounds stung not so much.
“Do you recall your trial?” Elven asked him.
“I recall the stones. I remember the heat. I remember nothing after that.”
“No one has spoken to you of what occurred after?” Elven asked.
Brandyé looked upon Elven with concern. “I do not know of what you speak.”
“The Lord Garâth appeared terrified. He fled from the stage, and left his son in his place. I was in the crowd: they were afraid.”
“Of what were they in fear?”
Elven looked keenly at him. “They were afraid of you, Brandyé.”
“Please, Elven – do not speak to me of this,” Brandyé pleaded. “I would not know what brought further fear to these people.”
“You shattered the iron,” Elven said nonetheless. “The moment it was pressed to your skin; they say the guard who held it was injured equally to you. It was in many pieces, and even the eldest say they have never seen such a sight.”
“I do not understand,” Brandyé replied. “Why should this have happened? What meaning is there in it?”
Elven shook his head. “I do not know. Perhaps it is equal to the meaning of the flight of your arrow.”
“Please,” Brandyé begged. “Know I did not intend her…her death. I am sorry, Elven – I am so truly sorry.”
“There is no apology that can return her,” Elven spoke. “Our parents grieve still, and will not leave our home. Maria has returned to them, and tends to their care.”
“I betrayed you all,” Brandyé whispered. “This I know. I befriended you; I befriended Sonora. And in my twisted friendship, I led you both into darkness, and her to death.”
“Your darkness led to her death,” Elven answered.
For a moment after this, neither spoke, and there was no sound but for Brandyé’s weeping. It was Elven who spoke, after many minutes.
“I have heard of Reuel’s passing,” he said.
Brandyé brought a deep breath into him, and answered: “He died some months ago. He is buried by our old house; it is where he would have wished to remain.”
“Do you recall how he would scold us when we fought the boys in Burrowdown?” Elven asked.
Brandyé could not but smile at the memory of his grandfather, standing before Elven and he, voice stern and caring. “He would tell us to answer with our voices, and not our fists.”
Though he could not see Elven’s face, Brandyé heard a smile in his answer. “Why did we not listen? Why were we so foolish, Brandyé?”
“Oh, Elven…” Brandyé reached a hand through the bars, and it was a relief beyond his knowing when Elven reached out and grasped him, and held him tight.