Chapter 24: Exile
The following morning was to be his exile; he knew not yet what was to happen to him, but by Danâr’s words, he was this day to be sent from Consolation.
Elven had parted from him earlier, while darkness still clouded the Great Square, and Brandyé understood his caution; while the constables had little interest in what the folk of Daevàr’s Hut did with Brandyé during their waking hours, they would look with great suspicion on one who designed to speak with him in the small hours of the night.
Brandyé recalled his final words to him, and they had brought such a comfort to him that he was now resolved to bear any shame, any pain, that was yet to come with what strength was yet left to him, and he would not turn from his fear. “I cannot find it in my heart to forgive you Sonora’s death,” he had said, “but I would nonetheless count you ever as my friend.”
As day grew and light came, the life of Daevàr’s Hut grew also, and soon there was the common bustle of people coming and going, sparing him always a glance as they passed. This morning, however, there was a tension in their airs, a nervousness and an excitation that charged the mist, and Brandyé knew they were anxious about seeing his fate.
Gradually the mist lifted, and gradually Brandyé came to notice that the folk passing through the Great Square were slowing, and remained within the boundaries of the open space. They were not clustered, they did not surround him, but he felt their many eyes upon his head. He did not feel discomfort; he was long used to their stares. Their silence, however, was unsettling. Few people spoke, and those that did murmured whispers to each other, so that Brandyé could not hear their words.
For several hours they waited; Brandyé waited with them. Within himself, he was surprised to discover he was anxious to learn of what was to come himself; providing he was not directly put to death, he found for the first time in many months he was looking forward to his fate, for he would soon be far from these people, from their hate, and from the cruelty of the Fortunaé. He knew not what lay beyond, and knew it might well be his doom, yet in his thoughts he knew his grandfather had survived, had lived for so long among the shadowed terrors of the outlands, and there was hope that he might also.
And then, finally, there was noise, and commotion, and Brandyé knew his fate was upon him. From the bridge, from the Hut, came a great guard of constables, and there were many dozens, and at their head marched the Lord Garâth, followed closely by Danâr, and they bore cloaks of a vivid and deep blue, a compliment to the hue of the constabulary, and many jewels hung from their necks. The constables walk tall and proud, faces stone, yet Brandyé felt he could perceive the pleasure they took in performing their duty; in dealing an evil justice to a poor man.
The Lord Garâth stopped before Brandyé’s cage. He bore his gaze into him, but now Brandyé summoned the strength to return his stare, and did not break it. The lord’s eye twitched, and finally he turned from Brandyé in contempt, and addressed the crowd.
“This devil’s time has come! He has been caught; he has been tried; he has been shamed before us all, and has learned of the hate that awaits the foul deeds that he, and all of his kind, design to commit.
“He is to be sent from our town, and from our lands. We will rid ourselves of his foulness, and in doing so will brighten our lands. Look to the skies! Is it mere coincidence that they remain forever dark, when such devilry is about?”
The crowd as one looked to the sky as their lord commanded, and Brandyé alone held his gaze upon Garâth. He knew the lie in the man’s words; it was not his doing that had brought the darkness upon their lands. It was the fierundé. It was the despair of the country folk. It was the Fortunaé.
“We have considered this traitor’s fate, and our decision is that the actions he chose to undertake deserve a stronger fate than that of a common thief. Exile; banishment; this is the fate of any who breach our laws. But upon sending them beyond the walls of this town, we leave these miscreants to their fate. They are not pursued; they are not hunted. They are allowed to leave upon their own feet, and our only provision is that they must not return.
“The man does not deserve this mercy. His deeds are of the deepest villainy, and it must be certain that he cannot – ever – pass into the lands of Consolation for the remainder of his life.
“And so we have designed a ship, for him alone. He will be bound to its keel, so that he may not move, and he will be sent West upon the Tuiraeth, into the gorges of the Perneck and beyond. What his fate will be thereupon is not of our concern.”
The crowd began to murmur loud at this news, for they had not heard of such a fate in their history. Then, among the cacophony, a voice rang loud, though Brandyé did not see its speaker: “It is a just fate! His treachery deserves no mercy!”
And at that, the constabulary surrounded his cage, and the locks were unbound, and Brandyé was drawn forth and held among them. Though he was cold, and wet, and ill, his wounds had healed well, and their rough grip caused him no undue pain. Swiftly, his hands were bound, and a thick cord looped around his neck, so that he was led like a beast from the Great Square. The lord Garâth held the rope fast, and it appeared he took great delight in pulling it often taut, so that Brandyé stumbled and tripped, and often fell to his knees, only to be wrenched once more to his feet under the lord’s unrelenting progress.
The guard – Garâth, Danâr, Brandyé and their constables – passed from the Great Square and followed a wide avenue that ran the length of the river through the town, to the West. Brandyé had in his time in Daevàr’s Hut passed by here often, but it was to his eyes unrecognizable this day; the road was lined with the folk of the town, and they gathered in a crowd behind them as they passed, following the gathering on their way to Brandyé’s final fate.
And soon, they had passed through the town wholly, and stood before the great wall that surrounded the houses and buildings. Here, in this western wall, was a gate, barred by iron, and several of the guard passed into the wall, and soon the portcullis was grinding in its ascent into the wall.
And so they left the town, and were in the countryside, and in the distance Brandyé began to see the construction that had been made for his purpose. Many people were here already, and some wore the overalls of carpenters, and some the sooty cloth of ironmongers. The road here was of earth, and the wet and the rain had turned it to mud, and Brandyé’s feet, bare, grew numb and cold.
And soon, he stood before the ship, the raft, and beheld it. It was not well-built, for it had been constructed in haste, and the folk of Daevàr’s Hut had little experience with water craft. Nonetheless, it floated, and was possessed of a low hull that kept the water out. To Brandyé’s surprise, it appeared to have been stocked of foodstuffs and blankets, and he wondered at the apparent comfort the Fortunaé were granting him. There was a cloak, warm and thick, in the bow, and a man fetched this and brought it to the Lord Garâth.
In the center of the craft stood a mast, but it was no higher than a man and bore no sail. Brandyé did not understand its purpose, but he understood little of water in any case, and left it, to be discovered momentarily.
The Lord Garâth now released the cord he had held, and removed the loop from Brandyé’s neck. He left his hands bound behind his back, and left his side, leaving the guard to keep him from escape. He moved through the crowd, and quite suddenly was taller than the folk around him, and Brandyé saw he had mounted a small podium, the better to address his people – and he – for a final time.
“You will no longer need fear this man,” he said to them all. “He can no longer harm any person of this land. In this vessel, he will pass out of our country, and out of our knowledge.”
The crowd called their approval. “But I would have you see that, even to the worst of our race, the Fortunaé are not without mercy. Behold, we have given him provisions. We have given him clothing. We would have him survive, if he may, for we will not descend to his depths and murder the murderer.
“To this end, we give to him even the weapon with which he has brought terror on us. His bow, that terrible instrument, has been placed in this vessel also, that it might serve a dual purpose: to allow this man to hunt his sustenance, and to rid our lands of a machine of death.”
And now Brandyé saw the reason for this unexpected compassion, and it was cunning. In executing what the people of Consolation saw as an extreme punishment, they would come to fear the Fortunaé themselves. In giving to Brandyé his life, he would secure the confidence of his people once more, and so his rule might strengthen, and tighten. Once more, Brandyé felt relief at the thought of escape, but also fear for Elven and his kin. They would live to suffer the fate of the Fortunaé.
“Place the traitor in his boat!” Garâth called, and the constabulary hauled him to the riverside, to the shore, and lifted him into the weak hull. It had not been caulked, and water had seeped between the cracks of the boards from which the boat had been built. It was but little, however, and Brandyé had little fear that he would sink on his journey downstream.
But now, they did a thing to him that gave him once more great concern. He had believed they would cut his bonds once he was secured in the vessel, but alas, it was not so. Rather, they kept his hands tight behind his back, and fastened him with painful tightness to the short mast, and he now realized its purpose. He was not to be allowed to move, to steer or command the vessel, so that he would be unable to bring himself to the shore and rescue himself. He knew not of what awaited him beyond the borders of Consolation, but as he passed into the Perneck he feared the rumored gorges, and saw in them his possible demise.
Having bound him to the ship, the constables stepped once more to the shore, and moved back so that there was no one between the Lord Garâth and Brandyé, alone in the vessel.
“Farewell, traitor,” he called. “You are not to return to these lands; you know this. May you live long beyond our borders, and find peace with yourself.” And then, he stepped closer to Brandyé in the mud, and spoke to him now in a low voice, so that no other might hear him. “May your demise be slow and aching, filled with pain and misery. I will have great pleasure in years to come, dreaming of your terrible death. Begone, and die.”
And he called for the ship to be cast from the shore, and Brandyé felt the boat sway, and soon there was a distance of water between he and the shore, and the crowd watched in silence as slowly, ever so slowly, he passed into the current of the river, and was borne from them.
The Tuiraeth here was not fast flowing, and it was at no more than the pace of a man that he moved downstream, and for some time, the people of Daevàr’s Hut followed him, curious to see his end. From the town, the river passed in a great curve to the Southwest, and as there were yet further villages along its length, a road ran beside it, and upon this road marched many folk. The Lord Garâth and his guard had not followed, and it was not long before they had passed from his sight.
Soon a wood sprang up along the river, its roots fed by the waters, and the path that ran with him parted for a moment, vanishing amongst the trees even as he did. The voices and calls of the folk grew silent, and he felt verily alone, with no sound bar the ripple of water. There was no rain yet, and for this he was grateful.
It soon came to his attention that he was not the only creature in the waters of the Tuiraeth. Many fish swam, their shadows visible beneath the surface. Small carp darted here and there, while larger trout pondered in the deeper water. Occasionally, he would spot a Gnarleck, from whose needle teeth the smaller creatures fled.
All these were creatures with which he was familiar, having often caught them in his youth, but there was something other, deeper and in greater shadow, that disturbed him. Only now, and then, he felt a great shadow pass beneath him, and for just a moment, the waters would empty of life. He did not know what this new beast might be, and it frightened him for it seemed nearly the length of his boat.
Ahead, he saw the road had once more drawn near to the course of the river, and though they were fewer, the people yet followed him, and were waiting for him to pass. As he drew near, many began once more to keep pace, and here the river widened, and the current slowed, and the folk began to move ahead of him eagerly, and he wondered what they designed. He was unfamiliar with these lands of Consolation, and knew not what lay ahead, but he was certain they did not move ahead to bid him farewell in kindness as he passed.
Now, the land to the North began to grow higher, and though the South bank remained low and wooded, the North towered some twenty feet above him, earth and bare rock crags hanging high above the river. Ahead, the river began to curve once more toward the West, and he saw in his path that a small islet stood in the water, and the passage to its North was quite narrower than the passage to the South.
And as he drew near, he saw that the folk of Daevàr’s Hut appeared to have gathered upon the high bank, and he began to be concerned, for they were now high above him, and might cause him harm from above. He began to wish the boat to pass to the left, to take the South passage, and he found himself leaning as best he could in that direction, and for a moment he thought he might succeed, for the boat did indeed tilt, but the river’s flow was stronger than he, and as the current sped to pass through the narrower channels around the islet, it drew him to the right, and so into the North passage.
Above him, the folk of Daevàr’s Hut peered down at him, and though it was with difficulty that he turned his bound head at them, he saw nonetheless the bitterness and hate in their eyes, and saw the stones in their hands.
It was fortunate that he was yet some fifty feet from the water’s edge, and many of their stones fell short, sending small splashes into the air, and no doubt greatly disturbing the fish beneath the surface. Yet there were among them some with aim, and many fell upon him and the boat, and though they could do no damage to the hull, they ached greatly where they struck him; yet, he considered himself fortunate that these were softer stones, rounded by the passage of the river from whence they had come, and they did not bite or tear his skin.
Swiftly now, he passed further West, and their calls and shouts grew fainter behind him, and only a few now continued to pursue him, for they now needed to run in order to stay with him. It was here, as he thought perhaps he might escape without great harm, that a final stone was flung with great force, and it passed easily through the air and descended upon his head.
There was this time no wooden mask to shield him, and the blow drew blood from his temple, and he began to lose vision as he slumped against the mast to which he remained bound. The boy who had flung the stone remained behind, triumphant of his hit, but as Brandyé’s thoughts passed away, he saw a final figure, lone and still, and she lowered her hood and he saw it was Anna. In his blurred and darkening vision, he saw also that it was the lady in black.
And when Brandyé opened his eyes again, he was gone from the boat, gone from the river, gone from Consolation, as he had not been since the eve of Sonora’s death. His shock was not so great now, for he was becoming used to these inexplicable journeys, though he was nonetheless anxious, for each time he had been taken away, he had seen terrible things, and returned to events yet worse.
He stood on a great plain, he saw, and it stretched outward from him for many miles. There were many trees in the distance, and far to the East rose first foothills, and then great mountains the like of which Brandyé had never seen. Though the air was not cold, the peaks of these giants of stone were nonetheless capped with snow, and bare rock rose for many hundreds of feet below them. For some time, Brandyé stared, awed at this range of colossal mountains, and wondered if he might walk among those crags, and of what he might find if he did.
Gradually, he became aware of what else surrounded him. With great mountains to the East, and endless plain to the North and South, he turned to the West and saw the land end, and a great sea, wide and desolate, laid out before him. The land’s edge was not more than half a mile distant, and he began to walk towards the water, and as he approached, he was struck by its appearance.
Although the sky was here yet grey, and the light dim, the shade of the ocean appeared entirely too dark, and the closer he drew, the more he came to realize that the deep waters were not blue, nor even grey to match the clouds above, but were verily black, – dark as ink.
It took only some minutes to arrive at the water’s edge, and he found he stood many hundreds of feet above the waves, a great precipice beneath his feet. He did not go close, for his fear of the edge was greater than merely falling in: the water looked ill, and poisonous. He looked rather from a short distance beyond the cliffs and to the horizon, and could see nothing beyond it but further black sea and grey sky.
And it was then, looking outward and to the West, that Brandyé caught sight of perhaps the most astonishing sight yet. Some ways North of him, cast far out into the sea, was what Brandyé thought at first to be a small peninsula of rock, equally as high above the sea as he was, and perhaps half a league in length. As he looked closer upon it, however, it saw that its furthest length, standing proud in the dead waters, was not of natural construction.
Though the peninsula was connected to the land by great cliffs of broken rock, as it grew longer its material grew recognizable as hewn stone, great bricks that stood ten feet to a side. A great column of this stone grew high from the pitch depths, and drew into an arch, meeting a second column some two or three hundred feet further out to sea, and then on to a third.
It was a bridge – a great bridge, of a size Brandyé could not comprehend. He found himself drawn closer to it, and it seemed that it must be over half a mile in breadth, and double that in length. But it was not complete, he now saw; or rather, it was broken. The bridge, if such it indeed was, did not span the length of the sea, but ended, a mere mile into the sea, its stone and rock crumbling steeply downward into the depths below. In awe, he beheld this spectacle, and could not for a moment imagine what force could have constructed such a bridge – nor what could have crushed it.
As he drew ever closer, he perceived there were folk waiting at the foot of the bridge, and there was a small crowd, all hooded and cloaked, and they were turned toward him, and watched him approach. He recognized the dress of some, and saw that in their midst, bearing ever the crimson jewel at her breast, was the woman in black he had met now so many times. But she was not alone in her kind – three others, dressed equally, stood by her side, and each bore a dark jewel of their own, though none shared the same hue of blood and fire.
And these four were, themselves, not alone, for with them were also three others, and these three were as unlike they as Brandyé could imagine. Their robes were of the purest white, and they stood tall, far taller than their black-clad companions. Though their hoods were also drawn, their faces were not hidden by shadow, as though they were illuminated by some wholesome light within. Thin, they were, and fair, long hair nearly as white as their robes. They were not pale, though, as the lady in black was.
The lady in black moved forward, and Brandyé knew what she would do, and was again distressed that he would not understand her words. Four times had he been spirited away, and three times had he met her. And each time, he found fewer and fewer answers.
“Goëd theta tû arâth, Brandyé Dui-Erâth,” she spoke. “Ye trestera ès hanâthé, a ès dù vèra.”[It is good to speak to you again, Brandyé Dui-Erâth,” she spoke. “I regret it happening, but it must be.”]
She then motioned to one of her companions, the creatures of light, and the middlemost of them stepped forward. Brandyé stared at her, and was struck by her beauty; fairer even than the lady in black, fairer than any maiden of Consolation, and yet she seemed also sad, even as she smiled at him.
Mé dù méà tû schema,” spoke the woman in black, “fôr ès vèrae piedeth. Tû nagílta méà theet, a yeà inèreth, Elỳn, fôr ye theetae.”[We must show ourselves to you,” spoke the woman in black, “for it is time. You do not know our speech, but my companion, Elỳn, speaks for me.”]
And then, to Brandyé’s great astonishment, the white woman spoke, and he heard her words. “With joy and regret I meet you, Brandyé Dui-Erâth – borne from fire into the darkness of the world.”
Great fear struck Brandyé now, for he heard in her words the meaning of his name, and saw they knew of him, and his birth, and he feared they were now to tell him of his death.
“Do not fear us, Brandyé, for you know us well, though you do not realize it. I, and my companions – we are Illuèn: light, of the ancient world. The Namirèn, you know already, for Schae of their kind has spoken with you before. The Namirèn are death.”
And Brandyé felt his strength leave him entirely, for he saw now the meaning of his life in the deep, black eyes of Schae, the woman who had saved him from fierundé and shown him the terror of a dreadful and distant land. She was death, and so then was he, and he fell to his knees.
Schae stepped closer to him, and laid her hand upon his head. “Tû navèrae namirèn,” she spoke. “Tû vèrae mèn, è grief.”[“You are not death,” she spoke. “You are men, and great.”]
The white woman drew close also to him. “She says you are not death. Know this, for you must know yourself. We need you.”
Brandyé felt her words leave him even as they were spoken, and could see nothing but the woman in black, her fathomless eyes high above him, and he spoke to her: “You spoke with my grandfather, before he died. He knew his death was coming.”
Schae bowed her head. “Tà,” she replied. “Ès varae tûà dûm gílta. Ès vèrae fôr tû nassàr.”[Schae bowed her head. “Yes,” she replied. “He wanted to know your fate. “He was proud for you.”]
Brandyé looked at her wildly, and back to the woman in white. “She says your grandfather was very proud of you,” she spoke to him. “He was glad to learn of your fate.”
And this was more than Brandyé could accept, and he cried, “What lies do you speak? Glad to learn I have killed one whom I loved? Glad to learn I have been exiled like a thief? Glad to learn I have been burned, scarred, and tortured? Why would you torment me with these devilish words?” And he caved to the ground, and wept terribly into his hands.
The people around him for many moments did not speak, until finally the woman in white knelt on the ground beside him. She placed an arm far around his shoulders, and as a boy, as a terrified child, he fell against her, and she comforted him.
“It is not what you have done he was glad of,” she spoke to him, “but what you will become.”
“I can become nothing but a ruin,” Brandyé wept. “I have brought darkness on all I held dear; I am marked by darkness itself!” And in a sudden rage, he tore open his shirt, and all seven beheld the brand upon his chest, and had he looked upon them, he would have seen, faint but real, a fear in their eyes.
But the woman of light hushed him, and drew his shirt against his skin, once more covering the terrible scar. “You did not bring darkness,” she whispered to him. “Darkness brought your fate upon you, and you have stood to them in the face of their power. You must not fear yourself.”
“That is something I cannot do,” Brandyé replied, and she made no response, but held him until he had wept all his tears, and he looked, eyes red, upon those who stood around him. “Please,” he whispered, “send me back. I cannot stay here; I cannot remain with you.”
The woman in white nodded, and stood, releasing him. She moved to the others, and turned to face him. “Farewell, Brandyé Dui-Erâth. You will live, and you will be strong. We will meet again.”
And quite suddenly, the world cracked before Brandyé, and he cried out to her as the sky shattered and the ground crumbled. “Who are you?” he called in desperation.
As the land around him tumbled, and he fell into darkness, he heard a single word, her reply: “Elỳn.”