Book 2, Chapter 3: Among the Cosari

Chapter 3: Among the Cosari

So began a new life for Brandyé, among the people of the isles who he came to learn called themselves Cosari. He lived in the great house upon the height of the mountain, under the lordship of the man whose home it was. Abula Kharta was his name, and Brandyé had not been wrong, for he was indeed lord of his island – Galawōmi – and several of those surrounding them. Brandyé became to him a servant, and was made often to appear alongside his master, sometimes shackled or chained.

Having long since lost all pride, Brandyé was surprised to feel such humiliation in this servitude; he was often the butt of jokes, and the laughter and jesting at his expense often brought tears to his eyes. If his tears were seen they would laugh all the more, and beat him, and so he soon learned that he could prevent them if he bit his lip dreadfully hard with his teeth. Thus he evaded their temper, only to have ever cut and bleeding lips.

He was not always so cruelly treated, however, and there were times when Abula showed him some small kindnesses. He would have Brandyé with him when he dined, though Brandyé sat always at a small table that was much lower than his own, and he would pass to Brandyé morsels of meats and fruits to liven the bread and sour cheese he otherwise sustained himself on. It seemed to please him that Brandyé should accept his generosity, and it was at these meals that he taught Brandyé their language.

Theirs was a speech that held no recognition for Brandyé; whilst the lyrical dialogue in which Schaera had spoken rang with familiarity, the words of these people were harsh and throaty, and though he eventually came to master their language, he could never put so hard an edge to his voice that he would be mistaken for one of their own.

He began to learn much of the Cosari, and was fascinated, for they were a people whose ways were in almost every way different from those in Consolation. Their whole population, he found, lived upon these, and many other, islands. Galawōmi was the largest of a group known as the Kharta-Tikh, which meant Kharta’s Own. There were several clans, it seemed, spread over some leagues of sea, and there was much trade – and no little fighting – between them. No one clan called itself master of the others, and it seemed to Brandyé that they lived alongside each other in uneasy peace, and Brandyé could only compare it to the lord houses of Consolation, had the Fortunaé not, in their greed, corrupted the people and lands and taken all control for themselves.

They lived not in isolation however, for many miles to the North lay the Great Land, upon which coast there were many villages and towns not of their own people. They called them Galamat-om, which meant Green Folk, for their lands were soft and fruitful (in comparison to their own rocky home). They said the Green Folk were soft also, and he learned with some concern that it was from their fields that much of the Cosari’s sustenance came.

He began to understand better the uses of their sea vessels, for while some served as transport and some for fishing, the great ones that held a hundred men with comfort were built for only one purpose: to make war on the people of the Great Land (and on occasion, each other). The warships were many-masted and flew such vast sails that it seemed the winds might lift them whole from the water. Their hulls were lined with arrowslits, and he learned their men were adept with bow as well as sword. The greatest of these ships carried also upon their decks enormous trebuchets, and Brandyé would see these ships loaded with so much stone and rock for their ammunition that the vessel would appear to nearly sink under their weight.

Violence, it seemed, was a part of their nature. This, more than anything, took Brandyé the longest to understand, for to live not only with violence but indeed for it was beyond his understanding. It took many months before he came to the conclusion that they gleaned from fighting the same excitement he had once felt in exploring and discovering the world around him, so many years ago.

Brandyé was allowed little interaction with those around him, for if he was not at Abula’s side he was kept in his small room, his only pastime to gaze endlessly through the small window at the passing lives beyond. Still, he sought company where he could, and would converse with the servants and maids when they brought him food or linens. Some of these had not the appearance of the other Cosari, and from this he learned that grain and meat were not all they took from the Great Land. The Cosari had in their employment a great number of slaves captured from those lands, and these folk were treated poorly indeed. Those in the service of the lord were those who had proven themselves useful in some particular way; many others were kept in prisons and dungeons, and forced to labor under the watch of many guards and keepers.

It was in this way their great towns had been built, he discovered, for when a bakery caught fire, or a bridge was blown down in the wind, it was not the Cosari who tended to their repair. Their work was often dangerous, and Brandyé heard tales of slaves falling to their deaths from high cliffs, and the Cosari would not allow them to stop even to look for the body.

After some time, Brandyé began to wonder why he had not been placed with the slaves himself, for he saw in himself no particular worth that would warrant exemption from their misery. One day he asked this of the girl who came to change his bedsheets, whose name was Alara.

“You do not how they see you know?” she said.

“No,” he said. “Different, I am seen?”

“From the Black Land you come,” she told him. “Unknown, this is.”

“What difference would that make?”

“A great prize to Abula you are,” she said. “To say so single a person he owns, a great honor is.”

“So owned, I am?”

“Owned we all are. People who not Cosari are, no freedom have.”

“Escape, there no hope is?” he asked.

She looked at him with wide eyes. “Death, they would give, if escape you try. Have not you seen what little care for us they have? Fortune you have, for with you Abula more patient is; his prize, he would not lose.”

And so Brandyé came to understand his role, which to Abula was little more than a pet. A great sympathy grew in his breast for the slaves, and his heart ached any time he caught sight of them, whether being marched with spades and pickaxes to dig tunnels, or down into their lightless dungeons for cold and hungry rest.

The worst crime of the Cosari, though, he discovered was in their raids against the people of the Great Land. Some of their towns were large, and needed many men to break through their defenses and take what they wished. For this purpose they enlisted the slaves themselves, many of whom had come from those lands in the first place. Thus they were pitted against their own people, and made to slay and cut them down. If they refused, they were killed by the Cosari commanders, and so with sickness and tears did many loose arrows upon their own brothers and sisters.

For much time Brandyé heard only tales of such bloodshed, and it was not for almost two years that he had the misfortune to witness the true horror of the Cosari’s violence. Two winters passed under the lordship of Abula Kharta, and they were winters of drudgery and thoughtless servitude. Each day that passed was as the one it followed, and he lost all reckoning of time. Weeks were meaningless, for he had no idea whether it was a Monday, a Tuesday or a Friday, and the Cosari did not so name their days.

Company though he tried to keep with the other servants, they changed frequently and he was unable to spend any great time with anyone, and so withdrew into himself, and spoke to few. Abula seemed never to tire of him and kept him by his side often, if only to be seen when others were in his presence, but when he was not by his master he spent endless hours looking through the window in his room.

So stifled was his existence during this period of his life that he found himself retreating into memory, and would picture every moment, every event that had happened in his life. This was far from a happy exercise, and many of his thoughts dwelt on Reuel and Sonora, and Elven, and even Farmer Tar. Sometimes he would reenact events in his mind, envisaging the consequences had they come to pass differently. Endlessly he saved Sonora, withheld from painting scythes throughout Burrowdown, and laid down his crossbow, never to be touched again. Sometimes, in the midst of these thoughts he would see a bird high above the sea, and his heart would leap for the thought that it would be Elven’s falcon, but in the end it was always some large seabird, or nothing at all.

Always, the sky was gray and the weather imposing; though it was warmer here than Consolation was (he never once saw snow among the Cosari), it was wet with sea air, and he knew the colder months when the mists ceased to lift in the day, and the rain came down. His shoulder would ache then, and he would then be unable to carry anything in that hand, and received much wrath from Abula if he should drop anything.

And it was then, in the deepest shadows of the year, when the dark closed in around him, that his mind dwelt on other things. The scar – the dread mark of Darkness, a large A with a smaller V behind it – on his breast would burn, and no cold or water or padding could relieve it. He felt an awful presence near at hand, and knew then that Darkness – true Darkness, deeper than any lack of light – had followed him, and he was still within its grasp. Should he close his eyes he saw gloom and fire, and he was thrust into the memories he was able to avoid throughout the rest of the year: the inexplicable journeys far from his home, where he met people who couldn’t exist in lands he had never heard of. Shaera’s words, and Elỳn’s, rang in his hears, telling him of his past, and his future. Many times he bitterly repeated the words Elỳn had left him with: It is not what you have done your grandfather was glad of, but what you will become. You will live, and you will be strong.

It was these words that had lifted him from the depths of despair and brought him to fight for his life in the wilds, and they now sounded hollow and empty. He began to question the reality of these beings, thinking they were nothing more than wild imaginings, despite his memory being as sharp of them as it was of any other moment in his life.

And from time to time, pushing between all other thoughts, the black dagger would be before him, lying on the knife-monger’s cart and appearing as though it had no place there, in his hand at Howarth’s throat, or where it had finally come to rest, in the floorboards of his grandfather’s house, where it might stand forever while the house rotted around it.

The visions of this blade haunted him with their persistence and clarity, and though he could have sworn there was no such marking on it when he had held it, he began to envision upon its blade the same marking that he bore on his chest – the marking he had imagined on the Dark Lord’s sword from the fantastic tales of his youth.

He began to feel very much drowned in the bleak and the dark, but as time wore on he came to notice that it was not only he who seemed under the influence of such power. In words with the servants, or conversations spoken before him in great halls, he began to hear rumors that frightened him: fighting among the Cosari, great fires to the North, ships lost without sign at sea. He could not escape the sense that he had brought this upon them, that Darkness was inescapably attached to him, only to descend upon those around him and bring them to ruin.

For his part, Abula seemed not to notice Brandyé’s slow withdrawal into his own mind, and concerned himself with the people under his command. The growing unease among his population did not escape his notice, and it was greatly concerning when Cosari were killing each other over small arguments. Violent though his people were, violence against themselves served no purpose but to bring about their downfall.

He brought soldiers in from the ships and the sea, and they wandered the streets, policing the isles and bringing retribution to any who crimes, but the tensions persisted. His counsellors suggested that if he were seen more among the population it might help to reassure them, and so began the daily processions from the home at the top of the island through the streets of the town below, and Brandyé naturally accompanied him with his many guards.

It was on one of these days that Brandyé came to witness what he might have thought of as the third great tragedy of his life, though far worse things were yet to come. As shadow crept upon the islands of Cosar, it was not only the Cosari themselves that suffered. In their fear and mistrust, many lashed out and cursed the slaves, decrying that they had become lazy and would not work, and so brought decay upon them. Ever treated poorly, the cruelty of the Cosari guards and keepers brought to them only greater suffering, and among the rumors that Brandyé caught were signs that slaves sought escape, at any cost.

Brandyé had seen the slaves, passing through the town as he did with Abula, and it was one of the few things that was able to penetrate his locked heart, for he felt with them every stroke of their keepers whips, every blow of fist and stone, and even the feet that bled from walking bare over so much rock and stone. He wished ever for their freedom, but knew it would not happen so long as the Cosari continued to plunder the villages of the Great Land, for after each raid returned with them more of their folk, and so they numbers could be ever sustained.

Ever harsher became the Cosari, and ever angered became their slaves, and so came a day when it could no longer be contained. It was a cold morning in the twenty-sixth month of Brandyé’s life among the Cosari, light rain making the streets slippery, and he was beside Abula as he walked from his home, kept dry by a awning that was held above him by two servants. Several guards there were also, and they made for a small square in the village where a statue and a pool stood, for it was central to the town and many roads crossed it, and so would see many people.

As they approached, Brandyé saw a host of slaves passing from a narrow passage into the square, kept by three Cosari who wore thick leather armor and held ever high their whips. The group of people were chained and manacled, hands and feet bound so that they could walk only slowly, and many stumbled and reached to each other for support. However, at the back of the group Brandyé could see one man who was clearly badly injured, for he would not stand straight and appeared unable to use his right leg. Yet the guards would not stop, and only whipped him the harder when he tripped or fell.

As they neared the statue, this man fell to his knees, and though he tried to grasp the statue’s base he missed, and struck his head against the stone and lay still upon the ground. The guard nearest to him let fly his whip, and Brandyé saw the man’s tunic split under its force. The man did not move, and Brandyé saw with grief that he was either dead, or close to it. Yet the guard only raised his arm for another blow, and it was then that the other slaves stopped, and turned to see their fellow stricken and beaten, and in a moment the air in the square changed, and the guard stayed his hand.

“Strike him again, you will not,” said one of the slaves, and though his voice was low it was also hard.

The guard seemed dreadfully surprised at this, and for a moment stood without moving while the slaves as one moved to encircle the fallen man, and so protect him from further blows. “Away you move!” the guard shouted, but the slaves did not. The one who had spoken repeated, “Strike him again, you will not.”

A great fury now rose in the guard, and called, “Then his fate you share!” and brought his whip down upon him.

Abula and his host had stopped to watch this scene unfold, and Brandyé saw the man stagger under the blow, but he was a large man and did not fall. Enraged, the guard let fly his whip again, and Brandyé saw blood drawn in a great gash across his face, and still the man did not retreat. Through tears and blood he managed to say, “We move not, until help this man receives.”

“You will move!” cried the guard, and brought his whip down for a third time, and many hands grasped his and the blow did not fall. The whip was torn from him, and the guard, fear now overcoming his fury, stepped quickly from them. “Help!” he cried. “Soldiers we need! Now!”

And in a heartbeat a great noise erupted through the square, and from all sides came Cosari in leather and armor, curved blades drawn. “They will not move!” the guard called to them.

The soldiers moved closer, and their captain called, “You will not move?”

“Medicine this man needs,” the slave said, though his voice shook with pain, “or he will die.” Held by his fellows, the slave remained absolute, and the captain’s face grew grim. Knowing Abula was at hand, he looked to lord, and – the smallest of gestures – Abula nodded.

Brandyé did not understand what this meant until he saw the soldiers step once more towards the slaves, raising their swords ever higher, and it was then with awful dismay that he realized what Abula had commanded.

Their work was done swiftly; without a word the soldiers cut them down, the sounds terrible as the slaves cried in despair and the blades drove deep and scraped against the chains and bonds that kept them from even defending themselves.

And suddenly, as the ground became red and the rain fell, that Brandyé found himself fleeing from Abula’s side, and with no thought or vision but the agony he felt in his heart he flung himself upon the nearest soldier and drove him to the ground. His sword fell from his grasp, and Brandyé heaved with a strength he knew not that he possessed and brought the man upright, and struck him with all his might, so that blood issued from his nose and he screamed in pain.

Brandyé stood and let the man fall with his face in his hands, and ignoring the sword that lay now within his grasp dashed instead upon another soldier, but these men were fighters and Brandyé was not, and the soldier grasped and twisted Brandyé’s arm so that it seared with fire and landed him upon his back. In a moment the soldier’s blade was upon his throat, and at that very moment Abula stood and called: “Stop!”

So commanding was his voice that the soldier remained fast, and Abula moved from under his canopy and caught the soldier by his throat. “Mine alone, his fate is,” he growled. The soldier’s breath rasped, but he did not reply.

Abula released the man, and called to all: “This filth clean! Blood on my ground I will not have!” And he turned upon Brandyé and said, “Punishment you will see, dog. Pray that your life I spare.”

And he called for guards, and they pulled Brandyé from the ground and held him fast, and as he was carried from the square he saw the last slave die upon the bodies of his fellows, and in the horror felt his mind descend into madness.

 

For a week Brandyé was kept alone, not in his small room but in the cellars of Abula’s house that was used for storing wines but had been emptied for his confinement. The heavy door had but one small opening, and there were seldom lanterns lit, and so he spent his time in a blackness so absolute that, had he opened his eyes, he would have thought them still closed.

For days, however, he did not open his eyes, and passed the time either entirely without thought, or lost so deep within his own mind that he neither felt the stone beneath him, nor heard the rats beside him. He saw nothing but blood, heard nothing but screams, and felt Darkness closing upon him, and was lost. He recalled Elỳn’s words of hope, and believed that he could hear Darkness mocking, a deep and bitter laughter that tore her reassurances asunder turned his blood cold. The brand on his chest burned ever hotter, and he felt its influence seep into his heart and threaten to turn it to ash.

And then his fancy flew wild, and instead of the slaughter of slaves he saw the slaughter of armies, thousands of men slain on great black and burned fields, and the rain was of ash from a sky that seemed to breathe fire. He saw rivers turn to blood and then to fire, and everywhere was blackened and dead; and then he saw there were dreadful creatures among the corpses: insects of gargantuan size, ravens with claws like knives, man-like creatures that towered over the fields. And everywhere, dominating this land of death like proud lords were fierundé, prowling in their hundreds and feasting upon the flesh of the dead.

And over all he heard the glee of Darkness, and knew despair. The loss of hope was not new to Brandyé, but he now felt something more than his own wretchedness, a great, wide despair that reached out and covered all the isles of the Cosari, covered the lands of Consolation, and indeed spread across the world of Erâth itself until all men lay dead and the twisted creatures of Darkness lorded over all.

And as days passed and his mind filled ever with these thoughts in the lightless black of Abula’s cellars, a yet more terrible thing occurred: he began to lose himself to Darkness. The burn of his brand became a black fire that renewed strength to him, and horror turned to delight and he paced alongside the fierundé, bringing death to all around him. In his hand was the black dagger, now grown to enormous size and was instead a great black sword, and as it cut men down it gave to him their strength, and in his wake Darkness was indomitable.

And so he was tortured, and should guards look in upon him they were frightened, for they saw him writhe and cry in the most dreadful fashion, and would not enter. Had not a new fortune come upon Brandyé, he would have been lost in that dungeon forever.

On the eighth day of his imprisonment, there was a commotion in the cellars outside his prison, and a light began to shine through the door’s small window, and as it touched the ceiling and walls Brandyé cowered from it, and was afraid. The door was unbolted and thrown open, and as the light fell fully upon him he reeled, and with a great cry he felt Darkness loose its grip upon him, and he was left without sense or movement, his chest hardly rising at all.

Against the light was the sharp shadow of a tall man, with others behind him who held the lanterns, and the shadow looked upon Brandyé for many moments. He then spoke: “Eta Erât…tít fahn. Tít khorin, zìht![Dear Erâth…he dies. Him bring, quick!]” And then with haste more men cam from behind him and lifted Brandyé, and they carried him from the cell and from the depths, and he was torn from Darkness and saved, though he would never know it.

 

When light again fell upon Brandyé’s eyes it caused him less pain, though it was but dim, which was perhaps best. He was upon a rough bed with a lantern hung on the wall beside him, and it was neither the cellar prison nor the small room in the house of Abula, and for a moment he wondered if he was once more in his grandfather’s home, but the ceiling was stone and not wood, and the smells were of spice and smoke, and not stew.

He tried to lift himself but could not; he moved his fingers and toes and realized that all strength had left him. In his weakness he called out, and a moment later a person arrived by his side.

It was Khana, and Brandyé did not try to understand as he spoke to him, and lifted him so that he could sit. He held a bowl out to him, but Brandyé could not move his arms to grasp it, and would certainly have let it fall if he had. Ever perceptive, Khana withdrew it and instead procured a wooden spoon. He dipped it into the bowl and brought to Brandyé’s mouth a mouthful of a thick and black liquid that smelled of tar and poured it down his throat. It burned from the inside and he coughed, and vomited a little. Yet it restored to him some small strength, and he found he could at least turn his head to look at Khana.

“Sick you would be, she said.” Khana’s voice was stern as always, but it now held a softness that Brandyé would not have expected. “But sick, better than dead is. Understand I do not – uninjured you were.”

Brandyé let his words pass, and it was many moments before he understood them, and many moments more before he could think of something to say: “Understand I also do not. Gone I was…” he could not think of a word in Cosari that could describe what he had felt. “Swallowed. Swallowed by black.”

Khana did not question his odd words, but merely pushed another spoonful of the dreadful medicine toward him. Brandyé moved his head away from it this time, and for the first time Brandyé saw him smile, though it was yet grim. “Better he is, I would say,” he called, and Brandyé wondered who he was calling to.

A moment later a woman’s voice answered, “Not yet he is not! Fool you he will; duhk-hahp dreadful is, but have it he must. Wish you, that to the dead he return?”

Khana grunted and turned back to Brandyé, and said the most astonishing thing: “I apologize, Brandyé. My wife, Éliatí, that is. More command over me she has, than I over my own crew.”

And the surprise of discovering Khana had a wife, and that he submitted to her, and that he had smiled, was all too much, and Brandyé could not help but smile back. For a moment Khana grasped his shoulder, and then said, “More you should have, I think, or by her hand you might die.”

And so Brandyé was cared for by Khana and his wife, who brought from a healer the most vile medicines, though Brandyé could not dispute their effectiveness, for within a few weeks he was able to move on his own feet again. He had no explanation for Khana that he would understand for his illness, for quite rightly he had not been injured, either in the slaughter of the slaves or during his imprisonment afterwards. He had not the words, in their tongue or his, to describe the nature of the evil that had enveloped him, nor how he felt (even now, though it had abated) gripped by Darkness. Their word for this, duhkít, which also meant night and shadow, was a poor substitute, and so he eventually ceased discussing it, and they ceased asking.

At first he would not hear of the slaves’ massacre, but since that event led directly to where he now was, there was no avoiding it, and eventually Khana explained to him what had happened.

“Sad it is, but uncommon, such a thing is not. Not the first killing of slaves it was, nor the last will it be. What you did, however – that unheard of is.”

“Explain,” Brandyé said.

“The will of Kharta you defied,” Khana said. “This, no man does and lives.”

“Then why alive I am?”

Khana looked down and sighed. “Murdered you in your prison would Kharta have; Justice uninvolved is – as property, with you what he will can he do. But if his you are not…bought you were.”

“Bought?” Brandyé said with some incredulity. “By whom?”

“I.”

Brandyé could but stare. “Why?”

Khana held his gaze hard for some time. Brandyé could see the thoughts behind his eyes, but when he finally spoke, they were not words that he expected to hear. “My servant died,” he said simply. “Another I needed.”

Though the last shreds of Darkness were falling from him, these words brought hurt again to his heart. He had without knowing it begun to think that Khana had seen in him some quality worth sparing, however small, and he could not help but recall his wretchedness as Elven and his family had turned from him in the wake of Sonora’s death. Then, as now, he was denied the compassion he so desperately needed, and it renewed in him the knowledge that, if he were to live the remainder of his life in misery, it would be but what he deserved. In a heartbeat all the tragedies of his life passed before him, and he cursed his foolishness in allowing himself to believe that he might find redemption here, or in the wilds, or anywhere else at all.

If Khana saw any of this on Brandyé’s face, he did not show it, but he embraced Brandyé as he stood and said, “Poorly treated, never again will you be.”

About this, Khana was not wrong. Brandyé did indeed serve Khana and his wife, but there was comfort in this, for his work was familiar. Khana was often away, and so Brandyé would tend to the house during his presence so that he and Éliatí might share in each other’s company, and would aid her in his absence so her days would be less wearisome, and less lonesome. Yet he was never mistreated, and when he had cleaned the plates and shuttered the windows for the evening, he was invited to sit beside the fire with them and partake in their conversations. Though not always, Khana would occasionally accompany him on his rounds to the docks for fish, or the alleys for bread and smoked meats. Khana would of course carry nothing, but would keep Brandyé company and speak with him. In this way Brandyé learned more of the Cosari and their ways in a few months than he had in the two years of isolated servitude under Abula Kharta.

His bitter dislike for the Cosari (Khana excepted) began to diminish, for he was not often abused as he had been in Consolation, but his teeth ground every time he saw rows of chained slaves, or when he caught sight of soldiers marching tall, hands on the hilts of their swords.

“For their actions, apologize I will not,” Khana told him, “for such the ways of our people are. Understand you must: for us death terrible is not. In death all men equal are, and if today you die not, tomorrow you will.”

“But you do not grieve?” Brandyé asked.

“Grieve, yes. But grief for the living is – the dead care not. When dead you are, care you will not.”

Brandyé thought perhaps it would be nice to share such a view, but he could not reconcile it with his own past; in his heart, Sonora should yet be among the living, as should Reuel. The Cosari, in fact, understood better than almost any other men in Erâth the nature of Death, but Brandyé was not to know this for many, many years.

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