Chapter 5: Fever
As it happened, Brandyé needed no help in staying indoors over the following weeks. On the day he had seen the Fierund, he had stayed outdoors too long, and his boots had taken too much water and had turned to ice around his feet, and he took ill and could not move from the house. His grandfather chastised him for having stayed out so long, but only gently; he knew Brandyé was still concerned about the Fierund, and did not want to upset him further during his illness. During the day, Brandyé spent most of his time before the fire, and though his face was flushed and sweating, his skin became cold to the touch, and he had always wrapped around him several blankets.
Brandyé had not been so ill before, and felt surely he must die if he did not recover soon. Reuel of course knew better, and spoke to him of times when he had himself been ill, often so violently that he believed his very body would turn itself inside out, and in fact welcomed the thought, so that at least his troubled stomach would no longer be inside him. This made Brandyé smile, and Reuel was comforted to know his grandson was not so ill.
He kept him warm, and kept him well fed. Soups and stews were placed before Brandyé every few hours or so, so that one bowl had not the time to grow cold before the next was brought. In each, Reuel had brewed a herb called Munadé, which possessed wonderful properties for aiding illnesses of the head, and Brandyé found he was able to breathe much easier afterwards. Despite this, Brandyé felt secretly his grandfather enjoyed the stews and soups himself, and was pleased for the excuse to cook all the more. By the time Brandyé had recovered, he perceived that Reuel had grown quite round.
In the meantime, he sat miserably before the fire, and over the following days, the weather took a turn for the worse, and soon they were isolated from the village and the moors and all else by many feet of snow, with more falling all the while. Reuel had to make daily trips outside to clear a path to the large pile of cut wood stacked neatly along one side of the house, and though he and Brandyé had spent many hours stocking this in the fall, the winter had been unusually harsh and it now grew low. This would have been of concern in any winter, but Reuel knew that if Brandyé was not kept warm, his illness might become ever worse, and he was worried. He soon began keeping only the parlor fire burning throughout the day now, and did not light the kitchen stove except to heat water for soups and tea. Even the dishes were now rinsed in cold water, which, fortunately, there was no shortage of, as he had merely to bring into the house great buckets of snow and allow it to melt next to Brandyé and the fire.
To help Brandyé pass the time, Reuel brought to him a small tray that he could rest on his lap, and paper, and a thin piece of coal for writing with that could be smudged out in case of a mistake. Brandyé would spend time tracing script, and when he tired of that he would draw, and when he tired of that, Reuel would tell him stories.
It seemed to Brandyé throughout his childhood that his grandfather could never run out of stories. As he was growing older, he began to be able to tell between the stories that were true, the ones of which Reuel himself did not know the truth, and the ones that were pure invention. His favorites were the ones of the ages of old, although he was always amused at the stories his grandfather brought back from the village, about the odd and sometimes inexplicable behavior of the townspeople.
“Did I ever tell you the story of Marion Myrtlehüe’s goat?” he asked one evening, as Brandyé sat sniffling fiercely, with a mug of Munadé tea in his hands (his grandfather was putting Munadé in everything now). Brandyé shook his head, and then winced, for he had a headache and moving his head caused him great pain.
“No, grandfather,” he said. “What happened?”
“Marion Myrtlehüe lives in the village, near old man Carle’s glassery. She makes small pillows, and will put anything you like on them – a word, a saying, her cat’s face…she doesn’t do much business, as there are few people who have use for a pillow with a cat’s face on it. But, there you are – there are sometimes no explanations for the oddities of the world.” Reuel took a sip of his own tea. He was taking great care of Brandyé, and was also taking great care to keep himself in good health also. It would do Brandyé no good if he also took ill.
“I think I’ve met her,” Brandyé said. “She came to the dairy one day last summer. She was angry with Gloria about something; I was there, she was scolding her about some milk that had soured. I think she had poisoned her cat with it. Gloria said she had bought the milk five days ago, and what did she expect in the heat. Anyway, they argued, and Gloria said she had been making little pillows for too long, for it seemed that was all she had left between her ears. Marion left; I liked Gloria for that.”
Reuel smiled. “Indeed. Marion is stubborn and has a temper. Gloria is not the only person in town to have felt her wrath. One day, many years ago, Marion woke one day to find a goat in her garden. She was furious – it had eaten nearly all of her lettuce and tomatoes, and was making good on her carrots when she came out with a cane and began thrashing at it.
“The goat didn’t much mind her, and this likely made her all the madder. In the end, she gave the goat a great kick, and the goat kicked her back. She fell backwards in the mud, and vowed she would have the goat put to death before the day was out.
“In the end, though, no one would come near it; they seemed to find it greatly amusing that Marion had met her match in obstinacy. She was not even able to drag it out of her garden. So she had to live with it, and she steamed over this for many days.
“Then, perhaps a week or so later, Farmer Gaël came into town, and began asking if anyone had seen his missing goat. Well, the people laughed greatly, for they knew exactly where the goat was. Word got to Marion that Farmer Gaël was looking for it, and must have suffered a brainstroke of sorts, for all at once she said that the goat was hers, and that she didn’t mind it in the slightest.”
“Why was that, grandfather?”
Reuel grinned mischievously. “Some years before this, Marion Myrtlehüe had been making a nuisance of herself in the village, for the South Road had, just before her front door, sunk slightly in, and during the rain would create quite a puddle. It was not deep, and bothered no one but her, but she insisted that someone fill it in with earth so that she could step from her house without muddying her petticoat. I believe I recall someone at the time suggesting she fill it with her pillows, but I’m sure she never heard that.”
“Anyway, just as she was standing on her doorstep berating any who came within earshot, who should appear up the road but Farmar Gaël, driving a cart and bound for the morning market. Well, he passed before Marion, and the cart wheels sent a great jet of mud high in the air, and it came down squarely upon her, her house, and her cat, who had been sitting next to her.
“Arthur, of course, stopped the cart right away and tried to apologize, but she was inconsolable. To this day, she insists he passed through the puddle deliberately, and would have nothing more to do with him.
“Well, Farmer Gaël confronted her, and − politely, I might add – asked for his goat back, but she refused to allow that it was his, and would not let him take it back with him. Arthur is not a terribly patient man, and he pretty soon became fed up and said that if she would not return the goat, he would come in the night and steal it back. And indeed, that night, he returned, snuck quietly into her back garden – even cut down her fence – and made to fetch the goat. But–” He paused. “It was gone.”
Brandyé frowned. “Not there at all?”
“No! There was no sign of the beast. Farmer Gaël was enraged, and said later that Marion was a witch, and cursed her to spend the remainder of her days alone. It turns out that she did not spend her days entirely alone, for it was not long before people began to notice that she was making daily trips to Farmer Tar’s dung pile outside of town, usually carrying one or two large buckets. Can you guess what was in those buckets?”
“It was the goat, wasn’t it, grandfather?” said Brandyé.
Reuel smiled. “Indeed. You see, she was so certain that Arthur Gaël was not to see his goat again that she brought the creature in the house with her, and it had been living in her parlor, eating all her vegetables and leaving droppings all over the floor.”
Brandyé was astonished. “What happened?” he asked.
Reuel shrugged. “Nothing,” he said. “As far as I know, the thing lives with her still.”
For a moment, Brandyé was quiet with disbelief; then, quite suddenly, he burst out laughing. “Is it true, grandfather?”
Reuel himself began to chuckle. “As true as the snow is cold, son,” he answered. This made Brandyé laugh yet harder, which of course Reuel caught, and the two were soon in a fit of good humor. Brandyé then began to cough, and laughed yet all the while, and it was some time before there was stillness in the house again, and Brandyé felt a little better.
It was not long after that the winter storm began to show its might, and soon the tall windows of the parlor could not be seen through for the snow that now piled high against them. Try as he might, Reuel could not keep the cold air from seeping in through the cracks and under the door, and Brandyé soon began to shiver even before the fire. He increased the dose of Munadé in Brandyé’s food, but his fever rose, and soon he would do nothing but sit and stare at the flames, wrapped in seven blankets, shivering, and all the while his skin was cold and white, his hair drenched with sweat.
He began to vomit when any food passed his lips, and so Reuel brewed an entire branch of Munadé in a pot of boiling water and placed it beside Brandyé, so that the infused steam might at least be breathed. He stopped speaking, and whiled the day away dozing, trying desperately to drift away from the misery of his fever. Eventually he grew so listless that even Reuel began to worry. His own daughter, Brandyé’s mother, had of course been ill as a child, but this was beyond his experience. He began to wonder if it was more than cold, and whether the wolf, the Fierund, was somehow responsible.
If Reuel had known Brandyé’s thoughts, he would have been convinced this was the case. As the world of his grandfather’s house began to fade away from him in a haze of heat and fever, thoughts of the Fierund began to consume Brandyé’s mind. He saw it at all hours – behind closed eyes, in the flames of the fire, even in the swirls of the soups he could no longer bear to stomach. He began to imagine his grandfather’s eyes glowed red, and forgot his illness and became afraid of all around him. Eventually, he began not to understand the sights, sounds and smells of the house, and sank deeper into a black fog of disturbed sleep and uneasy thoughts.
Reuel watched his grandson toss, turn and moan in his seat beside the fire, and worried. What had the Fierund done? What had it to do with Brandyé? He had never thought to see such a creature in Consolation, and that it was Brandyé whom it had set its eyes upon was unsettling. He believed, yet, that the Fierund would not approach the house, and would certainly not be found in such snow.
Reuel began to place rags in the snow outside, and would use them to lay over Brandyé’s face to cool his fever, but to little effect; he seemed only to get worse. All he knew of medicine, which was admittedly little, was not helping, and soon Brandyé was hardly even moving, his breathing slow and rasping and uneven.
One night, when Reuel was preparing a small meal for himself (he had ceased to heat stew or soup for Brandyé – he had not taken a spoonful in three days), he suddenly heard Brandyé utter a loud cry. He had been slicing a small piece of old ham, and it startled him so that he very nearly sliced the tip of his thumb off. As it was, it sank into the flesh beneath his nail, and he grunted and dropped the knife. With the tip of his thumb in his mouth, he rushed into the parlor to find Brandyé standing upright, though he was leaning so heavily on the back of his chair that it threatened to tip wholly over. His eyes were wide, and his whole face drawn tight in terror. At first, Reuel stared in the direction of Brandyé’s gaze, but there was nothing there but a bare wall.
He turned his gaze back to Brandyé, and as he did so, Brandyé gave an even greater cry and pushed himself backwards with force. The chair that had been supporting him gave way, and both it and Brandyé toppled to the ground heavily. As he fell, Brandyé’s foot caught the heavy stand which held the pokers and tongs, and they fell into the fireplace. A smoldering log was knocked out of the hearth and rolled onto the rug beside Brandyé, and set it afire.
Reuel did not hesitate, but moved swiftly to Brandyé, lifted him bodily from the floor, blankets and all, and thrust him away from the spreading blaze. He heaved the pot of Munadé water over the flames, and they spat and sizzled but did not go out. He turned back to Brandyé.
“I am sorry, son, but this is for both of us,” he said, and ripped the blankets so swiftly from Brandyé’s body that he was flung once more onto the floor, where he lay still, shivering and moaning once again. Reuel threw the blankets over the flames and stamped on them heartily. The blankets began to smoke, but the fire did not appear through them. He turned his attention to the hearth, which burned still steadily, and carefully pulled the tongs from the flames, hissing as they burned his hands. He placed a small mesh grate before the hearth’s opening, saw that it would not fall, and turned back to Brandyé.
The boy was huddled in a corner, shuddering. What struck Reuel was that he did not seem to be moaning in pain, but rather whimpering in what could have been mistaken for fear. He knelt by his grandson’s side, and placed the back of his hand against his face.
“By the Ancients,” he muttered. Brandyé’s skin felt almost as the pokers he had just dragged out of the fire. He knew he must act swiftly, or Brandyé’s body would fail under the heat of the illness that now ravaged him. Without a second thought, he lifted Brandyé bodily off the ground, moved to the door, threw it open and heaved Brandyé through the door and into the nighttime snow.
Brandyé screamed as he fell deep into the drifts outside the house, and Reuel followed him to see he was not harmed. The boy lay rigid in the snow, his eyes staring empty into the black sky, and did not see the tears in Reuel’s eyes as he fell beside him and held the boy close. For many minutes, the two remained there, unmoving, as the storm swept about them and Reuel wept. Finally, wiping the tears from his cheeks, for they had begun to freeze, Reuel placed a hand once more on Brandyé’s skin and felt it was now much cooler. He stood, and hauled Brandyé once more over his shoulder, and carried him into the house.
The wind pouring through the open door had nearly blown the fire out, and Reuel laid Brandyé down upon the parlor table and stripped him of his wet and cold clothes, leaving them upon the floor, and carried the boy upstairs and lay him upon his bed. He felt his skin once more, and, satisfied, placed several blankets over his body, and then sat on the bed beside him. “You must get well, son,” he said softly. “You are not to die tonight.”
Reuel watched Brandyé for an hour, and slowly the boy seemed to regain himself. He had closed his eyes, and they did not roam behind his lids. His breathing had returned to normal, and his skin had not grown hot. He was about to leave the boy to sleep through the night when Brandyé, quite suddenly, opened his eyes. He looked at Reuel, and Reuel saw life behind his eyes and knew his senses were with him.
“I was cold, grandfather,” he said weakly.
Reuel smiled, so gently. “You were hot, son.”
“I do not feel well. Am I ill?”
“You are, son. If you must know, I was worried. But I think you will be well now.”
Brandyé was quiet for a time. Then, he said, “I saw a wolf, grandfather.”
Reuel held his hand. “I know you did, son. Do not worry about this now.”
Brandyé shook his head. “I saw him again.”
Reuel grew serious. “There was no wolf here, son.”
“It felt real, grandfather. It intended to eat me.”
Raising his hand to hold Brandyé’s face gently, Reuel said, “The fevered imagination runs wild, sometimes. This is perhaps what you saw.”
Brandyé frowned, but did not respond. He looked down, and thought. For a moment, Reuel continued to hold his hand, and then pushed gently at Brandyé’s shoulder and bade him lie down. “Rest, son,” he said. “You will feel better in the morning.” Brandyé lay his head back on the bed, and Reuel stood and moved towards the door. As he made to open it, Brandyé called out to him softly.
“How did the wolves come to be, grandfather?”
“That is not for this moment, Brandyé,” he said.
“Please, grandfather. I must know. I have seen it over and over in my mind, for days now it has haunted me. Why are there such creatures?”
Reuel seemed to consider the consequence of his answer. He did not want to cause Brandyé further undue upset, yet he knew his grandson and knew his mind would not rest while it yet had an unanswered question. Finally, he spoke. “They were creatures of Erâth, once,” he said. “They were twisted by the Duithèn many ages ago and turned to Darkness. There is no light left in them; they will destroy men, if they can. Rest calm, son, that they will not enter into our lands.”
This seemed to satisfy Brandyé, who lay back once more, and closed his eyes. Reuel looked upon him for a moment, and then left the room and closed the door. His grandson was slowly growing beyond his own reckoning, it seemed. He knew there were things Brandyé would not speak to him of, and wondered what Brandyé saw behind his closed eyes.
It was some time before Brandyé fell asleep that night. He tossed and turned, and felt his fever return, though not with such vehemence as before. He began to sweat, and threw a blanket onto the floor. The vision of the Fierund would not leave his thoughts, and try as he might to dwell upon other things, the wolf incurred on him over and over again. He pictured himself, in the spring, dancing in the moorland meadows, and there was the wolf, watching him through a fence. He saw himself in town, walking towards Gloria’s dairy to help with the morning milking, and there was the wolf, hiding among the cattle. Even in the Burrow Wayde, sitting by his grandfather’s side, the wolf’s head was mounted on the wall, and turned to throw its gaze at him.
It was with these thoughts that, for the second time in his life, Brandyé found himself inexplicably somewhere else, far from his home, his bed, and the world that he knew.
It was certainly not where he had gone before, years ago when he had been younger. He stood on a bed of fallen needles, in a forest such as he had never seen before. The trees were firs of a deep, rich green, but were strange in that this color only appeared when one looked at them sidelong. Staring directly at the branches and needles, they held almost no color at all. Looking slowly around him, he saw the whole of the place was so; it was as though something was draining the very color from his sight.
He felt his fever had left him; he seemed well, and whole, but was wholly lost. As before, in the lost city, there was not a sound; no wind, no birds, no animal calls or any sign that life existed in this place. There was yet one, single difference – where before there had been also no smell, the pungent scent of rot now filled his nostrils. It was not overwhelming, but he was unsettled to think something dying lurked nearby.
It was dusk, and not a light one; the sky overhead was clouded, and the sun could not be seen among the thickness of the trees. He peered as far into the depths of the trees as he was able, but could see nothing bar further branches and trunks. As the world grew dark around him, he became aware that there was a man lying on the ground beside him. His face was hooded, and his head rested on a large stone. He did not move, and Brandyé wondered if he might be dead, or merely asleep. He made to move towards the man, and see if he could help him understand where he was, when faintly he heard the soft pad of paws on the forest floor.
Already, he knew what came his way. The visions that had filled his mind since his illness had begun, it seemed, could not be escaped even here, in some distant part of Erâth he was not even sure existed. He looked around, and the sounds grew ever closer, and then he saw their red eyes appearing slowly through the gloom. No less than seven of them there were, fourteen dismal crimson eyes glaring at him in the gloaming.
He waited, breathless. It was beyond hope they were not bound for him; even if they came for the man lying ever still at his feet, they could not fail to see him, and would certainly kill him as well, if for nothing but the sport of it. Closer, they came, and Brandyé was now truly afraid; there was no distance between the Fierundé and himself, no Farmer Tar to make him feel safe – only a man who might be dead and would not stir even as the beasts came into view.
They were as horrible as he remembered, and now, so close, he could not bear the sight of them. One approached him directly, leaving the others lurking behind him among the trees. He stepped over the motionless form lying still on the ground, and stopped, mere feet from where Brandyé yet stood. It was of no use to run – the beast would be too fast. It would be futile to fight – its fangs shone with spittle and what might have been blood, and its eyes…the eyes were terrible to behold. At once filled with fire and a terrible, fathomless emptiness, they pierced through his thoughts and he felt the world fade around him as though it were draining the very life from him.
Brandyé felt he was being brought to his knees before the beast, and as he collapsed, a figure appeared in the trees behind the beast. The Fierund halted, and raised its head, nose to the air. Its great black nostrils flared wide, and abruptly it turned to face this new person. Brandyé tried to look towards the figure, but could not make it out clearly at all. It seemed the figure raised a hand towards the Fierund, and amazingly, it lowered its head and moved slowly away, creeping back into the trees and vanishing.
The figure came closer, and Brandyé looked in fright, terrified to behold one who could command the Fierundé, and he bowed his head to the ground, unwilling to look. For many minutes, he stayed in this position, but he heard and felt nothing. He began to grow restless; perhaps the unknown person had merely been following the beasts?
Slowly, he lifted his head, and the figure stood, still, not more than two feet from where he crouched. He raised his face, and looked up to meet what stood before him.
Before him was a woman in black, face pale and fair shrouded under a cloak. Her robes were of a black that even the fading light of that miserable day did not touch, and a single crimson jewel that hung from her neck was the only color that she bore. She stood on the forest floor, gazing calmly at Brandyé, and he saw that her feet were bare. He saw her eyes, and saw they were black also, and looked swiftly away, for he felt he might be drawn into them directly and drown.
“Fryae na, Brandyé.” She smiled, though her mouth did not move.
Brandyé did not understand her words, but he recognized his name, and knew she spoke the language from which his name had been drawn.
Who – who are you?” he asked, uncertain.
“Ye-vèr Namira,” she spoke.
“I do not understand you,” he said.
“Ye va,” she replied. “Tuthae.” She leaned down, and drew him up to his feet, so that her face was before his, and cupped his face in her hands. They were smooth, and pale, and very cold. She wore a ring, as black as her robes, on the third finger of her right hand, and he felt it against his cheek. “Unéyae. Ye therù.”
She kissed him lightly on the forehead, and turned.
“Wait,” he called. But she moved away, and was soon lost among the trees. He turned back, and saw the man was lying still on the floor, as though nothing had passed. He felt her kiss linger on his skin, and the coldness of her seemed to slowly spread over his face and down his neck. He thought his vision darkened, and he sat on the forest floor. Slowly, he felt his whole body become cold, and he lay down, and saw no sky above, and passed into a blackness from which it seemed he would not return.