Chapter 20: The Room Upstairs
For a week Brandyé grieved, and when it was over, he was more at terms with what had happened, and what was to come. The dead would not rise again, though he sat behind the house that was now his and watched over his grandfather’s grave, wishing he could hear his voice, and it was a part of the world that he knew was beyond his measure. Death came as it wished, and took away with it who it wished.
The weather held fair for some time after Reuel’s death, and in doing so lifted Brandyé’s spirits so that he did not spend each day indoors and in tears. At first he spent much of his time walking, passing far into the moors and returning long after night came, though he brought with him always his crossbow. Despite the abhorrence with which he now regarded the instrument, he could not bring himself to part with it, and the whispers of the fierundé in his mind cautioned him that he should not be without it.
The endless grass that passed underfoot drew his mind from his sorrows, and regret returned to him only as his feet led him to his bed each night. Each day that he went further afield gave him cause to wonder why he should return at all.
In the end, it was his grandfather’s fondness for his old house that stayed him. Should he depart it would gather dust, and in disrepair would eventually crumble into the ground, and this was a grief he was not yet ready for. Each evening upon returning from his wanderings he would eat a little, then spend an hour or so dusting, polishing and rearranging the furnishings. Such things were largely unnecessary, of course, being the only one living there, but such small behaviors provided him with two things: the reassurance that he was maintaining the home as his grandfather would have wished, and the knowledge that the home was indeed his, and he was its master.
Eventually, of course, this thought brought him to consider the room upstairs, that had since he had known it been Reuel’s alone. The words from his childhood returned: “I have raised you as my own child, and this house is yours, now and when I am gone. But you must promise me one thing – you may not enter the room upstairs while I live here still.”
Curiosity now drew him to the door that he had never passed. Reuel did not live here still, and that meant of course that this room was his, as were its contents – whatever they might be. So it was one evening, ten days after Reuel’s passing, that Brandyé stood before the door, and resolved that he would enter it, and discover what it was that had meant so much to his grandfather that he would not with his living breath share it with another soul.
Brandyé had finished his supper – a potato soup he remembered Reuel making – and he had poured himself a cup of wine. It was an unusual indulgence for him, but he found it resolved his courage, and so he brought it with him, a candle in his other hand so that he might better see what was to seen.
Setting the candle on the windowsill, he grasped the door’s handle and turned. He had expected it to be locked, but it turned easily in his hand and the door sprang ajar. It occurred to him that, in all his life, his grandfather had merely trusted him not to enter. It gave him comfort to know that, in this at least, he had not disappointed him.
He retried the candle and entered the room. It was small, though he knew it would be from the shape of the house. It appeared yet smaller, however, for each wall appeared to be lined with many shelves, each of which held innumerable scrolls, reams of paper and what appeared to be even books. The light was dim and he could not see the room’s corners, but beneath the room’s only window, looking out to the North, was a small desk. A lantern sat cold upon it, but it was yet half full and he touched his candle to it, lighting its oil and casting a warmer glow onto the walls and shelves.
Brandyé sat himself at the desk, and gazed at what lay upon it. Three documents, each wound into a scroll and bound with a wide thread, lay side by side in front of him. Atop them sat an envelope, bearing his name upon it. Reuel had intended, then, for him to enter into this room. Uncertain what he ought to do, he took the envelope, and opened it.
From it he withdrew a folded paper, which he opened and lay on the desk before him. It was written upon, in handwriting he did not recognize. It occurred to him that, despite the hours Reuel had insisted Brandyé spend practicing his script, he had never seen his grandfather put ink to paper. He moved the lantern closer, and began to read.
My dearest Brandyé,
So it seems we are, at last, parted. As I write this, even as you commit what deeds you must far from here, I am visited by Death, and have been told I am to go with them. I would not have you grieve long, for long has been my life, and through much sorrow you have brought me comfort and joy, and made the ending of my life good, and whole.
Death do not visit without purpose, though I am told they once did. So it is I am comforted to go with them, and I would have you take comfort in this also, for myself and for all those you care for. The past cannot be changed, but rather places us on the path that leads to what is to come. Many of our paths are given to us, but for some they have yet to be chosen. I believe yours is not determined.
You alone can choose the path you desire, and I would not influence you. But, if it aids your decision, this room and its contents are yours to do with, and to learn from, as you wish. There are many tales here, some that you know and some that you do not. There are letters, and there are drawings. Some are of no importance.
Still – if you choose not to use this room, I would have you indulge an old man one last time, and read these three items, for they hold great meaning to me. One is of the past, and may help you understand from whence you come. The other two speak of what you may find if you leave these lands. It may be that you will find these things eventually here even in Consolation, though I continue to hold hope against it.
I go to die, now, and if I am not to speak with you again, I would have you know one last, certain thing: I have loved you, always, and love you yet in death.
With fondest memories –
Brandyé struggled yet with this new definition of love – a word that had hitherto been reserved for a particularly tasty stew. It was a word of power, and he felt shame at having so often misused it. He had loved his grandfather, certainly; loved him still, in fact.
Though the letter’s closing words brought tears once more to his eyes, the import of the rest was a mystery to him. It seemed his grandfather had known his death was coming, and had wished him to know certain things. What those were, he knew not, though he thought the three scrolls yet on the desk might prove some answer. He would read these now, he thought, and return in the morning and examine the rest of the room.
He took the first scroll and unwound it; it was in fact a bundle of several sheets, and he laid them flat on the table as he began to read it. Its opening was odd, and he did not understand the reference to years, for such things were not recorded in Consolation.
These are the words of Reuel Tolkaï, written on the day of October the 14th, in the thirty-three hundred and forty-sixth year of the old calendar.
Account of the meeting of Éalora, who is my wife.
It is one month now since completing the building of our house here on the edge of Burrowdown, and never has a place been more home to me than this place is now. Few of the townsfolk know of me or the reasons for which I spent twenty-eight years beyond the borders of the lands of Consolation, and it is right that I chose this town to return. Yet they are nonetheless unsettled by Éalora, for her beauty and stature are unparalleled in all these lands, though it is possible I am illuded by the love I carry for her. I do not believe they will suspect her true nature and provenance, though we will keep apart from the townsfolk in all but the most essential matters. I am certain the Darkness will not find us here, and we may live out our days in each others’ company.
Yet it was not always so; a great many of my years have been spent in despair and in loneliness, and I begin to believe that it is by the providence of a power that I hitherto knew not of, and of whose existence I am still unconvinced, that I met her, and that I still draw breath.
Allow me to explain. When I was no more than fourteen, I left the land of my parents – this land, Consolation – for a reason that is to this day more shameful than I can commit to paper. I may one day draw out the tale of all that passed during my exile, but it is not the purpose of this account. It will suffice to write that for many years I lived entirely alone, and the knowledge of isolation haunts me yet to this day.
There are indeed in the mountains and forests of the North – for this is where I lived – a great many creatures that are unheard of in Consolation. The insects grow large, though they are of little danger; there is a beetle, violet in hue and the size of my fist, that is quite delicious roasted over a hot fire.
There are things of an iller nature, however, that lurk among the shadows, and it was these that kept me from becoming settled in any one place. After many years – I suspect it was years, though I admit to having entirely lost the passage of time – I began to grow weary of the unease of the forests in the mountains, and set out due North, to discover what I might.
Those forests of the Tresté are indeed vast, but one day I found that I was no longer amongst the trees, and was in a wide plain whose borders I could not see. A great stone was set in the ground here, whose like I have never again seen; some fifty feet over the field it stands.
In these fields I was relieved, for I felt the influence of Darkness remain behind me, and I set forth once more to discover what I might. Fool that I was, I neglected that it was not only the creatures of Darkness that could bear me harm.
Sleeping one night by a stream, I was set upon by a great furred beast – a bear, I believe it is called – whom I had startled in his pursuit of fish. Whether he feared me or merely disliked me I cannot say, but his claws were equally sharp either way, and I was certain I was to die that night.
It was in the vagueness of this injured state that I first heard her voice, though I believe it at the time to be a trick of death; I did not know then that Death do not play such tricks. She came to me and spoke her name, and I will never forget such beauty to the end of my days: Éalora.
I was healed by her, and was brought into her home, where she lived with her own mother and father. It was a great time before I was able to believe that I was not merely in some other part of Consolation, for they had never heard of such a place; they were truly a people who lived outside of our land.
As I came to know them, I learned of their ways and their land, and discovered that the world is much vaster than any one can reckon. There was a small village some miles west of their home, and Éalora and I would visit the inn there on some evenings, and I grew ever fonder for her as years passed.
It was during this time that I learned also of her insatiable curiosity. She wished to learn all I could tell of Consolation, and I soon had nothing left to tell her. She would speak often of mystery and things long ago, and said she wished she could discover more of the world than she knew. Two places she always desired to see: a great city she had heard spoken of, and my own home.
Of the city, I know not; we were never to see it. I took a trade as a carpenter, and she as a woman of medicine, and for a time we were happy; I spoke to her of my thoughts for her, and she told me it was love, a thing she had heard of, and I did not deny it. We were wed, and I built for us a home, not far from that of her folk.
As are so many things in this world, it was not to last. On a winter’s eve when we journeyed to visit her mother and father, we discovered that the livestock were slaughtered, and the home was empty. There was much blood on the snow, and though we could not tell whether it came from beast or man, we did not see them again.
Racing to the village the following morning, we discovered that the same fate had befallen the entire town; not a person was yet alive. We were, both of us, naturally distressed, but she spoke of great beasts that stalked the distance, and I recalled the shadows of the forest and was afraid.
In the midst of her grief, she begged of me to tell her once more of Consolation, and said the old stories told of a place in Erâth that was preserved from Darkness. She said there was nothing for which to remain, and wished to see my home. I will say that I did not wish to return, but for my wife’s grief I could deny nothing.
It was nearly two years ago now that we left that terrible place, and the bow I stole from the smith did little to reassure us in the endless nights of the Tresté forests, though it did serve well to hunt our meals. All the while, I considered where in Consolation, should things have not greatly changed, we might choose to make our own. Burrowdown, which is on the far outskirts of the North, near the mountains but not beneath them, seemed that it would suit, and so it did.
I do not intend to leave this land again, and I believe Éalora is happy to remain here also; our house is one we have built together, windows in the style of her homeland so she might always look to the North and know her parents lie in that direction. I sit with her also, and though I see the darkness of the mountains, I would not speak to her of this, and hold hope that the beasts – fierundé, she calls them – remain in the forests where they roam. I would have this remain a safe home for our child, whom we are now expecting (to our great joy): Aimi, she will be called, after her own mother.
Brandyé drank of his wine, and considered his grandfather’s writing. A great many secrets, it seemed, had Reuel kept unto himself. Why had he never spoken of these things with him? Brandyé thought perhaps he did not wish him to be influenced by mystery and adventure, but was not convinced even of his own thought; there was yet something else out there, in the wider world, that had stayed Reuel’s tongue.
He placed the first document away from him, and lay his eyes upon the remaining two. They seemed smaller – shorter, perhaps – than the first. As he took the second one, he turned to look around the room once more. If such things were those Reuel had felt must be shared with him, what of the remaining shelves? Further accounts of his grandfather’s life would be fascinating, but he was not sure he wished to know more about it for some time.
He unwound the second document, and in the lantern light began to read.
These are the words of Reuel Tolkaï, written on the day of February the 2nd, in the thirty-three hundred and forty-ninth year of the old calendar.
A Record of Darkness and its influence upon Erâth.
It is a thing unconsidered by any in Consolation, that our lands have seen so little blood, our water remains untainted, and our skies are so often unclouded and blue. We of this land have ever lived and died, believing ours to be the only peoples of Erâth. I would have myself been unquestioning of this, had I not come to know Éalora and learned of what lies beyond. Of great concern to me is the influence of Darkness upon the world, and I would have recorded what I have seen and heard of these things. I hold hope that our lands will remain ever free of such Darkness.
On Weather – The climate of the wider world is quite unlike that of Consolation. In the Tresté, the air is chill, even in summer, and while the pines do not shed in winter, the oaks and birches do not bloom well, and their leaves are ever brown. In the land from whence Éalora comes, the sky is grey, and the clouds seldom lift so that the sight of the sun is to them a precious thing. It is a sadness to see, for their crops are poor and their folk often hungry.
On Beasts – The folk of the wider lands raise and know many of the same creatures as we do in Consolation. Cattle, sheep, fowl and hares are all known to them, and differ little in their appearance or behavior. They have in some cases other words than ours – a gnarleck is to them a woètan (watertooth) – but there are some beasts known to them that are here unheard of, and of which I am glad. The naret, a kind of overlarge rat whose bite stings greatly, is a great misery when walking or working in the fields. There is a kind of crow, that they call duithwep, or black wing, that will attack a person on a whim. And of course, the greatest fear of those lands, though they are seldom seen, are the fierundé; wolves that stand the height of a man.
On the West – There is a great fear of things that lie in, or come from, the West in the greater lands of Consolation. It is said that, many ages ago, the powers of Darkness brought the terrible creatures to their lands, and that many lives were lost in defending themselves from their onslaught. The tales of such things are varied and wild, but there is a deep suspicion of all that comes, unheeded, from that direction.
On Darkness – This in itself is, to the folk of the wider lands, a very power, that works its will quite apart from the will of men. It is to this power they ascribe the existence of those creatures they deem ‘unnatural’, and indeed and fell occurrence to befall them. Darkness is to them quite separate from Death, though they believe that Darkness calls upon Death in its passing. Their word for Darkness, used only in reference to this unnatural power, is Duithèn.
There are certainly many other aspects of Darkness that need not be recorded here, for they are often a consequence of what I have already described. I believed at first these rumors to be nothing more than old tales, told to explain the everlasting grey of their skies, but I am now convinced that such powers do exist, and they are bent on our destruction.
With heavy eyes, Brandyé put aside this second record. The Fierundé, it seemed, had indeed come from the North into Consolation. He wondered about the nature of Darkness and Death, and what his grandfather’s parting words had been: “There is no darkness in death.” Yet he could not separate them in his mind; were he to concede to the idea of a power of Darkness, there was little that was not so about Sonora’s death, and even Reuel’s, who he felt had been taken so swiftly.
He considered the final document; he wished nothing more than to retire and sleep, but he was drawn to this third scroll, smaller than the others, and reached out to it without greatly considering it.
As he unrolled the scroll, he saw even in the dimming light that it was not written of the same hand as the first two. This script was thinner and lighter, and smaller also. He brought it close to his eyes.
My dearest Reuel,
You have been my husband for years beyond measure, and you know well of my gladness for this. You brought me life when I thought I had none, and showed me world I did not know could ever be. To live, as I have these past years, without the fear of Darkness, is a grace those not from my own land could not understand.
I know I am to leave you now, and I do not ask you not to grieve, for you must. Our daughter, Aimi, whose name in the old tongue means ‘beyond life’, will be with you always, and she will be a part of me that will grieve with you.
Rather, I would give to you, as best I can, a thing you were denied in knowing me. I would write of the great kingdoms of my land, though their cities we have never seen. These are the final remaining houses of the past age, and while diminished, their glory is unmatched.
Oh! If you could but see the great towers of Vira Weitor, as my father once did. They are a wonder, black dragonstone touching the sky itself. It is said that in Vira Weitor alone do the clouds part on some days, and the walls shine in the light. The mountains at whose feet the city stands are grandfathers to the Tresté you know, and their peaks are ever in snow.
In Vira Weitor lives the lord of our kingdom, Erârün, which means ‘kingdom of stone’. Think – to have a true king, and not the small-minded folk who call themselves the Fortunaé! They say he is wise, and noble, and will not allow Darkness to overcome our lands.
There are other cities in Erârün also, though they are lesser, and some have become but ruins. I have heard even that there is a body of water to the East – an ocean, it is called – that is endless, and at its edges great towns stood and defended our lands long ago. I have often wondered at these great places, and whether our folk live there still.
Of our neighbor, Kiriün, I know less, for there I have never been. Our folk do not trust their folk, for their kingdom lies to the West and so is closer to the lands of Darkness. I hear they are masters of the land, as we are masters of stone, though if they suffer the same climate that afflicts us, I fear they may not be so fortunate.
There is a wall that divides us now, and few pass that wall. I believe we once fought together against the Darkness, and I am saddened that we no longer consider our neighbor as our brother. In these failing times, I believe our strength lies only in each other, as mine has lain in you.
I do love my land, dear, though I have been so very happy with you in yours. I will not lie by my parents as I had once hoped, but it is of little matter, for I will see them again nonetheless.
You have been my life, and have given me all that I asked for. I taught you a word, so many years ago, and I will repeat it now, so that you may hear it from me one last time: I love you.
Your beloved wife,
Brandyé did not release this letter, having read it, and sat at his grandfather’s old desk until his candle was spent, and the lantern was too dim to read any longer. When he finally closed his eyes, a tear fell upon the page, leaving a fresh mark beside those from years past, now long-dried.