Brandyé Dui-Erâth was born under a low red moon to awful circumstances. Within moments of his birth, the house in which he was born burned to the ground. It was a rare and terrible occurrence, and the men and women of the village flocked to the scene in the dead of night to see the flames reaching high into the black sky, and knew with sadness that the family who lived there had perished.
They were not wholly wrong, but neither were they wholly right. For amidst the ashes and embers in the grey morning, a shocking sight greeted them. Imagine, for a moment, their astonishment to discover, in the center of the ruined home, a tiny child, seemingly untouched by the flames, alone, quiet, and peering curiously at the sky and the men who now towered above him. Whether he understood yet what he saw around him, and that his parents were gone, they did not know, but they were unsettled by the fact that the child had been unaffected by the terrible flames.
It was also curious that only the house they dwelt in burned; it was a dry season, and by all accounts the barn, only a few paces away, should certainly have caught the flame and burned down around the livestock it sheltered. But the barn was unharmed, and indeed the animals were entirely undisturbed; when a nearby horsemaster came to take ownership of the cattle, he found them merely anxious to be milked, and happily followed him down the road to his own pastures, some three miles away.
Word spread quickly from town to town that a child had been born to flame, and when people recalled that the sky had been black and the moon red, they were afraid of the child, and saw him as an omen of disaster. Admittedly, they were not certain exactly what this disaster would be or when it would happen, and as nothing much seemed to occur soon after or in the years to come – and since the child showed no sign of dark powers (or powers of any other kind, for that matter) – the people’s fear diminished gradually into unease and mistrust. They nonetheless avoided him if they could, and he grew up very much alone, with no friends, save a few.
At first, no one knew exactly what to do with the child; his mother and father had not been particularly well known in the village and surrounding lands, being little more than cattle farmers, and tended to keep to themselves. They had been known only as the Dearsays not even the Dearsay family, as no one even knew the wife had borne a child), and had lived quietly in the small house – now gone – with the large barn behind. Most people had only met them on Saturdays, at the market, where they ran a small stall selling milk and eggs.
Of course, few people in those parts concerned themselves overly with the business of others, and were perfectly content to let their neighbors stay behind their doors if they wished. Most had little acquaintance with anyone outside of their village, and indeed the Dearsays had come from elsewhere some years before. The old folk at the time wondered at this, for surely they didn’t need more farmers – nearly everyone was a farmer, it seemed – and would far preferred a skilled healer, for their old bones ached, or failing that, for them simply not to have arrived in their town at all.
Because of this lack of connection with neighboring towns, it was some time before anyone was found to care for the child. In the meantime he was taken in by a seamstress and her husband, neither of whom had children, and frankly did not want one. As suddenly none of the other families had the room to take care of one more mouth (even the Baggars, who only the week before had boasted how they would six daughters to go with the six sons they already had), they were left with little choice, and did the least they could to keep the child quiet until someone else could be found.
Eventually, it was discovered that the boy did have a single living relative – a grandfather, who lived in a different town some twenty or thirty miles away. This grandfather was the child’s mother’s father, and was greatly saddened that his daughter had died, but he loved the child the moment he saw her eyes peering wonderingly at him from the tiny face, and took him to raise as his own. This was perhaps the best thing that could have happened to the tiny infant, for without the influence of his grandfather, it is likely he would not have been banished from Consolation, and would not have taken the long journey that eventually led to the saving of his world.
His grandfather was also perceived by the people as something of a rogue, having greatly disturbed the population in his youth by actually leaving Consolation (something that had not happened in memorable time), and returning with a wife. This was particularly upsetting, as it was widely known that there were no people living outside the hills and mountains that surrounded the lands of Consolation, and they were at a loss to explain her at all. His tales of kingdoms and lands beyond their borders were unfathomable, and ultimately dismissed as the ravings of a madman.
He was also far more knowledgeable than most of his neighbors, and knew more tales of lore and ancient history than almost anyone else, and despite their misgivings, people did find great entertainment at hearing his tales, told often over too many pints of ale in the local tavern, the Burrow Wayde. It was from this rich history that he drew his grandson’s unusual name; while most of the children of Consolation had entirely ordinary names like Arthur or Théar, he believed his grandson could one day become a great man, and would need a name with meaning. In the ancient days, it was not unusual for a child to be named for the circumstances in which it was born, and so it was that the child became known as Brandyé Dui-Erâth. Since few people knew the language this name came from, few knew its true meaning: Born from Fire into the Darkness of the World.
As Brandyé Dui-Erâth grew older and met the other children who lived in his village, they were confused by his odd name. He spent many hours trying to explain to them the correct pronunciation (Bran-Diyay Do-ee Erah-th), but ultimately, the other children couldn’t wrap their tongues around this difficult name, and he came to be known as Brandy, or simply Bray. They would tease him about it, saying that he didn’t have a proper name, and therefore wasn’t a proper boy. They would shout and call him Brandy Broth (the closest they could come to -râth), or Bad Breath Bray, or sometimes just Onion, but Brandyé didn’t mind; he, of course, knew his own name, and felt that if no one could speak it, this made it a secret, and a secret name was something powerful indeed.
So it was that the child’s grandfather, whose name was Reuel Tolkaï (his daughter had been Aimi Tolkaï), brought him home to a small dwelling on the outskirts of Burrowdown. The house stood alone at the top of a low hill, overlooking the village below to the South, and wide stretches of rolling hill and moorland to the North. Beyond this, lines of trees grew tall, and sheltered the foothills of the Tresté Mountains. Brandyé would often play for hours among the stone and heather, imagining vividly the wonderful worlds of his grandfather’s tales.
The house itself was small, with two floors – the lower wider than the upper – and a slate roof. The walls were an odd combination of rough stone blocks and aging timber, and often looked as though it oughtn’t hold its own weight, despite weathering blustering storms and the piercing winter winds. The squat chimney stood out from the roof at the back of the house, and was of course crooked. A thick cord stretched tight from the peak of the roof around the chimney, and it appeared as thought it were actually holding it back from falling entirely off the roof. A thin weather vane stood near the chimney, and was also peculiar in that a metal rod led from this vane down the wall of the house and disappeared through the wall near the ground.
Of the house’s many peculiarities, one stood out above all others, and this was its odd, round windows. Every window in the house was a perfect circle, with equally circular grey shutters that could be drawn tight in poor weather. No one really understood this, for it was undoubtedly more difficult to build such windows into a house, rather than regular square ones. Wood bars made a cross in the center of each window, and were made of a grey wood that was unknown in those parts. The windows were by far the best-crafted parts of the house – everything else, from the walls to the ceilings and the lantern brackets, no two of which were at the same height – felt as though they had been made by one who had made it up as he went along. This, of course, is exactly how Reuel had made it when he had built it by hand over sixty years ago for his wife and himself.
Brandyé, of course, did not see the house as the poor shack that the villagers shook their heads at, because it was his home, and because his grandfather had built it. He particularly loved the windows, and when he was very small he would hide beneath the curved frames and peer out at the world on rainy days. He loved the feeling of being secret, his eyes just peeping above the sill; he could spy on the finches and marmots, and the rare passerby on their way to the village below. At night, the village lanterns made fascinating patterns in the blackness, and when the sun set in the West and cast sideways shadows over the brilliant heather, Brandyé understood why his grandfather had chosen to build his house in this spot. The two largest windows, over eight feet high, faced out of the parlor to the North, and gave the house the appearance of having great eyes, watching always to the mountains and the North.
Inside, the house was small and comfortable, and filled with furniture that was as oddly shaped as the outside. Downstairs was a kitchen with a large iron stove that kept the whole downstairs warm, even if the fire in the adjoining parlor was not lit (which it usually was). A crazy tangle of pipes led away from the stove along the walls and disappeared into the ceiling and floor, and it was many years before Brandyé realized that it was these pipes were an invention of his grandfather’s that kept his room warm, for there were no fireplaces upstairs. The parlor was comparatively large, and housed several large, overstuffed and soothing chairs around a large stone hearth, as well as a heavy oak table that Brandyé and his grandfather dined at each night, and would cover with a tablecloth on the few occasions when they had visitors. Both of the large, round windows faced out from this room, and it was a joy to stand in front of them and watch the mists roll over the moors as rain pattered on the glass, with the warmth of a roaring fire filling the room.
Reuel slept in a small room off the side of the parlor that was almost filled with a very wide bed. It was the only room in the house that was not heated in any way, and Brandyé often wondered how his grandfather could sleep through the deep cold of winter, but he said that it kept his health, and since Reuel never seemed particularly aged, Brandyé assumed this must be true. Brandyé slept upstairs in his very own room. It was tiny, but still managed somehow to hold a bed that seemed always just a little too short, and a small desk by the window. Reuel felt strongly about his grandson having somewhere to learn to write, and although Brandyé never saw his grandfather with either pen or paper, he nonetheless spent long hours slowly and carefully tracing flowing curves and lines, often long into the night when the moon was high and the candles burned low, and learned an ancient script that gave him a secret language to go along with his secret name.
There was also upstairs another room, whose door was shut and closed to Brandyé. As early as he could remember, his grandfather had said to him, “Son,” – for he called him son – “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.”
“Why, grandfather?” Brandyé had asked.
But his grandfather would say no more on this, and as Reuel was never so closed on any other subject, Brandyé did not ask him again.
As Brandyé grew older, he became familiar with the surrounding country. To the North was only empty moor; its hills rolled on for many miles in all directions, and few people ever ventured there, save the farmers whose sheep roamed the countryside freely. To the South, half a mile or so down a steep dirt track, was the village of Burrowdown. It was so called because it was built by the waters of the river Burrow, which flowed from the East, and was one of the farthest downstream before the river bent south and entered the gorges and cliffs of Perneck, and presumably from there on to the sea. The river was itself named Burrow for it sprang, on the very borders of the Consolation, from a deep hole in the hillside, which was called a burrow in those parts. Some forty miles or so upstream from Burrowdown was Burrowai, which of course meant Burrow Up.
Burrowdown was a large village, though by no means the largest in the lands. Perhaps some forty or fifty families lived in the village proper, with some dozen or so more in the outlands to the South and East. The largest and most influential of these families were the Hirvets, a name which always made Brandyé laugh, for in the language of the Ancients this meant large head (or as he preferred, fat head). They were one of the oldest families in the area, and in some distant time had once farmed the land and built a small community for their workers. At least a few of their ancestors must have been clever, and had discovered that if they built homes for farmers (or rather, had workers build them), the farmers would repay them with a part of their harvest each year. This allowed them to do less and less work themselves, while their riches grew more and more. It was in this way, in fact, that the village of Burrowdown came to be, and to that day, the Hirvets owned almost half of the homes in the village, and did no work themselves at all.
The village itself was lower than the moors and hills on which Reuel Tolkaï’s house was built, but it nonetheless stood on gently rolling ground, and so was not built to any particular order but instead had houses and buildings that were mostly scattered around, with footworn paths leading here and there between them. Only two proper roads, as such, passed through the town; one led East along the river towards Burrowai and beyond, and also followed the river for some miles west, until it eventually gave way to the wilds and grass. The other road led only south, towards the central lands of Consolation, where there were other towns, many forests, and of course, the capitol of Daevàr’s Hut. These two thoroughfares met in the center of the village, at a great stone bridge that crossed the river Burrow.
It was by this bridge that the Burrow Wayde Inn stood, and whilst it offered rest for travelers on those seldom occasions when the town had visitors, it more often offered warm food and strong amber ale to the villagers themselves. Reuel could be found at the Burrow Wayde every Friday evening, and when Brandyé was older would bring him as well, but Brandyé found it curious that his grandfather rarely interacted with the other patrons. Occasionally he would be drunkenly called upon for “another fantasy tale,” and he would readily oblige, but otherwise he remained quiet in a corner, drank exactly three pints of ale over three hours, and watched the others in the inn thoughtfully as they drank and talked, drank and laughed, drank and argued, and drank and fought. Eventually, Mrs. Heath, the owner, would boot them all out, cursing them for being such ruffians, and welcomed them back happily the next evening. Brandyé would ask his grandfather why he visited the inn each week, even in the heart of winter, if he didn’t really want to talk to anyone there.
“I like to watch,” he replied.
“Why do you not talk to anyone?” Brandyé had asked.
“Because they are mostly fools,” Reuel said, not unkindly.
Brandyé pondered this for a moment. “Then why watch them at all?”
His grandfather smiled, and said, “Because you can learn more from a drunken fool than you can from a sober wise man.”
Brandyé thought this was funny when he was young, and saw the truth in this statement when he was old.
There were many other things to entertain a young boy in Burrowdown, and Brandyé would often go down to the village and wander the paths and streets, passing from Mr. Carle’s glassery, which didn’t make glass at all (that was Han Foeral, down the street), but rather small, round sweets that looked just like glass marbles and tasted like daisies, to Gloria Dael’s dairy, where you could always get a cup of fresh, warm milk. The riverbank offered stone skipping, duck feeding, swimming, and sledding in the winter when the surface froze over, and there was a secret spot under the bridge where you could hide completely from sight, yet somehow still hear the voices of those who passed over the bridge. Just upstream from the village was an enormous, ancient oak whose branches hung out over the river, and someone long ago and thrown a rope over the highest of these. Children would take turns in the summer launching themselves from the riverbank, and if you pushed off hard enough you could reach the other bank; but if you didn’t, you would swing back and forth, and eventually, when your grip failed, fall into the cold water, to the laughter of the other children.
There were two wells – one from which the town drew its water, and one which had an iron gate fastened tight over its top. This well was a thrill for Brandyé, for the rumor was that it had been closed after a young boy, many years ago, had fallen in, and drowned before he could be rescued. The villagers had sealed it, for they would not draw water from a well of death. Brandyé did not fully believe this, as the new well was less than a hundred yards from the old one, and had no particular protection to stop more foolish boys from falling in also. He thought that if the townspeople were going to take the trouble to sink a second well because someone had fallen into the first one, they would have tried to make sure that no one could fall into this one.
Despite there being much to engage a young imagination, and plenty of chances to hide and seek and find trouble, all was not always well for him. He found that, although he had no memory of it himself, he could not escape his mysterious and terrible birth, and many of the villagers were afraid of him and would not approach him as he walked through the town. He was often eager to play with the other children, but their parents would shoo them indoors, and he would wander away, hurt and angry. He knew it was not his fault that he had been born in a blazing house, and he was as puzzled at his survival as anyone else. Still, he didn’t like the way people looked at him, as though they were afraid he might set their own house on fire just by looking at it.
Not everyone was like this, of course; Gloria at the dairy thought they were all fools, and enjoyed his visits immensely. He would often spend hours with her tending the cows, and learned to milk them, which he found delightful, though he was never very good at it. There was one other family in the village that didn’t mind Brandyé, and that was the Dotterys. They had a son also, Elven, who was close to Brandyé’s age and very reckless. He would often convince Brandyé to undertake spectacularly dangerous missions with him, from jumping off the Burrow bridge in the middle of the night, to spooking the bulls in Farmer Tar’s paddock and causing them to break through the fence and stampede through town and into the woods many miles from the town. Despite the reprimands of his grandfather, Brandyé secretly delighted in these adventures, and he and Elven quickly became the best of friends.
So it was that Brandyé lived as a young boy in the village of Burrowdown, in the North of the land of Consolation, with his grandfather in a house on the top of a hill, always with the influence of the wild to the North, and eventually became the young man who would be exiled, forgotten, and finally come to change the fate of Erâth.