Of all the things that brought Brandyé joy, the one thing he loved more than anything was listening to his grandfather’s many tales. These were not the ones he told at the Burrow Wayde sometimes, though those were enjoyable as well, but rather the ones he would tell in the dark of a winter night, before the fire when it seemed that nothing existed in all the world but their house, alone in the moors. The wind would whistle through the cracks and under the doors, and small snowflakes would swirl in the corners of the room, but before the fire all was warm.
Reuel would sit in his armchair to one side, and Brandyé would sit sometimes in his own chair on the other side, and sometimes on the rug before the fire itself, staring into the flames and embers. As his grandfather spoke, it sometimes seemed that he could see the lands and people of which he spoke within the dancing flames, and they would sometimes speak to him, even as his grandfather described them.
“Have I ever told you of how the world came to be?” Reuel would ask.
“No, grandfather,” Brandyé would answer. In fact, he had heard many of these tales before, but enjoyed them and didn’t want to disappoint his grandfather, who sometimes had difficulty remembering things. As it happened, this particular tale was a new one to Brandyé.
“We live in a world called Erâth,” Reuel began. “Our land – Consolation – is but a tiny part of the world, even though it seems big and takes many weeks to cross from end to end. Long ago, though, there was nothing – nothing at all. The world was perhaps empty – perhaps it did not even exist. No one is sure.”
“Then how do you know about it?” Brandyé asked.
“Don’t interrupt,” his grandfather chided him, and Brandyé grew silent again.
“So, there was nothing at all. And then, there was something. In the forgotten origins of time, seven races came into being. They inhabited all parts of the world–”
“Erâth?” said Brandyé.
“Don’t interrupt,” his grandfather said again. “Yes, Erâth. In this early world, there were seven great races of power. And from these, there came the Ageless. There are seven Ageless – one for each of the great races of power. The Ageless have always been, and may even be the ones who brought Erâth into existence in the first place. Maybe the races of Erâth even came from the Ageless. I suppose anything is possible…” Reuel trailed off, and was silent for a moment.
“Which race are we?” Brandyé asked. “And what happened to the other races? And where are the Ageless now?”
Reuel looked at him reproachfully. “Who is telling this tale?” he said. “Perhaps we should stop; we can finish this another night if you like.”
“I’m sorry grandfather – I do want to hear more about the world. I shouldn’t ask so many questions.”
“No,” he replied. “You must never stop asking questions.”
“Do continue, grandfather – please.”
“Yes. We are the race of Men. We do not live where we once did, and we do not live as we once did. The first men – the Ancients – were magical beings. They lived many hundreds of years, could travel an entire land in a day. They could heal the most grievous of wounds, and could even bring back the dead. In those days, Men filled Erâth, and commanded the lesser creatures, much as we still do with the cattle and sheep.
“The other races represented the powers of Erâth. There were the Mirèn, race of life, and the Namirèn, race of death; the Illuèn, of light, and Duithèn, of darkness. There were also the Portèn, of power, and the Sarâthen, of wisdom. They do not exist any longer, but left Erâth many ages ago when the race of Men fell.”
“We fell?” Brandyé asked.
“Yes, we did. We fell far. Look around you – we live in huts, tending the land, and travel on foot. We do not live hundreds of years, nor can we revive the dead.”
“Well, what if this is the way we’re supposed to be?”
“That is quite possible. All the magic of the Ancients did not prevent their downfall, or we would still live today as they did. In many ways I would be wary of magic – I have never heard of magic that did not bring harm.
“In any case, the race of Men faded, and nearly disappeared. We lost the power we had, and the magic is gone from the world. But they say there are remnants of the ancient world, if you look hard enough and travel far enough. There is a broken bridge that once crossed an entire sea, and in the farthest corner of the world is an island, whose ruined cities were once the greatest in all of Erâth.”
“How did the bridge break?”
“That is a tale for another time, son. Would you put another log on the fire?”
Brandyé picked up a small long from the pile beside the fire, and placed over the embers that were slowly dying. For several minutes there was silence, as together they watched the new wood darken, rise flames, and finally begin to spit and pop as it started to burn.
“It was at this time that darkness first truly fell over the world. There had always been darkness, of course – much of it brought about by the Duithèn, whose power it was. But the magic of Men and the other races of power kept this darkness at bay, and it did not begin to take over the world until there were no longer enough men to withstand it, and the other races of power faded and left.
“Eventually – and it took many thousands of years – all that was left of the race of Men found the world risen against them, and were no longer able to survive. It look as though all was lost – and then Consolation was found. It was the last remaining refuge of light in all of Erâth, and it is from these men that we are descended. They found the land welcoming, and they could once more grow crops, and raise livestock, and live in peace.
“All the while, they feared that the darkness would discover this land, and then there would be nowhere left in Erâth to go, and they would become extinct. For many thousands of years, we have lived with this possibility, but we have had fortune so far, and darkness has not yet crept into Consolation. I do wonder, though, if it might be inevitable. We are blessed here, but you need not travel far to discover that the rest of the world is not so. Have you ever noticed that the mountains to the North – the Trestaé – are most always shawled with grey, and dark clouds? You would not need to go far into their valleys to discover the trees grow crooked, and the beasts are wild, and far stranger than any that roam our lands. You know the wolves that have sometimes attacked Farmer Tar’s sheep? The creatures that roam those mountains would send them running with their tails between their legs.
“I do not have an explanation for why these creatures have not, in all this time, ventured to descend from those mountains and strike at us. Perhaps they do not need to, knowing that we are so isolated, and cannot conquer them. Perhaps there is still some good magic in the world, that keeps them at bay. I do not know.”
“Maybe there are other men out there, who kill them,” Brandyé said.
Reuel looked at him curiously. “What makes you think there would be other people, not living in Consolation?”
“People say that you left Consolation, and you weren’t killed by the beasts. They even say that’s where you found grandmother – in the lands outside of ours.”
Reuel closed his eyes. “Yes; that is true. Your grandmother was a magical creature.”
“I thought you said there was no more magic,” said Brandyé.
“I do not mean magic as you might think of it. She had no powers, but that does not mean she was not magical. There was something special about her; something I have not seen in almost any other person.”
“Who have you seen it in?”
Reuel smiled a little. “Your mother,” he replied. “And you.”
“What was it she had?” Brandyé was intrigued; he had never thought he had anything special about him, other than the fact that most people didn’t like him.
“Curiosity,” said Reuel. “Not being satisfied with a simple answer. Questioning. Your grandmother knew more than any other person I have ever met. But despite that, she never stopped asking questions, to the day she died. Do you know what she said to me before she passed away?”
“No,” said Brandyé, who felt a little uncomfortable. His grandfather did not usually speak of his wife, who Brandyé had never met. She had died long before he had been born.
“She held my hand – she was very weak by then – and she said to me, ‘All my life I have wondered. I have seen the world and wanted to understand why it is the way it is. There are but two things I have never questioned: that you and I should always have met, and that I will see you again.’ The last thing she ever said was, ‘I wonder what death will be like.’”
Brandyé was quiet, and looked at his grandfather. He wasn’t sure in the dim light, but it was possible a tear was glistening under his eye. Unsettled, he turned back to the fire, and watched the log slowly burn, the flames growing lower and lower. Soon, there was nothing left but embers, glowing quietly. The wind rushed outside, and it was dark.
Brandyé felt sad, though he wasn’t sure why. He had never known his grandmother, any more than he had known his parents. He felt no particular connection to her, but yet he felt badly that she had died. Perhaps it was seeing his grandfather, usually so strong, seem so saddened by the thought of his wife. He wondered what it was like to feel that kind of connection to someone else, and whether there was a word for it. He wondered where she had come from, and what it meant that she was not from Consolation. The people he had heard these rumors from seemed to think his grandfather was somehow dangerous, as though he had some hidden power they were afraid of. He realized this was exactly how people reacted to him also, and wondered about his grandfather’s own childhood.
He wanted to ask his grandfather all about these things, but it was getting late, and so far Reuel had not spoken or moved. Uncertain, Brandyé eventually stood up. He looked at his grandfather, who was himself staring into the fire, and said softly, “I’m going to go to bed, grandfather. Goodnight.”
Reuel nodded, ever so slightly, and Brandyé knew he would be okay, and went to bed.
Something very odd happened when Brandyé fell asleep that night. Without really realizing it, he was suddenly somewhere else, somewhere he had never seen before in his life.
It was a place entirely unlike anywhere he had ever been in Consolation. For a start, almost everything seemed to made of stone, yet not a kind of stone he knew; it seemed far too flat, far too smooth to be natural. The ground was made of this stuff; the walls of the buildings around him were also, where they were not made of glass.
The buildings were also extremely odd. These stone dwellings were vast – some stretched hundreds of feet into the sky, and continued off into the distance beyond sight. They were made of the same strange stone as everything else, but this stone seemed to serve only as a frame to the buildings; between these huge pillars, vast panes of glass stretched. Brandyé had never seen anything like it; it made the windows of his grandfather’s parlor seem like small peepholes by comparison.
The second thing Brandyé noticed was that these buildings seemed almost all ruined. As the buildings climbed into the sky, he saw that they were topped by jagged, uneven and crumbled edges. There was rubble on the ground, and many cracks in the walls of glass all around him.
The third thing he noticed was that he was entirely alone. He peered about, and saw nothing. There was no sound, no smell, no sign that anything lived in this place at all. He shivered; he had never been in a place of such desolation. Even in the great expanse of the moorlands near his home, where no one ever went, there were sounds, there were smells. The bitter scent of heather, the mustiness of earth; the call of wagtails and scratching chirp of crickets, and the harsh whistle of the wind. There was none of that here.
He began to feel a little uneasy; he did not understand how he came to be here, and was worried about how he would return. He felt very far from home. He took a few steps forward; his feet made a soft pat on the ground and echoed. He stopped again, and looked around. Perhaps someone was watching him. He waited many minutes, and yet no one appeared. He was still alone, it seemed.
He moved on, continued in a line between the high walls of buildings. Ahead, there seemed to be a change of horizon; no building loomed before him, but something else, something empty. As he drew nearer, he began to see light glistening and shimmering. Slowly, the buildings diminished behind him, and he came upon a sight that made his breath cease.
Beneath his feet was sand; before him was water. It was of a size beyond his reckoning; he had visited a lake once before with his grandfather and this was a thousandfold greater than that, and more. To the North and South it stretched infinitely, disappearing beyond the horizon unimaginable leagues distant. The sun hung low in the East, and turned the place to gold and ember. It glinted off the low waves of the water and dazzled Brandyé’s sight. It seemed unmoving; as he stood, still and awed, it neither rose nor set, but stayed put as though it was always just before dusk.
It was the horizon over which the sun hung, the eastern horizon, that Brandyé was unable to comprehend. While the sea stretched infinitely to the North and South, it ended to the East. Brandyé knew of no other word to describe what his eyes saw. Perhaps two miles distant, the sea simply stopped. There was no other land, nor was there more water. A white mist danced beyond this ending, rising gently from beyond the sea and dissolving as it rose towards the frozen sun. It appeared as though the entire sea was plummeting wholly off the edge of an unfathomable precipice. Brandyé had the strongest impression that he stood facing the very edge of the world itself.
It was as he stood, mind reeling at this sight, that a voice, clear and simple, spoke behind him.
“Ye terviae, Brandyé Dui-Erâth, Viura Râ-i, fae erarâth.”
“I greet you, Brandyé Dui-Erâth, in Viura Râ, at world-end.”
He was not startled; though only a moment ago he knew he was alone, he now felt this strange greeting was exactly as it should have been. He turned.
Before him was a woman in black, face pale and fair shrouded under a cloak. Her robes were of a black that the light of the sun did not touch, and a single crimson jewel that hung from her neck was the only color that she bore. She stood on the sand, gazing calmly at Brandyé, and he saw her feet were bare. He gazed into her eyes, and saw they were black also, and looked away, for he felt he might be drawn into them directly and drown.
“Fryae na, Brandyé.” She smiled, though her mouth did not move.
“Fear not, Brandyé.”
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 are you?” Even as he asked, he somehow knew the answer.
“Ye-vèr Namira,” she spoke.
“I am Death,”
“I do not understand you,” he said.
“Ye va,” she replied. “Tuthae.” “I know. You will.” She leaned down 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.” “You are the dreamer. I will return.”
She kissed him lightly on the forehead, rose, and turned.
“Wait,” he called. But she moved away, and was soon lost to distance. He turned back to the sea. The sun had still not moved. The waters plunged still into their abyss. 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 sand, watching all the while to the East.
Slowly, he felt his whole body become cold, and the warmth of the sand beneath him seemed to fade. He lay down, and saw the sky above, saw scattered clouds, and saw they too did not move. He lay there for what seemed like many hours, and slowly sank into the sand. All the while his sight grew darker, and eventually he saw nothing at all.
Brandyé woke next morning to the sun coming gently through his window, and the scent of breakfast from below. He heard his grandfather humming a tune, and knew where he was, and was relieved. What an odd thing to happen, he thought to himself. I wonder where that place is? He thought he might ask his grandfather, but hesitated – traveling to another place in the middle of the night, when you were meant to be sleeping? It sounded an awful lot like magic, and his grandfather had said he knew of no magic that did not bring harm.
He rose from his bed, and went downstairs to breakfast. He would think about it.