It was a cold, bright winter day, when the snow lay fresh and thick upon the moor and the sun was small in the blue sky, that Brandyé first saw a wolf.
It was not long after hearing the tale of the battle between West and East, when the Demon Lord had so nearly conquered all of Erâth, and was defeated only by a mystical creature, the Dragon. It had snowed for several days afterwards, and in the weeks that followed, when the weather was bleak and grey, Brandyé had spent many hours sitting before the fire, or watching the flurries from behind the large round windows, but what flew through his mind was not flame and snow, but the clash of steel, the cries of battle and the smell of blood and dirt. He was fascinated by the thought of such a battle; it would be unfair to say he could not imagine such a thing, but rather that he could not accurately imagine scenes of death and horror, for it was outside of his experience and his comprehension.
The idea that men could hate each other so deeply that they would desire to bring death to their own kind was difficult for Brandyé to grasp, but his young imagination had no difficulty at all picturing the terrible demons that brought destruction upon the brave soldiers of the East. Great monsters, their size exaggerated grossly by his mind, towered over the soldiers on the field of battle, high as ten men, and crushed men underfoot as they stomped across the fields. Their clubs swung madly through the air, spikes jutting elbow-length from the shaft, and clawed at the earth and the men who ran before them.
The wolves, too, were terrifying for his thoughts to behold. Picturing himself as a soldier of the East, he saw great jaws approach him, a mouth that gaped wholly as wide as his own body, glistening teeth bared and bloody. The beast’s fur bristled along its flanks, each strand stiff and sharp as a razor. And the eyes – mad, evil eyes that glared red at him and saw nothing but the death of the flesh before them.
And, inescapable in the midst of such gruesomeness, the Demon Lord stood high above all others, tall and proud, black armor drawing all light around it and drowning it in darkness. In Brandyé’s inner sight, he had no face to speak of; his helm, thorned with black steel, hid from sight what countenance he might have had, but through the eyeholes, which were large, there was nothing at all. Emptiness stared out from blank sockets and held you in fascinated horror, unable to move. And his blade was fearsome. The length of a man, the Demon Lord wielded it as effortlessly as a feather, and bore it in his left hand, and so was odd, for all the other soldiers carried theirs in their right. The blade’s edge did not run straight, but rather had been forged to small points along its length, as thought its purpose was as much to saw and hack as it was to pierce armor and flesh. Its color also was black, apart from the grip, which was bound in leather the shade of blood. At the base of the blade was a marking – a large, curved V, with a smaller A behind it:
Even then, Brandyé was struck by the clarity of the Demon Lord as he pictured him. While the beasts, and the soldiers, and the sights of battle were clouded, and changed in his mind even as he imagined them, the Demon Lord did not waver: he saw him with equal clarity each time he allowed his mind to wander, and above all, saw the blade, and came to know the marking on its blade as well as his own face in the mirror, or the tracings of the script he wrote at his desk at night. Eventually, Brandyé named the blade End of Eternity, though he knew now where this name came from.
Yet Brandyé was not fearful of these thoughts, but rather dwelt on them enthralled, and saw himself as the bravest of warriors. Sometimes he was swinging his blade, hewing at the legions of wolves and monsters, an army of men behind him, encouraged by his own fearlessness. Other times, he saw himself among the kings of the East, as the Demon Lord closed on them, and he alone stood to face him, and would bring his sword up to meet End of Eternity as it bore down on him, and as the two blades clashed, his own held strong, and the Demon Lord was brought to his knees. Brandyé wrested End of Eternity from the Demon Lord’s grasp, and with renewed strength drove it through him bodily, and so brought an end to the conflict between West and East.
Though these thoughts occupied him often, the one that overcame more than any other was the sight of himself, suddenly held aloft over the field of battle, and saw below the struggle laid out before him. And he saw the Demon Lord from afar, bearing down once more upon the kings of old, and knew that he was being carried on the back of the very Dragon itself, and to Brandyé this was a thrill beyond the measure of any other. As he looked down upon the Demon Lord, so too did the Dragon turn its great head there, and bore down upon him at such a great speed that Brandyé felt the wind threatening to pull him off the back of the Dragon entirely. Closer they came, and the Dragon opened its jaws and sent flame upon the Demon Lord, and thus he was conquered also.
Such were Brandyé’s thoughts and imaginations during the period of ill weather, and so naturally when the clouds cleared and the sun lit the snow around their home, he donned cowskin boots, put on his hat and coat, marched out across the moors to act out the fantasies that had played through his mind for so many weeks.
While he was yet young, Brandyé loved nothing more than to be outdoors, whether in cold or in heat. He often enjoyed work and small jobs – he would regularly be sent by his grandfather into the village for wood, or fruits, or small novelties that amused Reuel, and would sometimes be asked by villagers to drive carts from farm to farm, or to dig and turn soil in their fields and vegetable gardens. Even as he worked happily for them, they would yet often keep a distance from him, and, if they chose to pay him for his efforts, would leave the coins on the porch and not speak to him when he was finished.
But above all, Brandyé loved the freedom of the open moorland, and it was here that his imagination was able to truly fly. So it was that morning that Brandyé spent several hours at play, brandishing a long stick at the crows and the lone, leafless trees that grew meagerly here and there across the landscape. He was first a soldier of the East, swingingly bravely at the bestial birds and towering monsters of the West (and thoroughly defeating them, as the crows flew off, annoyed at his attempts to skewer them on the end of his branch). Then he was a king, commanding his troops (the unlucky crows, again, who would not obey his orders), and thoroughly enjoyed rushing them towards a row of enemy snowmen he had built up. He would draw back and plunge his branch through them, or sweep their heads clean off their shoulders in one fell stroke.
As the sun moved across the sky, Brandyé found himself drawn further away from his home, and towards the North. Abandoned in his play, he did not particularly notice until he realized his house was no longer in view, and he had begun to descend into a shallow vale. He knew well his grandfather’s warnings about the mountains to the North, and although there were yet many miles off, he had not often been this deep into the north moors, and was worried his grandfather might be concerned for him. He made to turn back, and as he did, saw at the bottom of the vale a glimmer in the sun, something that reflected light and shimmered gently.
He was curious, and slid down the slope towards the bottom of the vale, towards the shimmer. To his delight, he discovered the sun had been reflecting off a shallow stream, hidden beneath the snow. A small part of the snow roof had given way under the gaze of the sun, and he could see the little brook murmuring away, running back under snow and onwards down the valley. He knelt beside it , cupped his gloved hands beneath the water, and drew some towards his mouth. It was icy and made his teeth shiver, but it was clear and refreshing, and he drank several more times before standing once more.
The stream was only a few feet wide here, and he wondered if he could leap across it. Drawing back a few paces from the stream, he threw himself at it at a run, and launched himself clear over the water. He landed a few inches past the bank on the opposite side, and grinned, for he had never leapt over a stream before.
For some time, he amused himself by taking ever more daring leaps across the stream, and even cautiously stepping over where the snow still covered the stream. Finally, his luck gave out, and he plunged with both feet into the cold water and gave a small shout of surprise. He leapt out quickly, and sat down on the far side of the stream. His boots were well proofed, but the stream had been deep and water had poured in over the top, and his feet were now wet and cold. He wanted to take them off, but there was nothing to rest his feet on but more snow, and so resolved that he would head home now, and warm himself before the fire. Reuel had gone into the village for the day, and he would likely not arrive back home before him if he left now.
As he stood, though, on the far bank of the river, with home to the South and mountains to the North, the ice in his boots slowly melted and his feet did not feel quite so cold, and he wondered what he would see if he were to peer just over the next ridge. It was not far – a rise of no more than a hundred feet – and so he thought he would venture just that much farther today, before returning. He began to trudge up the hill, the effort of wading through the snow warming him more, even as the sun began to sink low over the horizon. Soon, the top drew near, and as he crested the ridge, the view beyond greeted his eyes.
To his disappointment, it was nothing extraordinary to behold. Yet further moorland stretched off for many miles beyond, and the Trestaé, dressed in white, still as distant as ever they appeared. The only distinguishing mark in all the white land was a row of trees, firs that kept their green through the winter, some half a mile to the northwest. For some time, Brandyé stood and watched the landscape, the setting sun beginning to bathe it in gold, and it was then that he saw something move.
At first, he was not sure, but as he looked closer, there among the line of green firs, something was slowly moving. It was distant, but to his eyes it seemed very large. The trees seemed tall, and their first branches stood probably some eight or ten feet from the soil, yet this creature moved so that its head seemed to brush the needles and pines. It slunk on all fours, and though in the twilight it was hard to discern, its color seemed a muted and mottled grey.
In and out between the trees it wove, and for several minutes disappeared entirely from view. Brandyé stood, transfixed, for he had never seen such a creature before. Some of the cows and horses in the village were large, but this creature seemed it would dwarf even them. Certainly none of the wild creatures he knew – the marmots, the crows, the gobays – were anything like it in size. And it moved with stealth, as though it wished to avoid being seen.
Brandyé began to feel it must have retreated deeper into the woods, when suddenly it reappeared from the end of the line of trees nearest him. A thrill of fear now suddenly rose in Brandyé’s chest, and he suddenly felt exposed as he stood on the hilltop, for he recognized this creature: it was one of the demon wolves from his grandfather’s tale of battle. He didn’t see how it could be so – his grandfather had not greatly described these creatures, and so their look and manner had so far been merely of his own invention. It was impossible that any such creature could actually exist, and even if it did, it surely should not appear as it did now.
Yet there it was: a wolf, tall as a man, grey fur bristling menacingly from its body. It stood even as Brandyé did, unmoving, as though it sensed it was being watched. Brandyé wanted to drop to the ground, to hide, but he felt he was powerless to move. For many moments, the wolf and he stood. And then, the wolf turned its head, slowly, deliberately, and brought its gaze to bear directly upon Brandyé, and in a moment, he saw its eyes and beheld they were red as he had seen in his mind, and in that moment he was very afraid.
Time froze, and the sun refused to set, and the sky refused to change, and the wolf refused to lower its gaze. It held Brandyé, and he was under its power. Brandyé knew now that were the wolf to move at him, he would not run, would not be able to move his feet, and would fall victim to whatever terrible fate the creature should choose to bring upon him. In all his young life, he had not felt such anxiety and fear, and knew for the first time that his life was in actual danger. Yet the wolf did not take a pace toward him, and indeed seemed as though it wished merely for Brandyé to recognize its presence, to make itself known. After many endless minutes that were as hours to Brandyé, the wolf suddenly turned, and made its way slowly back towards the line of trees.
It was at almost that moment that a voice called out, and renewed the thrill of fright in Brandyé’s chest. “You! Boy!”
Brandyé turned swiftly and saw on the ridge opposite the vale behind him the small figure of a man, silhouetted against the evening sky. He called again. “Oi! What’re doin’ out there on yer own?”
Brandyé now recognized the voice as Farmer Tar’s, and felt relief. Farmer Tar did not dislike him, and he felt that he would be safe with him. He would tell him about the wolf, and Farmer Tar would say that they would gather a party the next day to hunt for it. He made his way rapidly back down the hillside, sliding in the snow, leapt once more across the water, and very nearly ran up the far side. Soon, he drew abreast of Farmer Tar, and stopped before him, panting and out of breath.
“What’s a matter?” Farmer Tar asked gruffly. “Seen a ghost?”
Brandyé shook his head, for he could not yet speak.
“You shouldn’ be out so far, you know. What’f you was to get hurt? You know there’s no one around up there. Yer foolish.”
Brandyé felt Farmer Tar spoke the truth. “I know,” he said breathlessly. “I should not have gone so far. I was curious. But I saw something.”
Farmer Tar now narrowed his eyes, and looked suspicious. “What did you see?” He asked.
“It was big,” Brandyé said, still drawing rapid breaths. “Very big. A wolf, I think. I have heard wolves spoken of, but not like this. It was a wolf out of grandfather’s stories. It stood as tall as a man, I am certain. It was in the trees – I think it was hiding – and then it was gone, and then it was back, and it was looking at me. It saw me.”
Farmer Tar now was frowning. “You saw a wolf. So what? Yer right – they’re out there. They look fer hares n’ such. Not men. They’re like as dogs.”
Brandyé shook his head again. “This was no dog. It was monstrous. And it’s eyes–“ he shivered “–they were red, they glowed red, and it looked directly at me. It knew where I was. I think it knew who I was.”
Farmer Tar grunted, and seemed reluctant to speak. “Nonsense,” he said finally. “Wolves don’ get that big. An’ their eyes don’ glow. An’ they don’ look at men. It saw somethin’ behind you, no doubt. You was against the sun – it wouldn’ have seen you.”
“I am certain it saw me,” Brandyé protested. “And what of its eyes? I should not have been able to see its eyes at such a distance, yet they shone fierce and red.”
Farmer Tar looked away. “Light playin’ tricks on you,” he mumbled. “Nothin’ but the settin’ sun. T’was a wolf you saw, I’m certain, but no monster. Such creatures is silly fantasy.”
Brandyé felt his face grow warm. His grandfather’s fantasies were certainly not silly. “I’m sure of what I saw–“ he began, but Farmer Tar cut him off.
“You didn’ see what you thought you did,” he said with emphasis, and Brandyé knew that was the end of the conversation. “Get on home. Yer grandfather’ll be wonderin’ where yer at.”
Brandyé lowered his head, and said nothing more. Slowly, he trudged through the snow towards his house, which he now saw in the distance, dark against the fading sky. He had long since forgotten the cold in his feet, and his thoughts were filled with the clarity of the vision of the wolf. He knew what he had seen.
For some time, Farmer Tar remained on the hill, looking to the North.
When Reuel arrived home that evening, carrying a basket laden with carrots and onions and potatoes, it was to find Brandyé still on the rug before a high fire, naked feet stretched towards the flames. Brandyé did not turn as he came into the parlor, and Reuel was the first to break the silence. “How was your day, son?”
Brandyé did not answer, and this was unusual. Reuel has the sense, however, to know Brandyé was brooding and did not interrupt him. Instead, he retreated to the kitchen and began the preparations for supper.
Later, as they sat in dim warm firelight over steaming bowls of winter stew – potatoes, carrots, leeks, lots of onion, and half a flank of lamb, smoked and diced – Brandyé was yet silent, and Reuel began to wonder what cause his grandson had for such quietness. Finally, he knew must ask, and said quietly, “Speak to me, son.”
Brandyé looked him. “I saw something today,” he said.
Reuel return his gaze calmly. “Tell me what you saw, son,” he replied.
“I thought I knew,” Brandyé said, “but now I am not certain.”
“Tell me what you thought you saw,” said Reuel, “and together we will decide if it is certain.”
Brandyé hesitated, then took a breath and said, “I saw a wolf.”
Reuel raised his eyebrows. “A wolf? Well done, son; they are not easy to spot. Most will hide until they see prey. Was he seeking food, do you think?”
Brandyé shook his head slowly. “I do not think he sought food. I believe he sought another thing. Grandfather – this was no ordinary wolf.”
“What do you know of ordinary wolves?” his grandfather inquired.
“Little, I suppose,” admitted Brandyé. “Farmer Tar says they are scavengers, or hunt small animals. He says they are as dogs.”
“He is right,” Reuel said. “A wolf is no more than a wild dog, one that does not take kindly to men and seeks to prey upon those smaller than itself. Was the wolf alone? They most often are to be found in a pack, many hunting together.”
“This wolf was alone, grandfather. And that is not all. I know what ordinary wolves are – both Farmer Tar and you say they are as wild dogs. That is how I know this was no ordinary wolf. What if I were to tell you this wolf would have towered over both you and Farmer Tar?”
Reuel’s eyebrows lowered, and his face grew grave. “Are you certain?” he asked.
“Farmer Tar says the light was playing tricks on my eyes. He says such creatures do not exist. He says your tales are silly.”
“Farmer Tar, like so many others, son, does not believe in what he does not see. He will convince himself that things that ought not to be do not exist, even if his own eyes tell him otherwise. Tell me about this wolf. Not as Farmer Tar says it was – tell me what you believe you first saw.”
“It was so large, grandfather. I was not scared at first. I thought perhaps it was a lost horse, but it was not the right color and did not move right. It was in the trees that lie beyond the stream to the North.”
“Why were you so far to the North?” Reuel interrupted.
“I was curious, grandfather. I know I should not have strayed so far, but I wanted to know what lay beyond. I did not think there would be any danger. You have always told me the land of Consolation is protected from darkness.”
“I have not said it is protected,” said Reuel. “Merely that darkness has not yet found it. What else did you see?”
“When it came out from the trees, I saw it clearly. It was huge, and it was of an ugly grey color and its fur bristled. The head was large. And…grandfather – it saw me. It turned its gaze wholly on me. And I saw its eyes. They glowed, grandfather. They were red, and they glowed. I know this; I should not have been able to see any creature’s eyes at such a distance, but these eyes burned into me as though they were candles.”
Reuel was quiet for a moment. Finally, he pushed his bowl away and stood. “We have finished supper,” he said. “Come sit with me by the fire.”
Brandyé took the dishes into the kitchen and set a large kettle boiling on the stove to rinse them with, and then joined his grandfather in the parlor by the fire. They had lit no other candles, and the glow from the flames cast flickering shadows over the walls and Reuel’s face. Reuel was looking into the fire, and did not turn his gaze from the flames as he spoke.
“What you saw was a Fierund,” he said. “A Beast-Wolf. They are of the Trestaé Mountains. It is a creature of Darkness.” He paused, and allowed Brandyé to take this in.
“Then the creatures of your tales are real?” Brandyé asked.
“You know this,” Reuel replied. “I may embellish the details of my tales, but of the creatures and men I would not lie. Fierundé are real. Darkness is real.”
“What would it want with me?” Brandyé asked.
Reuel shook his head. “I do not know, son. It is a creature of evil, and it has the intelligence of a man. It is not driven by beast instinct, but rather by Darkness itself. I do not doubt a Fierund would not hesitate to kill a man had it the chance. Perhaps it was deciding whether you were too far to prey upon.”
“Grandfather, you are frightening me,” said Brandyé.
Reuel looked at him now, gazed deep into his eyes. “You should be,” he said. “A Fierund is not to taken lightly. You were lucky today; do not venture to the North again. In fact, do not go out onto the moors at all for now.” He sat back in his chair and gazed into the fire again. Absently, he stroked his beard, and now spoke quietly, as though to himself. “Most odd. I have not seen them venture so far into Consolation. Last I knew, they kept to the mountains and did not descend into the valleys.” He trailed off, and spoke no more.
Finally, Brandyé spoke up again. “What does this mean, grandfather?”
Reuel did not look back, but merely said, “I do not know, son. I do not know.”
Brandyé was not pleased that he was now forbidden from playing on the moors; it was his favorite place to be, and now, in the winter, he could only stay indoors, or visit Burrowdown, which had little to do in the cold months. But he knew he would not disobey his grandfather, and the presence of the wolf – the Fireund – unsettled him. He had sensed the danger of the creature, but had not realized its nature. What had it been doing in the trees? What had it to do with him? He felt certain the beast had known him – as though it had been deliberately seeking him, Brandyé Dui-Erâth, of the small cottage on the hill of Burrowdown in the land of Consolation.
He resolved to find something new to pass the time through the winter so that he did not miss the moors too much. Perhaps by the spring his grandfather would relent, and allow him once more to play in the open heather. Maybe the Fierund was merely passing through, and had been drawn to the sight of a person so nearby. Perhaps Farmer Tar was right – it was but an ordinary wolf, made large by the poor light of dusk. Somehow, though, he did not think so.