There was no hiding the evidence of the fight, and though Brandyé and Elven stopped by a brook to wash the blood from their faces, the bruises and cuts could not be hidden. Brandyé in particular continued to bleed from his temple for some time, and in the end he removed his tunic and tied around his head so that the blood would not flow freely.
The two boys returned first to the Dottery household, and stole under the fence behind the house so they would not be seen. In the wood shed, Elven found a sturdy wood splinter. He snapped it in half, down the length, so that there were now two long shafts, each perhaps half an inch across, and several inches in length. He now placed the falcon, Sonora, on the floor of the shed, where she lay calmly. So gently, he raised her wounded wing, and tried to bend it so that the bone lay correctly once more. At once, Sonora gave a shrill cry, and fluttered away from Elven. He scrambled after her, but as he reached out for her wing again, she snapped her beak at him and would not let him near.
“She will not heal if I cannot bind her wing,” Elven said.
Brandyé knelt down also on the ground. He was fascinated by Elven’s splint, for he had never seen a broken bone mended. He saw that the success of their healing lay in quieting the bird, and so he sat softly beside her, and laid his hand upon her head.
Almost at once, Sonora lowered her wings, and settled upon the floor. She let out a last, soft caw, and then shut her eyes. Elven looked at Brandyé, who was focusing his attention on the falcon. He did not seem to be restraining her, but when he moved to lift her broken wing this time, she did not resist, but instead was still, and closed her eyes.
With swift and delicate movement, Elven lined the splints along her wing, keeping line with the front bone which was broken. He held them firmly in place, and bound them with twine used for cording logs. Finally, he bound her wing itself to her body, so that she could not move it while the bone healed itself.
Elven released her, and sat back. For a moment, Brandyé continued to rest his hand upon the bird, and Elven saw that his eyes were half closed. When they opened, he looked down at Sonora, and released her. Almost at once, the young falcon hopped up again, and flapped her good wing several times. Feeling that the other would not move, she turned her head back, and gave an indignant squawk at seeing her wing thus tied. She attempted to nip at the twine that bound her wing, but Elven had made it fast, and it would not loosen. Eventually she gave up, and hopped towards Elven once more, who picked her up and began to stroke her feathers. He looked at Brandyé.
“How were you able to quiet her so?” he asked.
“I do not know,” said Brandyé. “I thought I had wandered – it felt that I was flying. How did you know to bind her wing thus?”
“I do not know,” replied Elven. “I did not consider it – it seemed the only thing to do.”
It was thus that both boys realized that together they had healed a wounded creature, yet did not know what they had done to effect it. They burst into laughter, and to Sonora they made no sense at all.
The other Sonora, the one who was Elven’s sister, had returned home some time before, and was yet crying unconsolably in her mother’s arms. Mrs. Dottery had thus far been unable to make out anything sensible from her daughter’s sobs other than something about a bird and a fight, but knew that Elven had not yet returned, and knew a dreadful thing had happened. If Elven had been in another fight, she resolved to check him over, clean his wounds, and then beat him as thoroughly as the boy he had picked a fight with.
Two things saved Elven from such a fate when he opened the back door into the kitchen, where it so happened Mrs. Dottery was sitting at their small table, Sonora in her lap, waiting for just this moment. The first was that Brandyé stood still with him, and she would not punish her son while his friend was near. The second was the bird that rested on his arm, its wing bound in the most awkward fashion, its talons gripping and tearing into the sleeve of his tunic. At this she was so astonished that she lost her words, and stared at the falcon with her lips parted. She told herself she should not be surprised, but the brazenness of her son never failed to amaze her.
It was Sonora who first broke the awkwardness of the moment. “The bird!” she cried out, and through her tears there was joy in her voice. “You rescued it!”
Elven grinned, and bit his lip, lest his mother think he was proud of his beaten and bruised condition (which, in truth, he was). Sonora rushed to the bird’s side, who looked at her curiously, uttered an inquisitive sound, and then turned from her again. Sonora put out her hand, and the falcon allowed her to pet it, though it seemed reluctant, and her young and emotional hand was heavy upon its head. Seeing the three children, two of them hers, gathered around this creature as though it were a new pet, was finally too much for Mrs. Dottery, and when she spoke she found herself able to put a fair amount of parental sternness into her voice.
“What is this?” she demanded. “Where has this bird come from? And who have you been fighting? You look as though you have been in a war!”
Both Elven and Sonora began to speak at once. Brandyé now bit his own lip to prevent a smile, for he perceived that Elven and Sonora were, in fact, telling nearly the exact same story, but Mrs. Dottery seemed unable to follow both her children as they ranted. She sighed, and held up a hand, at which they both stopped. “One by one, please!” she said.
Sonora began. “There were boys, mother, horrid boys, and they hurt a bird.”
“This bird?” Mrs. Dottery asked.
“Yes, mother,” continued Sonora with hardly a pause, “and they saw me, and I told them to stop, but then they were going to hurt me–”
At this point, Elven broke in. “And I – Brandyé and I – came upon them as the tall one struck Sonora.”
Mrs. Dottery drew her face in, and pulled at Sonora’s arm to bring her close to her. Yet she did not speak, and allowed Elven to continue.
“We had little choice, mother – they would have harmed Sonora. They were six, but we held them off so that Sonora might flee. I was so angry, mother – they hurt both a small bird and a small girl. Look at its wing, mother – I crafted a splint for it, and it likes me!”
Mrs. Dottery looked from Sonora to her son, and shook her head. “This is not well, you know,” she said. She looked at Brandyé. “And you – I suppose you did little to prevent such a fight?”
Brandyé looked down shamefully. “No, ma’am,” her mumbled.
“No, you don’t look it,” she commented. “Your grandfather will be worried sick about you. Go home, Brandyé. I will deal with Elven, and I have no doubt Reuel will deal with you also.”
Brandyé could think of little else to say but, “Yes, ma’am,” and turned to leave. As he stepped through the open doorway into the dusk, he called him back.
“Brandyé, dear,” she said. She looked also at Elven, and said, “You boys will be punished for fighting. Yet, you acted well, and protected two young creatures today. Thank you.”
As Brandyé walked home in the fading light, he considered what had happened that day. He knew his grandfather would be upset. Yet it was not his anger he feared, but rather his disappointment. He knew Reuel was displeased when Brandyé let his temper best him, and though at the time he felt that he was powerless to control it, after each incident he felt ashamed, and saw his grandfather’s face, quiet and somber, looking at him as though he had struck his grandfather himself.
His grandfather was waiting for him when he arrived home, sitting quietly at the table in the parlor. It was very much dark by now, and the only light came from two candles that flickered upon the table, casting the room into quite a gloom. At first, Brandyé did not notice Reuel sitting until he broke the silence and spoke to him: “Where have you been, son?”
Cautiously, Brandyé approached his grandfather. “I was at the large oak, grandfather,” he said. He moved into the candlelight, and knew that Reuel could now see the marks upon his face. Reuel remained still quiet, but Brandyé saw his eyes flick here and there, and felt them roam across his face. “A thing happened.”
“Indeed.” Reuel still had not reacted. Brandyé felt yet more ashamed than before, for he knew his grandfather’s silence came from the great disappointment that he had, once more, allowed his anger to overcome his reason. He waited for Reuel to continue, but he said nothing further. Finally, he brought himself to speak again.
“I was in a fight.”
“I think I can see that,” Reuel said calmly.
“They hurt Sonora,” Brandyé said. “We rescued her.”
“They hurt Arian’s daughter?” Reuel asked. For the first time since entering the house, concern was in Reuel’s voice.
“No, they hurt Sonora. Sonora was fine, I think. She was just upset.”
Oddly, Reuel didn’t ask for an elaboration on this confusing sentence. Instead, he said, “You rescued with your fists. You were angry?”
“Yes, grandfather,” Brandyé said, and some heat now came into his voice. He saw in his mind the brutes as they held Sonora, and the falcon’s broken wing, and bitterness rose in him once more. “They were evil.”
“They were certainly not evil,” Reuel replied. “You do not know evil.”
“They were…they were mean-hearted,” Brandyé corrected. It was all he could think of to say.
“That is more than likely,” said Reuel. “Does that excuse violence?”
Brandyé once more found the floor fascinating. “No, grandfather.”
“Do you recall the men in the Burrow Wayde?” Reuel asked. Brandyé nodded. “Why do they fight, son?”
Brandyé knew the answer to this. He also knew Reuel knew he knew the answer. “They fight because they lack the words to speak,” he mumbled. “But grandfather, they were already violent themselves. Speaking to them would have meant nothing!”
Reuel sighed, and said, “I wish it were not so, but sadly that is sometimes the case. Still – I will ask you one more question, son, and you may then go clean your cuts. Did you attempt to talk to them?”
Brandyé looked up, finally, at his grandfather, and admitted, “No, grandfather.”
Reuel nodded. “Learn from this, son. You may not be so lucky next time. Go.”
Brandyé shuffled from the room, and went to nurse his wounds. He understood what his grandfather intended for him, but he found his heart disagreed. How was he to deny such strength of feeling, when such retribution was so just?
Only a few days after the fight under the branches of Soleheart, rumor began to spread around Burrowdown: the Fortunaé were coming.
The Fortunaé were the lord family in that part of Consolation, and their region spanned most of the northern lands, including Burrowdown, Burrowai, Deeplake, and Farrow-Lea. It even reached as far south as Daevàr’s Hut, but did not include it – Daevàrs Hut was a governance unto itself. Their claim to the land dated back some two hundred generations, and their word was law. Even the Hirvets bowed to the Fortunaé, and indeed it was through these lesser families of power that the Fortunaé held their power.
In general, the lord families of Consolation did not involve themselves greatly with the small villages and families under their authority, preferring to convene among themselves, usually in the capitol of Daevàr’s Hut, where they presumably discussed matters of what they thought of as great importance. Still, every few years the Fortunaé would gather with them an entourage of their favorite staff – cooks, chiefly – and a minister, and spent many weeks journeying throughout their lands, taking stock of the farms and villages, and conferring with the local families of consequence. They would rarely – if ever – speak with the peasants themselves, with the sole exception of dealing out justice, which fortunately happened quite seldom. The last time anyone could remember such a thing happening was when, forty-three years ago, farmer Dölar had sold a horse to farmer Forde, failing to mention the horse was blind. Such a disagreement broke out over the ownership of the horse and the suitable recompense for its disability that the Fortunaé had been called upon. The head of the family at the time, a fat man named Thag whose chins were great he was forced to speak through his nose, was not pleased at having to travel so far for so petty a dispute, and consequently ordered the horse cleaved in two, with one half given to each farmer. Thus the matter was settled, though the two farmers did not speak to one another thereafter.
So it was that the people of Burrowdown learned that the head of the Fortuna family, Garâth, who was Thag’s son, as it happened, would be passing through their village that Saturday afternoon, and a great rush ensued to wash the walls of the inns and homes, plant fresh laurels along the road, repaint the signs, dispose of the stray cats (one would not wish to know how), and in general make the village as presentable as possible. Half of the children in the village could be found trimming back the verge and grass beside the houses (some of them, with delight, trimming back the daisies also).
Much fuss was made about raising a banner over the Burrow Bridge that proclaimed ‘Welcom to the Fortuna’, with several fights breaking out over the best way to keep it from falling into the river, and the spelling of the word ‘Fortuna’. In the end, the banner stayed up, though canting far to one side, and everyone was very proud of their efforts, until they realized it was facing the wrong way. Having taken so long to get it up, they could not bear to bring it down again, and so left it as it was, so that the Fortunaé were welcomed to Burrowdown precisely as they left the town.
On the day itself, the excitement in the village was very high, and by noon almost every man, woman and child in the village was turned out upon the south road, talking among themselves and waiting eagerly for the arrival of the carriage that bore Garâth of the Fortunaé and his ensemble. The population of the village waited anxiously on either side of the road, while the Hirvets stood proud at the foot of the bridge.
Reuel Tolkaï was one of the few in the village who would not venture out to see the Fortunaé, and was content to remain at home, sitting behind the house and dozing in the afternoon sun with the gentle moor wind. Brandyé, however, was terribly excited to see such men of power, and so he went down to the village, where he met Elven and joined the crowds lining the streets.
The two boys eagerly pushed their way to the front of the throng so as to gain a better view, and found themselves near the foot of the bridge also, and could see Joseph Hirvet, head of the Hirvet family, standing before them and shifting his great weight from foot to foot.
“Do you think they will be long in coming?” Brandyé asked Elven. Elven had seen the Fortunaé pass through as a small child, and so in Brandyé’s estimate was a veritable expert upon the subject.
“I do not know,” Elven replied. “I do not mind the wait; their carriage is splendid to behold.”
“I have heard the people in the village say it is made of gold, and bejeweled with the rarest gems.”
“I cannot say I recall it being gold,” said Elven, “but it was painted in the most magnificent colors. Sonora would have loved to see this, but she still has not left the house. I believe she is afraid the boys might find her.”
“How is Sonora?” Brandyé asked her. This was not confusing to Elven. Somehow in the few days since gaining the falcon, they had discovered each knew exactly which Sonora the other was talking of.
“She is mending well,” Elven said. “I have not yet unbound her splint, but she allowed me to hold her wing this morning, and she did not struggle. It seems not to pain her any longer.”
“Does she eat well?” Brandyé asked.
“Well enough,” said Elven. “She would not take the bread I first offered her, but she has taken a great liking to father’s smoked pork. Father is not pleased, but he will not reprimand her, so she continues to eat it anyway.” Brandyé laughed at this. “You should have seen Sonora’s face, though, when I told her we had named the falcon after her – she jumped so with delight that she frightened Sonora into the rafters, and she did not come down again for three hours!”
Brandyé would have replied that Sonora needed no further encouragement of her own importance, but a sudden murmur rushed through the crowd, cries of, “They are here!” rang out, and in the distance, Brandyé heard the faint whinnying of horses, and the clatter of hooves and chains and leather straps.
“Look,” said Elven, and Brandyé saw coming towards them up the road a veritable troupe of men and horses, all splendid in bright livery, and with the Fortuna crest flying from many lances. Three guards on horseback led the procession, one ahead of the others, and short swords hung at their sides. They looked neither left nor right, holding their gaze high as they spurred their steeds down the road and towards the crowd gathered at the bridge.
Following these three men came the carriage itself, drawn by a further four horses, and it was as splendid as Brandyé had imagined. The carriage was grand; a man could stand tall inside without touching its roof, and it was more than double this in length. Almost a house on great spoked wheels, it was as bright as the livery of the guards, coated in green and blue, the colors of the Fortuna family. Lines of gold traced the frames of its windows, which faced out on all sides, though curtains were drawn, and a great crest hung proudly over the door that allowed entrance to the coach.
Behind the carriage came another dozen men, some on horseback, some walking hastily beside the mounts. A second carriage, less resplendent, followed all of these, and carried such provisions, tents and other articles of comfort as the head of the Fortuna family deemed appropriate to carry on his travels.
At the front of the carriage, a short door opened to the driver’s platform, allowing passengers to speak to the driver directly. At this door stood Garâth of the Fortunaé, gazing out at the village and the crowd of people who waited, anxious for his arrival. The three guards held their steeds at the foot of the bridge, and the carriage’s driver brought it to a halt some dozen yards behind. There was a hush and murmur through the crowd, for it was now that they felt something was not right.
Garâth stood yet at the front of the carriage, and he was dramatic in his pose as he stood tall, and crossed his arms over his chest. His countenance bore a dark glare, and he ran his eyes over the gathering, as though searching for something in particular. After a moment, he withdrew his gaze, and addressed the congregation as one.
“Greetings, people of my lands,” he said, and his voice was loud and imposing. “I hoped I could bring you good will on this fine day, but alas it is not so.” He paused, and the crowd became nervous. A great mumbling arose, and the people began to shift and move, as though anxious to put a distance between themselves and the three guards, who stood still at the foot of the bridge, swords yet undrawn.
“One of your village has transgressed against my family, and such a grievance will not be tolerated.” He raised his voice yet louder, so that he might be heard without mistake. “I am injured,” he called, “that your folk should show such disgrace and lack of gratitude to your lords! Have we not kept your lands safe these past centuries? Have we not listened to your concerns over the years, and sought to better your lives by building for you homes to dwell in, and farms to tend? Have we not been just in our meagre demands of payment, a mere tithe of your seasonal produce? We have not brought upon you violence or bondage, and yet you would now seek to bring such upon us!”
The crowd were largely curious to hear such statements, for they had for so many years believe precisely the opposite of what Garâth spoke of, and the idea that the Fortunaé had treated them fairly all this time was a novelty. They were also unsettled at the accusation of violence, and began to speak louder amongst themselves, until finally Mrs. Heath called out, “Beggin’ yer pardon, but what violence has we brought ’pon you, m’lord?”
Garâth stepped to one side, and from behind him, out of the carriage came forth a boy, only somewhat older than Brandyé, though already nearly as tall as Garâth himself. At the sight of this boy, Brandyé found he could suddenly no longer move and his heart was in his mouth, for before him stood the boy he and Elven had fought against atop the hill where Soleheart stood. He stood beside Garâth, and supported himself against the frame of the small door through which he had stepped, making a great show of struggling to bear his own weight. Brandyé thought this an odd behavior, for his face bore no more than a few minor scratches, and the swelling in his jaw and eye had all but subsided. Still, at the boy’s appearance, Garâth appeared to become yet more upset, and called out to the crowd, “One among you has brought violence upon us; behold my own son, hardly able to stand upon his own feet!”
Brandyé was becoming increasingly nervous, for he was at the very front of the throng, and was ever so aware that the boy need only to look his way for his doom to be upon him. Yet for the moment, the boy seemed pleased merely to be seen, poor and helpless and beaten, his face raised imploringly to the sky.
Garâth was ranting on. “Such impudence will not be tolerated! We are a great and proud family, and vengeance shall be had for this crime! I know there is one among you who is guilty in this matter: let him come forth, penitent, and his justice may not be so severe!”
The crowd were now greatly disturbed, and suspicion descended upon them, as each looked to their neighbor as if they were the guilty party. Brandyé found that he was sweating, so great was his alarm. He dared not move, not even to withdraw further into the crowd where he might be hidden, and could not even look away from the fury of Garâth, standing yet proud on his carriage. He sensed Elven beside him, and thought he was as fearful as he.
Garâth continued to peer accusingly at the villagers for some time, but no one came forth. Brandyé could see a small twitch in the man’s cheek as he cried out, “Cowards you are also! If the guilty will not make himself known, the punishment will descend upon each of you! I shall see your fields burned, and your livestock slaughtered! We shall see how impudent you are when your children are starving!”
There was quite a change in the crowd at this statement, as fear and confusion turned now to anger. How dare one of their number bring doom upon them all for his own sake? Brandyé stood, breathing hard, and even as his mind raced in thought, he saw Elven begin to move forward towards the Fortunaé’s carriage. Garâth noticed the movement, and began to turn towards him, and so did his son.
It was in this moment that Brandyé forgot all thought, and found himself grasping Elven’s tunic with such force as to rip it, and hauled him back into the crowd, where he fell among the feet of the villagers. Without a pause, he stepped out, before the villagers, and stood, his gaze firm upon the lord and his son. Garâth glared at him, and narrowed his eyes. He leaned towards his son, and spoke, “Do you recognize this boy, son?”
The boy’s lip curled in an unpleasant smile, and slowly, he nodded. “It is he, father,” he said.
Garâth straightened. With a gesture, he motioned to the three guards still mounted upon their horses, and in a swift movement, they had brought their steeds around Brandyé and herded him to the centre of the road, one on either side of him, and one behind to prevent him fleeing. The two that flanked him drew their blades, and held them to Brandyé’s throat. Determined not to show his terror, Brandyé remained still, and kept his eyes fixed ever upon Garâth.
“So you are the one who dared to harm my family,” he growled. “You are noble, to spare your village a terrible fate. Be still, and this will be over swiftly.” Garâth now moved to descend from the carriage, and drew forth from under the driver’s bench a long, black leather whip, used for driving the horses. He raised this, and allowed it to fall to its full length upon the ground, and Brandyé now knew what was to happen to him, and clenched his jaw. This would be pain next to none he had ever known.
And then, an astonishing thing occurred. As Garâth made to step down wholly from the carriage, a voice, powerful and clear, cried out: “You will not harm that boy!” Brandyé heard it and knew it at once, for it was his grandfather’s. Garâth looked in fury at the speaker, and saw Reuel, standing with arms crossed on the very center of the bridge, staring him down with dangerous eyes. His face colored, and he cried, “Who are you that dares to speak to me thus?”
But he received no answer, for at that moment there was a great disturbance. The horses – each and every one of them – reared wildly at the sound of Reuel’s voice, brayed madly, and bolted. The guards surrounding Brandyé were thrown from their steeds, and the four that were bound to the carriage moved swiftly away from Reuel, galloping in retreat down the road toward the South. The boy, still on the carriage, was thrown back into the coach, but his father, Garâth, was flung from the step and fell, face down, upon the mud.
A hush of terror fell over the crowd, as their lord, spluttering, was raised to his feet by his guards. His robes now dripped with filth, and as he wiped the mud from his face, a fury unlike any they had seen blazed upon them. For an endless moment, the crowd stared at him, awaiting his wrath; but instead, Garâth turned without a word, and, supported by his guards, retreated swiftly down the road to the South, in pursuit of his carriage, already lost to the distance.
Silent, the crowd watched until he had disappeared over the ridge beyond, and then turned to Reuel, and Brandyé saw the anger and fear on their faces, and was again afraid. Lord Garâth of the Fortunaé had been humiliated in front of his own people, and retribution was sure to follow, and in their eyes, Reuel Tolkaï, rogue and mad, was to blame. Reuel returned their gaze defiantly, and then turned and retreated, walking tall, back up the hill towards his house. Brandyé cast a fearful gaze at Elven, who lay still upon the ground, speechless, and made to follow his grandfather. A terrible thing had happened that day, and he was afraid of what was to come.