Chapter 7: The Fortunaé

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.

Is there hope yet left in the romantic world?

Romance is an odd concept. It suggests and implies a great many things, from the palpitations of infatuation, the surreptitiousness of forbidden relations, to the turbulent impetuosity of lust. There are romance novels, romantic comedies, romantic getaways and romantic restaurants. But it seems to me that, in what I see around me every day, romance has come to equal love.

And, as we all know, love equals lust.

Stop me if you disagree, but I rarely, if ever, find myself coming across a story in literature or film of recent years that does not feature some, if not excessive, amounts of sex. I love Stephen King, but the guy is obsessed with it. Most titles billed as romantic comedies seemed to follow a fairly prescribed storyline in which two lead characters begin their relationship by sleeping with one another, and thereafter finding some mutual attraction (though even this rarely seems to progress beyond the physical). Even movies that are epic and dramatic in their scope and concept seem unable to pull themselves away from this theme. I think of Titanic, which was in every way a magnificent film, and draws the viewer in from the outset and doesn’t let go to the very end. But – and it’s a big but that I’m sure some will disagree with me on – the sex scene in the car puts a very different slant on the movie. It is iconic, of course, if for nothing but the cinematography, and is arguably indispensable to the plot – it marks the commitment of the ending of her relationship with her fiancé, and the beginning of a new life with Leonardo DiCaprio. However, what does it imply for their relationship? Do the characters genuinely love each other, or is their relationship driven primarily by lust? The sexuality is implicit almost from the very beginning, and is of course strongest in the sketch scene. Is this, then, a romantic story at all?

Rewind 150 years (or even 100, for that matter), and the notion of romance is markedly different. The very age is known in artistic circles as the Romantic era, and the definition of the term meant something quite different. Consider these two definitions:

1. a feeling of excitement and mystery associated with love.

2.  a quality or feeling of mystery, excitement, and remoteness from everyday life.

The term ‘romance’ used to have little to do with love, and implied much more the welcoming of sentiment and personalism into the arts. In fact, it closely resembles another term we have come to use much more frequently: fantasy. There is a great deal of love in many of the best-known fantasies, but very few of them are sexual in any manner whatsoever. There was a love between Frodo and Sam greater than any more recent romance I have come across, with – and I’ll get there in a moment – a few exceptions.

Perhaps with the commodification of our very sentiments and feelings (I’m looking at you, Valentine’s Day!), it is simply easier to equate love, lust and romance to a single common denominator; if there is no difference between them, stories, perfumes and candies can all be reigned into the same arena. And to me this is a tragedy – there is a danger in this of losing love, and romance, as distinct entities in their own right, that may be connected to, but need having nothing to do with, lust and sexuality. Love can exist without sex, but it is inherent to lust.

So where am I going with this? Well, to tell you the truth, I was going to have stopped here. I will admit to having formed a prejudice against virtually all modern love stories along these veins, and – particularly with the recent spate of terrible, terrible love-themed movies whose posters I have been unable to avoid – I had more or less given up hope that there was yet room in the world for stories that could equal Romeo and Juliet focus on love, exploring the themes therein, without being led astray by the temptation of lust.

But, then I started thinking a little bit more. Were there stories, films, that I had come across recently that lived up to this notion? And I began to realize that my prejudice had in fact blinded me from recognizing love in its most enduring form in many recent productions. One of my favorite movies of all time, WALL•E, is a perfect example. Ironically, so is Up, which followed this. Both of these are tales of love as a connection, a commitment made unconsciously by the very fact that this person is someone you cannot live without. Up plays on this notion and turns it into a minor tragedy, and I will admit brought me to tears when I first saw it.

Another great example is the film Love Actually, from a few years back. Although being largely billed as a seasonal romantic comedy, what struck me is that in its attempt to consolidate several unrelated stories of love, the writers were daring enough to tackle love in many different ways. There is the aging rock musician who realizes the love of his life is his manager; the childish crush of the intern on the Prime Minister; the wonderfully ironic twist on lust with the sex actors who in fact want nothing more than to get to know each other. However, my favorite relationship in this film is that between Liam Neeson and his stepson, which does an excellent job of tracing the building of a strong, loving relationship between an adult and a child.

So with these thoughts in mind, I wondered what the rest of the world thought. And, with little true hope, it must be said, I thought I should see what the IMDB lists as the top 10 romance movies of all time. See what you think – I was surprised:

  1. Casablanca
  2. Rear Window
  3. Forrest Gump
  4. City Lights
  5. North by Northwest
  6. Modern Times
  7. Vertigo
  8. Amélie
  9. WALL•E
  10. Life is Beautiful (La Vita è Bella)

My first thought was, I didn’t realize Hitchcock made so many romantic movies. My second was, this isn’t so bad. Though there may be sex in some of these films, not one of them is driven by lust. There is something deeper, something genuinely meaningful (in the vaguest of senses), in each one of these films. And for me, that was an encouraging thought.

So I’ll finish with a quote from one of my favorite bands of all time, My Dying Bride. As you might suspect by now, it has nothing to do with lust:

As I draw up my breath

And silver fills my eyes

I kiss her still

For she will never rise

On my weak body

Lays her dying hand

Through those meadows of Heaven

Where we ran

Like a thief in the night

The wind blows so light

It wars with my tears

That won’t dry for many years

Love’s golden arrow

At her should have fled

And not Death’s ebon dart

To strike her dead.

For My Fallen Angel, from Like Gods of the Sun
My Dying Bride, 1996

Chapter 6: Sonora

Brandyé of course did not die of his illness that winter, and in fact recovered not long after having been thrown into the snow by his grandfather. Reuel seemed somewhat stuffed up and ill-disposed for some time after, however; it was uncertain if he had merely caught the cold that had afflicted Brandyé, or if he was disaffected by coming so near to losing his grandson, and the wild things Brandyé had uttered while under the mad influence of his fever.

For many weeks, Reuel did not leave the house, other than to go out, well-wrapped, for small provisions. The worst of the winter weather had passed, and they found themselves less needing of firewood, which was fortunate, as the pile outside the house was growing rather small. Reuel did not even visit the Burrow Wayde on Fridays, to the point where the regular patrons began to wonder where he had got to, and what exactly was happening with the odd little family of two that lived at the top of the hill. Nobody knew of the wolf Brandyé had seen, for neither Brandyé nor Reuel spoke of it, and Farmer Tar was oddly silent about his encounter with Brandyé on the moors on a cold evening.

Brandyé, for his part, was content to remain at home, and busied himself with writing and drawing. He began to follow Reuel around the house, and became quite adept at cooking – and burning – simple meals. He felt badly that Reuel had had to take such intensive care of him while he had been ill, and became aware that his grandfather often did more than his share of household work day to day. He began to more regularly tidy the parlor and kitchen; it was great fun emptying the parlor’s large hearth of ash, and Brandyé found it impossible to sweep the dark-staining char out of the house without raising great clouds of dust and soot, which would then need dusting off the furniture before it could again be used. Reuel taught him to wield an axe, and he began to spend hours outdoors finding and splitting logs and branches. Reuel began to rest more and more, and Brandyé didn’t mind for he knew his grandfather was old, and had worked hard all his life. This new work kept Brandyé’s mind busy, and he quickly grew strong and tall.

His sleep was again fitful and blank, and he did not travel during his sleep any more, either to distant ocean cities or dark woods. Yet, he could not clear his mind of what he had seen, both with his waking and his sleeping eyes. The memory of the Fierund among the distant moorland trees was ever clear and precise, and how the beast had emerged from the woods and gazed upon him directly, as though it knew where, and who, he was. The memory of the seven wolves in the far distant forest was yet sharper, for they had been nigh upon him before the dark figure had emerged from the trees. The claws, the fur, the long and dangerous teeth were nothing to the dismal, haunting red eyes whose gaze bore through his soul and emptied his mind of all that was good and right.

Yet above all, the one memory that remained untainted by fear, thought or the passage of time, was that of the woman in black. Of her he was not afraid, yet knew she was of great importance. Her skin, pale and cold, held not a trace of age, and she might have been twenty or two hundred. He remembered the darkness of her robes, they way the reflected no light, and remembered her eyes, which were of equal depth and blackness beyond measure. He remembered the jewel, dark and crimson, the color of blood, which hung at her breast and was the only mark of color upon her at all. He felt he could stare endlessly into the depths of that jewel; he saw every detail, the silver adornment at its top, the tiny loop that bound it to the cord which looped around her neck, and the way in which the color deep within it seemed to dance and change, and draw life into itself.

And also, he remembered her voice, clear and pure. She had spoken in a tongue he did not recognize, yet it felt familiar, and he did understand this. She had called him by his name, and had smiled at him, and he was sure she had also known him, as had the Fierundé. And while the intent of the Fierundé seemed clear (to eat him), what this woman in black had to do with him was beyond his reasoning. She had seemed kind, yet cold, and there was such a sense of darkness about her that he was intimidated. One word kept coming back to his mind as he thought of her, and that word was Death.

It was well into Spring before either Brandyé or Reuel felt well enough to spent a great deal of time out of doors, and since there had been so sign of Fierundé, wolves, or any other beast, and since Brandyé had not since spoken of any other such waking vision, Reuel relented and allowed Brandyé to once more venture away from home, and take the path down to the village, or roam the moors, whose sparse flowers were now beginning to awaken. There was a condition, though, that Brandyé would not pass onto the moors beyond sight of the house, and was above all forbidden from descending into the further valleys where the rows of trees and woods began. He also was not to venture onto the moors alone.

This did not bother Brandyé much, for in fact he was growing older, and spending endless hours acting out his grandfather’s tales and imagining himself as a brave knight conquering all manner of demons began to hold less interest for him. This is not to say his imagination was failing, for he continued to picture far away lands and places, but rather that containing his thoughts to his own mind was no longer enough, and his curiosity began to turn to an outward desire to explore, discover, and extend the boundaries of his own experience.

To this end, Brandyé was scarcely alone, for the Dottery’s son, Elven, shared with Brandyé his delight in exploration and discovery. Elven’s parents, Timothai and Arian, were two of the few adults in Burrowdown who did not mind Reuel and his odd grandson, and were on good terms with both of them. For them, the strangeness of Reuel’s past, and the circumstances of Brandyé’s birth, were not of their concern, and they saw but an old man who cared deeply for his grandson. Though they had not known them, they felt sorry that Reuel had lost not only a wife but a daughter, and saw how important Brandyé was to him.

Elven had inherited his parents’ lack of concern for the odd and inexplicable, and greatly enjoyed spending time with Brandyé. Of the two, Elven was the more heedless, and while Brandyé would take much time to consider the consequences of their actions, Elven would not hesitate to plunge into danger (or such circumstances as seemed dangerous to children). Inevitably, they would return, often dirtied, bruised and scratched, but triumphant that they had been able to loose Farmer’s Tar’s bull from its paddock, or pull a gnarleck (a large fish with three rows of needle teeth and a temper to match) from the River Burrow and drag it home for supper, much to their parents’ astonishment.

Elven had also three sisters, two of whom were older than him, and one who was younger. The two older sisters had little interest in what the “little boys” did, and indeed the eldest, Maria, was already engaged to a local farmhand and was due to be wed in the fall. The second eldest, Julia, though very pretty, seemed to spurn the attention of the other boys her age, and indeed showed great interest in artistry; her creations – from woven baskets to rugs and great, multicolored candles that could burn with blue or green flame – were second to none, and she sold many of them, much to the annoyance of Marion  Myrtlehüe (she of the little pillows and the goat).

The youngest Dottery, though, Sonora, who was some years younger than Elven, was enamored of the two older boys, and saw them as being very brave and daring, especially when they would return from an adventure scratched and bloodied, grinning like fools and talking of their feats as though their very lives had been in danger (quite possibly, sometimes, with truth). She listened, her bright green eyes wide with wonder, to their adventures, and Elven and Brandyé, pleased to have such a willing audience, enjoyed very much regaling her with their exploits.

Sonora enjoyed also to hear Brandyé’s tales of ages past and the ancient world; she was of course too young to visit the Burrow Wayde, and as their families rarely visited each other, she had not heard Reuel’s great stories, and of course came to believe that Brandyé himself was the author of these yarns. Brandyé, having learned the art of embellishment from his grandfather, added his own details to each story, and a surprising number of the characters in these tales carried the name of Sonora, which gave the young girl a feeling of great importance, believing her name to be descended from such grandness.

Elven was very fond of Sonora, and would often bring small gifts back for her when he and Brandyé returned from their play; sometimes an unusual flower from a distant meadow, or a pocketful of ripe berries (which hopelessly stained Elven’s vests and got him in much trouble with his mother), or a small stone from the riverbank that seemed to let light pass right through it when held up to the sun just right. She delighted in these small gifts, and longed to go with her older brother on his adventures, and share in the wonder of exploration.

As kind as the Dotterys were to Brandyé, the other families of Burrowdown were not always so. Many of them would not look past his terrible birth, or the strangeness of his grandfather, and turned from him as he passed through the streets. When Brandyé was quite young, their children would merely stare at him as he passed, often from the windows of their homes, as their parents would shoo them indoors to keep them away from him.

Most children, of course, are not taught by their parents to think, and as they grow up, they become unconsciously filled with the prejudices of their parents, and where once there was curiosity about the strange boy, there now was dislike, and a few of the older children began to confront Brandyé when he was in town, and would often tease him, or refuse him passage down a street unless he gave them a coin. Reuel had long feared that such confrontations would happen as Brandyé grew older, and hoped that his own patience would pass on to his grandson, but sadly it was not so. Brandyé’s pride would not let him back down from his tormentors, and these altercations would often end with Brandyé returning home to explain his bruises to his grandfather.

Soon, much to the alarm of his parents, Elven also became ostracized for his friendship with Brandyé, and while the children of the village would rarely bear down on him alone, they would not hesitate to include him in their aggression if he happened to be with Brandyé at the time. Matters were not aided by Elven’s own brashness, and while Brandyé would usually react to their taunts with stinging words, Elven would launch himself upon them with his fists. Despite this, Brandyé soon learned that the excuse, “Elven started it,” did not assuage his grandfather’s disappointment in these scraps.

So it was with caution that Brandyé and Elven began to venture out of their homes, and they increasingly avoided the village of Burrowdown itself in favor of the open countryside. One of their favorite pastimes was to journey to a certain low hill, some three or four miles to the South from Burrowdown. This hill was singular in that it stood, alone, in the otherwise flat southern countryside, as though placed there by a giant in ages past. Atop this hill stood an ancient oak, whose branches began very low, and whose highest leaves swayed in the breeze some hundred feet above. Elven had named the tree Soleheart, for he said it was a brave tree to live for so long alone at the top of the hill. Naturally, it was an excellent climbing tree, and Brandyé and Elven would often scale Soleheart for some seventy or eighty feet, and just before the branches became too thin to support their weight, there grew a particular tangle of branches upon which they could quite comfortably sit, side by side, and look out upon virtually all of the land of Consolation. It felt very much that they could gaze upon the entirety of the world from that height, and would spend hours enjoying the isolation, discussing matters of great importance (such as what their favorite meal was, or which of the village bullies they would most like to see fall face-first in the mud). Occasionally, they would forget the passage of time, and only start the journey home when the sun began to sink below the western horizon. They would be in much trouble when they returned home in the dark, but for them it was worth it, for it seemed that no one else in all the lands knew of this secret spot.

Unbeknownst to them, Sonora had for some time begun to follow them when they went out, and though she at first would turn back after only a few minutes, the excitement of seeing what her older brother was up to spurred her to trail them for longer and longer, always keeping back and hidden from their view, lest they should turn suddenly and spy her behind them. It was not long before she too knew of the great oak atop the hill, and envied them and wished she too could climb the tall branches with them. She believed, though, that they would be angered if they knew she had followed them, and knew her parents would not like her traveling so far from home, and so remained hidden in the tall grass, silent, until they started back, and again would trail them secretly all the way home.

It became so that she knew the way to the hill without needing to follow the two older boys, and often she was pass ahead of them, and arrive at the tree before them. One time, she did not know that Brandyé and Elven had stopped on their trail to watch a wild cat catch and devour a small frog, and was very much surprised to find that when she arrived at Soleheart, there were already people there.

Some five or six boys, some of whom she knew from the village, were gathered near the base of the tree, and seemed to be surrounding something that lay upon the ground. Some of them were pointing and laughing, and she felt their laughter was not of good humor, and became uneasy. These boys seemed mean, and she was worried about what lay between them. She drew herself, keeping low in the grass, closer to the circle of boys, so that she might see what they were doing. While she knew it would not be something she thought of as “good”, her young mind could not fathom the cruelty of boys, and she was not prepared for what she saw.

In the centre of the circle of boys, flapping awkwardly and clearly hurt, was a small bird. It had a sharp, curved beak, and its feet ended in very sharp talons, but one of its wings was bent, and it was scrabbling at the earth as though in terror. Some of the boys were in fact throwing stones at the creature, and cheered if it hit home. One of them brandished a long stick, and would jab out at it occasionally, ensuring it did not escape.

Sonora watched, aghast, and felt sick. Such was her horror that she could not prevent a small cry escaping her lips, and at the sound, each of the boys rounded on her, searching the grass with unpleasant eyes. One of them pointed and said, “Look, there – in the grass; it’s a little girl!”

Two of the others rushed forward, and before Sonora could move, they had grasped her wrists, and hauled her from her hiding place and held her, struggling, before the first boy. He stood taller than the others, and commanded a presence that the rest of the boys submitted willingly to. The first boy, the tall one, glared at her. “What’re you doin’ all the way out here?” he demanded.

Sonora did not reply. She was greatly scared, and a small tear leaked from her eye. She did not want to anger the boys further, but an instinct told her they were looking for an excuse to do something terribly unpleasant to her, and was afraid to speak lest she unwittingly give them that reason. The boy stepped threateningly toward her, and repeated, “What’re you doing? What’s a little girl like you doin’ all by her lonesome? Are yer parents near?” He looked around, and for a moment seemed nervous. Seeing nothing, though, he turned back to her. “Are you mute? I spoke to you, you’d better answer!”

Sonora trembled. “Please,” she whimpered, “please let me go – I won’t tell anyone what you were doing!”

The boy’s eyes narrowed. “And jus’ what exactly were we doin’?” he growled.

Sonora bit her lip, but did not speak.

“Answer!” the boy demanded.

Sonora cast her gaze away from him, and murmured, “I saw you hurt that bird.”

A corner of the boy’s lip curled, and he said, “I could hurt you, ’course, too.” Sonora began quietly to weep, but the boy saw, and swift as a whip, lashed out a hand and slapped her check. Sonora’s head was flung back, and her cheek stung and grew red. “How do I know you won’ speak?” he said. “P’raps we should make so as you can’t return home,” and he raised his hand again.

It was at that moment that a voice called out, high and angry, “Oi! Leave her be!”

The boys turned towards the sound of the voice, and Sonora looked also. Appearing on the far side of the hill stood Elven, fury on his face, and Brandyé beside him, looking astonished. He was not certain by what he was most surprised – that Sonora had found her way to the hill, or that six boys, some of whom he knew from the village to be particularly nasty, were surrounding her with what appeared to be an intent to cause her great harm. Elven had no such consideration; his only thought was to bring all his might upon his sister’s tormentors, and he was not a weak boy.

The leader of the boys moved away from Sonora, and the rest of them followed him. The two who had held her tight released her, and she turned and ran as fast as she could down the hill and toward home, now weeping freely. The sound of her cries enraged Elven yet further, and his teeth ground so that Brandyé heard them.

“You dog!” yelled Elven.

Brandyé was angered now also, and spat, “Cowardly filth! You would strike a girl half your age? Perhaps because you have no courage to face someone who is your equal in strength!”

The group of boys approached them with loathing, and the leader cried, “I don’ need to be afraid of someone my size, or anyone else! Your little girlfriend got what was comin’ to her, and you’ll get the same!”

“You speak of my sister!” cried Elven, and without a further word threw himself at the tall boy.

The boy was a head taller than Elven, but such was Elven’s force that he was thrown back, and the two fell to the ground, Elven swinging in blind rage at the boy, bloodying his nose with his first hit. Swiftly, the remaining boys fell upon him, tearing at him and kicking him and pulling him by his hair to free their leader from his blows.

Brandyé stood back for a brief moment to consider the fight, saw the boy who was bringing his foot down upon Elven with the greatest force, and rushed up behind him and wrapped his arm around the boy’s throat. The boy gave a startled, strangled cry, and Brandyé pulled him away from the scuffle and down to the ground. He drew his arm ever tighter around the boy’s throat until his struggles ceased and his cries turned from anger to fear of choking, and then released him and pushed him away. The boy did not get up, but rather lay on the ground, clutching his throat and gasping for breath. Brandyé turned back to Elven, and began to feel fear at what he saw.

Despite Brandyé’s help, Elven was yet pitted against five boys, all larger than he, and he was no longer atop their leader. The tall boy had staggered to his feet, and though Brandyé was pleased to see his face bruised, cut and bleeding (and, he was sure, a tear shining on one cheek), the other four were now upon Elven, who lay upon the ground, crying out in anger and pain, but unable to rise to defend himself.

Without thought, Brandyé picked up a large branch from the ground and brought it heavily upon the head of the nearest boy. To his astonishment, the branch did not break, and the boy wordlessly fell to the ground and did not move. In a moment of surprise, the other three boys turned away from Elven, who took the chance to crawl painfully from them.

Brandyé faced them, heaving breath, and raised the branch for another blow. One of the boys approached him, and he swung hard at the boy. The branch hit solidly against the boy’s arm, and though Brandyé thought the crack was of the wood, the boy screamed, grabbed his arm, and fled without another word. He raised the branch once more, and was then thrown suddenly to his knees and saw for a moment nothing but a flash of light.

He had too soon forgotten about the first boy, the one he had nearly strangled, and as his vision cleared, he saw the stone with which he had been struck drop to the earth beside him. Elven had crawled far enough from them that the remaining boys did not see him, and now bent all their attention on Brandyé.

“Hold him!” the leader screamed, and Brandyé was pleased to hear tears in his voice, but he knew what was to come would hurt very, very much. His sight was still blurred, but he felt both his arms grasped with painful tightness, and the tall boy now stood before him. He was out of breath, and sniffling, but he seethed with fury and cried, “I hate you!”, and brought his boot with all his might into Brandyé’s stomach.

Brandyé once more lost his sight, lost his breath, and vomited on the ground. He thus did not see the second blow, which struck the side of his head and threw him to the ground. There he lay, unable to move, and faintly heard the tall boy curse him, and sensed that the boys then moved away.

It was some time before Brandyé was able to draw himself up, and he felt as though his stomach were missing entirely from his body. He had never known such pain, and felt blood when he raised his hand to his head. Yet, he did not think any of his bones were broken, and knew that his other wounds would heal. He began to look around for Elven, and eventually found him, huddled on the far side of the tree, weeping softly. His clothes were torn, his face swollen greatly, his lip stained with much blood. Brandyé sat painfully beside him, and was quiet.

After some time, Elven looked up and him, blinked his tears away. “They hurt my sister, Brandyé.”

“We hurt them back,” replied Brandyé, and at this, Elven smiled.

“I heard you break one of their arms,” he said.

“You should have seen the tall one,” Brandyé said. “You made him cry.”

Elven seemed pleased at this, and did not speak again for a while. Gradually, they became aware of a quiet sound from nearby, and cast their gaze around. Suddenly, Elven cried out, “Look! There’s a bird!”

Indeed, the bird the boys had been tormenting lay still on the ground, its wing still bent, and was cawing in pain. The two boys approached it, and saw that it was very young, and terribly wounded. Elven let out a sob, and said, “It is one thing to cause harm to another man, but this…this is inexcusable.”

Brandyé, likewise, stared at the bird, disbelieving that anyone would want to cause harm to such a small creature. “Do you think she will live?” he asked Elven.

Elven knelt, and picked the small bird up. It flapped its good wing anxiously, but Elven was gentle, and it did not try to escape. “I think her wing is broken,” he said. “But I can make a splint at home. If her wing recovers, I think she will be fine.” He stood, and cradled the young bird, who seemed to relax into his arms. She was no longer cawing, and seemed content to allow Elven to carry her. “She’s a falcon, you know,” he said to Brandyé. “A young one; I do not know where her mother is. See how her beak is short but curved to such a point?”

Brandyé lowered his head (with pain, it must be said), and peered closely at the bird. “Look at her eyes,” he said to Elven. “They are green.” And indeed they were; the young falcon’s eyes, which faced forward so that the bird of prey might more easily see her prey, shone with an emerald glint, and Brandyé felt he had never seen such beautiful eyes. “She looks like Sonora, you know.”

“She does,” agreed Elven. And so the falcon became known as Sonora, and recovered, and lived with Elven for many years to come.