So I’ve managed to write another chapter, in a single day! What’s going on?
Chapter 17: Vira Weitor
And so they ran, Brandyé leading, Elven now limping behind, and Elỳn at the rear, closest to the oncoming beasts. The path began to rise, mounting a small hill, and Brandyé could feel his legs starting to give out – he could run no further. His pace slackened, and Elven was soon pacing beside him, the terror on his face a mirror for Brandyé’s own.
And then Brandyé heard behind him a fierce cry and his heart leapt into his throat, for it was Elỳn, and he had never heard her utter such a sound before. Without thinking he stopped and turned, Elven carrying on past him. What met his eyes was astonishing.
Elỳn was surrounded by half a dozen fierundé, and from within her robes she had drawn forth a glowing blade and was sweeping it to and fro, keeping the animals at bay even as they snapped their jaws at her. He cried her name, but among the howling and snarling and thunder she either did not hear him, or chose to ignore him, for she did not waver in her warding off of the fierundé.
Elven was now far past him, and he heard him cry out, but at the same moment one of the fierundé leapt at Elỳn and all other thought was drowned out as his heart stopped. The world seemed to slow down around him, and for a moment it felt as though the rain lifted, and he saw only the beast’s flight through the air, its claws outstretched toward Elỳn’s throat, and the upward thrust of her blade as it pierced through the animal’s jaw, before it collapsed upon her and she was driven to the ground.
All danger was forgotten, and he began to race back down the slope toward her, Fahnat-om pointing at the beasts. And then, as he drew near, he felt a hum in the air, and suddenly the earth erupted between the ring of fierundé and himself and he was thrown to the ground. Light blinded him, and as the deafening crack of thunder subsided he heard only yelps and howls. Blindly he clambered to his feet again and stumbled wildly, swinging Fahnat-om madly in the hope that it might strike one of the fierundé. Instead, he heard the distinct clang of steel against steel, and bewildered, he blinked away the lightening’s afterimage to find himself staring at Elỳn, her sword raised to meet his in its path through the air.
“Heed your sword,” she said, panting, “or you might cleave more than you intend!”
Suddenly horrified at what he had almost done, Brandyé lowered his weapon and looked about him. After the brightness of the lightning strike he could see almost nothing in the dark, but he had the sense that the fierundé had – if only momentarily – fled. “Are you all right?” he asked.
“I am uninjured,” she said. He saw that she was coated in a foul black substance, and she noticed his gaze. “Their blood, not mine.”
“Brandyé! Elỳn!” came Elven’s voice from afar.
“Elven!” returned Brandyé. “Where are you?”
“Come, quickly – you must see!”
Perplexed, Brandyé turned once more up the hill to follow the path, Elỳn beside him. Before long they had crested the summit, and it was then that Brandyé saw what Elven wished them to see. Laid out before them in the low of the valley was a great array of torches and lights, lining wet and muddy streets and paths. Dozens, if not hundreds, of buildings and homes stretched out into the distance, and surrounding them all was a great wall of spiked wooden poles, at least twenty feet in height.
“The village…” Brandyé muttered, and then to Elỳn, “You were right – you were right!”
“Hansel’s Foil,” she agreed. “But we are not safe yet. Hurry!”
Down the hill they trudged, slipping and sliding in the mud, and before long they had reached the wall that surrounded the town. There was a door in the wall to which the road led, but it was shut against them. Desperate, Brandyé ran to it and began pounding upon it mercilessly, calling, “Please – let us in, let us in! We are being chased!”
But there was no answer, bar the distant howls of the fierundé. They had scattered at the lightening strike, but they were not cowardly beasts, and clearly had already begun to regroup. It would not be long before they saw they red eyes cresting the top of the hill, Brandyé thought.
Elven joined him in his pounding, screaming for all his might: “Let us in!”
For several minutes they remained there, stuck between the approaching fierundé and the impassable wall, and for all their calling and cries there was no answer. Finally, Elỳn said, “Enough – this is of no use. Elven, take one of your arrows and fire it over the wall. With luck, it will be seen by someone.”
“What if it hits someone?” he asked.
“I very much hope it does not.”
In the dark and the rain, Brandyé saw Elven draw forth another of the Illuèn’s glowing arrows and affix it to his bow. Aiming high above their heads, he loosed it, and away it flew, high, up, and then down, and over the wall.
For a moment there was silence, and Brandyé was encouraged to look once more behind them. To his sudden terror, he could see the dim shapes of the fierundé, now making their way down the path and the hill, their eyes glowing miserably. They had ceased their howling, and come upon them in silence.
“Please, let someone open this door,” he murmured. And then, just as he was about to draw out Fahnat-om for one, final death stand, there was a sudden scraping sound, and a porthole in the door swung back.
“This be yours?” said a voice, and the arrow that Elven had shot was suddenly flung back at them. The tone of the voice was lost on Brandyé; the act of the person to whom it belonged was ignored; all he knew was that the voice was human, and that he understood it.
“Please – let us in!” he cried once more. “We’re almost dead!”
But the door did not open; instead, the voice continued, “Who are ye? Comin’ from the south in the mid o’ night’s a bad sign.”
“We mean no harm!” called Elven, “but please – the fierundé are almost here!”
Then there was a pause, and the voice said, “Fierundé? The fierundé don’ come this far—”
And then Elỳn interrupted with, “They are here now, and if you don’t let us in we will be dead in under a minute!”
Perhaps it was the unusual accent she bore, or perhaps the female tones of her voice, but at her words there was suddenly a great scraping as of a huge latch being lifted, and the door swung inward. Overjoyed, Brandyé pushed forward with Elven and Elỳn, and in a moment they were inside the village.
“Quick – bolt the door!” Elỳn cried, and the old man whose voice they had been hearing nodded, swinging the door shut and dropping the heavy wooden bolt that kept the door shut. Not a moment too soon was it, for in only a moment came furious howls and snarls, and the scraping of many claws against the wood.
“That’ll hold ’em,” the man said. He turned, and his eyes widened as he took in their appearance. “Bless me,” he said. “Ye’re not from ’round here, are ye?”
Brandyé could but shake his head, but Elỳn said, “We are from the south, yes – but we intend no harm.”
“That remains to be seen,” said another voice. Turning, Brandyé saw a man in what was clearly a uniform of some kind standing before them, several guards carrying spears on either side. “Gaillard – did you let these folk in?”
The old man nodded. “The fierundé were on them,” he said. “They’d’ve died—”
“Better they than us,” the officer snarled. “You could’ve let them in as well!” Then he turned to the three companions. “Welcome to Hansel’s Foil. You’ll surrender your weapons now, or I’ll have my guards finish the fierundé’s work.”
“What?” Elven exclaimed. “We just told you we mean no harm—”
“‘No harm’ doesn’t arrive armed with glowing arrows,” the officer said. “Now – your weapons.”
Elven looked ready to continue arguing, but Elỳn whispered, “Do as he says – we can’t afford to battle these folk.”
Brandyé took heed at once, sheathing Fahnat-om and laying it upon the wet ground, and Elỳn followed him with her own glowing sword. Elven hesitated a moment, and then with a deep scowl laid down his bow, and scattered the remaining arrows on the ground. Brandyé also retrieved his crossbow and placed it in the mud as well, carefully.
The officer seemed satisfied, and motioned to his guards. They moved forward, and at a prod from their spears set the three companions walking forward. Through the village they passed, though Brandyé saw little; the sky was now black, and the only light came through curtained windows here and there. There were many torch posts on the sides of buildings, but in the rain none were lit. Brandyé could not help but notice that almost every home was built of wood, and he wondered what would happen should a candle inadvertently drop upon a curtain.
Brandyé had enough experience with being captured to know where they were being taken, and sure enough they soon found themselves in a small cell, one among many, iron bars on every side. This was the justice house of the town, Brandyé guessed, for they shared the space with several others, most of whom appeared bruised and drunk.
Though the cell was far from comfortable, the guards did at least bring some bread and water before they left them in the darkness. Suddenly ravenous, Brandyé and Elven did not hesitate to tear into their meal, while Elỳn sat peacefully to the side and gazed out through the bars.
After the last crumbs were gone and the last drops drunk, Brandyé finally turned to Elỳn. “What are we to do now?”
“Although we are captured, we are also safe,” she said. “One cannot complain about the nature of one’s salvation.”
“How long will they keep us here, do you think?” asked Elven.
“There is no knowing,” she replied. “However, I do not think it will be long; we are far too strange and unusual to be kept in a common prison cell for the rest of our lives.” And she smiled at them.
She was not wrong, for the following morning the officer from the previous night came to see them. For a long time he did not speak, and gazed particularly hard at Elỳn. She returned his gaze passively, and Brandyé knew he was trying to decide exactly what she was. Eventually he relented, and spoke to them. “I apologize for the conditions under which ye’re bein’ kept. If by nothin’ other than the surrender o’ your weapons, ye’ve showed us peace. Still – law is the law, and outsiders from the south are to be treated hostile.”
“Why?” protested Elven.
The officer looked at him oddly. “Ye’ve come from the south, no?”
“Yes,” Elven acknowledged.
“Then ye know that what dwells there’s evil.”
“The luck o’ it is, it’s not my place to say. There’s another wants to meet ye.” He turned from them and barked out to the guards that had accompanied him, “Get the rest o’ these folk out, he’ll not want to see hungover scum!”
There was a general bustle then as the occupants of the other cells were unlocked, unchained and dismissed, most of them still staggering from the drink of the night before. Some of them were aware enough to stare at the three of them through the bars, eyes always lingering on Elỳn’s cloaked and hooded face. Brandyé wondered how she managed to stay so calm with so many people staring at her; were it him, he would be burning with shame by now. Then he thought that perhaps he was glad that for once it wasn’t himself that was the cause of all the attention.
Before long the place was empty, and as Brandyé and Elven finished their breakfast (more bread, yet welcome – it was fresh, and well-baked), they heard a commotion, and voices outside.
“…keep her locked up?”
“Ye know the law as well as I, and they’re from the south!”
“D’ye see her face, or not?”
“Then what were ye thinking?”
And then two men entered the building – the officer from before, following a man whom at only a glance Brandyé knew to be a soldier. He wore no armor, though Brandyé could immediately imagine him in it; rather, he was dressed head to toe in the finest cloth, leather bracelets around his forearms, and a great crest adorned his chest – stitched white against the green cloth, a curled dragon. An ornate sword hung at his side, and Brandyé had no doubt that it had seen action; the scabbard was well-used but clearly cared for, the pommel worn to a shine.
“Is this her?” the soldier asked.
The officer bowed. “Yes, sir.”
The soldier approached the bars and looked in. He glanced in passing at Brandyé and Elven, but focused his gaze on Elỳn almost immediately. “Greetings,” he said. “I am Tharom Hulòn. Who are ye?”
For a moment Elỳn was silent as she returned the man’s gaze, and Brandyé broke in, “I am Brandyé, and—”
“Didn’t ask ye,” the soldier said without taking his eyes from Elỳn, and Brandyé fell silent.
“I am Elỳn of the Illuèn,” Elỳn said finally, “and these are Brandyé and Elven. They are my traveling companions, and I would have you treat them as you would treat me.”
Tharom seemed to consider her words for a moment, before saying, “Ye have a white face and ye come from the south. What proof do I have that ye’re truly Illuèn?”
And then Elỳn stood and drew back her hood so that her white hair fell over her shoulders. She stood a full head taller than the soldier, who was himself taller than either Brandyé or Elven, and looked down upon him. “I offer no proof but my countenance, and the weapons that were taken from us last night,” she said, “though you have already seen them, have you not? You are Tharom Hulòn, knight of the Fourth Guard of the Dragon, and you are far from home. Tell me, what brings a proud knight so far from Vira Weitor, to the southern fringes of Erârün?”
At her words the knight seemed startled and almost disturbed, and it was a moment before he replied, “Ye know much, Elỳn of the Illuèn; I will take your word – for now.”
He turned to the officer that had imprisoned them and said, “They’re to be released into my custody.” As the officer moved to unlock the prison cell, he said to them, “Your weapons stay with me, and if I hear breath of misdeed, I’ll have ye back in manacles.” The cell door swung open, and Tharom motioned for them to follow him. “For now, ye look like ye could use a bed – and a warm bath.”
Brandyé’s spirits lifted somewhat at these words as they followed Tharom out of the building, for a bed and bath were by now luxuries beyond his wildest dreams. However, as they began to walk through the town, Brandyé began to think that the inhabitants of Hansel’s Foil did not share in his enthusiasm. Most of the folk they passed looked dirty and tired, plodding along as though they truthfully had no desire to be where they were going. So gloomy were their faces that Elven leaned over to Brandyé and said, “All these folk – they’re acting as though someone has died.”
The thought had occurred to Brandyé. “Perhaps someone has.”
Tharom overheard them and said, “Nay – no one’s died. Ye’re not likely to see much cheer south o’ Bridgeden, though; and these days, not much north o’ it either.”
“What does that mean?” Elven called after him, but the knight refused to elaborate. Brandyé turned to Elỳn.
“What is he talking about?”
But Elỳn seemed curiously distracted, her eyes fixed on Tharom. “This man, Tharom…” she muttered. “He is aware – much more aware than most men.” She blinked, and turned to Brandyé. “We shall do well to bide by this man – I do not know why he was exiled to the south, but he knows of the coming Darkness.”
“Exiled?” repeated Brandyé, but she would say no more.
Soon they found themselves in the entrance to an inn, and Brandyé could not help feel a sharp pang of nostalgia as he looked around, so similar was it to the Burrow Wayde and other inns in Consolation. He barely registered Tharom ordering three rooms and hot baths to be drawn, and fresh linens. By the tim Brandyé was in his room alone, the impending comfort was too much to bear, and as he stripped he nearly dove into the deep, hot tub of water that had been provided. He had intended to wash and then make his way downstairs for some food, but within moments he had fallen fast asleep in the tub of water, and did not wake for some hours.
Over the following few days, Brandyé and Elven roamed the town of Hansel’s Foil, which was large, though not nearly as large as Daevàr’s Hut had been. They soon became accustomed to the strange accent the folk here had, and Brandyé was glad that he did not have yet another language to learn. He still did not have any mastery over the ancient tongue that Elỳn and Schaera used amongst themselves, though he was beginning to understand a few words here or there.
As for Elỳn, she spent nearly all her time deep in conversation with Tharom, either over tea or ale at the inn or walking through the streets of Hansel’s Foil, and for all that time Brandyé did not see her except for evening mealtimes. When he asked her what they had spoken of she would only smile, and so it was a mystery to Brandyé when she came to them on the seventh day of their stay there and said, “I have convinced Tharom to take us north – possibly as far as Vira Weitor. It is a long road, but there are villages on the way, and with luck we might arrive there the week after next.”
“What of the fierundé?” Elven asked – a thought that was also on Brandyé’s mind.
“There has been no sign of them outside of the walls of the village for six days,” she said. “I believe they have retreated.”
“They could be tricking us,” Elven said.
But Brandyé did not think so. “I have not felt their presence for some time,” he said with a nod to Elỳn. “Although – if they do approach again, we’ll be in open land with no defenses.”
“Not quite,” said Elỳn. “I could not convince Tharom to return to us our weapons, but we will have a guard, and we will be on horses.”
“They can outrun horses,” Brandyé said darkly.
“There is danger, yes. But it is a journey we must take. Our trip will have been in vain if we allow the fierundé to capture us here.”
To this there was little Elven or Brandyé could say, and so they allowed themselves to be led to a nearby stable, where Tharom was waiting for them.
“Ye can ride?” he asked, and both Elven and Brandyé nodded. “Good. Ye’ll have a steed each – Elỳn has hers all picked out already. We’ve packed already, and we’ll be leaving in a few minutes. I’d like ye to meet our guard, too: this is Tylan, and Richmond.”
A woman and a man were there, both dressed in leather armor and with a sword at their side. The woman bowed slightly to them, but the man, Richmond, only scowled. “I beg your pardon,” Tharom said in a low voice, “for they hardly wish to be going. They were, ah – recruited be the word.”
“From where?” Elven whispered to Brandyé.
But there was no answer to be had, and soon they were riding through the village, passing through the dismal streets to the town’s north entrance. Brandyé felt a nervousness grow in his stomach as they drew near, for it was only once they were out of the town and into the open countryside that they would know for certain if the fierundé had indeed abandoned them or not.
Then they were before the gate, and two men pulled the great door open, and then they were through and trotting along the damp earth road, northward and away from safety. It was not long before Hansel’s Foil had retreated from view completely, and all around them was the quiet wind blowing through the tall grass, and only the odd tree dotting the landscape provided any relief from the dreariness of it all. Only when three hours had passed without sign of fierundé did Brandyé allow himself to relax his guard, and even then only such that he was not constantly looking every which way about him.
For most of that first day they proceeded in silence, stopping only now and then to let the horses rest. Tharom told them that the town of Bridgeden was a five-day ride, and they would decide at that point if he was to accompany them to Vira Weitor or not. Brandyé did not understand why he would not wish to see this great city, the sight of which even he was becoming increasingly agitated to see. “I think he will,” Elỳn confided secretly, but would say no more.
Brandyé himself felt somewhat intimidated by this knight and his secrecy, something which Elỳn was doing nothing to help with, but on the third day of their march Elven summoned the courage to bring his horse alongside Tharom’s and asked him, “What do you know of where we’re going?”
Tharom appeared to survey Elven for a moment before replying, “What would ye have me tell ye?”
Elven shrugged. “I understand we’re going to a place called Bridgeden, and then on to somewhere called Vita Weitor. Bridgeden I’ve never heard of, but Vira Weitor I’ve heard spoken of by several people. I’d have you tell me about that. What sort of place is it?”
There was a pause, and Brandyé, who was eavesdropping from behind, thought perhaps the knight was not going to answer. Instead, he said with a sudden note of emotion in his voice, “It’s a place of beauty, and a place of ugly truth. A place of justice and reason, and a place of treachery. When there is music, it’s heard throughout the city; and when Death calls, the cries are heard just as loud.” He looked to Elven, fixed him with a hard stare. “It’s a city of two faces, and woe to he that looks upon the wrong one.”
“Have you ever lived there?” Elven prodded.
There was then a very long pause, and all Tharom would say was, “Aye.”
Some time later, Brandyé thought over the man’s words, and later that night he spoke to Elỳn about it. “He holds the city dear, doesn’t he?” he asked.
She sighed, staring into the campfire around which they were seated. Tharom had momentarily retreated, and she said, “More than you can know.”
“There was poetry in his voice when he spoke of it.”
“There is poetry in Vira Weitor.” She smiled slightly. “You have never heard such music, Brandyé – even among the Illuèn, Vira Weitor is known for it.”
“Is it beautiful?”
“The City of White Stone,” she said. “That is what its name means. Ah, but be careful!” she added as he looked away, imagining. “Names can be deceiving.”
So their journey continued, and two days later, just as Tharom had indicated, they came upon the town of Bridgeden. Unlike Hansel’s Foil it was not surrounded by walls and defenses, and they came into the town much as they had the abandoned village of Verüith Hamlà – slowly, first with farms, and then streets, and then the center of the village proper.
To Brandyé Bridgeden was far more than a village, and in fact reminded him greatly of Daevàr’s Hut, both in size and make. Stone there was now here alongside wood, and dwellings were often three or four stories high. It was a busy town also, and as they approached its center they found themselves slowed by the crowds of folk passing here and there about their daily business.
Yet even here, Brandyé was struck by the lackluster pacing of the town’s inhabitants. Not one person seemed in a hurry to get anywhere, and laughter was ominously missing from the chaotic sounds that surrounded them.
They stopped before a hostel called The Wayward Rest, and Tharom dismounted first to secure them a stay for the night. As Brandyé and Elven followed suit, Elỳn spoke to them: “Do not stray in this town. I know you have familiarity of such places, and you should know there is crime here.”
Brandyé shivered and looked about him. There was no indication he could see of treachery, though he admitted to himself that the morose, sullen and grave faces of the passersby gave away nothing of their intent. Any one of them could desire his death, and he would not know it.
“I have a treat for ye,” Tharom said, emerging from the hostel. “There’s a place near here with the best food outside of Vira Weitor.” He grinned at Elven and Brandyé. “I don’t know about your Illuèn friend, now – I hear they only eat green – but ye’ve never tasted a better pork roast.”
Tharom was not wrong, and that evening as he sat back with a belly full of meat and a third pint of ale in his hand he decided that life in Erârün was not bad at all. Given that, he had to wonder at the dismal atmosphere that seemed to pervade everywhere; even the host of their dining hall did not crack a smile when Elven told him their meal was ‘better than all the greenleaf in Erâth’, but merely muttered, “Thanks,” and moved on.
Brandyé slept well that night, and did not wake until well into the day the following morning. In fact, Elven and Elỳn had already left, and when he went downstairs to breakfast only Tylan and Richmond were there.
“Do you know where the others have gone?” he asked them.
Richmond shook his head, and Tylan said, “They went out, and told us to guard their things.”
Brandyé could not help noticing the bitterness in her voice, and offered, “I could watch our belongings, if you wanted to go out into the town.”
“Ye’re not too bright, are ye?” said Richmond, and Brandyé scowled; there was no need to be insulting, he thought. “Ye don’t know why we’re here, do ye?”
“You’re our guard,” he said. “That’s why you have weapons, and we don’t.”
“Do ye have any idea who ye’re following?” asked Tylan. “Who Tharom is?”
Brandyé sat down at the table with them and reached for the half-eaten loaf of bread. “You don’t mind if I eat?” he asked. “I understand he’s a knight – a soldier of some kind. I assumed you were as well.”
“Us – knights?” cried Richmond, and Tylan laughed a bitter laugh.
“I’m a ferrier,” she said. “Richmond here’s a butcher.”
Brandyé frowned, puzzled. “Then why are you here?”
“Not by choice, I assure ye,” said Richmond.
“Are you being paid?”
Tylan shook her head. “Nay. Pay’d not get me to come, no.”
“Ye really don’t know what a knight o’ the first order is, do ye?” said Richmond.
Tylan leaned in close to Brandyé, and he could smell the stale beer on her breath. “We’re here on pain of death.”
Brandyé’s eyes widened.
“It carries the death penalty to refuse the will of a knight of the first order,” Richmond said. “And ye’d better believe he’d do it, too.”
“Tharom threatened to kill you if you didn’t come?”
“But…you have weapons. Surely you could—”
“Could what?” said Tylan. “He’d have our heads before we could draw.”
Tylan shrugged. “I know my way around a sword. What other reason d’ye need?” Richmond grunted.
Brandyé thought long about this, and looked hard at Tharom when he returned with Elỳn and Elven later that day. While he had never been overtly friendly, nor had he seemed aggressive or harsh. He wondered what kind of man would threaten people with death in order to have them submit to his will. Even Khana, he thought, would have found some other way to coerce folk. His crew had shown him dedication and loyalty; with Tylan and Richmond, he wondered if they would even hold to their duty should they fall under attack.
They stopped in Bridgeden for some days, and it occurred to Brandyé that wherever they went with Tharom, no one ever seemed to ask them for payment, whether it be for food, or a new shoe for a horse, or the sharpening of a blade or two. He wondered at this, and coupled with his curiosity over Tharom’s apparent position in this society, he asked Elỳn about it.
“To be a knight of the first order of the dragon is a high privilege here,” she said to him. “I do not know Tharom’s past well, but I know that he did not come by that title easily. One must show the fiercest dedication to duty, and swear to die for the king of the lands, if needed.
“They are extremely competent warriors, and are seen as more than mortal men. There are perhaps some hundred or so in all of Erârün – to chance upon one so far to the south is exceptionally rare. They are known by their livery, and anyone wearing the crest of the dragon – the crest of the king – is revered with the utmost respect. That is why Tharom need not pay for anything: it is his privilege to take what he wishes at no cost.”
Brandyé was astonished. “What stops him from taking anything and everything?”
But Elỳn only smiled and said, “You should ask him.”
However, Brandyé had little chance to ask Tharom much, because they departed the next day, leaving the great town of Bridgeden behind. Whatever reservations Tharom might have had over the continuation of his journey seemed to have been resolved, for he was with them still, as were Tylan and Richmond. The two guards, as always, said little, but Brandyé found Tharom increasingly mute as they followed the road north and past several smaller towns, stopping only a night at each one. His face grew grim and severe, and every time Brandyé approached him he would spur his horse onward and past the group, scouting ahead and not returning for some hours.
So passed the final days of their journey, and as the weather held fair (though cloudy, as always) and the countryside remained pleasant, Brandyé soon forgot all thought of fierundé and Darkness, and even felt a lifting at his heart. Even Tharom’s gloom did nothing to drag him down, and he spent his time in conversation with Elven and Elỳn, and learned that Vira Weitor was the largest city in all of Erârün, and indeed might be the largest city in all the lands of Thaeìn, or possibly even Erâth.
In fact, it remained beyond Brandyé’s comprehension the exact nature of what they were to face; in his mind, towns such as Daevàr’s Hut and Bridgeden formed the largest gathering of men and women he could imagine, and he could only see Vira Weitor as some extension of these towns. So it was that he was wholly unprepared for what his eyes saw in the afternoon of their fourteenth day on the road: rising from the haze in the distance, great mountains that rose suddenly and sharply from the plains, and at the foot of the greatest one, a vast forest of towers, spires, roofs and battlements: the great city of Vira Weitor.