Another day, another chapter…I think I’ve hit a mania in my bipolar condition. This pace can’t last, of course – I’m back at work tomorrow, so I’ll only have evenings and lunch breaks to write. Still…I’m so happy at the progress that’s being made!
Chapter 19: The Road North
“Nothing is known of what happened to that blade.”
Brandyé looked at Elỳn over his stew. “Daevàr wrote so, but how could it be? Surely someone must have come across it.”
“It is believed that the blade fell into the Sea of Aélûr, along with Goroth’s body and many of the soldiers of the enemy. Daevàr mentioned the blackness of the sea, did he not?”
“How do you—”
“I was there, Brandyé. I fought alongside the men of Thaeìn – of Erârün and Kiriün – the day Goroth was defeated.”
Brandyé put down his wooden spoon. “Why don’t you ever speak of these things? I could have learned so much from you.”
But Elỳn shook her head. “It is not a subject I wish to revisit if it can be avoided.” She fixed Brandyé with a hard look. “I killed men that day, Brandyé – not just beasts and creatures. Men. Men corrupted by Darkness, yes – but men all the same.”
Brandyé retreated into his thoughts for a moment. It was so easy to forget Elỳn’s age, so difficult to recall that she knew of battle and war first-hand; he did not wish to bring her undue upset. Certainly, he had already done enough of that with Athalya’s death.
Yet there was so much he wished to ask her, so much he felt certain she knew. There was something burning in the back of his mind, a connection between himself and Goroth’s blade that he could not quite make. He recalled the feeling he had had, reading Daevàr’s description of the blade – the chill and the horror, for it was just as he had imagined the dark lord’s blade in his youth, when Reuel had spoken to him of the very battle that had brought about Goroth’s demise. Even to the missing piece.
And he recalled something else from the visions of his youth, as well – the blade had a name.
“How would you say ‘end of eternity’ in the ancient speech?” he asked Elỳn.
He had thought this might be an innocuous enough question, and he was surprised to see Elỳn stiffen, surprise and dread on her face. “Why do you ask that?” she whispered. “How do you know of that?”
“It…it came to me in a vision,” Brandyé said truthfully.
“It is a terrible word, Brandyé,” she said, “but I think you already know that. It carries with it the power to end the lives of all who dwell in Erâth.”
“It’s the name of Goroth’s sword, isn’t it.”
Elỳn bit her lip for a moment, and then uttered, “Namrâth.”
“I don’t think the blade is lost, Elỳn.”
But Elỳn took a deep breath and said, “I will speak no more of this. Finish your stew – it is late.”
In the following days, Elỳn was often absent, and Brandyé found himself drawn ever more to the depths of the great library, losing himself daily amongst the scrolls and parchments. But as much as he read about the history of the kings of old, he found no further references to Goroth’s weapon, and the nagging sensation he had refused to leave him.
Sometimes Elven would accompany him, and sometimes he and Talya would spend the day together, and Brandyé would be left to his own devices. He wasn’t entirely bothered by this, for there was certainly more than enough to occupy him, yet he wasn’t quite comfortable with it either. He began to wonder if this was how Elven had felt among the Illuèn, when he had spent so much of his time with Elỳn.
They would always meet together in the evenings, however, and Brandyé was astonished at the variety of entertainments that existed in the city of Vira Weitor. Not only were there pubs and inns where one could be merry, but there were events of many kinds, from plays to speeches to concerts, and every night Brandyé, Elven, Talya and Elỳn would partake of these. Of these, Brandyé’s favorite were the orchestras – vast, powerful arrays of such musical instruments as Brandyé had never heard of. Instruments that were blown into, instruments that were played with a bow, even some that were struck upon like drums. And the music they produced made Brandyé feel elevated above the world – it was haunting and beautiful, and spoke to him of days of old, before even the War of Darkness when there was yet light amongst the peoples of Erâth.
“Why is there no such thing as this anywhere else?” Brandyé asked Elỳn one evening when the concert was over.
“Nowhere but Vira Weitor can afford to have people whose sole pastime is the playing of instruments,” she said. “These players do nothing else – they live on the money we pay to see them perform.”
This was a thing Brandyé was concerned about, in fact. They had each been given a sack of coins when they were released from prison, and the sack was emptying itself rapidly. He found that, when with Elỳn, he need not pay for anything – indeed, Elỳn was often accompanied by members of the king’s cabinet and government, who clearly were privileged members of the society. But when he was on his own, Brandyé could do little without paying, and he began to wonder what he should do about earning more. Suddenly he realized the import of his lack of apprenticeship as a boy; Elven could help the healers, and Talya could shoe the horses, but he had no appreciable skills at all – except for his marksmanship, and he was allowed no weapons.
He spoke of this to Elỳn one evening. “I’m not certain what to do,” he said.
“You are troubled because your skills lie in battle,” she replied. “This is something you will have to face sooner or later, Brandyé; your dedication to peace is admirable, but it may soon be that you will need your skills more than you know.”
“I’ve had no training for battle,” Brandyé said.
“You have avoided it; Kayla could have taught you along with Elven.”
Brandyé shook his head. “What are you suggesting? That I join the soldiers?”
Elỳn raised an eyebrow. “Soldiers here are given ample pay, and you would not go anywhere until your training was seen as complete.”
“I don’t want to learn to fight!”
“Even to defend yourself?” Elỳn countered. “You have seen the fierundé; the creatures of Darkness will not show you mercy because you lack the skill to fight them.”
“It doesn’t feel right,” Brandyé insisted.
Elỳn leaned over so her face was close to his. “Do you trust me, Brandyé?”
“Yes,” he said reluctantly.
“Then do this thing, for me – reassure me that you can defend yourself, wherever you may next go.”
And so the following morning Brandyé approached a soldier in the yard, and was given instruction to meet a man named Brieth, who was looking for young men to recruit. “He’s a grumpy old man,” the soldier laughed, “but ye’ll not find a better master.”
Grumpy, Brieth was indeed. “What d’ye want?” he barked at Brandyé when he had finally found the old man.
Taken aback, Brandyé stammered, “I wish to learn to fight.”
Brieth looked at him through narrowed eyes. “Why?”
“To defend myself against the creatures of Darkness.”
“Wrong answer!” And Brieth would speak no more to him that day.
“What am I meant to tell him?” Brandyé asked that evening.
It was Talya who answered him, from beside Elven, whose hand she was holding. “Brieth doesn’t recruit for himself,” she said. “He recruits for the king.”
“I don’t understand,” Brandyé said.
She rolled her eyes, a gesture Brandyé found infuriating. “He doesn’t want people who’re only there to look after themselves. Ye need to show him your loyalties.”
And so Brandyé returned the next day, and when Brieth barked at him he replied, “I wish to learn to defend the king and his kingdom.”
Brieth smiled a toothy grin. “Who told ye to say that?” he asked. For a moment Brandyé was afraid, but then Brieth burst into laughter. “Ye’ve a stout heart, son – ye can join my ranks, but know this: ye pass this point, and there’s no going back. Once a soldier of Erârün, always a soldier of Erârün.”
And so began a period of Brandyé’s life that left him daily as miserable as in the dungeons of Abula Kharta, and as uplifted as a carefree day on the moors behind his grandfather’s home. Brandyé realized that there was far more to being a soldier than knowing how to wield a sword, and indeed weapons did not feature in his training for several months. Brieth was a harsh taskmaster, waking Brandyé and his fellow trainees daily before dawn, marching them around the entire city’s perimeter twice before breakfast, and only then allowing them a little bread and milk.
“When ye’re out there among the beasts,” Brieth would say, “Ye’ll go a day on a sip of water; a week on a bite of bread.”
Yet at the end of each day, when Brandyé returned to the soldiers’ barracks where he now stayed, he could not deny the feeling of accomplishment he had from having survived the day’s training, and done it well.
For he did do it well – although Brieth was careful not to show it, Brandyé knew he was seen as an apt pupil, if for no other reason than he was often treated harsher than the rest of the soldiers. When the time came for swordplay, Brandyé realized to his dismay that he had quite a talent for defending himself whilst maintaining his footing, and when he loosed his first arrow in training, even Brieth stood silent, mouth agape, as the arrow quivered in the dead center of the target over a hundred feet away.
And the end of each week’s training Brandyé was set loose on the town, and it was then that he would meet with Elỳn, Elven and Talya, who had now become inseparable from Elven. He would regale them with tales of his training, and Elỳn would speak of the incompetence of the leaders of the kingdom, and they would often laugh together, and for a brief period in Brandyé’s life he felt that all was well.
And then came the time that his training was complete, and Brieth said to him, “Ye’ve passed everything I could ask ye to, and ye’ve done it with colors flying high. Ye’re no longer my business now – ye’ll be reporting to Lord Dukhat tomorrow, and ye’ll receive orders for your dispatch.”
This was something that Brandyé had not once thought of, and he was distraught when he spoke with Elỳn that evening. “Dispatched!” he cried. “I am to leave Vira Weitor – I am to leave you!”
But Elỳn remained calm and smiled. “Brandyé…did you really think your fate was to live in this city for the remainder of your life? Are you not now ready to face the beasts of the wild? Are you not more prepared to take on the creatures of Darkness?”
“Come with me!” he insisted.
“My place – for now – is here. I have begun helping King Farathé’s ministers to start thinking of their defenses, something they have left idle for far too long. Before long I will be departing Vira Weitor myself, returning to Paräwo to meet with the rest of my kin.” She looked at him wryly. “Would you take another journey through the Trestaé so willingly?”
“I feel lost!” Brandyé said. “What if I am sent somewhere that I cannot return from?”
“Look deep in yourself, Brandyé; where do you have to return to? Where is your home?”
And then tears came to Brandyé’s eyes as he said, “I haven’t one.”
“Then go forth!” she said. “Make a new home; make a new world!”
And Brandyé knew the truth of her words, and was afraid nonetheless. “This is the true beginning of my journey, isn’t it?” he said. Elỳn said nothing. “Up until now I’ve been directionless, wandering…when I was alone in the Trestaé I didn’t even consider my direction. But now…”
Elỳn placed her hands on Brandyé’s shoulders. “A direction has been given to you. I suspect it is the direction you need.”
“I’m going to miss you so much,” he wept.
“And I, you.” She moved a hand to his face, wiped away the tears. “Do you remember that word your grandfather once taught you – the one you used after Athalya died?” Brandyé knew immediately what she meant, and his heart ached even more at the thought. “I will keep that for you, always.”
And then, as he had done in a dream so long ago, he collapsed into her arms, and she held him while he wept.
When he spoke to Elven later about his imminent departure to unknown lands, his friend had no qualms whatsoever. “I’m coming with you, and that’s that!”
“I don’t know if you’d be allowed,” Brandyé said.
“Nonsense,” Elven replied. “Who would turn down a healer? You’re a soldier now, Brandyé – you’re not going to lighthearted things. There will be injuries, and death.”
“You’re not part of the king’s army,” Brandyé persisted. “They won’t accept you.”
“And if I happen to choose to ride in the same direction, on the same day?”
“You aren’t allowed to leave the city!”
Elven waved this thought away. “That was when we were still nearly prisoners. We’ve had free reign of this city for months now – surely the city’s guards have better things to do than remember what I look like.”
“He is right,” said Talya. “They will indeed need a healer with them – I’ve seen many go out with the soldiers. They don’t bear the same crest.”
“I suppose next you’ll say they need a farrier,” Brandyé said.
“I suppose ye’ll think better next time your horse throws a shoe,” she retorted. “Besides, I’ve been working with the smiths these past months – I could mend your weapon faster than ye could kill a fierund.”
So they bantered through the night, neither agreeing on whether Elven would go with him, nor on whether a farrier had any place in a detachment of soldiers. It was late when Brandyé finally retired to bed, and early when he awoke: he cursed himself for having drunk so much.
He was to report that morning to an open courtyard to the west of the great castle, and here he met with the others from his training group. They had been told to dress in full royal colors, and it was quite a sight, row upon row of bright green livery, shining armor plating and glinting swords. Brandyé touched his hilt, and for a moment thought of Fahnat-om.
There was a sudden hush, and every one of them stood to full attention as a man in a long black cloak swept into view: Lord Emilié Dukhat. Brandyé was in the second row, and had difficulty seeing him from behind the particularly tall man that stood before him. Brieth stood off to one side, and another man whose countenance Brandyé could not make out.
“You are here because you have proven yourselves to be among the strongest, smartest and best citizens of this great kingdom,” Dukhat began. “You have come from many different places – different backgrounds and different towns – but you have united under the banner of the King Farathé. You have shown your independence, and you have shown your skill at aiding each other.
“Master Brieth tells me that you are among the best soldiers he has had the pleasure of training. I have watched some of you train, and I can see he does not speak idly. There are those among you whose strategy in training would suit well at the table of the captains themselves; there are others whose marksmanship rivals already the best archers in all of Erârün.
“However – you have not proven yourselves yet. All you have done, you have done in utmost safety behind the walls of Vira Weitor. You have yet to face a true enemy, or stare down a skøltar. You have not spilled another’s blood, and you have not stood on a field of victory as your enemies flee from your sight.
“I have done all these things. I have done them, and I tell you that you will do these things also. Every one of you will see action, and you will rise to your king and country, and defend it with your lives!”
There was a general cry from the soldiers at this, an affirmation of their loyalty; Brandyé could but halfheartedly join in. He was tired of proving a false loyalty to a king he had never met, and merely wished for the time of their departure to come.
“You are to leave this very afternoon,” Dukhat went on, “and take the west road to Farthing’s Bar. From there you will journey north – and you will not stop until you reach the far flung towns and villages of the Rein. Here you are to spend your tour of duty – six months – reinforcing the Grim Watch.”
Here Dukhat paused for a moment, and there was this time no applause, no cheer or cry of joy. Brandyé felt a chill in the silence; he had never heard speak of the Grim Watch, and it did not sound pleasant in the least.
“Of course, you will not make this journey alone. Every company needs a leader, and I am proud to introduce to you yours: Tharom Hulòn, Knight of the First Order of the Dragon.”
And then the third person stepped forward, and Brandyé saw that it was indeed Tharom, and his mind wondered madly at his appearance. Hadn’t he been exiled, in Elỳn’s own words? What was he doing now, commanding these soldiers?
“I have only one thing to say to ye,” Tharom called out. “One thing each of you must understand. It is this: not all of you will be returning.”
There was a murmur amongst the men, and Tharom shouted, “Silence! Ye’re to listen and obey at all times, starting now! Ye think I’m joking now, but when the first of ye dies, I want ye to remember this moment. This isn’t a game anymore, lads.” Then he clapped, once. “That being said, enjoy your last few moments of peace: we ride at noon. Dismissed!”
The moment the group broke, Brandyé made for Tharom, and called out his name. Tharom was in discussion with Brieth and Dukhat, and turned slowly to face him.
“Ye’d address me by my given name in front of my own men?” he asked incredulously.
Brandyé stopped short. “I – I apologize, sir,” he stammered, and bowed his head. “My mind slipped – I was thinking of the past.”
And then the recognition dawned on Tharom, and he said, “Brandyé?”
Brandyé looked up, and smiled. “Yes sir – you do remember me?”
“How could I forget?” Tharom replied. “I have ye to thank for my current position.”
“Is this the lad who you found in the south, near the Trestaé?” asked Dukhat.
“Aye,” said Tharom. “What can I do for ye, lad?”
“I have a – a request,” Brandyé said, “if I may.” And he spoke to Tharom of Elven’s desire to ride with them, and Talya’s.
Tharom rubbed his chin. “They ride well, these two?” Brandyé nodded. “I’ll consider it,” he said.
In the end he did not consider it for long, and when the twenty-four soldiers set out that day at noon, Tharom at their head, two further riders followed behind. It turned out that both Tharom and Dukhat were quite taken by the idea of a healer riding with the soldiers, for it was something that was not usually done. They were less taken by the thought of a farrier coming also, but when Brandyé suggested that Talya would look after the horses, affording the soldiers a better rest, they relented.
“Soft, your soldiers will become,” remarked Dukhat.
“Soft, my soldiers will never become,” returned Tharom.
It was a novel sensation for Brandyé to travel as part of a large group of people, and for the first few days Brandyé felt a great peace and sense of safety in knowing that he was surrounded by folk who were trained to fight and defend (it still was not natural in his mind to think of himself in such terms). However, there was a roughness to his fellow soldiers that he found difficult to align with, and found himself retiring each evening to Elven and Talya, helping her brush down the horses and assisting Elven in tending the the sores and blisters that the soldiers inevitably complained of, so unused to riding were they. As such, he became somewhat distant from the rest of the company, though to his relief they never ostracized him for it.
Tharom made a habit of spending time with his men each evening when they rested, and Brandyé began to see in him the qualities that had clearly led to his appointment as a knight. He would laugh and jest with the men, toast to their health and regale them with tales, and soon won over the respect and admiration of the entire company. But on their third night out he came to Brandyé, who was sitting around a small fire with Elven and Talya a short distance from the main encampment.
“Good evening,” he addressed them.
“Good evening, sir,” they responded as one, and Brandyé nodded to him.
“May I sit?” Tharom settled himself beside the fire, and Brandyé noticed that he had with him a long satchel. “Why do ye not join the men in their merriment?” he asked causally.
“May I speak honestly, sir?” Brandyé asked.
Tharom nodded. “Of course.”
“They are young and rough, and I fear they don’t understand what we are set out to do.”
“And ye do? Ye’re hardly older.”
“Brandyé’s been through more in his life already than these men ever will,” said Elven.
“Indeed,” said Tharom. He lay a hand on the satchel he had brought with him. “Ye had a sword with ye when I found ye, didn’t ye?” he said to Brandyé.
Brandyé’s heart skipped a beat. “I did…”
“It was a fine blade; better crafted than anything we use here. Where did you get it?”
Such a story was attached to Fahnat-om that Brandyé did not know what to say. “From a friend,” he said finally.
Tharom raised his eyebrows. “Must be quite a friend, to part with so fine a blade.” With a deft motion, he flung open the satchel. “It’d be dishonorable of me to keep such a gift from ye.” And from the folds of cloth he withdrew an ornate, curved scabbard – one Brandyé recognized immediately.
“Sir?” he breathed.
“It’s yours,” Tharom said simply, and held Fahnat-om out to Brandyé. Delicately, hardly believing his eyes, Brandyé took the sword.
“I…I don’t know what to say, sir…” Brandyé uttered.
Elven elbowed him in the ribs. “Say thank you!” he hissed.
“I trust ye’ll guard that blade well,” said Tharom.
“With my life,” Brandyé nodded, and was surprised to find he meant it. He had not realized how much Khana’s gift had meant to him until this very moment, had not realized how much he had missed it.
“Good,” said Tharom, and for a moment there was a comfortable silence around the fire.
“May I ask you a question, sir?” Brandyé said after a while.
“Depends on the question,” replied Tharom.
“If it’s not too bold – what were you doing so far south in Hansel’s Foil, alone and without soldiers? Surely someone of your rank—”
But Tharom’s face turned suddenly cold, and he said, “That is too bold, soldier. Where I go and what I do is not your business.”
“You said that you had me to thank for your current position,” Brandyé persisted.
Even in the dim firelight, Brandyé could see Tharom’s cheeks glow red. “A slip of the tongue,” he muttered. And then: “Excuse me, my fellows – it is late, and I am tired.” With that he stood and left the fire, disappearing into the night.
Two days later they arrived in the town of Farthing’s Bar, having passed through several smaller villages on the way. Having become accustomed to the vastness of Vira Weitor, it seemed quite small as they approached, even though it was certainly on the same scale as Bridgeden, and possibly even as large as Daevàr’s Hut. In any case, it was large enough that they had no difficulty finding lodging for themselves and their steeds, and so they spent several days there in rest.
“This is the last comfort you will enjoy for many months,” Tharom told them, “so make the most of it.” Indeed, most of the company spent the intervening time between arrival and departure in a single inn, and Brandyé thought perhaps their intention was to drink many months of ale in a single sitting. As for Elven, Talya and himself, they entertained themselves by wandering the town, sampling local food and browsing through the many shops and stands. They had been forbidden by Tharom to buy anything that would require them to take it with them, and Brandyé was disappointed for he came across many trinkets and items that caught his eye. Elven bought Talya a jewel that she wore immediately around her neck, though Brandyé thought it looked rather out of place against her sooty skin and dirty clothes.
Soon enough, however, the time came for their departure, and as he watched his fellow soldiers mounting their horses he thought he might be the only sober one among them. It was a ten day ride to their next destination, Tharom told them, and after the village of Wenting, there was nothing but wild countryside. Brandyé heard the men grumble, but was unperturbed himself; he had spent enough time in wild countryside to be used to it, he thought.
As it happened, the countryside north of Wenting was much like the moorland Brandyé had played on as a child, and many memories came back to him as they rode across endless, flat plains, violet with blooming heather, rocks and boulders jutting up through the thin earth and looking for all of Erâth like giants’ playthings, left strewn about at random. This was the Rein, Tharom told them, or rather, the Rein flats – the great plains that descended from the Reinkrag mountains far to the north. They were not to pass over the Reinkrag, Tharom said, but their destination lay in the small villages that bordered the mountains.
This was the edge of the kingdom of Erârün, and it was here that the battles against Darkness raged. Ever were the villages here under attack, and they were defended by the Grim Watch – soldiers and men whose duty it was to repel attacks by fierundé, skøltär and men of Darkness. For years had the Grim Watch kept the forces of Darkness at bay, but in recent times their attacks had a renewed ferocity to them, and more than one village had now been lost to fire and death.
As Brandyé heard these tales of destruction from Tharom, he began to grow fearful again. Despite his training, he had no desire to plunge into battle, and recalled his vow that his crossbow – which had been returned to him along with Fahnat-om, because it seemed he would never be parted from it – would never again take the life of another person. This promise extended to his sword, he felt, and while he would unblinkingly cut down a fierund should one happen upon him (if he could, that is), he simply could not put himself in the position of setting out for the deliberate slaughter of men.
This left him with the uncomfortable dilemma of what to do when they finally arrived at their destination. He was unsure if they were merely to patrol the villages and keep the creatures of Darkness away, or it they were to actively seek to reclaim the towns that had so far been lost. From the exuberance of the other soldiers, Brandyé wondered if Tharom would be able to stop them.
“What would he do if you simply refused to fight?” Elven asked one night when Brandyé confided in him.
But Brandyé knew the answer to that, and knew somehow that he was not to die under Tharom Hulòn’s blade. You will live, and be strong, Schaera had said. But for how long, she had not said, and he only now came to the realization that, martially, at least, he had grown in strength – was Schaera’s prophecy borne out? Was it now his time to die?
The rest of the soldiers seemed not to share his worries, and indeed laughed at the thought of battling giant wolves – something which distressed Brandyé greatly. They also dismissed the rumors of the skøltär – dreadful, skeletal human-like creatures whose sole delight was to feed on the blood of men. Brandyé recalled Reuel’s tales of ‘skull creatures’, and wondered if these were the same.
So it was that as the Reinkrag began to appear in the distance and they approached their destination, Brandyé was ever looking around them for signs of attack or ambush, while the remaining soldiers rode forward in haste, paying little mind to their surroundings at all. Soon they were among low hills, and Tharom spoke to them of ambush: “I’ll lead us on the safest road I can find, but ye must keep your wits about ye – the grass is long here, and can hide a great number of things.”
Despite his words, the soldiers continued to act out their bravery, and as such it was not until one of them fell dead from his horse that they realized they were under an attack. It was a silent thing – the arrow had whispered past them all and struck the man in the throat, and so he had made not a sound but merely slipped from his steed, dead by the time he struck the ground.
The company came to halt, and for a long moment every man among them simply stared, unable to understand what had happened. Only Tharom seemed to comprehend, and he cried, “Dismount, now! They’re in the grass!”
A second arrow flew and struck another soldier, but this time it rang loud off his breastplate and the man remained uninjured, if shaken. It took a second cry from Tharom before a single one of them – including Brandyé – took in his words, and began to leap from their horses, swords only now being drawn.
And then there was a sudden rain of arrows about them, men and horses falling to their blows. Still Brandyé could not see their attackers, and his thoughts and vision narrowed in mounting panic as he threw himself from his horse and crouched into the grass. “Elven!” he whispered.
There was no sign of his friend, but looking up he could see that not a horse remained mounted. He grasped to the hope that Elven had dismounted at Tharom’s words, and not at the enemy’s arrows. Talya crossed his thoughts for a moment, and he felt certain that where Elven was, she would be also.
Slowly, he began to crawl through the grass. From behind him he could hear the sounds of a battle starting – cries, shouts, and the ring of steel on steel. From around him came a sudden rush of grass, and many feet, wrapped in heavy cloth and leather, passed by. Miraculously, not a single one of the enemy trampled upon him, and he remained hidden for the moment.
He could hear Tharom shouting orders, directing his men into their attack, but the meaning of his words passed him by. All he could think of was escaping, finding Elven and running as far from this place as they possibly could. For a moment the grass about him was motionless, and he thought he might risk raising his head above their stalks to see.
As he did, his mind reeled and he was thrown back to the Cosari’s massacre of slaves: the grass was stained red as swords were driven into men. For that was their attacker, Brandyé could see now: men, dirty and angry, dressed in ragged hides and leather, wielding clumsy and blunt blades and clubs, striking at the soldiers of Erârün without pattern or coherence. It was a battle unlike any they had prepared for, where duels were fought one on one until one party surrendered; these men were grabbing, hacking, biting, kicking and spitting at them, and it was chaos.
Yet to their credit, the men of Erârün remained steadfast; not a one of them panicked and took flight, and before long Brandyé could see that they were in fact holding their own against their opponents.
It was then, as he turned to look for Elven again, that he felt a great blow to his back and was thrown face-down into the dirt. Shocked and gasping for breath, he tried to roll over to see what had struck him. To his horror, there stood a man of the enemy, a great spiked club held high over his head. Unable to move, the wild thought occurred to him that the blow might have paralyzed him, even as he knew it was a moot point when the next blow was sure to finish him.
And then, as the club began its fatal descent, from nowhere came a great flash of steel, and with a dreadful cry of pain the man dropped the mace, clutching at his now broken and cleaved wrist. Blood spattered, and Brandyé blinked, uncomprehending. The man dropped to his knees, and a familiar voice cried out, “You will not harm him!” The blade flashed again, and Elven hove into view, fury written on his face.
The man whose wrist Elven had shattered was sobbing and raging now, and Elven swept the blade to his throat. “Run, now – or I’ll kill you!” he screamed, and the man looked at Elven in terror. “Now!”
Without a word, still sobbing, the man regained his feet unsteadily, and hastily retreated, soon lost among the tall grass. Elven then dropped the sword and knelt down beside Brandyé. Brandyé hardly recognized his friend for the mix of emotions he saw – terror, sadness, fury and hate – and his voice trembled as he asked, “Can you move?”
His back still a numb mass, Brandyé tried to move his feet, and found he could, though with great pain. He nodded. “I think I’ll be all right,” he said, voice strained. Then he noticed that he and Elven were alone. “Where is Talya?”
But Elven said nothing, and it was only then that Brandyé saw the tears in his friend’s eyes.
“Healer!” came a cry over the fields, and Brandyé looked toward its sound. “Healer – we need you now!”
Brandyé looked back to Elven, whose rage was rapidly waning and being replaced by fear. He grabbed his friend’s arms and said, “Go – there is a reason for everything, and this is the reason you are here!”
Shaking, Elven left him, and Brandyé tried desperately to roll over. He could feel sensation returning to his back now, though all he could feel was agony. With a great cry he managed to achieve his knees, and so could just see above the highest grass.
The battle was over already, it seemed – and to his utmost relief, it seemed they had won. Still standing were over a dozen silver-clad soldiers of Erârün, and not a single enemy was to be seen. He could see the blood in the grass, and he felt himself grow faint, his stomach churning. From the sounds of the other soldiers, he was not the only one – this had been the first sight of bloodshed for perhaps every one of them.
In an effort to distract himself, Brandyé turned from the group of soldiers and made his way painfully and slowly toward where Elven had been at the battle’s outbreak. As much as he resented the time Elven spent with Talya he did care for her, and had to see for himself.
And Elven was not wrong – only a few yards beyond, lying in the grass was her still body, an arrow protruding from her chest.