Chapter Six: Viura Râ
When Brandyé next knew the world, he was in a forest; of little else he was certain. Fleeting glimpses of snow and of cold passed through his thoughts, but he found he could not connect them to any concrete memory. He had no idea how he had come to be where he was now, nor of where he had been before. Come to think of it, he had no idea where ‘here’ was, and as he looked about him, he began to wonder how he might find a way from ‘here’, and to anywhere else.
The trees were utterly prodigious in size; they towered hundreds of feet over his head, vague rays of sunlight filtering through the high pines and needles. Brandyé was uncertain, but it felt late in the day, as though evening were coming on. The ground was a patchwork quilt of sun on faded needles, and Brandyé felt there was an importance in this, a significance about the natural daylight, but he could not place it. He was standing in shade, and moved into a patch of sunlight, and for a moment delighted in the warmth on his skin.
After a while it came to his attention that he was thirsty, and so he began to walk, hoping to find a stream nearby. As he passed through the trees a light breeze brought to him the scent of pine and mold, and they were comforting. In a place deep in the back of his mind something told him he should be concerned, that the woods were not a safe place to be, but he could see no threat, and felt quite at ease.
The ground sloped gently, and he followed it down, instinct telling him there would be running water at the bottom of the hill. He was not wrong, for after less than half an hour he came to a clear brook cascading over stones, and immediately he bent to the water and drank his fill. The water was cold and refreshing, and it brought to him a sense of clarity, and he knew that he must seek shelter for the night.
His thirst quenched (but hunger now beginning to steal upon him) he began to follow the brook downstream, passing in and out of sunlight and away from the stream where it fell over small outcroppings of rock, always downhill and, it felt, deeper into the forest. He realized he had no sense of how vast these woods might be, but once again instinct told him that following the course of the stream would eventually lead him to better things.
It did not do so that night, however, and indeed the woods began soon to darken, and eventually Brandyé decided against pursuing his course any further that day. With a sigh he set about gathering things to make fire. It took him little time for there were many fallen branches to be found, and the dry needles were excellent kindling. He soon had a great stack of firewood gathered and cleared a space on the forest floor beside a great tree, and gathered together a small pile of needles. With a pair of stones gathered from the stream he struck to them a spark, and before long night was upon him and he was warm and well-lit nonetheless.
As dark descended he settled himself back against the enormous trunk and pulled his cloak tight around him. As he did so he felt an object press against his breast, and reached into one of the cloak’s many pockets to pull it out. In the dim firelight it was difficult to inspect, but he thought it looked like a weapon of some kind, a sort of crossbow. The sight of it was familiar, but he could not explain to himself how it had come to be with him in his pocket. Then, for the first time that day, unease settled over him: he realized he could not recall where he had even obtained this cloak of many pockets. It seemed he must have had it for some time, for it appeared old and very tattered, but he had no memory of its provenance.
As the nighttime sounds of the forest wound around him, Brandyé tried to cast his mind back to anything he could think of, and though vague images passed through his head—a house on the moors, an old man, a woman in black and one in white—he found he could not focus his attention on any of it, and came to the sudden realization that he had no concrete memory of anything before this day. With this realization came, oddly enough, relief: though he knew he ought to be worried, there was a kind of satisfaction in knowing that, whatever had led him to this point, he had nothing left to worry about. He could not recall anything that had reason to give him concern, and as he closed his eyes he smiled, for the world seemed good, and somehow he thought he had not felt this way in far, far too long.
Come the morning the fire had guttered and gone out, and a light dew covered everything. A spider had spun its web amongst the unused firewood, and Brandyé watched it for some time, as motionless as the tiny creature itself. As he looked upon its pattered brown body and long, spindly legs he had the impression of having done exactly this same thing, many, many years ago. He wondered idly where that had been.
Eventually he stood and wandered back to the stream, its cold water his only breakfast. Despite his lack of recollection, he knew perfectly well that he had not passed his entire life among these trees, and that it would not do to remain among them for the remainder of his days. Following the stream once more, he began to think about food, and wondered if his crossbow could serve to catch him a rabbit. He felt he would know how to prepare and cook such an animal if he could catch one, though he did not think too long on where this knowledge might have come from.
As the sun rose and the dew melted away, hunger rose in him, and after a time he decided to try his luck at hunting. Departing from the stream he walked some distance into the forest, and settled himself behind a large root to wait and watch for wildlife. There was plenty around: he could hear the calls of many birds from the treetops, the scratching of insects under the root, the rustling of game that remained always just out of sight.
He withdrew the crossbow from his cloak and inspected it again. Now, in full daylight, he could see its every detail: the polished wood of the stock, the tautness of the bowstring, the well-worn grooves where the bolt itself would fit. The crossbow had all the appearance of having been well-used, and often, but again no memory surfaced of its origins. Nonetheless, he withdrew a bolt from the same pocket within his cloak, and instinct guided him to fit it to the bow.
Time passed, and shadows moved across the forest floor as the sun made its way across the tree-obscured sky. It seemed an eternity that he waited, but something told him that patience would reward him. And indeed, late in the afternoon, almost on the cusp of dozing off, Brandyé saw movement in the corner of his eye, and ever so slowly lifted himself to look. There, not a dozen yards away and going obliviously about its business, was a large hare. It looked meaty, and Brandyé’s stomach growled even as it turned over with images of blood and dead eyes staring at him.
Ever so slowly, intent on not disturbing the animal, Brandyé brought the crossbow to aim upon the creature. He lowered his eye to the stock, peering down the length of the bow, lining it up perfectly with the hare’s chest. He knew he must pierce the creature’s heart in one shot, for he would not have it suffer unnecessarily.
And then, as his finger began to tighten against the release, a sudden cry came from behind him and he jumped, greatly startled.
“Stop! What are you doing?”
The rabbit needed no further warning, and bolted. Instinctively, Brandyé released the trigger, but the arrow passed swiftly through empty space and embedded itself in the forest floor. There was a gentle cracking sound, and Brandyé turned toward the sound of the voice that had spoken.
Standing there in the oddest clothes was a man, perhaps middle-aged, with a look of absolute incredulity on his grizzled face. He bore no cloak, and while Brandyé recognized the leather vest the man wore, his trousers were of a pale blue material he did not recognize. Tucked into these was a white tunic of fine cloth, and around his neck was hung a small medallion carved from wood. Again, he address Brandyé. “Are you mad? Why would you shoot at an animal with so beastly a weapon?”
Brandyé looked down at the crossbow, and admitted to himself that, despite its usefulness, it was perhaps rather beastly. He looked back to the strange man. “It’s … it’s all I have,” he said weakly. At the man’s stare he felt a slight defensiveness rise in him, and he said, “What would you have used?”
The man raised his hand, in which Brandyé saw he clutched what appeared to be a small black stone. He nodded in the direction the rabbit had been, and when Brandyé looked over his shoulder, he saw the animal lying still upon the ground, clearly dead. “I may shun the trappings of the so-called civilized world,” the man said, “but I wouldn’t cause an animal suffering when I didn’t need to.”
Brandyé’s protest that he had been aiming for the creature’s heart died in his throat, for he realized that he had no clue what the man was actually holding, nor how it could have killed the rabbit seemingly without touching it. “What is that?” he asked.
But the man ignored him, and Brandyé thought he saw a look of bewilderment cross his face, as though he could not quite believe that Brandyé did not recognize the instrument of death he held in his hand. Instead, he moved past Brandyé to retrieve the fallen hare, asking, “What are you doing here in these woods?”
“I don’t know,” Brandyé said truthfully.
The man picked up the rabbit and looked back to him. “What do you mean, you don’t know?”
Brandyé shrugged. “I … don’t know. I was here yesterday, and I’m here today; I don’t know where I was before that.”
The man’s lip twisted. “What’s your name?”
And suddenly, Brandyé’s face fell for he realized this was yet another thing he was not certain of. Did it start with a B? “I … I don’t know,” he admitted.
“Well, sir,” the man said gruffly, “I’m Yateley, and ‘I don’t know’ is a rather poor choice of name, if you don’t mind me saying so.”
Brandyé felt momentarily lost. “Truthfully,” he said, “I can’t remember my name. I feel like it starts with a B, though.”
“Well then I’ll call you ‘B’,” Yateley replied, “until you can remember the rest of it.”
“Your speech is strange to me,” Brandyé said. “I don’t recognize your accent.”
Yateley frowned. “What accent? It’s yours that’s odd. I suppose you can’t remember where you’re from, either?”
And Brandyé shook his head, for indeed he could not. “I suspect,” he said slowly, “that it isn’t near here.”
For the first time, Yateley smiled. “Come on, B. Let me take you home. I daresay you’ll feel a little more comfortable once we get you out of that hideous cloak.”
And so, with Yateley and the dead rabbit leading the way, Brandyé followed this strange man through the woods. In fact, despite his lack of memory Brandyé felt somehow attached to his cloak, but declined to say anything about it to Yateley. The man seemed oddly sure of himself, and he did not want to offend.
It was not long before they came upon a home, a log cabin built in a small clearing, and Brandyé could see at once that Yateley must live alone, for it was not large enough to hold more than a single person, certainly. Indeed, as Yateley pushed open the door and allowed Brandyé to step in, Brandyé could see that it was almost entirely a single, large room: there was a bed against one wall, a couch against another, a table in one corner, and what he took to be a stove in the other. There was a door near the back of the house, and Yateley nodded toward it. “Go run yourself a bath; you look like you need one. I’ll get you some fresh clothes. Give me your cloak.”
Yateley held out his hand, and Brandyé shrugged off the cloak and passed it to him. “Don’t … don’t get rid of it,” he said anxiously.
Yateley curled his lip. “I might wash it—if it’ll survive.” Then he looked to Brandyé, and stopped short. “What is that?” he breathed.
Brandyé looked down at his waist, where Yateley was staring, and saw, truly for the first time, the scabbard that hung there. Gently, he reached out and withdrew the curved sword that resided within it. “Fahnat-om,” Brandyé murmured, and had no idea where the name came from.
“Where in Erâth did you get a sword like that?” Yateley exclaimed. “Wait,” he said before Brandyé could answer. “Let me guess—you don’t remember.”
“A friend,” was all Brandyé could say, for while indeed he could not remember, he also knew this was true. He thrust it back into the scabbard. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I wish I could give you more answers.” He unbuckled his belt, and passed the sword in its sheath to Yateley. He knew that the man could easily strike him dead with it, but it seems he could have done so with his odd stone back in the woods, and Brandyé was beginning to trust him. “Where can I get water for the bath?” he asked.
Once more, Yateley looked at him with bewilderment. “You turn the tap,” he said in a tone that suggested such was obvious.
Confused but unwilling to argue, Brandyé crossed the log house and pushed open the door in the back wall. It opened into a small room that contained what was clearly a washbasin, and a large tub. Brandyé closed the door and contemplated what was before him. There was no water to be seen here, but there was indeed above both the basin and the tub a large, rusting metal tap. He reached out and grasped the one over the basin, and as Yateley had suggested, turned it.
Almost at once, steaming water began to pour forth, draining from the tap into the basin and emptying itself down a hole at its base. Alarmed at this apparent waste of water Brandyé looked for a stopper to block the outflow, and failing to find one, ended by turning the tap the opposite direction. The flow of water ceased, and the last drops gurgled down the drain.
Turning his attention to the bath, he saw here at least an obvious plug for the tub’s own drain sitting on the edge of the tub, and turning the tap began to fill it with hot water. Completely perplexed at where all this water was coming from, or how it came instantly hot, Brandyé realized he did not care: a hot bath was a hot bath, and so he stripped and got in, and in the warmth and the steam almost immediately fell asleep.
That night Yateley prepared a rabbit stew on a stove whose flames were as instant as the hot water, and Brandyé marveled at the lanterns that burned bright around the cabin: they seemed to need no oil, and yet shone with a warmth that gave the whole room a cozy and comfortable glow. Yateley could lower their brightness with the twist of a small dial at their base, and so it was that they ate at a well-lit table while the rest of the home remained in dimness. They needed no oil, Yateley told him, yet there was nonetheless a cost to burning, and so he kept the lanterns dim when he could.
To Brandyé this was all magic, yet he had no recollection of how things should be different, and so came to accept them for what they were. Over the following days and into weeks, he stayed with Yateley and became comfortable with his ways. Yateley, it seemed, lived deliberately alone, away from any great population of people, and lived ‘off the land’, as he put it. To Brandyé this meant hunting and gathering for sustenance, and indeed every few days or so Yateley would disappear into the woods and reappear with a pair of rabbits, or a small deer. Sometimes Brandyé would go with him, and was astonished at Yateley’s killing stone: it seemed he need only to point it at the creature whose flesh he desired, and it would instantly and painlessly drop dead. Yateley seemed reluctant to allow Brandyé to touch the stone, however, and Brandyé supposed he was not wrong in his concerns: he was not sure even which way to hold the stone, and might just as easily kill himself as Yateley or any other animal.
As for Yateley, he seemed willing enough to accept the mystery of Brandyé’s appearance and his unknown history, and confided to Brandyé that despite his general dislike for the society of men, he did occasionally long for conversation. “I don’t mind that you don’t bring news of the outside world,” he said, “for I have no desire to know of such things. I’m glad merely to have a companion to talk to.”
These occasional references to the ‘outside world’, however, roused in Brandyé a curiosity, and after perhaps two months he began to come to the realization that, as friendly as Yateley’s company was, he could not remain here for much longer. Like so many things that remained hidden from him, he could not remember what he had been doing before appearing in Yateley’s woods, but he had the vague notion that it had been something dreadfully important, and the need to move on began to nag at him. One day he broached this subject with Yateley, who sighed and said, “I supposed you might say such a thing sooner or later. Do you have an idea of where you might be headed?”
Brandyé shook his head. “I have the strangest notion that I need to travel north,” he said, “though I couldn’t say why. What is north of here?”
“Immediately?” Yateley asked. “Nothing but more forest. Three days west of here is the village of Verdièth, but to the north you could travel for months before seeing another living soul.” He paused for a moment. “Of course, if you’re talking about great distances, you would eventually come to the sea in the north; across the Oceans of Narün, you would eventually come to the great island of Oríthiae, and the city of Viura Râ.”
Inexplicably, the sound of these names began to excite Brandyé, and he knew somehow they felt familiar. “What is in Viura Râ?” he asked.
Yateley grunted. “You ask as if I’ve been there. I grew up here—” he indicated the forest all around them “—in the lands of Golgor. My birth town is called Taraeth.”
“I feel like I recognize these names,” Brandyé said. “Viura Râ is a great city, is it not?”
Yateley shrugged. “So they say—the greatest in all of Erâth. Of course, the world is a big place.”
“How can I get there?”
Yateley raised his eyebrows. “You think to travel to Viura Râ?”
“Why not?” asked Brandyé. “Perhaps there I might find answers.”
“Answers to questions you don’t even have,” pointed out Yateley.
“Questions, then,” replied Brandyé. “All I know is—no offense to you—I can’t stay here forever.”
“Nor would I have you. You are a mystery, B, and you do deserve answers.” He sighed again. “You would need passage by sea, and without coinage you will need to work your passage.”
“I can work,” said Brandyé.
Yateley nodded. “I have no doubt you can. We will leave for Verdièth tomorrow: I have enough on me to pay for your travel from there on to the seaside town of Lambeth; from there, you will be on your own.”
“I appreciate your help,” said Brandyé.
And so they set out the following morning, Brandyé insisting on wearing the tattered black cloak even though Yateley said he would look out of place among the people of Verdièth. There was a familiarity in traveling under it, and it served well to hide his crossbow and sword, which he had also brought with him.
“Such weapons will not be looked upon kindly,” Yateley told him as they walked along a thin dirt trail in the heart of the forest. “I daresay your possession of them might even be against the law, such as it is.”
“What do you mean?” Brandyé asked, for he sensed the contempt in the man’s words.
“The laws of men are not what they once were,” Yateley said. “This is partly why I have chosen such a solitary life. Things that were once considered fair and just are now outlawed. When last I lived among men, even retaliation against crime was considered punishable. If someone stole from you, you could not seek to gain it back; if someone harmed you, you could not harm them back. You would have to go through the courts just to plead your case.”
Brandyé frowned. “That doesn’t sound so unfair to me,” he said. “If everyone was free to retaliate however they saw fit—”
“It might not be,” interrupted Yateley, “if the courts were fair. But if you live in the small, outlying towns … the justice of a place such as Verdièth is harsh. They aren’t bothered to travel to a larger town for the sake of petty crimes, and so the justice-keepers do as they see fit.”
“And what is that?”
“If you’re lucky, imprisonment.”
“If you’re not?”
“Keep your weapons hidden,” Yateley said, “and you’ll not find out.”
They passed the rest of the day in comfortable silence, and set up a camp on the edge of a clearing that night. Yateley’s killing stone, which he called a pétrath[ heat stone], seemed equally capable of setting twigs alight, and they had a roaring fire that night with very little effort at all. Brandyé found himself once more curious about this odd little stone, but Yateley could explain little of it to Brandyé.
“Not everyone can know everything,” he said, and then corrected himself. “I suppose the Sarâthen might; if you ever find yourself lucky enough to meet one, you can ask them.”
For once, Brandyé found himself without mystery, and it was a moment before he realized the importance of this: he knew exactly what Yateley meant by the Sarâthen. Images of a wise old man passed before his eyes, a black streak in a beard of white. “Do you think there will be Sarâthen in Viura Râ?” he asked.
Yateley nodded. “Undoubtedly. Such a place is a melting pot for the world: you will find Wisdom there, and Life; you will also find Darkness and Death. All the races of Erâth walk beside each other in the great cities of Erâth.”
“Have you ever met any of the other races of Erâth?” Brandyé asked.
Yateley shook his head. “They have little reason to visit the poor villages of the wild. I have never seen an Illuèn, or known the presence of the Duithèn.” He looked curiously at Brandyé. “How do you know of these things—of all the things to remember, why this?”
But once again Brandyé was lost, for he could not explain, even to himself, this inexplicable knowledge.
The next day they set out again, and Brandyé began to be glad for his cloak for around midday the clouds settled in, and the weather became chilly. By evening he could see his breath on the air, and he wondered how Yateley was keeping warm, with no cloak of his own.
“I’ve lived out here long enough,” he said. “The cold doesn’t bother me.”
Brandyé was glad, because he otherwise would have felt compelled to offer Yateley his cloak, which was something he was unwilling to part with in the chill air. Yateley’s great fire warmed them, however, and they passed a second night in peace.
The third morning, however, dawned to mist which soon gave way to rain, and then even Brandyé’s cloak could not keep him dry. He found himself wishing for a hat like that which Yateley wore, with a wide round brim that kept the water from his shoulders. Soon Brandyé was soaked and felt quite miserable, and his spirits were kept afloat only by the knowledge that this was the last day of their trek (according to Yateley, in any case), and that perhaps the village of Verdièth would have an inn with a warm fire. A brief flash of flames and ales and laughter floated through his thoughts, and he wondered what other inns he had been to in his past life.
It was not long after these thoughts that they came upon a stream, beside which ran what appeared very much to be a road, though it was rough and pebbled. “Excellent,” said Yateley. “I was beginning to think I’d forgotten the way!”
This exclamation was less than encouraging to Brandyé, but he followed Yateley onto the road, which wound down a steep hill, following for the most part the stream as it coursed downward. Before long, Yateley brought them to a halt at a curve in the road, and pointed over the tops of trees to what lay beyond, and for the first time, Brandyé laid his eyes on the village of Verdièth.
It was not at all what he had been expecting, though he knew little enough of what to expect as it was. In his mind, the village ought to have been dirt paths and oddly places homes, dark in the rain and the gloom, with smoke rising from the chimneys and chickens in the mud. Instead, his eyes took in what seemed to be endless straight rows of houses, roofs red and pointed and not a chimney on one of them. Equally straight and smooth roads ran between them, crossing each other here and there, and Brandyé saw that they were not dirt, nor even cobblestone, but a flat stone material that he did not recognize. He saw that there must be hundreds of these homes, and asked Yateley: “How many people live here?”
Starting to walk again, Yateley shrugged and said, “Perhaps a thousand, two thousand? I don’t truthfully know.”
Brandyé realized that what Yateley was calling a village was, to him, a great town, and he wondered what all the people in Verdièth did, for he could not see a farm or even yard with more than just grass among all the homes there. Picking up his pace he started again after Yateley, and the town was momentarily lost to view. Down the road the went, and soon enough the pebbled path gave way to the same smooth material he had seen between the homes of Verdièth, and he found that they could move quite rapidly along it, and that it was also quite painful on his feet after some time.
Eventually the road led them to a stone bridge, and here stood a sign that proclaimed the name of the town in gold letters. The bridge crossed the stream that they had so far been following down the hill, and then they were in the village proper, and Brandyé marveled at what he saw around him.
The homes were built in great rows, large windows facing onto the road and doors spaced every dozen yards or so along them. Every so often a dark passageway would appear between the walls of the homes, leading presumably to the houses’ rear gardens, if gardens were even to be found here. The houses were built of a sandy stone, and rose two stories above the road so that Brandyé felt almost in a small valley between two sandstone cliffs.
Almost every home was brilliantly lit, bright light shining forth from the curtained windows, and Brandyé recognized the unwavering glow of the lanterns that had lit Yateley’s wood cabin. Not only was there light from the homes, though, but also from great lampposts that stood twenty feet high at intervals along the road, so that even in the dusk gloom there was ample light to see by.
Yateley led Brandyé along this street, passing through the glow of the lampposts, his shadow swirling around him as he walked. Behind him he followed, first down this street and then down another, and though each road seemed identical to the last to Brandyé, Yateley seemed to know where he was heading, and did not slow in his pace.
After some time, they came upon a kind of open space, and Brandyé realized this must be the town’s central square, for here were clearly shops and not homes: names and professions were emblazoned on signs that hung over and beside almost every building. Some he recognized, whilst others remained an utter mystery to him. He was grateful, though, when Yateley led him to a broad building near one end of the square and he read the sign that hung over the door: The Tavern Green.
“We’ll get some food in here,” Yateley said, “and we can pass the night. In the morrow, you can take the carriage from here to Lambeth. It’s a two-day ride.”
And so Yateley pushed upon the Tavern Green’s door, and light and voices spilled out into the wet evening. Into the tavern they went, and Brandyé felt a thrill of recognition to see a bar, and a fire roaring in a real hearth, and many men and women drinking and eating about the place. This was something he recognized, he knew, and he felt comfortable.
Yateley directed them to a pair of empty chairs before the great fire, and bid Brandyé sit while he sought them food. When finally he returned, it was with two mugs of ale, and Brandyé sipped at his his swiftly and appreciatively. Not long after food was brought to them, and it was sausages and potatoes and leeks, and Brandyé found that in the midst of so much strangeness he was glad for such familiar food, though he could not remember why it ought to be familiar in the first place.
He was soon finished with his meal, and sated, sat back in his chair and enjoyed the feel of the fire and the warmth of the ale, which was surprisingly strong. “Is this place typical of the rest of the world?” he found himself asking Yateley. “I have no recollection of what it’s like elsewhere.”
Yateley took a draught of his own ale. “I daresay most of the villages around here are like this one. The great cities, however … I hear they are quite a bit different.”
But Yateley shook his head. “You’ll have to find out for yourself. Perhaps one day you’ll return and tell me. Remember, I’ve never been outside of these parts of Golgor.”
As Brandyé sat back and considered this, a flash of memory came suddenly to him, and he asked, “Yateley—have you ever heard of a place known as Consolation?”
“No—never. It’s a odd name for a town, though.”
Brandyé frowned. “I don’t think it’s a town … more of a country, I think.” He shook his head. “I imagine it must be far from here, if it exists.”
“Is this something from your past?” Yateley asked quietly.
“I think so. I just wish … I wish I could remember.”
“I think you will,” said Yateley. “When you need it to, it will return to you.”
Brandyé smiled at him. “I hope so. I feel quite lost, sometimes.”
“So does everyone, at one time or another,” said Yateley sagely, and Brandyé thought this was quite a wise thing to say, though after three ales he admitted his judgement of such things might be slightly impaired.
“Perhaps in Viura Râ I might be found.”
“I beg your pardon, but did I hear you say ‘Viura Râ’?” came a voice from beside them. Brandyé looked over to see an elderly man with pale white hair standing there, a great mug of ale in his hand and a rim of foam over his lip. “I know something of the place, if that’s where you’re headed.”
Brandyé nodded, and Yateley bid the man sit with them. The old man pulled a stool close to them, sat, and introduced himself. “Name’s Harrington,” he said. “I don’t mean to eavesdrop, but Viura Râ’s not a place one travels to lightly.”
“What do you mean?” asked Brandyé.
“It’s the greatest city in all of Erâth,” said Harrington.
“So I understand,” said Brandyé.
“There’s no crime there,” Harrington went on.
“Is that so?”
“It’s a place of light, and of life, and greatness.”
“Then why would you caution me against it?”
Harrington leaned in toward Brandyé, and he could smell the ale on the old man’s breath. He wondered if the old man could smell the same on his own. “Because,” he said, “to travel there requires purpose.”
Brandyé frowned at this, for it somehow felt familiar. “What do you mean by purpose?”
“You need a reason to go there; otherwise they won’t let you in.”
Brandyé pursed his lips. “I don’t know if I have a purpose.”
“Then you can’t go!” exclaimed Harrington.
Oddly, it was these words of denial that confirmed to Brandyé in his thoughts that Viura Râ was, above all, the one place he must get to. In that instant he knew that it would have the answers to the questions, and indeed the questions themselves, that he sought. “I must go,” he said quietly.
“I don’t know, B,” said Yateley. “Are you certain you’d not be better off here? We can find you a job, if you wish—”
“No—I must go.” He turned to Harrington. “What do men do in Viura Râ, that gives them such purpose? What would grant someone access to this city?”
Harrington smiled a toothy grin. “Only things that concern the fate of all the world,” he said. “It is in Viura Râ that the greatest discoveries are made; it is there that men live the longest. It is there that our own fates are decided.” He leaned even closer. “It is there that they speak of war.”
“War?” Brandyé echoed.
For a moment Harrington did not speak, and Yateley sighed. “If there is another reason I do not live amongst men, B, it is this. Ever since I was a child, there have been rumors of war between the great countries of Erâth—Golgor, Aélûr, Cathaï … the rulers of these lands disagree on so many things, and always they are threatening war.”
Harrington nodded. “And it is in Viura Râ that the outcome of these arguments are decided. To this day the Sarâthen have managed to persuade men not to fight, but … I think soon even the race of Wisdom will lose to the ugly hatred that festers in the heart of men.”
“Surely not everyone is like that—”
“More folk than you might think,” said Harrington. “The hate of the high folk filters down to us low folk. Ask anyone you like here in Golgor, and they’ll tell you of the dreadful deeds of those in Cathaï, or Aélûr … and if you were to ask them, they’d tell you the same of Golgor.” He shook his head. “I am old, and I care little anymore; but the young, they are headstrong and eager to follow.” He gestured toward Brandyé with his mug, and ale sloshed over the sides. “I’m surprised at you, in fact, young man; where does your allegiance lie?”
“I don’t know,” answered Brandyé. “I can’t remember where I come from. I feel it was a place of peace, though; have you ever heard of somewhere called ‘Consolation’?”
Harrington shook his head again. “No, but there’re few places of peace left in Erâth these days. Your friend Yateley here—he has the right idea. Live in the woods, by yourself, and the war of men’ll pass you by.”
“I can’t,” said Brandyé. “Something is calling me to travel to Viura Râ.”
“More fool you,” Harrington said. “Still—if you must go, then when you get there, ask to see Ermèn. He might be able to help you.”
“Who is Ermèn?”
“He’s one of the Sarâthen. I knew him once, as a youth, and I daresay he’d remember me. They remember everything, the Sarâthen. Tell him Harrington sent you; he’ll help you, if he can.”
“And you think that will be enough to get me into Viura Râ?”
“To know a Sarâthen by name carries a weight of importance,” Harrington said. “They might just let you see him before they boot you out.”
“You don’t make it sound promising.”
“Never said it’d be easy.”
Brandyé sighed and sat back once more, staring into the flames of the fireplace. Despite Yateley’s and Harrington’s advice, he knew that what he was seeking was not here, in the land they called Golgor. And was it not suspicious that, by pure happenstance, he should come across someone who could offer him the means to access that great city? Something lurking deep in his mind told him that he would be a fool to pass up this chance.
So it was the following morning that he stood outside the tavern with Yateley, and waited for the coach that would take him hence to Lambeth. The rain had given up in the night and the sun was out once more, and Brandyé was overcome with the sensation that he had missed the sun for a long time. The weather in general here in Golgor seemed genial, with rains that lasted not too long and sun that bore not too much heat; he would have thought it was late spring, had he any reckoning of the seasons here.
It was not long before the coach arrived, and it was yet another surprise to Brandyé, for it was driven by no means that he could see: no horses pulled it, nor did any beast push it, so that it seemed uncannily to come to a stop before them almost of its own accord, great black wheels rumbling to a halt. It was vast—at least thirty feet in length, Brandyé felt it must house several dozen folk at once, and indeed as he mounted the steps into the coach’s belly, he saw that there were already many people sitting quietly on benches along the length of the carriage.
“Here,” said Yateley, and passed to Brandyé a small purse. “This’ll get you to Lambeth, and perhaps a little further, if you’re lucky.”
Brandyé took the purse with thanks, and with a swift farewell, took a seat among the many other travelers. Momentarily the coach set off, leaving Yateley and the town of Verdièth far behind them. After a few minutes of rough, bumping travel, a uniformed man approached Brandyé, clearly having difficulty keeping his balance. “Fare?” he fairly barked at him.
Somewhat nervous, Brandyé opened Yateley’s purse, and realized he had no reckoning of the currency therein. “How … how much?” he asked the conductor.
“Five,” the man said somewhat cryptically, and Brandyé poked in the purse, entirely mystified as to how many coins represented ‘five’. After a moment the conductor grunted and said, “Here.” He reached out for Brandyé’s purse, and not knowing what else to do, Brandyé allowed him to reach into it and grasp what seemed to be a rather large handful of coins. In return, the conductor gave to Brandyé a small scrap of paper with markings on it, and said, “Don’t lose this, or you’ll not get back on.” Brandyé took the paper and carefully folded it into one of his cloak’s many pockets. As the conductor left him, he thought he heard him mutter something about, “Country fools.”
For some time then, Brandyé sat back and watched the countryside pass them by, for the coach was endowed with many large windows and afforded a wonderful view of the land around them. It seemed to Brandyé that they were traveling at quite a great velocity, for the trees nearest the road seemed to very much rush by, and he thought perhaps he had never traveled so fast in his life.
Despite the straight nature of Verdièth’s roads, it seemed the paths of Golgor had no qualms in following many bends and curves once they were free in the countryside, and Brandyé found himself often at risk of being thrown from his seat as the coach barreled around sudden corners or over great hills. It seemed they were traveling through a considerable forest, and Brandyé started to wonder just how far these trees extended from Yateley’s cabin and beyond.
After some hours, however, he began to feel that they were gradually descending, and indeed there came a place where the enormous trees gave way to flat plains, and as the sun began to descend over the western horizon the fields of grass were painted with blood, and Brandyé thought it all looked quite beautiful.
Through the plains and into the night they continued, and Brandyé discovered that the coach was equipped with those same flameless lanterns that were so common elsewhere in this land, for against the growing darkness outside the coach’s interior remained lit with a warm, albeit dim, light. Eventually Brandyé began to doze, and found his rest easier here for the twist and turns of the hills and forests were no more. The rumbling of the coach became almost soothing, in fact, and he soon slipped into a deep sleep and did not wake until the morning.
When he did, it was to a most astonishing sight. At first Brandyé was disorientated, having forgotten where he was through the night, and it took him some moments to recognize the moving view through the window as a vast ocean, far below them and stretching out into infinity. The coach, it seemed, was winding its way along a clifftop road, and as the sun began to rise in the east and glint off the waves below, Brandyé could but stare in awe. Once more indistinct images floated across his vision, thoughts of a sea he had once been to in the past, but in his mind that sea was black and ailing. This sea, however, was a brilliant, deep azure, reflecting of the cloudless sky above, and it gave to Brandyé a wonderful sense of peace and of calm.
So the coach went on, and so the sun rose, and it was perhaps midday by the time Brandyé noticed they were once more descending, this time in great winding loops that took them precariously down the face of the seaside cliff, and knowing that Lambeth was a sea town, suspected they were beginning to approach their destination.
Indeed, far below them soon appeared many buildings and houses, and Brandyé saw that their appearance was quite different to those of Verdièth; whitewashed walls reflected the noontime sun brilliantly, contrasting starkly with the black pitch roofs, and the roads between them were anything but straight and even. A smile came to Brandyé, for this was a town that rang of a greater familiarity to him, despite lacking a memory of any other town to which he could compare it. A scent of sea air came over him, and excitement began to build in his breast: here, he was certain, he could find passage to the great city of Viura Râ, for there was promise here.
Eventually the great coach ground to a halt along what seemed to be a main street of the town, and Brandyé descended from it onto cobblestone, his legs wavering from sitting for so long. Lambeth, it seemed, was the destination for most of the folk aboard the coach, for they all seemed to descend with him into the street, leaving the coach empty as it started off again. Once more Brandyé was struck by the fact that the coach seemed able to nearly drive itself, though he recognized that the conductor had remained aboard, and wondered if somehow the man was responsible for steering it as well.
Looking around him, Brandyé saw that there were many folk passing here and there, in and out of shops and pubs, and as he was hungry, directed his feet to the nearest place he recognized as a tavern. The Ancient Mariner, the sign over the door read, and as he entered, he thought the place looked as ancient as the sign proclaimed. Sunlight filtered blue through much smoke, and Brandyé saw several old men sitting at a bar, long pipes grasped firmly between their teeth. At his appearance their conversation stopped momentarily, and though their eyes moved warily over his countenance, he felt no threat from them.
Approaching the bar, he addressed the old men with a nod, and they continued to stare upon him. “Is this a good place for a meal?” he asked them.
For a moment the old men remained silent, and then one of them muttered something to the others, who chuckled in turn. “Tû vèrae vreed, jünger,” the man then said. Brandyé was taken aback, for he had hardly been expecting the man to speak in words he could not understand.
“I beg your pardon?” he asked.
One of the other old men laughed and said, “He says you are very odd, young one.” He cast a gaze over Brandyé’s tattered cloak. “I agree.”
Brandyé raised his eyebrows. “I suppose I would as well,” he acknowledged. “I’m curious—what language was that? It sounded somehow familiar.”
“Ès vèrae erâtheet,” said the first man. “The high speech. It ought to be familiar; did you not learn it in school?”
Brandyé shook his head. “I suppose I might have. I have no recollection of my past.”
“Ha!” exclaimed the old man. “A boy without a memory! How odd indeed. What’s your name?”
“They call me B,” Brandyé said. “I can’t remember my true name.”
“Odd indeed,” repeated the old man. “Well, I am Favereth, and these are my companions, Wilhelm and Karth. Welcome to Lambeth—I sense you’re not from here.”
Brandyé shook his head. “Not from here. Not from anywhere, really—I’ve just come from Verdièth, but before that … as I say, I have no recollection.”
“Barman!” called out Favereth. “Food for the boy with no name!” He turned back to Brandyé. “This is indeed a good place for a meal. Would you like a whiff of pipe?”
Graciously Brandyé accepted the man’s pipe, and pulled at it gently. The smoke was strong and thick, and he could not help coughing. Favereth laughed. “That’s a boy! It’ll do you good.” And he retrieved the pipe from Brandyé. “So, what brings you to Lambeth, then?”
The barman had brought to Brandyé what appeared to be a cold beef sandwich, and he took a ravenous bite before answering. “I’m looking for passage, on a ship if there is one to be found.”
Favereth raised his bushy white eyebrows. “Passage, eh? To where?”
Brandyé took a deep breath, wondering if the old men might laugh at him. “Viura Râ.”
And laugh indeed they did. “Viura Râ?” exclaimed Wilhelm. “What in Erâth do you want to go there for?”
“I’m seeking the Sarâthen,” Brandyé said. “I’m hoping they might have answers for me.”
“You know they don’t let just anyone in,” said Favereth.
Brandyé nodded. “So I’ve been told. I have a name, though—a person, I believe must live there.”
“Well, I suppose that’s a good start. And how were you going to pay your passage? You don’t look all that rich to me.”
“I was told I might work my passage there,” Brandyé said, “though I admit I’m not certain what work there would be to do.”
Favereth grunted. “Hm. Not above a bit of work. I like you, boy. I tell you what: let me introduce you to the dock master this afternoon—as it happens, he’s a good friend of mine. If anyone can find you a berth aboard a ship, it’ll be him.”
And so Brandyé thanked Favereth and finished his sandwich. A pint of ale and two pipes later, he and Favereth set out from the Ancient Mariner toward the docks to meet with the dock master. As they walked along the boardwalk set out over the sea, Brandyé marveled at the ships, for they seemed to be made not of wood but of iron or steel, and he wondered how it was possible that they floated at all upon the water.
“You seem a strong lad,” said the dock master when finally they found him, directing the loading of many goods and wares onto a large vessel moored at the dock. “Fancy coal loading?”
“What is that?” asked Brandyé.
“Ha!” uttered the dock master. “You’ll find out soon enough!” He nodded. “You’ll get to Viura Râ, all right; whether you get in, well … that ain’t up to me.”
And so Brandyé was found a berth on a cargo vessel bound for Viura Râ, and coal loading, it turned out, was the most vile, dreadful task Brandyé could have imagined. Fire burned in the belly of these great vessels, and men were needed to stoke the flames day in and day out. After an hour Brandyé was hot, sweating and thick with black dust, coughing and spluttering as he shoveled an endless supply of coal into the furnaces, accompanied by a dozen or so other strong men who seemed unwilling to complain, and so nor could he. There was no daylight in the dismal steerage, and Brandyé soon lost all track of time. When finally a taskmaster came to tell him it was time for his rest, he followed the other men, stumbling along narrow passageways to their berth, which was a tiny cramped room with many bunks and no windows.
Brandyé’s own bed was pressed up against the hull of the ship, the lower of two bunks, and he collapsed gratefully into it, wondering how he would survive the two weeks it was said to take to arrive in Viura Râ. He dimmed the lantern nearest him, and passed into a fitful sleep.
When Brandyé awoke, it was to the sound of many voices speaking casually, and he suspected he had overslept, for around him was a great deal of bustle, with men sitting on their bunks, or dressing, or eating bread. He asked the man nearest him where he might find some food, for he was suddenly ravenous.
“If you want food, don’t sleep so long,” the man said gruffly, but offered Brandyé a morsel of his bread nonetheless. “It’s back to the furnaces in a minute.”
Brandyé devoured the mouthful of food, and thanked the man. He pushed back his cloak, which he had been using as a blanket, and momentarily revealed the sword and crossbow that he had managed to sneak onboard under the watchful eye of the taskmasters. The man beside him glanced over, and his eyes widened. “What’s that?”
There was no great tone of threat in the man’s voice, and so Brandyé pulled forth the sword in its scabbard and held it out for the man to see. “It’s a sword,” he said. “I had it with me when I was found in the woods. I don’t remember where it comes from, but I feel it’s precious, somehow.”
The man looked long upon the blade, but made no move toward it. Finally he said, “Keep it secret. I don’t think they’d look kindly upon your possession of it.”
So Brandyé stowed the sword once more under his cloak, and set off with the others for yet another shift of painful and dejecting labor. So the cycle continued for many days, heavy work amongst the furnaces followed by deep rest in the dim berths. Every so often they were allowed free reign to the upper decks, and it was then that Brandyé was reminded of his desire to see the great city of Viura Râ, and felt that he was indeed on the right path: the sight of the sun sparkling on the endless waves, or the evening light passing red through the ship’s smoke, or the faint outline of islands in the distance, spoke to him of a world on the brink of greatness, and he knew somehow that he was in a world far removed from the one he had come from, wherever it had been. And amongst it all, he could not deny an overwhelming sense of longing, of sadness and of despair: a feeling that came crushing upon him out of nowhere and caused his vision to swim before him. He could not explain where these thoughts came from, but a deep part of his mind—the same part that knew instinctively of the Sarâthen and the name of his sword, Fahnat-om—told him that the beauty of all that he saw around him was not to last, that the world he was traveling through was somehow on borrowed time. He wondered if he had anything to do with it, and if his time in Viura Râ—should he find a way into the great city—might be able to prevent whatever downfall he sensed would not be long in coming.
Thus his journey continued, these thoughts occupying him when he was not busy with manual labor or sleeping, exhausted, in his dark bunk, and two weeks passed swifter than he might have thought. So it was that, one morning there was a greater commotion than usual in the berth, and the man who slept beside Brandyé said to him, “They’re allowing us on deck this morning—we’ve arrived!”
Excitement building in him, Brandyé followed the crowd of men through the labyrinth of passageways and up steep stairs to emerge upon the ship’s lower deck, looking out to the north to see what he could see. And there, on the horizon and sitting on the edge of the world itself, rose the majestic towers of Viura Râ, and tears of wonder came to Brandyé’s eyes.