Chapter Seven: The Place of Men
White towers and spires of glass—countless and reaching to a one for the sky, the majestic edifices of Viura Râ cast sweeping shadows in the early morning sun, proclaiming this city above all others the home of wonder and invention for all of Erâth. Light glinted everywhere, so that the city seemed to sparkle and shimmer, and Brandyé’s heart lifted at such a sight of beauty. It seemed to him there could be no place in the world that spoke of such calm, of such wisdom, and such infinite grandeur.
And yet the city was not the only wonder to behold, for it sat on what seemed to be the very edge of the world: not two miles distant to the east, the ocean seemed to falter and end, tumbling eternally into a white abyss from which rose a obscuring mist and permitted no further view in that direction. Yet through this mist shone the sun nonetheless in all its glory, and its warmth combined with the cool sea breeze served to invigorate and refresh, and Brandyé thought that there was nothing that could possibly go wrong in a place such as this.
So he arrived at the city on the edge the world, the Eternal City, and his excitement could hardly be contained. He and the other ship’s laborers were the last to disembark, of course, and he spent their time waiting and shutting down the furnaces in endless conversation with any who would listen, talking of how he would find this Ermèn, and how he would find his place in the world, and all would be well. He felt that this was something he had been long awaiting, despite his lack of memory prior to the forests of Golgor, and when he finally stepped onto the solid earth of the city’s outskirts and away from the gently swaying decks of the ship, he was certain his heart would burst for sheer joy.
His euphoria was not long-lived, however, for once he left the ship he found himself very much alone in the busy and bustling crowd of the port, and knew not where to begin. His excitement gradually faded, and first confusion and then concern took its place. For a while he allowed the tide of the crowd to take him where it willed, past many enormous vessels equal—and even greater—in size than that which had borne him hither, and chaos reigned all around.
After some time Brandyé spotted the unmistakable sign of an inn, this one bearing the title of The Bottomless Flagon, and he pushed his way through the crowd to arrive at its front door, held wide by the many folk passing in and out of it. It was near lunchtime, as far as his nose could tell, and he rested his hand momentarily upon the small purse of coins Yateley had given him, now greatly depleted. He hoped it would be enough at least to buy himself one last meal, and entered the inn.
Even here, the influence of Viura Râ could be felt, for white abounded, the tables and chairs and even the ceiling a bright and pale color that lent a wholesome glow to the whole building and left few shadows. It was far from the gloomy drinking place he had expected, though there was nonetheless a bar, and he approached the barman with the intention of asking for bread, and a small mug of ale.
Instead, the barman looked at Brandyé with apparent confusion at his request, and within mere moments had procured a great platter laden with meats, potatoes, fresh vegetables and a great glass mug of a foaming, amber ale.
“I don’t … I don’t know if I have enough for this,” Brandyé muttered, his cheeks flaming.
Then the barman smiled with understanding. “First time in Viura Râ, eh?” he said, and shook his head. “No payment. Money’s no use here.”
Brandyé was astounded. “Then how can I repay you for this?”
The barman flashed his teeth. “Tell me why you’re here.”
“I’m … seeking someone,” Brandyé said.
The man raised his eyebrows. “Indeed? Must be someone important, that they dwell here.”
“I imagine he is,” Brandyé nodded. “I understand I’m looking for someone named ‘Ermèn’.” He shrugged his shoulders. “But I haven’t a clue where to begin.”
“Let me ask you this,” said the barman. “How well do you speak the high speech?”
“I don’t,” admitted Brandyé. “I’ve heard it before, but I don’t understand it.”
“Then you don’t have a hope,” said the barman, “because that’s all that’s spoken in Viura Râ.”
“You mean to say if you don’t speak the high speech, they won’t let you in?” This seemed oddly ostentatious to Brandyé, yet he supposed a city of such grandeur that asked no payment for services could keep to itself whatever peculiar laws it wished.
“That’s right,” said the barman. “Of course, it might be said that if your need to enter the Eternal City is great enough, learning its speech is a meager price to pay. Did you not learn a touch of it as a child?”
“I have no memory of my childhood,” Brandyé said. “But I’m eager enough to learn—where might I do so?”
The barman grinned again. “I tell you what—you work for me for a few months, I’ll teach you what I know. Might just be enough to get you into the city.”
Dismay filled Brandyé. “I had rather hoped to find this Ermèn sooner than that.”
“D’you think finding him is important?”
“I … I suppose so.”
“Then will it not be just as important when you’ve learned to speak with him?”
Brandyé considered the barman’s words and wondered, for they seemed full of a subtle wisdom. “You think Ermèn will only speak the high speech?”
“He’s one of the Sarâthen,” the barman said, as though this were self-explanatory.
“You know him?” Brandyé exclaimed.
But the barman ignored him and said, “The Sarâthen are older than the hills, young man; they will appreciate an effort to learn the language of old.”
And so with little other choice, Brandyé accepted the barman’s offer, and stayed with him that night and for many nights after. It turned out that learning the high speech—Erâtheet—was not so difficult, for it was spoken by many of the patrons of the Bottomless Flagon. Those who chose the old language would rarely deign to utter words of the common tongue, and so Brandyé had little choice but to learn their words, or be unable to serve them.
The barman, whose name was Tharèn, was at first seemingly not especially helpful, as it turned out, for from the moment Brandyé agreed to work for him he spoke to Brandyé in nothing but Erâtheet. “Tû wärschae berethé!” he exclaimed almost immediately, and Brandyé stared at him, dumbfounded, until Tharèn took a dirty mug, a cloth and a bucket of water and thrust them at Brandyé, who only then took his meaning.
In the end, however, Brandyé found Erâtheet easy enough to grasp, for though he could not explain even to himself why, it held a strong recognition for him. Soon he was able to converse simply with most everyone, and rapidly reached a point where, if he did not understand a word someone uttered, he could find a way to ask for an explanation without reverting to what they called the common tongue. “Grütha, vreeder,” was a common greeting he spoke nearly every day, which meant to him, “Greetings, stranger.”
All the while that Brandyé worked at the Bottomless Flagon, he would spend his free time wandering the port, which it seemed was a veritable village unto itself, on the outskirts of Viura Râ. Daily he found himself before the gates to the city, vast golden fences that stood fifty feet high and separated the inner wonder from the outer bustle of the port. Often Brandyé would gaze in between the bars, and thought that everything seemed peaceful and calm within, that no one he saw seemed in a hurry, no one seemed upset, and no one seemed too bothered to stop and chat.
And as he watched, he would sometimes see among the folk that walked here and there figures that seemed out of place—graceful, tall creatures that stood a head higher than any around them and robed always in the purest white, or, counterpart to them, hooded figures in robes of deepest black, though these were rarer to see. And somewhere deep inside Brandyé, a hint of memory began to surface, and he knew these figures for what they were: Illuèn, creatures of Light, and Namirèn, of Death. Vaguely he was aware that there ought to be other creatures among them as well, and he kept an eye out always for old men, or folk he thought ought to be dressed in golden robes, and knew he was looking for wisdom, and life.
And then there came a day when Tharèn asked him, “Vèrae-tû bethèl?” which meant, “Are you ready?” and Brandyé knew what he meant, and knew that he was.
“I am,” he replied in the high speech, and Tharèn nodded.
“It has been a pleasure knowing you,” he said, “and I wish you all the best in your travels. May you find Ermèn, and may he enlighten you.”
“Thank you,” said Brandyé. He had grown, if not necessarily to be fond of the barman, used to his company, and wondered if he would see him again.
“Perhaps,” said Tharèn. “We will see what fate has in store for us.”
And so Brandyé left the Bottomless Flagon for the last time, and set out through the port to the golden gates of Viura Râ, intent this day on entering the city once and for all. When he arrived, it was to find, as usual, a great crowd of people surrounding the gates, tall robed guards with staffs barring their entrance through a small portal beside them. Near this entrance the crowd grew into a slightly more ordered queue, and Brandyé joined this, and waited for what seemed an eternity for his chance to speak with the guards, and plead his case.
He saw that the vast majority of people who spoke to the guards were swiftly rejected, and he wondered on what condition the few folk who were not were allowed through, and whether his own position—that of seeking out a Sarâthen—would be justification enough to let him pass. And then came his moment and he was faced with the guards, and one of them spoke to him in the high speech: “Who are you, and what brings you to Viura Râ, the Eternal City?”
Nervous, Brandyé uttered, “I have no name that I know of, but I am seeking one of the Sarâthen, by the name of Ermèn.”
“Many seek the Sarâthen,” said the guard, “but few have good cause. What is yours?”
And here Brandyé faltered, for he realized that he did not have one: other than the mystery of his past, he did not know what we sought from Ermèn should he find him. “I seek … answers,” he said weakly.
“There will be no passage for you into the Eternal City,” the guard said, and gestured with his staff. “Go, and do not return.”
“But I must see Ermèn!” Brandyé protested, but the guard would not speak to him further, and dismayed, he turned and walked slowly away. He had not anticipated this: all the time he had spent contemplating his meeting with this Sarâthen, on the voyage here and in the months with Tharèn, it had not occurred to him that he might nonetheless be denied entrance for so simple a reason as that he did not have one.
Discouraged and sinking in spirit, Brandyé returned to the Bottomless Flagon that night, but as a patron and not a servant. As he drank his ale, Tharèn spoke to him. “So they denied you, eh? What were you expecting?”
“I don’t know,” Brandyé admitted. He spoke to Tharèn in the high speech, and it occurred to him that, at the very least, he had learned something of another tongue, which was not altogether a waste of time. “I hadn’t thought of them asking why I sought Ermèn. I thought … I thought perhaps mentioning his name would be enough to gain me entrance.”
“I’ve heard of this Ermèn,” Tharèn said, “and so have many others. The wisdom of the Sarâthen is coveted throughout Erâth, but they are few, and reserve their time for matters of gravest importance. Tell me—what makes you think Ermèn would wish to speak to you at all?”
And Brandyé had no answer to this, for it was yet another thing he had not considered. He knew only that his heart told him that meeting with Ermèn was a matter of grave importance, though he could not for his life explain why.
The following morning dawned bright, and with the sun rose Brandyé’s spirits again, and he found himself once more at the golden gates not long after dawn. Once more he was asked—by a different guard this time—his purpose for entering the Eternal City, and he was once more denied, despite his protestations that it was of utmost importance that he speak with Ermèn. Turned away for the second time, Brandyé took a moment afterward to observe the guards, and saw that around noontime they were replaced by a different pair.
So he saw that he had two opportunities a day to convince the guards, and so for the ensuing week he approached the golden gates, once in the morning and once in the afternoon, and for a week he was rejected every time. It became such that the guards recognized him, and would sometimes even laugh at his approach. “What tale have you for us today?” they would ask.
“The same as yesterday,” he would answer. “What answer do you have for me?”
“The same as yesterday,” they would reply, and despite his discouragement, Brandyé felt glad at least that there was no enmity between the guards and him.
Finally, one day as he made his second approach for the day, the guard he spoke to gestured for him to step aside for a moment. “You are certainly persistent,” he said to Brandyé.
Brandyé shrugged. “I have nothing else to do. I will see Ermèn, one day or another.”
“I admire your tenacity,” the guard said, “and truthfully, I grow weary of seeing your face here every day. I will do you this one favor: I will send word to the Sarâthen that an unnamed man wishes to speak with one of them. I will allow them to make their own decision on whether to see you or not.”
For a moment, Brandyé could scarcely believe his ears. “What did you say?” he asked incredulously.
“You heard me,” the guard said, as though he was unwilling to repeat himself. “Be here tomorrow an hour after noon, and we will see.”
In his elation, Brandyé grasped the guard’s hand without thought, and the guard pulled away roughly. “Thank you!” he uttered, and the guard grunted.
“I should not be doing this,” he muttered, and then louder: “Now—be gone!”
Scarcely able to hide a smile, Brandyé nodded to the guard and retreated for the final time. This time tomorrow, he thought, he would finally meet the person he sought. That night he spoke to Tharèn about it, who laughed out loud.
“They’re letting you in because you’re stubborn?” he exclaimed. “Well, I’ve heard everything now!”
Even though he was inwardly overjoyed, Brandyé felt the need to caution both Tharèn and himself. “He said only that he would send word—not that I would be granted an audience with Ermèn. I may arrive tomorrow only to be turned away as always.”
Tharèn pursed his lips for a moment. “What will you do if you are?”
“I don’t know,” said Brandyé. “Perhaps it will be a sign that I’m not in fact meant to be here, though I wouldn’t wish it so. Tell me—where else in this world might one seek answers?”
“That would depend on what question you’re seeking the answer to,” Tharèn said. “There are many forces in this world, and they are spread far and wide. I daresay you might find things elsewhere that you would not find in Viura Râ.”
Brandyé was curious. “Such as?”
“The Mirèn, for one,” Tharèn said. “The race of Life. I hear they live almost nowhere now but the northern lands of Narün. I haven’t seen one in years, it seems.”
At the sound of this name, thoughts of fair skin and golden robes passed through Brandyé’s mind, and he knew suddenly that it was this that he had been missing in his daily scrutiny through the golden gates of Viura Râ.
“What can you tell me of the Mirèn?” he asked.
Tharèn shrugged. “Little, I suppose—no more than any other could say. Along with the Namirèn, they form the balance of Life and Death in Erâth. The Namirèn you will still see here and there, but the Mirèn—they grew weary, and left.”
Brandyé frowned. “Weary? What did they grow weary of?”
“As I understand it, us,” said Tharèn. “Men. I’ll tell you one thing: if you do make it into Viura Râ, you’ll not find it as wonderful and glittering as it seems from the outside. Darkness dwells there too, as it seems to everywhere these days.”
“Darkness? I’ve seen no Darkness as far as I can remember,” said Brandyé, though he of course had to admit to himself that he could not remember much.
“The Duithèn,” said Tharèn. “The race of Darkness. Of course, they are as much a part of this world as the Illuèn, though they do not appear often. But their influence is spreading. Perhaps you don’t feel it because your memory is at fault, but even in my lifetime, I have seen the world darken.”
“But the sun shines!” protested Brandyé. “People are happy! They laugh and talk.”
For the first time since Brandyé had known him, Tharèn seemed to grow sinister for a moment. “There is Darkness that the sun cannot dissipate,” he said. “Sadness that laughter cannot cure. The Mirèn are leaving the world of Men, and we are left with Death and Darkness. The presence of the Illuèn helps to balance the Darkness, of course, but …” He looked curiously at Brandyé, and then smiled gently. “You truly don’t see it, do you?”
Brandyé shook his head, and Tharèn nodded. “It wasn’t out of idleness that I took you on, you know. There’s a light in you, lad; something that Darkness can’t grasp. It’s been a pleasure having you here—it’s lit up my little tavern—and you’ll be sorely missed. I suspect you’ll be within the walls of Viura Râ this time tomorrow, and what you see there might be quite a bit different than you’re expecting. Be careful what you trust. When you meet this Ermèn … tell me. Have you never worried about what will happen if you regain your memory?”
Brandyé had, in fact, not considered this. “I … I don’t know,” he said. “It doesn’t feel as though it’s anything important that I’ve forgotten, though I suppose I can’t know for certain.”
Tharèn nodded gently. “There’s Darkness in us all, B; you might have forgotten yours, and I think you’re the better for it—but beware should your memories return.”
These thoughts very much dampened Brandyé’s mood the following day as he set out for the final time toward the gates to Viura Râ. The sun was as bright as always—in fact, he had yet to see a cloud here—yet he wondered if the sky was not a shade dimmer than he remembered the previous day. Around him was the usual commotion of the port, and he wondered if he heard a bitterness in the many voices that he had never noticed before. It had never occurred to him before, but there seemed today to be anger in the throats of those who were turned away from the golden gates, and there was a danger in the air he had never before sensed.
As Brandyé waited his turn before the gates, he recalled Yateley and Harrington’s words on the threat of war between the lands of Erâth, and wondered if the folk here, those trying to gain entrance to Viura Râ, were here on such business. It seemed to him that if there were folk bringing tidings of malcontent to such as place as Viura Râ, it did not behoove the city to turn them away without listening to their concerns. He supposed it was one of the many things he would have to ask Ermèn, should today prove the day that they would finally meet.
And then it was his turn, and before him stood one of the many guards that he now knew by sight, and beside them stood an elderly man with a great beard, white except for a single streak of black, and Brandyé knew this must be Ermèn. Excitement shot through him, and all thoughts of war and disaster left him. He approached the guard and the old man, and said, “I am seeking entrance to the great city of Viura Râ, to speak with one named Ermèn.”
And instead of the guard speaking, telling him to leave and never return, the old man opened his mouth: “And so you are! How lovely, to see a new face!”
Brandyé could tell from his expression that the guard was mildly disappointed; he had clearly been hoping that Ermèn would turn Brandyé away. Still, he stepped aside, and allowed Brandyé to pass beside him.
“Come, lad,” said Ermèn. “You have waited a long time to see me—but I expect I have waited longer.” He shook his head, and his long beard wobbled. “I know you, of course; yet, we have never met.”
“I know you only by name,” said Brandyé. “A man named Harrington said that I should seek you out.”
At this, Ermèn smiled. “I know.”
They had passed now beyond the golden gates, and as Ermèn spoke, Brandyé was looking about him in wonder. From afar, the great towers of Viura Râ had been majestic, beautiful—inspiring, even. But here, beneath them and in their shadow, they were almost imposing. Every around him was glass and metal and stone, and between the walls passed hundreds of folk of all kinds, and Brandyé saw many of the tall, white robed figures he recognized without thought as Illuèn.
With all this sight around him, it was a moment before he recognized Ermèn’s words. “How do you know Harrington sent me?”
“How indeed?” replied Ermèn. “He gave you my name, of course—but did he tell you he gave it to me in the first place?”
“What do you mean?” asked Brandyé, confused.
“We Sarâthen keep to ourselves no name,” said Ermèn. “We are few, and we know each other well enough. But for other folk, it can be useful. Harrington named me, of course. Do you not recognize its roots in the high speech?”
Brandyé frowned, for although they had of course been discoursing all this while in the high speech, it had never occurred to him to examine the roots of Ermèn’s name. “Old man?” he said. “Something of that kind?”
Ermèn smiled. “Something. You may call me Ermèn also, of course—when you do not call me crazy. But tell me—what is your name?”
They had turned the corner of a street, and were now passing down a crowded avenue, and for a moment Brandyé had to move aside from Ermèn to avoid being knocked into. “I don’t know,” he said. “I have lost all memory of my past, before a few months ago.”
Ermèn’s bushy eyebrows raised. “Indeed. How curious. I suppose this tells me why you have sought me out?”
“I had hoped to find answers,” Brandyé admitted. “I feel there must be a reason for my presence here, but I cannot see it.”
“Ah,” said Ermèn. “There is reason for everything, is there not?”
“Is there?” Brandyé asked.
“What do you suppose?”
Infuriatingly, hints of memory prodded at his thoughts at Ermèn’s question, and he thought he might once have been asked a very similar question—many times over. “I would like to think so,” he answered carefully, “though I imagine it isn’t always easy to see.”
“Ah! You are wise beyond your years, Brandyé.”
A chill went through Brandyé’s spine for a moment. “What did you call me?”
“Is that not your name?” asked Ermèn innocently.
“How … how can you know my name?”
“You know mine,” said Ermèn. “It hardly seems fair not to know yours. Does it not feel familiar?”
And Brandyé had to admit that it did; the name felt as right to him as his own hands and fingers. “Brandyé.” He tried the name on his tongue. “But there is more, isn’t there.”
Ermèn raised his eyebrows again. “Perhaps there is.”
Brandyé looked over at Ermèn. They had turned another corner, and were now in a narrower passageway with fewer people about. “Will you tell me?”
Ermèn looked slyly at him. “Perhaps.”
There was silence between them for a moment, and then Brandyé said, “Well?”
Ermèn shrugged. “When the time is right, perhaps.”
Brandyé frowned. “Why is now not the right time?”
But Ermèn would not answer this question, and instead said, “What do you think of Viura Râ?”
Brandyé looked about him once more, at the walls of glass and stone. “It is beautiful,” he said. “Yet … I feel cold.” He looked skyward, and realized he could not see the sun. “How do you live in such a place?”
“It is the compromise of great height,” said Ermèn enigmatically.
“What do you mean?”
“Tell me,” said Ermèn, “what do you think you would see from the tops of these great buildings?”
Once more, Brandyé looked to the spires that towered infinitely high above them. “The entire world, I’d expect,” he said.
Ermèn nodded and laughed. “Quite likely! And yet, what can be seen from here?”
“Very little, it seems.”
“Ah! The sun shines ever on the peaks, yet rarely in the depths. What does that tell you about seeking to attain the greatest heights?”
“You make it seem like something to be wary of,” said Brandyé.
“Perhaps it is.”
“Then why have such buildings been built?”
“What does your heart tell you?”
For a long while they walked in silence, as Brandyé thought. “I’d very much like to see the world from so high,” he said finally.
“So do many,” said Ermèn.
“Yet some must be left in the shadows.”
Ermèn said nothing, and Brandyé’s mind returned to the many folk who were daily turned away from the great city. “Folk are jealous,” he said finally.
“Your insight serves you well,” Ermèn said.
“What is it that makes Viura Râ so great?” Brandyé asked. “What is there here, that there cannot be anywhere else?”
“Nothing,” said Ermèn. Then: “Yet perhaps, everything.”
Brandyé thought he was slowly becoming antagonized by this old man’s inability to answer anything simply. What do you mean?”
“Tell me,” said Ermèn, “What do you know of the world outside of Viura Râ?”
“I said, I have no memory,” said Brandyé.
“Yet you know something, do you not?”
“I have been told there is the threat of war among many of the countries of Erâth.”
“What would make two people—or two countries—fight?”
Brandyé’s eyes widened slightly. “Jealousy?”
“It is often the case, no? And what comes with jealousy?”
“Anger,” said Brandyé. “Fear.”
“You would put the Sarâthen to shame,” said Ermèn.
“What do people fear?”
“What indeed?” asked Ermèn.
But for a moment Brandyé had no answer, for he was lost in thought. So many familiar things were in Ermèn’s words, yet he could not place them to save his life. Then, as they continued to walk, they came to an open space, a square of sorts, and in the center of it rose high a great sculpture, many statues standing tall and proud, carved of black stone and casting their frozen gaze in all directions. As Brandyé stopped short and his breath caught in his throat, he counted seven of these great figures, and saw that they to a one had a hand held out, as if to indicate something of great importance lay in that direction.
“What is this?” he breathed.
“This is the center of Viura Râ,” Ermèn said. “Do you recognize it?”
And Brandyé did not speak, for though he knew he could not possibly have been here before, there was nonetheless something terribly familiar about these seven great statues. The longer he looked upon them, the more he came to know what he was looking at. “These are the seven powers of Erâth,” he said finally.
“Ah!” said Ermèn. “What do you know of the powers of Erâth?”
Brandyé pointed to one of the statues—a figure taller than all the others, and of a lighter stone than the rest. “Light,” he said. Then he indicated one standing beside it, shorter and darker, with features hidden by a deep hood. “Dark.” He pointed to a third, and a fourth. “Life, and Death.” He indicated one that seemed shorter and squatter than the others, and somehow more powerful. “Power.” Then to one that had the appearance of an old man. “Wisdom.” And then, finally, he indicated the last statue, which had all the appearance of a man, ordinary and humble—yet its features were entirely blank. “Eternity.”
“Very good,” said Ermèn, and there was almost a touch of awe in his voice. “What can you tell me about these statues?”
“It seems they represent the races of each power,” replied Brandyé. “I have seen Light and Death here, in Viura Râ. But …” and he looked about him, through the many people that still passed here and there. “Where is Life, and Darkness, and the others?”
“Power,” said Ermèn, “the Portèn; you know this.”
“They are everywhere,” said Brandyé softly, and he was not sure even in himself where this answer came from.
“In few places indeed.”
Ermèn smiled, and nodded gently. “Sometimes even among the Sarâthen, I wonder.”
“And Darkness?” Somehow, Brandyé found himself inexplicably focused on this particular power.
“You say you have not seen them.”
And Brandyé thought back to the clear blue skies, and the endless sun, and frowned. “They’ve been banished from Viura Râ,” he said. “Haven’t they?”
Once more, Ermèn said nothing, and waited.
“And Life?” Brandyé looked around him. “Where are the Mirèn?”
Still, Ermèn waited, and the truth suddenly dawned upon Brandyé. “They have left. They’re gone. But why?”
“You will learn, in time,” said Ermèn.
A tear came unbidden to Brandyé’s eye. “It makes me sad,” he said, and Ermèn lay a hand on his shoulder.
“So it does me.”
For an age the two stood and looked upon the statues as the city bustled around them, and finally it dawned on Brandyé that there was one about which they had not spoken. “What of Eternity?” he said. “Narâthae? I have never heard of a race of Eternity.”
Yet again, Ermèn raised his eyebrows. “Nor have any.”
“Yet …” Brandyé indicated the statue. “It must exist.”
“The Ageless …” Brandyé muttered.
“What was that?”
Frowning in concentration, Brandyé allowed his mind to escape—there was a memory here, something returning to him, and he was desperate not to let it go. Flashes of images passed through his thoughts: Illuèn, forests and trees; and a name. And then it came to him.
“Do you know someone called Athalya?” he asked Ermèn.
For the first time, Ermèn seemed taken aback. “How do you know her name?”
“I have a memory,” Brandyé said. “I’ve spoken with her, before.”
“She is Illuèn, and lives here in Viura Râ,” said Ermèn. “How curious.”
“The Ageless of Erâth,” Brandyé repeated. “We are—you, and I, and everyone—descended from them. There is an Ageless of Eternity.”
Ermèn closed his eyes. “So there is.”
“And so there must be a race of such, too. Who is it?”
“Who do you think?” asked Ermèn.
But Brandyé had no immediate answer. Instead, he looked once more to the towering buildings all around them. “Will you take me to the highest one?” he asked.
Ermèn smiled. “I wondered when you would ask. As it happens, therein dwells Athalya—and I suspect you may well wish to meet her.”
Indeed, Brandyé was eager to meet this person for whom he had a memory, even if it was of the vaguest kind, and so he followed Ermèn as he led him away from the seven great statues and once more through the streets and avenues of the great city. As they passed the many buildings and people, Brandyé noticed the odd black robed figure, and knew them as Namirèn. “How can there be Death here,” he asked Ermèn, “when not all are dead?”
Ermèn smiled. “There is light here, yet not everywhere are there Illuèn. And even here in Viura Râ is there shadow and darkness, without the presence of the Duithèn. What does that tell you?”
“Death can come and go, without killing. But why?”
“There are few places in Erâth where the races of the world can freely mix without consequence,” said Ermèn. “Here, Death do not kill; the Illuèn bring no Light; the Duithèn no Darkness.”
“Then do the Sarâthen bring no wisdom?” asked Brandyé, half-afraid he might be insulting Ermèn.
Ermèn, however, only laughed. “Less than we might, I think sometimes. My—you have made me smile like I have not done for too long, Brandyé. Ah! We are here!”
They had been walking down a street that was lined by an immense wall of glass, and it occurred to Brandyé that in all the time he had spent so far in Viura Râ, he had not seen a door or entranceway to any of the buildings. Yet here, just where Ermèn had stopped, there was an opening, and through this they passed.
Despite the enormous scale of the building into which they had entered, the interior was tiny—a mere compartment, fit only to house a handful of folk at a time. Confused, Brandyé turned back to the entrance, only to find that the doorway had disappeared, replaced by a smooth and unbroken wall of glass. He was about to ask Ermèn where they were when quite suddenly the ground outside dropped sharply away from them, and in terror Brandyé backed away from the glass for fear of falling into the abyss that now yawned beneath them.
Only after a minute did it dawn upon Brandyé what had happened: the compartment into which they had entered was itself rising endlessly high above the ground, casting them skyward at a prodigious speed. Soon the figures moving about on the ground below were tiny specks, and then they could not be made out at all. The spires and rooftops around them passed onward and down, and Brandyé was overwhelmed by a breathless vertigo and clutched at Ermèn’s arm.
Ermèn, for his part, merely chuckled. “Never so high, hm?”
A flash of mountains and cloud passed through Brandyé’s mind, but he could only shake his head and mutter, “Not that I remember.”
Before long, it seemed, the tiny compartment in which they rose came to a gradual halt, and turning once more Brandyé saw that behind them yet another doorway had opened for them, and it was now into a new room that they passed. The space was large and round, and Brandyé saw that windows faced outward on all sides, so that indeed a view of what seemed to be the entirety of Erâth could be seen. Awestruck, he entered the room, and the door vanished behind them.
“Welcome to Vereth Hemèl,” said a voice from across the room, and looking Brandyé saw a woman robed in purest white approaching them. At a glance he knew this was one of the Illuèn, and there was something so utterly familiar about her face that he felt surely he must have seen her before. With this memory came suddenly a swift and deep sadness that he could not explain, and he knew this was Athalya.
“Hello,” he said awkwardly. “I am—”
“Brandyé,” she nodded, and he felt a peculiar chill. “You are the one Ermèn has spoken so much about.”
Brandyé looked at Ermèn, perplexed, and the old man chuckled again. “Did you not think I would talk about one who has been pestering the guards for a week straight?”
“But how—you knew my name before … I don’t understand!” Brandyé said, flustered.
“There are many mysteries in this world,” said Ermèn unhelpfully.
“I understand you are one of them,” said Athalya. “No memory of yourself, or of your past … and yet you journeyed far to meet with one of the Sarâthen. One must ask—what purpose does this all serve?”
“I don’t know!” exclaimed Brandyé.
Athalya favored Brandyé with a look that was oddly fond. “Perhaps it will soon be revealed. Would you like to admire the view?” She gestured to the window, and bade Brandyé follow her. He walked with her to the edge of the room, and the vertigo from their journey to the top of this tower returned. They were indeed at the top of the highest tower in Viura Râ, he could see, for not a single spire rose higher than they were at that moment. Far to the east he could see the inexplicable ending of the sea, the great cataract that offered no view beyond the ever-present white mist. To the south he could see, tiny and far below, the busy port and the many ships that passed here and there, now small as toys. And beyond that, and to the west, the endless ocean, fathomless in breadth and in depth, stunningly blue beneath azure skies.
“This is … astonishing,” he said at last. “Though I’m somewhat frightened to be so high.”
Athalya smiled. “One grows used to it. The sunset is a marvel to behold. Tell me—what is your memory of the sun?”
For a moment, Brandyé’s marvel faltered as he tried to recall the sun from his past, and found he could not. “I … I’m not sure,” he said, and frowned in concentration. “I have the oddest feeling that there was little sun at all in my past.”
Had he been paying attention, he would have seen the briefest of glances pass between Athalya and Ermèn. As it was, he noticed nothing until Athalya spoke again: “It is a pleasure to have you here. This will be your home, of course, for as long as you should choose to remain in Viura Râ. Are you hungry? Do you wish to sleep?”
Brandyé, who in fact had eaten nothing that day at all, could not deny his stomach’s rumbling. “Food would be welcome,” he said politely. “But I must ask—why are you treating me so kindly? What am I, that you should take me in like this?”
Athalya shrugged. “Never has someone made such a journey to speak with Ermèn, or myself,” she said. “And I suspect your journey has been much longer than you can recall at the moment. It is the least we can do.”
And so she brought Brandyé to a table, which was already laid out with the most succulent foods, from fruits and vegetables of many colors to ripe meats and fresh bread. With little ado he dug in, joined by Ermèn, and for a while he regaled them with tales of Yateley and Harrington and the sights he had seen since he had come to himself in the forests of Golgor. As they ate and spoke the sun passed slowly into the west, and it was dusk by the time Brandyé finally sat back, his belly sated and his stories spent.
“So,” he said mildly, for he had become quite comfortable in the presence of Ermèn and Athalya—almost, he thought, as though he knew them beyond their brief meeting so far, “What is it that you both do here in Viura Râ?”
For a moment there was silence, and it was Athalya who broke it. “Brandyé—it has been a pleasure to speak with you this afternoon, and I am glad to have made your acquaintance. You have already alluded to the mystery of your appearance, and it has surely not escaped you that it is hardly coincidence that you should have sought out Viura Râ, out of all the places in Erâth, as that place which might hold answers for you.
“I cannot say that I know where you have come from, and nor do I know where you might go from here. But I can say this: you have come very much at the turning of a great tide, and that also is hardly coincidence. You know of the war that is brewing between the countries of Erâth: Golgor, Cathaï, Thaeìn, Aélûr, and the others … here alone in Viura Râ, in the land of Oríthiae, is there still any semblance of peace.
“Amongst the Illuèn and the Sarâthen, we believe that this war is nearly inevitable: the men of Erâth have argued long over many petty things, and some few great things.”
Brandyé shook his head. “What would bring countries to war?”
“Mistrust,” said Ermèn. “The failing of life.”
“What do you mean?”
“You know already that the race of Life, the Mirèn, have left the shores of men, and the Duithèn, have been banished from Viura Râ,” said Athalya. “What you have perhaps not seen is the despair that is stealing the hearts of the smallest and greatest of men across the world. You are yet young, Brandyé, and life is surely long to you; but to the world of men, it is not long enough. For centuries now, the lives of men have grown ever shorter, and each generation has sought to place blame for their failings in this regard.”
“How could anyone blame anything, simply because their grandfathers lived longer than their fathers?”
“Did you not wonder at the statue of Eternity in the center of Viura Râ?” asked Ermèn.
“The one without a face,” said Brandyé, and Ermèn nodded.
“You spoke of an Ageless of Eternity, and how there must be a race of their provenance, did you not?”
Brandyé nodded slowly. “But … there is no such race. The Illuèn, the Duithèn, the Mirèn and Namirèn … all exist. I have seen them—I know them. But I have never come across a race that claims to be eternal.” Even with his failing memory, Brandyé somehow knew this to be true.
But when Ermèn spoke, his tone shook Brandyé’s confidence. “Have you not?”
“What race is there left in Erâth, that you know of?” Athalya asked. “What other manner of creature, other than the beasts?”
And it was then that it dawned on Brandyé, and he felt in this revelation something so deep, so powerful, that his skin chilled and a tear came to his eye. “Men,” he breathed. He looked to Athalya, and then to Ermèn. “You cannot mean that the men of Erâth believe they are meant to be eternal?”
“Many centuries ago this rumor grew and spread, until it became known as fact. Yet …”
“Yet men do not live forever,” said Brandyé. “It’s folly!”
“Who would you blame,” asked Ermèn, “if your very life was being cut short?”
“No one!” cried Brandyé. But when neither Ermèn nor Athalya spoke, he took a moment to think deeper. “The Namirèn,” he said. “They are the race of Death.”
“Yet it is not Death that we speak of,” said Athalya. “It is the failing of Life.”
“In the minds of men,” Brandyé muttered, and then with horror: “The Mirèn? You cannot …”
But Ermèn nodded, and Athalya said, “The race of men has grown to bitterly hate the Mirèn, for they believe they have been forsaken.”
“And what has happened to the Mirèn?”
“What indeed?” asked Ermèn. “Have you seen any in all your memory of these lands?”
Brandyé felt numb. “Where have they gone?”
“What Mirèn are left are almost exclusively found in the northern lands of Narün. They have been exiled there by men.”
Brandyé was disgusted, and wondered at the fallacies of his own race. “What can be done?”
“Too little, we fear,” said Athalya. “The balance of Erâth is overthrown.”
A shudder of recognition passed through Brandyé. “The Duithèn,” he said.
“Ever have they been greedy—jealous of Light,” said Athalya.
“They seek the downfall of the Mirèn,” breathed Brandyé. “With Life gone from Erâth …”
“Death and Darkness could prevail,” finished Ermèn.
And it was then that memories of gray and clouded skies, of undeserved death and of wanton misery, returned to Brandyé, and a tear came to his eye. “It will happen,” he said softly. “There is no stopping their influence.”
But Ermèn rested a hand on Brandyé’s shoulder, and for a long moment they looked out over the city and the waves that glinted in the sun, and it seemed so contradictory to their words that Brandyé was dumbfounded. How could a place of such Life and Light turn to Darkness?
“Even the Sarâthen cannot see the ends of the world,” said Ermèn finally. “And though you do not speak falsely, all hope is perhaps not yet gone. What reason is there for your presence here, now?”
“I can’t stop the downfall of the world!” exclaimed Brandyé.
“Time is short,” agreed Athalya, “but perhaps not lost. Even here in Viura Râ there is talk of war, and of weapons. The Namirèn would have us believe that the only way to stop death is with the threat of a worse death. In their despair, the men of Viura Râ are beginning to succumb. I fear even … even some of the Illuèn are soon to be persuaded of such a rash course.”
“What would you say,” asked Ermèn, “if the races of Light and Wisdom were to forge weapons of Darkness and Death?”
At first Brandyé did not understand Ermèn’s words, for they made no sense; and then they made all the sense in Erâth, and he whispered, “Violence … can only beget violence. Yet it will happen. Somehow I know this, unless …”
And then both Athalya and Ermèn turned their gazes upon him, and for a long moment waited for him to speak. His own gaze turned inward, and he ceased to see the wondrous view through the windows, failed to see the eyes of his companions, forgot even the room he was in. Never in the months he had been in these lands had he felt so powerless, so infuriated at his lack of memory. There was something here that he knew, if only he could remember what it was. Finally, he spoke. “I have seen the end of the world,” he said softly. “But I can’t remember anything of it. All I know is gray, and Darkness … the Duithèn will conquer the world. But …” and he looked up again at Ermèn and Athalya. “I know they can be stopped. They … they have been defeated before.”
Then his companions appeared very much confused, and Athalya said, “There has never been a threat of war like this before. Never before has any one power of Erâth needed to be stopped. What are your thoughts?”
And it was then that a memory returned to him, for the first time in many months, and it was true and clear in his mind. He saw an old man, somber yet kind, and himself as a child, and knew that this man was dear to him—perhaps the dearest of all people. And he knew he had been fighting, fighting for his life, and yet the old man was not pleased: “You were angry?”
“Yes,” Brandyé replied in his thoughts. “They were evil.”
“They were most certainly not evil,” said the old man. “You do not know evil.”
“Then they were … mean-hearted.”
“That is more than likely. Does it excuse violence?”
“Why do men fight?”
Even in memory, Brandyé felt his shame. “Because they lack the words to speak.” And fast on the heels of his shame came and sudden and fierce anger. “But they were already violent! Speaking to them would have meant nothing!”
And the tone in the old man’s voice was sad, and yet somehow encouraging. “Did you attempt to talk to them?”
And in his memory, Brandyé knew he had not, and knew herein lay his failure that day. He looked to Athalya and Ermèn. “Who can we go to?” he asked. “Who can we speak to, to prevent this tide of violence?”
And then Ermèn smiled, and said, “We shall go to the rulers of the world, and we will speak to them.”
But Athalya cautioned: “It will remain to be seen if they will listen.”