Chapter Eight: The Council of Erâth
It was several days before such a meeting could be arranged, and he spent his time wandering the wondrous streets of Viura Râ, or deep in conversation with Ermèn. He learned much of the world of Erâth, and of the great city in particular. Viura Râ, it seemed, was indeed a great hub of the world, a place where all the races of Erâth could meet and speak, without fear or violence.
Yet for all of that, there were folk missing, he now knew. Men were by far the most populous here in Viura Râ, but among them were to be found many tall, thin pale figures: the Illuèn. Every so often Brandyé caught glimpses of black-robed folk, and knew them as the Namirèn. Yet the Mirèn, whose likeness Brandyé knew only from the great statue at the center of the city, were nowhere to be found, and daily Brandyé was reminded that it was the doing of men—his own kind.
He was glad to know that the Duithèn had been banished from Viura Râ, for it lightened his time there. Often he would walk in the shadows of the great buildings, but never did he feel despair, and he found he could ascend to the heights of the spires whenever he desired it. There was much to be seen from those great heights, and he spent hours watching the port, or the folk far below.
As Brandyé waited to meet with the council that Ermèn and Athalya were arranging, he found himself often wondering at the rest of the world, and how it compared to Viura Râ. Even here he could not escape the rumors of unrest and war, and one day he asked Athalya her thoughts on the matter.
“War is always on the horizon,” she said. “It is the doing of men, working under the influence of the Duithèn.”
“What do you mean?” he asked.
“Of the seven lands of Erâth,” she said, “four are populated by men. Of these, Golgor remains peaceful and Thaeìn has no great kingdoms. But Cathaï and Aélûr—these have become places of great Darkness in recent times. Those who dwell there live in fear, and their rulers thrive on their terror. It all began with the banishment of the Mirèn.”
Brandyé shook his head in disbelief. “I can’t understand why men would hate a race of Life so much.”
“You know of the statue that stands in the center of Viura Râ,” she said, and he nodded. “What did you think of its representation of Eternity?”
“It had no features,” he said. “It was blank.”
“Why, do you think?”
“Because there is no race of Eternity.”
She looked at him curiously. “No?”
“Even Ermèn said so.”
“What if I were to tell you that, an age ago, there were men who thought they were meant to be eternal?”
Brandyé laughed. “I’d say they were foolish.”
“Indeed.” Athalya remained serious. “Why is that?”
“Men don’t live forever,” he said.
“Yet under the influence of the Mirèn, your lives have been prolonged by many years.”
This was new to Brandyé. “They have?”
Athalya raised her eyebrows. “The Mirèn are the race of Life, Brandyé, and they gave long life to men.”
“This makes no sense,” protested Brandyé. “We should be grateful to them, not bitter!”
Athalya said nothing, and allowed Brandyé time to think.
“The Mirèn gave to men long life … yet men wished to live forever. Is that it?” He looked to Athalya, who still said nothing. “We banished the Mirèn because they couldn’t give us Eternity?” Brandyé was incredulous; it sounded like the most fallacious reasoning he could imagine. “Sometimes I despair at my own race.”
“You should not,” said Athalya gently. “That is the path to Darkness.”
But Brandyé could not help worrying that the race of men was bringing about its own doom, and for some days these thoughts consumed him.
Finally Ermèn came to Brandyé, and bid him come with him. “Today is the meeting of the high council of Viura Râ,” he said to Brandyé, and smiled. “Do not fret; You need not speak if you do not wish.”
This had been a concern of Brandyé’s for some time in fact; whenever he met with the folk of Viura Râ, he found he had precious little in the way of advice to offer. He would eagerly listen to what others had to say, but when it came his turn to speak, he found he could do little but blindly agree with them. He wondered often what this meant of his ability to sway the opinions of great leaders, if he could not even hold his own in polite conversation.
Nonetheless, he followed Ermèn, and was brought once more to the great height of Viura Râ’s tallest pinnacle: the room in which he had first met Athalya. He had become used, in only a few weeks, to the mysterious way in which doors seemed to appear just when they were needed, and no longer felt quite so giddy as he looked down upon the great abyss below him, but it still startled him that places he went to often would be different in their make and feel on each visit. Today, the windows had shades that were drawn, and so the room was cast into a gloom that was broken only by gently glowing orbs that hung suspended in the air here and there. A great, circular table had been summoned to the center of the room, and at this were seated nearly a dozen folk: men, Illuèn, and even, Brandyé saw with slight concern, a few Namirèn. He had steered clear of these black-robed figures whenever he saw them in Viura Râ, passing to the other side of the street if he could; while the weather was ever genial here, he could not help but feel a desperate chill if he strayed too close to them. It was not just fear, he thought, that kept him away from the race of Death, though he thought he was right to be afraid; it was an unmistakable recognition, too—a thought that he knew Death better than he would have liked.
The many folk were talking softly among themselves, but at the entrance of Ermèn and Brandyé all words were dropped, and silence fell upon the room. Ermèn guided Brandyé to a seat at the great table, and took one beside him. Brandyé cast his gaze about, and saw that in the hush there was now but one figure still standing, and all eyes, it seemed, were upon her. Turning, Athalya favored Brandyé with a small smile, and then broke the silence.
“Greetings, fellows of Viura Râ, and of the world. I am honored to be in your presence today.”
“As we are in yours,” answered the room in unison, and Brandyé wondered how much sincerity there must be in so formalized a greeting. Glancing furtively about him, he saw that the Namirèn, certainly—grouped together at one side of the room, hoods drawn low over their pale faces—seemed entirely unimpressed with Athalya’s presence.
“I am glad to say,” said Athalya, “that gathered here are representatives of many of the races—and thus the powers—of Erâth. Many of you know each other, but there are some among us who are not so familiar, and so I would have us introduced nonetheless.” She nodded toward Brandyé as she said this. “As you know, I am Athalya, of the Illuèn: my fellows Wÿthrae, Ruithèn and Gandalae are with us today also. Together we are the eldest of our race.”
At this, a man opposite Brandyé muttered, though loudly, “Not that age has anything to do with wisdom.”
Brandyé thought this terribly rude, but Athalya did not stumble as she said, “We have also with us the race of men—Daníel, Jareth, Yvès, and Ariel.” She gestured to the one who had spoken. “Daníel is by no means the eldest of his race, but is wise nonetheless.” At these words Brandyé had to suppress a smirk, for indeed Daníel appeared hardly older than himself.
“We have with us the Namirèn, race of Death,” Athalya continued, and motioned to the black-robed figures clustered together opposite Brandyé. “Ranathae, Caldèth, and Shaera.”
And then for a moment Athalya’s words were muted and indistinct, for memory once more was upon Brandyé, terrible memories of dark places, places filled with fire and death, and a great cold passed through him though the Namirèn remained as distant from him as ever. He knew this name—Shaera—and knew it well. With great effort he looked to the hooded Namirèn, and found that he could not make out their features well beneath their robes, and that even so there was one among them that seemed unable to look in his direction.
“… the Portèn,” Athalya was saying. “Rarely do they grace us with a manifested presence, and I recognize the effort of the Portèn to do so. For their sake, we will keep this council short.”
Brandyé was disorientated, and looked around the room. Finally, he found a figure sitting at the table, alone in appearance, and to Brandyé it looked like nothing so much as a stout tree, sitting awkwardly at the table. From it there issued a great grumble, and Brandyé heard the words: “We would not miss this meeting, for our fate is as tied to it as that of any other.”
Before Brandyé could but wonder what this tree-like figure was and what it had to do with what he understood to be the race of Power, Athalya had moved on: “And finally, we have among us today the Sarâthen, represented alone by Ermèn.”
From beside Brandyé Ermèn smiled, and said, “We would have liked to be more here, but the presence of one of our kind serves for the presence of all. Please—let us carry on!”
“Finally,” Athalya said, “we have with us today a very special guest—one who has traveled a great distance to be with us here.” Brandyé felt heat in his cheeks, for he knew now she spoke of him. He wondered why he had not been introduced along with the others of his race, but she swiftly answered this unspoken question. “Brandyé, of places unknown, is here not as a representative of the race of men, but as a representative of the hope that we must all of us maintain for this world. I would have you look to him for guidance, if you can—I would have us filter our decisions through him, for with no memory of his past and little knowledge of our present, he is perhaps the most unbiased of us all.”
At this, the other man at the table, whom Brandyé presumed to be Jareth, said, “He’s too young to be of use to us—he’s scarce older than a child!”
“Did Daníel not say that age makes not wisdom?” said Ermèn, and Jareth relented with a grunt.
“Youth can be a valuable ally,” Athalya said, “and in the coming times we will need all the alliances we can get. I would have us speak now of a difficult subject: war.”
“What of war would you have us speak?” asked Jareth. “There is already fighting; there is already death. What can we do but weather it?”
“The death tolls from Cathaï come in worse each day,” agreed the woman, Ariel. “Our peacekeepers were murdered last month, and there are none left willing to travel there.”
“And what of Aélûr?” said Daníel. “Our reports are that the kingdom of Urkûl has seized all power in those lands. Thousands have been turned from their homes. Their armies number the hundreds of thousands—what can we do against such a force?”
“What indeed?” came a cold voice, and Brandyé recognized it as one of the Namirèn. “There is death, yes—but when has there not been?”
“You would say that,” said Daníel. “What is death to you but the way of your kind? You who do not die!”
The Namirèn turned to stare at Daníel, and Brandyé felt a chill. “Know that not all death is of our doing. Men can kill each other without our help.”
The tree-like creature at the table grumbled again, and Brandyé heard his words, low but clear: “Men have always killed each other, and the beasts, and the lands. The Portèn remember the old days, the days of blood. Men think they can live forever, yet they destroy all that surrounds them.”
“What would you know of it?” spat Daníel. He looked around at the table. “What would any of you know of it? You, the Illuèn, the Namirèn—none of you know what it is to suffer loss, and death! What would you know of fear, of knowing with certainty that what fate befalls one person today, must befall you tomorrow? How would you live, if you knew you had to die?”
“Then why are you so reluctant to help your fellows?” asked one of the Illuèn—Gandalae, Brandyé thought it was.
“We’re not reluctant—” began Daníel, but Jareth interrupted him.
“We cannot speak for all men,” he said. “We cannot be responsible for the foolish actions of others.”
“Yet here, among us, you do speak for all men,” said the tree-creature, “as I speak for all Portèn.” He gestured roughly to Athalya. “Athalya and her kin speak for the Illuèn. We are here to speak for all the world, and you—” he pointed a knobby finger at Jareth “—have already given up.”
Brandyé saw Jareth turn red at these words, but it was Athalya who spoke next. “We cannot afford to argue and bicker here. I would not keep us longer than I must, and decisions must be made. Death is upon us, and I would hold the Namirèn responsible, whether they admit it or not.” There was silence from the Namirèn at this, and she continued, “There is Darkness upon us too, and that is the doing of the Duithèn. They are not among us today, nor will they ever be: their hunger for greater power has shown us they are not deserving of that privilege.” Jareth opened his mouth to speak, but Athalya held up a hand to silence him. “There is responsibility to be taken from all sides, and it must be taken—there is no other way for the balance of Erâth to be righted.
“I would have Gandalae speak to us briefly now, and remind us why we are here.” She nodded to her companion, who stood at her words. “Gandalae?”
Gandalae was tall, like all Illuèn, and approached the center of the room in only a few strides. When he spoke, his voice was smooth and soft. “As Ariel and Daníel would have us know, death is among us,” he said, “though fortunately not yet in Viura Râ. One month ago we sent a force of men and Illuèn to Cathaï, to speak with the Pulväen. We lost touch with them two weeks ago, and received word of their fate only three days ago. They were …” He paused for a moment. “They were executed, before a crowd that cried for their blood.”
“Some were meant to die that day,” said one of the Namirèn, “but not all.”
Gandalae nodded. “The king of Pulvae will no longer permit any to enter their lands—not even the Sarâthen. But before we lost touch, we received word from our folk that the Pulväen were amassing great quantities of potions and poisons; enough to decimate entire cities, by their estimations.” His face grew, if possible, yet grimmer. “We do not believe the Pulväen possess air craft, though their fleets of water vessels are unparalleled. This may be fortunate, for we would know of an attack several days before they could arrive.”
Brandyé had been listening in mounting horror through all of this, and could not help himself: “You think they would attack Viura Râ?”
Gandalae favored him with a small smile. “Jealously is a powerful motivator of hate, Brandyé. We have long known the world is jealous of what we have here in Viura Râ.”
This sounded more than a little condescending to Brandyé, but he said nothing about it. Instead, he thought of the other lands of Erâth. “What if the … Pulväen … were to attack another country?”
“That is more than likely,” said Gandalae, “but it is not the Pulväen that are of the greatest concern currently. As Daníel spoke earlier, there is a great threat from the kingdom of Urkûl. They have grown violently in recent years, to the point where they now command all the lands of Aélûr. There are none left in that land to resist them, and it is therefore there that we must focus our efforts.”
“You would leave our dead unavenged?” said Yvès, the other woman at the table.
Gandalae shook his head. “We are not interested in vengeance here, Yvès. We are interested in maintaining peace. There is yet more to hear. Between Aélûr and Cathaï lies the lands of Thaeìn. There are few settlements in this land, and it will be a focus of both Urkûl and the Pulväen in the near future, we are certain. It is an unclaimed land, and both of these kingdoms will be interested in its conquest. It is likely that the people who live there will be destroyed—if not outright, then in the battles that will occur there. The Pulväen command poison, and Urkûl commands fire; the destruction would be unimaginable.”
“What of Golgor?” said Jareth. “You are forgetting my home country. Our armies are vast.”
“But will they fight?” Gandalae asked. “Or will Golgor watch as the west destroys itself?”
“What are you implying?” said Jareth between clenched teeth.
“You cannot deny that Golgor has done little so far,” said Athalya with a sigh. “Your leaders will wait until they are under threat themselves.”
Jareth sneered at her. “And what have the Illuèn done? Talk? You have no armies to speak of! What good will you be against Urkûl and the Pulväen?”
“We hope armies will not be needed,” said Gandalae. “We hope to stay violence without the threat of further violence.”
“Fools,” Jareth muttered, and then was silent.
“Then there are the Mirèn, and the Duithèn,” continued Gandalae, almost as if Jareth had not spoken. “The Mirèn have retreated to the northern lands of Narün, and there, they say, they will stay. Their persecution at the hands of men—” he fixed Jareth with a potent stare “—have left them with little choice. They say they have lost faith in the world of men.” Gandalae took a deep breath. “I cannot blame them. Even here in Viura Râ, I saw the hate men showed for their kind. Elsewhere, the Mirèn were outright hunted. Some, they say, were killed.”
“They were meant to aid us!” said Daníel. “What did they give us, except a taunting glimpse of eternity that never materialized?”
To Brandyé’s surprise, Ariel put a hand on Daníel’s arm. “You can’t justify what we did,” she said softly. “The Portèn are right—we are responsible for all men here.”
Daníel grunted and pulled his arm away, but said nothing further.
“And the Duithèn are missing,” Gandalae went on. “We have heard nothing of them in years. I fear they are working their influence in secret, in lands we can no longer visit. The terrible deaths we hear of in Cathaï and Aélûr cannot be only of the Namirèn.”
“They are not,” said one of the Namirèn—a little too quickly, Brandyé thought. “The Duithèn have taken on more than their responsibility.”
“Don’t blame the Duithèn for death, you cowards,” growled Daníel. “You work with them!”
Brandyé glanced swiftly from Daníel to the Namirèn, and to the one named Shaera in particular. He could sense no reaction from them at these words, and wondered if they were true.
“Silence!” called Athalya. “We cannot begin by blaming each other—I have said this already. We have heard from Gandalae the state of the world, in brief; I would now have us discuss what we are to do.” She moved a few paces toward Brandyé, and smiled. “This is a lot to take in, I know,” she said. “Do you follow what we are discussing?”
Brandyé took a deep breath, and looked around the room. All eyes were on him, it seemed, and he flushed momentarily. “If I understand correctly,” he said slowly, “there are two threats to Erâth’s peace: the Pulväen, and this kingdom called Urkûl. Each is looking to conquer a third land, Thaeìn. When they do, there will be much death.” He looked briefly to the Namirèn. “Death that is not called for.” He saw one of them nod gently, and went on, “There are armies in Golgor that could resist both of these kingdoms, but they may not fight.” At this he looked to Jareth, whose face was stone. “Among all of this, the Mirèn have left the race of men, and the Duithèn are nowhere to be found.”
Athalya nodded. “You understand well.” She stepped back from him and faced the room. “I would now like to offer each race here the opportunity to present their own understanding, and their solution, if there is to be one. Who would begin?”
For a long moment there was silence, and Brandyé was uncomfortable: no one, it seemed, was willing to speak first. Finally, there was a voice, and to his surprise one of the Namirèn who spoke. “Death is our nature,” he said. “It is us. To deny death is to deny our very existence. Death is also a part of this world, and has been since the dawn of time. For one thing to flourish, another must die.” Brandyé felt a chill at these words, for he felt it was not the first time he had heard them. “When Mirèn were attacked—when Mirèn died—we felt it. We are their alter, and we felt it in a strengthening of our being. If Mirèn die, so will other things. So will men.
“Yet we are not ignorant of the balance of Erâth. We cannot be so strong that life is extinguished, for without life there cannot be death. We would not have the Mirèn harmed, and in this we would argue for peace.” For a moment the Namirèn seemed to draw within himself, and when he spoke again, his voice was quieter. “But … we cannot control men, any more than men can control their own death. If they are to bring death upon themselves willfully, then we will be found on their battlefields. We cannot stop what is to come.”
Brandyé saw Athalya close her eyes for a moment, and he saw in her the same sinking that he felt in his own heart. The Namirèn, it seemed, would do nothing to stop the coming war. Then Athalya turned, and faced the tree-creature: the Portèn. “What of the Portèn?” she asked. “What does the race of growth and strength have to say?”
The Portèn had been so silent for the past few minutes that Brandyé had nearly forgotten its presence. It grumbled to life now, and said, “The wars of men have always caused great harm, to themselves as much as to the world. Every life that is extinguished is an injury to the Portèn. Every doe that is hunted, every snowflake that is melted, every blade of grass that is trodden on—each takes a piece of the Portèn that does not grow back. In this, we see the doom of our own race: the world will end in flames, now or in ten thousand years.
“The Namirèn claim they cannot control men. We believe men cannot control themselves. They will kill, they will destroy. In the end, the damage they do to each other is insignificant next to the strength of the world itself. The Portèn are doomed, but it is not by men that our end will come. Men can do little harm to us; we care not if they harm themselves.”
“How dare you?” cried Daníel. “The race of men has done nothing to harm the Portèn—”
“You would argue,” interrupted the Portèn, “that the stripping of trees from the hills, the sickening of waters with your waste, the wanton slaughter of thousands of creatures, have done us no harm?” Though the creature still spoke slowly, there was outrage in its voice. “The race of men is the most destructive the world has ever seen. And it has become all the worse as the centuries have progressed.”
“We’ve tried to lessen our impact on the world,” said Yvès in a calmer tone. “We’ve tried to clean the sickness from the water, and we plant as many trees as we fell.”
The tree-creature leaned forward, creaking as it did so. “The good of a few, in only a few places, cannot undo the damage of centuries. Men have no care for the Portèn: we no longer care for them.”
“This is truly what you feel?” asked Jareth.
The Portèn turned to face him. “This is the will of all Portèn.”
Jareth shook his head derisively. “Then why are you here?”
The Portèn seemed taken aback by this, but said nothing. Athalya turned to Jareth and the three other representatives of the race of men. “Despite what you might feel,” she said, “the four of you represent the race of men here among this council. What do you feel about the persistent danger from your own kind?”
“You speak to us as if we are the sole reason for the downfall of the world!” said Daníel.
“Who else would bring wanton destruction upon their own kind?” asked the Namirèn who had spoken earlier.
“Who are you to speak of destruction?” said Jareth. “You, whose entire race is bent on murder!”
“We bring death where it is needed,” replied the Namirèn. “The Duithèn—”
“Don’t speak to me of the Duithèn,” said Jareth. “You are in league with Darkness, bringing death to our battlefields—your own words!”
“Do you think the Duithèn could have such an influence over your kings and soldiers if the race of men were not given to them already?” said Ruithèn—one of the Illuèn who had thus far kept quiet.
Jareth turned on him viciously. “Don’t you dare speak as though your kind has no involvement here. You are the counter to Darkness, the race of Light. Oh, yes—I know what you are. Cowards, to a one! You would hide from the world as Darkness threatens to overcome men across all of Erâth!”
For some time then this argument carried on, men and Illuèn and Namirèn bickering, and all cordiality was dropped as tempers rose ever higher. Brandyé was dismayed, for he saw that if here, in the capital of Erâth—the city where light and reason was meant to reign—the races of the world could not agree on a simple course of action, then the world was doomed indeed.
Brandyé covered his face in his hands, hiding from the arguments. He let the sounds of anger and bitterness wash around him, and felt a familiar clawing at his heart. It was despair, he knew. This was a feeling he was all too familiar with, though he could not say why: he still had no memory of his past life, but he knew in a heartbeat that it had been filled with misery, and with hopelessness.
In the midst of his despair, he felt the stirrings of Darkness, and heard the whispers of the Duithèn. This was what they wanted, he saw. The fighting, the enmity—it served only to strengthen the Duithèn’s position in the world. Erâth would crumble, and the Duithèn would lord over all, and all because a council of supposedly wise folk could not agree with one another.
He knew that the end was inevitable; he knew they would all succumb. In that knowledge he found strength, and behind his closed eyes he saw the world of men burning. The world was ending, and he alone would remain strong, taken by Darkness, taken and made into something greater, and worse, than a man.
In a flash he opened his eyes, and thought he saw the shadowed room grow even darker. He forgot Ermèn at his side, forgot Athalya before him, forgot the men and the Namirèn and the Portèn, and for a moment all he could see was Darkness. “They’re here,” he whispered.
The room fell silent. Ermèn reached a hand out to rest upon Brandyé’s arm. “Who is here, Brandyé?” he asked gently.
But Brandyé shook his head, and the vision disappeared. He was back in the room, surrounded by vile folk, he saw: these people were no better than the Duithèn themselves. “You’re going to kill us all,” he said heavily.
“Watch your tongue, boy,” said Jareth. “We’ve done no—”
Ariel interrupted him. “I would hear what he has to say,” she said.
Brandyé looked around at the room of eyes upon him, and an inexplicable courage welled up inside him. “Don’t you see?” he began. “All this arguing, this … malcontent … it’s exactly what the Duithèn want. You wonder where the Duithèn have gone—can’t you see they’re here with us, right now?” A flash of memory came to him unbidden—a familiar voice: When you are sad; when you grieve, or succumb to the black that lives deep within you—you are feeling the influence of the Duithèn. “Every seed of mistrust that we sow here hastens their growth. They are becoming stronger, and it isn’t only the death of men that is causing it.” He paused for breath, and looked at the Namirèn. “You frighten me,” he said, “and not because you bring death. You see the Duithèn’s influence upon the world, and you would do nothing because it strengthens you! You claim the Duithèn are shifting the balance of Erâth, yet you will reap the rewards of the death that is to come! You have no interest in the balance of life!”
Two of the Namirèn shuffled at these words, but Shaera held Brandyé with a fixed gaze, her pale face unreadable. Brandyé turned to the Portèn. “And you—you’ve given up before we’ve even begun, and why? Because the race of men have hurt you? Do the wolves that hunt not cause you equal harm? And what of new life—birth, rains, flowers—don’t these things bring you strength, too? You foresee your destruction and so you refuse to help. Well I too see the destruction of men, but I won’t stand by and watch it happen!”
There was a murmur of approval from the men and women at the table, but Brandyé turned swiftly on them. “As for you—you are the worst! Our own kind are destroying themselves! Men killing men, for nothing other than lordship and conquest. How has the world been allowed to come to this state?”
“There was a time,” countered Ariel gently, “when it was not so. When the Mirèn still lived side by side with men, there was no mention of war and battle.”
“Don’t blame the Mirèn for the downfall of our race,” said Brandyé. “From what I’ve heard here, we drove the Mirèn from our presence in the first place. We have no one to blame but ourselves!”
“What of the Illuèn?” said Daníel. “What have they done?”
Brandyé clasped a hand to his brow. “Have you not heard a word I’ve said? It isn’t up to the Illuèn to save our world. It isn’t their responsibility—not them, or the Namirèn, or the Portèn, or anyone else. It’s us—we must save our kind!” Brandyé paused, breathless, and for a long moment there was silence.
“What would you have us do?” asked Jareth finally. “Our missionaries to the Pulväen were destroyed. We cannot talk to them. There is no hope left.”
“There is always hope,” said Brandyé fervently, “until the last man in Erâth dies.”
“You are young, and foolish,” said Jareth contemptuously. “We must prepare for war by looking to the defenses of Viura Râ. That is the will of men, at this council.”
Brandyé looked imploringly to Daníel, Ariel and Yvès, but they remained silent and motionless, staring at the table. “You are all in accordance with this?” he asked incredulously. “Then it seems this council is in agreement—agreement to do nothing!”
Athalya looked around at the faces in the room, many turned away in shame. Brandyé’s words were strong, but they were not enough. “Is this indeed the will of this council?” she asked finally. “If so, we will send no more emissaries to Cathaï and Aélûr; we will shut our ports to their vessels. We will look to the defenses of Viura Râ, and weather this coming war as best we can.”
“The Mirèn have forsaken us,” said Jareth, and Brandyé closed his eyes. “We cannot stop the desire for destruction that rises now in the west.”
“The Portèn will remain in Viura Râ, as we are in all places,” said the tree-creature, “but we will not interfere.”
“We will be there, where there is death,” said Caldèth of the Namirèn. “We do not condone the influence the Duithèn are imposing on the world, but nor will we stop it.”
There was a moment of silence, and Brandyé began to think the council was over, when suddenly Shaera spoke for the first time. Her voice was dark and sad, and so familiar that Brandyé felt a deep chill. “The world is falling,” she said, “and all living things will die. What will death do, when there is nothing left to die?” She around the table. “What will strength do, when there is nothing left to grow? What will light do, when all the world is dark? And what will men do, when all they care for is destruction?
“Death is part of life, as sure as birth and growth. But Erâth is now on the brink of so great a death that the Ageless themselves will be destroyed. Will we allow our world to perish? Will we let it return to the barren emptiness from which it came?”
Her words were unexpected, all the more so coming from the race of Death, and on a sudden impulse Brandyé said to her, “Come with me! Come, and speak with the leaders that would bring death in the name of Darkness. Tell them it’s not your will!”
Beside her, Caldèth turned slowly and said, “You speak against the voice of the Namirèn, Shaera.”
“I speak for myself, Caldèth,” she replied. “This council is divided, and so it seems it shall remain.” She turned her cold gaze on Jareth and his company. “Prepare for war, if you will; but do not hope for it.” Then to Brandyé, she said, “I will come with you. I will protect you, for men are foolish indeed if they think they can attack one under the guard of Death.”
Brandyé let out a great sigh of relief. “Death, it seems, is with me,” he said. For a moment he thought of his sword, and a memory floated through his mind: Death’s Friend, it means, for to have Death on your side a great thing is. He knew he would be bringing the sword with him, even in a world where stones could kill at a distance. “Will none of you accompany us?”
“I will be with you,” said Ermèn gently from his side, and though Brandyé was hardly surprised, he was nonetheless relieved to have the Sarâthen’s support.
“The Portèn will watch,” said the tree-creature, “but do not expect our help.”
“You are either very brave, or very foolish,” said Jareth. “There is not a man or woman alive who would accompany you to Aélûr. You will go without the aid of men.”
“And so we are left,” said Athalya, looking now to her own kin. “What is our decision?”
“The Duithèn cannot be allowed to corrupt the world,” said Gandalae. “Yet men cannot be allowed to destroy Viura Râ, and all that has been achieved here.” He looked to Shaera. “Prepare for war, but do not hope for it. Death speaks wisely. Athalya—will you accompany Brandyé on his travels?”
“I will,” Athalya nodded.
“Good.” Gandalae turned to Brandyé. “Accompanied by Wisdom, Light and Death you will be; but you travel with no other aid. The Illuèn will not rescue you.”
“Nor will the Namirèn,” said Caldèth.
“Nor men,” added Jareth. “We wish you well, but we are not so foolish as to hope for your success—or your survival.”
Thus the council was dissolved, and soon there were none left in the room except the four travelers. The shades were raised, and Brandyé was startled to find sunset had come upon them. For a while no one spoke, and Brandyé walked to the great windows that looked out over all the world. The crimson sun lay dark shadows toward the east, and low over the abyssal horizon rose a thin crescent moon. It seemed to him a darker twilight than he had yet seen in this world, and though it had been a fine day when he had entered the building, there were now clouds drifting across the sky, dark with shade.
“Why can no one see sense?” he muttered to himself. He started when he heard Ermèn’s voice from behind him.
“Have you always?” the old man asked.
Once more, memory came to Brandyé, dim images of friends and family, of people he had once loved … and amidst it all he saw a young girl, and knew she had been precious to him. There was indeed something dreadful in his past, he saw, if only he could recall it. “I wish I knew,” he said softly.
“You see your past, do you not?” Athalya asked, approaching them.
He looked to her, and saw her face, golden in the failing sun, and wondered again why she seemed so familiar. “Sometimes,” he said. “But I don’t know what it means. I see people, and places, but I can’t place them.” The images that came to him now were uncomfortable, and he looked to Shaera, seeking to change the subject. “What of you?” he asked. “Why would you support me, when your kind so clearly hunger for death?”
The figure of Death took a few paces toward him, and the jewel that hung about her neck caught Brandyé’s eye. The color of blood, it was the only mark of color about her, and he wondered at its significance. For a moment Brandyé thought she might touch him, and was afraid: something in his mind knew that if Death touched him, the world around him would crumble, as would he. But she stopped beyond his reach, and said, “You have known death. You know it still, in your heart. But death is not for you—not yet.” She caught his gaze with hers, and for a moment the room around them disappeared, and he saw only the fathomless black depths of her eyes. “Your past is also your future. You were brought here to see, and to learn. The course of fate may not be changed, yet … change it you will. You tread a dangerous path, Brandyé Dui-Erâth: you will see Darkness, and you will gain strength from it. But you can also defeat it. So we have been told; so it must be.”
Brandyé felt as cold as if Death had grasped him. Slowly the room came back into view, Athalya and Ermèn still at his side. Athalya gave Shaera a small smile. “Did you wish to speak, Shaera?” she asked.
For a long moment, Shaera continued to stare at Brandyé. Finally, she lowered her gaze. “No,” she said.
A deep dread came upon Brandyé, and he knew Shaera’s words were truth: he did tread a dangerous path, and the danger was not in his death—it was in his strength.
It was in Darkness.