The Redemption of Erâth: Book Three, Chapter Twenty-Four

Chapter Twenty-Four: Old Friends

As he had hoped, the Dotterys invited Brandyé to pass the winter with them, for the cold weather was soon upon them and he would not have traveled through the Trestaé in the snow by choice. As the frost and snow came down, he helped seal the home against the cold (a yearly task, according to Timothaï), and with the fire roaring in the hearth even the outside gloom did not affect Brandyé’s mood, for it was always warm and comfortable. The Dotterys had built a shelter beside the home to keep dry their firewood, and having stocked it well through the summer it was an easy job to keep the fire and stove burning through the day and night.

When he was not helping Timothaï hunt or Maria and Julia clear paths through the snow, Brandyé would often play with Kyrie, whose childish joy in the simplest of things was infectious to him. She loved to be outdoors, even in the snow, and he would take her for walks in the woods where they would spy for birds and squirrels, shake pine cones from the trees, or make shapes in the snow by lying down and waving their arms and legs about. She particularly enjoyed this last, and would spend hours at it, until Brandyé could but watch in amusement and the sky grew dark.

Despite the safety he felt among old friends, he had not forgotten the fierund that had come upon him not far from here, and so he carried with him at all times his crossbow and Fahnat-om, though he of course never allowed Kyrie to touch them. She was idly fascinated by his weapons, for the Dotterys had no such things, and caught their meat in traps set out in the woods. He told her they were strictly for defense, should bad things come upon them, and she seemed to understand this well, for she never asked to hold them. She latched on to the idea of ‘bad things’, however, and he felt a slight guilt at introducing the Darkness of the world to one so young. “Are there bad things in the woods?” she would ask him, and he was often uncertain how to answer.

“I once saw things here that would hurt you, if they could,” he replied cautiously, for he did not want to frighten the young girl, “but I haven’t seen any for a long time.”

“Are plants bad?” she asked.

“No,” he said with a chuckle, “although there are some that hurt if you touch them. Those are not the bad things.”

“Is it the animals?”

“Most would never harm you,” he told her, “but there are some that might.”

“Granddad kills rabbits,” she said. “Are they bad?”

“No,” he replied with a smile. “Granddad kills rabbits to eat, but only enough to feed you all. Rabbits are not bad.”

“A rabbit bit my finger once,” she said.

“The animals I mean would kill you, the way granddad kills the rabbits.”

Her eyes grew wide at this. “You mean to eat me?”

He nodded. “A wolf, for example, might kill you to eat you. So might a bear. But those animals are not ‘bad’—they only want to live, like you and me.”

He enjoyed talking to her, for her insight into the world was innocent and refreshing—despite the dark nature of this particular conversation. He watched her for a moment as she mulled this thought over. “Then the bad animals want to hurt me, but not to eat me,” she said slowly. She looked up at him. “Why do they want to hurt me?”

“Because they are mean,” he said. “They are the bad animals.”

For a while then they walked in silence. They were returning from a visit to Ermèn, and it was growing dark, though he was certain they would arrive at the Dotterys’ home before it was night. Finally, she looked to him again and asked, “Are there bad people?”

Taken aback by the question, Brandyé was uncertain how to answer at first. “There are,” he said carefully. “Why do you ask?”

“Mommy and auntie were talking about a bad man once,” she said. “They said they never want to see him again.”

A chill, deeper than the winter cold, went through Brandyé. “Did they say this bad man’s name?”

She shook her head. “I don’t remember. I think he’s far away.”

Brandyé felt a small relief, for he had for just a moment wondered if they had been talking of him. Despite the time that had passed, he could not forget the harm he had once done to this family. Later that night, when Kyrie was asleep, he sat by the fire with Timothaï and spoke to him. “Kyrie is a bright little child,” he said.

Timothaï nodded. “She is a delight, indeed. I think that without her, Maria would be destroyed. Erik’s passing was difficult for all of us, of course, but for her especially to lose not only her husband but the father of her child. She reminds her of him daily.”

“She’s a wonderful talker.”

“She speaks very highly of you. She calls you uncle Brandyé.”

Brandyé looked deep into the fire for a moment. “She asked about bad people today. She said she heard Maria and Julia talking about a ‘bad man’ once.”

Timothaï sighed. “I suspect they were talking of Danâr. We try not to think of the past, but sometimes things happen that remind us. I often wonder of the fate of Consolation.”

“As do I,” Brandyé acknowledged. “Tell me—you’ve never been visited here by any other, have you? No one other than Ermèn has ever been here before?”

Timothaï shook his head. “No—we are very much alone.”

Brandyé stroked his chin. “Do you ever wonder what Kyrie will think of the wider world, if she is ever introduced to it? Is it good for her to grow up in such isolation?”

“It’s a difficult choice,” Timothaï said, “especially for Maria, now that Erik is gone. No—I don’t think it’s good for her. But what else do we do? Return to Burrowdown? Who knows if Danâr still rules, and if so I would not go there for anything. Move the whole family to Courerà, to live with Elven? In a kingdom of disease and death? What would you do, Brandyé?”

Brandyé realized he had no answer, for it was a difficult choice indeed—and given the possibilities, remaining safe in the Trestaé was not the worst. Yet for him, he knew he had no choice: when the winter was over, he must seek out his friend.

The winter, however, did not seem to abate for some time, and as the days grew short and dark, he tried to forget the Darkness, and the gloom, and focus on the family here that, for all that had happened to them, seemed nonetheless happy. For all the days that snowed and froze, he did not see or sense any sign of fierundé, or any other Dark creature, and was relieved. He wondered what the Dotterys had done to avoid such danger, and find such peace in the middle of the Trestaé—though he did not deliberate too greatly on the matter, almost as though by doing so he might dispel their good fortune and bring a pack of fierundé upon them at once.

Of course, the darkest days could not last forever, and eventually the snow stopped falling, the air warmed, and the frost on the earth lifted. Though the sky remained ever clouded (Brandyé had nearly forgotten the sun from his time in Viura Râ already), he could sense spring was nonetheless upon them, and when the first buds appeared on the trees and bluebells were among the bushes, he knew he had lingered with the Dotterys long enough. The time to leave had come, and so he began to prepare for the long journey ahead.

Kiriün lay, he knew, to the west of Erârün, and the two kingdoms were separated by a great wall that spanned hundreds of miles. Yet he knew the wall could not run forever, and by his reckoning he ought to be able to slip past it to the south if he kept a course due west through the Trestaé. As best as he could recollect his grandfather’s maps from his youth, this would eventually lead him past a great river, and into what had been to his grandfather unknown lands—the southern fields of Kiriün. He could only hope to encounter a village or town there that could lead him to the capital city of Courerà.

He packed a great pack with blankets and food, and Timothaï gave to him a small hatchet, that he might be able to cut firewood when he needed it. Arian provided him with a small flask of medicine that Elven had taught her to make, and Ermèn, who had come to the Dotterys’ home to bid him farewell, gave to him a somewhat larger bottle of brandy, that he might keep warm in the rain.

Kyrie was sad to see him go, and hugged him greatly as he stepped from the front door, saying, “You won’t go for long, will you?”

Brandyé could but smile and return her hug. “I don’t know, dear,” he replied. “I have to see your uncle, and he lives far from here.”

“Be safe!” she said. “Don’t let the bad animals eat you.”

“I won’t,” he reassured her, and when she finally released him he turned to leave. Just as he did, a cry came from the clouds above, and even as Brandyé recognized it Kyrie shouted with joy.

“It’s Sonory, it’s Sonory!”

As Brandyé looked up to the sky, he saw a heartwarmingly familiar sight: a great falcon, circling ever lower, and coming to rest on the needled ground only a few feet away. Sonora the falcon hopped toward him, and as he kneeled to rest his hand against her head he saw the note tied to her leg. “It’s so wonderful to see you,” he murmured gently, and the bird cawed in response, a gentle and comforting sound. “Is this note for Elven’s family?”

He reached to untie the note, but did not unwind the scroll—it was not for him, he knew, and thus not his place to read it. He laid his pack on the ground and returned to the home, the note in his hand. “An interesting coincidence,” he said as Timothaï looked up in surprise; “it seems just as I leave, Elven’s sent you word.”

Timothaï took the note and unwound it, beginning to read. As he did, Brandyé watched uneasily as he saw Timothaï’s face fall, and shock steal across his features. “What’s happened?” Brandyé asked, concerned. “Is Elven all right?”

For a moment, Timothaï said nothing, but merely stared at the paper. Finally, he closed his eyes, and handed the note to Brandyé. “Ill news, I’m afraid. Not for him, but … well, read the note.”

Frightened at what the note might say, Brandyé tentatively took it, and as he read, his own reaction mirrored Timothaï’s:

Dear family,

It is with the deepest despair that I must bring you word of yet another passing in our family: that of my son, Farthyn. At only three years of age, Death have seen fit to take him from Talya and myself, and for this I can never forgive them. I curse them, and all the races of power.

Farthyn died this past summer of the Sleeping Death, and Talya and I have been deep in grieving ever since. Meredith has borne his passing better than all of us, and she is a light in these dark times. Courerà continues to fall into sickness and decay, and I am beginning to fear that nothing will bring us back from the brink. Death and Darkness are coming for us all.

I send my best wishes to all of you, and I hope that you will live out your days in peace in the forests of the Trestaé. If I ever can return to you, I swear one day I will: but duty now binds me to this kingdom, whether I wish it or not.

With deepest love,

Elven

“I’m so sorry,” Brandyé uttered.

“What is it?” asked Arian as she approached them, voice full of worry.

“Elven’s son is dead,” Timothaï said softly, “of the sickness that lies over his land. Some time ago—it seems he could only bear to tell us now.”

Arian clasped a hand to her breast. “Farthyn?”

Timothaï nodded grimly.

“We never even met him …” she muttered, and took to a nearby chair.

“What … what can I do?” Brandyé faltered. “I don’t feel that I can leave now—not on this eve of death.”

But Timothaï took in a deep breath, and lay a hand on Brandyé’s shoulder. “No—there is nothing you can do for us here. Better you make your way to him: he needs you now, more than ever. Go and bring him some peace.”

So Brandyé’s journey from the Dotterys’ home started not in hopefulness, but in somber and grim despair, and thoughts of Darkness and Death were heavy in Brandyé’s head for quite some time thereafter. As he made his way slowly through the hills and forests of the Trestaé, the sky seemed darker than ever, and the rain colder than ever, and he was glad of Ermèn’s brandy when he could not light a fire. As much death as he had seen in his life, he thought, Elven had suffered immeasurably worse, and he found he could not fathom the thought of losing a child. Guilt began once more to gnaw at his heart, and he began to wonder if somehow, despite his utter absence for so many years, this latest tragedy in the Dottery family was somehow of his doing as well. He began to question the wisdom of journeying to see Elven—what if he brought only further despair upon his friend?

But he knew that he could not stay forever with the Dotterys, and with his banishment from Erârün he knew not where else he could go. So he plodded grimly on, day upon day and week after week, through endless swamps and bogs, until there came a day when the hills and valleys faded into the distance, and the dense forests were left behind, and he was making his way through fields of tall grasses and heather, and the plains stretched out as far as the eye could see.

Here the going was easier, though he grew himself uneasy: there was precious little cover here, and though this meant he would see an enemy easily from a great distance, there was equally nowhere to hide from such an enemy should he ever see one. There were no trees except every here and there, dead and leafless every one, but he made his way from one to another, resting beneath their bare branches each time, for it was the only place he could make fire, short of burning the dry grasses that sprouted throughout the fields.

As he progressed, he began to feel a heavy weight on his heart, a sense of impending Darkness that was drawing ever nearer, and he would look frequently over his shoulder, or stop and look in every direction, searching for the red eyes he now felt certain were pursuing him. He walked for hours at a time with his crossbow in hand, or resting his palm on Fahnat-om, but for day after day there was no visible threat, nor any howl in the distance. If his enemy was following him, they were doing so silently.

So the days and weeks passed, and the land slowly changed around him, and he hunted when he needed food and stopped when he needed rest, and for all that time he was utterly alone. Here, it seemed, was a great barren part of Thaeìn outside of the borders of either Erârün or Kiriün, where it seemed no person dwelled, nor had dwelled for many thousands of years. Forests gave way to fields, which gave way to heathered moorland, and then one day he crested a low hill to look down upon an immense river, perhaps half a mile wide and running deep through the plain. It ran dark under the gray skies, and as Brandyé approached its edge he realized he had no way of crossing it—the waters were deep, and there was no bridge or ford to be seen.

This gave rise to concern, for whilst he had known this river would bar his path at some point, he had not reckoned on its breadth, nor on how he might cross it. So used to the streams and trickles of the Trestaé had he become that he had forgotten that greater rivers ran through the lands of Thaeìn. He looked up and down the flow of water, and considered his options. He could follow the river downstream, of course, to where it presumably met the sea. Here, perhaps, it might become shallower and more easily forded, but it might take him far out of his way. He could follow it upstream, but this might take him deeper into the territory of Erârün, where he might be captured.

He unslung the pack from his shoulder and settled under a tree by the river, contemplating his choice. He ate a bite of dried meat, and refilled his gourd from the river, whose waters were clear and cold. He could also try to swim the river here, he thought, though he doubted his ability to swim with his pack across the entire breadth, and was worried he would ruin what was left of his provisions.

Then, as he paced before the river with these thoughts in mind, a slow sense of dread came upon him—subtle, at first, like the first shadow of night stealing over the hills. He became aware of a deathly silence around him, such that not even the great river seemed to make a sound, and he gradually slowed his pacing and came to a standstill. He looked to the sky, and to the plains behind him, and there was a faint waving in the tall grass, as of wind, or of some creature sneaking toward him. He laid a hand on Fahnat-om and grasped his pack, readying to flee—though he knew not where he might go.

The grass rippled once more, and then he heard a faint sound in the distance: a soft growl, a snarl—a baring of fangs. He felt a warmth at his breast, and suddenly the field before him erupted in movement, and as a searing pain overcame him and brought him to his knees, the fierund leapt clear and let loose a terrible howl, resounding in Brandyé’s ears and into the distance. His enemy had found him.

Staggering again to his feet, he swept Fahnat-om from its sheath and swung it blindly at the beast, cleaving nothing but air yet keeping the great wolf at bay. Breath ragged, he clasped the sword in both hands, staring the fierund down, unable to look from its glowing red eyes. The beast took a step toward him, snapping its jaws in anticipation. Brandyé jabbed the sword toward it, but the threat passed it by, and it reared its haunches to leap upon him. He dove behind the tree, falling helplessly to the ground as the terrifying jaws clenched shut behind him. The fierund twisted as it leapt, pawing heavily at the tree and nearly uprooting it in the process. Brandyé rolled in a panic to the side as the dead tree tottered and fell, nearly crushing him. He heard the fierund howl again, and then, as though his fate was not already sealed, two more howls answered from the distance.

Abandoning his pack, he brought himself once last time to his feet, turning to face his doom. The fierund had recovered from its bound and and turned to face him once again, a fierce and furious snarl on its countenance. Dimly in the back of his mind, Brandyé recalled a phrase, spoken many years ago: Do the fierundé swim? He realized he had no answer to this question, but saw no other escape: in a single swift motion, even as the fierund leapt again at him, he threw himself bodily into the river.

The water soaked through his cloak in an instant, ice against his skin, and he fought for breath as his lungs threatened to fail him entirely. But just as swiftly the current caught him, and he was borne away from the fallen tree and the fierund, left standing furiously, snarling after him. The fierund approached the water cautiously, pawed at it briefly, and then retreated, a howl escaping its throat. Moments later its companions appeared, but not one of them leapt into the water after him.

Thrashing desperately, Brandyé fought against the current and the weight of his cloak, eddies swirling around him and threatening to drag him under. As he was swept away from the shore the current picked up its pace, and he gasped for air against the cold that was crushing his chest. Yet even against the river’s icy grip he felt the burning of the brand on his chest, and it gave to him a strength that he would otherwise have not known. Pulling at the water he moved, stroke by stroke, into the deepest currents, and then beyond and onto the far bank. As he approached he saw the boulders and branches sweeping by, and in a last effort he allowed himself to be cast against a great stone, and there he remained, breath ragged, as the water continued to flow around him.

After a great time, he felt the cold begin to leave him, though only slightly, and he gradually picked himself up and squelched up the bank, pausing for breath under the barren branches of a dead oak. He was soaking and frigid, and though he was still frightened of pursuit from the fierundé, he knew he would get no further until he allowed himself to dry. He stripped himself of the drenched cloak and clothes, flinging what he could over the tree’s lowest branches, and swiftly set a great fire going.

Soon he was no longer shivering, and sat with his back to the flames until his tunic and breeches were, while still damp, warm and dry enough to wear. By this time night was coming on, and so he resigned himself to waiting out the night by the fire, and hoping he was not set upon in the dark. So he spent a dismal night, hungry and wet, though tending to the fire at the very least gave to him some degree of warmth.

Come the morning he was yet unassailed, and he came to the conclusion that these fierundé, at least, had no love of water, and had abandoned their pursuit at the river’s edge. Staring across the continuous stream he could see no sign of them, and wondered if they had, as he had planned to, followed the river downstream to a place where they might more easily ford the waters.

He set out at first light, wrapping his cloak tight around him, marching onward and carrying forward into the west. It did not escape him that both Fahnat-om and his crossbow had survived the crossing of the river, and he was weighted down with the knowledge that he would never be rid of this weapon of death.

Yet after some hours of walking he was warm once again, and as the rain held off he made quite some progress that day, and the days that followed. Having now crossed the great river the land took a turn for the worse, becoming increasingly barren. Soon there were no trees to be found, and he struggled each night to light a fire of the dried heather and sparse grasses that grew here. The land began to rise, and he found himself passing through empty, barren moorland when he one day came upon a sight that took his breath away.

Before his feet stretched an abyssal canyon, a churning river rushing through its depths. Spanning this canyon was a white stone bridge, decaying but still intact, and across it stood the remains of an ancient city, carved out of the limestone cliffs that stood before the sea—black as ink, the same that he had once spent a year on the shores of, abandoned and lost. Great towers and spires reached high above the dark waters, yet every one a ruin, crumbling and heavy with despair. This was a city of ghosts, he felt, and Darkness weighed heavily upon him. He took a first tentative step onto the bridge, and then another, afraid it might collapse beneath him.

But despite its age, it bore his weight well, and once across it he started down an overgrown cobblestone street, and into the depths of the town. As he did, the first few drops of rain began, and before long he was caught in a downpour, the stone soon wet and his cloak drenched, rivulets running down the sides of the streets. He ducked into an open doorway, out of the rain, and slid to a rest against the cold stone wall. He would not get much rest here, he thought; it was an unsettling place, and he was afraid what creatures might be stalking the empty and forgotten streets. He had no sense of fierundé, but with the black sea on the horizon and night coming on, Darkness crept through the shadows, and he was uneasy through the lightless hours until dawn.

As he waited for the night to pass and could not sleep, his mind drifted to the coming days, and how he might find his way to Elven. He thought he had a sense of where he was now; past the great river, he was well into the west of Thaeìn, most likely near the southern borders of Kiriün. This town, in fact, might once have been a grand port of the kingdom, before the great War of Darkness and the settling of the world into Darkness. He imagined the city, similar to the island towns of the Cosari, bustling with folk and rich with the scent of baking and spices, and a bitter sadness came to his heart at the thought that the place had been brought so low over so many years. Like the ruins of Viura Râ, he realized there must have finally been a last resident of the city, a solitary soul who would have been driven mad by the solitude and isolation. Then he recalled Abbey and the desolation of Wutherford in the north of Erârün, and a dark realization came to him: Life in Erâth was slowly being extinguished. So it had been for thousands of years, and now, with the Sleeping Death encroaching upon the last kingdoms of the world, it was nearly done.

So his resolve to find Elven redoubled, for he would not allow the world to die so easily. He now understood better the roles of the Duithèn and the Namirèn in the fate of the world, and knew that Death was not ultimately responsible here, but Darkness: they were indeed growing stronger, bolder, and more resilient against the remaining strongholds of men. Even if a cure was found for the Sleeping Death, the armies of Darkness would no doubt be upon them shortly—a matter of weeks, or months, perhaps, before the sieges began against Vira Weitor and Courerà. What hope was there left for the world of men? Little enough, he supposed—but if Elven could become king, then anything was possible; and so far, the forces of Darkness were leaderless.

These thoughts remained with him through the night, and come the dismal gray of dawn he left that place, turning his back on the black sea and making his way through the wet streets and once more into the plains that ran onward to the north. Here, however, he found a path, stretched straight before him, great flagstones laid into the earth and nestled so tight against one another that in all the centuries that had passed since it had last been tended, hardly a blade of grass had grown between them. This gave him some hope, for it seemed likely that, should this town have once been a part of Kiriün, this road would lead him to their capital city.

As days continued the rains came and went, the sky remained ever gray, and eventually the stone road gave way to gravel, and then to grassland, and he could but continue along the path that was now behind him. Eventually even the grasses faded, leaving barren earth and dead trees surrounding him. A bitter weed was all he could find, and he realized that, without food or shelter, he might not pass through this land alive. There were no longer animals to hunt, nor caves in which to hide from the rain, and day after day went by without food, without water, and without respite.

But just as his despair was at its peak, and hunger threatened to consume him entirely, he came upon a break from the monotony of the wastelands: a small settlement, a patch of houses, and to his indescribable relief there were folk there, alive, if not strictly well. Like so much he had seen in his journey so far, the place was in ruins, but three families remained, and they tended what little land they could, raising gaunt and malnourished pigs on the weeds that were so plentiful. Brandyé spoke to them, and they brought him into their home and fed him what they could, and he slept soundly for the first time in months.

Come the morning he was awoken by the sound of a rooster crowing, and he asked the people if he was on the right path to Courerà.

“What d’you want to go there for?” they asked him, scratching their heads. “Ain’t nought but death that way.”

But Brandyé insisted, and so they set him in the right direction, with a fresh pack and some salted pork, bidding him farewell and the best of luck: “You’ll likely need it, if you’re headed to the city: the Sleeping Death lies that way.”

“I’ve passed through that Death and lived,” Brandyé told them. “It isn’t for myself that I’m afraid.”

It was less than ten days to what the farmers called the Lichae—the inner circle of Kiriün, and a place where the barren wastelands were no more—and this finally brought a touch of hope to Brandyé’s heart: after so long and so much strife, it seemed he was nearing his journey’s end. Soon he would be in the welcome company of his oldest friend, and together, he was certain, they would find a way from the Darkness that was threatening to consume them all.

But as those final days passed and the land around him grew greener, the folk he met were ever less welcoming. At first it was merely the suspicion of an outsider, but soon the villages he encountered would not even let him pass, and he became aware that here, the Sleeping Death was all too real: there were many who had succumbed, and many more who were ill or in fear of exposure. He found himself sneaking around the outskirts of the villages, and he noticed that soldiers and guards were increasingly prevalent, and he wondered at their presence. Surely Elven did not have a martial law in place, he thought.

And then, on the eighth day since the Outland farmers and well into what he had come to learn was called the Hösland, his journey came to an abrupt halt. As he was rejoining the road that led from a town that he had passed by, he saw in the distance a troupe of soldiers, riding toward him at speed. Wary, he stepped off the road and took shelter behind a large boulder, waiting for the soldiers to pass him by. But as they grew nearer he heard the clap of hooves come to a halt, and a voice called out, “Stranger—show yourself!”

With a sigh and a sense of dread, Brandyé knew they spoke to him, and stepped out from behind the boulder. There before him were no less than five soldiers on horseback, spears lowering as they moved to surround him. Wary lest they spy his sword or bow, Brandyé slowly raised his hands above his head, and waited for their words.

“Who are you?” the soldier before him spoke.

“My name is Brandyé.”

“Are you a healer?” the soldier asked gruffly.

Uncertain what difference this would make, Brandyé thought truth would serve him best. “No, though I know one.”

“What allowance do you have, then, to travel this road?”

Brandyé frowned, uncertain. “None, I suppose—I have come from the south—”

“Have you papers?” the soldier interrupted.

Brandyé shook his head. “I do not.”

The soldier then dismounted, swinging his leg over the horse, and Brandyé wondered what was coming until he removed a pair of shackles from his riding pack. He brought these to Brandyé, and standing before him, said, “Then you are under arrest. Resist and you will be killed.”

With a sigh, Brandyé held out his hands: there was no point in fighting this. “May I ask my crime?” he asked as his wrists were bound.

“None may travel, save by leave of the king,” the soldier replied. “The Sleeping Death is upon us, and its spread must be contained.”

In a way, Brandyé was almost relieved to hear this. “I think,” he said, “that the king would gladly grant me passage, if he were to learn of my presence here.”

But the soldier appeared unfazed by this. “My riders will return you to Courerà, and you’ll find yourself tried like any other. The law is the law.”

“I’ll go with you gladly,” Brandyé replied, “if you’ll do me but one favor: send word to the king, and tell him Brandyé is here.”

“You’re hardly in a position to make demands,” the soldier said roughly.

“I can promise you,” Brandyé said, “that if you don’t, and the king later learns of my imprisonment, you will regret it.”

The soldier eyed him keenly for a moment, and Brandyé kept his face passive: he knew his fate here depended on the soldier believing his every word. Finally, the soldier nodded to his companion: “We’ll do him this one favor—once he is safely in the dungeons, you can notify his lordship. It’ll be in his hands, then.”

So Brandyé allowed himself to be led away, and they took from him Fahnat-om and the crossbow, and kept him on a rope that was made fast to the soldier’s saddle. For all their precautions, however, Brandyé did not resist or struggle, for he knew that once Elven learned of his imprisonment, he would be released at once. For that matter, he was better fed in the presence of the soldiers than he had been in all his time alone, and he gladly ate the bread and meat he was provided each day.

Two further days passed in this way, and on the third Brandyé was finally, after so long, granted the sight of Courerà, and he thought his friend had found himself a wondrous place to settle: the town on the hill, the great Life Tree rising high above all, was to his eyes a beautiful sight, and he was almost able to forget the dull and frightened eyes that lingered on him as they passed into and through the streets of the city. Before long he was behind bars, and he settled on his mat, willing to wait for Elven to come to him.

But as time wore on and several days passed, he began to worry, for it seemed the soldier had reneged on his promise: surely Elven would not have left him here had he known. This began to frighten him, for he had allowed himself willingly to be led to this prison, and now it seemed he might pass a great while longer here than he had intended.

He was fed meagerly twice a day, and water was provided, but other than this he was left in solitude in a stone box, and for three further days he remained alone until, finally, a guard came to inform him he had a visitor. Brandyé had hardly slept, and a great sigh of relief escaped him at the thought that Elven had finally discovered him.

But to his astonishment, the figure that moved through the shadows and stopped before his bars was not his friend: despite the gloom and flicking torches he saw this person was both slimmer and taller, and he approached the bars in confusion. The figure then swept the hood from her head, and he found himself face to face with a person he had not seen or thought of in years. “Talya?”

Talya stood before him, an oddly sad expression on her face, and Brandyé was bewildered. “It really is ye,” she said softly. “I can hardly believe it.”

Peering down the length of the dungeon corridor, Brandyé stuttered, “Where—where’s Elven?”

For a long while Talya said nothing, her lips a thin line. “Where’ve ye been?” she asked finally. “It’s been so many years …”

“Where’s Elven?” Brandyé repeated, more vehemently this time.

Pain and grief crossed Talya’s face. “Brandyé … I’m sorry for your treatment. Ye’ll be released, of course; we’ll make certain ye’re set up well and fed. Brandyé … it’s good to see ye after so long. It truly is.”

“Where is Elven,” Brandyé said once more—a demand, rather than a question.

And then, to Brandyé’s astonishment, a tear slipped down Talya’s cheek. “I’m so sorry—he won’t see you.”

Brandyé grasped the bars tightly, his knuckles white. “What are you talking about? Let me speak to him!”

Talya sniffed, wiping her eye. “Did you know we had a son?” she asked softly.

Brandyé stared into her eyes, hardly comprehending. “I—yes, I did. Far … Farthyn, no?”

“And you know he is with us no more?”

Brandyé closed his eyes for a moment, remembering Elven’s letter to his family. “I’m sorry, Talya,” he said, more gently this time. “I had heard. But please—why won’t Elven see me?”

Talya took a deep breath. “When our son … when Farthyn died, Elven was mad with grief. We all were—but he wanted someone to blame. He said he was visited by Death that night. He said … he said that he would never again speak to any race of power, nor any who allied themselves with them. He’s afraid that ye’re still … that ye’re with the Illuèn. With Elỳn.”

“This is madness!” Brandyé cried in anguish. He rattled the bars, and Talya took a surprised step backward. He leaned forward, pressing his face against the cold steel. “Talya—you must tell him to see me. He must know Elỳn had nothing to do with your son’s death—you must tell him. Please—tell him!”

“He will listen to no one!” Talya replied through tears. “Not me, nor Gwendolyn—he hardly speaks even to Meredith!”

Brandyé scarce paid heed to these names with which he was unfamiliar. “Talya: take me now,” he said forcefully. “Take me to him. I don’t care that he won’t see me—I will see him!”

Talya shuddered. “I—I can’t!”

“Why? What are you afraid of?”

“I’m afraid for him! I’m afraid what seeing ye will do to him! He’s been fever-minded for a year now!”

Brandyé took a deep breath, forcing himself to be calm. “Take me to him,” he said one last time. “Let me talk to him. Let me remind him of the good in this world. Let me put his mind at ease.”

For a long moment, Talya was silent. Finally, she took a deep breath and said, “I will take ye to him, but be forewarned: he hasn’t seen ye in almost nine years. He isn’t the same Elven that ye remember.”

“Let me decide that for myself,” Brandyé said, but inside he was worried: what had happened to his friend? What awaited him, in the halls above? He would have to wait and see, he thought: for better or for worse, he would see his friend.

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