Chapter 25: The Coming of Danâr
Talya had the guards unbolt the cell door, and Brandyé found himself being led through a labyrinth of passageways and corridors, past dungeons and kitchens, and always up stairs and steps. Soon he and Talya were passing through a great room—a sort of dining hall, by its appearance—in the center of which rose high the monumental trunk of the Life Tree. Then they were onward, past the great tree and once more among corridors, though lined in wood now, rather than stone.
This palace—for a palace it certainly was—was clearly much larger than Brandyé had expected from the outside, but eventually they stopped before a closed door, and Talya turned to him. “Wait here,” she said softly. “I’ll go in and let him know you’re here.”
Brandyé nodded and stood back, allowing her entrance. She opened the door and slipped through, letting it shut behind her. Brandyé, now alone, looked up and down the corridor, uncertain how long he might have to wait. The torches flickered, casting eerie shadows across the floor.
As he looked, at the far end of the corridor came a sudden swift movement, and through the shadows moved a small figure—a young child—carrying a candle. The girl stopped short, looking down the passageway at him, and in the flickers and shadows he could not quite make out her features. She took a few steps toward him and then stopped again. “Who are ye?” she asked tentatively.
Brandyé made no sudden movements for fear of startling the child, but answered, “My name is Brandyé. What’s yours?”
“I’m Meredith,” she replied. “What’re ye doing here?”
“I’ve come to visit Elven,” he said. “He’s your father, isn’t he?”
“How d’ye know?”
Brandyé smiled gently. “Your father and I are old friends. I knew him before you were born.”
The child, Meredith, moved toward him again, and as she came closer he saw the resemblance in her eyes, in the cut of her chin and the color of her hair: this was undoubtedly Elven’s child. The candle flickered in the air, guttering, but did not go out. “Are ye here to help him?” she asked.
“What do you mean?” Brandyé returned.
“Help him find a cure,” she elaborated. “To the plague. The Sleeping Death.”
“It took your brother, didn’t it,” he said softly.
She nodded. “I miss him. But father is angry—he says the races of power took Farthyn. He says it’s all their fault.”
Slowly, Brandyé kneeled before Meredith, so their eyes might more easily meet. “What do you know of the races of power?” he asked her.
Meredith pursed her lips, and shook her head. “I don’t know. Father says they’re evil.”
In that moment, Brandyé thought he understood Talya’s fear, and Elven’s rage. The Sleeping Death was certainly the doing of the Duithèn, he could sense as much; but to blame all races of power for the death of his son was not only folly, but outright against their own interests. The Illuèn were needed, he knew; the race of men was weakening, and they needed all the allies they could get.
From behind the closed door, he heard raised voices, but could not make out what they were saying. He glanced over his shoulder, and then back to Meredith and her candle. The candle flickered again. “Father shouts a great deal lately,” Meredith said.
“He was always quick to temper,” Brandyé said—as much to himself as to the girl. He straightened and stood up again. “I must speak with him, you know,” he said. “He has to listen to me.”
Meredith shook her head again. “He hasn’t listened to anyone since Farthyn died. He won’t even listen to the queen.”
“We’ll see,” Brandyé said firmly. He could hear the argument escalating through the door, and caught faint tendrils of words:
“… no! I won’t …”
“Please … out there, waiting …”
“… rot, for all I care …”
“You don’t mean that!”
The words died down again for a moment, when all of a sudden, loud and clear, came Elven’s voice: “Get out!” Meredith jumped, startled, and as he looked back to her, he saw the candle go out in a wisp of smoke. The nearest torch was down the hall, and the gloom was heavy.
The door abruptly swung open, and Talya came out, the door slamming shut behind her. Brandyé could see the tears in her eyes. “I tried,” she said. “He won’t listen!”
But Brandyé felt a sudden, overwhelming anger: how dare Elven, once the kindest of souls, dare talk to anyone so—especially one he supposedly loved? “We’ll see about that,” he muttered, and stepped forward, pushing the door open hard.
Inside, he stopped short, taking in the scene. To one side was a bed, unmade and distressed, sheets falling onto the floor. Opposite it was a desk, papers scattered across it, ink stains covering all and splashed onto the floor. And standing before the window, silhouetted against the gray skies outside, stood Elven, his back to the door. “I said, get out!” Elven growled.
“I will not,” Brandyé said emphatically, and Elven turned swiftly, surprise evident on his face.
“What are you doing here?” he demanded. “How dare you—”
“How dare I?” Brandyé interrupted. “How dare I? What about you? You would speak to the mother of your child in such a tone?”
“How I speak to my family is none of your concern,” Elven spat.
“Since when is your family not my concern?” Brandyé said.
Elven’s eyes widened in fury. “Since when? Perhaps since you disappeared into the north, and never returned—nine years ago! Perhaps since you led me on an impossible quest into the wilderness, and then left me to find my own way back? Perhaps, if you recall, since you killed my sister?”
Elven’s words cut deep, but Brandyé was determined not to be deterred. “I had no idea it had been so long,” he argued. “I’ve been places you couldn’t even imagine, met people you wouldn’t believe—and I’ve learned a great deal from it. Where I returned, I thought there would be a chance of redeeming this world—but instead I find you sulking in your palace, doing nothing?”
“You wouldn’t understand a thing I’ve been through in your absence,” Elven retorted. “How many lives I’ve seen wasted—how much death and devastation I’ve witnessed. I didn’t ask to end up where I did—I didn’t ask to rule a kingdom! But what’s happened has happened, and here I am: the power of an entire country at my hand, and powerless for all of it!”
“You’re not powerless,” Brandyé insisted. “I know you—if anyone can find an answer to the Sleeping Death, you can.”
“Don’t speak of things you know nothing about,” Elven said bitterly. “Against a disease of Darkness there can be no prevailing. And when Death and Darkness walk hand-in-hand, and the Illuèn cower in their hovels, then the world is doomed. Everyone is going to die, Brandyé: our time is over.”
Brandyé was stunned. “When did Elven—when did my friend—fall into such thoughts?” he cried. “When did you abandon Light for Dark?”
“I imagine,” growled Elven, “that it was about when my son died. I swore that night that I would have nothing to do with the races of power ever again. And I thought I was holding true to that oath—until you walked back into my life. I didn’t ask for you to return!”
“Elven … it’s me! Just me! What have I to do with the races of power?”
“Are you still friends with the Illuèn?”
“They are our ally—”
“They are no one’s ally!” Elven cried. “And I can trust none who claim to be theirs!”
Realization dawned on Brandyé. “Is this why you refuse to see me?” he asked. “Is this why you hole yourself up in here, away from all those who love you? Because of our ties to the Illuèn?”
“Your ties,” countered Elven. “You, and you alone—don’t dare bring my family into this.”
“Your family hasn’t seen you in months! And what do you have to show for it? What have you achieved, for all your months of solitude?”
Elven had been stepping closer to Brandyé throughout their altercation, and now pressed a finger into Brandyé’s chest. “I’ve done more for this world than you ever have, or ever will, for that matter. I’m not the one who abandoned all those who needed him.”
“Yet that’s exactly what you’re doing now! When was the last time you had a meaningful conversation with Meredith? With your daughter?”
“I forbid you to mention her name! She has nothing to do with you!”
Brandyé grasped Elven’s hand, drew it from his chest, and clasped his fingers in his own. “Elven—you’ve fallen into madness in your grief! Farthyn’s death is a tragedy, yes—but what other tragedies might be prevented, if we work together, as we once did?”
Elven withdrew his hand contemptuously. “So long as you have ties to the Illuèn, I cannot work with you. Renounce your friendship—renounce Elỳn—and I might consider your words.”
“I can’t do that,” Brandyé said sadly. “The Illuèn have suffered more than you know—and they are still willing to help. We need them, Elven—we need their aid.”
“I would not seek their aid should all the world fall into Darkness.”
“That has already happened! Look around you—death, disease and misery is everywhere! And what will happen when the armies of Darkness besiege these cities? Do you think you can defend these people on your own?”
“Do you mean the same armies you fled in terror? Who are you to speak of standing and fighting?”
“I’m your friend, Elven,” Brandyé said. “I want to help.”
“A friend of the Illuèn is no friend of mine,” Elven spat.
And then Brandyé looked deep into his friend’s eyes, and saw the fury and the hate there, and a great sadness fell upon him. “Then my friend is truly gone,” he said softly.
“I’ve gone nowhere,” Elven retorted. “And I’ll still be here—when you’ve given up your so-called races of power, I’ll be here. When they’ve given up on you—when you’re finally abandoned, the way you abandoned everyone else—I’ll be waiting.”
Brandyé nodded sadly. “Until then,” he said, then turned, and walked from the room.
“You can leave my city!” Elven called after him.
As Brandyé stepped once more into the hall outside, he saw Talya and Meredith were still waiting for him—Meredith’s candle still extinguished. “Don’t listen to him,” Talya said as they began to walk together down the dim corridor. “Ye’ll stay right here, in comfort.”
But Brandyé shook his head. “He’s right—it’s his city. If he orders me leave, then leave I shall.”
“Nonsense,” replied Talya. “It isn’t his city, anyway—it’s the queen’s. Gwendolyn—she’ll allow you to stay.”
“I’d like to speak with her,” Brandyé admitted.
“Then I’ll arrange it,” said Talya with a smile. “For now, come and settle. I’ve spare quarters for ye, and ye can rest after your long travels.”
Brandyé was glad of the welcoming of the other inhabitants of the Great Hall, for had they been as bitter as Elven, he thought, he truly would have despaired. As it was, his heart was heavy to see how low his friend had fallen, and the warmth of the room Talya had led him to was small comfort. He fell into the bed almost immediately and slept through until the dark hours, hardly stirring for exhaustion. Yet in his sleep, a thing occurred that had not happened to him for an age: a dream came upon him.
Behind closed eyes, he found himself once more spirited away, far from the Great Hall of Courerà, and it was a moment before he recognized his surroundings: a cold and empty room, bedraggled tapestries the only decoration on the white stone walls, and a single narrow window that looked out onto a gray and dismal sky. He approached the window and peered out, and reeled suddenly from the sight, for he was hundreds of feet above the roofs and towers of a great black city, the wind chill in his tearing eyes.
It was Vira Weitor, he knew, but as he had never seen it before: from such a height, the homes were specks and the people invisible, and the great wall that surrounded the city a handbreadth away. As the great city spanned away from below him, he saw dreadful things: fire and flame sprang from countless buildings, smoke rising black and high in the dark day, only a shade darker than the clouds that hung low above, obscuring any thought of sun. And despite the distance, he could hear the sounds of screams and cries of terror and despair, the dreadful noises of a dying city.
And in the distance, beyond the great wall and the plain that it surrounded, he saw with dread the reason for their suffering: at the foot of the wall and fading into the obscure distance, were hundreds upon hundreds of men and creatures, a sprawling calamity of Dark and vile things, camps and tents and roaring fires dotted throughout: an army of Darkness, a true army. This was no ragged congregation of weary men and beasts, as he had once seen in the Rein, but rather a full siege army at the foot of the city, held back only by the crumbling and destitute wall that would surely not last many more days against their onslaught.
As he watched with dread and his stomach churned, he saw great trebuchets launch flaming missiles high over the wall, cast half a mile or more across the burning plain to fall amidst the homes of the poor, bursting explosions where they landed and filling the air with death. He wondered if the lowest parts of the city, those nearest the wall and their enemy, had been evacuated; he hoped desperately that Tharom Hulòn would have seen their plight and made room for them higher in the city, but he knew he could be certain of no such thing. He looked to the east and the west, and saw nothing but the amassed forces of Darkness, and knew there was from here no escape; with the mountain behind and the enemy in front, the people of Vira Weitor were doomed.
And then, as he looked on, he saw a commotion amongst the folk and beasts of the siege army, and to his astonishment realized he could make out the individual men and creatures in the far distance, as though his very sight were somehow enhanced, and able to perceive the smallest of details from the greatest of distances. Amidst the thronging masses, there was a great war tent erected far from the fighting, and he saw its canvas door flung open, and many guards create a walled passage for whomever was within. The soldiers and beasts nearest this place at once fell silent, turning toward the battle tent and lowering to their knees.
A grotesque and twisted trumpet rang out a bitter note of warning, and then came from the depths of the tent the leader of all these creatures: the lord of Darkness, the king of the fierundé, and the person for whom Brandyé held a bitter hate and a deepest fear. The terror stood high, clad in the darkest of armor, a great sword at his side. From boot to collar he was a portrait of Darkness incarnate, and as Brandyé looked on, he saw in his countenance a fierce and bitter hatred for all that lived in the light.
And as he looked deeper, he was overcome with an awful, sickening recognition, for despite the years that had now passed, he knew this man intimately, knew his villainy and his treachery, and knew that if this man somehow now led the armies of Darkness, there was no hope for any who yet walked in Erâth: it was, impossibly, Danâr, the son of the Lord Garâth of Consolation who had murdered his own father and come to rule his homeland with a brutal and iron fist.
Even as Brandyé reeled with the shock and horror of what was before his eyes, he saw Danâr cast his gaze about him, and come to rest with a fixed stare straight at himself: as though, again in spite of the mile or more that separated them, Danâr knew precisely who and where he was. He saw a grim curl of the lip, a cruel and bitter grin, and then, over the distance and the screams and the roar of battle, heard the voice he had not heard in over a decade:
“So, my old and favorite enemy: here we meet at last. I stand at the foot of your crumbling city, freed from the small-minded oppression of my father, and the grandest army of Erâth at my command. Your people are lost, your allies spent; it is only a matter of time before we take this last bastion of Light and claim it for Darkness.
“But here I come before you, and I say unto you: this need not be the end. No—this is only the beginning. I know you have seen much of this world, Brandyé Dui-Erâth, and I would have you share it with me. I am not so selfish, my enemy—my friend. Join me! Stand by my side, and find the strength you have been missing for all your life. I know you, and know your Darkness: give in to it, and be free!”
Danâr’s speech rang out loud in his ears, even as Brandyé knew no other on the battlefield or in the city had heard him, and he shuddered, for against his very grain he felt a deep and awful truth in his words. He felt his brand grow hot and searing at his breast, and felt a great strength surge through him, and it was no strength of Light. Darkness grew deep around him, and as all light faded from his sight, he fell to the ground, weeping, and knew that he—and all of Erâth—were truly lost forever.
Brandyé was startled from this nightmare by a loud knocking noise, and sat up straight in the bed, sweat streaming from his brow. His heart pounded, and he struggled to catch breath. It was dark, and the candles had spent themselves. Through the walls he could hear the sounds of the people of the great hall going about their evening business, and from outside, the soft patter of rain.
The knocking came again, and this time he knew it as someone rapping at his door. He stumbled from the bed, still fully dressed, and felt his way across the dark room to the door, fumbled for the latch, and opened it partway to glimpse who had come visiting. It was a woman whom he had not yet met, and she peered through the cracked door curiously, a candle in her hand. At a glance he saw that she was very young, and yet carried a weight on her shoulders and a wisdom in her eyes that belied her age.
“I’m sorry to disturb you,” she said. “I had thought you might want some food. May I come in?”
Brandyé stepped back to allow the woman entrance, and she stepped into the dark room, candle in one hand and a basket in the other. Brandyé could smell the scent of yeast wafting from it, and knew she must have brought him fresh-baked bread. The woman put the basket down and bent to relight the candles in the room, and when the dark was somewhat banished she turned back to him, gesturing to the basket. “Please—the bread is still hot, and the pies are fresh this morning.”
Brandyé could not help but recognize his hunger, and took the basket from the floor, placing it on the room’s solitary table and opening it. The bread inside was indeed still steaming, and he tore a piece off with enthusiasm. After a moment he realized that the woman was still standing by, and that he had as yet not said a word to her. He turned, and with a full mouth sputtered, “I’m sorry—I haven’t even introduced myself.” He swallowed his bite, and continued, “I suppose you know who I am as it is—my name is Brandyé.” The woman nodded, but said nothing. For a moment they stood in silence, and then Brandyé spoke again, “You are the queen, aren’t you.”
The woman smiled then. “You must call me Gwendolyn. I apologize for not coming to see you sooner, but I’ve been in many councils today.”
Brandyé waved her concern away, saying, “Please—you must be very busy.”
“I apologize also,” she continued, “for your treatment by our soldiers. You must understand, the laws regarding travel in Kiriün are stricter than ever since the coming of the Sleeping Death. It has claimed so many lives.”
“I truly understand,” Brandyé assured her. “I can’t imagine what it must be like to govern a kingdom so overcome.”
Gwendolyn smiled again, more softly this time. “It takes a toll. But tell me—why are you here? Why did you brave the wilds to venture upon Courerà?”
So Brandyé spoke to her of his journey, his time with Athalya and the Sarâthen, and of his coming down from the mountains into Erârün. “The greatlord is dead,” he told her. “I don’t know if you had learned of that yet.”
She shook her head. “We haven’t had a messenger from Erârün in over a year. I’m saddened; Farathé was never unkind to me.”
“I fear what his successor might do,” Brandyé said. “When we left—when I was banished—the knight Tharom Hulòn had taken control.”
“I remember meeting him, though briefly,” Gwendolyn said. “I have no reckoning of him.”
“His madness may outweigh his reason,” Brandyé cautioned her. “He is madly loyal to his kingdom.”
“As are many,” Gwendolyn mused. Then, she took a step toward him, and grasped his hand in hers. “You are my husband’s dearest friend,” she said abruptly. “Is there anything you can do for him?”
Brandyé had thought she might speak of Elven, and said, “He refuses to speak to me. His grief is blinding him.”
Gwendolyn glanced to the door, as though looking to see if anyone was passing by. “May I confide in you?” she asked tentatively.
Somewhat taken aback, Brandyé nonetheless said, “Of course—what do you wish to say?”
“I’m afraid,” she said softly. “I’m desperately scared for the future of my people. Elven … he saved my life, and then he saved this kingdom. Without him we would still be under the rule of a tyrant, and I would most likely be dead. The people of Kiriün adore him, but he hasn’t been seen for months.”
Brandyé looked into Gwendolyn’s face, and saw deep in her eyes the truth of her words. “But I thought … I understood that you are the true governor of your people,” he said. “What can Elven possibly mean to them?”
Gwendolyn sighed. “I can run as many councils as I like, but I could never be the figurehead of this kingdom. The people will not accept a woman as their ruler. But Elven … he was a sign of change to them, of hope, of good things to come. I need him to be that once more.”
Brandyé found himself struggling to understand what she meant, but nonetheless saw that Elven was important to her, and, so it seemed, to the people of Kiriün. “He wants me to renounce alliance with the Illuèn,” he told her. “He says he will only listen to me if I were to never speak to them again.”
“He sees the Illuèn as cohorts in the death of his son,” she said. “Farthyn was such as bright spark to us all.”
Brandyé lowered his gaze, and released her hands. “I can hardly console him in the death of his kin,” he said. “Has he told you of our past?”
“He has told me enough,” she replied. “And I say now: I need you. I would not order you, for you are not of my kingdom, but I would ask—I would plead—you must bring Elven back to the light.”
And then Brandyé thought he saw a glimmer of purpose here, a thing that he might do that would, finally, be for the good of Erâth. He could rescue his friend, and in doing so restore a beloved figure to the people of Kiriün. He could, from the shadows, bring hope to an entire people.
Yet to do so would mean to cut all ties to the Illuèn, and to Elỳn—his dearest companion in all the world, second only to Elven. The Illuèn had done so much for him, and suffered so much for the good of the world, that it tore at his heart to think of causing Elỳn and her kin yet more grief. And in severing himself from the race of Light, he knew he was opening himself to Darkness: how could he tread a path of righteousness when doing so put at risk all he cared for?
He had never before felt so at odds with himself, and wondered what Reuel would have said. He could almost hear his grandfather voice, reading to him his final words: You alone can choose the path you desire. Yet he now found himself uncertain which path he wanted: that of his heart, which told him to stay with Elỳn, or that of his mind, which knew the truth of Gwendolyn’s words. And he was afraid of the Darkness that lay down either road. But was there another way?
Finally he looked back to Gwendolyn and said with a slow nod, “I will try again. I will speak to him. And I will see what I can do.”
Come the morning, Brandyé found himself invited to a hot breakfast with Gwendolyn, Talya and Meredith, and he discovered that they formed a close-knit family themselves, even in Elven’s absence. For a moment Brandyé allowed himself to be lost in the conversation—Talya speaking of the coming season of cold, and Meredith regaling them with what she had learned in her studies. Even Gwendolyn on occasion would laugh, and he smiled to see her with joy on her face. He sensed that, come the first council of the day, there would be little joy left for her to feel.
The rain continued heavy outside, but the fire in their den was bright and warm, and even after Gwendolyn left them he remained with Talya and Meredith, who had no classes that day. Brandyé amused himself by playing word games with Elven’s daughter while Talya looked on, and he saw that her mother was glad for the girl to have someone new to engage her mind.
Eventually, however, Talya said Meredith had chores to do (she would not allow the Great Hall’s servants to wait upon her, for she would not grow up spoiled, she said), and so Brandyé found himself alone in the den, the fire dwindling and the cold coming in from the outside. He picked up a quill, and for a few minutes idly scratched at the parchment that Meredith had been drawing on.
As he did so, a door opened into the room, and in came Elven, grizzled and disheveled, rubbing his arms against the cold. Brandyé was concealed in a corner of the room, and as such Elven did not appear to notice him as he tossed another log on the fire, and took an absent-minded bite of bread that had been left out. Elven then picked up a slice of ham that had also been left, strode to the window, and flung it open.
Before Brandyé could wonder what his friend was about to do, there was a great flutter of wings and Sonora dropped from the sky, settling on the windowsill and shaking the raindrops from her feathers. Elven extended the ham out toward her, and she gladly took it in her beak and began to gnaw at it. Elven reached out to pet the bird’s head, but suddenly Sonora stiffened, and Brandyé saw her glance at him, startled.
Elven, equally startled, followed the bird’s gaze, and his face set grim when his eyes fell upon Brandyé in the corner. For a long moment neither of them spoke, and Brandyé thought perhaps Elven would simply leave the room. To his surprise, Elven moved toward him, and took a seat at the table opposite him. He did not meet Brandyé’s gaze, but said with head down, “I come here to feed her in the morning. She’ll take food from no one else.”
“I’m glad that she’s still well after all these years,” Brandyé said. “She’s had a long life.”
“She’s had a hard life,” Elven muttered.
For another long moment there was silence, before Brandyé forced out the words: “Elven … about last night—”
“I don’t wish to speak of it,” Elven interrupted him.
Brandyé took a deep breath. “I must,” he persisted. “I spoke with Gwendolyn, and she told me about your position here in Kiriün.” He looked intently at Elven, but there was no reaction to his words: Elven’s head remained down. “She told me you matter here; that you mean something to the people of this country. At first I was surprised, but as I’ve thought about it, I can think of no other. You belong here, Elven.”
“I never asked for this,” Elven said. “I didn’t ask to become a king—a figurehead.”
“But Elven, don’t you see? You’re perfect for it. You’re strong, you’re kind, people like you … the people of Kiriün need such a person in these times. They need hope.”
“How can I give them hope, when the Sleeping Death is taking members of my own family?”
“Don’t let Farthyn’s death be in vain! Show the people you are just as susceptible as them, and yet you remain strong. Don’t let his death be yours, also.”
But Elven shook his head. “I feel dead, every day.”
“But you aren’t,” Brandyé insisted. “You’re well, and very much alive. You’ve suffered more in this world than any I know, and see what you’ve become! Doesn’t that show you that there is some good in this world, some force of Light?”
“Don’t speak to me of Light, or Dark, or any other race of power!” Elven spat. “I swore I would have nothing to do with those vile people, and I stand by that.”
“I won’t change your mind,” Brandyé said softly, “but I must help you. Am I not your friend still, after all these years?”
Finally, Elven looked up and into Brandyé’s face, and he could see the tears in his red eyes. “If you truly value our friendship, then you will send word to the Illuèn that they are no longer wanted in Erâth—that you will have nothing to do with them.”
Brandyé swallowed, and he felt a faintness as he said, “Very well—if it is to preserve our friendship—and to regain the trust of the people of Kiriün—I’ll do it.”
Elven looked shocked. “You … what?”
Brandyé nodded. “I will write a letter to Elỳn, and I will tell her not to contact me again.”
“You would do that?”
“I’ll do it right now, if you wish,” Brandyé said.
Elven stared at Brandyé for a long, long minute. Finally he said, “Then do it.” He picked up the quill, and passed it to Brandyé. Brandyé took it, trying to hide the tremble in his fingers.
“What should I say?” he asked nervously.
“Tell her … say that you appreciate the help she and her kind have offered thus far,” Elven began, “but that it must come to an end. Tell her that the world of Erâth has suffered enough under the greater powers of Light and Dark, and that it will no longer.”
Brandyé scratched out Elven’s words as he spoke, ink splattering on the page as he did. “What else?” he asked.
“Tell her that she must never try to contact you again, nor ever enter into the lands of Kiriün. You will never see her again, and you will never communicate with her again, either. Tell her that this is the last she will hear of Brandyé Dui-Erâth.” Brandyé continued to write. “Let her know that the people of Erâth will suffer no longer.” Elven looked down to Brandyé, watching as he penned the words. “You may tell her that you will miss her, if you wish,” he finished.
Brandyé continued writing for a moment, and when he was finished, set down the quill and sat back. “There,” he said. “I’ve done it. Would you like to read it?”
Elven nodded and took the note, reading it slowly. As he did, Brandyé watched his expression, and sadness clawed at him, for his friend seemed all the happier for it. But then Elven shook his head. “This is good, but it isn’t done yet—she must receive it.”
“How?” Brandyé asked. “No messenger of Kiriün could find the Illuèn.”
Elven looked to the window, where Sonora had settled to rest. “Sonora will deliver it.”
“It’s a long journey,” Brandyé cautioned.
“She can do it,” Elven insisted. “She knows the way.”
Brandyé let out a sigh. “Then let it be done.”
“Seal the note,” Elven said. “I’ll wake Sonora.”
As Elven rose from the table and walked across the room to the falcon, Brandyé rolled the note tightly into a small scroll. Then, just before he wrapped twine around it to bind it, he slipped a second scroll inside it. He tied both tight, and when Elven returned, handed them both to him, trying to ignore the sweat of his palms.
Elven seemed none the wiser, however, and secured the scroll to Sonora’s leg. “Go,” he bade the bird. “Fly swift, and return with no answer.” Brandyé winced to hear his friend speak so, but the falcon let out a soft cry and hopped toward the open window. “She’ll return in only a few days,” Elven said confidently. Brandyé watched as Sonora took flight, and once she was gone Elven shut the window. He turned to Brandyé. “Thank you,” he said. “This … this means a great deal to me. I’m glad to have you as my friend.”
“I’m glad, also,” Brandyé returned, and the words were bitter on his tongue. He knew what he had done, and hoped fervently that it was for the best.
“Come,” said Elven, “let’s have some tea. Then we can discuss what we should do next.”
But at that moment, the door was flung open, and Gwendolyn burst in, breathless. “Elven!” she exclaimed. “I’ve been looking for you everywhere! We’ve had dreadful news, and I must tell you!”
Surprised, Elven turned to her and said, “What? Gwen, what’s wrong?”
Brandyé saw that a man had followed her into the room—a messenger of sorts, from the look of him. The man was equally out of breath, and Brandyé supposed he must have been running to keep up with the queen.
“We’ve been attacked,” she said. “In the southeast, villages in the Outlands.”
Elven’s face grew grim, but Brandyé paled. “What happened?”
Gwendolyn turned to the messenger, who spoke, “Your majesty. I apologize for the intrusion—”
Elven waved him on. “Never mind formalities—spit it out!”
“I’ve just come from Freeling in the Hösland,” the messenger said, “which has been overwhelmed by folk fleeing the Outlands. They tell of soldiers coming upon them in the night, burning their homes and killing any who resist them.”
Elven shook his head in disbelief. “Why would Erârün do this? Has Farathé lost his mind?”
Brandyé did not even think to remind Elven that Farathé was dead, for he was in shock himself. He had a sense of dread, a feeling of awful, impending doom, that this was no incursion by their neighboring kingdom. He hoped that the messenger would prove him wrong, but to no avail.
“They don’t think it was of Erârün,” Gwendolyn said.
The messenger nodded. “The folk were very confused, sir, naturally, but their descriptions—they don’t speak of soldiers or knights in dragonstone.”
“What … what color was their garb?” Brandyé asked, almost stuttering.
Elven looked to him as though he were crazy. “What does that matter—”
“What color were they?” Brandyé interrupted.
The messenger looked between Elven and Brandyé, uncertain who to answer. Elven nodded finally, and the messenger said, “They claim the soldiers bore banners of a bright blue—a color they had never seen before.”
Gwendolyn looked desperately to Elven, then to Brandyé, and back to Elven. “What?” she asked. “What does this mean?”
Elven shook his head. “Nothing. It can’t be—it makes no sense.”
But Brandyé stood slowly, and in a low voice said, “It is, Elven—you know it. It’s finally happened. He’s outgrown that place, and now he’s come for us.”
“Who?” cried Gwendolyn. “Who has come?”
Brandyé looked fiercely at his friend, and then pierced the queen with a desolate stare.