The Redemption of Erâth: Book Three, Chapter Seven

Chapter Seven: The Place of Men

 

White towers and spires of glass—countless and reaching to a one for the sky, the majestic edifices of Viura Râ cast sweeping shadows in the early morning sun, proclaiming this city above all others the home of wonder and invention for all of Erâth. Light glinted everywhere, so that the city seemed to sparkle and shimmer, and Brandyé’s heart lifted at such a sight of beauty. It seemed to him there could be no place in the world that spoke of such calm, of such wisdom, and such infinite grandeur.

And yet the city was not the only wonder to behold, for it sat on what seemed to be the very edge of the world: not two miles distant to the east, the ocean seemed to falter and end, tumbling eternally into a white abyss from which rose a obscuring mist and permitted no further view in that direction. Yet through this mist shone the sun nonetheless in all its glory, and its warmth combined with the cool sea breeze served to invigorate and refresh, and Brandyé thought that there was nothing that could possibly go wrong in a place such as this.

So he arrived at the city on the edge the world, the Eternal City, and his excitement could hardly be contained. He and the other ship’s laborers were the last to disembark, of course, and he spent their time waiting and shutting down the furnaces in endless conversation with any who would listen, talking of how he would find the Sarâthen, and how he would find his place in the world, and all would be well. He felt that this was something he had been long awaiting, despite his lack of memory prior to the forests of Golgor, and when he finally stepped onto the solid earth of the city’s outskirts and away from the gently swaying decks of the ship, he was certain his heart would burst for sheer joy.

Making his way through the din and bustle of the port, Brandyé spotted the unmistakable sign of an inn, this one bearing the title of The Bottomless Flagon, and he pushed his way through the crowd to arrive at its front door, held wide by the many folk passing in and out of it. It was near lunchtime, as far as his nose could tell, and he rested his hand momentarily upon the small purse of coins Yateley had given him, now greatly depleted. He hoped it would be enough at least to buy himself one last meal, and entered the inn.

Even here, the influence of Viura Râ could be felt, for white abounded, the tables and chairs and even the ceiling a bright and pale color that lent a wholesome glow to the whole building and left few shadows. It was far from the gloomy drinking place he had expected, though there was nonetheless a bar, and he approached the barman with the intention of asking for bread, and a small mug of ale.

Instead, the barman looked at Brandyé with apparent confusion at his request, and within mere moments had procured a great platter laden with meats, potatoes, fresh vegetables and a great glass mug of a foaming, amber ale.

“I don’t … I don’t know if I have enough for this,” Brandyé muttered, his cheeks flaming.

Then the barman smiled with understanding. “First time in Viura Râ, eh?” he said, and shook his head. “No payment. Money’s no use here.”

Brandyé was astounded. “Then how can I repay you for this?”

The barman flashed his teeth. “Tell me why you’re here.”

“I’m … seeking answers,” Brandyé said.

The man raised his eyebrows. “Indeed? To what questions?.”

I’m not certain,” Brandyé admitted. “To be honest, I haven’t a clue where to begin. It’s been journey enough to get here.

Well, let me ask you this,” said the barman. “How well do you speak the high speech?”

“I don’t,” admitted Brandyé. “I’ve heard it before, but I don’t understand it.”

“Then you don’t have much hope,” said the barman, “because that’s all that’s spoken in Viura Râ.”

“You’re not using it now,” Brandyé pointed out.

“We’re not in the city proper,” the barman replied. “Once you pass the golden gates, you’ll be lost without at least some grasp of the old language.” This seemed oddly ostentatious to Brandyé, yet he supposed a city of such grandeur that asked no payment for services could keep to itself whatever peculiar laws it wished. “Of course,” the barman continued, it might be said that if your need to enter the Eternal City is great enough, learning its speech is a meager price to pay. Did you not learn a touch of it as a child?”

“I have no memory of my childhood,” Brandyé said. “But I’m eager enough to learn—where might I do so?”

The barman grinned again. “I tell you what—you work for me for a few months, I’ll teach you what I know. Might just be enough to get you by in the city.”

Dismay filled Brandyé. “I had rather hoped to find an answer or two sooner than that.”

“D’you think these answers are important?”

“I … I suppose so.”

“Then will it not be just as important when you’ve learned to ask the questions?”

With little other choice, Brandyé accepted the barman’s offer, and stayed with him that night and for many nights after. It turned out that learning the high speech—Erâtheet—was not so difficult, for it was spoken by many of the patrons of the Bottomless Flagon. Those who chose the old language would rarely deign to utter words of the common tongue, and so Brandyé had little choice but to learn their words, or be unable to serve them.

In the end, however, Brandyé found Erâtheet easy enough to grasp, for though he could not explain even to himself why, it held a strong recognition for him. Soon he was able to converse simply with most everyone, and rapidly reached a point where, if he did not understand a word someone uttered, he could find a way to ask for an explanation without reverting to what they called the common tongue.

While he bided his time, he would often speak with the barman, whose name was Tharèn. Tharèn, it seemed, had some wisdom to share, and Brandyé wondered at times if he might not be finding answers without meaning it.

You see, it all depends on what question you’re seeking the answer to,” Tharèn would often say. “There are many forces in this world, and they are spread far and wide. I daresay you might find things elsewhere that you would not find in Viura Râ.”

Brandyé was curious. “Such as?”

“The Mirèn, for one,” Tharèn said. “The race of Life. I hear they live almost nowhere now but the northern lands of Narün. I haven’t seen one in years, it seems.”

At the sound of this name, thoughts of fair skin and golden robes passed through Brandyé’s mind, and he knew suddenly that it was this that he had been missing in his daily scrutiny of the docks and through the golden gates of Viura Râ.

“What can you tell me of the Mirèn?” he asked.

Tharèn shrugged. “Little, I suppose—no more than any other could say. Along with the Namirèn, they form the balance of Life and Death in Erâth. The Namirèn you will still see here and there, but the Mirèn—they grew weary, and left.”

Brandyé frowned. “Weary? What did they grow weary of?”

“As I understand it, us,” said Tharèn. “Men. I’ll tell you one thing: if you do make it into Viura Râ, you’ll not find it as wonderful and glittering as it seems from the outside. Darkness dwells there too, as it seems to everywhere these days.”

“Darkness? I’ve seen no Darkness as far as I can remember,” said Brandyé, though he of course had to admit to himself that he could not remember much.

“The Duithèn,” said Tharèn. “The race of Darkness. Of course, they are as much a part of this world as the Illuèn, though they do not appear often. But their influence is spreading. Perhaps you don’t feel it because your memory is at fault, but even in my lifetime, I have seen the world darken.”

“But the sun shines!” protested Brandyé. “People are happy! They laugh and talk.”

For the first time since Brandyé had known him, Tharèn seemed to grow sinister for a moment. “There is Darkness that the sun cannot dissipate,” he said. “Sadness that laughter cannot cure. The Mirèn are leaving the world of Men, and we are left with Death and Darkness. The presence of the Illuèn helps to balance the Darkness, of course, but …” He looked curiously at Brandyé, and then smiled gently. “You truly don’t see it, do you?”

Brandyé shook his head, and Tharèn nodded. “It wasn’t out of idleness that I took you on, you know. There’s a light in you, lad; something that Darkness can’t grasp. It’s been a pleasure having you here—it’s lit up my little tavern—and you’ll be sorely missed. I suspect you’ll be within the walls of Viura Râ before long, and what you see there might be quite a bit different than you’re expecting. Be careful what you trust. Should you find your answers … tell me. Have you never worried about what will happen if you regain your memory?”

Brandyé had, in fact, not considered this. “I … I don’t know,” he said. “It doesn’t feel as though it’s anything important that I’ve forgotten, though I suppose I can’t know for certain.”

Tharèn nodded gently. “There’s Darkness in us all, B; you might have forgotten yours, and I think you’re the better for it—but beware should your memories return.”

Tharèn was not wrong, for it was no more than a month or two before Brandyé realized he could understand and converse in the High Speech with ease, and so one morning he bid farewell to the barman, and set out to stand before the golden gates of Viura Râ, and hope to be let in.

As Brandyé waited his turn before the gates, he recalled Yateley and Harrington’s words on the threat of war between the lands of Erâth, and wondered if the folk here, those trying to gain entrance to Viura Râ, were here on such business. It seemed to him that if there were folk bringing tidings of malcontent to such as place as Viura Râ, it did not behoove the city to turn them away without listening to their concerns. He supposed it was one of the many things he would have to ask the Sarâthen, should today prove the day that they would finally meet.

And then it was his turn, and before him stood an elderly man with a great beard, white except for a single streak of black. A thrill of recognition shot through him, though from where he could not tell, and all thoughts of war and disaster left him. A word came to him unbidden: Sarâthen. In his mind, this meant only one thing, and that was wisdom.

The old man stepped forward, and to Brandyé’s astonishment spoke to him directly: “Greetings, young man! How lovely, to see a new face!”

“Good morning,” replied Brandyé politely, trying not to show his surprise. He had not expected to be sought out at the very entrance to the city. “Do you know me?”

The old man smiled. “Come, lad. You have waited a long time to see me—but I expect I have waited longer.” He shook his head, and his long beard wobbled. “I know you, of course; yet, we have never met.”

They passed beyond the golden gates, and as the old man spoke, Brandyé looked about him in wonder. From afar, the great towers of Viura Râ had been majestic, beautiful—inspiring, even. But here, beneath them and in their shadow, they were almost imposing. Every around him was glass and metal and stone, and between the walls passed hundreds of folk of all kinds, and Brandyé saw many of the tall, white robed figures he recognized without thought as Illuèn.

With all this sight around him, it was a moment before he recognized the Sarâthen’s words. “How do you know Harrington sent me?”

“How indeed?” replied the Sarâthen, but said nothing further.

“What do you mean?” asked Brandyé, confused.

“Tell me—what is your name?”

They had turned the corner of a street, and were now passing down a crowded avenue, and for a moment Brandyé had to move aside from the Sarâthen to avoid being knocked into. “I don’t know,” he said. “I have lost all memory of my past, before a few months ago.”

The old man’s bushy eyebrows raised. “Indeed. How curious. I suppose this tells me why you have sought me out?”

“I had hoped to find answers,” Brandyé admitted. “I feel there must be a reason for my presence here, but I cannot see it.”

“Ah,” the Sarâthen said. “There is reason for everything, is there not?”

“Is there?” Brandyé asked.

“What do you suppose?”

Infuriatingly, hints of memory prodded at his thoughts at these questions, and he thought he might once have been asked a very similar question—many times over. “I would like to think so,” he answered carefully, “though I imagine it isn’t always easy to see.”

“Ah! You are wise beyond your years, Brandyé.”

A chill went through Brandyé’s spine for a moment. “What did you call me?”

“Is that not your name?” he asked innocently.

“How … how can you know my name?”

“Does it not feel familiar?”

And Brandyé had to admit that it did; the name felt as right to him as his own hands and fingers. “Brandyé.” He tried the name on his tongue. “But there is more, isn’t there.”

The Sarâthen raised his eyebrows again. “Perhaps there is.”

Brandyé looked over at the old man. They had turned another corner, and were now in a narrower passageway with fewer people about. “Will you tell me?”

The Sarâthen looked slyly at him. “Perhaps.”

There was silence between them for a moment, and then Brandyé said, “Well?”

The Sarâthen shrugged. “When the time is right, perhaps.”

Brandyé frowned. “Why is now not the right time?”

But the old man would not answer this question, and instead said, “What do you think of Viura Râ?”

Brandyé looked about him once more, at the walls of glass and stone. “It is beautiful,” he said. “Yet … I feel cold.” He looked skyward, and realized he could not see the sun. “How do you live in such a place?”

“It is the compromise of great height,” said the Sarâthen enigmatically.

“What do you mean?”

“Tell me, what do you think you would see from the tops of these great buildings?”

Once more, Brandyé looked to the spires that towered infinitely high above them. “The entire world, I’d expect,” he said.

The old man nodded and laughed. “Quite likely! And yet, what can be seen from here?”

“Very little, it seems.”

“Ah! The sun shines ever on the peaks, yet rarely in the depths. What does that tell you about seeking to attain the greatest heights?”

“You make it seem like something to be wary of,” said Brandyé.

“Perhaps it is.”

“Then why have such buildings been built?”

“What does your heart tell you?”

For a long while they walked in silence, as Brandyé thought. “I’d very much like to see the world from so high,” he said finally.

“So do many.”

“Yet some must be left in the shadows.”

The Sarâthen said nothing, and Brandyé’s mind returned to the many folk who were daily turned away from the great city. “Folk are jealous,” he said finally.

“Your insight serves you well,” the Sarâthen said.

“What is it that makes Viura Râ so great?” Brandyé asked. “What is there here, that there cannot be anywhere else?”

“Nothing,” said the Sarâthen. Then: “Yet perhaps, everything.”

Brandyé thought he was slowly becoming antagonized by this old man’s inability to answer anything simply. What do you mean?”

“Tell me,” said the old man, “what do you know of the world outside of Viura Râ?”

“As I said, I have no memory,” said Brandyé.

“Yet you know something, do you not?”

“I have been told there is the threat of war among many of the countries of Erâth.”

“What would make two people—or two countries—fight?”

Brandyé’s eyes widened slightly. “Jealousy?”

“It is often the case, no? And what comes with jealousy?”

“Anger,” said Brandyé. “Fear.”

“You would put the Sarâthen to shame.”

“What do people fear?”

“What indeed?”

But for a moment Brandyé had no answer, for he was lost in thought. So many familiar things were in the Sarâthen’s words, yet he could not place them to save his life. Then, as they continued to walk, they came to an open space, a square of sorts, and in the center of it rose high a great sculpture, many statues standing tall and proud, carved of black stone and casting their frozen gaze in all directions. As Brandyé stopped short and his breath caught in his throat, he counted seven of these great figures, and saw that they to a one had a hand held out, as if to indicate something of great importance lay in that direction.

“What is this?” he breathed.

“This is the center of Viura Râ,” the old man said. “Do you recognize it?”

And Brandyé did not speak, for though he knew he could not possibly have been here before, there was nonetheless something terribly familiar about these seven great statues. The longer he looked upon them, the more he came to know what he was looking at. “These are the seven powers of Erâth,” he said finally.

“Ah!” said the Sarâthen. “What do you know of the powers of Erâth?”

Brandyé pointed to one of the statues—a figure taller than all the others, and of a lighter stone than the rest. “Light,” he said. Then he indicated one standing beside it, shorter and darker, with features hidden by a deep hood. “Dark.” He pointed to a third, and a fourth. “Life, and Death.” He indicated one that seemed shorter and squatter than the others, and somehow more powerful. “Power.” Then to one that had the appearance of an old man. “Wisdom.” And then, finally, he indicated the last statue, which had all the appearance of a man, ordinary and humble—yet its features were entirely blank. “Eternity.”

“Very good,” said the Sarâthen, and there was almost a touch of awe in his voice. “What can you tell me about these statues?”

“It seems they represent the races of each power,” replied Brandyé. “I have seen Light and Death here, in Viura Râ. But …” and he looked about him, through the many people that still passed here and there. “Where is Life, and Darkness, and the others?”

“Strength, power,” said the Sarâthen, “the Portèn; you know this.”

“They are everywhere,” said Brandyé softly, and he was not sure even in himself where this answer came from.

“And wisdom?”

“In few places indeed.”

The Sarâthen smiled, and nodded gently. “Sometimes even among us, I wonder.”

“And Darkness?” Somehow, Brandyé found himself inexplicably focused on this particular power.

“You say you have not seen them.”

And Brandyé thought back to the clear blue skies, and the endless sun, and frowned. “They’ve been banished from Viura Râ,” he said. “Haven’t they?”

Once more, the old man said nothing, and waited.

“And Life?” Brandyé looked around him. “Where are the Mirèn?”

Still, he waited, and the truth suddenly dawned upon Brandyé. “They have left. They’re gone. But why?”

“You will learn, in time,” said the Sarâthen.

A tear came unbidden to Brandyé’s eye. “It makes me sad,” he said, and the Sarâthen lay a hand on his shoulder.

“So it does me.”

For an age the two stood and looked upon the statues as the city bustled around them, and finally it dawned on Brandyé that there was one about which they had not spoken. “What of Eternity?” he said. “Narâthae? I have never heard of a race of Eternity.”

Yet again, the old man raised his eyebrows. “Nor have any.”

“Yet …” Brandyé indicated the statue. “It must exist.”

“Must it?”

“The Ageless …” Brandyé muttered.

“What was that?”

Frowning in concentration, Brandyé allowed his mind to escape—there was a memory here, something returning to him, and he was desperate not to let it go. Flashes of images passed through his thoughts: Illuèn, forests and trees; and a name. And then it came to him.

“Do you know someone called Athalya?” he asked.

For the first time, the old man seemed taken aback. “How do you know her name?”

“I have a memory,” Brandyé said. “I’ve spoken with her, before.”

“She is Illuèn, and lives here in Viura Râ,” said the Sarâthen. “How curious.”

“The Ageless of Erâth,” Brandyé repeated. “We are—you, and I, and everyone—descended from them. There is an Ageless of Eternity.”

The Sarâthen closed his eyes. “So there is.”

“And so there must be a race of such, too. Who is it?”

“Who do you think?”

But Brandyé had no immediate answer. Instead, he looked once more to the towering buildings all around them. “Will you take me to the highest one?” he asked.

The old man smiled. “I wondered when you would ask. As it happens, therein dwells Athalya—and I suspect you may well wish to meet her.”

Indeed, Brandyé was eager to meet this person for whom he had a memory, even if it was of the vaguest kind, and so he followed the Sarâthen as he led him away from the seven great statues and once more through the streets and avenues of the great city. As they passed the many buildings and people, Brandyé noticed the odd black robed figure, and knew them as Namirèn. “How can there be Death here,” he asked, “when not all are dead?”

The Sarâthen smiled. “There is light here, yet not everywhere are there Illuèn. And even here in Viura Râ is there shadow and darkness, without the presence of the Duithèn. What does that tell you?”

“Death can come and go, without killing. But why?”

“There are few places in Erâth where the races of the world can freely mix without consequence,” said the Sarâthen. “Here, Death do not kill; the Illuèn bring no Light; the Duithèn no Darkness.”

“Then do the Sarâthen bring no wisdom?” asked Brandyé, half-afraid he might be insulting him.

The Sarâthen, however, only laughed. “Less than we might, I think sometimes. My—you have made me smile like I have not done for too long, Brandyé. Ah! We are here!”

They had been walking down a street that was lined by an immense wall of glass, and it occurred to Brandyé that in all the time he had spent so far in Viura Râ, he had not seen a door or entranceway to any of the buildings. Yet here, just where they had stopped, there was an opening, and through this they passed.

Despite the enormous scale of the building into which they had entered, the interior was tiny—a mere compartment, fit only to house a handful of folk at a time. Confused, Brandyé turned back to the entrance, only to find that the doorway had disappeared, replaced by a smooth and unbroken wall of glass. He was about to ask the Sarâthen where they were when quite suddenly the ground outside dropped sharply away from them, and in terror Brandyé backed away from the glass for fear of falling into the abyss that now yawned beneath them.

Only after a minute did it dawn upon Brandyé what had happened: the compartment into which they had entered was itself rising endlessly high above the ground, casting them skyward at a prodigious speed. Soon the figures moving about on the ground below were tiny specks, and then they could not be made out at all. The spires and rooftops around them passed onward and down, and Brandyé was overwhelmed by a breathless vertigo and clutched at the Sarâthen’s arm.

The Sarâthen, for his part, merely chuckled. “Never so high, hm?”

A flash of mountains and cloud passed through Brandyé’s mind, but he could only shake his head and mutter, “Not that I remember.”

Before long, it seemed, the tiny compartment in which they rose came to a gradual halt, and turning once more Brandyé saw that behind them yet another doorway had opened for them, and it was now into a new room that they passed. The space was large and round, and Brandyé saw that windows faced outward on all sides, so that indeed a view of what seemed to be the entirety of Erâth could be seen. Awestruck, he entered the room, and the door vanished behind them.

“Welcome to Vereth Hemèl,” said a voice from across the room, and looking Brandyé saw a woman robed in purest white approaching them. At a glance he knew this was one of the Illuèn, and there was something so utterly familiar about her face that he felt surely he must have seen her before. With this memory came suddenly a swift and deep sadness that he could not explain, and he knew this was Athalya.

“Hello,” he said awkwardly. “I am—”

“Brandyé,” she nodded, and he felt a peculiar chill. “You are the one the Sarâthen has spoken so much about.”

Brandyé looked at the old man, perplexed, and he chuckled again. “Did you not think I would talk about one who has been pestering the guards for a week straight?”

“But how—you knew my name before … I don’t understand!” Brandyé said, flustered.

“There are many mysteries in this world,” he said unhelpfully.

“I understand you are one of them,” said Athalya. “No memory of yourself, or of your past … and yet you journeyed far to meet with one of the Sarâthen. One must ask—what purpose does this all serve?”

“I don’t know!” exclaimed Brandyé.

Athalya favored Brandyé with a look that was oddly fond. “Perhaps it will soon be revealed. Would you like to admire the view?” She gestured to the window, and bade Brandyé follow her. He walked with her to the edge of the room, and the vertigo from their journey to the top of this tower returned. They were indeed at the top of the highest tower in Viura Râ, he could see, for not a single spire rose higher than they were at that moment. Far to the east he could see the inexplicable ending of the sea, the great cataract that offered no view beyond the ever-present white mist. To the south he could see, tiny and far below, the busy port and the many ships that passed here and there, now small as toys. And beyond that, and to the west, the endless ocean, fathomless in breadth and in depth, stunningly blue beneath azure skies.

“This is … astonishing,” he said at last. “Though I’m somewhat frightened to be so high.”

Athalya smiled. “One grows used to it. The sunset is a marvel to behold. Tell me—what is your memory of the sun?”

For a moment, Brandyé’s marvel faltered as he tried to recall the sun from his past, and found he could not. “I … I’m not sure,” he said, and frowned in concentration. “I have the oddest feeling that there was little sun at all in my past.”

Had he been paying attention, he would have seen the briefest of glances pass between Athalya and the Sarâthen. As it was, he noticed nothing until Athalya spoke again: “It is a pleasure to have you here. This will be your home, of course, for as long as you should choose to remain in Viura Râ. Are you hungry? Do you wish to sleep?”

Brandyé, who in fact had eaten nothing that day at all, could not deny his stomach’s rumbling. “Food would be welcome,” he said politely. “But I must ask—why are you treating me so kindly? What am I, that you should take me in like this?”

Athalya shrugged. “Never has someone made such a journey to speak with the Sarâthen, or myself,” she said. “And I suspect your journey has been much longer than you can recall at the moment. It is the least we can do.”

And so she brought Brandyé to a table, which was already laid out with the most succulent foods, from fruits and vegetables of many colors to ripe meats and fresh bread. With little ado he dug in, joined by the Sarâthen, and for a while he regaled them with tales of Yateley and Harrington and the sights he had seen since he had come to himself in the forests of Golgor. As they ate and spoke the sun passed slowly into the west, and it was dusk by the time Brandyé finally sat back, his belly sated and his stories spent.

“So,” he said mildly, for he had become quite comfortable in the presence of the old man and Athalya—almost, he thought, as though he knew them beyond their brief meeting so far, “What is it that you both do here in Viura Râ?”

For a moment there was silence, and it was Athalya who broke it. “Brandyé—it has been a pleasure to speak with you this afternoon, and I am glad to have made your acquaintance. You have already alluded to the mystery of your appearance, and it has surely not escaped you that it is hardly coincidence that you should have sought out Viura Râ, out of all the places in Erâth, as that place which might hold answers for you.

“I cannot say that I know where you have come from, and nor do I know where you might go from here. But I can say this: you have come very much at the turning of a great tide, and that also is hardly coincidence. You know of the war that is brewing between the countries of Erâth: Golgor, Cathaï, Thaeìn, Aélûr, and the others … here alone in Viura Râ, in the land of Oríthiae, is there still any semblance of peace.

“Amongst the Illuèn and the Sarâthen, we believe that this war is nearly inevitable: the men of Erâth have argued long over many petty things, and some few great things.”

Brandyé shook his head. “What would bring countries to war?”

“Mistrust,” said the Sarâthen. “The failing of life.”

“What do you mean?”

“You know already that the race of Life, the Mirèn, have left the shores of men, and the Duithèn, have been banished from Viura Râ,” said Athalya. “What you have perhaps not seen is the despair that is stealing the hearts of the smallest and greatest of men across the world. You are yet young, Brandyé, and life is surely long to you; but to the world of men, it is not long enough. For centuries now, the lives of men have grown ever shorter, and each generation has sought to place blame for their failings in this regard.”

“How could anyone blame anything, simply because their grandfathers lived longer than their fathers?”

“Did you not wonder at the statue of Eternity in the center of Viura Râ?” asked the Sarâthen.

“The one without a face,” said Brandyé, and the old man nodded.

“You spoke of an Ageless of Eternity, and how there must be a race of their provenance, did you not?”

Brandyé nodded slowly. “But … there is no such race. The Illuèn, the Duithèn, the Mirèn and Namirèn … all exist. I have seen them—I know them. But I have never come across a race that claims to be eternal.” Even with his failing memory, Brandyé somehow knew this to be true.

But when the Sarâthen spoke, his tone shook Brandyé’s confidence. “Have you not?”

“What race is there left in Erâth, that you know of?” Athalya asked. “What other manner of creature, other than the beasts?”

And it was then that it dawned on Brandyé, and he felt in this revelation something so deep, so powerful, that his skin chilled and a tear came to his eye. “Men,” he breathed. He looked to Athalya, and then to the Sarâthen. “You cannot mean that the men of Erâth believe they are meant to be eternal?”

“Many centuries ago this rumor grew and spread, until it became known as fact. Yet …”

“Yet men do not live forever,” said Brandyé. “It’s folly!”

“Who would you blame,” asked the old man, “if your very life was being cut short?”

“No one!” cried Brandyé. But when neither the Sarâthen nor Athalya spoke, he took a moment to think deeper. “The Namirèn,” he said. “They are the race of Death.”

“Yet it is not Death that we speak of,” said Athalya. “It is the failing of Life.”

“In the minds of men,” Brandyé muttered, and then with horror: “The Mirèn? You cannot …”

But the Sarâthen nodded, and Athalya said, “The race of men has grown to bitterly hate the Mirèn, for they believe they have been forsaken.”

“And what has happened to the Mirèn?”

“What indeed?” asked the Sarâthen. “Have you seen any in all your memory of these lands?”

Brandyé felt numb. “Where have they gone?”

“What Mirèn are left are almost exclusively found in the northern lands of Narün. They have been exiled there by men.”

Brandyé was disgusted, and wondered at the fallacies of his own race. “What can be done?”

“Too little, we fear,” said Athalya. “The balance of Erâth is overthrown.”

A shudder of recognition passed through Brandyé. “The Duithèn,” he said.

“Ever have they been greedy—jealous of Light,” said Athalya.

“They seek the downfall of the Mirèn,” breathed Brandyé. “With Life gone from Erâth …”

“Death and Darkness could prevail,” finished the Sarâthen.

And it was then that memories of gray and clouded skies, of undeserved death and of wanton misery, returned to Brandyé, and a tear came to his eye. “It will happen,” he said softly. “There is no stopping their influence.”

But the old man rested a hand on Brandyé’s shoulder, and for a long moment they looked out over the city and the waves that glinted in the sun, and it seemed so contradictory to their words that Brandyé was dumbfounded. How could a place of such Life and Light turn to Darkness?

“Even the Sarâthen cannot see the ends of the world,” said the old man finally. “And though you do not speak falsely, all hope is perhaps not yet gone. What reason is there for your presence here, now?”

“I can’t stop the downfall of the world!” exclaimed Brandyé.

“Time is short,” agreed Athalya, “but perhaps not lost. Even here in Viura Râ there is talk of war, and of weapons. The Namirèn would have us believe that the only way to stop death is with the threat of a worse death. In their despair, the men of Viura Râ are beginning to succumb. I fear even … even some of the Illuèn are soon to be persuaded of such a rash course.”

“What would you say,” asked the Sarâthen, “if the races of Light and Wisdom were to forge weapons of Darkness and Death?”

At first Brandyé did not understand his words, for they made no sense; and then they made all the sense in Erâth, and he whispered, “Violence … can only beget violence. Yet it will happen. Somehow I know this, unless …”

And then both Athalya and the Sarâthen turned their gazes upon him, and for a long moment waited for him to speak. His own gaze turned inward, and he ceased to see the wondrous view through the windows, failed to see the eyes of his companions, forgot even the room he was in. Never in the months he had been in these lands had he felt so powerless, so infuriated at his lack of memory. There was something here that he knew, if only he could remember what it was. Finally, he spoke. “I have seen the end of the world,” he said softly. “But I can’t remember anything of it. All I know is gray, and Darkness … the Duithèn will conquer the world. But …” and he looked up again at the Sarâthen and Athalya. “I know they can be stopped. They … they have been defeated before.”

Then his companions appeared very much confused, and Athalya said, “There has never been a threat of war like this before. Never before has any one power of Erâth needed to be stopped. What are your thoughts?”

And it was then that a memory returned to him, for the first time in many months, and it was true and clear in his mind. He saw an old man, somber yet kind, and himself as a child, and knew that this man was dear to him—perhaps the dearest of all people. And he knew he had been fighting, fighting for his life, and yet the old man was not pleased: “You were angry?”

“Yes,” Brandyé replied in his thoughts. “They were evil.”

“They were most certainly not evil,” said the old man. “You do not know evil.”

“Then they were … mean-hearted.”

“That is more than likely. Does it excuse violence?”

“No.”

“Why do men fight?”

Even in memory, Brandyé felt his shame. “Because they lack the words to speak.” And fast on the heels of his shame came and sudden and fierce anger. “But they were already violent! Speaking to them would have meant nothing!”

And the tone in the old man’s voice was sad, and yet somehow encouraging. “Did you attempt to talk to them?”

And in his memory, Brandyé knew he had not, and knew herein lay his failure that day. He looked to Athalya and the Sarâthen. “Who can we go to?” he asked. “Who can we speak to, to prevent this tide of violence?”

And then the old man smiled, and said, “We shall go to the rulers of the world, and we will speak to them.”

But Athalya cautioned: “It will remain to be seen if they will listen.”

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