Chapter Twenty-Two: A Lord’s Fall
Elỳn ushered Brandyé and the Hochträe into the inner courtyard, much to the guards’s displeasure, and the door was locked behind them. She led them to a dining hall under the great towers, and hot meat and fresh bread were brought to them swiftly. The Hochträe dug in with gusto, but Brandyé was too stunned to consider eating. What Elỳn had said—could it possibly be true?
Eight years … it was a phenomenal length of time, and even with the sharp memory of his travels across Erâth and the destruction of Viura Râ that were, thankfully, still with him, he could not account for such a gap in his memory. He did not see how she could be correct, yet he could not deny the vast changes in the lands and city around him. As he sat at the table, staring at the food piled high on his plate, Elỳn sat opposite, staring just as intently at him. Finally he looked up, and could think of but one thing to say: “Where’s Elven?”
His greatest fear was that, if eight years had truly passed, Elven would be dead, but Elỳn’s words reassured him. “He is well, and in the kingdom of Kiriün, to the west. He is … he is their king.”
Brandyé had been bracing himself for any news at all, but this brought a laugh of disbelief to his throat. “I’m sorry—what?”
“Brandyé,” said Elỳn, “so much has changed since you’ve been gone. I am not certain where even to begin.”
Brandyé looked up at her. “For what it’s worth, I do remember parting with Elven among the Hochträe. He left to return here—to Vira Weitor.”
“So he did,” murmured Elỳn. “He never made it, you know.”
“When you say ‘king’, do you mean it as some kind of title, a … a gesture of appreciation for something well done?”
Elỳn shook her head. “No—I mean he is their king. His wife is Gwendolyn, the queen. And he has a child, with Talya.”
“I think,” Brandyé said slowly, “we had better go back a bit. How did Elven, a boy of no inheritance from a lost land, become king of anywhere, let alone one of the most powerful kingdoms of Erâth?”
So Elỳn began to recount Elven’s tale, from his journey through the Reinkrag to his becoming a healer to the court of Kiriün, and his treason against the king with Gwendolyn. The telling of this tale went long into the night, and the Hochträe (whose presence Brandyé quickly forgot) fell fast asleep at the table, surrounded by fruits and bread. Brandyé listened in mounting shock and awe to hear of how independent and powerful Elven had become, and said not a word until Elỳn was finished, and dawn was nearly upon them.
“I would see him,” Brandyé said finally, when Elỳn’s words were spent and he had sat in silence for some time. “Is this possible?”
Elỳn pursed her lips. “With difficulty, perhaps. A ban on all travel is imposed throughout both kingdoms. It will not be easy, even for myself, to travel to Kiriün. If word was sent, however—perhaps Elven could make provisions. But please—tell me of your own journey. Where have you been for these eight long years?”
“To speak the truth, I don’t know,” Brandyé admitted. “I thought I did, but I can’t account for eight entire years. In fact, the more I think about it, the more I find I can’t account for where I was at all. It seemed so real at the time, but now … now I’m wondering how true any of it was. I witnessed the end of the world.”
“What do you mean?”
Brandyé sighed. “Kingdoms I’ve never heard of before, fighting a war I’ve never heard spoken of. It’s as though I was in another time and place. Do you know of a city called Viura Râ? Or a land called Golgor? And …” He paused, wondering if it would upset Elỳn. “Athalya was there.”
“Brandyé,” Elỳn said gently, “Athalya is dead. You know this as well as I.”
“But she wasn’t!” he insisted. “She was there, I’m certain of it. And others, too …”
“It was a dream, Brandyé—it must have been.”
“A dream of eight years? How is such a thing possible?”
“I don’t know.”
“Then isn’t it just as impossible that I truly was with Athalya, and witnessed a war that left all of Erâth in ruins?”
Elỳn reached a hand out to touch Brandyé’s elbow. “I cannot answer this for you, Brandyé. I believe that what you experienced is true—but how is beyond me.”
“As best as I can recall,” Brandyé said, “I was in the snows of the mountains north of the Hochträe … and then I was in a forest, in a land called Golgor. I met a man named Yateley. I voyaged to the greatest city I’ve ever seen, Elỳn—a place of towering spires of glass and steel. It was called Viura Râ—the Eternal City. I learned to speak the language of old! Ye theeta Erâtheet, Elỳn!”
“I have heard of this place, Viura Râ,” Elỳn said gently, “but it was destroyed before I came into the world. Only Athalya remembered it, and she rarely spoke of it.”
“I watched its destruction! I travelled the length and breadth of Erâth, and spoke with a great warlord of the west, but to no avail—I couldn’t stop the coming doom. The world burned, Elỳn—it burned before my eyes. And Paräth—it was within my grasp. And then … then it was gone.”
“Paräth—Namrâth—has been lost for centuries, Brandyé. How could you have come to see it? Do you know where it is now?”
Brandyé shook his head. “I don’t think I was here,” he said. “I don’t think I was in this … this time. The more I think of it, the more I believe I was before. Long before.”
“Why?” Elỳn asked.
But Brandyé had no answer, for he could not think of a reason himself. If all things had a purpose, he thought, he could not fathom one for his journey into the distant past of the world. And the world of the present had moved on without him, it seemed—far too fast for his liking. “What do we do now?” he asked finally.
Elỳn smiled. “For now, you sleep. Your companion has beat you to it, it seems,” she said, pointing to the unconscious Hochträe. “Tomorrow, I will bring you before the Greatlord. We will discuss the possibility of you traveling to Kiriün. I know how important it is for you to be reunited with Elven.”
Brandyé wanted to say that it was just as important to him that he be reunited with her, but the words died on his tongue; he was indeed keen to see his old friend again, and something stayed his affection for Elỳn—something told him that Elven would not be content. Instead, he allowed himself to be led to a bedchamber, and it was luscious and decadent, with a soft bed and feather pillows, and a window that looked out over the silent city. He took to the bed with utter exhaustion, and did not wake for a day.
Come the following morning, Elỳn kept true to her word, and had while he was sleeping arranged a meeting with the Greatlord Farathé. He was nervous to meet so important a figure, though in the back of his mind he knew that if Elven could occupy such a position in their neighboring kingdom, then surely this man would be no more imposing.
Elỳn led Brandyé up countless steps and through labyrinthine passageways, and eventually came before a great oak door somewhere in one of the highest towers of the city. He was fairly out of breath by the time they arrived, and he found himself longing for the wondrous and instant transportation of Viura Râ. “Wait here,” Elỳn advised him, and he took a seat on a cold bench that ran beneath the window. She disappeared through the doorway, and for several minutes he was left alone.
Eventually the door opened again, and guard stepped out into the corridor. “You may enter,” he spoke to Brandyé, and so Brandyé stood, and passed into the room before him. It was a large room, he saw, larger than he might have suspected from the tower in which they stood, and in one corner sat a grand throne, adorned in gold and jewels. There was no one upon it, however, and Brandyé’s eyes were drawn to the great table that stood in the center of the room, at which several men were standing, along with Elỳn. Each looked up as Brandyé entered, and the one in the middle, sporting a thick gray beard, spoke.
“Welcome,” he said, and his voice was sonorous. “You are a friend of Elỳn’s, I hear.”
Brandyé moved toward the table and nodded. “I am, your highness,” he replied. “My name is Brandyé.”
The greatlord looked upon him for a while before speaking again. “And I am the Greatlord Farathé. Elỳn tells me you have traveled through countless miles and years to be here.”
Brandyé blushed slightly. “I would say she exaggerates, your highness,” he said. “I seek only permission to travel to a friend.”
“And who might this friend be?” Farathé asked.
“His name is Elven,” Brandyé said. “He is—”
“King of Kiriün, I know,” interrupted the greatlord. “And he has failed to find a cure for the illness that has spread from his own kingdom.”
“I’m certain it’s not for lack of trying,” Brandyé said. “I know him—he would not give up on anything he set his mind to.”
“But has he set his mind to it?” Farathé mused aloud. “The question must be asked.”
As Brandyé considered a reply, he noticed one of the men beside Farathé, a tall, weatherbeaten knight bearing the crest of the fourth order of the dragon, lean in to the greatlord and whisper in his ear. The greatlord listened intently, and when the man was finished, looked again upon Brandyé. Brandyé’s eyes darted between the greatlord and the knight, and suddenly his heart sank, for he knew this man only too well, and knew he hated him bitterly.
“My council tells me you are a traitor to Erârün,” Farathé said. “He says he knows your face, and that you abandoned him in battle.”
Brandyé cast his mind back to what seemed like another life, and remembered well the great battle of the Rein, and how he had indeed fled the fighting, a wretched coward. His mind raced, thinking of possible defenses, but in the end he knew there was none, and settled for the truth. “He is right, your lordship,” Brandyé said finally. “I was young, and unused to great battles. I was frightened, and I fled.”
The greatlord narrowed his eyes for a moment. “You were a soldier of Erârün once, were you not?”
Brandyé nodded. “I was.”
“Then your duty was to fight.”
“Your highness,” said Elỳn suddenly, “we are speaking of events nearly ten years past. The man you see before you is not the man who fled then. Nor, strictly, is he of your kingdom. Like his friend, Elven, he comes from an isolated land far to the south.”
“This land,” said the greatlord, “this Consolation, seems to spawn a great deal of trouble. A soldier who will not fight, a farm boy who becomes a king … I suppose next you will say our enemy comes from this place, also.”
Brandyé shook his head. “There is no evil there. The folk of Consolation are kind, and defenseless.” But even as he said these words, his thoughts went to the Lord Garâth, and his son, Danâr. Was there truly no evil in Consolation?
Farathé stroked his beard. “You would have me pardon your crimes to this kingdom, so that you can journey to another. Why should I not simply imprison you?”
After so many trials and tests of his strength, over years of Darkness and abuse, Brandyé suddenly found himself with no resolve left. “I have no reason, your highness,” he said with a sigh. “Take me to your dungeon, if it is your will.”
The knight beside him began to move, but the greatlord spoke again. “It is not my will. My country has greater needs now, and I have no use for prisoners. Tell me, traveler: what have you seen of the Sleeping Death?”
“Sleeping Death?” Brandyé asked.
“The illness that is upon us,” Farathé elaborated. “The one that has taken the lives of thousands.”
“The reason your villages are quarantined,” Brandyé said with realization.
“Indeed,” Farathé said.
“It is widespread, as far as I can see,” Brandyé said. “I passed through several villages of Erârün on my travels here, and not one had been spared. Some are nothing but ghost towns, now.”
Farathé shook his head. “It is as bad as we thought. Is there nowhere safe from this disease?”
“I beg your pardon, your lordship,” said Brandyé, “but it seems even here in Vira Weitor the sickness is rampant. What is being done about it? How are you stopping its spread?”
“That information is not for your ears,” said the knight—who Brandyé now recognized clearly as an older, but just as grim, Tharom Hulòn. “But I will say this: your very presence jeopardizes every one of us.”
“I don’t have the sickness myself,” Brandyé pointed out. “From what I understand, I’d be dead already.”
“Perhaps you ought to be,” muttered Tharom.
But the greatlord held up a hand. “We will not bicker here. Brandyé, you may be useful to us. If Elven is indeed your friend, he may listen to you more than he will listen to us. We need his help: we need the help of Kiriün. Despite ages of Darkness and this new illness, they are nonetheless a hardier and more fruitful land than Erârün. We need their food, and their medicine. In return, we can offer defense against the forces from the north. So far, your friend has refused to listen to us.”
Brandyé shook his head. “That doesn’t sound like Elven. I’ve never known him to refuse help to anyone.”
“Nonetheless, it is true,” Farathé said. “I will grant you passage through our lands, on one condition: that you use your journey to speak with Elven, and convince him to reopen negotiations between our two countries.”
“I can certainly try,” Brandyé said.
After his council with the greatlord, Brandyé was ready to depart at once, but Elỳn said he should wait, and prepare. He would need provisions for the long road ahead, and a horse, if he wanted to arrive before the snows. In addition, he would need to make accommodations for the Hochträe that had come with him, for the poor man had little reckoning of the speech in Vira Weitor, and found himself with little to do.
In the end it was decided that they would leave inside the week, and for Brandyé that day could not come soon enough. In the meantime, he was given free reign of the upper levels of the city, but was forbidden from descending into the common streets, for fear of carrying the Sleeping Death back with him. There was a part of him that wondered how wise it had been to allow him entrance into the city at all, for was it not possible that he could pass on the disease, even if he could not contract it?
He thus spent his time wandering the palace, and returned to the great library that he had once spent much time in. To his delight, Esther the librarian was there still, and it gladdened his heart to see that something of his old memory was still alive. He spent many hours reading, and many more talking with her, and from her learned of the fate of the country in more detail than the greatlord would have ever let on. Her own family, it seemed, had not been spared, and to his dismay he learned of the passing of her son and grandson, who had lived in the streets below. As a scholar, she had the privilege of living among the higher castes, and she told him through tears of the day when she was told she could no longer visit her family.
“They keep us locked up in here,” she said, “whether we want it or not. Food is delivered each week, and kept a week in isolation before we can eat it. I don’t know what’ll happen if the food stops. I think I’d rather die in my sleep than starve to death.”
Brandyé thought she was not wrong in this, and had to admit that, as terrifying as the Sleeping Death was, it certainly could have been more gruesome. It seemed that its victims were spared a great deal of pain, and for this he was thankful. He thought back to Shaera, and their conversation in the bowels of Marla’s cargo ship, and wondered if Death were busy at work now. He wondered if this disease was of their doing, or that of Darkness. “You know,” he said to her, “Death is not always an evil thing. Sometimes they spare us pain.”
But Esther shook her head sadly. “They may spare the dead pain, and perhaps I ought to be thankful; but they did not spare me pain, and there is no curse in any tongue I know that could show my hate for them right now.”
In the end Brandyé could but commiserate, and left Esther to her grieving. He sometimes took the Hochträe, whose name was Suáma, with him about the city, and Suáma was astonished at the mass of writings in the library. “I learn to read!” he exclaimed excitedly when Brandyé showed him a scroll, and Brandyé thought this was a good thing: it would help pass the time, and if there was a Hochträe who could speak and understand the language of Vira Weitor, it might one day help in negotiating help from the mountain people.
It was not long, however, before things began to turn for the worse. In the midst of his excitement and astonishment at the great city of Vira Weitor, Suáma began to grow ill. At first Brandyé hardly noticed, for it was only the odd cough here and there, but by the third day the Hochträe was feverish too, and Brandyé grew concerned. The Hochträe had made it so far without any sign of illness, he knew, but no one seemed to be able to tell him just how long it took for the Sleeping Death to manifest itself. He also could not discount that possibility that it was nothing more than a cold, and so he kept a closer eye on Suáma from then on.
When on the fifth day Suáma could not get out of bed, however, Brandyé knew it was no mere flu, and sought out Elỳn for advice. “I wish Elven was here,” he said to her. “I am no healer, but this doesn’t look good for Suáma.”
Brandyé had found Elỳn in a passageway of the great palace, and she took his arm and led him swiftly into an empty room beside them. She shut the door behind them, and when she turned to face him, he was caught off-guard but the severity of her look. “I am sorry for your friend,” she said, “I truly am. I think you know what it is: he will not live long.” She lowered her voice to a whisper. “But he is not the only one. I have just come from the greatlord’s apartments, and he is taken ill as well. He insists it is only seasonal, but the symptoms are too close. He is dying, Brandyé.”
For a moment, Brandyé was saddened to hear that yet another man of Erâth was leaving the world. Then the implication of what Elỳn had just told him truly dawned on him, and he looked upon her with wide eyes. “He’s the greatlord!” he exclaimed. “He—he can’t die!”
“Hush!” Elỳn cautioned him. “He can, and I am afraid he will. However, my concern goes beyond his well-being: with Farathé dead, the rule of Erârün will pass to another.”
“Who?” asked Brandyé in a softer tone. “Does Farathé have any family? A son, or daughter?”
“He does not,” Elỳn said grimly. “There is no direct successor to his line.”
Brandyé frowned. “Then who will rule Erârün in his stead?”
“Initially, the job will pass to his councilors and aides. They will transition to a permanent figure, who will come from amongst them.”
“How do they decide?”
“It will be put to a vote,” Elỳn said, “amongst the lords of Vira Weitor. They will choose the person they deem most suited to replace Farathé.”
“Would it not be better to put such a vote to the people?” Brandyé asked. “Surely, they have a right to decide who would rule them—”
“The people are on the verge of anarchy,” Elỳn interrupted. “You have seen the country! They are dying, and they feel the greatlord has no care for them. They would choose no one.”
“Who are the candidates?” Brandyé asked.
“Officially, there are none. There cannot be until the greatlord dies, or willfully gives up his lordship. Knowing Farathé, he will remain stubborn to the end: he will die first.”
Elỳn glanced away from him for a moment. “There are several,” she said. “There is Farathé’s aide-in-waiting, a man named Golinàr. But he is weak-minded, and has only ever done Farathé’s bidding. He cannot think for himself.”
“Who else?” Brandyé asked.
“Lord Heath is another possibility,” she said. “He is from a ruling family who have lived in Vira Weitor for generations, and he is greatly admired by the nobility. But I doubt he would have the people’s greater interests in mind; his ilk care only for themselves.”
“I’m not encouraged so far,” Brandyé said.
“You may be less so with the next possibility,” said Elỳn.
“There is one person,” she said, “who is an unlikely choice. He is clever and worldly, though he carries little love for the ruling classes. He has served with and for the people of Erârün his entire life, and would take their plight into the consideration of his every decision. But he is bitter, and, I fear, filled with Darkness. He has no care for Elven … or for you.”
“Surely not …” Brandyé uttered.
But Elỳn nodded. “Tharom Hulòn is, unfortunately, the best candidate I know. He will care for the folk of Erârün. But he is prideful, and I fear he will not further the relations Farathé has tried to make with Kiriün. His rule may bring about the fall of the kingdom of Erârün itself.”
“Then let us hope he is not chosen,” Brandyé said.
“The others are worse.”
“We should leave now,” Brandyé said. “Quickly, before Farathé dies and Tharom can stop us. We can tell Elven that Erârün will help, if he agrees to return the aid.”
“I cannot leave Farathé in such a condition,” she said sadly. “I may at least be able to oversee a peaceful transition should the greatlord indeed die.”
“And what if Tharom is decided upon to be the new greatlord?” Brandyé pointed out. “He will send us both to the dungeons!”
“We will leave,” she said, “and flee before that happens. But please—be patient a while longer. We will see Elven soon enough.”
So Brandyé retreated to his stateroom, and for the rest of that day he contemplated what was to come. If the Lord Farathé died, rule would pass to one of several people, each of whom was worse than the last. The fate of Erârün, it seemed, now lay in the hands of incompetence, selfishness or bitter hate. And as distasteful as each of these choices were, the longer Brandyé thought about it, the more he realized that what Elỳn had said was true: Tharom was in fact the best person to rule Erârün, for he indeed cared about the wider folk of the country. He had seen this firsthand in the fields of the Rein, and knew that Tharom would not shy away from defending the kingdom of Erârün.
But Darkness was already encroaching deep into their lands, and to give lordship of the country over to one so given to Darkness already was a terrible, dangerous game: what if, instead of defending against the armies of Darkness, Tharom joined with them instead, allying himself against the remaining free peoples of Erâth? What if Tharom launched an attack against Elven, and Kiriün?
Brandyé knew that Tharom was a more complex man than he often gave him credit for; he had shown compassion and tenderness to the wounded in the Rein, and ruthless brutality against his enemies. He wondered about Tharom’s past, and why he had been sent from Vira Weitor to the south in the first place. He also wondered how he had managed to redeem himself, and rise to such a position of influence. Surely, he thought, Farathé knew about Tharom’s past transgressions, whatever they might be. And if so, he nonetheless trusted him as a confidant and advisor. What did that say about the man?
And ultimately, what if Tharom refused to accept lordship? He had never thought of the knight as someone given to such things, despite his loyalty to the country and his abilities as a commander of soldiers. What if, after all, rule was handed to a lesser person?
When it was quite late and Brandyé could bear no more of these thoughts, he left his room to check on Suáma. He had not heard from him all day, although their rooms were adjacent, and he was fearful of the worst. He knocked to no answer, and so pushed gently upon Suáma’s door, finding it open and unlocked. Gently, he stepped in.
The room was dark, the candles having long guttered out, and he took a torch from the passageway with him. In the utter silence, the sound his his heart in his ears was loud. The torch cast eerie shadows across the room, and he approached the bed slowly, looking for signs of life.
There were none. Suáma’s face was pale and lifeless, his body under several blankets, and when he whispered his name there was no answer. Taking a deep breath, Brandyé leaned forward to touch Suáma’s face, and it was frigid. He shivered. He let his fingers find their way beneath Suáma’s jaw, and try as he might, he could find no pulse. The man was dead.
Brandyé shut his eyes, a single tear leaving a wet trail down his cheek. This man had deserved better, he thought. Had he simply stayed with his own, safe in the Hochträe’s villages, he would still be alive. Brandyé wondered what had become of the other Hochträe he had traveled with. Had they managed to resuscitate the desolate town of Wutherford, or had they in turn succumbed to this devastating sickness?
Quietly, Brandyé left the room, returned the torch to its bracket on the wall, and looked up and down the corridor, wondering where he might find someone he could speak to about the poor man’s demise. His body would need to be buried, or cremated, he supposed; he did not know who in the palace was responsible for such things. Perhaps Elỳn might know, he thought, and so he went once more to seek her out.
Search as he might, though, he could not find her, and so in the end he retired to his own chambers, the deep night now upon him. There was little he could do now, he supposed, and felt powerless. He had come so far, he thought, and been through so much—and now, he could not even shape his own fate. He wanted desperately to take a horse and leave, now, but knew that Elỳn would fear for him. He could not go without her.
Eventually he must have passed into sleep, for the next thing he knew was being awoken by a dull, repeated tapping sound. At first he was disoriented, and thought perhaps water was dripping, but as he came to his senses he recognized the sound as someone knocking at his door. Rising from the bed he wrapped his robes around him, and opened it. Before him stood Elỳn, a deep look of despair on her face, telling him all he needed to know. “Is it him?”
She took a step forward into his room, and he shut the door behind her. “I do not know yet,” she said. “The greatlord passed in the night. I have informed the council, and they are discussing it as we speak.”
“Shouldn’t you be there with them?” he asked.
“They asked me to leave,” she said.
“But you could be of help,” he protested.
“If I am honest with you, Brandyé, it was only the Lord Farathé who was willing to hear me out. His aides and councilors do not trust me, nor have they ever.”
“They’ll still let you stay here, won’t they?” She looked at him blankly. “They can’t just imprison you, surely?”
She shook her head. “I doubt it, but I do not know for certain. The laws of Erârün will not lightly be overturned, but there are no laws that govern the treatment of a Illuèn. To them, I am an outsider—a foreigner.”
“What about myself?” he asked.
“We can only wait and see,” she said.
“No!” he cried. “We should go—now! We must flee while we still can.”
“If the guards see us leaving, they will try to stop us,” she said. “They will not care who we are—I would not have us die at their hands for no reason.” She smiled. “Besides, we do not know that the worst is to come.”
But Brandyé could not rest so easily, and spent the rest of that night in an anxious sweat, splitting his time between nervous conversation with Elỳn and endless pacing back and forth in the room, wondering when the guards would come to take them away. Eventually the day began to lighten outside, and when finally a knock came at the door he nearly jumped off the ground, so startled was he. Elỳn took it upon herself to open the door, and indeed there stood two guards outside, swords at their waists. However, they did not burst in upon them, nor did they draw their blades, and Brandyé saw that for the moment, at least, they were still to be treated as guests of the kingdom. “You will come with us,” one of them said, and so Brandyé followed Elỳn out of the room and into the corridor.
Up and up they were led, until they came to the throne room where Brandyé had met Farathé only a few days before. It was difficult for Brandyé to grasp that the man he had spoken with, so full of life, now lay lifeless somewhere in this palace. Instead of Farathé, the council of Vira Weitor was assembled there, and in their center was Tharom Hulòn. Tharom’s face was impassive, and Brandyé could not read the thoughts behind his tired-looking eyes.
It was not Tharom who spoke first, but one of the councilors to his right. “You may be aware by now that the Greatlord Farathé has passed from this world,” he began, and Brandyé thought this an odd statement—had Elỳn not been the one to tell them of his death? “It is with a heavy heart that his rule must now pass to one of us.”
“Is there to be a period of grieving?” Brandyé asked; to him, this seemed unsettlingly soon after the greatlord’s death.
The councilor carried on as though he had not spoken. “While we do not have decision on who that will be at this moment, it has occurred to us as the ruling council of Erârün that it is no coincidence that, within days of your arrival, Brandyé Dui-Erâth, the greatlord should fall. We understand your companion is dead, also. What have you to say of this?”
“Say nothing,” Elỳn whispered furtively, but Brandyé was shocked. Were they truly trying to blame the greatlord’s death on him?
“My companion, Suáma, is dead, yes. He has succumbed to what you call the Sleeping Death. I understand he is not the first in this kingdom.”
“What Brandyé is trying to say,” cut in Elỳn, “is that there have been hundreds of deaths from this terrible illness; surely there cannot be a connection between him and the greatlord’s death.”
“Nonetheless,” the councilor continued, “it is the will of this council that Brandyé Dui-Erâth be imprisoned for treason against Erârün, and for suspicion in the death of the Greatlord Farathé. Should his innocence be proven, he will be released; until then, he will remain in the dungeons of Vira Weitor.”
“The greatlord himself said that he didn’t care about past crimes!” Brandyé protested.
“The greatlord is dead,” said Tharom softly. “His will no longer governs this country.”
“Your laws are still law,” Brandyé said.
“Those laws state execution for treason.”
“Let us leave,” said Elỳn. “You do not need to imprison him—I will take him far from this kingdom, and you will never hear of him again.”
Tharom shifted his gaze to Elỳn. “Any suspected of aiding a traitor will be imprisoned, also,” he said, and there was a dangerous edge to his voice. Brandyé noticed several of the guards in the room had moved in closer to them.
Elỳn returned his gaze with a fixed determination. “Perhaps you did not hear me,” she said. “I will take him far from this kingdom.”
“Then you share his fate.” Tharom motioned suddenly to the guards, who in the blink of an eye had drawn their swords.
As fast as they were—and to Brandyé’s eyes he had hardly seen them move at all—Elỳn was faster. Before the guards had taken more than a step toward them she had drawn from her robes a shining white sword, swept it across all of them, and put herself between them and Brandyé. “Take him if you dare,” she uttered. The guards, taken aback at her swiftness, hesitated.
“Take them both!” cried the councilor, but the guards were wary; they had never seen an Illuèn fight before, and did not know what to expect.
“I do not wish to harm you,” Elỳn said to them grimly, “but if you move against him I will cut you down.” Then to Brandyé, she said in a lower voice, “Do you have your sword?”
In fact, Brandyé had armed himself with both Fahnat-om and his crossbow, but had unto that point completely forgotten them. In a heartbeat, he drew forth his blade, heart pounding in his head. He could scarcely believe that it had come to this. “Are we really going to fight them?” he whispered back.
“Not if we can help it,” she said. “Let us pass, and we will do no violence upon you.”
But the guards had by now moved to encircle them, and the door to the corridor beyond was now blocked. The guards moved forward. In desperation, Brandyé turned to face them, brandishing his blade, but the guards were not intimidated by him. “Get back!” he cried, and they did not move. He took a step forward, and the guard nearest him began to raise his sword.
Almost before Brandyé could register what had happened, the guard stepped back again, suddenly screaming in shock. His blade clattered to the floor, several fingers still clutching it. Elỳn’s blade continued through the air and came to rest at the throat of the second guard. “Move.”
The second guard seemed almost unaware of what had just happened. He looked briefly to the fallen guard, and back to Elỳn, before dropping his own sword and taking a step back. Elỳn grasped Brandyé’s cloak and pulled hard, propelling him through the doorway and into the hall beyond. Brandyé heard a whisper and a soft grunt from Elỳn, but had no time to look back for she was pushing him forward down the passageway, down the stairs, and into the dismal dawn. “Keep going!” she cried.
In the open air, there was little commotion, and Brandyé was struck by the stark contrast to the chaos they had just left behind. He wondered if they would manage to escape entirely, when ringing out clear above them came the sound of many bells, deep and sonorous. Brandyé had never heard such a sound in Vira Weitor before, and could only imagine it signaled to the guards that they were fleeing. He doubted that their capture was now the goal.
Elỳn led him onward through the cobbled streets until eventually they came upon a stable where there rested many of the nobility’s horses. “Here,” she gasped, handing him a bridle, “we must ride—it is the only way we will outdistance them.” Brandyé took the saddle and was about to turn to find a steed when he noticed Elỳn was stooped over, back hunched.
“Are you all right?” he asked. She waved him on, but did not speak. It was then that he noticed the silver stains on her white robes, and remembered in swift horror the color of Illuèn blood. “Elỳn?”
“I’m fine,” she panted, but Brandyé could see she could hardly stand. He dropped the saddle and grasped her waist, and in a moment she collapsed upon him. He gently set her down beside him, surprised at how little she weighed. As he did, he saw the blade protruding from between her shoulders.
“Elỳn!” he cried. “You’re hurt!”
“It is strange,” she murmured. “I do not feel any pain.”
“What do I do?” he said frantically, wishing desperately that Elven were here. “Should I remove it?”
“How deep is the wound?” she asked.
He shook his head in panic. “I don’t know! How can I tell?”
“How long is the handle?”
He stared at it, and in his mind it looked like the hilt of a sword. He reached toward it, resting his hand against the handle. “As long as my finger,” he said finally.
Elỳn nodded gently. “It is a dirk,” she said, “not long. Good for throwing. Take it out.”
“Are you certain?”
“There will be quite a bit of blood; you must move quickly once it is out.”
“Quickly to do what?”
“Brandyé,” Elỳn said softly, “I do not have much time here. Think of Elven—what would he do?”
Brandyé took a deep breath, and shut his eyes. He knew she was right—he could not afford to panic. What would Elven do? He would need to stop the bleeding, he knew, but the wound was in the middle of her back; he could not easily bind it. He pictured Elven tending to her, trying to imagine what his friend would do. “Okay,” he said finally. “I’m ready.”
“Go,” Elỳn said. He delicately grasped the blade’s handle, and in a swift motion withdrew it from her back. At once, silver blood began to pour from the wound, running down her pale skin and staining her robes. He quickly ripped a length from his own cloak, and placed it against the wound. He swiftly felt the warmth of her blood on his fingers.
“This might hurt,” he said, and before she could answer, he pressed the shred of cloak deep into the wound, choking back bile as his finger passed deep into her body. He pushed as much fabric as he could, and when he could push no more, he took another strip of cloth and tied it tight around her chest, so that it held the first piece in place. He tore her tunic open at the wound, wiping away the blood that had gathered, and for a long moment, waited to see more spill forth. After a minute, it became apparent that nothing more was coming, and he sat back with a deep sigh of relief.
“Thank you,” she said. “I will heal swiftly; this is hardly the worst wound I’ve ever had. Saddle the horse.”
In his panic to heal Elỳn, Brandyé had almost forgotten where there were. Miraculously, no one had come upon them yet, and he quickly set himself to harnessing the largest horse he could find. He knew that Elỳn would not be able to ride herself, and when the horse was ready he helped her upon it, before taking to the saddle himself. “Where are we going?” he asked.
“South,” she said. “We must return to my people. The country of Erârün is no longer safe for us.”
Brandyé nodded, and spurred the horse forward. It sprang into motion, clopping its way out of the stables, and soon they were upon the gate to the inner city. It was shut against them, and Brandyé worried what might be awaiting on the other side, but to his astonishment it pushed upon easily, and soon they were riding through the streets of Vira Weitor, and before long had passed the outer fields, and were galloping away from the great wall that surrounded the city. In the distance he heard the call of trumpets, and wondered if they would give chase. He realized he did not care—the kingdom of Erârün could rot for all he was concerned. His only thought was to return Elỳn to the Illuèn island in the Trestaé so that she might be healed. Even the wish to see Elven was subdued under this desire, and so they rode swiftly onward, away from Vira Weitor and away from the great plague that had taken hold of the greatest city in Thaeìn.