Brandyé Dui-Erâth was born under a low red moon to awful circumstances. Mere moments after his birth, the house in which he was born was engulfed in flame and burned to the ground around him. The men and women of the village flocked to the scene and looked on helplessly, knowing with sadness that the family who lived there had perished.
They watched for hours until the flames died and the beams smoldered, but a shocking discovery awaited them amid the ashes and embers that gray morning. In the center of the ruined home lay a tiny child, seemingly untouched by the flames—alone, quiet, and peering curiously at the sky and the men who towered above him. Whether he understood yet what he saw around him and that his parents were dead, they did not know, but that the child had been unaffected by the terrible flames unsettled them greatly.
They were also at a loss to explain why only the house in which they dwelled had burned; it was a dry season, and by all accounts the barn, only a few paces away, should certainly have caught the flame and burned down around the livestock it sheltered. But the barn was unharmed, and indeed the animals were entirely undisturbed; when a nearby herder came to take ownership of the cattle, he found them merely anxious to be milked, and they followed him happily down the road to his own pastures.
Word spread quickly that a child had been born to flame, and when the people recalled that the sky had been black and the moon red—a thing that was unheard of as far back as any could remember—they became afraid and saw the child’s birth as an ill omen. Admittedly they knew not what of, but nonetheless none were willing to take on the care of the child, until finally in exasperation a widowed seamstress brought him to her house and did little more than feed him and keep him warm until someone else could come to take him off her hands.
The child’s parents had not been particularly well-known in the village and surrounding lands, being little more than cattle farmers who had tended to keep to themselves. Most people knew them only as the Dearsays and interacted with them only on weekends at the market, where they had run a small stall selling milk and eggs. As such, it was some time before it was discovered that the boy did have a single living relative: a grandfather, who lived in another town some thirty miles away. This grandfather was greatly saddened to learn that his daughter had perished, but he loved the child the moment he saw her gray eyes peering wonderingly at him from the tiny boy’s face, and so he took the child home to raise as his own.
The grandfather, whose name was Reuel Tolkaï, was nearly as unsettling to the people of these villages as was Brandyé, for in his youth he had actually left Consolation (something that had not happened in memorable time) and returned with a wife. This was particularly upsetting to the villagers, as it was generally believed that there were no people living beyond the hills and mountains that surrounded the lands of Consolation, and they were at a loss to explain her at all. His tales of kingdoms and lands beyond their borders were unfathomable, and ultimately dismissed as the ravings of a lunatic.
Still, Reuel was far more knowledgeable than his neighbors and knew more tales of lore and ancient history than anyone else they knew, so despite their misgivings, people would listen to him and found great entertainment at hearing his tales, told often over too many pints of ale in the local tavern, the Burrow Wayde. It was from this rich history that he drew his grandson’s unusual name; while most of the children of Consolation had entirely ordinary names such as Arthur or Tom or Théar, he believed his grandson would one day become a great man, and would thus require a name with a deeper meaning. In the ancient days, he knew, it would not have been unusual for a child to be named for the circumstances in which he or she was born, and so he named him Brandyé Dui-Erâth. Since none of the folk of Consolation knew the language this name came from, none knew its true meaning: Born from Fire into the Darkness of the World.
As Brandyé grew older and met the other children who lived in his village, he found they were confused by his odd name. He spent many hours trying to explain to them the correct pronunciation (Bran-Diyay Do-ee Ereh-th), but ultimately the other children could not wrap their tongues around this difficult name and simply called him Brand or Bray or just B. They would tease him about it, saying that his name was not a proper one, and he therefore was not a proper boy. They would shout and call him Brandy-Breath, but Brandyé did not mind; he of course knew his own name, and felt that if no one else could speak it, this made it a secret, and a secret name was something powerful indeed.
Brandyé grew up in Reuel’s home, a small dwelling on the outskirts of the town of Burrowdown. It stood alone at the top of a low hill, overlooking the village to the south and wide stretches of rolling hill and moorland to the north. Beyond this, lines of trees grew tall and sheltered the foothills of the Trestaé Mountains. As he grew, Brandyé would often play for hours among the stone and the heather, imagining vividly the wonderful worlds of his grandfather’s tales.
The house itself was small, with two floors, the lower wider than the upper, and a slate roof. The walls were an odd combination of rough stone blocks and aging timber, and in many places looked as though they ought not to hold their own weight; nonetheless, despite weathering blustering storms and the piercing winter winds, they still stood. The squat chimney stood out from the roof at the back of the house and was, of course, crooked. A thick cord stretched tight from the peak of the roof around the chimney, and it appeared as though it were actually holding the chimney back from falling entirely off the roof.
Of the house’s many peculiarities, one stood out above all others, and this was its odd round windows. Every window in the house was a perfect circle, with equally circular gray shutters that could be drawn tight in poor weather. The windows were the best-crafted parts of the house; everything else, from the walls to the ceilings (high, to accommodate Reuel’s great height), and even the lantern brackets, no two of which were at the same height, felt as though they had been made by someone who had made it up as he went along. This, of course, was exactly how Reuel had made it when he had built it by hand over thirty years previously for himself and his wife.
Brandyé, of course, did not see the house as the poor shack that the villagers shook their heads at, because it was his home and because his grandfather had built it. He particularly loved the windows, and when he was very small, he would hide beneath the curved frames and peer out at the world. He loved the feeling of being secret, his eyes just peeping above the sill; he could spy on the finches and the marmots, and the rare passersby on their way to the village below. At night, the village lanterns made fascinating patterns in the blackness, and when the sun set in the west and cast sideways shadows over the brilliant heather, Brandyé understood why his grandfather had chosen to build his house in this spot. The two largest windows, over six feet high, faced out of the parlor to the north and gave the house the appearance of having great eyes, watching always to the moors and the mountains beyond.
Inside, the house felt small and comfortable, and was filled with furniture that was as oddly shaped as the outside. Downstairs was a kitchen with a large iron stove that kept the whole downstairs warm, even if the fire in the adjoining parlor was not lit (though it usually was). A crazy tangle of pipes led away from the stove along the walls and disappeared into the ceiling, and it was these, his grandfather taught him, that kept his own room warm upstairs, for there was no fireplace there. The parlor was comparatively large and housed several overstuffed and soothing chairs around a large stone hearth, as well as a heavy oak table that Brandyé and Reuel dined at each night; they would cover it with a tablecloth on the few occasions when they had visitors. On cold days it was a joy to stand in front of the great windows and watch the mists roll over the moors as rain pattered the glass, the warmth of a roaring fire filling the room.
Reuel slept in a small room off the side of the parlor; it was almost entirely filled with a very wide bed. It was the only room in the house that was not heated in any way, and Brandyé often wondered how his grandfather could sleep through the deep cold of winter, but he said that it kept him healthy, and since throughout most of his childhood Reuel never seemed to become ill, Brandyé assumed it must be true.
Brandyé slept upstairs in a room to himself. It was tiny, but still somehow managed to hold a bed that seemed always just a little too short, and a small desk by the window. Reuel felt strongly about his grandson having somewhere to learn to write, and although Brandyé rarely saw his grandfather with either pen or paper himself, he nonetheless spent long hours slowly and carefully tracing flowing curves and lines, often long into the night when the moon was high and the candles burned low, and learned a flowing script that gave him a sense of age and of beauty.
Upstairs there was also another room, whose door was shut and closed to Brandyé. As early as he could remember, his grandfather had said to him, “Son,”—for he called him son—“I have raised you as my own child, and this house is yours, now and when I am gone. But you must promise me one thing: you may not enter the room upstairs while I live here still.”
“Why, Grandfather?” Brandyé had asked, but his grandfather would say no more, and as Reuel was never so closed on almost any other subject, Brandyé did not ask him again. Still, he was nonetheless intrigued, and spent many hours wondering and imagining what might be in that room. Most of what his young mind could picture involved adventure, and he began to think perhaps his grandfather was secretly a great soldier and were he to venture into that room, he would find racks of swords and shields, and fierce helms that would terrify any opponent.
Brandyé’s imagination in general was a healthy one, and Reuel did all he could to foster it, for he knew it was a rare and precious thing. The people of Consolation as a rule did not imagine much at all, and tended to their own as they had done as long as they all could remember. They were perturbed to see a young boy so frightfully curious and muttered among themselves that a boy who asked so many questions could not be natural. “What more d’you expect from a boy like that?” they said. “Born without parents in a burnin’ house … small wonder he ain’t right.”
When Brandyé heard these whispers, he brought them to his grandfather, and so discovered the one other subject on which his grandfather had little to say.
“Your parents died the night you were born,” he told Brandyé. “There was no reason, and perhaps there will never be one.”
A child still, Brandyé could not understand that there were some things that were too painful for even a grown man to bear, and he was hurt that his grandfather would not tell him about his parents’ death. He did not love his grandfather any the less for it, but it left him with an unease that stayed with him throughout his youth.
As Brandyé grew older, he became familiar with the surrounding country. To the north was only empty moor; its hills rolled on for many miles in all directions, and few people ever ventured there, save the farmers whose sheep roamed the countryside freely. To the south, half a mile or so down a steep dirt track, was the village of Burrowdown. It was so called because it was built by the waters of the River Burrow, which flowed from the east, and was one of the farthest downstream before the river bent south and merged with the Tuiraeth and entered the gorges and cliffs of the Perneck, and was lost to Consolation. Some forty miles or so upstream from Burrowdown was Burrowai, which meant Burrow Up.
Burrowdown was a large village, though by no means the largest in the lands. Perhaps some forty or fifty families lived in the village proper, with dozens more in the outlands to the south and east. The largest and most influential of these families were the Hirvets, a name that always made Brandyé laugh, for his grandfather had once told him that in the language of the Ancients, this meant large head (or as Brandyé preferred to think, fathead). They were one of the oldest families in the area, and in some distant time had once farmed the land and built a small community for their laborers. At least a few of their ancestors had been clever and discovered that if they built homes for farmers (or rather, had others build them), the farmers would repay them with a part of their harvest each year. This allowed them to do less and less work themselves, while their riches grew more and more. It was in this way that the village of Burrowdown came to be, and in that day, the Hirvets owned almost half of the homes in the village and did no work at all themselves.
Though the village stood lower than the moors and hills on which Reuel Tolkaï’s house was built, it nonetheless spread across gently rolling ground, and so was not built to any particular order but instead had houses and buildings that were mostly scattered around, with foot-worn paths leading here and there among them. Only two proper roads, as such, passed through the town; one led east along the river toward Burrowai and beyond, and also followed the river west for some miles, where it led to the village of Farther, hidden deep in the Further Long-Woods. The other road led only south, toward the central lands of Consolation, where there were other towns, many forests, and of course the capital, Daevàr’s Hut. These two thoroughfares met in the center of the village, at a great stone bridge that crossed the River Burrow.
It was by this bridge that the Burrow Wayde Inn stood, and while it offered rest for travelers on those rare occasions when the town had visitors, it more often offered warm food and strong ale to the villagers themselves. Reuel could be found at the Burrow Wayde each weekend, and when Brandyé was older, his grandfather would bring him as well. Brandyé found it curious that his grandfather rarely interacted with the other patrons. Occasionally he would be drunkenly called upon for “another fantasy tale” and he would readily oblige, but otherwise he remained quiet in a corner, drank exactly three pints of ale over three hours, and watched the others in the inn thoughtfully as they drank and talked, drank and argued, and drank and fought. Eventually Mrs. Heath, the owner, would boot them all out, cursing them for being such ruffians, and welcome them back happily the next evening. The longer Brandyé sat with his grandfather, the more perplexed he became, until one day he asked Reuel why he visited the inn each weekend, even in the heart of winter.
“I like to watch,” Reuel had replied.
“Why don’t you talk to anyone?”
“Because they are mostly fools,” Reuel had said, not unkindly.
“Then why watch them at all?”
His grandfather had smiled, stroked his thick gray beard, and said, “Because you can learn more from a drunken fool than from a sober wise man.”
Brandyé thought this statement funny when he was young, and immensely wise when he was older.
There were many things to entertain a young boy in Burrowdown, and Brandyé would often go down to the village and wander the paths and streets, passing from Mr. Carle’s sweet shop to Gloria Dael’s dairy, where he would often get a cup of fresh, warm milk. The riverbank offered stone skipping, duck feeding (and duck scaring), swimming, and sledding in the winter when the surface froze over. There was even a secret spot under the bridge where one could hide completely from sight, yet somehow still hear the voices of those who passed overhead. Just upstream from the village was an enormous, ancient oak, whose branches hung out over the river, and someone long ago had thrown a rope over the highest of these branches. Children would take turns in the summer launching themselves from the riverbank, swinging back and forth until eventually their grip failed and they fell into the cold water, laughing.
But despite there being much to engage a young imagination and plenty of opportunities to hide and seek and find trouble, things were not always well for Brandyé. He soon found that the tales of his terrible birth had followed him to Burrowdown (and he knew not where else), and many of the villagers were afraid of him and would avoid him as he walked through the town. He was often eager to play with the other children, but their parents would shoo them indoors, and he would wander away, hurt and angry. He knew it was not his fault that he had been born in a blazing house, and as much as he wished he had known his parents, he knew it was also not his fault they had died. Nonetheless, he sensed keenly the fear of the villagers, as though they were afraid he might set their houses on fire just by looking at them. He wondered sometimes if it had to do with the way his eyes seemed to glint, even in the shadows, or the odd, ashy-black color of his hair, neither of which were traits he ever saw in anyone else.
These feelings of shame and anger served him poorly as a child, for once the other children began to tease him, he began to fight back, and soon a deep rift developed between himself and the villagers’ children, each disliking the other more and more until it was nearly inevitable that fights would ensue should they meet.
Not everyone was like this, of course; Gloria at the dairy thought the villagers were all fools and enjoyed Brandyé’s visits immensely. He would often spend hours with her tending the cows, and learned to milk them, which he found delightful, though he was never very good at it.
There was one family in particular that did not mind Brandyé, and that was the Dotterys. They had a son also, Elven, who was close to Brandyé’s age and very reckless. He was smaller than Brandyé but far more adventurous, and he would often convince Brandyé to undertake spectacularly dangerous missions with him, from jumping off the Burrow bridge in the middle of the night to spooking the bulls in Farmer Tar’s paddock and causing them to break through the fence and stampede through the town and into the woods many miles away. Despite the reprimands of his grandfather, Brandyé secretly delighted in these adventures, and he and Elven quickly became the best of friends.
Brandyé confided his thoughts and fears to Elven, and Elven would listen patiently as Brandyé talked about his birth and his parents, and how he wished he had known them and how he wished he had been born to a normal family. Even though Elven thought Brandyé was fussing over nothing—after all, who could change his or her past?—he never spoke a word of this to Brandyé. To Elven, Brandyé was a creature of thought and inspiration, and he felt sorry that there was such a streak of sadness in him.
Some days, especially on gray ones, Brandyé would cease his play and sit on a stone and stare out into the distance, and on those days nothing could rouse his mood. He would allow his mind to wander, and imagined what it would be like if he had a family like Elven—brothers, sisters, and parents. And then, if the sky cleared at night, he would look up to the moon, ever watching to see its color. In the back of his mind, he thought that perhaps if the moon would turn the same red as people said it had been the day he was born, he might find some way of returning to his family.
These bouts of low mood would never last long, though, and within a day or two he would be back with Elven climbing trees and stealing apples from orchards.
So it was that Brandyé lived as a young boy in the village of Burrowdown, in the north of the land of Consolation, with his grandfather in a house at the top of a hill. Though he lived with the mystery of his birth and the sadness of his lost parents, he lived also with the comfort of a loving grandfather and the inspiring influence of the wilds to the north, and on the whole he was happy.