Within days of seeing the wolf, the cold of the snow and the loss of his boot in the stream began to take their toll, and even as his limbs warmed, his body grew ill and Brandyé was unable to move from the house. At night he slept poorly, and during the day spent most of his time before the fire. Though his face was flushed and sweating, his skin became cold to the touch, and he always wrapped around him several blankets.
Brandyé had never been so ill and felt surely that he must die if he did not recover soon. Reuel of course knew better, and spoke to him of times when he himself had been ill, often so violently that he believed his very body would turn itself inside out, and in fact welcomed the thought, so that at least his troubled stomach would no longer be inside him. Luckily Brandyé was not yet so ill as to have lost his humor, and chuckled heartily at the thought.
Reuel kept him warm and kept him well-fed. Soups and stews were placed before Brandyé with such frequency that one bowl had not the time to cool before the next was brought. In each, Reuel brewed an herb called munadé, which possessed properties for aiding illnesses of the head, and Brandyé found he was able to breathe much better afterward. Despite this, Brandyé believed secretly that his grandfather enjoyed the stews and soups himself, and was pleased for the excuse to cook all the more.
Over the following days, the weather again took a turn for the worse, and soon they were isolated from the village, the moors, and all else by many feet of snow, with more falling all the while. Reuel had to make daily trips outside to clear a path to the large pile of cut wood stacked neatly along one side of the house, and though he and Brandyé had spent many hours stocking this in the fall, the winter had been unusually harsh and it now grew low. Reuel soon ceased lighting the kitchen stove except for the heating of soups and tea, and except for the parlor the house grew very cold indeed. Brandyé had little care, however, for his fever had grown worse with the weather; he remained before the fire all day long, staring miserably into the flames.
To keep him occupied, Reuel would bring him paper, and Brandyé would write and draw, and spent much time sketching his favorite animals and creatures of Consolation. Occasionally, though, when he allowed his mind to wander, his hand began to outline a six-pointed shape. When he realized what he had done, he would hastily scratch it out, but the image would remain with him for some time afterward.
Along with this, he also found himself drawing sketches of wolves, some small and some grotesque and huge, and these he hid from Reuel. He did not quite think Reuel would be angry with him, but the memory of the fierund was still fresh on his mind, and he did not want his grandfather worrying about the things on which his mind dwelled. He would draw over them, or crumple the paper and toss it into the fire, and so kept the creature fresh in his thoughts without Reuel being any the wiser.
When Brandyé grew tired of writing and drawing, Reuel would tell him tales, and when he grew tired of that they would talk. Even through his fever Brandyé remained curious, and for long hours he and Reuel would discuss many things, from recent and amusing incidents in the village to the wisdom of the Ancients and why, if they were so magnificent, they were no longer to be found. These particular conversations brought back to Brandyé the ancient and abandoned city, and he saw in his mind the desolate statue, seven great figures lost to time. For the first time he thought that perhaps these monuments represented those other races of power his grandfather had once spoken of, and was unsettled to think that, dead and gone though they were, they lived yet through him, for he had seen their remains.
He was tempted to speak to Reuel of these thoughts, but as it had done when he had first visited that inexplicable land, something stayed his tongue. There was something secret about that place, something that told him that he alone was intended to know of it—if he were not merely insane, which was yet another thought he decided to keep to himself.
One morning, after Brandyé spent a restless and uncomfortable night, wracked with violent coughing and shivers, Reuel mixed a strong potion that curled Brandyé’s tongue and stung his throat. At first Brandyé thought his grandfather had gone mad, and felt close to vomiting, but within a few minutes he felt his body’s heat begin to fade, and his head ached less. “What was that?” he asked Reuel.
Reuel smiled. “Did you like it?”
“It was awful, but it feels like it’s helping.”
“It was a mix of munadé, milfoil, sarthium, and a secret ingredient.”
“What’s the secret?” Brandyé asked, making a face at the thought of its taste. The mixture had been bitter, but more than that, had burned on its way down his throat.
Reuel smiled even broader. “Brandy.”
“Grandfather!” Brandyé was shocked, for his grandfather had always said brandy and ale were the drinks of men and were not to be touched until he was at least fifteen.
“It will help the fever,” Reuel said. “But don’t expect it every day!”
Settling back in his chair, it occurred to Brandyé that his grandfather seemed to know much about healing, among all the other subjects on which he seemed expert. “Grandfather, how is it you know how to do all these things?” he asked.
Reuel poked at the fire for a moment before sitting back in his own chair. “You forget, son: I raised a child of my own.”
A small thrill passed through Brandyé; had his grandfather just brought up the subject of his parents? “Did … did my mother get sick when she was young?” Brandyé asked tentatively.
For a long moment Reuel was still and silent, and Brandyé thought he was not going to answer. “I’m sorry, Grandfather, I didn’t mean—”
“It’s all right, son,” Reuel said suddenly. “Yes, she did. She was ill on occasion, like any child. I do recall one occasion when she had a dreadful fever, much like you; her mother and I were worried she might not recover.”
This statement frightened Brandyé. “You do think I will recover, don’t you?” he asked.
Reuel looked at him and smiled. “Oh yes, son. You see, I know what to do now. With your mother, it was our first child. We had to learn about these things as they happened.”
Encouraged by the conversation, Brandyé asked, “What was she like, my mother?”
Reuel sighed and laid his head back on the overstuffed chair. “What can I say, son? She was your mother. She was a strong person, a good wife and a perfect daughter.” Not looking at Brandyé, one corner of his mouth curled up. “She was mischievous, of course; she got herself into all sorts of trouble. I remember a time when she set a goat loose in Marion Myrtlehüe’s garden; the beast ate her best cabbages in five minutes, and made a good go at the carrots before she found out.”
Brandyé smiled at the thought. “My mother did that?”
“Oh, yes. We scolded her greatly for that, and Marion still won’t speak to me to this day.”
“It was only a few cabbages,” protested Brandyé.
“That’s what I thought,” Reuel said, “though of course I could never admit it. Yes, your mother was scolded often. But she was a good person—kind. She had a way with animals; she would rescue small creatures and heal them, and then set them loose again. I remember a time when she tended to a field mouse she had rescued from a cat. She set it loose, and the next moment a falcon swept down and ate it. She cried for days.”
Brandyé silently let this sink into his mind. He had never heard Reuel speak so freely about his mother before, and was desperately anxious to know more; yet he could see the sadness of memory settling over Reuel’s face. “Can you tell me anymore?” he asked delicately.
But Reuel had lapsed into silence, his eyes steady on the fire. Brandyé watched him, feeling the swirl of Reuel’s medicine and the warmth that was creeping back into his brow. As he did, he thought he heard his grandfather mumble, “I’m sorry, son.” And then, with a great sigh, Reuel looked up from the flames, blinking. Feeling courageous, Brandyé spoke once more.
“I wish I could have known them.”
There was a pause, and then Reuel said, “I wish that too,” and then he would say no more.
Not long after this conversation, the winter storm began to show its might, and soon the tall windows of the parlor could not be seen through for the snow that now piled high against them. Try as he might, Reuel could not keep the cold air from seeping in through the cracks and under the door, and Brandyé soon began to shiver even before the fire. Brandyé tasted ever more munadé in his food, but it was of no avail, and he soon began to vomit when any food passed his lips at all. He stopped speaking, and whiled the day away dozing, trying desperately to find sleep and an escape from his illness. In the haze of sickness, he began to think about the fierund again, and wondered if his cold was more than just the doing of the snow. His grandfather had spoken of evil, and he saw the beast’s dreadful eyes boring into him, as though they were lighting the very fires of his fever.
So absorbed in these thoughts was he that he began to forget where he was, and saw his grandfather as a disturbing stranger, a shadow that danced in and out of sight, bellowing words without meaning into his oversensitive ears. The house around him became an unsettling place, and he felt as though he were perpetually spinning in his chair, and had to cling tightly to the arms so that he did not fall out of it. The smells, sights, and sounds blended into a fog of heat and fever, and he soon began to feel fear in his heart.
The fierund was lurking, he was certain, always just out of sight. It was waiting, waiting for him to die of his fever before it came to feast upon him. He saw vague shadows, whispering in the flames of the fire or the steam of the soups he no longer recognized, and whenever Reuel swam into view, he saw his eyes, red as the beast’s, and would cry and shy away from him.
Eventually sleep began to find him, and he was grateful for the periods of blank rest between his waking terrors, and they soon grew longer and longer as he gently fell into a deep blackness from which he thought he might never return.
And it was at the very depths of his sickness that despair first began to fill him, a feeling that there was now no hope for his recovery, that he was meant to die that winter, and that the fierund was the omen of his fate. He recalled wildly the tales of the villagers, that his birth to flames was a terrible omen, and he knew that it was his fate to die in flames as well. His heart sank, and he resigned himself to the coming of the fierund.
Soon he began to hear its breath, a shrill whisper that came from above; he felt its heat, burning away the skin on one side of his face; and he saw the red glow of its eyes casting the room into shadows. But always it remained just out of sight until one night when the hour was late and Reuel was gone from view. It appeared in front of him with such suddenness that he thought it must have been there all along. The hairs on his arms stood on end, and with the greatest of effort, he raised himself from his chair, unsteady on his feet, but he could not run, could not move, just as he had been frozen that day in the snow. The beast came toward him, stepping effortlessly over the furniture, and as its great maw opened wide, he screamed, lost his balance, and fell hard upon the floor.
What happened next was unclear to him; he felt a fierce, burning pain in his foot and thought it must be the fierund’s bite, but looking desperately around he could not see it. Instead, the vague shape of a person towered over him, grasping him and hauling him clear of whatever was burning his foot. He heard words—“By the Ancients!”—and was suddenly being lifted through the air bodily. He felt a dreadful cold air, and the next thing he knew was a terrible, terrible pain as his entire body was engulfed in ice. He screamed, a desperate plea for help, but once more he was frozen.
As he lay in the cold, he began to find that his sight was clearing, and he recognized the human shape above him as Reuel and saw with a vague sadness that there were tears in his eyes. For some minutes he lay there, and he felt the heat begin to leave him, and he saw that he was lying deep in the snow outside their house, the door open and allowing great flurries of snow inside. Eventually Reuel placed a hand on his forehead, and with a sigh of relief hauled Brandyé upright again and carried him into the house.
The wind pouring through the open door had nearly blown the fire out, and the parlor was almost as cold as the outdoors by the time Reuel shut the door. He laid Brandyé down upon the parlor table and stripped him of his wet and cold clothes, leaving them upon the floor, and carried him upstairs and laid him upon his bed. Brandyé felt Reuel’s touch on his forehead once more, and then many blankets were placed over him and he felt warm once more. The pain in his foot persisted, but he found he did not care; he wanted nothing more than to sleep, to flee the frightful visions.
He felt Reuel sit on the bed beside him and heard him whisper, “You must get well, son. You are not to die tonight.”
These words comforted Brandyé, and he began to doze once more, a more peaceful rest than he had had in days. For an hour Reuel sat beside him, feeling his forehead and holding his hand. Then, just as he thought Brandyé was sleeping and stood to leave, Brandyé opened his eyes and called out, “Please don’t leave.”
Reuel knelt near him and said, “I am not going anywhere, son. I will be within earshot, always.”
“Can you protect me from the fierundé?” Brandyé asked, for despite the renewed clarity of mind, he was still fearful.
“There are none here,” replied Reuel.
“There was one, in the parlor; it tried to bite me. My foot still hurts.”
Reuel smiled gently. “That was the fire, son. You knocked the log out of the hearth when you fell over. You nearly set the house on fire.”
“It was real, Grandfather. It was going to eat me.”
Reuel raised his hand to hold Brandyé’s face gently and said, “The fevered imagination runs wild sometimes. This is perhaps what you saw.”
Brandyé frowned and considered his grandfather’s words. They were sensible, certainly; but he could not convince himself that what he had seen was not real in some way.
Reuel stood once more and said, “Rest, son. You will feel better in the morning.”
Brandyé lay his head back on the bed, and Reuel moved toward the door. But as he made to open it, Brandyé called out to him softly once more.
“How did the fierundé come to be?”
“That is not for this moment,” Reuel reassured him.
“Please, Grandfather, I must know. I’ve seen them over and over in my mind, for days now. Why are there such creatures?”
Reuel seemed to consider the consequences of his answer. He did not want to cause Brandyé further upset, yet he knew his grandson and knew his mind would not rest while it yet had an unanswered question. Finally, he spoke. “They were creatures of Erâth once,” he said. “They were twisted many ages ago and turned to Darkness. There is no light left in them; they will destroy men if they can. Rest calm, son, that they will not enter into our lands.”
To Brandyé this was only half an answer, but it was better than nothing and he lay back once more and closed his eyes.
It was some time before Brandyé fell asleep that night. Tossing and turning, he felt his fever return, though not with such vehemence as before. He began to sweat and threw a blanket onto the floor. The vision of the fierund would not leave his thoughts, and try as he might to dwell upon other things, the wolf encroached upon him over and over again. He pictured himself in the spring, dancing in the moorland meadows, and there it was, watching him through a fence. He saw himself in town, walking toward Gloria’s dairy to help with the morning milking, and there was the fierund, hiding among the cattle. Even in the Burrow Wayde, sitting by his grandfather’s side, its head was mounted on the wall and turned to throw its gaze at him.
It was with these thoughts that, for the second time in his life, Brandyé found himself inexplicably somewhere else, far from his home, his bed, and the world that he knew.
It was not where he had gone before, years ago when he had been younger. He stood on a bed of fallen needles, in a forest such as he had never seen before. The trees were firs of a deep, rich green, but were strange in that this color only appeared when one looked at them sidelong. If one stared directly at the branches and needles, they held almost no color at all. Looking slowly around him, he saw the whole of the place was so; it was as though something was draining the very color from his sight.
He sensed his fever had left him; he seemed well and whole, but was also wholly lost. As before, in the lost city, there was not a sound—no wind, no birds, no animal calls or any sign that life existed in this place. There was but one single difference: where before there had been also no smell, the pungent scent of rot now filled his nostrils. It was not overwhelming, but he was unsettled to think something dying lurked nearby.
It was dusk, and not a light one; the sky overhead was clouded, and the sun could not be seen among the thickness of the trees. He peered as far into the depths of the forest as he was able, but could see nothing except further branches and trunks. As the world grew dark around him, he became quite suddenly aware that there was a man lying on the ground beside him. His face was hooded, and his head rested on a large stone. He did not move, and Brandyé wondered if he might be dead or merely asleep. Brandyé made to move toward the man and see if he could help him understand where he was, when faintly he heard the soft pad of paws on the forest floor.
Already he knew what came his way. The visions that had filled his mind since his illness had begun, it seemed, could not be escaped even here, in some distant part of Erâth the existence of which was uncertain. He looked around, and the sound grew ever closer, and then he saw their red eyes appearing slowly through the gloom. No fewer than seven of them there were, fourteen dismal crimson eyes glaring at him in the gloaming.
He waited, breathless. It was beyond hope that they were not bound for him; even if they came for the man lying ever still at his feet, they could not fail to see him and would certainly kill him as well, if for nothing but the sport of it. Closer they came, and Brandyé was now truly afraid; there was no distance between the fierundé and himself, no Farmer Tar to make him feel safe—only a man who might be dead and would not stir even as the beasts came into view.
They were as horrible as he remembered, and now, so close, he could not bear the sight of them. One approached him directly, leaving the others lurking behind it among the trees. It stepped over the motionless form lying still on the ground and stopped, mere feet from where Brandyé yet stood. It was of no use to run—the beast would be too fast. It would be futile to fight—its fangs shone with spittle and what might have been blood, and its eyes … the eyes were terrible to behold. At once filled with fire and a terrible, fathomless emptiness, they pierced through his thoughts, and he felt the world fade around him as though it were draining the very life from him.
Brandyé felt himself being brought to his knees before the beast, and as he collapsed, a figure appeared in the trees behind the beast. The fierund halted and raised its head, nose to the air. Its great black nostrils flared wide, and abruptly it turned to face this new person. Brandyé tried to look toward the figure, but could not make it out clearly at all. It seemed the figure raised a hand toward the fierund, and amazingly, it lowered its head and moved slowly away, creeping back into the trees and vanishing, followed by its companions.
The figure came closer, and Brandyé looked in fright, terrified to behold one who could command the fierundé, and he bowed his head to the ground, unwilling to look. For many minutes, he stayed in this position, but he heard and felt nothing. He became uncertain and anxious; perhaps the unknown person had merely been following the beasts?
Slowly he lifted his head, and the figure stood, still, not more than two feet from where he crouched. With the greatest of courage, he raised his face and looked up to meet what stood before him.
Before him was a woman, face pale and fair, shrouded under a cloak. Her robes were of a black that even the fading light of that miserable day did not touch, and a single crimson jewel that hung from her neck was the only color that she bore. She stood on the forest floor, gazing calmly at Brandyé, and he saw that her feet were bare. He saw her eyes were black also, and looked swiftly away, for he felt he might be drawn into them directly and drown.
“Frya na, Brandyé.” And she smiled.
Brandyé did not understand her words, but he recognized his name and knew she spoke the language from which his name had been drawn.
“Who—who are you?” he asked, uncertain.
“Ye-vèr Namira,” she said.
“I don’t understand you,” he said.
“Ye va,” she replied. “Tû-tharae.” She leaned down and drew him up to his feet, so that her face was before his, and cupped his face in her hands. They were smooth and pale and very cold. She wore a ring, as black as her robes, on the third finger of her right hand, and he felt it against his cheek. “Unéya. Ye-dû therùa.”
She kissed him lightly on the forehead and turned.
“Wait,” he called. But she moved away and was soon lost among the trees. He turned back and saw the man was lying still on the floor, as though nothing had passed. He felt her kiss linger on his skin, and the coldness of her seemed to slowly spread over his face and down his neck. He thought his vision darkened, and he sat on the forest floor. Slowly, he felt his whole body become cold, and he lay down and saw no sky above, and passed into a blackness from which it seemed he would not return.