It was some time before Brandyé was able to draw himself up, and he felt as though his stomach were missing entirely from his body. He had never known such pain, and felt blood when he raised his hand to his head. He began to look around for Elven, and eventually found him, huddled on the far side of the tree, weeping softly. His clothes were torn, his face swollen greatly, and his lip stained with much blood. Brandyé sat painfully beside him and was quiet. He noticed that Sonora was nowhere to be found.
After some time, Elven looked up at him and blinked his tears away. “I sent her home,” he said, as though he had read Brandyé’s thoughts. “They hurt her. They hurt my sister, Brandyé.”
“We hurt them back,” replied Brandyé, and at this, Elven smiled.
“I heard you break Ben’s arm,” he said.
“He’ll not forgive us that,” Brandyé said. “You should have seen the tall one, though; you made him cry.”
Elven seemed pleased at this, and did not speak again for a while. Gradually they became aware of a quiet sound from nearby, and cast their gaze around. “Look!” Elven pointed. “A bird!”
Indeed, the bird the boys had been tormenting lay still on the ground, its wing bent and cawing in pain. The two boys approached it and saw that it was very young. Elven let out a quiet sob. “It’s one thing to cause harm to another person, but this … this is unforgivable.”
Brandyé, likewise, stared at the bird; he did not find it difficult to believe that these boys would have wanted to cause harm to so small a creature. “Do you think she’ll live?” he asked Elven.
Elven knelt and picked the small bird up. It flapped its good wing anxiously, but Elven was gentle and it did not try to escape. “I think her wing is broken,” he said, “but I can make a splint at home. If her wing recovers, I think she will fly again.” He stood and cradled the young bird, who seemed to relax in his arms. She was no longer cawing and seemed content to allow Elven to carry her. “She’s a falcon, you know,” he said to Brandyé. “A young one; see how her beak is short, but curved to such a point? I wonder where her mother is.”
Brandyé lowered his head painfully and peered closely at the bird. “Look at her eyes,” he said to Elven. “They are green.” Brandyé had never seen such beautiful eyes in an animal before. “She looks like Sonora.”
“She does,” agreed Elven.
“Would it be confusing if we were to name her after Sonora?”
“Yes,” said Elven.
But so they did, and the falcon came to share Sonora’s name.
The two boys returned to the Dottery household and stole under the fence behind the house so that they would not be seen. In the woodshed, Elven found a long and sturdy wood splinter. He snapped it in half down the length, so that there were now two long shafts, each perhaps half an inch across and several in length. He placed the falcon, Sonora, on the floor of the shed, where she lay calmly. Gently he raised her wounded wing and tried to bend it so that the bone lay correctly once more. At once, Sonora gave a shrill cry and fluttered away from Elven. He scrambled after her, but as he reached out for her wing again, she snapped her beak at him and would not let him near.
“She won’t heal if I can’t bind her wing,” Elven said.
Brandyé knelt down also on the ground. He was fascinated by Elven’s splint, for he had never seen a broken bone mended. He saw that the success of their healing lay in quieting the bird, and so he sat softly beside her and laid his hand upon her head.
Almost at once, Sonora lowered her wings and settled upon the floor. She let out a last, soft caw, and then shut her eyes. Elven looked at Brandyé, who was focusing his attention on the falcon. He did not seem to be restraining her, but when Elven moved to lift her broken wing this time, she did not resist, but instead was still and kept her eyes closed.
With swift and delicate movement, Elven lined the splints along her wing, keeping in line with the forward bone that was broken. He held them firmly in place and bound them with twine used for cording logs. Finally, he bound her wing itself to her body, so that she could not move it while the bone healed itself.
Elven released her and sat back. For a moment, Brandyé continued to rest his hand upon the bird, and Elven saw that his eyes were half closed. When they opened, he looked down at Sonora and released her. Almost at once, the young falcon hopped up again and flapped her good wing several times. Feeling that the other would not move, she turned her head back and gave an indignant squawk at seeing her wing thus tied. She attempted to nip at the twine that bound her wing, but Elven had made it fast, and it would not loosen. Eventually she gave up and hopped toward Elven once more, who picked her up and began to stroke her feathers. He looked at Brandyé.
“How were you able to quiet her?” he asked.
“I don’t know,” said Brandyé. “It felt like I was flying. How did you know how to bind her wing?”
“I don’t know,” replied Elven. “I didn’t think about it; it just seemed right.”
The other Sonora—the one who was Elven’s sister—had returned home some time before, and was now crying inconsolably in her mother’s arms. Mrs. Dottery had thus far been unable to make out anything sensible from her daughter’s sobs other than something about a bird and a fight, but she knew that Elven had not yet returned and she knew a dreadful thing had happened. If Elven had been in another fight, she resolved to check him over, clean his wounds, and then beat him as thoroughly as the boy he had picked a fight with.
Two things saved Elven from such a fate when he opened the back door into the kitchen where Mrs. Dottery was sitting at the small table, Sonora in her lap. The first was that Brandyé stood with him, and she would not punish her son while his friend was near. The second was the bird that rested on his arm, its wing bound in the most awkward fashion, its talons gripping and tearing into the already torn sleeve of his tunic. At this she was so astonished that she lost her words, and stared at the falcon with her lips parted. She told herself she should not be surprised, but the brazenness of her son never failed to amaze her.
It was Sonora who first broke the awkwardness of the moment. “The bird!” she cried out with joy. “You rescued it!”
Elven grinned, and bit his lip, lest his mother think he was proud of his beaten and bruised condition (which, in truth, he now was). Sonora rushed to the bird’s side; the bird looked at her nervously, uttered an inquisitive sound, and then turned from her again. Sonora put out her hand, however, and the falcon allowed Sonora to pet her nonetheless, though she seemed reluctant and Sonora’s young and emotional hand was heavy upon her head.
Seeing the three children, two of them hers, gathered around this creature as though it were a new pet, was finally too much for Mrs. Dottery, and when she spoke she found herself able to put a good deal of parental sternness into her voice.
“What is this? Where has this bird come from? And who have you been fighting? You look as though you have been in a war!”
Both Elven and Sonora began to speak at once. Brandyé now bit his own lip to prevent a smile, for he perceived that Elven and Sonora were, in fact, telling nearly the exact same story, but Mrs. Dottery seemed unable to follow both her children as they ranted. She sighed and held up a hand, at which they both stopped. “One by one, please!” she said.
Sonora began. “There were boys, Mother, awful boys, and they hurt a bird.”
“This bird?” Mrs. Dottery asked.
“Yes, Mother,” continued Sonora with hardly a pause, “and they saw me, and I told them to stop, but then they were going to hurt me—”
At this point, Elven broke in. “And I—Brandyé and I—we got there just as he was about to …”—he paused for a moment, for he was thinking better of telling his mother about the knife—“… hit her,” he finished.
Mrs. Dottery drew her face tight then and pulled at Sonora’s arm to bring her close to her. Yet she did not speak, and allowed Elven to continue.
“We had no choice, Mother; they were going to hurt Sonora badly. There were six of them, but we fought them so that Sonora could run. I was so angry, Mother; they hurt both a small bird and a small girl. But look at her wing, Mother—I made a splint for her!”
Mrs. Dottery looked from Sonora to her son and shook her head. “This isn’t well, you know,” she said. She looked at Brandyé. “And you—I suppose you did little to prevent such a fight?”
Brandyé looked down shamefully. “No, ma’am,” he mumbled.
“No, you don’t look it,” she commented. “Your grandfather will be worried sick about you. Go home, Brandyé. I will deal with Elven, and I have no doubt Reuel will deal with you also.”
Brandyé could think of little else to say but, “Yes, ma’am,” and turned to leave. As he stepped through the open doorway into the dusk, she called him back.
“Brandyé, dear,” she said. She looked also at Elven and said, “You boys will be punished for fighting. Yet you acted well and protected two young creatures today. Thank you.”
Reuel was waiting for Brandyé when he arrived home, sitting quietly at the table in the parlor. It was dark by then, and the only light came from two candles that flickered upon the table and the glowing embers in the hearth, casting the room into gloom. Brandyé did not notice Reuel sitting until he broke the silence and spoke to him: “Where have you been, son?”
Cautiously, Brandyé approached his grandfather. “I was at the large oak outside of town,” he said. He moved into the candlelight, knowing that Reuel could see the marks upon his face. “Something happened.”
Brandyé knew his grandfather’s silence came from the great disappointment that he had once again allowed his anger to overcome his reason. He waited for Reuel to continue, but nothing came. Finally, he brought himself to speak through his shame. “I was in a fight.”
“I believe I can see that,” Reuel said calmly.
“They hurt Sonora,” Brandyé said. “We rescued her.”
“They hurt Arian’s daughter?” For the first time since Brandyé had entered the house, Reuel’s concern broke through into his voice.
Brandyé nodded. “They were torturing a bird, and then they were going to torture Sonora. She’s all right now.”
“You rescued her with your fists. You were angry?”
“Yes, Grandfather,” Brandyé said, and some heat now came into his voice. He saw in his mind the brutes as they held Sonora, and the falcon’s broken wing, and bitterness rose in him once more. “They were evil.”
“They were most certainly not evil,” Reuel said sharply. “You do not know evil.”
“Then they were … mean-hearted,” Brandyé amended. It was all he could think of to say.
“That is more than likely,” Reuel said. “Does it excuse violence?”
Brandyé once more found the floor fascinating. “No, Grandfather.”
“Do you recall the men in the Burrow Wayde?” Reuel asked. Brandyé nodded. “Why do they fight, son?”
“They fight because they lack the words to speak,” he mumbled at the rebuke. “But Grandfather, they were already violent themselves. Speaking to them would have meant nothing!”
Then Reuel sighed. “I wish it were not so, but sadly that is sometimes the case. Still, I will ask you one more question, and then you may go clean your cuts. Did you attempt to talk to them?”
Brandyé finally looked up at his grandfather and admitted, “No.”
Reuel nodded. “Learn from this, son. You may not be so lucky next time. Go.”
Brandyé shuffled from the room, thinking that his grandfather had no idea just how lucky he was not to be dead that day. He understood what Reuel intended for him, but he found his heart disagreed. How was he to deny such strength of feeling when such retribution was so just?
The day following the fight under the branches of Soleheart, rumors began to spread around Burrowdown: the Fortunaé were coming to town.
The Fortunaé were the lord family in that part of Consolation, and their region spanned most of the northern lands, including Burrowdown, Burrowai, Deeplake, and Farrow-Lea. It even reached as far south as Daevàr’s Hut, but did not include it; Daevàr’s Hut was a governance unto itself. Their claim to the land dated back some two hundred generations, and their word was law. Even the Hirvets bowed to the Fortunaé, and indeed it was through these lesser families of power that the Fortunaé maintained their lordship. Every few years the Fortunaé would gather with them an entourage of their favorite equerries—cooks, chiefly—and ministers, and spend many weeks journeying throughout their lands, taking stock of the farms and villages and conferring with the local families of consequence.
The rumors preceded their arrival by very little, for it was only a day more before they were to appear. On the day of their arrival, excitement in the village was high, and by noon almost every man, woman, and child in the village was turned out upon the South Road, talking among themselves and waiting eagerly for the arrival of the carriage that bore Garâth of the Fortunaé and his ensemble. The population of the village waited anxiously on either side of the road, while the Hirvets stood proud at the foot of the bridge.
Reuel Tolkaï was one of the few in the village who did not venture out to see the Fortunaé; he was content to remain at home, sitting behind the house and dozing in the afternoon sun with the gentle moor wind. Brandyé, however, was terribly excited to see such men of power, and so he went down to the village, where he met Elven and joined the crowds lining the streets.
The two boys eagerly pushed their way to the front of the throng so as to gain a better view, and found themselves near the foot of the bridge also; they could see Joseph Hirvet, head of the Hirvet family, standing before them and shifting his great weight from foot to foot.
“Do you think they will be long in coming?” Brandyé asked Elven. Elven had seen the Fortunaé pass through as a small child, and so in Brandyé’s estimation was a veritable expert upon the subject.
“I don’t know,” Elven replied. “I don’t mind the wait, for their carriage is splendid to behold.”
“I’ve heard the people in the village say it is made of gold.”
“I can’t say I recall it being gold,” said Elven, “but it was painted in the most magnificent colors.”
The two talked and laughed together for some moments more, and then a sudden murmur rushed through the crowd. Cries of, “They are here!” rang out, and in the distance, Brandyé heard the faint whinnying of horses and the clatter of hooves and chains and leather straps.
“Look,” said Elven, and Brandyé saw coming toward them up the road a veritable troupe of men and horses, all splendid in bright blue livery, and with the Fortuna crest flying from many lances. Three guards on horseback led the procession, one ahead of the others, and short swords hung at their sides. They looked neither left nor right, holding their gaze high as they spurred their steeds down the road and toward the crowd gathered at the bridge.
Following these three men came the carriage itself, drawn by four horses, and it was as splendid as Brandyé had imagined. The carriage was grand; a man could stand tall inside without touching its roof, and it was more than double this in length. Almost a house on great spoked wheels, it was as bright as the livery of the guards, coated in green and blue, the colors of the Fortuna family. Lines of gold traced the frames of its windows, which faced out on all sides, though curtains were drawn, and a great crest hung proudly over the door that allowed entrance to the coach.
Behind the carriage came another dozen men, some on horseback, some walking hastily beside the mounts. A second carriage, less resplendent, followed all of these, and carried such provisions, tents, and other articles of comfort as the head of the Fortuna family found necessary to carry on his travels.
At the front of the carriage, a short door opened to the driver’s platform, allowing passengers to speak to the driver directly. At this door stood Garâth of the Fortunaé, gazing out at the village and the crowd of people who waited, anxious for his arrival. The three guards held their horses at the foot of the bridge, and the carriage’s driver brought it to a halt some dozen yards behind. There was both a hush and a murmur through the crowd, for it was now that they sensed something was not right.
Garâth stood yet at the front of the carriage, and he was dramatic in his pose as he stood tall and crossed his arms over his broad chest. His countenance bore a dark glare, and he ran his eyes over the gathering, as though searching for something in particular. After a moment, he withdrew his gaze and addressed the congregation as one.
“Greetings, people of my lands,” he said, and his voice was loud and imposing. “I hoped I could bring you good will on this fine day, but alas it is not so.” He paused, and a great mumbling arose. The people began to shift and move, as though anxious to put a distance between themselves and the three guards, who stood yet at the foot of the bridge, swords still undrawn.
“One of your village has transgressed against my family, and such a grievance will not be tolerated.” He raised his voice yet louder, so that he might be heard without mistake. “I am injured,” he called, “that your folk should show such disgrace and lack of gratitude to your lords! Have we not kept your lands safe these past centuries? Have we not listened to your concerns over the years, and sought to better your lives by building for you homes to dwell in and farms to tend? Have we not been just in our meager demands of payment, a mere tithe of your seasonal produce? We have not brought upon you violence or bondage, and yet you would now seek to bring such upon us!”
The crowd began now to speak loud among themselves, and finally Mrs. Heath called out, “Beggin’ your pardon, but what violence have we brought ’pon you, m’lord?”
Garâth stepped to one side, and from behind him out of the carriage came forth a boy, only somewhat older than Brandyé, though already nearly as tall as Garâth himself. At the sight of this boy, Brandyé found he could suddenly no longer move, for before him stood the boy he and Elven had fought against atop the hill where Soleheart stood only two days before. He stood beside Garâth and supported himself against the frame of the small door through which he had stepped, making a great show of struggling to bear his own weight. At the boy’s appearance, Garâth appeared to become yet more upset and called out to the crowd, “One among you has brought violence upon us; behold my own son, hardly able to stand upon his own feet!”
Brandyé was greatly frightened, for he was at the very front of the throng and was ever so aware that the boy need only to look his way for his doom to be upon him. Yet for the moment the boy seemed pleased merely to be seen, poor and helpless and beaten, his face raised imploringly to the sky.
Garâth was ranting on. “Such impudence will not be tolerated! We are a great and proud family, and vengeance shall be had for this crime! I know there is one among you who is guilty in this matter; let him come forth, penitent, and his justice may not be so severe!”
The crowd were now greatly disturbed, and suspicion descended upon them; all of them looked to their neighbor, as if worried that that person might be the guilty party. Brandyé found that he was sweating, so great was his alarm. He dared not move, not even to withdraw further into the crowd where he might be better hidden, and could not even look away from the fury of Garâth, standing proud on his carriage. He sensed Elven beside him, and thought his friend was as fearful as he.
Garâth continued to peer accusingly at the villagers for some time, but no one came forth. Brandyé could see a small twitch in the man’s cheek as he cried out, “So, cowards you are also! If the guilty will not make himself known, the punishment will descend upon each of you! I shall see your fields burned and your livestock slaughtered! We shall see how impudent you are when your children are starving!”
There was quite a change in the crowd at this statement, as fear and confusion turned now to anger. Brandyé stood, breathing hard, and even as his mind raced in thought, he saw Elven begin to move forward toward the Fortunaé’s carriage. Garâth noticed the movement and began to turn toward him, and so did his son.
It was in this moment that Brandyé forgot all thought and found himself grasping Elven’s tunic with such force as to rip it, and hauled him back into the crowd, where he fell among the feet of the outraged villagers. Without a pause, Brandyé stepped out before them all and stood, his gaze firm upon the lord and his son.
Garâth glared at him and narrowed his eyes. He leaned toward his son and spoke. “Do you recognize this boy, son?”
The boy’s lip curled in an unpleasant smile, and slowly, he nodded. “It is he, father,” he said.
Garâth straightened. With a gesture, he motioned to the three guards still mounted upon their horses, and in a swift movement, they had brought their steeds around Brandyé and herded him to the center of the road, one on either side of him and one behind to prevent him fleeing. The two that flanked him drew their blades and held them to Brandyé’s throat. Determined not to show his terror, Brandyé remained still and kept his eyes fixed ever upon Garâth.
“So you are the one who dared to harm my family,” he growled. “You are noble to spare your village a terrible fate. Be still, and this will be over swiftly.” Garâth now moved to descend from the carriage and drew forth from under the driver’s bench a long, black leather whip, used for driving the horses. He raised this and allowed it to fall to its full length upon the ground, and Brandyé now knew what was to happen to him and clenched his jaw. This would be pain next to none he had ever known.
And then, an astonishing thing occurred. As Garâth made to step down wholly from the carriage, a voice, powerful and clear, cried out, “You will not harm that boy!”
Garâth looked in fury at the speaker and saw Reuel, standing on the very center of the bridge with one arm held toward them, staring him down with dangerous eyes. Garâth’s face colored, and he cried, “Who are you that dares to speak to me thus?”
But he received no answer, for in that same moment, all the horses reared wildly at the sound of Reuel’s voice and bolted. The guards surrounding Brandyé were thrown from their steeds, and the four that were bound to the carriage retreated in haste down the road toward the south, away from Reuel. The boy, still on the carriage, was thrown back into the coach, but his father, Garâth, was flung from the step and fell, facedown, upon the mud.
A hush of terror fell over the crowd as their lord, spluttering, was raised to his feet by his guards. His robes now dripped with filth, and as he wiped the mud from his face, a fury unlike any they had seen blazed upon them. For an endless moment, the crowd stared at him, awaiting his wrath; but instead, Garâth turned without a word, and supported by his guards, retreated swiftly down the road to the south, in pursuit of his carriage, already lost to the distance.
Silent, the crowd watched until he had disappeared over the ridge beyond, and then turned to Reuel. Brandyé saw the anger and fear on their faces, and was again afraid. Lord Garâth of the Fortunaé had been humiliated in front of his own people, and retribution was sure to follow. In their eyes, Reuel Tolkaï, rogue and mad, was to blame. Reuel returned their gaze defiantly, and then turned and retreated, walking tall, back up the hill toward his house. Brandyé cast a fearful gaze at Elven, who lay still upon the ground, speechless, and made to follow his grandfather. A terrible thing had happened that day, and he was afraid of what was to come.