Many months passed, and there was no word from the south and no sign of retribution from Garâth of the Fortunaé. The people of Burrowdown returned to their daily business, with anxiety at first, certain that at any moment constables of the Fortunaé would bear down upon them and set their town alight. Gradually, though, their nervousness faded, and as spring passed into summer the incident became of increasingly less concern, and on late evenings in the Burrow Wayde, people would even begin to laugh about what had happened.
“D’you see his face in the mud?”
“Ah, I never saw such a sight in my life!”
“He were so proud, standin’ on his golden carriage—”
“—and then, facedown in muck—”
“—he weren’t so proud then, were he?”
And they would pound the table in mirth and began even to say that the Fortunaé had learned their lesson and would not trouble them further.
Yet for Brandyé and Reuel, life was not so pleasant. If they had been feared and mistrusted before, they were now outright hated by nearly all the village. Brandyé found he could not walk down the road in town without insults, taunts, and sometimes stones thrown at him. Even Gloria in her dairy, though she did not outright turn Brandyé away, no longer spoke with him, and his visits there became so miserable that he stopped going altogether, and so found himself with very little to do. He discovered it was easier to pass around the village entirely—a trip that took over half an hour—to visit Elven and his family, who were practically the only people left who were still kind to him.
As for Reuel, he was no longer welcome at the Burrow Wayde. Even if Mrs. Heath—who in fact did not mind him, for she found him always to be polite, not loud, and never rowdy—were to permit him to enter, he would not likely have survived more than a few moments at the drunken hands of the farmhands and laborers who held him responsible for the fate of Garâth and the invisible threat under which they now lived. Yet Reuel was proud and not ashamed of protecting his grandson, and still went into the village for milk and eggs and to visit the market each weekend. However, he no longer went to the inn on the weekend; instead, he began to do something Brandyé had not seen before: each evening he would lock himself in the forbidden room at the top of the stairs for some hours. Brandyé would entertain himself by the fire during this time, and he would hear no sound and saw no change in his grandfather when he reemerged and prepared for bed.
And then, as autumn crept into the land and the trees’ leaves turned crisp and gold, a messenger from the Fortuna house, kept well by a dozen guards, entered the village one evening. He did not speak to anyone, even if they stopped to speak to him, but instead busied himself by affixing a notice to walls and posts and gates and fences around the town. In the end, he must have posted over a hundred of them, and the town looked as though it had a new coat of wallpaper. When he had finished, he and his guards departed, leaving the bemused villagers to wonder at his visit. Few were able to read the notice, which was this:
NOTICE TO THE RESIDENTS OF THE VILLAGE OF BURROWDOWN, IN THE NORTH OF THE LANDS OF THE FORTUNAÉ
ON THIS, THE FOURTEENTH DAY OF THE NINTH MONTH, THE LORD AND MASTER GARÂTH OF THE FORTUNAÉ WISHES TO BRING TO YOUR ATTENTION A RISE IN THE ANNUAL PAYMENT TO THE AFOREMENTIONED LORD FAMILY, FROM ONE TITHE TO EIGHT TITHES OF EACH FAMILY’S PRODUCE. THIS IS TO BE PAID TO THE LORD FAMILY’S BAILIFFS AT THE END OF EACH MONTH OF HARVEST, WITHOUT DELAY AND WITH DUE DILIGENCE THAT THE PAYMENT BE INCLUSIVE OF ONLY THE HIGHEST QUALITY STUFFS.
SHOULD ANY FAMILY FAIL TO PROVIDE A DOCUMENTED EIGHT TITHES OF THEIR PRODUCE, OR SHOULD IT BE LATER DISCOVERED THAT THEY WERE IN ANY MEASURE DISHONEST WITH REGARD TO THE QUANTITY, QUALITY, OR ANY OTHER ASPECT OF THEIR PAYMENT, THE LORD GARÂTH OF THE FORTUNAÉ WILL HAVE NO CHOICE BUT TO COMMAND THEIR FIELDS BE MADE BARREN AND THEIR HOME BROUGHT DOWN.
THERE WILL BE NO EXCEPTIONS, AND ANY PETITION OPPOSING THE RISE IN PAYMENT MUST BE PRESENTED, IN PERSON, TO THE LORD GARÂTH’S BAILIFFS IN THE TOWN OF DAEVÀR’S HUT BY THE FIFTEENTH DAY OF THE NINTH MONTH.
LORD GARÂTH, TWENTY-SECOND HEAD OF THE HOUSE OF FORTUNA
When the people learned what the notice meant, there was great outrage. The entire village would be left with less than a quarter of their usual provisions to last them the winter, and if they could not persuade the neighboring towns to show pity and send them aid, it was sure they would starve. When they discovered their lord had given them but one day to protest, when Daevàr’s Hut was at best a five-day ride from Burrowdown, they knew this was their penalty for the Fortunaé’s misfortune.
It was then that people remembered what had precipitated the Lord Garâth’s humiliation, and their hate toward Reuel and his grandson was rekindled. Bitterly, they wished the odd boy had taken his whipping and left the rest of them in peace. Now they were all to suffer for the family’s insolence.
Brandyé had never been so lonely or so ashamed. Though the villagers had never truly liked him, nor he them, he had yet been tolerated. Now he had the weight of an entire village’s hate and blame upon him, and he found it began to crush his spirit. More than anything, he felt deep guilt that so many people were suffering because of him.
Reuel recognized his grandson’s dejection and spoke to him of it. “You must not blame yourself,” he said. “It is not for a boy to decide the fate of a village. Indeed, it should not be for any one man to decide the fate of many. What the Lord Garâth has done to them is terribly unfair, but such is the wont of men in power. The folk are bitter and they are angry, and it is easy for them to place blame upon us, so that it does not fall upon their own shoulders.
“The truth is, the Lord Garâth would have brought this upon us regardless; it has been a harsh season across all of Consolation, and the Fortunaé will not see their own go hungry, even to the ruin of others. Our produce is wealth to them, and the village will not starve; they will sell it back to us, and we will be poor, but not hungry.”
Reuel’s words were sensible, but upon one thing Brandyé did not agree, though he did not speak of it to his grandfather. Though his life had not been long, he had seen enough to know that people, in numbers, could not design their own fate, but would take the easiest road, wherever it might lead. If one man who was selfish could bring ruin to a land, then surely one man who was selfless could save it.
Autumn and winter passed in dreary loneliness, and Brandyé did not even visit Elven, for his dejection was as deep as the snow. Then, when spring came, Brandyé received news that made things all the worse.
When the snows finally began to melt and the ground became less hard, Brandyé brought himself to the decision that he must either leave his home and see Elven and his family, or go mad. He set out one day across the empty fields around the outskirts of the town, and arrived at Elven’s home half an hour later, breath steaming in the cold air. To his confusion he heard much calling and shouting as he made his way through the back garden, and much banging, dragging, and scuffling as he entered the kitchen.
On the table were piled a great many things: two large trunks, many blankets and tunics and undergarments, baskets of fruit, piles of ham, cheese, and bread, knives, a pair of boots, and also a pair of well-shined leather moccasins. Most of these items were half-stuffed into the trunks, as though in haste.
After a moment Elven’s father, Timothaï, appeared in the kitchen and was surprised to find Brandyé there, seeming very bewildered and staring at the pile on the table. In fact, he seemed rather worried to see Brandyé, but said, “Good morning! Forgive the chaos—Elven is … well, I’ll let him tell you. It’s good to see you.”
Brandyé could hear someone bounding down the stairs, and momentarily Elven entered the kitchen, wearing a brand-new coat with real brass buttons and clutching an odd flap of leather in one hand. “Brandyé!” he exclaimed. “It’s so good to see you; I was worried I might not before I go!”
Still not understanding, Brandyé merely stared at his friend, and Elven said, “Come; I have so much to tell you.” He turned to his father, who seemed to know what his son was thinking.
“Go. Spend your time with Brandyé. I’ll finish packing here.”
Elven smiled and said, “Thank you, Father.”
As Elven pulled Brandyé back out of the kitchen door, his father called out, “But don’t tell your mother!”
Elven then fairly dragged Brandyé into the back garden, past the sheds, and finally stopped to sit on a large stone in the fields behind their house. As he caught his breath, Brandyé finally found his voice. “Is everything all right? What’s happening?”
“Oh, Brandyé,” said Elven excitedly, “it’s wonderful! I’m to be apprenticed to a healer! I’m leaving today to live with him, so that I can learn to heal both illness and injury.”
Brandyé felt a shiver of shock pass through him. “You—you’re leaving?”
Elven looked apologetically at Brandyé. “I meant to come to you and let you know,” he said, “but the winter has been so harsh, and Mother was worried what the villagers would say if they saw me traveling to your house. I wish we could have met before today, but I’m so glad you came; I very much wanted to say good-bye!”
Brandyé could not think of a thing to say. He had not expected to find that his best friend—his only friend—was departing Burrowdown. He had known Elven would soon find an apprenticeship; they had spent many hours over the past summer discussing what they should become as they grew older, which included anything from farmer to swordsmith to dragon hunter. But he had never considered that such an apprenticeship would mean leaving Burrowdown. “I’m glad for you,” he said finally. “How did this come about?”
“It’s all because of Sonora,” Elven replied. “Mother and Father were greatly impressed by how I bound her wing, and asked how I had known what to do. I said that I didn’t know—it just felt right. You should have seen it; her wing was good within a month!”
“I knew it would be,” Brandyé said. “She seemed content with you.”
“She is,” Elven replied. “Mother and Father began to ask the farmhands to call upon them should any animal be injured, and they would bring me along. It was wonderful, Brandyé, to know I could bring health back to those animals. So my parents sought the best healer in the land and asked if he might take on an apprentice. At first he would not, for he’s old, but they assured him I would work hard and would pay him whatever they desired. In the end, he would not accept payment, but said only that he expected me to live with him for the six years of the apprenticeship, and if I didn’t learn well, I’d be sent home in disgrace. But I’ll learn well, Brandyé, I know I will. His name is Sörhend, and I’m so excited!”
Brandyé suddenly found himself on the verge of tears. The thought that he might be without his friend for six years was more than he could comprehend. He wondered if he could at least visit him, perhaps on weekends. He blinked rapidly, and to distract himself asked, “How long has it been since you released Sonora to the wild?”
Elven’s eyes widened, and he grinned conspiratorially. “Come,” he said. “I have something to show you.”
He led Brandyé some way into the fields and took the flap of leather he still held. It was thick and had fastened to it a large buckle, which Elven wrapped around his wrist and pulled tight. It formed a gauntlet around his forearm and looked very impressive. Elven then placed two fingers of his other hand in his mouth and gave a loud, shrill whistle. A moment later, a cry answered from the distance, and soon Brandyé could see a black speck appear in the distance and close swiftly upon them. The speck grew swiftly into a headlong rush of feathers, and soon the falcon was circling them. With a heady flutter of her wings, she settled neatly upon Elven’s outstretched arm, her talons digging into the gauntlet.
Elven beamed at Brandyé. “Isn’t she wonderful?” he said. “When she was healed, I brought her out here and let her go, but she wouldn’t. I took her farther out and left her, thinking she might need to be deeper into the countryside, but that evening she was waiting at my window. She doesn’t want to leave me, nor I her. I’ve been training her, and she knows my voice. Her talons are fierce, though, so I made this gauntlet to keep her from mauling my arm. She’s coming with me to Daevàr’s Hut.”
Despite the wonder of discovering Sonora’s loyalty to Elven, this last statement brought back the shock of Elven’s departure. “Daevàr’s Hut?” he exclaimed. “That’s almost a week’s journey! When will we see each other next?”
Before Elven could reply, he heard his mother’s voice calling, frantic: “The coach is here, Elven! Come, swiftly!”
Elven looked suddenly nervous and excited. “It’s here! Come, Brandyé. You can wish me farewell.”
Brandyé followed Elven through the house. The two large trunks were now fully packed and waiting by the side of the path. A large cage was waiting for Sonora, and she entered it reluctantly; she rather contemptuously settled on the floor and eventually went to sleep.
The carriage arrived mere moments later, and without a pause two footmen descended and heaved the trunks upon a large rack at the back. The door of the carriage was opened, and Elven stepped inside, joining several other passengers who appeared rather impatient and unwilling to share the journey with a boy and a bird. The entire Dottery family had now appeared to bid him farewell—Timothaï, Arian, Maria, Julia, and Sonora also, who could not hold back the tears at her brother’s departure. Brandyé stood with them and watched as Elven paused at the carriage door and turned to face them.
“Good-bye, Mother and Father! Good-bye, sisters!” he called. “And good-bye, Brandyé. I won’t forget you! I’ll return, and you’ll see—I’ll be a great healer!” Then the door was shut, and the coach started off, the footmen once more clinging to the rear and the driver urging the horses on.
Brandyé watched the carriage make its way toward the South Road until it disappeared behind a building. He lingered a moment longer, then quietly bid farewell to the Dotterys and began to walk home once more. He felt just then that he had never been so lonely in all his life.
Brandyé’s life became quite different after Elven’s leaving. For many months—well into the summer—he wandered the southeastern plains, often making a day’s trip to Soleheart, where he would sit, sometimes beneath the branches and sometimes among them, gazing for many long hours across the plains and to the horizon beyond. He would scour the skies, and though he often saw solitary birds along with the flocks that migrated this way and that through the seasons, none ever approached him, and he found himself missing Sonora.
He was not exactly jealous of Elven; he understood that Elven had an unusual talent, and was glad he would learn to use it to great advantage. Yet he could not helping comparing himself to Elven’s fortune, and felt ever aware that he had no particular talent himself—at least, not one that he knew of. He knew nothing of healing nor of building nor ironmongery; but what was worse was that of all the possible skills he could choose to gain, none held his interest.
Reuel was not oblivious to this and knew that there were nonetheless skills that Brandyé would be best learning, even if he could not see the immediate use of them. Brandyé’s powers of perception and his inquisitiveness already held him in good stead, so Reuel turned toward abilities of a more practical nature.
With winter approaching, his most immediate concern was that of survival and of food. Together, he and Brandyé had for some years now tended a vegetable patch, and it offered plentiful nourishment in the form of potatoes, leeks, carrots, turnips, tomatoes, and this last season, pumpkins. However, he now began to take Brandyé out into the wild, on the moors and in the not-too-distant forests (though not those beyond the northern fields), and together they learned what plants were edible and which were poisonous, how to find wild onions and hidden tubers, and how to find fresh sources of water. Brandyé began to understand a little of his grandfather’s resilience and thought he knew something of how it was that he had survived outside of Consolation for so many years.
When Brandyé asked his grandfather why they were spending so much time gathering their own stock of food, he replied, “The villagers will no longer sell to me. They are now beginning to feel the weight of the Fortunaé’s new tax, and they hold us—myself, in particular—in contempt. They do not care if we starve, for they are starving themselves. So we must fend for ourselves. Luckily, I have a few ideas of what to do …” and Brandyé smiled.
Soon they had a fair stock of roots and vegetables from their garden and beyond, but Brandyé wondered what they would do for meat now that they could not buy it from the market. “We will hunt,” Reuel told him, and brought to Brandyé two items and asked him if he knew them.
“This is a bow,” Brandyé said, pointing to the long, curved, and beautifully carved yew longbow. “And this one … it looks like a bow, but it’s too small. What is it for?”
“This is a crossbow,” Reuel replied. “You will begin with this. It is smaller than a longbow, but it is more powerful also. Come.” He led Brandyé outside, where several logs were stood on their ends some distance away. He handed the crossbow to Brandyé, and his face was severe. “This is a weapon,” he said, “and it will kill a man. You are not ever to arm it until your prey is in view, and you are not ever to carry this in places where there are people.” He lowered his voice and continued, “These weapons have been outlawed in these lands. We are going to use them for our survival, and so must disobey this rule. You are not to speak of this device to anyone.”
Brandyé nodded, for he understood. He was thrilled, yet afraid, to be holding an instrument of death. He felt like a soldier of old, from his grandfather’s tales. His grandfather passed him a quarrel. “Fix it to the stock, like so. Good. Do you see the small crank on the left? Turn it three times—not more. Rest your finger on the trigger—that is the small lever beneath the stock. Aim, but carefully. Try to hit one of those logs yonder.”
Slowly and carefully, Brandyé brought the crossbow to bear upon a log, which was some fifty feet distant. He took a deep breath and pulled the release. The quarrel flew from the bow, passed high into the air—and missed the log entirely.
Reuel laughed out loud. “Good, son! It is not easy. You will improve. Leave the crossbow here, and fetch the quarrel. One does not waste an arrow.”
So Brandyé practiced, and became better and learned to hunt. At first Reuel would not allow him to slay an animal, until he was able to hit a potato from a hundred feet, for as he explained to Brandyé, an animal must be brought down by a single arrow. To kill an animal for survival was necessary, but to cause it suffering was unacceptable. Instead, Brandyé would watch as his grandfather skillfully slew hares, sheep (“Who would miss a single sheep?” he said), and occasionally a deer, should one be found. When Brandyé was finally allowed to bring down his first kill, it was a small stag, and though it fell from his first shot, he was quite ill to look upon it as it lay dead and could not watch as Reuel skinned, cleaned, and butchered the animal. In the end, the stag provided them meat for two months, but Brandyé could not eat it without thinking of the animal’s empty black eye, staring at him and the sky. Still, he understood the nature and purpose of hunting, but vowed to himself that he would not disrespect a living creature by killing it for anything other than his own survival.
It was in this way that Brandyé and Reuel passed the winter, and in fact lived in relative comfort to the village below, which suffered greatly from the lack of wood, food, and beer, which was sorely missed in the coldest winter months. Reuel, for his part, did not seem to suffer the loss of his weekly visit to the Burrow Wayde, although he did take up smoking a pipe of his own carving, the smell of which delighted Brandyé greatly, though he was not allowed to taste of it.
When the snow became softer and the air began to carry the breath of new life, Brandyé knew spring was coming and began to wonder about Elven and his family. He thought perhaps Elven had not suffered through the winter as Burrowdown had, and wondered what new and intriguing things his friend was learning. He missed him terribly, but knew there was nothing to be done, and so his thoughts settled upon the rest of the Dotterys, and Sonora in particular.
As the flowers began to bloom and the leaves returned to the trees, Brandyé found himself calling upon the Dotterys ever more frequently and asking if Sonora could come with him on his walks among the grasses and trees. At first Timothaï and Arian were reluctant, but they discovered that without Elven, Brandyé did not get into nearly so many fights, and so they relented and allowed her to go with him.
For her part, Sonora was delighted, for she was nearly as fond of Brandyé as she was of Elven, and hung raptly onto his every word. He found that, although she was impressed with his crossbow skills (he disobeyed Reuel and showed it to her, trusting in her confidence), she was more intrigued by the odd things that he found fascinating.
“Why do you spend so long watching spiders?” she asked him one day.
“Shh,” he said. “Come and kneel here with me.” Together they watched as an orb spider deftly wove her web, beginning by flinging herself from one blade of grass to another, dropping to the ground, and then finishing the spokes of her web and completing the great spiral that left her, when she was finished, triumphant in the absolute center of the web.
“Have you ever wondered,” whispered Brandyé, “about the intelligence of other creatures? No man alive could build such a wonderful thing as this web.”
It was in this way that Brandyé began to teach Sonora, much as Reuel had taught him, and soon they spent nearly all their time together, Sonora rapidly growing to enjoy the pursuit of discovery and knowledge nearly as much as Brandyé. Gradually, Brandyé forgot his heartache at Elven’s departure, and although he still thought of him daily, he found in Sonora a great friend he had never thought he could have, and for the first time in many months, he was truly happy.