A Message from Elven
By the following spring, nearly two dozen folk from Burrowdown had learned of the Scythe’s Blood. The great mark Sonora had left upon the Burrow Bridge had the effect they sought; for some days, all thought of wolves and darkness was drowned in talk of the mark and its creator. The origin of the mark was yet a mystery to the villagers, and despite Brandyé’s own reputation, not once did suspicion seem to settle upon him. This was possibly because Brandyé had sought to present as well-behaved a person as he possibly could whenever he found himself among the people of the village.
This was deliberate, in part so as to remove himself as far as possible from all thought of violence or fear; it was important that no one come to associate him with the markings, which themselves had begun to be associated with the nighttime wolf attacks that continued unabated despite Farmer Tar’s disposal of the pack’s leader (something no one but the Scythe’s Blood knew of, of course). Yet to Brandyé, there was another reason for causing as little disruption to the village as he could: he wanted to be liked. Odd as it was, now that there was a group of people who would actually speak openly with him—even if it were only in the secret dark of Farmer Tar’s barn—he felt as though a hole in his heart, one that had been nearly sealed since he had been very young, was suddenly torn open again. For so long he had taught himself to be alone, and now that he was not, he sought company from every direction.
He could not, of course, overturn the prejudices of a lifetime that had grown in the village’s mind, but he found that if he could refrain from causing any disturbance in public, people would, if not talk to him, at least talk before him and not seek to bring their dialogue out of his earshot. He thus allowed himself to feel included in their concerns, even if he were not.
His efforts to become less noticed, as it were, were not without difficulties. As he grew older, so too did the boys of the village that had once tormented him, and while they had grown greatly in stature, their intellect had not grown in proportion. While they seemed mostly content to leave him be, other than a jeer and a shout now and then, when it came to the week’s end and they found Brandyé in his customary corner of the Burrow Wayde, their amusement in goading him returned. If Brandyé had had cause to fear these boys in his youth, this was now doubled: twice in height and in might they were now, and fueled by an evening’s drink, a hefty punch thrown in jest turned easily to a savage blow.
Several times Brandyé rose to their taunts, and thus fell to their blows. He no longer wept, but on returning late to his grandfather’s house with a cracked lip or bruised cheek, he felt once more like a small child, and his ears burned with shame. Though Reuel now spoke seldom, this state of affairs did not pass him by, and the third time Brandyé returned home thus, he spoke to Brandyé of it.
“It has been some years since you have come home beaten,” Reuel said to Brandyé as he sat himself by the fire. Rusted blood covered his chin, and he peered at his grandfather through one eye, his fingers touching the other, now swollen and shut. “Yet this is the third time in two months I have seen you so. Come—speak to me.”
At first Brandyé wanted to say to his grandfather that it was nothing. For a brief moment, he sought wildly for an answer that would stay Reuel’s words, from omission to outright falsehood. But he knew Reuel would not be deceived, and Brandyé resolved to speak the truth, come what may. “I’ve been fighting, grandfather.”
“I am old, but I am not a fool,” Reuel said. “I can see you have been fighting. It is when you drink at the Burrow Wayde, of course. Is it your drink or theirs that causes the brawls?”
“It isn’t mine,” Brandyé said with force, and he heard the falseness in his own words. He did not start the fights, certainly, but nor did he stop them.
“It is as when you were young,” said Reuel, and there was amusement in his voice. “‘They started it, Grandfather,’ you used to say. Tell me—what used I to say of that excuse?”
“This is different—” Brandyé started.
“It is not,” interrupted Reuel. “A fight is a fight, be it between two boys, two men, or two kingdoms. A man cannot fight against himself.”
“I’ve been fighting against myself for all my life,” retorted Brandyé. “I’ve always hated myself for who I am. I’ve hated myself for where I come from, and I’ve hated myself for not belonging. More than anything, I’ve hated myself for hating others. I’ve struggled to know what to do, and never has a choice felt right!” Brandyé was astonished to hear himself speak these words; he had not known such discontent dwelled in his heart until this very moment.
Reuel, however, did not falter. “You struggle to make decisions, son; that is not the same thing.”
Brandyé glowered, for as usual, his grandfather was right. “What am I meant to do, then?” he spat. “They approach me; they taunt me; they would hit me whether I rise or not.”
“Why do you believe they approach you?”
“They don’t like me,” Brandyé said.
“Much as you did not like hearing my words a moment ago,” Reuel replied. “They angered you.”
“I don’t follow your thoughts, Grandfather,” Brandyé said. His frustration began to abate, and he was now confused. “What has that to do with the men at the Burrow Wayde?”
“You allowed your anger to distract you from the true problem at hand,” Reuel said. “As do the men at the inn, to distract them from theirs.”
“So you say they’re merely looking for distraction?” Brandy asked. He was doubtful about this.
“Most certainly,” said Reuel. He quite suddenly leaned toward Brandyé, and spoke low and forceful. “If you do not want to be their distraction, you must cause their distraction!”
Brandyé felt suddenly quite exposed; was it possible his grandfather knew of his secret involvement with the Scythe’s Blood and his desire to cause as little distraction in the village as possible? He spoke carefully: “I do not wish to cause distraction or disturbance, Grandfather. I wish only to listen.”
Reuel held his eye for a moment and then said, “You are causing disturbance nonetheless. Think! How could I have survived for so many years in Burrowdown without learning to distract folk?”
The realization dawned on Brandyé. “Your tales,” he said. “They would beat you, and so you told them tales!”
“So I did, son,” Reuel sighed.
“But I have no tales to tell,” Brandyé contended. “All the stories I know are yours, and they have heard them all before. They’ll call me an impostor.”
“I am quite certain you have tales to tell,” Reuel said quietly. Once more, he caught Brandyé’s eye; Brandyé looked swiftly away.
“I have no tales I wish to share,” he muttered.
“You will learn that to tell a tale, you must share a piece of yourself, even with those who would not respect it. There is no safety in stories, for every story, even the most fantastic, bears the truth of the teller. You will be exposed, but you will be safe from their blows.”
“I don’t know if I can do that, Grandfather,” Brandyé said. “I can only tell of my own experiences, and I would not have those known to these brutes.”
“Those things will come to be known sooner or later,” Reuel replied. “Better told by your tongue than another’s.” He leaned back now and breathed a great sigh. “Better by your tongue, son.”
Brandyé lowered his head now, for he could think of only one thing he could speak of. If he would not talk of the Scythe’s Blood, he could at least fuel their imagination about the slaughter of their animals. He could tell them of the fierundé.
At first, as several weeks passed, the young men of the Burrow Wayde seemed content to leave Brandyé be; he was able to slip into his customary corner of the inn, mug of ale in hand, and cast his eye around at the men and women and lend his ear to the many conversations at hand. In general, he found it difficult to follow any one argument to its conclusion, such was the noise and chaos of the place. Rather, he found great interest in watching one person carefully for a few moments—just long enough to capture a few of his or her words—and then bring his attention upon another and do the same. In isolating words from their root, he felt he was able to sense the humor of the village that week, if not learn of any specific information.
Sometimes things were well; he heard speak of flower, birth, life, and fair maidens, and there was much laughter and goading. Sometimes things were sad, as when Karl Paethar fell from the roof of a barn and broke his neck and left his wife to care for their three children (a thing he learned later from Sonora). More often, however, the villagers’ temper was of a more subdued nature, as the largely gray world passed on around them, and the gloom that pervaded would not lift.
One evening, Brandyé sensed a greater anxiety than usual among the patrons of the Burrow Wayde. Farmer Reuss had discovered earlier that week every single one of his goats killed in their paddock, throats open and drained in the manner that had become grimly known as the wolf’s grin. The voices of the inn were quiet that night, and few conversations rose above a murmur. Brandyé could hear little in the subdued air, but Reuss himself, along with his son and two hands that lived with him, was sitting close to him, and he found he could discern their words with less difficulty.
Farmer Reuss was sitting facing Brandyé, his head between his hands, and for the most part did not speak. The two farmhands made encouraging remarks to him, but seemed unconvinced of their own words. Reuss had been as diligent as any other farmer in the land inasmuch as the protection of his herd, but like every other, it had been of little use.
His son sat quiet, a brood on his brow. As it happened, his son was Ben, and Brandyé was especially careful not to draw attention to himself. He had managed to avoid fighting with Ben for some time now, and had no intention of engaging with him that night.
Eventually, Brandyé saw him speak a word to his father, who replied, loud and bitter, “I don’ want to hear about blasted wolves! Wolves don’ leave their meat to rot, I’ve told you before now! Whatever it is, it ain’t natural, and that scares me, it does.”
Ben scowled once more at the reproach, and as he turned his head, his eye caught Brandyé and recognized him. “Perhaps it were him,” he growled. “That boy’s always been no good; I’d wager if we’d beaten him proper when he were little, our goats’d be jus’ fine now, Father.”
The three other men at the table turned to look at Brandyé, and he felt the first twist of nervousness and resolved again that he would not fight this time. “You,” called out Reuss, “you’re the crazy man’s lad, ain’t you?”
Trying not to take offense, Brandyé said, “Reuel is my grandfather, if that is your meaning.”
Reuss grunted and spoke. “What d’you know about these killin’s? I never see you ’round in the morn’, nor in the evenin’, exceptin’ on these end o’ week days. How do we know you ain’t out at night cuttin’ throats?”
“Probably makin’ those horrible marks, too,” said one of the hands. “Filthy business it is, scarin’ folk with that sign.”
Ben’s eyes widened, and Brandyé saw a glint of delight in them. Certainly Ben would like to see this escalate to blows—four men against one, and an entire inn behind them. “I’ll wager it is!” he cried. “He’s just the kind that’d do such mischief—always been wrong. D’you know they say he frightened folk just by bein’ born?”
His father grunted again and cuffed him hard above the ear; Ben retreated, clutching his smarting head. “’Course I know that, you fool—I told you of it.” He turned back to Brandyé and spat, “What of it, boy? What’ve you been doin’ at night? You know, I heard old Carle say he saw you lurkin’ in the dark a couple o’ weeks ago; he weren’t certain, o’ course, bein’ dark and him old, but I reckon he might o’ been right.”
These few remarks disturbed Brandyé greatly, for without wit, they were dangerously close to truth. Brandyé had indeed passed by Carle’s sweet shop one night when the moon was high, and though of course no beast fell by his hand, that same hand was responsible for many of the markings around the village. It was then that he recalled his grandfather’s words. With effort, he summoned a slight smile to his lips, and spoke: “You speak of wolves and how they would not leave their kill to rot. You speak of things that are unnatural. Perhaps they are unnatural wolves that now attack your flocks.”
Farmer Reuss glowered all the more at Brandyé. “What do you know of this, boy?”
Brandyé, though anxious, brought himself to merely shrug. “I know nothing. I can only speculate. But there are things in the world that are beyond your imagination—things that wreak terrible destruction wherever they go.”
“You’re speakin’ nonsense,” called a voice from elsewhere in the inn.
“Am I?” said Brandyé. “Do you not remember the tales of my grandfather—tales of beasts and dragons in the wilds of the world? There is one I know of that might do just such crimes as we have seen of late.”
“And jus’ what are these beasts?” growled Reuss.
“Fierundé,” Brandyé replied. “Beast-wolves.”
“There you go,” said Ben. “Speakin’ fantasy, jus’ like your grandfather.”
“No,” countered his father. “Speak on, boy; tell us what you know.”
And so Brandyé began. “You know of the beasts that my grandfather has told you of,” he said. “I remember them vividly myself, for he has told them before our own fire on many occasions. There were giants—monsters, they were called. There were insects as large as a man, spiders that could tear you limb from limb. Dragons that breathed fire and could lay waste to an entire village in one breath.
“Among the most terrifying of all were the wolves. These are not wolves as you know them; they do not hunt for food, but for the pleasure of the kill.”
“Beasts don’ kill for the pleasure of it,” said Farmer Reuss.
“These do,” said Brandyé. “They are as big as a horse, with fangs the size of your hand. Their bodies bristle with fur as hard as nails, and their teeth are always stained with the blood of their last victim. But most terrifying of all are their eyes—demonic, they are; they glow red as blood, and when you look into them, you are frozen still. It’s as if they pierce your very heart with their gaze, and drain the life from you entirely. You would stand, unmoving, and it would leap upon you and crush you in its jaws. It would be a fate worse than death; even if you didn’t die, your very sense of self would be destroyed by terror.” A shiver ran through him at the memories these words brought up.
There was a great hush in the inn now as the image of these terrible beasts filled the minds of all who were there. Brandyé allowed himself to smile deep inside; his grandfather had been right. Distracting them with tales brought their attention away from himself.
So he thought—but he was mistaken. After a long moment, Farmer Gaël, who stood nearby, said in a low voice, “You speak as if you’ve seen ’em. Is it true?”
And in a rush, all confidence left Brandyé, for of course he had seen a fierund, and certainly did not want them to know of it. But even as he sought desperately for an answer, Farmer Reuss said, “Aye—he does. Almost as if he knew o’ them firsthand.”
And then the inn was in an uproar, as every man and woman looked upon Brandyé with anger and fear. “Is it true,” Reuss said, and it was no question.
Brandyé could only shake his head. “No—no! It’s only a tale!”
“You know too much of them,” said Reuss, and suddenly he and his son—and the farmhands—were risen from the table. It was then that Brandyé realized his folly: he had tied his tale to the only-too-real misfortunes they suffered, and these folk did not share his imagination. He had also given too much detail: in their minds, the only explanation was that he had stood side by side with one. And if he had—and survived—he must surely be in league with them.
Fear came to Brandyé, and as he too rose, someone called, “See—he’s tryin’ to escape!”
Panic overtook him then, and indeed he did try to escape, but found his way blocked by many men. A heavy hand suddenly grasped his shoulder and spun him around, and breathing ale in his face was Farmer Reuss, and he grasped him by the collar, his hands in fists. “You’ve walked with them, haven’ you? Perhaps you’ve been tellin’ them to kill my animals, eh?” He shook Brandyé, who suddenly felt an enormous well of anger rise up inside him.
And he found himself shouting, “Release me!” and shoved hard against Farmer Reuss, so that the man was thrust backward into his fellows and Brandyé’s tunic ripped. “You will not touch me!”
But his words were in vain, for as he tried to turn and push through the crowd, he found himself restrained, and a great and heavy blow fell upon his back and he was cast to the ground. “Get up,” growled Reuss’s voice, and Brandyé was hauled up by the collar, choking. As he struggled to regain his feet, gasping for breath, he had only a moment to see the man’s raised fist hurtling toward him, and then he remembered nothing for some hours.
When finally he awoke, he was lying in the ditch by the side of the road outside the Burrow Wayde, his face in the mud. He was cold and blind, and it was some moments before he realized the inn’s lanterns had been snuffed and he knew how late it must be. He stood unsteadily, and as he waited for his eyes to adjust to the gloom, he felt the swelling on his jaw and hissed at the pain. He took a step, and then another, and knowing he could keep his feet under him, he started across the bridge and up the hill, toward home.
When he arrived, he eased the door open for fear of waking Reuel. All was still, and the light was dim. Moving to the parlor, he saw the fire burning low, and before it sat Reuel, still and silent. His breast moved gently beneath a blanket, and Brandyé saw he was asleep. He would not disturb him now, he thought, and turned to climb the stairs to his own room.
As he rose to the landing, a chill swept past him, and a single candle at the top of the stairs fluttered. The door to Reuel’s mysterious room was closed as always, but the door to his own lay open. Within was darkness, and from the darkness came a second breath of cold. The window had been left open, it seemed. With some trepidation, he crept quietly through the door and entered his own room. All was still and dark, and only the curtain by the window, which stood wide, moved in the breeze.
As he approached the window, intending to shut it, there came quite suddenly a loud cry, and a great creature passed through the window and came down upon his head. He was cast onto his bed, and he beat at the creature even as its claw tore into his cheek. Grasping it firmly, he wrenched it from his face and flung it away.
The beast let out a great caw, and Brandyé was struck with sudden recognition. Dashing from the room, he grasped the candle from the landing and returned, bearing its light. As he approached the creature, the candle dimly lit its features, and he suddenly felt great guilt, for the beast he had thrown aside was Sonora. She was glaring at him indignantly, but he saw that she was not hurt and spoke to her.
“I’m so sorry,” he said. Her frown appeared to deepen, and he had no doubt she knew his words. “You startled me—you can’t fly at people’s heads in their own homes, and in the dark at that! Look—you’ve done me more harm than I have.” He touched his cheek and held out the bloodied finger for her to inspect. She glanced at it and then gave a soft cry.
As the shock of her appearance subsided, Brandyé gave thought to her presence. Again he spoke to the falcon: “What brings you here? It’s a long way from Daevàr’s Hut—you must be tired!”
Again Sonora cawed, and hopped forward toward him. In the candlelight, Brandyé noticed the note tied fast to her leg. “For me?” he asked her. She cawed an affirmation, and setting the candle aside, he reached down and freed her of the message. Relieved, she flapped her wings and rose herself onto his bed, where she began to preen. Excited, Brandyé unwrapped the note and began to read:
I write to you in great urgency, and have bid Sonora to bear you this note with all swiftness. Events have occurred here in Daevàr’s Hut that have brought a great change to the town, and I fear we will all be in great danger before long. The Scythe’s Blood has begun to speak of taking actions against the Fortunaé swiftly, and I believe the deeds they plot are of violence.
I would have you by my side, if in any way possible; I cannot speak of what deeds may come to pass over the following weeks, but I know we will have need of every mind and body loyal to the Scythe’s Blood. You are the only person I know whom I can entrust my fears to, and your counsel is precious to me; I believe wholeheartedly that you alone would prevent me from following a course I should not take.
If you can come, return note of this with Sonora, for she will carry it swifter than a horse. I understand if you feel your duty lies elsewhere, but I beg you to consider the good of all the land of Consolation. We—I—have need of you.
Ever your friend,
Brandyé turned from the note and looked to Sonora. Finished, she had settled herself on his bed and looked most comfortable. He would bring her food, he thought. And whether she would depart in the morning with a note or with nothing—of that, he could not say.