A Party of Two
The following morning, Brandyé felt his mind clear, and his decision was made. The call to ride to Elven was too strong to resist, and he began to consider how he might make his departure. To the best of his knowledge, there would be no coach to the south for many weeks, so he would need a horse—a good one, if possible. Elven’s message inspired urgency, and he would not take longer than needed if he could help it.
The issue, then, was where to obtain one. He and Reuel had not any steed, and there were few in the land who would easily part with one, and certainly not to a Tolkaï. Worse, should he approach any folk regarding the borrowing of a mount (that is to say, any who had not been at the Burrow Wayde the previous evening), he realized he could not provide them with a time at which he would return. Elven had not been specific in his message, and Brandyé knew not whether he would find himself in Daevàr’s Hut for a week or a year.
Briefly he considered the possibility of purchasing a horse outright, but ultimately thought this would be an extravagant expense and was not sure even that he had the necessary coinage. Finally, his thought settled on the one person who might have a horse to spare and would even lend it to him: Farmer Tar.
With this decision now firmly in mind, Brandyé turned to leave his bedroom and set out upon his tasks. There was much he had to do before he could go, and he would not spare a moment. Yet even as he thought this, his eye fell upon Sonora, now resting atop his small desk, her head tucked deep beneath her wing. He ought to send word to Elven now, so that his friend might know of his plans. But the sight of the bird recalled the open window and the dark, and the fear he had felt climbing the stairs, not knowing what danger lay in his room. His grandfather would stay here, of course—yet was it right to leave an old man so, tending to himself for an unknown length of time?
And with this came a further thought—what reason could he give to Reuel to explain his sudden departure? He could think of no way to broach the subject with him without revealing himself, and he was yet afraid of what his grandfather’s reaction might be.
In a state of confusion, he left Sonora sleeping and descended to the parlor to see his grandfather awake and in the kitchen, bacon frying soothingly upon the stove. Seeing Brandyé, he turned and said, “Good morn’, son! I did not see you return last night; I must have fallen asleep. It is such comfort to doze by a fire when you are old.” He paused to turn the bacon and continued, “I hope all was well last night, for you must have returned late. Nothing to fear, I expect?”
Yet again, Brandyé found himself wondering at his grandfather’s words. There was not a mention of the great bruise on his jaw—only this odd question that seemed to probe too deep for Brandyé’s comfort. Not for the first time, he was certain Reuel somehow knew of his secret doings. He had not mentioned Sonora or Elven’s message—how was it Reuel knew that he indeed had something to fear? He spoke. “No, Grandfather—all is well.”
Reuel nodded. “Ah—good. I thought perhaps Elven’s bird had brought you a message.” He remained with his back turned to Brandyé, his face thus unreadable. Brandyé felt caught in a lie, and heat came to his cheeks.
“You knew Sonora had come last night?”
“Indeed,” replied Reuel. “Who do you suppose opened your window for her?”
Brandyé thought he began to perceive his grandfather’s intentions. Reuel clearly knew more than Brandyé was aware of, and he wished Brandyé to know this, without revealing the extent of his knowledge. Brandyé found himself greatly disconcerted by this; his grandfather had never been particularly secret with him, and he could now not fathom his grandfather’s thoughts. Eventually, though, he found words to speak. “Elven wishes that I visit him,” he said carefully. “I thought I might borrow a horse, rather than wait for the next coach.”
Anxious for the questions that were to come, Brandyé was further surprised when Reuel merely replied, “I see. Whose horse might you borrow?”
“Farmer Tar has a horse he might lend me,” said Brandyé.
“His mare Isabella is a strong steed,” Reuel commented. “She would bear you swiftly.”
Not once yet had Reuel asked him one of a thousand questions that might reveal his intentions, and Brandyé was yet more confused than ever. Did his grandfather know of what he was planning? If so, why was he not asking him of it? If he knew nothing of his intentions, why was he not asking of that instead?
Yet Reuel seemed satisfied; he spoke no further, but split the bacon between two plates and bid Brandyé eat his breakfast. The two did not speak as they ate: Brandyé out of nervousness, and Reuel, apparently, out of nothing more than a desire to finish his meal while it was still hot.
By the time Brandyé had finished, he had thought of what he wished to say to Elven and returned to his room. Quickly he wrote on a small scrap of parchment:
I have considered carefully your words, and my decision is made: I will ride to you in Daevàr’s Hut. I hope to find you well, and will aid you in whatever way I might.
I intend to borrow a horse, and expect to arrive within a week. Do not concern yourself with meeting me, for I recall the way to Sörhend’s apothecary.
He attached the note to Sonora and bid her once more fly and bear it to Elven. It seemed to him almost that she sighed as he spoke to her, but she did not hesitate as she flapped from his window, and was soon lost to the clouds.
Brandyé now prepared to depart and pass over the fields to visit Farmer Tar. As he stepped through the door, a call from Reuel stayed him. He turned back and saw his grandfather standing calmly behind him. With a fixed gaze, Reuel spoke. “Take care, son, in your travels, for you know not yet fear. If you think you are afraid when climbing dark stairs in your own home, you will find yourself ill-prepared for the true terrors that dwell in the dark places of Erâth. You must be ever vigilant.”
To this, Brandyé had no answer. He felt at that moment that Reuel knew every thought in his mind, and was disturbed by his words; what terrors did he speak of? He knew of the fierundé, certainly, but there would be none of those where he was going. All he could think to say was, “Thank you, Grandfather. I will take care,” and when Reuel nodded—though he did not smile—he turned and set off.
It was a cool spring morning, and mist lay still upon the moor. Brandyé walked swiftly across the land, over the fields to the south, intending for Farmer Tar’s home. His path led him around the south of the village, past the Dottery household, and he was surprised to find Sonora waiting for him as he came upon their home. She had wrapped around her a great cloak that appeared far too large for her. He perceived she had been waiting for some time, for she had drawn the cloak tight around her, and though her arms were folded across her chest, he saw she was shivering in the morning cold. As he drew abreast of her, she called out to him.
“Brandyé! Where are you going?”
He did not pause as he replied, “I am going to speak with Farmer Tar.”
She fell into step with him and exclaimed, “I knew you would pass by here this morning! I’ll come with you.”
Brandyé was disturbed by this. “How would you know I would come this way?”
“I saw Sonora flying yesterday evening,” she said. “I was excited, but when she didn’t come to us, I knew she must be making for you. What message did you receive from Elven?”
Brandyé realized he had not an answer for her. He worried to tell her of Elven’s message and his intention to travel to Daevàr’s Hut. She would insist on coming with him, and this he did not want: she was far too young to be subjected to such danger, he thought (quite conveniently forgetting that he was scarce a year older and knew not precisely what danger lay ahead). Instead, he said, “I’m … I’m not certain. He wasn’t clear.” He smiled. “That’s why I’m going to see Farmer Tar; I’m certain he will know what to make of it.”
Sonora seemed satisfied with this, and together they continued on. They arrived at Farmer Tar’s home not more than fifteen minutes later, to find Farmer Tar busy straightening a bent plow blade in the yard. He paused from his hammering and looked up at them as they approached. “Well, hello!” he called. “What brings you here this mornin’?”
“There is a thing I want to discuss with you,” replied Brandyé. He looked awkwardly at Sonora for a moment. “It’s somewhat mysterious; I’d hoped for your counsel on it.”
Farmer Tar was no fool, and as he looked from Sonora to Brandyé, he saw that Brandyé wished to speak away from the girl. “Come,” he said, and bid Brandyé follow him into his home. He followed, and Sonora made to come also until Brandyé said, “Wait here, Sonora—it will not take long.” She began to protest, but before he could allow himself to hear her words—for he knew he would not be able to keep his intentions from her should she argue with him—he followed Farmer Tar into the house, and the door was shut upon her. From behind it, Brandyé heard Sonora’s indignant exclamation, but turned to Farmer Tar.
“I apologize,” he said. “This is a matter of importance, and I don’t want Sonora to know of it. I’ve received word from Elven, and he wants me to join him in Daevàr’s Hut as soon as possible.” Farmer Tar did not speak, and Brandyé swiftly told him of Elven’s message and his intention to ride to Daevàr’s Hut if he could.
“Aye,” Farmer Tar grunted. “You’ll need a horse, there’s no doubt. I can’t say I wish you to go; we need you here as much as anywhere. But as I understand it, Daevàr’s Hut is where it’s all at, so to speak—and I’ve no doubt if Elven says he needs you, you’ll have to go. It’s the gettin’ there that’s the trouble. Even if you took Isabella and rode fast, you’d not be there before five days. D’you think that’ll be swift enough?”
“It will have to be,” Brandyé replied.
“When will you leave?” Farmer Tar asked him.
“Immediately,” Brandyé said. “I want to return home to collect a sack, and I must leave Grandfather with some wood and food should I not return for some time, but I intend to make for the South Road by noon.”
Farmer Tar acknowledged this, and so they went to find his horse and prepare her for travel. Brandyé was surprised when they came from Farmer Tar’s home to find Sonora was no longer there, but his mind was too full already and he had not room to consider it. They prepared Isabella’s saddle and brushed her down, and soon Brandyé was ready to depart. Even as they prepared, Farmer Tar could see that Brandyé was still torn between his obligations to Elven and those in Burrowdown and said, “Ride now, quickly—don’t concern yourself with us! If you’re successful in Daevàr’s Hut, we won’t be worryin’ here much longer!”
And so Brandyé did. He had not much experience at riding, but Isabella was a patient steed and trotted not too fast over the fields, bearing him around the town and onward to his home. As he saw his grandfather’s house appear once again over the land, he felt quite suddenly that it had lately grown frail. A sense that it would not long last the coming Darkness fell upon him, and he chased the thought with the false reassurance that nothing could happen to Reuel, so strong with life was he.
He soon had stocked the house with every sort of item he could think of, to the point that Reuel bid him depart already, lest he leave no room for him in the house also. He aided Brandyé in collecting a small sack of provisions of his own to bear with him on his journey, and bid him a fond farewell as he laid the sack over Isabella and prepared to mount her.
“I will miss you, Grandfather,” he said, and Reuel nodded.
“I will miss you also, son. You are strong now, and you will bear yourself to a strong fate. Trust in yourself.”
Brandyé thanked his grandfather and pulled himself up onto Isabella. His grandfather, it seemed, had great faith in him. He still was not certain whether Reuel knew of what he went to face, but his own confidence was not so sure. It was for this reason that Brandyé had in secret packed two further items without his grandfather knowing, and these two items gave to him a hope of strength and a burden of great anxiety.
Isabella was indeed strong, as Farmer Tar had promised, and she bore him swiftly around the village one last time to the south. Within a few miles they had rejoined the South Road, and she settled into a brisk and comfortable trot; he trusted her to take rest as she saw fit.
The South Road was bereft of other folk, and though Reisenwell lay along it on the way to Daevàr’s Hut, Brandyé was not surprised, for with the darkening of the land, the people of their villages ventured no more to their neighbors. He, in fact, did not expect to encounter anything at all until arriving in Daevàr’s Hut entirely, and so it was with curiosity that he saw, perhaps ten miles from Burrowdown, a single person stood, unmoving, in the middle of the road, seeming almost to have been waiting for him.
The person was short but cloaked, and the hood covered the face such that he saw little but a chin, and could not discern its nature or mood. Concerned that this person could mean him harm, he brought Isabella to a halt some yards away and called out, “Greetings, traveler! Have you need of help? You seem alone here.”
For a long moment the figure did not speak, but raised its head to gaze upon him, and Brandyé was uncertain: what could this person wish of him? He waited and was ready to speak again when the figure drew back its hood, and he knew her at once.
“You are a coward, Brandyé!” Sonora accused him angrily. “You wouldn’t even speak to me of what you intended!”
Brandyé looked upon his friend in disbelief, for she had traveled ten miles by foot since only that morning. Yet he also now understood why she had left so suddenly while he had been speaking with Farmer Tar: she had heard through the door of his intentions, and sought to meet him where he could not hide. Finally he brought himself to speak, and felt ashamed at his words.
“I didn’t want to alarm you,” he said. “I must go to Daevàr’s Hut, and it’s likely that danger awaits me there.”
At this, Sonora drew herself high and spoke indignantly. “You’ve worried me whether you want it or not! Wolves, beasts, dreadful marks in the dark—I’ve been in fear ever since I have known you!”
For a moment he could not reply, for as hurtful as her words were, they were also true. “This is different,” he said finally, though he knew the falsehood in his words. “You are too young to understand.”
Sonora now scowled at him. “You are hardly older,” she spat. “You must certainly think much of yourself if you believe you’ll arrive and rescue Daevàr’s Hut from the Fortunaé.”
As they had been speaking, Isabella had been shifting impatiently, and now she snorted; Brandyé felt very much she was suggesting they both stop bickering and allow her to continue her journey, which she had been so far quite enjoying. He sighed and said, “Even so, why did you travel so far? You won’t make it home before dark.”
“I am not going home,” she said, and there was no argument, for Brandyé would not have her left here through the night. Isabella was certainly strong enough to bear the both of them, and so it was that the both of them continued onward to Daevàr’s Hut, Sonora feeling quite triumphant and Brandyé feeling even more anxious than before.
Yet for the following five days all went well, and as the landscape changed around them, the weather became warm; Brandyé found he did not need his blankets and offered them to Sonora, who accepted gratefully and slept soundly through each night. Neither swan nor crow crossed their path, and apart from the crickets, frogs, and marmots, they encountered no other living thing after passing through Reisenwell until they came upon Daevàr’s Hut itself, on the morning of the sixth day.
Brandyé had grown increasingly impatient to see the town, for Elven had spoken of great changes and he was anxious to know what they were. As the town came into view over the last hill, however, and they looked down upon it in its valley, he saw he could not have been prepared for what now greeted their eyes.
While the town itself seemed largely unchanged—the Great Square was still visible before the Tuiraeth Bridge, and the large dark stone of the Hut towered over it on the opposite riverbank—what astonished Brandyé to see was that, since he had last stood here and looked upon the town, the entirety of Daevàr’s Hut had been encircled by a wall, twice the height of a man and nearly as broad. It ran from bank to bank, north and south, and it became apparent that entrance to the town was impossible except for a single great arch, under which the main road upon which they had traveled ran.
Brandyé brought Isabella down the hill toward the town, and as they approached, they saw that the wall was guarded and that many men stood, or walked to and fro, upon its height. The arch was barred by a gate; two heavy oak doors swung shut against them. As they approached, they saw there stood also several men, each bearing a spear and short sword at their waist. They bore the blue collar of the constabulary, but the jackets he remembered them in had been replaced by mail, and they appeared very much to be at the defense of the town.
Brandyé and Sonora approached the gate, and one of the constables stepped forward to meet them. His face was stone, and his eyes dull as he spoke. “What business brings you to Daevàr’s Hut, the City of Fortuna?”
Brandyé had not heard of Daevàr’s Hut spoken of as the City of Fortuna before and wondered at this. “We wish to visit a friend,” he said. “He is an apprenticed healer in the town. We have traveled a great distance to speak with him.”
“No one is permitted to enter the city except on the business of the Fortunaé,” the constable replied. “You may not pass.”
“We intend no harm,” Brandyé said. He thought this might become a lie, for he was reminded of the two secret items he had brought with him. “Do you mean to say it is forbidden to visit old friends?”
“No one is permitted without leave of the Fortunaé,” the man repeated. “You will not enter through these gates.” With this, he turned and retreated to the gate where the other constables stood. With his back to the gate, he stood tall, grasping his spear before him, and had all the movement of a statue. Brandyé looked over his shoulder to speak with Sonora.
“What do you think?” he asked her. “We seem to have come to a halt.”
“We will not enter through the gates,” she said softly to him, and a grin took her face. “We may well be able to enter elsewhere.”
Brandyé looked again at the guards of the gate, and up at the men on the wall above, whom he now recognized as constables also. These men had been dangerous when he had last visited the town, he recalled. Their justice was their own, and if you were not in the service of the Fortunaé, you could be certain they would mete a terrible fate. What risk did they take should they attempt to pass into the town without the guards’ knowledge? Brandyé did not want to consider the consequences if they should be caught. Yet he knew also, with sinking dread, that there was little choice; they had traveled far from their home, and Elven and the Scythe’s Blood were waiting. They dwelled daily with new fear; what use could he be to them if he allowed himself to be turned back by the constabulary before ever entering the town?
Slowly he led Isabella away from the large gate and the imposing constabulary. These men would be treacherous foes, he saw. He hoped only that the cunning shared between himself and Sonora would prove enough to keep them safe.
If it did not, he had with him still the two secret items. This held little comfort.