The Scythe’s Plot
Brandyé and Sonora passed an uncomfortable night in a field perhaps half a mile from the great gates of Daevàr’s Hut. The weather had turned against them during the afternoon, and now that the light had dropped from the clouds, a thick and chilling mist filled the air and forebode rain. Their cloaks were soon damp, and Brandyé found he could not light a fire; they ate a little stale biscuit and hard cheese, and were hungry. Even Isabella, though her hide ought to have kept her sheltered, seemed disaffected by the gloom and settled some paces away, spending the night snorting uncomfortably.
He would bid the horse return the following morning, Brandyé thought, for she was of no more use here. Had they been able to ride her into the town, they might have found her a stable and hay, but it was not right to leave her tied in an untended field, and she would fare better in returning to Farmer Tar. He was certain she would know the way.
Eventually Sonora made a pillow of her hood and a rock, and seemed to pass into sleep. For Brandyé, his thoughts were too full to allow him such rest, though he knew he would need his strength the following morning. Even behind his closed eyes, he saw the constables before the gate and recalled the terrible deadness of their eyes: they threatened under the command of their lords, and the power this gave them had in turn left them bereft of thought. Some were stronger than this, of course, and he thought of the man who had intervened when he had attacked the villain Howarth; but then he thought also of how the man had struck Freyd Longboot before knowing even if he were guilty of crime.
Brandyé knew little of the ways of the nobility and life in Daevàr’s Hut, but he had learned from Elven, Aiden, and the others that the constabulary formed the sole and final justice of the town, and of the lands in general. It had been they who had accompanied Garâth to Burrowdown many years ago, when Brandyé had been faced with the repercussions of his fight with the lord’s son, and he supposed it was they who laid to ruin the farms of those who had been unable to pay the raised tax that had followed.
Yet all that while, they had remained constables, and dealt in justice, however unjust. Now, however, in their armor and helms, spear and sword in hand, they appeared far more ready to deal in death.
He recalled his grandfather’s old stories of great battles and armies going to war, and he imagined the constables looked much like those soldiers of old. He dwelled upon this word—soldiers. The armies of Darkness had soldiers with which to fight the armies of light. Theirs had been of men, but of beasts and demons also. There were no beasts in Daevàr’s Hut, but he wondered if the lords of Consolation were of light or dark. Such a thought had never before occurred to him; always these terms had been of fantasy, lost to the far-distant past.
His grandfather had spoken once of the origin of the town, of how it bore the name of a great king of old. Daevàr, who had left behind his kingdom, had sought a land far from pain, where the war of soldiers was unknown. What would that man say of his town if he could but see it now?
Somewhere among these thoughts, Brandyé finally allowed himself to doze, for without quite being aware, it was morning and Sonora was shaking his shoulder, bidding him to wake. He felt unwell, and at first his eyes would not focus on her. Reaching for his sack, he drew forth his waterskin and drank deeply. The water was cold and refreshed him. With a slightly clearer head, he bore his attention once more upon Sonora.
She, it seemed, had been awake for some time, for she was in a state of great agitation and began to speak almost before he could listen.
“It’s dark this morning,” she said, “and I think it’s later than the clouds would have us believe. The men on the wall are patrolling even more since we arrived, and there are twice as many at the gate.”
Brandyé wondered at her; while he had dozed, she had ventured back to the town and taken account of the defense against them. A veritable spy, it seemed she was. “Were you seen?” he asked.
She shook her head. “The mist is excellent cover. I don’t think these constables are familiar with grass and countryside; they look out, but they don’t look down. If what you say is true and this wall is a new thing, they may not be used to guarding it.
“This will give us a chance. I followed the wall to the south and discovered where it falls into the river. They’ve built it so that it forms a bridge over the water, and there’s no bank on which to stand.”
“The water is fast,” Brandyé said, “and with the chill of the air, I don’t think we could swim around the wall.”
“They would see us there in any case,” she replied, “for the wall is lower there than in other places, and the ground would be easily seen. But there is another place, where the wall is of a great height, that we might gain entrance!”
Brandyé was puzzled at this. “How could we cross the wall at its highest?” he asked.
“We won’t cross it!” she exclaimed. “We’ll pass through it! At the base of the wall, I saw an opening. I didn’t get close, but I think it might be a place where the water and waste of the town passes. If we can enter there, it might bear us through the wall.”
Brandyé did not feel as certain as she and said, “How can we know that the other end may be passed? It might be of a smaller size inside the town.”
Sonora, however, was not dissuaded, and shrugged: “Then we return, and think of another way.”
Still uncertain, Brandyé bade her eat, though he himself had little hunger. When they had finished, they began to prepare for the next stage of their journey. Gathering their things, Brandyé collected what he thought they might need into two small sacks, to be carried upon each of their own backs. The rest—a small pot, an extra waterskin, their blankets—he fastened to Isabella and then spoke gently to the horse.
“You’ve borne us well this far,” he said, “but you can’t follow us where we’re going. Go now—return to Farmer Tar, and rest when you arrive. You know the way; the road is easy to follow.”
Isabella snorted and dipped her head, seeming to look at both him and Sonora. The girl was sad, for she liked the horse a great deal and did not wish to part with her. Isabella came to her and lowered her muzzle to Sonora’s cheek. She laid her hand upon the horse’s own face and whispered, “I’ll miss you, Isabella. I will see you again soon, I am certain.”
Isabella seemed satisfied with this and turned. With a final sniff at Brandyé—stern, it seemed to him—she set off slowly and vanished into the mist.
Brandyé followed Sonora then through the long and wet grass, and though he could not make out where they were heading, before long the dark shadow of the wall loomed high above them, and he knew they were close to the town.
Sonora paused and said, “Listen—you can hear the men up on the wall, even though we can’t see them. We’ll need to crawl; it isn’t far.” She fell to her knees and Brandyé did the same, and they passed thus through the grass toward the wall. From above, they were well hidden, and the guards who roamed the high wall would have seen little but a gentle swaying of the grass.
Before long, Brandyé could make out the stone of the wall itself, and he saw the opening of which Sonora had spoken. They approached it, and he now saw that passing through it would be more difficult than they had anticipated. Not only was its stench overpowering (he did not doubt now that Sonora had been right—this was a waste outlet for the town), but a thick and heavy grate barred its entrance.
Sonora seemed to lose her excitement and looked at the grate in disillusionment; it had seemed so simple from afar. “I’m sorry,” she whispered to Brandyé. “It wasn’t clear from the distance. We can’t pass here; we must find another way.”
But Brandyé did not hear her, for he quite suddenly was sure of how they would pass. He laid a hand on the grate, felt its cold and solid iron beneath his fingers, then swung his pack from his back and drew forth the first of the two secret items he had brought with him: the black dagger.
He did not know what compelled him to act thus; certainly there was no reason to think such a small item could harm such an immovable obstacle, but his mind was suddenly not his own and he moved without thought. He brought the dagger’s tip, sharp as ever, to bear upon the grate, and he saw that it was greatly rusted where the blade pressed upon the bare iron. Gently he pressed the blade forward, and Sonora gasped as the dagger passed wholly through the bar.
Continuing on without mind, Brandyé passed the dagger through the grate’s other bars, each of which was peculiarly weak and rusted at just the point he wished to break. As the final bar gave way, the whole heavy thing dropped and collapsed inward upon the opening with a terrible crash.
At the sound, Brandyé seemed to see what he had done, and to see the black dagger in his hand. He hastily returned it to his sack and slung the sack once more over his shoulder. Sonora was staring at him. “How did you know?” she asked. But Brandyé did not answer, for he knew not himself. Instead, he pulled himself up to the opening and crawled inside.
It was indeed a tunnel, which passed gently upward through the wall. It was very black and the floor was cold and slimy beneath him, but he crawled forward nonetheless. Sonora followed him with trepidation, and soon they were both lost completely to the darkness.
It was perhaps no more than five minutes that they spent in such desolate black, but it seemed to them both that they had passed a day or more. Small sounds surrounded them: the faint trickle of water as it ran past them, the soft squelch of their progress through the muck, and the skittering of tiny legs and claws passing about them. Brandyé was quite glad of the darkness when he heard these last noises, for he had no wish to see the creatures to which they belonged. All the while, the stench of rot and waste grew ever stronger.
Finally, when his heart was close to panic, Brandyé’s eyes began to recognize a faint light ahead; he knew they would soon emerge. Some minutes later, he and Sonora found themselves in a small chamber, no more than three feet high, at the top of which was a small opening. Through this, they could see stones and a wall, and Brandyé knew they sat just below a street, with a building not far. He saw no feet passing and hoped that they might be in one of the many side alleys into which few people went.
“We’ll have to climb through that opening,” he said doubtfully, for it seemed too small for them to pass.
“I’ll go first,” Sonora said. “I am smaller. If I fit, I can help pull you through.” She removed her sack and moved closer to the opening, peering through it both left and right. “I see no one,” she said, and gently pushed her head through. She passed easily, and with a small push from Brandyé, she was soon standing in the alley. Brandyé passed both of their sacks through and then began to crawl through himself. It was not so easy, for his head and shoulders stuck, but Sonora tugged at him with all her might, and finally he also emerged, wet, filthy, and stinking, into the alley.
It was indeed a tiny street, no more than four feet broad, and the backs of houses surrounded them. It was their fortune, he thought, that they had not emerged somewhere such as the Great Square, where they should easily have been seen.
He looked at Sonora and she at him, and quite suddenly it struck him as greatly amusing: here they stood, two young people, secretly in a town they had been forbidden to enter, uncertain what next to do, and drenched in filth and reeking of waste. For a moment he laughed, and Sonora laughed with him. It had begun to rain since they had entered the tunnel, and he felt for just that moment quite unworried as they both stood, the rain washing away the muck, giggling like children.
When he had quite come to his senses, Brandyé saw they must discover where in the town they were and how to reach Elven’s home. He dared not lead them on any large road, and their task was thus all the more difficult, for he was not familiar with the small alleys and streets of Daevàr’s Hut.
Yet he knew they had passed through the wall on the east side of the town, and Elven’s home lay west of the main road, and so he began to lead them in this direction. As they passed through ever larger streets, they began to encounter other folk, but the others seemed not to pay them mind—whether because they wished to avoid their smell, or feared to look around them, Brandyé could not tell. Their nervousness returned as they saw blue-clad men walking here and there, always with swords at their side. For Sonora, who knew nothing of the town before now, the fear was of the constables and their blades. For Brandyé, the fear in his heart was deepened by the disturbing changes in their demeanor in the time since he had been here. There were far more of them, it seemed, and each wore an expression of bitterness and loathing.
Still, despite the ever-present worry that they might be discovered, even the constables seemed uninterested in confronting two rank beggars, as they surely appeared, and Brandyé eventually found himself walking down familiar streets and knew they were within reach of Elven’s home.
The sky was darkening by the time Brandyé arrived on the small street that housed Sörhend’s apothecary, and though the shop below was dark, he was encouraged to see the windows above lighted. He pulled upon the bell cord, and heard from within a faint conversation stop and footsteps cautiously descending a staircase. A dark figure moved through the shop, bearing a lantern, and stopped at the window, staring out at them. Quite suddenly, the figure appeared nearly to drop the lantern and moved swiftly to the door and unlatched it. The door swung open, and Elven, dressed in nightwear, stood before them.
Though the lantern light was dim, Brandyé saw his friend was changed. A faint scar marred his chin, and though his eyes looked upon him fondly, no smile graced his lips. Wordlessly Elven drew Brandyé forward and embraced him, and it was then that he saw his own sister standing timidly behind him, still drenched in the rain.
At this, Elven finally spoke. “Is that—Sonora, is that you?” His mouth hung open, and his wide eyes stared at her.
Nervously Sonora replied, “Elven, I have missed you!”
For a moment Elven continued to look upon her in disbelief, and Brandyé was certain of facing his friend’s wrath at having brought his own sister into possible danger, but it did not come. Instead, Elven rushed forward, bare feet in the rain, and threw his arms around her so that she was lifted bodily from the ground. “Oh, sister, I have missed you so much! I thought I might never see your face again!”
And so Brandyé and Sonora were welcomed into Elven’s home, and they washed, warmed, ate, and slept.
The following morning, Elven brought them fresh clothes and warm breakfast, and introduced Sonora to Sörhend, whom Brandyé had met only briefly, despite having stayed in his very house. Sörhend was an old man whose beard was wholly white, and he leaned heavily on an ash staff as he moved slowly around the home, directing Elven here and there in the brewing of tea and frying of eggs. As they sat in the parlor at a table by the window, Elven asked them of events in Burrowdown. The rain still fell heavily outside, but the fire crackled soothingly, and Brandyé felt calm for the first time in months.
“It’s dark there, as it seems to be in many places,” he told Elven. “New dangers are rising—some natural, and some not.” Brandyé was cautious, for he did not feel he should reveal too much in the presence of Sörhend. “There are many things I want to speak to you of, Elven—perhaps at a later time?”
Elven, who was sitting on a low bench beside his sister, seemed to recognize Brandyé’s concern and said, “Fear not, friend—we are in safe company here,” and so Brandyé learned that Sörhend was a part of the Scythe’s Blood also. He was surprised at this, for Sörhend appeared too old to be concerned with the Fortunaé, but he did not speak of it.
Elven, on the other hand, seemed curious to learn of Sonora’s presence. “I sent word for you to come, Brandyé,” he said, “and as pleased as I am, I’m surprised by your company as well.” He looked at Sonora. “You have grown greatly,” he said, “but it was a dangerous road to take. Why have you come?”
Sonora did not answer at first, and so Brandyé began to tell Elven of all that had occurred in Burrowdown since they had last spoken. He seemed disturbed to learn of the wolves and the deaths of the livestock, and grasped Sonora’s hand as Brandyé spoke of the attack on the bridge and how Farmer Tar had rescued them. He was positively shocked to learn that Sonora was part of the Scythe’s Blood, and the concern did not leave his eyes even as Brandyé spoke of how strong she had been and how they would not have passed into the town at all if not for her.
“It never occurred to me you would not be allowed to pass,” Elven said. “The surrounding folk are still allowed into the town for Great Market Day, under the eye of the constabulary.”
And so their conversation continued, but as much as Brandyé spoke, Elven would not answer his own questions and would not even speak of his scar, which was not large but prominent nonetheless on his chin. “These are things we will discuss elsewhere,” he said, and would say no more.
Later that afternoon, when the rain seemed to relent for a brief moment, Elven suggested they go for a walk, and so they dressed warmly in cloaks and set out into the dismal and wet streets of Daevàr’s Hut. Sörhend did not come with them, though he bade them farewell at the door and locked it fast behind them.
There were few folk in the streets because of the rain, but ever present were the constables, who eyed them warily as they passed, certainly curious as to the business of three young people in the drizzle, hoods drawn far over their heads. For some time they meandered the streets, and it became apparent Elven was leading them somewhere, though Brandyé was not sure where.
Eventually Elven brought them to a halt before an old building, and looking up, Brandyé saw that it could not possibly be inhabited, for it had been burned out in a fire some time ago: the windows were empty panes, and the roof little more than a charred skeleton. Yet Elven nonetheless led them behind this house, and at its rear was a flight of stone steps that descended into the ground. Elven led them down these steps and knocked hard on the door at their foot.
There was a pause, and then a voice called, “Speak.”
“For without a voice, we all shall perish,” replied Elven, and Brandyé thought it an odd thing to say, until the door swung back to reveal a man he thought he recognized. Elven led them in, and the man slammed the door shut behind them.
They were in a dark stone passage, lit only by the lantern carried by the man who had let them in. This man turned to Elven, and then scrutinized both Brandyé and Sonora. Then he spoke. “You will be the end of us, Elven,” he growled. “First you bring this one—” he pointed at Brandyé “into our circle without our permission, and now you bring another! Who is this girl?”
The voice was so familiar that Brandyé drew closer to peer at the man’s face, and he realized that it was Harmà.
“This is my sister, Harmà,” Elven replied, “and I hope you don’t think she will give us away.”
Harmà grunted and turned down the passageway. “Come,” he muttered. “It’s good you’re here. Eldridge has much to discuss today.” He led them down the passage, and they soon found themselves walking a labyrinth of rooms and corridors; Brandyé marveled, for they surely were no longer merely in the cellar of the ruined house above. Eventually they turned into a large chamber with a low ceiling, and many torches on the walls gave it a good light, if a little somber. Nearly a dozen men were here, gathered around a large table, and they looked up as the four of them entered.
“Who are these?” asked a man Brandyé did not know.
“Elven has thought to grace us with yet more outsiders. This is his friend—and his sister apparently.”
“How do I know you are not spies of the Fortunaé?” the man said. His voice was low and throaty, and laden with command.
“I’ve known him as long as I can remember,” said Elven. “He’s no more a spy than I am.”
The man looked at Brandyé intently. “Elven has proven himself,” he said. “How can you?”
“I have no proof with me,” Brandyé said honestly, “but I come from the town of Burrowdown, and we are nearly two dozen strong there, and growing all the while. No one there wants the Fortunaé as their rulers.”
The man considered this for just a moment, and then bade them sit. “You may join us this once, but you will remain silent. If it reaches my ears that you have spoken of us, we will find you, and you will regret your very life.”
Brandyé shivered, for he could tell this man meant every word he said.
Then the man turned his attention from them and began to speak. “We have much to speak of, my fellows,” he said, “but we have also much to do, and this is what I would speak of today. For many months we have spoken, and our talk has led to nothing! Tell me—why do we call ourselves the Scythe’s Blood if we have shed none?”
There was a murmur of agreement from around the table, and Brandyé sensed their agitation. He wondered who this man was that seemed to be their leader, and it occurred to him that Aiden was not here.
“It is three days until Faevre is to be tried,” the man continued, “and we have yet done nothing.” He looked around those at the table. “This man has only ever served us, though he knew not of what we conspire to do. For many years, his inn was our meeting ground, and our carelessness allowed the Fortunaé’s constables to capture him and tear down his livelihood. Some of us did not escape and have suffered beneath the Hut. And now, he is to be tried, which is to say he is to be exiled to his death.”
Brandyé listened to this man and was disturbed greatly by the news. He remembered Faevre well, and the man had seemed pleasant and kind; he felt a thrill of anger at the thought this man might be sentenced to die. He looked at Elven, and his eyes were once more drawn to his scar. Had his friend been there when Faevre had been captured?
“We must act to rescue him,” the man at the table continued, “but this alone will not be enough. If we reveal ourselves, the Fortunaé will win a swift victory and destroy us all. Instead, we must use this opportunity to cast our own blow to the Fortunaé, one so heavy that they will not recover from it.”
“We have tried such things before,” another at the table called out. “Each time it has only brought worse to us all!”
“Aye, remember Gordin?” another spoke. “When he resisted the Fortunaé, he lost his wife. And now, his children have lost him,” and Brandyé was further saddened to hear of this.
This new leader spoke again, and they fell silent. “Our actions in the past have taught us but one thing, and it is this: we can no longer resist the Fortunaé. The wall around this town is proof of this. When the Fortunaé learned that dissent might come from the farmlands, what did they do? They have offered no shelter to those who are now prey to the wolves that roam our lands, but instead have walled themselves in and surrounded themselves with constables, who now carry both armor and sword!
“The time has come, my fellows, to strike a terrible blow. The Lord Garâth will be present at Faevre’s trial, of course; he would not miss witnessing this poor man’s doom. And as ever, his ill-minded son will be with him. I have spoken with some of you already of my intention, but I will now share it with you all: we will kill the lord’s son.”
At this, the table erupted, great and hot debate raging among all who were there. At a word, though, their leader called them to silence. “I know there are some of you who feel this is an evil deed we plot, and I will not disagree. Those of you who knew Aiden know he did not approve of dealing death. But I say to you now, though Aiden is no longer with us, he would not have Faevre exiled to starve and die. What is one life against the countless lives the Fortunaé have ruined over the ages? If his son dies, there will be no successor to their line, and the Fortunaé will be ended.”
There was an unhappy murmur of consent, and finally Elven spoke.
“This is not right, Eldridge. How would you even have us commit this terrible deed? Certainly not one of us could approach the lord or his son with a weapon in hand.”
The man Eldridge nodded. “You need not believe it is right,” he said. “But I would have you believe that this wrong deed will right the many we have suffered for so long. And you are right, certainly, in the difficulty we face. I would bring this subject to you all, now, for question: how might we carry out the act so that we would be assured of success?”
And quite suddenly, Brandyé spoke, and at his words, Elven went white and Sonora covered her mouth. “What if we had a weapon that could deliver a fatal blow from afar?” And with that, he drew forth from his sack and placed upon the table the second of the two secret items he had brought with him.