On the Eve of Death
With two days yet to pass before Faevre’s trial, Brandyé found himself in the midst of much haste—so much so that he had little time to consider the consequences of the path he was now treading. He did not again meet with the Scythe’s Blood in their cellar, but rather spent his time with Elven, who led him here and there to meet with various people who were to help him prepare for the deed that awaited him.
Brandyé found himself full of questions, much to the displeasure of those around him. Elven, of course, was used to Brandyé’s incessant curiosity, but those of the Scythe’s Blood, and the inhabitants of Daevàr’s Hut in general, were not used to such a behavior and found it unsettling. Eventually, Elven spoke to Brandyé and cautioned him against so frequently voicing his thoughts.
“The people of the Scythe’s Blood are not used to questioning orders,” he told him. “They came to us because they didn’t know what to do and are grateful to perform their part.”
“What of the people in the council?” asked Brandyé. “Even you—you opposed Eldridge directly.”
“I am on the council because Eldridge values the perspective of youth. We are the only two who debate; Eldridge then sends his orders among the rest of the Scythe’s Blood. In the end, I have my orders, and so do you.”
“How am I meant to learn what will happen if I only know what I’m told to do?” Brandyé protested. “We are seeking the downfall of the Fortunaé, and it seems I’m to be the one who makes the treacherous move against them. But I don’t know when this will happen or how. I hear the talk of other folk here and there, but they only speak of a trial, and that the justice will be swift and unfair.”
Elven, who himself was uncertain on many of these same points, could but say, “I know the trial will take place in the Great Square, and the Lord Garâth and his son will be there. I suppose it’s fair to assume there will be a great crowd.”
“Is this the custom then?” Brandyé pursued. “Have you witnessed other trials? Surely Faevre is not the first man to be tried and punished here in Daevàr’s Hut.”
“In truth, I have tried not to hear much of these affairs,” Elven admitted. “Sörhend has been forthright since I first came to him: it pays ill to pay mind to the doings of the Fortunaé. Other than what I hear when I meet with others of the Scythe’s Blood, I know little of their customs and deeds.” In a lower voice, he said, “This is what concerns me most, Brandyé. The Scythe’s Blood claim much of the Fortunaé’s treachery, but I’ve not seen much myself. Perhaps Aiden would have had more understanding, but I fear this man Eldridge; his anger is great, and I believe he would bring it on myself as swiftly as on the Fortunaé. I can only imagine they have done him a great wrong in his past, for he hates them bitterly.”
“You fear to leave?” Brandyé asked.
“I am not certain,” Elven replied. “Understand: I don’t wish to leave the company of the Scythe’s Blood, for I believe their cause is a just one. But with Eldridge, I’m unsettled by their methods.”
“Perhaps Sörhend can be of help,” Brandyé suggested. “He seems to know the doings of this town; perhaps he can set our minds at ease.”
When Brandyé and Elven brought their concerns to Sörhend, he did not seem surprised, but said, “Eldridge is a man of anger, and that anger has turned now to violence. If what you say is true, though, this small act of violence may stanch a much greater flow of blood to come.” He sighed. “I cannot agree with his choices, but nor can I oppose them. There are no others who would oppose our oppressors, and the thing that is certain is that their rule cannot be allowed to continue.
“You are both young and do not understand the import of these events. They are change, and this is a thing that is unknown in these days. The wisdom of generations is that things do not change. The Fortunaé rule our lives, and so always have done. Sense would have us realize this cannot be so—once, there were not Fortunaé—yet the folk do not see this. I did not understand the importance of change when I was young, but I see now that it is a path to better things, for any future is better than one under the Fortunaé.”
This was novel to Brandyé, who had never considered that things ought not to change. “What I’ve seen of the Fortunaé is cruel and unjust. I’ve heard tales of their influence leading to people’s deaths. There is no choice—this must change. From what I can gather, what is to happen to Faevre is worse than anything I have so far seen. What is his fate?”
“You will soon learn,” Sörhend said, “but it may perhaps be just as well to prepare you. I have witnessed only two trials of the Fortunaé myself, though many more have taken place in my life. Understand: this man, Faevre, will not be judged before the people of the town; rather, his judgment will be delivered to them, so they may learn and fear.
“He will be brought in shackles, mounted upon a rostrum, and fastened to a stock in such a way that his feet, his hands, and his stomach are laid bare. His face will be hidden behind a mask of shame.
“The lord will preside, though he will not deliver the judgment himself. It would be usual for his entire family to be present, for such trials are held to demonstrate their power. The heads of the Sànvedé and the Lapronadé will be present also; it once was such that the agreed judgment of all three houses was required to condemn a man, but they no longer dare oppose the Fortunaé.”
“What will Faevre’s condemnation be?” Brandyé asked.
“He will be denounced as evil, and the folk will believe that he would have them all suffer were he allowed freedom. He will then be stripped and sent from the town still in his shackles, and forbidden ever to return.”
“He might yet survive, then,” Brandyé said with some hope.
“Perhaps,” Sörhend said, “but it will not be by the charity of others. Before he is cast out, he will be branded with a mark of dissent, and no others in the land would bring the vengeance of the Fortunaé upon them by aiding him. His doom will be to spend his remaining days in isolation.”
From this, Brandyé began to better understand the hate Eldridge harbored for the Fortunaé. From the people of the Scythe’s Blood he had heard whispers of a loved one Eldridge had once lost, and he began now to suspect that this was the fate that had befallen him.
From Sörhend Brandyé also understood how their plot might be unfolded. The trial would be in the square, and Faevre would be brought out at the moment the sun first fell upon the Tuiraeth Bridge (were the clouds to part, in any case), for this is where he was to be held. A great crowd was expected to gather, for there had not been a judgment of this nature in many years, and most certainly not since the constabulary had taken up arms and brought fear to the hearts of the townsfolk.
Every man and woman of the Scythe’s Blood would be in attendance also, and they would hide themselves amid the throng, so that they might all act as one to execute the plot. As Brandyé went with Elven and met with many folk—never the same twice, and never with the same information—he began to realize that he was considered very much the keystone of the deed. It would be upon him to take the first step, though with the aid of his fellows.
Each person was to bear the same dress on the day, so that one might be easily mistaken for another. In this way, they might seek to escape without harm, as the constabulary would be unable to pursue each in equal measure. On the second day, Brandyé met with Harmà, who presented him with a tattered black cloak.
“You will wear this,” he growled. Despite Brandyé’s role in the plot, he seemed not to like Brandyé any the more. “Each of us shall bear also the same cloak. When you flee, you will discard the cloak as soon as you feel you are unwatched. You will then, in the dress you now wear, return to the square, amid the chaos that certainly will be upon the folk.”
Brandyé took the cloak and considered it. “It is heavy,” he remarked. “Won’t we be noticed if the weather is not cold? No other person will be so dressed.”
Harmà scowled. “That is not your concern,” he said. “Yours is to follow the path Eldridge has laid for us, and not stray.”
Brandyé did not pursue the point, though he felt himself that it risked exposure even as they stood among the crowd. Surely the constables would observe a scattering of black cloaks in a crowd of tunics and chemises. Yet he knew he had little choice, for as Elven had explained, his was not to question what Eldridge saw as wise. Question it he did, though, in his own thoughts, and he began to worry.
From another, he learned of how they would arrive on the morning of the deed. It had apparently not escaped Eldridge that such a number of black cloaks would be easily noticed, and so they were not to arrive together, by place or by time. No one was to know the arrival of another, but would arrive at a time that was given to him alone. Brandyé was told that he should appear in the square long before dawn, so that he might observe the carpenters as they constructed the dais that would hold Faevre. He would, of course, be distant from them, and was to sit on a stone at the far edge of the square, so that with his hood lowered over his face, he might appear even to be asleep.
He also discovered—though very late on the second day—how the others in the square would rise to his aid. At the moment he was to deliver the blow to the Lord Garâth’s son, each of the others would rush upon the nearest constable, knocking them to the ground if they might, before fleeing wholly from the scene. The intent was to cause much disruption, so that it might not be noticed that the lord’s son had fallen. This would provide Brandyé with a moment—surely no more—to secure himself and pass out of the square through the crowd. He alone was not to confront any guard or constable, but was to make for the side streets with utmost haste, leaving the others to create their commotion.
Such was Brandyé’s agitation as he traveled the breadth of the town and met here and there with more people of the Scythe’s Blood than he thought could exist, that he scarce had time to think upon the deed he himself was to do. Quite suddenly it was the eve of the trial, and he found himself in the home of Sörhend, darkness outside the window, and Elven and Sonora at his side. He looked to the window and gazed upon the dim lanterns that cast a miserable light upon the street below. There were no stars in the sky, as it had been now for longer than Brandyé could recall, and though he could not see it, he knew in the distance over the rooftops lay the Great Square, where he was to be before dawn the following morning.
Sonora was greatly upset and had not eaten that evening. She sat by the window, pale and quiet, and looked fixedly upon Brandyé, who himself did not notice or see her stare. He sat at the small table, and with the weight of an age of dread, he looked up at Elven. He wished to speak to his friend, but knew not what to say and found he could not work his mouth in any case.
Elven, for his part, sat opposite Brandyé at the table and saw the doom in his friend’s eyes, and his heart sank. It occurred to him that, in asking that Brandyé join him in Daevàr’s Hut, he had sealed their fate and their role in the terrible event that was about to occur. Brandyé had put himself forward, certainly, but Elven felt great guilt that he had put his friend into a position that had allowed him to make such a decision in the first place.
After an age of silence, Elven finally found the courage to speak, though the words tasted dry in his mouth even as he said them. “You are prepared, then, for the morning?” he asked.
Brandyé looked at him, and his eyes were dim. “I have killed before,” he said softly to Elven, “but not a man. My aim is sure; I will not miss. I even know he won’t suffer, for my quarrel will pierce his heart. Certainly I ought to wish this man dead; he brought harm to us both, and I agree with Sonora that he would likely have killed her that day at Soleheart had we not been there. His father is terrible and is going to torture a man who has done no wrong. I’ve heard whispers of the tragedy these foul people brought upon Eldridge, and I’ve seen the farms burned in our own land.
“I wholly believe that their rule must end, and I believe that I can be the one to do this. So why are my hands cold and my throat dry?”
Elven reached out and took his friend’s hand in his own. “It’s an evil deed to kill a man, no matter how deserving,” he said. “I would not blame you if you chose to flee tonight. There might be other ways that we may achieve our goals.”
But Brandyé withdrew his hand and closed his eyes. “No. There is no other way, I am certain. If we do not act, Faevre will be doomed for a thing he is not guilty of. For that alone, I would do it. I won’t have him suffer because my hand was stayed by fear.”
Brandyé lowered his head and rested it upon his hands, and did not move again. A tear fell from Elven’s eye, and had he looked upon his sister, he would have seen many more upon her own face. Brandyé’s words had returned to her the memory of her terror under Soleheart and how she had loathed the boy, cursed him, and wished him dead even as she ran weeping, to leave her brother to bear such terrible blows. Yet she had not witnessed death in her life, and she found she could not bear the burden of what was to pass. Her heart broke for Brandyé and the deed he was to do, and she wept silently in her agony.
Eventually Elven drew Sonora aside and embraced her. Brandyé had not moved from the table, and knowing there was nothing more to be done, he suggested they take their leave of Brandyé, and they retired to bed and wept through the night.
For himself, Brandyé did not sleep; he was consumed by his thoughts. He wondered at himself and the place he now found himself in. His thoughts went to Reuel, and he was certain his grandfather would be dismayed if he knew of what he was going to do. All his life, Reuel had bidden him to fight with words instead of fists, and yet he now found himself fighting with something far, far worse. In dismay, he drew forth the two items he had brought with him and laid them upon the table.
Of the black blade, he now wished he knew nothing. Though it had not in his hand killed any, he felt nonetheless that the very dagger wished for death. Why had he been so drawn to this blade that day in the market? Since he could remember, he had known anger, and though he had always believed it to be anger at those around him, who abused and ignored him and blamed him for his own birth, he realized that his anger was rather at himself. He knew right from wrong, for Reuel had taught him well, yet he found he invariably ended up doing wrong, even with the intention of doing good. He had brought hardship to the villagers of Burrowdown, and he had involved Sonora, a young girl who ought never to have had such darkness in her thoughts, in the Scythe’s Blood. She was now in a town far from her home, about to witness deeds more terrible than any she had ever known.
Did he wish for a punishment for his terrible deeds? He thought perhaps this was so; possessing this evil blade had kept him safe on more than one occasion, yet it seemed that since he had known it, his path had led ever on toward Darkness. He had suddenly a strong desire to abandon it, to fling it through the window and far from his sight, but his hand would not move, and he knew he could not rid himself of it. It was with him now, and it would be with him tomorrow as he loosed his quarrel upon the heir of the Fortunaé.
And so he looked upon his crossbow and knew what he was to do was wrong and that he would do it nonetheless. Here was a tool, a weapon made for dealing death, and he had carried it with him before he knew even what he was to become involved in. He thus saw that his doom was before him and could not be escaped.
And then, as Brandyé began to doze on the eve of death, he was once more taken against his knowledge to a land far distant from his own and recognized nothing he saw around him. The land, the mountain, the rock, and the very sky itself was black, so that nothing ought to be visible. Yet a dreary light, at once harsh and blank, cast terrible shadows against the stone, and though no life stirred, Brandyé sensed the creeping of poisonous creatures lurking in the blackness.
He turned slowly and looked upon the world surrounding him, and knew this was a land of dread. There was no foliage to speak of, for the only trees he could see, some distance away, were skeletal and made of stone. He took a step and his feet crunched upon the gravel, but the sound died, as though the very air itself had swallowed it before it could escape from him. It was hot, and he felt the sweat on his brow.
The distance buried itself ever more in shadow, but on the far horizon, against the black mountains and the black sky, a glow of deepest red set the clouds afire and the dead light cut through the darkness; Brandyé felt the very sky was bleeding upon him.
He was afraid of this place, but he had come to recognize the signs of these inexplicable journeys and hoped that, as before, he would eventually find himself returned to his own land. Yet at this thought, he recalled what it was he was to do back in Consolation and wondered if it might not be better were he to remain in this land, bleak and terrifying though it was.
And then, in the midst of his thoughts, he became aware that he was not alone and found that before him stood the woman in black whom he had met that once in his fevered madness. Her face was ever pale, and she approached him; he felt the air around her chill, so that he was no longer hot, but wished for a cloak, which he had not with him. The jewel at her throat, bright and blood-red, caught his eye as it had once before, and he gazed into its depths and saw the same dread light that rose from beyond the horizon.
She stopped before him, and once more spoke in a tongue he did not know. “Vèr Aélûr, Brandyé. Tû-tharae goèd rün. Kirt! Erâ-vèr duithi, Duithènte coüer.” He looked at her without understanding, and spoke not a word. Yet she took his hand, saying, “Therù, Brandyé,” and bade him follow her.
She led him across the plains, between stone and broken rock, and the gaunt and frozen forest drew ever nearer to them. Momentarily they passed into the forest itself, and Brandyé saw the trees were indeed of stone and were ancient. Many bore marks of battle, fierce rents in their hardened bark, and he wondered at their age and of the armies that had once flown through them in haste, fighting and dying beneath their branches. He looked up, and it seemed the leafless boughs reached imploringly to the sky, twisted and deformed and devoid of all hope.
For many minutes, the woman led him onward in silence, and he became aware that the land beneath his feet was rising, and saw ahead of them the crest of a hill. And as they ascended, he began to see a thing rising behind the hill, at the sight of which his blood ran cold.
A tower, dark and monumental, lay before them, and as he crested the summit of their hill and looked out upon the valley beyond, his eyes took in the sight before him. Dread mountains, from north to south, rose to great heights, their peaks lost to the black clouds above, and passed endlessly into the distance behind. In their valleys ran not water but great rivers of fire, and he saw that it was this that gave the awful glow to the sky and land. The greatest of these cascaded from a soaring precipice, flowed onward into the wide plain below his feet, and passed near and around the tower that rose before them.
The tower was dread, and it was death. From the valley’s floor it rose to an unthinkable height and was built of the same stone as the land around them, so that it appeared to have grown from the mountain itself. So black in color that no light escaped from it, it seemed that it was merely the shadow of another great tower. Without thinking, Brandyé glanced behind him, to the east, but he saw nothing but the petrified trees through which the woman in black had led him.
He turned back to face the tower and looked up to observe its peak; he saw it ended in six terrible and sharp points—three of which rose ever higher, as though to pierce the very sky itself, and three smaller ones that curved dangerously down and toward the black ground, and seemed to threaten to rent the very earth asunder. He had the impression that were he to observe it from aloft, it would bear the form of the mark of the demon lord he recalled from his youth.
He turned now to the woman. “What is this place?” he said. “In all my life, and the places I have traveled to without knowing how, I have never been anywhere so terrifying and dreadful. I do not want to be here!”
She looked deep within him, and he was stayed by the utter and depthless black of her eyes. No smile graced her lips as she spoke to him: “Tû-vèrae yèt, Brandyé, kirtae erâ. Ès-vèrae dûmte. Ye-vaya yèt aföer namirèn, morayé tû-tôrae liefàte. Vèr râth pferte, thre tû-vèr naportèn, erâgrief Erâth bethèhl.”
Never had Brandyé more wished to know the language she spoke, for the import of her words was lost to him, though he knew in his heart that they were words of darkness, of death, and of truth. A tear fell from his eye as he said to her, “You are terrible, and I wish you hadn’t brought me here. I’m afraid I might return here in my future, and I couldn’t bear it!”
“Therùae, thre tû-varae ï navarae,” she replied, and turned back to the great tower.
Brandyé turned with her, and it seemed that they stood there for all the age of Erâth gazing on the fire, the darkness, and the death.