Episode 6 of Alsalda
The Saramequai horsemaster and his markistes, over-imbibing of the fermented berry-juice, snored their way through the eblan’s tale of Eblan Murdan. So of them only (former) Markon Glania knows who their attacker. Perhaps that’s why she can’t sleep. But it’s not the reason Demekn can’t. Read on.
Demekn trailed his fingers gently along the wall, all being dark beneath the inner arcade—no Nod’s light (his head hidden deep in the clouds), no lingering embers (the cook-fire covered to hold ready for morning). He grunted. He’d have done better to use a lamp or a taper. Then at least if discovered he could say he was off to the soil-pits—except he’d already passed the long narrow passage. This beside him now was Master Bukarn’s trade-store. And here, giving to the slight pressure of his hand, was the door’s hide-hanging. He mustn’t do that with the next door found. The lodge might be quiet as an earthen bone-boat, but Mistress Alenta was known to be light sleeper and this next chamber was hers.
His fingers hit upon air. Ay-yi! She had the door-hanging fixed back. He crept past. Held a moment to listen. Noticed no change in the various peoples’ breathing. And crept on.
The next chamber was Detah’s, but shared by Drea and Jaljena. And with Detah being the youngest, her bed was tucked against the far wall.
Would she be awake? Would he have to call to her? How disastrous if found stumbling around here.
He came to the door-hanging. Unlike at the trade-store’s, this was woven, thick and heavy as an Alisime rug. He slid his fingers around its edge . . . and almost yelped as it was yanked away from him.
“Hush! You’ll wake everyone.”
“What are you doing, creeping around? You scared me.”
“So scared, you had to come see?”
“Well if I’m to be killed I want to see to haunt.”
“Come outside. We need to talk.” And he couldn’t keep up this whisper.
But instead of joining him, Detah disappeared back into her chamber. He couldn’t risk calling to her. He couldn’t explain being here. He yelped again as again the hanging pulled from his hand.
“North door?” she asked him.
He nodded (indeed ruptured wits—as if she could see!).
She led the way while he counted door-hangings. The next chamber was Old Apsan’s and her sons. Their combined snores made like a lullaby. Next was Eldliks Ublamn and his family (Haldalda and daughters). Then a chamber that often was used for guests but not for the Saramequai. They were outside in their tent, beneath the eaves to the east.
Detah held back the lodge-store’s hide-hanging. It whumped as she dropped it behind him. Both stooped to retrieve the wood-wedge—and knocked heads. She giggled. He laughed. Then both together shushed the other—at which again Detah laughed. As the outer door opened, the night air slapped in his face, as fresh as the wash-water on a crisp winter’s morning.
“Now what’s this about?” Detah asked. He noticed she had her wrap; so that’s what she’d gone back for.
“Up by the granary,” he told her, a telling look to the east side of the lodge.
The grass was wet. It must have rained while he was waiting in the eblann’s chamber. If earlier there’d have been the commotion of propping the awning into place to protect the centre, and carefully tilting it to drain into pots. He noticed Detah wasn’t wearing her boots.
“No.” She shook her head. “These feet will dry while wet boots need reasons.”
The granary’s eaves were narrow compared with the lodge. No deep shadows to hide them here. They walked around to the northern side, out of sight of the lodge.
“Now what’s so important you’d call a sister away from her sleep?” Detah asked.
“You weren’t asleep. And I didn’t call.”
“Only because I heard you—the scrape of that cloak.”
“Scary was I?”
“Could have been an ogre.”
“What, rattling my rocks? Listen, I need to know what Glania was saying. You two spent the evening heads together.”
Detah didn’t answer. “When did you meet her?” she asked instead. “Must have been before the Uissids Judgement. Querkan haven’t spoken to Reumen since.”
“The preceding season. Then came the Judgement.”
He couldn’t answer. This evening had brought it all back. He sighed painfully deep.
“So were you dallying,” she said.
Was this a tease, or sympathy? Before this evening he’d not have put Detah and sympathy into the same thought. But now he’d seen her with Glania . . . Ay-yi, maybe there was more to his young sister than her constant curiosity.
“So was it dallying as beneath the bed-furs?” she asked.
“Detah! I’m not answering that. And no. No, but she believes I’m Clan Reumen.”
“But you are Clan Reumen.”
“I am not!”
“Hush! Might be a granary between us, but our guests are only in tents. And our father was right, what he said. Clan Querkan? What of the feud?”
“It had been forgotten—good as. I wasn’t lying when I said of the weddings. But then . . . the Judgement. Querkan blames Reumen for it.”
“And you stood there, a Reumen lore-man to the Rizzoni chief. She must hate you.”
“Thank you. You don’t know the half of it. So what was she saying?”
“Only that she’s to be wed to Trader Imblysin at Sapapsan’s Isle; that she’s not happy at that, not happy at all. There wasn’t much more. Though she did said she’d rather die in one last battle.”
“Last battle?” He laughed. “But since she’s been a markon there hasn’t been a battle, not even a border skirmish. And she did so want to be a markiste. Her heart was on it.”
“But what she wants doesn’t count—she’s Uestin, not Alsime.”
“Huh, like you have a choice, and yet you’re Alsime. Is that why you were comforting her?”
“I was born to this, it’s different. No, her father long ago promised her to Imblysin, and now the king has enforced it. So now, if you’ve no more questions, my toes are turning to ice.”
“Wait!” He grabbed her arm as she made to go and pulled her back beneath the eaves. She went to yell but he slapped his hand over her mouth. She bit him. “Look,” he hissed, close to her ear.
“Oh, another who cannot sleep.”
There was no mistaking her, though she was still a good distance away, walking the wall-top. It wasn’t only that she was shorter than the other Saramequai but also she’d released her hair from the plaits and it now billowed like a storm-cloud. Her travel-cloak, too, was in motion, caught by the breeze, rippling around her.
“Deep in thought,” Detah remarked.
“Grieving. Aye-yi, to have lost her horse. To have no chance to be a markiste. And now to be alone in a strange land.”
“I tried to befriend her.”
“Aye, you showed heart. But now she’s to be at His Indwelling while you’re—Oh Sweet Saram! She’ll at His Indwelling! Now what do I do?”
“Not visit the eblan head man?” Detah suggested, her tease not in jest for the eblan head man, Eblan Erspn, lodged with his sister, Mistress Siradath, at Sapapsan’s Isle.
“Ay-yi-yi-yi-yi, am I always wear that mask?”
“You fret, when you needn’t,” Detah told him. “She’ll soon be just another Uestin wife of another Ulvregan trader, her days busy with babies. She won’t think of the past. They don’t, it reminds them too much of what they’re missing.”
“Of before they were wed?”
“Of the Dal—I’ve heard the men say it. And they’d not admit it unless it were true. I tell you, these Uestin wives aren’t at all happy.”
“You’re making me feel so much better,” Demekn said, sarcastically. “And this isn’t a usual Uestin wife. This one’s full-set on killing me. I tell you, she hates me. If ever she sees me again—”
Detah laughed. Demekn stifled it, his hand again over her mouth.
“For being a lore-man at the Judgement?” she said as she pried off his hand. “And you believed her? Listen, I know you don’t think me a child else you’d not call me out here. You know I listen, I listen a lot, so I know how folks are. A person upset lies of their threats. They say they’ll crush their lover’s skull with a hammer. But ptah! they will not. Mostly the next day the threat is forgotten.”
His sister! He wanted to scoff: never gone anywhere, just the once downriver to Bisdathea’s Isle. Yet it was true what she said, she did listen. And he’d wager his musical bow that she knew more than Drea and Jaljena together. Most likely more than Mistress Alenta. She just didn’t know the granary-stuff.
“I’m telling you,” she said. “You’ve no need to fret.”
“Yea, were she the usual Uestin woman. Or Alsime. Or Ulvregan, Or even Kerdolan. But Glania is Regiment, and Regiment are fighting men, not upset wives. They’re warriors, Detah, warriors. And warriors are trained to kill. To kill and to think nothing of it. You heard Makesen’s story. The Kerdolan took their weapons. Detah, he wasn’t talking of those blades at their waists. Spears, Detah. Battleaxes. War-hammers. A head doesn’t survive such a blow for them then to say ‘Oh, apologies’ and make up on the morrow.”
“But the Kerdolan took their weapons. All she has now is a small blade for cutting, and maybe a staff. Demekn, she’s to be a Uestin wife. Besides, when she sees you are Alsime and eblan she’ll know then that you’re no Uestuädik tree to be hated.”
“Aye,” Demekn groaned. “And she’s the reason I am eblan—so I’d not have to return to Dal Uest. Luktosn’s Hold would have had it of me. I served my four, I satisfied Grandma Kolmika. But they’d have had me returning to trade there. No. Never! And then she comes here! Yet I’ve done nothing to stir Saram, and I’m pledged to Sauën. It’s the Ladies, it can only be them. Ay-yi, how renowned they are—for wrecking a person’s life!”
“You confuse me,” Detah complained of him. “You’re tangling your stories. Which will you tell? As I heard it, the Rizzoni Chief himself gifted you with that bow. Oh, and you said on your return that you’d have stayed there longer and joined the uathren—who, you said, are like our eblann. But now, with Glania prowling our walls, you’re saying you only took the eblan-rod because of her?”
“See, this is what the Ladies do, scramble your wits. But, aye, you are right, I did return saying that. It’s that I had the bow, and I wanted to learn more of making the songs. But that changes nothing. Still if she sees me she’ll kill me.”
“Don’t flatter yourself, Demekn. She’s to be wed to a man she’s never met. She can no longer be a markiste—and, as you said, she had her heart on it. She’s lost her dearest friend, her horse. A threat made three winter since? You’re nothing to her now. And she’s out of sight and out of hearing, I’m returning to bed. My toes are lifeless lumps.”
“Wait!” He again grabbed her arm.
“A message,” he said, “for my eblan-master. Tell him . . . tell him I’ve gone to the Eblann Freeland. Tell him . . . tell him I don’t know how long I’ll be away.”
He didn’t wait. Glania now was behind the lodge, He ran—heading for the northern gate and the Eblann Freeland.