Episode 12 of Alsalda
Sapapsan’s Isle at His Indwelling—it seems to Detah another land, the journey so long, from the day’s first glimmer. And this her second visit only away from Isle Ardy. She’s excited. Trader Imblysin has horses! Yet there’s still a question she wants answered. So read on . . .
Detah stopped counting the old-style thorn-enveloped isles. There were so many, a continuous array along the river, each the focus of a family holding. In some isles the glimpses of thatches numbered but few, in others she counted as many as ten. For ease of calculation, the granary allowed five roofs to each holding no matter the what. But she’d also seen some different holdings along First Water, like petals clustered around a rose-flower—not at all Alisime-like. She had asked Master Bukarn if they’d taken the wrong Waters for surely these were Eskit-styled houses. He had laughed, but he hadn’t answered.
The hills again climbed to the sky. By Saram’s eyes, those hills were tall. And look, the fields chased up them, right to the top! She plied Master Bukarn with questions, all done with intent: so she then could slip in the one vital question she wanted answered.
“What does Luktosn’s traders have from the Saëntoi in return?”
His answer surprised her. “Green-feather.”
“The eblan-herb? But . . .” she frowned. “But the eblann have that from you, at Isle Ardy, not from Luktosn’s.”
He didn’t as much as turn to look at her, just rhythmically poled the boat. The river here was growing narrow. She could see the chalk-rubble that lined its bottom. She could see its fishes, silver and darting.
“Ah!” She had reasoned it out. “You—as Ardy’s trader—have it off Traders Buhigen and Takenn. That’s what Luktosn’s traders bring you.”
“Not all that they bring. And you notice too much.”
“But you said you wanted me to know. So will you now tell me?”
“You ask too much, too.”
She had a feeling, whatever she said, he’d not answer her further. So, how did it work? Luktosn’s traders went north of a summer to have copper off Meksuin’s Hold. Unworked copper, that was an important part. By that she supposed that it wasn’t ore, yet neither was it crafted with charms into trinkets and daggers. This copper, as nuggets, they took south to the Saëntoi. Detah laughed at that. One nugget in each of his many pockets, and the pockets padded so the nuggets wouldn’t jab Master Bukarn in his bones as he slept. All Luktosn’s traders had similar cloaks, though only Bukarn’s was formed of the tiniest mouse-skins.
But all that, just for the eblan-herb? And that couldn’t be smuggled. She’d seen the packages in his trade-store. They were big. And smelly.
“What’s that up on the hill?” she asked as she saw it. It looked like a huge crouching hare, its ears erect. It appeared to be copper, lit by Nod’s Dying Daughter.
“That is Lir’s Boat.”
“No? But it doesn’t look like the Earthen Boats across the Highlands.” And if that was Lir’s Boat, then where was the granary? “Is this His Indwelling?”
Master Bukarn laughed. “It’s been His Indwelling for a long time now.”
“So where is the granary?”
He nodded across to the opposite bank. Though first there was a long sweep of pasture, thereafter a hill rose gently up. Upon it was a thorn-hedge. If it weren’t for the raking light she’d not have seen the thatch within it. Beyond this low hill another rose, more steeply and black.
“But that’s not the isle. Where’s the lodge?” she asked.
He continued to pole, no reason to answer—for ahead of them now was a high thatched roof, only part-hidden by a tall palisade. Impatient, yet she had to sit still while Master Bukarn manoeuvred the boat into the bank and skilfully sidle up to the boards. These weren’t set for the visiting traders’ convenience—though they offered dry footing—but, as at Isle Ardy, they protected the bank from constant trampling.
“It’s small.” She was disappointed. “So where are the horses? Trader Imblysin keeps horses, everyone knows it.”
“Well, they ought to be pastured close to the isle. He says he keeps them to attract the Alsime. They use the pretence of trade when really they come to see his herd.”
“Herd? I’ve heard he only has six.”
“Six is many when most people don’t have them.”
“But where are they?” There was a fenced pasture to the east of the isle but its gate was open. “It’s very quiet.”
The isle’s gate was open—at least they’d no need to bang and to yell. Yet it was odd, this late of a day. At Isle Ardy it was different, there being no closable gate-doors. But here . . . She didn’t like it. Something felt wrong.
“Hold back,” Master Bukarn said. “Let me go first.”
So he’d noticed it too, and he’d been here before so he’d know.
“Imblysin!” he stood at the gate and called.
Nod’s Head soon would rise, then they’d have light nigh as bright as Nod’s Daughter. But for now, within that log-fence was deep in shadow, it’s only light a glow that escaped the gaping lodge-door.
“That’s hopeful,” Master Bukarn said over his shoulder to Detah while advancing towards it. She still stood at the gate. “Imblysin!” he called again.
“He’s not here,” a voice called back to him. And there, the black outline of a man blocked the doorway. “Your need must be great to visit this late of the season.”
“Aye, late because I’m no longer young,” Master Bukarn answered.
As the man stepped aside of the door Detah could see he was Alisime-garbed. Was this the eldliks? He laughed and patted Master Bukarn’s back.
Not the eldliks then. That greeting was far too familiar.
“Well met, Eblan Erspn. Now will you tell me where to find Trader Imblysin?”
“Not here—but you’re welcome in. And who is this with you?” the man—Eblan Erspn—asked, peering around Master Bukarn.
“As if you haven’t met with our Detah before.” Master Bukarn beckoned her forward.
“Detah, is it?” Eblan Erspn regarded her—much too thoroughly. Detah feared he might be taking her spirit; she felt suddenly tired. “Last time I met with you, Detah, you were only a child. Now look at you. A woman.”
“Not till next summer,” she said.
He smiled and shrugged, which somehow moved the whole of his body. In return Detah frowned. Eblan Erspn, the Eblan Head Man, so where was his feathered cloak? Shunamn always wore his. Eblan Erspn turned on his heel and, with no other word spoken, led them along the long narrow passage, into the heart of the lodge.
It wasn’t a lodge like that at Isle Ardy. There the centre was open; here it was roofed along with the chambers. From outside it could easily be taken as an Ulvregan hold—though she’d heard the Ulvregan didn’t divide theirs the same, some not divided at all.
A woman, sat by the hearth, looked up. The granary chemmy showed her as a grain-woman. Older than Aunt Jaljena, yet younger than Mistress Alenta. This had to be Mistress Siradath. She had huge liquid-black eyes in a face Uestin-pale.
“Granary Master Bukarn! So it was you calling for Imblysin, but he isn’t here. Is this Detah you’ve brought with you?—but she’ll soon be a woman, my how she’s grown since last I saw her. You’ve travelled far?—I’ll make us a brew. Have you eaten?—we’ve some left over if you’re hungry.”
Master Bukarn refused the food. Detah’s mouth dropped, he could have asked her. “But your brew I’ll never refuse.”
Detah still was looking around. She noted the doors and named the people who might dwell within them, then two more chambers for trade-store and lodge-store. Here weren’t the number they had at Ardy’s. Here wasn’t a guest’s chamber. That meant sleeping on the ground and probably outside. She found her fingers trailing the swirls carved into the posts. Not as busy and clever as those at Isle Ardy. If these were supposed to be trees then she couldn’t name them.
But where was Trader Imblysin? And where were the Saramequai? Master Bukarn was too proper-mannered to ask before supping the brew. Maybe they’d gone to visit more kin, likely at Mandatn’s Hold. That would explain the lack of horses.
The smell of roasted hazelnuts drew back her attention. It came from the brew-bowl now set on the hearth. Had Mistress Siradath added honey? That might make up for the food refused.
“Granary Master, Detah, please, why are you standing when here there are cushions? Aye, they’re finely covered and soft but I doubt that you’ll harm them with your travelling wear—Have you been in the water, are you muddy? Do sit, my dears.” She lifted the brew-bowl, offering it first to Master Bukarn.
Detah immediately sat as invited—and Mistress Siradath was right, the cushions were soft. But now Master Bukarn had hold of the full bowl he couldn’t easily sit. How awkward for him. He could have passed the brew-bowl to her, she’d not have minded.
He sipped it, praised it, saying so enjoyable and—Jaja be praised—he then passed it to her.
“Mistress Siradath,” he said, able to ask now politeness was done, “where is Trader Imblysin? And when will he return?”
Mistress Siradath straightened her back, which thrust out her chest, of which she had plenty. “Our trader, Granary Master Bukarn, has gone to the Water of Waters.”
Mistress Siradath blamed the Saramequai, she said. “All their doing, though I could understand not a word of it, all bundled together—hardly through my door and they’re haranguing Imblysin to go with them off along the Water of Waters—aye, that’s where he’s gone.”
At a swift warning look from Master Bukarn, Detah sucked in her cheeks. But she had to work hard not to laugh. She’d heard it said of Mistress Siradath, that her mouth was like a river in spate, words gushing without a break, drowning those who’d have their say. Best just to wait till summer-half. Even the fastest flow then slackens.
“When did they leave?” Master Bukarn asked her.
“Earlier this morning, must have been thirty from every Ulvregan trader’s hold and some from the granaries—what those Saramequai said to Imblysin on their arrival I don’t know yet it stirred him—great agitation—he sent word out the very next day and this morning they all arrived with their horses else riverboats—a great noisy band all gone to tear down some kind of fence and, I can tell you, they’re not happy with you, Master Bukarn, not happy at all, saying you ought to have done something.”
Detah looked at Master Bukarn. She agreed, this wasn’t amusing. So what would he now say? He shook his head, brows deeply beetled. Detah’s stomach crunched at the waves of fear she sensed coming from him. Yet he held his composure.
“They can say as they will,” he said. “I’m not so foolish as to rush blindly into who knows what. No, I’ve sent river-walkers to investigate first.”
“That’s what I thought,” Mistress Siradath said, her hand reaching to rest on Master Bukarn’s up-jutting knee. “No, whatever this fence-thing I know you’d not let it sit in the way of our trade but Imblysin, he’ll not listen—and now you’ve had a wasted journey and it’s too late to return to the Highlands this day—but you’re welcome to our arcade—inner, not outer—I set the Saramequai out there—they’ve their tents and I doubt that you do, nor is it needed when you’ve arrived here in a boat. I’ll fetch you the mats and some good warming furs—you’ll be fine in here—drier than being outside with our eaves not as deep as those at Isle Ardy. If you’re to wait for Imblysin I’ll tell you now I’ll be happy—if Mistress Alenta can spare you—only we’ve only us women here now with Imblysin taking the men—unless you’d say our old trader Erlunen and my brothers, and both those have their heads into other worlds.” Mistress Siradath disappeared into the stores.
Detah should have been happy. The Kerdolak bridge was two days out of His Indwelling, which meant Trader Imblysin wouldn’t return for at least four days. And four days here meant four days away from Isle Ardy. Yet she felt as glum as Master Bukarn now looked. It all was to do with this ‘something’ that Master Bukarn was still holding secret from her. With everything happening, he’d said. But what was this ‘everything’? Well, four days here at Sapapsan’s Isle, perhaps he’d tell her—or maybe he’d let something slip.
But what would she do for these four days of waiting? Learn granary ways from Mistress Siradath’s daughter? But Sathea wasn’t even of an age, she was three summers younger. No, she would give Eblan Erspn the gift and ask very politely and maybe he’d take her to Cloud Stone Isle—and maybe he’d not look at her quite so oddly next time. She’d been glad when he’d scurried back to his chamber.
Mistress Siradath returned laden with furs. Detah jumped up to help her.
“Did the Saramequai horsemaster say why they are here?” Master Bukarn asked her.
“To me?” She piled the furs into Detah’s arms. “No, to me they’ve not said a word but for introductions—and if you ask me I couldn’t tell you now what their names, kin to Imblysin is all that I know—and they spoke only to him which suits me fine. But why are you asking?—surely you know—they called upon you before coming here—and you’ve not yet said why you’re seeking Imblysin, though it must be important to pull you away from Isle Ardy, and at this season.”
Detah looked around. Where ought she to put the furs? Was there a best place for their beds? Had Mistress Siradath a preference for guests? But she’d be fully ill-mannered to interrupt their talk.
“I need to speak with Trader Imblysin, regarding this Saramequai visit,” Master Bukarn said.
Detah looked back at the hearth where they sat. She noticed Master Bukarn didn’t say he was here to talk of Trader Imblysin’s wedding. Did Mistress Siradath know of it? But, no, how could she know when Trader Imblysin did not. This could come as a shock. She mightn’t be happy. She might shriek, and rattle the rafters. Detah could imagine Drea would do that, if Drea were ever in this position.
And Mistress Siradath’s tongue again was flapping. “Is there a problem with it?—I took it to be kin visiting kin though I thought it odd that they’d sent no word first. Imblysin was fuddled I can tell you, like he’d been knocked by Nod—and at this season too when none goes sailing without a dire reason—I mean people go drowning out of season—another moon is all it would take them. Detah, dear, do set out your bedding instead of gawping, it grows late.”
Detah looked, left and right as if to ask where.
“Oh, there, there—anywhere.”
Detah dropped the furs where she stood and dropped to her knees beside them. But that’s as far as she got with arranging them. She heard Master Bukarn draw in a bastion-breath.
“Mistress Siradath, I have to tell you, Trader Imblysin is to wed Markon Glania.”
An aching silence followed. Even the wind was still, no whispering and shushing along the long entrance passage.
“Wed?” Mistress Siradath said at last, like she was querying a newborn’s second head.
“Aye,” Master Bukarn said.
“My trader Imblysin’s to wed the girl?”
Master Bukarn nodded.
“But . . . No, Master Bukarn, you’ll have to tell them, that’s . . . No, they’re kin. Aye, I’ve heard some unsettling things of the Uestin but . . . Not kin wedding kin. You sure you have that right?—No, you must have it wrong—Where’d you hear—though of course if it’s true, I’ll be happy as Nod. I’ve said—you know that I’ve said—that Trader Imblysin is not to my liking, not one bit of it, though I try to accommodate him, him and his Uestin ways but—no, I‘m not wanting him in my bed. I’ve told him and now that you’re here I’ll say to you, too—It’s no good your Mistress Alenta carping on about a son to the trader’s hold and two daughters to carry the granary-craft, you know I’m not alone in having only my Sathea that’s survived the seasons—just look at my sister Sasinha with her four sons and not one daughter, I’d not be Sapapsan’s mistress elsewise now she’s retired—but you already know that. No, your Mistress of Granaries can say as she wants but she has you and I have . . . him. No, I’d be happy as Nod if he goes wedding this markon—Glania did you say her name?—except that they’re kin.”
“Not as we’d call kin,” Master Bukarn said. “Glania’s father was Ulquon the Fingerless, brother of the Querkan King Geontus as-was. King Geontus had Imblysin’s mother’s sister, Galena, as wife. But both Galena and Glontria are Clan Dragsin.”
“How do you remember it?” Mistress Siradath said, her hand again on Master Bukarn’s knee. Detah noticed how he glanced down at it. Would he remove it? But no need, Mistress Siradath moved it. She then shuffled her shoulders which wobbled her chest. “But if you say—though he can wed that horse of his as long as it keeps him out of my bed. But you’ve still not said why you’re here to speak to him, you’re intending to put a stop to it?—Aye, I’ve heard Mistress Alenta is against Uestin weddings, particularly when they concern the granaries, but I’ve said that I’m happy so she can keep her words to herself, if you please—it’s not like Imblysin’s the first granary-trader with a Uestin wife is it.”
“No, I’m not putting a stop to it. As long as he keeps his pledge, that the granary’s trade comes first.”
“Aye, he does put our trade first, he’s a very good trader, better than some. But if that’s not why you’re here then why have you come?”
“I just wanted to be sure he wants the wedding.”
“Wants it?” Mistress Siradath laughed. “You’ve met her, this markon, would you refuse her? I’d say there’s not a man would object excepting my brother but he’s not right in the head, and she’ll give him the sons he wants for Mandatn’s.”
“I still need speak with him.”
“Then I’m happy as Nod to have you here, I’ll not grudge any place to you, you know that.” She glanced towards Detah. Detah quickly lowered her eyes. She knew what was being implied.
“You say thirty men went with him?” Master Bukarn asked. “Who were they?”
“Easier to say who they weren’t. My own eldliks went with them, leaving this isle with only my brothers to defend us and here we’re so close to the Eskin and I’d trust them no more than a ghost-wolf—Ablabran’s trader went, and both Bajapa’s, the old and the new traders, and the Ulvregan holds must be empty too—I tell you, all but your own Luktosn’s went with them, and they’ve more sense than to go roaring off to pull down some timbers stuck in a river—a fence, I ask you, a fence! What does a Querkan care for a fence—what’s it to them?”
Mistress Siradath had just so much breath, and when it ran out then Master Bukarn could have his say. It seemed to Detah they’d spoken many times thus for him to have learnt this way of waiting.
“How did they leave?” he asked her.
“How? With cheers and hoots and songs is how, and what a din, enough to frighten off spirits far around—You’d think they followed Eblan Murdan, going off to fight the Kerdolan rather than just to pull up some timbers—You ought to have seen them atop their horses and some in their boats. But, Master Bukarn, if you’ll excuse me, you said our gates are still open? I must see to it.”
“I’ll—” Master Bukarn started to offer but she waved it aside.
“No, Dalys will do it. It’s Imblysin not being here, and neither our eldliks, we’re unused to being without men. Dalys! Dalys? But he’ll not understand, he never can hold a thing in his head. Dalys! Why is he not answering?—It’s his seeing’s the problem not his hearing.”
There was blessed quiet while Mistress Siradath looked into the chambers, punctuated by her brief (for Mistress Siradath) enquiries and comments.
“Not here,” Eblan Erspn said, his voice seeming disconnected as if Master Nod’s.
“Is he in there with you?” she asked at another door.
“Not seen him all day.” Detah guessed it was the retired mistress’s chamber, Siradath’s sister. Then at the next chamber a gruff elderly male voice asked her when she’d stop talking. That would be the old trader Erlunen.
“Soon as I find our Dalys I’ll be joining you others in seeking my sleep,” Mistress Siradath answered. “A long day, a long-long day it’s been. Dalys!—Where could he be?”
The next chamber must have been the eldliks’ and his family. “What’d he be doing in here?” a woman snapped at her. “Last I saw him he was watching Imblysin and his traders. Jumping, excited at seeing so many horses.”
“We really ought to keep a watch of him,” Mistress Siradath said. “It’s not the first time he’s gone off and no one knowing his wheres and whys—And we can’t shut the gates till he returns; if he find he’s shut out then he’ll believe he’s not wanted here anymore.”
“He’s likely up at Cloud Stone Isle,” Eblan Erspn said, words eked out as if each required deep concentration.
“Aye, likely,” she agreed. “But please, Master Bukarn, Detah-dear, make yourselves comfortable, you need to find sleep as same as the rest—We’re early to rise at Sapapsan’s Isle—Are you sure you’ll not have some little last thing to be biting?”
Detah wanted to say aye, she’d like something, please. But she’d not put Mistress Siradath to such trouble when clearly she was worried about her brother Dalys. The others seemed not concerned at all, none offering to leave their beds to go find him.
In the end Mistress Siradath had to leave the isle’s gate-door open and so too the lodge door. Fine for her raised off the ground in her bed, but it soon was very cold on that floor.
“Four days of this,” Detah murmured, not even sure she had spoken aloud.
“We’ll ask Erspn tomorrow to take you to Cloud Stone Isle.”
“You’re worried, aren’t you?” she said. “Something’s to happen.”
But Master Bukarn didn’t answer her.