The task of consulting the Ulvregan traders is done. Now Detah and her family await the funeral. But, ten days, there are things to be done, and things to be told. Read on . . .
Detah had known many of the dead, some only to nod to, others to talk with and laugh. One in particular, from Duneld’s Hold, she’d been thinking, come Feast of Winter Ending next, when she’d full-grown status, she’d not refuse if he wanted to get in close. Though she was too young yet to want more than to kiss, by next winter-end she might have been ready. At least any resulting child wouldn’t belong to the granary. She felt it deeply that it now couldn’t happen. So, since she knew the dead (and the other three eblann did not) why shouldn’t she help with the grave? Though, truth, she’d not be so keen to dig into the clumpy chalk-riddled soil. Yet she could fish for the river-rocks. She could pile them onto to the sled. She could pull them to where the grave was to be. But her eblan-master wouldn’t allow her.
“I want you to work on that cloak,” Erspn said. “Nine days till the rites and I want you to wear it. Build it in strips working down—though you mightn’t have time to reach far past your shoulders.” Demekn had given her the necessary deer-leather as base for the feathers.
So it mattered not what Mistress Alenta might think when she saw Detah sitting beside Master Bukarn beneath Ardy’s eaves. Nor that Drea sarcastically listed the never-ending granary chores in front of her. This was eblan-work, set by her master, and it was equally important. But it no more grabbed and held her thoughts than those begrudged granary-tasks would have. So of course her thoughts wandered.
“Do you think the Kerdolan are building that hold to trade you-know-who’s copper?” she asked Master Bukarn.
“I have wondered it,” Master Bukarn admitted. “But Luktosn’s traders were away early. And I cannot ask Krekys—I doubt if he’d know, and the least said . . . eh.”
She sighed. So that was the end of that conversation.
“What are you making?” she asked. Something crafted of leather. It had a strange shape and she couldn’t figure it.
“A cover for Demekn’s bow.”
“So Mistress Alenta doesn’t see it when he brings it into the lodge?”
“Aye, something like that. Have you heard him play it?”
“The night before we went to the Kerdolak bridge. It wasn’t at all like he plays for Shunamn. I think Shunamn doesn’t know how to use it.”
And that was the end of another talk. She sighed.
“I have to tell you . . .” Master Bukarn began and she looked at him eagerly. “I have to tell you of Dal Uest.”
“What, of the clans and the tuds? But I’ve gleaned that by listening, and Demekn has said some of it, too.”
“No, there’s more,” he said. “And I need to tell you the story of Luktosn’s Hold. How we came to be allied with Clan Reumen.”
“But you’ve already said of Grandma Kolmika.” She had never met Kolmika. Demekn had described her as fierce.
“I need to tell you more. I need to tell you . . . of kings.”
“You mean the Dal-King?”
“You know of the Dal king? Aye, I suppose—Demekn, eh? And did Demekn tell you of the Dal king’s duties?”
She nodded, grinning. “He told me, too, of the truvidiren who help the Dal-King to perform his duties. He said they were like we eblann and yet not eblann. And all the duties are set by the one Uissid. Urinod. Though he said there are three.”
“Hmm, Zrone and Huat. But mostly it’s Urinod.”
“It was his judgement, wasn’t it, that went against Clan Querkan?”
“It was but . . . We’re heading for Liënershi, here, veering off course. It’s of kings I wish to talk. And their duties. Did your brother tell you, too, what happens if the king fails in these?”
She sat quiet for a moment. She wanted to tell him he’d no need to worry, that the way Erspn had said it no one now would blame him. But if she said that then he’d be beholden to Erspn. Usually these two got along fine. But she’d noticed these past few days how Master Bukarn sometimes was snappy with Erspn. Because he felt guilty of what had happened? She doubted it was to do with her being Erspn’s eblan-apprentice. Master Bukarn had encouraged it.
“But I also was to tell you of my travels south,” he said, “—to the Ormalin and the Saëntoi and the Lats-de-Nats.”
“I’ve not heard mention of ‘Lats-de-Nats’.” She knew what he was doing: distracting her from what he’d just said.
“The Lats are kin, though far removed, of the Ormalin.”
“And the Ormalin are kin to the Bridren. And the Bridren are kin to our Jinnigrits, north of the Eskin. Aye, I know.” It was almost a litany. How many times said.
They laughed—Detah because the lats was the Alisime word for the shit-pits.
They had nine days to fill. After that, after the Ulvregan burial, she’d be gone from Isle Ardy—though she’d not be gone far, only to His Indwelling, to Sapapsan’s Isle. Yet she’d seen how Master Bukarn had struggled to make that journey. Aye, but she was to learn the craft of river-walking, her eblan-master had said. She’d be able to visit. Besides, she would have to come here to deal for green-feather. How odd that would be, to trade with the granary-master.
He told her Uestin stories. She listened, as enchanted as sheep to their herder’s pipe. Those nine days seemed never to end—as long as the stories kept coming, and as long as she didn’t think past them. They sat beneath the eaves while all around were busy with preparations for the burial.
The day before the burial the river-walkers arrived with the trade-wares from the two northern granaries. At that, Master Bukarn sighed, eyes raised to the sky. “Seems Saram tells us now to stop working.”
“You mean Father Jaja,” she corrected. “But He tells us no such thing. He doesn’t speak, not even to us.”
“Oh? So it’s only your Eblan Mistress who speaks to you eblann? But of course the Father speaks to us.”
“Only if you’re Uestin,” she said.
He nodded agreement at that. “Indeed, if you’re Uestin. For who but the Uestin talk to Saram? Yet Saram answers them all.”
“Aye, of course,” she laughed. Yet she flicked a look up at the sky. Another overcast day. “And I suppose you’ve heard Him?”
“Listen, one last story, since our eldliks is ably helping to unload and to carry. There once was a Uestuädik trader who had grown weary of his travelling back and forth across the sea.”
“The Uestin don’t have travelling traders. We go to them.”
“Now, aye, now we go. But in the time of this story it was different. Now hush, and listen. This Uestuädik trader, having grown weary, now gave thought to how he might leave his life of trading. He thought he might like to keep pigs, or cows, and find him a wife. But this Uestuädik trader knew nothing of pigs or cows and hadn’t as much as kissed a woman. So instead he thought of making pots. Yet neither did he know of temper nor where to find the good clay. And so he conceded he’d no skill as a potter. Instead, he thought he might turn his hand to crafting metals—”
“Aye, but he’d no skill at that either,” Detah supplied.
“It’s so, for every change he might make, he hadn’t the skill at it. He knew only to trade. And to trade he must cross that sea. Again, the trading season began. But this time before setting out to cross the sea he thought he might have a word with Saram. He found a high hill and he climbed it to be the closer to Him. From there he looked up at the sky—as we do when we speak with Him. And he spread his arms wide—as we do when we speak with Him. And he called up to Him, ‘Saram! Hey, listen here, Saram. I tire of always crossing the sea. Yet I have no other way of living. Show me how to put an end to this ever-travelling, hey?’ Of course, the Uestuädik trader heard no answer from Saram for Saram’s answers never have words. So, all the trader could do was to wait and see what happened.”
“What did happen? Nothing?” Detah asked.
“The trader sailed beyond sight of land. But this he did every trading season, for it took two days to cross that water. Night closed around him. But this again was no cause for alarm, for it was usual. Indeed, neither was he too bothered when, by dawn’s pale light, he saw storm-clouds gathering. He had made many crossings by then, he had weathered a good many storms. The wind strengthened. He lowered his sail. The flat sea rose into mountains around him. He lashed together everything portable. The sea wrapped her hands around his craft. He clung onto his boat. She carried it high, so high the trader could have kissed Saram in His wide sky. She threw him down low. And she crashed her waters down upon him.”
“He drowned?” Detah didn’t much like the story.
“But how else was Saram to answer? The tale is told as a warning. You may ask anything of Saram. And usually He answers. But that answer mayn’t be much to your liking.”
“I think Demekn asked,” Detah said.
“You mean of the markon’s wedding? So that’s why he’d been so glum. Like a corpse himself. I must speak with him. He’ll be blaming himself and there isn’t the need. He’s not thinking. Aye, nigh every one of those Ulvregan—all those who’d served the Dal king—had sworn themselves to Beli and to Saram, all of them wanting Beli’s death.”
“What’s that? You mean, to die in battle?”
“No, it’s more than that. Aye, to die defending the Dal, that is one beautiful thing. No, this Beli’s death, it’s to die at the sharp end of a weapon.”
“On a point of fire-metal, you mean? Copper?” She didn’t want to know any more of it. Not when tomorrow they must bury the ashes of thirty Ulvregan traders and, as Master Bukarn had said, most had made that plea. Most—but not the one of Duneld’s Hold who she’d hoped to get in close with. He’d been too young to serve the Dal.
“It’s the Regiment’s plea,” Master Bukarn said.
“But why? I don’t understand.” She’d held her tears well, but now they were close. “Why do markons want to die?”
“No, you don’t understand, Detah. It’s not that they want to die. It’s that they know one day that they must. We’re not divinities, and neither Uissids to be immortal. We die. But the markons, the markistes, the horsemasters, they chose their way. With honour in battle, with strength of arm, sharpness of eye, with blood hot in our veins. Better that than dry and brittle, a weanling again. We pledge our life to Saram. Here is my body, filled with fury, to use as you will.”
She looked at him. Aye, she knew he’d served the four but somehow that part of him had always seemed far away. But not today. It was like these past nine days, with all his stories, and the Uestin ways recounted, he was pulling the past into the present, trying to bind them.
“And you made that pledge?” Even while asking she knew the answer (the words had slipped past his lips). But she knew, too, he wanted her to ask it so he could answer.
“I was a markon. I was—I still am—Saram’s weapon. That never changes; it is without end.”