Master Bukarn’s two eblan-children, in their different ways, attracted attention at the Ulvregan funeral. But now back at Isle Ardy, things are about to take a foul turn . . . Read on.
Demekn had seen her, and he couldn’t believe it. “It wasn’t unnoticed,” he said in a voice as gruff as he could make it. “And watch your feet here. Here’s where I disturbed the snake.”
He and Detah were walking back from the Ulvregan rites by way of the Ancestral Long Boat’s eroded wall. They were alone, their eblann-masters, Erspn and Shunamn, heads together with Master Bukarn.
His sister glanced back at him. “What’s not unnoticed?” she asked, all innocence.
“You and that horsemaster.”
He could have slapped her for that superior tone. And he knew it a cover for guilt. “I know who it was: King Tanisven’s brother.”
Her step faltered—for just a moment. Then she continued her walk.
She was a fool. But, as the Alsime would say, what’s done was done, now best make the most of it. What might he glean from it?
“So, he had your ear; did he say why he was here?”
“He’s commander of the Saramequai Division,” she said.
“Detah . . .!” He put on his angriest voice.
“He liked what you did with the Regiment song.”
“Detah! You were talking for longer than that.” His anger, now, wasn’t feigned. If she didn’t talk straight . . .
“He didn’t say, though I did ask,” she said.
“Aye, he, too, thought it ill-mannered. But he answered. He said he’s . . . he’s here to do Saram’s bidding.” She turned fully to face him. “You know that he means?”
It seemed the Ulvregan burial had released Isle Ardy’s grain-women from their days of mourning. Indeed, Mistress Alenta hummed no less as she went about her granary business. And Drea declared herself happy to not have a trader as yet.
“I shall enjoy these next few seasons without one. I have yet to learn the work of the First Granary’s Mistress.”
Demekn reckoned she had time enough. With the Mother’s blessing it could be another eleven seasons before Mistress Alenta retired and Drea called upon to replace her.
“What of you?” Detah asked him.
He knew what she meant, and he didn’t want to answer. Master Bukarn, Eblan Shunamn, and even Erspn, had all spoken with him. All had said much the same in their different ways: That whether the markon still lived, alone and limping, or whether Beli had fetched her, forever to feast and to fight in Uath’s Bright Land, still he ought to forget her. He wasn’t to blame, and she wasn’t for him. Sauën, Nod’s Daughter, was his Mistress; he should have no other. And he would forget her—aye, he would—except Sauën still had her fingers in his head, stirring, confusing, so he no longer could think in orderly fashion. And this of Commander Horsemaster Krisnavn hadn’t helped one jot. He tried to control it but, truth was, he was so balled with fear that he felt he was floating, tether cut; in tempests taken and tossed. Ay-yi-yi-yi-yi! What of you? she had asked him.
And no matter the funeral was over, and no more mourning, the isle still was in turmoil: the lodge packed out with trade wares; Mistresses Hanasan and Salada, and their children, and yet more kin, only this day had taken leave. Mistress Siradath too would be going. Oh, blessed peace! Had she once, for one moment, stopped her talking? Eblan Erspn and Detah now also ought leave, except Erspn said no, that they’d stay yet a day. Likely he sought this one night’s respite from his sister. But he also was deep in talks with Master Bukarn. If Mistress Hegrea and the Ancestors both would agree it, they could yet save the granaries—they said. Otherwise . . . aye, they all knew what awaited.
The following day Erspn again said they’d stay. The Father had withdrawn His clouds to reveal a sparkling blue sky. “Too fine a day to be poling. A day when we’re glad to be alive.”
It seemed the birds agreed too. Demekn could hear their chirping even above Shunamn’s rattle and snort.
Erspn was wise, Demekn had to allow him. He waited until Mistress Alenta had taken her grain-women out to the granary before he asked Demekn of his musical bow. “I would like to hear more of it.”
“Aye,” Master Bukarn agreed. “So much morosity. Such sweet playing might wash it away.”
Demekn started into the eblan-chamber to fetch it, but stopped short of the door. “But where? The mistress will skin me if she catches me playing the bow inside her lodge.”
“Where do you usually go with it?” asked Erspn. “Such tones weren’t learnt without long days of trying.”
“Usually we go to the old oak at Bisaplan’s Isle,” Shunamn cut in.
“Well, I’d say with the Feast of Winter Ending just a tickle away, that our mistress is safely tied in her granary. Under the eaves, eh?” Master Bukarn suggested. “What’d you say?”
By the time Demekn had fetched his bow, Master Bukarn, Erspn, Shunamn and Detah, all were waiting beneath the eaves for him. Ublamn, too, had seen what was happening, and had abandoned his usual post to come join them.
“That was sweet music you played,” Ublamn told him. “As sweet as any goat-herder’s whistle.”
Demekn wasn’t sure that was a compliment, not by the herders’ pipes he’d heard.
They’d left him a place against one of the arcade’s posts. There he sat, his five-stringed bow set against his shoulder. Shunamn paced, looking proud of his inspired eblan apprentice. Demekn caught himself smiling. Inspired eblan, yet what he was to play was Uestuädik woven. Erspn sat with back propped against the wall, stealing the place where Master Bukarn usually sat. But Erspn was the guest, so Master Bukarn had settled himself beside him. Detah sat to the other side of him.
“Are you sure she won’t hear?” Demekn glanced towards the granary, out of sight to the far side of the lodge.
“Do stop dithering,” Erspn good-naturedly bullied him. “We were so impressed with your burial song, now we want to hear more.”
“Aye well. It’s not to sing Regiment songs that I practice the bow. My intent ever has been to sing to my Mistress.” He glanced at Detah. Though she narrowed her eyes her mouth remained shut. Still, he knew that she knew. “My intent is to craft for Her a song—aye, I know there already are songs, but this is my song to her. Though forgive me, for it’s not yet right.”
“Aye, but I doubt Eblan Murdan built these rings in a day,” Erspn said with a kindly grin and a glance around him. “But a song for our Mistress, you say? It’s been some seasons since an eblan has created a one new.”
“Eblan Silfenken,” Shunamn said, bristling with self-importance. “The Song of Sun Calling, and that at the time of the Sun’s Cove’s building.”
“And that was a few seasons back—No,” Erspn added as Shunamn began touching and folding his fingers to count off the seasons, “we’re not here to discuss eblann as-were and granary mistresses. We’re here to hear Demekn’s song.”
But Demekn was hardly attending them. He had noticed the look on Detah’s face, and the way she’d moved closer to Master Bukarn. Disappointed that she wasn’t as yet inspired? Yet what was that cloak if not inspired? He wanted to hug her. There’d been so much bickering between them and their eblann-masters, he didn’t want her to be jealous of him. But it seemed Master Bukarn had guessed Detah’s problem and now had wrapped his arm around her.
Demekn fingered the bowstrings. But this wasn’t creating music, this was just the bowstrings talking. Even so, the rippling was pleasing, melodic and soothing. He strummed the strings several times more. Then curled his fingers. Now in plucking the strings he overlay his intent. Slowly, with feeling, he teased out the music, music now of his own making. He completed the one refrain and began it again. At its third playing, he sang.
Father Above, let your wide arms protect me,
Mother Below, let your dark arms embrace me,
Daughter of Dawn, let your bright light inspire me.
Your heat in my heart, your light in my eyes.
Erspn started to clap and to cheer.
“No,” Demekn said, “there’s more.”
“I know it’s a song for your Eblan Mistress,” Master Bukarn interrupted. “But I have to say it feels Uestuädik. Though no Dal song that I’ve heard.”
“It cannot be otherwise,” Demekn said and excused. “It’s all to do with the numbers and phrases, though I admit there’s some I don’t understand. Had I stayed longer with Chief Krinik . . . I’ve taken the bits that feel right.”
“Well, say as you will, it’s inspired—aye, inspired, and sufficiently Alisime to satisfy me.” Erspn sat back, definitively.
“I’ve not heard this trilling before,” Shunamn said sourly. “Though, overall, I do like his music.”
“I’m not saying I don’t like it,” Master Bukarn said, and then laughed. “My son makes sweet music for his Mistress; I am awed by it. Please, Demekn, do continue. Play more.”
Master Bukarn clasped Detah’s hand and held it tight to him. But what of it? It need mean nothing. Everyone knew those two nigh were inseparable, especially now she was soon to leave Ardy’s for Sapapsan’s Isle. Of course he would cling to her. Yet the sight of it—he remembered what Detah had said of the horsemaster. Something heavy stirred deep within him.
He strummed his bow-strings again. He plucked them to make the first wordless refrain. Then again he sang.
You I would have as my woman, sweet pleasure,
Pleasing indeed when you cast your light on me,
Light of the Day, your bright light burns within me.
Your heat in my heart, your light in my eyes.
He had changed that last line; it now was better. But the line before it still wasn’t right: it had too many beats. Erspn clapped. This time Demekn ignored him.
Bright light of day, I will build a ring for you
Build a ring for you set on the Sun’s Highlands
On the Sun’s Highlands we’ll be together
Together with light in my heart and my eyes.
Master Bukarn, alone, knew the Uestuädik beats; Demekn looked to him, wanting approval. But Master Bukarn was staring at the island’s south gate. Demekn’s eyes, too, sought there. That previous heaviness surged to his throat.
“Put away the bow now,” Master Bukarn said. “We have visitors.”
Demekn saw Detah’s terrified stare. Thinking the same thoughts as he? How many Saramequai had he brought with him? More than the two he’d taken to the Ulvregan burial. They followed him out of the shadowed gateway, in pairs emerging, all sat high on their dun-coated horses, all stepping together with their elegant gait. They fanned out behind their commander. No ornamental white breeches today on parade. Warriors at war in their bloody-brown linen. The two from the burial remained at his side.
Master Bukarn stood. Demekn and Detah, too. He found his fingers linking with hers. She was trembling, as was he too, and his head was a-swim. Yet Master Bukarn showed not a sign of concern as he walked out to greet Commander Horsemaster Krisnavn.