The fabled Isle of Liënershi, and it seems Krisnavn’s exploration has yielded him nothing. Yet then, appearances often lie . . . Read on
All the way back to Tamesen’s boat Detah dared not say a word. There were too many flies. And everyone knew that flies could be spies. Yet nearing Holds River-gate she could hold it no longer. When first Krisnavn, then Megovis began to chuckle, she grinned along with them.
“You got what you wanted, then?” Tamesen said.
“No,” said Krisnavn. “We did not. But Detah did. She’s a very clever girl.” He patted her hand. “I thought for moment you might also uncover the guards.”
Megovis grunted. “All we need now is to set a plan round it.”
“Hmm,” Krisnavn said. “But we aren’t ready yet. Did you notice how that stone-house opened eastward? Tamesen, did you say something of coves the east side of the island? Any suited to beaching? Could you take us there?”
“I could, aye. But I’ve never heard tell of anything useful, that part of the island.”
“Not even useful for passing the night?”
“Aye, I’ll allow you that. Though I’d say it’s early yet to be pulling ashore. Yet also it’s late to make it across to South Eskin Head–at least in the light.”
“But is that wise? And after you said loudly, in front of that trader, of finding a place to overnight,” Megovis fretted.
“I said loudly of wanting a place not shared with the crew,” Krisnavn corrected. “As would a horsemaster who has just lavished such gifts on his newly-wed wife.”
“About that,” Tamesen said, with a look from one to the other. “I’ve been having my thoughts these last few days. Now, I don’t know Eblan Erspn from Blinding Hilshin, him being from beyond South River. But I took a chance and trusted him when he came asking for a man to ferry you over, you and your wife, to find for her gifts. But, well, times from your talk I’d say I’ve not been told totally straight. So, we’re away from there now. You care to reveal it?” This time he included Megovis in the look between them.
“I’ve no wish to deceive,” Krisnavn said. “Yet I cannot tell you without first an oath.”
“What, you want me to swear on your Saram that I’ll not open my mouth in the wrong places?”
“Not Saram. Beli. But listen before you go spluttering. Before I’ll say more I need you and your crew to join the Regiment.”
“He doesn’t mean in the Dal,” Detah quickly put in. “He means in our Alisalm-land. In the Alisalm Regiment.”
“You won’t be alone,” Krisnavn told him. “Eblan Erspn is finding me thirty in all. Good Alisime archers, not afraid of a fight. But they’ll need be seamen too. So, I’ll need a boatmaster to command them. That could be you, Boatmaster Tamesen.”
“Nah,” Tamesen shook his head. “Alisime seamen won’t be commanded, neither by you nor by me. I tell you, either a man does a thing or does not.”
“Then let me rephrase it,” Krisnavn said. “What I need is a man with . . . what do you call it, Nod’s Knowledge? . . . to advise me and help set this plan. Someone who can then convey whatever is needed to the other seamen. Now, what do you say?”
“And I’ve how long to consider?”
Detah had to turn away lest she grinned. Still she heard the scratching of Tamesen’s beard and his scalp. He was making a show of it. As to his denying the command of his men . . . she’d seen the way his crew jumped to his merest sign. She knew he’d agree it.
“I’m told there’s a reward in this Liënershi visit.”
Maybe Tamesen thought himself subtle. Yet Detah saw how he glanced at the packaged weavings, and his eyes flitted several times to the gold and the gems that still trimmed around her. His thoughts showed louder than if he’d spoken: What wealth had the horsemaster? Aye, it seemed more than beyond any wild talking. Detah, too, had marvelled at it. And whence the gold, the ivory, the stones? Raids against Dal Sahalis? Yet Demekn had been clear on that: Clan Querkan was allied there. So had in trade? The Dal was known for its hemp weavings, both fine, and strong canvas. But when did fabrics fetch such wealth? Horses, then? Aye, that was more likely.
“There’ll be more rewards, will there, if I say aye to the Regiment?” Tamesen asked.
“There’s a reward set for every campaign,” Krisnavn said.
“Then I guess you’ve your boatmaster here.”
Krisnavn looked at Megovis–who then told Tamesen the tale, from the Uissids Judgement to the Kerdolan massacre, from the killing of the granary-master to what was discovered while riding the bounds.
“I knew she was the granary’s Detah!” Tamesen exclaimed.
“Oh? What gave me away?” she asked.
“Not you. Him. Newly-wed and not a grunt in the night? A might wayward, I thought it.”
Krisnavn laughed, though not for long.
He shook his head, as glum as she’d ever seen him. “But we can’t attack that stone-house, not with it packed of women and girls.”
“Perhaps we won’t have the need,” Megovis suggested, “—if we can make this ‘Head’ see she’s defeated.”
“How?” Krisnavn turned to Detah. “Any suggestions? I trust you to see more clearly than me. Besides, you know Hegrea—you’ve met her, you said. And Hegrea is Krediche and, as you’ve said, the Kredese are Kerdolan in all but name.”
Mistress Hegrea, Creator of the Alisime granary. Krediche? Why had she not noticed before when he’d said. Because to herself she’d denied it. Yet it fitted, though skewed and crazy. Then . . . so many questions, she couldn’t speak for the confusion. Eblan Murdan had fought the Kerdolan to rid the land of the Krediche granary. Yet the Alsime had accepted that very same granary?
She ought to have questioned Mistress Hegrea of this when she’d the chance. But no, then her head had been stuffed with thoughts of turning to stone, and ought she or oughtn’t she to be an eblan, and what had happened to the Ulvregan traders along the Waters. Yet Mistress Hegrea had said it. It wasn’t the Alisime way to use granaries, they were Krediche, to be shunned. And when her first granary had grown—fruited, she’d said—and she’d needed more keepers . . . But unlike Kared, Head of the Kerdolak granaries, I’d not the daughters to keep them. So she had given them over to Detah’s own family.
And now Krisnavn had said it again, that her Mistress Hegrea was Krediche. Yet no, she was an Alisime eblan. How could she be eblan and Krediche both? And how could she be the mother of Eblan Murdan with him so against the Kredese and Kerdolan? The answer had to lie in the eblann’s name for her: twice-born. Twice, because she was born somewhere other, before Bisaplan’s kin adopted her? it had to be. And that ‘somewhere other’, that first birth, was part of the story Krisnavn knew of her, before she came to Alisalm-land.
But still there were questions. How, if the Head of Kerdol had trained her here on Liënershi, did she come to be in Dal Uest? But no, she hadn’t been in Dal Uest; she’d been at Chadtamen’s Pass. According to Krisnavn, that’s where she’d encountered Murdan’s father, Father Jaja’s own son Luin. Then she must have come from south of it and passing through. But what was she been doing there? South was Dal Sahalis. Had she been trading? But regardless, the story didn’t matter.
It was that Mistress Hegrea had been first born Eskin-Krediche, and had been trained to be a granary-keeper. So was she born at His Indwelling: the very land that the Kredese had held before Eblan Murdan chased them away? The Kredese, who had built Lir’s Boat which, according to her eblan-master, ferried the wrong Ancestors. Aye, Krediche Ancestors—Eskin. And now she’d seen the stone-built-everything on Liënershi she knew it was they who’d built Lir’s Boat.
“Detah?” Krisnavn lightly touched her shoulder.
“Please, never say that to my sister—nor to any Alsime.” She glanced at the Alisime seamen but, now pulled through the river-gate, they were fully absorbed in raising the sail, even Tamesen. “Our granaries are not Krediche. Word of that would certainly destroy them. But I’ll admit that they are similar.”
“So could we apply what you know of the Alisime granaries?” Krisnavn asked her. “Would that help us to know more about these Kerdolan?”
Her thoughts still busy; she was unable to speak. She nodded.
The day’s heat was ebbing, they’d soon be wrapped in the chilled sea air. And now, the pretence done, there’d be no more snuggling into Krisnavn’s arms. She drew her cloak closer, aware of Megovis watching. She looked down, hoping she’d not let her feelings show though she couldn’t help the sigh. He looked away, attention turned instead to Tamesen who was filling their ears again with talk of tides and currents. She returned her thoughts to Mistress Hegrea, and the granaries. Only to be jolted from them as the boat ran aground.
It was an intentional beaching. They were in a deep cove. Low cliffs, barely a man’s height, embraced the sand. No shingle here. And, now she wasn’t Krisnavn’s wife, he left her to Tamesen and his crew to help out of the boat. Meanwhile he and Megovis made for a small sand-slide off to the north, talking close of exploration and the land above. She watched them scramble up the raw cut, then like hunters, heads low, peer over the top. She grunted: if that was their plan, then they’d not go without her. Not after she’d done so much to help.
But they drew back—What had they seen? Perhaps it wasn’t so safe to be there? Regardless, she tramped her way through the sand and soon was behind them. “What is it?”
“Detah!” He was clearly annoyed with her.
“Deserted,” Megovis said, ignoring his commander. “But interesting constructs.”
“Constructs? You mean houses?”
“No,” Krisnavn said, obviously deciding to allow it now she was there. “No, more like the Bridren bone-stores.”
“Like our Earthen Boats?”
“No, these are rock-built,” Megovis said. “Stone. Though they’re much grass-grown. They’ve doors—of a sort.”
“Are you sure they’re not deserted traders’ holds? Let me see.” She was already looking for a way past them on the narrow sand-fall.
“No!” Krisnavn pulled her back. “There mightn’t be people immediately visible, but you don’t know what guards might be there.”
“Aye, flies,” Megovis suggested, only partly in jest.
“You’re to stay with Tamesen—you forget I’m responsible for your safety. Megovis, spears and a bow.”
“Against flies?” she laughed. “And it can’t hurt just to peep over the edge. You did. Besides, with my Alisime eyes I might see better than you what these ‘constructs’ are.”
She threw her entangling cloak down to the beach, and ignored that he rolled his eyes at Saram. She dug in her toes and begun the climb. It wasn’t far.
As Krisnavn and Megovis had done, at the top she kept her head low. Even so, she could see before her a land that swelled, though to no notable height. And at that swell’s crest sat three round bellies, each a short stagger back from the other. If she had looked as they approached from the sea she’d have seen them clearly. But . . . bellies were earth-piled, while these were stone-stacked, if partly obscured by the grass and herbage. Moreover, a burial-belly hadn’t a door. Aye, and neither had these, only a gaping hole where a door ought to be. Except the one furthest back. There the Kerdolan had planted a stone—like that at Lir’s Boat. But already from this distance she could see a difference. Unlike the stones at Lir’s Boat, these were smothered with carvings. She shivered.
“Not houses,” she agreed. Krisnavn now was beside her.
“You know what they are?” he asked.
She did, but she didn’t want to tell him. It was eblan-knowledge, not for others to know. She had to play this wily as he. Besides, she’d only seen the likes once before. “I need to see closer.”
“Could be dangerous,” he refused her.
“An arrow. Poisoned,” Megovis added. He had joined them, though she noticed he’d first spat on the beach, lips moving as he murmured a prayer or a charm. Even now she could see he’d a finger stuck into his waistband, assumingly to touch the charms hidden there. He could be wise. Though she doubted the tumunn were used as bone-stores, there would be guardian ghosts of those buried beneath the thresholds.
She took no heed of Krisnavn’s gainsaying but was up and over the cliff before he could catch her. Once in the open she knew he’d not chase her. The place might look deserted and there were no flies, but there could be a shepherd herding and nothing catches the eye faster than a man running.
As she neared the first mound and saw the carved stones, her feet slowed. She stopped, her feet refusing her. She felt her jaw slacken as her eyes danced across the carvings. Then slowly, slowly, she shook her head. She had had seen these before, yet it couldn’t be. They covered all visible surfaces, not only around the gaping door-hole but on every stone in the long narrow passage that led in to the heart of the shrine. And there she wondered what she would find.
Her fingers trailed the spirals. She knew what they were; also the upthrusting, down-pointing tri-forms. The circles, the sweeping lines that formed into beaks, into eyes: All so familiar. But those nesting arcs she’d seen but the once. She entered the tumun. She knew the waiting Uestin wouldn’t dare follow her there.
Facing to east, and this now closing to evening, the light reaching here was scarcely enough. Yet she could feel with her fingers the carvings here. She wished she’d a lamp to see them better. Yet she knew how they would look. Then she barked her shin on a protruding stone and yelped. She felt around it: a massive brew-bowl. She’d not let her fingers search inside it. Of course she’d known it was there, somewhere. It held a fresh offering. She had noticed the smell even before she had entered.
“Buttercup, you hurt?” It was Krisnavn though he’d used Megovis’s name for her. So he knew not to use proper names while intruding here? Likely taught by his Uissid Huat.
“I’m fine.” She returned to the light, head spinning with yet more puzzles. “It’s a Cove of the Sun.” No, it was more that though she couldn’t say.
“Explain,” said Krisnavn, hand at her elbow to steer her away.
“You know of our Cove of the Sun? At Murdan’s Stones? The Old Isle of the Dead. Though ours isn’t like this, yet something like this was the first inspiration. Ours was taken from the Hiëmen—”
“My mother is Hiëmen,” Megovis said. “She’s never said.”
“From the Hiëmen around South Eskin Head—though I’ve not seen their coves, and no one has said that they look like caves, at least not caves like these. These must be the first, they’re very old. The others, then, would be copies, though maybe made by folks who’ve not much stone.”
“The essence was taken,” Krisnavn supplied the words. “So cave becomes cove. But there’s no stone here, either.”
Detah shrugged. “The Kerdolan are strange. Those stones Murdan found at His Indwelling are thought to have come from Fifi Go. But why fetch from afar when His Indwelling has plenty? It could be for their source. We eblann say the best stone is taken from Mistress Nod’s Bowl. But who knows which stones the Kerdolan most value.”
“So what’s the cove’s purpose?” Krisnavn asked her.
She shrugged, to stall. She didn’t want to say of the tumun. She could not. It was forbidden. But he had asked of the cove, and that she could answer. “Ours is used for the Summer Feast of Sun Calling.”
Megovis grunted. “Care to explain that as well?”
“It’s when we call the sun back . . . You don’t understand? You know that our Mistress, as she rises, moves along the horizon as the season progresses? Well she does,” she said before they could say of the Dal’s truvidiren. “Winter, she rises farthest south; summer it’s farthest north. We eblann know what lies to the far north, beyond the Feg Folk. Ice-locked lands. So no eblan blames the northern Feg if they try to entice our Mistress—your Sauën—to stay longer with them. If Alisalm-land likewise lay beneath snow we’d do the same. But what happens to us if our Mistress goes north, goes north, goes north, and never returns? We too would freeze in the dark; our grain wouldn’t ripen; there’d be no food; we must starve. That never must happen. And so we call to her: Please to return. Don’t leave us in darkness and cold.”
Krisnavn nodded. “The North Fulcrum.”
“Ah.” Megovis said, losing his fully-befuddled look. “As in the summer counterpoint of the South Fulcrum. See, Buttercup, we only celebrate the winter Fulcrum. It’s the Feast of the Long Pole.”
“So, you say of the summer feast,” Krisnavn said. “But what of the winter feast?”
“No, we don’t use the Sun’s Cove for that. It faces the wrong way to catch the sun.”
“These also face the wrong way,” Krisnavn said, a glance over his shoulder. “To the east?”
“Aligned to the Send-Off Feast,” she said. “And that of Winter Ending.”
By the time they returned to the cove, Tamesen’s crew had a fire lit and were heating water.
“Food.” Megovis rubbed his hands.
“Tent first,” ordered Krisnavn. “We’ll continue this talk later.”
Busy with chores, they left Detah to sit and ponder. It was those carvings, and that long passage-entrance. She’d seen those every day of her life, at Ardy’s lodge. And it wasn’t only there, but those same signs—warding charms, she’d been told—were painted along the entrance passage of every granary lodge. At Ardy’s lodge they were also painted on the walls of the inner arcade. She’d been told they first were drawn by Mistress Hegrea. She’d thought them an eblan-inspiration. They must have been eblan-inspired for she’d seen the same, but pecked into the stone—as they were here—at the hidden eblann-tumun. That tumun, stone constructed, was old—very old.
Aye, if she still doubted it, this now proved it: Mistress Hegrea had been Krediche before being Alisime. And more: the Kerdolan had once dug their fingers into the Highlands. So how many of the Alisime rites, their beliefs, their stories were Alsime-true? And how many were Kerdolan-derived?
She sighed. There then was the matter of alignments. The entrance passage of every Alisime granary—nine in all—opened upon the sun’s rising at Winter Sun-Calling. She shook her head, almost crying for the shame of it. The granary-family had rooted up Murdan’s Stones to form instead the four Calendar Stones (a repeat of what Hegrea had previously done); and these to set the Eskin feast calendar so the Ulvregan traders would know when to arrive for the trade. It should not have been done for it was not needed! For Ardy’s lodge—every granary lodge—was aligned to set that very same calendar. How came her family—aye, her very own family—to lose such knowledge as this? They ought to have known, Mistress Hegrea wouldn’t have allowed the calendar to fail just because her son tore up her stones!
“Now, these feasts you mentioned,” Krisnavn said as he sat down beside her, tent now erected, barley and seed porridge filling their bellies. “They have rites they hold here?”
She nodded. “Though I don’t know how they’re ordered. Our own feasts at the sun’s east rising are to send off the spirits of the dead, and to welcome them again as new life. But that’s Alisime,” she insisted. “These caves were aligned by the Kerdolan. Their rites will be more anciently-set.”
“Well, I’m less concerned with what happens here than with who attends. Would the Head of Kerdol be there?”
Detah nodded. “Most likely. As Head of the Granaries, my sister attends.”
“Then I think we may have a plan,” said Krisnavn.
How will Krisnavn use this information of the feast of the equinox, a feast which the Head of Kerdol is bound to attend? Does he intend to kill her, despite he told Drea that he’d rather not? Yet to kill Kared, Head of the Kerdolan . . . does he not know she’s rumoured immortal ?