What plan has Krisnavn devised to destroy the Head of Kerdol? As yet he’s cautious of concealed ears that might lurk, so he’s keeping it close, mulling on his thoughts for an entire day and night. Meanwhile Detah, too, has her thoughts . . . Read on
Detah didn’t mind that Krisnavn was quiet. She had still to accommodate the full implications of the three tumunn she’d seen on Liënershi. She shuffled her thoughts, rearranged certain notions, revised her own story of the Alisime granaries—only to find that she’d learned nothing new, merely forced to accept where before she’d denied.
So lost was she in her thoughts it wasn’t till they set out from South Eskin Head, again to shore-hop the Hiëmen coast, that she noticed the distance grown between her and Krisnavn. Yet, as she reminded herself, their closeness had only been part of the play. As long as she remained his ‘clever girl’, to be consulted. And she did. All that morning, while the boat’s headed-prow cut through the mounting waves and the rain drizzled around them, he asked her more and more questions—of the Alisime granary, and the Alisime feasts, and the Alisime granary rites—each answer discussed then with Megovis: How best to use the Kerdolak versions.
Finally he asked her: Under what conditions would Mistress Drea surrender. She laughed. And she’d thought he understood.
“Never,” she said when still he waited.
She sighed. “Aye, perhaps if no granaries remained. But then what would be left to surrender? You talk as if the granaries and Alisalm-land are the same. They are not. The granaries aren’t even Alisime, as now you have shown me. But . . .” she shrugged, “. . . is it the same for the Kerdolan?”
“You mean, would the Kerdolan exist without their granaries?”
“It might be that their granaries and their trade is all that they have—though I know also they have metallurgists, with their own source of copper, and probably of gold. But I’m wondering if they might be like a layer spread over the Eskin—as it seems our granaries are with the Alsime. Then I would say, as with my sister, to destroy all their granaries is to drive the Head of Kerdol into surrender. Isn’t that what you’re asking? But before you decide upon that, you should know how many granaries they hold.”
She laughed in scorn at him. “You expect me to number them? They’re everywhere. Wherever are Eskin there, too, are granaries. They’re likely amongst the Jinnigrits too—I’ve heard they’re dealing now with the Kerdolan. All through Jitinnis, except in Alisalm-land and the lands of the Lenevan to the east of us. And maybe those Alsime to the north are free of them too. But imagine it: We Alsime had nine granaries until the Kerdolan hit them; those same Kerdolan must have nine hundred or more.”
“You’re right. Too many.” Krisnavn nodded. “But you said of their trading holds. I know your Alisime granaries don’t use them but—”
“No need,” she said.
“I understand that: there are differences—”
“The Alsime won’t allow the yield of their land to leave. That mostly means grain. It was that which so inflamed Eblan Murdan—when he saw the Kerdolan taking the grain grown in the fields around His Indwelling to ferry it in their longboats down West River.”
“I understand,” he said again. “Unlike the Ulvregan traders’ holds—”
“Where traders dwell, though maybe occasionally deal.”
“While the Kerdolan use their trading holds to store whatever the grain and trade-wares they’ve collected from the granaries—”
“They’re held there, aye, and maybe redistributed—I’m not sure. I know they trade from there. But now I’ve seen Liënershi, and the Head of Kerdol’s house, I suspect much of the grain is taken there. So many mouths, they must have great need, and I saw no grain-fields there.”
“How many?” he asked her.
“Mouths to feed? Likely as many as there are granaries. You heard what that trader said. The girls and young women come from every granary to finish their training—”
“I meant how many trading holds. Do you know? I know there’s one at South Eskin Head.”
She couldn’t give him their number without first she named them: South Eskin Head; Du Dlida in Eli Go, west of West Bounds; Taca Riori west of West Rivergate, itself between Anu Cobi and Cobi Go; the northern isles of Saria Go and Emiso Go; then across the Blood Sea in Banva Go sat Mo Ria, Anyo Dlida southward of that, and Ul Dlida on its southernmost headland.
“Nine. Though I’ve heard talk of two more, more northerly. Then there’s another at Liënershi, so they say—and I don’t mean those traders’ holds we saw. Though where’s this other: maybe it’s part of that stone-hive-house?”
“You know all these?” Krisnavn asked Tamesen, who anyway had ears that were twitching.
“Aye, I know them, or of them. I’ll tell you though, I’ve never ventured farther north than Mo Ria.”
“How open would you say they are to attack?”
Tamesen laughed. “As open as sails when Jaja’s breath blows. To my knowing, each is set just into a river, close to its sea-gate.”
“So would you say it’s possible to attack, say, five of these and yet not cross the path of their fleeing boats?”
“You’re saying for us to circle around them? Then you’re assuming they’ll flee to Liënershi? Aye, and likely they will. Crying to Mama. No, I can give no answer till you say how you intend to attack. See, if we’re pulling up to a wharf, men clambering ashore, arrows flying with maces swinging maybe? No, I’ll tell you now, we can’t do that. But then, see, if we’re to sit pretty in our boats and from there shoot off several arrows that mostly will hit, so we can be off? Aye, we can do that, and easy. I can give you six in a run like that. Though we’ll have to sail west around Liënershi to do it, and leave South Eskin Head to the last.”
“How long will it take us?” Krisnavn asked.
“Some of those holds are days apart,” Tamesen said.
“How long?” Krisnavn persisted.
“See, there are seas between them.”
“Well, if I say of the longest? That’s Ul Dlida to South Eskin Head—”
“Tamesen, how long will it take? And give me the days from South River and back.”
Detah could see Tamesen was counting, but he was using the old Alisime way. She could have calculated it faster using the granary-system.
“Thirteen days,” he said after an age of turning down fingers and muttering and transferring his numbers from one hand to the other, then having to count each finger again. “Aye, I’d say thirteen at the first. But I’d be happier to add three days to that. Best not to have Mistress Nod trip us.”
“So that’s what we’ll do,” Krisnavn said. Then he turned back to Detah. “What was it you said of the eblann claiming your Hegrea as Sauën’s Daughter?”
Detah didn’t understand the question or its relevance. She frowned. “It was just that: that she’s the sun’s daughter. The sun is our Mistress Inspiration, and Mistress Hegrea, an eblan, was exceptionally inspired. Besides, she’s also pale to look upon, so they liken her to the sun. Then again, our grain-women say when their grain ripens fast that Mistress Hegrea has walked through their fields.”
“And those caves back there face east?” Krisnavn said. “Facing Sauën as she rises from her bed.”
“As she’s born of Mistress Nod’s waters,” Tamesen corrected.
Krisnavn waved away the difference. “You’d agree,” he asked Detah, “if your Alsime see Mistress Hegrea as Sauën’s daughter, so might the Kerdolan see their Head of Kerdol?”
“I suppose, aye. She must have been mighty inspired to create the granaries. And she’d likely be seen as the sun’s daughter, ripening the grain. But I can’t say for certain. I know none of their stories.”
“But she will be at one of those caves to see Sauën rise from the sea on their feast-day? There to greet her ‘mother’?”
“I’d say that without doubt,” Detah agreed.
“And you agree with what Eblan Erspn says, that the deaths and attacks on your granaries are the Mistress Sauën loudly proclaiming that she has some other purpose for them?”
“He didn’t say it quite like that.”
“Yet he believes these attacks are a message from her?”
“Aye.” She changed her position, grown numb from sitting so long on the wooden plank.
“So what of the Head of Kerdol? What might she think when six of her trading holds are destroyed? Might she think that her mother Sauën is here delivering a message to her? That perhaps their trading days are done? That she has some other plan for the Head? That it’s time to surrender?”
“I do see what you’re saying.”
“So when we attack, at sunrise, at whatever the name of their feast, she’ll offer us no defence, but a surrender. How many months to—what is it?—your Send-Off Feast?”
“Five,” Detah said.
She ought to have been happy. They’d found a way of not killing the woman—if, indeed, such were possible (ought she to mention that to Krisnavn? But she kept quiet of it)—yet she kept seeing Drea, standing at the heart of that Kerdolak tumun, Krisnavn’s glint-headed spear driving deep through her.
Megovis liked how the land didn’t rock. How, when he sat, the stool didn’t rise. How there was no cold spray to sting his eyes. And how now he had room to stretch out his legs. They sat in Krisnavn’s command room, talking through the finer points of their planned campaign. And, though now released from Krisnavn’s service, Detah sat with them.
“We’ll need more arrowheads, with fire-metal points,” Krisnavn said.
“If you’re thinking my Alsime will use those, forget it,” Tamesen said. “No, we Alsime use flint. It carries a spirit to the White Hills of the Dead.”
“He’s right,” Detah said. “They’ll not be happy to use copper-stone.”
“You’ve both jumped before I can say,” complained Krisnavn. “I am happy for your Alsime to use flint. It’s easier found, easier worked, and it’s what your men know best, part of their craft, part of their skill. But the Kerdolan find flint points, they won’t know who’s attacking their holds. We could be anyone. So we need a portion of the arrows to carry our mark. It’ll be Regiment who use them. Megovis here, Biadret and Ganros; one to a boat. The others will be their markistes. But six trading holds, that’s more than a few arrowheads needed.”
“How long have we before these attacks?” Detah asked.
“Five months till your Send-Off Feast, you said?” Megovis said. “So we’ll need them done and cleared before then.”
“I’m not ready yet to set the day. We have men to train,” Krisnavn said. “And as yet I don’t know how many. The best I can say is we need to complete this campaign at least five days before we attack Liënershi.”
“So we’ll set out, say, twenty days before the Liënershi attack?” Detah said. “That allows Tamesen’s sixteen days for the campaign.”
“Are you pressuring me for a definite day? Detah, I have already said. And I’d say a month rather than your twenty days.”
“I only ask so I know how long.”
Megovis covered his mouth to hide his grin. Only Detah could get away with back-chatting the commander like that. And, by Saram, it showed how sparked she was by Beli!
“That’s four months,” she said. “I might be able to get the copper, but I’m not sure of finding a smith.”
“It’s the smith more than the metal.”
“We can send back to the Dal for the copper,” Biadret said.
“No,” Krisnavn refused. “That’ll involve Yandros. But the metal I can take from the granary-stores.”
“You cannot,” Detah said. “Well, aye, you can, but you’ll not find much. Less than the gold you’ve hung upon me. Trinkets too, not arrow-points or even daggers. We’ve never the use of it.”
“But you say you can get me copper?” Krisnavn arched a brow. (Megovis looked at her quizzical, too—not that he doubted her.) “Whence?”
She shook her head. “I cannot answer you. I have first to speak to another.”
Megovis laughed. “Now that isn’t like our Buttercup. Usually so willing to tell all she knows.”
She turned grave green eyes upon him. “This isn’t my knowledge to share. I can say only that it’s copper intended for the Saëntoi. And it isn’t yet worked.”
“As if finding a smith wouldn’t be chore enough, you now say we need a metallurgist too?” Krisnavn shook his head but it was probably only feigned despair.
“And now who’s saying too fast?” she answered him. “I don’t mean it’s the copper-stone. Only that it’s freshly pulled. It’ll be formed into nuggets.”
“Still a matter of smiths,” Krisnavn said.
She shrugged. “I might be able . . . But it needs asking now, before summer’s half done. Then if I can, say, divert it to you, you’d have to deal for it. To offer what the Saëntoi give.”
“And what might that be?”
“Never heard. Has it another name?”
“It’s a flywort,” she said.
“Your eblann use it?”
She nodded. “It’s not as powerful as the ones we harvest. Eblan Erspn calls it an opener because it opens the gates; removes the barriers. Moreover, while the others can rot a belly and head, this green-feather is gentle.”
“Seers weed?” Megovis guessed at it. “Describe it.”
“I’ve seen only the harvested head. It’s the green of grey willow, and maybe looks like a teasel or thistle when growing but not bristly. It’s soft even when dried, though sticky as goose-weed.”
“Seers weed,” Megovis repeated and down-turned his mouth.
“And this ‘eblan’s herb’ is had off the Saëntoi?” Krisnavn asked her.
“Aye, and that’s a problem that outsizes the smith,” she said. “How to fetch it from Dal Sahalis in time to deal for the fire-metal copper.”
At this Biadret interrupted. “How long for a markon to cross the Lenevick Sea, to gain the Dal, and return?”
Ganros started to say but Krisnavn signed him ‘no’.
“You’re thinking an Ulvregan markon, whose family trades into Dal Sahalis?” Detah asked.
“No,” Krisnavn answered her. “I’m thinking of that young Bronanti. He’s off active duty until the hand heals—the idiot sliced his own flesh instead of the tree.”
“He knows how to deal?” Her tone said she doubted it.
“No need. He needs only to locate my brother.”
“Ay-yi-yi, I forgot,” Detah groaned, her hands thrown out. “You Uestin do it all different. So best forget the copper, your way will take too long.”
Krisnavn pulled back while he regarded her, brows raised as in surprise—and Megovis wanted to say not to tease her. “Why should it take long? Our king has a store-house full of the herb.”
But even then Detah did not understand. She laughed outright in scorn of him. “You think me grain-brained? Why would the Dal-King have a house full of our eblan flywort?”
Calmly, Krisnavn answered, “To give to the Regiment.”
She leapt to her feet, fingers gripping her hips. Megovis wanted to hold his head, and not see this. “Krisnavn, I am not an Alisime girl who’s never ridden a horse. I know what the markons mean, now, when they say that Saram lifts them, they fly. And it’s not from ingesting a flywort.”
“Hush, and sit,” he answered her. “Your father and brother have told you much, but one was a lore-man—”
“Assistant to,” she sullenly said.
“—the other, a markon. Neither were markistes, and certainly not horsemasters. Our training involves more than weapons and strategy and verses and horse-skills. Within us resides Beli. And he doesn’t just enter. He doesn’t say, Oh here is a markiste, I think I’ll reside here. He must be invited. Enticed. But you know this of spirits, you’re an eblan. Now, what your Eblan Erspn calls green-feather we call seers weed. It’s, as you say, an opener. It opens the gates to what’s deepest within. Within here.” He tapped his chest. “So, the Regiment has much use of your green-feather, our seers weed.”
Megovis’s mouth still was down. He knew the herb well, and it was the one part of Regiment life he didn’t much like. Fine to open himself to Beli. But to see what lies within . . . always the wretched weed would take him again to his father’s death, to the blood, the headless body, to bewail that he hadn’t arrived in time. If he had been there he could have plunged the blade in before the truvidir could swing his axe and deny his father life ever after with Beli. He sighed. But seers weed didn’t affect everyone the same. Krisnavn seemed to fly with it, while Megovis drowned in it. But then Krisnavn hadn’t the memories.
“I’ll get you the herb,” Krisnavn said, “if you can get me the copper.”
And where might Detah acquire this much-needed copper—though didn’t her father fill her head with stories of copper-trading?
Aye, but who’s to deal for it—if the green-feather can first be got?
And what use has these traders of the eblan’s herb?
Seems a tangled net of trading is here. That ought to take Detah’s thoughts off the Commander Horsemaster Krisnavn.