Detah knows where Commander Horsemaster Krisnavn can obtain the copper he requires for his arrows.(She does?) But it can only be had in trade for the eblan’s green-feather herb. Krisnavn says he can provide it; the Regiment uses it. (It does?) So now comes the question of who’s to deal, and with whom? But at least that’s keeping Detah’s thoughts off the man now their play-wedding is done. . . . Read on.
In their absence shingle fetched from the southern shores had made firm what had been a bog-beset track. It crunched beneath their horses’ hooves, reminding Detah of their ride together along that same southern shore. Now it seemed so long ago—another life. But, by Saram’s Blue Eyes, it was good to ride Belgantros again. Krisnavn’s gift; he couldn’t take that away. They were heading north along South River, north to the Highlands of the Sun. He rode beside her. And, though alone, they were properly distanced as a Regiment commander and his guide ought to be. Rather than to drown in the impossible, she directed her thoughts to this imminent meeting. But her thoughts slammed again into the problem that had kept her awake half the night: How much to tell Krisnavn about the source of this copper.
It was Luktosn’s secret, not hers to tell. Yet she had offered it. Had that been a ploy, so she’d not have to return as yet to her eblan-master? Or had she hopes of regaining Krisnavn’s affection, spun through with his gratitude? It wasn’t that he’d become ill-mannered. And he never was offensively brusque. But for all his previous warmth he now dripped with icicles. It confused her, upset her, she didn’t like it. She sighed. He wasn’t to blame; she was being unfair to him. It was her, the Mother stirring expectations in her. She’d heard enough talk; she was at that age. “Well, best you forget it,” she told herself, aloud. “You’re eblan now.” And eblann don’t wed.
“What?” Krisnavn asked. “I was in my own thoughts. You were saying?”
“Nothing. Just thinking aloud.”
She returned her thoughts to the copper. She knew he would laugh if he discovered the secret, that Luktosn’s traders smuggled Meksuin’s un-becharmed copper through Rizzoni lands, right under Clan Reumen’s noses, to Dal Sahalis. Then brought to Clan Reumen the Saëntoi-worked copper that must be worked with counter-charms, then worked again. And none paid heed to the green-feather herb openly brought. Detah clucked. All those long seasons and Clan Reumen hadn’t bothered to add on fingers or sticks to discover their sums didn’t tally. Aye, Saramequai, Clan Querkan, Krisnavn would chuckle at that. But then what of after he laughed? Would he then insist Luktosn’s Hold dealt only with him?
His need of the copper didn’t stop at the arrowheads. She’d seen the Regiment’s weapons now, seen those fire-blades worn at the horsemen’s hips were the least of it. Nor had they only the short stabbing spears, but long-bladed things, long-shafted. Other blades too, like knives but longer even than her forearm. Then there were the double-headed flare-bladed axes that the horsemasters wore hung down their backs. Though they had more weapons than this, the rest were of stone. Maces, but not fancily shaped to denote elevation, of heavy stone, hafted; able to crack a man’s skull as if a wren’s egg. Bolas, too, that would fell any man fleeing. And the bows! Short and sinuous, powerful things, not like the Alisime long bows. An arrow from those could fell a aurochs at a charge, so they said, and she believed it. So what trader would stand against them and say no, they can’t have the copper? And she knew Luktosn’s traders had grown weary of such far distant travel, with so little in it for them.
But there lay the problem, for the eblann had sore-need of the herb. Of all the flyworts, green-feather offered the swiftest route to the Ancestors, the Ancients, and nigh-all the spirits. Without such communion who would there be to guide the Alsime, give them wise counsel, and protect them from Eskin magicians? An elder leaf could do just so much. And then there was the other problem: without a granary-master who now was to deal for it, and to trade it on? The third eblan-duty: to the Eblan Society.
“I’ve never known you so quiet,” Krisnavn remarked as they forded the river at Duneld’s Hold, deeper here than at Ardy’s boards.
“I could say the same of you.”
“I have plans to form.”
“Aye.” She too. And decisions must be made, for they were almost there. It had been a long, round-about route, considering at the Meet they’d been able to see the hold. Yet to gain it entailed several bound-tracks, now thankfully cleared of their tangle, two river-crossings, and a final canter south along Freeland Walk.
Luktosn’s Hold, like the Querkan barracks, sat atop a steep hill. Both were ringed with log-fences. But thereafter they bore no resemblance. Luktosn’s weathered-grey palisade was set low on the hill, intended to ward against winter-wolves and to keep close the cattle and sheep. It did nothing to hide the Ulvregan round-house, its thatch a sky-scraping spire. Overlooking the Meet, Luktosn’s traders liked to be seen.
Being summer’s half, the gate stood open. Detah led the way in. A path wended between sturdy-fenced cattle folds, repaired ready for winter. Detah heard children calling and laughing though she couldn’t yet see them. A woman’s raised voice; some child had done wrong. Then on the path ahead came a sturdy man, golden hair faded, there to meet them. A flesh-rounded woman with a young child toddling tagged alongside him. More women appeared, these gathered into a clump around the arched doorway. Even at this distance she was aware of their fear.
She and Krisnavn dismounted. From his visit to his Bukplugn’s kin, he knew how even the older children, though excited, were often scared of the horses. So they tied their mounts to a fence post, though usually they were left with reins stone-weighted.
“Detah,” Eldliks Krekys greeted her. “Or ought that be Eblan Detah? But you’re without feathers.”
It was true. Though she again had her eblan-rod, she was still dressed as a Hiëmen bride. “I’ve been over the sea.” Her mouth twitched, unable fully to suppress the smile.
“The Dal?” He glanced at her companion.
“No, not there,” she said. “I’ll relate the tale another time.”
“I’d like that, aye. To hear of somewhere other than the Dal. Though not properly kin, you know you’re always welcome here. So who’s this you’ve brought with you? And on what business?” There was no mistaking his dislike of all things Uestin. It pulled his mouth down.
“Horsemaster Krisnavn, Commander of the Saramequai Division of the Regiment of Dal Uest,” Krisnavn introduced himself. Detah noticed his little glance back, so used to his captains accompanying. But Detah had insisted, no. Too many horsemasters might spoil the day. Let Saram be witness. “I am here to offer a deal.”
“Deal?” Krekys repeated and nodded. “Would that be deal as in trade?”
“It will be. If your traders have what I want.”
“Aye well, we’ve no traders here. All away travelling, such is our way. If it’s trade you want, you’ll have to come back another day.”
“We’ll speak with Trader Buteld,” Detah said.
“But he’s done with dealing, he’s old.”
“Still we will speak with him,” Detah said.
Krekys shrugged, nodded, and grunted none too politely. But Detah knew he wouldn’t refuse her (eblan, though not in her feathers). He turned around, his woman and child side-stepping. Those he sent them ahead before leading the way to the house. There he disappeared into its darkness, leaving the bunched women, the children tucked between them, to stare openly and rudely at the visitors, apparently no longer with fear.
Detah recognised only one, an Alisime woman. Whence the rest she’d no idea. None had the fairness of a Uestin woman. Besides, apart from Trader Matys as-was, it was known the traders here no longer dallied with Dal folk.
“Eblan Detah.” Trader Buteld emerged from the shadows into the glare from the bright white sky, a hand held up to shield his eyes. “And Horsemaster Krisnavn, I’m told. You’re welcome at this hold, if you’ve come talking trade. What is it you’d have?”
A young woman had followed him out. But she now held back. She looked Alisime or Hiëmen, or maybe a Jinnigrits. Detah guessed her to be Trader Buhigen’s newly-got woman. She’d heard the talk. Buhigen wanted to change their ways so he’d not be so long away from her.
They stood away from the women, and not at ease. Detah suggested they sat. Her father had always said that.
“Indeed, aye,” said Trader Buteld. “But as yet I don’t know if I have what you want.”
“Copper,” she said. Then added, so he’d know exactly of what they were talking, “If Meksuin isn’t trading it to the Kerdolan along the Waters.”
“Aye, you’re right,” said Trader Buteld without sign of surprise, “best we sit.” And though old, he folded his body without a creak. He watched as Detah crossed her legs, now flat to the ground, and humphed and nodded. “Now. I suppose your father told you of Meksuin?” He looked more wearied than annoyed by it.
“In a manner, not open. Mostly I reasoned it from what I had heard. Only then did he tell me it full.”
“You heard! Which of our boys was talking?”
“No. None. Just a word here, a word there. But I tacked them together. I listen,” she said.
“Aye. So, now you know of it.” He sounded relieved that their long-held secret was told. “Seems you learnt much from your dead father.” He looked sternly at Krisnavn. “He knows?”
“Only now as we speak it.”
“Hmm. Well, I’m surprised to see him here, and with you. But you are your father’s, ever contrary. Now, first I will tell you, never in his long lifetime will Meksuin deal with them Kerdolan. They’ve got nothing to offer him. Next, if you know of his copper, you also know of the deal.”
“I can match the Saëntoi,” Krisnavn said.
“You can?” The old trader’s face opened, his twenty long winters by his hearth melting away. “Though how can you do it?”
Krisnavn’s smile tried to creep to a grin. “You expect me to answer when your traders still deal with the Dal? But to show faith, I’ll whisper you this. A trader goes to the White Sea’s shores where he deals in Sauën’s tears—that’s amber to you. Same trader then follows a river east of Dal Uest, straight into Dal Sahalis. There the Saëntoi take his amber and gives him green-feather herb.” He sat back.
“Amber? From the White Sea, eh?” With eyes fixed on Krisnavn, Trader Buteld, too, sat back. Then slowly he nodded. “East of Dal Uest, you say? There’s a river?”
“All the way from Dal Nritris.”
“Dal . . . Nritris?”
“Skirts the White Sea.”
“Does it now? Well that might answer Buhigen. Then straight into Dal Sahalis, no need to pass through those lands?”
“No passes either.”
Detah wrinkled her nose, brows drawn tight. She looked at Krisnavn, then at Buteld, and back to Krisnavn. And to Buteld again. And she had thought Krisnavn a hopeless dealer? He’d certainly seemed it when dealing with that hawk-nosed trader on Liënershi. Yet here he was, being wily.
“I can get you the copper,” Trader Buteld said. “But not for the moonspan yet. Though first I need to be sure it’s not for use against Ulvregan or Alsime.”
“Kerdolan,” Krisnavn assured him.
“As I thought, else I’d not have spoken. Aye, I can get it for you. This time. But, as now you know, usually our copper is Saëntoi-bound. Now with this other way there, avoiding Rizzoni, that’s where we’ll be going.”
Krisnavn nodded as if considering, then said, “You do know the Saëntoi have copper aplenty? They deal it back to Clan Querkan and we Saramequai.”
Trader Buteld’s head shot up. Krisnavn gave a single nod.
“The green-feather too?”
“Both. Traded for Sauën’s tears from Dal Nritris.”
Trader Buteld sat quiet for a while. Krisnavn didn’t press him.
“Take no offence,” Trader Buteld said at last, “I’m not saying of you. But at Luktosn’s we make no secret, we have no taste for Uestin. You might deem it odd, you being Saramequai, but that especially means Rizzoni. Booming Bears they call themselves but I’d say more they’re hares with voices booming. No, no trader of Luktosn’s likes them, no matter what you’ve heard, no, not even Clan Reumen. But they hold Chadtamen’s Pass, and that tighter than a barnacle cleaves to a rock, and we’ve had to deal with them. But you . . . Querkan?” He chuckled. “You bring me news we can use. Aye, I was right to come speak with you. Now is there another deal you’re after?”
Krisnavn chuckled. “You guessed it.” But then he hesitated. “Ah, but I don’t know though, you mayn’t be able to help.”
Detah knew it wouldn’t help his dealing, yet she stared at him. Had he stolen into her head while she slept? How else came he by these skills?
“Help or not, we don’t know till you say,” answered Trader Buteld.
“This copper comes as nuggets?”
Trader Buteld grunted, aye.
“Then we’ll need them worked for our purposes. I can tell him the verses to work into them, but we do need a smith.”
“You know the verses?” Trader Buteld’s eyes opened wide.
Detah’s mouth dropped. What was this of verses? They had to be talking of charms. Yet for Krisnavn to know . . .
“I am the commander,” he said, “not a young markon.”
Trader Buteld sucked on his teeth. Then, “Flasina,” he called back to where the young woman stood just under the sweep of the thatch. “Come you sit here a while.”
Flasina’s eyes stayed wary on Krisnavn. And Trader Buteld had to bid her twice before she would sit.
“Flasina, when will your brother be with us?”
“But you know when. He travels with Buhigen and Takenn,” she said with a frown.
“A moonspan, say?”
Her words had been Alisime-said, but no version Detah had heard. She guessed her to be Northern Alsime, from around Meksuin’s Hold. She could even be one of Meksuin’s own.
“So what’s this brother’s name, that you can tell?”
Detah knew his ploy. The longer the wait, the greater the value. She bit back a grin.
“Why’d you ask? You know that it’s Nekyn.”
“Now, what’s young Nekyn’s craft?”
She gave the old trader a plaintive look yet answered him plainly. “He’s a smith.”
“A smith.” He looked across to Krisnavn, then back to Flasina. “So what’d you say, you think he’ll want to stay beyond his arrival day?”
“Trader Buteld, you know why he comes here. He’s seeking a woman to return to his bed.”
Trader Buteld said nothing more but looked at Krisnavn, head cocked.
Krisnavn nodded. “I’ll return in a month.”
“I oughtn’t to ask but . . . he’ll be rewarded?”
“Tell him aye, enough to find him a fancy wife.”
“Oof, don’t tell him that! But I will send you word when the sons return. And sit again.” Krisnavn had started to stand. Trader Buteld turned now to Detah. “We have us a problem, eh? No granary-master with us now. So who’s to deal with us regarding this herb? We’ll not have every eblan around here come calling. I’ve heard of their dealing-skills. They’ll have yon house off us too.”
“I shall deal for it,” she said—which suited her fine though she tried not to show it.
“You? Aye, and likely you’ve the craft off my nephew as-was. So what will you offer?”
She glanced at Krisnavn. Since he had given them another way to reach the Saëntoi, she might offer something they could use at the start.
“Winter-thick Alisime rugs. I have some.”
“Some? Likely you’ve heaps of them.”
That was true. Every granary-trader’s store was stacked with them. Every woman, every winter, wove the coloured tufts into the nettle-fibre webbing, each society with their own designs: Skakem styled on deer and boar, Drukem on trees, Murkem on fish. Ulmkem, society of earth-workers, styled theirs on flowers because they grew in the ground.
“Fifty?” she offered.
“I’ve not that big a heap. Seventy. I’ll add in some honey. Ten pots.”
“At this season?”
“I’ll take fifteen.”
“You’ll take ten.”
“Five big, five standard.”
He nodded. “I’ll send you word when the sons return.”
“You know not to find me at Isle Ardy? I’m apprenticed now to Eblan Erspn; I’ll be at Sapapsan’s Isle at His Indwelling.”
She is apprenticed now to Eblan Erspn of Sapapsan’s Isle at His Indwelling, and now she must return to him. And what complaints might her eblan-master have against her? He can’t possibly approve of all that she’s done.
Next episode: Wednesday 24th February
Start at the beginning with Detah; or go to the Chapter Links