Detah champs at the pace as they stroll (too slowly) along Reclamation Walk, her eblan-master talking of the weather—as if she’s to blame that it hasn’t rained. Since her return he’s done nothing but pick at her; what more might he raise against her? . . . Read on
“It rained on the way back from Liënershi,” she said when he paused and looked at her.
“Then the last would be the nights either side of the Ulvregan massacre.” Aye, well, that was when she asked to be his apprentice so he might well be right to blame her.
“A moon and a half? At a season when the Mother so needs it. Ay-yi! I’d say the Father’s not happy at something. We’ll give it two moons, then we’ll have to do something.” He sighed. “Always heart-wrenching when we have to do this.”
He said no more. In silence they entered the sacred Cloud Stone Isle.
Still unused to the place, Detah’s eyes flitted, trying to see it all, all at once. So many wondrous shapes to the stones, the beings caught in the act of becoming. How unlike those fancy stones at the Kerdolak tumunn. She’d yet to tell Eblan Erspn of them. But how? She couldn’t. She may as well tell him that everything Alisime was after all Krediche, not only the granaries. Then whose body would be pegged here, exposed and whipped, to drive the Father to cry His tears. Hers. And few such staked women survived to live after.
“He’s likely not happy at what’s happening,” Eblan Erspn said, and added, “To the granaries.”
“Could you not explain it to the Ancestors, ask them to talk to Him?”
“The Ancestors? They’re not close enough to Him. No, it would need be the Ancients. But, ay-yi-yi, my child, I can’t do that. Just think on it. Would the Ancients intercede on granary matters? I’d say not, they never did want them. No, we’ll wait and hope. Maybe the harvest won’t be a disaster, eh? But you, what thoughts have you since being an eblan?”
She grimaced. She wasn’t sure what he meant.
“Duties, your eblan duties. What have you done to satisfy them? And don’t tell me of riding the bounds, or sailing off to Liënershi. They were not of your own instigation.”
“Um . . .” She didn’t know how to answer.
“Ay-yi! I do swear, since your return, you’ve no head on your shoulders. Yet you were that sharp before I feared you’d pierce yourself, else I’d find you affixed to a lodge-post—though . . . no, not that. No, you’d not then be able to travel. So let’s sneak the question in from behind, eh? Tell me the eblan-duties.”
“The first is to Mistress Inspiration,” she answered as if by rote. “The second—”
“Hold. Mistress Inspiration?” He peered at her from beneath tight brows. “I see no such creating. Spent that force in your travelling, have you?”
She had never seen him like this. It was like he regretted he’d taken her as apprentice and now sought a way to be rid her. Yet he had welcomed her. Indeed, he had asked her, though that was against eblan-lore. Had something more happened while she was away? She answered, defiantly.
“But you said . . . you wanted, you offered me to go. And what of my cloak, isn’t that a creation?” But she needed something more to say, to answer his accusation. Her eyes lit on the stone, the bear-in-becoming. “Aye, and I remember you saying that my confusion at that time was the Mistress stirring her rosy fingers into my head. For myself, it just seemed that the granary wasn’t the right place for me.”
“Aye, well, no chance of you being a grain-woman now. No, Detah, you can admit the truth, at least to me. You wanted to be a trader, didn’t you. So now you’ve been to Liënershi, seen their fabled traders, yet instead of satisfied, you return to me blunted and headless.”
Detah took a deep breath, memories rising of forcing back tears when her mother had carped at her. But at least then she’d known the accusation, usually that she lacked grain-spirit. But now? Now she didn’t know what she had done. She continued the litany, “The second eblan-duty is to the family of birth.”
“Aye, and that’s easier when you know which family.”
This time she audibly sighed.
“I was referring to my own,” he said. “Bukplugn’s.”
She stared at him. Yet she must have known. Had she conveniently forgotten? The names slipped into place. His mother had been Mistress Rudasin of Sapapsan’s Isle; her granary-trader, his father, had been Trader Sitenken—brother to Bukplugn’s Trader Venkys. Trader Venkys had taken a Querkan wife and begotten four sons. One son now was the retired granary-trader at Bridatha’s Isle. The other three sons, traders all, had also taken Clan Querkan wives, including Glania’s sister Demona. Such were Eblan Erspn’s cousins.
She understood now why he took her as apprentice. Because she was close kin of the Granary’s First Mistress. Demekn wouldn’t do, deeply Uestin in his ways (he’d let Shunamn have him). But the Granary Mistress’s daughter . . . Then she’d ridden away with the Saramequai commander, his own cousin’s close kin. She could see it now, how she had destroyed what hope he had had of gaining an Alisime face. So that was why he was angry at her. Nothing to do with the rain.
And still she stared at the bear-in-becoming. How apt, the Ancients’ ancestor. But what of her own? Saëntoi her father’s line (for Luktosn’s kin claimed descent from Bulapon and Meksuin). And the granary-family? Not descended from Mistress Hegrea as the granary claimed. Though that was as well since Hegrea had been Eskin-born, Krediche. No, Mistress Hegrea had given the granaries into the keep of another. But she’d not said to whom.
“All-absorbing thoughts?” Eblan Erspn’s voice startled her.
“Aye, but . . . Third eblan-duty, that’s to the Eblan Society. I know I ought to have told you sooner but I’ve arranged a new supply of green-feather herb—all being well.”
He stopped pacing. “You have? In whose name is this?”
She looked back at him. “My own. I am my father’s daughter. Eblan Erspn, we eblann have need, and I already knew its source. There were other things . . . it tied in neatly.”
He nodded while still considering her. Then he grinned. “Well. So it seems inspiration stirs after all. You must forgive my grumps, young Detah. At such a time, it’s not easy being their Eblan Head Man. They point their fingers, I hear their whispers. Aye, where is my inspired creation? There’s your brother, Mistress-sent yet Uestin-bred. Your sister making strings of my senses. Mistress Siradath twittering like she’s the dawn greeting—though far less sweetly. These times are not good. And their eyes look at you, my apprentice. So you, at least, must be seen as inspired.” He walked away, still talking though now to the stones. “She says she’s acquired us the precious herb. You hear her? I unsay my curses at You, our Father. I praise You instead. Aye, praises to you Ancestors too. Oh, that’ll settle them. Ay-yi-yi-yi-yi.” He turned back to Detah. “Shall we walk? I swear, our Father intend us to shiver this day. Has there ever been one more miserable?”
“Aye,” she said. “I remember plenty in winter.”
“Aye. Winter borrows and then must repay. Now tell me of the fourth eblan-duty.”
“The fourth is to the Alsime, here in Alisalm-land.”
“Hmm. But I wonder, are you best serving the Alsime while galloping the land on that horse?”
“While riding I seek inspiration,” she said, now that she knew what he required of her.
“Then best you go seek. And I must do the same. I’ve a tale to create before the next feast, of how we Alsime became ruled by a king. I cannot have Eblan Demekn always saying it for me.”
Though glad to be released, Detah restrained herself; she did not run—at least, not till she was out through Cloud Stone’s southeast gate. Then she fair-flew with winged feet, the sooner to be back at Sapapsan’s Isle, to saddle Belgantros and be gone.
A track ran alongside First Water from its rising to the springs and on past the granary. It forded just north of Lir’s Boat. She’d not thought to go there and yet found herself stopping at its shallow crossing. She gazed up the hillside at the ancient stone mound. To her, it still looked like a crouching hare, its tail a thorn bush at its western end.
Her shoes squelched as they filled with water, but they’d soon dry. The hill beckoned though the track was barely visible. No woman cropped this land, considered, as it was, held in-common. Sheep grazed it. Either side of the Boat had once been deep ditches. Although part of its construction they also served to set it apart from the Land of the Living. They now were more shallow. Shepherd’s cress, sun spurge and field pansy grew there. She walked the length of the long narrow wedge with its glistening white stones, hesitant of proceeding further.
Three times around it she found herself walking, though at first she didn’t know why. It wasn’t like she’d brought a beast to kill; she’d no blood to give to the ghosts within. Not as much as a slop of brew. Why then should they answer her question? For that, she now realised, was her purpose in coming. No, she’d not thought this through.
She set a wet toe to the Boat’s steep side, her fingers closed around a clump of deep-rooted grass. But to attain that top wasn’t so easy. Chalk-stones clattered as they danced down the side. Too many of those and she feared she’d uncover the inhabitants. She’d have done better to climb from the low end. But she was at the height of its eastern end now.
Cross-legged she sat. But then looking ahead she felt her guts heave. The length of Lir’s Boat, descending before her, seemed to be diving into the ground . . . just as Tamesen’s sea-boat had dived through the waves. A longboat, she mused, a sea-boat, its prow slicing through waves on its journey to Master Nod’s Land.
Her head spun, feeling herself drawn, headfirst, under the waters. She turned onto her belly, lying flat. She closed her eyes.
The Boat plunged her deeper and deeper beneath the waters of Mistress Nod’s Bowl, while answers spooled round her. Elsewhere, throughout Alisalm-land, the eblann had built their Earthen Boats styled upon the river-boats. But here at His Indwelling, farthest from the sea, here was a sea-boat. Did no one else see that as odd, when the eblann weren’t known as seamen? But she could see it clearly now: Lir’s Boat was Eskin-built of Kerdolan stone, and that more than a thousand seasons since. She ought to have known it upon first seeing.
“But why should you, when Eblann for a thousand seasons and more haven’t seen it.”
Detah sat up. She swung her head round. Yet no woman was there. Instead, a whuff and snap of heron-wings. It came to settle upon the plunging prow of the mound.
“No. Turn around.”
Light as bright as ten—maybe twenty—oil-lamps shone from the paved hollow fronting the hare’s ears, the sealing stones. And Mistress Hegrea seemed the source. Detah moved, intending to scramble down.
“No. Stay. I shall join you. I’ve not sat upon there for many a season.”
Detah squinted, trying again to see the light for, as startling as its appearance, it had as suddenly gone. But apart from the snow-white hat, and her extraordinary paleness, Mistress Hegrea looked quite ordinary now. She even disturbed the stones in climbing. They rolled and clattered, nothing magical.
“I am flesh and blood, I have told you,” said Mistress Hegrea as she gained the top and sat cross-legged beside Detah.
“Yet, again, you know what my thoughts.”
“Aye, and I’ll say again, that’s not a blessing. You may touch, if that will convince you.”
But Detah couldn’t. Her hand hovered in front of the eblan-woman. So instead, Mistress Hegrea wrapped her fingers round Detah’s wrist and pulled her hand to her. She placed it first on her shoulder. Detah could feel the muscles there, and the bones. She placed it then on her chest. Detah could feel the warmth and the throb of her heart.
The heron Ardhea granked, her long spearing bill up-flicking.
“There! She’s telling you, now believe.”
“Would you? Believe I mean,” Detah answered.
Mistress Hegrea smiled, her ice-grey eyes glittering. “I do admit to a certain startlement the first time Ardhea spoke to me.”
Detah eyed the heron. It seemed uninterested in them now, looking instead at the river. “She speaks?”
“You’d not believe what she does. Speaks, aye. Transforms. She’s an immensely clever lady—aye, best call her a lady. But I’m not here to talk about her. Her head will swell and she’ll never be able to lift off the ground. No, it’s you. Again you are troubled.”
“I am not. It’s my sister, the granaries, what’s to become of them. You created the granaries, they’re yours, so oughtn’t you talk to her, not to me?”
“I am not,” Hegrea mimicked her denial. “No? Yet here you’ve a head full of questions. Not to mention Krisnavn—no, don’t deny it; I can feel your heart flutter. He’s a handsome man, and powerful. He reminds me much of Arith, in his day. But look, we’re visible to all, sat high upon here. Come with me.”
Detah opened her mouth to ask where. But before words could issue they were in a dark hidden place.
Transported to who-knows-where, what motive has the mysterious Mistress Hegrea?
Next episode: Woven Threads
Start at the beginning with Detah; or go to the Chapter Links