Glania has returned to Alisalm-Land at the king’s request. But her leg isn’t yet healed from the poisoned shot she took at the Massacre; she’s not fit for active duty. Now Commander Horsemaster Krisnavn must find a role for her. He’s to send her to Isle Ardy—which could be an interesting assignment for her . . . Read on
Megovis looked at Krisnavn. Was the man losing his senses? Had Mistress Hegrea done something to him? What in Saram’s sweet name could Glania possibly do at Isle Ardy? And neither was she pleased.
“What! I cannot go there!”
Krisnavn looked at Megovis as if he had the answer of why she’d screeched in such panic. “Care to explain?” he asked her. Previous anger vented, he now showed only puzzlement. “You reported that Mistress Drea was friendly. No mention of discord there.”
But in answer Markon Glania looked away.
When after several moments she still said nothing Krisnavn moved to where she’s no choice but to see him. Yet still she managed not to look at him.
Krisnavn waited, though even his patience must eventually wane. Megovis coughed. She hung her head, more than was needed to look at the floor.
“Well?” Krisnavn prompted.
“Demekn,” she said in scarcely a whisper.
“Demekn,” Krisnavn repeated. “And why is Demekn a problem? He isn’t Clan Reumen if that’s what you think. Not even a tree. But he is an inspired musician, and he’d have done better to stay in the Dal and complete his training. He could have found himself a poet as master. Instead, he returned here and allied himself with that most obnoxious of eblann.”
“You favour him!” she erupted, bitterness ripe.
“Favour him? Indeed, I do. And if I can draw him away from that Shunamn-person, I certainly will. A poet versed in both Uestuädik and Alisime lore? He’ll be most welcome at my king’s hold. And he’ll find himself richly rewarded.”
“Your . . . hold? Krisnavn, no. Holds are for Ulvregan traders, not for kings.”
“Glania, if you are a markon, then I am Commander-sir. If I am your kind cousin then take off that Regiment issue. You can’t have it both ways. As to the hold, have you such a short memory? Forgotten already the Uissids Judgement? I am not here to bring Alisalm into the Dal. We are here to make Alisalm our home. So, while we shall certainly bring some of the Dal ways with us—they are our life—by Sweet Saram’s smile, I will not have every Dal way brought here.”
Glania gulped. Megovis stared at Krisnavn, his oldest of friends. It wasn’t that Krisn had ever been capricious, not even in their child-days. But this? Was it this river-rived land, so thick in mists these past several days that it seemed Sauën had deserted them? Or was this the effect of that grey-cloaked eblan? He glanced at the door. Was it her cast this ill-humour upon him?
“Now you’d best tell me what your problem with Eblan Demekn,” Krisnavn told his young cousin Glania. “Else I shall have no recourse but to send you home.”
“This is my home, you’ve just said.”
“Glania, you push me.”
“Fine. So that Eblan Demekn is a snivelling coward,” she said. Sneered.
Krisnavn looked long at her. Then pulled out a stool to sit before her. “Indeed? A coward? I will agree he’s no warrior. But . . . Megovis, wouldn’t you say it took stern stuff to stand between that Rizzoni bear Krinik and his lore-man while they voiced their complaints of Clan Querkan? I ask you as an impartial observer, being Clan Kairen. To stand there with the hatred of a thousand Querkan hard upon him, yet not to cower, not even to quiver? Wouldn’t you judge that courageous?”
“Courageous, else bone-headed,” Megovis said.
“Courageous?” she jeered. “The coward, he couldn’t even face me, had to hide behind a mask. Can you believe that? Scared for me to see him.”
“Glania, quietly, without shouting, please enlighten me. I seem to missing some part of this story. Why, after facing the wrath of Clan Querkan, would Demekn be so scared of you that he must hide in a mask?”
Glania did try to control her anger, as Megovis could see. Her face suffused red, yet she was deep breathing. Meanwhile Megovis ranged through the possibilities. Surely Demekn hadn’t been such a fool as to press himself upon the king’s cousin?
“I met him—”
“Demekn?” Krisnavn asked.
“Of course Demekn. I met him at the Annual Races the summer before the Judgement.”
“That summer you came of age?”
“Yea but . . . you know from my child-days I’ve wanted only to be a markiste. There was no . . . we only . . . he . . . I . . . Oh!”
“You dallied? No need to say more. I’m fully able to supply the details.”
“But it wasn’t . . .” Her face scrunched up. “It was only . . . though I suppose—yea, kind of.”
“Glania, you were of age; there are no verses against it. Yet that doesn’t explain why Demekn must hide . . . what was it, behind a mask? He didn’t—?”
“No. He—” She glanced away. Then slowly she looked back again. “He sang to me.”
“He . . . sang? Bawdy songs? Worse than you’ve heard in the barracks? Or satire, mocking you?”
Megovis had to turn away. And even then he had to cover his mouth.
“No. And he told me stories,” she said.
“What, he told you lies? No, that’s not enough to warrant it, Glania. What was his crime?”
“I thought him Clan Reumen.”
“As did we all. But I’ve said.”
“I didn’t mind that he was— Clan Reumen, I mean. It wasn’t like we were ever to wed. It’s just . . . he was . . . I just . . . I enjoyed being with him, he made me laugh.”
No, of course not. Not if Krisnavn meant water-filled boulders sliming her face. Yet Megovis could see the thickening glaze of her eyes.
“Then . . .” She sniffed. “The Judgement.”
“When he stood with Chief Krinik. Well I can see you not being happy at that.”
“Was mine the only fingers finding my blade? Yet, after, the fool tried to talk to me! Had he no understanding? So I told him if ever I saw him again I would kill him. And I would, I mean it.”
Her mouth tightened.
“Glania, is it a wonder the young man hid himself from you? That wasn’t cowardice, it was wisdom. I’d do the same. What say you, Govvy?”
“I’d say the mere fact he was there and not shivering above some shit-pit speaks loudly for him.”
“You still want me to go to Isle Ardy?” she asked, shoulders slumped.
“Tell me now, honestly, do you still want to kill him?—No, wait. You are aware this young eblan is under my protection? Kill him and it won’t be the eblann upon you, it will be me. Harm as much as his little finger, and you’ll regret your disobedience in coming here. You draw too much upon our kinship. You know how many cousins I have? Do I make myself clear?”
She nodded, her lashes sparkled with unshed tears.
“He is not a tree, Glania. He is an eblan. Now you will go to Isle Ardy, and you will be friendly with young Eblan Demekn. And I am not speaking as your commander, here, when I say this but as your clan father—which I am, since your father’s an elder and my brother is the far side of the sea. So you listen. I know your heart is set on being a markiste. But if that leg doesn’t mend as if whole then you know that isn’t to happen.”
“It will heal,” she insisted.
“Not if you continue to ride instead of walking. And if you’re not a markiste, what are you? A Uestin wife? So let’s just consider it, shall we. You’re here in Alisalm where the only Uestin are your own Clan Querkan. There’s no wedding them. So if you want to wed a man, Uestin in his ways, you’ll need look to the Ulvregan traders. Oh, but very few remain, slaughtered, as you know, by the Kerdolan. So what of the lesser Ulvregan families, here in Ancients Land? Though would you tolerate the stench from their dyeing activities? So perhaps an Alisime man? But here you’ve another problem. How long since you came of age? I’m not being unkind, Glania, but you think you’ll be first choice? For any man? I suppose you could consider a horsemaster. Many are known to wed markons. Ah, but here is only Megovis who isn’t Clan Querkan, and he’ll be returning to the Dal summer-next. You see the problem? Not your fault. Not anyone’s. Though we could blame the Kerdolan. So, as your clan father, Glania, I’m saying you couldn’t do better than to wed Demekn.”
Megovis hadn’t realised Krisnavn’s tack. He’d have whistled surprise but for Glania still being present. She sat with arms folded over her chest, her regard of the wall as intent as a scout watching an enemy camp. Clearly she’d been told this before of her ‘lack’ of prospects. Had King Tanisven told her? Or Truvidir Yandros? Horror suddenly struck at Megovis. Had the king named him as potential husband? (King Tanisven wouldn’t have known of Demekn.) But, Megovis slowly shook his head, no, that never would happen. Come summer-next he was away on the fastest boat possible. And he wouldn’t be taking a wife along with him.
She looked up, a lungful of breath exhaled—as comment (Megovis guessed) rather than as acceptance. “So what do you want me to do at Isle Ardy?”
“Nothing taxing. Befriend Mistress Drea. Oughtn’t to be hard for you, you share certain aims. You’d like to kill her brother; she would like to kill me.”
“Because you killed Chief Granary Master Bukarn,” Glania said.
Megovis eyed her. Was that said with compassion? No, to mock seemed more likely.
“Warning,” Krisnavn said. “And please do remember it. To the Alsime, the gravest crime is to name the dead before their Send-Off Feast, and that’s in late summer. So if you must speak of Bukarn then he’s the granary-master as-was. Got it? Though I’d prefer that you said nothing of him. We all resent the one who brings us change. And I want to hear no complaints of you while you lodge with that family.”
She held up her hands in surrender. “As you say. So I’ll guard my tongue. But this isn’t exactly a fit duty for a markon.”
“Apt then, since you aren’t a fit markon. There’ll be no other duty for you until summer-next. Then only if you can prove that leg. You know the conditions we’ve set. And perhaps by then you’ll have learnt something vital.”
She cocked her head, but he didn’t enlighten her.
“Now, about this posting. This is a delicate situation; I don’t want you blundering. It’s more than the loss of her mother and father. Mistress Drea has the granary too, and here in Alisalm it’s more than a place to store grain. It’s at the heart of their feasts, the province of Ancestors. Moreover, it is closely knitted with trade. Only, now with so few traders left, the old form is collapsing. Three of her granaries now are closed. Two through fear, the third . . . all were slaughtered, we assume by the Kerdolan. Isle Ardy, too, now without Bukarn, offers no trade.
“Mistress Drea is young—no older than you. Could you cope with so many blows? She crumbles. She has eblann around her, but she needs the support of a woman. A warm shoulder, a friend. But a friend who can, say, ease her into acceptance of what’s to come. To help her see that we Querkan aren’t some breed of hill-ogre, but are here as her friends, to help her.”
Glania scowled at him. “What friend comes trampling over your land, taking all that you have?”
“Well, I see you already sympathise with her. But you’re forgetting, it’s not Clan Querkan trampling her land. It’s the Kerdolan. And you must make her see this. They are her foe, not us. We offer deliverance. Sweet Saram, without us her granaries would be squashed and gone.”
“You’d have me say this? Hammer it into her head—”
“Into her heart.”
“And then what? She’ll look at you with a smile? It couldn’t be she despises you because you’ve put her in a place without choice?”
“I’d say young Glania has a good grasp of the situation,” Megovis said quietly while casually strolling to the far end of the room. While he’d had to say it, it was wisest not to be heard.
Krisnavn stood with hands clasped. “You mock this task, Glania? Deem it beneath you? No, it is not. I’m to be their Thrice Chosen. Saram has marked me, the truvidiren trained me. Now it’s for the Alsime to accept me. But that won’t happen if their own granary mistress so disdains me as not to wed me. This isn’t for me and it’s not for you. It’s for Clan Querkan. And now it’s all in your hands.”
She sat for a long moment in silence; then, “You want this woman who hates you to . . . want to wed you? Might I suggest you use that charm I gave to Granary Master Bukarn?”
“Consider it a challenge,” Megovis put in. “With your character, you ought to enjoy it.”
Glania smirked at him. It was enough that Krisnavn gave way, again, to his agitation. He paced.
“I know how hopeless this seems. But, Sweet Saram, Glania, you know the verses, you know how it’s done. I must wed the old king’s daughter.”
“But, my cousin-dear, he wasn’t their king. I told Truvidir Yandros that. I said it over: Bukarn is not their king.”
“And in that you were wrong. He was. Fine, the Alsime didn’t accept him as that, but in his heart he was.”
“So there’s another daughter,” Glania said though at all loud.
“Now there’s a thought,” Megovis caught it. “So convincing, you two together.”
“No,” Krisnavn said. Then repeated it. “No. That was pretence.”
“Am I missing something?” Glania asked with a look from Megovis to Krisnavn.
Commander Horsemaster Krisnavn has outlined Glania’s task at Isle Ardy: to turn Granary Mistress Drea around so she’ll accept Krisnavn both as her king and her husband. But that’s no easy thing to achieve. Is Glania up the challenge—while biting back her anger at Demekn?