Megovis dearly wants to hug his friend. For the Ladies are playing strong with the commander this day. To allow the Alsime and Granary to accept him as king and yet in the same breath to snatch that kingship away? For to be king Krisnavn must wed the Mistress of the Granaries. And never mind that the wedding would unite their peoples, without it the drama remains incomplete. But no, the formidable Mistress Drea has set new ways which formally and totally disallow the said marriage . . . Read on
Megovis groaned. So perhaps the truvidiren could plug the holes with their hasty-made verses? But, no, that didn’t answer. This had to be correctly done. Without the correct form the demons might winkle a way in, the foe bay at the bounds. It was for this reason, this reason alone, that Krisnavn had assigned Glania the task of ‘easing’ Mistress Drea into agreeing to that vital wedding. Megovis wouldn’t want to be Glania this day.
“Explain!” Krisnavn’s voice startled the horses. Megovis grabbed at the reins. Though some distance from the lodge they were still within the isle, in that place where Ublamn’s goats grazed.
Glania held up her hands to quieten him. How small, how slight, she looked, her cousin Krisn seeming in his rage to tower over her.
“I did try but she was in despair,” she claimed. “Think how it’s been for her. With no traders left how is she to have a daughter? And without a daughter the craft dies with her. She knew she must set new ways. Eblan Erspn had drummed that much into her, always circling around her. So I tried to calm her—that is what you said to do. I thought it would help cheer her to know her Alisime ways aren’t the only way to it and . . . well, we kinda started talking of the granaries in the Dal and . . . Krisnavn, was I to lie? I swear by Saram and Sauën, I never guessed she’d do this though I can understand it. She was all tight about needing a daughter, and that need isn’t there with the Dal way. As I’ve been told it, in the Dal the craft goes to the brother’s daughter.”
Megovis again grunted, though neither Glania nor Krisn paid him heed. Yet he couldn’t help but think upon Mistress Drea’s new way. How was it to work if the craft was to go to the brother’s daughter and that brother was none other but Demekn? Demekn, an eblan, there’d be daughters there. Though no doubt Mistress Drea would find a way round it. Perhaps call upon her other keepers?
If only Krisn would stop berating Glania and listen, Megovis could tell him a way to overcome this problem of wedding. The Dal kings didn’t wed the granary-keepers despite they were named the King’s Wives. So why not the same here? Yet he knew, even as he thought it, that it wouldn’t satisfy the truvidiren. Here Beli hadn’t the grain off Sauën. Here Beli hadn’t given that grain into the king’s care. Here the king hadn’t given it unto his ‘wife’ who then oversaw the brewing and baking. No, here the Mistress of the Granaries was more alike to the king. Ought to have been Alenta slain instead of Bukarn.
“We’ll let it pass for now,” Krisnavn said, his anger now sensibly cooled. “I need now to think of another way.”
“And you don’t listen,” Glania said, again pushing his tolerance. “I said, how long ago, that Bukarn—may I speak his name now they’ve sent off their dead?—has a second daughter.”
“I said no. As for you, your task here is done. Unsuccessfully. I’ll have you back in the Regiment—or at least at Hill Barracks and out of harm’s way.”
This time Megovis allowed a soft chuckle. The cunning commander. Demekn had turned down the offered position. So now he’d use Glania to entice him. But, alas, the Ladies truly were against him this day.
“With respect, my cousin,” Glania answered, “I am disallowed in the Regiment until my leg is proven mended. That was the word of our king.”
“And I’ll answer you twice,” Krisnavn told her. “I said or at least at Hill Barracks. And you seem to be walking fine.”
“But if you test me and I fail . . .? That’ll be all hopes of my return gone.”
“Correct, Glania. So it will.”
“I’m not ready to take that risk. And you’re not yet my king, so cannot command it.”
“But I am your clan father.”
“Whose duty is to consider my best interest.”
“You think to stay here is your best interest?”
Megovis saw the way she looked back at the lodge. No sign of the grain-women now, returned to either granary or lodge. Ublamn, too, had disappeared off, muttering of goats. The eblann, Erspn, Shunamn, Demekn and Detah, stood in a knot before the lodge door, likely discussing Krisnavn’s offer. Then, as if aware of Glania’s interest, Demekn glanced back.
“The Mistress guided me,” Detah said, hopeful of sparking Krisnavn’s interest. Megovis had warned her, the Ladies didn’t much favour the commander this day; she’d do best to wait. But it was such a short detour from Isle Ardy, a chance not to be missed. Now she was disappointed that he didn’t look impressed. She tried again: “It’s as the Mistress wants it.”
“As the Mistress wants it?”
Ay-yi! She wanted to whoop. So much for Megovis and his Ladies. Though he sounded solemn she knew that he teased; he couldn’t hide that smile in his eyes. “Aye, it’s as Mistress Sauën wants it. For does she not give to Beli, who then gives to the king? That is the way your truvidiren act it. Isn’t it?”
“And is that the way it will be?” he asked, brow arched as he regarded her. “But I see that it’s Freeland.”
“Eblann Freeland. I did say it’s as the Mistress wants it.”
“I have explored it,” Megovis put it. “And I approve it.”
Detah glanced back at him. He smiled.
“Well, if Megovis approves . . . .” Biadret bantered.
“It’s aptly sited,” Detah said and repeated the alignments Megovis had noted. “There’s a direct line linking your King’s Hold to our Land of the Dead, our sacred Bear Hill, and the place of First Creation, Cloud Stone Isle.”
“Running due northward,” Megovis added.
“Well, at least that will please the truvidiren,” Krisnavn remarked without enthusiasm. He looked off to the north as if seeing the alignment, and nodded. “But, Eblann Freeland . . . are you saying your Eblan Erspn is willing to give it to me?”
“I’m sure that he will,” she said.
“But you haven’t yet asked.”
She couldn’t lie; she scrunched up her face.
He sighed. Yet he did agree to the site. “Where is the nearest gate in to this wondrous Mistress-found place?”
“You don’t want to go there.” Megovis warned. And added when Krisnavn looked at him, “It’s by way of an overgrown tangled bound-track. Remember those?”
“Stile?” Krisnavn asked.
Detah led them south, almost to where the marsh began. While everywhere else the grasses had dry and shrivelled, here was ample sweet grasses for their waiting horses.
Once over the stile Krisnavn stood in silence for a very long while, his head slowly turning as he took-in this almost-arena of grassland held on three sides within a sparsely wooded steep incline.
“That hunting-hedge there,” Megovis said with a nod off to a living woven-wood wall, “that’s a slight problem.” He explained before Detah could say of the eblann retaining their hunting rights. “Though only on the higher land. Down to that hedge, wouldn’t you say?”
“Is it a problem?” Biadret asked. “May as well let the eblann keep it; we can’t build on a slope that steep. Then a new verse to set their rights? Everything sorted.”
“You’ll not find better land,” Detah said. “Everywhere is worked, everywhere family-land. So it has to be Freeland.”
“And who but the eblann would grant us it,” Krisnavn remarked. “But, tell me, Detah, how do we inspire Eblan Erspn to give it?—I suppose it must be him.”
“Aye, though he can’t give it without first he asks the other eblann,” she said. “But the gaining is easy. We set it against the green-feather. I’ve bags of it still at Isle Ardy, all going to waste because there’s no trader to deal it.”
“Could you not deal it?” Megovis asked her. “I’ve heard Krisn’s tale of you trading it off Luktosn’s Hold, so I know you’re able.”
“Aye, but there’s no restriction on my trading with Buteld. He’s neither Alisime nor eblan. But we’ve an ancient lore, that eblann aren’t to deal with the Alsime. It’s been no problem till now. The granary-master was always Ulvregan.”
“So what are you saying?” Biadret asked. “Those bags of seers weed will stay at Isle Ardy till it all crumbles to dust? Yi-yi-yi-yi-yi! What a waste.”
“You think I don’t know it? And those bags are mine; I dealt for them,” she said. “And my sister can scream all she will, she’ll not stop me taking them. Those rugs and honey I used to gain them were from the trader’s store, not from the lodge, or from the granary.”
But silence greeted her words, Krisnavn, Megovis, and Biadret distracted, looking again at the wide arc of land. Though it sloped gently towards the river, it was otherwise flat; it was ideal for building an Ulvregan-type roundhouse which was to be the King’s Hold. They couldn’t deny it. The Mistress had found it for them. Detah would continue to argue until Krisnavn accepted.
“Detah,” Megovis said, “let me get this straight. You’re suggesting that Krisn gives those bags of your seer weed to Eblan Erspn to inspire him into granting this land?”
“Umm,” she said, “though not quite like that. I’ve already said of the green-feather lore, that it cannot be given. That’s anciently-set and there’s no going against it.”
“At least today we have no rain,” Biadret said. Megovis looked at him. “See here is the solution . . . ah, but no, there’s a problem. Is nothing to be easily had in this land?”
“Consider it a test,” Krisnavn said, “same as the other matter. So, Detah, what do you suggest?”
She sighed and at first dismissively shrugged a shoulder. But though she could deal she couldn’t act, not when she was bubbling inside. A grin spread over her face.
“You go speak with Eblan Erspn, and you tell him that you have the green-feather herb. More, you say you can supply it to him and his eblann for ever and ever. For ever and ever , you must say that, it’s important.” That’s what the spirit of Bukarn had told her. “Then you ask what Erspn will give in return—which you, too, might have for ever and ever. But before any of that, I’ll tell him you’ve been looking here for your King’s Hold.”
“But, Detah, you know I can’t do that,” Krisnavn said.
“As I was saying . . . ” Biadret said, ripping up tall grasses to plait.
“I’m soon to be king,” Krisnavn said. “I can’t trade for it.”
“But you dealt with Buteld. You dealt like you’d been trading all of your life!”
“But this is for the King’s Hold. Can you not see the difference? A Tuädik king does not deal and trade. He gives and receives.”
“But is trading not giving and receiving?”
“She does have a point,” Biadret said, and Megovis nodded agreement.
“But it’s not quite the same. Listen, I’ll explain. Let’s say that I know the eblann have a liking of this green-feather herb, and I also know that it isn’t easily had. Yet I have a good supply of this herb, plenty and enough to give some to the eblann, so this I do. Now, the eblann, delighted at such a valued gift, wish to show their appreciation. And so they wonder what gift I might like. Something I’d find equally delightful. Though they might already have an inkling of what I might like, yet they wouldn’t want to make a mistake that might offend. And so they ask someone who’s close to me, ‘What would your commander most like?’”
“That’s a long way of doing it. Why can’t they just ask you?”
“Hey, Krisn, I know it’s not the way, but I do see her reasoning. Eblann here. You, our soon-to-be king, there.” Megovis held out his hands, as if the two parties sat on his palms. “Can’t you just talk?”
“Fine for here and now, I agree. But kings, chiefs and priests are more usually separated by at least six or maybe sixty days travel. What then?”
With a tight scrunch of her face Detah thought about that. Then she harrumphed long and loud. “So because it must be that way in the Dal, it must be the same way here? What of your not bringing Dal-ways?”
“She has a point,” Biadret said.
“And I’d agree—if we were dealing for, oh, I don’t know, say Alisime rugs. But this is for the King’s Hold. It’s not my hold, not mine alone. It’s for generations of kings yet to come. And it must be set right. Would you have some future king disgraced because Eblan Erspn and I sat across a fire, with a brew, and dealt as if it were rugs?”
Detah rolled her eyes and looked away. No matter how he said it, it still was a Dal-way, and that went fully against what he’d just said at their meeting. She turned back. “So, Eblan Erspn asks me, or Ganros or Megovis—”
“Or me,” Biadret said.
“—what does Commander Krisnavn most like or want?”
“And you answer that what I’d most like is a place where I can set my King’s Hold—where I can graze my horses, and maybe keep a head or two of cattle. A place just like this. Aye, Detah, I do approve it. And you say this Eblann Freeland is the absolute centre?”
She nodded. “The Mistress is insistent. So I relay your want to Eblan Erspn and Eblan Erspn gives it to you?”
“And everyone is happy,” Biadret added.
“And that’s the way Tuädik kings do it?”
“Yes. But everything is in that first giving,” Krisnavn said. “There is a craft to it, a skill. The king’s advisers and companions are important players in this game.”
She sniffed. “I don’t see as it’s different from dealing, except I’d say dealing is easier. But I suppose if you can make Eblan Erspn believe that you’re dealing not giving, even though you’re really playing this Tuädik king-game, then he’ll allow it. But I tell you, if he suspects that you’re giving the herb, he’ll outright refuse it.”
“I’m sure Eblan Erspn will see only that here’s a good deal in the gift. But as yet, that herb is at Isle Ardy, in your sister’s keeping. And even once you’ve claimed it, still it’ll be yours, not mine, to give. So we still have a problem. You say it can’t be given, so we must deal for it. Am I right?”
“You want to deal it off me?” Detah asked.
Krisnavn spread his hands. “How else am I to give-but-not-give this herb to Eblan Erspn unless it is mine? So what would Eblan Detah most like in exchange of those bags?—Which, witnesses note, are to be only the first installment. Now, Detah, I don’t want you to consider the worth. I want you to ask for what you most want.”
Oh no! He’d sprung it on her with no time to think. Now how was she to answer this? She needed time—she needed a trance. Caught in the moment, she shook her head. “You’ve already given more than I ever could ask in giving Belgantros. But . . . well, might I ask for a gift for the Mistress? I’d say that’s most apt.”
“Are you sure that’s what you most want?”
She nodded. “The absolute thing.”
“True eblan,” Megovis remarked of her.
But she again shook her head. “No, this is bigger than rugs. We’ll do it your Tuädik king’s way. I’ll tell Megovis, then Megovis tells you.”
With her back turned to Krisnavn, she spoke very quietly to Megovis. Megovis looked at her. “You sure?” She nodded, “The absolute thing.”
“Well?” Krisnavn asked when Megovis held back from saying.
“She—our Detah—wants you to help Demekn to build a ring on the Highlands.”
Krisnavn’s face, usually unrevealing, widened with startlement. “Well of course the gift is yours! But, Detah, upon Beli’s presence, I don’t understand.”
She took a deep breath. “My brother crafted a song for Sauën, our Eblan-Mistress. I’ve heard it only the once but . . . well, those words are burned into my head, as if with Sauën’s own fire. He sang that he’d build for our Mistress a ring on the Highlands, a ring where they’d be together for ever. He sang it that day that—when Bukarn died.”
As she turned away to hide a stray tear she saw Krisnavn’s slight move. Did he intend to offer her comfort in the fold of his arms? No, that wouldn’t do. But instead he stood with Megovis and Biadret, all uselessly flapping their hands.
“Demekn knew why you’d come that day, what was to happen,” she said. “I, too, for you’d told me, though I’d not understood. But that’s gone, and you asked what I want so . . . I want you to help Demekn to build that ring. It’s what the eblann did of old: built rings of all kinds. The Highlands are speckled with them, you must have seen. But there’s not been an eblan inspired to build one since Eblan Murdan built those around Isle Ardy. It would be your gift to the Mistress. And to my family. And to Bukarn as well.”
“Whatever he needs,” Krisnavn said, clearly astounded yet pleased, “if it’s within my power to provide he shall have it. But what of you? There must be something you want for yourself?”
“No, I have said; you already have given it. Anything else is not in your power. Only the Ladies can fix that for me.”
On a day when the Ladies Three are busily granting everyone’s wishes—except for Krisnavn’s of course—one wonders what wish Detah is holding close to her chest: one she believes the Ladies can’t fix. Perhaps she will eventually reveal it.