Seven days yet till the planned attack along the Waters, the snake-collecting duty duly assigned, now Krisnavn must attend to other matters—for which Demekn (on Krisnavn’s behalf) has invited the Ulvregan traders to attend an assembly at Murdan’s Stones, the Old Isle of the Dead . . . Read on
Despite Krisnavn’s initial reluctance, at the centre of the stones now was erected a Regiment tent, brazier-heated. “With less than twenty attending, and the weather uncertain . . . ” Detah had persuaded him, while Demekn had assured him that Saram still could be witness. “We’ll take them outside to swear.” And just to be sure of it, Luktosn’s Trader Buteld had added his worth. “It’s better than losing their attention to freezing feet.”
But once persuaded to it Krisnavn then had fussed even more for their comfort.
“It’s cosy,” Detah remarked as she walked upon the thick Alisime rugs that now carpeted the tent.
“You don’t think folding stools . . .?”
“No. They’re Ulvregan, they’ll sit on the rugs.”
“It is the king’s duty,” Krisnavn said. The Alsime and Granary might have accepted him as king, but the Ulvregan people had yet to agree it.
Detah watched the tent rapidly fill. And there’d been a miss-calculation. Less than twenty traders attending? Aye, but most had brought grandsons with them, some of those boys not yet seven winters-seen. So many bodies, so much breath, the air soon overheated. Biadret and Megovis removed the braziers.
“I hadn’t expected this,” Krisnavn admitted.
Neither had Detah, though she ought to have guessed it. The traders weren’t Asars to live for ever. These boys would inherit their grandfather’s holds and their trade and their herds. Besides, the traders didn’t yet know why they’d been called.
“Are all here?” Krisnavn asked her. It was from habit, she knew, for both Demekn and Buteld could have answered as well. She nodded assent.
Krisnavn began without introduction. “You can stand if you must, but I prefer that you sit. Rugs provided. I shall sit on this stool. That’s not so I can sit up while you sit down –” that brought some titters “– it’s so I can see over your heads to see you all. So please, do sit.”
Only two preferred not, two boys. Yet they, too, soon sat, perhaps afraid of Demekn when he stood to take up his role.
“Commander Horsemaster Krisnavn has invited you here to talk of the Kerdolak trading holds that have recently come into his keep,” he explained. “I’m sure all here have heard of the Alisime fleet’s great adventure in the Western Sea. And that Commander Krisnavn there defeated the Kerdolan.”
“Though they remain as an infestation along the Waters,” said Skaldys, Jitnebn’s trader.
Detah shot an anxious look at Demekn. He must not say of the upcoming battle, not with Mandatn’s kin here. But this he knew and wisely ignored the interruption.
“You all know the names of these Kerdolak holds, even those who have not traded there. Du Dlida. Taca Riori. West Rivergate. Anyo Dlida. Ul Dlida. And South Eskin Head. But there are more. In her defeat, the Head of Kerdol granted to Commander Krisnavn the full twelve trading holds.”
He waited for their murmurs to die, then listed these six additional holds: Saria Go, Emiso Go, Ce Gautisa, Ulise Da, Mo Ria and Liënershi.
Detah was surprised he listed Saria Go, for that served as base for the Rogue-Kerdolan and couldn’t yet be included as Krisnavn’s.
“Where is Ulise Da?” Beleldys asked (Duneld’s trader).
“Amongst the most northerly Jinnigrits,” Demekn said. “And Ce Gautisa is north of Banva Go.” Then Demekn again sat—which was cue to Krisnavn.
“Now I see on your faces,” Krisnavn said and picked out a few, “—Lukenys, Jitelden, you others—you’re thinking how grand it must be to be gifted these twelve Kerdolak holds, and even the isle of Liënershi. But you are traders, I am not. These holds and their lands have been given into my keep and I must, at least, ensure they’re attended. If each were a stretch of good grazing land, I’d know how to set the herds there. If each were woodland, I’d know how to hunt it, to guard it and what to take from it. If each were a river, a lake or stream, I’d know how to guard and fish it. But each is a busy trading hold. So to keep them, to guard them, to ensure that they flourish, I have no recourse but to set traders in them.”
When the resultant hubbub faded, Demekn again stood. “Only five of these twelve holds are currently without traders. Of the others, two of the Kerdolak traders have sworn to accept rule by Commander Horsemaster Krisnavn, Thrice Chosen King. Of the five northernmost holds contact must wait till next sailing season, their distance too great for this late of a season. Of the five without traders, one is at Liënershi. And I hear you asking, does Liënershi exist? Aye, it exists. But that hold is not yet to be allocated.”
“You’ve a reason?” Mandatn’s trader Manspek asked abrasively.
“I have,” Krisnavn answered. “The island itself I’ve given into Boatmaster Tamesen’s care, to govern in my name once I am named king. The granary there, which governs all others, Kerrid, Head of Kerdol, has given to Eblan-Mistress Hegrea. Nekyn, my smith, will go there, too, to work with the Kerdolak metallurgists. Of the traders with holds along Holds River, all but one has asked to remain. But I know it’s not these lesser holds that interest you. It is that fabled hold of Liënershi. You must all be aware that whoever holds that must work closely with Eblan-Mistress Hegrea, with Tamesen and Nekyn, and with those other lesser Kerdolak trade-holds. You’ll agree, that will take a special person. So that’s not to be allocated here.”
“Allocated, now you’ve twice said.” Mandatn’s other trader, Burtamens, seized on the word. “So that’s why we’re here? We’re each to be given one of these holds?”
“Aye,” Trader Skaldys said, “seven families, but only four trading holds. I see not all’s to be satisfied.”
“So are we to bid, sight unseen?” Mandatn’s trader Manspek asked. Detah’s lip curled at how ungracious his tone.
“You have it wrong,” Krisnavn said. “I offer. You accept.”
“The terms of each deal have already been set in verse,” Demekn said. “You accept what is offered, at its stated charge. Or you reject. Commander Horsemaster Krisnavn is not a trader; there will be no dealing beyond this.”
Detah covered her mouth to hide her grin. Chief Krinik’s lore-man had trained Demekn perhaps too well. He had acquired the habit of being unpopular.
“With seven families but only four holds, how have you decided who’s to have what?” Duneld’s trader Lukenys stood to ask.
“My eblann here put stones in a pot and pulled them out. Thus Saram has so decided. But, if one refuses then another may ask. Also, Erleldn’s Hold now lack traders. Gimenbavnia, Tenisniah, Kolma, I thank you for attending, but you’ll understand that I can offer you nothing.”
“We do not ask, we don’t expect,” Gimenbavnia answered for them. “Between us we’ve no boy above six summers-seen.”
“And Luktosn’s kin, too, will not be allotted. Trader Buteld now is my trade advisor, while traders Buhigen and Takenn are my official Gift-Carriers. Which leaves, conveniently, only five families.”
Jitnebn’s trader, Skaldys, stood. “Four families. No offence, but I don’t want your trading holds. My boy Butan here, he’d rather herd. We’ve land enough, all the Wetlands come summer. And he won’t be alone with a brother and six cousins. No, we’ve lost too much. Now herding will fill our bellies better than trading.”
Detah felt, rather than heard, Krisnavn’s relief. She had sat in on the discussion where Buteld had made his recommendations of which families should be given the holds. He’d said to offer them only to families with two or more surviving traders, the one to take possession, the other to remain in Alisalm. That way the one remaining could easily be watched. Unless one of the more northerly holds were to relinquish come the next sailing season Jitnebn’s Skaldys would not have been offered a hold.
“Any other who’d rather refuse?” Demekn asked.
Burnise’s trader Judeldn also stood. “I’d like to know more of these holds. What are they worth? Whence their trade?”
Buteld answered for Krisnavn. “Their worth depends upon their trader. As for the source of trade, all take it from north and south, by way of the sea. South Eskin Head is perhaps the best placed, taking trade from as far east as Dal Uest, Dal Nritris and the White Sea. Anyo Dlida and Ul Dlida, being sited along Banva Go’s southern shores, take from all around the Western Sea. The fourth, West Rivergate takes mostly from the Western Sea and Banva Go. But all have good trade. They are Kerdolak-grown.”
One of the traders shouted out, ”Were!”
“Grown,” Buteld repeated the word “—and now it’s for the Ulvregan to crop them.”
“In the service of the Alisime king,” Demekn reminded them. For in accepting these trading holds they’d also be accepting Krisnavn as king.
“When I first spoke of these holds to Buteld,” Krisnavn said, “we could find no way of dealing fairly with them and with you. How could I decide which trading hold to offer to which trader here? If I gave one hold to one family and they have the best of the trade, then the others will say that I favoured that one. But I favour none. I did as I’ve said to Trader Lukenys. Saram has decided. So let it be.” He gave the talk back to Buteld.
“In truth, as yet we know little of the trade had by these holds. Captain Boatmaster Tamesen has visited each. Captain Horsemaster Biadret has interrogated the local folk and any survivors, and recorded the wares. From this we can say with certainty that the two Banva Go holds serve the Kerdolak miners and smiths. They take the ores and uncharmed metals in exchange for food stuffs, hides, furs and weavings. Those ores and metals then are taken to the main hold at Liënershi, from whence for the most part they’re traded south—at least they were until recent seasons but now Kin Mhuiris blocks the trade.”
“Do you suppose these Kin Mhuiris are also in Urinod’s thrall?” Krisnavn asked Detah, though so quiet in his aside she had to strain forward to hear.
She shook her head. “All I know is they’re kin to the Lenevan.”
And Buteld still rumbled on of mined ores and metals. “Those not destined for the south are worked by the metallurgists and smiths of Liënershi and thence distributed amongst the twelve trading holds, whence we might have them in trade as daggers, arrowheads, plates and—every Ulvregan’s delight—dangling trinkets. I’ll be honest and tell you, these two holds of Banva Go had the most wealth in their stores. The other two holds will seem more familiar in their dealings. As comes in, so goes out. ”
“You say the Banva Go holds ‘had’. What have they now?” Manspek asked.
“We emptied their stores of metals, that is all,” Krisnavn said. “However, some holds are extensively fire damaged after our raids. They’ll need repair or rebuilding. Yet, for the most part, their wares have survived.”
“I’m concerned,” Bukarys said, standing. “What if Burnise’s kin are given one of these holds in Banva Go?—those that take ores and unworked metals. Where might we deal them if, as you say, Kin Mhuiris blocks the south? To the Dal? Would our banished Querkan king allow it?”
“First, I am not a Querkan king,” Krisnavn answered. “Alisime, I am the Alisime king. Second, we are not in the Dal, we are here in Alisalm-Land. And I’m sure you’d prefer to deal it to me, for then you’ll have less far to carry it. Third, I shall offer you the better deal—which includes not keeping a watch of your loyalty. Fourth, all metals coming to you are first to be offered to me. This is part of the deal. And you will find me a generous partner.”
“We’d thought your generosity a sign of inexperience,” Beleldys, Duneld’s trader, said which received a chorus of claps and gruff-throated laughs.
Detah watched Krisnavn. What now might he say? But he said nothing, merely signing to Demekn, as his lore-man, to continue—which effectively froze the laughter.
“Commander Horsemaster Krisnavn offers to Bukplugn’s kin Ul Dlida. To Burnise’s kin, Anyo Dlida. The trading holds are located on Banva Go’s southern shores. Both are at rivergates.”
“And if we refuse this offer, we’ll be offered another?” asked Trader Maryns of Bukplugn’s.
“Four holds, four families. These holds must have traders ready to occupy come winter’s end,” Krisnavn said.
“This Ul Dlida is one of those that Buteld said of? It takes ores, and deals in food and skins?” Maryns asked sounding disdainful.
“I’d most liken the trade at these holds to that of the granaries, in their day,” Buteld said.
“Well I’ve no hesitation,” Judeldn said, again on his feet. “Bukarys and I will accept whatever you give at whatever the deal. We’d thought our days done now Querkan are here. We’re ready to spit on it now.”
“Once all gifts are agreed, Saram and Sauën will witness the oaths,” Demekn told him.
Judeldn nodded as he sank back to his rug. Now he and Bukarys were heads together with the boy they’d brought with them. Detah watched, seeing new tensions gripping their bodies, excitement replacing their previous despair. Every so often, too, their shoulders shook as together they chuckled. Detah thought she could see a tear. She sighed. If only all the Ulvregan trader-families would accept with such grace.
“It’s not we’re not grateful,” Trader Maryns said. “But Bukplugn’s kin don’t want the hold offered. It sounds too quiet, this granary-type life.” Detah supposed those kinsmen around him nodding did so in agreement with the first part of his words, while those vigorously shaking their heads were to say no to the hold. It was either that else they weren’t all agreed. Whichever, it amused Detah. Maryns, well-known as a wily trader, had passed up the chance of a busy hold where even the worst of traders would be assured of gaining great wealth.
Beleldys of Duneld’s stood. “If I might say . . .” he glanced at his brother Lukenys who nodded. “We’d be happy to take that hold. Ul Dlida, you said?”
Krisnavn signed to Demekn who said aye to Duneld’s traders. When Beleldys sat again his brother hugged him.
“Commander Horsemaster Krisnavn offers to Mandatn’s kin West Rivergate; to Bukplugn’s kin, South Eskin Head.”
“I wonder your reason for offering which to which.” Manspek didn’t bother to stand, and his surliness suggested it was done in contempt. “Eskin Head would suit Mandatn’s kin better, the same sea washes our feet.”
“Yet West Rivergate is bigger and busier by far,” Buteld said.
“We thought you’d prefer this, the biggest of the holds,” Krisnavn said. “Mandatn’s kin have several sons to return once they’ve served their four.”
“But it’s busy in the wrong direction. We want South Eskin Head.”
Detah glanced at Krisnavn but he betrayed nothing. In his insistence on the one and his refusal of the other Manspek had openly declared his alliance with Clan Dragsin. Yet at the same time he had shown his ignorance of the Rogue-Kerdolan. What Buteld hadn’t mentioned—yet as a trader for Luktosn’s, plying the rivers from Meksuin’s Hold, Buteld had certainly known—was that West Rivergate, as well as the sea-trade, took trade from the Eskin and Jinnigrits along North River. And North River was likely the preferred river-route for the Rogue-Kerdolan of Saria Go. She had asked Krisnavn why he was offering Mandatn’s traders a hold that would place them in an easy position to double deal with the Rogues (for in this one matter he hadn’t trusted to Saram but had interfered).
Krisnavn had answered that the Rogues would be gone before Mandatn’s kin were in position. “Only they don’t know that yet. Besides, I need to offer them more than Clan Dragsin can. I reckon if I give them what’s clearly the best, that might just seal it. If not, we’ll cut off their hands as they do in Dal Usast.”
Now Krisnavn looked to Bukplugn’s traders. Without as much as a glance at his kinsmen, Maryns nodded their assent. “West Rivergate will do us most well. I thank you.”
Most well indeed, Detah mused, for they’d now have the best of the deals. For from the north also came salt from the salt-springs.
“Commander Horsemaster Krisnavn offers to Bukplugn’s kin West Rivergate and they accept,” Demekn confirmed. “To Mandatn’s kin is given South Eskin Head.”
“And the hold at Liënershi?” Manspek asked.
Would he never be satisfied? Even though South Eskin Head traded in unworked tin and alloyed bronze. Detah turned her head, not to be seen to glare at him. She didn’t know which trader would be given that hold, but she knew well it would not go to Mandatn’s kin.
These trading holds were Krisnavn’s last concern before tackling the Rogue-Kerdolan on the Waters. In the next episode, Odds Unexpected the final battle begins.