While frantically trying to save his friend and commander, Krisnavn (he having a cracked skull and a viper-licked arrow jammed in his leg) Megovis is told by an unseen woman to leave the Commander Horsemaster alone. But who dares this? And will her interference result in Krisnavn’s death?. . . Read on
Detah returned to the walkway atop the palisade. It felt like her heart had split and with each beat everything collided inside her. It hurt in her chest. She took a deep breath. Intended to calm her panic, it was ineffective. She gripped the rough tops of the palisade logs, her knuckles like eight Nod-Faces, so pale. She had seen the Alsime bring the body downriver, watching from here, though at first she’d not known it was him. They’d hidden him beneath a tented canvas, carried on riverboats lashed together. It had been the best way, the fastest, she didn’t need telling. Even now the main Saramequai riders hadn’t returned. Yet the presence of Megovis, with Tamesen and the Alsime Division, alongside that boat . . . who else could it be. But no victory song. If a triumph, then it was empty and tasting sour.
She had flown down the ladder, squeezed through the gate—impatient at how slow it opened. She had raced down the hill. But they’d not allowed her to see him. Megovis—Megovis, of all people—had held her away. But then he had held her while she sobbed. And he the one who claimed himself useless with sobbing women.
Tamesen’s seamen had carried his body from the wharf to the barracks and into the command room. There they shut the door in her face—but not before she’d glimpsed Mistress Hegrea within. But how? How could Mistress Hegrea be there when Detah hadn’t seen her arrive?
Now she turned her back to the palisade, eyes drawn to the raggedy ribbons of Krisnavn’s black banner above the place where he lay. Beneath it, as a guard on the door, stood Megovis.
She watched him, back, and back, in his pacing. Then she laughed, almost manically, and again raced for the ladder. Why had it taken her so long to realise what his pacing implied? But then in her haste her foot snagged a loose board. She started to fall, then caught the stumble, and again was fast down the rungs, almost sliding.
“He’s not dead!”
“Shush,” Megovis told her. “He’s not what you’d call living either. Ardhea’s in there, doing her utmost to heal him.”
“Aye, Ardhea. Your friendly heron. Only she keeps changing herself into Eblan Hegrea. She says Hegrea is on her way. No wings, can’t fly. I don’t even know where she dwells.”
“Above the Wetlands,” Detah said absently. “Why aren’t we allowed in? I could help.”
“Something of no distractions. The bird needs her full concentration. Huh, just listen to me: the bird!” He tried to laugh. Detah saw now his eyes were swollen.
“But we pulped them,” he said then as if he realised her thoughts. “Even though they’d doubled their numbers. That Rogue-Kerdolan hold is no more.”
“How?” Detah asked, and knew Megovis knew what she meant by the track of her eyes to the door.
He told her the story of Krisnavn coming to his rescue, of the fool not wearing armour, not meant to be fighting, of the poisoned arrow driven into his thigh. “The poison is deep into the bone, in the marrow. He smashed his head too, but Ardhea soon healed it.”
“How long?” she asked. “Before we know.”
Megovis shrugged. “If she can’t . . . if he . . . Detah, I shall go with him.”
“No! No, Govvy, you can’t. Then there’ll be no one.” She’d not long stopped crying, now she cried again and she couldn’t stop it. The tears kept coming, pouring, falling, despite repeatedly she brushed them away. “Govvy, you can’t go too,” she pleaded.
He wrapped his arms round her. “It’s not what I want but if he goes, Beli demands it. I’m Krisn’s first captain, I’m supposed to protect him. Yet he took that arrow in coming to save me. And, the fool, I didn’t even need his saving.”
She remained in the hold of his arms, standing guard with him while behind the closed door the Asaric bird tried to counter the poison bone-deep in Krisnavn. They heard no talk.
Mistress Hegrea arrived. By then Detah was sitting on the step with Megovis. They stood and stepped apart to allow Hegrea through. She didn’t speak, just a nod to acknowledge. Still there were no words from within.
The moon had risen before there were sounds, and they sounded hopeful.
Megovis again looked skyward, and nodded his appreciation to Saram for holding the weather fine these past five days of the celebratory feast. It was a busy time, with markons arriving from the Bounds, while others rode out to replace them. Krisnavn’s Regiment might have defeated—some would say annihilated—the Rogue Kerdolan, but Clan Dragsin still thrived in the Dal, and Mandatn’s kin still weren’t to be trusted, and Krisnavn wouldn’t risk leaving the Alisalm bounds unprotected. Goats were killed in the name of Saram, and Beli, and Uath. The nineteen markons slain in the battle, returned to Hill Barracks aback their horses, were given Uestin burials outside the palisade in graves to be mounded. Their horses were released from service, to freely wander.
Countless vats of Father’s Brew arrived from Bisdathea’s Isle, the nearest granary (just across the river at First Landing). Neither Krisnavn nor Megovis had known about it, the arrangement made by Detah the previous month in anticipation of their victory. For some Saramequai, Megovis included, it was their first taste of the brew. It was stronger than the Dal’s King’s Brew. (After downing three beakers Detah held him away saying, “No, Megovis.” And the last he wanted was to offend her.) Not so the markons—and Ganros—who drank deeply of the brew. But with markons being the only available women to bed they turned instead to song. Although not as inebriated, Megovis joined with them. It helped to distract him from the ache that stayed with him to hold Detah close to him again—but not in the comforting way as before. Uestin and Alsime sang ‘rounds’ together. Then the Uestin applauded for the Alsime made what they declared was magical music. And the Alsime applauded for at least the Uestin had tried.
Demekn sang his new composition in praise of Krisnavn though Krisnavn sat apart. But he was alive—though Eblan-Mistress Hegrea said it would take through the winter before he’d be fully recovered. She sat beside him. She never left him.
The air had turned cold. Megovis shuddered. Alongside the river the feathered reed-heads were iced white. Yet even as he and Detah rode north to Isle Ardy that ice crackled, split and dropped. And rather this cold than the mists that had greeted him when first he’d arrived in Alisalm-Land.
Mistress Drea, too, was now less abrasive. Almost polite. Though she wouldn’t allow him to speak with Glania until he’d given a full report of the destruction of the Rogues and their hold. Megovis happily regaled her with the tale of their victory at North Rib though surely she’d heard it at least ten times before, every mouth full of it. But for all Mistress Drea’s apparent acceptance of King-Elect Krisnavn and the Regiment, Megovis noticed the reserve that continued between her and Detah. He wasn’t sure which sister was keeping their differences smouldering. All he saw was that Mistress Drea didn’t speak to Detah, and Detah didn’t speak in return.
Glania, too, was quiet, talking only to her copper-coated friend, Swift Dawn, that Megovis had brought along for her. It wasn’t until they had splashed through the icy water at Ardy’s wharf, hoofs clogging with grey and white mud as they climbed the bank to the far side, that she broke her silence.
“And what does my cousin want with me now?” she asked, sullen.
“Can’t say,” Megovis answered. “Krisn didn’t say.”
“I did think you’d come to the celebration,” Detah said. “He was severely injured, you know.”
“Poisoned arrow, I know how it feels. And thanks for the invitation, but how was I to get there? No Demekn at Isle Ardy to take me in his riverboat, and my cousin kindly kept Swift Dawn at his barracks. So how is he?”
“Quiet,” Megovis answered. “Not the Krisn I know.”
She snorted a laugh. “I meant Demekn.”
“Grown?” She was quiet for the rest of the ride, as if she mused on that one given word.
Once arrived at Hill Barracks Krisnavn called a meeting. Megovis and Biadret took the stools to right and left of him. A worried-looking Glania was positioned opposite. She had reason to worry. Krisnavn hadn’t as much as greeted her, merely told her to sit.
“First,” he said. “I owe you thanks for your help with Mistress Drea.”
She looked puzzled. And so she might, and so was Megovis. At the last talk they’d had concerning this, Krisnavn had expressed his displeasure at the outcome. Instead of persuading the Mistress of the Granaries to accept Krisnavn’s plight to wed, Glania had told her how the Dal granaries were managed and thereby given Mistress Drea an alternative future, one without need of wedding. Ever.
“As you probably know by now, Kerrid, Head of Kerdol, has given the Kerdolak and Eskit granaries into the care of Eblan-Mistress Hegrea. Mistress Hegrea intends to adopt the same system as Mistress Drea. I’ll say no more of that now, but it does make things easier for us. So my thanks. I owe you a gift. Something to think of, eh?”
Megovis could see she was thinking—licking her lips while calculating what gift would be to her best advantage. Meanwhile, Krisnavn moved the talk on.
“The Alsime now name me their king. The eblann. The granaries. The Ulvregan too. Now Thrice Chosen in fact as well as in name. But what of you, Glania? Do you also accept me as your king?”
She pulled back. “But of course you’re my king. Are you accusing me of treachery?” She offered a worried frown.
Krisnavn laughed. What a blessed sound. Megovis hadn’t heard that since before the battle, before that arrow carried his mother’s poison deep into his bone. He ought to be dead, only the Asaric heron had saved him. As for the Regiment, they had left no Dragsin alive to take the news back to the Dal. Had the old woman Glontria, at Mandatn’s Hold, sent word to her sister? Did they know in Dal Uest that he lived? Well, they would—come the spring and the new sailing season.
“No,” Krisnavn said. “I don’t accuse you of treachery. But last time I said of your leg being tested, you refused me. You said I wasn’t yet your king.”
“No, because if I failed that would be the end of it, no possible way of being a markiste.”
“But now you’ve said I am your king. So, as your king, I hereby command it. I want that leg tested. Now.”
Her mouth began to drop, her eyes to open wide. “But you said after the winter.”
“Your leg has had the summer to heal. Mistress Drea has told me all the things you’ve been doing. Demekn tells me you can run. You’ll stay here till a test is devised. You can become an honorary markon. A return to duties. Off you go now. And Biadret, if you’ll fetch Ganros . . .”
So, lo! Krisnavn lives to be king. But will Glania now pass her test? If she passes she yet has a chance to be a markiste. But if she fails? Perhaps there’s a chance for Demekn as yet.
Next episode,The Race