The Rogue Kerdolan are defeated, Krisnavn survived. The eblann and their Alsime, Mistress Drea and her granary-keepers, the Ulvregan traders and their kin, all have accepted him as their king. Glania has been accepted back into the Regiment. The Kerdolak trading holds have been duly allocated—all except one. But there are still a few details outstanding—such as who is Krisnavn to wed to legitimise his rule? And Detah, described as a seed, where is she to be planted? . . . Read on
Though the canvas walls of Krisnavn’s temporary command room at South Rivergate station kept out the worst of the cold, the wind hammered the walls and when the rain began its drumming was deafening. But Krisnavn wouldn’t delay.
“Time’s come,” he said. “I’ve sent Detah to fetch her.”
Detah didn’t call for permission but burst through the flapping tent’s door, her hair drenched, her face running with rain, though beneath the feathered cloak she appeared dry. Glania followed her, wearing only the Regiment shirt and breeches. The linen was soaked; it clung to her.
“Here.” Krisnavn threw her a blanket. “You’d best sit, you look in some pain.” Her face was pinched beyond the cold.
Detah, seeing there was no stool for her, started to back out but Krisnavn stayed her. “Govvy, make room for her.”
Megovis took his stance away in a corner—his protest at what they were doing to Glania. He wanted no part of it. So he was surprised when Krisnavn began by congratulating her.
“Dancing Light is a magnificent stallion,” he said, “and of course will always be yours no matter. Well done, you passed your test. You did realise this race was set up as that? But of course you did. Though you didn’t know by what standard we’d judge you. You had only to complete the course, Glania. You’d no need to win, nor to be one of the ten.” He allowed this to sink in before he continued. “So, welcome back to the Regiment.”
She sat, quiet, unmoving. That astonished them, even Megovis. They’d expected her to punch the air and to exclaim and exult.
Krisnavn waited. Nothing. And so he continued. “You’ve served three of the four, so you’ve only this winter and summer-next to endure.”
Megovis watched her face. There was no darkening scowl, not even a frown. If anything, he’d say she looked pleased. Had it yet to sink in? Krisnavn had as good as said there’d be no markiste-training for her. He had denied her the one driving ambition since she was a child.
“Now,” he said before she could grasp implications and yell her objections, “to speak of gifts. You offered a service of which I am grateful. What gift shall be yours?”
She looked about her, hands rising, falling, looking flustered. “Must I answer now?”
“I don’t mean to push you, if you haven’t decided.”
“No, I know what I want.” Her hands kept moving, one wrapped round the other, pulling her thumb.
Until today, Megovis thought he’d the measure of her. Now it seemed everything of her was changed. Had those months at Isle Ardy so affected her?
“It’s awkward,” she said. “See, I want two things. But for one I first must ask and . . . oh.” She sat for a moment chewing the side of her thumb. “Fine, I shall ask anyway—oh, but am I allowed to ask for two things?”
Krisnavn nodded. He almost smiled.
“Well, first I’d like a tract of land, here in Ancients Land.”
“So find the tract. If no one has a previous claim, it’s yours. Though I’m curious. What does a markon want with land?”
“For keeping my horses.”
“Her Swift Dawn, and now my Dancing Light,” Ganros said.
“But you know they’ll always be welcome at Hill Barracks.”
“I should have said for breeding horses,” she said, and offered a hesitant smile.
“Breeding? Mares and geldings for packhorses?” Krisnavn asked.
“I’m thinking of our Querkan families. They won’t be bringing their horses with them, they’ll never find Hiëmen to ferry so many—You should have heard them complain of our Regiment mounts. So there’ll be a need. And maybe the Alsime then will grow a liking for them, once they get used to seeing them along the tracks.”
“I’m surprised you’d think of doing this,” Krisnavn admitted. Megovis could see their faces, all surprised, even Detah. “You’ve never mentioned it, and I know it’s not what you’d planned.”
“That might be explained by my, um . . . second request.”
Glania took a deep breath. What was she to ask? Megovis couldn’t begin to guess at it. He looked to Detah. But if she knew what it was, she wasn’t leaking it.
“As my commander, I ask your leave to quit the Regiment.”
“What!” Megovis, Krisnavn and Ganros exclaimed together.
“As my clan father,” she went on, “I ask your permission to wed.”
“To . . .?”
“Wed, I said. Though I haven’t yet spoken to him.”
“Demekn?” Krisnavn said.
“No, Markon Bronanti. Of course, Demekn,” she said. “And I know he’s an eblan, but he says that doesn’t matter.”
“The eblan puts his eblan-duties before all else,” Detah said. “But that’s not to say they can’t wed. Mistress Hegrea did.”
“Indeed,” Krisnavn said. “And Demekn is as good as a lore-man now. I’m hoping he’ll train with the truvidiren.”
“So?” Glania asked. “Have I your permission?”
Krisnavn laughed. And that laugh so good to hear, such a deep bellied sound. “You have my permission ten times over. I welcome him into the Querkan clan.”
“He doesn’t yet know,” Glania squirmed. “You’re not to say anything.”
“But, Glania, now I am puzzled. Why did you compete in the race? You knew it was your test. You could have just asked to be released. You’ve grounds enough.”
“I wanted to fail the test. I didn’t expect to win.”
While Megovis tried to reckon her reasons, Ganros outright asked her why.
She said, “There’s no shame in being released because of an injury received in service.”
“There’s no shame in being released to wed,” Krisnavn said. “You’re a woman; Dal lore allows it.”
“Dal lore allows, the king allows, the Regiment . . . but not my father. You know how he is. Fingerless Ulquon. He didn’t want me to wed the trader; he told me when I was home, convalescing. He didn’t even remember the promise. I was to be a markiste. Especially now with Nevisan dead in the Massacre. But there’s no shame in being released because of an injury. So I intended to fail.”
“And the markons wouldn’t allow it,” Megovis said.
“Even the Alsime at the end. So, Ganros, you’d best keep your horse. I didn’t fairly win him.”
“Oh, no,” Ganros laughed, hands up, refusing. “Let me tell you a horsemaster’s secret. If you’re to breed mares, you’ll need a stallion. Though it’s not the work he’s trained to, yet I’m sure he’ll enjoy it.”
Demekn had heard the news, Hill Barracks was abuzz with it. Glania had won the race. She had won the stallion offered as prize by Ganros. A markiste’s mount, they all agreed. And now a horse resided inside his chest—at least that’s how it felt. Gone was his only chance of wedding her, for a markiste did not wed, and it would be seasons before she was a horsemaster, if ever she was. He left the barracks. He thought of taking his riverboat, hiding away for a few days in the Eblann Freeland. West Highlands Freeland wasn’t so far, just west of the Meet. But there Bukplugn’s kin and their men were felling trees and clearing herbage to construct the King’s Hold. Instead he let his feet take him, a slow wander south alongside the river.
He didn’t look up or look round at the sound of a horse being hard-ridden behind him. He moved aside, almost into the rushes, to allow it room. Heavy, towering beasts with threatening teeth and trampling hoofs, if he wasn’t seated upon one, they terrified him.
“Demekn!” Glania called.
He swore, for now he’d have to congratulate her. He gathered together his face and put on a smile. But when he turned, it was the copper-coated Swift Dawn she rode, not a Regiment horse at all. Moreover, he quickly took in the lack of Regiment issue shirt and breeches. Instead she wore the same Hiëmen clothes she had worn at that meal when he had hidden behind the heron-mask.
“Glania, I . . .” He didn’t know what to say. He said. “You’re not wearing Regiment issue. Would your cousin not take you back?” But he knew that was a futile hope.
“No, he took me back.”
“Then . . . ?”
“I asked to leave. I’m going to be a mother.”
He swallowed his heart, his hope, his reason for living. Enough that she’d never be his, but for her to give herself to someone other, that was something more to mourn.
“You’ll wed?” he asked her, and cursed himself for the stupid question. And what else would she do?
“If you’ll accept a belated answer. Three summers late.” She smiled.
“You mean . . . me?”
She laughed. “Of course I mean you, you goose. If you’ll have me.”
“But what of the child?”
“It isn’t there yet. We have to give the Ladies some makings. If you want to.”
“If I . . .?” He grinned. Laughed. Told her to get down off that horse. By Saram and Beli and Uath and all the Alisime spirits, he was deliriously happy, at last.
Megovis had reversed the hang of his cloak so the Regiment’s blue, green and black faced out and the fur faced in. A shame that fur didn’t cover his nose. It wasn’t a large nose, yet far enough out to catch the frost. He could see it all around him, shining as bright as Sauën. Sauën herself rose proud in a deep blue sky—though it had only become visible after she’d burnt off a thick blanket of freezing mist.
Winter’s half. It wasn’t the best time for calling a meeting, not with the King’s Hold far from completed and the command room at Hill Barracks too small to accommodate the expected numbers. So Krisnavn again had named Murdan’s Stones, the Old Isle of the Dead, as the place. “To honour the Alsime ancestors,” he’d said. “Besides, it’s central.” However, this time he provided no sheltering tent for his guests, saying it seemed inappropriate, though he had set braziers within and between the Cove-stones in an attempt to warm the air. Twin furrows attested the weight and the source of the stone that now blocked the central trilith. Laid flat, it was to be Krisnavn’s platform. But as yet he, like Megovis, paced in an attempt to generate heat. It seemed only the Eblann Hegrea and Detah didn’t feel the cold, heads together, most likely talking of womenly matters.
Both these eblan-women were trimmed with gold and beads this day. This hardly noticed on Mistress Hegrea, eyes distracted by her snowy-owl hat. But Detah fair sparkled with the hair-trinkets and amber-and-crystal necklace Krisnavn had given her. He’d wanted her also to wear a gown made from the weavings traded that summer at Liënershi. But, as she said, they’d not be seen beneath her fire-feather cloak. Yet she had wound the gold-threaded weaving around her waist in imitation of the Regiment band. Megovis admired her: she looked almost Uestin.
The guests were arriving—Eblan Head Man Erspn; Mistress Drea with her grain-women, and Eldliks Ublamn; Trader Maryns with others of Bukplugn’s kin; Duneld’s traders and their wives; Burnise’s too with Didodana (she had rejoiced at the death of the Rogue Kerdolan, her brother avenged). Beside Megovis and Biadret the soon-to-be-trained-as-horsemaster Hildret anxiously shuffled his feet. Boatmaster Tamesen arrived accompanied by his own newly-named captain. More eblann arrived. Many looked askance at Demekn whose grin hadn’t yet left his face. The Alisime eldliks and aldliks from the family-lands hereabouts also came (though none from East, West and North Bounds; it wasn’t expected). Neither did Mandatn’s kin attend (it was said, because of the distance).
“No more will come,” Detah told Krisnavn and returned to her place beside the grey-cloaked Hegrea. She, the most ancient and beautiful of eblann, seemed always to be with Krisnavn these days. Continuing the healing, Megovis supposed, though he did sometimes wonder if it was Eblan-Mistress Hegrea or the heron, Ardhea, attending him.
As witnesses, Megovis and Demekn took their positions one either side of Krisnavn. Neither of them knew what Krisnavn was to say. It seemed since the Battle of North Rib his child-days friend had been acting strange, as if bitten by this land.
Krisnavn signed to Demekn. Though clad in his swan’s feather eblan-cloak, with his eblan-rod held in his left hand, Demekn raised only his empty right. Yet the people quietened the same. Eyes turned to front to look at Krisnavn, raised above them on that stone. Megovis, too, looked at him, and felt his chest swell. Though he’d seen this man most every day since they were boys, though Krisnavn wore nothing different, just Regiment issue, though his hair was the same with its twenty-seven fire-tipped plaits, yet there was something different about him today. For today he was King, Thrice Chosen, and Megovis was proud to have helped him to it.
As was his way with all but his foes, Krisnavn gave a slight dip of his head before speaking. “Alsime. Eblann. Granary. Ulvregan. Saramequai, Querkan. United!” He raised his hand and punched the air and was copied by everyone there. Amid the cheers came the raucous shout of “United! United! United!” Krisnavn nodded approval.
He said, “Come next sailing season my kin will arrive. They’re not so many, scarcely the equal of you stood before me. Then the truvidiren, with Eblan Erspn here, will set about composing the needed rites. I then shall be your Alisime king in more than name. And there also will be a wedding.”
He waited, for many decided to cheer that as well. Megovis waited too, for this was the long unanswered question. Who would the Thrice Chosen King Krisnavn wed? Not Mistress Drea, for thanks to Glania that now couldn’t happen. Megovis glanced at Detah. But as she’d said, she wasn’t a daughter of Master Bukarn, so she wasn’t eligible.
“Before leaving Dal Uest, I was told by the truvidiren that I must wed your Mistress of the Granaries,” Krisnavn said and went swiftly on before Mistress Drea could screech her refusal (though many heads were turning her way). “Yet I’ve since been told that your granaries here were created by Eblan-Mistress Hegrea. Moreover, two months ago, on the night of the Send-Off Feast, Kerrid, Head of Kerdol, gave the Kerdolak and Eskit granaries into the keeping of this same Hegrea. I’m sure you will agree that Eblan Hegrea is the true Mistress of the Granaries. And so I’ve invited you here to meet her and greet her . . . for Eblan Hegrea, the true Mistress of the Granaries, is the woman I shall wed.”
Megovis realised he’d been holding his breath. More, he’d been tensed in dread of this moment. Now relief swept through him while Alsime, eblann, Granary, Ulvregan and Saramequai hooted and cheered and clapped and stamped and generally filled the air with approval. He reached out his hand for Detah to take. With Mistress Hegrea to wed Krisnavn, she now was looking lost and alone. And, oh, but her hand in his own felt so small. She needed protecting, he had long since decided.
When the tumult had slipped to more of a buzz, Krisnavn signed to Demekn to again call for quiet. This time they weren’t so eager to hush. After all, what more could the king have to say.
He said, “Less than a month since, here, on the eve of the battle of North Rib, I granted to the Ulvregan trading families four of the Kerdolak trading holds. I was asked then what of the fabled hold on Liënershi. I answered that, for its special position, it must be given to a special person. A trader who is able to work alongside Boatmaster Tamesen, who now is that island’s governor; a trader who knows of metals and smiths, to deal with my own man there, the smith Nekyn; and a trader with an understanding of grain and granaries, to deal with Eblan-Mistress Hegrea. I have hesitated to name that trader, though I know of only one who can fill the position.”
He turned to Detah.
Krisnavn was waiting for her to accept. But her eblan-master was looking expectantly at her and she didn’t want to disappoint him. She knew he expected her to return to him as his apprentice now all was done. But he must understand, this gift far exceeded her widest dreams. How could she refuse it. She wiped at a tear. It wasn’t sadness, she wasn’t crying, she just couldn’t keep the tears from welling. Then Eblan Erspn was there beside her, though she’d not seen him move.
“You’re a seed,” he said. “And you know sometimes a seed needs new soil. We talked of this. So go plant yourself in Liënershi.”
“It’s very gravelly soil,” she said, and tried to laugh.
“Oh, and I’d heard that isle is formed of gold. Accept the gift, my child, you deserve it. And it is the one thing you’ve always wanted.”
She kissed his cheek and hugged him, and turned back to Krisnavn.
“Alsalda,” he said and, eyes crinkling, at once held up a delaying hand. “I know, Megovis told me, you don’t like that name. And none have used it since he told me—I told the men to stop it. Besides, it’s not a fit name for you anymore. You have no more cause to yearn. Demekn will set the terms in a verse, as with the others. Then you’ll take possession come next sailing season. And now I believe Govvy has something to say.”
So Megovis might have, but he babbled only of how pleased he was, his bear-like arms wrapping around her. He hugged her, and hugged her and still he hugged her, until it seemed he never would release her. And that was amply fine with her. She liked, beyond any expressing, his strength and that sense of security, there in his hold.
When at last he did release her, he sought instead her hand, and steered her away from the gathering, to the shelter of the east-set Calendar Stone.
“Now,” he said. “You know since I’m not Clan Querkan, I’m supposed to return to Dal Uest come this winter’s end. And so I shall go but only because I’ve an errand: to find the Uissids Huat and Zrone. I shan’t be staying. Not now I know how devious that Urinod is. I cannot abide him. So, not needed here, and I won’t stay there, my services will be available. You might think on that. A young woman trader, alone, you’ll be needing protection.”
“Are you asking to come to Liënershi with me? But, Govvy, of course you must come. Don’t you realise, I’ve been dreading the day you must go.”
“Well, I, um . . . No, actually I’m asking a bit more than that. Now you’ve of that age, do you reckon you might want a man in your bed? Detah, I’m asking to wed you.”
With both the long-running Feast Fables and this, Alsalda, ending this week, it might seem like the end of the Asaric Tales (which over the past 3 years have also included Priory Project and Neve).
But there is yet another Asaric Tale (the last in the series) still to be told.
The King’s Wife (to be posted here on crimsonprose) will begin late September
—after The Chronicle of Mideer which is due to start mid-June.