Bregan’s cuckold ‘father’ has been blaming the Darkness for his delay in taking Bregan to his sister, the King’s Wife, where she’s to inherit the craft—but when a stranger arrives out of this Darkness everything changes . . . Read on.
The dog alerted us. I wondered who it could be. Our hold isn’t close by the paths that join here-to-there but rather sits in the hills above East Stream. Who has a reason to come by here?
“You’re to stay in the house with Bregan,” I told the children and grabbed my spear. If I’d a dagger as well, a rapier like the Regiment used, I’d have taken that instead, so suspicious was I.
The stranger emerged from the Darkness like one emerging from the mists of Sammeste. He walked with a staff. His long shirt—reaching beyond his feet—was hitched in places and held by a belt. That shirt alone told me what he was, though not who. I put aside the spear. I welcomed him.
“Palys?” he asked. “Brother of the King’s Wife, Mistress Maia?”
I didn’t answer him, fearing what news he had brought of my sister.
“This is Jitnebn’s Hold?” he asked.
I nodded. I didn’t want to speak.
“Your sister has sent me,” he said.
That eased me a bit: at least she still lived.
He said, “She sent me to fetch Bregan.”
I stared. A truvidir, to fetch our Bregan? I may have shaken my head.
“Mistress Maia has a need of her; she can wait no longer,” he said. “The Games are scheduled for Kassis. That doesn’t leave her much time.”
“Two triks,” I said, though I wasn’t sure. How could anyone know what day it was, or even though which decan Sauën currently passed, when she couldn’t be seen? I thought it probably Genet’s decan of Gergerest, but I could have been wrong. I said, “My sister’s need must be great. But why send a truvidir?”
“I owe Mistress Maia a favour. So I offered to fetch the girl,” the truvidir said. “Your sister knew you wouldn’t be happy travelling beneath this Darkness.”
I sniffed, not wanting to admit her right. “You’d better come in.”
The truvidir followed me into my house. Inside, though the fire burned brightly it gave too much heat. I oughtn’t to complain of it. Only that morning, standing outside to breathe some air, I had wondered how much longer the firewood would last. Already we had used up the smaller trees and the bushes. Growing close to the hold, the children had stripped them. Since then I’d been chopping the trees. How much longer before the next must be felled?
As soon as through my door I noticed the truvidir looking around. Perhaps he was hoping to spy something illegal while he was here.
“Mistress Bregan,” he greeted our Bregan.
She stood by the loom, Abelea close beside her, little Tren huddled behind her. He was at that age, shy of visitors.
Bregan smiled, and suddenly it was Sauën standing there, the room bright with her light. The truvidir must have noticed too though he said nothing of it.
“Is your wife not here?” he asked me. “Is she . . .?”
“She’s alive,” I said. “She’s gone out with Oalys. They’re after earth-balls and brackets.”
“Simple fare,” he remarked.
“We have meat,” I defended.
I had killed most of our herd by now, the meat buried in the coolness of the Mother in deeply dug pits. We had enough to see us through at least till Songast next—if we were frugal. I cursed myself for not having killed a cow before Gaitha died. Why had I waited so long? But, aye, we had meat. It was grain that we lacked and that’s why we ate earth-balls, simple fare though they were. But finding food for the animals, that was the real problem. If I lost just one more of our stock what would we do if this Darkness ever should leave us? Beg the makings of a herd off my neighbours? As if they would have fared any better.
“I won’t take the girl without the mother being here,” the truvidir said.
“In that case,” I said, “best you sit down. We’ll make a brew.”
It was Bregan made it, eager to show what she could do. Usually her brews were good but, as with food for the animals, finding the makings was increasingly tricky. I wondered, then, what Maia would use to make the King’s Beer. The Darkness had come before the harvest. The plants had turned pale as Palamon, weak and sickly, host to a host of blighting demons. Then they’d died where they stood. Of course the truvidiren had to kill the Old King! But what would Maia use for the King’s Beer? Was there grain enough in the King’s Granary? But if there was, why hadn’t it been shared?
The truvidir spoke to Bregan. “While we’re waiting, you might fetch the things you want to take with you. I’ve a cart outside so you don’t need to stint because of carrying.”
Bregan looked at me. What was it I saw on her face? That she was sorry to be leaving us? But no, she was pleased to go. This was her fate, her destiny, I’d heard her say it many times. Yet she looked at me with . . . was it pity?
She fetched her bedding: a rough-spun sack of untreated wool stuffed full of soft duck’s down. Bregan had been the spinster, and she had sewn it. She had gathered the down and she had stuffed it. This was Bregan’s bed and no one but her was to use it. She’d not leave that behind for Abelea.
She fetched the wolf-skin I’d given her just this last year. That skin had nearly cost me my life. I’d gone to South Alsime Commons to hunt, that being the best place for wolves. And I’d set a trap and I’d caught this one. But he’d called to his brothers and they’d come running and seeing me there . . . Yet Saram had smiled upon me: only a mauled arm, and that the left.
Bregan gathered a few other things, small things to pack into her pouch. I’d seen her make that pouch. A heron-skin that I’d said couldn’t be done. A feathered pouch, I ask! You can’t treat a feathered skin like that. Yet she’d proven me wrong; had stretched out the skin and suspended it over a slow-smoking fire. All her own work, as with the bed. Now she filled that pouch with her sewing kit and her combs, with a charm she’d made—I don’t know what for, she’d refused to say—with some beads she’d made of hard-baked clay but hadn’t yet threaded, and she gave the pouch over to the truvidir along with her bed.
“Is this all?” he asked her. “Will you not take the loom?”
“It’s my mother’s,” she said,
He loaded everything onto his cart and returned to our house to wait with us. He sat to one side, away from the fire. And who would want to sit beside it, except for its light. We still had wax-tapers but not to be used without need. Who was smiling that day I don’t know, yet I’d come across a bee’s nest, the bees all dead. All that wax! And the honey. A pity it was found too late for the infant who’d died at Kastea’s breast.
Bregan sat with the truvidir. They talked. I didn’t want to listen but . . . She plied him with questions. What was the house like where Maia lived? Did she really live there alone? Had she no children? Had she no man? I noticed the truvidir’s face reddened some when she asked him that. So, this truvidir had a liking for my sister did he, So that was why he’d come to fetch Bregan. A King’s own truvidir at that—Bregan discovered it. She had a trick of uncovering things.
“I prefer not to say this,” the (Old) King’s truvidir said, “but he wasn’t the best of kings.”
Indeed he was not for he’d had to be killed.
“Though I was the one to promote him,” this (Old) King’s truvidir said, “yet I had to agree with Truvidir Biadtren, that he had to be killed. Now they carry his body to every holding.”
I wanted to correct him: they didn’t go to every holding, only those of West Alsime Land. It would have taken them two years at least to show his body to every family in the Alsaldic Lands.
Because Bregan had asked, the (Old) King’s truvidir explained how they’d emptied the Old King’s body of guts and brains and stuffed it instead with certain herbs. The truvidiren knew how to do that, though they only did it when they’d a need to show him to the families before he was buried. And people wanted to see this Old King who had failed them. They wanted to stone him, even though he was already dead. They wanted to let him know how angry they were. Though he hadn’t been brought here yet, I supposed when he came I’d pick up some stones and throw them with anger (Gaitha had died because of him). I’d hurl insults at him, I’d call him names. Kastea, too, and Oalys. Maybe by then Abelea, too, would want to join in, she was old enough. But not Argoin and Tren, they still were too young.
The dog let us know with his excited sounds that Oalys and Kastea had returned. No doubt Oalys had found something for the dog. Nothing else would explain the sounds. He fussed that creature overmuch.
The children looked across to the door; waiting. Bregan looked down—at her hands, neatly folded in her lap—at her feet, already booted. She didn’t as much as turn when the door opened and in came her mother with Oalys behind her.
The younger ones were excited: look what Mother has found!
“It won’t keep long,” she told them. “It isn’t young.”
She handed the earth-ball—as big as a head—to Abelea, before turning her eyes to our visitor. She looked from him to me.
“The Old King’s truvidir . . .” I began.
“Truvidir Isbalen,” he introduced himself.
“Aye, I know who you are,” she said. “But why are you here? Has this to do with your sister?” she asked me.
“In a manner,” he answered for me. “I’m to fetch Mistress Bregan.”
“Mistress Bregan?” Kastea repeated and glared at me. “I told you no.”
“It’s not for the mother to say,” this (Old) King’s truvidir—Truvidir Isbalen—told her.
“Then why have you waited for my return before taking her?” she asked. “Why didn’t you just take her and go?”
“I wouldn’t, I couldn’t,” he said. “You must wish her well, you must say goodbye.”
“Goodbye? Yet I need her here,” Kastea said.
“Mistress Maia’s need is greater.”
“It’s been agreed,” Bregan put in. “You can’t stop me going.” I could see her words had hurt her mother. Perhaps her next words were intended to ease Kastea’s feelings. “And anyway, I’d be leaving you soon. Had I not been promised to Aunt Maia, you’d have found a man for me and I’d still be gone.”
“There are no weddings in this Darkness,” Kastea answered her. “How can there be weddings when Saram cannot see us? How can there be weddings when Sauën is blinded?”
“The Darkness won’t last much longer,” Truvidir Isbalen told her.
Kastea scoffed at his words. “Will it not? How can you know?”
“The installation of the New King will cause it to pass.”
“And they’ll need the King’s Beer for that,” I told her. “Mistress Maia is going to be very busy. She needs young Bregan.”
“I don’t want her to go,” Kastea repeated. “Not yet, not in this Darkness.”
“But, Mother, I have to go,” Bregan said.
“And who will tend the young?” Kastea asked, suddenly loosing her anger on Bregan.
“Your children,” Bregan retorted. “You birthed them, not me.”
At that, Kastea shouted for her to go. “Go! I never want to see you again.”
But we did see Bregan again—just the once, at her wedding. How radiant she looked, just like Sauën. We were so pleased for her. But now no one knows what’s become of her, not seen since the battle. I took Oalys with me, all the way along the Waters, to where that battle had been. We searched the corpses, rotting, part-eaten, left unburied, so many. But she wasn’t amongst them. No, no one knows what’s become of our Bregan. Daily I ask Saram, does she yet live?
The tale told by Palys might end when Truvidir Isbalen takes Bregan to be heir to Mistress Maia. But that’s hardly the end of her tale. Who’s this that she marries? And what’s this of a battle? And how, when and where does she disappear? Next episode, The Climactic Career of Markenys.