Since her brother first brought news of Bregan’s birth Mistress Maia has patiently waited, with some satisfaction, to receive her heir and apprentice into her keeping. And such convenient coincidence that young Bregan should be ready for training just as Maia has need of her for the New King’s Feast. But now Queen Yoisea comes bearing bad news . . . Read on
Queen Yoisea told stories; she said things no one else would dare say. She was an interfering old woman, and I’ll be glad when she finally dies. She claimed to have been queen to twenty Alsaldic Kings. It’s true she was queen to three of those kings: King Dathes, King Rufiäl and King Hudrys. But of the others? Huh.
When I first met her she was young and fair—beautiful, none would deny. How I envied her then, she the King’s Queen and I the King’s Wife. But I drew some comfort from the two things we shared: neither she nor I would ever sleep in a king’s bed—at least, not legally; and neither would we bear a king’s child. Indeed, we’d neither of us birth any children, not for any man.
Her years above me showed when first we met—she a young woman at her most desirable, me barely more than a child, shy that the Mother had prematurely touched me. But, oddly, as I grew to be a woman she remained as she’d been. I remember watching, and hoping, for some sign on her face of inevitable age. I’d have rejoiced at a graved line, at one—just one—wrinkle just beginning to appear. Anything to mar her perfection. But no, Queen Yoisea remained ever fair and ever plump while my freshness dried into the staleness of age. It wasn’t till the Darkness came that finally—finally!—she showed some sign of being as human as anyone else. And then it happened all at once. Within a decan of King Hudrys being killed, Queen Yoisea’s face was wrinkling like a dried-out plum. Her deliciously plump young body, of which she’d been so proud, now was thinning. It became gaunt, ghastly pale skin clinging to bones and hanging in folds and bags and . . . and all those wrinkles! Her hair, once so thick and shiny—like gold rippling down her back—became like discarded twine caught in a tree and blown in the wind. How that did please me. And there was I still young enough to attract the attention of a King’s Truvidir.
I suppose that was no great feat: the question of whether Truvidir Isbalen had offered a true heir in King Hudrys was implicit in the killing of that king. But that I was worth a second look while Yoisea was attractive only to the worms who waited to feast upon her, that was some consolation for having to see her almost everyday for all those years looking so impossibly young and beautiful.
She came to me bearing tales: this was her way.
“Young Bregan,” she said, letting me know who it was she was telling on.
“Mistress Bregan,” I corrected her.
“Young Mistress Bregan,” she said. “Have you noticed the light about her?”
I looked at the aging crone none too kindly. “What light?” But I’d known what she meant. It seemed as if the Darkness lifted whenever Bregan was near. It was her cheeriness. It was that she was young. It was that she was happy.
And she was happy: happy to be here, to be my apprentice. Fourteen years she had waited to learn the craft from me, to be the King’s Wife in my stead. It was the only thing she ever had wanted, she said. I told her, that was as well since she’d no choice in it. I had chosen her and she had come. I told her to think on that, that one day she must look to her brothers’ daughters for one to replace her.
“I’m telling you,” Queen Yoisea persisted, “she has the light. I’m Brictish, and I can see it, even if you can’t.”
I didn’t know what she was talking about. What was this thing of being Brictish?
“You have to be a Brictan to see other Brictans,” she told me.
But what were Brictans?
“She must have had it off her mother,” Yoisea said.
I didn’t understand.
“Is her mother a Brictan?” Yoisea asked. “How long has she lived?”
As far I knew Kastea was of an age with me. I told Yoisea so.
“Is she young and beautiful?” the old woman asked.
“She’s of an age with me,” I repeated. But aye, in her day Kastea had been most beautiful. That’s why my brother had wanted her so much. He had plied her family with gifts. Our father Ivenys had laughed at him for it. Our mother Poalha had been annoyed about it. She’d said he was after something beyond him. Not only was Kastea beautiful, she was also the granddaughter of a king, if only a king of Bayland. But a king’s granddaughter wasn’t beyond the hopes of any of our men, our family being of Clan Krisvin.
“You’re not a Brictan.” The way Yoisea said it, I thought it an insult and began to bristle. “Were you and your brother begotten by the same father on the same mother?”
I didn’t want to listen further to her. There were chores to do. And I certainly didn’t want to answer her prying questions. Whatever her direction, I didn’t want to be led.
“Well?” She would not relent.
I sighed. “Not that it’s any concern of yours, but my brother’s mother and father are the same as mine.”
“So it comes from Kastea.”
“If you say so.” I’d say anything now to be rid of her.
That night when Isbalen called on me I asked him about Brictans. He’s a truvidir: they know such things.
“That’s an old word,” he said. “Where did you hear that?”
“It would be her,” he tutted.
“Well?” I asked.
“Brictans: they’re the children of Immortals.”
“Begotten by the daen?” I asked.
“You listen to too many stories,” he said. “You’ve heard that from a Baylander. They claim the wildwoods are full of daen, and that if a young woman walks there on her own, one of these daen will entice her into his lair and get a child upon her. Stories,” he said. “You’re a woman, you understand why such tales.”
“So Brictans aren’t the children of the daen?” I asked.
He shrugged. “Maybe some are. But daen aren’t the only Immortals.”
“Yoisea says that she’s a Brictan,” I said.
“So I’ve heard.” He laughed as if at the very idea of it.
“How do you know if someone’s a Brictan?”
“You have to be Brictan too, else you’d never know,” he said. “They have a light about them. I can’t see it but many can. For those who are of the Brictish breed Uissid Tizarn seems to be the equal of Sauën.”
“Sssh!” To say such a thing! What if Sauën should hear?
“Aye well,” Isbalen said, “Uissid Tizarn is ailing in this Darkness. His light is fading—so I’m told.”
“Has anyone said anything about my niece?” I asked him.
“That she’s a Brictan? No. Is she?”
“Queen Yoisea says she is.”
“Are you? No, of course you’re not. If you were, you wouldn’t be asking these questions. And distracting me with talk of Brictans when I came here with other things in mind.”
“There’s Bregan now,” I told him. We couldn’t be as we had before she came. We had to be more careful now. Not that we were doing anything forbidden us, but she was a young woman—close to—and there was no place in my house for her and us. We’d have to go elsewhere now that she was here.
“Where is she?” he asked. “I don’t see her.”
“But she could return at any time,” I said. “She’s gone to fetch water.” She’d been gone a long time, I expected her back any moment. Though I feared she might have met with Queen Yoisea. I feared what that old woman might have said to her.
As with the bearer of any tale, Queen Yoisea’s news has not been well received. Now brushed aside by the former King’s Truvidir as so much nonsense, Mistress Maia is disinclined to believe it. But Queen Yoisea isn’t one to keep quiet. No doubt she’ll try again, perhaps next time peppering her words with some other spice . . . Next episode: This Hold, This Feast, This Heir.