Mistress Maia’s opinion of Queen Yoisea is, perhaps, emotionally coloured by previous days of jealousy. But regardless of her opinion, Maia cannot prevent her young niece Bregan from associating with the aged tale-telling queen . . . Read on
Now we were friends and Bregan knew where to find me, she called on me often. No more need I struggle to reach the spring. I could stay in my chamber, hidden away at the back of King’s House.
She—Bregan—found for me a new serving-woman. Drudatha. For which I did thank her.
It was my own silly fault that Mesme no longer attended me: I’d sent her away when the aging began, not wanting, at first, to be seen. Ha! I believed I’d be dead soon so what need had I. But then, without immediately dying, how was I to live without someone to serve me? I had struggled as best as. But Mesme had always fetched my water, she had fetched and cooked food for me. If for no other service, I needed a woman for this. Bregan saw that; she arranged it for me.
I had to explain to this new one, Drudatha, how to find the food for me. Food wasn’t easily had those days of the Darkness, yet there was some to be fetched if you knew where. Where was in the King’s Stores. The king was dead and I was hungry, so let me have the food from his stores before it all spoiled. But the stores were guarded by men of the Regiment—of course, else everyone would be there and taking. Myself, I could get past them with my Brictish ways, but not Drudatha. Neither a Brictan nor young to catch a young man’s eye, she needed other ploys.
Isn’t it amazing how the men of the Regiment guarding these stores hadn’t been told to scrutinise persons bringing fresh supplies in. No, they’d only been told to guard against those taking things out. So what did Drudatha do? It was my suggestion of course. She went to the stores with a covered basket apparently full of some commodity, and she never was stopped. And when she came out, her basket visibly empty . . . well, no one thought to look beneath her cloak!
But even the king’s food was beginning to taint. Were we all to die for the lack? Why didn’t someone do something about it? Couldn’t a trader go overseas? I was sure there was food to be had overseas. It had been fetched from there before when there was need. But no, no trader would leave this land of his own accord. Besides, who was there for me to prompt.
See, that’s ever the problem when there is no king. Nothing gets done. With no king to agree the truvidiren’s reckonings what of the King’s Takings? The King’s Givings fail for similar reason. Without a king the people would starve. But what was that to me, me who anyway was dying.
Bregan came to me often in those early days of her being at King’s Hold. Later, when they were preparing for the Games, she had no time to spare for me. No, yet she found time to be with him, with Kottir. But that was later. At first she came to me whenever she could—she came to listen to my stories. And, oh, the stories I could tell!
I told her of King Paolyn. He was the Alsaldic King when I was newly made Queen. No one expected me to be Queen for more than four years; that was Uissid Tizarn’s doing. He knew what I was and he knew that I’d be beautiful for many years yet to come. He changed the Alsaldic Laws just for me. For as long as the Alsaldic Queen is young and beautiful she will remain the Alsaldic Queen. Of course, there was that thing of being young and beautiful. How young was young? I had seen a mere sixteen winters when first I was elected Queen. But by the time King Paolyn died I no longer looked a mere sixteen years-seen. He had reigned for a long, long time—thirty years. And aye, I had aged. Yet I still looked as if I’d seen no more than a twenty years.
Of course there were those who questioned whether twenty years-seen could yet be considered young. Women were usually wed by then—women had usually a gaggle of children around their knees. Most had had to work the fields in the heat and the dust that blew in the wind. Was it a wonder that they no longer looked young, no longer beautiful? But though I looked twenty years-seen no one could deny I’d retained my youthful beauty. Yet even that qualifying quality had caused much debate amongst the truvidiren. Who was to look at me and judge my beauty? Who was to look at me and say that my beauty now had faded? Who was to be the one who’d cast me aside?
Uissid Tizarn had the answers. He’d known many of my breed. He’d seen us blossom like Belerast flowers. But come Kerbast we Brictan didn’t fade and die. He’d also seen how it was at the end. No slow fading of flowers for us. It happened quickly, sometimes overnight. A Brictan could be young and beautiful one day, old and wrinkled and all but dead the next. This aging—my aging—has been more drawn out than most. Is it the Mothers smiling upon me? Do they allow me to age and yet not to die? Is that a blessing? Some days I’d say not.
Uissid Tizarn set a new Alsaldic Law. The Alsaldic Queen’s beauty was to be judged by three people. The New King was to have his say. After all, he’d be the one most seen with her. The Chief Truvidir would also judge—having been advised by Saram. The third judge was to be an Eldliks of a plant clan—any clan: Drukem, Skakem, Ulmkem or Murkem. Uissid Tizarn thought that none of these judges would be biased, none have a daughter, not even a kinswoman, he wanted to promote. In truth—and I can say this now where I couldn’t have said it before—Uissid Tizarn was the one to judge. Aye, he influenced the official judges every time. And every time he judged for me.
We had an agreement, he and me: I said nothing of his age, he said nothing of mine. And in all these years I’ve kept to it—I didn’t even tell Bregan of him, though she had heard his name—of course—and had heard the tales. But she didn’t meet with him till after the Games.
I told her of the Alsaldic Kings. King Paolyn had come from Ul Dlida in Banva Go. He had replaced King Marynt. Marynt had been of Clan Mandatn, in the days when they still had governance of South Eskin Head. But King Marynt had failed to increase the crops and the truvidiren had killed him. Indeed, as I remember it, the crops had failed to yield sufficient to satisfy the King’s Takings. But, as soon as named King, King Paolyn sent to his native Banva Go for grain enough to feed all the land. The King’s Givings! That king gave generously.
The next Alsaldic King had been King Kristyn. He’d been of my father’s clan. He was very good to look upon, but he could have learnt much from my father—he had no manners, especially at the feasts and the banquets. He’d belch and fart, talk with his mouth stuffed full of food, slimy morsels sprayed over any and all. He’d snort and snuffle, pick at his nose and wipe the findings on whatever’s to hand. He generally behaved like a pig. Uissid Tizarn had the Chief Truvidir speak to him about it to which King Kristyn simply replied, “I’ve attended that many banquets and eaten that many pigs that I’ve taken to their ways.”
But, ill-mannered though he was, he acted fast and sent the Regiment overseas to put down the rebellious Mandatn clan. I noted with some amusement how he gave the governance of that Hold to his own clan. In fairness, they deserved it, always offering true service to the Alsaldic Lands.
Aye, I told young Bregan many tales, stories of the Alsaldic Kings. I had sat beside twenty of them, I’d seen many things. I could even tell her the name of the Alsaldic King whose name must not be mentioned. He was the eighth I sat beside, reigning twixt the Eskit King Myorlis from Adly Ce and the Querkant King Ulquister, son of King Kersnequon of the Marshes. Before I whispered her that close-kept secret, it was only Uissid Tizarn and I could name him.
Oh how Queen Yoisea does talk. Yet by the time the King’s Contestants began to arrive at least Bregan knew of the previous men who have held that kingly title: Reksan Albinnys Saramis. And now there’s to be a new king—which of the contestants will it be? The one who has captured Bregan’s young heart? Next episode, The First King’s Candidate.