Bregan, apprentice King’s Wife, has fallen for the talk of a high degree Brictan—if he wins the Games he’ll make her his wife and his queen. Now Queen Yoisea is in a tizz, wanting to protect the young Brictan from what she assumes is certain hurt . . . Read on
The next time young Bregan came to me, we sat and I talked the way I imagined a mother would talk to her daughter.
“Has he kissed you yet?” I asked her.
She blushed, looked away, then answered me no.
“Then I wonder if he’s as keen as you? Could he not have some other reason for talking as he has?”
“What other reason? I’ve been inside his head,” she said. “I know what’s there.”
“Aye, and he’s a Brictan too; maybe he’s been inside you.”
But she wouldn’t have it. She said there’d been times when she’d been inside his head and he hadn’t even known she was there.
“Aye,” I said. “And what if he’s done the same to you and you haven’t known?”
“But I have the greater power,” she insisted, shaking her head in vigorous denial.
At that I tried a different tack. “Bregan, I want you to pay heed to me. It is most unwise for you to grow too fond of Kottir. What if he loses the Games?—then he’ll go away, to be a trader in Du Dlida, and you’ll never see him again. How then will it be? Would that please you? Yet if he wins wouldn’t that be worse? Oh, I know what you’ve said, but there are Alsaldic Laws governing these things and they’re not easily changed. You cannot be his wife, Bregan, and neither queen. The Law doesn’t allow it. How then will you feel when you see him with the most beautiful woman in the land? Aye, it’s true, they’ll only sit together. But then how will you feel when they find for him a wife to fill his bed, for him to fill her belly? Please, young Bregan, don’t grow so fond of him. It will hurt, an all-over toothache, when the talk turns into dreams and those dreams to nightmares.”
“You don’t believe me,” she said and upped and walked away . . . though at my door she turned again. “You speak as if you know.”
“I know you cannot be queen,” I said. “There are Laws.”
“No,” she said. “How it hurts when the talk becomes dreams.”
On the eve of the Games the Chief Truvidir held a reception in the King’s Chamber to welcome and entertain the candidates. They were extravagantly fed on food we couldn’t spare and liberally supplied with beer. By now they numbered thirteen, and all were lodged in that same King’s Chamber, just beyond the wall from me. I had heard each one arrive. I had heard the talk between them. More, being curious as to each candidate’s motives for entering these Games, I had applied my Brictish fingers, searching their heads. I had learned much. I had learned that this Kottir kept his head sealed—except when he slept.
Kottir wasn’t the only son of the Bukplugn Clan to contest these Games. Beldrek was of the same clan, from north of Du Dlida, from Taca Riori. And Staveste, too; he was from the most westerly Eskit Province, Fifi Go. I found their reasons for contesting.
Though Beldrek called himself a simple herder, his herd had been the largest in all Fifi Go—until the coming of Draksen. Now his herd, like everyone else’s, was much reduced, leaving him—as he’d claimed—a simple herder, and facing poverty and shame. In a desperate bid to save face with his family and clan he had decided to contest the Games. His chance, as he thought it but never voiced it, to go back up rather than slide further down. But why did he believe himself Saram Chosen? Simply because his family were inter-wed with Clan Querkan and that same Clan Querkan had provided the first Alsaldic King. Hmm!
Staveste, the third contestant from Clan Bukplugn, was, like Kottir, from a trading family. He knew he wasn’t Saram’s True Heir and only contested at his family’s insistence. But, no matter, he would try. As the other candidates began to arrive he felt encouraged for, but for Kottir, they seemed even less likely to win than him.
Two candidates came from Meksuin’s Land, both from my own Clan Meksuin: Liplath and Fanlinys. I was reluctant to own any clanship with the first of these.
Liplath, believing himself the Son of Saram, assumed a deep and thunderous voice, his gestures wide and sweeping. Yet he was ill-dressed, unkempt and had no weapons to speak of. Maybe he was inspired, but whoever he spoke to soon walked away, shaking their heads in dismay. As for Fanlinys . . .
Fanlinys was a crafter of blades and knew well how to use them. But—alas for him—he’d thought the contest to be no more than blade-play, at which he excelled. Once the Chief Truvidir explained how these Games were to be ordered, Fanlinys’s confidence dropped and departed. He wanted to withdraw but could not do so without losing face—not an option, as much for his clan’s sake as his own.
Two candidates were Eskit—though, while I say they were Eskit they could as easily have been Krediche.
One, Mogalis, was from the most northerly Eskit Province, Cobi Ria. His family were lowely plants. With no clan to speak of, he couldn’t even claim to share glunan with an Eskit Lord. He had no claim as Saram’s Son. When asked his reasons for contesting he had shrugged. “Someone has to do something,” he said, “Maybe that someone is me.” I liked him even before physically meeting.
The other Eskit candidate hadn’t come so far. His name was Neësis, the youngest son of Lord Blimt, the Governor of the Province of Un Dli which then lay just west of the Way, not far from the Water of Waters. In answer to the repeated question, he said he had dreamt of being touched by Saram. When he told this to his father’s seer, she had urged him to contest the Games, saying he was destined to perform great deeds. Though he hadn’t believed her words yet he had equipped himself and travelled here through the Darkness. But now he was here his anxiety ruled him. His mouth was chattering endlessly, and none of it at his command. He was embarrassed and shamed by what he said. Yet no matter he tried he couldn’t get control of it. The poor young man seemed cursed. He couldn’t even walk straight but stumbled and knocked into everything.
Four candidates came from no farther than West Alsime Land. Two were of the Alismuk clans.
Burenth was from North Bounds, his clan was Drukem. Like Neësis, he’d had a dream. His dream was of fighting a fierce dragon. He was convinced that he’d win. But what made him believe he was Saram’s Chosen I could not find. Whatever it was, it must have been deeply hidden.
Ingobo, the other Alsimuk candidate, I liked the best. Oh, but he was so very young, barely of age, and had no beard at all. He came from near here,from Bisaplan’s Land. When asked, he said that someone has to be king. He thought it a most unenviable position, the one least desired by any man. He thought no one else would want to enter. He thought he’d be the only one here. He thought since he thought all this that it was a sign from Saram and thus surely he was Saram’s Chosen. If only he had won, how differently things would have gone.
Isvlenys was from the Central Highlands too, but from Duneld’s Hold. He was of Clan Krisvin. He was the only markiste to enter the Games, the only horse-man. He said it was time for a horsemaster to be king again. He referred, of course, to the first Alsaldic King, King Krisnavin, from whom Clan Krisvin claimed descent. He believed himself the True Heir and of course he would win. But beneath the bluster he wasn’t so certain of his abilities. Those triks of waiting, between hearing of the Games and coming here, he had spent in making offerings to Saram, no doubt both to please and persuade him.
The other candidate from West Alsime Land was Tavryn. From West Bounds, he was a Querkant. He claimed he didn’t know why he was contesting, only that he’d felt compelled to do so. He doubted he’d win. As he said, he wasn’t born to be big. Indeed, for a Querkant he measured quite small.
And that leaves just the two late-comers. They arrived—together—just as the truvidiren were gathering all the candidates together and making notes of names, clans and land. One was King Burdamon of the Marshes in the East Isle, the other, Kailen, son of King Ferrangu of Ul Dlida in Banva Go. I, and no doubt the truvidiren too, wondered what they were doing here. They caused quite a stir.
Who are these late-comers to cause a stir? And why shouldn’t they be there? Aren’t these Games open to all? Next episode, Complications