Two late-comers have caused a stir, just as the truvidiren had gathered together the candidates, made notes of their names, their clans and lands. Who are they? And why the disturbance; should they not be here? But the Games are open to all. Aren’t they . . . ?Read on
No one had crossed the sea since Draksen spread his wings, so no candidates were expected from Banva Go. Yet here was Kailen. He said he’d been visiting King Burdamon—aye, that King Burdamon—when the Darkness spread. Unable to return home to his family’s land, he had remained in East Isle. When news then came of the Games he reasoned, as would any, that he’d been stranded there for this very reason, so he could contest. He was utterly convinced he was Saram’s Chosen.
As for King Burdamon, was he a lawful candidate? For if King Burdamon should win at the Games, he would be Reksan Albinnys Saramis. And how could he be that when for these past fifty years—since King Bragnos’s shameful defeat—the Marshes of East Isle had been subject to the Nritrik kings? Must he then surrender the Alsaldic Lands to them?
To allow the king to contest, or not? It was a prickly decision for the truvidiren. The thoughts of the Chief Truvidir, who must voice the judgement, were loud in his panic: Where is Uissid Tizarn when I most need him? The truvidiren discussed the matter, their grey truvidirik heads together, every so often a wary glance at King Burdamon. He was a powerful man—big and burly, not the sort to cross without the might of the Regiment. I, of course, heard their every argument.
For the most part they thought it likely that, should Burdamon be the Chosen One, he would lead a massed attack against the Nritrin. It was needed. The Nritrin had already defeated most of East Isle. Overseas they had defeated the Gousen—and they, the Gousen, allied to the chiefly families of Broken Hand and White Lands. Those Nritrin had become a serious threat to the Alsaldic Lands. Besides, as they repeatedly told each other, if King Burdamon should win at the Games then he couldn’t possibly be in league with the Nritrin for Saram wouldn’t allow such an alliance for his Chosen One. There was also the fact that he was a son of Clan Querkan. Not surprisingly, the decision came that he could compete.
Had those debating truvidiren been Brictans—which some were but only to a meagre degrees—they would have known what I knew. And that would have frightened them. King Burdamon had recently earned the title of King of the East, this by repeatedly defeating all opposition in that isle. We’d heard the reports here in West Alsime Land. But those reports differed from what I discovered inside the man’s head.
His trampling of East Isle wasn’t at the instigation of the Nritrin, though they had been involved. No, Burdamon was perfectly able to be the marauding slayer of Alsimuk forces without any overseas encouragement. He was a brutal killer who revelled in the smell of fresh-spilled blood. He rejoiced at the deaths he meted out with his club, battle-axe and rapier-sword. And he was in league with another who, though sometimes Burdamon’s thoughts said ‘Ithen’ yet seemed to be named more often as Yewlen. It seemed Burdamon served this Ithen/Yewlen as if his master. He did Yewlen’s bidding, and that without question. Was this Yewlen an Immortal? If so, then maybe the Darkness had affected him as it had our Uissid Tizarn. And maybe this Yewlen, his master, had forbidden him to contest the Games. Only now, with this Yewlen ailing and in hiding, Burdamon was free to compete. And maybe it had been my own voice I’d heard the cry: Oh where is Uissid Tizarn when we most need him?.
While the truvidiren had heads together, the candidates were entertained by a special performance of the jugglers, acrobats and their like who’d been engaged by the Chief Truvidir to perform their amazing acts of cleverness and agility during any lull in the morrow’s Games. Allowed to attend this little banquet, I watched with interest as Bregan served the King’s Wife’s brew. I watched as she took one after another of the big earthen pots to each of the now-thirteen candidates. I’m sure Mistress Maia was watching too—though not being Brictan I doubt she could see as I could.
Young Bregan had eyes only for Kottir. Even though she was carrying the heavy pots to each and every one of the candidates, still her eyes were fixed upon him. And at every chance they smiled, one to the other. She was distracted, hardly noticing the others. Until she came to serve Kailen.
Oh my! I’d seen this happen before but . . .
She held out the red brim-full pot for him to take. He reached for it, And their fingers touched. It seemed as if they both held that pot for over-long, as if neither wanted to be the one who broke that touch. She raised up her eyes to him. He looked down into hers. They were transfixed.
I could see, plain a rising Sauën gilds the land, the blood draining from Bregan’s face, leaving her pale as Palamon. And still he held her gaze and she held his. She swayed, barely visible yet enough to warn him that she would slump to the ground, her spirit gone. He reached out with his unencumbered hand to steady her. They laughed. She blushed. She thanked him.
The hold broken, she turned at once and returned to Mistress Maia and the brew-vat. Yet ever, as she crossed that room, did she turn and turn and turn again, casting glances over her shoulder. He—Kailen—hadn’t moved at all, his eyes still caught by he.
I have seen this happen but twice before. And neither time did it turn out well. I’d no need to be Brictish to see this would end the same way. What had passed between them was fire, a passion that couldn’t be sated, a hunger that would ever gnaw at them. I could see it even then. It would hold them together despite they might be far apart. It would cause them to seek each other, oblivious to all that stood in the way. It would consume them, and consume all they touched.
And where, while this was happening, was Kottir? Stood head close with his kinsman Staveste, he hadn’t seen. As yet he didn’t know. Aye, I thought, and that’s as well for after he loses at the Games on the morrow he’ll be gone from here.
Again, I watched young Bregan. She took another pot now from Mistress Maia, she took it to the last candidate awaiting his brew. Ingobo. The young Alsimuk man—barely more than a boy—tried to flirt with her, as if he knew that only on this eve of the Games would this blushing King’s Wife have an interest in him. But I could see, she barely heard what he was saying, her eyes ever straying, seeking him, Kailen. She was distracted. Ingobo knew it. He dismissed his attempts, feeble anyway. He hadn’t the experience of Kottir, he hadn’t the experience of older men.
The tumblers tumbled to the floor and with a flourish leapt back to their feet, arms outspread, welcoming the admiration they knew would come. The would-be kings clapped loudly as was expected of them. On the far side of the chamber the King’s Musicians had already assembled, setting up their big bent bows they now call harps, tooting on their several pipes. These men played at all the king’s feasts and his banquets; their repertoire included songs worshipful and praising, plaintive and pleading. But that’s not what they played now. This wasn’t sacred music; this was intended for entertainment only—as were the five young women who appeared as if out of nowhere.
I’d seen these slaves many times before, but the King’s Candidates had not. They twirled and stepped and wove between them and each other, their antics tonight restrained. The occasion wasn’t right for their more usual performance.
Bregan stopped in her duties to watch. Kottir came silently to stand behind her, leaning forward, a nuzzle round her ear. She blushed, a furtive glance across the room. Had Kailen seen?
From that moment, that evening, Kottir seemed never far from her side. But this wasn’t what she wanted; I could see that. She edged away from him, her eyes ever straying to Kailen. She made the excuse of refreshing Kailen’s pot though his brew had remained untouched. Talk passed between them, brief, and stolen. It seemed not to be the flirtatious banter of her and Kottir.
Had I not cared for young Bregan I might have been amused by all this. I might have been eager for the Games to see which suitor would win. But if Kottir now won . . . what then of Kailen? And what of Bregan, caught between them?
To echo Queen Yoisea’s words, if Kottir now wins at the Games, if he is proven as Saram’s Chosen, and is declared Reksan Albinnys Saramis—he then will make Bregan his wife and his queen. Fine before, despite legal objections. It was, at least, what she wanted. But now with Kailen on the scene . . .? Next episode, To Beg Horse And Sword