Despite the overwhelming Darkness, the young Alsimuk herder, Ingobo, has set out for West Bounds where dwell others of his clan. For it is the duty of all clan members to offer aid to those in need, and Ingobo has sore need of a horse and a sword if he’s to contest the Games. Yet he gets no farther than Linden Stream . . . Read on
With my feet poised to plunge into the once sweet waters of Linden Stream, I halted. A new thought had come to me. Why trudge all the way to West Bounds, and in this Darkness, when, if I turned my feet northward, I soon would reach Bukplugn’s Hold. They weren’t of Clan Ulmkem but they did keep horses—if Bukplugn’s kin had not yet killed them. But I doubted that for to those who keep them, horses are more cherished than are their own children..
On reaching Bukplugn’s Hold, I spoke to the eldliks. I told him what I wanted, I told him why. He seemed impressed that a mere herding-man would want to contest in the Games. He was impressed that I’d gone to him asking for the loan of a horse and someone to teach me how to ride it.
We made a deal and we sealed it. For his part, he would lend me a horse and find a young boy to teach me the riding and care of it. For my part, I would generously repay him when I became the New King. Moreover, so impressed was he with my intention that he promised me his daughter for my wife if I should become the Alsaldic King. But, if at the Games-end, another was to be the King then, as soon as the New King had defeated this Draksen and our herds had once again grown big and strong, I would repay him ten-fold the worth of the horse he had loaned me. But if I failed to honour this agreement he said he would kill me.
Emboldened by his agreement to my request, I also asked for a sword and an opponent to help test me. But this he refused.
Glad of the horse and disappointed about the blade (although maybe I could make some construct of wood and practice with that), I returned to Bisaplan’s Land—and inspiration hit me as surely as it once had hit the poet Truvidir Demekn. This was Sauën’s doing, and I did thank her. She led me to the House of Saram, which she shared with him, her father. Though these two most powerful of divinities had been obscured by Draksen’s wings, and the truvidiren claimed no longer to hear them, yet if we listened with every part of our being they continued to guide us.
As at Isle Ardy, fires had been lit all around Saram’s House. But they did nothing to brighten the darkness of this place. When I remember how it had shone, lit by Sauën . . . now there was only the wind-charged fires. Their feeble light, ever-changing, skittered across the Stones of Sauën. Before the Darkness those thirty stones, one for each day of the trikadent, had been solid. Now they had no more substance than the ghosts they appeared to be. And between each grey flickering stone yawned an utter darkness, broken only when that restless firelight happened upon one of the five stone-doors of Sauën’s Cave, within.
Not caring overmuch which door I used, I entered the House. Within, my way was barred in every direction by awkwardly piled gifts for Saram. I stubbed my toes. I clattered around, too dark to see till I’d already blundered. Did every one of the thirty wide stones hide such a treasure-hill? I found more stashed at the centre, within Sauën’s Cave. What those mounds contained I could not see: disordered offerings, all piled high, unlit by the firelight blocked by the stones. I had to feel around them for what I wanted.
Oh, the things I did find! My hands lit on the finest pots ever made. Filled with the King’s Brew when deposited here, they now were spilled and empty. My fingers climbed around a wooden box inlaid with metal, probably gold. What did it contain? It was too small to hold a sword. My hands passed on. A club, its long handle banded over with golden chevrons. A necklace of amber and jet beading. A gold-made cup, rippled round like the incoming waves of the sea. An axe of stone, smooth and cold. A shield of wood, leather-covered, the leather overlaid with embossed metal—copper or gold, I could not see. I laid it aside. Maybe I’d come back for it. A blade: a dagger the length of my forearm. Found close to the top of the pile, it had been no time at all. A recent offering, it should be still in fair condition. And being offered to Saran, it had been neither broken nor bent as it would when given to our Mother Earth. I put that to one side, as well, and kept on looking, my hands being eyes.
Atop the third treasure-hill I found, there was the sword I had known waited for me. It was excellently craft, not locally made, the blade nigh the length of my arm. I tested the hilt: how securely it held to the blade. I knew a moment of sinking excitement. The sword was crafted in the old way, not as the eastern swords now were being made. It would not do for chopping off hands. But would hand or head chopping be required of me in these Games? It was a fine sword. It had weight. It had balance.
I laughed. A scary sound, there in the House of Saram, in the Darkness of Draksen, all alone. I looked up at the sky. Sometimes strange coloured lights rippled the darkness: Sauën trying to be seen. But not this day.
“I thank you!” I called out to her anyway, and to her father. “I thank you for these gifts.” Gifts, for I decided to keep both the rapier-sword and the dagger, and the shield as well. I now was equipped to fight all contenders at the Games.
In the decans left to me I practiced using both sword and dagger, and the shield. My skills developed and increased at such a speed that time soon came when I could find no one willing to play my opponent.
My family, watching all this, questioned me on what I did. They wanted to know whence my weapons. I told them, saying that Saram had directed me. Still they threw up their hands, covered their faces with cloths and ashes, pretended they had no dealings with me, this one who had taken Saram’s gifts from His House. I told them Saram had chosen me and how could I contest the Games without a horse and a sword. But the horse, Heglayis, was not their concern: he had been lawfully come by. It was that sword and dagger and the shield that so concerned them.
“Could you not have found pieces worked less ornate?” my father asked, sat by our fire, examining the sword and the shield.
“What, you would have me bring home every sword I found, for you to examine and tell me it is suited or not? It was dark there at Saram’s House. I took the first I found. It is as Saram wants it. He guided me.”
“Aye well,” my father said, “if it’s as Saram wants it, who am I but your father to disagree?”
It was too much for him to grasp, that Saram had chosen me. Aye well, I did believe it with all my heart. But I told him nothing of the promise of a wife.
Saram has chosen Ingobo. Saram wants him to win. Saram has guided Ingobo to the piles of treasure at Saram’s House, there to equip himelf with sword and shield. Of course Ingobo will win at the Games. But then what of Bregan, and what of Kottir? Next episode, Befriended