While arrangements are made for King Kottir’s ‘Great Commotion’, planned for the eve of the Feast of Slaughter, that same king must make good his word to cross the sea with the Regiment’s boats. And that leaves Mistress Bregan all unattended by her future husband, and avidly watched by Queen Yoisea . . . Read on
I saw them, young Bregan and that Kailen. I watched them.
Ever since the night of the King’s First Feast, when our new king, King Kottir, had announced that he intended to be wed to Bregan, Mistress Maia had kept a close watch on her niece. Mistress Maia hadn’t liked it. Of course she had not, not with Bregan being her heir—though not her ‘true’ heir as I had pointedly told her. But Mistress Maia had kept her on and now was paying the price.
Mistress Maia’s fear was natural enough: that Bregan and King Kottir would get to bedding before the wedding. For ordinary folk such behaviour makes little difference. But neither Bregan nor King Kottir was ‘ordinary’, now were they? It certainly wouldn’t have done for young Bregan to have a swelling belly when it came time to wed. Afterwards, aye; afterwards it would be looked for. But not before; not with her being the king’s wife. But silly Mistress Mai, she would have done better to forget the watch and allow King Kottir to beget his child on her. Then she’d not be able to be wed to King Kottir, and Mistress Maia wouldn’t have to have worried about losing her heir.
Aye well, it’s easy to say what she should have done. Mistakes are more easily seen once they are done. So Mistress Maia watched them.
But King Kottir had said he’d cross the sea with the Regiment’s boats and that meant he’d be away from the King’s Hold for several days—a decan or more. And thinking it safe now, Mistress Maia withdrew her watch. But I did not.
King Kottir had done as he said he would. He had emptied all the riches from the King’s Stores—not just from here on the Highlands but right across the Alsaldic Lands of the south (the five Holds of West Alsime Land, the three each of West River Gate, Taca Riori and Du Dlida). What riches they contained! It was sad to see it all go. Yet go it must.
He had the treasure piled into carts. Where did he find that many carts? We don’t have above five of them here at the King’s Hold. Maybe the Regiment provided them? And off they set down the track alongside South River. Young Bregan hugged and kissed him and bid him a safe journey. He, in return, bid her wait patiently for him. She waited till he was out of sight, watching him go.
And that’s when Kailen made his presence known. It wasn’t, at first, Bregan’s own doing.
Kailen had remained at the King’s Hold after the Games. He said he couldn’t travel home, across the sea to Banva Go, despite King Kottir’s saying that of the best of sea-men, that they can cross any sea in this Darkness and not find himself lost. But it wasn’t only the Darkness that held Kailen to the King’s Hold. He had arrived in the company of King Burdamon, and now was determined to leave in that same giant’s company.
King Burdamon, with broken ribs and a broken leg, was in no condition to travel home, even though most of that journey could have been by boat—up South River, across the narrow pass, then down Long River, joining First Water which in turn joins the Water of Waters—and soon enough he’d be safely home. But those rivers, full of rotten things, stank. Who’d want to travel along them? And so King Burdamon lay on his make-shift bed in the Truvidiren’s House, tended both by Mistress Maia (who as the King’s Wife had certain healing powers) and by the truvidiren who, as any will tell you, are the very best of healers. Aye well, best of healers they may be, but still it was taking time for King Burdamon to heal. And so Kailen stayed at the King’s Hold.
I watched Kailen as he walked about the Hold, reminding me of one of the granary cats. Always restless. Wanting to go some place else, yet tied to where he was by his dealings with King Burdamon. And he prowled, just like a granary cat, hoping to catch some tasty morsel. He had that same feline look to his body. Graceful in the way one part moved against another in smooth and fluid movement. Sensual, aye that’s it. I would watch him walk and, old though I am and never having had much to do with men, still to see him was sufficient to give me such thoughts! Is it a wonder that Bregan yielded so easily to him?
Moreover, though perhaps he wasn’t much younger than King Kottir, yet he had a boyish look to him. King Kottir looked more of a man.
So King Kottir hadn’t been gone even a day when Kailen came upon young Bregan fetching water from the spring. It seems that was the place for meeting in the King’s Hold. It was behind the King’s House—behind all the houses, the sheds, stables, and the stores; a little way up the hill, but not far. Hazel-trees grew around it, screening three sides of it, though no leaves remained because of the Darkness. Yet those stems, coppiced, provided some kind of cover. Moreover, during the Darkness it remained a place unlit by fires. Not that the likes of me and Bregan needed fires when we had our own lights. But no other would venture there without use of a torch or a flare. I think Bregan went there just to be away from the busyness of the Hold. Maybe on this day she was thinking of King Kottir; maybe fretting over his overseas journey.
Anyway, I saw her there, saw her light, too bright to mistake. Then I saw Kailen. Kailen had a faint glow about him betraying some anciently gotten Brictish blood, but he was no Brictan of any degree. Yet he’d been drawn to her there, just as clearly as had he seen her. Off up that hill he went, a granary cat stalking its prey. The way he slinked, he made that climb look effortless. And maybe for him it was. The muscles in his back, even seen through his shirt, rippled in the most suggestive way.
I don’t often do this, but I listened in to what they said. It was easy for me to do, although I had to get inside Kailen’s head, not hers. Bregan would have felt my presence and blocked my inquisitive fingers.
He said, “What are you doing sitting up here, away from every one?”
And she answered, “I’m sitting up here, away from every one.”
So he asked, “Does that mean my company isn’t welcome?”
I saw her shake her head. But instead of looking down, she looked straight up at him. I knew what she was doing: sending her delicate fingers into his head. He sat beside at the spring, just as she wanted.
“I saw King Kottir leave,” Kailen said. “Is he really going to sail overseas with the Regiment?”
“He says that he will. He says it is safe.”
Kailen scoffed at this. “Darkness or not, no one sets sail beyond the Feast of Slaughter. The sea’s no place for the winter-half.”
“There’s more than a decan until that feast,” she said. “He’ll be back by then.”
“That doesn’t leave me much time then does it?” he said, and held her eyes long with his.
I could see what she wanted: for him to kiss her and to hold her. Yet at the same time, she pushed him away. He was confused.
“It doesn’t leave you much time to do what?” she asked him.
“Persuade you to be wed to me instead of him.”
She laughed, though not in scorn. More from the hopelessness I thought.
“I had already agreed to the wedding if he became king,” she told him. “The Mothers brought me here to be his wife. You and I could never have been.”
“I could take you now, while he’s away,” he said. “Steal you away from him, take you to Ul Dlida with me. He’d never know where to find you there.”
She laughed at him.
“You want me,” he told her—which considering what she was doing inside his head, she could hardly deny.
“I am the king’s wife,” she said.
A sensible, well-brought-up young women in such situation would have gotten to her feet and made straight back down that hill. But not Bregan.
He touched gently on her cheek. She nuzzled her face against his hand. Two cats together, that’s how it seemed.
“Come with me,” he tried again.
But she shook her head. “I cannot.”
Then why did she not move? Why no attempt to put distance between them? Instead, she cried. Oh, not great racking sobs, but a quiet loss of tears that trickled slowly down her cheeks.
“I didn’t mean to . . .” he tried to apologise and, like the man he was, to make good the damage he thought he’d caused.
“I am to be the king’s wife,” she repeated. She tried to explain more, putting knowledge into his head that he’d not before had: of Brictans and their longevity.
Aye, I suppose that must have been a consideration, a reason for not running off with him. He would live but a mortal span—to be forty years-seen if the Mothers should favour him. And what after that? She wouldn’t be able to return to King Kottir; he couldn’t be expected to take her back. Yet she would likely live five thousand years more. What was twenty years compared with that? But she did want him, there was no denying it.
It was Kailen who gained his feet, Kailen who left her there, still sitting beside the spring. He told her, “If you should change your mind . . .”
But she shrugged, and smiled.
While the mouse is away the cats will play. But is this an end of it? Will Kailen now depart with King Burdamon? If you asked Queen Yoisea she would likely laugh and say of the fires of passion not being easily quenched. Next episode, A Would-be King Not All That He Seems