Kabul is trapped with his lord Kailen, held captive in East Isle by the Darkness of Draksen, and disgusted by the obscenities there commited in the name of their host’s mysterious idol, King Ithen. But nothing lasts forever . . . Read on
Although no longer part of the Alsaldic Lands, still an Alsaldic law-man came to King Burdamon’s hold, bringing news of King Hudrys’s death and of the Games.
“Will you compete?” King Burdamon asked my young lord.
“It seems to me that I’ve been held here for a reason. And with my new invincible sword . . .” (I admit I had thought the same) “. . . aye, I shall compete.”
Yet away from King Burdamon’s hearing he whispered to me, “If I should win—if it is me who’s the True Heir—then I shall use this sword to destroy that man and his King Ithen.”
“I intend to compete as well,” said King Burdamon with teeth-flashing in a wide grin.
To me, that grin held the look of dark amusement, like he had some hidden and malicious plan and was confident in succeeding. I’m quite certain he didn’t believe himself the True Heir. So he must have had some other reason to enter, some unvoiced aim that could be most easily achieved by winning the Games. From what I had seen and had heard of him, I thought it likely his ‘hidden plan’, his unnamed aim, was to conquer the Alsaldic Lands and thence to rule them in the name of his idol, King Ithen. Whether through the winning of these Games, or through the slaughter of all who stood in his way, he would have what he wanted, of that I was sure.
Silently, I counted the men at my command. One hundred war-bands, yet their numbers varied. Some might number less than twenty, others as many as one hundred and more. So I could, perhaps, muster five thousand men in all. I thought then we should have had that sword-master make us more of his blood-hungry swords. We could have turned them to good effect upon King Burdamon.
But at least with the Games we were to leave East Isle. And I was glad to leave there. We rode—with King Burdamon leading the way—westward at first till we met with the Way. Once there the going was good. It took us no time to reach the Water of Waters, then to cross it, our hooves splashing through that foul stench. Across the Waters, we regained the Way, thence to follow it along to His Indwelling in West Alsime Land.
I had foolishly thought, along the way, we might ride out from under the Darkness. But, no, it was everywhere. The lands we passed through, we could see little of. Was it day, was it night? We didn’t know. We slept when the horses tired. We set men to watch though not for fear of other men. They guarded against the wolves, their packs ever growing more wily and more brave.
It was the eve of the Games when we reached the Highlands of the Sun. Another day and we’d have been too late! Aye, and then Kailen would have turned his thoughts to going home—at least to travelling westward as far as the Narrow Sea, there to wait till the New Alsaldic King had defeated Draksen, as was expected. We would have been out of King Burdamon’s reach.
Kailen was convinced that by the lateness of our arrival he was assured of winning these Games. But King Burdamon had arrived at the same time, so surely the same could be said of him? Yet . . . was King Burdamon a lawful candidate?
It surprised me when the Chief Truvidir allowed his entry. Subject to the Nritrik King Ithen, how could King Burdamon become the Alsaldic King without making the Alsaldic Lands subject to King Ithen too? Yet the truvidiren allowed it.
That same night my lord Kailen met the Mother-fated woman who’d be the cause of his death. I watched them from a distance. He couldn’t take his eyes off her—she was Brictish though he couldn’t see it. When she came to him with a mug of Alsaldic Brew, intending to serve him as she had served the others, their eyes caught and locked. They neither could look away. I could see what was happening. It was a wonder he didn’t take her outside and have her there and then. She raised the heat in him and, young as he was, he didn’t know how to control it. I could sense his hunger from across the room.
The next day was the Games. They began early with a horse-race. Kailen thought this might be his downfall since the horse he rode wasn’t his: it was King Burdamon’s. Yet he did well on it, returning to the starting place just behind a markiste while King Burdamon, he didn’t return at all. That set him out of the Games, for which I silently cheered. Whatever his plans, they had been early thwarted. But I was disappointed to learn that he had taken a fall and that he had broken bones. He was to be taken to the Truvidiren’s House where the King’s Wife, an attractive woman named Maia, was to tend him. She predicted at least two trikadents before he could walk, though he was up on his feet before that.
Next was the sword-fight. Kailen had just acquired a magical sword. I was certain he would win. There could be no doubt. Aye, except that one of his opponents (Kottir) had a sword to equal his own. And Kottir, older, more experienced, knew how to use it. He was well-practiced, especially when compared with my newly-equipped lord.
The other opponent, the markiste, was soon bled and thus disqualified. As well that he immediately removed himself from the field for, elsewise, Kottir’s sword would have eagerly drank all his blood. But then Kailen wasn’t fast enough in his reactions, and lo! Kottir’s blade caught Kailen’s finger. I swear, it was no more than that. But Kottir’s blade had tasted Kailen’s blood. Now it sought a richer source, slithering the length of Kailen’s arm. Kailen should have backed off. He knew the nature of that sword; he knew the rules required only one spot of blood. But no, he wanted to win, to be the New Alsaldic King.
Chief Truvidir Markenys hauled him off, and likely saved his life. The swords immediately sheathed, Kailen and Kottir hugged to show no ill-feeling between them.
Kailen hadn’t won, and I was disappointed at that. But I was happy that we now could go home. But that wasn’t to be.
At King Kottir’s invite, Kailen was to remain longer at the King’s Hold. He agreed it would be foolish for Kailen to struggle home in this Darkness, especially since it soon would be gone (aye, even though King Kottir himself was soon to risk his own life by sailing with the Regiment in search of grain for his people).
But King Kottir intended to be a good king, and so began immediately by issuing decrees even though the truvidiren said it wasn’t for the king to do. These first decrees were intended to see his people fed. Not so his final decree. And it was that decree that caused the subsequent calamities.
King Kottir intended to wed Bregan, the very same woman as my lord Kailen had already set his heart upon. And Kailen would not accept that she was out of his reach. He kept saying, over and over, “But she’s mine; the Mothers intend Bregan for me.”
I realised then what I’d taken for lust was something other. I shuddered. This Bregan was to be the Alsaldic King’s wife; what good could come of it?
As soon as Kailen realised that King Kottir would be away from the King’s Hold for more than a few days—more than a decan as it happened—he made the excuse of not wanting to leave that place till King Burdamon was again on his feet. He said, “I arrived with him, I shall leave with him.” Two triks, I thought, what trouble can he cause in such a short time? Too much trouble, I answered myself. And I tried and I tried to dissuade him. But he would not be budged.
I didn’t want to watch what happened next. I didn’t want to see. I didn’t want to know. But there it was, in front of me: my young lord and King Kottir’s promised wife being fools, being careless, being blind to others who must have seen and must have known exactly what was happening while the new king was away. There were meetings designed to look accidental, coincidental, providential, yet all were planned. There was hiding in dark places—an abundance of those in that Darkness. There were kisses and embraces. And I’ve no doubt there also were meetings of naked bellies. The young fools!
At last, King Burdamon was back on his feet. We’d soon be leaving. I pleaded with the Mothers that here would be an end of it. But King Burdamon, seeing Bregan and Kailen, at once knew how it was with them. He egged Kailen on. If he hadn’t yet taken her he ought to hurry to it else he’d have the Alsaldic King’s wife for himself. That’s when Kailen turned on him, in defence of his loved one. There would have been blood shed that day, and life taken, but that Kailen was too much the young lord of Ul Dlida, and King Burdamon still in the process of healing.
Seeing all this, I was tightly wound with anxieties. All I wanted was to get Kailen safely out of that place. So, great the relief when, that same day, King Burdamon thieved a Regiment cart and drove it away. The morrow was the Feast of Slaughter; he had to be back in East Isle, so he said. But he’d no chance of reaching East Isle, not even on a good racing horse. He’d have done better to go by the rivers, except then he’d be hindered by barrages of floating dead things.
That same day King Kottir returned. And now, with Saram no longer hidden by Draksen, and with Saven rescued by the New King (as was said), Kailen had no more excuse to delay. We were to leave. And how I welcomed that news!
At last Zabul and his lord Kailen can return to Banva Go. But how unlikely that in their absence there has been no changes? So what might they find on their return? Next episode, The Homecoming