We found a boat-master at West River Gate willing to take us. But, as he warned us, he had to pull into the harbour at Fifi Go first, before crossing that Narrow Sea. What did we care the route; we were on our way home.
From Fifi Go he took us to Anyo Dlida. There he dug in his heels and said he’d go no further—until Kailen explained who he was and said of a rich gift waiting for whichever boat-master fetched him back to Ul Dlida. His cargo off-loaded, the boat-master was quick to ease out of Anyo Dlida’s river-gate. In little more than a day we were home!
Oh, but then what did we find! Confusion, disorder, conflict and strife; fighting everywhere.
My lord King Ferrangu had failed as a king when the Darkness came, so said the Dunelts, and so they killed him though his truvidir Nelsis did try to stop it. It wasn’t King Ferrangu’s failure, he said, it was the Alsaldic King; he rules over everything. But the Dunelts wouldn’t listen, they needed a death. My own people, the Luguish, had tried to protect King Ferrangu: the men of the holdings, the Luguish families, not my warrior-bands. My bands wouldn’t move without my say and I was away.
But with King Ferrangu dead who now would be king? Where was Kailen: he was the heir? But Kailen was overseas with me and as far as they knew he might never return. Not only had King Ferrangu failed his people but Kailen has failed them, too, as heir, and myself as well as our king’s protector.
And then there was the damage done by the Darkness.
We had hoped Banva Go had escaped that pall. But as with all lands affected, the crops had died before their harvest. The herds had suffered and had to be culled (which at least provided some food).
With the king dead, no one now to grant and decree, the granaries ought to have remained closed. But the Dunelts broke down the doors and took as they wanted. They emptied the granaries to fill their own bellies (as if no one else was hungry). They left none for my people, the Luguish.
But at least while Draksen remained overhead there was little other by way of fighting.
None would stray far from home in that Darkness; they scavenged as best they could. And when the old died—and died they did in great numbers—the meat on their corpses, though stringy and tough, was eaten. Likewise, infants born to mothers with breasts like old bags were sent to the pot. Families grieved, they choked on their tears, yet they survived by eating their old and their young. Shame to say, many of those families were of my own men. On hearing the stories, I wondered what was the difference between the people of Ul Dlida and those of East Isle. Both had survived by eating the dead. It was only a matter of how those dead died. Through hunger or by the sword.
With the defeat of Draksen there then came the struggle to recover. Who was to be king? They needed a king. But the king had been killed. By the Dunelts.
It was now my people, the Lugiönes, turned on those Dunelts. Since time beyond memory the two peoples had lived together in peace. But not any more. The Dunelts had survived but at the cost of the Lugiönes. The Lugiönes snatched at axes, spears, daggers and whatever else came to hand, and they attacked the Dunelts. The Dunelts deserved it; they had offended, they had killed the king and taken the King’s Grain. Now the Lugiönes took back what remained of that grain. And shame to say, they ate off the slain bodies for there was no other meat. And neither did it stop there.
Many of these Lugiönes were my own warrior-men. Yet, in mitigation, I must remember how the battle-fury once raised cannot be stopped. And so, having worked their utmost to destroy the Dunelts, the Lugiönes then turned upon their own.
Aye, Luguish killed Luguish. It was a terrible thing. And to this we returned.
I immediately restored the holding to some semblance of order. Those of my men who had killed their own I sent into exile. As to the rest . . . I had listened to King Kottir’s decrees and now I repeated them, those regarding the finding of food. I organised my men, one part to be hunters, the other to keep the peace. What more could I do; I wasn’t the king. Though I’ll say now, if Kailen had not returned with me I would have taken that title and been well received.
I have said before that through his father’s family Kailen was Dunelt. But now, where were the Dunelts to support him? The pure Dunelts were dead. I had my men gather their butchered bodies and make a pyre for them. Yet there remained what the Dunelts themselves called the Curs: the result of Dunelt and Luguish crossbreeding. Not overly welcomed by either people, despite my lord Kailen was one. These Curs now set up a great wail at the carnage effected by my people. Indeed, some of my hardest men had wept to see it.
But what of the king?
With all that slaughter, Ul Dlida had become a province of Lugiönes only (the Curs discounted). So of course our king should be Luguish, too. Yet here was Kailen, the rightful heir, a Dunelt, a Cur. The talk was loud of his Luguish mother, his father conveniently forgotten. The Wise Man Kezir sealed it—he who had over-ruled Truvidir Nelsis with his predicted Darkness, and had sent us away.
“And in so doing, I saved young Kailen’s life, that he might return and be our king.”
There was no further talk. Kailen was declared King of Ul Dlida.
Order again established, and for now the claw of hunger assuaged, my lord King Kailen turned his thoughts to the less immediate future. What he needed was grain enough to feed his people till the next harvest plus seed-grain sufficient to ensure that harvest. He knew it useless to search Banva Go for grain, all had suffered the same. Neither had we a fleet of boats to match the Alsaldic Regiment. Yet King Kailen did find a few fisher-men and traders willing to make the voyage south. Inspired (as I had been) by King Kottir, he loaded these boats with the riches of his father’s clan and sent them on their way. I provided a guard—to ensure they did as he’d bid.
Less than a decan later came an alert from the men I had stationed to the east. Visitors! Some five hundred men (Burnists) marching towards us, bristling with spears like a winter woodland, led by King Erberdu of Anyo Dlida.
In my absence, with the Darkness, the starvation, the fighting, my war-bands had suffered a vast reduction though still they numbered one hundred bands. But some of those bands now comprised less than ten men. I wanted to combine them with other small bands but as long as their leader remained they would remain loyal to him, and so they refused me. Yet, despite this, I still could muster more than the Burnists’ five hundred and was all for doing so and for moving out to meet them. We would have made short work of them.
But my lord King Kailen wouldn’t allow it.
“Let me speak with King Erberdu,” he said. “I’d rather have peace than conflict.”
The loyalty that once belonged to King Ferrangu’s now belonged to King Kailen. I did as requested, I stayed my hand, I stayed my force. But I did accompany him, myself with five hundred mounted men, all riding out of Ul Dlida to meet King Erberdu of Anyo Dlida.
We rode over those same hills that Lugain had long ago rejected as being too low. I noticed with gladness the signs of returning life, the earth greening, no longer a ghastly white-laced brown. We met with King Erberdu’s men in a river-wrought valley. While the warriors watched from a distance, each straining to hear what might be said, the kings rode out to meet each other.
“Lord Kailen,” King Erberdu acknowledged him.
“King Kailen,” my lord corrected him.
“Ah,” King Erberdu said to that. “I had heard that King Ferrangu was dead. But I had heard that you were missing, overseas. I’d heard that you had fled and your holding now is in turmoil. I came to see what I could do to help your people.”
“You came to take my land,” King Kailen said.
“Only if there was no king. But now I see there is one.”
“And now you have seen, you can turn around, go back to Anyo Dlida. I would offer my hospitality before you leave but times are hard. You understand?”
King Erberdu might understand, but he wasn’t yet ready to leave. He asked King Kailen, “Have you news from the Alsaldic Lands? How is it in Albinnys?”
“You haven’t heard?” King Kailen said. “There’s a new king, King Kottir; he’s a good man. The Rites of Installation are set for the Feast of the Long Night.”
“Will you accept him as your lord? Will you send gifts?”
King Kailen shook his head. “I accept him, he is the True Heir. But I’ll not send gifts, not yet. I shan’t be travelling overseas again this soon, and I have little left to gift him with. Instead, I’ll return for the Feast of Trees. That’s when he’s to wed his wife, when he’ll make her his queen.”
“A new queen too?”
King Kailen smiled, though I saw neither happiness nor amusement there.
“Will you accept him?” King Kailen asked King Erberdu in return. “Those who do are expected to send gifts for the Feast of Trees, if they’ve not done it sooner.”
“I shall wait,” King Erberdu said. “I shall wait till the law-men come bearing the news. Then, I suppose, I’ll decide.”
“But what’s to decide?” King Kailen asked him. “King Kottir is the True Heir. I was there when he was named.” He said nothing of how King Kottir defeated him in the deciding sword-fight, how he could have so nearly been that Alsaldic King.
“I do not doubt it,” King Erberdu said. “But I must ask, do I want to be subject to the Alsaldic King? He did nothing for me and my people during the Darkness. He did nothing for you and for yours. Why should we accept him? We can say no.”
“But you know why we accept him,” said King Kailen. “He protects us.”
King Erberdu cast a look at my lord-king like he was an idiot. “You are yet so young. If you decide otherwise then call upon me. We can form an alliance and protect each other.”
Kailen, now the rightful king of Ul Dlida, has a neighbour whispering sedition, tantamount to rebellion. King Kailen, of course, by his own conviction, will remain loyal to King Kottir. Or will he? For he has a burning passion for King Kottir’s soon-to-be wife. Next episode, Absent Kings