The Alsaldic Lands are greening again, recovering from Draksen’s long stay. That brings much joy—as do the weddings now being arranged, to be confirmed at the Feast of Trees. Though a certain one of those weddings displeases the brew-woman, the old King’s Wife, Mistress Maia. And then there is King Kailen: will he attend with his gifts of acceptance . . . Read on
The Feast of Birds isn’t one of the big feasts: the Alsaldic King does not attend. It is celebrated only by the families who come together across the land. As usual, those of the Highlands of the Sun, attired all as birds, gathered at Isle Ardy to exchange amid giggles their painted eggs as symbols of hope. They arranged their weddings and laughed and sang.
It was at this joyous feast that my niece Bregan was declared the most beautiful young woman on the Highlands. Three judges proclaimed her so. It was a fix. I fumed. At least two of the other women were more beautiful than her, and I defy anyone to disagree with me. Bregan was pretty, that’s all.
“Hush up,” Truvidir Isbalen hissed close to my ear. “She’s to be the Queen; it has to be done this way: it’s the Law.”
He mistook my complaint. “She’ll still be your apprentice. Chief Truvidir Markenys is arranging it so she can be here with you when needed for brewing. Then once you declare her a crafted woman, he’ll make new arrangements that’ll allow her to travel the land with King Kottir, and at each King’s Hold to lead the brew-women, as you do here.”
“So all this is just ‘show’?” I snarled.
“And what are the arrangements made for the Feast of Trees?” My tongue sounded sharp even to my ears. “How will Truvidir Markenys arrange it? Is my niece to be just another young women hoping to be named Queen in the morning, and named and sworn and vowed to be that Queen that evening? And what of her wedding to King Kottir: does that come first?”
He tried to move me away to somewhere less overheard. That didn’t please me though I allowed it.
“You concern yourself overmuch with matters not of your concern,” he said, still whispering despite we were out of hearing. “Leave it all to Chief Truvidir Markenys. Uissid Tizarn is directing him.”
Oh, so Uissid Tizarn was directing him. No doubt as Uissid Tizarn was directing King Kottir, too. King Kottir had complained of that at his First Feast. I wondered now the truth of the Kings’ choosing. Had it been Uissid Tizarn all along who decided, every time, who would be the Alsaldic King? Had everything else just been pretence?—like this contest to find the most beautiful young woman.
And to think, I had actually feared for Bregan!—worried and fretted that she’d not be chosen. Then there’d have been tears, and sniveling and snotting, and me left to comfort her. I had been angry with King Kottir, that he had asked for her—angrier still that Truvidir Markenys had encouraged her. I had looked at her time and again but seen only a pretty girl. Bregan was not the beautiful young woman she needed to be to be chosen. But then, after the Feast of Birds, when Bregan was all this and that of her wedding rites and of her being named Queen, instead of saying she should wait till it happened, I allowed her to chatter on. It wasn’t right, the way it was done. Yet, aye, she would be named Queen. The King’s Wife would be the King’s Queen, though such had never been—not even with King Krisnavin and Queen Hegrea, for then Mistress Drea had been the King’s Wife. It seemed to me an ominous thing.
Within my head I kept repeating ‘and so it will end’. I didn’t know what I meant by it. Yet it proved prophetic.
Sauën rose from her bed in the trikadent of Sammeste. The Feast of Trees, always held while Palamon is at his biggest, was now but a decan away. And would Uissid Tizarn have allowed the wedding rites and the Queen’s vows if the whole of the moon had occurred during Devone’s decan? But as it turned out, Palamon may as well have sat there, for still one of the couple was dead before the end of the year.
All through Belerast’s trik, Bregan was busy with the King’s spinsters and his weaving-women. They made for her a dress fit for a queen—despite Bregan hadn’t yet been declared that. They spangled her dress with golden discs. They hung it with one thousand-thousands tiny beads of amber and gold, copper and blue-glass. By the way Bregan told of it she would look the equal of Sauën—but only if Sauën should shine upon her that day. And even then she’d not be the equal, merely an earthly reflection of that Shining Lady.
Then King Kottir had made for her a golden band to set on her head and secure the sweet-scented flowers that would frame her fresh face. She was also to carry a gold-tipped spear, its handle glaringly ornate. Whatever its meaning, it was lost on me. I suppose the truvidiren must have known.
I asked Bregan if all these fineries were for her wedding, or for her as the Queen. For as I told her, Queen Yoisea had never been so richly decked.
“It’s for both,” she said.
But why? Certainly there was no need for the king’s wedded wife to shine like Sauën. Who was she but the woman who filled his bed and birthed his children, hidden from the people’s view, an unknown. She played no role at the feasts; she seldom was present. Ask anyone: Who had been King Hudrys’s wife? And they would shrug their non-knowledge. Neither did they know what had happened to her after the truvidiren killed the Old King. But I knew, for I’d taken note.
The Old King’s widow had been returned to the Old King’s family in Bayland, along with their one child. (Without that child, she would have been returned to her own folk, to be wed again.) Her only relevance had been to provide an heir to his family, not to him as a king. The queen, however, was the one to be seen; it was she who sat beside the king. But that was her only duty: to be seen, to be beautiful.
I could see what it was with King Kottir’s gifts of gold and amber. He wanted this young wife seated beside him to be declared, indeed, a shining beauty. But in truth, he must have seen, she was only pretty.
The actual Feast of Trees occurs on just the one day. But its festivities last for three.
The first day, the eve—this year the second day of Sammeste’s Queglan—was for the Games. There was the usual horse-racing, with wagers laid, with wealth that should have been shepherded instead being too easily wasted. There were the usual contests of strength and balance, and the men’s skills with arrows, spears and swords. There was the usual women’s favourite: the wrestling. There was the usual laughter, and perhaps an unusual helping of happiness. Feeding a family might still be a struggle, yet seed-grain had been sown, the fields showed a spread of full laden ears; barring calamities, a harvest would be had this year. Yet many eyes were cast a glance skyward in dread.
After the Games, the New Queen was found.
No surprise there: Bregan was chosen. And it seemed everyone was happy with that judgement, even the families of those young women who had travelled from far, all so hopeful that morning, all tearful that evening. And the men danced, and so too the women. And they sang late into the night. They drank, too, all huddled round in the old way with straws dipped into our vats.
But neither Bregan nor I stayed late at the feast ground, for the morrow was to be yet a bigger day. Not her wedding day: that came after. No, on this next day King Kottir would be declared ‘Reksan Albinnys Saramis’. For as yet he was only the King of West Alsime Land.
We had already celebrated King Kottir’s Rites of Installation back in winter-half, when travel still wasn’t so easy. The combination of weather and the remaining tatters of Draksen’s wings were accepted as excuses for the absent lords and kings who failed to attend these rites with their gifts, a visual acceptance of Kottir as their new king. But they were expected to attend now.
And who had been these absent ones?
No one had come from overseas: from Ul Dlida and Anyo Dlida in Banva Go; neither from Liënershi, from South Eskin Head, nor from Porcynnis. But all these lay at some distance from West Alsime Land and their presence had not been expected. As to the missing kings from the White Lands and the land known as the Broken Hand, that was more worrying, being so close to East Isle and the Nritrin. But what had caused the most surprise was the lack of representation from West River Gate and Taca Riori. Both these holdings were in the keep of Clan Bukplugn, King Kottir’s own clan. Surely they would attend now, with this Feast of Trees? It was their last chance to present their gifts and accept the new king.
The truvidiren watched with interest and growing concern as the nobility arrived on the Highlands of the Sun. I heard them mentioning names.
King Butalkin . . . but he had already gifted the king; now he came to witness the wedding, and to see who would be Queen.
Lord Ulois from Cobi Ria and Lord Dlyen from Enir Boeme, duly arrived. They’d been unable to attend the Installation, having to travel from the North Eskin Provinces.
The Krediche lords from the West Eskin Provinces, all under the governorship of the Bukplugents, also arrived. As—much to the audible relief of the truvidiren—did Lord Alselt from West River Gate and Lord Jinsetis from Taca Riori, both bearing gifts.
But still none came from the east, though they’d not so far to travel. So was King Blaidys of White Lands now breaking his alliance, preferring instead to have the Gousen as allies? And with no sign of King Lotrum of the Broken Hand neither, it seemed the same was to be said of him. What a sad day for the Alsaldic Empire, to lose its eastern lands to the Gousen, perhaps, but ultimately to the Nritrin.
Then on the eve of the feast . . . Lord Glavyn from South Eskin Head, and King Kailen from Ul Dlida! But while their arrival may have delighted the truvidiren, the latter’s did not delight me.
And there still was no sign of King Erberdu of Anyo Dlida, nor of Lord Kezir from Liënershi. Where were they? The answer to that was short in coming. And it did not please the truvidiren one jot.
So King Kailen from Ul Dlida has arrived at the Feast of Trees. One assumes he now will present his gift as a token of his acceptance of the new king. Or will he? Perhaps he has come for some other reason, perhaps to interrupt the wedding? Next episode, Amid the Threats