The rites were held at the ancient stone ring, the House of Saram, and began with a re-enactment of the King’s fierce battle against Draksen (played by two mounted law-men, with staffs). This should have been enacted at the Rites of Installation but Chief Truvidir Markenys had thought it best left till now. After much comical chasing round and through the Doors of Saram, Draksen was duly defeated and the King declared victorious. The spectators, in true Alisime fashion, gave vent to their approval with a cacophony of cheers and hoots and clapping.
King Kottir now entered the drama to give his thanks to Saram for his victory. Yet more gifts were piled atop those already toppling within Saram’s House. I did wonder whence all these riches since King Kottir had emptied every King’s Stores to gain us the grain.
Chief Truvidir Markenys walked to centre-arena and there repeated his declaration that King Kottir was Saram’s Chosen One, Saram’s True Heir. He then added the title of ‘Reksan Albinnys Saramis’, and presented King Kottir with an ornate battle-hammer and spear. There was more cheering, more clapping and hooting. The musicians played, the singers sang of Beli and the Dragon of Fomori, the horse-masters and the markistes of the Regiment, and the serving markan, joined in with their raucous voices. It was a stirring moment! I wasn’t the only one moved to tears.
After that, it was the turn of the law-men to play out the wedding of the New King and Old Queen Alsald. Like the mock battle, it was comic, its intent to make us laugh. And how we did laugh! But also we also—a release of the tears for what had been happening this past year.
While King Kottir sat beside the ugliest possible law-men, guised as Old Queen Alsald, the gifting of the New Alsaldic King began. This took most of the day. There were those who had already gifted him yet who now brought him ‘just that little extra token’. And, of course, every gift had to be displayed and its story told in the Alisime way.
And when at last everyone—everyone but the one—had gifted King Kottir, then came King Kailen of Ul Dlida.
King Kailen approached the king as the others had, entering the House of Saram, then into Sauën’s Cave where sat the regal couple.
“I am King Kailen of Ul Dlida,” he said, now standing before King Kottir. “And I come on behalf of King Erberdu of Anyo Dlida, of Lord Kezir of Liënershi, and of Lord Glavyn of South Eskin Head.”
“Anyo Dlida, Liënershi, South Eskin Head? These days these are all Luguish holdings,” Truvidir Isbalen whispered into my ear.
But King Kailen was still speaking and I preferred to listen to him.
“We are allied,” he said, “united together in our purpose. We are agreed that though you are Saram’s True Heir yet we will no longer be subject to you. Saram’s Son did nothing to help our people, neither while Draksen held Saven in his claws, nor later when Draksen was defeated. Our people died in great numbers. My father, the Old King, was killed in Saram’s name. We’ll have no more of it. I bring you no gifts.”
Yet I had seen the abundance of packages and baskets brought with him that must have been gifts!
His speech, so unexpected, affected us all: his sorrow shared; his regret felt and acknowledged. None, not even Truvidir Markenys, could hold him in lesser regard because of it. But how it was done, that was wrong. Like those of the east who preferred the Gousen to the Alsaldic King, he should simply have stayed away. Moreover, I for one wondered how much of his speech had come not from himself but from his Luguish allies.
I don’t know what made me look at Bregan at that moment, except that I did. I could see her tears welling despite she tried to keep them from showing.
Having made this unexpected speech—this speech that left us feeling ill at ease, no customary procedures for it—King Kailen left Saram’s house. In doing so he passed by us. I saw him look at Bregan, and she at him. It was the same as it had always been between them: she hardly could take her eyes away.
He stopped then to speak to her, his voice soft but not so quiet that I didn’t hear. “You chose the wrong king to wed. This isn’t the one the Mothers intended for you,. Come with me, while you still can.”
But she shook her head. “It wouldn’t last long.”
“Longer with me than with him,” he told her, his voice, like hers, much quieter now. Indeed, I had to strain to hear them.
But again she shook her head.
“Then I’ll try to come for you before he is killed.” Had I heard that right? It was the merest whisper. “I won’t let them kill you too.”
She looked away—at Chief Truvidir Markenys. She looked at King Kottir. When she returned her gaze to where King Kailen had been, he was gone.
I didn’t like what I’d overheard. And though I didn’t know what he’d meant but it I would have to tell Truvidir Isbalen. He’d need to know. But this wasn’t the time for it.
Sauën was seeking out her bed beneath the earth. The New King—Reksan Albinnys Saramis—was to seek out his bed, too . . . in the comic company of Old Queen Alsald. But King Kailen’s speech had chased away the smiles and laughter; Chief Truvidir Markenys had to work hard to raise them again. Now was a good time to serve the King’s Beer.
The feasting lasted throughout the night. Though maybe not in great abundance, there was food enough to be had. And there was ample beer—though no heady apple-juice. There were games and music and dancing, and entertainment. The horse-masters performed their feats of fire-eating, fire-dancing, and fire-walking. The markistes displayed their many horse-skills. There were jugglers and tumblers and men of great strength. And, of course, there were story-tellers aplenty.
But none of this was for my niece’s enjoyment. Instead, she crept and crawled and remained out of sight, awkwardly gaining the supposed royal bed-chamber, the tent erected within Sauën’s Cave. There she would don her regal attire. That glittering dress that must have weighted her down, as if what King Kailen had said hadn’t weighed enough. I wondered would she tell King Kottir. Would she warn him of Kailen’s threat? But surely not this night? Well, whether she told him or not, I was resolved to tell Truvidir Isbalen as soon as this Feast of Trees was done.
After feasting all night most of the eyes watching the drama next morning preferred to be closed. What a shame after all that work!
As the first rays of Sauën were glimpsed, so Queen Alsald, now in the form of Bregan, emerged from the tent as if rising from her wedding-bed. The transformation of the Queen was seen to be complete. Haggard and barren when wed to the New King; yet here she was, now they had bedded, young, beautiful and ready to birth him sons. To bless the couple, Saram withheld his clouds that day, and that was taken as a good omen. Sauën, too, blessed the union of New King and New Queen. Queen Bregan’s dress sparkled and glittered with so much gold. About her head a profusion of flowers told the people who she was. Alsald herself, the Land.
The cheering and hooting and clapping and stamping perhaps sounded half-hearted, which was not a good omen. Yet the people tried. Every kind of noise a man or woman could make without resorting to staffs and drums.
Chief Truvidir Markenys waited patiently for the noise to quieten. Considering how tired we all were, that took a surprising while. When finally his voice could be heard he said, “Yesterday King Kottir was declared Reksan Albinnys Saramis, and given for his own, Queen Alsald. Today, Mistress Bregan becomes that Queen. She has now to make her vows.”
She was well rehearsed, but even so, having to speak out loud in front of so many, Bregan—Queen Bregan as she now was—visibly trembled, and her voice broke into pieces. She had to cough to clear her throat. She returned to the start and said her vows all over again.
“I give my body into your care, to be protected from all dangers: from daemons and wild beasts and human foes. I give my body into your care that you will swell my belly and I shall bring forth in your name all that is good: the sheep shall increase, the cattle too; the fields shall be full of big-headed plants; the waters shall flow. No man shall leave your house discontent; no one shall complain of you.”
No one shall complain of her king . . . yet King Kailen had threatened to kill him. What did she say to that? I had no opportunity to ask her that. Not that day. Nor ever.
By tradition, the first duty of the Alsaldic King and his Queen is to make a circuit of the Alsaldic Lands—they’d less far to travel than their predecessors, the Alsaldic Lands much reduced with the western and the eastern losses. In consequence, they left the Highlands of the Sun the very next day. Perhaps in the circumstance not a very wise move. Next episode, The Confusion of Love