The King’s Regiment has been severely depleted in a season of slaughter along The Way. Their numbers must be replenished, and that without delay, for Queen Bregan has been stolen by the Nritrik King Ithen , aka Yewlen—her father. The call has gone out for volunteers. Enter Ingobo . . . Read on
I told Briäsa, “I’m going to serve the Four.”
She said: “You have a wife.”
I said, “I know, and that’s why I’m going to serve the Four.” But she is a woman and did not understand. I told her, “If I serve the Four the king will make me a noble.”
The law-man who came and recited some verses had said as much. King Kottir had decreed a new law, now all winter-half these law-men were travelling the Alsaldic Lands to let it be known that every new markon would be given noble status no matter their family—even plants, like mine.
Briäsa started to object. I knew what she was going to say: that her family already was noble.
“Aye,” I told her. “Your family is, but not mine.”
Again she did not understand. So I told her, “You carry my child. But he’ll not be a noble because of your father. He’ll be a plant because of me. Is that what you want for our son? But if I am a noble, then he’ll be a noble, too.”
“But it’s because of your child that you cannot serve,” she said. “What of me? Is this any way to be with your wife?”
I told her, “But I cannot be with you as I would like because of the child. I try to share your bed, you push me away. I try to hold you, you push me away.”
“You try to jump on my bones,” she said, “and I don’t like it.”
“It’s how children are begotten.”
“We’ve already begotten this one,” she said.
“Aye. And now I cannot hold you. And now I cannot bed with you. And this will be so till the child is weaned. Four. Years. So I’m going away to serve those Four.”
“But who’s to help me while you are gone?” she asked.
“I can send my sister to you if you want. I can send my mother; she’ll help with the birthing and afterwards. I can send my father to you; he’ll help with the herd.”
“My father will be angry when he hears what you’ve done to me,” she said.
“What have I done to you,” I asked, “that’s any different from what any man does to his wife?”
“You are going away! You’re leaving me. I’ll ask my father to find me another man,” she said.
I laughed. “What man will he find for you while you carry my child and while you suckle him?”
“I’ll give the child away,” she threatened. “I’ll take him to Saram’s House and leave him there.” But I knew she would not.
“I shall go now to talk with your father,” I said.
I had to speak to him, to Eldliks Budrek. He should know where I was going and why. Else I feared Briäsa would tell him some terrible tale, and who knows then what I might return to once I’d served the Four.
I rode on Heglayis to Bukplugn’s Hold.
“Hello, Ingobo,” Eldliks Budrek greeted me. “What have you come to tell me? Is my daughter Briäsa well?”
“Her belly swells,” I told him, but she had already told this to her mother. Even so, her father congratulated me.
“Beli fires you,” he said, patting my back.
“I am going away,” I said. “I am going to serve the Four.”
He nodded slowly. He was considering this news.
“You want to be a noble?” he asked.
I shook my head. “It’s not for me,” I said. “It’s for my sons.”
He laughed. “Sons is it, now? Sons, not just the one? You have ambitions, Ingobo.”
“Briäsa is concerned—she frets,” I said. “She is afraid to be on her own while I’m away. I have offered to send my mother to her to help with the birthing. I have offered to send my father to her to help with the herd. My sister will help in the fields.”
“There’s no need for that,” Eldliks Budrek said. “You can bring her to my hold. She’ll be safe with us here. There are women here to help with the birthing. Bring your herd too. There are men enough here to tend them. Our women will help in your fields. This family will be proud to help a man who serves the Four in these woe-ridden times. I take it you have heard of the summer-slaughter?” he asked.
I had not. He told me. Seventeen hundred men, all slain while fighting the Men of East Isle.
“These were King Burdamon’s men?” I asked.
“That’s what they say. Slaughtered they were, along the Way.”
I nodded while thinking on this. “That will be why the law-men come, telling us of this new law,” I said, “that they will make nobles of us if we enlist.”
“You will be dead before your child is born,” he said. “So it is as well to bring my daughter back to my home.”
“Yet still I shall serve the Four,” I insisted. “Whether his father is dead or alive, my son shall be born a noble.”
“And if it’s a girl?” he asked.
“Then you’ll find a good man to wed her if she’s the daughter of a noble,” I said.
“Then I wish you well,” he said. “Send Briäsa to me and close-up your house. And I shall see you back here in four years—if you survive.”
And all this I did before enlisting.
I went to the barracks above South River, just below Rivers Meet. It was the one nearest to my land. I should have thought and gone elsewhere. Markiste Isvlenys was stationed there. He greeted me with a sneer.
But he was only a markiste, not a horse master to be my commander, nor to be the one to train me along with all the others who had come to serve the Four and become nobles too. Horse Master Tanetros was my commander, Horse Master Isvauson my trainer. He worked us hard.
There were thirty new markan at South River Barracks. We had none of us come from noble families. Some were Alsimuk herders. But most had only a small flock of sheep, their families struggling to remain alive. These were from the families most badly affected by Draksen’s stay; those who had killed off all their live-stock and now tried to replace them. But to do that meant saving the grain to give for the cow, and that grain they needed to eat. As they said, nobility may not fill a belly, yet while these men were away, serving the Four, their families had no need to feed them. This would help them to save for that cow.
All these new markan recognised me from the Games. I was their hero, they told me. By the time I had been at that barracks for a whole decan, my back was sore from so much slapping. Even some of the time-served markan came up to me and slapped my back and said well-done for even competing; well-done for arriving fourth back at Isle Ardy; well-done for the sheer bravery of contesting against those others. Had I really thought myself Saram’s Son, they asked. Had I really believed I was the True Heir, Chosen One?
“Well, in that case,” my commander Horse Master Tanetros said, “you can go on this errand.”
“What errand is that?” I asked. “I’m here as a markon, not to run errands.”
He grunted at my objection. “It is an errand vital to save Queen Bregan’s life—though it’s true, it’s not one you can do upon horseback.”
And what errand might that be? With Queen Bregan now in the keep of her father, Yewlen/King Ithen, might it require Markon Ingobo to travel beyond the Alsaldic Empire, perhaps to Gouslunt or even to Ertlunt that had been Dal Nertros? But first, to return to this visitor at East Hold; to meet Yewlen’s other daughter: next episode, Sprigs, Flowers and Trees