Spring. And Yewlen arrives at his daughters’ woodland fastness where the pregnant Queen Bregan has passed the cold of winter in telling her sisters of their father’s cruelty and vileness. One wonders, now, what his intent . . . Read on
Bregan thought he had come for her but it was my name he called. But . . . Bregan?
She is to stay with your sisters.
He pulled me out of my woodland fastness. He threw me into his cart. My sisters followed behind, weeping for me and fearing, for now they knew how wicked this man could be. They wailed their distress till Yewlen tired of it then he sent them pain. “Let them wail on that.”
I allowed time to pass before I asked him where we were going.
To the Waters, he said.
“To King Burdamon’s Hold?” I didn’t want to go there; didn’t want to go anywhere near it, not ever.
We go west, he told me roughly and threw at me a bundle of clothes. “The time has come. Put these on.”
I should have been delighted: clothes all prettily hung with gold, these shiny bits jingle-jangling as I moved. But I was not. Not even the deep woodland green of the cloth elicited joy from me.
Comb your hair, he said. It’s all a’tangle.
That took a while for no comb ever had touched those locks before. Yet with patience I managed to tease out the knots.
I barely had finished when ahead was a river. Though I’d not seen it before, yet I knew it the Waters. He gave me amber beads to wear, set with gold. And now I truly was scared. What did he intend for me; what did want of me? What was I to do for him?
He stopped the oxen beside the river where sat a boat. Not a big boat such as crosses the sea but one I recognised from Bregan’s stories, an Alsimuk river-boat. I saw in it a pole, and a paddle. But—I looked in query at Yewlen—it wasn’t big enough for two.
Yewlen poured his desires into my head too fast for me to note them. Yet when he was done I knew what he wanted. It was quite simple: I was to deliver to King Kottir a message. Yewlen told to me the message. He had me repeat it. Three times, to be certain.
Then Yewlen said, “King Kottir is over-wintering at the King’s Hold at East Bounds in West Alsime Land.”
The where of this place I knew from Bregan.
“He has a Uissid with him. Uissid Tizarn.”
I knew of this Tizarn, too, thanks to Bregan.
Good, said my father. This saves me more saying. He then said to deliver the message to King Kottir. But you beware of Uissid Tizarn. Don’t you allow him into your head. “You know how to screen: you do it to me.”
I hadn’t realised he’d noticed. It was trick I hadn’t long learned—from Queen Bregan.
“Deliver the message, then return to me. I shall be waiting here. Beside this cart. Beside this river. Just out of the wildwood.”
“How long will you wait for me?” I asked. “What if they take me captive?” I had learned such talk from Bregan.
“Uissid Tizarn is the only one able to do that to you. I shall wait a day, no more. I have other things I must do. If you take longer then, be warned, you’ll be on your own to find your way back to your sisters. Else you’ll be forever lost in that wildwood.”
It was said as a threat. I must swiftly return else bad things would happen, alone in the world as alone in the wildwood.
“I’ve never used one of these boats,” I said.
He held the river-boat still while I got in, never once suspecting that he was playing me false. Maybe I deserved that since I intended to play false with him. He handed me the paddle and told me to keep it safe inside the boat.
“You’ll need that paddle for coming back. To help you steer.” He handed me the pole. “You have to stand to use that.”
“But if I fall . . . My father, I cannot swim.” That wasn’t true, yet I couldn’t swim well. I was used to shallow streams not this wide, deep river with its surging and swirling currents.
“You’ll be fine,” he said and fed into my head his knowledge and skill at poling.
“That easy?” I asked.
Just keep your balance.
Then he showed me where I must go. I compared what he showed me with what Bregan had said. I nodded. It all was making sense to me now.
Good, my father Yewlen said. So be off with you and I’ll wait for you here.
Thanks to Bregan I knew there was a far away-ness beyond which my father’s influence couldn’t reach, beyond which he couldn’t get inside my head. Though I didn’t know how far that was, I did know when I reached the King’s Hold along First Water that would be far enough. I knew that from what he’d said of waiting only the day.
I set out, no need to screen my thoughts for my thoughts were all on the craft of poling. I soon discovered that this was the most delightful way of travelling. It was much better than crossing the sea—there I’d be ill. And it was more easeful, more comfortable, than jiggling and joggling in that cart. And since it was only my arms moving, I had no need to watch where I was putting my feet. I could look at the river bank passing.
At first I saw there only trees—trees and more trees, on both sides of the river, many of them hung with golden tails and furry mice. Then the trees fell back, opening the views. Now meadows edged the river, with puddly-ponds that caught the sun’s light and shone it at me. Rushes and other sweet grasses grew in vast stretches, so tall I couldn’t see over. I saw tiny pink-blue flowers tumbling into the water, flowers I had no name for, yet so pretty
I so enjoyed the journey that I almost forgot its purpose. I turned into First Water. I neared the King’s Hold at East Bounds. I wondered if now I had reached that far away-ness. I couldn’t feel my father’s thoughts or his presence. I hoped I’d gone beyond his reach: I had things I must think of, and these things needed my thoughts before I reached the King’s Hold. Best now to pole into the bank while I attend to this. I needed to remember again what I was supposed to do for my father. I needed to sharpen what I intended to do for Bregan and me. When satisfied that my plan would out-trick my father’s, I set off again.
As I poled my boat across First Water to the King’s Hold’s landing ten warriors came to meet me, each with spear held at the ready, each with sword strapped to his body, each with a dagger at his waist; each looking hard at me.
They asked me who I was and why I was there.
“My name will mean nothing to you,” I said. “But you can tell King Kottir that Queen Bregan’s sister has come to talk with him.”
They stood by—none offering help—as I poled the boat close to the landing, to secure it there. They silently watched as I climbed onto the wharf—noting it nothing as high as the wharf at King Burdamon’s Hold.
I asked them, “Has no one yet taken news to King Kottir that I am there?”
“King Kottir knows, already, he has a visitor.”
They took me to the King’s House, three ahead of me, three behind me and two to each side. Was I their captive? Did they think to detain me against my will? If they thought that then they didn’t know too much of Brictans. Maybe they guarded me so I didn’t wander off. But what was here at this hold that they didn’t want me to see?
At the last moment the forward-placed warrior stepped up to the double-doors of the tallest round-house I’d yet seen (I have since seen many taller) and rapped hard upon the wood.
A man in very long dress opened the door. That would be Truvidir Isbalen; Bregan had described him. I looked at his dress and wondered how he walked without entangling his legs. I had trouble enough with this dress I was wearing and it was nowhere as long.
“I have the young woman I told you of,” the warrior reported. “She refuses to give her name. She says she’s Queen Bregan’s sister. But I know that family and this isn’t Abelea.”
Truvidir Isbalen thanked the warrior and bid me enter. After being long upon the water inside seemed dark yet wondrously warm. I entered—and discovered it wasn’t dark at all, but not because of lamps and fires and candles but because of the Uissid. There was no mistaking him. Despite a difference in lights, and being slighter, he looked much like my father. Except I always thought my father’s eyes hard, held in a nest of deep-graven lines. While Uissid Tizarn’s were gentle and the lines around them so faint I barely could see them. Clearly, this Uissid more often laughed than he scowled or squinted. I decided I liked him.
There was another source of light. I turned to see, though I had felt his eyes on me from the moment that opening door had revealed me standing between the warriors. By his thick black hair I knew this was King Kottir. I looked long at him, allowing him to hold my eyes far longer than was comfortable. Yet his attempt to question me with too eager, too forceful; I had to raise a screen of protection. He looked away, I thought him disappointed.
“Bregan’s sister,” Uissid Tizarn said, but I wasn’t sure if this was said as greeting or query or prompt. He was at once inside my head but he couldn’t get far. He was surprised by this and so was I: was he not as strong as my father?
“My name is Bryony,” I told him. “And as with Queen Bregan, I am one of King Ithen’s daughters.” He had told me to use that name instead of Yewlen.
“How many daughters has he?” asked another man in another long dress.
This was Chief Truvidir Markenys. Bregan had told me much about life beyond the wildwood—of chiefs and lords and kings—but she had never said what Markenys had done to earn his title. I could find nothing chiefly about him. Indeed, as far as I could find, he seemed to pass his days in wonderment of what was happening around him, and trying to find connections between one thing and another where everyone else could see there were none. I answered him with respect, the way my father had said I ought, that he had fourteen daughters—that I knew of.
I said, “My father has sent me with a message for King Kottir,” and turned again to look at him.
Such a joy to the eye. And here I could understand how Bregan’s heart might beat as one with Kailen’s. For mine was reaching out to King Kottir’s.
I quickly withdrew it.
Queen Bregan’s sister Bryony has arrived at the King’s Hold with a message from Yewlen. What might that be? But along with the message, she comes with a plan of her own. Next episode, More Precious Than Copper