Bryony has a plan to kill her father, the Immortal Yewlen, for which she requires the help of the incestuously begotten Sprigs. She has asked Uissid Tizarn to help her too. But he’s needed time to think about this. He has promised her an answer before she leaves the Highlands . . .Read on
Uissid Tizarn left it to the day before we were to leave the King’s Hold before he called for me to attend him.
“You’re to keep this to yourself,” he said. “King Kottir must know nothing of it. I cannot risk him leaking it to Yewlen. As soon as you’re clear of West Alsime Land and travelling along the Way, a full half of the Regiment will be mobilised. They are to be dispersed throughout the Northern Provinces, those that abut the Way: Un Dli, Enir Cobi and Cobi Fu. The greatest number will be in Cobi Fu. They will be within a short ride of the place Yewlen has chosen for the exchange. But for themselves, they’ll believe this is a new posting. Nothing will be leaked to Yewlen. For myself, I shall be travelling with you.”
I could have thrown my arms about him and kissed him heartily, so happy he’d made me with so few words.
“I don’t intend to risk my life,” he said. “I travel with you only to Un Dli. That’s close enough to the wildwood where your nephews abide.”
“You’ll lend your voice? You’ll call them with me?”
“I shall call them, aye,” he said. “But once they’ve answered, then I shall leave. For me to come closer would surely alert Yewlen. You understand this?”
“I understand,” I said, and spent the rest of that day in singing and skipping, and combing the knots from my wheaten hair. I was so happy; it eased the loss that loomed ahead of me, of King Kottir.
We travelled in carts with ten mounted men to guard us—exactly as my father had instructed. Did King Kottir suspect our plans? I guarded my thoughts from him. If he had any inkling then it was had from the markan. Yet the way Uissid Tizarn had worked it, that was unlikely.
We travelled through West Alsime Land. We forded the Water of Waters. We entered Cobi Go. The next day we reached Un Dli and the Way.
I began the calling then, Uissid Tizarn lending his voice as he had said, to add strength to mine. It gave me the power that I otherwise lacked.
But would it work? I’d never tried this before, and neither had he. Would my nephews hear it from so far away? Would they know it was me; would they come to me? Or would they stay away for fear of the men who travelled alongside me?
We were almost through Un Dli before I had an answer. And then, oh, the sight! I hadn’t realised how many they were—though at first it was only a handful, maybe twenty, standing upon the Way to form a barrier. Our party could not pass them. The guards at front drew to a stop.
“What’s this?” asked King Kottir. “What are these creatures? Are they dangerous?”
“They’ve come to speak with Bryony,” Uissid Tizarn told him, and in so doing quietened everyone’s fears. For even the men of the Regiment, fierce fighting markan, had been afraid of these little fellows. Perhaps their fire-sharpened spears, now ranged against our guards, had something to do with it.
I climbed out of the cart and walked on ahead. I admit to fear of the horses, but I had to walk past them. They were so big. And their hard-hoofed feet could too easily break a bone.
It was while I was greeting my nephews that the others appeared. How many? Hundreds and hundreds of Sprigs. They surrounded us twenty, thirty deep.
Belatedly, the King’s Men drew out their swords. But what use were they when answered by the Sprig’s long, far-reaching spears. One by one the men re-sheathed their weapons. In their midst, I heard Uissid Tizarn laugh.
“I like your nephews,” he called to me. They, too. liked him. He wasn’t afraid of them. Neither did he think them children because of their size, nor brutish because of their malformations.
I noticed how King Kottir looked puzzled. Yet that was as well. I didn’t want him to know too much. The more he knew the more he could unknowingly reveal to Yewlen.
I spoke to the Sprigs the way I always had done so; apart from Uissid Tizarn no others heard. I told them of their father, of his evil ways, of what he intended with this land, of what he intended with me and Queen Bregan. I told them everything I could think of that would incite their hatred of him. And then discovered that wasn’t needed.
They told me in return that our father had come to the woodland fastness that very morning and had seized Queen Bregan and thrown her into his cart, even though her belly swelled and her child soon would be born. Because Yewlen didn’t know there Sprigs were there, didn’t know they existed, he hadn’t bothered to shield his thoughts. The Sprigs found it all, his treacherous plans. They revealed it all to me.
Yewlen intended to kill King Kottir no matter what. He had hidden two thousand men—two thousand to kill only one king? And as soon as the deed was done he would march his men south along the Way, there to take West Alsime Land by whichever way but certainly by killing. King Ithen (Yewlen, our father), then would declare himself the Alsaldic King and none would dare stand in his way. He would take command of the Regiment and use them to secure the Alsaldic Lands in his name. King Kottir’s child—the one my sister was soon to birth—he would kill and give to Uät. As for Queen Bregan herself, Yewlen had no further use for her and so he intended to kill her too. As for me . . . I was to go as a gift to the Immortal Lu. Lugain—Lu of the High Places, who led the Luguish Alliance.
There was no need for me to incite the Sprigs. There wasn’t one of them who didn’t want Yewlen dead. But none knew how to do it. And they lacked a leader. But now there was me.
We quickly formed our battle plan. The Sprigs were to travel with us yet to remain invisible. I didn’t want the markan or King Kottir leaking their presence to Yewlen. At the appointed place they would wait till my sister and I had been exchanged. I then would call for the Regiment that Uissid Tizarn had stationed west of the Way. I’d not done this before yet he assured me I was able. On hearing the agreed signal—a whistle sounding insides their heads—the horsemasters would know the battle was on, and move their men out.
The one danger—the main danger—was that in calling the horsemasters I’d also alert Yewlen. Yet how to avoid it? We expected him then to reveal his own concealed men. This was when my Sprigs would come into play.
While Yewlen was their ultimate target, they’d probably have to fight their way through to him. In the process, they’d be helping the guards—those ten permitted men—who at that time would be hard pressed in defending and protecting King Kottir till the Regiment arrived.
We knew King Ithen wouldn’t be easily killed. I’d already explained to the Sprigs the processes involved, and they’d seen the problems. Strong ropes to bind him. A pyre to burn him. And they must heave him upon it yet he was so big and they were small. And all the while he’d be calling his men to come to his aid. I told them, they must divide their numbers, assign each of the divisions a process. No, this wouldn’t be easy. And if Yewlen had brought more than those two thousand men? As well that we had Uissid Tizarn on hand to help command the Regiment.
Timing would be all important, and the Sprigs understood this. I hoped the horsemasters understood it as well. I then wished my kin well, and thanked them. As far as any could see, I had sent them away. None saw their return, invisible. Their presence was known only to Uissid Tizarn and me. And Uissid Tizarn I expected to leave us any time now. He had agreed only to come this far so he could help call the Sprigs. And yet he stayed.
“Here’s the Queen’s sister,” Uissid Tizarn said with a screen cast around us. “And here’s the King. Here are the King’s Men, the Regiment, and your nephews too. I heard what the Sprigs told you of Yewlen’s plans. It is good that we have the Regiment waiting. But now I ask myself if I’m really going to leave you to fight this battle while I run home like a frightened child? It seems everyone else is turning out for it. I ought to stay and fight as well.”
I was delighted. But I was concerned for him, too.
“Yewlen will know you’re here. He’ll sense you.”
“Huh,” he said. “And what will he know? That somewhere close there is an Immortal? But he’ll not know who I am unless I touch him. He’ll make guesses, of course. He’ll probably guess right. He knows I came to this land with King Krisnavn. But you think I’m the only Immortal in this land? No, he won’t know for certain it’s me. Unless I tell him.”
“So what do you intend?” I asked him. “How to help us?”
He pulled a face, and he sniffed. “I’ve not yet decided..”
Battle plan laid. Troops in place. Approaching the ford. What could go wrong? Next episode, Plans All Awry