Broadly . . .

The words ‘Norfolk’ and ‘Broads’ go together like ‘Coffee’ and ‘Cream’, or ‘Tom’ and ‘Gerry’. Why? Because the Broads are to Norfolk what the lochs are to Scotland and Snowdonia to Wales. Except for one two major differences. The Broads aren’t natural, and they are not old. In fact, it’s unlikely even the oldest broad predates the late 9th century. Why? Because the Broads were dug by the Danes. Honest. It’s true.

Norfolk Broads and River Valleys

Taken from Faden’s C18th map showing most, though not all, of the Broads

Consider First:
That the Broads are the known result of flooded medieval peat-diggings. But while the bulk of that digging was at the behest of the numerous monasteries, priories and other religious foundations that proliferated across Norfolk’s rich sheep-grazing lands in the post Norman period, that wasn’t the start of it.

Consider Second:
That the Danes in their homeland had been toasting their toes and their bums around peat-fired hearths since around 500 BCE.

Consider Third:
That the Broads are clustered in an area of high Danish settlement.

Of course, the Danes settled elsewhere. They settled in Ireland and Scotland, too—both areas with a tradition of peat-digging. So, lest I labour the point, I’ll kick onto the next part.

Making the Peat
How did the peat get there in the first place for these Danish incomers to dig it, to burn in their hearths, to toast their ‘parts’? Excuse me while I consult my notes on this.

1: At the start of the Iron Age the Norfolk coastline was at least a mile further east. Between where’s now Norwich, and that shoreline, the rivers Bure, Yare and Waveney wended their way across an area of marshland. (Looking at the map above, that’s the three main rivers flowing in from the north, the middle, and the south)

Note on Fens and Marshes:
A fen is a wetland formed of freshwater. In low-lying areas where the land’s gradient borders on non-existent, the rivers aren’t able to disgorge their waters. Instead, those waters overflow the river bank—they seep and spread; they inveigle and insinuate into every little dip and hollow until the entire area becomes a swamp beloved of a certain flora community—not to mention the fauna. Then, when these plants succumb to death’s final hand, their fibrous bits can’t rot away. Held in the anaerobic waters of the fens, they form peat. And the chunkier the fibres, the higher the calorific value when they’re eventually dug up as peat to be burned—i.e. the toastier your hovel and your toes.

A marsh, on the other hand, is formed 1: when silt is deposited with the periodic (late winter) flooding of river waters (inland); 2: when sandy-silt is deposited with the periodic inundation of marine waters—the flood tides, the surges, the seasonal springs tides.

So, to return to East Norfolk’s marshland, and still in the Iron Age . . .

Lacking any kind of decent gradient, the rivers Bure, Yare and Waveney began to pool at their seaward end, egress (or should that be outgress) to the North Sea being much restricted by a split of land. (Yea, go, Yarmouth go!—okay, right place, wrong time). A thick layer of high calorific peat was busily forming.

2: Circa 300 BCE—around the time that La Tene art motifs were decorating the locals’ shields and probably their faces—sea levels began to rise. (There ain’t nothing new, baby), and the sea, thrusting itself against that sandy spit at the Yare’s mouth, broke through and ravaged the virgin marshes beyond.

3: Another 300 years and ‘The Great Estuary’ was fully formed. The former fenlands, with their willows and alders and reeds and sedges, had become a sludgy, shallow mudflat snaked through with tidal creeks and a few deeper, riverine channels. The peat soils were entirely covered by marine sands and clay.

Contemporaneously, the sea breached the slither of land that had been the headwaters of the River Thurne (a tributary of the Bure), thereby creating the island of Flegg.

4: By 200 CE—mid-Roman Occupation— the river Yare was navigable as far as Whitlingham, and beyond via the Tas to Venta Icenorum (though today the Tas is a piddly thing). Roman ships regularly tripped up-river along the Waveney as far as Bungay.

R Tas at Venta Icenorum

River Tas as it flows beside the ancient ramparts of Venta Icenorum. In the distance (right of the river) can be seen a fragment of the old flint-and-mortar wall. Photo taken 14 Feb 2017

But, as is usually the case with the tempestuous forces of nature, all was not to remain as it was. Where it had previously broken through the protective sandy spit, the sea now started to deposit, to build a new sand and shingle spit.

5: By 500 CE a land-spit had formed across the mouth of the Great Estuary. It didn’t help that sea levels again were falling. Gradually, the Great Estuary silted over, and died.

Meanwhile, that land-spit became Great Yarmouth. (Yea, go, Yarmouth go!)

And that’s how the peat just happened to be oh-so-close and convenient to where the incoming 9th century Danes were setting up camp.

The Flooding Pits Broads Become:
The rising sea-level was again the main factor in flooding these peat-diggings to make them the Broads that we see today—though probably not over the two (too?) short centuries as usually described. Water would have been seeping into those diggings right from the start. So a pit was exploited until no longer feasible, then abandoned. As it filled with water it would serve as a fishery (or might that be ‘eel-ery’), not to mention its attraction to wildfowl. These earlier pits would have been small. If colonised by vegetation, they might even have formed into ‘waste lands’, i.e. commons.

Broads National Park:
Today the Broads National Park covers 117 sq miles of East Norfolk and North Suffolk, with 120 miles of navigable waterways, 63 broads (though the Broads Authority’s own source says 58), most of which are less than 13 ft deep. Some few remain in private ownership, many others are nature reserves; a few have dwindled to almost non-existence. Most have public access, some for walkers only, others for canoes, others for sail-boats; only 13 are open to the broad’s holiday traffic.

58 Norfolk Broads

Living in nearby Great Yarmouth, many of my walks take me out to the Broads villages and their surrounds. Earlier this year I visited Upton.

Upton Broad and Fen Reserve is best enjoyed during the summer months when its rare inhabitants can be seen flitting and fluttering (it is home to some of Norfolk’s rarest wildlife, particularly the swallowtail butterfly and the Norfolk hawker dragonflies). Also, it’s not a good idea to go wandering about the reserve alone at the best of times; it’s a veritable quagmire in places. But I walked around the area (See photos that follow, more on Google Plus) from Acle to Fishley to Upton Staithe, across the grazing marshes (only possible because the deep gludgy mud was frozen) to skirt the fringes of the reserve (in places, with thawing, slippery-slidey!)

Fishley Church

Fishley church. Round towered. Thatched. Nice. Surrounded by non-Norfolk Scots Pines and fronted by American Maize. Hmm.

Drain at Fishley

One of the many drains that keep this wetland . . . wet, but not flooded. The water is exceedingly blue; it also is exceedingly frozen.

Fishley to Upton Carr

Betwixt marsh and carr. Norfolk reed, so typical of the broads

Upton Staithe

Boats at Upton Staithe, reflections softened by the ice


The grazing marshes seen through a screen of reeds. After fungi, these are my second photographic obsession.

Sunlight on Upton Fen

The sun streams through the trees at Upton Fen

Skirting Upton fen

At last, a dry path!

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Let’s Pretend

KW43 Let's PretendUissid Tizarn has issued orders. No one is to know that Queen Bregan has been stolen. So, while they figure a way to replenish the Regiment, severely depleted after the summer ravages along the Way, Uissid Tizarn, King Kottir, Truvidir Isbalen and Chief Truvidir Markenys are to repair to the King’s Hold at East Bounds, close by the east-west arterial Water of Waters . . . Read on

Two days after the Feast of Slaughter carts were loaded with everything needed to see us through the winter triks. I do admit, I was reluctant to go. It meant leaving my dove-cotes in the care of the law-man I’d set to tend and record their comings and their goings, and I wasn’t yet confident of his abilities. Moreover, I’d previously spent only a few nights at East Bounds so the land was strange to me. Indeed, to be anywhere other than the Highlands of the Sun now would be strange to me. I groaned, I’d grown too old to be changing my residence—though Uissid Tizarn, far-far older than me, seemed quite excited at the prospect.

The King’s Hold at East Bounds is set close to where First Water gates with the Water of Waters—too perishing close in my opinion. In ancient times it must have been a particularly vulnerable position. Not just for its proximity to the Waters, and those Waters capable of bringing enemies directly from the East Sea and East Isle (as still that river could, and had), but also because across First Water at this point was Bayland. The long-deceased King Hegryn had recently formed an alliance with the Baylanders’ chief when he built this hold; perhaps his intent with placing it here was to keep on eye on them.

I had many complaints of this ill-placed hold.

For a start, it was smaller than the one I’d grown used to on the Highlands of the Sun—indeed, smaller than any I’d seen.

And it looked onto the river where the river loops back and forth like some great snake. Later, when Sauën was in Gentiste and Songast, she would flood. She always did. Her flood-meadows made rich grazing despite they couldn’t be used till late in summer’s half when they’d finally dried enough that the cattle weren’t gulped by the mire. That’s when the meadows would be dotted by herders: to the north, West Alisime-men, to the south, Baylanders. I could easily imagine how that must have been before Bayland became part of the Alsaldic Lands. But, though I anticipated the coming winter with gloom, at least the hold had been built well above flood-level. Indeed, at the foot of a hill that sharply rose from the river. To this north-side of the river the hills were many, all rising steeply. In that they reminded me of the Highlands—though that river destroyed any possible illusion.

We settled in: myself, Uissid Tizarn, King Kottir and his truvidir Isbalen.

It irked me that there was scarcely any support staff here. No herders, no hunters, no carpenters, less than a handful of stable-men. If we had need we had to send back to the Highlands. There were no weaving-women. And with no herds to tend, no dairy-women, either

Every item of food had to be carted, everything that is except the grain. We did have a King’s Granary here, and a brew-woman, a King’s Wife. I noticed with amusement that Truvidir Isbalen didn’t try his tricks on this one the way he’d been doing with Bregan’s aunt.

With so few attendants there was no need of additional houses. As you’d expect, the King’s House was divided into the Queen’s and King’s Chambers, and the King’s Stores. I noted, no chamber set aside for the king’s own family (his wife and children, but then his family weren’t expected to travel with him). Neither was there a Truvidiren’s House for the only truvidiren visiting here would be in the company of the king. Fine, but where were we expected to sleep? The answer was in the King’s Chamber. But for all those triks?

“No!” King Kottir refused it. “Queen Bregan being absent, you can use her chamber.”

This was considerate of him—though I believe Uissid Tizarn might have influenced him to it. Even so, two truvidiren and the Uissid all in that one small chamber? It was a squeeze. I had decided to move out even before a trik had passed. I sought a bed with King Kottir, in the King’s Chamber. Two days later Truvidir Isbalen did the same. Again, I suspected this was Uissid Tizarn’s work. .

And thus did we pass the winter triks.

We left that hold just twice. The first was to attend the Feast of the Long Night which was always held—and doubtless always will be no matter what the Lugiönes and the Nritrin might do to us—at the House of Saram. While on the Highlands for that feast we stayed at the King’s Hold. Oh bliss! How that did please me. Comfort again! And to be able to talk to my birds—I hadn’t realised how much I’d miss them. The second excursion was the Feast of Grounding.

Not long after the Feast of the Long Night the snow fell heavy. In one night it covered the land with it glistening white cloak. Where before I had walked each day to the tops of the nearby hills, I now was confined to that tiny King’s Hold. Would the snow clear before the Feast of Grounding? If it did then all would be well for the coming year. We took omens on it.

Alas, it did not clear, and we were forced to attend the feast at His Indwelling—it being nearer than the Highlands, and easier to reach—by boat! Those little hide-boats sat exceedingly low in that ice-skinned water. It was that day I realised how old I’d become.

Another two days and the snow melted away (too late for the omens). It took three days in all; I watched it go. Touched by Sauën, its lacy patterns slowly revealed the refreshed earth beneath it. Then came the flood.

It began with the winter-streams’ resurrection. At first just trickle but soon gushing, they spewed their gifts into First Water. First Water, large with the winter-streams’ offerings, rose and rose till at the last she topped her banks and overflowed. In fascinated horror I watched. I’d never seen this before, South River flooding close by her sea-gate. And the flood kept on rising. As the waters lapped at the fence of our hold, I began making plans to move us all to higher ground. That’s when the rise halted.

Now I beheld a glorious sight! For where had been meadows now was a lake densely abound with every coloured duck, goose, wader and swan. But the noise of them all! I may as well wave my sleep goodbye.

Of course, King Kottir and Truvidir Isbalen took up their bows and with the King’s Hounds and a boat, went hunting. Yikes! More screeching, now of alarm. Yet we feasted many a day on roast fowl.

Then, gradually over the next few decans the flood subsided till no more than a few puddles were seen alongside the river where the long-legged herons fished.

But well might the flood recede and Sauën cast her light more generously upon us. But that light did nothing to warm us. For the trikadent of Songast we huddled around our fire, wrapped in the furs we’d brought for sleeping. That was a cold-cold time. I’m sure I remember none colder.

“This isn’t cold,” Uissid Tizarn insisted whenever I complained of it. And he slipped into my head visions of hardened ice so thick it stood taller than the tallest trees, ice-speckled waters trickling beneath it, iced-breath gusting, abrasively licking any part of the body left exposed. “I was there with it.”

“Where was that?” I asked. “Not in this land.”

“Across the East Sea. I only came here to be with King Krisnavn. But I will agree, this is the coldest I’ve known for a time.”

So cold we weren’t expecting the boat that appeared on First Water—poled from the east.

Who is this hardened soul who poles a low-sat boat along First Waters? Too early for traders; is it perhaps a hunter? Or someone intent on evil sent by the eastern adversaries, Burdamon and Ithen? Next episode, Yewlan’s Daughter, Tuesday 21st February

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Queen Bregan’s Father

KW42 Queen Bregan's FatherUnable to continue her travels with King Kottir, the pregnant Queen Bregan had remained at East Hold—coincidentally, most conveniently placed for access by both King Burdamon of East Isle and his liege-lord, King Ithen. And now she is missing. While Chief Truvidir Markenys is still musing on which of these two kings might have stolen her, Uissid Tizarn declares that he knows . . . Read on.

“It’s Yewlen, he has her!”

It took me a few moments to realise his meaning. I said, “I’ll fetch King Kottir.”

“No! Sit still. Don’t move.”

“But he must be told. She’s his wife.”

“And Kottir will want to gather his men and go charging after her.”

“And so would I,” I said, “had my wife been stolen and she with-child.”

“Then it’s as well that I am here to guide you,” Uissid Tizarn said. “As yet we don’t know where she has been taken.”

Somewhat calmer, I asked him what else he knew: who had taken her, how and when?

Alas, Uissid Tizarn claimed he knew no more. “Nothing, till suddenly she’s there inside my head and he along with her. He’s her father, I know that now. Oh how slow I have been to connect.”

“You do mean Uissid Yewlen?” I asked. “And you are sure? It couldn’t have been this King Ithen we’ve heard so much about?”

“Stupid man!” he all but spat. “Uissid Yewlen was one of the Three. For eight thousand years we three were as close as any three could be. I know the insides of his head. I’d recognise him anywhere no matter the changes. And those changes were already beginning when we parted five hundred years back.”

Five hundred years, that I could grasp. But eight thousand? That’s as bad as Queen Bregan’s five.

“He is her father,” Uissid Tizarn insisted. “Uissid Yewlen, Bregan’s father.”

But if that were so then he wouldn’t harm her, would he. I said as much to Uissid Tizarn.

“Aye,” he agreed, sounding like he’d suddenly realised it. “No, he won’t harm her. But where has he taken her? And why? We expected this of King Kailen, but . . . Ah! King Kailen? Now I wonder . . .?”

“Might you wonder out loud?” I begged (which earned me an impatient tsk).
“So you think King Kailen has joined forces with your Uissid Yewlen? Is that likely?”

Uissid Tizarn seemed to be growing increasingly impatient with my questions. But I was only trying to help him work out exactly what might have happened, and why.

“Uissid Yewlen is King Ithen,” Uissid Tizarn explained. “And in case you’ve forgotten, King Burdamon is subject to King Ithen, and King Kailen has already had dealings with him—if only for that sword of his.”

“Oh. I see,” I said, and I did. “Then surely our Queen Bregan has been taken to King Burdamon’s Hold?” That seemed the most likely course of events.

“Maybe,” Uissid Tizarn agreed. “But maybe he has taken her across the sea, to Ertlunt. Then how will King Kottir find her, amongst the Nritrin? No, we need to know more. Why have we no truvidiren in the east?”

“Because either they fled, as did I, else King Burdamon has had them slain.” Which answer earned me a tsk.

“Send men,” he said. “A law-man—aye, just the one will do. Send him to East Bounds. He’s to discover entirely what happened. I want to know everything. Every jot.”

“And King Kottir?” I asked, meaning what were we to say to him.

Even as I spoke King Kottir’s name, he burst through the hidden door to Uissid Tizarn’s hidden chamber.

“She’s gone!” he shouted. “He’s taken her.”

I wondered how he knew when Uissid Tizarn had only just said.

“I can feel it,” he said. “It’s like someone ripping my heart out. It hurts, right here.” He banged on his chest with his clenched fist.

“Sit!” Uissid Tizarn commanded. And once King Kottir had sat, he said: “I fear you’re right, though as yet I know as little as you. Except I do know who’s taken her. Chief Truvidir Markenys, here, was about to send one of his law-men to East Bounds to investigate further.”

“Investigate? What good is investigating?” King Kottir was back to his feet. “I want my wife back, she’s carrying my child. I want a division of men. I want the entire Regiment. We’ll march on—”

“Sit down,” said Uissid Tizarn. “And who will you march upon? And before you bark orders, if I were you I’d ask how many markan are left after the slaughter along the Way—sent to guard traders? We don’t need that kind of trade. It’s as well the fleet are left untouched.”

“I want her back, Uissid Tizarn,” King Kottir demanded—though he had again sat. “I want her back alive and in one piece and with my child.”

Well of course he did. But before Uissid Tizarn could say more, there came a hesitant tap at the door. Uissid Tizarn signed me to answer it. It was Truvidir Isbalen.

“It’s Truvidir Isbalen,” I said.

“I know who it is,” Uissid Tizarn snapped. “Let him in. If he stands out there any longer he’ll be seen. Then, after all these years of being secret, my hiding place will be known by all. What are you doing using that door?” he barked at Isbalen. “No, I expect no answer, I already know. You’ve been seeking Chief Truvidir Markenys who’s not in his chamber and so you came seeking me. Well, now that you’ve found him, and me, you’d best have your say.”

“I came to say we’ve had bad news,” Truvidir Isbalen said in an almost-whisper in awe of the Uissid. “Queen Bregan can’t be found anywhere in the King’s Hold at East Bounds. The guards are searching even as we speak. It’s feared she may have fallen into the water. I’m sorry to be the one telling you this,” he tuned to King Kottir. “She liked to walk along the river bank, away from everyone.”

“Along the river bank? Away from everyone? And the guards allowed her this?” King Kottir again stood. Now he paced the room.

“Not allowed,” Isbalen defended the men he’d sent to guard the Queen. “But the Queen can be very wilful at times.”

King Kottir laughed. I suppose he ,more than any, knew exactly how wilful Queen Bregan could be.

“She hasn’t fallen into the water,” Uissid Tizarn assured both King Kottir and Truvidir Isbalen. “She’s alive and in all probability unharmed. She’s with her father, Uissid Yewlen.”

King Kottir let out an enormous sigh. Again he sat on the stool beside me.

Then Uissid Tizarn explained of Uissid Yewlen. “He’s better known to us as the Nritrik King Ithen.” And King Kottir again stood—at which Uissid Tizarn groaned. “I knew there was a reason I didn’t like people in my chamber. Sit! All of you. Else leave.”

I hadn’t done anything other than sit, except when I opened the door, so his angry words weren’t aimed at me. However, King Kottir and Truvidir Isbalen both sat and were quiet, clearly in fear of him. And so they should be: Uissid Tizarn didn’t often shout—he seldom even raised his voice—but when he did I, for one, knew it was time to be quiet and take note. This, Truvidir Isbalen and King Kottir were beginning to learn.

“That’s better,” Uissid Tizarn said. “Now, as far I know Queen Bregan is with her father—”

“Her father’s King Ithen?” King Kottir asked.

“As I have said,” Uissid Tizarn began again, “as far I know, Queen Bregan is with her father. He may have taken her to King Burdamon’s Hold. But then again he may have taken her to his own King’s Hold which, assuming he has one, is almost certainly in Ertlunt, across the sea. Either way, King Kottir, you must give yourself time to think before you act. First you need to know exactly where she is.”

“Well can’t you find her?” King Kottir asked. “Your powers are stronger than mine; can’t you find her that way?”

“Distance,” Uissid Tizarn said. “There’s a limit, and North Branch is it.”

“Could he not have taken her into the Bayland Wilds?” King Kottir asked. “That’s where she said of her father.”

“Aye.” Uissid Tizarn let out a clipped chuckle. “Indeed there are Brictans living in the wildwoods. There may even be an Immortal amongst them. But none are Uissid Yewlen. I’d have known long since if he’d been that close. From what you’ve said, Truvidir Isbalen—that Bregan liked to walk beside First Water—clearly they made use of the Waters to take her. Now, we know King Burdamon’s Hold is at the far end of those Waters, but do we know where?”

“King Bragnos’s old hold?” King Kottir suggested.

“Possibly. Though unlikely. I doubt if the Nritrin want their King of the Marshes so easily found by the Alsaldic King and his Regiment. No, King Burdamon will have made for himself a new hold. But till you’ve planned out how to rescue her it makes little difference where Uissid Yewlen has taken her.”

“The Regiment,” King Kottir said.

“Fought and lost, fought and lost,” Uissid Tizarn said. “Truvidir Markenys, how many battles this summer’s half past, while our king and his queen have been travelling the land—what is the number?”

I told him, “Seven times I ordered more men to be sent north to protect the Way. Seven times a lone markan returned with the sickening news of their bloody slaughter.”

“Chief Truvidir Markenys has also sent a division north to guard Meksuin’s Land against a possible Luguish Alliance attack,” Uissid Tizarn told our king. “Though such an attack is more likely to come from the sea—hence most of the fleet are stationed there. But if the Lugiönes don’t attack, then likely as not the Nritrin will. They don’t have a sea to cross—the North Eskin Provinces are all that stand in their way. We believe that’s why they spent this summer past attacking the Way, to erode our numbers before they make their move.”

“Uissid Tizarn,” King Kottir said, “is the Regiment not mine to command?”

“Not really,” Uissid Tizarn said. “They are the King’s Men, aye, but when that king is travelling the land, someone must give the orders. That someone is the Chief Truvidir—and I tell him what I want done.”

“And what now do you ‘want done’?” King Kottir asked, his feelings on the matter clear in his tone. Uissid Tizarn paid it no heed.

“Whether we call him King Ithen or Uissid Yewlen, that man has your wife and he is her father. I truly do not think he will harm her. He has taken her for a reason, though as yet I don’t know it.”

“To draw me out?” King Kottir suggested, his previous anger sludging into resignation and weariness. “Just like I thought Draksen was doing when he attacked Sauën.”

“That is one possibility, aye,” Uissid Tizarn agreed. “Though I doubt making a lot of noise will scare this one away.”

King Kottir stood—again. And sat. And stood. “This is . . . unbearable. Am I supposed to sit here in my hold and do nothing while some other man has taken my wife and unborn child?”

“Not quite.” Uissid Tizarn seemed considerably calmer than the king. “I want you to go to East Bounds. I want you to go to the King’s Hold there. I want it to look as if you’re joining your wife, your queen. It’s better that the people know nothing of this.”

“The Regiment . . .” I began to object. They already knew of it.

“The Regiment will be told to say nothing,” Uissid Tizarn answered before returning his attention to King Kottir. “You will go to East Bounds. You will be there as if with your wife. That is the first thing. And don’t look at me like that! Did I not tell you, did I not warn you, your reign would be full of troubles? And you go off travelling the land! Next, the Regiment needs their numbers replenished.”

He then proceeded to give his attention to this.

Obviously, Uissid Tizarn is right. If they’re to rescue Queen Bregan from her evil father, then they do need to replenish the Regiment. But who now will volunteer when stories of the slaughters along the Way are rife? And in the meantime they’ve a game to play:Next episode, Let’s Pretend

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Trouble Along The Way

KW41 Trouble Along The WayChief Truvidir Markenys is in a panic. Despite, with the approach of winter’s half, the seaways are increasingly storm-tossed, he’d not have King Kottir and Queen Bregan return via the Way. But why not? Of course, we do know that East Isle lies alongside it . . . Read on

(You might find it useful to check out this Map of the Alsaldic Land, if you haven’t already)

At the same time as I received the message from King Butalkin’s truvidir, I also received messages from the truvidiren serving Lord Lyessen of Cobi Fu and Lord Blimt of Un Dli. There was trouble along the Way: attacks on travellers—traders for the most part. So far no one knew who the culprits; a spread of hacked-off body parts cannot bear witness. My guess was King Burdamon’s men, his or King Ithen’s. I wondered whether to report to Uissid Tizarn. Yet surely he’d already know? I decided to report it anyway.

“So it begins,” he said.

“Well, is King Burdamon responsible for this?” I asked. “Or King Ithen?”

He shrugged. “Really, does it matter which? Have you sent the Regiment to patrol the Way?”

“I intend to,” I told him.

“Where is the king?” he asked.

“Meksuin’s Land.”

Have you word of how they’ll return?” he asked.

“I assume they’ll travel eastward, taking in the northern North Eskin Provinces before returning via the Way.”

“But they mustn’t,” he said, and for once I detected a hint of fear.

“I’ve had the same thought,” I said. “Though I suppose they’ll be safe as far as Anyo Lia . . . Cobi Ria . . . and Enir Boeme. Just as long as they don’t venture over to Cobi Fu. That would take them too close, by far, to the Way.”

Uissid Tizarn huffed (an unusual sound from him). “I would rather they didn’t go anywhere else, not yet. They’ll leave themselves too far away. Next thing we’ll know they’ll be sailing off to Porcynnis.”

“Porcynnis is part of Meksuin’s governance,” I said. “They’ve no reason to go so far.”

“Aye, well, it’s time to bring them home. I want them safely back in West Alsime Land. You’ll need send a messenger,” he said.

“I had intended—”

“Send more than that,” Uissid Tizarn said, standing, sitting, pacing.

“You know something else?” I asked.

He shook his head. I thought him angry.

“Distance,” he said. “Such a limitation, blurring when I need everything sharp and precise. Something is happening in the east but I don’t know what. There’s an Immortal, and I’m sure he’s one of the Uissids. Yet it can only be Yewlen or Gwemo. And I ask, would Gwemo do this? Aye, but Yewlen might. Even when we were the Tuädik Three he was beginning to show signs of—Aye-yi-yi, it’s too frustrating by far! I’d rather we faced an Immortal I didn’t know, not Yewlen. He and I were . . . we were close in those days. He knows me as I know him and that makes him the most dangerous of enemies.”

“I’ll have the Regiment send a message to King Kottir,” I said as I eyed Uissid Tizarn with curiosity and caution. “And I’ll have the Regiment send men to guard them as they make their way home. Though the sea now is—but there’s Long North River . . .”

Within the same day I then received a second report. The Mothers had blessed Queen Bregan; she was to bear King Kottir’s child. All being well, it would be born in time for the Feast of Trees. Their homecoming would see such celebrations!

But Uissid Tizarn heel-slapped his head when I reported to him. And that slap was hard, I thought. He shook his head—I assumed to clear the pain.

“What is it?” I asked.

“Why had I not thought of it? I should have! Oh, with the lower degrees, just Brictans, it doesn’t much matter. Indeed, was a time West Alsime Land was full of same-blood begets, all claiming Luin or his sister in their glunan. But a second and a third degree Brictan? That’s . . . that could be dangerous.” For a moment he looked particularly glum before, briefly, he brightened. “Well, at least we know they don’t share a source; they’re not close in blood.”

“No,” I said without knowing what I was agreeing.

“No, you wouldn’t know, would you,” he said.

I hated him when he did that. He made me feel like some un-tutored assistant law-man. And of course, I had to ask. “Know what?”

“About the mixing of the immortal substance. Though we Immortals, ourselves, can’t bed each other—at least not productively, but for the others, it doesn’t always come out so well. I tell you, Markenys, the ghastly monsters I’ve seen begotten upon close-blooded Brictans . . . mercifully for all concerned they seldom live long. But a third degree begetting a child upon a second? Yet they are of different bloods. No, they ought to be . . . no-no-no, no need to panic, all will be well. Won’t it?”

Why was he asking me? He’d already said I wouldn’t understand.

“Aye-yi!” he shook his immortal head. “But I should have thought of this before. Please dear Mothers: don’t let them beget a monster. What will the people say to that? It would have to be killed at once—not that such monsters are easily disposed of. Oh! Oh, Markenys, what have I done?”

I had never seen he so troubled, and he the one always saying not to fret.

“I’m sure everything will be normal,” I said.

“But you’ve not seen what I have seen. I do wonder about the stories these days that come out of Bayland. They speak of little bitty-men; they speak of hideous giants.” Then he suddenly laughed. “Yet they say the women are lookers! I’ve never heard stories of ugly daen women. Have you?”

“I’m not sure I know what you mean,” I said.

“Oh but you do,” he said. “You forget; I know that you do.”

That same day I organised messengers to bear word of the troubles along the Way and advising King Kottir to return by Long North River. I also dispatched an entire division of the Regiment to Meksuin’s Land, with instructions to bring the Alsaldic King and his Queen safely back to West Alsime Land.

“How long will it take—when can we expect them?” I asked the commander who took my orders.

“Five days hard-riding there?” he said. “Perhaps a trik to bring them home.”

“What, by water? A whole trik? Can it not be done faster?”

“We have a slight problem,” the commander said. “Even with backing winds-an-all, there’s no hope of the fleet reaching Meksuin’s Land in time, before the King and his Queen move on. Thus I have to send markan. But then how are these markan to travel back? You ever seen a horse afloat in one of those river-boats. Indeed, have you ever seen a big enough river-boat to take a horse, even a newborn?” And did he realise to whom he spoke, explaining to me as if I were an idiot. “Therefore, to escort the King and his Queen safely down Long North River my markan must ride alongside that river. And in some places that’s not so easy. Have you ever travelled that river? No, I thought not. To do as you’ve asked will not be as easy as you’ve supposed it. But we shall do as required. The King’s safety, as always, is our first concern. One trik, I doubt it can be done in less.”

King Kottir and Queen Bregan reached Long North River’s river-gate on the seventh day of Quenst’s Devone. By the third day of Kassis’s Genet they had reached the King’s Hold at East Bounds. And there Queen Bregan stayed. She refused to travel further, being cast up with the Mother-sickness.

All this I reported to Uissid Tizarn. “I have asked the Regiment to provide extra men to guard the King’s Hold there,” I added.

“So you do listen to me,” he remarked.

I didn’t want to say it but I’d no idea what he meant.

“Queen Bregan is ill, and it’s true she can’t travel further,” he said. “But how convenient to be taken ill so close to the Waters? I believe our enemy is about to move.”

“And that is why I have asked for an extra guard,” I said.

“No, you asked for that because I asked you to,” Uissid Tizarn said.

But that wasn’t true! It was of my own initiative, having used my ability to reason—a faculty well trained and honed from my training as a buädhir—and not because of anything Uissid Tizarn had said. But I kept quiet of it. It sometimes was better.

“And where is King Kottir?” Uissid Tizarn asked.

“He returns to the Highlands,” I said though he must have known this. “The Feast of Slaughter is but three days away.”

And on the eve of that feast young Queen Bregan was stolen away. I was never to see her again.

Reference to the Map of the Alsaldic Land will show that East Hold is, indeed, conveniently placed to be easily accessed by King Burdamon’s men of East Isle—and by the King Ithen’s men from the Nritrin-held eastern lands across the sea. Which of these two has taken her? Next episode, Queen Bregan’s Father

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Of Doves and Swords

KW40 Of Doves and SwordsUissid Tizarn is worried. Somewhere in the east is another Immortal with intent on conquering the Alsaldic Empire—and now King Kailen is heading out there, one assumes to acquire more of those magical swords. Uissid Tizarn needs to keep tabs, but how, on such distant happenings? Through the intense love between King Kailen and Bregan—though the mechanics of that has eluded the head of Chief Truvidir Markenys . . . Read on

Within a decan of the Feast of Trees King Kottir began his circuit of the Alsaldic Lands, taking Queen Bregan with him. As soon as I heard this news I went straight to Uissid Tizarn.

“You’ve got to stop them!”

He looked up from whatever it was he was doing—something with a piece of nettle-twine (at times he did the strangest things, with no purpose or meaning that I could find).

“It is usual,” he said, calm as a pond, “for the King and his Queen to process around the Alsaldic Lands every summer’s half.”

“Aye, I know that well,” I said. “But if Queen Bregan goes beyond the limit where you can do things with her head what then of King Kailen—of using her to follow his doings?”

“You worry too much. Think about it,” he said. “How many swords does King Kailen want?”

I shrugged. How was I supposed to know that? Uissid Tizarn sighed—which I took to mean that I should try to guess it.

“Zabul brags of having one hundred war-bands serve him,” I said.

“Aye,” Uissid Tizarn said. “And if only the leaders of those war-bands are equipped with these, that still gives him the need of one hundred swords. And what of the others? King Erberdu and his men, Lord Glavyn and his, and Lord Kezir? That ought to keep King Burdamon’s sword-master busy for quite some time. Though I don’t know how long it takes to make one of these swords, but five hundred? That’s going to take more than a trik. I’d say those swords will not be ready till, oh, at least the Feast of Slaughter. And then they have to take the swords back to Banva Go, perhaps going by way of South Eskin Head and Liënershi? No, by the time their men have been equipped it’ll again be the Feast of Trees. So are you still in a panic that the Alsaldic King and his Queen should make their usual circuit this summer’s half?”

“I’ll double their guard,” I said.

He nodded his agreement. “That will give the markan something to do other than delivering messages for you.”

So I tried not to worry, tried to be as carefree as Uissid Tizarn seemed to be. Yet every day I waited for whatever the news my doves might bring me.

King Kottir and Queen Bregan’s first stop was the King’s Hold at North Bounds in West Alsime Land. The truvidir there sent news of this, making his marks upon the willow leaf, this fixed to a dove which then brought the message swiftly to me. His message also contained a request—for more doves—which kicked at a lurking thought in my head.

“Three hundred and fifty in all,” reported the law-men having counted my birds.

That in itself alarmed me. There should not be so many, here at this King’s Hold.

When this clever messaging system was first instigated, the Chief Truvidir—not me but a predecessor now long since dead—had stocked his cotes with four hundred and forty-four doves, an intended twelve for each truvidir serving the subject kings and lords. Of course, doves aren’t immortal. Like us, they die. But the bird-keepers at the king’s holds were expected to replace as required.

I had no doubt the doves kept by the truvidiren serving those five former kings of East Isle who now were part of the Nritrik lands had ended their lives in the bellies of the incoming conquerors. I shuddered at the possibility that the truvidiren had ended the same. I remembered my own panicked flight from that place. But I’d already accounted those missing doves, allowing seven per truvidir. So now there ought to be four hundred and nine doves, all told.

But! There now were another six truvidiren who had either been killed else preferred to remain silent. If each had had seven doves left . . . subtracting forty-two birds from my total . . . three hundred and sixty-seven doves in all. And the law-man had counted three-hundred and fifty in my cotes.

That left only seventeen doves distributed amongst the truvidiren.

But there were twenty-five truvidiren in need of them! Things were wrong. Things were amiss.

“Cage-up twelve doves for each of the truvidiren serving our loyal lords and kings,” I barked at the law-man. “Have the Regiment deliver them at once. No delaying.”

I was annoyed, deeply. I had twenty-five truvidiren spread throughout the Alsaldic Lands, and with them seventeen birds. Who were the eight without them? And why hadn’t they let me know? Moreover, why hadn’t my bird-keeper recorded the comings and goings? Now look at the confusion!

Then another thought hooked me: What if some of the truvidiren had eaten their doves when food was scarce during Draksen’s stay? They would not!

No matter. My prime task now was to ensure each of the currently serving truvidiren received twelve fresh doves. And I would charge a law-man instead of the keeper with the daily tally of the doves. I wondered how my predecessors had managed, for I’d found no recording system when I became the Chief Truvidir. If it had been there I would have kept to it, I swear.

King Kottir and Queen Bregan next visited East Bounds in West Alsime Land. The message I received said how much Queen Bregan liked the King’s Hold there.

After East Bounds they carried on eastward, to Bayland—the land of Bregan’s mother’s family. They stayed there longer than they had at the previous two holds. I have no doubt, although it was not reported, that King Kottir was treated to stories of how wonderful King Hudrys had been before the coming of the dragon. Maybe with Queen Bregan’s mother Kastea being the granddaughter of one of their kings (King Lupean) they wanted to treat Queen Bregan well. The message I received merely noted their arrival, and subsequent departure.

From Bayland they returned to West Alsime Land and direct to the southern King’s Hold before calling in at West Bounds.

By now the doves I had sent should have arrived at their destinations. I noted that none of the truvidiren were stupid enough to use the precious doves to send messages saying they had been received. This both pleased and annoyed me: I would have liked that confirmation, but I would have been annoyed had I received it.

King Kottir and Queen Bregan next visited Du Dlida. By now they were travelling by boat—it was easier than riding. It didn’t surprise me that they remained even longer in Du Dlida than they had in Bayland. Two decans in all. This extra long stay—usually a king’s visit is reckoned at two to three days—meant they would have less time to visit the North Eskin Provinces before winter-half sent them scurrying back. That pleased me enormously for it was surely that direction which harboured the most danger.

On leaving Du Dlida they again took to horses to ride north to Taca Riori. As with Du Dlida, Taca Riori has only two provinces outside the Bukplugent-holdings. The Alsaldic King and his Queen remained two days at each before resuming their circuit, again by boat.

They sailed now to West River Gate via Anyo Cobi and Ani Cobi. They then took the long sea-route round to Meksuin’s Land and the Three Holds. Of course, by doing so they could call at Fifi Go, Mo Ria, Saria and Emiso Go, before completing the round at King Butalkin’s holding in Meksuin’s Land.

And now, summer-half all-but through, our new Alsaldic King and his Queen must return south to us. But I feared—oh, how I feared—that they would return by way of the Way. But they must not! No, even if they had to remain in Meksuin’s Land the winter through, they must not return via the Way.

The title of the next episode might give us a clue as to why King Kottir and Queen Bregan must NOT return via the Way. But what does Chief Truvidir Markenys know that he’s in such a panic? Trouble Along The Way

Finding all those place names a puzzle? Check out the Map of Alsaldic Lands

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A Confusion of Love

KW39 A Confusion of LoveDespite King Kailen arrived for the Feast of Trees laden with gifts, the only thing given was a threat to the Alsaldic King’s life. Mistress Maia clearly heard what was said. Not so Chief Truvidir Markenys . . . Read on

At first I thought it was my fault; I should have spoken with King Kailen when he arrived at the King’s Hold—at least to have spoken to him before the feast. How remiss of me, why hadn’t I realised something was wrong when the truvidiren of Banva Go and Liënershi stopped reporting to me. Yet King Kailen had arrived with a train of men all bearing boxes and pots and baskets and parcels all looking as if they were gifts intended for King Kottir. How was I to know? Am I a Brictan to know what’s in another’s head and heart? No, but Queen Bregan was. And so, too, King Kottir. And as for Uissid Tizarn . . . those three had known.

Why had they said nothing to me? Why had they left me to discover King Kailen’s treachery, and that revealed before all the nobles of the land? We could have stopped him: had him killed before the Feast; removed the threat he offered. But no, first I had to listen to his speech, that Ul Dlida would no longer be part of the Alsaldic Lands, that the southern holdings in Banva Go, and that Liënershi and South Eskin Head had all formed a Luguish alliance. Then—then—it took Truvidir Isbalen to tell me of the threat he had made to King Kottir’s life.

As soon as the festivities were over I was straight to Uissid Tizarn with the news.

“The King’s Truvidir tells me that King Kailen told Queen Bregan that he intended to kill King Kottir.”

“I know,” he said, calm as a fly upon butter.

That stopped me. It froze me. I stood, just within his chamber, not knowing what now to say. “How?” I managed to stutter—at which he laughed.

“Four years now you’ve served me,” Uissid Tizarn said, “and still you have to ask me how?”

“If you knew, then why didn’t you tell me?” I was fuming at him.

“I needed someone to be seen surprised by it.”

“The King’s Truvidir was surprised by it,” I said. “Wasn’t that enough?”

“As many of the truvidiren as possible,” he amended.

“I do not understand.”

“You say that rather a lot,” he remarked, but did nothing to explain it to me. “My concern was with those gifts he carried. Who are they for?”

“If you knew of the death threat . . .”

“It’s not that easy,” he waved it aside, then offered to explain.

At last, I thought! But his explanation hardly resembled the one I wanted.

“King Kailen came here because of Queen Bregan, not for King Kottir. If King Kailen had never met with Bregan he would have stayed away, like the eastern kings. He had no call to journey so far just to refuse King Kottir. No, he came to warn Queen Bregan. And that’s all. See . . . yapes, must I always explain things?” He heaved what I can only describe as a disgusted sigh.

“You know a Brictan can get inside another’s head?” he said. “Aye, but there are limitations to this ability. For one, it diminishes with distance, even for me. But more debilitating than this, a head and heart that’s full of anger hides all other thoughts. So, too, a head and heart that’s full of love—and a fiery love exists between our Bregan and King Kailen. Though she tries, there’s no denying it. I’m sure even you had noticed. So, even though Kottir is a Brictan of high degree, he doesn’t yet know what’s occurring behind his own back—for their love hides it.”

And he called that an explanation? It served only to confuse me further. How could he and Bregan and King Kottir know of King Kailen’s intentions when, as he’d just explained it, Kailen’s desires for Bregan and hers for him hid everything?

“In many ways King Kailen and Queen Bregan are one,” Uissid Tizarn answered my question although I’d not voiced it. “What’s in Kailen’s head and heart is felt by Bregan too. But maybe not in a way where she’s able to say, King Kailen is intending to do this or do that.”

And that was supposed to clear my confusion?

“But by digging deeply into Bregan,” he said, “I can find what she cannot.”

“Ah!” Now I was beginning to understand. “King Kailen’s treacherous intentions were only felt by Queen Bregan. While you were able to discern them more . . . clearly. Though not from King Kailen; from Bregan.”

“I suppose you could say it like that. I knew of his—shall we say ‘desire’—to protect Queen Bregan from whatever his dire intent. The rest follows from there. But I shouldn’t need to explain all this to you: I’ve put it in your head. I do wish you’d spend more time in musing—aye, in musing. You spend too much time in looking out when you should be looking in. This isn’t how you used to be, Markenys, but . . . Despite we knew all this, we couldn’t discover who the gifts were for.”

“And have you now discovered it?” I asked. I did hope so, since King Kailen and his men had now left.

“Sometimes answers are easier to come by than we expect. We tend to overlook the obvious.”

I confessed to confusion once again.

“His man, Zabul,” Uissid Tizarn said and smiled.

“Oh! I see. Aye, Zabul has no fierce desire for anyone, so you can dig into his head. Is that it?”

Uissid Tizarn sighed.

“That is it, isn’t it?” I had to ask.

The way he looked at me was so unsettling. I had the feeling he was considering replacing me with another. That worried me, not least for how he’d get rid of me. Would he kill me? He continued to look at me. The hairs on the back of my neck prickled and tickled, shivering my spine.

“That’s better,” he said though with no indication of what. “The gifts are for King Burdamon and his sword-master. That’s where they have gone.”

“And they were allowed to leave? Alive?” I gaped.

Uissid Tizarn laughed at my indignation.

“I will have to replace you,” he said, “if you can’t do better than this. The answers are in your head. Try looking for them.”

“Am I permitted to sit while I do this?” I sat anyway.

After some moments with my head seeming particularly empty I finally began to perceive his plan. Though I wasn’t sure. I still had to ask to be sure.

“King Kailen has become your spy?” I said.

His chuckled with self-satisfaction.

I continued to say my perceptions: “We have no truvidiren in East Isle, now. So we don’t know what’s happening there. And you—pardon my saying—can’t get beyond King Kailen’s desires for Queen Bregan. Yet because of that desire, Bregan and Kailen’s thoughts are like one. Therefore Queen Bregan will know what’s happening, though she won’t know that she knows. You, however, can find it inside her. Am I right?”

“Why do you refuse to use the word ‘love’, Markenys?” he asked instead of confirming what I had said.

“I thought you could get inside my head,” I said smartly.

“I can. But,” he persisted, “I want to hear you say it.”

I told him, “Love is for the Divinities, it isn’t for us. We have desires, we have passions, we have lust. We have concern, we have caring. We have affection. But between us we don’t have love. That’s for the Divinities.”

“You’re not a Brictan, are you?” he remarked. “I think when I chose the next Chief Truvidir he’ll be a Brictan of a high degree.”

I didn’t understand, and that amused him even more.

“You want King Kailen to spy for you,” I repeated what I’d already said while trying to ignore his annoying chuckle. “But why don’t you use of Zabul instead? What’s in his head isn’t covered by a layer . . . love.”

“And as I have said, distance limits what I can do. If they’re going to East Isle—which they are—they’ll be too far away for me.”

“But if it’s too far away for you then isn’t it too far away for Queen Bregan too? She’s not an Immortal like you.”

“Love strengthens,” he said. “There’s no such thing as too great a distance where there is love. Love, Truvidir Markenys, not desire or passion, not lust or simply affection. Love. So maybe I won’t have quite the same kind of information as we’d receive from your doves, but if Queen Bregan’s life is in danger, then this we shall know. It is enough.”

“I’m not happy,” I said.

“I know that.” Of course he would know. “You’d rather have had King Kailen killed before he’d gone so far. But I would rather know what’s happening in the east. There’s another Immortal involved in this—I’ve said before. And if it’s who I think it is . . . But no,” he vehemently shook his head, “no matter the who, any Immortal is a danger to us. The Nritrin are involved with him. They have their eyes set on the Alsaldic Lands. Don’t waste your breath in asking why, Markenys. You know the answer. So we have to ensure they never get what they want.”

I knew the answer? Then apparently it was hiding from me.

“You grow too lazy,” said Uissid Tizarn. “You want me to explain everything for you. I’m not your mother to feed you pap.”

So again I had to sit and think, to muse, ponder, consider, to weigh and to measure and . . . “Metal!”

He smiled and nodded. “Aye, metal. To be precise, copper and tin; the one from Meksuin’s Land, the other from Du Dlida.”

“And what of South Eskin Head and Banva Go?” I asked.

“It’s too late for us to protect those sources: the Luguish alliance has them. But we have to protect Meksuin and the Three Holds.”

“I’ll send messages at once.” I said, immediately fired up with the idea of defence. “There’s to be no further trade in metals—neither as gifts nor as mutual exchange—with even the most obscure lesser kings of East Isle, nor with any one involved in the Luguish alliance—not that they need copper from us.”

“You had better include all the eastern kings in that embargo: those of White Lands and Broken Hand. And while you’re at it, include the Gousen. They’re in alliance with the Nritrin.”

I smiled, I chuckled, I laughed. See! I had worked it out all for myself. I didn’t need Uissid Tizarn to feed me pap. I went at once to organise the sending of these messages.

King Kailen goes to East Isle laden with gift, clearly with intent of acquiring more swords. Meanwhile, Uissid Tizarn will make use of Kailen’s love for Bregan, and hers for him, to spy on the doings there. For somewhere there, as Uissid Tizarn long has known, is another Immortal. And that Immortal now has eyes set on the Alsaldic Empire. Anyone for toast? Next episode, Of Doves and Swords

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Amid the Threats

KW38 Amid the ThreatsKing Kailen has arrived from Ul Dlida, laden with gifts. Now the truvidiren can relax for surely Kailen is here to demonstrate his acceptance of Kottir as King. Well, isn’t he . . . Read on

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

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