Saram-Blue Eyes and a Regiment Horse

To Eblan Erspn’s surprise, three horsemasters of the Saramequai Division of the Dal King’s Regiment have attended the Ulvregan funeral. To the horsemasters’ surprise, young Eblan Demekn has rendered the traditional Regiment’s anthem, The Song of Beli, into the native Alisime tongue. As for Detah, the newly-made eblan, her attention is more for a certain man with Saram-blue eyes . . . Read on.

She had delayed in serving him, standing alone at the western edge of Bukplugn’s party. Back and forth she had been, five times as yet, filling the Ulishvregan baked-earth beakers at the vats and returning with them. Demekn and Shunamn were helping—as well, since Detah was able only to take two at a time. And some of those beakers were big. And they were heavy, then, to return. She named, in her head, each of the living to ensure their dead had their Brew. For these, the first beakers, were to be set beside the piles of ashes and spirit-belongings. Later, before they covered the grave with the white river-rubble, Eblan Erspn would smash all the pots, and thus sever the ties. But she could ignore him no longer.

A Saramequai horsemaster, he held three tall Dal-beakers. She’d not manage that alone. She looked for Demekn but he still was busy. Then Shunamn swept in and swept off with two beakers. With some relief she took the third, her eyes respectfully lowered, and having filled it, returned it to him. Did he know what to do? But, aye, she saw he’d already deposited the other two.

The dead duly served, the back and forthing now was repeated for the living, which numbered far greater. And now the type of pots varied; not many had brought the big Dal beakers to drink of their own. Most were smaller, some were of leather; some even of bark. Again she came to Bukplugn’s kin. Again, standing apart from them, there was the Saramequai horsemaster with his bright fire-buttons. He was Clan Querkan—she’d noticed the carved cluster of acorns used to fasten the neck of his white linen shirt. She admitted she had looked at him closely during the singing.

“Your drinking pot?” she asked in his own Uestuädik.

He smiled at her. She’d heard women say that a man’s winning smile could open their legs faster than any amount of kissing. She heard herself swallow, she heard her sigh. Then she felt the heat of her face as she flushed. She looked away quickly.

He spread his hands. They weren’t calloused hands as most men’s were. Neither were they exceptionally large. Indeed, she thought them elegant—delicate. Nice. No, best to amend that thought lest he heard her and thought she insulted. Well-formed, aye, his hands were well-formed.

“I knew the Brew was for the dead,” he said, “but I didn’t know it was for the living as well.”

Again she looked up. And there he was, looking down at her with his Saram-blue eyes. She saw the crinkles around them. She saw he was smiling.

“The living should drink with the dead,” she said. “We have additional cups for those who’ve . . . With travelling sometimes they . . . Break.”

She didn’t wait for his reply but threaded her way through the bodies to fetch the Saramequai horsemaster a bark-cup of brew.

“You must be Mistress Alenta’s daughter,” he said when she returned with the cup. “Detah?”

He took the cup from her, his very fine fingers brushing hers. She glanced down, expecting to see her fingers burned. Hilshin’s Lights! but his flesh was hot. Now how was she to talk?

“It’s Eblan Detah.” She had to concentrate to say it. “See, the feathers I wear.” She couldn’t say too of her eblan-rod, since that had been left by the vats while serving.

“But not long an eblan,” he returned. “Less than a month? Yet already you wear a full cloak while tour brother wears only a cape? Does that mean you’re more powerful than he?”

He was teasing her, though he didn’t laugh or grin. Yet his eyes were held in a spinner’s web, and that told all.

“It means my family gifted me,” she said, desperately trying to keep her head. (Dizzy girl, she opened her legs! No, that wouldn’t be said of her.) “You might note, these feathers aren’t found in Alisalm-land, but in your own Dal Uest. My father collected them.”

“When he was a trader? But an apt bird for an eblan. They say in Dal Uest that the fire-heron guides the dead to the Land of Uath. Beli’s own kingdom.”

“I didn’t know that.” She’d have to muse upon that. But later.

“And is the cloak of your own making?” he asked. “One month is no time at all.”

“It was made in nine days. But I did nothing other, morning till night.”

He seemed to understand how great the task, how her fingers now hurt, the fingerpads punctured and torn, a white mess. He took a step or two back and made a thing of studying her. That made her feel awkward; she glanced around. She oughtn’t to spend so much time with him. There were others still without the Father’s Brew. Aye, and there were other eblann to do it, not only her. Clearly he was a guest at Bukplugn’s Hold. And she’d seen him add spirit-belongings to each of three ash-piles. Copper buttons, she guessed, from breeches left back at the Dal. So she could safely assume he was kin to the massacred horsemaster and his markistes. Those men had been guests at Isle Ardy. It mattered not what then became of them, she could not treat their kin ill-manneredly. Besides, something of him—his smile, his Saram-blue eyes . . .

“It’s a cloak of fire you’ve created there,” he said with approval. “Beli’s own bird.”

She’d not thought of that when she was grading the feathers. The longest feathers were also the darkest, a deep purple-brown. It made sense to her to work them into the last band, almost as if, despite being flight feathers, they would hold her down. From that dark base gradually blazed the smaller and brighter coloured feathers. Aye, around her shoulders they did look like flames.

“And what of you?” Would it be impolite to ask outright who he was? No, she decided it safer to resort to Master Bukarn’s trick. “I see by your fire-buttons you’re a horsemaster. I see by your black feathers you’re Saramequai. I see by that badge of acorns that you are Clan Querkan.”

“You see all this? I am impressed.”

“I see too you’re kin to the horsemaster who was our guest at Isle Ardy scarcely a month since. Now, since he was cousin to your Dal-King, I’m wondering of you.”

That was audacious; he ought to laugh at her. Too, Eblan Erspn ought to badger her to be offering around the Mother’s Bread and Father’s Brew. But she didn’t want to leave this Saramequai, Clan Querkan horsemaster. Was it only his eyes? Or had he cast some charm upon her? Demekn had told her, in completing their training the horsemasters spent several months in seclusion with the truvidiren. Did that not make of them eblann?

He laughed, this time not teasing, this time as if taken aback. “I’m told that the Alsime are a polite people, especially to visitors. Though you’ve not asked me outright, still in Dal Uest what you’ve asked would be deemed impolite. Though . . . you’ve caught me. For I, too, was impolite, in not providing an introduction. Please, accept my apologies. And to rectify, I am Horsemaster Krisnavn, commander of the Saramequai Division of the Dal King’s Regiment. I am here to serve Saram, to do His bidding.”

“To be His weapon?” She oughtn’t to have said it. He didn’t smile, nor yet acknowledge it. And where before there’d been heat, there now was cold.


“I saw you looking at the horses. Would you like to meet them?” asked Horsemaster Krisnavn, his warmth returned in the blink of an eye.

Aye, she’d be delighted at that. But might she slip away, unnoticed? Though if any dared drag her back to her duties she’d claim ‘eblan-inspiration’. She smiled—which likely the blue-eyed horsemaster, commander of the Saramequai Division of the Dal King’s Regiment, mistook for delight at the seeing of horses.

Not even bothering now to see what she ought to be doing, she followed Horsemaster Krisnavn to the gate in Bisaplan’s western fencing. As he moved the poles he also emptied his cup, wetting the gatepost.

“Why do that?” she asked.

“We always give libation to the Deity of the Gates. To strengthen their guard.”

“Oh.” She’d not heard of that, neither from Demekn nor Master Bukarn.

Now through the gate, she hung back. Just look at all those shiny hooves! Just look at the hard bony legs attached! It looked like they could do severe damage. She wasn’t about to go near. “Which are the Regiment horses?” she asked to cover her fear.

“The dun-coated.”

She’d have called them churned-butter yellow. And they had manes like upturned brushes while the other horses, Bukplugn’s, were brown-and-white spotted, with manes like a man’s long hair hanging down.

“They won’t harm you,” the horsemaster said, and held out his hand to encourage her closer.

No, she wasn’t yet sure of leaving the gatepost.

“Here.” He held out a bundle of sweet grasses he’d then pulled from the verge. “Come offer this to Fierce Wind; he’s my own mount. Like me, he’s now too old to be fierce.”

“Um.” She delayed yet longer. “Has he a stiffness of neck that he can’t graze for himself?”

“You are perfect!” Horsemaster Krisnavn, commander of the Saramequai Division of the Dal King’s Regiment, laughed. “No, it’s not to feed him—he does that of his own. It’s a token of friendship. A gift. As your father gifted you with those feathers despite, like other eblans, you could have done it alone.”

Eblann,” she corrected him.

He nodded acceptance. “Like the other eblann, you could have gathered those feathers.”

“No, not these ones I couldn’t,” she said. “Not without first I went to the Dal.”

“Come,” he again tried to encourage. “I promise Fierce Wind will behave perfectly with you.”

She did want to edge nearer. She might never have this chance again. And what were they really, these horses, but overgrown goats—except they smelt better. They hadn’t even the horns. She ventured nearer. Horsemaster Krisnavn held out his hand to her. Her breath caught in her throat. His heat scorched her hand as she accepted. His fingers curled around hers. She took the grass from him. She still wasn’t certain—but his eyes delightfully crinkled when she looked up at him. She felt, aye, safe with him.

Next episode: tomorrow 25th November
Back to beginning Detah, or Chapter Links

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In the previous episode of Feast Fables, we left Kerrid about to meet Loqaru, Lord of Lohanit. But why does she feel so uneasy of this? Who might be be?

Next episode, An Unwelcomed Greeting, ready now.

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Truvidirik Numbers

An Alsalda Supplement

After the references in this week’s episodes of Alsalda to the Dal’s truvidiren and their counting, I thought I’d include this as a supplementary post:

One, the Beginning
Two, the Division
Three, the Mothers, many the Others
Four, the Winds
Five, the Centre ‘I’ define
Six, the balance of Creation
Saram is seven—seven’s His Pole.
Eight is stable when built as a cube
Nine, thrice divided, has the power of all.
And beyond is the Sun.
Ten, the number of Sauën’s daughters
Eleven, the sacred pole in the cave
Together, begetting a sum, those Unholy Twelve that Beli begun.

Why ‘Unholy’? Because the sum of 1 to 11 equals 66. Always considered a sacred number though one not necessarily god-blessed.

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The Songs Of Beli

Granary mistresses and Ulvregan traders have arrived for the Ulvregan funeral; so many men have been lost. And amongst those dead were Regiment horsemen, Saramequai. Now they, too, are represented. Though two of these Regiment horsemen are there purely as guards. Expecting trouble? Read on.

The grave wasn’t far inside Bisaplan’s Land; Megovis could still see the horses. He forced down his shoulders, an attempt to relax. That his ‘cousin’ Demona had greeted him had helped. Krisn’s cousin through her father Ulquon the Fingerless, Megovis’s kin through her mother, she was yet another Uestin woman wed to an Ulvregan trader.

“Have they a reason to set the cenotaph here?” he asked her. “Only it isn’t exactly clustered amongst the others.”

Demona shrugged—while trying to hold onto her toddler’s hand without disturbing the infant held in her arms. “Granary Master said here’s to be, is all I know. Who’s objecting? It’s his land—or Ardy’s. It’s also him providing the brew.”

“Feeling guilty, you reckon?”

Biadret, wandering near, typically honed in on that word. “Brew, did I hear?”

“We mightn’t think it,” Demona said, “but by their beliefs their Father’s Brew is appropriate here.”

“How?” Megovis asked. “Ulvregan markons say it gets a man horny.”

“Aye, I said by their belief,” Demona said. “By their belief the dead are born again as wee babies. That’s why its name. Father’s Brew. It gets them coupling.”

“Creepy odd folk,” Megovis said. “But I’m looking for Melissa. Have you seen her?” He didn’t like to ask outright if still she lived. She’d been gone many seasons with scarcely a word.

“Probably with Trader Skaldys. Let’s see.” Demona turned slowly, searching the tight knots of Ulvregan encircling the wide gaping grave. “There! See the grizzle-haired trader wearing red, blue and black? But, hey, Govvy, be gentle with her. No comments about the dead, eh. Her husband was one of the several traders that Jitnebn’s Hold lost.”

“Yea.” He nodded his thanks and was gone.

“Eh!” Biadret called after him. “Duties.”

“Yea. I’ll be back.”


Melissa was wrapped in a woollen cloak almost the colour of their battle-red breeches. It made her hair seem even paler, and it had always been lighter than his own honey-brown. She wore it in two thin plaits. As she turned, he saw how dark and hollowed her eyes. Yet she opened her arms and grinned at him. He lifted her up. She threw his arms round his neck then strained on tiptoes to maintain the hold.

“Hey, Buttercup.” He held her away. Then held her close while she sobbed.

When she pulled away she again hid her face, now by looking down at her children. They stood placid as stones around her. “See here? Your Uncle Govvy.”

The boy, perhaps six summers-seen, whispered something to Melissa who leant down to hear him.

“Ismelvens says you look like a bear.”

“He does so,” the girl, the elder, averred.

Melissa nodded, a smile coming, then bitten. “I used to say that of you too.”

“Fifteen summers, eh? That’s a few stories to share. Can’t promise when, but I’ll visit as soon as. Pity is, today this bear is on duty. Any tips, my Buttercup? Where to keep an eye for trouble?”

“No, there’ll be no trouble today—though that only for Eblan Erspn’s fancy words. It would have been different elsewise. Many Ulvregan—Skaldys amongst them—would have cheerfully piled that wastrel Bukarn onto a fire. Want, want, want, yet he doesn’t do his own duty, too busy dozing beneath his eaves—Apologies.” She suddenly broke off. “There has been strong feelings.”

At a loss for words, Megovis nodded. He’d known it, of course, though Bukplugn’s kin hadn’t been quite as open in expressing their anger. Still, for Krisnavn’s purpose this was a good thing. First the Kerdolan, now the granary master. Despite the overcast day, it seemed Saram was smiling. “Which one is he, this chief, Master Bukarn?”

He followed her line of sight, though he would have known the man anyway. While many an Ulvregan trader had served his four in the Regiment, only Master Bukarn still wore the Regiment plaits (though plain-beaded, not glinting with Beli’s fire-metal). And he was garbed in Clan Reumen colours, worn as an Ulvregan pleated skirt over a drab brown shirt and breeches. And that travel-cloak! Megovis couldn’t be sure, for the distance, but he’d swear it was sewn from mouse-skins. He stood alone, watching Krisnavn.


Megovis’s head shot round.

“I’ll just be a moment, he says,” said Biadret. “I’ll be back, he says. Duty, I says. So now I’ll take the south and you—and I hope you suffer for it—can have the north.”

But no sooner said than Biadret was lost again to the knots of people now closing in and forming like a continuous blanket. Megovis shrugged and turned back to Melissa.

“Listen, Buttercup, I’ll talk to you later. And . . .” he’d forgotten the boy’s name “. . . you take care of your mother, yea?”

He pondered as he made his way through and around the crowding mourners. Was Melissa right, that there’d be no trouble? It wouldn’t fit well with Krisnavn’s plans if the Ulvregan killed Master Bukarn now. Still mulling, he took up his station to the north of the cenotaph, several paces back from the nearest person. The north watch, this was his own fault. By preference, an ambush was always set to the south. That way Sauën would make blind the advance forces while leaving unaffected those who waited. Not that Sauën glared today in Saram’s clear sky. His eyes tracked over those who had gathered. Which of these Ulvregan wanted Bukarn dead? Where were they?

His eyes lit on the grain-women in their long pastel gowns that opened low at the front, way too revealing. And those tight bands round their hips! He looked away before he started breathing a little too heavy. But his gaze shot back as one blonde beauty bent over her brew-vat. Now there was a woman begging for bedding. He watched, impossible to take his eyes away. And the Ulvregan markons said the brew made men horny? No, it was the brewsters.

The Ulvregan markons, and their sisters and aunts who had married into the Dal, were the prime source of the Uestin knowledge of anything Alsime. Of course, Truvidir Yandros had additionally briefed the horsemasters. But he’d relied on only one, supposedly unbiased, report. So, no need for Megovis to be a truvidir to realise there was much he still didn’t know. As to any attempt to compare Alsime to Dal ways, that was fated to muddy the waters. Mostly he was ignorant about the Granary Family. For starters, what was the source of their power? In the Dal, every village had its granary, with brewsters called King’s Wives, their prime duty to brew for the King’s Feasts. But he’d been told it wasn’t as it was here. Brewsters, granaries, nothing was the same here. Truvidir Yandros had said that the Alsime eblans were the same as the Dal’s uathren, but he wouldn’t trust them not to eat the horses left to graze beyond the fence.

His eyes wandered again to the elegant-hatted eblan. And he felt his hackles rise. Elegant Hat was watching the horses. Head turning. And back. And turning. Best to keep an eye on that one. But then—Megovis chuckled—a dark bearded eblan, finger-wagging, chided Elegant Hat. That Elegant Hat, he was only a boy, probably Black Beard’s apprentice. That explained why so short for a man.

An eblan clad in speckled feathers stepped over the stacked turf that formed the curb and into the wide circular grave. He had to be their headman, Eblan Erspn. Another joined him, with white-feathered cape. Megovis stared. Something was familiar about this Eblan White Feather. But . . . no, that wasn’t possible. Then he saw it. While the Alsime were dark (burnt butter, charred chestnut, eyes like coals) this eblan was not. He was Uestuädik in colour. Yea, that’s all that was familiar about him. Both his hair and his skin were reddish-fair. And he was tall; tall while the Alsime were known to be short. Megovis squinted. Yet something about him seemed wrong. Did the eblans accept the Ulvregan in? He’d not heard of it.

The speckled-feathered Eblan Erspn held aloft his staff. Silence. Instant. Even the birds and the wind had stopped. Megovis shivered, that was some power.

A horse nickered. Eblan Elegant Hat turned his head to look. Krisnavn turned, too, though not to look at the horses. He was looking at the young eblan.

Eblan Erspn, headman, began his address. “The Kerdolan denied us the bodies of our dead.”

They’d been told the Alsime spoke Hiëmen but he’d disagree. Though he could understand what the eblan was saying, that wasn’t proper Hiëmen. Megovis spoke proper Hiëmen, learned from his Hiëmen mother.

“The Kerdolan left us this.” Eblan Erspn held up a large leather bag. “Do not despise or grudge these few pieces. These few bones are as much your sons and your brothers, your nephews and uncles and cousins, as were their whole bodies.”

Megovis lifted his lip in contempt. The Regiment had already honoured Horsemaster Makesen and Markistes Isvron and Nevisan. Kinsmen of Megovis, though not of his clan, he had grieved as he should. Now he was to believe somewhere jumbled amongst those bone-fragments and other remains were their bodies? Then they’d be granular-small.

“These bones,” Eblan Erspn said, still holding high the bag, “we bury here today. With them we bury what you have brought with you.”

Eblan Erspn gave the bag to Eblan Black Beard. Apparently that wasn’t the only bag. Together, the eblans Black Beard and Elegant Hat emptied the bags to form small stacks—thirty-three in all. Megovis shuddered: was he turning into a truvidir, wanting to count? The eblans then stood aside while the families came with their spirit-belongings. Krisnavn deposited something small, one to each of three piles. He’d probably been prepared for this as part of his additional ‘special’ briefing.

Eblan Erspn again held up his staff. Eblan White Feather again stood beside him. So far the day had been without wind. Now eerily it lifted and blew. Though not a tempest, yet it tugged at the eblans’ feathers.

“We now will call back the spirits of the slain. Call them back from the Wilds. Call them to share this last feast with their loved ones.”

The wind’s sudden wintry breath found its way beneath Megovis’s cloak. Its ghostly fingers touched his spine. His shoulders shot back. And in that moment of disturbance the eblans disappeared from sight. They hadn’t truly gone to the Wilds to call back the slain—had they? Then, as two knots of people parted, he saw them again. Eblan Erspn and Eblan White Feather sat at the centre of the raw grave. An odd thing to do. Megovis tried to find a better view but was stayed in wonderment by the sweetest music he ever had heard. Rippling, cascading, watery sounds.

But . . . that wasn’t possible. Not here in Alisalm. Not in Jitinnis. Here at the outermost bounds of the world? Yet craning and peering, he managed to see White Feather was playing the harp.

“Too soft this, to call forth spirits,” Megovis heard an Ulvregan man say.

But that Eblan White Feather knew his craft. The change was barely perceptible yet the music grew stronger, grew deeper, grew fiercer. Megovis knew the tune. And what man of the Regiment did not. But that puzzled Megovis the more. How could this eblan be a Dal-served Ulvregan? He’d been told only Alsime were eblans.

Then this god-touched musician added his voice. Megovis stared, mouth dropped. Though the words were Alsime—as good as Hiëmen —they were faithfully translated from the Uestuädik.

I was there with Beli
Beli, son of Sauën
Sauën, seed of Saram
Saram of wide renown.

It took the Ulvregan a moment to realise what the eblan had done. Then they added their voices.

But not Megovis. He still was stunned, questions reeling. He caught his widowed sister’s eye and beckoned her over. While affectionately squeezing her hand he asked her, “Who is he, this musician? He’s Beli’s best, to change the words to Alsime.”

“That’s Eblan Demekn. You might know him, he served in the Dal.”

“I thought him familiar but . . . no, I can’t place him.”

“Master Bukarn’s son?”

“He’s not?”

True to the Dal way, at the end of the Alsime-worded Regiment song the white feathered eblan, Master Bukarn’s son Demekn, played the verse through three times more. Then he began again. But this time he sang it in Uestuädik. Megovis added his voice to the Ulvregan, and noticed that Krisn and Biadret did the same.

I was there with Beli,
Beli, son of Sauën,
Sauën, seed of Saram,
Saram of wide renown.

I saw Beli girt his loins,
Loins fierce with Beli’s fury,
Fury at the dragon,
The dragon of Forlori.

I saw Beli’s fire-tipped blade,
Blade two seasons in making,
Made by the Mothers Three,
Mothers of life taking.

I saw Beli mount his steed,
Steed, wing-legged and flying,
Flying to give battle,
Battle dragons vying.

I saw the dragon slain,
Slain with pierced hide gushing,
Gushing waters flooding,
Flooding waters crushing.

I saw the hero Beli,
Beli of fierce fury,
Fury of the fire-blade,
Fire-blade slayed Forlori.

I sing the songs of Beli,
Beli, son of Sauën,
Sauën, seed of Saram,
Saram of wide renown.


Next episode: Tuesday 24th November
Back to the beginning: Detah. Or Chapter Links

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Black Bobbing Feathers

Alsalda (Act 2):
Ten days to wait for the Ulvregan funeral. Detah sat with her father beneath the deep eaves of Ardy’s lodge and, while she sewed her feathered cloak, he told her the tales of Dal Uest—and of how every new recruit to the Uestuädik Regiment vowed to be Saram’s weapon. A promise not relented by time . . . Now read on.

It was agreed: until all had arrived the eblann Erspn, Detah and Demekn would make themselves scarce. Invisible, if possible. Shunamn might grump that he wasn’t included but, as Erspn told him, his place this day was at Mistress Alenta’s side—despite Mistress Alenta had personally to oversee the portage of Father’s Brew.

“Sleds will not do,” she had grumbled, still smarting at having to make this donation. “Doesn’t anyone here know about brews?”

Actually, aye, Erspn did. That’s why he stepped in with a suggestion. There were sixteen river-walkers—aye, sixteen!—idling and swarming around Isle Ardy, having arrived with the trade-wares from the northern granaries too late in the day to return to their homes. Let them port the brew-brimming vats.

Despite their instruction to remain invisible the two younger eblann were a delightfully colourful sight: Detah in her fire-heron cloak and equally fiery feathered cap; Demekn in his swan-feather cape topped by an Ulishvregan striped hat. Erspn, in his Alisime bonnet and speckled-owl feathers, felt dingy beside them. They waited atop the earthen wall at the western end of the Ancestral Long Boat—where Erspn thought none would look at them., offset as they were to the north of the Ulvregan grave.

If asked why he’d set the grave specifically there he’d have claimed inspiration off the Eblan Mistress, for on reflection it was an odd place. Almost all the Ulvregan, and even those of the granaries, would approach from South River, taking the path that skimmed the Old Isle of the Dead with Murdan’s Stones. Yet here was the grave to the far side of the Land of the Dead, barely within it, all-but nudging the Freeland Walk. He’d not considered it when choosing the site—he’d swear to it—but that north-south Walk served only one Ulvregan hold: Bukplugn’s. Now he nodded at the significance of that. As to the grave itself, it was almost the equal of the belly outside Isle Ardy used exclusively for the granary-masters. Its circle marked by a low wall of stacked turves; within, the cleared soil showed suitably white, Nod’s Rocks. Immediately north of it were piled the white river-rocks, close to hand for those attending to make a start on the covering. Once that was complete and a white mound formed, Erspn would carve the charms into its centre post. That might take him some days.

And then he’d go hunt for Mistress Hegrea.

If Mistress Hegrea and the Ancestors agreed it, they might yet save the granaries by training young Alisime men to be traders. Though that would set a problem for the eblann who, anciently, were forbidden to trade with the Alsime. How then might they obtain the eblan-herb, the flywort green-feather? But for now such concerns must be set aside. Today the only thought must be for the Ulvregan burial.


The Ulvregan arrived first, all gaily attired. Until this of the bridge Erspn had taken no note of their holds’ colours worn as plaid-weavings. He’d known Mandatn’s (blue, green and yellow) but only because Sapapsan’s trader as-was had still wore his. And he’d known Bukplugn’s—blue, green and white. Now, with help from Detah, he was beginning to identify the others. Luktosn’s Hold: brown, yellow and black. Duneld’s Hold: red, black and white. Burnise’s Hold: red, yellow and green. Erleldn’s Hold: brown, white and green. Jitnebn’s Hold: red, blue and black.

Then came the granary families, though only those with losses—except Mistress Hanasan who accompanied her sister, Mistress Salada, despite her journey had been partly by sea. Compared with the Ulvregan with their pleated and gathered plaid skirts and narrow Dal breeches, these latter arrivals looked drab. Well might the grain-women wear their long linen chemmies but their flowery colours were hidden beneath their dull woollen cloaks.

They made a ragged procession. But, early or late, Ulvregan or granary, they all came as families. All bore a spirit-belonging, be it their brothers’ stone-working tools, their fathers’ brew-bowls, their sons’ high-necked Dal beakers, their cousins’ bows, arrows and spears—some carried a travel-cloak, others a hat; one pulled a sled holding a hound now dead as his master. All brought food, although Isle Ardy was to provide more (fresh-baked flatbreads, at least). And many were the children who’d been out early that morning to gather spring flowers.

Beside him, Detah sighed. “I want it all to be over.”

He patted her shoulder. He dared do no more.

“Now, Demekn,” he turned to her brother. “You know what you’re to do?”

Demekn nodded. Erspn was sure that in helping to make this grave he had gained greater acceptance regarding the markon. Though still withdrawn, at least now he was eating and sleeping. The eblan-apprentice hefted his bow’s carry-strap over his shoulder.

“Wait,” Erspn cautioned. “We’re still waiting for—Ah! I see them now.”

Bukplugn’s kin. He’d just then seen them through the gaps of the bounding hedge. Most up on horseback, they couldn’t be missed. They formed a long procession along Freeland Walk.

Erspn grunted, surprised, concerned. “Now who are they?” Three, high on horses, their hair plaited, copper tipped, their tall crowns of black feathers waving and bobbing.

“Saramequai,” Detah said.


Horsemaster Megovis, not in the sweetest of moods, reined back his horse. A shame when ahead was the only clear track they’d found since coming to this mist-laced land. But the ancient trader Venkys at Bukplugn’s Hold had said it plain. “To the Alsime the Highland’s good as their Land of the Dead. And we do not offend them.” Megovis sniffed. He resented his having to attend. Now Biadret beside, his companion horsemaster who together with him was bringing the rear, had reason to be here. Biadret had kin at Bukplugn’s Hold. But, though he’d a sort-of cousin there (Demona) Megovis thought of her more as Krisn’s kin, and tended not to acknowledge her—unlike his own sister, little Melissa, at Jitnebn’s Hold. But he’d not seen her, now, for fifteen seasons. But poor little Buttercup; Venkys had reported her man amongst the dead. So he owed it to her to be here. Beyond that, he was here as second-in-command to Commander Horsemaster Krisnavn. Besides, he and Biadret were the assigned witnesses-in-attendance. And he’d be glad when that episode was done.

His eyes tracked the land to either side of him, or as much as he could see through the trees. Clusters of huts, seeps of smoke betraying the life within. He figured they’d be the Alsime. He’d seen them, their skin-clad lean bodies out in the fields. Saram’s Eyes! but life here must be grim.

“The Highlands, Land of the Dead,” he remarked, quietly to Biadret. “How do they live here? And it’s not just a few—I mean apart from Bukplugn’s. I’ve been counting.”

“Counting? No, Govvy, best leave that to the lore-men; I hear they’re good at it.”

“But doesn’t it make your flesh creep?”

“What? The living, the dead, or you counting?”

Their commander, Horsemaster Krisnavn, dropped back to speak with them. “The trader Maryns says no horses on Bisaplan’s Land.”

“What?” Biadret spluttered. “He wants us to leave them here on the track, unguarded?”

“And you trust the Alsime not to eat them?” Megovis had heard the tales, the Ulvregan markons full of them. And Biadret reckoned his skin didn’t creep? Either he lied or lacked any feeling.

“Demona’s and Luaka’s boys will stand guard,” Krisnavn said.

Biadret laughed. Several heads swung to look at him.

“Shush it,” Megovis said, though another time he’d have laughed along with him. “It’s a burial, look where we’re riding—to their rutting Land of the Dead. But, Krisn, look, see, neither boy is above ten summers-seen.”

“We’re guests. You will obey,” Krisnavn said and returned to the front of the column.

“He’s edgy,” Biadret remarked.

“I argued against our attendance. And still I argue it.”

“No, Govvy, that wouldn’t be right. Won’t say of the others but Makesen and his markistes, they were Regiment and his kin.”

Megovis hefted a sigh. “But I’m telling you, Biadret, I’ll be glad when it’s over. Gloom, gloom, and more rutting gloom. But reckon that’s why I’ll ever be the horsemaster, while Krisn, there, he’s ever the commander.”

“I don’t envy him.”

“Me neither.”

The hedge to the east of the track abruptly thinned. Biadret looked, and gasped. “Whopping Uath!”

Megovis stared at the Land of the Dead now fully revealed. “Sweet Saram and Beli too! Just look at that! More bone-houses here than amongst our Bridren.”

“Rightly named, then: Land of the Dead,” Biadret said.

“You know what this looks like, this Highlands of the Sun, as they laughingly call it? A rutting giant’s garden. And he’s got a gigantic problem with moles. See the hills?” Megovis laughed.

“That’s what they are, eh? So what’s that then, those stones?”

“That has to be the Sun’s Cove.” Megovis had heard stories of that. Impressive, the Ulvregan markons said, and maybe it was when closer to. According to the Ulvregan it was a magical contraption that magically told them when the feasts were to be held. Some tale, that: he had laughed. So what was wrong with asking their lore-men as they did in the Dal? He groaned. “Oh, these next few months, I can see, are going to be fun.”

“There’s the cenotaph.” Biadret nodded to where a small crowd mostly obscured a patch of raw earth.

Megovis puffed agitation. “Should have brought a bigger guard.”

“Why? You reckon we can’t handle these?”

“You’ve seen how many have come?”

“Yea, but they’re only Ulvregan. No different to Dal folk.”

“Huh, no different—like they wear proper clothes? So what about those in the feathers and skins?”

“If befeathered, they’re eblans,” Biadret said. “You’ve forgotten the briefing already? Or did you sleep through it? Ha, forgetting, it’s winter still.”

“Want to sit on a short stabbing stick and rotate? Besides, that briefing was brief. Eblans, eh? Same as uathren, yea? Though I don’t see our uathren got up like that.”

He’d an urge to turn round and not attend the funeral. His body was building to restless, same as it did every time the talk came to uathren. He didn’t deny he held a grudge of uathren – and truvidiren, they were the worst. He didn’t trust them. He preferred not to be within a spit of them. And here were four of the befeathered fiends. To think his sister had wed into this land. Would he find her still sane? He couldn’t pull his eyes from the feathered group.

“Sweet Saram’s Eyes! But that one’s elegant, in the hat—for an Alsime.”

“He says ‘the one in the hat’—which one in the hat? I see three wearing hats. And best not to mock in their hearing. They’ll cast a curse on you.”

“Yea? Like they’ll make it so I lose the last shred of reason? Too late, Biadret, it’s lost coming here. And I meant the fiery hat. Neat, eh?”

At the front of the column Bukplugn’s traders had drawn to a stop. The women formed into knots while the men dismounted and fussed their horses. Children, restless and not understanding, got underfoot.

Megovis heaved a bear-sized sigh. “Come on, Biadret, let’s see this over.” He hoped Melissa was attending with the mourners. He hoped he would recognise her. Fifteen long seasons, eh? That’s nigh a lifetime for some.


Next episode: Songs of Beli
Back to the beginning: Detah Or the Chapter Links

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Ode To A Gnat

You, assailant of non-Euclidean flight!
Why must you always wait for night?
Why won’t you attack when the sun is bright?
O vampiric smidgeon of the night.


Posted in On The Door, Silly Rhymes | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Shall We Meet On The Hilltop

Shall we meet on the hilltop, where the four roads meet…’

So sang Marianne Faithful in The Witches Song on her 1979 album, Broken English. The song wasn’t of witches but of the women’s protest community at Greenham Common. And this post isn’t about Marianne Faithful, Witches, or Greenham Common. But it does begin with a crossroads.

Roman Roads and Early Anglo-Scandinavian Settlements

Considering the folk-lore surrounding crossroads—e.g. there being too many choices of ways that the spirits don’t know which to take and thus are held there, in confusion, till daybreak (my favourite)—it seems amazing that, when it came to settling beside the River Wensum in Norfolk the Anglo-Saxons opted to plant themselves so close to this one, formed by the pre-existing Roman roads.

These are the earliest evidence of the Saxons of Norwich: C5th-C6th cremation cemeteries beneath what were to become the parish churches of St Michael at Plea, alias St Michael Motstow (the meeting place), and St Gregory; while excavations around the church of St Martin at Palace have revealed Middle Saxon foundations (C9th).

Later, the Vikings set up a ‘vik’ (i.e. a Scandinavian trading place) the site marked by the early Scandinavian church St Clements.

Street names reinforce what archaeology has found. In the Saxon areas: Westwick, Conesford and the (no-longer-used name) Holmestrete Way; in the Scandinavian areas—well, just about every road’s a ‘gate’ (gata, ON ‘street’): Cowgate, Colegate, Fishergate.

But all that’s a digression, although related.

Norwich is my home town. It’s where I grew up, where I hit my teen-years, where I partyed (less said of that the better). So I tend to take for granted the sights of ‘Medieval Norwich’. Not so my daughter. She knows the city centre: the Norman castle . . .

‘Norwich Castle and Oxeye Daisies’
© Richard Osbourne

. . .  the C12th cathedral . . .


. . . the C15th Guildhall . . .

Perhaps she also knew of the city walls . . .

copyright Stuart McPherson

But she didn’t know the ways less-frequented: the Scandinavian ‘gates’, the streets lined with crumbling Tudor edifices. So . . .

It was a pleasant late summer day. A Sunday. So we did the touristy thing and walked around Norwich. We started by skirting the southern stretch of the city wall—which took us onto the old Roman road. I took a few photos . . .

Carrow Tower, Norwich Walls

Some are shots you won’t find on Google . . .

An Arrow Slit in Norwich Walls

. . . these walls were built for defence . . .
that’s for the firing of arrows

Norwich. Carrow Wall and Tower

And as you can see, Norwich was built on a hill.

At this stage, beneath our feet was a labyrinth of tunnels through the chalk bedrock. Occasionally that rock gives way creating a hole above an old mine—and a bus falls into it. Although where that happened was way across town.

Nope, it’s not a put on. It’s for real.

In medieval times the tunnels were thought the home of dragons—which were probably overgrown and unwanted pythons and crocodiles long discarded by returning crusaders thinking the baby reptiles were cute.

We were heading for that stretch of the river that backs the cathedral. So I took my daughter along King Street. Here are the oldest vernacular buildings remaining in Norwich.

Tudor Vernacular in King Street, Norwich

Tudor bricks, recent graffeti

Old bricks. Ancient beams. Modern graffiti.

And so through the cathedral close . . .

St Ethelbert’s Gate, courtesy of wiki

I can’t count the number of times I’ve walked through this Close, how many times I’ve seen the cathedral. Yet today, perhaps because of the nature of the visit, I looked past its later Gothic (English Decorated Perpendicular, or whatever it is) additions to the Romanesque structure beneath. And I really should have taken my own photos, but I was sure I could find some, somewhere, on the internet. Ho-hum. Still, you can see what I mean of the earliest structure . . .

Copyright Evelyn Simak

And so down to the water. The Wensum. Ah, that’s another Saxon name: wændum, means ‘winding’ (and it sure does wend across the county).

And look, another tower! This is Cow Tower. It’s later than the city walls. It was designed to take cannon.

sourced from Wiki (slightly better shot than mine)

. . . and I couldn’t resist this . . .

Bird Castle

Yep, a housing complex for birds.

We’d now circled around to arrive at Elm Hill. While that doesn’t appeal in all its quaintness, beyond it sits St Andrews Hall. Before Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries (yea, I know, that’s not quite the right expression but I like it) this was a Dominican Friary (Blackfriars). The city corporation allocated it to the newly-arrived Flemish and Walloon immigrants as a trade hall for their wool—and that is a post I shall do, eventually (expect it some time before 2020!).


Like most medieval cities, Norwich had its full quota of religious houses: the Cathedral Priory (Benedictine), a Franciscan Friary (Greyfriars), a Carmelite Friary (Whitefriars), an Augustinian Friary, Carrow Priory (Benedictine), the College of St Mary in the Fields (which gives its name to Chapelfield), the Great Hospital of St Giles, still in existence, though now as St Helen’s sheltered housing for the elderly (an ALF). And not to forget our very own mystic, the anchorite Saint Julian.

St Julian’s church, showing the cell where she spent her life.

Strange how we walk miles in the countryside with no ill affects to our feet. Yet after only an hour or so on city roads we’re keen to find somewhere to sit down and to eat. ‘Let’s head up to the market place.’ I know there’s seating aplenty there.

But first there was a church I particularly wanted to see. St Michael’s, Coslany. Dating to 1500’s, and described as ‘the finest late Gothic achievement in any of the churches of Norwich’, it was the work of John Antell, the master mason responsible for King’s College chapel in Cambridge.


I think you’ll agree, it’s quite outstanding for a small parish church. But then that parish was at the heart of the wool industry in Norwich.

There’s so much more about my old home town that I could have included. But I felt the need to keep it brief. Besides, I can always include the rest in the post I’m intending on Norwich Wool Trade.

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