Rogues and Dragsin

Alsalda_Hill_FortKrisnavn and Demekn have been busy, the former in resolving outstanding matters, the latter in composing the verses. Meanwhile the day of the Kerdolak confrontation wanders nearer . . . Read On

Over the past months Megovis had increasingly found himself haunting the high walkway around the palisade where he strolled, strutted, paced and idled. Asked of this lofty habit—which both Biadret and Ganros had by way of making fun of him– he honestly replied that he was keeping an eye both inside and out of the barracks. Though, in truth, he’d adopted this eyrie so he could think undisturbed. He wasn’t Querkan but Clan Kairen, and he had but a short season (this coming winter) before he must return to the Dal. But he didn’t want to leave Alisalm-Land. He told himself it was because of Krisn. Lifelong friends, how could they now part? But he knew it wasn’t only that.

Of course, being atop the palisade he tended to see arrivals even before the guard had shouted alert. He saw Krisnavn come into view, returning from His Indwelling with his two eblann witnesses. As their horses clopped up the hill he could hear their chatter. Eblan Erspn had granted Krisnavn the land—traded for green-feather, one hundred bags to be delivered at each summer’s end. Now Krisnavn must send word to Bukplugn’s Hold, for Trader Maryns was to oversee the building of the new King’s Hold. Though the men he’d provide would be fairly rewarded, yet their very provision was taken as a gift from Bukplugn’s kin to Krisnavn. Demekn was to compose the confirmatory verses. Krisnavn was keeping Demekn busy, not least in learning to ride the horse he’d been given. But some folk just aren’t happy as horsemen.

Talk of Bukplugn’s Hold caused a turn in their chatter. Again, Krisnavn suggested that Detah stored her given wares there. Again, Detah refused him.

“But you’d record every item,” he said.

“Aye, and I’m not saying that their traders would intentionally take. Yet I know how easy it is to just ‘borrow’, intending to replace. You remember, Demekn, those honeyed-fruits when you acted the heron?” And whatever the story, that caused them both to laugh and splutter.

But Krisnavn wasn’t happy with her answer. “I don’t understand you. You’re happy to have the wares stored here beneath canvas where every markon’s fingers are tempted.”

“How tempted,” she asked, “when they know I’ll cast a curse upon them?”

“You’re a strong-headed woman,” Krisnavn said, dismissing the talk.

They were through the gate and the guard again closing the high and wide doors when Megovis called down to the guards to hold. “Markistes Iusan and Ismelis returning, if I’m not mistaken.” And who could mistake the Regiment horses and the markistes with their braid-tips glinting—even if they didn’t wear the usual white breeches.

Krisnavn looked up to where Megovis had stationed himself west of the gate. “I’ll have you, Ganros and Biadret in the command room.”

Megovis rubbed his hands down his breeches. Finally! To talk of the Rogue-Kerdolan along the Waters. One more battle and it all would be done. Then again he thought of his return to the Dal—where Uissid Urinod resided. He didn’t want to be near that ogre. And more, he didn’t want to live by rules set by that maliciously calculating giant. Besides, he now openly admitted, he just plain didn’t want to leave Alisalm-Land. His eyes followed the blood-coated gelding and the fire-feathered eblan. But, no, he turned away. Some dreams were impossible.


Two additional stools had been fetched from the sleeping quarters to seat the eight now crammed into the command room. Megovis and Detah took their usual places to either side of Krisnavn. Demekn sat opposite, a markiste to either side of him. Ganros had tried his usual sidling up to Detah. But one look from Demekn and Ganros had decided to sit to the other side, next to Megovis.

This was too much a chance for Megovis to miss. “What, the great bull Ganros, afraid of Demekn? I saw.”

“Not at all,” said Ganros though Megovis knew it a bluff.

And why not the fear? Didn’t young Detah ooze power, and she only an eblan of late. So how much more had her talented brother?

“Am I allowed?” Biadret asked as he took the empty stool next to her.

“Assembled,” Demekn said, though it hardly was needed. Krisnavn then gave his nod for Markiste Iusan to begin his report.

“First, Commander-sir, I have to say the Head of Kerdol told you truth of these Rogue-Kerdolan. They are unassociated with Liënershi. For if in Liënershi’s control by now they’d be gone. Instead we found their trading hold manned and busy.”

Krisnavn grimaced. “It was a small hope.”

“The Rogues present but a small force there, Commander-sir,” Markiste Ismelis took up the report. “Twenty at most. An insult really.”

“You’re certain of that?” Krisnavn asked him.

“We’re certain, Commander-sir; we saw no more, not of Kerdolan. But of Dragsin . . . Another forty.”

“Something more told by the Head of Kerdol,” Krisnavn admitted. “But only forty?”

Megovis agreed the surprise. “By the news those river-walkers brought us of Bukfreha’s Isle, I expected more.”

“Detah, how many boats did they say?” Krisnavn asked her. “I’m remembering as five, am I right?”

“Five, aye,” she agreed. “And if their boats were the same as those we saw along the Waters then, eight to each, that would be forty.”

“Yet didn’t the river-walkers say of the boats being heavily manned?” Krisnavn asked her though Megovis knew well the commander knew exactly what they had said.

“But eight to a boat would seem heavily manned to a river-walker used to only one to a boat,” Demekn explained.

“I had thought there’d be more. Forty. Are you sure?” Krisnavn pressed the markistes.

“It’s true we didn’t stop to count them, Commander-sir,” Markiste Ismelis admitted. “Yet they’ve built for themselves a longhouse, hidden at back of the trading hold, and without them sleeping atop each other, it won’t house more.”

“Horses?” Megovis asked.

“None seen, Captain-sir. Not even piles of their doings.”

“But forty can’t be all that Dragsin can muster,” Krisnavn said, to no one particular. “Though I’d rather not more, yet it seems a low number. Unless they’ve only sent their battle-served men. I don’t suppose you saw any sign of imminent departure?”

“Signs, Commander-sir, such as?” asked Markiste Iusan “We saw four of the Kerdolak longboats, but they weren’t big sea-goers.”

“The size that pulled into South Water?” Krisnavn asked.

“Capable of shore-hopping,” suggested Megovis, “but not a sea-crossing?”

“So at best they’ll be used to ferry Clan Dragsin down to the rivergate, thence to be taken by Hiëmen boat.” For a while Krisnavn was quiet in his thoughts which no one desired to disturb. “We have to admit it,” he finally said, “we don’t know what Dragsin will do. So, we have to factor Dragsin into our plans. That’s now twenty Rogue-Kerdolan, and forty Dragsin.”

“But we have double that number, easy,” Biadret said.

“No, Biadret,” Krisnavn said, “we might have the numbers, but not available. We’ll need cover for all the rivergates—how many Megovis?”

“Four,” Megovis said. “South River, South Water, Dividing River and Big Water; five stations in all beside them.”

“And then the patrols—”

“South Alsime Commons, West Bounds, four for Eli Go Common along to His Indwelling, North Bounds, Big Water . . .” Megovis named them though not for Krisnavn. This was more for the markistes, and for Demekn.

“And what matters our numbers,” Krisnavn said, “when they have that venom.”

“They might have venom,” Ganros countered, “but we have armour.”

“We also have our Alisime seamen,” Megovis put in.

“Yea,” Krisnavn agreed. “And they’ll be deployed at the rivergates. I’d like to pull the markons off the patrols—we need them— but the Alsime aren’t riders to replace them.”

“Maybe not on horses, but patrolling in boats?” Ganros suggested.

Krisnavn didn’t immediately take it. He sighed. “No, whichever way we juggle, we won’t be up to full number. And we won’t crush the Rogues by topping them just by a few markons. If it weren’t for Clan Dragsin . . . Still, let’s have a sketch of the area, see what we’re looking at. Detah and Demekn have already provided but it covers only the Waters around the Meet of North Rib. Could you markistes supply whatever is missing? The area around the Rogues’ trading hold. And wherever these Dragsin are based. Are they quartered with the Rogues, or separate? If separate, where? Can you do it now? Demekn, give them your plan?”

“And all they need do is to shut the gates of that trading hold and we’ve a siege,” Ganros said while they waited for the markistes to add detail to Detah’s and Demekn’s sketch.

“It’ll be easier for us if they do,” Biadret said. “Then all we need do is to fire it. But while the Rogues might do that, the Dragsin wouldn’t, not if they’re time-served. They’re more likely to bundle the Rogues into the hold, there to entice us, while Clan Dragsin themselves form a circle around us. Hidden. We ride through, Beli’s points ready, Dragsin closes behind us. Ambushed, we’re trapped.”

“Beli will be smiling if they can make a full circle. Look at that.” Ganros looked over the markistes’ shoulders at the drawing. “Reeds to south of the hold, river to east. What’s the land like to north?”

“No place to hide in ambush,” Markiste Iusan said. “Tilled land as far as can see. Pasture closer, along by the river and fen.”

“As I said when riding the bounds, the Eskin have to work every last part of their land,” Detah said. “So where is the nearest Eskin court?”

“Here,” Markiste Iusan said, and added strokes to the drawing. “But not one . . . ‘court’ did you call it? No, several, all huddled around what we took as a granary—atop a hill of sorts. Their ‘courts’ lie hidden behind it. Ironic. The only cover for far and we can’t make use of it.”

“What of trees?” Biadret asked.

“None,” Detah answered before the markistes. “That’s why the bridge. There were no trees closer.”

“So the only cover is reed?” Ganros asked.

“Reed, smoke . . . the night,” Detah said and added a grin as she looked at Krisnavn.

“Do I see a plan forming?” he asked her.

Megovis held back a grin; that head of hers, did it ever stop?

“But first,” she said, “we need to pick the right day.”

The markistes, Ganros and Biadret looked at her. But Megovis had guessed it. “When everyone will be at the feasts.”

And what plan is this that requires a feast-day to succeed? We might remember that Detah was raised on tales of Eblan Murdan, whose own battle plans were both devious and unusual. Food for thought?

Next episode: Tuesday 10th May
Start at the beginning with Detah; or go to the Chapter Links

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Painful Partings

Alsalda_CoracleNow Demekn is to serve Commander Horsemaster Krisnavn he no more will reside at Ardy’s Isle—to the potential disgruntlement of three people there . . . Read on

The eblann-chamber went suddenly dark. Demekn knew who it was; he didn’t look up but continued to roll his feather-filled bed, tucking his flyworts and sewing kit into its folds.

“I knew it!” Shunamn snarled.

“It’s only till winter’s end. I’ll return.”

“Huh! Likely. More likely you’ll stay there with your precious king-man. We don’t need Dalys to see that. One cock of his finger, you’re there.”

Demekn rolled his winter furs and travel-cloak and strapped them together with the first roll he’d made. He hefted the whole onto his shoulder. They weren’t heavy, just bulky. But he’d still to carry his musical bow.

“Well?” Shunamn said.

“Maybe you’re right. But if I do stay it’s because the Mistress asks it of me. She’s heard my song and, Shunamn, she likes it. Now she wants me to raise that ring on the Highlands, just like the eblann of old. She’s saying the time is right for it.”

“Like the eblann of old?” Shunamn jeered. “You’ve been blinded by Uestin charms. There’ll be no old ways now that they’ve come. Rings! You think to build a ring for our Mistress? What, you alone will build it, eh? Fool! What, when of old, every family sent their men to work on it, what ever the . . . “ he waved his hands having run out of words. “Aye, I can see our Uestin king will allow you that.”

Demekn made no reply. Encumbered now with bow, bedding and furs, he squeezed gingerly past his black-bearded master. He was almost at Haldalda’s hearth where his stew-bowl and beaker sat muddled with the others when the lodge-door banged. He rolled his eyes skyward. If this was Glania . . . he’d rather have seen her alone. But he heard the step and smelled the grain and know it was Drea.

“I thought I saw you—” She stopped scarcely out of the narrow passage, her face horror-stricken. “You’re leaving?”

He sighed and repeated, “It’s only for winter-half. And it’s not like I’ll be in the Dal. It’s only downriver. I’ve a boat, I can return.”

“Return, of course. To visit Glania. You’d most want to see her.”

“I might want to see you.” He relinquished his load, neatly stacking it in front of his feet. “Drea, you know I’d not leave you here alone.”

“Alone? But I’m not alone. I have the grain-women, and Haldalda, and my dearest Glania. Rather I’d say it’s you who’ll be alone. Or are you as big a fool as our sister, believing our commandering-king-man will value and foster you? He’ll discard you, Demekn, as he’s discarded her, the wretched child. Did you see that pain when he dangled Mistress Hegrea in front of her?”

Demekn ignored her, pointless to argue with her in this mood. He picked up his bundles and continued along to Haldalda’s hearth. Drea followed.

“I understand why my sister fled to him. She’s young, and he seemed to offer her something. Whatever. But Demekn, why you? Can you not see how treacherous he is?”

With wearied sigh he set down his bundles again. He had intended not to say this, but she would keep pushing till he couldn’t hold back.

“Drea, just listen to yourself. You’ve told the man you accept him as king, yet you don’t accept him as himself. All this savage snarling at him at every least chance. What’s done is done, what’s gone is gone. Isn’t that the Alisime way? So let it be. We have lives to live.”

He turned his back to her, kneeling while he tucked his bowl and beaker into the folds of his bedding. She didn’t say further, yet he could feel her watching. Again he hefted the bow to one shoulder and the strapped roll to the other. Then outside the lodge he hesitated. He didn’t want to leave Drea like this. It felt . . . final. And also, he’d not yet seen Glania. Yet he couldn’t go back in to ask after her. That really would infuriate Drea. Uath’s curses! And now his guts felt so heavy they trailed on the ground.


He wasn’t even out of the gate when Shunamn fell in step beside him and snapped a reminder. “Eblann duties?”

Demekn tried not to show irritation. “I’m not deserting my family. And as an eblan the Mistress comes first.”

“Ah, the Mistress you’re to build a ring for. Or do you mean the other mistress, she who holds you by your stones? That one I’ve just seen waiting down by the river.”

“Glania?” He realised the trap even as he jumped at the news.

“Huh, enough said! You ought never to have asked to be my apprentice.” Shunamn turned his steps back to the lodge. “You sing,” he called back. “You make rhymes. But it’s Uestin. Like everything packed into your Luktosn chest. Uestin.”

“Will it be Uestin when I build the ring?” Demekn called back. But Shunamn feigned not to hear.

His step lightened when he saw Glania, and his face loosened into a smile. She was down by the river as Shunamn had said, her cloak tugged beneath her against the wet as she sat on his upturned boat. He felt a twang of guilt at feeling happy when he ought to be sad at leaving Drea.

“How did you know to wait here?” he asked while still walking the muddy path down.

“Eblan Erspn visited the isle yesterday. He said you’d taken a message to my cousin. You’ve accepted his offer?”

He shrugged.

“I’m glad,” she said. “You’re a poet, a singer, and musician; what does your Eblan Shunamn know of such things? And I see by your bundles I was right to wait here.”

“I’d not have left without finding you first.”

“Liar. What would you have done, burdened as you are? Hiked all the way to Bear Hill, looking for me? But Hill Barracks isn’t so far we’ll never again meet. No need for farewells and painful partings.”

“Would it be painful?” he asked her.

“I was saying it as—”

He set down his bow and his bedding and furs on the wind-dried wharf. “Would it be painful, Glania?”

“But you’ll be with my cousin for many more seasons.”

“You’re not answering, you’re avoiding. And I mayn’t stay as his lore-man beyond the winter.”

“You’ll remain, you’re to be a truvidir. And since you’ll be ever at my cousin’s call we’re unlikely to be parted by any great distance. So your question isn’t a question I need to answer.”

He sat beside her. The boat wasn’t big enough, it forced them close. She could have stood but he noticed she didn’t. “Glania . . .?”

“No,” she said before he’d a chance to say more. “Don’t even think of asking. If my leg heals I shall be a markiste. The answer then must be no.”

“Oh? So as a markiste there’d be no pain in our parting? So what if you’re not to be a markiste?” He looked at her, his head set atilt.

“You know that’s not what I’m saying.”

“I know you’re tying yourself into knots. Glania, I ask but a simple question. If we weren’t to be together ever again . . .?”

“But we aren’t together and never will be. Doesn’t matter if I’m a markiste, you’re still an eblan.”

“Hmm, and eblan-lore says that no one, not man, woman, husband, wife, son, daughter, mother, father, brother, sister, is to be given more than the Eblan Mistress.”

She swing round to look at him. “More?

He shrugged. “More attention. More gifts. More devotion. More love. Every song, I give to my Mistress. I am to give to her a ring of stones built on the Highlands. In the past and in the future, I give to her my constant devotion. But I cannot hold her. I can’t kiss her. I can’t give to her my body. I cannot make for her a hearth nor build for her a home. I do believe she’d not be jealous if I were to give these things to another.”

Had he said too much? Glania edged away. But he would not set foot in his boat without first he’d given it his every try.

“And I doubt my Mistress would be jealous were I to give this woman beside me one small kiss. There was a time—”


He looked at her. Why not? He frowned.

“Then this parting would be painful,” she said as if he had asked it. “There, I’ve answered. Have I said enough?” She surged to her feet. And yet didn’t leave. Instead she paced across the boards, her body turned angular in her anger.

“Glania, there’s something I must tell you,” he said. If they must speak of pain, then why not of this. “When I believed you dead, amongst the massacred, I was convinced I’d as good as done you the deed myself.”

She stopped pacing and turned. “But why, how?”

“I didn’t want you to wed Imblysin.”

“Ha! Funny that, I didn’t want to wed him either.”

“But I didn’t leave it at not wanting. I asked Saram to interfere, to stop the wedding.”

“You did, huh? That makes two of us then. Pleaded to Saram, to Uath and Beli, to the Ladies. Offered my life rather than that.” Her lips curled in distaste. “But Uath didn’t want me, and it seems the Ladies have some other fate for me.”

“Maybe they intend you for me?” But he barely could say it, his hope, his fear, weaving together, stolen his breath, caused a great tremble, so all he could do was to gawp.

“You’d best pitch your boat. Only I think it’s about to rain and I’m sure you don’t want me caught in it. And Demekn, don’t ask me again.”


Detah couldn’t believe it. She was now helping Demekn, so great was his task. Easy enough for him to compose the verses to record which Kerdolak holds had accepted Krisnavn as king, and which holds now were empty with no traders and no mariners to guard them. But it took more than one man to record every small metallic item Biadret and Tamesen had brought back from those now-undefended Kerdolak holds. Tamesen’s boat had arrived low in the water, laden with bronze, copper and gold.

Then, when Luktosn’s traders arrived at Hill Barracks, Detah was called to witness, and Demekn again to compose the verses—though Krisnavn had first to double the numbers of everything Buhigen had asked as reward for them being the King’s Gift-Carriers.

“How can the king be seen to be generous to those who serve him when his people just don’t think big?”

“But why should they ask for more when their needs are small?” Detah answered him.

“Then they’ll have to learn to want more.”

“Aye,” Demekn said. Yet Detah noticed he didn’t share in Krisnavn’s laugh.

And now they were assured a constant supply of green-feather herb it was time to tackle Eblan Erspn on the land for the King’s Hold. Though Detah wanted first to collect the herb she’d left at Isle Ardy. Demekn offered to go with her but she’d rather ride Belgantros than to sit in his boat. Besides, he was busy, so much to do.

Drea followed Detah into the lodge, perhaps ten paces behind her. It was unfortunate timing (perhaps Drea had heard Belgantros and been alerted.) Yet Detah couldn’t have taken the herb without first saying. Besides, she couldn’t find it. Demekn could have warned her that someone had moved the trader’s store. She couldn’t just peep into every chamber. To do that would be extremely ill-mannered.

“You have nothing here so why the return?” That stung. And Drea didn’t even offer a greeting.

“I’ve come for the green-feather herb. I left four packages, early this summer’s half.”

“Green . . . ?” Drea squinted though the centre-yard, glistening with overnight rain, helped to lift the otherwise gloom.

“It’s an eblan-herb. Had you ever paid any attention . . .”

“Detah, my sister, we both can say that. Had you but paid attention you’d now be a grain-woman, maybe Granary Mistress when I die. So is this herb for trade? Ah, now, I remember. You brought it here against those rugs and honey you took. But it’s not yours, it’s for trading.”

“Aye, but not from here. You’ve declared your granaries no longer trade.”

“That’s true, but . . . O Blessed Mother!” Drea suddenly grinned and clapped her hands—though it was beyond Detah to even guess why the excitement. “Our mother has finally sent me an answer! Oh, I knew that she would, as soon as we brought her back in.”

Detah eyed her with caution, stepping back a few paces.

“No! Don’t go! Not now you’re here. Listen, we’ve been scratching our heads of what to do with the trader’s store. There’s so much here. Not only Master Bukarn’s as-was, but from the two northern granaries, and from Bukfreha’s. Oh, the trouble we had squeezing everything in—it’s even spilled into a second chamber. It’s taking up far too much room. The days I have spent just holding her skull, asking her what, what should we do with it all. And now she has fetched you here to remove it.”

“You mean Mistress Alenta?” Though she knew by now her mother’s skull would sit atop the shelves in the granary, still Detah’s eyes flicked frantically round in search of it.

“Aye, she’s fetched you here. And now you may have it.”

It still took moments to understand what Drea was saying. Had her sister lost her wits?

“No,” Drea said, “I assure you, it’s the very best of solutions. Our mother’s as clever in death as ever she was in life. But of course, you must take it. Take it all!”

“All?” Detah dully repeated.

She looked into the chamber where Drea was pointing. But it was crammed. Impossible to reach the back without first clearing a pathway through the boxes and pots and the rolled furs. And where amongst this were the four leather-wrapped packages? “Here is too much!”

“No, our mother says you must have it. Every tiniest bit of it. Aye, our mother be praised! I was feeling . . . well not particularly happy at what’s now your life—though we did try to warn you. Aye, but you’d not listen, allying yourself with that commander-king-man. Now you’ve set yourself apart from your granary family, and who knows what’s to happen to you once he has finished with you and—Though you’ve only yourself to blame. But a sister doesn’t like to helplessly watch.”

Detah doubted her sister’s pity came only from her. She could hear Bukarn’s words weaving through Drea’s: You’re setting yourself aside from your kind. And when you’re no more use to him, you won’t belong. Not to anyone, not to anywhere. And she had answered him that she didn’t want to belong. She didn’t want to be owned. She remembered, too, their talk that first visit to Cloud Stone Isle. She had told him how it would be if she stayed at the granary: so long in one place that she’d turn into a stone and be planted there. And he’d told her she lived too much in her head.

Well, she now had her desire. She didn’t belong, not to anyone, nor to anywhere. She had turned her back on her granary-family in favour of Krisnavn. Now her granary-family in return had rejected her. And Drea was right: Krisnavn would keep her at his side only for as long as he had use of her. Then he too would set her aside. Despite Mistress Hegrea’s insistence that her future rests in Krisnavn’s hands, she had already seen the signs of that rejection. But her eblan-master—though he’d set her aside, it was only for now—he’d welcome her back. He had said. He had said.

“I’d like to think some man will yet wed you,” Drea was saying. “Though he’ll not be Ulvregan nor Alsime. Uestin perhaps? I don’t know their ways but they’re likely less fussy. Or there are the Lenevan. Oh, my weakling sister, do you realise what they say of you now? So you wear the feathers but that doesn’t stop them talking.”

She ought to interrupt, to answer her sister’s wild prattlings. But her eyes now had ranged over the mountains of boxes, every size, from small to hold collections of cutting-edged teeth, to huge to hold she didn’t know what, and packed between them the oddly shaped parcels and some stiff, some floppy rolls of furs and fabrics and then there were tiny pots of unguent and tall pots of honey and of honeyed fruits and all sizes between. Her head reeled. Did Drea understand what wealth was given here?

“Still, our mother forgives you and she provides. I’ve no notion of what might be here. Yet there’s surely enough to keep hunger and cold away. Take it, my sister Detah. Consider it our favour to you, and yours to us. It’ll be good to be rid of it.”

She had come here only for the eblan-herb. Now she’d been given this? Her mouth moved but no sound came. And what was she to do with this chamber stuffed to its rafters with wares? Sixteen river-walkers it had taken just to ferry the wares from the northern granaries. And here was that but four times over. Where could she store it? In that tent that served as her quarters when she stayed at the barracks? Aye, she’d complained it was big but it wasn’t that big. But she needed the herb, and who knew where amongst this mountain it had been secreted. Best to make a start on this exploration.

She almost could hear Bukarn howl at seeing how they’d treated his trade-wares. And here she was, just as destructive, moving things here and there, upsetting further the lack of order. Yet she did manage to find what she hoped was all of the perishable foods. Dried meats, smoked blood-sausages, salted fish, cheeses, dried mushrooms, dried fruits, honeyed fruits, and honey: these she gave to Haldalda (who greeted and hugged her).

An armful of weavings she found as well, warm wools, dark-dyed. These too she gave to Haldalda, for herself and her daughters. A similar armful, though of finer weavings, of linen and traded hemp, she gave to the grain-women. Jaljena was as cold as Drea, but Old Apsan clasped her hands and patted her. White linens she found, and checked and striped wools. She bundled them together with a selection of furs to take back to the barracks for herself and Demekn. She left with Haldalda three boxes of assorted beads and several bundles of ribbons to give to Glania.

And finally, at the farthest reach of the chamber, she found what she’d been looking for. The four packages of green-feather herb.

“I’ll have the remainder moved Sapapsan’s Isle,” she told Drea, having to hunt her out before she left. She had no doubt that Demekn would find river-walkers for her, and she would be as generous as a king in rewarding them. It was a wealthy gift. But it hurt deep that she should take it.

So that is another matter now sorted. Though where Detah is to store it all is (as yet) anyone’s guess. And while Krisnavn and Demekn check the now-resolved mundane matters, the day of the Kerdolak confrontation wanders near.

Next episode: tomorrow, Rogues and Dragsin
Start at the beginning with Detah; or go to the Chapter Links

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No Sweat

bi sweat

I open the curtains
I see a dark cloud
And thank my good fortune
To be alive HERE and TODAY

Not in a land laden with poor
Nor 2000 or 200 years before
But where I have shelter to keep me dry
And food aplenty to last this day
And central heating that keeps me warm
Internet, mobiles and telephones . . .

Thus what care I that today is wet
I’ll enjoy watching the downpour
. . . no sweat

Besides, everyone knows what comes after the rain . ..


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And Finally, The Day . . .

FF_MultiHeaded_for_CPOne almost-catastrophe averted. But was it in time, or has Neka caught wind of it? If the Southern Host arrives forewarned of Kerrid’s plans, all that preparation will have been for nothing. Needles to say, times now are tense . . .

In the Wait of the Eclipse, ready now

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Trouble In Camp

FF_Crossed_Staves_and_HeronNow there are nine Asars on the side of Kerrid and her banished divines. But that’s still not brilliant odds. Ypsi’s due soon to return; hopefully he’ll bring Gimmerin’s sons with him, Tgaram, Arith and Vaynto. For that battle now is imminent. And in the meantime  . . . there’s trouble in camp.

No! A Catastrophe, now ready

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Ring Around The Highlands

Alsalda Musical BowCommander Horsemaster Krisnavn has resolved another of his problems, that of governing the Kerdolak trading holds, surrendered to him by the Head of Kerdol. Meanwhile there’s Demekn, who also has problems, one in particular now become pressing . . . Read on

Answers, Demekn muttered as he slid his musical bow into its leather case. Why did the Mistress still deny him the answers? He slung the carry-strap over his shoulder and strode off at a determined pace. It wasn’t the best day for walking. His boots already were soaked from the grasses around his oak-cavern at Bisaplan’s old isle. His narrow Uestin breeches tightly clung to his calves, their damp creeping upwards. Yet he set off determinedly along Freeland Walk to the Eblann Freeland. And Bear Hill.

The air was heavy with the rich scents of the season, of damp earth, sodden leaves, and fungi. He liked those smells of decay, of life returning to the Mother. Yet he scoffed at that notion. As if the decay was only now beginning! And wasn’t it true that, rather than to wait till after the winter, new life was already springing from that decay.  At least Drea would say so. And Detah?

Demekn part-snorted, part-sighed. Detah couldn’t seem less substantial to him if she were a spirit. “No!” He suddenly realised his thought and called up to Saram before Saram could act upon it. “No, I don’t mean to think of her dead.”

Again he snorted. Before Saram can act on it. Wasn’t that how this all began?

He kicked at the leaves, now thick on the ground beneath the Freeland trees. It was here he’d seen the deer that seemed to think him a tree. But he had told Glania now. And he certainly wasn’t a tree: a tree wouldn’t hurt like this with the wanting.

Bear Hill. He scoffed of that too. So where were the bears? Not here any more. The Ancients or Ancestors or some other hunters long ago killed every last one of them. He turned in the direction of the hidden tumun. Only Alsalda’s spirit roamed here now, ever yearning for her Earth Man, Ulmelden. Another snort, again in scoff. Alsalda: that’s what they were calling Detah now. And if she were yearning some man, then he felt for her.

He arrived at the crown of the hill where the huge mother-beech offered her knees. Demekn sat there, as he had before. And wasn’t it there, on an overcast day after an overnight rain—just as now—that he had looked at the clouds just as they parted and, yi! Sauën had blinded him. But he wasn’t blind any more. Nigh an entire summer now with her dangling before him the friendship they’d started before the Judgement. He ached at the memory. With the right moves, that friendship could have developed to more. Could have.

He looked again at the sky. Would Sauën give him another sign? But no, Saram had already answered him with the sign of the dropped eblan-rod. He sighed, this time full-heavy like he’d a full belly. So, ought he go to Commander Krisnavn now, and say, thank you, I’ll be your lore-man? But there was more to being an eblan than an eblan-rod. Must he tear out his heart? For it was with his heart that he was committed to his Mistress Sauën. And there was his maelstrom. For given the chance, that same heart would commit to Glania.

“Blighted irony,” he muttered as, savagely, he tramped back down the hill. He’d only asked to be an eblan apprentice so he’d not have to return to the Dal and face her. “And you’re no help,” he said up at Saram. “Asking of me the impossible.”

After some distance and more stomping he again looked up at the deep-clouded sky. “You want me to set this rod aside?” He brandished it at Saram. “Fine. Then give me a sign.” Then he laughed at himself. So how many signs would it take to convince him?


Back on granary-land, he sat on Ardy’s boards, his feet scarcely a hand from the rushing water. Aye, and what cared he if the water splashed him. His jaunt up to Bear Hill had left him soaked, his feet now freezing. And he shouldn’t be sitting here, dangling his feet, doing nothing. He’d do better to upturn his riverboat and slip it into the flow. Instead, his gaze was back and forth, from the boat to the steep rise with Ardy’s lodge hidden beyond it. Until the crack and whumph of a heron’s wings drew his attention. The bird had risen from the river’s bend, disturbed by a riverboat.

He’d no need to see the man’s face in that boat, anyway blurred by the distance. His speckled-feather cloak was enough, and his bracken-brown hair. Demekn waited until he was close before standing, intending to help the older man to haul in his boat.

“No, no,” Eblan Erspn brushed his offer aside. “I’m not visiting here. I only pulled over to talk.”

Demekn frowned. “What, to me? I assumed . . . my sister.”

“Well, aye, I am off to visit her, too—I mean the younger one. I take it Detah is down at Hill Barracks? So hard to keep track of her now.”

“If it’s only a message, I might save you the pole,” Demekn offered. “Only I was then thinking of going there myself.”

Eblan Erspn pursed his lips, clearly considering it. “No, it would not be polite. Yet . . . aye, well, she might take it better coming from you. Just let me haul out, just let me think. You’ve totally topsed me. And I suppose your visit is to deliver your answer?” He stood aside while Demekn pulled the black-skinned riverboat onto the bank.

“I’ve no decision made,” Demekn mumbled, ashamed to say it to the Eblan Head Man.

“Yet that in itself is decision.”

Demekn looked back at him, hoping the older eblan might pass on a few wise words. But Eblan Erspn seemed deep in his thoughts.

“It’s never so easy when another speaks for you,” he said. “I don’t want her to misunderstand my words. If I went there myself I could quickly explain before she slides into the mud. It’s not easy, composing a message.”

“Not easy to understand one either. Not even when it’s clearly given,” Demekn said. For hadn’t Saram again answered, now in the sign of Eblan Erspn? Yet what did it mean, more than deciding him to visit the barracks? Aye, and once he was there? He may not even see Commander Krisnavn. The man could be away inspecting the bounds-stations.

“Are you listening to me?” Eblan Erspn recalled his attention. “I’m talking here for the sake of the clouds? Now, you’re to say to your sister, to Eblan Detah, that I send my apologies, but that I’m unable to attend her as her eblan-master.”

“You’re setting my sister aside?” Shocked, Demekn’s words spilled in accusatory tone.

Eblan Erspn’s hands fluttered as he tutted. “See, she’s so busy, Demekn. How can I continue to instruct when . . . I never know where she is. It’s been no easy decision but, no, I can no longer be her eblan-master.”

“Does this mean my sister will be no more an eblan?” Demekn asked, his own thoughts racing.

“No, no, no, I’ll say not. What, Detah? But she’s inspired beyond our imagining. No, the Mistress guides her—though to us, the ways may seem strange. But the Mistress works with her and through her. How could she ever not be an eblan? Though I will say, it’s unlikely she’ll ever be master. But that’s of little importance. Eblan Hegrea’s no master either.”

“She’ll still have her eblan-rod?” Demekn asked.

“Hmm. Aye. Her cloak as well. Aye she’ll still wear her feathers. Then, once everything is settled and . . . you know, then I’ll welcome her back should she want. You must tell her that. Make sure she knows. I don’t want her to feel . . . abandoned. Never that, not by me.”

“I’ll tell her.”


Demekn nodded. But this wasn’t the answer he’d wanted, that Detah was to keep her eblan-rod.

“What if she . . . what if she weds?” he asked Eblan Erspn.

“No,” Erspn said without pause for thought. “I know what you’re thinking. I’ve heard the talk and I know how it looks. But I’ve seen them together and . . . No, he doesn’t intend to offer her that.”

Demekn didn’t immediately know what he meant. Then slowly it slotted into place, and he laughed. “No, you misunderstand. I didn’t mean she’d wed the commander. I just . . . Eblann are not . . . I just wondered, now you’ve set her aside, if she’d now be allowed.”

“What an odd talk this is turning to be,” Eblan Erspn said and shook his head as if to clear it. “Demekn, who has told you that eblann mayn’t wed? That Shunamn I suppose. Though, looking around . . . Aye, I can see that you’d think it. But no, there’s nothing at all in eblan-lore that prohibits. But, I ask, has an eblan time for a wife after he’s kept the five eblan-duties?—and those duties must ever come first. And, oh, I suppose now I’m this close I ought to visit Mistress Drea. Now she ought to have been an eblan. Determined never to wed, is that one.”

Demekn watched him climb the path to Isle Ardy before turning back to the boats.


The seasonal winds threatened to batter Detah as she wound her way up and around Barracks Hill. But she didn’t mind. She enjoyed them,they made her feel alert and alive. And neither was she alone. She and Krisnavn had been farewelling Biadret and Tamesen. They were off to the Kerdolak trading holds to take notes of the stores, to take oaths and obeisance from however many Kerdolan might remain there. Tamesen was confident they’d return before the sailing season ended. Krisnavn had told them they’d best be back for there was yet to be the final battle. Even now he was waiting on the reports of the markistes Iusan and Ismelis, they being charged with the reconnoitre of North Rib and the Waters. Detah didn’t doubt she’d be included in making the plans. Luktosn’s kin might have pushed her away but Krisnavn was now keeping her close.

They were almost at the barrack gate when something, some sound, some sense, told her to look back. She let out a whoop of delight.

“Look, see! My brother Demekn visits,” she called to Krisnavn.

“I’ll see him in my quarters,” he said. But she knew he didn’t mean it as a slight; it’s just he was too busy to sit by the gate and wait. She knew he was pleased.

“Detah!” Demekn greeted her. And it felt so good when he hugged her, it had been so long. She regretted she must break the hug to repeat of Krisnavn.

“I’m to bring you along to his quarters.”

“You don’t share those quarters . . . do you?” he asked in worried tone.

She laughed. “No. When here, I’ve a tent. The same as we used when we rode the bounds. See, it’s over there. I have it all to myself, it’s so big.” Big. Empty. Alone. But he’d no need to know that.

“Are you saying you shared it when you rode the bounds? Ah, but the Regiment, they think nothing of it. But no one has . . .?”

“Demekn! No.” Then she laughed as amusement replaced annoyance. “No, I think they’re afraid of what curses I’ll cast upon them.”

They were almost at the captains’ quarters where Krisnavn had his command room when Demekn suddenly stopped, his hand on her arm to hold her back. “Detah? I’ve something I must say—”

“Aye, later. He’s expecting you. You are here to accept?” she suddenly thought to ask.

“I’m not sure why I am here. Except I’ve a message for you.”

“From my sister? You can keep it.”


Before she’d yet knocked at the door it opened. In mock, Megovis bowed and ushered them in. It seemed he always was teasing her, even though it was sometimes inappropriate. But she did appreciate that he made her laugh. Now she flicked her fingers at him as they passed. He feigned that it stung. She tushed him.

“Eblan Demekn,” Krisnavn greeted her brother. “You’ve come to talk of my offer? Please sit.” The usual stools had been set in their usual circle.

“But first I have a message I must give to my sister. From Eblan Erspn.”

“From . . . Erspn?” Detah felt her heart lurch; her head went woozy. He’d no need to say the message, she knew what it was. More complaints, that she stayed at the barracks instead of attending her master, and when was she to return, and was this any behaviour for an eblan. She looked away, not wanting to meet anyone’s eyes.

“Would you prefer, you two, to be alone?” Krisnavn was already making to leave.

“I thank you, Commander Krisnavn, but no,” Demekn answered. “I believe Eblan Erspn would prefer that you stay. As witness?”

Detah stared at her brother, her curiosity caught. Her eblan-master never would chide her or nag her in front of Krisnavn. He’d previously kept such words strictly between them.

“Then say on,” Krisnavn bid him. “Then we two shall talk.”

All the same, Krisnavn and Megovis kept themselves apart, allowing Demekn and Detah to seem as alone.

“So what is it?” Detah pressed when at first Demekn hesitated.

“I’m arranging the words.”

“I thought it a message, not a song.” And if he ever composed that promised song to Alsalda she would refuse to hear it.

He rendered the rehearsed words: “Eblan Head Man Erspn regrets that he can no longer be your eblan-master. He says you are too busy—which is true, Detah. But he says that once everything is settled, if you wish to return—”

“He’s saying I’m no longer an eblan?” She’d not expected that. All her excitement at seeing Demekn, and he’d brought her this message? She felt again how she’d felt at Luktosn’s Hold. Excluded. And this time not by traders who weren’t after all her father’s kin. But by Eblan Erspn, her actual father.

“I asked the same,” Demekn was saying, but she wasn’t sure she was hearing it right, “and he said no. He says you’ll always be eblan, that the Mistress inspires you. He insisted I told you of that—are you listening? You look like you’re listening to spirits. Eblan Erspn wants you to know that he’ll always welcome you back.”

“He does? I don’t suppose that was a decision easily made.”

“Aye, he did say something like that.”

“Aye, I guess he is right to set me aside. I do see that.” She flicked her head back, lips pressed tight on what could have been tears. But he would take her back, he had said that. “Would you return a message from me, to thank him for his consideration. If you’d tell him, too, I would like to return when I’m able.” Despite what Mistress Hegrea had said, she couldn’t see that Krisnavn could offer her anything. Maybe the Ladies intended her only to bring Krisnavn and Demekn together.

“If that’s all?” Krisnavn asked.

“Aye, so best I leave.” Detah was already part-way to the door, eager to be alone with her thoughts.

But Krisnavn stayed her. “If it’ll not be too boring for you? I need two witnesses.”

So again she sat, now to witness with Megovis their talk of oaths and service and duration.

“As to reward,” Krisnavn said, and Detah echoed the words in her head, having heard him say the same to Luktosn’s kin. “It’s Dal-lore, the king is generous in gifting any and all who perform even the slightest of service. But we talk only of this winter half. If you remain thereafter you’ll be apprenticed, and that’s another thing. You agree?”

“You’ve not yet offered,” Demekn said.

“I spoke in principle.”

“Then in principle, I agree.”

“Good. Now, I understand you wish to build a ring on the Highlands. I take it that’s a ring of stone. Maybe to rival Cloud Stone Isle?”

“How do you know that?” Demekn scowled accusingly at Detah.

“But it’s what you want,” she defended. “Like the eblan of old. One last ring to out-glory them all. My gift to the Mistress, yours to Sauën, and thus Krisnavn’s to the granary-family. A ring on the Sun’s Highlands where we’ll gather together, two peoples now become one.”

“High words from an eblan-true,” Demekn said. But there was a sourness to it.

“Well?” Krisnavn prompted.

“Aye, though that . . . that’s more than I’d ever ask of you. But then I haven’t the bare-faced boldness of my sister.”

“You must tell me everything you need for it,” Krisnavn said. “You’ll need more than just stone and rope, I do know. You’ll need strong and skilled men for the work, and food and housing for them. Between composing these lore-verses, you’d best give some thought to it. But, just name what you need.”

“Well speak,” Detah pressed him, for Demekn now sat astounded and slack-jawed.

“But . . . it’s a dream. I never thought . . . just a dream. I can’t even think where to start.”

“By saying where it’s to be?” Detah suggested.

“On the Highlands. The Old Isle of the Dead. We can use Murdan’s Stones, and show again our dominion over the Kerdolan.” He nodded as if he liked the sound of it.

“Now of that, I approve.” Krisnavn said. “So have we an agreement? You accept my help as your reward?”

And that’s another thing sorted. But if Demekn is to serve Commander Horsemaster Krisnavn, even if only for the winter-half, then he’ll no longer reside at Ardy’s Isle—and there are three people there who mayn’t be overly impressed with this sudden departure.

Next episode: Painful Partings
Start at the beginning with Detah; or go to the Chapter Links

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Alsalda Roundhouse and CattleOne of the children at Luktosn’s Hold must have seen Detah and Krisnavn climbing the hill, and raced back to tell Trader Buteld. For now Trader Buteld waits for them at the gate . . . Read on.

“You’re looking exceptionally bright. Have you good news?” Detah asked Trader Buteld when at first he didn’t acknowledge her (despite he had greeted Krisnavn).

He shrugged. Then a grin formed and widened. “It’s our Flasina. There’s an infant to come next season, all being well—our Buhigen’s first. We hope for a son. It’ll be good, eh, a boy, a son.”

“Indeed.” Detah nodded, her smile genuinely given.

“May the Ladies bind it,” Krisnavn said.

Though it was a Dal-wish Trader Buteld nodded acceptance and without asking why their visit he scraped open the gate. They had walked their horses through before he remembered. “But what brings you; it’s late in the season to be visiting.”

“Is there a season?” Krisnavn asked aside to Detah.

She chided him, “You know full well it’s a greeting.”

Trader Buteld’s eyes glinted as he looked from one to the other. “A wedding soon, eh? I see she has you on a good leash.”

Krisnavn looked away, his crinkled eyes gone. But Detah had grown used to it now.

“Foot’s grown again!” Trader Buteld tried to make light of it. “Forgive an old man. So what’s your business here that you’re not tending your herds?”

“I’ve come to talk of gifts and trade,” Krisnavn said, his composure more swiftly regained than Detah’s. She could feel her face burning.

“Best you enter,” Trader Buteld said and closed the gate behind them.

“If your sons are to hand,” said Krisnavn, “I’d like them to hear our talk, too.”

Trader Buteld cast a glance back at them. “An Ulvregan is always ready to speak of trade. They’re not far away, I’ll call them. Moving the cattle down to the late pastures. We want to get the most from those beasts before we need bring them in. If you’ll wait . . . Burhata! A brew for our visitors,” he called ahead though there were no women outside the roundhouse where they usually were.

“You think they’ll agree to it?” Detah asked once Trader Buteld had left them alone to meander their way between the pens of sheep with their wide-flared horns.

“They will as long as the reward is great enough. And if not these, there are others. I can’t swear to Eblan Erspn that his eblann will have the herb for all time until I’m assured it will be perpetually fetched.”

“What’s this of fetching?” They’d not heard Buhigen come up behind them, the sheep loud in their bleating and trampling, mud squelching, wind blustering. “You want to sit out here?” He looked around at the muddy ground in front of the roundhouse. “Only I’d rather sit by the fire, inside. If a king isn’t offended at our meagre dwelling?” He led them beneath the arched thatch of the doorway muttering the while of Buteld finally losing his wits. “Fancy him leaving a king to make his way in.” Buhigen scarcely glanced at Detah; he gave no greeting. She shrugged it off. He’d other things to be thinking.

Inside, and she tried not to let her excitement show. Though she’d heard all her life of the Ulvregan roundhouses she’d never been inside one. It was dark, not at all like Ardy’s lodge, and it took more than a moment to accustom her eyes. But then what she saw was more similar than different. True, there was no open yard at its heart. Instead was a wide hearth in which burned fierce embers, probably holly and hawthorn. And neither were there strong-walled chambers ringed around it. Yet there were rooms, if oddly shaped, divided off by wattle-walls, rug-draped. As she looked around she saw the Alisime rugs were everywhere—on walls, used as door-hangings, as sit-upons to cushion hard boxes. She noticed, too, how warm in here, more cosy than she remembered her mother’s lodge. But she was surprised to find no women except for Burhata. Probably out with the children gathering winter bedding and fodder while the weather still held.

Buhigen’s young brother Takenn had followed them in. After them came a trail of boys, the oldest maybe graduated to ‘travelling apprentice’. Each took a place around the heat-belting hearth, dropped to a half-crouch, ignoring the rugs. They left space for Krisnavn, but not for Detah.

Burhata handed the brew-bowl to Trader Buteld, then gently steered Detah away. She wasn’t happy with that, a plea shot to Krisnavn. But he wasn’t watching.

“You sit here with me, now.” The old woman Burhata used her chin to show her a tussock. Despite all the rugs, it wasn’t even covered. It was like sitting down in the Wetlands. And this her father’s own family! A fine way to be treated just because his spirit was away now with the Mistress. But, no, in truth Bukarn hadn’t been her father at all. So neither was this family her kin. Even so, she resented where she’d been put. And Krisnavn had allowed it.

The bowl passed around the men. None thought to offer it to her, not even Krisnavn. The old woman Burhata jerked up her chin in derogatory comment and from behind her produced a bark mug. “Young eblan-woman, too, should drink.”

Detah drew back after the first sip.

Burhata chuckled. “Good, eh? My recipe that. Brought it from Meksuin’s Hold.” Fermented juice, spiced and hot, it was easily equal to any Old Apsan could make.

She heard Buhigen belch, saw him wipe his sleeve across his beard-rimmed mouth. She sniffed in disgust.

“So,” Buhigen said, “Commander Horsemaster Krisnavn, what’s this you want fetched?”

“Not so fast,” Krisnavn told him. “First you need hear the full proposal.”

“We’re listening,” the younger brother Takenn said—which earned him a slap and a scowl from Buhigen.

“We’re listening,” the eldest trader, Buteld, repeated. “But first I’ll remind you, for our woes Luktosn’s Hold is allied to Clan Reumen.”

“An old alliance, you have said, and not to your liking. But regardless, this doesn’t involve Dal Uest. Except that in being King Tanisven’s brother I am presently indebted to the king of Dal Sahalis.”

“Good juice?” Burhata asked, disturbing Detah’s eavesdropping. “You’d like more?”

“It’s warming on a cold day,” Detah remarked. Too warming. She wanted to shed her eblan-feathers. Yet those feathers were her protection, and since she’d been pushed away from the hearth she felt it wise to retain them.

When she could again listen-in, Krisnavn was explaining of the recent gift from the Sahalian king shared between him and his brother. “King Tanisven promptly replied with an equally exquisite gift. But here I am in Alisalm, with nothing to send. As you’ll appreciate, I must set this right as soon as I can.”

“You leave it late,” Trader Buteld said. “Less than a moon till the end of sailing; nothing then till come next spring.”

Krisnavn held up his hands. “No, this I know. And I don’t speak of venturing before the next season. But this Sahalian king, his greatest liking is for something I do not have here and I can send him nothing other.”

“You’re asking if we have it? What is it?” Buhigen anticipated, wrongly.

“No, I doubt that you have it. Not yet. Not in the quantity required.”

“What is it you’re after? More metals?” Trader Buteld asked.

Krisnavn shook his head. “No. Sauën’s tears—amber. We’ve already spoken of it. I said of its source.”

Despite the previous scold for his keenness, Takenn jumped in. “You want us to go to the White Sea? You want us to fetch back the amber so you can to send it off to your Sahalian kin?”

The old woman Burhata leant-in closer. “Your man go cutting Meksuin out of a deal, he’ll catch a blade with his throat,” she said with quiet urgency.

“Meksuin’s deal is safe,” Detah assured her. “Krisnavn will take whatever Meksuin has of unworked metal.”

“Their salt too?”

“Meksuin has salt?”

“They used to trade it off to the Feg Folk. But now the Feg Folk have it off those Uestuädik Kerdolan.”

“I could take the salt for the granaries.” But no she could not. The granaries were no more to trade. Though she’d heard her sister say it, the full implications hadn’t yet sunk in. The granaries were no more to trade. She felt her eyes sting, her nose begin to fill. No! She mustn’t allow it to show, not here, not now.

“What is it?” Burhata laid a comforting hand on Detah’s arm.

“The juice. I’m unused . . . “

She’d always known it was no more than idle dreams. But if the granaries were no more to trade then Drea had stolen away even those dreams. The loss hit harder than Bukarn’s death—harder than anything she could ever remember. Broken dreams; now what was her life to be? Empty. Idle. It mattered not that she’d known those dreams were impossible. They’d been there, they were hers. She sniffed and hoped the tears didn’t show. She was an eblan now, and that was a better life by far than any life Drea now had.


“Let me be clear on this,” Buhigen said, having listened to Krisnavn’s explanation of the Tuädik king’s ‘gift game’. “We’re to take your hundreds of rugs and pots of honey as a gift to the Nritrian king who, you say, dwells close by the shore of White Sea. This Nritrian king, in his delight, will ask us what you might most like. But we’re not to say the eblan-herb, although that’s what you want. We’re to say the amber-stone, which as you say, grows ample there. These stones, more easy to carry though maybe more weighty, we then ferry along that river you’ve said of till we come to Dal Sahalis, and there we seek out the Sahalian king.”

“I shall give full directions of how to find both the Sahalian and Nritrian kings.”

“Such directions might be sore-needed,” Buhigen agreed. “Laden with wares isn’t the safest time to be asking directions. But then these amber-stones we give to the Sahalian king, saying they’re a gift from Krisnavn, the Alisime king.”

“He will ask what our king most would like,” Takenn took up the process. “And we’ll tell him he’d most like the eblan green-feather-herb—which grows so rampant in his lands that he’ll fill our boats higher than they’d been even with rugs.”

“But isn’t that what you said to me when you visited before?” Trader Buteld asked.

“Not quite, no,” Krisnavn said. “Then, I only suggested. To improve your own trading.”

“Our own trading, you say?” Buhigen repeated. “But how are we to trade if we’re busy doing all this king-visiting and gifting?”

“But I ask only that you go to the people I’ve named. What you do on the way . . . trade, take in the sights, hunt, that’s yours to decide. Your journey, your livelihood. Hmm?”

Detah could see these traders weren’t jumping as eagerly as Krisnavn had hoped. Now if she’d sat beside him she could have helped. But, no, she was a woman, an eblan, excluded.

“I can see how this proposal works to your advantage,” Trader Buteld said. “But I’ll scratch my head of how it works for Luktosn’s. I’ve a son here soon to have a son of his own. You reckon he’ll go off hopping around the world, and no gain?”

“But there will be gain.”

“Aye, as likely we’d gain anyway by trade on the way.”

“It’s Dal-lore,” Krisnavn said, “that the king is generous in gifting any and all who perform even the slightest of service for him.”

“Gifts?” Buhigen scoffed. “Gifts aren’t ever what you want and never what you need. Gifts are useless frivolous things.”

“You speak of Alisime gifts,” Krisnavn said. “These are a king’s gifts. You tell me what you want and what you need, and I shall give it. If first you swear to be my gift-carriers.”

Aye, and that’s unwise, to say they can ask for whatever they want, Detah mumbled away to herself. What if they asked for . . . for all the cattle in all the world? Or all the wool? Or the gold? Did he really trust them to set their sights low? But looking round at the lacklustre interior of their hold, aye, she could see that he’d trust them to that. Clearly their wealth dangled as trinkets upon their persons. Time was when she’d thought the Ulvregan traders had plenty. But now she had seen the wares displayed at Liënershi, now she realised how little they had.

“We’re to go there and back—to Dal Sahalis by way of Dal Nritris and this river you said—and for this you’ll give us whatever we ask?” Takenn asked. He sounded incredulous.

“No short journey,” Krisnavn warned.

“Neither is Meksuin’s Hold to Dal Sahalis,” Buhigen said. “And then there’s dodging the warring folks.”

“But this will only be the once in, say, four summers,” Krisnavn said.

Taken laughed. “Once in four? I’ll take that.”

“Hush up. You’re not dealing here,” Buhigen said. “So, we can ask for whatever we want? There’s no trick?”

The eldest boy, wheat-white hair and sun-reddened face, cheekily chirped, “But he’s not going to tell you there’s a trick if there is.”

“Ask it now,” Krisnavn said. “I’ll have a lore-man set the terms in lore-verse; it’ll remain unchanged, for all time.”

“That’s an alliance,” Trader Buteld said, and by his tone he didn’t like it.

Takenn ignored him, still busy speculating. “But what if we asked for two calves every summer’s end, and five armfuls of furs, and hides enough to . . . oh, and maybe, say, fifty baskets of grain?”

“If that’s what you want, and you all agree it, then I’m happy to give it.”

“You want us to say here and now?” Buhigen asked. “I mean, if this is never to change, I say we need to have a good thorough thought on it.”

“As I would expect and advise. So, I’ll give you till—Detah,” he finally realised she wasn’t beside him and turned to look for her. “How many days now till the Feast of Summer Ending?”

“Three more than three quartermoons,” she said, a quick swallow of her irritation.

“Twenty-five days?” he asked to confirm, then frowned when she grunted an ‘aye’. He turned back to the traders. “I’ll have your answer a clear seven days before that feast. That ought to allow enough talk. But I will have that answer then, else I’ll take my proposal to another trader.”

“If you can find one,” Trader Buteld said. “You’re forgetting how short that massacre has left us Ulvregan for traders.”

“And you forget not all traders are Ulvregan. But there’s yet another matter I need to discuss—if you will hear me. And, Detah,” he said, again turning back to her. “I’ll have you come join me.”


Luktosn’s male-folk made a show of reluctance as they shuffled along to make room for Detah. She spread out her feathers as she took a place by the fire. That feathered cloak might declare her an Alisime-eblan, but it was her cross-legged stance, in mimic of Krisnavn, that advertised her allegiance.

“You’ve heard of the success of the Alisalm fleet?” Krisnavn began. “That they destroyed six of the Kerdolan’s trading holds. But what’s yet kept close is that the Head of Kerdol, in admitting defeat, has surrendered the entirety of her holdings to me.”

“If you’ve come here to brag—” Buhigen growled.

“I say only to explain why this talk.”

Detah added her own quizzical looks to those of the brothers. She’d thought Krisnavn’s only intent here was to enlist Luktosn’s men as official gift-carriers.

“Unfortunately, in the attack certain trading holds incurred fire-damage. We don’t yet know the full extent; they’ve not yet been inspected. But once we know, then we’ll either repair or built anew. It’s mostly with these I’m concerned—they’re all to the south. The northern holds still have their traders.

“Now, I sit amongst traders so I don’t need to say, yet I will. The Kerdolak trading holds deal in metals—in copper, tin and bronze, and in gold. Moreover, their metal is not worked and reworked; theirs isn’t the charm-infested dross we get from the south. These Kerdolan aren’t—or weren’t—traders only, but prospectors, miners, craftsmen, metallurgists. They have their own sources of ores. The workers at these sources—miners, smiths and their like—have always relied upon Liënershi to supply them with grain and meat and—but I hardly need tell you: you provide the same for Meksuin’s Hold. All those supplies that frees a man from hunting and fishing so the miners can mine and the smiths can craft.”

Detah could see now where Krisnavn was leading with his talk. And judging by their nods, so too could Luktosn’s men. But she couldn’t see why he had asked her to sit beside him. Without the granary trade this Kerdolak metal meant nothing to her. Was it only that he’d then noticed her pushed aside and wished to rectify?

“You accused me of bragging?” Krisnavn continued. “Hey, look, all this I have! No. I tell you, all I have is a herd of aurochsen grazing my head.” And he did speak as if he was weighted with cares. “Aye, the Head of Kerdol has left all this to me. But with the southern holds destroyed and their traders gone, their miners and craftsmen are now without food and clothing and . . . So now they must stop their work to go hunt. Which leaves them less time for mining and crafting. And that means less metal coming into the holds.

“Oh, but, why ought I to fret, you ask. What does it matter what comes into those holds? For I have no traders to deal it, whether it be for honey or grain or . . . See, who am I; I’m no trader to know of these things.”

“You’re looking at us?” Trader Buteld sat back in surprise, a grin beginning to trickle over his face.

Krisnavn looked at those gathered around him before he answered. “I’m looking for a man who knows about metals, about smiths, and trade.” His gaze held on Buhigen, whose wife’s brother, Nekyn, the Saramequai had already used as a smith. “I’m thinking this might better suit an older man—there’ll be no travelling: I seek only an advisor.”

“You’re asking me?” Trader Buteld asked. “You do know we’re allied to Clan Reumen.”

Krisnavn laughed. “That you were allied, long years ago. Detah?” he finally turned to her. “What can you tell us of that alliance?”

She blinked, surprised to be asked of it when all around her were Luktosn’s kin. Yet she answered. “It was contracted between Luktosn’s trader Danskaken and King Rudrens of Clan Reumen. To seal it, King Rudrens gave his daughter Kolmika as wife to Matys, Danskaken’s son. She was my . . . she was Bukarn’s mother, and the reason my brother served his four in the Dal.”

“And Danskaken and Buteld are, what, brothers?” Krisnavn asked her.

“Indeed we are not!” Trader Buteld cut in. “He was my uncle.”

“So the alliance dates to a generation before you?” Krisnavn asked him. “And when was it last reaffirmed?”

Trader Buteld frowned.

“Well, was it during the time of your travelling?” Krisnavn prompted him. “Clearly not, else you’d say, not sit there, brows drawn and head hung down.”

“We prefer not even to speak to them,” Buhigen snapped, his words loaded with venom. “Bukarn was the one—her father. We reckoned he was chasing a woman there.” He glared at Detah, who glowered in return.

“So no one now living has reaffirmed it?” Krisnavn asked. “Then it is void. Null. Gone. And I’ll have your answer to both propositions a clear seven days before the next feast.”

He rose and, with barely a nod, left the kinsmen to their hearth.


“What was that about?” he asked Detah once out of Luktosn’s hearing. “When here before, they welcomed you. Now they push you away?”

“Bukarn’s spirit now has left. They’ve no need to honour me in fear of him.”

“Bukarn, Bukarn. I’ve noticed this since my return: you no longer say of your ‘father’, only of ‘Bukarn’. Detah, it would hurt me greatly if this is because of what happened.”

“It’s not that,” she said. “He knew, he accepted, and so did I. I could not have ridden the bounds with you elsewise. No, the reason is simple. Bukarn wasn’t my father.”

As the Feast of Summer Ending approaches so the outstanding problems are slowly resolved. To appoint an Ulvregan trading family to act as the king’s gift-carrier throughout the years and into eternity is thus to ensure the eblann have an unending supply of their green-feather herb, which in turn will secure the future kings’ rights to the land where Krisnavn intends to set the king’s hold. But that’s only one problem amongst many.

Next episode: Ring Around The Highlands
Start at the beginning with Detah; or go to the Chapter Links

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