Something Slightly Different

This week has seen the conclusion of both the long-running Feast Fables—the first episode posted end of December 2012—and of Alsalda, the third Asaric tale to be serialised here on crimsonprose (along with Neve and Priory Project).

There is yet another Asaric tale waiting in the wings to make its appearance but I’m holding that until late summer.

In the meantime, to misquote the Monty Python team, “Now for something slightly different:” a new weekly serial, The Chronicle of Mideer, begins Tuesday June 14th.

Weekly serial Starts Tuesday 14th June

Weekly serial
Starts Tuesday 14th June

In the Western Ocean are set three lands:

  • the semi-tropical Macara, host to bands of hunter-gatherers
  • the technologically advanced and populous Glyntland
  • and between them the feudal lands of Madjaria—where a prophecy waits to be fulfilled.

The king’s daughter,
one such has never been born before,
shall unite the three lands
.

The king’s daughter is Mideer; her chronicle an account, written for her priests of the Dark Gods, of how she proceeds.

So, until Tuesday June 14th . . . . perhaps you’d like to browse my trees.

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Trees #1

I like trees. I like taking photos of trees. As I noted in Reflections, trees don’t fly off, or get uppity cos you’re taking too long to compose the shot. Trees . . .  just are.

Here are some of my favourites, encountered while walking in the ‘wilds’ of Norfolk (England, that is) . . . .

Tree 1

A youngster, alone in the woods . . .

Tree 4

And an oldster . . .

Tree 6

Actually, I mostly take studies of old trees. They are more characterful.

Tree 5

And I’ve purposely made it so you have to scroll down, to slowly reveal the whole of the tree. It’s usually around the base that tree displays the most character.

Tree 2

See what I mean . . . a most interesting part of this tree.

Tree 3

And though I only discovered this one this week it’s already a firm favourite.
I imagine it dancing, raising its arms to the sky in worship . . .

And talking of worship . . . something different.

Church ruins

These church ruins (last used in C16th) look almost ethereal, surrounded by the burst of new life on the trees and the ground.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this taste of the English countryside.
A shame I couldn’t encapsulate the smell which at this time of the year is truly divine.

 

 

 

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The Final Episode

FF Ends TodayFor those who have been following Feast Fables this next episode needs no introduction. And for those who haven’t . . . may I respectfully say you arrive a tad late. But don’t fret: the trilogy in its entirety will remain available via the top menu on the Feast Fables blog.

The last episode, A Last Moment Amendment, ready now

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All That Remains . . .

FF Broken WebThe quest is achieved, the battle won, the final illusion swept away. The battle-slain have been claimed by the living to keep them out of Neka’s dark domain. Now all that remains is to attend Paddlo. And to make plans . . .

Take This Man, ready now

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No Proper Proposal

Alsalda Final EpisodeThe Rogue Kerdolan are defeated, Krisnavn survived. The eblann and their Alsime, Mistress Drea and her granary-keepers, the Ulvregan traders and their kin, all have accepted him as their king. Glania has been accepted back into the Regiment. The Kerdolak trading holds have been duly allocated—all except one. But there are still a few details outstanding—such as who is Krisnavn to wed to legitimise his rule? And Detah, described as a seed, where is she to be planted? . . . Read on

Though the canvas walls of Krisnavn’s temporary command room at South Rivergate station kept out the worst of the cold, the wind hammered the walls and when the rain began its drumming was deafening. But Krisnavn wouldn’t delay.

“Time’s come,” he said. “I’ve sent Detah to fetch her.”

Detah didn’t call for permission but burst through the flapping tent’s door, her hair drenched, her face running with rain, though beneath the feathered cloak she appeared dry. Glania followed her, wearing only the Regiment shirt and breeches. The linen was soaked; it clung to her.

“Here.” Krisnavn threw her a blanket. “You’d best sit, you look in some pain.” Her face was pinched beyond the cold.

Detah, seeing there was no stool for her, started to back out but Krisnavn stayed her. “Govvy, make room for her.”

Megovis took his stance away in a corner—his protest at what they were doing to Glania. He wanted no part of it. So he was surprised when Krisnavn began by congratulating her.

“Dancing Light is a magnificent stallion,” he said, “and of course will always be yours no matter. Well done, you passed your test. You did realise this race was set up as that? But of course you did. Though you didn’t know by what standard we’d judge you. You had only to complete the course, Glania. You’d no need to win, nor to be one of the ten.” He allowed this to sink in before he continued. “So, welcome back to the Regiment.”

She sat, quiet, unmoving. That astonished them, even Megovis. They’d expected her to punch the air and to exclaim and exult.

Krisnavn waited. Nothing. And so he continued. “You’ve served three of the four, so you’ve only this winter and summer-next to endure.”

Megovis watched her face. There was no darkening scowl, not even a frown. If anything, he’d say she looked pleased. Had it yet to sink in? Krisnavn had as good as said there’d be no markiste-training for her. He had denied her the one driving ambition since she was a child.

“Now,” he said before she could grasp implications and yell her objections, “to speak of gifts. You offered a service of which I am grateful. What gift shall be yours?”

She looked about her, hands rising, falling, looking flustered. “Must I answer now?”

“I don’t mean to push you, if you haven’t decided.”

“No, I know what I want.” Her hands kept moving, one wrapped round the other, pulling her thumb.

Krisnavn waited.

Until today, Megovis thought he’d the measure of her. Now it seemed everything of her was changed. Had those months at Isle Ardy so affected her?

“It’s awkward,” she said. “See, I want two things. But for one I first must ask and . . . oh.” She sat for a moment chewing the side of her thumb. “Fine, I shall ask anyway—oh, but am I allowed to ask for two things?”

Krisnavn nodded. He almost smiled.

“Well, first I’d like a tract of land, here in Ancients Land.”

“So find the tract. If no one has a previous claim, it’s yours. Though I’m curious. What does a markon want with land?”

“For keeping my horses.”

“Her Swift Dawn, and now my Dancing Light,” Ganros said.

“But you know they’ll always be welcome at Hill Barracks.”

“I should have said for breeding horses,” she said, and offered a hesitant smile.

“Breeding? Mares and geldings for packhorses?” Krisnavn asked.

“I’m thinking of our Querkan families. They won’t be bringing their horses with them, they’ll never find Hiëmen to ferry so many—You should have heard them complain of our Regiment mounts. So there’ll be a need. And maybe the Alsime then will grow a liking for them, once they get used to seeing them along the tracks.”

“I’m surprised you’d think of doing this,” Krisnavn admitted. Megovis could see their faces, all surprised, even Detah. “You’ve never mentioned it, and I know it’s not what you’d planned.”

“That might be explained by my, um . . . second request.”

Glania took a deep breath. What was she to ask? Megovis couldn’t begin to guess at it. He looked to Detah. But if she knew what it was, she wasn’t leaking it.

“As my commander, I ask your leave to quit the Regiment.”

“What!” Megovis, Krisnavn and Ganros exclaimed together.

“As my clan father,” she went on, “I ask your permission to wed.”

“To . . .?”

“Wed, I said. Though I haven’t yet spoken to him.”

“Demekn?” Krisnavn said.

“No, Markon Bronanti. Of course, Demekn,” she said. “And I know he’s an eblan, but he says that doesn’t matter.”

“The eblan puts his eblan-duties before all else,” Detah said. “But that’s not to say they can’t wed. Mistress Hegrea did.”

“Indeed,” Krisnavn said. “And Demekn is as good as a lore-man now. I’m hoping he’ll train with the truvidiren.”

“So?” Glania asked. “Have I your permission?”

Krisnavn laughed. And that laugh so good to hear, such a deep bellied sound. “You have my permission ten times over. I welcome him into the Querkan clan.”

“He doesn’t yet know,” Glania squirmed. “You’re not to say anything.”

“But, Glania, now I am puzzled. Why did you compete in the race? You knew it was your test. You could have just asked to be released. You’ve grounds enough.”

“I wanted to fail the test. I didn’t expect to win.”

While Megovis tried to reckon her reasons, Ganros outright asked her why.

She said, “There’s no shame in being released because of an injury received in service.”

“There’s no shame in being released to wed,” Krisnavn said. “You’re a woman; Dal lore allows it.”

“Dal lore allows, the king allows, the Regiment . . . but not my father. You know how he is. Fingerless Ulquon. He didn’t want me to wed the trader; he told me when I was home, convalescing. He didn’t even remember the promise. I was to be a markiste. Especially now with Nevisan dead in the Massacre. But there’s no shame in being released because of an injury. So I intended to fail.”

“And the markons wouldn’t allow it,” Megovis said.

“Even the Alsime at the end. So, Ganros, you’d best keep your horse. I didn’t fairly win him.”

“Oh, no,” Ganros laughed, hands up, refusing. “Let me tell you a horsemaster’s secret. If you’re to breed mares, you’ll need a stallion. Though it’s not the work he’s trained to, yet I’m sure he’ll enjoy it.”

*

Demekn had heard the news, Hill Barracks was abuzz with it. Glania had won the race. She had won the stallion offered as prize by Ganros. A markiste’s mount, they all agreed. And now a horse resided inside his chest—at least that’s how it felt. Gone was his only chance of wedding her, for a markiste did not wed, and it would be seasons before she was a horsemaster, if ever she was. He left the barracks. He thought of taking his riverboat, hiding away for a few days in the Eblann Freeland. West Highlands Freeland wasn’t so far, just west of the Meet. But there Bukplugn’s kin and their men were felling trees and clearing herbage to construct the King’s Hold. Instead he let his feet take him, a slow wander south alongside the river.

He didn’t look up or look round at the sound of a horse being hard-ridden behind him. He moved aside, almost into the rushes, to allow it room. Heavy, towering beasts with threatening teeth and trampling hoofs, if he wasn’t seated upon one, they terrified him.

“Demekn!” Glania called.

He swore, for now he’d have to congratulate her. He gathered together his face and put on a smile. But when he turned, it was the copper-coated Swift Dawn she rode, not a Regiment horse at all. Moreover, he quickly took in the lack of Regiment issue shirt and breeches. Instead she wore the same Hiëmen clothes she had worn at that meal when he had hidden behind the heron-mask.

“Glania, I . . .” He didn’t know what to say. He said. “You’re not wearing Regiment issue. Would your cousin not take you back?” But he knew that was a futile hope.

“No, he took me back.”

“Then . . . ?”

“I asked to leave. I’m going to be a mother.”

He swallowed his heart, his hope, his reason for living. Enough that she’d never be his, but for her to give herself to someone other, that was something more to mourn.

“You’ll wed?” he asked her, and cursed himself for the stupid question. And what else would she do?

“If you’ll accept a belated answer. Three summers late.” She smiled.

“You mean . . . me?”

She laughed. “Of course I mean you, you goose. If you’ll have me.”

“But what of the child?”

“It isn’t there yet. We have to give the Ladies some makings. If you want to.”

“If I . . .?” He grinned. Laughed. Told her to get down off that horse. By Saram and Beli and Uath and all the Alisime spirits, he was deliriously happy, at last.

*

Megovis had reversed the hang of his cloak so the Regiment’s blue, green and black faced out and the fur faced in. A shame that fur didn’t cover his nose. It wasn’t a large nose, yet far enough out to catch the frost. He could see it all around him, shining as bright as Sauën. Sauën herself rose proud in a deep blue sky—though it had only become visible after she’d burnt off a thick blanket of freezing mist.

Winter’s half. It wasn’t the best time for calling a meeting, not with the King’s Hold far from completed and the command room at Hill Barracks too small to accommodate the expected numbers. So Krisnavn again had named Murdan’s Stones, the Old of the Dead, as the place. “To honour the Alsime ancestors,” he’d said. “Besides, it’s central.” However, this time he provided no sheltering tent for his guests, saying it seemed inappropriate, though he had set braziers within and between the Cove-stones in an attempt to warm the air. Twin furrows attested the weight and the source of the stone that now blocked the central trilith. Laid flat, it was to be Krisnavn’s platform. But as yet he, like Megovis, paced in an attempt to generate heat. It seemed only the Eblann Hegrea and Detah didn’t feel the cold, heads together, most likely talking of womenly matters.

Both these eblan-women were trimmed with gold and beads this day. This hardly noticed on Mistress Hegrea, eyes distracted by her snowy-owl hat. But Detah fair sparkled with the hair-trinkets and amber-and-crystal necklace Krisnavn had given her. He’d wanted her also to wear a gown made from the weavings traded that summer at Liënershi. But, as she said, they’d not be seen beneath her fire-feather cloak. Yet she had wound the gold-threaded weaving around her waist in imitation of the Regiment band. Megovis admired her: she looked almost Uestin.

The guests were arriving—Eblan Head Man Erspn; Mistress Drea with her grain-women, and Eldliks Ublamn; Trader Maryns with others of Bukplugn’s kin; Duneld’s traders and their wives; Burnise’s too with Didodana (she had rejoiced at the death of the Rogue Kerdolan, her brother avenged). Beside Megovis and Biadret the soon-to-be-trained-as-horsemaster Hildret anxiously shuffled his feet. Boatmaster Tamesen arrived accompanied by his own newly-named captain. More eblann arrived. Many looked askance at Demekn whose grin hadn’t yet left his face. The Alisime eldliks and aldliks from the family-lands hereabouts also came (though none from East, West and North Bounds; it wasn’t expected). Neither did Mandatn’s kin attend (it was said, because of the distance).

“No more will come,” Detah told Krisnavn and returned to her place beside the grey-cloaked Hegrea. She, the most ancient and beautiful of eblann, seemed always to be with Krisnavn these days. Continuing the healing, Megovis supposed, though he did sometimes wonder if it was Eblan-Mistress Hegrea or the heron, Ardhea, attending him.

As witnesses, Megovis and Demekn took their positions one either side of Krisnavn. Neither of them knew what Krisnavn was to say. It seemed since the Battle of North Rib his child-days friend had been acting strange, as if bitten by this land.

Krisnavn signed to Demekn. Though clad in his swan’s feather eblan-cloak, with his eblan-rod held in his left hand, Demekn raised only his empty right. Yet the people quietened the same. Eyes turned to front to look at Krisnavn, raised above them on that stone. Megovis, too, looked at him, and felt his chest swell. Though he’d seen this man most every day since they were boys, though Krisnavn wore nothing different, just Regiment issue, though his hair was the same with its twenty-seven fire-tipped plaits, yet there was something different about him today. For today he was King, Thrice Chosen, and Megovis was proud to have helped him to it.

As was his way with all but his foes, Krisnavn gave a slight dip of his head before speaking. “Alsime. Eblann. Granary. Ulvregan. Saramequai, Querkan. United!” He raised his hand and punched the air and was copied by everyone there. Amid the cheers came the raucous shout of “United! United! United!” Krisnavn nodded approval.

He said, “Come next sailing season my kin will arrive. They’re not so many, scarcely the equal of you stood before me. Then the truvidiren, with Eblan Erspn here, will set about composing the needed rites. I then shall be your Alisime king in more than name. And there also will be a wedding.”

He waited, for many decided to cheer that as well. Megovis waited too, for this was the long unanswered question. Who would the Thrice Chosen King Krisnavn wed? Not Mistress Drea, for thanks to Glania that now couldn’t happen. Megovis glanced at Detah. But as she’d said, she wasn’t a daughter of Master Bukarn, so she wasn’t eligible.

“Before leaving Dal Uest, I was told by the truvidiren that I must wed your Mistress of the Granaries,” Krisnavn said and went swiftly on before Mistress Drea could screech her refusal (though many heads were turning her way). “Yet I’ve since been told that your granaries here were created by Eblan-Mistress Hegrea. Moreover, two months ago, on the night of the Send-Off Feast, Kerrid, Head of Kerdol, gave the Kerdolak and Eskit granaries into the keeping of this same Hegrea. I’m sure you will agree that Eblan Hegrea is the true Mistress of the Granaries. And so I’ve invited you here to meet her and greet her . . . for Eblan Hegrea, the true Mistress of the Granaries, is the woman I shall wed.”

Megovis realised he’d been holding his breath. More, he’d been tensed in dread of this moment. Now relief swept through him while Alsime, eblann, Granary, Ulvregan and Saramequai hooted and cheered and clapped and stamped and generally filled the air with approval. He reached out his hand for Detah to take. With Mistress Hegrea to wed Krisnavn, she now was looking lost and alone. And, oh, but her hand in his own felt so small. She needed protecting, he had long since decided.

When the tumult had slipped to more of a buzz, Krisnavn signed to Demekn to again call for quiet. This time they weren’t so eager to hush. After all, what more could the king have to say.

He said, “Less than a month since, here, on the eve of the battle of North Rib, I granted to the Ulvregan trading families four of the Kerdolak trading holds. I was asked then what of the fabled hold on Liënershi. I answered that, for its special position, it must be given to a special person. A trader who is able to work alongside Boatmaster Tamesen, who now is that island’s governor; a trader who knows of metals and smiths, to deal with my own man there, the smith Nekyn; and a trader with an understanding of grain and granaries, to deal with Eblan-Mistress Hegrea. I have hesitated to name that trader, though I know of only one who can fill the position.”

He turned to Detah.

*

Krisnavn was waiting for her to accept. But her eblan-master was looking expectantly at her and she didn’t want to disappoint him. She knew he expected her to return to him as his apprentice now all was done. But he must understand, this gift far exceeded her widest dreams. How could she refuse it. She wiped at a tear. It wasn’t sadness, she wasn’t crying, she just couldn’t keep the tears from welling. Then Eblan Erspn was there beside her, though she’d not seen him move.

“You’re a seed,” he said. “And you know sometimes a seed needs new soil. We talked of this. So go plant yourself in Liënershi.”

“It’s very gravelly soil,” she said, and tried to laugh.

“Oh, and I’d heard that isle is formed of gold. Accept the gift, my child, you deserve it. And it is the one thing you’ve always wanted.”

She kissed his cheek and hugged him, and turned back to Krisnavn.

“Alsalda,” he said and, eyes crinkling, at once held up a delaying hand. “I know, Megovis told me, you don’t like that name. And none have used it since he told me—I told the men to stop it. Besides, it’s not a fit name for you anymore. You have no more cause to yearn. Demekn will set the terms in a verse, as with the others. Then you’ll take possession come next sailing season. And now I believe Govvy has something to say.”

So Megovis might have, but he babbled only of how pleased he was, his bear-like arms wrapping around her. He hugged her, and hugged her and still he hugged her, until it seemed he never would release her. And that was amply fine with her. She liked, beyond any expressing, his strength and that sense of security, there in his hold.

When at last he did release her, he sought instead her hand, and steered her away from the gathering, to the shelter of the east-set Calendar Stone.

“Now,” he said. “You know since I’m not Clan Querkan, I’m supposed to return to Dal Uest come this winter’s end. And so I shall go but only because I’ve an errand: to find the Uissids Huat and Zrone. I shan’t be staying. Not now I know how devious that Urinod is. I cannot abide him. So, not needed here, and I won’t stay there, my services will be available. You might think on that. A young woman trader, alone, you’ll be needing protection.”

“Are you asking to come to Liënershi with me? But, Govvy, of course you must come. Don’t you realise, I’ve been dreading the day you must go.”

“Well, I, um . . . No, actually I’m asking a bit more than that. Now you’ve of that age, do you reckon you might want a man in your bed? Detah, I’m asking to wed you.”

THE END


With both the long-running Feast Fables and this, Alsalda, ending this week, it might seem like the end of the Asaric Tales (which over the past 3 years have also included Priory Project and Neve).
But there is yet another Asaric Tale (the last in the series) still to be told.

The King’s Wife (to be posted here on crimsonprose) will begin late September
—after The Chronicle of Mideer which is due to start mid-June.

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The Race

Alsalda The RaceLo! Krisnavn lives to become the king. But will Glania now pass her test? If she passes she yet has a chance to become a markiste (her dream). But if she fails? Perhaps then Demekn will have his dream . . .  Read on

Megovis stood apart. This was no longer his concern. He was there only to watch. Still, it was the first time he’d seen the combined forces amassed: the new Alisalm Regiment of Alisime seamen together with the Saramequai horsemen, all gathered together in orderly fashion in the square before the barracks gate. It was heart-moving to see. When all were present Biadret addressed them.

“To work off the excesses of these past few days,” he explained, “we’re setting you markons and seamen . . . ah, but not the markistes and the horsemasters—a race around the Alisalm bounds.” This predictably brought calls of dissent, some verging on gross disobedience.

Ganros held up his hands. “I agree. As I told Captain Horsemaster Biadret.”

“But I thought we’d gone back to the original plan,” Biadret acted it out.

Ganros comically rolled his eyes.

“Fine, fine, fine,” Biadret allowed, “we’ll reduce it; make it only the bounds of Ancients Land.”

But that still brought calls of complaint. Did they know the distance? Megovis did, it wasn’t that many moons since he and Eblan Detah, Biadret and Krisn had ridden it.

Again, Ganros held up his hands. “No. Hush. What Captain Horsemaster Biadret meant to say is to run to the start of the bounds of Ancients Land. From here to South Rivergate.”

The markons nodded at that, nudging each other. That would be easy. “Are we to race our horses against the Alsime riverboats?” asked one.

“No.” Ganros acted bemused as if that was a new notion. “No, you won’t work off that excess by riding your horses. No, both seamen and horsemen will be running on foot.”

That brought more calls of complaint. This was a race, but what hope had the horsemen against the Alsime? The horsemen weren’t used to running on foot.

“Oh, and our Alsime are? I’d say they’re more used to walking on water. No, we reckon you’ll be evenly matched,” Biadret told them.

“As a spur,” Ganros added, “as a helpful goad for those less than eager, there’ll be a prize for the winner. Dancing Light, one of my own bred horses. And the first ten to the post will be exempt all building-duties this winter’s half.” Both were valuable prizes. With the rest of Clan Querkan expected early next summer, this winter would be spent in clearing land and raising houses.

“You’ll sweat with running, even with this cold wind,” Biadret told them. “So you’re to strip to breeches and shirts. And before you’ve gone far you’re going to thirst—thirst till it’s nigh unbearable. So make sure you’ve a full bladder slung over your shoulder.”

“Where are we running? From where to where?” asked one of the slightly older markons.

Ganros exaggerated a sigh. “We ought to have set a prize for those who listen. You will start down by the wharf. And you will run until you come to South Rivergate station. Oh, and I almost forgot. Glania, honorary markon? You’re to run with them.”

“You have till we horsemasters have eaten to find your bladders and fill them, strip off those cloaks and bands, and get yourselves down to the wharf,” Biadret told them.

And Glania . . . You’re to run with them, Megovis repeated the words in his head. So that was the plan. This race was her test. No one had told him, the meeting to arrange it held without him. He fell in step beside Ganros. While still a length from the command room his belly began growling at the smell of freshly baked bread. Their breakfast awaited. Linkess had prepared it.

“How did she take it?” Krisnavn asked as soon as the door was shut.

“Quite well,” said Ganros. “Wouldn’t you say, Biadret?”

“A moment of shock on her young face.”

Ganros chuckled, hands rubbed together. “No way will she finish that course, let alone win the race.”

“No shame in that,” Megovis growled. “And she won’t be alone. What markon can run so far? They haven’t our training. No, I reckon all ten winners will be Alsime.”

“And did you tell her by what criteria she’ll pass?”

They didn’t even tell her this is the test.” Megovis thought that unfair.

“No,” Ganros said around a mouth full of cold meat, remains of the celebratory feast. “Let her believe she has to win to get in. We’d ask more of her if she were a markiste. Give her a taste of it, then see if she still wants it.”

“Did you say of the ten?” Krisnavn asked them.

Biadret shrugged. “We said of duties exempted. They don’t need to know we’re looking for markistes.”

“We’re short on command,” Krisnavn said, suddenly impatient with him.

“We know,” Biadret said, pacifying. “You’re soon to be king and you can’t be king and commander too. We know that.”

“But with Megovis due to return to the Dal come winter’s end, that leaves just you two to be commander and captain-horsemaster. You’ll need at least one more captain, and I’d say two more. That means training-up at least two markistes to horsemasters, then training enough markons to replace—.”

We will train them?” Ganros cut in. “What happened to sending them to the Dal?”

“No.” Both Megovis and Krisnavn answered together.

“No,” Krisnavn said, “we don’t involve Uissid Urinod. Not in anything, not anymore. Megovis here will take a message, come the season, to Uissids Huat and Zrone, see if they’ll come here when required. Agreed, Megovis?”

“I’m not sure of returning. But I’ll take the message no matter.”

“Good. So, at least one markiste—though preferably two. And with Tamesen off to Liënershi we’ll need a seaman, too, to be trained to captain. But you know all this; that’s why I set you the task of devising the test. It’s you who’ll have command of my young troublesome cousin. You want it said that you favour her?”

“None will say that,” Ganros said. “There’ll be no complaints.”

“We’ve made it so none will question,” Biadret assured him, barely containing his grin. “We’ve made it impossible for her to win.”

“The offered prize of a horse was inspired,” Megovis said to turn the talk from Biadret’s gloat. It was a greater prize than their own weight in gold. Only the horsemasters bred Regiment horses and the herds were small.

“That was given to get the Alsime moving,” Ganros said. “These latest recruits . . . I swear they don’t know when I say to jump, I mean them to jump.”

*

Squeezed amongst so many, Megovis could only see Glania by her bright hair. That wharf-side track was too narrow to take so many. And of course everyone wanted to be at the front. Megovis saw Ganros trying to push a way through.

“You!” Ganros pointed to a markon, hollowed eyes, sallow skin. Ailing with something; he shouldn’t have been there. “You. And you.” Ganros pulled two more men out of the crush. None looked fit to participate. “We’ve still a need of guards at that gate. Off you go. If you reckon yourself a winner, then you’re free to exchange that duty with someone wanting to shirk. Otherwise . . . . next time, hey?”

Ganros waited. The men were slow to move, their shoulders slumped as they made their way back up the barracks.

“This is a contest,” Ganros reminded the remainder. As if it were needed when they all were shuffling foot to foot, keen to be off. “All men of our Alisalm Regiment, right? But for this day—and this day only—you’re to forget about that. Same as you forget that the runners beside you, behind you, in front, are your usual braid-mates—your friends—your trusted co-warriors. Today, every man and woman who’s running here is running alone. You remember that. They don’t care about you, you don’t care about them. You see someone lame? Red faced, gasping? It could be your mate from you child-days. But you stop to help them and you can forget about winning the race. You hear me?”

Their shouts must have deafened Ganros, standing as he was in their midst. And Megovis knew why the talk. It was aimed at Glania. He wanted no one to stop and help her when she started to lag.

Ganros eased out of the crush, and nodded to Biadret who had climbed a tree just ahead of them. Biadret let drop the white linen rag. They were off.

“You see that?” Ganros called to Megovis when the last had left the mud-trodden track. “First off, she’s that keen. But she won’t keep it up. She’s not a rutting Regiment horse.”

*

Megovis wanted to be at South Rivergate when the winner arrived. Bu he and Ganros were still held at the back of the runners, and that only halfway along the course. It wasn’t their horses’ fault. Initially bred by Uissid Zrone on the grasslands north of Dal Usast, the Regiment breed had been chosen by the horsemasters for its speed and endurance. No, it was how to get ahead of the runners. They’d tried riding through the trackless woodland but that hadn’t helped. While the runners followed the flat riverside path the horses had to strain up the hills and skid and slip their way down. But those hills soon would give way to the southern plain. Then, so Megovis hoped, they’d be able to make good time.

“Just look at her,” Ganros called back to Megovis. “How’s she doing it?” For every time they caught sight of the runners there was Glania’s fiery-bright head bobbing amongst the front runners.

Ganros was right, she shouldn’t be there. She was limping—nigh hobbling, worse than Megovis had seen her of late. He looked to see who were the other lead runners. It surprised him that most were Alsime, easily identified by their Alisime hats. His eyes tracked back along the runners. Now he could see what was happening. Behind Glania, the runners had formed into a bunch.  He grunted disapproval while saying nothing of it to Ganros.

The last third of the course crossed the southern plain. Ganros heeled his horse and was off but Megovis held back. Though he still was in the cover of trees, and couldn’t always see the runners, yet with each new sighting it seemed there was Glania one place ahead. He could see that she sweated, even from this distance, her face as fierce as her flaming hair. Watching her, he had a sense of her agony. She was dragging that leg like a dog was fixed to it, its teeth biting deep. He had seen enough and the diminishing trees soon would expose him. He slapped his boots against Truth Studder’s flanks, and flew the rest of the way.

*

“Who’s in the lead?” Krisnavn asked as he arrived at the station.

“As expected, mostly Alsime.”

“Glania?”

Megovis didn’t want to say it. He looked away.

“Has she fallen?” Krisnavn’s face showed sudden concern. Megovis couldn’t allow that. He shook his head.

“Last I saw she was third from front.”

“Impossible! She’s cheating.” Krisnavn said.

“I’d agree,” Ganros said, now as alarmed as Krisnavn. “Except you tell me how; it’s just not possible.”

Megovis kept what he’d seen to himself. It was that bunch behind her gave it away. It wasn’t her cheating: it was the entire rutting Regiment. The markons were holding back, allowing her through, not pushing past her though any one of them easily could. So she was a Regiment hero, having survived the Massacre to carry word back to the Dal. But it surprised him that the Alsime, too, were conspiring. In admiration of her? They all knew her story.

Clouds blown in from the sea began gathering above them. The day, already shortened by the winter season, faded to twilight. The clouds threatened rain. Megovis thought of the runners lagging behind. But Ganros had already organised a boat to ferry them back to Hill Barracks.

Finally the winners hoved into view. And Glania now was in the lead.

“And I say it again: that’s not possible,” Krisnavn said.

“Oh, she’s limping so badly,” Detah cried. She’d arrived earlier in the day with Krisnavn. Now she was hugging herself as she winced for Glania. Megovis liked that of her.

“Limp?” Krisnavn said, unusually ruffled. “She ought not to stand on that leg, let alone run.”

Yet here she came at a stumbling trot, using that leg she had previously dragged. Though Megovis knew how it had been done, still she deserved to win. Just because Ganros and Biadret didn’t want her under their command. It wasn’t right.

Krisnavn tsked. “Everyone of them should have been here long before now, that’s how it was done.”

“But what’s to do?” Ganros said. “She has won. Though I’m not happy at it, I won’t take it from her.”

“I agree, you can’t do that,” Krisnavn said. “As you can’t be seen to favour her, you can’t be seen to be against her. No, she has won it, and we have to accept her back to the Regiment—but only to finish serving the four.”

Ganros laughed, hands rubbing. “I guess Beli was guiding my voice when I forgot to announce the other prize for the winner.”

Megovis frowned. He did not approve: to remove knowledge of the prize so Glania couldn’t claim it. It would have made her a markiste—if she’d been able to endure the training.


So, it seems Glania is back in the Regiment. So much for Demekn’s chances. But the story isn’t yet done. Anything is possible in the final episode—No Proper Proposal

Come in late? Why not start at the beginning with Detah; or go to the Chapter Links

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Reflections

Breydon Reflections

Clouds over Breydon

The weather forecast gave a midday temperature of 11° C, cloudy, wind NW 4 mph gusting to 6. Lo! What a miserable day considering this is now the middle of May. Yet it was the day I’d been waiting for . . . perfect for walking the marshes.

This is a walk I’ve not done since the CFS took a severe downturn in 2005. But the chronic fatigue is now a thing of the past: 15 months since the last (minor) episode. So no more putting it off. But it’s not the distance that’s the problem; 12 miles, maybe 13, I’m doing that often now. It’s the environment.

Stage I: the first 4 miles

Stage I: the first 4 miles

These marshes began life as the (Bronze Age) Great Estuary into which flowed the three rivers, Bure, Yare and Waveney. Flat, some would say ‘featureless’ but that depends. True, there are not many trees but there are a great many drainage channels—some, like the Fleet, dating from its days as a tidal salt-marsh. And there are always the herds to see: cattle, horses, swans. But facing the North Sea, with only the mud-bank that’s become Great Yarmouth to protect it, the wind can sweep these marshes like an icy scythe. So “wind NW 4 mph gusting to 6” is a veritable call to walk.

Stage 2: the middle 4 miles

Stage 2: the middle 4 miles

As with the wind, there’s no protection from the sun. The land bakes concrete-hard beneath it. Unprotected the skin sizzles; yet clothed it becomes a challenge for any brand of antiperspirant. And there is no relief. What trees do exist are stunted thorns. So the only time I’ll venture here is on a cloudy, chilly, almost windless day . . . no matter it is now middle of May.

Stage 3: the last 4 miles

Stage 3: the last 4 miles

I regret I didn’t take more photos. I did have the camera (read ‘phone’) in my hand much of the way. But much of the way I was trying to find a footing amongst the rock-hard ridges and furrows made by the tractors back in winter when the land was wet and malleable.

I tried several times to capture the little egrets that are breeding here now. But seems they’re camera shy. I toyed with the idea of snapping the swans as they sat on their nests, hatching their eggs. But I’d rather walk through a field with a bull than tempt the ire of a brooding swan.

And so . . . .

A barn on the ‘huh’ . . . very ‘Norfolk’

Finally, as I was coming into Acle, I took this tree-shot. Trees don’t move. They don’t fly away. They don’t get uppity if you take too long composing a shot. (Oh, and by now it was getting ready to rain.)

Willows by the Fleet

Willows by the Fleet

And a note on pronunciation: In Norfolk Acle is ‘A-cle’ as in hay and cycle, not ‘Ak-lee’ as in acne and leeway as the Midlanders say it.

 

 

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