Those Elusive PIEs

Another Iris Einstein Theory

I admit it. I am obsessed. It seems everything I read comes around to this. But I’ve finally sussed it and so I must share it. It’s that perennial question: Where was the homeland of the Proto-Indo-European speakers? And how and when did it spread to cover most of Eurasia?

And since this isn’t an academic paper I shan’t start, as I ought, with a review of existing theories. Instead I’ll refer you to Wikipedia (Proto-Indo-European Urheimat Hypotheses); you’ll find everything there.

Right. Technicalities out of the way, let’s get down to it. First I’ll answer the spread of the supposed linguistic ‘daughters’ of the PIE speakers (Albanian, Armenian, Anatolian/Hittite, Baltic, Celtic, Germanic, Greek, Hindi, Iranian, Italic, Slavic, Tocharian etc). It wasn’t by migration as is usually argued. Not of any kind or size.

Client-ship. A Contemporary Analogy

Since the latter half of the C20th America (USA) has seemed to pursue an almost evangelising foreign policy—though the preached ideology is more democracy than straight Christianity. (Okay, I’m looking at this from an outside view so don’t shoot me if I get the facts wrong.)

The technique used might usefully be termed ‘client-ship’, which of course implies patronage (not to be taken in its derogatory sense). It’s more a ‘we’ll take you under our protective wing, show you the way and help you along’ kind of thing. The technique has honourable forebears; the Romans were particularly good at it. It’s how they got the ‘in’ into Britain.

But patron-client relationship is a two-way affair, a win-win we might say. So, what does the patron gain from it? The answer for Rome was simple. It got its hands on yet more grain-producing land (not to mention the gold mines, the copper, the lead, the silver, the tin . . . . and a few bloody rebellions which they bloodily put down). The USA gets . . .? Without delving too deeply I’d say, if nothing else, the kudos, the satisfaction of a job well done, the satisfaction of converting yet another developing, war-torn country to the advantage of peaceful democracy. Though I’m sure there are other, financial, rewards. Preferential trading rates perhaps? An open market for Coca Cola, McDonalds and jeans? I could be totally wrong in this but to an outsider that seems to be the picture.

And, of course, along with the fast-foods, the jeans, the diabetes, the obesity and the other Western health problems, the client country also adopts the (American-English) language.

Okay, so at first the lingo might be a surface trait. After all, it’s not been happening for long. But certainly amongst those an anthropologist would call the ‘elite’, the adoption of the ‘partner’s’ (note the change in wording) language would be deemed essential—not only as means of faithful communication (how much deceit can be hidden in mis-translation?) and to facilitate trade, but also as a form of kudos that ratchets yet higher the elite’s position. And of course, if you want to rub shoulders with the newly empowered elite, you need speak the same lingo. And so spreads the acquisition of the foreign language.

The Ambassadorial Hypothesis
for the Spread of the Indo-European Languages

Now, to return to the PIE speakers. There was no break-away groups migrating out of the homeland to found new dynasties elsewhere. There were no split-off daughter languages evolving from these. Instead there were perhaps at most a handful of—let’s call them ambassadors. And these ambassadors—with wife, children and worldly goods packed onto their ox-drawn wagons, themselves possibly mounted upon newly-tamed horses, their ideology jammed into their hearts and heads and eagerly over-spilling—for reasons known only to them, left their ancestral land.

As they made their way into all parts Europe and appreciable chunks of Western Asia, they encountered the Old Religion of the early farmers, an outspread from Anatolia and the Levant. That Old Religion was bowed beneath an Almighty Mother. The society was egalitarian—which does not mean it was non-warring; neither that it lacked community chiefs.

Encountering such, the PIE ambassador said, “Look what I have. See, it has wheels. And I have a horse.”

Bronocice Pot

The earliest known image of a wheeled vehicle. Found in Poland.

In Switzerland the farmers used sleds for haulage, sleds built upon runners. When they saw the wheeled wagons they thought the wheels were a new form of runner.

How do we know this? Because it was from that area the Celtic and Italic languages evolved, and in both the word for ‘wheel’ is formed on that for a ‘runner’. Elsewhere it’s formed on the word ‘to turn’.

The wagons, the wheels, the horses, were for the PIE speakers what Cocoa-Cola, McDonalds and jeans have been for America—or what wine and bathhouses were for the Romans. An the eye-opener. The carrot. Though I don’t mean to imply a planned and calculated first encounter.

The Sun Wagon

Alongside the ambassador’s wife, his children and worldly goods, packed into his wagon was something other:—an intimate part of his people’s ideology, an essential element of their religion, an integral part of its rites. For as the Egyptian pharaohs were borne away on the sun’s barque to the celestial Land of the Dead, so too the PIE speakers’ elite dead were carried to the celestial Land of their Ancestors upon the wagon’s bed.

Trundholm sun chariot

 From Wikimedia Commons: Solvogn.

The wagon’s wheels—which must rate amongst the world’s top-ten far-reaching inventions—were not merely an aid to transport. They were in themselves religious symbols embodying the notion of a celestial domain. In fact, it’s possible the wheeled wagon existed at first as a cultic object, perhaps simply sculpted in clay.

Cultic Clay Wagon

From Getty Images

With a wheel at each corner—to symbolise the four seasons?—the wagon becomes the world itself. The axles that connect the wheels are seen as the axis mundi, upon which both the Earth and the Sky revolve.

Lchashen Wagon


The earliest wheels, as on this burial wagon found beneath a kurgan in Armenia, were solid; these are made from three solid planks of oak

Sumarian War Cart

From Wikimedia Commons

As with the Armenian burial wagon, this Sumerian war cart shows wheels made from solid planks of wood. They soon were to change . . . 

Orastie Celtic Cauldron on Wagon

From Wikimedia Commons (by Boldwin)

The cauldron has dual imagery. It’s from this the funeral beer was served. But it also has connotations of renewal as seen on the Gundestrup cauldron

Gundestrup Cauldron

From Wikimedia Commons by Malene Thysson

It is believed the scene shows a god dipping slain warriors into a cauldron (far left) to give them new life.

Bronze Wheels Zurich

From Wikimedia Commons, by Dbachmann

Cart-wheels . . . or sun-wheels?
The spoked wheel symbolises both the turning of the year (or the sun’s orbit which amounts to the same) AND the year’s internal divisions (the seasons or feast-stations).

Kivik Chariot

From Wikimedia Commons, by Dbachmann

And along with the invention of the (light-weight) spoked wheel came that of the war and/or hunting chariot.

Hochdorf Celtic Burial Wagon

From Wikimedia Commons by NobbiP

But with wheels spoked or solid, the 4-wheeled wagon was the vehicle par excellence for transporting the dead to the Land of Heroes.

Strettweg Cult Wagon

Wikimedia Commons by Thilo Parg

It was also the preferred transport for the war-cum-fertility goddess.

The Horse

And, of course, there was the horse. The horse isn’t just a beast for riding, nor an alternative to oxen for yoking and hauling. The horse is a sacred beast, and not only in the Celtic myths: for the Greeks, too, the horse was sacred, the ultimate sacrifice. The stallion’s hooves striking the sky produces lightning, its running causes thunder. What better beast for Zeus (despite we tend to associate the horse with Posiedon, the sea-god). As to the mare, she is fertility itself, as seen in the many Indo-European myths.

But my purpose here is not to raid the myths to support the thesis (okay, yea I know it’s only an hypothesis). Were I to do that this post soon would rack up a prohibitive word-count!

The Ideology

The PIE-speaking ambassador’s ideology extended beyond the religious rim of his newly-invented transport. As reconstructed by historical linguists, the PIE vocabulary comprises words that suggest [?] . . . imply [?] . . . certainly gives us cause to believe that the PIE speakers’ culture was based on the patron-client relationship.

So it would be second nature to him, the ambassador, to offer to the newly-met farmer some version of this seemingly innate relationship. I can almost hear the conversion as he offers to instruct the farmers in this ‘new-to-them’ religion, to raise up the worthy, to help him on his way to the Celestial Otherworld in his four-wheeled wagon. That the farmer might have something the PIE ambassador wants doesn’t come into it—though I’m sure his copper ore, his amber, his furs, perhaps his grain, would not be refused (at preferential rates, of course).

The patron-client relationship established, the carrot being ‘a glorious life after death’, the newly raised elite would naturally adopt at least some of the PIE-speaking ambassador’s language. Actually, he’s more likely to want to learn it properly. There would be kudos—and thus greater status—in speaking the lingo like a native. And it may have been needed to perfectly execute the rites of this newly-adopted religion. (I think here of the Vedas.)

The client’s family, too, would learn the lingo—and anyone who wanted to rub shoulders with him. And gradually (there is ample time) the PIE lingo spread through the population, along with the clay-crafted 4-wheeled celestial wagon (for I’m sure not many wanted the real thing—after all, they’d been using perfectly serviceable alternatives till then).

But, though the elite-of-first-contact might have persisted to speak without accent (at least to his own ears), the further from the first speaker, the less the speaker would care. Outside of the family, beyond the first generation, by the time PIE-speaking ambassador was only a story, the former first farmers of Europe and Western Asia were speaking what they thought was perfect PIE—if heavily accented by their native tongue. And it’s this, their native tongue, that changed the original PIE into its supposed linguistic daughters (Albanian, Armenian, Anatolian/Hittite, Baltic, Celtic, Germanic, Greek, Hindi, Iranian, Italic, Slavic, Tocharian, etc).

The Substrates

I hear the linguists yelling at me: ‘But that’s a ‘creole’ language, and it’s been proven the IE daughters are not that’. But it is not.  In this hypothesis the language was learned—as I might learn French, or Mandarin Chinese. And it was learned from what linguists have labelled as Proto-Indo-European speakers. It thence evolved exactly as proposed in the usual models. What makes the twelve main branches different is that they each were spoken by speakers of a different language—the substrate language. And perhaps each was ‘adopted’ at a different evolutionary stage of the proposed PIE-language, or from a different dialect of the same.

The Homeland

So there you have it: The spread explained with no more movement out of a homeland than an ambassador or two (actually a minimum of ten).

But where was that homeland? That, of course, is the persistent question.

In answer, I’d say: Wherever the wheeled wagon first was invented; where there was a belief in a Celestial Land of the Dead, where the patron-client relationship was sufficiently developed—where horses were found in plenty that the mares might be seen as a symbol of fertility, and the stampede of stallions mistaken for thunder.

I guess that means the North Pontic steppes, as put forward by David Anthony in his book, The Horse, the Wheel, and Language–though I wish I could say ‘Anatolia’, for I am inordinately fond of backing the ‘also-rans’.

A recent study of the DNA of 69 ancient individuals showed a massive migration of Yamnaya herders from the steppes north of the Black Sea about 4500 years ago—who may have brought the Indo-European languages. These were the kurgan-builders (I refer you again to wiki’s Proto-Indo-European Urheimat Hypotheses).

My answer to that is that movement of people does not, per se, imply movement of language. Besides, if the language trekked out of its homeland upon a ‘never-before-seen’ wagon with ‘wow-look-at-those-wheels’, 2500 BCE would be far too late. For both the wheel and the wagon had arrived in Poland at least 1,000 years earlier, ca.3500 BCE.

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Caught Again In The Spinner’s Web

In the previous episode of Feast Fables, Kerrid ventured into the Spinner’s Oracular Web with Bayen and Huat. Her intent is to spin a star, something not possible to do on her own. By spinning the star they’ll release its memories and thus she’ll discover the truth of the Asars, which she hopes will enable her to eradicate Neka.

Next episode, Free Fall, ready now.

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Episode 2 of Alsalda

Detah was surprised when Granary Master Bukarn invited the four Saramequai horsemen to share in the family’s evening meal. Not because of their clans, who rather would slaughter each other than talk. It’s Mistress Alenta: she can’t abide anything Uestin. Detah considered escape—she doesn’t want to be there when Mistress Alenta vents her fury.

Detah sneaked a peep beyond the door-hanging before venturing out. As well that she did. Mistress Alenta sat astride a bench beside the heart-tree where the light was strongest, a birch-sheet spread on the bench before her. Was she sufficiently absorbed in her granary-craft; dared Detah slip past her? Elsewise she must wait here till the evening meal when all were gathered around the hearth.

Detah didn’t understand it: Why when in company did Mistress Alenta say nothing of Detah’s absence; yet to be caught when alone was to invite beak and claw? And it wasn’t only the words that Mistress Alenta used, though they were enough. It was the look, like she was one of the worms that infested the granary if everything wasn’t properly scrubbed. And it was always her the mistress picked on, never any of the granary-women. She was, supposedly, lazy and careless, skimping on thoroughness. Detah sighed, she supposed that part was true. But why must Mistress Alenta always say of her—and that in a sneer—that the grain spirit had withdrawn from her in disgust? Why in disgust? Then always would follow: What of your sister Drea? when the concern wasn’t for Drea at all but for after Drea. For if Drea should die without yet a daughter to follow then Detah would be expected to be the next granary mistress—but only if the grain spirit dwelt in her. Detah shuddered. She could imagine nothing worse that being a granary mistress—except to be a granary worm.

The outer door slammed. Detah drew back into the lodge-store. But whoever it was they stopped at the inner arcade. Detah teased back the door-hanging, enough to peep out again. There stood Master Bukarn, the markon’s gift heavy in his hands. Could he see her? But no, he had eyes only for the mistress, and she either hadn’t heard him (though how could she not?)—else preferred to stay with her craft.

Detah glanced between mistress and master. Now could be a good time to gain her chamber, while he was there to distract Mistress Alenta. But what of the other grain-women? She’d have to pass three other chambers to reach her own, and that chamber shared. What if Drea was in there, with Aunt Jaljena?

Master Bukarn coughed. Detah could swear she heard the rip of Mistress Alenta’s eyes as she tore them from her craft.

“My deepest apologies for disturbing,” Master Bukarn said. “I have need to speak with you.”

Beneath his reverence, and scarcely veiled by it, Detah could hear his fondness for the granary mistress—though why, she did not understand. Was it for her beauty, retained through the seasons? Sun-touched skin still unblemished. Delicate nose and never a sniffle. Feline chin—and as yet only one of them. According to Master Bukarn, Detah shared most of these features (including the leaf-green eyes). Only in hair-colour did she differ. But then in that she differed from all her family. Her mother, brother, sister and aunts could hide in a ripe wheat field and never be seen. But it would take a heath grown with bracken to hide her. And Detah was sure Master Bukarn didn’t know the truth of Mistress Alenta. Straddling that bench, green-dyed chemmy hitched to her knees, Mistress Alenta looked a warm sun-spirit. Yet in behaviour and character she was more of an ogre

“Well?” Mistress Alenta’s curt-said query wasn’t (quite) cutting.

“We have guests. For our evening meal.” He hesitated. And knowing what he had to say Detah could understand why. “They’re, um . . . Saramequai. Clan Querkan.”


Detah held her breath.

Mistress Alenta’s face lost colour, paler now than sun-bleached linen. She held still—absolutely, not even a visible heave of her chest. Was she thinking, perhaps, wondering, and reasoning it through? Or was she dredging up the worst invectives? But they ought to come easy to her tongue, used everyday upon her daughter.

“How many?” she eventually said.

What, no screech? No verbal violence? Had some calming spirit gotten inside her? Perhaps it was the woodland spirit with its abundance, its honey and song-birds. Oh, please, Father Jaja, might it stay? Master Bukarn, too, looked taken aback.

“Four,” he answered. “King’s Men. Regiment.”

“Sssth!” she scorned. “Saramequai? Aye, may my mouth not rot. So you’ll have these Uestin see how we live? And I suppose you want Ublamn to kill one of his goats? That’ll not please him. But, you mud-head! Aye, so Nod’s Daughter plays in an empty sky, rolling northward, yet still we’re in the hold of winter—or haven’t you noticed beneath your eaves? So say, where will you have us find these other foods for your ‘show them how well we live’ feast?”

He gave no answer. He, like Detah, knew that Haldalda had been gathering small foods every day this past moon.

Mistress Alenta gusted a sigh. “You’ve a reason?”

“They bring news,” he said.

“Important?” She sealed her lips upon further remark.

Detah frowned. This wasn’t the Mistress Alenta she knew. Either it was true that a calming-spirit possessed her else . . . Else she, too, knew what was happening here.

“The Water of Waters, blocked,” Master Bukarn said. “Some hindrance. We shall have the story this evening.”

Mistress Alenta looked at him for a very long time. Finally she frowned. “We’re too close to winter’s end, Bukarn. You have to do something and fast. Three granaries along the Waters and her ribs; how will the eastern trade reach them if the Waters are blocked?”

“I am aware how little time.”

“You need to move on this, Granary Master.”

“So I shall. But I need to hear their story first. You might move in a day to cut the grain, but I’d be a fool to so blunder along the Waters. Then whatever needs doing, it shall be done.”

“What needs doing is it must be gone.” She tugged at the hem of her hitched-up chemmy.

“Aye, so it will. But this needs thought and preparation.”

“Thought, while you sleep beneath the eaves? You fail me, Bukarn, and you will know who is mistress here.”

“Aye,” he said while backing away. “Again, apologies. Now I must go find Demekn and warn him.”


He froze.

“What’s that in your hands?”

“A gift. A carved acorn.”

“Hah, Uestin gifts. As useless as their Uestin bearers.”

“It’s a love-charm. I thought I’d store it for Drea.”

“Uestin, for Drea? But store it the same. Then best you go warn your son.” Mistress Alenta turned away, eyes returned to her craft.

Warn Demekn? So Demekn, too, would know whatever was happening. Was she alone not to know it? But, bless the Ladies, catching her so she couldn’t move from the store. Now she need only sneak out the north door and off she could go with Master Bukarn. She knew where Demekn was. As ever he’d be at Bisaplan’s Old Isle.

Detah strode out alongside Master Bukarn, frantically trying to find a way to ask what was happening. But as they neared the old isle, with five others paths converging, the brambles now taking ring-shape, its mighty oak, grown old and hollow, beginning to tower, she’d still found no way of asking. She hoped the answer might appear in this talk with Demekn.

And what a terrible noise came from within that oak! Like the granary cat when she calls to her toms. Detah looked at Master Bukarn. Master Bukarn looked back at her.

“That’s not Uestuädik,” he said. “And I’d not call it music.”

Detah had to agree. It hurt her ears. “That’ll be Eblan Shunamn’s doing.”

“Eblan work,” Master Bukarn tutted. “And I suppose Shunamn will be in a grump if disturbed.” Yet disturb them he did.

He kicked at a flint chipping part-hidden beneath the matted grasses until he’d unearthed it. Then he threw it. Hard. Dust sprang up as it thudded not far from the tree. The dubious music halted, both string and voice. Master Bukarn rolled his eyes up to praise the Father.

“That’s mocking Jaja and you oughtn’t,” Detah said though she laughed at the antic.

“You misunderstand. I was praising Saram—whose sense of humour is infinitely greater.”

Shunamn poked his head out from the oak. “Bukarn! You come to speak with my apprentice.”

“I’ve come to speak with my son.”

“To say we have visitors, aye, we know.” The wild-haired eblan squeezed through the oak-cavern’s crevice. “Old Apsan’s young boy, on his way to raise river-walkers, came to tell us. Uestin horsemen wanting His Indwelling, eh? And with this, our third interruption, our mistress says no more music this day. Put your bow away,” he called into the oaken cave. “Master Bukarn needs to speak with you. About these Uestin horsemen.”

This last was said in flippant tone: Whatever the matter, it could be nothing compared to their eblan-work. The flippancy annoyed Master Bukarn, his fingers curling and flexing.

By whatever means Demekn had manoeuvred his musical bow into that cave, it now was a great trouble to manoeuvre it out. It wasn’t its size but its shape—a long curving limb, a barrel of a belly. It was eventually done. And with his fair hair resembling a tattered bird’s nest, his clothes (an unlikely assemblage of Alisime, Uestuädik and Ulishvregan) now dirty, Demekn followed.

“And I once had visions of you as a horseman,” Master Bukarn said. He brushed the debris from Demekn’s short swan-feather cloak (two winters in making and still it barely covered his shoulders).

“Rod?” Shunamn said, his own cloak long and full, of mottled owl-feathers.

Demekn retrieved his eblan-rod, a staff as tall as himself. With his other arm curled around the bow, he straightened as if for Regiment inspection, brows resentfully beetled.

“We must talk,” Master Bukarn said.

And now was the time to be invisible. If Master Bukarn forgot she was there she might finally hear what wasn’t being said of this Saramequai visit. She strolled away as if looking for berries despite the season.

“What concern of mine are your Uestin guests? I am eblan,” Demekn said.

“Querkan. These are Querkan. Close kin to King Tanisven.”

Demekn shrugged, ruffling feathers. “I am eblan,” he repeated.

“Aye,” agreed Master Bukarn. “But not long returned from Dal Uest where, I remind you, you were a guest of Clan Reumen.”

“Guest? I’d query that. But still I am eblan.”

Master Bukarn’s fingers again were curling. Detah knew his annoyance. Demekn ought to have served the Dal as a markon before serving Luktosn’s Hold as a trader. She pulled a face at her brother. It wasn’t fair. He could have had everything that Detah wanted, and yet had refused it. And why? To be an Alisime eblan.

“My son, you might fill your head with eblan-talk and eblan-work, and believe yourself full-Alsime. You might deck yourself in this higgle of clothes, neither one nor another. Yet still these Saramequai will know your stock. And while your eblan-master might scowl darkly at our Querkan guests and none will say of it, not so with you. You think if Horsemaster Makesen saw that bow he’d not immediately know you?”

“Makesen?” That changed Demekn’s tone. Detah turned to look. He no longer looked sullen though his brows were drawn tighter. “What does he want here?”

“Nothing. Nothing more than river-walkers to ferry him to His Indwelling. Should we keep it that way?”

“His Indwelling by South River? That’s a strange route.”

“Aye, and he has a story for it. Thus he and his men are our guests. I need to know what’s happening along the Waters. You think I invite them for pleasure? Rather ten vipers. Now I want you there. Both of you. I want you to hear their story.”

“Where else would I eat?” asked Shunamn.

Where indeed. Though it was usual for an eblan to lodge at a granary isle, they always were family. But not Shunamn. Who were his family?—he never spoke of them.


Detah didn’t mind that Demekn now walked beside Master Bukarn. It best served her purpose if they forgot her.

“Who are these other horsemen?” Demekn asked him.

“Two markistes, Isvron and Nevisan. And a markon. Glania.”


Master Bukarn’s head snapped round to look at his son. One word, one name, yet the way he said it, here was a story.

“What’s this, my apprentice?” Shunamn skipped around them. “I’ve seen paler poppies.” Demekn waved him away.

“But Shunamn’s right,” Master Bukarn said. “You could crack a wren’s egg on your face and cook it. Glania, King’s cousin, you know her?”

“As you said, I’ve not long returned. I was there for the Uissids Judgement, remember? But what’s their business at His Indwelling?”

“Not for us to know—though probably an alliance-wedding. This Markon Glania and Trader Imblysin perhaps?”

“No,” Demekn said firmly. “Come on, you served the four. A Uestin woman can’t be wed if a markon. There’s a verse for it.”

“Unless her wedding would serve the Dal King?”

“Tell me, has she a horse with her?” Demekn asked. “Copper coated, golden mane?”

“I saw none. Why?”

“Swift Dawn was a gift from her father. She’d never leave him for more than a moon. And I’ll tell you this, there’s only one thing that Glania wants, and that’s to be a markiste. So forget any notion of her and alliance-weddings. No, some other business brings them.”

But what was this other business? Was it the same as that ‘something’ that wasn’t being said? Detah so wanted to ask. And anyway, what was at His Indwelling to interest Clan Querkan if not Trader Imblysin?

Detah reviewed what she know of Imblysin. Born of Mandatn’s Hold who, of the Ulvregan trading-families, had the widest trade-alliances: Saramequai, Rizzoni, Gousen, Lugisse, Bridren, even the northern Feg Folk. He had served the Dal King, remaining beyond the four to become a markiste. Indeed, he’d not long returned, and that only at the death in combat of his commander. Now he was pledged to Sapapsan’s granary, though word was that he’d no interest in Mistress Siradath. Not surprising when Mistress Siradath had already buried one trader (she wasn’t so young). But Sapapsan’s granary was well sited for trade and it was said that Imblysin was doing well.

“Look, Master Bukarn,” Demekn said and stopped walking—Detah had to side-step not to collide, “it’s best that I don’t attend this meal tonight.”

“But I want you there—need you there. You have knowledge.”

“Then repeat it to me after. It’s not only that I am eblan now. I served Chief Krinik. I am a grandson of the last Clan Reumen king. Believe me, it’s best I’m not there.”

“We’ll none of us attend this meal if we stand here longer,” Shunamn grumbled. “Master Nod will have blinked your guests into sleep before we return.”

Demekn ignored him. “Look, you say it’s important I hear their news. But I say if I’m there, there mightn’t be any news. So please do not ask me again.”

“This has to do with you and Markon Glania?” Master Bukarn said. “Then best you tell me.”

Demekn didn’t answer, except to resume walking. Faster. But Detah had seen how red his face.

“She wasn’t a markon, not then,” Demekn threw back over his shoulder

“She was Querkan.”

“And it has been known for Clan Querkan and Clan Reumen to wed.”

“Wed? Wed! No, don’t tell me more of it.” Master Bukarn sharply swerved to be ahead of his son and strutted on.

“He asks,” Demekn said to Detah, “then when I start to say, he walks away.” He hurried his pace to catch up. “There was no thought of wedding.”

“Demekn, Clan Querkan and Clan Reumen do not mix.”

“Aye, when you were a markon. How long ago? Thirty winters? I do not bumble, there have been weddings—at least until three seasons since. Besides, shout as you will, I am not Clan Reumen. I am eblan-born and eblan-true. Not even your Luktosn’s Hold could claim me.” He stormed away.

Shunamn hurried ahead to be with Demekn. After a few more strides Master Bukarn also hurried. He ran, puffing and gasping by the time he reached Demekn. Detah skipped along to be beside them.

“Please tell me, son,” Master Bukarn said, “that your Markon Glania encouraged this, um—”


“Is that what you call it?”

“Truly, it was nothing. She was then just of age. She was friendly.”


He might well be alarmed. Detah had heard Master Bukarn’s tales, told whilst dealing. He’d known a ‘friendly’ woman or two while serving his four in the Dal; he’d known some later, too, while he was travelling.

“Listen, Eblan Demekn, I’m speaking to you as Granary Master, and I’m telling you this: You will attend this meal this evening. And before you object, I do understand what you’re saying, the problem. And I agree, it’s best that our guests don’t see you. So your eblan-master can doubtless find some way to disguise you. Something from his dramas that might cover your head?”

Detah tutted. Must she wait till this evening to discover whatever this something was that wasn’t being said?

Next episode: 1st September
Previous episode: Detah

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A broken house and a broken life
Of a broken man with a long-lost wife

The springs of bed and sofa’ve sprung
The stair-rods all are fitted wrong
Around the table chairs are chipt
The carpets all are rucked and slipt

The garden’s unkempt
The fences bent
The windows are grubby
(The cat is tubby)
In the bathroom:
The toilet seat’s loose and moves about
The tiles are skewed for want of grout
In the kitchen:
One hob-ring only works
In the larder:
Fungi and black-mould lurks

But what’s in the old man’s broken heart
Are memories too dear to ever depart.

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What Now, With No Ladder?

In the previous episode of Feast Fables, along with the return of Kallaren, was the unwelcome news that the hoped-for ladder could not be made.

Now how is Kerrid to return to the Realm of Divinities to discover exactly what happened to earn the Asars this banishment? And without such knowledge she doesn’t know how to eradicate Neka, the demon-snake that’s already taken two of her sons. Next episode, To Spin A Star, ready now.

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Fantasy Names

It is a cliché that character and place names in fantasy fiction should be ‘strange’. The more distant in time and space, the weirder the names. The reason isn’t hard to divine. Unfamiliar character and place names helps to set the action in an unfamiliar place and time. After all, you’ll find no Bill or Ted in the Bhagavad Gita or in Shui Hu Zhuan (The Water Margin or ‘Outlaws of the Marsh’, considered one of the four great classical novels of Chinese literature, attributed to Shi Naian).

Even Professor Tolkien when peopling his Middle Earth adhered to the same—though for the most part his names were taken from various versions of ancient Germanic (Old English, Old Norse, Old Frankish) with a smattering of Slavic; and where he created anew still he drew upon Old English and Norse. But, while generally conforming, it will be noted that George Lucas broke with the tradition when he named his hero ‘Luke Skywalker’. (Was this a case of the author projecting himself into the action?)

Unfortunately, some fantasy writers forget that their created names must be pronounced by their readers and those readers, being human, are limited in their articulation by the restraints of the human vocal equipment. MRI scans have shown that internal voicing (the way most people read) still accesses the same equipment. I’ve encountered several names that in my head I’m forced to substitute ‘wazzis name’.

Readers of my blogs, both Feast Fables and the stories posted here on crimsonprose will now retort that, oops, I do the same. In fact, I have been asked to provide a Pronunciation Guide for Alsalda (see below).

There are three sources for the names in my stories (four if we count modern English).

In Feast Fables 1, the names are drawn from two dialects (Usaric and Gusrikt) of a fictitious tongue, with no attempt to connect these to any known or surviving language. These fictitious dialects provided the Usaric names of the Uissids (sons of Uissinir): Olun, Urinod, Jiar, Huat, Zrone, Torund, Ypsi, Gimmerin, and Raesan; and the Gusrikt sisters Kerrid and Barega, all of whom weave their way through subsequent stories found in Neve and the more recent Priory Project, and Alsalda that’s now beginning.

In Feast Fables 2 Kerrid encounters an entirely different people. And I wanted to show the resultant culture shock. For that I created a language, Erbhelmn (move over Tolkien!). Even at the time of Feast Fables 2 ‘Erbhelmn’ had several dialectal versions, one of them (Ulmfrehelmn) being the native language of Chadtamen and his sister Amblushe in Feast Fables 3.

The Alsime and Ulvregan, two of the peoples Julia encountered at Destination in Priory Project, are descendants of the Ulmfrehemn. Hence their names look much the same. The names drawn from this created language continue into Alsalda (now beginning).

There are references in Priory Project of other peoples. The Himen, the Eskin, Kerdolan, Ormalin, Tuätin, the Saëntoi, plus others. Some of these are destined to make dramatic entrance in Alsalda, particularly the western branch of the Tuätin, the Uestin.

The Tuätin—of whom the Saëntoi are a southern branch—speak Tuädik a (fictitious) Indo-European language. Since the ancient Ulmfrehelmn forms its substrate we find it occasionally intrudes to affect the vocabulary from which the names are formed.

And so, the promised . . .

Alisime and Uestin Pronunciation Guide

I’m going to keep this simple, for no matter where I say the stress should fall, still American-English speakers will prefer it one place, British-English speakers another. Ditto for where the word should be divided. These preferences are a feature of our similar and yet noticeably different language. The same holds for long and short vowels. (Witness the difference in England in the length of -a in such words as ‘path’ and ‘grass:’ northern short –a as in ‘ass’; southern long –a as in ‘arse’.) Yet there are features which might at first cause problems and which I address here.


  • –n ending

When following a vowel this –n presents no problem. But because it’s used to denote the plural (one eblan, two eblann) it often follows a consonant. Here -n is barely sounded (more like it’s swallowed), a mere touch of tongue to tooth.

It is also a common male name ending (Demekn, Bukplugn) where it is sounded like an unvoiced –in, never as a voiced –en.

  • –a ending

As with contemporary English, this is commonly found in female names (Alenta, Halalda). It is the schwa-sound ‘-ǝ’, exactly as in English.

  • –ah ending

Again, a common ending in female names (Detah) and denotes the longer –a sound as in ‘tar’.

  • –y– (initial and internal)

Found mainly in male names (Dannyn, in Priory Project); it’s sounded as in ‘yes’ and ‘yin’.

  • The diaeresis (double dots)

This indicates that the second, marked, vowel is sounded separate from the vowel preceding (Liënershi = Li-en-er-shē). I have used this, also, to clarify pronunciation in the rare Uestuädik name with a run of vowels.

  • -chi-

Occasionally found in names, it is the verb ‘to be’. It is sounded exactly as it looks.

Uestuädik (Uestin)

  • Initial U-

This is a tight W- sound, with the following vowel long (Uest = Weest, Uissid = Weezid).

  • –i ending

Sounded as a long –ē (Beli = Bel-ee, Rizzoni = Rizzōn-ee)

  • C-, -c-

C is always hard, as in ‘cat’, never soft as in ‘cent’.

I trust this quick guide has helped to untangle your tongues. Though I do confess, as Kerrid said upon her first encounter with the Erbhelmn language, it does have an excess of labials requiring a lot of lip-activity. Which probably explains why she describes the Ulmfrehemn (Feast Fables 2) as a hard-wanting (lustful) people.

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crimsonprose’s new serialised story—ALSALDA—starts here.

Episode 1 of Alsalda

How many times now had Detah slipped between the wood of her bed and the rough plastered wall, hips nipped and arms squeezed alongside her, and no one yet had discovered her.

Not that Mistress Alenta would trouble herself to come seeking, not for an uninspired child. Besides, she had no need when the grandmothers saw everything. Or so Mistress Alenta told her. Detah scoffed at such tales. The grandmothers saw nothing, for their fleshless skulls had no eyes. Nor did they know beyond the granary, for the spirit must always stay with the bone, and their skulls were perched, all eighty-one of them, high upon the granary’s shelves. Mistress Alenta must think her a mud-head to believe it, and all because she hadn’t the grain-spirit.

Her own ears keened at a sharp rap-tap the far side of the wall, planted amid Master Bukarn’s snores.

“We’ve visitors,” she heard Ublamn say—so the rap was the tap of his staff against the granary-master’s hide soles.

Ublamn amused Detah, always trying to seem more important. And so he would be important—if an ordinary eldliks to an ordinary family at an ordinary isle. He’d be the head man and the family’s sons, five or fifty winters-seen, would answer to him. No driving the herds to their summer grazing, no culling at summer’s end without his saying. But this was no ordinary Alisime isle and no ordinary Alisime family dwelt here. No longhouses either, only the original sprawling lodge founded by the ancestress Hegrea. For here was the first-made Alisime granary, prime amongst the nine. And here dwelt Mistress Alenta, mistress of the Alisime granaries, within whom the grain-spirit was strong. This was Isle Ardy, and here lodged Master Bukarn, master of the granary-traders. There was no other head man here.

But Ublamn did keep a herd—though of goats, not of cattle, nor even of sheep. And in summer, when he allowed them to graze outside the isle, he kept them close. He’d not have them call him away from his post atop the white boundary wall. There he sat out his days and kept watch. Detah hadn’t a hope of sneaking out.

“Four visitors,” Master Bukarn answered the eldliks. “Not Alsime, and neither Ulvregan.”

“How do you do that?” Ublamn asked.

Detah wondered the same. He’d only just woken. She’d heard him snoring.

“I listen,” he said.

Detah listened as well—that’s why she squeezed between bed and wall (not only to hide). She listened to everything said on the far side of that wall where Master Bukarn, the granary’s trader, sat out every day. He made all his trades there, in the shelter of the deep eaves. Aye-yi, the tales she had heard. Every wedding, be they Alisime or Ulishvregan, the births, their names, the deaths; though the grain-spirit was weak within her (she’d say absent) she swore she could name every one living in Alisalm-land and most of the dead. Moreover, she knew the names of all the folks who shared this land of Jitinnis, all those dwelling east, north and west of Alisalm-land. And that wasn’t all. She knew the names of all the folks that dwelt over the seas, and what was happening there—all the way to the far eastern Ussamen.

No grain-spirit in her, so Mistress Alenta complained of her, yet she could speak Lenevick and Hiëmen (though, true, Hiëmen and Alisime weren’t so different). She could speak the Uestuädik, too, they used in Dal Uest—though never in front of Mistress Alenta. Mistress Alenta, like most other Alsime, scorned the Uestin. Detah often pondered on that, why the aversion. She figured it was probably because of the Ulvregan who no longer took their wives from amongst the Alsime but now, these fifty summers past, turned ever more to the east. To Dal Uest.

“Listen,” Master Bukarn said, which meant he was about to impart some useful information. “With Alsime you hear their chatter before you see them. With Ulvregan, it’s the jangle of their beads and trinkets. But with these? I’ve heard only their feet.”

He probably could feel them too, stretched out as he probably was on the ground. There’d not been much rain; that ground would play as a drum.

“Uestin,” he said. “Horsemen of the Regiment.”

But, by Sweet Saram, how did he know that? Yet—(she now was grinning, hands tightly clutched)—Uestin? Dal folk! But horsemen of the Regiment? Dear Father Jaja, that sounded serious.

“Saramequai,” she heard him say. And there was something in the way he said that word. It came tinged with fear. She held her breath, afraid for the master.

“How can you tell?” Ublamn asked him.

“Head wear,” Master Bukarn answered. “The Rizzoni wear bearskin caps. The Gousen have hats worked from horns.”

So what did the Saramequai wear? Horsemen of Saram. Did they wear horse tails? Detah had to see this. Likely no Saramequai would ever again visit here. But how to slip out without being seen?

Not through the usual egress, the long narrow passage beside the trader’s store. (When she was younger she used to play in that store, trading with the invisible folk who came to deal for her honey. “My very best bee-juice. Fresh, not crunchy. Lots of runny.” She sighed at the memory. She used to believe it one day could happen, that she’d be a trader.) No, she couldn’t use that door. Though it opened askew of the isle’s southern gate, it would deliver her too close to the visitors and she’d risk being seen. Instead she’d use the north door. Hidden, secret, it was known only to her and her brother Demekn.

Light-footed, holding close to the wall of the inner arcade, she made her way to the lodge-store. Safe behind the hide door-hanging, she allowed a giggle. All this creeping, as if she’d be seen. This close to winter’s end the grain-women were working away in the granary—as she ought to be, except that she hadn’t the spirit. As to Ublamn’s woman, Haldalda and her daughters were out harvesting the Mother’s first offering.

She picked her away across the store, ducking beneath the rows of smoked fish that hung like red flags from the cross-beams, stiff sticks of dried meat between them. In the far corner squatted tight-lidded barrels packed with salt-fish. Everything edible was here in the store. Thick-sided pots for the family’s grain, kept away from the granary. Dried fruits. Baskets of roots. Herbs in garlands. Sacks of seeds, some still in their pods. But right now Detah’s sole interest was the door. Invisible from the outside, it could only be opened from within. So she and her brother had agreed to keep handy and hidden a wooden splint to wedge it. How else to return?

Although across from the door there was the granary, a dozen sleds, leant one on the other against the lodge wall, shielded her from its view. And there was no chance of anyone hearing her, not with Ublamn’s goats conveniently set to bleating in protest of a river-walker now poling his riverboat along South River and singing gaily of the coming summer. Yet that cut two ways. Against their noise how was she to hear the visitors talking?

Yet she could hear them. She wasn’t yet fully west round the lodge when she heard a man’s voice—not Master Bukarn’s, nor Ublamn’s. Closer, she could make out the words. Hiëmen. Yet Master Bukarn clearly had said these were Saramequai. Saramequai, there was music just in that name.

And now she could see them. But that meant they might also see her. She shrank back into the shadows. With no crumbling plaster out here she could cling close to the wall. Though, fool, she ought to have thought to put on her wrap. Washed out black would have disguised her better than this chemmy of sun-faded yellow.

Apparently, Ublamn had delayed the visitors at the oddly-named Second Gate. (Odd, because it gated not the Second but the Third Ring. The Third Ring was a trench. Detah prided herself that she knew its dimensions. Five men abreast could walk the bottom of it. Fifteen men standing shoulder-to-shoulder measured its width at the top. It was cut into the ground to the depth of three men’s heights. Depths and heights, that bit confused her. There was a ladder down to it—needed, for at every Feast of Winter Ending some besotted fool would stumble into it. In its western section ran the granary’s pigs.)

Detah once had heard a Hiëmen trader say that a hallowed place ought to shout at the senses. Isle Ardy loudly hailed, walled as it was by the First Ring (fifteen men standing shoulder-to-shoulder measured its base; five men abreast could walk atop it). And in the sun’s light it shone brightest white. A shame that between the First and the Third Rings was only an open plain dotted with thorns and brambles that served the goats’ grazing. (Isle Ardy hadn’t three rings but seven, she once had asserted. Mistress Alenta had scorned her but Master Bukarn had listened. “How so?” “It has four more at its centre, for the lodge has three: the outer arcade, beneath the outer eaves, the chamber-ring subdivided to twelve, and the inner arcade beneath the inner eaves which give onto the central yard.” It was there stood the heart-tree, an elder with gold-dusted branches arching and hugging its own deformed trunk.)

Ublamn’s staff blocked the way through the Second Gate, across the deep trench—coincidentally allowing Detah a clear view of the visitors. She must feast her eyes upon them and gorge until full, for likely she’d never see the sight again. She tried to take it all in all at once but wasn’t able. Best then to apply some kind of order. She then would remember it better when she came to tell of it. And what a tale this would make! “Well, my friend, you should have seen them,” she’d say. “Identical, all dressed the same way.”

She noted the black-feather crowns around their heads. Crow-feathers she guessed, for no other bird sported such long black feathers. She noted, too, they all had the same light-coloured hair, same as the Ulvregan traders, same as her family, though in shades some varied. Ah, but now she corrected that first impression; the smallest horseman’s hair was harvest-red. All wore plaits. She knew their purpose: to keep their hair from blowing and blinding them. She knew their number. Twenty-seven. (Nine-times-three. But each plait had three threads, so in all their hair was divided into nine-times-nine parts). Twenty-seven small plaits; Master Bukarn sometimes allowed her to tidy his. But his were weighted with plain wooden beads while theirs, these Saramequai, flashed and glinted with copper. That must have made them heavy to bear.

They wore traveller’s cloaks. But unlike Master Bukarn’s, which he’d made by piecing together hundreds of tiny mouse-skins, theirs were of pieced-together various furs. And while his was leather-lined, theirs were lined with Ulishvregan plaid, the checks being blue, green and black.

She noted, too, with some relief, they’d not come for war. Then they’d have worn narrow breeches of red or brown instead of those white billowy things. Master Bukarn had told her of them and how they were made—seven widths wide! He’d said that it wasn’t the sewing that was the trouble but the getting them on. All that width to draw in to the waist, and it must be done before the standing. Their shirts, too, were of the same linen. So much white, it glared though the sky was cloudy. Then banded round their middles were blood-red sashes; she knew there’d be many amulets tucked within there.

Her eyes tracked down to their feet and—oops!—she just stopped a whistle. That would have given her away. But look at them! Three had Beli’s buttons at their ankles, made of copper, fixing their breeches in tight. And, as she knew, only horsemasters and markistes were allowed to wear those. These weren’t just any Saramequai horsemen. These were commanders and captains.

“Horsemaster Makesen,” Ublamn reported to Master Bukarn who now was standing close to the trench. “He comes to deal with you.”

She must have missed the visiting formula. Your need must be dire to arrive at this season. It always was said no matter the season.

“Deal?” Master Bukarn said. How mutely garbed he seemed in comparison with his dirt-coloured narrow-legged breeches beneath his brown, yellow and black pleated and gathered Ulishvregan skirt. “It is early season to be trading.”

“I do not trade,” Horsemaster Makesen said. “I offer a deal.”

Detah wrinkled her nose. How haughty of him.

“The gift?” the smallest, youngest, put in—a markon by the lack of Beli’s fire-buttons.

“Yours to give,” Horsemaster Makesen grunted.

Detah would say he needed a foot to trip him. Preferably close to a muddy puddle.

“It would be impolite for us to visit without some gift reflecting your standing,” the markon said to Master Bukarn, and offered it up.

“For me?” he sounded genuinely pleased. But what was it?

Detah leant back (she’d learnt that from Master Bukarn, he said it helped him to see). But still she couldn’t see what the gift. A wrapped parcel, the size of Haldalda’s cook-pot. It must have been heavy—muscles tightened. Ah, but it weren’t muscles only beneath that shirt. The markon, Detah now could see, was a woman. So that explained her more delicate build, and why she was shorter, and why when she’d spoken in impeccable Hiëmen her voice had been boyish as if unbroken.

Master Bukarn smiled and passed the parcel to Ublamn. “It won’t offend if we leave this to later? I’m eager to know what you’ve brought but I’m also curious to know of your visit.”

Detah, too, was curious. And if they’d come a bit closer she might hear better. But she knew Master Bukarn’s habits; she waited.

“Saramequai Regiment. A horsemaster, two markistes, and a markon, that I can see,” said Master Bukarn. “Clan Querkan, too, every one, by your badges. And you’re not here on King’s business else the gifts would be more, with accompanying verses. You say you offer a deal, yet you don’t come to trade. So who are you, and what do you want this early season?”

Detah held her breath. That had been bluntly said, had he offended? Had she been him she’d not have risked it. There was something about them. Or was it Master Bukarn’s fear she was sensing? He knew something of them and of their visit that as yet she did not. What was it?

“Apologies.” Horsemaster Makesen bobbed his head enough to make his feathers flirt. “Such rudeness was not intended. She with her gift—it interrupted our introductions. My name and rank you have. These—Markiste Nevisan, Markiste Isvron, and Markon Glania. You are, of course, correct in your observations, that we are Saramequai, Clan Querkan. I shall not ask of your own alliance.”

Detah scowled. Though she appreciated the given names, that of Master Bukarn’s alliance was nastily said. No doubt Horsemaster Makesen had noticed the Ulishvregan skirt in Clan Reumen colours. Still, the man needed his nose thoroughly bopped.

“Any alliance,” answered Master Bukarn, “is former and no longer relevant. I am Granary Master Bukarn. And you have yet to say of your business here.”

Detah grinned. That was one into the ribs and twisted.

“As surmised, we are not sent on King Tanisven’s business. It is rather . . . shall we say personal. Family, clan business.”

“Here? But this is Isle Ardy, not Bukplugn’s Hold.” Bukplugn’s, amongst the Ulvregan traders’ holds, had the most kin of Clan Querkan.

“We go to His Indwelling,” Makesen said.

Detah’s brow tightened. His Indwelling, by way of South River? Might as well go to Bayland via Banva Go. Coming as they did from Dal Uest, they’d have crossed the Lenevick Sea, and that would have delivered them neat as can be at the Water of Waters. Three or four days along and there was First Water branching. Another day poling upstream and lo! His Indwelling.

But His Indwelling? What business could these Clan Querkan have there? It could only be with Imblysin. He was the granary trader at Sapapsan’s Isle. But he wasn’t kin to Clan Querkan, he was Clan Dragsin. And of late there was no honey binding those particular clans.

“Look,” Master Bukarn said, “though there’s no heat to Sauën yet, I am more accustomed to dealing beneath the eaves of our arcade.”

And that’s what Detah had been awaiting. He turned his back to the Saramequai and proceeded, leading. Ublamn lingered as if to shepherd should they stray.

Detah pressed back against the lodge wall while the Saramequai settled. Mistress Alenta ought to see this. She was always saying of the Uestin, that they always sat up. Up on their horses, up on their carts, up on benches when eating, though the Alsime used them alone at their looms. Now here were four Uestin, Saramequai horsemen, and they were sitting down. Down on the ground with not a cushion to soften them.

The youngest markiste (Markiste Nevisan) was looking around him. “Is it true, a holy woman resides here?”

“Where did you hear that?” Master Bukarn asked.

“The Hiëmen seamen, they said.”

“Holy?” Master Bukarn drew back as if to consider. “If by holy you mean immortal, like your Uissids, then no she is not. But if by holy you mean hallowed, then aye she is that.”

Hallowed? Detah hadn’t heard Mistress Alenta called that before. Her fingers strayed to her throat. The bulls the eblann slaughtered atop the Earthen Boats were also called hallowed.

“Not powerful then,” Markiste Nevisan remarked.

Master Bukarn bared his teeth, his grin lifting his sand-coloured ‘tache. “Oh, she has power. Though she doesn’t abuse it, unlike your Uissids.”

That remark could have offended, but not with Clan Querkan. They appreciated it, nodding and mumbling. There wasn’t one of Clan Querkan who still liked the Uissids, not after the Uissids Judgement. That had been savage, three winters since.

It suddenly hit her: Was that why their visit? Did they come here seeking land? Then they’d be disappointed for here there was none.

“Now that we’re out of the glare,” Master Bukarn began, “what’s this deal that isn’t a trade?”

“I offer news,” Horsemaster Makesen said. “Then in return I ask a favour.”

“Ay-yi-yi, but news never is dealt, it’s freely given. As, too, the favour.”

“Another time, another place, I’d say the same,” said Makesen. “But I’m in Alisalm for a month at the most, then . . . Who can say? A favour might be freely given, yet we all expect a return. Best to return it now with the news that I bring.”

“Another time, another place, I, too, would agree.” Master Bukarn, inveterate trader, nodded slowly as if mentally weighing. “But your news is no deal for I already know it. There’s a hindrance or blockage along the Waters.”

Detah frowned. No, he couldn’t have known it else she’d know it too. But whence he came by it? Reasoned it out of what had been said? Ublamn was looking askance at him, too.

“Already have it, you already knew?” Makesen blustered. (But weren’t horsemasters supposed to control their responses? Trained to it so Master Bukarn had told her.) “Uath’s teeth! But I need this favour.”

“You oughtn’t to deal with traders,” Markiste Isvron said in Uestuädik.

Master Bukarn graciously smiled. Then he caught sight of Detah, though she thought herself hidden. He winked at her. It didn’t bother him, her lack of grain-spirit.

“I’ll offer solution,” he said to Makesen. “I care not for the deal but I’ll have your story. And regardless, I’ll grant you the favour. If I am able.”

“Me? Tell a story?” Makesen’s top lip lifted higher and curled.

“As a report then, as if to your commander. Or to your king? But, please, not this moment, not now. It must wait. Your Hiëmen boat is at our boards? It’ll carry you no farther—certainly not to His Indwelling. For that you’ll need ferrying by river-walkers. Though these are not at my command, usually if I call they do come. Might I suggest you lade a granary-sled, unload your hired boat, and allow it to go? The shelter of this arcade is yours for the night.”

That was a kind offer of hospitality—considering Master Bukarn was allied to Clan Reumen and the Saramequai were Clan Querkan and there’d been more cursing than kissing between them for long ancient seasons and now, since the Uissids Judgement, they would rather slaughter each other than talk. But Clan Reumen, Clan Querkan, what did that matter. It was Mistress Alenta: she couldn’t abide anything Uestin. A person with sense would not bring them together.

So what did Master Bukarn then say?

“And since I’ve a wish to hear your story, and since you’ve yet to ask the favour, I invite you to share our evening meal. Nothing formal, just my family. Say aye?”

Detah eyed the First Gate. Perhaps she could slip away? For she preferred not to be within her call when her mother vented her fury at this.

∗ ∗ ∗

Next episode: Demekn

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