Plans are laid. Troops on both sides are hidden. And all done behind King Kottir’s back. Bryony isn’t happy of that. How can she allow Kottir to walk, unprepared, into her father’s ambush . . . Read on
We had been talking a goodly distance away from where King Kottir waited with the markan and our cart. But I noticed how he eyed us cautiously. Had he heard some of our talk? King Kottir was as much a Brictan as I, with all that involved. But perhaps he was just wondering why were taking so long.
Then he asked, as Uissid Tizarn and I climbed back into the cart, what those creatures were. “Why were you talking to them? What were you saying?”
I figured truth was the best. “They are my brothers.” Which they were though they were my nephews too. Then I blurted it. I couldn’t help it. I couldn’t have him not knowing. “They came to warn me about King Ithen. He intends to cheat you. He has two thousand men waiting for you at the ford.”
“Then I’m dead,” he said. “What can I do against two thousand men? We’re all dead. Queen Bregan. My child. You. All of us. It hardly seems worth us travelling further. We may as well set camp here and let it all happen.”
I glanced at Uissid Tizarn. But apart from a scowl, he said nothing.
“No, Kottir, we must go on. Who knows what Saram has prepared for us?” I couldn’t tell him of the Sprigs, and the hidden Regiment. We dared not risk that being leaked to Yewlen. “Does Beli no longer ride with the Regiment?”
It was as much as I dared say. It broke my heart to see King Kottir so despondent, yet we had to leave him to his despair.
The day had grown old before we sighted the ford. As instructed by Yewlen, King Kottir secured me to the cart.
While in close, checking my bindings, he said he’d made a mistake when he asked to wed Bregan. “I should have waited for you. You should have been my wife, not her. But what’s done is done. Now we have to live with the mistake. Maybe there’s yet a way we can be together? If we survive this day.”
“But had you not wed Bregan then we’d not have met,” I said. “We were never meant to be. But, Kottir, believe me, I shall miss you.”
“Whatever happens now,” he said, “I hope it goes well with you. May Saram protect you.” And he kissed me one last time no matter who saw it—his wife and Queen; my father.
How could I now hold back the tears? I didn’t want this parting, more difficult and painful than I had expected. It occurred to me, while I clung to the side of that trundling cart, that if I hadn’t suggested this exchange then maybe King Kottir would have kept me and let Yewlen do as Yewlen would with Queen Bregan. But that was such a selfish thought. This wasn’t about King Kottir’s choice of me or Bregan. It was about Yewlen wanting Meksuin’s Land.
King Kottir set the oxen plodding.
Ahead of me was the ford. Beside the ford there was a cart. In that cart Queen Bregan stood, tied to a pole, no more able to move than could I. I looked at her. I looked back at Kottir. Aye, we’d had no choice, this had to be. But if all went well . . . could I yet hope?
My stomach churned worse than being at sea. I tried not to think. I built an impenetrable barrier around my head, a high thorn hedge entangled and impossible to pass. Yewlen must not know what we had planned for him.
The way Yewlen had set it, when both the carts were at the ford one of Yewlen’s men would run out to bring my cart across, while one of King Kottir’s men would do the same with Queen Bregan. My cart reached the ford. Across a narrow band of water was my sister.
I waited, and waited. I wasn’t to call the horsemasters until I’d been fetched. Yet no man came for me. Something here wasn’t playing right. As impatient with waiting as me, one of King Kottir’s markan cut free. He made for the ford.
I wished Uissid Tizarn was beside me. Or at least in sight. I needed his counsel. But he, too, awaited my call. I could wait no longer. I called.
And now where were the Sprigs? I couldn’t see them. Could they be trusted? But it was too late to worry now. Either I’d survive this day or I would not. I dared give no thought to Yewlen.
I called across the river to my sister: “Is all well with you? Have you been harmed?”
“The child,” she said. “He kicks and struggles to be free. Sorrel wanted me to stay another day. She was sure today would be—” but she let out a scream.
“No!” The birth had begun. And there on the ground, so close to me, the
eager markon now dead.
The delay, whatever its cause, worked to Uissid Tizarn’s advantage. As he appeared out of the west, so did Sauën’s brightness, so low in the sky, blind King Ithen’s men. But Lady Sauën’s brilliance was in one sector only. Not so Uissid Tizarn. He had never been known to ride before, yet here he was on a horse’s back, galloping back and forth, spreading his light, strongly shining, dazzling any with Brictish blood to see him. But, alas, though a wondrous sight, not many of my father’s men were Brictan.
It mattered not. The Sprigs were here. I watched as they charged through the ranks of Yewlen’s men, invisible but for their spears. Yewlen’s men chopped and sliced at their invisible foe, hitting few of them.
After that the fighting became a confusion of men impossible to follow. I saw King Kottir leap upon some fallen man’s horse and charged directly at the ford, no doubt to rescue his Queen. But King Kailen—aye, Kottir’s Queen’s lover—answered charge with charge and slew him. SLEW HIM. I screamed.
Sliced and hacked from off his neck, King Kottir’s head rolled past my cart. My scream became sobs, crying for him, for Bregan, for the child. And despite she was but the river’s width from me, I could no longer see her, so thick was the fighting.
There were no longer any men hidden, both sides in full number now locking swords: cutting, slicing, stabbing. All around me was death, death, death, and the dying. Above me, the carrion birds circled cawing, their wheeling ushering a premature night. I could hear Queen Bregan calling for help. Such tears I cried for her. Oh that I could help her. But none could help while this battle raged on.
And where was Yewlen? Had the Sprigs yet caught him? Had they bound him? Had they built that fire to burn him on? Was he defeated? Yet his men fought on.
I saw King Kailen. He looked at me and turned away. He had lost his horse. Now he ran—ran to where Bregan was calling, yet surely unable to see her beyond all those swords clashing, those men fighting. I watched him, sure he must be with her at any moment. I wished him speed to be there for her now that King Kottir lay dead at my feet.
But what had happened? Why had our plan gone so awry? And where was Uissid Tizarn? He should be here somewhere but I couldn’t see him, not even his light. Where were the Sprigs? Had they yet found and bound our father? And who—who—would come rescue me? Was I to be returned to Yewlen after all?
I heard Queen Bregan calling to Kailen, encouraging him. I, too, spurred him on with my thoughts and wishes. He had to reach her, she couldn’t be left to give birth to King Kottir’s child in the midst of a battle. In a momentary parting of bodies, I saw him reach out to her, close enough now to touch her hand. But one of our Regiment men was upon him.
I watched aghast. The King’s Man mistook Kailen’s purpose. He swiped with his sword. The sword broke as it struck, but its work was done. Another head rolled, more life-blood flowing. I couldn’t watch it, yet couldn’t turn. Kailen was dead, his headless body still clutching at Bregan’s cart.
And still the battle raged about me. Sauën left the sky to Palamon to seek out her bed as if this day had not brought this battle. And still I asked where was Yewlen? I could see no Brictish light, not even Tizarn’s. All was dark except for Bregan across the blood-thickened water.
Again, Bregan screamed for help, so urgent. “Please. Anyone, please. Untie me. I’ve a child trying here to be born.”
A child to be born yet there she was, tied to that post, unable to help the child on its way. I longed to be with her. Ached to be with her. Was angry that I couldn’t be with her. But, like her, I was tied. Tied, and sickened at what was happening.
Yet in that darkness there came a light. Not Yewlen’s, this, not light of a Silver Fold. And neither Flame, not Tizarn’s. This was the light of a Gold Fold Immortal; a light the equal of Sauën’s.
“Who are you?” I asked as the stranger fumbled to untie my bonds. “No, go see to Bregan first. She needs your help more.”
Another Immortal walkingthrough the dead of the battlefield? Who can it be? Who has a light the equal of Sauën’s? Next and final episode, Alone, Tuesday 28th March