The Father’s Daughter

KW22 The Father's DaughterIn the first event, the horse-race,  Ingobo just missed being placed. Yet he may still have a chance to enter the swordplay and maybe, then, to become the king. But his mind now has turned to other things . . . Read on

“Briäsa,” the eldliks called for his daughter’s attention.

The sword-play was about to begin; she ignored him. I, too, preferred to watch it; the introduction to his daughter could wait. But the eldliks wouldn’t allow it.

“Briäsa,” he grabbed hold of her arm and pulled her away from her good-viewing place. She complained.

“Briäsa,” he said, “this is Ingobo. He only just missed being a candidate for this sword-fight.”

She studied me like she was examining a horse—or a bull. I reddened.

“A shame being fine-looking isn’t a quality that Saram looks for in our kings,” she said.

I reddened further. She turned away, again intent on watching the fight.

“Briäsa,” her father called her back—and she let it be known how annoyed she was. “Briäsa, do you remember me lending a horse to a young Alismuk man?”

“Oh! Are you he?” Now she realised who I was (not just any loser of the Games). “You did well, to have missed the chance to become our king by so little. Especially since you had never even ridden a horse before my father lent you his Heglayis.”

“He has impressed me,” the eldliks said.

I realised the eldliks had never given me his name. Not when I had begged the horse off him. Nor when he had instructed one of his young kinsmen to train me in its riding. Not even now when he was making this fuss of me. I tried to remember it. Bukplugn’s Hold was not so far away for Bisaplan’s Land. My family must have mentioned him a hundred times. What was it?

“When this young man asked for the horse,” the eldliks was explaining to his daughter (who strained to see over her shoulder to watch the fight), “I told him if he won—if he became the Alsaldic King—then I’d give him you to be his wife.”

“Now I am disappointed you lost,” she told me. “I have missed being the queen by so little.”

“The king’s wife,” the eldliks corrected her. “But don’t be too disappointed. This young man has so impressed me that I’ve decided, anyway, to give you to him.”

The sword-play contested between the three men had become exceedingly tense, demanding everyone’s acute attention—except for this eldliks. Yet in the sharpest of movements Briäsa turned back to him.

You are giving me to him?” She turned to me. “Please, Ingobo, do not be offended, I’m not refusing you. My father . . .” She shook her head, unable to find the words. “He does things that others don’t always approve of. It’s since he’s been eldliks. He believes he can do whatever he wants and no one will say against him.”

“And I should whip you for your disloyalty,” he told her.

“You believe that just because Saram can chose who he wants to be our king, that you—Budrek, the eldliks of Clan Bukplugn—can chose who you want to be my husband? It is not so, and well you know it. Please, Ingobo,” she said more calmly while pointedly ignoring her father, “if you would like to visit me we can talk further of this. I’m not refusing you,” she repeated. Then, as if neither I nor her father had been there, she turned back to watch the fight. Kailen had just drawn blood from Markiste Isvlenys, disqualifying the markiste from the fight. Now there was only Kailen and Kottir left.

“My daughter speaks out of turn,” Eldliks Budrek persisted in talking though he must have seen that my attention was also for the now-two-way contest.

Yet, though I watched as first Kottir, then Kailen got the advantage over the other, my eyes kept straying back to Briäsa. How could I give all my attention to the fight when, there in front of me, was the woman who—if all went well—would be my wife? I had not expected this when I went pleading a horse from Bukplugn’s kin. It was Budrek who had offered her—and offered her again after I had failed.

I laughed at the thoughts popping into my head. Indeed, Saram had wanted me to do something special, be someone special. But apparently it wasn’t to be the New King. No, Saram had chosen me to wed this woman. This, now, seemed obvious to me.

The crowd roared. Kailen fell to the ground. Blood seeped, soaking his clothes. The word went round: it was a fatal wound. Kottir must have cut one of the big blood-carriers. Two truvidiren rushed to tend him. But more we could not see beyond the huddle of truvidiren. Chief Truvidir Markenys, his staff raised in one hand, led Kottir free of them.

“Saram has shown us!” he declared, having to shout above the commotion of the crowd despite his staff raised high. “Saram has given us his son!” He punched the air with Kottir’s hand.

It took a while for the drumming hands and stamping feet, the roaring and cheering, to subside. And all the while Truvidir Markenys still held Kottir’s hand.

At last Truvidir Markenys raised his staff again. He quoted:

“In the darkness came a dragon,
“Rising high above us all;
“Casting shadows over land-forms;
“Creating evil with its pall.

“Saram’s Son is not our New King,” he then said. And before he could say more the crowd  had let out a long and loud groan. Truvidir Markenys waited.

“—until the dragon has been defeated,” he completed.

I had noticed the curiosity of those about me regarding what might be hidden under the  curving array of hotch-potch hides. They were about to find out.

The law-men whipped away the covers to reveal the dragon they had made. I wanted to laugh, and I’m sure I wasn’t alone in it. But it was big, no measly, piddly dragon this. Constructed of skin-covered hoops and masses of old rope, its coils lay around the isle, around the old oak at its centre. From its head to its tail it must have been at least the length of fifty men, all lying head-to-foot. From its belly to its back it was as high—higher—than most men seen. And at its head sat the Old King, cleverly worked into the features of the dragon face.

Again, Truvidir Markenys held aloft his staff. The murmurings—which had mostly been discussions of how real, or not, the dragon looked—immediately stopped.

“Kottir, Son of Saram, I give you these thirteen arrows, I give you this bow, so you might kill this dragon for us. By such a deed we shall know you as the True Heir, the New King. Reksan Albinnys Saramis.”

How the truvidiren did love their dramas!

Kottir gave over his sword to a waiting law-man. Instead, he strapped the quiver of arrows to his belt. Then, with bow in hand, in one fluid movement that made my own attempts look awkward and strained Kottir mounted his retrieved horse. A hush, seeming severe and ominous, laid over the isle. I swear, if someone had sneezed all would have heard it. We waited, all eyes on our hero.

I cannot say that everyone there believed in this drama: that with the ‘killing’ of the make-shift dragon that Draksen, the dragon above, us would also be slain. But there could not have been many who doubted that this hero, this Kottir, would soon enough find a way to release us from the real dragon’s hold.

Our hero Kottir remained as he was upon his horse. For long-long moments he did not move—as if his opponent had been real and he eyed the dragon, assessing him, looking for the weak spots, looking to see how, with a mere thirteen arrows, he could kill this dragon dead. That moment was tense. And it seemed all who had come to see this play, in this moment were joined as if with a fine twine, like the slender threads of the spider’s web. We were ‘one’. And waiting.

I felt a small warm hand clutch at mine. I looked to see, expecting it to be my sister. It was Briäsa. She looked up at me, her hazel eyes asking for permission.

“I’m scared,” she said with barely a sound. “What if he fails?”

It has not been enough for Kottir to be amongst the first three back at the isle. Neither enough that, in the swordplay, he alone remained unscathed. Now he must burst thirteen hidden blood-filled bladders with thirteen arrows. To do so successfully surely will prove that Saram has guided his hand. Next episode, If He Should Fail, Thursday 8th December.

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Autumn in the Wensum Valley

A fortnight back I took a walk in the Wensum Valley—Taverham to Ringland and back to Taverham, via the flooded gravel-workings of Costessey Pits. Alas, as I got off the bus the heavens opened and, apart from a brief spell, it remained drizzly and overcast for the rest of the day.

This Monday past (28th November) I tried the walk again. This time I took a slightly different route (Taverham to Costessey via Ringland and Ringland Hills). Mostly the day was bright and dry, if a touch cold. There follows a selection of the photos I took. The full collection can be found on Google+ (Crispina Kemp, follow this link). Hope you enjoy . . .

Meadow at Ringland

As I approach the bridge at Ringland the autumnal morning sun, low in the sky, rakes this dew-spangled meadow, casting long shadows from those rill-tracing poplars

Cows graze by the Wensum

Cows graze this meadow beside the Wensum. The scene caught more than my eye; it has something of a ‘Constable’s pastoral’ about it.

Rill-tracing poplars at Ringland

Those same rill-tracing poplars at Ringland while the sun, now gaining in height, shines upon autumnal grasses

Oaks at Ringland

Heading now to Ringland Hills, the lane is richly lined by red-headed oaks

Catkins of spring with autumn oak

The contrariness of nature! This sprinkling of hazel-catkins, usually seen in spring, barely screens the red-headed autumnal oak in the hedgerow beyond it.

Fallen birch at Ringland

One of the reasons for including Ringland Hills in this walk is the abundance there of silver birches. The birch and the oak are usually the first colonisers of health land. Until the turn of the last century Ringland Hills was predominantly gorse covered heath. (The gorse remains to torment summer picnickers)

Silver birch at Ringland Hills

More birch . . . what more needs be said

Tall birches at Ringland Hills

Towering birches, each eager to grab their patch of light

Autumn trees at Ringland Hills

As I said . . . the oak and the birch are the first colonisers

Oak at Ringland Hills

But the oak, even in autumn, casts a dark shad

Bracken in a break at Ringland Hills

Bracken in a break at Ringland hills. Did a young deer perhaps once hide out here?

Bracketed birch at Ringland Hills

The birch is host to several species of fungi. These, a form of bracket-fungi, are scaling the tree, ladder-like

River Wensum at Beehive Cottage

Between Ringland Hills and Costessey the River Wensum flows close to the lane presenting excellent shots for the photographer at any time of year, but particularly now with the autumn colours reflected in its almost-still waters

Autumn trees beside the Wensum

So many photos, it was difficult to decide which to include here (for more see the link above). I chose this one because of its richness

Tree at Costessey Common

With my obsession with trees I couldn’t ignore this specimen at Costessey Common (although by now the light was fading)

Costessey Pits

There are several flooded gravel-workings at Costessey Pits. Anglian Water manages the largest as a reservoir; it doubles as recreation. This one, however, is small, and private. Yet it can be accessed via Costessey Common. I love these reflections, almost blood-coloured.

The full collection can be found on Google+ (Crispina Kemp, follow this link).

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The Kingmaker

KW21 The KingmakerThe young Alsimuk herder has missed by a whisker being placed third in the horse race. And yet there might still be a chance for him to prove himself as Saram’s Chosen. Though Chief Truvidir Markenys might disagree on that . . . . . . Read on

Although the arrival of the King’s Candidates at the King’s Hold had begun as a trickle, by Quenst’s Devone they’d become a stream. I wondered then if any of my own family might enter the Games. My brothers’ sons? Or their sons’ sons would be more likely. I waited to see if there’d be a Querkant contender. And, aye, there was. Tavryn. But Tavryn was from West Bounds; he was not of my family.

Despite each candidate arrived alone, and often spaced by several days, still we had a problem of what to do with them. Where would they sleep? How would we keep them occupied and entertained? I gave the task of finding solutions to Truvidir Isbalen.

I could have pretend ignorance of what kept Isbalen at the Kings Hold beyond the day we killed King Hudrys. Isbalen wasn’t one of my men; he should have returned to Bayland. I could have pretended my eyes were blind, that I didn’t see him go to Mistress Maia’s house whenever his duties, and hers, allowed it. Of course I reported to Uissid Tizarn what I’d seen, but he only tushed me for it—They went against no Alsaldic Law, he said, leave them be. So now, since Isbalen shouldn’t have been here at the King’s Hold, and his being here meant we had to feed him, I gave him whatever tasks and duties I could find. At least let him earn his lodgings.

For their sleeping arrangements, Isbalen directed the candidates to the King’s Chamber in the King’s House. He said the benches, set along its outer walls, would make good beds for these would-be kings. When I discovered this I called him to me. Why had he allowed them to sleep in there! Such a misuse of the King’s Chamber, intended only for the feasts and banquets and receptions given by the Alsaldic Kings.

I told him, “We provide tents for visitors who arrive without them.” I had intended only for him to find some suitable place to pitch these tents, some place away from the King’s House.

“You might usually supply them,” he said. “But these aren’t usual times. In usual times there’d be no candidates. Tell me, how well would you sleep in a tent when flies are there, buzzing in your ears and settling on your eyes? How well would you sleep not knowing what might be sidling up to you, drawn to your warmth, thinking what a good meal you would make? One of these candidates is Saram’s Chosen Son. Would you put him in a tent?”

Isbalen had it right; I had to allow it.

But the future king numbered only one of these candidates. The others—looking at them as they arrived, I wondered what some of them were doing here. But when I related this to Uissid Tizarn he smiled and tushed me. At times, Uissid Tizarn was exceedingly infuriating.

But I did admit some of those candidates weren’t worthless. There were those who, even at first sight, we knew had the makings of an Alsaldic King, even if they’d not yet been trained and instructed by a truvidir. Whoever won, we truvidiren knew we’d have to work hard to mould him into a true Alsaldic King. I had no doubt that, once the New King had defeated, destroyed or otherwise rid this land of Draksen’s Darkness, Uissid Tizarn would get inside the New King’s head and direct him as required. But even so, it would better if we started with a king half-way worthy.

Although only a trader’s son, Kottir was one of those better suited. Markiste Isvlenys, too, was another. Though the first Alsaldic King had been of the Regiment there had been no other since. And a horsemaster-in-training would make the best of kings considering the troubles that brewed in the east.

Another we deemed well suited was Staveste from Fifi Go, even though he claimed he was only contesting because his family had asked it of him.

And perhaps my clansman, Tavryn, and the blade-crafter, Fanlinys, would also make good kings. Though we’d had no craftsman as king here before.

Of the others . . . I admit surprise that Mogalis had what it took even to enter; I’d have been struck dumb for life if he had won. And Liplath: admittedly he was touched by Saram, but for what; not to be king. As for Neësis, if he’d stopped playing the part for just a moment we might have seen beneath the act to what was him, and maybe we’d have found him worthy. He certainly proved himself when it came to the battle.

And then there was Ingobo. Barely of age, on a borrowed horse, with weapons he’d never used. Yet like the others, he had entered and could have been Saram’s Chosen One. But the thought of him winning . . . I shuddered.

But no matter their qualities, no matter their worth, until the New King was discovered these candidates—every one of them—were to be treated as equals. For, truly, we did not know who’d be the king. As Uissid Tizarn said, at this stage of the Games, all were Saram’s Sons.

“Saram’s Son should be swift as the wind,” Uissid Tizarn had told me, sitting up in his chair, not resting as usual on that bed of grain I’d fetched him. “We shall have a horse-race—the people always enjoy a good race. But make the course ten—no, twenty. No, a hundred times the length of that for the Games at the Feast of Trees. Make it difficult for them, make it more than merely a test of speed. Make it so the riders must need good fellowship with their horses to even complete it.” At which Uissid Tizarn had chuckled in his infuriating way.

The course we set took the candidates alongside South River, right by her edge. The riders wouldn’t want to be that close to her waters, the horses even less. Some—horses or riders or both—might even refuse it. If the horse, then the rider might be thrown—directly into that befouled water. The thought of that, I gagged. And unless we cleared it—which we would not—there’d be litter of every disgusting kind along that track. Riding there would be no easy thing.

Then Uissid Tizarn surprised me. There was to be no winner. “Take the first three returning. The first three back at the isle will be proven.”

He didn’t say what they’d be proven. As Saram’s Sons? As having good fellowship with their horses? As being merciless competitors who’d not stop for anything or anyone, leaving another to drown in that murksome water? Of contriving to injure another’s horse? Of contriving to injure each other? But according to Uissid Tizarn, one of these three would be our New King.

“Have these three candidates fight one another with their swords.”

“In what order?” I asked and he shook his head.

“Not in any order. All together.”

“But that won’t be easy.”

“It’s how it’s done in battle,” he said. “The enemy doesn’t wait till you’ve finished with one opponent before leaping at you, sword poised to lunge. Two against one is more how it is. Three against four. Let them fight like that.”

And what was this to prove?

“Saram’s Son should be skilful.”

“And how’s the winner to be determined?” I asked.

“As each candidate sheds blood, so he’ll be disqualified. The winner is the one still standing, unblooded.” And again, he laughed.

“And what if none are left standing at the end of this fight?” I could see that as a definite possibility.

“Then you take the next three who finished the race.”

No. I shook my head. This didn’t seem right to me. “Is this how Saram would have us find the True Heir?”

“You doubt my wisdom?”

“I don’t doubt it,” I said, “I just don’t understand . . .”

“How my way of doing it will find us the New King?”

“Aye,” I admitted. I didn’t like to criticise him: he was an Immortal. But I didn’t understand how these Games, and how he wanted them ordered, would find for us the True Heir, Saram’s Son, the New King. “It’s never been done this way before.”

“In that you are wrong,” he told me. “There once was a time—though that before there were kings—when every year a Champion was found. He then must lead the people throughout the year. That’s how the Games at the Feast of Trees began. As a way of finding this man. The overall winner of all the events was declared the Champion for all that year. And one of those years, the man found was called Beli. Do I need to tell you the story of Beli and how he killed the Dragon of Fomori? The Regiment still sing of it.”

Aye, I knew the story well.

“So, we shall have the Games, and we shall find a Champion. And the Champion thus found will destroy the dragon Draksen. Now do you understand how it will be done?”

No, but I didn’t dare say it. Yet he knew; never a way to deceive him.

“Right,” he said. “Once we’ve found the Champion—the winner of the sword-fight—then he must kill the dragon. It’ll be simply done, but the people must see it. What they see, they’ll believe—even if they know it’s all a drama and unbelievable. Trust me, Markenys. It will all work out, exactly as I’ve said.”

Ingobo arrived at the isle in fourth place. So he still has a chance to enter the swordplay, a chance to win and become king. Right? Next episode, The Father’s Daughter 

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The Race, The Crush

KW20 The Race The CrushThe Games have begun . . . Thirteen candidates. And each believes himself to be Saram’s Chosen. There’ll be no outright winner as yet. The first three past the post go to the next round. Will they include Ingobo? And what of King Burdamon, held by the power of the land hungry Nritrin? Amongst the many uncertainties, to us one thing is known: Soon after these Games the Alsaldic Empire will fall . . . Read on

As the banner dropped I held back. I knew only two horses together could pass through that gate. To judge by the crush few others knew that. Kailen and Burdamon, Neësis, Beldrek and Liplath, Fanlinys and Mogalis, all were delayed while they disentangled themselves, precious moments lost. But Markiste Isvlenys, he knew; he was already through. Burenth too.

A clutch of spectators had climbed the ring-wall and now, from above that funnel, were shouting encouragement and instructions. I could see King Burdamon, stuck in the crush, face reddening, all-but exuding a dark-hued smoke—And then, with the pressure suddenly eased, out they all popped from that gate in a rush.

East to the river, south to the King’s Hold: this was the first stretch of the race. Markiste Isvlenys was way out in front of us, no longer visible in the Darkness. But Burenth, though amongst the first out, had already fallen behind.

Knowing the land as I did, I could push Heglayis hard on this stretch. We had run these tracks over and over in a way no other contender had. This was my chance to get ahead, for beyond the broad-way my knowledge would grant me much less an advantage. I pushed Heglayis that hard even before we’d cleared Bisaplan’s Land we had passed Burenth, Mogalis and Liplath. Between Bisaplan’s Bounds and the King’s Hold we overtook Staveste and Tavryn as well. This was proving to be more easy than I had thought. Though, it’s true, several horses had stumbled in the Darkness. Staveste’s mount shrieked out in pain. I’d have gone to help him, both rider and horse, but in helping another I would lose the race. Oh but it came hard for me to ignore their need.

We scrambled up the river-bank, around the northern edges of the King’s Hold and northward, now, along the broad-way. But the crush to be up that bank and onto the broad-way resulted in yet another injury: King Burdamon! I felt no compulsion to help him; lain and lame, his horse struggling, too, to get up.

All the way along the broad-way Heglayis and I were neck-and-neck with Neësis. Ahead of us—still in sight—were Fanlinys and Beldrek. But of Isvlenys, Kottir and Kailen there was no sign. But that didn’t mean they were that far ahead. The law-men had built beacons along the way, but beyond their immediate circles of light the Darkness was absolute. But I, for one, knew this broad-way, and I knew it well. We raced it unheeding of the dark. I left Neësis behind me. I overtook Fanlinys. I was on Beldrek’s tail. He made the mistake of glancing behind to see who was contesting his place. The next thing he knew he was off his horse and sprawled on the ground, a graze on his head (the snaky branches of oak trees overhung the broad-way in many places).

We had reached Bear Hill, the highest point of the Highlands. Somewhere ahead were the race-leaders, Kottir, Kailen and Markiste Isvlenys. Close behind me was Neësis. We turned to the east and began our descent. To either side were steep valleys, but invisible in the Darkness. Yet I sensed of them. Waiting. Greedy for men to plunge on down.

Neësis tried to nudge past me but couldn’t quite make it. Every time he tried I guided Heglayis that little bit closer to the dark valley and, wisely, Neësis pulled back.

Now the race became everything. To win, to win, no thought but that. To hear the crowd cheering. To contest at the sword-play. To be yet a step closer to being the king. Oh, but too lose and to have to face them . . . I whipped my horse. I goaded him on. I whispered words of apology—I didn’t want to cause him this pain, but I did want to win. Saram asked it of me.

And down, again, beside South River; there I finally caught sight of those ahead of me. Markiste Isvlenys was struggling to keep the lead. Kottir and Kailen were neck-and-neck, close to each other, in danger of pushing each into the water. That water stank.

By the time we reached Ardy’s Landing I was level with Kottir. But Kailen still was in front of me, and so was Isvlenys. We pushed our horses to race up that hill. And even as I was heading for the passage that leads to the Feast Ground I thought I’d a chance to win. I had only to arrive third. If only I could put Kottir behind me . . .

Into the passage, horses’ hooves pounding, back and forth echoing from the high white-chalk walls. Then at the centre the crowd wildly roaring, clapping, hooting.

Markiste Isvlenys was first into the isle; Kailen of Ul Dlida closely followed. Then came Kottir, followed by me—in fourth place.

Chief Truvidir Markenys then had to wait for the others. Neësis came next, followed by Beldrek and Liplath. How had they rearranged their placing? I neither knew nor I cared. I had failed. So close to the finish yet I had failed. I felt . . . deflated. I knew not what to do.

My family ran to me, waving. But what was I to say to them? I wanted to turn them away.

“You almost did it!” My father hugged me and patted my back. “You surprised us. We thought you’d be last.”

The eldliks of the Highlands’ branch of Clan Bukplugn sauntered over. He, too, slapped my back—harder than my father had done. He clasped my arm. He shook my hands. Finally, he pulled me to him.

“Alas. But you did try,” he said. “And you almost did it. I hadn’t expected you to be the winner. I’m pleased to see how well you have done. My daughter Briäsa would like to meet you. Are you willing?”

Was this the daughter he’d have given as wife had I won? Alas, she was not to be mine. I hoped she’d be ugly. I said. “I’d be happy to meet with her but I am encumbered.”

“You find a place to leave your weapons,” he said, “then come and join us for the rest of the Games. You did do well,” he repeated. “Aye, very, very well.”

Now what was I to do with my weapons? I ought to return, at once, to where I had found them, at Saram’s House. But if I took them there I’d miss the next stage of the Games. So I secured the shield to Heglayis and led him over to where Bukplugn’s eldliks was standing with his kin. I had never seen them like this, all gathered together. They were an enormous family. I almost retreated and yet I stayed. I looked from one to another of the younger women. Which was the one I would have wed? Some of their women were especially fair. But others . . . I expected my would’ve-been bride was amongst them.

“We have our three candidates for the sword-play,” Truvidir Markenys was saying, his well-practiced voice sounding loud, his every word audible in this high-walled arena. “They are Markiste Isvlenys of the Highlands, a son of Clan Krisvin. Kottir of Clan Bukplugn in Du Dlida. And Kailen, son of King Ferrangu of Ul Dlida in Banva Go, of Clan Duneld.”

The small crowd of that morning had swelled. Now they filled every available space of the Feast Ground. These spectators cheered, no longer in support of particular kin, all eager to welcome the New King. I’m sure they cared not which clan had begotten these three final contenders, nor yet from which kingdom or province they hailed. For this was the day they would have a New King! This was to be Draksen’s last day of Darkness—or so the truvidiren ahd told us.

“Ingobo. You still have the horse? And your weapons?” The eldliks welcomed me and nodded understanding of my plight when I explained I had nowhere to leave them. “But never mind. You come with me now. My daughter is just over there.” He nodded his head at the deep yawning trench.

Obviously his daughter—whose name I’d forgotten—was determined to gain a good view of the sword-play. Yet to stand at the edge of that trench, when that edge was notoriously fragile. What if that edge should crumble, and she tumbles all the way to the bottom? I said this to her father.

“I have no doubt someone would be quick to the rescue.”

Were his words directed at me? But I’d not yet seen her. Perhaps if she fell into that trench I just might prefer to leave her there. After all, what was she to me now.

Ingobo arrived fourth, but fourth wasn’t placed. Yet if none of the three candidates survives the swordplay unblooded . . . Could there still be a chance for young Ingobo? Next episode, The Kingmaker

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A Wager Each Way


KW19 A Wager Each WayThe socially inept Alsimuk feared that the inopportune arrival of Chief Truvidir Markenys presaged, for him, more embarrassment. But rather, the sole role of Markenys at this feast was to deliver vital information regarding the Games. Now the Games are about to begin . . . Read on

The King’s Games started early the next day—though who could tell when was day and when was early with this Darkness. Yet the truvidiren who came to wake us said it was day. They said to be up, to be ready, to be outside. “You are to process along the broad-way.”

I noticed that morning what others were wearing: thick padded clothing else hide-protectors. It was as well that I’d brought the shield for I’d brought no other protection with me. With a thankful eye to that shield, I pulled on my boots and, unusual for me, strapped them all the way to knees. I didn’t want the loose tops to flap and to trip me when the fighting grew wild and fierce. I strapped the dagger’s sheath to my belt, the dagger snugly housed. The rapier-sword from the House of Saram had come without sheath. I had made one for it myself though, I admit, it was a savage sheath for such a truvidic blade. This, too, I strapped to my belt.

Oh, but this did feel strange. For no matter that I’d practiced using both the sword and the dagger, I never had worn them both together. Yet I’d seen markistes wear them thus so I guessed it was the way to do it. Those blades, though fine and thin, weighted me down. It was being unused to it, despite I’d rehearsed, and had practiced. I told myself if Saram wants me for King, if I am, indeed, Saram’s Son, then everything will go in my favour. I should not worry, not worry at all. All would be well.

But then I looked at the contenders. How could I, an Alsimuk herder from the Highlands of the Sun, have any hope of beating them? Was I really so foolish to believe I could win where the likes of King Burdamon could not? Was I so deceived that I believed I would win over the likes of Markiste Isvlenys?

I told myself, aye, that if these were the games at the Feast of Trees then of course I would be a fool, that no way would I win against these others. But this wasn’t the Feast of Trees; these weren’t the same games. We weren’t to race our mounts around the Feast Ground. The course was to be the entire bounds of the Central Highlands of the Sun. And that was my land, the land of my birth. Here I had herded cattle since my legs could walk me. Here with my brothers, with my uncles and kinsman, I had hunted since my arms had strength to pull a bow. Of all the contenders, in this first event, I had only Markiste Isvlenys to fear. For he too would know the land well.

But . . . when we discover that we, too, can do something we’d previously marvelled at, we tend then to pay no more heed to how it is done. We have achieved what we set out to do and we take no further interest. We forget to perfect the skill. So it was with me and Heglayis. Aye, I knew the land and how she goes up and how she goes down. I knew where she is soft and where muddy, where harsh and stony. I could have ridden it with my eyes closed, so well did I know each turn and turning, the places of every willow and alder. Yet on that morning . . . things didn’t go so well.

We had readied ourselves and our horses. Ahead of us was the broad-way. Mistress Bregan buzzed around us. The musicians were before us. They led the way with their drums and pipes and copper horns. We processed because processing is the Alsaldic way. The Alsaldic Kings like to display, to give the people a colourful sight, rich and dramatic, bright and magnificent, breathtaking, impressive—to make the people gasp, make them remember the glory of that day. Our own procession was all of that—but less because of us contenders than for the musicians, poets and singers, the dancers, the truvidiren, buadhren and law-men (none of whom could walk but must ride in horse-drawn carts. A horse to draw a cart! And those horses were entirely covered in gaudy cloths so they could equally have been oxen and none would have known).

We processed, though why, when no one came to watch us pass—except for the one family whose holding we had to pass. I looked across at Kottir and my face must have shown my query.

He shrugged and smiled and said, “Maybe it’s for Saram to see and to enjoy.” Which brought back the question of how Saram could see us beneath Draksen’s wings.

“He can’t,” Chief Truvidir Markenys had said when I’d asked him the question the previous night. “Moreover, he has no need. We don’t expect Saram to look at who might be winning, who might be losing, and change what’s happening so the True Heir will win. The True Heir will win because he is the True Heir. He will have the skills of the New Alsaldic King.”

“So the New Alsaldic King must be fast on a horse . . .” I asked him. “Must be good enough with a sword to beat two opponents—both together . . . and be able to shoot and burst thirteen water-filled bladders hidden beneath an ox-hide cover. Is this all that he needs to be the King?”

“I’ve already explained,” the Chief Truvidir said. “The slaying of the dragon is a drama, and it will be understood as such.”

“And I do understand it,” I said. “But why does the Alsaldic King need to be the fastest rider in the land when as soon as he’s named King he’ll travel from one Hold to another in a horse-drawn cart? What need has he of speed?”

It was the King’s Beer working my mouth. I never would have said all this were it not for that wonderfully potent special brew. I am sure Truvidir Markenys knew that as well.

Our procession led us along the broad-way as far as Bisaplan’s Land. We entered through the back-bounds gate. I could almost hear the eldliks complaining of the horses and the damage. But, as I had told him more than once when, finding myself beside him at the Feast of Trees, with him repeating his usual gripe, “If you opened a gate at the end of the Boat Path, there’d be no need for horses and carts and all those feet to trample over anyone’s land.” Yet still the gate was way over to the right of the Boat Path. So what might he expect.

Bisaplan’s kin had come out to see us process. We numbered ten families in all—eleven if Markiste Isvlenys’ Krisvint family down at Duneld’s Hold were counted. All these had come to see us pass along the Boat Path to Isle Ardy. If the other candidates thought these good Alsimuk folk had come out for them they were mistaken. These were my family, my kin, and they’d come to watch me ride by—not any of them. My sister waved, my brothers too. I would have waved back but my hands were tied by the shield and the reins and, practiced though I was, I’d not the experience of handling Heglayis when upset by a crowd. I hoped he would behave himself. I talked constantly to him in that loud whisper he liked.

We processed along the Boat Path, passing by many a king’s grave, till we came to the high grass-grown walls of Isle Ardy. At the narrow gate Chief Truvidir Markenys held us back. He wanted the musicians and dancers to file through first, and then the carts with the truvidiren, buadhren and law-men. Only then could we enter.

All around the Feast Ground were fires burning bright. They marked out the circle of the outer wall. They marked out the circle of the second ring. We contenders gathered in the centre. Those few who had come to watch—more were expected to arrive later—were herded into the second ring, separated from us by a deep trench. This was the truvidiren’s doing, done to save them worrying of our horses trampling some wild running child—never mind those same little tots could as easily tumble down that deep trench.

Chief Truvidir Markenys held aloft his staff. Obediently, those gathered fell quiet.

“We are here today,” he said, “to bear witness to these Games. To watch, as Saram watches, this contest. We seek a New King. Saram’s Son. None have been promoted by the truvidiren. Saram has not told us who it’s to be. These Games have been arranged to discover it.”

He paused, before resuming. “This man we seek as the New King will have the swiftness and the strength and the skills of Saram. He will be, in all ways, Saram’s Son.”

All of this was unnecessarily said. For hadn’t the truvidiren travelled around, announcing the Games, and explaining why. But the truvidiren do like to display. He continued to list the day’s events. The horse-race which was to have three winners. The sword-play which would whittle those three down to one. And a third test before this one could be declared Saram’s Chosen, and Alsaldic King.

“And now,” he said, “time to begin. Each of these thirteen candidates has reason to believe he is Saram’s Son . . . Saram’s Chosen One, our New King. I name them in the order they’re arrayed across the isle.”

And so he did. The crowd all-but ignored the first named, Neësis of Un Dli. No clapping nor hooting such as we do at the Feast-Games. Kottir, however, received warmer welcome—but that because he punched the air in triumphant form and the crowd responded with a roar. I wondered if the Highlands’ branch of Clan Bukplugn would support Kottir over me. I searched the crowd for any sign of them, but found none.

Having hooted the once a few families now hooted again for the next contender, Liplath of Meksuin’s Land, despite Liplath did nothing to encourage it.

And then it was Kailen’s turn—Kailen of Ul Dlida and Clan Duneld—the other latecomer, companion of King Burdamon. He copied Kottir, punching the air, which drew even noisier hoots and cheers than Kottir had done. But when Beldrek of Suda Du (another of Clan Bukplugn) tried the same he received only a muted response.

The next candidate, my neighbour on the Highlands of the Sun, was Markiste Isvlenys. He had no need of show. His family were loud in their support of him. Indeed, were the candidates to be judged on their applause then surely Markiste Isvlenys would be the winner. And then my name was called.

“Ingobo, also of the Highlands of the Sun, and of Clan Ulmkem.”

My family and kinsmen filled the air with their tumultuous claps and hoots and bangings of staff upon staff. The noise exceeded that made for Isvlenys. So did that mean, in my imagined scheme, I’d be the winner?

The next two—Tavryn, a Querkant of West Bounds, and Mogalis, an Eskin of Cobi Ria—received poor applause. But Fanlinys of Meksuin’s Land called forth a great cheer, which surprised me.

Then, to my disappointment, Burenth of North Bounds almost equalled my own support in enthusiasm and loudness. Obviously he had family amongst this crowd; perhaps long-settled wives, for few would travel from North Bounds in this Darkness.

By now the crowd was tiring of hooting. Staveste of Fifi Go, another of Kottir’s clansmen, barely received a half-hearted clap. And the same was so for King Burdamon of the Mashes. Indeed, there had been a moment of hesitation. Then a murmur rippled around the isle: What’s he doing here? Is this lawful?

Truvidir Markenys again held up his staff. The muted buzz stopped.

“Now, while these thirteen candidates race their horses, the law-men will prepare for the final stage of selection. But do not disperse, for we have entertainment aplenty for you. Dancing. Music. Games. Food. Brews. So enjoy yourselves on this, the most special of days.” Truvidir Markenys’s voice rose and fell as if it were poetry he spoke. And his speech was applauded with hoots louder and longer than any of the candidates had received. .

When the crowd quietened again, Chief Truvidir Markenys gave us the signal—a dropped banner of red. And we were off.

The Games have begun. Thirteen candidates, each believing himself to be Saram’s Chosen. But of these, the real contenders will be the first three past the post. Who will they be? Ingobo? Kailen? Kottir? And what of King Burdamon? If he’s to be the next Reksan Saramis Albinnys will he then bring West Alisime Land into the Nritrik Empire? Is that why he’s there? Or perhaps the winner will be a complete outsider? Next episode, The Race, The Crush

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Consternations and Accusations

KW18 Consternations and AccusationsKottir has been especially friendly to the Alsimuk herder, Ingobo. But Kottir knows he will win so he can afford to be friendly. What of the other contenders? Young, untried, and awkwardly laden with Saram’s gifts to him, Ingobo is a guaranteed target for mockery and scorn . . . Read on

“There’s to be a banquet tonight; you’ll soon find out what the opposition is like,” said Kottir. “But don’t be dismayed if some seem more experienced than you. Saram will be doing the choosing and who Saram wants Saram shall have—no matter how strange his qualities may seem.”

“That’s one of the things I’m having difficulty in understanding,” I admitted, glad of someone to talk to. My father was not a person to listen to my worries. “How can Saram—being beyond the Darkness as he is—see what we’re doing down here below? And if he can see as clearly as he ever has, then why has he not shown to the truvidiren the one he’ll have as his New King? Isn’t that his usual way?”

“That’s a good question,” he agreed. “If I were you I’d ask Chief Truvidir Markenys when he attends the banquet tonight.”

By now we had arrived at the King’s House. In I strided, confidence brimming. I had been here, in the King’s Chamber, before, I thought I knew what to expect. But I had not expected this. I halted only just into the door, and for an embarrassing moment just stood and stared.

King’s Chamber was big, easily able to sleep all the candidates. Yet somehow it seemed much smaller that I remembered it. The benches set against the outer wall had been piled high with bags and weapons, a strange untidy array. Travel cloaks and bed-pads had been left just as they were. I suppose it was that which made the room seem small. That and the nine more contestants that filled the chamber, several of whom were very big men—tall, with shoulders as wide as a cart: they took up much space. Beside them I felt like a scrawny weedling, a plant grown out of place. And I’m sure most there would have agreed, and would have openly called me a plant had the truvidiren not been there.

I spotted a length of bench untaken. Impatient to put down my weapons, I made straight for it. The sword was beginning weigh me down. Unused to it—as well I didn’t carry an axe and a club as well. At least with the dagger it was held at my waist. And that almighty big shield, copper on leather on wood, was yet heavier still. I was glad I’d brought no bags with me. I intended to sleep wrapped in my cloak. As I walked across the room I could feel their eyes on me. I thought to myself: aye, feast your eyes, for this time tomorrow I’ll be the New King.

With weapons shed, I took off my cloak. Oh woe! I should have stripped down to my naked skin, for then I’d have felt less shabby. Yet there were those amongst the contenders who, as with me, were not dressed so finely. Some wore thick plain weavings, some even skins or hides. And neither was I the only one there with hair as black as charred wood. Kottir, too, he sported such hair, his as thick as an Alsimuk rug. Then Neësis, too, and Burenth, and Mogalis—but they also had beards.

I stood my ground: Saram wanted me. I stood as tall as I could and pushed back my shoulders. It made no real difference if I was compared against the others yet, in so standing, I felt just that little bit bigger. Then, as with the first dip in South River when her waters are icy-cold still, I took an enheartening breath and plunged right in.

“I am Ingobo,” I told them; “Clan Ulmkem.”

“We can see that you’re Alsimuk,” the one later introduced as Tavryn said.

“He could have been Eskit,” Markiste Isvlenys said. “But he has a fine sword. How came you by that?”

“It was gifted,” I answered, which was the truth.

“Aye,” Isvlenys said, “but who did the gifting, and to whom?”

“Saram,” I told him, as I had with Kottir.

“Do you mind if I take a look?” Markiste Isvlenys asked. “It isn’t often that we see such a fine crafted piece. Even a horsemaster wouldn’t have this. Someone must believe you will win.”

Happily I handed the sword over to him. I knew Markiste Isvlenys, although he seemed not to know me. His family and kin lived in Bisaplan’s Land too, down the river apiece, at Duneld’s Hold. He was a son of Clan Krisvin.

“Where did you come by this sword?” he asked, looking from the sword now in his hands across the room to me. The accusation rang clear.

“It was gifted,” I repeated and tried not to blush though I know that I did.

“And I repeat: Who did the gifting, and to whom? This looks remarkably like the sword I gave to Saram not a trikadent since.”

I smiled, relieved. “I got this on the very same day as the horse Heglayis. Heglayis I had off Clan Bukplugn. Go to their hold by Linden Stream and ask their eldliks when that was. It was two triks ago.”

“I don’t doubt it,” the markiste said, and handed the fine weapon back to me. “If you’d stolen it from Saram’s House, as first I thought, he’d have stuck you down dead.”

“It was gifted,” I repeated.

I barely had time to arrange my things when the truvidiren opened the double-doors wide and ushered in the harpers and pipers and the cooks with their steaming trays of flavoursome food. My mother had laughed when I told her I was contesting the Games. She’d said that at least while I was a guest at the King’s House I would eat well. She said for me to make the most of it. Seeing these trays overflowing with food made me think of my family and of what they’d be eating while I feasted on this. I suppose there is some reason why kings and queens eat so well; why lords and ladies never go hungry; why horsemasters and truvidiren are never gaunt while we Alsimuk, Eskit and Krediche herders too often know the pangs of hunger. Too often bury our sickly dead.

The harpers played and they sang while we ate. And, while Mistress Maia and her new heir served us with the potent King’s Beer, some dancers danced. These were not the dances performed at the feasts. These were dances intended for the kings and queens and lords and ladies. They wore not a lot to cover their bodies. Their dancing was a blatant beg to be bedded. I had to blow on my face to cool myself down. Why did the others not notice them, too? Did Staveste ogle these girls? No, he did not. Did Kottir? No, Kottir seemed oblivious to them—he preferred Mistress Bregan, that was plain for all to see. Markiste Isvlenys? Aye well, they do say that markistes and horsemasters are a breed apart and have no desire for women. But Neësis was watching them, the same as me. I wondered if my eyes were as wide as his, straining to leave my head.

Just as I thought I might embarrass myself, the doors burst open and in blew a blast of cold air. As one, we turned to see who this was. He stood just within the doors: the biggest man I ever did see. My heart and my hopes sank down to the ground—till I learned who he was, for the truvidiren would never allow him to compete. This was King Burdamon of the Marshes, of the East Isle, a servant of the Nritin, and those Nritrin weren’t much liked. Talk was that they were allied in some way with Draksen.

But now I was confused. I knew not whether to be dismayed or to assure myself that all would be well. Mistress Bregan, seeing me thus, placed a large pot of King’s Beer in my hand and, despite I’d vowed I’d not touch a drop, into my gaping mouth it did flow. It was down my throat before I realised what I had done. A special brew, that was no way to drink it. My belly at once knew what I had done. In a flash, my head repeated my belly’s message. The King’s Chamber grew hot. And hotter and hotter. The smoke of the fires and the lamps stung in my eyes. I began to sweat and then to tremble.

Oh, this was calamity. I must leave the chamber, must go outside, must breathe the cold air. But just as I opened those double-leafed doors  to leave, so the Chief Truvidir—Truvidir Markenys—appeared. He held up a staff. The chatter stopped. All turned to him—and me almost blundering into him.

An embarrassing start to the Games for the young Ingobo and, despite his deep breaths, disheartening. So will he now admit defeat before he’s yet begun? Yet he, as much as any contender there, believes himself to be Saram’s Chosen. Next episode, A Wager Each Way

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Funki Fungi

While these pictures  might seem the result of imbibing some ancient hallucinogenic concoction, I do assure you they’re simply the result of playing with ‘image-altering’ software. Enjoy . . .


To lead . . . with its ‘acidic’ cast


Something softer . . .


Same photo, different treatment


‘Turning Japanese’


As Alice would say, ‘Curiouser and curiouser.’ A metallic mushroom


Inkcap #1 in shocking pink . . .


Inkcap #2 ready to print


Truly . . . fairy-;ed


A romantic vision . . . close as two hearts


Part on my ‘fabrics collection’ . . . crimson-on-gold


Another potential textile design . . . blue-on-gold


And another, this for the ‘Autumn Collection’


Burgundy balls to bounce us back to Wonderland


What witch’s brew might this blood-stained chalice hold?


‘Through the Looking Glass’ . . . to bookend the series

Editing software used:

  • Picasa (preloaded on my laptop)
  • CorelDraw & PhotoPaint (very old version, had since 2006!)
  • Polarr Online Editor (only discovered this past week)



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