In 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.