Mistress Maia has no time for Queen Yoisea and her nonsense about Bregan being a Brictan, particularly since the King’s Truvidir doesn’t endorse it. But the old queen isn’t about to give up, yet . . . Read on
Queen Yoisea came by again the next day. She had waited, I swear to it, till she’d seen Bregan go off to the King’s granary. I’d sent her there to ensure all was as it should be before we started the brew.
Men of the Regiment guarded that place but with this Darkness, and people dying for lack of food, I was worried that thieves may have snuck in. Not that I’d have been overly concerned as long as they’d left me some. That grain had been taken from them, now there was need they ought have it back. But there wasn’t a king now to decree this, and, as Isbalen had said, Uissid Tizarn was ailing in this Darkness. So who else was there to order it? Truvidir Isbalen couldn’t do it for he no more was the King’s Truvidir. Had I been able, I’d have given it—willingly. Though naturally not all of it. I needed grain to make the bread, and bread to mash to make the brew. I needed other things, too.
I needed apples. But what tree bore fruit in this Darkness? And what else might I use in their stead? Bregan suggested honeyed fruits. Bless the child! I had laughed with relief, for I needed honey, too, for the brew. But where were the honeyed fruits kept? In the King’s Stores. Unable to enter there myself I had to ask Isbalen to get them for me. Spoiled pots would work the best—which was as well since, as he said, every pot was spoiled.
I cast a vexed look at Yoisea. “And what have you come to tell me today?”
“Not to give your craft to young Bregan,” she said in her wheedling voice.
“Mistress Bregan,” I corrected her again, and would for as many times as it took for her to get it right.
“Not to give your craft to young Mistress Bregan. Though why she should be called ‘Mistress’ as if she’s the true heir to your craft I do not know.”
I turned on her. I could have savaged her, a hound tearing into a hare.
“I’m not trying to cause trouble,” she said as she backed away, looking old and frail and pitiful. “But she is a Brictan, and if your brother’s not a Brictan, and his wife is not a Brictan, then she must have been fathered by another. Her light is bright. Brighter than mine.”
Despite myself I had to ask, “What does that mean?”
She smiled: she now had my attention.
“It means the Brictan who begat her was closer to the Immortal source. He could have been one of the woodland daen. But what does it matter who begat her? Your brother did not, and thus she’s not the true heir to your craft.”
“I thank you for telling me,” I said.
And what was I supposed to do about that?
I asked Isbalen, though the truvidiren had nothing to do with my craft.
“Well does it matter?” he asked me. “Will Saram strike you dead?”
“More likely Sauën,” I said. “We are the ‘Seeds of Sauën’.”
“Like you are the King’s Wife? Maia, it’s just a name. It says nothing. It’s not like ‘truvidir’, is it? It’s not like ‘Reksan Albinnys Saramis’. It’s just a name.”
I didn’t know what to do. I neither knew whether to believe Queen Yoisea nor, if I did, what to do about what she had said.
“Talk to the girl,” Isbalen advised. “And now that’s sorted, I’ve come to take you to the King’s House.”
Why to there? Because—I didn’t need him to explain—with no Alsaldic King at present the King’s House was unused.
“Have you never once desired to be in the King’s bed?” he asked me.
I had once desired it, but I didn’t tell Isbalen that. I had had a such a longing for King Rufiäl when he was younger, no matter that we were both of the same clan. He had saved us from invasion, saved us from warriors intent on pillaging this land. To me he had seemed a hero—though all he had done was to command the Commander of the Regiment. It should have been Commander Horsemaster Nissien that I desired as our saviour, not King Rufiäl who’d merely said aye, to do it, to whatever the Commander’s planned strategy.
“What of Queen Yoisea?” I asked, reluctant to go to there with him. “She has a chamber at the back of it.”
“And she is old now and doesn’t hear so well, and has to sleep most of the day, and the night.”
But I’d rather Bregan walked in on us than to have Queen Yoisea find us there. She would tell everyone.
I talked to Bregan.
“Queen Yoisea tells me you’re a Brictan,” I said.
“Aye,” she answered me.
“Do you know what a Brictan is?”
“Aye,” she said.
“If you are a Brictan you cannot be my brother’s daughter. Do you understand this?”
“Do you know what that means?” I asked her, irritated by her simple answers even though I usually found her so charming.
“That I’m not a true heir. No more than a false king is one. You oughtn’t to give me your craft,” she said.
I sat back on my heels. She looked so solemn, not the usual cheery, bright young woman-child. I’d have preferred not to have this talk with her. It was upsetting for both of us. Upsetting for me because I needed an heir to train, to pass my craft to and . . . and I liked her. She was quick to learn and that was good for there was much to learn. Upsetting for her for she wanted to be the King’s Wife. It’s what she had wanted from the first day she’d been told of it. She had waited and waited to come here to me. But if she were a Brictan . . . ?
“Is my brother your father?” I asked her, wincing at how awkwardly that was said.
“He’s always been there,” she said.
“Are you a Brictan?” I now asked her directly.
“If I answer that ‘you don’t want me to say aye’, I’ll be displaying Brictish ways. And that won’t please you.”
It took me a few moments to work out what she meant.
“I don’t want your answer to please me if it’s not the truth,” I said.
“If I say ‘aye’ will you send me away?” she asked. “If you do you’ll be undoing what the Mothers want for me. They’re the ones who are weaving my life. Dare you gainsay them?”
“Queen Yoisea’s right, isn’t she? You are one of that breed. You’re not my brother’s child.”
“I don’t know who begot me,” she said. “I wasn’t yet born to know such a thing. I do know that your brother’s been my father since my birth. I don’t know what Queen Yoisea has said to you. I do know that I can do what she can do. Does that make me a Brictan too?”
What to do, what to do? With the New King’s First Feast within two triks how could I send her back to Palys? Abelea was too young for me to take in her place. Oaln had no daughters. I’d be without an heir for two more years. It wouldn’t have mattered had it not been for this feast. For the work it entailed I had my brew-women. They’d probably be far more help to me than the novice Bregan. But it was the feast, and the serving at that feast. I was too old to play that part now.
Anger suddenly replaced my weariness. Not anger at Bregan. She sat there looking glum, she didn’t want to be sent home. It was anger at Queen Yoisea. She was too old now to be the next king’s Queen, and she knew me to be too old to play the King’s Wife at this feast. It should be Bregan. But no, Yoisea would have me send Bregan away. And what would that mean? That I’d have to ask one of the other King’s Wives to serve the New King. And what would that mean? That whichever one I asked would then take over my position here at the King’s Hold on the Highlands of the Sun. It was this hold that was the King’s first hold. The first Alsaldic King had built it, and he had lived here with his wife who was his queen. Well, I wouldn’t have her do that to me.
“Bregan,” I said, “I don’t want to send you away. True heir or not, I want you here with me. I want you to serve the New King at the feast. It’s important to me that you do that. So if you say nothing to anyone about being a Brictan, I’ll say nothing as well. Do you understand?”
“You want me to lie?”
“The craft is for the King’s Wives,” I tried to explain my reasons; “it’s not for the queen. Since Queen Hegrea the two haven’t been the same. This craft is for us; not for the king, not for the queen, not for the law-men nor the truvidiren. I am first amongst the King’s Wives, resident at the king’s first hold. It’s for me to say who I’ll take to replace me. I can say that I don’t want a true heir, that the time has come to change that way. Look what’s happening with the king. No truvidir has found the True Heir. There’s to be a contest to find him; everything is changing. If I want you as my true heir, I shall have you. Do you understand?”
“You want me to lie,” she repeated.
“I’d like you to say nothing about things that should not be spoken of outside of my house,” I told her. “Now, do you understand?”
She smiled and suddenly the room was sun-filled though outside Sauën still couldn’t be seen. Is that what Yoisea had meant when she said of a Brictish light? Then I, too, must be of the Brictish breed for I could see it. And if this were so then could not my brother be her father after all?
She said, “Does that include not saying anything about Truvidir Isbalen coming here and filling your bed?”
“How did you know that?” I asked.
“Aunt Maia, I’m a Brictan.” And she smiled and she laughed, and I cried.
“I won’t say anything,” she said. “I’ll leave you two alone, if that’s what you want. Anyway, I don’t think it’s right that a King’s Wife should have no man in her bed. If it can’t be the king, then let it be the King’s Truvidir. I won’t tell Queen Yoisea, even though she does suspect it. But I should warn you. the old queen can get inside your head. But don’t fear; anger protects you. Anger and love.”
“Love?” I asked. “I don’t love him.”
“No,” she said. “I know that you don’t. But in the short time I’ve been here, I know that you love me. And that love stops all of Queen Yoisea’s probes.”
Now Mistress Maia has accepted the Brictish Bregan as her apprentice, if not her true heir, all ought to be well. No more tales for Queen Yoisea to tell. Not so. Next episode, 25th October