One Mother-Fated Day

KW35 One Mother-Fated Dat

Kabul is trapped with his lord Kailen, held captive in East Isle by the Darkness of Draksen, and disgusted by the obscenities there commited in the name of their host’s mysterious idol, King Ithen. But nothing lasts forever . . . Read on

Although no longer part of the Alsaldic Lands, still an Alsaldic law-man came to King Burdamon’s hold, bringing news of King Hudrys’s death and of the Games.

“Will you compete?” King Burdamon asked my young lord.

“It seems to me that I’ve been held here for a reason. And with my new invincible sword . . .” (I admit I had thought the same) “. . . aye, I shall compete.”

Yet away from King Burdamon’s hearing he whispered to me, “If I should win—if it is me who’s the True Heir—then I shall use this sword to destroy that man and his King Ithen.”

“I intend to compete as well,” said King Burdamon with teeth-flashing in a wide grin.

To me, that grin held the look of dark amusement, like he had some hidden and malicious plan and was confident in succeeding. I’m quite certain he didn’t believe himself the True Heir. So he must have had some other reason to enter, some unvoiced aim that could be most easily achieved by winning the Games. From what I had seen and had heard of him, I thought it likely his ‘hidden plan’, his unnamed aim, was to conquer the Alsaldic Lands and thence to rule them in the name of his idol, King Ithen. Whether through the winning of these Games, or through the slaughter of all who stood in his way, he would have what he wanted, of that I was sure.

Silently, I counted the men at my command. One hundred war-bands, yet their numbers varied. Some might number less than twenty, others as many as one hundred and more. So I could, perhaps, muster five thousand men in all. I thought then we should have had that sword-master make us more of his blood-hungry swords. We could have turned them to good effect upon King Burdamon.

But at least with the Games we were to leave East Isle. And I was glad to leave there. We rode—with King Burdamon leading the way—westward at first till we met with the Way. Once there the going was good. It took us no time to reach the Water of Waters, then to cross it, our hooves splashing through that foul stench. Across the Waters, we regained the Way, thence to follow it along to His Indwelling in West Alsime Land.

I had foolishly thought, along the way, we might ride out from under the Darkness. But, no, it was everywhere. The lands we passed through, we could see little of. Was it day, was it night? We didn’t know. We slept when the horses tired. We set men to watch though not for fear of other men. They guarded against the wolves, their packs ever growing more wily and more brave.

It was the eve of the Games when we reached the Highlands of the Sun. Another day and we’d have been too late! Aye, and then Kailen would have turned his thoughts to going home—at least to travelling westward as far as the Narrow Sea, there to wait till the New Alsaldic King had defeated Draksen, as was expected. We would have been out of King Burdamon’s reach.

Kailen was convinced that by the lateness of our arrival he was assured of winning these Games. But King Burdamon had arrived at the same time, so surely the same could be said of him? Yet . . . was King Burdamon a lawful candidate?

It surprised me when the Chief Truvidir allowed his entry. Subject to the Nritrik King Ithen, how could King Burdamon become the Alsaldic King without making the Alsaldic Lands subject to King Ithen too? Yet the truvidiren allowed it.

That same night my lord Kailen met the Mother-fated woman who’d be the cause of his death. I watched them from a distance. He couldn’t take his eyes off her—she was Brictish though he couldn’t see it. When she came to him with a mug of Alsaldic Brew, intending to serve him as she had served the others, their eyes caught and locked. They neither could look away. I could see what was happening. It was a wonder he didn’t take her outside and have her there and then. She raised the heat in him and, young as he was, he didn’t know how to control it. I could sense his hunger from across the room.

The next day was the Games. They began early with a horse-race. Kailen thought this might be his downfall since the horse he rode wasn’t his: it was King Burdamon’s. Yet he did well on it, returning to the starting place just behind a markiste while King Burdamon, he didn’t return at all. That set him out of the Games, for which I silently cheered. Whatever his plans, they had been early thwarted. But I was disappointed to learn that he had taken a fall and that he had broken bones. He was to be taken to the Truvidiren’s House where the King’s Wife, an attractive woman named Maia, was to tend him. She predicted at least two trikadents before he could walk, though he was up on his feet before that.

Next was the sword-fight. Kailen had just acquired a magical sword. I was certain he would win. There could be no doubt. Aye, except that one of his opponents (Kottir) had a sword to equal his own. And Kottir, older, more experienced, knew how to use it. He was well-practiced, especially when compared with my newly-equipped lord.

The other opponent, the markiste, was soon bled and thus disqualified. As well that he immediately removed himself from the field for, elsewise, Kottir’s sword would have eagerly drank all his blood. But then Kailen wasn’t fast enough in his reactions, and lo! Kottir’s blade caught Kailen’s finger. I swear, it was no more than that. But Kottir’s blade had tasted Kailen’s blood. Now it sought a richer source, slithering the length of Kailen’s arm. Kailen should have backed off. He knew the nature of that sword; he knew the rules required only one spot of blood. But no, he wanted to win, to be the New Alsaldic King.

Chief Truvidir Markenys hauled him off, and likely saved his life. The swords immediately sheathed, Kailen and Kottir hugged to show no ill-feeling between them.

Kailen hadn’t won, and I was disappointed at that. But I was happy that we now could go home. But that wasn’t to be.

At King Kottir’s invite, Kailen was to remain longer at the King’s Hold. He agreed it would be foolish for Kailen to struggle home in this Darkness, especially since it soon would be gone (aye, even though King Kottir himself was soon to risk his own life by sailing with the Regiment in search of grain for his people).

But King Kottir intended to be a good king, and so began immediately by issuing decrees even though the truvidiren said it wasn’t for the king to do. These first decrees were intended to see his people fed. Not so his final decree. And it was that decree that caused the subsequent calamities.

King Kottir intended to wed Bregan, the very same woman as my lord Kailen had already set his heart upon. And Kailen would not accept that she was out of his reach. He kept saying, over and over, “But she’s mine; the Mothers intend Bregan for me.”

I realised then what I’d taken for lust was something other. I shuddered. This Bregan was to be the Alsaldic King’s wife; what good could come of it?

As soon as Kailen realised that King Kottir would be away from the King’s Hold for more than a few days—more than a decan as it happened—he made the excuse of not wanting to leave that place till King Burdamon was again on his feet. He said, “I arrived with him, I shall leave with him.” Two triks, I thought, what trouble can he cause in such a short time? Too much trouble, I answered myself. And I tried and I tried to dissuade him. But he would not be budged.

I didn’t want to watch what happened next. I didn’t want to see. I didn’t want to know. But there it was, in front of me: my young lord and King Kottir’s promised wife being fools, being careless, being blind to others who must have seen and must have known exactly what was happening while the new king was away. There were meetings designed to look accidental, coincidental, providential, yet all were planned. There was hiding in dark places—an abundance of those in that Darkness. There were kisses and embraces. And I’ve no doubt there also were meetings of naked bellies. The young fools!

At last, King Burdamon was back on his feet. We’d soon be leaving. I pleaded with the Mothers that here would be an end of it. But King Burdamon, seeing Bregan and Kailen, at once knew how it was with them. He egged Kailen on. If he hadn’t yet taken her he ought to hurry to it else he’d have the Alsaldic King’s wife for himself. That’s when Kailen turned on him, in defence of his loved one. There would have been blood shed that day, and life taken, but that Kailen was too much the young lord of Ul Dlida, and King Burdamon still in the process of healing.

Seeing all this, I was tightly wound with anxieties. All I wanted was to get Kailen safely out of that place. So, great the relief when, that same day, King Burdamon thieved a Regiment cart and drove it away. The morrow was the Feast of Slaughter; he had to be back in East Isle, so he said. But he’d no chance of reaching East Isle, not even on a good racing horse. He’d have done better to go by the rivers, except then he’d be hindered by barrages of floating dead things.

That same day King Kottir returned. And now, with Saram no longer hidden by Draksen, and with Saven rescued by the New King (as was said), Kailen had no more excuse to delay. We were to leave. And how I welcomed that news!

At last Zabul and his lord Kailen can return to Banva Go. But how unlikely that in their absence there has been no changes? So what might they find on their return? Next episode, The Homecoming Tuesday 24th January

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The Light of the World

KW34 Light of the World

Kailen, Zabul and his men have arrived at King Burdamon’s Hold on their quest for a sword; King Burdamon, minion of the cruel Nritrik Ithen . . . Read on

“Did you come by sea, all this way?” King Burdamon asked Kailen, after the greetings and explanations and giftings. “Quicker to cross from Banva Go to West River Gate, thence along West River. There might be a short pass you need make on foot but thereafter you’re on the Water of Waters; no putting your back into rowing—just steer with your paddle for the current will take you. Still . . .” he shrugged.

“Still,” Kailen answered him, “we’d have had to set out to sea to reach your hold.”

King Burdamon laughed and gave a shake of his head. “No, no, young friend. There is a branch of the Waters—the East Branch—that brings you north. If you then know which feeder-stream to take you arrive at my hold. Or almost. Only a short way to heft your boat. Of course, myself being king, I have a stable of horses serving that pass.”

I soon got the measure of this man: he liked to be above all others. Being king was not enough for him. He had to know the easiest routes through all the lands. Aye, and that so he could move his men with speed to wherever the battle. He had to have what others had not. Horses waiting at a pass. A sword-master at his hold. More wives than he could possibly have satisfied even were he at the height of his virility, which he was not. More sons begotten—I noticed he had no daughters, or none that had lived. But those sons were made to be gifts to Uät; he kept only two, and they his heirs. I did not like the man, but we were his guests.

He asked me endless questions about my men. I satisfied each question with scant information.

“How many men have you?” “One hundred war-bands.” “How many men in each war-band?” “As many as the war-band has.” It varies.

“Do they serve you, or King Ferrangu?” “They serve me, and I serve him.” “How do you select your men?” “I do not.” “Who then selects them?” “No one.” “How then do they become part of a war-band?” “They offer.”

“The one who offers may not be the fighter that’s the one selected,” he said, and I imagined him riding through his land in search of men to make his own—and he high upon his horse, more massive than any beast ever owned.

“The one who offers is more dedicated than the one who is selected,” I replied. To which he nodded slowly as he considered the undoubted wisdom.

“The trouble is, so few offer,” he said.

“There is no lack of dedicated men in Banva Go.”

“You take from all across Banva Go, not merely from Ul Dlida?”

I laughed scorn at his question. He didn’t like it.

“No one laughs in my presence without first explaining their humour.” His fingers suggestively danced across the dagger worn at his waist.

And so I explained. “Clearly you don’t understand the way things are in Banva Go. It is one land. Ul Dlida on its own is no land; it’s a holding of the Dunelts—as Anyo Dlida is of the Burnists, and Mo Ria that of the Meksuints. As for the rest of Banva Go, that’s held by my people, the Lugiönes—or as you Alsalds care to call us, the Luguish.” I thought that might silence him. But no.

“So those are the men at your command. What of those at King Ferrangu’s, what of his men?”

I serve King Ferrangu.”

“And King Erberdu?”

“If ever Anyo Dlida has the need then I shall serve him too.”

“But what if King Erberdu should move against King Ferrangu?”

I answered him shortly, “He would not.”

“And King Darra of Mo Ria?”

I couldn’t suppress a scornful chuckle. I laughed—and he was again annoyed by it. But I explained my amusement before his hand slipped around his blade. “Mo Ria is a province of Meksuin’s Land. Lord Darra is the governor there: he’s not a king.”

Perhaps my emphasis was ill-mannered, yet he accepted my correction with fair-face. “So what if King Butalkin decided to move against Banva Go?”

“And why should he do that?”

“Metals?” he suggested.

“You think with all the mines King Butalkin controls he would want to fight my men to gain him more?”

“I hear that Anyo Dlida is rich in gold.”

Was rich in gold. As was Ul Dlida, but that was long ago. Neither holding yields much these days; certainly not enough to make it worthwhile confronting my men.”

“So you think it would not be worth my time to come in force to Banva Go?”

“I would rather you spoke with King Ferrangu about an alliance than have to slaughter so many men.”

“But my men enjoy the slaughter,” he said. “They seek it. They want to die upon a blade, every one of them. Do you realise how much pressure that puts upon me, as their king? I have ever to find new enemies for them.”

“We come in peace,” I told him. He laughed.

It took a decan of talks before King Burdamon allowed us to speak with his sword-master. It was difficult to understand his speech. A more mangled and twisted version of Alsaldic could not be found. I wondered whence this sword-master came.

“I want a blade, a sword like the ones you’ve made for King Burdamon,” Kailen told him.

“As everyone wants,” came his reply. “What does King Burdamon say of this?”

“He has allowed us to speak with you.”

The sword-master nodded his understanding of what Kailen had left unspoken.

“It takes time,” he said.

“We’re not in a hurry.” Which wasn’t true.

“Do you come with gifts for me? Or did you think gifting King Burdamon would answer?”

“I have gifts for you.”

“Show me.”

Kailen spread before him an array of golden jewellery and golden cups.

“What charms are set on these?” the sword-master asked.

“Not being the smith, I do not know.”

“Does the metal come from Ul Dlida? Was it had in trade?”

“They were a gift to me and from my father. My father had them as gifts, but from many people, from many lands and many holdings.”

“So you don’t know where they are from?”

“No, I do not.”

“There is always a risk of personal danger in reworking metals,” the sword-master explained of his questions and his hesitation. “Smiths set charms upon their work. Undoing those charms can be dangerous.”

“If you don’t want my gifts I shall find a sword-master who does. I’m in no hurry. I’ll go over-seas. I hear there are many with your craft across the East Sea.”

“I didn’t say I didn’t want them.”

“Then have we a deal?”

“Come back in a trik.” And when Kailen began collecting up all he had laid before him, the sword-master said, “You may leave these where they are—else there’ll be no sword for you.”

When we returned the sword-master had the magical weapon prepared and one bite off ready for Kailen.

“Within this sword is a spirit hungry for blood. Now you must feed it, to claim it as yours. Whose blood shall it be?”

“I had thought to wait till I’d an enemy to kill.”

The sword-master shook his head. “The spirit is young, he’s hungry. He wants the blood now. Feed him, and ever he’ll be loyal to you. But you make him wait and he’ll turn on you. You want to be his first feast?”

Kailen raised shoulders and hands in a helpless shrug. “Yet I have no enemies here to kill.”

Again, the sword-master shook his head. “Listen to me, Lord Kailen, son of King Ferrangu of Ul Dlida. There is not a man within this land who is not your enemy—and you had best not forget that. Never believe that King Burdamon is your friend, for he is not. His blade will drink your blood just as eagerly as this blade now in my hand will drink his.” He laughed, manic-sounding. “Now, I have done as you asked: I have made for you this magical sword. Now it must be fed with blood. You take this sword in your hand, and it is kill or be killed. So I ask again, whose blood will be first?”

I am a seasoned warrior. I have killed more men than I care to number. But even I balked at what this newly-crafted sword required of my lord.

Impatient to complete the procedure, the sword-master was straight outside his craft-shed and calling to someone to come hither. That someone turned out to be an old man, a slave and, by his appearance, badly treated. The sword-master looked his expectation at Kailen.

“You want me to kill this man?” Kailen asked, clearly not happy.

The slave, not understanding our speech, stood at ease, waiting to be given some new task.

“The sword must feed. It must drink blood. It never will be your sword if you do not feed it, now.”

Kailen hadn’t been trained as a warrior, not then. Yet he plunged that sword into the slave’s heart. Deep in. Blood jetted. The contained spirit supped—even after the man fell, supped till his life’s blood became less than a trickle; stayed in the wound and guzzled down to the very last drop.

“It would have been better had it been an enemy,” Kailen remarked.

The sweet smell of that blood remained with me . . . for days. That look of shock, and yet meek acceptance, on the slave’s face, that has remained with me to this day.

We should have left King Burdamon’s Hold that day. Had we left then we would have been away from him and his East Isle before Draksen wrapped his arms about Saven and spread his wings so none could see. But first we had to find a boat-master who would take us back to Banva Go. We couldn’t even find one to take us as far as the Water of Waters. We were offered a short hop north. But what lay northward? Only more of King Burdamon’s lands. Yet if we’d had horses we would have taken that offer. Once ashore again we then could have ridden the length of the Way, back to the Waters. But we had no horses of our own, only those loaned us by King Burdamon, ours only while we remained as his guests.

Within a day Draksen was seen, his horned head rising high in the sky. King Burdamon looked. King Burdamon saw. King Burdamon rejoiced. Here was the promised herald, he declared.

Following his horned head there came Draksen’s wings—and that pall of darkness was cast over the land. King Burdamon celebrated for, as he excitedly proclaimed, soon King Ithen would return! Once Draksen had had his way with Saven, ravished and devoured her, removing his rival, then King Ithen would be the very Light of this World!

King Burdamon prepared for that day. He gifted Uät—the swords of his men were gorged on their victims’ blood. He gifted Kelis—the bodies now drained of blood were given to the waters. He began with the slaves . . .

But when the Darkness still held and King Ithen did not appear, then King Burdamon turned to others. The crops in the fields had died. The herds shortly would follow. Soon there would not be the food to feed the people. So King Burdamon had them slaughtered in masses, all in the name of King Ithen. The smell of death and of fresh-let blood was everywhere. It filled the air. There was no escaping it.

Kailen and Kabul are trapped by Draksen, held captive in East Isle, where King Burdamon, the pious devotee of King Ithen, commits such obscenities to satisfy his idol. How long can this last? Next episode, One Mother-Fated Day

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A Wet Woodland Walk

Or perhaps A Spurious Segue

In January 1797 John Hetherington, a London haberdasher, was fined £50 for causing a public nuisance—he was wearing the very first top hat. In public!

In February 1797 the very last invasion of Britain began. And ended. At Fishguard in Wales.

In July 1797 Horatio Nelson was wounded at the Battle of Santa Cruz—he lost his right arm.

On 14th November 1797 future famous geologist Charles Lyell was born

Meanwhile, in the small Norfolk town of Acle, one Sarah Mutton was born to her unmarried mother, also named Sarah Mutton.

In February 1817 the last major Luddite attack occurred, in Loughborough—against lace-making machines.

In March 1817 James Monroe succeeded James Madison as President of the United States of America

In June 1817 Waterloo Bridge, in London, was opened.

The following month novelist Jane Austen died—on 18th July.

In December 1817 Mississippi was admitted as the 20th U.S. state.

Meanwhile, back in that small Norfolk town of Acle, Sarah Mutton, now aged 20, married John Self-Browne, resident of the Norfolk parish of South Walsham St Mary. John’s brother Michael and his sister Susanna stood witness.

John’s hyphenated surname presents a puzzle. At this stratum of society (the unwashed masses) it would usually be a name brought through from the mother’s previous marriage, or, indeed, was the mother’s maiden name, the implication being the child was illegitimately conceived. But John was the fifth child registered to the South Walsham couple of Michael and Elizabeth Browne, and none of his siblings shared that Self-hyphenation. Neither was he named for his mother’s family, for they were Dawsons.

Whatever the reason for that hyphenated name, it seems John was proud of it. For when he and Sarah had their fifth child, a son, they named him the same: John Self-Browne. On 26th December 1853, this second John Self-Browne married Clarissa Baker, daughter of Henry Baker, publican at the Bush Inn, Costessey (coincidentally, a former watering hole of mine).

This latter John (Self-) Browne begat a total of ten surviving children; initially resident at Costessey, later moving to the outskirts of Norwich, then (by the birth of the fifth child) to Cantley—a wee way away from his ancestral South Walsham, and from Acle. And, oh, surprise! his fourth child, one William Frederick Browne, was to become my great-grandfather.

But I knew nothing of this family branch till late last winter. It fell as a great surprise that my great-great-grandmother had hailed from the very same village as me and yet my parents had moved there as newcomers after the war (in 1946). But then to discover this branch of my family had lived, worked, married and died not only close to where I now live (Great Yarmouth) but also that many of my favourite walks track through the very same parishes that formed the backdrop of their lives: Upton and South Walsham, Ranworth and Woodbastwick, Cantley, Buckenham and Blofield. And Acle, of course.

And here is the spurious segue . . .

Being a short bus ride from Great Yarmouth—and while still oblivious to this branch of the family—Acle had become, for me, the start of many a ramble. But Acle is a town of two parts. The main portion, and probably the more recent, sits astride the A47, a trunk road that runs due west across the county to Kings Lynn and onto the Midlands beyond. Though marginally quaint with its Georgian architecture and round towered church (dedicated to St Edmunds), it is the probably older and southern part that interests me most. Set beyond the ‘new’ bypass and the not-so-new train line (opened 1883), this is Damgate.

Damgate, the name:
The ‘gate’ element is Scandinavian. But that’s hardly surprising for the entire area was heavily settled by Danes, though whether as part of the Great Army (late C9th), or as followers of King Cnut (early C11th), is uncertain. And while ‘gate’ is usually translated as ‘a way’ or ‘a street’ it can also mean literally ‘a gate’, as in ‘ingress’. So, the way in and out of the dam, where ‘dam’ refers to an embankment raised to channel flood or sea waters—for Damgate gives onto the marshes, and those marshes, while offering sweet grazing, were only claimed from the sea in the medieval period.

But, to return to the narrative . . .

I bused out to Acle this last week and, for the first since knowing of Sarah Mutton and John Self-Browne, I headed to Damgate. Oh, not to roam around the roads, though I did wonder if my ancestors had lived in this part of town. No, my interest was in Damgate Carr, 5.56 ha of wet woodland managed by Acle Land Trust.

The obligatory map . . .

Map of Acle and Damgate

The white line marks the footpath

Over recent years the installed boarded walk and several bridges has made Damgate Carr a popular resort not only of local dog-walkers but also of various naturalists. Apart from the possibility of catching a fleeting flash of the brilliantly plumaged kingfisher, the woodland is also an important site for fungi. Oh joy, what better place for me! Yet, oddly, I had never visited here in ‘fungus season’—because I had never before visited the woodland for its own sake. It had always been the start or finish of the 13 mile hike across the marshes—definitely not encouraging on a cold winter’s day. Yet I was intending to walk those marshes if only as far as Halvergate (see the map). I would then track back by road to Acle. As happened, I didn’t get that far (more of that anon).

My first impression of Damgate Carr in winter . . .

Naked Damgate

Trees like youths in a dance hall, all hugging the walls (in this case a railway embankment)

I had never seen it looking so brown and bare. Barren, I thought.

But I hadn’t walked far along the path when, lo!


And colour!

Blushing Brackets in Damgate Carr

Blushing Brackets arrayed along a fallen willow

Turkeytail Brackets in Damgate Carr

Another fallen tree, this one smothered in Turkeytail Brackets, here seen in colourful close-up

Trametes ochracea at Damgate Carr

And ablaze in a sudden shaft of sunlight, Trametes ochracea (alas, no common name)

The woodland path wends its way through the trees, never straying far from Coleman’s Drain.

Coleman's Drain in Damgate Carr

Coleman’s Drain as it flows, canalised, through Damgate Carr

No, I don’t know who Coleman was, whether local landowner or drainage engineer, but that is the name of this small watercourse. I’m reluctant to call it a stream despite some 2,000 years ago it was a small river, almost certainly tidal. The marshes between the two Roman camps (Caister-on-Sea and Burgh Castle) had as yet to be formed from the extensive estuarine mud of ‘Gariensis’ (as the Romans called these mudflats; they remain in small part as Breydon Water). And it was probably as a sea-port that nearby Halvergate gained its name.

Coleman's Drain and footpath in Damgate Carr

Looking back on Coleman’s Drain as I’m about to leave the woodland

By the time I had walked through the woodland I had taken in the region of 70 photos.

Beyond the woodland, the terrain drastically changes as footpath collides with long-distance  track: Weavers Way runs alongside the Acle to Yarmouth embanked railway track, separated by a ‘ditch’. Well, I’d call it a ditch—my grandma would have called it a dyke, just to confuse us with the ups and the downs. In fact, it’s one of the many—very many—watercourses (drains) that help to keep these marshes ‘dry’ and, well, drained.

Drain beside railway embankment

East of Damgate Carr, a drain runs alongside the railway embankment; favoured haunt of water voles!

It was around here that the clouds, which had been mounting as they drifted in from northwest, let down the first of their dowses. Camera rapidly stowed away, I walked on. And on. Head down. Wondering the wisdom of continuing this walk. Wouldn’t it be better just to turn back? But I kept on walking. Stubborn, that’s me, though I’d say persistent. A while later the rain stopped. I fetched out the camera again.

The long distance path, Weaver’s Way, crosses Damgate Lane just as Damgate Lane becomes a farm track, deeply pitted, muddily puddled. Uninviting. But this wonderful tree stands beside it as if a sentinel. I had to take its photo.

The leaning oak at Damgate Lane

Isn’t he magnificent? And so much more imposing with being naked.

Oddly, this tree isn’t marked on the Ordnance Survey map of 1881-1883 (see map above), or at least not at this exact place. Yet clearly it must have existed then. It’s certainly more than 140 years old. I figure it’s the tree that’s marked further along the farm track.

Yes, every one of the trees marked on my rendition of the OS map is exactly as it was recorded in 1881—except for those in the plantations, plus I haven’t shown any detail in the residential areas of Acle. The surveyors marked those trees for a reason. In their youth, these ‘timber trees’ had represented the future wealth of the landowners and farmers who had been encouraged to ‘plant a tree in ‘83’ (or whatever the year) as an investment against England’s later need. But unfortunately for them, the investment never paid out—for iron was soon to replace timber in the shipbuilding and construction industries. Still, in 1881 they were still considered important enough to mark on a map.

Weavers Way follows the course of Coleman’s Drain as it changes direction, now to run north-south. And here it soon morphs, from a canalised watercourse to something more resembling a stream. Sinuous. Snaking across the land.

Coleman's Drain along Acle marsh

Note how the stream slithers and loops? The water weeds, here in abundance, are a sure sign that the water isn’t polluted.

A ‘rusty’ woodland now can be seen to the west. Decoy Carr.

Decoy Carr from Damgate Marsh

Within Decoy Carr hides a duck decoy, used from 1620 till 1830 (see map above).

The weather was still changeable; clouds veiling the sun one moment, streaming rays the next. But interesting conditions for landscape photography.

Storm tree

It’s not only the clouds that darken the sky. Here a myriad of twigs add their own ominous colouring

Acle marshes

Looking across the marshes (but here it is arable) towards A47 and the River Bure

Reed and marshland

To me this and the next shot epitomizes our marshland. See that white ‘blob’ on the horizon? That’s a boat, way in the distance, on the River Bure.

Acle marshes

Not even with the drying winds of winter are the grasses truly white

Landscape with Stokesby

A view across the marshes . . . to Stokesby

At first I thought it was Tunstall I could see in the distance. But, no, Tunstall lay hidden behind the woods. So when I got home I checked on the map. Lo, those red roofs and white walls are houses in Stokesby—but Stokesby is a mile and a half across the marshes, on the far side of the railway, beyond the A47, on the far banks of the River Bure. (Okay, so you have to enlarge the photo to see it, but it’s there.)

See this thorn tree in the next photo?

Thorn tree

A humble hawthorn provides a timely warning

I hadn’t seen this tree before.

That’s odd, considering the times I’ve walked this path. But not so odd when considering where my attention had been . . . on the Drain and the trees and the wide-wide vistas. I should have paid more attention to where my feet trod. I was off-course. And that wasn’t the only thing.

These marshes are grazed by sheep, horses and cattle. This particular field, I know, hosted cattle just this past summer. I know that for certain for I walked across it—following the correct path. And cattle have this thing of splattering their pastures with cow-pats. But where were the cow-pats? I could see none; all were gone. There was, however, some evidence of harrowing or raking—such as one might do to break up the dried pats and evenly distribute them. Good land management, that, returning fertility to the soil. I looked down at my feet. I do not exaggerate when I say I was standing on a good 4” of ‘mud’ that clung to the soles of my shoes, squishing its way up to mould around the uppers. It was a cold day. There was no smell. But when I finally found a strong enough stick to poke, push and pry away that extremely sticky, greenish mud, I found it to be exceedingly fibrous.

So, not only had I taken a wrong turn but seeing the state of my shoes I wasn’t too keen on encountering yet more of that field. It was time to cut my plans and turn round.

The weather stayed fair for me, producing deep reflections in the water: a favourite subject of mine.

Trees reflected

Reflections . . . Decoy Carr in the background

Trees reflected

Was it the tree or the water that most attracted me here?

And I was able to take some amazing photos of the willows that line the path back.

Naked willows 1

On the long trek back . . .

Naked willows 2

. . . with the clouds again amassing

I may not have completed my intended walk but I took sufficient photos to keep me busy with editing for the next few days.

These photos, and more, are in the Winter’s Wetland Walk Collection on Google +

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Zabul of Ul Dlida

KW33King Kottir has returned from over the seas, proving sea-travel again is possible, and giving the cue for Kailen to leave for Banva Go. That pleases Zabul who has accompanied and protected Kailen on his overseas itinerancy . . . Read on

Glory, glory to Lu! At last we were to go home. Though we’d not been away for the ‘almost a year’ as my lord Kailen claimed it. He exaggerated. Yet Saven had been in Sammeste when we crossed the Narrow Sea. Then when the Darkness came we’d been at King Burdamon’s Hold. Trapped, what could we do but to accept his further hospitality?

King Ferrangu’s truvidiren had warned him of some such hazard and, not a man to squander lives, King Ferrangu had asked me to accompany his son on this ill-advised overseas journey. At first it had been an adventure. But not any more. Now, every one of my small, select band desperately wanted to return home, not only those of my men who had wives waiting for them.

These men—my men—did not serve King Ferrangu, nor his son. They served me, only me, and I, in turn, gave my full loyalty to my lord. I do not brag when I say I was lord of one hundred bands of fighting men. And by now I was worried. Those men left behind had been without their lord for far too long. Would they have found another lord to serve in my absence? One hundred bands of fighting men, held together only by their service to me. But what if, in my absence, they’d forgotten they shared loyalty to me and turned instead against each other? I would be very glad to return home. But I feared what I might find.

It had taken all of my youth and most of my viral years to gather these men to me. They, like me, weren’t Dunelt or Burnist. They were Lugiones—Luguish, as the traders of the Alsaldic Lands have always named our people. Lugiones—Luguish: followers of the Immortal Lu. Lu of the High Places: Lugain.

Lugain led my people to Banva Go in the time before kings. According to our stories, we came from the south; according to the Alsalds we’d come from the west. But we came from both for we had brought our boats ashore along the western coast of Banva Go and from there we had travelled inland—seeking what Lugain sought: high places. But there were none in this land of Banva Go, none that satisfied him. That’s why he no longer lived amongst us, in Banva Go. He had returned to the south-land whence we had come, where the land rises into mighty hills that scrape the sky, and descends into deep valleys, the floor of the Earth.

But we still remembered him, we revered and worshiped him. We dedicated every hill-top to his presence, even though he long since had rejected such places, saying they were too low for him. Our wise-men—not the Alsaldic buadhren or truvidiren—they try to make of Lugain what the Alsalds make of their Hero Beli. But Lugain never was like that. Listen to the old stories that the old men tell. Lugain was no Divinity, He was an Immortal. He shone.

When we first encountered the people of Banva Go—Men of the Tombs, Men of the Bellies—they saw us coming from the west with Lugain before us, leading us. They knelt down before us, awed by his glory. They wondered at his coming from the west, when the sun rose in the east, so bright was his light. They thought him a spirit but he was not. He was our leader in the days before kings. But shame on us, he left us here when he returned to the south-lands of our birth.

But none of this has much to say of what happened with young Kailen on his journey overseas to East Isle, to the King of the Marshes.

He had gone there seeking a sword-master. He’d heard from other travellers that several of the eastern kings had sword-masters at their holds, and that these sword-masters could craft a different kind of sword to the ones crafted by the sword-makers of Meksuin’s Land. Meksuin’s Land would have been easier to reach, King Ferrangu argued with young Kailen. But Kailen wanted one of these new swords.

“What makes these new swords so special?” King Ferrangu had asked.

“In part it is the way they’re hilted. They can be used as a battle-axe to chop and slice—”

“To decapitate?” I asked.

“In one easy slice your enemy’s head lies at your feet.”

“An axe will do the same,” King Ferrangu objected.

“Why carry an axe as well as a sword, when one sword will both stab and slice?”

“You say in part,” his father said. “What else is there about these new swords?”

“It is less the way the sword is made, more the way it is crafted,” Kailen said. “These eastern sword-masters trap a spirit inside the sword. I don’t know how it is done but with such a spirit in the sword, that sword seeks out the enemy almost of its own accord. It never fails to draw the blood. Indeed, it needs that blood to feed upon. With such a hungry sword in hand how can a warrior fail in battle? Because the sword seeks blood, it kills the enemy. The warrior need do little more than to wield it.”

“A glorious weapon,” King Ferrangu remarked, unimpressed.

“Let me go to one of these sword-masters. Let me have such a sword, and I shall prove it to you. Then you’ll want every one of Zabul’s men to have one. With such swords his men will be invincible.”

“Already they’re invincible,” King Ferrangu told him. But then he turned to me. “Zabul, what say you to this? Should my boy be allowed such a magical sword? Do you believe what he says?”

“I have heard the same,” I admitted.

“Would you have your men equipped with them?”

“If our enemies have them, then so should we.”

“You have a point,” he agreed. “Well, my son, aye, perhaps you should seek out such a sword-master. But I shall see its worth before I provide Zabul’s men with these . . . fancy weapons. When do you intend to leave?”

Of course, with the impatience of youth, Kailen answered, “Straight away; at once.”

“But no one travels overseas during the trikadent of Belerast,” his father said. “You’ll have to wait.”

“Sammeste, then. I’ll make arrangements with a boat-master. I’ll leave on the first day of Sammeste’s Genet.”

So off went young Kailen to make the arrangements for a sea-crossing. At that time only Kailen and his young friend Kimbit were going. But before the first day of Sammeste’s Genet came around, King Ferrangu’s truvid had predicted difficulties in travelling. He’d said, “A troublesome Dark One seeks to embrace Bright Saven. Her light will be extinguished. We shall be as blind men in this world.”

Had King Ferrangu been born of a Dunelt mother he might have taken more notice. But his mother was of my own people; she was Luguish. So King Ferrangu, on hearing his truvidir’s prediction, turned to his wise-man Dekar, and asked him about this time of Darkness: Would it be safe for his son Kailen to travel? Dekar told him aye, it would be safe, that Lugain would guide the boy through the blackest of nights.

Still, King Ferrangu was unsure of what to do. Should he allow young Kailen to travel to the east as he had planned? Or should he hold him back? If he held back his young son you can be sure young Kailen would cause some kind of trouble. It’s in the nature of such young men who’ve no or little demand upon them to look for fights. It keeps them occupied and makes use of their virility. And so he allowed Kailen to travel, as he had planned, but he asked that I go with him to protect him.

I welcomed this journey, not realising how long I would be away. I, as much as Kailen, wanted to know more about these swords. I was curious, and I wanted to meet one of these sword-masters.

But now, instead of just Kailen and his young friend Kimbit, there were thirteen men to ferry across the Narrow Sea. New arrangements had to be made. But then, before we left, Kimbit decided against the journey. In truth he’d no choice, for the young woman he’d been visiting had prematurely gained herself swollen belly and her father was insistent they wed straight away, without delay. Thus Kimbit withdrew from our overseas adventure, leaving just Kailen, myself and ten of my men.

The first stage of our journey from Ul Dlida to East Isle in Albinnys took us to the small island of Liënershi. There we were guests of Lord Kezir, its governor, who welcomed us warmly for, though Liënershi was still part of the Alsaldic Lands, its people mostly were Lugiones like our own.

From Liënershi we sailed to Du Dlida where, again, we stayed with the governor—Lord Nebalys of Clan Bukplugn. It didn’t take us long, there, to find another boat-master. We were on our way again within three days, this time to the Drummings of the White Lands. I had no liking for that land, although to be fair all I saw was the river’s gate that provided our harbour. There we again found a boat-master willing to take us. We left on that same tide, gaining as far as the Point of the Broken Hand. From there another boat, again leaving on the next tide, took us all the way to the Water of Waters.

We had thought then it would be a simple matter of finding a boat-man to ferry us from there to King Burdamon’s Hold—for Kailen had been told this king had a sword-master amongst his men. Yet to reach that hold we had first to return to the sea. Then to journey up a river through extensive marshes. I remember that most clearly. Between the heat of the day and the dampness of the air and the plague of biting flies forever sucking at my blood, that short journey up-river was the most unpleasant experience of our adventure so far.

King Burdamon’s Hold was set close to these noxious marshes, but on higher land. Behind his hold the land rose higher still, though not so high as to be reckoned a Lu’s Place. It seemed to me a barbarous land. The people here spoke some other speech though they said it was Alsaldic. I’d say, rather, it was Nritrik. Kailen, young that he was, soon learned to speak it, but I did not. Though the longer we remained there the keener grew my comprehension.

The boat-master had his boat pull up beside a well-made, high-set wharf. I looked up at it, having seen the ladder set there, and suddenly was glad we’d not brought our horses. From that wharf a raised walk-way led to King Burdamon’s log-fenced hold. I said to Kailen, “I see Kelis tries to claim this land. It is often flooded.”

He laughed. “As long as Kelis leaves it alone while we are here, I don’t much care.”

I don’t know why I should have remarked upon it. What had I expected? King Burdamon had been King of the Marshes long before his most recent conquests had made him King of East Isle.

Kailen, Zabul and his men have arrived at King Burdamon’s Hold on their quest for this reputed magical sword. But there’s more than a sword awaiting them there. Next episode, The Light of the World 

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In Tandem

KW32As Uissid Tizarn has told Bregan, she must use her Brictish powers to coerce King Burdamon into immediate departure. But as Queen Yoisea says, Bregan is young and inexperienced; she hasn’t yet found the full extent of those powers . . . Read on

“She’s un-practiced,” I said on Bregan’s behalf. “I remember how it was when I was her tender age. I might have known the extent of my tricks but that didn’t mean I knew how to perform them. And I never was sure that they’d work—that’s an assurance that comes with age . . . with the passing of years.”

“Yet,” Uissid Tizarn repeated, “it is Bregan who must be the one. She has only to do it the once and he’ll be gone and no more threat to her.” He turned again to Bregan. “No more threat to you, and through you to King Kottir and the Alsaldic Lands. He is a Nritrik king; he’s not to be trusted. I was going to let him stay till he was healed enough to travel. But not now. Best for everyone that he goes. He’ll take Kailen with him, and I know that you’ll miss him but you know you cannot have him.”

Her face betrayed her horror. “You knew!”

He laughed. “You think because this Darkness has weakened my powers—weakened me worse than you lesser begots with your greater human parts—that I’m not still a man who has lived ten thousand years? You think that in all that time I’ve not watched the ways of women and men? You think I can’t hear in the way you say his name, the look that colours your face, exactly what it is between you? I’ve no need of Brictish powers to tell me that. But he is a mortal, not a Brictan of any degree; he will not live long. And you will.”

As if the rest had not been said, Bregan asked him, agog, “How many years did you say?”

“Ten thousand—give or take a century or two. What Immortal counts beyond the first few thousand? But that’s not why you’ve come here—to hear of my life,” he waved it aside. “Now listen, Bregan, you have to do this. You have to send King Burdamon away. No, don’t panic; it’s easy. All you need do is to send him the thought of his leaving. But you send it not just with your head but with your full body—every part of you. Now. Do it now. Now while you’re here with me. Yoisea, you do it too. That should help her.”

So that’s what we did. I admit to feeling foolish, that I hadn’t thought of it myself, that it took Uissid Tizarn to say it. Just think: we could have saved ourselves all the wheedling and flattering of Truvidir Markenys.

“Is that it?” Bregan asked after a few moments.

“Hold that desire within you, and radiate it,” Uissid Tizarn said. “Repeat it, strong as strong can be, every so often. Keep shooting it at him—like a barrage of arrows. All through this day, and even after he’s gone. We need to be sure he’ll stay gone.”

So that was that. We thanked Uissid Tizarn and left him to his precious solitude and peace.

With her problem’s solution now at hand Bregan again thought of Mistress Maia, and, oh, how she fretted. Her aunt would have missed her by now and would be angry. Or else be worried (which results in the same). She was hurrying me with her across the King’s Hold when . . . was that an ox-cart we heard, splashing through South River? She looked at me in alarm.

“But if that is King Kottir,” I told her, “you should be pleased.”

And, aye, it was Kottir, returning from his travels, using one of the Regiment’s carts because he hadn’t taken his own horse to ride.

But no sooner had he pulled into the King’s Hold than King Burdamon came out of the Truvidiren’s House, in a great rush and hurry to be gone.

“Give me that cart,” he ordered King Kottir—aye, ordered him.

King Kottir looked at him as if to ask just who he thought he was. But then he seemed to remember exactly who (maybe Bregan had helped him there).

“As the Alsaldic King,” King Kottir said, “I have a duty to be generous to my subjects. But are you subject to me? Or to the Nritrik king? If you’re subject to me, then gladly do I give you this cart, and the oxen which pull it.”

“Don’t play with him,” Bregan told Kottir, her own voice full of play. “He’s in a hurry to leave. He must go today.”

I admired her. How quickly she had mastered the skill.

“Aye,” King Burdamon agreed with her. “I have to leave. I have just realised what’s the morrow—the Feast of Slaughter. I must be with my own people for that. Yet how can I travel that distance with this useless leg?”

I wanted to suggest that he left it behind. Oh, the nasty, cruel things I could to it while imagining the rest of his gross-some body attached and suffering the pain and indignity. But I held my tongue, I kept quiet; I played the nice Old Queen.

“Let him have the cart,” Bregan told Kottir, and I could feel what else was passing between them. The air fair-bristled with their unspoken talk.

King Kottir climbed down from the cart’s high seat and, like the congenial host he’d become with the winning of the Games, he smiled. “The cart is yours. But not these oxen—they are too slow. I’ll have a pair of trained horses hitched into harness. You’ll travel so much quicker with horses.”

It was a kind offer yet, in too much of a hurry, King Burdamon refused it. Instead, he was up on that seat and turning the cart around, forgetting all about young Kailen. It was as well that Kailen saw him there. And seeing us, too, standing beside that cart he quickly realised all was not well.

With his easy loping-run he was beside us in a trice. “You’re leaving?” he asked King Burdamon.

“Aye,” King Burdamon said. “I’m leaving. This visit to West Alsime Land has become costly to me. First I lose my favourite horse to a needless accident. Then, with being laid abed so long, I’ve lost my strengthl. Had I not, I’d have killed this—this man.”

Kailen looked genuinely puzzled. He looked from Burdamon to King Kottir and back. “But why? King Kottir, here, is the True Heir: he won fairly. He’s a good man.”

King Burdamon shook his head, but he said no more. With no farewells, not to anyone, he was out of the gate and down the bank—and in his hurry almost straight into South River, but he recovered in time. Even so, with the way he turned those oxen—slowly—the cart had begun to lurch and he had to hold on tight else he’d have been in that vile befouled water—which to my mind is where he belonged. Ah, so perhaps it my thinking that made his turn so precipitous? I did hope so.

As we watched King Burdamon leave I noticed, beside me, that King Kottir had slipped his hand around Bregan’s and, possessively, laced fingers with her. Maybe Kailen didn’t notice, his eyes intent on the retreating back of his former ally. Poor Kailen, unable to understand why he had gone in such a hurry. It was only once Burdamon had disappeared from view that Kailen turned back to Kottir.

“Did you sail across the sea, then?”

“There and back. It was easy,” said King Kottir.

“So, I suppose if I make my way westward—to West River Gate?—I shall find me a boat to take me home. I should go home; I’ve been away for many triks—almost the year. Who knows what’s been happening in Ul Dlida . . .”

With King Burdamon scurrying home that’s one less problem. And it seems Kailen, too, will be leaving soon. Now perhaps everything will go as it ought and King Kottir and Mistress Bregan can be at ease together. But that wouldn’t be a story. Next episode, Zabul of Ul Dlida

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The Weak and the Strong

KE31 The Weak and the StrongAs Queen Yoisea now has discovered, not only is Kailen in close company with the Nritrik subject, King Burdamon, but is himself of the Lugiönes, an ancient rival of the Alsaldic Empire. Bregan really must consult with Uissid Tizarn. But then what can Tizarn do, currently weakened by the Darkness . . . Read on

Another two days and King Burdamon was up on his feet. Though with one foot held off the ground and hobbling with help of a staff, the wounded big man did nothing but wince. Yet, in pain though he was, that didn’t stop him from eyeing young Mistress Bregan. He called Kailen to him. Together they watched her. It was then I sensed the colossal ‘unniceness’ of that man. It caused me raking shivers.

I wanted to know what they were about. But my Brictish abilities fast failing me, it wasn’t so easy to tap into thoughts.  And so I walked around in their vicinity—though always at a safe distance, not to alert them—and eavesdropped on their talk.

“If you don’t take her, I will,” I heard King Burdamon say.

“You do that and you need never call me friend again,” Kailen returned, and sternly. “Then you’ll feel the full force of the Dunelts against you.”

King Burdamon laughed. “One clan? Am I supposed to be afraid?”

“You forget of the Lugiönes. We Dunelts can muster those too.”

“Huh!” King Burdamon scoffed. “Insipid followers of Lu. But, you know they’re King Ithen’s men now? He has them eating out of his hand.”

At that Kailen’s bravado failed him. “Just leave her alone,” he said.

Again King Burdamon laughed. And such a horrid-sounding laugh it was. Contemptuous. He may have been a king, but never have I known a more foul and ignoble man. He deserved to be hung upon a tree, sliced straight down his middle and his guts pulled out—aye, and while still living so he could watch. I did not like the man.

“Either you take her,” King Burdamon said, “—since you so want her. Or I shall.”

Oh no! Horrors! I was all in a flutter, all aghast! I had to warn her. I couldn’t keep quiet, I couldn’t say nothing. What if she were to be walking out one day and King Burdamon grabbed her and . . . and . . .do whatever he had in his mind to do to her? I didn’t want to look inside his head to discover the details of that. My imagination was suffifient.

I went straight to Mistress Maia’s isle. They were brewing, the gate was shut. But I had to speak with Bregan. It couldn’t wait. It was urgent. I did something I hadn’t done in all the years of being queen. I opened that gate to the King’s Wife’s isle and I walked right in. Let her shout at me, I didn’t care.

But when I knocked at her door there came no answer and no one called out. I opened her door—cautiously—and I peered inside. I had to be certain. But no one was there, the house was empty. Well of course it was. They’d all be in the brew-house. Yet that was one place I could not go, no matter my audacity. She may say nothing of my being in her isle, but she’d have plenty to say if I as much as set a toenail in there. So what to do now? I could  nothing but wait.

Back to the gate I went and kindly shut it for Mistress Maia, and there I waited. Soon enough someone would come out of that brew-house. Soon enough I’d be able to tell them to fetch young Bregan.

And soon someone did. Mistress Maia. But before I’d as much as opened my mouth to speak she turned on me.

“What do you want now?” Then, before I could answer she told me to clear off, to go. “We’re busy. Can’t you see the gate is shut?” And off she strutted, across the isle towards her house.

“Mistress Maia,” I called after her but she ignored me. “Mistress Maia,” I called again and still she ignored me. “I must speak with Bregan. It’s important,” I said.

I knew that that would fetch her attention. She stopped in her tracks. She turned. She came marching over to me in such a fury. It was all I could do to restrain my laugh. I had to bite it down. I knew exactly what she was going to say (and she did).

Mistress Bregan. Mistress.

“Aye,” I answered. “And it’s Mistress Bregan I need to speak with—if you will tell her. It’s very important. Very.”

“My niece is busy,” she said, though somewhat calmer.

“Please.” How undignified, the woman was forcing me now to plead.

She heaved a sigh. “But she’s not to leave the isle. You understand? If you take her away I’ll—”

“Excuse me, but it’ll not be me who’s doing the taking if you don’t let me speak with her, and now.”

I didn’t need any Brictish tricks to know she wasn’t pleased. Yet she fetched young Bregan to me.

I told Bregan what I had overheard. She heaved an enormous sigh and looked up at the sky as if pleading with Saram. Or was it with Sauën? Sauën could be seen now—most days—now the Darkness was thinning. Yet despite Draksen was leaving of his own accord, the plans to perform Kottir’s Rites on the eve of the Feast of Slaughter remained just the same. I supposed it because no one had noticed as yet, except me. No one looked up; they feared to see that the Darkness remained.

“You must tell Uissid Tizarn,” I told Bregan. “Have you spoken with him yet on the other matter?”

“We’re busy brewing,” she said.

“Not so busy you can’t sneak off to be with that man.”

“I have not!” she denied. “Not these past two days.”

“And nights?” I asked.

“I share a bed with my aunt,” she said.

“Well,” I said, “you’ll have to go to Uissid Tizarn now. This won’t wait.”

“But first I’ll have to explain to my aunt,” she said. “She’ll not let me go otherwise.”

Aye well, that sounded the better idea, for the more people who knew what King Burdamon intended the more would keep an eye sharp for her.

I didn’t see her again till the morning of the eve of the Feast of Slaughter. She was flustered.

That feast is one of the biggest of the year which means a heavy workload for the brew-women. Moreover, the feast is held at Isle Ardy which means the King’s Beer must then be taken to there. Of old, they brewed the King’s Beer at the brew-house beside that ancient isle. But that place hasn’t been used for such an age it’s now all a-crumble and covered with briars and ivy—at least ivy and briars before Draksen came.

I asked her, “Did you speak with Uissid Tizarn?”

She shook her head. “I’ve not had time.”

“Did you tell Mistress Maia?”

She again shook her head.

“Then I shall go to him and I shall tell him. And I shall tell Mistress Maia.”

Bregan shrugged.

“Have you seen Kailen again?” I asked her.

“When have I had the time to see Kailen?” she said. “I’ve hardly had time to breathe.”

“Come with me now,” I urged her. “We’ll find Truvidir Markenys and insist he takes us to Uissid Tizarn. If you don’t, I shall have to tell your aunt all about Kailen.”

“You wouldn’t!” Oh, now she was scared. I’d found a way through to her.

“Come,” I said, holding onto her hand.

“But I’m supposed to—”

“You’re supposed to go to Uissid Tizarn and tell him what’s been happening.”

But there was still reluctance. She kept casting back glances to Mistress Maia’s isle. I offered to tell Maia where she had gone should Maia rant—which we both knew she would. But Bregan refused me.

“I can sweeten her,” she said. “I don’t like to do it, she’s my father’s sister, but I can sweeten her.”

“She’s not your father’s anything,” I reminded her. “Your father was a daen, an Immortal. You’re not her true heir.”

We found Chief Truvidir Markenys. Despite his initial reluctance he took us to Uissid Tizarn. I think he didn’t want us to know the Uissid’s hiding-place. Between Bregan and me, we told him the story of Kailen and King Burdamon. Bregan said nothing of her part in this and I said nothing of it either. It was the matter of King Burdamon that was most important.

“This Darkness—” Uissid Tizarn began his usual excuse for not doing anything.

“Look outside, old man,” I told him—because I could say things like that to him. But ‘Old man’? Not to look at him, not any more. Now he looked no older than King Kottir. “You’ll see that there’s a sky up there above the tattered wings.”

“Aye,” he admitted. “I have seen. It’s as I said. But Sauën doesn’t shine down on us yet and I’m still weakened by Draksen. I should be the one to send this King Burdamon away. I should put the message firmly in his head, that he must go, and go at once—even before tomorrow’s feast. But I haven’t the strength to do it yet. But at least with King Burdamon gone, Kailen, too, will go. You say he stays because of him?”

“Aye,” Bregan answered. “I think King Burdamon has some hold on Kailen but I don’t know what. I know he’ll never admit it, but I know Kailen’s afraid of him.”

“Well,” said Uissid Tizarn to her, “you must be the one to rid this land of King Burdamon. Aye. you must do it, since I cannot. And don’t look at me like that. I know you have the power.”

Will Bregan be able to send King Burdamon on his way when, young and inexperienced, she hasn’t yet found the full extent of her Brictish powers? Perhaps Uissid Tizarn is asking too much of her? Next episode, In Tandem

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A Would-be King Not All That He Seems

KW30 A Would-be KingWith King Kottir away these past few days, Kailen has made his move on Bregan, the soon-to-be King’s Wife. While not actually encouraging him, neither has she rejected him. So will that be an end to it? And will he now depart the King’s Hold with King Burdamon? Queen Yoisea would laugh at such a suggestion. The fires of passion aren’t so easily quenched . . . Read on

I made it my business to attend closely to Bregan—for her own protection. It soon would be the Feast of Slaughter, she was busy brewing. Yet with every errand that she ran she managed to encounter Kailen. The times I saw them together—coincidentally!—either in the same room else up by the spring. Then there was the time I caught them together in the King’s Stores.

My chamber gave onto the King’s Chamber and, with a heavy door hanging between us, I seldom bothered to shut the door. I didn’t like to be closed in; I couldn’t breathe. Besides, with the door open I could easily hear what was said. Not that I needed ears to listen with being a Brictan. But I was aging, my abilities weakening, and each attempt at over-hearing or influencing left me feeling yet more drained. Kailen was still sleeping in that chamber, by courtesy of King Kottir, though his ‘man’ Zabul (commander of King Ferrangu’s men, so I thought) had set up a tent with everything a king’s son could possibly want by way of comfort—except the flies did buzz and unknowable things did creep around both by day and by night. So Kailen was in the King’s Chamber when Mistress Bregan entered. But no other was there.

“I’m sorry,” she said as if she’d then realised. “I come for honey from the Stores.”

That in itself was a sad thing to hear. Mistress Maia had always kept her own hives but in the Darkness those bees had died. Oh, such a sorrowful thing: to need resort to the King’s Stores to fetch honey for the brewing of the King’s Beer.

“It’s dark in there,” I heard Kailen say. “I’ll fetch you a torch.”

Now Bregan could have said there wasn’t the need that, with her Brictan blood and so close to her Immortal source, she hadn’t the need of torches to light the stores. But she didn’t say that. She allowed him to fetch her a torch.

Aye well, of course she did. For what better excuse for him to go into the stores with her? As if it weren’t enough that already they were alone in the King’s Chamber. Yet that chamber, being so big, was used by many in many ways. There was always the likelihood of them being disturbed. Not so, though, while in the King’s Stores; there they’d be safe from prying eyes. Besides, with all those shelves and baskets and boxes, they’d have to stand close for there wasn’t the room.

He, the gallant, led the way with his bright torch. I heard him ask her, “Where is the honey?” Then it was quiet for far too long. I had to look.

I tiptoed from my chamber, over to the wide open doors of the King’s Stores. Well, it was my duty, wasn’t it, to close those doors. And equally my duty to check inside—just to be sure I wasn’t about to trap somebody in there. I tsked and tutted: Some people, so much in a hurry they forget to close the doors. But I didn’t say that out loud. I didn’t want to disturb whatever was going on in there.

And aye, there they were, arms all about each other, holding tight and clutching as if afraid if one let go the other would escape. And exactly who was devouring whom? I’ve watched mothers feed their weanlings and, believe me, this looked much the same. First it was him passing the chewed-up food to her, then it was she passing it back again. How they did look hungry!

I decided it best to give them warning. Having tiptoed back to my own chamber, I then repeated my explorations, this time singing—to let them know I was near. And suddenly there was a frantic looking for honey and making noises and over-loud talking of unimportant things. Such a drama they did effect, it could have been an official truvidirik production. I, of course, waited then for them to emerge. Red-faced.

“Oh!” I said, “It was you, Mistress Bregan. I heard noises, I had to check. I may only be the old queen, but I do still care about the King’s Stores. King Kottir’s such a worthy king, I’d hate for anything of his to be taken—especially if taken behind his back.”

“Honey,” Bregan said, holding up the earthen pot. Kailen held several more. “We need it for the brewing. Mistress Maia—”

“I understand,” I said. “Her bees have died.”

“You’ve left the torch behind,” she told Kailen.

“I’ll fetch it,” I offered. “It looks as if this young man’s hands are already full. I wouldn’t like to see him over-burdened. Some people do that, you know. They take far more than they should. They then wonder why, when they stumble, they can’t fling out their hands to save themselves. I wouldn’t like to see young Kailen, here, fall flat on his face.”

So off they went, he following her, laden with the pots of honey for the King’s Brew. I’ve no doubt she knew what I’d seen; she could too easily get inside my head. So I wasn’t surprised when she came visiting later that day.

Before she could as much as open up her well-kissed mouth I told her, “It’s not a choice you have to make.”

“But there’s something . . . ” she said—almost wailed. “And it pulls me to him whether I will it or . . . It’s so strong, I can’t escape it.”

“Then the sooner he is gone the better.”

“He waits for King Burdamon,” she said.

“You encourage him,” I accused her. “You must be stronger; turn him away. What if it had been another standing in that doorway watching you? What if Kottir knew?”

“He’d kill Kailen.”

“Aye, and then King Ferrangu would come here with a thousand men and we’d have war. Isn’t it enough that the Nritrin have taken the last portion of land in East Isle? How much longer before they take the White Lands too, and the Broken Hand? Even your mother’s Bayland. You know it, it won’t be long before they’re our neighbours. We don’t need for you, the king’s preferred wife, to be causing more battles.”

“I know,” she said, all deflated, all head hung down and shoulders drooping.

“You must push him away,” I repeated.

“But that’s not easily done.”

“What! And you a Brictan? Or . . . is it because you want to be with him?”

“You mean to go to Banva Go, to Ul Dlida? You know his family are not what they claim? They’re not Clan Duneld, they’re Luguish. And when have the Lugiönes ever been our friends? No, I have no desire to cross that sea with him. No, my place is here.”

“Then you must push him away,” I said again. “Turn your back on him. Stop encouraging him. You call to him—I hear it, I feel it, you can’t fool me. And I’ve no doubt that Uissid Tizarn hears it, too.”

She looked aghast at this. “I hadn’t thought . . .” She looked regretful and extremely guilty. “But why doesn’t he leave; why doesn’t he go away? Why does he stay and make this so difficult for me? I’ve told him no, that it cannot be.”

“You know the reason,” I told her, although she’d have to do a lot of thinking before she would find it. “Go to Uissid Tizarn,” I advised. “Maybe he can help you.”

“He’ll be angry with me,” she said.

“Go to him,” I urged her. “Tell Truvidir Markenys that it’s important you speak with Uissid Tizarn. He’ll take you to him.”

Yet she hesitated in fear of the ancient man—though, truly, she had no reason to fear him. At least, not then, not yet.

Like a good soup, the plot thickens. Not only is the amorous Kailen keeping company with King Burdamon who is known to be in the keep of the Nritrin, but Kailen himself is of the Lugiönes, an ancient rival of the Alsaldic Empire. Indeed, Bregan needs to consult with Uissid Tizarn. But will she? And what can Tizarn do, currently weakened by the Darkness? Next episode, The Weak and the Strong

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