Detah doesn’t want to return to Isle Ardy. Her ears are still ringing with Vreah’s sons’ version of the massacre along the Waters—and the subsequent wailings of Mistress Siradath, as falsely enacted as any feast-drama. Now to endure Mistress Alenta’s weepings as well . . . Read on.
“But you must return there,” her eblan-master Erspn insisted. “And I too must be there—at least for the two days before the assembly. Besides, though you’ve helped me greatly in teasing and weaving the facts into a tolerable story, it now is time to be of help to your family. An eblan’s second duty is that, to serve his family—and best you never forget it.”
To Detah’s surprise, on her arrival, the lodge was quiet. But then this close to the Feast of Winter Ending she supposed the grain-women were busy in brew-house or granary. Haldalda greeted her, hailing her before she was even through the long narrow passage. She threw wide her arms, inviting Detah in. But Detah was an eblan now; ought she allow such a hug? Haldalda’s young daughter, of an age with Detah, was yabbetting-on. Detah nodded as though she were listening.
“Well, look at this,” Ublamn said–and why had he not greeted them at the gate? He stood at a distance, the better to see her. “Well, our own Detah grown all important.”
How could he say that when she was garbed all in Alisime deer-leather?
Demekn emerged from the eblann’s chamber. She was sad to see there’d been no improvement, his eyes still dark-rimmed and sunken. He looked like a corpse. He hugged her. No words.
“Where’s your eblan-master?” Erspn asked him.
Demekn shrugged in answer.
Erspn shook his head impatiently. “If needed, I’ll be beneath the eaves with Master Bukarn.”
Demekn shambled back into the shared eblann-chamber leaving Detah alone at the heart of the lodge. She looked about her, at a loss of what to do now. No granary-work to avoid. She wanted to talk to Master Bukarn but Erspn would probably keep him busy at least till day’s end. Perhaps a walk by the river? She might find more feathers. She could walk as far as her favourite tree, an ancient cracked willow.
That tree had heard all her troubles and woes. But now when she clambered upon the wide cracked branch she realised she’d no problems to tell. She sighed, for that wasn’t fully the truth. It was more that the problems no longer were hers. They belonged to the granary.
She sat on that branch a very long time. She was an eblan now; whatever might befall the granaries, it wouldn’t happen to her. She ought to have felt relieved. Instead she felt heavy with guilt. She had deserted them: the granaries, her family, even her brother Demekn.
The day hadn’t been bright, so she scarcely noticed the night’s approach–until she found herself surrounded by dark. No stars, no moon, just cloud.
A voice spoke out. “There! She’s there.” It was Ublamn. Yet she’d heard no steps, no rustles or crackles.
“Detah, what are you doing here all on your own?” And that was her eblan-master Erspn. He must have asked Ublamn to help him find her. Ublamn would have known where she was. She slipped off the branch, a short leap down to the bank.
“I was thinking,” she said. “I didn’t mean to cause worry.”
“Detah . . .” All she could see of Erspn was a deeper darkness yet she knew from his tone he was shaking his head.
“You’re angry with me?”
“Detah, an eblan you might be, with full grown status, but you still are . . . you’re a girl. Do you never think of the dangers?”
“But this is Bisaplan’s Land.”
“Wolves. Men?” Ublamn said gruffly.
“Come. There are people wanting to see you back at Isle Ardy.”
At the lodge Master Bukarn stopped her before she could slip unnoticed into the eblann’s chamber. “Mistress Alenta wishes to see you.”
“Might I eat first?” She’d heard Demekn use the excuse many times, and effectively. And having said it she did feel hungry. She turned her step that way.
“There’ll be food for you after you’ve attended your mother.”
She glanced back at Mistress Alenta’s chamber. Its thick woven hanging had been dropped to cover the door. “You have told her, haven’t you? That I’m now an eblan.”
“Aye, I’ve told her.”
“So what . . . what did she say? Is that why she wants to see me? But I’ve done nothing wrong.”
“Ask Mistress Alenta your questions,” Master Bukarn said. “She’s in her chamber. Waiting.”
Detah sighed, there was no escape. And how long had Mistress Alenta been waiting? The longer the wait the sharper her tongue. She drew in a deep breath and checked her appearance. That wretched double-apron again needed straightening. The bonnet . . . No! she would not wear it indoors, not with her family. She snatched it off and tossed it into the eblann’s chamber. Belatedly she hoped it hadn’t hit Erspn.
Mistress Alenta’s chamber was dimly lit with only one lamp, and she wasn’t alone. She had the grain-women gathered about her: Old Apsan, Drea, and Aunt Jaljena. All there to witness whatever was coming. Perhaps in her distress, Mistress Alenta would be lenient. Though, truly, Detah couldn’t figure what she had done.
“Mistress Alenta,” she stepped just into the chamber and greeted politely. She clutched her eblan-rod, grateful to have this to hold.
Mistress Alenta took her time eyeing her. So what would she criticise this time? With her free hand Detah tugged again at the apron.
“Eblan Detah. Do come in, girl, do. You stand there looking like a log in a cornfield.”
But where, exactly, was she to stand? There were beds, there were chests. And there were three women not usually in here. Detah sidled into the space between the door and a chest, back against the inner wall.
“I’ve had Ublamn move your bed into the eblann-chamber,” Mistress Alenta said.
As well, then, that it wasn’t an Alisime slap-boarded bed (that couldn’t be moved without full dismantling). But Detah had already seen it, and was happy with it. Better that (despite Shunamn’s feet) than sharing with Drea and Jaljena. To share with the grain-women now wouldn’t be right.
“We have added a bed for Eblan Erspn, since he is to be here until the Ulvregan . . . the burial.”
Detah nodded. “Aye, so my eblan-master has told me.”
“My eblan-master,” Mistress Alenta echoed, and heavily sighed. “Yet at least you’ve the sense to seek out their head man. He understands the granary’s needs. He’s granary-family.”
Detah could easily supply what wasn’t said. That Shunamn wasn’t kin, wasn’t granary, was too much Alisime in his ways.
“I have to say, you chose your time,” Drea sneered.
“Nothing that’s happened is by my choosing.” She just then had noticed a dreg-slicked brew-bowl by Drea’s left foot. She guessed it the remains of some calming potion. “Believe me, I’d not even thought of it. It was Mistress Hegrea. She advised it.”
“Mistress Hegrea?” Mistress Alenta repeated. “You’re claiming it’s by her inspiration? Then I am doubly pleased. Aye, fully pleased that you’ve become . . . . eblan.”
Had she too been sipping at potions? Whatever it was had wiped the sarcasm from her. Perhaps a word with Haldalda to provide this potion more often? It might yet bring peace to Ardy’s lodge. But that was unkind. Yet she’d not been alone in feeling the cut of Mistress Alenta’s temper.
“So, my youngest is not to be a grain-woman. Hmm. I never thought I’d live to say this, but that’s good. An eblan now, we no longer need worry of you. And our Hallowed Mistress surely knows, I’ve enough concerns without you.”
What? That wasn’t expected. Everything with Detah suddenly stopped. Her breathing. Her constant fidgeting—only noticed when it annoyed Mistress Alenta. She felt her mouth drop.
“What Mistress Alenta means to say,” Old Apsan said quickly, “is that these Ulishvregan deaths have unsettled the granary. Who knows what now will happen to us. We’re just pleased to have you settled as an eblan so we’ll need not to include you in . . . in our concerns.”
She might well stumble, her words were no better said. Though Detah knew what they meant by it yet somewhere, inside her, their words drew pain.
“Aye, you need no longer think of me,” she said, “—despite the eblan looks to her own family for support. Aye, and in return she supports them.” She repeated the eblan-duties, just so they would understand what she meant, that she wasn’t being as sarcastic as Mistress Alenta’s renown. “The eblan’s first duty is to the Mistress Inspiration, and she inspires in return. The second duty is the family of birth. The third is to the Eblan Society. The fourth eblan-duty is to the Alsime of Alisalm-land. The fifth to all Alsime people wherever they’re found.” She supposed these last referred to the Alsime living north of the Jinnigrits. “So, though it’s true that, while you need never concern yourselves with me as you would were I granary, yet you are still my family.”
“Well, aye, of course we’re your family. And we do most certainly support you,” Mistress Alenta said, and she smiled. (She smiled?) “See that chest beside you, mmm? The box upon it? Would you bring it to me?”
It was a circular box, like a woven-grass drum. It was light, almost as if nothing were in it. Mistress Alenta held out her hands for it.
“My gift to you,” Mistress Alenta offered it back.
But Detah didn’t understand.
“Open it. I’ve had this since I was first the Granary Mistress here. A gift, as I pass it to you. May it be of more use to you than it has been to me.”
Still Detah did not understand. She pulled off the tight-fitting lid, stiff to yield.
“No one has yet said of which bird you’ll take,” said Mistress Alenta. “But the heron is the granary bird—that and the swan.”
It wasn’t a bonnet, she was glad of that (she had feared). Her fingers slipped beneath it—it was a mere slip of a cap. But still Detah was perplexed. And more so by the feathers. “These aren’t off the heron.”
The heron’s feathers were smoky-grey, paling to blue. These had almost the same autumnal cast as her hair. Amongst them were others darker yet, the purple of the approaching night-sky. She held it out at arm’s length to allow the crest-feathers to trail. As black as the darkest storm cloud, they were.
“The feathers, I’m told, are off a heron that dwells far to the east,” Mistress Alenta said.
“No, they’re not heron,” Detah repeated, now feeling sick at the disappointment.
“No, Detah, you’re wrong.” It was Master Bukarn. He stood at the chamber’s door. “I gathered these feathers myself. I had them made in to that hat for Mistress Alenta. Our heron’s the grey-heron, while these feathers are off the fire-heron.”
“You . . . gathered them?” That astounded her. “From far to the . . . the east?” She had heard all his tales. If from the east, then they must be from the Dal.
“I too have a gift for you,” he said. “If you have thanked Mistress Alenta.”
“I’ve one too,” Drea said though she sounded three quarters the way to sleep. “Might it wait till the morrow?”
“Mistress Alenta, I thank you. It confuses . . . I’d not known of this gifting.” She could recall no gifts for Demekn.
“It seemed right,” Mistress Alenta said. “Now your father is waiting.”
This was indeed a rare day. Not only the gifts, but seldom did Mistress Alenta allow Master Bukarn the title of father.
Her father, Master Bukarn, led her into his stores, lighting the lamps as he passed them. He’d said he too had a gift for her. She couldn’t guess what. A length of wool weaving for when she was rid of these Alisime clothes? She could hope. Beads? But no, he’d not make of her an Ulvregan.
He gave her a woven rush basket. It was wide and deep and awkward to hold. Yet like her mother’s gift, it too was light.
“What is it?”
He laughed. “You have only to open the lid.”
She sat on a big wooden box, the basket set on her knees.
“No,” he said. “You’d do best with the basket set on the box, then you can kneel.”
She looked up at him. And followed his suggestion.
She grinned when she saw. Then she laughed, hands burrowing deep.
“Whoa!” he laughed. “You’ll have them everywhere.”
“You think that I’d count them?”
“You’d count them if intended for trade.”
“They’re enough to make you an eblan-cloak.”
She couldn’t believe it. The basket was full to its lid with feathers off that same eastern heron. The fire-heron, he’d called it. He had grouped them and tied them into bundles. Tiny soft breast feathers. Longer feathers off the bird’s back. Flight feathers. Those were the ones the eblann most valued. Without those how was she to fly to these other worlds. Brown feathers, copper feathers, purple-night feathers. Wearing her cloak she would look like the clouds caught by the sun’s death. She kept covering her mouth, laughing and chuckling.
“Eblan Erspn says he wants you in your eblan-cloak for the Ulvregan burial.”
That stopped her laughing, remembering the deaths. “He knew you were to gift me these? But . . . isn’t it wrong to be gifted the feathers?”
“It is true, it’s more usual for the eblan’s bird to make the gift.” Detah swirled round at the sound of her master’s voice. Eblan Erspn stood in the doorway.
“While the eblan decides the bird, it’s the Mistress approves it. The bird then begins to drop its feathers where the eblan can find them.”
“So the Mistress doesn’t want me to share the grey heron?” She’d no need to say with whom she’d be ‘sharing’. All eblann knew it was Eblan Hegrea’s own bird. “But this bird comes from another land.”
“Well I’d say that’s apt,” Erspn said, “—for an eblan who wants to travel. Maybe the Mistress approves of that too? Your brother also has something for you, but I’d not disturb him at the moment. He’s with Shunamn.”
She nodded. But she couldn’t still her hands, her thoughts, her words. “I am right, aren’t I? This of these gifts, it isn’t usual.”
“So much bad news of late,” Master Bukarn said. “Maybe we feel the need to celebrate.”
“You’re the first eblan-woman since Eblan Hegrea,” Erspn said. “Is that not something?”
Oh, but the way he was looking at her. Such expectation. And what was she but a girl, thirteen winters-seen, who wanted to travel and trade and ride horses and not be a granary-keeper. She was sure she’d disappoint him.
Next episode: Your Sons
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