Alsalda—a Neolithic fantasy:…
Will Mistress Drea agree to the wants of Commander Horsemaster Krisnavn? Will he be able to convince her the need and the sense of it? And will he ever be able to woo her and wed her? Indeed, will any of these questions be answered in this episode . . .? Read on.
Detah glared at Drea, sat there beside Eblan Erspn, close-mouthed, everything sharp of her. She didn’t deserve for Detah to feel sorry for her, feel guilty that she, as an eblan, hadn’t the piling concerns that Drea, as First Granary Mistress, must not only carry but find their solution. But Drea wasn’t even trying. She was screaming like an infant denied the teat. She didn’t even attempt to crawl. Detah doubted she’d understand if she told her sister to walk. She turned away in disgust, shoulders thrust back, head held up. She’d made a decision: there’d be no more pity coming from her. She would no more feel guilty about being an eblan. An eblan was a good thing to be. As an eblan she served the Alsime, not only her squalling teat-sucking sister. She felt better for deciding that. Now she could give her attention to her eblan-master. Eblan Erspn was asking Commander Krisnavn of this help he had said he required off Drea.
Eblan Erspn was disappointed—Detah knew that by his voice. She knew he had wanted to play with this Saramequai horsemaster who hoped to be their unwanted king. And Eblan Erspn could play him too, like a fish on the line—as long as he was careful not to prod him too hard. Eblan Erspn had likened himself to a cat in the granary, and talked of Commander Krisnavn as being his mouse. He had found the intruder’s weakness: Commander Krisnavn must not fail. Eblan Erspn had listed the reasons. Because Commander Krisnavn’s failure would be death for King Tanisven, his brother. Because not only would Commander Krisnavn be failing his people but also the truvidiren who had trained him. And he would be failing Saram, his Father, who first had chosen him. That was a heavy burden to bear. Eblan Erspn then had asked Demekn what would happen if, unlikely though he agreed it would be, the Alsime resisted and defeated the commander’s band of trained killers.
“Saram would choose another and the newly-chosen would kill the commander.”
At that Eblan Erspn had chuckled. “I’d say being killed by his successor would ruin the commander’s day—which makes him especially eager to gain our acceptance. Oh, I’m not suggesting such a rebellion, no. I enjoy the summers, the warmth, the smell of the flowers, sweet fruits. I’ll not risk losing that yet. But why we should offer this land without first his earning it? No, I’m seeing here, shall we say, friendliness twisted through with . . .” for a moment he sucked on his lip “. . . with a measure of awkwardness, say.”
Yet here he was, and as yet he’d hardly said a word. Detah had been right when she’d said to leave any awkwardness to Drea. Though she’d only said it in jest.
Detah was disappointed, too, in herself. She couldn’t control it. He had but to look at her and whoosh! Everything inside her tumbling. And her face broke into a smile even though she tried to frown. Aye-yi, let’s tell everyone here that I’m smitten. Her face burned at the thought. She told herself to pay attention, to watch and to listen. Aye, that ought to rid her of this delusion.
So she watched. She watched the black feathers bib-n-bob atop Commander Krisnavn’s fire-braided head as he acknowledged Eblan Erspn’s helpful query with a definite dip.
“As you know, I have men, and horses,” Commander Krisnavn said. “As you know, these both need feeding. So I need grain, I need meat—goats would be good, I see that you have them.”
“Aye, take them from the granary, why don’t you,” huffed Drea.
Eblan Erspn nodded. “She has said. You have heard.”
Commander Krisnavn cocked his head. Detah couldn’t help but see the honour in him. Aye, Drea had said—but in such a tone it could hardly be taken as agreement. Yet Eblan Erspn had also said. And if this were the Dal, Eblan Erspn would be titled Chief Truvidir.
“You have men,” Shunamn said with copied cocked head. “Where are they? You’ve not brought them this time. Tucked them away? Then best you keep them tucked, and no place near to our Alisime women. Else come the Feast of Winter Ending we’ll be playing ‘Chase the Saramequai’s Severed Balls’. You understand, you with your skewed Alisime-talk?”
Detah saw the crinkle of amusement around Commander Krisnavn’s Saram-blue eyes. She heard his amusement in his reply.
“Should any stray, then I’ll do the cutting—but for skiving their duties. We build a barracks above South River. South of the Meet. Just short of the Sometimes Stream.”
“The Ancients Land,” Eblan Erspn said, and Detah heard his satisfaction. He nodded, but controlled his smirk. She sighed. Would she ever learn that degree of control? Yet she must. She couldn’t continue with this all-too revealing ‘glance at the man and grin inanely’ stuff.
“We’re told only Ulvregan hold land there,” Commander Krisnavn said. “I will not have my men under your feet.”
Shunamn sniffed. “I’m more concerned about them having our women under their—”
“I understand your fear,” Commander Krisnavn cut in. “Young markons, veins running with fire. But I assure you, if any seek out a woman it’ll be an Ulvregan. And enough of our Uestin women live amongst them. Now, there is something else.”
“You do surprise me,” Drea remarked, her head turned pointedly away.
“If I am to secure your bounds,” said Commander Krisnavn, “first I must know their run.”
“Well that’s simple,” Eblan Erspn said.
Detah waited. Now was his chance. How complicated would he make it? The Alisalm bounds in themselves were awkward, even for the Alsime.
“They run,” he said, hands up ready to draw lines in the air, “from the Hiëmen Sea—there to the south. Across there by the east to the Water of Waters—there in the north. From the Waters—there—along to First Water’s joining—you following me here? And back by the west to the Hiëmen Sea where our bounds end—there—at Dividing River. Aye, all this is Alisalm-land.” Eblan Erspn nodded his satisfaction.
“No, you misunderstand me,” Commander Krisnavn said.
Detah smiled—but not at the way Eblan Erspn had confounded Commander Krisnavn; at the crinkling around those Saram-blue eyes. Commander Krisnavn wasn’t annoyed. He was amused!
“No, that will not do for me,” he said. “I need to ride along the bounds. I need to see the land, to see where the weaknesses which might need strengthening. To see where the strengths which we might use.”
“Ride?” Eblan Erspn’s brows beetled, lines carving deep into his skull. He waggled his head. “No. That’s . . . Aye, well may as well ask to ride the clouds, it’s more easily done. Aye, that’s asking an awkward thing. To ride, not to walk, you say? And all the way round? But . . . see, no man walks another’s bounds.”
“Then I’ll be the first,” Commander Krisnavn said. “If I am to secure the bounds I must have knowledge of them.”
Detah chewed hard on her lip. But that didn’t stop the grin from escaping. Eblan Erspn thought himself wily, but he wasn’t as wily as Commander Horsemaster Krisnavn. This Saramequai commander could easily have out-dealt even the granary-master. At that thought her grin vanished. Aye, and that’s exactly what he had done. She returned to listening and watching, now everything sober of her, both inside and out.
“Do you not see,” Eblan Erspn complained at him. “You cannot go traipsing around family bounds.” Detah thought him no longer playing, his talk now was in earnest. But then came the twist, said straight-faced with sincerity. “Not without having an eblan with you.”
Detah’s pride in her eblan-master swelled. It mattered not that Commander Krisnavn suspected their play, for what Eblan Erspn had said was the truth—as now he was explaining. Commander Krisnavn was a stranger; he looked strange, especially to Alisime eyes. The Alsime, not knowing who or what he was, nor why he was there, were sure to take a weapon to him.
“I’ve been told of this trespass law,” Commander Krisnavn said. “But it’s not our intent—”
“I’m not talking trespass,” Eblan Erspn cut in. “That in a snap would have your head on a post. No, it’s more the strangeness of you and where you’d be going—and you’re no good to us dead. You want to see our bounds, then best you take an eblan with you.”
And who would Eblan Erspn offer for this? It had to be Shunamn; he would be perfect. In his not liking the Uestin, the Dal, the horsemen, he would eagerly entangle Commander Krisnavn in knots.
Though, now Detah thought more of it, that might be over-playing the game. As Eblan Erspn just said, Commander Krisnavn was no good to them dead. They did have a need of him. There was no denying: those Kerdolan were on northern bounds and . . . She stopped. She pondered. True, the Kerdolan were building a trading-hold along North Rib, close to the Waters. But how did that affect them now that the northern granaries were no longer trading? That wily Commander Krisnavn! And they had fallen for his portentous talk of this dire situation.
“It’s not that an eblan can go wherever he pleases,” Eblan Erspn was saying. “He, as much as another, is subject to our trespass law. But the Alsime respect the eblann, and they’ll not kill one just ‘cause one’s strayed onto their land.”
Detah looked from Eblan Erspn to Commander Krisnavn. Now what would Commander Krisnavn say? He’d no choice but to accept Eblan Erspn’s offer of an eblan to ride with him. She chuckled—for Shunamn never would get on a horse. No, he’d insist on walking. That would delay their bounds-riding. Aye, awkward, and neat as a feather pie.
“I appreciate you explaining this to me, and I thank you, Eblan Erspn,” said Commander Krisnavn. “And you are right, I’ve no wish to upset the Alsime. I’ve also no wish for an arrow through my thigh. So might you suggest an eblan to be our guide. You are their Head Man.”
Detah looked from Commander Krisnavn back to Eblan Erspn, her grin barely contained.
“How do you travel? You said ride? Up on a horse?” Eblan Erspn’s indrew his breath, sizzling with disapproval. “So I can’t offer one of our older eblann. You’ll get none of them to agree to get up on a horse. How many go with you? Is this to be you and you alone?”
Detah’s brows tightened. That wasn’t what she’d thought he would say. So now what had he in mind?
Commander Krisnavn glanced aside to his two captains. “Horsemasters Biadret and Megovis will accompany me. We shall be three.”
“Three.” Eblan Erspn nodded. “I’m told your truvidiren hold that number as hallowed, as do we eblann. A fourth would spoil it.”
“Yet four gives stability,” Commander Krisnavn replied. “Four are the posts of the House of Saram.”
“Ah, and there we must differ. Creation stems from the circle,” said Eblan Erspn. “But, you ask for an eblan. I can offer you two. There’s Eblan Demekn. As you know, he’s well versed in your Dal ways, fluent in your Uestuädik tongue. But, I have to say this of him: He’s woefully wanting in all things Alisime. I doubt he even could say whose land is neighbouring our own.”
“It’s Skakem society,” Demekn offered, offended.
“Aye. But their ancestress?”
When Demekn didn’t answer Eblan Erspn looked at Shunamn instead. But neither had he the answer.
Without a thought she answered, proud as ever to display her knowledge. “That’s Matsinha’s Land. Except it never used to abut Bisaplan’s this close. Those last two family holds are intruded.”
“See? Our Eblan Detah knows more of these Alisime lands than do any that I’ve ever met. She knows the bounds, she knows our ways, she knows the accompanying stories. She also is fluid in your tongue, as I believe you’ve discovered.”
Detah looked at her eblan-master, eyes narrowed. What was he saying? Was she mishearing? But he couldn’t possibly offer her as the eblan to ride—to ride!—with Commander Krisnavn around the bounds. Her thoughts danced that dance she’d seen at the Send-Off Feast, all weaving together and all confusion.
“Though your eblan-master offers you, I cannot accept you without your agreement,” Commander Krisnavn said with his Saram-blue eyes keen upon her. “So, Eblan Detah, will you accompany us?”
She couldn’t answer—she couldn’t talk, she’d lost her voice. She tried to swallow but nothing happened. “I’ve . . .” she croaked. “I’ve not sat on a horse. I . . . How?”
He smiled. Not mocking but kindly. “If that’s your only objection . . . I’m a horsemaster; it’s not only the horses I train. Every markon must be trained to it. You’ll be fine.”
So Detah is to go riding the bounds with Commander Horsemaster Krisnavn, with intent to confuse and confound him. Will she succeed?
Or will something, first, stand in her way—such as her sister, Mistress Drea?