The savage Nritrin have invaded the Heath, have taken, tortured and killed King Puchelt. Markenys and his master Truvidir Biädtren have fled, in fear for their lives. Yet, as Markenys has said, the Heath isn’t a large land to lose oneself in; Where do they go, how escape . . . Read on.
Surrounded by the Nritrin and their allies, we took our only direction, Truvidir Biädtren and I, and fled westward. Our first intent was to follow the Way; this would deliver us directly into West Alsime Land. But that wasn’t to be.
The Way runs like an arrow across the land, from horizon to horizon without a bend. And it offered no cover for us. Two travellers on foot, we were too easily seen.
We fled yet further westward, to the Eskit Province of Enir Cobi that abuts the Way. There Lord Tacauïss generously provided us food and shelter. But we couldn’t remain in Enir Cobi. Though amongst the richest provinces of the Alsaldic Lands, with numerous high-yielding grain-fields to the east and good hunting woodlands to the west, yet it was governed by just the one lord and he already had a truvidir and wasn’t looking for more. What could we do? We requested two river-boats.
The Eskin aren’t skilled in making boats such as the Alsimuk make. When we collected them from the boat-maker our spirits fell. No light framed bowl-boats these but heavy constructions. Neither I nor Truvidir Biädtren much relished the prospect of having to lug them between the rivers. So we chose our route with care.
Using only three rivers, and with the shortest of passes between them, we went from Enir Gobi to Un Dli to Cobi Go, whence North Branch took us to the Waters. How we sang! We were almost back in West Alsime Land! We went straight to the King’s Hold on the Highlands. We had a report to make to Chief Truvidir Ekmon.
Chief Truvidir Ekmon smiled a sickly smile. “But why come all this way to make your report. Have you no doves to bring it to me?”
I could have cried! Had the man not heard what Truvidir Biädtren had said of death and destruction wrought by the Nritrin? Yet he asked of the doves!
All truvidiren had doves, twelve given by the Chief Truvidir on completion of training. And wherever the doves were taken (be it even as far north as Porcynnis) once released from their cages those doves would return, straightway, to the Chief Truvidir. It’s how we truvidiren sent our reports, using the same ticks and crosses as did the law-men when recording the King’s Takes—a means of recording taught us by the King’s Wives. So, aye, we’d had doves—but we’d had to leave them behind when we fled. Did Chief Truvidir Ekmon not understand? We’d had to flee for our lives!
“Have you any idea, Chief Truvidir, what it is like to watch—as we had to watch—as the king’s children are hacked to pieces and fed to the dogs?” Truvidir Biädtren asked him.
Did he know what it was like to hear the cries and screams of women raped before being mutilated by those Nritrin savages? And those were the lucky ones. Less fortunate, those taken and saved till the conquest was over. Those would be given to the Nritrik gods: a three-fold death for their triadic gods, with those offered suffering greatly. It sickened me and even once we had escaped from there, still the sounds and images haunted me. But we’d no need to bring the report: we could have sent doves!
With enough telling, Chief Truvidir Ekmon’s face finally paled, as sickly a white as the grain-plants at the coming of Draksen. “I have need of another truvidir to serve me here,” he told my master. “There’s space for two more in the Truvidiren’s House.”
And that is how I came to be at the King’s Hold when my seven years of serving Truvidir Biädtren were over. That was in the eleventh year of King Rufiäl’s reign. I did not want to leave that hold—it had become home to me. I kept hoping that King Rufiäl’s truvidir would die and he’d need another. But his truvidir, Diktenys, remained disappointingly healthy. I asked the Chief Truvidir, so well-supplied with information from across the Alsaldic Lands, if there was a king, a lord, a chief or an eldliks who had need of a truvidir.
“Truvidir Piëtrys died a trik ago, did he not?” he said.
Aye, Truvidir Piëtrys had died—we’d not long buried him, less than a decan ago. “But what has that to do with me?”
“I have need of another truvidir—if you will stay with me.”
I had to remember to breathe. I closed my eyes and looked up to Saram, praising him, thanking him, promising him the sweetest of gifts. In the dark of my head I even praised Uät, for surely he’d had something to do with this, too. And feeling Sauën’s heat on my face, I praised her as well.
But how had this happened? I was not only a truvidir, but now had become one of the Chief Truvidir’s own truvidiren, lodging here in the Truvidiren’s House, within the King’s Hold, on the Highlands of the Sun, when I had only taken that first step of this journey in a bid to escape serving the Four as a markon. I’ll grant it had been a long journey, filled with indecision, guided by others who saw more than I. Yet I had arrived here, and here was where I wanted to be.
I served Chief Truvidir Ekmon until four years ago, when he died.
It never occurred to me that I could become the next Chief Truvidir.
Almost all truvidiren had served longer than me, seen more, were surely much wiser. Indeed, some of those truvidiren at the King’s Hold were ancient: white haired and gnarled, bent and [dare I say it] crotchety. With my mere forty-three years seen, I was a youngster. Yet when we gathered to make our choices it was I who had the most votes. I think Truvidir Biädtren wasn’t happy at that.
At the time I thought it most likely that those older truvidiren didn’t want the Chief’s role. I supposed it would be tiring for them, and so they had voted for me. But that wasn’t so.
I had heard of Uissid Tizarn—and who has not who has lived any time at the King’s Hold on the Highlands. Uissid Tizarn is credited as the master of every great and memorable truvidir—especially those who became Chief Truvidiren. But also my family told stories of him: he had been Truvidir Demekn’s own master. But, no, this could not be. No man lives for six hundred years. And so I reasoned this Uissid Tizarn was no more than a title (as Buädhir Markenys had once been mine)—until I met him.
He—Uissid Tizarn—was to be my master. I was to be his slave. I tell it truly! I could never escape him; I even lived with him—He had a chamber within my chamber, within the Truvidiren’s House. It was a hidden chamber, with a hidden door by which he could enter and leave without being seen. Oh, it was cleverly concealed—I could barely find it. And there he taught me the rest of what I needed to be the Chief Truvidir.
I can speak freely of this now because he is dead but, before, I had to keep quiet of it: Uissid Tizarn wasn’t human. He was one of the Immortals. And how many were there?—Are there still? According to Uissid Tizarn, Kared (who had been queen of the Kerdolan) was an Immortal. Queen Yoisea’s father—whoever he may have been—he’d been the grandson of an Immortal, by name Amblushe. King Ithen, too, of the Nritrin was one of them—though Uissid Tizarn didn’t know that till it was too late.
He told me all about his kind: what they can do that we cannot; how they gave rise to the Brictan breed and what these Brictans can do that we cannot. He told me their needs. He told me how they can be killed, immortal though they are. He told me how he used his ‘tricks’ as he called them to gather information. Aye, as Chief Truvidir I had my own network of informants, supplied with their doves, but his ‘trick’ was different. He took what he wanted from out of heads. He didn’t even need to be close to them. He could extract from a considerable distance—though as the distance increased so his ability failed. But when the Darkness came it put an end to this. And though he regained it, by then it was too late.
He told me how he could influence those about him—another ‘trick’. Aye, it was this ‘trick’ that made me the new Chief Truvidir. He had wanted me there.
“Why me?” I asked.
“You were the best of the choice.”
That didn’t flatter me. But then, Uissid Tizarn never went out of his way to flatter; he hadn’t the need.
He told me—and this came as a shock—how it was he who set the Alsaldic Laws, not any of the truvidiren. And it was he who opened the way to the New King, calling the New King’s truvidir to him. He was in constant contact with the truvidiren assigned to the noble families from whence came the kings. He knew from the moment of a man’s birth whether that one had potential as king, and he directed the truvidiren accordingly.
“Have you never wondered why so many of your masters directed your feet to the next step of your journey?” he asked me.
Because he, Uissid Tizarn, had guided them. But when had he known?
“At the time of your birth.”
And we say it’s the Mothers who set the course of our lives?
But for all his wondrous abilities, Uissid Tizarn faded almost to nothing beneath Draksen’s dark wings.
So Uissid Tizarn is the puppet master, revealed. But what is this Darkness of Draksen’s wings? Is it some curse sent to befoul the Alsaldic Empire by the savage Nritrik invaders? Or has it a more mundane explanation? Next episode, The Thirty-First Alsaldic King