The truvidiren have said that all those contesting the Games are to arrive at the King’s Hold on the Highlands of the Sun no later than the second day of Kassis’s Genet. The Games are to be held the next day. But, as the Saram-equipped Ingobo says, with no dawn nor dusk, no Palamon nor Sauën, how are they to count the days and be certain of them? . . . Read on
I didn’t yet know if there would be candidates other than me. But if there were, and if they came from afar, then surely none would think unkindly of them if they arrived earlier than need be. Indeed, the truvidiren had said there would be lodgings and food available for them. But they’d be sure to laugh at me if I arrived before the need, for I had such a short way to come.
So, as the day of the Games drew closer, so I began to fret. When I should have been anxious of my sword-play or my riding skills, there I was worrying myself to sickness over what day it was, afraid I would either arrive too early and draw their laughter, else arrive too late. It was my father who suggested that I got a-back that horse Bukplugn’s kin had generously lent me, and ride over to the King’s Hold. It was no distance along the broad-way.
It’s as well that I did. When I asked the first truvidir I met what day this was, he answered that, could we see Sauën she’d be in the first of Kassis’s Genet. No! I rode home fast as I dared in the Darkness and prepared myself for the morrow.
The next day I returned, ready to give my name, my clan and my place of origin. Timely arrived, they would not look disapprovingly on me.
The truvidiren looked with surprise at me when I said I came from Bisaplan’s Land.
“It was hardly worth you coming here,” said the one who recorded my name—which meaning I mistook and I blushed.
“The Games are being held at Isle Ardy,” he explained. “Isn’t that on Bisaplan’s kin-land?”
The other truvidir answered him before I’d as much as prepared my mouth. “Aye it is. But he still needs to be here. There’s the banquet tonight; he shouldn’t miss that. And we need to know how many candidates there’ll be.”
“How many are there?” I asked.
“Now you’ve arrived, eleven. There may be more as yet to come.”
Eleven! That wasn’t how I’d imagined it. Had Saram called on all of them? Had he drawn us all together? And if so, why? Saram knew who the True Heir was; why could he not have told that one and that one alone, the way that I thought he had told me? Aye well, maybe he had. Maybe I was the only one he had spoken to in such a way, with signs. Maybe the other ten candidates were nothing more than hopeful.
“The others are in the King’s House,” the truvidir said, waving his hand in that direction. “Your horse can be left with the others. Over there,” he gestured again, this time in the opposite direction, “in the King’s Stables. There’s to be a banquet tonight, the King’s Wife will be serving brew. So I’ll say to you as I’ve said to them all. Do not drink too much. Else you’ll be ill and regret it.”
I vowed not a drop would touch my lips.
The truvidir laughed, saying, “It’s only at the feasts that we use straws.”
I wanted to answer him, ‘Aye, but it’s only we Alsimuk and the Eskin who sup it thus.’ The plant-clans, they call us. The others—Querkant, Bukplugent and Krisvint—they use big drinking-pots.
I had been to this King’s Hold on the Highlands many times, both as a child with my father when he was delivering the King’s Takes, and also alone when I came of age. That had been but a trik before that ugly black worm had risen up out of the north and spread his wings across our land, covering us in perpetual night. So I knew which building was the King’s House. I knew which were the doors to use—the double-doors set deep in the porch. But, despite the truvidir had waved his arm in that direction, I wasn’t at all sure of how to find the stables. The perpetual Darkness did nothing to help me. But Kottir did.
At the time, Kottir was just a man who happened to be close enough to see when I tripped on an old tree-stump and my shield flew out of my hand and up into the air, spinning before it landed ahead of me.
“I’d take that as an omen,” he said. He was laughing.
He picked up the shield and returned it to me.
“Am I in the right direction for the stables?” I asked him.
“You’re nearly there,” he said. “Here, let me carry something for you. You look as if you’re unused to carrying so much.”
“I’m used to a staff, a spear, a prod and a sling,” I said.
He nodded his understanding. “So you don’t want to spend your days in herding either.”
“I was happy to do just that,” I told him, “until the Darkness came. But someone has to do something about that Draksen.”
He nodded again, and took my sword and dagger from me while I tended to the horse Heglayis.
“These have been well-crafted,” he remarked, looking more closely at them, turning them over in his hands.
I knew what he was thinking: How did a simple Alsimuk herder come by these?
“They were a gift,” I said.
“From one who obviously believes you will win,” he said, handing them back to me once I’d finished with Heglayis.
“Kottir,” he introduced himself, “from Du Dlida. My father’s a trader. Clan Bukplugn.”
I glanced back at Heglayis, Clan Bukplugn too.
“So he’s a borrowed horse?” Kottir asked without the need for clearly he already knew. “A borrowed horse and gifted weapons. Someone wants you to win.”
“Saram,” I said.
“Oh well,” he said, “if Saram intends for you to win, the rest of us may as well go home.”
“I admit I’m surprised at how many are here,” I said.
“It makes for a good display,” Kottir said. His eyes had a way of sparkling as if they were laughing of their own accord. But that laughter was encouraging, not ill-meant. “Saram enjoys a good display. So I am told.”
By now we were walking back to the King’s House. I was surprised at Kottir’s friendliness. I wondered if the other candidates would be as friendly.
Will the other candidates be as friendly as Kottir? But Kottir knows he will win, and can afford to be friendly. While Ingobo, young, untried, and awkwardly laden with Saram’s gifts to him, is a guaranteed target for mockery and scorn. Next episode, Consternations and Accusations