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.”
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