Chief Truvidir Markenys is in a panic. Despite, with the approach of winter’s half, the seaways are increasingly storm-tossed, he’d not have King Kottir and Queen Bregan return via the Way. But why not? Of course, we do know that East Isle lies alongside it . . . Read on
(You might find it useful to check out this Map of the Alsaldic Land, if you haven’t already)
At the same time as I received the message from King Butalkin’s truvidir, I also received messages from the truvidiren serving Lord Lyessen of Cobi Fu and Lord Blimt of Un Dli. There was trouble along the Way: attacks on travellers—traders for the most part. So far no one knew who the culprits; a spread of hacked-off body parts cannot bear witness. My guess was King Burdamon’s men, his or King Ithen’s. I wondered whether to report to Uissid Tizarn. Yet surely he’d already know? I decided to report it anyway.
“So it begins,” he said.
“Well, is King Burdamon responsible for this?” I asked. “Or King Ithen?”
He shrugged. “Really, does it matter which? Have you sent the Regiment to patrol the Way?”
“I intend to,” I told him.
“Where is the king?” he asked.
Have you word of how they’ll return?” he asked.
“I assume they’ll travel eastward, taking in the northern North Eskin Provinces before returning via the Way.”
“But they mustn’t,” he said, and for once I detected a hint of fear.
“I’ve had the same thought,” I said. “Though I suppose they’ll be safe as far as Anyo Lia . . . Cobi Ria . . . and Enir Boeme. Just as long as they don’t venture over to Cobi Fu. That would take them too close, by far, to the Way.”
Uissid Tizarn huffed (an unusual sound from him). “I would rather they didn’t go anywhere else, not yet. They’ll leave themselves too far away. Next thing we’ll know they’ll be sailing off to Porcynnis.”
“Porcynnis is part of Meksuin’s governance,” I said. “They’ve no reason to go so far.”
“Aye, well, it’s time to bring them home. I want them safely back in West Alsime Land. You’ll need send a messenger,” he said.
“I had intended—”
“Send more than that,” Uissid Tizarn said, standing, sitting, pacing.
“You know something else?” I asked.
He shook his head. I thought him angry.
“Distance,” he said. “Such a limitation, blurring when I need everything sharp and precise. Something is happening in the east but I don’t know what. There’s an Immortal, and I’m sure he’s one of the Uissids. Yet it can only be Yewlen or Gwemo. And I ask, would Gwemo do this? Aye, but Yewlen might. Even when we were the Tuädik Three he was beginning to show signs of—Aye-yi-yi, it’s too frustrating by far! I’d rather we faced an Immortal I didn’t know, not Yewlen. He and I were . . . we were close in those days. He knows me as I know him and that makes him the most dangerous of enemies.”
“I’ll have the Regiment send a message to King Kottir,” I said as I eyed Uissid Tizarn with curiosity and caution. “And I’ll have the Regiment send men to guard them as they make their way home. Though the sea now is—but there’s Long North River . . .”
Within the same day I then received a second report. The Mothers had blessed Queen Bregan; she was to bear King Kottir’s child. All being well, it would be born in time for the Feast of Trees. Their homecoming would see such celebrations!
But Uissid Tizarn heel-slapped his head when I reported to him. And that slap was hard, I thought. He shook his head—I assumed to clear the pain.
“What is it?” I asked.
“Why had I not thought of it? I should have! Oh, with the lower degrees, just Brictans, it doesn’t much matter. Indeed, was a time West Alsime Land was full of same-blood begets, all claiming Luin or his sister in their glunan. But a second and a third degree Brictan? That’s . . . that could be dangerous.” For a moment he looked particularly glum before, briefly, he brightened. “Well, at least we know they don’t share a source; they’re not close in blood.”
“No,” I said without knowing what I was agreeing.
“No, you wouldn’t know, would you,” he said.
I hated him when he did that. He made me feel like some un-tutored assistant law-man. And of course, I had to ask. “Know what?”
“About the mixing of the immortal substance. Though we Immortals, ourselves, can’t bed each other—at least not productively, but for the others, it doesn’t always come out so well. I tell you, Markenys, the ghastly monsters I’ve seen begotten upon close-blooded Brictans . . . mercifully for all concerned they seldom live long. But a third degree begetting a child upon a second? Yet they are of different bloods. No, they ought to be . . . no-no-no, no need to panic, all will be well. Won’t it?”
Why was he asking me? He’d already said I wouldn’t understand.
“Aye-yi!” he shook his immortal head. “But I should have thought of this before. Please dear Mothers: don’t let them beget a monster. What will the people say to that? It would have to be killed at once—not that such monsters are easily disposed of. Oh! Oh, Markenys, what have I done?”
I had never seen he so troubled, and he the one always saying not to fret.
“I’m sure everything will be normal,” I said.
“But you’ve not seen what I have seen. I do wonder about the stories these days that come out of Bayland. They speak of little bitty-men; they speak of hideous giants.” Then he suddenly laughed. “Yet they say the women are lookers! I’ve never heard stories of ugly daen women. Have you?”
“I’m not sure I know what you mean,” I said.
“Oh but you do,” he said. “You forget; I know that you do.”
That same day I organised messengers to bear word of the troubles along the Way and advising King Kottir to return by Long North River. I also dispatched an entire division of the Regiment to Meksuin’s Land, with instructions to bring the Alsaldic King and his Queen safely back to West Alsime Land.
“How long will it take—when can we expect them?” I asked the commander who took my orders.
“Five days hard-riding there?” he said. “Perhaps a trik to bring them home.”
“What, by water? A whole trik? Can it not be done faster?”
“We have a slight problem,” the commander said. “Even with backing winds-an-all, there’s no hope of the fleet reaching Meksuin’s Land in time, before the King and his Queen move on. Thus I have to send markan. But then how are these markan to travel back? You ever seen a horse afloat in one of those river-boats. Indeed, have you ever seen a big enough river-boat to take a horse, even a newborn?” And did he realise to whom he spoke, explaining to me as if I were an idiot. “Therefore, to escort the King and his Queen safely down Long North River my markan must ride alongside that river. And in some places that’s not so easy. Have you ever travelled that river? No, I thought not. To do as you’ve asked will not be as easy as you’ve supposed it. But we shall do as required. The King’s safety, as always, is our first concern. One trik, I doubt it can be done in less.”
King Kottir and Queen Bregan reached Long North River’s river-gate on the seventh day of Quenst’s Devone. By the third day of Kassis’s Genet they had reached the King’s Hold at East Bounds. And there Queen Bregan stayed. She refused to travel further, being cast up with the Mother-sickness.
All this I reported to Uissid Tizarn. “I have asked the Regiment to provide extra men to guard the King’s Hold there,” I added.
“So you do listen to me,” he remarked.
I didn’t want to say it but I’d no idea what he meant.
“Queen Bregan is ill, and it’s true she can’t travel further,” he said. “But how convenient to be taken ill so close to the Waters? I believe our enemy is about to move.”
“And that is why I have asked for an extra guard,” I said.
“No, you asked for that because I asked you to,” Uissid Tizarn said.
But that wasn’t true! It was of my own initiative, having used my ability to reason—a faculty well trained and honed from my training as a buädhir—and not because of anything Uissid Tizarn had said. But I kept quiet of it. It sometimes was better.
“And where is King Kottir?” Uissid Tizarn asked.
“He returns to the Highlands,” I said though he must have known this. “The Feast of Slaughter is but three days away.”
And on the eve of that feast young Queen Bregan was stolen away. I was never to see her again.
Reference to the Map of the Alsaldic Land will show that East Hold is, indeed, conveniently placed to be easily accessed by King Burdamon’s men of East Isle—and by the King Ithen’s men from the Nritrin-held eastern lands across the sea. Which of these two has taken her? Next episode, Queen Bregan’s Father