Unable to continue her travels with King Kottir, the pregnant Queen Bregan had remained at East Hold—coincidentally, most conveniently placed for access by both King Burdamon of East Isle and his liege-lord, King Ithen. And now she is missing. While Chief Truvidir Markenys is still musing on which of these two kings might have stolen her, Uissid Tizarn declares that he knows . . . Read on.
“It’s Yewlen, he has her!”
It took me a few moments to realise his meaning. I said, “I’ll fetch King Kottir.”
“No! Sit still. Don’t move.”
“But he must be told. She’s his wife.”
“And Kottir will want to gather his men and go charging after her.”
“And so would I,” I said, “had my wife been stolen and she with-child.”
“Then it’s as well that I am here to guide you,” Uissid Tizarn said. “As yet we don’t know where she has been taken.”
Somewhat calmer, I asked him what else he knew: who had taken her, how and when?
Alas, Uissid Tizarn claimed he knew no more. “Nothing, till suddenly she’s there inside my head and he along with her. He’s her father, I know that now. Oh how slow I have been to connect.”
“You do mean Uissid Yewlen?” I asked. “And you are sure? It couldn’t have been this King Ithen we’ve heard so much about?”
“Stupid man!” he all but spat. “Uissid Yewlen was one of the Three. For eight thousand years we three were as close as any three could be. I know the insides of his head. I’d recognise him anywhere no matter the changes. And those changes were already beginning when we parted five hundred years back.”
Five hundred years, that I could grasp. But eight thousand? That’s as bad as Queen Bregan’s five.
“He is her father,” Uissid Tizarn insisted. “Uissid Yewlen, Bregan’s father.”
But if that were so then he wouldn’t harm her, would he. I said as much to Uissid Tizarn.
“Aye,” he agreed, sounding like he’d suddenly realised it. “No, he won’t harm her. But where has he taken her? And why? We expected this of King Kailen, but . . . Ah! King Kailen? Now I wonder . . .?”
“Might you wonder out loud?” I begged (which earned me an impatient tsk).
“So you think King Kailen has joined forces with your Uissid Yewlen? Is that likely?”
Uissid Tizarn seemed to be growing increasingly impatient with my questions. But I was only trying to help him work out exactly what might have happened, and why.
“Uissid Yewlen is King Ithen,” Uissid Tizarn explained. “And in case you’ve forgotten, King Burdamon is subject to King Ithen, and King Kailen has already had dealings with him—if only for that sword of his.”
“Oh. I see,” I said, and I did. “Then surely our Queen Bregan has been taken to King Burdamon’s Hold?” That seemed the most likely course of events.
“Maybe,” Uissid Tizarn agreed. “But maybe he has taken her across the sea, to Ertlunt. Then how will King Kottir find her, amongst the Nritrin? No, we need to know more. Why have we no truvidiren in the east?”
“Because either they fled, as did I, else King Burdamon has had them slain.” Which answer earned me a tsk.
“Send men,” he said. “A law-man—aye, just the one will do. Send him to East Bounds. He’s to discover entirely what happened. I want to know everything. Every jot.”
“And King Kottir?” I asked, meaning what were we to say to him.
Even as I spoke King Kottir’s name, he burst through the hidden door to Uissid Tizarn’s hidden chamber.
“She’s gone!” he shouted. “He’s taken her.”
I wondered how he knew when Uissid Tizarn had only just said.
“I can feel it,” he said. “It’s like someone ripping my heart out. It hurts, right here.” He banged on his chest with his clenched fist.
“Sit!” Uissid Tizarn commanded. And once King Kottir had sat, he said: “I fear you’re right, though as yet I know as little as you. Except I do know who’s taken her. Chief Truvidir Markenys, here, was about to send one of his law-men to East Bounds to investigate further.”
“Investigate? What good is investigating?” King Kottir was back to his feet. “I want my wife back, she’s carrying my child. I want a division of men. I want the entire Regiment. We’ll march on—”
“Sit down,” said Uissid Tizarn. “And who will you march upon? And before you bark orders, if I were you I’d ask how many markan are left after the slaughter along the Way—sent to guard traders? We don’t need that kind of trade. It’s as well the fleet are left untouched.”
“I want her back, Uissid Tizarn,” King Kottir demanded—though he had again sat. “I want her back alive and in one piece and with my child.”
Well of course he did. But before Uissid Tizarn could say more, there came a hesitant tap at the door. Uissid Tizarn signed me to answer it. It was Truvidir Isbalen.
“It’s Truvidir Isbalen,” I said.
“I know who it is,” Uissid Tizarn snapped. “Let him in. If he stands out there any longer he’ll be seen. Then, after all these years of being secret, my hiding place will be known by all. What are you doing using that door?” he barked at Isbalen. “No, I expect no answer, I already know. You’ve been seeking Chief Truvidir Markenys who’s not in his chamber and so you came seeking me. Well, now that you’ve found him, and me, you’d best have your say.”
“I came to say we’ve had bad news,” Truvidir Isbalen said in an almost-whisper in awe of the Uissid. “Queen Bregan can’t be found anywhere in the King’s Hold at East Bounds. The guards are searching even as we speak. It’s feared she may have fallen into the water. I’m sorry to be the one telling you this,” he tuned to King Kottir. “She liked to walk along the river bank, away from everyone.”
“Along the river bank? Away from everyone? And the guards allowed her this?” King Kottir again stood. Now he paced the room.
“Not allowed,” Isbalen defended the men he’d sent to guard the Queen. “But the Queen can be very wilful at times.”
King Kottir laughed. I suppose he ,more than any, knew exactly how wilful Queen Bregan could be.
“She hasn’t fallen into the water,” Uissid Tizarn assured both King Kottir and Truvidir Isbalen. “She’s alive and in all probability unharmed. She’s with her father, Uissid Yewlen.”
King Kottir let out an enormous sigh. Again he sat on the stool beside me.
Then Uissid Tizarn explained of Uissid Yewlen. “He’s better known to us as the Nritrik King Ithen.” And King Kottir again stood—at which Uissid Tizarn groaned. “I knew there was a reason I didn’t like people in my chamber. Sit! All of you. Else leave.”
I hadn’t done anything other than sit, except when I opened the door, so his angry words weren’t aimed at me. However, King Kottir and Truvidir Isbalen both sat and were quiet, clearly in fear of him. And so they should be: Uissid Tizarn didn’t often shout—he seldom even raised his voice—but when he did I, for one, knew it was time to be quiet and take note. This, Truvidir Isbalen and King Kottir were beginning to learn.
“That’s better,” Uissid Tizarn said. “Now, as far I know Queen Bregan is with her father—”
“Her father’s King Ithen?” King Kottir asked.
“As I have said,” Uissid Tizarn began again, “as far I know, Queen Bregan is with her father. He may have taken her to King Burdamon’s Hold. But then again he may have taken her to his own King’s Hold which, assuming he has one, is almost certainly in Ertlunt, across the sea. Either way, King Kottir, you must give yourself time to think before you act. First you need to know exactly where she is.”
“Well can’t you find her?” King Kottir asked. “Your powers are stronger than mine; can’t you find her that way?”
“Distance,” Uissid Tizarn said. “There’s a limit, and North Branch is it.”
“Could he not have taken her into the Bayland Wilds?” King Kottir asked. “That’s where she said of her father.”
“Aye.” Uissid Tizarn let out a clipped chuckle. “Indeed there are Brictans living in the wildwoods. There may even be an Immortal amongst them. But none are Uissid Yewlen. I’d have known long since if he’d been that close. From what you’ve said, Truvidir Isbalen—that Bregan liked to walk beside First Water—clearly they made use of the Waters to take her. Now, we know King Burdamon’s Hold is at the far end of those Waters, but do we know where?”
“King Bragnos’s old hold?” King Kottir suggested.
“Possibly. Though unlikely. I doubt if the Nritrin want their King of the Marshes so easily found by the Alsaldic King and his Regiment. No, King Burdamon will have made for himself a new hold. But till you’ve planned out how to rescue her it makes little difference where Uissid Yewlen has taken her.”
“The Regiment,” King Kottir said.
“Fought and lost, fought and lost,” Uissid Tizarn said. “Truvidir Markenys, how many battles this summer’s half past, while our king and his queen have been travelling the land—what is the number?”
I told him, “Seven times I ordered more men to be sent north to protect the Way. Seven times a lone markan returned with the sickening news of their bloody slaughter.”
“Chief Truvidir Markenys has also sent a division north to guard Meksuin’s Land against a possible Luguish Alliance attack,” Uissid Tizarn told our king. “Though such an attack is more likely to come from the sea—hence most of the fleet are stationed there. But if the Lugiönes don’t attack, then likely as not the Nritrin will. They don’t have a sea to cross—the North Eskin Provinces are all that stand in their way. We believe that’s why they spent this summer past attacking the Way, to erode our numbers before they make their move.”
“Uissid Tizarn,” King Kottir said, “is the Regiment not mine to command?”
“Not really,” Uissid Tizarn said. “They are the King’s Men, aye, but when that king is travelling the land, someone must give the orders. That someone is the Chief Truvidir—and I tell him what I want done.”
“And what now do you ‘want done’?” King Kottir asked, his feelings on the matter clear in his tone. Uissid Tizarn paid it no heed.
“Whether we call him King Ithen or Uissid Yewlen, that man has your wife and he is her father. I truly do not think he will harm her. He has taken her for a reason, though as yet I don’t know it.”
“To draw me out?” King Kottir suggested, his previous anger sludging into resignation and weariness. “Just like I thought Draksen was doing when he attacked Sauën.”
“That is one possibility, aye,” Uissid Tizarn agreed. “Though I doubt making a lot of noise will scare this one away.”
King Kottir stood—again. And sat. And stood. “This is . . . unbearable. Am I supposed to sit here in my hold and do nothing while some other man has taken my wife and unborn child?”
“Not quite.” Uissid Tizarn seemed considerably calmer than the king. “I want you to go to East Bounds. I want you to go to the King’s Hold there. I want it to look as if you’re joining your wife, your queen. It’s better that the people know nothing of this.”
“The Regiment . . .” I began to object. They already knew of it.
“The Regiment will be told to say nothing,” Uissid Tizarn answered before returning his attention to King Kottir. “You will go to East Bounds. You will be there as if with your wife. That is the first thing. And don’t look at me like that! Did I not tell you, did I not warn you, your reign would be full of troubles? And you go off travelling the land! Next, the Regiment needs their numbers replenished.”
He then proceeded to give his attention to this.
Obviously, Uissid Tizarn is right. If they’re to rescue Queen Bregan from her evil father, then they do need to replenish the Regiment. But who now will volunteer when stories of the slaughters along the Way are rife? And in the meantime they’ve a game to play:Next episode, Let’s Pretend