Uissid Tizarn has issued orders. No one is to know that Queen Bregan has been stolen. So, while they figure a way to replenish the Regiment, severely depleted after the summer ravages along the Way, Uissid Tizarn, King Kottir, Truvidir Isbalen and Chief Truvidir Markenys are to repair to the King’s Hold at East Bounds, close by the east-west arterial Water of Waters . . . Read on
Two days after the Feast of Slaughter carts were loaded with everything needed to see us through the winter triks. I do admit, I was reluctant to go. It meant leaving my dove-cotes in the care of the law-man I’d set to tend and record their comings and their goings, and I wasn’t yet confident of his abilities. Moreover, I’d previously spent only a few nights at East Bounds so the land was strange to me. Indeed, to be anywhere other than the Highlands of the Sun now would be strange to me. I groaned, I’d grown too old to be changing my residence—though Uissid Tizarn, far-far older than me, seemed quite excited at the prospect.
The King’s Hold at East Bounds is set close to where First Water gates with the Water of Waters—too perishing close in my opinion. In ancient times it must have been a particularly vulnerable position. Not just for its proximity to the Waters, and those Waters capable of bringing enemies directly from the East Sea and East Isle (as still that river could, and had), but also because across First Water at this point was Bayland. The long-deceased King Hegryn had recently formed an alliance with the Baylanders’ chief when he built this hold; perhaps his intent with placing it here was to keep on eye on them.
I had many complaints of this ill-placed hold.
For a start, it was smaller than the one I’d grown used to on the Highlands of the Sun—indeed, smaller than any I’d seen.
And it looked onto the river where the river loops back and forth like some great snake. Later, when Sauën was in Gentiste and Songast, she would flood. She always did. Her flood-meadows made rich grazing despite they couldn’t be used till late in summer’s half when they’d finally dried enough that the cattle weren’t gulped by the mire. That’s when the meadows would be dotted by herders: to the north, West Alisime-men, to the south, Baylanders. I could easily imagine how that must have been before Bayland became part of the Alsaldic Lands. But, though I anticipated the coming winter with gloom, at least the hold had been built well above flood-level. Indeed, at the foot of a hill that sharply rose from the river. To this north-side of the river the hills were many, all rising steeply. In that they reminded me of the Highlands—though that river destroyed any possible illusion.
We settled in: myself, Uissid Tizarn, King Kottir and his truvidir Isbalen.
It irked me that there was scarcely any support staff here. No herders, no hunters, no carpenters, less than a handful of stable-men. If we had need we had to send back to the Highlands. There were no weaving-women. And with no herds to tend, no dairy-women, either
Every item of food had to be carted, everything that is except the grain. We did have a King’s Granary here, and a brew-woman, a King’s Wife. I noticed with amusement that Truvidir Isbalen didn’t try his tricks on this one the way he’d been doing with Bregan’s aunt.
With so few attendants there was no need of additional houses. As you’d expect, the King’s House was divided into the Queen’s and King’s Chambers, and the King’s Stores. I noted, no chamber set aside for the king’s own family (his wife and children, but then his family weren’t expected to travel with him). Neither was there a Truvidiren’s House for the only truvidiren visiting here would be in the company of the king. Fine, but where were we expected to sleep? The answer was in the King’s Chamber. But for all those triks?
“No!” King Kottir refused it. “Queen Bregan being absent, you can use her chamber.”
This was considerate of him—though I believe Uissid Tizarn might have influenced him to it. Even so, two truvidiren and the Uissid all in that one small chamber? It was a squeeze. I had decided to move out even before a trik had passed. I sought a bed with King Kottir, in the King’s Chamber. Two days later Truvidir Isbalen did the same. Again, I suspected this was Uissid Tizarn’s work. .
And thus did we pass the winter triks.
We left that hold just twice. The first was to attend the Feast of the Long Night which was always held—and doubtless always will be no matter what the Lugiönes and the Nritrin might do to us—at the House of Saram. While on the Highlands for that feast we stayed at the King’s Hold. Oh bliss! How that did please me. Comfort again! And to be able to talk to my birds—I hadn’t realised how much I’d miss them. The second excursion was the Feast of Grounding.
Not long after the Feast of the Long Night the snow fell heavy. In one night it covered the land with it glistening white cloak. Where before I had walked each day to the tops of the nearby hills, I now was confined to that tiny King’s Hold. Would the snow clear before the Feast of Grounding? If it did then all would be well for the coming year. We took omens on it.
Alas, it did not clear, and we were forced to attend the feast at His Indwelling—it being nearer than the Highlands, and easier to reach—by boat! Those little hide-boats sat exceedingly low in that ice-skinned water. It was that day I realised how old I’d become.
Another two days and the snow melted away (too late for the omens). It took three days in all; I watched it go. Touched by Sauën, its lacy patterns slowly revealed the refreshed earth beneath it. Then came the flood.
It began with the winter-streams’ resurrection. At first just trickle but soon gushing, they spewed their gifts into First Water. First Water, large with the winter-streams’ offerings, rose and rose till at the last she topped her banks and overflowed. In fascinated horror I watched. I’d never seen this before, South River flooding close by her sea-gate. And the flood kept on rising. As the waters lapped at the fence of our hold, I began making plans to move us all to higher ground. That’s when the rise halted.
Now I beheld a glorious sight! For where had been meadows now was a lake densely abound with every coloured duck, goose, wader and swan. But the noise of them all! I may as well wave my sleep goodbye.
Of course, King Kottir and Truvidir Isbalen took up their bows and with the King’s Hounds and a boat, went hunting. Yikes! More screeching, now of alarm. Yet we feasted many a day on roast fowl.
Then, gradually over the next few decans the flood subsided till no more than a few puddles were seen alongside the river where the long-legged herons fished.
But well might the flood recede and Sauën cast her light more generously upon us. But that light did nothing to warm us. For the trikadent of Songast we huddled around our fire, wrapped in the furs we’d brought for sleeping. That was a cold-cold time. I’m sure I remember none colder.
“This isn’t cold,” Uissid Tizarn insisted whenever I complained of it. And he slipped into my head visions of hardened ice so thick it stood taller than the tallest trees, ice-speckled waters trickling beneath it, iced-breath gusting, abrasively licking any part of the body left exposed. “I was there with it.”
“Where was that?” I asked. “Not in this land.”
“Across the East Sea. I only came here to be with King Krisnavn. But I will agree, this is the coldest I’ve known for a time.”
So cold we weren’t expecting the boat that appeared on First Water—poled from the east.
Who is this hardened soul who poles a low-sat boat along First Waters? Too early for traders; is it perhaps a hunter? Or someone intent on evil sent by the eastern adversaries, Burdamon and Ithen? Next episode, Yewlen’s Daughter