Yewlen, aka King Ithen, has sent his daughter Bryony with a message for King Kottir. But while she does intend to deliver it true, she also has some plan of her own to counter the evil machinations of her father . . .Read on
“And what is this message?” asked Uissid Tizarn.
I did not turn again but kept looking at King Kottir and he at me. My message was for him.
“King Ithen has this to say: he wants Meksuin’s Land and he shall have it. He says there are two ways for him to achieve it. One is easy for both, the other hard for you. But whichever the way, he shall have his desires. He says, the easy way is for you, King Kottir, to give over Meksuin’s Land to him. If you do this, then in return he shall give back your Queen and unborn child. Untouched. The other way . . . I fear you will not like it. If you refuse him Meksuin’s Land, then he shall keep your Queen. And when your child is born he shall give it to Uät. He then shall beget another child on Queen Bregan, and while she carries that child, and while she suckles it, until that child is weaned, he shall give your Queen into the care of King Kailen. But once this child is old enough to live apart from her, his mother, then King Ithen shall take the child and kill the Queen—and give her unto the Divine Uät.”
No words of comment graced the message, only silence, achingly heavy. Not one of them spoke. King Kottir looked at me with tears glossing his eyes. And I had them too, both for him and for Bregan.
Since no one wanted to speak, I said more.
“I don’t want my father to keep Queen Bregan. But neither do I want him to have Meksuin’s Land. He wants the copper there and that copper he’ll use to make more swords. When every one of his men—you may think them King Burdamon’s but they are not—when all are equipped with his blood-hungry swords then, regardless your agreement now, he will turn upon you. Those swords are invincible. If you give him Meksuin’s Land all you do is to gain a year maybe two, before he turns this land red with the slaughter of you all. And still he will have his way with Bregan.”
King Kottir understood what I was saying; he nodded. “What would you have me do?”
I had my answer ready: “As Queen Bregan is precious to you, so I am precious to my father. Time and again he tells me he has a special purpose for me, though he will not tell it and I don’t know it. But if I’m so precious to him, what would he give to get me back if you should take me captive?”
“Hmm; and what did you say your name is?” asked Uissid Tizarn.
“Bryony.” I turned to look at him. “White Bryony.”
“And as poisonous as your name-sake?”
“It is my father, the poisonous one,” I said. “Yet to help Queen Bregan—she is my sister—I dare defy him.”
“If we do as you say,” King Kottir said, and happily I turned back to look at him, “and we offer to return you in exchange for Queen Bregan . . . what then will he do?”
Chief Truvidir Markenys spoke out before I could answer. “It’s obvious. He’ll invade the northern provinces. He’ll take Meksuin’s Land.”
I shook my head. “But copper grows in more than one land. To the south, in the lands of the southern Lugiönes, there grows more than he could ever use, and King Kailen is part of the Luguish Alliance and my father has King Kailen with him. It would be easier, to form a trade alliance with those people, than to trample and conquer Meksuin’s Land. But whichever the source, Meksuin’s or the Alliance, I have to admit it is merely a delay of the conquest. For given the metal, and now with the swords, he will come conquering you. He wants your land. He enjoys the slaughter.”
“We must think on this,” Uissid Tizarn said, and I could see he thought I offered them little. “When does he expect an answer?”
“He expects my return by the morrow. But, regardless, I’d advise it before the Feast of Trees. It’s then, if you force his hand, that he’ll kill Queen Bregan, when the child is born. She is, at present, with my sisters in the wildwood. But they’re no match for him.”
“Queen Bregan is not at King Burdamon’s Hold? Nor overseas with the Nritrin? She’s with your sisters in the wildwood? Then can we not go there and rescue her before your father has a chance to work his schemes with her?” King Kottir asked and began pacing.
“No. It’s too close. Here I can go against him; here he can’t find me because of the far-ness thing.” I looked to Uissid Tizarn. I hoped he’d know what I meant.
“Where is he?” King Kottir asked.
“As yet, this day? Beside the Waters, close by the wildwood, far south of my sisters’ fastness, waiting for me to return. And when I fail to do that within the day, he’ll then return to King Burdamon’s Hold. King Burdamon’s Hold is too close to where my sisters are to attempt to deceive him there. It cannot be done.”
“Yet we can be there and back before he has a chance to realise and move—if you’d show us the way?” King Kottir begged of me.
“You don’t know what you ask of me. You don’t know my father,” I told him. “He sends pain into people’s heads to make them do what he wants of them. If I were to led you to my sisters he’d know; he’d send me that pain. And if I persisted, he’d send me more. And he’d keep sending it, more and more, till I could take no more and have to give up and conform to his wishes and take you somewhere else instead, somewhere where he can more easily kill you. And you wouldn’t even know I deceived you.” I had no desire to do that to King Kottir.
“As I see it,” said Truvidir Isbalen, “the easiest way to get our Queen Bregan back is to agree to King Ithen’s terms and give him Meksuin’s Land.” A suggestion which fetched him a united glare of disapproval.
“From the very beginning of the Alsaldic Lands,” Uissid Tizarn said, “Meksuin’s Land has been loyal to the Alsaldic Kings. Rather would I have King Kottir give away his own Du Dlida than King Butalkin’s land. I am surprised Uissid Yewlen doesn’t ask for that too! His swords are bronze: he needs a source of tin, and Du Dlida has as much of that as Meksuin’s Land does of copper.”
“He’ll take it from Liënershi,” King Kottir said.
He had such a beautiful voice; I could have listened all day and night—for many nights. I had to remind myself this man already had a wife, and she was my sister. Yet . . . didn’t my sister desire another? Could not her husband do the same? Such thoughts I should not have had in such company: they weren’t always screened. What would King Kottir have done had he known about Bregan and King Kailen for all these moons since my father Yewlen stole her away? It would hurt him through.
“We have to talk on this,” Uissid Tizarn said. “Uissid Yewlen has our Queen and it seems even if we get her back he’ll yet attack us in the end. But what do we do with this messenger Bryony? Do we keep her as she wants, or do we return her at once?”
“I say to keep her,” King Kottir said, and I could feel him pulling me towards him. I was too much like Bregan and he sorely missed her. I thought how it might be if I should comfort him. But what did I know of such things, the ways of women and men? I hadn’t even been taken by my father as yet.
“I would be the happier with her staying if only she’d allow me inside her head,” Uissid Tizarn said. “You’ve screened it well,” he said to me.
“Something I’ve learned to do with my father,” I said, not saying that Queen Bregan had taught me it.
“Well I am not Uissid Yewlen,” Uissid Tizarn told me. “I do not intend you harm and I won’t send you pain. But I won’t have you here with us till I know I can trust you.”
“You can,” I said.
“Aye, like I’d trust a mouse sneaking into a granary. Open up your head to my probes and I’ll allow you to stay.”
“No!” King Kottir objected. “No, this woman has offered herself as a bargain for the return of my wife. She is my only chance. Did you not hear her?”
“I know what she said,” Uissid Tizarn said.
Were Uissid Tizarn not there . . But he was, and he didn’t believe me. Why? Was it because of my father? Or was it truly because I had screened my thoughts from him? I opened up, hoping King Kottir wouldn’t then delve in and find of Bregan and King Kailen. Hoping, too, that Uissid Tizarn wouldn’t then find of the way King Kottir was playing with me, drawing me to him, wanting me to be my sister. Oh, I would have played that part, I don’t deny it. To have his lips touch . . . to have his hand . . to have him near me . . . I slammed the screen back into place. Uissid Tizarn tutted.
“Am I to stay?” I asked.
He sniffed. “Tomorrow is the Feast of Birds. Not a feast the king attends. Tomorrow King Kottir returns to the King’s Hold on the Highlands of the Sun. It will be safer for you there.”
Yes! Bryony is in; she has gained their trust. But it seems she has gained more than that. What’s passing between her and King Kottir could lead to messy complications. Next episode, Of Kings, Queens and Sisters