Heimar embraced his cousin then looked both ways into the dark before closing the door. ‘Come, come into the warmth, Tivodar.’
‘Is he here?’
‘Yes, waiting by the fire.’
Heimar led his cousin into the parlour where Jalmar rose and bowed to him.
Tivodar slipped off his hood and mantle to reveal his voluminous monk’s robes, shaved head and yellow skullcap. ‘Please, my Lord Regent. This is no occasion for ceremony.’ He stepped forward and took Jalmar’s hand. ‘I am here as your kinsman, not the Vadonus.’
They sat and Heimar poured beakers of tuviz, which they held up. ‘May the gods be with us,’ Tivodar intoned before they downed the fiery liquid in one gulp.
‘Well, cousin,’ Heimar began. ‘What have you come to tell us?’
‘News you have no doubt been expecting: the Kiralus Reincarnate has been found. The Vadonus Elfodar is on his way back to Taivaros with him now.’
Heimar watched his brother-in-law sit unmoved with hooded eyes and asked his question for him. ‘Where was he found?’
‘By the gods, that’s at the end of the earth.’
‘And a blue hat stronghold,’ Tivodar added.
‘Another,’ Jalmar said.
‘Yes,’ Tivodar answered. ‘Once again the Kiralus Reincarnate is conveniently found far from the capital, in a blue hat domain, amongst the lowest peasants. This one among whitebeet farmers.’
Jalmar smiled sardonically. ‘Beware, Vadonus, my father was a peasant.’
‘True, my Lord Regent. Your father was the son of mountain pikka herders, the Kiralus before him came from fishing stock on the Great Lake, and the one before him was the son of goldminers. Yet for centuries before them the Kiralus Reincarnate had always come from the nobility.’
‘Perhaps the Lord Taivus was tired of being reborn into the nobility and wanted to breathe the fresh air of the outer provinces for a few generations.’
Tivodar frowned. He was not used to Jalmar’s humour. ‘My lord, I may be a monk, but I am a son of the royal line first and foremost. I do not believe you appreciate what is happening here.’
Jalmar looked up at Tivodar. ‘Vadonus, I may be my father’s son, but I am also my mother’s. As much as I loved my father, I also knew him to be the most devout and the most ignorant of men. If it were not for my mother, I would have been raised as ignorant as he. I saw what the blue hats did to him, and I know they will do it again. They choose an ignorant peasant child, bring him to Taivaros with only the most useless of his fathers for company and stuff his head with their nonsense. And they will ensure he chooses only blue hats as his tutors and attendants.’
Tivodar lowered his eyes, his face flushed with embarrassment. ‘My Lord Regent, forgive me for underestimating you. It seems I have come here to preach to you on what you already know.’
Jalmar reached out and touched his sleeve. ‘But you have told me something I could not be sure of until tonight, kinsman. That I have an ally in you. And that I do appreciate.’ Jalmar paused while Heimar refilled their beakers with tuviz. ‘I understand your concern, Tivodar. For generations now, the Kiralus Reincarnate has chosen only blue hats to attend him, but before then the court monks were drawn from all three orders, were they not?’
Tivodar nodded. ‘Indeed, and as a consequence where once all three orders made up the Privy Council equally, now it is all blue hats, except for me and Imolar. If it were not Law that all three Vadoni have to be on the Privy Council, Elfodar would have had us thrown off long since.’
‘So, that is plain to us all. The blue hats have been choosing peasants over generations in order to tighten their hold over the Kiralus.’
‘And not only that: to loosen the ties of kinship and loyalty between the royal line and the nobility.’
‘Have they succeeded in that, do you think?’
Tivodar would not answer.
Heimar sighed. ‘Loosened, but not broken, not yet.’
‘But loose enough for Elfodar to make his move?’
Tivodar seemed to breathe a sigh of relief. Jalmar smiled. ‘I can see what is coming as well as you do, kinsman. As soon as the new Kiralus Reincarnate comes to the age of reason, Elfodar will announce that he has lost confidence in the Regent and will have another installed, the Vadonus Taivuskira Elfodar himself. By Law the Kiralus can choose his own Regent. It is only by Custom that he should choose his own son. Elfodar spent hours by my father’s deathbed, and it was not only to offer up prayers for his safe reincarnation. But my father had been inculcated too strongly and clung to the old customs. He would not choose Elfodar over me. But this child…’
Tivodar leant forward. ‘So you must act, my lord, before this comes to pass. Imolar and I are with you.’
Jalmar sat with his cheek in his hand for a moment, then rose to his feet, the others following suit. He embraced Tivodar. ‘I can rely on your support?’
‘Of course, my lord. We want to see that man humbled even more than you do. But, beware. He has eyes and ears everywhere.’
Jalmar nodded and let Heimar show the Vadonus to the door.
‘Heimar,’ Tivodar said in a low voice as he donned his mantle, ‘you must make him see that something must be done about Elfodar, and soon, for all our sakes.’
‘I’ll try. But my brother is a thinker, not an actor.’
Jalmar had poured two more beakers of tuviz and handed one to Heimar on his return. They raised and downed them standing. Jalmar sat, but Heimar could not.
‘What more did your cousin have to say to you?’ Jalmar asked.
‘Only what I have been saying all along. We have been talking long enough. It is time to act, to fight.’
Heimar stood in front of him. ‘Look at me, brother, I let people think I got this scar fighting for my honour, but you know as well as I do where I got it: running into a tree on a snowbear hunt. We have been warriors in name only for too long. Our swords are rusted into their scabbards. Our tales of brave deeds are centuries old. We have had none to add to them since. We set our boys to train and train, and for what? To catch one snowbear in their lifetimes, to hunt tarabeast for one or two moons a year, and to stand tall on the dais during the rites. By the gods, our younger brothers in the monasteries live a more dangerous life than we who call ourselves knights.’
‘Will you have us fight unarmed monks with swords and arrows?’
‘If that is what it takes.’
‘Heimar, we may be knights but we are not men of war. We don’t even fight amongst ourselves.’
‘…because the monks have left us nothing to fight over. We are beholden to them for everything: for the lands we farm and even the peasants to farm them. The commoners are freer than we for they at least control their own trade guilds.’
Heimar took a few more paces across the room. He had not said any of this to his brother-in-law before, but now it was time to speak. He sat and leant towards him. ‘You should talk to the foreigner.’
‘The Ambassador. He did not cross the mountains just to be taught the ancient texts.’
‘Va Botar tells me he does not know our language yet. How can I speak to him?’
‘His language is not so different to ours that you could not make yourself understood.’
‘How do you know that. Have you spoken to him?’
‘No, but I have spoken to his escort. We laugh at our pronunciation and there are words we do not share, but we understand each other. They would have much to teach us.’
Jalmar cocked his head. ‘What have you learnt so far?’
‘That their Johtalla is not in thrall to their Vadonus. He has the upper hand and a standing army of his own. I have trained with these men. They are skilled soldiers. On steedback, on the ground, with sword, javelin and bow. And I can tell there is more to their training they will not tell me. Speak to him.’
Jalmar studied him for a moment. ‘If I insist too strongly on seeing him, Elfodar will get wind of it. It would raise his suspicions.’
‘If the Kiralus Reincarnate is on his way, the Confirmation will soon follow. Invite him to the ceremony. The monks could not object to such a courtesy. And once you have met him you must show him hospitality. Have him to dine. Sound him out.’
Jalmar nodded. ‘Perhaps he has been sent by the gods after all. But he will not tell us all. I hear even the monks are frustrated with him for he gets more information than he gives. I cannot approach him in ignorance. I must know what questions to ask. Can you find out more from his men?’
Heimar grinned. ‘Oh, I’m sure I can. They have a liking for tuviz.’ And with that Heimar filled their beakers once more, and they drank to its power to loosen lips.
© Pauline Montagna 2022