So they came from each house, at the ivory’s call,
gathering in the hall of the house of Kembrin.
Each man knew his place there, from oldest to youngest:
They argued not at all over rank and station,
but chose their places right, deferring to the best,
and giving their attention to Kembirel their lord.
He took to the high seat, that lord of elder days,
renowned for his honor and his generous heart.
Each man there wore his ring, a band of bronze or gold,
and none had cause to hate Kembirel their master.
Thirty winters he ruled, kept the borders secure,
and judged between them well, a cunning lawgiver,
an arbiter of feuds, with a generous hand.
Who there would gainsay him, the master of Alba?
What man would refuse him, who guided and ruled well?
Then there was his brother, who lived in the gatehouse
with his white shawl daughter, the eye of the island.
Kembrun was more gentle, and less of a soldier
than Kembirel his lord, yet skilled in his own way:
He knew the thousand runes, and wore the robe of jade,
and served his brother well as lore-master and scribe.
Hawkish-nosed but balding, he worked to Alba’s good,
and tended the oak tree at his brother’s threshold.
Thirty men looked to him, and sat with him at feasts,
and voted as he chose in autumn assemblies.
He was the wisest man in Alba in those days
and many men sought him for advice and good words.
His sons were men of worth, Aldbrun and Hudebrun,
the elder in crimson, the younger wearing brown;
the third died with honor, and was buried in black.
Next among mighty men in the days ere the kings
stood Gedlan the break-bow, faster than arrow-flight,
who slew the red grizzly, alone in her own den
with only his bare hands. Her claws formed his necklace,
and men admired him: twenty-five drank his health
when occasion arose, and kept his fields and flocks.
They were all good fellows, not pirates or bandits,
but men of good standing, and all well trained for war.
His wife wore the jade robe, and her great lustiness
brought him four good strong sons and three lovely daughters.
None of them were mature the day Avren landed,
but they had their own tales when they became of age.
Gedlan wielded an axe, a double-curving blade,
an heirloom of his house, a thing from ancient days.
It sang when it drew blood, a keening victor’s chant.
Next among men of worth stood Ilanseth the fair:
the women all liked him, and loved his curling locks.
He had a jade robe’s skill at charming the ladies
but he was a blacksmith: his apron was azure,
and he made some fine things in the days of his strength.
If you go to the house where the oak tree still stands,
and look in the kitchen, you will see his cauldron,
unique in all the worlds, a vessel of beauty.
Ilanseth was old then, and his sons were less skilled,
and less sure at the forge or in the dyeing room.
There were three children, then, in Ilanseth’s steading:
Anseth and Kebanseth, those were his well-built sons;
His daughter was Tassa, and they called her long-hair,
the prettiest woman in the whole of Alba.
Ilanseth had fourteen, each man worthy and strong.
Then came frowning Pramil, the sour-faced crimson.
Pramil came from Torban, but Alba was his home.
He was harbor master, and a steady pilot,
knowing the stars and winds, and every rock and reef
round about the island: Alba’s waters were his,
and all the fisher folk obeyed his every word.
They say he spoke little: quieter than quahogs,
that was Pramil’s habit. His wife wore the white shawl,
and one of his daughters, but his sons were away,
gone out on Long Passage, and only one came home
before his father’s death: Aneris the wealthy.
Pramil spared seven men from the whole fishing fleet
and came to Kembril’s house, dour-faced as always,
the iron-faced captain hip-deep in shore business,
and not happy at all to be far from his ships.
Wellan was least of them, and had no rank or wealth,
but he was judged honest and cared for his people.
His farm straddled the fence, high on the mountain,
and men grow tough up there, warding away dangers
from their own flocks and fields, and keeping borders safe.
He spared three swords that day, including his own blade,
but he resented it, and his frown told his mind.
Pirates come from the sea, and shore-folk should fight them.
Yet he wore an arm-ring, the gift of Kembirel,
and so he came when called, when the horn was sounded.
He had two fine daughters. One wore the indigo,
and knew the lore of plants and all the healing stones.
His wife had died of plague during the long winter,
but found the cure in time for Alba’s grateful folk.
Wellan still mourned for her, though seven winters passed.
These, then, were all the men Kembirel had summoned
to ambush the pirates landed there on Alba.
They planned their positions all around the great house,
and there they might have stayed, had Wellan said nothing.
Though reckoned most lowly, Kembirel heeded him,
for love of his dead wife who saved all of Alba.
Blunt-spoken Wellan said, “We saw sails on the sea
a full two days ago, and their ship is beached now,
west beyond the long cliffs and the sheep grazing fields.
That vessel had two masts, yet it was rather small.
There are no more than ten, and harvest is coming.
Let us go to them now, and drive them all away,
or slay them on the strand, or take them prisoner.
We spend our strength waiting, delay our own business.
Let us go do battle, and go back to our work.”
There was strong agreement, so all the warriors
shouldered on their armor, and belted on their swords.
Forth they went in order, every man most eager,
across the long sheepfields, past the headlands and cliffs.
The sun crossed from morning into the after noon,
and twilight stretched her arms to gather in the sun.
He glittered on Ocean, and on their bright armor
even as he moved west into his love’s embrace.
Then they came to the beach, to the broad sandy strand,
and saw Avren’s people all lying on the ground.
They saw the vessel, too, of oil-tanned leather,
with doubled masts and yards, and sails of fine linen,
all stowed improperly, and in terrible haste.
Kembirel gave orders, “Kill every one of them,”
And they advanced in ranks, intent upon slaughter.