Wellan sent messengers when dawn with rose fingers
graced the sky with morning, illumining the world.
They walked off the mountain, down the riverside path
past falls that leapt and danced with the snowmelt of spring
and the calm frigid pools that gathered in waters
and kept them like secrets to pour out in their need.
They came into the fields that fill the upper vale,
and down past the great house where the oak tree rustles.
They passed the wide orchards, and the rows of staked vines,
and sheepfolds fenced in stone, with their woolly inmates.
Wellan sent three good men: Babarn, who knew the law,
whose son was Bebalon; Kombrys, who kept milk cows,
and made the best cheeses anywhere in Alba;
and Vebern the beardless, since men thought him clever.
They went to Pramil’s house, on the hill by the bay.
Pramil greeted the three with grace and dignity,
and led them to his hall, a wide and pleasant room
with pillars of alder and goods from oversea.
He first offered them wine, but then when they declined,
he brought out fresh apples, and got right to business.
“You did not walk down here all the way to the sea,
just for fruit and drinking. Surely you have something,
some business to discuss. Do you come on your own,
or did Wellan send you? I’ll bet a whole cargo
of pentasilk and wine this is about those men
who landed here last autumn in that boat of leather.
The crewmen work like slaves, but they miss their captain.
He must be up with you, living in Wellan’s house.
So Wellan has some plot, some scheme involving them,
and he thinks the strangers are capable and good.”
“You read much in few words,” said Babarn to his host,
“yet you have the right thought, I will not deny it.
The captain is Avren, and he is a good man,
skillful at any task to which he sets his hand.
He brought in the harvest, he’s handy with a sword,
and taught children their runes, though he’s no crafty Jade.
Old Wellan owes him much, not least of all his life.
Lenna’s nearly of age, and Avren is as well.
Ten men died this winter, up in the mountain lands,
and Avren and his crew would make the difference up.
They ought to be free men with seats in the kawntradd,
not slaves of Kembirel, his unwilling servants.
Wellan sends you this ring, a circle of silver,
which he had from Urnnan, the old earl in Kemblis
and also these woolens, for your aid in his plan.”
Pramil accepted these, but spoke to them further.
“Arlean’s shawl is smirched; the fringe is all muddy,
and she has not worn it since the Winterdark feast
when we noticed the stains. It’s not the husband-mark;
the Eye is still virgin. But she may have spoke false,
and that’s enough for me. Tell Wellan I’ll aid him,
throw my votes behind him. There’s something I want, though,
not from him, but Avren. He came here in a fine ship,
oak-keeled and leather-hulled, almost sixty spans long.
The mussel men of Tay and clammers on Torban
use similar designs; I think I can build one.
But Avren must help me, and show me what he knows
as shipwright and sailor. He might wear the crimson
but I should test him first. If he is my equal,
Alba will benefit, and we will become great.”
Kombrys spoke with a frown, “You want an apprentice?
Take my son, not Avren; we mountain men need hope.
The sea still summons us, calls us to Long Passage,
yet the years wear on still, and our sons stay at home!
We farm outside the stones, our beards get tangled up
from living cheek to cheek. We need more living space
up there on the mountain, or more of the shoreland
that sly Kembirel hoards and keeps for his own sons.”
But Pramil calmed his guests, and opened all his thoughts.
“Kembirel and his house have set the law for years,
and hoarded all the best for the sake of their kin.
Others might support us, if there’s a chance for change.
The Eye is clouded up; you must tell Wellan this.
Avren will work with me, but he will farm with you.”
Then they went to one side, and spoke long in secret.