I had promised that the child would be named at last but I had underestimated how difficult that would be.
I mean, what exactly could you call the son of the Lord of Darkness and someone like our Lady Isca?
Not one of us wanted to call him Lucian, of course. But all of us had the feeling that if Lord Tremain was around, that would have been his favourite choice. It’s the done thing amongst the highborn to pass their names on to the first born son as one steps into the shoes and the possessions of the one before.
I thought that Isca wouldn’t have allowed that to happen but Reyna argued she would have done what Tremain had told her to, and Guenta said she would have probably agreed just because she wanted to please him and have him be satisfied. A good point I thought but still. I probably knew Isca better than anyone still alive and I knew that for her there was only one Lucian and anything else would not ever make any sense to her at all.
In the end, we agreed that Lucian was not an option and it was relief all around. If or when they woke up, they could make their own arrangements and do what they wanted. This naming was for us and him, that strong little boy who delighted everyone, even his poor little surrogate mother whose nipples he bit and who could never quite satisfy him, no matter how much she ate and drank herself.
We sat around the kitchen table and argued and made ridiculous suggestions and laughed until darkness fell and I had a go to set a few little fires instead of candles, something that made me quite proud of myself and horrified Guenta beyond belief. She actually said, “I would have never taken you for one of those, Chay Catena.” And that made me laugh.
We sat in the kitchen and we laughed.
When did we last laugh?
In the end, Guenta did a really sensible thing. I was beginning to like her more, she had some good solid qualities about her even though she didn’t show them up front much. She got out the boy and put him right in the middle of the table, right in the middle of all of us, and said, “Alright, just look at him then. What will he grow up to be? What is he, not just now when he is little and helpless, but later, when he is a youth and then a man, as big as his father, and rules a kingdom?”
We fell silent as one and stared at the baby.
I tried to imagine him like his father and found myself shaking my head. No. He wasn’t like Tremain at all. I don’t know what Tremain was or what kind of child he had been, if ever he had been a child and wasn’t just spawned from some dark pit with a lightning strike and a thunderclap. But this little boy here had a brightness about him, a force of will and he smiled like the rising sun, in such a way that no matter how down you were or how ghost-like, he would touch something inside you that smiled back, if you wanted it to or not.
I tried to imagine combining Tremain’s strength and power with that rising sun feeling and at first, it didn’t make sense, then an image came to me and I said, feeling a little foolish but also strangely right in spite of that, “Sondra. He will be Sondra the Hero.”
I could feel the children and the two women turn towards me and had to drop my face in embarrassment. Then Shern said in a whisper, “That is so perfect,” and Reyna said at the same time, “Who is Sondra the hero?”
It was my turn to stare. How could anyone not know who Sondra was? The oldest of children’s tales and tales for the adults too. There were many songs about Sondra and players performed the 12 battles in markets all across the kingdoms.
Guenta spoke into the silence and began to recite a basic version of the tale of Sondra in amidst the dancing fires. How Amnetto the king had displeased the gods, and how they had destroyed his kingdom and all his lands. How Sondra was rescued by a giant bird and grew up in a foreign country. How he learned of his inheritance and how he took revenge by battling the gods, one after the other, until he had slain them all and reclaimed his kingdom and his father’s crown.
When she was done, we all sighed and the children started talking all at the same time.
The baby’s name was to be Sondra.
Although we decided to have a formal ceremony the next evening, in a way it had already happened when Guenta had told the tale. I picked the young hero up off the table top and sat him on my lap. He had a trouble keeping his head upright and it fell here and there until I steadied it with my hand.
“We will get a scribe from the village, Master Sondra,” I said to him and he made faces at me in return. “It will all be done right and properly and your name will be inscribed on a scroll. Sondra Tremain. That’s you. How do you like that, your lordship?”
He crunched up his face and a moment later, a big wet patch was spreading around the cloth that was tied about him, causing me to lift him hastily and everyone to start laughing again. I handed him over to Guenta and our eyes met.
Later on that night, I went to her room where she was waiting for me. For both of us, it was a strange thing, a very physical thing, a comforting thing that filled a need and began for me, to soften some of the scars I’d been carrying. I asked silent forgiveness from my lady and perhaps its just my own guilt, but I had the impression that she smiled at me and blew me a kiss that was a star. With that image in mind, I went to sleep warm and gently sad, curled around Guenta’s soft shape.
The next day, I set off to fetch the scribe from the village. Ricco asked to accompany me and I was happy to have him with me. We had a kind of relationship, probably because we were both soldier born and the closest to each other in some ways. I knew that he worshipped Reyna but I also knew that there was always a distance between him and the other children that nothing and no-one could breach.
I had a list of things to acquire for the women and I wondered how long it would be before the villagers would get the idea that Tremain was disabled and our means of securing food and support would disappear. It would be good to be able to turn copper into gold. I sighed and wished I had taken the instructions when they had been so freely available at Headman’s Acre, when Marani was still alive, when Dory was sharing my bed and when my lady still walked amongst us and cried in my arms sometimes.
It was a right nice day for Merina, late autumn sunshine and warm when Ricco and I got to the village. The people didn’t exactly spit at us but you could see that they wanted to. They turned their backs and walked away as quickly as possible.
We went to the tavern which fell silent on our entrance. I ordered two jugs of wine and water and asked for the whereabouts of the local scribe. A long and overly detailed description of how to find his house ensued and in the end, I just told the owner of the tavern to bring him to us.
Ricco and I sat down on a rough bench in the corner, drank our wine and water and waited, whilst the few other men in the tavern grouped together on the other side of the room and talked and threw us glances and pointed once in a while.
After an uncomfortable time, the door opened and a small man dressed in the dark brown of the scribes guild arrived. He was white haired, with a pointy nose and deep grooves around his mouth and very nervous indeed as he came to stand by our table and bowed his head.
“I need your services for a naming,” I told him. “We would have you come with us to Tower Keep this day.”
He shrugged and shivered and said in a high pitched voice, “A naming of a child?”
“Yes. Lord Tremain’s son.”
The scribe shrivelled and wrung his hands, then glanced at me briefly under bushy eyebrows. “I don’t have the proper wordings for noblemen’s lineage papers,” he said, worriedly. “I’m only a country scribe, not a court scribe.”
I sighed with exasperation. “Is it still legal for you to do the naming, nonetheless?”
He bobbed his head and wrung his hands some more and said, “It is legal, of course. But not proper, proprietary.”
“If its legal, it’s good enough,” I said. “The child must be named. Get your stuff and meet me outside in half an hour.”
He bowed to me repeatedly and walked backwards until he had reached the door, then turned and scurried away. The men at the bar who had leant towards us to hear what I was saying turned their backs again and started to whisper again when they noticed my looking at them. I sighed and got up.
“Come on, Ricco. Let’s get the supplies and the stuff for the women.” And some wine for me, I thought. That stuff that Tremain had in his cellar was probably expensive and rare enough to kit out a headman’s group for the price of a single bottle. Even if he never came back, I never felt quite comfortable with drinking it.
We rounded up the cooking stuff and the herbs and the scribe was already waiting for us on his runty little pony with his writing box and wrapped in a huge grey cloak when we went to get the horses.
We had to take it easy on the way back so the scribe could keep up. By the time we arrived at Tower Keep, the sun was nearly touching the horizon and as we came out from the tree lined driveway, I saw to my horror that three strange horses where standing in the drive, held by a soldier in the colours of Solland.
It seemed we had visitors.