‘The Plains of Kallanash’ is written with just two point-of-view characters, Mia and Hurst, so everything that happens is seen through the eyes of one or the other of those two. Nevertheless, there are other characters who have a significant impact on the story, whose actions and feelings and ideas resonate throughout the book. Some of them, like Tella, will always remain mysterious. Some, like Hurst’s Companions and family, are fairly transparent, so don’t need elaboration.
And then there’s Jonnor. As the lead husband in the marriage, Jonnor has a very big impact on both Mia and Hurst, and sometimes his actions seem contradictory or unusually volatile. One such occasion is after his first interview at the Ring. Before this, he is openly hostile towards Hurst, but afterwards he makes some effort to reach out to him. This scene explains some of this. It is also written from Jonnor’s point-of-view, so is an interesting look at the man beneath all the posturing.
Jonnor heaved again, but only produced a trickle of bile. His stomach hurt from so much retching, and his head ached from lack of sleep. Gods, how he hated these interviews! He was fearless with a sword in his hand, but those pods and the unwinking stare of the globe reduced him to a boneless shivering wreck.
Voices murmured outside, then his senior Companion Zanikor squeezed into the tiny water room.
“Time to get dressed, Jonnor.”
He struggled to his feet, light-headed from vomiting all night. Not that he’d eaten much over the past couple of days.
Zanikor rested a reassuring hand on one shoulder, and smiled ruefully at him. “You do get yourself in a state, don’t you? Come on, let’s get you into your silks. At least it will all be over in a few hours.”
“Until the next time.” But he followed Zanikor meekly into the bedroom he and his three Companions shared during their stay at the Ring.
Jonnor always felt better once he’d donned the required formal attire and arranged the silk layers to his satisfaction. Zanikor fussed over him like a passabird, tying and retying the headband to get it just so.
“There! You’ll do. What about mine? Is it all right? Not lop-sided? It feels too low on this side.”
“You look gorgeous,” Torman called out, swishing the trailing fronds of vividly coloured silk and striking a pose. “We all look quite lovely. Can we go yet?”
Jonnor rolled his eyes, and Zanikor clucked in annoyance. “No, it’s not time. Go and wait in the corridor outside, you two. By the window overlooking the marker tower. Shout when the last small marker shows.”
They barged out, crashing the door behind them. The room was peaceful suddenly.
Zanikor grinned. “That’s better! Sit, catch your breath for a while.”
Jonnor perched meekly on the edge of the bed, the frame creaking beneath him.
“Gods, I wish I had some wine in me! That settles my stomach better than anything. A few glasses of decent red, and nothing would irritate me – not even Hurst! I hate being the last here, you know. I suppose he’s poisoned the Voices against me already, spreading his lies, telling them how much better he’d do everything. And Mia -”
“Let’s not worry about what Hurst and Mia have said,” Zanikor murmured, sitting down beside him and curling an arm round his shoulders. “It doesn’t matter what they’ve said. You just have to tell the truth of it, and the Voices will recognise it. You know that.”
“But what if Mia’s told them… It didn’t go well, Zan, I know that, but I just couldn’t… not after Tella!”
“Sshhh. It’s all right, Jon, it’s all right. You did the best you could under the circumstances. No one could blame you for finding it very trying.”
“But the Voices… What am I to say?”
“Now don’t fret. We’ve talked about this, haven’t we? You just have to tell the truth. Tell them you had a bit of difficulty, because you were so grieved over Tella – that’s natural, isn’t it? But you got the job done, that’s what matters.”
“Yes, yes I did. It’s done now.”
“And you’ve come to an arrangement with Hurst. Everything’s fine.”
Jonnor felt the tension drain away. Zanikor was such a soothing man to have around. He made everything seem so simple, even the interviews, even in this nightmare year when everything had gone so badly.
Life had seemed so promising when they’d first married, the four of them. Jonnor was lead husband at eighteen, and Hurst – smug, self-satisfied Hurst, with all his battle talk and tales of the Vahsi – he’d had to toe the line and do what he was told. Hurst had had some early luck with the skirmishes, it’s true, but Jonnor didn’t mind that because he’d had Tella. Wonderful, amazing Tella, who’d made him feel so alive, so overflowing with confidence.
But lately – things had been more difficult. He’d tried being decisive, but what worked so well for his father hadn’t been so successful for him. Not with Tella! She always went her own sweet way. It was one of the things he loved so much about her, that spirited independence. Gods, how he missed her. Why, why, why did she have to die? Now he was left with insipid Mia, and Hurst sniffing round her like a dog.
The door banged open again, to reveal Torman and Cole, grinning. “Marker’s up! Let’s go.”
Outside, a bitter wind swirled a scattering of snow into their faces. Jonnor clutched his cloak tightly around him, marching head down through the mid-day crowds thronging the walkways. The sea of doughy faces parted before him, turning with respectful bows as he passed. He ignored them, feeling the sharp knife points of snow stinging his warm cheeks, and the softness of the woollen cloak flapping against his hands. Beneath the cloak, his silk leggings rippled along his thighs as he walked, cool against his skin. He still felt a little sick, but it was bearable out here in the fresh air.
At the interview hall, their Slaves were already waiting, bowing low. Jonnor handed his cloak to one and trailed along behind another, who scampered in front of him. Then into the pod, enclosed and confined. It reminded him of his favourite hiding place as a boy, a secret child-sized space beneath a window seat, hidden by the curtains. He could curl up in there for hours, as adults came and went – servants about their work, his father talking in soft tones to giggling women, his uncles complaining in hissed whispers, and once a sword fight, quickly over, leaving a stain on the floor.
He moved to his chair. There on the table in front of him was the globe, waiting for the opportunity to catch him out and gloat over his hesitations and stumblings. Almost before he sat down, he slapped his hand over it. It lit up at once and began its sequence of colours, casting eerie flickering light over the hooded faces of the Voices sitting on the opposite side of the table.
“Most High Jonnor dos Arrakas, First Husband of Karning Dranish Turs Kan-forst.”
“Most Humble.” The ritual helped to settle his nerves. There was no avoiding it now. Just stay calm and answer honestly. I’ve made an arrangement with Hurst, I got the job done with Mia, everything’s fine.
He settled himself in his chair, hands gripping his knees and waited. Remember, everything’s fine.
They wanted to talk first about Tella, and that was straightforward enough. Even if he’d wanted to, he couldn’t hide his grief and they didn’t ask any difficult questions. Then on to Mia and the arrangement. He couldn’t talk quite so easily about that. He tripped over his words and mumbled so much that they had to ask him to repeat a great deal. And of course it all came out, how difficult he’d found it, how unhelpful Mia had been but he’d done what was required.
“And Most High Hurst?” one of the Voices said. “He is content with this arrangement?”
Don’t hesitate. “Yes.” The globe was quiet, the colour unchanging. Well, it was true, wasn’t it, because Hurst had proposed it himself: he wants the skirmishes more than he wants little mouse Mia. What man wouldn’t?
The Voice grunted, and two of the others exchanged glances.
Jonnor’s heart skipped a beat. Hurst? Had he complained at his interview? And then his worst fears were realised, for they began talking about the blue arrows. The blue arrows! Gods, was Hurst treading that path? He couldn’t take in what they were saying to him. One of the Voices was showing him the arrows, talking, talking, but her voice was like bees swarming in his head. He couldn’t breathe. The pod was too small, the walls closing in around him, the air suffocating.
She was talking more pointedly now, wanting an answer. What was she saying? “Do you understand, Most High? Is this clear? You understand how it works?”
He nodded, not understanding at all, but not wanting to admit to it. Zanikor will find out and explain it. He could feel his stomach roiling again.
“Is he doing this? Did he say? Has he asked for the blue arrows?”
“Most High Hurst?” she asked. “We cannot tell you what he said in his interview, Most High.”
One of the men glanced across at her, then back to Jonnor. “Nor does it matter. The situation is volatile, and may change at any time.”
Jonnor’s eyes widened. Volatile? What did that mean?
“A marriage of only three is inherently unstable,” the Voice went on. “You have an arrangement in place now, but who knows what may happen in the future? At any time within the next three years, Most High Hurst may decide to ask for the blue arrows. Or you may, who knows.”
Three years! Three years of grinding fear, of watching Hurst and wondering if today was the day.
The Voice must have seen the horror in Jonnor’s eyes, because he leaned forward a little, his voice suddenly confidential, friendly.
“We are obliged to explain the blue arrows to you, you understand, but we always hope they will not be used. Most Karningholders are sensible, and have no wish to take that route. You have been married long enough and know each other well enough to avoid the blue arrows, I am sure.”
“I – I don’t know. He can be difficult sometimes. He always thinks he knows best…”
“I am sure you can find ways to keep him contented. Let him have his own way sometimes. Negotiate.”
“I’m lead husband, he does what I tell him!” Jonnor spat. “My father always said the lead husband was king in his own realm, and there can only be one king.”
“Even the Petty Kings had to keep the nobles sweet, Most High. They had to ally with one neighbour while they warred with another. They needed to keep trade routes open. They had to set their own taxation needs against the profitability of the craftspeople and merchants. It is all a question of balance, Most High.”
That was difficult to follow. What did taxation have to do with Hurst?
“You have done well so far, Most High. You have negotiated a good arrangement for the future of the marriage, and you have resolved the legal issue regarding Most High Mia, despite the – erm, difficulties. But, if I might advise – it would be well to continue in the same vein. Most High Hurst is your brother in marriage, not an enemy. There should be no secrets between brothers. Take him into your confidence. Tell him your plans. Ask his advice. Let him help you when you have a difficult problem. Because if you exclude him, he may decide that he would be better off sending for the blue arrows.”