280. Menhir, a winter’s tale 1

This is one installment of a twelve part excerpt from Valley of the Menhir. Check December 29 for an introduction to the novel.

The first blizzard of winter moved in, and for a week Marquart stayed close to home, studying maps, records and journals. He had a banner made with the sign of the striking hawk in black on a field of blue, and set it flying above the manorhouse. It was the first time his kladak had been used for anything but marking his personal goods, and it gave him pleasure. The Valley of the Menhir might be small, backward, and forgotten, but it was his.

The Valley was roughly round, roughly forty miles across. The River Gull divided it in two, flowing in through a gap in the western hills, picking up half a dozen minor tributaries and debouching through a wide, low gap on the east.  It was navigable only for nine miles, from the sea to the place where the menhir lay. On the coast was a small seaport, Port of the Gull, through which the valley’s exports passed, when there were exports.

The Weathermistress must have been in a nasty mood the day the Valley was created. When protracted winds from the west brought in hot, dry air from the Dzikakai plains, there was drought. When spring rains rode the seawinds from the south or east, there were floods. In all seasons, there was uncertainty.

On the north side of the Gull were Marquart’s direct holdings. To his east was Jor’s land. Technically, it was Marquart’s; if he ever chose to give it to another warden, it would be his right. But Jor had lived there all his life, and had the use of the land from his father, who had it from his father, who had originally been granted wardency by some lord whose name Marquart did not even know. So Marquart had decided to leave him in place, at least for now, and see if he had learned a lesson. Marquart’s soldier’s instinct said that Jor had not, but there was nothing to gain in precipitate action.

There were four other wardens, each with land and a fortified house. Wardency was a normal and reasonable way of distributing responsibility for the valley, but there was a catch. Like Jor, they had all lived for generations on lands they thought of as theirs. After generations of peace, every warden’s family was bloated with useless uncles and aunts and nephews and cousins. The serfs could not produce enough to feed them all.

“What this place needs,” Marquart said to himself, “is a good war to weed out the warrior class.” But he didn’t mean it. He had seen too much of war to want it visited on his new home. continued tomorrow


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