282. Menhir, a winter’s tale 3

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

“Clevis said that I should confide in you. That’s hard for me, but I will try, if you want me to.”

Dael was silent as she watched him, hunched over, rubbing his hands together. She had observed him closely this last month, as only a woman who has cast her entire fate and future into the hands of a stranger can watch. She knew how hard this speech had been for him, and she recognized it for the gift it was. 

She said, “I pledged you my loyalty, and you have it. I pledged you my body, and you have it. I pledged you children, and you will have them. I gave you all that when I did not know you, because you asked me, and because my brother’s letter assured me you were good and honorable. But if we could become more than just allies and bedmates, that would be wonderful!”

#             #             #

They moved to the bed quickly then, tearing at each other’s clothing. They were not alone. Baralia watched, as she watched every hour. When they fell together, Baralia gasped. When Dael cried out, Baralia groaned. Her hand moved to touch herself, but to no avail. She could no more touch herself than she could touch others. She screamed in the agony of her loneliness, and no one heard.

#             #             #

Marquart had arrived at Instadt two months earlier, carrying a bundle of letters from Reece s’Imbric. He had just left Limiakos’ service to take up lordship of the Valley, and Reece’s home was along the way. Imbric had given a warm welcome to his son’s friend and ex-commander, and it was there Marquart had met, courted, and married Dael.

Reece had told his family all he knew, but there was much Reece did not know. So that when Dael asked Marquart, out of the darkness of their shared bed, “What happened between you and the High King?”, he was not surprised that she wondered.

He gathered her hands between his and said, “I took Port Cantor in my own way, carefully, with much planning, so that both death and loss of property were kept small.”

Her hand, caught in his, pressed fingers against his palm, and she said, “Yes, I can see that that would be your way.”

“When the High King called me to an accounting, he was not impressed. He had wanted blood and slaughter.”

“But . . . why?”

“So that he could wander the battlefields where my troops had gone, feeding on the ai of the newly dead.”

“I have heard those rumors,” Dael said, “but surely . . .”

“They are not rumors. Limiakos told me himself, and threatened to have me killed so he could feast on my ai.”

Dael tore her hands loose from Marquart’s and threw her arms around him. He patted her shoulder and went on, “Instead, he said he had another job for me. Not as a commander in his armies – I wasn’t bloody enough – but as the lord of a small but troublesome demesne. This one.”

Dael asked, “Are we in danger?”

“No. Limiakos would have killed me and fed, right there in Port Cantor if the mood had struck him. When he said that I could still be of some small use to him here, he meant exactly that. He had no reason to lie. By now he has forgotten that I ever existed.”

For a time, Dael listened to Marquart’s breathing. Then she said, “This can be a good life here. A really good life.”

“Aye,” he grunted. “Lord of the Valley of the Menhir. Jor would kill to have that title and those prerogatives. But I was large in the world, and becoming larger. Now, this is as great as I will ever be.” continued tomorrow


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