This is one installment of a twelve part excerpt from Valley of the Menhir. Check December 29 for an introduction to the novel.
Marquart had stripped to leggings and leather slippers. In his right hand he carried an ironwood rod balanced to the weight of his sword and in his left hand a lighter rod to match his lancette. He fought in a style he had learned from a minor prince of Renth, using his sword to deflect blows and depending on the quickness and grace of the lancette for most of his offense. It was a style that favored his bulk and power. Now he was facing both Hein and Conger. Sweat clotted the black mat of hair on Marquart’s chest and slicked the smooth skins of his adversaries as they moved around the great hall in the mock-deadly dance of sword practice.
Bheren watched with interest; he was a minor player in these games. Marquart has given him the task, three days each week, of clearing out the breakables from the hall and setting up heavy tables and benches so that each practice session found the warriors threading a new maze of furniture.
They had been working each other until all were arm weary and gasping for breath. Now Marquart kicked a bench in front of Conger, forcing him to jump back, then took out Hein with a backhand slash of his sword. Conger, however, was too quick and vaulted the bench as it spun across the flagstone floor. His false sword slammed into Marquart’s back as Marquart’s ersatz lancette slashed Conger’s ribs.
They all stopped by mutual consent and laughed. “You’re dead, Lord Marquart,” Conger crowed. “It’s the first time I’ve gotten you in a week.”
“Maybe, but you’re deader!”
Conger grinned and looked ruefully at the weal across his ribs. “Aye,” he admitted. “I’ll be packing snow under my tunic this evening.”
Marquart accepted a hot, moist towel from Bheren and then shrugged into his tunic. He found Dael in the kitchens, supervising preparations for Midwinterfest. He touched her shoulder fleetingly, then said, “Can you leave.”
They moved back to the great hall. Bheren was directing serving boys as they put the tables and benches aright. Marquart and Dael took a bench in a completed corner. “Tell me how you have things arranged,” he said.
“None of the wardens will leave their houses until late in the morning. The first will arrive here about midday. We will have roast krytes ready by then . . .” Marquart waved away her recitation. He didn’t care about preparations for food and drink; he was satisfied that there would be plenty of both.
“Who will sleep where? Who will arrive first, who will stay latest, who will want to get me alone to talk to, who will get drunk quickest, who is likely to pick a fight, and with whom?”
“Oh, man stuff.”
“I have visited each warden in his home, but other than Jor, I don’t know much about them. When we crowd them together and feed them wine and ale, they will show me who they are. continued tomorrow