289. Menhir, a winter’s tale 10

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

“Beshu, Father,” Marquart said aloud, “are you alive or are you dead? And wherever you are, are you laughing at me now? Damn you!”

Beshu had had ambition. Beshu had gone to war to become large; he had won much, had gained lands, a title, lordship of a small demesne, sons. And he had lost it all again, through that fierce temper he could not control. He had won battles at such a cost that soon no soldiers would rally to his banner. And when men would no longer follow him, he had disappeared, leaving his sons to be raised by an old mate-in-battle.

It was fifteen years now since Marquart had had word of his father Beshu.

Marquart had gone into the world determined not to make Beshu’s mistakes. He had studied the craft of war, he had used his men carefully, he had cultivated the reputation of one who used guile in battle. Men had flocked to his banner.

And for that, Limiakos had cast him into this outer darkness. Alive, and likely to live long, but condemned to smallness.

He ground his teeth and cursed to the empty sky. He thought that no one heard him. But Baralia heard.

#             #             #

By the time Marquart had disbursed his other bags of life saving grain, it was late. The sun was low in the west. He could get back, cold and late, to his own manorhouse, or he could divert to the house of Dutta. He chose to do the latter.

As he approached, the soldier in him found Dutta’s house lacking. Marquart rode right up to the door and kicked it from the saddle. A servant looked out, greeted him briefly and went to get his master. When Dutta came to the door, he looked puzzled to see Marquart, mounted and alone.

“Dutta, if I were your enemy, I would have your house down around your ears before you even knew it. Not one servant challenged me as I approached.”

“It’s cold out, and late. Who would be out now?”

“I am. If armed brigands came down from the hills, they would have you out of your house like a crab’s meat out of its shell.”

“But, Lord Marquart, there haven’t been armed brigands in our hills for twenty years. Here, get down and come in. We are just at table.”

Marquart swung down. Servants took his kakai away as he followed Dutta back inside.

Dutta inquired why Marquart was out so late, introduced him again to his round faced wife and stripling sons. He was absurdly pleased to have Marquart in his house. His reaction was genuine; Marquart did not doubt that, but it only irritated him further. Dutta was of the age of manhood, with responsibilities and a wife and sons. But in Marquart’s eyes, Dutta was a child. continued tomorrow

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