290. Menhir, a winter’s tale 11

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

In Marquart’s eyes, Dutta was a child.

Three cousins with their wives and children, an uncle, a g’uncle as well; Dutta introduced them to Marquart. They acknowledged him politely, looking up from their well filled plates, from the table groaning with food. Ruddy round faces; these were the g’g’g’g’g’sons of the conquerors who had moved into the valley two centuries ago. The copper skinned serfs were descended from those who had lost that ancient battle.

Soft, round, polite, secure; with no thought that they were the scourge of the serfs who starved so they could eat.

Round.

Soft.

Worthless.

Marquart felt anger building. He knew that he must control it. He feared that he could not.

In the center of the table was a silver platter, holding most of a jaungifowl, swimming in its own gravy and surrounded by mounds of soaked breads. Marquart picked it up above his head and slammed in back, inverted, onto the table. Meat and juices, bread and fruits flew in every direction, splattering the shocked diners.

There were growls and shrieks that died to silence when they all looked into Marquart’s eyes.

He wanted to shout at them all, to tell them what he had seen today at the firesides of the starving serfs, but there were no words. Twice he tried, and twice the words died in his throat, strangled there by the vastness of his anger.

Dutta approached the table, saying, “Sire . . .?”

“You feast,” Marquart managed to say, “while your serfs starve.” The words rumbled up from deep within him, and he realized that he was pounding the table.

Dutta stepped back in shock and confusion. Marquart continued, “You will not feast again this winter. You will eat sparingly and you will distribute food to your serfs. As your Lord, I charge you with this. And by next winter, half these worthless ones will be gone from your household. You will find a place for them out of the valley, and you will see to it that the food they would have eaten remains in the hands of your serfs. Do this, or I will come here and take your lands away from you, and give them to someone who can carry out my orders.”

He had felt Marquart’s displeasure before, at Midwinterfest, but now his anger was like a flame. Marquart had told him — had told them all — to clear out their households. It had seemed to unreasonable to take seriously.

But to threaten to remove him altogether from the only home he had ever known! That had been home to his father and his g’father before him. And to make that threat openly here, in his own hall, in the presence of his wife and children. continued tomorrow

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