“Let’s go down and see what bones we have thrown,” he said, and touched toepoints to his kakai. A wiser man would have stopped a moment to chat with his new wife, crouched cold and weary in the first wagon, but Marquart’s attention was all on the problems he would face in the valley below.
# # #
Marquart and Clevis led the way. Conger and Hein fell in before and behind the wagon that carried Dael, and the cavalcade headed down toward the Valley of the Menhir.
There were two other souls present, unnoticed. One crouched beneath the snow laden branches of a yawl bush, watching. Her clothing was thin; her face was pinched with hunger and cold.
This was a world of Gods and Kings, of Lords and soldiers, but also of merchants and barmaids; mountebanks and bureaucrats and whores; of the wild and untamed Dzikakai; of serfs. And beneath all these were the ones like this woman Harthka who were beyond the axe.
She stood, shaking the snow from her clothing, and watched a long time until the last wagon disappeared into the deeper forest a mile below. Then she turned resolutely back to gathering yawl.
Remember her. Without her and her mate, there would be no story to tell.
The other unnoticed soul lay better hidden, smaller than a seed, no bigger than a hope, just quickened in Dael’s womb — the child who would be Tidac, in whose coming Hea could read only confusion and vast power.
# # #
The manorhouse was a low stone building, rectangular with a ground level entrance. The builder had had the foresight to put his heavy door so that a blunt tooth of native rock stood before it, discouraging any direct attack by a battering ram. That was about all the credit Marquart was prepared to give him. A run and balustrade surrounded the building at the eaves, and the roof was guttered inward to catch rainwater, but the walls were too low and the eave-level runways too narrow for any real defense.
Still, who was there to attack it?
For the last three hours they had traveled by the wan light of Sun’shome, that unblinking blue eye of a moon. Now, as the last of the wagons pulled into the forecourt before the manorhouse, Marquart lowered himself wearily from the slopesaddle and pounded on the manorhouse door.
After a long wait, he pounded again.
“Do we have to lay siege to this place, too?” Conger asked.
“It’s no Port Cantor,” was Clevis’ reply.
Marquart sighed, pounded a third time, and kicked the door roundly for good measure. His voice, coming hollow from the darkness, reminded them, “We had four thousand men at Port Cantor. Could you three, alone, take this place?”
There came a thoughtful silence, then Clevis said, “Yes.” After another pause, he added, “But not in time to get a warm bed for this night.”
“Hein,” Marquart commanded, “follow your nose. I smell coal smoke among the wood smoke. Find the blacksmith’s forge and bring back a doublejack.”
Hein dropped from his kakai with a grunt and scurried off. Shortly he returned with a heavy, long handled hammer. Marquart took it, tested it’s balance, and gave the door such a blow that it shivered in its mounting. After three heartbeats, he hit it again, and after another like pause, again.
“That’ll wake ‘em up, soon or late,” Hein grinned.
Dael’s pale face was faintly visible beneath the canvas of the first wagon. Conger tapped Clevis on the arm and motioned with his head. Clevis snorted and said, “Forgot her again! Our new Lord has a few things still to learn.”
“Do you want to tell him — now?” more tomorrow