Grumbling, Jor read it. Then he said, “How do I know it’s genuine?”
Clevis whistled involuntarily. Marquart became very still. Without turning around, he said to Clevis, “Did you hear that?”
“I don’t know, Lord Marquart. Did I?”
“Lord Marquart, I didn’t hear a thing. And neither did this fellow.” He had taken the portal keeper by the arm.
Then Marquart hit Jor.
Not with his fist; that would probably have killed him. He hit him with his open hand, and Jor spun aside and crashed against the wall of the corridor, leaving a smear of blood where he clawed at the plaster as he slowly slid down to lie upon the floor.
As Clevis pulled the portal keeper with him, back toward the entrance, he asked, “How many servants are there here in the manorhouse?”
“Huh? Uh, fourteen.”
“Is the cook any good?”
They were ten feet down the corridor before the portal keeper realized that Clevis was giving him a way out. He became effusive about the details of the daily management of the manorhouse, and with every step he was a happier man. He didn’t want to know what was about to happen behind him him.
After a few minutes, Jor groaned and rolled over. His eyes were glassy and a runnel of blood and snot ran from his nose. Marquart squatted beside him and waited until Jor had come fully to himself, then said, “Jor, you are a fool.”
Jor said nothing but his eyes spelled hatred.
“Imbric sent a messenger telling you I was coming.
“No . . . ,” Marquart held up his hand. “Don’t lie now. You may yet live, if you learn quickly. When you knew that I was on my way, you should have set up a welcome and tried to play the proper warden until you could manufacture an accidental death for me. Or you should have hired brigands to kill me and my party while we were still far from the Valley. Or you could have even accepted the facts and been satisfied remaining a warden. But to set yourself up in my place and then pretend you didn’t know. Ah, man, that was foolish.”
The whole right side of Jor’s face was inflamed and swollen. He said, “I didn’t . . .”, and Marquart hit him again. Jor’s head rocked to the side and a blob of clotted blood flew against the wall but, compared the the previous blow, this was a love tap. Jor’s eyes went blank, but only for a moment.
“Now I know you,” Marquart continued. “You have lost the advantage of surprise. Now you will have to endure the humiliation when all of all your fellow wardens know you have failed. And other humiliations as well, but if you bear them well, you may yet live.
“Or you may not!”
With that, Marquart paused and watched Jor’s eyes until he saw the full import of his words sink in. Only then did he continue. He said, “If you plot against me again, or balk at my orders, or if I even think you are working against me, or if I just feel like it . . .”
Marquart rose to his feet, continuing.
“. . . then I will kill you. And hang your body from a tree, under guard, until your soul has become so thin that no priest could drag it back for enreithment.
“Now get up. Wash yourself change your tunic. Meet me in the greatroom in ten minutes to give accounting of how you have kept my demesne in my absence. Come humbly, or come armed. It’s all the same to me.” more Monday