Banner of the Hawk 15

“You are so self-complete that you are in danger.”

“From what?”

“From yourself.” Clevis turned in the saddle and faced Marquart, determined to have his say even if it got him knocked to the ground. “A wife is not just a whore who doesn’t go away. If your life is going to be worth living, she has to become your friend. Confide in her. You can’t tell her everything, but tell her much. Tell her more than you would tell me.”

# # #

Two men faced each other across a cleared space outside the grounds of the temple complex and regarded each other minutely. Taipai, was senior priest of the Menhir, and thus the local hand of Hea Santala and the Damesept. Marquart s’Beshu, Lord of the Valley, was by extension the local hand of the High King, Limiakos IV. 

Everything within the thorngall hedge surrounding the menhir was clearly in Taipai’s jurisdiction. That the temple grounds surrounding the menhir were his as well, was accepted by long precedent. But the town which abutted the temple grounds? That was the rub. Kafi had taxed the town a decade ago, but he had let the taxes go uncollected as his health deteriorated. Taipai had backed the townspeople in their closet rebellion.

Now Taipai spoke appropriate greetings; Marquart responded, and swung down from his kakai. He offered his wrist in a freeman’s greeting — a greeting of equals. Taipai hesitated only a moment before responding in kind. After all, they were equals in the Valley, although Marquart should have shown Taipai the greater respect here on Taipai’s home ground. And Marquart had not removed his gloves, so that Taipai’s bare wrist touched martial leather. By such subtleties, Marquart announced his intention of curbing Taipai’s power.

Taipai nodded toward the belted weapons at Marquart’s waist, and said, “You will not need those here.”

Marquart looked down as if he had been unaware. A heavy sword hung at his right hand and the delicate, leaf bladed lancette at his left. “I am sorry, Taipai,” he said, “but I have been a soldier so long that they have become a habit. I would feel naked without the tools of my old trade.”

Taipai shrugged slightly. He gestured toward the temple, but Marquart shook his head, and said, “No. First I will see the menhir.”

“Then you must lay aside your — tools. No one goes into the menhir armed.”

“No one?”

Taipai’s face flamed red and his loose, wrinkled mouth drew into a firm line. Marquart continued, “I, of all people, know that story.”

Three decades ago, Marquart’s father Beshu had made a bloody warrior’s sacrifice in the middle of the Menhir. It had taken weeks to purify the place, and the stain on Taipai’s honor still rankled.

Behind Taipai was a lean, dark haired priest of middle height. His face was set in an expression of suppressed fury; clearly, he was even more insulted than the Senior. They had not acknowledged his presence yet, just as they had not acknowledged the presence of Clevis, Conger, and Hein, still mounted and awaiting orders. Marquart nodded in the young priest’s direction and asked, “Your protégé?”

“Lord Marquart, this is Dymal, whom the Menhir has chosen to replace me when I die.”

“In these troubled times,” Marquart said blandly, “it is good to have one’s house in order.” Then he pushed past Taipai, gesturing to his men to remain, and stepped down toward the thorngall hedge.

Menhirs are beshes, and beshes are stones, but they can be arrayed in many shapes. This menhir had been constructed of basalt. There were four pairs of standing stones, each pair surmounted by a capstone. The pairs were arrayed in a rough circle with the widest gap toward the rising sun at midwinter. 

Marquart strode through this entry gap and slammed to a halt, instinctively touching his lancette. He had expected to feel the power of the menhir. He had not expected the menhir to feel him. But it did. It came surging sluggishly to life and Marquart felt tendrils of power touch and judge his soul. more tomorrow


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