Banner of the Hawk 16

Marquart threw back his head in defiance and growled, “You knew my father. Now know me!”

A pulse moved through him. His hair stood on end. Then the moment passed and the menhir was quiescent again. Marquart moved across the grass and touched one of the uprights, but now it was only a stone to his touch.

Taipai stood in the entryway, alone, his old face calm and unreadable. He said, “The Menhir remembered.”

“Yes.”

“And now that it has caressed your ai, it will never forget you either. You belong to it — or you will.”

“As you do.”

“Yes. I, and Dymal, and now you. Everyone who can manage, comes here at death. But only a very few are bound during their lifetimes.”

“I do not wish to be bound.”

Taipai shrugged. “I did not bind you, and I cannot loosen you. I do not think you can be loosened.”

“I always thought . . .”

“Yes?”

“I always thought that I would die in battle, and that my soul would dissipate.”

“A sad fate.”

“Is it? Is it really? I never thought so. I always preferred that to this.” He gestured around them.

Taipai stared at him, puzzled, and not quite believing. “Come,” he said, “take refreshment with me, in a place less charged with power.”

# # #

On the grassy lawn where the menhir stood, a faint troubling of the air was all that showed where Baralia stood. “That was him,” she said, and, though the menhir must remain mute, she knew and it knew that she was right. She had changed in the months since Hea Santala had set her to her task. The bloom of youth had faded from her face; she was old now with melancholy and loneliness. She drew sustenance from the menhir — Hea had forged that bond — but she could not touch it. She could freely wander to see and hear, gathering such information as she might need, but she could not touch or communicate with any living creature, except Marquart.

She faded from that place and drew up at Marquart’s shoulder. He did not know. He would only know when she chose to exert herself and make herself known to him. But she would never leave him, as long as he lived.

# # #

Hours later, when Marquart had gone and the daily routine of the temple allowed it, Taipai sat down with Dymal. He said, “What do you think.”

“What is he?”

“Dziai, at least. A man of power, but entirely untrained.”

“He lacks — humility.”

Taipai laughed softly. “Humility in a soldier leads to an early death. He has done great things. I would know this from the taste of his ai, even if I had not already heard tales.”

“The menhir knew him.”

“It remembered.”

“What did it remember? He has never been here before.”

“His father was.” Taipai then told how Beshu had come as a young man seeking prophesy, and had made a warrior’s sacrifice of his own blood in the center of the menhir.

Dymal said, “Marquart seems more polished than that. More sophisticated, yet . . .”

“Less dangerous?”

“More dangerous, if he becomes our enemy. He is not our enemy yet, I think.”

“That is the way I see it, as well. Anyway, he will be yours to deal with.”

“What do you mean?”

“Come, Dymal, don’t play at words with me. And don’t tell me you haven’t cast my mandala.”

Dymal said nothing.

“Death soon, Dymal. A quiet death I think.” He paused and closed his eyes, for Dymal was quick and would have read much in those eyes. It would be years before Dymal could see the future as clearly as Taipai saw it, and it was unlikely that Dymal would cast mandalas to foresee his own death. It was not his way. But Taipai had cast for him, out of a fatherly concern for his pupil and protégé. 

Dymal’s death was years in the future, but it would not be a quiet one. more Monday

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