Banner of the Hawk 19

“When the High King called me to an accounting, he was not impressed. He had wanted blood and slaughter.”

“But . . . why?”

“So that he could wander the battlefields where my troops had gone, feeding on the ai of the newly dead.”

“I have heard those rumors,” Dael said, “but surely . . .”

“They are not rumors. Limiakos told me himself, and threatened to have me killed so he could feast on my ai.”

Dael tore her hands loose from Marquart’s and threw her arms around him. He patted her shoulder and went on, “Instead, he said he had another job for me. Not as a commander in his armies — I wasn’t bloody enough — but as the lord of a small but troublesome demesne. This one.”

Dael asked, “Are we in danger?”

“No. Limiakos would have killed me and fed, right there in Port Cantor if the mood had struck him. When he said that I could still be of some small use to him here, he meant exactly that. He had no reason to lie. By now he has forgotten that I ever existed.”

For a time, Dael listened to Marquart’s breathing. Then she said, “This can be a good life here. A really good life.”

“Aye,” he grunted. “Lord of the Valley of the Menhir. Jor would kill to have that title and those prerogatives. But I was large in the world, and becoming larger. Now, this is as great as I will ever be.”

6.

It was hard into midwinter when Marquart first caught sight of Baralia. To carry out the geas that had been laid upon her, Hea Santala had given the abahara the power to make herself seen and heard by Marquart, but she did not use this power until she knew him well.

When he first saw her, she was down a hall from him and she moved quickly around a corner. He rounded the corner after her, and saw no one. A day later she let him see her out of the corner of his eye at evenmeal, and disappeared as quickly. When Marquart inquired, none of the servants knew of anyone who matched her description.

She called Marquart’s name, standing invisible at his side as he watched the sunset. 

She let him see her reflection clearly in a polished breastplate as he worked at swordplay with his men, but when he turned, she was not there.

Later, when he had become attuned to her, she let him feel her presence without letting herself be seen. At night, as she stood at his bedside, staring malignantly down at Dael, he would waken and light a candle in the apparently empty room.

She went everywhere in the manorhouse. She saw every deed of malice, every slacking of work when no one else was looking, every thing that was stolen, every quick thumping of furtive loins when it was supposed to be worktime.

She watched Marquart undress at night, aching to touch his body, but unable. Sometimes when he woke in the morning, with a stiffened rod of flesh, she closed her translucent hands about it and felt nothing, as he remained unaware. She hated him. She lusted for him. She wanted to fly around the manorhouse and report to him everything she saw, and make him omniscient. She wanted to tell just the right lies, to send him to his death. He was the reason she was hung half way between death and life; and he was the only contact she had with the living.

She watched Dael when she sat naked on the bedside. She watched her breasts and longed to touch them, as she longed to have human hands caress her own transparent nipples. She watched when Dael lay back and spread her legs to reveal her secret place to her husband, and knew that no man would ever plumb her own depths again. As the weeks passed, she watched the slow thickening of Dael’s waist, and the rounding beneath her navel, and knew that this child would grow and be born, and that Dael would live to hold and nurse him. And she hated. Perhaps more fully than anyone had ever hated before. And could do nothing. When she ripped her fingers, clawlike, through Dael’s eyes, Dael never knew. more tomorrow

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