Banner of the Hawk 20

When she was ready, Baralia let herself be fully seen. She was sitting at the high table when Marquart entered the great hall. He stopped, scowling at her presence; then he realized she was his phantom. He crossed to her and saw that the chair was quite visible through her body. He did not call her ghost. That word is not found in Lankhara, nor Renthian, nor in the language of the Inner Kingdom. Nor is the concept.

On Marquart’s world the souls of the dead are either enreithed or fade into nothingness within days. His world knows neither heaven nor hell, nor any other form of afterlife except the one that all men aspire to, the joining together at death through enreithment into a besh. Disembodied souls are abahara. An abahara that does not fade away cannot exist, so there is no word for such a creature.

Marquart said, “What are you and where do you come from?”

He took for granted that she was not of his world. There were other worlds, and menhirs were the gates to reach them; this Marquart knew. The Comanyi had come through the menhir on the top of Mount Comai to rule as Gods for a thousand years, and his world’s more recent Gods, Rem Ossilo and Hea Santala, had come in through the very menhir for which the Valley was named. Shapeshifters had come from Lorric; kakais and tichan had come in with the Comanyi. Marquart’s world had no concept of ghosts or heaven, but other worlds were well known to them.

There were even reputed to be dziais, men of power from Marquart’s world, who could tap the power of the menhirs and travel through them to other worlds.

Then, as Marquart looked closer, he realized that this apparition could be of his world, could even be from this region. Her dark hair, broad cheekbones and copper face could belong to the daughter of one of his own serfs.

Baralia saw that recognition, and answered, “I am of this place. This is my world.”

“How can this be?”

Hea’s geas had placed many constraints on Baralia, but telling the truth was not one of them. However, Baralia chose to simplify her lies by staying close to the truth. She said, “I died, and Hea Santala took me before I was enreithed and made me her servant.”

“To what end?”

“Ours is the menhir of her entry into our world, and she holds it precious. The worshippers of Rem Ossilo had it for a time, but Hea took it back so that the priests of our menhir now worship only the Damesept.”

Marquart nodded. This was common knowledge.

“Now there has been a change in the Remsept, and she felt the need for another, unseen watcher over that which is Hers.”

So close to the truth, as all good lies are.

“If unseen, then why do I see you?”

“Because I choose to let you see me.”

“Again, why me?”

“The menhir is Hers, the land is yours. It may be that to serve Her, I must first aid you.”

And she faded, leaving Marquart to stare at an empty chair and ponder how to deal with this supposed messenger from the Damesept.

# # #

Marquart had stripped to leggings and leather slippers. In his right hand he carried an ironwood rod balanced to the weight of his sword and in his left hand a lighter rod to match his lancette. He fought in a style he had learned from a minor prince of Renth, using his sword to deflect blows and depending on the quickness and grace of the lancette for most of his offense. It was a style that favored his bulk and power. Now he was facing both Hein and Conger. Sweat clotted the black mat of hair on Marquart’s chest and slicked the smooth skins of his adversaries as they moved around the great hall in the mock-deadly dance of sword practice. more Monday


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