Banner of the Hawk 23

The woman Hea bought from him was Zabeen. The Shambler’s seed had quickened within her, though he did not know it, and Hea had kept that secret from him for all time since. Beshu, child of that union, came to be called the Lost Get. Now he was near his death. Marquart was his son.

“Where we go,” Lyré said, “we must not be seen. I will provide for that, but you must remain silent, and you must not interfere.”

“I have no interest in Beshu, so why should I want to interfere?”

“You may come to feel differently. If you do, you still must not interfere.”

“Where are we going?”

“North. North of Port Cantor, on the edge of the Inner Kingdom. It was the only place Beshu could find employment as a soldier.” She drew her cloak tight about her against the coming cold. He put his hand on his sword and they were gone.

# # #

The place to which Lyré transported them was deep in winter. A hartwa stood in a clearing in brushy, lightly forested land. The herdsman who lived there was in charge of caring for fifty tichan for his Lord. He was supposed to look after the tichan every day, but he rarely left the hartwa. Caul did the work for him, on pain of a severe drubbing.

Evening was coming on; the tichan were gathered into their byre and had been fed their ration of hay. Caul was making his way back toward the hartwa where he could expect another evening of criticism from Khadil, when he came upon a kakai and rider. It was a warrior, still in mail and greaves, with his sword sheathed at his right hand on the slopesaddle. Caul’s first response was fear, but there was so much pain in such an old and weathered face that he set it aside.

The warrior had seen him and nodded toward him. “Boy,” he said, “I’m cold and I’m hungry. What kind of reception will I get from your folks.”

Caul snorted in disgust. “Poor enough, and they aren’t my folks. Come in and eat, but if you sleep on their floor, keep your hand on your knife.”

“I always do. Do you do all the work around here? Don’t look so surprised. I’ve been watching you for half an hour, while whoever is in there could have come out to help.”

Caul walked up to the kakai. The old warrior was short and broad, wrinkled and old, but he looked like he could still hold his own with any three men. Caul said, “The woman inside is Emira, my mother’s cousin. The man is Khadil. The black lung fever moved through here a year ago, and took my parents and my sister. I’ve been living here since.”

“Tell me about the man.”

Caul shook his head. “When you see him, I won’t have to.”

“Then why do you stay?”

“He feeds me.”

The old warrior spat and said, “More likely, you feed him. Well, it’s your business. Lead me in.”

Caul gave the breastband of the slope saddle a tug, and the kakai moved readily to follow him. The old warrior leaned on his arms, trying to look stern, but Caul could see the pain in his face. He said, “Who do you fight for?”

“Essengul. I did; he died in battle last night and his troops are scattered, mostly heading for the coast. I headed for the hills, and here I am.”

“Don’t let Khadil see that you’re wounded,” Caul said.

“Boy, you talk to much.”

“Not to Khadil, I don’t.”

After a minute, the warrior said, “I’m Beshu.”

“Caul.” more tomorrow

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