Banner of the Hawk 28

By the time Marquart had disbursed his other bags of life saving grain, it was late. The sun was low in the west. He could get back, cold and late, to his own manorhouse, or he could divert to the house of Dutta. He chose to do the latter.

As he approached, the soldier in him found Dutta’s house lacking. Marquart rode right up to the door and kicked it from the saddle. A servant looked out, greeted him briefly and went to get his master. When Dutta came to the door, he looked puzzled to see Marquart, mounted and alone.

“Dutta, if I were your enemy, I would have your house down around your ears before you even knew it. Not one servant challenged me as I approached.”

“It’s cold out, and late. Who would be out now?”

“I am. If armed brigands came down from the hills, they would have you out of your house like a crab’s meat out of its shell.”

“But, Lord Marquart, there haven’t been armed brigands in our hills for twenty years. Here, get down and come in. We are just at table.”

Marquart swung down. Servants took his kakai away as he followed Dutta back inside.

Dutta inquired why Marquart was out so late, introduced him again to his round faced wife and stripling sons. He was absurdly pleased to have Marquart in his house. His reaction was genuine; Marquart did not doubt that, but it only irritated him further. Dutta was of the age of manhood, with responsibilities and a wife and sons. But in Marquart’s eyes, Dutta was a child.

Three cousins with their wives and children, an uncle, a g’uncle as well; Dutta introduced them to Marquart. They acknowledged him politely, looking up from their well filled plates, from the table groaning with food. Ruddy round faces; these were the g’g’g’g’g’sons of the conquerors who had moved into the valley two centuries ago. The copper skinned serfs were descended from those who had lost that ancient battle.

Soft, round, polite, secure; with no thought that they were the scourge of the serfs who starved so they could eat.

Round.

Soft.

Worthless.

Marquart felt anger building. He knew that he must control it. He feared that he could not.

In the center of the table was a silver platter, holding most of a jaungifowl, swimming in its own gravy and surrounded by mounds of soaked breads. Marquart picked it up above his head and slammed in back, inverted, onto the table. Meat and juices, bread and fruits flew in every direction, splattering the shocked diners.

There were growls and shrieks that died to silence when they all looked into Marquart’s eyes.

He wanted to shout at them all, to tell them what he had seen today at the firesides of the starving serfs, but there were no words. Twice he tried, and twice the words died in his throat, strangled there by the vastness of his anger.

Dutta approached the table, saying, “Sire . . .?”

“You feast,” Marquart managed to say, “while your serfs starve.” The words rumbled up from deep within him, and he realized that he was pounding the table.

Dutta stepped back in shock and confusion. Marquart continued, “You will not feast again this winter. You will eat sparingly and you will distribute food to your serfs. As your Lord, I charge you with this. And by next winter, half these worthless ones will be gone from your household. You will find a place for them out of the valley, and you will see to it that the food they would have eaten remains in the hands of your serfs. Do this, or I will come here and take your lands away from you, and give them to someone who can carry out my orders.” more Monday

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