When Marquart had arrived in the Valley, his coffers had been nearly empty and what money there was he had invested in cattle, brought in from Pinera’s land. These he had distributed to his serfs so they could better plow their fields. There was no money to hire troops and the menhir villagers, knowing this, had continued to default on their taxes. Like Taipai before him, Dymal had supported them.
Since he could not afford soldiers, Marquart had brought in stonewrights, ostensibly to build a proper keep, but had set them to work displacing large boulders from the canyon rim. These had fallen into the narrows of the Gull below the village. Weeks of this passed, while the villagers came out to laugh; then the water began to rise. Soon a lake rose above the constricted flow, until it reached the clearing where the menhir stood.
All that winter, the waters had stood ankle deep around the menhir. The villagers had shouted, “Sacrilege!” Marquart replied that the dead within the menhir would not mind wet feet.
Marquart came for his taxes that spring, and the villagers claimed inability to pay because the dam had cut them off from commerce. So he put his stonewrights back to work and piled the rock dam higher. By late spring, water had entered the houses of the village.
Jor was always busy, those two years, fomenting and organizing. He gained Dutta’s support, and the support of the head of the menhir village. With a mixed band of his and Dutta’s relatives, along with a few dozen of the villagers, he led an attack on the manorhouse.
Marquart, Clevis, Conger, and Hein socketed up their lancettes and waited. They had seen battles of thousands against thousands; this was hardly a skirmish. When it was over, eight attackers lay dead, and five more were wounded. Dutta was among the latter. Marquart held trial on the battlefield, there among the scattered bodies, and found Dutta in rebellion against his rightful lord. Hein beheaded him while Marquart watched.
Dael never looked at Marquart again.
As the column approached the manorhouse, Clevis could see Marquart at the rimwall, watching and evaluating. His face was expressionless. Their old camaraderie was gone. Marquart no longer confided in Clevis, since Clevis’ advice to confide in his wife had gone so sour.
Clevis did not see Baralia, full of advice, invisible at Marquart’s side.
# # #
Clevis dropped his sword and lancette on a table and sat on the bed. He tugged off his boots with a sigh and wriggled what remained of his toes. Since he had lost the outer three on his left foot, he had not been able to walk without strain. Keeping his balance on the rolling merchant ship all the way to Renth and back had been no fun. Clevis had never been much of a sailor anyway.
Conger was there, rubbing down a leather jacket with tallow from the kitchen. He said, “What do you think of the new troops?”
“They’re good. Young, but veterans from the service of a merchant who recently went under. They were glad to find employment that didn’t make them work for recent enemies.”
With a twinkle in his eye, Conger said, “Tell me about the dancers?”
The temple dancers of Renth were famous, even in the Inner Kingdom. Clevis snorted. “You know damned well no one with my purse is ever going to even see one of them. But there were a couple of barmaids . . .”
“I’ll tell you what I did see. I saw Melcer.”
Now Conger put down his jacket and listened with both ears. They had both been present ten years earlier when Marquart had last met his h’brother. “He has come up in the world,” Clevis continued. “He is master of a merchant vessel now, working out of Bihag. He recognized me; bought me a drink. Seemed friendly enough.”
“No reason he shouldn’t be. If you hadn’t stopped them, he and our Lord-and-Master would have fought to the death that day. more tomorrow