Banner of the Hawk 32

“If you hadn’t stopped them, they would have fought to the death that day. What is between those two, anyway?”

“You can guess as well as I can. An elder bastard and a younger legitimate son — how could they not hate each other.”

Conger went back to polishing the jacket. He said, “You aren’t going to tell Marquart you saw him, are you? I wouldn’t.”

“Are you narat? What if I didn’t tell him, and he found out later?”

# # #

An hour later, bathed, rested, and dressed in fresh clothing, Clevis went out again. He could hear the ringing of a hammer at the forge, and turned his feet that direction. Branbourn was there. He looked up from his work, grinned, and offered his wrist in greeting.

Clevis and Branbourn had grown up together. They had parted as young men, then Clevis had not seen him again until five years ago. Now Branbourn ran the armory for Marquart and made swords when time permitted.

“What is that,” Clevis asked, gesturing to the amorphous mass of metal on the anvil.

Branbourn picked it up with tongs and a twist of the wrist. His massive forearms swelled as he transferred the iron back into the fire. He wiped the sweat from his face and chuckled, “Have you been a soldier so long you no longer recognize a plowshear. I know you walked enough miles behind a tichan when we were boys, that you should remember.”

“Maybe I don’t want to remember. Who’s getting married?”

“Don’t know them, myself. A couple of Marquart’s serfs. The ceremony is day after tomorrow.”

Clevis turned his eyes toward the shadows beyond the glow of the forge and said, “Well, boy, don’t you have a smile for me, after all these weeks.”

The boy did smile, but it was fleeting. There was much of Marquart in his son Tidac. Neither was given to expressiveness. 

Marquart had not spent much time with his son since Dael ran away. Clevis and Branbourn were the only ones in the manorhouse who ever had time for him.

Now the child asked, “Where did you go?”

“I went to Renth to get soldiers for your father. Do you know where Renth is?”

The boy shook his head.

Clevis knelt and drew a map in the dirt. “Here is the Inner Kingdom. Here we are, on the south edge of it. Over here to the west are the lands of the Dzikakai. No one knows much about those plains, because the Dzikakai guard them so jealously. Here is the Great Sea. In the middle is the island of Bihag and here, on the other side, are two great cities, Lankarea in the north and Renth in the south. I went to Renth.”

After a minute, the boy said, “Where is the Outer Kingdom.”

Branbourn chuckled and said, “I told you. He only puts on his dull face for the world to look at. The boy has a sharp mind.”

Clevis grunted assent. He had come to the same conclusion himself. “This,” he said, “is the City of Light, the High King’s city. Two generations ago, it was the center of the Inner Kingdom. Since then Limiakos II and III conquered all of the kingdoms around them, so the Inner Kingdom is now the only kingdom.”

The boy smiled and said, “Then the High King is really the Only King.”

Clevis’ and Branbourn’s eyes met over the Tidac’s head, and Branbourn said, “Marquart doesn’t know what he has in this boy.”

“Give him time,” Clevis replied, but he wondered if Marquart would ever realize what a treasure Dael had given him before she fled.

# # #

Clevis found Marquart walking outside the stables, watching the kakai’s frisking in the corral. Marquart greeted him with neutral calm.

Clevis described the soldiers he had brought in, then told of finding Melcer in Renth, holding back no details. He watched the quick anger in Marquart’s eyes turn to guardedness as he hid emotions behind narrowed eyes. When he finished, Marquart thanked him for the information, but there was a brittleness in his voice. Clevis took his leave. more Monday

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