Banner of the Hawk 39

Marquart turned away from the room he had shared with his wife, when he had had a wife, and moved on to the small chamber where his empty bed lay waiting.

He had failed Dael; he did not know how he had failed her, but he had. She had also failed him, but that was not something he could control, so he dismissed it. He thought, “I must not fail my son as I failed his mother.” But he worried that he did not know how to avoid such failure.

13.

For fire safety, Branbourn’s forge was housed in a separate building of stone, roofed with poles and dirt instead of thatch, and set some distance from the other outbuildings. It was one of Tidac’s favorite places, where he spent long hours gazing into the fire and listening to Branbourn’s tales and his instruction.

Branbourn was not a tutor; he taught because he had come to love Tidac as if he were his own son. While the new hireling priest Weikata taught the boy the ways of the Gods and the history and governance of the Inner Kingdom, Branbourn tried to teach him to be a man.

To Branbourn’s eye, Weikata was a pale and sickly thing, unfit to tutor a boy like Tidac. He stank of too much priesthood.

Clevis taught the boy warcraft, strategy, swordsmanship, and nurtured his physical strength. He was doing so now, sparring with Tidac on the packed earth outside the smithy door. Clevis was an old friend to Branbourn, and the boy could find no better tutor for what Clevis had to teach. But who was there to teach him kindness, forbearance, and tolerance? Not Dael, who had run away. Not Marquart at any time, but especially not since Dael had left him. Every minute of Clevis’ teaching was centered on what the boy would need to survive in a harsh world.

Branbourn taught by metaphor. With every new sword, he brought beauty out of fire and sweat — heating, pounding, layering, quenching, drawing, tempering, sharpening. These things are not unlike what must happen to a man, if he is to become bright and clean and strong, but not brittle. This is what Branbourn taught, by example and slow explanation, remaining careful never to preach.

The sun had moved behind the manorhouse, throwing its shadow across the yard. Within the smithy, Branbourn spread the coke and doused it, set his tools in order for the next day’s work, and hung his ragged leather apron on a peg.

Outside, Tidac young body was drenched with sweat as he strove to ward off Clevis’ blows. He was short for eight years, but massive, and there was a shambling roll to his gait, almost like a sailor at sea. He was thick to the point of oddity, unless one had seen Marquart’s squat and heavy frame and knew what the boy would grow up to be.

Tidac was working with the sword Branbourn had made for him last winter, a lovely thing of layered iron and steel, with a chasing of silver vines. Clevis was using an oak wand, chopped and splintered now by Tidac’s blade. Tidac’s eyes were eager and his movements deft. In such moments, he almost forgot to hide his smile.

Then for a brief moment, fear moved in the boy’s eyes, and just as suddenly was gone. So was the light and eagerness as the boy withdrew into himself again, turning and bringing his sword up in salute as his father came around the forge shed.

Marquart nodded to his son in acknowledgment of the salute and said to Clevis, “Come away.” He spun on his heels and headed back toward the manorhouse; Clevis hurried to follow.

Tidac moved to wipe down his sword, running his thumb along the blade to see if it had acquired any nicks that would need honing out. His face was calm, serene — blank — but Branbourn had seen in that one unguarded moment how Tidac feared his father. more tomorrow

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