Banner of the Hawk 40

Marquart waited until Clevis caught up and said, “You talked to Melcer a year ago.”

“Aye. In Renth.”

“You said he seemed friendly?”

“Yes — to me. He talked about the past with nostalgia, not bitterness. But he didn’t say much about you directly, so his feelings may not have changed in that regard.”

“He claims now that they have.” 

Marquart passed over a parchment. After formal greetings, it read, “I congratulate you on your achievements, and your advancement to Lordship of the Valley. It has been more than ten years since we spoke last in anger. I find that my anger has fled and I hope that yours has as well. You have found your place in the world, and I have found mine. I would have us once again be as brothers.”

Clevis merely raised an eyebrow. Marquart said, “Well?”

“It could be. Or it could be a lie, or a connivance, or even the baiting of a trap. The best thing I can say is that he has no apparent need of you, and you certainly have no need of him. I see no reason for him to send this unless it simply means what it says. But I wouldn’t bet my life on it.”

Marquart frowned deeply and said, “He is my father’s son.”

“I never met Beshu, but I know Melcer well. He is capable of anything. Even, possibly, of telling the truth.”

“Possibly. Not likely. This was brought to me by a hired messenger. Melcer’s ship is in Port of the Gull.”

“Then this letter is to ask for an invitation.”

“Aye. But we will visit him instead. Gather the men. Set half of them to stay here on high alert. The other half are to be mounted, with swords and lancettes. See that they have a light supper and keep the kakais inside until it is fully dark. I want to move out when no one can see us, and arrive at Port of the Gull before moonrise. Then we will see if Melcer’s protestations of brotherhood are real or false.”

# # #

Marquart took a horn of ale and a half a loaf of bread up to the battlements for his supper. Baralia joined him there, as he had known she would. He said, “Did you do as I asked?”

“I told you when first we met, that to serve Hea I would aid you.”

“You said you might. What did you see at Port of the Gull?”

“Melcer is at the Inn of the Falling Griffon, with a troop of men. I counted ten, but they were coming and going. It could have been twice that many. Since I can’t be seen or heard by anyone but you, I was hampered. I could not ask questions; I could only listen and report.”

“So report!”

“He wants your demesne. He plans to kill you and take your place as Lord of the Valley.”

Marquart shook his head. “Melcer is a bastard. He is not even teniai, since Beshu became teniai after he was born. If he took the Valley, the High King would send in troops to take it back.”

“I heard that same argument from one of Melcer’s men,” Baralia replied. “Melcer said much can be done by a bold stroke with an iron hand, and that the Limiakos is overextended, caught between holding the cities he has recently conquered along the coast and the increasing Dzikakai raids from the dry lands.”

Marquart chewed his bread and thought. Then he said, “That much at least is true. I had a letter from Reece two months ago that confirms it. If Melcer could take the Valley, he might hold it for years before anyone could dislodge him.” Then he was silent. Baralia could not read his mind, nor his face when he chose to make it blank. more Monday

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