Banner of the Hawk 41

Baralia could not read his mind, nor his face when he chose to make it blank. In fact, he was thinking, “Maybe what Baralia says is the truth, and maybe it is all lies. I have regretted following her advice in the past.”

Even if Clevis had offered such a report, he would have treated it with doubt, so why should he believe this unnatural creature? For he realized that he did believe it. With all his doubts, it rang true for him because it buttressed his long-standing picture of Melcer. Melcer, the bastard elder brother who had tormented him in childhood. 

He no longer feared his brother, but he still hated him.

Marquart stayed silent and Baralia chose not to disturb him. The long shadows gathered together to knit up a garment of pure darkness. The sound of kakais being gathered unseen in the forecourt broke his reverie, and Marquart went down the stairs with no further word to her.

Marquart led his troop away from the manorhouse with Clevis at his stirrup and with Hein and Conger close behind. Fifteen men-at-arms followed, for Marquart believed in Limiakos II’s rule, “Speak peace with a sword in your hand.”

14.

Lanti was young, long legged and slim; her breasts were full and she was just three scarves away from naked. She had taken to Melcer like a moth to cider and despite the fact that she was a bargirl, she had spent more time in his lap than serving drinks. It had been a long night and most of Melcer’s shipmates had passed out from drinking or had wandered off to the loft with one of Lanti’s cohorts. Only Rondor remained.

The Falling Griffon was a typical waterfront inn, tavern, and whorehouse. Smoke had long since stained the ceiling black and, as usual, filled the common room and spilled out into the streets. The warmth of the afternoon was fading; it would be was a cruel night, with a wind from the sea that brought in the fog. No snow had fallen in Port of the Gull yet, but the rising storm was bringing the temperature down fast. Within the Griffon, the rattle of bones scattered from a wooden cup filled the inn, while a minstrel with a thyril tried to make himself heard above the din. The words of his ribald song reached down the street to bring a smile from the city guard.

Melcer drew Lanti closer, slipping his hand under one of her scarves to cup a breast, and shook his cup at his companion. “You are wrong, Rondor,” he said. “One port is not just like another. Beyond the self-evident fact that the women in Port of the Gull are the most beautiful in the world . . .;” Lanti slipped her hand inside his shirt and scratched his hard belly; “. . . there is the fact that I was born here. My mother was not quite like Lanti here, but she was of fallen estate. When old Lord Kafi drove his brother — my maternal g’father — into exile, he left his daughter — my mother — behind. Beshu, my father, met her in this very town. Now I said she was not like Lanti — she didn’t wait tables in places like this or serve men in other ways. How many ways do you serve, little succubus?”

At this shift in the conversation, Lanti leaned forward and kissed Melcer, taking her time and being most thorough about it. Then she stiffened in mock modesty and dropped her eyes. Very softly, she said, “My lord knows.” Then she giggled and squirmed closer.

“A most shy and proper young lady,” Rondor said, and Melcer roared with laughter. He finished his tankard and while Lanti was running to refill it, Rondor prompted, “You were saying?” more tomorrow

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