Banner of the Hawk 42

“I was saying that after Beshu made his warrior’s sacrifice in the local menhir, and gave the priests the shock of their lives, he came back here to Port of the Gull. Here he met my mother. When Beshu showered her with presents and, I believe, promises, she took him into her bed. He knew she was Kafi’s niece, of course, but at that time no one doubted that Kafi would raise an heir. Eventually, the itch to travel took hold of Beshu and he left on a ship bound for Sarnia. Some friends there obtained a commission for him and he spent the rest of his life in the High King’s service. He became teniai, married properly, and raised a son.”

“Marquart.”

“Exactly. Beshu didn’t know for years that he had left my mother pregnant. When she died, her sister contacted Beshu, and he took me into his household. There I was the bastard and Marquart was the anointed one.”

Rondor had heard most of this before, but never from Melcer himself. This homecoming seemed to have softened what were usually bitter memories. He asked, “Why didn’t Lord Kafi take you in instead of letting you go to Beshu, when it became apparent that he would leave no heir?”

“Hah! He never quit trying. When I left, he had just married a new wife. His fourth. And they had to pry a serving girl out from under him on his deathbed!”

That, Rondor thought, was too good a story to be true. But Melcer had been drinking for hours; his judgment was somewhat liquid.

Lanti returned with drinks for the three of them and crawled back into Melcer’s lap. Like Beshu before him, and like his half-brother Marquart, Melcer was a mighty man. He was short statured but thick in every dimension, with great hands and bullish neck and limbs stacked with muscle. His chest and arms were covered with a thick mat of black hair, now stained with spilled ale.

He stared moodily at the tabletop for a moment, then continued, “The cruelest jest of all came when my h’brother advanced himself in the High King’s service. Mind you, he deserved advancement. He fought like a demon. He inherited his rage from our father, not being sweet natured like I am.”

Rondor smiled at that, for Melcer’s “sweet nature” was likely to scorch the hair of anyone who crossed him on a bad day.

“Marquart has something extra,” Melcer added. “His rages are tucked away under an icy control. Rem have mercy on anyone when that control slips. Or when he decides to let it slip.”

He frowned and paused to drink. Then he repeated, “The cruelest jest — Marquart took Port Cantor and Limiakos gave him the Valley of the Menhir. It should have been mine, if old Kafi had acknowledged me. Damn him! Damn that long-rutting old breecher. And damn Beshu! And damn Marquart!”

Lanti slid out of Melcer’s lap and moved to stand behind Rondor as Melcer slammed his flagon down, shattering it and bringing sudden silence to the common room. He hurled the broken flagon toward the fire. A city guard that he barely missed stood up shouting. Melcer glowered at him until he sank back down and broke eye contact.

Then, as quickly as it had come, Melcer’s anger subsided and he laughed. He said, “Get me another ale, Lanti.”

“Don’t you think you’ve had enough?”

He just looked at her, and she turned to go to the bar. Rondor took his seat again, tying to gauge Melcer’s condition. This was the beginning of rage, not merely abrasive drunkenness. Rondor could not guess how far it would carry him.

“Melcer,” he asked, “what do you really want here? Your kinship to Kafi means nothing; he had more bastards than I have hairs. Jor tried to use kinship to make himself Lord, and now he is an outlaw. You don’t even have that much claim.” more tomorrow

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