Banner of the Hawk 43

“Melcer,” Rondor asked, “what do you really want here?”

Melcer looked muddled. He shook his head and said, “I do not want Marquart’s lordship. I came here to tell him I don’t want it. Rondor, he scares me. You think my rages are bad, but you’ve never seen him at his worst.

“But even if I could take the Valley away from him, what would I want with it? No Lord owns a demesne; the demesne owns the lord.”

“Then why are we here?”

Melcer smiled in tipsy wisdom and said, “Money. Enough to buy a ship of my own. When I was a ship’s boy, the sailors kicked me around. When I was a sailor, the mate kicked me around. When I was a mate, it was the master, and now that I am a master, the owner tells me what to do.

“For the price of a ship I’ll publicly renounce any claim I might have to the Valley. Surely it would be worth that to Marquart to have me permanently out of his hair?”

“But Melcer,” Rondor protested, “you don’t have any claim to the Valley?” 

Melcer didn’t hear him; his head had fallen forward and he was snoring softly. Rondor shook his head in disbelief and said to himself, “And what if Marquart refuses to believe such a fool’s tale? There are easier ways to rid himself of you.”

# # #

Lanti woke to a pounding at her door and to Rondor’s low voiced shouting. She shoved Melcer’s arm off her and fumbled for her robes. The voice came to her again, low but urgent, and she pulled the door open. Rondor stood there with a candle in one hand and his sword in the other.

Then Melcer pushed her aside. His eyes were black and deep and not altogether clear, but he was no longer dead drunk. The sword he had snatched up did not waver in the faint candlelight. Rondor looked relieved. “Let’s get out of here,” he whispered. “There are armed men on kakais in the street.”

“How do you know?”

“I went out to piss and saw them myself. And I think I saw Marquart with them, though I’m not sure.”

Melcer only grunted, “Then let’s go down to the common room and meet them.”

They staggered down the narrow stairs, unsteady from sleep and drink, and from trying to adjust their clothing and belt on their arms in the darkness. Melcer stooped over the drowsing fire, tossing in a double handful of kindling and a dozen heavy sticks. It blazed up and threw shadows against the wall. Melcer shoved a table aside to clear the center of the floor and sheathed his sword. Then he waited, facing the door; his hand was on the sword’s hilt.

Rondor moved up beside him. Two other sailors from Melcer’s crew looked on bleary eyed from the stairway. Rondor said, “Is this wise?”

“I came to see Marquart, and see him I will.”

There was a sound in the street that was surely kakais and armed men. Melcer drew his sword and spread his legs. He took the hilt in both hands and laid the blade diagonally across his chest, with the point just below his left ear. Rondor matched the pose. Lanti drew back into the shadows.

Melcer’s shipmates were uncertain. They were loyal, but they also feared Melcer. He had not called for them to back him, so they waited on the stair for his orders.

The door slammed open. Wintry air rushed in, fanning the flames in the fireplace and Marquart strode into the room, holding his lancette loosely, point downward, ready for instant action. Clevis and Conger were at his back and the other men-at-arms followed them in, crowding sideways along the wall.

Melcer smiled broadly. He was not drunk any more. He shouted, “Hail, brave brother. Conqueror of Port Cantor. Commander of a Thousand. Come to see his long lost brother, with a troop at his back to protect him!”

Marquart’s eyes darted around the room. He said, “Where are your men?” more tomorrow

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