Banner of the Hawk 44

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

“My men? Here stands Rondor, my friend. There are a few drunken sailors above, sleeping with the whores. What men?”

Marquart lost concentration for an instant, as if hearing an unseen speaker in his ear. Melcer noted it, but did not understand it. Then Marquart said, “I was told you had twenty men to back you.”

“Told? By whom? Do you employ whores and slop boys to be your spies, Lord of the Valley?”

“I hire whom I will. Why are you here?”

“I came to make peace with you. I came to make an offer, and end the hatred between us. I see that I was wrong.”

“What offer?”

“It no longer matters; I withdraw it, before ever making it. I came in peace, and you responded with treachery.

“Now it is death between us.”

For the first time, Marquart saw the depths of Baralia’s betrayal, but there was no way to reclaim the moment. Nor did he want to. Not since Port Cantor had there been so clear an enemy. Here there was no reason for subtlety. Here was simple steel and blood, and he welcomed it.

# # #

But Marquart was wrong. It was not only blood and steel, nor was it simple. Marquart and Melcer, sons of Beshu, g’sons of the Shambler, were not simply men to slice away at one another with swords. They were Gods, and the fact that their ai was untrained did not make it a lesser thing. As they faced off in the Inn of the Falling Griffon, the bones of the house groaned with the ai that surrounded them. Dymal heard it. It tore him from his bed to reach for his runeboard. Lyré heard it on Bihag, and suppressed it; countered it so subtly that neither sept out of Poinaith became aware.

Baralia, born of Hea’s foolishness and tied to the menhir she could not enter, felt the upsurge of ai and understood it completely. None of the others in the inn saw anything but strong men in contention.

# # #

Men contend, and Gods contend. There is strife and there is cunning, but there is also accident. Things happen which are so ordinary that neither men nor Gods can order them or avoid them.

One of Melcer’s men turned suddenly and lunged back toward his bed to retrieve his sword. He reappeared in moments, leaping down the stairs to join the fray. Behind him, the candle he had overturned fell into the straw of his bedding and flames erupted.

# # #

Melcer raised his hands to a striking pose and Marquart responded by shifting his lancette to his left hand and drawing his sword with his right. Rondor drew away, sword at the ready. Clevis motioned Conger and the troop away, back out the front door. There were too many men in too small a place. Clevis remained, but moved back.

Marquart essayed a slash with lancette, with sword in counter. Melcer shifted his guard. They were both ill armed for such a place. Swords and lancettes were for the battlefield where a man could leap and thrust and withdraw. Here they were cramped in by tables and stools and the low ceiling would interfere with any overhand slash. This was a place for rapiers or knives, not weapons attuned to mass and strength.

Marquart thrust with his sword. As Melcer dodged, Marquart brought it back with a flip that sent it hurtling into a corner of the room. He shifted his lancette to his right hand and changed to rapier pose, leaping back to avoid Melcer’s horizontal slash.

The room was full of screaming, but they did not hear.

Melcer surged forward, slashing right, left, right, bearing Marquart before the fury of his assault. Marquart dropped and rolled, coming up on the far side of a table, then kicked it into Melcer’s knees.

Rondor came into Marquart’s field of vision, shouting and swinging his sword. Marquart cut him down. more Monday


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