Banner of the Hawk 45

Melcer’s shout shook the rafters and what had been fierce anger turned into berserk rage. For a moment it was all Marquart could do to turn him away. Melcer drew back his sword for a blow that would have cut Marquart in two, but his rage had overcome his fighting sense. The blade buried in a ceiling beam.

Marquart was born over by a sailor who knocked him to the floor in his rush to reach the door. Marquart surged to his feet and leaped back as Melcer tore his sword from the ceiling and brought it down like a falling tree to lodge a second time, now in the floor. Marquart leaped in, stretching to the limit of his arm’s length in a desperate slash that cut Melcer full across, just above the eyebrows. A gush of blood cut off his sight as Marquart fell, overended by the stroke, and rolled to his feet.

The inn was burning. Smoke filled it from the ceiling to the shoulders of the seemingly headless men and women fighting to reach the door. Melcer had fallen back; one of the bargirls was dragging him back into the smoke. Marquart moved to follow, but his good sense stopped him.

Clevis was at his feet, dragging someone toward the door. Marquart sheathed his lancette and stooped to help. Outside the street was lighted luridly by the burning inn. Marquart released hold of the man’s shoulders and looked around to order his men. Conger had already done so. They were moving with the city watch to bring up leather buckets and throw water on the flames. Not that the Inn could be saved, but perhaps the conflagration could be contained.

Melcer was not to be seen. To reach safety, the girl had dragged him back into the belly of the flames.

Someone was tugging at his leggings. It was the man he and Clevis had dragged to safety. Looking closer, he recognized Rondor and realized vaguely that he had given him the slash across the belly that was rapidly draining away the man’s life. He knelt down as Rondor cried, “Why? Why? He didn’t want your land. He just wanted a ship. A ship and freedom. That’s all he wanted.”

It was in Marquart to deny his words, but why would the dying lie?

The lower half of Rondor’s body was a mass of blood. His voice was fading fast. He whispered, “You could have given him that. Or you could have sent him away, but you . . .”

There was no more. From Rondor, there would never be any more. But Marquart heard his unspoken words — you didn’t have to kill him. He was not your enemy.

Baralia stood before him, self-satisfied. His lancette, wet with Rondor’s blood, wet with Melcer’s blood, was still in his hand. He gave a mighty backhand slash that cut her in two yet never touched her. And she laughed. He slashed again and again, chasing her across the muddy street, and still she laughed louder. His own men drew back from him, as one who has gone narat. She wrapped her translucent cloak about her and was gone.

# # #

Melcer crouched for an hour among the pilings of a deserted pier while Lanti bound his wound and held him close. He shivered and cried out like a beast; he had known pain before, but nothing like this. Long after sunrise it eased, leaving him weak and disoriented; he slept while Lanti listened for any searchers and watched the black soot and glowing puffballs of thatch roofing as they drifted down to quench themselves in the bay. The Griffon had been her home for three years, but she remained dry eyed, saving her tears until she knew which of her friends had survived. And which had not. more tomorrow

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