Banner of the Hawk 46

They waited out the day and after nightfall had come again Lanti led Melcer down the back streets. They dodged around crates and bales, and through the manure pools below the animal pens. They followed a narrow shingle beach where a warehouse backed directly on the sea and the waves washed them to the waist at every step, threatening to drag them under.

They found a coracle tied at the end of the pier and in the dim moonlight Melcer could make out the shape of his ship.

As the pain had eased, Melcer had begun to remember Rondor’s death. He would have preferred the pain. Melcer had never been an easy man to tolerate, and Rondor had been his only friend. Now he was melancholy and subdued and Lanti clung to him tighter than ever. He took her in his arms and asked, “Did I please you, when we made love?”

They had not coupled. He had been too drunk. But she did not tell him that; she nodded her head and smiled. He broke her embrace and reached for his purse. “There is no way that I can thank you for saving my life, but at least take this.”

“What do you mean?” she snapped, stepping back. “I am going with you.”

For a moment he looked as if he were considering it. Then he shook his head and said, “It is impossible. On a ship you wouldn’t last five minutes.”

“I saved your life. You owe me this.”

Now the spell was broken, and his eyes had lost their tenderness. “No,” he said, “I cannot. I will return for you.”

“Liar! Breech-born pig! How many men do you think have made that promise? Take me with you now.”

“No,” he said, and cast off. She threw down the purse and shouted curses after him. She watched him all the way to his anchored ship, then turned back to Port of the Gull.

After she had picked up the purse.

15.

At first, Marquart blamed Baralia for all the things that had happened, but he could not lie to himself for long. Everything she had convinced him to do, he had done. He has said yes, when he could have said no. Whatever blame belonged to Baralia — and it was huge — ultimately Marquart was the one who had acted.

Ultimately, the blame was his.

Marquart came close to warfare with the city fathers of Port of the Gull, but they did not have the strength of will to stand against him. He had the Inn of the Falling Griffon torn down, brick by brick, beam by beam, and the bags of ashes sifted. There were human bones in the ashes, but none would have supported a frame so massive as Melcer’s.

Melcer had escaped. There was no other way to look at it.

Then came rage.

His own soldiers came to fear him, like Beshu’s soldiers had feared him. He had lost his reputation for cool and cunning. The tale of Marquart chasing though the street before the burning Griffon, slashing and screaming at the empty air, spread throughout the Valley. Sailors who had seen it happen spread the tale to other ports, and thus throughout the Inner Kingdom. Imbric, at Instadt, took comfort in it. He had been deeply shamed when Dael, his daughter, had run from her husband and her duties. This made her conduct seem less mad. Even Reece, who had remained faithful to his old commander despite his sister’s defection, now turned his face away.

Now those servants who had feared him somewhat, came to fear him greatly. Where he had growled, now he struck. Where there had been a glowering, dangerous patience, now there was no patience at all. more tomorrow

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