Melcer threw back his head and laughed. Once that laugh would have echoed from the roof tops; now it came only as a sucking of air, nearly silent. That much caution he had learned. He said, “I have come to deliver a word to my nephew.”
What happened then shocked even Tidac from his complacency. Melcer turned his kakai toward the fence where Tidac sat. Leaping to the shed, Conger grasped a hay fork and lunged forward. Melcer in turn kicked the kakai’s ribs and it leaped left violently, coming half around to face the assailant. Quicker than Tidac’s eyes could follow, Melcer’s sword left its sheath, described a broad arc, and came on guard. The metal head of the hay fork, cut short of its handle, struck the roof of the shed, skittered and clattered down, and fell to the ground at Conger’s feet.
Conger stood facing Melcer, holding the stub of the fork handle. His face was pure white but he neither trembled nor retreated. For long seconds the tableau held, then Melcer whispered, “Old man, why did you do that?”
“To protect the boy.”
Melcer broke pose and sheathed the sword. “For that reason, and that reason only, I will spare you. The boy is in no danger from me today.” Melcer turned his mount and approached Tidac. They were at the same level. Melcer faced Tidac, hard eyes staring out from the deep folds of his lids. “You are my brother’s son. I am Melcer. Do you know of me?” Tidac made no reply. Melcer squinted, drawing his eyebrows together, and repeated, “What do you know of me?”
His voice was no louder, but its overtones were menacing. Looking at Melcer, Tidac saw his father’s face, and so he answered, “I know you. I knew you as soon as you drew near. I also know that you are not my father’s brother, but his h’brother, and that you would take what is his.”
Melcer nodded, and said, “That was not true before, but it is true now. Marquart made it so. Can you carry a message to him from me?”
“Whatever you say here,” Tidac replied, “I will remember every word of it.”
Melcer looked closer and said, “There is more to you than first meets the eye. No matter. Tell my brother that, like him, I have made few friends in my lifetime. And only one that was the brother to me that Marquart never was. That was Rondor, whom he killed.
“Tell my brother that I only came to him for money to buy a ship. I did not want his demesne. No man owns a demesne; demesnes own men. I wanted to be the master of my own vessel, to go wherever I wanted, owned by no one. Free.
“But now, I will take his lands, and his life.”
Melcer turned his beast toward the forest and walked it away. His eyes never rested, but were everywhere as he slipped from shadow to shadow. Almost out of sight, he turned back for one last look at the boy and his poor guardian. Across the distance they heard, “Tell Marquart that I still live. And tell him that I hunger!”
A flash of shadow, a clatter of hooves, and he was gone. more tomorrow