Banner of the Hawk 55

Dymal came to the feast alone, though he had the right, by custom, to bring a small retinue. The way was short; Marquart’s citadel loomed above the menhir and its village, less than two miles by a well trodden way. There was no lightness in Dymal’s step tonight, though he was still a young man. The stones of the Citadel were suffused with sadness and the aura of ill events to come hung above the place.

Conger stood with a small guard at the base of the ramp which ran to the Citadel’s only entrance at the third level. He saluted Dymal as the priest paused at the base of the ramp. To his eye of ai, the Citadel glowed with a nimbus of power, not unlike the glow that surrounded the menhir when it was roused.

Conger noted his hesitation and said softly, “The night is moving. I don’t like it.”

Dymal looked at the old warrior again, and reached out to touch him briefly between the eyes. Conger did not flinch. “There is some strength in your ai?” the priest asked.

Conger shrugged. “A touch,” he said. “My parents sent me to the local priests when I was a boy, but they sent me back.”

Dymal nodded. Every year hundreds of children came to the temple and all but one or two were sent back with powers insufficient for the priesthood. He smiled warily and said, “Don’t be too surprised at feeling. The earth and trees and howlets can feel the power of this night.”

Dymal went up the ramp, dreading every step. Vast things impended, but his runereadings were confused and he had no idea what would be the outcome.

Marquart himself waited at the top of the ramp. They touched wrists in a freeman’s greeting. At the contact, Dymal felt again the surging vastness of Marquart’s ai. It made the greeting of equals a sham, and he thought again that it was wrong not to tell the man what lay within him. Yet, he had been forbidden. Every time he asked in his prayers to Hea within the menhir, a sharp negation filled his mind.

Still . . .; Gods and Goddess had been wrong before. The Comanyi had become evil, preying on humans, before the Changer rose up in manform and cast them out. On Dymal’s world, men’s souls belonged to the beshes, and they worshipped the Gods only somewhat. Even Dymal, senior priest, served Hea Santala and the Damesept, but loved the memory of the Flower of the Waning Day.

Nevertheless, after a decade, Dymal’s silence was well practiced, and he hid his momentary hesitation. Marquart motioned aside and said, “Join me before we go in to the main feast.”  Puzzled, Dymal followed Marquart to a small room, a guard’s station near the main entrance. A bottle of wine and two glasses had been placed on a crude table. Marquart gestured to a bench, took another across the table, and poured each of them a glass.

Marquart reached across and they touched glasses together, but he said nothing. Dymal asked, “What are we toasting?”

“I can’t put it into a few words. Drink with me, and later you can decide if it was a toast, or just wine.”

They drank. Marquart put his glass aside with a great frown, and began, “I have done what I set out to do in the Valley, yet the results are not what I would have liked. Much has gone sour, and I have a lot of work still before me. That is my problem; you and I will not discuss it. Is it agreed?”

Dymal nodded.

“You are not my friend. You are not quite my enemy, but you are almost my enemy.” more tomorrow

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