Banner of the Hawk 57

In Dael’s chair, there was a coagulation of light as Baralia made herself visible to Marquart, seated at ease in the chair meant for his wife. He started to turn toward her in anger, and paused as he realized that the guests, even Dymal, were frozen in place.

Baralia had never shown such power before, but before he could even feel surprise, a greater wonder occurred. Tidac turned his face toward the apparition and his voice burst out, “Get out of my mother’s chair.”

It was not a child’s voice, and it did not ring in the air, but in Marquart’s head and Baralia’s head. It sounded with a clap of inner thunder; Baralia leaped to her feet and staggered backward.

None of the guests saw or heard anything. Only Dymal felt the backwash of ai, and he did not understand it.

Tidac turned his face back to the guests. As quickly as he had acted, so quickly he forgot her.

Baralia’s breath came harshly into her lungs, though she had no longer any need to breathe. The child had sent a shiver of fear through her, but now he was ignoring her again. How he had seen her at all would have caused her concern, but not now. Not so close to the end. In minutes, the child would no longer concern her.

“Why are you here?”  Marquart demanded.

“For the same reason I have always been here. To pave the way to your downfall and my release. And you have made it so easy! Expecting betrayal, you have assured it. You wanted to be great, but your death will come from the least of these.”

Marquart darted an angry eye at the frozen guests, hissing, “Who?”

“Would you kill him?”

“I would.”

“It is too late. It was a servant. You wouldn’t even know his name.”

“A servant!”

“Of course. They hate you too, you know. They smuggled in your destruction under a load of potatoes.” Suddenly, Baralia laughed and pointed . . .

# # #

Tidac did not know that he had frozen time. He only knew that his hated, bitter enemy, the one who stood between him and his father — the one who had made his father drive his mother away — was sitting in his mother’s place and that was not to be endured.

He did not know when he let time flow again, but he did. The guest’s cups completed their motions; the toast was drunk, and only Marquart and Dymal knew that something had happened.

By prior planning, when the cups from the opening toast clattered back to the tabletop, Melcer’s men-at-arms surged out of their hiding places. Marquart’s guards stood at attention with sheathed weapons. Melcer men had swords in hand, and that made all the difference.

Marquart leaped to his feet, drawing his lancette. A quick cut, backhand, opened the throat of the first of Melcer’s men, and he fell twitching to the floor.

Tidac went to cover. The lethargy of a wounded ai did nothing to stop the movements of a finely trained body. He dropped in place and rolled over under the table. He located sight of his father’s boots, saw the dying armsman fall into his view and shook his head as that dying ai sought the strongest local source of power and scratched for entry at the portals of his mind.

By the movement of his feet, Tidac saw Marquart slide forward. Another wet sound, another cry, and another dying man fell into sight. As Marquart’s feet rounded the corner of the table, Tidac erupted again behind him, heading for Clevis. The old warrior had his sword out but had not left his place by the wall. He caught Tidac as he ran and forced him behind him, standing between the boy and danger.

The battle had reached its climax. All Marquart’s men were down, and half of Melcer’s men lay with them. Melcer’s remaining men drew back. Melcer and Marquart faced off over the tangle of bodies. more tomorrow

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