Tag Archives: literature

Banner of the Hawk 20

When she was ready, Baralia let herself be fully seen. She was sitting at the high table when Marquart entered the great hall. He stopped, scowling at her presence; then he realized she was his phantom. He crossed to her and saw that the chair was quite visible through her body. He did not call her ghost. That word is not found in Lankhara, nor Renthian, nor in the language of the Inner Kingdom. Nor is the concept.

On Marquart’s world the souls of the dead are either enreithed or fade into nothingness within days. His world knows neither heaven nor hell, nor any other form of afterlife except the one that all men aspire to, the joining together at death through enreithment into a besh. Disembodied souls are abahara. An abahara that does not fade away cannot exist, so there is no word for such a creature.

Marquart said, “What are you and where do you come from?”

He took for granted that she was not of his world. There were other worlds, and menhirs were the gates to reach them; this Marquart knew. The Comanyi had come through the menhir on the top of Mount Comai to rule as Gods for a thousand years, and his world’s more recent Gods, Rem Ossilo and Hea Santala, had come in through the very menhir for which the Valley was named. Shapeshifters had come from Lorric; kakais and tichan had come in with the Comanyi. Marquart’s world had no concept of ghosts or heaven, but other worlds were well known to them.

There were even reputed to be dziais, men of power from Marquart’s world, who could tap the power of the menhirs and travel through them to other worlds.

Then, as Marquart looked closer, he realized that this apparition could be of his world, could even be from this region. Her dark hair, broad cheekbones and copper face could belong to the daughter of one of his own serfs.

Baralia saw that recognition, and answered, “I am of this place. This is my world.”

“How can this be?”

Hea’s geas had placed many constraints on Baralia, but telling the truth was not one of them. However, Baralia chose to simplify her lies by staying close to the truth. She said, “I died, and Hea Santala took me before I was enreithed and made me her servant.”

“To what end?”

“Ours is the menhir of her entry into our world, and she holds it precious. The worshippers of Rem Ossilo had it for a time, but Hea took it back so that the priests of our menhir now worship only the Damesept.”

Marquart nodded. This was common knowledge.

“Now there has been a change in the Remsept, and she felt the need for another, unseen watcher over that which is Hers.”

So close to the truth, as all good lies are.

“If unseen, then why do I see you?”

“Because I choose to let you see me.”

“Again, why me?”

“The menhir is Hers, the land is yours. It may be that to serve Her, I must first aid you.”

And she faded, leaving Marquart to stare at an empty chair and ponder how to deal with this supposed messenger from the Damesept.

# # #

Marquart had stripped to leggings and leather slippers. In his right hand he carried an ironwood rod balanced to the weight of his sword and in his left hand a lighter rod to match his lancette. He fought in a style he had learned from a minor prince of Renth, using his sword to deflect blows and depending on the quickness and grace of the lancette for most of his offense. It was a style that favored his bulk and power. Now he was facing both Hein and Conger. Sweat clotted the black mat of hair on Marquart’s chest and slicked the smooth skins of his adversaries as they moved around the great hall in the mock-deadly dance of sword practice. more Monday

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Banner of the Hawk 19

“When the High King called me to an accounting, he was not impressed. He had wanted blood and slaughter.”

“But . . . why?”

“So that he could wander the battlefields where my troops had gone, feeding on the ai of the newly dead.”

“I have heard those rumors,” Dael said, “but surely . . .”

“They are not rumors. Limiakos told me himself, and threatened to have me killed so he could feast on my ai.”

Dael tore her hands loose from Marquart’s and threw her arms around him. He patted her shoulder and went on, “Instead, he said he had another job for me. Not as a commander in his armies — I wasn’t bloody enough — but as the lord of a small but troublesome demesne. This one.”

Dael asked, “Are we in danger?”

“No. Limiakos would have killed me and fed, right there in Port Cantor if the mood had struck him. When he said that I could still be of some small use to him here, he meant exactly that. He had no reason to lie. By now he has forgotten that I ever existed.”

For a time, Dael listened to Marquart’s breathing. Then she said, “This can be a good life here. A really good life.”

“Aye,” he grunted. “Lord of the Valley of the Menhir. Jor would kill to have that title and those prerogatives. But I was large in the world, and becoming larger. Now, this is as great as I will ever be.”

6.

It was hard into midwinter when Marquart first caught sight of Baralia. To carry out the geas that had been laid upon her, Hea Santala had given the abahara the power to make herself seen and heard by Marquart, but she did not use this power until she knew him well.

When he first saw her, she was down a hall from him and she moved quickly around a corner. He rounded the corner after her, and saw no one. A day later she let him see her out of the corner of his eye at evenmeal, and disappeared as quickly. When Marquart inquired, none of the servants knew of anyone who matched her description.

She called Marquart’s name, standing invisible at his side as he watched the sunset. 

She let him see her reflection clearly in a polished breastplate as he worked at swordplay with his men, but when he turned, she was not there.

Later, when he had become attuned to her, she let him feel her presence without letting herself be seen. At night, as she stood at his bedside, staring malignantly down at Dael, he would waken and light a candle in the apparently empty room.

She went everywhere in the manorhouse. She saw every deed of malice, every slacking of work when no one else was looking, every thing that was stolen, every quick thumping of furtive loins when it was supposed to be worktime.

She watched Marquart undress at night, aching to touch his body, but unable. Sometimes when he woke in the morning, with a stiffened rod of flesh, she closed her translucent hands about it and felt nothing, as he remained unaware. She hated him. She lusted for him. She wanted to fly around the manorhouse and report to him everything she saw, and make him omniscient. She wanted to tell just the right lies, to send him to his death. He was the reason she was hung half way between death and life; and he was the only contact she had with the living.

She watched Dael when she sat naked on the bedside. She watched her breasts and longed to touch them, as she longed to have human hands caress her own transparent nipples. She watched when Dael lay back and spread her legs to reveal her secret place to her husband, and knew that no man would ever plumb her own depths again. As the weeks passed, she watched the slow thickening of Dael’s waist, and the rounding beneath her navel, and knew that this child would grow and be born, and that Dael would live to hold and nurse him. And she hated. Perhaps more fully than anyone had ever hated before. And could do nothing. When she ripped her fingers, clawlike, through Dael’s eyes, Dael never knew. more tomorrow

Banner of the Hawk 18

In their chambers later, Dael shed her woolens for a light silk robe that clung to her lovely young body. He embraced her, kissed her deeply, and pulled her down beside him on the bed. He said, “What do you think of Clevis?”

Dael had not expected conversation. She said, “He is attentive and respectful to me, and he seems loyal to you. I like him better than the other two you brought with you.”

Marquart smiled. “Yes. Conger, and especially Hein, are a bit rough. They came with me out of loyalty, and that is worth a great deal, but they really don’t fit in here. Clevis is different. Clevis is like your brother Reece. They each came under my command when they were young and, as I trained them in my way of handling men, they became friends.”

“I’m glad you have a friend.’

“Dael, why did you agree to marry me?”

She wanted to give a stock answer, something out of a troubadour’s tale of romance, but she correctly judged that this was a time for honesty. She said, “Because you asked me.”

“I’m glad I did.”

She smiled and laid her head on his shoulder. “Thank you for that.”

“Did you know that Clevis was once married?”

“Clevis again!” she laughed, then sobered at once. “I am sorry,” she said, “Go on.”

“He said that I should confide in you; that I should tell you things I don’t even tell him. That’s hard for me. I almost never confide anything in anyone, but I will try, if you want me to.”

Dael was silent as she watched him, hunched over, rubbing his hands together. She had observed him closely this last month, as only a woman who has cast her entire fate and future into the hands of a stranger can watch. She knew how hard this speech had been for him, and she recognized it for the gift it was. 

She said, “I pledged you my loyalty, and you have it. I pledged you my body, and you have it. I pledged you children, and you will have them. I gave you all that when I did not know you, because you asked me, and because my brother’s letter assured me you were good and honorable. But if we could become more than just allies and bedmates, that would be wonderful!”

# # #

They moved to the bed quickly then, tearing at each other’s clothing. They were not alone. Baralia watched, as she watched every hour. When they fell together, Baralia gasped. When Dael cried out, Baralia groaned. Her hand moved to touch herself, but to no avail. She could no more touch herself than she could touch others. She screamed in the agony of her loneliness, and no one heard.

# # #

Marquart had arrived at Instadt two months earlier, carrying a bundle of letters from Reece s’Imbric. He had just left Limiakos’ service to take up lordship of the Valley, and Reece’s home was along the way. Imbric had given a warm welcome to his son’s friend and ex-commander, and it was there Marquart had met, courted, and married Dael.

Reece had told his family all he knew, but there was much Reece did not know. So that when Dael asked Marquart, out of the darkness of their shared bed, “What happened between you and the High King?”, he was not surprised that she wondered.

He gathered her hands between his and said, “I took Port Cantor in my own way, carefully, with much planning, so that both death and loss of property were kept small.”

Her hand, caught in his, pressed fingers against his palm, and she said, “Yes, I can see that that would be your way.”

“When the High King called me to an accounting, he was not impressed. He had wanted blood and slaughter.” more tomorrow

Banner of the Hawk 17

5.

The first blizzard of winter moved in, and for a week Marquart stayed close to home, studying maps, records and journals. He had a banner made with the sign of the striking hawk in black on a field of blue, and set it flying above the manorhouse. It was the first time his kladak had been used for anything but marking his personal goods, and it gave him pleasure. The Valley of the Menhir might be small, backward, and forgotten, but it was his.

The Valley was roughly round, roughly forty miles across. The River Gull divided it in two, flowing in through a gap in the western hills, picking up half a dozen minor tributaries and debouching through a wide, low gap on the east.  It was navigable only for nine miles, from the sea to the place where the menhir lay. On the coast was a small seaport, Port of the Gull, through which the valley’s exports passed, when there were exports.

The Weathermistress must have been in a nasty mood the day the Valley was created. When protracted winds from the west brought in hot, dry air from the Dzikakai plains, there was drought. When spring rains rode the seawinds from the south or east, there were floods. In all seasons, there was uncertainty.

On the north side of the Gull were Marquart’s direct holdings. To his east was Jor’s land. Technically, it was Marquart’s; if he ever chose to give it to another warden, it would be his right. But Jor had lived there all his life, and had the use of the land from his father, who had it from his father, who had originally been granted wardency by some lord whose name Marquart did not even know. So Marquart had decided to leave him in place, at least for now, and see if he had learned a lesson. Marquart’s soldier’s instinct said that Jor had not, but there was nothing to gain in precipitate action.

There were four other wardens, each with land and a fortified house. Wardency was a normal and reasonable way of distributing responsibility for the valley, but there was a catch. Like Jor, they had all lived for generations on lands they thought of as theirs. After generations of peace, every warden’s family was bloated with useless uncles and aunts and nephews and cousins. The serfs could not produce enough to feed them all.

“What this place needs,” Marquart said to himself, “is a good war to weed out the warrior class.” But he didn’t mean it. He had seen too much of war to want it visited on his new home.

# # #

Late in the afternoon of the fifth day, the storm abated, and by evening, it was gone. Marquart went out to the rimwall surrounding the top of the manorhouse to watch the sunset and try to guess how long the lull would last. He wanted to visit each of his wardens in his own house before the deep snow made travel more difficult.

The snow had stopped, but the sky was of low, unbroken clouds. The sun was setting red-bronze toward the western hills, painting the mounded snow in blue-gray and mauve.

Marquart leaned on the rimwall and smiled contentedly. Then he heard the cook’s cry; it was time for the evening meal. As he turned away, he realized that a part of his contentment came from anticipation. He was looking forward to seeing Dael. That he was looking forward to seeing her, was both a pleasure and a relief.

There had been plenty of women in Marquart’s life, but he had rarely spent more than a few days with any one of them. Fighting his way up through the ranks, he had always intended to marry, once he reached the station that required a wife. He had never particularly looked forward to marriage, nor was he prepared for the actuality of it, but here it was. And he was finding that he liked it. more tomorrow

Banner of the Hawk 16

Marquart threw back his head in defiance and growled, “You knew my father. Now know me!”

A pulse moved through him. His hair stood on end. Then the moment passed and the menhir was quiescent again. Marquart moved across the grass and touched one of the uprights, but now it was only a stone to his touch.

Taipai stood in the entryway, alone, his old face calm and unreadable. He said, “The Menhir remembered.”

“Yes.”

“And now that it has caressed your ai, it will never forget you either. You belong to it — or you will.”

“As you do.”

“Yes. I, and Dymal, and now you. Everyone who can manage, comes here at death. But only a very few are bound during their lifetimes.”

“I do not wish to be bound.”

Taipai shrugged. “I did not bind you, and I cannot loosen you. I do not think you can be loosened.”

“I always thought . . .”

“Yes?”

“I always thought that I would die in battle, and that my soul would dissipate.”

“A sad fate.”

“Is it? Is it really? I never thought so. I always preferred that to this.” He gestured around them.

Taipai stared at him, puzzled, and not quite believing. “Come,” he said, “take refreshment with me, in a place less charged with power.”

# # #

On the grassy lawn where the menhir stood, a faint troubling of the air was all that showed where Baralia stood. “That was him,” she said, and, though the menhir must remain mute, she knew and it knew that she was right. She had changed in the months since Hea Santala had set her to her task. The bloom of youth had faded from her face; she was old now with melancholy and loneliness. She drew sustenance from the menhir — Hea had forged that bond — but she could not touch it. She could freely wander to see and hear, gathering such information as she might need, but she could not touch or communicate with any living creature, except Marquart.

She faded from that place and drew up at Marquart’s shoulder. He did not know. He would only know when she chose to exert herself and make herself known to him. But she would never leave him, as long as he lived.

# # #

Hours later, when Marquart had gone and the daily routine of the temple allowed it, Taipai sat down with Dymal. He said, “What do you think.”

“What is he?”

“Dziai, at least. A man of power, but entirely untrained.”

“He lacks — humility.”

Taipai laughed softly. “Humility in a soldier leads to an early death. He has done great things. I would know this from the taste of his ai, even if I had not already heard tales.”

“The menhir knew him.”

“It remembered.”

“What did it remember? He has never been here before.”

“His father was.” Taipai then told how Beshu had come as a young man seeking prophesy, and had made a warrior’s sacrifice of his own blood in the center of the menhir.

Dymal said, “Marquart seems more polished than that. More sophisticated, yet . . .”

“Less dangerous?”

“More dangerous, if he becomes our enemy. He is not our enemy yet, I think.”

“That is the way I see it, as well. Anyway, he will be yours to deal with.”

“What do you mean?”

“Come, Dymal, don’t play at words with me. And don’t tell me you haven’t cast my mandala.”

Dymal said nothing.

“Death soon, Dymal. A quiet death I think.” He paused and closed his eyes, for Dymal was quick and would have read much in those eyes. It would be years before Dymal could see the future as clearly as Taipai saw it, and it was unlikely that Dymal would cast mandalas to foresee his own death. It was not his way. But Taipai had cast for him, out of a fatherly concern for his pupil and protégé. 

Dymal’s death was years in the future, but it would not be a quiet one. more Monday

Banner of the Hawk 15

“You are so self-complete that you are in danger.”

“From what?”

“From yourself.” Clevis turned in the saddle and faced Marquart, determined to have his say even if it got him knocked to the ground. “A wife is not just a whore who doesn’t go away. If your life is going to be worth living, she has to become your friend. Confide in her. You can’t tell her everything, but tell her much. Tell her more than you would tell me.”

# # #

Two men faced each other across a cleared space outside the grounds of the temple complex and regarded each other minutely. Taipai, was senior priest of the Menhir, and thus the local hand of Hea Santala and the Damesept. Marquart s’Beshu, Lord of the Valley, was by extension the local hand of the High King, Limiakos IV. 

Everything within the thorngall hedge surrounding the menhir was clearly in Taipai’s jurisdiction. That the temple grounds surrounding the menhir were his as well, was accepted by long precedent. But the town which abutted the temple grounds? That was the rub. Kafi had taxed the town a decade ago, but he had let the taxes go uncollected as his health deteriorated. Taipai had backed the townspeople in their closet rebellion.

Now Taipai spoke appropriate greetings; Marquart responded, and swung down from his kakai. He offered his wrist in a freeman’s greeting — a greeting of equals. Taipai hesitated only a moment before responding in kind. After all, they were equals in the Valley, although Marquart should have shown Taipai the greater respect here on Taipai’s home ground. And Marquart had not removed his gloves, so that Taipai’s bare wrist touched martial leather. By such subtleties, Marquart announced his intention of curbing Taipai’s power.

Taipai nodded toward the belted weapons at Marquart’s waist, and said, “You will not need those here.”

Marquart looked down as if he had been unaware. A heavy sword hung at his right hand and the delicate, leaf bladed lancette at his left. “I am sorry, Taipai,” he said, “but I have been a soldier so long that they have become a habit. I would feel naked without the tools of my old trade.”

Taipai shrugged slightly. He gestured toward the temple, but Marquart shook his head, and said, “No. First I will see the menhir.”

“Then you must lay aside your — tools. No one goes into the menhir armed.”

“No one?”

Taipai’s face flamed red and his loose, wrinkled mouth drew into a firm line. Marquart continued, “I, of all people, know that story.”

Three decades ago, Marquart’s father Beshu had made a bloody warrior’s sacrifice in the middle of the Menhir. It had taken weeks to purify the place, and the stain on Taipai’s honor still rankled.

Behind Taipai was a lean, dark haired priest of middle height. His face was set in an expression of suppressed fury; clearly, he was even more insulted than the Senior. They had not acknowledged his presence yet, just as they had not acknowledged the presence of Clevis, Conger, and Hein, still mounted and awaiting orders. Marquart nodded in the young priest’s direction and asked, “Your protégé?”

“Lord Marquart, this is Dymal, whom the Menhir has chosen to replace me when I die.”

“In these troubled times,” Marquart said blandly, “it is good to have one’s house in order.” Then he pushed past Taipai, gesturing to his men to remain, and stepped down toward the thorngall hedge.

Menhirs are beshes, and beshes are stones, but they can be arrayed in many shapes. This menhir had been constructed of basalt. There were four pairs of standing stones, each pair surmounted by a capstone. The pairs were arrayed in a rough circle with the widest gap toward the rising sun at midwinter. 

Marquart strode through this entry gap and slammed to a halt, instinctively touching his lancette. He had expected to feel the power of the menhir. He had not expected the menhir to feel him. But it did. It came surging sluggishly to life and Marquart felt tendrils of power touch and judge his soul. more tomorrow

Thankfully Deleted

Snap shook his head. “Let’s look from here, and think about what we see. The Clock is a machine. It has gears that mesh together. 16,384 gears in the outer layer alone, although you can’t see them now. They are cleverly built, with fine bearings, but the still they generate heat. Look at the snow, falling on the shell of the Clock, but not melting.”

The paragraph above was written for chapter 36 of Like Clockwork, and then deleted. It was too detailed. It told an accurate bit about an important part of the world of Like Clockwork, but it also slowed the story down.

For those who follow this blog looking for hints about writing, here is a koan, or a parable, or a rule of thumb, depending on how fancy you like in your language:

Think up a thousand nifty things for your novel, hold them firmly in your memory, but write down only ten of them. If you use them all, you will never get to the end of your novel, and neither will your reader.