Tag Archives: menhir

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

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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

Banner of the Hawk 14

4.

In the stable, the largest of the outbuildings, Clevis was supervising the saddling of kakais two mornings later. The eaves were open for light and ventilation, so that the slope saddles hanging from their tackles threw irregular shadows on the damp floor in the wan morning sunlight. Two more nights of light snowfall had given the Valley an even, sugary coating. 

Stable boys and hostlers were guiding kakais under the falls. Kakais are naturally excitable beasts, and they have no love for winter. When the Comanyi came into the world as Gods, they brought kakai and tichan with them. By the time they were driven out, the beasts had become virtually native, except that they still loved the warmth of summer and hated the snow.

Now two stable boys urged Marquart’s favorite mount forward beneath the slopesaddle and, at the well chosen moment, the head hostler dropped the saddle onto its steeply sloping back and quickly adjusted the breast band. The elaborately woven cane and wood saddle formed a small level platform for its rider, with unsocketed lance sections holstered at the right knee, riding stirrups drawn up high and the single mounting stirrup riding low.

There was much good natured chaffing and cursing, which Clevis readily joined. Already he was coming to know these men who would be his particular charge in the months to come.

Hein and Conger came in, yawning and scratching. They had learned already how to stay abed until they were needed, and how to look as if they had been awake for hours when Marquart appeared.

“Come on, Bedbugs, let’s get these out into the yard,” Clevis growled, and the others grabbed reins so that they were already standing at ease before the manorhouse when Marquart came out. He swung immediately into the saddle and the others mounted quickly.

“Did you have a good night?” Hein asked with a fatuous smile.  Marquart paused long enough to stare at him until he added, ”Milord.” When Marquart still did not reply, Hein shifted uneasily, hacked and spat, and stared at nothing as even he finally realized that his Lord’s night with his wife was none of his business.

They left the forecourt in a flurry of scattered snow, setting a sharp pace for the first mile to settle the kakai. When they dropped to a walk, Clevis pressed his kakai up beside Marquart, and said, “Hein is an ass. But he is loyal.”

“Loyalty is the beginning of what I need, not the end.”

“I’ll talk to  him.”

“Again?” Marquart asked, and now he smiled.

Clevis grinned back. “Again. I tell him how to act, and he says he understands. But he forgets.”

They rode on for a while. This part of the Valley was heavily cultivated, with fallow fields and clusters of trees coppiced for firewood. Here and there hartwas showed as low mounds of snow, with wisps of smoke coming from their central holes. Ahead the River Gull was made evident by the band of heavy forest on both its sides.

“Marquart,” Clevis said, deliberately leaving off his title, “I want to say some things that you could take wrong.”

Marquart’s face clouded with irritation, but he fought it down because it was Clevis who spoke. He said, “Go ahead.”

“Did you know I was once married?”

“No. You never said.”

“I was young, and not a soldier then. I was a merchant’s son; she was a merchant’s daughter. We had three years together before the blacklung fever took her. After she died, I took up the sword.”

Marquart nodded understanding. Clevis continued, “I’ve served a dozen Septaurs, but none as good as you. I stayed with you because you were both skillful and careful. The men you led always had a soldier’s fair chance at coming through a battle alive.

“And I know what happened between you and the High King.”

Marquart sighed angrily and his fist on the rein tightened. Clevis let the time flow until his Lord shook his head and said, “Continue.”

”I followed you here,” Clevis gestured around them, “because I never met a more complete soldier, or a more complete man. But you are so self-complete that you are in danger.” more tomorrow

Banner of the Hawk 13

Marquart turned on he heel and strode back toward the entrance. Clevis was waiting around the corner where he could hear everything, but out of Jor’s sight. He fell in beside Marquart and said, “So you put him on notice?”

”Damned fool.”

Clevis chuckled; he knew his Lord from long acquaintance. Jor might later wonder if Marquart had meant what he threatened. Clevis knew that he had meant every word. He said, “I told the portal keeper — his name is Bheren, by the way — to arouse the servants. I figured you would want to review them.”

“Good.” Marquart strode out the entrance, where inner and outer doors were now propped wide. Hein and Conger were standing alertly on either side of the wagon. Marquart rapped with his knuckles on the wagon seat and Dael’s face appeared. He handed her down and said, “Time to inspect your new home.”

“What happened?”

“Nothing much.”

Dael laid her hand on his arm and said, “If I needed a city taken, you would be my choice, but as a husband you still have something to learn. It wasn’t nothing, and telling me it was only makes me more curious.”

He grunted gracelessly, then said, “One of the wardens had set himself up as Lord.”

“That would be Jor.”

“Yes. How did you know?”

“Old Lord Kafi was my g’uncle. He visited Instadt every year or so until he became feeble. Jor and Vesulan were both his nephews, and so distant cousins to me. I have met them both, several times.”

“So why Jor, not Vesulan.”

“Vesulan is a good man, not given to excessive ambition. Jor is a fool.”

Marquart smiled. “Oddly, that is exactly what I just told him.” He reached out to pat her on the rump, just as he would have any other woman who had exceeded his expectations. But this was his wife, not some barmaid, so he shifted at the last moment to embrace her shoulders instead. It was an awkward moment for them both.

They took a quick look around the manorhouse. Every servant had been turned out, and they were hurrying from room to room, stoking up banked fires and setting out candles. Shy glances followed them everywhere; from now on, the quality of the servants’ lives would depend on the humors of these strangers. Dael nodded from time to time, acknowledging the fluttering obeisances as they passed.

Jor met them in the greatroom, touching his forehead in acknowledgment of their Lordship. Dale put out a hand and said, “Cousin, it is good to see you. It was good of you to make things ready for our arrival.”

Marquart’s face was stone as Jor stammered a polite welcome. Then he said, “Go gather up the records of the place. You and I will go over them.”

“Tonight?”

“Right now. And send for a light meal — meat, bread and ale will do. You and I will be busy all night. By morning, I intend that we should both know where we stand.”

He turned to Dael, but she picked up the moment smoothly, saying, “Also, Cousin, detail some man-servants to unload the wagons and a half-dozen maids to put my things away. I want to be settled into my new home when the sun rises. After all, I will be here a long time.”

She smiled sweetly at Jor as he glowered; then he made obeisance and turned away.

“Aren’t you tired?”  Marquart asked, when they were alone.

“Of course. Just as you are. But your fights are mine, now. By the way, was it just the light, or was Jor’s face stiff and swollen?”

“I didn’t notice.”

“I’m sure you didn’t.”

“If you become overtired . . .”

She touched his cheek lightly and said, “This bride is in no hurry to start sleeping alone.” more tomorrow

Banner of the Hawk 12

“This is how close to death you are. Read the document.”

Grumbling, Jor read it. Then he said, “How do I know it’s genuine?”

Clevis whistled involuntarily. Marquart became very still. Without turning around, he said to Clevis, “Did you hear that?”

“I don’t know, Lord Marquart. Did I?”

“No.”

“Lord Marquart, I didn’t hear a thing. And neither did this fellow.” He had taken the portal keeper by the arm.

Then Marquart hit Jor. 

Not with his fist; that would probably have killed him. He hit him with his open hand, and Jor spun aside and crashed against the wall of the corridor, leaving a smear of blood where he clawed at the plaster as he slowly slid down to lie upon the floor.

As Clevis pulled the portal keeper with him, back toward the entrance, he asked, “How many servants are there here in the manorhouse?”

“Huh? Uh, fourteen.”

“Is the cook any good?”

They were ten feet down the corridor before the portal keeper realized that Clevis was giving him a way out. He became effusive about the details of the daily management of the manorhouse, and with every step he was a happier man. He didn’t want to know what was about to happen behind him him.

After a few minutes, Jor groaned and rolled over. His eyes were glassy and a runnel of blood and snot ran from his nose. Marquart squatted beside him and waited until Jor had come fully to himself, then said, “Jor, you are a fool.”

Jor said nothing but his eyes spelled hatred.

“Imbric sent a messenger telling you I was coming.

“No . . . ,” Marquart held up his hand. “Don’t lie now. You may yet live, if you learn quickly. When you knew that I was on my way, you should have set up a welcome and tried to play the proper warden until you could manufacture an accidental death for me. Or you should have hired brigands to kill me and my party while we were still far from the Valley. Or you could have even accepted the facts and been satisfied remaining a warden. But to set yourself up in my place and then pretend you didn’t know. Ah, man, that was foolish.”

The whole right side of Jor’s face was inflamed and swollen. He said, “I didn’t . . .”, and Marquart hit him again. Jor’s head rocked to the side and a blob of clotted blood flew against the wall but, compared the the previous blow, this was a love tap. Jor’s eyes went blank, but only for a moment.

“Now I know you,” Marquart continued. “You have lost the advantage of surprise. Now you will have to endure the humiliation when all of all your fellow wardens know you have failed. And other humiliations as well, but if you bear them well, you may yet live.

“Or you may not!”

With that, Marquart paused and watched Jor’s eyes until he saw the full import of his words sink in. Only then did he continue. He said, “If you plot against me again, or balk at my orders, or if I even think you are working against me, or if I just feel like it . . .”

Marquart rose to his feet, continuing.

“. . . then I will kill you. And hang your body from a tree, under guard, until your soul has become so thin that no priest could drag it back for enreithment.

“Now get up. Wash yourself change your tunic. Meet me in the greatroom in ten minutes to give accounting of how you have kept my demesne in my absence. Come humbly, or come armed. It’s all the same to me.” more Monday

Banner of the Hawk 11

Marquart continued to hammer the door with mounting fervor and rapidly decaying patience.

Clevis said, “I’ll talk to her,” and dropped from his mount. He ambled over to the wagon. On kakai, he was without peer, but a sword slash had deprived him of three of his toes, so on the ground he was held to a rolling gait.

He palmed his forehead and said, “Lady.”

“What is happening?”

“Your father sent a messenger two days ago to let the wardens know we were coming, so they should have set a welcome. Maybe the messenger didn’t get through.”

She laughed without humor and said, “And maybe he did.”

Clevis did not reply. It was not his place to talk policy with his Lord’s new wife.

“Oh, I know these people,” she said. “Old Lord Kafi was my father’s uncle. He visited from time to time and I know what kind of wardens he had. And how Jor planned to take over when Kafi died. Who could guess that Limiakos even remembered the Valley of the Menhir, or that he would trouble himself to appoint a new Lord?”

A tiny window in the door opened and a face appeared. Clevis turned and lurched across the forecourt, his hands going instinctively to sword and lancette. But Marquart’s threats were apparently sufficient. By the time he reached his kakai, Conger was dismounting, and the door had swung open. Marquart pushed the portal keeper ahead of him, and his three companions followed close at his heels.

“Who is in charge here?” Marquart demanded, and the portal keeper replied, “Lord Jor.”

“There is no Lord Jor, ‘keeper! Look at me. See this face? Remember it. Remember it well. From this moment forward, this is the only face you need to serve, or fear. But fear it well!”

The portal keeper dropped to his knees, his head bowed. Marquart waited through five long heartbeats, then said, “Take me to Jor.”

“I will announce you at once,” the keeper said, and moved to rise. He never got the chance. Marquart grabbed him the the hair and lifted him to his feet, dragging him forward to that they were eye to eye.

He said, “Do not interpret my orders. Hear what I say, and do what I say. Jor is not your master. You need not fear him any more, and he will not protect you. He will be lucky if he can protect himself. Now — what did I say?”

“Take you to Jor.”

Marquart released him and nodded. The keeper turned and padded away. Marquart snapped, “Hein, Conger, go to the wagons. Guard the Lady.” Then he followed the ‘keeper, with Clevis limping along behind. They hadn’t gone fifty feet when Jor came around the corner, tugging at this tunic. He had heard the pounding — there was no possibility he hadn’t — but he had taken the time to dress. He was a rat-faced little man, full of anger and self-importance. He demanded, “Who are you and what do you mean pounding on my door?”

Marquart reached into an inside pocket and drew out a document, which he handed to Jor. Jor waved it aside, and said, “I don’t have time to read that.”

“Read it.”

“Look . . .”

Marquart held his hand before Jor’s face, finger and thumb an inch apart, and said, “Do you see this? This is how close to death you are. Read the document.” more tomorrow