Sir Marchand was in the bow of the ship holding grimly onto the bow brace. He was tall with brown hair and blue eyes.His expression was grim, nearly as clouded as the night.The wind blew his black, green, and yellow cloak off his broad shoulders.Rain and the salt sea spray dampened the mail he wore on his body, but that which was under his tunic stayed relatively dry.The weather was not as glum as his mood.He was returning to Kest Isle and it was the way the ghosts had foretold it to him.It was this which was bringing him great sadness now.They had said that he would experience sadness, joy, and danger within the next few years.He had gone to Cathan City to become part of the Lord Protectors guard.This guard was composed of the younger sons of the holding families.They formed the police force of Cathan and the command corps of the army.Now he was returning to a funeral as the ghosts had predicted.Part of him had prayed that the prediction would never come true even though they predicted greatness for him.
As they neared the harbor of Kest Isle, the Master’s eyes were on the entrance, the winds, everything necessary for a safe landing. He shouted his orders crisply.The wind and the rain made the landing tricky.But the storm was not too strong, it was only the first of the season, and the master and his men experienced.
Sir Marchand looked at the castle with sadness in his eye. It was a large, grey, and imposing fortress.It looked as though it had been carved out of a mountain, yet it was the childhood home he had been born and raised in.A few lights gleamed from some of the windows.There was a village at the foot of the castle around the harbor.A few lights still burned there too, but most of them were already dark as the people slept, awaiting the dawn.In the far distance the land across the strait was not visible, but Marchand knew it was there.
Finally the boat entered the harbor. There was a small forest of masts, the fishing fleet was in, and possibly a few traders with them, seeking shelter from the storm.Marchand knew that some of them would go back out again in the morning.The trade ships would go on to Cathan City, but some were back from more northern waters for the rest of the storm season.The craft he was aboard nosed up to the dock and Sir Marchand jumped off.He walked quickly up the pier, his great cloak billowing out behind him, better to get the worst part of his homecoming over with as soon as possible.He went straight to the stables and rang the bell and kept ringing it until an old man pushed his grizzled head out an upper window.“What is it?” the man demanded to know.
“Marchand Kestisle”, he called out, his normally smooth tenor voice made sharp by grief. “I need a horse.” He made a mental note that it was Ea the stable man.Marchand had an excellent memory for names and faces.
“Oh Sir,” Ea exclaimed, “of course, right away.” The old man came and soon had a good horse ready.“My condolences to you sir, and to your family,” Ea expressed his sorrow as he helped Marchand to mount.“Your brother Weman and sister-in-law Vinette are already at the castle,” he reported as he handed Marchand the reins.
“Thank-you, Ea,” Marchand said. He rode off carefully through the rain slicked streets.He was not a good rider and appreciated that the horse had a gentle gait and seems to be good tempered.Several minutes later he got to the castle.Again he rang a bell.The porter came.
“Sir Marchand,” the porter exclaimed, “it’s good you’ve come. Your father has been waiting for you all day.The funeral is planned for noon tomorrow, weather permitting.” That last was something of a prayer.A funeral too long delayed was considered a bad omen for the next year.
“Thank-you Filas,” Marchand said. “Be kind enough to take care of this animal, won’t you.”
“Of course sir,” Filas agreed. He took the reins from Marchand and Marchand walked across the courtyard.Another servant, Lorant, opened the hall door and he stepped into the main hall.It was lit with tall candles in the center of the large room, but was otherwise gloomy.Its appearance matched the mood of the household exactly.He drew a deep breath.There was a coffin there, between the candles.When he approached, he saw body of his mother.He touched her hand, sadly, almost asking for her forgiveness for being away when she needed him.Even in death she was a beautiful woman.Marchand had not wanted to be away from her this last year, when her health was so bad.But his father’s obligation to the Lord Protector had forced it.“Your first son is for you,” the Lord Protector always said.“Your second son is for me.”So Marchand had gone to become a part of the Lord Protectors Guard.
He thought of these things for a moment. Then he swallowed hard as a tear escaped his eye.He saw the red raging lion crest of her family on her black, green, and yellow gown.Tucked under her hand there was another, it probably belonged to Sir Lucien, his father.Marchand removed his own carefully.He would don it again in thirty days, when the period of mourning for his mother was over.His father would never put his back on.Sir Lucien had only worn it because it was the device of his wife’s house.Now that the marriage had ended he would never wear that device again.
It was several minutes before he could pull himself together and leave the coffin. Marchand turned toward the two stairs at either side of the end of the hall and mounted the right stair.He met one of the servants coming down and carrying one of the trays.“Amila,” he acknowledged her as he stepped aside.
“Oh, Sir Marchand,” she greeted him. “It is so good that you have come.”
“Where is my father?” Marchand asked.
“In his chamber,” she reported, somberly. “I have been trying to get him to eat something.” She raised the tray a little. “But he hasn’t eaten anything.Even the Lady Arnell can’t get him to eat.”
“Thank-you Amila,” Marchand conveyed his appreciation. “Maybe tomorrow,” he observed hopefully.He climbed past her to the gallery.He turned to the right and as he walked down the passage a tall, thin man with flowing grey hair and a flowing grey beard stepped out of a corner chamber.The man wore a black, green, and yellow tunic like Marchand’s cloak, his arms and legs encased in the silvery cuirasses and greaves that were habitual to a man who had been a lifelong warrior, as he had been.His face was as weather beaten as a man who had also lived a life in close intimacy with the sea developed.His eyes were watery and puffy, indicating that he had been crying, as he smiled wanly at Marchand
“Marchand,” he whispered gently, “I thought I heard your voice.”
“Father,” Marchand responded. He stepped into the old man’s arms.It was several minutes before anyone spoke.Marchand saw his sister Arnell come out of the same chamber.She was petite; likely always to remain so, with light brown hair flowing loose and beautiful blue eyes.Her face was tense, and those eyes too were puffy.She obviously had been crying and had managed to dry her tears for the moment.Her green, black, and yellow gown was also device-less.He could see a loose thread or two hanging from her bodice where it had been stitched on.Like her brother she would put hers back on when the period of mourning was over.She joined them.“I’m glad you are here for the funeral,” their father said.“Now all of my family is together again, except for Eleanora.”He began to cry again.
“Well,” a male voice from down the hall spoke. “So the young cub returns.”It was a voice was full of sarcasm; the owner was Marchand’s older brother.Physically he was slight in stature with thinning brown hair, blue eyes, and thin stooped shoulders.His weasely face was not weather beaten; nor was it likely ever to be so, Weman preferred the indoors to the out.Marchand wondered if he would keep the watch his father had over the straight that divided their lands from the lands opposite where there lived a people who did not believe in the three goddess.
“Weman,” his father said, his voice full of exasperation. “Can’t you treat your brother civilly, even now?”
“Sorry father,” Weman apologized. “Welcome home March-and.I hope you enjoy your- short- stay.”His apology was all form and it was obvious to Marchand that he was not truly sorry.March-and thought that his brother was bitter because the goddess denied him both size and health.Marchand was of good size for young men and stood head and shoulders taller than his brother.Weman wore the green, black, and yellow of Kest Isle, but he wore the emblem of his wife’s family, the pacing leopard.His wife, the Lady Vinette was behind him.Her black, green, and yellow gown was similarly adorned.
“Sir Lucien,” Vinette whispered sarcastically, “Don’t you think that we ought to retire now. Tomorrow will be here soon now.” She too was small with luxuriant black hair, done up now that she was married in a bun at the nape of her neck.Her eyes too were blue and there was almost always a hint of petulance in them, and sometimes more than a hint.
Sir Lucien drew in a deep breath and let it out slowly. “Perhaps you are right Vinette,” he observed.“Come, Marchand, help me to retire.Good night Kitten,” he wished her as he kissed his daughter on her forehead.
“Good night father,” Arnell replied. “Marchand, thank the goddess you are here.” Unlike her brother Weman, she was genuinely happy to see this brother.
Marchand took his sister’s hand and kissed her on her forehead. “Good night Arnell,” he said. “Good night Weman and Vinette,” Sir Lucien called out.
He reentered the chamber he had left and the good nights followed him in. “Go to bed Senso. My son Marchand will help me tonight,” he told his faithful manservant as he entered his chamber.
“Yes sir,” the elderly servant acknowledged the order. “Welcome home Sir Marchand.Too bad it had to be under such circumstances.”He took Marchand’s hand briefly as he left.
“Tell me, father,” Sir Marchand asked as he helped Sir Lucien remove his boots, “why do you like me better then Weman?” He was trying to think of something that would distract his father from the things he had been thinking about for the last several days and that was all he could think of.
“Do I?” Sir Lucien asked, surprised at Marchand for his touch of audacity at even asking the question.
“Yes, I think you do,” Sir Marchand answered, yet in his voice it was obvious that he was not absolutely certain.
“Perhaps I do now,” Sir Lucien agreed. Marchand unbuckled Sir Lucien’s greaves as the man became reflective.“The happiest day of my life was the day I married your mother,” he reminisced.“Then Weman was born and my happiness was greater still.When you came along and it was even better.But it wasn’t long before you started showing your brother up at everything you did, except the schooling.He began to resent it and after a while it became part of him.Now he hates everyone and most of them hate them.You, on the other hand, have always been a good son.So I guess now I like you better.” Marchand had helped Sir Lucian in removing his cuirasses by then.
“A good night father,” Sir Marchand wished him. For some reason he felt reassured by his father’s confidence.
“And to you, son,” Sir Lucien replied. He gave Marchand a hug and then allowed him to go.
As he left his father’s chamber, Amila came up to him. “I’ve got your favorite chamber ready for you,” she reported.“It is the one right over the front door.My son is waiting to help you.”
“Thank-you Amila,” he acknowledged. Again he felt reassured.This time it was by her attention to detail.She would be a good wife in the absence of a lady of the house and Marchand knew that his father would be taken care of.“Good night,” he wished her.
As he passed his brother’s chamber, he was accosted. “Brother,” Weman told him, “I want you to know that I know you and I am watching.Father is not long for this world and when he dies I want you out of this castle.Consider yourself on notice.On that day this castle is no longer your home.You always wanted my place but I will deny you yet.”His voice was as sarcastic as ever, al-most on the edge of hatred.
Marchand said nothing. Weman was wrong, but telling him so wouldn’t help.He merely smiled and moved onto his chamber.There the window coverings were drawn against the rain.There was a fire in the fireplace and Amila’s son Rafe, a young man the same age as Marchand, stood by.The fellow helped Marchand remove his boots and greaves and then Marchand dismissed him since he was obviously tired.Marchand walked to the window and checked on the weather.It was already clearing so that the funeral would take place tomorrow.Marchand went to his bed.He recited the formula that begged Madrona’s protection for the night, placated Hyle and encouraged Bairna.Having thus prayed to the three-in-one goddess, he prepared for sleep.Just as he relaxed, he heard a particular sound.It was a high-pitched screeching sound that he had learned to recognize from childhood.It had the effect of making his hair stand on end no matter how familiar he was with it. One of the ghosts was about to make an appearance.
He raised himself on his elbows and looked around to see what was going to happen now. At the foot of Marchand’s bed a mist appeared and coalesced into the form of one of his ancestors.This one appeared in the shape of an ancient warrior in armor and holding his great sword in front of his face.His appearance was much like that of Sir Lucien and his white armor almost made him look like a Servant of Bairna.Marchand knew from experience that this one would not speak until he was addressed.“What do you have for me farquar?” Marchand asked.The term meant ‘honored father’ but could be used to refer to any male ancestor.
“Beware,” the spirit warned in a soft voice that was difficult to hear and required Marchand to pay careful attention to him. “When Hyle’s servant falls war is predicted.There is much joy for you and glory and danger.”
The spirit disappeared and Marchand settled back again. Sleep would be harder now but there was no reason not to try.He tossed and turned through the night.Just before dawn he fell asleep for a couple of hours.