CHAPTER EIGHT - The Evil Rises
There were two groups. Hovering at each end of the field, fading in and out of view as the fog swam around them, covering all and they like a white funeral shroud. The mood was reserved and any noise was being eaten before it formed by the cloying dampness of the early morning.
The Cupins stood to the north; to the south the Trull.
Kule stood with his brother, Marion to their side, behind, and at a distance that was acceptable, stood a captain of the family guard and a further official of the court.
Aldo Cupins stood at the front of the other group dressed in the light armour of a field leader, draped with the clan colours. He was accompanied by his father as leader of the house, his younger brother and two other men. One would have been a retainer and the other, an overseer.
It was law that matters of honour could be resolved in combat, mortal or otherwise, providing two independent witnesses scrutinized the affair, one for each party guarantying the legality of the outcome, whatever it may be.
It was Aldo Cupins’ call. He had delivered the demand and under Sinterland law he could choose the level of retribution and endeavour. He stood hands on hips, a violet cloak sitting squarely on his shoulders forming wings over his elbows, chest preened like some fighting cock. Their group stood fast with the confidence of men sure of themselves. After all, Tully Trull was a fop by all accounts. Not a man’s boot lace and this event would put the Trull into a tight corner.
The gambit was sure to produce an endplay that would have Tully begging for mercy, and thus calling for exclusion under the old laws. This would place the rule of the Trull in jeopardy as it was written that such an event would leave the capitulator subservient, with it, taking seats from the upper house. The Trull ruled the Senate. This would adjust all that. Thus, Aldo was pleased; all that remained was the capitulation.
They watched and waited for the Trull to send the emissary to plead their case, as was the tradition in such matters. Hardly a sound at all, the fog coated the proceedings like some tempera wash. A figure walked towards them, Aldo Cupins smiled, waiting, chest pushed forward, cock-sure and ready to bellow his rage at being denied his honour; such was the way of the capitulation.
The man stood waiting, at his side a sword, blade lowered at the ready. Tully Kule, dressed in the light field armour of a Trull General, his look hawk-like; eyes burning with a light foreign to any prior. Cupins blinked, this was not the pompous fool he expected. Yet it was the man; fitted with a steel he had not expected. Instead of a whimpering pup he found a hunting dog, fit chest and lean legs, bright dark eyes and teeth showing across stretched lips.
He stood at attention, waiting, for the call to battle from the demander. His gaze was steel-like, grey and cold. Cupins stood silent, wondering on that wing of time between thought and sound whether this was some gamesmanship taught over a long night to a very good actor. After all, he stood before this fellow as a martial artist of many years’ standing, a swordsman of great skill and a fellow others feared. He has spent most of his life being feared and after the second of uncertainty, the habits of a lifetime kicked in. He threw his chest forward and bellowed the entreaty to battle “for honour”, the yell honed in the fighting rooms of his master’s school, in the bars and inns of his world, designed to strike fear into the faint-hearted.
Tully Trull stood and nodded; not a word or a breath just an acceptance. He waited; Cupins had not made the demand. The silence was immediate, then, like some whisper on a wind that blows sound away he spoke, “Tell me Lord Aldo, what measure you demand?”
As was the way of these things it was Cupin’s place to exact the price of battle. This safeguard was in place for the obvious reason. Here, in the cold hard light of dawn, after many hours of reconciliation with one’s thoughts, it gave the demander the opportunity to defuse the situation. It was an opportunity for the folly of wine and meed to be watered down with sober thoughts as was most often the case.
Cupins watched, not hearing the words of a Dani player, not the sounds of a fop acting the part. Here was the voice of a warrior, a voice not quite there. For the first time Cupins had a flash of some feeling foreign to him, it he had ever felt it before he would have known it as concern, he hesitated.
Tully Trull moved with the speed of a hawk, his hand slapped across the other man’s cheek so quickly and so hard that it happened before it did. The insult was so absolute Cupins was lost for words. Without thinking he stepped back a step into the sound of the exclamations rushing forward from his camp.
Trull stood and added. “Let’s make it a hand shall we?”
Cupins nodded in the half trance his rage had emptied onto him. Immediately Trull adopted the classic forward leaning stance with his sword overhead, the speed was such that a faint hiss filled the air as the blade rose and stood rock solid.
Cupins move quickly but his haste and rage led to a clumsy set of movements that resulted in his sword dropping from his hands and hitting the loose stones at his feet. He bent to pick it up and Trull moved back and started a feint circle, feet never leaving the ground, dragging quietly over the uneven ground as if he was floating.
Cupins, a little more composed moved to join the dance, his eyes bulging at the dishonour of Trull’s actions and his own display of ineptitude; he would make this fool pay. The first parry was a chorus of steel against steel, sounding only like two swords can sound and finished with each other trading places and facing away.
Both turned in a jumping stance and ran again. This time the blows were furious and so fast the windmill of blades caused a flickering in the fog. The whiteness seemed to engulf them, the Cupins camp moved towards them to try to stay in sight, the fog was now thicker than it had been prior and the sound of blades were deadened like they were being played across the valley, not feet in front of them.
A scream sounded and the fog lifted. Aldo Cupins fell to his knees, a stream of blood spurting from the stump of his right arm, the hand lay twitching under the halt of the sword away across the clearing. Trull stood back and sheathed his sword, wiping the blade on his tunic with the practiced ease of a master swordsman. He turned and walked away; back towards his people with no word or ceremony.
The unconscious body of Aldo Cupins slide to the ground face first as his fellows went into an excited mode as they tended immediate first aid. This action had cemented the rule of the Trull. Now, the Cupins were those that would have to render subservience. The regime was complete.
Kule walked forward to the old Lord. He stood before him, smaller by a long chalk yet wider and of greater body. He just stood, drank the moment, the old man’s eyes were filled with a sadness he had never seen before and if it where his way, he may have felt a little sadness for him but it was not his way and he didn’t.
Lord Cupins knew what was to come, he searched the other man for some hint of human compassion but knew he was looking for water in a desert. Kule whispered “Do I have to say it aloud man. Do you want to lose the use of two sons this day? I demand satisfaction from this, either you give me your complete loyalty and your votes or your son Destin and I shall dance a little, and I will not settle for a hand”.
Lord Cupins knew of Kule’s history, he was a street fighter and never lost in any street. He had no choice. He pulled at the red silk band across his left shoulder ripping it away from the pins holding it. On it was his family crest and the number 3 to signify the votes in the upper house. He handed it to Kule who stood unmoved. His only words, “You started this old man, I have just finished it”, turned and walked away.
* * * * * *
They walk to the buildings proper was far longer than Jano would have first thought. He was unable to put his finger on it, it seemed that all things here were juxtaposed, distance fought with time and time with place, today, now, it was a mystery, later, many years ahead, when Jano would stand here as Master Mage, it would still be so.
Such was the world he was in and was part of him.
Finally, after what he felt was a strangely long time, they arrived at the outer wall of the keep. It was finished in the smoothest white facing Jano had ever seen. In the reaches, at least the reaches he was familiar with, they never wasted time rendering. This was something kept for the builders of the inner set and the walls were so smooth they reflected his image in the soft afternoon light.
The dog stood beside him, his head cocked to one side causing his left ear to hang straight down and his right to flop across his right eye, a look of what; curiosity? Curiosity of what, his behavior prior signified familiarity, so what was he to be curious about. Then Jano understood, understood with a light-hearted smile, he was curious about Jano.
“I know boy.” Jano said as he patted the sagely golden head.
“I have no idea what I’m doing here either.” The dog turned to face him and if the Maker believed him, Jano would have said he smiled.
He barked once and ran around the corner down to the left of where they were standing, he disappeared and a further bark began the game of catch-up they had been playing since they started this strange journey.
He walked on and turned the corner. The wall went back to form an inverted “L” shape and a large opening in the wall passed into a courtyard, white pebbles forming the ground within. So far, besides his four-legged friend, Jano had not heard or seen any other.
He entered the courtyard and another wonderment occurred, the space expanded before his eyes and became the size of a small village and he had the image of the dolls within the dolls his sister had had as a child. This place was framed by buildings standing three or four stories high and many small single story and other out-houses filled the area. The same white pebbles formed the ground and the rich red of the roofs and in places, window sashes and doorframes slashed the serene whiteness.
The dog appeared across the way, between two buildings and barked. Jano just waved and walked on.
As he grew into a man he would come to experience many occasions when this type of guide would lead him. It was to be that Jano’s oneness with animals would give him time and space and help him again and again. In this instance, the dog just assumed the role of guide and leader and Jano happily followed. If he thought about it this had been happening most of his life, as a toddler following chickens and other barnyard stock.
A further bark sounded in the recess of the buildings behind the first row in the yard. The soft sweet smell of spices filled the air and Jano’s stomach felt like it had been punched as it growled in concert to his flowing juices. It was so immediate it startled him and then, he was overcome with hunger, he trotted towards the last location he could pinpoint the bark and found an open door. Within the dog was drinking from a white china bowl. The small room was fitted with a table and chairs and a feast was laid out. Not only for Jano but the dog was catered for in a similar manner.
His stomach growled at him and Jano ran to the table. His hand seemed to have a life of its own and grabbed a leg of chicken, gleaming with a honey glaze, his mouth watered and he pulled it to it and was about to bite. He stopped and dropped the food back onto the table. In his haste and single-mindedness he had almost eaten without performing his ablutions. This was a holy place and a place of the Gift. To do so was as close to sacrilege that Jano could ever come. He shook his head once and forced himself back to the door, backing away as his stomach seemed to draw him forward.
The urge was overpowering, so much so he moved forward again. His vision tunneled in and the only thing he was aware of in the dark tunnel of his conscious thought was the leg of chicken and the screaming growl in the pit of his belly. He closed his eyes and practiced the act of clearing he had been taught by Old Magla. It was a spell of visualization, one where he would clear his thoughts with the image of a white sheet of best spun silk, on which the symbol for serenity was embroidered. This was Jano’s sheet, others had their own.
He was always on a hill, the sheet full of strong breeze, so much so his face would cool from its caress. This he did, the sound of the wind filling his ears, his sheet forming and shining with the gold emblem. Jano was able to walk back through the doorway with his eyes closed and when he felt the stones beneath his feet he opened his eyes and saw that the room was empty. His hunger subsided but was there all the same.
The dog rubbed against his legs in much the way a friend pats your shoulder when expressing his pleasure. A single gong sounded once. For the first time, Jano heard sounds, the sounds of soft voices, a bird sang in the Walnut tree on the east wall, the dog took his hand in its mouth and pulled him forward.
* * * * * *
The fog was grey as only it can be when forming over water. The sea ahead seemed to open under its blanket and all sounds were a dull thud of their normal selves.
For the past five days the ship had plied northward through the Inner Set and out into the Handor Sea. She was a clipper, not an island hopper like Elvira, designed to travel distance in single legs, something that was needed to reach Nor’ Land shores.
Dannid was within himself on the most part. He was filled with a sense of loss for he knew that the boy he had left on the busy docks of the Mid’ Lands would never return. He knew that Jano’s time was already set and the boy would need to be a man as quickly as was possible. What this meant for Jano he was not sure except to say that he knew it was not something he would figure in.
No, more was the point, Dannid felt charged with a task. Since his encounter with the Constables he was aware of a shift in the fabric that was Sinterland’s way. He could not put his finger on it directly but he knew that it was not a good thing; it meant a return to times long since left.
In the day between Jano’s leaving and Dannid’s departure from the port he had made it his business to do a little reconnoitring and he was not happy with what he saw.
All around the port and the city thereabouts were signs of rough men and soldiery. Supporters of various Inner Set clans all forming bands to swagger about and cause more than their fair share of trouble in both their interaction with one and other and the citizenry in the middle.
Dannid felt the tension, the unease. He felt the struggle for power and as he knew only too well, with all such struggle, came war. What this war would be and whom it would be with was not clear to him but he knew that his decision those months prior to travel to the north to meet with the Kentish people was the correct one.
If there was to be war, so be it. Dannid had no truck with the concept in its own right, more so it was his want to do his bit to make sure that whatever war there was; was kept within the rules. The concept of rules in war would seem a strange thing to any one not aware of Sinterland’s history and ways, but rules there were.
Since the time of the thirty-seven tribes, many conflicts had occurred. These had been both grand and small and had, over the centuries proceeding, shaped the structure of the world that was the now and then.
Dannid’s very existence as a Roamer was a direct result of this. His forebears had all supported and been supported by the Yatomin house, long since gone, having been defeated during the forty-year wars, the great conflict that saw their removal from power and their self-imposed exile to the harsh Kentish Isles.
The Roamers were a mixed band in Sinterland culture. It was safe to say that with little or no civil unrest for over one hundred and fifty years; their existence had become anachronistic to say the least. They all shared one thing in common. At a time past, they or their forebears had decided not to serve a new lord at the defeat of their own.
This particular concept of honour was well established in the mores of the people of the land although many a swaggering vagabond with tenuous lineage back to grander periods had done the concept more harm than good in recent times. Dannid was an exception in that he was dedicated to the ways of the warrior.
He had to admit, with more than a little trepidation, that the poor examples of trumped-up farts he had observed throwing their weight around in the port city left him feeling very low.
Having said that, he also realized that this war was going to be best served by warriors, not tavern bullies, and he swore renewed dedication to traveling north and offering his services to better the forces of the Kentish Lords. Something he was committed to do through the direct dependency of his line and their dishonour at the defeat they suffered those many years before.
Dannid was not a man of violence. He was a warrior. The art of war was not a credo of violence per se, and he was going to do his damnedest to make sure it did not become so
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