Parno Lionsmane pulled the hood of his cloak down over
his forehead and hunched his shoulders against the rain. Here
it was, practically high summer, what his Partner Dhulyn Wolfshead
would call the Grass Moon, and the rain was coming down as though
it was already well past the Harvest Moon. He caught Dhulyn's
eye as they sidestepped the flow of water running down the centre
of the narrow cobbled lane. She was frowning, and he knew that
more than the weather troubled her.
"Cheer up," he told her. "A few more days
at most, and the whole misunderstanding will be cleared up."
His Partner nodded, but almost as if she wasn't listening.
Dhulyn was Senior to him -- though she was younger, she had been
longer in the Mercenary Brotherhood, having come to it as a child
-- and that was part of the problem.
"It's only the Tarkin of Hellik's court they are sending
to," he added, "not all the way to Imrion."
This time Dhulyn looked at him as she nodded, and Parno
smiled to himself. "I would not have thought it so difficult
to find a Brother Senior to me in a city as large as Lesonika,"
she said. "I thought this would all be over by now."
Both looked up as thunder rumbled.
"A good thing we left the horses, after all,"
Dhulyn said. She dodged a fountain of water pouring from a greatly
overworked gutter overhead. They'd come down from the port of
Broduk on the Catseye, the typical wide single-masted ship
of the Midland Sea, with both their warhorses and their pack horse
in makeshift stalls on the deck. Just now Dhulyn had decided that
all the beasts would be happier in the warm, dry stable provided
by the Mercenary House. And the crew of the Catseye would
be happier as well. Captain Huelra didn't often ship horses --
in fact, Parno was fairly certain Dhulyn Wolfshead was the only
person Huelra would trust with horses aboard his ship.
"It could be worse," Parno said now.
"It could be snowing."
Parno didn't like the way Dhulyn shook her head without
even a token smile. He knew her well enough to make a good guess
at her thoughts. If there could be such rain -- with thunder --
in the Grass Moon, why not snow? As it was, the hay was
flattened in the fields, and oats and young barley would be washed
out or stunted if the weather didn't improve soon. Which meant
a poor harvest, which meant trouble. Parno brightened. Which generally
meant work for the Brotherhood.
streets inclined more sharply as they approached the harbour where
the Catseye was moored, but even so the water was over
their ankles more than once before they reached the comparatively
dryer docks. Here at least the volume of water had somewhere to
go -- into the sea. Lesonika had a deep harbour, and in addition
to half a score of the smaller Midland Sea vessels like the Catseye,
one of the tall three-masted ocean-faring ships were also moored
slowed almost to a halt, turning her head to stare at the tall
ship as they passed it, her normally bright cavalry cloak hanging
in sodden folds and darkened to a dull red by the rain. Parno's
own cloak, though just as good a mix of inglera fleece and wool,
slapped wetly around his calves as the wind took it.
thought so," she called out to him as he reached her side,
her rough silk voice just audible over the pelting rain. "Those
were Long Ocean Traders at the Mercenary House. Did you see them?"
ones in the scaly vests?" he said. "What could they
want with our Brothers?"
Fressian drugs, perhaps."
pursed his lips in a silent whistle, taking a longer look. If
his Partner was right, and the ship was carrying even a few casks
of fresa, fresnoyn or fresnant, he was looking at more money than
he'd seen in many a moon.
There were sailors out even in this weather, seeing to
the mooring lines. The tide was beginning to ebb, Parno saw, and
the amount of water flowing from the town into the boat basin
-- enormous as it was to the city dwellers -- would make no difference
to the sea level; lines still had to be adjusted, anchors checked.
Everywhere there were bare masts, but the usual harbour sounds
of creaking stays, shrouds and halyards could not be heard over
the drumming of the water and the rising noise of the wind.
"Demons and perverts," Parno cursed as a spray
of water caught him fully in the face. Dhulyn's laughter did not
help. They ran the final few paces to the Catseye and pounded
up the gangplank. There was no sentry at the top, but given the
rain and the wind, Parno was not surprised.
There was no glow of light from around the door of Captain
Huelra's tiny cabin and Dhulyn turned immediately toward the entrance
to the hold. Their own sleeping quarters were below, their hammocks
strung up along with those of the sailors, and Parno hesitated
only a moment before following her. A cup of the Captain's brandy
would have been more than welcome, but the dry clothing in their
packs below beckoned even more strongly. And if it came to that,
Parno thought grinning, there was a newly purchased flask of Berdanan
brandy hanging at his own hip.
Not that someone else's brandy didn't always taste better.
heaved back the hatch and dropped straight into the hold, ignoring
the ladder placed to one side. She moved immediately to the right,
leaving Parno a clear space to follow her. He rolled his eyes
-- even here Dhulyn would follow the Brotherhood's Common Rule
and enter the room as though staging an attack -- but he followed
her precisely, landing lightly, knees slightly bent, blinking
in the lantern light, his right hand on the hilt of his sword,
his left on his knife.
Paledyn. No sudden moves, if you please." The softly accented
voice came from a dark-haired, heavily moustached man holding
a the spiked end of a garwon to Captain Huelra's head.
Huelra sat, wrists and ankles bound, on an upturned cask of the
cook's milled flour. Two candle lanterns, one on the floor and
one hanging from a hook on the mast, cast double shadows over
the scene. Parno gritted his teeth and resisted the urge to look
at Dhulyn. He hadn't seen a garwon since his Schooling.
Long, thin, and fiercely sharp, it was used by divers as an underwater
hand weapon. The point actually rested on the skin of Huelra's
temple, and could be through the comparatively thin bone and into
the man's brain before either Parno or Dhulyn could move. And
that did not take into account the young woman with her arbalest
already cranked back and pointed at Dhulyn Wolfshead, or the half-dozen
others, armed and standing farther back in the shifting shadows.
noted automatically that both the moustached man and the woman
were bare-headed, though both wore the oddly patterned scaly vests
that he'd seen at the Mercenary House. Long Ocean Traders. He couldn't be sure about
the others, though he thought at least one more also wore mail.
Parno smiled. As usual, Dhulyn had been right to take precautions
-- better careful than cursing, that's what she always said. Anyone
else would have come down the ladder the normal way, and been
caught with their backs to the enemy.
leaned against the ladder behind him and lifted his hands away
from his weapons. Out of the corner of his eye he could see that
Dhulyn had already done the same. They were by no means out of
options, but with that garwon at Huelra's temple, a straightforward
attack was low on their list.
are Paledyn? What is called here the Mercenary Brotherhood?"
The same man spoke again.
are." Without moving her hands Dhulyn tossed her head and
the hood of her wet cloak fell back to reveal her Mercenary badge,
the blue and green of the tattoo across her temples and above
her ears bright even in this light. Parno still was not used to
seeing her with her hair so short, just a damp cloud the colour
of old blood around her face. Parno tossed his own hood off with
a shake of his head.
am Dhulyn Wolfshead," his Partner said. "Called the
Scholar. I was Schooled by Dorian the Black Traveller. I have
fought at Sadron, Arcosa and Bhexillia." And Limona, thought
Parno, though perhaps she was right not to mention that particular
battle until the Mercenary House here in Lesonika had ruled on
the consequences of it. "I fight with my Partner, Parno Lionsmane,"
I am that Parno Lionsmane with whom she fights," Parno added.
"Called the Chanter and Schooled by Nerysa Warhammer of Tourin."
was a moment -- just a moment -- when the eyes of the arbalest
woman had shifted, glancing at Dhulyn's badge, but the man holding
the garwon on Huelra never moved.
with us," the garwon holder said. "Now. If not,
we kill your friend."
Dhulyn answered in her most reasonable tone. "We can wait
until your wrist gets tired and then kill you."
skeptical snort that sounded from the shadows came from the third
man on the left. Parno automatically calculated distance and angle.
Dhulyn did not take her eyes from the garwon.
of the Catseye are aboard our ship," the man continued
in the same even tone. "You don't come, or we don't return,"
he shrugged. "They'll be killed."
had to admit he was impressed. The moustached man spoke as though
he was commenting on the weather. There weren't many who could
be threatened by a Mercenary Brother and not even change colour
-- no matter how many armed men stood in the shadows behind them.
is this true?"
it is. You'd been gone a few hours -- and half my crew on shore
leave after you -- when these came on board under a trading flag,
may their ship have plank worm. Why should I doubt them?"
Huelra looked as though he'd like to spit, but couldn't turn his
head. "They took us handily, curse their keel, and they took
my crew away.That much
I saw before they hauled me down here."
could see that under Huelra's fear and rage was a measure of embarrassment
at being so easily caught. He'd
probably been flattered that the Long Ocean Traders had approached
him at all.
smiled her wolf's smile, her lip turning back from the small scar
that marked it. "If we didn't care about Huelra," she
said to the Trader, "we'd hardly care about his crew."
This time the man blinked, and Parno stifled a smile of his own.
isn't necessary to hold people hostage to hire us," she added.
"You might simply offer us money."
man slowly shook his head, without moving his eyes from Dhulyn's
and perverts, Parno thought. This was taking
too long. "I'm going to take my cloak off," he said.
"It's wet, and it's cold. I've brandy here in this flask,
and I see no reason I shouldn't drink some. We understand that
if we don't cooperate you'll kill Huelra's people. Tell us why
we should stop you."
Now the man was round-eyed with surprise
-- though still not afraid. He turned his head, almost enough
to look at the young women holding the arbalest. "You're
Paledyn," he said finally. "Mercenary Brothers. People
won't die when you can save them."
Not untrue, in and of itself, just interesting the man should
Wolfshead is Senior Brother," Parno said. "Here and
now it is she who will decide who lives and who dies. So we might
as well relax, while she's listening to your request." Parno
moved his hands to the clasp of his cloak and let the sodden garment
fall to the floor, where he kicked it to one side. Dhulyn was
already tossing hers toward the spot where their packs were tied
securely against sliding should the ship roll. This time the man
did glance quickly at the woman behind him, as he lowered his
garwon. The woman herself relaxed, but Parno noticed that
she did not release the crank on the arbalest.
Dhulyn said, the merest edge of impatience in her voice. "Tell
us what you require of us." Parno opened the flask of brandy,
took a swallow and tossed it to Dhulyn. She caught it neatly in
her left hand, but held it without taking a drink. That made three
times they had moved without anyone using a weapon. If they could
keep this up, they could end up by all drinking together.
Cor of the Long Ocean Nomads." The man had lowered
his weapon, but he had not put it down, and he still had his hand
on Huelra's shoulder. "Our ship is Wavetreader, and
this my sister-captain, Darlara Cor." The woman inclined
to hire and you say no? Then what?" the woman Darlara spoke
up. "Our time, and our funds, running out. You must
cross the Long Ocean with us --"
not," Malfin Cor said. "We kill Captain Huelra and his
crew, burn Catseye."
raised his eyebrows. That point had already been made.
This did not seem like the kind of shrewd and subtle trading the
Nomads had the reputation for. He waited, expecting Dhulyn to
make a counter-suggestion of her own, but she had fallen silent,
and perfectly still. She seemed not even to notice the slight
motion of the Catseye under her feet. Parno took the chance
of looking directly at her. What he saw almost made him reach
toward his sword once more. Dhulyn's face was as still as a statue,
and what little natural colour she had was drained away. But what
shocked Parno most was the almost invisible trembling of her lower
why must it be Mercenary Brothers you take?" When she finally
spoke, even her voice seemed pale.
two exchanged quick glances again. "Been told it must be,
will be, it was Seen."
knuckles went white as her grip on the brandy flask tightened.
Blooded demons, Parno thought. A Seer. These Nomads had
been sent by a Seer. He started to relax. He and Dhulyn had been
trying to find a Seer for moons now. If these Nomads had been
sent by one . . .
we must bring," the man was saying. "Spokesmen between
our people and our enemies. Spokesmen they will trust."
me guess." Dhulyn's rough silk voice was almost faint. "You
need such paragons because your enemies no longer trust you to
deal honourably with them?" Parno blinked. His Partner must
have some reason to ignore the mention of Seers.
two Captains Cor inclined their heads in unison, apparently unfazed
by the implication. "Never been much meeting of souls between
us," the woman Darlara said. "They're landsters, and
we're of the Crayx."
trade in the past, but now . . . " Malfin Cor shook his head.
"Even that's stopped. Won't speak to us."
think you can force us to trick them for you?" Dhulyn
took a swig of the brandy.
"No! Need you to deal honourably with them. Wish
you to negotiate in good faith."
looked down at the flask in her hand, and back up at the Nomad
Captains. "May I suggest that kidnapping us by threatening
to kill our friends may not be the best way for you to begin."
Cor took in a deep breath and released it slowly, as if he was
trying to keep his temper. "Paledyn -- Mercenaries, we've
tried all other ways. Say we should offer money -- very well,
what will you take?"
he's got us there,
Parno thought. He'd be having fun, if Dhulyn wasn't so pale, and
was still hesitating. "There are other Mercenary Brothers
here in Lesonika. Let me find you one of those," she finally
said. "We have a matter for judgment in our House here, a
matter of our Brotherhood, and we are not free to take employment
until it is resolved."
Now Parno thought he understood Dhulyn's
behaviour. They were bound by all their oaths of Brotherhood to
await the summons of their House. Kedneara the late Queen of Tegrian
had asked for a judgment of outlawry against them -- mistakenly
of course, but she'd died before being able to withdraw it. They
had sworn documents from the present Queen, but if they missed
this judgment, if their documents were not presented, it could
very well result in outlawry for them.
the Mercenary Brotherhood was the only home Dhulyn Wolfshead had
ever known. No surprise that she was ignoring the reference to
a Seer, and considering -- even if only for a moment -- letting
Huelra and his people die rather than lose it. After all, death
was what lay in store for all of them. Eventually.
Captain Malfin Cor was shaking his head. "Must leave with
this tide -- now, in fact. Who knows how long it might take to
find others." He lifted his hand as Dhulyn started to speak
again. "It's not we can't wait. It's the Crayx."
begin to see why they have problems negotiating with these others,"
Parno said, under his breath.
Dhulyn nodded, but slowly. "We could agree, and then
kill you all."
forced his eyebrows to remain at their normal level. That
was a negotiating tactic he'd never heard her use before.
Another snort of laughter came out of the shadows behind
Captain Darlara Cor. Before the sound died away Parno's hand flicked
out, and the hilt of his heaviest dagger bounced off the forehead
of the third man to the left. There was a THUNK as the man fell
to his knees and pitched forward into the flickering light of
"You were saying?" Dhulyn's voice sounded courteous
and soft in the sudden silence.
Blinking, Malfin Cor cleared his throat. "You would
not," he said. "You are Paledyn." This time he
did not sound quite so sure. "You would swear not to."
Dhulyn sighed and Parno caught her glance, lifting his
left eyebrow in answer to her look. They would be bound, no question
of it. For a Mercenary Brother there was no such thing as a forced
oath. They would die rather than swear one. That was their Common
"And what prevents you from killing your hostages
in any case?" Parno said. "Once we've agreed and we're
at sea? I only ask since you admit that you can't be trusted."
Captain Malfin Cor bit his lower lip. "Of course,"
he said nodding, "that would free you from your oaths."
A creak of rope made them all look up.
"Wolfshead." Their friend Captain Huelra's voice
was tight, but there was nothing else, no plea for himself or
his crew. His throat moved as he swallowed. Huelra had no say
here, no control over the events around him, so like a sensible
man he stayed quiet . . . and trusted to his gods.
Well his gods were looking after him tonight, that was
"How if I came with you myself, and my Partner remained
Even as she spoke Dhulyn knew what Parno's reaction would
be. But it was too late to call the words back, and whatever else
happened, short of breaking the oaths of the Common Rule -- short
of breaking the oaths of their Partnership, to which her suggestion
came perilously close -- she must do whatever she could to keep
Parno off the Long Ocean ship.
Without telling him why.
"Without me," she said to him now, "the
Mercenary House can rule quickly, they need not wait for a Brother
Senior to me. You can explain what has happened here, and I will
return as quickly as I can." She turned with lifted eyebrows
to Malfin Cor and his sister-Captain.
"Our Crayx don't return until the spring,"
he said. "But one of the other Long Ocean Pods can bring
you back, if our negotiations are finished."
"No." Parno's voice startled her, she had never
heard him speak so sharply before. "We are Partnered,"
he said. "I will not -- I cannot -- be left behind."
"I am Senior --" Dhulyn began.
"In Battle," Parno said, touching his
forehead with the tips of his fingers.
Dhulyn held off, but there was only one answer, and her
Partner knew it. "Or in Death," she answered him lifting
her own hand to answer his salute. She clenched her teeth against
the words she could not say. Another rope creaked overhead,
or perhaps the same one, and she cleared her throat.
"Let Huelra and his crew go," she said, her heart
tight in her chest. "Now. Free them and we come with you."
What was her alternative? Let them die? And when her Partner asked
her why she'd let that happen -- because he would ask her, no
question -- what answer could she give him then? That she could
not tell him why, that it was all part of the one thing she had
promised never to tell him?
"Wolfshead." The tone in Huelra's voice was now
completely different. Evidently he had not been so very certain
what their answer would be.
"Huelra," she said. She wondered if anyone else
noticed the tightness in her voice. "You must be our advocate
to our House. The documents they have already, but you must go,
explain to them what has happened, and ask them to wait their
judgment." She swallowed. "Ask them to look after our
"It will be done, Wolfshead. Depend on me."
Dhulyn kept her attention on the last few items she was
removing from their largest pack. They'd had to abandon much of
their gear -- not counting weapons, of course -- after the battle
of Limona, and even after restocking in Beolind there wasn't much.
They had moved their packs only after having seen Huelra's crew
restored to the Catseye, and the cabin they'd been given
on the Wavetreader -- Co-captain Darlara's own, as it turned
out -- was more than spacious. Or it would be, if Parno wasn't
hovering over her like a schoolmaster looming over a student.
She kept her hands busy and her eyes down. Not that it did her
were you thinking?"
"Not now, my soul."
But he persisted, as she'd known he would. "How could
you say you would go alone? Demons and perverts, we're Partnered,
why would you say such a thing?"
Because you are going to die out there, she thought,
her lips pressed tight. Because she'd known ever since she'd first
touched him that Parno was going to die at sea. Her Vision had
shown her the storm, and the deck tilting, and the wall of water
that would sweep her Partner over the side. And she had promised
never to tell him how he would die. Never.
"I was worried about the hearing," she said finally.
"I lost my head."
Parno crouched down next to her, blocking her light, and
put his hand on her shoulder. "And the Seer? You felt we
must stay, and yet you wanted to go." Here he was, finding excuses for her.
"Now is not a good time to be touching me," she
said from between clenched teeth.
Parno lifted his hand immediately and edged back. "Did
you have a Vision? Is that what this is all about?"
he said, lowering his voice.
Dhulyn froze, her hands caught flattening the pack for
folding, her lower lip between her teeth. Partners did not lie
to each other, as a rule. Was there any part of the truth that
"Yes," she said finally. "I've Seen that
a sea voyage will prove to be unlucky for us."
Parno sat back on his heels, blowing out his cheeks. "Well
then." He rubbed at the beard stubble on his chin. "Still,
what could you do? Let them kill Huelra and his preople? A large
price to buy our way out of some bad luck." He stood up and
edged around her to where the heavy silk bag holding his pipes
lay on the cabin's small table.
not worry too much, in any case," he said. "With your
Sight so chancy as it is, it may be nothing more than the sea
illness. Do you want to try using the vera tiles?"
shook her head. She closed the latch on the locker underneath
the lower bunk and sat back on her heels, delaying the moment
that he would expect her to turn toward him.
it wait a day or two," she said. "My woman's time is
it may be best if our hosts don't know of my Mark."
nodded, rubbing at his face once more. He'd have to let his beard
grow again, she thought. It was hard to shave at sea unless you'd
had plenty of practice. Her heart lurched again. Practice he wasn't
likely to get.
doesn't sound as though they have a problem with this Seer they've
mentioned. Especially since they're doing what she asked. Still,
chances are they're more familiar with the commoner ones, Menders,
if, unlike me, the Seer they know has been fully trained . . ."
nodded. "They'll have the usual expectations."
would, the same as any reasonable person. That she See for them,
look into the future. And she would have to explain once again
that her Sight was erratic, that she'd never been trained to use
it properly, that her glimpses of the future were not as useful
as people might think.
few ever believed her.
then, let's keep your Mark from the Nomads," Parno said.
"At least until we have some idea of what they actually know
about the Marked, and how they feel about them."
looked up at him. Parno was frowning, his eyes focused on the
middle distance. Funny how he still thought of the Marked as 'them',
she thought. But of course, to him she was his Partner first,
and a Seer second.
it can't do any harm for us to check the tiles, just for ourselves,
try to head off this bad luck you're talking about." He held
up his hands as she opened her mouth.
know what you're going to say. Unreliable. But we know much more
about your Sight now than we did before. If your women's time
is near, and you use the tiles, that gives us the
best possible chance of accuracy. After all, we know what to expect,
it won't be the first Vision we've dealt with."
took a deep breath and consciously willed her hands to loosen
from the fists she'd made. She was sorely tempted to merely tell
him and be done with it. She could see so many evasions, so many
half-truths coming up in the time they had left. But she'd sworn,
hadn't she, when they'd first Partnered and she'd told Parno that
she was Marked. Sworn it would be the one thing she would never
tell him. The one secret that would free her to tell him everything
-- anything -- else.
done everything she could to keep him off the deep seas, the Long Ocean here in the east, the larger Round Ocean in the Great King's realm far to
the west. Even here, in the Middle Sea, she'd made sure they only took
coastal vessels such as Captain Huelra's Catseye.
she'd done what she could to keep them from this voyage as well.
Had she done the right thing? Could she have left
Huelra and his crew to die? Was following the honourable path
of the Common Rule really worth Parno's life? Tradition
said that one Partner did not survive the death of the other,
but that hadn't even entered her thoughts until now. She looked
up, but her Partner was focused on his pipes, checking the air
bag for soundness. It was Parno she wanted to save, not herself.
But if she acted dishonourably, if she broke the Common Rule,
what kind of life was she saving for them?