The Patrimony by Adams Robert
The Patrimony by Adams Robert
Sir Geros was ensconced in the privy behind his small, neat house when a scurrying servitor brought word that the tower watchers reported two armed riders approaching from the northeast. As the old warrior dropped worn baldric over his scarred, shaven head and fitted its links to those of his scabbard, he heard the first belling of the hall’s pack of hounds.
By the time he reached the courtyard, the riders were through the open gates—which laxity was as a rasp drawn across a raw nerve to the old soldier. He and the old thoheeks had always seen eye to eye on tight security for both hall and hard-won duchy, even if their ideas had differed on other points, but now Thoheeks Hwahltuh was gone to wind and neither his widow (the fat, Ehleen bitch, thought Sir Geros) nor the regent followed very many of the practices of the old lord’s lifetime.
The riders guided their big, northern horses at a slow walk through the broil of leaping, snapping dogflesh, the second, larger man pulling along as well a pack-laden sumpter mule. As they came closer, Sir Geros could see that, under the thick overlay of dust, the scarred faces of both men were lined with fatigue. Weary too were the beasts, their heads drooping low, but the riders sat straight, their plain half-armor dented and patched here and there but polished and oiled beneath the road dust.
Polished, also, were the unadorned hilts of their broadswords and the light axes dangling from their saddlebows. The heads of the two lances socketed on the mule’s load sparkled like burnished silver in the first rays of Sacred Sun. Sir Geros did not need to examine the scabbarded sword-blades to know that they too would surely be well honed and unblemished.
He knew—and respected and empathized with—this stripe of men from the days when he was a warrior and had ridden with and fought beside Middle Kingdoms freefighters. The Sword was not only their life but their grim god—and they treated that god with respect.
As the hall servants kicked and cuffed the pack away from the mounting blocks, a groom reached for the reins of the lead rider’s stallion and nearly lost a hand for his courtesy. Big, square yellow teeth clacked bare millimeters from the jerked back fingers.
Sir Geros detected a fleeting glimmer of soundless command—his mindspeak, for all his strivings, had never been very good—and the warhorse stood stockstill while, jackboots creaking, the wiry rider dismounted and, after hitching his sword around for easier walking, strode toward the old castellan.
A swordlength away, he halted. “Don’t you recognize me, then, old friend? Have these years of soldiering changed me that much?”
Sir Geros looked hard then. He took in the gray-blue eyes, their corners crinkled from much squinting against sunglare and the elements, the high forehead, permanently dented by the heavy helm which probably was now part of the mule’s cargo. He could see that the skin must once have been fair, but now it was weathered to the hue of polished maple, with the fine, high-bridged nose canted slightly to one side and with two large and innumerable small scars scoring the reddish-bristled cheeks.
A short, red-blond spade beard spiked forward from the man’s chin, and a thick, luxuriant mustache must once have flared, though now it was plastered to his face with sweat and dust.
The stranger had stripped the leather gauntlets from hands which were square, with a dusting of blondish hairs on their backs; the fingers were long and the nails clean and well kept. A small ruby set in carven gold adorned the least finger of the right hand—which digit, Sir Geros noticed, was missing its last joint—and the next finger bore the steel-and-silver band of a noble Sword Brother. This last proved the old warrior’s first estimation correct; this man was a sworn member of the Sword Cult.
But Sir Geros’ black eyes strayed at length back to those gray-blue ones, so like to… to hers, to those of the Lady. The Lady Mahrnee, she who had been the beloved first wife of Thoheeks Hwahltuh, and whom Sir Geros had worshiped at a distance for all the years he had served her husband.