58. Chapter 57
I was shown into the house and taken to a guest room by a maidservant where I was able to wash off the dirt and dust of the journey and the burial and make myself more presentable for the table. The place fascinated me, for it was built very much on the same pattern and I could almost have imagined myself in the family home in Rushwater Vale as it once might have been. I had been amongst those ruins many times, and knew how the place was laid out, and the house I now found myself in was of a kind. The idea filled me with a surprisingly sharp pang of longing and loss, and a little bitterness too.
The maidservant called for me and I followed her to the main room where the meal was to be eaten, but as we approached I could hear a man shouting angrily, and a woman pleading and weeping. I instinctively bunched my fists on hearing this, but my guide showed no emotion at all and I thought it safest not to press her on the matter. Perhaps this was a routine occurrence in this house. When we entered order had been restored, but it was clear from her eyes that Lenthel had indeed been weeping again, and my arrival was greeted with obvious displeasure by her husband Deleric. "I see that you were invited by my wife to be our guest without my leave, and I tell you that you and your kind are not welcome here. But I will suffer your presence for her sake for this night only and in the morning you will depart and never return. This is my house now in name and by law, and my word will stand here, see that it shall!" The last was directed at his crestfallen wife, for this was a gross breach of manners and would have filled her with shame. For my part I said nothing but acknowledged his words with a curt nod. The cook brought the first course of the meal in along with a jug of ale and all was set on the table and our goblets filled. Out of habit I excused myself and stood, and facing west observed the traditional moment's silence. Fixing me with a look that contained sadness and a little defiance, Lenthel rose too and did likewise. Deleric said nothing but quaffed his ale noisily, smashed it back down onto the table and seizing the pitcher poured himself another, spilling it as his hands trembled with rage at his wife's apparent insolence.
He had once clearly been a handsome man, and had an air of intelligence about him, but his good looks were long run to seed through an excessive love of ale and his quick wits were turned to spite and cruelty. Berenion had often spoken about the way he had wooed his sister during his long absences away on duty, he thought only with an eye on the holdings he stood to gain control of should the brother come to grief. Perhaps they had been happy once, but it was not long before his true character had come to the fore, made worse by the large amounts of ale he constantly imbibed. Berenion and he were often at daggers drawn, but the sister had always intervened on the husband's behalf. He was full of guilt and regret for what had happened and the way he had allowed his devotion to duty and ambition to take him away from his home and leave his sister vulnerable and unprotected. I thought on all of this and observed the two of them as we ate in an uncomfortable silence.
Deleric sank another flagon and belched loudly. Ignoring her husband's coarse manners, Lenthel gathered up her courage and broke her silence to ask me to speak of her brother and the times I had shared with him in a querulous voice. I met her eyes and before her husband could interrupt began to tell her about the first time I had seen him as a boy of sixteen, and how he had changed the path of my life by assigning me to a southern company. I told her how his reputation for being a severe and pedantic captain belied a man with a strong sense of justice and compassion, who could win over his opponents and rivals and inspire them with his leadership. Deleric spat on the floor at this unable to contain himself any longer, and interrupted me loudly. "He was a stiff necked fool who got what he deserved". He narrowed his eyes and held my appalled stare, full of contempt, like an ale sodden pig, challenging me. Guest or no, I could contain myself no longer, and I felt a furious rage take hold of me. "Silence!" I roared, rising from my seat and smashing my fist down on the board in turn. He rose too, leaning towards me until we were staring into each other's faces and I could smell his foul ale sodden breath. "How dare you address me so under my own roof? Out! Now!" But I held his stare unflinching and saw him quail a little. " I am the Lady's guest, and her brother who was my captain and true friend lies not a day in the ground, and you dare to speak of him in such terms?" Emboldened by my words Lenthel spoke up. "Deleric, husband mine, please let it be, this day of all days. I am sure Captain Esteldir spoke in haste and weariness only, please let us all be seated once more".
But Deleric was enraged by her further insolence, and spinning away from me and around the table launched himself with a practiced hand and struck Lenthel with such force that she was knocked from her chair, and fell to the flagstones with a shriek. He stood over her and raised his hand for a second blow, but I was already vaulting across the table and caught his hand before he could land the blow. I twisted his arm back and hurled him against the tapestry clad wall and he fell heavily, momentarily stunned. As I turned to attend to Lenthel who lay on the ground, he climbed to his feet and with a furious bellow drew a dagger from his belt and charged me. I saw the blow coming just in time and managed to turn it, and though he was heavier than I, and strong for his age I was an experienced soldier in my prime and even unarmed he was no match for me. This last act of his was more than I could bear, and overcome by a furious rage I disarmed him, threw him down and drove his knife deep between his ribs three times, and he died gasping in a pool of his own blood.
I yelled for the servants to come, and they burst in, the maidservant letting out a scream when she saw what had happened. I barked "attend to your mistress" and they helped her up and took her away to her chamber, stunned and pale and dripping blood herself from a cut to the head. The male servants who remained looked at me fearfully, but I showed them I bore no weapons and told them they had nothing to fear from me. "Send at once for the Captain in the town, for I have slain your master under his own roof and must face his justice. I picked up a fallen chair and sat down on it heavily, feeling angry that circumstances had once again conspired against me. One of the men promptly left, but it would be at least an hour or more before anyone would come back. I contemplated fleeing from my perilous situation, but now my choices were even narrower. It might be possible to cross the river into the wilderness to the east, but what then? I could expect no help from the elves, and all other roads south, west and north were closed to me. I decided that if indeed death was coming again then at least I would have it quick and clean. I sighed, righted a flagon on the table, refilled it from the pitcher which had somehow remained upright during the struggle, sighed and took a long deep draught.