Looking South - Part III

The tent that Sir Petriz used was nowhere near as grandiose as the one that Sir Czestadt, Volka wie Stuth, preferred. Although he was now a knight, a Knight Commander of the Driheli in fact, and thus, one of the most important people in all the lands surrounding Stuthgansk, he never forgot that he was once the son of a potter. It was necessary that his own tent be more comfortable and lavish than that of a simple Knight Bachelor’s, but he nevertheless instilled in it a portion of his own humble upbringing.

The hardships of travelling forbade him from bringing any of the pottery that he kept from his family as gifts – he had at first wanted to pay for them, but it would have dishonoured his family to take money for a gift. So apart from the slightly enlarged blue and yellow banner of Vasks, he brought with him only a small writing table that sat beside his pallet, and a colourful silk sheet that lay atop his bed. At first he had been embarrassed by the sheet’s refinement, but now he was thankful for something so light to keep him from being too hot in the evenings. Although in the desert it grew cold at night, the Steppe was still quite warm.

It had been no more than ten minutes since he had left Sir Czestadt’s tent, but as he sat upon his pallet pondering whom to send on such a dangerous mission, he could not even quite remember how he had returned to his tent. He had taken out a bit of parchment and set it before, quill in hand, drawing up a list of names, and trying to decide which of them was best suited to the task. He had no illusions about the honour of thieves, and he knew that whomever he sent would risk being taken captive, perhaps even killed.

“Sir?” a firm but uncertain voice called from the tent flap. Sir Petriz looked up, a smile already crossing his features. It was his squire Karol, a lad of sixteen who had been with him for five years now. The boy was already quite strong and well built across his shoulders, though he would always be somewhat squat. Where other boys his age had begun to sprout, he had only grown wider. This had constantly frustrated the boy, but he had shown remarkable persistence, and trained all the harder, so that he was a better swordsmen than most squires his age. In another year he would be ready for his own investiture. That day would be the proudest of Sir Petriz’s life.

“Ah, Karol, come in. I need your help with this matter.” He waved the boy closer. Karol let the tent flap fall back in place behind him and sat on his knees in front of the writing table. “As I’m sure you’ve heard by now, we know the Magyars are half a day’s ride up in the mountains.”

“I heard that they have Sir Ignacz trapped in the mountains,” Karol replied with a dour expression. “May Eli grant him safe passage.”

“I have prayed for that too. But there is another matter I am facing. I have to send one of our men to parlay with the Magyars.”

Karol narrowed his gaze, staring down at the list. Like Sir Petriz, Karol had been illiterate when he had become a squire. It was one of the first things that Petriz had trained his squire in, the art of letters. When he had been Sir Czestadt’s squire, he had also spent many months learning to read and write, a skill which according to Czestadt separated the people and their protectors. In fact, it was one of the things that had made Sir Petriz suspicious of his first squire Zygmunt. That boy had shown an eager desire to be a knight, but he had not been interested in learning his letters, and somewhat reluctant to faithful observance of the codes of knighthood. After three years of failure trying to make the boy grow into a man, Sir Petriz had sorrowfully cast him back to his family in disgrace. He had been saddened further when he heard that Zygmunt had become a brigand. Bringing him to justice had given Sir Petriz no pleasure.

But then he had found Karol. The boy had come from a fisherman’s family, and while his family’s eyes were upon the sea, his own were upon the land. Sir Petriz had been riding through town hoping that he might see a face amongst them yearning with the same sort that he had once possessed. But that was not how he had met Karol. After finding no one in the crowd that suited him, he had gone to the local church to pray. It was there the he overheard the boy’s own prayers. He let the boy finish making his request to Eli to one day be a knight. The heartfelt nature of the prayer moved him, because the trembling of the voice sounded so much like his own at that age. Before the boy had left the church, Sir Petriz had asked him if he wished to squire under him.

What was the most remarkable aspect was that the boy had never prayed in the church like that before. His devotion to the Ecclesia afterwards brought pride to his knight.

“Parlay?” Karol asked then, rubbing his fingers together. “What are we trading?”

“We will merely ask them to give us Kashin in exchange for our withdrawal,” Sir Petriz replied. “We may not have killed many of their people, but we have forced them into hiding. And if what we know of the Magyars is true, that has to grievously upset them.”

Karol nodded slowly. “I see, sir. So you need somebody who can ride into the mountains, deliver this message in their own tongue, and perhaps return with Kashin in tow?”

“Nay, it would be too dangerous for any one man to try and return down that mountain with Kashin. Though disgraced, he still possesses the abilities of a Yeshuel, and if what I have heard is true, they are formidable warriors. No, if they are even willing to listen, then we would establish a place that he might be delivered to us. Or at least, to give us permission to come collect him. Either will suffice.”

Taking a deep breath, Karol looked up into his knight’s eyes, and with firm conviction said, “I can do that, sir.”

“You? Karol, you have not yet been knighted. This could be very dangerous.”

“I know,” Karol replied, though with a fierce energy that Sir Petriz could not help feel proud of. “But I want to do this. I can do all that you need. I can even speak their tongue. If we can end this peacefully, how much greater will the glory be to Eli? We may be warriors, but peace is always better. I want to help, Sir. If you let me.”

Sir Petriz could not hide the smile that he felt filling his heart. He reached one arm across the table and squeezed the stocky youth’s shoulder. “You will make a finer knight than Sir Czestadt one day, Karol. I’ve never met a nobler heart. Very well, you may go. Saddle your horse and gather some supplies for the trip. I will supply you with a map so that you may find your way. Be careful and come back to me.”

“If it takes six hours, it will be past midnight when I return.”

“I will wait up for you,” Sir Petriz said, rising to his feet. His squire was still a head shorter than him, and not likely to grow more than a few inches more. “You make me proud, Karol.”

Karol smiled in return, a grin which showed his yellowed teeth. “If I do nothing more in this life, then I will have done enough, sir.” Sir Petriz could find no more words as he watched his squire of five years slip back out of the tent. He would see him off soon, and then, before dawn the next day, they would celebrate.

Dazheen’s wagon was sultry. Ever since that one day at Hanlo o Bavol-engro when she felt a presence in the cards that was not supposed to be there, she had taken to spending more and more time in her wagon. Given the way the air was thick and stuffy, he wondered if she might indeed be suffering from an ague.

But Dazheen had always looked old, and so when her saw her reclining in her seat, the cards that were her life arrayed before her, he wondered if perhaps the thickness in the air was all just part of his imagination, or a byproduct from spending too much time lighting candles in the clime.

“Thou hast come with questions,” Dazheen said, her voice scratchy. Her eyes did appear more rheumy than ususal, but it may have just been the air.

“Thou dost know me better than myself, Dazheen,” Hanaman said softly, taking the seat opposite her. The small booth was on the left side of the wagon, while cabinets occupied the right. Bryone, Dazheen’s pupil, waited in the front of the wagon behind the privacy curtain like always. Atop the cabinets were rows of candles that always seemed to burn without ever decreasing in size.

Dazheen spread her hands over the cards, her wrinkled fingers curling as she dragged them into their proper places with her nails. “Ask thy questions, Hanaman.”

“‘Tis apparent that the knights of Driheli hath been this way. Wilt we see them again soon?”

Her gnarled fingers lifted the card to her left, and on its face was a mounted knight riding a rearing destrier. “Thou wilt see them again very soon. They art ready to come.”

Hanaman’s face remained as ice, and did not reveal how much that answer disappointed him. He had hoped to have more time to prepare, or at least make a decision. “Wilt they seek to slay us?”

Slowly, her fingers trailed to the right most card, and with an almost caressing touch, flipped it over. Hanaman narrowed his eyes a he saw the figure of the page, carrying a scroll in one hand, and a dagger in the other. “They dost not wish to slay all of us, but they will attack if they must,” Dazheen said, her voice sounding strangely weary. Her eyes grew darker for a moment, and she pushed her finger against the top of the card. But the moment was over quickly.

“Shalt we be able to continue our journey through the Steppe?”

Dazheen turned over the card nearest to her. On its face was a man on one bank of the river staring across to the other side. He had the countenance of a frustrated man. Hanaman felt sure he knew the answer to that card. “Nay, thou wilt not be able to lead us there. Not yet. Thou mayest yet find a way, but not here.”

Hanaman allowed a small frown to cross his lips at that. These Driheli had upset their lives so greatly, things were changing far too quickly for his people. Magyars were not meant to live in this way. They roamed where they chose to, not because they had to escape some villainous knights.

“How long hath we?” Hanaman did not feel he needed to be more specific than that. There were so many different aspects to the question after all. Any that Dazheen could answer would help.

But as she reached for the last card, Hanaman could not be sure, but he thought he saw it move, sliding slightly away from her across the table. He trembled, but if Dazheen noticed, she paid it no mind, turning the card over with the grace and precision of one who has handled them her whole life. What they saw there surprised them both. It was only part of a face, just the eye, though it was closed. A rather aquiline nose could be seen in one corner. The skin appeared smooth and unblemished.

Dazheen stared for a moment, before she turned the card back over. Just as the card was falling back down, Hanaman saw the eye open.

He pressed himself as far back in te booth as he could go, and then slid out and stood back up, taking another step backwards. “What wast that?” There was genuine horror in his voice. He had seen those very cards do strange things. Once they ha flew across the wagon and imbedded themselves in the walls. But each new surprise was one monstrosity he did not wish to know.

There was a sad tired look to Dazheen’s face. Her rheumy eyes stared forlornly at the card, even as he fingers rubbed its back. “‘Tis what I told thee in Hanlo o Bavol-engro. Another can see through the cards. I dost not know his name, or where he might be. But he canst see through the cards. I dost not touch them lightly, for I fear one day he mayest be able to do more than watch.”

Hanaman nodded slowly. “I wilt ask this of thee then if we must know. Do not risk thyself to his scrutiny. I must go now. I hath plans to make.”

“Ja,” Dazheen agreed, waving one tired hand towards the curtain. She continued to stare at the face down card, though her expression was unreadable. Feeling a tightness in his chest that he did not like, Hanaman slipped past Bryone and out of her wagon.

In the month since Grastalko had been captured, he’d gone from prisoner to being a Magyar, all of it quite unwillingly. But Gamran found that he liked the youth, even though at first they had no words to share. Nemgas had begun the process of teaching him the proper way of speaking Suielish, which was of course the Flatlander way, and now they could hold a conversation decently, if haltingly.

Naturally, Grastalko was kept locked in the wagons, at least until such time as he wanted to participate. There was an overwhelming sense of melancholy about him, and they had all sought to work on that. There were always ten to fifteen Magyars in a generation that understood precisely what Grastalko was going through. But every one of them had accepted their new life, and had flourished in it. And each, in time, had come to enjoy it and would never have gone back, even if they could.

Gamran himself had not been born a Magyar. He’d been born in the Outer Midlands, though along the border of the Flatlands. Poor, with only a chronically sick mother to tend for him, he’d taken up stealing at an early age. The Guild in the city had taken him in, but only after they agreed they would tend his mother too. And that at the age of seven. When he was ten he’d run afoul of the city watch, and so needed to get away from the city for a time. There was a band of Magyar performing there, and he sought refuge with them. It was only a few days later that he realized that he would never be able to return.

But he had. A year later, dressed in the motley colours of a Magyar child, tumbling and juggling, with an accent almost unrecognizable in the Midlands city, he sought out his mother. The Magyars forbade him of course, but they did not stop him. He was not going to stop being a Magyar after all. It was a good life. But his mother was still ill, and it was clear that she was succumbing to the consumption that had taken her. But she recognized him, and for many hours late into the night they spoke. When dawn finally came, and he let her lay down to rest, she told him that she was proud and would love him no matter what. And she called him by his Magyar name.

He left again with the Magyars naturally, being one himself now. Gamran never looked back after that. It was true they returned to the city of his birth most years, but he never sought out his mother again. He knew that he would find an unmarked grave, if that. He would rather remember her as she was in that last day together, proud of her Magyar son.

And so when Gamran looked at Grastalko and saw the loss in his eyes, he knew too well what the youth was feeling. “‘Tis a lovely afternoon, my friend. Dost thee wish to share in it?” Gamran plunked himself down on the bunk next to him, and smiled widely. Grastalko’s hands and ankles were still bound, but the knots had not been tied terribly tightly. Gamran would routinely undo them in fact so that the youth might stretch and get feeling back in them. And he would always apologize before doing them up again. In fact, he had mentioned to the boy how loose they were, but asked him not to undo them lest Gamran get in trouble. And so far, he had not touched them.

“I... wouldst not know,” Grastalko managed, sighing heavily. “Thou... d... d...”


“Thou dost not let me see.” Grastalko finished, nodding his head in thanks to the little thief.

“Ah, but I hath invited thee to join us for revelry outside. Thou wouldst be welcomed by all thy fellow Magyars. Thee shouldst not shut thyself in like this, Grastalko. ‘Tis a fine game of catch that we couldst play if we could only move about!”

Grastalko listened, and Gamran spoke slowly so that the Southerner could understand him. He looked down at his bonds, and at the doorway of the wagon speculatively, but still he was hesitant. “Magyars dost hate knights,” said he derisively. “I wast a knight to be.” It was one of his worst speaking habits to put the action at the end of his sentences. Nemgas had explained that the Southern tongue operated like that, but to Gamran it seemed a device better suited to poets and bards who liked to trick their audiences.

“But thou art a Magyar now,” Gamran added, knowing that he should turn the conversation before the boy grow too sullen to be responsive at all. “Thou hast spent many long days in this wagon, Grastalko. ‘Tis not good for thee. I wish to take thee about and show thee more of the mountains. Wilt thou come with me, my friend?”

Grastalko sighed, looked longingly to the door, and then nodded. “Aye. I wilt come with thee, Gamran.”

The little thief smiled widely then and patted him on the shoulder. “Ah, thou hast brightened my day by saying that, Grastalko. Let me undo thy bonds, such as they are.” He wiggled his finger into the centre of the knot and pulled it out. Both knots quickly dissolved under this treatment, a testament to their perfunctory nature.

Grastalko rubbed his wrists for a moment before getting to his feet and stretching his legs. “Feels better,” he said, smiling lightly.

Gamran took the boots that Pitesa had fashioned for him from the cabinet opposite them. “‘Tis rocky outside. Thou shalt like these.”

Slipping them over his linen stockings, Grastalko nodded. ‘They are a.... right fit?”

“Perfect ‘tis the word thou art searching for. They are a perfect fit.”

“Aye. Perfect fit.”

Gamran looked the youth over once more, and saw that he was properly dressed in the colourful smock and trousers of a Magyar. He’d been picking at one of the patches on his chest, and the sewing had come loose, but that was easily repaired. Apart from his complexion, which was decidedly foreign, he now looked like a proper Magyar. “Thou needest to gain strength in thy legs again, Grastalko. Let us walk for a bit first.”

“Aye,” Grastalko said, looking a bit unsteady for a moment. Gamran led him out of the wagon and into the open air. The sun was still bright in the sky, though it was becoming early afternoon now. The activity of the other Magyars in the camp was clear. Children were playing, the Assingh were feeding, while some of the men practised their roles in the pageant, a display that the Driheli had prevented them from performing in almost two months now. Not since Cheskych in fact. But it was good to keep in practice.

“They are wearing,” pointed Grastalko. When he realized he did not know the next word, he made a gesture of pulling something over his head.

“Masks,” Gamran announced, nodding brightly. “‘Tis for the pageant. We art doing a play of Metamor. Hast thou heard of that city?”

Grastalko watched the men with keen interest. “Aye, but I dost not know much. ‘Tis an animal city?”

Gamran laughed, and gestured down along the side of the wagons. Grastalko was staring in awe at the display before him. He had never seen so many Magyars, all engaged in so much levity. When he’d been taken captive a little over a month ago, he had only seen a handful of them, and just the tail end of their wagons. Since then, he’d only met those few Magyars who had come in the wagon with him. Now he saw them all living their lives the way they were meant to be lived. There was no doubting that it was an impressive sight.

“Nemgas canst tell thee more of Metamor. He hast been there himself.” Gamran thought back and then shook his head. “Nay, ‘tis not quite right. He wast not there himself, but he knowest a great deal of it. Thou shouldst ask him.”

The two of them walked first along side the wagons, keeping some distance from the main group. Gamran pointed out several people as they passed, and told Grastalko a little about them and what they did. He listened closely, looking at them all, his look of melancholy fading some, but it was always there. Gamran knew that once Grastalko had grown to know his fellow Magyars, and befriended them, they would become family for him as well. It was the way these things simply worked after all.

“Gamran!” a voice called out from behind them both. The little thief smiled and turned, finding a long brown-haired lass dressed in a colourful skirt that went down to her ankles. She was holding something behind her back, and smiling at him.

“Thelia! Hast thou met Grastalko?” Gamran patted the youth on the shoulder. “Grastalko, this is Thelia. She wilt one day be mistress of seamstresses.”

“Hail and well met, Thelia,” Grastalko repeated the ritual greeting that he’d been taught. But then he bent to one knee, and held out his hand. Thelia laughed and held out her own. The youth kissed the back of it in a very courtly fashion. This had not been missed by the other Magyars, many of whom laughed quite loudly at the sight of it. Gamran scowled at the youth, but Thelia smiled and winked at him, before giggling in delight.

“Oh, thou art a courteous youth. Would that all men of the Magyars wert as polite as thee, Grastalko.”

Grastalko had the decency to blush at least. “I thank thee, Thelia.” He rose back to his feet and smiled some to Gamran. Gamran laughed then and patted him on the shoulder.

“Well, now, what have thee behind thy back, Thelia. Dost not think to sneak on me!”

Thelia gave him an arched look, but it was full of pleasant humour. “I have a gift for thee.” She pulled her other arm out form behind her and held out a feathered cap. It had been made from several different coloured fabrics all stitched together, with a feather worked into the lacing on either side. Gamran took it from her and pulled it over his head. It fit snugly right behind his ears. Thelia laughed lightly as she saw it on him. “Thou dost look handsome, my thief.”

“Dost I?” Gamran asked, feeling redeemed from Grastalko’s upstaging. “What dost thee thing, Grastalko?”

“‘Tis a nice... clothes for thy head.”

“Cap,” supplied Gamran with a grin. “I thank thee, Thelia. Thou hast done a lovely job.” He smiled and wrapped his arms about her middle, grinning into her eyes. She had such beautiful dark eyes. They could scold him and uplift him both, all in the same glance.

“Wilt I see thee wear it?” Thelia asked, wrapping her own arms about his back for moment. Her smile was for a moment impish, but then a strange sort of matronliness crept back into it.

“Thou shalt always see me wear it, dearest Thelia!” Gamran stepped back from the embrace and bowed, doffing the cap in a wide flourish. When he straightened up, it was one more upon his head, the feathers between his ears. “I art showing Grastalko about. He hath not walked for so long in many days, and he dost need his exercise. Wilt thou accompany us?”

But to his disappointment, she shook her head. “I hath more chores still. I saw thee and wished to give thee my cap, but now I must return ere I am missed.”

“Alas,” Gamran sighed theatrically. “Perhaps I shall see thee later in thy wagon? Or mine? Or somebody else’s.”

Thelia laughed and gave his shoulder a small shove. “Ja! Thou thief, ja!”

Gamran laughed and patted Grastalko on the shoulder, gesturing further along the lines of the wagons. He gave one last look back at Thelia, but she shooed him away with her hands. Her smile was so inviting though. Maybe he would have to see her at her wagon later.

“Dost thee... enjoy her?” Grastalko asked, though it was apparent he knew he was using the wrong word.

“Aye,” he replied, laughing pleasantly. He patted the youth on the back as they continued to walk. Grastalko was a little uncertain on his feet still, but the walk would do him good. He’d have to get him involved in a game later on with the older boys. That would surely help. “And the word that thee dost seek, art love.”

“Love,” Grastalko repeated, nodding to himself. “Wilt thee...” and then he made a motion of slipping something on his finger. Although it was not precisely the custom of the Magyars, Gamran knew enough to understand what he meant.

“Marry her? Aye, one day. One day soon, methinks. Come then, Grastalko, there art more still to see. Dost thee like it so far?”

“Aye,” Grastalko said, offering him a more sincere smile than he’d ever seen. “Aye, ‘tis good.”

Gamran smiled and patted him on the back once more. Why had Nemgas worried so much about the boy becoming a Magyar?

The sun was striving towards the remnants of the western peaks by the time that Nemgas led his party back into the smoothed depression where the Magyars had made their camp for the night. It had taken longer than he had hoped to retrieve Hanalko’s body. There had been rope among the knight’s supplies, and using that, Nemgas had descended the slope. He did not dare lash the rope against the rocks for fear that their jagged edges would sever the threads and send him plummeting to his own doom. And so he was forced to rouse Kaspel. His fellow Magyar had been barely able to understand him at first, but after a few minutes of coaxing, began to understand what had happened and what needed to be done.

He had tied himself to the horses while Kaspel kept them under control, and then scaled that ledge. Hanalko’s body was mostly intact, although most of his left arm had been torn free. Nemgas shuddered when he saw that, but hoisting the body on one shoulder, he had climbed back up, even more slowly than he’d descended. Strangely, he had no fear while climbing up.

Lashing the bodies of both Hanalko and the priest to one of the horses, they sat Gelel in the saddle of the other and slowly returned. Kaspel was already sporting a large bruise upon his brow, though he professed to being fine. Gelel waxed and waned between consciousness and sleep, though they never let him remain asleep for long. They spoke the whole way back, doing their best to think of things that made the youth happy. They did not speak of the knight or the squire who had both fallen to their deaths too.

When they came back up through the passage, they were at first met with delight, then horror when they saw the bodies and the bloodied bandages upon Gelel’s chest. Nemgas could not even listen to the voices that clamoured about him seeking attention and answers. He merely was looking for one face in the crowd. He surprised himself when he saw Gamran and Grastalko rushing up to see what was about. Why had the thief let him out?

But he had little time to consider it before he spotted Hanaman rushing forward, pushing aside the others. “What hath happened?” he demanded, his normally icy face ashen when he saw Hanalko’s body draped over the horse, its form mangled from the rocks.

“Forgive me, Hanaman. Thy son hath been killed.”

Hanaman stared at the boy, his eldest, and the storming rage upon his face broke free for one moment, and then was swept back under that icy stare that had grown so familiar, it had left its lines upon his expression so that nothing else looked natural. “Who hath done this?” There was nothing in the voice, no empathy or verve.

“‘Twas a knight of the Driheli,” Nemgas answered, gesturing to the horses themselves. “He, his squire, and this priest, wert making maps of the mountain roads. They must hath heard our approach, for they laid a trap upon a ridge. Hanalko wast thrown o’er the ridge and killed. Gelel and Kaspel wert both injured by this knight as well. I didst send the knight to his death, and his squire didst leap to his own. The priest...” Nemgas paused, feeling a twitch of anger. “The priest wast about to confess te name of the Bishop that didst send the Driheli after us when he too wast slain.”

“How?” The Magyars looking on more varying expressions, some furious, others saddened. Many of the women were openly weeping at the sight of the dead youth.

“‘Twas an accident. His squire didst try to stab me from behind, but I stepped to the side and the priest was struck instead. Upon seeing what he hath wrought, the boy leapt from the cliff. I art sorry, Hanaman. I hath failed thee and thy kin.” Nemgas knelt then, and lowered his head, exposing the back of his neck. If Hanaman wished to strike him dead in that moment, he would not object.

“Stand, Nemgas,” Hanaman ordered, his voice still bereft of feeling. “Though hast slain my son’s killer, and so he hast been avenged. And thou hast brought his body, for which I thank thee. Send for the women. He must be embalmed. I wilt not allow my son to be buried aught but in the Steppe.” With that, Hanaman ran one hand across the still forehead of his body, battered and bloody, and then turned and walked stiffly back through the crowd.

Nemgas looked back at the two horses, and feeling suddenly the weight of the child on his shoulders once more, pushed his way through the rest of the Magyars. They parted before him willingly. He did not need to speak with any of them right then. He had only one thought on his mind. Pelurji. He wanted to see the boy. That and Kisaiya. It would have been nice to have her come and comfort him just then, but he could not see her face amongst the sea that was near.

“Nemgas,” Gamran called, as he and Grastalko came up to him. “What hath happened?”

“‘Tis...” Grastalko said, staring wide-eyed at the spectacle. The emblem of the Driheli had once adorned the horses tack, but Nemgas had ripped them free.

Nemgas scowled at Gamran, and then over at the youth. “‘Tis a dead boy and a dead priest. ‘Tis foolishness. ‘Tis evil at work. Play no more part in it.” And with that, he stormed off to Pelurji’s wagon.

“‘Tis Father Athfisk,” Grastalko said, tears standing in his eyes. Gamran looked over at the youth and pulled him over a few spaces so that his back was to the spectacle. Nemgas had already managed to climb into a very particular wagon, one that told Gamran exactly what he needed to do just then. But that his new young friend recognized the priest’s body was not something he had expected.

“‘Tis a sad day,” Gamran confessed, drawing Grastalko to a seat near one of the fires. They were small now, as the day was not yet over. Varna had already begun to cook, but she had also gone to see what was amiss along with everyone else. She still had not returned, though her meal was not yet in danger of running over.

“He wast my priest,” Grastalko said, sobbing as he fell into his seat. “How couldst Nemgas kill him? He wast a priest!”

“Nemgas didst not kill him,” Gamran said. He knew it was true, even though he had no proof. It just seemed the sort of thing that his fellow Magyar would never do. A feeling, a sense in his gut that made it impossible. “‘Twas a boy thy age dead next to him.”

“I know.”

Gamran gently patted his friend upon the back, softly, consolingly. He could not help but feel genuine sorrow for him, even though he had no compassion for the priest. The priest was one of their enemies, and perhaps was responsible for Hanalko’s death. How Hanaman must be suffering. And Zhenava. Gamran dreaded to think how this would hurt her.

“I...” Grastalko began, but fumbled for words. He grimaced, wiping back the tears with the sleeve of his shirt. “Why hast this happened? Why didst I hath to leave my home for this? I ne’er will see it again now, and many a good man hath died now.”

“I dost not know,” Gamran admitted, wondering what else there was that he could say to the stricken boy. He tried to remember back t his first year as a Magyar, knowing that he may never see his mother again. How had that made him feel? He could barely recall anymore.

“I dost not know why anything happens, Grastalko. I hath tried to enjoy my life as best I am able. ‘Tis not always easy.” Gamran grimaced and glanced back at the horses. Several of the men had lifted Hanalko’s body and were laying him out on a white linen. Women stood nearby to tend to the corpse, to preserve it for its eventual burial in the Steppe, whenever that might be. The priest’s body was still slung over the horse. “Thou shouldst mourn thy friend.”

“Father Athfisk?” Grastalko asked, clearly surprised to hear this.

“Aye.” Gamran gave his friend a serious look. Gone was his normal joviality. Perhaps for Grastalko to let go, he’d need to mourn this priest. “Sayest a prayer for him if thou wishes. I wilt join thee even.”

“Thou art a...” Grastalko said, and then grimaced, having no idea what word to choose. “One who goes after another?”

“A follower?” Gamran asked, and then he understood. That was what Patildor called themselves. “Ah, a Follower? Nay, though I dost pray quite well.”

Grastalko let out a snort, a brief smile twitching at the edges of his lips. “I thank thee, Gamran. Aye, I wilt mourn.” The sadness returned to his features as he rose up to face what remained of the crowd surrounding the two horses. The little thief rose with him, shifting the cap that rested upon his head slightly. “Thou art a good friend, Gamran.”

Gamran had to bite back a sudden sob then.

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