Sonnedragon Serialization, Part 68

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Ren had had time to order hot water brought to Mara’s chambers and laid out clean linen for her, so that Mara could wash immediately and make herself presentable. Months of living in camps had taught her how to dress swiftly; within a very few minutes, she had changed into a clean shirt and hose, and put on a plain velvet tunic of dark blue. With Ren’s assistance, she unbraided and combed out her hair so that it fell long and unbound in the fashion of the nobility, but she put on no ornaments nor devices of her rank. Since Dafythe’s death, she was no longer Prince of Gossunge, but she wouldn’t be consecrated as Duke of the Northlands herself until she was anointed and received the ducal coronet at her coronation. That ceremony would not take place until after her father’s funeral.
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Sonnedragon Serialization, Part 67

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Mara returned to Pendaunzel late one evening at the beginning of April, more than four months after she’d begun her long homeward journey. Her entourage had been small to facilitate rapid travel; when she’d left the Jamesmarch, only Kat and her nephews and their squires, Bel, Ren, Bard Delphyn, and the Spanish child had accompanied her. These last two wouldn’t travel all the way to Pendaunzel with the rest of the party, for Delphyn had been charged with a special errand to convey the child safely to the Sisters of St. Samandra, where Mara’s own younger nephews and niece were being educated. She and Kat had agreed on this.
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Sonnedragon Serialization, Part 66

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A memorial service was held for Bertrande the next morning in the burial ground in Jamesmarch, and another later that week for the Spaniards buried in a common grave in the shadow of the fortress which had already been renamed Marasfort by the Norman soldiers. Although Mara hadn’t authorized this or any other changes of place names, the Northlanders were quick to replace Spanish words with one from their own common tongue: Rio Amarillo was now the Yellow River, and d’Iago Pescador had become Fisherman’s Creek.

By the end of the week, the fortress was fit to be occupied. The assigned garrison moved into the barracks, but Mara didn’t take up residence in the quarters that had once belonged to Conde Luiz. She offered these instead to her cousin, whom she appointed as commander of the new territory. Mara hoped that this gesture would make up for Kat’s removal from the command of Spainfort and heal that old breach between them. It was also a way to keep Kat far from her until she could overcome her discomfort at being in close company with her cousin.
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Sonnedragon Serialization, Part 65

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Before she met with her captains at dinner to hear their reports of the day, Mara walked the path by the river’s edge. Kat, nervous at letting her cousin go on another walk by herself, had offered to accompany her, but Mara insisted on going alone.

It was now dusk, and torches blazing atop the fortress across the river showed her that Northland soldiers were still at work within. Would she dare to reside at Iagoburso when the time came? Kat had claimed to doubt her own bravery to do so—words spoken partially in jest, but Mara felt a slight shiver run up her spine at the idea of quartering troops in same barracks where so many had died, or sleeping in the same bedchamber that had so recently belonged to the late Conde Luiz. At this moment, she hated the sight of the place. She wouldn’t mind seeing the whole edifice crumbling into dust so that she could rebuild it anew from untainted stone.
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Sonnedragon Serialization, Part 64

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By the late afternoon, Mara had returned to the eastern side of the river and her camp in the Jamesmarch. She would occupy Iagoburso eventually, once the scores of bodies had been cleared away and decently buried. Whole squads were assigned to this task. Other Northland troops were spreading through Santiago unhindered, taking official possession of the captured territory. Once she had issued her orders, however, Mara had left the management of these tasks to Kat and her captains. Bertrande’s body had been brought to the camp at dawn and she felt that the burial of her young nephew, and the letter she had planned to write to his father, took precedence over all other concerns.

The troops in the Jamesmarch were relieved at their Prince’s safe return and delighted at the news that Iagoburso had at last been taken, but their joy at these events was oddly subdued. Already, they whispered that the Prince and her cousin Kat were somehow responsible for the deaths of all the Spaniards; Mara’s capture and rescue had only been a ploy to gain access to the fortress so that they could enact their bloody plan. While Mara was pleased to let her soldiers think that she’d been that clever rather than careless, the indiscriminate slaughter of non-combatants also attributed to her wasn’t as gratifying.
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Sonnedragon Serialization, Part 63

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The room was not very comfortable, but it wasn’t a dungeon. Conde Luiz had placed her in what appeared to be empty quarters for a low-ranked officer in a lower level of the main tower. There was one narrow bed and a narrow window high on one wall. After sleeping in a tent for so many weeks, Mara found it adequate. A guard was placed outside the door. When she climbed up to stand on the bed and look out of the window, she found no means of escaping by that route; even if she managed to squeeze herself through the tall, thin slit, a sheer drop hundreds of feet down the outer wall of the fortress and the rock it was built upon awaited her. She wasn’t certain that she wanted to escape yet. She wasn’t afraid for her life or person. Conde Luiz had only threatened her with harm if she wasn’t the Prince. While she hadn’t yet acknowledged that she was indeed Margueryt, she saw that there might come a time when it would be more advantageous to admit it. For the present, she could only wait and see how her friends and her armies responded to the news of her capture. Alyx was sure to arrive before long. Would her captain inadvertently reveal her identity?

Mara had spent a sleepless night, much of it on horseback, and while she sat on the bed and waited, she soon dozed. She woke abruptly, startled by the sound of the door opening, but it was only the guard, admitting a woman in peasant garb, bringing her breakfast. Since it was now long after her usual breakfast hour, Mara accepted this food: a clay pitcher of yeasty water, or perhaps extremely watered-down beer, and a crumbling piece of dry, unsalted blue-grey bread made from ground maize. Mara assumed this was the same diet that the Spanish inhabitants of Iagoburso were living on but, when she asked, she found that the woman didn’t understand a word of Norman and looked bewildered at the question. Mara thought the woman was also a little frightened of her even though she was captive, and dismissed her with a “gracias” as soon as she had finished her sparse meal.

The sun had climbed high, out of the range of her narrow window, when at last Mara heard the sound of boots in the corridor outside. The guards who had come for her spoke little Norman, but enough that Mara understood she was to be brought to Conde Luiz.

The Conde was in his tower room where Mara had left him, but a visitor had joined him. Alyx stood in the middle of the room, flanked by the two Spanish guards who had escorted her up through the fortress.

When Mara was brought in, Alyx bowed her head respectfully, but didn’t salute nor address her commander with the usual obeisance given to the Prince. Mara took note of this, and only said, “It’s good to see you, Alyx.”

“And you. We were frantic with worry when we realized you hadn’t gone back to the camp,” Alyx told her. “I was almost relieved when I received Conde Luiz’s message. I was afraid something much worse had happened to you.”

“You see that your Infanta is unharmed,” said Conde Luiz. “She will tell you herself that she has been treated well.” Mara confirmed that this was so. “If you will agree to my terms, Capitan, then there is no reason why she cannot be returned to you.”

“What are your terms, Conde?” Alyx requested. “I am commissioned to hear them, and I may accept or refuse them as seems fit to me.”

“They are simple, Capitan, and may easily be complied with. I wish no ransom. It is not wealth I seek, merely the continued safety of my people, as you surely wish for the safety of your Infanta. To ensure this safety, you will withdraw all Northland troops from Santiago immediately. This must be done today. When I see that all your men and women, including those riders to the south, have returned to the other side of the river, I will know that this much has been fulfilled. You will then remove your encampment from the eastern bank of the Rio Amarillo and cease all threats to Iagoburso and claims to Santiago. This must be done in seven days. I must have your word of honor on this—both yours, Capitan Alys, and the Infanta’s. When I see that you are breaking your camp and have begun to move, Infanta Margueryt will be set free to join you. Do you agree to this?” He looked from one woman to the other. “Do I have your word?”

Alyx gave Mara a quick glance that warned her something was afoot. The Prince was therefore not surprised when Alyx replied in respectful terms, “I’m sorry to say, Conde Luiz, that we cannot accede to your demands. What you ask is impossible.”
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Sonnedragon Serialization, Part 62

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She rode as fast as she could until she had left Kat far behind, then slowed to an easier pace as she headed for Alyx’s camp. The hour was late, but the captain had waited for her return; after she had left her horse to be watered and tended, Mara told Alyx briefly about Bertrande’s death and asked her to send a small honor guard at daybreak to bear his body back for burial.

“And where is Prince Kat?” Alyx asked her. “Will she be returning from Sataumie’s outpost tonight?”

“She was riding after me,” Mara answered. “She should arrive here within the hour. Tell her I’ve crossed the river.” She had no desire to see her cousin right now, not after that terrible confession of feelings better left unspoken.

“Shall I wake the boatman to row you over?”
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Sonnedragon Serialization, Part 61

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Even before she and Kat crossed the river and began the long moonlit ride southward to the encampment Sataumie had established as the base for her long-range scout patrols, Mara knew what they would find. Bertrande lay on his cot in the tent he shared with his elder brother, looking like a child asleep, but pale and still; there was no obvious wound on his body.

“Was he found in this same manner this morning?” she asked.

“Bertie was fine this morning, Aunt Mara,” Eduarde answered. Standing over his brother’s body, he was shaken anew. “He helped me put on my armor, as he always does, and we rode out together. We were together all day.”

“When did you see him last?”
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Sonnedragon Serialization, Part 60

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In the morning, they held a brief investigation. The sergeant had last been seen alive by his company at dusk, less than an hour before his body had been discovered. He had left the gathering around the campfire, presumably to relieve himself in the privacy offered by the trees. No one among the troops at the northern end of the camp reported hearing a scream or sounds of a struggle. It was assumed that the unfortunate man had been surprised by some sort of wild beast while in a vulnerable position and unable to defend himself. A bear was the best guess by general consensus, in agreement with Mara’s initial opinion, but some also spoke of lions and the smaller, wolf-like creatures they had occasionally seen in the area. The peculiar but similar death of the commander of Con Permiso was also remembered by those who had been with Mara on that campaign.
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Sonnedragon Serialization, Part 59

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This wasn’t the first time that Kat had alluded to the pointlessness of their campaign, but Mara grew more concerned at each disparaging remark. While all the Northlanders were impatient at their weeks of inactivity, it had become obvious that her cousin’s forthright opinions were the greatest threat to their eventual success. Her soldiers might grumble privately, but as long she had their loyalty, they would obey orders and follow wherever she led them. It was the same with her commanders; if Bel, Alyx, or Sataumie wondered why she had brought them here, they kept their questions to themselves. Kat alone felt free to speak her mind and, as Mara’s kinswoman and a Norman Prince herself, her words had weight. If she continued to do so, discontent might spread among the others and destroy their morale. Once the troops lost faith, this venture could only end in disaster. Kat must therefore be stopped.

Mara could guess why her cousin was speaking against her. There had been a tacit reconciliation between them once Kat had agreed to join her on this campaign, and no discussion of their private differences while they made their plans and embarked on the long journey westward, but those differences remained. Mara would like nothing better than to mend the breach and have Kat as her trusted friend again—and not merely because she wished to have her cousin’s mouth shut—but that meant that they both must speak of things they’d avoided discussing for a very long time.
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