Banners in the Wind Page 0,1

that the townsfolk counted on to save their families from winter starvation had been thrown into utter confusion.

'They say lowlanders haven't got the sense to come in out of the rain.' A mail-clad man opened the door from the bastion's stair. 'I don't know about a gale.'

'It's barely a breeze.' The banners snapping on the topmost coign gave the lie to his companion's words. His close-cropped hair gleamed golden in the sunshine.

'Gren. Sorgrad.' Tathrin greeted them curtly.

'Some girl undressing with her shutters open, long lad?' Gren leaned on the battlement. He was a little younger and shorter than his brother, though neither man topped Tathrin's shoulder. Neither spoke with the accents of the Mountains they had left nearly two decades since, when they were both younger than Tathrin was now.

'The Dalasorians are leaving.' Tathrin nodded towards the camp whose sprawl rivalled the walled girth of Triolle Town.

Men and women in the dark garb of the northern grasslands were roping long lines of horses; their own dead comrades' steeds and those animals, panicked and riderless, that they had captured in the aftermath of the battles. Whatever animals they caught, they kept. That had been written into the clan lords' terms of service with Captain-General Evord, when they had agreed to risk their necks in this Lescari war. Horses were wealth in their homeland, hundreds of leagues away.

'They're carrying a goodly amount of booty.' Gren's pale-blue eyes fixed on the laden packhorses.

Tathrin could only hope it was mostly plundered from the dukes' mercenaries, who'd stolen it in the first place, leaving their victims with no chance of redress.

'No more than their fair share,' Sorgrad assured his brother.

'It's a difficult time of year on the roads.' The wind tugged strands of Gren's unruly blond hair loose from the leather thong that bound it. 'Why don't the Dalasorians winter here and go home in the spring?'

'So you can win some of their loot for yourself?' Tathrin had seen Gren's talent for throwing a winning hand of runes rather more often than mere chance would predict.

Sorgrad was watching the dancing pennants that indicated the clan lords' personal troops. 'The sooner they leave the better, now that their job is done.'

Was it? Truly? Doubts plagued Tathrin. But they couldn't ask any more of the Dalasorians. One in three of Sia Kersain's regiment had died or been wounded in the sixty days since they had marched on Carluse, on the first day of the Autumn Equinox. Rega Taszar's men hadn't faced such fierce fighting, or such ill-luck, but his force had still lost one in ten of their number.

Every total, every amendment that he had made to the captain-general's ledgers was engraved on Tathrin's memory. His facility with numbers, that blessing which had led him from life as a humble tavern-keeper's son to all the opportunities in the city of Vanam, was now an unforeseen curse.

'They'll be carrying your name far and wide, long lad.' Gren glanced at him, eyes bright with mischief. 'There'll be songs sung in every tavern along the highway praising the Liberator of Lescar.'

'You think so?' Sorgrad looked sceptical. 'Their job's done, my friend, but yours is barely half-finished. Duke Secaris might have lost his heir but he's still safe in Draximal, while Duke Ferdain of Marlier is sitting as pretty as he ever did. Then there's this chaos Reniack and his cronies have cast Parnilesse into.'

'Why is everything my responsibility?' As his protest sounded petulant and foolish, Tathrin could have bitten his tongue. But the words couldn't be recalled any more than shed blood.

'You started this,' Sorgrad reminded him. 'You and Aremil and Master Gruit. There's no going back now. So you'll have to see it all through to the end, whatever that might be.'

Tathrin gritted his teeth to stop another unwise response.

'You'll be heroes, the three of you,' Gren said comfortably, 'in the songs and the broadsheets and whenever the scholars write up their annals in Col and especially Vanam. You're one of their own.'

Tathrin wished he shared the Mountain Man's certainty. But he knew he was nothing like those mighty shapers of history celebrated in tavern tales and learned discourse. How could he possibly see peace truly restored to Lescar when allies like Evord and Dagaran, whose skills and experience had brought him this far, were leaving him bereft?

Looking down at his hands, now tanned and scarred, Tathrin contemplated the silver seal ring that marked him as a scholar of Vanam's famed university. He feared those mentors in their faraway