Banners in the Wind Page 0,2

hilltop halls would be far more inclined to condemn him for trying to solve problems with blood and steel rather than words and reason. Their disgust would be all the greater if they suspected any desire for fame and fortune had spurred him on.

He glanced at Sorgrad. 'Do you have any news of Triolle's duke or duchess?'

He knew Sorgrad had been scrying for her, using the arcane skills bestowed by his magebirth.

Sorgrad shook his head, apparently sincere. 'I'm abiding by the Archmage's edict.'

Tathrin found that very hard to believe. On the other side of the coin, he'd be relieved if it was true. Their task of rebuilding trust across Lescar would be a hundred times harder if the guildsmen and yeoman learned they had flagrantly defied the age-old ban on wizardry in Lescar.

So perhaps the brothers had just come up here to tease him, with nothing better to do. Sorgrad knew boredom and Gren was a dangerous combination. The younger Mountain Man relished the chaos of warfare more than any other mercenary Tathrin had encountered this past half-year.

Gren's eyes brightened. 'Dagaran's brought news from the camp.'

Dagaran Esk Breven, summoned from their revolt's headquarters at Carluse Castle to replace Tathrin as the captain-general's clerk. He had long been Evord's most trusted lieutenant, both men born and bred in the ancient kingdom of Solura, a thousand leagues to the west. They had learned the fiercest arts of war against the savages and wild beasts who menaced King Solquen's wilderness border. Lescar's petulant dukes hadn't known what hit them.

'Let's hear it.' Tathrin turned to the narrow spiral staircase descending from the battlements.

Even now, he was glad to have Sorgrad and Gren behind him. Everywhere in this castle, Tathrin listened for following footsteps. Triolle's late and unlamented spymaster Hamare had been admired from easternmost Tormalin to the most westerly cities of Ensaimin, by anyone whose business was trading information. A few of Master Hamare's eyes and ears must still be lurking, in hopes of learning something of use to their absent duke. Iruvain of Triolle was fled, not dead.

Tathrin fervently hoped none of the sullen-eyed Triollese, who'd chosen grudging submission over the perils of resistance, learned it was Sorgrad who'd stabbed Hamare to death, to stop the spymaster strangling their Vanam-hatched rebellion at birth. That knowledge would surely spark smouldering resentment into blazing defiance.

As they emerged into the castle's broad bailey, Arest, mercenary captain of the Wyvern Hunters company, waved a hand broad as an axe-head. Since they'd captured Triolle Castle, the massive warrior had commanded its guard. The scaly black predator that was their emblem flapped its wings on the banner beside the cream and gold Lescari standard.

'Dagaran's in the Chatelaine's Tower.' Arest's forbidding face creased with a slow smile. 'Shall we serve wine and cakes? Though I don't know if we can find any fresh flowers.'

'Wine and cakes will suffice.' Tathrin wasn't about to give Gren the satisfaction of betraying his irritation.

'As you command.' Chuckling, Arest swept a florid bow, incongruous given his chain-mail hauberk, travel-stained breeches and iron-studded boots.

All the mercenaries were still geared for war, even inside the castle. Before the town gates had been barred to them three days ago, there had been some nasty incidents in the taverns.

How by all that was holy was he supposed to convince the Triollese to trust these battle-hardened men who had swept in to drive out their duke and seize his domains? Tathrin supposed he should be honoured that Captain-General Evord had delegated that task to him, but thus far his efforts had been met with non-committal words and icy stares. Common folk had scant reason to think these mercenaries would prove any different from the scavenging dogs who'd harried their wretched lives for generations.

He turned for the Chatelaine's Tower, one of two flanking the bastion. Sorgrad and Gren sauntered alongside him. Tathrin knew better than to try and shake them off.

Triolle Castle was notable among Lescar's fortresses for its lack of a central keep. Instead, the massive curtain wall was interrupted by lofty towers, looming over the mere on one side and a deep rock-cut ditch on the other. Arrow slits squinted suspiciously outwards. Triolle was a low-lying dukedom, bracketed by rivers and sodden throughout the winter. Its dukes had no advantageous high ground to claim for their fortifications.

So even if the mighty gatehouse was stormed, each of Triolle Castle's towers was defensible in its own right, linked only by the high wall-walk running around the lofty battlements. None of which