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 See to the Pallan, I said.  Let him rest. Give him eat and drink and have him bathed and give him
clothes. He is to be treated with respect.
 At once, my Prince! Erling bellowed and dashed off to give the orders.
I had a shrewd suspicion that even if these two poor wights here did not recognize me, Pallan Nicomeyn
would, and quickly.
As though something of her old witchery at reading men and their inmost secret thoughts returned to
Tilda, she lifted her head, somewhat drunkenly, for the Hamalese guards had let her drink  no doubt
with evil intentions  and regarded me.
 I knew a man, once, she said, slurring her words.  A man  he looked a little like you, although
tougher and harder and leaner  and he wouldn t  wouldn t  She forgot what she was saying,
wiped her lips, and started over.  This man I knew, he cared for Pando  n me. If he was here now he d
knock you down as soon as look at you, grand and a prince though you are.
I felt like a get-onker.
She might be talking about her husband, she might be talking about Meldi, who had cared for her and
Pando, she might be talking about any man she had known recently . . . I fancied she was talking about
me.
I said,  I am told your husband, Marker Marsilus, was a fine soldier and a good man. It is fitting you
should think of him.
 Onker! she said. Something of her fire flashed.  For what business it is of yours, you lord of Vallia, I
loved my husband and we gave up our separate lives for each other. I have loved no man since . . . Her
drunken voice droned on, telling things she would keep fast locked if she was sober. She did not fall off
the chair, and her poise was that of the great lady. It boiled down to a maudlin recital of lost hopes and
fading memories, of her husband and of her great days on the stage  for she had been a justly famed
actress  of memories of this man she talked about so wistfully, this man who had been me, so that I
turned to Pando, with a look on my face that made him start back.
Before I could flare out what boiled in me, telling them it was I, their old Dray Prescot, who stood
before them, Tilda rambled on, her voice rising:  So between Hamal and Vallia we are crushed like a
grain in the mill. Well, so be it. Pandrite knows the whole of it; with Opaz is the right. Have done with us
as my son commands, and let Vallia pick over the corpses.
 You do not like Vallians?
 I hate and detest them!
 Yet you have not looked at the banners we fly.
Pando laughed most scornfully, his lip curling.  A mere trick, Vallian, to deceive. The blue flag with the
zhantil ismy flag. Mine! Had I my strength and my army I would make you rue the day you flaunted the
flag of Bormark, which is a sign given by this same man of whom my mother speaks.
He moved forward, passionate, and the Pachaks tensed up a little, their deadly tails quivering.
 You have the power now. You have the position, the treasures, and the army. Bormark is gone, gulped
by the cramphs of Hamal. And now Vallia stoops in to claw the corpse. A fitting act for a vile nation.
 By Vox! I said.  You re still a confounded spitfire!
 And I would shoot fire-arrows into your eyes if I could.
 Hikdar Re-Po! I bellowed as loudly as the Chuktar had. The Pachak Hikdar of the guard stiffened up,
his straw-yellow hair beneath the smooth round helmet of his race glimmering in the suns light.  Hikdar!
Clear these two off to be bathed and clothed decently. Give them food! I do not want to see them again
until they are no longer an offense in a man s nostrils, and until the Kovneva is sober!
The Hikdar s tail flashed in the Pachak salute. He turned to march his detail off and I shouted, very
passionate, despising myself:  And treat them with respect. See that the Kovneva is cared for, for she is a
great lady.
 Yes, my Prince! bellowed Hikdar Re-Po, and Pando was politely invited to step between the ranks of
armored men, and his mother was carefully assisted away. I glared after them. By Zair! I should have
found time to come back to Bormark and make sure Pando developed like a proper Kov. It was all my
fault, and I was not prepared to blame my Delia or any of my friends or enemies who had detained me in
Valka or Havilfar.
But, I vowed, I would have Tilda dried out, and I d talk to that young rip Pando and sort him out  I
would! It was a task I had withdrawn from for far too long. And if you ask why I considered this my
business at all, then you have no understanding of the madman who is Dray Prescot.
My own despicable action lay, of course, in that I had not come straight out with it and let them see who
I was. But I felt this would shame them as much as it would me. Relationships are prickly bedfellows.
Once they were bathed and well fed and dressed fittingly, feeling more human, then would be the time to
let them know that the lordly and puissant Prince Majister of Vallia was only their old friend and helpmeet
Dray Prescot.
As it happened there was inevitably so much to do after the battle that I could not spare a thought for
Pando and Tilda for most of the day. Hikdar Re-Po sent an ob-Deldar to inform me that my orders had
been carried out, that the prisoners  guests  were sleeping fast, for they were exhausted. I sent the [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]