The sixth day of September in the 940th year a.g.l.
My father left for Cold Run early this morning before any of us had awoken except Fenton, who gave his blood brother the blessing for safe killing before sending him off – or so everyone thinks, but I now realize that Fenton must have given him only a prayer for his safety.
Leda packed a food-bag last night for my father, in case he should need several days to find a suitable prey. I'm staying at the house of Lange and Leda and Drew at the moment, since there isn't room enough for more than my father and mother and Mira in the sleeping-hut they have moved into since the fire. My father says that the village's first task after this is all over will be to build a new hall.
Lange came up to me somewhat hesitantly this morning and said that he knew I must still be upset over what had happened to Hamar, and would I like him to take care of matters in the village until my father's return? That was a nice way of saying that he didn't think I could handle the job yet. I gave him my permission gratefully. Now that Hamar is dead, Lange is next heir to my father after me, and he has much more experience in these matters than I do. He has been on the village council for twenty years now, and I have only attended one meeting since coming of age.
This set me thinking, though, of what Hamar's death would mean for me. I had almost forgotten, amidst the pain of what happened, that I am now the heir. Before this, I had planned to do some travelling in order to help me decide what sort of work I wanted to do. Of course, I could live at home as long as I wanted, and my father would support me, but I am not the sort of man to be a blood-worm to my parents. The money for my travels was my father's second birthday gift for me, but now there is no question of what work I will do.
I don't really mind. I think I will enjoy working alongside my father, though Hamar, who liked to elicit pity, always tried to make it sound as though he was training for the worst job in the world. Most of all, I will enjoy being able to attend village council meetings. For the last few years, Drew and I have been eavesdropping on the meetings by listening through one of the windows. (Drew is only nine, but he likes to pretend that he is as old as I am.) Now that I am of age, I would be able to attend the meetings anyway, but it will be different sitting at the right hand to my father and presiding over the meetings when he is away.
I will try not to remember that Hamar should be doing that instead of me.
The eighth day of September in the 940th year a.g.l.
My father still has not returned, and I am trying not to worry. Perhaps the Cold Run villagers are simply being cautious, as well they might. Anyway, if my father is killed, Cold Run's priest will send word.
Drew is so excited about the feud that I nearly slapped him today out of frustration, though I felt the same before this all started.
The tenth day of September in the 940th year a.g.l.
Still no word. Surely they would not have killed him and kept the news to themselves? It would be their victory, after all. Lange says that if we do not hear from Cold Run by tomorrow, he will send Fenton over to discover how matters stand.
The eleventh day of September in the 940th year a.g.l.
My father returned at noonday. He drew blood – Nathaniel, whom I vaguely remember as giving me rides on his pony when I visited Cold Run as a child. Everyone here is now tensely awaiting Cold Run's hunter, and all of the boys have long faces because they are not allowed to wear their daggers until the blood feud is over. My father spent a long time this evening reminding me that I must not wear my free-man's blade or even hold it in my hand as long as I am determined to stay out of the feud. I think he said that in order to shame me into taking my blood vow to murder, but I have remained steadfast to my promise to Fenton.
My father was delayed in returning because he hunted in Cold Run for several days before picking his prey. He had hoped that one of the villagers would say something that would reveal who Hamar's murderer was, but everyone there kept quiet about the subject, no doubt knowing that they might be overheard by our hunter.
My father was also delayed because it took him several minutes to bind Nathaniel, and during that time he got a lot of blood on his only remaining tunic – mainly Nathaniel's blood, fortunately. So my father decided to travel south to Border Borough to buy new clothes, not only for himself, but also for my mother and Mira and me, since we lost all our goods in the fire. (Our money is safe, since my father always kept that with the town bankers.) While he was in town, my father informed Lord Ellis of our feud, and Lord Ellis says that he will send word to the King, though I cannot imagine why the King should be bothered with such a matter. There must be several dozen blood feuds going on in Koretia right now, and none of them is likely to go beyond the village or town where it began. But since the King is head of our blood line, he has to know about even a small feud like this, since he may be called upon to defend us.
My father took two days to travel to Border Borough and back – of course, it would have taken less time than that to go east to Blackpass, but Blackpass's baron is Blackwood of the old nobility, and my father will not do business in a town that is run by our enemies' kin.
The twelfth day of September in the 940th year a.g.l.
I had Fenton read over the above entry, and I asked him whether there was anything in it that an Emorian was unlikely to understand. He laughed and said that it would all be incomprehensible to an Emorian. One of these days, he said, I will have to explain in my journal about blood lines and blood debts and why the King is obliged to defend us in the feud if it grows serious, and why Blackwood must do the same for Cold Run, and a dozen other matters that I would have thought would be perfectly obvious.
I had no desire to argue with Fenton; it was the first time I have seen him laugh since this blood feud started. These days, he spends most of his time in the sanctuary, praying, and all the rest of his time with me, cramming me with knowledge of the Emorian language as though I had only hours to live, though of course he and I are the only men in this village who are safe.
My father gathered all the men in the village square today and warned everyone not to wander off alone, since Cold Run's hunter is no doubt hiding near our village at this very moment and waiting to make his kill. I heard my father tell Fenton afterwards that he expected the others to follow his advice for no more than half a day before forgetting it.
I changed into one of my new tunics today. It feels odd to be wearing a tunic with silver trim, just like my father and Hamar. All I am missing now is a sword, but my father says that will have to wait until we go together to Border Borough and have one custom-made for me. The delay is of no importance; I will only wear the sword on formal occasions, and I cannot even wear a dagger right now, as my father keeps reminding me. I think he is puzzled that I am remaining so obstinate.
The thirteenth day of September in the 940th year a.g.l.
Despite our efforts to stay alert, Cold Run's hunter made his kill today. His prey was Titus.
I went over to see Chloris this evening. She was still weeping in her hut, refusing to see anyone, but she let me in; she said it was because I had refused to take part in the feud.
"I tried to persuade Titus to do the same," she said as I handed her a face-cloth because her own was soaked through. "Titus thought the blood feuds were foolish; he said that in Emor, Hamar's murderer would have been brought to judgment, and that would have been the end of it. But he said that he had to abide by Koretian customs, or nobody here would believe that he was truly loyal to the gods. As if anyone could have doubted that!" She exploded into another shower of tears, and I put my arm around her.
After she had calmed somewhat, I asked, "How would the Emorians have brought Hamar's murderer to judgment? Cold Run refuses to surrender the man."
"I keep trying to remember," she said, gulping between sobs. "Not that it matters to me, but it mattered to him – it was all he kept talking about during the last few days. He said that Cold Run refused to surrender the murderer to us because their baron was sure that the murderer wouldn't receive fair judgment here, and that Roderick was right. Titus said that there ought to be someone who could judge the murderer without any bias."
"Like a priest, you mean?"
"No, Titus said that even the priests are allied with the villagers they minister to. He said that, in Emor, the law would stop the blood feud. That's what he kept saying over and over – that if Koretia had the law, there would be no feud. And now he's dead." She flung herself face-down onto her pallet, and eventually I had to leave because I saw that I was only making her more upset by having her talk about this.
So I went to Fenton to ask him about the nature of Emorian law, and how it differs from the gods' law. I found him in the dark sanctuary with his fingers on the Jackal's mask – that seems to be the only god he prays to these days, I suppose because the Jackal is the hunting god.
He pulled away from the mask when he saw me, though. After I had asked my question, he said, "I wish that I had had time enough to explain Emorian law to you, but it seemed a lengthy enough task just to teach you the Emorian language. And now—"
He turned away suddenly, and for a moment I feared that he would ask me to leave, as he does sometimes when he feels he must speak with the gods. But instead he went over to the altar and stood there for a moment with his head bowed, looking down upon the grey slab of stone. With his back to me, he seemed like a stranger. I could not see his face or his hands, and only his robe told me who he was – his robe, and the fact that he bore no blade.
A blood-fly buzzed past his head. The weather has not yet turned to autumn mildness, and so the blood-flies are still thick in the early evening. Fenton waved his hand, and at first I thought he was trying to kill the blood-fly before it settled upon him. Then I noticed that other flies were in the room – house flies, attracted by the drying blood on the altar.
He turned then, beckoning me over, and by the time I reached his side, his robe sleeves were pushed up to his elbows and he was scrubbing the blood with a brush. I found the other brush without needing to ask where it was; he rid himself of his assistant last year, after I offered to help him with his menial work. Together we dug away at the hard blood. There was a great deal of it. Usually, at his daily worship, Fenton sacrifices small animals: birds on feast days, and on other days, the rodents he traps in our houses. My mother said once that a priest in a village is as good as a cat. When the blood feud started, though, my father offered up to the gods our entire flock of goats. Our hired hands were happy at this news of less work, until they realized how long the feud might last, and that there might be no goats left in the end for them to watch.
Fenton said finally, "Why should we serve the gods?"
I was ready with an answer; we had talked about this many times. "Because they are good, pure good; anything good that we have, we received from them. If we serve them, the good in us will be increased. If we turn our face from them, the gods will curse us – not because they want us to suffer, but because they can no longer help us, unless we turn our face toward them again and ask their forgiveness."
Fenton pushed his right sleeve further toward his shoulder. For a moment, I caught a sickening glimpse of what he keeps hidden under his robe; then he pushed his sleeve back down to his elbow. "And how do we serve the gods?" he asked.
"We serve them by thinking of what they want, always, before anything else," I replied promptly. "We serve them by being willing to sacrifice everything we have and are, for their sake. We serve them by following the gods' law, as given to us by our priest – you." I ended with a smile.
Fenton smiled back, but said, as he pulled a bowl of water toward himself. "And what if I say the gods want one thing, and Cold Run's priest says the gods want the opposite? Whose law do you follow then?"
I wanted to say that I would always follow his commands, no matter what any other priest said, but I knew that was not the answer he wanted, so I said reluctantly, "I would follow the gods' law as proclaimed by the High Priest – when he finally comes. Do you think he will come?" I looked over at Fenton, who was now washing the altar with as much tenderness as a mother might wash her child.
I thought his smile wavered somewhat, but he said only, "In your time, perhaps. I don't think he will show himself to the Koretians while I'm alive."
I looked with concern at the wrinkles next to the sides of his eyes. It had never occurred to me before that he would die before I did. "Are you very old?" I asked tentatively, not wanting to add to his pain.
He laughed then, a light, soaring laugh, and threw a dry rag my way. "As old as the black border mountains," he replied. "I celebrate my thirtieth birthyear next spring."
That sounded quite old to me, but I had no wish to offend him, so I said quickly, "You didn't tell me about the Emorians' law."
"I didn't have to," he said as we wiped the altar dry. "You told me yourself."
My expression must have been as blank as my thoughts, for he smiled again and said, "I've heard many people say that the Emorians have no religion, but they're the most religious people in the world. They have a god whom they serve with duty and sacrifice. They have priests who tell them what the god wants them to do. They have a High Priest who serves as the living presence of the god whom they worship. They even have their own gods' law."
I stood back from the altar, watching the last drops of moisture glisten in the ruddy evening sun. Finally I said, "The Emorian law – that's their 'gods' law.' And the 'priests' – they have people who tell them how to follow the law?"
Fenton nodded. He had brought out the brush again and was rubbing at a bit of blood we had missed. The flies, disappointed, wandered out the door. "They have men called judges who decide when their law has been broken. And the Emorian 'High Priest' is their ruler: the Chara. He is High Judge of the land, and he makes final decisions on the law. The Emorians even call their law the Chara's law, believing that the Chara is the living embodiment of their god."
"And who is their god?" I asked with curiosity.
"The law itself."
I gave a laugh of disbelief as Fenton finally stood back, satisfied that the altar was purified for the morrow's worship. "That makes no sense," I said. "The law is what the gods give us – the law isn't the gods themselves."
"The Emorians may have seen it that way in the past," said Fenton. "Some of their old documents refer to a Lawgiver, as though something stood behind the law – but you won't find many Emorians talking that way today. To them, the law itself is worthy of worship and sacrifice, and they are as ready to lay down their lives for it as we are for our gods."
I shook my head. "Somebody should tell them the truth," I said. "Somebody should teach them that the gods are the only ones that are purely good, the only ones that they should worship. The gods are pure goodness, so the gods' law is pure goodness, unlike the Emorians' law."
"Is it?" Fenton had been looking down at the altar all this time; now he raised his eyes. I could see them clearly in the light, bright blue like a newly forged blade. "It is the gods' law that tells men to murder each other," he said softly. "In Emor, this blood feud could never have happened. The Chara's law would have forbidden it."
I was so astonished that by this time I had forgotten my original question: of how the Emorians' law accomplished this feat. Just the fact that Fenton would speak of the gods' law in such a way made my heart beat fast, as though I expected a god to bring down his vengeance on us at any moment.
Finally, I swallowed the hardness in my throat and said, "But . . . you worship the gods."
Fenton nodded. His gaze had drifted past me toward the door, and I realized from this that he did not wish his words to be heard by others; he was telling me a secret no one else had heard. "I pay honor to the gods with my life, but we men are imperfect; we see only glimpses of what the gods want. You said a while back that I give you the gods' law, but I have never done that. I have given you my own understanding of what the gods want, an imperfect understanding. And sometimes, when men's hearts turn evil, and they wish to follow their own wills rather than those of the gods, they pretend that the gods want what they want. They create rules for murder and execution and enslavement, and they call these rules the laws of the gods."
Now my heart was beating so hard that I felt the blood throb at my fingertips. What Fenton was speaking was blasphemy; I was old enough to know that. Nothing less than a terrible death would satisfy the gods who heard such words spoken . . . and yet I could not believe that the gods, good as they were, would ever want to harm Fenton. I stood bewildered, not knowing what to say.
For a moment, I thought that Fenton would speak more, but his eyes flicked to the side again and he said, "The Emorians' law is hard to explain in one lesson, and surely it is time you were home and helping your father with your family's evening worship."
I turned around and saw standing on the threshold of the sanctuary my father, his brows drawn low as he looked, not at me, but at Fenton. For a moment, I feared that he had heard what Fenton had said and that he would denounce Fenton for his blasphemy. Then I remembered with relief that my father is blood-sworn not to harm Fenton, and that anything he had heard he would keep locked in his heart.
So I went home, and we worshipped the gods together as we have done since I was a baby, but this time I stared at the mask of the Jackal, wondering what the Emorians know that we Koretians do not know, and wondering how their law brings them closer to the gods' will than ours does.
The fifteenth day of September in the 940th year a.g.l.
Our hunter returned today. Now that the blood feud is begun in earnest, we no longer wait out the period of mourning before we send our hunter. Digby, who is my great-uncle's cousin, killed Angus the shopkeeper, whose wife I remember: she used to give me sweets when her husband wasn't watching. My father is angry that Hamar's murderer has not yet been identified, but he congratulated Digby on a fine kill. Now we await Cold Run's hunter.
The sixteenth day of September in the 940th year a.g.l.
Every man in the village is on edge. I tapped Lange on the shoulder today as he was lathing wood, and he leapt as high as a funeral pyre flame.
Fenton continues to tutor me but has not spoken again about the Emorians' law. I am quite glad. Fenton is such a good man that I know that the gods would never punish him for anything he said against their law, but I fear that the gods will punish me if I listen to such talk.
The seventeenth day of September in the 940th year a.g.l.
My cousin Rosa woke this morning, turned over in bed, and discovered her husband Warner lying in a pool of blood. The flies were feasting on his neck.
Her screams must have been heard all the way to Cold Run. Everyone has been saying that it was Warner's fault, for wearing his dagger to bed. No hunter can kill a man unless he wears a blade at his belt or carries it in his hand.
Lange has been sent to Cold Run. Drew is in a very bad mood and refuses to play with me.
The eighteenth day of September in the 940th year a.g.l.
I have been having a hard time keeping from thinking about the gods' law, so I allowed myself to think about the law today – I mean the Emorians' law, but I find myself thinking of it just as the law these days. I suppose that is impious.
If I were creating a law, I decided, I would make a law where the innocent need not die in the place of the guilty. It is not Warner's fault, or Titus's, or even Nathaniel's or Angus's, that someone at Cold Run killed Hamar. Why should all these men be killed to satisfy the gods' vengeance? It would be better if the gods were to pick priests who would have the power to say, "This man is guilty and must die for what he has done." And something would have to force those priests to follow the gods' will, rather than simply follow the desires of the villagers whom they served.
I just read the above paragraph and am now cold with fear for what I have written. I am tempted to blot out my words, but the gods already know that I have criticized the law that they gave us, and so I can do nothing except go to Fenton and confess to him my impiety – my blasphemy, rather. But he has said words harsher than mine against the law, so I do not know whether he will consider what I did to be wrong. I am very confused.
The nineteenth day of September in the 940th year a.g.l.
I had no chance to ask Fenton what I should do yesterday, for Lange brought back exciting news in the evening: he has killed Cold Run's baron.
My father says that Lange must have had great skill to accomplish such a feat; a baron is always especially wary during a blood feud, and Roderick was an accomplished swordsman. Lange, who is modest, says that he is lucky Roderick didn't kill him, and that Roderick's death is a sure sign that the gods wish for Mountside to win this feud.
Everyone has been celebrating tonight, sitting in front of the fire and making toasts to the gods in thanksgiving for their blessing upon Mountside. I had to leave the fireside before I was sick. When we visited Cold Run when I was young, we always stayed at Roderick's house. Roderick was like an uncle to Hamar and me, bringing us gifts from far-off villages when he went travelling.
Is something wrong with me? My father has begun to imply that I am nothing more than a coward, and I think he must be right. I ought to be rejoicing that Mountside is so close to winning the feud, but instead I feel as near to weeping as a woman.
I wish I could speak with Fenton, but he has gone to Cold Run. My father sent a message that we would observe the three days' mourning in honor of Cold Run's baron.
The twentieth day of September in the 940th year a.g.l.
Again I had no chance to talk to Fenton, for when he returned to Mountside he was accompanied by Cold Run's priest, Felix, and by Cold Run's new baron.
Griffith I remember even better than Roderick. He and my cousin Emlyn swore blood vows of friendship when they were children, and Hamar and I used to go to Cold Run to play with Emlyn and Griffith and Griffith's younger brother Siward. Sometimes the Cold Run boys would come here, and we would all play Jackal and Prey in the woods; Emlyn usually won, but Griffith was almost as good at the game. He and Emlyn were the best pranksters among the boys in either of our villages. My father used to say with a smile that it wasn't safe to become enemies of those two.
All this was back in the old days, before our feud started with Cold Run.
Griffith was dressed in mourning grey today, with a face to match; his eyes were so barren that it seemed his spirit had accompanied his father's to the Land Beyond. When he began talking, though, he was quite calm. He said that he had no wish to take the feud any farther than it had already gone, and that he was willing to concede victory to Mountside. He would compensate Richard for the damage to his cart when it ran over Tabitha's rooster, and he would pay Mountside whatever fee it liked as blood-payment for the Cold Run man who would have died if the feud had ended in the normal way, with a hunter being caught and killed.
My father's answer was short. "Give me Hamar's murderer," he said, "and I will consider the matter ended."
We were all crowded into the sanctuary, there being as yet no village hall in which the council can meet. I could see Drew peeking in through the half-opened window, and the women's voices murmured outside. Some of the younger men had had a hard time restraining their laughter during Griffith's speech. Now they stared at my father, amazed that he would ask so small a victory price when it was clear that Cold Run's new baron was spineless.
I was standing next to my father and could hear Fenton murmuring in his ear, urging a peace oath, regardless of Griffith's answer. My father ignored him; he was staring with dark eyes at Griffith, whose spine appeared quite firm to me, and whose dagger-hand was twitching in a manner I did not like. I was glad that Griffith had vowed a truce oath and would not draw the blade at his side.
When he spoke, though, it was in the same mild voice as before. "Hamar's murderer has already received his punishment from our priest. If you wish his blood in payment for your son's death, I stand in his stead."
This time there was no laughter, only a collective intake of breath. Faintly through the window, I could hear Drew whispering the news to the other children, and soon after a gasp arose from the women outside. Felix was staring at Griffith as though he had gone mad.
My father is too well-bred to show his contempt for weaklings, but I thought his face shimmered with a smile for a moment before it grew grave again. He said, in a voice raised so that the women outside could hear, "My son, dying from the fire, demanded vengeance upon his killer. The gods were witness to that cry, and I would be lacking in my duty to the gods if I allowed their vengeance to go unfulfilled. I will accept no substitute for the murderer's blood."
Fenton began to say something, then stopped, having caught sight of Griffith's face. I wondered, then, whether Griffith himself was Hamar's murderer, for he looked at that moment like the sort of man who would willingly burn flesh. He said, slowly and precisely, "Then let the gods judge between us. They alone know which of us deserves their vengeance." And he turned and walked out of the sanctuary, with Felix trailing behind, looking as proud as a mountain cat when her cub makes its first kill.
So tonight the men are whetting their blades in preparation for the next hunt. Lange, who is always gentle with Drew, lectured his son sternly when Drew touched Lange's blade.
Fenton and my father have been locked together in the sanctuary all day. I heard my father shouting.
The twenty-first day of September in the 940th year a.g.l.
Everyone was relieved yesterday when my father emerged from the sanctuary with his mind unchanged. I heard some boys saying today that Fenton has forgotten to worship the god of vengeance; by the time I was through with them, I was sure that I had proved I was no coward. When I told Fenton afterwards how I had defended him, though, he said that a fist is no better than a blade. I felt ashamed of myself and begged his pardon for breaking my promise to him.
He smiled then and said, "Men are called to different paths in life, and your father is wrong in thinking that I am training you to be a priest. I hold no doubt that, in future years, you will unsheathe your blade and defend others who are in need, and that the gods will honor your bloodshed as much as they honor my bladelessness. I want to be sure, though, that when you shed blood, you are following the gods' will, not your own."
This came so close to our previous conversation about the law that I'm sorry to say that I asked leave to skip our lesson that day. I left Fenton alone in the sanctuary, polishing the curved blade he uses during his daily sacrifices.
I remembered then that Fenton has shed more blood than any other man in our village, and I grew angry at my father for not remembering this. But when I arrived at my parents' sleeping hut, I had no opportunity to speak with my father, for my mother was weeping and my father was shouting.
I quickly climbed the ladder to the loft where Mira sleeps, before my parents could notice me, and then I listened to their conversation. "Thank the gods that Emlyn lives in the south," my mother was saying between sobs. "If he still lived in Cold Run, I've no doubt that you would have killed your nephew with your own blade if you had the opportunity."
"Emlyn is no kinsman of ours!" shouted my father. "Nor has he been since the feud began. Blood feuds break ties of kinship – you know that, for I would never have married you if I thought that you understood otherwise."
My mother drew breath to answer, but my father bellowed over her words, "You are a woman of Mountside – have you forgotten that? Or do you hold your birth-blood more dear than the blood I gave to you when we exchanged our marriage vows?"
"Never," my mother choked out. I could see her through the cracks in the floorboard, and I saw that her face-cloth was moist with tears. "I am yours always; the gods are witness to that. Why must this feud continue, though? Griffith has offered an honorable peace—"
"Honorable?" cried my father. "Honorable to allow the death of our first-born son to remain unavenged? Those are words I might hear from any weak-minded woman in the village. Those are words I might hear from our priest, who will never know what it is like to lose a son. May the gods watch over me, those are even words I might hear from my heir, who has turned into something halfway between a priest and a woman. Those are not words I expected to hear from the woman I picked to be my wife."
I heard no more; I picked up a cushion from Mira's bed and buried my head under it, afraid of hearing more about myself, and even more afraid of believing what my father said of me.
I went to see Fenton later, but Drew said he had gone out onto the mountain, and he had not returned when it was time for me to go to bed.
The twenty-second day of September in the 940th year a.g.l.
Today was the worst day since the feud began. No one died – we are still observing the period of mourning – but my father and I fought.
I have no need to record what he said about me; it is burned into my spirit. I will record here, though, what I said in the end, as a sort of penance, for it is painful to recall my shamelessness. I said, "You are just like the men Fenton talked about, who are evil in their hearts, and who pretend that the gods want what they want."
My father said nothing after that, which frightened me more than if he had shouted. He has commanded me to stay in this hut until dinnertime, when he will allow me to join the villagers around the fire we are building to match the fire built in Cold Run tonight for Roderick's body.
I almost wish that I had taken part in the feud after all. Perhaps I would be dead by now and would not feel this pain at what I have done.
The men had built the funeral pyre by the time Fenton arrived tonight, and the women were throwing onto it the mourning cloths that were meant to represent Roderick's body. As I saw Fenton's face, pale over the bright flames, I had a sudden image of Fenton himself burning in the fire, dying the death of the god-cursed, but I quickly thrust this thought away. The gods love Fenton; of that I can be sure.
He was very quiet tonight, saying the words in honor of Roderick's life. His gaze strayed a couple of times to my father, who kept a seemly silence throughout the rite. As soon as Fenton was finished, though, my father roared for wine, and soon all of us were sitting around the fire, warming ourselves as the first touch of autumn coolness travelled over the mountains from Emor.
I had hoped to be able to spend time talking to Fenton, but he was busy offering comfort to Chloris, who used this mock funeral pyre as an opportunity to reopen her grief for her dead husband. When he had succeeded in persuading Chloris to put aside her open grief, he began to walk toward my father, but he stopped as my father shouted for silence.
Licked by the light of the flames, my father stood with cup in hand, looking round at the people about him, like a father regarding his beloved children. His gaze rested finally on me, sitting between Mira and Drew. Then he raised his hand and said, "Eleven years ago last spring, we welcomed a new kinsman into our midst."
I knew immediately what my father was going to say next, and I looked over at Fenton. His lips were parted with surprise at this honor, and I saw a blush start across his cheeks. Then he ducked his head and went over to help one of my aunts collect the empty wine flasks.
"Eleven years ago," my father continued, "we met a stranger, an Emorian who had chosen to leave his old life and to brave danger in order to enter this land. He was called to Koretia by a voice, he told me, and he soon came to believe that the voice he had heard was that of his god. Wishing to serve his god with the same loyalty with which he had served his previous master, he took on the robes of priesthood and dedicated his manhood to the seven gods and goddesses of Koretia. Since that time he has borne no blade, except when serving as the gods' representative at the sacrifice."
All around me, I could see people nodding. Even those who were angry at Fenton for wishing an early peace with Cold Run knew that he had acted as he did out of love of the gods. Fenton himself, still busily collecting flasks, looked as flushed as a boy in love.
"Because he had shown himself to be a god-lover, I asked Fenton to share blood with me," my father said. "Because he had shown himself to be a god-lover, I entrusted to his care my younger son, who has now become my heir. It is because of Fenton that my son is what he is today."
He turned and handed his flask to Lange, who had been nodding with the others; then he unsheathed his dagger. A small sigh drifted through the crowd like mist.
I was as impressed as the rest. I had expected my father only to offer a toast to Fenton, as a sign that this disagreement was superficial in comparison to their blood-bond and their love for each other. Now I realized that my father was going to go further and renew his blood vow of friendship with Fenton.
Fenton had raised his head. I saw his lips part again, and then he quietly took a step forward, awaiting the moment when my father would hand the blade to him. My father raised the underside of his arm so that all could see the thin slit of whiteness upon his wrist. He pointed to it with the tip of his dagger, and then carefully, precisely, he cut his wrist cross-wise from the original mark.
No one spoke. All eyes were now on Fenton, who looked like a corpse that had been drained of blood. My father, it was clear, had not told him what he planned.
"As the Jackal is my witness," said my father in a cool and level voice, "I hereby abjure my vow of friendship with Fenton son of Paulin. No longer is his blood mine; no longer will I protect him from harm. He has broken his vow of friendship to me by teaching my son godless ways and has brought danger to him through those teachings."
Now a murmur ran through the crowd, like wind running over grass. Everyone's gaze turned toward me, including my father's. For a moment more, as my spirit screamed from fear of what he would say next, my father looked upon me. Then he said quietly, "Fenton remains blood-bound to my son; I will not say anything that would cause harm to my son's blood brother. For this reason, I will not repeat the teachings I have heard Fenton speak. Nor will I ask him to leave this village; he remains kin to us through my son. I have sent a letter to the King, though, asking him to send a new priest to us. When that priest arrives, Fenton may leave or stay, as he wishes. If he stays, I will not ask him to take part in the blood feud, for his vow to the gods forbids that. No longer, though, will he represent us before the gods. I believe that, if he were to remain as our priest, our village would be in danger of the gods' anger. That is all I wish to say." And wiping his blade clean on his sleeve, he sheathed his dagger and turned to Lange for his flask.
I looked over toward Fenton, but he was gone already, and when I ran to the sanctuary, the doors were locked.