The Mark of the Horse Lord

The Mark of the Horse Lord by Rosemary Sutcliff Read Free Book Online

Book: The Mark of the Horse Lord by Rosemary Sutcliff Read Free Book Online
Authors: Rosemary Sutcliff
locked his gaze with the other man’s and strove to beat it down as though it were an opponent’s weapon.
    It was the merchant, lounging among the striped rugs on the bench, who broke the silence at last. ‘I was right, Gault the Strong?’
    The other nodded, turning back to the table. ‘You were right, Sinnoch my brother. He may serve the need.’
    Phaedrus shot out a long arm to the shoulder of Gault the Strong, and swung him round again. ‘And now that seemingly you are satisfied, in Typhon’s name you shall tell
me
this need, and we will see if
I
am satisfied also!’
    Suddenly the dark man smiled, and with a lightning movement, chopped Phaedrus’s gripping hand away, so that he felt for an instant as though his wrist was broken. ‘When you lay hands on me, do it in fellowship and not in anger! Now pull that stool to the table and sit down, for you have a long listening before you.’
    Phaedrus stood for a moment, his fists clenched, then shrugged, and pulled up the stool. When they were facing each other across the table, Gault said, ‘Can you be understanding all that I say, or shall Sinnoch here turn the words from my tongue to yours?’
    Indeed, the tongue he spoke was full of odd inflexions and cadences that would have made it almost a foreign tongue to most of Phaedrus’s kind. But his mother had been part of the spoils of some far Northern battle before ever she came to a Roman slave-market, and had spoken in much the same way when they were alone together. ‘I understand well enough,’ he said.
    ‘
Sa
. First then, drink, my friend.’ Gault the Strong splashed more wine into his own cup and pushed it across the table.
    Phaedrus left it standing there. ‘I’ve an empty belly and I’d as soon listen to what you tell me with a clear head.’
    ‘Maybe there is wisdom in that. Later then, we will eat and drink together.’ Gault had dipped a finger in the spilled wine, and as though not conscious of what he was doing, had begun to draw patterns on the table-top as he talked. It was a trick that Phaedrus was to come to know well as time went by.
    ‘In my grandfather’s time, we, the Dalriads, the People of the Gael, came from Erin over the Western Sea and conquered the land and the people of the hills and the sea-lochs below Cruachan; the people who were called the Epidii in those days; and we made our hunting-runs where theirs had been, so that all that land became Earra-Ghyl, the Coast of the Gael.’ He looked up, his finger pausing an instant in its making of curved and crosswise lines. ‘Since long and long before that, we have been a Horse People, a people of Lugh the Sun Lord, holding to kings who passed the kingship down from father to son. But the Epidii, though they, too, were a Horse People, were even as the Caledones are still, a people of Cailleach, the Great Mother, and to them the queen was all, and the king for little save to give the queen children. Therefore our king mastered and mated with their queen, as the Sun Lord masters and mates with the Mother who is both Earth and Moon; and we and the Epidii became in some sort, one.’
    ‘This one may learn from any harper who sings of the old days and the death of kings. Why will you be telling it to me now?’
    ‘For a good reason, that you shall know in time . . . Seven winters ago, Levin of the Long Sword died when the boar of his hunting turned at bay; and the kingdom should have gone to Midir, his young son. Maybe that would have been the way of it, if the boy’s mother had been yet living; but she was dead, and Liadhan the King’s half-sister was the Royal Woman of the tribe – a woman like a she-wolf in a famine winter. The earthling blood was in her, and the Old Ways, for her mother was a princess among the Caledones. She chose out one of the Royal Bodyguard to be her mate – her first marriage-lord was lately dead – and seized the rule. So for seven years we have followed the Old Ways again.’
    ‘Just like that. Did

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