Rattle eyed his liege lord not with suspicion, for he would never be so impertinent, but with some wild mixture of trepidation and awe.
“You doubt my judgment in this thing, Rat?” asked Baron Wyleth, his youthful face revealing an air of challenge to his old bodyguard’s opinion.
“No, Sire. It is not my place to doubt — only to serve and protect.”
“Speak your mind, Rattle. You think me foolish to accept this challenge?”
“Never foolish, my Lord,” said Rattle his voice husky.
Baron Wyleth turned from his man, drawing first his long blade then his short — the friend and the lover as they were called in the northern reaches of his homeland — and assumed Wakened Scorpion: the long, thin lover held before him, the short, thick friend in a close guard near his ribs. It was a stance Rattle had taught him from his youth.
The Kyrish warrior opposite Wyleth grinned, hefting his much-pitted and scratched battle axe with a practiced hand, assuming a nonchalant pose that spoke of his intimacy with the martial rites of struggle and of death.
Rattle felt his stomach clench, felt the muscles in his arms and legs tense as his heart drummed with futility inside his chest.
Seeing this, Wyleth said over his shoulder, “You may not interfere in this, Rat. They will cut you down if you do. Leave this scum to me and if I fall you will take my swords to my father and tell him how I died. Do you understand.”
Rattle could not take his eyes from the hulking Kyrishman, who grinned and said, “I’ll give ya a chance once I’m done cutting up this brash lad, me dog. You looked primed for the blade and I’ll have me wind about me once I’ve warmed up on yer lordling.”
Rattle took a step forward, but was stopped at a harsh word from Wyleth.
“Stay out of it, Rat. You keep yourself clean of this, you hear? You hear?!”
“Even if I fall?”
Rattle swallowed. “Even if you fall.” The words came out in a choked whisper.
Wyleth nodded and the bellman sounded a clanking tone that sent the gathered crowd into a frenzy of wild cheers and profane taunts.