A shadow moved behind the panel. It seemed to hesitate for a moment, and then a robed and hooded figure emerged into the lamplight. The hooded man was only slightly shorter than Sparhawk, and he had the heavy shoulders of a warrior. He reached up and pushed back his hood to reveal his piercing black eyes and his thick mane of snowy white hair.
In a kind of curious detachment, Sparhawk wondered what it was exactly that kept him from instantly drawing his sword.
‘Indeed, most holy Arasham,’ Martel said in his deep, resonant voice, ‘Sparhawk and I have known each other for a very long time’
‘It’s been a long time, hasn’t it, Sparhawk?’ Martel said in a neutral tone. His eyes, however, were watchful.
With some effort Sparhawk relaxed his tightly clenched muscles. ‘Yes, it has,’ he replied. ‘It must be ten years now at least. We should try to get together more often.’
‘We’ll have to make a point of that.’
It hung there. The two continued to look directly into each other’s face. The air seemed to crackle with tension as each waited for the other to make the first move.
‘Sparhawk,’ Arasham mused, ‘a most unusual name. It seems to me that I’ve heard it somewhere before.’
‘It’s a very old name,’ Sparhawk told him. ‘It’s been passed down through my family for generations. Some of my ancestors were men of note.’
‘Perhaps that’s where I heard it, then,’ Arasham mumbled complacently. ‘I’m delighted to have been able to re-unite two old and dear friends.’
‘We are forever in your debt, Most Holy,’ Martel replied. ‘You cannot imagine how I’ve hungered for the sight of Sparhawk’s face.’
‘No more than I hungered for the sight of yours,’ Sparhawk said. He turned to the ancient lunatic. ‘At one time Martel and I were almost as close as brothers, Most Holy. It’s a shame that the years have kept us apart.’
‘I’ve tried to find you, Sparhawk,’ Martel said coolly, ‘several times.’
‘Yes, I heard about that. I always hurried back to the place where you’d been seen, but by the time I got there, you’d already left.’
‘Pressing business,’ Martel murmured.
‘It is ever thus,’ Arasham lisped sententiously, his ruined mouth collapsing over the words. ‘The friends of our youth slip away from us, and we are left alone in our old age.’ His eyes drooped shut in melancholy reverie. He did not reopen them; after a moment he began to snore.
‘He tires easily,’ Martel said quietly. He turned to Sephrenia, although still keeping a wary eye on Sparhawk. ‘Little mother,’ he greeted her in a tone between irony and regret.
‘Martel.’ She inclined her head in the briefest of nods.
‘Ah,’ he said. ‘It seems that I’ve disappointed you.’
‘Not so much as you’ve disappointed yourself, I think.’
‘Punishment, Sephrenia?’ he asked sardonically. ‘Don’t you think I’ve been punished enough already?’
‘It’s not in my nature to punish people, Martel. Nature gives neither rewards nor punishment only consequences. ’
‘All right, then. I accept the consequences. Will you at least permit me to greet you and to seek your blessing?’ He took her wrists and turned her palms up.
‘No, Martel,’ she replied, closing her hands, ‘I don’t think so. You’re no longer my pupil. You’ve found another to follow.’
‘That wasn’t entirely my idea, Sephrenia. You rejected me, you remember.’ He sighed and released her wrists. Then he looked back at Sparhawk. ‘I’m really rather surprised to see you, brother mine,’ he said, ‘considering all the times I’ve sent Adus to deal with you. I’ll have to speak sharply with him about that – provided you haven’t killed him, of course.’
‘He was bleeding a little the last time I saw him,’ Sparhawk said, ‘but not very seriously.’
‘Adus doesn’t pay much attention to blood – not even his own.’
‘Would you like to step out of the way, Sephrenia?’ Sparhawk said, opening the front of his robe and shifting his sword hilt around slightly ‘Martel and I were having a little discussion the last time we saw each other. I think it’s time we continued it.’
Martel’s eyes narrowed, and he opened his own robe. Like Sparhawk, he also wore mail and a broadsword. ‘Excellent notion, Sparhawk,’ he said, his deep voice dropping to little more than a whisper
Sephrenia stepped between them. ‘Stop that, both of you,’ she commanded. ‘This isn’t the time or the place. We’re right in the middle of an army If you play this game here in Arasham’s tent, you’ll have half of Rendor in here with you before it’s over.’
Sparhawk felt a hot surge of disappointment, but he knew that she was right. Regretfully, he took his hand away from his sword hilt. ‘Sometime soon, however, Martel,’ he said in a dreadfully quiet voice
‘I’ll be happy to oblige you, dear brother,’ Martel replied with an ironic bow His eyes narrowed speculatively ‘What are you two doing here in Rendor?’ he asked. ‘I thought you were still in Cammoria.’
‘It’s a business trip.’
‘Ah, you’ve found out about the Darestim, I see I hate to tell you this, but you’re wasting your time. There’s no antidote. I checked that very carefully before I recommended it to a certain friend in Cimmura.’
‘You’re pressing your luck, Martel,’ Sparhawk told him ominously
‘I always have, brother mine. As they say, no risk, no profit. Ehlana will die, I’m afraid. Lycheas will succeed her, and Annias will become Archprelate. I expect to reap quite a handsome profit from that.’
‘Is that all you ever think about?’
‘What else is there?’ Martel shrugged. ‘Everything else is only an illusion. How’s Vanion been lately?’
‘He’s well,’ Sparhawk replied. ‘I’ll tell him you asked.’
‘That’s assuming that you live long enough to see him again. Your situation here is precarious, my old friend.’
‘So’s yours, Martel.’
‘I know, but I’m used to it. You’re weighted down with scruples and the like. I left all that behind a long time ago.’