By the time Darriel Di Asturien reached the top of El Haleine's watchtower, the distant smoke was only a smudge against the pale amethyst sky. Mikhael pointed, the carven lines in his brown face deepening, and Darriel measured its distance from the shining curve of the Valeron.
It's too soon. He tried to blur awareness of what he knew must have happened there. We're still recovering from the last raid....
No matter how often Darriel led the men of Valeron out against the reivers, there always seemed to be others who would rather prey on their fellows than wrest a living from the harsh planet on which their great-grandfathers had been stranded a century before. Darkover held too many dangers for men to waste their lives in war!
"Are you sure? It's the middle of harvest--they might have been burning stubble in the fields--" automatically he questioned, though he knew that Mikhael was not likely to give a false alarm. Dominic Allart clattered up the stairs behind him and he moved aside to let the boy see.
"There was more of it earlier, my lord--" said Mikhael implacably. "A plume of smoke, near as high as the cliffs. From the direction, I'm thinking it must have been Crawfield. Their hall is all timber, and the past week has been dry. I doubt there'll be more than charred bits left by now."
"Is that all you can say?" Dominic exclaimed. "What about the people at Crawfield? Don't you care what happened to them?"
Both men turned. Dominic's fair skin reddened to match his hair, but he stared back defiantly.
Once Darriel's hair had been as bright as Dominic's, but now it was threaded with gray. Tired as he was, Darriel could not shield himself against that flame of youthful indignation. He reached out to the rim of the tower, seeking strength from the cold stones. El Haleine is proof against any enemy, he thought despairingly, but what use is that to those who cannot take refuge here?
Mikhael moved between them, as if his body could barrier his lord from Dominic's emotion. Over the years, Darriel had become used to his men's odd protectiveness, though sometimes he wondered why they followed him.
"Aye, I care, and so does he!" said Mikhael in a low voice. "Too much, if anything, and I'll not allow ye to make it worse for him!"
Darriel felt Dominic's anger fade to a confused contrition, and straightened with a sigh. The sensitivities that were both his gift and his bane ran in the Allart family as well. Dominic was a good lad, but his emotions were uncontrolled. Darriel found himself avoiding him out of sheer self-protection. Perhaps he had been wrong to accept the boy as a fosterling--certainly there had been little time for his training this year.