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aylo Bludd spat at his dog. He would have preferred to spit at his second son, but he didn't. The dog, a hunter and wolf mix with a neck as wide as a door, bared its teeth and snarled at his master. Other dogs leashed behind it made low growling noises in the back of their throats. The wad of black curd spat by Vaylo Bludd landed on the first dog's foreleg, and the dog chewed at its own fur and skin to get it off. Vaylo didn't smile, but he was pleased. That one definitely owed more to the wolf.

"So, son," he said, still looking at the dog. "What would you have me do next, seems you ill like the plans made by your father?"

Vaylo Bludd's second son Pengo Bludd grunted. He was standing too close to the fire and his already red face now glowed like something baked in an oven. His spiked hammer trailed on the floor behind him like a dog on a leash. "We must attack Blackhail while the win is still upon us. If we sit on our arses now we miss our chance to take the Clanholds in a single strike."

Sitting back on the great stone Dhooneseat that formed the center of the mightiest and best fortified roundhouse in the Clanholds, Vaylo Bludd considered spitting again. With no black curd in his mouth, he worked up a dose of saliva by jabbing his teeth against his tongue. Stone Gods! But his teeth ached! One of these days he was going to find a man to pull them out. Find a man then kill him.

Vaylo Bludd swallowed the spit. He took a moment to look at his second son. Pengo Bludd had not shaved back his hairline in days and a bristling band of hair framed his face. The longer hair at the back, with its braids and twists was similarly ill tended. Bits of goose down and hay were caught in the matted strands. Vaylo Bludd made a hard sound in his throat. Legitimate offspring were born to complacency and arrogance. You wouldn't see such sloth on a bastard!

"Son," he said, his voice as low as a dog growl, "I have lorded this clan for thirty five years - a good five of that before you were born. Now I dare say you'd think it boastful of me to point out just how far Bludd has come under my lording, but I say I don't care. I am clan chief. Me, the Dog Lord. Not you, Lord of Nothing But What I Choose To Give You."

Pengo's eyes narrowed. The hand that held his leather hammer-loop, cracked as it curled to a fist. "We have Dhoone. We can have Blackhail as well. The Hailsmen-"

Vaylo Bludd kicked out at the wolf dog, making it jump back and yowl. "The Hailsmen will be expecting us to attack. They'll have that roundhouse of theirs sealed as tight as a virgin's arse the minute we break their borders. Hailsmen aren't fools. They won't be found slacking like Dhoones."


"Enough!" The Dog Lord stood. All the dogs leashed to the rat hooks skittered back. "What advantages we had here will not be easily got again. They come with a price, as such things do. And it will be for me to say when and if we use such means again. We have Dhoone. Make use of it. Go, take Drybone and as many of those useless brothers of yours as you can muster afore noon, and ride out to the Gnash border and secure it. All the Dhoonesmen that rode away are likely there, and if an attack is going to come then it will more than likely start at Gnash." Vaylo smiled, showing black aching teeth. "While you're out there mayhap you can claim what land you see fit for your steading. I heard it said once that a chief should always house his sons on his borders."

Pengo Bludd snarled. Tugging on his hammer-loop he raised his hammer from the floor and weighed its limewood handle across his chest. The spiked hammerhead bristled like a basket of knives. Eyes the same color as his father's burned coldly like the blue inner-tongue of flames. Without a word he turned on his heel, his braids and twists swinging out from his skull as he moved.

When he reached the chamber door, Vaylo stopped him with one word. "Son."

"What?" Pengo did not turn around.

"Send the bairns to me afore you leave."

Pengo Bludd snapped his head, then continued his journey from the door. He slammed it with all his might behind him.

The Dog Lord took a long breath when he was gone. The dogs, all five of them including the wolf dog were quiet. After a moment Vaylo bent down on one knee and beckoned them as near as their various leashes would allow. He tousled them and slapped their bellies and tested their speed by grabbing their tails. They snarled and snapped and nipped him, wetting his hands and wrists with their frothy saliva. They were good dogs, all of them.

Unlike most hunters and sled dogs whose fangs were filed to stop them chewing through leashes and ruining pelts by tearing at game, Vaylo's own dogs still had fangs of full length and sharpness. They could rip out a man's throat on his say. None of them had names. Vaylo had long ago stopped keeping tracks of all the names of those around him. A man with seven sons who all had wives and inlaws and children of their own, soon gave up keeping tally on what people were called. What they were was the only thing that counted.

Feeling separate pangs of pain in each of his remaining seventeen teeth, the Dog Lord stood. Bones in his knees cracked as they dealt with his weight. The Dhooneseat, carved from a single slab of bluestone as tall as a horse, beckoned him back. Vaylo moved away from it, picking a plain oakwood stool close to the hearth. He was too old for stone thrones and too wary of growing used to them. A bastard learned early that he always had to be ready to give up his place.

Glancing toward the door that his second son had slammed moments earlier, Vaylo frowned. That was the problem with all of his sons: none of them knew what it was to give up their place to another. They knew only the politics of take.

Behind his back, Vaylo could hear the dogs scrapping amongst themselves. He heard the wolf dog's low distinctive growl and he knew without turning to look that the dog was being attacked by the others because of the favor its master had showed it. Vaylo made no move to interfere. Such was the way of life.

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