Kings of Clonmel
A massive longbow was in his hand, and a quiver of arrows was slung over his shoulder. Then something in Farrell’s memory clicked.
    “You!” he said in surprise. “What are you doing here?”
    Halt ignored him. He addressed his remarks to Wilfred.
    “You’ve been robbed,” he said briefly. “ This man and his band are about to run out on you. And they’ll be taking the gold and jewelry you’ve given them.”
    Wilfred’s gaze, which had been drawn to Halt at his sudden entrance, now switched back to Farrell. His eyes were narrow with suspicion. Farrell forced a nervous laugh, indicating the massive golden altar that dominated the far end of the marquee.
    “I told you, we used the gold to build our altar—so we could pray for your people! D’you think we’re going to just walk away with that? It’s solid gold! It must weigh tons!”
    “Not quite,” Halt said. He strode quickly toward the altar, the villagers following him uncertainly, Wilfred making sure that Farrell came along with them.
    Halt drew his saxe knife with a soft hiss and sliced its razor edge along one gleaming side of the golden altar. The thin veneer of gold leaf that had covered it peeled away, revealing the plain wood beneath it.
    “Not as solid as it looks,” Halt said, and he heard an angry growl from the villagers as they moved to encircle Farrell. The Outsider’s eyes flicked from Halt to the circle of hostile faces around him. His mouth opened as he instinctively tried to think of some plausible explanation for the deception, then closed as he realized there was none.
    “They used a small amount of gold to coat the wooden altar. The rest of it is probably in sacks underneath, ready to be taken away tonight.”
    Wilfred gestured and one of the younger men moved forward, roughly tearing the altar covering away. Under the altar was a neat pile of sacks. The villager toed one, and it emitted a metallic jingle. The head man glared at Farrell, who was standing white-faced with fear. He tried to move behind Halt, as if hoping that the Ranger might protect him.
    “You’re a dead man, Farrell,” Wilfred said in an ominously quiet voice.
    But Halt shook his head. “You’ve got your gold back. Be grateful for that. But you’re not taking him. I need him to answer some questions.”
    “And who do you think you are, telling us what to do?” said the young man who had removed the altar cloth. Halt turned his unwavering gaze on him.
    “I’m the man who just saved you a fortune,” he said. “And the other night, I saved your boats from burning.
    “Be grateful you still have your money and your livelihood. You can keep the others. Do what you like with them. But I’m taking this one with me.”
    The young man started to reply, but a curt gesture from Wilfred stopped him. The head man stepped forward to face Halt.
    “I assume you have some kind of authority to make these demands,” he said.
    Halt nodded. “I’m an Araluen Ranger,” he replied.
    There was a murmur of recognition around the pavilion. The villagers might not be part of any fief, but they knew the reputation of the Ranger Corps. Taking advantage of the villagers’ moment of uncertainty, Halt gripped Farrell by the elbow and started toward the entrance to the pavilion. After a moment’s hesitation, the group parted to allow them through.
    As he emerged with his prisoner into the warm morning sunlight, past the unconscious form of the Outsider guard who had tried to stop him, Halt was frowning slightly. He was remembering Farrell’s words.
    You? What are you doing here? The Outsider priest had recognized Halt. And that was why the Ranger frowned now.
    Because they had never met before.

13
    THE DINING ROOM AT THE INN WAS CRAMMED FULL OF CUSTOMERS, almost every table filled with noisy, happy diners from the village and the castle. Will and Alyss sat at the table of honor, right in the middle of the room, underneath a wheel-shaped chandelier that held two dozen

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