Thursday, December 27, 2012

Eleanor Gets a Home

SynergEbooks and Buying the Bangkok Girl

    Most readers of this blog already know that The Heart of the Sea, my first novel, was published as an ebook by  I owe Deb Staples much thanks for accepting that book and for her steady encouragement to market my fiction.  Story and Meaning is partly a result of Deb's prodding.  I figure that if I can attract readers to the blog, some of them may try ebooks in other formats (including remunerative ones!).
    Drum roll, please.  My announcement: SynergEbooks will soon publish Buying the Bangkok Girl.  I still have to do some final editing, and Deb has to load it onto Synerge's website (which will make it available through a variety of outlets), so it will be a few weeks before you can buy it.  Don't worry!  I'll be sure to post announcements here.  Eleanor Urquhart and Debbie Apple can hardly wait; they have been cooped up in my computer memory for too long!

Castles 31

31. On a Farm Near Senerham

            Torr Ablendan ate a breakfast of sausages and fried oatcakes, sitting just inside the open door of his house.  Rain had pelted the region between the lakes most of yesterday and through the night, but the storm had blown away and the new day promised a return to summer heat.  Farm fields around the house gave off a warm, green smell, almost as if the plants were eager to return to the air the gift of the rain.  Window shutters stood open and cool air softened the morning.  Later, when the day got hot, the heavy air would be much less pleasant.
            Torr saw his twelve-year-old daughter, Whitney, through the window, running to the house from the barn, where she should be milking the cow.  She came to a halt just inside the door.  “Da!  Come!  There’s a man in the barn!”
            Viradecthis Ablendan, Torr’s wife, turned at the sound.  She had been frying more oatcakes on an iron griddle for the girls’ breakfast when they finished their morning chores.  “A thief?” Viradecthis speculated.  “Has he got into the feed?”
            “Don’t think so,” said Whitney.  “I saw just his feet, sticking out of the hayloft.”
            Torr jogged across the packed dirt farmyard chewing his last sausage.  Leaning against the barn were a shovel and a pitchfork; Torr took the latter, since the sharp tines of the fork would be more threatening to an intruder.  He crept into the barn’s dim interior with his weapon at the ready.
            Bliss, the milk cow, was standing with her head bowed to the manger in front of her.  The milk bucket sat next to Whitney’s stool.  Up and to the right—no mistaking them; two naked feet were visible.  The stranger must be pretty tall, since one of his feet extended several inches over the lip of the hayloft, like a tree branch poking into the air.
            Torr glanced around the barn.  He handed the pitchfork to Whitney, who had followed him quietly, and took a coil of rope from a peg on the wall.  Keeping his eyes on the intruder’s leg, Torr made a simple noose, the sort of thing he would use to rope a runaway calf.  The sleeper never stirred, making it easy to lasso his foot.  Torr tossed his noose and jerked it tight, nearly dragging the man out of the hayloft.

            Isen hadn’t meant to be caught.  He told himself, when he stole into the barn, that he would rise before dawn.  The farm family would never know that someone had taken refuge in their hay.
            After Bead Deepwater and his sons left him on the shore of West Lake, the rain had resumed.  With brief breaks, it rained all day and half the night.  Isen carried his clothes and everything else he owned in a bundle strapped to his shoulders.  Very soon, he and the bundle were thoroughly soaked.  He had a vague notion that Inter Lucus and its villages were somewhere south, but he didn’t find a road for the longest time.  He spent hours in a forest overgrown with bracken, ferns, woody brush and thorny vines.  The summer rain wasn’t cold, but the terrain and vegetation seemed to conspire against him.  He tripped twice, muddying his breeches and raising welts on his forearm.  Darkness fell early because of the dense clouds; still, he wandered.  He tried sheltering under trees, but the wind, which had so frightened him while Morning Glory crossed the lake, shook water from branches and pelted him with slanting rain.  Finally, in a bit of moonlight between showers he found a muddy road.  He trudged along in the mud until he saw fences and a barn.  The rain ceased about the time he took refuge, but the thought of a dry place to sleep attracted him like a moth to a flame.  He stripped off his outer tunic, his breeches, and his boots and leggings and wiggled into the hayloft.  Bits of hay poked his legs, but he was tired enough to sleep on thorns.  This bed was warm and dry, better than his pallet in the hovel he had shared with Sunie.  As he slept, his body heat dried his inner tunic, making this more comfortable than any bed he had known.
            The rope wrenched Isen from sleep—and almost from the hayloft.  He slid on his back, with bits of straw cushioning him on the rough planks, and braced his hands on the log that formed the lip of the loft.  His legs flailed helplessly in the air.  Since he had no breeches on, his inner tunic bunched up above his butt.  Below him a girl hastily averted her eyes rather than look at his exposed privates.  The farmer slackened the rope so Isen could push himself back a bit and sit more securely on the loft.
            “Don’t touch the rope, thief!” the man commanded.
            “Ah, Sir!  I’ve taken nothing!”
            The farmer jerked the rope.  “And don’t speak unless I say you can!”
            Once again, Isen pushed back from the edge.  He swallowed his protests.
            The man waited some seconds.  Satisfied with Isen’s silence, he said, “All right, boy.  Tell me your name.”
            “Isen Poorman.”  Isen resisted the urge to say more.
            “Not from around here, are you?”
            “Down’s End, Sir.”
            “How’d you get here?”  A woman and another girl came into the barn.  All four members of the farm family stared up at Isen’s legs.
            “Sailed across, Sir.”
            “How can a poor man sail across West Lake?”
            “Master Deepwater, a fisherman, brought me across.”
            “In the rain?  That was foolish.”  By this time the farmer had let the rope go slack.  Isen slowly pulled his legs onto the hayloft, and the farmer allowed it.
            “That may be, Sir,” said Isen.  “Not knowing my way, I got lost in the forest.  And with the rain and wind . . . well, I was very happy to find shelter in your barn.  But I haven’t taken anything!”
            “Who are you running from, boy?  The sheriffs of Down’s End?”
            “No, Sir!  I . . .”
            “Then why cross West Lake in the rain?  You’re running from somebody!”
            Isen frowned.  “You might say, in a manner of speaking, that I am running from Master Gausman.  I was apprenticed to him, but when my sister died I spent a day getting her buried and he tossed me.”
            The farmer’s wife spoke.  “Your master fired you because you buried your sister?”
            “Well, I missed work that day.  But Master Deepwater says Gausman wanted to win votes in the guild.  Master Gausman is Alderman, you see . . .”
            The farmer interrupted, tugging on the rope.  “It doesn’t matter to us.  The upshot is your master tossed you.  Why cross the lake?”
            “We heard that a new lord has come to Inter Lucus.  Master Deepwater said if that’s true, there might be need for a glassmaker between the lakes.  Even Master Gausman will admit I’m a good glassblower.  I hope to start out new in Senerham or Inter Lucus.
            The farmer said, “All right, boy.  I’m going to let you climb down.  Then we’ll talk.”
            “I’ve got my pack up here.  Can I . . .?”  The farmer nodded and gave Isen enough slack to retrieve his tunic, boots, and the bundle containing his clothes.  Climbing down the ladder, he turned to face the farm family.  The older girl held a pitchfork, its tines pointed at him.
            “You’re a glassblower, you say?”  The farmer still held the rope, but loosely.
            “Aye.  Apprenticed five years.  I can make anything you want.”
            “Really?  I don’t see any tools.  And you don’t seem to be carrying a furnace.”
            Isen made a wry face.  “Aye.  I have to earn money and buy tools.  If there is a blacksmith nearby, maybe I can work for him.”
            The farmer looked at Isen, considering.  “I have a proposal for you, Isen Poorman.  You can work for me, for a day or two at least.  You give your things to my wife; she’ll clean your clothes along with ours.  I’ve got to build new fences.  Splitting rails is heavy work, a man’s work.  You help me today and tomorrow—work hard—and we’ll feed you.  The day after, I’ll walk you into Senerham to meet the blacksmith.”
            Isen swallowed.  Surrendering his things to the farmer meant trusting the man and his wife.  But what else can I do?  “That sounds like a fair offer,” he said.  He handed his pack, all his possessions except the clothes he wore, to the woman.  “Can I ask your names?”
            The farmer handed the rope to Isen and shook his hand.  “Torr Ablendan.  My wife’s Viradecthis, and our daughters are Whitney and Willa.”  The women of the family each nodded to Isen as Torr gave their names.
            “The boy will need some food if you want him working,” Viradecthis said to her husband.  “Isen, you better get dressed and come into the kitchen.  Whitney!  Quit staring, and take care of Bliss.  The poor cow will burst if you don’t get to work.”

Copyright © 2012 by Philip D. Smith.
All rights reserved.  International copyright secured.


Thursday, December 20, 2012

Castles 30

30. On the Stonebridge Road

            Milo and Eádulf camped the first night out from Crossroads.  They tethered their horses in a pinewood a hundred yards to the south of the road.  They found a muddy pool of water for the horses to drink, but Eádulf didn’t want to cook beans with it, so they made supper with dry bread, cheese and a skin of wine.  Since it was warm, they built no fire.  Just as well, Milo thought.  Unfriendly eyes might be drawn to firelight.
            West of Crossroads Village, the road to Stonebridge angled a little north of due west, tracking the edge of the great downs and skirting the hills of southwest Tarquint.  The River Betlicéa, winding its long course through the downs, came near the road at one point, a convenient place for an inn, called River House.  Milo hoped to reach River House the second day after leaving Crossroads, though that meant a long day in the saddle.  Knight and squire set out in gray light two hours before sunrise.
            After five hours of slow trotting, the sun had risen and the day was hot.  Eádulf broke a long silence.  “Sir Milo, Brownie and Blackie been workin’ hard.  Think we should give ’em a blow?”
            “I suppose you’re right,” Milo said, slowing his mount to a walk.  “We’ve still got seven or eight hours of riding ahead of us, I’d guess.  Maybe more.”  But before he swung down from the saddle, Milo saw a speck on the horizon.  “Eádulf, wait!  What do you see there?” 
            “The light sorta makes waves in the heat, sir.  That’s prob’ly where the road lies.  Might be riders, coming this way.”
            “I think so too.  Let’s ride on a while.  They may be able to tell us how far it is to River House.”  Blackie the palfrey resisted a bit when Milo urged her back into a trot; she had expected a real rest.
            The speck slowly resolved itself into a wagon pulled by a pair of draft horses.  At times a rider could be seen first on one side and then the other of the wagon, keeping pace on the uneven grass on the sides of the road.  Wagon and escort moved slowly; it took half an hour for Milo and Eádulf to close the gap to the approaching party.  A guard sat next to the teamster on the wagon, and he held a bow to one side, its arrow notched.
            “Fair morning,” Milo called, raising first one weaponless hand and then the other.  The guard nodded, but he kept the bow ready to hand.  The wagon driver halted his team.  Milo and Eádulf reined up and nudged their horses to the side of the road.  “We’re not brigands, if that’s what you’re thinking.”
            The teamster smiled.  “And would you be saying any different if you were?  Fair morning to you.  My name’s Ro Becere.  And this here,” he indicated the guard seated next to him, “is Aldfrith Ramm.”
            “We saw a horseman too,” said Milo.  As if in reply, the pony rider appeared from behind the wagon.
            Ro Becere said, “Aye.  And he’s Dougal Ramm, Aldfrith’s son.  An extra hand is often helpful on the road.”  The resemblance between father and son was obvious; Dougal had inherited a long narrow face from his father.  Milo pegged him at close to Eádulf’s age.
            “I’m Milo Mortane.  The boy is Eádulf, my squire.”
            Ro Becere and Aldfrith Ramm shared a quick glance and something else—skepticism?  By naming Eádulf a squire, Milo implied he was a knight.  They are both over thirty years old; they probably think I’m a foolish youth.
            “You’ve met no trouble on the road, I hope,” said Milo.  “There’s a sheriff in Crossroads village.  He says he’s been charged with maintaining peace on the roads.”
            “Rage Hildebeorht?” asked the guard, Aldfrith Ramm.
            Milo touched his side where the pouch carried the sheriff’s letter.  “The very man.  As it happens, Eádulf and I had taken prisoner a highwayman in the hills south of Crossroads.  I believe Hildebeorht hung him yesterday morning, but we didn’t stay to watch.”
            The teamster and guard considered these words.  Aldfrith lowered his bow, nodding.  “Some men must needs hang, but it is heart-sickening to see it.”
            Dougal Ramm, on the pony, disagreed.  “Don’t they say that a hanging body serves to warn other brigands?”
            His father replied, “People do say such things.  Don’t believe everything you hear.”
            The boy might have said something in response, but Milo spoke first.  “You’ve come from River House, I expect.  How far is it?”
            Eádulf realized that the conversation might go on, so he climbed down from Brownie and began brushing the horse’s neck.  Milo dismounted and let Eádulf tend to Blackie as well.  While Milo and the strangers talked, Eádulf brushed the horses, letting them breathe and rest.
            “It’s days that count, not only miles,” said Ro Becere.  “We left River House yesterday morning with the wagon, but two horsemen like yourselves could get there today if you press on.  You’ll probably meet Derian Chapman, heading for Stonebridge.  He aimed to reach River House today.”
            “A rider?”
            Becere wrinkled his nose and said, “He’s a merchant with a couple wagons.  Moving slow like us.  Skittish as a kitten, that one.  Worried that some highwayman would take his wool.  Gods!  What would a gang o’ thieves do with two wagons of wool?  But there it is; I suppose a merchant knows more about business than me.  I just drive the wagon ’n deliver the goods.  It’s Aldfrith here who scares off the baddies.”
            “And what goods are you carrying?  Perhaps you’re not allowed to say.”  Ro Becere’s cargo was hidden under canvas covers, well secured with ropes.
            “It’s no secret,” answered the teamster.  “Fifty barrels of the best wine in Tarquint, from the Broganea valley in the Stonebridge hills.”
            “Ah!” said Milo.  “I’ve had that pleasure before.  It would seem to me your wagon is a fitter target for thieves than any load of wool.”
            “Aye,” said Ro Becere.  “But try to tell that to Master Chapman when you see him!  I’d a thought the man had his whole fortune wrapped up in that wool, the way he worried.”
            Eádulf split an apple and fed half to Blackie, half to Brownie.  The squire gave no outward indication whether he was following the conversation.
            Milo raised his eyebrow.  “Fortune?  Is he rich?”
            “Got to be.  His uncle is Ody Dans, one of the five Councilors in Stonebridge and just maybe the richest man in Tarquint.  Ody Dans might be as rich as that queen they have in Herminia.”
            “Well now!” said Milo.  “Perhaps the rich uncle is letting nephew play merchant, and the nephew has to prove himself.”
            Ro Becere considered this.  “Could be, could be.  But that thought brings to mind another, Milo Mortane.  I’ve heard the name Mortane before—the lord of Hyacintho Flumen is Mortane.  Are you . . .?”
            Milo inclined his head.  “Of the house Mortane?  Aye.  My father is the Lord Hereward.”
            “And you are abroad in your father’s service, as you think Derian Chapman is in his uncle’s?”
            “I would not put it so,” answered Milo.  “I ride abroad on my own account.”
            “Ah!  Still you are the son of a lord and a knight!  We are pleased to meet you, Sir Mortane.”  The teamster gave a little salute and his guard inclined his head to Milo.  Dougal Ramm, still seated on his pony, did the same.
            After a few more pleasantries, Ro Becere flicked the reins of his horses.  Milo and Eádulf watched the wagon roll away.
            Eádulf had said nothing during Milo’s conversation with the teamster and guard.  “What now, sir?  Will we press on to River House today?”
            “Most certainly, Eádulf.  Further, if need be.  I very much want to catch Derian Chapman before he reaches the safety of Stonebridge.”
            Eádulf mounted, but his face showed confusion.  “Sir Milo!  Do you plan to rob him?  That would be . . .”
            Milo laughed.  “Oh, Eádulf.  Don’t worry!  I’m not going to turn you into a highwayman.  Derian Chapman is far too valuable to rob!”
            Milo swung into the saddle and spurred Blackie into a trot.

Copyright © 2012 by Philip D. Smith.
All rights reserved.  International copyright secured.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

A New Book

Why Faith is a Virtue

    For the most part, fall semester has limited my blog postings.  Each week I put up another chapter of Castles, and my supply of fresh material grows smaller.  That's the rhythm of a professor's life; during the semester I hustle to keep up with classes and administrative duties at George Fox.  This semester another factor has occupied my time--revising a new philosophy book.
    I specialize in that part of philosophy called virtue theory.  My dissertation was a book about love, entitled Learning to Love: Philosophy and Moral Progress.*  In 2002, I published The Virtue of Civility in the Practice of Politics.  For several years since the civility book, I have been working on the virtue of faith.  In 07-08, George Fox granted me a sabbatical and I pulled my essays on faith into a book.  But then I couldn't get a publisher to accept it.  By 2009 I was convinced this failure to find a publisher was a blessing, because one of the chapters needed thorough revision.  In other words, it was simply wrong.
    By summer of 2012 I was ready to resubmit the book to publishers.  I proposed the project to Wipf & Stock (nice people who had published Being at Home in the World, a little book of Christian apologetics written by Mark McLeod-Harrison and me) and they snapped it up.  I'm very pleased about this; W&S plan to publish the book in their Cascade line, their top academic line of books.  Recently I've been reading Esther Meek's Loving to Know, an excellent book, and also a Cascade book.  If my book goes on the same shelf with Meek, I'm happy!
    I've been revising Why Faith is a Virtue all semester, mostly on Tuesday nights.  Now it's Christmas break, and I'm nearing the finish line.  The final text will go to Wipf & Stock before January 10.
    If all goes well, I'll write a few more chapters of Castles before classes resume.

*Some of you will remember the line from Don McLean's song, American Pie: "Did you write the book of love? Do you have faith in God above? Did the Bible tell you so?" For me, the answers are all yes. I did write a book of love!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Castles 29

29. In Castle Inter Lucus

            Caelin Bycwine entered Lord Martin’s service six days after Ora’s prayer brought the new lord to Inter Lucus.  Ora had a mixed opinion of her cousin.  He wasn’t cruelly self-indulgent like Aethulwulf; in fact, he was often kind.  But he tended to flights of fancy that could distract him from useful work.  Am I just thinking things I’ve heard from Ethelin?  Lord Martin must think Caelin could be helpful; else he would not have taken him into service.  Ora had great confidence in Lord Martin, so she adopted an open-minded attitude in regard to Caelin.
            Villagers from Inter Lucus or Senerham came to the castle every day except for the day it rained.  Many brought produce.  Ora thought this entirely appropriate; the folk between the lakes ought to acknowledge their new lord.  But Lord Martin felt unease in his mind about the gifts, and Caelin said something that brought the matter to a head, the morning of his third day at Inter Lucus.
            Two farmers from Senerham had presented Lord Martin with yet more potatoes and onions and departed with much bowing and words expressing their loyalty to him.  Caelin said, “If I may advise my lord, I suggest that you tell the villagers to bring clothes, iron or wood rather than vegetables.  Of course, poorer folk must bring produce, since that is all they have.  But you should insist that men like those two should pay with coin.  Then you can buy whatever you need on market days.”
            Lord Martin asked, “What do you mean, ‘they should pay’?
            Caelin bunched his eyebrows.  “Eadmar Eoforwine and Cnud Thorson are both wealthy men by Senerham standards.  Since you have accepted their words and their produce, they will claim that their hidgield has been paid.  In the fall, if you demand more, they will call it ungield.
            Lord Martin was not familiar with the words hidgield and ungield, but it didn’t take long for him to decipher their meaning.  “These people think they are paying taxes to me?”
            “Aye.  When the knight from Hyacintho Flumen comes in the fall, they will say they have paid hidgield to my lord Martin.  They will try to refuse payment.”
            “I suppose, then, that they will expect me to defend them from the taxman.  How am I supposed to do that?”
            “My lord Martin should employ soldiers and sheriffs to protect the villages.  Another reason you must receive coin from some of your people.  Of course, if an enemy threatens, you may need knights.  In extreme danger, villagers can take refuge in the castle.  Many stories tell of wars between castle lords; the good lords always protect their people.”
            “So these men, Eoforwine and Thorson, are paying their taxes, their hidgield, on the cheap and at the same time encumbering me with their security.”
            Caelin frowned.  “I do not understand ‘on the cheap.’”
            “By paying with vegetables, they are paying less hidgield than they should.”
            “Aye.  Yet if a castle lord does not fulfill oaths to his lieges they will not pay hidgield.  Even a lord in his castle must purchase some things.”
            Lord Martin blew out a long breath.  “Good grief!  Medieval life is more complicated than I thought.”
            Ora wanted to ask what medieval meant, but the expression on Lord Martin’s face told her to wait.  He needed time to think.  So Ora beckoned Caelin downstairs to the kitchen, which had changed in the last three days.  A cooking pot had grown out of the floor next to the column Lord Martin named the “stove top,” and on the other side of the room a magical door opened into a cold room whenever anyone walked close to it.  Lord Martin called the room a “fridge,” and told Ora to store fish or meat in it, but not their potatoes, carrots or onions.  Ora retrieved three fish from the fridge and laid them on the stove top.  Caelin selected some potatoes and onions, and put them in the cooking pot.  Then they watched the magic of Inter Lucus.  In the cooking pot, water swirled around the vegetables, and drained away after cleaning them.  Sharp blades emerged from the top rim of the pot, forming a mesh of wires that descended through the vegetables, cutting them into chunks.  The blades withdrew, fresh water appeared, and the soup began cooking.  Ora could not see how, but she knew salt was being added.  Meanwhile, an oil-like liquid surrounded and submerged the fish in the frying pan.  Fish scales and heads melted and drained away with the liquid; the fish began frying and smelled wonderful.  Caelin waved his hand at a certain section of wall; a sliding door revealed plates and bowls.  When they judged the food to be ready, they filled three bowls and plates.

            Marty sat alone in the shade of an oak on the southwest quadrant of the castle grounds.  Taxes, sheriffs, and knights!  What have I gotten myself into?  Well—what did I expect?  Before the modern world, that’s what “lords” dealt with. 
            What makes me a lord?  The moment I stepped through the wormhole, or whatever it was, I became one.  Ora calls me Lord Martin, and the people of Inter Lucus and Senerham follow her lead.  Of course, it’s not like Ora convinced them by herself; the castle itself recognized me as lord.  Inter Lucus responds to my commands when I touch the control globe. 
            But why me?  Ora says the gods sent me.  As far as I can tell, the “gods” are aliens—or were.  According to Ora and Caelin, everybody knows the gods disappeared hundreds of years ago.  Why would a race smart enough to build Inter Lucus and other castles desert them?  What kind of technology enabled them to bring human beings here?  Where is “here”?  A “galaxy far, far away”—wasn’t that the Star Wars location?  So Ora prayed to the gods, and Inter Lucus, despite its decrepit state, reached out and snatched me.  Why?  How?
            God help me!  Too many questions.  And none of them addresses the immediate concerns.  How much tax should people pay?  How many sheriffs or soldiers will I need?  What’s the going rate for sheriffs, soldiers, or knights?  Where do I find them?  It would really mess things up if I employed incompetent and/or corrupt sheriffs and soldiers.
            After an hour of thought, Marty walked back to the castle and summoned Ora and Caelin.  The cousins had prepared a lunch of fish and soup.  They sat on benches that had pushed up from the floor of the great hall in a manner similar to the stairs and kitchen appliances.  No visible joint separated the “wood” of the bench from that of the floor.  Marty suspected both were actually made of ceramics.
            “We’ve got work to do,” he said.  “First, we will accept no more payments of vegetables, at least until we eat what we’ve already got.  And from now on, only poor folk pay with produce.  Second, I need to ask many people questions, and it will be easier if they come to me.  Caelin will visit Senerham; Ora, you get Inter Lucus.  Caelin, find Eoforwine and Thorson and tell them I need advice.  Tell them also that Syg Alymar and Caadde Bycwine from Inter Lucus will be advising me.  Ora, you invite Syg and Caadde and let them know Senerham men have been invited.  We will call it the ‘Lord’s Council.’
            “Third, we need paper, or at least I will.”  Marty stopped, seeing questions in their faces.  “What’s wrong?  Do you know what ‘paper’ is?  Something to write on.”  He pantomimed his meaning.
            Bócfell?  Carte?  My lord, why would you want this?” asked Caelin.  “You do not have a scribe, and it is too early to write the history of your house.”  He couldn’t help smiling.  “You have no child, not even a wife.”
            “I want to write down what I learn from my ‘advisors.’  And I’ll need to keep records of gield payments from the people.”
            Caelin expressed surprise.  “You can write?  Not all lords have this skill.  They keep castle scribes.”
            “Lord Martin is not like other lords,” Ora put in.  Her tone indicated that Caelin should have known better.
            “Aye.  But without coins we can buy no carte, paper.  And parchment, bócfell, costs even more.”
            “We have no money.  True enough,” said Marty.  “Okay.  So for now, we’ll have to wait to buy paper.  For the time being, keep your eyes and ears open.  Who might be able to sell us paper?  Now—how soon do you think we can get my ‘council’ to meet?”
            Caelin rubbed his nose.  “The day after tomorrow, my lord, Frigedæg.  The Inter Lucus men will be sure to come because the Senerham men will be there, and the Senerham men will not want Inter Lucus alone to have the lord’s ear.  Give them no time to dissemble.”
            Frigedæg?  What day is today?”
            Caelin looked surprised.  Wódnesdæg, my lord.”
            The days of the week, something else I’ve got to learn.  “All right, then.  We’ll convene the Council on Friday.  Ora, do you agree?
            “Yes, my lord.  Make them meet soon.”

Copyright © 2012 by Philip D. Smith.
All rights reserved.  International copyright secured.


Thursday, December 6, 2012

Castles 28

28.  In Castle Prati Mansum

            Bully tried to watch the young woman sitting next to Erline Toeni without blatantly staring.  Edita might be nineteen or twenty, he thought, certainly old enough to be married.  He didn’t see why Gifre would call her ugly, unless he referred to Edita’s hair.  The color was pleasant enough, reddish brown, but the shoulder length hair had been trussed into two rows on the top of her head; Bully thought the rows resembled ram’s horns more than anything else.  But noble ladies may not adorn themselves like the girls of Wedmor.  Edita’s hair might be the latest fashion for all I know.
             The young woman wore a pale green gown with sleeves to the elbow.  A necklace with a stone of much darker green lay between her breasts, accentuating the dress.  During supper Edita rarely spoke, but to Bully this seemed due to the fact that Rocelin Toeni talked almost constantly.  Toeni knows that “Boyden Black” is really Lord Eudes.  He probably wants to influence Queen Mariel in some way.  I wonder how much he knows of Master Black’s mission.
            “Have you seen it?”  Gifre Toeni had allowed Bully a few minutes observation.
            “I haven’t noticed anything unusual . . . oh, wait.”  Someone at the high table made a joke.  Everyone laughed, including Boyden Black.  But when Edita laughed, her face changed from a rather ordinary heart shape to an unbalanced hillside.  The right side of her mouth lifted in a smile, but the left side drooped.  A bit of spit escaped onto her chin and she hastily wiped it away with a small towel that she kept on her lap.
            “You see?”  Gifre said.  “Mother says most girls are beautiful when they smile, but Edita tries to not smile.  When she’s sitting and not smiling, Edita looks almost normal.”
            “Wait.  You’ll see.”
            When supper ended, Lady Erline, Edita, and Edita’s attendant rose from table, leaving Lord Toeni, Captain Cyneric, and Boyden Black to sip wine and talk amongst themselves.  The attending girl walked close on Edita’s left side, her arm tucked around Edita’s.
            Bully observed, “She walks with a limp.”
            “Aye.  And that’s with Juliana at her side.  Without help, Edita can walk a step or two, but she would never make it from the great hall to her bedroom.”
            “Was she born a cripple?”
            “No.  That’s the sad part.”  Gifre bit a honey wafer.  “Her horse threw her five years ago.  By the gods, I love honey wafers.  You ought to have one.”
            Bully obligingly accepted the treat.
            “She struck her head on a fence post when she fell.  I was five, and I remember Mother and Father visiting Edita’s room and praying at the gods’ knob, day after day.  Everyone thought she would die.  Instead, only half of her died, the left half.  Her right arm, right leg, and the right side of her face—all fine.  But her left side is useless.  She drags her foot with her hips, so she can walk, in a manner of speaking, but it’s more like stumbling than walking.  She can’t move her fingers at all.”
              Bully brushed crumbs from his fingers.  “Please excuse my ignorance.  Where is the gods’ knob?”
            “Right there.”  Gifre pointed with another honey wafer.  “The black ball on the tall post.  The lord’s knob is the little one next to it.  It’s there that Father controls Prati Mansum.”
            “Oh!  It looks unguarded.  What’s to stop someone from using it against Lord Toeni?”
            “Only one lord can bond with a castle at any time.  I thought everyone knew that.” 
            Bully refused to take offense.  “I didn’t.  What would happen if someone besides the lord tried to bond with the castle?”
            Gifre grinned.  “Hurts like hell.  And nothing happens, except—I don’t know how this works—the castle tells the lord who touched the lord’s knob.”
            “Uh-oh.  Let me guess . . .”
            “You got it.  Father made sure my butt hurt for a week.”

            The next morning Archard, Bully and their master went aboard Little Moon before sunrise.  Directed by a sailor, Bully stowed their belongings in the forward part of the ship in a small space where the deck met the ship’s hull.  He stuffed the long roll containing Eudes Ridere’s sword at the back, behind the other bundles.  Then he and Boyden Black went on deck to wait for Erline, Edita and their escorts.  Besides Edita’s attendant, a narrow-faced woman named Juliana, a soldier accompanied them as a guard.  Edita rode the length of the pier on a docile pony, guided by the guard, who helped her dismount near the ship.  With the soldier holding her healthy right arm, and Juliana on her left side, Edita came to the edge of the pier.  Little Moon rose and fell slightly on gentle waves, but even this small motion presented a problem.  The gap between pier and gunwale necessitated a two-foot gangplank.  At the crucial moment, the crippled woman would have to leave the security of her helpers and step to a sailor on board ship waiting to catch her.  Bully watched, fascinated, and without a conscious decision he began walking closer.
            Edita said nothing.  Her lips made a thin line as she concentrated on the task.  She took a small step with her healthy right leg, threw her weight forward and dragged the left leg with her.  Her right arm shot out to the waiting sailor, who grasped her hand.  Either the sailor didn’t realize the extent of Edita’s handicap, or perhaps he was intimidated by the presence of a noble lady.  Whatever the reason, he failed to step forward to catch her.
            Everything happened in a rush.  Edita fell awkwardly, her right hand pulling on the sailor’s so that she would at least tumble into the ship.  Bully leapt forward and caught her around the waist as she toppled over the gunwale.  He staggered backward but did not fall.  Edita slid down within his arms so that he gripped her around the chest.  Regaining his balance, Bully stood the woman on her feet.
            “Got ya!” Bully spoke without thinking.
            “Thank you!” the lady whispered.  After a moment, she said, “I think I can stand now, if you let me go.”
            “Oh!  Aye.”  Bully became suddenly aware of the intimacy of their embrace.  He eased his hold on Edita’s body and supported her by holding her right arm.  Juliana and Lady Erline hurried up, and Juliana took Edita’s left arm. 
            Lady Erline looked from Bully to Boyden Black, a few feet away.  “Thank you for your help, boy.  Juliana will take care of Edita now.  If you would, Drefan could use help bringing our things aboard.”
            Bully released Edita’s elbow, looking to Master Black for guidance. 
            The fake merchant said, “That’s a fine idea, Bully.  Help Drefan with the luggage.”  He winked at Bully when Lady Erline couldn’t see.
            Drefan, the guard, was moving bags and boxes from a wagon on the pier to the ship.  Little Moon’s crew made quietly snide comments about rich ladies’ clothes.  They were none too eager to help Drefan, who welcomed Bully’s aid when offered since the ladies’ baggage included a chest too heavy for one man to carry.  As soon as the bags and boxes were on deck, the crew cast off. 
            The ladies of Prati Mansum were given Captain Cyneric’s cabin on Little Moon, at the stern of the ship.  Cyneric himself shared a space immediately forward of the ladies’ cabin with Boyden Black and Drefan.  Bully helped Drefan move the ladies’ baggage from the deck to this cabin, carefully stowing boxes and bags according to Erline’s directions in half of the space so that the women would have use of the other half.  Edita sat by an open window, the shutters drawn in and latched, watching the harbor and Prati Mansum recede from view.  Twice Bully stored boxes nearby, taking care that the shutters could swing shut unimpeded.  The second time, Edita touched his arm and they made eye contact, but she said nothing.  And she didn’t smile.             

Copyright © 2012 by Philip D. Smith.
All rights reserved.  International copyright secured.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Castles 27

27.  In Castle Prati Mansum

            Six riders stopped on a narrow rocky shoal between a steep wooded slope and the sea.  They had rounded enough of the headland to see the castle Prati Mansum at the eastern end of a curving bay.  The castle and a couple dozen buildings clustered near it were three miles away across open water; the shoreline road was considerably longer. 
            “The tide will come in soon,” Eudes observed.  “If you three come any further, you’ll have to wait for the next low tide or climb over the ridge on your return.  Best you take leave of us here.”
            Fugol Hengist spoke for the others.  “A few more hours in the saddle, my lord, what is that to us?  It seems unbecoming to escort you to within sight of an enemy’s stronghold and then desert you.”
            Eudes caught the soldier’s eye and smiled.  “Enemy’s castle?  Do you doubt the loyalty of Lord Toeni?”
            Fugol spat into the surf.  “I have no doubt at all.  Rocelin Toeni hated Rudolf, he hates Mariel, and he hates you most of all.  He would hang you in an instant if he thought he could get away with it.”
            Fugol’s brother, Galan, carried the thought further.  “Toeni might think that without you, my lord, Mariel would have no one to besiege him.  He might think he can get away with it.”
            Eudes shifted in his saddle and rubbed a scar on his chin, scratchy beneath his new growth of beard.  He eyed the castle across the bay.  “Fortunately, though he may be disloyal, Lord Toeni is not stupid.  He knows Mariel could find another general—who knows, maybe you, Galan—who could organize a siege.  Her army would outnumber his thirty-to-one.  With Mariel’s wealth and those numbers, any one of you could besiege him so tightly that the castle would eventually fall.  And what would happen then, Galan, if Prati Mansum fell into your hands?”
            “I would throw it into the sea, one broken bit at a time.  The whole brood of Toenis would hang.”
            Eudes laughed.  “You should add: ‘unless my queen forbade me.’  Mariel would not look kindly on the destruction of a castle in Herminia.  But the point is this.  Rocelin Toeni knows that he dare not rebel.  For that reason, I will be quite safe in Prati Mansum for the time being, and I won’t be there long.”
            The men looked at Eudes, hoping he might say more.  The whole journey he had said nothing about his true destination, only that they were to escort him to Prati Mansum.  At Wedmor he had added the boy Bully to their party and announced that Archard Oshelm and the youth would go further with him, but he hadn’t said where.  Eudes sidled his horse next to Galan and clapped him on the shoulder.  “You want to know more, but I may not tell you.  Now be gone.”
            Fugol, Galan and Aewel Penda turned their mounts.  “Farewell, then,” said Aewel.  “Bully, you take care of these men, especially the old one.  If you don’t, you’ll answer to the queen and to us.”
            Eudes, Archard and Bully rode eastward and the promontory soon cut off sight and sounds of the other three.  Beyond the point, they found a trail in the woods on their left, allowing them to avoid riding on the beach, which turned into loose sand in the shelter of the bay.  Eudes reined up in the sanctuary of a particularly dense copse of firs.  Dismounting, he opened a saddlebag and pulled out a clean tunic and breeches.
            “At Prati Mansum we are going to board a ship, the Little Moon.”  Eudes pulled off his boots and changed clothes while he spoke.  “The lady Erline and her daughter, Edita, will also be aboard, sailing to Tarquint.  Edita has been promised to one of the sons of Hereward Mortane of Hyacintho Flumen; Lady Erline is supposed to conclude an agreement as to which Mortane her daughter will marry.”
            Eudes laced his boots and bundled his old clothes into the saddlebag.  He perched a felt hat, dyed bright yellow, on his head.  “I am not Eudes Ridere.  You will call me Boyden Black from now on.  Lord Toeni and Lady Erline know who I am, but they have been instructed to play along with our game.”
            Archard asked, “Why is a marriage of this lord’s daughter important to the queen?”
            “Actually, it doesn’t really concern us, except that we may hope that when we arrive in Tarquint the Mortanes will be preoccupied with their noble visitors and pay us little attention.  Our business is something else entirely.  Who am I, Bully?”
            “Boyden Black, sir.  May I ask, sir, what is Sir Black’s business?  Folk in Prati Mansum will be sure to ask.  And in Tarquint.”
            Eudes gave the youth an encouraging grin.  “Very good, Bully.  I am a merchant.  I will be particularly interested in finding supplies of wool to import to Herminia.  You are my assistant, and you may properly call me master or sir.  Archard is a mercenary guard from some tiny farming village in Herminia, someplace no one has ever heard of.”
            Archard cleared his throat.  “I think it is called Bitterwater, my lord.”
            “Careful, Archard.  I’m just a merchant.”
            “Ah!  Aye.  Master Black earns my loyalty just so long as he pays well.  And may I say, Master Black, that your yellow hat makes you look a fool.”
            Eudes chuckled.  “That’s more like it.  When we get to Prati Mansum, Archard, you and Bully will need to arrange passage for our horses on Little Moon; if that isn’t practical, sell them and we’ll buy new ones in Tarquint.  And there’s this.”
            Eudes detached his scabbard from his saddle and handed it to Bully.  “Somehow, you’ll have to hide this in our luggage.  In Tarquint, if need arises I want it available, but Boyden Black can’t go about dressed like a soldier.”
            “Aye.”  Bully accepted sword and scabbard and hung them on his own saddle.  “Master Black, may I ask: in addition to wool, will you be looking for anything else in Tarquint?”
            “Indeed, I will.  It is something you cannot buy.  Anyone can have it for the looking, if he knows where to look.  But I trust no one to look for me; I must see for myself.”
            Eudes’s impromptu riddle produced confusion in Bully’s face, but only for a few moments.  Then his expression changed.  “Oh!  Maybe the thing you seek can only be seen with the eyes of a general, not a merchant.”
            “Just so, Bully.  Just so.”

            In the village of Prati Mansum Bully and Archard learned Little Moon had no space for horses.  She was a small ship already loaded and ready to embark.  Durwin Cyneric, her captain, had been eager to sail for two days, but the ship had waited while Lady Erline, her daughter, and her guard made last minute preparations.  Archard had to sell their horses for a poor price.  The castle town had never grown very large, partly because the bay, though pleasant to look at, was too shallow for big ships.  Even Little Moon had to dock at the end of a long pier built out over mud flats to reach deeper water.
            Rocelin Toeni and his wife Erline welcomed the visiting merchant, Boyden Black, to supper in Prati Mansum, and word went out from the castle that the lady and her daughter would depart on the morning tide.  Lord Toeni also extended hospitality to Archard Oshelm and Master Black’s servant, Bully.
            With Erline and Edita’s departure imminent, supper was a small affair.  At the high table sat Lord Toeni and Lady Erline, their oldest daughter, Edita, Edita’s lady attendant, and the two guests, Boyden Black and ship’s captain Durwin Cyneric.  Three other Toeni children, the castle scribe, Archard and Bully shared a second table.  Castle servants brought supper in courses: bread and butter, roast pheasant, a fish stew, hot vegetables, and finally honey-glazed wafers.  A wine master kept cups refreshed.
            Bully observed everything eagerly.  Across the table from him, Gifre Toeni guessed the reason.  “Never been in a castle before, have you?”
            It would be silly to feel embarrassed, Bully decided.  “Am I so obvious?”
            The boy, who looked about ten, sopped up some pheasant drippings with bread and popped it in his mouth.  “Aye.  Your eyes are racing around, trying to make sure you don’t miss anything.  It’s normal.  Ordinary people aren’t used to castles.”
            “But you are used to it.  So you are not an ordinary person?”
            “What do you think?  Someday, when Father dies, I will be lord of Prati Mansum.  Who knows?  Perhaps I will bond better than Father and control more magic.”  The boy looked at Bully unblinking.
            Bully sliced a bit of pheasant, speared it with his knife.  “I see your point.”
            Gifre Toeni nodded toward the high table.  “My sister Edita is not an ordinary person either.  Tomorrow she boards a ship for Tarquint, where she will marry some lord’s son, gods willing, and I will never see her again.”
            “Why not?”
            The boy answered matter-of-factly.  “A lord must stay close to his castle, to be ready to defend it at any time.  Edita might explore the world—that is, she could if she weren’t crippled and ugly—but I may never venture more than a day’s ride from Prati Mansum.”
            “Edita is ugly?”
            “She is practiced at hiding it.  Look closely.”

Copyright © 2012 by Philip D. Smith.
All rights reserved.  International copyright secured.