2. In Castle Hyacintho Flumen
The five children of house Mortane presented themselves as instructed to Arthur the old in the great hall of Hyacintho Flumen. Dinner had been solemn, and the children supped quickly before retreating to their rooms to be dressed by servants. Boemia the nan had explained the significance of the occasion to the little ones, Eddricus and Rose. Amicia, Aylwin and Milo were twelve, sixteen and seventeen years old respectively; they needed no explanation.
Lady Lucia stood next to Arthur as the children filed into the great hall. She wore a floor-length blue dress with long sleeves and jewelry, dressed as for a reception of some high lord. Which, in a way, this was.
The great hall could seat more than a hundred guests at feast, shouting, singing, and dancing. But now it was quiet. Besides Arthur, four other servants attended: Denby the reaper, Meccus the groom, Diera the washerwoman, and the nan Boemia. They watched and listened raptly, but none would say anything.
When the children had lined up facing their mother and teacher, Arthur raised his right hand. Without turning he pointed to a dark globe mounted on a tall black cylinder standing behind him. “Eddricus, can you tell me what this is?”
The little boy’s eyes widened, but he answered without hesitation. “The gods’ knob.”
Arthur smiled. “Aye. It is so called. Better, it is a globe. You see? It is round: the god’s globe of authority, globum deus auctoritate.” Arthur had been teacher for two generations of Mortanes, and he rarely missed an opportunity to instruct.
“Please, Master Arthur. Why is the god’s globe so high up?” Standing so close, Eddricus had to crane his neck to look at the globe.
“Has no one told you, Eddricus?” Arthur loved the boy for his curiosity. “Some say the gods could fly whenever they wanted, and they merely lifted themselves up to their knob. But I believe, as others say, that the gods were much taller than men and women—and boys and girls. For the gods, the god’s knob was just the right height.”
Arthur turned his gaze on Rose, the youngest. “Rose Mortane, what is this?” Arthur’s left hand indicated a much smaller globe, like a large cantaloupe, atop a shorter, black post.
“The lord’s knob.”
“Aye. And who can use the lord’s knob, or as it is properly called, globum domini auctoritate?”
“My lord father,” said the youngest Mortane. “But he is dying.” Tears rolled down the girl’s face. Lady Lucia knelt to envelope her daughter in blue-sleeved arms.
Arthur spoke tenderly. “We cannot be sure. But Lord Hereward himself believes his time has come. That is why he has asked me to put his children to the test. He wants to know which of you should succeed him. One by one you will put your hands on the lord’s knob.”
Twelve year old Amicia asked, “But Master Arthur, how? It hurts to touch the knob.”
“Is that so?” Arthur could not resist the urge to tease. “I’m sure you have been told many times not to touch your lord father’s globe, but who told you it would hurt?”
Amicia tossed her head. “I’ve touched it many times. Why deny it? But never for more than a second or two, because of the pain. Father is bonded with it, and for him it is pleasant, but Father is the lord.”
“Indeed. But as his spirit fades, globum domini auctoritate will open itself to a new lord, or perhaps a lady. It will not hurt so much, I think, for you to touch the lord’s knob now. And when Lord Hereward has joined his ancestors, it is imperative that one of you bonds with the knob. Without a new lord, Hyacintho Flumen will cease to live.”
The oldest son, Milo, spoke. “Should we not wait? After Father dies, I will try to bond, and if I fail, then Aylwin or Amicia. Would that not be the proper way?”
Arthur kept his face blank. “In most castles and for most lords, yes. But not in all cases. For instance, the Osberns of Lapideum Punctum have long practiced the choosing of their lords when the old lord still lives. The Lords Osbern put their sons to the test while they are still hale; as a result, no Osbern inherits without burned hands.”
“Why then? Why risk burns for Eddricus or Rose? We need not rush Father to his grave. When his spirit departs, then I will bond.” Milo intended his voice to be calm and reasonable, expressing concern for the little ones. But Arthur, the Lady Lucia, and the servants understood his speech to be a ruse protecting Milo’s own interest.
“There will be no danger for Eddricus or Rose, since you and Aylwin and Amicia will go first. Surely you will be kind enough to report whether there is pain. More to the point: your lord father commands it.”
Milo seemed about to argue further, but Amicia impetuously interrupted. “Very well! How do I do it?”
“Simply place your hands on the lord’s knob and hold them there. I will count ten seconds. Then release.”
Amicia walked to globum domini auctoritate and circled behind it. Her eyes were just barely visible over the top of the dark orb, looking at Arthur. She held her hands flat and rigid an inch away on either side, hesitating. Arthur thought: she really has touched it many times.
“Begin.” Amicia pressed both hands against the globe. Arthur read pain in her face, but her hands didn’t move.
“Two, three, four . . .” Arthur counted deliberately. Colors began to swirl in the knob.
“Five, six, seven . . .” Blues and greens flashed, but then a faint yellow began to shine in the lord’s knob.
“Eight, nine, ten. Release.” The yellow had become a bright sunflower before Amicia let go.
The girl staggered away from globum domini auctoritate, shaking her hands and trembling. “I held through! Did you see? It felt like bee stings all over my hands, but I held through.”
“Bee stings” clearly frightened Rose and Eddricus. Lucia huddled them in her arms. She shook her head at Arthur, and he nodded agreement. The test was never meant for the little ones anyway.
“Yellow is a good color for house Mortane.” Arthur addressed Amicia. “The knob shone a bright yellow for Hereward’s father as I recall. I will be pleased to tell Lord Hereward that his daughter will be able to bond successfully, should he choose her.”
Amicia beamed and tossed her head, throwing glances at Milo and Aylwin. Milo stepped up to the lord’s knob. Arthur smiled inwardly. Milo had no choice now that Hereward had an option other than his oldest son.
“Begin. One, two . . . ten.” As Arthur counted, the colors of the orb blinked and flashed, finally settling on a pale yellow.
“As I told your sister, yellow is a good color. Not a strong yellow, but I have no doubt you would be able to bond.”
“Should Father choose me.” Milo’s voice was thick with sarcasm.
Arthur inclined his head. “Aye. Should he choose you.”
Aylwin had been silent throughout the ceremony. As he moved to the lord’s knob he asked quietly, “Is there any better color than yellow for Mortanes?”
“There is.” Arthur made eye contact with Aylwin, but said no more. Aylwin’s eyes danced and he gave the old teacher a slight nod.
“Begin. One . . . nine, ten.” This time the lord’s knob raced through blue and green to yellow and finally a fiery orange, almost red.
“Your father will be most pleased.” Arthur’s eyes shone at Aylwin. Hereward had predicted his second son would bond wonderfully with Hyacintho Flumen.
“Damn! It’s a cheat! What happens to me now?” Milo Mortane waited for no answer, and he stormed out of the hall.
Copyright © 2012 by Philip D. Smith.
All rights reserved. International copyright secured.