Thursday, July 26, 2012

Castles #9

9. In Castle Inter Lucus

            Marty and Ora collected a good deal more firewood before nightfall.  In spite of their limited common vocabulary, he quickly understood and endorsed her idea that they should take turns tending a fire through the night.  The men who attacked Ora might return under cover of darkness.
            It took much longer to work out Ora’s relationship to the attackers.  Marty surmised she knew the men because he had heard the old man talking to her.  But he was taken aback when she said, “Attor min faeder.”
            “Your father?  Attor?”  Suddenly Marty remembered the confrontation at the water’s edge in a different light.  He had returned to the lakeshore camp to find two strangers advancing on Ora, the girl brandishing her knife.  What did I do?  Assault the father of a runaway child?
            Gése, Attor min faeder,” said Ora.
            “And the other, the younger one?” 
            Ora took his meaning without knowing his words.  “Aethulwulf sunu Attor.”
            “Aethulwulf.”  Marty mimicked her pronunciation.  Ora nodded.
            “Aethulwulf is Attor’s son.”
            “Aethulwulf is your brother.”  Marty’s doubt redoubled.
            Brothor?  Gefeadernes.  Ne gemédrenes.”  Ora’s reply brought their conversation to a standstill.  Marty had begun to congratulate himself on picking up Ora’s language, but it became clear that he was misconstruing something.  It took ten minutes for him to catch on.  Finally:
            “Attor is your father.”
            “Attor is Aethulwulf’s father.”
            “Yes. Gefeadernes.
            “Oh!  I get it!”  Marty held up a hand to pause the conversation, then asked,  “Who is your mother?” 
            Ora understood the question.  Min modor Darelle.”
            “Who is Aethulwulf’s modor?” 
            “Aethulwulf modor Eacnung.  Ne gemédrenes.
            “Not gemédrenes.  Marty pondered this result.  If I were an anthropologist, it would tell me something about this culture.  There’s an important difference here between full and half siblings. Ora and Aethulwulf are half siblings, not full brother and sister.   Like Abraham and Sarah in the Bible . . . That thought led quickly to another.
            Marty held up a hand: “Aethulwulf.”  The other hand: “You, Ora.”  The girl nodded.  Marty brought his hands together: “Married?”  His fingers entwined.  “Aethulwulf and Ora?”
            Ora suddenly looked stricken.  She clenched her fist and shut her eyes.  Ic oeorlieás.”
            “Not married?”
            Ic ne haemedwif.  Aethulwulf ne haemedcoerl.
            The scene on the water’s edge, when the boy tackled Ora, took on yet another meaning for Marty.  Maybe I did the right thing after all.
            They roasted the rest of Ora’s catch for supper.  Ora asked a long and complicated question.  Marty shook his head helplessly.  She tried again, making charades to illustrate, and this time he understood.  But how to answer?
            “I wanted to explore the path.  It goes over the ridge to the castle, but another trail runs off to the north, and I followed that for a while.”  Marty pointed west and north as he talked.  “I thought I would get back before you woke up.  I didn’t mean to desert you.  I’m sorry.”  Marty couldn’t tell how much of this speech Ora comprehended, but she seemed satisfied.
            As darkness fell, mosquitoes started attacking Marty in swarms, mostly leaving Ora alone.  She trotted into the dark, coming back with handfuls of mud, which she smeared on Marty’s neck, face, and arms.  Thus protected, and by sitting close to the smoke from the fire, Marty got some relief from the insects.  Nevertheless, between itchy bites, a bed of pebbles, and worry that Ora’s father or brother would turn up, Marty slept sporadically.
            The summer morning came early.  Marty’s watch said 4:30, but of course that meant nothing here.  The monks of Our Lady of Guadeloupe would be at morning vigils—that is, if I were still in the Pacific time zone of planet Earth.  Marty was tempted to discard the watch, but guessed that it might yet be useful.
             Ora offered to go fishing, but the mosquitoes were swarming again.  Marty motioned his desire to get away from the lake, and she acquiesced.  Ora seemed eager to return to the castle.  A few minutes hike brought relief from the mosquitoes, though not from the many bites Marty had already suffered.  In half an hour, they were on the grounds of the castle, scouring the blueberry bushes.  A small handful of berries was no substitute for a monastery breakfast, but it beat nothing at all.  Ora motioned that they ought to walk up to the castle, but Marty decided to explore the perimeter of the grounds; maybe they would find some other volunteer food.  He pointed with the walking stick he had found the day before; the girl took this as a command.
            On the north slope of the castle grounds there were rows of fruit trees: apricots, pears, apples, and cherries.  All were old and far overgrown, many split from the weight of their limbs or the winds and lightning of the passing years.  Nevertheless, a few tiny hard green cherries were growing on the cherry trees; in a month some would be edible, but for now nothing.
            In the northwest corner of the estate Marty identified hazelnut trees.  He had become familiar with the species during his time in Oregon.  The hazelnuts, too, were in a terrible state of neglect.  In the fall, one could expect volunteer nuts along with fruit, though the sum wouldn’t be enough to feed a person through a winter.
            On the west side they found a hillside rock garden profuse with strawberry vines.  A few ripe berries lay hidden beneath leaves, but birds had taken most.
            The more Marty saw, the greater his respect for the designer of the castle and its grounds.  Everything was wildly overgrown, but the overall plan was both practical and beautiful.  The oak trees seemed out of place, but maybe only because they overshadowed so much of the southeast quadrant of the grounds.  If you took out a few oaks, sunlight could get in here.
            After circling the grounds Marty gave in to Ora’s increasingly urgent desire to revisit the ruin on the hilltop.  They approached the manor’s south wing.  Morning sunlight reflected off the black south wall.  Marty leaned his walnut stick against the wall and ran his hands over its surface.  Cool and jet-black, the wall seemed impervious to the sun’s warmth.  What in the world?  It’s not metal, wood, or anything you would expect.  Some kind of advanced ceramic, like a heat shield on a shuttle?  That hardly fits with the lack of technology I’ve seen so far.
            Ora led Marty around to a place on the west wall where they could enter.  As they walked up a grass-covered slope on the inside of the building, the south wall looked just as black as it did on the outside.  Marty touched the wall again, examining it carefully.  It was absolutely smooth, cool, and opaque, about ten inches thick, with no visible lines or joints.
            Marty noticed the thick column standing about four feet from the wall.  He had no memory of it from the day before.  No surprise.  I was pretty much fogged yesterday.  Maybe space travel does that to you.  The column appeared to have been designed to hold something, but whatever it was had been smashed.  He couldn’t reach high enough to touch it, but he guessed it was made of a plastic or ceramic similar to the wall.  He reached up with his staff, but the remains of the broken globe were fixed to the column.  He couldn’t knock it down to examine it.  Glancing around, he thought: Before the dirt mounded up here, that thing would have been twelve feet in the air.
            Óu befégest,” said Ora.  She pointed to something on the ground a couple yards from Marty’s feet.  He hadn’t noticed that yesterday either: a round ball, half-buried in the soil and grass.  Domne Martin befégest.  Marty looked from Ora to the black globe and knelt, as she gestured.  He laid his staff on the grass.  The girl knelt beside him, motioning with cupped hands.  Befégest.  He put his hand on the ball.
            Marty felt the connection instantly.  Warmth flowed from the ball into his hand; so soothing that he immediately placed his left hand by the other.  The mosquito bites stopped itching.  He had an overwhelming sense that, besides the warmth flooding into him, something else was flowing out.  Light began to shine in the ball, changing colors rapidly before settling in a steady golden green, the spring green of leafy things shining out between his fingers.
            Ora’s face was alive with joy and wonder, but before she could shout Marty pointed to the wall behind her. Lights were racing back and forth across the expanse of the wall; then they suddenly winked out.  Marty hastily replaced his left hand on the ball.  The lights reappeared, raced in circles and coalesced into a tiny dot of light that grew rapidly, separating itself into many dots.  The dots grew and turned into letters.  Marty swallowed, and breathed a silent prayer.  “Lord Jesus Christ, son of David, have mercy on me.”
            The writing on the wall read: Grata, novum Dominus Inter Lucus. Placet dicere nomen.
            Marty’s Latin was limited and shaky, but he spoke aloud: “Martin Cedarborne.”

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


Thursday, July 19, 2012

Castles #8

8. On the shore of East Lake, near Inter Lucus

            Following Ora to the water’s edge, Marty wondered whether it might not be an ocean.  There was no smell of salt air, so he continued to think in terms of an extraterrestrial Lake Michigan.  But what do I know?  Maybe on other planets they have fresh water oceans.  Marty didn’t know enough about environmental chemistry to rule out the possibility.
            His mind boggled at the outlandishness of his situation.  In a moment’s time he had been transported from one place to another; not, as in Star Trek movies, from a spaceship to a planet but from one planet to another.  Surely it was more likely that he was hallucinating than all this could be true.  Two moons!  He looked again; the moons were still there.
            The path, though overgrown with ferns and vines, wasn’t hard to follow.  Marty saw patches of what seemed to be pavement in a few places, as if a narrow road or wide bike path had been buried by many years of leaves and run-off.  Ora began picking up bits of bark and fallen branches and indicated that Marty should do the same.  When they reached the shore, she deposited her load near a ring of stones about five yards from the water.  Ashes and pieces of burnt wood left no doubt as to the use of the stone circle.  Marty dumped his wood near Ora’s.  The girl reached into the leather pouch she had been carrying all day and drew out a black stone and a knife.  Líeg?” she said, holding out both implements to Marty.  The word didn’t help, but her pantomiming was clear; she wanted him to build a fire.
            “Okay.  Gese.”  Marty’s boy-scout days were a quarter-century past, but he remembered how to make fire.  He accepted the flint and the knife.  Ora put her pouch near a large rock and unfolded a string net.  She pointed to the lake.  Waeterléodas.”
            Marty understood.  “Fish.”
            Gése.  Fiscas. Gése.”  She headed north, soon disappearing into a little cove where trees overshadowed the water.
            Marty picked out some medium sized pieces of dry wood and set them aside, the main fuel for his fire.  He used the knife to peel a couple dozen thin slices of wood from the driest branch in their collected supply.  Then he scouted around the campsite and the woods to find dry mosses, the best tinder available without charcloth or straw.  It took many frustrating minutes of striking the flint to the back edge of the knife blade before he could get a hot spark to land in his mound of moss.  Finally: success!  He blew the smoldering moss into flame and added pieces of his kindling.  Once he had the fire well started, Marty used the knife to cut and sharpen alder branches from a nearby tree.  If Ora succeeded with her net, it would be handy to have some way to cook the catch.

            Ora eyed the shady water of the cove.  She was tired.  Instead of resting she had spent the night running and walking.  Having her prayer answered and meeting Lord Martin was hugely exciting, but even that exhilaration could not sustain her forever.  If she lay down she would fall asleep in seconds.  First, though, both she and Lord Martin needed sustenance.  After providing a meal she could allow herself rest.
            As she expected, there were trout in the cove.  They wouldn’t like water exposed to the afternoon sunshine.  Ora waded into a pool of dark water where many fish were swimming.  The fish fled from her.  She stood in water up to her waist and waited.  She positioned her net; the two corners with the weight stones hung near the rocky lake bottom.  After several minutes, fishes began nosing back into the pool, a score or more of them.  Ora swept with her net, and the fish darted away—but not fast enough in every case.  She had two.  She killed them on a stone by the shore.  Breaking a woody branch from a salmonberry bush, she thrust a pointed end through the fishes’ gills and mouths and wedged her catch in a tree branch.  Returning to the water, she repeated the whole procedure.
            Lord Martin had a fire prepared when she returned.  Ora gutted three of her catch—no use in cooking all six just now; the rest could be eaten later—and cleaned them quickly in lakeshore water.  They roasted trout over open flame.  Lord Martin had scraped smooth the inside surface of two pieces of alder bark; these served as simple plates.  They took turns using Ora’s knife to pull bits of roasted fish off the bones and ate them with fingers.
            “Sleep,” Ora said.  Lord Martin understood either her word or her drooping eyelids.  She curled up on the ground near the fire pit with one hand shading her eyes from the afternoon sun, her head on a stone.  Sleep came immediately.
            She woke up in the shadows of evening, instantly aware that Lord Martin was gone.  The ashes of the fire—cold.  The three remaining trout were still there on the salmonberry stick, and her pouch lay nearby with its contents.  He hadn’t taken anything, but he was gone.
            A mixture of disbelief and sadness enveloped Ora like a black cloud, but then she heard sounds of someone coming.  She already knew the lord Martin was something of a blunderer when walking in the woods, and whoever approached now had considerable stealth.  She snatched up her pouch and catch of fish, preparing to run, but it was too late.  Aethulwulf appeared on the path she and Lord Martin had followed from castle Inter Lucus.  A moment later, Attor emerged on another path, south of the first.
            “Found her!” Aethulwulf sang out.  Despair clouded Ora’s mind; she wanted to run, but what was the point?  The miraculous appearance of Lord Martin meant nothing if he disappeared just as quickly.  Had she merely dreamed him?
            “Ora, daughter, what are you doing?  Why do you make me spend a day tracking you?”  Her father’s voice was tired.  Ora heard no fatherly worry in his tone, merely fatigue.  It made Ora angry.  
            Aethulwulf and Attor approached the fire pit; Ora backed toward the water.  “You’ve had your adventure, wood-daughter,” said Attor.  “You caught and ate your fish.  Now it’s time to come home.”
            She showed them the knife.  “You may take me home dead, but not else wise.”
            Aethulwulf hooted and charged.  Ora couldn’t believe it; she swung the knife, but he ducked and bowled into her.  The knife went flying as their bodies crashed on the pebbly shore.  For the second time in two days, Ora felt Aethulwulf’s weight and heat crushing her.  “Wait 'til we’re home,” he whispered.
            “Let her up,” said Attor.  He put his hand on his son’s shoulder.  “Let her up.”  Aethulwulf got off her, not without a leer.
            “Ooph!”  Attor gasped, falling to his knees.  A man had struck Attor’s side with a hardwood staff.  Aethulwulf was still rising from atop Ora when the staff crashed into his neck, driving the man-child to the ground.  Father and son squirreled around to face their assailant.
            Lord Martin crouched with his weapon held in both hands.  Get up, Ora!” he shouted while keeping his attention on Attor and Aethulwulf.  Aethulwulf jumped to his feet, only to be met with a sharp blow to his knee.  He collapsed with a grunt.  Attor wisely remained on the ground.
            Get up, Ora!”  The lord’s intent was clear, even if his words were strange.  Ora scrambled to pick up her pouch and find the knife.  She stepped around Aethulwulf to stand beside Lord Martin.
            “Who is this, robbing me of my daughter?” Attor said.
            “My Lord Martin!” Ora exulted.  “The gods sent him when I prayed.  He is lord of Inter Lucus.”
            “A walnut stick doesn’t make a lord,” said Attor.  “Did he bond with the castle?  Can he work magic?”           
            “He will.  And it doesn’t matter now, anyway.  I will not come with you.”
            Attor raised a hand of submission.  Lord Martin allowed him to rise, watching warily.  The lord pointed with his staff to the southern path, indicating the direction he wanted Attor to go.  Woodman and son limped away.

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

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Who's who in Castles

    Castles has a long list of characters, and the action plays out over large areas of Two Moons.  (That's the name of the planet, as Marty finds out eventually.)  Therefore, as an aid to readers, I will create a new page on the blog, titled "Who's Who?  Who's Where?"  This page simply lists all the characters of Castles in the order in which they are first mentioned.  It has 36 names from the first half dozen chapters.  I'll add more names to the list as characters appear in later chapters.
    Readers will also need maps of Tarquint and Herminia.  (Don't worry, place names will become familiar in a few weeks.)  I'm working on this problem, but it might not get solved until September.
    Tomorrow is Thursday, so you'll get chapter eight.  Enjoy.

Friday, July 13, 2012

A Vision of the Good

    Human beings live stories.  The most immediate story is the one each one of us tells himself or herself, a story that makes a life into a life, rather than a series of random events.  The story of my life inevitably and regularly interweaves with other people's stories.  Therefore we are, as Aristotle said, intrinsically social beings.  Human beings should not think of themselves as isolated knowers, though Rene Descartes and other influential philosophers have conceived themselves that way. 
    (Mark McLeod-Harrison and I say more about the narrative form of human lives in Being at Home in the World.  I'm sure Wipf & Stock would be happy to sell you a copy--and the proceeds all go to the GFU philosophy club!)
    Narrative--story--is marked by movement.  We make sense of our lives by relating the various events in our lives to a central plot.  A long time ago, in my dissertation, I argued that if we want our lives to head toward some good destination, we need to have a "vision of the good."  I defined a vision of the good as "a global understanding, involving rational thought, emotions, and imagination, of something toward which a life can be lived."
    There are many competing visions of the good.  People organize their lives around all sorts of creeds, ambitions, hatreds, fears, etc.  A vision of the good is rarely communicated well by a philosophical lecture; visions are best passed through stories.  Lectures may carry rational thought, but they rarely engage the imagination or fire passion.  Stories, in contrast, carry all three parts of a vision well.
    In my dissertation I used true stories as illustrations.  Biography is a wonderful tool for the moral pilgrim; we learn what to admire and avoid in the lives of others.  But we are not limited to biography, obviously.  Novels, plays, short stories, movies, and yes, comic books ("graphic novels")--these stories shape our imaginations. 
    We need to be careful about the stories we consume.  I know that sounds censorious, but I don't mean it that way.  It is simply a fact that some of the stories we read or watch confirm us in the gospel; others contradict the message of God in Christ.  We may rightly read all sorts of stories, but we must do so critically.  We would like to imagine that stories of evil always repel us, but sometimes we have to admit they attract us.
    Readers of Castles are already aware that my stories sometimes include evil.  (And it will get worse.)  The story, I hope, is a good story, a story that will yield insight into good and evil--and a story that is simply good to read.  To some degree, I hope discerning readers will by it sharpen their vision of the good.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Castles #7

7. In Castle Pulchra Mane

            “Fair morning, my lords.  Lady Avice.”  Mariel Grandmesnil gestured with her right hand, resting her left on globum domini auctoritate.  Her bond with the lord’s knob was that pure.
            “Your grace.”  The subject lords and lady spoke as one, bowing their heads; five of them kept both hands touching their respective lord’s knobs.  Only Wymar Thoncelin and Lady Avice Montfort could maintain a bond with one hand.  Eudes felt certain Mariel’s control was surer even than theirs.  She rules her castle with ease.  Yet another reason they will obey.
            “Where shall we begin today?”
            “May it please the queen?”  Paul Wadard never hesitated.  It would be something about money, and it would be something mean and cheap.  Mariel acknowledged him with a gesture. 
            “As you know, your grace, Hinxworth is a city under the protection of Beautus Valle and my family.  The merchants host an open fair every summer, something your father always encouraged.  Traders come from distant parts of Herminia, and there are musical contests, drinking fests, jugglers and all sorts of entertainments.  It is a fine thing, I will say, to see the small folk dancing on the green of an evening . . .”
            If boredom were a weapon, the Lord Wadard would be king of Herminia.  Mariel allowed him to carry on for a few minutes.  Very slowly he came to the point: the merchants of Hinxworth were balking at the taxes Wadard wanted to impose on their fair.  Lady Avice and the other lords were showing signs of impatience. 
            Mariel interrupted.  “My lord Wadard, why do you need these fees?”
            “Why, to pay for sheriffs, to provide public safety.”
            “Charge them nothing.”
            Wadard looked as if he swallowed chokecherry.  “Nothing, your grace?”
            “That’s right.  The crown will pay all reasonable expenses for public safety for the Hinxworth fair.  We estimate that to be . . .” Mariel glanced at Aweirgan.
            “Twenty golds,” said the counselor.
            “But your grace, twenty golds will hardly be enough.”  What this really meant was that Wadard wouldn’t be able to line his pockets.  He tried another tack.  “As a member of your Council I must counsel you: The crown cannot assume all debts.  It will bankrupt Herminia.”
            “I’m not assuming all debts, just this one.  I do want to encourage the Hinxworth fair; all Herminia will benefit from increased trade, and each of us will collect a bit more in taxes.  Imagine how the merchants of Hinxworth will love you when you tell them.   You may charge the traders who come to Hinxworth from other towns a penny each, as a registration fee.  But protecting the peace of the realm is my job—and yours.”
            Eudes kept his face blank, studying the expressions of the lords and lady.  Wadard was frowning, but he was also thinking how the merchants would respond.  Beaumont was relieved to have Wadard’s weekly complaint behind them.  Toeni wore a little smile; he probably guessed Mariel was overextending her treasury.   Eudes made a mental note: Remind Aweirgan to check castle Prati Mansum’s accounts.  Has Toeni been paying his due?  Giles and Mowbray scowled, but they always scowled; they could not look at Eudes without resenting and fearing him.  Thoncelin, by contrast, looked pleased.  He understood and approved Mariel’s policy encouraging trade.  Lady Montfort’s face was inscrutable; she might have been mildly interested or distracted.
            After some silence, Mariel prodded: “Lord Wadard?
            The gray-haired lord acquiesced.  “As your grace commands.”
            Mariel nodded politely.  “Next?  Lord Thoncelin?”
            “I have no urgent matters, your grace.  As I reported two weeks ago, my scribe of the castle, Albin Bearning, has taken it upon himself to design a better bridge for the Loud River.  His drawings are not yet complete, but when they are I will beg your grace’s assistance in building the thing.  It would be a benefit for Ventus in Montus, obviously, but I believe for the whole island as well.”
            “Aweirgan and I look forward to seeing the plans.  Next.  Lord Mowbray?”
            “Your grace, I humbly request advice.” 
            Eudes scowled as darkly as Mowbray had minutes before.  Whatever virtues Denis Mowbray had, humility was not among them.  Eudes suspected a trap.
            “Whatever advice I, my counselor or my husband can offer, you shall have.  What is the matter?”
            “There is a village called Haxby in the mountains, a small place.  Your grace may never have heard of it.”  Suddenly Lady Avice was paying close attention.  The Green Mountains lay between Mowbray’s castle Rubrum Vulpes and Montfort’s Tutum Partum.
            “Let us say I have not.”  Mariel brushed at her long tresses with her free hand, her eyes looking at the floor.  Eudes recognized the signs of wariness.  She sees where he’s going.           
            “The good men of Haxby have asked to pledge liege to Rubrum Vulpes.” Mowbray gave slight emphasis to men.  “It occurred to me that I ought to inquire of your grace before accepting their pledges.” 
            “I see.  Lady Avice, please comment.”  Mariel smoothed blonde hair on her shoulder.
            The white-haired lady responded, “Your grace, Haxby is nearer Tutum Partum than Rubrum Vulpes.  In fact, the village is on the eastern slope of the mountains, and your father established the watershed line as the boundary between us.  I am Haxby’s rightful liege.”
            Keeping her voice even, Mariel said, “Lord Mowbray says the villagers desire to pledge to him.”
            Eudes thought: Only after he told them how unmanly it would be to be ruled by a woman.  And he probably promised some village elder that his son could marry one of Mowbray’s daughters; he’s got enough to go around.
            Avice tilted her head without answering.  The lady knew well that Mariel had to guard against rebellion from Denis Mowbray or Godfrey Giles.  But if the queen could not provide justice, why should the house of Montfort support her?  The two women locked eyes for several seconds.
            Mariel continued to hold Avice’s gaze while she spoke.  “Lord Mowbray, how large is Haxby?  How many folk live there?”
            “I’m sure I don’t know, your grace.  It’s a small place.”
            “Small.  Fewer than two hundred?  What would you guess, Lady Avice?”
            Eudes thought: Ah! A way out—if Avice seizes it.
            The older woman smiled.  “I am sure more than two hundred live in Haxby, if one includes grown women and those who worship the old god.”
            Mariel made an open hand gesture.  “In justice we must certainly count grown women.  And if Herminians want to worship the old god, they may—so long as they swear obedience to the crown.  It seems to me that Haxby may, if the villagers elect, become a free town, thus making Haxby what? The twenty-first free town in Herminia?”
            Aweirgan said, “The twenty-second, your grace.  Should the elders choose to pledge to the crown.”
            Mowbray blustered: “That’s outrageous.  There can’t possibly be two hundred souls in Haxby, counting even children.”
            Mariel nodded solemnly, as if agreeing with Mowbray.  “The question must be investigated.  Lady Avice and you, Lord Mowbray, will each send a deputy to Haxby.  Fourteen days from tomorrow, your deputies will count the citizens of Haxby.  If the grown men and women number more than two hundred, they may register as a free town of the realm.  Worshipers of the old god will be included in the count, provided they swear fealty.  Your deputies will supervise Haxby’s organization as a free town.  I will expect a report, including names of the town’s Councilors, three weeks hence.  Both Tutum Partum and Rubrum Vulpes may regularly send a deputy to represent the interests of the crown as members of said Council.  If, however, the citizens number less than two hundred, that shall be reported to me three weeks hence and I will decide then who will be liege.”
            Eudes smiled only inwardly, his face as expressionless as ever.  Haxby will leap at the chance to become a free town of the realm.  They’ll scour the countryside for live bodies to make the count.  In the wall of windows, Denis Mowbray ground his teeth.  Avice Montfort bowed her head to the queen’s decision.
Copyright © 2012 by Philip D. Smith.
All rights reserved.  International copyright secured.


Thursday, July 5, 2012

Castles #6

6. In Castle Inter Lucus

            Ora leapt to her feet and fell backward on the grass when her prayer was answered.  The man appeared, life-size, in the shiny black wall in front of her.  For an instant, Ora thought it was a likeness only, but then the man raised his knee to step up onto the earth mounded against the wall.  He stepped out of the magic wall, as if an exact reflection of a man in perfectly still water could step out of the world of reflections into reality.
            The man said something Ora couldn’t understand; it sounded like an oath or a question.  He noticed her sprawled on the ground.  Again he spoke in a foreign tongue—the language of the gods? —and offered her his hand.  She let him pull her to her feet.  He looked very definitely like a man; she decided he was not a god.  I asked for a lord, and that’s what they’ve sent.  They sent a new lord to Inter Lucus.  What will he think of his castle all broken down?  I hope he’s not angry.
            Ora had never seen a lord before.  Every year the lord of Hyacintho Flumen sent a taxman, backed by a knight and a small company of soldiers, to Down’s End and the region between the lakes.  But the lord himself would never come so far.  So Ora wondered if all lords dressed as this one; she thought it unlikely.  The man was tall, much taller than Ora.  With a thin nose and narrow jaw, his face could have been a hawk’s.  His hair was mostly black, with some gray.  He had no cloak, no sword, and no cleverly woven insignia in his clothes.  He wore a belt with a metal buckle and soft shoes made of brightly colored fabrics.  Perhaps the greatest mark of nobility in his appearance was the creases in his tunic, a short tunic tucked into breeches that reached all the way to the funny shoes.  How could cloth be trained to hold such straight folds?
            Ora curtsied, or tried to.  She had never been taught how.  “I thank the gods for sending you to me, my lord.  Your servant is sorely distressed and in need of protection.”  She bowed her head and wondered whether she ought to kneel again.
             The man spoke again, a string of mostly unintelligible sounds, though a few might be real words: in, world, god.  He was asking questions; that much was clear.  Ora decided she should remain standing, but her only answer to his questions was a face of bewilderment.
            The man covered his face with his hands, took a huge breath and exhaled.  Dropping his hands, he turned very slowly a full circle, obviously trying to take stock of his situation.  He looked at Ora and placed his hand on his chest.  “Martin.”
            “Ora.”  She curtsied again.  “I am Ora.”
            “Ic Béo?”  The man mimicked her.  Then he altered it slightly: “I be Martin.  You be Ora.”  Martin pronounced “ôu” strangely, but she smiled approval.  “Yes!”

            Marty quickly surmised that “gése” meant, “yes.”  Whenever he used the right word for a thing, the girl with the green eyes said, “Gése.”  Marty didn’t know much about languages, having forgotten most of his high school German and having learned only a smattering of theological Latin since he came to Our Lady of Guadeloupe.  He felt sure, though, that the girl’s language was European.  She spoke with some accent he had never heard, but many of the words sounded close to German, English, or even Latin: ic might be a German “Ich”; blóstm could be an English “blossom”; and domne could be a Latin “domini.”
            Min Domne Martin.”  The girl stood about five feet tall; she was thin and lithe with brown hair tied in a knot behind her head.  She addressed him often enough with this phrase that Marty had little doubt as to its meaning.  He tried to correct her, but he didn’t know the words he needed.  And the girl was obviously convinced that úpgodu had brought him to this place to be domne.  Nothing could shake her belief.
            Marty had read his share of science fiction in college.  Not as much as his friend Rob, a computer science major, who had rows and rows of paperback space adventures on his bookshelves, but he had read some.  The more Marty talked with the girl, the more he imagined himself as the cover illustration of one of those books: a twenty-first century man falls into a wormhole and finds himself in medieval England.  The thought made him laugh.  The girl raised her eyebrows questioningly.  “I don’t suppose you’ve heard of Mark Twain,” he said.  A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court?”  The girl frowned slightly, and Marty refocused on the task of learning words.
            According to Ora, the place was a castle (castel), though it hardly looked like one.  It was certainly a ruin, but more like the remains of an English manor house than anything built for warfare.  The floor plan was a T, a main hall lying north-south with east and west wings at the northern end.  Marty and Ora walked the length of the main hall, stopping to look into an open pit where the floor under the grass had caved in.  Underground corridors led away from the pit in two directions, and it looked as if a third had been blocked by the cave-in.  How big was this place?  There’s at least one level below the main floor, and the height of the north wall would indicate an upper storey, maybe two.
            Outside the castle, vegetation grew profusely.  Knee-high grass, oak trees, flowering vines, old apple trees, and overgrown shrubbery—again, the impression was of a deserted manor.  It must have been beautiful in its day.
            Judging by the sun, it was noon.  Marty motioned by touching his stomach.  “Do you have any food?”
            Fodder?”  Ora shook her head.  Óu hyngre.  Ic hyngre.”  A thought came to her and she beckoned Marty to follow.  On the east side of the castle grounds were rows of untended, overgrown blueberry bushes.  Birds had eaten most of the fruit, but Marty and Ora found some berries in the dense interiors of the bushes.
            Cume.”  Ora had found a path that led into a wood east of the castle.  Though overgrown, the path was easy to follow; it might have been paved at one time.  Fifteen minutes of hiking brought them to the top of a small ridge.  Behind them, between fir branches and over the tops of alder trees, Marty could see parts of the manor grounds.
            Cume.” Ora wanted him to follow.
            “Okay, Okay.”  Turning, Marty came around a particularly broad tree and the view opened to the east.  The slope of the ridge ran down to the shore of a vast lake; the north, south, and east shores were too distant to see.
            East mere,” said Ora.
            “My God,” said Marty.  “It could be Lake Michigan.”  Except that Lake Michigan would likely have snow on the shore in November; the forest here felt like summer.  Then he saw something else.  Hanging above the eastern horizon, faint in the light of day but clearly discernable, he saw two moons.  “But I’m pretty sure it’s not.”           
Copyright © 2012 by Philip D. Smith.
All rights reserved.  International copyright secured.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Control and Command

    I'm a baseball fan.  Most readers of this blog probably know that already, but you never know--anyone with access to the Internet can read it, so maybe my love of baseball is new to somebody.
    Some people say baseball is boring.  On a superficial level, I think I understand what they mean.  For much of the time, the defenders stand around in the field waiting for something to happen.   Meanwhile most of the team at bat sits or stands in their dugout, waiting for their turn to hit.  Clearly, much of the important action--in literary terms, the conflict--of baseball occurs in the confrontation between pitcher and batter.  The rules require that the pitcher throw the ball into a small area near the batter (strikes) or else the batter will get a free base.  The rules further say that if the pitcher does throw strikes, the batter must hit it fairly or be declared out.  The contest between pitcher and batter is a constantly changing battle, affected by the ball/strike count, whether there are runners on base, the score of the game, which inning it is, and other factors.  Generally speaking, people who say baseball is boring have not learned to recognize the subtleties of the pitcher/batter confrontation.
    In regard to pitching, baseball people distinguish between "control" and "command."  We say that a pitcher has "control" when he is able to consistently throw strikes.  In youth baseball, from little league through high school, mastering control is the number one essential task of would-be pitchers.  Many are the parents of youth baseball players who have had to endure the slow torture of a team whose pitcher has lost control.  Walk follows walk, the batters stop even feigning interest in swinging, and the runs mount up.
    In higher levels of baseball--high school, college, and the various levels of professional ball--pitchers without control have been weeded out.  All the pitchers can throw strikes most of the time, except that now they must move to a higher level: command.  We say that a pitcher has "command" when he is able to throw the ball precisely where he wants it to go.  He throws a strike on the edge of the plate or at the bottom of the strike zone.  Sometimes, the pitcher deliberately throws a ball out of the strike zone, but close enough to tempt a batter to swing.  Command requires a much higher level of precision than does control.  Even at the highest level, major league baseball, most pitchers fail to command many of their pitches.  Major league hitters (the good ones anyway) try to anticipate pitches thrown without command--that is, pitches in the strike zone but not where the pitcher intended.  The difference between a "pitcher's pitch," thrown exactly where the batter can't make good contact, and a "mistake," thrown where the batter can make contact on the "sweet spot" of his bat, may be as little as four inches.
    There's an analogy between writing and pitching.  Anyone who writes stories must learn the authorial analogue of control.  Authors must create a plot, a story line that will interest readers.  Excellent authors also have "command."  They are able to tell their stories with zest and beauty.  They tell the story in precisely the right way.  Like pitchers, even pitchers at the highest level, it is a constant battle to put the words together just so.
    I'm pretty confident I have "control" of the story in Castles.  I know, at least in general, how the story goes, and I like it.  Like most authors, I have the temerity to think that if I like the story, other people will as well.  But what about "command'?  That is an everyday battle.