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.

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