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.


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