Thursday, August 30, 2012

Castles #14

14. In Down’s End

            Isen dreamed of a glass swan.  Ripples on the sides would suggest wings folded back against the body.  The neck would be slender and tall, supporting a perfectly proportioned head.  The buyer, some rich Down’s End merchant or a lord from a castle, would listen attentively as Isen and his apprentice packed the artwork into a special box, protecting it with straw and cloths.  You must take care, Isen would warn the buyer; there is no glass like this anywhere else on Two Moons.  And the patron would merely nod, happy to obey the commands of so skilled an artisan.
            He awoke to a reality far different from the dream.  Faint morning light penetrated between the boards of the door into the tiny house.  Buildings shadowed the narrow street, so the light coming into Isen’s hovel barely illumined anything.  Enough light, though, just enough, so that Isen could see Sunniva’s face, so pretty, so perfect, and for the first time in uncounted months untroubled by pain.  She lay absolutely still in death, and Isen promised himself that he would remember her face this way.  A part of him had long suspected this moment would come.  Isen was no stranger to death; he saw death processions on the streets of Down’s End often enough, and he could remember his father’s burial.  Their mother had died soon after giving birth to Sunie, so Isen had no sure memories of her, only faint feelings of warm arms.  There must have been a burial then too, but he didn’t remember it.
            Isen moved Sunie’s body from her cot to his, which enabled him to stand hers on end, exposing the hiding place.  He dug up a rosewood box wrapped in rotting cloths; the box was finely made, their most valuable possession, and Isen hoped the wrappings would protect it from decay.  The box held a gold coin, two silvers, and a handful of base pennies.  Probably not enough for a death procession, but Isen thought it would buy a burial.  Some priest of the old god might say a prayer.
            Isen propped the door open and carried Sunie’s cot into the narrow street.  He twisted the wooden blocks that served as bed legs until they came off.  Stripped of the legs, the cot could serve as funeral pallet.  He arranged the body on the pallet and went in search of a priest.
            Prayer House stood next to a large burial field on a rise of land half a mile from the Betlicéa.  Priests of the old god had chosen the spot for a burial field centuries ago, when Down’s End was much smaller.  They chose a location higher than the river so that spring floods wouldn’t expose the bones of the dead.  As generations passed and Down’s End prospered, the city had grown to surround the burial field and its Prayer House.  Wealthy citizens had built handsome houses on properties surrounding the field, the one place in the city with a green, open space nearby.  The same families contributed money so the priests of Prayer House could employ boys to tend the grass of the burial field.
            The “new” Prayer House was actually eighty years old, a small stone structure that replaced a much older building made of rough logs.  Isen reached the place before sunrise.  He rapped on the unmarked wooden door, but no one answered.  He tried the handle and, since it was unlocked, went inside.  Prayer House was cold.  The only light came from small glassed windows high on the side walls.  Six kneeling benches, raised a few inches from the packed dirt floor so that worshipers need not soil their breeches or hose, were arranged three on each side of a center aisle.  At the front of Prayer House the sign of the old god, a white pine cross, had been affixed to the wall. 
            No one here.  Well, what do you expect?  The priests can’t live here; it’s too small.  It’s called Prayer House for a reason.  Isen knelt on one of the benches.  He was a stranger to prayer, but with no one else to hear he need not worry about using wrong words.  “O God before the gods, my sister is dead,” Isen said.  “I am only Isen Poorman; I have little to pay the priest.  But he is your servant; make him grant Sunie a burial.  And please let Sunie’s spirit rest.  Let her breathe easy in the after-world.”
            Isen couldn’t think of more to say.  He felt it would be improper to ask the god to make Kent Gausman treat him better.  Not on Sunie’s burial day.  So he simply knelt in silence for a little while.  Soon he must go seek a priest.
            A sound: the door opening.  Daylight behind the newcomer threw his face into shadow; Isen saw mostly an outline.
            “Fair morning, young man.  Ah!  I think I know you.  Isen, isn’t it?”  The man wore a black robe that reached to mid-calf, leaving his leather-sandaled feet exposed.  He threw back his hood and stepped out of the light from the door, revealing a healthy, weathered face.  The priest was clean-shaven and bald, with mere wisps of white hair fringing his head.
            “Aye.  Isen Poorman.  Apprentice to Master Kent Gausman.”  Isen was several inches taller than the priest, but felt deference to his authority.
            “The glassblower.  And head of the glassblowers’ guild, if I recall.”
            The priest pursed his lips.  “An exacting man.  My name is Eadmar.”  He extended his hand and Isen shook it.  “How long have you worked for Master Gausman?”
            “Five years.”  Something in the priest’s visage, his eyes maybe, told Isen that he would like him.
            “Isen Poorman . . . hm.  And why are you in Prayer House before sunrise today?”  The man had brown eyes, smaller than Sunie’s, but they reminded Isen of her anyway.  Warmth and welcome shown in Eadmar’s eyes.
            Isen produced his tiny bag of coins.  “I must buy my sister’s burial.”  For the first time that morning, Isen wept.  Tears rolled freely, and he felt a choking sensation in his throat.  He stopped speaking, not trusting his voice.
            Priest Eadmar took the purse and looked inside it.  “Ah, Poorman.  You are aptly named.”  He took the two silvers and handed the bag back to Isen.  “Fortunately, today we are burying two unclaimed bodies in a grave bought by the weavers’ guild.  They will not object if a poor girl joins them.  Take your gold coin, Isen, and buy a white shroud from one of the women on Clothsellers’ Street.  Where is your sister’s body?”
            Isen’s tears still fell, but he answered without his voice breaking.  “The third little street from Straight, off Wide Street.”
            Eadmar nodded.  “I know the area.  Find some friends to carry the body.  I will meet you at noon, and we will make a procession.  The unnamed boys go into the ground before mid-day.  I will tell the gravedigger not to cover them until Sunniva joins them.”
            Isen was surprised.  “You knew Sunie?”
            The priest looked sad.  “I walk the streets in the Betlicéa district almost every day.  I met her a few times.  Such a pretty girl.” 
            Isen clasped both hands around the priest’s.  A burial and a procession; he had hardly dared to hope for so much.
            On Clothsellers’ Street Isen asked directions from passersby, and eventually found his way to a modest seamstress’s store, owned by two sisters accustomed to preparing shrouds on short notice.  One of the women, Helu Oswyn, asked Isen for directions to his house and bid him go wait with the body, lest some wandering fool treat it shamefully.  Four hours later Helu found Isen, bringing a fine white shroud.  Together, they dressed Sunniva in it.  She sat with the body while Isen recruited pallbearers.
            Osulf Deepwater and his brother, Headby, volunteered promptly when Isen invited them to carry Sunniva.  They were fisherman’s sons, and both of them had fallen for Sunie at one time or another.  Isen found them on the docks, cleaning the day’s catch with their father and two other men.  Fisher crews began their day in the wee hours before dawn; their fresh catch would fetch fair prices in the afternoon markets of Straight Street.  When Isen found them, they had nearly finished the job.  Their father, Bead Deepwater, readily agreed that the brothers should help Isen when he heard of Sunie’s death.  The brothers washed themselves as best they could with river water and dressed in clean tunics.
            On Wide Street Headby spotted another friend, Godric Measy, a laborer for a cloth merchant, eating his lunch on a public bench.  Godric became Sunniva’s fourth pallbearer.
            As he promised, priest Eadmar met Isen and his friends at the corner where the third little street met Wide Street.  The four young men carried Sunniva’s white-shrouded body on the simple pallet that had been her bed.  They followed Eadmar’s slow pace in the middle of Wide Street.  Horse-drawn carts and riders moved out of the way, showing deference to the dead and the old god.  Some well-to-do citizens of Down’s End shook their heads with annoyance—why should the death of some nameless waif occupy the city’s streets?  Priest Eadmar paid no attention to their disapproval, so Isen ignored them too.  As priest and pallbearers processed, people began walking behind them, joining the procession.  When they reached the burial field almost fifty people surrounded Sunie’s grave.  That she had to share a grave with two others didn’t bother Isen.  The important thing was that she had a right burial.  Eadmar prayed and said holy words that Isen couldn’t understand.  It was proper and right. 

            Isen’s comfort lasted an hour.  When all was done at the burial field, he walked to Alderman Gausman’s glass shop, arriving in the heat of late afternoon.  He rang the bell, and Hamia opened the door for him.  She made a face and pointed with her chin to the short hall that led to the workshop.  Kent Gausman was lecturing someone back there.
            Isen rapped knuckles on the wall as he entered an unusually crowded work area.  Master Gausman and three others were there, two of whom Isen knew: Cenhelm Godspear and his son Elfgar.  The third was a boy of about twelve.  Gausman took notice of Isen’s arrival.
            “Ha!  You see what I have dealt with for five years.  This boy thinks himself a journeyman, ready for the guild.  Yet he can’t read.  He can’t even use the abacus.  But he shows up when?  Ha!  You, Eric,” Gausman addressed the boy.  “You best be here every day, on time.  Work hard, and someday you’ll be a master, like Elfgar.”
            Gausman reached out to drop a silver coin in Isen’s surprised hand.  “Elfgar Godspear will join the guild as a master next week.  As he’ll be working with me and helping train Eric, I won’t be needing you.  That’s your pay.  Get yourself gone, Isen.”

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

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Fitness in stories

    Some years ago, while writing The Heart of the Sea, I asked Karen and Ron to read drafts of the story.  They liked the early chapters, which encouraged me to keep plugging away at it.  (Getting a complete first draft took three years!)  Near the end of the story I introduced a twist to the plot, partly because I had imagined a wonderful character who, I thought, needed to get into print.  And the new wrinkle to the story gave me a neat way to wrap it up.
    I won't describe the plot twist.  Karen didn't like it, and Ron disdained it in very strong language.  If I used it, Ron said, it would ruin the story.  The Heart of the Sea is a fantasy adventure story; adding a science fiction ending would spoil everything.  The new character, however much I liked her, had to be removed.
    So . . . The Heart of the Sea got a new ending, which Karen and Ron approved.  Eleanor Roosevelt Urquhart got a story of her own.  (The name alone makes you want to know her, right?  Someday, Buying the Bangkok Girl will find a publisher.)  And the whole episode illustrates the principle of "fitness."
    We love fiction partly because it puts us in an imagined world.  A story may be set in a familiar place, but it records imagined events.  One might think that since the events are not real, an author could write anything he wanted.  But he can't.  There has to be fitness between the parts of the story.
    I am not now talking about the moral ground underlying all stories.  I wrote about that in an earlier post.  See my April 3, 2012, post, "The Limits of Creativity."  Instead, I am pointing to a need for the events, characters, and themes of a story to cohere.  An author can put angels and spaceships into his story; C.S. Lewis had both in Out of the Silent Planet.  But once you have angels, the plot can't progress on strictly materialist lines.  One of Lewis's characters is a strict materialist, but the story shows him to be deluded for just that reason.
    Suppose someone wrote a story about a sadistic murderer.  For two hundred pages, you read of death, dismemberment, blood, and viscera.  But then, from pages 201-265, the story consists of the murderer discussing the roses in his garden with his neighbor.  The end.  Now this would be a shocking story, not because of all the gore, since readers nowadays are used to it, but because of the lack of fitness.  In fact, such an extreme lack of fitness would push most of us to conclude that the author was trying to make an existentialist or post-modern philosophical statement.  In other words, we would impose on this bizarre story some explanatory scheme--from the outside, not really part of the story.
    Fitness is not just a feature of literature.  Human existence has narrative form.  Esther Meek, a philosopher I have been reading this summer, says that all human acts of knowing ought to be understood as narrative acts.  When we understand something, we indwell lots of particulars in a subsidiary way in order to focus on a pattern in a conscious way.  Coming to see/understand the focal pattern transforms our earlier knowledge of the particulars.  And since we are temporal, narrative creatures, coming to see/understand orients us to the future.  We expect the world to "fit" with what we have come to know, even if that fitness often surprises us.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Castles #13

13. At Castle Inter Lucus

            The words in the wall disappeared.  Seconds later, a string of symbols replaced the familiar Latin letters.  More instructions?  The symbols looked like none of the languages Marty had ever seen.  As an electronics sales representative sometimes responsible for international shipping, he knew the appearance of Arabic, Cyrillic, Hebrew, Chinese, and Japanese scripts.  Marty had seen markings from Thailand, Laos and other East Asian countries, though he couldn’t remember which was which.  Marty felt sure the symbols now scrolling in the wall resembled none of them.  How do you pass a test when you can’t read the questions?
            Marty glanced briefly at Ora.  Clearly, the alien symbols meant no more to her than to Marty.  She was watching Marty watch the wall, her face serenely confident that “Min Domne Martin” would master the situation.
            The alien inscription, if that’s what it was, stopped scrolling, like the credits at the end of a movie.  It vanished and was instantly replaced by a list; astonishingly, the list reverted to Latin and was ordered with Roman numerals:
I. Materias Tranmutatio: non operativa
II. Parva Arcum Praesidiis: non operativa
III. Magna Arcum Praesidiis: non operativa
IV. Cibum Preparatio Homines: non operativa
V. Inter-Castrum Videns-Loquitur: non operativa
VI. Extra Arcem Micro-Aedificator: non operativa
VII. Potentia Fontes: parte operativa
VIII. Aquarum: parte operativa
IX. Intra Arcem Micro-Aedificator: operativa
X. Centralis Arbitrium Factorem: parte operativa
            Below the list there was a question: Quod deficiens fulcutatem facit Dominus Martini desiderium aedificavit primum?
            Marty’s exposure to theological Latin at Our Lady of Guadeloupe afforded him little help interpreting the message, but operativa, parte operativa and non operativa suggested that he was reading a list of subsystems, most of which were non-functioning.  Subsystems of what?  Ora calls this place a castle.  It seems a “castle” comes equipped with a long list of computerized capacities.  Most of which are broken, apparently.  The only thing that works is “Intra Arcem Micro-Aedificator,” whatever that is.
            The Latin message just sat there on the wall, unmoving.  Marty knew he should answer the question, since Dominus Martini pretty much had to be him.  But he had only a guess as to what the question asked, and he had less than a guess as to the purpose of the various “subsystems,” if in fact that’s what they were.  Even if he had known these things, Marty didn’t know how to formulate a response in Latin.  Would the machine—Marty had little doubt it was a machine—understand English?  His stomach growled, but he pushed the distraction out of mind, keeping his hands on the glass ball for fear the message would go away.  Why not start at the top?  “Transmutatio” sounds like transmuting . . .“Materias Transmutatio” =changing materials?  Change what to what?
            To Marty’s consternation, the list and question disappeared.  No dimming or blinking; without warning the wall turned opaque.  Just as alarming, the light shining from the globe through his fingers faded out, and the warmth died as well.  Damn!  I’ve killed it.  Or waited too long; the thing probably has a limited power source.  Marty released the half-buried ball.  He wanted to re-establish the connection immediately, but a thought restrained him.  Don’t push too far.  It’s either running on stored energy or it has a power source of some kind.  Either way, it has limits.  Marty surveyed the ruins around him.  The shiny black wall brought to mind pictures he had seen.  Solar power?  Maybe the thing needs time to recharge. 
            Marty rose from the orb and stood on the grassy slope.  Ora hopped to her feet, eyeing him expectantly.  She thinks I know what I’m doing.  Hate to disappoint you, girl.
            Marty’s stomach growled again.  “Let’s find some fodder,” he said.  Ic hyngre.”
            Ora surprised him: “Okay.”  She beamed at his startled reaction.

            Rather than fish in East Lake, Ora led Lord Martin to village Inter Lucus.  It was an hour’s walk, first through the forest ringing the castle, on cow paths past farms and then on a dirt road.  On the edge of the village itself she stopped in front of a prosperous farmhouse: two stories tall with a chimney and a tiled roof, a stone fence enclosing a yard with fruit trees, and a barnyard lively with the sounds of chickens and pigs.  She knew the family who lived here.  Before she could announce herself, a round-faced stout woman came waddling out the door.  “Ora Wooddaughter!  I see you!  Is it really you?”
            Fridiswid Redwine’s fat bowed legs always seemed ready to collapse under her weight.  Nevertheless, the farmer’s wife hustled to the rock wall.  A brown and white dog came bounding around the corner of the house, barking excitedly.  Fridiswid shushed the animal with a sharp word and a motion.  She lifted the latch on the gate and stepped into the road.
            “Fair afternoon, Fridiswid,” Ora said.  “Can you spare some sup?”  She stepped into the woman’s embrace.   Mistress Redwine clasped her for a moment and then stepped away from Ora to examine her companion.  “And who is this?”  Fridiswid’s eyebrows were such a bright red that they looked like little flames.
            “He is Lord Martin of Inter Lucus.
            Fridiswid Redwine did not bow to Lord Martin.  “Oh, no, Ora.  Alfwald told me you would be spreading some such twaddle.  Attor was here yesterday.  What have you done, girl?  Taken up with some outlandish person from foreign parts?  Look at those clothes!  How strange!”
            Ora had expected something like this.  Attor would have enlisted the help of friends.  “Yes, indeed, Goodwife Redwine.  Look closely at his clothes—and his shoes.  You have never seen the like.  I tell you the truth, Fridiswid.  I prayed for him yesterday morning, and he came.”
            “You should go home, Ora.  You prayed for him?  Ha!  You have been with this foreigner for two days then?”
            “How many times has he put it in you?”  Fridiswid made a rude gesture.
            “Not at all.”  Ora’s face went hard.  “If you want to know, it was Attor’s son who took my maidenhead.  He raped me two days ago.  That is why I fled, and that is why I will never go back.”  Ora spat on the ground.  She turned on her heel and tugged at Lord Martin’s elbow.
            “Ora!  A lord has to bond with a castle.  He can’t just attack men with a staff.” 
            Ora spun around to face the goodwife.  “Aye.  A lord must bond.”  She locked eyes with Fridiswid.  “Lord Martin is lord of Inter Lucus.  I watched.”
            Ora’s certainty and anger raised doubt in Fridiswid’s mind.  “You saw this?”
            Fridiswid’s eyes lingered on Lord Martin’s clothes, especially the many-colored canvas shoes.  “If he is a lord, why do you need food?  They all say a castle feeds its lord.”
            Ora had been asking herself this very question, but the answer was obvious.  Inter Lucus has been abandoned a hundred years.  A new lord cannot repair everything in a day.”
            “Why doesn’t this lord speak?”
            “He does.”  Ora motioned to introduce the woman.  “Fridiswid Redwine.” 
            Lord Martin bowed his head in greeting.  Good afternoon, Mrs. Redwine.  I’m pleased to meet you, and I very much hope you will give us whatever help you can.”  Neither woman understood more than two or three of Lord Martin’s words.  Perhaps the very strangeness of his speech inclined Fridiswid to believe Ora’s version of events.
            Fridiswid shook her head, but smiled as she did.  “Ora, Ora.  I have some boiled potatoes and a scrap of bread.  Will that do?”
            “Okay.”  Fridiswid frowned at this word, but Lord Martin laughed. 
Copyright © 2012 by Philip D. Smith.
All rights reserved.  International copyright secured.


Thursday, August 16, 2012

Castles #12

12. At Castle Hyacintho Flumen

            Milo Mortane stood on the god’s roof of Hyacintho Flumen, his father’s castle, soon to become his brother’s.  He couldn’t decide which bothered him most, the blatant unfairness of the ridiculous charade that robbed him of his inheritance or the combination of fears that kept him from acting.  I could bond with the lord’s knob; even Arthur admits it.  If the older brother can’t command a castle, that’s one thing.  Then the reins pass to a younger brother, or even a sister.  But I can bond; if Father were to die tonight, I could slip into the great hall and become lord . . .
            Milo knew he wouldn’t do it.  Arthur had ordered Dag Daegmund and Kenelm Ash to take turns guarding the lord’s knob.  Milo imagined ordering the soldiers to stand aside so that he could bond with globum domini auctoritate.  Dag and Kenelm were loyal to house Mortane; surely they would obey.  Except they wouldn’t, not now.  Milo tasted the bitterness of it.  I have been cheated of my birthright.  He would have to kill whichever man stood on guard, but both Dag and Kenelm were expert swordsmen; Milo had trained as a knight, but he could not be sure of winning.  A knife, concealed by a cloak?  The armsmen would be on their guard; he would never get close enough.  An arrow, already notched when I enter the hall.  Yes.  From the door by the coatroom.  I could shoot before he raised the alarm.
            He wouldn’t do it, he knew.  Father had do die first.  I must know Father is gone before I attack the guard.  But Lucia will summon me to Hereward’s bed only after his spirit departs.  Ha!  Only after she has already told Aylwin and he has stolen Hyacintho Flumen.  My own father, mother and brother; they conspired to cheat me.  They don’t want me.
            If he were dead, maybe then they would appreciate their error.  Milo crept close to the edge of the roof.  The god’s roof was the highest roof of Hyacintho Flumen.  No one knew why the square tower was called the god’s tower, nor why it had a flat roof.  Arthur brought the children up here on clear nights to teach them the constellations, but nobody supposed the gods had a similar use for it.  Neither moon had yet risen in the east.  Milo came gingerly to roof’s edge in starlight.  The tiled roof of the great hall was perhaps thirty feet below him.  I might survive, merely injured.  On the opposite side of the god’s tower the fall was sixty feet to a paved courtyard.  That’s the place.  He walked to the east side of the tower and looked down.  He could hear water splashing in the fountain and pictured his body broken on its stone lip.
            Milo silently cursed Arthur, his mother, his father, and especially Aylwin: Usurper! May his hands burn every time he touches lord’s knob.  May he die childless and Hyacintho Flumen become a ruin.  His mother Lucia would condemn such a thought, warning against offending the castle gods.  What do I care?  The castle gods never did me any good.
            Milo felt a slight breeze pushing him toward the edge.  He knew he wouldn’t do it.  I’m a coward.  I can’t even kill myself.  At the same time, he felt another fear, a fear he couldn’t name.  His future reached out to him like a shroud, a future he could not imagine.  It wasn’t that he couldn’t think of what to do; that was obvious.  He had to leave Hyacintho Flumen.  It wouldn’t really matter where he went: Stonebridge, Down’s End, Cippenham or one of the smaller cities of Tarquint.  He owned armor, had been trained for knighthood—Faenum Agri, Vivero Horto or another castle; he could pledge liege to another lord.  But not to Aylwin, never!  He could buy passage to Horatia or some land even more distant.
            What will I be?  As long as Milo could remember, he knew he would one day be lord.  He told himself he would rule gently, not demanding more in taxes than people could afford.  Milo knew he wasn’t as clever as Aylwin or Amicia, but he could learn to access some of Hyacintho Flumen’s power.  He would give something to poor folk.  He would keep his women at a convenient distance, so that his wife (chosen, no doubt, for political reasons) need not be offended by them.  He would try to keep peace with other lords.  He would provide justice as best he could.  I would be a good lord.  The commons would love me, I know they would.  But now what?  What will I be?
            There were no bounds on Milo’s future.  Though unable to name it, that was the fear.  Looking out from the god’s tower in starlight, he saw the years to come like an open sea, a sea with no limits at all.  A lord had duties, and Milo was willing to fulfill them if they weren’t too hard.  But now, what now?  Seventeen years old, Milo did not know who he was and he feared what he might become.  I won’t serve Aylwin, not ever.  And since I’m not going to jump off this damned tower, I may as well get moving.
            Eádulf, the stable boy, registered surprise at daybreak when he came to feed Hyacintho Flumen’s horses.  Milo had already fed and groomed the black palfrey, and he was tying extra bags to the rear of his saddle.  Milo’s sword hung from the saddle horn.
            “Fair morning, sir Milo,” said Eádulf.  “I did not know you were riding today, else I would have risen sooner.”  He saw a canvas-wrapped bundle by the stable wall.  “Shall I pack up my lord’s armor?”
            Milo considered the choice, to travel alone or accompanied.  To sell his service as a knight, he needed armor, and that meant a packhorse to accompany the palfrey, and that meant a squire. 
            “Fair morning, Eádulf.  I’ll pack my armor while you do your chores.  Then we’ll ride together.”
            “Very good, sir.  I’ve had no sup yet today, sir.”
            Milo patted one of his saddlebags.  “Nor I.  But we’ll eat as we ride.”
            Shafts of sunlight broke through the trees as Milo Mortane, with Eádulf behind him, departed Hyacintho Flumen, riding a horse into an infinitely wide sea.             

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

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Does the "comment" function work?

    I've had several people--well, four--send me emails with questions or comments on Castles.  Two people have sent comments to the blog, but those comments don't seem to show up.  So I'm wondering: is the comment feature not working?  If you have tried to post a comment in response to any post on this blog and it didn't show up, please email me (  It's possible--actually, quite likely--that I've not set up the controls properly.  But a new school year will begin soon, and that means I'll have the help of Internet experts; i.e. students in the office.
    I also plan, with student help, to prepare pdf maps, which will help readers of Castles follow the story.  Karen (my number one reader, who unlike the rest of you has already read 35 chapters) thinks I might need to add a more complete guide to characters' locations.  I'm more eager to write more of the story than make appendices, but Karen's advice is pretty important.  So maybe.
    It would be wonderful if "Story and Meaning" could become a place where readers could comment on each others' ideas and questions.  And discuss Castles, naturally.   But that won't happen unless the comment function works.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Castles #11

11. In Castle Pulchra Mane

            Eudes’ left knee pained him.  He didn’t know why.  In battle and in tournaments he had been wounded more than once, and his armor had absorbed many blows, but he had never been struck near the knee.  Nevertheless, standing for a whole morning during Mariel’s Council produced an ache that threatened to distract him from the Council’s business, especially as the lords and lady of Herminia haggled over minutia.  Fees for the Hinxworth Fair and Denis Mowbray’s ploy to steal Haxby from Lady Montfort—these had been the only items of even moderate import.  The Council discussed guild reports from various free towns (blacksmiths, dye makers, weavers, wheelwrights); they noted births, deaths, and marriages; someone mentioned portents for the year’s wheat harvest; and Lady Avice asked help in finding a new scribe of the castle. Old Renweard could instruct an apprentice, she said, but he was no longer able to sit a horse or make the rounds to the villages subject to Tutum Partum.  The meeting went on and on; Mariel attended patiently to all of it, but Eudes found it boring.  And his knee hurt.  Eudes reminded himself that he was a knight; surely a soldier could endure a balky knee for his queen.
            At last it was time for Mariel’s move. 
            “Lord Toeni, word has come to me that you have offered your daughter as consort to the son of Hereward Mortane.  I wish you had told me.”
            “In this case rumor is accurate.  And it never occurred to me that I needed your grace’s permission.”  Rocelin Toeni answered stiffly.  His blue eyes blazed defiance.  “Edita is of age.”
            Wymar Thoncelin said, “If it please your grace, it was always King Rudolf’s policy that lords had freedom to arrange our houses as seemed best to us.”  Thoncelin was one of Mariel’s most loyal lords; that he would side with Toeni signaled danger.
            “Of course.  Far be it from me to infringe on Lord Toeni’s authority in his own house or castle.  Edita is certainly free to marry as she sees fit, much as I did.  Naturally, as her father, Lord Toeni is free to advise her.”  Mariel smiled innocently.  Eudes thought: There are limits to freedom.  If any of one of you defies Mariel openly, she will send me to starve you out of your castle and destroy your house.
            Mariel continued.  “I only wondered: Which of Mortane’s sons will become your son-in-law?  I understand he has two.”
            Toeni appeared partly appeased.  In his mind, marriage to house Mortane would turn Edita from an inconvenience into an advantage.  Alliances by marriage were a time-honored way of extending a noble family’s influence.  Even so, an ugly daughter could become a liability, requiring considerable dowry to achieve marriage.  “It is not decided,” Lord Toeni said.  “In point of fact, Mortane has three sons, Milo, Aylwin and Eddricus, though Eddricus is not of age.  Lady Erline will sail with Edita for Hyacintho Flumen in a week’s time.  She will discuss the matter with Hereward Mortane and his wife, Lady Lucia.”
            Eudes reflected on the paradox of lordship.  Rocelin Toeni can use the power of Prati Mansum only as long as he resides there.  If Hereward Mortane were well, the two lords might negotiate directly by castle magic.  But Mortane is dying, so Toeni perforce must entrust negotiations to Erline. 
            Toeni did not say what Mariel and Eudes already knew from their source: Hereward Mortane had promised a son in marriage, but the dowry price varied from son to son.  Young Eddricus would cost Toeni nothing, but in that case Edita would have to wait another ten years for marriage to a man fifteen years her junior.  Much could go wrong in ten years.  Surprisingly, Cenric says the dowry price for marriage to the second son is higher than the first.  Why?
            Mariel responded, “In a week’s time?  Ah!  That will do.  I propose that Lord Eudes accompany your wife and daughter to Hyacintho Flumen.  His presence would insure Lady Erline and Lady Edita’s safety.”
            Toeni frowned.  “Surely no house of Herminia would attack my wife and daughter.”
            “No.  But there are highwaymen still.  My husband knows how to deal with such men.”
            “Your grace, the ship Little Moon will sail directly from Prati Mansum to Hyacintho Flumen.  There will no danger of highwaymen, I assure you.”
            Don’t be so infernally stupid, thought Eudes.  Mariel merely smiled.  “That’s true, isn’t it?  But there might be pirates, and they’re every bit as dangerous as robbers.”
            Osmer Beaumont’s bass voice rumbled into speech.  “Your grace, might I ask?  Wouldn’t a man like Eudes Ridere be bored to stupefaction by formal dinners in Hyacintho Flumen?  Your husband suffers sufficiently in these weekly Councils.  Why send the poor man to endure dances and masks?”
            Two or three lords chuckled.  Lady Avice merely grinned. Eudes was alarmed.  Have I been that transparent?
            “Fair question, Lord Beaumont.  My husband will not travel as Lord Eudes, consort of a queen; rather, he will be a merchant or perhaps a common soldier, a guard for Lady Erline and her daughter.
            “Now, my lords and lady, consider.  What might my lord husband do while visiting Tarquint?  I remind you of what you know: Tarquint is far larger than our Herminia.  Here we have achieved unity under one crown, with the prosperity and strength created by unity.  Tarquint is divided among fourteen castles—and of those, castles Inter Lucus and Eclipsis Lunaris have fallen into ruin.  That leaves twelve lords, each one suspicious of the others, each one far distant from the others.
            “A third of Tarquint is frozen wasteland north of the forests.  But even so, consider its wealth.  Tarquint has gold and silver.  There are huge forests and plains.  I’m told the sheep’s wool of the great downs could clothe all of Two Moons.  That says nothing about the farms and villages east of East Lake.  At least three cities in the south of Tarquint are said to be larger than any in Herminia.  In sum: Tarquint is vast, rich, divided, and weak.  All we need to know is which plum to pick first.
            “Now, I ask you: what might Eudes Ridere do while visiting Tarquint?  What report might he bring back to us?”
            Mariel paused, letting the implications of her words sink in.  Eudes tried to interpret their faces.  Avice Montfort and Rocelin Toeni ruled the two seaports from which a Herminian army might set sail for Tarquint; Tutum Partum and Prati Mansum would play prominent roles if the queen extended her rule.  Godfrey Giles, though his castle was on the far side of Herminia from Tarquint, had five sons, all knights; he could envision his younger sons gaining lands in Tarquint.  Paul Wadard’s frown indicated puzzlement, Eudes thought; he was trying to figure out how he might profit from Mariel’s war. Mowbray, Beaumont, and Thoncelin would be the recalcitrant ones.  Their castles lay inland in Herminia; trade with Tarquint meant little to them.  And any soldiers Mowbray, Beaumont or Thoncelin contributed to an invasion force would have to serve far from home, probably under the command of Eudes or one of his lieutenants.
            Thoncelin spoke first.  “Your grace knows that I supported your father while he was alive, and I have supported you.  It seems now that what you propose—let us call it an ‘adventure’ in Tarquint—has great risks.  As you say, Tarquint is vast.  Its lords are divided, true.  But I fear the free cities alone could raise bigger armies than yours, that is to say, ours.  The peril of failure would be great, and greater for none than for you.”
            Eudes had said something similar when Mariel first confided her ambition to him.  If we weaken our power by sending an army to Tarquint, Giles and Mowbray may seize the opportunity to rebel.  Thoncelin’s caution is not merely self-serving; he is genuinely loyal.
            “I appreciate your concern, Lord Thoncelin.”  Mariel favored him with a bow of her head.  “But you need not fear.  If Eudes finds Tarquint bristling with spears we will stand down.  You all know my husband has a keen eye for military weaknesses.”
            Several members of the Council laughed quietly, even Giles.
            “Just as important, I promise this.  If we decide to pursue this ‘adventure,’ the chief knights of Herminia will wear new armor, armor of new steel, and they will carry new swords.”
            “How is that possible, your grace?”  Naturally, it was Toeni who had to have things spelled out for him.  “All the smithies in Herminia could not make that much steel in a year.”
            “True, Lord Toeni.”  Mariel flexed her right hand while keeping her left lightly on globum deus auctoritate.  “But the smithies will only need to craft the armor and weapons.  I, that is Pulchra Mane, will supply all the new steel needed.”
            Keeping his face smooth, Eudes exulted in the stunned expressions of the lords and lady.  Few castle rulers could summon the magic of steel.  And to blithely assert she could produce tons of it . . . For the first time they begin to see the truth; Mariel is stronger in her way than Rudolf.
            “My lords, my lady,” Mariel resumed.  “We have been careful in our speech today, even in Council.  This is wise.  I urge that we all guard our lips.  My lord husband will set out for Prati Mansum tomorrow.  He will sail on the ship Little Moon and return with Lady Erline.  We may expect a report by summer’s end.
            “Meanwhile, we in Herminia will not be indolent.  Gods willing, we will harvest good crops.  Beginning next week, wagons of new steel will roll from Pulchra Mane to all Herminia’s castles.  Your smithies will be active, fashioning armor and swords.  Your sons and knights must be well prepared when fall comes.”
            “Your grace surely knows,” Lady Montfort spoke slowly.  “After November, no captain will dare the sea between Herminia and Tarquint.  And it would be inconvenient—extremely inconvenient—to supply an army by sending ships south to Horatia on the long route.”
            Mariel didn’t hesitate.  “That is correct.  If we do this thing, our force must be prepared to winter alone in hostile lands.  Whatever my husband asks, we will supply more.  You will each do your part.  They say that armies march on their bellies; you will make sure this army has a full belly indeed.”

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

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Castles #10

10. In Down’s End

            Master glassblower Kent Gausman dipped the heated tip of his blowpipe into the hot glass in the lower furnace; he moved it up and down several times until he had a gather, a molten blob of glass about the right size.  He rolled the gather on the marver, a marble topped workbench, cooling the outer edge before he began to blow.  Isen the apprentice picked out a block, shaped like a very large spoon made of apple wood, from a bucket of water.  Isen spun the block quickly to throw off the excess water and laid it on the table when Kent nodded.  The master glassblower lowered the glass bulb he was forming into the bowl of the block, all the while turning the gather and blowing puffs of air.  The glass began to stiffen.  Kent transferred the cooling ball to the second furnace, the “glory hole,” to resoften it.  Isen dipped the block in the water to cool.  In the early stages of his apprenticeship Isen had learned to protect good wooden tools from the heat of the glass; several times a day he had to fetch water from River Betlicéa to keep Kent Gausman’s shop supplied with cold water.
            No longer a mere beginner, Isen had five years experience in Alderman Gausman’s employ.  He worked at the master’s side at every step of the glassblowing process, including shaping the piece with jacks, pulling it into various forms with tweezers, cutting the piece free with shears, and finishing it after securing it to iron punty rods.
            Today the master was making a simple vase, mostly as a way to experiment with color.  After softening the glass ball in the glory hole, Kent let gravity draw it out, still attached to his blowpipe.  Meanwhile Isen had fetched two trays of crushed colored glass, one yellow and one green, from a rack on the far side of the workshop.  Kent held the blowpipe vertically, puffing carefully, letting the glass lengthen as he continued to rotate it; then he rolled it in the trays of colored glass.  Back to the glory hole where the colored bits of glass fused into the vase; more shaping and rolling on the marver; finally Kent placed the piece on punty rods for transfer to the third furnace where it would cool very slowly over two days.  Kent gave Isen freedom to practice molding the top of the vase with steel tweezers.  Isen pulled bits of the slowly stiffening glass into leaf shapes along the rim.  The master critically examined the result.  “It’ll do.”  The apprentice concealed his smile.  The master never praised his work, no matter how perfect, so Isen refused to project his own satisfaction.  The truth was that Isen’s work matched or surpassed Kent Gausman’s in almost every way.  Nowadays, the alderman spent as much time on Town Council, as head of the Down’s End glassmaker’s guild, as he did in the shop.  Many pieces sold in the shop or delivered on special order to Gausman’s top customers were actually made by apprentice Isen.  So it was time.
            “Master Gausman, may I have a word?”  They had dampened the furnace fire at the end of the day.
            “Briefly, Isen.  I’ve got to host Cenhelm Godspear for supper tonight.  He wants the guild to accept his son as a new master.  The young pup has some talent, but he’s far from ready.  I’ve got to make Godspear face facts.”
            “Master, my work is better than Elfgar’s.”
            Gausman chuckled.  “Just so.  Yet you don’t see me bringing your name to the guild.”
            “Why not, master?  In fairness, I think I am qualified.”
            “What?  Nonsense, Isen.  You’ll need a few more years before you jump that hurdle, my boy.  You can’t read. Why, you can’t even manage an abacus.  You do acceptable work at the furnace and on the bench, but you can’t strike out on your own.  Customers and suppliers would steal from you and you wouldn’t know it.  No, boy.  You need to work for good old Gausman, who can look out for you.  And your sister.  What would happen to Sunniva if you didn’t have my wages?”
            “Teach me the abacus, then.”  Isen’s eyes stung, but he kept his voice calm.
            “In good time, my son.  In good time.  Hamia!”  The master called to his wife, who was upstairs in the apartment above the glassblower’s shop.
            “You need not shout.”  Hamia descended halfway down the stairs.  She was a fat woman, already dressed in her best kirtle, red with white trim.  “The meal is laid on already for guests.  Fair evening, Isen.”  She inclined her head to the apprentice.
            Kent Gausman simply motioned for Isen to be on his way and barred the door after the young man left.  A leather cord outside Gausman’s shop door was attached to a bell inside.  Isen wanted to give the cord an angry pull and confront the master with his unfairness.  But it would accomplish nothing.  Without his master’s sponsorship, Isen had no hope of being recognized as a full guild member in Down’s End.
            After the heat of glassmaking furnaces, evening airs were comforting.  Isen detoured to the river on his way home, as he often did, to wash away the grime of the day.  One of the fishing wharfs had a cylinder winch with a bucket on a rope that could be lowered into River Betlicéa.  Isen hoisted a bucket of river water, splashed his face and arms, and dumped the rest over his head.
            Isen bought bread, vegetables and a wedge of cheese from stalls in Straight Street.  Earlier shoppers had snapped up the best produce, but the abundance of summer meant that even late in the day there were things worth eating.  Isen carried his purchases in a string net, humming his way home.  Maybe eating fresh greens would help Sunniva.
            Isen heard Sunniva before he turned the corner into the narrow unnamed street that led to their house.  Two storey buildings on both sides leaned out overhead; in some places the upstairs inhabitants had actually propped one building against the other.  In winter the alley was dark indeed; on a summer evening it was merely dim.
            Sunniva’s cough sounded worse.  Isen’s sister was a pretty thing: pale skin and full red lips, long brown hair, and very large brown eyes.  But she was eternally sick.  She coughed every day and would suffer shakes and fevers, even in summer’s heat.  Occasionally a Down’s End fisherman’s son would fall in love with Sunniva’s pretty face, but when this happened the parent put a quick end to romance.  No one wanted a daughter-in-law too sickly to work or bear children.  On her good days, Sunniva worked on the wharfs, helping fishing crews prepare the day’s catch for market.  But she didn’t have many good days anymore.  Sometimes when she coughed she spit up blood.
            Isen reached the door of the house, if one could call it that.  Brother and sister had a door and a roof, tucked in the narrow space between two older buildings.  There were two sleeping cots; in the back, a firebox they rarely used.  Fortunately, the backside of one neighbor’s brick fireplace and chimney comprised the north wall of Isen and Sunniva’s hovel.  In the winter the warmth of the neighbor’s fire helped keep them from freezing.
            Isen opened the door.  “Here we are, Sunie.  I’ve got bread, cucumbers, spinach leaves, an onion, and some cheese.  Some solid food will make you feel better.”
            Sunniva started to answer, but a cough interrupted.  “It sounds wonder . . .” The cough began lightly but quickly grew into a spasm that shook the girl’s whole body.  She rolled on her side, doubling up with the effort.  She spat bloody sputum into a bowl on the floor.  She fell back onto her pallet, sweating from the effort.  “Thank you, Isen.  Maybe it will help.”  But in the end Isen ate most of the food; chewing and swallowing took more strength than Sunniva could summon.
            Darkness became complete.  After a long session of coughing, Sunie fell asleep.  Isen lie awake, listening to her breathing.  It seemed regular enough.  He let himself drift into dreams.

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