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.

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