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.