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.