Thursday, September 27, 2012

Castles 18

18. In Wedmor, Herminia
            It’s wonderful how fast five men can travel compared to an army.  Escorted by four riders, Eudes Ridere had left Pulchra Mane the day before yesterday—and here we are, already at the approaches to Wedmor.  An army, with its spearmen and archers, tents and wagons, servants and camp followers, would have taken a week or longer, in some cases much longer, to move the same distance.  As commander of Rudolf Grandmesnil’s army, Eudes had endured and managed the snail pace of massed soldiers for many years. 
            In private Rudolf had called Eudes “my quartermaster general.”  He said it admiringly, for without Eudes and his ability to procure and coordinate the supplies, weapons and men of large armies, Rudolf could never have subdued the lords of Herminia.  As long as a lord controlled his castle, he could repel any direct assault.  Of course, the defender had to maintain physical contact with the lord’s knob, which meant that lords were occasionally felled by treachery, and there had been a few cases of successful attacks coinciding with the lord’s illness (perhaps caused by poisoning).  It was left to Eudes Ridere, the quartermaster general, to devise a reliable way to subdue a healthy lord in command of his castle: the long siege.  First, if the rebel lord has an army in the field, destroy it.  Second, surround the castle, cutting off all traffic in and out.  Third—Eudes’s crucial innovation—organize a rotation system allowing soldiers to go home to their farms.  At any particular time two thirds of the army would either be productively working at home or en route to or from the besieged castle.  The system was massively complicated and burdensomely expensive, but it permitted Rudolf and Eudes to sustain sieges for two years and longer.  In the end, they conquered the whole of Herminia.
            Now Eudes served not the father, but the daughter.  Mariel had taken him as husband—and in private she was as loving a bride as he ever wished—but in public he obediently filled whatever role she assigned.  Therefore, for a season, he would be a spy; hence, only a small guard on the road to Prati Mansum.  After that he would be on his own.
            Four trustworthy riders accompanied him: Aewel Penda, Archard Oshelm, and brothers Fugol and Galan Hengist.  Armed only with swords and tough leather jerkins, the company dressed for speed, not battle.  A dozen years of good government under Rudolf and Mariel had greatly reduced the plague of highwaymen in any case. 
            In Wedmor they had a choice of two inns, Goose Hollow and The Shining Stag.  Archard Oshelm made inquiries at both and reported the latter had three upstairs rooms available, so the party lodged their mounts at a public stable close by The Shining Stag.  Fugol and Galan cared for the horses while Eudes, Aewel and Archard carried their limited baggage to the inn.  The guards would share two rooms; Eudes had the smallest room to himself.  The Shining Stag provided basins of cold and hot water so the visitors could wash.  Presently, the five men shared one of eight tables in the common room: beer, hot slices of beef, onions and gravy.             
            Eudes declined an invitation from his guards for a second round of beer.  Rising, he tapped Archard lightly.  “Old bones need sleep.  A mere three days on the road, and I long for rest.  Take care you don’t drink the night away.”
            “Aye,” replied barrel-chested Archard.  “Early we rise, early we ride.”
            At that moment a tall young man burst into the common room, followed by a shorter, older man dressed well in a fine gray tunic and a gold chain.  “There he is!” exclaimed the bony youth.  Eudes, like everyone else in the room, looked to see the object of this excitement.  To his surprise, the man was pointing at Eudes.
            With shocking speed, Fugol Hengist swung his legs from under the table and rose; in a moment he stood with drawn sword between the accuser and Eudes.  The youth’s blue eyes went wide with fear and he staggered back into the rich man behind him.  Eudes laid a calming hand on Fugol’s left arm, but as a matter of soldierly instinct he did not impede Fugol’s sword arm.
            “Are you looking for someone?”  Eudes directed his question to the older man. 
            The gentleman, seeing all eyes on him, spoke quietly.  “It would be better to say we were hoping for someone.  Bully, here, my boy, said that he had seen a certain person come to Wedmor today.  If that’s true, I would surely like to speak with him.  Only as a matter of friendship, I assure you.  Since I have never seen this man, I am relying on Bully’s judgment.  Could I prevail on you to speak with me privately?”
            Eudes squeezed Fugol’s arm, and the soldier sheathed his weapon.  Eudes said, “Very well.  Let’s go outside.  Fugol, Galan, come along.”  Eudes motioned Aewel and Archard to stay seated.
            Without a word, as they exited the inn, Galan took up guard at the door.  Fugol strode ahead of Eudes into the street, looking up and down for possible threats.  Eudes stood at ease, watching the fat man’s quick brown eyes. 
            The gentleman smiled.  “Your men are well-trained, my lord.  That, as much as Bully’s word, tells me you are indeed Eudes Ridere.  I am Wilfrid Engoff, one of three Town Councilors in Wedmor.”  He extended a hand.  “You are the Lord Eudes, are you not?”
            Eudes saw no point in dissembling.  He shook Wilfrid Engoff’s hand.  “How does young Bully know me?”
            “Bully came to Wedmor a year ago, fleeing some trouble he doesn’t want to talk about.  He used to live in Pulchra Mane—the city, of course, not the castle—and he claims            to have witnessed the wedding procession of the queen.  He says Eudes Ridere is easy to identify by his curly black hair, the scars on his arms and the pride in his gray eyes.  The description does fit you, my lord.”
            “How would this boy have seen my eyes?”  Eudes looked at the skinny youth more carefully and remembered the pale blue eyes—an unproved accusation of burglary and two angry merchants.  “No matter.  Has there been trouble with Bully?”
            “No, indeed, my lord.  Bully is well liked in Wedmor.  It was the possibility of finding you that brought me out.”
            “Please explain, Councilor.”
            “Sir, we—that is, the Town Councilors—must judge a most difficult dispute.  It would be of great help to have the advice of a man so experienced as Eudes Ridere, not to mention someone who knows the mind of the queen.”
            Eudes shook his head.  “I must disappoint you, Wilfrid.  I am on the queen’s business, which brooks no delay.  My men and I ride before sunrise.”
            “But that is no barrier to helping us.  The Council meets tonight; in fact the other Councilors are sitting now, along with the parties at suit, awaiting my return.”
            Eudes sighed, hope of good sleep fading.  If Mariel were present, he knew exactly what she would require.  “Councilor Wilfrid, I am a soldier, not a judge.”
            “But you know the queen’s mind better than anyone.  We need advice.”
            “I will come.  Fugol, come along too.  And you too, Bully.”  Eudes wagged a finger at the youth.  “You got me into this, so you’ll have to stick it out.”  Bully was delighted, which only showed how little experience he had with councils.

            It took an hour of patient listening, after Lord Eudes had been introduced, with first one side and then the other objecting to various statements by the other, before the matter became clear.  Hereric Black owned the largest farm in the vicinity of Wedmor; the flesh of his pigs and cattle appeared on tables throughout the valley.  In recent years farmer Black had cleared large new fields and planted melons, and to supply these fields he dammed a river that ran across his land, diverting water through canals and ditches.  The difficulty arose because that very river (Hereric Black insisted on calling it Aefentid River, after his deceased wife, but the townspeople would only call it Wedmor River) flowed into the drainage system that the town had built, at considerable expense, only a few years before.  The reduced flow of the Wedmor in summer wasn’t enough to wash the town’s waste to the sea.  Why should townspeople endure a stinking summer when they had so carefully constructed a drainage system?  In response, Hereric Black argued that Aefentid River flowed unobstructed most of the year; he only irrigated in the hottest months of summer.  And without the water, Black’s enormous yield of melons, which everyone admitted to eating, would be decimated.
            When testimony ended, Town Councilor Caelin Aleric declared a recess.  Councilors and witnesses cleared the room, looking for a one of the privies in the dark outside the building.  Servants lit tapirs around the room.  When the meeting resumed the councilors would turn to Eudes for advice, but he didn’t know what to say.  It seemed that both farmer and townspeople had a just claim to a share of the water, but how much?  Eudes rubbed his eyes.  His neck hurt.  
            “My lord?  May I have a word?”  It was the watery-eyed youth, Bully.  The Council room was almost empty.
            “I suppose.  Everyone else wants a piece of my time.”
            “I have an idea, my lord.  I am familiar with the land around Hereric Black’s farm.”  As Bully talked, Eudes listened with greater and greater interest.  Then, “Thank you, son.  Let’s see how they take it.”
            Townspeople were aghast, at first, when Eudes recommended that Hereric Black be allowed to raise the height of his dam three feet.  He would be able to dam up all the water of Wedmor River, they complained.  Hereric Black was aghast when he realized that he would be required to dam Aefentid River to a greater height.  He objected that he had no need for all that water.  Both sides were satisfied once they understood that the Town Council would have authority to order the release of three feet of creek water to flush the town’s drain system, but never more than once in two weeks.
            After the meeting, Eudes sent Fugol for Bully.  “If you like living in Wedmor, son, may the gods bless you.  But I believe I could use you.  My men and I leave The Shining Stag early tomorrow; if you meet us when we leave, I’ll have a job for you—in the queen’s service.”
            The boy’s eyes shone.

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

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Castles 17

17. In Castle Inter Lucus

            When the magical writing appeared in the wall at the command of Lord Martin, Wyrtgeon Bistan and Syg Alymar lost all their doubts as to Ora’s truthfulness.  They begged the lord’s forgiveness for their skepticism and repeatedly affirmed their loyalty to the lord of Inter Lucus.  Ora wished she could render their promises in Lord Martin’s language; she wasn’t sure the lord understood the oaths of allegiance sworn by the villagers.
            Eventually, Wyrtgeon and Syg admitted that, though they were ready to do whatever their lord commanded, they needed to go home, if the lord permitted it.  Wyrtgeon’s wife, Gisa, would be worried about him, and Syg would fear for his aged mother, Leola Alymar, if he were not home at night.  Again Ora tried to translate details without success.  But Lord Martin seemed to grasp enough of the situation to respond adequately to the men’s request.  “Farewell,” he said, surprising Ora as well as Wyrtgeon and Sig.  Lord Martin was learning the speech of Two Moons quickly, but Ora hadn’t heard him use this word before.  The lord graciously added a little bow to his words, an honor greater than they deserved, Ora thought.
            Ora and Lord Martin slept on the grass of the great hall, shadowed by the ruined walls of Inter Lucus.  They built no fire and neither had a coat or blanket, but the evening air was warm.  Ora remembered Fridiswid’s rude question and wondered if Lord Martin shared Aethulwulf’s interest in her body.  He is a man, after all.  And he defended me from Attor and Aethulwulf.  Ora decided that if Lord Martin reached for her in the night she would not resist.  The lord was turned away, lying on his side.  Ora reached out and almost touched his neck, but realized he was already asleep.  She rolled back to face the stars.  He is the lord.  It’s not my place to touch him that way. 

            Marty slept well.  Whether the cause was the absence of mosquitoes, a bed of grass rather than lakeshore pebbles, or a mysterious effect of the castle he couldn’t tell.  Marty knew some important connection between him and Inter Lucus had been established when he first touched the control knob.  He arose eager to explore the castle much more thoroughly, as a matter of first importance.  In particular, he wanted to climb down to the corridors that ran under the grassy hall.  Marty left Ora, still asleep, and walked around the nearest pit, examining it from all sides.
            Exploring Inter Lucus would not be as easy as Marty’s dreams suggested.  The floor of the lower level was at least sixteen feet down.  To jump or drop that far risked injury.  Even on the side where fallen debris shortened the distance, Marty estimated the drop at twelve feet, which puzzled him.  I would have sworn that yesterday the debris pile reached much higher.  He remembered the “draining” effect he had noticed the afternoon before.  The castle is cleaning itself.  Downstairs too?
            Marty began a careful examination of the great hall.  Without having “before” measurements with which to compare he couldn’t be precise, but it seemed as if the accumulated dirt, leaves, sticks, and rubble had been reduced everywhere in the hall.  And the walls looked taller, not merely because the dirt on the floor had receded; Marty became more and more convinced the walls had grown.  Then he came to the oddest thing of all.
            Midway in the great hall, at a place where wind sweeping through the ruins had kept the accumulation of debris to a minimum, the soil had been completely removed, revealing a polished floor of oak.  The patch of uncovered floor was perhaps eighteen inches wide, and its edges seemed to waver, as if obscured by haze.  Marty dropped to his knees on the edge of the patch to look more closely.  Bit by bit, almost imperceptibly, the cleaned portion of the floor was growing, the dirt disappearing.  The wood floor had natural marks in it, growth rings and imperfections in the wood, as well as parallel lines where the wood had been joined.  Marty watched intently for many minutes, perhaps a quarter of an hour, and in that time new details of the floor emerged into view.  He sat back on his haunches and looked around the castle—in some unfathomable way, his castle—with a kind of awe.
             It’s like the place is alive.  No wonder the locals bow to the lord; if lords control this kind of technology they would be gods to medieval peasants.  No, that’s not right.  That first day—just two days ago, amazingly—Ora said “upgodu” had sent me to be “domne.”  They conceive a difference between lords and gods.  I need to discover what that difference is.
            Ora came to him as Marty cogitated.  She wore boots and brandished her fishing net.  “Fair morning, Lord Martin.  Shall we go fishing?”  Ora swung the net expressively, making her meaning clear.
            “Fair morning, Ora.  I need to remain in Inter Lucus today.  You go fishing.  I will prepare a fire so that when you return we can cook.  Do you remember the broken cherry trees?”  Marty pointed north, through a gap in the castle wall.  “There is wood there for a fire.”
            “As my lord commands.”  Ora grinned and bowed.  She gave Marty her leather pouch with its flint and knife and hurried away cheerfully, leaving Marty nonplussed.  I really am her “lord”; she is delighted to be my servant.
            When she had gone, Marty sat for a while, watching morning shadows retreat across the north slope of the castle grounds.  He felt a bulge in his pocket—the little Testament he had taken from his desk two days ago at Our Lady.  He had forgotten it in the swirl of forty-eight hours.  He searched for a few minutes to find a certain gospel passage.

            Amen, I say to you, there is no one who has given up house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands for my sake and for the sake of the gospel who will not receive a hundred times more now in this present age: houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and eternal life in the age to come.

            Does exile to a distant planet count?  He returned the Testament to his pocket. 
            Approaching the orchard, Marty realized that the overgrown trees might provide more than firewood.  He took his walnut staff with him.  More than one cherry tree had split over the years from the weight of untended branches, leaving plenty of dead wood as supply for a fire.  Marty found a gnarled fallen trunk of a tree about twenty feet long.  From this he broke off as many small branches as he could, sometimes using his staff as a club.
            Shorn of minor branches the cherry log still weighed more than Marty.  Hoisting the upper end onto his shoulders to drag it, he had to rest for breath three times before finally lowering it, butt first, into one of the pits in the great hall.  At the critical moment the weight and awkwardness of the log overcame him, and he dropped it.  But the log butted into the dirt piled on the floor below as Marty had intended.  He wiggled the upper end back and forth until the butt end was securely lodged in the debris pile.
            “Lord Martin!  Lord Martin!  Where are you?”
            Marty showed himself.  “Here, Ora!  At the castle!”  The girl was already trotting up the hill, following the track left by the cherry log.  She had several fish on a stick and had picked up the tool pouch and Marty’s staff.
            “No fire?”  No accusation in her voice, only puzzlement.
            “I’m sorry, Ora.  I got busy with other work.  Come see.”
            When Ora understood the purpose of the cherry log, she said, “I go first?”  But Marty directed her to hold the log steady while he climbed down.  With that accomplished, he told her to drop things to him, thinking the knife and his walnut staff might be helpful.  But he must have used a wrong word, because Ora dropped the fish, still on a stick.  Naturally, Marty missed catching the fish and three of them slid off the stick when they hit the floor.  With Marty holding the log, Ora clambered down quickly, the leather pouch looped around her neck.  Laughing over Marty’s error (cytwer doesn’t really sound like crycc), they searched around the debris field until the fish were recaptured and back on Ora’s stick. 
            Full morning light above them illumined the space below the opening and to walls many feet distant tolerably well.  But the tall corridors beneath the great hall ran far off into the dark.  Marty realized that Inter Lucus might be larger underground than above.  In the dark there was no way to be sure.  We need to make some kind of torch.
            Then the lights came on.

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



It's Saturday, and I forgot to post this week's chapter in Castles.  My excuse is that I've been very, very busy.  For one thing, Wipf & Stock has agreed to publish Why Faith is a Virtue, so I've started the business of rewriting crucial parts.  Meanwhile, the department of religious studies is preparing a proposal to revamp virtually all our courses; since I'm the chair, this means a lot of work.  And I have classes to teach . . . You don't really want to read all my excuses.

But maybe this will restore me to your good graces.  James Yang has been working on maps!  I've seen the first draft of one of them (the map of Herminia), and I'm very excited.  So be looking for this addition to the blog soon.

I'll put up chapter 17 in a few minutes, and try very hard to remember to post 18 next Thursday.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Castles #16

16. In the Foothills, Northwest of Hyacintho Flumen

            “Sir Milo?  Will we make camp in the wild?  It’s near too late to go home before dark.”
            Milo had been expecting Eádulf’s question for an hour, since it was already mid-afternoon.  He urged his black horse around a fir tree to an open place on the spine of the ridge they had been climbing.  He paused there, looking across similar ridges southeast of this one.  Somewhere over there, in the second valley, lay castle Hyacintho Flumen, invisible from this place.  Milo waited for Eádulf’s mount, a gray packhorse, to climb up beside him.
            “Aye, Eádulf.  We will camp in the wild tonight, and many nights after.”  Milo noted surprise and alarm in the stable boy’s eyes.  Eádulf was fourteen, three years younger than Milo.  For a moment Milo wondered whether he had treated the boy fairly, stealing him away from Hyacintho Flumen, quite likely never to return.  But that was an uncomfortable thought, so he pushed it away.
            “You may as well know the truth, Eádulf.  My father has named Aylwin his heir.  I will not be permitted to touch the lord’s knob after Hereward’s spirit departs.  Therefore, since I have been cheated of my rights, I have decided to leave Hyacintho Flumen and never to return.”
            The stable boy’s blue eyes went wide.  Eádulf had a freckled face and auburn hair.  His expression of astonishment made Milo laugh.
            “Don’t look so upset, Eádulf,” chuckled Milo.  “I’m the one who has lost a lordship and a castle, not you.  In fact, you’ve become a squire to a free knight.  Quite a step up from stable boy, don’t you think?  Remember the old story of Thurfirth.  He was a squire who took up his master’s sword after Rothulf fell in battle and he defended Rothulf’s body against all comers.  Afterward, the lord of Argentum Cadit made Thurfirth a knight in his own name, sir Thurfirth Berengar the loyal.”
            Eádulf swallowed several times.  His neck was so skinny and his Adam’s apple so large that he looked like a pelican downing its catch.  Milo laughed again.  However unlikely the thought that Eádulf would stand his ground in battle, the boy’s face was more ludicrous.
            But now he was crying.  “Ah, sir.  My Ma.  Ma’ll miss me.”
            Milo spat on the ground.  “Don’t flatter yourself, Eádulf.  Your ma has three other brats to feed, and your brother Odo can take your place in the stable.  Your family will have just as much income and one less mouth.  You’ll not be wanted any more than I.”
            Eádulf kept crying, which disgusted Milo.  He edged his mount closer and snatched the reins from the boy’s hands.  “By the gods, have it your way.”  He gestured toward the southeast.  Hyacintho Flumen lies in the second valley.  A couple days’ walk and you’ll be home, hungry maybe, but no worse for wear.  But I’m keeping the old gray to carry my armor.  Go on.  Get on down.”
            Eádulf gulped, wiping tears away with the back of his forearm.  “Ah, sir.  I am sorry, sir.  Please don’t send me back.  It’s not that I’d get lost; I can find my way.  It’s just . . . it’s hard, sir.  Never see Ma again . . .”
            “Well, go back then.”
            The wide eyes looked Milo full in the face.  “Ah, sir, no.  Please.  Don’t make me see Lady Lucia’s face.”
            “You seem to be under the mistaken impression that my mother gives a noble damn about me.  I assure you, she does not.  She’s as fully part of Aylwin’s scheme as Arthur.”
            Eádulf plainly did not understand Milo’s situation.  His peasant face was full of pity.  That Eádulf might pity his master irritated Milo.
            Milo swore under his breath.  “Well, then.  Come on.  We’ll make camp in this next valley.  There’s a creek there, and tomorrow we’ll follow it down to the Stonebridge road.”
            “Aye, sir.  But sir, if we are riding for Stonebridge, why did we climb the hills?  We’d a made better time if we’d taken the road since morning.”
            Milo hesitated.  “Because no one from Hyacintho Flumen would look for us here.  You don’t yet understand the deceit of my mother, Eádulf.  As soon as our absence was noted, Lucia will have sent out Dag Daegmund and Kenelm Ash to look for us, bearing a message that I should return to Hyacintho Flumen.  Lucia would remind me of her love, and my sisters’ love—and my brothers’ love, though in truth Aylwin hates me!  And here is the depth of the deceit: Mother would actually believe all this nonsense.  Not wanting to listen to such lies, I directed our path over the hills.”
            Milo did not add his fear: If I heard Mother’s plea, if only through Dag, I might yield and go home.  To what end?  Obey Aylwin’s bidding?  Never.  He nudged his horse into motion, beginning the descent into the next valley.
            They camped in the shadow of trees and mountain by a narrow creek running fast with cold water.  Eádulf tethered the horses and brushed them down while Milo gathered firewood.  Some bread, a quarter of a cheese, two apples and water made their supper, very much like their earlier lunch.  Milo had enough food for maybe three days; after that they had to forage or buy.  We’ll buy.  From the beginning Milo planned to return to the road; there were way-houses on the road to Stonebridge.  A bag under his outer tunic contained forty gold coins of Stonebridge make, enough to go a long way.
            Knight and squire made no fire in the morning.  Saddling and packing the horses, they set out long before the sun rose over the eastern ridge.  At some places the trees and underbrush were so thick they had to dismount and lead the horses round about.  Eventually the summer sun came over the hills, warming the sticky air, and they were glad of forest shade.  The valley broadened out as the creek drew near a river—not the Blue River itself, but a tributary.  Tended fields began appearing between dense clusters of pines and firs, some with wooden fences.  Milo and Eádulf rode easily now, following a wide path that wound from field to field.
            “Hoi!  Hoi!”  A farm boy, perhaps a year or two younger than Eádulf, came running toward the riders across a pasture.  Three stolid cows raised their heads at the sound for a moment before returning to grazing. 
            “Sir?”  Eádulf pointed with his chin to the boy.
            Milo reined up.  “We ought to listen to him, I suppose . . . What’s the trouble, boy?”
            The shape of the black-haired lad’s nose recorded a violent history; it had been broken more than once.  The boy saw Milo’s sword—or his boots or gloves, or the quality of his saddle—and his eyebrows registered surprise.
            “My lord!  Sir.”  The boy made an awkward attempt at bowing.  “It’s Osgar, Sir!  The pigs got out.”
            Milo grinned at Eádulf before returning his attention to the boy.  “If the pigs have escaped, I advise that you recapture them.  Is Osgar one of them?”
            “Oh no, Sir.  But yes, Sir.  I mean, Sir.  The pigs is back already; we caught ’em.  But Oscar’s leg’s broke. ’e’s yonder.”  The boy waved at the other side of the pasture.
            “How did this happen?”
            “Osgar, Wyot and me chased ’em ’bout an hour, and just as we was runnin’ ’em into the pen Osgar stuck ’is foot in a hole.  Broke ’is leg awful.  Wyot took off to get ’elp.  Osgar’s Da got only one horse and ’e’s down at the lower shed.  Gods, that’s eight mile gone.  Osgar’s doin’ bad.  Can you help us?”
            “You want me to transport this injured boy?”
            “Oh, Sir!  If you would!  The house’s two mile gone.”  The boy pointed down the valley.
            We’re going that way in any case.  “Very well.  Lead us to Osgar.  If we can get him onto the gray, my squire Eádulf can walk him to the house.  Are there people there to care for Osgar?”
            “Aye. ’is ma.  She’ll be grateful, sure ’nough.” 
            In the end, Milo decided, he made the right decision.  By the time Osgar had been secured on Eádulf’s mount and safely transported to his family farm, a compound consisting of a three-room house, two barns, a well, and dozens of chickens, cats and other animals, half the afternoon had been wasted.  But the boy’s mother thanked Milo repeatedly and gave substance to her thanks by rewarding knight and squire with a skin of wine and a large bag of brown beans, which she said Eádulf could cook over a campfire and make a tasty dish, using a blend of spices she presented in a small clay jar.  Eádulf estimated it would feed them four or five times.  It’ll make the gold last longer.  Enough recompense, I suppose, for delay and labor.

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

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Castles #15

15. Near Castle Inter Lucus

            Fridiswid Redwine hastened Marty and Ora with words and gestures.  Her guests were seated at a narrow table, more a food preparation area than a place for meals, in Fridiswid’s kitchen.  Marty caught the general idea easily enough.  She’s gone out on a limb because she likes Ora.  But she doesn’t want us here when her husband comes back from wherever he is.  Marty tried to comply with Fridiswid’s urging to eat quickly—and burned the roof of his mouth with a boiled potato little bigger than his thumbnail.  The tiny potatoes would have been delicious with salt, pepper and sour cream but, given their hunger, Marty and Ora welcomed them without any spice.  The bread was better still; it had a chewy crust and hints of hazelnut flavor.
            The few minutes Marty spent in Fridiswid’s kitchen reinforced his estimate of the technological level of the planet.  The farmwoman cooked with a fireplace, not a stove, burning wood, not coal.  She baked bread in a stone appurtenance built into the chimney.  There were knives aplenty in Fridiswid’s kitchen, and both wooden and metal spoons, but no forks.  The farmhouse windows had wood shutters, but only one small window had glass.
            The simple meal ended.  Walking through the village, Marty compared other houses to the Redwine house; if anything, Fridiswid’s was richer than most.  The tiled roof would be far more durable and expensive than the thatched roofs on other houses.  And heavier—tile roofs require a sturdy frame. 
            The unpaved street between the buildings, packed and dusty now, would turn into a quagmire in a rainy winter like those at Our Lady of Guadeloupe.  Maybe winter here is more like Illinois than Oregon, with frozen ground rather than seas of mud.  Every house had a chimney, sometimes two or three.  In the center of the village was a stone-lined well, with a bucket suspended from rope threaded through a pulley.
            The technological contrast between village Inter Lucus and castle Inter Lucus could hardly be starker. They hoist water, because pumps are unknown or too expensive.  They heat and cook with fireplaces.  The better houses have privies in the back, but beyond that sanitation is non-existent.  These people are centuries from electricity and computers.  Or antibiotics, or Novocain—God have mercy on you if you need surgery.  Castle Inter Lucus has high-tech electronics; I’d bet my life on it.  The place had to be built by someone else.  Who? Aliens?
            Marty grimaced.  His image of extraterrestrial intelligence was inflected with Hollywood mythmaking, bizarre creatures drinking gargle-blasters in Star Wars saloons modeled on Casablanca gin joints.  He couldn’t take it seriously.  Why not?  Hey, Marty, did you notice the moons?  And it’s summer here.  It’s November on Earth, late fall in North American and early spring in Argentina.  You’re on another planet, man.  You actually have proof of life on other planets.  Human life!  Marty had no doubt the people he had seen were Homo sapiens.  How did they get here if aliens weren’t responsible?
             He shook his head.  He had read somewhere that interstellar space travel would also be time travel.  Could that explain medieval Europeans on a distant planet?  Probably not.  Maybe in the future people travel to other stars, even other galaxies.  And they build Inter Lucus.  Then some catastrophe produces a dark age.  The “castle” is barely functioning, and no one knows how to use it.  Marty’s thought suddenly veered in another direction.  Good God!  Could there be others?
            “Ora.”  Marty stopped walking; the girl gave him her attention.  Castel Inter Lucus be . . .” He pointed toward the castle hill, visible above the forest.  He turned to gesture in the opposite direction.  Castel . . .?”
            “Castel Hyacintho Flumen.  Feorr.  Oferfirr.”
            Hyacintho Flumen.  So there is at least one other “castle.”  Marty remembered a word he needed.  “Who is the lord of castle Hyacintho Flumen?  Lord Feorr?  Lord Oferfirr? (“Hwa be domne castel Hyacintho Flumen?” Domne Feorr?  Domne Oferfirr?)
            Ora looked puzzled, shook her head and waved her arm toward the distant horizon.  Hyacintho Flumen feorr.  Domne Mortane.”
            “Oh.  I get it. Feorr . . . far.  And Mortane is the lord.”  But that only raises a dozen further questions.  Is Mortane’s castle in working order?  How many castles are there?  How far is “far”?
            The questions Marty most wanted to ask were beyond his vocabulary.  He forced himself to turn his attention from the things he wanted to know to the immediate task of language learning, a complicated business.  As they walked, Marty would point to one thing or another with his staff and ask, “What?”  (Hwa?)  But the answers he received were strangely inconsistent.  A single plant by the road might be blóstm or grénnes or unripe, and Marty had to stitch the meanings together: a green flowering plant with immature seeds.
            Marty and Ora reached the castle grounds—the rectangle of land containing the manor hill was clearly demarcated from the surrounding forest—in late afternoon, judging from the shadow of the trees on the west side.  Marty’s watch said six o’clock.  If I had to guess, the day here is within minutes of a twenty-four hour Earth day.  The planet is an earth twin; if it weren’t for the moons, I’d swear the place was Earth—complete with human beings, familiar fruits, chickens and pigs, everything.  No, not everything; the alien script in the wall didn’t come from Earth.
            A shouted greeting pulled Marty’s thoughts back to the immediate present.  Marty and Ora had reached the shade of the broad oaks when two men emerged from the western forest.  Marty’s pulse suddenly raced, and he tightened his grip on his staff.  They weren’t the attackers from yesterday, but something in the shout put Marty on alert. 
            “Fair evening,” Ora answered.  Marty understood the greeting, but before he could congratulate himself Ora continued with a rush of words he couldn’t follow.  She didn’t seem alarmed by the men; to the contrary, she motioned for Marty to wait with her as they approached.
            The men’s clothes were a pastiche of earth colors, brown, gray, black.  They wore something like very long shirts, reaching to the knees, with leather belts at their waists, and boots rising well above the ankles.  Their hair, black on one and gray on the other, had been cut short.  One of the men, the taller, younger one, carried a walking stick much like Marty’s; Marty held his own staff ready.  He pegged the men’s ages as about thirty and fifty.
            Introductions.  The black-haired man Ora named Wyrtgeon Bistan; the older man with gray hair was Syg Alymar.  Apparently they lived nearby, either in the village or close to it.  Ora presented Marty as Domne Martin Castles Inter Lucus, which elicited a burst of skepticism from the men.  Ora said something about befégest and Domne Martin.  The men’s expressions were easy to read: “Prove it.”  Ora beckoned them to follow her and Marty; her green eyes fairly danced with confidence.  I hope you’re not disappointed, girl.  For the most part, Castle Inter Lucus doesn’t work.  We can’t even be sure the wall will show any messages.  For all I know, I burned up the last of the power.
            Stepping through the gap in the tumbled wall, Marty was instantly aware that Inter Lucus felt different.  At first he didn’t notice visible changes, but he sensed power, as if the air were charged.  Ora pointed to the wall and the control globe and Marty saw something definite; the black ball, which had been half buried in the morning, stood several inches above the grass atop a black cylinder.  The cylinder hadn’t been raised.  Instead, the grassy slope at the south end of the great hall had been lowered, as if someone had started cleaning up by draining the dirt rather than digging from the top.  A quick glance around the great hall suggested that the accumulated debris had been reduced everywhere.
            It sure looks like Inter Lucus isn’t completely dead.  Marty felt more confident when he knelt to touch the control globe.  Immediately, along with the warmth of the ball, Marty again sensed something moving from him into the machine.  How can that be?  What could a computer take from a living thing?
            Lights rushed back and forth in the wall for only a few seconds.  Then the Latin list reappeared.
I. Materias Tranmutatio: non operativa
II. Parva Arcum Praesidiis: non operativa
III. Magna Arcum Praesidiis: non operativa
IV. Cibum Preparatio Homines: parte operativa, aedificaverunt initiati
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
            Marty spotted the change at once.  While he was forming a hypothesis as to the meaning of aedificaverunt initiati, he became aware that Wyrtgeon Bistan and Syg Alymar were kneeling on the grass several paces behind him.

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