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.