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.