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.


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