Thursday, October 25, 2012

Castles 22

22. On the Road to Stonebridge

            Three days northwest of Hyacintho Flumen the road leapt across a narrow canyon by means of wooden bridge.  Milo and Eádulf reined up in the middle of the bridge.  At this point the unnamed river or creek that created the canyon broke through a gap in the hills on its way to West Lake.  Looking to the northeast, through pine forests on both sides of the stream, they could see blue water stretching into the distance.  “That is West Lake,” said Milo.  “Blue River starts there on its journey to Hyacintho Flumen and the sea.”
            Eádulf’s Adam’s apple moved up and down.  He had never been more than two dozen miles from Hyacintho Flumen.  “Will we see Down’s End, sir?  Meccus told me Down’s End is a great city on West Lake.”
            “No.  We journey for Stonebridge, a city every bit as large as Down’s End.  The road ahead will bear more and more westward, and Down’s End lies further north on the shore of the lake.  But who knows?  Perhaps we will visit Down’s End one day.”
            Proceeding from the bridge, the road passed through a sparse pine forest with dry grasses and tough low bushes between the trees.  In spring, the ground would have been soft from snowmelt, but full summer had now arrived.  The forest smelled of pine and wild flowers.  Bumblebees attended to wild roses and flowering shrubs: sidebells, wax currants, and huckleberries.  The road consisted of two parallel lines where horses and wagon wheels had worn tracks through the scrub.  Here and there, large rocks or ill-placed trees forced the road to rise or fall to get around barriers.
            The riders rounded a bend in the road and found a pedestrian ahead of them.  The man turned at the sound of their approach and held up a hand.  “Fair morning!”
            “Fair morning.  Aye,” said Milo.
            The man stood in the middle of the road, between the ruts made by occasional wagon wheels.  He carried a tall staff, which he held sideways, as if to block the road.  “Sirs,” he said, “You can see that I am an unarmed man.  But I am not alone.”  The stranger pointed with a nod of his head; two men with bows, arrows notched, aimed at them from twenty yards up hill.  “We beg that you stop a while.”
            Milo’s father, Hereward Mortane, had trained Milo in horsemanship and the use of a knight’s weapons.  Milo had not yet fought a real battle, but he remembered Hereward’s opinion that in dealing with highwaymen taking initiative was crucial.  The longer the robber controls the encounter, the greater the danger.  Without a word in response to the pedestrian, Milo spurred his palfrey while bending low over her neck.  The horse leapt forward, driving straight at the stranger.  An arrow flew close over Milo’s back, felt rather than seen.
            The highwayman jumped out of the way, scrambling up the road bank.  Milo had his sword out only in time to touch the man’s leg as his mount rushed by.  The speed of the horse and the extended sword, rather than any thrust on Milo’s part, sliced into the man’s leg.  Milo looked over his shoulder; Eádulf was on his hands and knees next to his horse.  The gray had fallen with an arrow in his neck. 
            Milo reined in his horse and jerked her around.  Arrows flew by Eádulf as he scrambled off the road.  The robbers’ spokesman was trying to stand, but his leg collapsed under him and he slid down the bank to the road.  Milo spurred his horse into motion, passed the fallen highwayman, and charged off the road, angling across the slope at the archers.  One of them shot hurriedly and wildly; the other failed to notch his arrow.  Milo’s sword slashed as he came on them, and the tip cut into one robber’s neck.  Milo brought his mount around, carefully now on the uneven hillside.
            The battle was over.  The archer whose neck Milo had slashed had a hand clasped to the wound, blood spurting between his fingers.  In a matter of moments, he staggered and fell.  The other archer sat on the ground dazed.  Milo’s horse had struck him as she rushed by, knocking him mostly senseless. 
            Eádulf ran out from his hiding place.  “Sir Milo!  You’ve killed them!”
            “Only one so far.”  Milo dismounted and handed the palfrey’s reins to Eádulf.  He walked to the stunned man, pointing his sword at him.  “What’s your name, thief?”
            He was a swarthy man, with long black hair gathered into two braids.  His black eyes stared at the blood-tipped end of the blade.  “Cola,” he muttered.
            “All right, Cola.  Now you get up and pull your friend there down to the road.  Unless you desire to join him in the afterworld, you will move slowly and do exactly what I say.”
            Milo kept his sword ready while Cola dragged the dead archer by his legs.  “Sit him up there on the side of the road.  He’ll be a warning to travelers of the dangers in these hills.  Now lay down on your belly.”
            Cola’s black eyes looked up at Milo, terrified.  He had regained his senses.  “O lord, please.  No.”
            “On your belly!”  The man lay prone.
            “Eádulf, fetch rope and a knife.”
            “Aye, sir.”  Eádulf had tethered Milo’s steed to a pine branch while Milo dealt with Cola.  He found a knife and a coil of rope from the saddlebags on the fallen gray.  The wounded horse had not tried to rise, its lifeblood slowly draining into the tufty brown grass between the road ruts.
            “Give me the rope.”
            “Here, sir.”
            “Now, Eádulf, one of these men put an arrow in your good gray.  All we can do for the poor beast is end its suffering.  Be a good man and use your knife.”
            Eádulf had experience of life and death among farm animals; he was not surprised at Milo’s command.  He knew how to cut the big artery in an animal’s neck.
            “Don’t wipe the blade.  Come over here.  You see, Cola, how Eádulf can handle his knife.  Put your hands behind your back and lie still.  If you don’t, Eádulf will cut your throat as cleanly as the horse’s.  Not that you deserve a quick end; it might be better if you bled slowly.  Give me your hands!”
            Milo laid aside his sword and tied Cola’s hands securely.  “Rise, thief!
            “We’ve lost a horse, Eádulf.  For the time being you’ll have to carry some of the gray’s load.  The rest we put on the thief.  I leave it to you to decide what part he carries.  Tie it on well.  We don’t want him dropping things.  If he doesn’t cooperate, cut him some place where it will hurt without incapacitating him.  For example, he only needs one eye.”
            Cola’s face was full of terror.  Milo felt a thrill of pleasure; the man’s fear was intoxicating.  The prisoner stood meekly as Eádulf tied Milo’s bundle of armor onto him.  Eádulf then selected the most important items remaining from the gray’s load and packed them onto his own back.  Finally, they were ready to go.  Milo loosed the palfrey and walked her along the road.  Presently they came to the place where the first highwayman, the spokesman for the trio, had fallen.  The man had dragged himself up the hillside perhaps thirty yards, leaving a trail of crushed grasses and blood.
            Milo handed the reins to Eádulf.  “This won’t take long.”  He pulled his sword from its sheath next to the pommel.
            The highwayman cowered when Milo approached.  “Oh Sir, my leg’s cut.  I can’t walk or make trouble.  Please, just leave me.  I promise I’ll never thieve again.  Don’t kill me, please just leave me.”
            Milo smiled; again he felt delight.  “Let’s see.  You don’t want me to kill you.  You promise you won’t steal again.  And you want me to leave you here.  Very well.  Hold out your arm.”
            The man had a puzzled look for a moment, but stretched out his arm.  Milo’s steel blade flashed, taking off the man’s hand.
            “If you tourniquet that, you won’t bleed to death.  So you can’t say that I’ve killed you.  And I dare say that you won’t be stealing again.  Fair day to you.”
            Milo watched the highwayman try one handed to wrap a bit of cloth around his stump, but the man couldn’t stop the bleeding.  After struggling with it for many seconds, the robber gave out a sigh and slumped back.  His eyes closed, blood still spurting from the stump.  Milo turned away.

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


Thursday, October 18, 2012

Castles 21

21. In Castle Inter Lucus

            The arrow came from Marty’s left, where a figure stood in a break between ruined walls.  The archer was notching a second arrow.  Marty dashed right to seek cover but tangled his feet and tripped, falling next to the control knob.  He pulled himself up, instantly feeling the connection with Inter Lucus.
            The sound of an ear-splitting klaxon, as if ten fire trucks were combined into one, exploded out of the interface wall.  Perhaps the sound emanated from the floor and the other walls as well; Marty couldn’t tell.  At the same time, the wall blazed with a phantasmagoria of light: orange, yellow, green and red, too bright to look at.  Marty curled onto his elbows and knees with his eyes screwed shut against the light, but he had the sense to maintain contact with the control knob.  He wiggled around to turn his back to the wall and dared a quick look.  Ora lay prone on a bit of floor, her hands covering her ears.  More importantly, the archer was no longer in sight.  As if in response to this information, the klaxon sound stopped and light from the wall switched in a moment from otherworldly bright to message board ordinary.
            Marty crabbed around the control knob, blinking repeatedly as his eyes readjusted to the soft light of a summer evening.  His ears were ringing.  He looked at the openings between the walls of Inter Lucus, quickly shifting his attention from place to place, but the archer was not to be seen.
            “Lord Martin, are you okay?”  Ora liked using the word she had learned.
            “Yes.  Where is the . . . man?”  Marty didn’t know the words for archer, bow or arrow.
            “I will look.”  Ora scrambled swiftly along the interface wall to peek around the end.  Seeing no one, she hurried to a gap in the east wall, not far from where the archer had stood.  She turned and beckoned Marty with a wave of her arm, at the same time putting her other hand over her mouth.  For a moment, Marty questioned the wisdom of leaving the control knob; what if the sound attracted other attackers?  Trusting Ora’s judgment, he jogged to join her, bending to recover his walnut staff on the way.  He laid a finger on his lips in recognition of Ora’s call for quiet.
            Ora pointed.  The east side of the castle grounds was fully shadowed.  Marty didn’t see anyone and shook his head.  Ora whispered, “Berries.”
            Quietly: “I see!”  Someone crouched behind the blueberry bushes.  The intruder was near enough to the forest that he could easily escape, but instead of running away he watched Inter Lucus from his hiding place.  After perhaps a minute of this, the stranger jumped up and ran into the forest.
            Suddenly Ora spoke aloud.  “The gods take you!  Prideful fool!  I know where you live, Caelin Bycwine.”
            Marty touched Ora’s arm.  “Do you know this man?”
            “No man he, but a foolish boy.”  They walked back toward the control knob as Ora talked.  “Caelin Bycwine is a year younger than I am.  His father owns goats.  Tomorrow, if Lord Martin desires, I can take you to his house and you can punish him.”
            “If we go to his house, won’t he shoot us?”  Marty picked up the arrow that had so narrowly missed his leg to illustrate his question.
            Ora laughed.  “Caelin Bycwine’s mother was sister to my mother.  He will not shoot me.  I will knock on his door and tell him Lord Martin demands to see him.  In any case, now that he has seen Lord Martin’s magic, he would fear to shoot you.”
             “Ora, I trust your judgment.  If you think I should visit Caelin Bycwine, I will.  But perhaps I will not punish him.”
            “Lord Martin is merciful.”
            Marty put his hand on the control knob, picturing in his mind the subroutine list, which appeared instantly.  He half expected this result.  Somehow the castle “read” his feelings or desires, fear a few minutes ago and curiosity now.

I. Materias Tranmutatio: non operativa
II. Parva Arcum Praesidiis: parte operativa, aedificaverunt initiati
III. Magna Arcum Praesidiis: non operativa
IV. Cibum Preparatio Homines: operativa
V. Inter-Castrum Videns-Loquitur: non operativa
VI. Extra Arcem Micro-Aedificator: non operativa
VII. Potentia Fontes: parte operativa, aedificaverunt initiati
VIII. Aquarum: parte operativa, aedificaverunt initiati
IX. Intra Arcem Micro-Aedificator: operativa
X. Centralis Arbitrium Factorem: parte operativa

            Three instances of aedificaverunt initiati, and Marty made a guess: Repairs initiated.  The castle is fixing itself.  And that means . . . Wasn’t IX the one operating system at the start?  “Micro-Aedificator” =“small repairer”?  Apparently I have two sets of small repairers: Intra Arcem and Extra Arcem.  Inside and outside of what?  The castle?  That fits.  Repairs are certainly going on inside the building.

            Ora touched Lord Martin’s elbow.  She had walked patiently back and forth between the lord’s knob and the end of the wall as Lord Martin contemplated the tiny lights.  But darkness was falling, and there was need.
            “What is it?”  He took his hand from the lord’s knob; the lights winked out.
            “Come.”  Ora led Lord Martin to the west wall of the great hall.  They stood behind two fragments of wall where they could survey the trees on the southwest approaches of the castle.  “There.  See?  Beyond the oaks.”
            Lord Martin let out a breath.  “They must have heard the sound a while ago.  How many?”
            “Three, I think.  My lord, use magic to frighten them.”
            “Will they attack us?”
            “I do not think they will attack.  But if Lord Martin frightens them, they will surely not attack.”
            “Okay.  Stand here and watch them.”
            Lord Martin went back to the lord’s knob.  There was dark silence for a while.  Without warning a narrow band of intense light shot from the outside of the wall, directed at the oak grove.  Simultaneous with the light, the horrible horn sounded again.  The intruders hiding among the trees fled for their lives.  Ora counted four of them.
            When Lord Martin released the lord’s knob, the wall fell quiet and dark.  Ora had an idea.  “Perhaps we should sleep downstairs.”  Ora pointed to make her meaning plain.
As long as Lord Martin was awake, he could defend them with magic.  But he had to sleep sometime, and Ora’s knife was not much defense.  She felt sure they would be safer underground.
            “Okay.  Good.”  Lord Martin led the way.  The magic of Inter Lucus lighted their way as they descended the stairs to the first underground level.  Walking a long corridor, Ora noticed that the light appeared where they needed it; in the corridor behind them light faded away.
            Suddenly Lord Martin said, “What in the world?  I should have guessed.  Thank you, Lord!”
            Ora had learned that Lord Martin’s word “lord” meant “domne.”  It seemed strange that he would thank himself.  She would have to ask him tomorrow.
            The occasion for the lord’s thankfulness became clear.  A portion of the corridor wall had retracted into itself, revealing a room they had not seen in their earlier exploration of the castle.  It was a small room with much of its space occupied by two large troughs made of something that looked like stone, each trough half full of steaming water.
            “Ladies first,” said Lord Martin, motioning for Ora to enter the room.  Ora regarded him with wonder.   She had heard tales of grand baths in the houses of rich men in Down’s End, though she had never imagined anything this opulent.  That the lord of a castle would let a servant bathe in such luxury was beyond her ken.  That he would call her a lady . . .?
            “My lord?”
            “Take a bath, Ora.  I’ll wait out here.”  A thought came to him.  “In fact, while you wash, I’ll look around for a linen closet.  I bet there is one.”
            It took a couple minutes to persuade Ora to bathe.  Marty almost had to order her to do it.  As he walked away from the bath chamber the corridor between them fell dark, but light still spilled from the bathroom.  It shouldn’t be hard to find his way back, but Marty decided not to take chances.  He confined his search for towels to the nearby portion of the corridor.
            Of course, he didn’t know how to look.  Since the bathroom had appeared in an otherwise unmarked portion of the wall, Marty reasoned that other rooms (Closets? Bedrooms? What else?) might turn up anywhere.  He ran his hand along the wall; perhaps touch would identify a door invisible to sight.  He returned unsuccessful and waited for Ora to come out of the bathroom.  She emerged dressed in an under tunic, holding her dirty coarse outer clothes in a bundle.  She made a little bow.  “I’ll wait out here,” she said, mimicking his words.
            As Marty sank into the bath water, he noticed the sheen of some oily substance in the corner of the tub.  He palmed some of this and sniffed it.  Soap!  I should have guessed.  Inter Lucus thinks of every thing.  Well—not everything.  Ora and I both need clean clothes.

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

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Castles 20

20.  In Castle Inter Lucus
            In one sense, Ora could come to terms with the marvels of Inter Lucus more easily than Marty.  To her, everything the castle did was magic (scinnlác).  The magic of the gods could do amazing things, and since Lord Martin had bonded with Inter Lucus, he had access to the gods’ magic.  So, naturally: lights in the underground parts of the castle.  Ora recognized that Lord Martin was only a lord, not a god, so there were limits; she could not expect him to do anything and everything.  But she was always ready to experience new wonders.
            Marty, on the other hand, was constantly guessing at the technology behind the surprises.  The underground corridors of the castle were lit by softly glowing strips of some ceramic or glass material embedded in the floors, walls and ceilings.  Fiber optics? Marty wondered.  In his time as an electronics manufacturer’s agent he had sold some lighting systems that might be considered primitive versions of Inter Lucus’s lights.
            Throughout the underground level the ceilings were about sixteen feet high, and the corridors were as wide as an expensive hotel’s.  A lot of unused space that has to be heated and cooled; a big waste—if they were building for human beings.  Maybe they built for really tall aliens.  But if aliens built the thing, why is it inhabited by a bunch of medieval Europeans?  And how did I get here?  Marty shook his head.  So many unanswered questions.
            It became obvious that the underground level—levels, because Marty and Ora found staircases leading down—covered a far greater area than the ruins on the surface.  Marty counted paces on some long corridors and estimated the third level, the lowest as far as they could tell, reached to the edge of the forest surrounding Inter Lucus.  By counting paces Marty also concluded that the corridors made a perimeter around a large section of the second and third levels that had no doors.  He speculated that some of Inter Lucus’s vital machinery, perhaps the central computer, lay behind these walls.  You would think they had to put in access somewhere, if only for repairs.  Try as he might, Marty found no indication of an entrance to the walled off section.
            At various places they found signs or messages in a script that resembled the alien letters that had appeared in the south wall of the castle when Marty first bonded with Inter Lucus, always high on the walls.  Marty took this as evidence for his “tall aliens” theory.  Most of the messages were static, but some of them would fade and be replaced by others.  Marty puzzled about them but realized he might never decipher a truly alien language; he didn’t know the letters, the words, the concepts, or the syntax.  And the authors of the messages weren’t present for interrogation.  I need something like a Rosetta stone for alien hieroglyphics.
            While Ora and Marty were exploring the third level, a bell rang.  It seemed to have no particular location; the sound came from the walls or the ceiling or both.  In the wall to Marty’s right a square lit up, and Roman letters appeared:

Domini Martini
Cibum est iam.
            Ora looked at Marty expectantly.  She couldn’t read the message, but she obviously concluded that letters at eye-level accompanied by a signal had to be meant for them.  Marty remembered “cibum” appeared in the list of castle subroutines, and he had a guess as to its meaning.  He led Ora up stairways to the first lower level and the open pit by which they had entered.  Before they arrived, while still walking the corridor, they smelled confirmation of Marty’s theory.
            A portion of the floor had pushed itself up, creating a slab table/counter and pushing aside a portion of the debris pile under the daylight opening.  Atop the ceramic slab lay Ora’s fishes, sizzling in shallow depressions in the counter top.  Pan fried fish, without the pan.  “Cibum est iam.”  “Food is . . .” what?  Ready?  I wonder where they keep the plates and silverware.  Lacking these implements, Marty used Ora’s knife to push the fish out of the “pan” onto the counter top.  Other than the depression where the fish cooked, the slab’s surface was cool.  He cut the fishes into small pieces and they ate with their fingers.  Marty attended carefully to the counter top as they ate.  Tiny bits of grease or fish scales left behind when he or Ora took a bite gradually disappeared.  It’s like the dirt absorbing floor upstairs.  On Earth a company with this technology would make a fortune; it’s a true self-cleaning house.
            Marty reasoned there ought to be a stairway to the ground floor level, but it took a long time to find it, because, in the end, it was under their feet.  The “pit” down which they had climbed by means of a cherry log was actually a stairwell.  Somehow the stair had detached from the upper floor and recessed into the lower level floor under the weight of accumulated dirt, leaves and other debris, no doubt pressed down at times more heavily by rains or snowfall.  With Ora’s help, Marty dragged the cherry log away from the opening, laying it beside a wall.  With bare hands they scooped at the dirt, digging like dogs hunting moles; an unceremonious procedure, no doubt, but without a shovel it was the best option.  When they had reduced the pile to only a couple inches of soil, they heard a pinging sound and the stairway began rising from the floor.  Like the cooking counter, the stair rose as a solid block, each step separating from the mass when the unit reached the appropriate height.  At first the stairs had no handrails, but when the top step joined the upper floor, again with a ping, narrow slabs began to rise from the ends of each step.  Marty couldn’t descry any join between the rising slabs; when the stair was finished the sidewalls looked as if made from a single piece of transparent ceramic.  But unlike any handrail he had seen on Earth, this rail was not a continuous slope; instead, the tops of the sidewalls stair-stepped exactly like the stairs from which they grew.  On the right side of the stairway (going up), the sidewall stopped rising about three feet above the stair; on the left side it rose over Marty’s head.  All the stairways they had encountered followed this pattern, convenient rails on the right and impractically tall ones on the left.  Earthlings on the right, aliens on the left—is that how it worked?  Suddenly Marty had an idea; he rushed up the stairs with Ora trailing behind.
            They had spent most of the day below; sun slanted above the ruin of Inter Lucus over the shadows of trees to the west.  The dirt in the great hall had drained noticeably in the interim.  The weeds and grass were reduced to patches and wood flooring—or something that looked like wood flooring—was showing in many places.  But Marty paid scant attention to these details.  Aliens to the left.  He hurried toward the glass wall, the wall he had come to think of as “the interface.”  The ball he thought of as the “control knob” now stood between two and three feet above the retreating grass; when the dirt was completely gone it would be something over three feet tall.  To the left stood the much taller column with the broken ball on top; Marty had no doubt it had been a larger version of the control knob.  He wished he had a ladder.  The alien control knob is broken.  Maybe that’s why they left.  It couldn’t be that simple, could it?  They have to know how to fix things.  After all, the place is busy fixing itself. . . . But maybe the control system is a tougher matter; maybe Inter Lucus can’t self-repair that system.
            There are other castles.  Have the aliens deserted them too?
            Marty found himself shaking his head yet again.  So many questions, so few answers.
            In the meantime, life among the mysterious medieval inhabitants of the planet kept providing complications.  Behind him Ora was shouting, and an arrow struck the ground near Marty’s feet.

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

Monday, October 8, 2012

Maps have arrived!


Today I introduce a new page to the blog: Maps of Two Moons.  The maps are prepared by James Yang, an art major at GFU.  I like them a lot; you will too.  Big thank you to James!

The first map, going up today, is the map of Herminia.  We hope to have a map of Tarquint soon.

You'll notice a few things about the map.  First, if you use the link provided at the bottom, you'll have a version which can be manipulated: you can zoom in and out and move the map so you can examine various parts of it.  Second, you'll quickly note that some features of the map don't agree precisely with the text of Castles.  Some place names are spelled differently.  But this is to be expected.  You wouldn't suppose the people of Two Moons spell everything consistently, would you?  None of these "inaccuracies" should interfere with your use of the map.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Castles 19

19. In Down’s End

            In the two days after Sunniva’s burial Isen visited every glassblower in Down’s End.  Somehow word from Alderman Gausman preceded him in each case.  No glassblower would take him on as apprentice.  At first this rejection puzzled him; what had he done to offend master Gausman?  Did the trouble lie with Cenhelm Godspear and his son Elfgar?  But Isen had never sensed any enmity from Master Godspear or Elfgar.  The whole thing was a mystery.
            Mystery soon gave way to feelings of anger, anxiety and despair.  Isen had spent five years toiling for Kent Gausman, learning his craft, and all the while earning barely enough to buy food for himself and Sunniva.  Now what?  Did his knowledge and skill count for nothing?  What work could he do?  Day labor on one of the many farms around Down’s End?  Seek an apprenticeship with a weaver or some other guild?  Isen was already nineteen years old; he shrunk at the idea of starting all over again.  Alderman Gausman was an important man in Down’s End (Gausman himself had said so often enough); would his word against his former apprentice bar Isen from any sort of work?
            Osulf Deepwater’s father, Bead, provided a temporary solution to Isen’s unemployment.  Isen met Osulf in the market, in late afternoon two days after the burial; Osulf quickly invited Isen to sup with the family.  Bebba Deepwater, mother to Osulf and Headby, hospitably set a place for Isen at the table.  During supper Bead scratched his bushy black beard while listening to Isen tell Osulf and Headby how all the glassblowers shut him out.  At length Bead said, “Gausman just up and tossed ya, eh?  Don’t think on it too long; it’s not hard to understand.  Politics, see?  Gausman is head o’ the guild, an’ he wants to stay that.  You could be twice as good as Godspear’s boy, an’ it don’t matter.  Gausman’s buying votes for the next guild meet.
            “Anyway, I got an idea for ya.  How ’bout we take a boom ’cross the lake tomorrow?  I think the wind’ll be good, soft an’ steady.  We’d need an extra hand to load and unload.”
            “Good plan, Da!” said Headby.  “Not a boat’s brought over a load for two, three weeks.  Builder’s Row must be needin’ cut lumber, or logs at least.”
            “Aye,” said the father.  “And if we get a good price, we can let Isen, here, share in the take.  And if not, well, Isen, at least ya’ll get sup for the day.” 
            “I’m very grateful, Master Deepwater,” said Isen.  “When do we start?”
            Deepwater pursed his lips.  “Early, early.  Some other body might be thinkin’ the same.”
            Osulf shook Isen awake in the dark.  The fishing family was used to rising with first light; what they called an “early” start felt like the middle of the night to Isen.  He dressed quickly and tried to rub sleep from his face.  Bebba Deepwater kissed her husband and sons goodbye and handed them lunch: several small loaves of bread (still warm, as she had let them bake during the night) and a large skin of beer.  Once on board Morning Glory, the Deepwaters’ fishing boat, Isen had little to do except stay out of the way. 
            A fishing boat is too small to carry loads of lumber or logs, but Down’s End fishermen had devised a practical way to transport forest products across West Lake.  In good weather a fishing boat could pull a raft of logs or, as Bead intended this day, a raft of logs piled high with cut lumber.  Before leaving Down’s End in morning’s gray light, Bead and his sons attached a line from Morning Glory to a boom of six logs kept under one of the docks near the mouth of River Betlicéa.  The boom consisted of six fat logs cut the same length, chained end-to-end to make a ring.  Once they reached the east side of the lake the fishermen would use the ring of logs to enclose their floating cargo, unfastening one of the chains and reattaching it once the load was surrounded.  On the outward journey, with no cargo floating inside the ring, the boom collapsed into two rows of logs trailing behind Morning Glory.  Headby stood on the pier with a pike pole, shepherding the boom between the pilings of the pier as Morning Glory slowly pulled the chained logs into open water.  Isen began to think Headby would be left behind, or Bead and Osulf would have to turn back to pick him up, but at the last moment Headby jumped lightly from the fishing dock to the last logs of the boom.  With a pike pole for balance, the young sailor walked on the logs of the boom as easily as walking a path on land.
            Osulf remarked to Isen more than once how easy the crossing was; a steady breeze from the northwest filled Morning Glory’s modest sail and the crew had little to do but steer.  Isen, who had never been surrounded by miles of water before, felt much less sanguine.  He watched the black water of West Lake moving around the boat, a mere foot below the gunwale on the right side of the boat, and worried that the wind might tip Morning Glory far enough to bring water in.
            The sun rose over the forest between the lakes as Morning Glory drew close to the east shore.  There was no one there, in fact, no sign of human habitation except a rough dock built out into the water a short distance.  The Deepwaters expertly guided Morning Glory near the dock; Headby used the pike pole to pull the little boat close, and they tied up.  On the land end of the dock Osulf untied the clapper of a signal bell, which he rang loudly several times.  Then the Morning Glory crew sat down to wait and eat.
            Before half an hour had gone a woodsman named Baldric Forrest responded to their signal, and not long after that a youth came who called himself Aethulwulf Woodman arrived.  He said his father, Attor, would be along presently.  Negotiations proceeded amicably; soon it was agreed that Morning Glory would sail a half mile north to collect some raw logs from Baldric Forrest.  Meanwhile, Attor and Aethulwulf would bring two wagon loads of cut planks, already seasoned by drying, to the dock; Morning Glory would pull the raft of logs back south to be loaded with lumber on top.  This way, Baldric Forrest’s fresh logs would ride in the water and Attor Woodman’s seasoned lumber would stay mostly dry.  The whole thing could be done in a few hours, leaving the boatmen time to return to Down’s End that day.  “An altogether pleasin’ result,” said Bead.  “Many’s the time it’s taken two, even three days, for a lumber run.  Let’s hope the wind holds.”
            Moving raw logs from land to water proved the hardest labor of the day.  Baldric Forrest had dragged dozens of logs near the shore, various sizes, with a team of oxen.  But for the last twenty feet, the logs had to be rolled into the water by men.  Isen and Osulf did most of the work, using levers to roll the logs.  Headby, meanwhile, stood knee deep in the water with his pike pole to shepherd their purchase into a reasonable semblance of a raft and keep any log from escaping.  For the largest log, a fir more than four feet in diameter, Bead and Baldric joined Isen and Osulf to lever the monster into the water.  By midday, they had surrounded the collection of logs with the six-log boom and refastened its chains.  The boom now formed a rectangle, two log lengths long and one wide.  The enclosed logs, of various lengths, nestled closely at the far end of the rectangle, but left some open water at the near end.  Morning Glory proceeded to tow the enclosed raft of logs to the forest dock.  As promised, Attor and Aethulwulf Woodman had brought a good supply of cut lumber to load atop the makeshift barge.  Headby and Osulf worked on the raft, nimbly balancing on logs and stacking lumber.  Isen and Bead worked with Attor and his son, handing long planks of pine and fir to the men on the raft.  They took care not to overload the raw logs underneath, lest a log be pushed down far enough to escape under the logs of the boom.
            “If I remember right, besides this strappin’ son o’ yours, you also had a daughter.”  Isen was close enough to hear what Bead said to Attor.  “But no sign o’ her today.  I guess you found her a husband?”
            Attor Woodman frowned angrily, which Isen thought strange.  Bead spoke kindly enough.
            “I only speak as a friend.  Osulf there, he thought your girl a fair sight.”
            Attor almost growled.  “Aye.  I know it.  Eacnung won’t let me forget; says I shoulda married her off last year.”  He sighed and shrugged.  “The girl ran off.”
            Bead’s face registered sympathy and surprise.  “She seemed a good girl.  Get herself a man?”
            “In a manner of speakin’.”  Attor shook his head.
            “I don’t follow ya.”
            “She says she went down to the castle n’ prayed, n’ she says the gods sent her a new lord for Inter Lucus.
            To this point, while Bead and Attor spoke, Isen and Aethulwulf had continued to pass lumber to Osulf and Headby.  Isen now stopped to listen better.  Aethulwulf pointedly ignored the conversation; he wrestled a heavy plank by himself.
            Bead said, “So there is a man.  A stranger I bet, from Cippenham or somewhere else far away.”
            Attor pushed back his hair with both hands.  “Far away?  Aye.  Wyrtgeon Bistan and Syg Alymar say it’s true.  They say this lord made Inter Lucus magic.  They say they saw it.”
            Bead shook his head.  “How’d a girl talk two men into such foolishness?  There’s been no lord for a hundred years.  Inter Lucus is dead.”
            Attor shrugged.  “I don’t know.  Syg Alymar’s a good man.  Known ’im a long time.  He says he saw Lord Martin make magic in the wall.”
            Bead clapped Attor’s shoulder.  “Well, if it is true, we’ll know soon enough.  Good news for you, too.  Not every man’s daughter takes a lord of a castle!”
            Attor tried to smile, but Isen thought it looked more like a grimace.  And he saw a side-glance between father and son that he couldn’t interpret.

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