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 . . .?
“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.