Thursday, November 29, 2012

Castles 27

27.  In Castle Prati Mansum

            Six riders stopped on a narrow rocky shoal between a steep wooded slope and the sea.  They had rounded enough of the headland to see the castle Prati Mansum at the eastern end of a curving bay.  The castle and a couple dozen buildings clustered near it were three miles away across open water; the shoreline road was considerably longer. 
            “The tide will come in soon,” Eudes observed.  “If you three come any further, you’ll have to wait for the next low tide or climb over the ridge on your return.  Best you take leave of us here.”
            Fugol Hengist spoke for the others.  “A few more hours in the saddle, my lord, what is that to us?  It seems unbecoming to escort you to within sight of an enemy’s stronghold and then desert you.”
            Eudes caught the soldier’s eye and smiled.  “Enemy’s castle?  Do you doubt the loyalty of Lord Toeni?”
            Fugol spat into the surf.  “I have no doubt at all.  Rocelin Toeni hated Rudolf, he hates Mariel, and he hates you most of all.  He would hang you in an instant if he thought he could get away with it.”
            Fugol’s brother, Galan, carried the thought further.  “Toeni might think that without you, my lord, Mariel would have no one to besiege him.  He might think he can get away with it.”
            Eudes shifted in his saddle and rubbed a scar on his chin, scratchy beneath his new growth of beard.  He eyed the castle across the bay.  “Fortunately, though he may be disloyal, Lord Toeni is not stupid.  He knows Mariel could find another general—who knows, maybe you, Galan—who could organize a siege.  Her army would outnumber his thirty-to-one.  With Mariel’s wealth and those numbers, any one of you could besiege him so tightly that the castle would eventually fall.  And what would happen then, Galan, if Prati Mansum fell into your hands?”
            “I would throw it into the sea, one broken bit at a time.  The whole brood of Toenis would hang.”
            Eudes laughed.  “You should add: ‘unless my queen forbade me.’  Mariel would not look kindly on the destruction of a castle in Herminia.  But the point is this.  Rocelin Toeni knows that he dare not rebel.  For that reason, I will be quite safe in Prati Mansum for the time being, and I won’t be there long.”
            The men looked at Eudes, hoping he might say more.  The whole journey he had said nothing about his true destination, only that they were to escort him to Prati Mansum.  At Wedmor he had added the boy Bully to their party and announced that Archard Oshelm and the youth would go further with him, but he hadn’t said where.  Eudes sidled his horse next to Galan and clapped him on the shoulder.  “You want to know more, but I may not tell you.  Now be gone.”
            Fugol, Galan and Aewel Penda turned their mounts.  “Farewell, then,” said Aewel.  “Bully, you take care of these men, especially the old one.  If you don’t, you’ll answer to the queen and to us.”
            Eudes, Archard and Bully rode eastward and the promontory soon cut off sight and sounds of the other three.  Beyond the point, they found a trail in the woods on their left, allowing them to avoid riding on the beach, which turned into loose sand in the shelter of the bay.  Eudes reined up in the sanctuary of a particularly dense copse of firs.  Dismounting, he opened a saddlebag and pulled out a clean tunic and breeches.
            “At Prati Mansum we are going to board a ship, the Little Moon.”  Eudes pulled off his boots and changed clothes while he spoke.  “The lady Erline and her daughter, Edita, will also be aboard, sailing to Tarquint.  Edita has been promised to one of the sons of Hereward Mortane of Hyacintho Flumen; Lady Erline is supposed to conclude an agreement as to which Mortane her daughter will marry.”
            Eudes laced his boots and bundled his old clothes into the saddlebag.  He perched a felt hat, dyed bright yellow, on his head.  “I am not Eudes Ridere.  You will call me Boyden Black from now on.  Lord Toeni and Lady Erline know who I am, but they have been instructed to play along with our game.”
            Archard asked, “Why is a marriage of this lord’s daughter important to the queen?”
            “Actually, it doesn’t really concern us, except that we may hope that when we arrive in Tarquint the Mortanes will be preoccupied with their noble visitors and pay us little attention.  Our business is something else entirely.  Who am I, Bully?”
            “Boyden Black, sir.  May I ask, sir, what is Sir Black’s business?  Folk in Prati Mansum will be sure to ask.  And in Tarquint.”
            Eudes gave the youth an encouraging grin.  “Very good, Bully.  I am a merchant.  I will be particularly interested in finding supplies of wool to import to Herminia.  You are my assistant, and you may properly call me master or sir.  Archard is a mercenary guard from some tiny farming village in Herminia, someplace no one has ever heard of.”
            Archard cleared his throat.  “I think it is called Bitterwater, my lord.”
            “Careful, Archard.  I’m just a merchant.”
            “Ah!  Aye.  Master Black earns my loyalty just so long as he pays well.  And may I say, Master Black, that your yellow hat makes you look a fool.”
            Eudes chuckled.  “That’s more like it.  When we get to Prati Mansum, Archard, you and Bully will need to arrange passage for our horses on Little Moon; if that isn’t practical, sell them and we’ll buy new ones in Tarquint.  And there’s this.”
            Eudes detached his scabbard from his saddle and handed it to Bully.  “Somehow, you’ll have to hide this in our luggage.  In Tarquint, if need arises I want it available, but Boyden Black can’t go about dressed like a soldier.”
            “Aye.”  Bully accepted sword and scabbard and hung them on his own saddle.  “Master Black, may I ask: in addition to wool, will you be looking for anything else in Tarquint?”
            “Indeed, I will.  It is something you cannot buy.  Anyone can have it for the looking, if he knows where to look.  But I trust no one to look for me; I must see for myself.”
            Eudes’s impromptu riddle produced confusion in Bully’s face, but only for a few moments.  Then his expression changed.  “Oh!  Maybe the thing you seek can only be seen with the eyes of a general, not a merchant.”
            “Just so, Bully.  Just so.”

            In the village of Prati Mansum Bully and Archard learned Little Moon had no space for horses.  She was a small ship already loaded and ready to embark.  Durwin Cyneric, her captain, had been eager to sail for two days, but the ship had waited while Lady Erline, her daughter, and her guard made last minute preparations.  Archard had to sell their horses for a poor price.  The castle town had never grown very large, partly because the bay, though pleasant to look at, was too shallow for big ships.  Even Little Moon had to dock at the end of a long pier built out over mud flats to reach deeper water.
            Rocelin Toeni and his wife Erline welcomed the visiting merchant, Boyden Black, to supper in Prati Mansum, and word went out from the castle that the lady and her daughter would depart on the morning tide.  Lord Toeni also extended hospitality to Archard Oshelm and Master Black’s servant, Bully.
            With Erline and Edita’s departure imminent, supper was a small affair.  At the high table sat Lord Toeni and Lady Erline, their oldest daughter, Edita, Edita’s lady attendant, and the two guests, Boyden Black and ship’s captain Durwin Cyneric.  Three other Toeni children, the castle scribe, Archard and Bully shared a second table.  Castle servants brought supper in courses: bread and butter, roast pheasant, a fish stew, hot vegetables, and finally honey-glazed wafers.  A wine master kept cups refreshed.
            Bully observed everything eagerly.  Across the table from him, Gifre Toeni guessed the reason.  “Never been in a castle before, have you?”
            It would be silly to feel embarrassed, Bully decided.  “Am I so obvious?”
            The boy, who looked about ten, sopped up some pheasant drippings with bread and popped it in his mouth.  “Aye.  Your eyes are racing around, trying to make sure you don’t miss anything.  It’s normal.  Ordinary people aren’t used to castles.”
            “But you are used to it.  So you are not an ordinary person?”
            “What do you think?  Someday, when Father dies, I will be lord of Prati Mansum.  Who knows?  Perhaps I will bond better than Father and control more magic.”  The boy looked at Bully unblinking.
            Bully sliced a bit of pheasant, speared it with his knife.  “I see your point.”
            Gifre Toeni nodded toward the high table.  “My sister Edita is not an ordinary person either.  Tomorrow she boards a ship for Tarquint, where she will marry some lord’s son, gods willing, and I will never see her again.”
            “Why not?”
            The boy answered matter-of-factly.  “A lord must stay close to his castle, to be ready to defend it at any time.  Edita might explore the world—that is, she could if she weren’t crippled and ugly—but I may never venture more than a day’s ride from Prati Mansum.”
            “Edita is ugly?”
            “She is practiced at hiding it.  Look closely.”

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


Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Castles 26

26. Near the Village Inter Lucus

            Five dirt roads converged in the center of Inter Lucus, meeting at a stone-lined well.  One road ran directly west to the twin village of Senerham, three miles away.  The others, including the one Ora and Lord Martin had walked from the castle to the village, meandered through the surrounding farm country.  From the meeting of the five ways, Ora led Lord Martin on a road winding its way toward East Lake, opposite the road to Senerham.  Her mother’s sister, Ethelin Bycwine, lived with her husband Caadde on a farm two miles distant, between the village and the lake.  Unless he had run away, they would find her cousin Caelin there.
            The Lord Martin evinced great interest in the produce of the countryside.  He noticed fields of barley, oats, and wheat, vegetable gardens, pastures with milk cows, small orchards of apples and cherries, honeybee hives, pigs’ wallows, and corrals for horses.  Ora could only guess the answer to many of his questions: where did the farmers store their grain?  Were some fields left fallow?  Did farmers rotate their crops?  (It took several minutes for Lord Martin to explain this notion to Ora.  She answered that perhaps Caadde Bycwine might know.)  How many pigs, cows, and horses did most farmers have?  How big were the farms around Inter Lucus?  How often did the village have market days?  Did most people barter their goods or use coins?  Where do the coins come from?   Ora had never so much as thought about some of these questions.  A lord must concern himself with many details of the people’s lives, I suppose.
              Ora led Lord Martin along a rutted path that branched away from the road.  Caadde and Ethelin’s house lay on the far side of a small hill beside a very small creek; travelers couldn’t see the house or the other buildings from the road.  On either side of the path well-maintained wood fences enclosed vegetable gardens and raspberries.  Here and there sunflowers leaned over the fences.  When they crested the hill Ora and Lord Martin began hearing the bleating of baby goats. 
            One or two other farmers in the region might own a few goats, Ora explained to Lord Martin, but only Caadde Bycwine kept scores and scores of them.  The barns (two of them!) where the Bycwines daily milked the she-goats and where hay and grain were stored to feed the animals in winter were both larger than the farmhouse.  Since goats will wander and eat anything they can find, Caadde’s fences, so he said, had to be the stoutest and best anywhere.  On market days Caadde traded and sold goat milk, goat meat, and goat cheese.  Goat farming had proved profitable; Ora herself had seen Caadde and Ethelin trade or sell the meat of a dozen goats on a single market day in the fall.
            Lord Martin touched Ora’s arm to stop her before they descended to the farmhouse.  “Tell me about Caelin.  Why would he come to the castle and try to shoot me?”
            Ora shrugged.  “A foolish boy, that’s all.  Every year I see him three or four times, when Attor takes a wagon of cut lumber to market in Inter Lucus.  Ethelin says he dreams of dragons and gods and knights when he should be milking goats or cleaning out the barn.  At harvest fest, he listens to the old men’s tales until the moons are set; he loves the stories of the lords and the gods.”
            “If he likes stories about lords, why would he try to kill one?”
            “Who knows?  Caelin is a fool.  Maybe he thought he could become a lord if he killed a lord.  Such things sometimes happen in stories.  But my lord Martin proved he is able to defend himself.  Caelin learned the truth and ran away.”
            “All right.  Let’s go see him.”
            The farm bore marks of prosperity that substantiated Ora’s description of Caadde Bycwine’s success.  A well-built bridge crossed the creek, linking a barn on each bank.  Pastures on both sides of the stream were divided into sections with sturdy fences.  The house itself, on the near side of the creek, was painted white with blue trim on the wooden shutters gracing its windows.  Pink roses grew in a flowerbed in a fenced yard.
            A cat roused itself when Ora opened a yard gate and hissed at them.  “Shoo!” she said and marched to the door.  Marty followed a step behind while the cat scurried around the corner of the house.
            A boy opened the door, skinny with brown hair, too young to be one who shot the arrow.  He was probably ten or eleven, and Marty remembered the archer as much taller.
            “Cousin Ora!” 
            “Fair afternoon, Went,” said Ora.  “I’ve brought someone to meet your Ma and Da.”
            The boy eyed Marty.  He showed no sign of particular interest.  “Ma is here, but Da and Caelin are in the barn.  Should I go get ’em?”  Marty thought: Maybe the younger boy hasn’t heard about cousin Ora and Inter Lucus’s new lord.
            “Yes, please,” said Ora.  “Bring Caelin too.”
            A round-faced woman came to the door as Went turned to go.  She had bobbed brown hair and green eyes much like Ora’s.  Recognizing Ora, with a man standing by her, the eyes went round.  “Ora,” she whispered. 
            Pretty obviously, the mother has heard the news.
            “Fair afternoon, aunt Ethelin,” said Ora.  “I want you to meet Lord Martin of Inter Lucus.
            Ethelin curtsied awkwardly.  “Fair afternoon, Lord Martin.  Caadde told me just yesterday morn that a lord had appeared in the castle.  Welcome!”
            “Fair afternoon, Mistress Bycwine,” Marty said.  He shifted his staff to his left hand and extended his right, which the woman touched very hesitantly.  “I’m pleased to meet you.”
            Ethelin stepped back, which Ora and Marty took as an invitation into the house.  The boy Went had rushed away.  Marty shut the door behind him.
            “It is true?  A lord in Inter Lucus?”
            “Aye,” said Ora.  “I prayed for a new lord, and Lord Martin appeared.  Some folk do not believe me.  My own father, for one.  And other folk try to fight the new lord.”
            “Aye.  Yesterday, a boy with a bow tried to shoot Lord Martin.  But Lord Martin’s magic frightened him off.  Perhaps you heard the horrible horn even here.”
            “Yesterday?  I heard nothing.”  But the woman’s eyes were on Marty, and they told a different story. 
            The blast last night was like a rock concert.  The farmers and villagers all heard it, even if they didn’t know what it was.  The woman is afraid.  She wants to hide behind denials.  Marty felt uncomfortable.  He didn’t want to bring fear into the lives of good people.  The boy needs to be confronted, but I don’t want to terrorize these folk.  “Mistress Bycwine, may I sit down?”  The room had simple wooden chairs; Marty nodded toward one.
            “Yes, please.”  The woman bobbed her head.  Marty sat, leaned his staff on the wall, and tried to look unthreatening.
            “All right, all right.  We’re here.”  The new voice belonged to a man, presumably Caadde Bycwine.  He was taller than most villagers, with black hair and quick brown eyes.  “Come on, Went.  Caelin.”  There was some shuffling of feet as two youths squeezed around the man and all three entered the room.
            The older boy, taller than his father, saw Ora first, without noticing Marty.  “Cousin Ora!”  Caelin had his mother’s brown hair, cut very short, and his father’s eyes.  Marty thought he was almost dangerously skinny, but maybe it was just his adolescent growth spurt.  He had the barest beginning of a mustache.
            “Cousin Caelin, you absolute fool.”  Ora motioned toward Marty, and for the first time Caelin looked at him.  Caelin would have turned to flee, except his father laid a powerful hand on his shoulder.  The boy quivered in fear.  If I’m not careful, he’ll pee his pants—breeches, Ora calls them.
            “Fair afternoon, Master Bycwine.  Please excuse me for not standing.  It’s been a long walk and I’m tired.  If you don’t mind, I’d like to have a little talk with you and Caelin.  Why don’t you all sit down?”  Marty tilted his head toward the other chairs.
            “Aye.”  Caadde pushed his son into a chair; he and Ethelin took the remaining chairs.  Went sat on floor in a corner, and Ora stood by Marty’s side. 
            “Caelin, please listen carefully.  I’m not going to hurt you.  I’m not going to hurt your family.”  The youth made eye contact; his terror might be lessening.  “Have you told your mother and father what happened last night?”
            Without the red and white pimples, Caelin might turn into a handsome man.  He was dreadfully thin, but the brown eyes brimmed with intelligence.  After swallowing a couple times, he said,  “Not all of it.”
            Well, that’s certainly true.  “Tell us where you went last night, and what you did.”
            “I went to the castle and tried to shoot you with my bow.”
            Ethelin Bycwine looked horrified.  Caadde kept his face blank.
            “Why did you do that?”
            “Harry Ectwine said the ‘lord’ of the castle would run away as soon as someone took a shot at him.”
            “Did you really mean to hit me?  To kill me?  Look at me.”
            Caelin dropped his eyes, and then looked up again.  “I don’t think I did.  I wanted you to run away.  Then I would tell Harry it was me who chased away the false lord.  But I was wrong.”  Caelin looked at the floor again. 
            A moment passed.  Caelin raised his eyes.  “My lord, did your magic save you from my arrow?”
            “No. Inter Lucus has been asleep a long time; its magic is recovering slowly.  If your aim had been better, I would likely be dead.”           
            “By the gods.”  Caelin slid from his chair to kneel on the floor.  “I am sorry.  I am so sorry, my lord.  After a hundred years, I almost killed the lord of Inter Lucus.  I am so sorry.”  His forehead touched the floor.
            “I accept your apology, Caelin.  Please sit again.”  Marty waited while the boy gathered himself.  “I believe you tell the truth.  I don’t think you will be so eager to impress your friends after this.  And that is good.  I need someone who is more eager to do my bidding than to impress anyone.  I think you may be that person.”
            Confusion reigned in the faces of Caelin, his parents, and Ora.  Marty rose and grabbed his staff. 
            “Ora and I will return to Inter Lucus before dark today.  I am now inviting Caelin to enter my service.  You will live at the castle and perform whatever duties I assign you.  But it is your choice.  Talk to your mother and father.  If you accept my invitation, present yourself at the castle by supper the day after tomorrow.  Bring your bow and some arrows.  If you do not come by then, I will find someone else.”

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


Thursday, November 15, 2012

Castles 25

25. In Castle Inter Lucus

            Marty woke up hungry and sore.  Since his interplanetary leap, he had eaten the equivalent of about one good meal per day.  And the floor where he and Ora slept, not having found anything resembling a bed, was harder and less comfortable than the dirt and grass in the main hall.  He looked up and down the corridor; Ora had risen without waking him.  Maybe she’s gone fishing.  Marty scratched at his chin, bristling with black whiskers.  I wonder where one buys a razor on this planet.
            He stretched out some of the soreness in his back and walked to the room with the stairway to the great hall; he mentally named the area at the foot of the stairs the “kitchen,” since the cooking slab was still there.  Before climbing to the great hall, Marty inspected the appliance (stove? cook top?) once again.  He had already explored its surfaces the day before.  Like so many other features of Inter Lucus, the kitchen machine’s exterior looked like some kind of high-tech ceramic material.  Obviously, it had risen from the floor, but where the slab emerged from the floor the two seemed fused together; however closely Marty looked, he could make out no division between them.  The “pans” on top of the slab were cool to the touch, and nowhere did Marty see anything he could interpret as controls or switches.  Suppose Ora does catch something.  How do we turn this thing on?
            Other than the three pan depressions on the top, Marty found no other clues on the slab.  It was about four feet long, two feet wide, and three feet high—almost, no, exactly the same height as the right hand rails on the stairs.  He ran his hands over the four sides of the slab, hoping maybe to engage a hidden panel or knob.  Nothing.  He gave it up and climbed the stairs.
            The floor of the great hall was almost completely clean.  Not merely swept or vacuumed; the wood surface looked polished.  And the walls were unmistakably taller, the gaps between the sections smaller.  Marty walked the inside perimeter of the room, examining the walls more closely.  At one place, between two bits of wall, a seemingly gossamer line stretched from one section to the other.  But it was perfectly level, and rigid when Marty blew on it, not like a spider’s thread.  He resisted the urge to touch it, lest it break.  But for all I know, it could be as strong as steel.
            Marty half expected to see Ora on the east side of the castle either hunting for more blueberries or returning with fish.  But he finished his circuit of the great hall without seeing her.  He considered hiking to the lake to look for her.  What if she went somewhere else?  Best if I’m still here when she gets back.  Marty returned to the top of the stairs, the best place in the chairless hall to sit down. 
            At Our Lady of Guadeloupe, Marty had meditated on daily lectionary readings, but his pocket-sized Testament had no lectionary schedule, though it did have Psalms.  Rather than read haphazardly, Marty decided to start with Matthew and read a chapter a day.
            The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.  Abraham became the father of Isaac, Isaac the father of Jacob . . .
            “My Lord Martin!”  Ora’s call interrupted the story of Joseph and Mary.  Marty pocketed his Testament.  Ora stood at the southwest corner of the great hall, near the interface wall, holding something in a mesh sack.  “My Lord Martin!”           
            “Coming!”  Marty carried his walnut staff over his shoulder rather than using it as a walking stick; it would be a shame to mar the floor with it.  But then a thought came: The castle would probably repair it.  To test this hypothesis, he walked near the west wall and marked the floor with his staff, an inconspicuous scratch.  Let’s see if that’s still there tomorrow.
            Ora’s mesh sack held potatoes, onions, and carrots.  “Is my lord hungry?” she asked, raising the sack for his inspection.  "Fridiswid Redwine gave them."
            “I am indeed.”
            “Cook,” said Ora, offering the sack to him.  She keeps expecting magic. 
            Before Marty could answer or accept the vegetables, he heard another voice.  He glanced around Ora to see someone beyond a gap in Inter Lucus’s walls.  “Who is that?  Hey, there!”
            “My Lord Martin.”  A man’s voice.  “May I, ah, approach?”  Marty got a better look and recognized him, Wyrtgeon Bistan.
            “Of course, Wyrtgeon.  Come in.”
            The farmer squeezed between two sections of wall, carrying a bulging canvas-like sack.  More produce, I bet.  So we go from shortage to surplus in one morning.
            “Gisa—that is, my wife—she said I should make sure my lord has food.  Castles make food, I told her.  But she said maybe not, if the castle has been asleep.”
            Marty received the sack from Bistan.  More potatoes.  Store in a cool, dry place, thought Marty.  We won’t be starving anytime soon.  I wonder: can Inter Lucus prepare fish and chips?
            “Thank you very much, Wyrtgeon.  You may tell Gisa that she is right.  Inter Lucus is waking up, but the castle cannot make food out of nothing.”  Even as he spoke, Marty wondered what alien technology could or could not do.  Not even super advanced aliens could make something out of nothing—could they?
            Wyrtgeon Bistan bowed.  “I will tell Gisa, my lord.  We are pleased to be of service.”
            Marty shook hands with Bistan, which the farmer took as an honor.  After Bistan took his leave, Ora helped Marty carry the sacks to the kitchen, but here they were stumped.  Other than Ora’s knife, they had no tools, and Marty still didn’t know how to turn on the cooking slab.  They made separate piles of potatoes, onions, and carrots on the floor.  A few raw carrots comprised their breakfast.
            Lord Martin doesn’t know how to make Inter Lucus prepare meals.  This realization disconcerted Ora at first, but she came to terms with it.  The castle is healing and growing.  Maybe lords also grow into their powers.  Ora reminded herself that Lord Martin already had demonstrated command of Inter Lucus; the ear-splitting sound and light that drove off Caelin Bycwine was proof of that.
            Ora reminded Lord Martin that he should punish Caelin for his attack.  He agreed to accompany Ora to the Bycwine farm, but once again Lord Martin said he did not want to harm the young man.  “I don’t think I’ll gain much loyalty by frightening people,” he said.  “Gratitude and respect are better than terror.”  Ora considered her lord’s words as they walked toward the village.
            News about Lord Martin had obviously spread through village Inter Lucus. Fridiswid Redwine, Leola Alymar (Syg Alymar’s widowed mother), and two women Ora didn’t know stopped their conversation in Fridiswid’s yard to watch as Lord Martin and Ora walked by.  They said nothing, but Ora could read curiosity on their faces.  Further on, an old farmer named Osulf Idan waved to the lord from a chair on the porch in front of Syg Alymar’s carpentry.  Lord Martin stopped to learn Osulf’s name and shook hands with him, and with Syg, who emerged from the shop.  Lord Martin’s graciousness broke the ice for other villagers.  By the time Ora and her lord had passed through Inter Lucus to the well in the middle of the village at least two dozen people had greeted him, many of them bowing and all of them wishing him fair morning.  When Lord Martin was introduced to Gisa Bistan, he thanked her expressly for her kindness and her vegetables.  And then . . .
            “This is my daughter, Liuba.”  The brown-haired girl, perhaps three years old, peaked out from behind Gisa’s skirt.
            Lord Martin squatted to bring himself eye-to-eye with Liuba, laying his staff in the dirt.  “Fair morning, Liuba,” he said.  “I’m pleased to meet you.”
            With the unpredictable courage of a child, Liuba suddenly stepped from behind her mother and touched Lord Martin’s staff.  “Is this magic?” she asked.
            Lord Martin did not talk down to the child.  “No.  It is only a walking stick.”  He picked up the staff for her.  “Would you like to hold it?”
            The child looked him in the eye.  “It’s too big for me.  You should keep it.”
            “I think that’s right.  It’s about my size.”
            “Can you do magic?”  Ora thought: the little girl asks the question the whole village wants to ask.
            “I can make castle Inter Lucus do wonderful things.  Is that magic?”
            Liuba puzzled at Lord Martin’s response, but Gisa explained for her.  “Liuba, child, remember: lords do magic by commanding their castles.  Lord Martin is not in his castle right now.”
            “Can I come and see magic at your castle?”
            “Yes.”  Lord Martin rubbed Liuba’s brown hair.  “You will be very welcome to visit Inter Lucus.”
             Ora thought: Gratitude and respect are better than terror.  Liuba and Gisa’s faces displayed the wisdom of Lord Martin’s words.

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

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

A minor milestone

1000 Hits

    I began Story and Meaning March 30, 2012.  Blogspot software keeps record of visits to the site, which now number 1003.  I know many of these "hits" represent repeated visitors--there actually are people who look forward to Thursday and the next chapter of Castles!  Thank you all for participating in this little adventure.  Writing is fun, but it's a lot more fun to write and be read.
    I would be honored if you mentioned Story and Meaning or Castles to your friends.  A nice feature of a free book is that it's free.  If you meet someone who likes science fiction or talks about high fantasy stories, tell her than you know of a story that mixes both . . .

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Castles 24

24. In Down’s End

            “Master Bead, could there really be a new lord in Inter Lucus?”
            Isen worked alongside Bead Deepwater on the pier in Down’s End, receiving lumber passed to them by Osulf and Headby.  Morning Glory had successfully towed its cargo home.
            The older man snorted.  “Can stones float?  I heard a man say once that he saw a stone boat on East Lake, way up north by castle Argentum Cadit.  Nobody believed him.  This was in The Windmill, a tavern that burned down a few years back.  Ya know how it is—end o’ the day, we’d all had a few, and we were tellin’ stories.  This traveler said he’d seen a boat made out o’ rock.  He was from Cippenham, and someone said ‘but I been to Cippenham n’ I ain’t seen no stone boats,’ n’ the traveler says course not; the stone boat was up north.  We all laughed.  But then he pulls out this little rock, grayish white thing, and asks for a bowl of water.  He put it in the water and, by the gods, it floated.”
            “It’s possible, then, is that what you mean?”  Isen and Master Deepwater kept stacking planks as they talked.
            Possible?  I saw a rock as big as my thumb float.  If ya had the same kind o’ rock but thousands of times bigger, then maybe a mason could carve a boat.  But it’s more likely the traveler was jus’ foolin’ with us.  Now, Inter Lucus is a real castle.  Lords lived there for hundreds o’ years, n’ gods lived there ’fore that.  But today it’s a ruin.  Seen it myself.  Maybe it’s possible some wood daughter got her prayers answered, but my guess is she’s foolin’ with folk.”
            “How would we know?”
            Bead grunted, straining with a particularly heavy plank.  “Magic, o’ course.  A real lord will make Inter Lucus do magic.”
            “The woodman’s friend said he saw magic.”
            “People see all kinds o’ things.  Some real n’ some not.  If there’s a real lord in Inter Lucus, we’ll know soon enough.”
            “You wouldn’t go see for yourself?”
            “Not if I had something better t’ do.  Like fishin’ and feedin’ my family.  A young man like you, now, ya might be free . . . By the gods!  Isen, that’s not a bad notion.  Don’t deny it.  I see it in your eyes. 
            “If there is a new lord—mind, I’m not sayin’ that’s likely—but if there is, who knows what chances there might be?  Senerham and Inter Lucus, the village I mean, might become real towns.  If ya was to set up shop, ya might be the first glassman between the lakes.  Might be rich new houses, n’ rich folk want fancy glass windows n’ bowls n’ wine goblets.  Not a bad notion at all, Isen.  Keep quiet now, n’ we’ll talk in a bit.”
            Master Deepwater turned his attention to a newcomer to the scene.  Isen recognized Sighard Rihtman, a builder and master carpenter in Down’s End.  News of a delivery of lumber would find him quickly.  Rihtman greeted Bead Deepwater as if he was an old friend, and he drew the fisherman away from the growing stack of lumber in order to negotiate in private.  Apparently, Master Rihtman could not come to terms with Deepwater as quickly as he would have liked; the two men were still dickering when two others of the carpenter guild joined them, much to Rihtman’s displeasure.
            Osulf and Headby climbed from Morning Glory onto the pier when the lumber had been stacked.  The raw logs were left floating in the gentle current of the BetlicĂ©a, the boom tied to an upstream piling near Morning Glory.  Osulf tilted his head toward the three would-be buyers and his father.  “It’s a pleasure, don’t ya think, t’ watch good men keep each other honest?”  Isen joined Headby and Osulf in laughter, but quietly so the would-be buyers wouldn’t hear.
            At supper Bead happily reported the handsome profits of the day.  Sighard Rihtman bought the cut lumber for twice the amount Bead had paid for the day’s entire cargo, and one of the other buyers paid half that for the raw logs.  Osulf and Headby thumped the table gleefully and Bebba beamed a flushed face at her family.  Master Deepwater raised a cup of beer: “To Isen n’ good luck!  What a day!”  The other Deepwaters joined him, “To Isen!  To good luck!”
            After a deep pull of his beer, Bead said, “Aye, what a day.  Perfect wind goin’ n’ not bad comin’ back.  Just a bit west o’ north n’ steady all day.  Lumbermen turn up right away n’ eager to sell, both logs n’ dried lumber.  Builders on this side jus’ as eager to buy or even more.  The gods blessed us t’day!”
            Headby wiped foam from his lips.  “Which gods, Da?  The old god the priests preach or the castle gods?”
            “Don’t matter t’ me,” his father answered.  In Down’s End the rule is a man can have new gods or old god.  Jus’ sayin’ I know when I been blessed.  I’ve reason t’ be thankful.”
            Headby inclined his head, acceding to Bead’s wisdom.  The Deepwaters and their guest all tended their beers.
            “Now, Isen.  The thing we talked about.”  Osulf and Headby shot questioning looks at each other; they hadn’t heard Bead and Isen’s conversation on the pier.
            “I have not changed my opinion.  Seems to me, it’s likely this girl has no more got a new lord than Bebba n’ me will get another child.  Not likely at all, not at all.  But it’s possible.  So if ya want t’ go look . . . well, I say, why not?  If there is a new lord, things will change between the lakes.  A skilled man might find a chance.
            “So here’s what I say.  Why don’t we take Isen across tomorrow?  He earned a share o’ today’s profit.  So we give ’im passage as part o’ his pay.  N’ we put a few coins in his purse.”
            Osulf and Headby nodded vigorously.  “That’s good, Da.”  But Bebba Deepwater said, “Ah, Bead, the young man will need proper clothes.  Go to the cloth sellers’ street tomorrow n’ buy ’im a new tunic n’ breeches.  Take ’im across the day after.”  Now Osulf and Headby thumped the table to signal agreement with their mother.
            Bead scratched his beard.  “All right, then.  New clothes.  In fairness, Isen, that means ya get less coin.”
            “Master Deepwater, you are more than fair; you are generous.  Thank you very much!”
            “A moment!” interjected Bead.  I will not visit the cloth sellers tomorrow.”  He leaned close to his wife and kissed her cheek.  “My lady fair can do that, n’ my boys n’ I will do what we do.  The day after we’ll take Isen across.”

            The day after brought foul weather.  All the Deepwaters assured Isen that they had fished the lake in worse weather, much worse, but these encouragements did not keep his heart from pounding or loosen his death grip on the gunwale near the back of the boat where he sat close to Bead.  Rain pelted them first from one direction and then another as the wind shifted quarters.  Several times the boat dipped so far to one side or the other that Isen feared they would capsize.  Osulf and Headby seemed to be constantly changing the set of the sail.  Bead managed the tiller with both hands and explained that Morning Glory’s small sail was an advantage in such weather, because his sons could adjust it so quickly.  Isen could only nod and hold on.
            At last Morning Glory neared the east shore.  The rain almost stopped, but the wind shifted round to the east, so Osulf and Headby furled the sail, positioned oars between pegs on the gunwales, and rowed to shore.  The fishing boat touched bottom five wet yards from a gravelly beach.
            “As close as we can get,” said Bead.  “Good luck to ya, boy.”
            Isen lowered himself into the knee-deep water, surprisingly cold for a summer’s day.  After the anxiety of the crossing, the relief of solid ground underfoot outweighed the discomfort of rain and cold.  “Thank you again, Master Deepwater.  If I ever get established, I hope you come to see me.”
            “Aye.  That we will,” said the fisherman.
            Headby picked up a cloth bundle bound with cords and flung it to Isen.  Inside the bundle Isen had packed a few items from his old hovel, including the rosewood box, his money, and the new clothes Bebba had purchased with his pay from the lumber venture.  Isen caught the bundle without letting it fall in the water.
            “Give us a push, boy.” 
            “Aye, sir!  Just a moment!”  Isen hurried to shore, deposited his belongings, and splashed back to push Morning Glory into deeper water.  The Deepwater brothers shipped their oars and unfurled the sail.  Within minutes the east wind had pushed them beyond earshot.  Isen waved a last farewell. 

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