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.