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.
“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.