Thursday, December 13, 2012

Castles 29

29. In Castle Inter Lucus

            Caelin Bycwine entered Lord Martin’s service six days after Ora’s prayer brought the new lord to Inter Lucus.  Ora had a mixed opinion of her cousin.  He wasn’t cruelly self-indulgent like Aethulwulf; in fact, he was often kind.  But he tended to flights of fancy that could distract him from useful work.  Am I just thinking things I’ve heard from Ethelin?  Lord Martin must think Caelin could be helpful; else he would not have taken him into service.  Ora had great confidence in Lord Martin, so she adopted an open-minded attitude in regard to Caelin.
            Villagers from Inter Lucus or Senerham came to the castle every day except for the day it rained.  Many brought produce.  Ora thought this entirely appropriate; the folk between the lakes ought to acknowledge their new lord.  But Lord Martin felt unease in his mind about the gifts, and Caelin said something that brought the matter to a head, the morning of his third day at Inter Lucus.
            Two farmers from Senerham had presented Lord Martin with yet more potatoes and onions and departed with much bowing and words expressing their loyalty to him.  Caelin said, “If I may advise my lord, I suggest that you tell the villagers to bring clothes, iron or wood rather than vegetables.  Of course, poorer folk must bring produce, since that is all they have.  But you should insist that men like those two should pay with coin.  Then you can buy whatever you need on market days.”
            Lord Martin asked, “What do you mean, ‘they should pay’?
            Caelin bunched his eyebrows.  “Eadmar Eoforwine and Cnud Thorson are both wealthy men by Senerham standards.  Since you have accepted their words and their produce, they will claim that their hidgield has been paid.  In the fall, if you demand more, they will call it ungield.
            Lord Martin was not familiar with the words hidgield and ungield, but it didn’t take long for him to decipher their meaning.  “These people think they are paying taxes to me?”
            “Aye.  When the knight from Hyacintho Flumen comes in the fall, they will say they have paid hidgield to my lord Martin.  They will try to refuse payment.”
            “I suppose, then, that they will expect me to defend them from the taxman.  How am I supposed to do that?”
            “My lord Martin should employ soldiers and sheriffs to protect the villages.  Another reason you must receive coin from some of your people.  Of course, if an enemy threatens, you may need knights.  In extreme danger, villagers can take refuge in the castle.  Many stories tell of wars between castle lords; the good lords always protect their people.”
            “So these men, Eoforwine and Thorson, are paying their taxes, their hidgield, on the cheap and at the same time encumbering me with their security.”
            Caelin frowned.  “I do not understand ‘on the cheap.’”
            “By paying with vegetables, they are paying less hidgield than they should.”
            “Aye.  Yet if a castle lord does not fulfill oaths to his lieges they will not pay hidgield.  Even a lord in his castle must purchase some things.”
            Lord Martin blew out a long breath.  “Good grief!  Medieval life is more complicated than I thought.”
            Ora wanted to ask what medieval meant, but the expression on Lord Martin’s face told her to wait.  He needed time to think.  So Ora beckoned Caelin downstairs to the kitchen, which had changed in the last three days.  A cooking pot had grown out of the floor next to the column Lord Martin named the “stove top,” and on the other side of the room a magical door opened into a cold room whenever anyone walked close to it.  Lord Martin called the room a “fridge,” and told Ora to store fish or meat in it, but not their potatoes, carrots or onions.  Ora retrieved three fish from the fridge and laid them on the stove top.  Caelin selected some potatoes and onions, and put them in the cooking pot.  Then they watched the magic of Inter Lucus.  In the cooking pot, water swirled around the vegetables, and drained away after cleaning them.  Sharp blades emerged from the top rim of the pot, forming a mesh of wires that descended through the vegetables, cutting them into chunks.  The blades withdrew, fresh water appeared, and the soup began cooking.  Ora could not see how, but she knew salt was being added.  Meanwhile, an oil-like liquid surrounded and submerged the fish in the frying pan.  Fish scales and heads melted and drained away with the liquid; the fish began frying and smelled wonderful.  Caelin waved his hand at a certain section of wall; a sliding door revealed plates and bowls.  When they judged the food to be ready, they filled three bowls and plates.

            Marty sat alone in the shade of an oak on the southwest quadrant of the castle grounds.  Taxes, sheriffs, and knights!  What have I gotten myself into?  Well—what did I expect?  Before the modern world, that’s what “lords” dealt with. 
            What makes me a lord?  The moment I stepped through the wormhole, or whatever it was, I became one.  Ora calls me Lord Martin, and the people of Inter Lucus and Senerham follow her lead.  Of course, it’s not like Ora convinced them by herself; the castle itself recognized me as lord.  Inter Lucus responds to my commands when I touch the control globe. 
            But why me?  Ora says the gods sent me.  As far as I can tell, the “gods” are aliens—or were.  According to Ora and Caelin, everybody knows the gods disappeared hundreds of years ago.  Why would a race smart enough to build Inter Lucus and other castles desert them?  What kind of technology enabled them to bring human beings here?  Where is “here”?  A “galaxy far, far away”—wasn’t that the Star Wars location?  So Ora prayed to the gods, and Inter Lucus, despite its decrepit state, reached out and snatched me.  Why?  How?
            God help me!  Too many questions.  And none of them addresses the immediate concerns.  How much tax should people pay?  How many sheriffs or soldiers will I need?  What’s the going rate for sheriffs, soldiers, or knights?  Where do I find them?  It would really mess things up if I employed incompetent and/or corrupt sheriffs and soldiers.
            After an hour of thought, Marty walked back to the castle and summoned Ora and Caelin.  The cousins had prepared a lunch of fish and soup.  They sat on benches that had pushed up from the floor of the great hall in a manner similar to the stairs and kitchen appliances.  No visible joint separated the “wood” of the bench from that of the floor.  Marty suspected both were actually made of ceramics.
            “We’ve got work to do,” he said.  “First, we will accept no more payments of vegetables, at least until we eat what we’ve already got.  And from now on, only poor folk pay with produce.  Second, I need to ask many people questions, and it will be easier if they come to me.  Caelin will visit Senerham; Ora, you get Inter Lucus.  Caelin, find Eoforwine and Thorson and tell them I need advice.  Tell them also that Syg Alymar and Caadde Bycwine from Inter Lucus will be advising me.  Ora, you invite Syg and Caadde and let them know Senerham men have been invited.  We will call it the ‘Lord’s Council.’
            “Third, we need paper, or at least I will.”  Marty stopped, seeing questions in their faces.  “What’s wrong?  Do you know what ‘paper’ is?  Something to write on.”  He pantomimed his meaning.
            Bócfell?  Carte?  My lord, why would you want this?” asked Caelin.  “You do not have a scribe, and it is too early to write the history of your house.”  He couldn’t help smiling.  “You have no child, not even a wife.”
            “I want to write down what I learn from my ‘advisors.’  And I’ll need to keep records of gield payments from the people.”
            Caelin expressed surprise.  “You can write?  Not all lords have this skill.  They keep castle scribes.”
            “Lord Martin is not like other lords,” Ora put in.  Her tone indicated that Caelin should have known better.
            “Aye.  But without coins we can buy no carte, paper.  And parchment, bócfell, costs even more.”
            “We have no money.  True enough,” said Marty.  “Okay.  So for now, we’ll have to wait to buy paper.  For the time being, keep your eyes and ears open.  Who might be able to sell us paper?  Now—how soon do you think we can get my ‘council’ to meet?”
            Caelin rubbed his nose.  “The day after tomorrow, my lord, Frigedæg.  The Inter Lucus men will be sure to come because the Senerham men will be there, and the Senerham men will not want Inter Lucus alone to have the lord’s ear.  Give them no time to dissemble.”
            Frigedæg?  What day is today?”
            Caelin looked surprised.  Wódnesdæg, my lord.”
            The days of the week, something else I’ve got to learn.  “All right, then.  We’ll convene the Council on Friday.  Ora, do you agree?
            “Yes, my lord.  Make them meet soon.”

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


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