Thursday, December 26, 2013

Castles 83

83. In Castle Hyacintho Flumen

            The image grew to life size.  The blond woman stood at ease, her left hand on the lord’s knob.  Her scribe stood to her left.  “Fair morning, Lord Mortane.  It’s good to see you again.”
            At Aylwin’s left, Arthur the old had his slate, ready to take notes.  Aylwin had decided that if he were to dare these meetings with the Herminian bitch, he would be prepared.  And he would take charge of the meeting.  Don’t raise the real issue ’til later.  “Fair morning, Lady.  Though rightfully lady only of Pulchra Mane, you compel people to address you as queen.  You must not expect me to do so.”
            “Oh, but I do.  Expectations point to the future, and in the future I will be your queen.  For the present, though, you may call me anything you like.  You could simply say Mariel.  May I ask, is there news of my husband?”
            “Surely General Ridere sends you reports.”
            “Naturally.  But ships take days and days to cross the sea.  And then the messengers have to ride; Pulchra Mane is inland, as I’m sure you know.  So you see, Aylwin—may I call you Aylwin? —You have an advantage over my husband.  You can tell me things immediately, whereas his dispatches take so long to get here.”
            “I can tell you nothing about Ridere, not having seen him or talked with him.”  Aylwin’s hands on the lord’s knob were still, a definite improvement over his first Videns-Loquitur encounter with Mariel.  “You might tell him to come up to Hyacintho Flumen.  If he stood beside me here, you could speak with him yourself.”  Aylwin noticed the slight curve of Mariel’s belly.  “Perhaps you want to tell your husband that you are with child.”
            Mariel laughed and brushed hair behind her ear.  “Am I showing already?  General Ridere knows well that he is about to be a father.  I am not so eager to speak with him that I would send him to your castle.”
            “If not that, you should summon him home.  My scribe Arthur tells me that some of Ridere’s sieges have lasted years.  Your child will have been born and learned to walk and talk without ever meeting his father.”
            Mariel rested her right hand on her stomach.  Her father, perhaps.  It’s true.  Some lords defy good sense for months and months.  You’re strong and determined, so my daughter may not see her father for a long time.  But in the end they all submit.  Think about that, Aylwin.  They all submit, and they discover it’s not so bad.  I’m not asking you to surrender Hyacintho Flumen.  You will continue to rule, you will enforce my laws, and you will advise me regularly.”
            Aylwin felt anger, like a kettle boiling in his chest.  I am lord of Hyacintho Flumen!  I answer to no one but the gods, certainly not to a woman!  He fought back the urge to scream defiance.  “I suppose Rocelin Toeni has discovered the delights of your rule.”
            “Lord Toeni speaks with me every week, as do the other lords of Herminia.”  Mariel raised an eyebrow.
            “You might greet him, then, for his daughter, Edita.”  Aylwin kept his face blank.  By her own admission, the Herminian bitch could not yet know that Juliana had been taken; she could not know of Ridere’s offer of an exchange.                         
            Mariel sighed.  “I will tell him, indeed.  And I thank you.  You should tell your wife that her father misses her and thinks of her often.”  She frowned.  “Be careful, though.  If you say too much, Edita will know it’s a lie.  Well, she would know, if she has brains.”
            Mariel sighed again.  “The truth is, Aylwin, I don’t know Edita well.  Certainly not as well as you do, as her husband.  I’ve only seen her when she stood by Rocelin during our weekly talks.  Occasionally, I ask a lord to bring a family member to the lord’s knob.  Since Edita sends him greetings, she probably still trusts her father’s love.  But, as you undoubtedly know, your willingness to marry Edita relieved Lord Toeni of a sticky problem.  It’s sad, really.  If not for her accident, Edita might have inherited Prati Mansum.  After her fall, she became something of a liability.  Unless she’s stupid, Edita must know all this.  So convey her father’s greetings, but don’t overdo it.”
            Aylwin felt tension in his jaw.  He blew a deep breath to relax.  “Ironic, isn’t it?  My father-in-law probably supplied some of the soldiers besieging my castle.”
            “Not many, if that makes you feel better.  Most of Toeni’s men serve in the ships.  Their role is crucial, of course.  We constantly re-supply the army.  Please notice, Aylwin, that I hide nothing.  I am speaking soberly and plainly.  The army around your castle is always being renewed.  I am not going to quit.  Rocelin Toeni cannot and will not do anything to save his daughter.  In reality, he doesn’t want to save her.  You care for Edita, so you must come to your senses.  There is only one possible outcome of this situation, and once you accept that fact, things will be much easier.”
            Aylwin couldn’t help himself; his jaw clenched painfully.  But he had learned what he needed to know.  “I will consider what you have said, Mariel.”
            The queen tilted her head, looked at him quizzically.  “I hope you do.  Remember, I will be here to talk every week.  And you should try to reach some of the others.  They will be impressed that you can command Videns-Loquitur.  And they will reassure you.  I really am not a monster.”
            “Good-bye, Mariel.”  Aylwin released the lord’s knob.  He staggered a few steps, went to his knees, and held his throbbing forehead.  Arthur was at his side immediately, but he brushed away the scribe’s hand.  “I need a moment’s rest.  Tell Diera to bring mid-day sup to my room.  And get me Dag and Mother.”
            Arthur bowed obedience.

            Edita rose when Aylwin entered the bedroom.  He waved her back into her seat in the breakfast corner.  “Diera’s bringing sup.  We need to talk.”
            Edita inclined her head.  “Aye, my lord.”
            Aylwin slid into the chair next to Edita.  “I don’t want to embarrass you before the others.  You’re on your blood again, aren’t you?”
            “Two days, my lord.  Perhaps next month …”
            Aylwin raised a palm, silencing her.  The door swished open, admitting Lucia.  Arthur followed, with Dag Daegmund.  With Kenelm Ash gone to Down’s End, Daegmund served as Aylwin’s chief armsman.
              Finally Diera came in, pushing a wheeled cart.  “Chicken, bread, cheese, and sliced peaches,” Diera said.  She began to divide the food onto wooden trays.
            “That’s fine, Diera.  Leave the cart; we’ll serve ourselves.”  Aylwin motioned Arthur to sit and held the last chair for Lucia.  “Mother.”
            “Thank you, Aylwin.”
            Dag stood, since there were only four chairs.  Aylwin tossed him one of the round loaves.  “Gods be thanked.  Eat, everyone.”  Aylwin tore his bread, spread it with soft cheese, and bit into it.  The others began serving themselves.
            Lucia cut a small bite of chicken off a thigh, speared it with the tip of her knife, and popped it daintily into her mouth.  “What is this about, Aylwin?”
            Aylwin swallowed bread and cheese.  “I talked this morning with Mariel Grandmesnil by means of Videns-Loquitur.”
            A knife clattered to the floor from Edita’s hand.  She had speared three peach slices to her tray, but she hadn’t eaten yet.  Dag bent quickly to retrieve the knife and returned it to the serving cart.  Edita stared unmoving at the pieces of peach.
            A moment’s silence was enough to emphasize his wife’s clumsiness.  Aylwin continued, “Among other things, the lady of Pulchra Mane says that I am to offer Edita greetings from her father.  That’s right, isn’t it, Arthur?”
            “Aye, my lord.”  The scribe bit into a chicken leg.
            “She also said I must not overstate Lord Toeni’s affection for his daughter, since Edita probably knows that he doesn’t really care.  Still accurate, Arthur?”
            “Mm, mm.”  Arthur was chewing.  Edita’s eyes were now focused on her husband.  Tears slid down her cheeks.
            “Three days ago, as you all know, the Herminians sent their second messenger under flag of truce.  The messenger said nothing, but delivered a piece of paper.  Here it is.”  Aylwin unfolded the missive and held it out to Arthur.  “Read.”
            The scribe wiped his hands on a cloth before accepting the paper.  “To Aylwin Mortane, Lord of Hyacintho Flumen.  I will exchange Juliana for Edita.  Respond within seven days under flag of truce.  Signed, Eudes Ridere.”
            Aylwin focused on Edita first.  “We used to hope that an alliance with the Toenis would be a bulwark against Mariel.  But that’s an illusion, isn’t it?  Mariel has your father under her thumb.  Your father can do nothing, will do nothing, to save you.  Isn’t that right?”
            Edita swallowed twice.  “Aye, my lord.”
            He ignored her tears and turned to Lucia.  “I want an heir.  What I have is a broken, barren half-wife of no value.  If I’m wrong, Mother, say so.”
            Lucia’s face was rigid and pale.  She said nothing.
            “Dag, you will take my response under flag of truce to the Herminians.”
            “As you will, my lord.”
            “Arthur, prepare to write what I say.”

            Aylwin paced in the great hall, back and forth between north and south wall, never far from the lord’s knob.  At any shout of warning, he could raise circle shields in seconds.  Daegmund had been gone three hours.  Arthur sat at the far end of one of the tables, the only other soul in the hall.
            Somewhere else in Hyacintho Flumen Diera and Boemia were preparing Edita for departure: helping her wash, packing a few clothes, clearing the rest of her things from Aylwin’s bedroom.  Aylwin promised himself that after today he would never look on the cripple again.  We still have to figure out the actual exchange.  They would be fools to send Juliana up here, I can’t surrender Edita until I’m sure I’ll get Juliana, and I certainly can’t go out to them myself.  He laughed to himself.  I hope Ridere thought this through.
            The autumn sun would touch the mountains in less than two hours.  What’s taking them so long?  Maybe they don’t have a plan.  Aylwin glanced idly at the god’s knob.  Strange.  It’s there all the time, yet we never think about it.  What could I do if I bonded with that? Aylwin knew the stories of fools who touched the god’s knob and died—or worse, lost their minds and forfeited their castles to siblings.  He kept pacing.  A new thought came: The proposed prisoner exchange is a ruse.  Ridere wants something else.  What?  He can’t really mean to violate truce.  Damn!  What’s taking so long?
            Aylwin’s hands were trembling.  Not again!  What if they attacked and I couldn’t bond?
            One of the castle’s swordsmen, Warren Vere, stepped into the great hall.  “My lord, Daegmund returns.  A boy is with him.”
            Aylwin scratched his temple.  “A boy?”  He spoke to Arthur.  “Why would they send a boy?  I don’t understand.”
            Arthur shrugged.  “Whatever the reason, we must receive him.  Warren, please fetch Lady Lucia to the hall.”
            “Aye.”  The soldier trotted away.

            Lucia brought Eddricus and Rose with her—and Edita.  Aylwin wanted to reprimand her, but he realized Edita’s presence might be necessary.  He had never negotiated a prisoner exchange before.
            At last!  Someone pounded on the north door of the great hall, and Warren opened for Dag and the Herminian messenger.  Dag stepped into the hall and announced, “My lord, I present Sir Gifre Toeni, of castle Prati Mansum.”
            Gifre Toeni?  Edita’s brother?  Aylwin overcame his shock and strode forward.  “Welcome to Hyacintho Flumen, Sir Gifre.  I presume you have come with some message from General Ridere.”
            “I have.”  The boy simply stared at him, waiting.
            Aylwin coughed.  Remember the niceties.  “I introduce my mother, the Lady Lucia; My brother and sister, Eddricus and Rose Mortane; and of course my wife, Lady Edita.  I believe you know her.”  Aylwin swept his hand toward his family.
            “Thank you.”  Gifre bowed formally to Lucia.  He looked long at Edita, but his face might have been made of stone.  Aylwin thought he saw despair in her expression.  His appearing is a shock to her too.             
            The boy turned to face Aylwin.  “General Ridere suggests the following procedure.  You will sign a formal divorce, which I have on my person, renouncing all responsibilities to Edita Mortane and all claims to the fruit of her body.  Since the day is late and this is a momentous decision, General Ridere suggests you consider it carefully.  He allows you one night.  In the morning I will take your decision back to the general.  At that time, if you have signed the divorce, Juliana Ingdaughter will be allowed to accompany one of your men to the castle.  When Juliana arrives, we will trust you to release Edita.  She should be brought down to us on a horse.”
            Aylwin squinted at the boy.  “The general trusts me to release Edita?”
            Gifre looked at him steadily.  “After you sign the divorce, why would you want to keep her?  I know she doesn’t eat much, but in a siege they say every little bit counts.”
            “Why is Ridere willing to give me Juliana?”
            “Believe me, I know Juliana.  She eats like a horse.”

Copyright © 2013 by Philip D. Smith.
All rights reserved.  International copyright secured.


Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Christmas Greetings--and an invitation

Merry Christmas! host site for Story and Meaning--provides statistics about site visits on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis.  It's pretty clear that there are about 25 regular visitors to the blog; every Thursday the number of site visits jumps as you all log in to read the latest chapter of Castles.  That's not a lot of readers, but it's plenty to keep me enthusiastic about the project.
    I remind everyone that Castles is a draft.  When the whole story is told, I intend to rewrite it and submit it to a publisher.  That doesn't mean the final version will differ radically from what you're reading on the blog, but it does mean there will be improvements before we're all done.
    Notice that I just wrote: "before we're all done."  There are at least two dozen of you who regularly read Castles.  Why shouldn't I allow you to make suggestions about the story?  It's my book.  I will make the final decisions and take responsibility for what goes into it.  But by this time you readers probably know Marty, Ora, and the other main characters pretty well.  So you have ideas about what they should do.  Or maybe you don't know them as well as you'd like, and you wish the story would explain certain things.
    Every blog post in Story and Meaning has a place for you to post comments.  I invite you to make suggestions, ask questions, and point out weaknesses or inconsistencies in Castles.
    I also have a request.  If you enjoy reading Castles, share the blog with a friend.


Thursday, December 19, 2013

Castles 82

82. At the Siege of Hyacintho Flumen

            “There’s a campfire.  We’ll stop here.  Gifre, if you walk ahead of us, you can help find the path.”
            The faint light from Tom and Long Bob’s lantern faded completely.  Eudes and Bully led their horses cautiously to the right.  Between the road and the fire tussocky ground sloped downward, dark and fog forcing them to feel their way. 
            “Name yourselves!”  Someone at the fire had seen Gifre or, more likely, had heard the horses breathing.
            “Gifre Toeni of castle Prati Mansum.  I am here with General Ridere.”
            The voice laughed.  “Well and good—if you speak truly.  Come forward to be recognized.  One at a time.”
            Following Gifre, Bully went ahead of Eudes.  “Bully Wedmor, from Wedmor in south Herminia.”
            A broad-shouldered soldier stood between Gifre, Bully, and Eudes and the fire.  His face was shadowed, but they could see the glint of firelight on his drawn sword.  Other soldiers clustered on the ground around the fire behind him.  Eudes smelled something roasting.  Eudes stepped closer and saluted with his fist on his chest, guiding his mount with his left hand.  “Eudes Ridere, of castle Pulchra Mane.”
            “By the gods!  My Lord General!  Ah, uh, welcome.”  The soldier saluted and bowed.  Four other men scrambled to their feet.  “Lord General Ridere!  Fair evening!  How may we serve you?”  They saluted.
            “Be calm, soldiers.  My squire and I missed today’s last boat across Blue River.  If you don’t mind, we’ll camp tonight with you and be on our way at first light.”
            A fat soldier, whom Eudes immediately identified as cook for this group, pointed to the fire.  “We have beef on the spit, my Lord General, and beans with onions in the pot.  And some mead for drink.  But that will be all ’til tomorrow’s food wagon.”
            Eudes nodded approval.  “We will be honored to share your sup.” 
            Eudes, Bully, and Gifre ate as ordinary soldiers, sitting on large stones or an old log.  Gifre complimented the fat soldier’s cooking, comparing it favorably to meals in Prati Mansum.  Eudes observed that hunger improved the flavor of all food, and he thanked the soldiers sincerely.  But none of their words put the men at ease; after an hour Eudes’s presence still intimidated them.
            Eudes stood.  “Men, we’re going to bed down a few yards east.  Be careful walking your rounds; don’t step on us.”
            The fog clung, making everything damp.  Gifre obviously wanted Bully to talk with Eudes about whatever it was on their minds, but Eudes warned him that sound traveled in the fog.  In the dark, they couldn’t tell when a watchman might be within earshot.  So Bully and Gifre wrapped themselves in blankets and waited for sleep.  Eudes pulled his boots off and massaged his feet.  He would sleep with boots on, ready to leap into action at a moment’s notice, but aching feet had ruined many a night in the field.  A few minutes kneading of his tired limbs was a secret quiet pleasure.

            Sometime in the night a wind rose out of the south and blew the fog away.  Eudes woke to a transformed scene.  Both moons were setting in the west; they combined with a brilliant splash of stars to throw soft light on the grassy landscape.  Twenty yards away the watch fire had burned low.  The soldier standing watch hardly needed to walk rounds; he could survey the land a quarter mile in every direction.  Eudes could smell the sea on the south wind; the shore lay only three or four miles away from the camp.  Eudes reached high with his arms, willing the knots in his back to loosen.
            Bully rolled over, sat up.  He seemed to be attuned to Eudes’s waking and sleeping.  “Fair morning, Sir.”
            “Fair morning, Bully.”  Eudes began rolling his blanket.  “Better wake up Gifre.  We’ll head for the dock, and you can explain this mysterious idea of yours.”
            Bully shook Gifre, who stood up and shivered.  “Cold wind this morning.” 
            “Aye.”  Eudes stamped his feet and swung his arms around.  “The men on the line won’t have much to share until the food wagon comes, so we might as well get going.”
            Gifre swung skinny arms, mimicking Eudes.  His breath misted away on the wind.  Eudes remembered being a boy of Gifre’s age, how his feet would hurt in the cold.  The boy’s coat was too light.  “Bully, get the horses.  Gifre will ride with me.”  Eudes wrapped Gifre in a blanket and squeezed into the saddle behind him.  They rode at a walk, Bully’s mount at Eudes’s left.
            “It’s time for you two to tell me what this is about.”  As if I don’t already know.  Eudes had been thinking through the night.
            Gifre and Bully shared a look.  Bully cleared his throat.  “It’s about Edita and Juliana, my lord.”
            “Interesting.  Commander Turchil and I were discussing Juliana only two days ago.”
            Gifre spoke up.  “Aye.  And I talked with Alan yesterday.  But Bully and I had already decided what to do.”
            Eudes laughed.  “Somehow I thought that was my job.”
            “Aye, my lord.”  Bully coughed.  “We mean only that we have a suggestion.”
            “Go on.”
            Bully hesitated, then plunged in.  “We thought you might send another truce flag to Hyacintho Flumen.  You could offer to trade Juliana for Edita.”
            “Let’s see.  Gifre, you want Edita out of Hyacintho Flumen because you want to see your sister, and you don’t want her to suffer in the siege.  Bully, you want her out because you think you’re in love with her.  Have I got that right?  Gifre ought to consider that the lady of a castle will be the last to feel hunger in a siege.  Also, Edita is another man’s wife, not to mention that she is of noble blood.  Bully’s desire for her is out of place.”
            Eudes couldn’t be sure in the dark, but Bully might be blushing.  The squire appeared cowed by Eudes’s reasoning, but Gifre was young and the presumptive heir of Prati Mansum.  Already, at eleven years old, he asserted himself like a lord.  “General Ridere, you forget to mention a very important fact.  Aylwin doesn’t love my sister.  He took Juliana as his mistress from the day he married Edita.”
            Eudes coughed, but he didn’t contradict.
            “You know it’s true.  Alan Turchil says so.  And last summer you told Bully that Juliana came as part of the marriage agreement with the Mortanes.”
            Eudes looked sideways at Bully.  “Perhaps I should not have said that.  Your father and mother tried to do the best they could for your sister.”
            Gifre didn’t hesitate.  “I don’t blame them, General.  That’s what I’m doing: what’s best for my sister.”
            “How so?”
            Gifre shot a look at Bully, who answered.  “My lord, if we offer Aylwin a trade, he can say no or yes.  If he says no, that means he chooses Edita over Juliana.  He may not love her, but at least he chooses her.  On the other hand, if he says yes, that means he rejects Edita.  You could require that he sign a divorce.  As a divorced and dishonored woman, Edita could marry anyone, even a commoner.  We think Aylwin might actually hate Edita.  If we don’t offer a trade, he might see that she starves before others.  He might punish her because we have Juliana.”
            Eudes reined his horse to a stop.  They had reached the little hill that ran down to the dock.  Gray light of morning was lifting the veil of night even as the moons set behind them.  The riverboat that had delivered Gifre was tied at the dock, but Tom and Long Bob had not yet made their appearance. 
            “Let us say you have convinced me as to the why.  I must also consider the how.  Gifre, do you know what a circle shield is?”
            “Aye.  Felix Fairhair, Father’s scribe, described the circle shields to me.  Once, he says, Father was able to command one, and my grandfather could command them at will.”
            “Your grandfather was a mighty lord, a worthy opponent.”
            “But you compelled him to submit to King Rudolf anyway.”
            “Indeed.  That was my first siege.  And we will force Aylwin to submit, even if he commands circle shields as well as Sherard Toeni did.  But here is my point: how do we trade Juliana for Edita if Aylwin can command the shields?  If we send Juliana to the castle, he could keep both women and not release Edita.  If we merely bring Juliana close to Hyacintho Flumen, to make the exchange in the open country, he might clap the shield down.  Again, he takes both.  If we insist the exchange happen at a great distance, the tables are reversed.  Aylwin will refuse.  He will not trust us to deliver Juliana once we have Edita.”
            Gifre’s head bobbed up and down against Eudes’s chest.  “We thought about that, didn’t we, Bully?”
            The squire said, “Lord General, if Aylwin agrees to the exchange, he should sign the divorce decree first.  I will carry the divorce decree to Hyacintho Flumen.  There is a risk that Aylwin will simply take me hostage, but then he abandons any hope of regaining Juliana.  Once he signs the decree, I will bring it out to you.  Then we deliver Juliana.  Since he will have then publicly have rejected Edita, he won’t want her anymore.  She won’t have much value as a hostage, since it’s pretty obvious her parents don’t want her, a point I could stress to him while I’m in the castle.  He will let her go.”
            “That’s not what we agreed, Bully!”  Gifre twisted in the saddle to look at both Eudes and Bully.  “I should be the messenger.  I’m the only Toeni who cares a fig for Edita.  I can convince Aylwin that she is of no use as a hostage.”
            “But you are a perfect hostage,” Eudes objected.  “Mortane would simply take you.”
            “If he did, he would not get Juliana.”
            Eudes thought.  For all the boys’ confidence, Eudes could see ways their scheme might easily fail.  On the other hand, the plan might offer advantages Bully and Gifre hadn’t imagined. 
            “You’re a brave lad, Gifre.  And noble, willing to risk yourself for your sister.  I will consider your advice carefully.”

Copyright © 2013 by Philip D. Smith.
All rights reserved.  International copyright secured.



Thursday, December 12, 2013

Castles 81

81.  Near Castle Hyacintho Flumen

            “I will hazard a guess, my Lord General.  You’re trying to decide what to do with the woman.”
            Alan Turchil was the commander of soldiers from Tutum Partum, loyal to Lady Avice Montfort, and as dependable as Eudes’s own commanders from Pulchra Mane.  Alan and Eudes sat with their backs to a wall in the Rose Petal.   Boisterous talk filled the room, allowing Eudes and Alan a measure of privacy.  Oil lamps in wall sconces and candlesticks on three tables lit the room, but left corners in shadow.
            Eudes swirled the wine in his glass and set it down without drinking.  “Actually, Alan, I was merely noting how from the back Juliana Ingdaughter reminds me of another woman.”
            Both men laughed.  “Aye, my Lord General.  I can see the resemblance.  But surely our prisoner is not so fearsome as our Queen.”
            “No, but I must consider what my royal wife will think if I decide wrongly about Mistress Ingdaughter.”  By habit, Eudes said nothing to detract from Mariel’s reputation as the Ice Queen.  “I almost wish Bully hadn’t captured her.”
            The biggest room in the Rose Petal provided considerably less room than the great hall of a castle.  When used as a conference room, it served admirably for Eudes and his commanders, gathered around one table.  Every day they met to report on and manage the myriad details of a siege.  But now the space was packed: more tables, more chairs, more people.  Not for military purposes, but political.
            The army of Herminia included “knights” from each castle except Lady Avice’s Tutum Partum.  Three of them were of age and might be expected to fight: Odell Giles from Calles Vinum, Selwin Beaumont from Caelestis Arcanus, and List Wadard from Beatus Valle.  The remaining four traveled with the army purely as hostages, guarantees for the good behavior of their fathers or grandfathers back home: Aldin Thoncelin from Ventus in Montes, Deman Mowbray from Rubrum Vulpes, Gifre Toeni from Prati Mansum, and List Wadard’s son Linn.  Eudes did not clutter his daily conference with Herminia’s knights, and already Odell, Selwin, and List had begun to mutter against this exclusion.  So Eudes decided to host commanders and knights to sup once a week.  It would be a party rather than a military meeting, spiced by the presence of women from Tarquint.
            Eudes met individually with the knights and commanders before the party, warning them bluntly.  These women were respectable daughters of good families from the town Hyacintho Flumen and the surrounding country.  Naturally, they would fear the invading army, especially its leaders.  The weekly parties, Eudes told his men, would serve to douse those fears.  Herminia’s knights and commanders would treat party guests with respect and decorum.  “If you want a whore, go find one on your own.  But if you touch one of these women, you’ll be whipped in the square, and I will wield the whip.”
            On the first occasion, at least, Eudes’s warning seemed to hold.  The knights and commanders ate and drank with the guests, told stories, acted pantomimes, and laughed freely as the wine flowed.  At the end of the evening, when each woman’s father or brother arrived to escort her home, she would report honorable treatment at the hands of the Herminians.  If the knights and commanders behaved themselves properly from week to week, Eudes’s parties would help pacify Tarquint.  Meanwhile, the knights had their dignity assuaged.
            But what do I do about Juliana Ingdaughter?
            No Tarquintian father or brother would be coming to take Juliana home.  When the party ended, Bully Wedmor would escort her to a room guarded both at the door and outside the window.  There she would remain prisoner until Eudes determined her fate.
            Eudes had no doubt the blond beauty had been sent to Tarquint to sweeten the marriage pot for Aylwin Mortane, and her position as “washerwoman” conveniently close to the castle confirmed her real role.  Officially, however, she had come to Hyacintho Flumen as a serving woman for Edita Toeni, now Edita Mortane.  The personal servant of Lady Edita ought to be accorded respect—officially.  In reality, who could say what Edita thought of Juliana?
            Alan Turchil leaned close.  “They say you allowed young Gifre Toeni time alone with Juliana.  Why?”
            “The boy wanted news of his sister.  It’s possible Juliana might say something to him that she wouldn’t let slip to you or me.”
            “Did she?”
            Eudes massaged his forehead.  “No.  Apparently she was careful to maintain appearances.  I don’t think Gifre suspects Aylwin’s true interest in Juliana.”
            Alan leaned his chin on his hands.  “Really?  The boy is smart, and he grew up amidst the intrigues of a castle.  Gods!  He’ll be a lord himself one day.  Surely he knows about mistresses.”
            “I suppose.  But he’s just turned eleven, and he wants to believe good things for his sister.  I’d hoped Juliana would tell him the truth so I wouldn’t have to.”
            Alan laughed quietly.  “My Lord General, you’re like a thousand other soldiers, hoping someone else will bear the brunt of battle.”
            “Aye.  But I will do my duty when the time comes.”  Eudes took a swallow of wine.  “Though I still need to discern what my duty is in this case.  What do I do with her?”
            Alan splayed his left hand on the table and pointed to his fingers with his right.  “One.  Keep her prisoner.  Question her.  She might tell you something useful.  Two.  Give her to the men.  She’s basically a whore anyway; let her earn her living honestly.  Three.  Send her back to Aylwin.  He can keep wife and mistress together in the castle; it might cause him some grief.  Four.  Put Juliana on a ship back to Prati Mansum.  It was stupid for Toeni to marry his daughter to a Mortane in the first place; surely he knew Mariel planned to invade.  Let Juliana’s presence remind him daily of his daughter’s plight.  Five.  I don’t know.  Hm.  I could say you could have her yourself, but Queen Mariel might not appreciate it.”
            Eudes smiled wryly.  “I want to live a few more years, so I’ll decline option five.”

            The next day, after conferencing with his commanders, Eudes inspected the siege works west of the castle.  Aewel Penda, who had stayed the night at the Rose Petal, rode with him.  Penda had charge of the southwest quadrant of the siege.  Bully accompanied Eudes as squire.  They crossed Blue River by boat well south of the bridge.  The Herminians used the bridge every day, and so far nothing had gone wrong, but it was unnerving to ride across the bridge in daylight with the castle towering so close.  Most of the army’s traffic crossed by boat a safe distance north or south of Hyacintho Flumen.
            Penda’s men had dug a long pit a few hundred yards away from the farmhouse Penda used for his base.  (Eudes had insisted that the farmer be paid generously for the house.)  In this pit they stored the unexploded casks of liquid fire.  Before winter they would roof the pit to keep the devilish stuff dry.  Eudes saluted Penda and left him to his duties.  Aewel would rise early the next morning to report again at the Rose Petal.
            The many farmers in the coastlands southwest of Hyacintho Flumen had to accept Herminian dominion to transport their harvest to market.  Eudes noted with satisfaction that wagons were already using the roads again.  Over and over he had stressed to his commanders that they must treat the Tarquintians fairly.  He wanted the markets in the town Hyacintho Flumen flush with produce, and the people of both town and country to feel safe doing business there.  His war was only against the castle and its lord.
            Further along, the northwest quadrant of the siege presented the greatest challenge to Eudes and his commanders.  Three narrow valleys, each with its own creek, ran down to Blue River from the mountains in the west.  It was rugged country, with plenty of places where a smuggler might try to penetrate the Herminian blockade.  Archard Oshelm’s men were exploring the valleys, contacting the scattered farmers, and offering to help transport crops across Blue River by boat.  They built permanent camps by each creek, and regular patrols marched between the camps.
            Rather than complete the circuit of Hyacintho Flumen, Eudes and Bully turned around at a point northwest of the castle and retraced their route.  During a siege, Eudes rode inspection almost every day, but he constantly varied his routine, sometimes sleeping on the line with ordinary soldiers.  “The general has a remarkable capacity for showing up when you least expect it,” one solider had said.  Eudes worked hard to keep that thought alive in his men.
             The autumn sun sat on the horizon and campfires were beginning to spring to life on the southern line of siege.  Soldiers here had easy duty, so long as the local farmers were content to take their wagons to town via boat.  In the first week the blockade had not been challenged.  Eudes and Bully came back to the riverside dock late in the day at the same time as two wagons.  The last boat of the day, a flat barge propelled by two pole men, waited at the dock.  To cross, Eudes would have to order one of the wagons to wait ’til the next morning.
            The riverboat men recognized Eudes.  “Fair evening, my Lord General.  Please tie your horses to the forward rail.”
            “Fair evening.  Thank you, no.  These men need to get their goods across before dark.  Load the wagons.”
            “My Lord, there’ll not likely be another boat tonight.  Fog is rising; it’ll be too dark.”
            Eudes dismounted and motioned the teamsters to move forward.  “I understand.  Bully and I will stay the night here if need be.”
            The boatmen worked quickly, but by the time they blocked and secured the wagons, darkness was falling.  “Hup!  Hup!”  They pushed with their long poles, and the riverboat moved away.  Within seconds it disappeared into fog.  “Hup!  Hup!” came quietly over the river.  Eudes and Bully stood alone with their horses on the dock.
            “My Lord General, we should find a campfire with a bit o’ sup.”
            “Aye, Bully.  I’m ready to eat.”  But at that moment a sound came out of the fog on the river.
            “Damn, it’s thick tonight!  Hup!  Hup!  Where’s the dock?”
            Eudes called out into the darkness.  “Ho there!  Is that a boat?”
            “What do ya think?  A magic carpet?  Light us a lamp, ya lump!  Look lively, there!”
            Dark, damp and cold, enveloped them.  “I’m afraid we have no lamp.  Aim for my voice if you can.  The dock is right here.”
            “Call out, then.  Damn the fog!”
            Eudes stamped his feet.  “Dock right here!  One, two, three, four!  Dock right here!  One, two, three, four!”  Bully joined him the chant.  “Dock right here!  One, two, three, four!”
            Many seconds passed.  Out of the darkness a boatman’s pole swept over the dock, the tip of it smacking into Bully and throwing him down.  “Hey!  Careful!”
            “Sorry ’bout that.”  Only a stride distant, boatmen suddenly emerged from the fog, two of them, with a boy standing between them.  A lantern hung at the near end of the boat, throwing a small halo around it.  Their craft bumped into the dock, and heavy ropes thudded onto the wood.  “Can ya tie us down?”  Eudes held the horses’ reins while Bully wrapped a rope around a post.
            “Thank ya, I’m sure.  But why’s two soldiers waitin’ in the dark wi’ no light?”
            Eudes handed the reins to Bully and extended his hand to guide the men onto the dock.  “The last boat of the day had a full load.  We were about to leave when we heard you.  Fog dampens voices, I think.”
            The boy jumped onto the dock.  “General Ridere?”
            “Aye.  Who is it?”  Eudes bent to look at the boy’s face.  “Gifre Toeni!  What in Two Moons are you doing here?”
            “Come to look for you.  Commander Turchil said I would have half odds of finding you on the south side.  Is Bully with you, Sir?”
            “Excellent!  Now, Tom and Long Bob!”  Gifre pressed a coin into each boatman’s hand.  “You not only got me safely across, you found the men I wanted.  Thank you, indeed.”
            The boatman called Long Bob held up the lantern.  “Lord General Ridere!  Please don’t hold unseemly words against us.”
            “Of course not.  We all say things we don’t mean, especially in the dark.  Can you find your way home?”
            “Aye, we can.”
            “Walk on ahead of us, then.  If we follow the road we’ll come to soldiers.  Once we see a campfire, we’ll turn aside.”
            “As you wish, Lord General.”
            Eudes walked slowly, letting the boatmen’s light dwindle ahead.  “Gifre, what would you have done if you hadn’t found me?  You are supposed to be a knight in this army; soldiers are not to risk their lives without good reason.  Gods!  A night like this, you could get lost and die of exposure.  I hope you have a good reason for searching me down.”
            “I do, my lord.  But since it’s Bully’s idea, I’ll let him explain.”

Copyright © 2013 by Philip D. Smith.
All rights reserved.  International copyright secured.