Thursday, January 3, 2013

Castles 32

32. At Castle Inter Lucus

            Marty’s Council meeting was set for noon.  Ora had relayed his invitation to Caadde Bycwine and Syg Alymar, and they had promised to come.  Caelin reported a similar response from Eadmar Eoforwine and Cnud Thorson.  It wasn’t practical to meet earlier than noon, since every morning brought a stream of visitors to Inter Lucus, and Marty had resolved to greet all of them.  Most came out of curiosity, to see for themselves that rumors were true.  Some brought gifts of produce, and when Marty explained that he would not accept any more hidgield until autumn they were sorely disappointed.  A few left their sacks of vegetables anyway, rather than carry them back home, but most kept their gifts. 
            Other visitors sought out the lord of Inter Lucus to ask for something—protection from an encroaching neighbor, resolution of a dispute, advice, and (of course) money.  Marty attended carefully to all these requests, telling himself that he could learn much about Two Moons if he could practice the art of listening between the lines.  He tried not to promise more than he could deliver, and he kept Caelin or Ora close at hand so they could explain requests he didn’t understand.
            Daily, Inter Lucus provided more proof that a lord had returned.  The gaps in the ground level walls had all disappeared, except for large doorways in the west and east sides of the great hall.  Marty half expected the castle to make doors to fit them, since in the underground levels new self-retracting doors were turning up every day.  But the exterior door openings remained unfilled, even as tiny filaments appeared, stretching from wall to wall in the corners, more than fifteen feet above the floor—the beginning of a ceiling.  But no doors for the great hall.  Marty wondered: Why can’t the automatic repair system replace the doors?  Is there something wrong with the programming?  The subroutine list doesn’t seem to indicate it.

I. Materias Tranmutatio: non operativa, aedificaverunt initiati
II. Parva Arcum Praesidiis: parte operativa, aedificaverunt initiati
III. Magna Arcum Praesidiis: non operativa
IV. Cibum Preparatio Homines: operativa
V. Inter-Castrum Videns-Loquitur: non operativa
VI. Extra Arcem Micro-Aedificator: non operativa, aedificaverunt initiati
VII. Potentia Fontes: parte operativa, aedificaverunt initiati
VIII. Aquarum: operativa
IX. Intra Arcem Micro-Aedificator: operativa
X. Centralis Arbitrium Factorem: parte operativa, aedificaverunt initiati

            The kitchen works.  Aquarum (water supply?) is fully functioning, it seems.  And repairs have started on five other systems.  So why can’t we get doors?  Is there something especially difficult about doors above ground?  Exterior doors?
            As was often the case, events pulled Marty’s attention elsewhere, leaving his questions unanswered.  Ora came to him as he stood before the interface wall.  “My Lord Martin, two more visitors have come to Inter Lucus. 
            “More produce as gield payments?”
            “I don’t think so, my lord.”
            Marty looked at his watch, not a mere habit.  Experience had shown that a day on Two Moons was at most a few minutes longer than 24 Earth hours.  Every few days, when he remembered, he reset the watch to 12:00 when the sun was at its zenith.  “Okay.  We can give them half an hour, but then I want to get ready for the council.”
            Marty received the visitors in the shade of oak trees on the southwest approach to the castle.  The first man wore a brown tunic, belted at the waist, and work boots.  A farmer, he said, from beyond Senerham, Torr Ablendan.  Marty greeted him with a slight bow of the head, a gesture that seemed to please most people.  At the same time he wished yet again for paper.  If I could just write down names, locations, and occupations!  That would be something.  How can I govern without keeping records?  I can’t even remember names.
            The second man’s russet tunic was stuffed into canvas colored breeches.  Younger than the farmer, he was broad shouldered, with short brown hair cut evenly around his head like an upturned bowl.  He carried a makeshift pack, tied into a roll with rope, and gave his name as Isen Poorman.
            Poorman’s pack didn’t look like it contained produce, but Marty decided to head off the possibility, just in case.  “We are not accepting any grain or vegetables as payment of gield.  In fact, I am delaying all gield payments, except payments in clothes or coin, for the time being.”
            The farmer and the younger man seemed puzzled by this pronouncement.  Ora launched into a rapid explanation.  Marty was learning the language of Two Moons, but when the natives spoke too fast he couldn’t keep up.  Apparently, Ora’s elucidation satisfied the newcomers.  The farmer said he would be ready to pay hidgield at the end of harvest, after he had a chance to trade his surplus on market day.  Isen Poorman began telling a complicated story involving his sister, who had died, but he spoke too quickly for Marty to keep up.  Marty raised his hand, interrupting.  “Slowly, please.”  He made a calming gesture, like a coach of over-excited basketball players.
            Isen Poorman started again.  “I have come to Inter Lucus not to offer gield, and indeed I have no money, but to offer service.  I am an artisan, a glassblower; I have five years experience as apprentice to Master Kent Gausman.  I have left Master Gausman’s shop, seeking work as a journeyman.  In Down’s End we heard word that there is a new lord in Inter Lucus.  A wise friend, Master Deepwater, counseled me to cross the lake.  He said there might be need for a glassmaker between the lakes.”
            “Down’s End?”  Marty’s interest jumped.
            “My lord?”  The young man looked confused.
            “You have lived in Down’s End, the city across West Lake?”
            “Aye.  All my life.  But now I hope to work here.  I am willing to swear fealty to my Lord Martin.  Perhaps my lord could make use of a glassmaker.”
            What I could really use is good information about Down’s End.  “Why did you leave Down’s End?  Something to do with your sister’s death?”
            “Aye, my lord.  I spent a day with the priest burying my sister.  So Master Gausman dismissed me.”
            Marty felt sure he was missing something.  “For missing a day’s work?  To bury your sister?  Seems unfair.”
            “Aye, my lord.  Master Deepwater says Gausman was trying to please Master Godspear, to keep his vote in the guild.  I went to every glassblower in Down’s End, but none of them would employ me.  My lord must believe me.  I am an able craftsman.  I only desire a chance . . .”
            “Blacklisted.”  Marty made a face.
            “My lord?” 
            Marty’s watch said 11:40, and he recognized two men emerging from the forest south of Inter Lucus.  “Isen Poorman, I want to talk with you more.  But my council is gathering, so we must wait.  Ora, fetch Caelin.  He should be in the kitchen.”
            Ora trotted away.  Marty said, “I don’t know how long my council will meet.  I would like you to wait here, Isen.  I have many questions about Down’s End—and about glassmaking.  If you can be my guest for supper, we can talk as long as necessary.  Of course, your friend Torr Ablendan will also be welcome.”
            Poorman and Ablendan evinced pleasure at an invitation to sup in a castle, but the farmer said, “My lord, if it please you, I should return home today.  I do not mean to offend.”
            “I understand.”  Marty inclined his head as Torr Ablendan bowed and turned away.  “Isen, can you stay?”
            “Aye, my lord.”
            “Very good.”  Marty turned his attention to the men approaching.  “Cnud Thorson and Eadmar Eoforwine!  Greetings!”  Marty called to the Senerham portion of his council.  The men had come under the shade of the oaks.  To Isen he said, “Don’t go far away.  When the council is finished, we can talk.”

            After two days of anticipation, Marty’s council disappointed, answering few questions and raising many others.  Caadde Bycwine and Syg Alymar arrived minutes after Cnud and Eadmar.  Marty sat with the four guests on blocks, made of plastic or ceramic material, that had grown out of the floor of the great hall.  Inter Lucus still had no table, so Marty and his guests had to hold soup bowls in their hands.  Besides a vegetable soup, they ate fried potatoes.  The men had never seen French fries before, but they quickly decided they liked them.  Caelin and Ora hovered nearby, ready to refill the men’s bowls.  When lunch was over and bowls and plate returned to the kitchen, Caelin stood quietly by the wall; Ora went outside to ward off any more visitors who might turn up.
            Marty asked questions:
            How many people lived between the lakes, near Senerham or Inter Lucus?  The four men gave estimates varying from a thousand to twenty times that number. 
            How large were the farms in the region?  Cnud Thorson said some were as big as five hundred acres, some were much smaller, and some had no clear boundary, since farmers would sometimes claim land “all the way to East Lake.” 
            Where did people acquire metal tools—knives, plows, shovels, and so on?  Answer: the blacksmith in Senerham, Elne Penrict, and one or two traveling smiths usually turned up in spring and fall to sell new tools and sharpen saws, axes, and other blades.  Where did the smiths get their raw iron?  Answer: From Stonebridge?  We don’t know. 
            Where can I get a razor?  (Marty rubbed his stubble ruefully, eliciting laughter from the councilors.)  Answer: Elne Penrict could sharpen a steel knife for Lord Martin, and Melgar Elfwine the tanner would be glad to make a leather strop for sharpening it.
            Who makes coins?  Answer: Stonebridge coins are best, Cippenham coins are popular in the east, and sometimes you see coins from Horatia.  Where is Horatia?  Answer: vaguely south.  Maybe.  We don’t know. 
            How much do farmers pay in tax?  Answer: the lord of Hyacintho Flumen demands one Stonebridge silver per hide of plowed land plus a copper for each living soul.  How much is a hide of land?  Answer: depending on the crop planted, it could be as little as two acres or as much as twenty.  Caadde Bycwine pointed out that landowners in the Inter Lucus region rarely paid as much as Lord Mortane demanded.  In practice tax collection was a matter of demand, negotiation, and avoidance.  The citizens between the lakes did not think this disloyal.  Besides, when had the lord of Hyacintho Flumen ever helped or even visited between the lakes?           
            Every item on Marty’s agenda revealed how little he knew and how hard it would be to get answers.  He wanted to shout his frustration.  Well, what did you expect?  Detailed spreadsheets and a handbook on how to rule medieval Saxons?
            Where can I get paper?  Answers: They make paper in Stonebridge.  And in castles, I think.  You could buy some in Down’s End.  Once or twice in recent years traveling merchants brought paper to sell on autumn market days in Inter Lucus and Senerham.
            A castle can make paper?  Answer: One of the traveling merchants said he got paper at castle Vivaro Horto.  Where is that?  Answer: Far east of East Lake somewhere.
            Who enforces the law?  Answers: If and when trouble arises, the men of Senerham or Inter Lucus would gather and appoint a posse to catch and punish lawbreakers.  Generally, folk had to defend their own property against theft.  The knight from Hyacintho Flumen usually held court for three days in the fall; besides collecting taxes, he decided disputes between citizens.  But with violent offenders, the posse did not generally wait for the lord’s representative.  Hangings and floggings were not unknown.
            What do you know about the gods?  Marty’s honest ignorance about the gods surprised his councilors.  If anyone should know about the gods, it would be a lord.  The men of Inter Lucus and Senerham knew very little about them.  They left Two Moons long ago.  Did Lord Martin refer to the castle gods or the old god?  Marty had never heard of the old god; what god was that?  Answer: The god before the castle gods.  Castle lords favored the castle gods, but in free cities some people worshiped the old god.
            After three hours, Marty thanked his councilors and asked if they could meet again in a week, and earlier if possible.  If Inter Lucus could supply a breakfast, they all agreed, they could meet in the morning.  Marty walked them to the west doorway, shaking each man’s hand as they left.  The four of them were still talking among themselves when they reached the forest path.  Now he felt the lack of paper more than ever.  I’ll forget most of what they said.  I need a journal or even just scratch paper.  Then Marty remembered his New Testament.  He rushed downstairs to his “bedroom”—he, Caelin and Ora now enjoyed the privacy of individual rooms—where he kept the book.  At the back, yes!  A blank flyleaf!  He carried the testament up to the great hall. 
            Marty sat on a block on the west side of the great hall, looking at the blank page.  He daren’t use the space for anything but the most important data.  But the most important things would be the things I would remember anyway.  And what do I write with?  The blackened tip of a stick?  He sighed and closed the book.  I live in an oral culture, at least ’til I get paper and ink.  The best way to “take notes” is to rehearse the meeting with Ora and Caelin.
            As if in response to Marty’s thought, Ora entered the castle through the west door.  She was accompanied by the glassblower from Down’s End.  What was his name?  Isen.  The youth’s saucer eyes roamed over the interior of the great hall, a reaction common among the villagers who visited Marty’s castle.  Then Isen saw the book lying on Marty’s lap and fell to his knees, his face full of astonishment.
            In a whisper the man from Down’s End exclaimed: “The sign of the old god!”
Copyright © 2012 by Philip D. Smith.
All rights reserved.  International copyright secured.

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