40. On Little Moon
Eudes Ridere worked to inhabit the persona of Boyden Black as Little Moon voyaged from Prati Mansum to Hyacintho Flumen. He wore his yellow hat and spent much of his time on deck plying sailors with questions that a trader might ask: How long did it take to sail from Herminia to Tarquint? Was the harbor at Tutum Partum better than Prati Mansum’s? How early in spring could ships safely cross the sea to Tarquint? And so on.
Boyden Black would observe four castles on the voyage. From Prati Mansum, Little Moon sailed north three days along the coast of Herminia, coming in sight of Tutum Partum before striking east. Another three days brought them across the sea to Oceani Litora on the southwest coast of Tarquint. It would take another six days to reach Hyacintho Flumen, much further east.
The ship docked for a day and a night at Oceani Litora so Erline and Edita Toeni could greet the lady Rowena Silver, ruler of the castle. Juliana Ingdaughter, Edita’s attendant, enlisted Bully’s aid along with the guard Drefan, and Edita exited the ship without incident. Boyden thought Edita rather enjoyed Bully’s help. Bully’s arm wrapped around her waist longer than was really necessary.
Once on the pier, Bully and Drefan seated Edita on a pony and the guard led her to the castle. Other than the noble ladies and Drefan, no one from Little Moon was allowed to leave the dock.
A sailor explained while Bully and Boyden watched the ladies ride a steep road to the castle.
“Bellinus Silver was lord o’ the castle, see? And lords—well, they’re never content, are they? Ya’d think, with magical food n’ soft beds n’ music n’ lights n’ stuff we common folk ha’ never seen, ya’d think lords would be content. But no. Ya always hear of lords layin’ claim to towns ’n cities. But what can Bellinus Silver do? Ya can see the mountains. Come right down to the harbor, ’n so steep that no road has ever been built. ’Tis a good harbor, but small. And the rest of the coast ain’t nothin’ but rocks—nasty, big uns—for a hunerd mile both directions. So Bellinus Silver was lord of ’is castle and naught much else. The village by the harbor—well, ya can see. I count, what? Eight houses all told? Too small a world for Bellinus Silver!
“So the damn fool—Bellinus Silver, that is—he gets hisself into a boat. Wanted to learn to sail they say. As if being lord ain’t enough! Storm comes up ’n he hits some rocks. Drowned dead.
“That leaves Lady Rowena in a tight spot, folk say. She can’t bond with the castle, see? No magic defense for her! Prob’ly not much fancy food neither! There’ll be no lord o’ the castle ’til little Fraomar grows up. ’N that’s why Rowena don’t allow anyone off the dock.”
Boyden Black rubbed his chin. He had been letting his beard grow since Pulchra Mane, and it itched. “How old is the boy?”
“Three years. Lady Rowena will have to guard the little lord’s inheritance without magic for a long time. Ten years, maybe.”
Boyden said, “Perhaps it’s fortunate for the lady that Oceani Litora is so isolated. No army can get at her through the mountains, and the harbor is so small there’s only one pier. An enemy couldn’t come by boat. Besides, there’s nothing here to take except a castle; and as you say, the magic of a castle only works if a lord or lady bonds with it.”
The sailor puckered his mouth. “Aye. But what if a body could bond with a castle? Then a body would be lord. O’ course, I never seen the inside o’ a castle. Wouldna know what t’ do if I was.”
At this point Bully spoke up. “The lord’s knob would be in the great hall, so it wouldn’t be hard to find. Then you put your hands on it and see what happens.”
The sailor turned to Bully, astonished. “Ya been in a castle?”
“Only once, as servant to Master Black.” Bully nodded deferentially to the older man. “While I was there, I did see the lord’s knob—from a safe distance! They don’t let folk like me and you get too close!”
From Eudes’ point of view, Oceani Litora was a deceptive prize. Without a lord or lady to command the castle magic, it could be easily captured; for in spite of his words to the sailor, a single ship could land two hundred men, enough to overwhelm Rowena Silver’s garrison. But once the castle was taken, what then? The brutally sheer mountains prevented access to the interior of Tarquint; it was no foothold for a larger invasion. The few small farms by the bay grew only enough food for local consumption. The harbor was too small to support a significant fishery. Other regions of Tarquint boasted gold and silver mines, but no such wealth had been discovered near Oceani Litora. The one thing worth having was the castle itself, and the one person on Two Moons who could be expected to bond with the castle was a three-year-old boy. The gods bless you, Fraomar. The Queen of Herminia will not be troubling you. Not for a while. But when you’re old enough to bond with your castle, I’ll come calling.
Mountains continued to dominate the coast of Tarquint for two days of Little Moon’s journey east. The captain kept his course well away from the rocky shore. On the third and fourth days the purple teeth of the mountains gradually gave way to hill country, and they occasionally saw isolated farms, with cattle and orchards. Boyden Black counted five rivers in the region that emptied into the sea, but none of them created a bay big enough for any craft bigger than a coracle. On the sixth day they reached Hyacintho Flumen, with its thriving town and generous deep-water harbor.
Boyden already knew the answer, but he played the part of an inquiring merchant. “What’s the name of the river?” he asked Captain Cyneric.
“The Blue River.” Durwin Cyneric stood with his feet apart, arms folded across his chest. The captain kept a watchful eye on his crew, rarely giving commands, as the ship maneuvered toward a dock. Experienced sailors knew their business. “It flows down from West Lake, more than a hundred miles to the north.”
A soft rustling of dresses announced the arrival of women: Lady Erline, Edita, and Juliana. Edita said, “In castle language, Hyacintho Flumen means Blue River.”
Boyden inclined his head in greeting to the noble ladies. “Are you conversant in the language of the castles?” he asked.
Lady Erline fixed him with her eyes. She knew his real identity, while Edita and Juliana had been told he was only a merchant. So Erline was naturally suspicious of Boyden, a wariness she extended to Bully and Archard.
“I am not.” Edita kept her face smooth. “Felix Fairhair, my father’s scribe, knows many words of the old language, but he doesn’t really speak it. Some people say that the words of the priests of the old god are castle words. But that seems unlikely. How would ignorant priests learn castle language?”
“I’m sure you are right,” said Boyden. “In Herminia I’ve met priests of the old god, and they have some magic words, though they make little sense. Perhaps I will find some priest in Tarquint who knows more. But then: how would one know if it were the same as the castle language unless one was a castle scribe? The whole idea seems far-fetched. And I won’t be researching languages! I’ll be looking first for cloth merchants and weavers, but maybe I’ll meet a priest or two. I plan to visit some of the free cities where, so I’ve been told, people can worship the old god or the castle gods as they like.”
“It sounds like Queen Mariel’s policy in the free towns, doesn’t it?” asked Edita. “Do you think it is safe for a city or land to have two religions? My father thinks castle lords should require worship of castle gods, the gods of Two Moons. The queen’s policy invites trouble, Father says.”
Edita’s eyes were directed toward Boyden. Since Erline was standing slightly behind her, Edita couldn’t see the distress on her mother’s face. Erline worries I’ll bear tales to Mariel. As if my wife needed evidence of Toeni’s disloyalty. Boyden covered his mouth while rubbing his chin. “I intend no offense to your father, but as a buyer and seller of cloth, I think the free towns are a boon to Herminia.”
Edita resisted smiling. “I agree. Father is stuck in the past. After all, the castle gods left Two Moons long ago, and no one knows if they will ever return. If I do become consort to a lord of Hyacintho Flumen I will advise him to make allies of the free cities.”
Lady Erline’s lips made a tight line, but she did not correct her daughter.
Boyden said, “I think that would be wise advice, Lady Edita. But now, let me ask you a harder question. Let us suppose, gods be pleased, that you bear your lord husband an heir. Would you permit your son or daughter, heir to Hyacintho Flumen, to worship the old god if your child so chose?”
The right side of Edita’s brow furrowed as she thought. “Master Boyden, I grew up with prayer at the gods’ knob every day of my life. It’s hard to imagine a child growing up in a castle and not worshiping the gods of the castle. But I would say that even noble children should worship as they see fit.”
Behind Edita, Erline’s face was a picture of disapproval.
Sailors threw ropes to waiting hands on the dock, and the business of unloading the ship began. Boyden crossed the gangplank and melted temporarily into the mass of workers. He watched a driver of a horse and carriage greet Lady Erline and Edita. The noble ladies were soon carried away while other men moved the ladies’ luggage from Little Moon to a cart.
Bully and Archard found him on the pier. They piled their bundles of clothes and gear nearby. Boyden gave Archard money and sent him to buy three horses. “We’ll stay a couple nights here. So look for an inn as well.”
Bully asked, “Do you hope to find wool sellers here?”
“You never know what you’ll find, Bully, ’til you look.”
Copyright © 2012 by Philip D. Smith.
All rights reserved. International copyright secured.