Thursday, February 28, 2013

Castles 40

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.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Castles 39

39. In Down’s End

            Eadmar watched Guthlaf Godcild’s face intently, but he couldn’t tell which way the bishop would decide.  Guthlaf’s hazel eyes moved from brother to brother as the priests of Down’s End made their arguments.  No bishop had faced such an important decision for generations, if ever, and all the brothers knew it.  They sat around a rough-hewn table, and the door to Prayer House had been barred against visitors, to give the city’s priests privacy.
            “The last lord of Inter Lucus died without heir when my great grandmother was a maiden,” said Phytwin.  The gray-eyed man was priest of the city’s central district and at fifty was older than any of the others except Eadmar.  “How can there be a new lord?”
            Teothic, the tall, red-bearded, young priest who served the west side of Down’s End, answered, “It doesn’t matter how; it only matters that.  No one really knows how a lord’s heir takes control of a castle.  This man Martin may be no lord’s son, but if he controls Inter Lucus, that is all we need know.  He is lord in fact, if not in law.”
            “Aye,” Eadmar said.  “But since he is not the son of a lord, he has not learned the faults of lords.  Isen says Lord Martin worships the true God!  He is not like . . .”
            Bishop Guthlaf interrupted Eadmar with a raised hand.  “I gathered the brothers at your request, Eadmar.  You have already spoken.  I want to hear the others.”
            Eadmar pressed his lips together and bowed his head.  He had never regretted voting for Guthlaf’s election as bishop when the old bishop, Aethelmod Godcild, died.  The choice had been between Guthlaf and Eadmar, and many times Eadmar had counted himself blessed not to have been made “Godcild.”  To be required to meet for hours with avaricious city councilors and guild alderman . . . Eadmar often pitied Guthlaf.  But now, he wondered whether he had merely taken the easy path when he chose to serve the poor folk who lived in the crowded Betlicéa district rather than accept election as bishop.  Perhaps the price of authority is the willingness to suffer the vices of powerful men.  Guthlaf knows firsthand the treacheries of men of high station.
            Wendelbeorht, priest of the south district, coughed several times.  He was an albino, with white hair and beard.  His pink hands spidered back and forth on the pine tabletop.  He found the bit of paper that Eadmar had shown them.  Wendelbeorht’s pale blue eyes were so nearsighted that he might as well be blind.  He held the paper two inches from his eyes so he could see the red ink cross and perfectly shaped black letters. “Castle lords serve the castle gods.  It has always been so.  And castle lords lie.  They have deceived and killed God’s priests before.  This may be yet another deception; the words of the book are neither the old language nor the common tongue.  But if it is not a deception, the new lord may have a treasure beyond treasures: God’s book in an unknown tongue.”
            Eadmar wanted to respond: And I am willing to die if need be to see that book.  He kept his words to himself.
            The last of Down’s End’s priests was a fat, brown-eyed man of thirty years.  Godbeorht served the north district, where the city was expanding along the shores of West Lake.  “Is there any evidence of this new lord other than the report of Eadmar’s young friend?  Today’s meeting is the first I’ve heard of him.” 
            Bishop Guthlaf said, “Phytwin mentioned a new lord to me a few days ago.”
            “I said that I had heard a rumor,” objected Phytwin.  Clean-shaven like Eadmar, Phytwin looked as if he tasted something sour.  “I would credit it no more than stories of the castle gods returning.”
            Wendelbeorht coughed again.  He was not an old priest, and Eadmar did not expect him to become one.  Lesions, brought by exposure to the summer sun, marred Wendelbeorht’s pale arms.  “Perhaps Phytwin gives such rumors less credence than they deserve.  If the smoke keeps returning, maybe there is fire.”
            “The castle gods have been gone five hundred years!” exclaimed Phytwin.
            “Unless the rumors are true,” said Wendelbeorht.
            Phytwin rolled his eyes, but Wendelbeorht couldn’t see it.  Teothic took advantage of the brief silence.  “Rumors of a new lord are all over the city, not just in Phytwin’s central district or Eadmar’s Betlicéa district.  Brothers, unlike stories of the castle gods returning, we can investigate this tale.  Why not let Eadmar cross the lake to find out?”
            “As brother Wendelbeorht pointed out, castle lords have a record of deceit and murder,” said Phytwin.
            Teothic shook his red beard.  “Brother Phytwin, you say there is no new lord in Inter Lucus and then you warn that the new lord might kill Eadmar.”
            Godbeorht chuckled.  “Phytwin only seems inconsistent.  Some pretender might be playing at being a lord for the very purpose of attacking God’s priests.”
            Now it was Teothic’s turn to roll his eyes.  Guthlaf raised his hand for silence.  “Brothers, I need to think.  Please pray for me while I walk the burial grounds.  Perhaps I will find wisdom amid the graves.”
            Obediently, the five priests who served under Guthlaf rose from the meeting table near the door of Prayer House and knelt on prayer benches facing the pine cross on the front wall.  Bishop Guthlaf quietly removed the bar on the door and let himself out.
            Eadmar knelt beside Phytwin.  That they disagreed about the decision facing Guthlaf did not change their station as brothers, and Phytwin had been a priest almost as long as Eadmar.  Eadmar made the sign of the cross and bowed his head.
            Holy and wise God, hear the prayer of your priest.  I greatly desire to meet this Lord Martin and read your book.  Therefore, I fear that my desire has swept away my reason, and I thank you for Phytwin and his skepticism.  Please guide our brother and bishop Guthlaf this day.  May your will be done on Two Moons—and the old world, if it still is.  May all that we do bring glory to the true lord, Jesus.  Amen.
            For the ten-thousandth time, Eadmar wondered what “amen” might mean.  It was not a word in the common tongue, nor was it (as far as he knew) a word in the holy language.  But it was the word all priests repeated at the end of prayers.  As was his habit, Eadmar remained kneeling long after he had prayed.  He treasured such quiet moments after prayer, when he could simply observe the cross.
            Soft steps at his shoulder—Guthlaf had returned.  The brothers all rose from the prayer benches.  The bishop sighed.  “I am truly sorry, Eadmar, for you may be going to your death.  I charge you: go to Inter Lucus as soon as may be.  Be on your guard against deceptions.  Send us word so we may know whether great danger or great openings await us.”
            Isen waited under the porch roof of the Running Stag, not far from river Betlicéa.  Officially, the Running Stag was an “inn,” but Matilda Starlight, the owner, rarely served more than beer in her tiny common room.  The girls who worked for Matilda prepared and ate their meals in the kitchen or—in the heat of summer—on the back porch.  Right now, in late afternoon, they would be refreshing themselves in the water of the Betlicéa or in West Lake.  When the cool of evening came, the girls plied their trade in the upstairs bedrooms of the Stag.
            Priest Eadmar had told Isen he would meet him here.  Not that Eadmar approved of brothels, but Isen could wait undisturbed in the shade of Matilda’s roof and she would not chase him away.  Not until evening, anyway.  And the Running Stag had a clear view along River Street of the Betlicéa docks.  Isen would be more likely to see the Deepwaters when Morning Glory arrived with the day’s catch.
            A door opened and the Stag’s proprietress joined Isen on the simple wood bench by the wall.  “Thought maybe I’d come out ’n see if there’s a bit o’ wind,” said Matilda.  Mistress Starlight wore a loose green kirtle and cloth slippers.  The kirtle was fastened below her rather large breasts, giving plenty of opportunity for the curious to observe the space between them.  “Can hardly breathe inside.”
            Isen shrugged.  “A little breeze is all.  I suppose it’s cooler here than in the Stag, and it’s far better than Kent Gausman’s furnace, that’s certain.”
            Matilda Starlight frowned.  “Everybody knows what the alderman did to you, Isen.  Not fair, not fair at all.  The man’s a snake.  By the gods, Sunie was a good girl, ’n you took care o’ her to the end.  Damned unfair.”
            Isen shrugged again.  “Do you believe in justice, Mistress Starlight?”
            “Not in this world.”  A quick laugh.  “O’ course they say there’s justice in the after-world, but I’m not so sure I want that.  That priest Eadmar, he says the old god doesn’t like my business.”  She laughed again, and pushed a lock of her black hair behind her ear.
            “Priest Eadmar told me to wait here for him.”
            Matilda smiled.  “He did?  Not surprised.  He’s spent a few afternoons sittin’ where you are, waitin’ for the boys to come off the boats.  He’s not a bad sort, that Eadmar.  Helps people when he can.  But he just won’t see that for some girls, whorin’ is their only way.  Why’s he want to meet you?”
            “Ah . . . I’ve been talking with him about a bit of business.  The truth is, I’m not supposed to tell anyone.  Please don’t think I’m being rude.”
            “Business?”  Matilda poked Isen’s side.  “You’re not lettin’ him make you into a priest, are you, boy?”
            Isen smiled.  “No!  That much I can say.”
            “Glad to hear it.  Ho, now.  The man himself.”  Matilda pointed with her chin.  Priest Eadmar had come around the corner from Wide Street, walking quickly for an old man, given the heat.  Isen waved a greeting.  Matilda said, “Maybe I’ll be goin’ back in, since you want to talk privately.”  The innkeeper touched Isen’s shoulder.  “You be good, Isen.”

            Matilda Starlight watched the priest and the young artisan through a glassed window.  Isen had hurried to meet Eadmar in the middle of River Street.  The two men set off toward the docks, talking animatedly.  She shook her head.  What’s going on there? What “business” brings an old priest and an out-of-work glassblower together?  But she didn’t think long about it.  The day was too hot.

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


Thursday, February 14, 2013

Castles 38

38. Near West Lake

            Aethulwulf’s dark eyes flicked from Ora to her companion and the staff in his hand.  The hilt of a dagger rode above the forester’s belt; his hand closed on it but did not draw it.  Lord Martin stepped forward, his knees slightly bent, holding his staff in both hands.  Ora held back; she did not want to impede the lord’s movement if Aethulwulf attacked.
            “Ora said your name is Aethulwulf.”  Lord Martin spoke calmly, evenly.  “You are her brother.” He used the correct word, gefeadernes, to refer to children of the same father.  Ora knew that Lord Martin’s own language, strangely, did not have an equivalent word.  That Lord Martin could learn the common tongue so quickly was another proof of his wisdom and right to rule Inter Lucus.
            “Aye.”  Aethulwulf still had not pulled his dagger from his belt.  He seemed torn between an urge to attack, a desire to run away, and the shame he would feel if he did so.  A thought flashed through Ora’s mind: Caelin spoke truly.  There could be men (or boy-men) foolish enough to attack Lord Martin.  Away from the castle, danger is real.
            “Very good!  I honor you, Aethulwulf, as brother to my worthy servant, Ora.  We should be friends.”
            Aethulwulf looked at her, and Ora felt her face flushing.  Lord Martin said she was weorþe þénestre, honorable servant.  He must have learned these words from Caelin.
            Aethulwulf looked again at the lord and released his dagger-hilt.  “Are you really lord of Inter Lucus?”
            “It seems so.”  Lord Martin stood straighter, lowering the foot of his staff to the ground.
            “Everwin Idan and Abrecan Landman said as much.  Father does not want to believe it, but all the folk in Inter Lucus say it’s true.  They say the castle is healing.”
            “That much, for certain, is true,” said Lord Martin.  “Since Ora summoned me, Inter Lucus has grown stronger every day.  What say you, Aethulwulf?  As brother to Ora, you ought to be my friend.  But you will never be my friend if you try to harm her.  Be warned, Aethulwulf!  Ora told me why she fled your father’s house.  I will not allow you to touch her again.  Now—will you be friend to the lord of Inter Lucus?”
            Aethulwulf went to his knees and inclined his head. In her heart, Ora exulted.  Lord Martin speaks as a lord should speak.  Even Aethulwulf hears the voice of command.

            As the boy acknowledged him, Marty sighed quietly, relieved.  Aethulwulf was young, agile, and armed with a short sword.  If he had attacked, I’d have been lucky to get one clear swing.  And if I missed . . . I’ve got to be more careful.  A bold face won’t always win the day.
            Marty extended a hand and pulled the youth to his feet.  He was shorter than Marty, but already over five feet tall.  Three thick black braids reached below his shoulders; the upper arms, exposed by a sleeveless leather vest/tunic, were muscled like a linebacker’s.  That thought brought a smile: On Earth, Aethulwulf could be a Middle School football player.  He’d be a star.
            “You have the arms of a lumberjack, Aethulwulf.” 
            The youth frowned, his black eyebrows bunching together.  Marty explained: “In my tongue, a lumberjack is a woodsman who fells trees.  You do the work of a man grown, and that is why your arms are strong.”
            Aethulwulf’s brows unknotted.  “Aye.  Da puts me in the pit now.”  A half-smile appeared.  “Especially now that Ora is gone.  I was never her equal in guiding a ripsaw.  So Attor guides and I push.”
            Ora said something about a sawpit.  Attor doesn’t just fell trees, he makes lumber.  “Why are you not sawing lumber today?  Where is Attor?”
            “Senerham.  We made wood-raft yesterday for a Down’s End boat, and Attor said it’s time to take blades to Elne Penrict, the smith.  Two axes, the big crosscut, the ripsaw, the closed carpenter saw, and three lil’ handsaws—we loaded them all on the wagon and took them in early.  Elne says it’s too much work for one day; he’ll have ’em sharp tomorrow.  Da spits and swears, but Elne says he won’t do piss poor hurry-up work; Attor has to wait.  So he’s awaitin’.  Won’t leave his tools unguarded, Da says.  He’s got Bley tethered by Elne’s smithy, says he’ll sleep under the wagon.  I’m to get home and tell Ma.”
            Marty followed this explanation with interest.  “I suppose in the morning you’re to go back to Senerham?”
            “No need.  Da has Bley and the wagon.  Said I should take a net to the lake.  So tomorrow I’ll fish when it’s cool and swim when it gets hot.  Holiday for me.”
            Marty turned to Ora.  “Do you know the way to Senerham from here?”
            “Aye.”  Her mouth twisted.  “But if we go ’round that way, we will come to Inter Lucus late.”
            “After dark?”
            Ora looked quickly at the sun’s position.  “Summer days are long.  We’ll have light.” 
            “Good.  I want to talk with Attor.  If we find him at Master Penrict’s smithy, we won’t have to make another trip.”  To Aethulwulf he said, “I’m glad we met today.  Someday you must come to Inter Lucus; as Ora’s brother, you will be welcome.”
            Something troubled the youth’s face.  “Why is the lord of Inter Lucus so far from his castle?  Does your magic extend so far?”  His eyes went to Marty’s walnut staff, as if it were a wizard’s rod. 
            Scenes from The Lord of the Rings movie flashed in Marty’s memory, and he decided that strict honesty might not be the best policy now.  He waved the stick vaguely in Aethulwulf’s direction, and the youth tensed.  “I am still learning how castle magic works,” Marty said.  “I’m not sure how much I could do this far away.”
            “Why came you here then?”
            “To put a servant on a boat.  I am sending one of my men to Down’s End.  Ora showed us how to shine lights at the fishermen.”  Only after answering did Marty ask himself whether it would have been better to keep Isen secret from Aethulwulf.  But the young forester seemed impressed.
            “How many servants have you?”
            Marty smiled.  “You must come to Inter Lucus and see.”

            Three hours of steady hiking, with brief stops for toilet in the woods, brought Marty and Ora to Senerham.  Where the village Inter Lucus gathered around its central well, the buildings of Senerham lay like two strings on opposite sides of the brook named Send.  Two dirt roads bordered the town on the north and south sides, connected by sturdy cart bridges at the east and west end.  In between, some of the villagers had built narrow footbridges over the brook, giving access to their cross-stream neighbors.  At the east end of the village, stone-lined steps had been dug on both banks.  Ora explained that the villagers all came here to draw their water, since every household spilled its waste into the Send.  No one would want to drink the fouled water at the west end of Senerham.  
            Elne Penrict’s smithy stood in the middle of the town, where two oak trees provided some shade.  In the winter, Ora said, the blacksmith worked a forge inside the walls of his smithy, but in summer  . . . well, she pointed.  A broad-shouldered man, naked to the waist, was hammering a bit of iron on an anvil.  Near the smith a black-haired man sat on a large stone, obviously conversing with Penrict.  “Attor,” said Ora, unnecessarily.  Marty remembered him.
            A wagon and two two-wheeled carts were lined up in the dirt of the road by a rail fence.  On the other side of the fence a horse was tethered by a long rope, which allowed her to nibble at a patch of grass under the oaks.
            Attor Woodman had his back to the road, so Penrict saw them first.  He motioned with his hammer and Attor turned on his stone seat.  “Fair afternoon, Father!”  Ora waved as if there had been nothing amiss between them.  The man leapt from his seat and seized a pair of black metal tongs lying on the ground.  He faced Ora and Marty, brandishing his makeshift weapon.
            Twenty feet away, the forester crouched as if he expected Marty to smite him from a distance.  Marty raised his left hand, palm out.  “Master Woodman, don’t be afraid.  I mean you no harm.”
            Attor eyed the intruders suspiciously for several seconds.  When Marty and Ora made no advance, he came out of his crouch.  “When I last saw you, you almost killed me with that stick,” he growled.
            “Aye,” Marty replied.  “But only because your son was attacking my honorable servant Ora.  No one is attacking her now.”
            Elne Penrict, the blacksmith, laid down his hammer and picked up another tool.  “Attor, are you going to fight or not?  I need someone to hold this saw while I file its teeth.”
            Ora walked forward, patting the horse as she did so.  “I can do it, Master Penrict.  That’s a good girl, Bley.”  She passed an arm’s length away from her father and smiled at him.  “There’s no need to fight, Da.”
            “You’ve taken a man, then.”
            “No, Da.  Inter Lucus has taken a lord.”
            Attor’s eyes were still on Ora:  “Then why isn’t he in his castle?  Lords stay in their castles.”
            “Ask Lord Martin, not me.”  Ora positioned the handsaw as Elne motioned instructions; she held it with both hands and the smith pulled the file with a ‘zip’ sound.  Seeing that the girl could hold the saw steady, Elne began filing rapidly: zip, zip, zip.
            Reluctantly, Attor turned his attention to Marty.  “You call my daughter weorþe.”
            “Aye.  I find her honorable.  She has pledged service to me.  I am teaching her the ways of the castle.”
            Attor sighed.  “She is a woman grown.  Let her take a husband.”
            “I hope she finds one who likes living in a castle.” 
            That brought a smile.  Attor asked, “Why are you here?”
            “I hoped to meet you, Master Woodman.  I need some lumber, cut to the right size to make doors for Inter Lucus.  Can you do that?”
            The woodman’s brows arched.  “No one better than me.”
            “Good!  Come to Inter Lucus and measure my doors.  If you make my doors, I’ll will count it as your year’s tax, hidgield.”

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

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Castles 37

37. On the East Shore of West Lake

            Two days after entering Lord Martin’s service, Isen began his journey back to Down’s End.  Ora, the girl with the pretty green eyes, accompanied him.  As did Lord Martin himself—a decision reached over the objections of Caelin Bycwine.
            “My Lord, it will take at least a day to walk to West Lake and back,” Caelin had said.  “It would not be wise for folk to discover that the lord of Inter Lucus goes abroad from his castle.  And since visitors come every day they will know that you are not here.”
            Lord Martin smiled indulgently.  “Caelin, I’ve already visited Inter Lucus and Senerham.  When Ora and I came to your parents’ farm, we were gone all day.  No harm came to us.”
            The slender youth shook his head.  “That is true, my Lord, but the news about you had only begun to spread in the villages.  Now, many people have seen you.  If they see you away from the castle, someone—may I say, someone as foolish as I was—might think to win fame by attacking a lord.  Away from Inter Lucus, you would be vulnerable.  Also, if you are gone, strangers could enter Inter Lucus.”
            “And what would they do?”  The lord still smiled.
            “Steal food,” the youth replied quickly.  “Or worse, find a new door.  My Lord searches the castle every day for Centralis Arbitrium Factorem; what if a stranger found it first?”
            The strange words Centralis Arbitrium Factorem meant nothing to Ora, Caelin and Isen.  Lord Martin had explained to them that he hoped someday to find a room in the castle that contained this mysterious object.  He said Centralis Arbitrium Factorem was the castle’s own name for it; Lord Martin called it seepeeyou.  Lord Martin believed that the castle’s magic was centered in the seepeeyou.
            At mention of the Centralis Arbitrium Factorem, Lord Martin pursed his lips.  “Point taken, Caelin.  We don’t want visitors poking around inside Inter Lucus.”  He turned to Isen and Ora.  “How soon will a Down’s End boat respond to the signal?”
            Isen shrugged his ignorance.  As a glassblower apprentice, he had no experience of boating on West Lake prior to the wood expedition aboard Morning Glory.  Ora replied, “We cannot know.  One day?  Six days?  When Attor has lumber ready, he shines the light across the lake at mid-day and before evening.  Every day with no boat, he shines the light again.  Other woodmen also signal when they have logs or cut lumber.  When a boat comes, the sailors ring a loud bell.”
            “Six days!  Isen should walk,” objected Caelin.  “A lord cannot be gone so long!”
            Ora bristled.  “For all we know, Attor Woodman or Baldric Forrest signaled the fishermen yesterday or the day before.  Boats cross the lake on many summer days.”
            Lord Martin laid a finger on his lips, a mannerism they took as a signal for silence.  “Caelin is right, Ora.  We need to be careful, especially since we have no doors in place to bar entrance to the castle.  We will pack food for Isen, enough so that he can wait a few days for a boat if need be.  You can I will escort Isen to the lake and return.  Caelin will occupy Inter Lucus alone for only a day.”

            Ora knew the roads and trails between the lakes, so they did not wander as Isen had after he crossed West Lake in the rain.  Starting early, with five hours walking, they reached West Lake before noon.  A woodland trail tracked the east shore of the lake, sometimes running on rocky beaches and at some places winding its way under pines or firs some yards from the water.
            They came to the dock with the iron bell where the Deepwaters had moored Morning Glory on the wood expedition.  Only nine days ago! Isen marveled at how quickly life could change.  For years I followed a constant routine: work for Gausman, learn my trade, nurse Sunie.  Day after day the same.  Now, in the space of twelve days I have buried my sister, lost my position, sailed across West Lake two days, and taken service with Lord Martin.  Not yet as a glass monger, but a messenger!  I wonder if Master Deepwater would count that as a “chance.”  Isen smiled at the memory of the fisherman’s kindness.  The farmer, Torr Ablendan, had been kind in his own way too.  And now, Lord Martin was trusting Isen to be his emissary.  Kent Gausman threw me aside unjustly; yet nothing but good has come to me since.  I will tell Priest Eadmar to thank the old god for me.
            Lord Martin looked around the dock.  “I see the bell, Ora, but no bronze mirror.  Where do the foresters keep their signal?”
            “Out of the rain,” she answered.  “This way.”  She led them into a stand of tall evergreens—cedars rather than the pines and firs that made up most of the forest.  A carpet of needles muffled their footsteps.  In the middle of the copse stood a huge jagged stump, its upper parts torn off long ago, taken by lightning or wind.  What remained of the tree was about forty feet tall, and Isen estimated its girth would be at least as great.  Ora ran ahead and darted behind the stump.  When Isen and Lord Martin reached the spot, she had disappeared.  For a moment, Isen was mystified, but then he saw the dark crack that led into the hollow interior of the tree.  Ora’s voice came from inside.  “There are two mirrors.  Does Lord Martin desire the big one or the smaller?”
            Lord Martin knelt, peering into the dimness inside the stump.  “Why not both?  Isen is strong enough to carry the big one, and I can manage the other.”
            The disks Ora rolled through the crack superficially resembled shields; they were round, with straps for the bearer’s arm on the back.  But the bronze had been forged or beaten to great thinness and fixed to wood frames, so that the mirrors were much lighter than shields of similar diameter.  In a battle they would have been easily broken by an axe or sword.
            Isen’s mirror was about five feet in diameter, and when he looked closely he saw its surface was slightly concave.  The mirror Ora rolled to Lord Martin was perhaps four feet wide.  Lord Martin rapped on its surface and produced only a dull thump; the wooden frame absorbed any music the metal might have given.
            Lord Martin hefted his mirror and slipped his arm into the straps.  He tried walking a few steps and stopped.  “It’s light enough, but awkward.  Take this, would you, Ora?”  The lord handed his walnut staff to Ora, freeing his right hand to steady the mirror while he walked.  Isen carried his larger mirror in a similar way.
            In the forest shade, the mirrors looked like badly made shields, but when Isen and Lord Martin carried them into the sunlight the polished metal became extremely bright—and when the light struck them the right way, they were painful and dangerous to look at.
            Having returned to the West Lake dock, Isen and Lord Martin practiced aiming their mirrors by shining the overhead sunlight at nearby trees.  When they got the angle right, they could see bright patches on their targets, visible even at mid-day.  They carried the mirrors to the edge of the dock and directed their beams at Down’s End.  That is, they shined the light in the direction Ora pointed; Isen wasn’t sure he could see the city so far across the lake.
            After several minutes, Ora said that they had already signaled longer than Attor usually did.  They carried the mirrors back to the forest and replaced them in the cedar stump.  Isen wriggled through the crack to make sure he would be able to access the mirrors; if a boat didn’t come he was to shine the signal at Down’s End twice a day for three days.
            They sat on the ground by the mirror stump to eat a simple lunch: carrots and small black loaves of bread (baked by Gisa Bistan and brought to Inter Lucus by Wyrtgeon).  Isen had loaves for five days, lake water nearby, and snug shelter inside the cedar should he need it.  When they had eaten, he bowed to Lord Martin and promised he would do his best to persuade a priest to come to Inter Lucus.  He patted the breast of his tunic; in an inside pocket he carried three pages torn from Martin’s book of the old god.  One of the pages was blank, but two of them had writing on them.  Isen could not read the words, but the letters were so perfectly formed anyone could see that they were made by castle magic.  If anything would persuade Priest Eadmar it would be that.

            Marty shook hands with Isen and wished him success.  “But don’t stay long in Down’s End.  Invite the priest.  If he comes back with you, that’s good.  If not, you will have at least planted the idea among the priests that I want to talk with them.  Give a page from the book; let the idea grow on them.  Later, we can invite them again.”
            Isen headed back to the dock to watch for boats.  Marty and Ora started home, the girl leading the way.  Perhaps five minutes from the dock, at a place where the path bordered the water, Ora suddenly froze, her hand raised.  Marty hadn’t heard anything, but he stopped immediately.  A few seconds passed with only the sound of water moving on the pebbly shore.
            A boy rounded a tree ahead of them, trotting swiftly, following the path as it turned from the shade of the forest onto the beach.  He stopped instantly, his black braids swinging around his face.
            “By the gods!  Ora!”
            “Fair afternoon, Aethulwulf.”  The girl regained her composure—if she had lost it—more quickly than the boy.  “Shouldn’t you be helping Attor?”

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