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.
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