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.”
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.