Thursday, March 28, 2013

Castles 44

44. In The Spray, Near the River Betlicéa

            When time came for sup, Inga led Avery, Milo and Eádulf down two staircases to a dining room overlooking River Betlicéa.  The staircases and the landing between them were hung with paintings: mostly relatives of Master Ody, said Inga, and a few portraits of Stonebridge’s richest men.
            They entered a long room from the west end, near an empty fireplace.  A narrow table with place settings dominated the middle of the room, and most of the north wall facing the river was glassed—pane after pane of clear glass squares secured in a wooden lattice.  Milo nodded a silent recognition of the message of the glass wall.  Ody Dans can spend a fortune on an adornment of his hall.  Guests are supposed to marvel at his wealth and the luxury it buys.  But for all his money, Ody Dans’s window-wall is a feeble replica of the magic wall in Hyacintho Flumen.  A magic wall I will never command.  Milo ground his teeth and looked about the room.
            More paintings hung on the long south wall, not portraits but landscapes: farms with livestock, a lake surrounded by snow-covered trees, and hillside vineyards.  Near the paintings two padded divans offered places to sit and look at the artwork.  The dark wood of the divans contrasted with a golden colored hardwood floor.  A second fireplace occupied the middle of the east wall.  Like the one by the west entrance it was empty, since on a summer evening the dining hall needed no fires.  A servant boy was arranging candle-stands around the room.  Each stand held eight tall tapers; the hall would still be well lighted when daylight faded.  Two other servants stood near a door at the east end of the south wall; undoubtedly, Milo thought, that way led to the kitchen.
            The window wall had already attracted Eádulf and Avery’s attention.  Milo joined them and looked at Ody Dans’s magnificent view.  Outside the windows a balcony paralleled the dining hall; a parapet guarded against the precipitous drop to River Betlicéa far below.  From Stonebridge the river ran to their left, to the northwest, and then curved north through an impassable canyon so that the river was lost from view.  High on that side, the beautiful arch of the Betlicéa Bridge spanned the river.  Travelers crossing the bridge would be able to look down on Ody Dans’s balcony.  I wonder if Master Ody resents sharing his view of the falls with passersby.  To their right, the east end of the balcony curved out, making a deck where three chairs provided comfort for Ody Dans or anyone else privileged to watch the waterfall.  Of course, Dans’s perch is closer and lower than the high bridge.  Maybe he doesn’t mind strangers looking on so long as he knows he has the best seat at the show.  And it is spectacular; the evening light plays tricks with the water.
            While the visitors were taking in the waterfall’s glory, someone suddenly appeared on the deck: Derian Chapman.  Derian rushed past the chairs as if he thought someone were about to fall from the parapet—or as if he intended to throw himself into the river.  Eádulf exclaimed: “Gods!  No!”
            Derian had not come through the dining hall; rather he reached the balcony from some room east of it.  A door to the left of the window opened onto the balcony; Milo almost started for this door, but two things stopped him.  Out on the landing, Derian slid to his knees by the parapet rather than throwing himself over it.  He clutched the railing with both hands, as if he were praying to some god of the waterfall.  And at the same time Ody Dans bustled into the room from a door beside the east fireplace, entering, no doubt, from the same room from which Derian accessed the deck.  Milo thought: And what did uncle Ody say that so upset Derian?
            “Ah!  You’re already here!”  Ody Dans exuded bland cheerfulness.  “And the others are coming too!”  People were entering the dining hall behind them, through the same door by which Milo, Avery and Eádulf had entered.  Milo touched Eádulf’s shoulder, turning him from the scene on the landing.  No reason to point everyone’s attention to Derian.
            “Ada!  Lovely as ever.  And the old goat!”  Ody Dans bowed to a middle-aged woman and clasped arms around her gray-haired companion.  Behind these two followed a young man, close to Milo’s age, and obviously the couple’s son; he shared the man’s thin nose and high forehead and the woman’s deep-set hazel eyes.  All three were dressed in fine clothes: blues and grays, and the woman wore a necklace of silver.  The son wore a light blue dagged-edged cape, embroidered in red, over his darker blue tunic.  Behind this family came three others: a man who appeared to be the friend of the rich couple’s son and a fresh faced couple holding hands, both black-haired and strikingly good-looking.
            In a few minutes Ody Dans had his guests sorted and seated at table.  The “old goat” was Frideric Bardolf, who had a long history of successful business in Stonebridge, often using money borrowed from Ody Dans.  Ada Bardolf, Frideric’s wife, sat on Dans’s left, between the host and her husband.  Their son, Richart, sat on Master Bardolf’s left, and his friend, Reynald Henriet, was next to him.  Reynald had long fingers and pale yellow hair, which looked almost white against his dark green tunic.  He seemed almost delicate next to the sturdier Richart.  On the other side of the table, Milo was seated at Dans’s right, with Avery Doin next, and the young couple, Adelgar and Tilde Gyricson, on Avery’s right.  During the greeting and seating, Inga had appeared and led Eádulf away to eat in the kitchen with the servants.
            The servants at the kitchen door were ready to begin, but Ody Dans sat with templed hands, elbows on the table, waiting.  An empty place setting remained at the opposite end of the table.  At last the door on the east wall opened, and Derian Chapman came in.  He walked stiffly, as if his knees were hurting from kneeling on the deck.  His eyes flitted from the glass wall to the floor, not acknowledging anyone at the table.  When he finally stood by the empty chair Derian raised his eyes to his uncle at the table’s head.  He tugged on his ear and made a hesitant gesture toward the plate and cup before him.
            “Please sit, Derian,” said Ody Dans.  “You belong here.”  The nephew acknowledged his uncle’s invitation with a slight bow before seating himself.
            Aisly passed along the table, dispensing a loaf of black bread for each pair of diners.  Inga and Eda followed, serving roast chicken and rice in a spicy sauce.  The servers started with Master Dans and worked their way toward the foot of the table.  Inga also served a yellowish wine that sparkled in crystal goblets.
            Frideric Bardolf sliced his loaf into two.  Handing half to his wife, he leaned over her lap toward Ody Dans.  “And why would Derian doubt his place at your table?”  His voice was light, but quiet, as if there were a joke to be shared only with the host.  It was the very thing Milo wanted to ask.
            Ody Dans spread butter on a bit of bread.  “I had to explain some matters of business to my nephew today.”  Dans spoke loudly enough for all to hear.  “He undertook a job for me, and he succeeded.”  The uncle nodded to his nephew at the foot of the table.  “But he foolishly endangered the whole project by not guarding his tongue—and that after I had warned him of the necessity of discretion.  In fact, I learned today that Derian’s success must be attributed, to a large degree, to Sir Milo Mortane, who sits to my right.”
            “How interesting,” said Ada Bardolf.  “And what was this project?  Or is it still secret?”
            The host was chewing bread, and he took another bite, leaving the question in the air.  Milo thought: Ody Dans is a showman.  He wants every ear and eye on him.  He doesn’t resent passersby on the bridge at all; he wants their envy.
            “I was the project,” said Avery Doin. 
            Tilde Gyricson swiveled her head to look at the young man beside her.  “I don’t understand.” 
            “It’s a bit complicated.”  Avery smiled ruefully.  “My father, Aethelred Doin, is a cloth merchant in Down’s End.  Quite successful, really.  He sells fine wools, linens, and silks to the lords and ladies of castles all over Tarquint—and to clients in the free cities, including some of Stonebridge’s richest citizens.
            “And so, as you might expect, I have the reputation of being the spoiled son of rich man, a dandy, a good-for-nothing, a mere clotheshorse.  Of course, some people might think this of me whether I deserved it or not.  Such people do not understand the importance of a clotheshorse.  My father can whisper to some fine lady—while we are visiting a castle and I have been dancing with the lady and she can remember the feel of my tunic—imagine wearing a kirtle of the same fabric.  I don’t want to be immodest, but when he says that, they can hardly keep their eyes off me.”
            Everyone laughed.  Ada Bardolf said, “But you haven’t yet said what Ody’s project was or what role you played in it.”
            Avery inclined his head and held up a finger.  “I was coming to that.  There is a certain banker in Down’s End, who remains nameless in this account.”
            “To hell with that,” said Ody Dans cheerfully.  “His name is Eulard Barnet.”
            Again Avery dipped his head.  “As you wish.  I had something of a disagreement with the daughter of Master Eulard.  This daughter—I do not wish to offend, Lady Ada, but she actually shares your name—Ada Barnet is perhaps a year or two older than me.  One night, when we had been drinking a bit more than we should, Ada declared to me that she owned a gown of finer quality than any tunic in my closet.  I disagreed.  We made a wager to be decided in the following way: we went home, dressed in our favorite clothes, and met at the home of a friend of ours, who is famous for parties that last all night.  Many of our friends were there, dancing and playing charades.  We demanded of the people at the party that they judge between Ada’s gown and my tunic.  Naturally, my tunic won the vote easily.  And then, in accord with our wager, Ada removed her gown, much to the delight of the men present, and gave it to me.
            “Unfortunately, there was one young man present that night who did not appreciate seeing Ada lose her dress.  Hue Barnet, her brother, immediately challenged me to a duel.  He was drunk.  I pushed him away; some say I struck him.  He fell and hit his head on a chair.  He died two days later.”
            Around the table, smiles turned to dismay.  “How terrible!” said Tilde Gyricson.
            Avery shrugged.  “One less fool in the world.  Hue Barnet really was a ne’er do well.  His sister despised him.  But his father, Eulard, wanted my head in a noose.  And there were some at the party who would say I struck Hue after I had used some unpleasant words to describe his father and mother.  I don’t remember saying such things, but as testimony in a trial, such words are dangerous.
            “To bring this long story to its end: my father, who has done business with Master Ody Dans before, contacted him and asked for help.  Six days ago, I was tucked very neatly into a secret compartment of a wool wagon.  Only Derian and the driver knew about me.  And now I’m here.”
            “Welcome to Stonebridge, then,” said Frideric Bardolf.  He held up a wine glass.  “May your sojourn in our city be pleasant.”  Others joined in the salute; Milo carefully took only a sip.
            “Please explain the part played by Milo Mortane,” said Lady Bardolf.
            Avery did not answer this request.  Instead his gaze turned first to Derian Chapman at the foot of the table, then to Ody Dans at the head.  Dans did not speak, but raised his white eyebrows and stared at his nephew.
            Derian took a deep breath.  “As Uncle Ody said, I was not as careful about Avery’s situation as I should have been.  I said nothing, of course, about the escapee in Win Modig’s wagon.  But I spoke too freely of my concerns about highwaymen.  I asked Sheriff Rage Hildebeorht for an escort, but he said my guard—I had hired a Stonebridge man named Dreng Tredan—would be sufficient to protect a load of wool.  Well . . . I was concerned for my passenger, not the wool, but I couldn’t tell anyone.  Unfortunately, clever people correctly interpreted my over-concern for my wool as marking a secret. Fortunately for Avery and me, Milo Mortane was one of them.
            “Trouble caught up with us on the road.  As soon as Avery went missing, Eulard Barnet sent men searching for him, and he may have guessed our method of escape.  One of these men hired local boys to attack us at River House.  The boys went after our horses, while Eulard Barnet’s man shot fire arrows at the wagons.  Things might have gone ill indeed, but Milo rode the archer down and killed him in the night.”
            Reynald Henriet clapped his hands.  “Well done, Sir Milo!”
            “Indeed,” said Ody Dans.  He held up his wine glass.  “We owe you thanks.  Perhaps this sup will be a start of repayment.”

Copyright © 2013 by Philip D. Smith.
All rights reserved.  International copyright secured.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Castles 43

43. At The Spray, in Stonebridge

            “It’s called, The Spray.  Uncle Ody loves the waterfall of River Betlicéa.  I’ve seen him spend a whole evening sitting near the parapet, watching the sun make colors in the water.” 
            Derian Chapman spoke to Milo, Eádulf, and Avery Doin as the foursome walked uphill toward a stone building, glimpses of which they could see between oak and maple trees that shaded a private road.  They had left their horses in the care of a stable boy just inside the gate of Ody Dans’ walled estate in the northwest portion of Stonebridge.  Along the roadside, large paving slabs provided irregular steps for pedestrians, and the men had to repeatedly adjust their strides to fit the steps. 
            “Parapet?” asked Avery Doin.  He scratched at his scalp.  The young man from Down’s End had recovered greatly since his release from confinement in the secret compartment of Win Modig’s wagon.  Before venturing from the wool storehouse, they had despaired of cleaning Avery’s hair, so Derian had sheared it off with a knife, leaving the erstwhile stowaway with uneven black tufts all over his head. 
            The Spray is built on the side of the canyon,” answered Derian.  “All we can see from this side is the top of the house.  It’s the reverse of most great houses; one enters The Spray at the top; then we climb down to rooms hanging on the cliff over the Betlicéa.  On the lowest floor Uncle Ody has a balcony that reaches out over the water.  The view is spectacular.  But first, we’ll get hot baths and the services of a better barber.”
            A fair-haired soldier greeted the foursome outside the door of Ody Dans’s mansion.  The guard bowed a greeting to the rich man’s nephew.  “Master Derian.”  The soldier’s arms had the muscle tone of active service and bore scars.  Milo thought he heard a hint of boredom in the armsman’s voice.  This man isn’t used to ceremonial duties.
            “Fair afternoon, Ingwald.”  Derian Chapman acknowledged the man with a polite nod.  Milo thought: On the battlefield, this soldier could dispatch Derian with a single blow.  But here he is the servant, and Derian the master.  Such is the power of wealth.
            Chapman motioned toward Milo, Eádulf, and Avery.  “I’ve brought guests: Milo Mortane; his squire, Eádulf; and Avery Doin.  Uncle Ody will be eager to know that Master Doin has arrived.  Send word to him immediately.”
            The soldier inclined his head.  “As you wish.  Master Dans has invited a select number of guests to sup this evening.  He may not desire more.”
            “Really?”  A smile played at the corners of Derian’s mouth.  “I think he will want to see us.”

            In the event, Derian’s confidence was well founded.  Ingwald admitted the nephew and his guests into a cool, stone-floored and stonewalled reception hall.  They waited here only a few minutes before a flush-faced servant girl arrived, bowed low, and invited Derian and his companions to follow her.  Like Ingwald, the servant girl was blonde, and she was breathing hard, almost panting.  She informed them that Master Dans wished Derian and his guests to join supper that evening—in two hours’ time.
            Inga (the blue-eyed girl’s name) led them down some stairs, along a passageway with many doors, and then down another staircase.  Milo decided she had good reason to be out of breath; getting around inside Ody Dans’s mansion involved lots of stairs.  At last Inga opened a wide wooden door; when she pushed it open, steam billowed into their faces.  She bowed them into a room with a gently sloped stone floor, designed so that water falling on it would drain toward a corner.
            “There are two tubs, and buckets of hot and cold water.  Aisly and Eda will bring more hot water presently.  Would you need anything else, Master Derian?”
            “Towels?”  Derian walked into the bathing room, his companions following.
            “Yes, sir.”  Inga pointed to the south wall, where white towels hung from pegs.
            “Ah!  Thank you.”  Derian reached the middle of the room and turned around.  “One more thing, Inga.  Could you send Ymma the nan?”
            “Sir?  Ymma is too old to carry water.”
            “True enough.”  Derian had already unbuttoned his tunic and pulled it free of his breeches.  “But you can see how badly I barbered my friend Avery.  It would be a kindness to him if, before supper with Uncle Ody, we can make him look presentable.  As I recall, Ymma has skill with scissors and razor.”
            Inga smiled.  “That is true.  If I may be so bold, Ymma’s razor might improve all of your faces.”

            Milo judged Aisly and Eda, the servant girls who brought buckets of hot water, to be little older than his sister Amicia.  They blushed at the sight of four naked grown men, but not as much as Eádulf, who had shed his clothes while waiting his turn in one of the tubs.  Eádulf snatched up his tunic to cover himself while Milo and Derian laughed.
            Ymma the nan suffered no such embarrassment.  She ordered Avery to sit, still dripping from his bath, on a wooden stool in the center of the room.  Her hands were disfigured by outsize knuckles and bent fingers, but the old woman handled her tools deftly.  She circled Avery, clucking to herself and occasionally bending close as if she couldn’t see the hair she was cutting.  By the time she had completed three orbits of the refugee his black hair had indeed been made presentable.  She cut it very short and brushed it with a cloth she kept in a pocket; Avery’s hair stood up like an army of tiny armsmen, even in the moist air of the bath.  After she repaired his hair, she shaved him.
            Derian, Milo and Eádulf took their turns on the stool after Avery.  Milo almost flinched when the old woman bent near with the razor.  The blade had an extremely fine edge, and Ymma polished it frequently on a short leather strop affixed to her belt.  Milo reassured himself: A servant who shaves her master has to be worthy of trust.
            Ymma had just finished with Eádulf when Aisly and Eda returned (Eádulf hastily wrapped himself in a towel), bringing clean sets of clothes for Derian and his companions; inner tunics of linen, outer tunics of fine wool dyed blue or gray, blue breeches and gray hose.  The old nan departed with Aisly and Eda, leaving the men to dress in privacy.  Milo hadn’t worn anything so well tailored since leaving Hyacintho Flumen, and Eádulf had never experienced the clothing of the truly rich.  Over and over the squire rubbed a bit of his sleeve between thumb and forefinger, feeling the texture of wool so fine that it felt like silk.
            When the four men emerged from the bathing room, Inga was waiting in the hall with the water girls.  “Please follow me, sirs,” Inga said.  “Master Ody would like to meet you privately before sup.  Aisly and Eda will clean the bath.  And you need not concern yourselves with the clothes you came in; we’ll wash them in the morning.”
            “Are we sleeping here tonight, sir?” Eádulf whispered to Milo as the men trailed after Inga.
            “It seems so,” Milo replied.  He clasped his squire’s upper arm.  “A bath, clean clothes, sup, and a bed.  We won’t turn down good things that come free of charge.”

            “Derian!  Welcome home!”  The speaker was a plump man with a round face.  He rose from a cushioned chair when the four visitors entered a carpeted room of modest size.  According to Derian, this was Ody Dans’s office, where he liked to conduct most of his monetary affairs.  Milo had never seen so many books in one place, not even in his father’s castle; Ody Dans had at least four shelves of bound books.  And in the corner stood a bureau with four drawers, from which—it soon became clear—Master Dans could recover parchments and contracts that described his business dealings.  One of these parchments lay on the table where their host had been seated.
            “Very kind of you, Uncle.  Do I live in The Spray now?” Derian bowed from the waist and kissed a ring on his uncle’s hand.
            Ody Dans laughed heartily.  “Not so fast!  I meant ‘Welcome home to Stonebridge.’  Tonight, of course, you and your friends will be my guests.”  Dans was mostly bald, with wispy white hairs making a fringe around a pink scalp.  His beard was also white, but much thicker, and neatly trimmed.  Pale blue eyes gave him an appearance of bland innocence.
            “Uncle Ody, I introduce Avery Doin, from Down’s End.”  Derian motioned the young man forward.  Taking his cue from Derian, Avery bowed and kissed Dans’s ring.  Milo shuffled his feet, placing himself behind Eádulf.
            “Welcome, Master Doin,” said the host.  “I am pleased to make your acquaintance, and more than pleased that you have come to Stonebridge.  While you are in our city, you will be my guest here at The Spray.”  Ody Dans’s tone was calm, but brooked no dissent.
            Milo noted the contrast between the greetings offered Derian and Avery.  Dans won’t let Derian live here, but he insists that Avery stay.  Is the refugee a hostage?
            “I am grateful for your hospitality, Master Dans,” said Avery.  “My father sends you warm greetings.”
            Ody Dans chuckled.  “I’m sure he does.”           
            Derian said, “And this is a knight, Milo Mortane, whom I met on the road from Down’s End.  And his squire, Eádulf.”
            Ody Dans held out his ring, and Eádulf quickly bowed to kiss it.  Milo thought: I’ve got to do this right from the beginning.  If I fail, I fail.  He stepped forward, but rather than bowing, he extended his hand.
            Dans’s watery blue eyes widened and he allowed himself a hint of a smile.  “A knight and a Mortane.  Why am I not surprised?”  He shook hands with Milo.  “Welcome to Stonebridge.”
            “I thank you for your hospitality,” said Milo.  “Your bath has refreshed us, and we look forward to sup in your elegant house.  It reminds me of home—Hyacintho Flumen.  But Eádulf and I do not wish to impose.”  Having signaled his social status, Milo now inclined his head—just a little.  His eyes never left Dans’s.
            “Hereward Mortane’s son.”  The rich man nodded.  “Sit by me at sup.  We need to become better acquainted.  But for now, I need to speak with my nephew privately.”  He motioned toward the door.  Milo, Eádulf and Avery Doin quietly filed out.
Copyright © 2013 by Philip D. Smith.
All rights reserved.  International copyright secured.


Thursday, March 14, 2013

Castles 42

42. In Stonebridge

            Stonebridge was aptly named, in Eádulf’s opinion.  No less than six bridges spanned the three rivers of the city.  He thought they were magnificent.  He had never seen arched structures before; in Eádulf’s experience bridges, such as the bridges back home in Hyacintho Flumen, were simple wooden spans as strong as the trees used to make them.  The bridges of Stonebridge seemed to defy gravity, the way they leapt from bank to bank, or, for three of the bridges, from riverbank to a midstream island and then to the further bank.  And they were made of stone, great blocks of stone hewn to the right shape and fitted into place. Oswy Wodens explained the principle of the bridges’ strength to Eádulf when the caravan of wool wagons came in sight of the city, how each stone of the arch was shaped so that it wedged against the others.  “If ya build an arch right,” Oswy said, “and if the stones are sound, then putting weight on top only presses ’em closer together.  Arch bridges will bear much more load than the wood bridges they have in Down’s End.”
            Eádulf was awed.  As a stable boy growing up near Hyacintho Flumen, he was familiar with the town between the castle and the harbor.  But where Hyacintho Flumen was a town, Stonebridge was a city.  In Hyacintho Flumen, a single bridge served those who wanted to cross the Blue River without employing a ferry.  In Stonebridge, three bridges crossed the River Blide and two spanned River Broganéa, upstream from the place where those rivers joined to form River Betlicéa.  More beautiful still was the high bridge over River Betlicéa on the northern edge of the city.  Here the river plunged into a narrow twisting canyon between high rock walls, and the bridge above the gorge was a single breathtaking arch longer than any in the other five bridges.  Oswy said that in the spring, when the rivers run high, the spray from the Betlicéa waterfall sometimes wet the sides of the bridge.  Eádulf said he wished to see that someday.
            Dreng Tredan escorted the wool wagons into Stonebridge, to a storehouse on the west side of the Broganéa, in the weavers’ district.  The sun was high in the sky, a short time past mid-day.  Here the guard waited—impatiently, Eádulf thought—for Derian Chapman to pay him.  The merchant concerned himself first with getting his cargo safely inside the storehouse and ignored Dreng while negotiating some business with two men who emerged through a small door under a sign lettered in red.  These men either owned the building or worked for the owner; Eádulf couldn’t tell which.  Eádulf could only guess that the sign said something about wool or weavers; he had never learned letters.  After some talk with Derian the men re-entered the storehouse.  Presently the barn-like main doors rolled aside, mounted as they were on clever little wheels at the top.  Eádulf had never seen doors hung in such a way.  (He knew that the doors inside Hyacintho Flumen were even more marvelous, but Eádulf had never seen them himself.)  Only when his wagons were actually rolling into the Stonebridge Weavers’ warehouse did Derian Chapman give Dreng Tredan his pay.  The guard vanished before the weavers’ guild men had closed and locked the doors.
            Eádulf and Milo trailed the wool wagons as Win Modig and Oswy Wodens walked their teams into the building.  Dust motes hung thick in the air.  A tall second storey rose in the middle of the storehouse, with small windows high under the eaves that admitted light into the building’s interior.  The windows’ shutters were open on a dry summer’s day, but even so the wide space of the first storey was dim and stuffy.  Wooden pillars spaced around the storehouse supported the roof; the wagons had to maneuver carefully.  Win Modig and Oswy Wodens positioned the wagons near a wall under the watchful eyes of the guild men.  Then the wagon horses were unhitched and led to stable stalls in a distant corner. Eádulf led Brownie, Blackie, and Derian Chapman’s horse to a water trough and tethered them near the draft horses after they had drunk.
            When the guild men had secured the doors and departed, Derian Chapman spoke to his drivers.  “The weavers’ guild has agreed to unload our cargo.  The fellows who let us in have gone to recruit a crew that will make quick work of the job.  Of course, since it’s noon, they’ll get no help ’til after the mid-day sup.  I suggest, then, that you take the chance to get a decent meal as well.”  Chapman tossed a coin to each of his drivers.  “That’s not your pay, only a little ‘thank you.’  You’ll get what we agreed this afternoon, after the wool is unloaded.”
            Oswy held up a gold coin.  “Downright generous of ya, Master Chapman.  Thank ya much!  We’ll get us a bite and be back to help with the job.”  Win Modig grinned wordlessly, and he followed Oswy through the little door.

            Milo smiled to himself as Derian Chapman sent off his guard, the guild men, and his drivers.  As soon as the door closed behind Win Modig, Milo said, “I imagine, Derian, that you will now suggest that Eádulf and I also find a mid-day sup.  But I think we would rather help you with your next task.”
            “Really?  And what task is that?”  Chapman’s voice was neutral. 
            “Releasing Avery Doin from his confinement.  How long has it been?  Four days?  Five?”
            The businessman stepped closer to Milo and Eádulf, who stood in the somewhat brighter light in the middle of the warehouse.  He raised an eyebrow.  “How did you find out?  Only Modig knows, and I’m sure he didn’t tell you.”
             Milo chuckled.  “You know better than that, Derian. Consider: If you really think only Modig knows what’s in his wagon, why have you been so afraid of highwaymen?  You must have been worried that someone would guess your real cargo.  No one really expects highwaymen to steal wool.”
            Chapman asked, “Have I been that transparent?  Did Dreng know?”
            Milo shook his head.  “Dreng only thought you were stupid.  He never asked himself whether you might not have a good reason to fear for your wagons.  Personally, I guessed it might be gold, but the archer at River House gave a better answer.”
            “Before you killed him.”  Chapman walked toward Win Modig’s wagon.
            “That’s right,” Milo admitted, following the merchant.  “I think we can guess he didn’t tell the boys at the corral what he was really after.  I imagine the archer recruited Andsaca Scur and the other boy with the promise of valuable horses.  Remember: the men of River House recognized Andsaca as a local boy but not the archer.  The archer came from Down’s End and was employed by Eulard Barnet to kill Avery Doin.”
            Chapman tugged on his ear, a nervous habit Milo had noticed before.  “It seems I nearly botched the whole thing.  Maybe I did.  Maybe you plan to kill me and return Avery to Down’s End.”  He grinned as he lay down on the storehouse floor by the wagon.  “But I think you’re smarter than that.  Believe me, Avery Doin is worth far more alive and safe in Stonebridge than betrayed to Eulard Barnet.”
            Milo laughed.  “Aye.  We think alike sometimes.”
            Derian slid under the wagon until only his boots showed.  A few grunts were heard, and then: “Damn.  It’s stuck.”  Then a thump, and another.  The wagon trembled slightly as Chapman struck it.  “There!  Good!”  More grunts.  “Sir Milo, I could use a hand with this.”
            “Eádulf, see if you can help Master Chapman.”  Milo touched his sword hilt.  He was not prepared to trust Derian Chapman without a weapon ready.
            Eádulf wiggled in next to Chapman.  More sounds of labor, awkward pulling in a confined space.  The merchant and the squire emerged from under the wagon.  Together they pulled a limp body into the light.  Chapman held his ear to the man’s face.  “He lives and breathes, but he’s in a bad way.”  The stowaway was a young man with filthy, matted hair.  Chapman pulled a handkerchief from a pocket.  “Eádulf, if you please, fetch some water.”  The squire trotted to the horses’ water trough.
            “Given Avery’s condition, it’s probably a good thing you uncovered my secret,” said Derian.  “Uncle Ody would prefer that we conceal his presence, if possible.  You can help me with that.  Ah!  Thank you, Eádulf.”  Chapman accepted the wet handkerchief and wiped Avery Doin’s face.
            “Yesterday morning, he was awake and could talk.”  Derian’s ministrations to the unconscious man had all the tenderness of a farmer with a bull.  He pushed the hair back and scrubbed at the man’s face vigorously.
            The patient’s tongue flicked out for moisture, and he swallowed.  The voice was faint and hoarse: “Thirsty.”
            Eádulf hurried off and returned with a water-skin.  Milo and Derian pulled Avery Doin to a sitting position and Derian dribbled water into his mouth.  After several swallows Doin’s eyes opened.  “Stonebridge?”
            “Indeed.”  Chapman squatted in front of the stowaway.  “Whatever foolishness you committed in Down’s End, you are now safely in Stonebridge.  Your father owes Ody Dans great gratitude for rescuing you.  And, if I may say it, you owe me for saving your life.  You’ll remember that when you see Uncle Ody, hm?”

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


Thursday, March 7, 2013

Castles 41

41. In Town Hyacintho Flumen

            The castle Hyacintho Flumen occupied the top of a hill on the west bank of Blue River about a mile from the harbor.  Below the castle hill a vigorous town had grown on both sides of the river.  As with Mariel Grandmesnil’s Pulchra Mane, the town took its name from the castle.
            At Prati Mansum, Bully had had the privilege of supper in the castle, as servant to Boyden Black.  Bully understood the reason: Lord Rocelin Toeni knew Master Black’s true identity.  At Hyacintho Flumen, though, unless the Lady Erline let the secret slip, Boyden Black was merely another merchant looking for opportunities.  There would be no invitations to castle suppers.  And that meant Bully would probably never see Edita again.
            He knew it was foolish to feel loss.  Edita was a noble lady, destined to marriage to a lord and to be mother of rulers.  Bully was a child of poverty, an orphan since he was eight years old.  He had quick wits, a winsome smile, and general good sense—but that hadn’t saved him from false accusations of thievery in Pulchra Mane.  If not for Eudes Ridere’s justice, Bully might have lost a hand, the penalty for theft.  And noble ladies do not fall in love with farm laborers with no family name, even if they have both hands.
            Moving to Wedmor, Bully had left behind his undeserved reputation as a thief.  The local farmers appreciated his hard work; one of them had even talked of hiring Bully as a foreman for harvesting and threshing crews.  Bully had begun to think in terms of making a life in Wedmor.  But then Bully had seen Eudes Ridere ride into Wedmor, he told Councilman Wilfrid Engoff, and by the next day the queen’s husband had taken Bully on as his assistant.  Of course, he was not assistant to Eudes Ridere, queen’s consort but to Boyden Black, wool merchant.  Crucial to remember that!
            While on board Little Moon Bully and Edita had talked every day.  Not for long, and never far from the vigilant ears of Lady Erline or Juliana Ingdaughter, so Bully and Edita could only discuss inconsequential things.  One time, under her breath, Edita called her mother and attendant “my wardens.”  Bully thought Edita shared his wish that they might have real privacy, a chance to get to know each other and—in Bully’s imagination, at least—a chance to kiss.
            But now Little Moon was docked in Hyacintho Flumen.  Boyden Black, Archard Oshelm, and Bully had taken two nights’ lodging in the back room of a tavern, and Edita Toeni was a guest of the Mortanes.  From the river dock of a warehouse on the east bank of Blue River, Bully looked up at the castle, with its tall gods’ tower, rising from the hill across the river.  Edita might be up there.  She might as well be on the other side of the world.
            A ship was approaching the dock, crossing under a bridge half a mile up river.  Smaller than Little Moon, it was loaded—overloaded, it seemed to Bully—with bulging sacks of grain.  Intrigued, Bully would have watched the riverboat longer, but Archard emerged from the building behind him.  “Master Boyden has finished here, Bully.  Better come on.”
            Bully followed Archard through a wide opening beneath a wooden sign carved with stalks of grain.  Inside the warehouse the grain merchants of Hyacintho Flumen kept stocks of wheat, rye, oats and barley in spacious storage bays.  Two youths were hard at work sweeping out an empty bay, preparing it to receive the cargo of the riverboat.
            Boyden Black awaited Archard and Bully on the east side of the warehouse, where it fronted on a busy street.  Master Black motioned for Archard and Bully to follow him, and Bully watched the life of a town as they walked.  Fishmongers offered the catch of the day, a butcher’s shop could supply beef, mutton, or chicken, and several farmers sold vegetables and edible roots from wagons.  Bully noted a smithy, two pottery houses, a cobbler’s shop, two stores that sold woolen goods, a candle maker, a barrel maker, and a wagon builder.  There were taverns and inns as well, one of which Bully thought was probably a brothel.
            Boyden Black stopped at both woolen goods stores, announcing himself as a possible buyer of wool.  The storeowners were eager to show him their stocks—and, naturally, they were even more eager when he waved off their initial offerings: no, no, not just a bolt or two; Master Black wanted to buy more.  How much more?  Boyden Black responded nonchalantly: two hundred bolts?  Five hundred?  It all depended on arranging for the right ship.  The wool merchants almost wet themselves in their eagerness.
            Bully attended to Master Black’s charade with great care.  Occasionally Boyden would handle a sample of the merchant’s cloth and frown, as if doubting its quality.  To confirm his judgment, Master Black would let his assistant feel the cloth.  Bully would then purse his lips as if making a considered judgment.  In point of fact, Bully knew almost nothing about cloth, and he was terrified that his obvious ignorance would give away the whole game.  He quickly discovered a camouflage: he would ask whether the merchant could supply some large quantity of the material in his hands—one hundred bolts, or two hundred.  Greed is a powerful distraction.  No merchant laughed at Bully’s performance.  Boyden Black struck no bargain with either wool dealer, but he left both hoping for a better result when Black returned to Hyacintho Flumen, as he surely would.
            When Archard and Bully followed Boyden Black out of the second wool merchant’s store, they encountered a crowd.  People packed onto the porches of various buildings on both sides of the street, leaving room for ten mounted riders in the middle.  This group of riders sauntered along slowly, but the crowd seemed to welcome the inconvenience and distraction.  It was as if the riders constituted a small but popular parade.
            Four of the horses were occupied by soldiers, who rode at the corners of the procession.  In the middle front a young man with shoulder-length black hair rode a huge golden-haired horse, a magnificent creature.   The rider was handsome and confident.  He smiled broadly when people called out to him.
            “The lord Hereward’s son, Aylwin,” someone nearby said.  “They say he’ll be lord after his father.”
            “Not Milo, the elder?” another voice asked.
            “No.  Hereward picked Aylwin, so Milo ran off.  Or so I heard.”
            Five women rode behind Aylwin Mortane.  Bully recognized three of them: Lady Erline Toeni, her daughter Edita, and Juliana.  He guessed the pale-skinned noble woman riding next to Lady Erline must be Hereward Mortane’s wife.  And the girl behind the pale woman was probably Lady Mortane’s daughter.  Bully guessed the girl’s age as eleven or twelve. 
            From across the street voices shouted: “Lady Lucia!  Lady Amicia!  Lord Aylwin!”  People near Bully took up similar cheers.  The Mortanes waved hands in acknowledgment of the crowd’s pleasure.  Bully looked from Edita to Aylwin Mortane, riding at the front of the parade.  Why isn’t Edita at his side?  That’s what this is all about, isn’t it?
            On either side of Edita, the lady Erline and Juliana Ingdaughter also waved to onlookers.  Edita sat as still as a person can while on horseback.  Her boots were secured in stirrups and, though she held her horse’s reins in her right hand, Bully guessed her mount would be the calmest, surest horse available.   They’re showing her to the people, and they’ll do anything to keep her from falling.  Don’t let the people think she’s crippled.
            Juliana Ingdaughter, smiling and waving, spurred her horse and it trotted forward ’til she was almost even with Aylwin.  What is she doing?  It’s Edita’s place by the lord, not hers.  The young lord noticed her and pointed her out to the crowd on the far side of the street.  The people there cheered for her, and some called out “Edita!  Edita!”
            The real Edita heard the voices, but turned away from them, as if she didn’t want to see Juliana riding by Aylwin.  For just a moment, her eyes fastened on a familiar face.  Bully held out his hand, grinning.  He called out, “The lady Edita!”  She did not smile, but their eyes met.  Still holding the horse’s reins in her right hand, she made a careful gesture, welcoming his words.

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