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.