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.