Thursday, April 25, 2013

Castles 48

48. Near Castle Inter Lucus

            Marty thought the priest would be sick.  The old man lurched onto his hands and knees and gagged.  Then he crawled from the roadside into the shade of the pine and fir forest and curled up in a ball of misery.  Marty and Isen knelt beside him there, not knowing what to say or do to comfort him.  Eadmar continued to moan: “Oh, no.  Oh, no.”
            Marty realized he had never heard anyone on Two Moons say “Jesus,” and it was this word that had caused the priest’s distress.  He leapt to a conclusion.  “Eadmar, listen.”  He laid his hand softly on the man’s arm.  “Eadmar, no one on Two Moons has ever spoken the name to me.  No one.”
            Eadmar convulsed and gasped, but he turned his head.  The blue eyes swam with tears and an obvious question.
            Marty spoke gently.  “I learned the name on my world, Eadmar.  I have the book of the old God.  I will show you, if you like.”
            The moaning ceased, replaced by long shuddering breaths.  Eadmar rolled onto his back and his eyes locked onto Marty’s, looking for something: reassurance? Hope?
            “I am a man, truly, not a demon.  I do not worship or serve those who built the castles.  I know the name because I, too, am a servant of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”
            Soundlessly, the priest’s lips formed words: “In Nomine Patris et . . .
            Marty whispered: “Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti.
            Eadmar passed out.

            Caelin arrived with a mesh sack full of food—crisp carrots, day old bread, cheese, hot French fries in a covered pot—and a skin of watery wine.  They used a small squeeze of the latter to revive the priest.  They seated him gently by a fallen pine log and induced him to nibble on some bread.
            Marty thought he would try to reassure Eadmar by interviewing Isen.  “Isen, do you remember when you first saw my book?”
            The young glassblower’s eyes flashed from Marty to Eadmar and back.  “Aye.”
            “You pointed to the sign of the old God, didn’t you?”
            Eadmar was obviously following the conversation with interest.  Marty continued: “Do you remember I also asked you about the words of the priest when he buried Sunniva, your sister?”
            “Aye.  Nomin Pater Fee Lee.”  Isen looked to the priest.  “Did I betray a secret?”
            The priest shook his head.  “No.  You did nothing wrong, Isen.  But you did not hear me correctly.  The words . . .” Eadmar turned to Marty.  “They are words of the holy language, but not the secret name.  A man in the service of a castle lord could have learned them if he attended a marriage, a burial, or some other service of prayer.”
            “But I have never witnessed a marriage or burial on Two Moons,” said Marty. 
            The color was returning to Eadmar’s cheeks.  “So you say.  If this is true, how do you know words of the holy language?”
            “I learned them on my world, on Earth.”  Marty motioned with a finger.  “Don’t get the wrong idea.  I know only a few phrases in Latin.  If I were fluent, maybe I could understand my castle better.”
            “What is ‘Latin’?”
            Marty frowned.  My God, they don’t know the name of their holy language.  How much of it can they know?  “It is the name of the holy language, the language of the castles.”  He realized immediately his mistake, but the words were already spoken.
            “The language of the castles?”  Eadmar’s eyes bulged.  He forced himself to his feet, dropping the bit of bread in his hand.  “The holy language is not the tongue of demons!”
            Jesus!  I’ve blown it now.  Marty sat still, though Caelin leapt to his feet.  Eadmar means me no harm; he’s only angry.  He thinks I’ve insulted God.  Marty motioned for Caelin to sit.
            “Eadmar, you are more correct than you know.  In Inter Lucus there is clear proof that the language of the strangers is not the holy language.  I have seen the writings of the strangers, and it is nothing like any human language.  I cannot read the strangers’ writings at all.”
            The priest began to reply, but Marty cut him off with a raised hand.  “Please, Eadmar!  If you will sit down, I will show you the book of God.”
            “You have it here?”  The priest’s face showed bewilderment.  Marty nodded, and Eadmar lowered himself unsteadily to the forest floor.  Marty leaned to one side so he could pull the pocket testament from his trouser pocket.  Leaning forward, he reached out to place the book in trembling, weathered hands.
            Eadmar held the testament in his left hand and traced the gold leaf cross on the cover.  Marty thought: I should have shown him the book from the start.  Personal assurances won’t overturn hundreds of years of suspicion.
            The priest turned the cover and looked long at the title page.  Again he traced the large print letters with his finger.  He turned more pages.  Holding the testament close, Eadmar tried to make words. “Fir . . .ss. . . First.”  He shook his head.  “Lett. . .er.”  His blue eyes looked at Marty.  “What language are these words?  They are not the holy language.  How can you claim this is God’s book?”
            Letter means epistol in the common tongue,” Marty answered.
            “Aye!  The common tongue has many words like the holy language.  This is the book of God, translated from the holy language to the language of my people.  Epistola, epistol, and letter all mean the same thing: epistol.”
            Eadmar’s white eyebrows bunched.  He reopened the testament: “Gos . . .”
            Even with the page upside down to him, Marty could read it.  Gospel,” he said, “means Godspell in the common tongue.”  He silently blessed the quirk of memory that brought that word to mind.  “In the holy language it means evangelium.”
            Eadmar studied the page for a minute, as if willing the strange words to make sense.  Then he rifled through the testament, stopping at another place.  He pointed to the word at the top of the page.  Corin . . .”
            “Corinthians,” Marty said. 
            Corinthios?  The priest’s eyes locked onto Marty with a new intensity.
            “Aye.”  Marty leaned to look at the word.  “That is the letter—epistol—of First Corinthians—Corinthios.
            Eadmar handed the book to Marty.  “Read to me.  Read Corinthios.”
            Now it was Marty’s turn to be surprised.  “You want me to read First Corinthians?  The whole book?”
            “Aye.  Please.”  Eadmar motioned a request to Caelin, who passed the mesh lunch sack to him.  Eadmar pulled out a carrot and took a small bite.  “Please read.”
            “I must translate from English to the common tongue,” Marty said.  “So this will go slowly.”
            Eadmar nibbled on his carrot and nodded.
            Marty began: “Paul, called to be an apostle of . . . the name is here.  Do you want me to say the name?”
            The priest frowned.  “No.  It is forbidden.  If the book says the name, you may say ‘the holy name’ in its place.”
            “Very well.  Paul, called to be an apostle of the holy name by the will of God, and our brother Sosthenes, to the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified. . .

            Caelin, Isen and Eadmar lunched while Marty read—or struggled to read.  Three weeks immersion in the common language, in what Marty assumed was some form of Old English, was hardly sufficient preparation to translate First Corinthians.  Repeatedly he had to stop and ask his listeners for help, describing biblical concepts as well as he could.  What was the word for “sanctified”?  For “grace”?  For “divisions”?  For “fellowship”?  In two laborious hours, Marty worked his way through 40 verses of text.  Finally Eadmar signaled a pause.
            “How much more of Corinthios is there?”
            Marty flipped through the pages.  “It will take all day, going as slowly as I am reading.”
            “Aye.  Or longer.”  Eadmar rubbed his nose.  “I hoped to hear some proof of your claims.  But it seems I may listen all day and all night and not hear it.  And since the language of your book is strange to me, I cannot read it to find proof.”
            “What is the proof you wanted to hear?”
            The priest shook his head.  “If I were to tell, would not a clever servant of the demons tell me that he has it?  If I tell you the words, will you not ‘find’ them in your book?”
            “Do you believe I serve demons, Eadmar?”
            The old man sighed.  “I must be sure.  Guthlaf Godcild commanded it.  Often have the castle lords deceived us.  They share the fruit of demon magic with their close servants, thus buying the loyalty of thousands of people.  They clothe their knights with armor and send them to destroy the houses of prayer.  So we servants of God have learned to guard ourselves against castle lords.  Old tales say the lords of Inter Lucus were particularly cruel.  Silent for a hundred years, we still hesitate to go near it.
            “But now there are rumors of a new lord.  This has never happened, that a dead castle should return to life.  Is it a sign of some new deception, some new persecution?  And then!  My young friend, Isen, tells me he has met the new lord, and he claims to worship God.  How can this be?  I tell you truly: I want to believe it.  When I heard the word Corinthios I hoped to hear a proof.  If it is there, I have not heard it.
            “You invite me to your castle.  Until I am sure, I cannot come.  Not yet.  What can be done?”
            Caelin spoke.  “My lord?  If I may?  We should invite Priest Eadmar to stay in the village.  My friend, Harry Entwine, lives on a farm on the near side of Inter Lucus. Eadmar could stay in Harry’s father’s barn and you could meet him here every day, if you like.  We can bring him meals from our kitchen.”
            Marty started to put his testament in his pocket, but a thought came to him.  “What say you, Eadmar?  Would you come and meet with me here again tomorrow?”
            The priest made a face.  “My bishop would tell me to find a safer place.  We are too close to the castle here.”
            “All right.  How’s this?  Caelin will take you to the Entwine farm, and tomorrow I will come there.  As proof that I will come, you may have this in your keeping until then.”  Marty held out the testament.
            “You would let me keep the book?”
            “Only for a night.  It is proof that I trust you.”
            Eadmar received the book and stood up.  When Marty had stood, the priest bowed to him.  “I want to trust you as well, Martin Cedarborne.  Perhaps that day will come.”

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


Thursday, April 18, 2013

Castles 47

47. At Castle Inter Lucus

            “Lord Martin!  Isen has returned!”  Caelin’s shout reached the kitchen from the great hall.  Marty, who had just finished shaving, folded his razor into its handle and left it on the countertop.   He took the stairs two at a time.  A full week had passed since he and Ora had left Isen on the West Lake shore and three days since the second Council.  Marty had tried to quell his worry about Isen, telling himself that it was too soon to expect the glassblower’s return.  Nevertheless, he felt a sense of relief even as he rushed to the west door.
            From the door Marty hurried to join Caelin at the welcoming “gate” under the southwest oaks.  Inter Lucus originally had a real gate some fifty yards down the hill, but the artificial stone gateposts were all that remained.  The spot under the oaks afforded a better view of the road from the village—and gave shelter from the sun—so Caelin and Ora took turns watching for visitors here.  Caelin pointed when Marty arrived.  Two men were on the road, perhaps two hundred yards away.  They seemed to have stopped at the boundary of the castle grounds, where the path to Inter Lucus parted from the road.
            Marty squinted.  “Are you sure it’s Isen?  It looks like they aren’t certain they want to approach Inter Lucus.”
            Ora joined them at this point, rounding the south side of the great hall.  She had been spending a lot of time in recent days pacing back and forth between the blueberries on the east edge of the castle grounds and the roses on the south edge.  To his surprise, she had given no direct answer when Marty asked what she was up to.  “I have an idea” was all she would say.
            “It is certainly Isen, my lord.”  Ora had better eyesight than either Caelin or Marty.  “I don’t know the old man, though.”
            “A priest from Down’s End?” Caelin guessed.  “We’ll soon know.  Isen’s coming on.”
            Soon even Marty could see that the man on the path was indeed Isen.  But the man who might be a priest remained behind, sitting down on an old stump by the side of the road.
            “Fair morning, Isen!” Marty called as the artisan came up the hill.  “I am glad to see you again!”
            Isen reached the shade of the oaks.  “Fair morning, my lord.”  He inclined his head to Marty and pushed his hair black, brushing away some sweat from his forehead.  “I have had success.  Priest Eadmar has come from Down’s End.  He is willing to tell you about the old god, and he wants to see your book of the god.”
            “Then why is he sitting at the bottom of the hill?” asked Ora.
            “Priest Eadmar was strictly commanded by Guthlaf Godcild—that is the bishop of Down’s End—not to expose himself to undue danger.  Eadmar has come all the way to the boundary of Inter Lucus’s grounds, but he asks that Lord Martin come speak to him there.  He thinks he may be safer from demon magic where he is.”
            “Demon magic?”  Marty frowned.  No one had used that phrase before.
            “The priests say castles do magic by demon power.  They say castle gods are demons—or were, before they died.”
            Marty shook his head ruefully.  Died?  Nobody said anything about the aliens dying.  “Caelin, are there stories of the castle gods dying?”
            Caelin shrugged.  “None that I have heard.  Maybe the priests hope they died.  I had heard that worshipers of the old god call the gods demons.  But folk do not say that in the hearing of a castle lord, since the lords say the gods will come back some day.  But the gods have not been seen for hundreds of years, so maybe they really are dead.”
            Marty grimaced.  What are the chances I’ll get any real information about the aliens who built this place?  In the end, all the important clues are in Inter Lucus itself.  “Is there any reason I shouldn’t go meet with this priest?”
             Caelin spoke dispassionately.  “My lord, away from your castle, you are like other men.  Priests of the old god have reason to be suspicious of lords; they have often had to hide from the lords’ knights.  It is possible that this Eadmar has been sent to assassinate you.” 
            “Lord Martin!” Isen began to object.
            Caelin finished: “But it is more likely, as Isen says, that the priest only fears castle magic.”
            “Well, let’s go see him, then.  Ora will stay here.  We shouldn’t leave the castle unattended.”
            Marty used his walnut staff like a walking stick.  If the priest meant him harm, the staff was the closest thing Marty had to a weapon.  And somehow he felt comfortable using it.  It felt right. 
            The priest rose from his stump-chair as Marty, Isen and Caelin approached.  He had a short fringe of white hair on an otherwise weathered and bald head.  Marty couldn’t tell if the man shaved or simply had no beard.  He was dressed in a black cassock that reached just below his knees, a rope belt around his waist, revealing legs covered with dirt and scratches—leather sandals with no socks.  The legs and forearms told of a body with almost no fat, just sinews, bones and leathery skin.  The blue eyes could have been Paul Newman’s; they met Marty’s gaze unwaveringly.  Marty guessed the man was Father Stephen’s age, about sixty.
             “Fair morning.  Welcome to Inter Lucus.”  Marty paused several yards from the priest and then advanced slowly a few more steps.  “My name is Martin Cedarborne; I’m very glad you’ve come.”
            “I am Eadmar, God’s servant and yours.”  The man inclined his head in greeting.
            “Welcome indeed, priest Eadmar.” Marty, Isen and Caelin stood still in the road.  “I have questions to ask about the old god, questions the folk of Inter Lucus and Senerham can’t answer.  Will you come up to the castle, sup with us, and speak with me?”
            “No.”  The priest did not look away.  Nor did he seem to have more to say.
            “It’s almost noon.  We have plenty to share.”
            Eadmar held out his arm.  “As you can see, I’m accustomed to short commons.”  He smiled.  “However, I would be happy to talk or eat here.”
            “You suspect me of treachery,” said Marty.  “Given the stories I’ve heard, it’s understandable.  So—here it is.”  Marty lowered himself to sit cross-legged in the road, his staff lying in the dust.  “Caelin, hustle up to the kitchen and get us something to eat and drink.”
            “My lord?”  Caelin stopped short of objecting, but his and Isen’s faces expressed surprise.
            “Get going.  Priest Eadmar is hungrier than I am.  Isen, sit down.”
            “Yes, my lord.”  Isen mimicked Marty and sat in the dirt. Caelin hesitated for a moment, and then hurried away.  
            The priest nodded and took his place on the stump.  He looked down at Marty for a few seconds before moving to sit on the ground with the stump at his back.  He inclined his head to Marty a second time.
            Marty rubbed his chin, clean-shaven since the last council meeting. “Why did you come, Eadmar?” 
            “I would know the truth concerning strange tidings.   My young friend, Isen, came to Down’s End with stories of a new lord in Inter Lucus.  A new lord between the lakes, after a hundred years!  Isen also says the new lord worships God, not castle demons.  Such tales are almost beyond believing.  But he also brought this.”  Eadmar held up the page from Marty’s New Testament.  “We can not read it, but it bears the mark of God.”
            “You mean the cross.”
            “The cross is the sign of the God I worshiped before I came to Two Moons.”
            The priest’s blue eyes peered at Marty, as if trying to see into his soul.  “Isen has told me this.  And where did you live before Two Moons?  Are you an angel of God?”
            Marty laughed.  “I am no angel, that is certain.  On my world I was a very ordinary man.  I was married, but my wife . . . died.  After she died, I wanted to give myself to God, and I became a novice at a monastery.  Then, in the middle of an ordinary day, as a complete surprise, I stepped from my world into Inter Lucus.
            Eadmar’s white eyebrows bunched.  “I do not understand.  What do you mean: ‘my world’?”
            The hard part.  I knew this would come up.  Marty knew the common tongue word for “stars” (steorran), but conversations with Caelin had produced no word for “planet.”  Either the common tongue didn’t have such a word, or Caelin didn’t know it.   Marty knew that on Earth people of the ancient world had recognized the difference between stars and planets, so he had no explanation for the absence of the concept on Two Moons.  How much astronomy do I have to teach?
            “My world is far away, as far as the stars,” Marty said. 
            The priest pursed his lips.  “Angels live in the heavens.  But you are not an angel, you say.”
            “I am not an angel.  The angels serve God in the highest heaven, but also on Earth, on all the earths.”
            “Earths.”  Eadmar considered this a long time.  “You are saying there are worlds like Two Moons among the stars, but not in highest heaven.”
            “That’s right.  I came from a world among the stars.  I also believe that the strangers who built the castles came from another world, not Two Moons and not my Earth.”
            The priest raised an eyebrow.  “Strangers?”
            “They called themselves gods, and you priests call them demons, but I name them strangers.  Neither gods nor demons, they were creatures of another world.  It is my belief that long ago the strangers brought your people from my world to Two Moons.  You are men, just as I am a man.  I think your ancestors came from my world, from Earth.  And I think your people were already worshipers of the true God before they were brought here.”
            The priest folded his arms across his chest.  “The demons and their servants, the lords, know well that we have worshiped the God whose sign is the cross since the before time.”
            Marty asked, “What is ‘the before time’?”
            Eadmar’s eyes had drifted to the sky, but now they focused on Marty.  “Before the demons built castles and forced people to worship them.”
            “We agree, then,” said Marty, “that your people worshiped God before the strangers brought them to Two Moons.”
            The priest corrected him: “Before the demons built castles.  I am not persuaded that men came from some other world.”
            Marty tried the argument he had used with his councilors.  “Why is this world called ‘Two Moons,’ not just ‘Earth’?”
            Eadmar smiled broadly.  “Because there are . . .” But then he raised an eyebrow.  A new thought had occurred to him.
            Marty nodded.  He sees the point.  “On my world we see only one moon in the sky.  When people from a world with one moon were brought to this place, they quickly noticed two moons.  So they named this world Two Moons.”
            Eadmar considered this argument, pursing his lips.  “My friends warned me before I left Down’s End that I must be on my guard against clever deceptions.  If those that you call ‘strangers’ are not demons, where are they?  If they are creatures with bodies, they must die.  Why do we not find their bodies?” 
            “I think the strangers went away.”
            Eadmar shook his head.  “This is the familiar lie of the lords.  They demand obedience because they represent the demons they call gods.  They say the ‘gods’ will return and punish those who do not obey.”
            Marty sighed.  “Priest Eadmar, I do not demand obedience.  I only want to know what you know about Jesus.”
            The old priest shut his eyes, and the color seemed to drain from his face.  He doubled over as if he had been kicked.  “Oh, no.  Oh, no.  Oh, no.”  He rocked back and forth, seemingly oblivious to Isen and Marty.  He spoke in a quiet, tortured voice: “How have I failed?  How did you hear the name?”

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


Thursday, April 11, 2013

Castles 46

46. At Castle Inter Lucus

            Isen had agreed to return after three days if no boat would take him to Down’s End.  Four days now—Marty allowed himself to hope that Isen’s absence meant he had crossed the lake.  He didn’t want to imagine the various ways the glassmaker’s assignment might have gone wrong.
            Friday morning, a week after the first council, the councilors returned: Caadde Bycwine and Syg Alymar (for Inter Lucus), and Cnud Thorson (for Senerham).  Eadmar Eoforwine had to repair a fence and capture a milk cow that had escaped, so Cnud Thorson brought the Senerham blacksmith, Elne Penrict, to take Eoforwine’s place.  Penrict bore with him a gift for the lord of Inter Lucus: a razor, a three-inch piece of sharpened steel fastened by a pivot-pin to a wooden handle.  When closed, the blade folded safely into a slot in the wood.  With the razor came a short leather strop, and the blacksmith demonstrated how to sharpen the blade.  Marty thanked Penrict sincerely.
            For Marty, Ora, and Caelin, the day had begun before the councilors arrived.  Marty assigned Ora “gate duty” under the oaks southwest of the great hall; villagers almost always approached Inter Lucus on the path there.  Caelin was in the kitchen, preparing eggs, trout and hash browns for Marty and his councilors.  As was his habit, Marty rose early and inspected some part of the castle, expecting and usually noticing some new feature.  The roof above the first floor had grown from a tracery of filaments to a nearly continuous covering.  As with the floors below ground, the ceilings were absurdly high, about sixteen feet tall.  And in the great hall, the “ceiling” turned out to be a balcony or gallery surrounding the space below; the middle section was still open to the sky.  The true roof, when it came, would be higher still.
            The exterior walls kept climbing.  The east and west wings of the castle’s T—where the first floor ceiling was virtually complete—were obviously meant to have a second story above the first, perhaps a third.  By the speed of its growth, Marty thought, the east wing might be taller than the west—how high would it go?
            On this day, lights came on in the west wing for the first time.  Marty had been expecting this development.  With the gaps in the west wing closing, its interior space had become dim indeed, even at mid-day.  And so far, unlike the east wing, the west wing had no windows.  The new light came from strips in the ceiling that Marty took to be an alien version of fiber optics.  It looks like a big empty warehouse, or a machine shop, except there are no tools (that I recognize) and no power outlets.  Will Inter Lucus tell me, somehow, how to use this space?
            Waiting in the shade of the oaks, Ora smiled to herself.  It seemed that every day her Lord Martin did something to surprise her.  The evening before, cousin Caelin had casually said something about Ora serving breakfast to the councilors.  Lord Martin asked Caelin sharply, “Why Ora?  You know your way around the kitchen as well as she does, or better.”  And that’s true. Ora had felt embarrassed when the lord said it out loud.  A woman should be able to prepare meals and make clothes. But apparently Lord Martin did not think this.  He considers it proper for me to welcome guests while Caelin prepares food.  He said as much: “Each person should do most often the things he or she can do well.”
            Ora pondered the lord’s wisdom.  What things can I do well? I can run fast, faster than Aethulwulf.  I can fish with a net. I can guide the ripsaw on a straight line.  I can calm a baby when he’s crying.  I’m not very good at sewing clothes or cooking food, but if need be I can do those things.  Are there other tasks I should try?  Other skills I might discover?  Lord Martin bade me to welcome guests—perhaps that is something I can do well.  
            Besides the councilors, on this day only two visitors presented themselves, a man who said his name was Rothulf Saeric with a boy about ten years old, Alf Saeric.  Ora had never seen them before; Rothulf said they hailed from the Blue River country far south of Senerham, though recently they had been living in Down’s End.  Ora explained that Lord Martin’s council might last all morning, but after that Rothulf and Alf could see him.  They would be content to wait, Rothulf said.  When the councilors from village Inter Lucus came up the path, Rothulf asked if these men were servants of Lord Martin. Ora explained that only three persons had entered the lord’s direct service—but the villagers had pledged him liege.  Ora introduced Rothulf and Alf to Caadde Bycwine and Syg Alymar.  Cnud Thorson and Elne Penrict had arrived earlier and were already inside the great hall.  If the Saerics waited under the oaks, Ora told them, she would bring the Lord Martin as soon as the council meeting ended.  Then Ora, Caadde, and Syg entered Inter Lucus.
            The councilors gathered around a trestle table, delivered by Everwin Idan and his father, Osulf Idan, two days before.  The Idans built it out of extra lumber stored in Everwin’s barn, they said.  It was merely a small gift, they said; they had no particular use for the wood.  But after they had left, Caelin told Marty that in fact the Idans were poor farmers who probably bartered to obtain the lumber.  Marty wished yet again for paper.  He did not want to forget which families between the lakes went out of their way to help him.
            Marty and Caelin positioned the table near the ceramic blocks they had been using for chairs.  Squeezed in, five could sit; two would have to stand.  “Just as well,” said Caelin.  “Makes it easier to fetch more food.”  Elne Penrict volunteered to help Caelin carry platters of food from the kitchen, the better to see more of the castle.  But Ora told him to sit down.  “Your task is to advise Lord Martin, not explore the castle.  My cousin and I will serve.”
            When all was ready, Marty said, “Ora and Caelin tell me that some folk between the lakes give thanks to the gods before eating.  You have freedom to follow the practices with which you are comfortable.”
            For a moment, the four men only looked at each other.  Caadde Bycwine said, “Caelin may have told you that some in my family worship the old god.  I myself do not care much about the gods, old or new.  But here, we are your guests.  We will be pleased to honor the castle gods.”
            Marty rubbed the stubble of his beard.  He looked forward to using Elne’s gift.  “I do not worship the castle gods.” 
            The councilors’ faces registered a mixture of surprise and curiosity.  Cnud Thorson asked, “Why did Lord Martin not tell us this a week ago?”
            “Last week I needed to find out about the castle gods.  I knew almost nothing about them, except that they built Inter Lucus and the other castles of Two Moons.  I still know very little about them, but I know that I do not worship them.  In fact, though I am not sure, the God I worship may be the one you people call the old god.”
            Now their faces registered outright shock, as Caelin had predicted.  Marty toyed with his new razor, spinning it on one of the planks of the tabletop, careful to keep the blade safely closed.  He waited.
            Finally Caadde Bycwine spoke.  “Caelin knows the old tales better than I, but in every story I’ve heard, the castle lords worshiped castle gods.  Surely he told you this.”
            “Aye.  He did.  But I do not worship the castle gods, and I will not require guests of Inter Lucus to acknowledge them.  So, if you do not object, we will begin our meeting with thanks to the old god.”
            All present nodded their acquiescence.
            Marty bowed his head.  “Eternal Father, thank you for these guests and the meal before us.  By your grace, grant that we consider well our decisions today, that the people between the lakes may dwell in peace.  I pray in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.”
            Ora and Caelin repeated, “Amen.”  The councilors mimicked them: “Amen.”
            Caelin immediately began eating.  The guests looked questioningly at Marty and, at his nod, followed Caelin’s example.  The councilors had all walked between three and five miles before the meeting, and they ate with real hunger.  Before long, Caelin and Ora took empty platters downstairs to refill them.  After that, they brought cups and a large steaming pitcher, which the men eyed with curiosity. 
            “I’m afraid we have no beer to offer,” Marty said.  “Caelin tells me you might prefer that.  What we’ve got is tea, made from rose hips growing near the castle.  It would taste better with honey, but as yet we have none.”  Everyone tried the tea, but no one showed much enthusiasm for it.
            Syg Alymar set his cup down.  “My lord, you say the old god may be your god, but you are not sure.  Can you tell us why?”
            Marty handed his pocket testament to Cnud Thorson, who sat closest to him.  “Let everyone see it.”  The black faux-leather cover was embossed with a gold cross.  “Do you recognize that?  Last week, after our council meeting, a man from Down’s End told me it is the sign of the old god.”
            “Aye.  That much even I know.”  Cnud Thorson ran his finger over the book’s cover, opened it, looked closely and gaped. “What magic makes these marks?”
            “It is not magic at all,” Marty answered.  “The book was made by people using machines—on my world, the world from which I came.  People have not yet made such machines here on Two Moons, but on Earth such books are common.”
            Elne Penrict wrinkled his forehead.  “It is the sign of the old god.  And people worship this god on your world?”
            “Many of them do.  Not all.”
            “Then your world is home of the old god?”
            “Maybe.  But on Earth, people believe that God is god of all the worlds.”
            Caadde broke in: “What is Earth?  Does Earth mean eorþ?”
            Marty pursed his lips.  “I think so.  Eorþ is the dirt, and earth also means dirt.  But Earth is also the name for our world—or one of the names.  There are many tongues on my world, and each has its own name for Earth.”  Marty had wondered if he should say the next part.  “I think, though, I am not sure, that the castle gods brought the first people of Two Moons from Earth.
            The councilors’ faces shown confusion and skepticism.  “But this world is eorþ,” said Syg.  “Why would your world have the same name as ours?”
            Caelin had a partial answer: “All people on all worlds will call their world eorþ, or whatever word they use for the stuff under our feet.”  Syg and the other considered this for a moment.  Before they could object, Marty added something else.
            “Earth, my Earth, has only one moon.  That is why, I believe, your people have always called this world ‘Two Moons.’  Think about it.  No one on Earth has ever called our world ‘One Moon.’  When the gods brought your ancestors to this world, the great difference they immediately noticed became the name for their new world.  They called it Two Moons.”
            Cnud swung his head slowly from side to side.  “People will not believe such a tale.”
            Marty smiled.  “You are right.  Remember, I’m not sure I believe all of it.  The important things are these: I am here, I am the lord of Inter Lucus, and I have the book of God (who may be the old god).  I want to meet a priest of the old god to test my ideas.  In the meantime, you need not tell everyone all that I tell you.  We don’t want people to think I am mad.”
            Elne Penrict said, “Nothing else matters except that you are the lord, that you control the castle.  You must convince the folk that you are lord.”
            “Look around you!” exclaimed Ora.  “If Lord Martin is not lord, why is the castle healing?”
            Elne nodded.  “I’m sure you’re right, girl.  But not everyone between the lakes has come to the castle or wants to come to the castle.”
            Marty grinned.  “And that’s why we’re going to throw them a party.”

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


Thursday, April 4, 2013

Castles 45

45. At Sup in The Spray

            Course followed course: roasted chicken and rice, cabbage and onion with spices, a plum-raisin pudding, a hard yellow cheese, and a white cheese so soft it spread like butter.  Aisly returned with wine repeatedly, but Milo drank very conservatively.  The soldier at the entrance—whose name slipped Milo’s memory, which bothered him—had hinted that Ody Dans had invited his guests for some purpose.  Milo wanted to keep his wits and attend to the host and his friends.  The door to my future opens tonight.
            The evening light faded outdoors.  Scores of tapers on candle stands reflected off the glass windows of the north wall.  The wood floor glowed golden in the yellow light.
            Conversation topics flowed like water in a river, eddying now and then on a particularly juicy bit of gossip or Stonebridge political intrigue, but always moving on.  Milo did his best to pay attention.  Frideric Bardolf and Ody Dans seemed to know every merchant and guild master in Stonebridge and most of the farmers, vintners, foresters, and silver miners within a hundred miles.  Repeatedly, Ada Bardolf reproved her husband and host for talking “custom” and tried to draw Avery Doin or Milo into conversation with her son, Richart, and his friend, Reynald Henriet.  Milo played modesty when Lady Bardolf engaged him, turning aside questions about Hyacintho Flumen and his family.  Twice he tried to turn the conversation to Adelgar and Tilde Gyricson, asking about their families and backgrounds, but both times Ody Dans intervened in his bland, cheerful voice to talk about something else.  For his part, Adelgar rarely said anything, though Tilde laughed freely whenever anyone made a joke.  The wine had brought a rose hue to her cheeks, which accentuated her flawless face, Milo thought.  Light from the candles threw gold flecks in her black hair.
            As the night darkened outside, turning the window wall into mirrors, the mood of Adelgar seemed to darken as well.  At the end of sup, Inga brought round a tray of honey wafers; Adelgar alone didn’t partake.  Milo looked round the table at each guest and saw Ody Dans’s gaze on Adelgar: It’s about Adelgar somehow.  Careful, Milo.  Keep your wits.
            Frideric Bardolf pushed his chair back, leaned toward his wife, and kissed her cheek.  “The old goat needs to go home.”
            “You’re right, of course,” said Ada Bardolf.  “I suppose we shall be safe if Reynald and Richart escort us.”
            “Please, not just yet,” said the host.  “I have a little problem, and Richart and Reynald may be able to help me with it.”
            “Please explain.”  Frideric Bardolf leaned back to share a glance with Ody Dans behind Ada’s silver hair.  The host smiled briefly at Bardolf, and then leaned forward on his elbows. He held his empty wine glass before him, peering at it as if it were a divining rod.
            Without moving his eyes from the wine glass, Dans said, “Adelgar Gyricson owes me money.”  Dans’s flat, inflectionless tone sucked all humor from the party.  The other guests turned suddenly somber faces to Adelgar, but Milo watched Ody Dans.  The host’s countenance gave no clue as to the mind behind it; a pink face, bordered with white beard and wispy white hair, expressionless as snowfall.
            “Gar . . .?”  Tilde Gyricson’s voice sounded an octave higher.  Her husband did not look at her; he was bent over his plate as if it were the oracle of the gods.
            “Last winter Adelgar Gyricson borrowed two thousand golds from me.”  Dans continued in a deadpan voice, but Frideric Bardolf’s eyebrows shot up.
              “Two days ago he repaid me eighteen hundred golds, when I expected twenty-two hundred.  Of course, he promised to repay the rest if I wait.  But he cannot tell me how long I must wait.” Ody Dans still deadpanned, as if his words meant nothing.  But Milo heard several sharp intakes of breath around the table, and Reynald Henriet quietly exclaimed, “Gods!”
            Ada Bardolf asked quietly, “What happened, Adelgar?” 
            The handsome young man looked up, hearing sympathy in Lady Ada’s tone.  “A friend of mine told me the houses of Down’s End are built of pine and fir; they obtain their lumber from the forests between the lakes.  But there are rich men in the city of the downs—guild masters, aldermen, bankers, and cloth merchants.  They would pay handsomely for hardwood like the ash, maple, and oak that grow in the forests of Stonebridge.  Or so my friend predicted.”
            Adelgar looked across the table at Richart Bardolf, who said, “And I spoke true! 
“You told me just yesterday you sold oak lumber in Down’s End for double its Stonebridge price.”
            Adelgar’s mouth twisted.  “Aye.  But that was the best of the lot.”  A single tear squeezed out of the corner of his eye, and he stared once again at his plate.  “I had to rent wagons.  I had to hire guards against highwaymen. I had to rent a warehouse in Down’s End. More expenses than I anticipated. Still, at first, it was easy.  The great men of the downs bought eagerly and paid well for the best lumber.  But then I was left with the poorer wood, and no buyers.  In the end, to avoid paying more warehouse rent, I had to sell the remainder at a bad price.”
            “Tell the rest.”  Ody Dans’s tone might have been a gentle nudge, but Milo heard steel in the command.  “Tell the numbers.”
            “I spent sixteen hundred golds for Stonebridge hardwoods and sold my goods for thirty-two hundred in Down’s End, all in five months.  Doubled my money!  But my profit was whittled away by expenses—the guards, the wagons, and warehouse.  Expenses of fourteen hundred, leaving me with eighteen hundred, which is what I paid Master Dans.”
            “But Gar,” said Tilde.  “What about the remaining stake, the four hundred?  If you borrowed two thousand and only spent sixteen . . .”
            “I married the most beautiful woman in Tarquint and moved her to a new house in Stonebridge.”  Now Gyricson’s tears were flowing freely.  “I was so sure my plan would work, so damn sure.”
            “And it did work!”  Tilde pivoted her attention from her husband to Ody Dans, the pitch of her voice returning to normal.  “Master Dans!  Lend Adelgar more money!  He—we—know the business now.  Even with all his expenses, he made a profit the first time; we’ll do better this time around and be able to repay you completely.”
            Dans made a little ceremony of standing his wine goblet on the table.  Milo thought: He loves the attention.  The master fixed his watery gaze on Tilde Gyricson.  “I will not lend your husband any money until his debt is paid.  But I notice you say ‘we.’  Are you willing to help your husband clear his debt?”
            “Of course!”
            “Ah!  Young love!  Adelgar predicted you would be willing to help.  Forgive me, but I was not so sure.”
            “What must we do?”
            Ody Dans smiled, a slight turn of the lips, which in many faces would have indicated kindness.  “Adelgar must do nothing—except watch.  You must pay his debt.  Entertain two men—Richart Bardolf, and his friend Reynald or perhaps Sir Milo.  Ada might be jealous if Frideric volunteered.”
            Confusion clouded the young woman’s face.  “What?”
            Dans motioned with his hand.  “One of the divans will do.  I want you to bed two of my guests.  The price is one hundred golds for each.  In a matter of minutes you will discharge your husband’s debt.  I assure you, it’s far better pay than the women get in Madame Strong’s alehouse.”
            The wine flush drained from Tilde’s face.  “Gar?”  The single syllable pled for some escape from the madness of Dans’s words.  But her husband only wept onto his cold food.
            “Gar?  Did you know about this?”
            “It’s the only way, Tilde.”  He looked at his wife.  “Sometimes Master Dans’s guests fall into the river.  If I were to die, you would still owe two hundred golds.  What could you do except become a whore?  But tonight: two men—and we are free.”
            Milo watched Ody Dans rather than Adelgar and Tilde.  The master’s stubby fingers trembled on the tabletop.  Dans’s mouth was slightly open, and he licked his lips excitedly.
            “You can’t mean it.”  Tilde could barely pronounce the words.  Her voice sounded like the creaking of a branch in the wind.
            “It’s the only way.”  Adelgar tried to touch her face, but Tilde slapped his hand away.  On the table beside Milo, the fingers on Ody Dans’s hand were wiggling like eels.
            The young wife turned to Ody Dans.  “I won’t play the whore in front of these people!”
            “Well, there is another option,” said Ody Dans. “You might stay here, in The Spray, for two weeks, as my very personal guest.  If it’s privacy you want.”
            Tilde shuddered.
            Now the host smiled broadly.  “Oh, well.  Young love isn’t all the poets say, I suppose.”  He passed his hand by his ear and two men came from the kitchen door at a trot.  They had short swords, unsheathed.  Young Gyricson scrambled from his chair, but he had only enough time to fall to his knees.
            “Tilde, please!”  The soldiers seized Adelgar and pulled his head back.
            “Stop!”  Two voices—Ody Dans and Tilde Gyricson spoke at the same time.
            “I don’t want a bloody floor,” said Dans.  “The river.”  The men jerked Adelgar to his feet and began dragging him.
            “No!  Stop!  I’ll do it.”  Adelgar stopped struggling.  Tilde stood to face Ody Dans.  “I’ll stay.  Two weeks.”
            Dans motioned and the swordsmen released Adelgar, who fell like a sack.  The soldiers backed to the kitchen door and disappeared at a nod from the master.
            The others sat frozen, watching Tilde as her husband crawled toward her.  Adelgar looked up, his eyes begging for something—understanding? Pardon?  Milo heard Ody Dans beside him, breathing in short gasps.  Milo looked at him.  The eyes were completely focused on Tilde and her husband, the round face flushed.  Silently, the woman turned stepped around Adelgar and walked toward Dans.  Ignoring Milo, who sat only inches away, she knelt beside the host.  Dans extended his pink right hand and she kissed it. 
            “Ah!  So sweet!”  Ody Dans smiled beatifically at the other guests.  “That’s just marvelous! The power of young love!”  He motioned for Tilde to rise.  “Adelgar Gyricson, get out of my house.  When the debt is paid I’ll send your loving wife home to you.”
            Adelgar Gyricson was already on his feet, his hand reaching out.  “Tilde, I’m so sorry . . .” She did not acknowledge him.
            Wordlessly, the three Bardolfs and Reynald Henriet bowed to Master Dans and walked to the door.  Derian Chapman and Avery Doin also rose without speaking; one on each side, they ushered Adelgar from the room.  “The only way, the only way,” he murmured.  Tilde never looked at him.
            Ody Dans gave a great sigh, slumping back in his chair.  Milo rose, slipped around the statue woman still standing next to his chair, and hurried out the door.

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