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.