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.


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