Thursday, June 27, 2013

Castles 57

57. In Pulchra Mane

            Eudes Ridere stirred from his dream.  He snaked his arm under the blankets to Mariel’s side of the bed, felt only sheets.  He opened his eyes.  A wedge of light from Mariel’s toilet room cut across the floor.  Eudes heard labored breathing and gagging sounds.  He swept away blankets and rushed to the toilet room.
            Life in a castle meant regular interaction with magic.  Pulchra Mane featured artificial lights, carpeted floors, and baths that filled with water of any desired temperature with no need for servants to heat the water.  Just as marvelously, the toilet room had a water device that carried away human waste deposited in it.  But Mariel was not sitting on her “throne” (a jest she shared only with her husband); she was kneeling beside it, panting.  In a weak voice she said, “Oh, gods,” and vomited into the throne.
            Eudes dampened a cloth in the washbasin and offered it to his wife.  “Thank you.”  Mariel wiped her face with the cloth while Eudes waved his hand at the magic spot on the side of the throne; the water device whooshed Mariel’s vomit away, and fresh water replaced the old. 
            He helped her stand up.  “What’s wrong?”  He pushed golden hair away from her face.
            “Nothing is wrong, you old ass.”  Mariel touched Eudes’s cheek gently.  “Something is very right, and it’s your doing.”  Her hand slid from his face to the black hair on his chest.  “My last blood was six weeks ago.  Being queen does not exempt me from nature.  Claennis says it’s not uncommon for women to feel the sickness early on; it will cease in a month or two.”
            Eudes’s mouth opened, but no words came.
            “Don’t act so surprised.”  Mariel giggled.  She wiped her face again with the cloth and tossed it aside.  She stepped into his arms.  “You’ve been working diligently to achieve this result.”
            “Aye.”  He squeezed her close.  “Mariel, the army.  It’s not too late . . . Maybe I should stay.”
            She tilted her head back to look him in the eye.  “To what end?”  Eudes was familiar with her fierce, determined gaze.  “What would you do, except watch me get fat?  Claennis and Blythe will take care of my body, and Aweirgan Unes will advise me on matters of policy.  Your place is with the army I have prepared for you.  You will take it to Tarquint, leaving today, as we have planned.”
            “Yes, my queen.”
            “An obedient consort.  I like that.”  Mariel giggled again, her hand sliding to his stomach.  “But since you will be gone a long while, you owe me one more before you leave.”
            He carried her back to the bed.             
            General Ridere left Pulchra Mane with a small escort: Archard Oshelm, Aewel Penda, the brothers Fugol and Galan Hengist, and his new squire, Bully Wedmor.  Bully had considered possible names carefully when Eudes told him to give up “Poorman.”  “Bully Knight” was too obviously ambitious, and “Bully Freeman” might imply that he was a runaway serf.  The farmers of Wedmor had treated Bully fairly, it was there that Eudes Ridere had invited Bully to his service, and it was not uncommon, Archard said, for soldiers to call themselves by place names.  So General Ridere’s squire became Bully Wedmor.
            The city that took its name from Pulchra Mane surrounded the castle grounds on all sides.  Citizens saluted the queen’s consort as Eudes and his guards rode by.  Two days before a crowd had shouted greetings to more than 1000 men marching away, commanded by Ridere’s captains.  The general himself had not marched with his army; none of the onlookers knew why.  Bully did.
            The day after Pulchra Mane’s men marched north Bully had watched from a doorway, out of sight from the viewing wall, as Queen Mariel spoke with her councilors.  She stood at the lord’s knob, her hand resting lightly on the globe, with Aweirgan Unes and Eudes Ridere standing behind her on either side.  Bully couldn’t see them, but he heard the voices of the lords of Herminia (and Lady Montfort, who ruled Tutum Partum) as they acknowledged Mariel’s commands.  Each one, except for Lady Montfort, reported that their armsmen were already on their way to Tutum Partum.  Most were marching, but Rocelin Toeni’s men were sailing to the rendezvous—everything as the queen had ordered.  Lord Toeni and Lady Montfort were supplying the ships that would carry Mariel’s army to Tarquint.  Each lord reported that one or more of his sons or grandsons were coming as knights.  Bully knew, from prior conversations with General Ridere, that most of these “knights” were valued not for their military prowess but as hostages.  Mariel was not about to send her husband and the bulk of her army over the sea without some guarantee of her lords’ fidelity.
            General Ridere also questioned the lords, mostly about supplies.  All over Herminia, men were marching toward Tutum Partum.  At the same time, wagons loaded with grain, smoked meats, wine, winter coats, boots, weapons, and lots of other things were rolling south to Prati Mansum.  It was all part of a complicated plan that the general had explained to Bully.  The army would sail from Tutum Partum with limited supplies, perhaps enough for a month.  Once they landed in Tarquint, the ships would return to Herminia, not all at once but in little fleets of five or six ships.  During winter they would come back to Prati Mansum, on Herminia’s south coast, rather than Tutum Partum.  Supplies would be loaded and the ships would sail for Tarquint.  Once the siege of Hyacintho Flumen began, half of the ships would carry soldiers in both directions.  Ridere’s army would be constantly re-supplied, and its men would be rotated home for a portion of every year.  The lords of Herminia knew by experience that the quartermaster general could sustain a siege for many, many months.
            Each returning flotilla would also bear a messenger.  This man would report at Prati Mansum and stand by Rocelin Toeni when Mariel’s councilors spoke weekly with her through their magic walls.  The queen and her councilors would thus be informed of their army’s success—or lack thereof.  After reporting via castle magic, the messenger would ride to Pulchra Mane.  Herminia’s lords and lady would not like it, but they had to know that some of Eudes’s reports would be for Mariel alone.

            Autumn weather was fine all over Herminia.  Ridere and his escort saw evidence of agricultural bounty everywhere on the way to Tutum Partum.  Eudes breathed silent thanks to the gods; his army would be eating this surplus all winter.  Eudes could not expect to capture enough in Tarquint to sustain an army, unless he reduced the local population to starvation.  And that, he knew, would only cement their hatred of the invader.  A conqueror needs to show the conquered people that they will be no worse off under their new master. 
            Eudes and his escort carried little food themselves, supping each night in a roadhouse and eating lightly during the day.  Riding easily, they passed the men of Pulchra Mane            the second day.  The marching soldiers cheered their general.  Eudes conferred with his captains briefly and moved on.
            They saw wagons moving south—not many yet, but there would be hundreds more as harvest rolled on.  They passed men marching northward from Hinxworth and Beatus Valle in southwest Herminia: Paul Wadard’s soldiers had started out eight days before.  Later, riding through the Green Mountains, they came upon men from Rubrum Vulpes, where Denis Mowbray was lord.  On the sixth day Lady Avice Montfort welcomed Eudes to Tutum Partum.  The morning of the seventh, he stood behind Lady Montfort during Mariel’s Council.
            It feels different from this side, thought Eudes.  The faces of the lords of Herminia looked the same as when they appeared in the magic wall of Pulchra Mane.  The difference was seeing Mariel this way.  She projected an image of confidence, power, and unchallengeable authority: the Ice Queen.  With Aweirgan Unes at her side, she moved through scores of details, ensuring that the mobilization of Herminia stayed on schedule.
            After three hours, the queen dismissed her Council; one by one, the pictures of the lords of Herminia disappeared until only Mariel’s face remained on Lady Montfort’s wall.  “My Queen, perhaps you have words for your consort,” Lady Avice said.  For three hours Avice Montfort had kept both her hands on the lords’ knob to maintain her bond.  She was visibly tired.  “I can try to forget what I hear.”
            “I have a better idea,” replied Mariel.  “Walk around the lord’s knob so that I see your back.”
            Montfort did as commanded.  Now, only Eudes could see Mariel’s image in the wall.  She didn’t say anything, but she laid her right hand on her abdomen and winked.
            “Fare well, General Ridere,” said the Ice Queen, and her image vanished.

            Day by day, the fleet of ships in Tutum Partum’s ample harbor grew.  The army that would sail aboard them swelled into the thousands.
            Bully’s thoughts often turned to Edita, who by now must be wife of the lord of Hyacintho Flumen.  He wondered if she knew the truth about Juliana Ingdaughter, whom Boyden Black had said would be mistress to Lord Aylwin Mortane.  Aylwin Mortane, the very man Herminia’s army would soon besiege.

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

Friday, June 21, 2013

You Can Buy Bangkok Girl

Buying the Bangkok Girl is now available at
Less than $5!

From Chapter One:
Eleanor Roosevelt Urquhart squinted through the sunshine outside the bus window for the umpteenth time, trying to read the sign of each cross street. She’d ridden the bus for more than an hour as it crawled from stop to stop along a winding boulevard lined with palm trees and enormous jade plants. After four years in the Los Angeles basin, Eleanor still found waist high outdoor jade plants jarring. Back in Minnesota, Eleanor’s mother kept a jade among her many indoor plants, but it measured six inches. In Eleanor’s mind, her mother’s specimen defined “jade plant”; outdoor jade bushes belonged in a bad science fiction movie (The Houseplant That Swallowed San Dimas).

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Castles 56

56. In Prayer House, Down’s End

            The priests of Down’s End passed the book around the table quietly, each one taking care not to tear the paper.  The pages were so thin!  How could such paper stand up to repeated use?  Wendelbeorht, the albino, held the book three inches from his nearsighted eyes.  “All the book is like this?  Perfect letters in perfectly straight rows?”
            “Aye.”  Eadmar answered, unnecessarily.  Wendelbeorht only stated what each man had observed for himself.
            Limited daylight came through the windows of Prayer House.  Four short candles in the middle of the table added to the light.
            “The book has the secret name, you say.”  Phytwin’s voice expressed skepticism.
            “I do not say so, since I do not know the tongue,” replied Eadmar.  “Lord Martin says the name Jesus occurs again and again.”
            Phytwin raised his voice.  “I suppose he pronounces the holy name as casually as you do.”
            Eadmar did not answer.  He seemed to be intent on his finger, tracing a circle on the tabletop.
            Guthlaf Godcild folded his arms across his chest.  “We are all sworn priests here.  We may speak the name without offense.”  To Eadmar: “You believe Lord Martin.”
            “I do.  Lord Martin read and translated large portions of the book for me.  He showed me the word that he says is the holy name.  That word looks very like the holy name on the parchment at Dimlic Aern, which you and I have seen.  I have examined Lord Martin’s book, and the word occurs many, many times.  There is hardly a page without it.  And when you think about it, it seems reasonable that the holy name would appear repeatedly in God’s book.”
            Phytwin objected: “Why does that seem reasonable to you?  The holy name is secret!  Why would the book of God display the name for anyone to see?” 
            The fat priest, Godbeorht, nodded vigorously.  “That is my question.  If an unbeliever could read this language, he would find the holy name, and the more frequently it occurs the more easily he would find it.”
            Teothic, the priest of the west district, slowly twisted a strand of his red beard between thumb and forefinger.  “Perhaps believers in the before time did not regard the name as forbidden.”
            Phytwin shook his head.  “Are you saying this book dates to a time before the demons?”
            “Not this book,” said Eadmar.  “Lord Martin says this is a copy of God’s book.  But yes: God’s book was first written in the before time, and it has been copied and recopied ever since.  The parchment at Dimlic Aern is undoubtedly a copy of a portion of God’s book, he says.”
            Phytwin, enraged, began to stutter, but Guthlaf silenced him with an upraised hand.  Wendelbeorht spoke for him: “You told Martin about Dimlic Aern?”
            By this time Godbeorht had the Testament in his hand.  He shook it at Eadmar.  “You told a lord—a castle lord—about the parchment?”
            Eadmar directed his answer to Guthlaf.  “I told him that these things exist.  I did not tell him where they are.”
            The bishop’s face registered doubt.  Eadmar went on: “There is a page marked in the book.  It has the words of the Supper, the words of Jesus.”
            “According to you!  That is, according to a castle lord!” Phytwin was almost shouting.
            Guthlaf slapped the table.  “Brothers!”  Everyone shut his mouth.  The bishop let silence continue for many heartbeats.  He took a deep, audible breath, letting it out slowly, and the other priests did so as well.  Guthlaf reached across the table and received the book from Godbeorht.  He opened the book to a page with a folded corner.  “This is the passage you mentioned, Eadmar?”
            Guthlaf ran his finger over the words; then he smiled and shook his head.  “Naturally, we cannot read the foreign tongue.”
            Eadmar spoke slowly.  “I know it sounds suspicious.  But when Lord Martin read that passage to me, and then translated it, I knew I was hearing the words of the Supper.  Hoc est corpus meum pro vobis hoc.  This is my body which is for you.”
            Guthlaf looked at the windows high on the wall.  “If this is the book of God, we must learn to read it.  You must ask Lord Martin to teach you this tongue.”
            “When you are able, you must write these words in the common tongue.  If this is the book of God, we must make copies for the brothers in Cippenham, Stonebridge, Dimlic Aern, and every other place.”
            “But!”  Now Guthlaf’s eyes focused on Eadmar.  “I and the brothers are not yet convinced this is the book of God.  You are to go back between the lakes.  I forbid you to enter the castle or set foot on its grounds.  Additionally, you will demand that Lord Martin prove his good faith by building a Prayer House for the village Inter Lucus.”
            Phytwin chuckled.  “Wise demand, lord bishop.  That will put the lie to the deceiver’s claims.”
            Eadmar shook his head.  “Really?  You would be persuaded if Lord Martin builds a Prayer House?  Brothers, he has already asked me, without any suggestion on my part, where we should build one.”
            They were all astonished.

            After the meeting and an hour of meditation facing the white pine cross in Prayer House, Eadmar walked toward the BetlicĂ©a and the fishermen’s dock.  He had been gone more than two months from Down’s End, and the ordinary sights and sounds of the city struck at his heart.  Even the smells—horse shit on the street, slop from a butcher’s shop, a dyer’s shop, a leather goods store, and the fish market—reminded him of thirty years walking these streets, knowing these people.  He remembered Isen’s beautiful doomed sister, Sunniva.  O God, I love these people!
            Shouts from nearby smashed Eadmar’s reverie.  From an apartment window above a bakery came a voice unfamiliar to Eadmar: a man cursing his wife, making foul accusations.  There were sounds of a fight, and a woman cried out.  Eadmar looked up to see the shutters of the glassless window fly open.  A man appeared, holding a screaming child.
            “Damned bastard!”  The man twisted his body and threw the child like the carcass of a dead animal.  With pipe stem arms and legs churning the air, the boy fell on top of Eadmar, who reacted too slowly to catch him.  The impact threw priest and boy to the ground.  Pain shot from Eadmar’s left shoulder like a fire racing into his brain.  The boy rolled off him, stood up, and screamed again.
            Men and women arrived at a sprint.  A man lifted Eadmar, and pain from his shoulder staggered him. 
            “By the gods!”
            The little crowd around Eadmar scattered as the man who had thrown the boy toppled from the window, landing head first in the shallow water path on the edge of the street.  The tip of a knife poked out the front of his neck; the hilt was buried in hair at the back.  The body lay motionless at Eadmar’s feet.  At his side, the boy stopped screaming.
            Minutes later, when a sheriff arrived, men had already run into the building and brought out the wife of the dead man.  She wore bruises and a fierce smile.
            “Murderer!” someone shouted.  “She knifed her husband!”
            “The baker Paega is dead!  His wife killed ’im!”
            The sheriff stepped close to the woman.  “What have you done, Aefre?”
            “I put a knife in a pig’s neck.  He hit me.” 
            “Man has rights over his wife,” said the sheriff.  “I arrest you for murder.”  He turned to the people standing near.  “Will someone take care of the dead man’s child?”
            “Agyfen is no pig’s child.  He’s my son, mine alone!”
            The sheriff turned on the woman.  “This is a child of adultery?”
            “He is the child of love, my child.  Paega hated him, tried to kill him.”
            Someone said: “The bastard child of a murderer.”
            Eadmar touched the boy Agyfen with his right hand.  It hurt too much to move his left arm.  “The boy will come with me,” he said.

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


Thursday, June 13, 2013

Book One? Really?

How long is this thing, anyway?

    Regular readers of this blog may feel dismayed when they read, at the end of the fifty-fifth chapter: "Here ends part one of Castles."  How many parts are there?  At one chapter per week, this could take years!  How long is this thing, anyway?  Perhaps you thought the story should be moving toward its climax, and now you worry that it may go on forever.
    I suppose it's possible that other readers will welcome the idea that Castles has a long way to go.  Visits to Story and Meaning have been slowly increasing, which means that people keep coming back to it.  And that means (I tell myself) that some of you like it. 
    Do not fear!  Castles will end, of course.  I've told Karen how it ends, and she approves.  Apparently, it doesn't take a lot of positive feedback for me to keep writing--so long as Karen likes it, I keep plugging along.  Readers may note that Book One is called "Summer."

Castles 55

55. Near Inter Lucus

            “Fair afternoon,” Boyden Black said to the two men.  The younger man had brown hair cropped above broad shoulders.  The older one had a thin nose and a narrow jaw; his short black hair showed a little gray at the temples.  They both wore light blue tunics with leather belts.  “Is there a place nearby where we might buy some food?”
            Boyden had explained to Archard and Bully that since their reconnoitering of Down’s End had taken only four days, they could afford to spend two days, one going and one returning, to discover the story behind the amazing light.  In response, Archard had reminded Boyden that they had planned to sup at roadhouses; if they couldn’t buy something in Inter Lucus, they would suffer very short commons until they regained the road to Hyacintho Flumen.
            The man with the narrow face held a gnarled walking stick.  He used it to point.  “The village gets few visitors, so there’s no proper inn.  But Alfwald and Fridiswid Redwine have extra rooms, and Fridiswid is an accomplished cook.  Their house is on the right side of the road, with the stone fence.”
            Boyden leaned on his horse’s pommel, looking down at the man.  Just visible under the edge of his tunic was the oddest shoe Boyden had ever seen, green with a yellow stripe.  “We don’t really need a room; we’ve been sleeping out.  But farm house food would likely be a great improvement over our provisions.”
            Archard cleared his throat.  “Meager provisions that they are.”
            “Archard is right,” Boyden said.  He swung down from his horse, nodding to Archard and Bully to dismount as well.  “I suppose we ought to introduce ourselves.  I am Boyden Black, cloth merchant from Herminia.  In fact, I’ve come to Tarquint to buy wool—that is, if I can get large enough quantities at low enough prices.  Archard Oshelm, as you will have guessed, is my guard.  Bully Poorman, from Wedmor in Herminia, has come along for the adventure you might say.”
            The narrow-jawed man smiled.  “Bully Poorman?  He must be a distant relative of Isen.  This is Isen Poorman; he hails from Down’s End.”
            “Cousin Isen, of course!”  Bully saluted the broad shouldered youth and stepped forward to shake his hand.  “May you soon be blessed with another name!”  Everyone present laughed.
            Isen bowed his head.  “And you too, cousin.”
            “I’m Martin Cedarborne,” said the man with the staff.  A thin man with gray eyes, he was a head taller than Isen or Archard. “But if you want to buy wool, you should have gone to Down’s End.  Here between the lakes you’ll find plenty of lumber, but no wool, unless you count the goat hair on Caadde Bycwine’s goats.”
            Boyden waved a hand as if warding off the thought.  “No goat hair, thank you.  We have been to Down’s End, of course, where I had promising discussions with many businessmen.  But last night, returning to Hyacintho Flumen, we were bedding down—sleeping out, as I said—when we saw an extraordinary light in the northeast, amazingly bright, and shining steadily.  The light had to come from somewhere near here.  You must have seen it.”
            “Aye, we saw it.  How far away were you?”
            “Thirty miles, perhaps more.  We started early and have been riding all day.”
            Martin Cedarborne ran his hand through his black and gray hair.  Wow.  Do you suppose they saw the light in Down’s End?”
            Boyden looked carefully at the man.  “If they were awake and looked east, they must have.  What is wow?”
            “Just an expression,” said Cedarborne.  “The young men where I come from would say ‘wow’ when they were surprised.”  He smiled.  “Especially when they saw certain girls they would say, ‘Wow!’”
            Archard, Bully, and Isen laughed, but Boyden remembered the multi-colored shoes.  “And where do you come from, Martin?”
            “Lafayette.  A small village, far away.  Coming from Herminia, you would never have heard of it.”
            Boyden nodded, as if this were a satisfactory answer.  “Ah!  Well, what can you tell us about last night’s light?”
            Cedarborne pursed his lips.  “It came from castle Inter Lucus.  Isen and I are heading that way now.  Come with us, if you like.”
            Inter Lucus! I understood that castle Inter Lucus is a ruin, that the last lord died a hundred years ago or more.”
            “That was true.”  The thin-faced man eyed Boyden warily.  “But the castle is renewing itself.”
            Boyden Black was a long way from Pulchra Mane, yet a careless word spoken in the wild country of Tarquint might still haunt him.  “Is that possible?  I’ve been told—that is, everybody says—that a castle is dead without a lord.”
            Cedarborne raised an eyebrow.  “Aye.  And the lord or lady must be descended from the previous lord.  Everyone knows this.  And yet—though the last lord of Inter Lucus died long ago, the castle is renewing itself.  It’s only an hour’s walk; come and see.”
            Archard made a sound, something like a cough, a reminder.  Boyden said, “Naturally, we want to see the castle, but we also need to buy provender.  Are there merchants in the village?”
            “Not really.  Fridiswid Redwine or Gisa Bistan might sell to you.  You’d have better luck in Senerham; it’s bigger than Inter Lucus.  Three or four miles that way.”  Cedarborne pointed with his staff.
            Isen said, “Caelin could probably sell them something, my lord.  Something fresh, from the fridge.”  The young man’s face immediately reddened, as if he were choking.
            Bully blurted out: “Lord?  Lord Cedarborne?”
            The man answered Bully, but his eyes were on Boyden.  “I suppose that’s right.  Folk between the lakes generally say ‘Lord Martin.’”
            With the reflexes of an experienced soldier, Archard pulled his sword from its scabbard on his horse.  Defenseless though he was, Isen stepped between the Archard and his master.
            “Hold!” commanded Boyden.  “We have not come all the way to Tarquint to attack castle lords.  Who is Caelin?”
            Martin Cedarborne placed a gentle hand on Isen’s shoulder and drew him back.  Boyden stepped around Archard, knowing the soldier would not advance unless Boyden countermanded the ‘Hold’ or the enemy attacked.  “Who is Caelin?”
            Cedarborne said, “Caelin Bycwine serves in the kitchen at Inter Lucus.  Isen is correct.  Caelin knows my larder better than I do.  If you come to the castle, I expect we can sell you food for the road.”
            Archard growled, an inarticulate rumble that Boyden interpreted.  “If you are indeed the lord of a castle, and if you regarded me as your enemy, I would be a fool to let you gain access to your castle.”
            “I am indeed the lord of Inter Lucus.”  Cedarborne spoke calmly.  “If you regarded me as your friend, you would be wise to profit from that friendship.  A man who would import wool from Tarquint to Herminia should value fair lords and safe roads.”
            Boyden Black laughed aloud.  “You would not know it, Lord Martin, but you sound much like the Queen of Herminia.”
            The lord’s face expressed confusion.  Boyden said: “I heard the queen make a speech once.  She talked about safe roads much as you do.”
            Boyden, Archard, and Bully rode their mounts at a slow walk, a few yards behind Martin Cedarborne and his servant.  If at any time they should try to dash away, Archard could ride them down.  So Lord Martin and Isen were, in a sense, Boyden’s prisoners.  But when they reached Inter Lucus, the tables would be turned.  Boyden had seen some of what Mariel could do with Pulchra Mane; if Lord Martin had gained even a fraction of that power, he could destroy Archard easily.  With these considerations in mind, Boyden reined his horse to a stop at the foot of the hill to Inter Lucus.
            Lord Martin looked over his shoulder, stopped, and turned.  “You’re not coming up?”
            “If you don’t mind, Lord Martin, Bully will go with you.  Archard and I will wait here.  Bully will choose from whatever your Caelin offers, and in the morning I’ll pay.”
            A wry smile.  “Very well.  I’ll have Caelin pack a sup, and we will join you here.”
            Lord Martin, Isen, a girl introduced as Ora, and a very young boy joined them for sup on the edge of the castle grounds.  The boy, named Alf, never spoke.  Caelin remained in the castle, so Boyden never saw him.
            Boyden and Archard slept on the grasses south of the castle, where dancers had crushed them into a hard green carpet.  Bully spent the night in Inter Lucus.  Early the next day, Bully and the young woman named Ora brought out food in baskets: salted meat, dry cheese wrapped in cheesecloth, oatcakes, and carrots.  Ora set a very reasonable price, and Boyden paid with coins he had picked up in Hyacintho Flumen and Down’s End.  Lord Martin came down from the castle and bid them farewell.
            An hour later, when the riders were well away from Inter Lucus, Archard spoke.  “If you had let me, there would be one less castle lord to besiege when we return to Tarquint.”
            “True enough, Archard.  But what use is a ruined castle?  You need to understand Mariel’s design.  She wants lords.  The people serve their lords, and the lords serve her.”
            “Will this lord serve the queen?”
            Boyden Black scratched his head before replacing his yellow hat.  “Aye.  I’ll see to that.”

Here ends part one of Castles.

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


Thursday, June 6, 2013

Castles 54

54. In Village Inter Lucus

            The mid-day meal consisted of vegetable soup, slices of meat and cheese, and mugs of chilled tea.  Caelin apologized for the lack of bread—Marty’s party had exhausted the castle’s supply—but the guests had no complaints.  The little children, Rand and Rheda, were busy taking in the wonders of the great hall: artificial lighting, the lord’s knob and broken god’s knob, the interface wall, the high balcony on all sides of the room, and the tracery of a ceiling, much higher still, that had begun to grow in recent days.  Aethulwulf and Eacnung were absorbed in a different kind of observation.  Ora and Attor had spent a long time walking the short distance from west door to east, and father and daughter entered the great hall arm in arm, Ora wiping away tears. 
            Simple wooden chairs had been added to Inter Lucus’s seating capacity, so ten people could sit around the trestle table.  Marty pointed out that the great hall had room for a dozen more tables; he would need lots more chairs as well.  With a few questions, he soon had Ora and Attor discussing how much lumber and of what sort would be needed to outfit the great hall.  But Marty’s real interest was not in furniture; he watched father and daughter talk animatedly, and he noted the acceptance of a changed situation on Eacnung’s face.
            Marty sighed deeply, allowing himself an inward smile. 
            Leaving Inter Lucus, Attor, Eacnung, and the young children rode the wagon.  Aethulwulf walked ahead, guiding Bley by her reins.  When goodbyes were said, Marty heard even Eacnung bid “Fair afternoon” to Ora.
            Guests gone, Marty granted himself the privilege of a nap, lying on a blanket in the shade of the oaks.  He felt a warm glow of satisfaction over Attor and Ora’s reconciliation.  Unless I’m psychotic, I really am in some sort of science fiction adventure.  Psychosis or science fiction, it is joy to be an instrument of peace, even if the instrument’s role is a small one.
            “Isen, you ready?  We ought to go see Eadmar.”  Marty had risen refreshed and collected his new walking stick.  His first walnut staff had been transformed into “nickels.”
            “Aye, my lord.”  Isen bounded up the stairs from his room.  He wore a brown tunic Marty hadn’t seen.
            “New clothes, Isen?”
            “Aye.  Delivered by the farm wife, Viradecthis.  She gave me a tunic and a belt yesterday.”
            Marty rubbed his jaw.  “I suppose this is yet another early payment on hidgield.”
            “No, my lord.”  Isen grinned.  “She said that her girl, Whitney, who could not come to the party on account of needing to milk the cow, had been concerned that I had only one tunic.  Whitney’s the one as caught me in their barn.”
            “I remember.”
            “The farm wife says I should consider it a gift from Whitney.”  Isen’s grin grew wider.  “So it is a present—to me—and not hidgield.” 

            Except for the party day, Marty had kept a daily appointment with Eadmar, walking to the village to meet him.  The priest accepted meals in Inter Lucus wherever he could find them; the widow Leola Alymar, father and son Osulf and Everwin Idan, Gisa Bistan, and Fridiswid Redwine had all shared food with Eadmar.  He slept in open fields between village and castle (or on a damp night in widow Heline Entwine’s barn).  Marty and Isen (on some days, Ora or Caelin) usually found Eadmar helping with minor chores at the Entwine farm.  The priest would produce Marty’s New Testament from a pocket sewn inside his cassock and listen while Marty translated another passage from Earth’s English to the common tongue of Two Moons.  Marty had worked his way through much of 1 Corinthians, Eadmar listening for a proof that this was indeed the book of God, never hinting what that proof might be.
            “Lord Martin!  Welcome.  I thought perhaps you would not come today.”  Eadmar rose from an upturned bucket in the afternoon shade of the Entwine barn.  “I watched your castle’s display—from a safe distance, naturally.” 
            “Naturally.”  Marty and Eadmar both smiled.  The priest no longer attributed Inter Lucus’s powers to demon magic, but he still had not set foot on the castle grounds.  Marty thought: In ten days we have become friends, except he needs his proof, and I can’t find it for him.  “I would hear your true opinion, Eadmar.  Everyone who came to the party—perhaps I should say, everyone who came and stayed ’til morning to talk with me—each one praised Inter Lucus’s light show.  I begin to worry that I am hearing only the flattery of people who want something from me.  You, at least, will tell me the truth.  What did you think of my party?”
            “It’s dusty here,” said Eadmar, picking up his bucket.  “Let’s sit under the willow.” 
            An old willow tree created a shady place in a distant corner of the Entwine farm pasture, and the cow-cropped grass under it provided a pleasant place to sit.  The priest opened a gate in the fence and marched toward the tree, Marty and Isen trailing behind.  A few minutes passed before Eadmar was again on his bucket-seat.  The priest offered the Testament to Marty.  “Please read.”
            Marty took a seat on the ground and shook his head.  “Not just yet.  You haven’t answered my question.  What did you think of my party?”
            Eadmar’s eyes fixed on him; in the willow’s shade their Paul Newman-like blue was startling.  “You may come to regret it.”
            Isen was surprised.  “How so, priest Eadmar?  No one had even seen anything like the lights of the castle.  All those who saw know for a certainty that Lord Martin rules Inter Lucus.”
            “Perhaps so.  The lights were beautiful and wonderful.  Wise folk will long ponder what they might portend.  But how many wise folk were there?  How many fools were there?  I know at least one, as does Lord Martin.  Rothulf Saeric could not have stayed away.”
            “That’s so,” said Marty.  Caadde Bycwine saw him hiding in the forest.”
            “Saeric’s foolishness runs to greed, sloth, and desire for revenge,” said Eadmar.  “He resents Lord Martin for fostering young Alf.  But surely there were other foolish folk in such a large crowd.  Some will conclude that Lord Martin is so rich that he needs no more, that he only demands hidgield because he is, like other rich men, obscenely greedy.  One or two might even now be planning how they could enter Inter Lucus and steal some great treasure.  And many will think that the powers of Lord Martin’s castle make him invincible; they will defy any tax collector sent from Hyacintho Flumen.  Someday, whether in one year or ten, the people between the lakes will look to Lord Martin for protection, and some will be genuinely surprised that the lord of Inter Lucus will ask for their sons as soldiers.  Your lights can entertain a crowd.  Can they ward off enemies?”
            Marty made a wry grin and held out his hand for the Testament.  Eadmar handed it to him.  “You asked for my true opinion.”
            “I did.  And I’m glad to hear it.  I hope you will long live near Inter Lucus, so I can hear honest counsel often.”
            Eadmar’s hands rested on his bony knees.  “I am not one of your councilors, Lord Martin.”
            “Perhaps not.  But you tell the truth, and that’s worth a lot.”  Marty shifted his legs and open the New Testament.  “Where were we?  Ah!  Here.
            “For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you:” Marty paused, considered the text, and rendered the thought into the common tongue.  He had given up trying to figure out whether the language of Two Moons was Saxon or Old English or something else.  Whatever its roots, it was the tongue of his new home. 
            “The Lord—ah, the holy name is here—on the night he was betrayed, took bread.”  Marty looked briefly to Eadmar, who nodded.  Marty translated, and then continued: “and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, ‘This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.’ As Marty translated the words “This is my body” Eadmar took a sudden breath; his face lit up.
            Hoc est corpus meum.  Hoc est corpus meum!
            Marty recognized the phrase.  “Aye.  ‘This is my body.’ ‘Hoc est corpus meum.’
            Pro vobis hoc!
            Marty wasn’t sure, but he guessed.  “Aye.  ‘Which is for you.’ ‘Pro vobis hoc.’”
            Eadmar closed his eyes and recited: Ego enim accepi a Domino quod et traditi vobis quoniam Dominus . . . (he paused, omitting the name) in qua nocte tradebatur accepit panem et gratias agens fregit et dixit hoc est corpus meum pro vobis hoc facite in meam commemorationem . . .
            Eadmar’s Latin came in rhythmic phrases; Marty’s eyes followed the English text in his hands.  He thought: This is it!  The words of the Supper; they would pass them from generation to generation.
            Eadmar continued: “similiter et calicem postquam cenavit dicens hic calix novum testamentum est in meo sanguine hoc facite quotienscumque bibetis in meam commemorationem . . . Marty lost his way in the text, but meam commemorationem helped: “remembrance of me.”
            Quotienscumque enim manducabitis panem hunc et calicem bibetis mortem Domini adnuntitatis donec veniat.
            Eadmar fell silent, and Marty read the last sentence in English: “For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.  He looked up from the text.  Blue eyes were boring into him.
            “It is the book of God?  Truly?”
            Marty held out the Testament to the priest.  “Truly.”
            Tears slid down the weathered face.  Deo Gratias.
            “Eadmar, how do you know these words?”
            Eadmar brushed his cheeks.  “Every priest learns the holy words kept at the hidden house, Dimlic Aern.”
            Marty’s brows came together.  “Hidden house?  Where is this place?  May I go there?”
            Isen interrupted.  “My lord, it would be dangerous to go far.”
            “Really?  How far is it?”
            Isen stammered.  “I, I, I don’t know.  But the priests say it is far.  Is that not so, Eadmar?”
            Dimlic Aern is far.”  Eadmar pursed his lips.  “And it is secret.  All God’s priests swear that they will never tell where.  And most could not tell if they wanted to, because they have never been there.”
            “But you have.”  Marty felt sure; he couldn’t say why. “You’ve been to this place.”
            “Aye.  When I was young, little older than Isen, I journeyed to Dimlic Aern; I saw the ancient writing in the holy language.  According to our teaching, it is older than the demons.”
            A Latin text from Earth!  “Eadmar, are there other writings at Dimlic Aern, besides the words you spoke?”
            The priest closed his eyes, calling up memories.  “Writings?  Nay.  There are other things, but no other writings.”
            “Other ancient things, as old as the holy writing?”
            “Maybe.  But they are not important.  The holy words are life.”
            What else do they have?  Marty nodded.  “I agree.  The apostle’s words are life.  Nevertheless, I desire to see the other ancient things.  May I go there?”
            Isen objected, “My lord!  You would be in danger.”
            Shaking his head, Marty said, “You’ve been listening to too many of Caelin’s stories of wars between castle lords.”
            Eadmar pointed a finger at Marty.  “Nay, Lord Martin.  It is you that has not been listening enough.  The castle lords usually survive in those stories.  But the people they ought to protect often suffer and die.  I will not take you to Dimlic Aern unless you convince me your people will be safe in your absence.”
            Marty tamped down the urge to argue.  Eadmar is right, old man.  There are a few thousand people who depend on you.  But he was conscious of a burning desire to see the artifacts at Dimlic Aern. 

            Eadmar accompanied Marty and Isen as far as widow Entwine’s barn.  It was late afternoon.  “The widow’s son, Harry, will come out to call me to sup soon,” said the priest.  “I hope you will read again tomorrow.” 
            “I plan on it.”
            It was their regular parting: “I hope you will read again,” and “I plan on it.”

            As Isen and Marty began the hour’s walk from village to castle, they noticed three men riding horses into Inter Lucus.  A middle-aged man with a beaked nose under a bright yellow hat rode a modest gray horse.  He wore brown and green clothing, soiled from riding, but well made.  On the horse beside him was a man whose muscles and posture reminded Marty of Russell Crowe’s Gladiator.  A boy, perhaps in his mid-teens, rode behind the men.  Marty didn’t recognize them, so he motioned for Isen to wait.  He gripped his new staff and realized, yet again, that it was not much defense.  Don’t be so suspicious, old man.  They’re probably just travelers.
Copyright © 2013 by Philip D. Smith.
All rights reserved.  International copyright secured.