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.