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.

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