Thursday, July 11, 2013

Castles 59

59. In Castle Inter Lucus

            Paper comes from wood.  In the beginning, Marty didn’t know much more than that.  He remembered something about “rag paper,” which was of higher quality than cheaper kinds of paper, so it must be possible to mix fiber from other sources with wood fibers.    He assumed that on Earth modern paper making involved chemicals and complicated manufacturing processes that yielded predictable results: quality control over many varieties of paper product.  Marty’s own goal was modest; he would be content if he could make something he could write on.
            The first step toward the solution had come many weeks before, in the days leading up to the mid-summer party.  Marty had been contemplating Inter Lucus’s recovering subsystems:
I. Materias Transmutatio: operativa
II. Parva Arcum Praesidiis: parte operativa, aedificaverunt initiati
III. Magna Arcum Praesidiis: non operativa, aedificaverunt initiati
IV. Cibum Preparatio Homines: operativa
V. Inter-Castrum Videns-Loquitur: non operativa, aedificaverunt initiati
VI. Extra Arcem Micro-Aedificator: operativa
VII. Potentia Fontes: operativa
VIII. Aquarum: operativa
IX. Intra Arcem Micro-Aedificator: operativa
X. Centralis Arbitrium Factorem: operativa
            Materias Transmutatio had moved from non-operativa to operativa soon after the lights came on in the castle’s west wing.  Marty speculated that what appeared to be a cavernous empty space was really the alien equivalent of a home garage workshop.  By analogy with the “kitchen” (which Marty surmised was actually Cibum Preparatio Homines), he expected ceramic blocks to grow out of the floor.  But would he know how to use them?  With his hands on the lords’ knob, Marty had shut his eyes and pictured in his mind a ceramic block workbench with a shovel handle lying on top of it.  He released the lord’s knob, walked the length of the great hall, passed two anterooms at the north end of the great hall, and entered the west wing.  Lights came on when he entered, but the boxy room was as empty as ever.
            In the three days before the party, Marty spent much time practicing motifs for his light show, making colored dots chase one another on the interior of the interface wall.  In between trial runs for the light show, he tried several times to communicate his intentions for the new room.  No results.  He began to think he had guessed wrong about the west wing.  The breakthrough came by accident, when he absentmindedly left his walnut staff in the workspace.  On his next inspection, he found the staff clamped to the top of a ceramic block with chocolate colored wood shavings on the floor.  His sturdy walking stick had been lathed into a long thin pole less than an inch in diameter.  Passing his hands over the top and sides of the workbench, he located control sensors; trial and error taught him how to use the workbench to cut, smooth, plane, lathe, and polish wood.  From his original staff and some fallen limbs of cherry trees Marty made hundreds of thumbnail sized “nickels.”
            After the party, Marty filled weeks with much more trial and error.  Caelin found a fallen walnut branch; Marty used the workbench to fashion a staff to replace his first one.  More work-blocks rose from the floor, which led to further experimenting.  Marty planed and polished Attor Woodman’s planks and cut them precisely to fit the east and west doors of the great hall.  Elne Penrict supplied nails and hinges, and the castle doors were hung five weeks after the party.
            As he experimented, Marty conserved wood chips, shavings, and sawdust.  One of the workshop blocks resembled a top-loading washing machine, except that its central “agitator” was a ceramic arm with dozens of sharp projections; Marty thought of it as an industrial size blender.  He filled the machine’s bowl with wood chips and sawdust, added water, and sealed the top by passing his hand over one of the sensors.  Then he pureed the whole mass into wood fiber soup.
            How do you press out excess water?  Marty envisioned wide rollers squeezing the mash between them, but he could not seem to communicate this idea to Materias Transmutatio.  He dipped out pails of watery pulp and spread it on parts of the paved path that had been slowly extending itself from the castle.  The fibrous mash dried in the sun, and it had the feel of paper, but when he tried to peel it off the pavement it crumbled.  For three weeks Marty’s ambitions were stymied at this stage, pulp but no paper.
            Fridiswid Redwine provided the answer.  One day in late summer Marty took Ora with him on one of his visits to Priest Eadmar.  At Ora’s suggestion, she and Marty turned aside to call on Fridiswid before returning to Inter Lucus.  They found Mistress Redwine outdoors, attending to very shallow square boxes; to Marty they looked like jewelry drawers without the jeweler’s chest.  Three boxes lay on top of a table, propped at an angle to receive the afternoon sun.
            Ora called out a greeting as they approached; Fridiswid turned on her bowed legs, waddled close, and hugged the girl.  “Fair afternoon, Lord Martin,” she said, inclining her head.
            “Fair afternoon, Mistress Redwine.”  Marty gestured toward the odd boxes.  “What’s this?”
            Ora peeled away from Fridiswid’s arms.  “Berry leather!  Fridiswid makes the best!”  Ora leaned over one of the boxes and touched its contents gingerly.  “Not quite done, is it?”
            “No.  More’s the pity.”  Fridiswid shook her head.  “I’ll have to carry these into the house, finish them tomorrow.”
            “I don’t understand,” said Marty.  He looked closely; each box contained an inky looking substance smeared into a thin layer.  Under each box was a drying puddle of purple.  Suddenly he understood.  He picked up a box and looked at the bottom; it was made of cloth.
            “My Lord Martin!  Be careful!”  Ora snatched the box from Marty, replaced it on the table.  Marty looked at his fingers; they were purple.  He ignored Ora and turned to Fridiswid.
            “Berry leather?”
            “Aye, my lord.  Blackberries and raspberries.  Sweet and good when picked, but they rot in a few days.  But mashed and well-dried, berry leather can be eaten in winter, or crumbled and cooked in a tea.”
            “Mashed and well-dried.  Fridiswid, you are a genius.  You’re a gift from God.”  Marty bent over the woman and kissed her cheek.  Deo Gratias!
            Fridiswid stammered a little, embarrassed.  “My L-lord M-martin.  I did not invent berry leather.  I l-learned it from my Ma.”
            “No matter, no matter,” Marty said.  “Do you have more cloth like this on bottom of your berry leather box?”
            “A little.  Leola Alymar, the widow, she has more.”
            “Syg Alymar’s mother?”
            “Aye, my lord.”
            “Excellent!  Ora, I think it’ll work!  This will work!”
            Ora was puzzled.  “My lord?”

            It took a few more days and more trial and error, but it did work.  Spreading wood mash in a thin layer on a linen screen allowed excess water to drip away and air to reach top and bottom of the pulp.  The paper could be peeled off the screen when mostly dry and then completely dried in the sun.            It wasn’t very good paper—lumpy, easily torn, and of uneven color.  But it was paper.
            Isen and Caelin devoted themselves to improving the product.  They experimented with wood chips and sawdust from different species of tree, especially with different kinds of tree bark.  They made pulp with more water and less water.  They tried mixing straw into the pulp.  At Marty’s suggestion, they tested wool fiber in the mix.  They learned to press the still damp paper between polished wood boards, squeezing out the last of the moisture and giving the paper a smoother surface.
            Villagers knew how to make charcoal ink, and when it became known that Lord Martin of Inter Lucus wanted quality inks, a farmer named Wurt Raedwald walked from Senerham to tell the lord how to make gall ink by finding gall wasp balls in oak trees, crushing them and soaking them in rainwater.  Ten days later, when Marty was able to try the gall ink, he was so pleased that he recorded Wurt Raedwald’s hidgield as paid for the year.
            Written record keeping had begun at Inter Lucus.  It was time for harvest and taxes.

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


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