Thursday, August 22, 2013

Castles 65

65. In Stonebridge

            Derian Chapman came to the Citadel on a fall morning, two days after Milo told Commander Tondbert about Ody Dans’s bizarre abuse of Tilde Gyricson.  Milo had waited a day, letting the import of Tilde’s testimony sink into Tondbert’s scheming mind.  He planned to suggest to the commander how convenient it would be to move a woman who had such damning accusations against Ody Dans within the walls of the City Guard fortress.  It would be best, of course, if Tondbert imagined that this idea was his own.
            When Milo knocked on the commander’s door, it opened to reveal Derian sitting at ease in a chair opposite Tondbert’s desk.  The commander motioned Milo to another chair and sat behind the desk, after shutting the door.
            “Fair morning, Sir Milo.”  Derian’s brown hair had been cut short and neatly brushed.  Clean-shaven, he looked healthy and confident, his blue eyes fixed on Milo.  “Commander Tondbert has been telling me about your fine service to Stonebridge these last three months.  You’ve made yourself quite indispensable.”
            Milo inclined his head in greeting and lowered himself into the chair.  “Fair morning, Derian.  May I ask, just out of curiosity, where the gods have taken you?  The last I saw you we had barely escaped with our lives from Gaudy’s Tavern.”
            “Ha ha!  Indeed.  I owe you my life, Sir, and I won’t forget it.”  Derian’s smile gave way to thoughtfulness.  “The answer is: I’ve been out of Stonebridge.  As a dutiful under-sheriff, today I report back to the commander, since I’ve come home.”
            Abroad from Stonebridge for three months?  “Details, Derian.  I don’t suppose you want to say precisely what you’ve been doing.”
            “Oh, I don’t mind at all.”  Derian grinned at Commander Tondbert.  “I made a long circuit of the great downs: castles Saltas Semitas, Auria Prati, and Lata Altum Flumen.   Finally I came round to the city by East Lake, Down’s End.  Along the way I also sighted Eclipsis Lunaris, but it is a ruin, as you know.”
            Milo was genuinely surprised.  “Gods!  A thousand miles in the saddle!  Alone?”
            “Of course not,” said Derian.  “Ingwald Freeman was my guard.”
            “Naturally.  To what end did you make this journey?”
            “More than one purpose, actually,” said Derian.  “My uncle thought it wise to get me out of Stonebridge for a while after Gaudy’s Tavern, and he needed a postboy.  He had me carry letters to the Le Grants of Saltas Semitas, the Postels of Auria Prati, and the Asselins of Lata Altum Flumen.  Don’t look so surprised.  Uncle Ody doesn’t spend all his time reviewing business contracts or torturing young brides.  He corresponds with castle lords all over the western half of Tarquint.  Unfortunately, I do not know what his letters said, but you can be sure they seek to promote the power and influence of Stonebridge.  My uncle is a farseeing man.”
            Tondbert noted Milo’s surprised expression at the words “torturing young brides.”  The commander said, “Sir Milo, you should know that Ody Dans’s crimes against Adelgar and Tilde Gyricson are not his first.  Derian has reported murders and other outrages at The Spray.  I find this information valuable.  You may ask why I do not use such testimony to move against Dans.  The answer is that I love my city.  Ody Dans, depraved sadist that he is, is quite effective in representing the interests of the city in our dealings with castle lords.  And—he supports the Citadel budget; of all the voices in the Assembly I can count on Dans.  So he is a useful criminal.”
            Milo inclined his head.
            “There was a second purpose to my tour of the downs,” said Derian.  “A commercial purpose.  I took with me three dozen bottles of Stonebridge’s best sweet white wine, which I shared with the lords and ladies I visited.  Castle lords live in luxury hard for ordinary people to imagine.  Gods!  I forget!  Sir Milo, having grown up in Hyacintho Flumen, you know well what I mean.  Lady Arbe Asselin, Simon Asselin’s wife, let me bathe in a magic tub when I visited Lata Altum Flumen—my uncle Ody has nothing to rival that!  But they eat and drink the foods grown locally.  Lots of beef and mutton and beer.  Not bad beer, by the way!  But when they tried our white wine, with a touch of apricot, they tasted paradise.”
            Milo smiled.  “And so . . .?”
            “So they must wait until spring.  I’m not going to haul a wagon of wines across the downs in autumn.  Snow comes early at Lata Altum Flumen!  But there are also thirsty throats in Down’s End, and that’s only a few days away, as the wagons roll.  Uncle Ody has lent me golds to buy and store wine, reds as well as whites.  I’ll hire out a couple wagons and take them to Down’s End.  The profit will be modest, but I explained to Uncle Ody how I’ll reserve a third of my purchase for next spring.  I should get excellent returns from the Le Grants, Postels, and Asselins.”
            “An ambitious plan,” said Milo.  “And likely well-paying.”
            “I hope so, for my sake.  My uncle expects me to turn profits.  But now, Milo, your dealings!  Tondbert says you rescued Tilde Gyricson.”
            Milo held his palms out.  “The commander speaks kindly.  Felix Abrecan and I prevented her, in a moment of despair, from throwing herself into River Broganéa.  Felix suggested a place where Tilde might stay.”
            “In Laura Camden’s house,” Tondbert added.  “You speak too modestly, under-sheriff Milo.  By the way, shouldn’t we make you sheriff soon?  You obtained my permission for Mistress Gyricson to work here in the Citadel, keeping her largely from the public eye, without telling me much about her.  Clever of you.”
            “Ah, Commander!  About that . . .”
            Tondbert interrupted with a raised palm. “You need not apologize.  You hadn’t learned to trust me then as you do now.”  Tondbert smiled indulgently.  Milo thought: You imagine that I trust you?  Surely you know better than that!
            The commander continued, “We all can agree that Tilde Gyricson ought to be protected.  If ever I have to bring charges against Master Dans, her testimony would corroborate that of others.  So I have decided to house her here, out of the public eye, in a room on the second floor of the Citadel.  The men will undoubtedly see that there is a, ah, relationship between you and the cleaning woman.  All to the good.  The men like you, and they will not trouble Mistress Gyricson, knowing that she is yours.”
            Milo smiled conspiratorially.  “If the commander suggests such a pleasant plan, who am I to object?  Will you tell the woman, or should I?”
            Tondbert grinned.  “I expect you will see her before I do.  See that she’s moved here soon.  The less the world knows of her existence the safer she will be from Ody Dans.”
            “I understand that, sir.  The woman herself is concerned that Adelgar Gyricson not discover her whereabouts.  Perhaps we should call our cleaning woman Daisy, a fitting name for a washerwoman.”
            “Fine.  Introduce her to the men as Daisy.”

            Daisy Freewoman took up residence on the second floor of the Citadel of the City Guard on a cold, windy, wet day in October.  As she went about her work, she typically wore a poorly mended russet kirtle, mismatched hose, and a ratty shawl.  Her hands were often red, almost raw, from long days of scrubbing.  Some of the new under-sheriffs told each other that Daisy would have been pretty if life had treated her better.  But word quickly spread that she was already taken; Sheriff Milo often visited her cell after sup.
            A crisp aroma captured Milo and Felix on a sunny afternoon.  They had finished their morning and afternoon rounds as sheriffs; this outing was for pleasure, visiting shops, mills, glassworks, forges, smiths, and the like—the productive heart of Stonebridge.  It was the smell of apples; Felix gestured to Milo, and they followed a farmer’s wagon laden with bushels of red apples.
            The wagon master guided his team into a medium sized wood building.  Surprisingly loud sounds were coming from somewhere inside the warehouse.  Milo nodded to his companion and they followed the wagon out of the bright afternoon into interior shade.  Milo blinked several times until his eyes adjusted to the dimness.  Two youths, younger than Eádulf, had begun carrying the bushels from the wagon into an adjoining room; the grinding sound was coming from there.
            “Cider pressing.”  Felix almost had to shout.  By leaning near their horses’ necks they could see into the next room without dismounting.  Milo saw a man cranking a metal flywheel while the two youths threw apples into the maw of a toothed spindle box.
            “Ah!”  Milo had never seen such a contraption before.  Below the spindle box shredded apple bits fell into a tub.
            Suddenly Milo’s attention diverted from the process of cider pressing.  He swung down from the saddle.  “Hold Blackie a bit, will you, Felix?”  Without waiting for his partner’s reply, Milo walked into the cider pressing room.  A man stood on the far side of the press, his tunic protected by a body-length leather apron.  Bits of apple pulp and drops of apple juice decorated his apron.
            “Adelgar Gyricson!”  Milo shouted over the noise of the cider press.  The man looked up, frowned for a moment, and then motioned to one of the boys feeding apples into the grinder.  He beckoned Milo with a wave through a further doorway into a small room outfitted as an office.  He shut the door, reducing the sound from the grinder room significantly.
            “Sir Milo Mortane of Hyacintho Flumen!  I remember you.  I’d offer my hand, but it’s sticky.”
            “Fair afternoon, Adelgar.”  Milo extended his hand and Gyricson took it.  “You’ve moved into industry, I take it.  No more selling lumber in Down’s End.”
            “Hah!  Not by preference, I assure you.  There is no one so pathetic as a merchant without credit.  I fear Ody Dans has attached a dark cloud to my name; none of the bankers will underwrite my proposals.”
            “I’m sorry to hear it,” said Milo.  “I myself have become a sheriff of Stonebridge.  We all have to earn our keep.”
            “Sheriff!”  Gyricson’s interest was evident.  “Could you help me find Tilde?  I’ve never seen her since that awful night.”
            Milo knew this question would come.  “Find her?  But Dans demanded only two weeks.”  He hoped his feigned ignorance convinced Gyricson.
            “She never came home.”  Gyricson looked stricken.  “I asked a sheriff for help, but he didn’t offer much hope.”
            “I fear the Guard spends most of its time keeping the Hawks and Falcons from slaughtering each other and burning the Bene Quarter,” said Milo.  “But I promise I will watch for Tilde.  Such a beautiful woman!  By the way, you should be on your guard.  Your testimony against Ody Dans could destroy him.”
            Gyricson shook his head.  “Not likely.  I spoke to Commander Tondbert.  He told me plainly that if I filed a complaint against Dans, the Guard could not guarantee my safety.”
            “I’m very sorry.  Nevertheless, I will keep my eyes and ears open.  If I discover anything about Tilde, you will be the first to know.”

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

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