Thursday, September 26, 2013

Castles 70

70. Between the Lakes

            Two brothers, Teon Leofstan and Tilian Leofstan, who farmed adjoining parcels near Caadde Bycwine’s land, offered horses in payment of their hidgield.  Marty knew nothing about evaluating horses, so he relied on Leo Dudd’s advice.  Based on Leo’s judgment, Marty declared inadequate the old, broken down plough horses put forward by the Leofstans.  The brothers could pay with healthier animals or supply castle Inter Lucus with two wagonloads of hay.  Other farmers would undoubtedly be willing to pay with live animals in good condition; Lord Martin would only accept choice livestock.
            Another farmer, Rine Garbarend, tried to pay hidgield with ten bushels of barley, winter barley stored dry since he harvested it in August, or so he said.  He had the grain ready and loaded on a wagon when the sheriffs came to his farm.  But Leo and Os Oswald had visited Torr Ablendan when they started collecting hidgield from the farms on the forest road north of the castle.  Torr’s wife, Viradecthis, warned the sheriffs about Garbarend’s tendency to shade the truth.  Leo and Os waited until the wagon bearing Garbarend’s grain reached the turn onto Inter Lucus property before stopping it.  There, in the presence of Lord Martin and the priest of the old god, Leo spilled one of the bushel baskets on the ground.  The top layer of good dry winter barley covered a mass of recently harvested spring barley, damp and already showing signs of rot.  Marty ordered Leo and Os to take the wagon into village Inter Lucus and give the grain to anyone who wanted it for chicken or hog feed.  Further, he decreed that farmer Garbarend would be excluded from the Inter Lucus harvest fair unless he first made payment with ten bushels of grain that could pass inspection.  Priest Eadmar remarked that in Down’s End a tax cheat was often assessed double, or was beaten publicly.  Marty declined harsher punishments; exclusion from the harvest fair would be severe enough, he said.
            The sheriffs spread the word of these decisions as they made their way (on foot) from farm to farm, and their reports had the desired effect.  Most folk between the lakes cooperated with Lord Martin’s sheriffs.  Word spread quickly: the Lord Martin’s hidgield demands were modest, his sheriffs were eager to help rather than threaten, and the chief penalty for non-payment was exclusion from harvest fair.  Naturally, rumors about the harvest fair grew faster than weeds in early summer.  Remembering the midsummer party, what might they expect in fall?
            By the third week of October the sheriffs had the use of two fit horses.  Leo called them palfreys, explaining to Marty that they were too small to serve as plough or draft horses nor big and fast like a destrier, a knight’s warhorse.  They would serve well, Leo said, for long days of gentle riding—for most men.  Os Oswald’s bulk would wear them down.  Since they were smaller, Leo Dudd and Elfric Ash became the riding sheriffs, making hidgield arrangements for outlying farms.  The younger sheriffs, Os and Ealdwine, made the rounds on foot in Senerham and village Inter Lucus.  Rarely did the sheriffs actually collect hidgield; they agreed with people on payments to be made at harvest fair.  A few artisans and merchants from the villages paid with coin, but most were more than willing to trade their goods at the fair and pay hidgield then.
            Mildgyd Meadowdaughter moved into the castle in early October.  Her brown hair swept back in crescents from a point just above her eyebrows, giving her face a distinct heart-shape.  She was heavy, short and grandmotherly.  She treated Marty with great deference, keeping silence in his presence unless he directly questioned her.  Ora and Caelin taught her the use of Inter Lucus’s cleaning and cooking appliances, and these were sources of enormous delight to Mildgyd.  The nan rose daily very early to lay freshly cleaned clothes, neatly folded, at the door of every bedroom in the castle.  The fosterling Agyfen could almost always be found tagging after Mildgyd.  Alf, who was eleven now, considered himself too old for a nan and spent as much time with Caelin as he could; Marty encouraged this connection since he wanted Alf to learn letters and numbers.
            Horses—winter coming—Inter Lucus needed a stable/barn.  Attor and Aethulwulf felled forty trees in the forest west and north of the castle, but there is gulf between fallen tree and completed building, and Prayer House was only begun.  Priest Eadmar observed that Prayer House could wait, while Lord Martin’s horses would need a barn before snow.  So the building crew shifted its attention, concentrating on the barn.  Attor, Aethulwulf, and Eadmar worked in the forest so that Eadmar need not set foot on Inter Lucus ground.  They trimmed, split, and sawed logs, sometimes with help from sheriffs Os and Ealdwine.  Isen, Rothulf, Ora, Caelin and Marty cleared a space on the castle’s north slope.  Attor’s draft horse, Bley, was used to drag split and whole logs to the site, and the barn went up.  It was a simple design, a shed with a long, sloping roof that extended over the front to protect the entrance from weather.  Split logs provided a wood floor raised from the ground so that the animal feed could be kept dry.  More than half the barn’s floor space was devoted to storage.
            Senerham and village Inter Lucus hosted market days every week from spring to fall; people between the lakes depended on trade to meet their needs for things families did not make at home.  Lord Martin’s harvest fair would be far grander.  The sheriffs announced it would last for six days in the third week of November.  People would bring hidgield payments, but also prize animals and produce for judging; Lord Martin, using castle magic, was preparing particular prizes for the best cow, horse, blanket, and pie.  There would be bonfires, dances, eating, and drinking.  Artisans and merchants would have booths to sell their wares, and as on ordinary market days livestock would be herded into pens where they would be bought and sold.  Temporary butcher shops would render some of the purchases on the spot.  On top of everything else, Lord Martin would provide a new and different light show.
            Day after day, Leo and Elfric reported people between the lakes agreeing to hidgield obligations and promising to bring them to the fair.  Folk were energetically preparing their best products for trade; Elfric said he had never seen such excitement between the lakes.  “The year Lord Martin brought the castle to life” was going to be remembered as a favorable year indeed.
            Marty foresaw a month of unremitting work leading up to the fair.  The barn had to be finished, the Prayer House raised, fair prizes constructed (Marty had already made a ladderback style chair using the machines of materias transmutatio in the west wing; he planned to give away four such chairs at the fair), livestock pens built, and the light show planned.  He hoped that snow would hold off until after the fair.  When winter did come, he wanted to turn Inter Lucus into an educational center.  He envisioned Isen, Caelin, Ora, Alf, and the four sheriffs learning to read, write, and manage simple arithmetic.  In future years, children from the villages could come to school; even better, they could build schools in Senerham and Inter Lucus.  Caelin could be a good teacher, and there would be others.
            Winter would also be a time for making more paper.  The pace of work in October took Marty away from papermaking just when he and Caelin were running through their supply to record hidgield agreements reported by the sheriffs.  Marty also began taking daily notes on his activities, with special attention to things other than hidgield that he needed to remember.  Once I’ve got enough paper, I’ll keep a proper journal.  He could not know whether the Two Moons year was longer or shorter than Earth’s, but he decided to make a rough calendar anyway.  He would watch carefully for the winter solstice, and then begin calculating a year more precisely.
            Marty realized he was happier than he had ever been.  Living a science fiction fantasy, he was more useful on Two Moons than in his former life.  By magic or alien technology, he felt that he had come to where he ought to be.
            Then, on the day Marty noted as “October 31,” a knight rode into village Inter Lucus.

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

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Castles 69

69. In Castle Inter Lucus

            Caelin laid a sheet of paper on the table where Marty was drinking a pre-breakfast cup of tea.  “We have a problem, my lord.  I thought I should show you this before we serve our guests.”
            Marty pulled the paper close, anchoring one corner with his cup.  It displayed three columns: Roman numerals on the left, clusters of names in the center, and lists of foods on the right.  Marty could guess what it meant, but he asked anyway.  “Please explain.  What is the problem?”
            “This paper shows how fast we are eating our food.”  Caelin pointed as he talked.  “Here are the days since Priest Eadmar came back from Down’s End: one, two, three, and so on.”
            Marty held up a hand, interrupting.  “Pen and ink, please.”  Ora, seated opposite to Marty, leaned to her left to pull a writing tray, with its stopped ink jar and quills, from the far end of the table.  “Thank you, Ora.”  Marty unstopped the jar and dipped a quill.
            “Caelin, I want you to use the digits I’ve been teaching you.”  Marty blotted out the Roman numerals Caelin had written in the first column.  “In time, you will see how important this is.  Instead of I for one and II for two, we will use digits, like this.”  Marty replaced Caelin’s left hand column (I, II, III . . .) with his own (1, 2, 3 . . .).
            Caelin hit his temple with his characteristic backhand finger.  “I should have remembered, my lord.”
            “You’ll get used to it.  Go on.”
            “Each number is a day.”  Again Caelin pointed.  “Here are the people Inter Lucus fed on each day.”
            Marty nodded.  “I see.  For instance, on day four, we fed Isen, Ora, you, Priest Eadmar, Rothulf Saeric, me, and the two fosterlings, Alf and Agyfen.  Eight in all.  And this is the food we ate that day?”
            “Aye, my lord.  Eight people—and more on some days, when my lord hosts guests, such as counselors Elne Penrict and Caadde Bycwine.”
            “I see that.”  Marty ran his finger down Caelin’s columns.  Besides mastering the kitchen, the boy can be a secretary or accountant.  “And now, let me guess the problem: we don’t have enough food.”
            “Indeed, my lord.  The winter will be long.  We have eight to feed.  And now you add four sheriffs to our table.  Twelve!  We cannot feed so many.”
            Marty twisted the stopper, a conical wedge of soft pine, into the mouth of the ink jar.  “Actually, I expect it to be thirteen.  Eleven members of my household, plus Eadmar and Rothulf.”
            “Aye.  In addition to the sheriffs we need a nan for Agyfen.  That makes thirteen.  But of course there will be guests at various times.  You have told me yourself, Caelin, that lords must sometimes give shelter to needy persons.  So on average we can expect to feed fifteen this winter.”
            “My lord!”  Surprise and dismay.  “We cannot do it.”
            Ora leaned from the side of the table to look as Caelin pointed.  She couldn’t read, but she had learned to recognize letters.  She was determined to gain the skills of literacy and numbers that Marty so obviously prized.  She laughed at Caelin’s distress.  “Don’t be thick, Cousin!  We will get more.”
            Caelin’s brown eyes flashed with impatience, his finger stabbing at his table of names and consumables.  “You don’t understand, Ora.  We’re going to need a lot more food.”
            Marty interrupted before the cousins could squabble.  “You are both right.  We will need much more food.  And we will get it.  Think.
            “Nearby farmers have been paying hidgield, in roots and vegetables mostly, for three months.  Harvest will soon end, and they need to store up for their own needs.  But Torr Ablendan tells me that more farmers, especially those further away, haven’t paid anything.  Our new sheriffs will collect from them.  We will not take more than is fair, but everyone will pay.  We will have grain.  We will also grind grain into flour and store it downstairs.
            “In addition to hidgield, I expect the sheriffs will be able to hunt; Elfric is an experienced huntsman, I believe.  We have room in the freezer to stockpile as much game as they can take.  Also, I have learned that men from Down’s End chop holes in the ice of West Lake and bring in fish in the dead of winter.  We can do this in East Lake.”
            Marty laid his hand on Caelin’s forearm.  “We are going to have enough.  More than enough.  Nevertheless, I’m glad you’ve been paying attention to this.  It is important for you to keep clear and accurate records of all that we receive and all that we use.  You must master the numbers I’ve been teaching you.  Eventually, record keeping will be your full time job; we’ll find someone else to cook.  For the time being, our nan and Alf can help with the kitchen, and that will allow you to work on bookkeeping.”
            “Have you found a nan already?” asked Caelin.
            “I hope so.  I will breakfast with the sheriffs, then Ora and I will go visit Mildgyd Meadowdaughter.”
            Ora clapped her hands.  “I was hoping you’d ask her.  Mildgyd is the great granddaughter of a cook who served in Inter Lucus before the old lord died.  And with her daughter dead of measles, she’s all alone.”
            Marty wagged his finger at Ora.  “If she is to come here, she must do things as I want them done.  That includes food handling and washing.”
            Ora inclined her head.  “Caelin and I will teach her.”
            Marty finished his tea and motioned for Ora to accompany him.  “Let’s go rouse our sheriffs.  Do we have breakfast ready, Caelin?”
            “We do, my lord.”
            “Something for our priest and Rothulf?”
            “I prepared a basket; it’s by the door.”
            “Very good.  Breakfast for the whole staff, including the sheriffs, once we gather them.”

            Marty delivered the willow basket stocked with food for Eadmar and Rothulf for the day.  As Marty had decreed, the thief spent his days helping the priest build a prayer house just off the Inter Lucus grounds.  So far they had been clearing and leveling a patch of land big enough for the prayer house itself and an attached dwelling.  Attor Woodman had promised that he and Aethulwulf would fell and trim nearby trees appropriate for building a log house.  Isen had expressed eagerness to help with the project—hoping, Marty knew, that after the prayer house Marty would order the building of a glass-making shed.
            Handing over the basket, Marty explained to Eadmar that today he would not be able to read and translate from the book of God; he had to walk to village Inter Lucus to see the widow Mildgyd later in the day.
            “Ah!  A respectable woman, that one.”
            “I agree.  Do you think Mistress Meadowdaughter would live in Inter Lucus if I asked her?  Young Agyfen needs a nan.”
            The priest nodded.  “I do not know.  But I commend your idea.  It is not good for Ora to be the only woman in your castle, Lord Martin.”
            Marty climbed the hill to the oaks, where Ora had gathered the four candidate sheriffs.  He opened a palm to the men.  “Fair morning Ealdwine, Leo, Os, Elfric.”
            “Fair morning, my lord.”  “Lord Martin.”  “Thank you.”  “Fair morning, Lord Martin.”  The sheriffs bowed with their words.  Something about the four men seemed out of place; it took Marty a minute to realize each one had wet his hair and combed it.  They must have hiked to East Lake early this morning.  I wonder who advised them to wash and comb.
            “In we go.”  Marty waved his hand toward the west door.  Pine planks, supplied by Attor Woodman and planed in the west wing of the castle, had been joined into a magnificent door by three iron bars shaped like leafed branches.  Elne Penrict had offered the hardware for the east and west doors of the castle, including iron hinges, as his hidgield for the year, but Marty declared it too much.  Marty paid Elne, using money obtained months before from the traveling merchant, Boyden Black.
            Marty sat at the end of a sturdy long table with the four guests on his right and left.  The other inhabitants of Inter Lucus, Isen, Ora, Caelin, Alf, and Agyfen, gathered around the opposite end.  The table and its benches were recent additions to the furniture of the great hall, built by Baldric Forrest.  Marty laid his hands flat on the table and bowed his head.  “We give you thanks, Almighty God, for life and food and friendships.  May your kingdom come in our lives.  Amen.”
            “Amen,” said five other voices.  The sheriffs looked at each other in confusion.
            Isen grinned at Elfric, seated across from him.  “Surely you noticed that Lord Martin is permitting the priest of the old god, Eadmar, to build a prayer house in the forest.  In Inter Lucus we pray to the old god, not castle gods.”
            “I did notice.”  Elfric looked at Isen.  “It is not a surprise.  Folk told me of Lord Martin’s preference for the old god.  But what is ‘amen’?” 
            “It is a word long used by worshipers of the Old God,” Marty answered.  “It means ‘may it be so.’”           
            Leo Dudd turned his face to Marty.  “For my part, I will be glad to worship whichever god Lord Martin directs.”
            Marty shook his head.  “In that case, you will worship no god at all, Leo.  I will not tell you whether you should pray or which god you should pray to.”
            “My lord?”  Leo voiced surprise.
            “Prayer is worthless unless sincere.”  Marty sprinkled salt on his fried potatoes.  “A man must pray, or not pray, in accord with his own beliefs.  The same is true for a woman.  At meals in Inter Lucus, I invite my guests to pray with me, but it is an invitation only, not a command.  Priest Eadmar and I will pray in the prayer house he is building.  No one else need pray there to please me.  At the same time, anyone who wants to pray there will be welcome.”
            Ealdwine, the youngest of the sheriffs, ran his hand through his blond hair.  “Why do you pray to the old god, Lord Martin?”
            Marty leaned his chin on his interlaced fingers, resting his elbows on the table.  For several seconds he pondered Ealdwine’s simple question.  “I think there is only one God.  He made all the worlds and all the creatures of the worlds.  I think that some of those creatures built the castles.  I call the castle builders ‘strangers.’  If I am right about these things, the makers of the castles—the strangers—were not gods; they were creatures made by the one God.  I think the strangers brought other creatures—human beings—to this world we call Two Moons to serve them.  Then, after many hundreds of years, the strangers left Two Moons.”
            Marty pointed his finger.  “Now you know what I think.  You do not have to agree with me.  You may pray to castle gods if you like; it’s up to you.  Of course, Priest Eadmar would ask that you not go into Prayer House to do so.”
            Marty’s last sentence produced hesitant smiles around the table.  Caelin finally interrupted the silence.  “I’m hungry!”  He took a huge bite of fried egg, and some of the yoke escaped to his chin.  Ora and Elfric laughed, and everyone dug in.

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


Thursday, September 12, 2013

Castles 68

68.  On the Grounds of Castle Inter Lucus

            How do you recruit a police force?  Or is it an army?  Or a revenue service?  Apparently, they all consist of “sheriffs.”
            Abrecan Landman, a leather worker in the village and a friend of Everwin Idan, had suggested that men fight with swords—wooden swords, of course—and that the winners become Lord Martin’s first sheriffs.  Marty would have laughed off this idea except that his councilors Syg Alymar and Elne Penrict thought it perfectly rational.  Syg and Elne were probably the most respected men in Inter Lucus and Senerham, respectively, so Marty knew he had to take their opinions seriously.  Sheriffs have to be able to fight, they said.  Maybe.  But I’d take intelligence and integrity over martial talent any day.  Give me someone like Caelin, but five or ten years older.
            Marty needed a constabulary, whatever it was to be called.  Many of the folk between the lakes had journeyed willingly to Inter Lucus to pay hidgield.  But Caadde Bycwine and Torr Ablendan assured him that many others, easily the majority of the outlying farmers and a good number of people from Inter Lucus and Senerham, had not. 
            Caadde and Torr explained the mindset of many: If the tax collector came calling, most would pay readily enough.  But they would not go out of their way to pay hidgield to a castle lord.  After all, for three generations they had paid tax to the Mortanes of Hyacintho Flumen only when that lord sent a knight between the lakes.  The new lord of Inter Lucus might have to defend his claims against the Mortanes’; a body wouldn’t want to pay hidgield to one side or the other only to have that side lose!
            As much as Marty liked calling on homes and farms, it would be impossible, even if he bought a horse, to personally visit all the residents between the lakes.  Caadde said he would need at least two mounted sheriffs to assess every farm before winter’s snows.  So that was the goal: find two honest men who will be loyal to me and intelligent enough to collect hidgield fairly.
            It seemed to Marty that the ability to fight with swords was hardly a priority.  Nevertheless, on the advice of his councilors, he was now to judge mock sword fights.
            When the word went out, a half-dozen men had come forward to be sheriffs.  Marty sent two away immediately: the simpleton, Bill, who lived in a barn and stacked wood and carried water for the widow Leola Alymar; and Dun Thorson, a twelve-year-old son of the Senerham farmer-merchant Cnud Thorson.  Marty interviewed the other four and took notes.
            Ealdwine Smithson.  Son of Senerham barrel maker.  18 years old.  A blond, blue-eyed Viking with bad teeth.
            Leo Dudd.  Senerham farm family.  21.  Skinny.  Black hair, dark eyes, full beard.
            Os Oswald.  Inter Lucus.  Intimidate by size alone, if necessary.  20 years old; could play offensive tackle for Notre Dame.
            Elfric Ash.  A forester from up north, on the East Lake shore.  (Do they all name themselves for trees?) 25; scruffy beard.  Black hair.  Lean build; probably stronger than he looks.
            Not one of them can read or write.  Can they learn at this age?
            Thank God for paper and ink!

            The sword fight space had been created on the edge of castle property, not only for Priest Eadmar’s benefit.  A small crowd had gathered, mostly from village Inter Lucus, but including some of Ealdwine and Leo’s friends from Senerham.  Marty paired Ealdwine Smithson against Os Oswald and Leo Dudd against Elfric Ash.
            The onlookers enjoyed the combats immensely, though they didn’t last long.  Afterward, Marty wrote a note to himself: What do people on Two Moons do for fun?  I need to host another party, a harvest festival like a county fair.
            Marty announced ground rules.  If a fighter drove his opponent out of the fighting area, Marty would call time out and reposition the fighters in the ring.  But a second exit would mean that the retreating fighter had lost.  The men wore leather jerkins and hats as protection.  They had sturdy small wood shields strapped to their left forearms and their fighting staves in their right hands.  Marty told them to try to disarm the other fighter or strike him in the ribs.  In a real battle, he said, they might strike an opponent’s head, but he didn’t want injuries today.  A fighter could yield at any time.  When Marty judged that one or the other had won, he would shout the end of the match.
            Marty guessed, correctly, that the movie sword fights he had seen wouldn’t be like a real contest.  Smithson and Oswald advanced on each other cautiously.  They tried a few pokes and slices, all turned aside with shield or parried with sword.  Oswald realized that he had a size advantage on his opponent; he started advancing, crowding the smaller man, steadily raining blows on Smithson’s shield, and easily blunting the few strokes the blond haired youth threw at him.  Smithson retreated to the boundary of the fighting space.  Oswald stepped inside the Senerham youth’s next blow and thrust at him with his shield.  Smithson tumbled backward out of the ring, and Marty shouted for time out.
            The fighters readied themselves again.  Oswald advanced quickly, seeking to drive his opponent from the ring a second time.  But Smithson would not try strength against strength again.  He feinted to his left and danced quickly right, swinging his stave low.  The blow came under Oswald’s shield and struck him behind the knee.  Oswald staggered, and Smithson bull-rushed him, throwing him to the ground.  Smithson stabbed at his opponent’s jerkin—two, three, four times, until Marty shouted an end.
            The second fight lasted longer than the first, partly because Leo Dudd and Elfric Ash learned from watching Oswald and Smithson.  They spent a few minutes dancing and feinting, trying to gain a victory like Smithson’s.  Dudd was a wiry man, light on his feet and fast.  At first Marty thought he would run around the forester and knock his legs from under him.  But Elfric Ash slid sideways and pivoted; he parried every blow with sword or shield.  And Ash was sinewy and strong.  Dudd’s feints tired him; and when Dudd slowed, Ash attacked as Oswald had, advancing and thrusting against Dudd’s shield.  Dudd retreated a few steps and darted to one side, but Ash struck under his shield as Dudd escaped.  Body armor would protect against such a blow, Marty thought.
            Dudd’s escape energized him.  He tried again to feint his way past Ash’s sword, to land a real blow.  But now Ash moved faster than before.  He stepped inside Dudd’s stroke, thrust Dudd’s sword arm away with his shield, and pushed his opponent back.  Dudd tripped and fell.  Ash stepped on Dudd’s stave, pinning it to the ground, and pointed his “sword” at Dudd’s neck.  Dudd called, “Yield” even as Marty shouted the end of the match.
            Some of the onlookers wanted more battles, but Marty had seen enough.  Shoving matches with wooden staves weren’t going to make sheriffs.  I’ve got find someone with real expertise if I want trained fighters.
            Marty called the four applicants to him, walking them twenty yards from the gathered crowd.  He spoke quietly.  “You all want to be sheriffs.  Do you think you’re ready to fight a knight if one comes from Hyacintho Flumen?”
            The others looked at Ash, who was oldest and who had fought best.  Ash stared at the ground.  “No, my lord.”
            “Caelin tells me I will someday learn how to make castle steel.  But even if I made some and you had the best swords on Two Moons, you men are not ready to fight a real knight.  Am I right?”
            Red-haired Os Oswald said, “Lord Martin speaks truly.”
            Marty kept his voice calm.  “Then why do you men want to be sheriffs?  The men I choose might lose their lives.”
            Leo Dudd shuffled his feet.  “My lord, I thought, um, I thought you might make me into a fighter.  Castle magic.”
            “I assure you, I cannot.”  Marty grinned at Dudd, and the grin produced a puzzled expression on the would-be sheriff’s face..  “No castle magic can create the skill of a swordsman.  With practice and better weapons you would improve, but right now I can’t even promise good weapons.  Look at me.”
            For the first time all four looked up.  “Do you still want to be sheriffs?”
            They spoke as one.  “Aye.”  “Aye.”  “Aye, my lord.” 
            “’cause o’ this.”  Smithson held out a palm with a polished chocolate colored wooden nickel.  I was here last summer, ’n I saw the lights.  I’ve heard Elne Penrict talk.  All this . . .” Smithson gestured toward Inter Lucus, standing tall on the hill.  “this is real.”
            Os Oswald nodded agreement.  “I’ve lived in village Inter Lucus all my life.  I grew up hearing stories of the castle, of lords and ladies, and fine things.  But now it’s real.”
            The lean forester, Ash, drew a palm across his spotty beard.  “I’ve no wife.  I’d like a family, but the deep forest’s not a welcome place for a woman.  In twenty years I’ll be too old to fell big trees reg’lar.  If nothing changes, that’ll be my life.  Inter Lucus is whole.  Lord Martin is real, not just a story.  This is my chance.”
            Marty remembered Isen’s word: chances.  “You are right.  There is a great opportunity here for you.  But I will ask the men I choose to work hard, to learn new skills, and to think in ways you have never thought.  Can you learn new ways?  
            “I want you to consider this very carefully.  I’m going over to those men and announce that I have not decided.  All four of you will sleep here, on castle ground, tonight.  In the morning you will come to breakfast in Inter Lucus.  In the morning if you tell me you still want to be a sheriff, then I will tell you the conditions of your service.  Do not tell anyone what I have just said.  Think very carefully this night whether you want to serve me.”

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

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Castles 67

67. In Stonebridge

            Four days later, Derian Chapman told Milo his purchases were complete.  Two wagons of carefully packed wine bottles would be ready to leave the following day.
            Milo and Derian shared a table in Citadel refectory, where Derian had found Milo to deliver his news.  “I can be ready as early tomorrow as you like,” Milo said.  “Today there’s some business I need to attend to.  Unless you need to supervise the loading, I would welcome your help.”
            “Oswy Wodens knows all about packing a load.  He doesn’t need me.”  Derian drank the last of his mug; weak beer was a morning staple in the Citadel.  “What is your business, and what assistance can I offer?”
            “I’ll explain on the way.  Ah!  Just the man.  Felix!” 
            Felix Abrecan stopped just inside the entry to the refectory.  “Sir Milo?”
            “Master Chapman and I leave for Down’s End tomorrow.  Can you take Aidan Fleming round this morning?”
            Felix tilted his head.  “Aye, Sir.  Should we fetch the man?”  He looked as if he were ready to bolt out the door.
            Milo laughed.  “Get yourself some food, man.  No rush.  If you get him there an hour before noon, that will be fine.”
            “Thank you, Sir.”
            “Fetch the man?” Derian asked.  “Who?”
            “Patience.  You’ll see.”

            Once they were in the street, Derian said, “You’ve got to be more careful, Milo.”
            Milo glanced questioningly.
            “Your partner, Felix, defers to you too readily.  He’s not the only one.  Somehow you’ve turned sheriffs and under-sheriffs of the Stonebridge City Guard into Milo Mortane devotees.  Tondbert will notice.  The Commander of the Guard is a jealous and dangerous man.”
            Milo considered Derian’s advice.  “Not much I can do about it now, since I’ll be gone three weeks starting tomorrow.  But I’ll warn Felix when I get back.”
            Milo turned at an intersection toward the northwest part of Stonebridge.  Ody Dans’s estate, The Spray, could be seen on a hill ahead of them.  Derian slowed for a moment, then jogged to catch up to Milo.  “Where are you taking me?  What is this all about?”
            “I need to see your uncle.  If you are present, it will help me get past Ingwald.”
            “Damn, Milo!  What’s this about?  You can’t just barge in on Uncle Ody.”
            Milo kept marching.  “I think he’ll welcome what I have to say.  In fact, I think he will want to confirm what I say by a personal inspection.”
            “Personal inspection!  Of what?”
            “The body of Tilde Gyricson.”
            “What are you talking about?”  Derian was puffing to keep up with Milo.  “Has something happened?  Just yesterday I saw . . .”
            “Daisy Freewoman.  Just yesterday you saw Daisy Freewoman.  Every sheriff and under-sheriff in the Citadel knows Daisy.  There’s not a one of them who ever saw Tilde Gyricson.  Now you and I—we saw Tilde at an exquisite sup at The Spray.  Do you remember what she looked like, Derian?”
            “What game are you playing, Milo?”
            Slowing his pace a little, Milo looked Derian in the eye.  “This is only a move in the game.  I’m playing defense right now, to create some space for maneuver.  The game is the only one worth playing in Stonebridge.  It’s called Power.  Your uncle is very good at it, so we have to be careful.”
            Chapman didn’t speak for several minutes.  They had almost reached The Spray when he said, “Milo, if you make Uncle Ody your enemy, I’ll be in a damned difficult position between you and him.”
            “Don’t worry, Derian.  I want Ody Dans as an ally.  If today’s business goes as I hope, our alliance will be strengthened.  In any case, you owe me your life.  If you ever have to choose, I advise you to side with me.”

            Ingwald Freeman met them at the entrance to The Spray.  “Master Dans is not expecting guests.”
            “Fair morning, Ingwald.”  Milo noted the guard’s short sword, sheathed on a belt.  Milo kept his hand from straying to his sword hilt; he had no need to emphasize the fact that he too was armed.  “Actually, this morning I am not a guest.  I come as a sheriff, on business for the City Guard.”
            Ingwald raised a brow.  “And Master Derian?”
            “Damn it, Ingwald.  I’m an under-sheriff.  We’re here on important business.  I came along when Sheriff Mortane told me about it.”  Chapman let his voice express just enough irritation.
            Ingwald Freeman let them into the room at the top of the house.  On an autumn day the thick stone walls were winter cold.  “Wait here.”  The soldier disappeared down a corridor.
            Derian sniffed.  “Wait here.  As if I don’t know my way around The Spray.”
            “Patience, my friend.”  Milo touched the wall.  The stone was wet with condensation; moisture ascended on air from lower, warmer floors of The Spray.
            Inga came trotting.  “Master Dans will see you in his office.  You may follow me.”  When they reached the door to Ody Dans’s place of business, Inga bowed and hurried away.  Derian knocked.
            Derian pushed the door open and motioned Milo to go ahead.  Ody Dans’s pink head was bowed over a parchment with words and symbols arranged in columns.  Dans looked up.  “Fair morning, Sheriff Mortane.”
            “Fair morning, Master Dans.”  Milo stopped only inches from Dans’s desk, towering over the round-faced man. 
            The bland face ignored Milo’s provocation.  “And my nephew as well.”
            “Fair morning, uncle.”
            Ody Dans folded his hands and leaned back to better look up at Milo.  “Ingwald says you come on important business of the Guard.  Most of what Tondbert thinks is important really isn’t, so I hope you’re not wasting my time.  I have work to do.”
            Milo inclined his head.  “Commander Tondbert does not know I have come.  I would not presume to claim your time for trivial matters.”
            Dans’s frown looked almost like pouting.  “What is it, then?”
            “A woman’s body.  She will go into the pauper’s burial field today, unless—it is the body of Tilde Gyricson, if I am correct.  The last time I saw this woman, she was alive and standing by you, Master Dans. I got the impression on the night of your party that she would rather die than go back to her husband.”
            Dans rubbed the white beard that edged his jaw.  “Am I being accused?”
            “Not at all.”  Milo raised palms to signal his pacific intentions.  “But we are not absolutely sure the body is that of Mistress Gyricson.  I ask for your help in identifying it.”
            “Speak to her husband.”  Dans waved his hand, as if shooing an insect.
            “Mistress Gyricson never returned home.  You have seen her, in the days after your dinner party, more recently than Adelgar.  I believe her agreement was to stay with you for two weeks?”
            Dans’s lips formed a tight line.  “She agreed to pay her husband’s debt by staying as my guest.  I know it may sound strange, to offer free lodging in exchange for a debt, but I was feeling generous that night.  The woman stayed two weeks, and when she left my house she was well and completely unharmed.”
            Milo nodded.  “Of course.  I remind you that you are not accused of any wrongdoing.  But since you are the last—that we know of—to see her alive, I thought you could help us in identifying the body.”
            Dans frown-pouted again.  “Why should it be hard to identify?”
            “I’m afraid this body was dead for some days before sheriffs took custody of it.  To tell the truth, it was found in the Bene Quarter.  It’s possible that Tilde Gyricson took up residence in the Bene after her stay in The Spray.  According to her husband, she never returned home.  We will, of course, also ask Master Gyricson to look at the body.  But identification may depend on the woman’s clothing and other items as much as physical appearance.  May I ask, Master Dans, if you noticed any personal items missing from your house after Mistress Gyricson left?”
            Dans’s expression remained as bland as ever, but he paused before replying.  “I’m sure Inga or Aisly would have told me if they missed anything.” 
            Milo thought he heard a bit of doubt in Dans’s tone.  Set the hook and haul him in.  “Perhaps I was mistaken then.  It’s been months since Mistress Gyricson was your guest.  Most likely, if she had taken anything of value, she would have sold it already.”  Milo made a little bow and turned as if to leave.
            “Oh, hell.  Now you’ve got me curious.”  Ody Dans pushed back from the desk.  “I’ll get a coat and come with you.  Some exercise would do me good anyway.”  He pulled open a wide drawer and carefully positioned the parchment in it.  Milo leaned close as if to look at the document.  “Excuse me!” said Dans.  Milo stepped back quickly, bumping into a bookcase.  Dans slowly slid the drawer shut.  Neither Dans nor Derian noticed Milo steadying himself with his hand on the bookshelf.
            With Ody Dans setting the pace, the three men walked downhill from The Spray much slower than Milo and Derian had walked up.  Ody Dans and Derian Chapman reviewed the nephew’s plans for his trip to Down’s End.  The uncle was pleased to hear that Milo Mortane would ride along as guard for Derian and his wagons.  They reached the stone building next to the pauper’s field in the late morning.  Felix Abrecan and Aidan Fleming had not yet arrived.  The gap-toothed crone who prepared bodies for burial met them outside the door.  She had forced a brush through her gray hair and tied it behind her head, making herself look somewhat less witch-like.
            “Fair morning, my lords.”  The woman bowed them into the preparation house.  “Got ’er in ’ere.”
            The body lay white-shrouded on a sturdy wood table.  A strong smell of lye masked other odors.  Ody Dans stepped close.  “How are we supposed to identify a body that has been masked and shrouded?”  He picked up an arm.  “By her hands?  Did she wear a ring?”
            “She did, my lord,” announced the burial woman.  “Look close at ’er finger.  Course it’s gone now.”
            Dans frowned.  One of the body’s fingers showed where a ring had been worn.  “Take off the head shroud.”
            “My lord?”
            “I want to see the face.”
            The burial woman rolled up the head shroud beginning at the neck, moving slowly.  Milo wondered at the special gentleness displayed to a dead person, then realized that if the shroud were pulled back too brusquely, it would take rotting flesh with it.  While the woman worked with the shroud, the door opened.  Adelgar Gyricson entered, Felix behind him.  Felix nodded to Milo and nudged Adelgar forward.  Gyricson had washed but hadn’t had time to change his clothes.  He smelled of apples, an odd juxtaposition with the odor of lye.
            “Oh gods.”  Gyricson’s words were less an imprecation than a sigh.
            The body had black hair and black eyebrows that could have been Tilde’s.  But the rest of the face was a mixture of decaying flesh and exposed bone.  For three days after he took possession of the body, Milo had kept it hidden in a cellar with the torso wrapped so that rodents could only access the face and feet.  He judged that the body’s hands resembled Tilde’s close enough to pass, so he had protected them.  The result was a body that looked like Tilde Gyricson in all the parts still whole.
            “Cover it up.”  Ody Dans turned to Milo.  “You were right about identifying the face, Sheriff Milo.  This could be any woman.  Of course, Master Gyricson would be familiar with the body.  Perhaps he would like to examine that.”
            Gyricson was weeping.  He shook his head.
            Dans continued: “In that case this body could be any woman found in the Bene.  She goes into the pauper’s field.”
            Milo knelt to a box at the end of the table.  “There were a couple items found with this woman.”  He laid a pair of fine lady’s shoes on the shrouded form, made of red leather.  Against the white shroud the red was almost garish.  “You may think you recognize these; I remember Mistress Gyricson wearing something like them at Master Dans’s house.  But we should be careful; they may not be the same shoes.”
            Gyricson cleared his throat.  “Inside the left shoe, two letters: T and G.”
            “I didn’t know that.”  Milo kept his face plain.  He looked at the left shoe, then handed it to Ody Dans who passed it to Gyricson.  The young husband wept again.  “Oh gods.  Tilde.  Oh gods.”
            Milo had knelt to the box while Dans and Gyricson looked at the shoes.  “There was only one other thing.  This was found inside the woman’s tunic.  As a sheriff I’ve learned that women often have a secret pocket.”  He laid a thin, leather-covered object on the white shroud.  Dans snatched it up.
            “It’s mine!”  Dans unfolded the leather cover, revealing a few pages of dry paper.  He quickly satisfied himself that no pages were missing.  “Where did you get this?”
            Internally Milo exulted.  Apparently I lucked onto something he values.  “As I said, Master Dans, it was found on this body.”
            For once Dans’s round face was a study in anxiety, followed by relief.  He swallowed.  “It’s mine.  As you guessed, Mistress Gyricson must have taken it while she was my guest.  That makes her a thief.”  The bland face returned.  “But we need not speak ill of the dead.  I have my papers back, and whole.  Tilde Gyricson need not go into the pauper’s field, if her husband can pay for a proper burial.”
            Gyricson merely stared at the shrouded body, weeping.
            “Hah!  In that case . . . here.”  Ody Dans put some coins into the burial preparation woman’s hand.  “See that she goes into her own hole, in the west cemetery.”

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