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.