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.