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.

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