Thursday, October 31, 2013

Castles 75

75. In Down’s End Court

            In Down’s End governance centered in a pair of two-storey brick buildings not far from the shore of West Lake.  Given the size and prosperity of Down’s End, Milo would have expected city buildings to be bigger; Stonebridge’s Citadel of the Guard dwarfed these structures.  One building had rooms for sheriffs, cells for prisoners awaiting trial, and two courtrooms for criminal trials.  Between this building and the lake was a small greensward with a whipping post and gibbet.  The second building had a courtroom devoted to property disputes, the mayor’s office, rooms used by aldermen between sessions of the Council, and the actual Council Chamber.  It was to the courtroom in this building that Derian Chapman had been summoned.
            Derian, Milo and Eádulf ate breakfast (not excellent but far better than bacon and beer) early in the morning at the Dog of the Downs.  The Dog was an inexpensive inn with only five guest rooms separated by thin walls.  Its chief virtue was its location near the warehouse on the west side of Down’s End where city sheriffs guarded Derian’s wine at his expense.  Milo told Eádulf to tend to their horses and wait for them in the Dog, then he accompanied Derian to court.
            They entered the City Council building through double doors into a passage running left and right with doors to many other rooms.  After a brief inquiry, a sheriff directed them to the right door.  In the courtroom a low railing divided the court into two parts.  On the near side of the rail were plain wooden benches; on the other side were two long tables with cushioned chairs positioned so their occupants could watch and interrogate people on the benches.  Each table had a clay inkbottle with quills lying close by. The chairs were all empty when Milo and Derian arrived, but a man stood near one of the tables.
            “Fair morning,” said Derian.  “I’m supposed to appear in the city court today.  Am I in the right place?”
            The man turned from a document lying on the table.  He wore a blue tunic and a silver medallion, similar to Talbot Theobald’s; Milo assumed this marked him as another clerk of the court.
            “What is your name?”  The clerk had a prominent Adam’s apple, as noticeable as Eádulf’s.  He was skinny and the sides of his head were shaved, as was his chin, but tall curly hair covered the top of his head; if not for his arms he could have been a carrot pulled from the ground.
            “Derian Chapman.”  Derian had picked a gray tunic for his appearance at court.  With black hose and a plain leather belt, he was trying to project an image of sober-mindedness.  Beside him, Milo was dressed even more conservatively, in a brown tunic only a little finer than a priest’s.  Milo and Derian stopped at the rail and Derian extended his hand to the clerk.  “Fair morning.”
            “Fair morning, Master Chapman.”  The clerk clasped hands with Derian and inclined his head.  “I am Roalt Godfried, clerk for the court.  According to this”—Godfried indicated the paper he had been reading—“you are expected this morning.  But not by the full court or Council, apparently.  Alderman Barnet requires your attendance.  Interesting.”  Godfried’s Adam’s apple worked up and down as he contemplated the document.
            A door opened on the table side of the room.  Two men came in.  The first wore a black robe loosely over a dark green tunic; he was stocky, with a boxer’s arms.  He spotted Derian and Milo immediately; fixing his eyes on them, he quickly took a chair behind the table nearest them.  The second man also wore a black robe, which served as background for a magnificent gold medallion.  He was a jowly man, clean-shaven, with very short white hair.  He sat at the second table and propped his head in his hands.  Milo guessed: The Mayor of Down’s End, I suppose.  But it seems he’s here to watch rather than participate.  The clerk Godfried sat at the stocky man’s table and took up a quill.
            The stocky dark-haired man picked up the paper Roalt Godfried had been examining.  He glared at Milo and Derian.  “Which of you is Chapman?”
            The jowly man whom Milo pegged as mayor interrupted, his voice sounding like a rumble.  “Ah, Eulard, um.”
            The occupant of the near table looked at the mayor for a moment.  Then he said, “Very well.  Fair morning.  I am Alderman Eulard Barnet.  I have agreed to represent Down’s End this morning in a hearing regarding a certain matter.”  Barnet looked at the paper in his hands.  “A complaint registered by a citizen of Down’s End, a teamster named Eni Raegenhere.  Raegenhere’s complaint names a Stonebridge merchant by the name of Derian Chapman.  I presume that one of you is Chapman?”
            “Fair morning, Alderman Barnet.  I am Chapman.”  Derian inclined his head.
            “And your companion?”
            Milo saluted, placing his fist on his chest.  “Sheriff Mortane of the Stonebridge City Guard.  I came along as a friend and extra escort for Derian’s wagons.”
            Barnet pursed his lips.  “A worthy service, Sheriff Mortane.  Since this matter concerns a complaint against your friend, Master Chapman, I will not ask you for testimony, to spare you the difficulty of testifying against him.”
            “That’s too bad.  I might enjoy testifying against Derian.”  Milo grinned at the alderman.
            Barnet frowned.  “I have little appetite for humor this morning, Sheriff Mortane.  You may be seated while I interview Master Chapman.”
            Milo sat.  The man at the second table was rubbing the back of his neck with one hand while his forehead rested on the palm of the other.  He appeared to be massaging a headache, but Milo noticed his eyes.  From beneath bushy white eyebrows the mayor was watching him.
            “What is your business in Down’s End, Master Chapman?”  Barnet spoke quickly, efficiently.
            Derian put his hands on the rail.  “I have brought two wagons of Stonebridge wine.  Naturally, I hope to sell my wine at a profit.  It’s excellent wine; perhaps the alderman could be persuaded to sample some?”
            “I’m afraid not.  You are not permitted to sell any wares until this matter has been resolved.  Master Raegenhere says that his wagon was damaged on the journey.”
            “That’s true, but …”
            “Don’t interrupt, Master Chapman.  The wagon was overloaded, according to this complaint, and that caused the loss.  Raegenhere had to pay fifteen golds out of pocket to repair his wagon.  That hardly seems fair if the loss was caused by excessive weight.”
            The alderman looked up from the document at Derian.  Behind him, a door opened and the clerk Talbot Theobald poked his head into the courtroom.  Seeing the white haired man, Theobald paced silently to the mayor, handed him a note, and bowed out of the room.  Alderman Barnet ignored this interruption, glaring at Derian.
            Derian waited several more seconds.  “Am I to speak now?  I don’t want to interrupt.”
            Barnet’s face went red in anger.  “Don’t play at fool.  Did you overload Raegenhere’s wagon?”
            “I did not.  Raegenhere helped load the wagon, and he never suggested it was too heavy until it got away from him on the Stonebridge summit.”
            “So you say.  Raegenhere says otherwise.”
            “The difference is that I am telling the truth.”
            Barnet let the paper fall to the table.  He stared at Derian.  “You have done business in our city before.  Is that true, Master Chapman?”
            “Aye.  I’ve visited Down’s End many times.  Trade between our cities is a boon to people in both.  Most recently, I came to Down’s End little more than four weeks ago, with samples of Stonebridge wines.  They were well received, and that led to my current venture.”
            Barnet interlaced his fingers and rested his head on them.  He seemed to be considering his next question.  “I believe you were also in Down’s End at the beginning of summer.  Is that right?”
            “Aye.  That time I was moving goods from Down’s End to Stonebridge, two wagons of wool.”
            “No problems on the way?  Axles breaking on the Stonebridge summit, that sort of thing?”
            Derian stroked his hair.  “To tell the truth, we did have trouble, but not with the pass.  You might not believe it, but some brigand tried to set fire to the wool.  Or, at least that’s what I thought.”
            “Please explain.”
            “We were staying at River House, an inn.  The wagons were parked in the road, and the horses had been put in a corral.  Past midnight, someone started shooting fire arrows at the wagons.  Foolishly, I thought he was trying to destroy my cargo.  My friend Milo divined the true nature of the attack.  Everyone else, including me, was running to guard the wool wagons, but Milo ran to the corral, where he caught two youths trying to make off with the draft horses.  The attack on the wagon was a diversion.  The thieves were really after fine draft animals.  After stopping the thieves, Milo rode down the archer with the fire arrows—in the dark, mind you—and killed him.”
            “No damage came to your wool or your wagons?”
            “None.”  Derian smiled ruefully.  “But not through my doing.  Sir Milo deserves the credit.”
            Throughout the interrogation, Milo kept his face blank.  Internally he applauded Derian’s ability to play the innocent.  When Derian praised him he merely looked at the floor.  The man with the gold medallion continued to pay more attention to Milo than Derian. 
            Barnet rested his chin on his nested fingers again.  “Master Chapman, who finances your trade?”
            “Excuse me?”
            “I’m a banker, Master Chapman.  I know how business works in Down’s End, and I suspect it works similarly in Stonebridge.  Who lent you the money to buy wool last summer?”
            Derian smiled sheepishly.  “Actually, I have an advantage there.  I have a rich uncle, and he lends me money.  His name is Ody Dans.  Perhaps you have heard of him.  He’s quite well known.”
            “Indeed.  Many know of Ody Dans.  And he is your uncle?”
            “This means you have visited his palace?”
            The Spray.  Uncle Ody would prefer to call it a house.  But I agree it’s spectacular.”
            “Have you visited your uncle recently?”
            “Aye.  Shortly before we left Stonebridge with the wine I now hope to sell in Down’s End.”
            “While you were there, did you see Avery Doin?”
            “Excuse me?”
            Barnet rose up in his chair, leaning forward on his elbows.  “Don’t play at fool, Master Chapman.  Did you see Avery Doin at your uncle’s house?”
            “It happens that I know Avery Doin.  I met him some months ago while on business in Down’s End.  But the last time I visited my uncle I did so in the company of my friend, Milo Mortane.  We saw uncle Ody on official business as sheriffs of Stonebridge.  We had the unfortunate duty to ask Master Dans to identify the body of a young woman.  While we were there, we saw my uncle, the guard at the door, and one of the servant girls.  That’s all.  I think I would remember Avery if I saw him.  I didn’t.  May I ask a question?”
            Barnet stared at the tabletop.  Finally he waved a hand permissively.
            “Is Avery Doin missing?  Are you looking for him?”
            Contempt and rage contorted Barnet’s face.  Milo marveled at Derian’s ability to maintain glib innocence.  The merchant stood at ease before the bar of Down’s End justice, while the alderman ground his teeth.  Finally Barnet pushed his chair back and stood up.  “Your cargo will be protected by the city until teamster Raegenhere is made whole.”  He snatched up the piece of paper.
            “Fifteen golds?”
            “Not a copper less.”
            “It’s unjust, but I’ll pay Raegenhere today.  May I sell my wine beginning tomorrow?”
            Barnet trembled in anger and could not speak.  The man at the other table, who had not spoken since admonishing the alderman at the beginning, cleared his throat.  “Eulard, I think it would be wise if you sat down.  This matter is more complicated than we thought.”  His finger tapped the paper clerk Theobald had given him.
            Barnet turned on the jowly man.  “Simun, it’s not complicated at all.  They’re harboring the man who murdered my son.”
            The man called Simun waved his hand as if brushing that matter aside.  “Sit down, Eulard.  Roalt, please go out to the hall and bring in the next party.” 
            Alderman Barnet sat.  Clerk Godfried lifted a hidden latch in the rail, which allowed a small portion of it to swing out like a gate.  He passed through the outer court and opened the door through which Milo and Derian had entered the courtroom.
            Two people came in: Kenelm Ash and Milo’s sister, Amicia.

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

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Castles 74

74. Near Down’s End

            “Comin’ on dark.  Camp here.”
            “Oh, Gods.  It’s but ten miles more.  We can do that!”
            The second voice belonged to Derian Chapman.  His complaint had no more influence over the first speaker than a farmer’s pleadings with rain clouds.  Eni Raegenhere was not about to let Chapman tell him how far to push his beasts.  “We might, p’raps.  But I ain’t gonna break ’nother axle.”
            Raegenhere’s face was that of a veteran teamster, wrinkled, dry, and red.  There were four young sons waiting for him in Down’s End, he said, all of them sharing their father’s green eyes.  He had short hair and a bushy beard, both mixtures of gray, white, and black.  When he announced his decision to stop, he wagged his beard in a way that bespoke finality.
            On the question of stopping, Milo’s opinion mattered even less than Derian’s, but if asked he would have sided with Raegenhere.  The “road” leading into Down’s End was really only a wagon trail, a rope of interwoven ruts carved by wagon wheels into the prairie.  Once the second moon rose there would be enough light to find the best track, but until then it would be easy to drive over a rock or into a washout.  Milo also guessed that the warehouses of Down’s End would be locked up for the night.  Better to spend one more night on the ground than delay sleep until Derian had haggled a good price from some merchant’s proctor.
            Raegenhere and Chapman had been at odds most of the way from Stonebridge.  Problems started the first day out.  With the aid of Dru Gifardus’s Hill Corral horses, Chapman’s rented wagons, laden with Stonebridge wines, inched their way over the summit of the Stonebridge hill.  The first wagon, driven by Oswy Wodens, descended the first and steepest part of the outer slope safely.  But Eni Raegenhere’s wagon went too fast; either his brake didn’t work properly or the load was too great.  The wagon picked up speed and would have run away with Raegenhere’s team if Dru Gifardus hadn’t thrown the “land anchor,” a device he invented for just this purpose.  The land anchor consisted of a heavy iron chain attached to a wagon’s rear axle at one end and a great five-headed iron hook on the other.  The anchor caught in the rocky soil and the chain jerked the wagon to a stop, breaking the axle in the process.  The resulting crash broke four wine pots, though most of Derian’s cargo survived intact.
            Raegenhere blamed Chapman, claiming he had overloaded the wagon.  Chapman blamed Raegenhere, saying he should have controlled his team better.  Raegenhere objected that he had safely carried many a load between his home city of Down’s End and Stonebridge; the fault lay in an overloaded wagon!  Chapman appealed to Dru Gifardus, who had much experience with wagons on the Stonebridge summit, but the way station master refused to take a side.  The most important point in the whole affair, Gifardus said, was that the land anchor prevented a much worse crash.  But neither Chapman nor Raegenhere felt much gratitude; they were concerned with costs and delay.  In the end, Raegenhere had to pay for a new axle, and Chapman had to wait while repairs were made.  For the rest of the journey, Derian pushed the drivers to move faster.  Eni Raegenhere was content to take his time.
            Now, ten miles from Down’s End, Chapman kept most of his imprecations under his breath.  Once Raegenhere decided to stop for the night, the matter was settled.  Wodens and Raegenhere unhitched their horses, brushed them down and tethered them loosely so they could wander a bit.  Milo drew straws with Eádulf for first watch.  Milo cheated, making sure that Eádulf won the draw every night.  It was an easy way to win Eádulf’s affection, and Milo had no preference between sleeping early or late anyway.
            In the morning, Eádulf built a fire to roast some bacon while Oswy and Eni hitched their teams.  Eádulf had become unofficial cook for the wagon train, cooking mostly beans in the evening and rashers of bacon in the morning.  Milo was eagerly anticipating better meals in Down’s End.  Though they transported excellent wine, the teamsters and their guards drank watery beer from a large keg on the back of Oswy’s wagon.
            Derian had to dicker with three warehouses before getting the rental price he wanted for his cargo.  It seemed to Milo that Derian greatly enjoyed bargaining with the Down’s Enders.  By noon he had what he wanted, and he directed Wodens and Raegenhere to a building in the western part of Down’s End, away from East Lake.  “I’m going to like this location,” he predicted to Milo, when the unloading was almost complete.  “I don’t want some place on the south side near the tanneries, and the lake front gets really cold in winter.”
            Milo puzzled at this.  “I thought you planned to sell your wares quickly.  If you rent space into the winter, you’ll eat up your profits.”
            “To a degree, yes.”  Derian shrugged.  “The big profit comes in the spring when I take a wagon north to castles Saltas Semitas, Auria Prati, and Lata Altum Flumen.  While I’m here, though, I must balance the extra expenses of holding my wares against the higher prices I may get by making the Down’s Enders wait.  It’s something of a game, you see?”
            “You’re risking your own money, I suppose.”
            “Actually, it’s uncle Ody’s money.  Of course, that only means that if I lose it, the consequences are worse.”  Derian smiled broadly and chuckled.  “In Stonebridge you said you play the game of power.  I play the game of profit.  I’m pretty good at it.”
            As if sent by a god to punish Chapman’s pride, a city official met them at the door of the warehouse.  He was a short man with wavy black hair, wearing a blue tunic and black hose.  A silver chain around his neck held his badge of office, a silver disk embossed with the seal of the city.  With him were two mailed men wearing short swords.
            “I’m looking for Derian Chapman of Stonebridge,” the man announced.  “From the description given me, I suspect you’re the man I want.”  One of the armed men behind the official touched the hilt of his sword.
            Derian looked sideways at Milo, mystified.  He shrugged.  “I’m Derian Chapman.”
            “Fair afternoon, Master Chapman.  I am Talbot Theobald, clerk of Down’s End Court and Council.  You are hereby summoned to present yourself in court chambers tomorrow morning.” 
            “On what charge?”  Derian made his voice calm, dignified.
            Theobald made a pacific open palmed gesture.  “You are not charged with any crime.  The court requires your testimony on two matters.  The more recent matter involves damages suffered by one Eni Raegenhere, a wagon master of Down’s End, while he was in your employ.  He claims that you overloaded his wagon, which cost him a broken axle.  He claims recompense.”
            “What?  How?”  Outrage mixed with astonishment.  Derian spun around, looking for Raegenhere.  Only moments before the teamster had been helping unload wine.  “If Eni has claims against me, he should bring them to Stonebridge, where the damage occurred.”
            At that moment Raegenhere emerged from the warehouse.  He greeted the city clerk with a polite nod and grinned at Derian.  Milo maintained a straight face, but only barely; Derian was almost bursting to ask how the teamster’s allegations had arrived so swiftly.
            The court clerk nodded as if agreeing with Derian.  “Perhaps you will convince the court on that point.  Until the matter is settled, the city will guard your merchandise.”  Theobald motioned to the men with him.  “These sheriffs will see to it that no one disturbs your cargo.  It will stay here, all of it, until the court decides this matter.”
            Derian put a hand over his mouth, shaking with anger.  After many heartbeats he said, “I presume the expense of the guard will be borne by the city?”
            “By no means.  You will be presented with the costs after the court has ruled.”
            Derian chewed his lip.  Milo was impressed with the merchant’s restraint.  Raegenhere has completely outmaneuvered him, using city sheriffs to extort the price of a new axle.  I wonder how a teamster has such influence with the Council.
            Derian looked daggers at Raegenhere, but directed his words to Clerk Theobald, “You said this was the more recent of two matters on which I am to testify.  What is the other?”
            “One of the Aldermen, a banker named Barnet, would like to question you about a fugitive.  I believe the young man’s name is Avery Doin.”

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

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Castles 73

73. In Castle Hyacintho Flumen

            Aylwin seethed with anger and anxiety. 
            Cowardice, stupidity, and bad luck.  What more can go wrong?  He paced between the window and the bedroom table, consciously trying to unclench his jaw.  He slammed his hand against the window, causing no more harm to it than if he had struck a rock.  Besides the immediate pain in his palm, he felt a sharp stab in his elbow.  Damn!
            The liquid fire, the secret of which had cost his father thousands of golds, had done nothing to stop the Herminian fleet.  His father’s spy, so carefully cultivated in Lady Montfort’s castle, Tutum Partum, had given him barely two weeks advance notice of the invasion.  If only we had had more time…  Druce Bowden, his best ship captain, was dead.  His few longships were taken or sunk.  Due to the cowardice of the kayak men only one barrel of fire had been lit in the battle, and the Herminians had captured the liquid fire casks that drifted ashore.  They’ll make more use of it than we did.  Of course, the fire was devilishly volatile, and the Herminians had no experience with it; Arthur the old said the casks might well explode and take a hundred men into the after world.  Gods grant our prayer!  But what is one hundred in an army of ten thousand?  If only we had burned their ships!
            The damned invaders had crossed the Blue River the very first night and taken control of the road north.  In the four days since, they had moved hundreds more across by boat and extended their siege lines to the northwest.  Two thousand others had crossed the river south of the castle, securing the coast for miles and building siege works on the west side too.
            Aylwin had been forced to act quickly, entrusting Amicia to Kenelm Ash and sending her as ambassador to Down’s End.  Kenelm knew the mountain trails northwest of Hyacintho Flumen; he promised Lady Lucia that he and the young swordsman Raymond Travers (serving as Kenelm’s squire) would deliver Lucia’s daughter safely to the city by the lake.  Aylwin had hearty confidence in Kenelm and Raymond, but doubts inevitably crept in.  Once the knight, the swordsman, and Aylwin’s sister had left, there was no way to know how they fared.  Had Kenelm eluded the Herminians?  How long would it take to reach Down’s End?  When, if ever, would Aylwin hear a report?  Was Amicia a great enough prize to win him the ally he needed?
            His mother had insisted they tell Amicia the whole truth.  Immediately after the parley with Fugol Hengist—another waste of time! —Dag Daegmund had told him of the Herminians north of the castle.  They crossed the river the first night!  Damn!  No time to consider other options; it had to be Amicia.  Aylwin had always preferred his quick-witted sister to Milo.  She was a confidant and ally rather than a rival.  So it stung in his memory, the way her hazel eyes filled with tears when Amicia understood Aylwin’s use of her. 
            “I’m to be sold to the highest bidder?  Some rich fat tanner, stinking of dung, piss, and sheep fat?”  After sister and brother shouted obscenities at each other, Amicia had retreated to her room, where Boemia the nan helped her choose clothes for her journey.  In the wee hours of the morning after the parley with the Herminians, Amicia departed.  Her brown hair was tucked under a knitted cap; wearing a leather jerkin, she looked like a boy.  She hugged Lucia, Rose, Eddricus, and Edita.  Aylwin thought she might ignore him, but she hugged him as well.  She whispered, “Arthur and Mother say it must be this way.  I will get you an ally if I must marry ten fat bankers.  I love you still, Aylwin.”
            Aylwin covered his face with his hands, remembering the smell of Amicia’s hair.  O gods!  Protect my sister.  Let her fat banker be kind as well as rich.
            A sound came from the bathroom.  In Hyacintho Flumen a sliding door joined the lord’s bedroom to a private bath.  Edita insisted on bathing alone, though Diera had offered many times to help her.  She has pride.  I’ll say that much for her.  After her marriage, Edita claimed it was a relief to escape Juliana’s constant presence, and she had surprised Aylwin by learning to limp from bed to closet to bath.  With a cane she could walk as far as the great hall, though she kept Diera close by lest she should fall.  Getting into and out of the tub was difficult, so Edita ran only a few inches of water for her bath.  She explained matter-of-factly to Aylwin that if she slipped she might bump her head and drown.
            Many times Aylwin had thought: And why not? It would be so easy.  He imagined Edita’s auburn hair floating above her face, obscuring the expressionless left side as he held her down.  But he hadn’t done it.  Instead, three or four times a week he deposited seed in her crippled body, hoping for an heir.  Why does she have to cry every time? If she were half the woman Juliana is…  And that’s the problem!  She’s less than half a woman.
            And now Juliana was gone.  Juliana, who was definitely whole, active, energetic and eager—Juliana was gone.  The day after the invasion, on the day of the parley with Commander Hengist—in fact, in the very hour Dag sent Hengist away—the Herminians had taken her captive.  Aylwin’s jaw clenched again.  Why Juliana?  How could they know?  Who could have told them?
            More water splashed into the tub.  Edita?  Surely she has guessed about Juliana; maybe that’s why she cries.  But she had no chance to communicate with the Herminians.  She never goes outside, rarely leaves this room.  Who, then?
            Aylwin sat at the table; immediately he rose again.  He blew a long breath and tried to relax his face.  In truth, Juliana is the least of my problems.  Arthur is right.  I must concentrate on the tasks at hand.  Swordsmen.  Archers.  Food—lots of food.  More weapons, and that requires steel.  I’ve got to master materias transmutatio.  Father managed it, and Arthur says I have a good bond; I just need to practice.
            Edita was draining the bathtub.  Rarely, she asked him to help her get out.  Aylwin exited the bedroom quickly before she could call on him.  If she falls when I’m not there—well, gods be merciful.
            Aylwin entered the great hall briskly, almost shaking with nerves.  Diera was the only person present, laying a linen cloth in preparation for mid-day sup.  “I’m going to practice magic, Diera.  Find Arthur and send him here.”
            “Very good, my lord.”  Diera bowed and hurried away.
            His hands quivered as he reached for the lord’s knob.  Aylwin stopped short of touching the knob, tried to still the shaking, and sighed.  If I can’t control my hands, how can I control the castle?  He closed his eyes and bonded.
            Something was different.  Aylwin opened his eyes.  The lord’s knob glowed orange, as good a color as he ever had.  Familiar words filled the magic wall.  But Aylwin noticed the difference immediately.

I. Materias Transmutatio: operativa
II. Parva Arcum Praesidiis: operativa
III. Magna Arcum Praesidiis: operativa
IV. Cibum Preparatio Homines: operativa
V. Inter-Castrum Videns-Loquitur: operativa*
VI. Extra Arcem Micro-Aedificator: operativa
VII. Potentia Fontes: operativa
VIII. Aquarum: operativa
IX. Intra Arcem Micro-Aedificator: operativa
X. Centralis Arbitrium Factorem: operativa

            A bright orange light was blinking next to Inter-Castrum Videns-Loquitur.  He had never seen this before, not in the three months since Father died, nor during the many times he had watched Lord Hereward bond with Hyacintho Flumen.  A thrill ran through Aylwin.  I’ve achieved a better bond than Father.  Milo would never have been able to do this.
            The list disappeared.  In its place a white square grew rapidly, becoming a window or picture frame.  A woman stood in the picture.  Blond hair and blue eyes; Aylwin thought it was a picture of Juliana, but it couldn’t be.  This woman’s hair cascaded around her shoulders, reaching to her elbows.  And her face was fuller than Juliana’s, projecting a glow of health and an attitude of authority.  The picture reached life-size, as if the blond woman were standing only a yard beyond the magic wall.  To the woman’s left stood a man, obviously a castle scribe, the lady’s equivalent of Arthur the old.
            To Aylwin’s astonishment, the picture spoke.  “Fair morning, lord.  May I ask to whom I speak?”
            Aylwin didn’t know whether to answer or what to say.
            “Come, Sir.  Don’t be bashful.”  The woman pushed her hair back with her left hand, keeping only her right hand on the lord’s knob.  Videns-Loquitur only works for strong lords; you must be secure in your castle.  Name yourself!”  An unmistakable tone of challenge and command sounded in the last two words.
            “Aylwin Mortane.”  Did he speak out of obedience or envy?  The woman maintained her bond with a single hand, projecting an air of ease far superior to anything Aylwin could remember of his father.
            “By the gods!”  The voice came from behind Aylwin.  He could never remember an oath on Arthur’s lips.  Again, a thrill: Arthur has never seen this.
            The woman in the wall put her hand over her mouth to conceal a smile.  “Lord Mortane of Hyacintho Flumen!  Fair morning, my lord.  My name is Mariel Grandmesnil.”
            Aylwin’s hands, still lying on the lord’s knob, trembled.  He swallowed.  “Fair morning, Queen Mariel.”
            Mariel motioned to the scribe at her side.  “Ah.  You know who I am, then.  If you don’t mind, I’d like to ask how my husband is doing.”
            “Your husband?”
            “You haven’t met him yet?  Tall man, beaked nose, black hair, lots of scars.  He’s twenty years older than me.”
            Arthur was standing by Aylwin’s side, panting from exertion or excitement.  Aylwin couldn’t tell which.  He couldn’t help comparing Arthur with the scribe standing beside Mariel, a picture of calm and assurance.  “Lady Mariel, I have never met your husband.”
            “Oh.  That’s too bad.  I am confident you’ll meet him soon.  I was hoping he had encouraged you to talk with me.  It will save us no end of trouble if we talk often.”
            Aylwin pushed his hands more firmly onto the knob.  “And why should I meet your husband?  Isn’t he with you?”
            Mariel laughed.  “Don’t try to deceive me, Lord Mortane.  In future, I will be your queen.  We need to cooperate.”
            “Ten thousand men can not make me submit.”
            “I see.  They have arrived, then.  You had me just a little bit concerned.  Don’t worry about submitting to a woman or submitting right now.  The thing to remember is that a week from today, at this time, I’ll be here to talk—if you’re ready.  If you like, you can try to reach out to other lords.  Practice with Videns-Loquitur.  Maybe you can do it.  Meanwhile, I’ll be waiting here for you, once a week.”

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


Friday, October 11, 2013


    Yesterday wasn't any more busy than most Thursdays.  Nevertheless, I was distracted, and I forgot to put up chapter 72 of Castles.  But it's there now.

Castles 72

72. Near Hyacintho Flumen

            “Bully, I’m tired, so I’m going to try my bed again.  Be sure to wake me when Fugol Hengist returns.”
            “Aye, my lord.”  A thought.  “My Lord Ridere, a word?”
            “What is it?”
            “Might I accompany Commander Hengist to the castle?  Naturally, I would return with him and be present to serve you.”
            Ridere covered a yawn with his hand, rubbed his forehead.  “You’re hoping to see the woman, aren’t you?  What good would that do, Bully?  She’s the wife of Lord Aylwin Mortane; her fate is tied to his.  I know you are concerned for her, but of all the souls in Hyacintho Flumen she will be last to suffer the pains of a siege.”
            “Aye, my lord.  But it might be useful to have a second set of eyes in the castle while Commander Hengist conveys your words to Lord Mortane.”
            The general raised an eyebrow.  “And that’s why they won’t let you in.  They’ll make you and the rest of Fugol’s escort stand outside.  However, even that could be useful.  You may accompany Hengist.  Keep alert; see what you can see from the doorstep of Hyacintho Flumen.  It will be long time before we enjoy that view again.”
            Fugol Hengist’s escort consisted of just two men: Danbeney Norman, who carried the flag of truce, and Frasor Rain, an armored swordsman.  Fugol resisted the notion of adding another man to the embassy, but Bully informed him that Ridere had approved.  “So be it,” Fugol said.  “Strap on some armor so you can look the part.  Once we’re across the bridge, Danbeney will announce the embassy.  At the castle, I do all the talking.  Get yourself ready; we ride promptly.”
            Bully hustled to a warehouse that the Herminians had converted into an arms depot and explained his need to a sergeant there.  The man recognized Bully as squire to General Ridere and was quick to cooperate.  He outfitted Bully with a mail shirt, breastplate, and a better sword than the dagger Bully usually wore.  When Fugol saw Bully’s attire he nodded approvingly.
            They crossed the bridge on horse two by two; the road widened west of the bridge and they rode four abreast, Fugol and Danbeney in the middle and the swordsmen, Frasor and Bully, on the outside.  At the nearest point, castle Hyacintho Flumen stood on a hill only a quarter mile from Blue River with steep, almost sheer, faces to the south and east.   The road from the bridge ran between the river and the castle hill, circling all the way around to the northwest corner of the castle grounds, where the slope moderated.  Thus, on the east side, between castle and river, they were completely exposed to the scrutiny and power of Hyacintho Flumen.  Bully grasped why Archard Oshelm had moved most of his men across the river by boats further upstream; cover of darkness would not hide an army this close to the enemy.  Between the guard at the west end of the bridge and the Pulchra Mane soldiers stationed north of the castle, Fugol’s embassy traversed an empty and defenseless mile.  Bully felt the hairs on his neck prickling.  In the summer, he had ridden this road with Archard Oshelm and Boyden Black without any sense of danger, but that was before.  Now—the flag of truce was almost always respected—but what do we really know about Mortane?  Castle magic could destroy us at any moment.
            “An embassy of truce for Her Majesty, Queen Mariel!”  Danbeney shouted their mission every hundred yards.  No one came to meet them. 
            The road passed wide to the north of the castle.  On their right, Bully spied Herminian soldiers in fields, barns, and sheds, preparing their camps for the siege ahead.  Several of them waved or saluted the embassy, but Bully followed Fugol’s example and did not acknowledge the salutes.
            “An embassy of truce for Her Majesty, Queen Mariel!”  The riders had reached the northwest approach to Hyacintho Flumen.  The slope here was still steep, but not nearly as severe as the south and east sides.  Bully and Frasor bunched closer to Fugol and Danbeney as the road narrowed.  They passed some servant cottages, a barn, a stable, and a garden on the west slope of the castle.  At last, as they rode under the very shadow of the castle, a man came out to meet them.  He held up a palm and they stopped.
            “Name yourselves!”
            Fugol spurred his horse one step ahead.  “Commander Fugol Hengist.  I speak for Eudes Ridere, Consort of the Queen and General of the Army of Herminia.”
            “Hear me!  You have come without invitation onto the lands of Lord Aylwin Mortane.  You and your master must depart these lands immediately; else wise, the Lord Aylwin will consider you at war with him and his house.”
            Fugol said nothing.
            “Have you no reply?”
            Fugol moved his horse forward another step.  “Observe!  The army of Herminia is not departing these lands, neither immediately nor in any other fashion. If Lord Aylwin considers this war, so be it.  He should then consider terms of peace before he is destroyed.  It is for that reason I have been sent.  Will Lord Aylwin receive me and hear Lord Ridere’s words?”
            “He will.”  The man pointed at Fugol.  “You alone.  These men,” he gestured at Bully, Frasor, and Danbeney, “will dismount and stay here.  Odo will care for your horses.”
            The man pointed with his chin.  A gangly boy, perhaps twelve years old, was jogging up the hill.  The riders swung down from the saddle.  Wide-eyed and solemn, the boy received the leads to their horses.  Danbeney kept his flag of truce.  Bully almost offered to help the stable boy, but he remembered he was not to speak.  Odo snickered to the animals and led them gently away.
            “This way.”  The man bowed Fugol into Hyacintho Flumen and shut the door.

            Nowhere to go, nothing to say, and nothing to do but wait—except Ridere had said to keep his eyes open.  Bully stood with his hands behind his back and surveyed the land west and north of the castle.  Pastures and grape vines occupied the lower slopes of the hill; further away were gardens, fields, and farmhouses, then forests.  Ridge after ridge of wild lands filled the horizon.  Looking north, Bully knew the road to Down’s End found its way somewhere over those ridges, but he couldn’t make out where it lay.  In the distant west was a blue smudge of mountains.
            Frasor and Danbeney used their time as Bully did, observing and memorizing the lay of the land around Hyacintho Flumen.  The more he looked, Bully discovered, the more there was to see.  He began counting farmhouses and barns on the west side of the castle, trying to fix in his mind how the fields fit together in a puzzle.  There were people working in one of the fields, digging something—potatoes? —and loading baskets on a wagon.  Near one of the farm cottages, a woman was putting out wet clothes to dry in the sun, hanging them on wooden frames.  She went about her work languidly, stopping often to stare up at the castle as if she were looking for something.
            Something about that woman... She lifted a garment to drape it over the drying frame and the motion clicked in Bully’s memory.  A tall woman, with blond hair curling about the shoulders, and strong, graceful arms.  Turn around.  Let me see your face.  The woman did turn, but the distance was too great.  Bully couldn’t be sure.  But if it is her…  Bully couldn’t chance being recognized.  He stepped back into the shade of the castle.
            Bully continued his survey of the farms and fields west of Hyacintho Flumen, but he kept returning to the washerwoman.  Even with her desultory pace, she finished hanging her clothes and went inside the cottage.  It was a trim little thing, with a thatched roof, a rail fence, and a detached root cellar.  Bully compared it to the other peasant houses he could see and smiled to himself.  The washerwoman’s cottage was clearly the best, he thought.  It would be, wouldn’t it?                
            Sounds behind Bully interrupted his thoughts.  Fugol Hengist marched out of Hyacintho Flumen with the soldier servant who had greeted them right behind.  “You may walk to your horses.  Odo will have them there, at the stable.”  The servant pointed.  “You have but an hour to depart the lord’s lands.  He will not honor the truce any longer than that.”
            Bully thought: I guess that answers the first question about the parley.  Fugol will give a complete report to General Ridere.
            The four soldiers of Herminia quickstepped down the hill.  At the stable, Odo met them with an expression of fear and wonder.  Fugol clasped him on the shoulder.  “Don’t worry, boy.  We’re not here to hurt the folk of Tarquint.  The fool up there”—Fugol indicated the castle—“that’s a different matter.”
            Odo, wide-eyed, did not reply.  He held Danbeney’s flag while the men took their mounts.  He was still staring after them when they turned away.
            Now Bully rode on the left side, which gave him one last chance to observe the washerwoman’s cottage, this time much closer up.  The walls had been painted a pale blue, the window shutters in white.  The finest peasant house on Two Moons.  As if on cue, the washerwoman came out of the cottage to look round the corner of her house, again as if she expected to see someone at the castle.  Now Bully had no doubt at all.
            He pulled his horse left and kicked his sides.  The horse easily leapt a ditch at the roadside and galloped toward the woman’s house.  Behind Bully his companions were cursing him excitedly.  The woman turned at the commotion and screamed to see a rider bearing down on her.
            Bully reined up and slid off his horse in one motion.  He chased the woman to and through the entrance of the house, catching her arm before she could shut the door.  She hit him in the face; he staggered for a moment.  He pulled his sword and swung it wildly.  Seeing the bright steel, she cowered back.  “Out!”  Bully stepped aside and the woman obeyed his command.  He followed her into the sunshine, the point of his sword at her back.
            Fugol, Danbeney, and Frasor were reining up on the patch of grass outside the woman’s cottage.  “By the gods!  You damn fool!”
            Bully ignored them.  “On the horse!”  He poked at his prisoner.  The woman hitched up her kirtle and climbed into the saddle.  She might have fled, but Bully had taken a firm grip on the reins.
            Fugol bellowed.  “You idiot!  Mortane has castle magic!  We’re dead men!”
            Bully pulled the horse’s reins, walking horse and prisoner from behind the house into full view of anyone watching from Hyacintho Flumen.  He waved his sword, reflecting sunlight like a beacon.  “I think not!”
            Bully sheathed his sword and threw himself into the saddle, thrusting his prisoner against the saddle’s horns.  He bent close to her ear.  “I intend to return you, whole, to Mortane.  But I’ll cut you if I must.  So do as I say.”
            Fugol, Danbeney, and Frasor were stunned into momentary silence.
            Bully held his horse’s reins with his arms firmly around the woman.  “Sirs!  I introduce Juliana Ingdaughter, the servant of Edita Toeni, who is now Lady Edita Mortane.  We will take Juliana to General Ridere.”
            “Madness.”  Fugol spoke while Danbeney and Frasor were slack jawed.  “What value is a serving maid as prisoner?”
            “Enough to keep us alive.”  Bully nudged his mount into a trot.  The others followed.

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