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.”
“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.