Thursday, December 5, 2013

Castles 80

80.  Near Inter Lucus

            “I just don’t get it.”
            “Excuse me, my lord, what do you want to get?”
            “It’s an expression, Isen.  What I mean is I do not understand dignity.  Ash had contempt for the lords of Herminia who willingly obey Queen Mariel.  They have no dignity, he thinks.  And he had even more contempt for me.  He thinks I also lack dignity.”
            The conversation paused as Marty and Isen positioned themselves at one end of a twenty-five foot log.  Ealdwine and Rothulf were at the other end, Eadmar and Os near the middle.  Eadmar said,  “Everyone ready?  Okay!  Lift!”  Amid grunts, the log moved into its place, the foundational log for one wall of Prayer House.  “Good!  Wonderful!  We’re making good progress.”  The priest beamed at the other men.  “And here come Caelin and Ora with mid-day sup.”
            Sir Kenelm Ash from Hyacintho Flumen had come to Inter Lucus the day before.  Ash and Travers stayed the night and departed after accepting breakfast at the castle, but all of the knight’s interactions with Marty had been marked by the same disdain Ash had shown at table the day before.  With the visitors gone, Marty spent the morning reviewing his memories of his conversations with Ash, trying to understand the man’s attitude.
            The construction crew had turned its attention to Prayer House, a somewhat more complicated structure than the barn.  Prayer House reminded Marty of the Lincoln Log toys he played with at his grandfather’s house when he was four years old.  Notched logs would interlock at the corners of the building, providing structural integrity.  First, though, the base log of each wall had to be carefully positioned in a shallow bed of gravel to provide a stable foundation for the rest of the building.  Priest Eadmar diligently supervised the placement of the base logs.  Marty worked side by side with the other members of the crew.
            Caelin and Ora distributed apples and sandwiches, a practical combination of bread, onion, meat and cheese that had been unknown between the lakes (nor had Isen seen them in Down’s End) before Marty introduced them.  The crew sat down at various places around the work site to rest and eat.  Clouds covered most of the sky, with only a sliver of blue in the east.  As long as they worked, the men kept warm, but a wind out of the northwest bent the tree tops and promised colder weather.
            Eadmar sat by Marty on one of the logs that had been dragged to the site.  “I heard only a word or two of what you said to Isen.  Please tell of your conversations with Sir Kenelm Ash.”
            Marty took a bite of apple.  “First of all, he made it clear he hadn’t come to collect hidgield.  All my worries on that score—confrontations with a knight over tax money—just vanished.  Poof!  Aylwin Mortane, lord of Hyacintho Flumen, is in no position to exert any claim he might have between the lakes.
            “The Queen of Herminia—whose existence was news to me—has sent an army to Tarquint.  Ten thousand men, according to Ash!  They’ve cut off traffic to Hyacintho Flumen; apparently they intend to besiege Mortane rather than assault the castle directly.  Sir Ash and Travers escaped Hyacintho Flumen just in time before the siege closed in.”
            Eadmar swallowed a bit of sandwich and nodded.  “A lord in his castle cannot be taken; everyone knows this.  Not by experience, of course!  Few people in Down’s End have ever so much as seen a castle.  After all, it’s a long way to Hyacintho Flumen or Saltas Semitas!  So none of us has seen an attack on a castle.  But all the stories of the past say that demon magic enables a lord to destroy enemies when they come near the castle.”
            Eadmar held up a hand to interrupt Marty’s objection.  “I know what you will say, Martin, that it is not demon magic, but only a machine made by the strangers.  Of all the priests on Two Moons, I am the only one who might believe your account of things—and I live here and talk with you often.  Please remember that no castle lord has ever worshiped the true God before you.  At least some of my brothers in Down’s End will say you have deceived me.  That you command a castle is proof, they would say, that you use demon magic.”
            Marty shook his head.  “As long as people assume castles work by magic, I can do nothing to shake their opinion.  But Inter Lucus is a machine; I’m sure of it.  I’m only gradually learning how to command some of its parts.”
            Eadmar said, “Return to your discussion with Ash.  He said something that bothered you.”
            “Ash said that Queen Mariel intends to force Aylwin to submit to her, just as the lords of Herminia—and lady of Herminia, since one of the castles is ruled by a woman—just as the rulers of Herminia submit to Mariel.  I asked about this.  I thought submission must be some terrible thing, since Aylwin is willing to fight to escape it.  But all it means is that castle rulers must regularly report to the queen, pay a portion of their hidgield to her, obey her laws and see that their people obey her laws.  In short, castle lords and ladies have to pledge fealty to Mariel, much as their people pledge fealty to them.”
            Eadmar took his last bite and stood up.  “Getting colder.”  He swung his arms back and forth.  “Go on.”
            Marty shrugged.  “I said submission to a queen didn’t sound so bad.  The lord or lady still has the comforts and powers of a castle.  And an organized country with uniform laws would be good for trade.  But Ash said I had no dignity.  He had contempt for the lords of Herminia who cooperate with Mariel and even more contempt for me, since I haven’t got the excuse of having been starved into submission.”
            Eadmar looked over the trees into the darkening clouds in the west.  He might have been contemplating the weather, but he said, “Martin, I think I understand your problem.”
            “Please explain.”
            “Do you remember the words: ‘Anyone who wants to be great among you must be servant of all’?”
            “Aye.  I read those words to you a couple days ago.”
            The priest nodded.  “Just so.  But you have heard these words many times.”
            “I suppose so.  They are part of the gospel reading for some days.  The word of the Lord and all that.”
            Eadmar grinned.  “Do not take the word of the Lord for granted.  I had never heard those particular words of the Lord until you read them to me.  We brothers have long believed what these words mean, though we never heard them until now.”
            Marty didn’t respond, thinking again how important his New Testament might be on Two Moons.
            Eadmar began beckoning with his arms.  “Isen, Os, Ealdwine, Rothulf, Caelin, Ora, everybody!  Come here!”  The workers, who had finished their lunches, gathered around Marty and the priest.  “I want to ask some questions.  Before I ask, though, I want you to know that Lord Martin will not be offended, no matter what you say.  That’s right, isn’t it, Martin?”
            Marty cooperated, though he didn’t know what Eadmar had in mind.  “Of course.”
            Eadmar looked around the circle of Marty’s people.  “Os, these last few days you’ve been building a barn and now Prayer House.  Lord Martin has been working side by side with you.  He clears brush, digs holes, lifts logs and boards, and does everything else you do.  Is that right?”
            Os looked at the ground.  “Aye.  Except I lift heavier things than Lord Martin.”
            “True enough.  Of course, you lift heavier things than anyone.  This is what I want to ask you, Os.  Do you think it’s proper for Lord Martin to work this way, doing what you do?”
            Os wasn’t the only one looking at the ground.  Ealdwine and Isen seemed to share his embarrassment.  Rothulf, in contrast, wore a mocking grin.  Os said, “The Lord Martin may choose to do what he pleases.”
            “He has authority to do as he pleases.  Aye.”  Eadmar spoke evenly.  “But do you think it is right?”
            Os could not bring himself to speak the answer aloud.
            Eadmar turned to Caelin.  “Caelin, what do you think?  Is it right for a lord to work side by side with a sheriff or some other servant?”
            Caelin pressed his lips together, then looked at Marty.  “I think it is right.”
            Eadmar raised an eyebrow.  “Really?  Is a lord no better than a servant?”
            Caelin’s face took a stubborn cast.  “Many people would say a lord who does such things has no dignity.  I do not agree.  I think that a person should do most often the thing he, or she”—Caelin nodded toward Ora—“does best.  When we are building Prayer House, it is right that you, Priest Eadmar, should tell us where the cross should go.  Someone who knows about building should tell us which log to use for each wall.”
            Eadmar prodded, “I think you learned this idea from Lord Martin.  Tell me, what things should a lord do?”
            Caelin folded his arms across his chest.  “Lord Martin is the only lord of Inter Lucus.  Therefore, there are many things he must do, and no one else can do them.  Only Lord Martin can command the castle.  Only Lord Martin could receive Kenelm Ash or respond to messages from Aylwin Mortane.  But—when Lord Martin is not doing the things a lord must do, he is free to help us on the building crew. As a builder he is no better than the rest of us.  Os is probably better.  When it comes to hunting, we should send Elfric, because he is good at it.  As a hunter Lord Martin is probably useless.”
            Laughter at this statement allowed the circle to release tension. 
            Caelin continued.  “I believe that Lord Martin has dignity.  Not as Ash would define it, perhaps.  I believe a castle lord should make life better for the people.  Lord Martin has already helped folk between the lakes.  That is real dignity.”
            Eadmar turned to Marty.  “Caelin is learning his lessons, isn’t he?  He thinks as you do.”
            Marty nodded, considering the priest’s words.  I’ve been introducing democratic ideas in a medieval world of knights and lords.  Be careful, old man, or you’ll start a revolution without intending it. 
            But Eadmar did not talk about democracy.  “Consider, Martin, the mind of a castle lord.  The lord or lady of a castle knows from childhood that he will bond with a castle.  The little lady or lord comes to believe that she is different from all other people; she has magic!  Not even the ruler of another castle can command her castle.  She—or he—owes allegiance only to the gods.  Conveniently enough, the gods have been absent from time out of mind.  So castle lords and ladies come to believe they owe nothing to anyone, except perhaps to their brothers, sisters, and children.  I say ‘perhaps,’ because they say that Hereward Mortane killed his brother Wimund when Wimund returned home, having failed to bond with Inter Lucus.  Lords sometimes fear treachery from their own family.
            “Consider well, Martin, the things you say and do.  I am convinced, more than ever, that you serve the true God.  Though you are a lord, you believe you owe obedience to God.  You also believe that a lord must be a servant.  Kenelm Ash will not be the only person on Two Moons who regards you with suspicion or contempt.”
Copyright © 2013 by Philip D. Smith.
All rights reserved.  International copyright secured.


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