Thursday, December 12, 2013

Castles 81

81.  Near Castle Hyacintho Flumen

            “I will hazard a guess, my Lord General.  You’re trying to decide what to do with the woman.”
            Alan Turchil was the commander of soldiers from Tutum Partum, loyal to Lady Avice Montfort, and as dependable as Eudes’s own commanders from Pulchra Mane.  Alan and Eudes sat with their backs to a wall in the Rose Petal.   Boisterous talk filled the room, allowing Eudes and Alan a measure of privacy.  Oil lamps in wall sconces and candlesticks on three tables lit the room, but left corners in shadow.
            Eudes swirled the wine in his glass and set it down without drinking.  “Actually, Alan, I was merely noting how from the back Juliana Ingdaughter reminds me of another woman.”
            Both men laughed.  “Aye, my Lord General.  I can see the resemblance.  But surely our prisoner is not so fearsome as our Queen.”
            “No, but I must consider what my royal wife will think if I decide wrongly about Mistress Ingdaughter.”  By habit, Eudes said nothing to detract from Mariel’s reputation as the Ice Queen.  “I almost wish Bully hadn’t captured her.”
            The biggest room in the Rose Petal provided considerably less room than the great hall of a castle.  When used as a conference room, it served admirably for Eudes and his commanders, gathered around one table.  Every day they met to report on and manage the myriad details of a siege.  But now the space was packed: more tables, more chairs, more people.  Not for military purposes, but political.
            The army of Herminia included “knights” from each castle except Lady Avice’s Tutum Partum.  Three of them were of age and might be expected to fight: Odell Giles from Calles Vinum, Selwin Beaumont from Caelestis Arcanus, and List Wadard from Beatus Valle.  The remaining four traveled with the army purely as hostages, guarantees for the good behavior of their fathers or grandfathers back home: Aldin Thoncelin from Ventus in Montes, Deman Mowbray from Rubrum Vulpes, Gifre Toeni from Prati Mansum, and List Wadard’s son Linn.  Eudes did not clutter his daily conference with Herminia’s knights, and already Odell, Selwin, and List had begun to mutter against this exclusion.  So Eudes decided to host commanders and knights to sup once a week.  It would be a party rather than a military meeting, spiced by the presence of women from Tarquint.
            Eudes met individually with the knights and commanders before the party, warning them bluntly.  These women were respectable daughters of good families from the town Hyacintho Flumen and the surrounding country.  Naturally, they would fear the invading army, especially its leaders.  The weekly parties, Eudes told his men, would serve to douse those fears.  Herminia’s knights and commanders would treat party guests with respect and decorum.  “If you want a whore, go find one on your own.  But if you touch one of these women, you’ll be whipped in the square, and I will wield the whip.”
            On the first occasion, at least, Eudes’s warning seemed to hold.  The knights and commanders ate and drank with the guests, told stories, acted pantomimes, and laughed freely as the wine flowed.  At the end of the evening, when each woman’s father or brother arrived to escort her home, she would report honorable treatment at the hands of the Herminians.  If the knights and commanders behaved themselves properly from week to week, Eudes’s parties would help pacify Tarquint.  Meanwhile, the knights had their dignity assuaged.
            But what do I do about Juliana Ingdaughter?
            No Tarquintian father or brother would be coming to take Juliana home.  When the party ended, Bully Wedmor would escort her to a room guarded both at the door and outside the window.  There she would remain prisoner until Eudes determined her fate.
            Eudes had no doubt the blond beauty had been sent to Tarquint to sweeten the marriage pot for Aylwin Mortane, and her position as “washerwoman” conveniently close to the castle confirmed her real role.  Officially, however, she had come to Hyacintho Flumen as a serving woman for Edita Toeni, now Edita Mortane.  The personal servant of Lady Edita ought to be accorded respect—officially.  In reality, who could say what Edita thought of Juliana?
            Alan Turchil leaned close.  “They say you allowed young Gifre Toeni time alone with Juliana.  Why?”
            “The boy wanted news of his sister.  It’s possible Juliana might say something to him that she wouldn’t let slip to you or me.”
            “Did she?”
            Eudes massaged his forehead.  “No.  Apparently she was careful to maintain appearances.  I don’t think Gifre suspects Aylwin’s true interest in Juliana.”
            Alan leaned his chin on his hands.  “Really?  The boy is smart, and he grew up amidst the intrigues of a castle.  Gods!  He’ll be a lord himself one day.  Surely he knows about mistresses.”
            “I suppose.  But he’s just turned eleven, and he wants to believe good things for his sister.  I’d hoped Juliana would tell him the truth so I wouldn’t have to.”
            Alan laughed quietly.  “My Lord General, you’re like a thousand other soldiers, hoping someone else will bear the brunt of battle.”
            “Aye.  But I will do my duty when the time comes.”  Eudes took a swallow of wine.  “Though I still need to discern what my duty is in this case.  What do I do with her?”
            Alan splayed his left hand on the table and pointed to his fingers with his right.  “One.  Keep her prisoner.  Question her.  She might tell you something useful.  Two.  Give her to the men.  She’s basically a whore anyway; let her earn her living honestly.  Three.  Send her back to Aylwin.  He can keep wife and mistress together in the castle; it might cause him some grief.  Four.  Put Juliana on a ship back to Prati Mansum.  It was stupid for Toeni to marry his daughter to a Mortane in the first place; surely he knew Mariel planned to invade.  Let Juliana’s presence remind him daily of his daughter’s plight.  Five.  I don’t know.  Hm.  I could say you could have her yourself, but Queen Mariel might not appreciate it.”
            Eudes smiled wryly.  “I want to live a few more years, so I’ll decline option five.”

            The next day, after conferencing with his commanders, Eudes inspected the siege works west of the castle.  Aewel Penda, who had stayed the night at the Rose Petal, rode with him.  Penda had charge of the southwest quadrant of the siege.  Bully accompanied Eudes as squire.  They crossed Blue River by boat well south of the bridge.  The Herminians used the bridge every day, and so far nothing had gone wrong, but it was unnerving to ride across the bridge in daylight with the castle towering so close.  Most of the army’s traffic crossed by boat a safe distance north or south of Hyacintho Flumen.
            Penda’s men had dug a long pit a few hundred yards away from the farmhouse Penda used for his base.  (Eudes had insisted that the farmer be paid generously for the house.)  In this pit they stored the unexploded casks of liquid fire.  Before winter they would roof the pit to keep the devilish stuff dry.  Eudes saluted Penda and left him to his duties.  Aewel would rise early the next morning to report again at the Rose Petal.
            The many farmers in the coastlands southwest of Hyacintho Flumen had to accept Herminian dominion to transport their harvest to market.  Eudes noted with satisfaction that wagons were already using the roads again.  Over and over he had stressed to his commanders that they must treat the Tarquintians fairly.  He wanted the markets in the town Hyacintho Flumen flush with produce, and the people of both town and country to feel safe doing business there.  His war was only against the castle and its lord.
            Further along, the northwest quadrant of the siege presented the greatest challenge to Eudes and his commanders.  Three narrow valleys, each with its own creek, ran down to Blue River from the mountains in the west.  It was rugged country, with plenty of places where a smuggler might try to penetrate the Herminian blockade.  Archard Oshelm’s men were exploring the valleys, contacting the scattered farmers, and offering to help transport crops across Blue River by boat.  They built permanent camps by each creek, and regular patrols marched between the camps.
            Rather than complete the circuit of Hyacintho Flumen, Eudes and Bully turned around at a point northwest of the castle and retraced their route.  During a siege, Eudes rode inspection almost every day, but he constantly varied his routine, sometimes sleeping on the line with ordinary soldiers.  “The general has a remarkable capacity for showing up when you least expect it,” one solider had said.  Eudes worked hard to keep that thought alive in his men.
             The autumn sun sat on the horizon and campfires were beginning to spring to life on the southern line of siege.  Soldiers here had easy duty, so long as the local farmers were content to take their wagons to town via boat.  In the first week the blockade had not been challenged.  Eudes and Bully came back to the riverside dock late in the day at the same time as two wagons.  The last boat of the day, a flat barge propelled by two pole men, waited at the dock.  To cross, Eudes would have to order one of the wagons to wait ’til the next morning.
            The riverboat men recognized Eudes.  “Fair evening, my Lord General.  Please tie your horses to the forward rail.”
            “Fair evening.  Thank you, no.  These men need to get their goods across before dark.  Load the wagons.”
            “My Lord, there’ll not likely be another boat tonight.  Fog is rising; it’ll be too dark.”
            Eudes dismounted and motioned the teamsters to move forward.  “I understand.  Bully and I will stay the night here if need be.”
            The boatmen worked quickly, but by the time they blocked and secured the wagons, darkness was falling.  “Hup!  Hup!”  They pushed with their long poles, and the riverboat moved away.  Within seconds it disappeared into fog.  “Hup!  Hup!” came quietly over the river.  Eudes and Bully stood alone with their horses on the dock.
            “My Lord General, we should find a campfire with a bit o’ sup.”
            “Aye, Bully.  I’m ready to eat.”  But at that moment a sound came out of the fog on the river.
            “Damn, it’s thick tonight!  Hup!  Hup!  Where’s the dock?”
            Eudes called out into the darkness.  “Ho there!  Is that a boat?”
            “What do ya think?  A magic carpet?  Light us a lamp, ya lump!  Look lively, there!”
            Dark, damp and cold, enveloped them.  “I’m afraid we have no lamp.  Aim for my voice if you can.  The dock is right here.”
            “Call out, then.  Damn the fog!”
            Eudes stamped his feet.  “Dock right here!  One, two, three, four!  Dock right here!  One, two, three, four!”  Bully joined him the chant.  “Dock right here!  One, two, three, four!”
            Many seconds passed.  Out of the darkness a boatman’s pole swept over the dock, the tip of it smacking into Bully and throwing him down.  “Hey!  Careful!”
            “Sorry ’bout that.”  Only a stride distant, boatmen suddenly emerged from the fog, two of them, with a boy standing between them.  A lantern hung at the near end of the boat, throwing a small halo around it.  Their craft bumped into the dock, and heavy ropes thudded onto the wood.  “Can ya tie us down?”  Eudes held the horses’ reins while Bully wrapped a rope around a post.
            “Thank ya, I’m sure.  But why’s two soldiers waitin’ in the dark wi’ no light?”
            Eudes handed the reins to Bully and extended his hand to guide the men onto the dock.  “The last boat of the day had a full load.  We were about to leave when we heard you.  Fog dampens voices, I think.”
            The boy jumped onto the dock.  “General Ridere?”
            “Aye.  Who is it?”  Eudes bent to look at the boy’s face.  “Gifre Toeni!  What in Two Moons are you doing here?”
            “Come to look for you.  Commander Turchil said I would have half odds of finding you on the south side.  Is Bully with you, Sir?”
            “Excellent!  Now, Tom and Long Bob!”  Gifre pressed a coin into each boatman’s hand.  “You not only got me safely across, you found the men I wanted.  Thank you, indeed.”
            The boatman called Long Bob held up the lantern.  “Lord General Ridere!  Please don’t hold unseemly words against us.”
            “Of course not.  We all say things we don’t mean, especially in the dark.  Can you find your way home?”
            “Aye, we can.”
            “Walk on ahead of us, then.  If we follow the road we’ll come to soldiers.  Once we see a campfire, we’ll turn aside.”
            “As you wish, Lord General.”
            Eudes walked slowly, letting the boatmen’s light dwindle ahead.  “Gifre, what would you have done if you hadn’t found me?  You are supposed to be a knight in this army; soldiers are not to risk their lives without good reason.  Gods!  A night like this, you could get lost and die of exposure.  I hope you have a good reason for searching me down.”
            “I do, my lord.  But since it’s Bully’s idea, I’ll let him explain.”

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


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