Thursday, February 27, 2014

Castles 92

92. In Stonebridge

            A scratching sound roused Milo from sleep.  It wasn’t very loud; the wind whistling under the eaves of the Citadel outside was louder, in spite of the thick stone wall.  But Milo slept lightly, and he knew what the scratching meant.  He shuffled across his cell, his feet sticking to the icy floor, and opened his door.  Tilde was wrapped in a black blanket like a shroud; in the faint light of the corridor she could have been a shade from the afterworld.  Milo bolted the door after she came in.  “Can’t sleep,” she whispered.
            “Not surprising,” said Milo.  “There’s not a spot in the Citadel that’s been genuinely warm for a month, other than the kitchen.”  He took her hand and pulled her to his cot.  The narrow bed forced them to lie close.
            “It’s not the cold.”  She turned her back to him and wiggled her butt against him.  “I can always come here and get warm.”
            “True enough, I suppose.”  His left hand slipped around her side to cup a breast.  “You certainly know how to make me warm.  So what is it?”
            “What’s keeping you awake if it’s not the cold?”
            “Tondbert.  I think he knows I’m pregnant.”
            “What of it?  It won’t be long ’til everyone knows.”  Milo let his hand trace the curve of her hip.
            “When he looks at me, you can see that he’s thinking.  And I see it when he looks at you, Milo.  He’s calculating.  He’s weighing up how to use me against you and when to do it.”
            “Possibly, even likely.  But he’s also reminding himself how useful your testimony would be against Ody Dans.  At just the right moment, when Dans threatens him, Tondbert can produce a witness Dans thought was dead.  You need not fear.  Tondbert wants to keep you safe.”
            Tilde grabbed Milo’s hand to stop its movement.  “Please take this seriously, Milo.  I fear the man.  He’s dangerous.”
            “Oh, I agree.  But he will not be dangerous much longer.”
            Tilde whirled on the cot like a summer windstorm, bringing her lips close to Milo’s.  “Why not?”
            “The Assembly has been pressuring Commander Tondbert to move against Ifing Redhair and his Falcons.  I think we will venture into the Bene Quarter again, and this time the commander will go with us.”
            “And what then?”
            “Shush.  It is impossible for you to tell what you do not know.”  He kissed her.  “But there is something I need you to do.”
            “And that is?”
            “I’ll explain after.”  He kissed her again, and she responded willingly.

            Every table in the Citadel refectory had at least two men breakfasting.  Milo and Felix sat near a wall, allowing Milo opportunity to survey the room while he and his patrol partner sipped hot cider, spiced with cloves.  They had already eaten and were waiting for morning muster.  The ranks of under-sheriffs had been gradually filling for six months; numerically, at least, the guard was back to what some called full strength.  In reality, Milo thought, half the new recruits would be useless in a serious fight.  Not that they’re cowards; they just haven’t trained enough.
            Milo also knew that “full strength” was a matter of contention in the Stonebridge Assembly.  Osred Tondbert continually entreated the Assembly for more men.  The City Guard could barely patrol the streets, the commander argued, much less defend the city.  Ody Dans and a few other assemblymen would sometimes make speeches in favor of Tondbert’s proposals, but somehow no major expansion of the Guard won approval.  The rich families of Stonebridge feared that if the Guard were too strong, Tondbert might move against them.  They needed the City Guard to suppress the Falcons and Hawks, at least to the degree necessary for industry and commerce.  But Tondbert they regarded as little better than Ifing Redhair or Bo Leanberth, the chieftains of the gangs they used him to restrain.  All the great families employed their own armsmen to provide safety for their villas and walled estates.  In fact, Milo had learned, Ody Dans’s private security at The Spray was fewer in number than many rich houses.
            “Today, do you think?”  Felix spoke sotto voce, his gaze fixed on men on the other side of the room.
            Milo had shared his belief, based on bits of information gained from Derian Chapman, that the Assembly was pressing Commander Tondbert for forceful action against the Falcons.  “Perhaps,” said Milo.  Like Felix, Milo kept his attention on other tables.  He waved at Hrodgar Wigt, who saluted Milo’s greeting with a bit of bread.  Milo continued, “He needs to move soon.  The Falcons have not been content to extort the poor folk of the Bene Quarter.  Someone told the Assembly, in their meeting yesterday, that Redhair’s men have started collecting fuel dues from some of the smiths in the jewelry district.  I don’t think it’s true, but it shows how rumors spread and grow.  Tondbert, naturally, wants to wait until the new under-sheriffs are better trained.”
            “For once, I agree with him.”
            “As would any sensible man.”  Milo inclined his head toward Trymian Wallis, the fat assistant to Tondbert who had lost his position as trainer of recruits partly because Milo suggested Tondbert replace Wallis with Aidan Fleming.  Wallis was late to breakfast, not his normal behavior.  And what’s he been up to? Milo wondered.  Wallis waddled past Milo and Felix to the kitchen counter, where the morning’s meal of bread and hot mash awaited.
            “No bacon?  No meat?”  Wallis complained.  “Gods!”  He slapped his hand on the counter.  “At least let’s have some honey to dress this horse fodder.”
            The kitchen maid cowered behind the counter.  “I’m sorry, my lord, but there is none.”
            “Don’t lie to me!  I’m the assistant commander, you worthless whore!  We can put you on the street and hire another wench before your feet get cold.  Get me some honey.”
            The girl had a pale face at any time, but under Wallis’s beleaguerment she took on the color and immobility of white marble.  Her eyes bulged with fear.  Wallis screamed at her.  “Damn it, girl!  Move!” 
            Milo reached Wallis with quick strides.  The assistant commander spun around at the touch of a hand on his shoulder.  “What?”  Wallis’s teeth were bared and his face flushed.
            Milo inclined his head.  “My lord commander, none of the men had meat this morning.  And there really is no honey for the mash.”
            “Damn you…” Before Wallis finished his sentence, his eyes flashed across the men gathered in the refectory.  Without looking behind him, Milo knew every sheriff was watching the confrontation.  He also knew their eyes would be hard, harboring no sympathy for the assistant commander.  Wallis swallowed, and his fist unclenched.  He forced a laugh.  “Horse food it is, then.”  To the refectory girl he said, “I’ll talk to you after muster—in my office.”  He took his bowl and bread to a table.
            Milo returned to his cup, aware of much silent approval from the other men.  Wallis sat alone.

            Osred Tondbert made his appearance in the training yard, where Wallis had called the guardsmen to attention.  The commander beckoned three sheriffs with a wave and whispered to each privately.  The men trotted off to disparate parts of the Citadel.  Tondbert waited for about a minute, bouncing on the balls of his feet.  Milo had the impression that the man was fighting to contain a smile.  “You may bring them now,” Tondbert said to Wallis.  The assistant commander nodded and walked away as quickly as his bulging legs permitted.
            Still Tondbert did not address the men, content for them to attend to his silence.  He folded his arms in front of his chest.  By the gods!  Tondbert thinks he’s the cat that swallowed the canary, the hero who solved the dragon’s riddle.
            A wave of whispers swept through the assembled soldiers. All eyes were on three men who followed Trymian Wallis into the courtyard.  Tondbert’s deep voice barked, “Men of the Guard!”  They snapped back to attention.  “As you can see, we have visitors today.” Even Tondbert glanced over his shoulder.
            “Some of you will recognize Bo Leanberth,” Tondbert intoned.  “For others, he is only a name.”  The outlaw leader was a magnificent specimen of muscle and pride; both his beard and hair were long, black, and braided, bouncing fore and aft on a leather jerkin.  Under the jerkin Leanberth wore only a light tunic, and yet he seemed comfortable in the winter air.  The skin of his arms and neck shimmered with oil.  He wore a leather scabbard; the bleached white hilt of a short sword was at his hand.  For all Milo could see, the sword hilt was real bone.
            Tondbert continued.  “Leanberth has brought two of his men today, Grindan Goes and Upton Acwellan.  You’ve all heard the names before—leaders of the Hawks.  If the truth were known, all three of them would deserve to hang.”  Tondbert paused to lock eyes for a moment with Leanberth.  The gang leader smiled and made an exaggerated bow.  His beard brushed his knees.  A rustle of laughter rose from the guardsmen.
            Tondbert smiled too, and his receding chin gave him the appearance of a crow.  “But they will not hang today.  Instead, they will earn pardons for all their previous misdeeds.  Leanberth and I have decided we need not like each other to work together, and the Hawks hate Ifing Redhair as much as I do.  Today, this very morning, we will destroy the Falcons.  We will not repeat the error of last summer.  The Citadel’s exits are guarded.  No word of our mission today will escape our walls either before or after we march.
            “I have learned the true location of Redhair’s nest.  Not where you would expect!  We will approach the house from three directions; there will be no escaping us.  Each party of sheriffs will be accompanied by one of the Hawks.  Hrodgar Wigt, Aidan Fleming, and Milo Mortane, step forward please!  You men will lead the three groups.”
            Hrodgar, Aidan, and Milo approached the commander.  Tondbert lowered his voice so that only the captains could hear.  “I presume you will warn me that the new under-sheriffs are not ready for battle.”   
            Aidan Fleming dipped his head.  “Aye, my lord commander.”
            Milo backed the training master.  “I would feel safer, my lord, if we left the newest recruits behind.  They are as likely to harm us as our enemies.”
            Tondbert grinned, showing yellow teeth.  “Fortunately, this is a raid, not a battle.  We take only a few men, and we move fast.”
            Hrodgar scratched his chin.  “My lord, can we trust Leanberth?”
            Tondbert glanced sideways at the Wallis and the three Hawk leaders and spoke even more quietly.  “No; obviously not.  Each of you will pick only a dozen of our best men.  The rest will stay here in the Citadel under Wallis.  Even raw recruits can hold the fortress against a gang.  You see?  I have considered the possibility of an attack on the Citadel while our men are in the field.  We will skirt the Bene Quarter at quick march, feigning a raid there.  Everyone knows there are Falcon strongholds in the Bene, and it will seem that we are striking there.  Beyond the Bene, the three groups divide.  If your guide plays you false, kill him and return to the Citadel.  We’re not going to repeat Gaudy’s Tavern.  Either we take down Redhair or we eliminate Leanberth, Goes, and Acwellan.” 
            “We?”  Hrodgar’s face expressed surprise.  “Will you go with us then, Commander?”
            “Indeed.  I will accompany Milo’s group along with Leanberth.  My sword will never be more than a quick stroke from his neck.  Milo’s group will move fastest, since we will circle the house and come at them from behind.”
            “Very good, Lord Commander.”  Hrodgar inclined his head.
            “Choose your men quickly,” Tondbert rumbled.  “We move fast.  Milo, your men must be especially quick on their feet.  No time for a double-cross today.”
            In five minutes Milo, Hrodgar, and Aidan had chosen their men.  Tondbert assigned Grindan Goes to Hrodgar’s group and Upton Acwellan to Aidan’s.  “All ready?”  Commander Tondbert spoke loudly for the benefit of the gathered men.  “Assistant Commander Wallis!”
            “My lord?” 
            “Disarm the prisoners.  You will keep their weapons here until we return, as guaranty for their good behavior.”
            Apparently, Upton Acwellan hadn’t known this was part of the plan.  The gang lieutenant cried out in surprise and turned to Leanberth, his hand resting on his sword hilt. The Hawk chieftain spread his hands in a pacific gesture, quelling Acwellan’s protest.  Trymian Wallis lumbered from Goes to Acwellan and Leanberth, collecting their swords.  They allowed their swords to be taken, but the disdain the gangsters directed at the assistant commander was as cold as a winter freeze.  Wallis’s fat throat swallowed repeatedly.
            “Let’s move!”  Tondbert ignored his assistant’s discomfort.
            Signaled by Tondbert, Milo led his troop toward the stable door, one of the three entrances to the Citadel.  Bo Leanberth followed at his heels, with Tondbert and twelve sheriffs behind him.  At the stable door they came on one of the guardsmen Tondbert had spoken to earlier, a young under-sheriff named Bayan Mann.  The commander growled at the man: “No one gone out since muster?”
            “Aye, Lord Commander.  Neither in or out this morning.”
            “Good.  Shut the doors and see that no one leaves until we return.”
            “Aye, Sir.”
            Milo leaned close to the guardsman.  “Don’t leave your post for anything, Bayan.  But if you get a chance, can you send a word to the washerwoman for me?”
            “Daisy Freewoman?”
            Milo nodded.
            “What word, Sir Milo?”
            “She should pay attention to my bedding.  It stinks.”
            Bayan grinned.  “Aye, Sir.  Your bed stinks.”
Copyright © 2014 by Philip D. Smith.
All rights reserved.  International copyright secured.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Innovation in Authorship

Why shouldn't reader input count?

    Early on, when I first started publishing Castles on this site, I noted that what I'm really publishing is a draft.  Once the story is finished (and there is a planned conclusion, trust me!), the whole thing will need to be revised before I submit it to any "real" publisher.
    My wife, Karen, and Ron Mock are my most consistent and patient readers.  They frequently make helpful comments.  But now Ron has offered a significantly critical comment.  Basically, he said that chapter 91 doesn't feel right. 
    Chapter 91 is told from Eadmar's point of view.  Nothing wrong with that; Eadmar is an important character and the action of chapter 91 all takes place in Prayer House, which is Eadmar's turf.  But the action of chapter 91 is a Christmas Eve service that reads far too much like a Christmas Eve service straight out of North America, circa 2013.  Ron's complaint is that the Christmas Eve service feels like an earthly paste job.  The Christmas service should be authentically "Two Moons."
    As much as it may hurt to say so, I think Ron is right.  There is something right in chapter 91.  Eadmar latches onto the socially revolutionary aspects of the Christmas story in Luke.  So that bit will stay.  Beyond that, here's the question: what kind of Christmas Eve service would EADMAR, a priest of the Old God, invent?
    If you make suggestions, I might use them!

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Castles 91

91. Near Castle Inter Lucus

            The first knock came before Eadmar expected it.  The fire in his modest fireplace was still blazing.  He hurried down the short hall to the sanctuary of Prayer House and opened the outer door.  Alfwald and Fridiswid Redwine were there, along with Lord Martin’s students who boarded with them: Besyrwen Fairfax, Ernulf Penrict, and Tayte Graham.  “It’s not dark yet,” Eadmar said.
            Alfwald opened his mouth to speak, but turned aside to sneeze violently.  He pulled a kerchief from a pocket to dry his bulbous nose.  “Aye.  But with snow clouds, dark will come early.  Are we the first?”
            Rather than answering, Eadmar motioned the visitors into Prayer House.  “I’ll return in a moment.”  He trotted back to his quarters, tamped down the fire, and changed into his cleanest brown tunic.  He lit a taper at the fire and returned to the sanctuary.  Already more people had arrived.  Eadmar expected the residents of castle Inter Lucus to come; how could they not, when Lord Martin had instigated the meeting?  But these early arrivers were people from the village: the Alymars, the Idans, the whole extended Entwine family, and others Eadmar didn’t yet know.  He had begun learning villager names during Martin’s Harvest Festival, but that was a month past and Eadmar had forgotten many.  Eadmar set about lighting candles and lamps: two candle stands with six candles each in the front of the sanctuary and three oil lamps in wall sconces on each side.
            Another knock; this time it was the castle children: Alf, Ora, Caelin, Went (not yet as pimply as Caelin, but sharing his brother’s skinny build and brown hair), and the bright-eyed Whitney.  The biggest of Martin’s sheriffs, Os Oswald, entered behind them.  Eadmar marveled yet again at Os’s sheer bulk; he filled the doorway when he came in, dimming the light from outside.  Soon after, two other sheriffs arrived along with Lord Martin, Rothulf Saeric, Mildgyd, and Agyfen.  The little boy Agyfen eagerly accepted Eadmar’s hug.  Only three sheriffs had come; Eadmar surmised that Elfric Ash was keeping watch in Inter Lucus, behind barred doors.  Martin could not leave his castle completely unguarded.
            More villagers came.  The fourteen short benches in Prayer House were lined with folk, and others stood along the walls.  Os stood like a sentry next to the door, perhaps to make sure Rothulf didn’t leave during the meeting.  Prayer House was unheated, but with so many crowded together, some people were pulling off coats and cloaks to sit on them.  Eadmar walked the aisle between the benches to face the people underneath the white pine cross, the sign of the old God.
            Eadmar had been pronouncing the holy name in the presence of ordinary folk for more than a month.  So it was no longer precisely fear he felt, yet excitement raced in him as he spoke before so many.
            “As you know, when Lord Martin came to Inter Lucus he brought with him this book.”  Eadmar held the little book high.  “Lord Martin says it is the book of God.  Some of my brothers in Down’s End will be slow to accept this, but I think it is true.  The book of God tells about Jesus, the Son of God.
            “The book of God does not tell if Jesus was born in spring, summer, fall, or winter.  Lord Martin says that no one knows—that is, only God really knows—when Jesus was born.  But the book of God says clearly that Jesus brings us light and life.  ‘In him was life, and that life was the light of men and women,’ the book says.  Because Jesus brings new life, Lord Martin says that believers in Jesus—and on Earth there are many, many believers in Jesus—celebrate Jesus’ birth at the beginning of winter, just when the days begin to lengthen.
            “I will not hide from you the truth.  My brothers in Down’s End would not be pleased that I tell you the name Jesus.  We priests have long treated the holy name as our greatest secret.  But my brothers have not read the book of God, and it says we should share the name freely. 
            “What we do tonight we do not to please Lord Martin but because this really is the book of God.”  Eadmar again held the testament aloft.  “Caelin has copied out parts of the story of Jesus in the common tongue, and I have asked Caelin Bycwine, Ora Wooddaughter, Whitney Ablendan and Lord Martin to help me.  Tonight, we will read you the story of Jesus’ birth.”
            Eadmar went to a small table by the wall, picked up several sheets of Inter Lucus paper, and laid Lord Martin’s book in their place.  Caelin, Ora, Whitney and Martin joined him at the front of Prayer House.  Eadmar distributed the papers, each reader assigned particular passages.  Ora and Whitney were visibly trembling and even Caelin, who could read as well as Eadmar or better, was obviously nervous.  The five of them had practiced together on four occasions.  Whitney couldn’t actually read, since she had been taking lessons at the castle for only two weeks, but she had quickly memorized her small part.
            Lord Martin began. 
            In the time of Herod king of Judah there was a priest named Zechariah…
            Eadmar watched the faces reflecting candle and lamplight.  Eadmar had himself first heard this marvelous story only two months before, when he had returned from Down’s End with Agyfen.  Naturally, the people of Two Moons would puzzle over many things in the story, especially references to Judea, Nazareth, Galilee and Rome, but they quickly grasped the central theme: the births of two boys, promised by God, as God’s salvation for poor ordinary folk.
            Ora’s reading picked up the story when it came to Mary: In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph…
            Eadmar could not help reflecting on the story’s meaning for the people of Two Moons.  They were familiar with castle gods, castle lords, and castle magic.  Worship of the old God had survived on Two Moons because castle magic could not reach priests and believers when they hid far away in the wild.  For generations, priests and believers lived on the knife’s edge of starvation while the castle gods lavished wealth, learning (for a select few), security, medicine, and ease on those who worshiped them.
            Whitney’s turn came.  Her eyes fixed on the paper, but she spoke from memory.  Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and said in a loud voice: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear!  Why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?
            The castle gods went away.  No one knew why.  Castle lords claimed the gods would come back, and they continued to insist on the worship of castle gods.  But the centuries rolled on, the gods did not return, and in the growing cities worshipers of the old God found a measure of welcome and security.  Lordly favor still meant that worshipers of castle gods enjoyed advantages in trade and learning.  Even in the free cities rich people usually confessed loyalty to castle gods.  After so long a time, God’s priests on Two Moons knew their place; their call to serve the poor and powerless had been ingrained in their hearts.
            Ora read again.  And Mary said: “My soul glorifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant.  From now on all generations will call me blessed…
            He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble.  He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty.”
            Eadmar exulted again as he heard the words of Jesus’ mother Mary.  God sent his son to help poor people, people suffering under a foreign king. All over Two Moons, people worshiped castle gods for straightforward reasons of privilege, but the castle between the lakes had lost its lord and fallen into ruin.  For a century the people of Inter Lucus and Senerham had had no lord to dispense favors; they were like sheep without a shepherd.  And now the book of God had appeared, proclaiming good news for ordinary folk.
            Caelin’s turn came when the story returned to the priest Zechariah.  His father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied: “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come and redeemed his people…
            “…to rescue us from the hand of our enemies, and to enable us to serve him without fear in holiness and righteousness before him all our days...
            “…to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace.”
            Eadmar tried to read faces.  Surely some of the folk between the lakes would link the story to their own situation.  Eadmar was thoroughly confident that Lord Martin sincerely worshiped Jesus.  Martin’s coming to Two Moons would enable many to serve God without fear.
            Finally, the reading came to Eadmar.  So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David.  He went to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child.  While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born…
            But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid.  I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.  Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you…
            Eadmar finished his reading and handed his paper to Lord Martin.  Ora, Whitney, and Caelin also gave their texts to Martin, and people looked at the lord, expecting him to speak.  But Martin only inclined his head to Eadmar.
            Eadmar held his palms up in a gesture of openness to everyone present.  “The angel of God told shepherds that Jesus’ birth was good news for all the people.  This is a message of joy and happiness for all of us.  Tonight we celebrate the birth of God’s Son.  He was born into a world of darkness much like our world of Two Moons.  Tonight, to commemorate his birth, we will use light to symbolize his coming.”
            Martin motioned and Alf picked up a woven sack that had been on the floor at his feet.  Alf held it open and Went, Tayte, and Besyrwen helped him distribute small candles to everyone present.
            “I trust that no one will be afraid of the dark,” said Eadmar.  He took one of the candles from the candle stand on his right and nodded to Martin, who blew out the other candles on their stands one by one.  While Martin extinguished the candles, sheriff Leo and sheriff Ealdwine put out the lamps.  In a matter of seconds, the candle in Eadmar’s hand was the only light in the room.
            The crowd in Prayer House waited in profound silence.  “Jesus came as light into the world,” Eadmar said.  “A single light in the darkness seems to be a small thing.  But the light can be shared.”  Eadmar held his candle still and Ora tipped hers to light it.  “And when the light is shared, it grows brighter.”  Eadmar and Ora held their candles for others, and very soon the light passed to every person in the sanctuary.  With more than 100 candles burning, Prayer House was filled with light.
            Eadmar returned his candle to the candle stand.  “May the light of Jesus shine in your hearts.  God bless each one of you!  May peace be with you.”
            The crowd took their cue from Lord Martin, who blew out his candle and gave it into Alf’s sack.  Eadmar relit the candles on the candle stands, and Leo and Ealdwine relit the oil lamps.  Soon the people were talking together and moving out of Prayer House for the walk back to the village.  It was snowing; once outside, family groups walked quickly away, seeking the warmth of their houses.

Here ends part two of Castles.

Copyright © 2014 by Philip D. Smith.
All rights reserved.  International copyright secured.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Castles 90

90. In Castle Inter Lucus

            “It comes from the lake, my lord.”
            Marty had some experience of lake effect snow when he lived in Chicago.  But people with experience said that Chicago was a poor stepchild in comparison to Buffalo.  In Buffalo, the west wind could sweep across Lake Erie and bury the city in a night.  “Buffalo, not Chicago,” he whispered, not realizing he verbalized his thought.
            “My lord?”  Isen’s face showed puzzlement.  Marty and Isen were on the third floor of the east wing tower, standing on stools so they could look out over the walls.  The walls themselves had reached seven feet and were still growing, and atop them the snow extended their height several inches.  Marty and Isen pushed the walls of snow outward; they fell in wet clumps on the roofs of the west wing and great hall.
            “I was thinking of a city called Buffalo, Isen.  They have a lake too, and they get deep snows when the winter wind blows across the lake.”
            “You have lived in Buffalo?”
            “No.  I’ve heard about it, but never been there.  The snow made me think of it.”
            Light streaked across the landscape from the southeast; the sun had begun to poke above the horizon.  A blue-white glare made it impossible to look sunward as the light reflected off miles of snow. The sky had emptied itself of yesterday’s storm clouds; today’s firmament was a brilliant blue almost painful to look at.  On the east, north, and west sides of Inter Lucus forest limbs were weighed down with wet burdens, great firs and pines transformed into cones of snow.  Here and there, as the sunlight caught an angle, gems sparkled on the trees.  The roofs of Inter Lucus’s barn and Prayer House looked like wedding cakes, three feet of white frosting on top of brown log walls.
            Marty pointed.  “Snow can be awfully heavy.  Will Prayer House hold the weight?”
            Isen sucked his teeth.  “Maybe.  We built it strong.  In Down’s End the wind comes across the lake from the north or east maybe once or twice each winter, bringing the deep snow.  Sometimes a house or roof collapses from the weight, so men shovel it off to protect their buildings.”
            “That sounds wise.  When the sheriffs have finished breakfast, we’ll make paths to the barn and Prayer House, and we’ll clear the roofs of snow.  The reading lesson can come after mid-day sup.”           
            Isen nodded, sucking his teeth again.
            “Out with it, Isen.  You have something you want to say, or you wouldn’t have sought me out.”
            “With the snow so deep, my lord, this may be a wrong time to speak of it.  I had thought, with the barn and Prayer House finished, we might build a glassworks.”
            A bald-headed figure came around the corner of Prayer House, struggling through the snow: Eadmar.  Marty waved and was surprised to get an answering wave.  Of course, it would be easy for the priest to see Marty and Isen against the backdrop of a blue sky, but only if he looked up.  Eadmar is the kind of person who will look into the distance even when he can hardly put one foot in front of another.
            “Tell me what you could make in a glassworks.  And where should it be built?”  Marty looked at Isen’s face.  “Don’t look so surprised, Isen.  You’ve been living here and helping me for five months, and you haven’t once spoken about building a shop.  I’ve been expecting it.  What would you make?”
            “Practical things, my lord.  Window glass.  Only two houses in Inter Lucus have glassed windows.  In winter, when the shutters are shut against the cold, even a few small windows make a house much lighter, less gloomy.  And I would make beautiful things.  Glass goblets, now—much more difficult to make, but a lord’s great hall should have fine goblets when a knight comes to call.  The aldermen of Down’s End have goblets for their wine; you ought to have some here in Inter Lucus.  Pitchers, vases, bowls—in Master Gausman’s shop I fashioned all of them.”
            “Very well.  Now where should this shop be built?  How big should it be?”
            Convinced that Marty welcomed his proposal, Isen spoke eagerly.  “It ought to be spacious, my lord, as big as the barn or bigger.  It should have a melting furnace, a shaping furnace, a kiln, storage for sand and ash, a large barrel of water, and space—outside the shop itself—for firewood.  Lots of firewood.  The furnaces can be made of stone and brick.  Glassmaking fire will be hot enough to glaze the furnace stones; the furnaces will become stronger as I use them.”
            Marty raised a hand to interrupt.  “Okay.  Lumber, brick, stone.  We have the materials, or we can get them.  Where should we build?”
            “Near Prayer House.”  Isen pointed.  Eadmar could be seen clearing snow from the door of Prayer House with a crude wooden shovel.  “The castle road joins the forest road there.  Folk from Inter Lucus and Senerham who come to the castle will see it.”
            “I wonder.  The road is impassible now.  You might not see travelers ’til spring.”
            Isen shrugged.  “The glassworks must be built first, and the furnaces, and I need to burn beech logs to ash and find good sand.  Ora says the early snow usually melts, but when the winter comes in earnest it will stay.  At best we will get a start before spring.  If I get Elne Penrict to fashion some tools, by summer I could make windows.”
            “You mentioned a barrel of water.  Where will you get your water?”
            “From the lake or the village.  A wagon can carry a barrel big enough for several days’ work.”
            “I see.  What if we could supply water from Inter Lucus?”
            “From the castle?”  Isen’s tone conveyed amazement.
            “Why not?  If we built your glassworks closer—on the hill below the oaks—it shouldn’t be that hard.  We could line a trench with hollowed half-logs or make clay pipes.  And I don’t think we need wait for spring.  I’m feeding four sheriffs and Rothulf Saeric.  Even if Caelin and I spend most of our time teaching the children, you’ll have five men to help you build.”
            “Build during winter?”
            “I have an idea.”

            The idea came from holiday visits to Sun Valley, Idaho, before Marty turned ten.  His aunt Rebecca, his father’s older sister, fought her way through a series of marriages, so that the young Marty was never sure of Rebecca’s current married name.  One of Aunt Rebecca’s matches was to a television producer—Esteban, Everard, Etienne, or something like that; Marty couldn’t remember and in later years wondered if he had been related to someone famous, however tenuously—and for three years Marty and his parents were Rebecca’s guests for Christmas Day and the week after.  The uncle’s house was huge, with a hot tub on the deck, a drinks bar separate from the kitchen, lots of bedrooms, and three cavernous fireplaces—the whole thing a testament to an unfettered budget.  It was not a happy place in Marty’s memory; perhaps because Rebecca’s newest marriage was already failing.
            Marty’s mother took him for walks to escape the poisoned atmosphere of the uncle’s snow palace.  Thousands of skiers crowded Sun Valley’s slopes and trendy shops, but since his Mom didn’t ski and hated the pressing throng, she and Marty walked residential neighborhoods.  Here and there, nestled among grander houses, Marty saw two story A-frames, a type of building unknown to a kid from Bakersfield.  The design was inefficient, his mother explained, with unusable space lost to odd angles, but A-frames were cheap and they had one feature especially appropriate to a mountain climate: snow simply slid off their steep roofs.
            Eyeing the snow-cone trees of the forest, Marty remembered the A-frames of Sun Valley.  Isen’s glassworks wouldn’t need planed lumber for its walls.  Two poles, roped together near the top, would make an A.  String twenty or thirty As in a line, brace the ends so they wouldn’t fall like dominoes, and voila!  An outdoor workspace.  Branches trimmed from the logs could be fastened at the top to thatch gaps between the poles.  Smoke from the furnaces might gather under the high ceiling but that wouldn’t impede Isen’s work.  Snow that fell through the cracks would melt in the presence of furnaces, and snow piling up outside the walls would only hold them more firmly in place.  Next summer the walls could be taken down and the poles used to build a more conventional structure.
            Marty described his vision of an A-frame glassworks to the sheriffs, Caelin, and Isen during sup in Inter Lucus’s great hall.  At first they were all skeptical, even Isen.  Wouldn’t winter’s wind blow the thing down?  How could they haul logs to the site through deep snow?  Besides, the intended building spot was knee deep in snow; they would have to shovel it away to bare the ground. 
            Marty spread a sheet of paper on the table and drew the building he had in mind, and they began to appreciate its simplicity.  But the snow was still a problem; no one wanted to drag 30-foot poles through it.  “Still, we can fell the trees and trim them,” Marty replied.  “And if we can’t build ’til spring, the poles will still be there, under the snow, waiting to be used.”
            So it was agreed.  In the six days after the snowfall, Isen and his crew (four sheriffs and Rothulf Saeric) felled and trimmed 60 fir trees, all about 40 feet tall.  As they worked, Ora’s prediction of snowmelt came true.  The grounds of Inter Lucus became a mud bath, which allowed them to horse-drag the poles, trimmed to a uniform 24 foot length, to the southwest slope of the castle, downhill from the oak trees.  Horses and men worked from sun-up to mid-day sup, becoming thoroughly filthy in the process, with mud in their boots, tunics, breeches, and hair.  Ora and Mildgyd commanded that they enter Inter Lucus through the west wing and strip to their skin.  Naked, each man carried his clothes down to the laundry room, where castle machines could wash and dry their clothes before the next day.  Went Bycwine, Whitney Ablendan, and Alf Saeric were given the job of brushing down the horses while the men bathed.  After baths, Collegium Inter Lucus resumed, the grown men studying in linen tunics at one table and the children at another.  On the 25th day after the end of the Harvest Festival, December 23 on Marty’s calendar, the whole community of Inter Lucus collaborated in raising the A-frame skeleton of the glass-works.  (Mildgyd and the younger children watched from a safe distance.)  Snow fell as they lashed the poles together, raised them into place, braced them, and tied everything into a unit.  On the morning of December 24, they dressed the upper reaches of the frame with branches, covering gaps between the poles.  More snow fell that evening, sticking in clumps on the steep pole roof but sliding down whenever it reached a few inches depth.
            Baths, a late mid-day sup, and then the folk of castle Inter Lucus experienced something completely new.

Copyright © 2014 by Philip D. Smith.
All rights reserved.  International copyright secured.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Castles 89

89. At Castle Inter Lucus

            On Marty’s calendar (still provisional, as he watched days grow shorter) the Harvest Festival began on November 22.  People began camping out three days before, and the crowd grew rapidly.  By Elfric Ash’s count, which he made every morning during a sunrise tour of the festival grounds, at least four hundred people were present each day, and since people arrived and departed daily the total of those who attended had to be much higher.
            The festival ran six cold days, with leaden skies and light winds from the northwest.  To Marty’s relief, the only precipitation was a skiff of snow on the fourth day.  The people between the lakes weren’t surprised; between harvest season and winter most years had two or three weeks of forstlic, when frozen ground made for relatively easy travel (compared to the mud of fall and the snow drifts of deep winter).  Forstlic was the perfect time, they said, for market days.  Lord Martin’s Harvest Festival constituted the grandest market anyone could remember.
            Farmers and merchants traded grain, livestock, salted and smoked meats, prepared foods of many kinds, barrels, ironwork, baskets, leather goods, and clothing.  Craftsmen repaired tools in temporary shops.  Men cooperated together in a butchery that reduced dozens of cows and pigs to meat ready for storage in winter cold-houses.  Bakery wagons sold fresh loaves every day.  There was plenty of ale, wine, and cider, especially in the evenings.
            Trading and manufacture occupied the mornings and early afternoons.  When the sun began to get low, music and prizes announced from the “grandstand” created a party atmosphere.  Bundled in coats and cloaks, people couldn’t dance much, but they sang loudly around their campfires and cheered the recipients of Marty’s prizes.  After announcing prizewinners, Marty entered Inter Lucus and put on the nightly light show.  He gave each night’s performance a distinctive effect by emphasizing a different color.  Festival attendees quickly took to comparing the “green show” with the “red show” and so on.
            During the day, Marty circulated among the tents, shops, and livestock pens with Os Oswald or Ealdwine Smithson as a kind of bodyguard.  He worked hard to learn names, taking notes on castle-made paper.  Many folk were intrigued and impressed; they watched intently as Marty dipped a quill into an ink bottle held by his guard and scratched words on sheets of paper clamped to a wooden slab.  Marty saw a similar fascination when he stood near Caelin’s hidgield office.  Assisted by Leo Dudd or Elfric Ash, Caelin sat at a table under a tent at the foot of the castle hill, only twenty feet from Prayer House.  Every morning of the festival, heads of households lined up at the hidgield tent.  In most cases, Caelin had a written record prepared of the hidgield the farmer or merchant had already agreed to pay.  People watched in fascination as Caelin ran his finger down the list of names and found the hidgield assigned to them.  Marty thought: In a mostly illiterate culture, written records are almost as magical as a castle.  That thought helped catalyze a plan that had been growing in his mind.

            Before sunrise on November 25, Marty found his way to a campfire where Aglefen Fairfax, a farmer from beyond Senerham, was frying bacon and eggs for himself and his eleven-year-old son, Besyrwen.  Fairfax startled at seeing the castle lord appear in the dim light and laid his iron frying pan on the ground.
            “Please don’t get up.  Go ahead with your cooking.”  Marty warmed his hands by the fire and squatted.  “It smells good.”
            “We would be honored to share, my lord.  Besyrwen!  Fetch a plate for Lord Martin.”
            “Thank you, Master Fairfax.  I’ve had breakfast already, but a piece of that bacon would be wonderful.” 
            Fairfax moved bits of meat around in his pan with a knife.  When it was ready, he signaled to his son and speared some of the food onto a simple wooden plate held by the boy.  Besyrwen, a short boy with close cropped black hair, brought it to Marty. 
            “Elfric Ash says you will quit the festival today,” Marty said.  He bit off a bit of bacon.
            “Aye, my lord.”  Fairfax tilted eggs from his pan onto plates.  “Besyrwen and me, we brought a full wagon o’ wheat three days ago.  Sold some for golds, which my lord knows, as we paid hidgield. ’N we traded the rest for salt, leather, some wool cloth, and a new axe-head. ’Tis all gone, and well gone.  Time to go home.  Aedre, that’s me wife, be waitin’.”  Besyrwen was already plowing through his breakfast, scooping up runny egg yoke with a wooden spoon.  The father popped some bacon in his mouth and chewed deliberately.
            “I’m glad I caught you before you left.”  Marty tilted his head toward Besyrwen.  “Your only child?”
            “Only living, my lord.  Aedre has birthed four.  Three and one.  Boys ’n a girl.  Others died as babes.  Devil’s fire took ’em.”  Fairfax shuddered and stared at the ground.  He looked from his son to Marty, his face tight, as if considering whether to reveal a secret.  “Wise woman told me the gods was jealous ’o my rye.  My father grew rye, ’n his father ’fore ’im.  But after three babes… I told Aedre we’d grow only wheat.  Twelve years ago, that was.  ’N now Besyrwen is eleven.  I honored the gods by growin’ wheat.  But folk say Lord Martin don’t believe in the gods.”  Fairfax’s expression pleaded with Marty for understanding, for permission to act as he had.
            Something in Marty’s memory clicked, a random fact from a novel or Trivial Pursuit: ergotism, a fungal infection in grains, most often rye.  “It is true, Master Fairfax, that I do not believe in castle gods.  But your wise woman might be partly right.  The devil’s fire can grow in rye, especially if it gets wet.  By growing wheat, you may have kept the disease from spreading.”
            The farmer considered this.  “You say the gods don’t mind me plantin’ rye?”
            “Rye is not the problem.  The danger is not the gods or the grain, but the disease.  The disease can grow in rye.  If you plant rye, grow only a little.  Harvest it dry and keep it dry.  Grind it into flour and use all the flour in baking.  If it gets wet in the field or in the barn, burn it.”
            Fairfax’s eyes widened at these strictures, but he nodded.  “Perhaps I’ll plant rye in the far corner, away from the slough.  Mostly wheat, a little rye.”
            “I suppose you have already planted winter wheat.”
            “Aye, my lord.”  Fairfax started eating his eggs.
            “And you will plant summer wheat in spring.”
            “Aye.  And maybe some rye, too.”
            “Very well.  Will you need Besyrwen before then?”
            The farmer’s eyebrows bunched in surprise.  “I don’t understand, my lord.”
            “I suppose you have a milk cow or two, or a goat.  Some chickens.  A plow horse.  On a farm there is always work to do.  But the heavy work comes in spring, doesn’t it?  That’s when you need Besyrwen to help.”
            Fairfax looked more confused.
            “I propose, Master Fairfax, that Besyrwen live in Inter Lucus for the winter.”
            “In the castle?”  Fairfax was incredulous.
            “In the village.  But he would come to the castle every day.”
            “By the gods!”  Fairfax checked himself.  “In God’s name, why?”
            “I would like to teach him how to read, write, and keep figures.  I watched you and the boy when you met with Caelin.  I could see you thinking how useful it would be for a boy to read and write.  And I agree.  I think it’s very useful when people can read and write and figure.  It’s good for the people, and it’s good for their lord.  I wish I could teach many children, but I have to start with only a few.  I think Besyrwen is a bright boy; I think he can learn quickly.”
            Fairfax’s lips made a little “o” as he chewed on Marty’s words, but Besyrwen responded quickly.  “I’d like that, I would!  Da, can I do it?  Can I stay?”
            Marty answered, giving the farmer time to think.  “You must go home first, Besyrwen.  Your father and mother will need to talk about this.  If they say yes, then you must be ready to work hard.  You won’t learn all I have to teach you in four months.  If you work hard and make progress, I’ll want you back in school next winter, and the winter after that.  I won’t tolerate disobedience or laziness.”
            “I promise, my lord!  I’ll work hard.  O Da, can I?”
            Fairfax spoke to Marty instead of his son.  “He stays in the village?  Where?”
            “I’ve spoken with Alfwald and Fridiswid Redwine.  They have extra rooms in their house.  You will need to pay Alfwald and Fridiswid, but the students who live there will do chores for some of the cost.  Also, I will have work for students in the castle, after lessons, so I will help pay the Redwines.”
            “O Da, can I?” 
            “If Lord Martin invites you to school, boy, to school you’ll go.  But first, like ’e says, we go home.  You’ll say farewell to your Ma.”
            The boy placed his plate on the ground, stood, and threw his shoulders back.  For a moment, Marty thought he would shout for joy.  Instead, he bowed solemnly.  “I am most pleased, my lord, to accept your invitation.”
              Besyrwen was the first.  No—Ora, Caelin, Isen, and Alf were already taking lessons.  The sheriffs too—Ealdwine, Leo, Os, and Elfric wanted to learn.  So Besyrwen was the first of the new students.  By the end of Harvest Festival, Marty added five others: Went Bycwine, Caelin’s brother; Ernulf Penrict, son of the Senerham blacksmith; Dodric Night, son of a basket maker who lived in village Inter Lucus; a girl from Senerham, Tayte Graham; and Whitney Ablendan, the girl who had discovered Isen in her father’s barn.  Besyrwen, Ernulf, and Tayte would board at the Redwine house; they could walk to the castle together, along with Dodric.  Since the Bycwine and Ablendan farms were some miles from Inter Lucus, Marty decided that Went Bycwine and Whitney Ablendan would live in the castle.  In all, Collegium Inter Lucus had 14 students, from 25-year-old Elfric Ash to the eleven-year-olds, Besyrwen Fairfax and Tayte Graham.  A week after the Harvest Festival, the “college” began classes.

Copyright © 2014 by Philip D. Smith.
All rights reserved.  International copyright secured.