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.

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