Thursday, March 27, 2014

Castles 96

96. In the Town Hyacintho Flumen

            A knock on her door.  “Fair morning, Lady Edita.  I have a breakfast prepared.  Will you eat here or at the Petal?”
            Edita pulled herself to a sitting position with her right arm, pushing her lifeless left leg off the bed to the floor.  “I’m sorry Mistress Cooper.  I’m just getting up.  I’ll come out as soon as I can.”
            The plump face of the barrel maker’s wife leaned in around the door.  “You need not apologize, my lady.  It’s a wonder you can rise at all so early in the morning.”  Godiva Cooper opened the door wide and come to Edita’s side.  “You should tell that young squire that a lady needs sleep—and he should tell the general.”  Godiva shook her head, but her disapproval was feigned.  In reality, she was proud and excited to have such an important person as Edita rooming in her apartment.  That Edita often took meals with General Eudes Ridere and his commanders in the Rose Petal and sometimes did not return home until the wee hours of the morning were marks of distinction—at least, to Godiva Cooper.  Privately, some of Godiva’s friends expressed other opinions, calling her guest a Herminian bitch or the whore who betrayed Lord Aylwin.
            Edita stood up, her weight on her right leg.  She tugged at her heavy woolen nightdress to cover her linen under tunic.  It was cold in the apartment, so she slept in both. Her workspace would not warm until the air of the kitchen drifted in through the open door. 
            “Don’t bother dressing.  It’s just me today.  Wigmund had a bite and has gone to buy supplies for the shop.  Let me help.”  Mrs. Cooper tucked herself under Edita’s left arm and supported her to the door.  “Will Master Wedmor come to see you this morning?”
            “Who can tell?  I’m not the prettiest of girls.  He might change his mind any day.”  Edita kept a close watch on her speech around Godiva and other local people.  More than once she had heard General Ridere remind his commanders that Aylwin might have planted spies among the townsfolk.  The siege could keep food out of the castle, but it would be impossible to stop a spy’s signals.
            “Isn’t that the truth?  Men are fickle.  They proclaim undying love—until they see some young thing that looks better.  Then: woo!  Out the door and never come back!”
            Godiva coughed, realizing she had wandered onto a painful subject.  “Course, I don’t mean all men.  Take my Wiggy.  Some ’o us girls get lucky.  And I would say your Master Wedmor is more like Wiggy than … well, than other men.”
            “I think that’s true, Mistress Cooper.”  Edita smiled at hearing Mrs. Cooper call Bully “Master Wedmor.”  She had first met Bully Poorman in the harbor at Prati Mansum, when he kept her from tumbling as she boarded Little Moon.  Poorman was a name often taken by vagabonds and criminals, her mother reminded her; the boy was a mere lackey to the cloth merchant, Boyden Black.  But Bully had been kind to Edita, and conversations with him made the voyage to Tarquint endurable.  Her heart broke when Little Moon arrived in Hyacintho Flumen; Boyden Black took his servant into town and Mortane servants took Edita into the castle.  Except for a brief glimpse from horseback when Aylwin paraded her before his people, she hadn’t seen Bully again.
            Just as well, her mother Erline told her.  It would be cruel to encourage the boy.  He was obviously smitten by Edita, infatuated with dreams of nobility.  Erline had chuckled at Bully’s innocence.  Edita had responsibilities to her family, Erline declared, and she would fulfill them by marrying one of the sons of Hereward Mortane.  On their arrival in Hyacintho Flumen, they discovered that before his death Lord Mortane had left the castle to his second son, Aylwin, and the older had run away rather than serve his brother.  Two days later Erline excitedly told her daughter that the Mortanes had agreed that Edita would marry Lord Aylwin.  She need not wait for Eddricus to grow up.  In a mere fortnight, Edita would be the lady of Hyacintho Flumen!  Erline never mentioned what she surely knew, that Juliana Ingdaughter’s presence helped buy the young lord’s consent.
            Her marriage lasted 159 days.  Edita had counted them and written the number—CLIX—in her prized possession, a little book with blank pages given to her by her father before she left Prati Mansum.  She wrote the number on the bitter morning when she hacked off her hair with a scissors. Only two pages remained in the diary, making it the history of her marriage and humiliation.  She had preserved a few strands of her hair between the book’s pages, a fitting reminder of the fiasco she had made of life.
            Her own brother Gifre brought the terms of the exchange, which Aylwin had willingly accepted.  The alliance between house Mortane and house Toeni was irrevocably canceled.  Edita rode out from Hyacintho Flumen repudiated and dishonored.   But then, on the ride from castle to the besieging army, she discovered freedom, the freedom of complete and final failure. She owed nothing more to her husband or father.  Whatever would come next, it would be entirely her life.
            And then, at the end of the slow descent from the castle, Bully.  No longer Bully Poorman, but Bully Wedmor.  Not a raw youth, but a soldier in Queen Mariel’s service.  Not a cloth merchant’s assistant, but a squire to a lord.  And not just any lord; Boyden Black was Eudes Ridere!  Throughout her childhood, Edita had heard the general’s name spoken with resentment and grudging respect.  Eudes Ridere had compelled her grandfather Lord Sherard Toeni to submit to King Rudolf.  Growing up, she had imagined Ridere as an old man, white-haired like her grandfather.  Instead, he was an iron-hard, straight-backed, beaked-nose man, no older than her father.  She realized now that Ridere had been young, a knight in his twenties, when he besieged Lord Sherard.
            Bully was supposed to take her to Ridere that first day, but delivery took too long.  They ate lightly, a soldier’s mid-day sup, in a farmhouse at the western edge of the siege circle.  Then they bundled her into a two-wheeled cart.  Bully and Gifre rode horses alongside her as they slowly circled the western and southern lines of the siege.  They stopped frequently, since the cart that carried Edita also transported an iron kettle holding gallons of hot stew.  At each stop soldiers greeted Edita politely enough, but their real interest lay in the stewpot.  Edita was grateful for the warmth of the kettle beside her, but as the afternoon wore on the kettle cooled and the stew ran out.  She was shivering when they reached Blue River.
            Gifre and Bully transferred her to a ferry after dark.  Across the river, on the town dock, they loaded her into another cart for a short ride to the Rose Petal.  She arrived cold, stiff, and exhausted.  Rather than present her to the general, Bully and Gifre covered her with blankets in one of the Rose Petal’s beds.  In the morning, after the luxury of a hot bath, she was interviewed by Ridere.  She sat opposite the general at a table in a small room; Bully and a grim-faced swordsman stood by the door.
            The general had asked many questions, and Edita tried to use her knowledge of Hyacintho Flumen to prove her value to him.  Boemia was probably right, she thought: as the discarded wife of a lord, Edita was an ordinary crippled woman in a world with no use for unproductive mouths.  She answered Ridere’s questions as honestly as she could, which unfortunately meant that many times she admitted ignorance: “I don’t know, my lord.”
            Some things she did know.  Aylwin boasted that he could control circle shields, though Edita had never watched him do it.  Actually, she said, she had rarely seen him touch the lord’s knob, because she usually avoided the great hall.  She spent much of her time at windows on the second floor in the castle tower; she liked watching the autumn harvest in the fields, vineyards, and orchards around Hyacintho Flumen.  It reminded her of home.
            Hyacintho Flumen had fifteen servants, Edita reported, from Arthur the old down to the stable boy Odo.  Additionally, there were three score and seven armsmen in the castle.  Aylwin had gathered these men to him as quickly as possible in the days before the siege.  The general asked if she were sure of these numbers.  Aye, she said.  She had written them in her little book only three days before.
            She told Ridere that Aylwin had spoken with Queen Mariel via Videns-Loquitur.  At least, Aylwin said he had; again, Edita hadn’t seen him do it.
            Edita presumed the storage rooms downstairs in Hyacintho Flumen were as large as those in Prati Mansum, and they had to be nearly full, since Aylwin accepted hidgield in kind rather than coin from most of his people.  The barns on castle property were likewise overflowing with grain, hay, and animal fodder.  Ridere questioned her closely on these points.  Remember, he said, his army had arrived while crops were still being harvested.  Had she visited the barns?  Had Aylwin’s men slaughtered any pigs?  Had they prepared salted pork? 
            More questions.  How many cattle and horses were there?  How many storerooms were there?  Ridere had personal knowledge of eight different castles, and the capacity of their magical storage rooms varied greatly—had the lady actually seen Hyacintho Flumen’s storerooms?  Edita admitted that though she had the impression of a bountiful harvest, she could not say how much food Aylwin had stored.
            The interview lasted more than an hour.  Finally Ridere fell silent, his eyes fixed on the tabletop.  Edita thought he must have been considering how her information bore on some matter of war.  Or thinking how unsatisfactory her answers had been.  Perhaps her usefulness to the general was already ended.
            When Ridere looked up from the table, he spoke to Bully.  “I expect better of you, Bully.  You didn’t tell me the woman could write or figure.  It’s clear that she can.  Find her a room and introduce her to Eadred Unes.  He’s been pestering me for an assistant.  Why should I take an armsman off the line if this woman will do?”
            So Edita Freewoman had entered the service of the Army of Herminia.  Aylwin Mortane had divorced her, so she rejected his name.  She refused the name Toeni as well, explaining to Gifre that she would no longer be subject to her father’s wishes.  Gifre made no objection and wished her happiness as a commoner, asking only that she count him as her brother.
            Bully found a single room apartment for her a short walk from the Rose Petal.  It had been added to the back of a barrel maker’s shop some years before, but the cooper’s family no longer needed it.  A bed, a small closet, and a table with two chairs: it had everything Edita needed, she said.  This wasn’t strictly true, but both she and Bully were careful not to overspend funds supplied by the Army of Herminia.  Edita took meals with the cooper and his wife, except when she ate with General Ridere’s officers in the Rose Petal, something the general insisted she do frequently.
            Mostly, her work consisted of copying reports and letters written by Eadred Unes, the son of the castle scribe at Pulchra Mane.  Eadred had come to Tarquint armed with boxes of paper, made by Wymar Thoncelin at Ventus in Montes.  He had many hundreds of sheets of it, and fifty bottles of ink.  Eadred had large eyes set close together that made him look like an owl.  He almost never said anything in meetings at the Rose Petal; instead, he filled pages of poor quality paper with notes.  After the meetings he wrote out Ridere’s decisions, annotated with digests of the various commanders’ reports, on better stock.
            They gave her paper and ink, and Bully brought her work almost every day.  On the days Ridere took his squire to inspect the siege lines, Eadred would dispatch some other soldier with her copying for the day.  For three hours every morning and afternoon, she copied Eadred’s reports and ledgers.  Eadred insisted that at the end of each day his original writing and Edita’s copy, even if it were not finished, be returned to Eadred’s rooms in the Rose Petal.  Bully remarked to Edita that of all Ridere’s commanders and aides, Eadred Unes was the only one the general never denied.  The quartermaster general believed in organization and the power of accurate record keeping.
            Edita eased into a chair at Godiva Cooper’s kitchen table.  She ate her eggs and bacon carefully, as always.  She thought of Bully Wedmor, the soldier and commoner.  And she smiled—there was no one but Godiva to see the left side of her mouth droop. 
            Copyright © 2014 by Philip D. Smith.
All rights reserved.  International copyright secured.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Castles 95

95. In Castle Inter Lucus

            Ora found Lord Martin in the great hall at one of the tables where the students of Collegium Inter Lucus sat for lessons.  He sat alone, leaning on the table, head bowed and shoulders slumped.  For a moment Ora thought Martin might be sick, but she quickly reached a different surmise: he was contemplating some difficulty.  Ora’s heart burned with tenderness for him.  She had every confidence that Lord Martin would solve whatever problem was bothering him; at the same time she knew that Os Oswald and the other sheriffs were worried.  The knight from Hyacintho Flumen had disdained Lord Martin.  The knight said that the lord at Hyacintho Flumen no longer asserted any claim between the lakes, but Ora had heard the sheriffs worrying that the war in the south might pull them in somehow.  Everyone at castle Inter Lucus knew that Martin’s sheriffs were not real soldiers, not like the knight from Hyacintho Flumen or the sheriffs of Down’s End.  What would happen if even a small army marched on Inter Lucus?  The villagers would flee to the castle for protection.  Could Lord Martin and four poorly trained sheriffs hold off an enemy?
            “My Lord Martin!  Are you okay?” 
            He raised his head at Ora’s greeting.  “I’m fine.  Just thinking.”
            “Alf wants you to come to see our newest paper.”
            “Alf does?  Aren’t five of you making paper?”
            “Aye, but this new kind was Alf’s idea.”
            “Very well.  Let’s go.”
            Before they reached the north door of the hall, Ora asked, “What were you thinking my lord?”
            “It will take some explaining, Ora.  After I’ve seen this new paper, I want you and Caelin to visit Priest Eadmar with me, so we can discuss it together.”
            “Dyed paper!  Did this idea come in another dream, Alf?”  The new paper was thicker and smoother than any yet produced at Inter Lucus, and it was bright red.  Dried and cut into seven-inch squares, Marty thought it could pass for construction paper in the school supply aisle of a supermarket back on Earth.
            “No, my lord.”  Alf’s eyes shone with pride.  “Went Bycwine told me how Mildgyd was teaching him how to dye wool.  So I thought: why not dye paper?  It might not work, but we could try.”
            Marty nodded.  “It worked beautifully.  Most paper we make should be white, the better for writing.  But we’ll find uses for colored paper, I’m sure.  I particularly like the strength of this paper.”  Marty bent a sheet of the red stock without folding it.  “In fact, here is an idea.  Put sheets of undyed paper between two sheets of the new paper, like this.”  The papermakers watched Marty demonstrate.  “We’ll put holes along the edge, and have Went or Tayte sew the whole together.”
            Ora made the connection immediately.  “A book!  We can copy the book of God!”
            “It would take a great many pages.”  Of all the students in Collegium Inter Lucus, Whitney Ablendan was the quickest to speak her mind.  “The letters in the book of God are very small, so every page in it has many words.”
            “Aye.”  Marty wanted to encourage independent thinking.  “Do you have a recommendation?”
            Whitney had an answer immediately.  “We should make many little books, and each one can hold a portion of the book of God.”
            “Could we make other colors?”  Dodric Night, unlike Whitney, very rarely volunteered to speak during lessons.  “If we made papers of various colors, all the red books could be portions of the book of God, and other colors used for other purposes.”
            Marty and the others looked at Dodric amazed.  Then Caelin said, “Dodric, that’s brilliant.”  Caelin thumped his temple with a finger.  “We had a yellow mash last week, but it made uselessly flimsy paper, so we discarded it.  We should try it again, but with more shredded rag.  And less water, perhaps.”
            Marty touched Caelin’s elbow.  “Whitney, Dodric, and Alf can experiment with a new mash.  I would like you and Ora to come with me.”
            “My Lord, Whitney, Dodric and Alf are all eleven or twelve.  Would you leave Materias Transmutatio in their hands?”  Caelin had recently passed his fifteenth birthday, and he regarded himself as head of the papermaking crew.
            “They can manage for an hour or two on their own.”  Marty stepped around Caelin to a chocolate colored stick leaning against the wall.  “Ah!  I wondered where I’d left this.”  He hefted his staff and waved it at Alf, Dodric and Whitney.  “Make sure I’m right, you three.  No accidents while we’re gone.  Okay?”
            Okay.”  Alf’s blue eyes looked up at Marty from beneath his fringe of white-blond hair.  “We’ll be careful, my Lord.”

            “Lord Martin, welcome.  Ora and Caelin as well.”  Eadmar pulled open the door to Prayer House, admitting them.  “You are early today.”  Normally, Marty visited the priest in the late afternoon for the daily session of reading/translating from Marty’s New Testament.  With short winter days, Marty usually returned to the castle at sundown to be present at sup.
            “Something has happened.  I need your advice.”  Marty looked around the interior of Prayer House.  “Rothulf?”
            “He is with Isen, as you commanded.”  Eadmar raised an eyebrow, even as he waved them through the frosty interior of Prayer House to the door that led to his own room, where a fire provided comfort.
            “I don’t want us to be overheard.”  Marty took off his coat and folded it over the back of a plain wooden chair.  Besides the fireplace that heated it, Eadmar’s apartment featured two chairs, a narrow cot, and a tiny table.  Eadmar motioned Ora to the second chair, and Caelin sat on the floor with his back to a small stack of firewood, leaving the bed for the priest.  With the shutter pulled tight on the glassless window, the fire and an oil lamp provided all the light.
            “I will be glad when Isen produces glass.  Sometimes I sit close to the fire with the shutters open, even in winter, just to have daylight.”  Eadmar held up a hand, preventing Ora from speaking.  “I know, young lady.  You will tell me I should visit Inter Lucus and enjoy its marvelous lights.  Even underground it is lit like the day, or so Rothulf tells me.  But until Guthlaf Godcild gives me leave, I may not set foot in Martin’s castle.”
            Ora inclined her head, acceding to Eadmar’s will.
            The priest settled on the cot.  “What is this about, Martin?”
            “Today I used Videns-Loquitur for the first time.”
            Pursed lips, raised eyebrows.  Eadmar shrugged and lifted open palms; the words meant nothing to him.  Caelin, however, reacted with a sudden inhale.  The priest looked at him.  “Do you know what it means?”
            “I think it means ‘seeing-speaking,’” said Caelin.
            “Close enough.”  Marty leaned forward, hands on his knees.  “I saw a blond woman.  Quite beautiful, obviously pregnant, standing with her hand on an interface globe.  It appeared much like mine, except that it glowed blue rather than green.”
            “The lord’s knob of another castle,” said Caelin.
            “Indeed.  She said her name was Mariel.”
            Questions tumbled out of Ora and Caelin.  “The Queen of Herminia?  Are you sure?  She’s pregnant?” 
            “She claimed to be queen, and I have no reason to doubt her.  As I say, her pregnancy was obvious.”
            Eadmar asked, “Her army surrounds Hyacintho Flumen, does it not?”
            “According to Kenelm Ash, yes.  And Mariel said as much.  After her army conquers Hyacintho Flumen, she said, it will come to Inter Lucus.  She threatened punishment if I intervened to help Lord Mortane.”
            “You have no help to give,” observed Eadmar.
            “Aye.  So her threat was superfluous.  I have no desire to fight wars in any case.”
            Ora and Caelin asked together: “Superfluous, my lord?”
            Marty thought for a moment.  Superfluous means ‘unnecessary’ or ‘a greater amount than useful.’  But I don’t want to talk about her threats.  Something else she said has got me thinking.
            “Queen Mariel said that I must be a Tirel.  More than a hundred years ago, she thinks, some Tirel second son or bastard ran away from Inter Lucus to Lafayette.  Of course, she has no idea where Lafayette really is.”
            Caelin flicked a bit of pitchy wood onto the fire.  It blazed up quickly.  “Did you tell her?”
            “I told her that Lafayette is far away, further than Sestia.  I don’t know where Sestia is, but any place on Earth is certainly further than Sestia.”
            Eadmar scratched his bald pate.  “It is probably wise that you not tell strangers like Mariel that you have come to Two Moons from another world.”
            Marty grinned at the priest.  “We don’t want her thinking I’m mad, do we?  I suspect that’s what the villagers think.”
            The priest frowned.  “They don’t know what to think.”  Since the building of Prayer House Eadmar had made it a point to visit to Inter Lucus or Senerham frequently when weather permitted.  People between the lakes had quickly come to trust him, a priest of the old god, brave enough to live next to a castle and yet stalwart enough to refuse the lord’s invitation to enter.  “Not many of them understand the notion of a planet, not as you have explained it to us.  And they are mystified that a lord of a castle would deny the castle gods.  Most of them have adopted a very practical point of view.  Whether you are mad or sane, wherever you came from, you are here now and you command castle magic.  For them, that’s the end of the matter.”
            Eadmar locked eyes with Marty.  “But the queen of Herminia may not think in such terms.  The danger is not only that she might doubt your sanity.  She may imagine you a threat.  If she knew that you are not a Tirel, that you cannot possibly be a Tirel, she might decide you are an imposter, and she might test your command of Inter Lucus, perhaps by attacking you.”
            Marty thought about his conversation with Mariel.  “She congratulated me on reviving a dead castle, and she seemed quite impressed that I can maintain a bond with only one hand on the interface globe.  I think she is convinced that I am genuine lord.”
            “My Lord, did you say that?”  Caelin was suddenly agitated.  “Did you say ‘interface globe’?  All people on Two Moons say, ‘the lord’s knob.’”
            “Does it matter which word Lord Martin uses?”  Ora was always ready to defend Marty against criticism, implied or real.
            Marty explained Caelin’s point.  “It could matter greatly, Ora.  If I use strange words, it could provoke suspicion in Mariel’s mind.  Eadmar is right, I think.  I should let Mariel continue in her belief that I am a long-lost Tirel, something she can understand and accept.  That brings me back to the thing I want to discuss.
            “Caelin, you’ve heard many tales of the castles.  Has there ever been a usurper who took over a castle?”
            “Not as you are thinking, my Lord.  Sons of lords, and sometimes daughters, fight to place their hands on the knob.  There have been murders.  In some stories a cousin or nephew poisons the rightful lord and bonds with a castle.  But always a new lord is related by blood to the old lord.”
            Marty looked at Eadmar.  “You’ve lived many more years than Caelin, my friend.  Have you ever heard of a castle ruled by a commoner?”
            “Age makes no difference.  I have paid little attention to tales of demons, except to learn never to trust the lords who worship them.”  The priest’s grin prevented any objection to his words.  “Caelin knows far more of such things.”
            “Fair enough.  But you know the people of Down’s End.  Would anyone there believe that a commoner could bond with a castle?”
            “No.  All know that castles pass from parent to child.  Only nobles bond with those the lords call gods and we call demons.”
            “Do the lords of castles marry common folk?”
            Eadmar nodded to Caelin, deferring to the youth’s better knowledge.  Caelin said, “Rarely.  Lords and ladies seek the daughters of other lords as wives for their sons.  Of course, sometimes a lord or a knight descended from a lord will sire a bastard on a common woman.”
            “Like Alf.”
            “Aye… If Rothulf speaks the truth.”  Caelin still doubted Rothulf Saeric’s story of Alf’s parentage.
            Marty looked at Caelin.  “Has the lord of one castle ever bonded with some other castle?  Has the son or daughter of any lord ever bonded with another castle?”
            “Aye.  This is why noble families intermarry.  A second son in one castle may sometimes bond with the castle of his mother’s family—if that castle has no lord or lady, or if the lord or lady dies.  This has led to cases of treachery and murder.”
            Marty leaned forward, staring at the packed earth floor of Eadmar’s apartment.  Castle control is passed from parent to child.  It has to be tied to genetics.  But the lords have bastards, some acknowledged and some not.  After twenty generations, the gene for control would have to be spread throughout the population.  There ought to be stories of successful usurpers.
            Maybe the gene is recessive.  Maybe you need to get it from both parents to control a castle.  And for all I know, it could be more complicated than that.  It might take a particular genetic combination…  My God!
            Ora read the change in Marty’s expression.  “Lord Martin, what is it?”
            Marty directed his answer to Eadmar.  “We need to go to Dimlic Aern.”

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


Thursday, March 13, 2014

Castles 94

94. In Castle Inter Lucus

            Besyrwen Fairfax closed his eyes and chewed his lip.  Marty suspected the boy was counting silently.  “Fifty-six, my lord.”
            “That’s not correct.  Whitney?”
            The girl’s hand had shot up as soon as Besyrwen spoke.  “Sixty-three.”
            “Aye.”  Marty frowned, disappointed in himself as a teacher, but then immediately worried that Besyrwen would read the frown as disapproval of his efforts as a student.  Marty rubbed his nose with the back of his hand, partly to hide his frustration. 
            Besyrwen wasn’t the only student who seemed stumped by basic multiplication facts.  The children and the sheriffs had learned Arabic numerals easily enough; they could all count and write numbers in the “new way.”  But “seven times nine” and a few other fundamental products eluded memory for some of them.  If Besyrwen, Leo Dudd, or Dodric Night repeated “seven times nine equals sixty-three” a few times, he could then reliably answer.  But if Marty introduced “eight times six” or “four times seven,” the product of “seven times nine” was pushed out of mind.  How can they succeed at useful arithmetic if they don’t get multiplication and division?  How do I help them see it?
            Marty chewed his lip, much as young Fairfax had.  There had to be an alternative way of presenting arithmetic.  He didn’t want students concluding that they couldn’t master numbers.  He remembered sad stories of kids in Bakersfield who gave up on themselves in middle school.  He looked at his watch. 
            “Mid-day sup,” Marty said.  “I think I smell burgers.  Whose turn is it to serve today?”  Caelin, his brother Went Bycwine, Tayte Graham, and Alf Saeric rose from the table.  “Off with you, then—and remember to wash before you touch the food.  The rest wash up for mid-day.  We’ll work on mathematics again tomorrow.”
            The students of Collegium Inter Lucus, except for Elfric Ash, the sheriff who had today’s morning watch, headed from the great hall to washrooms on the lower floor.  Marty motioned to Os Oswald, who was at the back of the line.  “Come with me, why don’t you, Os?  You can wash up in my room.”  The master bedroom, on the ground floor of the East Wing, had its own bathroom, complete with tub.  Leading Os out of the hall, Marty reflected: It’s odd that the castle doesn’t have a washroom for guests near the great hall.  Did the aliens not expect visitors?
            When they were alone, Marty said, “Os, I’m worried about Besyrwen.  And Leo, and a couple others.  You’ve memorized the multiplication table, but Besyrwen and Leo still try to find answers by counting.  It slows them down and leads to errors.  I wish I could find a way to help them.”
            Os held his hands under the water outlet and let hot water flow over them.  Drying with a towel, he said, “My Lord, you tell us that we each should find the thing we can do well.  Besyrwen is learning to read and write.  Does he need to master numbers?  Does Leo need numbers?”
            Marty pursed his lips.  “Fair question.  The answer is both aye and nay.  Not every student needs to be as good at math as Caelin or you.  But every sheriff needs to be able to record hidgield agreements.  Every farmer and merchant has to pay hidgield.  Every family needs arithmetic.”
            Os folded his massive arms across his chest.  “If a sheriff can write down hidgield numbers accurately, must he be able to calculate with them?  Can he not bring them back to Inter Lucus, where Caelin Bycwine or Whitney Ablendan could use them to make my lord’s budget?”
            Marty grinned.  “Again, aye and nay.  Imagine a farmer who raises wheat on some of his land, grows potatoes on another bit of land, and sells hay from yet another patch to his neighbor who has cows.  In such a case, to assign a hidgield total, the sheriff must use numbers accurately.  But it is true that planning the castle budget is more complicated than recording hidgield assessments.
            “And now—who told you about budgets?  I haven’t so much as mentioned that word in our class.”
            Os’s green eyes sparkled.  “Caelin told me, of course.  He says you call his lists of numbers a budget.  Ora, Whitney, and I are eager to learn, but no one is as eager as Isen.  He says that this is what Kent Gausman refused to teach him.”

            After mid-day sup, Marty’s students scattered to a variety of activities.  Downstairs, in a room with a spinning wheel and bolts of cloth, Tayte Graham and Went Bycwine were learning to make clothes under Mildgyd Meadowdaughter’s supervision.  Marty’s approval made it plain to everyone that a boy, Went, was as welcome to learn tailoring as was Tayte, the girl.  On the gentle slope south of Inter Lucus, Elfric Ash was teaching Leo Dudd and Besyrwen Fairfax how to ski, and the three of them had discovered how to use the machines of Materias Transmutatio to make better skis.  Caelin, Ora, Alf Saeric, Dodric Night, and Whitney Ablendan were also active in the West Wing, systematically adjusting the wood fiber and rag content of small batches of pulp.  The quality of paper produced at Inter Lucus had been improving steadily.
            Two sheriffs, Os Oswald and Ealdwine Smithson, liked to spend their time helping Isen put his glassworks into operation.  Ernulf Penrict, the son of a blacksmith, joined the glassworks crew as Isen’s apprentice.  In addition, Marty required Rothulf Saeric, who slept in a room adjoined to Prayer House, to help out with the glassworks project.  Honest labor might keep Rothulf out of trouble; at the least it kept him out of the village. And initiating the glassworks took lots of labor.
            Clean sand from East Lake provided an essential ingredient for glass.  From another place on the shore of East Lake came stone slabs for Isen’s furnaces.  Os and Ealdwine carved off blocks of stone from huge boulders with sledgehammers and iron wedges, and the blocks were hauled to Inter Lucus on a sled pulled by horses.  Deep snow in the forest would have prevented such transport, but the ancient paved trail from castle to lake served as a road.  They built three rough furnaces with the stone slabs: a melting furnace, a shaping furnace, and a kiln.  A whole beech tree was cut into firewood and burned to ash, another ingredient for glassmaking.  Isen’s crew stacked ordinary firewood in long rows at each end of the A-frame shelter.  The Senerham blacksmith, Elne Penrict, took a particular interest in the project whenever he visited Inter Lucus for meetings of Marty’s Council.  Consulting with Isen about his furnaces, Elne made iron tools to fit the glassmaker’s needs.  Marty offered to pay Elne, but the blacksmith countered that the tools should be regarded as tuition for Ernulf’s education at Collegium Inter Lucus.
            Thus, in one way or another, every member of the castle community was busy somewhere other than the great hall, leaving Marty to use the private hour after mid-day to explore alien technology.  He put his hands on the control globe and waited for the leafy green glow to shine out between his fingers.  With only the slightest mental nudge the familiar list appeared.

I. Materias Transmutatio: operativa
II. Parva Arcum Praesidiis: operativa
III. Magna Arcum Praesidiis: parte operativa, aedificaverunt initiati
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

            Marty still had no guess as to what Praesidiis meant.  Apparently, Inter Lucus had two Praesidiis systems, the small and the large.  But without instruction in Latin, Marty might never discover how to use them.  And what about the CPU—or should I call it the CAF? According to the list, Centralis Arbitrium Factorem is fully operational.  But that can’t be right, can it?  What about the eleventh tube, the violet one?  It’s broken.  Why doesn’t Inter Lucus repair it?
            Questions.  Every answer I find produces more questions.  Is there anyone on this planet with answers?
            Something changed, pulling Marty out of his reverie.  A light, like a green asterisk, was pulsing on the interface wall, next to system V: Inter-Castrum Videns-Loquitur.  Marty watched it blink five or six times, and then the whole list vanished.
            A white square appeared in the interface wall and quickly grew larger.  In seconds, Marty saw a portrait of a woman in the square.  As the picture reached life-size, the woman moved, turning her head to face Marty.  Marty remembered his own arrival on Two Moons, and for a moment he expected the woman to step through the interface into Inter Lucus.  Then he saw that the woman’s left hand rested on a control globe exactly like his, except that her globe emitted blue light rather than green.
            The woman smiled at him.  “Fair morning, lord.  May I ask your name?”
            My God!  I should have guessed!  Inter-Castrum Videns-Loquitur.  It’s a castle-to-castle skype connection, except I don’t know how to dial up.  Marty inclined his head to the woman.  “I am Martin Cedarborne.  And you are?”
            The woman switched hands on the control globe and half turned to her left, brushing long blond hair over her shoulder as she did so.  She was visibly pregnant, maybe six or seven months along.  For the first time Marty noticed a man to her left—the child’s father?  Probably not, he looks more like a grandfather.  The woman and the old man exchanged words, but Marty couldn’t hear them.  She knows how to use the “mute” button, or whatever the alien equivalent is.  And that realization instantly produced another: This woman knows about castles, more than I do at any rate.
            The blond woman turned her attention to Marty.  “Martin Cedarborne, Lord of Inter Lucus, is that right?”
            Careful, old man.  She knows a lot more about castles than you do.
            “That is correct, Ma’am.”  Marty inclined his head again.  It doesn’t hurt to be polite.
            “I’m told, Lord Martin, that Inter Lucus was a ruined castle until you revived it.  Is this true?  You must be a powerful lord indeed.  And you came to Inter Lucus from Lafayette.  Are there other such lords in Lafayette?  There is no such place in Tarquint or Horatia—is it in Sestia?”
            She’s had reports about me.  From whom?  Lafayette was Marty’s standard answer whenever someone asked where he came from.  It gave him a ready answer without making any reference to planet Earth.  Somehow “Lafayette” had made its way to the blond woman.  Marty vaguely remembered Horatia and Sestia as places in some of Caelin’s stories, other continents or islands on Two Moons.  I need lessons in geography as well as alien technology.  He looked at the woman for several seconds without speaking.  Her eyebrows seemed to knit together and she began to frown.  She’s not accustomed to delayed responses.
            “I will tell you, Ma’am, that Lafayette is even more distant than Sestia.  But I must ask again, as a matter of courtesy: What is your name?”
            The woman smiled immediately.  “Your pardon, please, Lord Martin.  I would have thought that you knew.  I am Mariel Grandmesnil.”
            Marty remembered the name from Kenelm Ash’s visit in the autumn.  But Ash was from Hyacintho Flumen, and her army is besieging it.  She didn’t learn about me from Ash.  “Ah!  The queen of Herminia!”  Marty stepped to the side of his control globe so that he could bow formally, maintaining contact with only his left hand.  When he looked up, he read unsettledness, almost anxiety, on Mariel’s face.  “Queen Mariel, is there something wrong?”
            “Not at all.  I should not be surprised that a lord powerful enough to revive Inter Lucus can also control Videns-Loquitur with one hand.”
            It had never occurred to him that it would be harder to manage the interface with one hand than two.  Marty tried to keep a blank face while registering this new information.  She can tell me more between the lines than I could ever get her to say in response to direct questions.  I just need to keep her talking.  “You compliment me, Queen Mariel.  But the truth is that I am not sure I am powerful at all.  It seems to me that Inter Lucus does most of the work.”
            Mariel shook her head.  “Surely you know, Lord Martin, that a castle’s power flows from the lord’s bond. You must be a Tirel, and well descended indeed.  Sometime in the distant past, some Tirel—a second son or bastard perhaps? –fled Tarquint to escape family rivalry.  It is a familiar story.  Word must have reached you in distant Lafayette: Inter Lucus dead a hundred years, good proof there were no other claimants.  So you came, and against all odds you have bonded.  You are to be congratulated.”
            “The queen is most kind.”
            “Perhaps.”  Mariel’s face hardened.  “Your bond is strong, Lord Martin.  But you are become a lord only recently.  You have not gathered knights.  The villages near Inter Lucus are small and poor.  You have no army.  How will you answer Aylwin?”
            The queen straightened her shoulders and frowned.  “Do not play coy with me, Lord Martin.  If he has not done so already, the lord of Hyacintho Flumen will soon implore your aid against my army, which has already taken his town and surrounded his castle.  I assure you, if you aid him, it will go ill for you when my army comes to Inter Lucus.
            Marty puzzled: Threats and posturing?  Is that the level of diplomacy on this planet?  “As you say, Mariel, I have little with which to aid this Aylwin, if he should ask.  But why do you speak in such an unfriendly way?  It is unqueenly of you.”
            “Unqueenly?”  She seemed genuinely surprised.
            “Aye.  Herminia is a great land, I am told.  You are queen.  Why should such a queen stoop to threats?  Should she not offer friendship?”
            A smile played on the corner of Mariel’s mouth.  “Lord Martin, you are not only more powerful, but clever and wise.  Indeed, the bond between Sovereign and the lords of castles ought to be one of friendship and mutual gain.  Sadly, even some of the lords of Herminia are still learning to trust the queen’s peace.  I hope it will be otherwise with you.”
            “I take it you mean to extend your rule to Tarquint. Why?”
            Mariel regarded the question as elementary.  “Why?  I am Grandmesnil!  I can conquer, and I will if I must.  Of course, it would be better for wise lords to see the benefits of friendship.”
            Marty didn’t pursue the question of motivation.  “Peace is better than war.  I am certainly aware of that.  But I am newly come to Inter Lucus, as you say.  What are the benefits of friendship that a new lord might reap from alliance with your majesty?”
            Mariel shook her head.  “Alliance?  There will be no alliance.  You will swear homage to me as your queen.  As my vassal, you will rule Inter Lucus at my pleasure.”
            Marty saw no point in quibbling.  He inclined his head.  “Pardon my misstatement.  I only meant to ask what benefits might come to me as a lord loyal to your rule.”
            The blond eyebrows knit together, and Mariel pursed her lips.  “You say that peace is better than war.  You are thinking, perhaps, of fewer threats to your life and rule.  Do you understand the ways a wider peace is better than a local one?”
            “A wider peace?”
            “That’s right.  The lords of Herminia trade with one another and with me.  Those who cannot make steel find that I can supply all they need.  Can you make castle steel, Lord Martin?”
            Marty tried to appear suitably impressed.  “I did not even know that castles can make steel.  Perhaps I am not the powerful lord you say I am.”
            “Perhaps.  You bonded only last summer, and already you can command Videns-Loquitur. But now you see a benefit of friendship.  You may trade for my steel and better arm your sheriffs.  I presume you have invested some sheriffs by now.  If you haven’t, you should.”
            Mariel’s smile could only be described as condescending.  Marty might have taken offense, but something about her statement teased at him.  There’s something I’m not getting yet.  I need to think.
            Marty looked over his shoulder, as if someone were speaking to him.  “Mariel, I’m sorry.  I have matters to attend to here.  May we speak again?  Tomorrow?”
            “Certainly, Lord Martin.  You know how to speak with me.”

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