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.


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