98. In the Town Hyacintho Flumen
“Help me weight down the corners, would you, Bully? Use the stones by the wall there. One on each corner.”
“I don’t understand. It’s the best vellum; it will lie flat enough, and it has already been stretched and cut square.”
“All the more reason to hold it still while I’m working. Eadred Unes paid two golds for this bit of calfskin. He won’t want his one-handed copyist to smear the ink. And I want to keep my columns straight.”
“As you wish, my lady.” Bully inclined his head deferentially, but Edita heard the playfulness in his voice. She stuck out her tongue at him. Before he could react, she dipped her quill into the inkpot, which disallowed interference; the parchment was too valuable an object to risk smudging.
Bully weighted the parchment corners as requested. Edita leaned forward, tucking her lifeless left arm between her torso and the table, careful to avoid actual contact with the vellum. Her right arm wielded the quill in careful, unhurried strokes. The parchment already bore a heading in large letters inscribed by Eadred:
Honoratus Dominus Mortane:
Haec historia hidgield est vera et accurata in Hyacintho Flumen colligitur.
Below the heading, Edita copied words onto the calfskin in much smaller letters. She referred repeatedly to a sheet of paper lying nearby, one of several such papers, each one covered with Eadred Unes’s handwriting. She arranged the words in vertical columns.
As a boy, Bully had learned the marks one used to write numbers: V, L, C, D, M, and I. He knew the shapes were also letters, but the sounds of letters were mysteries to him; greater still was the mystery of joining letters into words, so the clusters of ink marks in Edita’s columns meant little to him. But then he saw that some of Edita’s “words” looked familiar. He pointed without touching the parchment. “These are numbers, aren’t they?” But his unspoken question was, What does it say?
Edita looked past Bully’s shoulder. “Shut the door.”
He nodded, acknowledging the import of her words. Eadred Unes and General Ridere insisted that none of Edita’s copying should be left overnight in her apartment; they clearly wanted army documents kept secret. But to read a manuscript aloud would be practically an invitation to unwelcome ears. Bully stepped through the door, saw Godiva Cooper alone in her kitchen kneading bread, and then closed the door. He came to Edita’s side.
“The words here are in the language of the gods.” She whispered, pointing at the large letters. “Arthur the old will read them and translate for Aylwin. In the common tongue they say: ‘Honorable Lord Mortane, this is a true and precise account of hidgield collected in Hyacintho Flumen.’”
Edita touched her quill to one of Eadred Unes’s notes. “The coming of the Herminian army stopped hidgield payments to Aylwin. Eadred made records of all hidgield collected since the siege began. I am putting all the information onto one parchment. In this column I write names: Ucede Night and his wife, Godgyth Night; the brothers, Forthere Mare and Gyric Mare; and so on. Here I copy whatever Eadred wrote about the man or woman’s occupation: farmer, merchant, tanner, silversmith—though in some cases Eadred’s note does not say. And here I write the amount of hidgield paid and whether it was coin or in kind.”
“You must teach me to read.” Bully’s eyes roved the parchment. “This is why Ridere ordered Danbeney Norman to prepare another white flag.”
Edita laid down the quill and flexed her hand to relieve a cramp. “It seems so. The general will show Aylwin how much he loses by refusing Queen Mariel. All the goods he might have had are in Herminian hands.”
“All the goods? In that case the parchment needs to be much bigger.”
She looked at the stack of papers. “I think not. Eadred measured the vellum carefully.”
“That’s not what I meant.” Bully caught her right hand and pulled her up from her chair. “Lord Aylwin is a fool. He doesn’t recognize the greatest good he has lost to Herminian hands, and he would not understand if we sent him a hundred parchments.” He lifted her chin and kissed her.
The creation of a fine parchment was a laborious business, much slower than Edita’s usual work. When copying Eadred Unes’s ordinary records, legibility was all that mattered. General Ridere merely wanted a readable duplicate of all the communications he sent to Herminia, so it did not matter if Edita made an occasional error. She could simply draw a line through the mistake and resume the document. Contrariwise, the parchment prepared for Aylwin had to be perfect.
Ordinarily, Bully would take documents to Edita in the morning for copying and then go about his normal business of serving Eudes Ridere. At the end of the day he or some other soldier would carry Edita’s work back to the Rose Petal. But today he had been commanded to stand guard for the writing of the parchment. It was hard duty to merely watch.
Edita would write a name or two, an occupation, or a hidgield amount, then straighten up and take a deep breath. She wanted the ink of one line to dry before she entered another beneath it. Bully realized there was no use hurrying the process, and he dared not interrupt her concentration. He defeated monotony with repeated visits to Wigmund Cooper’s workshop. The barrel maker even allowed Bully to use a hand plane on some of his wood. Master Cooper explained that this particular oak was inferior stock, so from it he intended to make a dry-goods barrel. Bully’s lack of experience with a plane wouldn’t harm the finished product. “Your stroke must be a good bit smoother before I let you work the staves for a beer barrel!”
By sundown Edita had finished the parchment. Quality vellum could be rolled or folded without damage, but Eadred had told his copyist to take no chances. When the ink had dried, Bully slipped the parchment into a square leather sheath large enough that the vellum could lie flat. The papers bearing Eadred’s hidgield notes went into a smaller leather pouch which had a long strap that went over Bully’s shoulder. With the parchment sheath under his left arm, Bully could offer his right arm to Edita as they walked to the Rose Petal. With Bully on her bad side and a sturdy cane in her right hand, Edita could walk securely and with reasonable speed.
In Rose Petal Edita ate at General Ridere’s long table, usually next to one or more of the young knights—in reality, hostages kept to help guarantee their fathers’ loyalty—at the foot of the table. Her brother Gifre was one of these, with the result that often Edita was able to talk with him. As a squire, Bully sat near the wall behind the general when he wasn’t fetching things Ridere might request. When sup ended, the knights and commanders began dressing in winter coats, saluting the general before taking their leave. Some would spend the night in rented rooms in the town; others would sleep on the ground near watch fires. Edita waited. Ridere usually signaled Bully when he was free to escort her to the Coopers’ house. But tonight the general seemed to forget. Bowls and breadboards had been cleared away and most of the company had left when Ridere motioned to Edita. “Come sit by me, Lady Edita, if you would.”
Edita rose, and Gifre hastened to assist her. “My Lord General, it would be better if I were addressed as Edita Freewoman. The ending of my marriage has released me from noble status.” She eased into a chair next to Ridere, and Gifre stood at her side.
The thin mouth under Ridere’s beaked nose broke into a smile. “Bully reminds me of this almost daily. It’s almost as if he has a plan.” Ridere crooked a finger at his squire. “Let me see the parchment.”
Bully retrieved the vellum document from its sheath and spread it on the table before the general. Alan Turchil, the soldier from Tutum Partum who had become one of Ridere’s trusted commanders, stood beside Ridere. The general leaned forward. “Eadred!”
“My Lord General?” The scribe had disappeared from the room a few minutes earlier; he emerged from the corridor to Rose Petal bedrooms, one of which served as his copy room, with another sheathed document.
Ridere gestured. “This is Lady… Here is the freewoman’s result. What do you think?”
Unes bent forward with a hand on the table, not touching the vellum. His owl eyes blinked. “It’s excellent work, my Lord. You are to be congratulated, Lady Edita.”
Edita inclined her head. “Master Unes, please…”
Unes raised a hand to interrupt. “Very well. Edita Freewoman, then. Clean lines, consistent shapes; it is well lettered indeed. Did you copy all the notes?”
“Aye. Some of the names had no occupation, so I left space in the second column blank.”
Unes nodded. “Very good. My Lord General, it is ready.”
Ridere tapped the table lightly. “We’ll send it to Aylwin, then, under flag of truce. Now, Eadred, let’s see what you’ve made.”
Bully returned the hidgield document to its sheath, and then Unes spread another calfskin on the table. It was a map of the territory around Hyacintho Flumen.
Small, yet remarkably accurate drawings of buildings dotted the map. In the center stood the castle. To the west were the stable, the castle barns, and the washerwoman’s cottage. Farmhouses and barns hugged the rim road, which ran around the castle property on the north, west and south sides. The Blue River sliced through the map just east of the castle hill. The map showed the bridge over the Blue River and tiny words marked the uses of castle land: orchards, grain fields, a vineyard, pastures, gardens, and a potato field. Little swords representing Herminian checkpoints indicated the presence of the besiegers east of the river and along the rim road.
Ridere studied the map a long while. Then he turned to Edita. “What do you think, Edita Freewoman? You have seen this whole country many times from the windows of Hyacintho Flumen. Is it accurate? Is it complete?”
Edita leaned over the map in much the way she had when writing the hidgield document. “Not quite complete. There are roses by the washerwoman’s house, here. And though the snow covers it in winter, there is a shallow slough that runs through these fields.” She indicated the land south of the castle. “In the spring, water may run a foot deep, but in late summer it is dry and they plant vegetables. One day shortly after I arrived in Hyacintho Flumen, Aylwin found me standing at a window and told me about it. I suppose he was trying to make me feel at home.”
“My Lord General, that’s it!” Bully was suddenly excited.
Black eyebrows arched. “What?”
“Here’s the house where the raiders started.” Bully pointed at features of Unes’s map as he talked. “They drove the cows from this barn along the road to about here. Ansger, Simun and the cows burned here.”
Ridere nodded. “Very clear. It’s an excellent map.”
“Roalt Valerin escaped the shield by lying still in some depression. Somehow the shield passed over him.”
“It has happened before. That’s why I told the raiders not to move.”
“He must have been sheltered in the slough.”
“And the slough leads to the river. A man could escape that way. He could swim under the shield.” Ridere did not look at Bully. Instead he watched Turchil and Unes react to the squire’s idea. Bully responded to the skepticism on Eadred Unes’s face. “Well, that is, if the shield doesn’t reach into the water.”
Unes said, “That’s not the problem. We might try your idea in summer, Bully, but not in winter. The river would kill a man in minutes. No one can survive water that cold.”
To Bully’s surprise, Commander Turchil disagreed with Unes. “That’s not true. My Lord General, Bully’s plan could work.”
Copyright © 2014 by Philip D. Smith.
All rights reserved. International copyright secured.