6. In Castle Inter Lucus
Ora leapt to her feet and fell backward on the grass when her prayer was answered. The man appeared, life-size, in the shiny black wall in front of her. For an instant, Ora thought it was a likeness only, but then the man raised his knee to step up onto the earth mounded against the wall. He stepped out of the magic wall, as if an exact reflection of a man in perfectly still water could step out of the world of reflections into reality.
The man said something Ora couldn’t understand; it sounded like an oath or a question. He noticed her sprawled on the ground. Again he spoke in a foreign tongue—the language of the gods? —and offered her his hand. She let him pull her to her feet. He looked very definitely like a man; she decided he was not a god. I asked for a lord, and that’s what they’ve sent. They sent a new lord to Inter Lucus. What will he think of his castle all broken down? I hope he’s not angry.
Ora had never seen a lord before. Every year the lord of Hyacintho Flumen sent a taxman, backed by a knight and a small company of soldiers, to Down’s End and the region between the lakes. But the lord himself would never come so far. So Ora wondered if all lords dressed as this one; she thought it unlikely. The man was tall, much taller than Ora. With a thin nose and narrow jaw, his face could have been a hawk’s. His hair was mostly black, with some gray. He had no cloak, no sword, and no cleverly woven insignia in his clothes. He wore a belt with a metal buckle and soft shoes made of brightly colored fabrics. Perhaps the greatest mark of nobility in his appearance was the creases in his tunic, a short tunic tucked into breeches that reached all the way to the funny shoes. How could cloth be trained to hold such straight folds?
Ora curtsied, or tried to. She had never been taught how. “I thank the gods for sending you to me, my lord. Your servant is sorely distressed and in need of protection.” She bowed her head and wondered whether she ought to kneel again.
The man spoke again, a string of mostly unintelligible sounds, though a few might be real words: in, world, god. He was asking questions; that much was clear. Ora decided she should remain standing, but her only answer to his questions was a face of bewilderment.
The man covered his face with his hands, took a huge breath and exhaled. Dropping his hands, he turned very slowly a full circle, obviously trying to take stock of his situation. He looked at Ora and placed his hand on his chest. “Martin.”
“Ora.” She curtsied again. “I am Ora.”
“Ic Béo?” The man mimicked her. Then he altered it slightly: “I be Martin. You be Ora.” Martin pronounced “ôu” strangely, but she smiled approval. “Aye!”
Marty quickly surmised that “gése” meant, “yes.” Whenever he used the right word for a thing, the girl with the green eyes said, “Gése.” Marty didn’t know much about languages, having forgotten most of his high school German and having learned only a smattering of theological Latin since he came to Our Lady of Guadeloupe. He felt sure, though, that the girl’s language was European. She spoke with some accent he had never heard, but many of the words sounded close to German, English, or even Latin: ic might be a German “Ich”; blóstm could be an English “blossom”; and domne could be a Latin “domini.”
“Min Domne Martin.” The girl stood about five feet tall; she was thin and lithe with brown hair tied in a knot behind her head. She addressed him often enough with this phrase that Marty had little doubt as to its meaning. He tried to correct her, but he didn’t know the words he needed. And the girl was obviously convinced that úpgodu had brought him to this place to be domne. Nothing could shake her belief.
Marty had read his share of science fiction in college. Not as much as his computer science major friend, Rob, who had rows and rows of paperback space adventures on his bookshelves, but he had read some. The more Marty talked with the girl, the more he imagined himself as the cover illustration of one of those books: a twenty-first century man falls into a wormhole and finds himself in medieval England. Beyond the fallen walls of the building around them, the countryside looked much like Oregon, but it might just as well be Northhamptonshire in England, where his grandmother grew up. The thought made him laugh. The girl raised her eyebrows questioningly. “I don’t suppose you’ve heard of Mark Twain,” he said. “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court?” The girl frowned slightly, and Marty refocused on the task of learning words.
According to Ora, the place was a castle (castel), though it hardly looked like one. It was certainly a ruin, but more like the remains of an English manor house than anything built for warfare. The floor plan was a T, a main hall lying north-south with east and west wings at the northern end. Marty and Ora walked the length of the main hall, stopping to look into an open pit where the floor under the grass had caved in. Underground corridors led away from the pit in two directions, and it looked as if a third had been blocked by the cave-in. How big was this place? There’s at least one level below the main floor, and the height of the north wall would indicate an upper storey, maybe two.
Outside the castle, vegetation grew profusely. Knee-high grass, oak trees, flowering vines, old apple trees, and overgrown shrubbery—again, the impression was of a deserted manor. Grandma Edith would point out how it’s not like England, but it looks like an old house to me. It must have been beautiful in its day.
Judging by the sun, it was noon. Marty motioned by touching his stomach. “Do you have any food?”
“Fodder?” Ora shook her head. “Óu hyngre. Ic hyngre.” A thought came to her and she beckoned Marty to follow. On the east side of the castle grounds were rows of untended, overgrown blueberry bushes. Birds had eaten most of the fruit, but Marty and Ora found some berries in the dense interiors of the bushes.
“Cume.” Ora had found a path that led into a wood east of the castle. Though overgrown, the path was easy to follow; it might have been paved at one time. Fifteen minutes of hiking brought them to the top of a small ridge. Behind them, between fir branches and over the tops of alder trees, Marty could see parts of the manor grounds.
“Cume.” Ora wanted him to follow.
“Okay, Okay.” Turning, Marty came around a particularly broad tree and the view opened to the east. The slope of the ridge ran down to the shore of a vast lake; the north, south, and east shores were too distant to see.
“East mere,” said Ora.
“My God,” said Marty. “It could be Lake Michigan.” Except that Lake Michigan would likely have snow on the shore in November; the forest here felt like summer. Then he saw something else. Hanging above the eastern horizon, faint in the light of day but clearly discernable, he saw two moons. “But I’m pretty sure it’s not.”
Copyright © 2014 by Philip D. Smith.
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