Thursday, May 29, 2014

Castles 105

105. At the Siege of Hyacintho Flumen

            “My Lord General!”  Alan Turchil spoke in haste as he entered the Rose Petal conference room.  He slapped his fist to his chest in salute and hurried to an open chair left of Eudes Ridere.  “I’m sorry I’m late.” 
            Bully, standing to the side by the wall, looked from Captain Turchil to General Ridere.  As the general’s squire it was out of place for Bully to speak unless Ridere or one of his captains addressed him, so it was a relief when Galan Hengist spoke the thought of many.  “Never mind late, Alan!  Did they make it?  Report!”
            Ridere’s captains met for council most mornings.  Usually, two or three would be absent, keeping watch with the soldiers on the siege lines.  But today all were present, and most of the hostage knights as well; everyone wanted news of the latest raid.  Turchil milked their attention, passing his gaze around the captains and then turning to Ridere.  The general gave the slightest nod.
            Turchil said, “Three of the five reached the river.  They are safe and making use of hot baths.”
            “Two lost, then?  Who lived?”
            “We lost Kipp Storm and Toland Maxwell.  Shelny Holt, Hugh Norman, and Trace Wynchell made it to the river.”
            List Wadard, heir to Paul Wadard of Beatus Valle and father of Linn Wadard, another hostage knight, spoke from the foot of the table.  “They crossed Blue River in winter?”
            Turchil shook his head.  “No.  The river is too wide, too cold, too swift.  Once they were in the water, they swam with the current downstream.  After they passed the bridge, they fumbled to the shore.  They were pretty cold, I’ll admit.  But it worked.  Men from Rubrum Vulpes helped pull them out.”
            Deman Mowbray, the fourteen-year-old “knight” from Rubrum Vulpes, sat up straighter.  “Those men are due to rotate home soon.  They’ve been on siege duty from the beginning.”
            Turchil nodded acknowledgment to Mowbray.  “At the time it was still dark enough that our raiders might have been missed easily.  At least one of the Rubrum Vulpes men saw what needed to be seen.”
            General Ridere raised a finger.  “Sir Deman, you and I will visit your men this afternoon.  We will congratulate them and thank them for their service.  Requisition a food cart and make sure it is stocked with good beer.”
            Young Mowbray beamed.  “It will be done, my Lord General.”
            Archard Oshelm leaned forward on his elbows, turning his head to face Turchil.  “The liquid fire worked?”
            “Not as we hoped.”  Turchil directed his answer to Ridere as much as Oshelm.  “Each man could only carry what he could conceal, an earthenware jar sealed tight.  Two of the survivors say they placed their jars next to a barn, but the liquid failed to ignite when they broke them.  Another dropped his before they reached their targets; it spilled on the ground and they were afraid to retrieve it.  Mortane’s men captured Maxwell—he was struck down, but not killed, says Hugh Norman—so the enemy may have taken his jar.  Only Kipp Storm actually ignited the fire—on a chicken coop.”
            Oshelm splayed his hands on the tabletop.  “And those are our results?  We burned some chickens?”
            Turchil looked embarrassed, and quiet chuckling spread around the table.  He was too much a soldier to misrepresent the facts.  “Shelny Holt claimed they destroyed scores of birds, but I suspect the number was much less.”
            The laughter increased until Ridere interrupted with another raised finger.  “In a siege, food is food; losing a few chickens may hurt Mortane as much losing as a cow.  In any case, I want him worrying.  Not just him; I want everyone inside Hyacintho Flumen to dread moonless nights.
            “The important lessons of last night’s raid are these.  First, the liquid fire we captured still works, and not just as an experiment far from battle.  Second, men can hide in the slough and make their way to the river.  Third, they can survive the river if they are properly prepared. This gives us the means to harass and intimidate our enemy.  All of you”—Ridere paused and looked round the table—“should be thinking of new ways to harry the castle’s defenders.  It is too much to hope that Mortane would come out for open battle; we would defeat him easily.  He will stay safe inside his walls.  But he must not be allowed to rest.  We will harass him like a swarm of bees stinging a bear.  We will raid again on the next moonless night.  Until then, let us invent other ways to harass him.”
            “My Lord General.”  Aldin Thoncelin, the hostage knight from Ventus in Montes, was a heavy boy with thick white hair and a squeaky voice.  Bully could not remember Thoncelin ever speaking in council unless directly addressed by an officer.  “Please excuse me, but I do not understand.  How did the raiders survive the river?  I once saw a woman pulled from River Loud.  Back home, not far from Ventus in Montes.  It was winter, and the woman died, though she had no injuries and was in the water only a little while.”
            Turchil answered.  “Sir Aldin, have you ever seen a walrus?  No?  I have.  I sailed as cabin boy aboard the Ice Queen when I was your age.  We voyaged to the frozen north shores of Tarquint, where great cakes of ice cover most of the sea and we had to constantly guard the ship lest she be crushed between them.  We saw walruses lying on the shore, as if they were sunning themselves.  The sailors killed one, and I watched them cut it up.  It was a great, round beast, with long white tusks, and under its skin they had to cut through fat thicker than a man’s fist.  I won’t forget it.  Now the water of the northern sea is colder than River Loud in winter, colder than Blue River.  But the walrus swims happily in that sea because of his fat.  It shields him from the cold.
            “I remembered the fat of the walrus, and I asked myself whether we might not shield a man that way.  Each of our raiders wore a thick layer of cow and pig fat between an inner tunic and an outer wrap of black cloth.  It did not work perfectly, but it did work.  They swam in Blue River for half a mile and came out alive.”
            Aldin Thoncelin acknowledged this explanation with repeated dips of his head but did not venture to reply.
            Ridere waited a while, pursing his lips.  “Any other questions?  I remind all of you how important it is that what we say here is kept secret.  Mortane may well have spies in town Hyacintho Flumen.  There are a thousand ways someone in town could signal the castle if he knew our plans.  Be very careful with what you say outside this room.  Dismissed.”
            The captains and knights departed the conference in twos and threes, talking among themselves.  Eadred Unes was scratching away with a quill on paper; otherwise, Ridere was the last to rise from the table, after sitting wordlessly for some time.
            For weeks, Bully had been waiting for the right moment.  As the room emptied, he thought: Maybe now.
            Bully stepped from the wall when Ridere stood up.  Before he could speak, the hall door opened.  Archard Oshelm entered, tightening his belt.  The Rose Petal’s jakes were at the end of the hall.  “Will they listen?”
            “What’s that?”  Ridere seemed distracted; he watched Eadred’s quill.  “Will who listen?”
            “The knights.”  Oshelm gestured at the outer door, closing behind the last of the hostage knights.  “Captains too, but mostly I mean the knights.  You can warn and threaten, but secrets will out.”
Bully spoke up.  “Linn Wadard is eleven, and not terribly bright.  Does he really understand how an unguarded word in town could ruin our next raid?”
             Ridere turned his beaked nose toward Bully and fixed him with his black eyes.  “Good question, Bully.  What do you think?”
            “Sir, it would be awfully easy to say something, without meaning any harm, that would betray some plan.”
            “That’s true.  Go on.”
            Bully frowned, thinking.  “And some of the knights—at least, their fathers—have little loyalty to Queen Mariel.  They might relish the victory of a castle lord over the queen’s army and see in it hope for their own freedom.”
            Archard had crossed to the outer door, where he took a cloak from a peg on the wall.  “My Lord General, your squire has a good deal of sense.  I’m glad we found him that day in Wedmor.” 
            Ridere nodded.  “Indeed.  Bully, answer the question.  Given the officers and knights who gathered here this morning, will our secrets stay safe?”
            “No.”  Bully sucked his teeth.  “Whether by accident or deliberate betrayal, things said in this room will find their way to the town.  And as you say, there are many ways to for townspeople to signal Hyacintho Flumen.  In any case, Lord Mortane will expect a raid of some kind the next moonless night.”
            Ridere looked at Archard Oshelm.  “We need other options, Archard.  Mortane expects night raids now.  What can we do in daylight?”
            Wrapped in his cloak, Archard saluted.  “My lord, you may be asking something impossible.  How can we harass him in daylight?  Even moonlight is enough for Mortane to see and kill.  Nevertheless, I will consider the problem.”  Archard exited.
            Ridere turned to Eadred Unes, who was pushing a stopper into an inkbottle.  “Finished, Eadred?”
            “Aye, my lord.”  Eadred slipped two sheets of paper into a leather pouch.  “These are ready for copying by Edita Freewoman.”  He offered the pouch and Bully reached for it.  Ridere surprised both of them by intercepting it.
            “Good.  It happens that I want a word with Mistress Freewoman, and a bit of a walk would do me good.”
            Bully was taken aback.  “Shall I come too, my lord?”
            Ridere grinned at him.  “You’re my squire, Bully.  What do you think?  By the gods, boy, sometimes you’re cleverer than any of my captains, but sometimes you’re an idiot.”
            “I’m sure that’s true, my lord.”
            Once Bully and Ridere were outside the Rose Petal, the general said, “Would it surprise you, Bully, to learn that Archard was once my squire?”
            “Aye!  I thought…”
            “I’ve been general for twenty years, Bully.  Surely you don’t think you’re my first squire.”
            “No, my lord.  But I wouldn’t have guessed that I knew any of them.”
            The snow crunched under their feet.  Ridere said, “So who will be next?”
            “My lord?  I don’t understand.”
            “Who should be my next squire?  I don’t suppose you’ll want to be sleeping outside my door from now on.  Married men typically want more comfortable beds.  It’s time to make you into a swordsman, or put you on horse as a scout.  You ride well enough.  Maybe a scout.”
            Bully’s mind boggled at the word.  “Married, my lord?”
            They arrived at the rear door to the Cooper’s house.  Ridere laid his hand on the latch.  “That’s what you want, isn’t it?  Truth be told, that’s why I want to see Mistress Freewoman, to ask her if she’ll have you.  But remember, before I give permission, you need to find me a squire.”

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


Thursday, May 22, 2014

Castles 104

104. In Castle Hyacintho Flumen

            Aylwin reached across the bed and touched Juliana’s back.  She slept naked on her side with only golden tresses adorning her form.  Not that he could see color; the room was too dark.  Without waking her, his finger softly traced the arch of her back.  Desire aroused itself, and he laid his hand on her hip.  “Mm…” Juliana turned sleepily.  “Again?”
            A knock sounded through the bedroom door.  Instantly, the room’s lights brightened.  Aylwin leapt from the bed and snatched up a cloak.  “Enter!  Report!”
            The door slid open, revealing Dag Daegmund.  “Raiders again, my lord.”
            “Are you sure?”  Aylwin was already running, barefoot and clothed only in the cloak. 
            “Too dark to be positive, my lord.  It seems they choose the darkest of nights.”  Dag followed at his heels as they ran the corridor to the great hall.  Hyacintho Flumen’s lights sprang to full intensity before them.  Aylwin sprinted to the lord’s knob, losing grip on his cloak in the process.  Behind him, a woman’s voice shouted something unintelligible, and Dag responded with an impatient command.  Aylwin ignored them.  He bonded, and orange light glowed between the interlaced fingers of his hands.
            Silently he commanded, “See!”  He stared impatiently at the great window.  It showed only blackness.  It’s not working!  Damn!  No.  There it is.  One of the enemy’s watch fires.  “Closer!”  The image of the fire enlarged, and Aylwin could count the soldiers, six of them.  He willed the focus to move, slowly panning right.  A second watch fire, then a third came into view.  Nearer the castle, the enemy’s firelight reflected dimly on the sides of Hyacintho Flumen stables and barns.
            “All I see is watch fires and my own property.  Do you see anything?”
            Dag stood respectfully to his side.  “No, my lord.  But one of our men signaled us.  They carry fire strikers.  Sparks are easily seen in this dark.”
            “What do you think?  Are the Herminian bastards out there?”
            Dag considered his reply.  “Aye, my lord.  I feel it.  They are there.”
            “Very well.  I’m going to throw down both shields.  Take thirty men and plenty of torches.  If there are raiders inside the near shield I want them found and destroyed.”
            “As you command, Lord Aylwin.  How long will we have?”
“I can hold both shields for two hours if I have to.  Sweep the grounds around the barns as quickly as you can.  Then I will draw the wider shield back; if there are raiders between the shields, we’ll get them in between.”
At his side, Dag bowed.  “May I suggest clothing, my lord?  Diera has brought a tunic and leggings.  Or, if you prefer to fight naked, I can command that people stay out of the hall.”
Aylwin laughed aloud and released the knob.  “Wouldn’t that make a tale?  The lord who defends his castle in the raw.”  He found clothes lying neatly on the floor a few yards away and dressed quickly.  “Diera!”
The serving woman stepped into the great hall.  She had concealed herself in a closet.  “My lord?”
            “Fetch food and wine.  I want a bite before I labor.  Then wake up Arthur and get him here.  Food and drink first.”
            “Aye, my lord.”  Diera fled to the kitchen.
            Aylwin sat to pull on leggings and looked up at Dag.  “Make sure our men are inside the smaller shield.  I can’t afford to burn some fool just because he’s in the wrong place.”
            “Aye, my lord.  I will signal the men presently.  When shall we begin?”
            “As soon as I’ve eaten.  The Herminian bastards like the dark; we’ll fight them in the dark.”
            Dag saluted.  “Very good.  I will signal the scouts and prepare the swordsmen.”

            Fighting a battle as lord of Hyacintho Flumen was not what Aylwin had imagined as a child.  Once he had established a clear bond and thrown down the shields, there was very little for Aylwin to do.  He used the castle “eye” to survey his lands to the west, sweeping back and forth from northwest to southwest.  But all the while he was expending energy through the shields, so he could not make the eye focus tightly on any particular object.  No doubt the bitch queen knows how hard it is to use two magics at once.  So she has her husband attack in the blackest nights.  Aylwin dared not take his hands from the knob.  The safety of Daegmund’s men might depend on the nearer shield.  He and Dag believed the enemy had sent only a few raiders, but prudence required him to be ready for a massed assault.  If Aylwin relaxed his guard for even a few minutes, and if Eudes Ridere attacked with a tenth of his host, the Herminians would destroy any of Aylwin’s men outside the castle.  Of course, the enemy never knew when the shields would be active.  If Ridere gambled and threw a thousand into the fray, Aylwin might slaughter them all.  Caution on both sides preserved the status quo. 
            So Aylwin waited.  If only the enemy would show himself—preferably, inside the greater shield, where he would be burned to a cinder when the two shields came together.  Aylwin shook his elbows and rolled his shoulders to prevent tension from building in his arms.  His hands never left the knob.
            Arthur the old arrived; slipper-shod feet moving noiselessly on the polished floor.  For a long time Arthur said nothing.  Then: “My lord, a suggestion.  My old eyes are practically useless in this business.  Let us summon young Odo; he might see something others would miss.”
            “Fine—if he’s in Hyacintho Flumen.  Odo’s been sleeping in the stables recently.”
            “He came in with the scouts.”  Arthur bowed and slipped away.  Soon after, Aylwin heard the slap of boots on the hard floor and excited breathing of the stable boy.
            “Welcome, Odo.  I would greet you properly, but I am presently occupied.”
            The boy stood panting a yard away.  “My lord is holding the shields.”
            “Aye.  And I am watching for signs of the enemy.  If we see them, I can move the shields to burn them.  You have young eyes, Odo.  Watch with me.  If you see anything, tell me about it.  Don’t be frightened or excited.  Just tell me what you see in the great window.”
            “Aye, my lord.  I can see two fires.”
            Aylwin kept his voice calm.  “I can see them as well.  The damned Herminians wait by their fires all around us.  We are looking for enemy soldiers who have come closer than the watch fires.”
            “Aye, my lord.”
            Aylwin widened the swing of the castle eye, touching all compass points from north to south on the western side.  The life-sapping cold of the Blue river ran on the east side of the castle, and Hyacintho Flumen’s barns, houses, and stables dotted the west slope, so there was no point watching the east side.  In any case, the circle shields guarded all sides of the castle simultaneously.
            Arthur the old returned, silently as ever, and Juliana came with him.  She stood close, wearing only a white tunic that clung to her breasts and hips.  Aylwin glanced sideways at her for a moment, but pushed the distraction aside, riveting his attention on the window.  Juliana nodded and stepped around Odo.  “I will stand watch here.”  Sometime later—Aylwin didn’t notice when—a servant brought a cloak, and Juliana covered herself with it.
            The torches carried by Dag Daegmund’s men appeared in the great window, moving down the road toward the west.  The torchlights spread around the stable like honeybees around a mysteriously black flower; then they gathered again to move further down the hill, toward the barns and henhouses.  Aylwin had established the smaller shield further on, near the cottage where Juliana used to live; the large shield was about three hundred yards beyond that.  Damn the Herminians!  Where are they?  He rotated his shoulders again.  I must not tense.  A light touch.  Hold the shields longer that way.
            Without any warning, a henhouse exploded.  The complete lack of sound made the scene surreal.  Little bits of flame—chickens—were scurrying all around while the henhouse itself, not a large structure, burned phosphorescently.  Beside Aylwin, Arthur murmured, “Liquid fire.”
            “Damn!”  Aylwin whispered his imprecation, wrestling with despair.  “They turn my own weapon against me.”  In spite of the shock Aylwin’s hands did not move, and the shields stayed in place.
            “My lord, look!  We have him!”  Odo pointed at the window.  “The raider is dressed in black, but Dag’s men have him surrounded.  There!  He is down!  Another one!”
            Arthur the old touched Odo’s shoulder.  “Are you sure?  I see nothing.”
            “They are chasing something.  See the torches!  There!”
            A human figure burst into flame.  A raider, fleeing Aylwin’s men, had touched the inner shield.  The men of Hyacintho Flumen were now clearly visible, standing still lest they touch the shield themselves.  It was ghastly, the way the man burned so brightly.  Dag’s men spread out north and south, looking for more raiders, careful not to move any further from the castle.
            Four of the torches were coming back to the castle.  They might be carrying something, or someone.  After many minutes the torches neared the castle and passed out of sight of the eye.  Dag’s other men were still searching.  The tension in Aylwin’s neck was building again.  He rotated his shoulders.
            Arthur moved close.  “My lord, you’ve been holding the shields for more than two hours.  If there are Herminians between the shields, it is time to crush them.  I will signal Dag to bring his men in.”
            Aylwin felt only faint resentment against Arthur’s advice.  I will get stronger.  The day will come when I can hold shields much longer.  “Very well, Arthur.  I will draw the outer shield back.”
            He was tiring quickly now.  Aylwin concentrated, trying to move the outer shield smoothly and slowly.  Tension spread from his neck all the way to his lower back.  He wanted so badly to see another Herminian burn.  Nothing.
            Aylwin lifted his hands and stepped back from the lord’s knob.  He looked at Arthur.  “If they attacked right now, only the castle walls would protect us.”
            Arthur motioned to Juliana, who came to Aylwin’s side.  Arthur said, “But they will not attack now.  For all they know, you are toying with them, inviting them to their deaths.  You must eat, drink, and rest.  We will see what Dag has found.”  Juliana helped Aylwin walk to his place at the high table.  He drank red wine diluted with water, and Juliana tore a round loaf of rye bread into small pieces for him.
            Half an hour of rest and food worked wonders.  After the bread came cold chicken and a wedge of cheese.  The tension drained away, and when Lucia came into the hall Aylwin greeted her with a smile.
            “Aylwin!  They say there was a raid.  Why did you not wake me?”
            “I was busy, Mother.  And at one point I was completely naked, having neglected to dress for battle.”
            “I don’t believe it.”
            “Ask Diera then.  Come and sit down, Mother.  This may be the last chicken for a very long time, unless you like blackened bird.”
            Odo at least laughed at Aylwin’s joke.  Before Lucia could reply, a soldier appeared at the door.
            “My lord Aylwin, Captain Daegmund has something you should see.”  The swordsman saluted.  “I’m afraid it’s not fit to bring into the hall.”
            Arthur, Juliana, Lucia and Odo accompanied Aylwin to the north door of the great hall.  On the landing lay two forms; one the blackened remains of something that might have been a man, the other a young man bleeding from a sword thrust to his abdomen.  Juliana looked quickly away from the burned man and doubled over.  Odo and Lucia stepped back from the stench.  But Arthur held his nose and leaned over the stabbed man.  The raider was dressed only in black, and he had soot rubbed on his face.  He breathed in short gasps.
Arthur kneeled beside the dying man.  “What is this?”  He pulled at a bit of cloth.  An oozy substance clung to the cloth and the man’s flesh.  Arthur leaned close to the raider’s face.  “We need to help you, boy.  What is this slime on you?”
The wounded man made no reply.  A last breath slid out of his lips.  
Arthur looked questioningly at Dag.
            “Fat,” Dag said.  “Thick grease, like you’d see on the axle of a heavy wagon.  It’s all over him: back, neck, butt, legs, and stomach.  Why would they do that?  Rubbing on soot, that makes him dark.  But why this?”
            Arthur sat back on his heels and shook his head.  “I’m sure I don’t know.  But it explains why the other burned so bright.  He was a walking candle when he touched the shield.”

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


Thursday, May 15, 2014

Castles 103

103. In Castle Inter Lucus

            Caelin arranged six chairs in a circle near the lord’s knob.  He and Ora sat protectively on either side of Marty.  The light strips under the balconies dimmed on their own and the great hall took on a quiet and cavernous atmosphere once everyone else had left.  A patch of light surrounded Marty, his guests, and the lord’s knob.  Seated close to the interface wall, the three visitors could hardly keep their eyes from its sleek thirty-foot vertical surface.  Marty watched them rubberneck.  Inter Lucus’s strangeness shouts “alien” to me, but “devil” to them.  This may not work.
            “Eadmar, you didn’t come to Inter Lucus just to look at it.  What has happened?”
            The priests and Godric glanced at Marty, but the blackness of the interface had a depth to it that pulled them back.  A person could get lost in that inky mystery.  Teothic’s skin above his red beard looked pasty.
            Marty stood up.  “This isn’t going to work.  Come on.”  He picked up his chair and the others followed him to a spot along the east wall, north of the east door, at least forty feet from the intimidation of the interface.  The lighting brightened automatically around them, an unnerving effect for the visitors.  Teothic, Eadmar and Godric glanced repeatedly at the light strips.
            Godric asked, “What magic makes the light?  Why does it brighten around our chairs?”
            Marty looked at the floor for a moment, considering his answer.  “Is it magic when a ship sails across West Lake?  No.  The ship maker has constructed his vessel in a way that the wind moves it where the pilot wants to go. 
            “The creatures who built Inter Lucus constructed it with many parts, and all those parts work together, like the parts of a ship, except that Inter Lucus has more parts, and far more intricately designed parts, than any ship.  Now, just as a ship is designed so that the pilot can direct it from one position, with his hand on the helm, so Inter Lucus is designed so that the whole castle can be controlled when the lord puts his hand on the lord’s knob.  There is a difference, of course: anyone can put his hand on the helm of a ship, but only the lord who has bonded with a castle can put his hands on the lord’s knob.
            “The lights in Inter Lucus come on when I need them, because the castle is closely attuned to me ever since I bonded with it.  It is as if Inter Lucus watches me constantly and tries to guess what I need.  And it seems that the castle is also aware of the people I have welcomed into my household.  The lights come on for Mildgyd or any of the children when they move around inside Inter Lucus.”
            Godric’s eyes roved over the room.  “Would it work for me?  Would light shine on me if I were alone?”
            “I don’t think so,” Marty answered.  When new children came to Inter Lucus we noticed that they had no light for a few days.  It’s as if the castle has to learn which persons live here and which are only guests.”
Enough about technology.  Marty leaned toward Teothic.  “Why have you come to Inter Lucus?”
Teothic clutched his bony knees.  “Guthlaf Godcild, our bishop, directed me to seek out brother Eadmar and ask if he still believed that Martin of Inter Lucus worshiped the true God.  If so, we have Guthlaf’s permission to enter castle Inter Lucus and to confirm for ourselves that you can command the castle.  And if that is so, Guthlaf bids Eadmar and me to ask your aid.”
“Aid with what?”
Color had come back to Teothic’s face.  “I am commanded not to name our request until I am convinced of your troth and your power over Inter Lucus.  Eadmar’s testimony and the prayers of your students speak for your good faith.  Eadmar says the castle itself, that it has recovered from its ruinous state, demonstrates your power.  Still, I would like to tell the brothers when I return to Down’s End that I asked for and witnessed proof.  Phytwin in particular doubted that any true believer could use the devils’ magic.”
Marty pursed his lips.  “Let me guess.  Suppose I demonstrate command of Inter Lucus.  Brother Phytwin would then say that it proves I am no true believer, that I play act in order to deceive you.”
Eadmar chuckled.  “That’s Phytwin.”
Teothic looked sideways at the dark interface wall and chewed his lip.  “Phytwin would no doubt remind us of brother Morton, deceived and killed by the Postels of Aurea Prati, or the four brothers of Cippenham who were tortured to death outside Altum Canyon.”  Teothic faced Marty, his blue eyes probing.  “There are many cautionary accounts of the devils’ cruelty and the treachery of the lords who serve them.  As story-keeper, I could fill the day with such tales.”
“I do not doubt your stories, Teothic.”  Marty rubbed his forehead and sighed.  “In fact, I think we should write them down.  We’ve learned to make paper here at Inter Lucus.  We will use it to make copies of the book of God; why not also record the history of Two Moons?  Caelin has collected stories told by old men on market days, but Eadmar told me once that the story-keepers among the priests can recite the story of Two Moons back to the before time.
“But you must ask yourself: Do the stories of the past determine our future?  God has allowed the lords of Two Moons to oppress his worshipers for hundreds of years.  Does that mean it must always be so?  Is it not possible that a castle lord could worship God?”
Marty stood up.  “You ask for proof that I control my castle.  Very well.  You may sit here or come closer, as you like.”  To Caelin and Ora: “I’ve been working on something new.  See if you like it.”  He walked to the lord’s knob and bonded with his right hand.  The status report appeared instantly, filling the screen with letters a foot tall.

I. Materias Transmutatio: operativa
II. Parva Arcum Praesidiis: operativa
III. Magna Arcum Praesidiis: operativa
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 heard the intake of breath behind him. The green light of the knob glowed around and between his fingers, as if the knob were a small sun with green plasma.  For the benefit of the visitors, he let the display stand for several seconds.  He closed his eyes and shifted his attention.
The Latin inscription vanished.  In its place, the panorama south of the castle appeared, as if the whole wall were a perfectly clean window.  The winter sun slanted through clouds and reflected off snow; forests edged the view left and right, and houses of the village could be seen more than a mile away.  The great hall was filled with light from the wall.
“My lord, that’s…”
Marty threw his left hand into the air to interrupt Caelin’s remark.  In his mind’s eye the scene shifted—and the interface wall displayed his thought: the same view south from Inter Lucus, but now in the colors of summer.  The brown track of the road to the village wound through grasses, with wildflowers swaying in a summer wind.  Marty was particularly pleased with the summer scene; he wasn’t sure if it was a recording of some past summer long stored in Centralis Arbitrium Factorem or if Inter Lucus had modified the current winter scene like an alien version of Photoshop.  Standing within six feet of the interface wall, the viewers could easily believe themselves transported to summer.
Then the music started.  Marty wasn’t a particularly good singer, and his musical education ended in middle school band, so he had to rely on early musical memories.  A scene from Close Encounters of the Third Kind had come alive in his performance last summer.  Marty had watched the video a dozen times when the flu kept him home from fourth grade for a week.  And now, from a deeper memory, he used “This Land is Your Land.”  In private sessions facing the wall, Marty had hummed, whistled and sung the folk tune, experimenting until Inter Lucus would reproduce it.  It was like picking out a melody on a virtual piano, using his mind rather than fingers.
The sound was like something between a bagpipe and a bassoon, growly and reedy at the same time.  But the melody was clear, and it seemed to fit the beauty of a summer landscape.  When the song had played through twice, Marty shifted his attention.  The interface returned to inky blackness, Marty lifted his hand from the knob, and the green glow disappeared. 
Eadmar, Teothic and Godric had crossed the great hall to stand immediately behind Marty, pulled by the wonder of a technology beyond their dreams.  Ora and Caelin stood just behind them.  With the interface blank, the great hall was again a cavern.
“Are you convinced?  Eadmar, what’s wrong?”  Teothic and Godric were simply staring at the wall, but Eadmar was weeping.
“O my friend Martin.  Such power and beauty!  I see how the devils presented themselves as gods.  Among the priests, our story-keepers warn us against the power of castles.  They should warn against their beauty.  There is nothing on Two Moons, not even at Dimlic Aern, that can compare with such artistry.”
Marty shook his head.  “I wouldn’t rush to award prizes.  Any film studies student who had Inter Lucus for a studio could do much better.  But I ask again.  Teothic, are you convinced?”
“Aye.”  The red-haired priest covered his face with his hands and bowed his head.  “I had never dreamed of such a thing.”  Teothic breathed heavily several times, and then looked at Marty.  “You are the lord of Inter Lucus.  We have come to ask your aid.”
“What is that your Bishop Guthlaf wants?”
Teothic looked beyond Marty to the interface wall.  “It is said that the lords of castles can speak to one another.  Is this true?  Can you speak with Aylwin Mortane, Artus Postel, or David Le Grant?”
Marty pursed his lips.  “I discovered only recently that the castles speak to each other.  I’ve not spoken with Aylwin Mortane or—who were the others you mentioned?”
“Artus Postel or David Le Grant.  Or Simon Asselin?  Rowena Silver?”
“I know none of these names.  Are they all lords?  Eadmar, shouldn’t you have told me about them?”
Eadmar shrugged.  “The truth is, Martin, that I care little about castle lords, and I couldn’t tell you most of their names.  A lord dies and his son or daughter takes his place; nothing changes, really.  Nor do I pay much attention to the rich merchants of Down’s End.  My life as priest has always concerned the poor folk.  Guthlaf was willing to deal with the mighty ones, and I left him to it.  Only when I heard of your book of God did I desire to see a castle.”
Teothic ignored Eadmar’s explanation.  He interrogated Marty: “But you have spoken with other lords?  Which?”
“Only one, a lady.  Three times I have spoken to Mariel Grandmesnil, the queen of Herminia.”
Teothic’s jaw dropped, and he fumbled for words.  “May God have mercy!  You have spoken with the queen?”
“Three times.  She’s a very proud woman, very determined, and very pregnant.  If you wish, I can try to contact her so you could see her for yourself.  But you still haven’t told me what Bishop Guthlaf wants.”
Teothic laughed.  “He wants you to make peace, of course.  Aylwin Mortane has sent an embassy to Down’s End, trying to raise an army to break the siege of Hyacintho Flumen.  He has undoubtedly used castle magic to ask other lords for their help.  Bishop Guthlaf fears that the aldermen of Down’s End might see some profit in joining such a war.  Mortane may also ask Stonebridge for help.  The lords of castles and the wealthy men of free cities will make the decisions, but it will be the peasants of the downs and the laborers of the cities who will die.”
Marty suddenly felt cold, his arms prickling.  His stomach churned.  This is why I was brought to Two Moons.  “The bishop of Down’s End wants me to be peacemaker?”
Eadmar smiled.  “You’ve read the book of God to me, Martin.  Surely you agree.  The castle lords will appeal to their gods and send their people into battle.  But any servant of the true God must be a servant of peace.”

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

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Castles 102

102. In Castle Inter Lucus

            “My lord Martin!” 
            Marty and the students of Collegium Inter Lucus turned from their papers and inkpots to the voice at the west door.  Elfric Ash had guard duty this morning.  He was oldest of the sheriffs and least likely to interrupt lessons unnecessarily.
            “What is it, Elfric?”
            “It’s priest Eadmar, and there are two men with him.”
            “Eadmar wants me to come down to Prayer House.”
            “No, my lord.  They are coming to our door.”
            Students were on their feet as quickly as Marty.  “On the castle grounds?”  Caelin and Marty spoke in unison.
            “Aye, my lord.”
            “Fair morning, Eadmar!  Welcome to Inter Lucus!”  Marty greeted the priest on the path where it rounded Isen’s A-frame glassworks.  Elfric and Caelin were at Marty’s heels, with most of the children and sheriffs of Inter Lucus strung out behind them.  Castle paths in winter were wide enough for two abreast at most, because the snow piled on either side (the result of much shovel work by sheriffs, the older boys, and Rothulf Saeric), and rose to Os Oswald’s chest, higher than the heads of the shorter children.
            Eadmar inclined his head and turned sideways on the path to present his companions.  “Fair morning, Lord Martin.  I introduce a brother of mine, Teothic of Down’s End.  By ‘brother’ I mean Teothic is a priest of God.  And with him is Godric Measy, who has journeyed with Teothic from Down’s End.”
            The newcomers bowed to Marty.  Priest Teothic was a skinny tall man, as tall as Os, with a red beard and blue eyes.  Young—Marty guessed late twenties.  Measy was younger still, with curly black hair and a short beard.
            Marty spread his hands in greeting.  He hadn’t paused for a coat at the door, and a winter breeze nipped at his bare arms.  “Welcome Priest Teothic and Godric Measy.  Eadmar, I am delighted that you have finally come to Inter Lucus.  Something has happened to change your thinking.  Will you come inside?  We can share mid-day sup and you can tell me what’s going on.”
            Eadmar’s blue eyes gleamed under his fringe of white hair.  He dipped his head.  “As you wish, Lord Martin.”
            Caelin waved energetically at everyone behind him, and the students of Collegium Inter Lucus beat a retreat back to the west door of the castle.  Isen waited in the space just outside the door while the others entered.
            “Godric Measy!  You’ve grown a beard.  Do you remember me?”
            The curly haired man grinned.  “Of course I do.  Bebba Deepwater warned me strictly not to return to Down’s End without word from ‘that nice young man, Isen.’  I didn’t have the heart to tell her about your friendship with Matilda Starlight.”  Measy and Isen clapped their arms around each other.  Marty looked from the young men to Eadmar, raising his eyebrows.
            Eadmar saw Marty’s puzzlement.  “Master Bead Deepwater and his sons brought Isen across the lake last summer, as they did me later.  Bebba Deepwater, Bead’s wife, noted well the way Isen cared for Sunniva all those years.  As did I.  Godric here helped carry Sunniva’s pallet in her procession.”
            “And who is Matilda Starlight?”
            Isen pulled away from Godric Measy’s bear hug and bowed to Marty.  “Mistress Starlight is a friend ’o mine.  She gave good advice more than once.  ’N that’s all.”
            Once again Eadmar responded to Marty’s questioning expression.  “Matilda Starlight owns the Running Stag brothel, near the docks on the Betlicea.  She is a kind-hearted woman, and I doubt not that she has helped Isen on occasion.  If not for the sinful nature of her business, she could be a servant of God.”
            Marty gestured his guests through the west door and followed them into Inter Lucus’s great hall.  The younger children were busily clearing the tables and putting school things in storage bins by the east wall.  Meanwhile, the sheriffs and older students were arranging chairs.          Ora stepped away from the bustle to bow to Marty and the guests.  “My lord, Mildgyd says lunch will be ready as soon as places are set.”
            “Thank you, Ora.  Once we’ve eaten, I will ask Eadmar to introduce our guests properly to the Collegium.  You can seat them next to me.”
            “Cousin Caelin and I have already arranged the chairs, my lord.”  Ora inclined her head politely, but Marty recognized the stubborn set of her green eyes, an expression that usually appeared when she was resisting some imagined insult to Marty’s dignity.  What’s she worried about now?  
“Very well, Ora.  We will sit as you direct.”
            “Thank you, my lord.  Honored guests, if you would come with me?”  Ora bowed again and led Eadmar, Teothic and Godric to chairs newly set on one side of a long table.  Marty sat at the end, as usual, but there were two places on his right between him and the visitors.  And who gets the places of honor? What’s going on?   
Whitney Ablendan came up the stairs from the kitchen bearing a tray with cups and two steaming teapots.  Behind Whitney came Went Bycwine, Besyrwin Fairfax, and other servers.  Platters of sandwiches, baskets of French fries, hot beverages—it was typical winter mid-day sup in Inter Lucus, though the visitors’ eyes widened at the plenty.  (Marty had only recently introduced “lunch” to everyone’s vocabulary.)  Caelin brought a plate of apple slices and sat down by Marty—on his left.  Last to join the table were Ora, Isen, and Os.  Ora occupied the place just beyond Caelin to Marty’s left.  Isen took the chair next to Godric Measy.  Os sat between Isen and Marty, in the seat of honor on Marty’s right.
Caelin leaned close and whispered.  “You trust Eadmar, my lord, I know.  But the priests of the old god have suffered much from gods and lords.  It is possible that Teothic was sent to harm you.  Since Os is the best defender you have, I put him between you and the guests.  And it would be best if you eat nothing our visitors have handled.”
Marty sighed and began his protest.  “Good grief!  Caelin…” But in turning toward Caelin and Ora he saw their faces.  Teenager faces, but marked with adult cares.  He whispered, “All right.  I’ll be careful.”
Mildgyd Meadowdaughter arrived last, wiping her hands on an apron and taking a seat at the second table, with Alf Saeric and the younger children.  Agyfen Baecer, the three-year-old orphan whom Eadmar had brought to Inter Lucus, leaned against Mildgyd with his eyes fixed on the guests.
Marty cleared his throat.  “Everyone here?  It looks like we’re soon going to need a third table and more chairs.  If we had even one more guest, someone would have to sit on the floor.  Agyfen, I think it’s your turn today.  You need not fear.  Eadmar’s friend is a priest of God, just like Eadmar.”
The inhabitants of Inter Lucus bowed their heads, while Agyfen prayed.  “Lord God of all creation, we thank you for the food you have supplied.  We thank you in Jesus’ name.  Amen.”
“Amen, amen.”  Voices around the table echoed Agyfen and hands reached quickly for platters and baskets.  Teothic turned wide eyes first toward Eadmar, then to Marty.  “You turn to a child for prayer?  You put the secret name on his lips?”
Marty finished pouring a cup of tea and set the teapot down so he could meet Teothic’s gaze.  “Prayer is as natural as speech.  Every student of Collegium Inter Lucus has the opportunity to voice our thanks at sup, taking turns.  And I do not believe the name of Jesus should be secret.”
Teothic’s attention swiveled to Eadmar.  “You knew this?”
Eadmar was chewing French fries.  “Aye.  I told you as much.  I did not know that the children pray at meals, as I’ve never supped here, but Lord Martin honored the name long before he heard it from me.  As far as it is possible to be sure of another man’s heart, I am sure that Martin worships the true God.”
“So you have said.  And I thought I believed you.  But…” Teothic’s eyes roamed over the great hall.  “It’s actually real.  To think that I am in a devil’s fortress.”
Eadmar handed a basket of fries to the younger priest.  “You are the guest of Martin Paul Cedarborne, and he is not a devil.  Eat, Teothic.”

Marty let the meal proceed for several minutes.  Then he directed each member of the Inter Lucus community to introduce him or herself to Teothic and Godric.  The students told about their homes and their parents’ occupations.  When it came to Ora, she said, “I used to live with my father, Attor Woodman, but no longer.  Inter Lucus will be my home as long as Lord Martin permits.”  The sheriffs and Isen adapted her words.  Inter Lucus is my home.”  “The castle is home for me.”
Alf Saeric said, “My brother told me that I should be lord of Inter Lucus, and I put my hands on the lord’s knob.  For that I received these.”  He displayed his scarred hands.  “Lord Martin let me stay anyway.  Inter Lucus is my home.”
Godric stood when the visitors’ time came.  “I’m Godric Measy, from Down’s End.  I’m what they call a common laborer.  I’ve worked for weavers, butchers, wheelwrights, and carpenters.  I’ve spent a season or two in the tanneries.  Believe me, ya don’t want to smell my feet after a couple days there!  But winter work gets scarce.  So I jumped at the chance to ski with Teothic.  Glad to be here, I’ll tell ya that.  This castle’s a sight better than the inns where we stayed.”
Teothic also stood, and he towered over those still seated.  His coat hung in a closet, he was dressed as simply as Eadmar: a plain brown sleeveless tunic tied with a rope belt.  “I am Teothic, servant of God, assigned to the West district in Down’s End.  I am also story-keeper for Prayer House in Down’s End, and for that reason I was glad that Guthlaf Godcild chose me to come to Inter Lucus.  I hoped to see again the book of God brother Eadmar showed us.  Thank you for welcoming us.”  Teothic sat again, folding his legs under the table.  Marty made a mental note that Os and Teothic would probably appreciate a taller table; Ealdwine would too.
Marty fixed his eyes on Eadmar, and the priest noticed.  “Lord Martin, I know what you would ask.  Can we speak more privately?”
“Of course.  People will scatter after lunch to their various tasks.  Ora and Caelin, my longest advisors, can stay with us.  We can take our chairs by the interface.”  Marty nodded toward the southwest corner of the hall.
Lunch? Interface?”  Teothic frowned at the unfamiliar words.
Isen paused in stacking plates.  “‘Lunch’ is Lord Martin’s word for mid-day sup.”  He pointed with his chin.  “The south wall of the great hall is where Lord Martin speaks to his castle.  He calls it the ‘interface wall.’”
Godric said, “So that is where castle magic happens?”
            Isen grinned at Godric and picked up the stacked plates.  “Lord Martin doesn’t call it magic.  Maybe he’ll let you watch and you can judge for yourself.”

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