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.