Thursday, June 5, 2014

Castles 106

106. In Stonebridge

            “I want to be clear about this.”  Milo drew an imaginary line across the table.  The bankers opposite him attended carefully.  “Derian will live in the Citadel from now on.”  Milo’s finger tapped the table on his side of the invisible line.  “He will no longer spend time on assignments from Master Dans.  He won’t be delivering your messages to lords in castles on the Downs, unless the Guard sends him there on some errand.  He’ll work every day on Guard business, either in Wallis’s old office or negotiating with suppliers.”
            “You’re making Derian Chapman the Assistant Commander?”  The speaker was Lunden Ware, the short, brown-haired moneylender who had sat in the first row of the Assembly, next to Verge Courney.  Ware raised a round glass of warm brown beer, the specialty of the house, to his lips.  Ody Dans was drinking tea from a delicate white cup.  Milo’s empty beer glass had been pushed to the side.
            Milo and the bankers occupied a corner booth of the Bread and Brew, an unpretentious alehouse on the east side of River Blide.  His back to the wall, Milo could watch the other people in the tavern.  In mid-morning on a winter day, most of the house’s tables were empty.  A good thing.  Assemblymen Ody Dans and Lunden Ware were well known in Stonebridge, and Milo himself was the talk of the town.  Milo didn’t want eavesdroppers.
            “Not at all.  Derian knows little of fighting and nothing about commanding armsmen.  To date, his chief service as an undersheriff was to tag along with me on the disastrous Gaudy’s Tavern raid.  He owes me his life, by the way.”
            Ware might have spoken, but Ody Dans cleared his throat.  “Go on, Commander.”
            “What Derian does know is commerce.  He’s spent some years learning from his uncle.  He can keep accurate records.  He knows which merchants in Stonebridge can be trusted.  He knows where to buy food, wagons, horses, and equipment.  In short, I want Derian as my quartermaster.
“Now, if Lunden Ware or Ody Dans or someone equally experienced would take the oath, join the Guard, and live in the Citadel under my command—well, then I would choose him.  But given the sheriffs and under-sheriffs I have to choose from, I choose Derian.”
The older men both smiled at the thought of becoming sheriffs.  Milo continued, “He’ll work in Wallis’s old office because he’ll need space to store contracts and records, that sort of thing.”
Dans’s face glistened, as if it had been oiled.  Even so, it projected bland contentment.  “I imagine that Wallis’s desk and boxes contained many things.  Like Commander Tondbert, Wallis was a gatherer of secrets.”
“If so, his secrets are lost.”  Milo didn’t care if they believed him.  “With Wallis dead, I ordered his office emptied.  The kitchen girls, including Alberta Day—that’s the girl Wallis raped—made a fire in the Citadel courtyard with Wallis’s papers and parchments.  They took particular care to build their fire on the exact spot where Jarvis Day spilled Wallis’s blood.”
Ware’s face showed his skepticism.  “You did not think to go through Wallis’s records?”
Milo shrugged.  “I thought about it and rejected it.  I have been sifting Commander Tondbert’s documents carefully, as you might expect.  I will make a report to the Assembly and put into their possession a number of papers and parchments.  I’m sure they will find my report extremely interesting.  Tondbert’s secrets are the ones that matter.”  This speech was mostly a lie, but it contained a germ of truth.  Daisy Freewoman, the erstwhile Tilde Gyricson, had selected which of Wallis’s papers should be burned by the serving girls.  Milo himself hadn’t participated.
Ody Dans sipped tea, then set his cup very precisely on a white saucer.  “You can’t be sure that Wallis’s records are useless if you don’t read them.”
The washerwoman will let me know.  “True enough.  But what’s done is done.  It was a pleasure for the girls to burn Wallis’s things.  They needed that.  And as I say, Tondbert’s secrets are enough for my purposes.”
Milo steepled his hands under his chin and looked into Dans’s expressionless face.  The watery blue eyes returned Milo’s gaze for several seconds.  Finally, Dans lifted his teacup.  “As you say, what’s done is done.  The important thing now is to make sure the City Guard gets proper support from the Assembly.”
Dans sipped slowly.  “You say you will make a report to the Assembly.  I presume you will use what you have learned in Tondbert’s office to help the Assemblymen see the importance of the City Guard.  How?”
Milo traced a pattern on the tabletop with his finger, choosing his words carefully.  “From the beginning, I intend to fully expose all that Tondbert knew.  If I hold something back—some nasty evidence against Ody Dans, for example—Ody Dans might then fear exposure, but he would also know that the new commander holds secrets.  He would wonder what other secrets I have.  But if Master Dans knows that I have told the whole truth about his deeds, he will more readily believe that I tell the truth about someone else, Lunden Ware, for example.
“Tondbert fell into a trap.  He used secrets to manipulate and threaten, and this gained him a little of what he wanted.  But it turned Stonebridge’s leaders against him.  They feared him, but they did not trust him.  Every Assemblyman needs to know that I will report fully and openly all that I know.”
Ware raised his eyebrows and shot a glance at Dans.  “You think you can make the Assembly trust you?”  The banker clearly scorned the idea.
“Not at first, perhaps.  But deeds speak.  People in Stonebridge will soon discover that the Guard will enforce the law with an even hand.  The men of the Assembly no less than farmhands in the country, the laborers in the mills, and the independent artisans will learn that they can trust me to do what I say.”
Ody Dans set aside his tea and spread his pink hands on the table.  “You don’t want men to fear you?”
“Anyone who breaks the laws of Stonebridge should fear me.  Elsewise they will suffer the fate of the Hawks, whom I have broken.”
Ware protested, “With the help of Ifing Redhair!”
Milo acknowledged the objection with the slightest nod.  “And the Falcons I will control.”
Ware sat back into his chair.  “How?”
“By making them soldiers.  They’re no more than bullies and thieves right now, following Redhair’s commands for lack of anything better.  They don’t know what they might be.  We will train them, make them into archers, swordsmen, and pike men.  One or two might even become knights.”
Ware was incredulous.  “You expect to turn Falcon criminals into soldiers, and you expect the Assembly to pay for it?  An army of thieves roaming the streets of Stonebridge?  That’s madness!”
“Not quite.”  Milo grinned.  “My army of thieves will not roam the streets of Stonebridge.  The Citadel’s not large enough to house them, for starters.  We will make an army of the Falcons—and others—but they will live in a camp outside the city, over the hill on the road to Down’s End.  Someday a fortress will replace the camp, but for now a camp will have to suffice.  When spring comes, Stonebridge will have an army ready to do its bidding.  And inside the city, you will find a City Guard that can be trusted.  Warehouses and fine estates will not need small armies of private guards.”
Ware looked questioningly at Ody Dans.  The pink-faced banker drained his cup.  “It’s what we’ve always wanted, Lunden.  Admit it.  Stonebridge needs an army to assert herself.  We need to end the plague of thieves in the city and highwaymen in the countryside.  We can build real roads to Down’s End and the castles of the Downs, not just wagon trails.  An army can patrol the roads and free landholders from the lords.  Castles have magic, but you and I know that is no reason that their lords should divide Tarquint into a dozen little fiefdoms.  Castle lords pretend to authority far and wide, but they have too few sheriffs to make good their claims.  The free cities hold the future of Tarquint, and Stonebridge ought to be first among the cities.”
The brown-haired banker considered Dans’s words.  “Rudolf brought all of Herminia under his will.”
Dans nodded.  “Indeed.  But not by castle magic.  The city that surrounds Pulchra Mane is the true source of Grandmesnil power.  Rudolf, and Mariel after him, raised a great army because they had a great city to support it.  And now, we are told, Mariel’s army incorporates men from every city in Herminia.  She makes every lord contribute men and arms.”
As Dans talked, he leaned forward and his speech became more vigorous.  Milo had never seen him so engaged except the night when the banker forced Adelgar Gyricson to beg his wife to prostitute herself.  That was pleasure and this is politics, the two gods of Master Ody Dans.
Dans continued, “Hyacintho Flumen is the largest of all the castle towns in Tarquint.  But how many men could Lord Mortane put in the field?”  Dans’s pale blue eyes peered at Milo.  “Let me guess.  Five score?  Less?”
Milo ignored the fact that his brother was now lord of Hyacintho Flumen.  “My father had one hundred soldiers exactly, if the count included Lord Hereward, myself, and both of my brothers.  Eddricus is a boy, five years old.”
Dans nodded.  Almost five score, then.  You see?  Rudolf’s army was many times as large.  He united Herminia with an army, not a castle.  The great cities of Tarquint are Cippenham, Down’s End and Stonebridge.  One of those cities will raise an army one day and compel the castles to submit.  Tarquint will be united; why shouldn’t it be Stonebridge that does it?”
            Lunden Ware rubbed his chin.  “And you think Commander Mortane is the man to create our army?”
            Dans frowned for a moment.  “I don’t know.  But he is a genuine knight, by the gods.  The men of the Guard like him.  And he relieved us of that worm Tondbert.  What do you think, Milo?  Can you really build an army out of the Falcons and assorted wanderers?”
            Milo kept his expression as bland as Dan’s.  “I will surprise you.  By spring we will be ready to march.”
            Both bankers expressed surprise.  “By spring?”
            “March?  March where?”
            “I can better explain when…ah!  Here they are.”  Behind the assemblymen the Bread and Brew door opened.  Milo motioned to Felix Abrecan and Derian Chapman, who entered the alehouse in the company of a young woman.  The sheriffs and the dark-haired woman crossed the room as Dans and Ware twisted in their seats to see them.  The new arrivals bowed politely to the assemblymen.
            Milo said, “Master Dans and Master Ware, you already know Sheriff Abrecan and Sheriff Chapman.  I introduce Lady Amicia Mortane.  She comes as ambassador from my brother Aylwin, the lord of Hyacintho Flumen.”

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

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