Thursday, August 28, 2014

Castles 118

118. In Castle Hyacintho Flumen

            “Here you are.  I’ve been looking all over.”  Juliana’s voice often had a husky timbre that invited Aylwin to think of sex.  He had learned with some disappointment that it didn’t always mean that to her.  For once he was glad; he had other things to think about.
            “You’ve found me.  What now?”  His tone conveyed impatience, and he didn’t try to hide it.
            She touched his elbow.  “Aylwin, my lord.  My dear.  Don’t be harsh.  I just wanted to be with you.  You shouldn’t be alone.”
            “Why not?”  He pulled his arm away and turned on her.  “Don’t you see that I am almost never alone?  Look around!  You can see the prison I am in, a strange prison that affords no solitude.”
            He pointed, and her eyes followed his gesture.  The morning sun had risen halfway up the sky, and the breeze, though cool, had a hint of spring in it.  From the flat roof of Hyacintho Flumen’s gods’ tower they could see for miles in every direction.  Close by, at the bottom of the castle hill on the east side ran Blue River.  Herminian outposts dotted the rising ground east of the river.  Southeast across the river lay the houses and buildings of the town.  In the distance, in the hazy south, Blue River merged with the sea.  On the south and west, Herminian camps followed the rim road that marked castle property.  On the northwest and north, forests covered the ridges coming down from the mountains.  Nestled in those woods were more Herminian camps. 
            “You see?  I am hemmed in.  The damned catapults are there and there.”  Aylwin pointed.  “By day they throw filth, and at night they launch liquid fire.  I can block them with the shields, but only for a few hours.”
            “Arthur believes the Herminians may exhaust the supply of liquid fire before spring.”  Juliana was trying to be encouraging.
            He snorted displeasure.  “What advantage will that bring?  They can easily throw ordinary fires.  A greased bundle of hay would work quite nicely.  In summer, they can scorch my fields, and I won’t be able to stop them.”
            “Everything?  The animals too?”  Juliana sounded genuinely frightened.
            “No.  Catapults can only throw so far.  You see how the Herminian camps make a circle, with Hyacintho Flumen at the center.  Imagine another circle, inside the first, perhaps a fifth of the distance closer.  With enough catapults, they could burn everything between those circles.  Closer than that, we are safe.  The stable, the barns, your old house, and all the nearer fields, including the orchards on the north side—the Herminians must come inside the greater shield to touch them.”
            Juliana nodded.  “And so we must always be alert, to call you to the lord’s knob at any time.”
            “You’ve been listening to Dag Daegmund.”
            She smiled.  “Aye.  He says that often to your armsmen and the servants.”
            “Aye.”  Aylwin sighed.  “And so I must never be alone.  Not really.  For the sake of my mother, my sister and brother, my people, and for the one I will soon plant here…” He put his hand on her abdomen.  “I must always be ready, ready to be summoned to battle.”
            They watched activity in the Herminian camps.  At every moment men were moving: washing clothes, preparing foods, chopping firewood, practicing with swords or bows, patrolling, and doing many other things.  Hundreds of men moving at every moment—but there were many hundreds more that could not be seen, who would soon take their turn.  And Aylwin knew, because the blond bitch of Herminia had told him, that though Aylwin and his defenders could never leave Hyacintho Flumen, the besieging soldiers were constantly rotated.  For a few months, they went home to farms and families and then they came back.  The siege would go on indefinitely, Mariel said.  Only his submission would end it.  Aylwin ground his teeth.
            “The worst of it is…” He whispered his thought.
            “What?  Dear one, what is the worst?”
            “Not knowing.”  
            Juliana’s expression asked for explanation. 
            “I sent Amicia and Kenelm Ash to Down’s End to enlist help.  Arthur says the city has the resources to raise a real army.  Can they be persuaded?  Has Kenelm found a husband for Toadface?  Someone influential who can raise an army?  I don’t even know whether they reached Down’s End.”
            Juliana commented, “The enemy aims to starve us, but he also cuts off contact with the rest of Tarquint.  The castle preserves food for many months, but information spoils quickly.  Without news, you are disadvantaged.”
            “Aye.”  Aylwin raised an eyebrow.  He hadn’t expected insight from Juliana.  “Up here on the gods’ roof I can watch Ridere’s men, or if I want a better view I can use the castle eye.  Beyond that, I am blind.  I talk with the Herminian bitch every week, but I learn almost nothing.”
            Almost nothing?”
            A touch of a smile.  “Her boasts and threats sometimes say more than she realizes.  If I listen between the words I learn things.  For example, we saw the Herminians shaving their heads, and Arthur suggested they had a scalp disease spreading in the camp.  Not so.  I learned they used human hair for the catapults.  And there’s this: my former wife now copies documents for the Herminian general.”  Aylwin chuckled.  “They found an actual use for her.  Amazing.”
            Juliana laughed too.  “I wonder: Has her hair grown back?  She hacked it off the day of the exchange.  Perhaps she is shaved like the armsmen.”
            “Hah!  Very good!”  Aylwin laughed heartily.  “Edita Toeni—the crippled bald copyist!”  He embraced Juliana and pulled her close, enjoying the curve of her back and butt with his hand.
            Between kisses: “I propose we go downstairs, my lord.  Our bedroom is not far.”  She led him by the hand to the stair.

            Sometime later, Aylwin rose first, and Juliana watched him dress.  “You speak with Mariel every week?”
            “Aye.  On Fridays.”  He tucked an indigo tunic into pale blue breeches.
            She sat up, covering her breasts with a linen sheet.  “Then…could you not speak with other lords on other days?  Some other lord might not send armsmen, but it would cost him nothing to give you news.”
            “You suppose I haven’t thought of this?”  Aylwin was working an oiled leather belt into the loops of his breeches.  “It requires a close bond for a lord to use Videns-Loquitur.  According to Arthur, my father never mastered the art and rarely spoke with other lords.  In only eight months I have a better bond with Hyacintho Flumen than Hereward ever had.  And I am getting stronger.  I can hold shields for three hours now.  So I hope, soon, to do precisely what you suggest, to contact other lords.”
            “But you can talk with Mariel.”
            His face flashed anger.  “Because she supports the contact.  By the gods, woman!  Do I have to explain every detail?  The Bitch of Herminia has thousands of men on my land and she has castle powers I cannot match—yet.  She can contact any lord she desires, it seems, and she can also produce steel, castle quality steel for weapons.  Not like my father did—enough for a few swords every year.  She makes tons of it.  Every knight and commander in Ridere’s army has armor as good as my own.”
            Aylwin’s hands were shaking so badly he fumbled at fastening the belt.  Juliana swept out of the bed and came to him.  “Let me.”  Her nimble hands made quick work of the buckle.  “There you go.”  For once, Juliana’s nakedness meant nothing.  She held Aylwin’s hands in her own until the trembling stopped.
            A tear slid down Aylwin’s face.  “I’m afraid, Juliana.  And I can’t tell anyone.”
            “You can tell me, my love.  We will defy Mariel together.  You have been lord for seven months.  In another seven, as you grow stronger, who knows what you will be able to do?”
            After Aylwin left, Juliana decided on a bath and lingered in the hot water.  She dressed without the aid of a serving girl and was still fastening buttons on a peach colored tunic when someone knocked on her door.  “Enter!”
            Diera spoke breathlessly.  “My lady!  Lord Aylwin bids you come to the hall.  You are a prophet, he says, and he wants you to see!”
            Juliana hurried barefoot after Diera.  In the great hall Arthur the old intercepted her halfway to Aylwin, who had his hand on the lord’s knob.  “Lord Aylwin wishes you to witness his success, but it might serve us well if we were not seen.”
            Juliana kept her voice low, mimicking Arthur.  “Seen by whom?”
            In answer, Arthur beckoned her to follow him.  They stuck close to the wall, drawing near to the castle’s magic window, but at an angle so that they would not appear in the picture Videns-Loquitur showed to the other lord.  And it was another lord, a man, not Mariel.  Since Juliana saw the image from the side, the lord displayed there might have been distorted.  Perhaps that explained why his face looked extremely thin.  Unlike the orange-red aura of Aylwin’s knob, the other lord’s glowed with green light.
            The narrow-faced lord was speaking.  “…third I’ve reached.  It’s not long ago I learned how to command Videns-Loquitur.  I’ve talked with Mariel several times.  She seems to be an old hand at V-L, has regular meetings with the lords of Herminia.  Maybe that’s why I met her, because she uses V-L so often.  Yesterday I spoke with Lady Jean Postel, lady of Aurea Prati.  And now you.  The truth is I don’t know where Aurea Prati is, but I’ve heard lots about Hyacintho Flumen.  I’m very pleased to meet you, Lord Aylwin.”

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


Thursday, August 21, 2014

Castles 117

117. In Castle Inter Lucus

            Esteemed General Ridere,

            I hope this letter finds you well.  Captain Acwel Penda has come to Inter Lucus, bringing your greetings.  Thank you for sending him.  I convey my greetings to you by means of Godric Measy, who bears this letter.
            Unfortunately, Captain Penda met up with three scoundrels who intended to wrest Inter Lucus from my control.   Instead of arresting them immediately as conspirators against a castle lord, Captain Penda aided and abetted their conspiracy by giving them bottles of liquid fire.  Captain Penda has confessed his crimes to me and to Lady Mariel of Pulchra Mane, via Videns-Loquitur.  Queen Mariel will no doubt send confirmation of all I say, though her message coming by sea may not reach you as quickly as this letter.
            Captain Penda says that he joined the conspiracy against Inter Lucus only because he believed I had deserted my castle.  He claims to have acted in good faith as regards his service to you and Queen Mariel and with no enmity toward me.  As unlikely as it would seem, I believe he is telling the truth.  Despite the blunders committed by Captain Penda, I desire that his embassy succeed.  I desire that you and I communicate often.
            Queen Mariel says that Captain Penda has been a loyal and brave soldier.  Though Penda admits that his life is forfeit because he brought liquid fire into Inter Lucus without permission, I believe it would be a waste to execute such a man.  Therefore, I beg that you not punish Penda or his men severely.  I am sending him and his men (Stepan Dell, Wylie Durwin, Ned Wyne, and Bron Kenton) back to you.  I am also sending the three outlaws who instigated this affair: Rothulf Saeric, Able Darcy, and Ewert Green.  I have charged Captain Penda with delivering the conspirators as prisoners to you.  Except for hearing loss, all these men are unharmed.
            I beg that you acknowledge receipt of this letter by affixing your signature to it and returning it to me.  Godric Measy has volunteered to serve as letter carrier between us.  Captain Penda has suggested that two of his men could be appointed as guards for Measy, especially since they have made the journey to Inter Lucus already and know the way.
            Captain Penda and his men know that if they do not deliver Godric Measy and the letter he carries to you, you will learn all these things nonetheless—from Queen Mariel.  In that case they believe your response would be swift and merciless.  Therefore I write with confidence that you will soon read my words.
            With Sincere Respect,

            Martin Cedarborne
            Castle Inter Lucus

            Marty read the letter aloud to Acwel Penda and Godric Measy while seated at a private desk in his bedroom.  The soldier’s hearing loss had lessened overnight, but it was still severe.  Penda watched Marty’s lips as he read.
            “Your graciousness has spared my life, Lord Martin.”  Penda’s arms were clasped behind his back, as if he felt invisible bonds.  “The letter expresses the truth of the matter: When the Queen’s message arrives, if we have not reached Hyacintho Flumen, the general will wait only a short while before sending men to find us.  I will speak with Stepan, Wylie, Ned and Bron.  We will deliver the prisoners and the postman safely to General Ridere.  You have my word.”
            Godric folded the letter neatly and tucked it into a pocket inside his tunic.  “I like the sound of that: ‘the postman.’  Much better than ‘dock laborer and sometime fisherman.’”
            Marty met Godric’s grin with a scowl.  “It’s an important job, Godric.  The world is strange, isn’t it?  I can talk with Queen Mariel any time I desire, and she can contact me.  But neither of us can reach General Ridere except by letters that take days, many days in bad weather, to reach him.  Mariel has ships for her letters.  I need a postman.
“People find their true callings in surprising ways sometimes.  You came to Inter Lucus on a lark, to see your friend Isen.  And now you will carry letters that, God willing, will help bring peace.  For all our sakes, I wish you success.”
            “I can talk to Mariel any time I desire.”  Marty considered the implications of his own words.  In the heat of the moment, Marty had been utterly sure that his mental command would direct Videns-Loquitur to contact Mariel of Pulchra Mane.  But now he wondered whether his confidence was well founded.  Is that all there is to it?  Name the contact, and the phone rings? 
The community of Inter Lucus returned to its normal afternoon routine once Godric Measy, the three prisoners, and the Herminians departed.  Some of the children busied themselves copying portions of the New Testament onto castle made paper.  Caelin and a couple others were experimenting with new paper in the west wing.  As always, two sheriffs stood guard at Inter Lucus’s doors, while the other two helped Eadmar and Teothic dig through the ruins of Prayer House.  Marty used the time to experiment with Videns-Loquitur.
            Mariel says she talks to other lords, but none of them has shown up on my screen. Who’s out there?  I need Directory Assistance.  The only castles I know are Inter Lucus, Mariel’s Pulchra Mane, and Hyacintho Flumen, the one the Herminians have surrounded.  No, that’s not right.  Teothic mentioned other castles and lords.  What were they?
            A name came to mind and Marty laid his left hand on the lord’s knob.  “Lord Postel of Aurea Prati,” he whispered.  The green aura encircled his hand, and a window appeared in the interface.  Again the window showed a dim hall, a black and white still life.  “Lord Postel of Aurea Prati.”  Nothing.  Mariel said something about me failing to answer her summons.  Maybe Lord Postel doesn’t want to talk.  Maybe he’s out of the room.  Maybe… Geez, there must be a hundred possibilities.
            A woman walked abruptly into the picture, as if she had been hiding just beyond the edge of the frame.  She put two hands on the knob, and soft blue light surrounded them.  She wore a sky blue kirtle, slightly darker in hue than the light from her knob.  She had a squarish face, lined everywhere with wrinkles, and soft brown eyes.  Her brown hair was stringy and long, tied in a ponytail behind her head.  “By the gods!”  She turned to speak to someone out of the picture.  “It’s not Mariel.  Come see.”
            An elderly man in a black tunic and a cream colored sash joined the woman.  His gray-white hair was as long as hers, and tied similarly.  Marty estimated: Both seventy, or older.
            “Fair afternoon,” said the woman.  “I am Jean Postel, lady of Aurea Prati.
             Marty inclined his head.  “Pleased to meet you.  Martin Cedarborne, of Inter Lucus.
            The man looked puzzled.  “Rubbish!  Don’t lie to my lady!  Who are you really?”
            “Artus!”  The lady shook her head.  “Don’t be rude.”  She smiled at Marty.
            The man touched his wife’s shoulder.  “Dearest Jean, the man is lying.  I’ve been there.  Inter Lucus was falling apart fifty years ago.  By now it’s no more than a ruin.”
            “In that case, I’m even more pleased to meet you,” Marty said.  Inter Lucus was indeed a ruin last summer when I came.  It has greatly healed itself since then.  Since you’ve been here, perhaps you can answer some of my questions.”
            The old man made an unbelieving face.  “I don’t…”
            “Artus!”  The lady interrupted gently.  “Look at his hand.”
            Artus Postel observed Marty’s easy bond with his Inter Lucus and then glanced at his wife’s hands on the lord’s knob.  He bowed his head.
            “We are well met, Lord Martin.”  Jean Postel smiled.  “You will have to tell me how a great lord restored a ruined castle.”
Copyright © 2014 by Philip D. Smith.
All rights reserved.  International copyright secured.


Thursday, August 14, 2014

Castles 116

116. In Castle Inter Lucus

            Inter Lucus’s super-klaxon responded instantly to Marty’s summons.  Enclosed in the great hall, the sound had nowhere to go, and it hit like a hammer.  The inhabitants of Inter Lucus clapped their hands over their ears as soon as Marty reached for the lord’s knob and fell to the floor when the sound struck.  The Herminians also fell, cut down by sonic blast.
            After four or five seconds Marty silenced the noise.  Fires burned in five places, where the Herminians’ liquid fire bottles broke when the men fell on them.  But the blazes did not spread or long endure except on the Herminians’ clothing, because the floor of the hall absorbed the burning fluid, just as it removed spilled milk or wine on other occasions.  Flames did catch on two of the invaders’ clothes, but sheriffs used coats to smother them.
            Around the room the inhabitants of Inter Lucus sat or stood up and began pulling bits of doughy black bread from their ears, makeshift earplugs.  In spite of this protection, many of them would complain of ringing in their ears for much of the day.  The Herminians, who had no warning and no such protection, lay helpless on the floor.  They were dazed, in one case completely unconscious, and bleeding from their ears.
            Marty removed his hand from the lord’s knob once the fires were out.  He did not leave the knob, but pulled wadded bread from his ears and stood by the knob with his arms folded across his chest.  While the klaxon blast lasted, since he had a hand on the lord’s knob Marty had been free to cover one ear but not the other.  His temples throbbed and a roar echoed in his head, surging and receding slowly like a tide.
The sheriffs, with help from Isen, Godric, Teothic and Eadmar, tended to the visitors’ ears and helped them to their feet.  They tried to make them stand in a row before Marty, but two of the soldiers and one of the Down’s End men were so jelly-legged that they were given chairs.  Ealdwine and Leo made Rothulf Saeric stand alongside the invaders.  Marty waited for several minutes, letting the roaring in his head subside.  Tayte Graham and Went Bycwine brought cups of water to the eight prisoners.  At last Marty judged that at least their leader, Acwel Penda, had recovered sufficiently for the next scene in this little drama.
            “Sheriff Elfric, bring Captain Penda a bit closer.  I want him to see clearly what I am about to do.”  And I want him to be seen.
            It was possible, Marty realized, that Penda couldn’t hear at all.  Elfric prodded the Herminian captain with his sword, and Penda shuffled forward.  Marty gestured broadly at the interface wall and the lord’s knob.  Then he laid his right hand on the knob, and the green aura shot up between and around his fingers.  Acwel Penda stiffened his body, as if he expected execution.  Marty shook his head.  “I don’t want to harm you, sir.  But I will have answers.”  Exchanging left hand for right on the lord’s knob, Marty turned his back on the prisoner and faced the interface wall.
            A mental nudge brought the castle command list to the screen.  Marty didn’t need the list any more, but he thought it might be good for Penda and his men to witness.  He let the ten Latin phrases linger for several seconds.  Videns-Loquitur, he thought.  He brought before his mind the image of the blond queen and whispered: “Mariel of Pulchra Mane.”    
            The Latin list disappeared, replaced by a white dot that quickly grew and became a life-size picture frame.  But the picture showed no one.  Marty saw a round globe on a pedestal, surely the lord’s knob in a castle.  He looked for clues, but for all he could tell he might be looking into any castle’s great hall.  Not far from the lord’s knob Marty saw a stand-up writing desk, and that seemed promising, but the whole scene was dimly lit in tones of black and white.  Marty whispered his summons again: “Mariel Grandmesnil of Pulchra Mane!”
            An old man, gray hair clipped short, came into view.  Marty had seen him before, Aweirgan Unes, the scribe for Mariel.  Unes peered into the screen as if confused.  Then he spoke over his shoulder to someone out of the picture.  No sound—Marty might have been watching a silent movie from the 1920s.  Mariel appeared; even without colors there was no mistaking her pregnancy and long blond hair.  Her hair was wet and she was brushing it.  She was talking with her scribe, and both of them gestured at the interface.  Marty realized with a thrill: They don’t know I can see them.  Mariel uses Videns-Loquitur, but she doesn’t know all its powers.
Mariel tossed aside the hairbrush and straightened her shoulders.  Unes took his place at the writing desk, and Mariel placed her hand on her knob.  Colors immediately flooded the scene.  Violet light encircled the knob and Mariel’s hand.  Her dress shimmered cornflower blue with amethyst buttons.  Aweirgan Unes wore an ash gray tunic and a sash of cardinal red.
            For a short while, a heartbeat or two—Mariel looked at Marty without recognition.  She doesn’t see me clearly yet.  I’m still coming into focus.  Then she said, “Ah!  Lord Martin of Inter Lucus.  Fair morning.  I’m glad to speak with you.  You haven’t answered my summons for at least two weeks.”
            “Fair morning, Lady Mariel.  I’ve been busy.”
            Queen Mariel, you should say.  Surely whatever you were doing could have been interrupted long enough to converse with your queen.  I will be your queen, Martin.”
            No wonder she has to subdue lords by force.   She rubs their faces in it.  She wants them to grovel.  Marty felt a tremendous urge to say something defiant but rejected it.  She expects resistance and pride.  Give her something else.  “I hope that will be true, Queen Mariel.  I look forward to a day when I and the people of Inter Lucus can rely on the queen’s justice.  But you see, that is just the problem.  I must protest that you have not treated us in a queenly fashion.”
            “How so?”
            Marty gestured vaguely toward Acwel Penda, and Elfric pushed him closer to the lord’s knob.  “This man calls himself Acwel Penda.  Perhaps you recognize him.  Penda says he is a captain in your army, serving under your husband.  He and his men, six of them, came to my castle carrying firebombs.  They schemed with a local troublemaker to burn down our Prayer House, which they did, yesterday.  And today Captain Penda threatened to burn Inter Lucus.  This is not the way a proper queen treats loyal subjects.”
            Mariel pressed her lips together.  Marty couldn’t tell if she were angry or amused.  Finally she said,  “Who are you to tell me how a queen should act?  Are you a loyal subject?”
            “I would very much like to be.”  Marty spoke without guile.  “It seems to me that a confederation of castle lords, coordinated under the rule of a queen, would serve the people of Two Moons far better than dividing the planet into dozens of fiefdoms.  So: Aye!  I would like to be your loyal subject.  But how can I serve a queen who sends marauders to burn and loot my holdings?” 
            The blond queen pursed her lips.  “You must be mistaken, Lord Martin.  I do not interfere with Prayer Houses or the worship of the old god in the free cities of Herminia.  If you wish to worship the old god or build a Prayer House, you may.  And I assure you, if General Ridere intended to assault your castle, he would have sent more than seven men.  Your story does not make sense.”
            “I only wish I were mistaken.”  Marty inclined his head.  “But our Prayer House has been destroyed.  The fire that burned it was not extinguished by water or snow.  Captain Penda called it ‘liquid fire.’  And he brought bottles of the same liquid fire into Inter Lucus.
            “How did he gain entrance to your castle?”
            “We invited him, naturally.”
Mariel was puzzled.  “You invited him in?  After he burned your Prayer House?”
Marty held out an open palm.  “I did not know at that time that Penda and his men had burned Prayer House, though I suspected it.  I wanted to ask him whether they had any role in it.  When he and his men agreed to lay aside their swords, I thought perhaps the arson was the work of a local man only, a man who has caused trouble before.  But once inside my castle, Captain Penda openly confessed to aiding the attack on Prayer House and he threatened to burn Inter Lucus with liquid fire unless my sheriffs surrendered their weapons.”  
A pause for effect.  “In short, Lady Mariel, Captain Penda’s behavior is precisely the kind of thing I would expect from a brigand or highwayman: unprovoked attacks, concealed weapons, and threats.  This is not the way a true queen wins the trust of her people.”
“You dare lecture me?”
“Above all else, a ruler must have honesty from her people.  I am merely trying to speak the truth.”
Anger flushed the queen’s face, but she bit back a rejoinder.  Finally: “Lord Martin, you are right.  As your queen I need you to speak truthfully.  If it is true that Captain Penda and his men attacked Inter Lucus without cause, they will be punished.  Now, Penda has served my husband for some years; I know him well and I see him standing there.  Will you allow me to question him?”
Marty bowed his head.  “Of course.”
“Captain Penda!  Captain Penda!  Acwel!”
A worry: He might be completely deaf.  The Herminian soldier did not respond at first to Mariel’s voice.  But he could see her eyes on him and her lips moving.  Penda stepped beside Marty, Elfric’s sword still prodding his back.
Penda glanced sideways at Marty, but made no threatening move.  Marty gestured toward Mariel’s image in the interface wall.  The soldier took yet another stride forward.
“Your majesty, my lady.”  Penda bowed formally.  “I am sorry, but…” He touched his ear.  “I can’t hear you well.”
“What’s wrong with him?”  Mariel addressed the question to Marty.
“I used sound to defend Inter Lucus.  It may have damaged their ears.”
Mariel said something to Aweirgan Unes, and the scribe replied, but either they were whispering or Mariel had somehow muted Videns-Loquitur.  Marty couldn’t hear what they said.
The queen focused on Acwel Penda.  “Captain Penda!  Can you hear me?”  Her voice was much louder now.
She knows how to manipulate the volume on Videns-Loquitur.  Be careful, old man.  You’ve still got lots to learn.  I wonder—Could I project the klaxon noise into another castle?
“My queen.  Aye.  But it hurts.”  Penda covered his ear.
Marty thought he saw tenderness in Mariel’s expression.  “Report,” she said.
Penda looked from Marty to Mariel.  By their faces, both captor and queen pushed the soldier to tell his story.  Penda nodded and began.
“General Ridere sent me with four scouts to reconnoiter the castle Inter Lucus.  The castle had long been a ruin, but the general said a new lord had revived it.  He sent me to bring greetings to Lord Martin.  Riding north in winter, we saw few travelers, but we did come upon two men traveling from Down’s End to Inter Lucus, Able Darcy and Ewert Green.  I then made terrible blunders.
“Darcy and Green had a friend at Inter Lucus.  Lord Martin had left Inter Lucus, they said, and they were going to join their friend.  They intended to capture the castle in the lord’s absence.  Obvious foolishness.  But I thought I should meet this friend of theirs and perhaps deliver all three as prisoners to Lord Martin.  So we let Darcy and Green ride with us.  This was my first mistake.  Yesterday morning we met Rothulf Saeric, their friend.
“We came to the village yesterday noon and found it was true: Lord Martin had left his castle many days before.  Villagers said he would return, but they could not say when.  Rothulf Saeric explained his plan to us, that Darcy and Green would set fire to a Prayer House near the castle and while it burned he would induce his half-brother—a descendant of both the Tirels and the Mortanes, he said—to bond with Inter Lucus.  A ridiculous scheme, I thought.  But I played along with it, another blunder.  My men and I stayed the night in a house where the villagers could attest to our presence.  Thus I could blame the attack on Prayer House solely on Saeric and his friends.
“We gave Darcy and Green a few bottles of liquid fire, to embolden their foolish plot.  When all was over, I thought, and the attack had failed, we could say they stole the fire.  But I also thought that Saeric just might succeed.  Another blunder.
“We came to Inter Lucus today.  Prayer House had been destroyed, as Saeric planned.  At the castle, we were told that a ‘new lord’ would welcome us.  We entered the hall, and a boy who answered Saeric’s description of his half-brother stood at the lord’s knob.  Instantly I thought: I can deliver this castle to Queen Mariel.  My last and greatest blunder.  Lord Martin’s magic quickly exposed my stupidity.  He was here, not far away as we were told.  Now we are his prisoners.
“Our lives are forfeit, my Queen.  I only hope Lord Martin will blame me and not General Ridere or your Majesty.”
Copyright © 2014 by Philip D. Smith.
All rights reserved.  International copyright secured.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Castles 115

115.  In Castle Inter Lucus

            Marty was staggered.  Who might come in winter?  “Say again?”
            “The Herminian army…” began Caelin.
            Ora interrupted.  “We don’t know that.  Harry Entwine exaggerates often.”
            Other than being Caelin’s long-time friend, Harry Entwine had made almost no impression on Marty.  Harry lived with his mother, Heline, and did odd jobs for villagers and farmers in the country between Inter Lucus and Senerham.  Marty had met the boy several times, but he couldn’t discern whether Harry had any passions in life.  He certainly hadn’t evidenced curiosity or intelligence equal to Caelin’s.  Harry hung around the edge of village life like an unfinished picture frame.
            Marty raised a hand to forestall argument between the cousins.  “Okay.  What does Harry say?”
While waiting for an answer, Marty stripped off his inner tunic, which he had slept in and worn since Dimlic Aern.  His closet held clean clothes, which reminded him how much he needed a bath.  Stepping to the closet he noticed Ora staring at the floor, her cheeks coloring red.  “My clothes are filthy, Ora.  Make sure Mildgyd cleans them—and my sheets too.”
            “Aye, my lord.”
            Caelin responded to Marty’s question.  “Harry says men on horse came to village Inter Lucus yesterday at evening.  That’s when Leo first saw Prayer House afire.”
            Marty pulled a fresh linen tunic over his head.  “Don’t jump to conclusions, Caelin.  How many men?  Do we know they are Herminians?”
            “Forty men, maybe more.  He saw some of them at the Redwines’ house, Harry says, and he ran all the way here.”
            “Who has the watch?”  Marty pulled on clothes as they conversed: pale blue outer tunic, loose gray wool breeches that always reminded Marty of sweatpants, a narrow belt, fine-spun wool socks and leather slippers.  
            “Os and Ealdwine are at the west and east doors.”
            “All right.  Let’s go.” 
Ora and Caelin trailed closely behind Marty.  The sheriff Leo Dudd and Harry Entwine jumped up from table when Marty entered the great hall.  Marty spoke over his shoulder.  “Caelin, fetch some breakfast, will you?  Ora, stay close.”
“Aye, my lord.”  Caelin peeled away to descend the stairs to the kitchen.  Marty and Ora walked to the tables.
“Lord Martin.”  Leo inclined his head.  Harry Entwine was wringing his hands.  His red hair and freckles appeared brighter than normal, or maybe his features were merely accented by his russet tunic.  His winter coat was draped on his chair.  “Fair morning, Lord Martin.”
“They say you have news, Harry.  Sit down and tell me.”  Marty pulled a chair close to the table, sat and leaned on his elbows.  A plate of fresh black loaves was already there; Marty tore one in two and took a bite.  “Sit, Harry.”
The lanky youth perched on the edge of a chair.  “Herminian soldiers have come to Inter Lucus, my lord.”  Harry wasn’t eating, but he swallowed repeatedly, as if he couldn’t say more.
“Village Inter Lucus, not the castle.”
“Aye.  But surely they will be here soon.”
“Have they harmed anyone or taken anything?”
“Prayer House…”
“In the village.  Have they harmed anyone in the village?”
“No, my lord.”  Harry’s eyes flashed all around, as if he were a newcomer, taking in the wonders of a castle for the first time.  But Caelin had hosted Harry several times since last summer.  Marty was about to ask Harry what he was looking for, but voices interrupted.  Alf Saeric, Caelin and a parade of the students of Collegium Inter Lucus brought breakfast: hash browns, eggs, toast with butter and berry jam, sausages, slices of ham, hot tea, and dried apple slices.  “Mildgyd and Whitney already had everything prepared when I got to the kitchen,” explained Caelin.  Sheriff Elfric Ash, the glassworker Isen and Godric Measy, Isen’s friend from Down’s End, joined the crowd as earthenware platters and plates were being distributed.  Priests Eadmar and Teothic also turned up, having spent the night in Inter Lucus, and the three trestle tables were crowded.
Marty raised his voice.  “Whose turn is it?”
Tayte Graham rose from the second table.  “My turn, my lord.”
“Wait a moment.”  Marty looked around.  “Tayte, Ernulf, Besyrwen—why are you here so early?  Aren’t you boarding with the Redwines?”
“Aye, my lord.”  Tayte’s face was solemn.  “Master Alfwald came to the castle yesterday just after lunch; we were working on projects.  He told us to stay the night here.”
“Very well.  Pray for us, Tayte.”
“God of all good gifts, we thank you for today’s food.  And we thank you for the safe return of Martin, Elfric, Eadmar and Teothic.  Amen.”
“Amen, amen.”  With a clatter of metal knives and wooden forks the meal began.  Harry Entwine accepted a hand-size loaf of bread but didn’t have any interest in eating. 
Sixteen-year-old boys are always hungry.  Why not this one?  Marty pointed his fork at Harry.  “Finish your report, Harry.  How many Herminians?”
 The youth’s eyes were still looking for something.  “Many, Lord Martin.  Maybe a hundred.”  He gestured at the eager eaters around him.  “Aren’t you all worried they will attack?”
Ora gulped some tea and interrupted.  “Lord Martin is here now.  They would be fools to attack the castle.”
Marty raised a finger.  “I appreciate your confidence, Ora, but the Herminians don’t know that I’ve returned.”
“Oh.”  Ora’s eyebrows bunched together.  “If they think you are absent, they might attack.  But if so, you can destroy them.”
“Perhaps.  But I would much rather not harm them.”  Marty spoke to Harry: “A while ago, Caelin said forty.  Now you say a hundred.  Think carefully, Harry.  Did you count the Herminians?”
For the first time, Harry focused on Marty.  “No.  I only saw some of them.”
“How many did you see?  Where did you see them?”
“Four…no, five.  They were on horses, at Alfwald and Fridiswid’s house.  It was getting dark.”
“Did the Herminians threaten Master Redwine or say they would attack Inter Lucus?”
“They burned Prayer House!”  There was a sound from the stairs, and Harry turned quickly to look, but it was only Went Bycwine carrying a tray of hot sausages.  “There were lots of them.  Only five came to the village, but the others attacked Prayer House!”
“How do we know that?  You saw only five.  Why should I think the Herminians burned Prayer House?”
Harry tore his bread but didn’t eat it.  “Well, they came last night, and Prayer House burned last night.”
“Harry, think.  Alfwald Redwine came to the castle yesterday afternoon and told his boarders to stay the night in Inter Lucus.  He probably knew at that time the Herminians were coming.  Did the soldiers stay the night at the Redwines’ house?”
“The horses were still there this morning.”  Harry looked confused, but he was also calmer.
“So you saw five soldiers, and they spent the night at Redwines’ house.”
“Aye, my lord.  But Rothulf said…” Harry stopped in mid-sentence, realizing he might have said too much.  His eyes went round.  “My lord, where is Rothulf?”
Marty pushed a plate of sausages and eggs toward Harry.  He looked at Leo Dudd, who nodded toward the east wing in response to Marty’s unspoken question.  Marty puzzled at this for a moment, but then remembered the rooms in the east wing above his bedroom.  “Rothulf is safe, Harry.  He’s here in the castle, and I will question him presently.  Now you tell me what Rothulf said to you.”
Harry took a small bite of black bread and swallowed quickly.  “He said two score Herminian horse were on the road from Hyacintho Flumen.  Maybe more.  That’s still only a small part of their army.  Rothulf says they have thousands of armsmen down near Hyacintho Flumen, away south.  Queen Mariel worships castle gods, Rothulf said, and somehow she heard that you built Prayer House, so she determined punish you and destroy it.  She must have known that you were gone from Inter Lucus, so she sent only a few soldiers.”
“Did the Herminians tell Rothulf all this?  Did he talk with them?”
“Well, he saw them.”  Harry paused.  “That is, he said he did.”
“When did Rothulf tell you all this?”
“Yesterday.  An hour before sunset, I’d guess.  I was walking home from Senerham when Rothulf came running—well, walking really.  He moved as fast as a body can with the road as it is, all snow, ice and mud.  He said he’d seen Herminian horsemen and that I should tell Mistress Redwine.  He had to warn his brother Alf at the castle, he said.  So we parted ways, me to the village and Rothulf to the castle.”
Marty poured a cup of tea and stirred honey into it.  “If all that’s true, Rothulf must have seen the Herminians a good while before Prayer House was burned.  Rothulf said he wanted to warn Alf, not me?”
Harry looked puzzled.  “Aye.  The whole village knows you’ve been gone these two weeks.”
The whole village knows.  Marty frowned.  Prayer House lost, and if that’s the worst of it, I’ve been lucky.  He settled back into his chair and shook his head.  “I think I have learned a lesson on that score, Harry.  I can’t go away so long.”  Marty drank tea and puzzled about Harry, the fire, the Herminians, and Rothulf Saeric.  “Ora, tell me about Rothulf’s behavior while I was gone.”
“He’s not trusted in the village, my lord, so he stayed close by.  I saw him at the glassworks most days, watching Isen heat his ovens.  He made himself useful too, splitting firewood for Isen.  Sheriffs wouldn’t let him into the castle, so Godric Measy and Isen shared meals with him at the glassworks.”
“Most days?  Not all?”
Ora considered her answer.  “Two or three times he was gone all day.”
“I remember seeing him just before sunset.  He came up to the west door and asked to see Alf.”
Marty rubbed his nose, thinking.  He was about to ask Leo to bring Rothulf for questioning, but the west door opened, revealing Ealdwine Smithson, the blond, blue-eyed sheriff from Senerham.  “My lord!  Horsemen approach!”
“How many?”
“I counted seven, my lord.”
Seven.  Hardly an “army,” yet too many to fight.  Marty jumped up, an idea forming itself his mind.  “Leo, get Rothulf here as quickly as you can.”
“Aye, my lord.”  Leo ran for the east wing.  The children and sheriffs of Inter Lucus were all standing.
“Students of Collegium Inter Lucus!”  Marty’s shout gained instant attention.  “Sit down, please!  Except you Alf.  I’ll need you in a moment.  Caelin, tell Os to come in and bar the east door. 
“Isen and Godric.  Come.”  Marty beaconed with a finger as he spoke.  The glassmaker and his friend quickly joined Marty by the west door where Ealdwine was waiting.  Marty lowered his voice.  “You three will greet our guests.  Tell them that ‘the new lord of Inter Lucus welcomes them.  They may enter Inter Lucus, but only if they disarm.  Offer to make a temporary stable for their horses in the glassworks.”
“The new lord of Inter Lucus?”  Ealdwine frowned.
“Eight months is not long, so I’m ‘new,’” Marty replied.  “But I think they expect someone else.  Just say: ‘the new lord.’”
A light came on in Ealdwine’s expression.  “As you wish, Lord Martin.”
Elfric Ash had arrived at Marty’s side.  “Lord Martin, this is dangerous for Ealdwine, Isen and Godric.  The Herminians could attack.  Leo and I should stand with them.”  He spoke quietly so that only Marty, Ealdwine, Isen and Godric could hear.
Marty shook his head.  “If these armsmen attack, you and Leo and Os will be on this side of the door to help protect the children.”  He looked Godric, Isen and Ealdwine in the eye.  “Elfric is right.  You three outside might be in danger.  But it can’t be helped, and I don’t think they will attack.  They hope there is a new lord of Inter Lucus.  They will want to meet him.”
Godric Measy, a newcomer to Inter Lucus, who had come on the chance of seeing his friend Isen, shrugged.  “Someone needs to greet them, and we can’t stand here all day.”  He put his hand on the latch.  “Bar the door ’til we knock.”
The west door had hardly been shut and barred when Leo escorted Rothulf Saeric into the great hall.  Marty beckoned Leo and Rothulf with a hand and walked to the lord’s knob. “Alf, join us!”
Rothulf was frightened and confused.  He saw Harry Entwine sitting near Ora Wooddaughter.  He could not know what Harry or Alf might have said to Marty.  “My Lord Martin…” he began.
“Not now, Rothulf.”  Marty interrupted with a slashing gesture.  We have only a moment, and I need to give instructions.  Listen up, everyone!”

Somebody knocked on the great hall west door.  Os, Leo and Elfric lifted a heavy wood pole from the wrought iron hooks on the inside of the door.  For a moment Marty wondered how his sheriffs knew it wasn’t Herminian soldiers knocking and realized Leo and Ealdwine must have arranged a signal.
Seven men entered the hall in single file.  Five were bald; no, on closer look it seemed their heads had been shaved recently and the hair had only started to grow back.  In contrast, the other two had shoulder length locks.  Three drawn swords confronted the Herminians, one in the hand of Os Osgood, a man whose sheer bulk was as intimidating as his weapon.  The visitors lined up along the west wall.  Marty wondered what they thought of the scene before them.  More than a dozen children and youths sat at three tables, all of them completely silent.
“Welcome to Inter Lucus!”  On the Herminians’ right, at the southern end of the hall, a white-blond boy stood by the lord’s knob.  He was flexing his fingers, as if he had just removed his hands from the knob.  “Which of you is captain?  He and one other may come forward.  The rest will stand by the wall.”  The boy stood alone by the lord’s knob, but only a few steps to his right were three men holding swords.
            A tall grim-faced Herminian tapped one of the longhaired men on the shoulder.  Then the tall soldier and the other walked slowly toward the boy at the knob.  The tall man had eyes only for Alf, but the longhair stared at the three bodyguards with a grin spreading on his face. 
“Close enough!”  The boy-lord piped in a loud voice and held up a palm.  “I am Alf Saeric.  Fair morning to you.  You will give us your names.”
The tall Herminian had gray eyes, which seemed to laugh at the boy.  “As you wish, Lord Alf.  I am Acwel Penda, captain in the army of Queen Mariel, serving under General Eudes Ridere.  This is Able Darcy.  He is from Down’s End.”  Penda indicated the man next to him.  “By the door are four of my comrades: Stepan Dell, Wylie Durwin, Ned Wyne, and Bron Kenton.  The fellow with the hair is Ewert Green; like Able, he is not a soldier, but only traveling with us.”
“Do all Herminian soldiers have shaved heads?”
Captain Penda laughed aloud.  “I will be happy to explain that to you, Lord Alf.  But there are more pressing matters.  I noticed a burned building at the bottom of the hill; it looked to me as if it burned recently.  As lord, were you not able to extinguish the fire?”
The boy flexed his fingers.  “No.”
“I suppose it takes time to assert real control over a castle.  But in Down’s End they say there has been a lord in Inter Lucus for many months.”
The boy looked at the floor.  “That was Lord Martin.”
Captain Penda turned his back on Alf.  The children of Inter Lucus were watching him wide-eyed and silent.  The three sheriffs still held his five companions at sword point by the wall.  “That’s right.  I was told to ask for Lord Martin.”  Penda spun on his heel to face the white-blond boy.  “Instead, I find Lord Alf.  And his half-brother (gemédrenes).”  Penda nodded to the closest bodyguard.  Rothulf Saeric’s face was pale with fear, a detail that Penda ignored.
“Lord Alf, you wisely confiscated our battle swords.  Your men here…” Penda pointed with his chin at the bodyguards and the sheriffs.  “…Are well armed.  You could order them to kill us, and they might be able to do it.  But it would not be wise to try.  You see, there are other weapons than swords.” 
Penda reached inside his tunic and held out an earthenware globe about two inches wide.  “This holds liquid fire.  If your men tried to kill us, we would turn your castle into an inferno before they could strike.  You don’t want that.  So, Lord Alf, you will order your men to give their swords to us.  You need not fear.  As lord of Inter Lucus, you will acknowledge Queen Mariel and rule under her authority for many years.  I congratulate you.”
The boy looked at his bodyguards.  He was sweating profusely, too terrified to speak.  Captain Penda beckoned with his hand and the three guards approached.  The first, a tall man with a thin nose and narrow jaw, came forward with his head down and laid his sword on the floor.  The second bodyguard, Rothulf Saeric, stepped forward to yield his weapon to Penda.  Saeric said nothing, and he looked more frightened than ever.  For a moment, Penda wondered why.  But then Penda noticed a bright green glow erupting like fire between the fingers of the first guard.  The thin nosed man had laid his hands on the lord’s knob.

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