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?”
“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!”
“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.