Monday, September 29, 2014

Book Party October 3

As part of Newberg's Friday night Art Walk, I will host an author's party at Chapters Books.

Friday, October 3, 6:30 pm.
Chapters Books, Newberg

Featured Books:
Why Faith is a Virtue
Buying the Bangkok Girl

Naturally, I will be eager to discuss either of these books.  Readers of this blog may want to discuss Castles, and I will be very happy to entertain suggestions for improvement!

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Castles 122

Part Four: Spring

122.  At Castle Saltas Semitas

            “The eye is blinking, my lord.”
            “The gods blast that woman!”  David Le Grant tossed his spade aside and straightened.  “I’ve got better things to do than listen to her boasts and threats.”
            Spring at last was coming to the Great Downs.  Wind from the west carried clouds and perhaps a hint of the sea, sixty miles away.  On the grounds of Saltas Semitas Le Grant’s peasants were plowing fields, turning over the accumulated winter compost, and pruning fruit trees that had been neglected too long.  In the distance, Le Grant’s chief shepherd, Kipp Downsman, was sauntering behind two hundred sheep cresting a gentle hill; Kipp’s dogs managed most of the work when moving large flocks.  The lord himself was attending to his favorite flower garden, twenty yards south of the castle.
            “It won’t hurt to talk to her, Father.”  Le Grant’s twenty-year-old brown-haired daughter, Kendra, had overheard the exchange between scribe and lord.  “Besides, I can tell your back is hurting again.  A break will go you good.”
            “Very well.”  Le Grant rubbed dirt off his hands.  He motioned his long-time scribe, Orde, back toward the castle.  “I’ll be right along.”
            Orde, silver hair tied in a ponytail behind his head, bowed stiffly.  Orde’s back was worse than Le Grant’s.  “Shall I prepare a writing slate, my lord?”
            “Slate, aye, Orde.  Paper is too dear to waste on Mariel.”  Le Grant stamped his boots on the paved castle-path, knocking away mud.  He breathed deeply the smells of earth and sky.  Even the aroma of the compost pit reminded him of growing things.  Spring was his favorite season, refreshing to body and spirit; he should not let Mariel Grandmesnil spoil his enjoyment of it.  At the south door of the great hall, he pulled off his boots and washed his hands in the gods-made basin.  Then he followed Orde indoors.
            A white light blinked in the center of Saltas Semitas’s viewing wall.  David Le Grant knelt briefly on the floor under Globum Deus Auctoritate, the god’s knob.  The Le Grants had always been careful to observe pious traditions.  Rising, he looked at Orde, who sat on a stool, a black slate resting on his knees.  Orde nodded.  Le Grant crossed to the lord’s knob and bonded, the familiar pink glow enfolding his hands.
            In the viewing wall, the blinking light instantly became two lights.  Lord and scribe shared a quick glance of surprise.  They knew from prior conversations that Mariel required the Herminian lords to meet with her via Videns Loquitur all at the same time, but she had never included another lord or lady when talking with Le Grant.  The lights in the viewing wall became rectangles and enlarged quickly to life size.  One frame showed a narrow faced man with black and gray hair cut short.  The other held a woman, but not Mariel; she had a deeply wrinkled face and brown hair.  The woman’s green eyes registered recognition.  “David Le Grant!  It’s been years!”
            The greeting startled him, but Le Grant quickly responded.  “Fair morning, Lady Postel.  Aye, many years.  I’m afraid Videns-Loquitur is too great a strain for me.  I am not the lord my father was.”
            Jean Postel smiled wistfully.  “Few of us equal our ancestors, David.  I am pleased, then, to introduce Lord Martin Cedarborne of Inter Lucus.  You may be sure that Lord Martin supports the magic, not I.”
            Le Grant looked more carefully at the narrow faced lord.  Martin Cedarborne might have been forty, or maybe a few years older or younger.  He wore a golden green tunic that reminded Le Grant of new spring growth; the tunic was tucked into brown breeches made of some rough fabric.  By his dress Lord Martin could have been one of Le Grant’s more well to do tenants.  “Fair morning, Lord Martin.  I am David Le Grant.”
            “Pleased to meet you, Lord David.  Fair morning.”  Both men inclined their heads. 
A youth, who could not be yet fifteen years old, stood at a stand-up desk close to Cedarborne.  Apparently, this was the lord’s scribe, for he wrote continuously.  Cedarborne leaned close to the youth and pointed at something on his paper.  The youth chewed his lip and made some correction.  Le Grant watched with rising astonishment; the green aura around Cedarborne’s left hand never wavered in the least.  Le Grant looked to Jean Postel, who nodded at him.
Le Grant coughed.  “Lord Martin, I had understood that Inter Lucus was a ruin, that the Tirels were no more.  And yet you have a very clear bond with your castle.  I suspect that the history of a lost Tirel must be a remarkable tale.  Are you willing to tell it?”
            “Of course.  First, I’d like to introduce Besyrwen Fairfax.  He’s a student here at Inter Lucus, and I’ve asked him to take notes of our talk.”  The youth looked up from his writing long enough to wave; he dipped pen in an inkbottle and resumed his earnest penmanship.
            “My scribe is Orde Penman.”  Le Grant nodded toward his man.  “Orde has served me, and my father before me, for forty-one years.  Even at that, he did not begin so early in life as Besyrwen.”
            “I’m honored to meet such a faithful servant.  Fair morning, Orde Penman.  But I should say clearly that Besyrwen is not my scribe.  For him, this is a school exercise.”  Again, Lord Martin leaned close to the youth and pointed to something on his paper.  The boy’s shoulders slumped and he seemed close to tears.  His left hand never leaving the lord’s knob, Lord Martin took the pen from Besyrwen, dipped it in ink, and made some correcting mark on the paper.  The youth’s countenance brightened.  “Oh!”
            Cedarborne fixed his eyes on Le Grant.  “My story.  I came to Inter Lucus only last summer from a very distant place called Lafayette.  I had no idea I might be related to the Tirels.  To my great surprise, I bonded with the castle, and it began repairing itself.  As you could guess, there’s been a great deal of work to do—appointing sheriffs, finding servants for various jobs on the castle grounds, collecting hidgield from people between the lakes who weren’t used to paying it, and so on.  Only now am I beginning to meet the other lords of Tarquint.
            “Lady Postel explained to me that Saltas Semitas lies in the Great Downs, but far west of Down’s End.  Closer to Stonebridge, is that right?”
            Le Grant made a wry face.  “Indeed.  For hundreds of years the western downs swore fealty to the lords of Saltas Semitas, and this included the little town in the hills.  But men discovered silver in the hills.  They harvested forests, they quarried stone, and they planted vineyards.  The little town grew.  There came a day when they declared themselves a free city and refused payment of hidgield; a man named Warren Averill killed the knight sent by my great, great, great grandfather Corbett Le Grant.  For twenty years my ancestor tried to reassert his authority in the hills, but the Stonebridge men fought back; they threw us out of the mountains and even raided flocks and herds in the downs.  In the end Corbett Le Grant made peace with Warren Averill.”
            Le Grant shrugged.  “That was one hundred forty years ago.  A Tirel still ruled Inter Lucus—so long ago it was.  Now, Stonebridge has become a great city.  I should be happy they are mostly content to ignore Saltas Semitas.”
            Lord Martin asked, “Do you worry that the Averills will attack you?”
            “Stonebridge is ruled by an City Assembly, not the Averills.  They remain an important family in Stonebridge politics, but only one among several.”
            Cedarborne nodded and pointed to something on Besyrwen’s paper.  “Right.  Assembly, not Averills.  Do you think the Stonebridge Assembly would attack you?” 
“No, I don’t really worry about that.  I may not control Videns-Loquitur well, but I can manage Magna Arcum Praesidiis and Parva Arcum Praesidiis.  They would die by the hundreds or thousands, and they have to know that would be the case.  The men of Stonebridge would much rather sell me lumber or their excellent wine—which they have done, by the way—than challenge the magic of my castle.”
            Jean Postel said, “Derian Chapman, was it?  He came here with Stonebridge wines last year.  Early fall I think it was.  Artus liked it; he says we should buy more if we get the chance.  As I remember, Chapman said he visited Saltas Semitas before he came here.” 
            Le Grant nodded.  “Aye.  Chapman.  That was the name.”  A thought came to him.  “Lady Jean, do you know that Bellinus Silver, that’s Artus Silver’s nephew, drowned?  Fraomar, the heir, cannot be more than four years old.”  Le Grant raised a questioning eyebrow.
            “Excuse me,” Cedarborne broke in.  “Artus is your husband, Lady Jean, isn’t that right?  Who is Bellinus Silver?”
            Jean Postel shook her head.  “David, Artus took my name.  He’s not interested.”  To Lord Martin she explained: “My husband, Artus, is descended from the Silvers, the lords of Oceani Litura.  His brother, Aldin, inherited the castle; as younger brother, Artus had already been pledged to me as consort.  Aldin Silver died ten years ago, leaving Oceani Litura to his son Bellinus, who apparently was foolish enough to go sailing.  So now Bellinus is dead, and Oceani Litura waits for his son to grow up.  Forty-four years Artus has been content to be my counselor and friend.  Why would he want to go down to that little shelf by the sea and displace his grand-nephew?”
            Cedarborne pointed at Besyrwen’s paper.  “So there is no lord in Oceani Litura now?”
            Le Grant answered, “Fraomar is the lord, but no child that young can command magic.  I suppose the few sheriffs they have obey his mother, Rowena Silver, and they all wait for Fraomar to come of age.  It’s really just a small fishing village with a castle.”
            “I don’t understand.”  Cedarborne frowned.  “If it’s so small, and Fraomar cannot bond with the castle, why hasn’t Mariel taken it?  She could install some captain as regent for Fraomar and guarantee that he would accept her rule when he comes of age.”
            “Ah!  That points to a problem, doesn’t it?”  Jean Postel bent over, bringing her head to the back of her hand for a moment; then she straightened.  “Sorry.  Itchy nose for a moment, and I didn’t want to let go.
            “For all we know, Queen Mariel has captured Oceani Litura.  There’s no road through the mountains.  Ships sometimes stop there when sailing to or from Herminia, but now the Herminians control the sea and they’re not interested in carrying news for us.  All the more reason for Artus to stay home.  Imagine Artus on a boat—even worse, hiking through the mountains—somehow arriving at Oceani Litura, just to be arrested by Mariel’s armsmen.  Not a likely adventure for a seventy year old man.”
            Cedarborne rubbed his chin with his right hand.  Le Grant envied him, not just the easy mastery of Videns-Loquitur, but also the ability to scratch when needed.  Cedarborne said, “What about other places?  We have no way to get information about Oceani Litura, but what about other castles?  Do you talk with other lords or ladies?”
            Le Grant shook his head.  “As Jean said, few of us equal our ancestors, it seems.  My father used Videns-Loquitur several times when I was a child, but I remember those times as special occasions, so they must not have been frequent.  I do remember him talking with Hereward Mortane.  That ended shortly after I became lord.”
            Jean Postel laughed.  “For good reason.  Mortane sent messenger knights to various castles, asking lords to connect with him at set times on certain days.  When both lords summon Videns-Loquitur simultaneously, they can mutually support the magic.  But the whole thing depended on cooperation.  As soon as one lord insulted another or the two disagreed about when to reconnect, everything fell apart.  It didn’t take long for Mortane to destroy his own project.  He talked about cooperation, but he really wanted power.  He wanted to be Rudolf Grandmesnil.”
             “Just to be clear: Rudolf was Mariel’s father?”  Cedarborne pointed again at something on Besyrwen’s paper.  Le Grant wondered what exactly the youth was writing.
            “That’s right,” Lady Jean answered.  “Rudolf made himself king of Herminia.  Hereward Mortane envied him, I think.  He wanted to fashion a kingdom in Tarquint.  Foolishness.  The lords of Tarquint were far too proud to yield to him.”    
            “Surely Herminian lords have pride as well.”  Cedarborne’s words might have been a question or an objection.
            Lady Jean answered, “But Rudolf Grandmesnil had an army of thousands to do his will.  He could compel submission.  Lord Hereward might have raised a few hundred sheriffs at most.”
            Le Grant changed the subject.  “Lord Martin, I notice that young Besyrwen is writing on paper.  For a school exercise?”
            “Aye.”  Cedarborne glanced momentarily at the youth’s desk.  “I’ve invited a number of children from local villages to learn writing in Inter Lucus.  I call our school Collegium Inter Lucus. 
            “Do they all practice on paper?  Where do you find coin to pay for it?  You said the people near Inter Lucus weren’t accustomed to paying hidgield.”  Le Grant knew that Orde’s writing closet contained several quality lambskins, but almost no paper.  The paper makers in Stonebridge demanded exorbitant prices.
            “We make our own paper.”  Cedarborne made it sound like a matter of course.  “Someone told me they make good paper in Cippenham, but that’s too far away.  I learned to use Materias Transmutatio to make paper.”
            “You chose paper rather than steel?”  Le Grant asked the question, but he read the same dismay in Lady Jean’s countenance.  “How will you armor your knights?  How will you arm your sheriffs?”
            “I don’t understand,” Cedarborne said.  “I haven’t made steel yet.  But I suppose it’s just a matter of learning how.”
            Jean Postel was wide-eyed.  “No, Lord Martin.  Materias Transmutatio accustoms itself to one material.  A lord or lady may train it to work with sand to make glass, clay to make pottery, iron to make steel, wood to make paper, or some other transformation I suppose.  You must choose wisely at the start.  It is like a sapling growing on the downs.  If the gardener does not stake it, the wind will push the sapling in one direction; and once the direction is set, the tree will always lean that way.”
            Cedarborne frowned.  “But that can’t be right.  Besides paper, we use Materias Transmutatio to make chairs and doors and desks.”
            “All of them made of wood.”  Le Grant stated the obvious.  He observed Cedarborne’s face carefully, watching doubt and consternation take root.  “Did no one ever explain this to you, Lord Martin?  It is clear that your bond with Inter Lucus is strong.  But unless you are a god, you will never make steel.  You must plan your future accordingly.”

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

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Castles 121

121.  Near Castle Inter Lucus

            “We heat sand and beech ash together in this furnace.  Master Gausman called this first step ‘fritting.’  Ernulf and I have been making frit for three weeks now, saving up a good supply.  The frit furnace isn’t hot enough to melt sand, but settles the ash and sand together.  Two days ago we moved to the second stage, with the main furnace.”
            Stacked firewood lined the north wall of Isen’s A-frame glassmaking factory.  Students of Collegium Inter Lucus stood with their backs to the wood, watching and listening to Isen’s lecture.  Besides the frit furnace and the much taller main furnace, there were workbenches and mysterious looking tools hanging from hooks.  The glassworks was very warm, even on a late winter morning.  Marty wondered what it would be like come summer.
A group visit to the glassworks was Marty’s idea, inspired by grade school field trips in his childhood.  The excursion served as a break from daily lessons for the children, and it honored Isen’s successful launch of glassmaking between the lakes.  Marty had already asked Ora to plan a “Grand Opening” for the glassworks, to which villagers in Senerham and Inter Lucus would be invited.
            “To actually make glass, we put some frit in a crucible—that’s a special bowl that won’t crack even when it’s very hot—and it goes into the main furnace.  We put in a crucible this morning, before you all had breakfast, and either Ernulf or I have been feeding the fire and watching the furnace all day.  The frit in the crucible has melted into glass, so now we’re ready to blow.”
            Isen put on a pair of thick cloth gloves and held up a clay tube about three feet long.  “My blowpipe.  The other end has to be hot to gather glass.”  Ernulf, also wearing gloves, opened a small door on the furnace, and Isen inserted the blowpipe.  Sweat sheened on Isen’s face as he rotated the tube for several minutes.  “And now we pick up a gather.”  Isen squatted to face the opening of the furnace and moved the tip of the tool into the white-hot liquid in the crucible.  Most of the children couldn’t see into the furnace, but those immediately behind Isen watched the tip of the blowpipe intently.
            Isen slowly backed away from the furnace with a round bulb of glass hanging from the tip of the blowpipe.  Marty heard a collective intake of breath from the onlookers.  “Oh!  Look at that!  Wow!”
            Isen swung his instrument in a small circle while puffing little breaths into it. Ernulf shut the door to the furnace, reducing the tremendous heat coming out, and picked up two flat wood paddles.  The apprentice stood ready to respond to any gesture from Isen while the molten gather on the end of Isen’s tool became a round ball.  Isen lowered the glass ball onto the concave surface of a wooden block, puffing and turning the glass.  Marty was struck by the image of a jazz musician improvising.  Occasionally Ernulf used the paddles to help shape the glass.
Isen flicked an elbow toward the furnace without lessening his attention on the glass ball, which was now about six inches wide.  Ernulf quickly set aside the paddles and opened the furnace door; Isen reinserted the glass ball.  He continued turning the glass while speaking.  “I’m reheating the glass a bit so I can work it.  Some furnaces have a special door for this part; they call it the ‘glory hole.’  But we built our furnace simple and use just the one door.  Course, I have to be careful not to touch anything inside.”
Isen brought out the glass ball, and Ernulf closed the furnace.  Once again Isen worked the glass on the wooden block, but now he drew the top higher, and Ernulf’s paddles pushed the slowly rotating piece into a cylinder shape.  At a signal from Isen, Ernulf picked up a tool that reminded Marty of a giant set of tweezers; with the iron tips Ernulf began cutting the cooling glass a few inches from the blowpipe.  But the workmen did not cut the piece completely free; first, Isen moved it to a wood bench and let the weight push down to create a flat bottom.  They placed the vase—for that’s what the piece looked like—on two metal rods.  Isen finished cutting free the blowpipe and the bit of glass affixed to it and handed it to Ernulf, who scraped off the excess glass into box that contained other such bits.  Glass was too valuable to be thrown away; later the scraps would be melted and made into new pieces. 
The top edge of Isen’s vase was still pliable; he shaped it with smaller wood tools to smooth out irregularities.  Then Ernulf climbed onto a stool to open a door high on the furnace.  Isen picked up the vase they had made on its punty rods and they slid it in.
“If glass cools too quickly,” Isen explained, “It’ll break.  So we put it in the ‘annealing oven.’  It’s above the main furnace and not as hot.  We’ll let the new piece cool slowly.  In a day or two we’ll take it out.  If it cracks or if I don’t like the color, we’ll toss it in with the cullet.”  Isen indicated the box of glass scraps.  “Later, we’ll smash the cullet down into bits so it’ll melt easier, and make something useful.”
Isen took off his gloves.  “Glass making takes lots of firewood ’n lots of practice.  Ernulf here has been learning real fast, ’cause he grew up ’round his dad’s smithy.”
The students asked questions. 
“Could you put a handle on the vase shape and make a pitcher?” 
“How do you make glass of different colors?” 
“The ‘gather’ came out round like a ball—how do you make it flat and square for windows?” 
“Will you make things for Inter Lucus?” 
“People from Senerham will buy glass too, won’t they?” 
“How many glassmakers are there in Down’s End?” 
Lots of questions, questions that validated Marty’s choice of students.  They have genuine curiosity; they want to learn how things work.  They see that a glassworks will bring change and they’re thinking of the big picture.  Manufacturing glass here at Inter Lucus might lead to competition with Down’s End.  It might lead to trade with other places.
“Can you make a glass string?”
Alf’s voice, piping from the end of the line of students, interrupted Marty’s reverie.  Isen hesitated before answering.  “Yes.  Glass can be shaped without blowing it.” 
Isen picked up an iron rod like the ones they had used under the vase.  “If I pick up a gather with a punty rod like this one, I can’t blow into it.  But I can draw it out into a string of glass, and I can fold it and mold it.  Then, once it cools, the string will have whatever shape I gave it.  With practice I could make a brooch, for example.  The kind of thing rich aldermen in Down’s End give to their wives.”  There was a kind of longing in Isen’s voice; he had told Marty once of his dream of making a glass swan and other beautiful things.
Alf asked, “Could the string be straight?  And very, very thin?  It wouldn’t have to be long.”
Isen was puzzled.  “Making a straight bit of glass would be easy, especially if it is not long.  But why would anyone want such a thing?”
Tayte Graham said, “A glass hairpin would be pretty, but it would break.  A glass needle could be really sharp, but again, it would break.”
Alf ignored Tayte’s suggestions.  He was looking up at the A-frame walls as if she weren’t there.  “Very thin.  Very straight.  And they have to be…smoked.”
At first, Alf’s strange choice of words elicited derision.  Someone said, “You smoke meat, not glass, silly!”
But then Ora said, “You’ve been dreaming again, haven’t you, Alf?”
The boy sighed deeply, and he looked at Marty.  “Aye.  I dreamed it.  For the CPU.”

Here ends part three of Castles.

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

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Castles 120

120.  At Winter Camp

            Ifing Redhair, mounted on a warhorse, should have been a terror to all enemies.  He was practically a giant, six and a half feet tall, with broad shoulders and long braided red locks.  Seated on a destrier fit to his size and armed with a battle-axe or lance, he would have dominated a field of battle.  Should have, would have—but not in fact.  Ifing Redhair could not ride a horse.
            Born in the Bene Quarter, Ifing was a child of poverty and the city.  Until Milo made him an under-sheriff for Stonebridge, Ifing had never gone outside the city.  Naturally, he saw lots of horses in Stonebridge: draught horses for wagons, palfreys for rich ladies, coursers for the City Guard, and others.  But he never owned a horse; he had no memory of riding one.  In fact, Ifing said, he had no memories of his early boyhood at all, nothing before his sixth birthday.  At twenty-four years old, Redhair could run as fast as any man, and his proficiency with a blade in a street fight was formidable.  His men respected his courage, his brains, and his record of bloody triumphs.  But none of this translated to success in the saddle.
            Milo and Eádulf tried to instruct Redhair in private, to spare him humiliation before his comrades in the Guard.  Eádulf rode Brownie with two other mounts on a lead to a lonely field outside Stonebridge.  Milo and Ifing hiked four miles from the Citadel into the muddy countryside to the appointed place.  The three men spent six hours of cursing and tears trying to overcome an invisible and invincible foe.  They failed.
            Eádulf saddled Ifing’s horse and held him steady.  Milo mounted and dismounted the animal and stood close to boost Ifing into the saddle.  But when the Falcon chieftain approached he froze in fear.  His eyes dilated, his arms shook, and he breathed in raw gasps.  Sweat ran down his forehead and neck though spring had not yet come.  Again and again Redhair cursed himself for cowardice, but neither his curses nor Milo’s encouragement could overcome the internal block.  Redhair could not put foot to stirrup.
            The experience yielded frustration, humiliation, and bewilderment.  If Milo put the horse’s reins in Ifing’s hands, the under-sheriff could walk the beast around the field calmly.  Ifing could hold out an apple and let the animal eat.  But whenever he tried to take the saddle the terror stuck.  Eádulf suggested that Ifing tighten the horse’s saddle straps as a way to get used to the creature.  The panic hit Redhair as his hand moved toward the cinch; he could not bring himself to touch it.  The three men tried everything they could think of, but the mystery only deepened.  Ifing Redhair could not mount a horse.
            After hours of failure, Eádulf whispered, “It is a barrier from the gods.”  Milo and Ifing heard him.
            “What?” Redhair’s snarl contained as much despair as anger.
            Milo had been taught to believe in castle gods, though they rarely figured in his thinking.  “Eádulf might be right.”  Before Redhair could speak, Milo went on: “Ifing, stop!  Think!
            “There must be some reason for this.  You’re not a coward, no matter what contemptible labels you give yourself.  So why is it that you—of all men, Ifing Redhair! —should be unable to mount a horse?  Some power overcomes you when you approach the stirrup.  We are alone here; there are no enemies watching from the fence.  There is no priest of the old god to cast a spell on you.  I think Eádulf could be right.  The gods may not want you to ride.”
            Ifing spat.  “A fine hate they show me.  Every man in the Guard will laugh at horseless Redhair.”
            “That won’t happen.”  Milo shook his head.  “You are too valuable to me.  We will make you a swordsman and a captain of swordsmen.  You will march to battle as do most armsmen.”
            And so, when Derian Chapman did not require Redhair’s attendance at some negotiation with a purveyor of supplies, Ifing trained as a foot soldier at “Winter Camp.”  This was a collection of tents, built on wood tent frames, and located a couple miles northeast and down hill from Hill Corral.  A creek ran near the camp, through a forest of pine, fir, and ash; further north, the little stream faded into the prairie of the Great Downs.  The wagon road from Down’s End passed close to the place.
Marty established Winter Camp soon after the Assembly made him commander, and assigned new recruits to it.  To turn street urchins, pickpockets, and gangsters into soldiers, the City Guard first made them lumbermen and builders.  They cut down trees and built tent frames, big enough to hold twenty men, so that even in winter they could sleep on dry wood floors.  Hrodgar Wigt supervised the camp, enforcing discipline and teaching teamwork, and Earm Upton (who had worked in the forest before joining the City Guard) taught basic woodsman skills.  The recruits dug latrines, built a kitchen/refectory and a barn, fenced a paddock, and collected stones for a future blacksmith furnace.  At the time of Ody Dans’s dinner for Kingsley Averill, more than fifty armsmen-in-training were already working at Winter Camp.
            As winter faded and more recruits joined the Stonebridge Guard, Winter Camp became a quagmire.  Melting snow made mud of the paths between tents and buildings, the paddock, and the training field.  Some of the recruits had never owned real boots, wearing sandals even on Stonebridge’s winter streets.  Milo explained the situation in a letter to Ody Dans and Lunden Ware.  The bankers agreed to lend money to the Guard, to be repaid at an unspecified date, and Derian Chapman was dispatched to Down’s End with Felix Abrecan as guard.  Two weeks later Derian returned with a one-horse cart full of boots, one hundred twenty pairs of sturdy leather boots of Down’s End quality, which could not be matched in Stonebridge.  The burgeoning City Guard would soon need more, but Derian’s purchase allowed weapons training to begin in earnest.  To the sons of poverty who received them, the boots represented a new horizon of possibilities.  In the Stonebridge Guard they had food to eat, dry tents to sleep in, warm boots for their feet—and a demand for excellence.
            Milo appointed Bryce Dalston and Aidan Fleming training masters.  Bryce taught swordsmanship on the bare flagstones of the Citadel’s training yard, twenty men at a time.  Two rows of ten men would face each other and practice thrusts and parries with wooden swords.  With solid footing under them, the recruits learned to move their feet and dance rather than stand and hack.  Then, on the uneven, muddy grounds of Winter Camp, Aidan trained larger groups to work together, to fight as a unit.  Both instructors pushed their men hard, warning them repeatedly that training diligence would save their lives later.  When some soldiers observed that Dalston’s fancy footwork might be suitable on dry level ground but real battlefields would probably be more like Winter Camp’s quagmire, Aidan Fleming emphatically defended his comrade’s lessons.  “You do not know whether your battlefield will be grassland, a forest, or a city street,” he said.  “A good swordsman must be able to adjust and fight on all of them.”     
            Since training took place in both places, units of Guardsmen moved between Winter Camp and the Citadel every week, a ten-mile march from the center of Stonebridge over the encircling hills and two miles beyond Hill Corral.  Milo welcomed this necessity; disciplined marching helped shape recruits into an army. 
            Citadel blacksmiths repaired old weapons and forged new shields and swords as quickly as Derian could buy iron.  Nevertheless, it became clear that without recruiting more smiths and obtaining a great quantity of iron Milo’s army would lack sufficient swords and shields until late summer or fall.  There was no question of diverting the limited iron supply to making plate armor.  For the time being, Milo was the only properly outfitted knight in the Guard. 
Milo hit on the idea of knife-fighters.  Ifing Redhair and other gangsters already owned knives, and they had experience with stealthy attack in the dark.  Redhair handpicked forty men for this group, including former Hawks as well as Falcons, and trained them in the forest outside of Winter Camp, often at night.  Milo told the knifemen they might play an especially important role in breaking the siege of Hyacintho Flumen.  And he did not mention the company of knifemen in any of his reports to Ody Dans, Lunden Ware, the Stonebridge Assembly, or Speaker Kingsley Averill.
            Averill and his party in the Assembly viewed the rapid expansion of the Guard with suspicion, even alarm.  Nevertheless, they voted with Dans and Ware’s party to authorize the new Guard and pay for its weapons.  They could not deny the results of Commander Mortane’s new Guard: robberies and burglaries in the city had almost ceased, middling merchants no longer needed to pay extortion to Falcons or Hawks, and security guards for rich estates had easy service.  Milo’s reports also noted that the sheriffs who patrolled the city found fewer frozen bodies in the streets bordering the Bene Quarter; some in the Assembly attributed this to a milder winter, but others said poor people also benefited from a more efficient Guard.  Milo had nothing to say to the Assembly on that score, he said.  He merely reported the facts.
            The gains in public safety did not come through scores of new soldiers snooping round the city.  Most of the new recruits lived in Winter Camp, and those who trained with Bryce Dalston stayed within the Citadel walls.  Most people in Stonebridge did not see the new Guardsmen except when they marched to or from Winter Camp.  Folk did notice that under Commander Mortane the new Guard patrolled the streets more hours than in the Tondbert days; everyone put this down to better discipline or harder work in the Guard.  In reality, extra hands inside the Citadel freed patrol Guardsmen from routine work, thus permitting longer patrols.
            Beyond observable results, one other factor influenced Kingsley Averill’s grudging support for Milo’s Guard.  Merlin Averill had suddenly taken an interest in something other than viniculture.  He had made an offer of marriage to Lady Ambassador Amicia Mortane.

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

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Castles 119

119.  At Ody Dans’s Estate, The Spray

            Twenty-six people sat at an Olympian table in Ody Dans’s windowed dining room overlooking River Betlicéa.  Chicken, duck, goose, and turkey, each kind of bird rendered into at least two savory dishes; Dans’s kitchen staff had prepared an extravaganza of fowls.  The guests could choose also from four kinds of cheese, three varieties of fruit pie, white or brown loaves for sopping up grease, and several bottles of wine.
The table itself was longer than Milo remembered; twelve sat on each side comfortably, with Dans himself at one end and a handsome young man at the other.  With a start, Milo recognized the smartly dressed youth as Avery Doin, whom Derian Chapman had smuggled from Down’s End to Stonebridge last summer.  Milo hadn’t visited The Spray for months, and he had almost forgotten the fugitive whose escape had first brought Derian and Milo together. 
            Ostensibly, it was a congratulatory dinner, thrown by Master Dans to mark Kingsley Averill’s election as Speaker of the Assembly.  From the moment Milo read the guest list he knew better.  This was a political consultation of the first order.  Ody Dans and Kingsley Averill, long time rivals in Stonebridge politics, found themselves in an unprecedented situation: they had to cooperate, and they weren’t sure how to do it.  For the first hour, as the meal progressed through course after course, the conversation danced about the underlying questions without making them explicit.
            Milo had a fairly clear grasp of the obstacles between the two men, having read Osred Tondbert’s files.  On one side, Dans envisioned a magnificent, imperial Stonebridge.  The city was growing rapidly, and Dans believed it had the resources in wealth and population to field an army of thousands.  Given political will, Stonebridge could dominate Tarquint.  Castle lords, the weavers, leather workers and cloth merchants of Down’s End, even the wealthy burghers of Cippenham in the east—the whole continent could be unified under Stonebridge power.  In contrast, Averill believed Stonebridge should aim first to preserve her independence from the Le Grants of Saltas Semitas; beyond that the Assembly ought to focus on civic improvements such as bridges, sewers, better roads, removal (or at least reduction) of the Bene Quarter, and elimination of the hated criminal gangs, the Falcons and Hawks.  Averill thought Dans’s ambitions could easily lead the city to the tyranny of some powerful general or the poverty that follows military defeat.
            Milo also knew the animosity between Dans and Averill ran deeper than differing visions for Stonebridge, its root lying in a tragic past.  Thirty years before, the rising merchant Ody Dans had married Elise Averill, Kingsley Averill’s younger sister.  Averill opposed the match, mistrusting Dans’s greed and ruthlessness.  But Elise, twelve years younger than Averill, was smitten with Ody Dans, a jeweler’s son who was rapidly building a fortune by trade and money lending.  In the end Kingsley could not refuse permission to his beloved sibling.  For three months Elise was gloriously happy, according to a note in Tondbert’s handwriting.  Then abruptly, she deserted her husband and disappeared.  Averill found her working in a Bene Quarter brothel, but she would not say how she got there.  Kingsley took her home to the Averill estate, where she refused to eat and soon died.  Averill blamed Ody Dans for Elise’s fate, but Tondbert’s records indicated the young woman never said anything that might be used as evidence against Dans.  Afterward, Dans’s wealth and influence in Stonebridge continued to increase.  Averill had the prestige of an established name, but Dans was undoubtedly richer.  In three decades Averill never publicly expressed his suspicions about Elise’s marriage, but he icily opposed every attempt by Dans and his political allies to build up Tondbert’s City Guard or to assert Stonebridge power beyond the mountain ridges that ringed the city.  Outside of Assembly Hall, the two men persistently avoided each other.
            But now Kingsley Averill sat as guest in The Spray, half way down the table on Dans’s right.  Averill’s chief political partner, Assemblyman Verge Courney, and his son Merlin Averill sat on either side of Kingsley.  Milo thought of the three men as the “Averill party.”  Across the table from them were Ody Dans’s allies: the banker Lunden Ware, Euman Black, who owned an important silver mine, and Ham Roweson, whose mill sawed thousands of logs every year from the forests west of Stonebridge.  Conspicuously absent: Frideric Bardolf, Dans’s longtime friend and compatriot. 
            Milo’s report to the Assembly convinced everyone that Bardolf had bribed the city clerk and defrauded Stonebridge.  Placed under house arrest, Bardolf had been stripped of his office and was awaiting trial.  Now what?  When Milo Mortane first emerged as Commander of the Guard, some Assemblymen regarded him as Dans’s protégé.  But then Milo had accused and arrested Frideric Bardolf, which elevated Averill to the Speakership.  Some gossips in the city now said that Commander Mortane favored Averill’s faction. 
            Milo’s successes in Stonebridge were thus a factor that drove Dans and Averill to consult with each other.  Milo had broken the Hawks by killing their leaders, and he had apparently declawed the Falcons by absorbing Ifing Redhair and his lieutenants into the City Guard.  And by publishing Tondbert’s “secrets” he had greatly reduced the mutual fear and suspicion felt by Stonebridge’s leading families.  For the time being, at least, Milo enjoyed approval from both rich and poor in Stonebridge.  Dans and Averill each imagined himself controlling Commander Mortane, and both feared the other would.
            Another impetus for change was the news from Hyacintho Flumen.  For months rumors of the Herminian invasion had made their way to Stonebridge.  Now, Lady Amicia Mortane confirmed the reports.  She had been hosting leading citizens and their wives at her rented house, arguing that the Herminian army threatened not just her brother Aylwin, but all of Tarquint.  Few of her guests were persuaded that Stonebridge should fight a war, but many feared the invaders were a real danger.  All agreed that changes were coming.  No one missed the fact that the Lady Ambassador was sister to Commander Mortane.
            At the table, Dans’s servant girl seated Amicia and her escort, Kenelm Ash, at Ody Dans’s right.  A seat of honor for the Lady Ambassador, Milo thought, and it also conveniently seats her between Dans and the Averill party, where both sides can appraise every frown or smile.  Milo, accompanied by Felix Abrecan, had been seated on the left side, near the foot of the table, beyond Dan’s allies.  He puts a long space between Toadface and me.  Opposite Amicia, seated between Dans and Lunden Ware, the servants seated a rich old woman, Zoe Gunnara, and her granddaughter Evelina Gunnara.  Milo recognized the upturned nose and pale skin of the younger lady; by chance last summer she had witnessed Milo threatening Derian Chapman in the streets of Stonebridge, but the lady and he had never been introduced.  Lady Evelina was pretty, marriageable, the sole heir of her family, and (judging by Zoe Gunnara’s appearance) soon to inherit the Gunnara estate.  Milo remembered: The source of mediocre wine, according to Merlin Averill.  As the dinner progressed from fowl to fowl, Milo watched Lady Evelina try to play coquette for Merlin, who was apparently not interested in marrying into more vineyards.  Merlin was much more interested in Ambassador Lady Amicia.  Milo thought: Watch that; it might be useful.
            Milo knew that Assemblymen Courney, Ware, Black and Roweson were married, but only Courney brought his wife.  Maybe Ody Dans’s friends know better than bring wives to Master Dans’s house.  Of the remaining guests, Milo thought only Derian Chapman mattered much in the jockeying between Dans and Averill.  Averill has to assume Derian spies on me for his uncle, and Ody may still believe he does.  In the last month Milo had given Derian harmless bits of information to pass on to Uncle Ody.  Derian knows where his real interests lie, but it wouldn’t hurt to remind him.
            Seated near the foot of the table, Derian was sharing some private joke with Avery Doin and a young couple whose names Milo couldn’t recall.  Why is Avery still here?  Surely Dans has protected him long enough to repay whatever debt he owed to Avery’s father.  Maybe “Uncle Ody” has some further use for him?
            “That’s a question for the Commander of the Stonebridge Guard, not for me.”  Amicia raised her voice enough to interrupt Milo’s meditation.
            “I’m sorry, Lady Ambassador.”  Milo winked broadly at his sister, which drew smiles from both the Averill party and Dans’s political friends.  “What was the question?”
            Verge Courney leaned forward, his black hair glistening.  “When?  That is: When will the Stonebridge Guard march to lift the siege of Hyacintho Flumen, assuming, of course, that Assembly could meet all the Guard’s requests for money?”
            Milo didn’t hesitate.  “Never.”  He smiled quickly and shoved a spoonful of cobbler into his mouth.
            “What?  I don’t understand.  Why not?”  Several voices spoke at once.
            Milo held up his spoon to interrupt, swallowed the dessert, and answered, “The Guard will not march to Hyacintho Flumen, or anywhere else for that matter, unless so directed by the Assembly.  As far as I know—and I’m in a good position to know—the Assembly has not directed us to interfere at Hyacintho Flumen.  I am sorry, Lady Ambassador.”  Again he winked at Amicia, drawing chuckles from both sides of the table.
            Courney sat back in his chair, scowling.  Next to him Kingsley Averill cleared his throat.  “Ahem.  As the new Speaker, I note your obedience to Assembly authority, and I thoroughly approve.  But Master Roweson and I were talking just now with Master Courney and your sister about the possibility of the Stonebridge Guard aiding Lord Aylwin.  If the Assembly authorized action against the Herminians, and if we met all your requests for supplies and recruits—how soon might the Guard be prepared to break the siege of Hyacintho Flumen?”
            “Fourteen weeks, perhaps less.”
            “Impossible!  You jest!”  Voices on both sides of the table objected.  “Against ten thousand?”
            Milo made his face look contemplative.  “I should speak more carefully.  I should say the Stonebridge Guard would be ready to move against the Herminians in fourteen weeks or less.  General Ridere might not abandon the siege for some months after that, but that is only because he and Queen Mariel are stubborn.  Eventually they would have to give it up.”
            Euman Black, the mine owner, asked, “How can you be so confident, Commander Mortane?”
            Milo raised an eyebrow and glanced up and down the table.  “If Master Dans is ready to expel from the room his guests who are not Assemblymen, I will answer your question in detail.  Otherwise, duty requires that I speak only in generalities.”
            Black inclined his head.  “Generalities will suffice.  We don’t need details.”
            “All right.”  Milo made eye contact with Kingsley Averill.  “First, to break a siege, we need only to get food into Hyacintho Flumen.  We don’t need to defeat the Herminians in a pitched battle.  Second, the enemy needs ten thousand men because he has to block every possible route into the castle.  Those men must be spread out in a circle many miles around.”
            Milo emphasized each point by pressing the tabletop with his fingers, first one, then two, and now three: “Therefore, third, our force need only be big enough to create a hole in the siege ring long enough for supplies to get in.  Fourth, we get to choose which portion of the ring to attack and when to attack it.  The enemy must be vigilant at every point all the time.  And fifth…” Milo’s thumb joined his fingers. “I have already begun building the Guard.
            “Don’t feign surprise.  Word spreads in the city; surely you know what I’ve been doing.  Hawks and Falcons tormented Stonebridge too long; they had to be broken.  So I broke them—but not by slaughtering hundreds of men whose chief crime was to be born in hopelessness and poverty.  True enough, we killed the Hawk leaders and a few others.  But we have taken ninety men into the Guard as armsmen.  They are not sheriffs, and they no longer live in the city.  They have built and live in the ‘Winter Camp,’ two miles beyond Hill Corral—on the other side of the Stonebridge hills.  If the Assembly increases support for the Guard, we will expand Winter Camp, and most Guardsmen will live there.  In ten weeks, Stonebridge could have an army of six hundred or more.”
            “Well-trained?”  The Lady Ambassador, not any of the Stonebridge Assemblymen, asked an important question.  Amicia’s gaze challenged her brother.
            “Indeed.  If Stonebridge wanted a rabble, we could have thousands in the field by summer.”  Milo grinned.  “But I promised my men that we would be an army, not a rabble.”  He looked at Euman Black.  “You might be surprised.  Underfed poor boys from the Bene Quarter work very hard at becoming soldiers when we give them a dry bed, sufficient food, and five coppers a month.  Aiden Fleming and Bryce Dalston have been pleased with our recruits.”
            “W-w-what about Redhair?”  Merlin Averill punctuated his question with a wave of his claw hand.
            “Ah!”  Milo turned toward the foot of the table.  “Sheriff Chapman can answer that, I think.”
            Derian had edged his chair closer to the end of the table; the better to watch faces on both sides.  Now everyone looked at him.  “I’ve been tasked with supplying the Guard with food, clothing, iron, fuel, and so forth.  Sir Mortane thought I might be a good purchasing agent for the Guard since I’ve done business in Stonebridge for some time.  And I must say I’ve been terrifically successful. 
            “It works like this.  Under-sheriff Redhair and I work as a team.  We visit some merchant in Stonebridge, to buy hay or grain for our horses, just as an example.  We examine the grain and, based on my experience in business, I suggest a purchase price.  I always offer a reasonable price.  Ifing never says anything.  He just stands there with his hand on his knife handle.  It’s not a sword.  Ifing’s knife is almost as big as a standard Guard sword anyway.  He doesn’t pull the knife; he merely stands there.  And then, you see, almost always, our supplier says that the price I mentioned is just too high.  He suggests something lower.  And then, to avoid haggling, we agree to something in the middle.”
            At the other end of the table, Ody Dans began chuckling.  “To avoid haggling?  You, Derian?”
            Derian pretended innocence.  “I wouldn’t want to give offense.”
            Both sides of the table, the Averill party and Dans’s friends, joined in the laughter.  Derian deadpanned: “Commander Mortane said that by saving money we would be able to build more tent frames at Winter Camp.  I thought it was a good idea.”
            Milo said, “Redhair and Chapman, purchasing agents for the Stonebridge Guard.  It has a nice ring to it, don’t you think?”
            Ody Dans’s guests laughed heartily.

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