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.