Friday, October 31, 2014

Story & Meaning at 5000

    The blogspot internal counter says that Story and Meaning has had 5000 pageviews since I began in spring 2012.  This is hardly a blip in internet traffic, yet I find it encouraging.  I'm especially pleased to see that more than 1000 of those pageviews came from countries outside the United States.
    I anticipate finishing the first draft of Castles by the end of 2014.  That is, I will finish writing the last chapters.  At that point I may start publishing two or three chapters per week.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Castle 127

127. In Castle Pulchra Mane

            “Are you ready, Aweirgan?”
            “Aye, my lady.”  The scribe sat in his chair, ornately carved, almost like a throne, on Mariel’s left.  He had slate and chalk in hand.
            Mariel laid her hand on the lord’s knob—her knob, the key to empire.  Violet light flared.  At the same moment, the baby moved in her womb.  Yes, my daughter.  You will stand here one day, your hand where mine is.
            Almost without effort Mariel summoned lords Giles, Thoncelin, Mowbray, Beaumont, Wadard, Toeni, and lady Montfort—her Council.  As always, they presented themselves punctually.  A variety of greetings bubbled forth.  “Fair morning, my lady.”  “A pleasure to see you again, your grace.”  “The blessing of the gods, your majesty.”
            Avice Montfort spoke last: “You look radiant, my Queen.  If my pregnancies had been so easy, I would have had more children.”
            Mariel swept back her golden hair with her right hand, laughing.  “But look at this sack I am forced to wear!”  Her kirtle was a vast tent-like garment, a mixture of linen and cotton, dyed softly in peach and white.  It had light straps over her shoulders and a comfortable band under her breasts, which were getting larger in anticipation of the baby’s birth.  Boemia the nan had provided Mariel with cotton pads so her nipples wouldn’t wet the kirtle through.
            Lady Avice smiled benignly.  “You look like a healthy mother, my Queen.  Fashion be damned.”
            Mariel laughed again.  “I’m sure it is.  Fortunately, my husband will not see me this way.  Now, Councilors, we have work to do.  Aweirgan, the general’s latest, please.”
            Aweirgan Unes made a last mark on his slate and set it aside.  He picked up a calfskin sheath from which he drew out four sheets of paper.  He performed this little ritual every week, to draw attention to the words he now read: “At the command of Eudes Ridere, a faithful record in the hand of Eadred Unes…” Mariel allowed herself a tiny indulgent smile.  It was pure pleasure to see Aweirgan’s pride in his son.
            The report itself bore unmistakable evidences of her husband.  It was methodical, detailed, and thorough.  Every day since the last report was accounted for: on no day had food or other material reached Hyacintho Flumen.  The number of projectiles thrown by catapults.  Expenditure of funds since last report.  Complaints from local merchants, townsfolk, or farmers, heard and resolved.  Observed movements of Mortane’s armsmen and farmers.  Rotation of Herminian troops, both those newly arrived in Tarquint and those departing for home.  And so on.  Mariel’s councilors endured the report patiently.
            Aweirgan slipped the papers back into the sheath.  Mariel said, “Now we have something new.  General Ridere sends another report, by the mouth of Captain Acwel Penda.”
            Mariel waved off possible interruptions.  “Captain Penda is still in Tarquint.  A remarkable thing has happened at the castle called Inter Lucus.  Last summer, three or four months before our fleet sailed from Tutum Partum, a new lord bonded with Inter Lucus after a hundred years of ruin.  Aweirgan and Eadred both speculate that this Martin Cedarborne is a bastard descendant of some Tirel second son.  My husband points out that it matters not how Lord Martin came to his position; he has in fact revived Inter Lucus and commands its magic.  I have spoken with Lord Martin.  He has exchanged letters with General Ridere.  And he has permitted Captain Penda to stand at his side, to speak to me via Videns-Loquitur.
            “The advantage to us is obvious.  Captain Penda departed Hyacintho Flumen five days ago and spoke to me earlier today.  The report Aweirgan just read to us spent nine days on ship and four days on land since Eadred wrote it.  Further, as you know, weather sometimes delays our ships; General Ridere’s reports can take as much as twenty days to reach us.”
            Paul Wadard said, “What pleasant news!  We need never again hear the words ‘a faithful record in the hand of Eadred Unes.’”
            “Nonsense.”  Mariel wondered, not for the first time, how Beatus Valle and its people could prosper under such a stupid man.  And every report about his son List was worse.  At least now we can pass over List and move directly to the grandson, Linn.  “Whatever Captain Penda reports to us is heard by Lord Cedarborne.  And, obviously, he will hear any instructions we send to General Ridere in this fashion.  Therefore, the general will continue to report to us in the usual way on many matters.”  
            “True,” said Osmer Beaumont.  “This new channel of communication is best reserved for times when Ridere needs your decision on some difficult matter.”
            Denis Mowbray asked, “Does Cedarborne command Videns-Loquitur, or does he respond to your grace’s summons?”  It was an insightful question, and all the councilors took note of her answer.
            “Lord Cedarborne commands Videns-Loquitur well enough to contact Aylwin Mortane.  Aylwin himself betrayed that fact unwittingly.  When I asked Cedarborne he readily admitted it.”
            Wymer Thoncelin, Mariel’s best advisor after Avice Montfort, rumbled in a bass voice: “Have you tested this Cedarborne’s loyalty, my Queen?  In a pinch, a speedy word to the general could prove invaluable.  But if you cannot trust him…”
            “You touch on the crucial question, Wymer.  Who can I trust?”  Mariel played her eyes over her councilors’ faces, lingering on Rocelin Toeni and Godfrey Giles.  “Lord Martin may soon contact one or perhaps all of you.  You are free to speak with him on condition that you report that conversation to me as soon as possible.  We all know that of my councilors only you, Wymer, are able to support Videns-Loquitur by your own strength.  Some of you may be fascinated by a strong new lord, and tempted to keep secret your conversations with him.  I promise you that it would be foolish to do so.
            “Lord Cedarborne has four sheriffs.  He rules two small villages.  Like Lord Thoncelin, he has chosen to use Materias Transmutatio to make paper.  Four sheriffs and no steel.  To restore a castle he must be, undoubtedly, a remarkable lord.  But he is no ally on which to build a rebellion.  Already he serves my purposes by relaying General Ridere’s messages, and I believe he will pledge liege to me in due course.  For the present, however, I will not expose any truly important message to the ears of Martin Cedarborne.”
            Avice Montfort coughed quietly.  “No doubt that is wise, my Queen.  You say that Captain Penda reported today…?”
            “I did.  Five days ago, the plan to disrupt spring planting was put into action.  Archers from Beatus Valle succeeded in killing two draft horses in a quick raid.  Mortane’s shields were down; none of our men were killed.  General Ridere says we should be satisfied with the result.  Small gains like this will shorten the siege.”
            Beatus Valle archers under the command of Sir List Wadard.”  Paul Wadard corrected a small omission, or so he thought.
            “No.”  Mariel frowned and glared at the stupid man.  “List Wadard did not report on the morning of the attack.  As a knight of Herminia, List met daily with General Ridere’s captains and knew the day of the attack.  Nevertheless, on the appointed day he was found in the town Hyacintho Flumen in bed with a girl of fourteen.  The girl’s mother led armsmen to the place so that he could be taken, the mother’s chief complaint being that she was supposed to be the Herminian’s bed partner.  In her opinion, Wadard hadn’t paid enough to get the daughter too.
            “You all know Eudes’s policy: our army will treat the people of Tarquint fairly.  We pay for the food, housing, and material we need.  In every way we show the Tarquintians that they have nothing to fear under our rule.  To enforce this policy, General Ridere has ordered the flogging of twenty-eight men since the siege began, for theft or rape or other crimes.  Considering the number of armsmen we have in Tarquint and the months they have been there, Eudes has not been displeased.  But in the case of List Wadard, he wanted my judgment.
            “The accuser in this case is an admitted whore.  Her complaint is that List Wadard took more than he paid for.  No charge of rape.  So one might say this is merely a case of theft.  But List Wadard was a knight of Herminia.  Sons of lords should be exemplars of conduct.  Just as important, on this day List Wadard shirked his duty as a soldier.  At the very time he was enjoying this fourteen-year-old girl, his men were risking their lives for their queen.  It may comfort you to know, Lord Wadard, that your grandson Linn was present with the archers on the morning of the raid.  Captain Bully Wedmor, who led the raid, did not permit Linn to join the attack itself, since he is yet a boy.  But Linn’s behavior was completely satisfactory, according to Captain Wedmor.”
            Mariel paused and stood straighter.  They call me the Ice Queen.  “I commanded Captain Penda to give my judgment to General Ridere.  By his thievery and treason, List Wadard has forfeited his position and rights as knight.  Linn Wadard is hereby declared direct heir to Beatus Valle.  For his thievery, List Wadard is to receive the standard flogging common to Herminian armsmen.  Afterward, for his treason, List Wadard is to be executed by hanging.”
            Paul Wadard’s rodent-like face was a pasty mask, drained of its usual pink.  “My son is dead.”
            “You should say he is dead to you.  Your son is a traitor.  He will stop breathing when Captain Penda returns to Hyacintho Flumen, and that will take some days.  However, your heir, Linn Wadard, is in good health and held in esteem by his comrades.  General Ridere will make it plain to Sir Linn and to all his captains that List Wadard’s crimes are his alone.  The sins of the father do not reflect on the son.”
            Silence.  Aweirgan Unes looked up from his slate.  “The justice of the Queen,” he said.
            The lords and lady of Herminia bowed their heads.  “The justice of the Queen.”

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


Thursday, October 23, 2014

Castles 126

126. In Castle Inter Lucus

            “Fair afternoon, Lord Cedarborne.  I don’t see Lord Le Grant or Lord Mortane.”
            Lady Postel wore a kirtle the hue of summer apples that set off the color of her eyes.  The blue light from her lord’s knob contrasted with the kirtle; the combination reminded Marty of the sky and fields south of Inter Lucus.
            “I’ll contact David in a moment, Aylwin when we are ready.”  Marty dipped his head toward the person beside him.  “You remember Ora Wooddaughter from yesterday, I hope.”
            “Indeed.  I’m pleased to see you again, Ora.”  Lady Jean smiled kindly.
            Ora, unencumbered by a lord’s knob, stepped from behind the stand-up desk to bow formally.  Her brown hair fell around her face.  “My pleasure, my lady.”
            Before Ora resumed her place behind the desk another window appeared in the interface wall.  So she bowed again.  “Fair afternoon, Lord Le Grant.”
            “Fair afternoon.  Ora Wooddaughter, wasn’t it?”  Le Grant’s knob glowed flamingo, which struck Marty as incongruous, but he reminded himself that the aliens who built the castles of Two Moons had no idea of a social convention linking pink with females.  It seems that each castle has it’s own peculiar color.  Or is it each noble family?
            “Lady Jean.”  Le Grant nodded in greeting.  To Marty: “You haven’t called Mortane?  Is he ignoring to your summons?”
            “I’ll contact Hyacintho Flumen in a minute.  We’ll see if he answers.  I want to remind you that neither of you has to do this.”  As he often did, Marty marveled at the quality of Videns-Loquitur; Lady Postel and Lord Le Grant appeared right there, just two strides away.  He had the feeling that if he stepped from the lord’s knob he could walk into their castles.
            “I’m not afraid of Aylwin Mortane,” Le Grant said.  “I didn’t let Hereward bully me twenty years ago, and I’m not going to cower before his son now.”
            “Lord Martin… Excuse me a moment.”  Lady Postel whispered to someone beside her, bringing her husband Artus into the picture.  Artus held a cloth over Jean’s face, and she sneezed.  The husband deftly wiped his wife’s nose.  “My apologies.  Springtime.”  The lady sniffled.  “Did you speak with Lord Mortane yesterday after you let him see us?”
            Marty shook his head.  “No.  I let him stew overnight, hoping he might come to see things a bit more clearly.  It seems to me that he judges everybody purely in terms of what each person can do for him.  So I showed him what I might do for him; that is, I can let him talk with you.  Hopefully, the possibility of contacting other castles will entice him into longer conversations.”
            “I can guess what Aylwin wants, but what do you hope to gain?” Lord Le Grant asked.  “What is the point of longer conversations?”
            Marty knew this question would come up, and he had decided to be transparent.  “I want to save lives that ought not to be wasted in a pointless war.  You, Lord David, and Lady Jean have each admitted that you have no expectation of defeating General Ridere’s army if he comes to you.  That is a level of realism that Aylwin resists.  His pride will not let him submit to Mariel, so he tells himself that he will defeat her.”
            Le Grant spoke cautiously.  “Are you certain that he will not?”
            “No.  I am not certain.  General Ridere conquered all the castles of Herminia, but that is no guarantee he will subdue Aylwin.  I am told that the lands surrounding Hyacintho Flumen include pastures, orchards, and grain fields.  If Aylwin’s people can harvest those lands, working behind protective shields, he could hold out a long time.  Meanwhile, we know that he has sent emissaries to ask Down’s End and Stonebridge to raise an army to help him.  I should say this very clearly: Aylwin seems determined to resist, and he might succeed.
            “However, consider the cost of Aylwin’s war.  A battle to dislodge Ridere’s army will probably kill hundreds of men, perhaps thousands.  One battle might not conclude the war; more battles would bring more deaths.  And what benefit would accrue?  If Aylwin were to win, he would continue as lord of Hyacintho Flumen as outright sovereign.  If he were to lose, he would continue as lord of Hyacintho Flumen, under the sovereignty of Mariel.  Frankly, I don’t see a lot of difference.  Unless Mariel is a tyrant, Aylwin’s war is all about pride.”
            David Le Grant made a sour face.  “He preserves his dignity, and that of his ancestors.”
            Marty thought: There it is again.  Dignity.  “How many young men from Down’s End or Stonebridge should have to die for Aylwin’s dignity?  Lord Le Grant, would you fight to preserve your dignity, knowing that you would not prevail?  Would you do so at the cost of a hundred men’s lives?”
            Le Grant’s shoulders slumped.  “The dignity of house Le Grant was broken long ago by the rebel Averill.  Today, I would be hard pressed to field an army of a hundred.  And who would lead them?  My daughter Kendra is not yet married, and she is no knight.  When the Herminians come… In the end, I must submit, though I will delay that result if I can.  But Lord Mortane… Did you know his mother, Lucia, is my half-sister?  I must tell you, part of my heart hopes Aylwin will fight to the last.”
            “To preserve dignity?”
            “Aye.”  Le Grant looked sad even as he said it.
            Dignity.  God help us.  And Aylwin is his nephew.  At least he doesn’t remember Hereward with any affection.  Marty switched topics.  “Does Lucia still live?”
            “I hoped that you might tell me.”  Le Grant became more animated.  “Lucia was a beautiful woman when she left for Hyacintho Flumen; after that, I saw her only one time, via Videns-Loquitur.  Lady Jean told you how Hereward Mortane persuaded various lords to jointly support the magic of Videns-Loquitur; my father was one of them.  After Father died and I bonded with Saltas Semitas, I rebelled against Hereward’s bullying.  I haven’t seen Lucia since.”
            Marty pursed his lips.  “We could ask Aylwin to communicate your greetings to Lucia.  If she is alive, perhaps you will get to see her even today.”
            “Now that would be worthwhile,” said Le Grant.  “I am not at all persuaded that you can prevent the coming battle between Mariel’s army and Aylwin’s friends.  He will find allies somewhere.  He is the lord of Hyacintho Flumen; he will not yield.  You think it is regrettable than hundreds of peasants will die in this war.  Regrettable or not, I think it is inevitable.  Yet I will help you today because I want to see my sister again.”
            “Okay.”  Marty nodded.
            “Lord Cedarborne?  Okay?” Lady Postel asked. 
            “I’m sorry.  In Lafayette, we had some words that are not common in Tarquint.  Okay means ‘I agree,’ or ‘That is acceptable.’  I hope that Lord David will be persuaded to help me seek peace between Mariel and Aylwin.  But for today, it is enough that he wants to see Lucia again.”
            “What about you, Lady Jean?”  Le Grant raised an eyebrow.  “Why do you consent to help Lord Martin?  Do you think he can persuade Aylwin to yield to Mariel?”
            Lady Jean smiled mysteriously.  “You put me on the spot, David.  Let us talk with Aylwin.  Then I’ll tell you what I think.”
            “I share David’s curiosity,” Marty said.  “So don’t forget.  When we’re done talking to him, you need to give us your thoughts about Aylwin.  But I should clarify something.  I want to end the war between Mariel and Aylwin.  That does not necessarily imply that Aylwin must yield.  Perhaps we can achieve a compromise between them.”
            “Perhaps.”  Le Grant sounded skeptical.  Jean Postel’s smile lingered.
With a shift of thought, Marty summoned Aylwin Mortane of Hyacintho Flumen.  The window into Hyacintho Flumen opened, showing a dim black and white version of the great hall.  The old scribe, Arthur, peered at the interface for a moment and then walked out of the picture. 
About thirty seconds went by.  “Does he refuse to respond?” asked Le Grant.
“I don’t think so.  Arthur went to find him.”
            “How do you know this?”  Le Grant expressed surprise.
            Marty was puzzled by Le Grant’s question.  “The man in the great hall…  That’s Aylwin’s scribe, Arthur.  Arthur looked at the interface wall and walked away.  I presume he went to fetch Aylwin.”
            “Gods.”  Le Grant spoke to no one in particular.
            Jean Postel said, “Perhaps this changes your expectations, David?  Possibly?”
            Le Grant’s wide-eyed astonishment and Postel’s response confused Marty, but he didn’t get to clarify.  While Lady Jean was still speaking, in the interface frame Aylwin Mortane came to his lord’s knob and bonded.  Instantly, the black-and-white world of Hyacintho Flumen was transformed by the orange-red glow of Aylwin’s knob highlighting the crimson of his fine tunic.  Arthur was dressed in gray and white, with a pale yellow sash.
            “Lord Martin.”  Aylwin dipped his head almost imperceptibly.
            “Fair afternoon, Lord Aylwin.”  Marty tried to sound casual, as if yesterday’s confrontation hadn’t happened.  “You probably know them already, but I introduce Lady Jean Postel and Lord David Le Grant.”
            “Fair afternoon, Lord Aylwin.”  Postel and Le Grant spoke in unison.
            Now Aylwin inclined his head more respectfully.  “I am pleased to meet both of you.”  To Marty: “As a matter of fact, though I have heard their names I have never seen either Lady Jean or Lord David before yesterday, and I am grateful that you make this meeting possible.”  Aylwin paused, as if searching for words.  “Sometimes I say things I don’t mean.  If I gave offense yesterday, please accept my apology.”
            A classic faux apology.  Marty’s memory flashed to a training session at the Chicago Catholic Worker house.  A psychologist/social worker, expert in domestic violence, had talked about the difference between genuine and fake remorse.  For now, we’ll make do with humbug.  “I’m happy to provide a service, Lord Aylwin.  It seems to me that it would be natural for you, especially in light of your situation, to desire contact with other lords and ladies.”
            “By my ‘situation’ I presume you mean the thousands of Herminians camped around Hyacintho Flumen.  Aylwin’s words might have been sarcasm, but his tone was light.  “Precisely so.  The Herminian invasion is a threat to all lords in Tarquint, not just me.
            “Lord David, Lady Jean: I presume you know that Mariel of Pulchra Mane has sent an army to conquer Tarquint.  Surely no one believes she will be content to compel my submission alone.  Any help you can give me will, in effect, defend your own interests.”
            Le Grant cut straight to the point.  “What kind of help do you require?”
            “Knights and armsmen, but particularly knights.”  This part of Aylwin’s speech had been carefully prepared.  “I need lord’s sons, Lord David, as leaders of an army.  My sister, Amicia, is even now negotiating in Down’s End to build that army.  But herdsmen, weavers, and tanners need real knights to lead them in battle.”
            Aylwin might have said more, but Le Grant shook his head.  “I have no sons, Lord Mortane.  My daughter Kendra will inherit Saltas Semitas when I am gone.”
            Aylwin’s balloon had sprung a leak.  Lady Jean deflated it further.  “I, too, have only a daughter, Sidney.  But why do you say Down’s End?  I thought Amicia was in Stonebridge.”
            “Stonebridge?  Are you sure?”  There was both wariness and eagerness in Aylwin’s question.
            Jean Postel looked thoughtful.  “A wine merchant from Stonebridge came to Aurea Prati last fall.  No.  No, it was something Lord Martin said.  That’s it.  Both Amicia and her brother have gone to Stonebridge.  The priests in Down’s End worry about Stonebridge getting involved in your war.”
            Aylwin’s eyes blazed, but Marty met his glare with a blank face.  He had been careful not to say anything to Aylwin about Milo or Amicia in their previous talks.  Angry?  Of course.  But he needs to talk with Le Grant, so he bites his tongue.  And he begins to worry he may have misjudged me.
            Twice Aylwin began to say something and stopped.  Finally he said, “I assume, Lord Martin, that you had some reason for concealing the truth from me.  Why did you not tell me where my sister is?”
            “Aylwin, at the time I thought that I should wait to tell you about Amicia.  But now I see I was wrong.”  Marty sighed heavily.  “I apologize.  Amicia did go to Down’s End, and while she was there, her knight came to Inter Lucus.  That was Kenelm Ash.  Ash spoke insultingly about my lack of dignity, but he laid no hidgield claim on my people.  I have no right to complain about that.  Later I learned that Sir Ash and Amicia had gone to Stonebridge.  So when you and I talked, and you told me you hoped your sister would raise an army to help you, I already knew that Amicia had left Down’s End.  I should have told you.  I am sorry.
            “You ask me why.  I did not think it wise for Amicia to convince Down’s End or Stonebridge to fight against the Herminians.  I still don’t.  I am deeply troubled by the likelihood that hundreds or thousands of men will die because you and Mariel stubbornly refuse to cooperate.  I suppose I thought that by keeping back some information I might discourage your resistance.  I see now that was wrong.”
            Aylwin Mortane, David Le Grant, and Jean Postel stared at Marty with varying sorts of wonder.  Mortane felt confusion: a kind of disgust at the strange lord’s humility mixed with a sense of triumph over Martin’s capitulation, while at the same time remembering that it was Martin’s magic that made the conversation possible.  Le Grant wondered if Martin really expected to influence Aylwin’s behavior by speaking so openly; did Martin possess still more hidden powers?  Postel felt exhilaration tinged by fear, a worry that Martin’s naiveté would confound his magic.
            Marty could not read their faces, but their hesitation warned him to wait.
            Finally Aylwin spoke.  “That’s settled, then.  Mariel and I will never ‘cooperate,’ and you are wise to say so.  True lords of Tarquint have wills of adamant; I will starve before I submit to Mariel.  And of course you had no right to hide the truth from me.”
            “You are willing to starve rather than submit.”  Marty gestured at Ora and then pointed to Arthur.  “How many others, like Arthur, will have to starve with you?”
            “My people are loyal.  They would count it a privilege to fight and, if necessary, to die for me.”
            Marty nodded.  “No doubt that’s true.  What are you willing to do for them?”
            “How can you ask such a question?”  Aylwin looked briefly at Arthur.  “It is by my magic that Hyacintho Flumen prospers.  You of all people must know this.  I am the one who makes steel for our blades.  I throw down the shields that terrify the invaders.  Without these hands here on this knob, Ridere’s thousands would take us all.”
            Time to try a different tack.  “Yes.  A lord must protect his people.  Does that include your mother?  Lord David is understandably interested.”
            At a nod from Aylwin, a woman walked into the frame to stand between Arthur’s seat and her son’s knob.  Her kirtle, the color of pale apricots, seemed to flow like water when she moved. 
            “I assumed you would ask,” Aylwin said.  “I present my mother, Lady Lucia Mortane.”
The woman smiled.  “David.  Fair afternoon.  It’s been more than twenty years!  We’re old now.”
            “Lucy!”  Le Grant was close to tears.  “I’m sorry I quarreled with Hereward.  Father had died, I had newly bonded, and…”
            Lucia waved off the rest.  “Don’t speak of it.  In the end, my husband offended every lord he spoke with via Videns-Loquitur.  I lived with him twenty-six years, giving him five children.  I knew the man.  You need not have regrets.”  Le Grant inclined his head, accepting her words.
            Marty watched Aylwin’s face as Lucia spoke.  Hereward Mortane was a hard man, apparently, mourned by neither wife nor son.
            Lucia shifted her attention.  “Lady Jean.  I am pleased to make your acquaintance.”
            “Fair afternoon,” replied Postel.  “Five children!  All living?  You should thank the gods.  My Sidney had three brothers, but none lived.”
            As on many other occasions, Marty was struck by infant mortality on Two Moons.  Most of the students in Collegium Inter Lucus had had siblings who died before they could talk.  In some villages, it was said, children were not properly named until they could walk.  Living with castle “magic” hasn’t spared Jean the suffering of peasant women.
            “You have my sympathy.  And naturally, I do thank the gods for my children.  A mother’s heart must lie there.”  Lucia looked at Le Grant.  “David, if you can do anything to help us…”
            Le Grant looked tortured.  “Lucy, I have no sons and few men…”
            Marty was ready to speak, but Aylwin made it unnecessary.  “Lord David.  Uncle.  May I call you uncle?  There is another way you could help me.  If Amicia really has gone to Stonebridge, you could send a trusted man to meet her.  It would be a great boon to know how her embassy fares.”
            “How could I report to you?  Lord Martin does not favor Amicia’s embassy.  Only his magic permits our conversation even now.”
            All eyes—Postel, Le Grant, Mortane, Lady Lucia, Arthur, and even Ora’s—turned to Marty.  He frowned, trying very hard to look grave.  “A moment ago, Aylwin, I confessed that I disapprove of this war.  Yet now you would use me to facilitate communication between Hyacintho Flumen and Stonebridge.  How can I aid something I think wrong?”
            Lucia continued playing her role, no doubt on instructions from Aylwin.  “Lord Martin, Amicia is my daughter.  We need not discuss matters of war.  Could you not permit greetings from her?”
            Marty rubbed his forehead, hoping he wasn’t overacting.  “Okay.  Send a man to Stonebridge.  We will talk again.  That, at least, is important to me.”  He sighed.  “And now, I must say goodbye.”
            Videns-Loquitur requires energy, even from the strongest,” said Le Grant.
            Marty terminated the link to Hyacintho Flumen.  He laid his finger on Ora’s paper, indicating Aylwin’s removal from the conversation.  Then he looked up.  “Thank you, Lady Jean, Lord David.”
            “Do you really want me to send a man to Stonebridge, to Amicia?” Le Grant asked.
            “Aye.  Your man will report to you.  You will report to Aylwin while I am listening.  You will also report to me when Aylwin is not listening.”
            “Surely he will discover the duplicity.  He will cease to trust me.” 
            Jean Postel answered, “He doesn’t trust you now, David.  He wants to use you, much as he used Lucia.”
            Postel’s wrinkles wove themselves around a smile.  “You asked me, David, why I cooperate with Martin.  I think you can see why.  He is the greatest lord in Tarquint, the perfect counterweight to Mariel.
            “Lord Martin, you asked me what I think of Aylwin.  He’s a Mortane, and the Mortanes are dangerous.  He uses his mother.  He uses his sister.  If he can, he will use his brother.  He would like to use you.  And there are other men, dangerous men, who do not live in castles.  This Ridere, for instance.
            “You are a great lord, Martin, but even great lords can err.  They can be outwitted or betrayed.  Please be careful.” 

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

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Castles 125

125.  In Castle Hyacintho Flumen

            A white dot blinked in the center of the viewing wall.  Aylwin put down his wineglass abruptly, spilling some.  “Not now!”
            Seated next to Aylwin, Juliana brushed the spilled wine onto the floor where castle magic would dispose of it.  She spoke to Lady Lucia and Arthur the old on the other side of the table.  “She can’t know already about the horses, can she?”
            “No, she can’t.”  Arthur pushed aside his own glass and reached for the slate he kept ready in the great hall.  Hyacintho Flumen’s store of paper was dwindling, and Arthur used the slate during his master’s Videns-Loquitur conversations.  “General Ridere would need castle magic to tell her what transpired this very day.  She may have known by prior arrangement that they would attack our plowman, but it seems unlikely she would know which day.”
            “Damn it, Arthur.  The way you speak—always so calm, so dispassionate—it’s as if we were talking about the procession of the moons.”  Aylwin rose from the table.  “I’m fighting for my life, and you make measured guesses about the Herminian bitch’s plans: ‘she may have known by prior arrangement.’”
            Arthur also stood.  “I apologize, my lord, for my apparent lack of concern.  I assure you, it is only apparent.  In reality, I am greatly distressed at the terrible difficulty my lord faces.  However, I do think the greatest service I can offer my lord is dispassionate advice.  For instance, in conversation with Lady Mariel, it might be helpful to remember that she does not know what happened today on your lands.”
            “I figured that out on my own, Arthur.”  Sarcasm established, Aylwin moved to the lord’s knob.  “Ready?”
            “Aye, my lord.”
            It wasn’t Mariel.
            “Fair afternoon, Lord Aylwin.”  The strange lord of Inter Lucus stood at ease with a young woman at the writing desk beside him.
            “Lord Martin.”  Aylwin sighed in irritation.  “I see you employ yet another of your students as scribe today.”
            “Oh, I’m sorry.  I introduce Ora Wooddaughter.  She’s been with me since I first came to Inter Lucus, and I forget that some people haven’t met her yet.”
            The green-eyed girl looked up from her writing.  “Pleased to meet you, Lord Aylwin.”
            Aylwin nodded.  “Lord Martin, why should I spend my time talking with you?  You’ve made it clear that you have neither the armsmen nor the willingness to come to my aid.  The lack of armsmen I can understand, since you inherited a ruined castle only a month before I bonded with Hyacintho Flumen.  Arthur and I still regard your success in bonding with Inter Lucus as a rather stunning achievement.  But what have you done with it?  Opened a school?  For peasants with names like Wooddaughter?”
            Martin showed no sign of embarrassment.  “A school seemed to me the best way to serve my people.  Senerham and Inter Lucus have several cottage industries that will benefit from written records and accurate accounting.  And I have plans to publish many copies of the book of God.”
            Aylwin couldn’t help laughing.
            Martin asked, “Have I said something foolish?”
            “Doesn’t it strike you as at least a little odd?  There you stand, with your hand on the lord’s knob.  Surely you see the god’s knob?  To your left, up high?  How can you believe in the old god while you are at the same time using magic supplied by castle gods?”
            “But I explained this,” replied Martin.  “I do not believe…”
            “I remember!  You don’t believe in the gods.  Still, a school?  For peasants?  You ought to be arming knights and sheriffs as quickly as possible.  I grant you, you haven’t enough time to raise a sufficient army by yourself.  If the Herminian host were to defeat me, they would overwhelm Inter Lucus like a flood.  You ought to be making league with Down’s End or Stonebridge.  But no!  You sit there, with your little villages between the lakes, making paper.  You are an absolute fool, Martin of Inter Lucus.  So I ask again: why should I spend my time talking with you?”
            “Because you can.”  Full stop.  Martin pointed to something the girl had written.  Then he looked at Aylwin again.
            Aylwin couldn’t resist asking.  “What do you mean?”
            “I think you know what I mean.”  Martin’s face was blank, giving no clues.  “Every time we have talked, you have pressed me to ally myself with you against Queen Mariel’s army.  But you haven’t asked Ames Hewett of Faenum Agri, Walter Troy of Vivero Horto, Lady Jean Postel of Aurea Prati, nor David Le Grant of Saltas Semitas.  These lords, and Lady Jean, have ruled their castles for many years.  They all have more sheriffs than I do.  Lord Hewett alone could field an army of two hundred men!  But you haven’t invited any of them to ally with you.  It can’t be because Inter Lucus is so much closer to Hyacintho Flumen.”
            Martin left the rest unsaid.  Again he pointed at something on the girl’s paper, perhaps to emphasize the point.  Aylwin thought: He shows his magic is stronger than mine.
            “I’m getting stronger.”  Aylwin refuted Martin’s unspoken implication.  “I’ve made steel.  I can hold shields for three hours.”
            Arthur coughed politely, and Aylwin realized his blunder.  This fool talks with Mariel.  Don’t tell him anything she might use.
            Apparently Martin didn’t catch the point.  He wore a thoughtful expression.  “They all make steel.  Lord Hewett, Lord Troy, Lady Postel, and Lord Le Grant.  And you.  Maybe that’s why they can’t command Videns-Loquitur very well.  Perhaps it is easier to make paper—and somehow it makes it easier to use V-L.”
            Aylwin looked quickly to Arthur, who shrugged ignorance.  Arthur hadn’t heard Martin’s hypothesis either.  “You’re forgetting the obvious,” Aylwin said.  “Mariel makes steel, and she uses Videns-Loquitur every week.”
            “Every day, for all we know,” said Martin.  “She certainly uses it more than once a week.  She meets with the Herminian lords, and she talks with you, and with me, and who knows how many others?  But Mariel really is the exception, don’t you think?  No one likes to admit it, but they all fear her.  They fear her, not just her army.  Her bond with Pulchra Mane allows her great power.”
            Aylwin didn’t want to talk about Mariel’s magic.  “I take it that you’ve talked with Hewett, Troy, Postel, and Le Grant?”
            “Any others?  The lords of Herminia?”
            “Not yet.” 
            Aylwin smirked.  “I see.  You boast of your facility with Videns-Loquitur, but really you’re like me: a new lord gaining strength and testing the limits of your magic.  In a month perhaps I’ll be where you are now.  So I make you an offer.  As soon as I connect with other lords, I’ll let you know; as soon as you can speak with Herminian lords, you let me know.”
            “Boasting has nothing to do with it.”  Again Martin pointed to something on the girl’s paper; the habit grated on Aylwin.  “It seems to me I ought to be wary of calling Mariel’s lords.  I don’t think she’s told them I exist, but if I connect with them, they’ll certainly tell her.  Would you want her to know I can talk with them?”
            “Are you saying you can reach the Herminians?”
            “As I said, perhaps this is an advantage of making paper.  Perhaps I give less strength to Materias Transmutatio, leaving more energy for Videns-Loquitur.”
            “Damn it!  Answer the question directly!  Yes or no.  Can you connect with the Herminian lords?”
            Martin’s face showed neither anger nor amusement.  “I have not, but I believe I can.  As I said, I don’t think it would be wise.  I don’t think Mariel should know everything about me.”
            Aylwin felt queasiness in his stomach.  If he conceals things from Mariel, what is he hiding from me?  He commands Videns-Loquitur better than I do…  Then Aylwin reassured himself: Fortunately, the man is a fool.  Paper, not steel; a school rather than knights.  “On that point I agree with you.  You should conceal as much as possible from the bitch.”
            Martin’s disapproval showed in his face.  “I don’t see that we gain anything by insulting Mariel, even in her absence.”
            Irritation at the strange lord’s calm demeanor, and uneasiness about his easy magic, plus anger at his censure (however mildly expressed); Aylwin exploded: “And who are you to tell me how to talk?  You condescending idiot!  The bitch has an army on my lands.  My lands!  She wants me to grovel every week like the cowardly lords of Herminia.  If I had dignity like yours—that is to say, none—her army would be at your gate in a week.  Have you ever thought about that?  I’m the one who’s protecting you.  How dare you criticize me?”
            The other lord looked steadily at Aylwin, apparently nonplussed by Aylwin’s outburst.  Martin almost said something, reconsidered, and shut his mouth.  Aylwin decided to drive the point home.  “Don’t you ever…”
            Martin held up a palm, interrupting, which angered Aylwin further.  Suddenly two rectangles appeared on Aylwin’s viewing wall, one on either side of Martin.  The frames swelled to life size, displaying a man and a woman.  The lady’s smile, in a thoroughly wrinkled face, reminded Aylwin of a kindly merchant woman in town Hyacintho Flumen.  Of course, he hadn’t seen the old seamstress since the siege began.  But the association of images felt reassuring.  
            “Fair afternoon, Lord Martin,” the lady said, inclining her head.  “And David.  Fair afternoon.  And this must be?”  She smiled at Aylwin.
            The three pictures in the viewing wall—Martin, the lady, and the lord the woman addressed as David—all disappeared in an instant.  Aylwin looked at his hands; the familiar orange-red glow was there.  Yet the wall was blank.  “Damn it!  Where are they?”
            “I believe Lord Martin has broken the connection.”  Arthur spoke quietly.
            Aylwin lifted his hands from the lord’s knob and looked at them, as if the fault lay there, though he knew Arthur had the truth.  He whirled on Arthur and screamed, an inarticulate release of frustration.  The old man absorbed the emotion, hands unmoving on his slate, eyes on the floor.  Juliana and Lucia still sat at the table, the only other persons in the great hall.  Juliana seemed intent on examining her wineglass; Lucia stared at the wall.  Aylwin stood alone, panting.  At last Lucia, Arthur and Juliana looked at him. 
Lucia rose and smoothed out a fold in her kirtle.  “The man may or may not be an idiot, Aylwin.  But he has something you want, and you can’t force him to give it.”
“You think I should show deference to him?”  Aylwin almost snarled.  “I should respect him?”
“I don’t think he cares whether you respect him.”  Lucia made a slight bow.  “If my lord will excuse me, I need to lie down.”  She walked toward the stairs leading to the lower floors.  Since Hereward’s death, Lucia had moved out of the great bedroom in the gods’ tower.
“Mother, stop!”
She turned, her hands folded at her waist.  Aylwin read cool disappointment in her brown eyes.  Lucia had teamed with Arthur to persuade his father Hereward to choose him over Milo, but now she looked at him with something close to pity.
“What should I do?  What does he want?”
“I don’t know, Aylwin.  I will tell you that Martin of Inter Lucus is unlike any lord I’ve known.  I think you have to ask him what he wants.”  She inclined her head and descended the stairs.
Aylwin looked down at his hands and tried to make them stop quivering.  He couldn’t.  Juliana came, pulled his hands around her waist, and stepped into his embrace.  “He showed you those people because he knows you want to talk with them.”  Her blue eyes searched his face as she spoke.  “He will contact you again, and when he does, you will play his game.  You will use him to talk with other lords.  We need to find out who can help us.  We need some news of Amicia.”
“I will play his game.”
“That’s all it is.  A game.”

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