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.


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