Thursday, October 2, 2014

Castles 123

123. At Castle Inter Lucus

            “Everyone ready?  As Lord Martin says, ‘on three.’  One, two, three!”
            Eadmar’s voice coordinated their effort.  Marty, Teothic, Ealdwine, and Os lifted a log into place.  The walls of the new Prayer House were waist high already.  Eadmar exuded happiness.  “What teamwork!  You men are amazing.”
            Marty laughed.  “Hardly amazing, my friend.  With Ealdwine on one end and Os on the other, Teothic and I don’t really lift much.”
            Red-bearded Teothic stretched his arms above his head.  “Lord Martin has the truth of it.  There’s not a man in Down’s End that I would pick in a contest of strength against Os Osgood.”
            “Down’s End?  True enough.  You’d have to go to Pulchra Mane to find a brute as big as Os.”  The construction crew spun around at the sound of the voice.  Godric Measy sat at ease, hands on a saddle pommel.  He and two other riders had appeared while the builders were intent on hoisting the log.
            “The postman returns!”  Marty rubbed bits of pine bark from his hands and strode to shake hands with Godric, who dismounted.  “Welcome home!  We had begun to worry about you.”  Ealdwine, Os, Teothic and Eadmar all hurried forward to greet Godric.
            “You’ve been to Pulchra Mane and back in the space of three weeks, have you?”  Eadmar threw his arms around Godric.  “The Down’s End laborer has become a world traveler?”
            Godric grinned and shook his head.  “The men of Pulchra Mane have come to Tarquint, remember?  At the siege of Hyacintho Flumen I saw one even bigger than Os, if you can believe it.”
            One of Godric’s escorts dismounted to shake hands with Marty’s crew, but the other remained mounted.  The horseman chewed his lip.  “Lord Martin!”
            Marty looked up.  “Stepan Dell, if I remember?  Has your hearing returned?”
            “Almost completely.”  The rider waited still in his saddle.  “It is not my place to criticize, my lord, especially after our last visit to Inter Lucus.  But…”
            “If you have something to say, Stepan, say it.”
            “My lord, three armed riders approached this place without being observed.  No alarm was raised.  We find here five men hard at work, but unarmed and unprotected.  Perhaps the five men have no cause to expect danger.  But one of the men is a castle lord.  An undefended lord puts his people at risk.”
            Eadmar raised an eyebrow and looked at Marty.  “Thank you, Stepan.  Lord Martin pays no heed to my warnings.  Perhaps he will listen to a soldier.”
            “If I acted on your warnings, Eadmar, I’d be a prisoner inside Inter Lucus.”  Marty tried to make his tone jocular, but irritation colored his words.  Since their return from Dimlic Aern, Eadmar had harped often on a lord’s duty of self-protection.  It didn’t help that Caelin and Ora pushed the same point when they had opportunity.
            Os Osgood cleared his throat.  “Hm. Not so, my lord.  You could post Alf or Ora to watch.  We would have warning of strangers approaching and time to go up to Inter Lucus if need be.”  For such a big man, Os had a surprisingly quiet voice.
            Marty began to object but checked himself.  “You are in the right, Stepan.”  He looked at Eadmar.  “And so are you, my friend.  We will arrange for someone to stand watch while we build Prayer House.”  With the arrival of spring, Marty had suspended Collegium Inter Lucus for four weeks; Whitney Ablendan, Went Bycwine, Tayte Graham, Dodric Night, and Besyrwen Fairfax had all gone home to help with planting.  Marty hoped his school might resume for most of the summer; but he worried that some students would not come back until after harvest.  Ernulf Penrict had stayed on at Inter Lucus as apprentice in Isen’s glassworks.  But Ora, Caelin, and Alf were permanent residents of Inter Lucus and thus available to serve as lookouts. 
            Marty turned to Godric.  “Well?  I’m hoping for a response from General Ridere.”
            The postman reached inside his tunic and handed Marty a folded paper, sealed with blue wax.  “You asked Ridere to sign your letter and return it.  It is folded inside the general’s letter to you.”
            “Thank you.”  Marty touched the wax seal, but didn’t break it.  “It’s close to noon.  You three have been riding and we’ve been building.  Let’s all wash up and have some lunch.”  He motioned everyone toward Inter Lucus.
            “Aren’t you going to read it?” asked Teothic.
            “Of course he will.”  Eadmar began walking toward the castle.  “But it is a private letter from General Ridere to Lord Martin.  If there’s anything in it that pertains to us, I think we can trust Martin to say as much.”
            Once inside Inter Lucus, Marty retreated to his bedroom and read Ridere’s letter.  He bathed, dressed and sent for Caelin, Ora, and Eadmar.  When they arrived, he bade them sit.  There were only three chairs in the room, so Marty sat on the edge of his bed.  He held two sheets of paper.  “My letter to Ridere.”  He laid that one aside on the bed.  “His reply.”  He read aloud.

To Martin of Inter Lucus,

            Please excuse my delay in writing to you.  A message from Queen Mariel arrived today, ten days after Godric Measy delivered your letter.  The Queen confirms everything you wrote about Acwel Penda, his men, and the other prisoners.  Therefore I have ordered that each of Penda’s men be flogged.  Penda himself, as captain, received twenty-five lashes; his men will get twenty.  Captain Penda, Ned Wyne and Bron Kenton have received their punishment already.  Since Stepan Dell and Wylie Durwin begged the privilege of escorting Godric Measy back to you, I have delayed their penalty; the whip awaits their return from Inter Lucus. I personally witnessed the punishment of Wyne, Kenton and Penda, as did your postman, Godric Measy.  He will assure you that these men deeply regret their errors.  Dell and Durwin know well what awaits them when they come back to Hyacintho Flumen; nevertheless, they, like Wyne, Kenton and Penda, are sincerely grateful for the mercy extended toward them in your letter.  Your kindness spared their lives.
Unfortunately, Rothulf Saeric, Able Darcy and Ewert Green, the troublemakers who persuaded Captain Penda to join in their traitorous attack on Inter Lucus, tried to escape on the way from Inter Lucus to Hyacintho Flumen.  The three criminals were killed in the attempt, which deprived me the satisfaction of hanging them.
Queen Mariel tells me that you have expressed willingness to acknowledge her sovereignty, though you seem to pollute your expressions of fealty with criticisms of the Queen’s actions.  I warn you plainly: Defiance will not be tolerated.  Contrariwise, if you submit full-heartedly to Her Majesty’s rule, the lord of Inter Lucus and his people will benefit enormously.
Like you, Lord Martin, I welcome the exchange of letters between us.  I propose that your postman, Godric Measy, make regular rounds between Inter Lucus and Hyacintho Flumen.  Armsmen Dell and Durwin will not be fit escorts for Measy until they recover from the punishment that awaits them here, so I will appoint other horsemen to guard the postman for the time being.  I may also, if need arises, increase the number of armsmen in Measy’s troop.  I will order my men to make their camp at any place you designate reasonably close to Inter Lucus.  They will not come closer to your castle unless doing so is necessary to ensure safe delivery of the postman and his messages.  Please report any expenses incurred by my men, whether in the village or on the castle grounds; I guarantee payment of all just debts.
You will take a large step toward proving your good faith toward Queen Mariel if you permit one of Measy’s escorts to stand with you when you speak with the queen, much as Acwel Penda did.  You will, of course, be present to hear anything my soldier says to Her Majesty; nevertheless, I judge it a gain if I can send her a message in five days rather than fifteen.
I await your reply.
Eudes Ridere

Marty handed the letter to Eadmar.  “I’ll have to tell Alf.  Rothulf is dead.”  Marty’s voice wavered and almost broke.  He felt depressed.  Well, what did you expect?  A nice prison cell for Saeric?  You sealed the man’s fate when you sent him to Ridere.  “Ridere says Rothulf and his friends tried to escape.  Is that likely?  Or did Penda and his men simply kill them?”
Eadmar sighed.  “Ask Godric.  It may be true.  Rothulf and the others had to expect death from General Ridere—or some worse punishment.  In Down’s End, the magistrates sometimes order a thief’s feet to be waxed and held over coals until they smell like roast fowl.  Afterward, the victim can only crawl and usually dies of worms or black humors.  The three prisoners may well have taken what they judged to be their best chance.”
Marty hung his head.  At the Catholic Worker house in Chicago, passionate and intelligent reformers had condemned capital punishment.  Even with all its resources, they said, the state of Illinois continues to convict innocent people and sentence them to die.  Execution falls disproportionately on poor people and people of color, showing that the prejudices of juries influence judgments.  Prisons may be bad, and courts may be imperfect, they said, but at least an unjust prison sentence can be ended if innocence is proved.  When the state kills innocent men, the injustice is permanent.  Their arguments persuaded Marty; he had voted against a state legislature candidate who strenuously supported the death penalty.  And now I am the judge; I am the executioner.  What else could I have done?
“My lord?”  Ora brought him back to the present.  Eadmar had passed Ridere’s letter to her, and she was rereading it.  “Will you permit Stepan Dell or Wylie Durwin to speak with Queen Mariel?  Have you pledged liege to her?”
Caelin and Eadmar watched Marty as intently as Ora.  A shudder rippled through Marty’s shoulders; he had not felt the weight of his calling so keenly before.  The lord of a castle has to take responsibility for his people, their safety and welfare. 
“I have not pledged loyalty or obedience to Mariel.  However, I do not oppose her, and I will support her rule if she comports herself as she should.  So, aye, I will let Dell and Durwin speak with the Queen.  In fact, it may be to our advantage to listen to that conversation.
“I do not believe that God brought me to Two Moons so that I could join in some pointless war between castles.  Eadmar and the brothers in Down’s End can already predict how the suffering of a wider war will fall on ordinary folk.  Somehow I must find a way to persuade Mariel and Aylwin to end their war before it spreads.”

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


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