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.

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