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.