Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Castles 131 (a day early, for Thanksgiving!)

131.  At Castle Inter Lucus

            So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature.  For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature.

            Went Bycwine read slowly.  Quills scratched audibly as the other students copied the words.  Teothic and Eadmar and two sheriffs labored alongside the students, the great hall transformed into a scriptorium.  The priests rejoiced daily over the portions of the book of God being copied at Inter Lucus.  For his part, Marty was pleased that all his students except Besyrwen Fairfax had come back to Inter Lucus after helping with spring planting, and Aglefen Fairfax had promised that Besyrwen would return soon.
            “Lord Martin, my page is full.”  Ernulf Penrict’s expression was innocent, but his eyes danced.
            “Let me see.”  Marty glanced quickly at the sheet of paper Ernulf handed over.  “What is this?  The Reader’s Digest large print edition?”
            “My lord?”  The reference meant nothing to Ernulf.
            “Your letters are twice as big as Whitney’s or Caelin’s.  One would think you are trying to fill your page.”  Marty couldn’t help smiling at the youth.
            Eadmar came to Ernulf’s defense.  “His letters are no larger than mine.  I can hardly read Whitney’s; they’re so small.”
            “Aye,” said Ernulf.  “The most important thing is that our letters be well-formed, consistent, and readable.”  These last words quoted Marty’s frequent instruction.
            “Well, they are that.”  Marty put down the paper.  “Okay.  We’ll go.  Alf!”
            “My lord?”  Alf’s round blue eyes looked up from his paper, his quill suddenly still.  Months of healing and use had not restored full dexterity to the boy’s fingers.  When working as a copyist, Alf’s concentration on the task was total.
            “Put away your ink, Alf.  I’d like you to come with Ernulf and me.”
            “Aye, my lord.”
            To Went Bycwine, Marty said, “Nine or ten more verses, I think.  Then lunch.”   

            Ernulf had asked freedom from all copying so he could work the whole day with Isen, as he had during “spring break.”  Marty insisted that Ernulf continue lessons in arithmetic, reading, and writing, but they compromised when it came to copying.  When Ernulf had filled one page with good work, he could go to the glassworks.  After lunch, he worked all afternoon with Isen while the other children helped the sheriffs work on the estate.  With so many experienced hands laboring, the gardens and orchards of Inter Lucus promised a very productive year.
            “Do you want me to apprentice to Isen too, Lord Martin?”
            “I think you already know the answer to that, Alf.  Your hands will never let you be a glassblower.  No.  We need you to judge what Isen and Ernulf have made.”
            “But it was only a dream…”
            “And we have learned that we must pay attention to your dreams, Alf.”

            “Fair morning, Lord Martin.  Alf.  Ernulf.”  Isen was sweating inside the glassworks, not just from the heat of the furnace but also from his labor.  He had been hauling firewood from outside.
            “More wood, Master Isen?”  Ernulf laid aside his school tunic and slipped on a sleeveless leather garment.  The apprentice’s arms bore many nicks and scratches from carrying wood, and his biceps and forearms soon would be the envy of any high school boy, Marty thought.
            “We’ve enough.”  Isen nodded toward Alf.  “We want to show Sir Alf our latest.”
            The white-blond head jerked up, looking from Marty to Isen.  “What did you say?”
            “I mean no offense, Alf.”  Isen wiped his hands on a cloth, cleaning and drying them.  “I only say what everyone knows is true.  When Lord Martin takes a wife and has a child, that one will be heir to Inter Lucus.  Until then, you are as a son to Martin.  The sons of lords are called sir, even before they become knights.”
            “Please, I do not want to be called sir.”  The blue eyes watered, on the edge of tears.  “Lord Martin, please don’t let them…  It’s what Rothulf would have wanted.”
            Marty remembered schoolyard names, and pity for Alf welled up.  “What Rothulf wanted was wrong, because he wanted you to supplant me.  Isen is not suggesting that.  You must be ready to take my place if the need arises.”
            “I do not want to be called sir.”
            “Very well.  I will remind everyone that you are only a student at Collegium Inter Lucus, no more and no less.  Now, Isen, let’s see what you have.”
            Ernulf climbed a stool to open the annealing oven.  Marty expected a blast of heat, but Ernulf reached into the oven with bare hands.  He pulled out a ceramic tray and handed it down to Isen.
            “These have been cooling for three days,” Isen said, answering Marty’s unspoken question.  He held the tray for Alf’s inspection.  It held dozens of glass rods, four to six inches in length.  “You said the glass string was for the CPU.  I’ve seen the broken part, so I made ’em about that long.”
            Alf stared at the bits of glass.  “May I touch them?”
            “Over here.”  Isen carried the tray to a tall table near the western door of the glassworks.  Marty, Ernulf and Isen stood near the table while Alf cautiously poked at the glass rods.  Some resembled toothpicks or hairpins; these Alf quickly rejected and pushed to the side of the tray. 
“They must be very thin,” he whispered.  He touched one that reminded Marty of cotton candy; it broke.  “O God!  I’m sorry!”  Alf was stricken.
Isen laughed.  “These were trials only, Alf.  We intended from the beginning to melt them and try again.  Are they like what you dreamed?”
The boy’s face took on a distant look.  “Aye.  No.  The glass strings I saw were thin like hair, but straight.  And, and…”
“Smoked.  You said they were smoked.”  Ernulf finished for him.
“I did say that, but… I don’t know if it’s the right word.”
Marty prodded gently.  “Perhaps it isn’t the right word.  Try to say what you saw.”
“I saw glass strings with white smoke—or white steam, like from a kettle—rising around the glass.”
Isen nodded encouragingly.  “And the strings were thin, like hair?”
The glassmaker looked at Marty.  “With a bit o’ practice, Ernulf and I will make glass hair, as straight as you like.  But I don’t know ’bout smoke or steam.”
“I have some ideas about that,” Marty said.  “I used to be an electronics sales rep. We need to reinvent cladding.”
Isen, Ernulf and Alf were baffled. 
“My lord?” 
“Annie lectron icksails rip?” 
“Sounds mysterious and impressive, doesn’t it?”  Marty chuckled.  “It isn’t.  Five years ago I had a job in trade.  I didn’t make the things I sold; I only talked with tradesmen who bought the things and then sold them to other people.  One of the products my company made was called fiber optic cable.  I think that Alf’s dream describes something like fiber optics.  As a salesman, I often described our products, including our fiber optic cable, to the tradespeople who bought them.  That does not mean I actually know much about fiber optics.  I just learned to say things that other men and women told me about our products.  But the basic idea of fiber optics is a glass fiber surrounded by cladding.  Sometimes the cladding is also glass, with a slightly different chemical composition.”
Marty’s companions were speechless.  He waved off any attempt to explain.
“Make the glass strings.  Once we have many of them, we will suspend them in the air above a very hot crucible of new glass.  It probably won’t work, but maybe the vapor rising from new glass will coat the strings.  And it may work as cladding.”

After lunch Caelin Bycwine took his turn as recorder, standing at a new writing desk.  Caelin and Elfric Ash had used dark walnut in building the new desk, polishing it until the wood gleamed.  Paper and furniture, Marty thought.  With the forests north of Inter Lucus and alien technology in the west wing, we’ve got the wood products industry nailed.  We may never make steel or ceramics, but I’ve got something to trade for them.
“Who will you summon today, Lord Martin?”  Caelin had paper and ink ready on the writing desk. 
“Aylwin Mortane, as usual.  He wants to meet Ames Hewett.  And Lord Hewett has sent a messenger to Argentum Cadit, to Lord Con Baro.  The messenger started out five days ago, so he may have reached Argentum Cadit.”
“You have never spoken with Lord Baro?”
“No.  I’ve tried to summon him, but he hasn’t responded.  I’ve seen into the great hall of Argentum Cadit, and the castle doesn’t seem abandoned.  Lord Hewett thinks Lord Baro may be sick and unable to come to the lord’s knob.”
Marty laid his left hand on the lord’s knob and issued the mental summons: Con Baro of Argentum Cadit.  The interface wall quickly revealed the interior of some great hall, presumably Argentum Cadit’s, in the familiar black and white.  “Still no one home,” Marty said.  “Hewett’s messenger might not yet have arrived.”
“It will take equally long to return to Faenum Agri,” replied Caelin.  “If Lord Baro is sick, Lord Hewett’s messenger will have to return home before Hewett will know for sure.”
“You’re right, of course.  What’s this?”  Marty was considering whether to summon Mortane or Hewett when a woman entered the picture.  She looked to be about twenty-five, very short but broad shouldered, with small eyes set wide apart in a heavy face.  She hesitated and then clasped both hands on the lord’s knob.  Colors transformed the picture: a pale rose glow surrounded the woman’s hands, only an inch below the woman’s face.  She wore a turquoise kirtle with a bright gold necklace.  Her hair and brows were a mousy brown.  Altogether, she reminded Marty of a cartoon cat or even a bulldog.
 “Fair afternoon.  I am Martin Cedarborne, lord of Inter Lucus.  May I ask your name?”
“Isabel Baro.”  The woman shuddered.  “I am the lady of Argentum Cadit.  My father died yesterday.”
Behind the woman at the knob, another woman walked into the scene; gray haired and obviously the mother of the first, she too was short and broad with an extremely jowly face.
Marty bowed to the women.  “I am very sorry to hear of your loss, Lady Isabel.  Perhaps it would be best if I contacted you again some later time.”
The older woman stepped close to Isabel, who said, “No.  I should like to talk now.  This is my mother, Lady Avis.”
“Fair afternoon, Lady Avis.”
“Fair afternoon, Lord Martin.”  Avis Baro inclined her head.  The growly voice made Marty think of a female Winston Churchill.  “We are pleased to meet you.  The Herminian queen told Lord Con to expect a summons from the new lord of Inter Lucus.  But Con fell ill shortly after and was not able to answer you.”
“Your husband talked with Queen Mariel?”
“Aye.  Loves to show her strength, she does.  Much like you.”  The mother turned to examine the daughter for a moment, her jowls swaying.  “Isabel first laid hands on her knob this morning.  Perhaps you can see her color is a bit faint.  Still, a weak bond is better than none.  Argentum Cadit will survive.”
Faint colors signal weak bonds between rulers and castles?  Marty looked briefly at Caelin, who finished writing something.  Caelin nodded his readiness to go on.
“Survive it will, I’m sure.  Lady Isabel, I had hoped to talk with Lord Baro and two others.  With your permission, I will summon Lord Mortane and Lord Hewett.”
            Isabel Baro rotated her shoulders and wiggled her elbows, clearly fighting against tension.  “Please do, Lord Martin.  Newly bonded to my castle, I do not know how soon I might command Videns-Loquitur, and I welcome the opportunity to meet other lords and ladies.”
            Marty admired the woman’s pluck.  Father dead only a day and she’s thrown into the business of running a castle.  I wonder.  Has she already chosen what to make with materias transmutatio? 
With a change of thought, Marty summoned Mortane and Hewett.  Full color images appeared instantly; both men had been waiting for the interface signal.  Hewett’s knob shined violet; Aylwin’s was an orange-yellow.
Marty began: “Lord Aylwin, Lord Ames.  I believe you have never met before.  And I’m very sure you’ve not met Lady Isabel Baro, who has only today bonded with Argentum Cadit.
Marty listened as Hewett, Mortane and the Baro women proceeded to greet each other.  Hewett and Mortane congratulated Isabel on her succession to authority and offered consolation to Avis on the loss of her husband.  Then Aylwin Mortane quickly moved to what he considered the chief item for discussion.
“Lord Martin tells me you have two hundred men in arms, Lord Hewett.”
Ames Hewett was middle-aged, with a long face much scarred by acne in his youth.  With thick graying brows over slate colored eyes, it was a hard visage, not welcoming to nonsense.  “Has he also told you I have five sons, all knights?”
Aylwin hastened on.  “He did, which is why I have so much desired to talk with you, Lord Hewett.  Of all the lords of Tarquint, you I desire most as ally against the Herminian invaders.”
“I, most?  Because I have two hundred armsmen?”
“Your sons are more important than your armsmen.  The Herminian Queen has sent ten thousand against me.  So I am engaging the cities—Down’s End, Stonebridge—to raise an army of Tarquint to oppose her.  That army will need knights to lead it.”
Hewett smiled broadly.  “Confident young pup, aren’t you, Aylwin?  I’ve never been to Cippenham, much less Down’s End or Stonebridge.  So I don’t know the free cities well.  But tell me—why should the cities fight for the lord of Hyacintho Flumen?  Do they love the castle gods still?”
Aylwin disguised any resentment of “young pup.”  He said, “The gods have little to do with it.  Mariel won’t be satisfied to grind me down.  She chose Hyacintho Flumen for its harbor, and through our harbor she sends an army to conquer the whole of Tarquint.  The Herminians threaten the cities as much as they do castle lords.  We must, we will, all fight together because it is in all our interests.”
            “Well, it is certainly in your interest.”  Hewett made a sour face.  “But I don’t see that it serves me to send my sons eight hundred miles to war.  If Mariel subdues you, then Down’s End may raise a real army to fight, and if Cippenham allies with them, they could match her ten thousand.  My sons might lead that army, then.  Frankly, I don’t think the timing is right, now.”
            Aylwin’s self-control wavered.  “But Lord Hewett, how can you be so blind?  If I am beaten, the fools of Down’s End will capitulate.  All of Tarquint will fall, bit by bit.  The siege of Hyacintho Flumen is the key.  We must fight together or not at all.”
            “Lord Martin says it would be better not to fight at all.”
            Now Aylwin’s composure broke completely.  “The man has not a shred of dignity!  He values the mean lives of peasants over freedom and honor.  He makes paper, so naturally he is ready to bow to the Herminian bitch!”
            Marty promptly cut off the connection with Hyacintho Flumen.  Isabel Baro and her mother both looked at him with expressions of surprise.  Ames Hewett pressed his lips together.  “I’m sorry,” said Marty.  “I made it plain to Aylwin that I won’t tolerate some of his language.”
            Hewett lifted the corner of his mouth.  “Surely he knows that your magic supports Videns-Loquitur.
            Marty shrugged.  “Aye.  He’s under much duress.  He gets angry and forgets.  Tomorrow or the day after we will try again.”
            Isabel Baro coughed.  “Do you really make paper, Lord Martin?  Such a strong lord as yourself?”
            “I do.  Have you considered how you will use materias transmutatio?”
            “Not really.”  The bulldog face scowled in thought.  “Father made steel, but not very much.”
            “Consider well your decision.”  A new theory emerged even as Marty expressed it.  “It may be that each castle, or each noble family, is best suited to different materials.  Why should every castle make steel?  Who knows?  You might be able to make the best ceramics on the planet.”
            Isabel looked confused, and Marty remembered that “planet” was a foreign concept on Two Moons.  Avis Baro, the mother, ignored that point.  “Without steel, how can we arm our sheriffs?  We only have six armsmen as it is.”
            To Marty’s lasting astonishment, Ames Hewett solved Avis’s puzzle and advanced Marty’s own agenda in one stroke.  “Lady Avis, I will send you steel, enough to arm twenty sheriffs, along with my son, Edward, if you will permit Edward to pay court to Isabel.”
            Widowed only a day, Avis Baro did not miss her chance.  “He may certainly pay court, but Lady Isabel will choose her husband.”
            Hewett dipped his head.  “I quite understand.  The steel I send is my gift.  Edward is my third son and an able knight.  His older brothers already have wives.  If he and Isabel do not please one another, he can come home.  Neither family will take offense.”
            Mother and daughter looked at each other.  Isabel Baro said, “I look forward to Edward’s visit.”

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

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