Thursday, December 25, 2014

Belated Christmas Post: Castles 135

I wish all of you a Merry Christmas!  God bless.

135. At Winter Camp

            “Eádulf, my horse!  It’s time to move.  Where’s Derian?”
            “Sheriff Chapman is inspecting the wagons, sir.”  Eádulf brought Milo’s mount through the mud.  It was raining, and had been for two days.  The boots of armsmen and the melting of snow had long since reduced the spaces between Winter Camp’s buildings to mud pits.  Rain only compounded the mess.
            Milo’s new destrier, given to him by Assemblyman Ham Roweson shortly after Milo became Commander of the Guard, stood quietly with Eádulf patting the magnificent animal’s nose.  The unimaginative Eádulf called him “Gray Boy,” which understated the creature’s size and strength, but Milo hadn’t objected.  Gray Boy had a heavy black mane and tail that accented his silvery gray horsehair.  Milo had ridden Gray Boy weekly from Citadel to Winter Camp and back to accustom the horse to his weight and manner, but in truth Eádulf had been the creature’s most regular companion for many weeks.  In battle knight and mount needed to act as one, and Milo regretted not spending more time in the saddle.  We’ll have some days together before Down’s End, Milo thought.  An army can only move as fast as infantry and supply wagons.  There should be opportunity to take Gray Boy for a gallop or two.
            Milo stepped on a sawn block with his right foot so he could raise his left to the stirrup and then launch himself into the saddle.  Weeks before, Felix Abrecan had teased Milo about using a mounting block like a woman or an old man.  Milo had responded by laying aside his sword, stripping to an under tunic, and then leaping onto the horse.  Gray Boy had reared and nearly thrown him.  After that, Felix and Eádulf insisted Milo use the mounting block, especially when he wore armor or weapons.  Today, with the army setting out, he wore a boiled leather jerkin over his clothes and carried his sword.
            Other than the great horse, the Commander of the Guard was distinguished mainly by a pale yellow felt hat.  It was exactly the color of globum domini auctoritate the day Milo had bonded with Hyacintho Flumen, and he bought it the moment he saw it in a Stonebridge shop.  “Gods!  Why that?”  Tilde asked when she saw it.  “You look like a mushroom or a peasant, not a general.”  He replied: “It will keep the rain off.  And if an archer sees lots of ugly hats, he might shoot at others rather than me.”  Privately, Milo resolved that if he returned victorious to Stonebridge, he would have a new sigil invented for his shield and armor, and that sigil would in some way feature just this shade of yellow.
            Felix and Derian rode up before Milo could go looking for them.  Their mounts were considerably shorter than Gray Boy and flecked with mud that reached the riders’ knees; either man could have been a boy looking up at his father.
            “Do we have everything?”  Milo directed his question to Derian.
            “Of course not.”  Derian wore a misshapen leather hat that drained water to the side.  “If there is anything I’ve learned since you pressed me into fulltime service as a sheriff, it’s that officers of the Guard never have enough.  Hrodgar Wigt, Aidan Fleming, Acwel Kent, and Ifing Redhair all have insatiable desires for more men, more food, more weapons, more horses, more fodder, and on and on.  And of course there needs be more wagons to carry everything.  You may be absolutely sure that should anything go wrong your captains will complain that it would have been prevented had I provided them with more.”
            Milo tossed his head, mimicking Amicia’s habit and throwing rainwater on his pommel.  Grinning: “I take it that we are ready.”
            Derian saluted, his fist on his chest.
            “We move, then.  Spread the word, Felix.  Easy march for the first day, twelve miles.  The men will want tents and campfires at the end of the day.”

            “Easy march” proved to be anything but.  The only sustained marching the Stonebridge recruits had experienced was from the city over the ring of hills to Winter Camp.  Some companies had reversed the journey, but not nearly all.  And the practice marches had been in good weather and on firm frozen ground.  Now they marched in the rain, with full packs, in mud.  They marched not in lone squads of twenty, but in units of fifty in a long line; the groups behind had to wait for the groups ahead.  Consequently, the army moved like a caterpillar, each section impeded at some point by comrades before or behind.
            The road from Stonebridge to Down’s End was only a dirt track.  Some of the infantry abandoned the road to trample the prairie on both sides, which meant that the last third of the army either marched in mud or widened the track further.  Besides Milo and his commanders, the army included fifty mounted scouts; some rode ahead of the main body while others paralleled the infantry on either side.  The wagons came behind the swordsmen, knife fighters and archers, their draft horses plodding in the mud.  Fortunately, the first day’s terrain sloped gently down for the most part; the animals would have struggled mightily going uphill.
            After twelve miles Milo’s men were tired, thoroughly wet, and filthy to their waists.  They wanted tents and campfires, but had little practice erecting camp in the wild.  It took three hours of confusion, frustration and shouting before everything was properly set.  At last, after dark, the rain stopped, and men could dry themselves and sup.
            Derian and the captains—Hrodgar Wigt, Aidan Fleming, Acwel Kent, and Ifing Redhair—came to Milo once the scouts had come in and sentries were in place.  They sat dispirited on logs around a campfire.  Milo listened as each listed frustrations of the day.  The commanders complained about the weather, about the road, about their men, and about stupid decisions made by each other.  After half an hour, Milo finally signaled for silence.
            “I promised these men that they would be an army.  Today we discovered they are not.  I promised more than I knew.  True, I know how to fight.  I can handle sword and shield and fight on horseback or afoot.  You men, my commanders, are accomplished fighters, and we’ve trained our men as fighters.  But we have not trained them to march, and without marching they can’t be an army.  This is not their fault.  We failed.  I failed.”
            Wigt, Fleming, Kent and Redhair didn’t answer.
            “Now, we can go back to Stonebridge as failures.  That would be honest.  We could spend the summer training these men to march, and they would probably be a real army by harvest.  But that is not what we’re going to do.”
            Derian and the captains stared at him, waiting.
            “Tomorrow we will break camp at the sound of a horn.  We will march a mile—or two, or three—and then we will set camp at the sound of the horn.  I will inspect the camp.  Then we will do it all again: break camp, march, set camp.  If there is still daylight, I may order it all yet again.  We will do this every day until we are an army.  When the morning horn sounds, we must be moving in half an hour.  When the evening horn sounds, we must set camp in half an hour.”
            Milo stood and pulled on his yellow cap.
            “Where are you going?” Derian asked.
            “I’m going to visit every campfire and tell the men what I’ve told you.  I will apologize for my failure and promise them that they will yet be an army.  I would appreciate it if you five would spread out among the men and tell them to keep their fires burning until I come by.”

            The practice regimen worked.  In the next three days, the Stonebridge army advanced only fifteen miles total, striking and setting camp seven times.  Efficiency improved with repetition, and the spirit of the men improved with it.  They could see for themselves how much more quickly tasks were accomplished, and they acknowledged the way efficiency reduced the discomforts of campaigning.  Shared experiences of improvement generated feelings of competence.
            On the fourth day, the fifth from Winter Camp, Milo rode Gray Boy up and down the marching column announcing the end of practice.  Today we march like a real army!  By nightfall they had covered sixteen miles, and they set camp without complaint in the rain in half an hour.  In the evening, the captains congratulated Milo that his army had a sense of pride.  He replied that they had overcome a preliminary hurdle only; an army’s real worth had to be proved in battle.

            Six more days brought the army to Crossroads.  They camped on the prairie north of the Crossroads Inn for two nights, and the intervening day permitted rest for footsore armsmen.  It also afforded a bonanza to Idonea Fatman, owner of the inn.  She rented no rooms to the Stonebridge men, but she sold gallons of ale and as much meat as her kitchen could cook.  
            At Crossroads, Milo and Derian interviewed Rage Hildebeorht, the sheriff appointed by the Stonebridge Assembly to rid the country of highwaymen.  Hildebeorht had a regular room in the inn since he stayed there much of the time.  He remembered Derian and Milo’s faces from their appearances in Crossroads the previous year, but he was taken aback that Milo Mortane, refugee from Hyacintho Flumen, was now Commander of the City Guard.
            Derian corrected Hildebeorht, “We are not in Stonebridge.  Here, Milo is General Mortane, general of the Stonebridge army.  This should not be a surprise to you; surely you’ve received news from Stonebridge of the Assembly’s doings.”
             “Not like you’d think.”  Hildebeorht signaled to Erna Fatman, Idonea’s daughter, to bring more drink to their table.  “I sent reports to Frideric Bardolf twice a month last summer, either sending them with some trusty teamster or taking them myself.  But in winter wagons get scarce on the road, and Speaker Bardolf stopped sending messengers—and Ibertus Tibb stopped sending my pay, I should add.  The truth is, I’d about decided to quit sheriffing and marry widow Fatman.  Now you’ve turned up; if I get paid, I just might continue.”
            “Last summer I delivered you a highwayman and you hanged him,” said Milo.  “What have you done since?  Have you earned your pay?”
            Hildebeorht crossed his arms, scowling.  “Bardolf and Dans gave me fifty golds to hire under-sheriffs.  I sent Bardolf and Tondbert a report, detailing how I used it.”
            Milo accepted a mug of ale from Erna.  “I don’t need the whole report.  Give me the short version.”
            “I hired twenty under-sheriffs for three months each.  We hanged three thieves, including the one you brought in.”
            “With twenty men you caught two bandits?  In three months?”  Derian was incredulous.
            Hildebeorht was fifty years old, not ready to be intimidated by men as young as Derian and Milo.  “That’s right.  Traders like you, Master Chapman, see highwaymen behind every tree, and you complain to the Down’s End Council or the Stonebridge Assembly that the road isn’t safe.  Teamsters, too, howl all the time.  I don’t really blame them or you.  But the truth is, the road is not that dangerous.  We hanged three and put the fear of the gods in others.  I earned my pay until it stopped.”
            Milo leaned sideways to unsheathe his sword.  He laid the weapon on the table between him and Hildebeorht, where its castle steel reflected the inn’s candles, lit already, though sup was an hour away.  He leaned forward and saw Hildebeorht swallow.  “Things have changed in Stonebridge.  Speaker Bardolf stopped sending you pay because he has been accused of defrauding the city.  He is in a cell in the Citadel, as is Ody Dans.  Tondbert is dead.  Kingsley Averill is now the Speaker, and I am the Commander of the Guard—your commander, Sheriff Hildebeorht.  I find your service barely acceptable, and I am of a mind to replace you.”
            Hildebeorht looked long at the sword.  He swallowed again.
            “However,” Milo continued, “I think you may yet repay the trust Stonebridge placed in you.”
            “How can I do that, Lord Commander?”
            “You will sup with me and my captains tonight.  And Idonea’s son Beowulf, he will sup with us.  You are not stupid, Sheriff, only lazy.  You and Bee will tell us every scrap of rumor you have heard from Down’s End and about the siege of Hyacintho Flumen.”
            Derian raised an eyebrow.  “Rumors, Milo?”
            “It’s up to us to sort out truth from fiction,” Milo said.  “Bee Fatman is an intelligent youth.  I promise you we’ll know more in the morning than we do now.”

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


Thursday, December 18, 2014

Castles 134

134. In Castle Inter Lucus

            The half-inch of wine swirled around the bottom of Marty’s goblet.  The motion stirred bits of grape pulp, bitter dregs if he wanted them.
Isen and Ernulf had manufactured three dozen such wine glasses to grace Inter Lucus’s tables.  Teothic had praised the work, claiming he hadn’t seen quality in Down’s End that could match Isen’s goblets.  Teothic admitted that he had never visited many wealthy private homes in Down’s End, so he couldn’t say what treasures Mayor Simun Baldwin or the banker Eulard Barnet might have in their cupboards.  “But I’ve been inside the Dog of the Downs and Freemen’s House and others,” Teothic said.  “These are beautiful, Isen.  Folk in Down’s End would be happy to buy them.”
But that was some days ago.  Today, as Marty contemplated the rose colored liquid in his glass, he knew his friends weren’t thinking about goblets or possibilities of trade with Down’s End.  Throughout sup the whole community had watched him brooding.
At last he said, “You don’t have to worry,” to no one in particular.  “I’ll be okay.”  He stopped swirling the goblet and let the dregs settle.  “It’s just… When the map came up, I thought I was finally going to get answers.”
“Why do you call it a map?”  At sup, Caelin had heard many descriptions of the picture shown by the interface wall; a picture of the night sky without moons, one had said.  Not exactly, another corrected.  When the moons weren’t in the sky to obscure them, the stars looked like a wide splash of lights, not like two scythes joining in a ball.
Marty answered Caelin: “The aliens—the strangers—showed us what the galaxy looks like from up above, or from the side, depending on how you think of it.  It probably wasn’t a real photograph, but a digital representation of the galaxy, an interstellar map.”
He read incomprehension on the faces at table near him: Caelin, Dodric, Whitney, Ora, Eadmar, and Teothic.  “Okay.  I need pen and ink.”  Teothic fetched writing materials, and Marty drew.
“This is the sun, with Two Moons going around it.  And these are the moons going around Two Moons.  I’ve talked about this before, so you know that the sun is one of the stars.”  Marty pushed the first paper aside and took another sheet.  “When you look at the sky, you see thousands and thousands of stars, spread out like this.  We call this whole group of stars a galaxy.”  He drew a flying saucer shape.  “It looks that way to us because we are out near the edge.  If you could see the galaxy from the side, it would look like this.”  On a third sheet of paper, Marty took care pixelating a double spiral, making it easier for his friends to connect his depiction with the picture they had seen in the afternoon.  “To take an actual picture of it, the aliens—the strangers—would have to go way out here.  Maybe they can do that.  Apparently, they can create wormholes when they want to.”
Marty sighed, seeing puzzlement again.  Careful, old man.  These people trust you, but there’s a limit to how many new concepts they can swallow at one time.
“The point is this, Caelin.  They showed us a picture of the galaxy as seen from the side.  Then a red line appeared, reaching from someplace over here to another place over here.”  Marty drew in the curved line.  “Now I think—I’m almost certain—that they were showing us that they brought people from Earth to Two Moons.”  He pointed at the two termini of the line.
“I’ve heard you say before that the strangers brought human beings from your planet to Two Moons.”  Caelin pointed to Marty’s drawing.  “This is a very great distance, isn’t it?”
“Aye.  I’ve heard numbers given by scientists, but I don’t remember them.  On Earth, with great effort, people have launched machines to go as far as our one moon.  Sometimes even further.  But we made nothing, nothing at all, like the aliens’ machines.  Somehow, the aliens moved human beings—and cattle, and sheep, and cedar trees and, as far as I can tell, the whole planetary ecosystem—all the way across the galaxy.  That is a thing so hard to do that many scientists on Earth would say it is impossible.”
Marty looked at his drawing and closed his eyes.  “I thought, I hoped, that if we repaired the broken hexagon in the CPU, Inter Lucus would tell me how to go home.  Or explain why the aliens wanted people to think they were gods.  Or why they brought people here in the first place.  Or why they left.  Or how Inter Lucus brought me here hundreds of years later.”
“Perhaps God brought you here, not Inter Lucus,” said Ora.  “I prayed to the castle gods, because I didn’t know better.  Inter Lucus was a ruin.  Eadmar thinks that the real God heard my prayer and brought us the new lord we needed.”
Marty smiled at Ora and the priest.  “I think that’s true, Ora.  God brought me here.  But, as is usually the case, I think God did it through creaturely powers.  There are mysteries surrounding Inter Lucus I haven’t unlocked.  I hoped our repair of the CPU would unlock them.  But not yet.”

In the night, Marty dreamed of Alyssa Cedarborne for the first time in weeks.  This time there was no argument, no recriminations, no explosion, and no funeral.  Instead, she floated before him like a portrait in an art museum.  Her hand lay on her stomach and a hint of smile touched her lips.  The smart business suit she wore had no place in Marty’s memory, but it seemed to fit her personality.  It couldn’t be a real portrait, because Lyss’s lips twitched as he noticed the painting and moved toward it.  He stood before the painting and reached out to it, but it retreated into the wall.  He chased it down a tunnel, yet he couldn’t catch it. 
He opened his eyes in the dark.  For a moment he toyed with the idea that he was in bed in Our Lady of Guadalupe monastery, that it was still November and that his final vows were some months ahead.  But that was impossible: Trappist monks don’t sleep in luxury like this.  On Earth I would be four months past my vows.
He threw his legs out of bed; subdued floor lights came on, anticipating a visit to bathroom or closet.  Slipping a tunic over his head, he walked down the stairs to the great hall.  Seemingly without deciding he knew he intended to try again.  He needed answers.  He placed his left hand on the lord’s knob.
Videns-Loquitur activated immediately, without Marty commanding it.  Mariel looked at him in surprise.
“Greetings, Lord Martin.  Like me, it seems, you take comfort in magic when you can’t sleep.  Is that the way of it?”
“I woke in the night, and it occurred to me that I might practice.”
Mariel shifted her weight and grimaced.  Her baby blue kirtle flowed like an ocean wave over her abdomen.  Marty surmised her delivery could not be far off.  “I think I can guess why you’re awake.”
The queen smiled, and then grimaced again.  “My daughter is active tonight.  Only the knob gives comfort.”
Marty had felt more than once a sense of wellness after bonding with his castle.  Somehow it had never occurred to him that others would feel it too.  “Why is Videns-Loquitur open?” he asked.  “I didn’t command it.”
“Neither did I,” she replied.  “But Pulchra Mane follows my feelings as well as my thoughts, and sometimes she surprises me.  Perhaps she knew I wanted to speak with you, even if I wasn’t aware of the desire.  Or Inter Lucus may sense that you want to speak to me.”
Marty didn’t know what to say to such speculation.  Castle technology surpasses anything on Earth.  Did the aliens master artificial intelligence?  Is Inter Lucus a living thing?
Mariel continued her thought: “So—is there anything you want to say to me, Martin of Inter Lucus?”
Seemingly out of nowhere, Marty thought of his grandmother Edith Leicester, who immigrated from Charwelton to America in 1952.  Charwelton, the Northhamptonshire village of Grandmesnils and Mortains.  And he thought of Elizabeth, the young woman who became queen that same year.
“There is.  I propose, Queen Mariel, that you should be monarch of Tarquint and Herminia.”
The blond queen laughed.  “We are agreed.”
Marty held up a palm.  “And the lords and ladies of all castles—all those who swear fealty to you—should constitute what we can call the ‘House of Lords.’  They would vote on proposals, and when they pass a proposal, it would become law after you approve it.”
A cough from Mariel.  “Really?  I am to yield authority to lords?”
“Not exactly.  There should also be what we can call the ‘House of Commons.’  Citizens of the free cities would elect members of the House of Commons.  Laws of the realm must be approved by the House of Commons, the House of Lords, and the Sovereign.”
Mariel almost laughed, but pain shot across her face.  “Not so hard, little one.”  To Marty she said, “Your proposal is designed to prevent governance, not accomplish it.  Why should ladies and lords agree to laws also approved by the free cities?  Why should I permit dilution of my authority?”
Marty was out of his depth.  How did Britain adopt such a system?  Don’t talk to her about presidents or congresses.  We don’t need that revolution.  “You have said yourself, your majesty, that the lords of Herminia have discovered that unity under the queen brings benefits.  And that applies to the free cities too.  In general, everyone in Herminia is better off under your rule.  That is what you claim.”
“It is true.  And it will be true in Tarquint as well.”
“God permitting, we all hope so.  The lords and people of Tarquint will acknowledge benefits of the wisdom of Mariel.  But what about your daughter?  Will she also rule wisely?”
Mariel’s left hand rested on her stomach.  “Why should she not?”
“For many reasons, and you know them.  No parent can guarantee that her daughter will not be a fool, a sadist, or a madwoman.  If your daughter has your power without your wisdom, she could burn a thousand homes on a whim.  If you give her power without also giving her compassion and justice, you create a monster.”
“Then I must guide her into compassion and justice.”
“Indeed you should.  But my proposal guards against the day when some queen or king fails in that most crucial task.  A monarch whose power is limited, shared with Lords and Commons, will not become a tyrant.  There will of course be bad queens, unjust lords and stupid commoners, but by sharing power the evils they do will be limited.”
“So the chief virtue of this proposal is that it limits evil?”
“Exactly.  Such limitations remove fear.  Nobles and commoners alike will give fealty when they are not afraid.  Rather than crushing opposition and compelling obedience, such a monarch gains the willing allegiance of the people.”
Mariel indulged him with a faint smile.  “Martin, I take more pleasure in talking with you than any lord of Herminia.  I would almost trust your judgment, if it weren’t mixed with such bizarre ideas.  I promise you, no power on Two Moons will compel me to yield my authority to men as stupid and venal as Paul Wadard.  The nobles of Tarquint will submit to me for the same reason Herminia’s nobles submitted to my father and continue to obey me.  We force them.  After they bow, they discover they like it.”

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

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Castles 133

133. At Castle Inter Lucus

            Creating hairs of glass was deceptively easy.  Isen and Ernulf needn’t blow anything; they had merely to touch a molten gather with an iron punty rod and draw out a string.  They quickly learned to make flowing curved patterns with such glass filaments.  With glass strings of contrasting colors, they could create art: a butterfly brooch or a flower hairpin.
            The glass hairs demanded by Alf’s dream would have been easier than art pieces, since they were only line segments, except Alf insisted they be literally thin as hair and absolutely straight.  Isen found a way.  Ernulf would hold a hot gather very still while Isen pulled two or three glass strings down from it.  Each tiny filament had a molten drop at the end, providing enough weight to straighten the hair.  Later, after the glass strings had been “cladded,” the drops at the end could be clipped away.
            Lord Martin’s explanations of “cladding” mystified Isen repeatedly.  Martin talked about “internal refraction” and the “chemical composition” of different kinds of glass, and Isen understood that this meant different batches of glass were made of slightly different materials.  But every glassmaker and apprentice knew that!  How else could glasses of various colors be produced?  Isen grasped the notion that two batches of glass could have the same color and yet be made of differing materials.  For example one could use differing amounts of beech ash while keeping the quantity of pure sand the same.  And, naturally, “pure” sand dug from one location would not be exactly the same as sand from another.  Lord Martin thought that “chemistry” could explain all these facts and that a thorough knowledge of chemistry would allow one to produce all sorts of wondrous effects in one’s glass.  Unfortunately, Lord Martin admitted frequently that he personally had nothing like a thorough knowledge of chemistry.  Privately, Isen suggested to Ernulf that it might have been better had Lord Martin never mentioned chemistry at all.
            In the end, they had to experiment.  That is, they tried to obey Alf’s dream by “cladding” glass hairs with a variety of vapors.  On one occasion Martin said that what they were doing wasn’t a real “experiment,” because their work lacked “control.”  Isen and Ernulf decided that “control” was as useless a concept as “chemistry,” unless a real expert should explain it to them.
            Over the course of a week, Isen and Ernulf fashioned eighty glass hairs, five to six inches long, and each straight as a sunbeam.  Alf said they resembled those in his dream.  They “cladded” them by suspending them, one at a time, over a crucible of molten bubbling glass.  With the heat of the furnace so intense, the glassmakers could expose the tiny filament over the steaming crucible for only a few seconds at a time.  After many repeated exposures, they hoped that the hair had collected a sheath of the vapor.  Looking at them, Isen and Ernulf couldn’t say with confidence that the cladded glass strings were any thicker than before.  Lord Martin insisted that they make trial with different batches of glass in the crucible.  So the glassmakers heated ten differing batches and exposed eight strings to the vapor of each crucible.
            When the fifty glass hairs had been “cladded” and the droplets at the end clipped away, Isen laid the tiny filaments in a bed of soft white matter prepared by shredding and grinding clean cotton threads.  He then bundled the whole, wrapping the glass hairs and their cotton fiber padding in a piece of tightly woven linen.  He clipped off the longer glass strings, so that the final product looked like a non-metal rod, five inches long and about half an inch thick, with the outer layer of cloth constituting much of the bulk.
            Alf’s dreams hadn’t shown him how the glass strings were supposed to fix the CPU.  He just had the feeling—“the way it happens in dreams, when you are sure of something but can’t say why”—that his vision related to Centralis Arbitrium Factorem.  When Alf saw the wrapped bundle of glass strings lying in Isen’s hand, he said, in complete transparency, “It’s not like what I dreamed.  I never did think this would work.”  Lord Martin, in contrast, praised Isen and Ernulf for their painstaking odyssey in glassmaking: “If anyone can make fiber-optic cable with eighth century tools, it’s you two.  We may as well give it a try.”
            The residents of Inter Lucus gathered quickly from their afternoon labors as they excitedly passed the word: Lord Martin will try to repair the violet block in the CPU, using the glass strings dreamed by Alf.  What new magic might be released if Centralis Arbitrium Factorem were whole?
            Lord Martin told Ernulf to bring the smallest pair of shears from the glassworks—with the blades buried in a bucket of hot coals from the furnace.  Martin carried the “cable” to the castle, where he and Isen descended the stairs from the great hall down two levels to the lowest floor of Inter Lucus, and then proceeded south and west through the corridors.  As always, castle lights came on ahead of them. 
            Once in the CPU room, Martin walked to the south wall, where the mysterious violet hexagon stood under its six-sided tube that reached down from the high ceiling.  Around the room, ten other blocks rose from the floor, each a different color and different height, and each one was connected to its tube by a flashing strip.  Only the violet block lacked the connecting “cable.”
            The violet hexagon was second tallest in the room.  Lord Martin had to reach above his head to measure Isen’s creation against the gap between block and tube.  From his pocket Martin pulled out a wooden handled razor and flicked it open.  Isen recognized the razor as the one Ernulf’s father had given to the new lord of Inter Lucus months ago—last summer when the castle had only begun to heal.  Isen had a sense that the next few minutes could be as momentous as Martin’s original peregrination from Lafayette to Inter Lucus.
Martin gently cut away bits of linen sheathing from both ends of the cable.  Holding it up to the gap, he said, “I think that’s about right.”
The entire population of Inter Lucus, except Caelin and the priest Eadmar, had gathered in the CPU when Ernulf carried the smoking bucket of coals into the room.  Eadmar and Caelin steadfastly refused to leave their posts as guards that afternoon.  Even Mildgyd Meadowdaughter and Agyfen Baecer were there, the fosterling holding close to Mildgyd’s skirt.  Ernulf’s bare arm streamed sweat, and he held the iron bucket handle with a thick pad.  The bucket glowed red.
Martin pushed the blade of his razor into the coals.  Wrapping his hand in a cloth, he took the hot shears from the coals and cut a tiny portion from one end of Isen’s cable.  Measuring again against the gap above the eleventh block, Martin cut the other end.  He drew the glowing razor from the coals and touched the ends of the cable, heating the exposed glass.  Then he positioned the cable between the ceramic block below and the tube above.  When Martin released his hold, the cable remained in place.
“It’s done.”  As usual, Ora had unshakeable confidence in Martin’s competence.
            Lord Martin turned from the violet hexagon and its tube.  He looked at the expectant faces gathered in the room and sighed, smiling wryly.  “We have honored Alf’s dream by making an attempt.”  He shook his head.  “I should not have encouraged you all to hope.  It takes modern manufacturing to make fiber optic cable.  And even if we made real cable, there’s no reason to think it would fix an alien machine.”
            “But it is done,” said Whitney Ablendan.  She pointed.  Lord Martin spun on his heel.  Everyone present could see pulses of light visible through the cable’s linen cover.
            “My God!” said Lord Martin.  Then he ran ahead of the others.

            As fast as Marty sprinted to the great hall, his mind raced faster.  Is it really possible to repair alien technology with hand-worked glass from the middle ages?  Why not?  That’s no more implausible than the very existence of Inter Lucus and everything else on this planet.  No, it’s not that a planet with alien machines is unbelievable; it’s the fact that I’m here, that human beings are here.
            What does the eleventh hexagon do?
            He rushed through the great hall, watching for some indication of change in the interface wall.  Nothing.  He reached towards the lord’s knob, but stopped and stood near it, panting.  Hold on, old man.  Think.  What if Centralis Arbitrium Factorem really is fixed?  Are there new “magics” waiting when I bond?  Some new decision point, like choosing paper over steel?
            Members of the Inter Lucus community were gathering behind Marty.  They watched to see what he would do.
            Could, might, possible… I could speculate forever.  The only way forward is to try.  Marty shook his hands for a moment and laid them on the knob.
            Nothing.  The interface wall was blank.  With a mental command, Marty called up the familiar list.

I. Materias Transmutatio: operativa
II. Parva Arcum Praesidiis: operativa
III. Magna Arcum Praesidiis: operativa
IV. Cibum Preparatio Homines: operativa
V. Inter-Castrum Videns-Loquitur: operativa
VI. Extra Arcem Micro-Aedificator: operativa
VII. Potentia Fontes: operativa
VIII. Aquarum: operativa
IX. Intra Arcem Micro-Aedificator: operativa
X. Centralis Arbitrium Factorem: operativa

            Marty considered the last item.  Centralis Arbitrium Factorem was working.  But the list had declared it operativa for months, when the eleventh hexagon was obviously not working.  Should there be a new item on the list?  Come on, alien masterminds, I need some answers.
            The list of castle functions vanished, leaving a blank wall.  But it wasn’t blank; it was black, a deep inky black.  Then points of light, infinitesimal bits, thousands—no, tens of thousands—of them, appeared in the wall.  Almost irrelevantly, Marty wondered: How many pixels did they build into this screen?  Do aliens even count pixels?
            The inhabitants of Inter Lucus gazed in wonder, hardly daring to breathe.  To most of them the montage of lights was both incomprehensible and stunningly beautiful.  In addition to the myriads of tiny lights, the picture showed faint dark blue patches near one corner, like almost invisible clouds.  Thousands of lights clustered in the middle of the screen, combining into a mass, and from the center more lights gathered into paths, curved like the blade of a scythe. 
            “Lord Martin, what is it?” A voice behind him whispered.  Tayte Graham or Whitney Ablendan, Marty couldn’t tell whose.  He waved his right hand for silence, keeping his left on the lord’s knob.  A carnation red dot came into view near the upper edge of the screen.  Marty had no doubt what he was viewing; the dot located a point in one of the spiral arms of the galaxy.  A red line began to extend from the beginning point, but not a straight line; it curved around the mass of stars in the center until it reached a terminus in the galaxy’s opposite arm.
            Marty still held his hand up, forbidding speech, waiting for something more.  Come on, come on.  That can’t be all you meant to say.
            Nothing.  The galaxy photo—or map?—lingered, the red line glowing.  After two full minutes, the whole display slowly faded away, leaving the interface wall genuinely blank.  Marty removed his hand from the knob.  His shoulders slumped.  “I already knew that much.”
            “My lord?”  Isen, at his side.
            Marty realized that he had verbalized his disappointment.  “It’s a great achievement, Isen.  I think your cable fixed the CPU, to a degree.  Not completely.  The map showed me what I learned already at Dimlic Aern.  The strangers must have intended to show us more than this, but it may be that our repair is only partial.”
            Ora, of course, had a different interpretation.  “Lord Martin, this was your first attempt with the new power.  “You will learn more of the strangers’ secrets next time.”

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


Tuesday, December 9, 2014

A little essay on hope

Imitatio Christi and Christian Hope

“We have this hope as an anchor for the
soul, firm and secure.” (Hebrews 6:19)

      What is Christian hope?
      The first thing we need to say is that the adjective matters.  Christian hope is both like and unlike natural hopes.  Christian hope is a supernatural hope; it is essentially linked to God, rooted in God’s promises.  Like our natural hopes, Christian hope looks forward to some good thing.  It is the goal, the good thing we anticipate, that distinguishes Christian hope from natural hopes.
      So what is it that Christians hope for? 
1. In the words of countless beauty pageant winners, do we long for “world peace”?  Jesus taught his disciples to pray for God’s kingdom to come and for God’s will to be done on earth.  Biblical scholars tell us that the “kingdom of God” includes far more than absence of war.  God’s shalom means personal and social well-being; it means wholeness and blessedness.  The kingdom of God brings justice, both in the sense of judgment against our sins and in fair distribution of good things.  Should we say that Christians hope for the kingdom of God?
2. Do we want to meet loved ones in heaven?  (Or, like Socrates, to meet famous persons and discuss philosophy with them?)  This idea has been part of Christian thinking from the beginning.  In 1 Thessalonians, which may be the first New Testament document written, Paul reassures the Christians in Thessalonica that those believers who had “fallen asleep” were not thereby cut off from God’s promised future.  He says that at the parousia dead Christians would rise first, to be joined by those who were living at the time of Christ’s return.  Countless Christian funeral sermons have assured believers that they will see the beloved departed again.  Is this the Christian hope, to see and know those who have died?
3. Paul’s correction of Thessalonian misunderstandings concerning resurrection underscores the crucial importance of resurrection in Christian doctrine.  In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul insists that if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Jesus has been raised, and in that case Christian faith is useless.  Should we say, then, that Christian hope is hope for resurrection?  Undoubtedly, many ordinary believers would say they hope for “eternal life,” in the sense of living forever.[1]  We may conflate a hope for resurrection with a hope to live forever.  Is this the Christian hope, that we will live again?
4. In 1 Corinthians 13:12, Paul says that in heaven we will see God “face to face” (in contrast to seeing now “through a glass.”)  Thomas Aquinas and other Christian theologians have said that the highest Christian aspiration is to know God directly, without intellectual mediation: to “see” God.  So perhaps the Christian hope is not merely that we will live in heaven, but that we will directly know God.  Is this the Christian hope, to experience beatific vision? 

The New Testament supports all these notions, and they are part of what we anticipate.  They are all partly right answers.  Nevertheless, I want to propose another response.  1 John 3:2 says, “when Christ appears, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is,” (my emphasis) and the next verse connects being like Christ with hope: “All who have this hope in him purify themselves…”
I suggest that Christian hope aims at a familiar New Testament theme: being like Christ, imitatio Christi.  Christian ethics, from a virtue theory perspective, is the pursuit of Christlikeness.  We want to be like Jesus.  “Have this mind in you which was also in Christ Jesus…” Paul says to the Philippians.  “Fix your eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith…” says the writer of Hebrews.
Imitatio Christi is not an ethic of rules or laws, saying “do this” or “don’t do that,” so much as a character goal.  Christians are to grow into the virtues of Jesus, the fruit of the Spirit.  We are to be like Jesus.  On one hand, this is an impossibly high goal.  As Jesus said, we are to be complete or perfect (teleios) lovers (Mt 5:48).  Like Paul, in this life we are always pressing on toward the goal God has set before us (Phil 3:14).  This side of resurrection, Christians are people on the way, pilgrims.[2]
Hope is a virtue for pilgrims.  We do not minimize the wonder or greatness of the goal.  Thus we are saved from the vice of presumption.  But we also remember that Christian pilgrimage is always supported by God’s grace.  So we avoid despair.  In an Aristotelian mean between presumption and despair, we live in hope.

[1] Some biblical scholars have argued that “eternal life” as used in John has a different, or at least richer, meaning than life that endures without end.  These scholars say that in John’s gospel, “eternal life” indicates a quality of life, life lived in intimate friendship with God.  On this view, “eternal life” may or may not imply unending personal existence.  I think it is safe to assume that few ordinary believers have this idea in mind when they hope for eternal life.
[2] What happens after the resurrection?  Some people imagine the eternal state as something static, but I imagine it as one of eternal exploration of the wonders of God.  We may always be people on the way.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Castles 132

132.  In Stonebridge

            When the evidence in Osred Tondbert’s “secrets” convicted Stonebridge City Clerk Ibertus Tibb of corruption, the Assembly replaced Tibb with a man named Hugh Norville.  It was this man, Norville, sallow-faced and dressed in all in black, who recorded the marriage of Tilde Gyricson and Milo Mortane.  There was no ceremony.  Tilde and Milo signed a marriage registry, Felix Abrecan and Derian Chapman signed as witnesses, and Milo paid two silvers into the city treasury.
            “That’s all there is to it?”  Amicia Mortane expressed disappointment.  She and Merlin Averill were the only other persons present.  The Clerk’s office was a cramped, drab place.  With the marrying couple, two witnesses, and two friends, the chairless room was full.  A smudged glass window and an oil lamp provided dismal light.
            “Citizens of Stonebridge are free to solemnize their marriages as they see fit.”  Hugh Norville’s tone and expression disapproved of Amicia’s question.  He closed the marriage registry.  “It is an honor for me to record the Lord Commander’s union.”  Norville inclined his head solemnly to Milo and turned away.  Clearly, Norville thought their business concluded.
            Outside the Clerk’s office, in the wide reception area of the Assembly Building, Derian explained.  “Stonebridge is a free city, Lady Amicia.  Some families ask priests of the old god to bless their marriages, some honor castle gods, and some appeal to no gods at all.  So long as both man and woman are at least fourteen years of age, are unmarried citizens of Stonebridge, are not children of the same mother or father, and they pay the registry fee, that is all the city requires.”
            The six companions passed through the tall doors of the Assembly Building.  Bright spring sunshine warmed the stone pavement.  “Don’t you want a wedding?”  Amicia addressed Tilde.
            “I had a wedding already.  I don’t need another.”  Tilde slipped her arm around Milo’s.  “Today, I got what I wanted: a family name for my baby.  However, I will be happy to come to your wedding, Amicia.  Have you decided when?”
            “W-w-we w-w-will w-w-wait.”  Merlin squeezed Amicia’s right hand with his left.  She completed the answer for him.  “I want at least one brother present when I marry.  Merlin and I will wait until Milo and the army come back.”
            “A wise move, both politically and personally,” said Derian.  But he didn’t elaborate.

            The wedding party met two men not far from the Assembly Building: Kenelm Ash and Raymond Travers.  As always, Amicia’s guards wore leather scabbards and swords manufactured at Hyacintho Flumen.  Ash and Travers greeted the Lady Ambassador and her companions with bows and flourishes.  The spring air and sunshine infused ordinary exchanges with delight.
            Milo kissed Amicia’s cheek and Tilde’s mouth.  “Felix, please escort my wife to the Citadel.  Find Captain Fleming and Captain Dalston; tell them I will arrive shortly.”
            “Aye, Lord Commander.”
            “Where are you going?” Amicia asked her brother.
            “Derian asked me to help sort through the last of Ody Dans’s records.  We’ll take Kenelm and Raymond with us to speed things up.”  Milo grinned.  “Don’t worry, Toadface.  I’ll return your guard before sundown.”
            Amicia tossed her head.  “Well!  We were going to invite you to mid-day sup, but since it’s all work for the Lord Commander, Merlin and I will eat alone.”
            “I’m afraid it must be all work for me.  The army marches tomorrow.”  Milo kissed her cheek again.  “Come to the Citadel for evening sup, both of you.  We can talk then.  Hm?”
            “We will come.”  Merlin spoke without stammering.
            Milo, Derian, Kenelm and Raymond climbed four abreast on the broad steps to The Spray.  “Doesn’t look so grand,” opined Kenelm.  “Felix and others speak of it as a palace almost.”
            “You see only a little from here.  From the top it goes down, hanging over the river.  It’s much more impressive on the inside.” Derian looked sideways at Kenelm.  “But then, for men accustomed to Hyacintho Flumen, my uncle’s house may not seem like much.”
            “It’s a magnificent house, more luxurious than anything in Down’s End,” said Milo.  “I’ve seen the houses on Alderman’s Row in that city.  The Spray may be the grandest house anywhere not built by gods.”
            Not built by gods.”  Kenelm echoed Milo’s phrase.
            “We can’t expect the edifices of men to equal castles.  You’ve seen the magic of the viewing wall in Hyacintho Flumen, Kenelm.  The dining hall in Ody Dans’s house has a wall even longer, made entirely of windows, and through those windows his guests watch the falls of River Betlicéa.  Of course that is all they see.  With castle magic, a lord can look here and there, near or far.  The Spray should not be measured against magical things.”
            They reached the flat pavement outside the first, highest, level of The Spray.  Ingwald Freeman, blond hair combed and trimmed above his shoulders, stepped out of the shadows.  He wore a short sword tucked inside a belt; his right hand touched it nervously.  “Master Derian.”
            “Fair morning, Ingwald.”
            “Is Master Ody still detained?”  The soldier’s blue eyes roved over the four men, giving most attention to Kenelm Ash and Raymond Travers.
            “He is.”  Derian and Milo stood still while Kenelm and Raymond inched forward.  “I must tell you, Ingwald, that my uncle has been charged with serious crimes.  There are credible witnesses against him, including Commander Mortane.  And I have found further evidence against him here in this house, written in his own hand.”
            Milo said, “Master Dans will be tried by the Assembly.  I will not be there, unless the Assembly commands me to attend.  The army will be in the field.  Nevertheless, I venture to predict that Master Dans will be convicted.  He will never return to The Spray, which will become property of Derian Chapman.  Now, Derian is a sheriff.  More importantly, he serves as quartermaster for the Guard.  Therefore, he will march with the army.  In Master Chapman’s absence, while we are waiting for Dans’s trial, I must appoint someone to manage Master Dans’s estate as a steward.”
            “By the gods.”  Ingwald Freeman grinned.  “I am a soldier, not a clerk.  You don’t want me for that job.”
            Milo matched Ingwald’s grin.  “That’s right.  We don’t.”
            Ingwald’s grin disappeared.  Derian said, “Some of my uncle’s records indicate pretty clearly that you were involved with his crimes.  For instance, you killed a young man named Cold Morning, by throwing him into the Betlicéa.”
            Now Ingwald sneered, and his hand gripped his sword.  “A man named Cold Morning?  Most likely a thief, don’t you think?  He threatened Master Dans in his own house.  I am sworn to protect the master.”
            “Of course.”  Derian coughed quietly.  “Who is your master now?”
            Milo said, “Ingwald Freeman, I offer you now a choice.  Swear obedience to me as Commander of the Stonebridge Guard and march with us tomorrow.  You are a soldier, as you say.  As an armsman in the Guard, you can prove your worth and honor.”
            “Swear obedience to the rejected son of a dead lord?  I don’t think so.  My other choices?”
            “Otherwise you must answer for your crimes,” said Derian.  “Last summer, no doubt in obedience to my uncle, you tied a young woman to a bed here in The Spray.  Then you stripped away her clothes.  That woman was confined to that bed for two weeks while Ody Dans tortured her.”
            Ingwald might have expected many accusations, but not this one.  He was genuinely puzzled.  “I don’t understand.  Am I to answer for confining a woman?”
            “Aye.  That woman has become my wife.”  Milo drew his sword.
            “Damn you all,” whispered Ingwald, and swept out his sword.  “You intend murder, nothing less.”  He crouched with weight finely balanced on the balls of his feet.  “Four swords—enough, do you think?”  He feinted toward Derian, and then danced back.   
            Milo pulled Derian away with his sword arm, making no attempt to engage the threat.  His main concern was to keep Derian out of danger.
            Raymond Travers’s blind eye whirled in its socket when he advanced on Ingwald, a distraction that had often proved fatal to previous enemies.  Ingwald was sufficiently experienced to ignore it.  He retreated a half step, hoping to draw Raymond away from the others, to engage his enemies one at a time.  Milo and Kenelm cooperated with Ingwald’s tactic, holding back to let Raymond fight alone.
            Kenelm had predicted, on the night when Milo arrested Ody Dans, that Raymond could cut Ingwald Freeman in pieces and, having seen Raymond practice sword-fighting many times at Hyacintho Flumen, Milo’s confidence equaled Kenelm’s.  The one-eyed swordsman moved like a cat, with an agility and speed almost beyond belief.
            Ingwald Freeman’s last combat lasted about thirty seconds.  Raymond brushed aside Ingwald’s first thrust and bounced out of range of a second.  His castle steel sword, lighter and stronger than Ingwald’s weapon, flicked out to cut Ingwald’s bicep.  Ingwald’s blue eyes widened, recognizing deadly peril; he leapt forward in a desperate attempt to strike his opponent.  Raymond slipped around this wild thrust and whipped his blade across the man’s throat.  Ingwald’s face registered only the slightest shock before death took him.
            Milo stepped carefully, to avoid the blood pooling from the dead body.  “Raymond, you will continue on duty at Ambassador House.  My sister’s life is your responsibility now.  Kenelm will serve as steward of Master Dans’s possessions until the Assembly decides Dans’s case.  Kenelm, your new duties begin immediately.  Derian will take you into The Spray and introduce you to all the servants.  I expect full reports from both of you when I return to Stonebridge.  You left Hyacintho Flumen at Aylwin’s bidding, but now you serve me.  Is that clear?”
            “Aye, Lord Milo.”
            “Aye, Lord Commander.”

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