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.


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