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.

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