Thursday, January 29, 2015

Castles 140

140.  In Castle Tutum Partum

            Four days!  Lady Avice Montfort found herself unable to concentrate much on Gentian Bearning’s report.  Lady Avice and the young scribe sat on opposite sides of Avice’s morning desk in her bedroom.  Remains of her breakfast, mostly uneaten, had been pushed aside.
            “Gentian, the harbor captains know their business.  I’m not interested in engineering details right now.  Please fetch Renweard.”
            Gentian pressed his lips together, dismayed.  His father, Albin Bearning, had served as Lord Wymer Thoncelin’s scribe and engineer for many years at castle Ventus in Montes, and Lord Thoncelin always appreciated Albin’s expertise in planning and building bridges, docks, and other structures.  Gentian, Albin’s second son, had learned much at his father’s side and jumped at the opportunity to come to Tutum Partum to serve Lady Montfort.  The lady’s old scribe, Renweard, suffered various maladies that confined him to the castle, with its warm floors and soft beds.  Gentian had already taken over most scribal duties for Lady Montfort, and he had hoped to cement her confidence by proposing improvements to Tutum Partum’s harbor.   
“Aye, my lady.”  Gentian’s disappointment and frustration were palpable.
Lady Avice’s impatience got the better of her.  “By the Gods!  Gentian, wake up!  A scribe’s job is more than record-keeping.”  His eyes dropped to the drawings on the desk.  She sighed.  “I know you’re trying to be helpful.  If we can improve the harbor docks, that will be fine.  But today we face a possible crisis, and I need Renweard’s advice.  Renweard will be gone soon, and I’ll follow him into the afterworld a few years hence.  Then Anne will rely on your advice.  A scribe must provide wisdom as well as clear records.  That reminds me.  Find Anne too.  She needs to be part of this.”
Gentian’s round face went from disappointment to repentance in a heartbeat.  “I apologize, my lady.  Shall I bring them here?”
“No.  I’ll come down to the great hall.  If we make Renweard climb too many stairs, he’ll collapse.”
Gentian met her smile with one of his own.  He bowed himself out of the room.

Anne greeted her when Avice reached the great hall.  “Fair morning, Grandmother!”  Anne bounced forward and kissed her cheek.  “Gentian said you want to see me.”  Avice took much pleasure from the girl’s vivacity, but she worried too.  Sixteen.  Will I live long enough to see her ready to take my place?
“Aye.”  Avice looked quickly at the empty tables in the hall.  “Renweard will want hot tea.”
“I’ll see to it.”  Anne started toward the kitchen and saw a servant.  “Holly!  Tea service, please.  With honey wafers.”
“Aye, my lady.” 
Renweard and Gentian entered the hall, the old scribe leaning heavily on the younger.  Anne took Renweard’s free arm and she and Gentian helped him into a chair.  Once they were seated the old man’s labored breathing was the loudest sound in the hall.  Avice looked carefully at her friend and counselor and wondered if she expected too much of him.
“I need your help, Renweard.  I wouldn’t drag you in here otherwise.”
The old scribe dipped his head almost imperceptibly.  Avice read pride in the set of his chin.  “It is a pleasure to serve, my lady.”  Renweard took a deep breath, settled back on his chair and rested his hands on his lap.  He looked long at her.  “Four days, is that it?”
Avice would have replied immediately, but the servant girl Holly approached with a large tray.  Anne scooted her chair a little, which made it easier for Holly to place the tray on the table.  “Thank you, Holly,” Avice said.  “You may return to your duties.”
The servant curtsied and left. 
Avice answered Renweard.  “Four days.  Not a word.”
Her counselor frowned.  “Aweirgan will send letters.”
“That’s what you would do.  Will he?”
Renweard said, “Of course.  But he will write carefully.  Each letter will have the same news, but each will subtly remind the reader what he stands to lose if he makes the wrong move.”
“A moment, please.”  Anne started pouring from a large teapot into cups.  “Grandmother, I don’t want to disappoint you, but I have no idea what you’re talking about.  Do you, Gentian?”
The young scribe blew out his cheeks, as if he were working on a problem.  Avice felt alarm.  Really, Gentian?  Has the harbor project blinded you to all else?
“Four days ago…” Gentian picked up a honey wafer as if it might hold the key to mystery.  “Four days ago, Queen Mariel was supposed to speak to her Council, which includes Lady Avice.”  He used the wafer to point, first at the magic wall and then at Avice.  “But she did not appear.  Lady Avice believes the Queen was birthing her child.  I think that was a guess, but Lady Avice is usually right.”
Anne spoke animatedly.  “That’s wonderful!  Do we know the baby’s name?”
“We do not.” Avice picked up a cup of tea and eyed Gentian over its rim.
With that, Gentian began to understand.  The honey wafer broke between his fingers.  “Queen Mariel is a very willful woman, to say the least.  If she were able to contact her lords, she would do it.  She has not, so something has gone wrong.”
“If she has given birth, wouldn’t she be resting and caring for the baby?”  Anne’s natural optimism sought a way out of the problem.  She stirred sugar into a cup for Renweard, who accepted it from her.
“For a day, perhaps two,” Avice said.  “The privilege of a lady.  You should know, Anne, that some women outside these walls give birth in the morning and clean house in the evening.”  Avice pointed vaguely to the west, where the houses of town Tutum Partum clustered above the bay.  “They have other children, and the demands of life do not stop.  Mariel, it is true, has castle magic and servants to ease her life.  But she is also Queen, and, as Gentian said, a very willful woman.  I cannot believe that she would neglect her Council if she were able to bond.”
Gentian pushed the broken crumbs of honey wafer into a pile.  “Perhaps the Queen’s baby died, and she is overcome by grief.  But we must assume, at least for now, that Queen Mariel is unable to bond with Pulchra Mane.  She may have died.”
Anne resisted the possibility.  “But she is so… so strong.”
Avice shook her head.  “Castle magic means nothing when it comes to childbirth, as we well know.  I birthed three, and only Emma lived.”  Avice didn’t have to complete the thought: Anne’s mother Emma died giving birth to Anne’s younger sister, a simpleton who could not speak.
“Mariel is strong,” Renweard said.  “And therein lies our problem.  Herminia depends on her strength.  She holds the kingdom together when she puts her hand on globum domini auctoritate.  The lords will rebel if she cannot.”
Gentian pursed his lips.  “The hostage knights are with the army.  Would Giles, Toeni, and the others put their sons at risk?  The Queen ordered List Wadard’s execution, leaving Linn Wadard as heir to Beatus Valle.  Given that, would even Paul Wadard be foolish enough to rebel?”
Avice grimaced.  “Oh, aye.  The army is in Tarquint, far away and no immediate threat to a rebel lord, especially one as stupid as Paul Wadard.  Wadard might attack Pulchra Mane itself.  Ridere could execute Wadard’s heir, but Wadard is a man.  Men can always produce new heirs.”
Gentian looked at Renweard.  “Aweirgan Unes will write letters, you said.”
“Aye.”  Renweard sipped hot tea.  “He will send his first rider here, in order to send word to General Ridere.  We should make ready our fastest ship.  Ridere will have no choice.  He must return to Herminia.”
The old scribe shook his head.  “In the end, if both Mariel and her baby have died, nothing the general does will matter.  Pulchra Mane will become a free city, with a castle falling into ruin.  The kingdom of Rudolf Grandmesnil and his beautiful daughter will end in civil war.”
Anne gasped.
Gentian spoke reassuringly.  “We will be safe enough.  Tutum Partum provided ships, not armsmen, for the Queen’s adventure in Tarquint.  Most of Lady Avice’s sheriffs are still here.  Besides, there are the castle defenses.”
“No, look!”  Anne pointed at the viewing wall.  “She’s not dead!  She’s calling for you, Grandmother.”
They looked.  A light shined steadily in the center of the wall.
“Gods be praised!” Avice whispered.  “Gentian!  Paper and ink.”
“Aye, my lady!”
Avice stepped quickly to globum domini auctoritate.  Gentian pulled two chairs close; he sat on one and laid out paper and ink on the other.  He nodded his readiness.  She bonded, mouse gray light enveloping her hands.  Behind her, Anne cried out again, not in terror but shock.
Videns-Loquitur revealed a man, not a blond queen.
“Lady Avice Montfort, I presume.”  The man had a narrow face with a chin that jutted forward.  His eyes were dark gray or even black, and he wore an unadorned blue tunic.  But what Avice noticed was the lord’s knob—or rather, she didn’t, because the globe itself was concealed somewhere in a green ball.  The green orb glowed, sometimes pulsing with gold, like an appendage to the man’s left arm.  Next to him, a girl no older than Anne stood at an upright desk.  The lord’s right hand pointed to something on the desk.
Avice’s first thought: Mariel told us about him, but she didn’t say he was a new Rudolf.  Then: No.  Not as tall as Rudolf—and he doesn’t have the air of a knight.  A great lord, certainly, but not a warrior like Rudolf.
“Lady Montfort?”
“Oh, aye.  I am Avice Montfort.”
“I’m very pleased to meet you, Lady Avice.  My name is Martin Cedarborne.  This is Whitney Ablendan.  She is a student here at Inter Lucus.”
Beside her, Gentian’s pen was scratching on paper.  Avice recovered her wits to say: “And I am pleased to meet you, Lord Martin.  Fair morning, Whitney Ablendan.  My scribe is Gentian Bearning.”
Lord Martin nodded.  “Fair morning, Gentian.”
Gentian and the girl called Whitney both inclined their heads without speaking.
Avice said, “Excuse my ignorance, Lord Martin.  If I remember my lessons, Inter Lucus means ‘between the lakes’ and refers to a castle in the heart of Tarquint.  But Inter Lucus fell into ruin long ago.”
A shadow crossed the man’s face.  “Mariel hasn’t told you about me?  No matter.  If she hasn’t, perhaps only two people in Herminia know that Inter Lucus has been restored.  It’s long story that I won’t tell now, but I came here last summer.  By a kind of accident I bonded with Inter Lucus, and the castle has revived itself.”
“Very interesting.”  Avice didn’t believe in “accidents,” but she wasn’t about to contradict Lord Martin. 
When Avice didn’t say more, Martin continued.  “The two I mentioned—the two people in Herminia who surely know about Inter Lucus—are Mariel of Pulchra Mane and her scribe, Aweirgan Unes.  As one of Mariel’s Councilors, I assume you know Aweirgan Unes as well.”
“Of course.”
“Good.”  The narrow-faced lord pursed his lips, as if he were reluctant to go on.  “Lady Avice, have you talked with Queen Mariel recently?  I don’t mean to pry into the Queen’s counsels.  I only want to know if she is well.”
Avice temporized: “You have talked with the Queen by means of Videns-Loquitur?”
“Many times.  She calls me, and I call her.  But for several days now, she has not responded to my summons.  I don’t think she’s angry with me, though she might be if she knew I was speaking to one of her Councilors.  I don’t mean to go behind her back, but I’m concerned for her health.”
Avice was loth to admit she shared the same worry to Martin, obviously a powerful lord and not yet pledged to Queen Mariel.  She changed the subject.  “As the lord of Inter Lucus, you must be aware of events in Tarquint.”
“If you’re talking about the siege of Hyacintho Flumen, how could it be otherwise?  Everyone in the region knows the Herminian army holds the harbor, the town, and countryside around Lord Aylwin’s castle.  A moment ago I told you that I often talk with Mariel; she has pressed me hard to side with her against Aylwin.  Nevertheless, I made it plain to her that I support neither her invasion nor Aylwin’s resistance.  I want Mariel and Aylwin to make peace before they waste thousands of lives.
“But all that is all to the side right now.  Please tell me.  Has Mariel contacted you recently—in the last few days?”
            Avice decided she would tell Martin what he wanted to know, but not yet.  She put him off again:  “Have you used Videns-Loquitur to talk with Lord Aylwin of Hyacintho Flumen?”
            “I have, and Mariel knows it.  Aylwin and Mariel have been willing to talk with me, but I fear neither of them really listens.  They are stubbornly set on this stupid war.”  Martin paused for a moment.  “I mean no offense, Lady Avice, to the Queen or her Councilors, or to Lord Aylwin for that matter.  But I don’t see why peasant boys from Herminia should come to Tarquint just to kill or be killed by peasant boys from Stonebridge or Down’s End.”
            “Have you also communicated with General Eudes Ridere?”  Avice knew the answer, since Mariel had said as much.  But Avice had an idea how to use the situation.
            “I have.  In fact, we write to each other regularly.  I have a postman who carries our letters back and forth, and the general supplies escort riders, who keep the postman safe.”  Lord Martin leaned to look at Whitney Ablendan’s writing.  “I think I know the answer to my question, Lady Avice.  It will help us both if you are frank with me.  Please.  Has Mariel contacted you in the last four days?”
            “She has not.”  It was possible, Avice knew, that Mariel, if she lived, would condemn her for telling.  Martin could tell Aylwin, and the knowledge would encourage his defense.  But there were more important fish in the net now; if Mariel did not live, Eudes Ridere needed to bring his army home.
            Avice breathed deeply.  “Lord Martin, I must ask your aid.  I believe Mariel gave birth four or five days ago.  Anyone who saw her recently had to know her time was near.  As days pass with no word, I have become worried.  I expect a letter from Aweirgan Unes, which could come any time.  Since I am Queen Mariel’s most loyal supporter, he will write to me first and ask me to send news, whether good or bad, to General Ridere.
            “You are a gift from the gods, Lord Martin.  A ship from Tutum Partum could take ten days or more—sometimes, many more—to reach Hyacintho Flumen.  I imagine your postman can reach General Ridere far more quickly.  My request is this: When Aweirgan’s letter comes, I will read it to you, and your scribe will copy it and give it to your postman to deliver to Ridere.  Would you help us in this way?”
            “Of course.  I will be glad to help.”  Martin rubbed the back of his neck with his free hand and smiled sheepishly.  “Mariel has been communicating with the general by sending messages through me for a few weeks now.  I’m sure they send each other letters by ship as well, since they don’t want me to know everything they say.  But this may be an emergency, and speed is more important than secrecy.”
            “Lord Martin.”  Avice sighed.  “One thing more.  I am an old woman.  I can’t support Videns-Loquitur for more than a minute.  Could you…?”
            Martin nodded affirmatively.  “I will contact you twice a day, Lady Avice, until Aweirgan’s letter arrives.  As it happens, Godric Measy—my postman—came to Inter Lucus today.  I will hold him here until we have news.  That way, General Ridere will know what has happened as quickly as possible.”
            “May the gods reward you, Lord Martin.  Certainly, Ridere will be grateful—as am I.  And there is one thing more.”
            Martin chuckled.  “This will make two ‘one thing more.’”
            Avice grimaced.  “Aye.  Well.  Please do not share the news, good or bad, with Aylwin.  At the least, don’t tell him until Eudes knows.”
            Martin considered this request.  “I agree.  Aylwin is the sort of person who might trumpet the misfortunes of his enemies.  It would be horrible for Eudes to learn bad news from Aylwin.”
            Avice inclined her head.  “I do not know the Lord Aylwin as you do, but I suspect you are right.  General Ridere must learn the truth from friends, not enemies.”

Copyright © 2015 by Philip D. Smith.
All rights reserved.  International copyright secured.



Thursday, January 22, 2015

Castles 139

139.  In Castle Inter Lucus

            “Lord Martin!  Riders are coming.  They’ve passed Prayer House.”  Ealdwine Smithson shouted in the lower corridor of Inter Lucus.  Marty and Alf were about to enter Centralis Arbitrium Factorem.  Marty had come to the CPU room with Alf after breakfast, suspecting that the alien video had stopped because of some problem with Isen’s fiber optic patch.  Alf had wanted to come here immediately when the video failed, and Marty would have agreed, but he collapsed in exhaustion after taking only a few steps from the lord’s knob.  Elfric Ash and Whitney Ablendan took charge of the situation, decreeing that Marty had to sleep.  After three hours in bed and a rushed breakfast of bread and tea, Marty and his heir were now ready to inspect the bundle of glass fibers they had installed in the violet hexagon.
            “Riders?  It’s not Godric?”  A regular protocol had developed for the arrival of Marty’s postman.  Whenever Godric Measy came to Inter Lucus, his Herminian escorts would stop at the castle estate boundary, letting Measy enter the castle alone.  Then Marty would send a servant to invite the soldiers to sup in the castle, provided they surrendered their weapons for safekeeping.  The Herminian riders always accepted the invitation to eat castle food, and Marty suspected that escort duty for the Inter Lucus postman was regarded as a plum assignment among Eudes Ridere’s mounted soldiers.
            But these riders had not stopped at Prayer House.  “I don’t recognize them, my lord.”
            Marty and Alf turned around and jogged after Ealdwine.  The exploration of Centralis Arbitrium Factorem would have to wait.  Most of the students of Collegium Inter Lucus had gathered in the great hall, preparing for the day’s lessons.  They stood when they saw Marty.
            “Fair morning, Lord Martin.”
            “Is it true?  Did you see the strangers last night?”
“Are they as tall as Caelin says?”
            Marty waved off the questions.  “Ealdwine says unfamiliar riders have come.”  Marty implemented the Inter Lucus defense plan.  “Leo, Os.  Join Ealdwine to greet our guests at the oak gate.  Caelin—you’re at the west door.  Ora—notify Elfric and see if there are riders on the east side.  Alf—you’re with me.  Tayte—warn Mildgyd and Agyfen downstairs.  The rest of you—follow Teothic and Eadmar to the west wing.  Move quickly everyone.”
            Marty stepped to the lord’s knob, bonded, and called up the view of castle lands to the south.  Ten mounted armsmen had spread out in a line at the bottom of the hill.  He read confusion on their faces.  They were surveying the castle and its grounds, undoubtedly noticing the many signs of Inter Lucus’s revival.  He tried to guess their provenance.  They can’t be Ridere’s men, or they would have stopped at Prayer House.  A delegation from Down’s End, come to confirm the priests’ reports? They might be from Stonebridge, or even Cippenham.  Do they see a revived castle where they expected a ruin? 
            “They fear you, Lord Martin.”  Alf stood obediently at his side.
            Marty replied quietly, “Maybe they see a castle revived where they expected a ruin.  It may be simple curiosity.  But as you say, they may fear shields.”
Marty had learned the significance of Parva Arcum Praesidiis and Magna Arcum Praesidiis from conversations with Jean Postel and others.  Force fields that could burn living things more quickly and thoroughly than napalm—the shields were yet another feature of alien technology right out of Star Trek.  Marty had practiced with both shields enough to know he could use them if necessary.  But he felt intense revulsion when imagining it: a human being burning to death… and his hand directing the alien machine doing it.
            “Will you not use the shields, Lord Martin?”  Alf’s tone was serious, reflective.
            “I hope not, Alf.  Do you have bread for your ears?”
            Alf held out his hand.  “And yours, my lord.”  Four balls of tightly wadded bread lay on his palm.
            “Thank you, Alf.”
            On the interface wall, one of the horsemen rose in his stirrups, his mouth moving.  Not for the first time, Marty wished the view screen featured sound.  I can talk to distant castles, but I can’t hear what’s said outside my walls.
            Ora entered the great hall through the east door.  “Elfric and I see no ‘guests’ on the east, Lord Martin.”
            “Good.”  To confirm, Marty directed the castle view eastward, toward the blueberry bushes and the forest beyond.  Neither he nor Alf saw any horses or men.
Caelin appeared in the west door.  “My lord!  The riders are from Stonebridge!  They say they bring greetings from the Stonebridge Assembly.  Ealdwine told them they must surrender their weapons before entering the hall.  They have agreed, at least for those who will come in.  Some will stay at a distance.”
            “That’s fine.  They can tether their horses at the barn.  Send them in two at a time.”

            The captain of the Stonebridge men named himself Hrodgar Wigt.  He had oily black hair cut like a bowl above the ears; it reminded Marty of one of the Three Stooges. Below the hair were gray eyes, intelligent eyes that roamed the great hall.  He and five of his men crowded together on one side of a trestle table.  Caelin reported that the other four riders, rather than surrendering their arms, had retreated beyond Prayer House, leaving castle grounds.
            Marty sat ten feet back on a chair facing Wigt and his men, the table creating a barrier between host and guests.  The four sheriffs of Inter Lucus stood near Marty with swords ready to hand.  Ernulf Penrict and Isen were standing guard at the east and west doors.  Otherwise, the inhabitants of Inter Lucus were gathered in the hall, watching and listening. 
The guests had been supplied with ale, bread, and cheese.  “Good cheese,” Captain Wigt said.  His gaze kept moving around the hall.  “Never been in a castle before.”  He looked sideways at Os Osgood, chewed slowly and swallowed.  “Never seen castle sheriffs before.”
            Wigt was a man of few words, it seemed.  Marty grinned.  “They’re not all as big as Os, as you can see.”
            Wigt nodded.  “Still only four?”
            “Why do you say ‘still’?  Has someone told you about Inter Lucus?”
            Wigt had a long face, with very thin lips.  The lips curled slightly.  “Aye.  Remember Kenelm Ash?”
            Marty’s cup contained water, not ale.  No point in dulling his wits, and no harm if his guests assumed otherwise.  “The knight from Hyacintho Flumen.  I do remember.  Sir Ash was not favorably impressed with me.  But you are from Stonebridge, you say.  How do you know Kenelm Ash?  Please explain.”
            Wigt took a long time considering his answer.  “Ash came to Stonebridge.”
            “If I remember right, Ash was escorting Amicia Mortane, sister of Lord Aylwin.  Did she also reach Stonebridge?”
            The soldier chewed a slow mouthful of bread before answering.  “The Lady Ambassador.  Aye.”
“I take it you mean Stonebridge has welcomed Amicia as Aylwin’s ambassador.”
A pause—then Wigt said, “She will marry Merlin Averill, new Speaker’s son.”
            Averill… Marty couldn’t remember the significance of that name, though he had heard it before.  “A marriage!” he said.  “To the Speaker’s son!  Does this mean Stonebridge and Hyacintho Flumen are in league?  I’m sure Amicia was commissioned to seek allies for her brother.”
            The armsman kept his face blank.  “You would have to ask General Mortane.”
            General Mortane?  Who is that?”
            Wigt drank ale, opened his mouth, and then reconsidered his reply.  He swallowed more ale.  Finally: “Sir Milo came to Stonebridge last summer—before Lady Amicia.  The Assembly made him General of the Army.”
            “Doesn’t that answer my question?  It sounds as if Stonebridge has allied itself with Lord Aylwin.  His sister marries the Assembly Speaker’s son, and his brother commands the Army.”
            Wigt still kept his face expressionless.  “You must ask Mortane.”  After a moment, he added, “Sir Milo despises Aylwin.”
            “How interesting!  I would very much like to ask him about it.  Where is the general?  In Stonebridge?”
Wigt glanced for a moment at his men.  Throughout the conversation between Marty and Wigt, the soldier’s comrades had been eating and drinking—but with so little enthusiasm that their real purpose could not be mistaken.  They’ve been told to learn and remember everything they possibly can about Inter Lucus.  They’re counting the kids, memorizing the layout of the hall, and so on. 
            “Sir Milo is with the Army.”
            Marty waited, drinking some water and making a pretense of contemplating his cup.  “As a soldier you have probably been ordered not to reveal the location of the army.  I understand that.  However, you must understand that to protect the people of Inter Lucus, I must be physically present in my castle.  I cannot go to General Mortane, wherever he is.  I cannot speak with him unless he comes to Inter Lucus.”
            Marty made eye contact with Wigt.  The soldier stared back, blank faced.
            “Would you carry a letter to General Mortane if I entrusted it to you?”
            The Stonebridge armsman waited several seconds before answering.  “Aye.”
            “That’s something, then.”  Marty went to the stand up desk used by his students during Videns-Loquitur sessions.  As he prepared to write, an obvious question occurred to him.  “Captain Wigt, why did you come to Inter Lucus?”
            “To ask questions.”
            “One moment.”  Marty took sheets of paper and two inkbottles from the desk and conveyed them to Caelin and Whitney.  “Notes.”  They unstopped the bottles and prepared to write.  “Okay.  First question.”
             “How many sheriffs have you?”
            Marty pursed his lips.  “Four.  You already knew that.”
            Wigt nodded.  “Knights?”
            Marty couldn’t help smiling.  “None.”
            Wigt nodded again, pursing his lips.  “Can you throw shields?”
            “I can.  I hope not to use them, but if I need to protect the people between the lakes, I will.”
            Wigt looked sideways at his men.  “Will you show us?”
            “I will not.  You’re going to have to take my word for it.”  Marty had paper ready; he dipped a quill into ink.
            “Can you make steel?”
            “We make paper.  I’ve been told that means I can’t make steel.”  The guests exchanged meaningful glances with each other.  Marty continued.  “Lord Aylwin asked all these questions.  He wanted me to send knights or sheriffs to fight for him.  I have no knights and few sheriffs, and I would not send them to Hyacintho Flumen if I did.  He also asked if I would supply steel weapons for Down’s End, if he could persuade that city to fight with him.  But we use materias transmutatio to work with wood.  We make paper and excellent furniture: chairs, tables, and desks—that sort of thing.  If General Mortane wants paper or furniture, I’m your man.  But Inter Lucus is not a source of weapons.”
            For the first time Wigt looked surprised.  “Aylwin asked…?”
            “Of course.”  Marty gestured at the interface wall.  “You really haven’t been in a castle before, have you?  I can talk with Aylwin right here.  And that is what I will write in my letter.  If General Mortane wants to talk with his brother—even if he hates him he might find that useful—all he needs do is come to visit me.”

            Once Wigt had asked his questions, he asked to see other parts of the castle.  Marty refused.  After that, there wasn’t much to say.  Marty gave Wigt a letter to deliver.

            General Milo Mortane,

Greetings from castle Inter Lucus.  Today I received a delegation from the Stonebridge Army led by Captain Hrodgar Wigt.  I sincerely thank you for sending Captain Wigt, and I hope this beginning will lead to further communication between you and me.
Captain Wigt made several inquiries, exploring my willingness and capacity to aid your army.  I repeat here what I told him.  I have few sheriffs and no knights.  Therefore, I am not a threat to any castle lord, city, or army.  I have chosen to use materias transmutatio to made paper, and I am told this means I cannot make steel.  Therefore, I am not a source of war materiel for any lord, city, or army. 
To repeat: Inter Lucus is neither threat nor resource.
There is another matter, however.  I have regular conversations with Aylwin Mortane, lord of Hyacintho Flumen by means of Videns-Loquitur.  You might consider it useful to communicate with Lord Aylwin.  If so, I invite you to come to Inter Lucus.  You might stand beside me as I talk with your brother.  Indeed, whether you ever wish to talk with Aylwin, I invite you to visit Inter Lucus simply as my guest.

Kind Regards,
Martin Cedarborne

Marty invited Hrodgar Wigt and his men to stay for evening sup at Inter Lucus.  In spite of his eagerness to inspect the violet hexagon in the CPU, Marty tried to make the invitation sincere.  To Marty’s relief, Wigt declined.  Since the lord of Inter Lucus would not permit a more complete exploration of the castle, the Stonebridge captain saw no reason to linger.  He tucked Marty’s letter to General Mortane into a pocket sewn into the inside of his leather jerkin, bowed to Marty, ordered his men to prepare to ride.  By Marty’s watch, the Stonebridge armsmen left the castle grounds at three o’clock. 
Except for guards at the east and west doors and Mildgyd Meadowdaughter (and Agyfen Baecer, who always tagged at Mildgyd’s skirt), the whole population of Inter Lucus had entered Centralis Arbitrium Factorem by 3:15.
They gathered around the violet hexagon in concentric rings, Marty, Alf, Isen and Ora standing closest and the rest in two semi-circles behind them.
“It looks the same as ever,” Ernulf Penrict said, trying to express optimism.  Isen’s fiber optic bundle still connected the upper and lower parts of the violet block.  But after a few minutes, the problem could not be ignored.
            “It’s dark,” said Isen.  “The light pulses don’t go through any more.”

Copyright © 2015 by Philip D. Smith.
All rights reserved.  International copyright secured.


Thursday, January 15, 2015

Castles 138

138.  In Castle Inter Lucus

            Marty entered the great hall alone.  His watch, which he still reset at high noon once a week, read 2:12, with a tiny “am” in the corner of the display.  As before, he had dreamed of Alyssa, but the details of the dream faded when he woke, leaving him, as always, with questions.  Not the old guilty questions about his marriage and Lyss’s death, but unanswered questions about castle technology and the aliens who built it.  Why did you bring people here?  Why did you leave? Rather than wait for sleep to return, he slippered his way downstairs.
            He tried to clear his mind before bonding.  He didn’t want another late night chat with Mariel.  Marty put his hand on the knob and the Latin list appeared.

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 Arcem0 Micro-Aedificator: operativa
VII. Potentia Fontes: operativa
VIII. Aquarum: operativa
IX. Intra Arcem Micro-Aedificator: operativa
X. Centralis Arbitrium Factorem: operativa

            Videns-Loquitur did not open.  Either Mariel was asleep or Inter Lucus correctly interpreted his desire not to speak with her.  How do I ask what I want?  The list suggested an idea to him.  Marty lifted his hand from the knob, took paper and ink from the writing desk, and went to work at a table.
            Latin, he knew, depended on inflections much more than English.  So there was no chance that he could construct grammatically proper sentences.  But according to Mariel, Inter Lucus could read his intentions, so maybe… 
He started with words from the interface list that might prove useful: homines for humans, Centralis Arbitrium Factorem (Central Arbitrating Factor? = CPU), aquarum/aqua (water), and arcem/arcum/castrum (castle).  He listed individual words in two left hand columns, leaving space to put together phrases on the right.
            A key word came to him, freed from some forgotten lecture during a retreat: Cur Deus Homo?  Why a God Man?  Cur? had to mean “why?”  Cur (why) joined the list.
            Christmas carols sung with visiting crowds at Our Lady of Guadeloupe: Venite Adoremus, Come let us adore.  Marty added venite (come) to his list.
            After half an hour racking his memory, Marty felt he had reached the limits of his useful vocabulary.

Homines (humans) 
Aquarum/aqua (water)
Centralis arbitrium factorem (CPU)
            Arcem/arcum/castrum (castle)
            Cur (why)
            Venite (come)
            Ora (pray)
            Pro (for)
            Nobis (us)
Pacem (peace)
            Terra (earth)
            Duo (two)
            Luna (moon) (lunas = moons?)
            meum (my)
            Dona (give)
            Corpus (body)                                     
            Deus/Deo (god)
            Eleison (have mercy)             
            est (is)
            nunc (now)
            Gloria (glory)
            Excelsis (highest)
            hoc (this)
            Tu/vobis (you—singular/plural?)
            Cogito (I think)
            Ergo (therefore)
            Sum (I am)
            non (no)
            Dominus/domine (lord)

            Further effort, Marty realized, would probably only yield more bits of church Latin.  He could not by any effort think of a Latin word for “go” or “leave.”  He strung together a few phrases that might be useful.  Then he went back to the lord’s knob.
            Marty bonded with his right hand this time, holding the paper in his left.  He closed his eyes and let the soothing warmth of the knob spread through his arm into his whole body.  He whispered, trying to make it a question: “Vobis est?
            He opened his eyes.  The interface wall was totally blank.
            Cur homines venite Duo Lunas?  Nothing.
            Sum pro pacem.”
            Hoc est Duo Lunas.”
            The interface remained blank.  Marty tried to calm his mounting frustration.  Ungrammatical Latin, no doubt mispronounced; there was no reason to assume the alien machine would understand him.  Nevertheless, he felt tension and helplessness growing.  How much did Mariel really know about castle “magic”?
Isen’s medieval version of fiber optics had accomplished some degree of repair to the violet hexagon in Centralis Arbitrium Factorem; that much could not be denied.  Inter Lucus had shown him the galaxy map, which had to mean something.  They brought us from the other side of the Milky Way.  But I already knew that.  Why show me what I already know?
            “Damn it!”  Marty whispered aloud.  “All I want are some answers.  Is that too much to ask, you alien masterminds?  Give me some answers.  You’re not gods.”
            Marty looked at his vocabulary, and this time he shouted:  Tu est non deo!  Vobis est non deos!
            The interface wall began to flicker.

            “My lord!  What is it?”  Ora spoke from the top of the stairs.  Her bedroom was one floor below, on the same level as the kitchen.  Marty held up a silencing hand, waved her forward.  She padded silently to his side.
            He whispered, “Why are you out of bed?”
            “I heard you shouting, my lord.”
            “Anyone else up?”
            “No, my lord.”  Somehow it didn’t surprise him that of all the inhabitants of Inter Lucus only Ora had woken.
            “Okay.  Ora, I want Caelin, Whitney, Elfric, and Alf.  Wake them; tell them to come quickly; but tell them to be quiet.  Don’t wake the others if you can help it.”
            “Aye, my lord.”  She started away, but turned to look at the interface.  “Are they the gods?”
            “Aliens, Ora, remember.  They are not gods.  Go quickly.”

            An alien race from a very different world, a shocking physiology, a culture with no ties to anything on Earth, and a language unlike any he had ever heard—for all that, it seemed plain to Marty that he was watching a trial.  The aliens, who looked like an impossible combination of praying mantis, stork, and human, were gathered in a room far larger (higher, wider, and longer) than Inter Lucus’s great hall.  On one side of the picture three aliens sat (knelt? stood? It was hard to be sure) behind a softly glowing wall that might have been ceramic or burnished metal.  The wall concealed the lower half of their bodies, and Marty realized he could not be sure how tall it was or how tall the aliens were.  The dimensions of Inter Lucus suggested very tall aliens, but there was nothing in the interface picture of unmistakably human scale, so no comparison was available.  The three behind the barrier rarely spoke, but the others (there were lots of others) seemed to address most of their words to the three.  Marty couldn’t help but think of them as judges.
            The courtroom scene, if that’s what is was, occupied two-thirds of the interface wall.  On the right, outside the picture of the courtroom, words in very large white letters scrolled from top to bottom; it was disorienting until Marty realized he was supposed to read up, not down.  The caption language was Latin.  Marty watched the words flowing by with some despair; his pitiful vocabulary would yield only the tiniest clue as to the meaning of the video.
            And it was a video, a recording.  He felt sure of that.  Surely this meeting or congress or hearing or trial—whatever it was—had been recorded and left in Inter Lucus as an answer to questions like his.  He was watching alien beings from hundreds of years in the past.  The video had been waiting for some representative of Homo sapiens to repair Centralis Arbitrium Factorem.  If Marty hadn’t come to Two Moons, the video would have waited another thousand years until someone learned how to access it.
            “Lord Martin!”  Caelin whispered, but his voice at Marty’s side carried excitement.  “The strangers!  What do you want me to do?”
            Marty pointed to the Latin captioning.  “Copy down as many of the words as you can.”
            “But they move so fast!”
            “I know.  Do your best.  Try to get groups of words if you can.”
            Whitney Ablendan arrived to overhear the instruction.  “Shall I copy too, my lord?”
            “Aye.  Groups of words, if possible.  We’ll try to make sense of them later.”
            The aliens’ speech was opaque to Marty, full of squeaks, clicks and whistles.  They had to converse with the people they brought here.  Did they teach their worshipers to speak alienese?  Or could their voices manage Latin? Marty concentrated on the drama of the alien meeting rather than try to decipher their words.  Presently, Elfric joined Caelin and Whitney in the copying task, receiving whispered instructions from Whitney.
            Alf came to his side.  “Shall I copy too, Lord Martin?”
            “No, Alf.  I want you to watch with me.”  Marty pointed.  “See the one with the red, ah, vest?  I think we can call it a vest.”
            “I see him, Lord Martin.  He’s waving an arm, or maybe it’s a leg.”
            “Right.  He or she seems to be the main speaker for all the aliens on that side of the room.  He or she has been speaking for a few minutes.  Earlier, the one over in this corner with the bright string around his neck was speaking.  I think he’s the speaker for those on this side.”
            Alf speculated, “Maybe the string is a necklace.  Maybe that one is a lady alien.”
            “It’s possible, but we don’t know the difference between male aliens and female aliens.  In fact, we don’t yet know if they have males and females.”  Even as he cautioned Alf, Marty realized he had been doing the same thing, applying human categories to the aliens.  The video seemed to Marty to be a scene from a trial or hearing, but how could he know that?  For all he knew, the aliens were composing a menu or were engaged in some artistic event or were worshiping their god.  Don’t assume.  Observe.
            The alien in the red vest finished his speech and then prostrated himself before the three.  Red Vest lowered himself (herself?) slowly to the floor; sticklike arms and legs splaying out like a spider.  It seemed to be a solemn moment (Do aliens recognize solemnity?), but the brief seconds of silence ended in a cascade of squeaks, whistles, clacks, and hoots from those on the near side of the picture.  The alien with the bright string (necklace?) began walking back and forth between her group and the “judges,” waving his or her arms in wild gesticulations.  Red Vest stood up—the long, sharp limbs again reminded Marty of an insect—and began dancing (marching? prancing?) in front of the aliens on the far side.  Then, without any signal that Marty noticed, the two speakers changed sides of the room.  Now Red Vest was waving his arms in front of the nearer crowd, and Bright Necklace was waving and hooting at the aliens on the far side.
            Meanwhile, the Latin caption scrolled by relentlessly.  Caelin, Whitney, and Elfric wrote furiously.
            The three “judges” raised their arms (the “arms” looked much like the creatures’ “legs,” but seemed to be used like arms).  Instant silence; both sides obviously took their cues from the judges.  Red Vest and Bright Necklace returned to their respective sides.  The video stopped, as if someone had pushed a pause button.  With a still picture, Marty began to count.  There were dozens of aliens on both sides of the room.
            An alien hieroglyph superimposed itself on the still picture.  It was a heading of some sort, Marty assumed, telling him (if he could read alienese) what he had just seen or what he was about to see.  It’s a title, or the alien equivalent of “Part 2,” for all I know.  Or: “brought to you by our sponsor.”
            The interface went blank for a brief moment.  The Latin captioning winked out.  Then the “courtroom” reappeared, very much as it had been, and new Latin sentences began scrolling down again.  The “judges” were on the right side of the scene, and the two opposing sides (if that’s what they were) stood on the left.  If the judges were seated, they were the only ones; everyone else was standing.  Someone made a long hooing sound; Marty thought it was one of the judges, but couldn’t be sure.
            The two opposing groups of aliens turned toward each other, but their eyes focused not on the other group, but on something in between.  A single alien emerged from between the groups carrying something—a human baby, suspended silently from the alien’s hand, ankles clamped in the alien’s grip, head and arms swinging below.
            The noiseless infant, unmistakably dead, gave the scene human scale.  Dangling from the alien arm, the baby’s arms were thinner than the alien’s digits, and the creature that held the human specimen had to be ten or eleven feet tall.  
More importantly, the baby’s presence brought home to Marty the terror and mystery of extraterrestrial contact.  The skin on his arms prickled, and his mouth tasted sour.  To them, it’s an object, a mere exhibit in a debate.  He tried to check himself.  I don’t know that.  Maybe this is the way they show respect to the dead.  But he couldn’t shake the notion that the dead child was displayed as a bit of evidence, of no more significance than a lump of clay.
The baby’s bearer (Marty labeled this alien as the bailiff) brought it to the ceramic wall and raised it for the three aliens behind the barrier to see.  Then, with no ceremony at all, he stepped back from the wall and dropped the dead baby on the floor.  The bailiff moved away from the baby, leaving it in the middle of the room for all to see.
Again, the hooing sound—and this time Marty was sure; the judge in the middle gave the command.  The two groups of aliens attended to something between them; this time an alien came forward, pushing and prodding a terrified young woman.  Marty guessed she might be fifteen, certainly not yet twenty.  She saw the baby and ran to it, screaming her anguish.  On her knees she scooped up the lifeless body and rocked back and forth, keening, a perfect picture of grief.
Both groups of aliens erupted in speech: hoots, whistles, squeals, and loud bass humming.  It was painfully loud.  Arms waved wildly, and three or four aliens (at least one on each side) began dancing vigorously.  If it had been a human gathering, Marty would have thought it verged on a riot.  In the middle of the alien storm, the poor mother continued to wail.
The “judges” raised their arms, and the alien shouting subsided.  The right hand judge began to speak.  The other aliens quickly silenced themselves.  The broken-hearted human mother ceased her keening and raised a tear-soaked face to the alien behind the wall.  With sweeping gestures, the right hand judge pointed at the woman, those on the left side of the room, and his or her fellow judges.
“My lord Martin!  The words are gone!”  Caelin spoke in alarm.  To the right of the courtroom scene the Latin captioning had disappeared.  A moment later, the sound of the video ceased.  On the interface wall, the right hand judge continued to point this way and that, and his or her mouth moved, but nothing could be heard.  The silent movie continued for a minute and abruptly vanished.
Marty held his hand on the lord’s knob for another minute, but the video didn’t resume.  He stepped away from it, letting his hands fall to his side.  Marty’s pulse raced; his hands quivered.  He took another step back and almost fell down.  Alf seized his arm.  “My lord?”
“I’ll be okay, Alf.  I’m very tired.  I’ll feel better after sleep.”
The blue eyes searched Marty’s face.  “Do you think that’s why they left?”
“I don’t understand, Alf.”
“The gods—aliens, strangers.  Did they leave Two Moons because of the woman’s baby?  The judges were very angry.”
Marty could only stare at the boy.

Copyright © 2015 by Philip D. Smith.
All rights reserved.  International copyright secured.