Thursday, January 1, 2015

Castles 136

136.  In Down’s End

            “I’m not here to threaten or make demands.  As I told the clerk yesterday, I bring greetings from the Stonebridge Assembly and an urgent request that Down’s End send an embassy to Stonebridge so that the two cities may agree on a common response to the Herminian problem.”
            Milo stood at a railing that separated the gallery for the public from the Down’s End Council.  It was a different, somewhat larger, room in than the one where Amicia had spoken to the mayor and Eulard Barnet.  The aldermen, each representing either an established guild or district in the city, numbered fourteen.  They sat in two rows of handsomely carved chairs facing each other, presumably to better facilitate Council debate.  Some paces behind the aldermen on either side were desks with assistants and pages.  Space on Milo’s side of the rail, reserved for members of the public who might bring testimony, was comparatively small.  Milo had brought Derian Chapman and Hrodgar Wigt with him to the Council.  Outside the building Felix Abrecan and six others stood armed guard.  Milo, Derian and Hrodgar had surrendered their weapons to Down’s End Sheriffs when they entered the courthouse.
            “You intend no threats, but you brought an army of hundreds.”  The aldermen had turned their chairs to listen to the visitor’s testimony.  The speaker had a florid face, very full lips and sandy hair; Milo estimated his age at over forty.
            “I am sorry, Alderman … I don’t know all your names.”  Milo was determined to appear deferential throughout the hearing.
            “Kent Gausman, of the glass-blowers guild, though that should make no difference.”  The sandy-haired man was smooth shaven, and he cast glances at other aldermen; his comments seemed directed as much at them as Milo.  “Down’s End is more than weavers and tanners.  All of us, even those with no seat on the Council, such as fishermen or shroud makers, are threatened by your army.”
            Gausman’s words unleashed a storm.
            “Gods!  Not again!”
            “Now you want a guild for shroud makers?  You want a woman alderman?”
            “Fishermen live in my district, and I speak for them.”
            “Bankers don’t have a guild, but we don’t hear them asking for a seat.”
            “Question the witness, Gausman; don’t campaign.”
            A portly man adorned with an enormous gold chain rose from a chair on the left.  Milo remembered Simun Baldwin, the mayor of Down’s End.  “Gentlemen!”  The hubbub died.  “Alderman Gausman is surely right that today’s business concerns everyone in Down’s End.  I implore you to question the witness, not engage in intramural squabbles.”
            The mayor gestured at Kent Gausman, but spoke to Milo.  “The alderman asks a serious question, General Mortane.  Why has Stonebridge fielded an army, if all she wants is to invite an embassy?”
            “We believe the matter is urgent.  So urgent that Stonebridge has borne the expense of raising a force.”  Milo inclined his head.  “Since you seem to know about our army, you must also know that most of my men are camped on the open downs three days march from here.  I brought only ten men with me to Down’s End and I stand here before you unarmed.”
            Milo let go of the railing and began pacing to and fro.  “Some of you will undoubtedly think that I have somehow hoodwinked Stonebridge into giving me an army so I can rescue Hyacintho Flumen.  You imagine an older brother trying to save the younger.  Consider the irony in that notion.  I am a Mortane; I am the older brother.
            “You know the story of my uncle Wimund Mortane.  He and my father were both descended from Thorwold Tirel, the last lord of Inter Lucus, through Aerlene Tirel.  Uncle Wimund, the younger brother, tried to bond with Inter Lucus, a ruined castle.  He thought that, since my father Hereward had Hyacintho Flumen, he might establish himself in the castle of the Tirels.  He failed.  When he came home to Hyacintho Flumen, Hereward chopped off his hands so he could never try to bond again.  Wimund spent the rest of his days, which weren’t very many, being fed by another.”
            The aldermen regarded Milo suspiciously.  Milo laughed.  “Surely you see the point?  I am very much like my father.  There was a day when I would have deprived Aylwin of his hands to gain Hyacintho Flumen.  Alas!  That day is past.  The younger brother usurped the elder.”
            Milo ceased pacing and faced the aldermen.  “To my surprise, I find the gods have blessed me.  Beyond all expectation, I became Commander of the Stonebridge Guard, General of the Army.  I tell you, gentlemen, that I would not trade my position for my brother’s, not if this rail were the lord’s knob and all I had to do were place my hands on it.”
            Rather than touch the rail, Milo resumed pacing.  “Nevertheless, the fact remains that our cities face a crisis.  Aylwin sent his sister—my sister—to ask help from Down’s End.  From here, she took her entreaties to Stonebridge.  I should say, as an aside, that I love Amicia dearly.  She is not responsible for Aylwin’s treachery.  In both cities, she argued that the Herminians are a threat to all of Tarquint.  Aylwin put this argument in her mouth to serve his purposes, so you ought to regard it skeptically.  I propose, then, that we remove Aylwin from our calculus.
            “Let us assume that Hyacintho Flumen falls.  Perhaps Aylwin dies.  Little Eddricus would bond when he comes of age.  I assure you, such a result would not trouble me in the least.
            “The question is this.  What will Mariel do after she takes Hyacintho Flumen?  Surely you have contemplated the matter.  The only safe assumption is that she aims to rule all of Tarquint.  If you grant that, one need only look at a map.  Almost certainly, the Herminians will march north, following Blue River to West Lake and East Lake.  They will come to Down’s End and Inter Lucus.
            “The Stonebridge Assembly is alarmed by the Herminian threat.  Frankly, they think Down’s End ought to be even more alarmed.  What do you propose to do?  Stonebridge has put an army in the field.  We are ready to work and fight as your allies, if that is your choice.  As a first step, we urge and invite an embassy.”
            Todwin Ansquetil, the black-haired alderman of the weavers’ guild, raised a palm.  “We judge that Lord Aylwin is strong.  Hyacintho Flumen will not fall this year.  Therefore we have refrained from rash and expensive decisions.  We have time to raise an army.”
            Milo nodded.  According to Bee Fatman, the Down’s End weavers’ guild opposed every action of the city that would cost them money.  “You’re right, I’m sure.  May I point out that in Stonebridge my predecessor, Osred Tondbert, laid the foundations for a larger City Guard over many years.  Since his death, and with the authority of the Assembly, I have been building the Guard as rapidly as possible for five months.  With all that, the Stonebridge army encamped on the downs numbers less than seven hundred.  The Herminian host is ten thousand.  You do have time.  But it takes time to raise and train an army.”
            Ansquetil wasn’t pleased, but another alderman seized the opportunity to speak.  “Ah, General Mortane.  Hors Baldric, dyers’ guild.  How long would it take to prepare an army?  How big should it be?  To fight the Herminians, I mean.”
            “I have an army of six hundred, plus some scouts.  We have been training hard for five months, as I said.  I am proud of my men, but the truth is our training is barely adequate.  To be safe, I should say you must give six months to train five hundred men, provided you have experienced armsmen to train them.”
            “Five hundred would be sufficient?” Baldric asked.
            “I did not say that.  No.  I only illustrated that it takes months to make soldiers.  The Herminians number in the thousands.  I believe we need five thousand men.”
            Dismay appeared on many faces.  “We will be bankrupted,” Ansquetil said.
            “Better that than be dispossessed entirely,” another alderman said.  “Cedric Sibbald, river district.  General Mortane, why have you marched against the Herminians if you are so outnumbered?”
            “Stonebridge sends its army to demonstrate good faith with Down’s End.  I’m not eager for suicide, so I do not plan to attack the Herminians.  I say again: Stonebridge urges and invites your embassy.  Send your own people, trusted men, to parley with the Assembly.  We stand ready to ally with you.”
             Another alderman waved his hand.  “Garrock Unwine, blacksmiths’ guild.  The Herminians wield swords made of castle steel from Pulchra Mane.  What do your men have?”
            “For years the standard weapon of the Stonebridge Guard was iron, a short sword.  That is unacceptable.  This year the smithies of Stonebridge are making steel blades as fast as possible.  Most of my men now carry steel swords or knives.  Archers, naturally, are a different matter.”  Milo let himself smile broadly.  “Of course, I and a few others have superior weapons.”
            “General!  Byrni Eadgard, south district.”  This alderman sat closest to the public gallery.  Milo thought at first he was blind; his eyes were the color of blood.  But Eadgard had tracked Milo’s movements to and fro.  “I presume the weapons you speak of were made at Hyacintho Flumen.  Castle magic, castle steel.”
            Alderman Eadgard continued: “Have you asked Saltas Semitas for steel?  I assume Stonebridge would seek help wherever it may be found.”
            Milo nodded, smiling.  “A natural suggestion.  But you must understand how difficult it is for some.  Suspicions and resentments between Stonebridge and the Le Grants run deep.  Nevertheless, the Assembly has exchanged messages with Lord David Le Grant, and we may yet offer to buy from him.  However, it seems to me that Down’s End might have better luck asking Saltas Semitas for weapons.  You don’t have a history of war with the Le Grants.”
            Eadgard’s blood red eyes turned to Garrock Unwine.  “If we bought steel from Saltas Semitas, our blacksmiths’ guild could arm our soldiers well.”
            Unwine was about to reply, but Ansquetil objected.  “Hang that!  You’re talking about thousands of swords and shields.  Le Grant has what?  Twenty sheriffs?  Fewer?”
            “We want his steel, not his men,” answered Eadgard.
            “Exactly!  But if he only arms a score of men for his own protection, is it likely he has more steel—tons more?  Even if he does, do we want to devote the city treasury to David Le Grant?”
            Mayor Baldwin rumbled into speech.  “Gentlemen!  We will debate policy in due time.  Do you have questions for the witness?”
            “I do,” said Gausman, the alderman of the glassblowers.  “We have it on reliable testimony that a new lord has revived Inter Lucus.  Have you made contact with this Lord Martin?”
            “Not yet.  I have been told that Martin of Inter Lucus uses castle magic to make paper rather than steel.”  Milo rubbed his chin thoughtfully.  He saw no reason to tell the Council about Kenelm Ash’s visit to Inter Lucus or Kenelm’s low opinion of the strange lord.  “A man that can revive a ruined castle might be powerful indeed, but I don’t see how paper helps us much.  Nevertheless, I will send men to interview him.  Perhaps I will go myself.”
            “General Mortane.”  An alderman rose from far chair of the right side.  Milo recognized the cropped hair and black mustache.  “Eulard Barnet.  I’m sure you remember me, and I have a question for you.  How can Stonebridge hope to gain Down’s End as an ally, given your past treacheries?”
            Barnet raised his arms to squelch protests from other aldermen.  “I will explain, my friends!”  Then he pointed at Milo.  “Your sister did, indeed, make entreaties for Aylwin Mortane in this city.  She lived here some weeks and enjoyed our hospitality.  And then, quite abruptly, you spirited her away.”
            Barnet faced his fellows.  “Most of you do not know, though Sir Mortane certainly does, that I offered marriage to the young woman.  Rather than allow her to respond, Mortane smuggled her to Stonebridge.  Where, no doubt, he is trying to pair her with some Assemblyman of that city.
            “I deliberately say smuggled because that man…” Barnet pointed theatrically at Derian.  “That man, Derian Chapman, smuggled my son’s murderer to Stonebridge, where he lives under the protection of the notorious Ody Dans.  I say also, General Mortane, that you helped Chapman deliver Avery Doin from justice.  Will you deny it?”        The stocky Barnet wrapped himself in a black coat like an avenging fury.  “I ask again: Why should Down’s End ally with Stonebridge, given such treacheries?”
            Milo waited.  The aldermen looked from Milo to Barnet and back and saw Milo cover his mouth, trying to conceal a smile.  The aldermen began smiling too, as if a joke were already made, though they didn’t know what it was.  Barnet saw their smiles and shouted: “Answer, you fool!”
            Milo bowed formally.  Then he rested his hands on the rail.  “Alderman Barnet, we two will surely agree on this: Amicia is a beautiful and delightful woman.  I sincerely apologize for the pain of heart you have felt in losing her.  The truth is, sir, that she does not love you.  She might have married you, for love of her brother Aylwin, had I not ‘spirited her away,’ as you say.  I despise Aylwin.  It would have pained me endlessly to see her marry simply to help him.  So in the matter of my sister, I plead guilty.  I did rescue her from a marriage she did not want.
            “The matter of Avery Doin is more complicated.  You say Avery murdered your son.  Avery claims it was an accident.  Aethelred Doin feared his son would not be fairly tried in Down’s End, and he arranged Avery’s escape.  Derian Chapman, as you say, smuggled Avery to Stonebridge.  It chanced that I met up with Chapman’s wagons on the way, and I helped defend them from highwaymen.  Therefore, unwittingly, I abetted Avery Doin’s escape.”
            Milo smiled indulgently.  “Shall I go on, Alderman Barnet?  I could stop.”
            Barnet frowned, confused.  “If you have more to day, say it.”
            “The rest of your question is easily answered.  Ody Dans is in prison in the Citadel of Stonebridge.  My men guard Avery Doin at camp three days from here.  Master Doin is quite willing to return for trial, provided that it is fair.  You should know, Alderman Barnet, that important witnesses, including your daughter Ada, will testify that Hue Barnet’s death was indeed an accident.”
            Milo considered saying more, to accuse Barnet of paying the highwaymen who attacked Chapman’s wagons.  But it wasn’t needed.  Barnet’s little drama had collapsed on him.  The banker staggered back into his chair while the other aldermen ignored him.  Milo addressed them.
            “You should trust Stonebridge if our actions match our words.  We have raised a force as a token of good faith.  We urge and invite an embassy.  I only add this: please act soon.  Send your own men to Stonebridge.”

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



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