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.
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.