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.”
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.
“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.”
“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.