Thursday, February 26, 2015

Castles 144

144.  In Castle Inter Lucus

            Esteemed General Ridere,

            Queen Mariel has not responded to my requests for conversation via Videns-Loquitur for eight days.  I became worried, so four days ago I contacted Lady Avice Montfort, a member of the Queen’s Council.  Mariel had not talked recently with Lady Montfort either.  Today, I talked with Lady Montfort a second time.  She has received a letter from Aweirgan Unes.  I now tell you the news Aweirgan sent to Lady Montfort.
            Queen Mariel has given birth to a son.  Aweirgan calls him Eudes, though you may decide on some other name.  Mariel did not name the boy, because she is unconscious.  Aweirgan’s letter says that she is “gravely ill.”  Physicians are attending to her, but neither Lady Montfort nor I trust their cures.  Young Eudes, however, is healthy and is in the care of a competent wet nurse.
            I am dreadfully sorry to give you this news.  I pray to God for Mariel’s recovery.
            You surely understand better than I do the implications of the Queen’s condition.  Mariel cannot use Videns-Loquitur to speak to her lords.  They will soon discover that she is wholly disabled, though Aweirgan will write letters to mislead them as long as possible.  Aweirgan and Avice Montfort believe that some lords of Herminia will rebel against the Queen once they know she cannot command Pulchra Mane.  You know the lords of Herminia and can predict what they may do.  You also know how well Pulchra Mane can defend itself without Mariel’s hand on Globum Domini Auctoritate.  Aweirgan Unes and Lady Montfort believe you should return to Pulchra Mane as soon as possible, with sufficient force to protect the Queen, the castle, the city, and the kingdom.  Of course, you must act as you see fit.
            Your son will one day be king—but only if there is a kingdom for him to rule.
            You know that I have urged Queen Mariel and Lord Aylwin to make peace before their war draws in other lords or the cities of Tarquint.  Therefore, you may suspect that I have invented this story of Mariel’s illness to induce you to leave Tarquint.  I plead with you to believe me.  Your wife is gravely ill.  You understand better than anyone else how dangerous her illness is.
            In this time of crisis, I am eager to help you if I can.  I am able and willing to contact Aylwin of Hyacintho Flumen or any lord of Herminia if that would be of use.

Anxiously awaiting your reply,
Martin Cedarborne
Castle Inter Lucus

            Marty folded the paper, dripped red wax from a candle on the edge and pressed his thumbprint into it.  Despite urgings from Caelin, Marty still had no ring or insignia to seal his letters.  Slipping the sealed letter into a leather pouch, he looked at Godric Measy and Acwel Penda, seated across a table in the great hall.
            “This letter gives General Ridere information I received only today from Avice Montfort.  You must understand that some things communicated between the Queen and the general must be kept secret, secret from everyone.  This letter must reach General Ridere as soon as possible.  In no case may it be allowed to fall into the hands of enemies.”
            Captain Penda smiled wryly.  “Your postman will protect the letter.  We will protect the postman.  You may be sure that if the seal is broken, Ridere’s punishment will be severe.”
            “Aye.”  Marty pushed the pouch to Godric.  “You should leave at first light.”
            Godric frowned.  “Why not begin now?  There is nothing that prevents us from riding at night.  And darkness will be an aide in hiding from the Stonebridge men.”
            “I would think that you must ride much slower in the dark.”
            “Aye.”  Godric looked puzzled.  “But tonight there will be four hours of double moonlight.  We’ll be fine.”
            Marty kicked himself mentally.  Almost a year and I still forget the basics.  Two Moons, old man.
            Penda said, “We will not follow our usual route.  Mortane’s army is near Crossroads, so we must not go that way.  We’ll take the old road, in the Blue River valley.”
            “But…” Marty pursed his lips.  “Someone told me the river road was flooded a long time ago.  Something about a landslide that blocked the river.”
            “Aye,” said Penda.  “Priest Teothic says that’s so.  He also says that much of the road is still good.  We only have to find a way around a marshy lake.”
            “He’s not been down that way himself, he says.  His report depends on what travelers have said.  But Teothic is a story keeper and a good listener.  He has confidence, he says, that the road is still there except where the new lake buried it.  In any case, since we can’t take the usual road to Hyacintho Flumen, the old road is our best route.”
            “I trust your judgment, Captain.”  Marty swallowed.  “Godspeed.”

            The dream started as many others had.  Marty stood outside an apartment building; somewhere on an upper floor a meth addict was heating his concoction over an open flame.  Alyssa Stout Cedarborne had just entered the building, intent on visiting a social services client.  Marty tried to run after her, calling for Lyss to stop.  She did not hear him.  Somehow either the distance to the building grew with every step he took or an invisible force reduced his run to slow motion.  Before he reached the door, a window high above blew out, the explosion that would kill his wife and child.  Glass, brick and bits of metal landed around him.
            This time, though, the dream changed.  The paramedics arrived and raced past Marty, unaffected by any invisible barrier.  Marty’s agonizing attempt to reach the building morphed into an overwhelming desire that they reach her in time.  Almost instantly, they emerged from an elevator with an emergency stretcher on wheels.  Alyssa lay on the gurney, and an EMT leaned over her, holding his hand to her neck.  As she came by, her eyes were open and alert.
            My God, she’s alive!  He knew he was dreaming, and yet hope uninvited flooded his mind.
We know, they said.  But her condition is dire.  She needs a doctor asap.
Eternity in a moment: Marty examined Lyss’s body and saw little wrong.  A little bleeding, some bruises; did she have internal injuries?  He asked: What will the doctors do?
Dark humors in the blood, they said.  Docs will bleed her and drain them out; God willing, she’ll get better.
What?  Docs don’t bleed people!  That’s medieval. 
But they swept by him and loaded the gurney into a two-wheeled cart, pulled by horses.  Marty wanted to follow them, but he couldn’t lift his feet.  The invisible net around his feet held fast.  He shouted after them, but they didn’t look back.  The wagon lumbered away on a narrow cobblestone street.

            He opened his eyes in the dark of his Inter Lucus bedroom.  As so many times before, a dream of Alyssa induced deep sadness.  His heart was trapped in his chest like a prisoner of war; how it longed to break out of him and go home, to find her.  But no.  He was trapped in an unscripted science fiction story, in which the fate of thousands—millions—of people hung on his performance.
            Marty pulled blankets aside and swung his legs out of bed.  Night lighting immediately shone at the intersection of walls and floor.  He went to the bathroom, filled a basin and plunged his face into the water.
            He had explained to Avice Montfort that bleeding Mariel was exactly the wrong thing to do.  The Queen’s problem was lack of blood, not excess.
            Montfort had asked the obvious question: Was he, Lord Martin, a physician?
            What was he supposed to say to that?  Tell her that he came from another planet—and then explain about planets and galaxies and aliens who built machines that controlled wormholes?  Marty couldn’t give a description of a wormhole that would pass muster in a high school physics class.  It was just a word from a sci-fi book.
            No, he told Montfort, I am not a physician.  But I knew some very good physicians in Lafayette.  Lafayette physicians firmly believe that a person’s blood is what carries strength to all the body’s parts.  They believe that we need our blood, and when we lose a lot of it—as Mariel has—the body must have time to make more.  A weakened body needs all its blood.
            He said nothing about transfusions or bacteria, antiseptics or antibiotics.  He pled with her to believe that he wanted Mariel to recover and that draining the Queen’s remaining blood was precisely the wrong thing to do.
            She believed him.
            Montfort said she would write to Aweirgan and urge him to persuade the physicians to follow a different course of action.  She could not promise Aweirgan would do as she asked, and she could not predict whether Mariel’s physicians would obey him in any case.  By the way—what alternative course of action did Lord Martin propose?
            Marty had no answer but what he remembered from first aid training as a Boy Scout: keep her warm, elevate her legs, give her water as possible.  Then he improvised: And some fruit juice or warm broth, but only a little at a time.
            Avice Montfort had smiled at him.  Perhaps you should have been a physician, she said.  You make more sense than the ones I know.

            He knew sleep would not return easily.  Marty climbed the stairs of the east tower—the gods’ tower, according to Jean Postel.  Apparently, every castle had one, but neither Postel nor David Le Grant could say why it was called that or what it was for.
            On the flat roof Marty marveled at the night sky.  His life on Earth, with its nearly ubiquitous light pollution, had rarely given him such a view of stars.  Second moon was just peeking over the eastern horizon.  As Penda had predicted, first moon would not set for four hours.  Godric Measy and his guards would have double light for a portion of their journey. 
            Marty tilted his head to take in the vast expanse of the Milky Way.  He pointed up.  Somewhere, unimaginably far way, there was a planet, his home.  And there was a woman buried on it. 
He spent a long time praying for safe journey for Godric and recovery for the Queen of Herminia.  Then he went to bed and fell asleep.

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

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Castles 143

143.  In Castle Inter Lucus
            After the Videns-Loquitur session with Aylwin, Marty’s sense of urgency returned stronger than before; he needed information from Avice Montfort.  But what to do with Milo Mortane? A good host—the lord of a castle—ought to show hospitality to guests.  And the general of the Stonebridge army was no ordinary guest.  For a minute, Marty pretended to read over Whitney’s record of the conversation with Aylwin.  In reality he was considering the possibility of somehow excluding Mortane from Inter Lucus just long enough to contact Lady Montfort.  He frowned.  Even if I get some news from Montfort, how do we sneak Penda and Godric past the Stonebridge armsmen?
            Mortane solved the problem for him.  After a whispered conversation with his bodyguard, Felix Abrecan, Milo said, “Lord Martin.”
            “Hm?”  Marty turned from Whitney’s report.
Milo stepped away from Abrecan toward Marty.  At Marty’s side, Elfric put his hand on his sword hilt—a slight motion, but not unnoticed by Mortane.  “I am unarmed.”  He grinned at Elfric and held out open palms.  “I must thank you, Lord Martin, for inviting me to Inter Lucus and for creating this meeting with Aylwin and Mother.  I am tempted, of course, to stay and beg you to make possible another such conversation tomorrow.  You are clearly a powerful lord; perhaps you can support Videns-Loquitur on consecutive days.  But it cannot be, even if you were willing.  I must return to the army; in fact, we must depart immediately.  Felix says if we ride hard for three hours today, and let the horses rest overnight, we can take a day off the return to Crossroads.”
            Marty rubbed his nose, concealing his relief.  “How quickly can you rejoin the army?”
            “Three days, perhaps two if we ride the horses into exhaustion.”  Mortane cast his gaze around the great hall.  “If fortune permits, I would like to return to Inter Lucus.  I have never been to a castle other than Hyacintho Flumen.  The differences are subtle, but worth exploring.”
            “Really?  I’ve never been in another castle either.  I’d be interested in what you conclude.  In any case, you will be welcome.”  Marty motioned to Elfric, who escorted Mortane’s bodyguard, Felix Abrecan, through the west door.  Marty and the general followed.  Outside, Ealdwine Smithson, Leo Dudd, and Ora awaited them in the shade of the oaks along with other Stonebridge soldiers.  Caelin and Went Bycwine had already come from the barn, leading Stonebridge horses.
            “General Mortane.”  In spite of his eagerness to return to the lord’s knob and the interface wall, Marty suddenly realized an important opportunity might disappear when the general departed.  “Might I have a word?  Privately?”
            Milo shrugged.  “If you wish.  Briefly.”  He waved at Felix Abrecan and the other Stonebridge armsmen.  “Take Gray Boy and the other horses down to the priests’ building.  I’ll be along presently.”
            Elfric raised his eyebrows when Marty motioned him to accompany the Stonebridge men.  “My lord?  You should not be defenseless.”  He touched his sword hilt.
            “The general has no weapon.”  Marty sighed.  “Very well.  Give it here.”  Receiving Elfric’s sword, Marty said to Milo, “My sheriffs are trying to train me to protect myself.”
            “As well they should.  Outside his castle, a lord is vulnerable.”
            The Stonebridge soldiers and Marty’s people were walking down the hill, armsmen as well as Inter Lucus folk casting backward looks at Milo and Marty.  “Your men are as nervous about your safety as Elfric is for mine.  I suppose a general without his guards is as vulnerable as a lord outside his castle.”
            “Not in this case.”  Milo pointed with his chin to the sword in Marty’s hand.  “How many times have you fought with a sword?  Not many, I wager.”
            “You are certainly right about that.”  Marty wondered what gave him away.  “But surely, even an inexperienced man could kill with a blade like this.”  He pointed the sword away from Milo.
            “Blacksmith forged.  A useful weapon, in the right hand.”  Milo nodded.  “My own sword is castle steel, lighter, sharper and stronger.  But the quality of the sword matters less than the arm that wields it.  There are many ways to take advantage of an untrained fighter.  Fortunately for you, I have no designs against you.”  The two men resumed their walk downhill.  Milo asked, “Now, why did you want to speak privately?”
            “I wanted to speak with you about what you just mentioned—your designs or plans.  You have no designs against me, you say.  You told Aylwin that you serve the Stonebridge Assembly.  If that is true, your plans are determined by the Assembly’s will.  What does Stonebridge intend?”
            Milo stopped.  He seemed to be weighing his reply.  “They don’t know what they intend, not clearly, not yet.”
            “But they sent you with an army into the field.  Surely they gave you some instruction.”
            “Aye.  I am to destroy highwaymen.  I am to reconnoiter the Herminian invader and advise the Assembly about its strength.”
            Marty asked, “Why send an army?  Fifty horsemen should be enough to rout bandits and size up the Herminians.”
            “Aye.”  Mortane began walking again.  “But they also—at least some of them—want Down’s End to acknowledge Stonebridge as first among the free cities.  Some day there will be an alliance between the free cities, and Stonebridge must be first among them.  The Herminian invasion brings that day close.  That is the mind of some Assemblymen.  As I say, the Assembly as a whole is not entirely clear about its aims.”
            They came to Elfric, standing thirty yards apart from the Stonebridge soldiers, none of whom had yet mounted their horses.  “My sheriff will insist that I stop here,” Marty said, handing Elfric his sword.  “And I want to rephrase my question.  What are your designs, General Mortane?  The report you make to the Assembly will greatly influence their policy.  What will you tell them?”
            Milo kicked at some grass at the edge of the paved castle road. “General Ridere is a dangerous man.  For the moment, he has the upper hand.  A battle between us would mean the destruction of my army.  But Ridere’s advantage will not last.  His supply lines are too long.  There are great chances before us.”
            Marty replied, “Aye.  There are chances, opportunities, before us.  It seems to me that we ought to use them to persuade Aylwin and Mariel to stop their war.  I have said this to both of them, so far without success.  You, General, are in a position to aid the cause of peace.  Aylwin might not take your advice, but Stonebridge will.  The Stonebridge Assembly already sees that the free cities must cooperate, and I agree.  We all—Stonebridge, Down’s End, Inter Lucus, and Mariel and Aylwin—would be better off in peace than war.”
            Milo grinned.  “How is that possible?  I am Stonebridge’s general.  I will be better off if I win battles.  What use is a general if there are no battles?”
            Marty felt dismay.  “Will you, then, push Stonebridge toward war?”
            The general’s lip curled into a harsh smile.  “As I said, there are great chances before me.  The gods have given me chances greater than Aylwin’s.  Who would have guessed it?  If a man is alert, he seizes his chances.”  He walked to Felix Abrecan, who held the reins to his horse, stepped up on a box placed beside the animal, and mounted.  Once in the saddle, he saluted Marty.  “Farewell, Lord Martin.  I will come again, if I can.”

              In spite of his eagerness to call Avice Montfort, Marty waited until the Stonebridge riders were out of sight, and then a few minutes more.  He felt queasy, as if he had eaten contaminated food.  Milo Mortane’s words hung in his mind: “There are great chances before me.” 
Marty felt instinctively the danger of doing anything to betray the presence of Ridere’s soldiers in Inter Lucus.  He half expected General Mortane or one of his men to come galloping back to Prayer House under the pretext of delivering one last word.  Finally he said,  “Okay.  We’ve got work to do.”
            Marty marched double-time back to Inter Lucus, issuing orders.  “Caelin, it’s your turn to take notes.  Come with me to the interface. 
“Ealdwine, Went and Ora.  I’m going to call Avice Montfort, and I hope for news that I will share with Captain Penda.  But I prefer that he not witness the conversation.  Go find Penda and his men and take them to the kitchen.  Give them something to eat and drink.  You can tell them plainly that they are not to come to the great hall.  I will send for them when I’m ready.
“Elfric, make sure the Herminians’ horses are saddled and ready.  They may need to leave Inter Lucus tonight.”
            When Marty established the Videns-Loquitur connection to Tutum Partum, Lady Montfort stood between two men.  She introduced the older man, who sat on her right in a rather plain wooden chair, as her long-time scribe, Renweard.  Renweard’s fingers could no longer hold a pen for more than a minute or two, Lady Montfort said, though she still treasured his advice.  A younger man, Gentian, sat in the ornate scribe’s chair with paper and ink spread on a small table.  Marty introduced Caelin as his recorder for the day.
            Formalities accomplished, Marty delayed no further.  “Lady Avice, I grow more concerned about Queen Mariel with every day that passes.  Have you received any news from Pulchra Mane?”
            “We have.”  Montfort, standing with her hands on her knob, nodded her head toward the old scribe.  Renweard read from a sheet of paper.
            “My Dear Lady Montfort.  I announce to you the birth of a prince, blessed of the gods, who will one day rule Herminia.  Her majesty Queen Mariel gave birth to a healthy son on the twenty-fifth day of May.  The prince will be known as Eudes Grandmesnil until such time as his father or mother decides on another name.  The boy is healthy, and we have procured an able wet nurse for him.”
            The old man hesitated to read further.  Lady Montfort said, “Go on, Renweard.  Eudes Ridere needs to know.”
            Renweard cleared his voice and obeyed.  “I will write to the lords of Herminia to tell them that Mariel lives and will resume Videns-Loquitur meetings with them as soon as her strength returns.  She is under the care of physicians.  However, General Ridere must be told that the Queen bled much after the birth of her son, and she is gravely ill.  Her true condition cannot be longed concealed from Herminia’s lords.  The general must do as he deems best, but I advise him to return to Pulchra Mane as expeditiously as possible.
            “Only to you, Lady Montfort, of all the Queen’s counselors, do I write this full report.  I beg you to send this news to General Ridere without delay by the fastest means.  I write in full confidence that wisdom will guide your actions.  May the gods protect the realm created by King Rudolf and ruled so well by Queen Mariel.  Signed, Aweirgan Unes, scribe for her majesty Mariel Grandmesnil, Lady of Pulchra Mane and Queen of Herminia.”  
            The old scribe looked up from the paper and set his jaw as if his lady had crossed a Rubicon.  Avice Montfort waited for Marty to speak, her hazel eyes watching his face.
            “Does Aweirgan know that you can speak with me?” Marty asked.
            “I don’t know.”  The gray light around Montfort’s hands wavered a little.
            “He knows that I can contact Aylwin.”  Marty pushed his hair from his eyes.  “I said as much to Mariel, many times.  Aweirgan may be hoping that you would send news to General Ridere through me, much as Mariel has before.”
            Lady Montfort said, “Perhaps.  More likely, he knows that he can trust me.  My fastest ship is his best hope.”
            Marty smiled.  “Well then, we have already surpassed his best hope.  Captain Penda and his men are here in Inter Lucus today.  They will ride with my letter to General Ridere as soon as may be.”
            Avice Montfort smiled weakly and briefly.  “Good.”
            “You are still troubled, Lady Montfort.”
            “We must all die, Lord Martin.  But it is a deep sadness when the young die.  And I fear it will be a sadness beyond words if this young queen dies.  If your letter spurs Ridere to return home immediately, his army will not reach Pulchra Mane in real force for two months.  In that much time a rebel lord might sack the castle.  Prince Eudes could become the target of assassins.  The kingdom could be rent by civil war.  Furthermore, how much of Ridere’s army will be loyal to him once they know Mariel is gone?  All that Rudolf put together could fall apart.”
            At first, a Herminian withdrawal from Tarquint had struck Marty as good news: the unnecessary slaughter of young men on both sides would be avoided.  But now Montfort’s analysis predicted an even greater disaster would befall Herminia, a civil war between multiple lords.  International politics: a desperate voyage between Scylla and Charybdis.  War on one hand and worse war on the other.  Meanwhile, Milo Mortane has an army and the wealth of Stonebridge to feed it.  What happens in Tarquint if Ridere withdraws to Herminia?
            “Lady Montfort, Mariel is not dead yet.  Aweirgan’s letter did say she was under physicians’ care.  Surely the Queen will have the best doctors available.  Perhaps she will recover.”
            “Perhaps.”  Montfort’s face contorted, and tears rolled freely.  “They will do what they can, I’m sure.  Perhaps by bleeding her, they can dissipate the poisonous humors.”
            Marty was shocked.  “Bleeding her?  What is Mariel’s disease?  Didn’t Aweirgan’s letter say she lost blood in childbirth?  What in God’s name are they doing?”
            Avice Montfort shook her head.  “Aweirgan’s letter does not say what her physicians are doing.  I am sure they are doing their best.” 
            Breathing deeply to calm himself, Marty said, “Lady Montfort, I now beg you to listen to what I have to say.”

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

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Castles 142

                                                                                                                                                                                                      142. In Castle Hyacintho Flumen

            “Arthur!  Fetch a slate.  Diera says the summons is blinking.” 
Aylwin and Juliana had ventured outside castle walls, not far of course, to enjoy sunshine and spring air.  Arthur, too, was outdoors, pulling weeds in a flowerbed with Lady Lucia.  Eddricus and Rose were playing nearby, watched over by Boemia the nan.  Anytime the lord left the castle, some servant had to stay in the great hall to monitor the magic wall; today the task had fallen to Diera.  She had run breathlessly to find Aylwin with the news.
Arthur climbed up from his knees slowly, joints protesting.  “Coming, my lord.” 
Aylwin didn’t wait for the scribe.  He hurried toward the castle’s north door, Juliana trotting with him.  Part of his mind welcomed the Videns-Loquitur summons; he needed news of the wider world, and it had been five days since Martin of Inter Lucus had called him, which meant he hadn’t talked with Postel, Le Grant, or any other lord or lady of Tarquint.  At the same time, he resented his dependence on Martin’s ability to sustain Videns-Loquitur.  That last conversation had ended with Aylwin insulting Simon Asselin of castle Lata Alta Flumen for Asselin’s boneheaded blindness to the Herminian threat. Asselin the ass!  Martin had abruptly cut off the contact.  Aylwin suspected that Martin intended the five-day interruption in Videns-Loquitur summons as a lesson in civil speech.  Pompous fool!  Someday I will teach him a lesson or two.
Meanwhile, the bitch queen hadn’t contacted Aylwin for a week, which gratified Aylwin more than it irritated him.  Pretty clearly, she had realized that her threats only hardened his resolve to fight.  And he had consistently rebuffed her feeble attempts to trick him into revealing information about the siege.  Still, underneath his satisfaction there was a tinge of regret.  Every Videns-Loquitur session, even those with Mariel, brought a tiny thrill, proving again that Aylwin could lay his hands on the power of the gods.
            When Arthur entered the great hall, Juliana said, “By the gods!  Look at him.” Mud caked the scribe’s coarse breeches at the knees.  “I’ll find the slate, Arthur.  Go change.”
            Arthur shot a questioning look to Aylwin.  “At once, Arthur!” Aylwin said.  “That damned Martin might produce a possible ally. We have to look good. Hurry!”
            Having upheld Juliana’s command, Aylwin immediately resented her giving it and the delay it caused.  What if the Videns-Loquitur light went out?  If Aylwin missed this summons, how long would Martin delay before giving another?  Aylwin clenched and unclenched his fists, waiting with mounting anger.
            The summons light still shone when Juliana and Arthur re-entered the great hall.  Aylwin decided the wait had been worth it; Arthur wore a gray tunic with silver sash, and he had brushed his hair out of his face.  Turning to the magic wall, Aylwin let out a deep breath.  Focus on the job at hand.  Try not to offend Martin’s stupid sensibilities.  Play the game.  Play the game.  Aylwin glanced sideways.  Arthur nodded his readiness.
            Aylwin bonded.  Videns-Loquitur instantly revealed Martin, his left hand hidden in the green Globum Domini Auctoritate.  One of the girls of Martin’s school stood to his right. Martin’s free right hand covered his mouth and chin, as if he were contemplating some difficult question.  Disappointingly, no other window opened in the magic wall.  Then Aylwin noticed someone standing to Martin’s left.
            Martin inclined his head.  “Fair afternoon, Aylwin.  I don’t need to introduce Sir Milo Mortane, but I’m very happy to bring the two of you together.”
            Unencumbered by a lord’s knob, Milo bowed from the waist, a spectacularly insincere flourish.  “Fair afternoon, brother.  Just think, it’s been almost eleven months since you cheated me of Hyacintho Flumen.  Is Mother there?  I’d like a word with her, if you will allow it.”
             Milo began laughing, and laughed louder at Aylwin’s speechlessness.  Aylwin fought the urge to lift his hands from the knob.  Play the game.
            He recovered aplomb.  “Forgive my surprise, Milo. When you disappeared from Hyacintho Flumen, you disappeared from my thoughts. I would say it’s a relief to see you’re not dead, but it wouldn’t be exactly true.”  Aylwin regretted his words before he finished them, worrying that Martin would end the conversation.  Damn it, man!  Control yourself.
            Martin looked thoughtful, as if he were judging whether Aylwin’s insults were grave enough to deserve immediate rebuke.  Before Martin could reach the wrong conclusion, Aylwin said, “I’m sure, however, that Mother will rejoice that you live.  If Lord Martin will permit the time, Juliana will bring her to the hall.”  Aylwin turned his head to command Juliana, but she was already scurrying toward the door.
            “Thank you.”  Milo wore a faint smile.  “Who is Juliana?  Oh, wait, I know.  The washerwoman, who came with Edita Toeni.”
            “Juliana…” Aylwin stopped in mid-thought.  “Dear brother, you left Hyacintho Flumen before the Toenis arrived.  Who told you about Juliana?”
            Milo’s smile had become a smirk.  “Well, let’s think.  It had to be someone who was there when you married Edita.  Who might that be?  Someone who recognized Juliana for the marriage supplement that she is.  Who might that be?”
            Aylwin’s mind raced.  “Is Amicia well?”
            “Oh, very good, brother!  Aye!  Amicia is well, and she has represented your interests well, very well I should say, both in Down’s End and Stonebridge.  You should be proud of her.  I certainly am.”
            Aylwin’s resentment of Martin and Milo evaporated for the moment.  “Down’s End?  Stonebridge?  Where is Amicia?”
            Rapid footsteps sounded behind Aylwin.  Without waiting for permission from Aylwin, his mother ran to his side.  “Milo?  Milo?”
            “Aye, Mother.”  Milo bowed his head, not the sarcastic formal bow he had offered Aylwin, but something neutral and restrained.  “Kenelm and Amicia both say you shed tears over me.  They say it so often I think I believe them.  As you can see, I am alive and whole.”
            Lucia squeezed out a single word: “Amicia?”
            “Aye, Mother.  She too is well.”
            Lucia’s relief was palpable.  “Thank the gods.”
            “Where?”  Aylwin jumped back into the conversation.  “Down’s End?  Stonebridge?  What is she doing?”
            Milo snorted.  “I think you mean, ‘What is she doing for me?’ Isn’t that your meaning, Usurper?”
            At this point Lord Martin switched his hands on the knob and gently touched Milo’s arm with his left hand.  “Sir Milo, please take care.  An exchange of insults won’t serve anyone’s interests.”
            Aylwin almost laughed aloud, seeing Milo shrug off Martin’s hand.  Go ahead, fool!  Try to teach manners to my brother!  We Mortanes have a dignity you’ll never understand.  Then, to his consternation, Aylwin realized he felt pride in his brother, and with the pride a glimmer of sympathy for Milo’s pain in losing Hyacintho Flumen.
            “Milo.”  Aylwin pursed his lips, and then spoke gently.  “Whether it was just or not, I do not know.  Our father chose me, and I rejoiced at the time.  But now I am here, surrounded by foes, and unable to go a quarter mile from the lord’s knob.  I have wished more than once to change places with you.”
            Milo’s brown eyes examined Aylwin calculatingly.  The sneer was gone.  “That may be true, brother.  I have come to know that I would not change places with you, not for a pot of gold, not for a dozen crippled wives.”  A thought rippled across his face.  “Where is Edita, anyway?”
            “She is with the Herminians.”  Aylwin beckoned Juliana with a quick flip of his head.  “I traded her for Juliana, who is now my wife.  It all happened after Amicia and Kenelm left, so they couldn’t tell you.”
            Standing between Aylwin and Arthur, Juliana curtsied.  “Sir Milo.  Lord Martin.”
            Milo chuckled.  “It seems you got the best of the trade.  Why did the Herminians accept such terms?”
            Aylwin shrugged his shoulders and joined Milo’s laughter.  “You would have to ask General Ridere.  I’m told he uses her as a scribe, which, I must admit, is better use than I ever got.”
            Juliana laughed with Aylwin and Milo.  Aylwin noticed that Lucia, Arthur and Martin didn’t.  He pushed on.  “Milo, I asked about Amicia.  True, I wish to know whether Stonebridge or Down’s End have responded to our plea.  But I ask also because I, and Mother, and everyone else here love her.  You have talked with her.  Where is she?”
            Before answering, Milo looked at Martin for a moment.  The thought that Milo needed the strange lord’s permission irritated Aylwin.  Someday I will manage Videns-Loquitur without him.  Someday.
            Milo said, “Amicia is in Stonebridge.  She lives in what they call ‘Ambassador’s House,’ though in reality it is a gift from a rich Assemblyman.  Amicia has agreed to marry a man named Merlin Averill, a man with a crippled arm and a sharp intelligence.”
            Lucia coughed.  “A cripple?”
            “He has a deformed arm, Mother.  Nothing more or worse.  As I said, he has a good mind.  Amicia says she loves him.  She asked me, and I gave her permission to marry.”
            You gave permission?”  Aylwin might have said more, but held off.
            “Aye.  I am her oldest brother, after all.  If it makes you feel any better, Amicia judged that by marrying Merlin Averill she would do more to advance your cause than anything else she could do.  She’s probably right.
            “The Averills have been a leading family in Stonebridge for generations, ever since Warren Averill led the fight for independence from the Le Grants of Saltas Semitas.  Merlin’s father, Kingsley Averill, has been Assemblyman for twenty years and recently advanced to the Speakership.  Kingsley Averill has long opposed increasing the City Guard.  But now, with Merlin and Amicia bending his ear, Kingsley’s faction in the Assembly has allowed me to recruit hundreds of men.  We have an army now.”
            Aylwin did not miss the obvious.  “Allowed you to recruit?  What is your role in all this?”
            Again Milo looked to Martin before answering.  Perhaps he was not seeking permission as much as guidance.  Aylwin found that a disturbing thought.
            Milo said, “Last winter I became Commander of the Stonebridge Guard.  By city tradition, the Guard is called the Army when it is outside the hills that ring Stonebridge.  Since we are far from Stonebridge, I am General of the Stonebridge Army.”
            Juliana touched Aylwin’s side, whispering: “General…” Aylwin twisted his torso to shake her off, keeping his hands on the lord’s knob.  He didn’t need her help to interpret the situation.
            “Milo.”  Aylwin let out a deep breath.  “Gods be thanked.  You know my situation and need.  I must apologize for what happened last summer.  You know…”
            Milo waved his hands to interrupt.  “Stop. Stop, before you say something you will regret.  Amicia has served your interests faithfully and with remarkable success.  However, I don’t give two figs about your situation.  I tell you now, Aylwin, what I told the Assembly: if I can serve Stonebridge interests by helping you, I will.  If I can serve Stonebridge interests by ignoring you, I will.  I serve Stonebridge; I obey the Assembly.”
            Aylwin wasn’t deterred.  “If you help me, you do serve Stonebridge interests.”
            “That’s what Amicia said, many times.”  A smile played on Milo’s face.  “I’m not persuaded.”  He shrugged.  “We’ll see.”

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


Thursday, February 5, 2015

Castles 141

141. In Castle Inter Lucus

            “Five times seven is thirty-five.  We carry two, so we make it thirty-seven.  The seven lines up under the five, so the three lines up here.  Then we add.  Zero plus nothing is zero.  Five plus five is ten, so we have a zero and carry the one.  One plus one plus seven is nine.  Nothing plus three is three.  The answer is three thousand, nine hundred.” 
            Tayte Graham surveyed her work on the tall slate, nodding her head as she reviewed.  She turned around to face Marty and the other students.  “Seventy-five times fifty-two equals three thousand, nine hundred.”
            “Stop.”  Marty held up a hand.  “The rest of you—do you agree?  Dodric?  Went?  Ora?”  Marty avoided calling on Caelin, Whitney or Elfric, who would certainly know the answer.  The star students kept their faces impassive, providing no help for Dodric, Went or Ora.
            Ora compared the numbers on the slate to those on the piece of paper in front of her.  “Tayte is correct,” she announced.
            Dodric Night: “Aye.”
            Went Bycwine: “Aye.”
            Marty smiled.  “Very good!  Lunch, everyone!”
            Collegium Inter Lucus dissolved.  Some students traipsed off to the kitchen to bring up the mid-day meal while others cleared the tables of paper and inkpots.  Marty beckoned six men to join him at a table.  Godric Measy and his escort of five Herminian riders had been watching the class from seats by the wall.
            “Your numbers are a mystery.”  Godric pointed with his chin at the slate.  “But the students are comfortable with them, and Isen says the new numbers help him in the glassworks.”
            “Arabic numbers make it easier to calculate accurately,” Marty said.  “They will be useful in any home, in any shop.”
“And in any army,” said Acwel Penda.  “General Ridere could use some of your students as accountants.”
Marty nodded.  The military mind has its own uses for education.  “By the way, my friends, this is the first time all five of you have come back to Inter Lucus since that unfortunate day when Rothulf Saeric persuaded you to take my castle.  I’m glad to have you here on friendlier terms.”
Penda and his men—Stepan Dell, Wylie Durwin, Ned Wyne and Bron Kenton—evinced some embarrassment, looking at their hands or the floor or each other, but not at Marty.  Penda said, “We owe our lives to your graciousness, Lord Martin.  We count it a privilege to come to Inter Lucus.”
            “You’re very welcome.  But now I want to explain, as well as I can, the situation we are in and why I kept you here all morning.  First, you must understand that I cannot tell you everything.  The letters I write to General Ridere and those he writes to me sometimes contain secrets.  Godric first of all, and you men secondly, are given a great trust.  If the messages Godric carries were to be captured, great damage could come to Inter Lucus or Ridere’s army.”
            Stepan Dell’s mouth curled.  “The general has made that point very clear to us.”
            “Right.”  Marty could imagine punishments Ridere might have threatened.  “Second, I have begun a letter to General Ridere, but I cannot finish it until I have further information.  This information is very important, and it must reach the general as soon as possible.  I think you will have to stay here at Inter Lucus until the information comes.”
            Penda tilted his head toward the interface wall.  “Information from the Queen, perhaps?”
            “Remember, I am not free to tell you everything.”  Marty grinned, knowing that Penda would read it as an affirmative.  Ridere would not want his men speculating about Mariel’s health, so Marty concealed his own worries.
            Marty continued, “A third thing, and this may be the most pressing.  Six days ago, ten riders from the Stonebridge Army came to Inter Lucus.  They left the next day, and you arrived here four days later.  It seems that you missed them on the road only by chance.”
            “Not entirely by chance,” said Penda.  “General Ridere has scouts spread out over much of the country between Hyacintho Flumen and Down’s End.  We had some warning of a force of men near the place called Crossroads.”
            Marty raised his eyebrows.  “Go on.”
            “General Ridere commanded us to come to Inter Lucus without revealing ourselves to the mystery army.”  Penda smiled.  “When we left, Ridere did not know the provenance of this other army.  He thought Down’s End may have raised a force, since he knows Aylwin appealed to them for aid.  It won’t please him to learn that Stonebridge is also involved.”
            By this time lunch had arrived.  Students, sheriffs and priests filled the great room tables, Ora and Eadmar sitting with Marty and the guests.  “Whose turn today?” Marty called out.
            “Mine.”  Alf stood at his place.  “Father God, we thank you for the safe arrival of Godric and our Herminian friends.  We thank you also for today’s food, and we pray for peace.  Amen.”
            “Amen. Amen.”  Penda and his men bowed for prayer like everyone else.
            Chatter arose and people fell to eating.  Marty returned to the point of conversation before prayer.  “You’re telling me, Acwel, that the Stonebridge riders didn’t see you?”
            Captain Penda shook his head.  “I can’t be certain, Lord Martin.  We did not see them, but it is very hard to hide yourself from an unseen enemy.”
            “I understand.”  Marty took a sandwich from a platter.  “You should probably take a different route back to Hyacintho Flumen.”
            The west door opened abruptly, interrupting Penda’s reply.  Leo Dudd announced, “Riders, my lord!  At least twenty.  They are waiting at Prayer House.”
            Marty put down his sandwich.  “Apparently Stonebridge’s army has responded more quickly than I expected.”  He stood, and everyone present listened.
            “Teothic, Eadmar and Ora, please go to Prayer House with Leo and welcome our guests.  Delay them there for a few minutes and send me their names as soon as possible.  Permit only a handful to come up, and they must disarm.
“Ealdwine and Os will guard the doors.  Elfric and Caelin—our new guests must not see Penda’s men’s horses.  Suggestions?”
Elfric answered, “We will politely insist that they let us care for their mounts.  But first, we will tether the Herminians’ horses behind the barn so they can’t be seen from the path.”
“Make it so.”  The sheriffs and students receiving commands moved quickly even as Marty continued.  “Acwel, you and your men need to disappear.  You too, Godric.  Went, take them down to the CPU.  Then get back here.”
            Went Bycwine raised his hand.  “My lord, if I leave them alone the lights will go out.  Inter Lucus does not know them.”
            “Captain Penda and his men are soldiers, not children.  They won’t fear bogeys in the dark.  And we’ll fetch them back once the Stonebridge men are gone.  Whitney and Besyrwen—we need to clear these places so there’s no sign of guests.  The rest of you—we need to make this look like a normal lunch, only slightly interrupted by the arrival of guests.”
            Students, sheriffs and priests obeyed promptly and without panic.  In two minutes the visiting armsmen were gone and the mid-day table settings rearranged.  “It ought to look like an ordinary lunch,” Marty said.  “Go ahead and eat.”  He bit into a sandwich and sat down. 
            Isen and Ernulf brought their plates to Marty’s table.  Isen grinned.  “We don’t want guests to think the lord of a castle eats all alone.”  Went Bycwine returned to the great hall, and he joined Marty, Isen and Ernulf.  “The Herminians may not be afraid of bogeys, my lord, but a castle is a very strange place to most people.  If the new guests stay very long, one of us should sneak down there and give them light.”
            Marty frowned.  Soldiers, afraid of the dark?  No, afraid of alien technology, afraid of the gods.  “Okay.  It’s your job, Went.  Excuse yourself at some point to go to the kitchen.  Then go down and check on them.”
            Marty had finished two sandwiches when Ora came through the west door.  “Lord Martin, Sir Milo Mortane and four men wish to visit Inter Lucus.  They have agreed to disarm.  Eadmar has invited the others to camp near Prayer House.”
            “Show them in.”
            Marty stood by his chair, only two strides from the lord’s knob, when the Stonebridge men entered.  “My Lord Martin!” said Ora.  “I present General Milo Mortane, Captain Aidan Fleming, and armsmen Felix Abrecan, Earm Upton, and Jarvis Day.”
            “Welcome to Inter Lucus.  I am Martin Cedarborne.”  Marty watched the newcomers, waving them forward.  In some way Milo Mortane differed from the others, but at first Marty couldn’t identify how.  Medium build, brown hair, about twenty-five, muscular, with the balance of a natural athlete—but there’s something more than that.  The arrogance of a young conqueror? The way he stares at me?  Then Marty understood: Mortane grew up in a castle.  Nothing here is unusual to him, except me.
            The young general inclined his head.  “Fair afternoon, Lord Martin.”
“Please take seats.  I offer you food and drink.  Nothing special, just an ordinary mid-day sup.”
“Excellent.  This may settle a dispute between Felix and Earm.”  Mortane nodded toward two of his companions.  Earm says the food of the gods will be different somehow from ‘ordinary’ food, and Felix disagrees.  They asked my opinion, but I told them they would have to decide for themselves, if ever they ate in a castle.”
“Well!  Today is your chance, gentlemen.”
Tayte Graham and Dodric Night brought fresh water, cold tea, French fries and sandwiches.  The guests, including Mortane, regarded the fries quizzically.  After sampling a few, the one named Earm filled his mouth and leaned into his companion.  “Food of the gods.  I win.”  Residents of Inter Lucus and guests joined in laughter.
Caelin and Elfric entered the great hall from the west wing rather than the main west door.  They slipped down the stairs to the kitchen, and then returned with plates of cookies for students and guests.  A meaningful nod from Caelin told Marty that Penda’s men’s horses had been hidden successfully.
Marty felt conflicted.  He very much wanted to contact Avice Montfort, in hopes of getting news about Mariel.  But if news had come, it would be impossible to hide Penda’s men for long inside Inter Lucus; they needed to be on their way.  At the same time, he dare not call Montfort with Mortane present, lest the general conclude he was allied with Mariel.  Clearly he first had to facilitate conversation between Aylwin and his brother, and then hope Milo would return promptly to his army.  Fortunately, Milo Mortane was equally eager.
“Lord Martin, we thank you for your hospitality, especially these French fries.  But I did not come to Inter Lucus to eat castle food.  Hrodgar Wigt says that you invited me here for a particular reason.”
“I did, General.  If you would like, we can proceed to that matter.”
Mortane looked around the room.  “I would prefer privacy for this.”
“Sir Milo, I must be present, obviously.  I will need a student as scribe.  And my best counselors insist that I keep at least one sheriff with me as personal protection.”
Mortane pursed his lips, nodded.  “Felix will stay for me.  Both guards can sit at a distance.”  The general grinned.  “Only your man will have a sword.  If anything, I am the one in danger.”
“You are a brave man, General.”  Marty stood up and raised his voice.  “General Mortane and I need some quiet while we use the interface.  Elfric will stay as guard for me, and Felix Abrecan for Sir Milo.  Whitney, you will stay to take notes.  Ernulf and Isen, take Captain Fleming, Earm and Jarvis to the glassworks.  Show them your latest projects.  I think the rest of you all have afternoon work to do.  Go to it.”
The clatter of dishes and trays rose quickly and died away almost as fast.  In five minutes Marty stood at the lord’s knob, Whitney on his right at the desk and Milo to his left.  Elfric Ash and Felix Abrecan sat by a wall.
“I should tell you that Aylwin sometimes doesn’t respond promptly to my summons.  He doesn’t like me.”
Mortane snorted.  “I’m not surprised.  My brother is a cheat and an arrogant braggart.  Like his father, he probably sees himself as a great king, another Rudolf.”
A harsh judgment, but not without insight, Marty thought.  “And you?”
“What do you mean?”
“As the older brother, when you were a boy, you must have imagined yourself as lord.  Did you want to be a great king, another Rudolf?”
“Of course!  When I was eleven.  Then I grew up.  I think I could have been a good lord, partly because I admitted I would never be great.”  The corner of Mortane’s mouth edged up.  “You may not believe it, Lord Martin, but a knight in the world can find chances, greater chances than my brother’s.”
“Oh, I’m sure of it.”  Marty regarded the general seriously.  “The question is: what will you do with those chances?”
Mortane grinned like a high stakes gambler.  “I have yet to decide.”  He gestured at the interface.  “Shall we talk to my brother?”

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