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,
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.