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.