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.