Thursday, March 26, 2015

Castles 148

148.  At the Siege of Hyacintho Flumen

            Edita Wedmor lay still, watching early morning spring light creep over her husband’s face.  Bully had returned very late to the extra room in the Coopers’ house and said something about guarding Eudes Ridere as he walked the dark streets of Hyacintho Flumen.  The general’s unease must have infected Bully; he had woken Edita several times in the night, bumping into her as he tossed and turned.  Edita sighed.  She loved Bully, and that meant she wanted to let him sleep, but it also meant she had to wake him, lest he be late to Ridere’s daily conference.  She stroked his cheek.
            Eyes the color of a dawn sky opened, recognized her.  He began to smile, but thought interrupted.  “By the gods!  I must be up.”
            Even as he scrambled into his clothes, Edita took delight in her husband.  So lithe, so muscled and strong!  Others didn’t know, since shirt, tunic, and breeches deceived them.  Merely another soldier, that’s what others saw.  But Edita knew the glowing skin, the breathless tension in his belly, and the easy power of his legs and arms.  More importantly, under the skin dwelt a kind and loving heart.
            “You’re not late,” she said.  “Godiva Cooper hasn’t put on the bacon yet.”
            Bully sniffed, pulling a leather tunic over a short-sleeved russet shirt.  “You’re right.”  He came to her, kissed her forehead.  “But I can’t wait for it.”
            Anxiety began tugging at Edita.  “Is something wrong?”
            “I think so.  But he didn’t say what.”  Bully pulled on boots.  “At mid-day I’ll tell you anything I learn.”

            Trotting toward the Rose Petal, Bully congratulated himself.  Archard Oshelm had not yet gone in, so Bully wasn’t late.  Then Oshelm saw him.
            “About time, Wedmor!  Come here!”  Oshelm had a bit of paper in his hand, and he thrust it at Bully.  “You can read, right?  I know you can.  Listen, this is strict.  Let no one but these names into today’s meeting.  Stay here and keep people out.”
            Bully frowned, looked at the paper, and said, “Archard, my name is on the list.  How can I stand guard if I’m supposed to be in the meeting?”
            “Damn.  Are you sure?”
            Bully pointed to his name on the paper.
            “Go on in, then.  But don’t tell anyone.”
            “Don’t tell what?”
            Archard opened and shut his mouth.  Bully said, “I already knew you couldn’t read, Archard.  We all know.  And no one says anything because it means nothing.  You’re a brave soldier and an intelligent captain.  Ridere depends on you more than any of us.”
            “Then why did he give me this job?”
            Bully looked at the list again.  “Because he scribbled in haste.  Something important is happening.  Anyway, your name’s right here.  We both ought to go in.”
            Relieved, Archard asked, “Then who will guard the door?”
            “They can.”  Bully pointed.  Two of the hostage knights, Aldin Thoncelin and Deman Mowbray, were coming toward Rose Petal.  “They’re not on the list.”
            Aldin and Deman drew close and stopped.  They looked surprised and a bit anxious, realizing that Commander Oshelm was waiting to speak with them.
            “We’re not late, are we?”  Aldin Thoncelin’s squeaky voice betrayed his trepidation.  He brushed stringy white hair away from his eyes.
            “No.”  Archard received the sheet of paper with the names from Bully.  “You’re just in time.  I’ve a job for you two.  Captain Wedmor and I are needed inside, but General Ridere commands that only these persons be admitted.”  He thrust the list at Aldin.  “Just these.  Let no one else in.”
            Deman Mowbray took the paper from Aldin.  He read the names and frowned.  “Sir Linn Wadard and Sir Gifre Toeni are admitted, but not Sir Thoncelin nor myself, not Sir Odell Giles nor Sir Selwin Beaumont.”  He looked at Bully disdainfully.  “Of course our newest captain is included.”
            Oshelm seized the petulant youth by the throat, pushing him against the wall of the Rose Petal.  “Very good, Sir Mowbray!  You seem to understand the assignment.  I assure you, it’s important.  If anyone not on the list comes through the door, it’s on you.”  Mowbray’s eyes bulged.  Oshelm released a suddenly terrified knight. 
            Aldin Thoncelin squeaked, “We will do our best, Sir.”
            Oshelm snapped his fist to his chest in salute.  The two hostage knights saluted in return. 
            At the Rose Petal conference table Eudes Ridere waited for his captains to gather, hands steepled together.  As they entered the room his captains read the tension in the general’s countenance; his dark eyes seemed to be drilling holes in the table.  If he chews his lip any harder, Bully thought, it will bleed.  The captains slipped into their chairs without conversation.
            In the usual place of the hostage knights, Linn Wadard sat at the foot of the table.  At the other end, Gifre Toeni stood behind the general as his squire.  Two ship captains, Durwin Cyneric and Gilles Giyot joined Acwel Penda, Archard Oshelm, Fugol and Galan Hengist, Danbeney Norman, and Alan Turchil on the two sides of the table.  Bully and the Inter Lucus postman, Godric Measy, took empty places near Linn Wadard.  Eadred Unes came into the room last and sat next to General Ridere.  He smoothed out a sheet of paper and unstoppered an inkbottle.  His materials ready, Unes looked round the table.
            “The captains are all present, Lord General.”  Eadred’s flat tone belied the tension in the room. 
Ridere laid his hands flat on the table and looked at his chosen captains.  “Gentlemen, we reach a crisis.”
            Ridere paused.  He unfolded a piece of paper.  Beside Bully, Godric Measy shifted on his chair.  Ridere tapped the paper.
            “Queen Mariel has given birth.  As sometimes happens, there was trouble.”  Ridere’s somber tone and raised hand forestalled any congratulations or questions.  “The Queen’s son is well.  But at the time of this writing…” Ridere picked up the letter.  “…The Queen had not regained consciousness.”  He paused and swallowed several times.
            “Lord Martin penned this letter five days ago.  That was eight days after the Queen gave birth.  The day of her seclusion was a Friday, so she did not speak to her Council that day.  A week later, on another Friday, again she did not speak to her Councilors.  Tomorrow, unless she has recovered, she will yet again not summon them.
            “Aweirgan Unes, father to our Eadred, has written to the lords of Herminia, telling them that Mariel will soon be back on her feet.  He deceives them to gain time.  Aweirgan wrote the truth to Lady Avice Montfort.  The Queen is…” Ridere squinted at the letter.  “…‘gravely ill.’  Lady Montfort and Master Unes urge me to return to Pulchra Mane as soon as possible.
            “I’m sure you understand Lady Montfort’s reasoning, but I will spell it out anyway.  If Mariel dies, or if she is unable to bond with her castle, the security of Pulchra Mane depends entirely on the armsmen of the city.  They have eighty sheriffs—enough to patrol a city, but hardly enough to fight a war.  The lords Wadard, Mowbray, Giles, and Beaumont may, individually or in concert, attack.  Together, they could field two thousand men or more, even though most of their armsmen are here in Tarquint.  They could destroy the castle, sack the city, and kill the Queen.  They could kill my son.”
            Ridere’s lips were pressed into a line and his left hand balled into a fist.  Bully thought the general might break his teeth; his face was so tense.  Halfway down the table, Alan Turchil lifted a hand.  Eadred Unes nodded at him.
            “My Lord General,” Turchil said, “What about lords Thoncelin and Toeni?  Lady Montfort?”
            Ridere swallowed, nodded.  “Thoncelin is loyal, but has few armsmen, and most of them are here in Tarquint.  Toeni chafes under Mariel’s sovereignty, but I reckon him unlikely to intervene.  The road from Prati Mansum to Pulchra Mane is long and rugged.  Also, it cannot be lost on Toeni that his son has become my squire and that his daughter is married to Captain Wedmor. 
“Lady Montfort is the key.  She is loyal to Mariel, and most of her soldiers are still in Herminia.  That is why we will prevail.”
            Turning his thought from crisis to solution, Ridere became calm.  He was the quartermaster general again, solving a problem.
            “Lady Montfort must send men to Pulchra Mane.  Captain Turchil, how many do you think she has?”
            Alan Turchil pursed his lips.  “Four hundred, perhaps.”
            A grim smile.  “She will scrape the barrel and send five hundred.”
            “My Lord General!  That will leave the town undefended.”  Turchil had proved himself able and loyal, but Tutum Partum was his home. 
            “Aye.  That is why, Captain Turchil, you will embark with as many men as can be immediately gathered.  I believe Fair Wind and Victorious are ready in the harbor.  Is that right?”
            Gilles Guyot made an open hand gesture.  “If the general commands it, sail on the morning tide, Fair Wind will.” 
Durwin Cyneric was not to be outdone. “Victorious will cast off before Fair Wind.  I swear it.”
            Ridere smiled slightly.
            Alan Turchil said, “We can have three hundred on each ship by nightfall, but they will be lightly armed and poorly victualed.”
            Ridere nodded.  “It will be enough.  Your task is to defend Tutum Partum.  The sooner you arrive, the safer your home.  Other ships will follow as soon as may be.  You will send most on to Pulchra Mane.  We will send four thousand in total, I think.  Six thousand can maintain our siege here.”
            “With us the general will sail, no doubt?”  Gilles Guyot asked.  Tutum Partum and thence to Pulchra Mane, no?”
            “You sail for Tutum Partum, aye.  But you will not carry me.  Captain Fugol Hengist will sail with you, and he will hasten to Pulchra Mane, where he will take command of the defense of the city and castle.  Galan Hengist will choose and organize embarkation of the four thousand.”
            Several faces showed confusion.  “My Lord General,” said Galan Hengist, “Will you not be here?”
            “I will not.  Captain Oshelm will command the army in my absence.  He will maintain the siege.  I want no food entering the castle, Archard.  Keep the catapults firing.”
            “It will be done, my lord.”  Archard laid fist to his chest.  “Where will you be?”
            Inter Lucus.  I will presume on the hospitality of Lord Martin, who will let me speak with Lady Montfort.”
            Ridere grinned at their incredulous faces.  “Gentlemen, speed is the key.  By going to Inter Lucus I can speak to Lady Montfort in five days.  Her men will then reach Pulchra Mane four or five days later.  By ship and land, the men we send from here will not reach Pulchra Mane for some days, perhaps many days, after that.  We cannot wait so long.  Montfort will send her troops to Pulchra Mane on my command; in turn, Turchil will defend Tutum Partum when he arrives.  This plan carries risk, because the harbor at Tutum Partum will be vulnerable in the interim.  But this is the only plan that can save Queen Mariel, if she cannot defend herself.  The defense of Pulchra Mane and the Queen and the Queen’s heir must be our first concern.”
Acwel Penda cleared his throat.  “Ahem.  My Lord General.”
Ridere began folding the letter.  “Captain Penda.” 
“We saw riders in the Blue River valley.  Stonebridge scouts, we think.”
“Indeed.  So I must have an escort.  Captain Wedmor will assemble some riders, at least thirty.  You, Penda, and your men will guide us.  Lord Martin’s postman, Measy, also knows the road.  So he comes too.”
Penda inclined his head.  “Very good, my lord.”
Ridere turned his head to look at his squire.  “See that we are ready to ride by noon, Gifre.”
“Aye, Lord General.”  Gifre saluted, fist on chest.
For a few seconds, everyone waited for the next command.  Ridere said, “Speed, gentlemen.” 
Gifre and Bully outraced the others to the door.

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


Thursday, March 19, 2015

Castles 147

147. In Castle Saltas Semitas

            David Le Grant leaned forward, his face in his hands.  Orde Penman sat to his left, prepared with ink and dingy gray paper.  The paper was a poor choice for important correspondence, but the best available in Saltas Semitas.  Orde suggested using calfskin (they had a well-cured skin that might serve), but Le Grant said no.  In an emergency it would be easier to destroy paper than calfskin.  The letter he would dictate must not fall into the wrong hands.
Le Grant had a fairly clear notion of what to say.  Oddly, he hadn’t decided to whom.  Ro Norton had returned from Stonebridge with letters from four individuals: Lunden Ware, Derian Chapman, Amicia Mortane, and Kingsley Averill.  What a choice!  Ware—Assemblyman and moneylender; Chapman—nephew to Ody Dans and sheriff of Stonebridge; Mortane—ambassador for Lord Aylwin and sister of Stonebridge’s general; Averill—Speaker of the Stonebridge Assembly.  All of them important voices in Stonebridge, but Le Grant doubted any of them would welcome his appeal.
Le Grant’s daughter Kendra came into the hall, accompanied by Ro Norton, he of the flaming hair and rugged countenance.  David knew that Kendra was in love with Ro, or at least she thought so.  At nineteen Kendra had little experience with men other than the unlettered herdsmen of the downs.  Ro Norton could read, and he had journeyed to Stonebridge and Down’s End, carrying messages for Le Grant.  Considering the few young men in Kendra’s life, it was natural that her affections should fall on Ro.  How could it be otherwise, in an isolated castle, with a father who can’t manage Videns-Loquitur?  I should ask Lord Martin’s aid.  Ames Hewett has two more sons.  Kendra ought to meet other options before she settles on Ro.  Le Grant gestured Ro and Kendra to chairs on his right.
“I have the letters you brought from Stonebridge, Ro.”  Le Grant spread four sheets of paper on the table.  “I need your advice.”
 “My lord!  I assure you, I carried the letters, but I didn’t read them.”
“Of course not.  I’m asking you about the persons, not what they wrote.  For instance, take this one, from the banker, Lunden Ware.  He is an Assemblyman.”
Ro pursed his lips.  “Aye.  Short man with brown hair.  He must be important, I think.  At the Lady Amicia’s dinner, when she asked the Stonebridge army to help Lord Aylwin, Ware was the one who said Stonebridge would not fight the Herminians.”
Le Grant’s wife, Catherine, joined the group at the table and overheard Ro.  “The banker opposed the Lady Ambassador?  I thought she invited her supporters to the dinner.”
Ro looked confused.  “Aye, my lady.  It was a strange affair.  The lady’s bodyguard was there, and Lunden Ware with his wife, Ody Dans and his nephew, Milo Mortane, and a crippled man that almost never spoke.  They put me in the place of honor.  Lunden Ware told Lady Amicia that Stonebridge would not fight for Aylwin, and Sir Milo said his brother could go to hell for all he cared.”
Le Grant had already interviewed Ro several times about his visit to Stonebridge and the dinner at Ambassador House.  He tried to steer his postman back to his question.  “So you think Assemblyman Ware is a man of influence?”
“Aye, my lord.  Commander Mortane seemed to accept his authority.  And I might say the Lady Ambassador wasn’t displeased with Ware’s words.  And then there was the business with Ody Dans.  The whole thing was confusing.”
Catherine reacted to the name.  “Ody Dans?  What business?”
“A man and a woman came into the room and accused Ody Dans of crimes: kidnapping and threatening murder and other things.  Commander Mortane arrested Dans on the spot.  Later they took Dans under guard to the Citadel.  That’s the fortress of the Guard.”
Kendra had been listening.  “Perhaps this dinner was arranged not so much to gain support for Aylwin but to capture Master Dans.”  Intelligent girl! Le Grant thought.  Good for you, Kendra! 
Ro shrugged.  “That’s possible.  Dans’s bodyguard wasn’t in the room.  When Mortane turned against him, not even his nephew helped him.”
Le Grant coughed politely.  “Ahem.  Stonebridge politics seems full of infighting and betrayals, which makes my decision harder.”
“What decision is that, Dear One?” Catherine asked.
“Lord Martin has asked me to write to a leader or leaders in Stonebridge, to explain the parliament plan.  I’ve been considering Lunden Ware.  Apparently, he has influence.”
“But you’re not sure.”  It wasn’t a question; Catherine could read his face. 
“No.”  Le Grant laid fingers on Ware’s letter.  “The Assemblyman is formally polite, but I read threats behind his words.  The Stonebridge army will venture toward Down’s End.  Ware doesn’t say it, but the army could just as easily come to Saltas Semitas.”
“You can defeat them, surely,” said Ro.
“Could I?  For how long?”  Le Grant pressed his palms together.  “King Rudolf and General Ridere have shown the world how to defeat castles.  Saltas Semitas is particularly vulnerable.  We have shields, but very few sheriffs, just a few unlettered herdsmen.  I am suspicious of Ware.”
“Who else, then?”  Catherine asked.  She looked at the other letters.
Le Grant touched one.  “This is from Kingsley Averill, Speaker of the Assembly.”
“A man of influence.  Surely,” said Kendra.
            “Aye.  But we know almost nothing about him.”  Le Grant pushed the letter toward her.  “He offers us polite greetings and invites me to attend the marriage of his son, or—since I am unlikely to leave Saltas Semitas—to send someone in my place.  Unfortunately, Ro never had the opportunity to meet him.”
            Le Grant picked up the third missive.  “This is from Derian Chapman.  He is nephew to Ody Dans, but apparently not implicated in his uncle’s crimes.”
            “Right,” said Ro.  “In fact, I got the impression that Sheriff Chapman was Commander Mortane’s quartermaster.  He was part of the conspiracy against Ody Dans.”
            Le Grant raised an eyebrow.  “You never mentioned that before, Ro.”
            The postman scratched his chin for a moment, and then shrugged.  “I’m sorry, my lord.  I didn’t think of it.” 
Le Grant tried not to show his frustration.  Ro Norton was the best man he had.
            “So Sheriff Chapman has influence too,” Le Grant said.  “But if he betrayed his uncle, how much trust can I give him?  Judging by his letter, Chapman is chiefly interested in buying castle steel, no doubt to turn it into swords for the Stonebridge army.”  He laid aside the Chapman letter and picked up the fourth.
            “This one is from Lady Amicia.  She says that since she has decided to stay in Stonebridge, she writes as a neighbor as well as Aylwin’s ambassador.  She urges me to join in a league of cities and castles to repel the Herminian invaders.  ‘Stonebridge and Saltas Semitas ought to work together,’ she says.”
            “Stay in Stonebridge?”  Catherine reached to receive Amicia’s letter from David.  “How long does she plan to live there?”
            “She doesn’t say.”  Le Grant surrendered the paper.
            Kendra laughed.  “She doesn’t have to.”  She held up the Averill letter and read from it.  “‘Kingsley Averill invites the lord of Saltas Semitas (or the lord’s representative) to the wedding of his son.’  The son is not named, nor the woman he will marry.  But look closely.”  Kendra handed Averill’s letter to her father.  “The sides of the paper have been cut, as with a knife.  But the bottom has been torn.  Someone tore a part of this letter away.”
            Ro Norton blanched.  “That’s the one, then.”  Le Grant, Catherine, Kendra and Orde all looked at him.  “At the dinner, after they hauled away Ody Dans, the claw-arm man gave me a letter.  Some wine spilled on it, so the Lady Amicia tore the bottom part off.  She showed it to the claw-arm man and they laughed about it.  She folded it for him and sealed it with wax from a table candle.  I put it in my sheath with the others.  I swear, my lord, that is how it happened.  I have never interfered with my lord’s letters.”
            A broad smile lit up Kendra’s face.  “The son of Kingsley Averill must be an important person, and he is marrying.  The Lady Amicia is staying in Stonebridge.  I think we can put the two together.”
            Again, Le Grant mentally congratulated his daughter.
            Catherine asked, “But who is the claw-arm man?”
            Now Ro was wide-eyed.  “By the gods, my lady.  I remember now.  He said not three words at the dinner, but earlier, on the street… The man’s name is Merlin Averill.”
            That was when Le Grant had his answer.

To Master Merlin Averill,
Gentleman of Stonebridge

            I congratulate you on the news conveyed to me by Ro Norton, my postman, that you are betrothed to the Lady Ambassador Amicia Mortane.  May the gods bless your union, granting you prosperity, healthy offspring, and great happiness.
            As lord of Saltas Semitas, I write on a matter of great importance to every city and castle in Tarquint, including Stonebridge and Saltas Semitas.
            Living in Stonebridge, you may not know much about Lord Martin Cedarborne of Inter Lucus, though you must have heard that he came to the ruined castle almost a year ago and since then has revived it.  I have conversed many times with Lord Martin via Videns-Loquitur.  These conversations have convinced me that Martin is a man of integrity and vision.  Lord Martin requested that I write this letter, since my postman can reach Stonebridge far more quickly than a rider from Inter Lucus.  You may regard it as coming from both of us.
            Lord Aylwin of Hyacintho Flumen has been actively seeking allies to save himself from the Herminian army that besieges his castle.  Obviously, you know all about this, since Lady Amicia has brought Aylwin’s appeal to Stonebridge.  Stonebridge, I am told, has already committed an army to the field.  Yet I am also told that General Mortane has NOT been commanded to attack the Herminians.  It seems that Stonebridge has not yet committed itself to open war.  I believe this shows wisdom on the part of the Stonebridge Assembly.
            The war between Queen Mariel of Herminia and Lord Aylwin threatens to pull us all into an inferno of destruction.  Together, Stonebridge and Down’s End could raise an army to rival Mariel’s.  General Mortane could then lead that army against Ridere.  Other than the death of thousands, can anyone predict the outcome of such a battle?  And when it was over, Grandmesnils would still rule Herminia, lords like Aylwin would still fear Grandmesnil power, the free cities would still distrust castle lords, and castle lords would still envy the cities.  Battle would follow battle until some future Rudolf or Mariel subdued all the lands.  And what then?  Subject lords and cities would rebel whenever they thought they suspected weakness in the king or queen.
            Lord Martin and I believe we can make a better future for Two Moons.  Lord Martin proposes that cities, lords, and sovereign all unite in one scheme of government.  The queen’s power would be limited by two “houses”: the House of Commons and the House of Lords.  Free cities would choose members of the House of Commons, and castle ladies and lords would comprise the House of Lords.  Together, the two houses would be called “Parliament.”  The essential idea is that laws must be ratified by both houses and the sovereign.  The freedom of the cities would be preserved through the power of the House of Commons.  The dignity of lords would be protected through the House of Lords.  Unity under the sovereign would benefit us all.
            Lord Martin’s parliament idea may strike you as bizarre and impossible.  I suggest that it is merely unfamiliar.  Lord Martin and I, by means of Videns-Loquitur, have been talking with lords and ladies of almost every castle in Tarquint and Herminia in an effort to acquaint them with the plan’s benefits.  We want to include the free cities in this discussion, and that is why I am writing to you.  Lord Martin will send similar letters to leaders in Down’s End and Cippenham, inviting them to consider the parliament plan.  Please give Martin’s idea careful consideration. 
After you have considered Lord Martin’s idea, you may still think it impractical.  Write to me (and I will share your letter with Lord Martin) and tell us how the idea could be improved.  Neither Lord Martin nor I believe the parliament plan is perfect, and we are eager to hear better ideas.  But we are absolutely sure that talking and corresponding is better than warring.
            Lady Ambassador Amicia will be interested to know that her brother General Mortane has visited Inter Lucus.  Lord Martin welcomed Sir Milo and explained his desire to end the war between Herminia and Hyacintho Flumen.  Naturally, he has had many conversations with Queen Mariel and Lord Aylwin already.  We are taking every step possible to include cities, lords, and sovereign in an open correspondence.  We are eager to receive ideas to improve the parliament plan.
            It may happen that we will fail in the short term.  The armies of General Ridere and General Mortane may clash, dealing death and misery to many.  Aylwin may win for a day, or Mariel may force him to submit.  None of that would change the fundamental situation.  In the long term we must find a better way, or we will repeatedly suffer wars between lords and cities.  You, Master Merlin, are an important voice in Stonebridge, and your influence will grow.  Whenever you have a chance, please use that influence to make peace.
            I have no request or advice about how you should act in the present crisis.  You may reveal the parliament plan to the Stonebridge Assembly or your father the Speaker, or you may judge that the time is not yet ripe.  I write simply to inform you of the parliament proposal and what Lord Martin and I are doing to promote it.  We ask that you consider it carefully.
            With Cordial Regard,
            David Le Grant

            Orde Penman read the letter aloud twice.  Finishing, he raised an eyebrow. 
            “That’s all, Orde.  Thank you.”  Le Grant nodded toward the document.  Orde began folding it, carefully keeping the words unsmudged.  Kendra noticed the exchange.
            “What do you mean, Father, ‘That’s all’?” she asked.  “Is there something the letter does not say?”
            Le Grant looked at Kendra and Catherine.  They had not witnessed his most recent conversation with Lord Martin.  “The letter says nothing about Mariel’s condition.” 
Their faces asked the obvious question.  David said, “Lord Martin’s magic is strong.  He introduced Lady Avice Montfort of Tutum Partum, one of Mariel’s councilors.  Mariel has given birth.  She almost died afterward, and she has yet to rise from her sickbed.  Orde and I learned this yesterday from Lady Avice. 
The news drew shocked expressions from Catherine, Kendra, and Ro.
Le Grant shifted his gaze to Ro Norton.  “The letter says nothing about Mariel’s sickness, Ro.  I expect similar silence from you, when you deliver it to Merlin Averill.”
            “Aye, my lord.”  Ro hesitated.  “My lord?”
            Le Grant explained: “If the lords of Herminia believe the Queen cannot bond with Pulchra Mane, they may rebel.  In that case, General Ridere would have to take his army back to Herminia.  But there is no way we can be sure.  It is possible that Mariel will die.  On the other hand, she might at this very moment be up and about and ready to assert her power.  Lord Martin and I agree that we should keep the Queen’s condition secret.  We certainly will not tell Hyacintho Flumen, and we should not tell Stonebridge.”
            “Darling,” Catherine said, “You are convinced we must have this parliament?”
            “Aye.”  Le Grant absentmindedly drew a design on the tabletop.  “Without it, Kendra will one day have to bow to some Stonebridge general.  With it, our descendants may hold Saltas Semitas with dignity.”

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

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Castles 146

146.  In Castle Inter Lucus

After the departure of Godric Measy and his Herminian escorts, Marty pitched his parliament proposal to some lord or lady every day, often two of them.  Whitney Ablendan and Caelin Bycwine took turns at the scribal desk; these negotiations were too important to use them as practice sessions for other students.  Whitney and Caelin’s notes summarized a dismal reception of Marty’s plan by almost everyone.
            In Herminia, Godfrey Giles of Calles Vinum, Denis Mowbray of Rubrum Vulpes, and Osmer Beaumont of Caelestis Areanus expressed open hostility to Mariel, but this did not make them supporters of a parliament.  Marty’s plan might circumscribe the Queen’s tyranny, Mowbray said, but that wasn’t enough.  The only real solution would be the end of her rule.  Of course, if Marty reported Mowbray’s words to Mariel, Mowbray said he would deny them.  Paul Wadard of Beatus Valle regarded Marty with overt suspicion and hostility throughout their talk and refused to even ask questions about his proposal; Marty got no sense at all whether Wadard could warm to the parliament idea.  Wymer Thoncelin of Ventus in Montes and Rocelin Toeni of Prati Mansum liked the idea of a house of lords, but they had no sympathy for a house of commons.  Avice Montfort was the only one of Mariel’s Councilors who seemed to grasp the importance of a system that gave a voice to everyone.
            In Tarquint, Marty talked with Ames Hewett of Faenum Agri, Walter Troy of Vivero Horto, Jean Postel of Aurea Prati, Isabel Baro of Argentum Cadit, Marin Dufour of Altum Canyon, Simon Asselin of Lata Alta Flumen, and David Le Grant of Saltas Semitas.  There were other castles in Tarquint, he learned.  Eclipsis Lunaris on the northern downs had been a ruin far longer than Inter Lucus.  Flores et Fructus was not a ruin (according to Jean Postel, anyway), but its lord or lady never responded to Marty’s summons.  The lord of Oceani Litura was a five-year-old boy, not yet bonded and unable to respond.  And, of course, Aylwin Mortane of Hyacintho Flumen was well aware of Marty’s proposal.
            None of the lords or ladies of Tarquint genuinely welcomed the idea of bowing to a queen.  They realized that if Mariel could conquer Hyacintho Flumen she could eventually control all of Tarquint, which was, in essence, the heart of Aylwin Mortane’s argument that they should band together now.  But they didn’t trust Aylwin, some of them still resented Hereward Mortane’s arrogance, and they feared for their dignity.  Marty could not grasp the full meaning of dignity, but he knew that for the lords and ladies of castles it was immensely important.  Somehow, uniting to save Aylwin was almost as much a threat to dignity as being forced to acknowledge a queen.  A few of them—Isabel Baro, Ames Hewett, and Jean Postel—were reluctantly willing to accept a sovereign if her power were limited by Marty’s “house of lords.”  But even these did not like the “house of commons.”
            Postel’s attitude disappointed Marty.  He liked the square-faced lady, and respected her opinion on most matters.  Yet she rejected a House of Commons, not because it infringed her dignity but because she thought it would only exacerbate the injustices of the free cities.  “The aldermen, bankers, and merchants of Down’s End already run roughshod over the laborers and peasants.  What would they do if they controlled this House of Commons too?”  To Marty’s contention that poor people could use their votes to improve their lot in life, she replied, “What foolishness!  The poor give all their attention to avoiding starvation; they would happily sell their vote for bowl of beans.  In a proper world, castle lords should care for their people—surely you agree with me on that, Martin.  What we need are better lords and ladies, not some strange plan that requires peasants to do things they can’t do.”
            Surprisingly, it was David Le Grant, alone of all the nobility in Tarquint, who fully embraced Marty’s plan.  Le Grant often reproached his ancestors for the dignity lost when Stonebridge won its independence.  And yet, Marty realized, perhaps that was precisely the reason Le Grant could support the parliament plan.  The others all fear a queen, or each other.  Le Grant fears Stonebridge.  He has a sense that the free cities grow stronger with each generation.  They hold the key to the future of Two Moons.  Someday they will field armies large enough to defeat castles, and General Ridere has already shown how.  A patient siege—someday the lord of Saltas Semitas may have to bow to the Speaker of the Stonebridge Assembly.
            Marty wasn’t absolutely sure why Le Grant had come aboard, but he began including the lord of Saltas Semitas in all his conversations with the others.  He will persuade them in ways I never could.  So it’s time he saw the whole picture.
            “Ready, Lord Martin.”  Whitney Ablendan stood at the scribal desk, close on his right so he could see her work.  Marty laid his left hand on the knob, mentally summoning David Le Grant.
            “Fair morning, Lord Martin.”  The lord of Saltas Semitas had been waiting for the Videns-Loquitur light to shine.  Orde Penman stood at a writing desk close by.
            “Fair morning, Lord David.  Today I want to introduce you to someone new, Lady Avice Montfort of Tutum Partum.”
            “In Herminia?  One of Mariel’s Councilors?  Does the Queen know about this?”
            “I’ve spoken with Lady Avice several times recently.  And aye, she is one of the Queen’s Councilors.  As far as I know, Mariel has not been told.”
            The pink light of Le Grant’s knob flickered.  “But she will surely learn.  You can’t keep a conspiracy secret from such a strong lady.”
            Marty raised an eyebrow.  “Is that what you think we are about, David?  A conspiracy?  Well, maybe it is—a conspiracy to prevent war, not just the one between Mariel and Aylwin but also future wars.  And not only here, but also in Herminia.”
            Le Grant looked puzzled.  “Whatever your noble purpose, Mariel will not appreciate her Councilor going behind her back.  Lady Montfort may have put her neck in a noose.  For that matter, we may have too.”
            “Maybe.  Let’s talk to Avice.”  Before Le Grant could object further, Marty thought: Avice Montfort of Tutum Partum.  Lady Montfort, her hands enveloped in gray light, appeared immediately.  Her younger scribe, Gentian Bearning, was ready to write.
            “Fair morning, Lord Martin.”  She inclined her head slightly.  “I see you bring someone new.”
            “Fair morning, Lady Avice.  This is David Le Grant, lord of Saltas Semitas.”
            Avice Montfort and David Le Grant greeted each other and introduced their scribes.  There were polite compliments, bowing by the scribes, and blessings for good health.  Marty and Whitney listened to the formalities without interrupting.  Marty thought he could read tension in Le Grant’s voice and trepidation on the face of his scribe, Orde Penman. 
            “Lady Avice, Lord David.”  Marty launched into the business of the call.  “Of all the lords and ladies of Herminia and Tarquint, so far you two are the only ones favorable to the creation of a parliament.  That is reason in itself to introduce you.  But there is another reason.  I have kept the news about Mariel secret from all in Tarquint, except Eudes Ridere, of course.  I think David should hear the facts from you, Lady Avice.”
            Montfort wrinkled her brow.  “Lord Martin, you surprise me at every turn.  Why keep things secret?”  Then she smiled.  “Ah.  You are a clever one, aren’t you?”
            She looked at David Le Grant.  “Lord David, eleven days ago, Queen Mariel gave birth to a son.  As sometimes happens in childbirth, Mariel lost much blood and might have died.  I suppose it was only her youthful health and the quick action of the midwife that saved her life.  Since that time she has been unable to bond with Pulchra Mane.”
            “Will she recover?”  Le Grant asked the obviously crucial question.
            Montfort grimaced.  “We don’t know.  We may be sure that if she does, she will go to her lady’s knob to speak to her Council.  She hasn’t yet.”
            Videns-Loquitur requires strength.”  Le Grant was thinking methodically.  “Perhaps she is recovering slowly and not yet able to bond.”
            “I pray that is so, but Aweirgan’s letters have not been encouraging.”  Montfort pursed her lips.  “Aweirgan Unes is Mariel’s scribe.  Knowing that I am the Queen’s most loyal Councilor—and lady of a fortuitously placed castle—he has told me the truth about Mariel’s condition.  He has also written to the lords of Herminia, telling them precisely what you suggested—that Mariel is recovering slowly, that she will return to globum domini auctoritate soon.”
            Le Grant diagnosed the situation.  “The Queen’s scribe deceives the lords of Herminia to prevent them rebelling.”
            Lady Montfort smiled wryly.  “I think ‘delay’ would be more accurate than ‘prevent.’  Once they know with certainty that Mariel cannot fight them, some of my fellow Councilors will promptly attack Pulchra Mane.  There will be civil war.”
            Le Grant opened and shut his mouth several times.  Finally he said: “General Ridere knows all this?”
            Marty answered.  “I hope so.  I sent him a letter a week ago.  Unless my postman ran into trouble along the way, he should have reached Ridere two or three days ago.”
            “What will he do?”
            “We can’t know.”  Marty sighed.  “Aweirgan Unes and Lady Avice both think Ridere should bring the army home to protect Pulchra Mane.  Perhaps even now he is aboard ship, sailing west from Hyacintho Flumen.  Unfortunately, the lords of Herminia can reach Pulchra Mane more quickly than Ridere can.”
            Le Grant laughed aloud.  “This means the siege of Hyacintho Flumen will disappear.  Aylwin has won.”  He paused, and frowned.  “But you have not told this news to anyone, you say.  Why not?”
            “For several reasons.”  Marty closed his eyes and rubbed his nose.  “First, Ridere has an army of ten thousand, and we do not know what he will do.  You know what they say about bears; they are most dangerous when wounded.  If Ridere does not return to Herminia, he could march his army north to fight Milo Mortane or sack Down’s End.  Second, Mariel still lives.  She may recover.  She may reassert herself at any moment.  Third, I still hope that we may somehow avoid a civil war in Herminia.  Aweirgan Unes is doing what he can to delay a rebellion; the longer he can do so, the better.  Fourth, if Mariel’s threat suddenly disappeared, lords and ladies of Tarquint might simply revert to their old ways of thinking and acting.  We must not do that.  The free cities are growing more and more powerful.  We need some way to build peace between castles and cities.
“I believe Mariel is basically right: Herminia and Tarquint should be a united kingdom.  But the Sovereign’s power must be countered by the House of Lords and the House of Commons.”
Avice Montfort cleared her throat.  “In your own way, Martin, you are as ambitious as Mariel.  You will happily extend her rule, so long as your parliament constrains her.”
“It won’t be my parliament,” Marty replied.  “It will belong to all of us.  I want to make this point clear: the parliament plan should probably be amended.  Not erased, but adapted.  We ought to ask castle lords and ladies how the plan can be improved.  Similarly, we ought to ask the Stonebridge Assembly and the Down’s End Council what changes they would like.  You see, in my own way, I am more ambitious than Mariel.  I want a system that includes all voices, and restrains all sides.”
The lady chuckled.  “What next?  Should the kingdom annex Horatia too?  And then Sestia?”  She smiled.  “For now, it seems we are waiting on Ridere’s decision and Mariel’s health.  Is there anything we should be doing?”
Finally.  The point of the whole conversation.  Marty gestured toward David Le Grant.  “I think so.  That is, there is something I think Lord David could do.”

Copyright © 2015 by Philip D. Smith.
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