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.


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