Thursday, April 2, 2015

Castles 149

149. Various Locations

Castle Beatus Valle

Gods damn that woman!  Mariel Grandmesnil was the poison of Paul Wadard’s life.  When King Rudolf died, Wadard had hoped that she would bond weakly with Pulchra Mane; instead, she was the strongest lady in history.  Rather than marry his son List (whose wife had conveniently died), she married Eudes Ridere.  She trampled her lords’ dignity, requiring weekly Council meetings via Videns-Loquitur, and every meeting of the Council underscored the power of her magic.  She compelled Wadard’s son and grandson to accompany her army’s invasion of Tarquint.  Once they were there, she ordered List’s execution on trumped up charges.  Even now, when Wadard’s opportunity had come, Mariel’s decisions still hampered him.  Since most of Wadard’s best horsemen had gone to Tarquint with List and Linn, Wadard had few mounted armsmen and no knights to lead them.
            No matter.  Allard Dell and Aleric Whiteson were capable captains, and Paul Wadard was not about to miss his chance.  Aweirgan Unes’s insidious letters, intended to deceive or frighten him, had only spurred Wadard to decisive action.  He sent Allard Dell galloping away with a letter to Denis Mowbray less than an hour after reading the first lies from Pulchra Mane.  Four days later, he and Mowbray collaborated as Wadard’s letter suggested; together they managed to support Videns-Loquitur for ten minutes.  In that conversation, Lord Mowbray agreed to ally with Wadard; he would send four hundred armsmen to Pulchra Mane to join the attack.  That same day Aweirgan Unes’s second letter arrived, full of thinly veiled threats.  Wadard considered this proof of Mariel’s incapacity.  By the gods, she might be dead already.  I hope not.  I want Whiteson to drag her here, where I can tie the noose myself.
            Wadard had mustered five hundred swordsmen in the days since the first letter from Aweirgan Unes.  He would not wait longer.  He exhorted his troops before they marched; promising bounty from the sack of Pulchra Mane once the tyrant had been killed or captured.  Privately, to Aleric Whiteson, Wadard said, “Bring Mariel here if you can.  But if you find the boy, cut his miserable throat.”

City Pulchra Mane

            “Oh, I’m sure that’s right.  Doctor Whitgyl Ucede can read books and has studied long hours.  Wisdom from the gods, he has.  But how often do his charges get well?  That’s what I say.”  Midwife Felice Hale packed useful herbs from her shelf into her tall wicker purse.  She looked up into Bestauden Winter’s face.  “How often?”
            “I’m sure I don’t know, Mistress Hale.”  The youth held the door for her and followed her outside.  A small brown palfrey stood next to the great charger Bestauden had ridden from the castle.  “Scribe Unes asks that you come.”
            “Well, I’m coming, aren’t I?”  Felice mounted the palfrey.  In spite of her increasing years, she prided herself on her vigor.  “But I won’t argue with Ucede.  I won’t do it.  It’d be just like a man and a doctor to turn a deaf ear to good sense, that’s what I say.”
            Bestauden swung himself up, with a young man’s ease, onto the taller horse.  “I think Scribe Unes agrees with you, Mistress Hale.  I heard him arguing loudly with Doctor Ucede.”
            Midwife Hale snorted.  “A miracle from the gods, if true.  Let’s go.”

Castle Pulchra Mane

            Whitgyl Ucede sighed deeply.  He often encountered superstitious resistance to scientific medicine in the poorer houses of Pulchra Mane.  Often it wasn’t overt; peasants would listen wide-eyed to his diagnoses and solemnly promise to follow his instructions.  Then, on a return visit to the home, he would discover the patient subject to all sorts of folk nostrums.  Wealthier families obeyed his orders more frequently, perhaps because they had the resources of time and money to do so.  He hadn’t anticipated outright rejection of medical expertise at the pinnacle of society.
            Three years before, Doctor Ucede had been welcomed in Pulchra Mane, when King Rudolf fought a long battle with consumption.  Outside the king’s sick room, Ucede had explained privately that cold humors had descended from Rudolf’s head into his lungs, where they caused the unremitting coughing that racked the king’s body.  Ucede prescribed goat’s milk and honey to strengthen Rudolf’s lungs, and periodically bled him to restore balance to his body’s humors.  In spite of everything, Rudolf slowly wasted away, the typical pattern of the disease.
Ucede hid nothing from the king’s daughter, Mariel, or his scribe, Aweirgan Unes; he told them plainly that Rudolf was dying.  Nevertheless, when his prediction came true, it seemed that Queen Mariel held her father’s death against the doctor.  Since then he had not been summoned to the castle until the present crisis.  Now that the midwife had failed and the patient barely clung to life, he was supposed to remedy the situation.  Ucede had come to Pulchra Mane as soon as he was called, and he attended the Queen every day.
But now Doctor Ucede faced the unimaginable.  Aweirgan Unes, a mere scribe, was determined to obey instructions sent by letter from Lady Avice Montfort rather than Ucede’s advice.  He tried to reason with Unes: the possession of castle magic did not give the lady medical knowledge, and Lady Montfort hadn’t even examined the patient.  Unes then said that Lady Montfort’s advice was supported by the opinion of Lord Martin of castle Inter Lucus.  Martin had particularly insisted that Mariel not be bled.
At that point, Doctor Ucede gave up.  It would do no good at all to point out that a false belief does not become true merely because more people endorse it.  Lord Martin of Inter Lucus.  Who is he?  Ucede consoled himself that Mariel would likely have died anyway.  Heavy bleeding was only one of many risks of childbirth; unfortunately, in his experience it was often fatal.
Ucede paused at the castle door.  Merlin Torr, Captain of the Queen’s personal guard and Commander of the city’s sheriffs, waited there.  Their eyes met, and Ucede sighed again.  Torr could have done something to remedy the situation, but he wouldn’t.  He and his men would obey Aweirgan Unes as if the scribe were Mariel herself.  By the gods!  It’s hopeless.  Doctor Ucede exited the castle.
Outside, Ucede shielded his face against the sun.  Strange that such a bright, sunny day would be so depressing.  Bestauden Winter and the midwife Felice Hale were coming to the door.  Ucede almost cried; it was so ironic and pitiful. 

Castle Hyacintho Flumen

            “Are you ready, Arthur?”  A light blinked in the viewing wall.  Aylwin felt sure it would be Lord Martin, since Mariel hadn’t summoned him for a long time.  The silence of the bitch queen was puzzling, even troubling.
            “Aye, my lord.”  Arthur the old rubbed his slate with the arm of his shirt.  Aylwin laid his hands on the lord’s knob, and the image of Martin of Inter Lucus appeared instantly.
            “Fair afternoon, Lord Aylwin.  Thank you for answering my invitation so promptly.”  The evident ease with which Martin commanded Videns-Loquitur was a regular irritant, but Aylwin tried to ignore it.
            Aylwin said, “The Herminian b… Ah, Queen Mariel has not spoken with me for almost three weeks.  It’s not like her to miss opportunities to threaten me.  But I know you talk with her, so maybe you can tell me.  Has she given up trying to intimidate me?” 
            The lord of Inter Lucus pointed to something his recorder—a young man this time—had written.  The boy nodded and wrote again.
            “Perhaps the Queen has realized you can’t be intimidated,” Martin said.  “You may not believe it, but the truth is I often encourage her to respect you.  I think it would be much better if the two of you could learn to cooperate.”
            “Please, no more speeches about a parliament.”  Aylwin hardly noticed how polite his request sounded.  He was thinking instead about Mariel.  It’s a trick of some sort.  What is she up to?
            Lord Martin inclined his head.  “As you wish.  As a matter of fact, I wanted to ask you about something else.”
            Aylwin wiggled his shoulders, trying to release tension.  “Ask, then.”
            Hyacintho Flumen stands on a hill.  From such a vantage point, with castle powers, you must be able to watch Ridere’s men.  Have you noticed any changes in their numbers or positions?”
            Aylwin could hardly believe his ears.  Something has changed, and he knows it.  But what?  He’ll betray secrets if I play him right.  “Surely, Lord Martin, you do not expect me to tell you all I know.  You would turn around and tell Mariel.  Worse, you would tell Ridere.  I know letters fly back and forth between the two of you.”
            Martin rubbed his forehead.  “You’re right, of course.”  He sighed.  “I hoped…”
            “What did you hope?  That I would play into your hands?”  Aylwin smirked.
            Martin shook his head ruefully.  “It was nothing.  Good day, Lord Aylwin.”
            Videns-Loquitur blanked.  Damn it!  Learn to play the game, you fool!
Aylwin took his hands from the lord’s knob and looked at Arthur.  “He asked if we had noticed changes in the enemy numbers.”
            “Aye, my lord.”  Arthur pursed his lips.  “He may have reason to think the enemy is doing something.  We must be vigilant.”
            “Or he may be trying to mislead me,” said Aylwin.  “But I agree: we must be vigilant.  Dag and Odo can go up to the gods’ roof and survey the enemy, see if they notice any changes.” 
Aboard Fair Wind

            Alan Turchil and Fugol Hengist leaned on Fair Wind’s forward rail, watching the Tarquintian coast crawl by on their right.  No matter how much they wished for it, the ship would not move faster.  Gilles Guyot answered their inquiries with comments about winds and a dangerous shoreline.
            “Prevailing winds from the south.  Is good, and Fair Wind moves smartly.  But watchful and careful we must be.  Nasty rocks to starboard, easy to ground the ship.”
            To Alan and Fugol, Guyot’s explanation didn’t explain.  If a south wind was good, why couldn’t they sail faster?  Vere De Fry, Captain Guyot’s first officer, elucidated for them: “The south wind can push the ship, aye.  But she also pushes her north.  You see?  Helmsman must always correct our course, to keep away from danger.  We must sail with care.”  De Fry pointed at rocky headlands to the right of the ship.  “When we have passed Oceani Litura we will move to open sea and use full sail.”
            “Full sail now!” exclaimed Turchil.  Tutum Partum will soon be undefended.  I need to get there!”
            “Aye,” said De Fry.  “But you—and all these armsmen—must get there alive.  Captain Guyot makes as much speed as he dares.”
            Fugol Hengist consoled Turchil.  “Don’t worry, Alan.  The rebel lords won’t aim for Tutum Partum.  Pulchra Mane is the key.”
            Turchil stared at the horizon.  “I suppose you’re right.  By the gods, of course you’re right.  Can you save the city with five hundred men?”
            “If Lady Montfort sends them quickly enough, and if they aren’t slaughtered before I arrive.  I will ride for Pulchra Mane as soon as we reach Tutum Partum.  With five hundred I can hold the city for a while.  Time enough for my brother Galan to send reinforcements.  Gods willing, time enough for Mariel to get well.”

In the Blue River Valley

            Soldiering in the wild was a very different business than fighting the Hawks for supremacy in the Bene Quarter.  For one thing, there was a distinct dearth of women in the Blue River valley, and Ifing Redhair declared the few farmwomen in the valley (and their daughters) off-limits to the knife fighters.  A few men grumbled about this, but not in Ifing’s presence.  Secondly, in a forest there were no buildings, no beds, and no breakfasts except what the men made for themselves.  A man’s clothes and bedding and weapons had to be packed from camp to camp.  And thirdly, the wilderness confronted city men with a variety of surprises and pains, from poison ivy to poisonous frogs.
            The essentials of knife fighting, however, did not change in the wild.  Concealment, quiet movement, decisive action at the right moment, speed, and ruthlessness; Redhair’s knife fighters understood well the importance of these elements.  They had to relearn quiet movement in a forest setting, but their practice sessions in Winter Camp had taught them well.
            The valley road between Hyacintho Flumen and East Lake had been little used for two generations, since a rockslide had created a marshy lake in the middle.  North and south of the lake, the road still ran there, a useful, if narrow, track.  Naturally, Ifing Redhair considered deploying his men in the wetlands around the lake.  But one of his men, a wiry gutter rat from the heart of the Bene Quarter named Garwig, gave contrary advice.  “Any man with sense will take caution going round the lake.  They’ll do it in daylight and be extra watchful. Then, once they’ve come through the marsh, they’ll come back to the road.  Horses make good time on the road, and they’ll be strung out—single file or two abreast.”  Redhair considered Garwig’s plan and found a place to execute it.

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

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