151. In Castles Inter Lucus and Pulchra Mane
Therefore, dearly loved sisters and brothers, stand firm! Don’t be dislodged by anything. Always devote yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.
Alone on the gods’ roof of Inter Lucus, seated on a simple wooden bench, Marty watched the first rays of sunlight, slanting from the northeast on this late spring morning. His watch read 5:32. Not much change from yesterday. It’ll be equinox soon—a few days more. A year ago, more or less, a Trappist novice stepped through a wormhole into a world as strange in its own way as Wonderland was for Alice.
He looked down again at the Book of God lying on his lap. A copy of 1 Corinthians—made by Whitney Ablendan, he felt sure; her firm, clear handwriting was as good as a signature—lay open in his hands. “Therefore…” He wondered how the apostle’s encouragement for ancient Christians might apply to him. Father Stephen, he was sure, would say that the “work of the Lord” included all sorts of activities, including works of mercy and justice. God willing, that’s what I’m trying to do.
Marty unfolded another piece of writing and laid it on top of the Book of God. It was a list of Latin words and phrases copied during the alien video. He had not succeeded in summoning the alien message a second time; after many attempts he felt certain that Isen’s makeshift fiber optic repair had failed permanently. Students checked the violet hexagon every day, and none of them reported seeing any pulses of light between the upper and lower blocks. Until a new repair should succeed, the notes taken by Whitney, Caelin, and Elfric were the best clues he would have about the video.
nostro iure est simplex
Nostri autem perdiderit millions obsido
inritus exit genus retrorsum
intercedendo development naturae
nos dignitatem modeste secum omni tempore
Humans sint stupidi, non potest docere
The list was Caelin’s. Elfric and Whitney’s pages added other bits of the video’s Latin captioning. Marty felt confident about some of the words: infans mortuus had to refer to the dead baby in the video; accusatio reinforced his belief that he had seen some kind of trial or legal hearing; but most of his guesses were tentative. Humans sint stupidi—humans are stupid? Marty’s ignorance of Latin vocabulary was only part of the problem; isolated words or phrases needed context, and unless he could view the video again to match up phrases with the action on the screen the copied words lacked context.
His morning’s musings were interrupted. A head popped through the invisible rain barrier at the top of the stairs and saw him. In seconds, Tayte Graham and Alf Saeric stood before him.
Even now, at this hour, on this perfectly peaceful morning, an interruption. For a moment, Marty resented the intrusion. Can’t it wait? Alf’s blue eyes were wide, his expression solemn. Reading the boy’s face, Marty’s irritation evaporated.
Tayte Graham brushed away tears. “Lord Martin. Something has happened to the CPU.”
“Alf said not to touch it, and we didn’t.” Tayte looked sideways at the boy and then met Marty’s eyes. “We didn’t.” She clasped her arms across her stomach, and her tears streamed. Her breath came in gasps. “We didn’t touch it.”
Still seated, Marty folded Tayte into his arms. She buried her face in his shoulder. Behind the girl, seeing Marty comfort the girl, Alf’s face registered a kind of longing, a distant yearning for a parent long lost. Marty freed his left arm and beckoned him. Alf stepped into Marty’s embrace. For some seconds Marty held the children close, without words.
Gently: “Tayte, I know you didn’t touch it. Now tell me. What has happened?”
Tayte sniffed and rubbed her nose on Marty’s shirt. Alf replied. “I saw the CPU in a dream, the violet block, the one Isen repaired. So I told Tayte to come with me to see.”
“Tell me about the dream first.”
The boy slipped back a step to look Marty in the face. “In my dream it glowed brightly—very brightly, like a noon sun. I thought it might be working again. I wanted to show it to you, but I thought I should see it first, to see if it really happened. Then I thought it would be good if someone else saw it, before we bothered you.”
“Alf, when you dream about Inter Lucus, you should always tell me. Always—as soon as you can. Okay? So, the two of you went to the CPU. Did you see this bright light?”
“No. We saw no light at all. The fiber optic cable is broken.” Now, Alf’s eyes brimmed with tears. Marty quickly pulled the boy back into his arms.
Marty squeezed both children. “It’s going to be okay. Let’s go look.”
Other Inter Lucus residents noticed Marty, Tayte, and Alf on the way downstairs. By the time Marty reached the CPU room he was leading a troop of ten, including Caelin Bycwine, Isen Poorman and Ora Wooddaughter. They circled around the hexagon blocks nearest the door, heading for the violet block near the south wall. Light pulsed intermittently between the lower and upper portions of the various hexagons, which made the condition of the violet block all the more striking.
“There’s a piece of it all the way over here.” Caelin pointed to a fragment of glass near the base of another hexagon. “It must have exploded.”
“Or melted.” Isen stood close to the violet hexagon, careful not to touch it. “There’s a bit of the linen still hanging here, and the glass has fused with it. It must have been very hot.”
Marty walked around the violet block, examining the broken connection from every angle. “You’re probably both right. The glass strings are melted together and the linen outer covering, what’s left of it anyway, is coated with glass. But very little remains. I expect the rest is spread around the room, thrown by an explosion. Let’s look carefully and find the pieces.”
Students began inspecting the area close to the violet hexagon and soon went to hands and knees to search more carefully. They brought tiny blobs of glass and linen, more than thirty of them, to Marty. Many of the fragments were hardly more than flecks. On Earth, Marty would have dismissed the bits as extraneous dust, but in Inter Lucus dust disappeared. Nanotechnology removed it within minutes. Only in the CPU had he ever seen debris that lasted, and that had been the broken pieces of what he believed was the original alien fiber optic connection for the violet blocks.
In a few minutes Marty’s palm held the remains of Isen’s fiber optic cable, except for the bit that still hung from the upper hexagon. He gestured at the remaining cable. “I think, Isen, that we shouldn’t try to break that off. We’ll bring a hot tool to cut it off smoothly.”
“Aye, my lord. Then we try again?”
“That’s my thought. Aye. Your first cable worked, at least to a degree. Perhaps your second will be better.” Marty handed the broken bits to Ora, who stood close to Isen. “I greatly appreciate what you accomplished with this. I want you to know that.”
Castle Pulchra Mane
Claennis the Nan paused outside Elfgiva Red’s room. Yesterday she had forgotten to announce herself and had interrupted Elfgiva and Bayan, busily trying to make another baby. Claennis smiled at memory of Bayan’s embarrassment. Naturally, the young man was eager to return to lovemaking after baby Glytha’s arrival. But how many young couples had ever been in Bayan and Elfgiva’s situation? Invited—no, commanded—to move from their tiny house on Sestia Street into the luxury of a room in Pulchra Mane. If that weren’t enough, their room held not one, but two little beds, and in one of them slept a future king.
Claennis knocked, and then called out. “Giva! Bayan! May I enter?”
The door swished open immediately. Bayan was already dressed. Elfgiva was sitting up in bed, a baby at each breast.
“Fair morning, Mistress Claennis.” Bayan made a welcoming bow. “As you can see, the babies are well, and Giva is busy. I also ought to be about my work.” Bayan stepped around Claennis and headed for the stairs up to the great hall.
When he was gone, Claennis raised an eyebrow at Elfgiva. “Will he forgive me for yesterday?” Both women laughed. “Any problems in the night?”
“No. But it’s a good thing Glytha’s so little.” Elfgiva wiggled her back against pillows. “Prince Eudes is two weeks younger, but he eats more than his share. And he’s very demanding. I make him wait until Glytha is hungry too.”
Claennis nodded. “Sensible girl. With two babes, if you feed them whenever they want, you’ll get no rest at all.” She leaned close to examine Elfgiva’s face and color. “And it’s important that you rest, that you stay well. For your sake, for Glytha, and for all of us.” She touched the boy’s head.
A tremulous smile. “Is Queen Mariel no better?”
“She is no worse. But even if she were to wake today, I think we would discover it is too late for Mariel to feed our young prince. Breasts dry if they are not used, even royal ones. The task you have taken on will last until … until the boy is weaned.”
Claennis’s hesitation caught Elfgiva’s attention. “What is the trouble?” Elfgiva began transferring Glytha from nipple to a burping cloth.
“I can do that.” Claennis took the baby girl, held her against her shoulder and began rubbing small circles in her back.
Elfgiva pursued her question. “I heard trouble in your voice, Claennis. What is wrong?”
The older woman lowered her voice, though the walls of Pulchra Mane made it impossible that anyone would hear them. “Merlin Torr reports to Aweirgan every day. He has all the sheriffs going about in small companies and carrying swords. And they are drafting strong young men—boys, really—to be new sheriffs. Aweirgan fears the lords of Calles Vinum, Rubrum Vulpes, and Beatus Valle.”
Elfgiva looked confused. “Would Mariel’s lords rebel against her? Are they not loyal?”
Such naiveté! But Claennis did not roll her eyes. Elfgiva was unfamiliar with castles, nobles, and politics. Truth be told, Claennis herself didn’t pay much attention to such things, but it was hard to ignore the rumors flying around the castle.
“Ah, aye, girl. There are powerful men who would like nothing more than to put a knife into our Prince Eudes. After killing Mariel, of course.”
The young mother’s eyes went wide. Her arms trembled, and Eudes lost the nipple. He whimpered. Elfgiva quickly adjusted. “They would attack Pulchra Mane?” She looked at the door. “They would come here?”
“Merlin Torr commands hundreds of sheriffs.” Claennis spoke calmly, exaggerating the number. “They will defend the city, the castle, and more than anything else, that boy.”
“What about Queen Mariel?”
“If she recovers, of course, all is well. She would command the castle defenses and destroy any attackers.”
“And if she doesn’t recover?”
“Well, as long as you hold the prince, you will be the most protected woman in Pulchra Mane.”
Elfgiva looked down at Eudes, who had quit sucking. His blue eyes seemed to be watching her face.
“Ah!” said Claennis. “Now we trade.” She gave Glytha to her mother and received Eudes. “I will take the little prince to the Queen. The midwife says having the baby close by might help Mariel wake.”
Aweirgan Unes saw Claennis in the great hall as she came up the stairs. “Taking the boy to his mother,” she said. The scribe nodded and returned his attention to something he was writing.
Bestauden Winter sat guard outside the Queen’s room. He stood to greet Claennis. “Fair morning. How is little Eudes?”
“Full of milk.” Claennis stopped and sniffed. “And shit.”
Bestauden laughed and tilted his head toward the door. “Blythe is inside with the Queen.”
“So? You think I’ve forgotten how to change a baby cloth? I won’t need Blythe to do my work.” Claennis stepped to the door and it swished open.
Inside the bedroom, on the far side of Mariel’s bed, Blythe wore a startled expression.
“It’s just me,” said Claennis. “And a young prince who needs a bath.” Claennis headed for the adjacent bathroom, with its tub and hot water. The serving girl gave no indication of hearing her.
“Blythe? Is something wrong?”
Blythe might have been a statue, or a creature in a children’s tale, turned to stone by some magic word.
Then Claennis saw Mariel’s face. Blue eyes were open—and watching, looking at the boy in Claennis’s arms.
Copyright © 2015 by Philip D. Smith.
All rights reserved. International copyright secured.