Thursday, May 28, 2015

Castles 157

157. In Castle Inter Lucus

            “God in heaven!”
            Marty glanced quickly over his shoulder to the source of the exclamation.  He thought: At least Elfric’s learning to swear monotheistically.  I haven’t heard “By the gods!” for a month.
            Elfric Ash happened to be looking at the interface wall when Videns-Loquitur snapped into vivid color.  Everyone knew that Lord Martin had been trying often to contact Mariel Grandmesnil.  But for many days the only result had been dim black and white views of the great hall at Pulchra Mane, sometimes with the old scribe staring at the camera but often with no one.  Now, suddenly, the colors of a rich hall—tapestries and tablecloths, red bottles of wine and blue goblets for drinking it—appeared in an instant.  And five people populated the scene, not just one.
            A man with short-cut black hair, dressed in gray and white, stood by Mariel’s knob, holding her palm on it.  The Queen was propped up on purple pillows in a grand chair, eyes open.  To Mariel’s left stood the wrinkled-face scribe, Aweirgan Unes.  Behind Unes a brown faced, round woman wore an awed expression.  Another man, dressed in a blue tunic and plain russet pants and wearing a scabbard, shared the round woman’s astonishment.
            Marty cut off Elfric’s oath with a raised hand.  He interpreted the scene before him: they brought her to the knob to answer.  He saw intelligence in Mariel’s eyes; he was sure of it.  “Queen Mariel!  Fair morning, your majesty!”
            The Queen of Herminia did not reply, though her face trembled with the attempt to do so.  Her jaw dropped, but her lips and tongue betrayed her.  Instead of words, her mouth delivered a hoarse croak and spittle. The man holding her hand to the lady’s knob looked with alarm at the straining monarch.  “My lady, no!  Do not harm yourself!”
            Aweirgan Unes gently lifted Mariel’s jaw, closing her mouth.  Then he rested a calming hand on Mariel’s left arm.  He spoke to the viewing wall.  “Lord Martin, the Queen cannot speak.”
            “Fair morning, Aweirgan.”  Marty kept his attention on Mariel rather than the scribe.  “She cannot speak yet.  But I also see that she very much wants to speak.  She is awake; even now she hears me.  Judging by what your letters have said, she must be much improved.”
            The scribe nodded.  “No doubt that is true.  The Queen is healing, though perhaps not quickly enough.”  Unes gestured.  “I introduce Whitgyl Ucede, the Queen’s physician; Felice Hale, the midwife who helped deliver Prince Eudes; and Merlin Torr, commander of the sheriffs of Pulchra Mane.”  The doctor, the midwife, and the commander all acknowledged Marty, inclining their heads.
            “The Queen’s physician?”  Disquiet colored Marty’s voice.  He forgot to introduce Whitney Ablendan, Caelin Bycwine, and Elfric Ash, all present with him in the great hall.
            “Aye.  I am Doctor Ucede.”  The man holding Mariel’s hand to the knob glared at Marty challengingly.  “I am learned in the various diseases that afflict mankind and their cures.  I have served Queen Mariel, and King Rudolf before her, for many years.”
            Marty closed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose.  If they’ve let him back into the castle, I must not antagonize him.  He puffed out a slow breath.  “It is an honor to meet you, Doctor.  I imagine that you may have been upset that I prevailed on Aweirgan Unes to stop you bleeding the Queen.  I want to say clearly that I intended no insult.  You have studied medical art, and you have much experience.  However, I have had conversations with doctors in my home country.  I know that they believe—very strongly—that the practice of bleeding patients rarely helps them recover.”
            Ucede pressed his lips together, angry.  “And where is your home country?”
            “Lafayette is far, far from here.”
            “And it is on the second-hand authority of these physicians of Lafayette that you interfered with my treatment of Queen Mariel?”
            “I see that I have offended you.  I apologize.”  Marty bowed his head.  “But the doctors I know would insist that bleeding Mariel after she had already lost much blood would not help her.”
            Ucede didn’t know how to respond.  The apology seemed sincere.  But Marty’s opinion on the question seemed unshakeable.
            Aweirgan Unes spoke quietly.  “Whitgyl, be honest.  Did you expect the Queen’s condition to improve, as it has?”
            The doctor’s expression changed from anger to acceptance.  “No, I did not.  But I stand by my advice.  The humors causing the Queen’s illness should have been released.  That she improves is a testimony to Grandmesnil strength.”
            “That may be.  The point is: she has improved.”  Aweirgan gestured toward the viewing screen.  “And as a result, we can talk with Lord Martin directly.”
            Marty rubbed his chin.  “Aweirgan, a moment ago you said Mariel may not be improving quickly enough.  What did you mean?”
            Aweirgan fixed his eyes on Marty.
            “The lords Wadard, Beaumont, Mowbray, and Giles accuse me of assassinating Queen Mariel.  They have sent an army, under one Allard Dell, to take me captive—along with Captain Torr, whom I introduced.”  The scribe nodded toward the captain.  “This is, of course, all artifice.  They would have us admit their soldiers to castle Pulchra Mane; and then they would kill the Queen and execute us as her murderers.  Young Prince Eudes they would make prisoner at one of their castles.  The kingdom and the city would be devastated.”
            Unes paused for a moment, letting his words sink in.  “The lords’ army is even now outside the city.  If I do not surrender the Prince in two hours time, the attack will begin.”
            “Two hours!  What are your plans?”
            “Captain Torr has deployed sheriffs to defend the city.  With luck we may keep them out of the castle for a day or two.”  Unes coughed quietly.  “In truth, I believe our best hope is for help from you.”      
Marty felt dismay.  “Me!  Why?  How could I possibly help?”
“You are obviously a strong lord.  Your bond with Inter Lucus rivals Mariel’s connection with Pulchra Mane.”
From behind Marty, Caelin Bycwine whispered in his ear.  “They need Mariel to raise her shields.”
            “But I am a thousand miles away!  How could I help…?”  A thought interrupted Marty’s question.  He closed his eyes and gave a silent mental command.
            “What is he doing?”  Doctor Ucede turned to Aweirgan Unes in alarm.  A square window had suddenly opened in the castle’s magic wall.  “Don’t let him hurt the Queen!”
            “Don’t worry.”  Unes nodded toward the screen.  “Fair morning, Lady Avice.”
            “Fair morning, Lord Martin.”  In the viewing wall frame, Avice Montfort’s eyes went wide.  “And Queen Mariel!  Fair morning, indeed!  Gods be thanked, the Queen is well!”  With her hands on her lady’s knob, Montfort bowed her head in greeting; beside her, the young scribe, Gentian Bearning, bowed more formally.
            “I am sorry to report, Lady Avice, that the Queen is not well.”  Unes bowed in return.  “We have brought her here to place her hand on globum domini auctoritate, not knowing whether it would work.  I suspect it is Lord Martin’s magic, and not the Queen’s, that sustains Videns-Loquitur.”
            Lady Montfort frowned.  “But look at her!  Don’t you see…?”
            Marty thought: Do Montfort and I see Mariel more clearly than they do?  Is Videns-Loquitur some kind of alien diagnostic tool, not just a video conference?  For the millionth time, he chafed at unanswered questions.
            Marty said, “Lady Avice, I agree.  Mariel hears us, and she wants to answer, but she is not yet able.  Unfortunately, we must discuss something even more important than the Queen’s health.”
            More important?”
            “Aye,” Aweirgan Unes answered.  “The army of Wadard, Beaumont, Mowbray, and Giles will attack Pulchra Mane today if we do not surrender the city to them.”
            “Lady Avice, I need your advice.”  Marty covered his mouth for a moment, his eyes on the floor, considering his next words.  “You are much more learned in castle lore than I am.  Would it be possible, if Mariel’s hand were on her knob, for another lord—or lady, of course—to raise Pulchra Mane’s shields?”
            Montfort smiled.  “An exterior lord or lady can do nothing to command another lord’s castle.  Not even Rudolf could do that.  He compelled the lords of Herminia to submit, but he could not take their castles from them.”
            “Nothing?”  Marty’s brows bunched together.  “But when I call a castle, I see into the great hall.”
            “Amazing,” Aweirgan Unes said.  “You see us before the Queen answers?”
            “Aye.  The image is poor, but I have seen you many times sitting at the table behind you, writing or looking at my summons.”
            Montfort was stunned.  “That can’t be.  Castles bond to a family—parent to child, parent to child.  It is basic law of castle magic.”
            “Lady Avice, I’ve looked into the great hall at Tutum Partum as well—when you were not present at the knob.”
            Unes shook his head.  “Lady Avice, do we really know the magic of castles?  How is it that Martin, who comes from who knows where, is able to bond so powerfully with Inter Lucus?”
            Avice Montfort shrugged her shoulders.  “I…I don’t know…”
            “We have little choice but to try.”  Marty pointed at the man in the blue tunic.  Captain Torr—that’s your name, isn’t it?”
            “Aye, my lord.”  Torr stepped closer, standing by Doctor Ucede.
            “How long can you protect the city against the enemy without castle shields?”
            Torr squared his shoulders.  “Truth?  A day or two.”
            Marty pursed his lips.  “How long would it take to move your sheriffs within the greater shield?”
            The soldier thought for only a moment.  “Less than an hour.  That is, if we are to take up defensive positions.  If we merely flee, even less.”
            “Oh no.  No rout.”  Marty said.  “You need to fall back in order and show the enemy that you are ready to fight.  When all is ready, you will send word to Queen Mariel.”
            “Send word?”
            “You will inform the Queen that your men are in position and ready.”  Marty made a fist.  “When Mariel, Lady Montfort, and I receive your word, we will—all three of us, all at the same time—command Pulchra Mane’s greater shield.  Your men will then throw, or shoot, or launch projectiles against the shield.  We want the enemy to see for themselves a real castle shield.”
            Commander Torr locked eyes with Marty.  “Can you do this thing, Lord Martin?”
            “Truth?  I don’t know.”  Marty realized the risk he was pressing on Torr.  “But I know that Mariel can hear me.  She too will try to raise the shield.  Perhaps she is well enough to do it.  Perhaps the three of us together will have an effect.”
            “Fair enough,” said Torr.  “I would rather take my chance with this plan than three hundred raw sheriffs.  “We will throw bottles of red wine.  That should get their attention.”
            Torr saluted Queen Mariel, Aweirgan Unes, and Marty.  Then he sprinted away.
            Marty’s thoughts were elsewhere when Avice Montfort spoke.  “Lord Martin.”
            “I think it would be a good thing—for me and certainly for Mariel—if we were to rest for a while before this great experiment.”
            “Oh.  Oh, all right.  Aweirgan, I will break the contact now and summon Lady Montfort and the Queen in half an hour.  Doctor Ucede, if you can comfort Queen Mariel in that time, it might be helpful.”

            Marty decided to apply Montfort’s advice to himself.  He ate a small sandwich and drank a cup of tea while reviewing Whitney’s notes of the meeting.  Then, like a seven-year-old boy at his desk in second grade, he laid his head on his arms and closed his eyes.  He was far too keyed up to sleep, but five minutes rest couldn’t hurt.
            Can this possibly work?  Surely there have been lords and ladies on Two Moons who would have been motivated to take control of a rival’s castle if it could be done.  So Montfort has to be right.  Castle authority passes from parent to child.  Something genetic, I guess.  And Grandma Edith came from Charwelton.  Wow.

            Shortly after noon, Allard Dell raised his arm to signal the first assault on Pulchra Mane.  As he did so, a shout went up from some mounted lancers a hundred yards to his right.  An answering cry rang out somewhere to the left.  Then general uproar ensued.
            Clay pots were smashing into an invisible barrier twenty or thirty feet in the air.  From the pots dark red wine ran in little rivulets to the ground.
            A lone archer ran into the street between two buildings.  Notching a lone arrow he let fly directly at Captain Dell.  The missile splintered when it hit the shield.
            “By the gods.”  Dell whispered to himself.  At least he thought so.  “Mariel lives.”
            Men close to Dell heard him.  Within ten minutes the words had raced through his army: “Mariel lives.”
Copyright © 2015 by Philip D. Smith.
All rights reserved.  International copyright secured.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Castles 156

156.  In the Hill Country North of Hyacintho Flumen

            The main force of men led by Archard Oshelm marched in a long sinuous column, three abreast, on the dirt road that wound north through the hills from Hyacintho Flumen to Down’s End.  Strung out in this way, the army was vulnerable to surprise attacks if an enemy concealed men in some convenient spot.  Since the road wound up and down hills and passed through intermittent forests, there were plenty of dangerous places.  Naturally, then, Oshelm surrounded his army with a penumbra of scouts.  These men rode unarmored on nimble rounceys rather than warhorses, the better to traverse hills and valleys.
            It was one of these scouts that first saw the two white flag riders coming south on the road.  From high on one hillside he made signals to a fellow scout, and that man passed the signal to another.  In this way Archard Oshelm had ample notice of the approaching messengers.  He took Danbeney Norman as scribe and a guard of ten mounted lancers and rode ahead of the marching column to meet the couriers.
            The Stonebridge horsemen trotted smartly toward Oshelm’s lancers, reining to a stop about twenty yards away.  Both of them carried truce flags.  One of them handed his flag to his companion and then urged his horse forward a bit.  He had white-blond hair that touched his shoulders.  He stood in his stirrups and rested his hands on his saddle pommel.
            “Fair morning!  My name is Reynald Henriet.  I serve Milo Mortane, General of the Stonebridge Army.  I bear greetings from the General under flag of truce to the Commander of the Herminian forces besieging Hyacintho Flumen.  My companion and I demand that you let us pass, that we may deliver Sir Mortane’s messages to the Herminians.”
            The unwise use of the word “demand” brought a quick response.  The ten lancers who accompanied Oshelm readied their spears, preparing to charge.  In a real battle, their lances would be used once in an initial charge and then abandoned, and the rest of the fight conducted with swords.  But in this confrontation the initial clash would be the whole of the conflict.
            Reynald Henriet raised his arms, weaponless.  “We come under flag of truce!”
            “Hold!”  Archard Oshelm’s command was quiet, but clear.  The lancers kept their horses still.  Oshelm and Danbeney Norman rode forward, closing the space between them and the Stonebridge men.  Reynald Henriet reseated himself on his saddle, but his expression still conveyed disdain for the Herminians.
            “I notice that you say your message is for the ‘commander of the Herminian forces.’”  Archard spoke conversationally, as if he were discussing some ordinary topic over a beer in a tavern.  “Why is that?  General Mortane has sent earlier messages to Hyacintho Flumen.  Surely he knows our commander’s name.”
            “You men are Herminians, then.  Good!  We thought so, but we weren’t sure.”  Henriet smiled, ignoring Oshelm’s question.  “And I presume you are the commander, since your men obey you.  What is your name?  It seems I should deliver Sir Mortane’s letter to you.”
            “I am Archard Oshelm.  You may give Mortane’s letter to Danbeney Norman.”  Archard tilted his head toward his companion.  “When I have heard the letter, I will reply.”
            “Thank you, Commander Oshelm.  If it please you, I will wait until you have prepared your answer and take it with me to General Mortane.”  Polite words, but Henriet’s tone and countenance shouted insolence.  “Perhaps we should dismount and make ourselves comfortable.”
            “That won’t be necessary.”  Archard nodded to Danbeney Norman, who prodded his mount forward.  The silent courier, holding the two flags of truce, sidled his horse away to let Danbeney come close to Henriet.  The Stonebridge spokesman opened a leather cylinder that had been hanging near his right leg and pulled out a roll of rough paper.
            “Read it loudly, Danbeney, so the men can hear.”  Archard fixed his eyes on Reynald Henriet.  They glared at each other until the Stonebridge man looked away.
            Danbeney Norman unrolled the paper and turned his mount to read to the lancers.

Sir Milo Mortane, General of Tarquint
To the Commander of the Herminian Forces near Hyacintho Flumen


            The presence of the Herminian army in Tarquint has provoked a crisis in our country, as you no doubt are aware.  Lord Aylwin Mortane of Hyacintho Flumen urges us all to unite to protect Tarquint against the invaders.  As the siege of Hyacintho Flumen goes on and on, he begins to convince castle lords.  Some leading men of Down’s End are also nearly persuaded.
            I speak as Commander of the Stonebridge Guard and representative of our city.  If a Tarquintian alliance forms to oppose you, Stonebridge will take the lead, and I will command the forces arrayed against you.
            I say now, as I have said before, that Stonebridge does NOT yet stand with Aylwin.  You undoubtedly know that Lord Aylwin is my brother.  I regard him as a usurper and a fool.  I love him not.  Nevertheless, if a Tarquintian alliance forms, the Stonebridge Assembly may decide to join it.  In obedience to the Assembly, it would then be my duty to defeat those who besiege Aylwin.
            Therefore, I plead with you to act now.  Make alliance with me, before the Assembly joins any Tarquintian alliance, so that together we may create order and security in Tarquint.  Let us together quell any movement toward rebellion in Down’s End; that will leave your army free to subdue my wayward brother, no matter how long a siege is required.
            It may interest you to learn that my men have captured a beak-nosed armsman who claims to be “Eudes Ridere.”  He says he was going to Inter Lucus, but of course he can give no reason for doing so.  I suspect he is actually the leader of a gang of highwaymen, accustomed to preying on travelers on the old road south of Inter Lucus.  They gave us battle in the Blue River valley, and we destroyed most of them.  I would hang the man as a common criminal, but we discovered among the ruffians’ baggage several items bearing marks of the Herminian army.  As one of my captains pointed out, the man and his gang have probably been raiding some of your outposts.  Therefore, as a gesture of cooperation, I offer to deliver this imposter to you for punishment.  Or, if you like, I will execute “Eudes Ridere” for you.
            An acquaintance of mine recently asked me what I planned to do, given the situation in Tarquint.  I replied that a man must seize the chances that come to him.  It seems to me that you, Commander, have great chances before you—here, now, in Tarquint.  I urge you to ally with me, the better to seize your chance.

Begging that you give my words careful scrutiny,
Milo Mortane

            Danbeney Norman asked, “Shall I read it again, General?”
            Oshelm shook his head.  “To what end?  I believe our first letter is the proper reply.”
            “Aye, General.”  Norman’s saddle had a leather tube attached to it, much like Reynald Henriet’s.  From this cylindrical sheath Danbeney pulled out two papers, one rolled inside the other.  He separated the two pieces and gave one to the Stonebridge courier.
            “Written beforehand?  General Mortane asked that you give his words careful scrutiny.”  Henriet’s tone mocked.
            Archard Oshelm leaned sideways to spit on the ground.  “The quicker you deliver my letter to Mortane, the more he will thank you.  Go now.  Ride quickly.  My men won’t harm you.”
            Henriet glanced at the paper and slid it into his letter pouch.  His silent companion tossed aside the flags of truce, and the two Stonebridgers spurred their horses to a gallop.

            Danbeney Norman had written the letter, so he knew its contents.  “Are you sure, Archard?”  He spoke after the lancers had been dismissed to rejoin their unit; general and captain could converse frankly.
            “No doubt at all.  Mortane admits that he has General Ridere, and he invites me to collude in the general’s murder.  It is plain, Danbeney, what Mortane wants.  He wants me to treat Mariel’s army as my private estate, to be joined to his.  He dangles visions of empire before my eyes.  But the empire would be his; tyrants don’t share power.  His advices are those of a snake.  No, Danbeney.  Our duty is clear.”
            Norman chuckled.  “No turning back now, in any case.”

Archard Oshelm, General
Herminian Army

To Sir Milo Mortane
Stonebridge Army

General Mortane,

Many times you have stated your desire to treat with us.  We now discover that all such affirmations were lies.  Therefore, the Army of Herminia will soon engage your forces.  We intend to destroy you completely.
You might promise to spare General Ridere if we delay our attack.  But we have learned that your words are lies.  We expect that you will murder him in any case.
If you wish any other outcome, you must give us General Ridere alive and unhurt.  If you do this, the General will resume command of our army; perhaps he knows some way to come to terms with you.  But since you are a fool, you will ignore that possibility. 

With joy I will dance on your grave.
Archard Oshelm
            Copyright © 2015 by Philip D. Smith.
All rights reserved.  International copyright secured.



Thursday, May 14, 2015

Castles 155

155. Castle Pulchra Mane

            Whitgyl Ucede muttered imprecations on midwives, superstitious peasants, wealthy guildsmen (often just as superstitious as the peasants, in the doctor’s opinion), army commanders, scribes, castle nobility (especially the mysterious Lord Martin, whose ill-formed beliefs about medicine threatened to kill Queen Mariel), and every other class of idiot he could think of.  But he kept his curses very much under his breath, since he rode toward Pulchra Mane accompanied by castle servant Bestauden Winter and Felice Hale, the midwife.  The midwife and her little horse trotted on the right side of Bestauden Winter’s great destrier, while Ucede rode on the left.  Ucede was glad for the separation.  The conspiracy of stupidity of which Felice Hale was a part had kept Ucede from the Queen’s side for ten days.  By some miracle, Mariel still lived, and now—now they wanted him to see her.
            The three riders stopped at the west door of Pulchra Mane.  Ucede looked up at Bestauden on his tall mount.  “She opened her eyes?  When?  Why wasn’t I summoned immediately?”
            The castle servant swung down from the saddle with the ease of a young athlete.  “Five days ago, I believe.”  Bestauden’s manner was so solemn that it checked Ucede’s next question.  The youth received reins from midwife Hale and the doctor when they dismounted.  “Merlin Torr asked me this morning to find you and the midwife.  That’s all I know.”  He snickered to the horses and led them toward a stable.
            Doctor Ucede looked at the castle door, as if to ignore Felice Hale, but she wouldn’t allow it.  “‘Why wasn’t I summoned immediately?’  You pompous ass!  You practically killed the Queen by draining the poor woman of the little blood she had.  Avice Montfort put a stop to that, and the gods spared Mariel’s life.  After ten and seven days, she opens her eyes and naturally Master Aweirgan and Claennis and me and Commander Torr—well, we all thought she was getting well, didn’t we?  But she said naught in four days, nor moved her hands, nor anything else.  The truth is, we didn’t know what to do, and yesterday Aweirgan Unes says we ought to ask you.  And here you are, though little hope it brings.  That’s what I say.”
            “That’s what you say.”  Ucede sighed.  There was no point in voicing his frustration aloud.  “And perhaps I agree with you.  There is little hope.  But not no hope.  Let us enter.”  Ucede inclined his head and let Hale lead the way.  A nervous armsman admitted them into Pulchra Mane.
            “Doctor Ucede!  And Mistress Hale!”  The speaker was one of the castle servants, Bayan the Red.  Someone had told Ucede that Bayan and his wife, Elfgiva, had moved into Pulchra Mane and that Elfgiva was nursing Prince Eudes. 
The elderly scribe, Aweirgan Unes, rose from a table as the castle door shut behind the midwife and the doctor.  “Fair morning.  Welcome.”  Unes bowed politely.  “Has Felice explained the Queen’s condition to you, Whitgyl?”
            “She explained nothing,” Ucede answered.  “But she has described Mariel’s condition.  It sounds like a stroke.”
            Aweirgan Unes frowned slightly.  “Can anything be done?”
            Ucede snorted.  “What?  You haven’t consulted with Avice Montfort?  Or the great Lord Martin?”
            If Aweirgan felt anger, he didn’t show it.  “It takes time for a rider to reach Tutum Partum and return.  Commander Torr worries that our messengers will be intercepted on the way.  And he begrudges the weakening of his forces by even one rider.  In spite of that, I did send a man, but he has not come back.”
            Ucede pursed his lips.  He knew well that Commander Torr had been making sheriffs of almost all the able-bodied young men in the city.  “Will the city be attacked?”
            Scribe Unes held up a piece of paper.  “We received an ultimatum this morning.  Four lords say that Merlin Torr and I have conspired to murder the Queen.  If we do not surrender Prince Eudes in two days, they will take that as proof of our conspiracy.  The lords Wadard, Giles, Beaumont, and Mowbray will attack the city.”  Unes glanced at the paper.  “The lords, of course, will not attack personally.  They are all safe at home in their castles.  The commander of their combined army is a man named Allard Dell, from Caelestis Arcanus.  They claim, of course, that their chief concern is for the safety of the prince.  If we surrender Eudes, Lord Wadard offers to foster the child at his castle until he is old enough to command Pulchra Mane.  Soldiers of the four lords will inspect the castle and patrol the city, in an attempt to discover where we have hidden the Queen’s body.  And, naturally, Commander Torr and I must be surrendered to them.
            Ucede’s mouth felt dry.  He licked his lips and swallowed.  “You haven’t asked me here to cure Mariel.”
            “No.”  The corner of Aweirgan’s mouth lifted briefly.
            “Then what?”
            “We desire your opinion.  The Queen is alive.  Her eyes are open, and she watches.  You can see that she is watching things.  But she cannot move or speak.”
            Doctor Ucede nodded.  “Aye.  Midwife Hale told me.  What do you want to know?”
            “There!”  Aweirgan pointed suddenly at the magic wall of the castle.  A light was blinking in the middle of the wall.  Not a surprise; Ucede had witnessed Mariel using Videns-Loquitur more than once.  “Some lord is trying to speak with Mariel.  If we bring her here and place her hands on her knob…” The scribe’s voice caught in his throat and his face twisted; the old man wept.
            “Will it kill her?  That’s what you want to know.”
            Aweirgan nodded.  “Aye.”
            Ucede’s resentment and anger drained from him.  He felt compassion for the old scribe.  He loves Mariel. It’s not about the kingdom, or the prince, or the city—or maybe it’s about all those things.  He put a gentle arm around Aweirgan’s shoulders.  “I don’t know what will happen, Aweirgan.  But if they come into the castle, they will kill Mariel and blame you.  You have to make the attempt.”  He turned to Felice Hale.  “I suppose you have willow extract in your bag.”
            The midwife’s eyes widened.  She hadn’t expected the doctor to exhibit good sense.  “Aye.” 
            “Very good.  We will make a tea.  After Mariel drinks some, we’ll bring her here. Then, when the magic wall lights, I will place her hands on her knob.”
            “Bayan is young and strong,” said Aweirgan.  “He can do it.”
            “No!”  Ucede smiled wryly.  “I’m the physician.  If there is danger I will dare it.  Besides, if this works, I will be famous.”

            They positioned Mariel’s favorite chair, built like a throne, close to globum domini auctoritate.  Made of yellow pine polished to a golden sheen, the chair matched her hair.  With a cushioned footstool in front of it, and lined with blankets, Mariel’s chair was made as comfortable as possible.  Bestauden Winter and Bayan the Red carried the Queen on a litter, descending the stairs slowly and gently.
            To no one’ surprise, by the time everything was ready the light in the magic wall had vanished.  “We will be ready the next time,” said Aweirgan.  “It’s all we can do.”
            And so the last watch over Mariel Grandmesnil began.  Felice Hale, Whitgyl Ucede, and Aweirgan Unes took turns sitting with the Queen.  Bestauden Winter and Bayan the Red came and went, bringing news from the city and reports from Merlin Torr of the city guard.  Elfgiva Red cared for the babies and visited the great hall when they slept.  Blythe and Claennis brought food and drink from the kitchen to any who wanted it.
            On the morning of the second day, Commander Torr sent a message to Aweirgan Unes.  On the intervening day the four lords’ army had taken up positions on the north, south and west sides of the city.  Torr believed that Allard Dell left the east side open deliberately; many folk were fleeing Pulchra Mane into the mountainous country on that side.  A knight under flag of truce had delivered Dell’s final ultimatum.  If Prince Eudes were not surrendered by noon, the army of the four lords would attack.
            Aweirgan thanked the messenger for his service and scribbled a quick note, telling Torr to defend the city as best he could.  Then, just as Mariel’s scribe handed the note to the messenger, a light began blinking in Pulchra Mane’s magic wall.

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

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Castles 154

154. At Castle Inter Lucus

            Soft light before sunrise; Marty stole out of Inter Lucus through the east door of the great hall.  Passing almost-ripe blueberries, he tasted a few.  They’ll be ready to pick in two days, I bet.   He followed the path in the direction of East Lake.  Of course, he dared not wander that far.  In an emergency his place was at the lord’s knob, which made him a kind of prisoner in his own castle.  So he kept the east door within sight.  He took a deep breath of cool air, scented with pine and fir. 
            Marty prized the early morning quiet, whether on the gods’ tower or somewhere on the grounds of Inter Lucus.  He had dreamed of Alyssa again, one of the old bad dreams: a stupid argument about booze and her father.  Father Stephen’s voice sounded in his memory: “Marty, you are no greater sinner than others… You know all this.  In your head.  Your heart needs to know what your mind knows.”
            He turned at the top of the first rise, looking over the varied greens of Inter Lucus orchards, pasture, berry bushes and vegetable gardens.  The castle grounds, which a year before had testified to ancient alien planning even after a century of neglect, had flourished magnificently with a year of human attention.
Marty stopped.  In a pinch, he could reach the great hall in three minutes.  He left the clean paved trail—the effects of Extra Arcem Micro-Aedificator now extended half a mile from the doors of the great hall, keeping castle paths free of dirt or debris—and sat on a fallen log.  He unfolded a piece of paper and read a passage copied by one of his students.

The Lord told Ananias: “Go!  This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel.  I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.”

            Everyone at Inter Lucus, from Priest Eadmar to little Agyfen, called it the Book of God.  Even Marty found that he now thought in those terms.  It was almost irrelevant that he himself had brought it from Earth.  It was the Book of God.
What would Father Stephen say about the passage?  For that matter, what would Eadmar say?  It was surprisingly easy to imagine their voices chorusing.  First Stephen: “God does choose us, Marty.  He chooses us first to have faith, and then he gives us jobs to do.”  Then Eadmar: “Aye.  God chose Paul as apostle to Gentiles.  He chose me to be a priest in Down’s End.  And then he brought me across the lake to be priest in Inter Lucus.”  Stephen: “God brought me to Our Lady of Guadeloupe.  Note well: it was not clear to me all at once; it happened bit by bit.  I went to college, the first in my family.  I felt called to seminary.  Then, oddly, I was called not to a parish, but to Our Lady.”  Eadmar: “God has given you a task too, Martin.  Be patient.  Keep looking for chances to pursue justice and compassion.”  Stephen: “That’s right.  Follow openings of justice and love.”
            Marty smiled wryly.  God must have a sense of humor.  How does an electronics salesman qualify as castle lord?  Two Moons needs a peacemaker and statesman, not a novice Cistercian.  My biggest interests in college were tailgating and chasing girls, not political science.  Since Lyss died, I’ve sought absolution, not wisdom.
            The last sentence of the verse captured Marty’s attention.  And how much must I suffer for my calling?
            A figure emerged from the east door of Inter Lucus and stood looking in Marty’s direction.  Ora.  Marty’s log was partially hidden by a leafy huckleberry, but Ora knew the spot.  He half expected her to point at him or shout.  A minute later Isen came round the southern side of Inter Lucus and joined Ora.  They kissed briefly, and then walked hand-in-hand along the path toward him.  Marty smiled to himself; he had been expecting something like this for a month.
            “Fair morning, Ora.  Isen.”  Marty stood as they came near.  They were still holding hands.
            “Fair morning, my lord.”  Isen bowed his head, his eyes seemingly fixed on the ground.  “Ahem.  I…we…”
            Ora jumped into the gap.  “We want to marry, Lord Martin.”
            “I’m glad to hear it.  Congratulations.”  Marty extended his hand to Isen; after shaking, he opened his arms, drawing Ora into a hug.  “How soon?  Have you spoken to Priest Eadmar?”
            Ora and Isen looked at each other, apparently surprised.
            Marty laughed.  “What?  Did you come here to ask my permission?”
            “Aye!”  Ora put her hand in Isen’s.  “You are lord of Inter Lucus.
            “I’m a little disappointed, Ora.  You’ve been with me a year.  You should know that I am not like other lords of Two Moons.  You do not need my permission.  You and Isen are adults, free to marry if you want.  However, if you would like my advice, I think you make a fine couple and, God willing, you will build a good family.  And I hope very much that you will invite me to the wedding.”
            “Oh, aye, my lord!”  For a moment, Isen seemed surprised, perhaps at the notion of Marty needing an invitation.  Then he remembered something, and launched into a prepared speech: “My lord Martin, Ora and I would like to ask your lordship’s indulgence, to allow us to live in Inter Lucus for a short time, until we can build a house.  If it pleases your lordship, I would like to continue producing glass in the glassworks.  We thought it might be good if we built our house close to Prayer House, which would be conveniently close to the glassworks.”
            “A very good plan, I think.  Let’s shake on it.”  Marty extended his hand to Ora as well as Isen.  “I expect a good harvest this year, and many more students for Collegium Inter Lucus next winter.  We could put two each in the rooms you use now.  We need to plan ahead to accommodate next year’s students.”
            Ora became animated.  “Aye!  The youngest ones, those younger than ten, should live in Inter Lucus; then they wouldn’t have to walk from the village.  Ten and older can take rooms in town.  Of course, Caelin and Mildgyd and the sheriffs need to room in the castle, since they are your closest servants.  And maybe Whitney, your best scribe.  That is, unless she marries Elfric—I think she wants to—in which case they might want to build a house too.”
            “You’ve given this a lot of thought.”
“Aye, my lord.”  Ora’s serious expression melted as she looked from Marty to Isen.  Both men were grinning broadly.  Chastened, she said, “I have presumed too much.”
“No, Ora.  Not at all.”  Marty began walking toward the east door, Ora and Isen keeping pace.  You are one of my closest servants, as well as my first friend on Two Moons.  You’re my event coordinator and social planner.  Once you and Isen settle in your own house, I will still expect you to come often to the castle, so that I can benefit from your thinking.”

“Please pardon my appearance, Lord Martin.  In the Great Downs, even the lord of Saltas Semitas sometimes finds himself detained in the barns.”  David Le Grant was covered in sweat and mud.  His clothes, simple russet tunic and pants, bore stains that might be blood.  “A cow had a very hard birth, and I did not want to lose either calf or mother.  Still, I came as quickly as I could when Catherine called me.”
Marty chuckled.  “Cow and calf are healthy, I hope?”
“Oh, aye.  But there was not time to wash.”
“Perhaps I should call back later.  You don’t look very comfortable in those clothes.”  Marty gestured at the table to his left, behind the writing desk where Whitney Ablendan stood.  “I have some reading to do.” 
“Thank you, Martin.”  Le Grant inclined his head.  “I’ll clean up promptly and be ready to speak with you in half an hour.”

When Marty next summoned him, Le Grant had changed into a bright red tunic and green pants; to Marty the ensemble contrasted oddly with the pink glow of Le Grant’s lord’s knob.  No matter how long I live here, Two Moons will keep reminding me that I’m on a different world.
Orde Penman, the silver-haired scribe, sat at Lord Le Grant’s right, dressed mostly in black, with a writing slate on his lap.  A young woman with brown hair stood close on Le Grant’s left.
“Thank you for accommodating my needs, Lord Martin.”  Le Grant wiggled his shoulders, reminding Marty of a pitcher trying to relax before going into his wind-up.  “I introduce my daughter, Kendra.”
“Fair morning, Lady Le Grant.”  Marty bowed, keeping one hand on the lord’s knob.  He motioned to his left.  “Whitney Ablendan is writing for me today.”
“Fair morning.  I’m pleased to meet you, Lord Martin and Whitney.”  Le Grant’s daughter curtsied politely.
“I’ve asked Kendra to appear with me for a purpose.”  David Le Grant nodded to the girl.  She stepped out of the picture for a moment, returning with a rolled parchment.  “It is a letter from Merlin Averill.” 
“So soon?  You sent Ro Norton to Stonebridge only a few days ago.”
“Seven days, actually.  Ro rode quickly, of course, as I commanded him, and he came back straightaway.  It seems that Averill did not need very long to compose his reply.”  Le Grant pointed to the parchment with his chin.
Kendra Le Grant hid her face behind the scroll as she read aloud.

Merlin Averill,
Gentleman of Stonebridge

To David Le Grant
Lord of Saltas Semitas

Dear Lord Le Grant,

Yesterday your postman, Ro Norton, delivered your letter to me while I dined with Lady Amicia Mortane in her residence, Ambassador House.  This is now the second time Norton has visited us, and both occasions have seemed momentous.  He was present when we commissioned Sir Milo Mortane to take the Stonebridge army into the field, the very night Sir Mortane arrested Ody Dans.  And now Ro brings your letter, in which you propose an astonishing plan to unite Tarquint and Herminia under one government.  Should we expect something equally dramatic on Ro’s next visit?
I am intrigued by Lord Martin’s parliament plan.  But it has obvious flaws, and apparently neither you nor he has noted them.  Stonebridge will never agree to any parliament unless certain key matters are adequately resolved.
First, of signal importance: where would the House of Commons meet?  We would never consent to a Commons that met in Pulchra Mane, under the Grandmesnil thumb.  Are you or Lord Martin or Queen Mariel be willing to let the Commons meet in Stonebridge?  Have you even considered the question?
Castle lords and ladies with sufficient command of magic may consult with one another any time they like via Videns-Loquitur.  Yet my father, a prominent Stonebridge leader for thirty years, can count on one hand the times he has received official guests from Down’s End.  He has never personally met any prominent person from Cippenham.  All we know of that distant city comes via infrequent letters or equally rare travelers.  How are the cities, which are not blessed with gods’ magic, supposed to form an effective Commons?  Do you see how seriously this compromises your parliament plan?
A second problem, which grows from the first: how would the houses of parliament communicate with the Queen?  For the Lords, this is easy; they can debate with Mariel from the safety of their great halls.  What about the Commons?  Suppose representatives of the cities do meet in some safe place.  How will they communicate their concerns to Mariel?  Do you expect the Queen to leave Pulchra Mane to meet with the Commons?  If not, must every step of discussion take place via the post?  In that case, real negotiations would take years.   
Third, and just as vexing as the first two problems: who pays for the House of Commons?  Lords can meet together without so much as leaving their castles.  The Commons, to be effective, must gather scores of men (Amicia bids me write “and women”) from all of Tarquint in one place.  Indeed, even that is not enough, since the cities of Herminia must also be represented in your plan.  Would they consent to cross the sea?  Do you hope to charge all this expense to the Queen?  Somehow, I doubt Mariel will consent.
In spite of these difficulties—and more that I will not mention now—I am, as I said, intrigued by Lord Martin’s idea.  For that reason, I now offer my own, much more limited, proposal.  I will come to Inter Lucus to discuss these matters with Lord Martin.  The Lady Amicia will come with me.  We will depart Stonebridge, with mounted guards sufficient to protect the Lady Ambassador, very soon after entrusting this letter to Ro Norton.  By the time you read these words, we should be nearing Down’s End.
One of my father’s advisors warned me against writing this letter and against going to Inter Lucus.  He fears for my safety and that of Lady Amicia.  Nevertheless, my father agrees with me: Sometimes we must push through a door when it is barely open.  Otherwise, the door will close and a chance will be lost. 
I expect you will communicate my thoughts to Lord Martin.  He may appreciate advance notice of our visit.  I hope he sees the chance that lies before us.
If you, Lord Le Grant, wish to respond in writing, a letter might catch us at Crossroads Inn.  But we will not tarry there long.  It may be that you and I will soon speak—that is, if Martin welcomes me into his hall!
            With appreciation and respect,
            Merlin Averill

            Marty laughed aloud.  “Wow!”
            “Lord Martin?”  David Le Grant’s tone expressed his surprise.  Wow?”
            “It’s an expression.  Merlin Averill is not afraid of decisive action.  It seems you wrote to the right man in Stonebridge.  Son of the Speaker, obviously well connected, engaged to Amicia Mortane—I look forward to meeting him.”

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