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.



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