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.

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