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.”
“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.”
“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.