Thursday, July 30, 2015

Castles 166

166. In Castle Inter Lucus

            As the castle ladies talked on and on (the whole event dependent on Lord Martin’s magic), Ora felt some impatience.  Shouldn’t they be talking with him, about more important questions?  Why didn’t Kendra Le Grant shift the conversation from Mariel’s baby to Mariel’s army?  Ora wanted to step close to Lord Martin and speak to the ladies, to remind them that there were matters of state that needed attention.  But then she realized that Martin himself had no intention of interrupting the women.  He wants to let them talk.  Realizing this, Ora walked slowly to Martin’s side.  The others greeted her and she introduced herself while, by unspoken agreement, Martin remained mute.  Ora bowed to Queen Mariel, praised her baby, laughed with the others, and pretended that she too was a castle lady, the lady of Inter Lucus.  Eventually, when Lord Martin yawned and rubbed his eyes for perhaps the seventh time, Ora politely suggested that the Videns-Loquitur session should end.  Only at the close did Avice Montfort ask Queen Mariel if she would welcome a more formal consultation, to discuss other matters, later that day.  Mariel said she looked forward to it.
            So ended the castle ladies meeting, with Isabel Baro and Kendra Le Grant saying they ought to meet again soon.

            Supporting an hour-long Videns-Loquitur session made “jet lag” far worse.  Marty retreated, physically spent and mentally groggy, to his bedroom.  He promptly fell asleep in his clothes.
            “My lord Martin,” said Caelin’s voice.  Marty blinked until two figures came into focus: Caelin and Ora.  “Forgive us for disturbing you, but the Stonebridge messengers have come back.”
            Marty rubbed sleep from his eyes and looked at his watch: 3:31 pm.  Good grief!  I was more tired than I thought.
            “I picked out some clothes.”  Ora gestured toward a chair; black trousers and a fine gray tunic were folded over the back.  “My lord needs to dress appropriately.  We’ve never had such a gathering in Inter Lucus: three generals, an ambassador, and the Stonebridge Speaker’s son.”
            Three generals?” Marty swung his legs to the floor.  “Ambassador?”
            Caelin answered, “General Mortane’s messengers said that he will arrive soon, and he acknowledges your invitation to Archard Oshelm.  He promises safe passage for Oshelm to Inter Lucus.  With him Mortane brings Lady Amicia Mortane Averill, who is ambassador for Lord Aylwin of Hyacintho Flumen, her husband Merlin Averill, who is the Stonebridge Speaker’s son, and General Eudes Ridere.”
            “Ridere!”  Marty stood, his eyes wide.  He had expected Mortane to accept the invitation, bring Merlin Averill with him, and welcome Oshelm’s presence.  He was slightly surprised that Merlin and Amicia had married so quickly and that Amicia had come with Merlin to Inter Lucus.  But the last name shocked him.
            “Aye, my lord.  Mortane holds Ridere prisoner.”
            Marty picked up the tunic Ora had selected.  “But I thought… This explains why we’ve had no word from Ridere.  The Stonebridgers captured him somewhere—but not at Hyacintho Flumen surrounded by his army.  He must have left Hyacintho Flumen, but he didn’t sail for home.”  Marty looked at Caelin.  “He was coming here, where he could speak with Mariel.”
            Caelin shook his head.  “No, my lord.  Your letter to Ridere told him that Mariel was disabled and gravely ill.”
            “Right.  Right.”  Marty concentrated.  “He believed Mariel was in danger and disabled.  So… He may still have been coming to Inter Lucus to dicker with the rebel lords or speak with Avice Montfort, since she was loyal.”
            “Aye.  And that is why we have not seen Godric,” said Caelin.  “Godric was probably captured along with Ridere.”
            Marty and the two cousins fell silent.  Then Ora inclined her head.  “Godric was Isen’s friend.  I should tell him.”  She nodded at the tunic in Marty’s hands.  “And you should get dressed.”

            For the second time that day, Marty met Ford Ormod and Noel Night in the great hall.  They handed him a slip of paper, folded and sealed, but it said only: Night and Ormod speak for me.  I will arrive Inter Lucus soon.  Mortane.  Couriers Night and Ormod repeated what they had told Caelin: General Mortane accepted Lord Martin’s invitation to sup; he would bring with him Merlin Averill, Lady Amicia Mortane Averill, Eudes Ridere, Captain Derian Chapman, Captain Ifing Redhair, and a personal guard.  Mortane promised safe passage to Archard Oshelm if the Herminian general wished to join the sup at Inter Lucus.
            Ealdwine Smithson came to the west door.  Stonebridge soldiers were gathering near Prayer House, he said.  Marty told Ealdwine and the Stonebridge couriers to direct the Stonebridgers to assemble outside the greater shield, where they would receive instructions for disarming.
            Having slept through lunch and now thoroughly awake, Marty descended to the kitchen, where he made a quick sandwich.  Mildgyd Meadowdaughter, Alf Saeric, Went Bycwine, and Tayte Graham were already preparing the evening meal.  Mildgyd proudly listed the menu: early summer greens for a salad, freshly caught fried bass from East Lake, roasted potatoes, beef in gravy, fresh brown bread with butter, honey wafers; and for beverages tea, ale, and bottles of wine from Down’s End.  As Mildgyd worked, the fosterling, Agyfen Baecer, tagged after her without getting in the way.  Marty drank a glass of ice water and commended Mildgyd for what looked to be a splendid sup.
            Returning to the great hall, Marty bonded and used the interface wall as a camera to survey the castle grounds.  Hundreds of armed men were standing in groups not far from Prayer House.  Os Oswald and Leo Dudd had hitched two horses to a wagon, which the horses were pulling down to the place where the Inter Lucus road intersected the forest road.
            Marty blinked in surprise.  Much nearer to Inter Lucus, on the slope south of the castle, were dozens of villagers.  Ernulf Penrict and Isen Poorman were moving among them, encouraging them to sit on the grass, probably reassuring them that the very visible army would not harm them.  For the thousandth time, Marty wondered: What strange story have I gotten into?  If Mortane’s men charged, nothing could protect the villagers except my castle shield.  Would I hold it against the Stonebridgers if that meant watching men burn?
            Os and Leo parked the wagon by Prayer House.  Eadmar scrambled onto the wagon—pretty spry for an old man—and began waving his arms.  Marty couldn’t hear, but he could imagine Eadmar’s instructions.  Presently, the Stonebridge soldiers began walking single file beside the wagon, handing weapons to Leo and Os.  These were almost all swords; the Stonebridge army appeared to have very few archers.  Even without sound, Marty could see the swordsmen’s reluctance to surrender their blades.  It probably didn’t help to have to yield one’s sword to a man as enormous as Os Oswald.
            It took the better part of an hour for the Stonebridgers to give up their swords.  They were almost finished when a horseman galloped into view.  Some of the Stonebridgers flinched at his approach, but Elfric ignored them and rode directly to the castle.  Marty left globum domini auctoritate and met Elfric at the great hall’s west door.  Whitney and Ora came with him.
            “My lord!” Elfric was breathing hard; his lathered horse panted in the shade of the oaks.  “The Herminians are no more than two miles distant.”  He waved toward village Inter Lucus.  Oshelm says he will wait there in accord with your invitation.”
            “Very good.  Walk your horse down to the barn and clean her up.  Once you’ve got her squared away, bring the last horse here.  I want you to go to Oshelm and escort him to the castle.  He and his guests may ride. 
            “Ora, go down to Ealdwine.  Tell him that as soon as the weapons wagon reaches the oaks, he can let the Stonebridgers inside the greater shield.  Walk.  There’s no need to hurry.  I’m sure Eadmar has already told them, but they should be reminded; they may not come inside the lesser shield.”
            “Aye.  Aye.”  Ora and Elfric spoke one after the other.  Ora said, “Lord Martin, maybe we should demonstrate the lesser shield for the Stonebridgers, so they are not tempted to come too near.”
            Marty considered this idea.  “All right, Ora; this is what we’ll do…”

            Leo Dudd turned the weapons wagon toward Inter Lucus, snickering the horses into a slow walk up the hill.  Os Oswald stayed with Ora and Ealdwine as Ora gave instructions to the Stonebridge soldiers.  The Stonebridge army spread out, seven hundred strong, in a curving line half a mile long on the southern edge of Inter Lucus property.  On the interface wall, Marty could see Ora standing near another woman, whom he guessed must be Amicia Averill.  Os and Ealdwine also stood among the Stonebridgers, each about a hundred yards on either side of Ora, and each leading one of the Stonebridgers’ horses.  When Leo and the weapons wagon reached the oak shade near the castle, Ora put her hands to her mouth like a megaphone and shouted to Os and Ealdwine.  The whole line of Stonebridge armsmen began marching forward. 
            A wave of tension passed through the Inter Lucus villagers gathered on the south lawn.  Many of them stood up as if preparing to run from the Stonebridgers.
            When the line of soldiers had advanced a couple hundred yards, Ora shouted again, left and right.  The Stonebridgers stopped.  Marty gave a mental command: Parva Arcum Praesidiis!
            Ora picked up a stone and threw it toward the castle.  It struck an invisible barrier and fell to the ground.  The Stonebridge men followed her example, throwing clods of dirt, sticks, and rocks at the shield.  Nothing penetrated.  Marty thought: Coming from Stonebridge, they’ve never seen this before.  I wonder what Milo and Amicia think.  Can they tell a difference between my shield and their father’s?
            Ora shouted an instruction, and the Stonebridgers turned around.  Marty commanded: Magna Arcum Praesidiis.  Now the men pelted the outer shield with a similar result.  Every missile rebounded slightly after hitting the shield and fell to the ground. 
            Now comes the tricky part.
            Ora waved her arms.  Most likely she still shouted, but Marty imagined she wouldn’t need to cry out too loudly.  The Stonebridgers watched her every move intently.  Ora began walking toward the castle, her visage locked on the tall south wall.  Marty could see her green eyes, as confident as ever.
            Ora walked through the shield, never hesitating.  Twenty yards beyond the line of debris the Stonebridgers had thrown against the invisible barrier, she turned.  She raised her arms and pointed them both, very dramatically, at Ealdwine.  Ealdwine ran forward, pulling the Stonebridge horse he had chosen into a trot; then, shouting at the beast, he smacked it on its rump.  The animal galloped forward—and exploded in flame.  The entire line of Stonebridge armsmen shrank back from the invisible line of death.  The frightened villagers on the lawn sat down again.
            Waving and shouting, Ora repeated her double arm gesture, pointing now at Os Oswald.  Os turned his horse, pulled it into a trot, and sent it galloping away from Inter Lucus.  Its destruction, when it encountered Magna Arcum Praesidiis, was as horrifying as the first—and in its way more terrifying, since the Stonebridgers knew they were trapped between the shields.
             Elfric Ash rode from Inter Lucus on a fresh horse, the last of the castle’s horses.  The Stonebridge armsmen watched him warily as he crossed the line of debris that marked the lesser shield, passed Prayer House, and continued south toward village Inter Lucus.  Shortly afterward, Os Oswald and Ora Wooddaughter walked to Prayer House, where they found Eadmar waiting with General Mortane and several others.
            Ora bowed to Mortane and his party.  “Lord Martin invites General Mortane and his chosen guests to come to Inter Lucus, provided that you have disarmed.  Priest Eadmar will remain here to welcome General Oshelm and escort him to the castle.  You may follow me.”
            Ora walked a few steps and turned.  Os Oswald stood in front of Milo Mortane, pointing silently to his scabbard.
            “My men have already surrendered a wagon load of swords,” the general said.  “Must you have mine too?  It is of somewhat higher quality than most.”  Mortane’s tone was playful rather than challenging.  He was already loosening the scabbard.
            “Aye,” answered Os.  “All swords.”
            “Very well.  Can it remain here at Prayer House?  It would be convenient at the end of the evening to return here and find my sword.”
            “Certainly,” answered Eadmar.  He accepted Milo’s sword and scabbard and carried them into Prayer House.
            “Shall we, then?”  Ora led the Stonebridge contingent up the hill to Inter Lucus.  Amicia and Merlin Averill walked beside Ora.  Then came Milo Mortane, Derian Chapman, and Milo’s bodyguard, Felix Abrecan.  Ifing Redhair and another knife fighter walked next to the prisoner, Eudes Ridere, and with them Os Oswald.  Ifing Redhair stole many surreptitious sideways glances at Os; the sheriff was very nearly as tall as Ifing, and he was much bulkier.  Redhair had never expected to see such a man.
            Caelin met them at the west door.  “Welcome everyone.”  Caelin walked around the Stonebridgers, obviously inspecting yet again for swords.  “Very well, Leo,” he said, having finished his loop.  Leo Dudd opened the door and Caelin motioned them in.
            Ora announced them.  “My Lord Martin, I present Sir Milo Mortane, Lady Ambassador Amicia Mortane Averill, Master Merlin Averill, Captain Derian Chapman, Captain Ifing Redhair, Sheriff Felix Abrecan, Sheriff Garwig Gray, and General Eudes Ridere.”
            Three tables in the great hall had been prepared with tablecloths, candles, flowers in vases, and place settings.  A fourth table, nearest the door, presented two large bottles of wine and many small glass goblets.  Marty stood at the end of the head table, three paces from the lord’s knob.  “Welcome to Inter Lucus,” he said, bowing formally.  “We expect General Oshelm’s party to arrive before long.  Please enjoy some wine while we wait.”  He motioned to the wine table.
            Amicia Averill nudged Merlin forward.  He eyed the heavy wine bottles with an expression of mixed suspicion and disdain.  He poured a little into two goblets; a white wine with a yellowish tint, with many minute bubbles rising to the surface.  Merlin raised his glass, examined it closely, and raised a questioning brow.  Meanwhile, Amicia sipped hers.
            “It’s champagne,” Marty said.  “Actually, of course, it’s not champagne, because the authentic beverage has to be grown in a certain place, according to certain rules.  This stuff came a long way, however, from Cippenham.  Two tradesmen brought their wagons to Senerham and Inter Lucus a month ago.”
            “From Cippenham?”  Merlin’s wariness was evident.
            “But it’s nice!” said Amicia.  “Try it, Darling.  Milo, try some.”
            Milo Mortane, Derian Chapman, and Felix Abrecan accepted goblets of the sparkling wine.  Merlin sipped his drink and stopped frowning.  Apparently, the strange wine from Cippenham gained his approval.
            Alf Saeric and Went Bycwine came up the stairs from the kitchen bearing boards with fresh bread and bowls of butter.  Alf placed the bread and butter on the three tables while Went hurried back.  Soon after, Went and Tayte Graham brought up plates of salad, which they laid at each place.
            General Ridere, the tall man introduced as Ifing Redhair, and the stoop-shouldered man called Garwig Gray stood back from the others, each of them surveying the scene.  Marty noticed a distinction he had seen before when Mortane first brought some of his men to Inter Lucus.  Captain Redhair’s eyes roamed everywhere, taking in the strangeness of a castle interior: recessed lighting, ceramic boxes along the walls, the extremely high ceiling, the interface wall, and the two knobs on their columns.  Everything was new and strange to the tall soldier.  Ridere, in contrast, looked steadily at Marty.  He’s wondering if I’m party to a conspiracy with Averill and Mortane.
            “General Ridere, if you please.  Join me near globum domini auctoritate.”  Ridere, who had said nothing since entering the hall, raised his hands in a questioning motion.  Marty explained, “I think negotiations during sup will progress more smoothly, General, if you first have a word with someone else.”
            Ridere started toward the lord’s knob.  Milo Mortane was obviously displeased, but before he could protest, Ealdwine Smithson spoke loudly from the west door.  “My lord Martin!  Elfric and six others are coming.  They’ve passed Prayer House.”
            “Very good.  That will be General Oshelm and party.  Caelin will inspect them, and Ora will announce them.  We have just a moment, then, General.”  Marty motioned toward the interface wall and laid his left hand on the lord’s knob.  He gave a mental command: Videns-Loquitur.  Mariel Grandmesnil.
            She must have been waiting in her chair, because she responded within seconds.  The footstool was gone.  Mariel sat straight-backed in an opulent blue dress, a gold chain around her neck, her hair freshly brushed.  “Lord Martin,” she began immediately.  But then she stopped, her jaw dropping and her lips making an “o.”
            “My liege.”  Ridere inclined his head, and a broad smile transformed his face.  The beaked nose and rugged scars were submerged in delight.  Ridere faced the interface wall with his back toward everyone else, so only Marty (and Aweirgan Unes, who stood at a writing desk next to Mariel) witnessed the evidence of affection on his face.  But Mariel’s joy was visible to everyone in the hall.  So much for “Ice Queen,” Marty thought.
            Mariel whispered, “Eudes.”
            “They tell me,” Ridere said, “that I have a son.  I cannot tell you how pleased I am to see his mother alive.”
            “They tell me,” Mariel replied, “that I almost died.”  She smiled.  “Your son is healthy and vigorous.  Aweirgan called him Eudes; I think I like that name.  And I am recovering.”
            “The city?”
            “Secured.  Four of my lords raised an army against me—though they claim they only sent their army to Pulchra Mane because I had not contacted them and they suspected Aweirgan and Merlin Torr of murdering me.”
            Ridere said, “How will you punish their treachery?”
            “I’m not sure.  Their army threatened, but never actually attacked.  I will consult with Avice Montfort and Wymer Thoncelin.”  Mariel looked at Marty.  “And perhaps Martin Cedarborne.  He has been helpful.  Lord Martin, my bond is growing stronger, but you can see it is still a bit faint.”  She nodded toward her hand, enveloped in a violet aura.  “I hope you will connect me with my councilors.”
“Of course, your majesty.  But we have pressing business that must come first.”  Marty gestured at the scene behind him.  “I and my guests are about…”
Without warning, pain exploded into Marty’s world, erasing all thought of Mariel, Ridere, or anyone else on Two Moons.  His body collapsed, pulling his hand from globum domini auctoritate, but the bond with Inter Lucus was lost even before he hit the floor.

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


Thursday, July 23, 2015

Castles 165

165. At Inter Lucus

            Marty woke up late and tired.  As he promised, he had checked the situation in Pulchra Mane hourly throughout the night.  Each time he did so, some person was present in the great hall—either Aweirgan Unes or another servant—holding Unes’ slate with the “all is well” sign.  Marty took naps between times, and at sunrise he let himself sleep for two hours, but it wasn’t sufficient.  He felt like the time, seven years before, when he had flown from California to Tokyo for an electronics sales seminar.  Jet lag.  What a wasted weekend that was.  He bathed; first hot, then cold water to wake him up.  He dressed and went down to the great hall.
            “My lord Martin.”  Ora greeted him, her green eyes brimming with enthusiasm.
            Marty rubbed his forehead.  “Fair morning, Ora.  Audiences after breakfast today, right?  How many?”
            “No, my lord.  Eadmar and I sent them away.”  She tapped a clipboard with a pencil.  “I have rescheduled everyone.  Today is open.”
            Marty frowned briefly.  “Okay…Why?”
            “Riders, my lord, from the Stonebridge army.  Elfric and the sheriffs are keeping them at Prayer House until you are ready to meet them.”
            “How many?”
            “Only two.  They have already disarmed.  They bear a message for you from General Mortane and wish to take your reply as soon as possible.”  Ora motioned toward the tables of the great hall.  “I told Whitney to be ready to write for you.”
            “Very well.  Show them in.”  Marty moved toward the table.  Whitney had several sheets of paper ready, with quills, and two inkpots.  “I’ll need some tea.  And we should offer them something to eat.”
            Ora grinned.  “Caelin started for the kitchen as soon as you came down the stairs.”

            The couriers, who gave their names as Ford Ormod and Noel Night, declined the offer of breakfast.  Ormod handed Marty the letter, and both men stood stiffly, waiting for his response.  Milo Mortane’s message provided a greater jolt than any of Mildgyd Meadowdaughter’s teas.  Upon reading it, Marty began pacing back and forth, his mind racing.  “Men, I must ask you to wait outside,” he said to the couriers.  “I will compose a reply and give it to you shortly.”
            The Stonebridge riders bowed and departed.  As they were leaving, Marty turned to Caelin and Elfric, who had escorted the couriers from Prayer House.  “We better have Isen and Eadmar.  Caelin, get them.  Quickly!  Elfric, please find Alf.  He should be here too.”
            “Aye!”  Caelin and Elfric spoke together, and Caelin sprinted from the hall.  Elfric would have followed, but at that moment Alf appeared at the stairway from the kitchen, bearing a tray of rolls and sausages.  “Something hot, my lord,” he said.
            “Thank you, Alf.  You’d better stay and listen.”  Marty gave Mortane’s letter to Elfric, picked up a roll, and resumed pacing.
            In less than a minute, Isen and Priest Eadmar preceded Caelin through the west door.  “Eadmar guessed he would be wanted,” Caelin explained.  “He and Isen were almost at the door when I called them.”
            “Martin, what has happened?”  Eadmar’s weathered skin looked especially leathery.  An old man, getting older.  But his blue eyes were clear and his expression calm.
            “Milo Mortane is coming to Inter Lucus with an army of seven hundred Stonebridgers,” Marty said.  “They will arrive before nightfall.”
            “Seven hundred!”  Alf’s voice almost squeaked.
            “That’s not all,” Elfric said, handing the letter to Caelin.  “Mortane says an even greater Herminian army marches on their tail.  He says that, since he cannot flee any further, he implores Lord Martin to shelter his army with Inter Lucus’s shields.  If that is not done, he says, he will stand and fight the Herminians here.”
            “It’s a threat!  ‘Protect me or there will be slaughter between the lakes.’”  Caelin shook the document.  “He doesn’t say it in those words, but that’s what he means.”
            Marty interrupted his pacing for a moment.  “He also gives the name of the Herminian commander as Archard Oshelm, not Eudes Ridere.”
            Caelin looked again at the paper.  “Aye.  What does this mean?”
            “I’m not sure.”  Marty frowned.  “Oshelm must be one of General Ridere’s subordinates.  Ridere may have taken ship for Herminia in order to defend Pulchra Mane and left Oshelm in command.  But something is amiss.  I would have expected Ridere to send me some word, and we haven’t seen Godric Measy since I last sent him to Hyacintho Flumen.
            “In any case, it’s clear that the armies of Stonebridge and Herminia have come to blows.  Archard Oshelm is pursuing Milo Mortane.  The strange thing is that, rather than retreating to Stonebridge, Mortane is coming here.  Mortane says that he wants to avoid a battle.  He asks me to help negotiate a truce with the Herminians.”
            “Can he be trusted?  If he comes inside the shield, he could attack us.  Ora spoke, but others nodded their agreement.
            Marty considered the question for a moment.  “I don’t know.  I think we must assume he cannot be trusted.  We would have to require the Stonebridgers to disarm before coming inside the shield.”
            Caelin said, “And if they refuse?”
            Elfric answered, “Then we must refuse.  We can’t let them in if they are armed.  They must surrender swords, arrows and bows, otherwise Lord Martin should hold the shield against them.”
            “Doesn’t Inter Lucus have two shields?” Eadmar asked.  “I agree, Martin.  The Stonebridgers should surrender their weapons.  But you could also tell them to stay outside the lesser shield.  The greater shield would divide the Stonebridgers from the Herminians, and the lesser shield would keep the Stonebridgers away from us.  If at all possible, you must find a way to prevent a battle.”
            Marty nodded.  “Okay.  Good idea.”
            “Lord Martin.”  Ora drew out the words, as if hesitant to speak.  “How long can you maintain shields?”
            “I’m not sure.  A few hours, I suppose.”  Marty saw the worry on her face.  “But most of the time I would not hold the shields.  I would be resting.  If either army made threatening moves, that’s when I would raise the shields.”
            Eadmar said, “As a matter of precaution, the villagers of Inter Lucus ought to be warned.  Many of them may want to seek shelter near the castle.”
            “Aye.”  Marty rubbed his chin. 
Eadmar noticed his hesitation.  “Martin, what is it?”
“Mortane’s letter also says that Merlin Averill of Stonebridge is with him.  He is an important man in Stonebridge, the son of the Assembly Speaker.  David Le Grant thinks Merlin will be Speaker himself someday.”
Whitney, seated with her papers and ink, raised a hand.  “Perhaps that explains why Mortane is coming to Inter Lucus rather than retreating to Stonebridge.  We know that Averill wants to meet you.”
Marty frowned.  “Would he risk his army just so Averill can see me?  There’s something in this I don’t understand.”
Eadmar’s weathered face lit with a smile.  “Let us hope General Mortane accepts your invitation to lay aside his weapons,” he said.  “You need to talk with him as well as Master Averill.”
“Invitation”—what a useful word.  Marty pointed at Whitney’s ink and paper.  “We have two letters to write, Whitney.  Ready?”
The first letter:

General Milo Mortane
Stonebridge Army

Honored General,
            I hereby extend to you and Merlin Averill an invitation to dinner, an hour before sundown today, at castle Inter Lucus.  You may bring a reasonable number of guests with you, but not more than six.  I should inform you that I have also invited General Archard Oshelm to attend.  Please do not take offense, but I must insist that my dinner guests enter my castle unarmed. 
            On another matter: I agree that the army of Stonebridge may take refuge within Magna Arcum Praesidiis.  I offer temporary refuge in order to facilitate negotiations with the Herminians.  However, your men must surrender all swords and bows to my sheriffs before they enter my protection.

            Eagerly awaiting your reply,
            Martin Cedarborne

The second letter:

            General Archard Oshelm
            Herminian Army

Dear General Oshelm,
            I hereby extend to you an invitation to dinner, an hour before sundown today, at castle Inter Lucus.  You may bring a reasonable number of guests with you, but not more than six.  I have also invited General Milo Mortane of the Stonebridge army to attend.  Please do not take offense, but I must insist that my dinner guests enter my castle unarmed. 
            On another matter: I have agreed to provide refuge to the army of Stonebridge under Magna Arcum Praesidiis.  I assure you that the only reason for this decision is to facilitate negotiations between you and the Stonebridgers. Therefore, I urge and insist that the Herminian army establish its camp at least two miles from my castle. When this affair is concluded, I expect to discover that your men have treated the villagers of Inter Lucus fairly and with dignity.

            Eagerly awaiting your reply,
            Martin Cedarborne

            Marty summoned Ford Ormod and Noel Night and handed the first missive, sealed with wax, to Ormod.  “Sirs, I hope you will deliver this message to General Mortane as quickly as possible.  When you see the general, please tell him that I have written a second letter, a letter to General Oshelm of the Herminians.”  Marty flourished the second epistle and passed it to Elfric.  “My sheriff, Elfric Ash, will ride with you.  When Sir Milo reads my letter to him, he will agree that it is crucial that Elfric be allowed to pass safely through your army.  The letter Elfric carries may well preserve the Stonebridge army and prevent a battle with the Herminians.  I am counting on you to guarantee safe passage for Elfric.”
            Night and Ormod held fists to their chests.  “He will ride safely with us,” said Night.

            The couriers gone, Marty ate a light breakfast that included, Caelin reported, the first blueberries of the summer.  Then, with Whitney at the writing desk, he bonded with Inter Lucus and bent his mind toward Videns-Loquitur, asking for David Le Grant.
            “Fair morning, Lord Martin.”  Le Grant appeared on the screen with his scribe, Orde Penman, and his daughter, Kendra.
            “Fair morning, David.”  Marty rubbed his eyes.  I’m going to need a nap before sup. “I want you to tell me everything you know about Merlin Averill.”
            “Has he arrived at Inter Lucus?  So quickly?”
            “No, but I expect him today.  In fact, Milo Mortane and the Stonebridge army will arrive today, and Averill is with them.  Thirteen hundred Herminians, commanded someone named Archard Oshelm, are in hot pursuit.  So my first order of business will be negotiating a truce between the two armies.  My second goal—and in the long run, the more important goal—is to gain Averill’s support for parliament.”
            “By the gods!  Lord Martin!  Two armies on your doorstep?”  At Le Grant’s side, Orde Penman stopped writing; lord and scribe were both shocked.  “And you still have—what?  Four sheriffs?”
            “We won’t allow the Stonebridgers to come inside the greater shield unless they disarm.”  Marty spoke reassuringly.  “I think they will comply, because they need my protection against the Herminians.  I am duty bound to try to achieve a truce.  Now, about Merlin Averill?”
            Le Grant shook his head with a sigh.  “You already know what I know.  Averills have been a leading Stonebridge family since Warren Averill led their rebellion against my family long ago.  Kingsley Averill, the father, has been a leader of the more conservative faction in the Assembly for thirty years.  They are wealthy and have a large estate, devoted mostly to vineyards, somewhere west of the city, but Kingsley was not driven to amass ever-greater wealth like Ody Dans.  Kingsley despises Ody Dans—something to do with Kingsley’s sister who married Dans and then died.  Merlin, until recently, kept away from business and political matters; apparently content to collect and enjoy wines.  But Merlin was present the night Ody Dans was arrested—arrested by none other than Milo Mortane, who is now at your doorstep—and Merlin is engaged to Amicia Mortane.  It seems that the alliance of house Mortane and house Averill was sufficient to bring down the richest man in Stonebridge.  And now, it seems, they want to use you against Herminia.  I advise caution, Lord Martin.”
            Marty looked at Whitney’s notes, which summarized Le Grant’s speech accurately.  “Thank you, David.  I will try to be careful.  Now, how do we best prepare a meeting between Merlin Averill and Queen Mariel?”
“What!” Le Grant interjected.  “Do you think that’s a good idea?”
“I do.  Averill is coming because he wants to discuss the parliament, so I hope he will see the advantage of talking about it with Mariel.  Mariel, however, might be another story.  She already resists the House of Lords, so I haven’t really pressed her on the House of Commons.  Perhaps I should arrange another group meeting of castle lords and ladies.”
“Lord Martin, I alone of them have seen the need for a House of Commons.  If you bring many castle rulers into the conversation, two or three may take the opportunity to argue against a Commons.  It will complicate things greatly.”
“Okay.”  Marty rubbed his eyes again.  “How about Lady Postel and Lady Montfort?”
Surprisingly, it was Kendra Le Grant who answered.  “I think that’s a good idea.  Include Isabel Baro as well.”
“What?”  Marty felt flummoxed.  The square-faced Isabel would not have occurred to him as someone who might persuade Mariel.
“Merlin Averill won’t reach Inter Lucus until later today; isn’t that right?  You can introduce him to Queen Mariel at that time.  For now, it’s time for the women to speak.”
Where is she going with this?  Kendra Le Grant—first feminist on Two Moons?  Marty said, “I don’t understand.”
“Of course you don’t,” Kendra replied.  “Lord Martin, Father is very impressed with you; you are obviously a strong lord.  But you are also a man, subject to a man’s skewed vision of the world.  Trust me.  You need women to talk with Mariel.”
What will it hurt?  “Okay.  I will summon the others.”
Postel, Montfort, and Baro appeared in the interface wall within minutes.  Jean Postel asked, “Where are the others, Lord Martin?”
“I asked Lord Martin to summon only women.”  Kendra Postel stood at her father’s side, her hand tucked around his upper arm.  “Queen Mariel is undoubtedly expecting Lord Martin to contact her, and she probably expects to see as many as a dozen castle lords and ladies.  You will all once again pressure her to accept a parliament, or so she expects.  I think we should do something other than what she expects.  Queen Mariel is mother to a new prince.  I think we should ask her about that.”
Avice Montfort chuckled aloud.  Jean Postel said, “Why not?  Will you speak for us, Lady Kendra?”
“Well, I… Yes, I will.  But, as I am not yet a mother, I expect you, Lady Avice and Lady Jean, to carry the conversation.”
Isabel Baro was more timid.  “Lord Martin?”
Marty said, “I have no objection.  I will contact Pulchra Mane, and I will speak as little as possible.”
Mariel’s frame opened as soon as Marty turned his thought.  Her feet were no longer propped up on a footstool, and her bearing, while still seated, was more erect.
“Fair morning, Lord Martin.”  She spoke carefully.  A serving girl at her side deftly wiped Mariel’s mouth with a cloth.
“Fair morning, your majesty.”  Kendra’s firm voice drew the queen’s attention.  “You may not remember me.  I am Kendra Le Grant.”  She inclined her head slightly, which brought brown hair swinging by her face.  She brushed it back.  “Lady Montfort, Lady Postel, Lady Baro and I all want to take this opportunity to congratulate you on your recovery.  And we have a very special request.”
Marty kept quiet.  Mariel looked at him for a moment, and then back to the women.  “What is your desire?”  Mariel’s words came slowly.
“Could we see your baby?  Your scribe Aweirgan said yesterday and the day before that Prince Eudes is thriving, but like a typical man he never thought to bring him out to Videns-Loquitur so we could see him.  Later, of course, Lord Martin will want to talk about politics, but we just want to see the baby.”
Mariel eyed them with evident suspicion at first, but gradually her expression softened.  She whispered to the serving woman at her side.  A minute later another woman entered the frame, carrying a blanketed bundle.  Mariel kept her right hand on her knob while the woman laid the baby on her lap, cradling him in Mariel’s left arm and uncovering the boy’s face.  The wet nurse stood close, bracing Mariel’s arm.
“Oh my goodness!  He’s perfect!”  Jean Postel played no role; her delight in the infant was genuine and infectious. 
“Gods be thanked.  You majesty, he really is a wonderful looking boy,” said Isabel Baro.  “The hair must come from the father.”
Mariel grinned.  “Aye.  Eudes has dark hair.”
Avice Montfort said, “That reminds me, your majesty.  Aweirgan called the new prince Eudes, but only until you or the father could name him.  Have you decided on a name?”
Mariel seemed bemused.  “Other matters have occupied my mind of late.”  Her speech was still deliberate and slow, but her wry smile drew laughter from Montfort, Postel, and Baro.  The women’s laughter encouraged a broader and contented smile from Mariel.  “I shall give the matter some thought,” she said; somehow this occasioned more laughter, as if she had told a joke.
The meeting of castle ladies went on for almost an hour.  Marty never said a word.

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


Thursday, July 16, 2015

Castles 164

164. Some Miles from Inter Lucus

            Someone touched Milo’s arm.  He woke, dismissing a dream, and threw aside his blanket.  He leapt to his feet, ready to receive news and issue commands.  According to Fletcher Norris’s midnight report, the Herminian army had closed to within six miles.  But the touch was not from one of his captains.
            “I’m sorry, Milo.  I didn’t mean to startle you.”  Amicia still crouched where she had knelt beside her sleeping brother.
            Milo’s military trained senses evaluated the situation in seconds.  Dark—second moon obscured by clouds; first moon already set.  Quiet—the men of Stonebridge army were sleeping in ordered companies under the stars without tents; the night had been comfortable with no threat of rain.  The horses not currently on scout duty were loosely tethered to trees, standing or lying at ease.  Secure—Milo could see dim outlines of sentries at the boundaries of the camp; mounted scouts would be roaming beyond sight.  He let out a long breath. 
“Not your fault, Toadface.”  Milo extended a hand and pulled Amicia to her feet.  He spoke just above a whisper.  “Even when I’m asleep, I’m half-ready to fight.  I think my men are afraid to wake me sometimes.”
She searched his face, her eyes reflecting starlight.  “The general of an army has worries he shares with no one.”
“Trouble comes with the job, I think.”  Milo looked at the horizon.  The first light of the approaching dawn touched hilltops in the east.  He began rolling his field blanket; the day’s march would begin soon, so there was no point in lying down again.  “And what about you, little sister?  You rode most the day yesterday and the night before that.  Why aren’t you getting every bit of shut-eye you can?  You must be tired.”
Amicia noted his quick survey of the camp.  “Tired?  Not too bad.  I dozed on and off in the saddle yesterday, and I had some nice springy grass under my blanket last night.  And it’s important that I talk with you.”
Milo felt curiosity and doubt.  So serious she is!  How much has Averill changed my little sister?  “We talked yesterday—will today too.”
“We need to talk alone.”
Milo looked at her.  “Something you don’t want Merlin to hear?”
“No.  Well, maybe.” 
Rolled blanket over his shoulder, Milo started walking and Amicia kept pace.  “Has he… mistreated you?”
“Oh, no.  I’m a happily married woman.  It’s just that I’m not sure I want him to hear what you have to say.  Where are we going?”
“Got to stow my bedroll on Gray Boy.  If it’s not Merlin, what’s so important you need to get me up early?”
Amicia caught a boot against a tree root, invisible in the dark, and suddenly pitched against Milo.  She clutched at his arm, righting herself.  “I want to know why we’re going to Inter Lucus.
Milo led her toward the army’s horses, almost invisible in the shadow of trees.  “I already told you.  I want Martin to protect my army while I work out a truce with Archard Oshelm.”
A sentry materialized from blackness under the trees where the horses were tethered.  “Hold!  Announce yourself!”  The man’s sword reflected moonlight.
“Be at ease, soldier,” commanded Milo.  “I’m here to see to my horse and stow my roll.”
“Lord General!”  The sentry sheathed his sword and saluted, hand on chest.  “Pardon.  I did not recognize you.  If you please, sir, I will feed and water the beasts before we ride.”  He reached out to receive the blanket from Milo.  “Gray Boy is over there.”
“Very well.  See that he’s ready.”  Milo had always relied on Eádulf or someone else to care for his mount.  He and Amicia walked away from the horses.
When they were out of earshot, Amicia resumed the conversation.  “That’s not the whole truth, is it?  I believe you do want a truce, but that isn’t the whole story.  Why Inter Lucus?” 
They were on a narrow path between two grain fields; the overnight stay of the Stonebridgers had largely trampled one of the fields.  What would the owner say when he discovered his grain ruined?  Milo remembered farmer Hubbard, whose cows had fed the army the day before.  Amicia had insisted they pay Hubbard fairly—more than fairly, actually!  The man turned a handsome profit on his cows.  Will Amicia want to pay this farmer too?
Amicia interrupted his thought.  “Milo?  Why Inter Lucus?”
“To see Lord Martin, of course,” Milo said.  “Your Merlin has come all the way from Stonebridge to see him.  Why shouldn’t I?”  In the growing pre-dawn light they could see stirring in the camp, men standing and stretching stiff backs.
Amicia grabbed his arm, turning Milo to face her.  “Merlin wants to talk about Martin’s ‘parliament.’  He thinks Martin is a great lord, whose ideas might serve Stonebridge’s interests.”
Milo laughed.  “Ha!  As far as I can tell, this parliament thing would make us all subjects under Mariel.”
She tossed her head, the old Amicia again.  “Citizens, not subjects.”  She released his arm and pointed a finger at him.  “If you really think Martin’s parliament idea is faulty, why do you want to see him?  What are you about, Milo?”
“Chances, little sister.”  Milo seized her hand and held it.  “Aylwin sent you to Down’s End to be bargained off for an ally.  If I hadn’t sent for you, you might be stuck there.  But a chance came for you.  You met Merlin Averill and married him.  And now—I heard you yesterday—you intend to tell Aylwin to go to hell.  Don’t misunderstand me.  I approve!  The lord of Hyacintho Flumen hardly deserves loyalty from you.  You had chances.  Most of them were bad.  But among them, you found one to your liking and you seized it.  Good for you.  I’m going to Inter Lucus because my chances lie there.”
Amicia shook her hand free.  “I’m going to tell Aylwin I can’t be his ambassador anymore.  I am not telling him to go to hell.”
“You should.  He sent you away to be married to a fat banker on the hope that he would gain him allies in Down’s End.  A stupid policy, with no chance of success—but, of course, no cost to Aylwin, since he doesn’t care about you.”
A sudden intake of breath.  “Aylwin loves himself more than anything or anyone; that much is true.  But we’re not here to talk about Aylwin.  I want to talk about you.”
“All right.  Talk.”  He folded his arms across his chest.
“Are you going to Inter Lucus to kill Martin?”
“How could I?  He has a castle!  By all accounts, he is a powerful lord.  As you pointed out yesterday, my whole army will be vulnerable to him between his shields.  I’m depending on his good will not to destroy us.  How could I possibly hope to kill him?”
Amicia touched his folded arms.  “I don’t know.  But I don’t like what you said to Ifing.  ‘We Mortanes do what we must,’ you said.  Felix told me what you did to the Hawks.  You and Ifing together, you betrayed them and slaughtered them.  Then, later, you used me to trap Ody Dans at Ambassador House.”
“Ody Dans” interjected Milo, “is a blight on humanity.  He is a murderer who takes delight in humiliating helpless people.  My only regret is that I will not be in Stonebridge when he hangs.  I saw the thrill he got when he crushed Tilde’s trust in Adelgar.”
“Tilde told me about it,” Amicia said.  “And about the bed and the mouse and everything.  I agree: Dans is a monster.  That doesn’t change the fact that you used me to trap him.  ‘We Mortanes do what we must’ you said to Ifing.  Now, I’m asking you—not Sir Milo the Commander of the Citadel or the General of the Stonebridge army, but Milo Mortane, my brother—what are these ‘chances’ you are pursuing at Inter Lucus?”
Milo unfolded his arms and brushed her cheek.  “All right.  What would you say if your brother became King of Tarquint?”
She was stunned.  “What?”
“When I was a boy, I wanted to be lord of Hyacintho Flumen more than anything.  So did Aylwin.  Funny thing is—I was always better at riding, hunting, and fighting; more fit to be a knight than a lord, because a lord has to stay in his castle.  Aylwin learned writing and figures quicker than me, and he spent hours watching father at the lord’s knob.  He will manage the castle estate better than I would have.”
Amicia shook her head.  “What are you talking about?”
“I’m telling you why I’m going to Inter Lucus.  If Aylwin hadn’t stolen Hyacintho Flumen I would have been a lord, confined to one castle the rest of my life.  Think, little sister, how did Rudolf become King of Herminia?  Not by castle magic.  He sent an army, under Eudes Ridere, to besiege the castles.  One by one, he made his neighbors submit to him.  It was his army, not his magic, which made him king.  Now I have an army.  Who is stronger, Aylwin or me?”
She objected, “It’s Stonebridge’s army, not yours.”
Milo answered, “In the field, it’s my army.  Stonebridge has supplied the men, weapons, and supplies.  And I’m grateful.  But the Assembly doesn’t really know what it wants.  Some say: Clear out the highwaymen.  Others say: Make Down’s End acknowledge our position as first city.  Others say: Warn off the Herminians.  I’m going to do all those things.”
Amicia was dismayed.  “But you have no right…”
Milo cut off her objection.  “Why should Mariel rule this country?  Why should we not have a king of our own in Tarquint?  And why shouldn’t that king be Milo Mortane?”
“You swore obedience to the Stonebridge Assembly.”
He smiled, his eyes shining.  “I did.  And when I return to Stonebridge I will report success on every task they gave me.  Stonebridge and Down’s End will be free cities under my rule.  But my capitol will be Inter Lucus.”
Again she seized his arm.  “Milo, this is madness.”
“I don’t think so,” he said.  “It’s a chance.  I will have to make the cities see that it is too their advantage to support the throne and the security my army will provide.  A king will protect them from Herminian invaders, from castle lords, and from the anarchy of highwaymen. 
“You see, then, that I do not want to harm Martin.  He is perfectly harmless—and useful.  As his guest, the king of Tarquint could speak to any lord or lady in this country, much as Mariel speaks to the rulers of Herminia.  Since my army will control the region between the lakes, I think Martin will cooperate with me.  He wants no harm to come to Senerham or Inter Lucus, and by helping me he will promote peace.”
“So now you are going to use Martin!”  Amicia’s grip on his arm tightened.  “It’s as if he is Rudolf and you’re Eudes Ridere, except that the general is the king and the castle lord is his minister.”
“Well said, Toadface!”  Milo grinned.  “I hadn’t thought in those terms, but that’s exactly right.  There is no good reason a king must be a castle lord.  Lords and ladies should serve the king.”
Amicia looked at him, a mixture of disbelief and wonder.  “You’ve got this all figured out.”
“Hardly.”  Milo smiled.  “It is a chance only.  I invited Archard Oshelm to join me, and his response was to swear to kill me.  Pretty obviously, I blundered.  Now, I have to hope that Martin can win me a truce with Oshelm.  It’s like the dice game you see on the street corners in Stonebridge.  They call it Liar Lives.  When a player has all six lives, he often calls ‘liar’ lightly; but when he is down to his last life, he is much more careful.  I don’t have many ‘lives’ left, so I have to be careful.”
Daylight had grown during their walk.  Milo pointed.  “We ought to go.”  Soldiers were quickly taking down the tent where Amicia and Merlin had slept, the only tent in the camp.  Merlin had spotted them and was waving.  
Amicia said, “I’ve seen them play Liar Lives in Stonebridge.  When a player loses his last life, they take his money.  What happens if you lose the game you are playing, Milo?”
“The truth?  I don’t know.”
Copyright © 2015 by Philip D. Smith.
All rights reserved.  International copyright secured.