162. In Castle Pulchra Mane
“Fair morning, your majesty.” Blythe bowed perfunctorily when she and Claennis entered Mariel’s bedroom, the bedroom door swishing magically closed behind them. “Master Aweirgan wants Bestauden and Bayan to bring you down to the great hall, as he expects Lord Martin to call again today. Best we bathe and dress you quickly.”
A single syllable brought the serving women to an abrupt stop. With a tremulous smile, Mariel raised her right hand, lying on the bedcover. It was a small movement, and the hand quickly fell back. But it was enough. Blythe and Claennis rushed to their monarch’s bed to kiss her hand, forehead, and cheeks.
Mariel cleared her throat. “Hm.”
“Pardon, your majesty. Pardon.” Blythe and Claennis turned with delight to the tasks at hand.
Bestauden Winter and Bayan the Red did not carry Mariel on a chair as they had the previous two days. She entered the great hall with her arms around their shoulders, and each of them with an arm around her waist. In truth, the men bore her weight, but Mariel’s slippers did touch the floor, and she shuffled her feet.
The servants of Pulchra Mane, including soldiers, gardeners, and kitchen workers, lined up to welcome her. Mariel smiled and responded to their cheers with slight movements of her head. Elfgiva Red held out baby Prince Eudes, and Mariel kissed his forehead. Felice Hale smiled broadly and wept simultaneously. The little procession reached Mariel’s purple-cushioned chair, but before they settled her into it, she made a small gesture with her hand. Everyone became quiet.
“Tank you.” She struggled to control tongue and lips. “Tank you.”
As soon as she was seated beside her knob, Mariel bonded. Violet light glowed between her fingers and enveloped her hand. That’s better. She closed her eyes and breathed deeply, feeling the warmth of the connection. After a minute of therapy, she removed her hand.
“Food,” Mariel commanded.
She had eaten half an egg with soft brown bread, fed to her by Blythe, when the Videns-Loquitur light began blinking. Blythe deftly wiped Mariel’s mouth and chin with a cloth and took the breakfast tray away. Mariel glanced to her left, where Aweirgan stood at a writing desk. “Ready?” The scribe nodded, and Mariel lifted her hand to the knob.
The narrow-faced Martin appeared in the center of the viewing wall, left hand concealed in a glowing green ball. His right hand was pointing to something on his young female scribe’s paper. Mariel wondered: Does he do that to try to impress me?
“Fair morning, your majesty.” Martin inclined his head.
“Morn,” said Mariel. She wanted to say more, to demonstrate her improved condition. Apparently, one word sufficed. In the picture frame, Lord Martin beamed.
“Thank God!” Martin exclaimed. “I can’t tell you how pleased I am, Mariel.
Has there been further communication from the rebel army, from Allard Dell?”
Mariel leaned her head toward Aweirgan, who answered. “Aye. Dell sent two rather short epistles yesterday. The first acknowledged the demonstration of Magna Arcum Praesidiis and requested an audience with the Queen. The second, late in the afternoon, reiterated that request, though it was expressed as a demand; the rebel commander says it is imperative that he be permitted to see and talk with Mariel.”
Martin looked delighted. “That’s what you want, isn’t it? Let Dell see that Mariel is recovering, that she can defend Pulchra Mane. Then tell him to take his army home.”
“Muh-muh-be.” Mariel forced the sounds out. “Maybe.” This is my responsibility, not Aweirgan’s.
Lord Martin knit his eyebrows. “You don’t want him to see you as you are.”
“Aye.” That was easier.
Aweirgan explained. “Two days ago, Mariel held her shield for only five minutes. It was enough to impress the rebels. But if they knew her condition, they might deduce that she has limited strength. In a real battle, she would need to command shields for an hour or more. If Allard Dell is desperate or clever, he might yet attack us.”
“I see.” Martin rubbed his temple with his free hand. “Queen Mariel, I observe that though you are able to speak, it is difficult for you. Is that so?”
“As much as possible, then, I will ask you questions to which you can answer ‘aye’ or ‘no.’ When necessary, Aweirgan can explain your thought it more detail. Will that do?”
Sensible man. “Aye.”
Martin smiled. “I propose, then, that Avice Montfort and I, as we did two days ago, cooperate with you, Mariel, to raise your shield. We should do this as many times as you think possible through the course of the day, and Merlin Torr’s men should demonstrate the shield to the enemy each time by throwing things at it.”
“Aye!” Mariel’s confidence in her voice was growing.
“Very good. I suggest, then, that Aweirgan explain our plan to Captain Torr while I contact Lady Montfort. We should speak again in half an hour. Meanwhile, your majesty, you would do well to rest.”
In the space of seven hours, Mariel raised Magna Arcum Praesidiis five times. Did she do it by her own power, or did it depend on assistance from Martin or Avice? Mariel didn’t know. Tomorrow, when I’ve rested, I will experiment alone.
Did the repeated demonstrations of Pulchra Mane’s defenses have the desired effect? Had the rebels been intimidated? Again Mariel didn’t know. But Merlin Torr’s confidence, shared by Aweirgan, was growing. “If they are going to attack, they’ll do it soon,” Aweirgan said after the last display of Magna Arcum Praesidiis. “If not tonight, then not at all.” Lord Martin heard Aweirgan’s comment.
The narrow-faced lord said, “If that is so, Aweirgan, Lady Montfort and I ought to stand ready through the night to assist the Queen if the rebels attack.”
Mariel turned her head slightly so she could see her counselor’s face. Aweirgan frowned. “I do not see how that could be done, Lord Martin. During a battle Queen Mariel would have to devote her energy and attention to the shields, not activating Videns-Loquitur. You’re not suggesting that you or Lady Montfort can wait with us through the night. I don’t think even one as strong as yourself could maintain Videns-Loquitur hour after hour.”
Lord Martin pursed his lips. “You’re right, of course. Extended exertion of castle power is draining. I propose, then, that I contact Pulchra Mane periodically through the night, every hour, let’s say. Queen Mariel need not bond. If all is quiet there, you, Aweirgan, or another of Mariel’s servants could make a sign to that effect.”
Aweirgan shared a quick glance with Mariel. Her disquiet must have shown on her face. He can see into my hall. Aweirgan said, “I—or another servant—could hold up my slate, with a mark for ‘all is well.’ If an attack had begun, my slate would have a different sign.”
“That’s right. Of course, if the enemy attacks, you would bring Mariel to her knob in any case. If I see a sign meaning ‘rebel attack,’ I would contact Lady Montfort immediately. Then we would call Pulchra Mane and be ready to assist Mariel.”
Mariel thought: He is very careful to say ‘we.’ In reality, it is his astonishing bond with Inter Lucus that makes it work. If Martin ever learnt to use all his magic, he would be either the greatest ally or most deadly foe.
Aweirgan was speaking, pulling Mariel from her reverie. “Should we accept Lord Martin’s plan, your majesty?”
“Aye.” What choice do I have? He can look into my hall any time he chooses. Besides, I may need help to stop Allard Dell.
Mariel almost pulled her hand from globum domini auctoritate. The conversation had reached a natural conclusion; she wanted rest and food. But Lord Martin was rubbing his cheek as if something were troubling him.
“There is another matter, your majesty, that I must mention. I know your recovery needs rest, and I would not trouble you with something minor. I really think this cannot wait.”
Mariel looked at Aweirgan, who spoke for her. “The Queen appreciates your aid, Lord Martin, so she will wait a bit more. Please speak briefly.”
“Of course.” The green glow around Martin’s left hand brightened, enlarged, and began to pulsate. Mariel drew in a sharp breath. She had seen similar displays, but only in one place. It’s like Father—or me.
Windows opened all over the magic wall. For her weekly Council meetings, Mariel had supported Videns-Loquitur connections with seven other castles, but now there were ten frames on her wall. Lords and ladies quickly populated them all. Each one greeted her courteously.
“Your majesty!” exclaimed a bluff-faced young woman with small eyes. “I am greatly pleased to meet you.” She bowed from the waist with both her hands on her knob, and for a moment the lady’s head disappeared behind the pale rose glow of her castle’s knob. “I am Isabel Baro, of Argentum Cadit.” Another woman, who looked like an older copy of Isabel, stood behind her. The mother also bowed.
“Warm greetings from Altum Canyon,” said a stocky lord with curly black hair. “I am Marin Dufour, and my consort is Victoire.” Dufour nodded to his companion, who bowed formally. “Your majesty,” she said.
“Fair afternoon, your majesty.” The next lord’s knob had a faint pink color. Mariel immediately suspected a weak bond. “I am David Le Grant, of Saltas Semitas. My wife, Catherine.”
A lady with a pastel blue bond spoke next. “May the gods smile on you, Lady Mariel, and speed your recovery. I am Jean Postel, of Aurea Prati. My husband, Artus, and my daughter, Sidney.” The husband inclined his head while the daughter curtsied. “Fair afternoon, your majesty.”
“My name is Simon Asselin, your majesty. This is my consort, Arbe. We are delighted to meet you, and we also pray for your recovery.” Simon and his consort made an odd couple, as Arbe was far taller, dark-complexioned, and skinny, while the lord reminded Mariel of a thick pasty dumpling. His knob glowed gray.
“Warm greetings, Queen Mariel.” Mariel could not help but notice this lord’s color. His knob shone with a violet almost exactly matching hers. “I am Ames Hewett, of castle Faenum Agri. My wife, Louise, and our son, Edward.” The youth, who looked to be about sixteen, bowed alongside his mother.
“Greetings, my liege.” Mariel was astonished. Wymer Thoncelin! The earlier lords and ladies were from Tarquint. But Ventus in Montes, Wymer’s home, was in Herminia. He and Avice Montfort were her most loyal Counselors. What is this all about?
“Your majesty. I am pleased to see you recovering.” Rocelin Toeni, another Herminian lord, inclined his head. Toeni might actually mean it—now. His son and daughter are both in Tarquint, and Eudes wrote that Gifre Toeni is an honorable young man. Mariel’s informants had told her of Rocelin Toeni’s attempted alliance with Aylwin Mortane, but she had never confronted Toeni with the evidence. There had been no need; Mortane had disgraced Toeni’s daughter, replacing her with a washerwoman and canceling any friendship between the houses.
“And so we are all here,” said Avice Montfort. She and Lord Martin occupied the ninth and tenth frames.
Mariel’s mind raced. What is this? A conspiracy? If so, Martin is behind it. But that can’t be. Avice and Wymer would never… A display of Martin’s magic? To what end?
“Thank you, Avice.” Martin took a tiny step forward, as if he would walk into Mariel’s hall. For a fraction of a moment, Mariel half expected him to do it. But his left hand remained enveloped by the green ball.
“Queen Mariel, I have asked these ladies and lords to meet with you today. We—all of us together—wish to lay our request before you. We—ladies and lords of Tarquint and Herminia—want peace and prosperity. We want to acknowledge you as our sovereign, but we must have a parliament.”
Mariel wanted to laugh. Incredible. He still pursues fantasies. Her mouth opened. But no sound came.
“I would change only one word, your majesty,” said Avice Montfort. “I desire a parliament. I acknowledge your sovereignty with or without it.”
“My liege.” Wymer Thoncelin’s slow, gravelly voice commanded attention. “I have supported you since Rudolf’s death. I will continue my support, no matter what you decide. But I agree with Lord Martin and Lady Avice. Herminia needs a parliament.”
David Le Grant, one of the Tarquintians, said, “I believe that one day Herminia and Tarquint will be united in one country. I would like to see unification come peacefully, in my time. That will not happen by force of arms. Queen Mariel, we present you with an opportunity. Grant us a parliament.”
And so it went on. One by one, the conspirators each expressed support for Martin’s idea. Had she been able to speak perfectly, still Mariel would have been bereft of words. She felt shock, pride, fear, anger, bitterness, and desperation. I am Grandmesnil! How dare you! I will not be compelled by the schemes of some Tirel bastard! Avice and Wymer—treachery! I would have expected this from Toeni or Wadard, but not you. In my time of weakness you conspire against me. I will not forget. When I am stronger, there will be reckoning.
Mariel became aware of silence. In her anger she hadn’t heard the last of the speeches. The ten faces framed in the magic wall all waited on her. If she had been able, she would have laughed at them or cursed them. Her jaw trembled and she swallowed. She looked at Lord Martin, staring at his dark eyes and narrow face. What do you expect me to say? I will never submit to you. But then the fear underlying her anger suddenly surfaced. How long will my weakness last? What happens if I don’t recover completely?
“I will…consider…” Mariel breathed several times. She tipped her head toward Aweirgan. “We will…talk.”
Wymer Thoncelin rumbled into speech. “Queen Mariel wishes time to think about our proposal. She demonstrates wisdom, reserving judgment for the time being.”
“I agree.” Martin addressed the others, but his eyes were on Mariel. “This is another reason why I believe the lords and ladies of Tarquint should recognize Mariel’s sovereignty. She is wise enough not to act on impulse.”
Mariel thought: And do you know what my impulse is? For a moment she wanted to squash him like a mosquito. But the words hung in her mind: “wise enough not to act on impulse.”
Martin continued, “I propose, then, that we meet again tomorrow—or the day after, if the Queen prefers—and reiterate both our loyalty and our request. With Aweirgan’s aid, perhaps Queen Mariel will be ready to discuss our ideas. Another meeting tomorrow—what is your pleasure?”
“Good idea,” said Le Grant.
“I agree.” “Aye.” “I will be ready.” The other lords and ladies chimed in.
“Your majesty?” Martin lifted an eyebrow. “Will you accept another meeting with us?”
The defense of Pulchra Mane may depend on this man tonight. I have no choice. Mariel was in a box, she resented the box, and at the same time she recognized that her resentment was foolish. I can talk with them without yielding. There was some comfort in that thought.
“Your majesty?” It was Aweirgan, at her side, prompting her.
Copyright © 2015 by Philip D. Smith.
All rights reserved. International copyright secured.