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.


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