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.


No comments:

Post a Comment