Thursday, August 27, 2015

Castles 170

170. In Castle Pulchra Mane

            Mariel opened her eyes.  The high ceiling of her bedroom, created so long ago by the gods, floated in azure distance.  Growing up, she had often asked why the gods made Pulchra Mane’s ceilings look like the sky.  Neither Aweirgan Unes nor her father, Rudolf, had been able to tell her.  Why had the gods made the castles of Two Moons in the first place?  Aweirgan couldn’t answer that either.  Rudolf told her not to waste time on such questions.  The gods had arranged things—no doubt, in great wisdom—so that noble persons could bond with castles and command their magic.  The only important question was this: How pure was a ruler’s bond with his or her castle?  Rudolf’s magic was very strong, and he was sure Mariel’s would be as well.  Someday, he told his daughter, the knob will glow under your hand.  His prophecy proved true.  Mariel wished her father could have lived to see the perfect violet ball that surrounded her hand on globum domini auctoritate.
            I am Grandmesnil!
            But now… things had changed.  She could not silence the wearying voice in her mind.  The color isn’t the same.  Not quite.  What if I don’t recover all my strength?
            Blythe noticed Mariel had woken.  She came quickly from a cot by the wall to Mariel’s side.  How long must I have a girl sleep in my room and watch me through the night?
            “Fair morning, your majesty.  Would you like breakfast here, or shall we bathe you and take you to the great hall?”
            “Bath, then breakfast in the hall.  But summon Aweirgan and Merlin immediately.”
            “Aye, my lady.”  Blythe went to the door, which swished open at her approach, and spoke to someone just outside.  Mariel’s scribe and commander of sheriffs entered while Blythe was running the bath.
            “Your majesty.”  “My liege.”  Aweirgan and Merlin inclined their heads.  Mariel, sitting up in bed, acknowledged them with a nod.  “Report,” she said.
            “A perfect night.  Nothing happened.”  Merlin Torr smiled wryly.  “I suppose it would be even better to report the rebels abandoned their positions and went home, but at least they did not attack.”
            Mariel sighed.  “If Allard Dell doesn’t have the courage to attack, I would think he would leave; disperse his men to their respective lords.”
            Aweirgan said, “He hasn’t the courage to go home, my lady.  Not without convincing proof that you are securely in command of Pulchra Mane.  Paul Wadard will hold him responsible for the failure of the rebellion.”
            Mariel pursed her lips.  “Send a message to Dell.  Invite him to come, in person, to my hall.  We will give him proof that I am alive and active.  And now, my bath is ready.  Gentlemen, if you please.”  She nodded toward the door.  “I will come down for breakfast presently.”

            Bestauden Winter aided Mariel down the stairs to the great hall.  Her sense of balance was returning, but she there was no point in risking a fall.  With his powerful right arm around her waist and her left arm around his, he practically carried her.  A stranger seeing them might have thought them intimates.  Once in the hall, she walked more demurely, with one arm tucked in his.
            She ate a solid breakfast of summer fruit, eggs, and meat.  She anticipated hard work at Videns-Loquitur.  A smile: Eudes had often said she ate like a plowman on Council days.  But then the smile faded.  The images of Eudes at Inter Lucus worried her; he had been his ironic, normal self at first, but the second Eudes seemed dazed or drugged.  He looked as if he had aged ten years.  She wanted very badly to see him again, but she did not move toward her lady’s knob.  One thing at a time, she told herself.  Allard Dell first.  When it’s time to talk with Eudes, maybe the boy Alf can help.
            Finishing her breakfast, Mariel asked Aweirgan, “Do you think he will come?  Dell, I mean.”
            Aweirgan sipped hot tea.  “He will certainly come, my lady.  Dell cannot go home, having never attacked Pulchra Mane, unless he can show Paul Wadard that the attack would have failed.  I presume you intend to give him some proof that will satisfy Wadard.  But I don’t know what it is.”
            “I’m going to let him watch me work.” 
            Aweirgan frowned, but before he could speak his mind, Merlin Torr entered Pulchra Mane with a stocky newcomer.  Not a complete stranger; Mariel thought, I’ve seen him before. 
Torr said, “Your majesty, I present Allard Dell, from Beatus Valle.”  Dell had short, tightly curled black hair and a trimmed beard. 
            The rebel commander bowed.  “Fair morning, your majesty.”
            Mariel and Aweirgan rose to acknowledge Dell.  “Welcome to Pulchra Mane,” Mariel said.  “We have several matters to discuss, Commander.  Your future, for one.  And the army you have brought to my city.  But before we talk about these things, I invite you to breakfast.”  She motioned to an unoccupied table.  “Tait, my chief cook, is very skilled.  If you like, we can ask for bread or meat or anything you prefer.”
            Dell licked his lips.  “You are gracious, your majesty.  A glass of wine would be sufficient.  My chief assignment in coming to Pulchra Mane was to see you in person.  My master had heard rumors of your demise and was concerned for your health.”  He moved to the indicated table.  “Shall I sit?”
            “Please do.”  Mariel overcame her urge to laugh at Paul Wadard’s supposed concern for her health.  “You can see that reports of my demise were greatly exaggerated.  I think our conversation will proceed better if you see my health demonstrated first hand.  You will see that I command Pulchra Mane.
            Allard Dell slipped into a chair.  One of Torr’s young sheriffs stood close by, ensuring the guest would stay in his seat, and one of the castle serving girls brought a tray with a glass and wine bottle.
            Mariel looked at her scribe and Merlin Torr.  “Shall we, gentlemen?”  She walked to her purple-cushioned chair to sit by her lady’s knob.  Aweirgan took his place at the writing desk.  Torr stood behind Mariel, resting his hand on his sword hilt.  She bonded and for a few seconds simply enjoyed the warmth of the connection.  Then she gave a mental command: Videns-Loquitur.  She specified: Ventus in Montes and Tutum Partum.
            Wymer Thoncelin and Avice Montfort appeared in window frames almost immediately.  They’ve been waiting since yesterday morning, Mariel thought.  Unless the boy has talked with them, they don’t know Martin has fallen.
            “My liege!” said Thoncelin.  “Your majesty!  I am so glad to see you!” said Montfort.  “I expected to see Lord Martin as well.  Will he join us?” 
Thoncelin’s scribe, Albin Bearning, and Montfort’s scribe, Gentian Bearning, bowed formally to Mariel.  Father and son also nodded silent salutations to each other.  Meanwhile, Mariel eyed Avice suspiciously.
            “Fair morning, Lord Wymer.  Lady Avice.”  Mariel acknowledged their greetings.  “Perhaps you see now that I am not dependent on Martin’s magic.  My strength grows.  I want to speak with you privately, to confront you with your misdeeds.  You two have long been my most loyal councilors.  But three days ago, you joined Martin’s conspiracy against me.”
            Montfort looked as if she had been slapped.  “Not so, my lady!  You are my queen whether you adopt Lord Martin’s parliament plan or not.  I did say, and I do think, that a parliament is a good idea.  There is no conspiracy here.”
            Mariel felt her face flushing.  “And you, Wymer?  Do you hold to similar nonsense?”
            “My liege…” His bushy eyebrows bunched together.  The gravel voice rumbled, “Mariel, are you ill?  Is something wrong?”
            “I, I… Oh, damn!”  Mariel’s heart was beating too fast.  “Can you help…?”
            The Videns-Loquitur burden lessened.  Mariel read strain on both their faces.  “My lady Mariel, you are my queen.”  Thoncelin spoke deliberately.  “I will always help you in any way I can.”
            Mariel felt she might choke on the lump of fear in her chest.  “I am the queen.  I am Grandmesnil.”  She drew in a long shaky breath.
            “Oh, Mariel.”  Avice Montfort sounded like a mother, like the memory of Mariel’s mother.  “You are Grandmesnil.  You will rule.  Wymer and I have supported you and support you still.  But we do think that Martin’s parliament can help you.”
            The lump of fear occasioned new fear.  She feared her fear.  She was losing control.  “But Martin is dead,” she said.  “He cannot help me.”
            Montfort frowned, puzzled. 
Thoncelin said, “How can you know this?  If he is dead…”
             Mariel’s arms were shaking.  I am losing control.  Damn it!  I should never have done this with Dell watching.  “A boy, a new lord of Inter Lucus.  He named himself Alf Cedarborne.  A son not of Martin’s body.  Adopted, he said.”
            “How can that be?” asked Montfort.  “Only an heir of the body…”
            Trembling, Mariel said, “I don’t know!  He said he was Martin’s adopted son.”
            Thoncelin: “This boy said Martin was dead?”
            I am losing control.  If Dell isn’t stupid, he knows I’m weak.  Damn!  Mariel felt sure her fear would strangle her.  Surprisingly, like an ice flow, fear cracked.  She closed her eyes for a moment.  Opening them, she said, “Not exactly.  He said… I don’t remember.”  Her voice quavered, but she watched their faces, full of compassion.  Wymer and Avice really are loyal—to me, not just my power.
            “Your majesty,” said Montfort.  “If Martin is dead, it is a terrible loss, but I think a parliament could be a help with or without him.”
             But I am Grandmesnil!  Terror flooded back, threatening to overthrow her mind, but now it was a brittle fear.  She looked into Thoncelin and Montfort’s eyes.   I am losing control.  But there are others who will help.  With that thought, a new path opened before her.   “I need to talk with my husband,” she said.
            “What?”  Avice’s voice shot up an octave.
            Thoncelin rumbled, “Have you found General Ridere?  Spoken to him?  Where is he?”
            “At Inter Lucus,” Mariel replied.  She smiled wanly.  “They’re all there, it seems.  Eudes and Archard and Milo Mortane, the brother of Aylwin.”
            “Your majesty, rest.”  Montfort’s words were more than a suggestion.  “Rest half an hour.  Wymer and I will attempt to assist you when you summon Inter Lucus.
            “Very well.”  Mariel removed her hand and the Videns-Loquitur windows disappeared.  She blanked her face, stood, and turned to face Allard Dell.  “What do you think, Commander Dell?  Isn’t it time you took your army home?”
            Dell’s hands were steepled in front of him, his expression impassive.  “It does seem that you can command Pulchra Mane.”  He sighed.  “I should get back to my men.  We need to prepare to march.”  Dell rose and inclined his head.
            “Just a moment, please.”  Aweirgan finished writing something on his slate.  “Merlin, take Commander Dell to Materias Transmutatio.”  He waved vaguely toward the east end of the castle.  “Show him some of our steel.  It will remind him of the queen’s power.”
            Mariel nodded.  Aweirgan knows.
            “As you wish.”  Torr nodded to Dell, motioning him toward the eastern end of the great hall.
            Dell looked at Mariel, hesitated.  “I would rather get back to my men.  It’s a long way home.”
            I should never have let him watch. “It will only take a couple minutes,” Mariel said.  “Please go with Commander Torr.”
            Dell sighed.  “Very well.  Lead on, Commander.”  As the two soldiers departed the hall, Aweirgan held out his writing slate.  His finger tapped the last words written there: He sees.
            “Wymer and Avice had to help me.  Did he notice that, do you think?”
            “Perhaps.  More importantly, he saw your color, my lady.”  Aweirgan swallowed and slumped onto a chair.  “I’ve seen this Allard Dell before.  More importantly, he has seen you.”
            Mariel remembered.  “Oh, aye.  He stands sometimes behind Paul Wadard, during my Councils.”
            “Aye, my lady.  He has seen you command Pulchra Mane many times.  He has seen the color of your bond.”
            Mariel felt shaky.  She sat down as well.  “And you think…?”
            “My lady, the color of your bond has improved each day since you awoke.  I trust that you will one day—soon, I pray—recover all your strength.  But today, I fear, you have given Dell proof not only that you can command Pulchra Mane, but also that your command is not as strong as it has been.”
            Mariel pressed her hands on the tabletop.  “You speak very carefully, Aweirgan, but the truth is I have played the fool.  Attempting to demonstrate my power, I have shown him my vulnerability.”
            Aweirgan laid his hand on hers.  “Sometimes, when we have plunged into a dark wood, the best way out is to press forward.  I suggest you invite Dell to observe you yet again.”
            Mariel raised an eyebrow.
            “It’s your intention, is it not, to talk with General Ridere, and the lord of Inter Lucus?  Montfort and Thoncelin expect this, and they will help support Videns-Loquitur.  Allard Dell may well hear things that caution him against rash behavior.”

            When Merlin Torr escorted Allard Dell back to the great hall, Aweirgan Unes was sitting by himself, sharpening a quill.  “What did you think of our steel?” he asked.
            Dell said, “Very impressive.  Queen Mariel, I must admit, is far stronger than my master, Paul Wadard.  Where is she?  I wish to offer her the blessings of the gods before I go.”
            “My lady stepped out for a few minutes.  She will return soon.”  Aweirgan gestured toward a chair.  “Please sit.  The Queen invites you to observe another demonstration of her command of Inter Lucus.
            “That won’t be necessary…”
            “Her majesty insists.  You will stay.”
            Dell bristled.  “I am a prisoner?”
            “I do not say so.  You may decide—after you observe the Queen’s next council.”

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

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Castles 169

169. In Castle Inter Lucus
            Mildgyd Meadowdaughter was unhurt by the klaxon sound; apparently, some invisible barrier between the kitchen and great hall greatly dampened the effect of Inter Lucus’s sonic defense on those downstairs.  Mildgyd took over management of the injured.  With Agyfen tagging along, Mildgyd moved around the hall, giving instructions to Isen, Ernulf, Syg Alymar, Alfwald Redwine, Fridiswid Redwine, and some other villagers who came to the Inter Lucus door.  They mopped blood from the floor (unwilling to wait for the castle to absorb it) and brought up jars of water from the kitchen.  Injured residents of Inter Lucus, including Ealdwine, Ora, Caelin, Tayte, and Whitney, were taken to bedrooms on lower floors.  They put Amicia Averill, Merlin Averill, Felix Abrecan, and Milo Mortane in comfortable chairs on the east side of the great hall.  Eudes Ridere and the Herminians who had entered the hall after the klaxon were given chairs by the west wall.  Mildgyd insisted that her patients be given water—in multiple cautious sips—before anything else.  There was plenty of food.  The magnificent sup Mildgyd had planned for Lord Martin and his guests was parceled out to the injured, their nurses, the uninjured Herminians, and to the villagers still on the south lawn.
            Alf told Elfric and Leo to bind the tall red-haired knife fighter and the hunch-shouldered soldier who had joined the knife fighter’s attack.  They soon learned these men’s names: Ifing Redhair and Garwig Gray.  Redhair and Gray were blindfolded and bound to chairs at the north end of the great hall facing the wall; Elfric did not want them to observe comings and goings either by sight or sound.  Elfric and Leo scoured the hall, searching the bodies of the fallen, to make sure every weapon in the hall was possessed by Alf’s people.
            At Eadmar’s urging, Alf sent delegations to the Stonebridge and Herminian armies.  Eadmar pulled Isen away from his nursing duties and paired him with Felix Abrecan, the first of the Stonebridgers to recover his senses.  “Go to the Stonebridge army.  Do not tell them that Lord Martin has fallen,” he said.  “Not yet.  Tell them that General Mortane and General Ridere have agreed to a truce through the night.  They will be safe if they remain where they are.  Further word will come in the morning.”  For the delegation to the Herminians, Eadmar chose Elfric and one of the Herminian guards, a swordsman named Shelny Holt.  He would not allow Ridere, Archard Oshelm, or Danbeney Norman to go; the Herminian officers would serve as hostages in case the larger army contemplated aggression.  “Tell the Herminians that General Ridere is alive and well.  He and Archard Oshelm have agreed to a truce with the Stonebridgers until tomorrow.  We will send more news in the morning.”
            Villagers moved Lord Martin with great care, slipping a sheet under him and carrying him very cautiously to his bedroom.  Rumors about Martin’s condition spread quickly among the Inter Lucus folk who had come to the castle, so Alfwald Redwine and Syg Alymar passed quietly among them, reassuring them that Martin still lived.  They stressed that information about Martin needed to be kept secret from the Stonebridge and Herminian armies.  The villagers on the south lawn agreed to avoid contact with the visitors.
            Mildgyd and Fridiswid Redwine approached Eadmar and Alf with a proposal, which they approved.  With their permission, Fridiswid waddled on her short legs all the way to Wyrtgeon and Gisa Bistan’s cottage on the edge of the village, an hour’s walk.  As she passed Prayer House, Fridiswid smiled and greeted Stonebridge soldiers as if an evening stroll through a foreign army were an everyday affair.  After a short but intense conversation, the young farmer and his wife walked back to the castle as darkness fell, leaving Fridiswid to care for their sleeping four-year-old daughter Liuba.  In this way Martin came under the care of Gisa Bistan, a young mother acknowledged by all the women in Inter Lucus as the best healer between the lakes.
            Elfric and the Herminian soldier Shelny Holt returned to Inter Lucus late, in the light of first moon.  They reported to Eadmar that the Herminian army agreed to hold its position just west of village Inter Lucus, though the Herminians warned that if the Stonebridge army tried to escape in the night they would be ready to pursue them.  Elfric appointed men from among the villagers as night watchers on the castle grounds and wardens at the doors.  They set up a cot for Alf next to globum domini auctoritate, so that he could bond at a moment’s notice.  Elfric and Leo took turns as Alf’s personal guard through the night, standing close with drawn sword while he slept.

            Early summer nights in Tarquint and Herminia are short; sunset is late, sunrise early, and two moons light the night.  In many places country folk, especially younger adults, celebrate the whole night with dances and revelry.  But on this night anxiety made the hours drag for some people, a night of dread.  Merlin Torr was one such.  He made the rounds of Pulchra Mane, fearing attack from the rebel army, an attack that would overwhelm his sheriffs.  Sharing Torr’s anxiety, Aweirgan Unes sat at a table in Mariel’s great hall, a plate of uneaten food pushed aside, waiting on Torr’s reports. 
Lords and ladies in other castles wondered and worried about the lack of a Videns-Loquitur summons.  Lord Martin had set the evening as time for another meeting with Queen Mariel, and she had agreed to it.  But evening turned into night with no summons.  David Le Grant, Jean Postel, and other lords and ladies paced their halls, imagining what might have gone wrong. 
            In Inter Lucus, Ora Wooddaughter refused the bedroom assigned to her.  She occupied a chair just outside the door of Lord Martin’s bedroom, sleeping fitfully and waiting word from Gisa Bistan about Martin’s condition.  Ora feared the knife used to attack Martin had been poisoned.  Why else would such a small wound lay him so low? 
Gisa gave Caelin Bycwine a draft of drugged wine as a mercy, to let him sleep.  But before morning, the drug wore off and Caelin suffered terrible dreams.  On waking, the dreams were true: his brother Went was dead. 
            Ifing Redhair spent the night silently cursing Milo Mortane’s timidity at the crucial moment.  What had become of the clever Sheriff of Stonebridge who had eliminated Osred Tondbert and Bo Leanberth in one night?  Redhair’s mind alternated between trying to imagine some way to escape Inter Lucus and wondering how he would die—would he be executed by Martin’s sheriffs or delivered over to Eudes Ridere’s revenge?
            When Amicia Averill shut her eyes, she saw over and over the knife striking Lord Martin.  She had no mental image of it flying by her though it must have passed within inches of her head.  In her memory, the knife simply appeared, piercing Martin’s neck.  And with the image came an overwhelming feeling of dread: they will blame Milo for this.  Ridere will blame Merlin too, and me.
            Eadmar walked from Inter Lucus to Prayer House while first moon was setting.  Undeterred by the Stonebridge army, a dozen village folk had gathered.  He led them in prayers for peace and healing (without saying anything specific about Martin’s condition), and after they dispersed, he prayed alone.  Then he went to bed and slept fitfully.  It had been a long day, but concerns about the day to come would not leave him.  He rose in the cool before dawn and returned to the great hall.

            Marty dreamed of Alyssa, a dream like many others, yet different.  This time he followed her into the apartment building.  The elevator doors closed too quickly; he had to wait for the next lift.  When he reached the third floor, Lyss was halfway down a long corridor.  She walked by the door of the meth addict, deaf to Marty’s warning cry.  But there was no explosion; Lyss just went on toward the next apartment.  Marty ran after her, amazed and rejoicing.  Only then did the blast erupt, hitting him and not her.  He felt searing pain at first; his left arm was on fire from bone to skin.  But then the arm was numb: dead or amputated.  And Lyss’s cool hands were touching his face.
            “Lord Martin.”  Not Lyss’s voice.  “He’s waking.”
            Marty blinked several times before he could name the face.  “Gisa?”
            “Thank God!  Fair morning, my lord.”  Gisa’s fingers stroked his cheek.  “If you can see me and name me, that is good.  Could you swallow water if I give you some?”
            “What happened?”  Moving only his eyes, Marty saw Mildgyd Meadowdaughter and Ora Wooddaughter standing on either side of the bed.
            “Water first,” said Gisa.  She held a wet cloth to his lips and squeezed out some liquid.  Marty’s tongue lapped the water eagerly, and he swallowed.
            “Slowly, my lord, slowly.”  Gisa put a bit of dried straw in his mouth.  “Mildgyd will hold the water for you.  Can you…?”
            Marty knew what to do with a straw.  Cold, delicious: I was thirstier than I thought.  After several swallows, he pushed the straw away with his tongue.  He tried to lift his head, which produced a sharp pain in his back.
            “No, my lord!”  Gisa’s hands restrained him and Mildgyd took the water away.  Gisa leaned over him, twisting her torso so she could face him.  “Lord Martin, the enemy’s knife struck your neck.  Do you feel the wound?”
             “Enemy?  Who?”    
            Gisa watched his eyes intently.  “The tallest of the Stonebridgers.  He threw a small knife, but very sharp.  For a time, we thought you were dying, and that was odd, because you did not bleed overmuch.”
            Knife in the neck.  Fear ran through him like an electric shock.  Spinal cord injury.  Gisa saw his eyes widen.  “Lord Martin?” she said.  “Are you all right?”
            Marty tried to calm his breathing and relax his extremities.  “I’ll be okay.  What happened with the Stonebridgers?”
            Gisa moved away and Ora leaned in.  “When you fell, Alf bonded with Inter Lucus.  The castle horn blasted everyone in the hall.  All except Alf, for he had plugged his ears.”
            “Alf commands Inter Lucus?”
            Ora’s hands trembled and tears glistened in her green eyes.  “Aye, my lord.”
            “I am not dying, Ora.  At least I don’t think so.”
            Tears slid down her cheeks.  “But how can Alf be lord if you are not…?”
            Marty shut his eyes and reminded himself to lie still.  “I don’t know.  There is much about the aliens’ technology we don’t understand.  But since I am stuck in bed, it’s good that Alf can command the castle.”  Marty’s eyes popped open.  “Oh, my God!  Can he raise the shields?  There are armies on our doorstep!”  He raised his right hand, which brought a twinge of pain.  He felt nothing from his left arm.
            Gisa stepped close.  “Lord Martin, you must lie still.  Here.”  She placed pillows on both sides of Marty’s head.
            As she tucked the pillows close, Marty remembered Gisa’s first words, which brought new worry.  “Ora, what time is it?”
            “Your watch says seven, one, three.  They are beginning breakfast in the hall.”
            “I was asleep all night?”
            Ora looked sideways at Gisa.  Gisa said, “I gave you wine mixed with a bit of poppy.  It seemed to help.”
            “Wow.”  Marty remembered a thousand TV drug ads warning against taking the advertised products with alcohol.  “I trust the poppy was very little.”
            “Oh, aye.  Too much would be dangerous.”
            She didn’t kill me; that’s what’s important.  “I need to talk to Alf and Eadmar.  Eadmar is here, isn’t he?”
            “He came early from Prayer House,” replied Ora.  “Eadmar is with Alf.  Elfric, Leo, and Ealdwine guard Alf at all times, and he stays close to the lord’s knob.  They are awaiting a message from Queen Mariel.”
“What!”  Marty turned his head—or started to turn—but pain stopped him.  “Alf can summon Videns-Loquitur already?”
“Who knows?”  Ora used a phrase she had picked up from Marty.  “Mariel summoned him last night and he talked with her.  Eadmar thinks she will call again this morning.”
            Mariel is regaining her bond.  “I see.  What about General Ridere and General Mortane?  Were they hurt by the horn?  And Amicia and Merlin…?”  Marty trailed off.  “Ora, send for some men to carry me to the great hall.”
            Gisa objected.  “My lord Martin, we agreed that you must remain still.”
            Spinal cord injury.  I’ll be no help to Alf if I paralyze my lungs.  Marty said, “Indeed.  In particular, my head and neck must not move.  All the same, if I am to be of any help to Alf, I must be present with him.  He will need my help to negotiate with Averill, Mortane, Ridere, and Mariel.  I have an idea.  Ora, send for Isen and Caelin.”
            Elfric hit on a plan—a seating arrangement—for the great hall while standing guard at night by Alf’s bed.  A small trestle table was moved close to the lord’s knob, where Alf ate breakfast with Eadmar; when breakfast was cleared away, Whitney Ablendan brought writing materials and sat by Alf.  Three larger tables were set up perpendicular to Alf’s table, but separated from his by twenty feet of open space.  The Stonebridge contingent—Milo Mortane, Felix Abrecan, Derian Chapman, Amicia Averill, and Merlin Averill—was seated at the table near the east wall.  Ealdwine Smithson, conspicuously armed, ate his breakfast at a chair between this table and Alf’s table.  The Herminians—Eudes Ridere, Archard Oshelm, Danbeney Norman, Shelny Holt, and three other soldiers—were given a table near the west wall.  Leo Dudd, also armed, sat between the Herminians and Alf.  Residents of Inter Lucus used the middle table.  Many of the villagers who had taken shelter at the castle were present, and they took seats at the center table in shifts.  When they weren’t eating they volunteered as door wardens, kitchen servants, or general help.  Mildgyd had so many helpers in her kitchen (gawkers, mostly, who had never seen alien magic before) that she had to shoo most away.  The overall result was that the center of the hall teemed with people loyal to Lord Martin—and by extension, Lord Alf.
            Eadmar endorsed the seating arrangement for the hall with one amendment.  Ifing Redhair and Garwig Gray were loosed from their bonds and put in chairs near the Stonebridgers.  Castle servants brought them breakfast.  “We may need their testimony at some point,” Eadmar told Alf.  “And they must have opportunity to speak in their own defense.”  Alf consented, but he insisted that their ankles be roped firmly to their chairs.
            Eadmar shuttled between the Stonebridge and Herminia tables.  “We have a great many things to discuss,” he told them.  “The attack on Lord Martin, for one.  Making peace between Herminia and Stonebridge, for another.  General Ridere and General Mortane have recovered enough of their hearing that we can have a fruitful negotiation.  It’s possible that Queen Mariel will contact Alf.  We need time, gentlemen!” 
Both sides agreed that the overnight truce should be extended.  Elfric picked village men to accompany Derian Chapman to the Stonebridgers and Shelny Holt to the Herminians.  To both armies the message was simple: Wait.  The truce is extended for a day and a night.  Permission was granted to buy provisions from the people of Senerham and Inter Lucus, but only if the villagers willingly brought their wares to the armies.
            After breakfast, Alf conducted a trial.  He had no experience with trials or guidelines other than his observations of Lord Martin’s dealings with folk who came to Inter Lucus.  Nevertheless, Eadmar thought Alf performed well; at least, he started well.  Alf commanded that no one, especially the Herminians, interrupt while he questioned people.  Whitney Ablendan took notes.  One by one, the persons Alf interviewed stood while he questioned them.
            Alf began by stating what he himself had seen.  Ifing Redhair threw the knife that felled Lord Martin.  Redhair then killed Os Oswald.  Garwig Gray killed Went Bycwine with a sword, though he probably intended to kill Ealdwine Smithson.  Having stated these facts, Alf then asked Garwig Gray if he had anything to say.  Gray stood up, his feet still bound to a chair.  Gray said he was a soldier of Stonebridge, fighting a war.  He had acted on the orders of his commanders.  Alf asked Gray if Stonebridge was at war with Inter Lucus.  Gray had no reply.
            Ifing Redhair rose.  Alf asked him if Stonebridge was at war with Inter Lucus.   Of course not, Redhair replied.  Was it true, Alf asked, that Redhair had told Gray to kill people in Inter Lucus?  “I just told him to follow my lead,” was the reply.  Alf then asked why Redhair had thrown a knife at Lord Martin.  “To kill him, of course.  Then Milo could take the castle.  But in the end, General Mortane had less courage than a boy.”  Redhair’s contempt for Mortane was evident.
            Alf surprised everyone by next asking Amicia Averill to stand rather than her brother, Milo Mortane.  He asked her who she was and why she had come to Inter Lucus.  She explained that because she had married Merlin Averill, she could no longer serve as ambassador for Lord Aylwin Mortane of Hyacintho Flumen.  She had come to Inter Lucus because she hoped to speak with Aylwin.  Of course, she said, she could have written Aylwin a letter.  The more important reason to come to Inter Lucus was Lord Martin’s parliament idea.  Her husband, Merlin, son of the Assembly Speaker, thought the parliament proposal worth discussing.  At Inter Lucus, they might discuss it with the most necessary person, Queen Mariel.  Alf pointed out that Aylwin had sent her as ambassador to Stonebridge to find allies against the Herminians.  Amicia admitted this was true.  But, she said, the Assembly had never acceded to her requests.  Stonebridge was not allied with Hyacintho Flumen.
            On the west side of the room, the Herminians murmured disagreement with Amicia’s statement.  Alf reminded them not to interrupt.  He asked Amicia why, if Stonebridge had not made league with Hyacintho Flumen, the city had sent its army into the field.  “The truth?” she said.  “For no single reason.  Some in the Assembly want to impress Down’s End with our power so they will follow Stonebridge’s lead.  Some want to negotiate a long-term peace with Mariel, and they think a show of force will make the Herminians more reasonable.  Others want to eliminate highwaymen.  And a few simply wanted to get Milo out of the city; they feared the City Guard was too strong.”
            Now it was Stonebridgers—Derian Chapman, Felix Abrecan, and Milo Mortane—who murmured among themselves.  “One at a time!” Alf exclaimed.  “You will all get a chance.”
            Next, Alf called on Milo Mortane.  Alf asked him why he brought his army to Inter Lucus.  “I wanted Lord Martin’s help to make truce with Archard Oshelm,” Milo replied.
            Suddenly the Herminians were whispering among themselves more loudly than before.  Alf said, “General Ridere, I asked that no one interrupt.”  But then he saw that Ridere’s people were not attending to Milo Mortane.  They, and now everyone in the hall, were looking at four men carrying a pallet into the hall.
            With the wood working machines of materias transmutatio, Isen and Caelin easily constructed the bed that Lord Martin described to them.  He called it a stretcher; they had long since grown accustomed to him introducing new words.  It was a simple thing: a rigid wooden frame covered with thin pine boards and padded with folded cloths.  They lifted Martin’s body and slid the stretcher under him.  Then they gently, but firmly, bound him to the stretcher with linen strips around his legs, abdomen, shoulders, arms, and forehead.  Pillows on either side of his head kept his neck motionless.  When Wyrtgeon, Isen, Alfwald, and Syg carried him to the great hall, Marty could voluntarily move only his eyes and his mouth.

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


Thursday, August 13, 2015

Castles 168

168.  In Castles Inter Lucus and Pulchra Mane

Inter Lucus
Alf looked from the interface to Eadmar.  “Should I answer her?”
            “No!”  Eadmar’s mind raced.  “Alf, she should not see your castle in disarray.”
            The boy pursed his lips.  “If she is like Lord Martin, she can see us right now.”
            Eadmar glanced at the interface wall with some alarm.  He hadn’t heard of this feature of castle technology.  “Can lords and ladies look into other castles?”
            Alf seemed amazingly calm.  “Most of them can’t.  But Mariel is a great queen, they say.  Lord Martin can do it, so she probably can as well.”
            “But she’s recovering from grave injury.  She might not be strong enough.  Give us some time to prepare.”

            Sheriff Leo Dudd had reached the east door, found it locked, and returned to the west entrance.  Quickly sizing up the situation in the hall, Leo dashed away and came back with Isen, Ernulf and two village men who had come to Inter Lucus for shelter from the Stonebridgers, Syg Alymar and Alfwald Redwine.  These five men and the six Herminians, directed by Leo, quickly moved injured people, including Caelin and Ora, to the sides of the great hall.  They carried Os Oswald and Went Bycwine’s bodies, wrapped in sheets, out of the great hall to the Materias Transmutatio room.  Elfric stood guard between the lord’s knob and the rest of the hall, keeping the Herminians away from Alf, Eadmar and Martin’s body.  Eadmar would have moved Martin as well, but he feared worsening his injury.  He had stopped the bleeding from Martin’s wound by pressing a cloth to it.  It puzzled him that Martin appeared so near death; Eadmar had seen bloodier wounds without such distressing results.
            Eudes Ridere was on his feet, supported by Archard Oshelm and another of the Herminians.  They had cleaned his face with water and a cloth napkin.  “Bring him here,” Eadmar commanded.  The Herminians looked at him questioningly.  Gesturing at the interface wall and its blinking light, he said, “Mariel wants to speak with him.”  Eadmar seized two chairs and positioned them near Martin’s body.  He knew he was taking a risk, but Eadmar sensed that he had no time to waste.  The two armies outside Inter Lucus needed clear guidance from their respective commanders, lest they blunder into disaster.  “And him!” Eadmar pointed at Milo Mortane, who was being helped by Isen and Syg Alymar.
            Elfric permitted Oshelm to stand behind Ridere’s chair, but ordered the other Herminians to stay away.  Syg Alymar placed himself behind Mortane once the Stonebridge general was seated.  Ridere and Mortane were conscious, but both appeared confused, as if they had received a beating that somehow left no bruises.  For a moment Eadmar doubted whether he was doing the right thing.  Two armies outside the castle, he reminded himself.  “Okay, Alf.  You may talk to Queen Mariel.”

Pulchra Mane

            Shock.  Why had the narrow-faced lord suddenly broken the Videns-Loquitur connection?  Mariel’s face flushed.  Seeing Eudes after so many months was delightful, and losing that delight an almost physical pain.
            Irritation.  Why did not Martin summon her again?  Mariel waited several minutes, annoyance growing into anger.
            Triumph.  Videns-Loquitur responded when she turned her mind.  Her bond with Pulchra Mane was growing stronger with every day of her convalescence.  She wouldn’t need Martin much longer to speak with her Council, though for the present he would remain the only way to see Eudes.
            Frustration.  Martin was in his hall, standing by his knob.  At least, he had been there ten minutes ago.  Mariel couldn’t see him; her command of Videns-Loquitur did not permit Mariel to see into Martin’s castle.  Knowing that Martin had such a power alarmed her.  Mariel’s anger began slipping into fear.
            Weariness.  She had maintained her summons for only a few minutes, but already fatigue grew in her.  Her energy faded rapidly; soon she would have to abandon Videns-Loquitur.  A terrible thought: What if Allard Dell attacked now?  Raising shields would be impossible.
            A window opened in the magic wall.  Beside Mariel, Aweirgan Unes said, “Gods save us.”
            A boy with white-blond hair falling to his shoulders stood with both hands on globum domini auctoritate.  Mariel guessed his age at eleven or twelve.  His blue eyes met Mariel’s unflinchingly.  “Fair afternoon, your majesty,” the boy said.  “Or evening, since it is almost time for sup.  My name is Alf Saeric.”  He looked at the floor for a moment and said, “No.  That is not right.  My name is Alf Cedarborne.  I am lord of Inter Lucus.”
            The boy’s calm words belied an astonishing scene.  His downward glance drew Mariel’s attention to an old man with a bald and wrinkled head kneeling beside a body.  The angle of vision made it hard to tell, but Mariel felt sure the body was Martin.  Next to the kneeling man were two chairs; her Eudes sat in one with a soldier—Archard Oshelm—standing behind him.  The second chair held a much younger man, brown-haired and muscular; his face reminded Mariel of Aylwin Mortane.  By the gods—is that Aylwin’s brother?  Eudes and the younger man both looked sleepy, as if they had been drugged, whereas only twenty minutes before Eudes had grinned at her with his familiar humor.
            “Alf Cedarborne?”  Something was tugging at Mariel’s mind, but the boy took her attention.
            “Lord Martin adopted me, you might say.  Therefore, I will call myself by his name.”  Soft yellow light surrounded Alf’s hands.  No, thought Mariel.  Not yellow, but golden, with touches of green.  How can an adopted child command a castle?
            “I don’t understand,” Mariel said.  The nagging in the back of her mind wouldn’t go away.
            “Neither do I.”  Absentmindedly, the boy brushed a lock of hair from his face.  The gold-green glow from his knob flickered a moment and then resumed its full strength.  Alf didn’t seem to notice.  “My half-brother, Rothulf, tried to make me bond with Inter Lucus, to usurp Lord Martin.  Rothulf said I was the rightful heir, but the knob burned my hands.  Lord Martin should have hated me and punished me, but he didn’t.  He sent Rothulf away and let me live at Inter Lucus.  Lord Martin told me I might be lord after him.”
            Mariel’s nagging thought forced its way into consciousness.  Her weariness, though still present, was not growing so fast as it had.  Alf was carrying Videns-Loquitur with her.  Gods!  And he’s just a boy!  “What has happened to Lord Martin?” she asked.  “What is wrong with General Ridere?”
            “The red-haired soldier from Stonebridge threw a knife and hit Lord Martin,” Alf replied, his tone very matter-of-fact.  “I thought he killed Lord Martin, so I put bread in my ears and bonded with Inter Lucus.  The castle must have known what I wanted, because the sound came right away.  It knocked down everyone in the hall, except for me.”  Alf looked briefly at Eudes, seated nearby.  “General Ridere was knocked down too.”
            “Sound?”  Mariel had no idea what the boy was talking about.
            Alf bunched his eyebrows.  “When there is danger in the hall, Inter Lucus can protect its lord with a loud sound.  Of course, I had to plug my ears first.”  Again the boy brushed at his hair with his left hand and pulled a brown mass from his ear.  He held it out for Mariel to see.  “Bread.”
            Mariel heard Aweirgan muttering, “By the gods!”
Inter Lucus

            The queen in the interface window said, “Eudes!  Eudes!  General Ridere!  Can he hear me?”
            Eadmar, still kneeling by Martin, looked up at Mariel and then sideways at the Herminian general.  He remembered Caelin and Ora telling about the very first episode with the Inter Lucus klaxon, when Caelin had been an interloper chased away by the sound.  There had been only three people in the castle on that occasion—Martin, Ora and Caelin—and none had been injured.  The castle’s defenses have probably grown stronger since then, he thought, or now that the walls are complete, the sound is held inside and strikes harder. 
            The Herminian standing behind Ridere’s chair answered Mariel.  “Your majesty, if I may.  General Ridere has been struck deaf by the castle horn; the malady is temporary, I hope.”
            “Who is the other man?”  Mariel pointed, indicating Milo Mortane.
            Archard Oshelm motioned with his hand, deferring the answer to Eadmar, who still knelt by Martin.  Eadmar said, “That is Milo Mortane, General of the Stonebridge army.  Like General Ridere, he was present in the hall when the klaxon sounded.  You can see that he and Ridere have been similarly affected.  We may hope they will recover with time.”
            Mariel shook her head, as if fighting weariness.  Mortane?  General of Stonebridge?  Archard, explain!  Is Stonebridge allied with Hyacintho Flumen?”
            “It seems they are,” said Oshelm.
            Eadmar interrupted before Oshelm could say more.  “That is not clear, your majesty.”  He stood up to speak and inclined his head to Mariel.  Anxiety about Martin pressed on him, but Eadmar knew this was the more important task.  “General Mortane came to Inter Lucus to ask Lord Martin to broker a truce with Archard Oshelm, whose army was pursuing him.  That is what Martin intended to do.  Queen Mariel, you know that Martin would not want a battle here.  With Martin fallen, you must help us negotiate a truce.  And we do not know that Stonebridge has allied with Hyacintho Flumen.  More than once I have heard Milo Mortane express disdain for his brother Aylwin.”
            Oshelm snorted.  “Indeed.  Mortane sent messages to General Ridere and to me, saying the same.  He has no interest in helping Lord Aylwin, he said.  But then he captured the General and slaughtered his company, who were coming here, to Inter Lucus, so that he might speak with you, your majesty.  Mortane can’t be trusted.  We have the Stonebridgers bottled up here at Inter Lucus and Lord Martin can no longer protect them.  Your majesty, we should destroy the Stonebridge army.”
            Mariel did not respond immediately.  Perhaps she was considering Oshelm’s recommendation—or maybe she was distracted.
            Eadmar felt dismay.  “No!  Mariel… Queen Mariel – no!”  He caught his breath and turned to Oshelm.  “We ought to do as Lord Martin intended.  Agree to a truce.”  Eadmar calmed himself.  “Besides, how will you send word to your men, ordering them to attack?  Your currier would have to pass through the Stonebridgers.”
            Oshelm snorted again.  “I’ll find a way.”
            Eadmar and Oshelm looked at each other in surprise.  The Herminian moved quickly from behind Ridere’s chair.  “My lord general?”
            Ridere swallowed and made eye contact with Oshelm.  “Truce, Archard.”  To the interface wall, Ridere said, “See Queen.”  He raised a hand, gingerly, to his ear.  “Hear little.”
             “Eudes!” gasped Mariel.
            “General Ridere!” exclaimed Aweirgan Unes.
            “Lord General Ridere, I don’t think…” Oshelm began.
            “Aye!  Truce!” said Eadmar
            Ridere waved his hand, a small movement bringing quiet.  “My liege.” His eyes were on Mariel.  Ridere sounded very tired.  “Rest.  Then talk.  Mortane.  Averill too.”
            “General Ridere speaks wisely,” said Eadmar, not wanting to miss his chance.  “General Mortane, General Ridere, and Master Averill all need rest—and sup.  Perhaps this is true of you as well, Queen Mariel.  Can we talk again tomorrow?”
            Mariel was unresponsive.  She’s a young woman, thought Eadmar, but she looks as tired as Ridere sounds.  The scribe in the interface frame prompted her, and Mariel said, “Tomorrow.  Aye.”  The interface blanked.

Pulchra Mane

            The Queen of Herminia remained conscious, but she panted as if she had climbed a mountain.  The Videns-Loquitur session had ended only just in time.  Another minute, Aweirgan thought, and she would have collapsed.  He ordered Bayan and Bestauden to carry Mariel on a chair to her room, where her serving women would bathe her, feed her, and give her water.  Returning to the great hall, he met with Merlin Torr.  Aweirgan’s account of the Videns-Loquitur conversation alarmed the Sheriff Commander.
            “Mariel cannot raise the shields, neither on her own nor with the help of Lord Martin?”
            Aweirgan nodded affirmatively.  “It seems that Martin is lord no longer.  In any case, our Queen is incapacitated again.  For one night only, I hope.”
            “Gods!” swore Torr.  “Let us hope Allard Dell doesn’t try his luck tonight.”

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