168. In Castles Inter Lucus and Pulchra Mane
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.”
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!”
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.
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.