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?”
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.