Thursday, September 24, 2015

Castles 174

174.  In Castle Inter Lucus

            “General Ridere, please present your case in the matter of Milo Mortane.”
            The second day after the adoption of the Instrument of Union, Alf held court in Inter Lucus’s great hall, sitting near globum domini auctoritate.  On his left sat Alf’s adopted father, in a special chair devised by Isen Poorman and constructed in the materias transmutatio room.  The chair had a tall back with wooden rods curling around Marty’s neck on which Marty could rest his chin, and linen straps that held his neck and chest still.  Eight days after his injury, Marty could move his toes and fingers of his right hand.  With eyes closed, he could feel pinpricks in the soles of his feet and the back of his right hand.  Only his left arm hung limp and senseless.  Marty had begun to hope that left arm paralysis would be the extent of his long-term incapacity, that he would regain full use of his other limbs.  Isen was already working on a brace that would fasten around the patient’s waist and chest and immobilize Marty’s head, allowing him to walk rather than being carried on stretcher or chair.
            The intervening day had seen the execution of Ifing Redhair and Garwig Gray.  Marty opposed this decision, arguing that Redhair and Gray could be banished from Inter Lucus, sent back to Stonebridge.  But Eadmar and Elfric said that such treatment amounted to no punishment at all.  “We cannot keep them here as prisoners without endangering the men who would have to guard them,” argued Eadmar.  “Redhair and Gray murdered men of Inter Lucus.  Alf must show his own people that he will punish those who attack them,” said Elfric.  Despite his respect for Marty, Alf sided with the priest and sheriff.  He ordered the murderers to be killed.  When General Ridere offered soldiers to carry out the sentence, Alf declined.  “They killed our people in this hall,” he said.  “The people of Inter Lucus will execute them.”  That afternoon, Leo Dudd, Ealdwine Smithson, and several village men hanged Redhair and Gray on a tree north of the castle grounds and buried them nearby.  The graves of the murderers could be seen from the barn.

Eudes Ridere rose from a seat on the west side of the hall.  He bowed.  “Lord Alf.  Lord Martin.”
            Whitney Ablendan recorded the proceedings at a table to Alf’s right.  Ridere waited until she finished a sentence and looked up at him.
            “Milo Mortane ordered his knife fighters into the Blue River Valley.  As their commander, he is responsible for their attack on my men, Lord Martin’s postman, and me.  That attack killed the postman, Godric Measy, and most of the men of my company.  Three others and I, taken prisoner, were delivered to Mortane in the Tarquintian hills.  He then interrogated me, trying to find out why I was communicating with Lord Martin.  At no time did he reprimand Redhair for the ambush of my company.  Naturally, I thought he was in league with Aylwin, his brother, so I told him nothing of Queen Mariel’s illness.
            “Without provocation, Mortane attacked Queen Mariel’s army, under the command of Archard Oshelm.  Oshelm defeated him, and Mortane retreated.  In his retreat, Mortane used one of my men, his prisoner, to deliver a message to Archard.  That man, Wylie Durwin, later died of the injuries he took from the smoke of the fires set by Mortane.  Then, rather than retreating to Stonebridge, Mortane brought his army to Inter Lucus.  He claimed that he wanted Lord Martin’s help in gaining a truce with Oshelm.  The very day Martin welcomed Mortane and his men into Inter Lucus his men attacked Lord Martin and killed both a boy and a sheriff.  These facts are undisputed.  It is not clear why Mortane came to Inter Lucus; yesterday we heard Redhair say that he thought the object was to kill Lord Martin and take his castle.  If that was not Mortane’s purpose, he did a damn poor job of instructing his second in command.
            “To summarize: Mortane has conducted war against Herminia, by ambushing my company and by attacking Herminia’s army.  By the testimony of his own sister, Lady Amicia Averill, the Assembly of Stonebridge had not authorized such a war.  Mortane attacked us on his own authority and should take responsibility for it.  He is to blame for the death of Wylie Durwin.  After begging and accepting the hospitality of Lord Martin, Mortane’s men attacked Martin in his own hall and killed Sheriff Oswald and the boy Went Bycwine.  Either by intention or by incompetence, Mortane is guilty of those crimes as well.”
            Ridere spread his arms and dipped his head.  He eyed the young lord, waiting for his response.  During five days of Videns-Loquitur debate over the Instrument of Union, during which time Derian Chapman and the disarmed Stonebridge army had marched for home, Alf had said nothing about Milo Mortane.  Ridere and his men had asked Inter Lucus villagers and even Alf’s sheriffs what the boy lord would do with the Stonebridge general, but no one claimed to know.
            Alf chewed his lip.  “My father would like to question you.”
            Ridere raised an eyebrow.  Throughout the negotiations over the Instrument of Union, Marty had been the silent presence, whispering advice to Alf, never speaking to Mariel or the lords and ladies of other castles.  The Herminian turned slightly to face Marty.
            Marty gestured with the fingers of his good hand, beckoning Ridere closer.  “Thank you, General.”  Marty’s voice was little more than a whisper.  “Believe me, I look forward to escaping these bands around my throat.  Can you hear me?”
            “Aye, Lord Martin.”  Ridere dipped his head.
            “People keep saying that, but Alf is the lord.”  Marty smiled.  “General Ridere, when did you come to Inter Lucus?”
            Ridere counted days on his fingers.  “I arrived here as a prisoner eight days ago.  I intended to come some time before that, in response to your letter.”
            “I’m sorry, general.  That’s not what I meant.  When did you first visit Inter Lucus?”
            For a moment Ridere registered incomprehension.  Then he grinned.  “I came to Inter Lucus a year ago, shortly after midsummer.”
            “That’s right.  I think you called yourself Boyden Black.  A cloth merchant, you said.  Archard Oshelm was your bodyguard.  And there was a youth, who stayed the night in castle Inter Lucus.  What was his name?”
            Ridere nodded, remembering.  “That was Bully, Bully Wedmor, though at the time he called himself Bully Poorman.  Bully survived the ambush in Blue River valley.  He is with our army.  Five days ago, when Lord Alf permitted the Stonebridge army to march home, Derian Chapman freed Bully and Bron Kenton, returning them to my army.”
            Marty nodded, a slight movement but one that showed progress in his healing.  “Perhaps Alf will invite Bully to visit us for sup; I would like to see him again.  But now I want to ask: Why did Boyden Black visit Down’s End and Inter Lucus?  You were not the cloth merchant you pretended to be, so why did you come to Tarquint?”
            Ridere frowned.  “Truth?  I came to reconnoiter.  Mariel trusted no eyes better than mine.”
            “Reconnoiter?  To what end?”
            The Herminian general paused only a moment.  “We were preparing our invasion of Tarquint.  From the beginning I thought the harbor at Hyacintho Flumen would be the best entry.  But we worried about the possible alliance between House Mortane and House Toeni.  And we wondered whether Down’s End or some castle lord would fight for Hyacintho Flumen.”
            “And the result of your scouting expedition was positive?”  Marty smiled encouragingly at Ridere.
            “Aye.  Hyacintho Flumen has a well-situated harbor.  The castle is strong, but I judged it vulnerable to siege, especially since Aylwin had just succeeded his father.  I discovered the Down’s End Council divided among guilds and financiers; Aylwin was not likely to gain help from them.  The nearest castle to Hyacintho Flumen is Inter Lucus, and I found it to be a near ruin, albeit with a new and mysterious lord.”  Ridere grinned at Marty.  “I reported to Queen Mariel that Tarquint was ripe for our taking.”
            Marty waited several seconds; Whitney’s quill could be heard scratching on paper.  “It seems, then, that you came to Tarquint as a spy.  I want to be fair in what I say.  It seems that Queen Mariel had already decided to invade Tarquint.  You came to Tarquint, misrepresenting your true intentions, in order to prepare war against the Mortanes and anyone who might ally with them.  Would you agree with that assessment?”
The general frowned.  “Aye.  Mariel had decided to add Tarquint to her realm.  I came to Tarquint to implement that decision.”
Whitney’s quill caught up.  Marty said, “I have a question, then.  If what you say is true, how is Milo Mortane’s attack on you and your army any different from Mariel’s war against Hyacintho Flumen?”
            “I don’t understand.”  Ridere’s face flashed anger.
            “I think you do,” Marty said.  “Milo Mortane is responsible, you say, for the deeds of his men in attacking you.  He is guilty, you say, of unprovoked war against the Herminian army.  But Mariel sent you to attack Hyacintho Flumen, quite without provocation.  How is his attack wrong if hers is right?”
            Ridere straightened his back.  “Mariel is a sovereign queen, and her judgment is not to be questioned.  Mortane was a renegade general.”
            Marty made a wry face.  “But Stonebridge is a free city, sovereign in its own affairs.  That is, it was such a city.  Now, of course, Stonebridge is part of the United Kingdom.  Remember, General, that we are all citizens together now.  I am accusing neither you nor the queen.  My point is that when Mortane attacked you, Stonebridge had just as much right to make war on Herminia as Herminia had to make war on Tarquint.”
            The Herminian shook his head.  “Stonebridge was sovereign at that time.  That I will grant.  But Mortane acted without authorization from the Assembly.”
            Again Marty waited for Whitney to catch up.  “That may be true.  If it is true, Milo committed a crime against Stonebridge and its Assembly.  He should defend himself in their court, against some charge brought against him by Stonebridge officials.  Here, though, you are in Alf’s court.  If Alf were to find Milo guilty of war making, he might also find you or your men equally guilty.  Since we make no charge against you, we should make no such charge against General Mortane.”
            Ridere waved a dismissive hand.  “No castle lord has authority over the Queen.  However, I am willing to set aside that matter.  As you say, we are all citizens together now.  Let us ignore Mortane’s attack on Herminia as something outside Alf’s authority.  Mortane came to Inter Lucus where he attacked you and killed Os Oswald and Went Bycwine.”
            “Aye,” Marty said.  “These are serious crimes—if Milo is responsible for them.”
            Ridere raised a hand, interrupting Marty.  “Mortane may not have ordered the attack, but as I said, he is still responsible for it, through incompetence if nothing else.”             
            Marty did not reply.  After a few seconds, Ridere lowered his hand, looking quizzically at the former lord of Inter Lucus.  Finally, Alf spoke.  “Lord Martin… Father.  Do you have more questions for General Ridere?”
            “Aye,” Marty said.  “One more.  General, let us suppose that one of your men failed in some duty you assigned him.  How do you punish incompetence?”
            “Punishment would vary from case to case, depending on a number of factors.  If a picket falls asleep on guard duty he is subject to the lash.  If he sleeps on duty and the army suffers loss, he hangs.”
            “Different punishments in different cases, then?”
            “Of course.”
            Marty smiled.  “Thank you for answering my questions, Eudes.  Notice my use of your name.  It is my hope that we shall long be friends.”
            Ridere inclined his head to Marty and Alf.  “I share that hope.  Lord Alf, do you require more of me?”
            The white-blond hair swayed as Alf shook his head.  “No.  Thank you, General.  I will consult privately now with my advisors.”

            Eadmar, Elfric, Marty, and Alf whispered together briefly.  They had debated the question in Marty’s room the night before.  Elfric still had reservations, but he bowed acquiescence to Eadmar and Marty’s advice.  “He must agree without conditions,” Elfric said, and the others nodded.

            “Milo Mortane, please stand.”  Alf’s court resumed.
            Milo cast a glance at his sister and Merlin Averill.  Since the departure of the Stonebridge army, Milo, Amicia, Merlin and the two murderers had eaten alone at the east table in the great hall.  Alf invited Merlin and Amicia to join him at the lord’s table, but they chose solidarity with the accused.  Today, with Redhair and Gray buried, only three ate at the east table.  Amicia tried to communicate love and confidence with her eyes, but she and Merlin knew no more of Alf’s intentions than Milo did.  Milo lifted the corner of his mouth, a wry smile.
            Milo stood up.
            “General Mortane.  No, that isn’t right.  The army you once commanded has marched for home.  You are a general no more.”  Alf paused.  He had an innate sense of timing.
            “You brought death and injury to Inter Lucus.  My father and I do not believe you did this deliberately.  Not even General Ridere accuses you of that.  Nevertheless, you bear some responsibility for what has happened.  You acted recklessly.  You provoked war, in which you took prisoners and killed men.  Battles between you and Archard Oshelm killed hundreds—and much worse could have happened if my father, Lord Martin, had not intervened.
            “But… but.  You came to Inter Lucus, you say, to ask for Martin’s intervention.  In doing so, you risked bringing battle between the lakes.  More recklessness—which, by luck it seems, turned out well in this case.  You brought your army, and Master Averill, and Lady Averill, and Eudes Ridere, and Archard Oshelm, and his army—all of them, here, to the only place where the Instrument of Union could be forged.  You are a reckless man, whose recklessness has by good luck produced a happy outcome.
            “Therefore, on the advice of my father Lord Martin, I declare you guilty of wanton recklessness.  And I announce the following punishment.
            “You forfeit your armor and sword, and the right to carry a sword.  We brought your armor and sword from Prayer House to Inter Lucus, and here they will stay as my property, in partial payment of the debt you owe my house.  Without a sword or squire, you are no longer a knight; you will be Master Mortane only.  Such is my judgment.”
Alf let Whitney write.  Milo coughed to clear his throat, thinking that he was expected to reply, but Alf held up a hand.  “There is a remaining question, and you must answer it, Master Mortane.  Stonebridge is now a free city within the United Kingdom.  Master Averill tells me that the Assembly will disavow your attack on the Queen’s army and will terminate your office in the City Guard.  If you go to Stonebridge, you will probably be thrown into a cell in the Citadel.  By your own confession, you have no welcome at Hyacintho Flumen.  I intend to write a letter to the Down’s End Council, telling them of what has happened between the lakes.  Eulard Barnet will know with certainty that you helped Avery Doin to escape Down’s End, and the City Council will learn that you have made yourself odious to the Herminians.  So Down’s End will be closed to you.
“So where will you go?  Not to Stonebridge, nor Hyacintho Flumen, nor Down’s End.  What will you do?  I have a proposal; or rather, my father Martin has one.  Would you like to hear it?”
Mortane’s eyes roved between Alf and Marty.  “Aye.”
“Lord Martin wishes to be a teacher.  Collegium Inter Lucus will relocate from my castle to village Inter Lucus.  Because of his recent injury, my father says he will need an assistant to run Collegium Inter Lucus.  My father Martin proposes that you be permitted to live in the village as his helper.  Since, as General Ridere has said, you are partially responsible for Martin’s injuries, it seems fitting that you help him.  The question is: Will you accept such a chance?
“If you do not accept my father’s proposal, you will be free to go.  We will permit you a horse and a saddle, but no weapon or armor.  Consider carefully, Master Mortane.  Will you live and work with Martin Cedarborne in village Inter Lucus?”
             Mortane stared at the floor for a long time.  When he looked up, he said, “Could Tilde come?”
Alf blinked.  “I don’t understand.”
“Lord Alf, I would gratefully accept Master Cedarborne’s invitation if a letter could be sent to my wife, Tilde, in Stonebridge.  She may refuse, but my letter would invite her to join me here.”
            Alf looked at Marty, but only for a moment.  “We grant your request.  Write your letter.  I am confident that Master Averill and Lady Amicia will be delighted to carry it to Stonebridge.”

Here Ends Part Four of Castles.
The End

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


Thursday, September 17, 2015

Castles 173

173. In Castle Inter Lucus

            Five days later:

“Have you worked out the wording on paragraph seven, concerning the House of Commons?”
            Whitney Ablendan looked at her counterparts in their frames near the center of the interface wall.  Gentian Bearning and Aweirgan Unes nodded agreement.  Whitney stepped back from her writing desk to allow Merlin Averill to read the paper on it.  Whitney’s working copy of the Instrument featured widely spaced lines of text, with lots of emendations between the lines and in the margins.  Coming to the desk, Merlin made eye contact with Martin Cedarborne.  Both men smiled.
Marty had attended every day of the debate, though he rarely spoke to anyone except Whitney.  At breakfast, before the conferences with Mariel and the nobles, Marty and Eadmar had advised Alf extensively.  During the meetings, Alf addressed the other lords and ladies frequently; Marty never. 
Merlin bent close to examine the document.  Most of its language had come from Marty, but Merlin had helped frame certain sections.  Running his finger over the paper, Merlin tracked the changes Whitney had indicated.  Finally, Merlin said, “Aye.”
Whitney sighed.  “We have, Lord Alf.”
“And we previously agreed on paragraph eight.”
“We did, Lord Alf.”
The boy lord pushed a lock of blond white hair behind his ear, suppressing a smile.  Whitney calls me Lord Alf.  He looked at the interface.  “Your Majesty, I suggest the Instrument of Union be read in full.  As scribe to the Sovereign, this honor should go to Aweirgan Unes.”  Between Videns-Loquitur sessions, Eadmar had repeatedly urged Alf to defer to Mariel and her servants when he could.
Mariel and Aweirgan whispered to each other, inaudible to those watching via Videns-Loquitur.  The queen’s scribe took a sip of water and began reading.

Instrument of Union
Between House Grandmesnil, Sovereign of Pulchra Mane, and the Lords and Ladies of Castles and Free Cities of Herminia and Tarquint.
1.     We hereby proclaim the United Kingdom of Herminia and Tarquint.
2.     The Head of House Grandmesnil, of Castle Pulchra Mane, is rightful Sovereign of said United Kingdom.
3.     The Army of the United Kingdom will serve at the pleasure and under the command of the Sovereign.
4.     Free cities and Castle Lords and Ladies retain authority over matters within their regions, albeit under the superior authority of kingdom law.  No army or body of sheriffs may trespass on any region outside that allotted to the Free City or Noble to which the army or body of sheriffs belongs without express authorization in kingdom law.
5.     No kingdom law shall exist without majority approval by the House of Commons, majority approval by the House of Lords, and the consent of the Sovereign.
6.     The members of the House of Lords are those castle Lords and Ladies who pledge allegiance to House Grandmesnil.  Such castle Lords and Ladies each have one vote in meetings of the Lords.  Such meetings will occur at convenient and regular times announced by the First Lord, who shall be elected by members of said House of Lords, and conducted via Videns-Loquitur.  A Rightful Heir of a castle not able to join in such meetings due to limitations of youth or incapacitation may be represented in the meetings of the House of Lords by a regent appointed by agreement between the First Lord and the Sovereign.
7.     The members of the House of Commons are those representatives selected by any free city that pledges allegiance to the United Kingdom and House Grandmesnil.  The number of representatives of any city in the House shall be proportionate to the population of that city.  Meetings of the House of Commons will occur at convenient and regular times announced by the Speaker of the House, who shall be elected by members of the House of Commons.  The House of Commons shall meet in the town called Senerham, in the region of Castle Inter Lucus.  Communication between the House of Commons and the House of Lords or the Sovereign shall be conducted via Videns-Loquitur at Castle Inter Lucus or by written correspondence.  Should Castle Inter Lucus begin producing steel, the House of Commons shall relocate to a town agreed upon by Commons, Lords, and Sovereign.
8.     The House of Lords and House of Commons may create other offices to serve their needs and appoint members to fill such offices.

Aweirgan paused.  “That is the entire document.”
“Paragraph eight is unnecessary.  The Instrument need not say everything,” complained Avice Montfort.
“I still think there should be a population requirement for cities,” said David Le Grant.  “You can’t have villages with four families sending representatives to the House of Commons.”
“By the Gods!” swore Rocelin Toeni.  “Not again!”
Jean Postel said, “That question doesn’t concern us nobles, Lord Le Grant!  The Commons can decide that on their own.”
Simon Asselin weighed in.  “The biggest problem is the definition of ‘free city.’  No ‘free city’ should be within forty miles of a castle.  We cannot grant representation to a city like Pulchra Mane, no matter how large it is.”
“Why the hell not?” demanded Ames Hewett.  In the lead-up to today’s meeting, Hewett had argued repeatedly that the town around his castle, Faenum Agri, ought to have representation in the House of Commons.
“Because no lord or lady, not even the queen, should have voice in two Houses.  It’s a straightforward question, and only self-serving fools won’t admit it,” said Asselin.  There was no town close to Asselin’s Lata Alta Flumen.
A half-dozen voices joined in at once, some reproving Asselin for his intemperate language (though some would have agreed that Lord Hewett was indeed a fool) and others weighing in on both sides of the question.  Even Isabel Baro, who rarely spoke up, contributed to the disorder.  Alf shook his head, smiling wryly.  It was as if the lords and ladies enjoyed wrangling and feared that once the Instrument of Union was adopted, their opportunity for debate would end.  Queen Mariel smiled as well.  She said something, but Alf couldn’t make it out through the insistent noble voices.  Alf gestured to Leo Dudd, standing close by.  Leo put two fingers in his mouth and whistled—a loud, unmusical shrillness.  Over the past five days, Leo’s obscure talent had proven itself invaluable.  The whistle brought the nobles to silence.
Queen Mariel held up a hand.  “Lords and Ladies, as the Sovereign I am willing to agree to this Instrument.  As a practical matter, I urge the House of Lords, when it meets in future, to adopt more circumspect manners of speech.”
Alf said, “Queen Mariel says she can agree to the Instrument.  Master Averill, will the free city of Stonebridge agree to it?”
Merlin Averill stepped in front of Whitney Ablendan’s desk to face lords and ladies of eleven castles, four in Herminia and seven in Tarquint.  “I s-s-speak for S-S-Stonebridge t-t-today.  B-b-but other cities will f-f-follow us.  S-S-Stonebridge says aye.”
“Thank you, Master Averill,” said Alf.  “As of this moment, the Instrument has not been agreed.  It says that any lord or lady may, by pledging allegiance to House Grandmesnil, become a member of the House of Lords.  My scribe will call the roll one by one.  Lords and ladies, if you now pledge fealty, you will by that act join the House of Lords.  Whitney, if you will.”
Whitney held up a piece of paper.  “Lord Wymer Thoncelin, of Ventus in Montes.  The order of the roll call had been determined by Marty’s advice.  The three loyal lords of Herminia came first.
“Aye.”  A rumbling bass voice, pleased to go first.
“Lady Avice Montfort, Tutum Partum.”
“Lord Rocelin Toeni, Prati Mansum.”
Seven lords and ladies of Tarquint (in addition to Alf) had participated in the five days of debate.  Fraomar Silver, who would be lord of Oceani Litura some years in the future, might someday join the House of Lords, but not today.  Alf had tried several times to make contact with the lords or ladies of castles Flores et Fructus, Mitis Sinus, and Mare Sudere, without success.  
“Lady Jean Postel, Aurea Prati.”
“Lord David Le Grant, Saltas Semitas.”
“Lord Marin Dufour, Altum Canyon.
“Lady Isabel Baro, Argentum Cadit.”
“Lord Ames Hewett, Faenum Agri.”
“Lord Walter Troy, Vivero Horto.
“Lord Simon Asselin, Lata Alta Flumen.”
There was a pause, while Whitney finished writing something.  She turned to Alf.  “Lord Alf Cedarborne, Inter Lucus.
Alf couldn’t help smiling.  “Aye,” he said.
Whitney handed Alf a sheet of paper, and he read what Marty had dictated over breakfast.
“Her sovereign majesty Queen Mariel, the free city of Stonebridge, and these several castle lords and ladies have agreed to the Instrument of Union.  By the words of that Instrument, the United Kingdom of Herminia and Tarquint now exists.  I propose that communication of these facts be spread far and wide, to all interested persons.  In particular, I urge that Down’s End and Cippenham be invited to pledge allegiance and elect representatives to the House of Commons.  I urge further that the lords Godfrey Giles, Denis Mowbray, Osmer Beaumont, and Paul Wadard, all lords in Herminia, and Aylwin Mortane of Hyacintho Flumen in Tarquint be invited to pledge allegiance to House Grandmesnil and join the House of Lords.”
Mariel raised a hand, gaining everyone’s attention.  “Thank you, Lord Alf. I have already sent written communications to lords Giles, Mowbray, Beaumont, and Wadard.  I will also contact them via Videns-Loquitur, and I expect to receive satisfactory responses from them.  Frankly, they should be grateful that I am willing to overlook certain recent indiscretions.  I leave it to you, Lord Alf, and General Ridere, to communicate with Lord Mortane.”  In private conversations with Alf and Marty, Mariel had agreed that Aylwin Mortane would have opportunity to pledge his allegiance to House Grandmesnil and that Aylwin might respond better if the invitation came from Alf.  But she had adamantly refused Marty’s idea that Aylwin be included in the conferences that produced the Instrument of Union.
Alf inclined his head.  “The general and I have already discussed how we should contact Lord Mortane.  We will do so soon.”
“Lord Alf!”  The voice was Wymer Thoncelin’s rumble.  Alf held out an open palm, inviting Thoncelin to continue.
“Since the Union has been effected,” Thoncelin said, “It will be to our advantage to elect a First Lord immediately, so that we may all know the times the House of Lords will meet.  I therefore propose and nominate Lord Alf Cedarborne for the office of First Lord.”
Marty had predicted this.
Alf waved his hand vigorously, and the gold-green glow of globum domini auctoritate brightened.  “Lord Thoncelin does me honor.  Nevertheless, by reason of my youth, my advisors have counseled me against this proposal.  I decline the nomination.”
“But Lord Alf…” Jean Postel led the chorus of protest.
“I am not Martin Cedarborne!” Alf cried.  “I am willing, even eager, to join others in supporting Videns-Loquitur for meetings of the House of Lords.  But the First Lord cannot be a mere youth.  He or she must be ready to contradict the Sovereign if need be.  Her loyalty to Mariel must be unquestioned, even when her duties require that she oppose the Queen.  She must direct our meetings and lead us to good decisions.  Therefore, I nominate Lady Avice Montfort.”
“How can a lady be First Lord?” Someone said.  Alf thought it might be Simon Asselin, but he couldn’t be sure.
“If not Alf, it should be Wymer.”
“Why not someone from Tarquint?”
“Le Grant?”
“Lord Walter, what about you?”

Eventually, they voted, choosing between Avice Montfort, Ames Hewett, and David Le Grant (after Wymer Thoncelin refused to be nominated, saying he was too old, an excuse derided by several).  Lady Avice Montfort of Tutum Partum became the First Lord of the House of Lords.  Then, after a lengthy debate, the House of Lords failed to pass a bill to revise the Instrument of Union, a bill that would have renamed her office “First Lady” whenever a Lady was elected to it.  Lady Montfort undermined support for the bill when she opined (as she often had) that the Instrument of Union need not say everything.  Smiling: “I think it’s charming that you have elected me the first lady to be First Lord.”  Montfort announced a date and time for the next meeting of the House of Lords, in two weeks. 
Queen Mariel predicted Lords Wadard, Beaumont, Giles, and Mowbray would join the House of Lords before the next meeting.  Regiments of the Herminian army had reached Pulchra Mane while the lords had debated the Instrument of Union, she said.  The four lords’ army sent to Pulchra Mane to inquire about her health had begun to evaporate even before Commander Hengist arrived.  She was wondering, she said, whether she might have to compel Allard Dell to return to Beatus Valle.  The captain seemingly had little enthusiasm for going home to Paul Wadard.
The lords and ladies of the United Kingdom laughed at Mariel’s words.  But pity colored their laughter; Allard Dell faced an uncertain, but likely unhappy future.

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

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Castles 172

172. In Castle Inter Lucus

            Inter Lucus men had repurposed Alf’s breakfast table to hold Martin’s bed, positioning it between the lord’s knob and the stand up writing desk.  With Martin’s stretcher on the table, his head was at the new lord’s elbow.  If he desired, Alf could lean to whisper with Martin without taking his hands from the knob.  “I’m your left-hand man, Alf.”  Martin grinned when he said this, but Alf didn’t understand why it should be funny.
            Alf said, “We did not prepare the agenda.”
            Martin nodded.  “First, take initiative and keep it so you control the meeting.  Second, get a truce.  Third, keep all the principle people here at Inter Lucus.  Fourth, depend on Eadmar; he will help.”
            They had arranged four chairs in front of the lord’s knob—that is, between the knob and the interface—and close to the knob, so that Mariel would easily see the chairs’ occupants.  For the moment, they left the chairs empty.  Eadmar stood at Alf’s right, and Elfric Ash and Ealdwine Smithson stood nearby on either side, armed guards protecting Inter Lucus’s new lord.  By the east and west walls, “off screen” from the Videns-Loquitur camera, Stonebridgers and Herminians sat in chairs, waiting to be summoned.
            The Videns-Loquitur light blinked insistently in the interface wall.  Alf said, “Lord Martin, ah, Marty, should I…?”
            “Is your team ready, Alf?  I am, but I’m not going anywhere.”  Martin’s voice sounded lighthearted, which encouraged him.  “Ask Whitney.  She’s your scribe, and by the sound of it she’s a bit anxious.”
            Alf felt chagrin.  He was so focused on Lord Martin’s four instructions that he hadn’t noticed Whitney fidgeting with her quills.  He looked across the stretcher to the writing desk.  Whitney Ablendan was almost three years older than Alf and the best student in Collegium Inter Lucus.  “Are you ready, Whitney?”
            “One moment, Lord Alf.”  Whitney swept her hair back with both hands, making a brown ball behind her head, which she secured with a cloth band.  She smiled at him.  “Ready.”
            Alf blew out a breath.  Whitney calls me lord.  Somehow that affected him more than Eadmar or even Lord Martin using the word.  He put his hands on the knob.  Gold-green aura radiated between his fingers.
            The blinking light immediately separated into three frames.  Queen Mariel occupied the center window, with a lord and lady in the other frames, both much older than the queen.  Alf remembered the lady, Avice Montfort, from Martin’s Videns-Loquitur conversations.  He did not recognize the lord.  “Fair morning, Queen Mariel,” Alf said.  He dipped his head.
            “Fair morning, Lord Alf…” Mariel’s eyes widened.  “Is that Lord Martin?”  In the frame with the queen Alf recognized Mariel’s scribe, Aweirgan Unes, and the commander of sheriffs, Merlin Torr.  Like Mariel, both men startled when they saw Martin.  Another man, unfamiliar to Alf, watched from the side of the picture.
            With his left hand Alf touched Martin’s stringy black hair and the cloth band around his head.  “Aye.  This is Martin Cedarborne.  He survived the attempt on his life, but he says he is no longer lord of Inter Lucus.  I regard him as my father.  Lord Martin—that is, Marty, as he wishes to be known—has agreed to advise me, along with Priest Eadmar.”  Alf tilted his head toward Eadmar.
            The lord and lady in the side frames wore expressions of astonishment.  They expected to see Lord Martin at his knob, Alf thought, not on a litter.  Alf absentmindedly brushed a bit of hair behind his ear, and the lady stared open-mouthed.  And they did not expect to see me, a mere boy, command Inter Lucus.  That must be what Martin meant; I am our advantage, because they don’t know me.
            Unlike her councilors, Mariel had seen Alf the day before; if seeing a boy lord command Inter Lucus disturbed her, she didn’t let it show.  “I introduce Lord Wymer Thoncelin and Lady Avice Montfort, two of my councilors.  And Allard Dell, arms commander for Paul Wadard.”  She gestured at the curly-haired man in the Pulchra Mane frame.
            Alf bowed his head.  “Fair morning, Lord Wymer, Lady Avice, Sir Dell.  The lady will not remember me, but I have witnessed her meetings with Martin—ah, Marty—these last few weeks, during the queen’s illness.  If I may speak boldly, Marty’s advice through Lady Avice helped save the queen’s life.”
            Martin’s voice, a whisper audible only to Alf and Whitney: “Good move, Alf.  Start now.”
            “If it please your majesty, I must ask your aid.”  Alf rested his left hand on the knob, turned halfway, and motioned with his right hand.  “Ridere and Oshelm.” Facing the interface wall, he said, “Before anything else, we must arrange a long term truce between the Stonebridgers and your majesty’s army.”  Again switching hands, he waved at the eastern side.  “General Mortane and Lady Averill.”
            When General Ridere and Archard Oshelm came on camera, Mariel and her councilors greeted them warmly.  “Eudes!”  “Gods preserve you!”  “Well done, Archard!”
            The Herminians said nothing to Milo Mortane or his sister.
            With some reluctance, the four guests sat in the chairs when Alf motioned toward them.  In the process of sitting, the two sides pushed back from each other, creating a space in front of globum domini auctoritate.
            “I have two armies on my doorstep.”  Alf told himself to speak slowly.  Martin had said he should be in control; at the least, he would appear to be in control.  “I regard neither of them as my enemy.  In truth, Inter Lucus threatens no one.  We have few sheriffs and we make no steel.  I want these armies to go home—peacefully, without slaughtering soldiers uselessly, whether Herminians or Stonebridgers.  I hope that you, Queen Mariel, also desire peace.  I plead for your aid, your majesty.  How can these armies leave here peacefully?” 
            Archard Oshelm jumped up. “The Stonebridgers attacked us, your majesty!  They killed our men and took General Ridere captive.  And Milo Mortane invited me to rebel against you.”  Oshelm waved a piece of paper for all to see.  “I have proof.”
            At Alf’s left hand, Marty whispered, “Stay on task, Alf.”
            “Very interesting, Commander Oshelm.”  Alf scratched his head.  “Please sit down.”  Alf waited several seconds, regarding Oshelm placidly.  Oshelm was discomfited; perhaps he expected rebuttal from Mortane.  He glared at the Stonebridge general, but his enemy said nothing.  Finally Oshelm made eye contact with Eudes Ridere.  The Herminian general commanded with his eyes and a tip of his head toward Oshelm’s chair.  Pressing his lips together, Oshelm sat.  
Alf smiled.  “If, as you say, General Mortane is untrustworthy, that will affect our plan for peace.  Remember, that is the question.  How do we get a lasting truce?”
            Now Oshelm glared at Alf, and turned to speak to Mariel.  “Stonebridge has allied itself with Hyacintho Flumen.  The chance has come to us.  We should destroy them.  If not, the Mortanes will win.”  He gestured dismissively toward Milo and Amicia, but he did not leave his seat.
            “He’s not challenging you, Alf,” Marty said.  “He’s arguing policy.”
            Alf switched his hands on the knob, laid his forefinger on his lips, and then pointed it at Ridere.  “General Ridere, what do you think?  Is Stonebridge allied with Hyacintho Flumen?”
            The battle-scarred soldier frowned.  He met Alf’s gaze.  “The truth?  I don’t know.  It seemed obvious.  He and she are brother and sister to Aylwin Mortane.”  Ridere pointed at Milo and Amicia.  “They went to Stonebridge.  Then the Stonebridge army came out to help Aylwin.  Pretty clear, I thought.  But I no longer think so.”
            “Why not?”
            Ridere looked first at Mariel and then Oshelm as he answered.  “Milo Mortane serves himself, not his brother and not Stonebridge.  After defeat, he brought his army to Inter Lucus rather than retreating to Stonebridge.  He wanted to keep it as his army.  I thought he wanted to set himself up as lord of Inter Lucus.  But then, yesterday… I don’t know.”
            “What happened yesterday, Eudes?”  Queen Mariel questioned her husband.
            Ridere inclined his head to Mariel, not leaving his seat.  “It seemed to me that yesterday Mortane was surprised by the attack on Lord Martin.  I am convinced that he did not approve it or intend it.  Still, I do not trust him.  Most likely, he brought his army here for some bad purpose.  We must be wary.”  Ridere turned on his chair.  “And you, Lord Alf, I advise you to be wary too.  Milo Mortane is not to be trusted.”
            At Alf’s elbow, Marty said quietly, “Now, bring in Eadmar.”
            “Thank you, General,” Alf said.  “I’m glad I have advisors as wise as Lord M…as Marty and Eadmar.  They too encourage me to be wary.  What do you say, Eadmar?”
            “I say we have more important things to discuss,” said Eadmar.  He rubbed his red pate.  “We need to get this truce arranged so that we can discuss them.  You asked how to get a truce.  Our Herminian guests tell us we can’t trust General Mortane.  Perhaps that is true.  We should arrange a truce that does not require that we trust him.”
            Alf gestured for Eadmar to continue.
            “I propose, Lord Alf, that the Stonebridge army be freed to return to Stonebridge.”  Eadmar paused dramatically, forestalling rebuttals with a raised palm.  “Milo Mortane should not go.  Keep him here as prisoner.  The men who attacked us, Redhair and Gray, must stay for trial in any case.  Derian Chapman, Amicia Averill and Merlin Averill should also stay, at least for a week, so that we may discuss a parliament.”
            Several people spoke at this point: Milo Mortane, Archard Oshelm, Queen Mariel, and Amicia Mortane among them.  Alf stepped to the right of his knob, keeping his left hand in place and laying his right hand on Eadmar’s shoulder.  Alf didn’t know why; it just seemed like a natural thing to do.  The gold-green light of globum domini auctoritate blazed out around Alf’s hand like a cool fire.  For a few seconds, the brightness obscured the interface wall.  All interruptions stopped.  The old priest looked at Alf, his blue eyes full of wonder. 
            “Eadmar, please.  Say on.”
             “As I was saying, Lord Alf.  The Stonebridge army should go, but not their swords.  Marty took their weapons when they came under his protection.”  Eadmar again held up his hand to forestall objections.  “And we will return them.  The Stonebridgers can send a small number of soldiers with wagons to pick up their swords after they reach Crossroads.  An army without its weapons will be especially eager to return home.
            “The Stonebridgers will, of course, fear to leave the security of Inter Lucus without their swords—especially with a Herminian army close by.  Therefore, I propose that General Ridere, General Oshelm, and the men who came with Oshelm to the castle also should stay here as your guests until the Stonebridge army has marched far away.  The Herminian army will not pursue the Stonebridgers, but will stay between the lakes until the Stonebridgers are safely away.”  Eadmar raised his hand again.  “You, Lord Alf, will guarantee the safety of the Herminians who stay here, and their presence here will guarantee the safety of the Stonebridgers who march away.  You will appoint men of Senerham and village Inter Lucus to witness the safe passage of the Stonebridgers through the Herminian forces.  Besides the need to separate the armies, General Ridere and his company will need to stay at Inter Lucus so that they can participate in discussion of a parliament.”
            Alf put both his hands on his knob.  Queen Mariel, Lord Thoncelin, Lady Montfort, and everyone in the great hall of Inter Lucus anticipated some great show of power.  Alf had no idea what to do or how to do it, but he knew they were watching him intently.  He said, “Queen Mariel, you have heard Eadmar’s plan.  I think it’s a good idea, but perhaps you disagree.”
            The blond queen pursed her lips.  “The Stonebridge army marches away without swords.  Milo Mortane and his sister stay there as your prisoners.  You protect General Ridere and his company and pledge to free them once the Stonebridgers are well gone.”  She paused.  “Eudes, what do you think?”                       
            Ridere turned on his chair.  “You said Merlin Averill would stay as well?”
            “Aye,” said Eadmar.  “I did.”
            “I think it’s a good idea,” Ridere said, “if we add that when Redhair and Gray are tried, I must be permitted to bring charges against Mortane as well.”
            “Well then!” said Alf.  With a sweep of his hand he directed attention to Milo and Amicia.  “Amicia Averill, you came with Merlin to talk about Lord Martin’s parliament idea.  Eadmar’s plan seems to fit perfectly with that intention.  Are you willing to stay in Inter Lucus as my guest?”
            Milo Mortane began to interrupt, but Alf brushed him off with a wave.  “Lady Amicia?”
            Amicia looked at Milo and then over her shoulder to Merlin.  “Aye.  If the Stonebridge army is freed on Eadmar’s terms, we agree.”
            “Be tough now, Alf,” whispered Marty.  “Don’t let him off easy.”
            Alf continued to point at Amicia.  “I am inclined to accept General Ridere’s amendment to the proposal, that he be permitted to bring charges against your brother.  Do you accept this?”
            Without turning her head toward Milo, Amicia said, “Aye.”
            Now Alf pointed at Mortane.  “Sir Milo Mortane.  Please stand.”  Mortane complied.  “You came to Inter Lucus under the pretext of concluding a truce with the Herminians.  While you were here, your men attacked Lord Martin, whom I count as my father.  Now I ask you, will you accept a truce on the terms Eadmar and Ridere described?  Will you stay here as my prisoner, to be tried along with Redhair and Gray?”
            Mortane smirked.  “What choice do I have?  You won’t let me go.”
            “On the contrary, Sir!”  Alf improvised.  He pointed to the east door.  “Outside that door you will find your own sword and armor, made of castle steel at Hyacintho Flumen.  Also, there is a paved castle road that leads to East Lake.  Anchored by the shore there is a fishing boat prepared to take you across the lake or anywhere you like.  Your escape is prepared, Sir Milo.  Of course, if you leave, the Herminians will believe that I conspired with you.  They may consider this a breach of our truce and attack your army.  Now, you claimed that you sought a truce for your men’s sake.  Will you stay here as the price of that truce?”
            Mortane looked stricken.  “Martin said nothing about escape.”
            Alf pointed at the door.  “You have a chance, Sir Milo.  What will you do with it?”
            Milo Mortane looked at his sister.  He surveyed the great hall of Inter Lucus, as if looking for guidance.  His eyes rested at last on Marty’s bed.  With a sigh, he said, “I will stay,” and sat down.

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