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.”
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.