41. In Town Hyacintho Flumen
The castle Hyacintho Flumen occupied the top of a hill on the west bank of Blue River about a mile from the harbor. Below the castle hill a vigorous town had grown on both sides of the river. As with Mariel Grandmesnil’s Pulchra Mane, the town took its name from the castle.
At Prati Mansum, Bully had had the privilege of supper in the castle, as servant to Boyden Black. Bully understood the reason: Lord Rocelin Toeni knew Master Black’s true identity. At Hyacintho Flumen, though, unless the Lady Erline let the secret slip, Boyden Black was merely another merchant looking for opportunities. There would be no invitations to castle suppers. And that meant Bully would probably never see Edita again.
He knew it was foolish to feel loss. Edita was a noble lady, destined to marriage to a lord and to be mother of rulers. Bully was a child of poverty, an orphan since he was eight years old. He had quick wits, a winsome smile, and general good sense—but that hadn’t saved him from false accusations of thievery in Pulchra Mane. If not for Eudes Ridere’s justice, Bully might have lost a hand, the penalty for theft. And noble ladies do not fall in love with farm laborers with no family name, even if they have both hands.
Moving to Wedmor, Bully had left behind his undeserved reputation as a thief. The local farmers appreciated his hard work; one of them had even talked of hiring Bully as a foreman for harvesting and threshing crews. Bully had begun to think in terms of making a life in Wedmor. But then Bully had seen Eudes Ridere ride into Wedmor, he told Councilman Wilfrid Engoff, and by the next day the queen’s husband had taken Bully on as his assistant. Of course, he was not assistant to Eudes Ridere, queen’s consort but to Boyden Black, wool merchant. Crucial to remember that!
While on board Little Moon Bully and Edita had talked every day. Not for long, and never far from the vigilant ears of Lady Erline or Juliana Ingdaughter, so Bully and Edita could only discuss inconsequential things. One time, under her breath, Edita called her mother and attendant “my wardens.” Bully thought Edita shared his wish that they might have real privacy, a chance to get to know each other and—in Bully’s imagination, at least—a chance to kiss.
But now Little Moon was docked in Hyacintho Flumen. Boyden Black, Archard Oshelm, and Bully had taken two nights’ lodging in the back room of a tavern, and Edita Toeni was a guest of the Mortanes. From the river dock of a warehouse on the east bank of Blue River, Bully looked up at the castle, with its tall gods’ tower, rising from the hill across the river. Edita might be up there. She might as well be on the other side of the world.
A ship was approaching the dock, crossing under a bridge half a mile up river. Smaller than Little Moon, it was loaded—overloaded, it seemed to Bully—with bulging sacks of grain. Intrigued, Bully would have watched the riverboat longer, but Archard emerged from the building behind him. “Master Boyden has finished here, Bully. Better come on.”
Bully followed Archard through a wide opening beneath a wooden sign carved with stalks of grain. Inside the warehouse the grain merchants of Hyacintho Flumen kept stocks of wheat, rye, oats and barley in spacious storage bays. Two youths were hard at work sweeping out an empty bay, preparing it to receive the cargo of the riverboat.
Boyden Black awaited Archard and Bully on the east side of the warehouse, where it fronted on a busy street. Master Black motioned for Archard and Bully to follow him, and Bully watched the life of a town as they walked. Fishmongers offered the catch of the day, a butcher’s shop could supply beef, mutton, or chicken, and several farmers sold vegetables and edible roots from wagons. Bully noted a smithy, two pottery houses, a cobbler’s shop, two stores that sold woolen goods, a candle maker, a barrel maker, and a wagon builder. There were taverns and inns as well, one of which Bully thought was probably a brothel.
Boyden Black stopped at both woolen goods stores, announcing himself as a possible buyer of wool. The storeowners were eager to show him their stocks—and, naturally, they were even more eager when he waved off their initial offerings: no, no, not just a bolt or two; Master Black wanted to buy more. How much more? Boyden Black responded nonchalantly: two hundred bolts? Five hundred? It all depended on arranging for the right ship. The wool merchants almost wet themselves in their eagerness.
Bully attended to Master Black’s charade with great care. Occasionally Boyden would handle a sample of the merchant’s cloth and frown, as if doubting its quality. To confirm his judgment, Master Black would let his assistant feel the cloth. Bully would then purse his lips as if making a considered judgment. In point of fact, Bully knew almost nothing about cloth, and he was terrified that his obvious ignorance would give away the whole game. He quickly discovered a camouflage: he would ask whether the merchant could supply some large quantity of the material in his hands—one hundred bolts, or two hundred. Greed is a powerful distraction. No merchant laughed at Bully’s performance. Boyden Black struck no bargain with either wool dealer, but he left both hoping for a better result when Black returned to Hyacintho Flumen, as he surely would.
When Archard and Bully followed Boyden Black out of the second wool merchant’s store, they encountered a crowd. People packed onto the porches of various buildings on both sides of the street, leaving room for ten mounted riders in the middle. This group of riders sauntered along slowly, but the crowd seemed to welcome the inconvenience and distraction. It was as if the riders constituted a small but popular parade.
Four of the horses were occupied by soldiers, who rode at the corners of the procession. In the middle front a young man with shoulder-length black hair rode a huge golden-haired horse, a magnificent creature. The rider was handsome and confident. He smiled broadly when people called out to him.
“The lord Hereward’s son, Aylwin,” someone nearby said. “They say he’ll be lord after his father.”
“Not Milo, the elder?” another voice asked.
“No. Hereward picked Aylwin, so Milo ran off. Or so I heard.”
Five women rode behind Aylwin Mortane. Bully recognized three of them: Lady Erline Toeni, her daughter Edita, and Juliana. He guessed the pale-skinned noble woman riding next to Lady Erline must be Hereward Mortane’s wife. And the girl behind the pale woman was probably Lady Mortane’s daughter. Bully guessed the girl’s age as eleven or twelve.
From across the street voices shouted: “Lady Lucia! Lady Amicia! Lord Aylwin!” People near Bully took up similar cheers. The Mortanes waved hands in acknowledgment of the crowd’s pleasure. Bully looked from Edita to Aylwin Mortane, riding at the front of the parade. Why isn’t Edita at his side? That’s what this is all about, isn’t it?
On either side of Edita, the lady Erline and Juliana Ingdaughter also waved to onlookers. Edita sat as still as a person can while on horseback. Her boots were secured in stirrups and, though she held her horse’s reins in her right hand, Bully guessed her mount would be the calmest, surest horse available. They’re showing her to the people, and they’ll do anything to keep her from falling. Don’t let the people think she’s crippled.
Juliana Ingdaughter, smiling and waving, spurred her horse and it trotted forward ’til she was almost even with Aylwin. What is she doing? It’s Edita’s place by the lord, not hers. The young lord noticed her and pointed her out to the crowd on the far side of the street. The people there cheered for her, and some called out “Edita! Edita!”
The real Edita heard the voices, but turned away from them, as if she didn’t want to see Juliana riding by Aylwin. For just a moment, her eyes fastened on a familiar face. Bully held out his hand, grinning. He called out, “The lady Edita!” She did not smile, but their eyes met. Still holding the horse’s reins in her right hand, she made a careful gesture, welcoming his words.
42. In Stonebridge
Stonebridge was aptly named, in Eádulf’s opinion. No less than six bridges spanned the three rivers of the city. He thought they were magnificent. He had never seen arched structures before; in Eádulf’s experience bridges, such as the bridges back home in Hyacintho Flumen, were simple wooden spans as strong as the trees used to make them. The bridges of Stonebridge seemed to defy gravity, the way they leapt from bank to bank, or, for three of the bridges, from riverbank to a midstream island and then to the further bank. And they were made of stone, great blocks of stone hewn to the right shape and fitted into place. Oswy Wodens explained the principle of the bridges’ strength to Eádulf when the caravan of wool wagons came in sight of the city, how each stone of the arch was shaped so that it wedged against the others. “If ya build an arch right,” Oswy said, “and if the stones are sound, then putting weight on top only presses ’em closer together. Arch bridges will bear much more load than the wood bridges they have in Down’s End.”
Eádulf was awed. As a stable boy growing up near Hyacintho Flumen, he was familiar with the town between the castle and the harbor. But where Hyacintho Flumen was a town, Stonebridge was a city. In Hyacintho Flumen, a single bridge served those who wanted to cross the Blue River without employing a ferry. In Stonebridge, three bridges crossed the River Blide and two spanned River Broganéa, upstream from the place where those rivers joined to form River Betlicéa. More beautiful still was the high bridge over River Betlicéa on the northern edge of the city. Here the river plunged into a narrow twisting canyon between high rock walls, and the bridge above the gorge was a single breathtaking arch longer than any in the other five bridges. Oswy said that in the spring, when the rivers run high, the spray from the Betlicéa waterfall sometimes wet the sides of the bridge. Eádulf said he wished to see that someday.
Dreng Tredan escorted the wool wagons into Stonebridge, to a storehouse on the west side of the Broganéa, in the weavers’ district. The sun was high in the sky, a short time past mid-day. Here the guard waited—impatiently, Eádulf thought—for Derian Chapman to pay him. The merchant concerned himself first with getting his cargo safely inside the storehouse and ignored Dreng while negotiating some business with two men who emerged through a small door under a sign lettered in red. These men either owned the building or worked for the owner; Eádulf couldn’t tell which. Eádulf could only guess that the sign said something about wool or weavers; he had never learned letters. After some talk with Derian the men re-entered the storehouse. Presently the barn-like main doors rolled aside, mounted as they were on clever little wheels at the top. Eádulf had never seen doors hung in such a way. (He knew that the doors inside Hyacintho Flumen were even more marvelous, but Eádulf had never seen them himself.) Only when his wagons were actually rolling into the Stonebridge Weavers’ warehouse did Derian Chapman give Dreng Tredan his pay. The guard vanished before the weavers’ guild men had closed and locked the doors.
Eádulf and Milo trailed the wool wagons as Win Modig and Oswy Wodens walked their teams into the building. Dust motes hung thick in the air. A tall second storey rose in the middle of the storehouse, with small windows high under the eaves that admitted light into the building’s interior. The windows’ shutters were open on a dry summer’s day, but even so the wide space of the first storey was dim and stuffy. Wooden pillars spaced around the storehouse supported the roof; the wagons had to maneuver carefully. Win Modig and Oswy Wodens positioned the wagons near a wall under the watchful eyes of the guild men. Then the wagon horses were unhitched and led to stable stalls in a distant corner. Eádulf led Brownie, Blackie, and Derian Chapman’s horse to a water trough and tethered them near the draft horses after they had drunk.
When the guild men had secured the doors and departed, Derian Chapman spoke to his drivers. “The weavers’ guild has agreed to unload our cargo. The fellows who let us in have gone to recruit a crew that will make quick work of the job. Of course, since it’s noon, they’ll get no help ’til after the mid-day sup. I suggest, then, that you take the chance to get a decent meal as well.” Chapman tossed a coin to each of his drivers. “That’s not your pay, only a little ‘thank you.’ You’ll get what we agreed this afternoon, after the wool is unloaded.”
Oswy held up a gold coin. “Downright generous of ya, Master Chapman. Thank ya much! We’ll get us a bite and be back to help with the job.” Win Modig grinned wordlessly, and he followed Oswy through the little door.
Milo smiled to himself as Derian Chapman sent off his guard, the guild men, and his drivers. As soon as the door closed behind Win Modig, Milo said, “I imagine, Derian, that you will now suggest that Eádulf and I also find a mid-day sup. But I think we would rather help you with your next task.”
“Really? And what task is that?” Chapman’s voice was neutral.
“Releasing Avery Doin from his confinement. How long has it been? Four days? Five?”
The businessman stepped closer to Milo and Eádulf, who stood in the somewhat brighter light in the middle of the warehouse. He raised an eyebrow. “How did you find out? Only Modig knows, and I’m sure he didn’t tell you.”
Milo chuckled. “You know better than that, Derian. Consider: If you really think only Modig knows what’s in his wagon, why have you been so afraid of highwaymen? You must have been worried that someone would guess your real cargo. No one really expects highwaymen to steal wool.”
Chapman asked, “Have I been that transparent? Did Dreng know?”
Milo shook his head. “Dreng only thought you were stupid. He never asked himself whether you might not have a good reason to fear for your wagons. Personally, I guessed it might be gold, but the archer at River House gave a better answer.”
“Before you killed him.” Chapman walked toward Win Modig’s wagon.
“That’s right,” Milo admitted, following the merchant. “I think we can guess he didn’t tell the boys at the corral what he was really after. I imagine the archer recruited Andsaca Scur and the other boy with the promise of valuable horses. Remember: the men of River House recognized Andsaca as a local boy but not the archer. The archer came from Down’s End and was employed by Eulard Barnet to kill Avery Doin.”
Chapman tugged on his ear, a nervous habit Milo had noticed before. “It seems I nearly botched the whole thing. Maybe I did. Maybe you plan to kill me and return Avery to Down’s End.” He grinned as he lay down on the storehouse floor by the wagon. “But I think you’re smarter than that. Believe me, Avery Doin is worth far more alive and safe in Stonebridge than betrayed to Eulard Barnet.”
Milo laughed. “Aye. We think alike sometimes.”
Derian slid under the wagon until only his boots showed. A few grunts were heard, and then: “Damn. It’s stuck.” Then a thump, and another. The wagon trembled slightly as Chapman struck it. “There! Good!” More grunts. “Sir Milo, I could use a hand with this.”
“Eádulf, see if you can help Master Chapman.” Milo touched his sword hilt. He was not prepared to trust Derian Chapman without a weapon ready.
Eádulf wiggled in next to Chapman. More sounds of labor, awkward pulling in a confined space. The merchant and the squire emerged from under the wagon. Together they pulled a limp body into the light. Chapman held his ear to the man’s face. “He lives and breathes, but he’s in a bad way.” The stowaway was a young man with filthy, matted hair. Chapman pulled a handkerchief from a pocket. “Eádulf, if you please, fetch some water.” The squire trotted to the horses’ water trough.
“Given Avery’s condition, it’s probably a good thing you uncovered my secret,” said Derian. “Uncle Ody would prefer that we conceal his presence, if possible. You can help me with that. Ah! Thank you, Eádulf.” Chapman accepted the wet handkerchief and wiped Avery Doin’s face.
“Yesterday morning, he was awake and could talk.” Derian’s ministrations to the unconscious man had all the tenderness of a farmer with a bull. He pushed the hair back and scrubbed at the man’s face vigorously.
The patient’s tongue flicked out for moisture, and he swallowed. The voice was faint and hoarse: “Thirsty.”
Eádulf hurried off and returned with a water-skin. Milo and Derian pulled Avery Doin to a sitting position and Derian dribbled water into his mouth. After several swallows Doin’s eyes opened. “Stonebridge?”
“Indeed.” Chapman squatted in front of the stowaway. “Whatever foolishness you committed in Down’s End, you are now safely in Stonebridge. Your father owes Ody Dans great gratitude for rescuing you. And, if I may say it, you owe me for saving your life. You’ll remember that when you see Uncle Ody, hm?”
43. At The Spray, in Stonebridge
“It’s called, The Spray. Uncle Ody loves the waterfall of River Betlicéa. I’ve seen him spend a whole evening sitting near the parapet, watching the sun make colors in the water.”
Derian Chapman spoke to Milo, Eádulf, and Avery Doin as the foursome walked uphill toward a stone building, glimpses of which they could see between oak and maple trees that shaded a private road. They had left their horses in the care of a stable boy just inside the gate of Ody Dans’ walled estate in the northwest portion of Stonebridge. Along the roadside, large paving slabs provided irregular steps for pedestrians, and the men had to repeatedly adjust their strides to fit the steps.
“Parapet?” asked Avery Doin. He scratched at his scalp. The young man from Down’s End had recovered greatly since his release from confinement in the secret compartment of Win Modig’s wagon. Before venturing from the wool storehouse, they had despaired of cleaning Avery’s hair, so Derian had sheared it off with a knife, leaving the erstwhile stowaway with uneven black tufts all over his head.
“The Spray is built on the side of the canyon,” answered Derian. “All we can see from this side is the top of the house. It’s the reverse of most great houses; one enters The Spray at the top; then we climb down to rooms hanging on the cliff over the Betlicéa. On the lowest floor Uncle Ody has a balcony that reaches out over the water. The view is spectacular. But first, we’ll get hot baths and the services of a better barber.”
A fair-haired soldier greeted the foursome outside the door of Ody Dans’s mansion. The guard bowed a greeting to the rich man’s nephew. “Master Derian.” The soldier’s arms had the muscle tone of active service and bore scars. Milo thought he heard a hint of boredom in the armsman’s voice. This man isn’t used to ceremonial duties.
“Fair afternoon, Ingwald.” Derian Chapman acknowledged the man with a polite nod. Milo thought: On the battlefield, this soldier could dispatch Derian with a single blow. But here he is the servant, and Derian the master. Such is the power of wealth.
Chapman motioned toward Milo, Eádulf, and Avery. “I’ve brought guests: Milo Mortane; his squire, Eádulf; and Avery Doin. Uncle Ody will be eager to know that Master Doin has arrived. Send word to him immediately.”
The soldier inclined his head. “As you wish. Master Dans has invited a select number of guests to sup this evening. He may not desire more.”
“Really?” A smile played at the corners of Derian’s mouth. “I think he will want to see us.”
In the event, Derian’s confidence was well founded. Ingwald admitted the nephew and his guests into a cool, stone-floored and stonewalled reception hall. They waited here only a few minutes before a flush-faced servant girl arrived, bowed low, and invited Derian and his companions to follow her. Like Ingwald, the servant girl was blonde, and she was breathing hard, almost panting. She informed them that Master Dans wished Derian and his guests to join supper that evening—in two hours’ time.
Inga (the blue-eyed girl’s name) led them down some stairs, along a passageway with many doors, and then down another staircase. Milo decided she had good reason to be out of breath; getting around inside Ody Dans’s mansion involved lots of stairs. At last Inga opened a wide wooden door; when she pushed it open, steam billowed into their faces. She bowed them into a room with a gently sloped stone floor, designed so that water falling on it would drain toward a corner.
“There are two tubs, and buckets of hot and cold water. Aisly and Eda will bring more hot water presently. Would you need anything else, Master Derian?”
“Towels?” Derian walked into the bathing room, his companions following.
“Yes, sir.” Inga pointed to the south wall, where white towels hung from pegs.
“Ah! Thank you.” Derian reached the middle of the room and turned around. “One more thing, Inga. Could you send Ymma the nan?”
“Sir? Ymma is too old to carry water.”
“True enough.” Derian had already unbuttoned his tunic and pulled it free of his breeches. “But you can see how badly I barbered my friend Avery. It would be a kindness to him if, before supper with Uncle Ody, we can make him look presentable. As I recall, Ymma has skill with scissors and razor.”
Inga smiled. “That is true. If I may be so bold, Ymma’s razor might improve all of your faces.”
Milo judged Aisly and Eda, the servant girls who brought buckets of hot water, to be little older than his sister Amicia. They blushed at the sight of four naked grown men, but not as much as Eádulf, who had shed his clothes while waiting his turn in one of the tubs. Eádulf snatched up his tunic to cover himself while Milo and Derian laughed.
Ymma the nan suffered no such embarrassment. She ordered Avery to sit, still dripping from his bath, on a wooden stool in the center of the room. Her hands were disfigured by outsize knuckles and bent fingers, but the old woman handled her tools deftly. She circled Avery, clucking to herself and occasionally bending close as if she couldn’t see the hair she was cutting. By the time she had completed three orbits of the refugee his black hair had indeed been made presentable. She cut it very short and brushed it with a cloth she kept in a pocket; Avery’s hair stood up like an army of tiny armsmen, even in the moist air of the bath. After she repaired his hair, she shaved him.
Derian, Milo and Eádulf took their turns on the stool after Avery. Milo almost flinched when the old woman bent near with the razor. The blade had an extremely fine edge, and Ymma polished it frequently on a short leather strop affixed to her belt. Milo reassured himself: A servant who shaves her master has to be worthy of trust.
Ymma had just finished with Eádulf when Aisly and Eda returned (Eádulf hastily wrapped himself in a towel), bringing clean sets of clothes for Derian and his companions; inner tunics of linen, outer tunics of fine wool dyed blue or gray, blue breeches and gray hose. The old nan departed with Aisly and Eda, leaving the men to dress in privacy. Milo hadn’t worn anything so well tailored since leaving Hyacintho Flumen, and Eádulf had never experienced the clothing of the truly rich. Over and over the squire rubbed a bit of his sleeve between thumb and forefinger, feeling the texture of wool so fine that it felt like silk.
When the four men emerged from the bathing room, Inga was waiting in the hall with the water girls. “Please follow me, sirs,” Inga said. “Master Ody would like to meet you privately before sup. Aisly and Eda will clean the bath. And you need not concern yourselves with the clothes you came in; we’ll wash them in the morning.”
“Are we sleeping here tonight, sir?” Eádulf whispered to Milo as the men trailed after Inga.
“It seems so,” Milo replied. He clasped his squire’s upper arm. “A bath, clean clothes, sup, and a bed. We won’t turn down good things that come free of charge.”
“Derian! Welcome home!” The speaker was a plump man with a round face. He rose from a cushioned chair when the four visitors entered a carpeted room of modest size. According to Derian, this was Ody Dans’s office, where he liked to conduct most of his monetary affairs. Milo had never seen so many books in one place, not even in his father’s castle; Ody Dans had at least four shelves of bound books. And in the corner stood a bureau with four drawers, from which—it soon became clear—Master Dans could recover parchments and contracts that described his business dealings. One of these parchments lay on the table where their host had been seated.
“Very kind of you, Uncle. Do I live in The Spray now?” Derian bowed from the waist and kissed a ring on his uncle’s hand.
Ody Dans laughed heartily. “Not so fast! I meant ‘Welcome home to Stonebridge.’ Tonight, of course, you and your friends will be my guests.” Dans was mostly bald, with wispy white hairs making a fringe around a pink scalp. His beard was also white, but much thicker, and neatly trimmed. Pale blue eyes gave him an appearance of bland innocence.
“Uncle Ody, I introduce Avery Doin, from Down’s End.” Derian motioned the young man forward. Taking his cue from Derian, Avery bowed and kissed Dans’s ring. Milo shuffled his feet, placing himself behind Eádulf.
“Welcome, Master Doin,” said the host. “I am pleased to make your acquaintance, and more than pleased that you have come to Stonebridge. While you are in our city, you will be my guest here at The Spray.” Ody Dans’s tone was calm, but brooked no dissent.
Milo noted the contrast between the greetings offered Derian and Avery. Dans won’t let Derian live here, but he insists that Avery stay. Is the refugee a hostage?
“I am grateful for your hospitality, Master Dans,” said Avery. “My father sends you warm greetings.”
Ody Dans chuckled. “I’m sure he does.”
Derian said, “And this is a knight, Milo Mortane, whom I met on the road from Down’s End. And his squire, Eádulf.”
Ody Dans held out his ring, and Eádulf quickly bowed to kiss it. Milo thought: I’ve got to do this right from the beginning. If I fail, I fail. He stepped forward, but rather than bowing, he extended his hand.
Dans’s watery blue eyes widened and he allowed himself a hint of a smile. “A knight and a Mortane. Why am I not surprised?” He shook hands with Milo. “Welcome to Stonebridge.”
“I thank you for your hospitality,” said Milo. “Your bath has refreshed us, and we look forward to sup in your elegant house. It reminds me of home—Hyacintho Flumen. But Eádulf and I do not wish to impose.” Having signaled his social status, Milo now inclined his head—just a little. His eyes never left Dans’s.
“Hereward Mortane’s son.” The rich man nodded. “Sit by me at sup. We need to become better acquainted. But for now, I need to speak with my nephew privately.” He motioned toward the door. Milo, Eádulf and Avery Doin quietly filed out.
44. In The Spray, Near the River Betlicéa
When time came for sup, Inga led Avery, Milo and Eádulf down two staircases to a dining room overlooking River Betlicéa. The staircases and the landing between them were hung with paintings: mostly relatives of Master Ody, said Inga, and a few portraits of Stonebridge’s richest men.
They entered a long room from the west end, near an empty fireplace. A narrow table with place settings dominated the middle of the room, and most of the north wall facing the river was glassed—pane after pane of clear glass squares secured in a wooden lattice. Milo nodded a silent recognition of the message of the glass wall. Ody Dans can spend a fortune on an adornment of his hall. Guests are supposed to marvel at his wealth and the luxury it buys. But for all his money, Ody Dans’s window-wall is a feeble replica of the magic wall in Hyacintho Flumen. A magic wall I will never command. Milo ground his teeth and looked about the room.
More paintings hung on the long south wall, not portraits but landscapes: farms with livestock, a lake surrounded by snow-covered trees, and hillside vineyards. Near the paintings two padded divans offered places to sit and look at the artwork. The dark wood of the divans contrasted with a golden colored hardwood floor. A second fireplace occupied the middle of the east wall. Like the one by the west entrance it was empty, since on a summer evening the dining hall needed no fires. A servant boy was arranging candle-stands around the room. Each stand held eight tall tapers; the hall would still be well lighted when daylight faded. Two other servants stood near a door at the east end of the south wall; undoubtedly, Milo thought, that way led to the kitchen.
The window wall had already attracted Eádulf and Avery’s attention. Milo joined them and looked at Ody Dans’s magnificent view. Outside the windows a balcony paralleled the dining hall; a parapet guarded against the precipitous drop to River Betlicéa far below. From Stonebridge the river ran to their left, to the northwest, and then curved north through an impassable canyon so that the river was lost from view. High on that side, the beautiful arch of the Betlicéa Bridge spanned the river. Travelers crossing the bridge would be able to look down on Ody Dans’s balcony. I wonder if Master Ody resents sharing his view of the falls with passersby. To their right, the east end of the balcony curved out, making a deck where three chairs provided comfort for Ody Dans or anyone else privileged to watch the waterfall. Of course, Dans’s perch is closer and lower than the high bridge. Maybe he doesn’t mind strangers looking on so long as he knows he has the best seat at the show. And it is spectacular; the evening light plays tricks with the water.
While the visitors were taking in the waterfall’s glory, someone suddenly appeared on the deck: Derian Chapman. Derian rushed past the chairs as if he thought someone were about to fall from the parapet—or as if he intended to throw himself into the river. Eádulf exclaimed: “Gods! No!”
Derian had not come through the dining hall; rather he reached the balcony from some room east of it. A door to the left of the window opened onto the balcony; Milo almost started for this door, but two things stopped him. Out on the landing, Derian slid to his knees by the parapet rather than throwing himself over it. He clutched the railing with both hands, as if he were praying to some god of the waterfall. And at the same time Ody Dans bustled into the room from a door beside the east fireplace, entering, no doubt, from the same room from which Derian accessed the deck. Milo thought: And what did uncle Ody say that so upset Derian?
“Ah! You’re already here!” Ody Dans exuded bland cheerfulness. “And the others are coming too!” People were entering the dining hall behind them, through the same door by which Milo, Avery and Eádulf had entered. Milo touched Eádulf’s shoulder, turning him from the scene on the landing. No reason to point everyone’s attention to Derian.
“Ada! Lovely as ever. And the old goat!” Ody Dans bowed to a middle-aged woman and clasped arms around her gray-haired companion. Behind these two followed a young man, close to Milo’s age, and obviously the couple’s son; he shared the man’s thin nose and high forehead and the woman’s deep-set hazel eyes. All three were dressed in fine clothes: blues and grays, and the woman wore a necklace of silver. The son wore a light blue dagged-edged cape, embroidered in red, over his darker blue tunic. Behind this family came three others: a man who appeared to be the friend of the rich couple’s son and a fresh faced couple holding hands, both black-haired and strikingly good-looking.
In a few minutes Ody Dans had his guests sorted and seated at table. The “old goat” was Frideric Bardolf, who had a long history of successful business in Stonebridge, often using money borrowed from Ody Dans. Ada Bardolf, Frideric’s wife, sat on Dans’s left, between the host and her husband. Their son, Richart, sat on Master Bardolf’s left, and his friend, Reynald Henriet, was next to him. Reynald had long fingers and pale yellow hair, which looked almost white against his dark green tunic. He seemed almost delicate next to the sturdier Richart. On the other side of the table, Milo was seated at Dans’s right, with Avery Doin next, and the young couple, Adelgar and Tilde Gyricson, on Avery’s right. During the greeting and seating, Inga had appeared and led Eádulf away to eat in the kitchen with the servants.
The servants at the kitchen door were ready to begin, but Ody Dans sat with templed hands, elbows on the table, waiting. An empty place setting remained at the opposite end of the table. At last the door on the east wall opened, and Derian Chapman came in. He walked stiffly, as if his knees were hurting from kneeling on the deck. His eyes flitted from the glass wall to the floor, not acknowledging anyone at the table. When he finally stood by the empty chair Derian raised his eyes to his uncle at the table’s head. He tugged on his ear and made a hesitant gesture toward the plate and cup before him.
“Please sit, Derian,” said Ody Dans. “You belong here.” The nephew acknowledged his uncle’s invitation with a slight bow before seating himself.
Aisly passed along the table, dispensing a loaf of black bread for each pair of diners. Inga and Eda followed, serving roast chicken and rice in a spicy sauce. The servers started with Master Dans and worked their way toward the foot of the table. Inga also served a yellowish wine that sparkled in crystal goblets.
Frideric Bardolf sliced his loaf into two. Handing half to his wife, he leaned over her lap toward Ody Dans. “And why would Derian doubt his place at your table?” His voice was light, but quiet, as if there were a joke to be shared only with the host. It was the very thing Milo wanted to ask.
Ody Dans spread butter on a bit of bread. “I had to explain some matters of business to my nephew today.” Dans spoke loudly enough for all to hear. “He undertook a job for me, and he succeeded.” The uncle nodded to his nephew at the foot of the table. “But he foolishly endangered the whole project by not guarding his tongue—and that after I had warned him of the necessity of discretion. In fact, I learned today that Derian’s success must be attributed, to a large degree, to Sir Milo Mortane, who sits to my right.”
“How interesting,” said Ada Bardolf. “And what was this project? Or is it still secret?”
The host was chewing bread, and he took another bite, leaving the question in the air. Milo thought: Ody Dans is a showman. He wants every ear and eye on him. He doesn’t resent passersby on the bridge at all; he wants their envy.
“I was the project,” said Avery Doin.
Tilde Gyricson swiveled her head to look at the young man beside her. “I don’t understand.”
“It’s a bit complicated.” Avery smiled ruefully. “My father, Aethelred Doin, is a cloth merchant in Down’s End. Quite successful, really. He sells fine wools, linens, and silks to the lords and ladies of castles all over Tarquint—and to clients in the free cities, including some of Stonebridge’s richest citizens.
“And so, as you might expect, I have the reputation of being the spoiled son of rich man, a dandy, a good-for-nothing, a mere clotheshorse. Of course, some people might think this of me whether I deserved it or not. Such people do not understand the importance of a clotheshorse. My father can whisper to some fine lady—while we are visiting a castle and I have been dancing with the lady and she can remember the feel of my tunic—imagine wearing a kirtle of the same fabric. I don’t want to be immodest, but when he says that, they can hardly keep their eyes off me.”
Everyone laughed. Ada Bardolf said, “But you haven’t yet said what Ody’s project was or what role you played in it.”
Avery inclined his head and held up a finger. “I was coming to that. There is a certain banker in Down’s End, who remains nameless in this account.”
“To hell with that,” said Ody Dans cheerfully. “His name is Eulard Barnet.”
Again Avery dipped his head. “As you wish. I had something of a disagreement with the daughter of Master Eulard. This daughter—I do not wish to offend, Lady Ada, but she actually shares your name—Ada Barnet is perhaps a year or two older than me. One night, when we had been drinking a bit more than we should, Ada declared to me that she owned a gown of finer quality than any tunic in my closet. I disagreed. We made a wager to be decided in the following way: we went home, dressed in our favorite clothes, and met at the home of a friend of ours, who is famous for parties that last all night. Many of our friends were there, dancing and playing charades. We demanded of the people at the party that they judge between Ada’s gown and my tunic. Naturally, my tunic won the vote easily. And then, in accord with our wager, Ada removed her gown, much to the delight of the men present, and gave it to me.
“Unfortunately, there was one young man present that night who did not appreciate seeing Ada lose her dress. Hue Barnet, her brother, immediately challenged me to a duel. He was drunk. I pushed him away; some say I struck him. He fell and hit his head on a chair. He died two days later.”
Around the table, smiles turned to dismay. “How terrible!” said Tilde Gyricson.
Avery shrugged. “One less fool in the world. Hue Barnet really was a ne’er do well. His sister despised him. But his father, Eulard, wanted my head in a noose. And there were some at the party who would say I struck Hue after I had used some unpleasant words to describe his father and mother. I don’t remember saying such things, but as testimony in a trial, such words are dangerous.
“To bring this long story to its end: my father, who has done business with Master Ody Dans before, contacted him and asked for help. Six days ago, I was tucked very neatly into a secret compartment of a wool wagon. Only Derian and the driver knew about me. And now I’m here.”
“Welcome to Stonebridge, then,” said Frideric Bardolf. He held up a wine glass. “May your sojourn in our city be pleasant.” Others joined in the salute; Milo carefully took only a sip.
“Please explain the part played by Milo Mortane,” said Lady Bardolf.
Avery did not answer this request. Instead his gaze turned first to Derian Chapman at the foot of the table, then to Ody Dans at the head. Dans did not speak, but raised his white eyebrows and stared at his nephew.
Derian took a deep breath. “As Uncle Ody said, I was not as careful about Avery’s situation as I should have been. I said nothing, of course, about the escapee in Win Modig’s wagon. But I spoke too freely of my concerns about highwaymen. I asked Sheriff Rage Hildebeorht for an escort, but he said my guard—I had hired a Stonebridge man named Dreng Tredan—would be sufficient to protect a load of wool. Well . . . I was concerned for my passenger, not the wool, but I couldn’t tell anyone. Unfortunately, clever people correctly interpreted my over-concern for my wool as marking a secret. Fortunately for Avery and me, Milo Mortane was one of them.
“Trouble caught up with us on the road. As soon as Avery went missing, Eulard Barnet sent men searching for him, and he may have guessed our method of escape. One of these men hired local boys to attack us at River House. The boys went after our horses, while Eulard Barnet’s man shot fire arrows at the wagons. Things might have gone ill indeed, but Milo rode the archer down and killed him in the night.”
Reynald Henriet clapped his hands. “Well done, Sir Milo!”
“Indeed,” said Ody Dans. He held up his wine glass. “We owe you thanks. Perhaps this sup will be a start of repayment.”
45. At Sup in The Spray
Course followed course: roasted chicken and rice, cabbage and onion with spices, a plum-raisin pudding, a hard yellow cheese, and a white cheese so soft it spread like butter. Aisly returned with wine repeatedly, but Milo drank very conservatively. The soldier at the entrance—whose name slipped Milo’s memory, which bothered him—had hinted that Ody Dans had invited his guests for some purpose. Milo wanted to keep his wits and attend to the host and his friends. The door to my future opens tonight.
The evening light faded outdoors. Scores of tapers on candle stands reflected off the glass windows of the north wall. The wood floor glowed golden in the yellow light.
Conversation topics flowed like water in a river, eddying now and then on a particularly juicy bit of gossip or Stonebridge political intrigue, but always moving on. Milo did his best to pay attention. Frideric Bardolf and Ody Dans seemed to know every merchant and guild master in Stonebridge and most of the farmers, vintners, foresters, and silver miners within a hundred miles. Repeatedly, Ada Bardolf reproved her husband and host for talking “custom” and tried to draw Avery Doin or Milo into conversation with her son, Richart, and his friend, Reynald Henriet. Milo played modesty when Lady Bardolf engaged him, turning aside questions about Hyacintho Flumen and his family. Twice he tried to turn the conversation to Adelgar and Tilde Gyricson, asking about their families and backgrounds, but both times Ody Dans intervened in his bland, cheerful voice to talk about something else. For his part, Adelgar rarely said anything, though Tilde laughed freely whenever anyone made a joke. The wine had brought a rose hue to her cheeks, which accentuated her flawless face, Milo thought. Light from the candles threw gold flecks in her black hair.
As the night darkened outside, turning the window wall into mirrors, the mood of Adelgar seemed to darken as well. At the end of sup, Inga brought round a tray of honey wafers; Adelgar alone didn’t partake. Milo looked round the table at each guest and saw Ody Dans’s gaze on Adelgar: It’s about Adelgar somehow. Careful, Milo. Keep your wits.
Frideric Bardolf pushed his chair back, leaned toward his wife, and kissed her cheek. “The old goat needs to go home.”
“You’re right, of course,” said Ada Bardolf. “I suppose we shall be safe if Reynald and Richart escort us.”
“Please, not just yet,” said the host. “I have a little problem, and Richart and Reynald may be able to help me with it.”
“Please explain.” Frideric Bardolf leaned back to share a glance with Ody Dans behind Ada’s silver hair. The host smiled briefly at Bardolf, and then leaned forward on his elbows. He held his empty wine glass before him, peering at it as if it were a divining rod.
Without moving his eyes from the wine glass, Dans said, “Adelgar Gyricson owes me money.” Dans’s flat, inflectionless tone sucked all humor from the party. The other guests turned suddenly somber faces to Adelgar, but Milo watched Ody Dans. The host’s countenance gave no clue as to the mind behind it; a pink face, bordered with white beard and wispy white hair, expressionless as snowfall.
“Gar . . .?” Tilde Gyricson’s voice sounded an octave higher. Her husband did not look at her; he was bent over his plate as if it were the oracle of the gods.
“Last winter Adelgar Gyricson borrowed two thousand golds from me.” Dans continued in a deadpan voice, but Frideric Bardolf’s eyebrows shot up.
“Two days ago he repaid me eighteen hundred golds, when I expected twenty-two hundred. Of course, he promised to repay the rest if I wait. But he cannot tell me how long I must wait.” Ody Dans still deadpanned, as if his words meant nothing. But Milo heard several sharp intakes of breath around the table, and Reynald Henriet quietly exclaimed, “Gods!”
Ada Bardolf asked quietly, “What happened, Adelgar?”
The handsome young man looked up, hearing sympathy in Lady Ada’s tone. “A friend of mine told me the houses of Down’s End are built of pine and fir; they obtain their lumber from the forests between the lakes. But there are rich men in the city of the downs—guild masters, aldermen, bankers, and cloth merchants. They would pay handsomely for hardwood like the ash, maple, and oak that grow in the forests of Stonebridge. Or so my friend predicted.”
Adelgar looked across the table at Richart Bardolf, who said, “And I spoke true!
“You told me just yesterday you sold oak lumber in Down’s End for double its Stonebridge price.”
Adelgar’s mouth twisted. “Aye. But that was the best of the lot.” A single tear squeezed out of the corner of his eye, and he stared once again at his plate. “I had to rent wagons. I had to hire guards against highwaymen. I had to rent a warehouse in Down’s End. More expenses than I anticipated. Still, at first, it was easy. The great men of the downs bought eagerly and paid well for the best lumber. But then I was left with the poorer wood, and no buyers. In the end, to avoid paying more warehouse rent, I had to sell the remainder at a bad price.”
“Tell the rest.” Ody Dans’s tone might have been a gentle nudge, but Milo heard steel in the command. “Tell the numbers.”
“I spent sixteen hundred golds for Stonebridge hardwoods and sold my goods for thirty-two hundred in Down’s End, all in five months. Doubled my money! But my profit was whittled away by expenses—the guards, the wagons, and warehouse. Expenses of fourteen hundred, leaving me with eighteen hundred, which is what I paid Master Dans.”
“But Gar,” said Tilde. “What about the remaining stake, the four hundred? If you borrowed two thousand and only spent sixteen . . .”
“I married the most beautiful woman in Tarquint and moved her to a new house in Stonebridge.” Now Gyricson’s tears were flowing freely. “I was so sure my plan would work, so damn sure.”
“And it did work!” Tilde pivoted her attention from her husband to Ody Dans, the pitch of her voice returning to normal. “Master Dans! Lend Adelgar more money! He—we—know the business now. Even with all his expenses, he made a profit the first time; we’ll do better this time around and be able to repay you completely.”
Dans made a little ceremony of standing his wine goblet on the table. Milo thought: He loves the attention. The master fixed his watery gaze on Tilde Gyricson. “I will not lend your husband any money until his debt is paid. But I notice you say ‘we.’ Are you willing to help your husband clear his debt?”
“Ah! Young love! Adelgar predicted you would be willing to help. Forgive me, but I was not so sure.”
“What must we do?”
Ody Dans smiled, a slight turn of the lips, which in many faces would have indicated kindness. “Adelgar must do nothing—except watch. You must pay his debt. Entertain two men—Richart Bardolf, and his friend Reynald or perhaps Sir Milo. Ada might be jealous if Frideric volunteered.”
Confusion clouded the young woman’s face. “What?”
Dans motioned with his hand. “One of the divans will do. I want you to bed two of my guests. The price is one hundred golds for each. In a matter of minutes you will discharge your husband’s debt. I assure you, it’s far better pay than the women get in Madame Strong’s alehouse.”
The wine flush drained from Tilde’s face. “Gar?” The single syllable pled for some escape from the madness of Dans’s words. But her husband only wept onto his cold food.
“Gar? Did you know about this?”
“It’s the only way, Tilde.” He looked at his wife. “Sometimes Master Dans’s guests fall into the river. If I were to die, you would still owe two hundred golds. What could you do except become a whore? But tonight: two men—and we are free.”
Milo watched Ody Dans rather than Adelgar and Tilde. The master’s stubby fingers trembled on the tabletop. Dans’s mouth was slightly open, and he licked his lips excitedly.
“You can’t mean it.” Tilde could barely pronounce the words. Her voice sounded like the creaking of a branch in the wind.
“It’s the only way.” Adelgar tried to touch her face, but Tilde slapped his hand away. On the table beside Milo, the fingers on Ody Dans’s hand were wiggling like eels.
The young wife turned to Ody Dans. “I won’t play the whore in front of these people!”
“Well, there is another option,” said Ody Dans. “You might stay here, in The Spray, for two weeks, as my very personal guest. If it’s privacy you want.”
Now the host smiled broadly. “Oh, well. Young love isn’t all the poets say, I suppose.” He passed his hand by his ear and two men came from the kitchen door at a trot. They had short swords, unsheathed. Young Gyricson scrambled from his chair, but he had only enough time to fall to his knees.
“Tilde, please!” The soldiers seized Adelgar and pulled his head back.
“Stop!” Two voices—Ody Dans and Tilde Gyricson spoke at the same time.
“I don’t want a bloody floor,” said Dans. “The river.” The men jerked Adelgar to his feet and began dragging him.
“No! Stop! I’ll do it.” Adelgar stopped struggling. Tilde stood to face Ody Dans. “I’ll stay. Two weeks.”
Dans motioned and the swordsmen released Adelgar, who fell like a sack. The soldiers backed to the kitchen door and disappeared at a nod from the master.
The others sat frozen, watching Tilde as her husband crawled toward her. Adelgar looked up, his eyes begging for something—understanding? Pardon? Milo heard Ody Dans beside him, breathing in short gasps. Milo looked at him. The eyes were completely focused on Tilde and her husband, the round face flushed. Silently, the woman turned stepped around Adelgar and walked toward Dans. Ignoring Milo, who sat only inches away, she knelt beside the host. Dans extended his pink right hand and she kissed it.
“Ah! So sweet!” Ody Dans smiled beatifically at the other guests. “That’s just marvelous! The power of young love!” He motioned for Tilde to rise. “Adelgar Gyricson, get out of my house. When the debt is paid I’ll send your loving wife home to you.”
Adelgar Gyricson was already on his feet, his hand reaching out. “Tilde, I’m so sorry . . .” She did not acknowledge him.
Wordlessly, the three Bardolfs and Reynald Henriet bowed to Master Dans and walked to the door. Derian Chapman and Avery Doin also rose without speaking; one on each side, they ushered Adelgar from the room. “The only way, the only way,” he murmured. Tilde never looked at him.
Ody Dans gave a great sigh, slumping back in his chair. Milo rose, slipped around the statue woman still standing next to his chair, and hurried out the door.
46. At Castle Inter Lucus
Isen had agreed to return after three days if no boat would take him to Down’s End. Four days now—Marty allowed himself to hope that Isen’s absence meant he had crossed the lake. He didn’t want to imagine the various ways the glassmaker’s assignment might have gone wrong.
Friday morning, a week after the first council, the councilors returned: Caadde Bycwine and Syg Alymar (for Inter Lucus), and Cnud Thorson (for Senerham). Eadmar Eoforwine had to repair a fence and capture a milk cow that had escaped, so Cnud Thorson brought the Senerham blacksmith, Elne Penrict, to take Eoforwine’s place. Penrict bore with him a gift for the lord of Inter Lucus: a razor, a three-inch piece of sharpened steel fastened by a pivot-pin to a wooden handle. When closed, the blade folded safely into a slot in the wood. With the razor came a short leather strop, and the blacksmith demonstrated how to sharpen the blade. Marty thanked Penrict sincerely.
For Marty, Ora, and Caelin, the day had begun before the councilors arrived. Marty assigned Ora “gate duty” under the oaks southwest of the great hall; villagers almost always approached Inter Lucus on the path there. Caelin was in the kitchen, preparing eggs, trout and hash browns for Marty and his councilors. As was his habit, Marty rose early and inspected some part of the castle, expecting and usually noticing some new feature. The roof above the first floor had grown from a tracery of filaments to a nearly continuous covering. As with the floors below ground, the ceilings were absurdly high, about sixteen feet tall. And in the great hall, the “ceiling” turned out to be a balcony or gallery surrounding the space below; the middle section was still open to the sky. The true roof, when it came, would be higher still.
The exterior walls kept climbing. The east and west wings of the castle’s T—where the first floor ceiling was virtually complete—were obviously meant to have a second story above the first, perhaps a third. By the speed of its growth, Marty thought, the east wing might be taller than the west—how high would it go?
On this day, lights came on in the west wing for the first time. Marty had been expecting this development. With the gaps in the west wing closing, its interior space had become dim indeed, even at mid-day. And so far, unlike the east wing, the west wing had no windows. The new light came from strips in the ceiling that Marty took to be an alien version of fiber optics. It looks like a big empty warehouse, or a machine shop, except there are no tools (that I recognize) and no power outlets. Will Inter Lucus tell me, somehow, how to use this space?
Waiting in the shade of the oaks, Ora smiled to herself. It seemed that every day her Lord Martin did something to surprise her. The evening before, cousin Caelin had casually said something about Ora serving breakfast to the councilors. Lord Martin asked Caelin sharply, “Why Ora? You know your way around the kitchen as well as she does, or better.” And that’s true. Ora had felt embarrassed when the lord said it out loud. A woman should be able to prepare meals and make clothes. But apparently Lord Martin did not think this. He considers it proper for me to welcome guests while Caelin prepares food. He said as much: “Each person should do most often the things he or she can do well.”
Ora pondered the lord’s wisdom. What things can I do well? I can run fast, faster than Aethulwulf. I can fish with a net. I can guide the ripsaw on a straight line. I can calm a baby when he’s crying. I’m not very good at sewing clothes or cooking food, but if need be I can do those things. Are there other tasks I should try? Other skills I might discover? Lord Martin bade me to welcome guests—perhaps that is something I can do well.
Besides the councilors, on this day only two visitors presented themselves, a man who said his name was Rothulf Saeric with a boy about ten years old, Alf Saeric. Ora had never seen them before; Rothulf said they hailed from the Blue River country far south of Senerham, though recently they had been living in Down’s End. Ora explained that Lord Martin’s council might last all morning, but after that Rothulf and Alf could see him. They would be content to wait, Rothulf said. When the councilors from village Inter Lucus came up the path, Rothulf asked if these men were servants of Lord Martin. Ora explained that only three persons had entered the lord’s direct service—but the villagers had pledged him liege. Ora introduced Rothulf and Alf to Caadde Bycwine and Syg Alymar. Cnud Thorson and Elne Penrict had arrived earlier and were already inside the great hall. If the Saerics waited under the oaks, Ora told them, she would bring the Lord Martin as soon as the council meeting ended. Then Ora, Caadde, and Syg entered Inter Lucus.
The councilors gathered around a trestle table, delivered by Everwin Idan and his father, Osulf Idan, two days before. The Idans built it out of extra lumber stored in Everwin’s barn, they said. It was merely a small gift, they said; they had no particular use for the wood. But after they had left, Caelin told Marty that in fact the Idans were poor farmers who probably bartered to obtain the lumber. Marty wished yet again for paper. He did not want to forget which families between the lakes went out of their way to help him.
Marty and Caelin positioned the table near the ceramic blocks they had been using for chairs. Squeezed in, five could sit; two would have to stand. “Just as well,” said Caelin. “Makes it easier to fetch more food.” Elne Penrict volunteered to help Caelin carry platters of food from the kitchen, the better to see more of the castle. But Ora told him to sit down. “Your task is to advise Lord Martin, not explore the castle. My cousin and I will serve.”
When all was ready, Marty said, “Ora and Caelin tell me that some folk between the lakes give thanks to the gods before eating. You have freedom to follow the practices with which you are comfortable.”
For a moment, the four men only looked at each other. Caadde Bycwine said, “Caelin may have told you that some in my family worship the old god. I myself do not care much about the gods, old or new. But here, we are your guests. We will be pleased to honor the castle gods.”
Marty rubbed the stubble of his beard. He looked forward to using Elne’s gift. “I do not worship the castle gods.”
The councilors’ faces registered a mixture of surprise and curiosity. Cnud Thorson asked, “Why did Lord Martin not tell us this a week ago?”
“Last week I needed to find out about the castle gods. I knew almost nothing about them, except that they built Inter Lucus and the other castles of Two Moons. I still know very little about them, but I know that I do not worship them. In fact, though I am not sure, the God I worship may be the one you people call the old god.”
Now their faces registered outright shock, as Caelin had predicted. Marty toyed with his new razor, spinning it on one of the planks of the tabletop, careful to keep the blade safely closed. He waited.
Finally Caadde Bycwine spoke. “Caelin knows the old tales better than I, but in every story I’ve heard, the castle lords worshiped castle gods. Surely he told you this.”
“Aye. He did. But I do not worship the castle gods, and I will not require guests of Inter Lucus to acknowledge them. So, if you do not object, we will begin our meeting with thanks to the old god.”
All present nodded their acquiescence.
Marty bowed his head. “Eternal Father, thank you for these guests and the meal before us. By your grace, grant that we consider well our decisions today, that the people between the lakes may dwell in peace. I pray in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.”
Ora and Caelin repeated, “Amen.” The councilors mimicked them: “Amen.”
Caelin immediately began eating. The guests looked questioningly at Marty and, at his nod, followed Caelin’s example. The councilors had all walked between three and five miles before the meeting, and they ate with real hunger. Before long, Caelin and Ora took empty platters downstairs to refill them. After that, they brought cups and a large steaming pitcher, which the men eyed with curiosity.
“I’m afraid we have no beer to offer,” Marty said. “Caelin tells me you might prefer that. What we’ve got is tea, made from rose hips growing near the castle. It would taste better with honey, but as yet we have none.” Everyone tried the tea, but no one showed much enthusiasm for it.
Syg Alymar set his cup down. “My lord, you say the old god may be your god, but you are not sure. Can you tell us why?”
Marty handed his pocket testament to Cnud Thorson, who sat closest to him. “Let everyone see it.” The black faux-leather cover was embossed with a gold cross. “Do you recognize that? Last week, after our council meeting, a man from Down’s End told me it is the sign of the old god.”
“Aye. That much even I know.” Cnud Thorson ran his finger over the book’s cover, opened it, looked closely and gaped. “What magic makes these marks?”
“It is not magic at all,” Marty answered. “The book was made by people using machines—on my world, the world from which I came. People have not yet made such machines here on Two Moons, but on Earth such books are common.”
Elne Penrict wrinkled his forehead. “It is the sign of the old god. And people worship this god on your world?”
“Many of them do. Not all.”
“Then your world is home of the old god?”
“Maybe. But on Earth, people believe that God is god of all the worlds.”
Caadde broke in: “What is Earth? Does Earth mean eorþ?”
Marty pursed his lips. “I think so. Eorþ is the dirt, and earth also means dirt. But Earth is also the name for our world—or one of the names. There are many tongues on my world, and each has its own name for Earth.” Marty had wondered if he should say the next part. “I think, though, I am not sure, that the castle gods brought the first people of Two Moons from Earth.
The councilors’ faces shown confusion and skepticism. “But this world is eorþ,” said Syg. “Why would your world have the same name as ours?”
Caelin had a partial answer: “All people on all worlds will call their world eorþ, or whatever word they use for the stuff under our feet.” Syg and the other considered this for a moment. Before they could object, Marty added something else.
“Earth, my Earth, has only one moon. That is why, I believe, your people have always called this world ‘Two Moons.’ Think about it. No one on Earth has ever called our world ‘One Moon.’ When the gods brought your ancestors to this world, the great difference they immediately noticed became the name for their new world. They called it Two Moons.”
Cnud swung his head slowly from side to side. “People will not believe such a tale.”
Marty smiled. “You are right. Remember, I’m not sure I believe all of it. The important things are these: I am here, I am the lord of Inter Lucus, and I have the book of God (who may be the old god). I want to meet a priest of the old god to test my ideas. In the meantime, you need not tell everyone all that I tell you. We don’t want people to think I am mad.”
Elne Penrict said, “Nothing else matters except that you are the lord, that you control the castle. You must convince the folk that you are lord.”
“Look around you!” exclaimed Ora. “If Lord Martin is not lord, why is the castle healing?”
Elne nodded. “I’m sure you’re right, girl. But not everyone between the lakes has come to the castle or wants to come to the castle.”
Marty grinned. “And that’s why we’re going to throw them a party.”
47. At Castle Inter Lucus
“Lord Martin! Isen has returned!” Caelin’s shout reached the kitchen from the great hall. Marty, who had just finished shaving, folded his razor into its handle and left it on the countertop. He took the stairs two at a time. A full week had passed since he and Ora had left Isen on the West Lake shore and three days since the second Council. Marty had tried to quell his worry about Isen, telling himself that it was too soon to expect the glassblower’s return. Nevertheless, he felt a sense of relief even as he rushed to the west door.
From the door Marty hurried to join Caelin at the welcoming “gate” under the southwest oaks. Inter Lucus originally had a real gate some fifty yards down the hill, but the artificial stone gateposts were all that remained. The spot under the oaks afforded a better view of the road from the village—and gave shelter from the sun—so Caelin and Ora took turns watching for visitors here. Caelin pointed when Marty arrived. Two men were on the road, perhaps two hundred yards away. They seemed to have stopped at the boundary of the castle grounds, where the path to Inter Lucus parted from the road.
Marty squinted. “Are you sure it’s Isen? It looks like they aren’t certain they want to approach Inter Lucus.”
Ora joined them at this point, rounding the south side of the great hall. She had been spending a lot of time in recent days pacing back and forth between the blueberries on the east edge of the castle grounds and the roses on the south edge. To his surprise, she had given no direct answer when Marty asked what she was up to. “I have an idea” was all she would say.
“It is certainly Isen, my lord.” Ora had better eyesight than either Caelin or Marty. “I don’t know the old man, though.”
“A priest from Down’s End?” Caelin guessed. “We’ll soon know. Isen’s coming on.”
Soon even Marty could see that the man on the path was indeed Isen. But the man who might be a priest remained behind, sitting down on an old stump by the side of the road.
“Fair morning, Isen!” Marty called as the artisan came up the hill. “I am glad to see you again!”
Isen reached the shade of the oaks. “Fair morning, my lord.” He inclined his head to Marty and pushed his hair black, brushing away some sweat from his forehead. “I have had success. Priest Eadmar has come from Down’s End. He is willing to tell you about the old god, and he wants to see your book of the god.”
“Then why is he sitting at the bottom of the hill?” asked Ora.
“Priest Eadmar was strictly commanded by Guthlaf Godcild—that is the bishop of Down’s End—not to expose himself to undue danger. Eadmar has come all the way to the boundary of Inter Lucus’s grounds, but he asks that Lord Martin come speak to him there. He thinks he may be safer from demon magic where he is.”
“Demon magic?” Marty frowned. No one had used that phrase before.
“The priests say castles do magic by demon power. They say castle gods are demons—or were, before they died.”
Marty shook his head ruefully. Died? Nobody said anything about the aliens dying. “Caelin, are there stories of the castle gods dying?”
Caelin shrugged. “None that I have heard. Maybe the priests hope they died. I had heard that worshipers of the old god call the gods demons. But folk do not say that in the hearing of a castle lord, since the lords say the gods will come back some day. But the gods have not been seen for hundreds of years, so maybe they really are dead.”
Marty grimaced. What are the chances I’ll get any real information about the aliens who built this place? In the end, all the important clues are in Inter Lucus itself. “Is there any reason I shouldn’t go meet with this priest?”
Caelin spoke dispassionately. “My lord, away from your castle, you are like other men. Priests of the old god have reason to be suspicious of lords; they have often had to hide from the lords’ knights. It is possible that this Eadmar has been sent to assassinate you.”
“Lord Martin!” Isen began to object.
Caelin finished: “But it is more likely, as Isen says, that the priest only fears castle magic.”
“Well, let’s go see him, then. Ora will stay here. We shouldn’t leave the castle unattended.”
Marty used his walnut staff like a walking stick. If the priest meant him harm, the staff was the closest thing Marty had to a weapon. And somehow he felt comfortable using it. It felt right.
The priest rose from his stump-chair as Marty, Isen and Caelin approached. He had a short fringe of white hair on an otherwise weathered and bald head. Marty couldn’t tell if the man shaved or simply had no beard. He was dressed in a black cassock that reached just below his knees, a rope belt around his waist, revealing legs covered with dirt and scratches—leather sandals with no socks. The legs and forearms told of a body with almost no fat, just sinews, bones and leathery skin. The blue eyes could have been Paul Newman’s; they met Marty’s gaze unwaveringly. Marty guessed the man was Father Stephen’s age, about sixty.
“Fair morning. Welcome to Inter Lucus.” Marty paused several yards from the priest and then advanced slowly a few more steps. “My name is Martin Cedarborne; I’m very glad you’ve come.”
“I am Eadmar, God’s servant and yours.” The man inclined his head in greeting.
“Welcome indeed, priest Eadmar.” Marty, Isen and Caelin stood still in the road. “I have questions to ask about the old god, questions the folk of Inter Lucus and Senerham can’t answer. Will you come up to the castle, sup with us, and speak with me?”
“No.” The priest did not look away. Nor did he seem to have more to say.
“It’s almost noon. We have plenty to share.”
Eadmar held out his arm. “As you can see, I’m accustomed to short commons.” He smiled. “However, I would be happy to talk or eat here.”
“You suspect me of treachery,” said Marty. “Given the stories I’ve heard, it’s understandable. So—here it is.” Marty lowered himself to sit cross-legged in the road, his staff lying in the dust. “Caelin, hustle up to the kitchen and get us something to eat and drink.”
“My lord?” Caelin stopped short of objecting, but his and Isen’s faces expressed surprise.
“Get going. Priest Eadmar is hungrier than I am. Isen, sit down.”
“Yes, my lord.” Isen mimicked Marty and sat in the dirt. Caelin hesitated for a moment, and then hurried away.
The priest nodded and took his place on the stump. He looked down at Marty for a few seconds before moving to sit on the ground with the stump at his back. He inclined his head to Marty a second time.
Marty rubbed his chin, clean-shaven since the last council meeting. “Why did you come, Eadmar?”
“I would know the truth concerning strange tidings. My young friend, Isen, came to Down’s End with stories of a new lord in Inter Lucus. A new lord between the lakes, after a hundred years! Isen also says the new lord worships God, not castle demons. Such tales are almost beyond believing. But he also brought this.” Eadmar held up the page from Marty’s New Testament. “We can not read it, but it bears the mark of God.”
“You mean the cross.”
“The cross is the sign of the God I worshiped before I came to Two Moons.”
The priest’s blue eyes peered at Marty, as if trying to see into his soul. “Isen has told me this. And where did you live before Two Moons? Are you an angel of God?”
Marty laughed. “I am no angel, that is certain. On my world I was a very ordinary man. I was married, but my wife . . . died. After she died, I wanted to give myself to God, and I became a novice at a monastery. Then, in the middle of an ordinary day, as a complete surprise, I stepped from my world into Inter Lucus.”
Eadmar’s white eyebrows bunched. “I do not understand. What do you mean: ‘my world’?”
The hard part. I knew this would come up. Marty knew the common tongue word for “stars” (steorran), but conversations with Caelin had produced no word for “planet.” Either the common tongue didn’t have such a word, or Caelin didn’t know it. Marty knew that on Earth people of the ancient world had recognized the difference between stars and planets, so he had no explanation for the absence of the concept on Two Moons. How much astronomy do I have to teach?
“My world is far away, as far as the stars,” Marty said.
The priest pursed his lips. “Angels live in the heavens. But you are not an angel, you say.”
“I am not an angel. The angels serve God in the highest heaven, but also on Earth, on all the earths.”
“Earths.” Eadmar considered this a long time. “You are saying there are worlds like Two Moons among the stars, but not in highest heaven.”
“That’s right. I came from a world among the stars. I also believe that the strangers who built the castles came from another world, not Two Moons and not my Earth.”
The priest raised an eyebrow. “Strangers?”
“They called themselves gods, and you priests call them demons, but I name them strangers. Neither gods nor demons, they were creatures of another world. It is my belief that long ago the strangers brought your people from my world to Two Moons. You are men, just as I am a man. I think your ancestors came from my world, from Earth. And I think your people were already worshipers of the true God before they were brought here.”
The priest folded his arms across his chest. “The demons and their servants, the lords, know well that we have worshiped the God whose sign is the cross since the before time.”
Marty asked, “What is ‘the before time’?”
Eadmar’s eyes had drifted to the sky, but now they focused on Marty. “Before the demons built castles and forced people to worship them.”
“We agree, then,” said Marty, “that your people worshiped God before the strangers brought them to Two Moons.”
The priest corrected him: “Before the demons built castles. I am not persuaded that men came from some other world.”
Marty tried the argument he had used with his councilors. “Why is this world called ‘Two Moons,’ not just ‘Earth’?”
Eadmar smiled broadly. “Because there are . . .” But then he raised an eyebrow. A new thought had occurred to him.
Marty nodded. He sees the point. “On my world we see only one moon in the sky. When people from a world with one moon were brought to this place, they quickly noticed two moons. So they named this world Two Moons.”
Eadmar considered this argument, pursing his lips. “My friends warned me before I left Down’s End that I must be on my guard against clever deceptions. If those that you call ‘strangers’ are not demons, where are they? If they are creatures with bodies, they must die. Why do we not find their bodies?”
“I think the strangers went away.”
Eadmar shook his head. “This is the familiar lie of the lords. They demand obedience because they represent the demons they call gods. They say the ‘gods’ will return and punish those who do not obey.”
Marty sighed. “Priest Eadmar, I do not demand obedience. I only want to know what you know about Jesus.”
The old priest shut his eyes, and the color seemed to drain from his face. He doubled over as if he had been kicked. “Oh, no. Oh, no. Oh, no.” He rocked back and forth, seemingly oblivious to Isen and Marty. He spoke in a quiet, tortured voice: “How have I failed? How did you hear the name?”
48. Near Castle Inter Lucus
Marty thought the priest would be sick. The old man lurched onto his hands and knees and gagged. Then he crawled from the roadside into the shade of the pine and fir forest and curled up in a ball of misery. Marty and Isen knelt beside him there, not knowing what to say or do to comfort him. Eadmar continued to moan: “Oh, no. Oh, no.”
Marty realized he had never heard anyone on Two Moons say “Jesus,” and it was this word that had caused the priest’s distress. He leapt to a conclusion. “Eadmar, listen.” He laid his hand softly on the man’s arm. “Eadmar, no one on Two Moons has ever spoken the name to me. No one.”
Eadmar convulsed and gasped, but he turned his head. The blue eyes swam with tears and an obvious question.
Marty spoke gently. “I learned the name on my world, Eadmar. I have the book of the old God. I will show you, if you like.”
The moaning ceased, replaced by long shuddering breaths. Eadmar rolled onto his back and his eyes locked onto Marty’s, looking for something: reassurance? Hope?
“I am a man, truly, not a demon. I do not worship or serve those who built the castles. I know the name because I, too, am a servant of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”
Soundlessly, the priest’s lips formed words: “In Nomine Patris et . . .”
Marty whispered: “Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti.”
Eadmar passed out.
Caelin arrived with a mesh sack full of food—crisp carrots, day old bread, cheese, hot French fries in a covered pot—and a skin of watery wine. They used a small squeeze of the latter to revive the priest. They seated him gently by a fallen pine log and induced him to nibble on some bread.
Marty thought he would try to reassure Eadmar by interviewing Isen. “Isen, do you remember when you first saw my book?”
The young glassblower’s eyes flashed from Marty to Eadmar and back. “Aye.”
“You pointed to the sign of the old God, didn’t you?”
Eadmar was obviously following the conversation with interest. Marty continued: “Do you remember I also asked you about the words of the priest when he buried Sunniva, your sister?”
“Aye. Nomin Pater Fee Lee.” Isen looked to the priest. “Did I betray a secret?”
The priest shook his head. “No. You did nothing wrong, Isen. But you did not hear me correctly. The words . . .” Eadmar turned to Marty. “They are words of the holy language, but not the secret name. A man in the service of a castle lord could have learned them if he attended a marriage, a burial, or some other service of prayer.”
“But I have never witnessed a marriage or burial on Two Moons,” said Marty.
The color was returning to Eadmar’s cheeks. “So you say. If this is true, how do you know words of the holy language?”
“I learned them on my world, on Earth.” Marty motioned with a finger. “Don’t get the wrong idea. I know only a few phrases in Latin. If I were fluent, maybe I could understand my castle better.”
“What is ‘Latin’?”
Marty frowned. My God, they don’t know the name of their holy language. How much of it can they know? “It is the name of the holy language, the language of the castles.” He realized immediately his mistake, but the words were already spoken.
“The language of the castles?” Eadmar’s eyes bulged. He forced himself to his feet, dropping the bit of bread in his hand. “The holy language is not the tongue of demons!”
Jesus! I’ve blown it now. Marty sat still, though Caelin leapt to his feet. Eadmar means me no harm; he’s only angry. He thinks I’ve insulted God. Marty motioned for Caelin to sit.
“Eadmar, you are more correct than you know. In Inter Lucus there is clear proof that the language of the strangers is not the holy language. I have seen the writings of the strangers, and it is nothing like any human language. I cannot read the strangers’ writings at all.”
The priest began to reply, but Marty cut him off with a raised hand. “Please, Eadmar! If you will sit down, I will show you the book of God.”
“You have it here?” The priest’s face showed bewilderment. Marty nodded, and Eadmar lowered himself unsteadily to the forest floor. Marty leaned to one side so he could pull the pocket testament from his trouser pocket. Leaning forward, he reached out to place the book in trembling, weathered hands.
Eadmar held the testament in his left hand and traced the gold leaf cross on the cover. Marty thought: I should have shown him the book from the start. Personal assurances won’t overturn hundreds of years of suspicion.
The priest turned the cover and looked long at the title page. Again he traced the large print letters with his finger. He turned more pages. Holding the testament close, Eadmar tried to make words. “Fir . . .ss. . . First.” He shook his head. “Lett. . .er.” His blue eyes looked at Marty. “What language are these words? They are not the holy language. How can you claim this is God’s book?”
“Letter means epistol in the common tongue,” Marty answered.
“Aye! The common tongue has many words like the holy language. This is the book of God, translated from the holy language to the language of my people. Epistola, epistol, and letter all mean the same thing: epistol.”
Eadmar’s white eyebrows bunched. He reopened the testament: “Gos . . .”
Even with the page upside down to him, Marty could read it. “Gospel,” he said, “means Godspell in the common tongue.” He silently blessed the quirk of memory that brought that word to mind. “In the holy language it means evangelium.”
Eadmar studied the page for a minute, as if willing the strange words to make sense. Then he rifled through the testament, stopping at another place. He pointed to the word at the top of the page. “Corin . . .”
“Corinthians,” Marty said.
“Corinthios?” The priest’s eyes locked onto Marty with a new intensity.
“Aye.” Marty leaned to look at the word. “That is the letter—epistol—of First Corinthians—Corinthios.”
Eadmar handed the book to Marty. “Read to me. Read Corinthios.”
Now it was Marty’s turn to be surprised. “You want me to read First Corinthians? The whole book?”
“Aye. Please.” Eadmar motioned a request to Caelin, who passed the mesh lunch sack to him. Eadmar pulled out a carrot and took a small bite. “Please read.”
“I must translate from English to the common tongue,” Marty said. “So this will go slowly.”
Eadmar nibbled on his carrot and nodded.
Marty began: “Paul, called to be an apostle of . . . the name is here. Do you want me to say the name?”
The priest frowned. “No. It is forbidden. If the book says the name, you may say ‘the holy name’ in its place.”
“Very well. Paul, called to be an apostle of the holy name by the will of God, and our brother Sosthenes, to the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified. . .
Caelin, Isen and Eadmar lunched while Marty read—or struggled to read. Three weeks immersion in the common language, in what Marty assumed was some form of Old English, was hardly sufficient preparation to translate First Corinthians. Repeatedly he had to stop and ask his listeners for help, describing biblical concepts as well as he could. What was the word for “sanctified”? For “grace”? For “divisions”? For “fellowship”? In two laborious hours, Marty worked his way through 40 verses of text. Finally Eadmar signaled a pause.
“How much more of Corinthios is there?”
Marty flipped through the pages. “It will take all day, going as slowly as I am reading.”
“Aye. Or longer.” Eadmar rubbed his nose. “I hoped to hear some proof of your claims. But it seems I may listen all day and all night and not hear it. And since the language of your book is strange to me, I cannot read it to find proof.”
“What is the proof you wanted to hear?”
The priest shook his head. “If I were to tell, would not a clever servant of the demons tell me that he has it? If I tell you the words, will you not ‘find’ them in your book?”
“Do you believe I serve demons, Eadmar?”
The old man sighed. “I must be sure. Guthlaf Godcild commanded it. Often have the castle lords deceived us. They share the fruit of demon magic with their close servants, thus buying the loyalty of thousands of people. They clothe their knights with armor and send them to destroy the houses of prayer. So we servants of God have learned to guard ourselves against castle lords. Old tales say the lords of Inter Lucus were particularly cruel. Silent for a hundred years, we still hesitate to go near it.
“But now there are rumors of a new lord. This has never happened, that a dead castle should return to life. Is it a sign of some new deception, some new persecution? And then! My young friend, Isen, tells me he has met the new lord, and he claims to worship God. How can this be? I tell you truly: I want to believe it. When I heard the word Corinthios I hoped to hear a proof. If it is there, I have not heard it.
“You invite me to your castle. Until I am sure, I cannot come. Not yet. What can be done?”
Caelin spoke. “My lord? If I may? We should invite Priest Eadmar to stay in the village. My friend, Harry Entwine, lives on a farm on the near side of Inter Lucus. Eadmar could stay in Harry’s father’s barn and you could meet him here every day, if you like. We can bring him meals from our kitchen.”
Marty started to put his testament in his pocket, but a thought came to him. “What say you, Eadmar? Would you come and meet with me here again tomorrow?”
The priest made a face. “My bishop would tell me to find a safer place. We are too close to the castle here.”
“All right. How’s this? Caelin will take you to the Entwine farm, and tomorrow I will come there. As proof that I will come, you may have this in your keeping until then.” Marty held out the testament.
“You would let me keep the book?”
“Only for a night. It is proof that I trust you.”
Eadmar received the book and stood up. When Marty had stood, the priest bowed to him. “I want to trust you as well, Martin Cedarborne. Perhaps that day will come.”
49. On the Grounds of Inter Lucus
“People can set up tents by the blueberries and down by the roses,” said Ora. “But we ought to keep the middle open for dancing.”
Marty grinned. Ora could have been a wedding planner—on another world. He had explained his notion of a mid-summer party at the second Council meeting; Ora had seized the idea and run with it. Invite people to bring tents, she said, so they could stay the night and return home in the morning. And they should bring musical instruments; the Lord Martin would present prizes to the best player, singer, and dancer. The castle kitchen could prepare masses of fried potatoes and onions, but the announcements should ask villagers to bring sweets and meat pies. Marty had started with a mental image of something like a Fourth of July Fireworks; he was confident the Inter Lucus wall could project a light spectacle worthy of Disneyland. Ora’s plan turned the light show into the centerpiece of an enormous block party.
It was early Friday, with another Council meeting on tap. Ora and Marty were walking the bounds of Inter Lucus in the cool of the morning, waiting for the councilors to arrive. Ora obviously enjoyed describing her plans for the party, and she basked in Marty’s approval.
“Dancing? I wonder.” Marty looked at the weeds and tall grasses that covered the slope on the south side of Inter Lucus. “Who will cut down all the weeds and clear a space?”
“Castle magic can do it.” Ora continued to have greater confidence in Marty’s powers than he did.
“The castle is healing, Ora, but it is not complete. And most of the healing so far has been inside the castle, not on the grounds. I think it will be a long time before the magic reaches the trees, the berries, or the grass.”
Four days before—by coincidence, the day that Priest Eadmar had first come to Inter Lucus—the control panel had listed the Extra Arcem Micro-Aedificator as operativa. Since then Marty had begun noticing, as he expected, changes outside the castle. Beginning at the east and west doors a paved path had begun appearing in a manner similar to the growth of the castle walls. If an observer watched very patiently, he could actually see the paths lengthening. Each morning the pavement reached three or four inches further than the day before. Marty realized that the path to East Lake, overgrown by a hundred years of neglect, was almost certainly a leftover product of Inter Lucus technology.
Extra Arcem Marty took to mean “outside of the castle.” And Micro-Aedificator had to mean something like “tiny repairer.” From the beginning Intra Arcem Micro-Aedificator had been working, which explained why improvements inside Inter Lucus had begun as soon as Marty bonded with the castle. Marty speculated that Micro-Aedificator was some kind of nano-technology. On Earth, he once read, bio-engineers were trying to grow bacteria that would eat oil spills. Probably the aliens (or “strangers” as he always called them when he talked with Eadmar) had more advanced nanobots.
Ora brushed a beetle off her arm. “If many come, they will quickly cut or trample the grass to make a dancing space.” Her green eyes seemed to twinkle. “But it would be better if the guests found it already prepared by Lord Martin.”
Marty laughed aloud. “What will satisfy you, Ora? Should Inter Lucus make music as well?”
“Aye! That would be fine!” Ora bounced up to kiss Marty’s cheek. But then she turned serious. “If the villagers come—and they will come—the party must succeed. They will go home with the knowledge that you rule Inter Lucus. That is what truly matters.”
“Fair morning, Isen. Where is Lord Martin? And Ora?” Caelin carried a cup of cold tea to Isen, who was standing watch under the oaks. “I have breakfast ready. Everyone can come into the hall.”
Isen pointed. The lord of Inter Lucus and the girl who had called him to Two Moons were standing near the rose bushes, two hundred yards away. “They are planning the party, I think.”
Caelin shouted: “Ora, Lord Martin! Breakfast!” Lord Martin acknowledged the call with a wave, and he and Ora began walking toward the oaks.
“Who is that?” Isen touched Caelin’s elbow, directing his attention southwest, to the road from the village. A lone walker turned from the road onto the castle path. “It can’t be Eadmar. He stays beyond Inter Lucus’s bounds.”
Caelin shielded his eyes. “I’ve seen him before. What was his name? A week ago, the day of the Council, he came with a boy, remember?”
“How could I? A week ago I was in Down’s End.”
Caelin thumped his temple with the back of his fingers, a gesture Isen had come to recognize. It was Caelin’s way of admitting an error without saying anything. “Ah! I remember. Rothulf Saeric—that’s his name. And the boy was Alf Saeric. I think they were brothers; Rothulf is too young to be Alf’s father.”
“The boy is not with him now. Do they live in village Inter Lucus?” While Isen watched, the man noticed Lord Martin and Ora approaching and he must have recognized one of them. Rothulf Saeric waved vigorously to Ora and her master.
“Not before last Friday,” Caelin replied. “They lived in the valley of the Blue River half way to Hyacintho Flumen. The bloody flux struck their family three years ago and again last year. The brothers, the only ones left of the family, abandoned their farm. They were living as beggars in Down’s End when they heard rumor of a new lord between the lakes. They came to look for work or to beg Lord Martin’s charity.”
Lord Martin and Ora reached the oaks when the visitor did. As always, the lord greeted a guest hospitably. “Fair morning.” Lord Martin extended his hand. “Rothulf Saeric, isn’t it?”
“Aye, my lord.” Though young, the skinny man was balding and had red marks on his arms. He looked none too healthy, but in Downs’ End Isen had seen worse.
“We are about to have our breakfast,” said Lord Martin. “Please join us. I don’t believe you had the chance to come inside when you last visited.
Saeric bowed his head, seemingly awed by the invitation. “My lord need not bring us into the castle. Me and me brother is more than content to have a bit o’ food. We be glad to work for’t.”
“Where is your brother this morning?”
“In a field by the village. We been sleeping out, warm nights ’n all. Nice, really. If your cook could bring us out some food, we be glad o’ it.”
Lord Martin chuckled. “I’m afraid no one is in the kitchen right now. But Caelin can fetch you something.”
Saeric’s jaw dropped. “Naw. You four be all that lives in the castle?”
Ora interrupted. “You know that already, Master Saeric. I told you a week ago.”
“Naw.” Saeric drew out the syllable in disbelief.
“But I did. I told you that only three of us had entered Lord Martin’s service.”
The man’s black eyes moved from face to face. Something in the eyes tugged at Isen’s memory, but before he could place it the castle erupted in sound, a shriek like a ghost from the afterworld. It was a piercing high note that ran quickly higher, stopped, and repeated again and again.
Caelin, Ora and Lord Martin immediately ran for the west door of Inter Lucus. Isen took two steps after them and stopped. Rothulf Saeric was running the other way, pell-mell down the path toward the road to the village. Black eyes like a mole’s—Isen remembered then and sprinted after Saeric. At first he gained on his quarry, but Isen’s body was not built for endurance; he was too thick in the chest and shoulders. When Saeric reached the road he sped up, leaving Isen behind. The thin man looked back at Isen for a moment and raised his hand as if to wave goodbye. Thus, Saeric didn’t see the priest, who dashed from forest shade beyond to tackle him.
Ora reached the west door before Caelin and Lord Martin. Light pulsated from magic wall at the south end of the Great Hall, a dazzling display of greens, reds, and yellows exploding in concentric half-circles from a point near the floor. The painfully bright light moved in parallel with the mechanical screams of the siren. Ora shielded her eyes and saw the intruder; a boy huddled on the floor, covering his head with his arms.
Lord Martin pushed around Ora and ran to the lord’s knob. Sudden silence answered the lord’s touch on the knob. The magic wall blanked. Ora almost fell down; the instantaneous end of such overwhelming sound and light hit like a blow. After a moment or two she recovered and chased the boy. Except he didn’t run. His head was tucked under his arms and his whole body—arms, back, and head—shook like a victim of ague.
Lord Martin, Ora, and Caelin surrounded the boy. With the castle quiet, Ora heard him moaning. No words, just a terrified whimper. Lord Martin knelt by the intruder and rolled him over. Ora knelt too. She and the lord each took gentle hold on arm and pulled them away from the boy’s face. His palms were streaked red and black, the skin already pulling away from the flesh of his hands. The hands left bloody marks on the intruder’s face.
Caelin squatted by the boy’s head. “He laid his hands on the lord’s knob. When a lord has bonded with his castle, he need not fear a usurper. The castle will fight the outsider’s attempt to take control.”
Lord Martin wore a look of pity rather than anger. “This one seems to have paid a high price. Let’s get him up. Caelin, fetch some wet cloths.”
Ora and the lord supported the boy under his arms and lifted him to his feet. He had pale blond hair, almost white, and his eyes, when they fluttered open, were blue. Ora recognized him. “This is Alf Saeric, my lord. Brother of the man you greeted under the oaks.”
The boy shuffled along, supported by his captors, who seated him on one of the castle blocks where he could lean on the trestle table. Lord Martin said, “I suppose this means the brothers acted together. Rothulf took the coward’s part, engaging us outside Inter Lucus while his brother invaded the castle.”
“Where’s Isen?” Ora noticed the glass blower’s absence.
“Ran after Rothulf, I believe.”
Caelin came with wet towels. Speechless, Alf Saeric watched as Ora gently blotted his burned hands. Careful though she was, pieces of skin tore away, adhering to the cloth. “By the gods,” Ora said quietly, “how long did you touch it?”
The boy only stared at her.
Ora was gently wrapping Alf’s hands with clean cloths when Isen came through the west entrance, roughly pushing a prisoner before him. Rothulf Saeric looked even worse than he had earlier; he had been in a fight that he clearly lost. Saeric’s arms were tied behind his back. The grim satisfaction on Isen’s face told who the victor was.
Marty acknowledge Isen’s arrival. “You caught him, then.”
“No, my lord. He was faster than I. Eadmar caught him.”
“Aye, my lord. The priest had come to talk with you again. He had business to do in the forest and was just coming back to the road when the thief came by. Eadmar grabbed him. Things would have gone ill but I caught up.”
Marty grinned. “I think I can imagine what happened after that.”
Isen’s grin matched Marty’s. “I think he has more experience thieving than fighting, my lord.”
“Do we know he has experience as a thief?”
“Aye. Priest Eadmar says so. He has met Rothulf many times in Downs’ End.”
Marty swung his attention to the prisoner. “I don’t think Priest Eadmar would lie, Rothulf. Have you anything to say for yourself? Did you send your brother into my castle?”
Rothulf Saeric stood stoically in Isen’s control to this point. He looked Marty in the eye. “I did. And I would do it again. That boy be the rightful heir of Inter Lucus, as sure as Hereward Mortane raped my mother.”
50. Near Down’s End
Boyden Black rode an unremarkable gray gelding, purchased, as Archard Oshelm reminded him, for a very reasonable price in the town Hyacintho Flumen. Black recalled this fact whenever he was tempted to compare his new mount with the proud destrier he usually rode in Herminia. Big Black was a knight’s horse, and for the time being, I’m no knight. He shot a glance at the pack strapped behind Bully on the youth’s equally uninspiring steed; Eudes Ridere’s sword (not Rudolf Grandmesnil’s huge battle sword) was there, nearby but of no immediate use.
More than one voice in Hyacintho Flumen had warned Boyden Black about highwaymen on the road. A rich man like Black (for he made no secret of his desire to buy lots of Tarquint wool) probably should have two or three guards as escort—and I know just the men you need, the voice would suggest in a confidential tone. Black thanked the voices for their concern and said that he would consider their advice carefully.
In private, Black explained to Bully that Archard Oshelm was worth five hireling guards in a real fight. And he had no desire for men of Tarquint to accompany him; some of them would be intelligent enough to guess his real business. Instead, Black used a portion of the golds he would have spent on escorts to buy lodging in travelers’ inns along the way. He always asked for the cheapest room, and to Bully’s surprise Black and Oshelm slept on the floor, leaving the bed to Bully. It took the boy three nights to realize that lumpy, itchy beds were actually worse than a blanket on a solid floor. This arrangement also let Archard sleep with his feet against the door, so they less likely to be surprised by stealth at night.
The road north from Hyacintho Flumen crossed several minor streams that flowed from the hills in the west to the Blue River. This meant the travelers were regularly climbing up and down the ridges between the creeks. Bully wondered at this—why hadn’t the Tarquintians built their road in the Blue River valley? After all, the river ran from West Lake to join the sea at Hyacintho Flumen. Wouldn’t a roadway in the valley be smoother than laboring over the hills? Boyden explained: Once there had been a road along Blue River linking Inter Lucus and Hyacintho Flumen. Eighty years ago, an earthquake had toppled a stone cliff near the river and buried the road beneath an enormous rockslide. Rather than try to restore the earlier road, the Tarquintians had found a route through the hills.
Bully asked Boyden how he knew so much about Tarquint and its history. “I’ve been paying attention,” Boyden said. “You need to listen carefully to the talk after sup in common room.” Seeing Bully’s frown, Boyden went on: “And it helps that I traveled these roads twenty years ago. King Rudolf had ambitions as great as Mariel’s; even then he was sizing up Tarquint for conquest. But it took us longer than Rudolf anticipated to subdue Herminia. Tarquint remains for Mariel to conquer.”
Bully observed that General Ridere would lead Herminia’s army when it invaded Tarquint. Wouldn’t the general be the conqueror?
Boyden Black shook his head. “Generals fight battles. But it’s the king—or in this case, the queen—who conquers. Make no mistake. Queen Mariel is far more powerful than Eudes Ridere.”
They came to a village called Crossroads and stayed a night in the inn. Beowulf Fatman, son of the woman who owned Crossroads Inn, showed them to their room on the northern wing the of the inn. Bee (as folk called him) asked Bully if he had seen any bodies along the road. Less than a fortnight before, Bee said, a knight had come up the road who reported killing two highwaymen in the hills and leaving their bodies. Somehow the honest question of the stable boy brought home to Bully the dangers of the wild more than all the whispered warnings in Hyacintho Flumen. On the two day ride from Crossroads to Downs’ End Bully often scanned the horizon in all directions. He reasoned that his main hope of survival in case of an attack by bandits lay in giving early warning to Archard and Master Black. As a boy Bully had dreamed of being a great warrior, but as a young man he had enough sense to admit he probably wasn’t.
In the afternoon of the second day out from Crossroads, Master Black led Archard and Bully up a grassy hillside east of the road. They rode slowly up the lee side of a wide treeless mound; Master Black said they were entering the Great Downs. The green hill was surprisingly tall. When they reached the top they could see the road below them, curving around the west side of the hill. The horizon on that side, to the north and west, showed limitless prairie undulating over gentle rises—the downs reached beyond the limits of sight. And there was a river, the Betlicéa, flowing across their field of vision from west to east, where it emptied into West Lake. The road, once it rounded the hill, ran northeast, straight as an arrow. Where the river and road came together, on the shore of West Lake, clustered hundreds—or thousands—of buildings: the city of Downs’ End. It was an inspiring view.
And then a breeze whipped up, blowing at them from the lake below.
“By the gods! What is that?” exclaimed Bully. His eyes suddenly burned with tears; for a moment he thought he would vomit. He instinctively turned his horse away from the stench. It was the smell of a cesspit mixed with the odor of rotting animal carcasses.
Master Black pinched his nose, so he sounded like a man with a bad cold. “The tanning sheds of Downs’ End,” he said, pointing. “Much of the wealth of the Great Downs flows through Downs’ End, and thousands of sheepskins and cattle hides are rendered into sheepskin clothes, leather goods of all kinds, and even parchment. Tanneries need lots of water, so they put them by the lake. And since tanneries smell of dead bodies and animal shit, they put them south of the city. In Downs’ End the wind blows most often from the west or north.”
Bully pinched his nose shut (though it didn’t seem to help much) with one hand and with the other he guided his horse closer to Master Black’s. Perched on the brink of the hill, the travelers could see boats in West Lake by the mouth of the river. The city’s buildings were jumbled together with no apparent order. South of the city, cesspools, like little brown lakes, dotted the near shore of West Lake.
The wind shifted round to the west. The three men breathed deeply, suddenly freed of the miasmic air.
“Downs’ End is much bigger than Hyacintho Flumen.” Since they were alone on the hill, Bully thought it safe to speak freely. “Will that affect your plans, Master Black?”
Black took off his yellow hat and shielded his gaze. “Perhaps. It is a free city, larger than any city in Herminia. Stonebridge is even larger, and Cippenham is a great city as well. Such cities have the money and men to field large armies. I know how to besiege a castle and starve its lord into submission. But if the free cities ally themselves with the castle lords, our task becomes much, much harder.”
Archard cleared his throat. “My Lord Ridere—we are in private, sire, so I speak properly—would it not be impossible? How could we maintain a siege if such great cities help the castles?
Master Black smiled. “You do not know Queen Mariel as I do, Archard. She is a determined and skillful woman. She has not been idle while we have been scouting Tarquint. Pulchra Mane has begun shipping tons of new steel to smithies all over Herminia. By autumn, Herminia will have an army prepared as you have never seen.
“Nevertheless, I agree, things will be much easier if the cities do not aid the castles. So let us go talk to the citizens of Downs’ End.” With that, Black replaced his hat and led them back down the lee side of the hill.
They rented two rooms in an inn called Freeman’s House. This three-storey structure was one of two dozen prominent buildings surrounding the only large green space in Downs’ End, a burial field maintained by devotees of the old god. Boyden willingly paid the expensive rent, not for the comfort of the beds (though they were much nicer than those in the roadhouses) but for the reputation of wealth Freeman’s House helped him advertise.
Bully accompanied Boyden through three long days of spying in Downs’ End. As in Hyacintho Flumen, they started with weavers and wool merchants, establishing Boyden Black’s role as purchasing agent. But their researches continued at table with other businessmen in the Freeman’s House common room, in guildhalls, and in the home of a moneylender named Eulard Barnet. Boyden’s conversations always began with inquiries about prices, but he also elicited merchants’ feelings about taxes, political maneuvering in the city, the prospects of a prosperous year on the downs, or (conversely) the chances that foot-rot would plague herds the way it had three years before. Boyden appeared to let his conversation partners talk as they wanted, he being merely a willing listener, but with well timed questions and encouraging nods or smiles he managed to learn many interesting things.
Meanwhile, Archard moved among the laborers of Downs’ End. He talked with fishermen, vegetable grocers, candle makers, cobblers, barrel makers, weavers, bakers, prostitutes, an albino priest, and others. After sup in the common room, all three lingered to listen until most guests retired. Only then would they retreat to their rooms, where Bully stood guard by the door while Boyden and Archard discussed their findings in quiet voices.
If necessary, Boyden Black was willing to stay a week in Downs’ End. But three days’ investigation satisfied him. He explained to Archard and Bully when they rode south.
“The aldermen of Downs’ End argue over everything. The city needs more sheriffs. Who should pay? They don’t have enough sewers, and refuse runs in the streets, but the weavers’ guild says it’s unfair that they should pay to dig sewers when it’s the bakers and butchers who make most of the mess. In Downs’ End, the weavers’ guild is a very important voice; so the debate over sewers drags on. The glassmakers and metalworkers both want prime land by the river, but the fishermen say their docks were there first. Nobody trusts the bankers, the rich despise the poor, and the poor are jealous of the rich. Everyone hates the lawyers. Really, it’s all quite natural and wonderful. These people need a queen; they just don’t know it yet. More importantly, not a man in a hundred would lift a finger to help the son of Hereward Mortane.”
Archard cleared his throat. “Then we attack in the south?”
Boyden adjusted his yellow hat, pushing it back on his head. “Aye. Lord Hereward had not yet died when we left Hyacintho Flumen. When he does, young Aylwin must establish control of his castle. He’ll marry Edita the cripple, which may keep his attention for a while. And he has to decide where to keep his mistress; we may hope it will be some distance from the castle.”
Bully interrupted. “What do you mean, his ‘mistress’?”
“Bully, you didn’t notice?” Boyden chuckled. “It’s clear that the beautiful Juliana came along as part of the marriage bargain. The Toenis couldn’t afford to pay a big enough dowry, so they sweetened the compact with a second body. If Edita produces an heir, well and good. Many consorts of many lords have managed to ignore their husbands’ infidelities, so long as the mistresses keep some distance from the castle. I’m sure Edita knows how to keep silence. But what if Edita, being crippled, should die in childbirth? Juliana Ingdaughter is the great grandchild of Rocelin Toeni’s grandfather. I suppose that makes her Rocelin’s grandniece or some such relation. The point is, Juliana is of noble blood. The Toenis will not object if Juliana ends up in Edita’s place.”
Boyden happened to look sideways at Bully. The boy was crying. This so surprised him that Boyden kept silence for a long while.
The travelers rode at an easy pace in the heat of the day, stopping occasionally for the horses’ sake. They wouldn’t reach Crossroad Inn until the afternoon of the second day, so they planned to camp out the first night. As evening came on, riding became more comfortable for man and beast, so they pushed on until the midsummer light had almost completely faded. They lit no fire, but dismounted and led their horses around a copse of pines on the east side of the road. Shielded by the trees from anyone who might pass on the way from Crossroads to Downs’ End, they tethered the horses and rolled out bedding on grasses. The warm air brought the smells of wild growing things and the chirps of night insects. Bully stared up at the stars, weeping again over the unfairness of life.
“Gods protect us! What is that?” Archard had sat up on his blanket. He pointed to the east. A light shone on the horizon.
Master Black spoke through a wide yawn without looking. “First moonrise. We rode a long time; it’s late.”
Bully sat up too. “Begging your pardon, Master Black. It’s not moonrise, first or second. They’ll come up over there.” He waved his hand in the right direction. “And look. It’s gone now. Moon light doesn’t disappear.”
Master Black yawned again, but he sat up as well. All three were looking in the right direction when the light appeared again, brighter than before. It was clearly coming from the ground, not the sky.
“Gods!” exclaimed Archard. “Look at that! That’s got to be on the other side of the lake. Is there any town over there?”
Boyden whistled between his teeth. “It would take a fiendish fire to make a light that bright. But the only thing between the lakes is a dead castle and two small villages.”
The mysterious light appeared and vanished several times over the next hour. At last it did not return, and first moonrise came.
51. In Stonebridge
The morning after the dinner party, Ody Dans summoned Milo to his office. He told him to raise his right hand and swear by all gods that he would defend the laws of Stonebridge. “That makes you an under-sheriff while you are in the city and a Captain of the Guard if and when Stonebridge raises an army.” Dans treated the matter as unimportant; he never took his eyes from a contract on his desk. Not sure what to do next, Milo waited. After several seconds, Dans looked up. “What?”
“You have made me an officer of Stonebridge,” said Milo. “But I don’t know what that entails. What are my duties, and where do I perform them?”
Dans stroked his white beard. “I’m sure the sheriffs are doing whatever they need to do to protect the laws of Stonebridge. From what I’ve heard, I’d wager that means yet another pass through the Bene Quarter. In my opinion, they should burn the whole place. Too many people, too much filth, and too much laziness: that’s the Bene for you. Instead, the sheriffs will sweep through, catch a few thieves and a murderer or two, and congratulate themselves.” Ody Dans shook his head. “Almost pointless, really.”
Milo inclined his head. “Aye. But what am I to do?”
“Oh!” When Dans smiled, his face seemed cherubically innocent. “I don’t know. Ask Derian. Technically, he is also an under-sheriff. He can tell you where to find Commander Tondbert.” Dans returned his attention to the parchment on his desk. He waved Milo out of his office.
With directions from Inga, Milo found Derian Chapman sitting on his bed and suffering from the after effects of too much wine. He told Derian that Ody Dans had made him an under-sheriff.
“Congratulations.” Derian stood, shakily, and pressed fingers against his temples. He belched.
“Who is Commander Tondbert? Where do I find him?”
Derian shielded his eyes against daylight and motioned toward the window. Milo stepped across the room to pull a curtain closed. Derian held his face in his hands, rubbing his eyes. “Thanks. Gods, my head hurts.”
“You shouldn’t drink so much. Commander Tondbert?”
Derian shed his nightclothes and began searching a closet for a clean tunic. “Osred Tondbert is Commander General of the Stonebridge Guard. He constantly warns the Assembly that the Guard is too small. He’s right. But Tondbert is both cruel and incompetent, two good reasons for the Assembly to refuse his pleas for more men.”
Milo frowned. “The Assembly should remove him from office.”
Derian pulled a linen tunic over his head and grimaced at the touch of cloth on his face. “Perhaps they should. But they can’t. Tondbert has enough evidence, both witnesses and documents, to hang half the men of the Assembly. Including my dear uncle.”
Milo raised an eyebrow. Derian rubbed his eyes again. “You don’t suppose it is actually legal in Stonebridge to throw your debtors into the Betlicéa, do you? Or to force their wives to work off debts on a whore’s bed? Uncle Ody is a very rich and powerful man, and he does whatever he likes in his own house, yet even he dares not speak publicly against Osred Tondbert.”
Milo thought: The next challenge, then. Keep on your guard, Milo. “I suppose I must go meet Commander Tondbert.”
“Aye.” Derian tightened a belt around his outer tunic. “And I will accompany you. We under-sheriffs are free to leave the city on private business, but we must report in when we return. But I need a bath and some breakfast first.”
To Milo’s surprise, the Stonebridge Guard did not permit an under-sheriff the service of a squire inside the city. (When the Guard marched outside the city, this rule did not apply.) Milo told Eádulf to stay on the grounds of Ody Dans’s estate while he and Derian met with the Commander of the Guard. Eádulf assented willingly when told he might spend the day in the stables, attending to Brownie and Blackie and assisting Dans’s stable boy.
The Stonebridge Guard Citadel was a squat brick building, distinguished from most of the other large buildings in Stonebridge mostly by its drabness. The bricks were brown, but not uniformly so; the Citadel looked dirty no matter how frequently it was washed or how fiercely it might rain. Two stories tall, it looked shorter because it was so wide and long. The upper floor had windows, but they were all small and barred. Visitors climbed three very broad stone steps from the boulevard to two massive wood doors. A guard admitted them after Derian introduced Milo as a newly made under-sheriff.
They passed through an arched corridor to a courtyard in the center of the Citadel, paved with flagstones and open to the sky. Stone columns supported a roofed walk on three sides of the courtyard; the Citadel stable and armory opened off the fourth side. Milo and Derian found sixty sheriffs and under-sheriffs assembled; a red-faced fat man with huge earlobes berated them for arriving late and told them to form up. “Assistant Commander Trymian Wallis,” said Derian, quietly, so that only Milo could hear. Milo and Derian quickly lined up with the other men. Milo could hardly imagine a less military-looking man than the Assistant Commander; Wallis was reduced to panting by the slight exercise of walking around the sheriffs and under-sheriffs while shouting insults.
Presently, a very ordinary looking man—medium height, sandy hair, and a receding chin—emerged from a Citadel door and came into the courtyard. “Tondbert,” whispered Derian. Assistant Commander Wallis ceased shouting; his wheezing breath could still be heard.
“Fair morning, men!” The commander’s booming bass voice seemed incongruous, almost funny, coming from such an unimposing figure. He wore an oiled leather jerkin over his tunic. “We’ve good intelligence today, four different reports of a murder last night in the Bene. I want you all back here tonight, before dusk. We move in pairs after nightfall.” The Commander’s posture suggested that he, at least, was more a soldier than Wallis. He stood straight-backed with his feet slightly apart and his hands on his hips.
Someone from Milo’s left spoke up. “Excuse me, sir. Shouldn’t we try to catch the killer while it is day?”
“Oh, no,” said Commander Tondbert, almost laughing. He walked—strutted—back and forth while he talked. “This was a revenge killing. It’s more of the ‘Falcons’ and the ‘Hawks.’ In my opinion, the more they kill each other the better. But we’ve heard a pretty clear word that Ifing, that’s the Falcons’ chief, and Leanberth, the chief of the Hawks, will meet tonight. They want a truce, apparently. With any luck, we’ll take them both.”
Another voice asked, “Do we know the place?”
Tondbert spat. “I do. I’m sure you understand why I don’t tell you. Hm? We don’t want the birds to get an early word, now do we? Report at dusk. Dismissed!”
Derian’s hangover had been much relieved by bath and breakfast. He was almost cheerful as Assistant Commander Wallis entered Milo’s name to the roster of under-sheriffs. With this formality out of the way, they headed back to Ody Dans’s estate. As they walked, Derian noticed Milo’s unease. “Something’s bothering you, Sir Milo.”
“Aye. Commander Tondbert disdains his men. He as much as announces that he can’t trust them to keep a secret, but then he lets them disperse across the city. These brigands—Ifing and Leanberth—already know where and when they plan to meet. What they don’t know is that the sheriffs plan to take them at a certain time. But by releasing his men, Tondbert allows any one of them to spread that knowledge. It makes no sense.”
“Damn! I told you he was incompetent, but I didn’t realize how right I was.” Derian wiped his brow. “I think this will be a good night not to report for duty. Morning raids in the Bene are better anyway; most of the sots are still asleep.”
Milo seized Derian’s arm and thrust him against the wall of a building. He kneed him hard between the legs, and Derian gasped. Passersby on the street stopped to stare at the confrontation. Milo leaned in close, his muscled body forcing Derian back, the hilt of his short sword pressing against Derian’s stomach. He whispered in the young businessman’s ear. “You are an under-sheriff of Stonebridge. You will not embarrass your uncle or endanger me through cowardice. Since I left home I’ve killed three men and sent another to the gallows. Believe me, Derian, you want to be my friend.”
Milo released his hold and stepped back. Derian staggered but did not fall. His face had drained of blood.
Two women in fine clothes stood only a few feet away, their eyes wide in shock. One of them spoke in a squeak. “Master Chapman, are you all right?”
Damn my luck. They recognize him.
Derian coughed and took a deep breath. “Everything is fine, Lady Gunnara. I introduce Milo Mortane. He is a knight, and my friend.”
“Fair morning, Sir Mortane,” said the lady. She looked hastily away when Milo looked at her. She’s afraid of me.
“Fair morning, Lady Gunnara.” Something caught in Milo’s throat, and his words rasped like sandpaper. Gunnara’s companion tugged at her arm, and the women hurried away.
Milo and Derian resumed their progress toward The Spray, albeit somewhat more slowly. Derian coughed again. “I have no real experience at fighting, Sir Milo. I fear that with me at your side, you will indeed be in danger. The Falcons and Hawks inflict most of their murders on each other, but they won’t hesitate to kill sheriffs if an opportunity arises.”
“You’re coming with me tonight, Derian. Don’t try to get out of it.” Milo’s tone left no room for dissent.
“Oh, aye. I’m only saying that I hope you are not disappointed.”
The band of sheriffs and under-sheriffs that gathered in the Citadel at dusk was noticeably smaller than the morning muster. Listening to the men, Milo surmised that the Stonebridge Guard consisted of two sorts of soldiers: dilettante sons of powerful men who lived at home, supplied their own weapons, and who saw no gain in exposing themselves to the dangers of a night raid in the Bene quarter; and men from poor backgrounds for whom the Guard provided a small income and a way out of desperate straits. This latter group supplied the real strength of the Guard. They weren’t paid much, but they had free rooms in the Citadel, two meals a day, and serviceable weapons. Milo noted the raised eyebrows and sideways looks with which these men regarded Derian. They hadn’t expected any of the stay-at-home guards to turn out for the raid, certainly not Derian Chapman.
A sheriff with a long face introduced himself to Milo. “Hrodgar Wigt,” he said. “Someone said you’re a knight.”
Milo couldn’t read the man’s blank expression. “Pleased to meet you, I’m sure, Hrodgar. I’m Milo Mortane. A knight? Maybe. If you take away a knight’s horse and squire, what’s left? Just another under-sheriff in the Stonebridge Guard.”
Hrodgar Wigt pursed his lips. “Perhaps. I bet your sword’s higher quality than the blades we use.” His gray eyes flicked to Milo’s sword hilt. “And I’m told you know how to use it.”
“Who told you that?”
A bare hint of a smile. “Someone. Perhaps it was only a rumor?”
Milo shrugged. “I’ve had the training of a knight, and I’ve used my sword a few times. But tonight I’m in a strange city, in the dark. The Falcons and Hawks have me at a disadvantage.”
Hrodgar nodded. “Maybe so. Still, I would not bet against you. Good luck.”
Osred Tondbert sent 16 pairs of Guardsmen into the Bene Quarter. Each man wore a black cloak over his sword and shield. Of the 32 men, only Derian Chapman and the newest under-sheriff, Milo Mortane, carried their own swords; the others were residents of the Citadel, using standard short swords issued by the Guard. Tondbert told them the location of the expected meeting between Ifing and Leanberth only at the last moment, just before they set out. The commander seemed pleased with himself; apparently he thought that by keeping secret the target of the raid he had guaranteed its success. “As soon as you enter the Bene, take different streets,” the commander said. “We’ll come at them from three sides.”
“A cellar under Gaudy’s Tavern? Where’s Gaudy’s Tavern?” Milo whispered to Derian as they exited the Citadel.
“Backside of the Bene Quarter, hard against River Blide.” Derian shook his head while the pack of Guardsmen began jogging south from the Citadel. “Tondbert thinks he’s battling an enemy army rather than raiding a conference of cutthroats.”
Milo snorted. “It’s an idiot’s plan either way. Stay close to me.”
The Guardsmen trotted as a group for half a mile on a wide paved boulevard. At the edge of the Bene Quarter, Hrodgar Wigt raised a hand, bringing the pack to a brief halt. Wordlessly, he sent pairs of men to the right and left, indicating with gestures how far they ought to go before turning from the boulevard into the streets of the Bene. Milo and Derian came last. Wig pointed to a tiny opening between buildings only twenty yards away, whispering, “Follow Earm and me.”
The street was a narrow unpaved alley, winding between wooden buildings, most of them two or three stories tall. Little pools of mud and filth dotted the way. Hrodgar Wigt and the sheriff named Earm paid no attention to the pools or their smells, except to step quickly around them. Milo followed on their heels, his eyes struggling to see anything in the dark; rarely did the light from the first moon reach between the buildings to the ground.
They passed connecting streets, most of them just as dark as theirs. Hrodgar Wigt turned right at one junction and then left at another, moving quickly. Without Hrodgar, Milo would have quickly lost his way in the wandering streets of the Bene Quarter. After thirty minutes in the maze of alleys, they emerged onto a broader avenue where the moonlight revealed brick buildings across the way. Milo caught scent of water. The River Blide? We must be close to Gaudy’s Tavern. He looked up and down the avenue, but he didn’t see any other sheriffs.
Hrodgar pointed at one of the brick buildings. It had a wide porch that faced the avenue and wrapped around the ends of the building. Milo and Derian followed Hrodgar and Earm, hurrying quietly across the moonlit avenue to the deep darkness of the porch. There they crouched, virtually invisible in their black cloaks. At a signal from Hrodgar, Earm beetled his way toward the north end of the porch; he disappeared into blackness. Hrodgar motioned for Milo to stay put, and then he scuttled to the south end of the building. For a minute Milo and Derian were alone, long enough for fears to arise—They’ve deserted us! They’re in league with the thieves! But then Earm and Hrodgar reappeared; they signaled that there were sheriffs on the north and south ends of the building.
Earm stood up to knock, loudly, on the tavern door. Hrodgar motioned to Milo and Derian to keep quiet and stay low. Earm pounded on the door. “Open up! I need a drink!”
A candle appeared. Milo saw that the tavern had windows, high under the eaves; he hadn’t noticed them until the candlelight reflected through them. “We’re closed!” said a voice, an old woman’s voice.
“I need a drink!” Earm slurred his voice, giving an impression of one who has drunk too much already.
The door swung open, revealing a stooped woman with very long hair. “Well, come in, then . . .”
Earm leaped at the woman, knocking the candle from her hand and throwing her to the floor. Hrodgar, Milo and Derian rushed into the tavern, followed by other sheriffs and under-sheriffs who came rushing from the north and south ends of the building. Confusion reigned for some minutes, with men blundering in the dark and looking for the stairs to the cellar. Lamps were lit.
The old woman found her way to a chair by the wall and watched sheriffs ransack her public house. Milo quit the search for the cellar to watch the woman. She’s far too calm; she knew we were coming.
Finally someone called: “Over here!”
A dozen men thundered down to the cellar. They found it stocked with beer barrels and little else. The searchers came rushing back. An angry under-sheriff hauled the old woman to her feet. “Where are they?”
“I don’t know what you mean.” Milo saw a smile on her face.
The under-sheriff pulled back his hand to strike her, but noises from outside the tavern interrupted: shouts, curses, and objects thudding against the walls. The old woman was thrown aside. A flaming torch smashed through a window, spreading burning oil where it landed. Two men smothered the flames with cloaks, but more torches came flying through other windows.
They knew we were coming. Guardsmen crowded out the door only to be met by arrows. It was a trap from the beginning. Milo seized Derian, who was hurrying after some guardsmen trying to escape through the back door. “Not that way! Follow me!”
Derian followed him down to the cellar. In the confusion, Milo had kept his eyes on the old woman when she fled. The cellar was dark, but he heard a sound from beneath the stairs. At the foot of the steps Milo dropped to hands and knees and squeezed between barrels. He felt air rushing by him. It would fan the flames above, but this had to be the way out.
Derian coughed. “I can’t see.” He was still on the stairs.
“Down here! I’m not going to wait! Come on!”
Within seconds, Derian was behind him. And someone else: Hrodgar Wigt. “I hope you’ve found the way out,” he said.
They crawled in the dark.
52. In Stonebridge
The disastrous result of the Bene raid shook the political status quo in Stonebridge, but not in the way Milo would have expected. 27 sheriffs and under-sheriffs were killed at Gaudy’s Tavern. Milo, Hrodgar, and Derian escaped through a tunnel that led from the cellar to the bank of the River Blide. Of the others, only two fought their way through the horde of thugs surrounding the tavern. The loss reduced the city’s armed force by more than a third. Though it was clear that the catastrophe was attributable to Osred Tondbert’s incompetence, the Stonebridge Assembly made no move against him. In spite of the calamity, no thrill of fear touched the great houses of Stonebridge; like Ody Dans, the truly rich relied on their own armsmen and their stonewalls for security.
But lesser powers in the city were alarmed. The middle merchants and artisans, men and women who lived in apartments above their shops and who could not afford private guards—weavers, smiths, candle makers, cobblers, dyers, carpenters, butchers, and many others like them—these folk looked to sheriffs for safety. The middle people had little influence in the Assembly, but they needed an effective City Guard.
If the full truth were known, most of the residents of the Bene Quarter were also dismayed by the triumph of the Falcons. (No one could say how, but within a day the whole Bene knew, and a day later the whole city knew, that the Falcon chief Ifing Redhair had masterminded the slaughter of the sheriffs. The Hawks had nothing to do with it.) Men like Ody Dans might believe that the Bene Quarter housed none but thieves, pickpockets, and murderers; but in reality most of the city’s poor were peaceful folk who lived in terror of Falcons and Hawks. Such people might fear the City Guard, but they feared its destruction more.
To an even greater extent than the middle merchants and the poor people, the surviving residents of the Citadel despaired over Tondbert. Sheriffs and under-sheriffs could only imagine what foolish command Tondbert would give next. But they could not openly defy their commander for fear of punishment, and they had no legal power to remove him. One or two considered deserting the Guard, but that meant leaving Stonebridge for an uncertain life in the countryside. For poor men, the City Guard still provided a reasonable living—unless Tondbert’s stupidity should get them killed.
Milo Mortane knew almost nothing of the hurricane of debate raging behind closed doors in Stonebridge. The person one would expect to inform him, Derian Chapman, had disappeared. After Milo, Derian and Hrodgar had crawled through the tunnel to the riverside, they eluded the Falcon men by following the river, and then ran a mile to the safety of the Citadel. But when morning came, Derian had gone, and Milo did not find him at The Spray.
Milo and Eádulf stayed five more nights at Ody Dans’s estate. Milo saw postboys arrive at The Spray, wait a while outside Dans’s office, and then hurry away, bearing Dans’s replies to the messages he had received. Milo remembered what Derian had said about Tondbert holding damning information about members of the Assembly, and he wondered whether the Commander of the Guard had access to the letters flying between the great houses.
During these days Milo never saw Tilde Gyricson. He knew she was somewhere in The Spray, paying her husband’s debt with two weeks of service to Ody Dans. But Dans said nothing about her, and the servants behaved as if nothing had changed. Avery Doin often shared meals with Milo and Eádulf, but he hadn’t seen Tilde since the dinner party. Milo wanted to ask Derian Chapman about Tilde, but neither Ingwald Freeman nor any of Ody Dans’s other armsmen would say where Derian had gone.
In a private moment, Avery told Milo that he felt frightened by The Spray. The stone house was practically a palace, but it might also have been a prison. Dans’s armsmen politely but firmly refused to let Avery leave. Since the dinner party, Avery had no more contact with Master Dans than Milo: an occasional glimpse or nod. Master Dans spent hour after hour in his office. Milo wondered what the man did there when he wasn’t writing missives to be delivered by postboys.
Avery was imprisoned, but not Milo. He walked to the Citadel of the Guard each day, taking a different route each time so he could learn Stonebridge’s streets. None of the remaining sheriffs or under-sheriffs could say where Derian Chapman had gone. They had no interest in Chapman anyway; he was just another stay-at-home under-sheriff. The residents of the Citadel had only one matter—Tondbert—on their minds, but this was a matter they could not safely discuss. The Commander had informers in the ranks, and one could not be sure who they were. Milo read fear and uncertainty on every face. If distrust were a weapon, this “Citadel” would be the greatest fortress in the world; since it isn’t, these men might as well be ghosts.
On the sixth day after Ody Dans’s dinner party, Inga gave Milo a written note.
Sir Milo Mortane,
It has been a pleasure to have you as guest at The Spray these past days. And I am aware that you have been recovering from a rather harrowing experience in your service to Stonebridge. Nevertheless, for reasons I am not at liberty to disclose, I must ask you to vacate my house forthwith. As an under-sheriff of the city, you will undoubtedly find welcome in the Citadel of the Guard.
Eádulf was delighted to take leave of the stone mansion and quickly packed their few possessions (mostly Milo’s armor) on their horses. “Begging your pardon, sir,” he said, “I don’t think it’s healthy for the beasts to be cooped up here. Brownie and Blackie need exercise. Can we take them out o’ the city, give ’em a decent run?”
“I’m sure we will, Eádulf. Some day. For the present, though, I must seek my fortune in Stonebridge. I’m an under-sheriff of the city, which means I get a room and some meals. Beyond that, I don’t know.”
Eádulf’s face seemed sad, which irritated Milo. By the gods, Eádulf! What’s wrong with you? Surely even you can see there are more important things than horses.
The rules of the City Guard did not allow an under-sheriff to have a squire. “But,” said Commander Tondbert, winking to Eádulf, “the Citadel has a stable with plenty of room for more horses. And the stable master could use an assistant. I can offer you no pay, but as a servant to the City Guard you would be entitled to a room and meals in the Citadel. And it’s possible”—winking again—“with so many rooms available, you might find one next to Sir Milo’s.”
Given the reason for the many empty rooms, Milo despised Tondbert for his attempt at humor. But he managed to hide his displeasure behind a smile, and he and Eádulf moved into adjoining rooms.
Milo learned that the Stonebridge Guard counted 48 surviving sheriffs and under-sheriffs, including himself, after the raid in the Bene Quarter. Nineteen of these were wealthy stay-at-home men, resented and mistrusted by the Citadel men. Commander Tondbert sent letters to the stay-at-homes, urgently asking that they report daily for duty. A few of them did. Since Commander Tondbert, Assistant Commander Trymian Wallis, the cook, and the stable master spent most of their time in the Citadel, the day-to-day work of patrolling Stonebridge’s streets fell to the remaining 24 Guardsmen.
Since Milo had a horse, he was paired with a mounted sheriff, Felix Abrecan; their typical morning ride led them through the weavers’ district. Milo recognized the warehouse where Derian Chapman had brought his wagons of wool, but he saw no sign of Win Modig or Oswy Wodens. In the afternoon, they joined with two other mounted sheriffs to ride through the Bene Quarter, but only on the main avenues; they avoided the crowded warren of wooden buildings in between. A knight on horse would be too easy a target in the alleys.
Besides gaining a working knowledge of Stonebridge’s streets, merchants, and residences, Milo met all the sheriffs and under-sheriffs living in the Citadel. They regarded him with suspicion, he knew; he had joined them the day of the slaughter at Gaudy’s Tavern. Milo placed no trust in them either, and he ordered Eádulf to say as little as possible about their past. “Listen all the time, Eádulf,” he said. “Find out where a man came from and why he joined the Guard. Who does he trust, if anyone? Is there any among them I can trust? Listen; don’t talk.”
Posters went up in Stonebridge, inviting men to join the City Guard. A few desperate persons responded. One early morning, while saddling their horses, Milo and Felix Abrecan watched Trymian Wallis training three recruits in the central courtyard of the Citadel. One by one, he had the new men practice sword fighting with wooden staves against Bryce Dalston, a veteran under-sheriff. Two young recruits struggled. They weren’t strong, and they weren’t quick enough to compensate for their lack of strength. Bryce feinted, brushed aside their staves, and hit them on their padded training jerkins. Bryce’s blows carried sting; the youngsters were reduced to cowering beneath their wooden swords to protect their heads. Meanwhile, Trymian Wallis berated the recruits and ordered Bryce to hit them harder.
“Doesn’t look good, does it?” whispered Felix Abrecan. “I wouldn’t worry. Once they’ve had solid food for a while, they’ll get stronger.”
The third recruit was worse. He was an older man, about thirty. Gangly, thin, and slow; he rarely moved his stave before Bryce hit him. Milo had seen this before, at home at Hyacintho Flumen. A farmer’s son had asked Hereward Mortane to make him a soldier, but when Lord Mortane threw apples to the boy he couldn’t catch them. The man can’t see properly. He must be desperate indeed to attempt to join the Guard.
After three times knocking the man’s stave from his hand and tapping him lightly with his own, Bryce Dalston turned toward Trymian Wallis. “Some men can’t be soldiers,” he said.
“By the gods, this one can.” Wallis grabbed Dalston’s stave and waddled toward the recruit. “What’s your name, coward?”
“Geoffrey Bar, sir.” The recruit had picked up his stave.
“Defend yourself, Bar!” Trymian Wallis swung wildly, a sweeping roundhouse blow. A reasonably trained soldier would have stepped inside the stroke and spitted the attacker. But Geoffrey Bar hardly moved. The stave clouted him on the ear with Wallis’s considerable weight behind it. The recruit fell like a sack of grain dropped from a wagon.
Milo and Felix rushed to the fallen man. Bryce Dalston seized Wallis’s arm and spun him around. “Damn you! His eyes were bad! Some men can’t fight!”
The two younger recruits were staring round-eyed at the fallen man. After a moment’s inspection, Felix looked up. “He’s dead.”
Wallis shook his arm free of Dalston’s grip. “If he had bad eyes, he shouldn’t have applied to the Guard.” He pointed at the other recruits. “You there! Pay attention to what you see. We’re not playing at being soldiers here. Tomorrow you’ll train with sheriff Dalston again, and I want to see improvement.” Wallis turned to Felix and Milo, still kneeling by the dead man. “Pack him up on one of your horses; take him to the cemetery. Go through his clothes. If you find anything of value, it’s yours.”
Wallis threw Dalston’s stave to the ground and walked away, his breath rasping from the effort expended in killing a defenseless man. Milo read impotent rage in Felix’s eyes as they lifted Bar’s body onto Felix’s horse. To Milo’s surprise, Felix patted the pockets of Bar’s clothes. “What are you doing?” Milo asked.
Felix’s face was hard. “The grave diggers will take anything they find. I might as well beat them to it.” A minute later: “Nothing. Grave diggers can have his clothes if they want them.”
With a body to dispose of, Milo and Felix rode to an unfamiliar part of Stonebridge. The pauper’s burial field lay close to the place where River Blide and River Broganéa joined to make the Betlicéa. They unloaded Geoffrey Bar’s body in a small stone building. A gap-toothed woman had them lay him on a sturdy wooden table. He would be in the ground before the end of the day, she said. And without any embarrassment or hesitation she began pulling off his boots.
Riding toward the weavers’ district, Felix and Milo tried to stick to the shade of the buildings they passed; the day was already hot. A heat haze obscured the hills surrounding Stonebridge while directly overhead the summer sky was a cloudless blue dome. The city had numerous water-troughs for horses, fed by canals that brought water from the River Blide upstream. Milo and Felix stopped at one of these to let their animals drink, and they splashed the backs of their necks.
Many times, merchants and artisans of all sorts had greeted them with friendly waves. Milo remarked about this to Felix: was the City Guard really that popular?
Felix dipped a cloth in the water and rubbed the sweat from his face. “Hard to say. Most days, folk keep their minds on their own business. They want a sheriff only when somethin’ bad happens. Sometimes they fear us. But now they’re thinkin’: The Falcons might kill the whole Guard. Nobody wants to live with Falcons or Hawks runnin’ things.”
After watering the horses, their route took them across River Broganéa. On the arched bridge over the Broganéa they had to dismount and crowd against the bridge’s stone parapet to let a heavily loaded wagon pass; its wheels were enclosed by iron bands that squeaked on the timbered roadbed of the bridge. As the wagon crept past them, Milo looked briefly to the other side of the bridge. A black-haired woman was trying to pull herself up the parapet. Milo could only see the woman’s back, but her height and hair color looked familiar—leaving Blackie, he dashed across the roadway to her side.
The woman wore a black kirtle that interfered with her climb onto the stone railing. Milo caught her arm, and the head turned. It was Tilde Gyricson: the milky skin had paled from too little sun, but the perfectly shaped face was the same.
He knew instantly what she intended. The Broganéa in early summer ran swiftly enough to carry all but the strongest swimmers downstream to the falls of the Betlicéa. “Please don’t,” he said.
“Milo Mortane! Why shouldn’t I? I’ve paid Gar’s debt, so he’s a free man. Don’t ask me to go back to him.”
Milo pulled Tilde away from the parapet. “I understand. But there are other options.”
Tilde laughed bitterly. “Can you think of one? Other than Madame Strong’s house? I won’t go there either.”
Felix Abrecan had come to their side, holding reins to the horses. Passersby were pushing around them. Voices said, “Get out of the way! Don’t block the bridge!’
Felix ignored the voices, keeping a firm grip on the reins. “Who is this, Sir Milo?”
“An old friend of mine,” Milo said. “Tilde Freewoman. Tilde, this is Felix Abrecan, a sheriff of Stonebridge. You may not know it, Tilde, but I am an under-sheriff myself.”
“Fair morning, Sheriff Felix.” Tilde’s voice was blank.
“Freewoman?” Felix raised an eyebrow.
“Aye,” said Milo. “We were just discussing where a newcomer to Stonebridge, a woman, might find safe lodging. The truth is, my friend, Tilde had almost despaired of finding a place in Stonebridge. What do you think? Surely, we should help her if we can.”
Tilde met Felix’s gaze with a tremulous smile. “I would appreciate help. But I cannot pay for it—in any way.”
Felix inclined his head. “I think I know a place.”
53. At Castle Inter Lucus
Isen: “Thank you. The Lord Martin thanks you all for coming. We hope you enjoyed the party. Of course I did! I thought you danced beautifully, but I wasn’t one of the judges. Yes, you may keep them; Lord Martin wants everyone to have a token of the party.”
Ora: “In the castle, naturally. Castle lords have to sleep like everyone else! Lord Martin will come out and greet folk later this morning, if they can stay. No. He won’t be offended; he knows very well that people have a long walk today, and with young children! Fair well!”
Tired as they were, Isen and Ora wandered among the tents and campfires of the party guests exuding cheerfulness. The boy, Alf Saeric, accompanied Ora, carrying a cloth bag with bandaged hands. The bag contained polished disks of walnut wood, about the size of a thumbnail but perfectly round. Alf extended the bag to young and old alike. Since Alf kept silent, Ora spoke for him: “Yes. Please take one. Lord Martin made them. Castle magic, of course!”
Greeters and guests alike lived in a haze of euphoria from the night before. The food! The beer and wine! Neighbors and friends not seen since last fall! Music and dancing! The singing! The hilarious stories told by Baldric Forrest (who would have guessed he could be so funny?), and the even sillier stories of Viradecthis Ablendan! And that which no one could have expected: the lights!
Ora and Caelin had some small notion of what Inter Lucus might do, unlike the others. No, she thought, that’s like saying a cup of water is like East Lake. Some things are beyond imagining. A person has to see them.
A thousand people (Caelin said more) came to Lord Martin’s party. The crowd included Eadmar, the priest from Down’s End, who sat with his back against a tree just outside Inter Lucus property. Lord Martin learned later, from Caadde Bycwine, that Rothulf Saeric was present too, keeping himself mostly out of sight in the woods east of the castle. (Caadde brought three young goats to the party, wearing sturdy collars, and he tied their leads to trees. As Caadde hoped, he sold the goats before he left in the morning. But with so many folk nearby, Caadde had to watch the animals diligently, so he noticed Rothulf hiding.)
People came from village Inter Lucus, from Senerham, from the forests north of the castle, and from outlying farms. They brought tents or blankets, children, dogs, food and drink, and considerable wariness and skepticism. Lord Martin’s kindness and generosity eased their wariness; and when the singing and dancing started they gave themselves over to enjoyment. As to skepticism, when darkness fell Lord Martin entered Inter Lucus and proved to everyone’s satisfaction that he was indeed lord of the castle. All the folk between the lakes who did not come would spend the rest of the summer asking their neighbors exactly what they witnessed, because even from their farms and homes they saw something.
It started with a moonrise in the castle wall. Not a real moon, of course, but first moonrise as it would look to an eagle: clear and swift. Then came a sunrise; like the real sun, too bright to look at directly—mothers shielded their children’s eyes. In an instant, the image of the sun winked out; more than one man cried out in surprise. Bands of colored light, resembling a rainbow, appeared in the wall; and then the colors got brighter and the light projected onto the crowd, making some tents red and others green. The rainbow colors united into a single white light that narrowed and brightened and pointed here and there. (“Damn unnerving, it was,” said Alfwald Redwine more than once, about having the light point at him. But since Alfwald was one of only three people who were spotlighted, he regarded it as a badge of honor.)
The white light made a bright circle on the dense firs and pines west of the castle. Then colored dots began chasing each other in the white circle: blue, red, yellow, green. The white background light faded out, and the colored dots now chased each other with the forest as background on three sides of the castle. The colored lights disappeared, and there was a minute of dark; some folk began to think the show was over. Then five separate beams of white light sprang up into the night, like pillars of ice that melted into each other high above the tallest trees. The white pillars shaded slowly into yellow, then blue and green.
The viewers, seated on blankets or logs, were quiet at first. But as one wonder followed another, they began to applaud each new marvel. Collective “oohs” and “ahs” greeted the white pillars. When the colored dots chased each other, folk pointed them out to their neighbors. When they thought they could not be further surprised, the castle wall pictured an explosion of red and yellow dots—and a tremendous roar accompanied the light, such that many feared a bomb had been set off.
The final part of the show introduced music. It wasn’t a whole song; just four notes (or three notes, with one repeated). With the first note, a yellow rectangle of light appeared halfway up the left side of the wall. With the second note, a higher tone than the first, a red rectangle shone a bit to the right and higher in the wall. The third note repeated the first, with the yellow light reappearing, at the same height as the first note but further to the right. The fourth note was lower, and a rectangle of blue light shone near the bottom of the wall on the far right. Yellow, red, yellow, blue: the colors repeated in sequence as the notes sounded, running from left to right, over and over. The music went faster and slower; sometimes louder, sometimes quieter. The last repetition was slow, majestic, and very loud. The last long note swelled louder still, and then cut off suddenly, with the light vanishing at the same moment. The people of Inter Lucus and Senerham stood and cheered in the dark.
Sleep came quickly for a few, but very slowly for many. First and second moonrise found groups of men and women talking in quiet voices around the tents. Children sat by fathers or mothers or lay on the grass, awed into silence. No one doubted that Martin Cedarborne was lord of Inter Lucus. Life between the lakes would certainly change, they agreed; most were hopeful that it would change for the better.
People rose from their blankets in morning sunlight slanting down over the trees. For people between the lakes, this was late rising indeed. They still felt the awe and elation of the previous night, but the work of farm, forest, kitchen, and shop required their attention. They made quick breakfasts of leftover bread and meats, washing them down with the remaining beer. Isen, Ora and Alf moved among the people, thanking folk for coming and making sure everyone had a “wooden nickel.”
(Lord Martin had discovered how to use castle magic to produce the walnut disks in the west wing of Inter Lucus. He was immensely pleased with this new capability, and for some reason he laughed heartily when he called them “wooden nickels.” Ora had no idea what a nickel was, and she didn’t think Caelin or Isen knew either.)
Lord Martin came out from the castle in mid-morning. Nine tenths of the crowd had departed, but the lord graciously greeted everyone who stayed behind. More than one guest assured Lord Martin that he would bring hidgield at harvest time. They wish they had brought early gifts like Alfwald and Fridiswid Redwine or Everwin and Osulf Idan, thought Ora. Now that they have seen Martin’s power, they want to curry his favor.
By late morning, Marty had said farewell to all but one family. Though he slept several hours, he still felt drained from the efforts of the night. Experience in the weeks since he arrived on Two Moons had taught him that controlling Inter Lucus took energy, leaving him slightly tired. But he had never before commanded the castle for more than ten minutes continuously. The light show had lasted more than an hour, and when the last note ended he was exhausted. Now, with another summer day heating up, Marty welcomed the thought of a quiet afternoon.
The remaining guests were Attor Woodman and family. Attor had brought Eacnung and her children to the castle along with a wagonload of thick pine planks. Marty greeted the family with Ora at his side.
“Fair morning, Attor. And to you, Eacnung.” Marty had been introduced to the woodman’s wife the afternoon before. “Am I right to think this lumber is meant for the doors of Inter Lucus?”
“Aye, Lord Martin.” Attor inclined his head, as did Eacnung. Aethulwulf, seeing his parents acknowledge Marty, also bowed. All three looked steadily at Marty, averting their eyes from Ora. Attor said, “It’s the best of the forest: straight-grained, cured pine with no knots, the heartwood of great trees.”
“Very good. Can your horse pull the wagon up to the castle?”
Attor eyed the slope. “We’ll see. Might have to push.”
Marty touched Ora’s elbow. “I think Isen went inside. Fetch him out here. We may need a strong body.”
When Ora was out of earshot, Marty addressed Attor and Eacnung. “Attor and Eacnung, listen carefully. You treated Ora shamefully by believing your son’s lie about her. Perhaps you feel guilt. If so, you should ask Ora to forgive you; I believe she would. Perhaps you fear that I will punish you. I will not. Ora is my honorable servant. You are her family. You ought to be my friends.”
Attor said, “Aethulwulf finally told me the truth the day you came to Penrict’s smithy. I am sorry I did not believe Ora.”
“You know what to do then.”
Bley was hitched to the lumber wagon. On the steepest part of the slope, Isen, Caelin, Attor, and Aethulwulf pushed from behind while Ora gently encouraged Bley to pull harder. Marty offered to help with pushing, but Attor and Isen protested that it was not a fit task for a lord. Too spent to argue, Marty acquiesced to this judgment, and the lumber wagon mounted the hill without him. Marty followed the wagon to the castle door with Eacnung and her younger children.
The wagon came to a stop near the west door to the great hall. Marty had an idea. “Caelin, can you whip up a lunch for ten?”
“Aye, my lord. It will take but half an hour. The fridge has leftovers.”
“Make it so. I want Attor and his family to join us. Isen and Aethulwulf can unload the wagon in that much time. Meanwhile, Alf and I will take Eacnung, Rand, and Rheda inside Inter Lucus. Would you like to see the great hall, Rand?”
The boy’s eyes went round. “Aye, my lord.”
Ora asked, “What shall I do, my lord?”
Marty looked from Rand to his half-sister, his gefeadernes, as if this were an afterthought rather than the whole point. “Oh, ah. Ora. Why don’t you take Attor outside Inter Lucus, around to the east door? After all, this lumber is supposed to supply doors east and west. And you can show him where the path is growing.”
“Very well, my lord.”
Ora did not see the look between her father and Marty, nor Attor’s slight nod.
54. In Village Inter Lucus
The mid-day meal consisted of vegetable soup, slices of meat and cheese, and mugs of chilled tea. Caelin apologized for the lack of bread—Marty’s party had exhausted the castle’s supply—but the guests had no complaints. The little children, Rand and Rheda, were busy taking in the wonders of the great hall: artificial lighting, the lord’s knob and broken god’s knob, the interface wall, the high balcony on all sides of the room, and the tracery of a ceiling, much higher still, that had begun to grow in recent days. Aethulwulf and Eacnung were absorbed in a different kind of observation. Ora and Attor had spent a long time walking the short distance from west door to east, and father and daughter entered the great hall arm in arm, Ora wiping away tears.
Simple wooden chairs had been added to Inter Lucus’s seating capacity, so ten people could sit around the trestle table. Marty pointed out that the great hall had room for a dozen more tables; he would need lots more chairs as well. With a few questions, he soon had Ora and Attor discussing how much lumber and of what sort would be needed to outfit the great hall. But Marty’s real interest was not in furniture; he watched father and daughter talk animatedly, and he noted the acceptance of a changed situation on Eacnung’s face.
Marty sighed deeply, allowing himself an inward smile.
Leaving Inter Lucus, Attor, Eacnung, and the young children rode the wagon. Aethulwulf walked ahead, guiding Bley by her reins. When goodbyes were said, Marty heard even Eacnung bid “Fair afternoon” to Ora.
Guests gone, Marty granted himself the privilege of a nap, lying on a blanket in the shade of the oaks. He felt a warm glow of satisfaction over Attor and Ora’s reconciliation. Unless I’m psychotic, I really am in some sort of science fiction adventure. Psychosis or science fiction, it is joy to be an instrument of peace, even if the instrument’s role is a small one.
“Isen, you ready? We ought to go see Eadmar.” Marty had risen refreshed and collected his new walking stick. His first walnut staff had been transformed into “nickels.”
“Aye, my lord.” Isen bounded up the stairs from his room. He wore a brown tunic Marty hadn’t seen.
“New clothes, Isen?”
“Aye. Delivered by the farm wife, Viradecthis. She gave me a tunic and a belt yesterday.”
Marty rubbed his jaw. “I suppose this is yet another early payment on hidgield.”
“No, my lord.” Isen grinned. “She said that her girl, Whitney, who could not come to the party on account of needing to milk the cow, had been concerned that I had only one tunic. Whitney’s the one as caught me in their barn.”
“The farm wife says I should consider it a gift from Whitney.” Isen’s grin grew wider. “So it is a present—to me—and not hidgield.”
Except for the party day, Marty had kept a daily appointment with Eadmar, walking to the village to meet him. The priest accepted meals in Inter Lucus wherever he could find them; the widow Leola Alymar, father and son Osulf and Everwin Idan, Gisa Bistan, and Fridiswid Redwine had all shared food with Eadmar. He slept in open fields between village and castle (or on a damp night in widow Heline Entwine’s barn). Marty and Isen (on some days, Ora or Caelin) usually found Eadmar helping with minor chores at the Entwine farm. The priest would produce Marty’s New Testament from a pocket sewn inside his cassock and listen while Marty translated another passage from Earth’s English to the common tongue of Two Moons. Marty had worked his way through much of 1 Corinthians, Eadmar listening for a proof that this was indeed the book of God, never hinting what that proof might be.
“Lord Martin! Welcome. I thought perhaps you would not come today.” Eadmar rose from an upturned bucket in the afternoon shade of the Entwine barn. “I watched your castle’s display—from a safe distance, naturally.”
“Naturally.” Marty and Eadmar both smiled. The priest no longer attributed Inter Lucus’s powers to demon magic, but he still had not set foot on the castle grounds. Marty thought: In ten days we have become friends, except he needs his proof, and I can’t find it for him. “I would hear your true opinion, Eadmar. Everyone who came to the party—perhaps I should say, everyone who came and stayed ’til morning to talk with me—each one praised Inter Lucus’s light show. I begin to worry that I am hearing only the flattery of people who want something from me. You, at least, will tell me the truth. What did you think of my party?”
“It’s dusty here,” said Eadmar, picking up his bucket. “Let’s sit under the willow.”
An old willow tree created a shady place in a distant corner of the Entwine farm pasture, and the cow-cropped grass under it provided a pleasant place to sit. The priest opened a gate in the fence and marched toward the tree, Marty and Isen trailing behind. A few minutes passed before Eadmar was again on his bucket-seat. The priest offered the Testament to Marty. “Please read.”
Marty took a seat on the ground and shook his head. “Not just yet. You haven’t answered my question. What did you think of my party?”
Eadmar’s eyes fixed on him; in the willow’s shade their Paul Newman-like blue was startling. “You may come to regret it.”
Isen was surprised. “How so, priest Eadmar? No one had even seen anything like the lights of the castle. All those who saw know for a certainty that Lord Martin rules Inter Lucus.”
“Perhaps so. The lights were beautiful and wonderful. Wise folk will long ponder what they might portend. But how many wise folk were there? How many fools were there? I know at least one, as does Lord Martin. Rothulf Saeric could not have stayed away.”
“That’s so,” said Marty. Caadde Bycwine saw him hiding in the forest.”
“Saeric’s foolishness runs to greed, sloth, and desire for revenge,” said Eadmar. “He resents Lord Martin for fostering young Alf. But surely there were other foolish folk in such a large crowd. Some will conclude that Lord Martin is so rich that he needs no more, that he only demands hidgield because he is, like other rich men, obscenely greedy. One or two might even now be planning how they could enter Inter Lucus and steal some great treasure. And many will think that the powers of Lord Martin’s castle make him invincible; they will defy any tax collector sent from Hyacintho Flumen. Someday, whether in one year or ten, the people between the lakes will look to Lord Martin for protection, and some will be genuinely surprised that the lord of Inter Lucus will ask for their sons as soldiers. Your lights can entertain a crowd. Can they ward off enemies?”
Marty made a wry grin and held out his hand for the Testament. Eadmar handed it to him. “You asked for my true opinion.”
“I did. And I’m glad to hear it. I hope you will long live near Inter Lucus, so I can hear honest counsel often.”
Eadmar’s hands rested on his bony knees. “I am not one of your councilors, Lord Martin.”
“Perhaps not. But you tell the truth, and that’s worth a lot.” Marty shifted his legs and open the New Testament. “Where were we? Ah! Here.
“For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you:” Marty paused, considered the text, and rendered the thought into the common tongue. He had given up trying to figure out whether the language of Two Moons was Saxon or Old English or something else. Whatever its roots, it was the tongue of his new home.
“The Lord—ah, the holy name is here—on the night he was betrayed, took bread.” Marty looked briefly to Eadmar, who nodded. Marty translated, and then continued: “and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, ‘This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.’ As Marty translated the words “This is my body” Eadmar took a sudden breath; his face lit up.
“Hoc est corpus meum. Hoc est corpus meum!”
Marty recognized the phrase. “Aye. ‘This is my body.’ ‘Hoc est corpus meum.’”
“Pro vobis hoc!”
Marty wasn’t sure, but he guessed. “Aye. ‘Which is for you.’ ‘Pro vobis hoc.’”
Eadmar closed his eyes and recited: Ego enim accepi a Domino quod et traditi vobis quoniam Dominus . . . (he paused, omitting the name) in qua nocte tradebatur accepit panem et gratias agens fregit et dixit hoc est corpus meum pro vobis hoc facite in meam commemorationem . . .
Eadmar’s Latin came in rhythmic phrases; Marty’s eyes followed the English text in his hands. He thought: This is it! The words of the Supper; they would pass them from generation to generation.
Eadmar continued: “similiter et calicem postquam cenavit dicens hic calix novum testamentum est in meo sanguine hoc facite quotienscumque bibetis in meam commemorationem . . . Marty lost his way in the text, but meam commemorationem helped: “remembrance of me.”
“Quotienscumque enim manducabitis panem hunc et calicem bibetis mortem Domini adnuntitatis donec veniat.”
Eadmar fell silent, and Marty read the last sentence in English: “For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” He looked up from the text. Blue eyes were boring into him.
“It is the book of God? Truly?”
Marty held out the Testament to the priest. “Truly.”
Tears slid down the weathered face. “Deo Gratias.”
“Eadmar, how do you know these words?”
Eadmar brushed his cheeks. “Every priest learns the holy words kept at the hidden house, Dimlic Aern.”
Marty’s brows came together. “Hidden house? Where is this place? May I go there?”
Isen interrupted. “My lord, it would be dangerous to go far.”
“Really? How far is it?”
Isen stammered. “I, I, I don’t know. But the priests say it is far. Is that not so, Eadmar?”
“Dimlic Aern is far.” Eadmar pursed his lips. “And it is secret. All God’s priests swear that they will never tell where. And most could not tell if they wanted to, because they have never been there.”
“But you have.” Marty felt sure; he couldn’t say why. “You’ve been to this place.”
“Aye. When I was young, little older than Isen, I journeyed to Dimlic Aern; I saw the ancient writing in the holy language. According to our teaching, it is older than the demons.”
A Latin text from Earth! “Eadmar, are there other writings at Dimlic Aern, besides the words you spoke?”
The priest closed his eyes, calling up memories. “Writings? Nay. There are other things, but no other writings.”
“Other ancient things, as old as the holy writing?”
“Maybe. But they are not important. The holy words are life.”
What else do they have? Marty nodded. “I agree. The apostle’s words are life. Nevertheless, I desire to see the other ancient things. May I go there?”
Isen objected, “My lord! You would be in danger.”
Shaking his head, Marty said, “You’ve been listening to too many of Caelin’s stories of wars between castle lords.”
Eadmar pointed a finger at Marty. “Nay, Lord Martin. It is you that has not been listening enough. The castle lords usually survive in those stories. But the people they ought to protect often suffer and die. I will not take you to Dimlic Aern unless you convince me your people will be safe in your absence.”
Marty tamped down the urge to argue. Eadmar is right, old man. There are a few thousand people who depend on you. But he was conscious of a burning desire to see the artifacts at Dimlic Aern.
Eadmar accompanied Marty and Isen as far as widow Entwine’s barn. It was late afternoon. “The widow’s son, Harry, will come out to call me to sup soon,” said the priest. “I hope you will read again tomorrow.”
“I plan on it.”
It was their regular parting: “I hope you will read again,” and “I plan on it.”
As Isen and Marty began the hour’s walk from village to castle, they noticed three men riding horses into Inter Lucus. A middle-aged man with a beaked nose under a bright yellow hat rode a modest gray horse. He wore brown and green clothing, soiled from riding, but well made. On the horse beside him was a man whose muscles and posture reminded Marty of Russell Crowe’s Gladiator. A boy, perhaps in his mid-teens, rode behind the men. Marty didn’t recognize them, so he motioned for Isen to wait. He gripped his new staff and realized, yet again, that it was not much defense. Don’t be so suspicious, old man. They’re probably just travelers.
55. Near Inter Lucus
“Fair afternoon,” Boyden Black said to the two men. The younger man had brown hair cropped above broad shoulders. The older one had a thin nose and a narrow jaw; his short black hair showed a little gray at the temples. They both wore light blue tunics with leather belts. “Is there a place nearby where we might buy some food?”
Boyden had explained to Archard and Bully that since their reconnoitering of Down’s End had taken only four days, they could afford to spend two days, one going and one returning, to discover the story behind the amazing light. In response, Archard had reminded Boyden that they had planned to sup at roadhouses; if they couldn’t buy something in Inter Lucus, they would suffer very short commons until they regained the road to Hyacintho Flumen.
The man with the narrow face held a gnarled walking stick. He used it to point. “The village gets few visitors, so there’s no proper inn. But Alfwald and Fridiswid Redwine have extra rooms, and Fridiswid is an accomplished cook. Their house is on the right side of the road, with the stone fence.”
Boyden leaned on his horse’s pommel, looking down at the man. Just visible under the edge of his tunic was the oddest shoe Boyden had ever seen, green with a yellow stripe. “We don’t really need a room; we’ve been sleeping out. But farm house food would likely be a great improvement over our provisions.”
Archard cleared his throat. “Meager provisions that they are.”
“Archard is right,” Boyden said. He swung down from his horse, nodding to Archard and Bully to dismount as well. “I suppose we ought to introduce ourselves. I am Boyden Black, cloth merchant from Herminia. In fact, I’ve come to Tarquint to buy wool—that is, if I can get large enough quantities at low enough prices. Archard Oshelm, as you will have guessed, is my guard. Bully Poorman, from Wedmor in Herminia, has come along for the adventure you might say.”
The narrow-jawed man smiled. “Bully Poorman? He must be a distant relative of Isen. This is Isen Poorman; he hails from Down’s End.”
“Cousin Isen, of course!” Bully saluted the broad shouldered youth and stepped forward to shake his hand. “May you soon be blessed with another name!” Everyone present laughed.
Isen bowed his head. “And you too, cousin.”
“I’m Martin Cedarborne,” said the man with the staff. A thin man with gray eyes, he was a head taller than Isen or Archard. “But if you want to buy wool, you should have gone to Down’s End. Here between the lakes you’ll find plenty of lumber, but no wool, unless you count the goat hair on Caadde Bycwine’s goats.”
Boyden waved a hand as if warding off the thought. “No goat hair, thank you. We have been to Down’s End, of course, where I had promising discussions with many businessmen. But last night, returning to Hyacintho Flumen, we were bedding down—sleeping out, as I said—when we saw an extraordinary light in the northeast, amazingly bright, and shining steadily. The light had to come from somewhere near here. You must have seen it.”
“Aye, we saw it. How far away were you?”
“Thirty miles, perhaps more. We started early and have been riding all day.”
Martin Cedarborne ran his hand through his black and gray hair. “Wow. Do you suppose they saw the light in Down’s End?”
Boyden looked carefully at the man. “If they were awake and looked east, they must have. What is wow?”
“Just an expression,” said Cedarborne. “The young men where I come from would say ‘wow’ when they were surprised.” He smiled. “Especially when they saw certain girls they would say, ‘Wow!’”
Archard, Bully, and Isen laughed, but Boyden remembered the multi-colored shoes. “And where do you come from, Martin?”
“Lafayette. A small village, far away. Coming from Herminia, you would never have heard of it.”
Boyden nodded, as if this were a satisfactory answer. “Ah! Well, what can you tell us about last night’s light?”
Cedarborne pursed his lips. “It came from castle Inter Lucus. Isen and I are heading that way now. Come with us, if you like.”
“Inter Lucus! I understood that castle Inter Lucus is a ruin, that the last lord died a hundred years ago or more.”
“That was true.” The thin-faced man eyed Boyden warily. “But the castle is renewing itself.”
Boyden Black was a long way from Pulchra Mane, yet a careless word spoken in the wild country of Tarquint might still haunt him. “Is that possible? I’ve been told—that is, everybody says—that a castle is dead without a lord.”
Cedarborne raised an eyebrow. “Aye. And the lord or lady must be descended from the previous lord. Everyone knows this. And yet—though the last lord of Inter Lucus died long ago, the castle is renewing itself. It’s only an hour’s walk; come and see.”
Archard made a sound, something like a cough, a reminder. Boyden said, “Naturally, we want to see the castle, but we also need to buy provender. Are there merchants in the village?”
“Not really. Fridiswid Redwine or Gisa Bistan might sell to you. You’d have better luck in Senerham; it’s bigger than Inter Lucus. Three or four miles that way.” Cedarborne pointed with his staff.
Isen said, “Caelin could probably sell them something, my lord. Something fresh, from the fridge.” The young man’s face immediately reddened, as if he were choking.
Bully blurted out: “Lord? Lord Cedarborne?”
The man answered Bully, but his eyes were on Boyden. “I suppose that’s right. Folk between the lakes generally say ‘Lord Martin.’”
With the reflexes of an experienced soldier, Archard pulled his sword from its scabbard on his horse. Defenseless though he was, Isen stepped between the Archard and his master.
“Hold!” commanded Boyden. “We have not come all the way to Tarquint to attack castle lords. Who is Caelin?”
Martin Cedarborne placed a gentle hand on Isen’s shoulder and drew him back. Boyden stepped around Archard, knowing the soldier would not advance unless Boyden countermanded the ‘Hold’ or the enemy attacked. “Who is Caelin?”
Cedarborne said, “Caelin Bycwine serves in the kitchen at Inter Lucus. Isen is correct. Caelin knows my larder better than I do. If you come to the castle, I expect we can sell you food for the road.”
Archard growled, an inarticulate rumble that Boyden interpreted. “If you are indeed the lord of a castle, and if you regarded me as your enemy, I would be a fool to let you gain access to your castle.”
“I am indeed the lord of Inter Lucus.” Cedarborne spoke calmly. “If you regarded me as your friend, you would be wise to profit from that friendship. A man who would import wool from Tarquint to Herminia should value fair lords and safe roads.”
Boyden Black laughed aloud. “You would not know it, Lord Martin, but you sound much like the Queen of Herminia.”
The lord’s face expressed confusion. Boyden said: “I heard the queen make a speech once. She talked about safe roads much as you do.”
Boyden, Archard, and Bully rode their mounts at a slow walk, a few yards behind Martin Cedarborne and his servant. If at any time they should try to dash away, Archard could ride them down. So Lord Martin and Isen were, in a sense, Boyden’s prisoners. But when they reached Inter Lucus, the tables would be turned. Boyden had seen some of what Mariel could do with Pulchra Mane; if Lord Martin had gained even a fraction of that power, he could destroy Archard easily. With these considerations in mind, Boyden reined his horse to a stop at the foot of the hill to Inter Lucus.
Lord Martin looked over his shoulder, stopped, and turned. “You’re not coming up?”
“If you don’t mind, Lord Martin, Bully will go with you. Archard and I will wait here. Bully will choose from whatever your Caelin offers, and in the morning I’ll pay.”
A wry smile. “Very well. I’ll have Caelin pack a sup, and we will join you here.”
Lord Martin, Isen, a girl introduced as Ora, and a very young boy joined them for sup on the edge of the castle grounds. The boy, named Alf, never spoke. Caelin remained in the castle, so Boyden never saw him.
Boyden and Archard slept on the grasses south of the castle, where dancers had crushed them into a hard green carpet. Bully spent the night in Inter Lucus. Early the next day, Bully and the young woman named Ora brought out food in baskets: salted meat, dry cheese wrapped in cheesecloth, oatcakes, and carrots. Ora set a very reasonable price, and Boyden paid with coins he had picked up in Hyacintho Flumen and Down’s End. Lord Martin came down from the castle and bid them farewell.
An hour later, when the riders were well away from Inter Lucus, Archard spoke. “If you had let me, there would be one less castle lord to besiege when we return to Tarquint.”
“True enough, Archard. But what use is a ruined castle? You need to understand Mariel’s design. She wants lords. The people serve their lords, and the lords serve her.”
“Will this lord serve the queen?”
Boyden Black scratched his head before replacing his yellow hat. “Aye. I’ll see to that.”
Here ends part one of Castles.
Copyright © 2013 by Philip D. Smith.
All rights reserved. International copyright secured.