Book Three: Winter (92-121)


92. In Stonebridge

            A scratching sound roused Milo from sleep.  It wasn’t very loud; the wind whistling under the eaves of the Citadel outside was louder, in spite of the thick stone wall.  But Milo slept lightly, and he knew what the scratching meant.  He shuffled across his cell, his feet sticking to the icy floor, and opened his door.  Tilde was wrapped in a black blanket like a shroud; in the faint light of the corridor she could have been a shade from the afterworld.  Milo bolted the door after she came in.  “Can’t sleep,” she whispered.
            “Not surprising,” said Milo.  “There’s not a spot in the Citadel that’s been genuinely warm for a month, other than the kitchen.”  He took her hand and pulled her to his cot.  The narrow bed forced them to lie close.
            “It’s not the cold.”  She turned her back to him and wiggled her butt against him.  “I can always come here and get warm.”
            “True enough, I suppose.”  His left hand slipped around her side to cup a breast.  “You certainly know how to make me warm.  So what is it?”
            “What’s keeping you awake if it’s not the cold?”
            “Tondbert.  I think he knows I’m pregnant.”
            “What of it?  It won’t be long ’til everyone knows.”  Milo let his hand trace the curve of her hip.
            “When he looks at me, you can see that he’s thinking.  And I see it when he looks at you, Milo.  He’s calculating.  He’s weighing up how to use me against you and when to do it.”
            “Possibly, even likely.  But he’s also reminding himself how useful your testimony would be against Ody Dans.  At just the right moment, when Dans threatens him, Tondbert can produce a witness Dans thought was dead.  You need not fear.  Tondbert wants to keep you safe.”
            Tilde grabbed Milo’s hand to stop its movement.  “Please take this seriously, Milo.  I fear the man.  He’s dangerous.”
            “Oh, I agree.  But he will not be dangerous much longer.”
            Tilde whirled on the cot like a summer windstorm, bringing her lips close to Milo’s.  “Why not?”
            “The Assembly has been pressuring Commander Tondbert to move against Ifing Redhair and his Falcons.  I think we will venture into the Bene Quarter again, and this time the commander will go with us.”
            “And what then?”
            “Shush.  It is impossible for you to tell what you do not know.”  He kissed her.  “But there is something I need you to do.”
            “And that is?”
            “I’ll explain after.”  He kissed her again, and she responded willingly.

            Every table in the Citadel refectory had at least two men breakfasting.  Milo and Felix sat near a wall, allowing Milo opportunity to survey the room while he and his patrol partner sipped hot cider, spiced with cloves.  They had already eaten and were waiting for morning muster.  The ranks of under-sheriffs had been gradually filling for six months; numerically, at least, the guard was back to what some called full strength.  In reality, Milo thought, half the new recruits would be useless in a serious fight.  Not that they’re cowards; they just haven’t trained enough.
            Milo also knew that “full strength” was a matter of contention in the Stonebridge Assembly.  Osred Tondbert continually entreated the Assembly for more men.  The City Guard could barely patrol the streets, the commander argued, much less defend the city.  Ody Dans and a few other assemblymen would sometimes make speeches in favor of Tondbert’s proposals, but somehow no major expansion of the Guard won approval.  The rich families of Stonebridge feared that if the Guard were too strong, Tondbert might move against them.  They needed the City Guard to suppress the Falcons and Hawks, at least to the degree necessary for industry and commerce.  But Tondbert they regarded as little better than Ifing Redhair or Bo Leanberth, the chieftains of the gangs they used him to restrain.  All the great families employed their own armsmen to provide safety for their villas and walled estates.  In fact, Milo had learned, Ody Dans’s private security at The Spray was fewer in number than many rich houses.
            “Today, do you think?”  Felix spoke sotto voce, his gaze fixed on men on the other side of the room.
            Milo had shared his belief, based on bits of information gained from Derian Chapman, that the Assembly was pressing Commander Tondbert for forceful action against the Falcons.  “Perhaps,” said Milo.  Like Felix, Milo kept his attention on other tables.  He waved at Hrodgar Wigt, who saluted Milo’s greeting with a bit of bread.  Milo continued, “He needs to move soon.  The Falcons have not been content to extort the poor folk of the Bene Quarter.  Someone told the Assembly, in their meeting yesterday, that Redhair’s men have started collecting fuel dues from some of the smiths in the jewelry district.  I don’t think it’s true, but it shows how rumors spread and grow.  Tondbert, naturally, wants to wait until the new under-sheriffs are better trained.”
            “For once, I agree with him.”
            “As would any sensible man.”  Milo inclined his head toward Trymian Wallis, the fat assistant to Tondbert who had lost his position as trainer of recruits partly because Milo suggested Tondbert replace Wallis with Aidan Fleming.  Wallis was late to breakfast, not his normal behavior.  And what’s he been up to? Milo wondered.  Wallis waddled past Milo and Felix to the kitchen counter, where the morning’s meal of bread and hot mash awaited.
            “No bacon?  No meat?”  Wallis complained.  “Gods!”  He slapped his hand on the counter.  “At least let’s have some honey to dress this horse fodder.”
            The kitchen maid cowered behind the counter.  “I’m sorry, my lord, but there is none.”
            “Don’t lie to me!  I’m the assistant commander, you worthless whore!  We can put you on the street and hire another wench before your feet get cold.  Get me some honey.”
            The girl had a pale face at any time, but under Wallis’s beleaguerment she took on the color and immobility of white marble.  Her eyes bulged with fear.  Wallis screamed at her.  “Damn it, girl!  Move!” 
            Milo reached Wallis with quick strides.  The assistant commander spun around at the touch of a hand on his shoulder.  “What?”  Wallis’s teeth were bared and his face flushed.
            Milo inclined his head.  “My lord commander, none of the men had meat this morning.  And there really is no honey for the mash.”
            “Damn you…” Before Wallis finished his sentence, his eyes flashed across the men gathered in the refectory.  Without looking behind him, Milo knew every sheriff was watching the confrontation.  He also knew their eyes would be hard, harboring no sympathy for the assistant commander.  Wallis swallowed, and his fist unclenched.  He forced a laugh.  “Horse food it is, then.”  To the refectory girl he said, “I’ll talk to you after muster—in my office.”  He took his bowl and bread to a table.
            Milo returned to his cup, aware of much silent approval from the other men.  Wallis sat alone.

            Osred Tondbert made his appearance in the training yard, where Wallis had called the guardsmen to attention.  The commander beckoned three sheriffs with a wave and whispered to each privately.  The men trotted off to disparate parts of the Citadel.  Tondbert waited for about a minute, bouncing on the balls of his feet.  Milo had the impression that the man was fighting to contain a smile.  “You may bring them now,” Tondbert said to Wallis.  The assistant commander nodded and walked away as quickly as his bulging legs permitted.
            Still Tondbert did not address the men, content for them to attend to his silence.  He folded his arms in front of his chest.  By the gods!  Tondbert thinks he’s the cat that swallowed the canary, the hero who solved the dragon’s riddle.
            A wave of whispers swept through the assembled soldiers. All eyes were on three men who followed Trymian Wallis into the courtyard.  Tondbert’s deep voice barked, “Men of the Guard!”  They snapped back to attention.  “As you can see, we have visitors today.” Even Tondbert glanced over his shoulder.
            “Some of you will recognize Bo Leanberth,” Tondbert intoned.  “For others, he is only a name.”  The outlaw leader was a magnificent specimen of muscle and pride; both his beard and hair were long, black, and braided, bouncing fore and aft on a leather jerkin.  Under the jerkin Leanberth wore only a light tunic, and yet he seemed comfortable in the winter air.  The skin of his arms and neck shimmered with oil.  He wore a leather scabbard; the bleached white hilt of a short sword was at his hand.  For all Milo could see, the sword hilt was real bone.
            Tondbert continued.  “Leanberth has brought two of his men today, Grindan Goes and Upton Acwellan.  You’ve all heard the names before—leaders of the Hawks.  If the truth were known, all three of them would deserve to hang.”  Tondbert paused to lock eyes for a moment with Leanberth.  The gang leader smiled and made an exaggerated bow.  His beard brushed his knees.  A rustle of laughter rose from the guardsmen.
            Tondbert smiled too, and his receding chin gave him the appearance of a crow.  “But they will not hang today.  Instead, they will earn pardons for all their previous misdeeds.  Leanberth and I have decided we need not like each other to work together, and the Hawks hate Ifing Redhair as much as I do.  Today, this very morning, we will destroy the Falcons.  We will not repeat the error of last summer.  The Citadel’s exits are guarded.  No word of our mission today will escape our walls either before or after we march.
            “I have learned the true location of Redhair’s nest.  Not where you would expect!  We will approach the house from three directions; there will be no escaping us.  Each party of sheriffs will be accompanied by one of the Hawks.  Hrodgar Wigt, Aidan Fleming, and Milo Mortane, step forward please!  You men will lead the three groups.”
            Hrodgar, Aidan, and Milo approached the commander.  Tondbert lowered his voice so that only the captains could hear.  “I presume you will warn me that the new under-sheriffs are not ready for battle.”   
            Aidan Fleming dipped his head.  “Aye, my lord commander.”
            Milo backed the training master.  “I would feel safer, my lord, if we left the newest recruits behind.  They are as likely to harm us as our enemies.”
            Tondbert grinned, showing yellow teeth.  “Fortunately, this is a raid, not a battle.  We take only a few men, and we move fast.”
            Hrodgar scratched his chin.  “My lord, can we trust Leanberth?”
            Tondbert glanced sideways at the Wallis and the three Hawk leaders and spoke even more quietly.  “No; obviously not.  Each of you will pick only a dozen of our best men.  The rest will stay here in the Citadel under Wallis.  Even raw recruits can hold the fortress against a gang.  You see?  I have considered the possibility of an attack on the Citadel while our men are in the field.  We will skirt the Bene Quarter at quick march, feigning a raid there.  Everyone knows there are Falcon strongholds in the Bene, and it will seem that we are striking there.  Beyond the Bene, the three groups divide.  If your guide plays you false, kill him and return to the Citadel.  We’re not going to repeat Gaudy’s Tavern.  Either we take down Redhair or we eliminate Leanberth, Goes, and Acwellan.” 
            “We?”  Hrodgar’s face expressed surprise.  “Will you go with us then, Commander?”
            “Indeed.  I will accompany Milo’s group along with Leanberth.  My sword will never be more than a quick stroke from his neck.  Milo’s group will move fastest, since we will circle the house and come at them from behind.”
            “Very good, Lord Commander.”  Hrodgar inclined his head.
            “Choose your men quickly,” Tondbert rumbled.  “We move fast.  Milo, your men must be especially quick on their feet.  No time for a double-cross today.”
            In five minutes Milo, Hrodgar, and Aidan had chosen their men.  Tondbert assigned Grindan Goes to Hrodgar’s group and Upton Acwellan to Aidan’s.  “All ready?”  Commander Tondbert spoke loudly for the benefit of the gathered men.  “Assistant Commander Wallis!”
            “My lord?” 
            “Disarm the prisoners.  You will keep their weapons here until we return, as guaranty for their good behavior.”
            Apparently, Upton Acwellan hadn’t known this was part of the plan.  The gang lieutenant cried out in surprise and turned to Leanberth, his hand resting on his sword hilt. The Hawk chieftain spread his hands in a pacific gesture, quelling Acwellan’s protest.  Trymian Wallis lumbered from Goes to Acwellan and Leanberth, collecting their swords.  They allowed their swords to be taken, but the disdain the gangsters directed at the assistant commander was as cold as a winter freeze.  Wallis’s fat throat swallowed repeatedly.
            “Let’s move!”  Tondbert ignored his assistant’s discomfort.
            Signaled by Tondbert, Milo led his troop toward the stable door, one of the three entrances to the Citadel.  Bo Leanberth followed at his heels, with Tondbert and twelve sheriffs behind him.  At the stable door they came on one of the guardsmen Tondbert had spoken to earlier, a young under-sheriff named Bayan Mann.  The commander growled at the man: “No one gone out since muster?”
            “Aye, Lord Commander.  Neither in or out this morning.”
            “Good.  Shut the doors and see that no one leaves until we return.”
            “Aye, Sir.”
            Milo leaned close to the guardsman.  “Don’t leave your post for anything, Bayan.  But if you get a chance, can you send a word to the washerwoman for me?”
            “Daisy Freewoman?”
            Milo nodded.
            “What word, Sir Milo?”
            “She should pay attention to my bedding.  It stinks.”
            Bayan grinned.  “Aye, Sir.  Your bed stinks.”

93. In Stonebridge

            Daisy Freewoman swept the upper Citadel corridor unhurriedly, bundled against the cold.  The corridors, staircases, and second floor cells of the stone fortress were unheated; in these portions of the Citadel she might as well have been one of the old women who swept snow from the storefronts that lined Stonebridge’s streets, except that the street sweeper women sometimes enjoyed sunlight.  Daisy paced herself, and when she needed to warm up she might take mop and bucket to the rooms belonging to the Lord Commander or Assistant Commander down on the first floor.  Tondbert and Wallis kept fires burning in their fireplaces.  At other times, Daisy would visit the kitchen or Citadel smithy; she usually had no business in either place, but the cooks and the blacksmith welcomed conversation.  Daisy was thinking of the kitchen and its warmth when the new serving girl—what was her name? —came looking for her.
            “Daisy!  There you are!”  The girl had short black hair and such white skin that her forehead looked like a silhouette, white bordered by black.  Reaching the top of the stairs she exhaled a cloud of vapor.  When the girl came close, Daisy saw blue veins like a tracery under the skin of her arms. 
            Daisy recalled her name.  “Fair morning, Alberta.  Is someone looking for me?”
            “No, but…” The girl swiped her face with the back of her hand.  Her nose was red and dripping.  Daisy set aside her broom and drew Alberta in, enveloping her with coat sleeves and mittened hands.  “Assistant Commander Wallis says I’m to report to his office.”
            “What is wrong?”
            “There was no meat at breakfast.  Wallis cursed me and said he would toss me—‘put you on the street and hire another wench before your feet get cold,’ he said.”
            “Wallis is quick to anger, but perhaps he was only voicing frustration about the food.”  Daisy brushed the girl’s hair with one hand while hugging her close.
            “He told me in particular to come to his office after muster.”
            Daisy pressed her lips together, thinking.  She had witnessed the morning muster from the half-opened door of Eádulf’s cell, which was tucked into the southeast corner of the second floor.  She hadn’t followed all that was said, but it was clear that something important was afoot.  Tondbert and three strangers had left with Milo and the best soldiers in the Guard.
            “Why don’t I come with you to the assistant commander’s office?  Maybe he’ll get over his anger if we offer to clean his window.”
            Alberta’s gray eyes filled with tears again.  “Oh, thank you!”
            Daisy led Alberta to a nearby closet, from which she took two buckets.  “We’ll fetch hot water from the kitchen.”  The women descended the stairway closest to the refectory and were about to enter when they heard running footsteps on the pavement behind them.  “Daisy!”
            Both women turned to face an out-of-breath under-sheriff, one of the newer recruits.  Seeing Alberta next to Daisy, the youth was suddenly flummoxed.  “It, it’s you,” he stammered.  The under-sheriff’s gray eyes and black hair matched Alberta’s, though his skin was ruddier, the result, perhaps, of spending time outdoors. 
            Daisy looked quickly at both of them.  She hadn’t seen them together before, but the facial similarity was obvious.  “What’s going on here?”
            Alberta addressed Daisy: “Jarvis is my brother.  He joined the City Guard five weeks ago, and he’s the one who got me the job with Cook.”  Then to Jarvis: “I don’t have anything, and Cook watches all the time.  I can’t be thieving for you.”
            The under-sheriff glanced around.  “This isn’t about food—or you.”  He turned to Daisy.  “Bayan Mann wanted me to find Daisy Freewoman.  Sheriff Milo Mortane says his bed must be cleaned.  It stinks.”
            Daisy smirked.  “No doubt.  Most beds in the Citadel stink.  You don’t hear other sheriffs demanding that their mattresses get washed in winter.  But Sheriff Mortane—he wants what he wants when he wants it.”
            Jarvis frowned.  “But I thought… Bayan said…”
            Daisy smiled broadly.  “Oh, I’ll clean it.  In fact, I’ll do so immediately.  But not for Sheriff Milo’s pleasure.  At least, not for his alone.”  Daisy watched comprehension bring a grin to the under-sheriff’s face.  “Alberta and I were about to take hot water to Assistant Commander Wallis’s office, to wash his window and do some general cleaning.  Can you escort her?  Make sure Wallis has calmed down.  Don’t leave her alone with him if he’s angry.”
            Alberta and Daisy filled their buckets from the big kettle in the kitchen, then parted ways.  Jarvis walked Alberta to Wallis’s room while Daisy carried her water upstairs.  But when she got to Milo’s cell, she left the bucket.  She took a key from under his mattress, a key that let her into Hrodgar Wigt’s cell, four doors west along the corridor.  She took a bright red ribbon from her coat pocket and, climbing on Wigt’s bed, tied it to one of the bars in his window so that it hung like a kite’s tail outside.

            The City Guard trotted in double-file, Milo in the lead and the Hawk chieftain, Leanberth, on his left.  Felix Abrecan and Commander Tondbert followed immediately behind them.  The second and third platoons, led by Hrodgar Wigt and Aidan Fleming, jogged after Milo’s men.  Tondbert matched the pace of the younger soldiers, but the effort left him no breath for talking.  Leanberth, contrariwise, produced an intermittent stream of comments as he ran.
            “Shroud maker’s shop, not yet open for business.  That witch Camden will be busy after today!”
            The Guardsmen jogged by a variety of shops.  People moved out of their way, some nodding as they passed.  Small groups watched, pointed and began talking.  The show of force by the City Guard would stir the whole city.
            “’Cross the way there, see the cripple girl?  She’s one of Ifing’s brats.  He gives ’er a silver ev’ry now ’n then, ’n she plays lookout for ’is men.  Redhair thinks I don’t know, the fool!  She sees us, but it won’t help Ifing.  See my lad?”
            A man wrapped in a black cloak leaned against a building not far from the girl Leanberth had mentioned.  He wore a misshapen leather hat pulled low; Milo couldn’t see his eyes.  The man touched the brim of his hat in what might have been a salute.  Leanberth made a sound halfway between a laugh and a grunt.
            Back along the line, one of the Guards slipped on a frozen patch, fell, and forced the men behind him to stop.  Milo’s group kept moving, and the stragglers hustled to make up the ground.  Leanberth resumed talking.
            “Comin’ up, there’s the wheelwright shed, ’n down that alley lives a pretty little thing, Ifing’s latest lay.  She’ll be lonely after today.  Mebbe I’ll stop by ’n comfort ’er.  Ha!
            “Falcons’ll expect us to turn at the next corner, by the alehouse.  The building back o’ the alehouse—my boys say it’s a proper depot; Falcons got bows, arrows, swords, shields, ’n coins ’n food, but the place’s got stout walls ’n a locked cellar.  Twenty men guard it ’n the only way in is a single-file alley.  We’d be fools to attack.”
            Milo said, “Redhair isn’t there?”
            Leanberth spat as he ran.  “Aye.  A fool, he is.  Gonna catch ’im with only a couple lads at the house.”
            The three platoons passed the alehouse, and more than one man looked left, watching for the Falcon stronghold.  Milo quickened the pace, and Leanberth matched him, still talking.
            “Ifing’s too good for the Bene, he thinks.  Wants a grand house with a wall ’n servants ’n a carriage to ride in.  Live like a god’s ass, like Ody dog-shit Dans.  Move that sweet lay into the house and give her babies.  Gods!
            “He could have it, for all I care—the house, servants, even a seat on the damn Assembly—’cept he still wants the Bene.  You see, Ifing ’n me, we know the Bene Quarter.  We make money ’n keep our lads happy.  His boys fight my boys ev’ry now ’n then, but mostly we get along.  Ifing don’t know what to do outside the Bene, not really.  He tries squeezin’ the smithies, the mills, the stonemasons, ’n the big warehouses, but the owners fight back.  They hire more guards.  They push the Lord Commander to attack Falcons and Hawks.  My boys get hurt. Ifing gets scared.  What’s he do?  Tightens the screws on the Bene!  Damn ’im!  He wants to live in a palace like an Assemblyman, but he wants his boys to run the Bene too.  Can’t have that.  The Lord Commander ’n me, we say: After today we have peace.  Hawks’ll keep the Bene quiet.  Guard’ll keep the city quiet.  A better day comin’.”
            They ran without speech for a couple minutes.  Tondbert’s breath was labored now.  Leanberth slowed down.
            “We’re coming up on it.  Right on Marble Street ’n straight on to the hill.  Green house with red tile roof.  The first group should take this little street here, Agate.  Get round behind the house so they don’t ’scape.  Others should go up Marble and take the front.”
            Milo brought the Guards to a stop with a raised sword.  Including Tondbert and the three Hawk chieftains, there were 43 men together, emitting steamy breath like a herd of wild horses.  He tapped his own head with his sword hand and pointed the direction his men would go.  Then he held up two fingers on his left hand and gestured toward Marble Street.  Back in the pack, Aidan Fleming and Hrodgar Wigt waved acknowledgement with their swords.
            “Let’s move.”  Milo led his men, trotting quickly away from the other platoons, on Agate Street.  A hundred yards along, they came to an intersection.  To their left, forty yards away, was the green house with red roof.  Milo sped up, running as fast as he could on the frozen, uneven surface of the street.  Milo’s men ran with him, and Leanberth as well, leaving Tondbert behind.  Two men tripped, but they scrambled up and rejoined the platoon, like a pack of wolves on the hunt.
            A door on the rear, western, side of the house jerked open, revealing an armed man in the doorway.  Just as quickly the door slammed shut, as Milo’s men vaulted over a low wall separating a garden space from the street.  “Hah!”  Leanberth exulted.  “No gettin’ away this time!”
            Shouts and curses sounded from the eastern side of the house.  Wigt and Fleming’s men had reached the front.  Milo stopped for only a moment on the narrow porch.  Tondbert had only reached the wall, but the others of the platoon were ready.  Milo nodded to Leanberth, who leaped and kicked the door with both his boots.  The Hawk chieftain fell to the porch, but the door broke.  Milo extended an arm to Leanberth, pulling him to his feet           and out of the way.  Felix Abrecan and the rest of the Guardsmen charged into the house.  Somewhere in the house somebody crashed into a wall; the whole building shook.  From the front of the house came sounds of steel clashing on steel.  It sounded like a real battle—Ifing Redhair had more men present than Leanberth had boasted.
            Tondbert reached the porch thoroughly winded.  The last of Milo’s men disappeared into the house.  Tondbert bent with hands on his knees, panting.  He nodded to Milo and Leanberth.  “We got him today!”
            “Maybe,” said Milo.  “Maybe.”  He pulled his sword and drove it into Leanberth’s neck.  The unarmed chieftain died instantly, his face frozen in stunned incredulity.  The body fell with Milo’s sword stuck in its throat.
            Tondbert’s eyes bulged.  “What?  Why?”
            Milo let go his sword and swung a backhanded elbow while lunging at Tondbert.  The blow hit the commander like a hammer to the nose.  Tondbert fell to his knees, his eyes still wide in surprise.  He choked and gurgled blood from his broken nose.
            “Leanberth betrayed you and attacked you,” Milo said.  “I killed him, but it was too late.”  Milo leaned back and kicked Tondbert’s head with the heel of his boot, breaking the neck with an audible crack.  He stood over Tondbert’s body for a few seconds.  Seeing no movement, he wrenched his sword from Leanberth’s throat and entered the house.
            Inside, Milo stepped around two bodies, a member of the Guard and a Falcon.  He hurried from one room to the next in a fighter’s crouch.  But he met no one.  The battle had apparently moved outside, on the eastern side of the house.  He stopped just outside the front door.
            Ifing Redhair—who else could it be, with those locks? —was a giant of a man, six and a half feet tall.  He and eight other men fought together in a ring, surrounded by about thirty Guardsmen.  Bodies were strewn about, helter-skelter between the house and the brick wall that surrounded the property.
            “Hold!”  Milo shouted, wishing he had Tondbert’s bass voice.  “Hold! Hold!”  One or two of the Guardsmen turned questioning faces toward Milo.  “Hold!”
            Ifing Redhair roared louder than Milo.  “Hold!”
            Aidan Fleming raised his sword and stepped back from the encircled Falcons.  The other Guardsmen followed suit when they saw that the Falcons were also standing down.
            Milo strode across the frozen yard, his sword at the ready.  Guardsmen stepped aside, giving him access to the small space between the opposing forces.  Milo ceremoniously sheathed his sword and turned, surveying his men.  “Men of the City Guard, we have been betrayed.  Where are Acwellan and Goes?”
            Men shuffled their feet, and Leanberth’s Hawk lieutenants were pushed toward Milo.  Acwellan and Goes both held swords, picked up during the battle, no doubt.  But Milo seized on this fact.  “How come you by swords, you traitors!”  Milo swept out his weapon and slashed at Acwellan.  The Hawk leader parried, but it did him no good; a Guardsman cut him down from behind.  Bewildered, Grindan Goes looked from his fallen comrade to Milo.  He dropped his sword and fell to his knees.  “Mercy, Sir!”  In response, Milo thrust his sword into Goes’s chest.
            Meanwhile, the Falcons stood motionless.
            Milo pulled his sword from Goes and ignored his dying gasps.  “Hawks betrayed us!  Bo Leanberth attacked our Lord Commander, killed him before my sword could stop him.  The bodies are at the back of the house.
            “Redhair!  Leanberth, Acwellan, and Goes are dead.  Likewise, some of your men have fallen, and without need!  If you will put down your swords, not a man will fall.  And I will sit with you—to talk!  Hawks have made themselves as much my enemy as yours.  You and I can bring peace to Stonebridge, beginning today.  What say you?”
            Ifing Redhair looked ’round the circle of his remaining men.  Slowly he lowered his sword tip to the ground.  “We will talk, on one condition only.”  Redhair addressed his men.  “Lads, this should not a happened.  How did Tondbert know to attack us here?  I think—damn it, I know—someone’s been talking.  We’ve been betrayed as much as the Guard.”
            Redhair stepped toward Milo, his sword tip still touching the ground.  “This is my condition.  You must tell me which of my lads has played me false.”  Only Milo could see the slight tip of Redhair’s head and the way his eyes flicked to the right.
            Milo sheathed his sword.  “I can’t tell you who betrayed you.”  He pointed to bodies.  “Maybe this man; maybe that one.  Leanberth told us we would find you in this house.  I don’t know who told him.
            “But I do know this.  Leanberth said we should spare one.  Black hair, no beard, and a long red scar on his chin.”
            Every eye, Falcon and Guardsman alike, turned to the man standing at Redhair’s right hand.  Ifing wheeled on the man.  “Sammy, you?”
            “It’s a lie!”  But Sammy’s protest died as he did, with a Falcon sword thrust through his back.

94. In Castle Inter Lucus

            Besyrwen Fairfax closed his eyes and chewed his lip.  Marty suspected the boy was counting silently.  “Fifty-six, my lord.”
            “That’s not correct.  Whitney?”
            The girl’s hand had shot up as soon as Besyrwen spoke.  “Sixty-three.”
            “Aye.”  Marty frowned, disappointed in himself as a teacher, but then immediately worried that Besyrwen would read the frown as disapproval of his efforts as a student.  Marty rubbed his nose with the back of his hand, partly to hide his frustration. 
            Besyrwen wasn’t the only student who seemed stumped by basic multiplication facts.  The children and the sheriffs had learned Arabic numerals easily enough; they could all count and write numbers in the “new way.”  But “seven times nine” and a few other fundamental products eluded memory for some of them.  If Besyrwen, Leo Dudd, or Dodric Night repeated “seven times nine equals sixty-three” a few times, he could then reliably answer.  But if Marty introduced “eight times six” or “four times seven,” the product of “seven times nine” was pushed out of mind.  How can they succeed at useful arithmetic if they don’t get multiplication and division?  How do I help them see it?
            Marty chewed his lip, much as young Fairfax had.  There had to be an alternative way of presenting arithmetic.  He didn’t want students concluding that they couldn’t master numbers.  He remembered sad stories of kids in Bakersfield who gave up on themselves in middle school.  He looked at his watch. 
            “Mid-day sup,” Marty said.  “I think I smell burgers.  Whose turn is it to serve today?”  Caelin, his brother Went Bycwine, Tayte Graham, and Alf Saeric rose from the table.  “Off with you, then—and remember to wash before you touch the food.  The rest wash up for mid-day.  We’ll work on mathematics again tomorrow.”
            The students of Collegium Inter Lucus, except for Elfric Ash, the sheriff who had today’s morning watch, headed from the great hall to washrooms on the lower floor.  Marty motioned to Os Oswald, who was at the back of the line.  “Come with me, why don’t you, Os?  You can wash up in my room.”  The master bedroom, on the ground floor of the East Wing, had its own bathroom, complete with tub.  Leading Os out of the hall, Marty reflected: It’s odd that the castle doesn’t have a washroom for guests near the great hall.  Did the aliens not expect visitors?
            When they were alone, Marty said, “Os, I’m worried about Besyrwen.  And Leo, and a couple others.  You’ve memorized the multiplication table, but Besyrwen and Leo still try to find answers by counting.  It slows them down and leads to errors.  I wish I could find a way to help them.”
            Os held his hands under the water outlet and let hot water flow over them.  Drying with a towel, he said, “My Lord, you tell us that we each should find the thing we can do well.  Besyrwen is learning to read and write.  Does he need to master numbers?  Does Leo need numbers?”
            Marty pursed his lips.  “Fair question.  The answer is both aye and nay.  Not every student needs to be as good at math as Caelin or you.  But every sheriff needs to be able to record hidgield agreements.  Every farmer and merchant has to pay hidgield.  Every family needs arithmetic.”
            Os folded his massive arms across his chest.  “If a sheriff can write down hidgield numbers accurately, must he be able to calculate with them?  Can he not bring them back to Inter Lucus, where Caelin Bycwine or Whitney Ablendan could use them to make my lord’s budget?”
            Marty grinned.  “Again, aye and nay.  Imagine a farmer who raises wheat on some of his land, grows potatoes on another bit of land, and sells hay from yet another patch to his neighbor who has cows.  In such a case, to assign a hidgield total, the sheriff must use numbers accurately.  But it is true that planning the castle budget is more complicated than recording hidgield assessments.
            “And now—who told you about budgets?  I haven’t so much as mentioned that word in our class.”
            Os’s green eyes sparkled.  “Caelin told me, of course.  He says you call his lists of numbers a budget.  Ora, Whitney, and I are eager to learn, but no one is as eager as Isen.  He says that this is what Kent Gausman refused to teach him.”

            After mid-day sup, Marty’s students scattered to a variety of activities.  Downstairs, in a room with a spinning wheel and bolts of cloth, Tayte Graham and Went Bycwine were learning to make clothes under Mildgyd Meadowdaughter’s supervision.  Marty’s approval made it plain to everyone that a boy, Went, was as welcome to learn tailoring as was Tayte, the girl.  On the gentle slope south of Inter Lucus, Elfric Ash was teaching Leo Dudd and Besyrwen Fairfax how to ski, and the three of them had discovered how to use the machines of Materias Transmutatio to make better skis.  Caelin, Ora, Alf Saeric, Dodric Night, and Whitney Ablendan were also active in the West Wing, systematically adjusting the wood fiber and rag content of small batches of pulp.  The quality of paper produced at Inter Lucus had been improving steadily.
            Two sheriffs, Os Oswald and Ealdwine Smithson, liked to spend their time helping Isen put his glassworks into operation.  Ernulf Penrict, the son of a blacksmith, joined the glassworks crew as Isen’s apprentice.  In addition, Marty required Rothulf Saeric, who slept in a room adjoined to Prayer House, to help out with the glassworks project.  Honest labor might keep Rothulf out of trouble; at the least it kept him out of the village. And initiating the glassworks took lots of labor.
            Clean sand from East Lake provided an essential ingredient for glass.  From another place on the shore of East Lake came stone slabs for Isen’s furnaces.  Os and Ealdwine carved off blocks of stone from huge boulders with sledgehammers and iron wedges, and the blocks were hauled to Inter Lucus on a sled pulled by horses.  Deep snow in the forest would have prevented such transport, but the ancient paved trail from castle to lake served as a road.  They built three rough furnaces with the stone slabs: a melting furnace, a shaping furnace, and a kiln.  A whole beech tree was cut into firewood and burned to ash, another ingredient for glassmaking.  Isen’s crew stacked ordinary firewood in long rows at each end of the A-frame shelter.  The Senerham blacksmith, Elne Penrict, took a particular interest in the project whenever he visited Inter Lucus for meetings of Marty’s Council.  Consulting with Isen about his furnaces, Elne made iron tools to fit the glassmaker’s needs.  Marty offered to pay Elne, but the blacksmith countered that the tools should be regarded as tuition for Ernulf’s education at Collegium Inter Lucus.
            Thus, in one way or another, every member of the castle community was busy somewhere other than the great hall, leaving Marty to use the private hour after mid-day to explore alien technology.  He put his hands on the control globe and waited for the leafy green glow to shine out between his fingers.  With only the slightest mental nudge the familiar list appeared.

I. Materias Transmutatio: operativa
II. Parva Arcum Praesidiis: operativa
III. Magna Arcum Praesidiis: parte operativa, aedificaverunt initiati
IV. Cibum Preparatio Homines: operativa
V. Inter-Castrum Videns-Loquitur: operativa
VI. Extra Arcem Micro-Aedificator: operativa
VII. Potentia Fontes: operativa
VIII. Aquarum: operativa
IX. Intra Arcem Micro-Aedificator: operativa
X. Centralis Arbitrium Factorem: operativa

            Marty still had no guess as to what Praesidiis meant.  Apparently, Inter Lucus had two Praesidiis systems, the small and the large.  But without instruction in Latin, Marty might never discover how to use them.  And what about the CPU—or should I call it the CAF? According to the list, Centralis Arbitrium Factorem is fully operational.  But that can’t be right, can it?  What about the eleventh tube, the violet one?  It’s broken.  Why doesn’t Inter Lucus repair it?
            Questions.  Every answer I find produces more questions.  Is there anyone on this planet with answers?
            Something changed, pulling Marty out of his reverie.  A light, like a green asterisk, was pulsing on the interface wall, next to system V: Inter-Castrum Videns-Loquitur.  Marty watched it blink five or six times, and then the whole list vanished.
            A white square appeared in the interface wall and quickly grew larger.  In seconds, Marty saw a portrait of a woman in the square.  As the picture reached life-size, the woman moved, turning her head to face Marty.  Marty remembered his own arrival on Two Moons, and for a moment he expected the woman to step through the interface into Inter Lucus.  Then he saw that the woman’s left hand rested on a control globe exactly like his, except that her globe emitted blue light rather than green.
            The woman smiled at him.  “Fair morning, lord.  May I ask your name?”
            My God!  I should have guessed!  Inter-Castrum Videns-Loquitur.  It’s a castle-to-castle skype connection, except I don’t know how to dial up.  Marty inclined his head to the woman.  “I am Martin Cedarborne.  And you are?”
            The woman switched hands on the control globe and half turned to her left, brushing long blond hair over her shoulder as she did so.  She was visibly pregnant, maybe six or seven months along.  For the first time Marty noticed a man to her left—the child’s father?  Probably not, he looks more like a grandfather.  The woman and the old man exchanged words, but Marty couldn’t hear them.  She knows how to use the “mute” button, or whatever the alien equivalent is.  And that realization instantly produced another: This woman knows about castles, more than I do at any rate.
            The blond woman turned her attention to Marty.  “Martin Cedarborne, Lord of Inter Lucus, is that right?”
            Careful, old man.  She knows a lot more about castles than you do.
            “That is correct, Ma’am.”  Marty inclined his head again.  It doesn’t hurt to be polite.
            “I’m told, Lord Martin, that Inter Lucus was a ruined castle until you revived it.  Is this true?  You must be a powerful lord indeed.  And you came to Inter Lucus from Lafayette.  Are there other such lords in Lafayette?  There is no such place in Tarquint or Horatia—is it in Sestia?”
            She’s had reports about me.  From whom?  Lafayette was Marty’s standard answer whenever someone asked where he came from.  It gave him a ready answer without making any reference to planet Earth.  Somehow “Lafayette” had made its way to the blond woman.  Marty vaguely remembered Horatia and Sestia as places in some of Caelin’s stories, other continents or islands on Two Moons.  I need lessons in geography as well as alien technology.  He looked at the woman for several seconds without speaking.  Her eyebrows seemed to knit together and she began to frown.  She’s not accustomed to delayed responses.
            “I will tell you, Ma’am, that Lafayette is even more distant than Sestia.  But I must ask again, as a matter of courtesy: What is your name?”
            The woman smiled immediately.  “Your pardon, please, Lord Martin.  I would have thought that you knew.  I am Mariel Grandmesnil.”
            Marty remembered the name from Kenelm Ash’s visit in the autumn.  But Ash was from Hyacintho Flumen, and her army is besieging it.  She didn’t learn about me from Ash.  “Ah!  The queen of Herminia!”  Marty stepped to the side of his control globe so that he could bow formally, maintaining contact with only his left hand.  When he looked up, he read unsettledness, almost anxiety, on Mariel’s face.  “Queen Mariel, is there something wrong?”
            “Not at all.  I should not be surprised that a lord powerful enough to revive Inter Lucus can also control Videns-Loquitur with one hand.”
            It had never occurred to him that it would be harder to manage the interface with one hand than two.  Marty tried to keep a blank face while registering this new information.  She can tell me more between the lines than I could ever get her to say in response to direct questions.  I just need to keep her talking.  “You compliment me, Queen Mariel.  But the truth is that I am not sure I am powerful at all.  It seems to me that Inter Lucus does most of the work.”
            Mariel shook her head.  “Surely you know, Lord Martin, that a castle’s power flows from the lord’s bond. You must be a Tirel, and well descended indeed.  Sometime in the distant past, some Tirel—a second son or bastard perhaps? –fled Tarquint to escape family rivalry.  It is a familiar story.  Word must have reached you in distant Lafayette: Inter Lucus dead a hundred years, good proof there were no other claimants.  So you came, and against all odds you have bonded.  You are to be congratulated.”
            “The queen is most kind.”
            “Perhaps.”  Mariel’s face hardened.  “Your bond is strong, Lord Martin.  But you are become a lord only recently.  You have not gathered knights.  The villages near Inter Lucus are small and poor.  You have no army.  How will you answer Aylwin?”
            The queen straightened her shoulders and frowned.  “Do not play coy with me, Lord Martin.  If he has not done so already, the lord of Hyacintho Flumen will soon implore your aid against my army, which has already taken his town and surrounded his castle.  I assure you, if you aid him, it will go ill for you when my army comes to Inter Lucus.
            Marty puzzled: Threats and posturing?  Is that the level of diplomacy on this planet?  “As you say, Mariel, I have little with which to aid this Aylwin, if he should ask.  But why do you speak in such an unfriendly way?  It is unqueenly of you.”
            “Unqueenly?”  She seemed genuinely surprised.
            “Aye.  Herminia is a great land, I am told.  You are queen.  Why should such a queen stoop to threats?  Should she not offer friendship?”
            A smile played on the corner of Mariel’s mouth.  “Lord Martin, you are not only more powerful, but clever and wise.  Indeed, the bond between Sovereign and the lords of castles ought to be one of friendship and mutual gain.  Sadly, even some of the lords of Herminia are still learning to trust the queen’s peace.  I hope it will be otherwise with you.”
            “I take it you mean to extend your rule to Tarquint. Why?”
            Mariel regarded the question as elementary.  “Why?  I am Grandmesnil!  I can conquer, and I will if I must.  Of course, it would be better for wise lords to see the benefits of friendship.”
            Marty didn’t pursue the question of motivation.  “Peace is better than war.  I am certainly aware of that.  But I am newly come to Inter Lucus, as you say.  What are the benefits of friendship that a new lord might reap from alliance with your majesty?”
            Mariel shook her head.  “Alliance?  There will be no alliance.  You will swear homage to me as your queen.  As my vassal, you will rule Inter Lucus at my pleasure.”
            Marty saw no point in quibbling.  He inclined his head.  “Pardon my misstatement.  I only meant to ask what benefits might come to me as a lord loyal to your rule.”
            The blond eyebrows knit together, and Mariel pursed her lips.  “You say that peace is better than war.  You are thinking, perhaps, of fewer threats to your life and rule.  Do you understand the ways a wider peace is better than a local one?”
            “A wider peace?”
            “That’s right.  The lords of Herminia trade with one another and with me.  Those who cannot make steel find that I can supply all they need.  Can you make castle steel, Lord Martin?”
            Marty tried to appear suitably impressed.  “I did not even know that castles can make steel.  Perhaps I am not the powerful lord you say I am.”
            “Perhaps.  You bonded only last summer, and already you can command Videns-Loquitur. But now you see a benefit of friendship.  You may trade for my steel and better arm your sheriffs.  I presume you have invested some sheriffs by now.  If you haven’t, you should.”
            Mariel’s smile could only be described as condescending.  Marty might have taken offense, but something about her statement teased at him.  There’s something I’m not getting yet.  I need to think.
            Marty looked over his shoulder, as if someone were speaking to him.  “Mariel, I’m sorry.  I have matters to attend to here.  May we speak again?  Tomorrow?”
            “Certainly, Lord Martin.  You know how to speak with me.”

95. In Castle Inter Lucus

            Ora found Lord Martin in the great hall at one of the tables where the students of Collegium Inter Lucus sat for lessons.  He sat alone, leaning on the table, head bowed and shoulders slumped.  For a moment Ora thought Martin might be sick, but she quickly reached a different surmise: he was contemplating some difficulty.  Ora’s heart burned with tenderness for him.  She had every confidence that Lord Martin would solve whatever problem was bothering him; at the same time she knew that Os Oswald and the other sheriffs were worried.  The knight from Hyacintho Flumen had disdained Lord Martin.  The knight said that the lord at Hyacintho Flumen no longer asserted any claim between the lakes, but Ora had heard the sheriffs worrying that the war in the south might pull them in somehow.  Everyone at castle Inter Lucus knew that Martin’s sheriffs were not real soldiers, not like the knight from Hyacintho Flumen or the sheriffs of Down’s End.  What would happen if even a small army marched on Inter Lucus?  The villagers would flee to the castle for protection.  Could Lord Martin and four poorly trained sheriffs hold off an enemy?
            “My Lord Martin!  Are you okay?” 
            He raised his head at Ora’s greeting.  “I’m fine.  Just thinking.”
            “Alf wants you to come to see our newest paper.”
            “Alf does?  Aren’t five of you making paper?”
            “Aye, but this new kind was Alf’s idea.”
            “Very well.  Let’s go.”
            Before they reached the north door of the hall, Ora asked, “What were you thinking my lord?”
            “It will take some explaining, Ora.  After I’ve seen this new paper, I want you and Caelin to visit Priest Eadmar with me, so we can discuss it together.”
            “Dyed paper!  Did this idea come in another dream, Alf?”  The new paper was thicker and smoother than any yet produced at Inter Lucus, and it was bright red.  Dried and cut into seven-inch squares, Marty thought it could pass for construction paper in the school supply aisle of a supermarket back on Earth.
            “No, my lord.”  Alf’s eyes shone with pride.  “Went Bycwine told me how Mildgyd was teaching him how to dye wool.  So I thought: why not dye paper?  It might not work, but we could try.”
            Marty nodded.  “It worked beautifully.  Most paper we make should be white, the better for writing.  But we’ll find uses for colored paper, I’m sure.  I particularly like the strength of this paper.”  Marty bent a sheet of the red stock without folding it.  “In fact, here is an idea.  Put sheets of undyed paper between two sheets of the new paper, like this.”  The papermakers watched Marty demonstrate.  “We’ll put holes along the edge, and have Went or Tayte sew the whole together.”
            Ora made the connection immediately.  “A book!  We can copy the book of God!”
            “It would take a great many pages.”  Of all the students in Collegium Inter Lucus, Whitney Ablendan was the quickest to speak her mind.  “The letters in the book of God are very small, so every page in it has many words.”
            “Aye.”  Marty wanted to encourage independent thinking.  “Do you have a recommendation?”
            Whitney had an answer immediately.  “We should make many little books, and each one can hold a portion of the book of God.”
            “Could we make other colors?”  Dodric Night, unlike Whitney, very rarely volunteered to speak during lessons.  “If we made papers of various colors, all the red books could be portions of the book of God, and other colors used for other purposes.”
            Marty and the others looked at Dodric amazed.  Then Caelin said, “Dodric, that’s brilliant.”  Caelin thumped his temple with a finger.  “We had a yellow mash last week, but it made uselessly flimsy paper, so we discarded it.  We should try it again, but with more shredded rag.  And less water, perhaps.”
            Marty touched Caelin’s elbow.  “Whitney, Dodric, and Alf can experiment with a new mash.  I would like you and Ora to come with me.”
            “My Lord, Whitney, Dodric and Alf are all eleven or twelve.  Would you leave Materias Transmutatio in their hands?”  Caelin had recently passed his fifteenth birthday, and he regarded himself as head of the papermaking crew.
            “They can manage for an hour or two on their own.”  Marty stepped around Caelin to a chocolate colored stick leaning against the wall.  “Ah!  I wondered where I’d left this.”  He hefted his staff and waved it at Alf, Dodric and Whitney.  “Make sure I’m right, you three.  No accidents while we’re gone.  Okay?”
            Okay.”  Alf’s blue eyes looked up at Marty from beneath his fringe of white-blond hair.  “We’ll be careful, my Lord.”

            “Lord Martin, welcome.  Ora and Caelin as well.”  Eadmar pulled open the door to Prayer House, admitting them.  “You are early today.”  Normally, Marty visited the priest in the late afternoon for the daily session of reading/translating from Marty’s New Testament.  With short winter days, Marty usually returned to the castle at sundown to be present at sup.
            “Something has happened.  I need your advice.”  Marty looked around the interior of Prayer House.  “Rothulf?”
            “He is with Isen, as you commanded.”  Eadmar raised an eyebrow, even as he waved them through the frosty interior of Prayer House to the door that led to his own room, where a fire provided comfort.
            “I don’t want us to be overheard.”  Marty took off his coat and folded it over the back of a plain wooden chair.  Besides the fireplace that heated it, Eadmar’s apartment featured two chairs, a narrow cot, and a tiny table.  Eadmar motioned Ora to the second chair, and Caelin sat on the floor with his back to a small stack of firewood, leaving the bed for the priest.  With the shutter pulled tight on the glassless window, the fire and an oil lamp provided all the light.
            “I will be glad when Isen produces glass.  Sometimes I sit close to the fire with the shutters open, even in winter, just to have daylight.”  Eadmar held up a hand, preventing Ora from speaking.  “I know, young lady.  You will tell me I should visit Inter Lucus and enjoy its marvelous lights.  Even underground it is lit like the day, or so Rothulf tells me.  But until Guthlaf Godcild gives me leave, I may not set foot in Martin’s castle.”
            Ora inclined her head, acceding to Eadmar’s will.
            The priest settled on the cot.  “What is this about, Martin?”
            “Today I used Videns-Loquitur for the first time.”
            Pursed lips, raised eyebrows.  Eadmar shrugged and lifted open palms; the words meant nothing to him.  Caelin, however, reacted with a sudden inhale.  The priest looked at him.  “Do you know what it means?”
            “I think it means ‘seeing-speaking,’” said Caelin.
            “Close enough.”  Marty leaned forward, hands on his knees.  “I saw a blond woman.  Quite beautiful, obviously pregnant, standing with her hand on an interface globe.  It appeared much like mine, except that it glowed blue rather than green.”
            “The lord’s knob of another castle,” said Caelin.
            “Indeed.  She said her name was Mariel.”
            Questions tumbled out of Ora and Caelin.  “The Queen of Herminia?  Are you sure?  She’s pregnant?” 
            “She claimed to be queen, and I have no reason to doubt her.  As I say, her pregnancy was obvious.”
            Eadmar asked, “Her army surrounds Hyacintho Flumen, does it not?”
            “According to Kenelm Ash, yes.  And Mariel said as much.  After her army conquers Hyacintho Flumen, she said, it will come to Inter Lucus.  She threatened punishment if I intervened to help Lord Mortane.”
            “You have no help to give,” observed Eadmar.
            “Aye.  So her threat was superfluous.  I have no desire to fight wars in any case.”
            Ora and Caelin asked together: “Superfluous, my lord?”
            Marty thought for a moment.  Superfluous means ‘unnecessary’ or ‘a greater amount than useful.’  But I don’t want to talk about her threats.  Something else she said has got me thinking.
            “Queen Mariel said that I must be a Tirel.  More than a hundred years ago, she thinks, some Tirel second son or bastard ran away from Inter Lucus to Lafayette.  Of course, she has no idea where Lafayette really is.”
            Caelin flicked a bit of pitchy wood onto the fire.  It blazed up quickly.  “Did you tell her?”
            “I told her that Lafayette is far away, further than Sestia.  I don’t know where Sestia is, but any place on Earth is certainly further than Sestia.”
            Eadmar scratched his bald pate.  “It is probably wise that you not tell strangers like Mariel that you have come to Two Moons from another world.”
            Marty grinned at the priest.  “We don’t want her thinking I’m mad, do we?  I suspect that’s what the villagers think.”
            The priest frowned.  “They don’t know what to think.”  Since the building of Prayer House Eadmar had made it a point to visit to Inter Lucus or Senerham frequently when weather permitted.  People between the lakes had quickly come to trust him, a priest of the old god, brave enough to live next to a castle and yet stalwart enough to refuse the lord’s invitation to enter.  “Not many of them understand the notion of a planet, not as you have explained it to us.  And they are mystified that a lord of a castle would deny the castle gods.  Most of them have adopted a very practical point of view.  Whether you are mad or sane, wherever you came from, you are here now and you command castle magic.  For them, that’s the end of the matter.”
            Eadmar locked eyes with Marty.  “But the queen of Herminia may not think in such terms.  The danger is not only that she might doubt your sanity.  She may imagine you a threat.  If she knew that you are not a Tirel, that you cannot possibly be a Tirel, she might decide you are an imposter, and she might test your command of Inter Lucus, perhaps by attacking you.”
            Marty thought about his conversation with Mariel.  “She congratulated me on reviving a dead castle, and she seemed quite impressed that I can maintain a bond with only one hand on the interface globe.  I think she is convinced that I am genuine lord.”
            “My Lord, did you say that?”  Caelin was suddenly agitated.  “Did you say ‘interface globe’?  All people on Two Moons say, ‘the lord’s knob.’”
            “Does it matter which word Lord Martin uses?”  Ora was always ready to defend Marty against criticism, implied or real.
            Marty explained Caelin’s point.  “It could matter greatly, Ora.  If I use strange words, it could provoke suspicion in Mariel’s mind.  Eadmar is right, I think.  I should let Mariel continue in her belief that I am a long-lost Tirel, something she can understand and accept.  That brings me back to the thing I want to discuss.
            “Caelin, you’ve heard many tales of the castles.  Has there ever been a usurper who took over a castle?”
            “Not as you are thinking, my Lord.  Sons of lords, and sometimes daughters, fight to place their hands on the knob.  There have been murders.  In some stories a cousin or nephew poisons the rightful lord and bonds with a castle.  But always a new lord is related by blood to the old lord.”
            Marty looked at Eadmar.  “You’ve lived many more years than Caelin, my friend.  Have you ever heard of a castle ruled by a commoner?”
            “Age makes no difference.  I have paid little attention to tales of demons, except to learn never to trust the lords who worship them.”  The priest’s grin prevented any objection to his words.  “Caelin knows far more of such things.”
            “Fair enough.  But you know the people of Down’s End.  Would anyone there believe that a commoner could bond with a castle?”
            “No.  All know that castles pass from parent to child.  Only nobles bond with those the lords call gods and we call demons.”
            “Do the lords of castles marry common folk?”
            Eadmar nodded to Caelin, deferring to the youth’s better knowledge.  Caelin said, “Rarely.  Lords and ladies seek the daughters of other lords as wives for their sons.  Of course, sometimes a lord or a knight descended from a lord will sire a bastard on a common woman.”
            “Like Alf.”
            “Aye… If Rothulf speaks the truth.”  Caelin still doubted Rothulf Saeric’s story of Alf’s parentage.
            Marty looked at Caelin.  “Has the lord of one castle ever bonded with some other castle?  Has the son or daughter of any lord ever bonded with another castle?”
            “Aye.  This is why noble families intermarry.  A second son in one castle may sometimes bond with the castle of his mother’s family—if that castle has no lord or lady, or if the lord or lady dies.  This has led to cases of treachery and murder.”
            Marty leaned forward, staring at the packed earth floor of Eadmar’s apartment.  Castle control is passed from parent to child.  It has to be tied to genetics.  But the lords have bastards, some acknowledged and some not.  After twenty generations, the gene for control would have to be spread throughout the population.  There ought to be stories of successful usurpers.
            Maybe the gene is recessive.  Maybe you need to get it from both parents to control a castle.  And for all I know, it could be more complicated than that.  It might take a particular genetic combination…  My God!
            Ora read the change in Marty’s expression.  “Lord Martin, what is it?”
            Marty directed his answer to Eadmar.  “We need to go to Dimlic Aern.”

96. In the Town Hyacintho Flumen

            A knock on her door.  “Fair morning, Lady Edita.  I have a breakfast prepared.  Will you eat here or at the Petal?”
            Edita pulled herself to a sitting position with her right arm, pushing her lifeless left leg off the bed to the floor.  “I’m sorry Mistress Cooper.  I’m just getting up.  I’ll come out as soon as I can.”
            The plump face of the barrel maker’s wife leaned in around the door.  “You need not apologize, my lady.  It’s a wonder you can rise at all so early in the morning.”  Godiva Cooper opened the door wide and come to Edita’s side.  “You should tell that young squire that a lady needs sleep—and he should tell the general.”  Godiva shook her head, but her disapproval was feigned.  In reality, she was proud and excited to have such an important person as Edita rooming in her apartment.  That Edita often took meals with General Eudes Ridere and his commanders in the Rose Petal and sometimes did not return home until the wee hours of the morning were marks of distinction—at least, to Godiva Cooper.  Privately, some of Godiva’s friends expressed other opinions, calling her guest a Herminian bitch or the whore who betrayed Lord Aylwin.
            Edita stood up, her weight on her right leg.  She tugged at her heavy woolen nightdress to cover her linen under tunic.  It was cold in the apartment, so she slept in both. Her workspace would not warm until the air of the kitchen drifted in through the open door. 
            “Don’t bother dressing.  It’s just me today.  Wigmund had a bite and has gone to buy supplies for the shop.  Let me help.”  Mrs. Cooper tucked herself under Edita’s left arm and supported her to the door.  “Will Master Wedmor come to see you this morning?”
            “Who can tell?  I’m not the prettiest of girls.  He might change his mind any day.”  Edita kept a close watch on her speech around Godiva and other local people.  More than once she had heard General Ridere remind his commanders that Aylwin might have planted spies among the townsfolk.  The siege could keep food out of the castle, but it would be impossible to stop a spy’s signals.
            “Isn’t that the truth?  Men are fickle.  They proclaim undying love—until they see some young thing that looks better.  Then: woo!  Out the door and never come back!”
            Godiva coughed, realizing she had wandered onto a painful subject.  “Course, I don’t mean all men.  Take my Wiggy.  Some ’o us girls get lucky.  And I would say your Master Wedmor is more like Wiggy than … well, than other men.”
            “I think that’s true, Mistress Cooper.”  Edita smiled at hearing Mrs. Cooper call Bully “Master Wedmor.”  She had first met Bully Poorman in the harbor at Prati Mansum, when he kept her from tumbling as she boarded Little Moon.  Poorman was a name often taken by vagabonds and criminals, her mother reminded her; the boy was a mere lackey to the cloth merchant, Boyden Black.  But Bully had been kind to Edita, and conversations with him made the voyage to Tarquint endurable.  Her heart broke when Little Moon arrived in Hyacintho Flumen; Boyden Black took his servant into town and Mortane servants took Edita into the castle.  Except for a brief glimpse from horseback when Aylwin paraded her before his people, she hadn’t seen Bully again.
            Just as well, her mother Erline told her.  It would be cruel to encourage the boy.  He was obviously smitten by Edita, infatuated with dreams of nobility.  Erline had chuckled at Bully’s innocence.  Edita had responsibilities to her family, Erline declared, and she would fulfill them by marrying one of the sons of Hereward Mortane.  On their arrival in Hyacintho Flumen, they discovered that before his death Lord Mortane had left the castle to his second son, Aylwin, and the older had run away rather than serve his brother.  Two days later Erline excitedly told her daughter that the Mortanes had agreed that Edita would marry Lord Aylwin.  She need not wait for Eddricus to grow up.  In a mere fortnight, Edita would be the lady of Hyacintho Flumen!  Erline never mentioned what she surely knew, that Juliana Ingdaughter’s presence helped buy the young lord’s consent.
            Her marriage lasted 159 days.  Edita had counted them and written the number—CLIX—in her prized possession, a little book with blank pages given to her by her father before she left Prati Mansum.  She wrote the number on the bitter morning when she hacked off her hair with a scissors. Only two pages remained in the diary, making it the history of her marriage and humiliation.  She had preserved a few strands of her hair between the book’s pages, a fitting reminder of the fiasco she had made of life.
            Her own brother Gifre brought the terms of the exchange, which Aylwin had willingly accepted.  The alliance between house Mortane and house Toeni was irrevocably canceled.  Edita rode out from Hyacintho Flumen repudiated and dishonored.   But then, on the ride from castle to the besieging army, she discovered freedom, the freedom of complete and final failure. She owed nothing more to her husband or father.  Whatever would come next, it would be entirely her life.
            And then, at the end of the slow descent from the castle, Bully.  No longer Bully Poorman, but Bully Wedmor.  Not a raw youth, but a soldier in Queen Mariel’s service.  Not a cloth merchant’s assistant, but a squire to a lord.  And not just any lord; Boyden Black was Eudes Ridere!  Throughout her childhood, Edita had heard the general’s name spoken with resentment and grudging respect.  Eudes Ridere had compelled her grandfather Lord Sherard Toeni to submit to King Rudolf.  Growing up, she had imagined Ridere as an old man, white-haired like her grandfather.  Instead, he was an iron-hard, straight-backed, beaked-nose man, no older than her father.  She realized now that Ridere had been young, a knight in his twenties, when he besieged Lord Sherard.
            Bully was supposed to take her to Ridere that first day, but delivery took too long.  They ate lightly, a soldier’s mid-day sup, in a farmhouse at the western edge of the siege circle.  Then they bundled her into a two-wheeled cart.  Bully and Gifre rode horses alongside her as they slowly circled the western and southern lines of the siege.  They stopped frequently, since the cart that carried Edita also transported an iron kettle holding gallons of hot stew.  At each stop soldiers greeted Edita politely enough, but their real interest lay in the stewpot.  Edita was grateful for the warmth of the kettle beside her, but as the afternoon wore on the kettle cooled and the stew ran out.  She was shivering when they reached Blue River.
            Gifre and Bully transferred her to a ferry after dark.  Across the river, on the town dock, they loaded her into another cart for a short ride to the Rose Petal.  She arrived cold, stiff, and exhausted.  Rather than present her to the general, Bully and Gifre covered her with blankets in one of the Rose Petal’s beds.  In the morning, after the luxury of a hot bath, she was interviewed by Ridere.  She sat opposite the general at a table in a small room; Bully and a grim-faced swordsman stood by the door.
            The general had asked many questions, and Edita tried to use her knowledge of Hyacintho Flumen to prove her value to him.  Boemia was probably right, she thought: as the discarded wife of a lord, Edita was an ordinary crippled woman in a world with no use for unproductive mouths.  She answered Ridere’s questions as honestly as she could, which unfortunately meant that many times she admitted ignorance: “I don’t know, my lord.”
            Some things she did know.  Aylwin boasted that he could control circle shields, though Edita had never watched him do it.  Actually, she said, she had rarely seen him touch the lord’s knob, because she usually avoided the great hall.  She spent much of her time at windows on the second floor in the castle tower; she liked watching the autumn harvest in the fields, vineyards, and orchards around Hyacintho Flumen.  It reminded her of home.
            Hyacintho Flumen had fifteen servants, Edita reported, from Arthur the old down to the stable boy Odo.  Additionally, there were three score and seven armsmen in the castle.  Aylwin had gathered these men to him as quickly as possible in the days before the siege.  The general asked if she were sure of these numbers.  Aye, she said.  She had written them in her little book only three days before.
            She told Ridere that Aylwin had spoken with Queen Mariel via Videns-Loquitur.  At least, Aylwin said he had; again, Edita hadn’t seen him do it.
            Edita presumed the storage rooms downstairs in Hyacintho Flumen were as large as those in Prati Mansum, and they had to be nearly full, since Aylwin accepted hidgield in kind rather than coin from most of his people.  The barns on castle property were likewise overflowing with grain, hay, and animal fodder.  Ridere questioned her closely on these points.  Remember, he said, his army had arrived while crops were still being harvested.  Had she visited the barns?  Had Aylwin’s men slaughtered any pigs?  Had they prepared salted pork? 
            More questions.  How many cattle and horses were there?  How many storerooms were there?  Ridere had personal knowledge of eight different castles, and the capacity of their magical storage rooms varied greatly—had the lady actually seen Hyacintho Flumen’s storerooms?  Edita admitted that though she had the impression of a bountiful harvest, she could not say how much food Aylwin had stored.
            The interview lasted more than an hour.  Finally Ridere fell silent, his eyes fixed on the tabletop.  Edita thought he must have been considering how her information bore on some matter of war.  Or thinking how unsatisfactory her answers had been.  Perhaps her usefulness to the general was already ended.
            When Ridere looked up from the table, he spoke to Bully.  “I expect better of you, Bully.  You didn’t tell me the woman could write or figure.  It’s clear that she can.  Find her a room and introduce her to Eadred Unes.  He’s been pestering me for an assistant.  Why should I take an armsman off the line if this woman will do?”
            So Edita Freewoman had entered the service of the Army of Herminia.  Aylwin Mortane had divorced her, so she rejected his name.  She refused the name Toeni as well, explaining to Gifre that she would no longer be subject to her father’s wishes.  Gifre made no objection and wished her happiness as a commoner, asking only that she count him as her brother.
            Bully found a single room apartment for her a short walk from the Rose Petal.  It had been added to the back of a barrel maker’s shop some years before, but the cooper’s family no longer needed it.  A bed, a small closet, and a table with two chairs: it had everything Edita needed, she said.  This wasn’t strictly true, but both she and Bully were careful not to overspend funds supplied by the Army of Herminia.  Edita took meals with the cooper and his wife, except when she ate with General Ridere’s officers in the Rose Petal, something the general insisted she do frequently.
            Mostly, her work consisted of copying reports and letters written by Eadred Unes, the son of the castle scribe at Pulchra Mane.  Eadred had come to Tarquint armed with boxes of paper, made by Wymar Thoncelin at Ventus in Montes.  He had many hundreds of sheets of it, and fifty bottles of ink.  Eadred had large eyes set close together that made him look like an owl.  He almost never said anything in meetings at the Rose Petal; instead, he filled pages of poor quality paper with notes.  After the meetings he wrote out Ridere’s decisions, annotated with digests of the various commanders’ reports, on better stock.
            They gave her paper and ink, and Bully brought her work almost every day.  On the days Ridere took his squire to inspect the siege lines, Eadred would dispatch some other soldier with her copying for the day.  For three hours every morning and afternoon, she copied Eadred’s reports and ledgers.  Eadred insisted that at the end of each day his original writing and Edita’s copy, even if it were not finished, be returned to Eadred’s rooms in the Rose Petal.  Bully remarked to Edita that of all Ridere’s commanders and aides, Eadred Unes was the only one the general never denied.  The quartermaster general believed in organization and the power of accurate record keeping.
            Edita eased into a chair at Godiva Cooper’s kitchen table.  She ate her eggs and bacon carefully, as always.  She thought of Bully Wedmor, the soldier and commoner.  And she smiled—there was no one but Godiva to see the left side of her mouth droop. 
97. At the Siege of Hyacintho Flumen

            A single stand with four candles provided all light in the room.  Outside the house, heavy clouds blanked the light of the stars and moons.  The Lord General shook hands with each of the three men and saluted them, speaking quietly.
            “Aylwin Mortane boasts that he can command circle shields.  If that is true and he throws down a shield, you must not let it touch you.  You may be able to see it, like a faint shimmer in the air.  I’ve had men say they could smell it, as if lightning were about to strike.  If you see, hear, or smell anything unnatural, don’t move!  Stay flat on the ground, in a ditch if you can find one or in the snow.  Shields have passed over men without harming them.  But if Aylwin senses where you are, he can destroy you.”
            The raiders came from Caelestis Arcanus, armsmen of the house Beaumont.  Selwin Beaumont, knight of Herminia and son of Lord Osmer Beaumont, stood beside General Ridere as he spoke to them.  Bully wondered at the oddities of life and war.  Ansger Duranz and the brothers Simun and Roalt Valerin could not be much older than Bully, which meant they were near the age of Aylwin Mortane and Selwin Beaumont.  But while Aylwin was the lord of a castle, with magical power and scores or hundreds of armsmen to do his bidding, and Selwin Beaumont would someday become the lord of a castle with similar powers and privileges, the three soldiers faced a great likelihood of death merely because Selwin Beaumont named them as volunteers for the general’s mission.  What power of fate makes one youth a lord and another an expendable armsman?  Is it the same power that takes an orphan, a vagabond, from the fields of Wedmor to the side of Lord General Ridere?  That puts a noble lady into his arms?
            The raiders wore black clothing, and they had rubbed soot on their hands, necks and faces.  They exited the farmhouse by the western door, which could not be seen from the castle hill even in daylight.  An unnecessary precaution, Bully thought; the night was so dark the men disappeared as soon as they stepped from the house.  The more likely danger was losing their way in blackness.  The farmhouse and its barn stood just west of the ring road, where the road from Hyacintho Flumen joined it.  It was the same place Bully had welcomed Edita after the exchange.
            The raiders guided themselves like blind men, using thin wooden rods.  Even their guide sticks were rubbed with soot so they wouldn’t reflect light.  A thin layer of ice coated the snow lying on the ground.  At first, Bully thought he heard the tapping of the raiders’ guide sticks on the ice, but he couldn’t be sure.  The raiders intended to approach Hyacintho Flumen by means of the road, on compact snow, rather than try the fields; crunching through the ice layer on top of the snow could announce their position.
            “What now?” The raiders had hardly gone before Selwin Beaumont asked.
            General Ridere made a sour face.  Beaumont probably thought he had won some esteem from the general by supplying soldiers for the night mission.  In truth, Ridere had allowed Beaumont to accompany his soldiers to the farmhouse mostly as a courtesy.
            “We wait.  We pray.  We hope.”  Ridere stepped closer to Selwin Beaumont, bringing his face within inches of the knight’s.  “Sir Selwin, it is nearly certain that you and I have sent those boys to their deaths.  You will watch with me.”  Ridere pulled his coat closer around his neck and led Beaumont through the eastern part of the house to the front porch that faced Hyacintho Flumen.  Bully blew out the candles and followed.
            From the farmhouse porch Bully could see distant watch fires both north and south.  Aylwin on his castle roof can see the noose he’s in, watch fires all the way around except where the Blue River flows.  Even on the river, fires line the eastern shore.  He looked at Hyacintho Flumen on top of its hill.  The castle glowed softly with light not from any particular door or window, but from the whole.  Bully whispered to Ridere.  “My Lord General, I can see the castle.”
            “Aye.  All castles shine with interior light, but faintly, so we don’t normally see it.  Tonight the clouds hide the moons.” 
            “The light will help Roalt, Simun, and Ansger, don’t you think?”
            Ridere sighed.  “We may hope so.  Their canes must guide their feet around holes and banks, but it may help to have the general direction marked out for them.”
            After a minute of silence Selwin Beaumont said, “Gods, it’s cold.”
            Ridere made no reply.  Bully heard him breathing, but nothing else.  It was cold, but Bully recalled the general’s words: “…sent those boys to their deaths.”  Time to move Selwin’s attention onto something other than the temperature, lest he say something truly unfitting.  Bully whispered a bit louder, so Beaumont could hear.  “How far can castles throw shields, my Lord?”
            “As with all magic, Bully, it depends on the lord.  Some can’t manage a shield at all; such lords are vulnerable to attack by any army bigger than a band of highwaymen.  You’ve probably heard the history of Edmund Giles.”
            “No, my Lord.  I haven’t.”
            “I’m sure Sir Selwin knows the tale.  Selwin?”
            The young knight coughed.  “Aye, my Lord General.  Edmund Giles was grandsire of the current lord of Calles Vinum, Godfrey Giles.  Edmund confessed to his castle scribe that he could no longer command a shield.  The scribe conspired with Edmund’s wife to smother him in his sleep, allowing his brother Eustace to bond with the castle.  Lady Vera promptly married Eustace, and Eustace adopted Edmund Giles’s son as his own.  Neither the scribe, nor Lady Vera, nor Lord Eustace bore any hatred toward Edmund, but they would not abide a lord unable to defend them.”
            Bully blew out an audible breath, but made no comment.  General Ridere resumed his answer.  “But of course most lords can command shields.  Sherard Toeni, the grandfather of your friend Gifre could destroy a platoon of two score men a mile away from Prati Mansum.  He threw down two shields, one before and one behind.  Then he brought them together, killing all the men I had foolishly exposed.”  Bitterness tinged Ridere’s voice.
            Selwin Beaumont spoke respectfully.  “But you forced Lord Sherard to submit anyway.”
            “Aye.  I pulled the line back and intensified the siege.  King Rudolf paid for ships from Tutum Partum to make sure supplies did not come in by sea.  After two years, Sherard had to yield.  You will notice that we take care to prevent any riverboats reaching Hyacintho Flumen.
            “And now, Bully, it’s been long enough.  Tell the men in the barn that they can build their watch fire now.”
            “Aye, my Lord.”  Bully descended the four steps in front of the house, and then paused.  “My Lord General, did Sherard Toeni ever touch your ships with a circle shield?”
            “No.  Nor did he contest our blockade with ships of his own.”
            An hour later Bully warmed himself by a fire in a ring of stones between house and barn.  The armsmen assigned to this portion of the siege line had waited in the barn while General Ridere did whatever he was doing in the house.  Naturally, they were curious.  On any other night they would have been liable to punishment for leaving their section of the siege unpatrolled and their watch fire unlit.  But no one gainsaid an order from the general’s own lips!  They had entered the barn at sundown and came out only when Bully released them. 
            Eventually General Ridere gave Selwin Beaumont leave to join Bully with the armsmen at the watch fire.  Every few minutes one of the patrollers would come in from the road, and a man at the fire would take his turn walking the siege line.
            “What’s this all about?  Sir Selwin?”   The soldier who asked looked young, with a smooth unshaven face, red with cold.
            Neither Selwin nor Bully replied.  Ridere wanted the raiders and their mission kept secret.
            “Gods!”  The young man swore impatiently and might have said more, but an older soldier raised his hand.  “Let it go, boy.  The Lord General will have his reasons, and he need not tell us.”
            Time passed with only the crackle of fire and the quiet report of each returning patroller: “All quiet.  Naught to see.”  Bully watched for any movement between the castle, which seemed to float in the distant air, and the fire near at hand.  But there was only blackness.  He looked toward the farmhouse, where he knew Ridere still watched from the porch; again, nothing.  Bully wished the general would come down and warm himself.  Eventually he leaned close and whispered to Selwin.  “I think we should go back to the general.”
            “Why… Alright.” 
            Mounting the farmhouse steps Bully realized he could see Ridere.  The light of the castle or some tiny hint of morning outlined the general’s figure.  “Should be soon,” the general whispered.
            Ridere’s words were hardly spoken when a sound came from the east.  Bully and Selwin turned to listen.  Lowing: a cow was lowing in the dark.  More than one cow; two, no, at least three cows; and they were coming swiftly closer—on the road, Bully reasoned, since the creatures would have been mired by snow and ice in the fields.
            Selwin and Bully both saw it, like a silver string falling to the ground.  It stretched north and south, curving away east.  It touched the snow and disappeared, but above the place where it fell, Bully thought he could see a shimmer, as if the dark itself were rippling in a wind.
            Did he imagine it?  Afterward, Bully thought he saw the cow just before it ran headlong into the shield.  The beast exploded into flame only sixty yards away.  Seconds later the other cows also ignited.  The poor creatures burned like torches, lighting the space between them and the farmhouse.  Beyond the cows, Bully saw three figures throwing themselves into the snow beside the road.
            The ripple in the air began retreating.  It had to be, because the burning cows became crystal clear; the shield was beyond them.
            “Get down.  Get down.”  General Ridere spoke quietly, oblivious of Bully and Selwin. 
            A column of fire suddenly erupted where one of the raiders had hidden himself.  By its light Bully saw one of the other men spring up and run, trying to save himself from the shield.  A few seconds later, he too burst into flame.  Bully imagined he saw the ripple moving further away.  Several seconds passed.
            Ridere bowed his head.  “Three cows less food for Hyacintho Flumen. Two men dead.  Damn.”

98. In the Town Hyacintho Flumen

            “Help me weight down the corners, would you, Bully?  Use the stones by the wall there.  One on each corner.”
            “I don’t understand.  It’s the best vellum; it will lie flat enough, and it has already been stretched and cut square.”
            “All the more reason to hold it still while I’m working.  Eadred Unes paid two golds for this bit of calfskin.  He won’t want his one-handed copyist to smear the ink.  And I want to keep my columns straight.”
            “As you wish, my lady.”  Bully inclined his head deferentially, but Edita heard the playfulness in his voice.  She stuck out her tongue at him.  Before he could react, she dipped her quill into the inkpot, which disallowed interference; the parchment was too valuable an object to risk smudging.
            Bully weighted the parchment corners as requested.  Edita leaned forward, tucking her lifeless left arm between her torso and the table, careful to avoid actual contact with the vellum.  Her right arm wielded the quill in careful, unhurried strokes.  The parchment already bore a heading in large letters inscribed by Eadred:  

Honoratus Dominus Mortane:
 Haec historia hidgield est vera et accurata in Hyacintho Flumen colligitur.

            Below the heading, Edita copied words onto the calfskin in much smaller letters.  She referred repeatedly to a sheet of paper lying nearby, one of several such papers, each one covered with Eadred Unes’s handwriting.  She arranged the words in vertical columns.
            As a boy, Bully had learned the marks one used to write numbers: V, L, C, D, M, and I.  He knew the shapes were also letters, but the sounds of letters were mysteries to him; greater still was the mystery of joining letters into words, so the clusters of ink marks in Edita’s columns meant little to him.  But then he saw that some of Edita’s “words” looked familiar.  He pointed without touching the parchment.  “These are numbers, aren’t they?”  But his unspoken question was, What does it say?
            Edita looked past Bully’s shoulder.  “Shut the door.” 
            He nodded, acknowledging the import of her words.  Eadred Unes and General Ridere insisted that none of Edita’s copying should be left overnight in her apartment; they clearly wanted army documents kept secret.  But to read a manuscript aloud would be practically an invitation to unwelcome ears.  Bully stepped through the door, saw Godiva Cooper alone in her kitchen kneading bread, and then closed the door.  He came to Edita’s side.
            “The words here are in the language of the gods.”  She whispered, pointing at the large letters.  “Arthur the old will read them and translate for Aylwin.  In the common tongue they say: ‘Honorable Lord Mortane, this is a true and precise account of hidgield collected in Hyacintho Flumen.’”
            Edita touched her quill to one of Eadred Unes’s notes.  “The coming of the Herminian army stopped hidgield payments to Aylwin.  Eadred made records of all hidgield collected since the siege began.  I am putting all the information onto one parchment.  In this column I write names: Ucede Night and his wife, Godgyth Night; the brothers, Forthere Mare and Gyric Mare; and so on.  Here I copy whatever Eadred wrote about the man or woman’s occupation: farmer, merchant, tanner, silversmith—though in some cases Eadred’s note does not say.  And here I write the amount of hidgield paid and whether it was coin or in kind.”
            “You must teach me to read.”  Bully’s eyes roved the parchment.  “This is why Ridere ordered Danbeney Norman to prepare another white flag.”
            Edita laid down the quill and flexed her hand to relieve a cramp.  “It seems so.  The general will show Aylwin how much he loses by refusing Queen Mariel.  All the goods he might have had are in Herminian hands.”
            “All the goods?  In that case the parchment needs to be much bigger.”
            She looked at the stack of papers.  “I think not.  Eadred measured the vellum carefully.”
            “That’s not what I meant.”  Bully caught her right hand and pulled her up from her chair.  “Lord Aylwin is a fool. He doesn’t recognize the greatest good he has lost to Herminian hands, and he would not understand if we sent him a hundred parchments.”  He lifted her chin and kissed her.
            The creation of a fine parchment was a laborious business, much slower than Edita’s usual work.  When copying Eadred Unes’s ordinary records, legibility was all that mattered.  General Ridere merely wanted a readable duplicate of all the communications he sent to Herminia, so it did not matter if Edita made an occasional error.  She could simply draw a line through the mistake and resume the document.  Contrariwise, the parchment prepared for Aylwin had to be perfect.
            Ordinarily, Bully would take documents to Edita in the morning for copying and then go about his normal business of serving Eudes Ridere.  At the end of the day he or some other soldier would carry Edita’s work back to the Rose Petal.  But today he had been commanded to stand guard for the writing of the parchment.  It was hard duty to merely watch.
            Edita would write a name or two, an occupation, or a hidgield amount, then straighten up and take a deep breath.  She wanted the ink of one line to dry before she entered another beneath it.  Bully realized there was no use hurrying the process, and he dared not interrupt her concentration.  He defeated monotony with repeated visits to Wigmund Cooper’s workshop.  The barrel maker even allowed Bully to use a hand plane on some of his wood.  Master Cooper explained that this particular oak was inferior stock, so from it he intended to make a dry-goods barrel.  Bully’s lack of experience with a plane wouldn’t harm the finished product.  “Your stroke must be a good bit smoother before I let you work the staves for a beer barrel!”
            By sundown Edita had finished the parchment.  Quality vellum could be rolled or folded without damage, but Eadred had told his copyist to take no chances.  When the ink had dried, Bully slipped the parchment into a square leather sheath large enough that the vellum could lie flat.  The papers bearing Eadred’s hidgield notes went into a smaller leather pouch which had a long strap that went over Bully’s shoulder.  With the parchment sheath under his left arm, Bully could offer his right arm to Edita as they walked to the Rose Petal.  With Bully on her bad side and a sturdy cane in her right hand, Edita could walk securely and with reasonable speed.
            In Rose Petal Edita ate at General Ridere’s long table, usually next to one or more of the young knights—in reality, hostages kept to help guarantee their fathers’ loyalty—at the foot of the table.  Her brother Gifre was one of these, with the result that often Edita was able to talk with him.  As a squire, Bully sat near the wall behind the general when he wasn’t fetching things Ridere might request.  When sup ended, the knights and commanders began dressing in winter coats, saluting the general before taking their leave.  Some would spend the night in rented rooms in the town; others would sleep on the ground near watch fires.  Edita waited.  Ridere usually signaled Bully when he was free to escort her to the Coopers’ house.  But tonight the general seemed to forget.  Bowls and breadboards had been cleared away and most of the company had left when Ridere motioned to Edita.  “Come sit by me, Lady Edita, if you would.”
             Edita rose, and Gifre hastened to assist her.  “My Lord General, it would be better if I were addressed as Edita Freewoman.  The ending of my marriage has released me from noble status.”  She eased into a chair next to Ridere, and Gifre stood at her side.
            The thin mouth under Ridere’s beaked nose broke into a smile.  “Bully reminds me of this almost daily.  It’s almost as if he has a plan.”  Ridere crooked a finger at his squire.  “Let me see the parchment.”
            Bully retrieved the vellum document from its sheath and spread it on the table before the general.  Alan Turchil, the soldier from Tutum Partum who had become one of Ridere’s trusted commanders, stood beside Ridere.  The general leaned forward.  “Eadred!”
            “My Lord General?”  The scribe had disappeared from the room a few minutes earlier; he emerged from the corridor to Rose Petal bedrooms, one of which served as his copy room, with another sheathed document. 
            Ridere gestured.  “This is Lady… Here is the freewoman’s result.  What do you think?”
            Unes bent forward with a hand on the table, not touching the vellum.  His owl eyes blinked.  “It’s excellent work, my Lord.  You are to be congratulated, Lady Edita.”
            Edita inclined her head.  “Master Unes, please…”
            Unes raised a hand to interrupt.  “Very well.  Edita Freewoman, then.  Clean lines, consistent shapes; it is well lettered indeed.  Did you copy all the notes?”
            “Aye.  Some of the names had no occupation, so I left space in the second column blank.”
            Unes nodded.  “Very good.  My Lord General, it is ready.”
            Ridere tapped the table lightly.  “We’ll send it to Aylwin, then, under flag of truce.  Now, Eadred, let’s see what you’ve made.”
            Bully returned the hidgield document to its sheath, and then Unes spread another calfskin on the table.  It was a map of the territory around Hyacintho Flumen.
            Small, yet remarkably accurate drawings of buildings dotted the map.  In the center stood the castle.  To the west were the stable, the castle barns, and the washerwoman’s cottage.  Farmhouses and barns hugged the rim road, which ran around the castle property on the north, west and south sides.  The Blue River sliced through the map just east of the castle hill.  The map showed the bridge over the Blue River and tiny words marked the uses of castle land: orchards, grain fields, a vineyard, pastures, gardens, and a potato field.  Little swords representing Herminian checkpoints indicated the presence of the besiegers east of the river and along the rim road.
            Ridere studied the map a long while.  Then he turned to Edita.  “What do you think, Edita Freewoman?  You have seen this whole country many times from the windows of Hyacintho Flumen.  Is it accurate?  Is it complete?”
            Edita leaned over the map in much the way she had when writing the hidgield document.  “Not quite complete.  There are roses by the washerwoman’s house, here.  And though the snow covers it in winter, there is a shallow slough that runs through these fields.”  She indicated the land south of the castle.  “In the spring, water may run a foot deep, but in late summer it is dry and they plant vegetables.  One day shortly after I arrived in Hyacintho Flumen, Aylwin found me standing at a window and told me about it.  I suppose he was trying to make me feel at home.” 
            “My Lord General, that’s it!”  Bully was suddenly excited.
            Black eyebrows arched.  “What?”
            “Here’s the house where the raiders started.”  Bully pointed at features of Unes’s map as he talked.  “They drove the cows from this barn along the road to about here.  Ansger, Simun and the cows burned here.”
            Ridere nodded.  “Very clear.  It’s an excellent map.”
            “Roalt Valerin escaped the shield by lying still in some depression.  Somehow the shield passed over him.”
            “It has happened before.  That’s why I told the raiders not to move.”
            “He must have been sheltered in the slough.”
            “It’s possible.” 
            “And the slough leads to the river.  A man could escape that way.  He could swim under the shield.”  Ridere did not look at Bully.  Instead he watched Turchil and Unes react to the squire’s idea.  Bully responded to the skepticism on Eadred Unes’s face.  “Well, that is, if the shield doesn’t reach into the water.”
            Unes said, “That’s not the problem.  We might try your idea in summer, Bully, but not in winter.  The river would kill a man in minutes.  No one can survive water that cold.”
            To Bully’s surprise, Commander Turchil disagreed with Unes.  “That’s not true.  My Lord General, Bully’s plan could work.”

99. In Down’s End

            The Dog of the Downs charged considerably less for rooms than Freeman’s House.  Amicia understood perfectly well why Kenelm Ash had relocated her to the Dog after Milo went to Stonebridge.  They had to make their money last.  More precisely: Amicia had to be married—in a union that would gain an ally for Aylwin, no less—before the golds were spent.  She was in a vice, and she could feel the pressure growing.
            Two days before, Eulard Barnet had taken her to a carpentry shop.  Neither Ash nor Barnet had asked her opinion.  She was to spend the afternoon with Alderman Barnet, ostensibly to learn something of his business.  She had to feign interest in carpentry, though the real purpose of the excursion was to put her on display.  Amicia had protested.  “By the gods, Kenelm!  What’s the point?  I need to marry an alderman, not some weaver or carpenter!”
            Ash had slapped her, hard.  The blow threw her to the floor.  “Damn you, girl!  Don’t you think I know that?  This was Barnet’s idea.”
            Amicia tried to quell her tears.  “I thought he was interested.”
            Ash extended a hand to help her up.  His green eyes showed tenderness out of keeping with his anger.  “He is, damn it.  But Barnet wants all the men he does business with to tell him how lucky he is to marry a noblewoman.”
            “Would they say that?”
            “No, but he will read it in their eyes.  This is important, Amicia.  You must impress these men.”
            And so—in the carpentry shop Amicia made herself express interest in the way a skilled craftsman could bond woods of contrasting colors into a single block.  The carpenter smoothed a gluey paste between boards of walnut and oak, and then squeezed the boards with clamps until the excess glue beaded out.  He explained that when the glue had dried the boards would be inseparable, as if they were a single piece of wood—like a man and his wife.  Eulard Barnet had laughed and touched Amicia’s shoulder.  Amicia felt her heart dying within her, but she had laughed prettily.
            Examining her reflection in a mirror—a very poor mirror compared with those in Hyacintho Flumen—Amicia asked the girl who looked back at her, “What will you look like in a year or two, after you’ve been clamped to a man?”  Her face had changed since Kenelm Ash brought her to Down’s End.  The shoulder length brown hair was the same, but the black eyes had seemed to retreat into their sockets.  She felt a pinch of pain in her abdomen.  In the last year she had come to recognize this as a sign her flow would start in a day or two.  She smiled bitterly.  Most likely, in two years I’ll look like a mother, whatever that looks like.  But Kenelm has yet to decide who the father will be.

            Amicia dressed carefully for sup.  She and Kenelm were to be guests yet again at Eulard Barnet’s house.  But this time, instead of riding horseback to Alderman’s Row, Barnet was sending a carriage to fetch her from the Dog of the Downs—a special occasion.  Amicia wore a green kirtle with elbow length sleeves, pale green hose, and a prized possession: a pair of white gloves.  A long winter coat would provide warmth until she reached Barnet’s house.
            The gloves made Amicia’s hands look elegant, thin and precise.  They reminded her of her mother, who had worn similar gloves on important occasions, such as when Erline Toeni brought Edita to Hyacintho Flumen to negotiate Edita’s marriage to one of Amicia’s brothers.  Lucia Mortane had welcomed the visitors at the high table, sitting in Lord Hereward’s place.  Lady Lucia wore gloves throughout the sup, and to Amicia’s mind, the gloves symbolized the elegance Lucia showed in speech and behavior.  Aylwin had been present, but Lucia negotiated the terms of the marriage.
Amicia wondered what Lucia Le Grant (her mother’s name before she married Hereward Mortane) thought when she first arrived at Hyacintho Flumen.  Lucia had never met Lord Mortane before that day, though they had been introduced via castle magic, she standing at her father’s side in Saltas Semitas, the home of the Le Grants.  Saltas Semitas was far to the north, lost in the vast expanses of the Great Downs.  Hyacintho Flumen had the river, the sea harbor, hills and valleys, and a bustling town; it must have seemed very different to Lucia.
 Amicia’s mind drifted to her sister-in-law, Edita.  In contrast to Hereward and Lucia, Aylwin and Edita hadn’t even seen each other before the Toeni women came to Hyacintho Flumen, since Amicia’s ailing father could not command Videns-Loquitur. 
            Remembering Edita brought a frown.  At one time, Amicia had wondered: Why did Mother make Aylwin marry a cripple?  And why did he agree to it?  It hadn’t taken long for her to see the role Juliana Ingdaughter played in the alliance between house Toeni and house Mortane.  Amicia felt a surge of sympathy for Edita.  Like her mother and like Amicia herself, Edita had been a marriage pawn.  But at least Edita and Mother live as nobles in a castle.  I will be the wife of a fat old banker or weaver.  Or worse: a tanner oozing with the smell of sheep dung.

            Besides Kenelm and Amicia, the Barnets (father and daughter) welcomed Todwin and Esile Ansquetil to their house, along with sheriff Wies Egnenulf and two other couples, friends of Ada Barnet.  It was a decidedly youthful party.  Eulard Barnet and Todwin Ansquetil were in their forties, but no one else was older than 25 (the horse-faced Esile Ansquetil being twenty years younger than her husband).  After sup came dancing to the music of a lute.  Ada led the way, dancing with first with her father and then every other man except Todwin Ansquetil, who politely declined.  Amicia danced rounds with Ada’s friends Herve Hain and Njal Rainer and once with Kenelm, but after that she retreated to a chair by the wall.  Eulard Barnet brought her a glass of wine and sat next to her.  Amicia sipped her wine very sparingly; it was almost bitter, not at all like the pear wine in Freeman’s House.  Ada Barnet danced on and on.
The banker rested his hand on Amicia’s left forearm, almost absentmindedly, as if reassuring himself she was there.  The lute player had started yet another song when Todwin and Esile Ansquetil walked over to Eulard and Amicia.  The banker stood up and Amicia did as well.  “I’m done in,” said Ansquetil.  He made a little bow to Amicia.  “Time for home.”
            Esile Ansquetil leaned close to kiss Amicia’s cheek.  “Next party will be at our house,” she whispered.  “We’ll get a chance to talk.”
            Still the dancing went on, even after the Ansquetils departed.  Barnet sat next to Amicia for two more songs.  He squeezed her arm, and Amicia turned to hear what he wanted to say.  But instead of speaking Barnet winked at her, stood up, and circled the room to sit by Kenelm Ash.  The lute player and the dancers obscured Amicia’s view of the two men, but she had little doubt as to the object of their whispering.  Amicia decided the bitter wine fit the occasion precisely; she should always remember this night by this taste.
At last Ada took pity on the lute player, whose fingers must have felt raw, and paid him for his work.  Herve Hain and Njal Rainer held the door for their dancing partners, Claire Bruce and Gunnara Durand, and they exited to the covered drive, where they climbed into Barnet’s carriage for a ride home.  When the carriage returned, it would bear Amicia and Kenelm back to the Dog of the Downs. 
Wies Engenulf took his leave with a dramatic bow to Alderman Barnet.  Ada let him kiss her goodnight at the door, but once he had departed Ada crossed the room to her father wearing a broad smile and shaking her head.
“Finally had enough?” Eulard asked his daughter.
Ada laughed and sighed.  “Aye.  Wies dances so beautifully.  If he had half the brains of Sir Kenelm here, I’d marry him on the spot.”  Ada inclined her head to Kenelm Ash.  “As it is, I must stop encouraging him.”  Ada swayed on her feet.  “I’m tired, and I believe I’ve had too much to drink.”
“To bed with you then.”
“Aye, Father.  But first!  Have you finally come to terms?”  She smiled broadly at Amicia.  “Surely she’s pretty enough!”
Amicia felt her face turn red.  She looked at the floor for what seemed like an embarrassingly long time.
Barnet touched Amicia’s chin, pulling her gaze to him.  “She’s more than pretty.  But whether we have come to terms is not for me to say.”

In Barnet’s carriage Amicia asked silent questions with her eyes, but Kenelm refused to answer.  Instead, he insisted on asking her stupid questions, comparing the dancing abilities of Herve Hain, Wies Engenulf, Njal Rainer, and Alderman Barnet.  Amicia brushed the questions aside, feeling a volcano of frustration growing in her.  But before the volcano could erupt, Kenelm pointed his finger at her and then slowly raised it until it pointed behind his ear to the front of the carriage.  Amicia realized that she could hear the carriage driver’s commands to his horses.  And if she could hear the driver…  Amicia let out a long sigh and began answering Kenelm’s questions.

Behind shut doors in The Dog of the Downs, Kenelm explained Barnet’s terms.  He and Amicia would marry in early spring.  Before then, Alderman Barnet would ask the Council of Down’s End to formally consider an alliance with Lord Aylwin Mortane.  Alderman Barnet would speak in favor of the alliance.  Barnet promised to support the proposal at every appropriate opportunity.  Amicia could keep as her own the golds Kenelm still held from Aylwin, and Barnet would supply her with a yearly allowance for her own expenses.  If and when Amicia bore Barnet a son, and if Barnet were to suffer ill health, Amicia and not Ada would be regent of Barnet’s estate until the heir came of age.
“He makes a few speeches—that’s all?”
            “Almost.  Raymond and I will return to Hyacintho Flumen.  Barnet is confident the Council will send Down’s End men with me.  The Down’s End Council must evaluate the siege for itself.  If we are to help your brother, you must spur Barnet to keep pressing the Council for action, and I and their men must bring back an encouraging report.”  Kenelm chewed his lip.  “It’s not good, but I fear it’s the best we can do.  In the morning you must give me your decision and I will tell Barnet.”
            As usual, Kenelm and Raymond Travers occupied the room adjacent to Amicia’s.  She knew that the knight and squire took turns standing guard outside her door through the night.  This night, after she folded away her clothes and the white gloves that reminded her of Lucia, Amicia lay in bed without sleep for two hours.  The vise was too tight.  She could feel it physically, a band of pressure on her chest.  Opposing the vise was an internal fire that burned hotter and hotter, but the fire did not diminish the pressure.  Finally she rose, opened the door, and stepped into the dark hallway.  Raymond Travers was at her side immediately.
            “My lady?”
            Amicia’s knees gave way.  She sank to a sitting position, with her back against the wall.  The squire sat beside her and put an arm around her shoulders.  She wanted to say something, but the words she wanted to say became great racking sobs.  The sound soon brought Kenelm from his room.  The soldiers helped her back into her room and shut the door.  She sat on the floor with her escorts on either side of her and wept for the life she had lost.  Amicia did not remember them putting her to bed. 
In the morning she felt cold, even under her blankets.  In despair she was ready to give Kenelm the only possible answer.  She poured cold water into a basin, wet a cloth, and washed her face.  She wrapped a cloak around her and opened the door.  To her surprise, there were three men in the corridor, waiting for her.
The newcomer bowed before Kenelm could introduce him.  He was medium height, with curly black hair and black eyes in a round face.  “My lady Amicia, my name is Felix Abrecan.  I bring you greetings from your brother, the Lord Commander Milo Mortane of the Stonebridge Guard.  Commander Mortane greatly desires that you come with me to Stonebridge to see him.”

100. In Stonebridge

            “Uncle!  Have you seen this?”
            “What is it?”  Ody Dans leaned on Derian Chapman’s arm as he climbed down from the carriage that had brought him from The Spray.  Derian handled his uncle a piece of paper while a crowd jostled around them, climbing the wide stone stairs at the entrance to Assembly Hall.  Derian recognized other Assemblymen in the mix, but most were onlookers, drawn by the news that the new Commander of the City Guard would be invested today.  Ody Dans stood still for a moment, then looked from the note to Derian, who said, “Wallis named himself and three others, but not Milo.”
            Dans’s expression was as bland as usual.  “And this matters because…?”  Dans shook his head.  “The Assembly may choose from the nominees put forward by the Assistant Commander.  But it has the power to elevate any member of the Guard to the Commander’s rank.  We could even select you, Derian.”  A short laugh.  “You should beseech the gods that we spare you!”
            “But who will put forward Milo’s name?”  Derian pulled open one of five tall wooden doors of Assembly Hall for his uncle.  They joined the throng moving into the Hall.
            “Patience, nephew.  Watch and listen.  Learn.”

            Milo sat with nineteen other guardsmen on two benches near the north wall of Assembly Hall, tucked away under a balcony that seated some of the crowd.  Like his fellows, he was unarmed; the twenty soldiers attended the Assembly as invited guests only.  Two dozen other guards stood duty around the hall, each with a hand on the hilt of a sheathed short sword.  Theirs was a ceremonial role for the most part; the Speaker had not had to call on the guardsmen to restore order to a meeting of the Assembly for a generation.  One guardsman, near the front of the Hall, the western end, held an enormous spear upright at his side.  Benches in the center of the hall, along the south wall, and on the balcony were lined with people who had come to watch.
            Stonebridge’s Assemblymen, forty of them, sat at the western end of the Hall on three raised curved tiers.  The arrangement brought every Assemblyman close to the Speaker’s table, which stood on the floor in the middle.  Milo spotted Ody Dans in the second tier of Assemblymen, waiting impassively with hands folded on his ample stomach, while other Assemblymen whispered around him.  Between the Assembly proper and the audience was a wooden railing and an empty space about twenty feet across.  The ceremonial spearman and three other sheriffs stood in this space facing the audience, ready to defend the Assemblymen from public interference.
            The spearman thumped the floor as the man at the center table stood.  The crowd of observers quieted, and the Assemblymen stopped whispering.  Milo recognized the Speaker, Frideric Bardolf, one of Ody Dans’s guests at the party last summer at The Spray.  Bardolf made a little speech, welcoming visitors to the Assembly meeting and cautioning them to maintain quiet so the Assemblymen could attend to the testimony they would hear that day.  Milo only half-listened to Bardolf; instead, his attention focused on four men seated at the front of the crowd.  The front benches were reserved for witnesses who would be called from their seats to stand near the railing.  Trymian Wallis sat with the three men he had designated as potential Commanders of the Guard: Bryce Dalston, Earm Upton, and Acwel Kent.  Milo pursed his lips.  Earm and Acwel were honest sheriffs, but clearly not qualified to lead the Guard.  Bryce had much more experience, was good with a sword, and was well liked by the men.  But he also spoke with a lisp and had an eyelid that drooped; his left eye constantly looked as if he were falling asleep.  It would be easy for the Assembly to underestimate him.  Wallis chooses his rivals carefully, or so he thinks.
            Frideric Bardolf sat down, and an Assemblyman rose from the end chair of the lowest tier.  By musing on Wallis’s nominations, Milo had missed the name; he turned to Hrodgar Wigt beside him with raised eyebrows.  Hrodgar mouthed, “Verge Courney.”
Three strides brought Courney to the rail.  He looked younger than most of the Assemblymen and wore a white shirt and a fur-lined gray cloak.  Milo guessed this must be the latest style for wealthy men in Stonebridge.  Courney had an irritating habit of brushing his black hair out of his eyes, because his front locks kept falling across his face.  In a loud voice, Courney also welcomed visitors to the Assembly (quite unnecessarily, since Bardolf had already done so), and explained that the Assemblymen would take testimony from four candidates put forward by Assistant Commander of the City Guard, Trymian Wallis.  The Assembly might then decide to interrogate other persons, and might call on anyone present to give testimony.  Finally, the Assembly would either select a new Commander of the Guard and invest him in his office or, if no final decision had been reached, continue the matter at the next Assembly meeting.  Courney must have brushed back his wayward hair a dozen times in this speech; it was a relief when he finally called on the first witness.
The interrogation began with Earm Upton.  Verge Courney summoned Earm to the rail and bade him swear that he would speak truthfully.  After the sheriff swore his oath, Speaker Bardolf asked him a series of questions: How long have you served in the City Guard?  How much battle experience have you had?  What were former Commander Tondbert’s best and worst qualities?  What is the mission of the City Guard, as you understand it?  And finally: why are you fit to command the Guard?
Earm stood at the rail two strides from Courney and began speaking to the Assemblymen in a quiet voice.  The crowd behind him rustled its impatience, because they couldn’t hear, and the rustling made things worse.  The spear-holding guard thumped them to silence.  People collectively leaned forward and strained to listen.  Earm began again and kept his answers short: He had served five years in the Guard.  He had fought against Falcons or Hawks four times in street battles.  Commander Tondbert was brave, and Earm refused to say anything bad about the recently deceased.  The Guard was to enforce the law.  Finally, Earm believed he was fit to command because he had proven his loyalty to the city and his effectiveness as a soldier by the battles he had fought.
Bardolf nodded to Courney, who asked in a loud voice if the Assemblymen had questions for Sheriff Upton.  No one did, and Courney directed Earm to sit down.
Acwel Kent testified next.  His answers were not much more interesting than Earm’s.  He had been a Guardsman slightly longer than Earm, but his duties in the Citadel had limited him to two battles with street toughs.  (“You can’t really count knocking a few heads when you’re rousting drunks,” Acwel explained, which drew laughter from Assemblymen and observers alike.)  Acwel said Tondbert’s best quality was his friendliness with the men, but he suggested that Tondbert sometimes sent men on poorly planned operations.  The City Guard’s mission was to do whatever the Stonebridge Assembly ordered, he said.  He was well prepared to serve as commander, Acwel said, because of his familiarity with all aspects of the Citadel: the kitchen, the stable, the armory, the training ground, and most of all, the men.
Several Assemblymen wanted to question Acwel.  Speaker Bardolf recognized Kingsley Averill, an elderly man with long white hair, seated opposite Ody Dans.  Averill was very tall and thin, and when he leaned on the railing of the second tier he looked like he might tumble forward onto the Assemblymen below him.  Averill asked Acwel Kent for examples of Commander Tondbert’s poorly planned operations.  Undoubtedly Acwel had anticipated this question and he responded with a list of Tondbert’s miscalculations.  To no one’s surprise, Acwel’s list included the raid on Gaudy’s Tavern, which had decimated the Guard.  “And last, Tondbert struck a pact with Bo Leanberth and the Hawks, a mistake that cost him his life.”
Again, several Assemblymen wanted to ask more questions.  Speaker Bardolf recognized Ody Dans, who asked, “Sheriff Kent, has the treachery of the Hawks been repaid?”
“Aye, Sir.  Leanberth, Goes, and Acwellan are dead.  The Hawks have been crushed.”
Milo expected Dans to ask the obvious next question—Who is responsible for the Guard’s success in this matter?  But the bland-faced Assemblyman sat down, yielding the floor.  Next to Milo, Hrodgar squirmed in his seat and cleared his throat as if he wanted to speak.  But the moment passed.  Guardsmen knew they were to speak only if questioned.
Bryce Dalston was next.  Milo thought: Naturally, Wallis puts himself last.  He can agree with Bryce on any substantive point, so that he doesn’t look a fool.  And then he’ll remind the Assemblymen that he has had access to Tondbert’s records.  Milo looked intently at Ody Dans, again sitting serenely with hands on his belly.  What game are you playing at, Master Dans?
Bryce answered the same questions.  He had been in the City Guard nineteen years.  He had survived ten or fifteen important fights with Falcons and Hawks.  Commander Tondbert was really good at collecting secrets: “But I don’t s’pose I need to tell you all, do I?”  A few people in the audience laughed aloud, but the Assembly’s stony silence quieted them.  Tondbert’s greatest weakness?  “He was a damn fool.  He wanted to be Commander of the Guard, with no idea wot the Guard should do.”
The duties of the City Guard?  “Stonebridge needs us so ordinary folk can sleep in peace, ’n so artisans ’n merchants can go about their business without bein’ robbed.  And, I s’pose, if some damn castle lord brings an army ’gainst us, the Guard should protect the city.  Not that we could, not with the arms we got.”
Someone in the audience shouted, “Hear, hear!”  And Milo heard affirmative whispers among his fellows.  But the spear thumper thumped for quiet.
Bryce’s answer to the final question was most surprising of all.  “I been with the Guard nineteen years, learned a few things.  Fit to command?  Nah!”
At least ten Assemblymen leaped to their feet, but Speaker Bardolf immediately asked, “You say you are not fit to command, Sheriff Dalston?  Why not?”
“Not good enough, that’s why.  Old as I am, I can still swing a blade.  But the boys know I got no head for strategy.  They’d be fools to depend on any plan I made.”
Bardolf motioned with both arms to silence the Assemblymen behind him; for a moment he looked like an eagle flapping its wings as she settles on her nest.  On the tiers surrounding him the Assemblymen reseated themselves.  “Sheriff Dalston.  Acwel Kent and Earm Upton have told us why they should serve as Commander of the Guard.  In your opinion, are they qualified?”
Bryce Dalston half turned to look at his comrades.  “Nah.  Meaning no offense, boys.”
“What about Assistant Commander Wallis?”
Bryce faced the Speaker.  “Nah.”
Bardolf: “In your opinion the Assistant Commander is not qualified to lead the City Guard?”
“He is not.”
Bardolf waited for more, but Dalston merely frowned back at him.  Trymian Wallis jumped to his feet to seize Bryce’s arm.  “What are you saying, man?  Ungrateful fool!”  But Bryce shook him off and kept his attention on Speaker Bardolf.
The Speaker pointed to Courney, who intoned: “Are there any questions for Sheriff Dalston?”  Half the Assemblymen leaped to their feet.  Bardolf glanced over his shoulder and pointed.  “Assemblyman Ware.” 
Milo had heard the name from Derian Chapman.  Lunden Ware and Ody Dans were the two most prominent moneylenders in Stonebridge, which made them rivals in business and allies in city politics.  Derian said they both wanted the city to expand its influence, and together they had convinced the Assembly to mint only high quality coins in limited numbers.  But in eight months in Stonebridge, Milo had never seen Ware.
The banker was a short, thin man with brown hair, seated next to Verge Courney and dressed much like him.  Ware gripped the handrail of the first tier and waited for the other Assemblymen to sit.  Trymian Wallis was still standing next to Bryce, who continued to ignore him.
“Sheriff Dalston!  You have just testified that the Assistant Commander is not qualified to lead the Guard.  Please tell us why.”
Wallis was apoplectic.  “Wait!  You must let me speak!”
Scores of people were talking all over the Hall.  The spearman thumped his spear repeatedly until the commotion calmed down.  Verge Courney waved his hand for silence and shouted.  “Please!  Everybody!  Commander Wallis will answer questions in a moment.  For now, we must let Sheriff Dalston speak.  Sheriff, please, answer Assemblyman Ware’s question.  Tell us, in your opinion, why is the Assistant Commander not qualified to command the Guard?”
“I’ve seen him beat new recruits to frighten them.  I’ve seen him kill an innocent man.  I’ve been told he collects secrets, like Tondbert.  And, well, you should ask them.”  Bryce pointed to the north wall, where Milo sat with the other guardsmen.
“This is outrageous!”  Wallis looked red as a beet.  “I demand to speak!  I have served the City Guard for fifteen years.  I know how to defend this city, better than anyone else.”
Assembly Hall quieted, listening to Wallis.  Milo and the other guardsmen were standing to get a better view.  Acwel Kent and Earm Upton also rose, and they pushed Bryce Dalston to one side so they could stand between him and the Assistant Commander.
“Yes!  There have been recruits who died from wounds suffered during training.  Under my watch, yes!  And I would do it again!  The City Guard must have hard men, men who can fight.  Bryce Dalston should know better than lose heart over some failed recruit.  If he has such a soft heart, we can move him to kitchen duty.”
Wallis leaned on the rail, jabbing a finger at the Assemblymen.  “And yes!  I know lots of secrets in this city.  How could it be otherwise, if the Guard is to do its duty?  I know when the silver is delivered from Ham Roweson’s mines.  It is the business of the Guard to know this.  I know when shipments of wine or lumber go by Hill Corral on their way to Down’s End.  I know which of you have borrowed money from Master Dans and Master Ware.  I know when meat and grain comes in from the Downs.  I know when castle lords send so-called ‘friendly messages’ to important men in our city.  I’m supposed to know these things—and lots more!”
As Wallis shouted his way through his speech, one of the guardsmen left his mates and began walking toward the four sheriffs at the bar.  An armed duty guard blocked his way for a moment, but when the sheriff raised empty hands, the duty guard let him pass.  Wallis, intent on the thinly veiled threats he had been hurling at the Assemblymen, only noticed the young man when he came close.
“How dare you come here!  You have duty in the Citadel!”  If possible, Wallis became even redder.  “Get him out of here!”  Wallis rushed at the spear thumper and tried to pull the ceremonial weapon from his hand.  But Acwel Kent and Earm Upton grabbed Wallis’s arms and pulled him back.
Shouts and curses filled the air.  Several duty guards ran to join their fellows between the audience and the Assembly proper.  The spear thumper hammered the floor, and Speaker Bardolf held his hands aloft.  The noise subsided.
Bardolf motioned for quiet.  “Citizens of Stonebridge!  I will order the Hall cleared if there is another outburst.  The Assembly has important business to do, and we will do it in secret if need be.”  He pointed at Wallis and Dalston.  “You men.  Sit.”  Bryce Dalston retreated promptly to the front bench; Wallis obeyed much less willingly.  Then Bardolf turned to the young guardsman.  “What is your name, son?  Are you a sheriff?”
“Master Speaker, my name is Jarvis Day.  I have been under-sheriff for eight weeks.”
Bardolf again motioned for silence.  “I imagine you will be disciplined for interrupting the Assembly’s meeting, Under-sheriff Day.  You should know this.  Why, then, have you approached the bar?”
“Begging your pardon, Master Speaker, I swore to protect the laws of the city.  I had no choice but to come forward, Sir.”
The elderly Speaker smiled indulgently.  “Speak, then.”
The under-sheriff pointed.  “He raped my sister.”
Wallis was on his feet instantly.  “That’s a lie!”
Jarvis continued pointing.  “In his office.  In the Citadel.  Four times.”
The duty guards drew their swords, and somehow the audience restrained itself.
Speaker Bardolf: “Can you prove this accusation, Under-Sheriff Day?”
“No.  My sister says one thing.  The Assistant Commander will say another.  But it seems to me that the Assembly should know that I will not serve under Wallis.”
“If the City orders you, you…”
“I will die before I serve under Wallis.”
Bardolf bristled.  “You may not defy the Assembly.”
“I do not defy you.  I am not armed.  You may order my arrest at any time.  But I will not serve under Wallis.”
“Master Speaker!”  The interruption came from Ody Dans.  Bardolf turned and motioned to Dans.  “Master Speaker, it seems to me the under-sheriff’s testimony is actually quite helpful, as it points to an important question.  Are there other guardsmen whom we would lose if the Assistant Commander were promoted?
“You there, Kent and Upton!  We already know what Sheriff Dalston thinks of Assistant Commander Wallis.  Would you serve under Wallis?”
Upton answered unequivocally.  “To serve under Wallis would be a death sentence in any case.  I’d rather die now.”
Kent stared at the floor for a moment.  “Earm speaks the truth.  Wallis will be the death of us all, either deliberately or through stupidity.”
Wallis screamed.  “Conspiracy!  Treason!”  Two duty guards pulled their swords and stepped between Wallis and the sheriffs.  Wallis spun around, as if looking for help from somewhere, anywhere.  He shook his hand at Jarvis Day and addressed the Assemblymen.  “These accusations are lies.  This conspiracy will be broken, I assure you.  I will make the men obey, and I will make them like it!”
“Master Speaker!”  This time it was Lunden Ware; Bardolf waved permission to speak.  “If there is a conspiracy, Assistant Commander, it seems you have created it yourself.
“We have not asked the most obvious question.  Sheriff Dalston, who would you have as your Commander?”
Bryce Dalston rose but did not speak.  He faced the north wall of Assembly Hall and pointed.  Without a word the under-sheriff, Jarvis Day, extended his hand in the same direction.  Assemblymen and audience turned their eyes to the guardsmen standing under the balcony.  Hrodgar Wigt and others pushed Milo forward.  As Milo walked into the well of the chamber, the guardsmen began to chant.  “Mortane.  Mortane.  Mortane.”
The spearman thumped his spear, but not to procure silence.  Rather, the pounding reinforced the chant: “Mor-tane.  Mor-tane.  Mor-tane.”  The audience, and even Assemblymen joined in, until it was a roar.  “Mor-tane.  Mor-tane.  Mor-tane.”
His comrades pushed Wallis to one side.  Milo knelt at the bar, his head bowed, for a long time.  Eventually the tumult died down and, with very little debate, the Stonebridge Assembly appointed him Commander of the City Guard.

101. In the Citadel of Stonebridge

            “Fellows of the Guard, yesterday the Assembly invested me as Commander.  Beginning today things are going to change in the Citadel, in the city, and in Tarquint.  And these changes begin with you.”
            Wintry sunlight slanted overhead, bringing little warmth to the central square of the Citadel.  Milo stood in front of eighty men, almost the entire strength of the Guard. Their faces expressed varying mixtures of doubt and respect.  Milo had not changed his uniform to reflect his new status; he still dressed in a russet tunic over a linen under-tunic, with a leather jerkin and a sword sheathed in a scabbard.  A sword made of castle steel; it was far superior to the typical weapons of the Guard.  Some of the men still held him in awe; a real knight had joined the Guard.
            “Yesterday, in testimony before the Assembly, some of you—Bryce Dalston, Acwel Kent, Earm Upton, and Jarvis Day—said that you would rather die than serve under Assistant Commander Wallis if the Assembly made him commander.  I understand why you said this.  Some of you may feel the same way about me.”
            In the ranks men shook their heads in disagreement.  “Lord Commander!” a voice rose to protest.  But Milo raised a palm for silence.
            “This morning, if any man desires to leave the City Guard, he is free to go, and I will hold no grievance against him.  By leaving, such a man becomes a citizen of Stonebridge, and we of the Guard will protect his life and his property just as if he were Speaker Bardolf.
            “Consider your decision well.  All those who remain and take mid-day sup with us commit themselves to live and die at my command.  I will not permit the kind of insubordination shown toward Wallis.  You will learn to handle a sword properly.  You will march.  Some will be swordsmen, others archers, and others knights.  I swear by the gods, you will be united; you will be an army.  So as I say, consider well.  I will not permit the Stonebridge City Guard to continue as it has been: divided, weak, lazy and corrupt.  We will have honor, and courage, and victory.”
            Milo let his words sink in.  He passed his eyes over them, looking steadily at each man’s face until he nodded his allegiance.
            “I will give better than I demand.  You will have honor from me.  Courage.  Victory.  And justice.”
            Milo raised his left hand in signal.  Somewhere behind him, a door opened and a collective intake of breath came from the men.  Trymian Wallis marched as prisoner, his hands roped behind him, flanked by Aidan Fleming and Bayan Mann.  They brought Wallis alongside Milo, and Aidan saluted with a fist to his chest.  “The Assistant Commander is now present, as you ordered, my lord.”
            “Very well.  Free his hands.”
            Wallis had spent only one night as prisoner since the Assembly made Milo Commander of the Guard.  Yet somehow those few hours had shrunk him.  The heavy limbs and labored breathing were still there, but the imperiousness had disappeared.  His cheeks were red in the cold air of the courtyard.  His eyes darted to and fro, looking in vain for sympathy from the men who yesterday he had counted as his.  Once Bayan had removed the ropes, Wallis rubbed his meaty hands together, trying to warm them.  He turned to Milo and saluted.
            “Lord Commander Mortane, I am at your service.”  The once haughty voice wavered, but the words were proper.
            Milo touched his fist to his chest and inclined his head to Wallis.  “I am glad to hear it, Assistant Commander.  I have promised the men justice.  You will help me deliver it.”
            Wallis blinked several times, uncomprehending.  “As you wish.”
            Milo looked quickly to a man in the back row of the assembled Guardsmen.  “Under-sheriff Jarvis Day, present yourself.”
            “Aye, my lord commander!”  The young soldier strode through the ranks until he stood near Milo and Wallis.  The latter, now realizing what was afoot, looked this way and that, but Bayan Mann and Aidan Fleming had drawn their swords to prevent any escape.
            “Yesterday you made a serious charge against the Assistant Commander.”  Milo nodded to the gray-eyed guardsman.
            “I did.  He raped my sister, Alberta.”
            “The girl who works in the Citadel kitchen?”
            “Aye, my lord.”
            Milo held out an open hand to Wallis.  “Trymian Wallis of the Guard, what say you to this charge?”
            Even a day before, Wallis would have demanded the use of his proper title, Assistant Commander, but now he merely replied, “It is a lie, my lord.  Perhaps the girl told him this story to avoid scandal, not wanting her brother to know the truth.”
            “And the truth is?”
            Wallis shrugged.  “Who can know?  Maybe she’s taken a man.  Perhaps she carries a babe.”
            “So Alberta Day lied when she said you violated her?”
            “Either that, or the brother lied.  I have not touched her.”
            Milo raised a hand to cut off whispering among the men.  “At this point, Sheriff Wallis, I would ordinarily invite other men of the Guard who have knowledge of this matter to testify.  Should I call for their testimony?”
            Wallis regained some of his swagger.  “I’m sure the girl’s lover would be happy to lie for her.  And Day’s friends will lie for him.”
            Milo paused to frown.  “You advise me, then, not to trust the testimony of my men?”
            “You should not trust them in this case, my lord.  They are prejudiced against me.”  Wallis had stopped rubbing his hands; he gestured at the ranks, resuming his attitude of disdain.
            Milo frowned again.  “I believe you are right, Sheriff.  The men are united against you.  For as long as you live, you should ponder how that came to be.  You leave me no choice.”
            Milo raised his voice.  “This man”—Milo pointed at Jarvis Day—“accuses this man”—a gesture toward Wallis—“of a serious crime, and he denies it.  They are both men of the Guard.  In deference to the advice of the Assistant Commander, I will not take further testimony on the matter.  It is simply one witness against another.  Nevertheless, we will have justice, trial by combat.  Form a combat ring.”   
            In seconds, the ranks of Guardsmen had become a circle surrounding Milo, Wallis, Jarvis Day, and Bayan and Aidan.  Wallis was suddenly suppliant: “My Lord Commander, I am not prepared.”
            Milo ignored the plea.  “Under-sheriff Day, you must make good your charge with steel.  Draw your sword.”
            Jarvis took a fighter’s stance, a short Citadel sword in hand.
            “But I am unarmed!” shouted Wallis.  “This is no justice!”  He tried to back away from Jarvis, but Aidan Fleming pushed him forward.  “I am unarmed!”
            Milo moved to Wallis’s side, holding up a hand.  Jarvis retreated a couple steps, but stayed in his fighter’s crouch.
            “You need a sword, Sheriff Wallis.  Which of your men will lend you a sword?  I told you to ponder why it is that your men unite against you.  But you need not fear.  I will lend you my sword.”  Milo pulled his weapon from its scabbard and handed it to Wallis.  The castle-hardened steel gleamed in the wintry light.  Wallis swallowed twice and swished the blade through the air, testing its feel.  It was lighter, longer, and thinner, yet much stronger than Jarvis’s Citadel sword. 
            Milo stepped away from Wallis.  “Swords only.  No shields, no armor.  Jarvis, remove your jerkin.  I know it’s only leather, but Sheriff Wallis is without one.”
            The young under-sheriff laid his sword on the pavement and quickly shed his leather jerkin.  He tossed it to someone and snatched up his sword.
            Milo raised his voice.  “As the charge is serious, the combat will be to death.  Begin!”
            In Jarvis Day’s few weeks in the Guard, he had made only modest progress in sword fighting.  He hardly knew how to parry a blow, and his balance was bad, so there were moments when he could offer no defense against a skilled attack.  His weapon was heavy and unwieldy compared to the sword in Wallis’s hand.  Experience had shown that in a sustained fight, Citadel blades would sometimes break.  But none of this made any difference.  Jarvis immediately realized where his advantage lay.  He feigned a rush at Wallis and quickly jumped to the side.  Wallis flicked his weapon at Jarvis, but the younger man was already out of range.  Jarvis danced around Wallis, harrying him first from one side and then the other.  The fat man backed away, step after step, but Jarvis retreated several strides and the ring of guardsmen pushed Wallis back into the center.  Jarvis renewed his attack.
            It didn’t take long.  Though Jarvis expended much more effort, Wallis was soon panting.  Jarvis darted in and hacked at his enemy; without a shield, the blow fell on Wallis’s left arm.  Blood spurted.  A bone was exposed.  Jarvis danced out of the range of Wallis’s swings.  The Assistant Commander’s breath came now in rasps.  He fell to his knees.  Jarvis circled to Wallis’s left and swung his sword with both hands.  The dull blade did not decapitate Wallis, cutting only halfway through the neck.
            Jarvis retrieved Milo’s sword from the dead man’s hand.  He proffered it to Milo, bowing.  “Lord Commander Mortane, your sword.”
            “Thank you, under-sheriff.  The result of the combat establishes the truth of your words.  This matter is concluded.  The company is dismissed.”

            Guardsmen were still congregated around Jarvis, praising his victory and congratulating him, when an under-sheriff came running.  He saluted and bowed simultaneously.  “My Lord Commander Mortane, Sheriff Abrecan has returned.  He is at the stable gate with a girl.”

Copyright © 2014 by Philip D. Smith.
All rights reserved.  International copyright secured.

102. In Castle Inter Lucus

            “My lord Martin!” 
            Marty and the students of Collegium Inter Lucus turned from their papers and inkpots to the voice at the west door.  Elfric Ash had guard duty this morning.  He was oldest of the sheriffs and least likely to interrupt lessons unnecessarily.
            “What is it, Elfric?”
            “It’s priest Eadmar, and there are two men with him.”
            “Eadmar wants me to come down to Prayer House.”
            “No, my lord.  They are coming to our door.”
            Students were on their feet as quickly as Marty.  “On the castle grounds?”  Caelin and Marty spoke in unison.
            “Aye, my lord.”
            “Fair morning, Eadmar!  Welcome to Inter Lucus!”  Marty greeted the priest on the path where it rounded Isen’s A-frame glassworks.  Elfric and Caelin were at Marty’s heels, with most of the children and sheriffs of Inter Lucus strung out behind them.  Castle paths in winter were wide enough for two abreast at most, because the snow piled on either side (the result of much shovel work by sheriffs, the older boys, and Rothulf Saeric), and rose to Os Oswald’s chest, higher than the heads of the shorter children.
            Eadmar inclined his head and turned sideways on the path to present his companions.  “Fair morning, Lord Martin.  I introduce a brother of mine, Teothic of Down’s End.  By ‘brother’ I mean Teothic is a priest of God.  And with him is Godric Measy, who has journeyed with Teothic from Down’s End.”
            The newcomers bowed to Marty.  Priest Teothic was a skinny tall man, as tall as Os, with a red beard and blue eyes.  Young—Marty guessed late twenties.  Measy was younger still, with curly black hair and a short beard.
            Marty spread his hands in greeting.  He hadn’t paused for a coat at the door, and a winter breeze nipped at his bare arms.  “Welcome Priest Teothic and Godric Measy.  Eadmar, I am delighted that you have finally come to Inter Lucus.  Something has happened to change your thinking.  Will you come inside?  We can share mid-day sup and you can tell me what’s going on.”
            Eadmar’s blue eyes gleamed under his fringe of white hair.  He dipped his head.  “As you wish, Lord Martin.”
            Caelin waved energetically at everyone behind him, and the students of Collegium Inter Lucus beat a retreat back to the west door of the castle.  Isen waited in the space just outside the door while the others entered.
            “Godric Measy!  You’ve grown a beard.  Do you remember me?”
            The curly haired man grinned.  “Of course I do.  Bebba Deepwater warned me strictly not to return to Down’s End without word from ‘that nice young man, Isen.’  I didn’t have the heart to tell her about your friendship with Matilda Starlight.”  Measy and Isen clapped their arms around each other.  Marty looked from the young men to Eadmar, raising his eyebrows.
            Eadmar saw Marty’s puzzlement.  “Master Bead Deepwater and his sons brought Isen across the lake last summer, as they did me later.  Bebba Deepwater, Bead’s wife, noted well the way Isen cared for Sunniva all those years.  As did I.  Godric here helped carry Sunniva’s pallet in her procession.”
            “And who is Matilda Starlight?”
            Isen pulled away from Godric Measy’s bear hug and bowed to Marty.  “Mistress Starlight is a friend ’o mine.  She gave good advice more than once.  ’N that’s all.”
            Once again Eadmar responded to Marty’s questioning expression.  “Matilda Starlight owns the Running Stag brothel, near the docks on the Betlicea.  She is a kind-hearted woman, and I doubt not that she has helped Isen on occasion.  If not for the sinful nature of her business, she could be a servant of God.”
            Marty gestured his guests through the west door and followed them into Inter Lucus’s great hall.  The younger children were busily clearing the tables and putting school things in storage bins by the east wall.  Meanwhile, the sheriffs and older students were arranging chairs.          Ora stepped away from the bustle to bow to Marty and the guests.  “My lord, Mildgyd says lunch will be ready as soon as places are set.”
            “Thank you, Ora.  Once we’ve eaten, I will ask Eadmar to introduce our guests properly to the Collegium.  You can seat them next to me.”
            “Cousin Caelin and I have already arranged the chairs, my lord.”  Ora inclined her head politely, but Marty recognized the stubborn set of her green eyes, an expression that usually appeared when she was resisting some imagined insult to Marty’s dignity.  What’s she worried about now?  
“Very well, Ora.  We will sit as you direct.”
            “Thank you, my lord.  Honored guests, if you would come with me?”  Ora bowed again and led Eadmar, Teothic and Godric to chairs newly set on one side of a long table.  Marty sat at the end, as usual, but there were two places on his right between him and the visitors.  And who gets the places of honor? What’s going on?   
Whitney Ablendan came up the stairs from the kitchen bearing a tray with cups and two steaming teapots.  Behind Whitney came Went Bycwine, Besyrwin Fairfax, and other servers.  Platters of sandwiches, baskets of French fries, hot beverages—it was typical winter mid-day sup in Inter Lucus, though the visitors’ eyes widened at the plenty.  (Marty had only recently introduced “lunch” to everyone’s vocabulary.)  Caelin brought a plate of apple slices and sat down by Marty—on his left.  Last to join the table were Ora, Isen, and Os.  Ora occupied the place just beyond Caelin to Marty’s left.  Isen took the chair next to Godric Measy.  Os sat between Isen and Marty, in the seat of honor on Marty’s right.
Caelin leaned close and whispered.  “You trust Eadmar, my lord, I know.  But the priests of the old god have suffered much from gods and lords.  It is possible that Teothic was sent to harm you.  Since Os is the best defender you have, I put him between you and the guests.  And it would be best if you eat nothing our visitors have handled.”
Marty sighed and began his protest.  “Good grief!  Caelin…” But in turning toward Caelin and Ora he saw their faces.  Teenager faces, but marked with adult cares.  He whispered, “All right.  I’ll be careful.”
Mildgyd Meadowdaughter arrived last, wiping her hands on an apron and taking a seat at the second table, with Alf Saeric and the younger children.  Agyfen Baecer, the three-year-old orphan whom Eadmar had brought to Inter Lucus, leaned against Mildgyd with his eyes fixed on the guests.
Marty cleared his throat.  “Everyone here?  It looks like we’re soon going to need a third table and more chairs.  If we had even one more guest, someone would have to sit on the floor.  Agyfen, I think it’s your turn today.  You need not fear.  Eadmar’s friend is a priest of God, just like Eadmar.”
The inhabitants of Inter Lucus bowed their heads, while Agyfen prayed.  “Lord God of all creation, we thank you for the food you have supplied.  We thank you in Jesus’ name.  Amen.”
“Amen, amen.”  Voices around the table echoed Agyfen and hands reached quickly for platters and baskets.  Teothic turned wide eyes first toward Eadmar, then to Marty.  “You turn to a child for prayer?  You put the secret name on his lips?”
Marty finished pouring a cup of tea and set the teapot down so he could meet Teothic’s gaze.  “Prayer is as natural as speech.  Every student of Collegium Inter Lucus has the opportunity to voice our thanks at sup, taking turns.  And I do not believe the name of Jesus should be secret.”
Teothic’s attention swiveled to Eadmar.  “You knew this?”
Eadmar was chewing French fries.  “Aye.  I told you as much.  I did not know that the children pray at meals, as I’ve never supped here, but Lord Martin honored the name long before he heard it from me.  As far as it is possible to be sure of another man’s heart, I am sure that Martin worships the true God.”
“So you have said.  And I thought I believed you.  But…” Teothic’s eyes roamed over the great hall.  “It’s actually real.  To think that I am in a devil’s fortress.”
Eadmar handed a basket of fries to the younger priest.  “You are the guest of Martin Paul Cedarborne, and he is not a devil.  Eat, Teothic.”

Marty let the meal proceed for several minutes.  Then he directed each member of the Inter Lucus community to introduce him or herself to Teothic and Godric.  The students told about their homes and their parents’ occupations.  When it came to Ora, she said, “I used to live with my father, Attor Woodman, but no longer.  Inter Lucus will be my home as long as Lord Martin permits.”  The sheriffs and Isen adapted her words.  Inter Lucus is my home.”  “The castle is home for me.”
Alf Saeric said, “My brother told me that I should be lord of Inter Lucus, and I put my hands on the lord’s knob.  For that I received these.”  He displayed his scarred hands.  “Lord Martin let me stay anyway.  Inter Lucus is my home.”
Godric stood when the visitors’ time came.  “I’m Godric Measy, from Down’s End.  I’m what they call a common laborer.  I’ve worked for weavers, butchers, wheelwrights, and carpenters.  I’ve spent a season or two in the tanneries.  Believe me, ya don’t want to smell my feet after a couple days there!  But winter work gets scarce.  So I jumped at the chance to ski with Teothic.  Glad to be here, I’ll tell ya that.  This castle’s a sight better than the inns where we stayed.”
Teothic also stood, and he towered over those still seated.  His coat hung in a closet, he was dressed as simply as Eadmar: a plain brown sleeveless tunic tied with a rope belt.  “I am Teothic, servant of God, assigned to the West district in Down’s End.  I am also story-keeper for Prayer House in Down’s End, and for that reason I was glad that Guthlaf Godcild chose me to come to Inter Lucus.  I hoped to see again the book of God brother Eadmar showed us.  Thank you for welcoming us.”  Teothic sat again, folding his legs under the table.  Marty made a mental note that Os and Teothic would probably appreciate a taller table; Ealdwine would too.
Marty fixed his eyes on Eadmar, and the priest noticed.  “Lord Martin, I know what you would ask.  Can we speak more privately?”
“Of course.  People will scatter after lunch to their various tasks.  Ora and Caelin, my longest advisors, can stay with us.  We can take our chairs by the interface.”  Marty nodded toward the southwest corner of the hall.
Lunch? Interface?”  Teothic frowned at the unfamiliar words.
Isen paused in stacking plates.  “‘Lunch’ is Lord Martin’s word for mid-day sup.”  He pointed with his chin.  “The south wall of the great hall is where Lord Martin speaks to his castle.  He calls it the ‘interface wall.’”
Godric said, “So that is where castle magic happens?”
            Isen grinned at Godric and picked up the stacked plates.  “Lord Martin doesn’t call it magic.  Maybe he’ll let you watch and you can judge for yourself.”

102. In Castle Inter Lucus

            “My lord Martin!” 
            Marty and the students of Collegium Inter Lucus turned from their papers and inkpots to the voice at the west door.  Elfric Ash had guard duty this morning.  He was oldest of the sheriffs and least likely to interrupt lessons unnecessarily.
            “What is it, Elfric?”
            “It’s priest Eadmar, and there are two men with him.”
            “Eadmar wants me to come down to Prayer House.”
            “No, my lord.  They are coming to our door.”
            Students were on their feet as quickly as Marty.  “On the castle grounds?”  Caelin and Marty spoke in unison.
            “Aye, my lord.”
            “Fair morning, Eadmar!  Welcome to Inter Lucus!”  Marty greeted the priest on the path where it rounded Isen’s A-frame glassworks.  Elfric and Caelin were at Marty’s heels, with most of the children and sheriffs of Inter Lucus strung out behind them.  Castle paths in winter were wide enough for two abreast at most, because the snow piled on either side (the result of much shovel work by sheriffs, the older boys, and Rothulf Saeric), and rose to Os Oswald’s chest, higher than the heads of the shorter children.
            Eadmar inclined his head and turned sideways on the path to present his companions.  “Fair morning, Lord Martin.  I introduce a brother of mine, Teothic of Down’s End.  By ‘brother’ I mean Teothic is a priest of God.  And with him is Godric Measy, who has journeyed with Teothic from Down’s End.”
            The newcomers bowed to Marty.  Priest Teothic was a skinny tall man, as tall as Os, with a red beard and blue eyes.  Young—Marty guessed late twenties.  Measy was younger still, with curly black hair and a short beard.
            Marty spread his hands in greeting.  He hadn’t paused for a coat at the door, and a winter breeze nipped at his bare arms.  “Welcome Priest Teothic and Godric Measy.  Eadmar, I am delighted that you have finally come to Inter Lucus.  Something has happened to change your thinking.  Will you come inside?  We can share mid-day sup and you can tell me what’s going on.”
            Eadmar’s blue eyes gleamed under his fringe of white hair.  He dipped his head.  “As you wish, Lord Martin.”
            Caelin waved energetically at everyone behind him, and the students of Collegium Inter Lucus beat a retreat back to the west door of the castle.  Isen waited in the space just outside the door while the others entered.
            “Godric Measy!  You’ve grown a beard.  Do you remember me?”
            The curly haired man grinned.  “Of course I do.  Bebba Deepwater warned me strictly not to return to Down’s End without word from ‘that nice young man, Isen.’  I didn’t have the heart to tell her about your friendship with Matilda Starlight.”  Measy and Isen clapped their arms around each other.  Marty looked from the young men to Eadmar, raising his eyebrows.
            Eadmar saw Marty’s puzzlement.  “Master Bead Deepwater and his sons brought Isen across the lake last summer, as they did me later.  Bebba Deepwater, Bead’s wife, noted well the way Isen cared for Sunniva all those years.  As did I.  Godric here helped carry Sunniva’s pallet in her procession.”
            “And who is Matilda Starlight?”
            Isen pulled away from Godric Measy’s bear hug and bowed to Marty.  “Mistress Starlight is a friend ’o mine.  She gave good advice more than once.  ’N that’s all.”
            Once again Eadmar responded to Marty’s questioning expression.  “Matilda Starlight owns the Running Stag brothel, near the docks on the Betlicea.  She is a kind-hearted woman, and I doubt not that she has helped Isen on occasion.  If not for the sinful nature of her business, she could be a servant of God.”
            Marty gestured his guests through the west door and followed them into Inter Lucus’s great hall.  The younger children were busily clearing the tables and putting school things in storage bins by the east wall.  Meanwhile, the sheriffs and older students were arranging chairs.          Ora stepped away from the bustle to bow to Marty and the guests.  “My lord, Mildgyd says lunch will be ready as soon as places are set.”
            “Thank you, Ora.  Once we’ve eaten, I will ask Eadmar to introduce our guests properly to the Collegium.  You can seat them next to me.”
            “Cousin Caelin and I have already arranged the chairs, my lord.”  Ora inclined her head politely, but Marty recognized the stubborn set of her green eyes, an expression that usually appeared when she was resisting some imagined insult to Marty’s dignity.  What’s she worried about now?  
“Very well, Ora.  We will sit as you direct.”
            “Thank you, my lord.  Honored guests, if you would come with me?”  Ora bowed again and led Eadmar, Teothic and Godric to chairs newly set on one side of a long table.  Marty sat at the end, as usual, but there were two places on his right between him and the visitors.  And who gets the places of honor? What’s going on?   
Whitney Ablendan came up the stairs from the kitchen bearing a tray with cups and two steaming teapots.  Behind Whitney came Went Bycwine, Besyrwin Fairfax, and other servers.  Platters of sandwiches, baskets of French fries, hot beverages—it was typical winter mid-day sup in Inter Lucus, though the visitors’ eyes widened at the plenty.  (Marty had only recently introduced “lunch” to everyone’s vocabulary.)  Caelin brought a plate of apple slices and sat down by Marty—on his left.  Last to join the table were Ora, Isen, and Os.  Ora occupied the place just beyond Caelin to Marty’s left.  Isen took the chair next to Godric Measy.  Os sat between Isen and Marty, in the seat of honor on Marty’s right.
Caelin leaned close and whispered.  “You trust Eadmar, my lord, I know.  But the priests of the old god have suffered much from gods and lords.  It is possible that Teothic was sent to harm you.  Since Os is the best defender you have, I put him between you and the guests.  And it would be best if you eat nothing our visitors have handled.”
Marty sighed and began his protest.  “Good grief!  Caelin…” But in turning toward Caelin and Ora he saw their faces.  Teenager faces, but marked with adult cares.  He whispered, “All right.  I’ll be careful.”
Mildgyd Meadowdaughter arrived last, wiping her hands on an apron and taking a seat at the second table, with Alf Saeric and the younger children.  Agyfen Baecer, the three-year-old orphan whom Eadmar had brought to Inter Lucus, leaned against Mildgyd with his eyes fixed on the guests.
Marty cleared his throat.  “Everyone here?  It looks like we’re soon going to need a third table and more chairs.  If we had even one more guest, someone would have to sit on the floor.  Agyfen, I think it’s your turn today.  You need not fear.  Eadmar’s friend is a priest of God, just like Eadmar.”
The inhabitants of Inter Lucus bowed their heads, while Agyfen prayed.  “Lord God of all creation, we thank you for the food you have supplied.  We thank you in Jesus’ name.  Amen.”
“Amen, amen.”  Voices around the table echoed Agyfen and hands reached quickly for platters and baskets.  Teothic turned wide eyes first toward Eadmar, then to Marty.  “You turn to a child for prayer?  You put the secret name on his lips?”
Marty finished pouring a cup of tea and set the teapot down so he could meet Teothic’s gaze.  “Prayer is as natural as speech.  Every student of Collegium Inter Lucus has the opportunity to voice our thanks at sup, taking turns.  And I do not believe the name of Jesus should be secret.”
Teothic’s attention swiveled to Eadmar.  “You knew this?”
Eadmar was chewing French fries.  “Aye.  I told you as much.  I did not know that the children pray at meals, as I’ve never supped here, but Lord Martin honored the name long before he heard it from me.  As far as it is possible to be sure of another man’s heart, I am sure that Martin worships the true God.”
“So you have said.  And I thought I believed you.  But…” Teothic’s eyes roamed over the great hall.  “It’s actually real.  To think that I am in a devil’s fortress.”
Eadmar handed a basket of fries to the younger priest.  “You are the guest of Martin Paul Cedarborne, and he is not a devil.  Eat, Teothic.”

Marty let the meal proceed for several minutes.  Then he directed each member of the Inter Lucus community to introduce him or herself to Teothic and Godric.  The students told about their homes and their parents’ occupations.  When it came to Ora, she said, “I used to live with my father, Attor Woodman, but no longer.  Inter Lucus will be my home as long as Lord Martin permits.”  The sheriffs and Isen adapted her words.  Inter Lucus is my home.”  “The castle is home for me.”
Alf Saeric said, “My brother told me that I should be lord of Inter Lucus, and I put my hands on the lord’s knob.  For that I received these.”  He displayed his scarred hands.  “Lord Martin let me stay anyway.  Inter Lucus is my home.”
Godric stood when the visitors’ time came.  “I’m Godric Measy, from Down’s End.  I’m what they call a common laborer.  I’ve worked for weavers, butchers, wheelwrights, and carpenters.  I’ve spent a season or two in the tanneries.  Believe me, ya don’t want to smell my feet after a couple days there!  But winter work gets scarce.  So I jumped at the chance to ski with Teothic.  Glad to be here, I’ll tell ya that.  This castle’s a sight better than the inns where we stayed.”
Teothic also stood, and he towered over those still seated.  His coat hung in a closet, he was dressed as simply as Eadmar: a plain brown sleeveless tunic tied with a rope belt.  “I am Teothic, servant of God, assigned to the West district in Down’s End.  I am also story-keeper for Prayer House in Down’s End, and for that reason I was glad that Guthlaf Godcild chose me to come to Inter Lucus.  I hoped to see again the book of God brother Eadmar showed us.  Thank you for welcoming us.”  Teothic sat again, folding his legs under the table.  Marty made a mental note that Os and Teothic would probably appreciate a taller table; Ealdwine would too.
Marty fixed his eyes on Eadmar, and the priest noticed.  “Lord Martin, I know what you would ask.  Can we speak more privately?”
“Of course.  People will scatter after lunch to their various tasks.  Ora and Caelin, my longest advisors, can stay with us.  We can take our chairs by the interface.”  Marty nodded toward the southwest corner of the hall.
Lunch? Interface?”  Teothic frowned at the unfamiliar words.
Isen paused in stacking plates.  “‘Lunch’ is Lord Martin’s word for mid-day sup.”  He pointed with his chin.  “The south wall of the great hall is where Lord Martin speaks to his castle.  He calls it the ‘interface wall.’”
Godric said, “So that is where castle magic happens?”
            Isen grinned at Godric and picked up the stacked plates.  “Lord Martin doesn’t call it magic.  Maybe he’ll let you watch and you can judge for yourself.”

103. In Castle Inter Lucus

            Caelin arranged six chairs in a circle near the lord’s knob.  He and Ora sat protectively on either side of Marty.  The light strips under the balconies dimmed on their own and the great hall took on a quiet and cavernous atmosphere once everyone else had left.  A patch of light surrounded Marty, his guests, and the lord’s knob.  Seated close to the interface wall, the three visitors could hardly keep their eyes from its sleek thirty-foot vertical surface.  Marty watched them rubberneck.  Inter Lucus’s strangeness shouts “alien” to me, but “devil” to them.  This may not work.
            “Eadmar, you didn’t come to Inter Lucus just to look at it.  What has happened?”
            The priests and Godric glanced at Marty, but the blackness of the interface had a depth to it that pulled them back.  A person could get lost in that inky mystery.  Teothic’s skin above his red beard looked pasty.
            Marty stood up.  “This isn’t going to work.  Come on.”  He picked up his chair and the others followed him to a spot along the east wall, north of the east door, at least forty feet from the intimidation of the interface.  The lighting brightened automatically around them, an unnerving effect for the visitors.  Teothic, Eadmar and Godric glanced repeatedly at the light strips.
            Godric asked, “What magic makes the light?  Why does it brighten around our chairs?”
            Marty looked at the floor for a moment, considering his answer.  “Is it magic when a ship sails across West Lake?  No.  The ship maker has constructed his vessel in a way that the wind moves it where the pilot wants to go. 
            “The creatures who built Inter Lucus constructed it with many parts, and all those parts work together, like the parts of a ship, except that Inter Lucus has more parts, and far more intricately designed parts, than any ship.  Now, just as a ship is designed so that the pilot can direct it from one position, with his hand on the helm, so Inter Lucus is designed so that the whole castle can be controlled when the lord puts his hand on the lord’s knob.  There is a difference, of course: anyone can put his hand on the helm of a ship, but only the lord who has bonded with a castle can put his hands on the lord’s knob.
            “The lights in Inter Lucus come on when I need them, because the castle is closely attuned to me ever since I bonded with it.  It is as if Inter Lucus watches me constantly and tries to guess what I need.  And it seems that the castle is also aware of the people I have welcomed into my household.  The lights come on for Mildgyd or any of the children when they move around inside Inter Lucus.”
            Godric’s eyes roved over the room.  “Would it work for me?  Would light shine on me if I were alone?”
            “I don’t think so,” Marty answered.  When new children came to Inter Lucus we noticed that they had no light for a few days.  It’s as if the castle has to learn which persons live here and which are only guests.”
Enough about technology.  Marty leaned toward Teothic.  “Why have you come to Inter Lucus?”
Teothic clutched his bony knees.  “Guthlaf Godcild, our bishop, directed me to seek out brother Eadmar and ask if he still believed that Martin of Inter Lucus worshiped the true God.  If so, we have Guthlaf’s permission to enter castle Inter Lucus and to confirm for ourselves that you can command the castle.  And if that is so, Guthlaf bids Eadmar and me to ask your aid.”
“Aid with what?”
Color had come back to Teothic’s face.  “I am commanded not to name our request until I am convinced of your troth and your power over Inter Lucus.  Eadmar’s testimony and the prayers of your students speak for your good faith.  Eadmar says the castle itself, that it has recovered from its ruinous state, demonstrates your power.  Still, I would like to tell the brothers when I return to Down’s End that I asked for and witnessed proof.  Phytwin in particular doubted that any true believer could use the devils’ magic.”
Marty pursed his lips.  “Let me guess.  Suppose I demonstrate command of Inter Lucus.  Brother Phytwin would then say that it proves I am no true believer, that I play act in order to deceive you.”
Eadmar chuckled.  “That’s Phytwin.”
Teothic looked sideways at the dark interface wall and chewed his lip.  “Phytwin would no doubt remind us of brother Morton, deceived and killed by the Postels of Aurea Prati, or the four brothers of Cippenham who were tortured to death outside Altum Canyon.”  Teothic faced Marty, his blue eyes probing.  “There are many cautionary accounts of the devils’ cruelty and the treachery of the lords who serve them.  As story-keeper, I could fill the day with such tales.”
“I do not doubt your stories, Teothic.”  Marty rubbed his forehead and sighed.  “In fact, I think we should write them down.  We’ve learned to make paper here at Inter Lucus.  We will use it to make copies of the book of God; why not also record the history of Two Moons?  Caelin has collected stories told by old men on market days, but Eadmar told me once that the story-keepers among the priests can recite the story of Two Moons back to the before time.
“But you must ask yourself: Do the stories of the past determine our future?  God has allowed the lords of Two Moons to oppress his worshipers for hundreds of years.  Does that mean it must always be so?  Is it not possible that a castle lord could worship God?”
Marty stood up.  “You ask for proof that I control my castle.  Very well.  You may sit here or come closer, as you like.”  To Caelin and Ora: “I’ve been working on something new.  See if you like it.”  He walked to the lord’s knob and bonded with his right hand.  The status report appeared instantly, filling the screen with letters a foot tall.

I. Materias Transmutatio: operativa
II. Parva Arcum Praesidiis: operativa
III. Magna Arcum Praesidiis: operativa
IV. Cibum Preparatio Homines: operativa
V. Inter-Castrum Videns-Loquitur: operativa
VI. Extra Arcem Micro-Aedificator: operativa
VII. Potentia Fontes: operativa
VIII. Aquarum: operativa
IX. Intra Arcem Micro-Aedificator: operativa
X. Centralis Arbitrium Factorem: operativa

Marty heard the intake of breath behind him. The green light of the knob glowed around and between his fingers, as if the knob were a small sun with green plasma.  For the benefit of the visitors, he let the display stand for several seconds.  He closed his eyes and shifted his attention.
The Latin inscription vanished.  In its place, the panorama south of the castle appeared, as if the whole wall were a perfectly clean window.  The winter sun slanted through clouds and reflected off snow; forests edged the view left and right, and houses of the village could be seen more than a mile away.  The great hall was filled with light from the wall.
“My lord, that’s…”
Marty threw his left hand into the air to interrupt Caelin’s remark.  In his mind’s eye the scene shifted—and the interface wall displayed his thought: the same view south from Inter Lucus, but now in the colors of summer.  The brown track of the road to the village wound through grasses, with wildflowers swaying in a summer wind.  Marty was particularly pleased with the summer scene; he wasn’t sure if it was a recording of some past summer long stored in Centralis Arbitrium Factorem or if Inter Lucus had modified the current winter scene like an alien version of Photoshop.  Standing within six feet of the interface wall, the viewers could easily believe themselves transported to summer.
Then the music started.  Marty wasn’t a particularly good singer, and his musical education ended in middle school band, so he had to rely on early musical memories.  A scene from Close Encounters of the Third Kind had come alive in his performance last summer.  Marty had watched the video a dozen times when the flu kept him home from fourth grade for a week.  And now, from a deeper memory, he used “This Land is Your Land.”  In private sessions facing the wall, Marty had hummed, whistled and sung the folk tune, experimenting until Inter Lucus would reproduce it.  It was like picking out a melody on a virtual piano, using his mind rather than fingers.
The sound was like something between a bagpipe and a bassoon, growly and reedy at the same time.  But the melody was clear, and it seemed to fit the beauty of a summer landscape.  When the song had played through twice, Marty shifted his attention.  The interface returned to inky blackness, Marty lifted his hand from the knob, and the green glow disappeared. 
Eadmar, Teothic and Godric had crossed the great hall to stand immediately behind Marty, pulled by the wonder of a technology beyond their dreams.  Ora and Caelin stood just behind them.  With the interface blank, the great hall was again a cavern.
“Are you convinced?  Eadmar, what’s wrong?”  Teothic and Godric were simply staring at the wall, but Eadmar was weeping.
“O my friend Martin.  Such power and beauty!  I see how the devils presented themselves as gods.  Among the priests, our story-keepers warn us against the power of castles.  They should warn against their beauty.  There is nothing on Two Moons, not even at Dimlic Aern, that can compare with such artistry.”
Marty shook his head.  “I wouldn’t rush to award prizes.  Any film studies student who had Inter Lucus for a studio could do much better.  But I ask again.  Teothic, are you convinced?”
“Aye.”  The red-haired priest covered his face with his hands and bowed his head.  “I had never dreamed of such a thing.”  Teothic breathed heavily several times, and then looked at Marty.  “You are the lord of Inter Lucus.  We have come to ask your aid.”
“What is that your Bishop Guthlaf wants?”
Teothic looked beyond Marty to the interface wall.  “It is said that the lords of castles can speak to one another.  Is this true?  Can you speak with Aylwin Mortane, Artus Postel, or David Le Grant?”
Marty pursed his lips.  “I discovered only recently that the castles speak to each other.  I’ve not spoken with Aylwin Mortane or—who were the others you mentioned?”
“Artus Postel or David Le Grant.  Or Simon Asselin?  Rowena Silver?”
“I know none of these names.  Are they all lords?  Eadmar, shouldn’t you have told me about them?”
Eadmar shrugged.  “The truth is, Martin, that I care little about castle lords, and I couldn’t tell you most of their names.  A lord dies and his son or daughter takes his place; nothing changes, really.  Nor do I pay much attention to the rich merchants of Down’s End.  My life as priest has always concerned the poor folk.  Guthlaf was willing to deal with the mighty ones, and I left him to it.  Only when I heard of your book of God did I desire to see a castle.”
Teothic ignored Eadmar’s explanation.  He interrogated Marty: “But you have spoken with other lords?  Which?”
“Only one, a lady.  Three times I have spoken to Mariel Grandmesnil, the queen of Herminia.”
Teothic’s jaw dropped, and he fumbled for words.  “May God have mercy!  You have spoken with the queen?”
“Three times.  She’s a very proud woman, very determined, and very pregnant.  If you wish, I can try to contact her so you could see her for yourself.  But you still haven’t told me what Bishop Guthlaf wants.”
Teothic laughed.  “He wants you to make peace, of course.  Aylwin Mortane has sent an embassy to Down’s End, trying to raise an army to break the siege of Hyacintho Flumen.  He has undoubtedly used castle magic to ask other lords for their help.  Bishop Guthlaf fears that the aldermen of Down’s End might see some profit in joining such a war.  Mortane may also ask Stonebridge for help.  The lords of castles and the wealthy men of free cities will make the decisions, but it will be the peasants of the downs and the laborers of the cities who will die.”
Marty suddenly felt cold, his arms prickling.  His stomach churned.  This is why I was brought to Two Moons.  “The bishop of Down’s End wants me to be peacemaker?”
Eadmar smiled.  “You’ve read the book of God to me, Martin.  Surely you agree.  The castle lords will appeal to their gods and send their people into battle.  But any servant of the true God must be a servant of peace.”

104. In Castle Hyacintho Flumen

            Aylwin reached across the bed and touched Juliana’s back.  She slept naked on her side with only golden tresses adorning her form.  Not that he could see color; the room was too dark.  Without waking her, his finger softly traced the arch of her back.  Desire aroused itself, and he laid his hand on her hip.  “Mm…” Juliana turned sleepily.  “Again?”
            A knock sounded through the bedroom door.  Instantly, the room’s lights brightened.  Aylwin leapt from the bed and snatched up a cloak.  “Enter!  Report!”
            The door slid open, revealing Dag Daegmund.  “Raiders again, my lord.”
            “Are you sure?”  Aylwin was already running, barefoot and clothed only in the cloak. 
            “Too dark to be positive, my lord.  It seems they choose the darkest of nights.”  Dag followed at his heels as they ran the corridor to the great hall.  Hyacintho Flumen’s lights sprang to full intensity before them.  Aylwin sprinted to the lord’s knob, losing grip on his cloak in the process.  Behind him, a woman’s voice shouted something unintelligible, and Dag responded with an impatient command.  Aylwin ignored them.  He bonded, and orange light glowed between the interlaced fingers of his hands.
            Silently he commanded, “See!”  He stared impatiently at the great window.  It showed only blackness.  It’s not working!  Damn!  No.  There it is.  One of the enemy’s watch fires.  “Closer!”  The image of the fire enlarged, and Aylwin could count the soldiers, six of them.  He willed the focus to move, slowly panning right.  A second watch fire, then a third came into view.  Nearer the castle, the enemy’s firelight reflected dimly on the sides of Hyacintho Flumen stables and barns.
            “All I see is watch fires and my own property.  Do you see anything?”
            Dag stood respectfully to his side.  “No, my lord.  But one of our men signaled us.  They carry fire strikers.  Sparks are easily seen in this dark.”
            “What do you think?  Are the Herminian bastards out there?”
            Dag considered his reply.  “Aye, my lord.  I feel it.  They are there.”
            “Very well.  I’m going to throw down both shields.  Take thirty men and plenty of torches.  If there are raiders inside the near shield I want them found and destroyed.”
            “As you command, Lord Aylwin.  How long will we have?”
“I can hold both shields for two hours if I have to.  Sweep the grounds around the barns as quickly as you can.  Then I will draw the wider shield back; if there are raiders between the shields, we’ll get them in between.”
At his side, Dag bowed.  “May I suggest clothing, my lord?  Diera has brought a tunic and leggings.  Or, if you prefer to fight naked, I can command that people stay out of the hall.”
Aylwin laughed aloud and released the knob.  “Wouldn’t that make a tale?  The lord who defends his castle in the raw.”  He found clothes lying neatly on the floor a few yards away and dressed quickly.  “Diera!”
The serving woman stepped into the great hall.  She had concealed herself in a closet.  “My lord?”
            “Fetch food and wine.  I want a bite before I labor.  Then wake up Arthur and get him here.  Food and drink first.”
            “Aye, my lord.”  Diera fled to the kitchen.
            Aylwin sat to pull on leggings and looked up at Dag.  “Make sure our men are inside the smaller shield.  I can’t afford to burn some fool just because he’s in the wrong place.”
            “Aye, my lord.  I will signal the men presently.  When shall we begin?”
            “As soon as I’ve eaten.  The Herminian bastards like the dark; we’ll fight them in the dark.”
            Dag saluted.  “Very good.  I will signal the scouts and prepare the swordsmen.”

            Fighting a battle as lord of Hyacintho Flumen was not what Aylwin had imagined as a child.  Once he had established a clear bond and thrown down the shields, there was very little for Aylwin to do.  He used the castle “eye” to survey his lands to the west, sweeping back and forth from northwest to southwest.  But all the while he was expending energy through the shields, so he could not make the eye focus tightly on any particular object.  No doubt the bitch queen knows how hard it is to use two magics at once.  So she has her husband attack in the blackest nights.  Aylwin dared not take his hands from the knob.  The safety of Daegmund’s men might depend on the nearer shield.  He and Dag believed the enemy had sent only a few raiders, but prudence required him to be ready for a massed assault.  If Aylwin relaxed his guard for even a few minutes, and if Eudes Ridere attacked with a tenth of his host, the Herminians would destroy any of Aylwin’s men outside the castle.  Of course, the enemy never knew when the shields would be active.  If Ridere gambled and threw a thousand into the fray, Aylwin might slaughter them all.  Caution on both sides preserved the status quo. 
            So Aylwin waited.  If only the enemy would show himself—preferably, inside the greater shield, where he would be burned to a cinder when the two shields came together.  Aylwin shook his elbows and rolled his shoulders to prevent tension from building in his arms.  His hands never left the knob.
            Arthur the old arrived; slipper-shod feet moving noiselessly on the polished floor.  For a long time Arthur said nothing.  Then: “My lord, a suggestion.  My old eyes are practically useless in this business.  Let us summon young Odo; he might see something others would miss.”
            “Fine—if he’s in Hyacintho Flumen.  Odo’s been sleeping in the stables recently.”
            “He came in with the scouts.”  Arthur bowed and slipped away.  Soon after, Aylwin heard the slap of boots on the hard floor and excited breathing of the stable boy.
            “Welcome, Odo.  I would greet you properly, but I am presently occupied.”
            The boy stood panting a yard away.  “My lord is holding the shields.”
            “Aye.  And I am watching for signs of the enemy.  If we see them, I can move the shields to burn them.  You have young eyes, Odo.  Watch with me.  If you see anything, tell me about it.  Don’t be frightened or excited.  Just tell me what you see in the great window.”
            “Aye, my lord.  I can see two fires.”
            Aylwin kept his voice calm.  “I can see them as well.  The damned Herminians wait by their fires all around us.  We are looking for enemy soldiers who have come closer than the watch fires.”
            “Aye, my lord.”
            Aylwin widened the swing of the castle eye, touching all compass points from north to south on the western side.  The life-sapping cold of the Blue river ran on the east side of the castle, and Hyacintho Flumen’s barns, houses, and stables dotted the west slope, so there was no point watching the east side.  In any case, the circle shields guarded all sides of the castle simultaneously.
            Arthur the old returned, silently as ever, and Juliana came with him.  She stood close, wearing only a white tunic that clung to her breasts and hips.  Aylwin glanced sideways at her for a moment, but pushed the distraction aside, riveting his attention on the window.  Juliana nodded and stepped around Odo.  “I will stand watch here.”  Sometime later—Aylwin didn’t notice when—a servant brought a cloak, and Juliana covered herself with it.
            The torches carried by Dag Daegmund’s men appeared in the great window, moving down the road toward the west.  The torchlights spread around the stable like honeybees around a mysteriously black flower; then they gathered again to move further down the hill, toward the barns and henhouses.  Aylwin had established the smaller shield further on, near the cottage where Juliana used to live; the large shield was about three hundred yards beyond that.  Damn the Herminians!  Where are they?  He rotated his shoulders again.  I must not tense.  A light touch.  Hold the shields longer that way.
            Without any warning, a henhouse exploded.  The complete lack of sound made the scene surreal.  Little bits of flame—chickens—were scurrying all around while the henhouse itself, not a large structure, burned phosphorescently.  Beside Aylwin, Arthur murmured, “Liquid fire.”
            “Damn!”  Aylwin whispered his imprecation, wrestling with despair.  “They turn my own weapon against me.”  In spite of the shock Aylwin’s hands did not move, and the shields stayed in place.
            “My lord, look!  We have him!”  Odo pointed at the window.  “The raider is dressed in black, but Dag’s men have him surrounded.  There!  He is down!  Another one!”
            Arthur the old touched Odo’s shoulder.  “Are you sure?  I see nothing.”
            “They are chasing something.  See the torches!  There!”
            A human figure burst into flame.  A raider, fleeing Aylwin’s men, had touched the inner shield.  The men of Hyacintho Flumen were now clearly visible, standing still lest they touch the shield themselves.  It was ghastly, the way the man burned so brightly.  Dag’s men spread out north and south, looking for more raiders, careful not to move any further from the castle.
            Four of the torches were coming back to the castle.  They might be carrying something, or someone.  After many minutes the torches neared the castle and passed out of sight of the eye.  Dag’s other men were still searching.  The tension in Aylwin’s neck was building again.  He rotated his shoulders.
            Arthur moved close.  “My lord, you’ve been holding the shields for more than two hours.  If there are Herminians between the shields, it is time to crush them.  I will signal Dag to bring his men in.”
            Aylwin felt only faint resentment against Arthur’s advice.  I will get stronger.  The day will come when I can hold shields much longer.  “Very well, Arthur.  I will draw the outer shield back.”
            He was tiring quickly now.  Aylwin concentrated, trying to move the outer shield smoothly and slowly.  Tension spread from his neck all the way to his lower back.  He wanted so badly to see another Herminian burn.  Nothing.
            Aylwin lifted his hands and stepped back from the lord’s knob.  He looked at Arthur.  “If they attacked right now, only the castle walls would protect us.”
            Arthur motioned to Juliana, who came to Aylwin’s side.  Arthur said, “But they will not attack now.  For all they know, you are toying with them, inviting them to their deaths.  You must eat, drink, and rest.  We will see what Dag has found.”  Juliana helped Aylwin walk to his place at the high table.  He drank red wine diluted with water, and Juliana tore a round loaf of rye bread into small pieces for him.
            Half an hour of rest and food worked wonders.  After the bread came cold chicken and a wedge of cheese.  The tension drained away, and when Lucia came into the hall Aylwin greeted her with a smile.
            “Aylwin!  They say there was a raid.  Why did you not wake me?”
            “I was busy, Mother.  And at one point I was completely naked, having neglected to dress for battle.”
            “I don’t believe it.”
            “Ask Diera then.  Come and sit down, Mother.  This may be the last chicken for a very long time, unless you like blackened bird.”
            Odo at least laughed at Aylwin’s joke.  Before Lucia could reply, a soldier appeared at the door.
            “My lord Aylwin, Captain Daegmund has something you should see.”  The swordsman saluted.  “I’m afraid it’s not fit to bring into the hall.”
            Arthur, Juliana, Lucia and Odo accompanied Aylwin to the north door of the great hall.  On the landing lay two forms; one the blackened remains of something that might have been a man, the other a young man bleeding from a sword thrust to his abdomen.  Juliana looked quickly away from the burned man and doubled over.  Odo and Lucia stepped back from the stench.  But Arthur held his nose and leaned over the stabbed man.  The raider was dressed only in black, and he had soot rubbed on his face.  He breathed in short gasps.
Arthur kneeled beside the dying man.  “What is this?”  He pulled at a bit of cloth.  An oozy substance clung to the cloth and the man’s flesh.  Arthur leaned close to the raider’s face.  “We need to help you, boy.  What is this slime on you?”
The wounded man made no reply.  A last breath slid out of his lips.  
Arthur looked questioningly at Dag.
            “Fat,” Dag said.  “Thick grease, like you’d see on the axle of a heavy wagon.  It’s all over him: back, neck, butt, legs, and stomach.  Why would they do that?  Rubbing on soot, that makes him dark.  But why this?”
            Arthur sat back on his heels and shook his head.  “I’m sure I don’t know.  But it explains why the other burned so bright.  He was a walking candle when he touched the shield.”

105. At the Siege of Hyacintho Flumen

            “My Lord General!”  Alan Turchil spoke in haste as he entered the Rose Petal conference room.  He slapped his fist to his chest in salute and hurried to an open chair left of Eudes Ridere.  “I’m sorry I’m late.” 
            Bully, standing to the side by the wall, looked from Captain Turchil to General Ridere.  As the general’s squire it was out of place for Bully to speak unless Ridere or one of his captains addressed him, so it was a relief when Galan Hengist spoke the thought of many.  “Never mind late, Alan!  Did they make it?  Report!”
            Ridere’s captains met for council most mornings.  Usually, two or three would be absent, keeping watch with the soldiers on the siege lines.  But today all were present, and most of the hostage knights as well; everyone wanted news of the latest raid.  Turchil milked their attention, passing his gaze around the captains and then turning to Ridere.  The general gave the slightest nod.
            Turchil said, “Three of the five reached the river.  They are safe and making use of hot baths.”
            “Two lost, then?  Who lived?”
            “We lost Kipp Storm and Toland Maxwell.  Shelny Holt, Hugh Norman, and Trace Wynchell made it to the river.”
            List Wadard, heir to Paul Wadard of Beatus Valle and father of Linn Wadard, another hostage knight, spoke from the foot of the table.  “They crossed Blue River in winter?”
            Turchil shook his head.  “No.  The river is too wide, too cold, too swift.  Once they were in the water, they swam with the current downstream.  After they passed the bridge, they fumbled to the shore.  They were pretty cold, I’ll admit.  But it worked.  Men from Rubrum Vulpes helped pull them out.”
            Deman Mowbray, the fourteen-year-old “knight” from Rubrum Vulpes, sat up straighter.  “Those men are due to rotate home soon.  They’ve been on siege duty from the beginning.”
            Turchil nodded acknowledgment to Mowbray.  “At the time it was still dark enough that our raiders might have been missed easily.  At least one of the Rubrum Vulpes men saw what needed to be seen.”
            General Ridere raised a finger.  “Sir Deman, you and I will visit your men this afternoon.  We will congratulate them and thank them for their service.  Requisition a food cart and make sure it is stocked with good beer.”
            Young Mowbray beamed.  “It will be done, my Lord General.”
            Archard Oshelm leaned forward on his elbows, turning his head to face Turchil.  “The liquid fire worked?”
            “Not as we hoped.”  Turchil directed his answer to Ridere as much as Oshelm.  “Each man could only carry what he could conceal, an earthenware jar sealed tight.  Two of the survivors say they placed their jars next to a barn, but the liquid failed to ignite when they broke them.  Another dropped his before they reached their targets; it spilled on the ground and they were afraid to retrieve it.  Mortane’s men captured Maxwell—he was struck down, but not killed, says Hugh Norman—so the enemy may have taken his jar.  Only Kipp Storm actually ignited the fire—on a chicken coop.”
            Oshelm splayed his hands on the tabletop.  “And those are our results?  We burned some chickens?”
            Turchil looked embarrassed, and quiet chuckling spread around the table.  He was too much a soldier to misrepresent the facts.  “Shelny Holt claimed they destroyed scores of birds, but I suspect the number was much less.”
            The laughter increased until Ridere interrupted with another raised finger.  “In a siege, food is food; losing a few chickens may hurt Mortane as much losing as a cow.  In any case, I want him worrying.  Not just him; I want everyone inside Hyacintho Flumen to dread moonless nights.
            “The important lessons of last night’s raid are these.  First, the liquid fire we captured still works, and not just as an experiment far from battle.  Second, men can hide in the slough and make their way to the river.  Third, they can survive the river if they are properly prepared. This gives us the means to harass and intimidate our enemy.  All of you”—Ridere paused and looked round the table—“should be thinking of new ways to harry the castle’s defenders.  It is too much to hope that Mortane would come out for open battle; we would defeat him easily.  He will stay safe inside his walls.  But he must not be allowed to rest.  We will harass him like a swarm of bees stinging a bear.  We will raid again on the next moonless night.  Until then, let us invent other ways to harass him.”
            “My Lord General.”  Aldin Thoncelin, the hostage knight from Ventus in Montes, was a heavy boy with thick white hair and a squeaky voice.  Bully could not remember Thoncelin ever speaking in council unless directly addressed by an officer.  “Please excuse me, but I do not understand.  How did the raiders survive the river?  I once saw a woman pulled from River Loud.  Back home, not far from Ventus in Montes.  It was winter, and the woman died, though she had no injuries and was in the water only a little while.”
            Turchil answered.  “Sir Aldin, have you ever seen a walrus?  No?  I have.  I sailed as cabin boy aboard the Ice Queen when I was your age.  We voyaged to the frozen north shores of Tarquint, where great cakes of ice cover most of the sea and we had to constantly guard the ship lest she be crushed between them.  We saw walruses lying on the shore, as if they were sunning themselves.  The sailors killed one, and I watched them cut it up.  It was a great, round beast, with long white tusks, and under its skin they had to cut through fat thicker than a man’s fist.  I won’t forget it.  Now the water of the northern sea is colder than River Loud in winter, colder than Blue River.  But the walrus swims happily in that sea because of his fat.  It shields him from the cold.
            “I remembered the fat of the walrus, and I asked myself whether we might not shield a man that way.  Each of our raiders wore a thick layer of cow and pig fat between an inner tunic and an outer wrap of black cloth.  It did not work perfectly, but it did work.  They swam in Blue River for half a mile and came out alive.”
            Aldin Thoncelin acknowledged this explanation with repeated dips of his head but did not venture to reply.
            Ridere waited a while, pursing his lips.  “Any other questions?  I remind all of you how important it is that what we say here is kept secret.  Mortane may well have spies in town Hyacintho Flumen.  There are a thousand ways someone in town could signal the castle if he knew our plans.  Be very careful with what you say outside this room.  Dismissed.”
            The captains and knights departed the conference in twos and threes, talking among themselves.  Eadred Unes was scratching away with a quill on paper; otherwise, Ridere was the last to rise from the table, after sitting wordlessly for some time.
            For weeks, Bully had been waiting for the right moment.  As the room emptied, he thought: Maybe now.
            Bully stepped from the wall when Ridere stood up.  Before he could speak, the hall door opened.  Archard Oshelm entered, tightening his belt.  The Rose Petal’s jakes were at the end of the hall.  “Will they listen?”
            “What’s that?”  Ridere seemed distracted; he watched Eadred’s quill.  “Will who listen?”
            “The knights.”  Oshelm gestured at the outer door, closing behind the last of the hostage knights.  “Captains too, but mostly I mean the knights.  You can warn and threaten, but secrets will out.”
Bully spoke up.  “Linn Wadard is eleven, and not terribly bright.  Does he really understand how an unguarded word in town could ruin our next raid?”
             Ridere turned his beaked nose toward Bully and fixed him with his black eyes.  “Good question, Bully.  What do you think?”
            “Sir, it would be awfully easy to say something, without meaning any harm, that would betray some plan.”
            “That’s true.  Go on.”
            Bully frowned, thinking.  “And some of the knights—at least, their fathers—have little loyalty to Queen Mariel.  They might relish the victory of a castle lord over the queen’s army and see in it hope for their own freedom.”
            Archard had crossed to the outer door, where he took a cloak from a peg on the wall.  “My Lord General, your squire has a good deal of sense.  I’m glad we found him that day in Wedmor.” 
            Ridere nodded.  “Indeed.  Bully, answer the question.  Given the officers and knights who gathered here this morning, will our secrets stay safe?”
            “No.”  Bully sucked his teeth.  “Whether by accident or deliberate betrayal, things said in this room will find their way to the town.  And as you say, there are many ways to for townspeople to signal Hyacintho Flumen.  In any case, Lord Mortane will expect a raid of some kind the next moonless night.”
            Ridere looked at Archard Oshelm.  “We need other options, Archard.  Mortane expects night raids now.  What can we do in daylight?”
            Wrapped in his cloak, Archard saluted.  “My lord, you may be asking something impossible.  How can we harass him in daylight?  Even moonlight is enough for Mortane to see and kill.  Nevertheless, I will consider the problem.”  Archard exited.
            Ridere turned to Eadred Unes, who was pushing a stopper into an inkbottle.  “Finished, Eadred?”
            “Aye, my lord.”  Eadred slipped two sheets of paper into a leather pouch.  “These are ready for copying by Edita Freewoman.”  He offered the pouch and Bully reached for it.  Ridere surprised both of them by intercepting it.
            “Good.  It happens that I want a word with Mistress Freewoman, and a bit of a walk would do me good.”
            Bully was taken aback.  “Shall I come too, my lord?”
            Ridere grinned at him.  “You’re my squire, Bully.  What do you think?  By the gods, boy, sometimes you’re cleverer than any of my captains, but sometimes you’re an idiot.”
            “I’m sure that’s true, my lord.”
            Once Bully and Ridere were outside the Rose Petal, the general said, “Would it surprise you, Bully, to learn that Archard was once my squire?”
            “Aye!  I thought…”
            “I’ve been general for twenty years, Bully.  Surely you don’t think you’re my first squire.”
            “No, my lord.  But I wouldn’t have guessed that I knew any of them.”
            The snow crunched under their feet.  Ridere said, “So who will be next?”
            “My lord?  I don’t understand.”
            “Who should be my next squire?  I don’t suppose you’ll want to be sleeping outside my door from now on.  Married men typically want more comfortable beds.  It’s time to make you into a swordsman, or put you on horse as a scout.  You ride well enough.  Maybe a scout.”
            Bully’s mind boggled at the word.  “Married, my lord?”
            They arrived at the rear door to the Cooper’s house.  Ridere laid his hand on the latch.  “That’s what you want, isn’t it?  Truth be told, that’s why I want to see Mistress Freewoman, to ask her if she’ll have you.  But remember, before I give permission, you need to find me a squire.”

106. In Stonebridge

            “I want to be clear about this.”  Milo drew an imaginary line across the table.  The bankers opposite him attended carefully.  “Derian will live in the Citadel from now on.”  Milo’s finger tapped the table on his side of the invisible line.  “He will no longer spend time on assignments from Master Dans.  He won’t be delivering your messages to lords in castles on the Downs, unless the Guard sends him there on some errand.  He’ll work every day on Guard business, either in Wallis’s old office or negotiating with suppliers.”
            “You’re making Derian Chapman the Assistant Commander?”  The speaker was Lunden Ware, the short, brown-haired moneylender who had sat in the first row of the Assembly, next to Verge Courney.  Ware raised a round glass of warm brown beer, the specialty of the house, to his lips.  Ody Dans was drinking tea from a delicate white cup.  Milo’s empty beer glass had been pushed to the side.
            Milo and the bankers occupied a corner booth of the Bread and Brew, an unpretentious alehouse on the east side of River Blide.  His back to the wall, Milo could watch the other people in the tavern.  In mid-morning on a winter day, most of the house’s tables were empty.  A good thing.  Assemblymen Ody Dans and Lunden Ware were well known in Stonebridge, and Milo himself was the talk of the town.  Milo didn’t want eavesdroppers.
            “Not at all.  Derian knows little of fighting and nothing about commanding armsmen.  To date, his chief service as an undersheriff was to tag along with me on the disastrous Gaudy’s Tavern raid.  He owes me his life, by the way.”
            Ware might have spoken, but Ody Dans cleared his throat.  “Go on, Commander.”
            “What Derian does know is commerce.  He’s spent some years learning from his uncle.  He can keep accurate records.  He knows which merchants in Stonebridge can be trusted.  He knows where to buy food, wagons, horses, and equipment.  In short, I want Derian as my quartermaster.
“Now, if Lunden Ware or Ody Dans or someone equally experienced would take the oath, join the Guard, and live in the Citadel under my command—well, then I would choose him.  But given the sheriffs and under-sheriffs I have to choose from, I choose Derian.”
The older men both smiled at the thought of becoming sheriffs.  Milo continued, “He’ll work in Wallis’s old office because he’ll need space to store contracts and records, that sort of thing.”
Dans’s face glistened, as if it had been oiled.  Even so, it projected bland contentment.  “I imagine that Wallis’s desk and boxes contained many things.  Like Commander Tondbert, Wallis was a gatherer of secrets.”
“If so, his secrets are lost.”  Milo didn’t care if they believed him.  “With Wallis dead, I ordered his office emptied.  The kitchen girls, including Alberta Day—that’s the girl Wallis raped—made a fire in the Citadel courtyard with Wallis’s papers and parchments.  They took particular care to build their fire on the exact spot where Jarvis Day spilled Wallis’s blood.”
Ware’s face showed his skepticism.  “You did not think to go through Wallis’s records?”
Milo shrugged.  “I thought about it and rejected it.  I have been sifting Commander Tondbert’s documents carefully, as you might expect.  I will make a report to the Assembly and put into their possession a number of papers and parchments.  I’m sure they will find my report extremely interesting.  Tondbert’s secrets are the ones that matter.”  This speech was mostly a lie, but it contained a germ of truth.  Daisy Freewoman, the erstwhile Tilde Gyricson, had selected which of Wallis’s papers should be burned by the serving girls.  Milo himself hadn’t participated.
Ody Dans sipped tea, then set his cup very precisely on a white saucer.  “You can’t be sure that Wallis’s records are useless if you don’t read them.”
The washerwoman will let me know.  “True enough.  But what’s done is done.  It was a pleasure for the girls to burn Wallis’s things.  They needed that.  And as I say, Tondbert’s secrets are enough for my purposes.”
Milo steepled his hands under his chin and looked into Dans’s expressionless face.  The watery blue eyes returned Milo’s gaze for several seconds.  Finally, Dans lifted his teacup.  “As you say, what’s done is done.  The important thing now is to make sure the City Guard gets proper support from the Assembly.”
Dans sipped slowly.  “You say you will make a report to the Assembly.  I presume you will use what you have learned in Tondbert’s office to help the Assemblymen see the importance of the City Guard.  How?”
Milo traced a pattern on the tabletop with his finger, choosing his words carefully.  “From the beginning, I intend to fully expose all that Tondbert knew.  If I hold something back—some nasty evidence against Ody Dans, for example—Ody Dans might then fear exposure, but he would also know that the new commander holds secrets.  He would wonder what other secrets I have.  But if Master Dans knows that I have told the whole truth about his deeds, he will more readily believe that I tell the truth about someone else, Lunden Ware, for example.
“Tondbert fell into a trap.  He used secrets to manipulate and threaten, and this gained him a little of what he wanted.  But it turned Stonebridge’s leaders against him.  They feared him, but they did not trust him.  Every Assemblyman needs to know that I will report fully and openly all that I know.”
Ware raised his eyebrows and shot a glance at Dans.  “You think you can make the Assembly trust you?”  The banker clearly scorned the idea.
“Not at first, perhaps.  But deeds speak.  People in Stonebridge will soon discover that the Guard will enforce the law with an even hand.  The men of the Assembly no less than farmhands in the country, the laborers in the mills, and the independent artisans will learn that they can trust me to do what I say.”
Ody Dans set aside his tea and spread his pink hands on the table.  “You don’t want men to fear you?”
“Anyone who breaks the laws of Stonebridge should fear me.  Elsewise they will suffer the fate of the Hawks, whom I have broken.”
Ware protested, “With the help of Ifing Redhair!”
Milo acknowledged the objection with the slightest nod.  “And the Falcons I will control.”
Ware sat back into his chair.  “How?”
“By making them soldiers.  They’re no more than bullies and thieves right now, following Redhair’s commands for lack of anything better.  They don’t know what they might be.  We will train them, make them into archers, swordsmen, and pike men.  One or two might even become knights.”
Ware was incredulous.  “You expect to turn Falcon criminals into soldiers, and you expect the Assembly to pay for it?  An army of thieves roaming the streets of Stonebridge?  That’s madness!”
“Not quite.”  Milo grinned.  “My army of thieves will not roam the streets of Stonebridge.  The Citadel’s not large enough to house them, for starters.  We will make an army of the Falcons—and others—but they will live in a camp outside the city, over the hill on the road to Down’s End.  Someday a fortress will replace the camp, but for now a camp will have to suffice.  When spring comes, Stonebridge will have an army ready to do its bidding.  And inside the city, you will find a City Guard that can be trusted.  Warehouses and fine estates will not need small armies of private guards.”
Ware looked questioningly at Ody Dans.  The pink-faced banker drained his cup.  “It’s what we’ve always wanted, Lunden.  Admit it.  Stonebridge needs an army to assert herself.  We need to end the plague of thieves in the city and highwaymen in the countryside.  We can build real roads to Down’s End and the castles of the Downs, not just wagon trails.  An army can patrol the roads and free landholders from the lords.  Castles have magic, but you and I know that is no reason that their lords should divide Tarquint into a dozen little fiefdoms.  Castle lords pretend to authority far and wide, but they have too few sheriffs to make good their claims.  The free cities hold the future of Tarquint, and Stonebridge ought to be first among the cities.”
The brown-haired banker considered Dans’s words.  “Rudolf brought all of Herminia under his will.”
Dans nodded.  “Indeed.  But not by castle magic.  The city that surrounds Pulchra Mane is the true source of Grandmesnil power.  Rudolf, and Mariel after him, raised a great army because they had a great city to support it.  And now, we are told, Mariel’s army incorporates men from every city in Herminia.  She makes every lord contribute men and arms.”
As Dans talked, he leaned forward and his speech became more vigorous.  Milo had never seen him so engaged except the night when the banker forced Adelgar Gyricson to beg his wife to prostitute herself.  That was pleasure and this is politics, the two gods of Master Ody Dans.
Dans continued, “Hyacintho Flumen is the largest of all the castle towns in Tarquint.  But how many men could Lord Mortane put in the field?”  Dans’s pale blue eyes peered at Milo.  “Let me guess.  Five score?  Less?”
Milo ignored the fact that his brother was now lord of Hyacintho Flumen.  “My father had one hundred soldiers exactly, if the count included Lord Hereward, myself, and both of my brothers.  Eddricus is a boy, five years old.”
Dans nodded.  Almost five score, then.  You see?  Rudolf’s army was many times as large.  He united Herminia with an army, not a castle.  The great cities of Tarquint are Cippenham, Down’s End and Stonebridge.  One of those cities will raise an army one day and compel the castles to submit.  Tarquint will be united; why shouldn’t it be Stonebridge that does it?”
            Lunden Ware rubbed his chin.  “And you think Commander Mortane is the man to create our army?”
            Dans frowned for a moment.  “I don’t know.  But he is a genuine knight, by the gods.  The men of the Guard like him.  And he relieved us of that worm Tondbert.  What do you think, Milo?  Can you really build an army out of the Falcons and assorted wanderers?”
            Milo kept his expression as bland as Dan’s.  “I will surprise you.  By spring we will be ready to march.”
            Both bankers expressed surprise.  “By spring?”
            “March?  March where?”
            “I can better explain when…ah!  Here they are.”  Behind the assemblymen the Bread and Brew door opened.  Milo motioned to Felix Abrecan and Derian Chapman, who entered the alehouse in the company of a young woman.  The sheriffs and the dark-haired woman crossed the room as Dans and Ware twisted in their seats to see them.  The new arrivals bowed politely to the assemblymen.
            Milo said, “Master Dans and Master Ware, you already know Sheriff Abrecan and Sheriff Chapman.  I introduce Lady Amicia Mortane.  She comes as ambassador from my brother Aylwin, the lord of Hyacintho Flumen.”

107. In the Bread and Brew

            Ody Dans and Lunden Ware stood to acknowledge Amicia, bowing formally.  There followed some shuffling of chairs, ordering of drinks, and seating of the newcomers.  Amicia and Derian took seats on either side of Milo in the booth, with the bankers facing them across teacups, mugs of hot cider, and glasses of beer.  Amicia had honey wafers and tea.  Felix Abrecan positioned himself on a chair several feet away to prevent strangers from wandering close to the conference.
            Dans lifted a fresh cup of tea, but set it down without sipping.  The watery blue eyes lingered on Amicia.  Milo followed the gaze and realized how quickly Amicia was becoming a woman.
            Don’t worry, little Toadface.  You don’t know the danger of this man, but he will never touch you.  Milo said, “Tea too hot, Master Dans?” 
            “Aye.”  Dans looked at Milo.  “As it cools, though, there will come a moment when it is perfect—aroma, flavor, and temperature all just as they should be.  As I wait for that pleasure, I can fill my time with another: gazing on your sister’s beauty.”
            Lunden Ware almost choked.  “Hm!  Beauty is a fine thing, but Commander Mortane introduced the lady as an ambassador for Hyacintho Flumen.  Is that true, Lady Amicia?”
            “It is.”  Amicia met Ware’s scrutiny steadily.  “I represent my brother, Lord Aylwin.  You undoubtedly know that a Herminian army, ten thousand strong, besieges my brother’s castle.  I visited Down’s End, and now I come to Stonebridge, to seek allies in our war against the invader.”
            “Allies?” Skepticism tinged Ware’s voice.  “Not vassals?”
            Amicia had practiced her response to this issue.  “We must speak realistically, Master Ware.  Long ago, castle lords, including my distant ancestors, claimed sovereignty over wide areas of Tarquint.  But for many generations Stonebridge, Cippenham, and Down’s End have been free cities in every sense of the word.  My brother seeks friendship with the cities, not dominion.”
            Amicia paused to nibble a honey wafer and sip tea.  Milo admired her aplomb.  Toadface has become a lady.
            Amicia continued, “No one believes that Mariel will be content to conquer Hyacintho Flumen only.  Quite likely, she started with us because of our convenient harbor, sheltered and free of ice all year.  Even in winter Herminian ships arrive almost daily, bringing armsmen, weapons, and supplies.  After Hyacintho Flumen, the invader will march north to Down’s End; after that, east to Cippenham or west to Stonebridge.”
            “You seem to know much of what goes on in Mariel’s mind,” Ware objected.
            “Do I?”  Amicia picked up another honey wafer, but instead of eating she pointed it first at Ware and then at Dans.  “You know better than I do how Mariel’s father subdued the lords of Herminia.  Now her army is in Tarquint, besieging Hyacintho Flumen.  That much is undeniable.  Perhaps Mariel intends only to conquer Hyacintho Flumen.  Possible—but do you really think so?  As assemblymen of Stonebridge, dare you assume the enemy won’t come here?  Prudence must direct you to prepare to fight the invader.  You may, of course, wait to see if Aylwin can repel ten thousand men by himself.  The Herminians won’t march on Stonebridge with Aylwin unconquered, and that may take a year or two.  And it seems likely that Down’s End would be their next objective.  Who knows?  It may be years before they come to Stonebridge.”  Amicia paused, set aside her wafer and sipped tea.  “So—you might choose to wait and wait and wait.  Will you?”
Ody Dans coughed politely.  “Lady Amicia, you present the situation very clearly, at least as you see it.  I understand that you have made similar appeals in Down’s End.  May I ask how your entreaties were received?”
The banker’s bland face masked his intense attention to Amicia’s reaction.  Milo wondered how much Dans had guessed about Amicia’s mission.  He has ways of gathering information.  He probably knows about Eulard Barnet.
Amicia surprised Dans.  “Not well.”  She tossed her hair impatiently.  “One of the aldermen promised to propose raising an army—but only if I would marry him!  What impudence!  As if I didn’t know that a proposal to raise an army could be easily rejected by the Down’s End Council!  It’s not my ambition to birth an heir to some moneylender or an ancient member of the weaver’s guild while Hyacintho Flumen is starved to submission.
“Down’s End will undoubtedly send scouts to reconnoiter the siege, and the scouts will undoubtedly report that the Herminian host is vast and strong.  The Down’s End Council will then debate and dither.  They will send emissaries to Eudes Ridere—he’s the Herminian general, and consort of Queen Mariel.  Ridere will promise them lies, and they will debate and dither some more.”
Milo witnessed his sister’s performance with pride.  He and she had rehearsed for the conference with Dans and Ware for three days, from the time she arrived in Stonebridge.  Still, she was carrying it off better than he expected.  Milo savored mouthfuls of cider while she continued.
Amicia had set aside the honey wafer.  She leaned forward, her hands on her knees under the table.  “In short, the aldermen of Down’s End are fools.  They refuse to see the truth because it is painful.  Eudes Ridere commands an army greater than any Tarquint has ever seen.  One by one, he will subdue every castle in the land.  Do not think the free cities will escape; one by one they too will fall.  Only by joining forces can Tarquint stop the invaders.”
“How interesting.”  Ody Dans drank tea and sighed.  “Ah!  Just right.”  He replaced his cup and addressed Milo.  “I had thought, Sir Milo, that you harbored some resentment against Lord Aylwin.  Yet you bring Lady Amicia here to plead his case.  It appears that your ambitious plans to build up the City Guard, to make it into a real army, are nothing more than an attempt by house Mortane to use Stonebridge to save Hyacintho Flumen.”
Milo saw no clue in Dans’ demeanor as to his real meaning.   Is he only offering objections that others will make in the Assembly?  Or does he really think I am in Aylwin’s pocket? 
“My brother cheated me of my rightful place, Master Dans.  My mother helped him, and my father approved.  You might guess what I think of my family.  I left Hyacintho Flumen early last summer with nothing but my armor, my horse, and my squire.  I arrived in Stonebridge soon after.  Months later, Mariel’s army invaded Tarquint.  We Mortanes would have needed remarkable foresight to arrange the plot that you imagine.  And what an intricate scheme!  Exile one son months ahead of time so he can raise an army to rescue the usurping brother’s castle when a foreign army materializes over the sea!”
Milo put elbows on the table and lowered his voice.  “Aylwin can go to hell for all I care.  I love Amicia; it’s true.  I would protect her from danger if I could.  You see how it is, don’t you?  He sent her to Down’s End as a bargaining chip, to marry her off to some alderman in exchange for alliance.  He backstabbed me, and then he sold her.”  Milo turned to Amicia.  “Sorry, little sister.  It’s the truth.”
Amicia dabbed at her eyes, very convincingly. 
Milo addressed Ware as much as Dans.  “The army that Derian and I are going to build will be Stonebridge’s army.  We will use it to enhance the security, power, and wealth of this city.  If that means rescuing Aylwin Mortane, then we rescue him.  If it serves our purposes to let the Herminians take Hyacintho Flumen, so much the worse for him.  However, I do agree with Lady Amicia on this point: the coming of the Herminians presents a point of decision for Stonebridge.  Will we dither like the Council of Down’s End?  I say no.  We should prepare to meet the Herminians at the place and time of our choosing.  For the present, they are locked into their siege of Hyacintho Flumen.  We have the freedom to raise an army and reconnoiter their position.  We need not commit ourselves to immediate war, but we must prepare—prepare now.”
Dans and Ware regarded Milo judiciously, Ware chewing his lip.  Beside Milo, Derian, who had drained a glass of beer, cleared his throat.  “A word, Commander?  I notice you say, ‘the army that Derian and I will build.’  May I ask what you mean?”
Lunden Ware laughed aloud.  “You don’t know what Sir Milo plans for you?”
“Well, I, ah…” Derian pursed his lips and thought for a moment.  “Building an army means procuring supplies.  Is that it?”
Derian expected the answer from Milo, but Ody Dans answered.  “You’ll be living in the Citadel, nephew.  Who would have guessed it?  Derian Chapman, a genuine sheriff of the Stonebridge Guard!  I do hope, though, that you will visit The Spray occasionally.”  Dans made eye contact with Milo.  “It would be useful for all concerned to have reports on the progress of the Guard.”
Milo nodded.  “Of course.  The Commander of the Guard makes monthly reports to the Assembly, but in addition, I think it would be wise to send you and Master Ware more frequent news.  You may expect regular visits from Sheriff Abrecan.” 
Following the tilt of Milo’s head, the bankers looked at Felix, regarding them silently from his watch.  He lifted a cider mug to his mouth, but gave no other indication that he was listening.
“I think that will do,” said Dans, and Lunden Ware nodded agreement.

108.  Near Dimlic Aern

            “There!  Among the trees on the ridge.  Do you see it?”
            Marty came to a full stop before lifting his eyes from his ski tips to the horizon.  Eight days of cross-country skiing in the forests of Two Moons had taught him repeatedly how easy it is to fall, particularly when carrying a winter pack.  Ahead of them, Teothic and Elfric Ash were already sliding down a gentle slope into yet another narrow valley.  The young priest and the sheriff carried the heavier loads, yet they seemed always to have more energy than Marty and Eadmar.  Marty had lost count of the ridges they had mounted in the rugged country between the lakes.  “I’m sorry, Eadmar.  I see only trees.  No, wait!  Is that smoke?”
            “Not the smoke of a fire,” the priest replied.  “And not the smoke of Bradburg, the wide mountain.  Further on, beyond what we can see here, the mountain itself sends up smoke, some of it poisonous to breathe.  But on this side of Bradburg, it is only water.  Ah!  The water spout!”
            Two hundred yards away a geyser erupted, shooting water almost as high as the trees surrounding it.  Teothic and Elfric stopped at the bottom of the hill to watch.  The eruption lasted about ninety seconds and died away.  In those ninety seconds, Marty surmised much about the wide mountain.
            “Are there other such water spouts in this region?”
            “On earth we call them geysers.  They are rare, but I have seen some.”
            The weathered priest looked at Marty.  “I need to remember that you come from another world.  The water spouts of the wide mountain, all this region”—Eadmar swept his hand to indicate the massive upland into which they had been climbing—“are the only ones in Tarquint.  At least, they are the only ones known among God’s priests.  Long ago, Aldigart Godcild and three brothers came to the wide mountain, fleeing from the devils of Inter Lucus and Eclipsis Lunaris, much as we have come today, in the snows of winter.  They would have starved or frozen, except God gave them shelter.”
            “A hidden place.”
            Eadmar smiled.  “Aye.  Dimlic Aern.”
            They found refuge on a volcano.  “Does the wide mountain throw out more than water and smoke?  Is there any place that emits hot rock, rock that flows like molten glass?”  As far as Marty knew, there was no word in the common speech for “lava.”
            Eadmar seemed puzzled.  “No.  Bradburg has water spouts and poisonous smokes, but no flowing rock.  Is such a thing possible?”
            The wide mountain: the Two Moons version of Yellowstone. “It is, indeed.  On Earth we call it lava.  Earth has many volcanoes, and I suspect Two Moons has them as well.  Perhaps it has been ages since Bradburg spewed out rock, but I believe it is a volcano all the same.  The lava is still there, far beneath the surface.  Water seeps down through the earth until it gathers in some underground cavern where the hot rock turns it into steam.  The steam builds up pressure until it shoots up in a geyser.”
            The priest rubbed his cheek, frowning.  Marty watched the old man struggle with new notions.  How many times can I turn his ideas inside out before he ceases to believe me? Marty pointed at Teothic and Elfric.  “They’re leaving us behind.  We should get on.”
             “Aye.”  Eadmar bent forward over his skis and strode forward; gravity soon pulled him into an easy glide.  Marty followed, and when they reached the bottom they began the laborious climb up the next ridge toward the geyser.  They walked like ducks, spreading the tips of their skis wide, and lifting the tail of each ski over the other.  Both men were breathing heavily when they joined Teothic and Elfric on the edge of a shallow pool of steamy water, no wider than a backyard swimming pool. 
The four companions stood without speech for a time, taking in the geyser pool.  The scalding water of the eruption had mostly drained away already through a narrow creek bed.  The rock of the geyser basin and the nearby channel glistened with reds and greens left by mineral deposits.  Further on, the cooling creek water disappeared under a snow bank.
            “This is Dimlic Aern?” Elfric questioned Eadmar.
            “No.  The water spout tells us we are close, but it is not the actual hiding place.”  Eadmar pointed to a cluster of firs on the opposite side of the geyser pool.  “The gate begins over there.  Be careful.  Don’t get too close to the water spout; the snow bank can crumble.”
            The skiers skirted the pool, staying well back from the snow’s edge.  They came to the trees Eadmar had indicated.  Under the ancient firs, whose branches interlocked above them, little snow reached the ground.  Eadmar untied his skis and used the bindings to lash them together.  “Follow me.”  He tucked the tips of his skis under his arms and started forward, dragging the tails through piled fir needles and bits of fallen bark.  Marty, Elfric, and Teothic mimicked the priest, though Marty wondered at first why Eadmar didn’t carry his skis on his shoulder.  A hundred feet into the fir corridor, the path turned left, sharply uphill, and the branches of the wood were suddenly not twenty feet up but immediately above their heads.  As they climbed, the men had to bend low to scramble under the branches, still pulling their skis and trying to not snag their backpacks.  Soon they were climbing on all fours, on rocks rather than soil, and the rocks were wet.  And then, without warning, there were no branches over them.  They had reached a narrow space, a rocky ledge, between the trees and a sheer rock wall.  The ledge and the rock wall were wet with water trickling down from some place above their heads.  Wind blew cold between the rock mountain and the firs, but the closest branches, long enough to brush against the wet stone, were snowless.  With tall trees crowding against the mountainside, even at mid-day the place was dim as twilight.
            Eadmar laid his bundled skis against the rock face and unstrapped his pack.  “Once I’m up, Teothic, pass all our things up to me.  We’ll store the skis in the gate and carry the packs.  Help me up, will you?”
            Marty, Teothic, and Elfric laid their skis by Eadmar’s.  Teothic and Marty each cupped their hands to make steps, and Eadmar put a booted foot in each.  The old priest wasn’t heavy; Marty and Teothic lifted him to chest height, and then Elfric stepped in to push Eadmar’s feet higher still.  And then he was gone, as if the mountain had swallowed him. 
            A minute later, a rope snaked its way down to them.  Eadmar’s head appeared against the sky above them.  “The rope is secure.  Come on up.”  Teothic handed up four pairs of skis to Eadmar before ascending.  Thick knots segmented the rope and made climbing relatively easy.  They tied Eadmar’s pack to the rope so they could pull it up last.  At the top, Eadmar’s hand helped pull them into a cave.  Water no more than half an inch deep flowed out of the entrance.  When the others had joined him, Eadmar stored the rope in a cleft chiseled into the cave wall.  He picked up his pack.  “Follow me.  We walk in the dark, but the way is easy to follow.  The wall on the right is never more than an arm’s length away, and the water runs on our left.  It’s not deep or dangerous, but if you keep to the dry stone you’re on the true path.”
            Dark indeed.  Marty guessed they walked a half-mile in the cave, and after the first fifty yards the blackness was Stygian.  Marty listened intently to Eadmar’s soft steady footfall ahead of him and reached out to the right wall often. 
            “We call this cave the ‘front gate’ or ‘south gate.’”  Eadmar’s voice, with no visible source and bouncing off unseen stone surfaces, played tricks of direction, as if someone were fiddling with the balance control on a stereo.
            Elfric, immediately behind Marty, asked, “Is there no need for guards?”
            “The brothers at Dimlic Aern are few in number, and they have few weapons.  Our safety depends on secrecy.  Aldigart and the brothers came to Bradburg more than a thousand years ago, and Dimlic Aern was built soon after.  The story keepers say that the devils and lords searched for Dimlic Aern and could not find it.  I wonder about that. Perhaps the devils and lords were not concerned with God’s people so long as they stayed far away in the wild.  Lords, at any rate, could only send sheriffs to search for Dimlic Aern, since lords do not leave their castles.  The gates are well hidden, and Dimlic Aern itself cannot be seen from the few boats that sail the northern end of East Lake.  In fact, unless one comes through one of the gates, the only way to see Dimlic Aern would be to climb through the poison air of Bradburg and look into the narrow valley from above.  As far as we know, Elfric, you are the first of your kind to pass either the front or back gate.”
            “My kind?”
            “You are a sheriff, in service to a castle lord.  Your arrival would no doubt create much consternation at Dimlic Aern on any other occasion.”
            “But not now?”
            Eadmar chuckled.  “I think Lord Martin will have the brothers’ complete attention.”
            The cave was as dark as ever when Eadmar suddenly stopped.  “Ah!  It’s been so long since I came here—thirty years!  I almost doubted my memories.  But here we are.”
            Marty listened carefully, but he heard nothing that might be a clue.  The water on their left whispered its presence—but even that might only be imagination.  “Where is ‘here,’ Eadmar?  And how do you know?  Do you hear something we don’t?”
            “Nothing so mysterious.”  Eadmar’s tone was playful.  “The right hand wall has disappeared.”  Marty, Teothic, and Elfric all reached to the right, though none saw the others’ arms waving.  Eadmar’s feet padded away, and before the others could try to follow, a knock sounded, the priest’s knuckles rapping on something wooden.  “The brother on duty may not hear me,” Eadmar said.  “Come and help.”
            Hands extended into the dark, Eadmar’s companions followed his voice.  In four strides they were touching him and the wooden thing.  “We’ve got to raise the guard.”  Eadmar began slapping the wood with the flat of his hand.  “It can only be opened from the other side.”
            Elfric and Teothic joined Eadmar, pounding on the door.  Then a single muffled “Boom” answered them.  “Stop!” commanded Eadmar.  “They’ve heard us.”
            A dot of light appeared on the stone to their left, no more than three inches across, yet almost painfully bright after an hour in blackness.  It hardly relieved the darkness of the cave, but Marty could see that the light came through a narrow hole in the wooden door.  A voice accompanied the illumination.
            Gratias agimus Deo…
            Eadmar stepped close to the hole.  “…et Patri Domini nostri Jesu Christi.
            Benedictus Deus.
            The light dot disappeared.  Whoever was on the other side had covered the hole.  Then the door, a massive thing made of pine panels five inches thick, swung ponderously away from them.  The new arrivals walked into the full light of day, blinking often as their eyes adjusted.
            “My God.”  Marty couldn’t help himself.
            “The narrow valley,” said Eadmar.

109. At Dimlic Aern

            The travelers emerged from the “front gate” onto a stone shelf carved out of the north side of a perpendicular mountain.  The shelf had no parapet, and when the ponderous door swung fully open it reached beyond the edge.  One could not step around the door without falling into the abyss. 
            “Move aside, please.”  The guard who had opened the door motioned them away from the opening.  The visitors squeezed together, dismayingly close to the brink, and their host pushed the door shut.  The door and its jambs were recessed into the mountainside; once it was closed the men were able to move away from the dizzying fall.
            The “narrow valley” indeed!  The south and north sides of the chasm paralleled each other less than a hundred yards apart.  Noonday sunlight brilliantly illuminated the snow-covered upper reaches of the opposite side high above them.  A thousand feet below the bright snow, the gate shelf enjoyed a gray half-light, and sunlight would never reach the valley floor, unless at midsummer it shone straight down.
As a teenager Marty had visited Seattle’s Space Needle and remembered how cars had looked like bugs from the observation deck.  But this is higher, much higher.  I’d guess it’s two thousand feet down to that lake.  The narrow valley extended more than a mile both east and west from the shelf where they stood, and a black line at the bottom indicated run-off water had collected there.  Marty marveled at the smoothness of the vertical rock on both sides.  It’s more like a crack in the mountain than a valley, as if a giant chopped Bradburg with a cleaver. 
            “Welcome, my brothers.  Welcome indeed.  I am Nyle.  You are the first visitors through the south gate in five weeks.”  The gate guard wore an animal skin coat over a plain brown tunic.  Wool leggings tucked into his boots.  Nyle bowed awkwardly and then bent to pick up a heavy timber at least six inches square.  Elfric and Teothic quickly moved to help the guard fit the ends of the wooden beam into grooves chiseled into the mountainside on either side of the door.  With the beam in place, the door from the cave was very effectively barred.
            Eadmar inclined his head in greeting. “Fair afternoon, brother Nyle.  I am Eadmar, from Down’s End.  I have come with these companions bearing greetings from Guthlaf Godcild of that city.  Are you a priest?”
            “God willing, my ordination will come this summer.”
            “Nineteen then, still.  I thought you looked young.”  Eadmar’s blue eyes twinkled.  “Yet you get gate duty alone?  Is there no one to help you?  What if we had been enemies?”  Eadmar looked at Elfric as he spoke, remembering the sheriff’s question about guards.
            “Basil Godcild says solitude will be good for my soul, provided that I use my days wisely.  Enemies?  I am commanded to open the door only for those who give the password.  In a thousand years no enemy of God has found either south or north gate.”
            Eadmar raised his eyebrows in a silent question to Elfric.  Elfric nodded, acknowledging the point.  But he said, “Things change, Priest Eadmar.”
            “Aye, they do.”  Eadmar rubbed his cheeks.  Cold wind was blowing from the mountaintop, and his bald pate looked red.  “Brother Nyle, I introduce brother Teothic, from Down’s End.  He is one of our story keepers.”
            “Well met, Teothic.”  Nyle inclined his head.
            “And these men,” Eadmar continued, “Are not priests.  They are not enemies either, but this one at least has a sword.”  Eadmar indicated Elfric.  “It would probably be best if you took Elfric’s weapon.”
            Nyle’s green eyes went wide.  “Not priests?  But you said the secret name in their hearing!”
            “All will be explained when I present Elfric and Martin to Bishop Basil.”  Eadmar extended a hand.  “Your sword, Elfric.”
            The sheriff sent a questioning glance to Marty, who said, “Eadmar’s right.  I’ll get no answers if they don’t trust us.”
            Elfric unbelted his scabbard and sword and handed them to Nyle.  The guard held the scabbard awkwardly, as if he didn’t know what to do with weapons.  Teothic chuckled and touched the youth’s shoulder.  “Don’t worry, brother.  Just lead us to your bishop.”
            But Nyle was thinking quickly, and he had noted Elfric looking to Marty for direction.  “And this man?”  He pointed the sword, still in its scabbard, at Marty.
            Marty met the young guard’s gaze.  “Fair afternoon to you, Nyle.  My name is Martin.  I am not a priest, but I am a worshiper of God, and I have come to Dimlic Aern to learn from the brothers here.  I carry no weapon.  Beyond that, I should not speak, until I have met Basil Godcild.”
            Nyle scowled.  “I cannot allow this.”
            Eadmar spoke gently.  “You have Elfric’s sword.  You can stay here and guard my friends while I go to the house.  After I have explained my mission, one of the other brothers will come and bring the others in.  Would that be satisfactory?”
            “You know the house?”
            “I was last here thirty years ago, when Basil and I were new priests.  I don’t suppose you’ve moved the house since then.”
            Nyle sighed.  “We are supposed to practice hospitality.  But…”
            Teothic said, “As Elfric says, things change, brother Nyle.  You are the first guard in the history of Dimlic Aern to admit a non-priest.  When this is over, your name will go into a history and the story keepers will learn it.”
            “Flattery is a temptation,” said Nyle, considering Teothic’s words.  “Still, I will accept the old priest’s plan.  I will stay here with you three.  You, Eadmar, can go on to the house.”
            Marty, Teothic and Elfric waited two hours with the young guard before Eadmar returned with another priest.  Treddian looked to be about thirty, a lean and hale man with curly black hair.  He said that Basil Godcild wished to see the newcomers and he told Nyle to come to the house as well.
The path from the front/south gate was clearly the product of human labor.  Carved into the face of the mountain, it was four feet wide or wider and very close to level.  If not for the vertigo-inducing fall on the right, it resembled a city sidewalk as much as anything else.  Across the valley, a similar path had been created, running up at an angle.  Apparently the back gate (or north gate) was higher in the mountain than the one they had entered.
            Marty wondered about the gate left without a doorman.  “If Nyle leaves his post, what if someone comes to the gate?  Without a guard to open the door, would not a visitor be trapped in the mountain?”
            Treddian laughed.  “The day’s light is fading already.  It would be cruel indeed to make a man spend the long night alone on the shelf.  If he were to roll over in his sleep… Oy!  And if he were to open the door and move inside, so as to sleep in safety, then visitors might come upon him with the gate open.
            “Rarely, visitors do come and find themselves barred at the gate.  Then they must choose: wait in the dark or follow the water as Aldigart did so long ago.  At least they would be warm.”
            Elfric asked, “Warm?”
            Eadmar, walking in file between Elfric and Marty, broke into the conversation.  “Before we even came to the gate, back at the water spout, Martin was explaining to me his ideas about the wide mountain.  He has seen such things before, he says.”
            Marty blew out a breath.  How much can I say?  If I talk about Earth do I mark myself as a madman or a devil? 
“This is what I think.  Aldigart came to the wide mountain in winter, and he was saved by hot water.  The region of Bradburg, the wide mountain, has many hot springs.  I imagine that the water in the cave, that is, the front gate, comes from a hot spring, or perhaps more than one.  Remember, Elfric, we walked only on the right side of the water in the cave, and the floor was level.  I do not think that is natural.  I suspect the brothers of Dimlic Aern, by long years of work, have smoothed that walk, just as they cut the path we walk on now.  Obviously, men also cut the mountainside for the door.  But when Aldigart first came, there was no door.  He had to follow the hot water all the way to the source.  I suspect the house of Dimlic Aern is very close to that source.”
“Good guesses, and close to the truth,” said Treddian.  “There are many little hot springs in both caves, the south and north gates.  But you are right that the path must be maintained by human hands.  Otherwise, we would have to crawl in the water as Aldigart and his companions did.  It is possible, still, to follow the water path all the way to Dimlic Aern, but it is a painful squeeze.  Far better to enter the narrow valley by the door and use this path.”
            At the western end of the narrow valley the towering cliffs north and south came together.  In the lee of the mountain the winter afternoon was quickly turning to dark.  Lights appeared ahead of them, yellow lights of oil lamps.  The path on the north side of the valley now joined with the southern path, and they passed under a stone roof.  On either side were openings cut into the rock, windows into rooms, rooms with beds, chairs, and tables.  A thousand years gives lots of time to haul in lumber.
            They came to a wide door recessed into the rock at the western end of the veranda.  Welcoming light shone through the open door, silhouetting a gray-haired man in a black cassock.  “You return, Eadmar.  Is the man with you?”
            “Come in, please.”  The priest ushered the newcomers into the room behind him.  There was a long table, with food set out.  Behind them, Treddian shut the door.  At a gesture from Treddian, the new arrivals laid their travelers’ packs by the north wall.  Another priest, who looked to be about Treddian’s age, about thirty, pulled heavy cloth curtains across the room’s window openings.  Dimlic Aern had no glass for its windows, and the room’s walls, floor and ceiling were stone, but it was not the cold medieval monastery that Marty had imagined.  Bright tapestries decorated the walls, and a large oval carpet lay under the table and chairs.  Oil lamps and candles provided light.  And on the western side of the room, where one might have expected a fireplace, a low brick wall enclosed a steaming pool of water.  Often, but at irregular intervals, boiling water would shoot into the pool through a crack in the mountain.  It would bubble and steam for a few minutes, and then gradually drain away.  Water condensing on the walls ran down into a channel on the floor and out of the room.  Marty thought: It’s like a combination sauna and dining room.  I’d bet the tapestries and carpets need replacing pretty often.
             “Welcome to Dimlic Aern.”  The older priest faced Marty.  His face was deeply lined, especially around his brown eyes.  “I am Basil Godcild.  You’ve met Nyle and Treddian.  The boy is Desmond.  And this is Seaver, our story keeper.”  Marty hadn’t noticed a youth standing in the shadow of a passage leading out of the room; Desmond.  Seaver was the brown-haired priest who had shut the window coverings.  “Nyle, please help Desmond bring drink for our guests.”
            Nyle and Desmond disappeared into the passage.  Basil’s attention remained on Marty.  “Tell me about yourself, Martin.”
            Marty shot a look at Eadmar, whose blank face told him nothing.  No point in hiding anything.  Eadmar will have told all.  “My name is Martin Cedarborne.  I came to Two Moons from a different world, a planet called Earth, by means of castle technology, though people here call it ‘magic.’  After I came to Two Moons, I discovered that the priests of the ‘old god’ worship the same God I worshiped on Earth.  I also discovered that I am lord of the castle Inter Lucus.  I did not intend to become a lord.  I bonded with Inter Lucus completely by accident.”
            Marty sat down on a chair and looked up at Basil’s face.  How many improbable things can a man swallow all at once?  The old priest frowned, pulled a chair close and sat on it.  The soft brown eyes searched Marty’s face.  “Go on.”
            The simple command surprised Marty.  What more do you want?  “That’s about it.  I am a lord of a castle, but I am also a worshiper of God.  I know that in the past, castle lords have sometimes imprisoned or killed people who are loyal to God.  So you may have reason to not trust me.  But what I say is true.”
            Basil pursed his lips.  “I believe you.” 
Marty opened his mouth, and shut it again.  He had expected greater skepticism.
Basil turned his attention for a moment to the others.  “Please, take seats.  Sup is prepared.  Ah!  Here come Desmond and Nyle.”
            Nyle sat at table with the priests and the visitors, making a party of eight.  Desmond, who looked to be about twelve years old, sat on a chair not far from Basil, ready to fetch more food or drink when asked.
            Basil poured white wine into plain earthenware cups and handed one to Marty.  “You still have not told all, Lord Martin.  While we dine, I expect fuller answers.  But first…”
            Basil held up his wine cup as if to make a toast.  Marty and Elfric joined with the priests in mimicking him.  Basil said, “God gives us wine, and sustenance, and love.  Praised be God forever.  Amen.”
            “Amen.  Amen.”

110. At Dimlic Aern

            Where do they get the food?  It doesn’t grow in the fertile fields of the narrow valley, that’s certain.  Basil and the brothers of Dimlic Aern must have connections with priests elsewhere in Tarquint.  Do they pack it all through the “gates”?
            As so often in his experience on Two Moons, Marty’s questions went unanswered.  In this case, the questions weren’t even verbalized.  Basil Godcild set the conversational agenda for sup at Dimlic Aern.
            “Tell your whole story, Martin.  When did you come to Two Moons?”
            “Eight months ago, at the beginning of summer.”  Seated next to the bishop, Marty had to turn his head to look at his face.  “A girl named Ora came to the ruins of Inter Lucus and asked the castle gods to bring a new lord.  At just that moment I was pulled from Earth to Two Moons.  Naturally, Ora thought the gods had answered her prayers.  She showed me the lord’s knob and I put my hands on it.  I had no idea what I was doing.”
            “Yet Inter Lucus accepted your authority?”
            “It did.  The interface wall began displaying castle status reports almost immediately, in Latin of course.  I had to guess at the meaning of some of the words.  From that moment Inter Lucus began repairing itself.”
             Across the table the gate guard Nyle choked and coughed.  Latin?  The old language, the holy tongue?  In a castle?”  He looked questioningly at Basil.
            The bishop of Dimlic Aern seemed unperturbed.  “It’s a possibility, and I’ve heard the theory proposed before.  Remember, Eadmar, when we were young?  Two brothers from Cippenham showed us a scrap of hidgield parchment.  Some words seemed quite similar to the old language.”
            “I remember,” said Eadmar.  “By God’s will, I was limited to four weeks at Dimlic Aern, but I do recall the brothers from Cippenham.  One of them was named Aethelmod, which I remember because our bishop in Down’s End had the same name.  But the theory is no longer a mere conjecture.”  Eadmar fixed his kind brown eyes on Nyle.  “With the permission of our bishop, Teothic and I have visited castle Inter Lucus.  We have seen with our own eyes words of the old language displayed on what Lord Martin calls the interface wall.  Lord Martin says that the old language that we treasure as the holy tongue is in fact the language of the castles.”
            Disbelief and disgust fought for supremacy in Nyle’s face.  “The devils use the holy tongue?  How could you go there?”
            Basil cleared his throat to interrupt and attract Nyle’s attention.  “That was said already, brother Nyle.  Teothic and Eadmar entered Inter Lucus in obedience to the command of Guthlaf Godcild.  And now I command you: listen and do not speak.  When we have finished this evening, you will ask me all that you wish in private—and I will ask you what you have heard.  Listen well.”
            Nyle inclined his head.
            “Are the castle’s repairs complete?”  Basil questioned Marty as if Nyle’s interruption had never happened.
            Marty pursed his lips.  Inter Lucus has renewed itself to a great extent.  The main systems are all operativa.  The walls of the west tower are still growing taller, though I expect a roof to appear soon.  The truth is, I don’t know what a fully repaired castle should look like.  Until I was brought to Inter Lucus, I had never seen such a thing.  On Earth, we have buildings that are called ‘castles,’ but they lack the powers Two Moons castles have.  I may never know if Inter Lucus is fully restored.”  Marty thought about the eleventh hexagon in Centralis Arbitrium Factorem, with its broken fiber optic connection, but he decided not to mention it.
            Basil noted Marty’s hesitation.  “Please tell all.”
            Not much gets by you, does it? All right, then.  “There is a part of the castle that has not been repaired.  By my best guess, it is an important part of the castle, the Centralis Arbitrium Factorem.  So far, it seems this broken part is immune to Intra Arcem Micro-Aedificator.  Perhaps the castle cannot repair it.”
            “But this is not why you have come to Dimlic Aern in the middle of winter, to ask an old priest how to repair your castle.”
            Marty smiled, finding himself drawn inexorably by the bishop’s gentleness and good humor.  Seated at Basil Godcild’s table, he wanted to tell all, to leave nothing hidden.  “I came to Dimlic Aern in hope of finding some answers.  Why is it possible for a man from Earth to bond with a castle on Two Moons?  Why do the people of Two Moons worship the same God I worshiped on Earth?”    
            Treddian had been following the conversation closely.  “We believe, Lord Martin, that the true God is God of all the worlds.  If, on your world, you worship the God of all the worlds, you would necessarily be worshiping the same God.”
            “You speak like a philosopher, Treddian.”  Marty shook his head.  “I grant that monotheists of one world might find common ground with monotheists of another world.  But that does not explain the cross, the sign of the old God on Two Moons and the sign of the Son of God on Earth.  And it does not explain the name of Jesus, which I knew long before I came to Two Moons.”
            Marty’s casual use of the secret name, even in the fastness of Dimlic Aern, produced discomfort and consternation on Desmond, Treddian and Seaver’s faces.  Nyle very nearly disobeyed the command of silence.
            Eadmar swallowed a bit of soup.  “I’ve had a few months to get used to Lord Martin’s offhand use of the name.  I’ve learned that on his world, God’s people speak the name freely.  Reading the book of God, it seems that we may have mishandled the name.  The book of God says that the name of Jesus ought to be widely known.  It ought to be proclaimed everywhere.  Of course, if we were at Prayer House in Down’s End, brother Phytwin would undoubtedly say my words are merely the arguments of the devils, that I have been deceived by Lord Martin.”
            Seaver spoke up for the first time.  “Brother Phytwin sounds wisely cautious to me.  As story keeper, I could tell…”
            “I’m sure you could,” interrupted Basil.  “In twelve hundred years we have gathered many tales of the perfidy of the devils and the lords.  But none of those stories are relevant to this case.  Martin of Inter Lucus is unlike any other lord in the long history of Two Moons.  I remind you that Martin came to Two Moons from another world.”
            Marty spoke up for Seaver.  “Please don’t take this in the wrong way.  I am glad that you believe me, Bishop Basil.  But my own testimony is the only evidence you have that I came from Earth.  Why have you been persuaded?”
            Basil tilted his head and looked curiously at Marty.  The hazel eyes seemed to be laughing at him.  Then he looked around the table, as if giving a wordless quiz to everyone present.  Eadmar spooned up more soup, but the others met the bishop’s gaze.
            “Treddian, put on your thinking cap.  Answer for all of us.  What do we know about Martin of Inter Lucus?”
            Apparently, Treddian had been put this sort of test before.  He laced the fingers of both hands in his curly hair.  His coal black eyes took on a faraway look.
            “We know Martin is a man, thirty-five to forty years old.  He speaks the common tongue, and some words of the old language.  On the testimony of Eadmar and Teothic, he is lord of the castle Inter Lucus, which was a ruin, a thing we know from many reports.  On his own report, and that of Eadmar and Teothic, he has greatly restored Inter Lucus.  He claims to worship God.  He knows the secret name.  He claims to have a book, which on Eadmar’s account is the book of God.  If possible that book should be examined.  He has come to Dimlic Aern in the hope of gaining answers to certain questions.  He…” 
            Treddian suddenly stopped his recitation and dropped out of “trance” mode.  “He came to Dimlic Aern.”
            “Aye.”  Again Basil tilted his head to look at Marty.  “You came to Dimlic Aern.  No lord of Two Moons has ever done that.  None of them would ever consider doing it.  You have with you one sheriff, whom we have disarmed.  I could easily have you thrown into the valley, yet you came anyway.  That shows that you are brave or foolish.  More importantly, in spite of all that Eadmar must have said to you, you came anyway.  You are very unlike any lord of Two Moons.  This basic fact, combined with Eadmar’s testimony of your character, makes one conclusion unavoidable.  You sincerely believe you came from another world.  That you actually came from that other world fits with your belief, everything you say about yourself, and everything we know about you.  All this has been plain since Eadmar talked with me this afternoon.”
            Marty glanced sideways at Eadmar, but the priest’s attention was on his soup.
            “What do you mean, ‘in spite of what Eadmar must have said’?”
            Basil sighed.  “You took danger upon yourself by leaving your castle.  Surely Eadmar explained this to you.”
            “Actually, a boy from the village, Caelin, has often dinned my ears about the dangers of traveling abroad.  But in this case I journeyed with a sheriff and two priests, in the dead of winter.  Most likely no one has seen us the whole way.”
            “You should pray that is so.”  For the first time, Basil’s voice carried disapproval.  “You are the first castle lord to ever take advice from a priest.  You should have listened better.  Surely Eadmar warned you of danger to your people as well as to yourself.  A lord’s first duty is to his people.  Without you present in Inter Lucus, your folk are sheep in a pen with no guard dog.  What happens if a wolf leaps the fence?”
            “We did talk about that.”  Marty smiled.  “I left three sheriffs, plus Caelin, Isen, and Ora to guard the castle.  And there are loyal men in the village—Alfwald Redwine, Sig Alymar, Everwin Idan, and others—who would help if there were a crisis.  Most importantly, it’s winter.  The snow lies four feet deep on the roads.  What enemy can come to Inter Lucus now?”
            While he spoke, Marty watched Basil’s face.  Basil had never met the people of Senerham or Inter Lucus, yet Marty saw sadness and worry.  To his surprise, Marty’s words sounded hollow to his own ears.  Answer your own question.  What enemy might come in the winter?
            “We will pray that you are right, Martin.  My judgment is that you should return to Inter Lucus as soon as may be.  You will depart tomorrow.  Tonight I will show you the treasures of Dimlic Aern.  I hope they answer your questions.  In exchange, I ask that you read to me from the book of God.”

Copyright © 2014 by Philip D. Smith.
All rights reserved.  International copyright secured.

111. In Dimlic Aern

            Table talk continued for two hours.  Basil questioned Eadmar, Teothic, and Elfric as much as he did Marty.  The bishop of Dimlic Aern showed interest in, and seemed knowledgeable about, a wide variety of things, including the Prayer House Marty had built, the children enrolled in Collegium Inter Lucus, the wool and leather industries of Down’s End, news about the siege of Hyacintho Flumen, the visit to Inter Lucus by the knight from Hyacintho Flumen, and Guthlaf Godcild’s concern about war. 
The last matter was particularly troubling to Basil.  “Why would the aldermen and guild masters of Down’s End take up arms in defense of Aylwin Mortane?  Are memories so short in the free cities?”
Teothic answered, “Bishop Guthlaf thinks it unlikely that Down’s End will try to rescue Mortane.  The city leaders are divided and avaricious.  They would rather make profits from a war fought by others.  If aid comes to Hyacintho Flumen, Guthlaf thinks it will come from Stonebridge, not Down’s End.”
“Hm.  Guthlaf is closer to these affairs than I am.  Why Stonebridge?”
“Milo Mortane, the brother of the lord of Hyacintho Flumen, has gone to Stonebridge.”
“Ambassador for his brother?”
Teothic smoothed his red beard.  “We don’t think so.  We suspect the brothers parted as enemies; it’s a familiar tale for the sons of a lord.  What we know for certain is that Milo Mortane visited Down’s End as a partner to Derian Chapman of Stonebridge.”
Basil thought for a moment.  “I’m not familiar with that name.  Is Master Chapman important?”
“He is nephew to Ody Dans.”
“I see.”  Basil rested his face on his hands, elbows on the table, eyes closed.  He sat that way for several seconds, and then took a deep breath and straightened.  “Well, we shall pray for our brothers in Down’s End, and we shall pray that Martin of Inter Lucus uses his castle’s powers to broker peace.  For tonight, though, we have treasures to show.  Martin, we are eager to see the book of God.”
“With your permission, Bishop Basil.”  Marty bowed as he rose from table.  He went to his pack by the wall and dug out his New Testament.  The faux-leather binding was greatly worn by this time, and some of the pages had been torn.  But it was still an otherworldly object to the minds of Seaver, Treddian, Nyle, Desmond, and Basil.  They passed it gently from hand to hand.  They could not help but notice the gold leaf cross on the cover.  When they saw the uniform letters and touched the high quality paper they were wide-eyed.
When the book came back to Basil, he pushed aside his plate and laid the open Testament on the table between him and Marty.  “What language is this?”
English.  It is a language somewhat like the common tongue.  That is yet another mystery I would like answered.  Why is the common tongue of Two Moons both like and unlike one of the languages of Earth?  My world has many languages, and they differ greatly.  Why should the language of Two Moons have similarities to my native tongue?”
Basil laughed quietly.  “You are eager with questions, Martin.  First, read and translate for us.”
The request was not a surprise, not after so many reading sessions with Eadmar.  Marty had decided where he should begin, if and when Basil asked.

The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God:
It is written in Isaiah the prophet: “I will send my messenger ahead of you,
Who will prepare your way”—“a voice of one calling in the desert,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’”

Marty read and translated the beginning passages of Mark about John the Baptist, Jesus’ baptism, and Jesus’ temptation.  The brothers of Dimlic Aern listened in wonder.
Marty closed the Testament.  “At Inter Lucus we have learned to make paper, using castle technology.  The children of Collegium Inter Lucus are learning to write.  They will practice writing by copying the words of this book in the common tongue.  We intend to make many copies of the book of God.  In time, the brothers of Dimlic Aern shall have one.  More than one, if you like.”
“That would be a gift indeed,” said Basil.  “We will treasure and study any copy you can give us.”
“By your leave.  The book must go back to Inter Lucus.”  Marty stood from the table and returned the Testament to his travel pack.  The brothers of Dimlic Aern watched him stow the book like hungry children watching a grain wagon.   
             Basil rose from table, a signal for the others to do so as well.  “I will show you the treasures of Dimlic Aern.  I do not know if they will answer your questions.  Follow me.”
            Marty trailed the bishop into a passageway, obviously artificial, carved by much labor in the stone of the mountain.  Oil lamps in wall sconces lighted the way.  Eadmar, Teothic and Elfric followed close behind, with the brothers from Dimlic Aern after.  The passage came to a T, lit to the right and dark on the left.  From somewhere in his cassock Basil brought out a candle, which he lit at the nearest wall lamp.  Then he led them left, in the dark passage.  After five paces, the stone floor began to reflect the light of the candle. 
            A wet floor.  Another natural cavern.  The place is a network of tunnels connecting the caverns old Aldigart found when he came here.
            Basil lit wall lamps with his candle, and the contours of the new room appeared.  It was smaller than Marty’s bedroom in Inter Lucus, and the uneven ceiling required Teothic and Marty to watch their heads.  Mineral deposits in the stone shone red and green.
            A low table, about ten feet long and only knee high, was the room’s only furniture.  A mat woven from some rough fiber covered the table.  Marty guessed it might be cedar bark; the room had a faint aroma.
            “These are our relics of the before time.”  Basil indicated three objects displayed on the table.  “From the beginning, the priest Bede and his servant Ingram, who became priest after Bede, hid these things from the devils.  When the devils proclaimed themselves to be gods, Bede and Ingram fled to the wilderness.  Sometime later, Aldigart brought the relics to Dimlic Aern.”
            The first of the relics was a small silver cup.  Marty bent down to examine it, resting his hands on the table.  Eadmar, Teothic, and Elfric gathered close, squatting on their haunches.  No one needed to say, “Don’t touch!”
            The cup was completely unadorned: no inscription, no sign, no indication of a particular use.  Nevertheless, Marty squatted before it for a long while, trying to imagine its significance to the humans who first came to Two Moons.  It might be a communion cup.  A communion cup from Earth would be a relic for people brought to Two Moons.  But anything from the before time would be a relic; it might be just a silver cup.
            The interpretation of the second object was easy, and it confirmed Marty’s guess about the cup.  It looked like a small wooden stepstool or table.  A thin sheet of molded silver covered the top of the table and the upper parts of the four legs.  Four groups of letters were engraved in the silver:


            “This is my body.” A communion table for sure—small and portable.  Probably a useful thing in the middle ages.  The cup almost certainly goes with it.  The local priest—Bede, apparently—might have served more than one local parish. 
            Marty pondered the communion table a long time.  Confirmation of my guesses, but not much more.  The aliens brought people from Earth to Two Moons.  Twelve or thirteen hundred years ago, according to Teothic’s stories.  They were Europeans, Christians.  The aliens demanded obedience and worship.  Some of the people quickly complied; after all, the aliens obviously had “divine” power.  Those who rebelled had to hide, and it seems they had a whole planet to hide on.
            The third relic was a bronze bell, coated with greenish corrosion.  It bore two inscriptions, one in large letters and the second, much smaller, on the back of the bell.



            Marty rubbed his eyes and examined the inscriptions repeatedly.  This is what I came for.  Marty guessed that “Offa Bretwalda” was a name, and “rex anglorum” had to mean “king of the Angles” or “king of the English” or something like that.  He had no inkling as to the meaning of “in paroeciali.”  The most important clue—the reward that justified the winter journey to Dimlic Aern, no matter what Eadmar or Basil might say—was “Cherwell.”
Marty remembered Grandma Edith’s face crinkling in a smile.  ‘A Leicester could no more leave Charwelton than a Mortain or a Grandmesnil.  We all drink deep from River Cherwell.’  That’s what my granddad told me.  But I did leave.  Yes, I did.”
Grandma Edith died about a year before Alyssa became pregnant, a year before Alyssa’s death changed the direction of Marty’s life.  Her funeral was in Detroit.  Marty didn’t attend; he had business at the time in Seattle.  Now, on a different world, untold lightyears from home, Marty remembered the old woman and wept.

112. In the Town Hyacintho Flumen

            Bully stole into the kitchen two hours before the winter dawn.  Second moon hadn’t set, so enough light came through the glassed window of the barrel maker’s house to let him move around without bumping into things.  As always, Godiva Cooper had tamped down the fire in her stove the night before so that it would smolder slowly.  The barrel maker’s wife might come to her kitchen at any moment to build the fire and start her day, so Bully moved quickly.  A stoppered clay wine bottle held only a half inch of liquid at the bottom, almost undrinkable because of its dregs.  Nevertheless, Bully poured a mouthful into a cup and swished it around in his mouth before spitting it into Mistress Cooper’s kitchen refuse bucket.  After cleansing his mouth with alcohol, Bully lifted the lid from the honey pot and took a spoonful.  He smeared the honey across his teeth with his tongue before swallowing it.  Leaving the kitchen, he shut the door that divided kitchen from bedroom quietly and bolted it.
            Edita was awake when he came back to bed.  Bully kissed her forehead, her chin, and then her mouth.  She giggled.  “Mm.  You taste good.”  Another kiss.  “Even in the morning.”
            After making love, Bully helped Edita with some of the intimate business of getting dressed.  It had taken him three days after their marriage to convince Edita to let him lift her under-tunic over her head or fasten buttons.  But she had to admit his assistance speeded the process, and his kisses punctuated the business with delight.  When the young couple finally unbolted the door to the kitchen, Godiva Cooper had bacon and eggs frying on the stove.
            “Fair morning, Master Wedmor.”
            Bully couldn’t be sure, but Mistress Cooper’s smile gave him the impression she knew about his early morning visit to the kitchen and the reason for it.  “Fair morning, Mistress Cooper.”
            “Will you sup with us at mid-day?”  Godiva asked every morning since Bully moved into the extra bedroom where Edita lived, and it was a fair question.  Many days, Bully’s new role allowed him to stay in Hyacintho Flumen, which meant he could eat at mid-day with his wife.
            “I may, but I may not.  Duty may call me elsewhere.”  Bully always gave a noncommittal answer.  Most days he knew quite well where he would be at mid-day, but he would not compromise the secrecy of General Ridere’s plans, not even to answer innocent questions from Godiva Cooper.
            Bully and Edita ate their breakfast and then lingered over cups of honeyed tea.  They passed idle words with Wigmund Cooper when he came for his eggs and bacon.  A knock on the door: Gifre Toeni had arrived, bearing Edita’s copying assignment for the day. 
General Ridere had required that Bully find him a new squire before he and Edita could marry.  When he learned this, Gifre insisted that Bully name him.  And so, though he was supposedly a knight, and though Rocelin Toeni would be displeased that his son would serve Ridere so willingly, Gifre had become the general’s squire.  Gifre kissed his sister’s cheek, relayed Eadred Unes’s instructions for the copying, and asked Bully if he was ready to go.
            In point of fact, Bully knew he would not return for mid-day sup that day.  He would spend the day high in a tree on the north side of the siege circle and not come back to town until long after sunset.  Tasked by General Ridere to find a way to harry the defenders of castle Hyacintho Flumen during the day, Archard Oshelm had proposed a solution.  Bully and Gifre would play important roles in his scheme. 
The Herminian army had no weapon capable of actually touching Hyacintho Flumen unless Ridere sent men within the reach Magna Arcum Praesidiis, the greater shield.  Nevertheless, Oshelm had directed the construction of two catapults, also known as “wild asses,” because of the way the machines would “kick” when their arms struck their crossbars.  At first, Oshelm proposed making three or four catapults, but the Herminians’ production of the weapons had been limited by a surprising lack: hair.
The secret of a “wild ass’s” power lay in the torsion supplied by special ropes, which were twisted around the catapult’s arm and tied to the catapult frame.  The best rope material for this purpose was human hair.  Ordinary ropes could be used to tie the wooden frame together, lest the catapult shake itself to pieces when it kicked.  But the thick torsion ropes had to be strong enough to hold, even when twisted by levers and ratchets beyond the capacity of sinew or animal hide.  Only hair rope would do.  In consequence, General Ridere had ordered haircuts.  Starting with the general himself, thousands of Herminian soldiers had their heads shaved to contribute to Oshelm’s project.  In spite of the great number of contributors, the hair collected sufficed for about twenty-five feet of four-inch thick rope, enough for two catapults.  On the siege line, good winter hats had become prized possessions.
With slings fixed to the ends of their arms, the “wild asses” might fling projectiles eight hundred feet, in some cases as much as a thousand feet.  Yet at its closest, the siege line was more than five thousand feet from Hyacintho Flumen, so there was no thought of bombarding the castle itself.  Oshelm’s object was to sow doubt in the enemy’s mind.  “We can’t touch him, and he knows it,” Oshelm had explained to Ridere’s council in the Rose Petal.  “But we can touch his fields.  Let him imagine fire in his fields next summer.”
The Herminians paid potters in town Hyacintho Flumen to make scores of very small thin-walled clay pots.  Filled with liquid fire and stoppered with cloth, the bombs were not actually very dangerous, because they held so little fuel.  Soldiers practiced throwing them in the safety of a farmer’s field several miles west of the castle, in a valley unobservable from the castle.  The frail clay pots almost always broke when they struck the ground or an obstacle like a tree, and the liquid fire ignited reliably.  But the resulting fires burned for only a minute or two, unless the fire spread to some other fuel.  Still, Ridere agreed with Oshelm that the catapult project should go ahead.  “When summer comes, even a small fire might become a serious problem for Mortane.  At the least, it will give him something to worry about.”
Gifre and Bully rode horses from the Coopers’ house to the Rose Petal, where they met General Ridere and Fugol Hengist emerging from the general’s morning conference.  The four rode quickly north from the town on the road east of Blue River.  Across the river the white tower of Hyacintho Flumen on its hill reflected the morning sunlight like a beacon.  They passed many small groups of soldiers gathered around campfires.  Some would be eating breakfast and others attending to various chores, but at least two men at each point of the siege were standing watch.  Many armsmen saluted the general when he passed.
            At a point considerably north of the castle the general’s party dismounted and led their horses onto a flat barge.  Blue River was swift enough in winter to push riverboats perilously close to the castle, so the barge had two iron hoops on its upstream side and a very long rope, fastened to trees on both sides of the river, passed through the hoops.  Once the passengers’ horses were tethered, three boatmen poled the barge across.  They handed Bully and Fugol Hengist two pike poles and gave them the task of watching for ice and fending off the bits of it that still floated in the river.  Bully and Fugol positioned themselves on the upstream side of the barge and held their pike poles at the ready.  Earlier in winter, the boatmen said, there had been some days when ice blocked passage of Blue River altogether.  Now, they said, with winter beginning to fade, it was child’s play to push away the few ice chunks that might threaten the boat.  In spite of the boatmen’s confidence, Bully felt relief when they reached the dock on the western shore.
            The general’s party shared mid-day sup with men from Calles Vinum on the north side of the siege circle.  Odell Giles, the 23-year-old son of Calles Vinum Lord Godfrey Giles, was already present, having departed the Rose Petal before morning council.  Of all the hostage knights, Sir Giles was the most accomplished in combat and, with the exception of Gifre Toeni, the most accepting of Mariel Grandmesnil’s authority.  He had been fascinated by Archard Oshelm’s catapult proposal, and he had eagerly cooperated in the construction and positioning of the catapult named Thorwold. 
The idea of naming the catapults came from the young hostage knights Linn Wadard and Deman Mowbray.  Archard Oshelm thought it silly, but the names caught on.  Even in Ridere’s council meetings the Herminians called them Thorwold (“Thor’s Power”) and Ranulf (“House Wolf”).
            Giles’s men had cleared snow from a wide patch of soft ground.  On this they had built a platform of thick pine boards, and then wheeled Thorwold onto it.  Archard Oshelm explained that the mud under Thorwold would absorb some of the violent shaking when the wild ass kicked.  Ranulf was positioned on a similar patch of muddy ground on the western edge of the siege.  Oshelm had proposed they throw fire from widely separated launch sites, the better to impress Inter Lucus’s defenders. 
            Bully and Gifre climbed a rope ladder to a wooden structure built on branches thirty feet up in a hardy walnut tree, leafless in winter.  The lookout nest consisted of a floor and a sturdy railing to keep its occupants from falling.  From this position, Bully and Gifre would use two large signal flags, one red and one black, to communicate with the signalmen for catapult Ranulf, who were in a similar lookout nest two miles away.
            Odell Giles was eager to let fly, to see what Thorwold could do.  “Ready?”
            Gifre called down.  “Not yet.  No signal from Ranulf.” 
            Bully waved the black flag overhead and then rested the flagstaff on the lookout rail so the flag, hanging down, could be better seen.  He and Gifre fixed their eyes on the distant oak tree where the Ranulf signalmen were supposed to be.
            “There!” Gifre could point, having no flag to manage.  “Black flag.  They’re ready to go.”  He called down to the men below.  “Ranulf is ready.”
            Archard Oshelm shared glances with Odell Giles and General Ridere.  “Let Ranulf go first.  Signal red.”
            Bully rolled up the black flag and waved the red.  Now he and Gifre watched intently for Ranulf’s projectile.  Nothing. 
            “You see anything?” Bully spoke quietly.
            “No.”  Gifre shook his head.  “At this distance, we won’t see much unless it burns, and Oshelm said to use stones at first.”
            After a while, the Ranulf signal changed to red.  Gifre pointed and Bully nodded confirmation.  Bully changed flags, signaling black.  Gifre called down, “We have a red.”
            “Release!”  Odell Giles gave the command, and an armsman struck the greased retaining pin with a hammer.  The metal pin flew away, freeing the catapult arm, and the stored energy of the torsion ropes threw the arm against the crossbar.  Though the crossbar was well padded, the force of the blow lifted the catapult’s back end several inches from the firing platform.  At the moment of impact, the sling at the end of the arm opened.  Thorwold’s first projectile, a smooth three-pound stone, flew in a high arc, very high.  It landed only about three hundred feet away.
            Odell Giles swore in displeasure, but Archard Oshelm said, “That’s why we practice, Sir Giles.  Did you see the way the wild ass kicked?  Have your men elevate the back corners six inches.”  He called up to Bully.  “Signal black.  We want to make adjustments.”
            Gifre responded: “Ranulf signals black as well.”
            “Very good.”

            Fighting with catapults turned out to be a laborious business.  Each time Thorwold fired, the catapult had to be squared on its platform, the arm ratcheted back, and a new projectile loaded into the sling.  Oshelm ordered several changes in the angle of the release by raising or lowering the front or the rear of the catapult.  Several times, the Thorwold crew had to wait for a red signal from Ranulf.  “They’re learning too, no doubt,” said Oshelm.  He rebuffed Giles’ suggestion that Thorwold fire as often as the crew could manage.  “Patience, Giles.  It’s all practice.”
            While it was light, Thorwold and Ranulf threw stones, some as big as pumpkins and some as small as a fist.  A few times they flung small burlap bags full of small rocks, horse droppings or chicken bones.  As Oshelm said repeatedly, it was practice.  At both locations large groups of off-duty armsmen gathered to watch.  They cheered and pointed and laughed—especially when Thorwold threw a rotten squash five hundred feet.  The Ranulf men said (later) that their machine threw a huge dead rat even further.
            When the winter sun set the experiment turned more serious.  Liquid fire.  No one needed to point out that an accident now could be disastrous.  But the Thorwold crew had learned its routine.  Position the machine.  Ratchet the arm.  Place the pin.  Ready the sling.  Recheck position.  Place the projectile.  Clear away.  Wait for the command.  Hammer the pin!
            As darkness came on, the catapult crews worked in the light of campfires and torches.  Almost every bottle of liquid fire ignited when it struck the ground, and the gathered soldiers cheered the flames.  Some men climbed onto the roof of a barn to better estimate the distance of each throw and to see the fires thrown by Ranulf.
            Thorwold’s crew had only six bottles of liquid fire remaining when something dramatic happened.  The torsion arm snapped up and the bottle arced into the darkness.  Men’s eyes looked south to see where it might land and ignite.  Instead, the bottle exploded high in the air about three hundred feet away.  Liquid fire drizzled down the edge of the invisible wall like gravy overflowing a bowl.  Herminian soldiers shouted in surprise and consternation. 
“The castle’s shield!”
“By the gods!  Look how high it is!”
“The fire bottles can’t get through it or over it.”
“By the gods!  We gave up our hair for nothing.”
            A minute later, fire appeared on the horizon to the southwest.  Ranulf’s bottle had exploded in the air much like Thorwold’s.
            Oshelm turned to Ridere.  “Should we continue, Lord General?”
            “By all means!”  Eudes Ridere wore a grim smile.  “Fire every bottle we have.”
            The combination of castle shield and liquid fire made for a spectacular show: fire dripping down the side of an invisible barrier.  When it was over, Bully and Gifre climbed down from the lookout nest and joined the general, Odell Giles, Archard Oshelm, and a few other men near a campfire.  As usual, Gifre did not hesitate to speak.  “My Lord General, many of the men are alarmed, but you look pleased.”
            Ridere rubbed his beaked nose with the back of his hand.  “I suppose I am.  Our enemy is a greater fool than I thought.”

113. In Stonebridge

            Kingsley Averill wasn’t particularly tall, but his long white hair and extremely erect posture gave him a dignified appearance.  Perhaps that’s why the Assemblyman seemed a towering figure when Milo saw him at the door to Ambassador House.  A much younger and shorter man with blond hair and rounded shoulders stood beside Averill.  Milo strode quickly along the muddy street and would have called out “Fair afternoon” to the men except the door opened.  Assemblyman Averill and his companion disappeared into the house before Milo could say anything.
            Ambassador House was Lunden Ware’s idea.  “The Ambassador from Hyacintho Flumen must have her own residence.  You can’t cage her up in the Citadel of the Guard.  She needs to be able to receive visitors on her own terms in her own space.  You want the Assembly to trust you, Sir Milo, but no matter how open you and honest you are, they won’t feel safe coming to the Citadel.
“Lady Amicia already has her own guards, Kenelm Ash and that Travers, the strange armsman with the wandering eye.  Now, I own a suitable house in town, not too big, that I’m not using.  I’ll rent it to Amicia for a token amount—one gold for a year, let’s say.  Assemblymen can call on her there.  And who knows?  It might happen that you could be present for some of those meetings.  You will gain the trust of Stonebridge’s leaders more quickly if you meet them one by one on neutral ground.  You can’t always be going to their estates or inviting them to the Bread and Brew.”
Milo wasn’t persuaded that a rented house counted as “neutral ground.”  Amicia’s guests had to know that she was sister both to Lord Aylwin Mortane of Hyacintho Flumen and the newly invested Commander of the Stonebridge guard.  But he approved of the idea anyway.  If Amicia lived in the Citadel, it would look as if she were under his thumb. 
Sloppy melted snow coated Milo’s boots with mud as he hurried along the street and then up stone steps to a wooden porch.  Amicia’s rented house was a trim, attractive building: gray paint, glassed windows set in blue window frames, a roofed porch with a white railing, and flower boxes ready to be planted when spring arrived.  The door opened before Milo could knock. 
“Sir Milo!  Welcome!  Boots over there.”  Raymond Travers pointed with his chin to two pairs of miry boots standing by the wall.  Raymond’s blind eye moved constantly, looking this way and that, a distraction to which Milo had long ago become accustomed.
Milo chuckled.  “The streets are full of mud, and Toadface wants to keep it out of her house?”
“Aye.  That is, her women do.  Lady Amicia hired a cook and a cleaning lady.”
Milo was pulling off his boots.  “With what money?  Kenelm needs to watch his budget.”
“I can’t speak to that, sir.”
            “Commander Mortane, fair afternoon.”  Kingsley Averill moved slowly, rising from his chair and inclining his head.  “I am pleased to meet you at last outside of Assembly Hall.  I introduce my son, Merlin Averill.”
            Amicia wasn’t to be seen. 
            “Fair afternoon, Master Averill.”  Milo bowed politely to the father and nodded to the younger man.  “Master Averill.  Your father attends every meeting of the Assembly, but I haven’t seen you there.”
            “N-n-never g-g-go.”  The blond man extended his right hand, and Milo reached out to shake it, realizing as he did so that the hand was deformed.  It was red and wrinkled, with only a thumb and two stubby fingers, attached to a very short forearm.  But Milo did not hesitate; he wrapped his hand around the claw-like appendage as if it were the most natural thing in the world.
            “Why not?  My friend Derian Chapman tells me there has been an Averill in the Assembly for two hundred years.  Your father won’t be able to serve forever.  You should make yourself known in the city.”
            Merlin’s face crinkled in a smile, and he laughed quietly.  His blue eyes matched his father’s.  “H-h-how interesting.”
“Indeed.”  The older Averill lifted an eyebrow and shared a glance with his son. 
At that moment, Amicia came into the room, followed by a serving woman carrying a tray of drinks.  “Please sit down, sirs,” Amicia said.  “It will make things easier for Anna.”
Ambassador House was furnished with comfortable padded chairs.  Even seated, with a glass of red wine in hand, Kingsley Averill held himself erect, as if his backbone had been affixed to a pole.
With his quite ordinary left hand, Merlin Averill raised his wine to his lips and immediately placed his glass on a side table.  “Gunnara’s north hill.  Two years old.”  The corners of his mouth turned down.  “Ugh.”
Milo noticed that Merlin’s stutter disappeared when he talked about wine.
“Excuse me?” Amicia blinked several times.
Kingsley Averill sniffed his glass.  “Lady Amicia, my son has never learned to combine social niceties with wine.  He invariably gives his honest opinion when it comes to the fruit of the vine.  This particular wine was produced on the Gunnara vineyard west of Stonebridge two years ago.  That was a poor crop, even for the Gunnaras, who have no pride in their product.  Who bought this for you?”
“Well, Anna.  Or Kenelm Ash.  I don’t know.”
“Dear lady, some tasks cannot be entrusted to servants.”  The elder Averill set his glass aside and smiled indulgently.  “Don’t serve this to anyone.  Pour it out.  Tomorrow, Merlin will bring you as many bottles as you may need of a good wine, from our own cellar.  If you want to represent your brother well, you ought to serve guests something drinkable.”
Amicia laughed aloud.  “I am in your debt, Master Averill.  But if I had picked the wine I’m sure I wouldn’t have done any better.  I like the pear wine they sell at Freeman’s House in Down’s End.”
Merlin Averill looked aghast.  “Y-y-you can’t.”
“I like what I like, Master Averill.”  Amicia tossed her head, swaying her brown locks on her shoulders.
Merlin scratched his temple with his claw hand and grinned.  He leaned back in his chair and folded his arms across his chest.  “L-l-lady Amicia.”
Milo and Amicia waited for several seconds.  Merlin sat with a smile, saying nothing.
“Commander Mortane, I have read your report and examined the materials you submitted to the Assembly.”  Kingsley Averill looked at Amicia and Merlin.  “Is there some place where you and I might speak privately?”
Milo deferred to Amicia. 
“Of course.”  Amicia didn’t hesitate.  “This room will do.  Raymond, please stand guard outside the door, and admit no one.  Merlin, if you come with me to the kitchen, you can explain to Anna and me why Gunnara wine is objectionable.”
Merlin Averill stood and inclined his head.  “As the l-l-lady w-w-wishes.”
Kingsley Averill also stood.  Milo mimicked him, not knowing why.  Averill bowed to Amicia.  “Thank you, Lady.  This should not take long.”  Milo thought: I must remember to treat Toadface like a lady, like an Ambassador.
            As soon as they were alone, Milo and Averill reseated themselves.  The older man eyed Milo appreciatively. 
According to Derian Chapman, Kingsley Averill had long been one of Ody Dans’ chief rivals in Stonebridge politics.  “I’m not really sure why,” Derian had said.  “The Averills are not nearly as rich as the Danses, Wares, Bardolfs, or half a dozen other leading families.  Kingsley Averill doesn’t seem to have much ambition when it comes to commerce.  They’re certainly an old family.  There’s been an Averill on the Stonebridge Assembly for two hundred years; an Averill led the fight against the sheriffs of Saltas Semitas, when the city refused to pay hidgield to the Le Grants.
            “Averill almost never has any business dealings with Uncle Ody.  He owns vineyards and grain fields southwest of the city, quite extensive holdings.  But he never borrows money, nor lends it, and he hides his profits in a cellar—or so they say.  I’ve not seen the inside of his house.  I don’t think he trusts bankers, certainly not Uncle Ody.  They say he pays his laborers more than other landholders, so it’s possible he doesn’t have much profit to hide.”
            Milo was still considering Derian’s words when Averill spoke.  “Hm.  Sir Milo Mortane.  You’ve turned the city upside down in eight months.”
            “You overstate, Master Averill.”
            “It’s a figure of speech, Commander, and accurate.  As I understand things, you came to Stonebridge last summer with your squire.”
            “And two horses—and my armor.”
            The Assemblyman smiled.  “Ah.  Two horses and armor.  In eight months you have become Commander of the City Guard.  You have eliminated Bo Leanberth and his lieutenants.  The Falcons, rather than using the demise of their enemies to terrorize the Bene Quarter, are cooperating with sheriffs of the Guard.  Thievery and robbery have almost disappeared in Stonebridge.”
            “It’s been cold.  Even burglars want to stay inside and keep warm.”
            “Modesty doesn’t befit you.”  Averill paused.  “And now you give the Assembly a damning report about various city leaders.  Murderers, tax cheats, kidnappers, adulterers, and men who accept bribes—it seems our Assemblymen and other important citizens are no better than Hawks or Falcons.  Do you intend to arrest us all?”
            “A coup against the Assembly?  Obviously not.”  Milo spoke frankly.  “There is not the faintest hint in my report of misdeeds by you or many other Assemblymen.  Additionally, Tondbert’s ‘evidence’ in some cases amounts to very little.  You should read the report carefully.  Over and over, Tondbert’s materials say that one man said something about another man, or one person said that he overheard what someone else said to a third person.  Rumors, fortified by supposition, and amplified by envy.  Rather than danger of arrest, most of those who read the report should feel relief.  Suppose I were foolish enough to arrest the citizens implicated in Tondbert’s secrets.  With fair trials, most of them would not be proved guilty.  It hardly seems wise to accuse prominent citizens of crimes they haven’t committed.”
            Averill wrinkled his nose.  “But city leaders have already been accused, in the report.”
            “By Tondbert, not me.  I have exposed his so-called secrets to the light of day.  Sunlight will neutralize their poison, at least in most cases.”
            “But in a few cases…”
            Milo nodded.  “I believe that murder has been done by powerful men in this city.  Men have died in Euman Black’s silver mine.  At least two guests have ‘fallen’ into River Betlicéa while at Ody Dans’ estate, The Spray.  On at least two occasions logs have inexplicably rolled off wagons owned by Ham Roweson while carrying them to his mill, and twice men were crushed to death.  Too often the powerful men of Stonebridge benefit from such ‘accidents.’”
            Averill’s white eyebrows shot up.  “Those were not the cases I had in mind.  How can one prove an accident was not an accident?”
            “I agree,” Milo said.  “In all these cases, witnesses will come forward to affirm the useful deaths were truly accidental.  My belief that murder has been done does not imply that arrests will follow.  Which cases were you thinking of?”
            “It seems incontrovertible that certain men, including Speaker Bardolf, conspired to cheat the city of tax receipts.”
            Again Milo nodded.  “Aye.  There is good proof that Bardolf procured Ibertus Tibb his position as Clerk for Stonebridge.  As City Clerk, Tibb kept false records that overstated Bardolf’s payments to the city.  When the vintner Roalt Gervais discovered the affair, Tibb welcomed him into the conspiracy and falsified Gervais’s tax record.”
            “Will you arrest and accuse them?”
            “It seems I must.  But it’s possible that Tibb will then name others.  How many more Roalt Gervaises might there be?  And if Tibb, the City Clerk, accuses someone of cheating, how can the accusation be refuted?  How many of Stonebridge’s leaders can prove they paid all the taxes they owe?  The situation could easily get out of control.”
            Averill rose slowly from his chair and put his hands behind his back.  “Commander, you have said publicly in testimony to the Assembly, and again in your written report, that you will strictly fulfill your oath to uphold Stonebridge’s laws.  Therefore, you must arrest Tibb, Gervais, and Frideric Bardolf.”
            Milo looked up at the Assemblyman.  “If I do, the Assembly will need a new Speaker.”
“That is not your affair.  The Assembly will choose a new Speaker as it sees fit.  As you say, the situation might get out of control.  But that also is not your affair.  If the Assembly is wise, it will act to keep the situation under control.  The Assembly, not the Commander of the Guard, must decide what the city will do.  Your task is to carry out the policies set by the Assembly.”
Milo pursed his lips.  “In other words, I must trust the Assembly and whoever the Assembly chooses as its Speaker.”
“Precisely.”  Averill paused, raising a white eyebrow.  “Notice, Commander, that we also must trust you.  The stronger the City Guard is, the greater must be the trust we place in its commander.”
Milo rose and extended his hand.  “You will find that I am worthy of trust, Master Averill.”
Averill shook Milo’s hand.  “I’m glad we had this talk, Commander.”

114. North of Castle Inter Lucus

            “Two moons to light the way, ’til first moon sets, anyway—and no clouds, thank God.  I can go on.”
            The priest’s breath enveloped his head like a cloud.  The last light of winter sun reflected on the tops of trees.  Tough old bird, Marty thought.  Twenty years older than me, and he won’t quit.  Meanwhile, I’m spent.  “Elfric, how much further?”
            Elfric Ash and Teothic shared a glance before the sheriff answered.  “Seven miles, my lord.  We will reach the forest road very soon, around the next hill—skiing will be easier there.”
            Seven miles more!  “It better be.  I’m about wiped out.”
            The journey north to Dimlic Aern had taken eight days.  The four companions had made the return trip in five, rising long before the sun and skiing into moonlight each evening.   Teothic and Elfric, both in their twenties and hardened by the rigors of the priesthood and forest life respectively, still had strength for the task, though they carried the heavier packs.  Marty would have happily stopped and wrapped himself in a heavy blanket in the shelter of a fir tree, except for doubt about Inter Lucus.  A lord’s first duty is to his people.  Marty had left seventeen souls at Inter Lucus, if Godric Measy and Rothulf Saeric were included.  They had power, plenty of food, three sheriffs, and the alien walls and stout doors of the castle.  And it was winter.  No one knows I’ve gone.  They should be okay.  Nevertheless, Marty could not root out the seed of doubt planted by Basil Godcild.  What enemy might come in winter?
            They skied in single file, Elfric in the lead and Teothic last.  In between, Marty and Eadmar slogged along, backs bent and eyes fixed on the back tips of the skis ahead.  There was plenty of light, since second moon was at the quarter and first moon was almost full, yet Elfric’s skis kept slipping out of Marty’s field of vision.  God, I’m so tired!
            A shout from behind, from Teothic: Eadmar had fallen.  Elfric doubled back and helped Teothic raise the priest.  Marty turned and watched; glad to rest for even a minute.  Teothic brushed frozen pellets from Eadmar’s coat.  No new snow had fallen since they left Inter Lucus; in sunny places the snow’s upper crust had thawed and frozen several times, creating a layer of ice on top of the snow.  Elfric and Teothic, who took turns in the lead, had been working harder than the others, crunching through ice with every stride.
            With Eadmar erect, the four stood together in growing dark.  A mass of trees to the west blocked out first moon as it set.  Marty slipped out of his straps, resting his pack on ice-covered snow.  “As much as I want to get home, I think we must stop.  Sleep here, and in the morning we can have hot breakfast at Inter Lucus.”
            Elfric and Teothic nodded agreement, but Eadmar raised a silent hand to point south.  A red glow marked the horizon, suddenly leaping into the air.
            Fire?  In winter?
            “Prayer House!” panted Eadmar.  “Or Isen’s glassworks!”
            Teothic seized Marty’s pack.  “You must go, Lord Martin.  Now.  Elfric, you need only your sword.  Give me your pack.”
            Elfric unfastened his straps with a single movement and let his pack fall to the ground.  “Bring Eadmar to the castle.  Packs don’t matter.”
            “Of course, of course.  Go!”  
            Elfric knelt and refastened Marty’s skis.  “I have to go in front.  Stay close behind.”
            Adrenaline heightened senses and gave a burst of energy.  The forest road north of Inter Lucus had been skied by several people in recent days; on well-packed snow Elfric and Marty shot forward.  Marty felt that he was racing on skis, and he began noticing familiar trees on the sides of the road.  We’re almost there.  A bend in the road, and they came clear of some trees: Prayer House was burning a quarter mile away.  Human figures could be seen in the light of the fire.  Who would set fire to Prayer House?
            “Head for Inter Lucus, not Prayer House, Elfric.  The path by the barn, I think.  Less chance to be seen.”
            “Aye, my lord.  We turn here.”
            Elfric left the comparative ease of the road, where others’ skis had made a path, to cross the north grounds of Inter Lucus.  Their weight broke through the top layer and ice crust tore at their leggings as they forced their way forward.  The shoulder of Inter Lucus’s hill now lay between them and Prayer House, so they could only see the tips of flames.
            At last they reached the barn.  From here a shoveled path led to the great hall’s west door. Marty fumbled with stiff fingers at his ski lashings.  He couldn’t untie the frozen cords.  “Damn!”  Elfric drew his sword and wiggled its tip between the cords.  He twisted the blade and they snapped.  “Thank you!”  Instinctively, Marty kept his voice low.
            Elfric pointed to the castle with his sword.  “I go first.”
            “Right behind you.”
            Sheriff and lord trotted the path toward the west door.  The garage-style door to the west wing, which housed materias transmutatio, was closed, as Marty expected.  The alien door answered only to the lord’s knob, which meant that it had been locked since Marty left Inter Lucus.  Rounding the corner, they saw the great hall’s west door was open.  Caelin was blocking the entrance and arguing with someone: Rothulf Saeric.
            “Out of the way!” Saeric shouted.  “There’s no time to argue!”  Rothulf had a sword, which he pointed at Caelin. 
            “It won’t work, and you’ll just burn Alf’s hands.”  Caelin was pulling at the door, trying to close it, but Rothulf had a booted foot wedged in the way.
            “Maybe.  Give ’im a chance!”
            “Stop!  Stop!”  Marty and Elfric shouted one after the other.  Caelin’s attention was diverted by their call.  Rothulf threw Caelin to the ground and pushed past him into the great hall.
            “It’s Lord Martin!”  Alf Saeric appeared out of the shadows, his wiry body dodging around the wide door.  He raced to Marty, ducking under Elfric’s arm, white-blond hair streaming behind him.  “Lord Martin, we need you!”  Alf’s skinny arms locked around Marty’s waist.  “Prayer House is burning.  We can’t put it out.  Rothulf says only Inter Lucus can do it.”
            Caelin and Rothulf emerged from the great hall, Rothulf now without a sword.  “Lord Martin!”  They spoke as one, but their faces told very different tales, one the shock of relief and the other the shock of dismay.
            Marty disentangled himself from Alf’s arms and looked him in the eye.  “What do you mean, you can’t put it out?  Throw water on it—or snow.”
            Rothulf came forward.  “We have, my lord.  Isen and the others are passing buckets even now.  But the fire does not die.  It is some kind of magic.  Since you were not here, I thought… I told Alf… But that does not matter.  Now you can save Prayer House.”
            “I don’t think so.”  Marty pointed.  As Rothulf was speaking, the roof and walls of Prayer House collapsed, shooting sparks in every direction.  Marty turned to Caelin.  “Were people in Prayer House?  Has anyone been hurt?”
            “No.  We were all inside Inter Lucus, except Leo and Besyrwen, who had the watch.  Leo saw the fire first, and he and Isen led the firefighters.  Os, Ealdwine, Went, Ernulf, Went, Whitney, Ora, Tayte, and the visitor—Godric Measy—they’ve been passing buckets from Isen’s glassworks for an hour at least.  Leo told Dodric, Ernulf, and me to stay in the castle with Mildgyd and the little ones.”
            Marty thought quickly.  “All right.  Prayer House is lost, and I don’t want someone hurt trying to save it now.  Caelin, go tell Leo and the others to come away from the fire.  Two or three should stand guard at the glassworks, and the rest come to the castle.”
            “Aye, my lord.”
            “I’ll go too,” said Rothulf.
            “Not a chance.”  Marty gestured to the door.  “You and Alf and Elfric and I are going to talk.”  Elfric’s sword ushered Rothulf into the great hall.

            Marty was wrong.  His interrogation of Rothulf Saeric had to wait.  Inside the great hall little Agyfen Baecer screamed in delight and raced to embrace him.  Dodric Night and Ernulf Penrict welcomed Marty and Elfric by clasping their hands.  They expected him to bond with the lord’s knob immediately.  “Can you stop the fire?  What magic is it?  Did you find Dimlic Aern?  Where are Eadmar and the other priest?”
            Mildgyd Meadowdaughter was bowing and wiping away tears.  “Lord Martin!  God be thanked!”
            Elfric pushed Rothulf and Alf toward chairs at one of the trestle tables, but Marty could not get free of Dodric and Ernulf to join them.  Within minutes Caelin and ten others pelted into the hall, most of them shouting.
            “Lord Martin is really here?”
            “Where’s Eadmar?”
            “We threw water right on it!  The flames just moved.  Water didn’t stop the fire at all.”
            “Prayer House is gone!  Rothulf will have to sleep here.  Eadmar too.  Where is Eadmar?
“Isen and Godric Measy are guarding the glassworks.”
            “Oh, Lord Martin!  Can you stop the fire?”
            “Well met, Elfric, and well done!  You got him home!”
            In the midst of the excitement Marty received hugs and handshakes, amid tears and cries of relief.  Ora threw her arms around him and kissed his cheek.  And then Eadmar and Teothic came in, adding fuel to the fire of shouts and questions.  But for Marty, the voices blurred.  His adrenaline rush was over, and he felt he might collapse.  He sat down and beckoned Ora and Caelin.  “I’m going to bed.  Have Leo put Rothulf in a room alone, and don’t let him talk to anyone, especially Alf.  I want to question them both in the morning.  Post a watch, but don’t rouse me unless there’s another fire.”
            “Yes, my lord.”  Caelin spotted Leo and ran off.
            “Lord Martin.”  Ora had tears on her cheeks.
            “What is it, Ora?”
            “Lean on me.”  She took his arm around her shoulders and helped him stand.

            He dreamed of Dimlic Aern, of fires that wouldn’t go out, and Alyssa Stout Cedarborne and the baby who was never named.  And then he dreamed of the interface wall: he stood before it and summoned Videns-Loquitur.  He expected to see the blond queen, Mariel, but instead an old woman appeared, his own grandmother, Edith Leicester.  He wanted to ask a question, but something interrupted.
            Insistent knocking, pounding actually, on his door: “Lord Martin!”
            Marty sprang up.  “Enter!  What is it?”
            Caelin stepped in, Ora right behind.  “The Herminian army has come to Inter Lucus.”

115.  In Castle Inter Lucus

            Marty was staggered.  Who might come in winter?  “Say again?”
            “The Herminian army…” began Caelin.
            Ora interrupted.  “We don’t know that.  Harry Entwine exaggerates often.”
            Other than being Caelin’s long-time friend, Harry Entwine had made almost no impression on Marty.  Harry lived with his mother, Heline, and did odd jobs for villagers and farmers in the country between Inter Lucus and Senerham.  Marty had met the boy several times, but he couldn’t discern whether Harry had any passions in life.  He certainly hadn’t evidenced curiosity or intelligence equal to Caelin’s.  Harry hung around the edge of village life like an unfinished picture frame.
            Marty raised a hand to forestall argument between the cousins.  “Okay.  What does Harry say?”
While waiting for an answer, Marty stripped off his inner tunic, which he had slept in and worn since Dimlic Aern.  His closet held clean clothes, which reminded him how much he needed a bath.  Stepping to the closet he noticed Ora staring at the floor, her cheeks coloring red.  “My clothes are filthy, Ora.  Make sure Mildgyd cleans them—and my sheets too.”
            “Aye, my lord.”
            Caelin responded to Marty’s question.  “Harry says men on horse came to village Inter Lucus yesterday at evening.  That’s when Leo first saw Prayer House afire.”
            Marty pulled a fresh linen tunic over his head.  “Don’t jump to conclusions, Caelin.  How many men?  Do we know they are Herminians?”
            “Forty men, maybe more.  He saw some of them at the Redwines’ house, Harry says, and he ran all the way here.”
            “Who has the watch?”  Marty pulled on clothes as they conversed: pale blue outer tunic, loose gray wool breeches that always reminded Marty of sweatpants, a narrow belt, fine-spun wool socks and leather slippers.  
            “Os and Ealdwine are at the west and east doors.”
            “All right.  Let’s go.” 
Ora and Caelin trailed closely behind Marty.  The sheriff Leo Dudd and Harry Entwine jumped up from table when Marty entered the great hall.  Marty spoke over his shoulder.  “Caelin, fetch some breakfast, will you?  Ora, stay close.”
“Aye, my lord.”  Caelin peeled away to descend the stairs to the kitchen.  Marty and Ora walked to the tables.
“Lord Martin.”  Leo inclined his head.  Harry Entwine was wringing his hands.  His red hair and freckles appeared brighter than normal, or maybe his features were merely accented by his russet tunic.  His winter coat was draped on his chair.  “Fair morning, Lord Martin.”
“They say you have news, Harry.  Sit down and tell me.”  Marty pulled a chair close to the table, sat and leaned on his elbows.  A plate of fresh black loaves was already there; Marty tore one in two and took a bite.  “Sit, Harry.”
The lanky youth perched on the edge of a chair.  “Herminian soldiers have come to Inter Lucus, my lord.”  Harry wasn’t eating, but he swallowed repeatedly, as if he couldn’t say more.
“Village Inter Lucus, not the castle.”
“Aye.  But surely they will be here soon.”
“Have they harmed anyone or taken anything?”
“Prayer House…”
“In the village.  Have they harmed anyone in the village?”
“No, my lord.”  Harry’s eyes flashed all around, as if he were a newcomer, taking in the wonders of a castle for the first time.  But Caelin had hosted Harry several times since last summer.  Marty was about to ask Harry what he was looking for, but voices interrupted.  Alf Saeric, Caelin and a parade of the students of Collegium Inter Lucus brought breakfast: hash browns, eggs, toast with butter and berry jam, sausages, slices of ham, hot tea, and dried apple slices.  “Mildgyd and Whitney already had everything prepared when I got to the kitchen,” explained Caelin.  Sheriff Elfric Ash, the glassworker Isen and Godric Measy, Isen’s friend from Down’s End, joined the crowd as earthenware platters and plates were being distributed.  Priests Eadmar and Teothic also turned up, having spent the night in Inter Lucus, and the three trestle tables were crowded.
Marty raised his voice.  “Whose turn is it?”
Tayte Graham rose from the second table.  “My turn, my lord.”
“Wait a moment.”  Marty looked around.  “Tayte, Ernulf, Besyrwen—why are you here so early?  Aren’t you boarding with the Redwines?”
“Aye, my lord.”  Tayte’s face was solemn.  “Master Alfwald came to the castle yesterday just after lunch; we were working on projects.  He told us to stay the night here.”
“Very well.  Pray for us, Tayte.”
“God of all good gifts, we thank you for today’s food.  And we thank you for the safe return of Martin, Elfric, Eadmar and Teothic.  Amen.”
“Amen, amen.”  With a clatter of metal knives and wooden forks the meal began.  Harry Entwine accepted a hand-size loaf of bread but didn’t have any interest in eating. 
Sixteen-year-old boys are always hungry.  Why not this one?  Marty pointed his fork at Harry.  “Finish your report, Harry.  How many Herminians?”
 The youth’s eyes were still looking for something.  “Many, Lord Martin.  Maybe a hundred.”  He gestured at the eager eaters around him.  “Aren’t you all worried they will attack?”
Ora gulped some tea and interrupted.  “Lord Martin is here now.  They would be fools to attack the castle.”
Marty raised a finger.  “I appreciate your confidence, Ora, but the Herminians don’t know that I’ve returned.”
“Oh.”  Ora’s eyebrows bunched together.  “If they think you are absent, they might attack.  But if so, you can destroy them.”
“Perhaps.  But I would much rather not harm them.”  Marty spoke to Harry: “A while ago, Caelin said forty.  Now you say a hundred.  Think carefully, Harry.  Did you count the Herminians?”
For the first time, Harry focused on Marty.  “No.  I only saw some of them.”
“How many did you see?  Where did you see them?”
“Four…no, five.  They were on horses, at Alfwald and Fridiswid’s house.  It was getting dark.”
“Did the Herminians threaten Master Redwine or say they would attack Inter Lucus?”
“They burned Prayer House!”  There was a sound from the stairs, and Harry turned quickly to look, but it was only Went Bycwine carrying a tray of hot sausages.  “There were lots of them.  Only five came to the village, but the others attacked Prayer House!”
“How do we know that?  You saw only five.  Why should I think the Herminians burned Prayer House?”
Harry tore his bread but didn’t eat it.  “Well, they came last night, and Prayer House burned last night.”
“Harry, think.  Alfwald Redwine came to the castle yesterday afternoon and told his boarders to stay the night in Inter Lucus.  He probably knew at that time the Herminians were coming.  Did the soldiers stay the night at the Redwines’ house?”
“The horses were still there this morning.”  Harry looked confused, but he was also calmer.
“So you saw five soldiers, and they spent the night at Redwines’ house.”
“Aye, my lord.  But Rothulf said…” Harry stopped in mid-sentence, realizing he might have said too much.  His eyes went round.  “My lord, where is Rothulf?”
Marty pushed a plate of sausages and eggs toward Harry.  He looked at Leo Dudd, who nodded toward the east wing in response to Marty’s unspoken question.  Marty puzzled at this for a moment, but then remembered the rooms in the east wing above his bedroom.  “Rothulf is safe, Harry.  He’s here in the castle, and I will question him presently.  Now you tell me what Rothulf said to you.”
Harry took a small bite of black bread and swallowed quickly.  “He said two score Herminian horse were on the road from Hyacintho Flumen.  Maybe more.  That’s still only a small part of their army.  Rothulf says they have thousands of armsmen down near Hyacintho Flumen, away south.  Queen Mariel worships castle gods, Rothulf said, and somehow she heard that you built Prayer House, so she determined punish you and destroy it.  She must have known that you were gone from Inter Lucus, so she sent only a few soldiers.”
“Did the Herminians tell Rothulf all this?  Did he talk with them?”
“Well, he saw them.”  Harry paused.  “That is, he said he did.”
“When did Rothulf tell you all this?”
“Yesterday.  An hour before sunset, I’d guess.  I was walking home from Senerham when Rothulf came running—well, walking really.  He moved as fast as a body can with the road as it is, all snow, ice and mud.  He said he’d seen Herminian horsemen and that I should tell Mistress Redwine.  He had to warn his brother Alf at the castle, he said.  So we parted ways, me to the village and Rothulf to the castle.”
Marty poured a cup of tea and stirred honey into it.  “If all that’s true, Rothulf must have seen the Herminians a good while before Prayer House was burned.  Rothulf said he wanted to warn Alf, not me?”
Harry looked puzzled.  “Aye.  The whole village knows you’ve been gone these two weeks.”
The whole village knows.  Marty frowned.  Prayer House lost, and if that’s the worst of it, I’ve been lucky.  He settled back into his chair and shook his head.  “I think I have learned a lesson on that score, Harry.  I can’t go away so long.”  Marty drank tea and puzzled about Harry, the fire, the Herminians, and Rothulf Saeric.  “Ora, tell me about Rothulf’s behavior while I was gone.”
“He’s not trusted in the village, my lord, so he stayed close by.  I saw him at the glassworks most days, watching Isen heat his ovens.  He made himself useful too, splitting firewood for Isen.  Sheriffs wouldn’t let him into the castle, so Godric Measy and Isen shared meals with him at the glassworks.”
“Most days?  Not all?”
Ora considered her answer.  “Two or three times he was gone all day.”
“I remember seeing him just before sunset.  He came up to the west door and asked to see Alf.”
Marty rubbed his nose, thinking.  He was about to ask Leo to bring Rothulf for questioning, but the west door opened, revealing Ealdwine Smithson, the blond, blue-eyed sheriff from Senerham.  “My lord!  Horsemen approach!”
“How many?”
“I counted seven, my lord.”
Seven.  Hardly an “army,” yet too many to fight.  Marty jumped up, an idea forming itself his mind.  “Leo, get Rothulf here as quickly as you can.”
“Aye, my lord.”  Leo ran for the east wing.  The children and sheriffs of Inter Lucus were all standing.
“Students of Collegium Inter Lucus!”  Marty’s shout gained instant attention.  “Sit down, please!  Except you Alf.  I’ll need you in a moment.  Caelin, tell Os to come in and bar the east door. 
“Isen and Godric.  Come.”  Marty beaconed with a finger as he spoke.  The glassmaker and his friend quickly joined Marty by the west door where Ealdwine was waiting.  Marty lowered his voice.  “You three will greet our guests.  Tell them that ‘the new lord of Inter Lucus welcomes them.  They may enter Inter Lucus, but only if they disarm.  Offer to make a temporary stable for their horses in the glassworks.”
“The new lord of Inter Lucus?”  Ealdwine frowned.
“Eight months is not long, so I’m ‘new,’” Marty replied.  “But I think they expect someone else.  Just say: ‘the new lord.’”
A light came on in Ealdwine’s expression.  “As you wish, Lord Martin.”
Elfric Ash had arrived at Marty’s side.  “Lord Martin, this is dangerous for Ealdwine, Isen and Godric.  The Herminians could attack.  Leo and I should stand with them.”  He spoke quietly so that only Marty, Ealdwine, Isen and Godric could hear.
Marty shook his head.  “If these armsmen attack, you and Leo and Os will be on this side of the door to help protect the children.”  He looked Godric, Isen and Ealdwine in the eye.  “Elfric is right.  You three outside might be in danger.  But it can’t be helped, and I don’t think they will attack.  They hope there is a new lord of Inter Lucus.  They will want to meet him.”
Godric Measy, a newcomer to Inter Lucus, who had come on the chance of seeing his friend Isen, shrugged.  “Someone needs to greet them, and we can’t stand here all day.”  He put his hand on the latch.  “Bar the door ’til we knock.”
The west door had hardly been shut and barred when Leo escorted Rothulf Saeric into the great hall.  Marty beckoned Leo and Rothulf with a hand and walked to the lord’s knob. “Alf, join us!”
Rothulf was frightened and confused.  He saw Harry Entwine sitting near Ora Wooddaughter.  He could not know what Harry or Alf might have said to Marty.  “My Lord Martin…” he began.
“Not now, Rothulf.”  Marty interrupted with a slashing gesture.  We have only a moment, and I need to give instructions.  Listen up, everyone!”

Somebody knocked on the great hall west door.  Os, Leo and Elfric lifted a heavy wood pole from the wrought iron hooks on the inside of the door.  For a moment Marty wondered how his sheriffs knew it wasn’t Herminian soldiers knocking and realized Leo and Ealdwine must have arranged a signal.
Seven men entered the hall in single file.  Five were bald; no, on closer look it seemed their heads had been shaved recently and the hair had only started to grow back.  In contrast, the other two had shoulder length locks.  Three drawn swords confronted the Herminians, one in the hand of Os Osgood, a man whose sheer bulk was as intimidating as his weapon.  The visitors lined up along the west wall.  Marty wondered what they thought of the scene before them.  More than a dozen children and youths sat at three tables, all of them completely silent.
“Welcome to Inter Lucus!”  On the Herminians’ right, at the southern end of the hall, a white-blond boy stood by the lord’s knob.  He was flexing his fingers, as if he had just removed his hands from the knob.  “Which of you is captain?  He and one other may come forward.  The rest will stand by the wall.”  The boy stood alone by the lord’s knob, but only a few steps to his right were three men holding swords.
            A tall grim-faced Herminian tapped one of the longhaired men on the shoulder.  Then the tall soldier and the other walked slowly toward the boy at the knob.  The tall man had eyes only for Alf, but the longhair stared at the three bodyguards with a grin spreading on his face. 
“Close enough!”  The boy-lord piped in a loud voice and held up a palm.  “I am Alf Saeric.  Fair morning to you.  You will give us your names.”
The tall Herminian had gray eyes, which seemed to laugh at the boy.  “As you wish, Lord Alf.  I am Acwel Penda, captain in the army of Queen Mariel, serving under General Eudes Ridere.  This is Able Darcy.  He is from Down’s End.”  Penda indicated the man next to him.  “By the door are four of my comrades: Stepan Dell, Wylie Durwin, Ned Wyne, and Bron Kenton.  The fellow with the hair is Ewert Green; like Able, he is not a soldier, but only traveling with us.”
“Do all Herminian soldiers have shaved heads?”
Captain Penda laughed aloud.  “I will be happy to explain that to you, Lord Alf.  But there are more pressing matters.  I noticed a burned building at the bottom of the hill; it looked to me as if it burned recently.  As lord, were you not able to extinguish the fire?”
The boy flexed his fingers.  “No.”
“I suppose it takes time to assert real control over a castle.  But in Down’s End they say there has been a lord in Inter Lucus for many months.”
The boy looked at the floor.  “That was Lord Martin.”
Captain Penda turned his back on Alf.  The children of Inter Lucus were watching him wide-eyed and silent.  The three sheriffs still held his five companions at sword point by the wall.  “That’s right.  I was told to ask for Lord Martin.”  Penda spun on his heel to face the white-blond boy.  “Instead, I find Lord Alf.  And his half-brother (gemédrenes).”  Penda nodded to the closest bodyguard.  Rothulf Saeric’s face was pale with fear, a detail that Penda ignored.
“Lord Alf, you wisely confiscated our battle swords.  Your men here…” Penda pointed with his chin at the bodyguards and the sheriffs.  “…Are well armed.  You could order them to kill us, and they might be able to do it.  But it would not be wise to try.  You see, there are other weapons than swords.” 
Penda reached inside his tunic and held out an earthenware globe about two inches wide.  “This holds liquid fire.  If your men tried to kill us, we would turn your castle into an inferno before they could strike.  You don’t want that.  So, Lord Alf, you will order your men to give their swords to us.  You need not fear.  As lord of Inter Lucus, you will acknowledge Queen Mariel and rule under her authority for many years.  I congratulate you.”
The boy looked at his bodyguards.  He was sweating profusely, too terrified to speak.  Captain Penda beckoned with his hand and the three guards approached.  The first, a tall man with a thin nose and narrow jaw, came forward with his head down and laid his sword on the floor.  The second bodyguard, Rothulf Saeric, stepped forward to yield his weapon to Penda.  Saeric said nothing, and he looked more frightened than ever.  For a moment, Penda wondered why.  But then Penda noticed a bright green glow erupting like fire between the fingers of the first guard.  The thin nosed man had laid his hands on the lord’s knob.

116. In Castle Inter Lucus

            Inter Lucus’s super-klaxon responded instantly to Marty’s summons.  Enclosed in the great hall, the sound had nowhere to go, and it hit like a hammer.  The inhabitants of Inter Lucus clapped their hands over their ears as soon as Marty reached for the lord’s knob and fell to the floor when the sound struck.  The Herminians also fell, cut down by sonic blast.
            After four or five seconds Marty silenced the noise.  Fires burned in five places, where the Herminians’ liquid fire bottles broke when the men fell on them.  But the blazes did not spread or long endure except on the Herminians’ clothing, because the floor of the hall absorbed the burning fluid, just as it removed spilled milk or wine on other occasions.  Flames did catch on two of the invaders’ clothes, but sheriffs used coats to smother them.
            Around the room the inhabitants of Inter Lucus sat or stood up and began pulling bits of doughy black bread from their ears, makeshift earplugs.  In spite of this protection, many of them would complain of ringing in their ears for much of the day.  The Herminians, who had no warning and no such protection, lay helpless on the floor.  They were dazed, in one case completely unconscious, and bleeding from their ears.
            Marty removed his hand from the lord’s knob once the fires were out.  He did not leave the knob, but pulled wadded bread from his ears and stood by the knob with his arms folded across his chest.  While the klaxon blast lasted, since he had a hand on the lord’s knob Marty had been free to cover one ear but not the other.  His temples throbbed and a roar echoed in his head, surging and receding slowly like a tide.
The sheriffs, with help from Isen, Godric, Teothic and Eadmar, tended to the visitors’ ears and helped them to their feet.  They tried to make them stand in a row before Marty, but two of the soldiers and one of the Down’s End men were so jelly-legged that they were given chairs.  Ealdwine and Leo made Rothulf Saeric stand alongside the invaders.  Marty waited for several minutes, letting the roaring in his head subside.  Tayte Graham and Went Bycwine brought cups of water to the eight prisoners.  At last Marty judged that at least their leader, Acwel Penda, had recovered sufficiently for the next scene in this little drama.
            “Sheriff Elfric, bring Captain Penda a bit closer.  I want him to see clearly what I am about to do.”  And I want him to be seen.
            It was possible, Marty realized, that Penda couldn’t hear at all.  Elfric prodded the Herminian captain with his sword, and Penda shuffled forward.  Marty gestured broadly at the interface wall and the lord’s knob.  Then he laid his right hand on the knob, and the green aura shot up between and around his fingers.  Acwel Penda stiffened his body, as if he expected execution.  Marty shook his head.  “I don’t want to harm you, sir.  But I will have answers.”  Exchanging left hand for right on the lord’s knob, Marty turned his back on the prisoner and faced the interface wall.
            A mental nudge brought the castle command list to the screen.  Marty didn’t need the list any more, but he thought it might be good for Penda and his men to witness.  He let the ten Latin phrases linger for several seconds.  Videns-Loquitur, he thought.  He brought before his mind the image of the blond queen and whispered: “Mariel of Pulchra Mane.”    
            The Latin list disappeared, replaced by a white dot that quickly grew and became a life-size picture frame.  But the picture showed no one.  Marty saw a round globe on a pedestal, surely the lord’s knob in a castle.  He looked for clues, but for all he could tell he might be looking into any castle’s great hall.  Not far from the lord’s knob Marty saw a stand-up writing desk, and that seemed promising, but the whole scene was dimly lit in tones of black and white.  Marty whispered his summons again: “Mariel Grandmesnil of Pulchra Mane!”
            An old man, gray hair clipped short, came into view.  Marty had seen him before, Aweirgan Unes, the scribe for Mariel.  Unes peered into the screen as if confused.  Then he spoke over his shoulder to someone out of the picture.  No sound—Marty might have been watching a silent movie from the 1920s.  Mariel appeared; even without colors there was no mistaking her pregnancy and long blond hair.  Her hair was wet and she was brushing it.  She was talking with her scribe, and both of them gestured at the interface.  Marty realized with a thrill: They don’t know I can see them.  Mariel uses Videns-Loquitur, but she doesn’t know all its powers.
Mariel tossed aside the hairbrush and straightened her shoulders.  Unes took his place at the writing desk, and Mariel placed her hand on her knob.  Colors immediately flooded the scene.  Violet light encircled the knob and Mariel’s hand.  Her dress shimmered cornflower blue with amethyst buttons.  Aweirgan Unes wore an ash gray tunic and a sash of cardinal red.
            For a short while, a heartbeat or two—Mariel looked at Marty without recognition.  She doesn’t see me clearly yet.  I’m still coming into focus.  Then she said, “Ah!  Lord Martin of Inter Lucus.  Fair morning.  I’m glad to speak with you.  You haven’t answered my summons for at least two weeks.”
            “Fair morning, Lady Mariel.  I’ve been busy.”
            Queen Mariel, you should say.  Surely whatever you were doing could have been interrupted long enough to converse with your queen.  I will be your queen, Martin.”
            No wonder she has to subdue lords by force.   She rubs their faces in it.  She wants them to grovel.  Marty felt a tremendous urge to say something defiant but rejected it.  She expects resistance and pride.  Give her something else.  “I hope that will be true, Queen Mariel.  I look forward to a day when I and the people of Inter Lucus can rely on the queen’s justice.  But you see, that is just the problem.  I must protest that you have not treated us in a queenly fashion.”
            “How so?”
            Marty gestured vaguely toward Acwel Penda, and Elfric pushed him closer to the lord’s knob.  “This man calls himself Acwel Penda.  Perhaps you recognize him.  Penda says he is a captain in your army, serving under your husband.  He and his men, six of them, came to my castle carrying firebombs.  They schemed with a local troublemaker to burn down our Prayer House, which they did, yesterday.  And today Captain Penda threatened to burn Inter Lucus.  This is not the way a proper queen treats loyal subjects.”
            Mariel pressed her lips together.  Marty couldn’t tell if she were angry or amused.  Finally she said,  “Who are you to tell me how a queen should act?  Are you a loyal subject?”
            “I would very much like to be.”  Marty spoke without guile.  “It seems to me that a confederation of castle lords, coordinated under the rule of a queen, would serve the people of Two Moons far better than dividing the planet into dozens of fiefdoms.  So: Aye!  I would like to be your loyal subject.  But how can I serve a queen who sends marauders to burn and loot my holdings?” 
            The blond queen pursed her lips.  “You must be mistaken, Lord Martin.  I do not interfere with Prayer Houses or the worship of the old god in the free cities of Herminia.  If you wish to worship the old god or build a Prayer House, you may.  And I assure you, if General Ridere intended to assault your castle, he would have sent more than seven men.  Your story does not make sense.”
            “I only wish I were mistaken.”  Marty inclined his head.  “But our Prayer House has been destroyed.  The fire that burned it was not extinguished by water or snow.  Captain Penda called it ‘liquid fire.’  And he brought bottles of the same liquid fire into Inter Lucus.
            “How did he gain entrance to your castle?”
            “We invited him, naturally.”
Mariel was puzzled.  “You invited him in?  After he burned your Prayer House?”
Marty held out an open palm.  “I did not know at that time that Penda and his men had burned Prayer House, though I suspected it.  I wanted to ask him whether they had any role in it.  When he and his men agreed to lay aside their swords, I thought perhaps the arson was the work of a local man only, a man who has caused trouble before.  But once inside my castle, Captain Penda openly confessed to aiding the attack on Prayer House and he threatened to burn Inter Lucus with liquid fire unless my sheriffs surrendered their weapons.”  
A pause for effect.  “In short, Lady Mariel, Captain Penda’s behavior is precisely the kind of thing I would expect from a brigand or highwayman: unprovoked attacks, concealed weapons, and threats.  This is not the way a true queen wins the trust of her people.”
“You dare lecture me?”
“Above all else, a ruler must have honesty from her people.  I am merely trying to speak the truth.”
Anger flushed the queen’s face, but she bit back a rejoinder.  Finally: “Lord Martin, you are right.  As your queen I need you to speak truthfully.  If it is true that Captain Penda and his men attacked Inter Lucus without cause, they will be punished.  Now, Penda has served my husband for some years; I know him well and I see him standing there.  Will you allow me to question him?”
Marty bowed his head.  “Of course.”
“Captain Penda!  Captain Penda!  Acwel!”
A worry: He might be completely deaf.  The Herminian soldier did not respond at first to Mariel’s voice.  But he could see her eyes on him and her lips moving.  Penda stepped beside Marty, Elfric’s sword still prodding his back.
Penda glanced sideways at Marty, but made no threatening move.  Marty gestured toward Mariel’s image in the interface wall.  The soldier took yet another stride forward.
“Your majesty, my lady.”  Penda bowed formally.  “I am sorry, but…” He touched his ear.  “I can’t hear you well.”
“What’s wrong with him?”  Mariel addressed the question to Marty.
“I used sound to defend Inter Lucus.  It may have damaged their ears.”
Mariel said something to Aweirgan Unes, and the scribe replied, but either they were whispering or Mariel had somehow muted Videns-Loquitur.  Marty couldn’t hear what they said.
The queen focused on Acwel Penda.  “Captain Penda!  Can you hear me?”  Her voice was much louder now.
She knows how to manipulate the volume on Videns-Loquitur.  Be careful, old man.  You’ve still got lots to learn.  I wonder—Could I project the klaxon noise into another castle?
“My queen.  Aye.  But it hurts.”  Penda covered his ear.
Marty thought he saw tenderness in Mariel’s expression.  “Report,” she said.
Penda looked from Marty to Mariel.  By their faces, both captor and queen pushed the soldier to tell his story.  Penda nodded and began.
“General Ridere sent me with four scouts to reconnoiter the castle Inter Lucus.  The castle had long been a ruin, but the general said a new lord had revived it.  He sent me to bring greetings to Lord Martin.  Riding north in winter, we saw few travelers, but we did come upon two men traveling from Down’s End to Inter Lucus, Able Darcy and Ewert Green.  I then made terrible blunders.
“Darcy and Green had a friend at Inter Lucus.  Lord Martin had left Inter Lucus, they said, and they were going to join their friend.  They intended to capture the castle in the lord’s absence.  Obvious foolishness.  But I thought I should meet this friend of theirs and perhaps deliver all three as prisoners to Lord Martin.  So we let Darcy and Green ride with us.  This was my first mistake.  Yesterday morning we met Rothulf Saeric, their friend.
“We came to the village yesterday noon and found it was true: Lord Martin had left his castle many days before.  Villagers said he would return, but they could not say when.  Rothulf Saeric explained his plan to us, that Darcy and Green would set fire to a Prayer House near the castle and while it burned he would induce his half-brother—a descendant of both the Tirels and the Mortanes, he said—to bond with Inter Lucus.  A ridiculous scheme, I thought.  But I played along with it, another blunder.  My men and I stayed the night in a house where the villagers could attest to our presence.  Thus I could blame the attack on Prayer House solely on Saeric and his friends.
“We gave Darcy and Green a few bottles of liquid fire, to embolden their foolish plot.  When all was over, I thought, and the attack had failed, we could say they stole the fire.  But I also thought that Saeric just might succeed.  Another blunder.
“We came to Inter Lucus today.  Prayer House had been destroyed, as Saeric planned.  At the castle, we were told that a ‘new lord’ would welcome us.  We entered the hall, and a boy who answered Saeric’s description of his half-brother stood at the lord’s knob.  Instantly I thought: I can deliver this castle to Queen Mariel.  My last and greatest blunder.  Lord Martin’s magic quickly exposed my stupidity.  He was here, not far away as we were told.  Now we are his prisoners.
“Our lives are forfeit, my Queen.  I only hope Lord Martin will blame me and not General Ridere or your Majesty.”

117. In Castle Inter Lucus

            Esteemed General Ridere,

            I hope this letter finds you well.  Captain Acwel Penda has come to Inter Lucus, bringing your greetings.  Thank you for sending him.  I convey my greetings to you by means of Godric Measy, who bears this letter.
            Unfortunately, Captain Penda met up with three scoundrels who intended to wrest Inter Lucus from my control.   Instead of arresting them immediately as conspirators against a castle lord, Captain Penda aided and abetted their conspiracy by giving them bottles of liquid fire.  Captain Penda has confessed his crimes to me and to Lady Mariel of Pulchra Mane, via Videns-Loquitur.  Queen Mariel will no doubt send confirmation of all I say, though her message coming by sea may not reach you as quickly as this letter.
            Captain Penda says that he joined the conspiracy against Inter Lucus only because he believed I had deserted my castle.  He claims to have acted in good faith as regards his service to you and Queen Mariel and with no enmity toward me.  As unlikely as it would seem, I believe he is telling the truth.  Despite the blunders committed by Captain Penda, I desire that his embassy succeed.  I desire that you and I communicate often.
            Queen Mariel says that Captain Penda has been a loyal and brave soldier.  Though Penda admits that his life is forfeit because he brought liquid fire into Inter Lucus without permission, I believe it would be a waste to execute such a man.  Therefore, I beg that you not punish Penda or his men severely.  I am sending him and his men (Stepan Dell, Wylie Durwin, Ned Wyne, and Bron Kenton) back to you.  I am also sending the three outlaws who instigated this affair: Rothulf Saeric, Able Darcy, and Ewert Green.  I have charged Captain Penda with delivering the conspirators as prisoners to you.  Except for hearing loss, all these men are unharmed.
            I beg that you acknowledge receipt of this letter by affixing your signature to it and returning it to me.  Godric Measy has volunteered to serve as letter carrier between us.  Captain Penda has suggested that two of his men could be appointed as guards for Measy, especially since they have made the journey to Inter Lucus already and know the way.
            Captain Penda and his men know that if they do not deliver Godric Measy and the letter he carries to you, you will learn all these things nonetheless—from Queen Mariel.  In that case they believe your response would be swift and merciless.  Therefore I write with confidence that you will soon read my words.
            With Sincere Respect,

            Martin Cedarborne
            Castle Inter Lucus

            Marty read the letter aloud to Acwel Penda and Godric Measy while seated at a private desk in his bedroom.  The soldier’s hearing loss had lessened overnight, but it was still severe.  Penda watched Marty’s lips as he read.
            “Your graciousness has spared my life, Lord Martin.”  Penda’s arms were clasped behind his back, as if he felt invisible bonds.  “The letter expresses the truth of the matter: When the Queen’s message arrives, if we have not reached Hyacintho Flumen, the general will wait only a short while before sending men to find us.  I will speak with Stepan, Wylie, Ned and Bron.  We will deliver the prisoners and the postman safely to General Ridere.  You have my word.”
            Godric folded the letter neatly and tucked it into a pocket inside his tunic.  “I like the sound of that: ‘the postman.’  Much better than ‘dock laborer and sometime fisherman.’”
            Marty met Godric’s grin with a scowl.  “It’s an important job, Godric.  The world is strange, isn’t it?  I can talk with Queen Mariel any time I desire, and she can contact me.  But neither of us can reach General Ridere except by letters that take days, many days in bad weather, to reach him.  Mariel has ships for her letters.  I need a postman.
“People find their true callings in surprising ways sometimes.  You came to Inter Lucus on a lark, to see your friend Isen.  And now you will carry letters that, God willing, will help bring peace.  For all our sakes, I wish you success.”
            “I can talk to Mariel any time I desire.”  Marty considered the implications of his own words.  In the heat of the moment, Marty had been utterly sure that his mental command would direct Videns-Loquitur to contact Mariel of Pulchra Mane.  But now he wondered whether his confidence was well founded.  Is that all there is to it?  Name the contact, and the phone rings? 
The community of Inter Lucus returned to its normal afternoon routine once Godric Measy, the three prisoners, and the Herminians departed.  Some of the children busied themselves copying portions of the New Testament onto castle made paper.  Caelin and a couple others were experimenting with new paper in the west wing.  As always, two sheriffs stood guard at Inter Lucus’s doors, while the other two helped Eadmar and Teothic dig through the ruins of Prayer House.  Marty used the time to experiment with Videns-Loquitur.
            Mariel says she talks to other lords, but none of them has shown up on my screen. Who’s out there?  I need Directory Assistance.  The only castles I know are Inter Lucus, Mariel’s Pulchra Mane, and Hyacintho Flumen, the one the Herminians have surrounded.  No, that’s not right.  Teothic mentioned other castles and lords.  What were they?
            A name came to mind and Marty laid his left hand on the lord’s knob.  “Lord Postel of Aurea Prati,” he whispered.  The green aura encircled his hand, and a window appeared in the interface.  Again the window showed a dim hall, a black and white still life.  “Lord Postel of Aurea Prati.”  Nothing.  Mariel said something about me failing to answer her summons.  Maybe Lord Postel doesn’t want to talk.  Maybe he’s out of the room.  Maybe… Geez, there must be a hundred possibilities.
            A woman walked abruptly into the picture, as if she had been hiding just beyond the edge of the frame.  She put two hands on the knob, and soft blue light surrounded them.  She wore a sky blue kirtle, slightly darker in hue than the light from her knob.  She had a squarish face, lined everywhere with wrinkles, and soft brown eyes.  Her brown hair was stringy and long, tied in a ponytail behind her head.  “By the gods!”  She turned to speak to someone out of the picture.  “It’s not Mariel.  Come see.”
            An elderly man in a black tunic and a cream colored sash joined the woman.  His gray-white hair was as long as hers, and tied similarly.  Marty estimated: Both seventy, or older.
            “Fair afternoon,” said the woman.  “I am Jean Postel, lady of Aurea Prati.
             Marty inclined his head.  “Pleased to meet you.  Martin Cedarborne, of Inter Lucus.
            The man looked puzzled.  “Rubbish!  Don’t lie to my lady!  Who are you really?”
            “Artus!”  The lady shook her head.  “Don’t be rude.”  She smiled at Marty.
            The man touched his wife’s shoulder.  “Dearest Jean, the man is lying.  I’ve been there.  Inter Lucus was falling apart fifty years ago.  By now it’s no more than a ruin.”
            “In that case, I’m even more pleased to meet you,” Marty said.  Inter Lucus was indeed a ruin last summer when I came.  It has greatly healed itself since then.  Since you’ve been here, perhaps you can answer some of my questions.”
            The old man made an unbelieving face.  “I don’t…”
            “Artus!”  The lady interrupted gently.  “Look at his hand.”
            Artus Postel observed Marty’s easy bond with his Inter Lucus and then glanced at his wife’s hands on the lord’s knob.  He bowed his head.
            “We are well met, Lord Martin.”  Jean Postel smiled.  “You will have to tell me how a great lord restored a ruined castle.

118. In Castle Hyacintho Flumen

            “Here you are.  I’ve been looking all over.”  Juliana’s voice often had a husky timbre that invited Aylwin to think of sex.  He had learned with some disappointment that it didn’t always mean that to her.  For once he was glad; he had other things to think about.
            “You’ve found me.  What now?”  His tone conveyed impatience, and he didn’t try to hide it.
            She touched his elbow.  “Aylwin, my lord.  My dear.  Don’t be harsh.  I just wanted to be with you.  You shouldn’t be alone.”
            “Why not?”  He pulled his arm away and turned on her.  “Don’t you see that I am almost never alone?  Look around!  You can see the prison I am in, a strange prison that affords no solitude.”
            He pointed, and her eyes followed his gesture.  The morning sun had risen halfway up the sky, and the breeze, though cool, had a hint of spring in it.  From the flat roof of Hyacintho Flumen’s gods’ tower they could see for miles in every direction.  Close by, at the bottom of the castle hill on the east side ran Blue River.  Herminian outposts dotted the rising ground east of the river.  Southeast across the river lay the houses and buildings of the town.  In the distance, in the hazy south, Blue River merged with the sea.  On the south and west, Herminian camps followed the rim road that marked castle property.  On the northwest and north, forests covered the ridges coming down from the mountains.  Nestled in those woods were more Herminian camps. 
            “You see?  I am hemmed in.  The damned catapults are there and there.”  Aylwin pointed.  “By day they throw filth, and at night they launch liquid fire.  I can block them with the shields, but only for a few hours.”
            “Arthur believes the Herminians may exhaust the supply of liquid fire before spring.”  Juliana was trying to be encouraging.
            He snorted displeasure.  “What advantage will that bring?  They can easily throw ordinary fires.  A greased bundle of hay would work quite nicely.  In summer, they can scorch my fields, and I won’t be able to stop them.”
            “Everything?  The animals too?”  Juliana sounded genuinely frightened.
            “No.  Catapults can only throw so far.  You see how the Herminian camps make a circle, with Hyacintho Flumen at the center.  Imagine another circle, inside the first, perhaps a fifth of the distance closer.  With enough catapults, they could burn everything between those circles.  Closer than that, we are safe.  The stable, the barns, your old house, and all the nearer fields, including the orchards on the north side—the Herminians must come inside the greater shield to touch them.”
            Juliana nodded.  “And so we must always be alert, to call you to the lord’s knob at any time.”
            “You’ve been listening to Dag Daegmund.”
            She smiled.  “Aye.  He says that often to your armsmen and the servants.”
            “Aye.”  Aylwin sighed.  “And so I must never be alone.  Not really.  For the sake of my mother, my sister and brother, my people, and for the one I will soon plant here…” He put his hand on her abdomen.  “I must always be ready, ready to be summoned to battle.”
            They watched activity in the Herminian camps.  At every moment men were moving: washing clothes, preparing foods, chopping firewood, practicing with swords or bows, patrolling, and doing many other things.  Hundreds of men moving at every moment—but there were many hundreds more that could not be seen, who would soon take their turn.  And Aylwin knew, because the blond bitch of Herminia had told him, that though Aylwin and his defenders could never leave Hyacintho Flumen, the besieging soldiers were constantly rotated.  For a few months, they went home to farms and families and then they came back.  The siege would go on indefinitely, Mariel said.  Only his submission would end it.  Aylwin ground his teeth.
            “The worst of it is…” He whispered his thought.
            “What?  Dear one, what is the worst?”
            “Not knowing.”  
            Juliana’s expression asked for explanation. 
            “I sent Amicia and Kenelm Ash to Down’s End to enlist help.  Arthur says the city has the resources to raise a real army.  Can they be persuaded?  Has Kenelm found a husband for Toadface?  Someone influential who can raise an army?  I don’t even know whether they reached Down’s End.”
            Juliana commented, “The enemy aims to starve us, but he also cuts off contact with the rest of Tarquint.  The castle preserves food for many months, but information spoils quickly.  Without news, you are disadvantaged.”
            “Aye.”  Aylwin raised an eyebrow.  He hadn’t expected insight from Juliana.  “Up here on the gods’ roof I can watch Ridere’s men, or if I want a better view I can use the castle eye.  Beyond that, I am blind.  I talk with the Herminian bitch every week, but I learn almost nothing.”
            Almost nothing?”
            A touch of a smile.  “Her boasts and threats sometimes say more than she realizes.  If I listen between the words I learn things.  For example, we saw the Herminians shaving their heads, and Arthur suggested they had a scalp disease spreading in the camp.  Not so.  I learned they used human hair for the catapults.  And there’s this: my former wife now copies documents for the Herminian general.”  Aylwin chuckled.  “They found an actual use for her.  Amazing.”
            Juliana laughed too.  “I wonder: Has her hair grown back?  She hacked it off the day of the exchange.  Perhaps she is shaved like the armsmen.”
            “Hah!  Very good!”  Aylwin laughed heartily.  “Edita Toeni—the crippled bald copyist!”  He embraced Juliana and pulled her close, enjoying the curve of her back and butt with his hand.
            Between kisses: “I propose we go downstairs, my lord.  Our bedroom is not far.”  She led him by the hand to the stair.

            Sometime later, Aylwin rose first, and Juliana watched him dress.  “You speak with Mariel every week?”
            “Aye.  On Fridays.”  He tucked an indigo tunic into pale blue breeches.
            She sat up, covering her breasts with a linen sheet.  “Then…could you not speak with other lords on other days?  Some other lord might not send armsmen, but it would cost him nothing to give you news.”
            “You suppose I haven’t thought of this?”  Aylwin was working an oiled leather belt into the loops of his breeches.  “It requires a close bond for a lord to use Videns-Loquitur.  According to Arthur, my father never mastered the art and rarely spoke with other lords.  In only eight months I have a better bond with Hyacintho Flumen than Hereward ever had.  And I am getting stronger.  I can hold shields for three hours now.  So I hope, soon, to do precisely what you suggest, to contact other lords.”
            “But you can talk with Mariel.”
            His face flashed anger.  “Because she supports the contact.  By the gods, woman!  Do I have to explain every detail?  The Bitch of Herminia has thousands of men on my land and she has castle powers I cannot match—yet.  She can contact any lord she desires, it seems, and she can also produce steel, castle quality steel for weapons.  Not like my father did—enough for a few swords every year.  She makes tons of it.  Every knight and commander in Ridere’s army has armor as good as my own.”
            Aylwin’s hands were shaking so badly he fumbled at fastening the belt.  Juliana swept out of the bed and came to him.  “Let me.”  Her nimble hands made quick work of the buckle.  “There you go.”  For once, Juliana’s nakedness meant nothing.  She held Aylwin’s hands in her own until the trembling stopped.
            A tear slid down Aylwin’s face.  “I’m afraid, Juliana.  And I can’t tell anyone.”
            “You can tell me, my love.  We will defy Mariel together.  You have been lord for seven months.  In another seven, as you grow stronger, who knows what you will be able to do?”
            After Aylwin left, Juliana decided on a bath and lingered in the hot water.  She dressed without the aid of a serving girl and was still fastening buttons on a peach colored tunic when someone knocked on her door.  “Enter!”
            Diera spoke breathlessly.  “My lady!  Lord Aylwin bids you come to the hall.  You are a prophet, he says, and he wants you to see!”
            Juliana hurried barefoot after Diera.  In the great hall Arthur the old intercepted her halfway to Aylwin, who had his hand on the lord’s knob.  “Lord Aylwin wishes you to witness his success, but it might serve us well if we were not seen.”
            Juliana kept her voice low, mimicking Arthur.  “Seen by whom?”
            In answer, Arthur beckoned her to follow him.  They stuck close to the wall, drawing near to the castle’s magic window, but at an angle so that they would not appear in the picture Videns-Loquitur showed to the other lord.  And it was another lord, a man, not Mariel.  Since Juliana saw the image from the side, the lord displayed there might have been distorted.  Perhaps that explained why his face looked extremely thin.  Unlike the orange-red aura of Aylwin’s knob, the other lord’s glowed with green light.
            The narrow-faced lord was speaking.  “…third I’ve reached.  It’s not long ago I learned how to command Videns-Loquitur.  I’ve talked with Mariel several times.  She seems to be an old hand at V-L, has regular meetings with the lords of Herminia.  Maybe that’s why I met her, because she uses V-L so often.  Yesterday I spoke with Lady Jean Postel, lady of Aurea Prati.  And now you.  The truth is I don’t know where Aurea Prati is, but I’ve heard lots about Hyacintho Flumen.  I’m very pleased to meet you, Lord Aylwin.”

119.  At Ody Dans’s Estate, The Spray

            Twenty-six people sat at an Olympian table in Ody Dans’s windowed dining room overlooking River Betlicéa.  Chicken, duck, goose, and turkey, each kind of bird rendered into at least two savory dishes; Dans’s kitchen staff had prepared an extravaganza of fowls.  The guests could choose also from four kinds of cheese, three varieties of fruit pie, white or brown loaves for sopping up grease, and several bottles of wine.
The table itself was longer than Milo remembered; twelve sat on each side comfortably, with Dans himself at one end and a handsome young man at the other.  With a start, Milo recognized the smartly dressed youth as Avery Doin, whom Derian Chapman had smuggled from Down’s End to Stonebridge last summer.  Milo hadn’t visited The Spray for months, and he had almost forgotten the fugitive whose escape had first brought Derian and Milo together. 
            Ostensibly, it was a congratulatory dinner, thrown by Master Dans to mark Kingsley Averill’s election as Speaker of the Assembly.  From the moment Milo read the guest list he knew better.  This was a political consultation of the first order.  Ody Dans and Kingsley Averill, long time rivals in Stonebridge politics, found themselves in an unprecedented situation: they had to cooperate, and they weren’t sure how to do it.  For the first hour, as the meal progressed through course after course, the conversation danced about the underlying questions without making them explicit.
            Milo had a fairly clear grasp of the obstacles between the two men, having read Osred Tondbert’s files.  On one side, Dans envisioned a magnificent, imperial Stonebridge.  The city was growing rapidly, and Dans believed it had the resources in wealth and population to field an army of thousands.  Given political will, Stonebridge could dominate Tarquint.  Castle lords, the weavers, leather workers and cloth merchants of Down’s End, even the wealthy burghers of Cippenham in the east—the whole continent could be unified under Stonebridge power.  In contrast, Averill believed Stonebridge should aim first to preserve her independence from the Le Grants of Saltas Semitas; beyond that the Assembly ought to focus on civic improvements such as bridges, sewers, better roads, removal (or at least reduction) of the Bene Quarter, and elimination of the hated criminal gangs, the Falcons and Hawks.  Averill thought Dans’s ambitions could easily lead the city to the tyranny of some powerful general or the poverty that follows military defeat.
            Milo also knew the animosity between Dans and Averill ran deeper than differing visions for Stonebridge, its root lying in a tragic past.  Thirty years before, the rising merchant Ody Dans had married Elise Averill, Kingsley Averill’s younger sister.  Averill opposed the match, mistrusting Dans’s greed and ruthlessness.  But Elise, twelve years younger than Averill, was smitten with Ody Dans, a jeweler’s son who was rapidly building a fortune by trade and money lending.  In the end Kingsley could not refuse permission to his beloved sibling.  For three months Elise was gloriously happy, according to a note in Tondbert’s handwriting.  Then abruptly, she deserted her husband and disappeared.  Averill found her working in a Bene Quarter brothel, but she would not say how she got there.  Kingsley took her home to the Averill estate, where she refused to eat and soon died.  Averill blamed Ody Dans for Elise’s fate, but Tondbert’s records indicated the young woman never said anything that might be used as evidence against Dans.  Afterward, Dans’s wealth and influence in Stonebridge continued to increase.  Averill had the prestige of an established name, but Dans was undoubtedly richer.  In three decades Averill never publicly expressed his suspicions about Elise’s marriage, but he icily opposed every attempt by Dans and his political allies to build up Tondbert’s City Guard or to assert Stonebridge power beyond the mountain ridges that ringed the city.  Outside of Assembly Hall, the two men persistently avoided each other.
            But now Kingsley Averill sat as guest in The Spray, half way down the table on Dans’s right.  Averill’s chief political partner, Assemblyman Verge Courney, and his son Merlin Averill sat on either side of Kingsley.  Milo thought of the three men as the “Averill party.”  Across the table from them were Ody Dans’s allies: the banker Lunden Ware, Euman Black, who owned an important silver mine, and Ham Roweson, whose mill sawed thousands of logs every year from the forests west of Stonebridge.  Conspicuously absent: Frideric Bardolf, Dans’s longtime friend and compatriot. 
            Milo’s report to the Assembly convinced everyone that Bardolf had bribed the city clerk and defrauded Stonebridge.  Placed under house arrest, Bardolf had been stripped of his office and was awaiting trial.  Now what?  When Milo Mortane first emerged as Commander of the Guard, some Assemblymen regarded him as Dans’s protégé.  But then Milo had accused and arrested Frideric Bardolf, which elevated Averill to the Speakership.  Some gossips in the city now said that Commander Mortane favored Averill’s faction. 
            Milo’s successes in Stonebridge were thus a factor that drove Dans and Averill to consult with each other.  Milo had broken the Hawks by killing their leaders, and he had apparently declawed the Falcons by absorbing Ifing Redhair and his lieutenants into the City Guard.  And by publishing Tondbert’s “secrets” he had greatly reduced the mutual fear and suspicion felt by Stonebridge’s leading families.  For the time being, at least, Milo enjoyed approval from both rich and poor in Stonebridge.  Dans and Averill each imagined himself controlling Commander Mortane, and both feared the other would.
            Another impetus for change was the news from Hyacintho Flumen.  For months rumors of the Herminian invasion had made their way to Stonebridge.  Now, Lady Amicia Mortane confirmed the reports.  She had been hosting leading citizens and their wives at her rented house, arguing that the Herminian army threatened not just her brother Aylwin, but all of Tarquint.  Few of her guests were persuaded that Stonebridge should fight a war, but many feared the invaders were a real danger.  All agreed that changes were coming.  No one missed the fact that the Lady Ambassador was sister to Commander Mortane.
            At the table, Dans’s servant girl seated Amicia and her escort, Kenelm Ash, at Ody Dans’s right.  A seat of honor for the Lady Ambassador, Milo thought, and it also conveniently seats her between Dans and the Averill party, where both sides can appraise every frown or smile.  Milo, accompanied by Felix Abrecan, had been seated on the left side, near the foot of the table, beyond Dan’s allies.  He puts a long space between Toadface and me.  Opposite Amicia, seated between Dans and Lunden Ware, the servants seated a rich old woman, Zoe Gunnara, and her granddaughter Evelina Gunnara.  Milo recognized the upturned nose and pale skin of the younger lady; by chance last summer she had witnessed Milo threatening Derian Chapman in the streets of Stonebridge, but the lady and he had never been introduced.  Lady Evelina was pretty, marriageable, the sole heir of her family, and (judging by Zoe Gunnara’s appearance) soon to inherit the Gunnara estate.  Milo remembered: The source of mediocre wine, according to Merlin Averill.  As the dinner progressed from fowl to fowl, Milo watched Lady Evelina try to play coquette for Merlin, who was apparently not interested in marrying into more vineyards.  Merlin was much more interested in Ambassador Lady Amicia.  Milo thought: Watch that; it might be useful.
            Milo knew that Assemblymen Courney, Ware, Black and Roweson were married, but only Courney brought his wife.  Maybe Ody Dans’s friends know better than bring wives to Master Dans’s house.  Of the remaining guests, Milo thought only Derian Chapman mattered much in the jockeying between Dans and Averill.  Averill has to assume Derian spies on me for his uncle, and Ody may still believe he does.  In the last month Milo had given Derian harmless bits of information to pass on to Uncle Ody.  Derian knows where his real interests lie, but it wouldn’t hurt to remind him.
            Seated near the foot of the table, Derian was sharing some private joke with Avery Doin and a young couple whose names Milo couldn’t recall.  Why is Avery still here?  Surely Dans has protected him long enough to repay whatever debt he owed to Avery’s father.  Maybe “Uncle Ody” has some further use for him?
            “That’s a question for the Commander of the Stonebridge Guard, not for me.”  Amicia raised her voice enough to interrupt Milo’s meditation.
            “I’m sorry, Lady Ambassador.”  Milo winked broadly at his sister, which drew smiles from both the Averill party and Dans’s political friends.  “What was the question?”
            Verge Courney leaned forward, his black hair glistening.  “When?  That is: When will the Stonebridge Guard march to lift the siege of Hyacintho Flumen, assuming, of course, that Assembly could meet all the Guard’s requests for money?”
            Milo didn’t hesitate.  “Never.”  He smiled quickly and shoved a spoonful of cobbler into his mouth.
            “What?  I don’t understand.  Why not?”  Several voices spoke at once.
            Milo held up his spoon to interrupt, swallowed the dessert, and answered, “The Guard will not march to Hyacintho Flumen, or anywhere else for that matter, unless so directed by the Assembly.  As far as I know—and I’m in a good position to know—the Assembly has not directed us to interfere at Hyacintho Flumen.  I am sorry, Lady Ambassador.”  Again he winked at Amicia, drawing chuckles from both sides of the table.
            Courney sat back in his chair, scowling.  Next to him Kingsley Averill cleared his throat.  “Ahem.  As the new Speaker, I note your obedience to Assembly authority, and I thoroughly approve.  But Master Roweson and I were talking just now with Master Courney and your sister about the possibility of the Stonebridge Guard aiding Lord Aylwin.  If the Assembly authorized action against the Herminians, and if we met all your requests for supplies and recruits—how soon might the Guard be prepared to break the siege of Hyacintho Flumen?”
            “Fourteen weeks, perhaps less.”
            “Impossible!  You jest!”  Voices on both sides of the table objected.  “Against ten thousand?”
            Milo made his face look contemplative.  “I should speak more carefully.  I should say the Stonebridge Guard would be ready to move against the Herminians in fourteen weeks or less.  General Ridere might not abandon the siege for some months after that, but that is only because he and Queen Mariel are stubborn.  Eventually they would have to give it up.”
            Euman Black, the mine owner, asked, “How can you be so confident, Commander Mortane?”
            Milo raised an eyebrow and glanced up and down the table.  “If Master Dans is ready to expel from the room his guests who are not Assemblymen, I will answer your question in detail.  Otherwise, duty requires that I speak only in generalities.”
            Black inclined his head.  “Generalities will suffice.  We don’t need details.”
            “All right.”  Milo made eye contact with Kingsley Averill.  “First, to break a siege, we need only to get food into Hyacintho Flumen.  We don’t need to defeat the Herminians in a pitched battle.  Second, the enemy needs ten thousand men because he has to block every possible route into the castle.  Those men must be spread out in a circle many miles around.”
            Milo emphasized each point by pressing the tabletop with his fingers, first one, then two, and now three: “Therefore, third, our force need only be big enough to create a hole in the siege ring long enough for supplies to get in.  Fourth, we get to choose which portion of the ring to attack and when to attack it.  The enemy must be vigilant at every point all the time.  And fifth…” Milo’s thumb joined his fingers. “I have already begun building the Guard.
            “Don’t feign surprise.  Word spreads in the city; surely you know what I’ve been doing.  Hawks and Falcons tormented Stonebridge too long; they had to be broken.  So I broke them—but not by slaughtering hundreds of men whose chief crime was to be born in hopelessness and poverty.  True enough, we killed the Hawk leaders and a few others.  But we have taken ninety men into the Guard as armsmen.  They are not sheriffs, and they no longer live in the city.  They have built and live in the ‘Winter Camp,’ two miles beyond Hill Corral—on the other side of the Stonebridge hills.  If the Assembly increases support for the Guard, we will expand Winter Camp, and most Guardsmen will live there.  In ten weeks, Stonebridge could have an army of six hundred or more.”
            “Well-trained?”  The Lady Ambassador, not any of the Stonebridge Assemblymen, asked an important question.  Amicia’s gaze challenged her brother.
            “Indeed.  If Stonebridge wanted a rabble, we could have thousands in the field by summer.”  Milo grinned.  “But I promised my men that we would be an army, not a rabble.”  He looked at Euman Black.  “You might be surprised.  Underfed poor boys from the Bene Quarter work very hard at becoming soldiers when we give them a dry bed, sufficient food, and five coppers a month.  Aiden Fleming and Bryce Dalston have been pleased with our recruits.”
            “W-w-what about Redhair?”  Merlin Averill punctuated his question with a wave of his claw hand.
            “Ah!”  Milo turned toward the foot of the table.  “Sheriff Chapman can answer that, I think.”
            Derian had edged his chair closer to the end of the table; the better to watch faces on both sides.  Now everyone looked at him.  “I’ve been tasked with supplying the Guard with food, clothing, iron, fuel, and so forth.  Sir Mortane thought I might be a good purchasing agent for the Guard since I’ve done business in Stonebridge for some time.  And I must say I’ve been terrifically successful. 
            “It works like this.  Under-sheriff Redhair and I work as a team.  We visit some merchant in Stonebridge, to buy hay or grain for our horses, just as an example.  We examine the grain and, based on my experience in business, I suggest a purchase price.  I always offer a reasonable price.  Ifing never says anything.  He just stands there with his hand on his knife handle.  It’s not a sword.  Ifing’s knife is almost as big as a standard Guard sword anyway.  He doesn’t pull the knife; he merely stands there.  And then, you see, almost always, our supplier says that the price I mentioned is just too high.  He suggests something lower.  And then, to avoid haggling, we agree to something in the middle.”
            At the other end of the table, Ody Dans began chuckling.  “To avoid haggling?  You, Derian?”
            Derian pretended innocence.  “I wouldn’t want to give offense.”
            Both sides of the table, the Averill party and Dans’s friends, joined in the laughter.  Derian deadpanned: “Commander Mortane said that by saving money we would be able to build more tent frames at Winter Camp.  I thought it was a good idea.”
            Milo said, “Redhair and Chapman, purchasing agents for the Stonebridge Guard.  It has a nice ring to it, don’t you think?”
            Ody Dans’s guests laughed heartily.

120.  At Winter Camp

            Ifing Redhair, mounted on a warhorse, should have been a terror to all enemies.  He was practically a giant, six and a half feet tall, with broad shoulders and long braided red locks.  Seated on a destrier fit to his size and armed with a battle-axe or lance, he would have dominated a field of battle.  Should have, would have—but not in fact.  Ifing Redhair could not ride a horse.
            Born in the Bene Quarter, Ifing was a child of poverty and the city.  Until Milo made him an under-sheriff for Stonebridge, Ifing had never gone outside the city.  Naturally, he saw lots of horses in Stonebridge: draught horses for wagons, palfreys for rich ladies, coursers for the City Guard, and others.  But he never owned a horse; he had no memory of riding one.  In fact, Ifing said, he had no memories of his early boyhood at all, nothing before his sixth birthday.  At twenty-four years old, Redhair could run as fast as any man, and his proficiency with a blade in a street fight was formidable.  His men respected his courage, his brains, and his record of bloody triumphs.  But none of this translated to success in the saddle.
            Milo and Eádulf tried to instruct Redhair in private, to spare him humiliation before his comrades in the Guard.  Eádulf rode Brownie with two other mounts on a lead to a lonely field outside Stonebridge.  Milo and Ifing hiked four miles from the Citadel into the muddy countryside to the appointed place.  The three men spent six hours of cursing and tears trying to overcome an invisible and invincible foe.  They failed.
            Eádulf saddled Ifing’s horse and held him steady.  Milo mounted and dismounted the animal and stood close to boost Ifing into the saddle.  But when the Falcon chieftain approached he froze in fear.  His eyes dilated, his arms shook, and he breathed in raw gasps.  Sweat ran down his forehead and neck though spring had not yet come.  Again and again Redhair cursed himself for cowardice, but neither his curses nor Milo’s encouragement could overcome the internal block.  Redhair could not put foot to stirrup.
            The experience yielded frustration, humiliation, and bewilderment.  If Milo put the horse’s reins in Ifing’s hands, the under-sheriff could walk the beast around the field calmly.  Ifing could hold out an apple and let the animal eat.  But whenever he tried to take the saddle the terror stuck.  Eádulf suggested that Ifing tighten the horse’s saddle straps as a way to get used to the creature.  The panic hit Redhair as his hand moved toward the cinch; he could not bring himself to touch it.  The three men tried everything they could think of, but the mystery only deepened.  Ifing Redhair could not mount a horse.
            After hours of failure, Eádulf whispered, “It is a barrier from the gods.”  Milo and Ifing heard him.
            “What?” Redhair’s snarl contained as much despair as anger.
            Milo had been taught to believe in castle gods, though they rarely figured in his thinking.  “Eádulf might be right.”  Before Redhair could speak, Milo went on: “Ifing, stop!  Think!
            “There must be some reason for this.  You’re not a coward, no matter what contemptible labels you give yourself.  So why is it that you—of all men, Ifing Redhair! —should be unable to mount a horse?  Some power overcomes you when you approach the stirrup.  We are alone here; there are no enemies watching from the fence.  There is no priest of the old god to cast a spell on you.  I think Eádulf could be right.  The gods may not want you to ride.”
            Ifing spat.  “A fine hate they show me.  Every man in the Guard will laugh at horseless Redhair.”
            “That won’t happen.”  Milo shook his head.  “You are too valuable to me.  We will make you a swordsman and a captain of swordsmen.  You will march to battle as do most armsmen.”
            And so, when Derian Chapman did not require Redhair’s attendance at some negotiation with a purveyor of supplies, Ifing trained as a foot soldier at “Winter Camp.”  This was a collection of tents, built on wood tent frames, and located a couple miles northeast and down hill from Hill Corral.  A creek ran near the camp, through a forest of pine, fir, and ash; further north, the little stream faded into the prairie of the Great Downs.  The wagon road from Down’s End passed close to the place.
Marty established Winter Camp soon after the Assembly made him commander, and assigned new recruits to it.  To turn street urchins, pickpockets, and gangsters into soldiers, the City Guard first made them lumbermen and builders.  They cut down trees and built tent frames, big enough to hold twenty men, so that even in winter they could sleep on dry wood floors.  Hrodgar Wigt supervised the camp, enforcing discipline and teaching teamwork, and Earm Upton (who had worked in the forest before joining the City Guard) taught basic woodsman skills.  The recruits dug latrines, built a kitchen/refectory and a barn, fenced a paddock, and collected stones for a future blacksmith furnace.  At the time of Ody Dans’s dinner for Kingsley Averill, more than fifty armsmen-in-training were already working at Winter Camp.
            As winter faded and more recruits joined the Stonebridge Guard, Winter Camp became a quagmire.  Melting snow made mud of the paths between tents and buildings, the paddock, and the training field.  Some of the recruits had never owned real boots, wearing sandals even on Stonebridge’s winter streets.  Milo explained the situation in a letter to Ody Dans and Lunden Ware.  The bankers agreed to lend money to the Guard, to be repaid at an unspecified date, and Derian Chapman was dispatched to Down’s End with Felix Abrecan as guard.  Two weeks later Derian returned with a one-horse cart full of boots, one hundred twenty pairs of sturdy leather boots of Down’s End quality, which could not be matched in Stonebridge.  The burgeoning City Guard would soon need more, but Derian’s purchase allowed weapons training to begin in earnest.  To the sons of poverty who received them, the boots represented a new horizon of possibilities.  In the Stonebridge Guard they had food to eat, dry tents to sleep in, warm boots for their feet—and a demand for excellence.
            Milo appointed Bryce Dalston and Aidan Fleming training masters.  Bryce taught swordsmanship on the bare flagstones of the Citadel’s training yard, twenty men at a time.  Two rows of ten men would face each other and practice thrusts and parries with wooden swords.  With solid footing under them, the recruits learned to move their feet and dance rather than stand and hack.  Then, on the uneven, muddy grounds of Winter Camp, Aidan trained larger groups to work together, to fight as a unit.  Both instructors pushed their men hard, warning them repeatedly that training diligence would save their lives later.  When some soldiers observed that Dalston’s fancy footwork might be suitable on dry level ground but real battlefields would probably be more like Winter Camp’s quagmire, Aidan Fleming emphatically defended his comrade’s lessons.  “You do not know whether your battlefield will be grassland, a forest, or a city street,” he said.  “A good swordsman must be able to adjust and fight on all of them.”     
            Since training took place in both places, units of Guardsmen moved between Winter Camp and the Citadel every week, a ten-mile march from the center of Stonebridge over the encircling hills and two miles beyond Hill Corral.  Milo welcomed this necessity; disciplined marching helped shape recruits into an army. 
            Citadel blacksmiths repaired old weapons and forged new shields and swords as quickly as Derian could buy iron.  Nevertheless, it became clear that without recruiting more smiths and obtaining a great quantity of iron Milo’s army would lack sufficient swords and shields until late summer or fall.  There was no question of diverting the limited iron supply to making plate armor.  For the time being, Milo was the only properly outfitted knight in the Guard. 
Milo hit on the idea of knife-fighters.  Ifing Redhair and other gangsters already owned knives, and they had experience with stealthy attack in the dark.  Redhair handpicked forty men for this group, including former Hawks as well as Falcons, and trained them in the forest outside of Winter Camp, often at night.  Milo told the knifemen they might play an especially important role in breaking the siege of Hyacintho Flumen.  And he did not mention the company of knifemen in any of his reports to Ody Dans, Lunden Ware, the Stonebridge Assembly, or Speaker Kingsley Averill.
            Averill and his party in the Assembly viewed the rapid expansion of the Guard with suspicion, even alarm.  Nevertheless, they voted with Dans and Ware’s party to authorize the new Guard and pay for its weapons.  They could not deny the results of Commander Mortane’s new Guard: robberies and burglaries in the city had almost ceased, middling merchants no longer needed to pay extortion to Falcons or Hawks, and security guards for rich estates had easy service.  Milo’s reports also noted that the sheriffs who patrolled the city found fewer frozen bodies in the streets bordering the Bene Quarter; some in the Assembly attributed this to a milder winter, but others said poor people also benefited from a more efficient Guard.  Milo had nothing to say to the Assembly on that score, he said.  He merely reported the facts.
            The gains in public safety did not come through scores of new soldiers snooping round the city.  Most of the new recruits lived in Winter Camp, and those who trained with Bryce Dalston stayed within the Citadel walls.  Most people in Stonebridge did not see the new Guardsmen except when they marched to or from Winter Camp.  Folk did notice that under Commander Mortane the new Guard patrolled the streets more hours than in the Tondbert days; everyone put this down to better discipline or harder work in the Guard.  In reality, extra hands inside the Citadel freed patrol Guardsmen from routine work, thus permitting longer patrols.
            Beyond observable results, one other factor influenced Kingsley Averill’s grudging support for Milo’s Guard.  Merlin Averill had suddenly taken an interest in something other than viniculture.  He had made an offer of marriage to Lady Ambassador Amicia Mortane.

121.  Near Castle Inter Lucus

            “We heat sand and beech ash together in this furnace.  Master Gausman called this first step ‘fritting.’  Ernulf and I have been making frit for three weeks now, saving up a good supply.  The frit furnace isn’t hot enough to melt sand, but settles the ash and sand together.  Two days ago we moved to the second stage, with the main furnace.”
            Stacked firewood lined the north wall of Isen’s A-frame glassmaking factory.  Students of Collegium Inter Lucus stood with their backs to the wood, watching and listening to Isen’s lecture.  Besides the frit furnace and the much taller main furnace, there were workbenches and mysterious looking tools hanging from hooks.  The glassworks was very warm, even on a late winter morning.  Marty wondered what it would be like come summer.
A group visit to the glassworks was Marty’s idea, inspired by grade school field trips in his childhood.  The excursion served as a break from daily lessons for the children, and it honored Isen’s successful launch of glassmaking between the lakes.  Marty had already asked Ora to plan a “Grand Opening” for the glassworks, to which villagers in Senerham and Inter Lucus would be invited.
            “To actually make glass, we put some frit in a crucible—that’s a special bowl that won’t crack even when it’s very hot—and it goes into the main furnace.  We put in a crucible this morning, before you all had breakfast, and either Ernulf or I have been feeding the fire and watching the furnace all day.  The frit in the crucible has melted into glass, so now we’re ready to blow.”
            Isen put on a pair of thick cloth gloves and held up a clay tube about three feet long.  “My blowpipe.  The other end has to be hot to gather glass.”  Ernulf, also wearing gloves, opened a small door on the furnace, and Isen inserted the blowpipe.  Sweat sheened on Isen’s face as he rotated the tube for several minutes.  “And now we pick up a gather.”  Isen squatted to face the opening of the furnace and moved the tip of the tool into the white-hot liquid in the crucible.  Most of the children couldn’t see into the furnace, but those immediately behind Isen watched the tip of the blowpipe intently.
            Isen slowly backed away from the furnace with a round bulb of glass hanging from the tip of the blowpipe.  Marty heard a collective intake of breath from the onlookers.  “Oh!  Look at that!  Wow!”
            Isen swung his instrument in a small circle while puffing little breaths into it. Ernulf shut the door to the furnace, reducing the tremendous heat coming out, and picked up two flat wood paddles.  The apprentice stood ready to respond to any gesture from Isen while the molten gather on the end of Isen’s tool became a round ball.  Isen lowered the glass ball onto the concave surface of a wooden block, puffing and turning the glass.  Marty was struck by the image of a jazz musician improvising.  Occasionally Ernulf used the paddles to help shape the glass.
Isen flicked an elbow toward the furnace without lessening his attention on the glass ball, which was now about six inches wide.  Ernulf quickly set aside the paddles and opened the furnace door; Isen reinserted the glass ball.  He continued turning the glass while speaking.  “I’m reheating the glass a bit so I can work it.  Some furnaces have a special door for this part; they call it the ‘glory hole.’  But we built our furnace simple and use just the one door.  Course, I have to be careful not to touch anything inside.”
Isen brought out the glass ball, and Ernulf closed the furnace.  Once again Isen worked the glass on the wooden block, but now he drew the top higher, and Ernulf’s paddles pushed the slowly rotating piece into a cylinder shape.  At a signal from Isen, Ernulf picked up a tool that reminded Marty of a giant set of tweezers; with the iron tips Ernulf began cutting the cooling glass a few inches from the blowpipe.  But the workmen did not cut the piece completely free; first, Isen moved it to a wood bench and let the weight push down to create a flat bottom.  They placed the vase—for that’s what the piece looked like—on two metal rods.  Isen finished cutting free the blowpipe and the bit of glass affixed to it and handed it to Ernulf, who scraped off the excess glass into box that contained other such bits.  Glass was too valuable to be thrown away; later the scraps would be melted and made into new pieces. 
The top edge of Isen’s vase was still pliable; he shaped it with smaller wood tools to smooth out irregularities.  Then Ernulf climbed onto a stool to open a door high on the furnace.  Isen picked up the vase they had made on its punty rods and they slid it in.
“If glass cools too quickly,” Isen explained, “It’ll break.  So we put it in the ‘annealing oven.’  It’s above the main furnace and not as hot.  We’ll let the new piece cool slowly.  In a day or two we’ll take it out.  If it cracks or if I don’t like the color, we’ll toss it in with the cullet.”  Isen indicated the box of glass scraps.  “Later, we’ll smash the cullet down into bits so it’ll melt easier, and make something useful.”
Isen took off his gloves.  “Glass making takes lots of firewood ’n lots of practice.  Ernulf here has been learning real fast, ’cause he grew up ’round his dad’s smithy.”
The students asked questions. 
“Could you put a handle on the vase shape and make a pitcher?” 
“How do you make glass of different colors?” 
“The ‘gather’ came out round like a ball—how do you make it flat and square for windows?” 
“Will you make things for Inter Lucus?” 
“People from Senerham will buy glass too, won’t they?” 
“How many glassmakers are there in Down’s End?” 
Lots of questions, questions that validated Marty’s choice of students.  They have genuine curiosity; they want to learn how things work.  They see that a glassworks will bring change and they’re thinking of the big picture.  Manufacturing glass here at Inter Lucus might lead to competition with Down’s End.  It might lead to trade with other places.
“Can you make a glass string?”
Alf’s voice, piping from the end of the line of students, interrupted Marty’s reverie.  Isen hesitated before answering.  “Yes.  Glass can be shaped without blowing it.” 
Isen picked up an iron rod like the ones they had used under the vase.  “If I pick up a gather with a punty rod like this one, I can’t blow into it.  But I can draw it out into a string of glass, and I can fold it and mold it.  Then, once it cools, the string will have whatever shape I gave it.  With practice I could make a brooch, for example.  The kind of thing rich aldermen in Down’s End give to their wives.”  There was a kind of longing in Isen’s voice; he had told Marty once of his dream of making a glass swan and other beautiful things.
Alf asked, “Could the string be straight?  And very, very thin?  It wouldn’t have to be long.”
Isen was puzzled.  “Making a straight bit of glass would be easy, especially if it is not long.  But why would anyone want such a thing?”
Tayte Graham said, “A glass hairpin would be pretty, but it would break.  A glass needle could be really sharp, but again, it would break.”
Alf ignored Tayte’s suggestions.  He was looking up at the A-frame walls as if she weren’t there.  “Very thin.  Very straight.  And they have to be…smoked.”
At first, Alf’s strange choice of words elicited derision.  Someone said, “You smoke meat, not glass, silly!”
But then Ora said, “You’ve been dreaming again, haven’t you, Alf?”
The boy sighed deeply, and he looked at Marty.  “Aye.  I dreamed it.  For the CPU.”

Here ends part three of Castles.

Copyright © 2014 by Philip D. Smith.
All rights reserved.  International copyright secured.















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