1. Some Miles From Castle Inter Lucus
Ora Wooddaughter worked as hard as her brother; Father always said so. But in recent months, as Aethulwulf grew as only boys-becoming-men can grow, Attor Woodman had begun favoring Aethulwulf with heavier work. Today, for the first time, the thirteen-year-old man-child had taken his father’s place in the bottom of the sawpit. The more experienced father could thus guide the ripsaw as he and Aethulwulf cut a plank from a pine log. Aethulwulf strained to push the great saw from below, and he coughed often to clear his throat of wood dust. The three long braids of his black hair swung to and fro as he worked. As often as he could, he wiped sweat and dust from his face with the back of his forearm. Yet he made no complaint. To the contrary: Ora could read pride in Aethulwulf Woodson’s fierce long face. He was doing a man’s work. Soon men would name him Woodman as they named his father.
Ora would never be asked to work the bottom of the sawpit, because her size limited her strength. Though two years older than Aethulwulf, she was a foot shorter and much lighter than her brother—half-brother, to be accurate. Maybe that explained things, Ora thought. Eacnung was an uncommonly large woman, whereas her own mother, Darelle, had been slight. At least, that’s what everyone said. Ora had no memory of Darelle.
When Attor took his turn on bottom, Ora guided the saw from above. She wasn’t as practiced as her father, but she was better than Aethulwulf at hewing to the line drawn on the timber. Turn and turn-about, brother or sister would stand by the old brown horse, Bley, while the other sawed with Attor. The Woodman worked steadily through the day, proclaiming himself satisfied to escape the downside of the pit half the time. In the late afternoon, sunlight slanted over the western lake, signaling the end of the workday. Ora hitched Bley to Attor’s lumber wagon while father and son finished the last cut. All that remained was to stack the green lumber in the drying shed two miles away.
Attor wiped his brow, a bit theatrically. “How’s a swim, Da?” His eyes motioned to the shimmering water of the western lake.
“As you like.” Attor tugged Bley’s lead to urge the horse into motion. “Just don’t make me load alone.”
“We’ll make the shed ’fore old Bley does,” promised Aethulwulf.
“We? Who are you speaking for, little brother?” Ora meant it kindly.
Aethulwulf frowned. “Me, then. Been workin’ hard, I have. Ya don’t gotta swim if ya don’t want.”
Ora hesitated as Attor and Bley plodded one way and Aethulwulf walked the short cut path to the lake. Lake water on a hot day . . . she followed Aethulwulf.
Fishing boats from Down’s End often crossed the lake; sometimes they even tied up at the little dock built by Attor’s father a generation before, Woodman’s Dock. Ora paused on the little hill to survey the horizon before descending to the lake. The nearest boats were far away, in the shadows of the western shore. Ora wasn’t surprised; she knew the Down’s End fishermen liked to cast nets early in the day or in the cool of evening.
The bit of shoreline for a hundred yards north of Woodman’s Dock was a sandy beach with clear, shallow water. Ora and Aethulwulf had built summer sand forts and swam here for as long as she could remember. She picked her way along the winding path through elderberry brush and emerged on the beach. Aethulwulf’s woolen tunic and linen under tunic were both hanging on elderberry limbs; his leather boots sat next to a log where he had sat to take them off. When she looked at the water, Aethulwulf was nowhere to be seen, but then his head exploded out of the water ten yards away. He shook his head and pushed his hair out of his face with both hands, sweeping the long black braids behind his head. Seeing Ora, he smiled widely and stood up tall. The water reached to his belly. He splashed with a cupped hand, throwing water onto his chest.
“Gods! It’s great. Come on!”
Ora put her boots next to his and hung her work tunic over a branch, but she waded into the water still dressed in her under tunic. The days when brother and sister could properly swim naked were long past, she judged. Her linen underclothes were due to be washed on the morrow anyway.
When the water reached her waist, Ora collapsed into it and let buoyancy take hold. She ducked under the surface and came up with her head tilted back, letting water run off her face and hair. It was deliciously cool.
“I am the great kraken of the deep!” Aethulwulf waved his arms and dived into the water, coming up inches from Ora. She could feel the heat of his body.
“In the stories I’ve heard, the krakens all have eight or ten arms,” Ora said. “Did the sailors of castle Tutum Partum chop off most of yours? And since when did krakens swim in sweet water lakes?”
Aethulwulf threw his arms up and back, twisting to one side to splash into the water. His body was thin, but Ora could imagine how in the years to come it would fill out with muscles and—if he prospered—fat. For now, he was a man-child, all bones and sinews.
Ora swam a few strokes into deeper water. Reaching down with her toes, she couldn’t touch the bottom. Still the water was so clear that she could see sparkles in the sand six feet below. The lake had been the right decision.
Something touched her leg, Aethulwulf’s hand. He was playing kraken again, swimming underwater. She brushed the hand aside and he came up for air. He put his hand behind her neck and pulled her close. His mouth covered hers.
Ora pushed him away. Aethulwulf frowned for a moment, but then swam away, powerful strokes to the shore. He turned around and crouched in shallow water. Ora eyed him for several seconds; he just waited.
“Da will want you at the drying shed.”
“Aye. Ya gotta come with, so’s ya don’t walk alone.”
“I can walk alone perfectly well, thank you.”
Aethulwulf made no reply. Ora realized he might wait long. After all, what protest would Attor make if they came late? Aethulwulf could bear his father’s displeasure. And Eacnung never punished her eldest son, whatever he did.
Ora swam toward the beach, angling a bit south. It was easy for Aethulwulf to sidle sideways and stay between Ora and the shore. She swam until her hands touched the sandy lake bottom and stood up. She was momentarily aware of her under tunic pressing itself to her breasts and hips, but immediately Aethulwulf, completely naked, wrapped her in his arms. His erection felt hot even through her wet clothes.
“No! I’m your sister!” Ora wrenched away, turning to her left, and for a moment she broke free. After two steps he tackled her from behind. He was on top of her, his arm forcing her face into the sand and water. They lay that way, his weight and strength holding her in the shallows, for several seconds. Ora was going to die. Even worse, she would die helpless because of a boy’s lust.
Aethulwulf pulled Ora from the water and turned her over. She was coughing and retching, but it didn’t stop him.-->
2. In Castle Hyacintho Flumen
The five children of house Mortane presented themselves as instructed to Arthur the old in the great hall of Hyacintho Flumen. Dinner had been solemn, and the children supped quickly before retreating to their rooms to be dressed by servants. Boemia the nan had explained the significance of the occasion to the little ones, Eddricus and Rose. Amicia, Aylwin and Milo were twelve, sixteen and seventeen years old respectively; they needed no explanation.
Lady Lucia stood next to Arthur as the children filed into the great hall. She wore a floor-length blue dress with long sleeves and jewelry, dressed as for a reception of some high lord. Which, in a way, this was.
The great hall could seat more than a hundred guests at feast, shouting, singing, and dancing. But now it was quiet. Besides Arthur, four other servants attended: Denby the reaper, Meccus the groom, Diera the washerwoman, and the nan Boemia. They watched and listened raptly, but none would say anything.
When the children had lined up facing their mother and teacher, Arthur raised his right hand. Without turning he pointed to a dark globe mounted on a tall black cylinder standing behind him. “Eddricus, can you tell me what this is?”
The little boy’s eyes widened, but he answered without hesitation. “The gods’ knob.”
Arthur smiled. “Aye. It is so called. Better, it is a globe. You see? It is round: the god’s globe of authority, globum deus auctoritate.” Arthur had been teacher for two generations of Mortanes, and he rarely missed an opportunity to instruct.
“Please, Master Arthur. Why is the god’s globe so high up?” Standing so close, Eddricus had to crane his neck to look at the globe.
“Has no one told you, Eddricus?” Arthur loved the boy for his curiosity. “Some say the gods could fly whenever they wanted, and they merely lifted themselves up to their knob. But I believe, as others say, that the gods were much taller than men and women—and boys and girls. For the gods, the god’s knob was just the right height.”
Arthur turned his gaze on Rose, the youngest. “Rose Mortane, what is this?” Arthur’s left hand indicated a much smaller globe, like a large cantaloupe, atop a shorter, black post.
“The lord’s knob.”
“Aye. And who can use the lord’s knob, or as it is properly called, globum domini auctoritate?”
“My lord father,” said the youngest Mortane. “But he is dying.” Tears rolled down the girl’s face. Lady Lucia knelt to envelope her daughter in blue-sleeved arms.
Arthur spoke tenderly. “We cannot be sure. But Lord Hereward himself believes his time has come. That is why he has asked me to put his children to the test. He wants to know which of you should succeed him. One by one you will put your hands on the lord’s knob.”
Twelve year old Amicia asked, “But Master Arthur, how? It hurts to touch the knob.”
“Is that so?” Arthur could not resist the urge to tease. “I’m sure you have been told many times not to touch your lord father’s globe, but who told you it would hurt?”
Amicia tossed her head. “I’ve touched it many times. Why deny it? But never for more than a second or two, because of the pain. Father is bonded with it, and for him it is pleasant, but Father is the lord.”
“Indeed. But as his spirit fades, globum domini auctoritate will open itself to a new lord, or perhaps a lady. It will not hurt so much, I think, for you to touch the lord’s knob now. And when Lord Hereward has joined his ancestors, it is imperative that one of you bonds with the knob. Without a new lord, Hyacintho Flumen will cease to live.”
The oldest son, Milo, spoke. “Should we not wait? After Father dies, I will try to bond, and if I fail, then Aylwin or Amicia. Would that not be the proper way?”
Arthur kept his face blank. “In most castles and for most lords, yes. But not in all cases. For instance, the Osberns of Lapideum Punctum have long practiced the choosing of their lords when the old lord still lives. The Lords Osbern put their sons to the test while they are still hale; as a result, no Osbern inherits without burned hands.”
“Why then? Why risk burns for Eddricus or Rose? We need not rush Father to his grave. When his spirit departs, then I will bond.” Milo intended his voice to be calm and reasonable, expressing concern for the little ones. But Arthur, the Lady Lucia, and the servants understood his speech to be a ruse protecting Milo’s own interest.
“There will be no danger for Eddricus or Rose, since you and Aylwin and Amicia will go first. Surely you will be kind enough to report whether there is pain. More to the point: your lord father commands it.”
Milo seemed about to argue further, but Amicia impetuously interrupted. “Very well! How do I do it?”
“Simply place your hands on the lord’s knob and hold them there. I will count ten seconds. Then release.”
Amicia walked to globum domini auctoritate and circled behind it. Her eyes were just barely visible over the top of the dark orb, looking at Arthur. She held her hands flat and rigid an inch away on either side, hesitating. Arthur thought: she really has touched it many times.
“Begin.” Amicia pressed both hands against the globe. Arthur read pain in her face, but her hands didn’t move.
“Two, three, four . . .” Arthur counted deliberately. Colors began to swirl in the knob.
“Five, six, seven . . .” Blues and greens flashed, but then a faint yellow began to shine in the lord’s knob.
“Eight, nine, ten. Release.” The yellow had become a bright sunflower before Amicia let go.
The girl staggered away from globum domini auctoritate, shaking her hands and trembling. “I held through! Did you see? It felt like bee stings all over my hands, but I held through.”
“Bee stings” clearly frightened Rose and Eddricus. Lucia huddled them in her arms. She shook her head at Arthur, and he nodded agreement. The test was never meant for the little ones anyway.
“Yellow is a good color for house Mortane.” Arthur addressed Amicia. “The knob shone a bright yellow for Hereward’s father as I recall. I will be pleased to tell Lord Hereward that his daughter will be able to bond successfully, should he choose her.”
Amicia beamed and tossed her head, throwing glances at Milo and Aylwin. Milo stepped up to the lord’s knob. Arthur smiled inwardly. Milo had no choice now that Hereward had an option other than his oldest son.
“Begin. One, two . . . ten.” As Arthur counted, the colors of the orb blinked and flashed, finally settling on a pale yellow.
“As I told your sister, yellow is a good color. Not a strong yellow, but I have no doubt you would be able to bond.”
“Should Father choose me.” Milo’s voice was thick with sarcasm.
Arthur inclined his head. “Aye. Should he choose you.”
Aylwin had been silent throughout the ceremony. As he moved to the lord’s knob he asked quietly, “Is there any better color than yellow for Mortanes?”
“There is.” Arthur made eye contact with Aylwin, but said no more. Aylwin’s eyes danced and he gave the old teacher a slight nod.
“Begin. One . . . nine, ten.” This time the lord’s knob raced through blue and green to yellow and finally a fiery orange, almost red.
“Your father will be most pleased.” Arthur’s eyes shone at Aylwin. Hereward had predicted his second son would bond wonderfully with Hyacintho Flumen.
“Damn! It’s a cheat! What happens to me now?” Milo Mortane waited for no answer, and he stormed out of the hall.
3. Near Castle Inter Lucus
Eacnung completely rejected Ora’s account of the rape. She hurled anger at Attor.
“It’s your fault, even more than the little jade’s. You should have married her to some fisherman from Downs End. She’s fifteen years old, a grown woman. No wonder she wanted something between her legs.”
Attor asked Aethulwulf for his side of the story. So Ora had to listen while Aethulwulf lied. “She came up against me when we was swimmin’ and she kissed me and . . . I don’t know . . . we did it.”
Aethulwulf mocked Ora with his eyes at supper. Attor and Eacnung ignored both of them. Eacnung busied herself feeding porridge to her three-year-old son, Rand, while nursing baby daughter Rheda. And Attor seemed engrossed with the embers of the fire, blinking at it for a long time before going out to walk in the dark.
Later, when the summer night was fully dark and the small children were asleep, Ora had to listen to Attor’s heavy breathing as he expended himself into his wife. The Woodman’s one-room house had never afforded privacy, so Ora was no stranger to the sounds of sex. But tonight hearing Attor and Eacnung’s coupling reinforced her sense of helpless rage. Tears spilled silently down the sides of her face as she stared up into blackness. She waited, half expecting Aethulwulf’s hand to snake from his pallet to hers; she resolved to strike as hard as she could the moment he touched her. No doubt Eacnung would blame her, but it was not going to happen again. Not tonight, not ever.
Attor fell asleep, then Eacnung. The Woodman’s wife snored. Aethulwulf, too, seemed to sleep. Ora made herself breathe slowly, regularly, mimicking the sounds of sleep. Then, to test Aethulwulf, she held her breath for many heartbeats and waved her hand toward him. No response—though the dark was so thick she couldn’t see her hand any better than Aethulwulf.
Still Ora waited, worried that Aethulwulf might be feigning sleep. She formulated a short list of needful items and in her mind’s eye located each one: a knife, a flint, a cloak, a wool tunic, and a leather pouch that would hold all. In three steps she could collect them. Her boots were just inside the door, and a small fishing net hung on a sawed-off branch of a tree outside the house.
Aethulwulf turned on his bed, still seemingly asleep. Ora rose swiftly and as silently as possible. She snatched the knife, flint, cloak, and tunic and fumbled only a moment pushing them into the pouch. She lifted the bar of the door, thrust it open and grabbed her boots as she stepped out.
A voice from the house: “Ora!”
She bolted. Never again. Starlight was plenty after the dark of the house. Ora took the fishing net as she ran and stuffed it into one of the boots. Boots swung from one hand as she ran, leather pouch from the other. She wore only a light linen under tunic that reached to mid-thigh, hardly protection from branches or nettles. But she ran a trail well known to her, on tough leathery feet and sinewy legs. Neither Attor nor Aethulwulf could catch her in the dark, and if they waited for daylight to track her she would be miles away.
Of course, if she fled north, deeper into the forest, Attor would eventually catch her, if he made the effort. He was an accomplished tracker, and he knew all the woods between East and West Lake. If Ora turned south, she would come to farms and the villages of Inter Lucus and Senerham. Attor would expect her to flee there and come looking. But she would not stop at the local villages; she would follow the road around the south end of West Lake to Down’s End, a real city. A journey of four days, maybe five. Maybe some shop or innkeeper in Down’s End would employ her. Or she could hire on a fishing boat. Or . . .
Ora slowed to a walk and finally stopped altogether. What’s the obvious and most likely employment of a young woman with no husband, father, brother or uncle? Ora knew little of the world beyond the two lakes region, but what she knew promised nothing but trouble. She could fish with net or line, and she knew the use of a woodman’s tools. She could sew simple clothes, cook the meals of poor people, and clean. Not likely any of that will save me from whoring. And Eacnung will say, “I told you” to Attor.
Ora sat on the ground and wept. But she would not give in. Even as she cried, she pulled out the fishing net and put on her boots. Before fleeing to Down’s End, she would plead with the gods at castle Inter Lucus. Standing, she pulled the wool tunic over her linen under garment and folded the fishing net into her pouch. Now she need only carry the pouch. In the hour before dawn’s first light the forest felt chill, and the outer tunic would keep her warm.
Gray light came over the eastern sky. The forest path turned into the parallel ruts of a road. And where the road divided, Ora took the eastern fork, toward Inter Lucus. But she skirted the village, vaulting over stone fences and following cow paths. The sun was up by the time she came through the forest to the sacred hill. For a moment she wondered whether she ought to pray to the old god rather than to castle gods; the gods of Inter Lucus hadn’t protected the lords who used to live there. Many of the fisher folk of Down’s End worshiped the old god. Old god or castle gods? Ora felt no strong allegiance to either, but since she was here . . .
Castle Inter Lucus, from which the village had its name, was only a ruin. Haunted, everyone said. What would you expect, when the last lord died a hundred years ago? But in the morning sun Inter Lucus didn’t look horrible or frightening. Broken old apple trees lined the foot of the hill. Riots of flowering plants clambered over stone walls lining what might have once been a road. The gatehouse was fallen in; the gates themselves long since stolen for iron. The only “guards” were huge oak trees, growing here and there on the gently sloping hill.
Ora walked the lane to the castle itself. Moss covered the ancient walls; Ora couldn’t tell if they were made of wood or stone. All the roofs had collapsed. Inside the castle, green grass and a few small trees made the great hall look almost like a garden.
The gods answered prayers at castles; everyone knew that. Of course, most often they didn’t answer prayers, but who understands the gods? Sometimes they did. Everyone also knew that only a lord was welcome to speak to the gods, but there were stories . . . Attor called them stupid stories . . . The gods help needy folk. And who could be more desperately needy than me?
The stories she remembered said something about the god’s knob and the lord’s knob. Nothing in the north end of the greensward looked promising. There were a couple pits she wouldn’t want to fall into. Ora shook her head. The gods are gone and the lords of Inter Lucus are dead. But what will it hurt? I may as well pray anyway, now that I’m here.
The ground rose near the south wall; more decay had fallen here or the wind had blown dirt into the lee of the wall. Grass covered the slope right up to the wall, a strange wall, neither wood nor stone, she saw now. It almost looked like black glass, if there could be such a thing. To her left, a thick pillar stood, an incomprehensible statue, if statue it was. Atop the pillar something looked like the broken egg of some huge creature; all that was left were sharp shards of black eggshell.
At Ora’s feet, a stone—no, not a stone, but a perfectly round ball or egg—was half covered by dirt and grass. A smaller version of the broken one? She knelt on the cool, wet carpet to look closer. The egg might also have been made of black glass. Ora put her hand on the ball. It felt warm—why should that be?
“Gods of Inter Lucus, your servant has no right to beseech thee, yet she has no hope but thee. Look with favor on me and send a rightful lord to this fallen house. By your power give me protection.”
Brilliant light flooded over the wall, blinding Ora. For a moment, her heart soared, but then she thought: Oh. It’s just sunlight.
4. Near Lafayette, Oregon
“. . . the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come.”
Martin Cedarborne tried to keep the phrase from the apostle before his mind while entering sales figures in a computer spreadsheet. He speculated whether lectio divina would be easier if he worked in the bindery or—even better—in the monastery’s forest. He didn’t positively resent his job; since he had extensive background in the use of computers, it made sense for the abbot to assign him to office work. Besides, in November, hardly any of the brothers worked in the woods, and extra clerks were needed to fill holiday orders for the fruitcakes that brought in a significant portion of Our Lady of Guadeloupe’s annual income. Still, he struggled to meditate while manipulating a spreadsheet.
“ . . . the old things have passed away . . .” Marty knew to a certainty why his spiritual director, Father Stephen, had ordered him to read and consider the fifth chapter of 2 Corinthians. Father made no secret of his reasoning.
“Marty, you are no greater sinner than others. Over the years our ranks have welcomed felons. One man, a generation ago in another monastery, not Our Lady, was known to have been an enforcer for a loan shark; a violent man before Christ subdued him. There have been brothers who defrauded the poor, and others who cheated the IRS. Not all of them were convicted in courts of law, but they all—we all—are saved by the kindness and grace of Christ.
“You know all this, Marty. In your head. You need to get it here.” Father Stephen placed his hand on Marty’s chest. “Your heart needs to know what your mind knows.”
Marty’s eyes came unfocused from the computer screen. He blinked several times and looked again at the formula at the top of column J. The letters and symbols swam. He needed a break; glancing at the clock, he decided 9:56 was close enough to ten o’ clock. He clicked “save” before starting for the restroom. Absentmindedly, he picked up the small-print New Testament he kept on his desk and put it in his pocket. “ . . . behold, new things have come.”
Alyssa Stout called herself a good Catholic girl, and she was. At 27, Marty married her. But when he was 31, the good Catholic girl moved out. A baby, she told Marty; she would not bring her child into an alcoholic’s house. Why not? He had responded with cruel sarcasm. It was good enough for you; your Dad is a sot, always has been. And what will the Church say about divorce? Her answer froze him. “I don’t know what the Church will say, but I will go to hell before I let my baby live with a drunk.”
She left him. Soon she had a new job, doing fieldwork for children’s services. Marty liked to think that broke through his shield wall of denial. Three weeks into the separation, he capitulated. He called. She didn’t pick up, so he left a message, and he sent an email. “You’re right,” the message said. “I drink with clients, and I drink at home. I drink in the office and I drink in hotels when I’m on the road. Last night, I went to an AA meeting and I said the words: I am an alcoholic. I’m going to get better. Lyss, babe, you don’t have to believe me yet, but you will soon.”
Alyssa never returned the call, never responded to the email. His stepfather, stone sober for once, called Marty that evening. Alyssa was dead. She was a social worker for children’s services. Walking the corridor of an apartment building to see a client, she happened in front of a door just as a terrified meth addict flung it open. The meth-head and Alyssa were both killed by the explosion.
The old man asked: “Did you know Alyssa was pregnant?”
“Yeah, I know.” After that, both men could only sob.
After the funeral mass, Marty returned to church every week. He made confession, received absolution, and took communion. He quit his job as a high-tech salesman, took the insurance money, and moved to Chicago. He lived for a year in a Catholic Worker house, doing whatever needed to be done. One time he sat up all night with a meth addict to keep her from doing the drug. It didn’t stop the woman from dying a week later.
As one would expect, Marty had friends who told him Alyssa’s death was not his fault. If anyone was guilty, it was the meth-head. But when life tastes like ashes, such rationalizations give no comfort.
In Chicago Marty thought of his life as a penance. He had killed his wife and unborn child through self-indulgence. How many years of service did he owe?
After the Catholic Worker year, Marty gave away the money he had left—hardly any—and moved to Oregon. One does not become a monk overnight. An initial visit, then a thirty-day monastic life retreat, then three months in an observership, then a full year as a postulant, and finally two years as a novice. Now, two months into his novitiate, Marty felt fully at home at Our Lady of Guadeloupe. Sometimes he even felt okay as Marty Cedarborne.
Early on, Father Stephen had forbidden him to think of life as penance. “Maybe you will always feel guilty about Alyssa. I can’t order you to change your feelings. But you are a child of God, forgiven by Christ. If you are to be a brother among us, yours will be a life of work, prayer, and contemplation. The grace of Christ now rules in your life. The old things have passed away. You must put your mind on new things.”
The restroom door pulled away before Marty pushed. Someone had pulled it from the other side, Father Stephen. Like most of the brothers, Father and Marty dressed in simple work clothes during the labor hours of the day. The two men made eye contact, and the priest nodded. Cistercians are not required to keep silence, but they often do.
Marty peed, washed his hands, and dried them with a paper towel. He received his new vocation in that instant, before tossing the paper towel into a trash bin.
Father Stephen suddenly remembered something he needed to ask Marty. He came back to the restroom, but there was no one there. He frowned; novices don’t usually disappear into thin air.-->
5. In Castle Pulchra Mane
Eudes Ridere finished dressing by fastening a leather scabbard over his shoulder. It housed the great longsword once used by his dead father-in-law, Rudolf Grandmesnil. The two-handed handle of the sword extended above his left shoulder where he could pull it with his right hand. Eudes himself would never use the monstrosity in battle; one man in a thousand might be strong enough to wield Rudolf’s weapon of choice. Rudolf, who had fashioned a kingdom with the sword, was reputed to have been the largest man in the history of Herminia, probably in the whole of Two Moons.
Eudes was an accomplished knight, but no giant. He wore Rudolf’s sword for ceremonial purposes only. He dressed in a bright blue tunic, loose gray breeches with a drawstring, and black hose pulled over the legs of the breeches. Comfortable clothes, since his role would require him to stand silently for a long while.
Mariel brushed her hair, dressed in soft white under garments, sitting before a huge mirror of gods make. What magic enabled the gods to create such perfect glass? Eudes was used to life in camp, not living amongst the wonders of Pulchra Mane. He had visited Rudolf’s castle many times over the years, so castle features like the ridiculously high ceilings in gods’ rooms were familiar to him, but only since his unexpected marriage had the soldier come to appreciate the great variety of magical things in Pulchra Mane. Not least among them was the golden-haired woman seated before the mirror.
King Rudolf had died seventeen months ago. The fractious lords of Herminia might have rebelled immediately, except some of them hoped to join one of their sons in marriage to the king’s daughter and thus rule in Grandmesnil’s place. It came as an unpleasant shock to them when Mariel bonded with Pulchra Mane the day after Rudolf’s funeral. Then the city councils of Herminia’s four largest free cities all announced their allegiance to the new queen.
If they could not supplant Mariel, perhaps they could at least influence her. The lords Mowbray, Beaumont, Thoncelin and Wadard offered sons or nephews as consorts for the queen. Mariel delayed, hinting first one way and then another. She instituted weekly Council meetings, using castle magic, and invited the lords and lady of Herminia to participate. Whether eagerly or reluctantly, all seven accepted.
One year to the day after she became queen, Mariel announced her choice of consort, surprising no one more than Eudes. He was twenty years her senior, a veteran of her father’s wars, a hard man with a scarred face. In private, in their castles, the lords and lady of Herminia probably said Mariel’s choice was a political one—without favoring any noble house over another she had found a way to cement her own power.
In public, Mariel Grandmesnil and her consort addressed each other formally and never displayed affection. Eudes assiduously projected an image of battle-hardened sternness. In the presence of others, Mariel treated him as a mere servant. Already they had heard rumors of a new nickname: the Ice Queen.
In private, things were different. The old soldier laid his hand on Mariel’s shoulder, slid it forward. She smiled as he found her breast. “It’s hard to brush my hair with your arm in the way.”
“I was thinking perhaps I should try to do my duty as an husband. The gods require that you produce an heir.”
“As I recall, you’ve been actively fulfilling your duty most nights.”
“Aye, my queen. I’m just eager to serve. But you must remember, I’m an old man. I would be ashamed to die without accomplishing my purpose.”
She lifted his hand to her lips. “Not just now, dear thing. We have a Council to attend.” Her eyes met his in the mirror. “But after we’ve done our duty in the great hall, I would happily have you do yours. I’m ready for my dress; why don’t you send in Blythe?”
“As you wish.” Eudes inclined his head. Approaching the door, he drained the affection from his face before opening it. Mariel insisted that they maintain their pretense of coldness even with the castle servants. Blythe, one of Mariel’s attendants, was waiting on a bench in the hall. When she looked up at Eudes his jaw was clenched and his lips pressed firmly together. Blythe drew in a breath and stood up.
“Your queen desires your help to prepare for Council.” Eudes spoke formally, quietly.
“Yes, my lord.” Blythe curtsied and darted into the bedroom.
Aweirgan Unes, counselor to Mariel’s father and chief among Pulchra Mane’s servants, met them as Mariel and Eudes entered the great hall. “Fair morning, my Queen. My lord Eudes.” Aweirgan inclined his bald head.
“Fair morning, Aweirgan,” said Mariel. “Shall we take our places?”
The queen stood before the globum domini auctoritate, facing the blank blackness of the viewing wall. Aweirgan Unes sat slightly behind Mariel and to her left, on a finely carved wooden chair. He held a slate and piece of chalk with which to record abbreviated notes. Eudes stood behind the queen to the right. Eudes pulled the great sword from its scabbard and stood it like a warning sentinel, his hands resting on the pommel.
Aweirgan said, “We are ready.” Mariel placed her left hand atop the lord’s knob. The globe flushed immediately with a violet glow and lights began to flicker in the viewing wall. Eudes had seen this magic many times now—gods be pleased, he had participated in Council every week since his marriage—and still he marveled.
Seven points of flickering light became steady; the others disappeared. The seven lights grew and became tiny pictures, and the pictures grew larger until they looked like windows, and in each window there was a face. Godfrey Giles, Wymar Thoncelin, Denis Mowbray, Rocelin Toeni, Lady Avice Montfort, Osmer Beaumont, and Paul Wadard—the lords and lady of Herminia, all of them subject to Mariel; these, with Eudes and Aweirgan, comprised Mariel’s Council. Each one controlled his or her own castle, and most of them resented Mariel’s sovereignty. But they presented themselves every week, by means of ancient magic, to report news, voice their complaints, offer advice, debate one another, and hear her decisions.
And they would obey; yes, they would. First, they had sworn solemn oaths to Rudolf. Second, they feared what the great sword symbolized, Rudolf’s army. The king was dead, but Eudes, his general, still lived. Pulchra Mane, the city around the castle, and the free cities pledged to Mariel were rich enough to support an army far larger than theirs. In Rudolf’s time that army, under Eudes’ command, had besieged lords Mowbray, Toeni, and Giles, each in turn, eventually forcing surrender. Even against the magic of a castle, a patient army could compel its lord to yield. Third, at least some of the lords of Herminia had grudgingly come to acknowledge the benefits of a united island. In Rudolf’s last years roads had improved, highwaymen had been hunted down, trade had increased and no lord had attacked another.
Mariel succeeded her father seventeen months ago. So far she had proven abundantly able to hold his kingdom together. She played the seven against each other, alternatively threatening or rewarding, praising and cajoling, reminding them of the benefits of peace.
Soon, perhaps today, Mariel would go further. Eudes contemplated their faces, wondering how they would respond.-->
6. In Castle Inter Lucus
Ora leapt to her feet and fell backward on the grass when her prayer was answered. The man appeared, life-size, in the shiny black wall in front of her. For an instant, Ora thought it was a likeness only, but then the man raised his knee to step up onto the earth mounded against the wall. He stepped out of the magic wall, as if an exact reflection of a man in perfectly still water could step out of the world of reflections into reality.
The man said something Ora couldn’t understand; it sounded like an oath or a question. He noticed her sprawled on the ground. Again he spoke in a foreign tongue—the language of the gods? —and offered her his hand. She let him pull her to her feet. He looked very definitely like a man; she decided he was not a god. I asked for a lord, and that’s what they’ve sent. They sent a new lord to Inter Lucus. What will he think of his castle all broken down? I hope he’s not angry.
Ora had never seen a lord before. Every year the lord of Hyacintho Flumen sent a taxman, backed by a knight and a small company of soldiers, to Down’s End and the region between the lakes. But the lord himself would never come so far. So Ora wondered if all lords dressed as this one; she thought it unlikely. The man was tall, much taller than Ora. With a thin nose and narrow jaw, his face could have been a hawk’s. His hair was mostly black, with some gray. He had no cloak, no sword, and no cleverly woven insignia in his clothes. He wore a belt with a metal buckle and soft shoes made of brightly colored fabrics. Perhaps the greatest mark of nobility in his appearance was the creases in his tunic, a short tunic tucked into breeches that reached all the way to the funny shoes. How could cloth be trained to hold such straight folds?
Ora curtsied, or tried to. She had never been taught how. “I thank the gods for sending you to me, my lord. Your servant is sorely distressed and in need of protection.” She bowed her head and wondered whether she ought to kneel again.
The man spoke again, a string of mostly unintelligible sounds, though a few might be real words: in, world, god. He was asking questions; that much was clear. Ora decided she should remain standing, but her only answer to his questions was a face of bewilderment.
The man covered his face with his hands, took a huge breath and exhaled. Dropping his hands, he turned very slowly a full circle, obviously trying to take stock of his situation. He looked at Ora and placed his hand on his chest. “Martin.”
“Ora.” She curtsied again. “I am Ora.”
“Ic Béo?” The man mimicked her. Then he altered it slightly: “I be Martin. You be Ora.” Martin pronounced “ôu” strangely, but she smiled approval. “Aye!”
Marty quickly surmised that “gése” meant, “yes.” Whenever he used the right word for a thing, the girl with the green eyes said, “Gése.” Marty didn’t know much about languages, having forgotten most of his high school German and having learned only a smattering of theological Latin since he came to Our Lady of Guadeloupe. He felt sure, though, that the girl’s language was European. She spoke with some accent he had never heard, but many of the words sounded close to German, English, or even Latin: ic might be a German “Ich”; blóstm could be an English “blossom”; and domne could be a Latin “domini.”
“Min Domne Martin.” The girl stood about five feet tall; she was thin and lithe with brown hair tied in a knot behind her head. She addressed him often enough with this phrase that Marty had little doubt as to its meaning. He tried to correct her, but he didn’t know the words he needed. And the girl was obviously convinced that úpgodu had brought him to this place to be domne. Nothing could shake her belief.
Marty had read his share of science fiction in college. Not as much as his computer science major friend, Rob, who had rows and rows of paperback space adventures on his bookshelves, but he had read some. The more Marty talked with the girl, the more he imagined himself as the cover illustration of one of those books: a twenty-first century man falls into a wormhole and finds himself in medieval England. Beyond the fallen walls of the building around them, the countryside looked much like Oregon, but it might just as well be Northhamptonshire in England, where his grandmother grew up. The thought made him laugh. The girl raised her eyebrows questioningly. “I don’t suppose you’ve heard of Mark Twain,” he said. “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court?” The girl frowned slightly, and Marty refocused on the task of learning words.
According to Ora, the place was a castle (castel), though it hardly looked like one. It was certainly a ruin, but more like the remains of an English manor house than anything built for warfare. The floor plan was a T, a main hall lying north-south with east and west wings at the northern end. Marty and Ora walked the length of the main hall, stopping to look into an open pit where the floor under the grass had caved in. Underground corridors led away from the pit in two directions, and it looked as if a third had been blocked by the cave-in. How big was this place? There’s at least one level below the main floor, and the height of the north wall would indicate an upper storey, maybe two.
Outside the castle, vegetation grew profusely. Knee-high grass, oak trees, flowering vines, old apple trees, and overgrown shrubbery—again, the impression was of a deserted manor. Grandma Edith would point out how it’s not like England, but it looks like an old house to me. It must have been beautiful in its day.
Judging by the sun, it was noon. Marty motioned by touching his stomach. “Do you have any food?”
“Fodder?” Ora shook her head. “Óu hyngre. Ic hyngre.” A thought came to her and she beckoned Marty to follow. On the east side of the castle grounds were rows of untended, overgrown blueberry bushes. Birds had eaten most of the fruit, but Marty and Ora found some berries in the dense interiors of the bushes.
“Cume.” Ora had found a path that led into a wood east of the castle. Though overgrown, the path was easy to follow; it might have been paved at one time. Fifteen minutes of hiking brought them to the top of a small ridge. Behind them, between fir branches and over the tops of alder trees, Marty could see parts of the manor grounds.
“Cume.” Ora wanted him to follow.
“Okay, Okay.” Turning, Marty came around a particularly broad tree and the view opened to the east. The slope of the ridge ran down to the shore of a vast lake; the north, south, and east shores were too distant to see.
“East mere,” said Ora.
“My God,” said Marty. “It could be Lake Michigan.” Except that Lake Michigan would likely have snow on the shore in November; the forest here felt like summer. Then he saw something else. Hanging above the eastern horizon, faint in the light of day but clearly discernable, he saw two moons. “But I’m pretty sure it’s not.”
7. In Castle Pulchra Mane
“Fair morning, my lords. Lady Avice.” Mariel Grandmesnil gestured with her right hand, resting her left on globum domini auctoritate. Her bond with the lord’s knob was that pure.
“Your grace.” The subject lords and lady spoke as one, bowing their heads; five of them kept both hands touching their respective lord’s knobs. Only Wymar Thoncelin and Lady Avice Montfort could maintain a bond with one hand. Eudes felt certain Mariel’s control was surer even than theirs. She rules her castle with ease. Yet another reason they will obey.
“Where shall we begin today?”
“May it please the queen?” Paul Wadard never hesitated. It would be something about money, and it would be something mean and cheap. Mariel acknowledged him with a gesture.
“As you know, your grace, Hinxworth is a city under the protection of Beautus Valle and my family. The merchants host an open fair every summer, something your father always encouraged. Traders come from distant parts of Herminia, and there are musical contests, drinking fests, jugglers and all sorts of entertainments. It is a fine thing, I will say, to see the small folk dancing on the green of an evening . . .”
If boredom were a weapon, the Lord Wadard would be king of Herminia. Mariel allowed him to carry on for a few minutes. Very slowly he came to the point: the merchants of Hinxworth were balking at the taxes Wadard wanted to impose on their fair. Lady Avice and the other lords were showing signs of impatience.
Mariel interrupted. “My lord Wadard, why do you need these fees?”
“Why, to pay for sheriffs, to provide public safety.”
“Charge them nothing.”
Wadard looked as if he swallowed chokecherry. “Nothing, your grace?”
“That’s right. The crown will pay all reasonable expenses for public safety for the Hinxworth fair. We estimate that to be . . .” Mariel glanced at Aweirgan.
“Twenty golds,” said the counselor.
“But your grace, twenty golds will hardly be enough.” What this really meant was that Wadard wouldn’t be able to line his pockets. He tried another tack. “As a member of your Council I must counsel you: The crown cannot assume all debts. It will bankrupt Herminia.”
“I’m not assuming all debts, just this one. I do want to encourage the Hinxworth fair; all Herminia will benefit from increased trade, and each of us will collect a bit more in taxes. Imagine how the merchants of Hinxworth will love you when you tell them. You may charge the traders who come to Hinxworth from other towns a penny each, as a registration fee. But protecting the peace of the realm is my job—and yours.”
Eudes kept his face blank, studying the expressions of the lords and lady. Wadard was frowning, but he was also thinking how the merchants would respond. Beaumont was relieved to have Wadard’s weekly complaint behind them. Toeni wore a little smile; he probably guessed Mariel was overextending her treasury. Eudes made a mental note: Remind Aweirgan to check castle Prati Mansum’s accounts. Has Toeni been paying his due? Giles and Mowbray scowled, but they always scowled; they could not look at Eudes without resenting and fearing him. Thoncelin, by contrast, looked pleased. He understood and approved Mariel’s policy encouraging trade. Lady Montfort’s face was inscrutable; she might have been mildly interested or distracted.
After some silence, Mariel prodded: “Lord Wadard?
The gray-haired lord acquiesced. “As your grace commands.”
Mariel nodded politely. “Next? Lord Thoncelin?”
“I have no urgent matters, your grace. As I reported two weeks ago, my scribe of the castle, Albin Bearning, has taken it upon himself to design a better bridge for the Loud River. His drawings are not yet complete, but when they are I will beg your grace’s assistance in building the thing. It would be a benefit for Ventus in Montus, obviously, but I believe for the whole island as well.”
“Aweirgan and I look forward to seeing the plans. Next. Lord Mowbray?”
“Your grace, I humbly request advice.”
Eudes scowled as darkly as Mowbray had minutes before. Whatever virtues Denis Mowbray had, humility was not among them. Eudes suspected a trap.
“Whatever advice I, my counselor or my husband can offer, you shall have. What is the matter?”
“There is a village called Haxby in the mountains, a small place. Your grace may never have heard of it.” Suddenly Lady Avice was paying close attention. The Green Mountains lay between Mowbray’s castle Rubrum Vulpes and Montfort’s Tutum Partum.
“Let us say I have not.” Mariel brushed at her long tresses with her free hand, her eyes looking at the floor. Eudes recognized the signs of wariness. She sees where he’s going.
“The good men of Haxby have asked to pledge liege to Rubrum Vulpes.” Mowbray gave slight emphasis to men. “It occurred to me that I ought to inquire of your grace before accepting their pledges.”
“I see. Lady Avice, please comment.” Mariel smoothed blonde hair on her shoulder.
The white-haired lady responded, “Your grace, Haxby is nearer Tutum Partum than Rubrum Vulpes. In fact, the village is on the eastern slope of the mountains, and your father established the watershed line as the boundary between us. I am Haxby’s rightful liege.”
Keeping her voice even, Mariel said, “Lord Mowbray says the villagers desire to pledge to him.”
Eudes thought: Only after he told them how unmanly it would be to be ruled by a woman. And he probably promised some village elder that his son could marry one of Mowbray’s daughters; he’s got enough to go around.
Avice tilted her head without answering. The lady knew well that Mariel had to guard against rebellion from Denis Mowbray or Godfrey Giles. But if the queen could not provide justice, why should the house of Montfort support her? The two women locked eyes for several seconds.
Mariel continued to hold Avice’s gaze while she spoke. “Lord Mowbray, how large is Haxby? How many folk live there?”
“I’m sure I don’t know, your grace. It’s a small place.”
“Small. Fewer than two hundred? What would you guess, Lady Avice?”
Eudes thought: Ah! A way out—if Avice seizes it.
The older woman smiled. “I am sure more than two hundred live in Haxby, if one includes grown women and those who worship the old god.”
Mariel made an open hand gesture. “In justice we must certainly count grown women. And if Herminians want to worship the old god, they may—so long as they swear obedience to the crown. It seems to me that Haxby may, if the villagers elect, become a free town, thus making Haxby what? The twenty-first free town in Herminia?”
Aweirgan said, “The twenty-second, your grace. Should the elders choose to pledge to the crown.”
Mowbray blustered: “That’s outrageous. There can’t possibly be two hundred souls in Haxby, counting even children.”
Mariel nodded solemnly, as if agreeing with Mowbray. “The question must be investigated. Lady Avice and you, Lord Mowbray, will each send a deputy to Haxby. Fourteen days from tomorrow, your deputies will count the citizens of Haxby. If the grown men and women number more than two hundred, they may register as a free town of the realm. Worshipers of the old god will be included in the count, provided they swear fealty. Your deputies will supervise Haxby’s organization as a free town. I will expect a report, including names of the town’s Councilors, three weeks hence. Both Tutum Partum and Rubrum Vulpes may regularly send a deputy to represent the interests of the crown as members of said Council. If, however, the citizens number less than two hundred, that shall be reported to me three weeks hence and I will decide then who will be liege.”
Eudes smiled only inwardly, his face as expressionless as ever. Haxby will leap at the chance to become a free town of the realm. They’ll scour the countryside for live bodies to make the count. In the wall of windows, Denis Mowbray ground his teeth. Avice Montfort bowed her head to the queen’s decision.
8. On the shore of East Lake, near Inter Lucus
Following Ora to the water’s edge, Marty wondered whether it might not be an ocean. There was no smell of salt air, so he continued to think in terms of an extraterrestrial Lake Michigan. But what do I know? Maybe on other planets they have fresh water oceans. Marty didn’t know enough about environmental chemistry to rule out the possibility.
His mind boggled at the outlandishness of his situation. In a moment’s time he had been transported from one place to another; not, as in Star Trek movies, from a spaceship to a planet but from one planet to another. Surely it was more likely that he was hallucinating than all this could be true. Two moons! He looked again; the moons were still there.
The path, though overgrown with ferns and vines, wasn’t hard to follow. Marty saw patches of what seemed to be pavement in a few places, as if a narrow road or wide bike path had been buried by many years of leaves and run-off. Ora began picking up bits of bark and fallen branches and indicated that Marty should do the same. When they reached the shore, she deposited her load near a ring of stones about five yards from the water. Ashes and pieces of burnt wood left no doubt as to the use of the stone circle. Marty dumped his wood near Ora’s. The girl reached into the leather pouch she had been carrying all day and drew out a black stone and a knife. “Líeg?” she said, holding out both implements to Marty. The word didn’t help, but her pantomiming was clear; she wanted him to build a fire.
“Okay. Gese.” Marty’s boy-scout days were a quarter-century past, but he remembered how to make fire. He accepted the flint and the knife. Ora put her pouch near a large rock and unfolded a string net. She pointed to the lake. “Waeterléodas.”
Marty understood. “Fish.”
“Gése. Fiscas. Gése.” She headed north, soon disappearing into a little cove where trees overshadowed the water.
Marty picked out some medium sized pieces of dry wood and set them aside, the main fuel for his fire. He used the knife to peel a couple dozen thin slices of wood from the driest branch in their collected supply. Then he scouted around the campsite and the woods to find dry mosses, the best tinder available without charcloth or straw. It took many frustrating minutes of striking the flint to the back edge of the knife blade before he could get a hot spark to land in his mound of moss. Finally: success! He blew the smoldering moss into flame and added pieces of his kindling. Once he had the fire well started, Marty used the knife to cut and sharpen alder branches from a nearby tree. If Ora succeeded with her net, it would be handy to have some way to cook the catch.
Ora eyed the shady water of the cove. She was tired. Instead of resting she had spent the night running and walking. Having her prayer answered and meeting Lord Martin was hugely exciting, but even that exhilaration could not sustain her forever. If she lay down she would fall asleep in seconds. First, though, both she and Lord Martin needed sustenance. After providing a meal she could allow herself rest.
As she expected, there were trout in the cove. They wouldn’t like water exposed to the afternoon sunshine. Ora waded into a pool of dark water where many fish were swimming. The fish fled from her. She stood in water up to her waist and waited. She positioned her net; the two corners with the weight stones hung near the rocky lake bottom. After several minutes, fishes began nosing back into the pool, a score or more of them. Ora swept with her net, and the fish darted away—but not fast enough in every case. She had two. She killed them on a stone by the shore. Breaking a woody branch from a salmonberry bush, she thrust a pointed end through the fishes’ gills and mouths and wedged her catch in a tree branch. Returning to the water, she repeated the whole procedure.
Lord Martin had a fire prepared when she returned. Ora gutted three of her catch—no use in cooking all six just now; the rest could be eaten later—and cleaned them quickly in lakeshore water. They roasted trout over open flame. Lord Martin had scraped smooth the inside surface of two pieces of alder bark; these served as simple plates. They took turns using Ora’s knife to pull bits of roasted fish off the bones and ate them with fingers.
“Sleep,” Ora said. Lord Martin understood either her word or her drooping eyelids. She curled up on the ground near the fire pit with one hand shading her eyes from the afternoon sun, her head on a stone. Sleep came immediately.
She woke up in the shadows of evening, instantly aware that Lord Martin was gone. The ashes of the fire—cold. The three remaining trout were still there on the salmonberry stick, and her pouch lay nearby with its contents. He hadn’t taken anything, but he was gone.
A mixture of disbelief and sadness enveloped Ora like a black cloud, but then she heard sounds of someone coming. She already knew the lord Martin was something of a blunderer when walking in the woods, and whoever approached now had considerable stealth. She snatched up her pouch and catch of fish, preparing to run, but it was too late. Aethulwulf appeared on the path she and Lord Martin had followed from castle Inter Lucus. A moment later, Attor emerged on another path, south of the first.
“Found her!” Aethulwulf sang out. Despair clouded Ora’s mind; she wanted to run, but what was the point? The miraculous appearance of Lord Martin meant nothing if he disappeared just as quickly. Had she merely dreamed him?
“Ora, daughter, what are you doing? Why do you make me spend a day tracking you?” Her father’s voice was tired. Ora heard no fatherly worry in his tone, merely fatigue. It made Ora angry.
Aethulwulf and Attor approached the fire pit; Ora backed toward the water. “You’ve had your adventure, wood-daughter,” said Attor. “You caught and ate your fish. Now it’s time to come home.”
She showed them the knife. “You may take me home dead, but not else wise.”
Aethulwulf hooted and charged. Ora couldn’t believe it; she swung the knife, but he ducked and bowled into her. The knife went flying as their bodies crashed on the pebbly shore. For the second time in two days, Ora felt Aethulwulf’s weight and heat crushing her. “Wait 'til we’re home,” he whispered.
“Let her up,” said Attor. He put his hand on his son’s shoulder. “Let her up.” Aethulwulf got off her, not without a leer.
“Ooph!” Attor gasped, falling to his knees. A man had struck Attor’s side with a hardwood staff. Aethulwulf was still rising from atop Ora when the staff crashed into his neck, driving the man-child to the ground. Father and son squirreled around to face their assailant.
Lord Martin crouched with his weapon held in both hands. “Get up, Ora!” he shouted while keeping his attention on Attor and Aethulwulf. Aethulwulf jumped to his feet, only to be met with a sharp blow to his knee. He collapsed with a grunt. Attor wisely remained on the ground.
“Get up, Ora!” The lord’s intent was clear, even if his words were strange. Ora scrambled to pick up her pouch and find the knife. She stepped around Aethulwulf to stand beside Lord Martin.
“Who is this, robbing me of my daughter?” Attor said.
“My Lord Martin!” Ora exulted. “The gods sent him when I prayed. He is lord of Inter Lucus.”
“A walnut stick doesn’t make a lord,” said Attor. “Did he bond with the castle? Can he work magic?”
“He will. And it doesn’t matter now, anyway. I will not come with you.”
Attor raised a hand of submission. Lord Martin allowed him to rise, watching warily. The lord pointed with his staff to the southern path, indicating the direction he wanted Attor to go. Woodman and son limped away.
9. In Castle Inter Lucus
Marty and Ora collected a good deal more firewood before nightfall. In spite of their limited common vocabulary, he quickly understood and endorsed her idea that they should take turns tending a fire through the night. The men who attacked Ora might return under cover of darkness.
It took much longer to work out Ora’s relationship to the attackers. Marty surmised she knew the men because he had heard the old man talking to her. But he was taken aback when she said, “Attor min faeder.”
“Your father? Attor?” Suddenly Marty remembered the confrontation at the water’s edge in a different light. He had returned to the lakeshore camp to find two strangers advancing on Ora, the girl brandishing her knife. What did I do? Assault the father of a runaway child?
“Gése, Attor min faeder,” said Ora.
“And the other, the younger one?”
Ora took his meaning without knowing his words. “Aethulwulf sunu Attor.”
“Aethulwulf.” Marty mimicked her pronunciation. Ora nodded.
“Aethulwulf is Attor’s son.”
“Aethulwulf is your brother.” Marty’s doubt redoubled.
“Brothor? Gefeadernes. Ne gemédrenes.” Ora’s reply brought their conversation to a standstill. Marty had begun to congratulate himself on picking up Ora’s language, but it became clear that he was misconstruing something. It took ten minutes for him to catch on. Finally:
“Attor is your father.”
“Attor is Aethulwulf’s father.”
“Oh! I get it!” Marty held up a hand to pause the conversation, then asked, “Who is your mother?”
Ora understood the question. “Min modor Darelle.”
“Who is Aethulwulf’s modor?”
“Aethulwulf modor Eacnung. Ne gemédrenes.”
“Not gemédrenes.” Marty pondered this result. If I were an anthropologist, it would tell me something about this culture. There’s an important difference here between full and half siblings. Ora and Aethulwulf are half siblings, not full brother and sister. Like Abraham and Sarah in the Bible . . . That thought led quickly to another.
Marty held up a hand: “Aethulwulf.” The other hand: “You, Ora.” The girl nodded. Marty brought his hands together: “Married?” His fingers entwined. “Aethulwulf and Ora?”
Ora suddenly looked stricken. She clenched her fist and shut her eyes. “Ic oeorlieás.”
“Ic ne haemedwif. Aethulwulf ne haemedcoerl.”
The scene on the water’s edge, when the boy tackled Ora, took on yet another meaning for Marty. Maybe I did the right thing after all.
They roasted the rest of Ora’s catch for supper. Ora asked a long and complicated question. Marty shook his head helplessly. She tried again, making charades to illustrate, and this time he understood. But how to answer?
“I wanted to explore the path. It goes over the ridge to the castle, but another trail runs off to the north, and I followed that for a while.” Marty pointed west and north as he talked. “I thought I would get back before you woke up. I didn’t mean to desert you. I’m sorry.” Marty couldn’t tell how much of this speech Ora comprehended, but she seemed satisfied.
As darkness fell, mosquitoes started attacking Marty in swarms, mostly leaving Ora alone. She trotted into the dark, coming back with handfuls of mud, which she smeared on Marty’s neck, face, and arms. Thus protected, and by sitting close to the smoke from the fire, Marty got some relief from the insects. Nevertheless, between itchy bites, a bed of pebbles, and worry that Ora’s father or brother would turn up, Marty slept sporadically.
The summer morning came early. Marty’s watch said 4:30, but of course that meant nothing here. The monks of Our Lady of Guadeloupe would be at morning vigils—that is, if I were still in the Pacific time zone of planet Earth. Marty was tempted to discard the watch, but guessed that it might yet be useful.
Ora offered to go fishing, but the mosquitoes were swarming again. Marty motioned his desire to get away from the lake, and she acquiesced. Ora seemed eager to return to the castle. A few minutes hike brought relief from the mosquitoes, though not from the many bites Marty had already suffered. In half an hour, they were on the grounds of the castle, scouring the blueberry bushes. A small handful of berries was no substitute for a monastery breakfast, but it beat nothing at all. Ora motioned that they ought to walk up to the castle, but Marty decided to explore the perimeter of the grounds; maybe they would find some other volunteer food. He pointed with the walking stick he had found the day before; the girl took this as a command.
On the north slope of the castle grounds there were rows of fruit trees: apricots, pears, apples, and cherries. All were old and far overgrown, many split from the weight of their limbs or the winds and lightning of the passing years. Nevertheless, a few tiny hard green cherries were growing on the cherry trees; in a month some would be edible, but for now nothing.
In the northwest corner of the estate Marty identified hazelnut trees. He had become familiar with the species during his time in Oregon. The hazelnuts, too, were in a terrible state of neglect. In the fall, one could expect volunteer nuts along with fruit, though the sum wouldn’t be enough to feed a person through a winter.
On the west side they found a hillside rock garden profuse with strawberry vines. A few ripe berries lay hidden beneath leaves, but birds had taken most.
The more Marty saw, the greater his respect for the designer of the castle and its grounds. Everything was wildly overgrown, but the overall plan was both practical and beautiful. The oak trees seemed out of place, but maybe only because they overshadowed so much of the southeast quadrant of the grounds. If you took out a few oaks, sunlight could get in here.
After circling the grounds Marty gave in to Ora’s increasingly urgent desire to revisit the ruin on the hilltop. They approached the manor’s south wing. Morning sunlight reflected off the black south wall. Marty leaned his walnut stick against the wall and ran his hands over its surface. Cool and jet-black, the wall seemed impervious to the sun’s warmth. What in the world? It’s not metal, wood, or anything you would expect. Some kind of advanced ceramic, like a heat shield on a shuttle? That hardly fits with the lack of technology I’ve seen so far.
Ora led Marty around to a place on the west wall where they could enter. As they walked up a grass-covered slope on the inside of the building, the south wall looked just as black as it did on the outside. Marty touched the wall again, examining it carefully. It was absolutely smooth, cool, and opaque, about ten inches thick, with no visible lines or joints.
Marty noticed the thick column standing about four feet from the wall. He had no memory of it from the day before. No surprise. I was pretty much fogged yesterday. Maybe space travel does that to you. The column appeared to have been designed to hold something, but whatever it was had been smashed. He couldn’t reach high enough to touch it, but he guessed it was made of a plastic or ceramic similar to the wall. He reached up with his staff, but the remains of the broken globe were fixed to the column. He couldn’t knock it down to examine it. Glancing around, he thought: Before the dirt mounded up here, that thing would have been twelve feet in the air.
“Óu befégest,” said Ora. She pointed to something on the ground a couple yards from Marty’s feet. He hadn’t noticed that yesterday either: a round ball, half-buried in the soil and grass. “Domne Martin befégest.” Marty looked from Ora to the black globe and knelt, as she gestured. He laid his staff on the grass. The girl knelt beside him, motioning with cupped hands. “Befégest.” He put his hand on the ball.
Marty felt the connection instantly. Warmth flowed from the ball into his hand; so soothing that he immediately placed his left hand by the other. The mosquito bites stopped itching. He had an overwhelming sense that, besides the warmth flooding into him, something else was flowing out. Light began to shine in the ball, changing colors rapidly before settling in a steady golden green, the spring green of leafy things shining out between his fingers.
Ora’s face was alive with joy and wonder, but before she could shout Marty pointed to the wall behind her. Lights were racing back and forth across the expanse of the wall; then they suddenly winked out. Marty hastily replaced his left hand on the ball. The lights reappeared, raced in circles and coalesced into a tiny dot of light that grew rapidly, separating itself into many dots. The dots grew and turned into letters. Marty swallowed, and breathed a silent prayer. “Lord Jesus Christ, son of David, have mercy on me.”
The writing on the wall read: Grata, novum Dominus Inter Lucus. Placet dicere nomen.
Marty’s Latin was limited and shaky, but he spoke aloud: “Martin Cedarborne.”
10. In Down’s End
Master glassblower Kent Gausman dipped the heated tip of his blowpipe into the hot glass in the lower furnace; he moved it up and down several times until he had a gather, a molten blob of glass about the right size. He rolled the gather on the marver, a marble topped workbench, cooling the outer edge before he began to blow. Isen the apprentice picked out a block, shaped like a very large spoon made of apple wood, from a bucket of water. Isen spun the block quickly to throw off the excess water and laid it on the table when Kent nodded. The master glassblower lowered the glass bulb he was forming into the bowl of the block, all the while turning the gather and blowing puffs of air. The glass began to stiffen. Kent transferred the cooling ball to the second furnace, the “glory hole,” to resoften it. Isen dipped the block in the water to cool. In the early stages of his apprenticeship Isen had learned to protect good wooden tools from the heat of the glass; several times a day he had to fetch water from River Betlicéa to keep Kent Gausman’s shop supplied with cold water.
No longer a mere beginner, Isen had five years experience in Alderman Gausman’s employ. He worked at the master’s side at every step of the glassblowing process, including shaping the piece with jacks, pulling it into various forms with tweezers, cutting the piece free with shears, and finishing it after securing it to iron punty rods.
Today the master was making a simple vase, mostly as a way to experiment with color. After softening the glass ball in the glory hole, Kent let gravity draw it out, still attached to his blowpipe. Meanwhile Isen had fetched two trays of crushed colored glass, one yellow and one green, from a rack on the far side of the workshop. Kent held the blowpipe vertically, puffing carefully, letting the glass lengthen as he continued to rotate it; then he rolled it in the trays of colored glass. Back to the glory hole where the colored bits of glass fused into the vase; more shaping and rolling on the marver; finally Kent placed the piece on punty rods for transfer to the third furnace where it would cool very slowly over two days. Kent gave Isen freedom to practice molding the top of the vase with steel tweezers. Isen pulled bits of the slowly stiffening glass into leaf shapes along the rim. The master critically examined the result. “It’ll do.” The apprentice concealed his smile. The master never praised his work, no matter how perfect, so Isen refused to project his own satisfaction. The truth was that Isen’s work matched or surpassed Kent Gausman’s in almost every way. Nowadays, the alderman spent as much time on Town Council, as head of the Down’s End glassmaker’s guild, as he did in the shop. Many pieces sold in the shop or delivered on special order to Gausman’s top customers were actually made by apprentice Isen. So it was time.
“Master Gausman, may I have a word?” They had dampened the furnace fire at the end of the day.
“Briefly, Isen. I’ve got to host Cenhelm Godspear for supper tonight. He wants the guild to accept his son as a new master. The young pup has some talent, but he’s far from ready. I’ve got to make Godspear face facts.”
“Master, my work is better than Elfgar’s.”
Gausman chuckled. “Just so. Yet you don’t see me bringing your name to the guild.”
“Why not, master? In fairness, I think I am qualified.”
“What? Nonsense, Isen. You’ll need a few more years before you jump that hurdle, my boy. You can’t read. Why, you can’t even manage an abacus. You do acceptable work at the furnace and on the bench, but you can’t strike out on your own. Customers and suppliers would steal from you and you wouldn’t know it. No, boy. You need to work for good old Gausman, who can look out for you. And your sister. What would happen to Sunniva if you didn’t have my wages?”
“Teach me the abacus, then.” Isen’s eyes stung, but he kept his voice calm.
“In good time, my son. In good time. Hamia!” The master called to his wife, who was upstairs in the apartment above the glassblower’s shop.
“You need not shout.” Hamia descended halfway down the stairs. She was a fat woman, already dressed in her best kirtle, red with white trim. “The meal is laid on already for guests. Fair evening, Isen.” She inclined her head to the apprentice.
Kent Gausman simply motioned for Isen to be on his way and barred the door after the young man left. A leather cord outside Gausman’s shop door was attached to a bell inside. Isen wanted to give the cord an angry pull and confront the master with his unfairness. But it would accomplish nothing. Without his master’s sponsorship, Isen had no hope of being recognized as a full guild member in Down’s End.
After the heat of glassmaking furnaces, evening airs were comforting. Isen detoured to the river on his way home, as he often did, to wash away the grime of the day. One of the fishing wharfs had a cylinder winch with a bucket on a rope that could be lowered into River Betlicéa. Isen hoisted a bucket of river water, splashed his face and arms, and dumped the rest over his head.
Isen bought bread, vegetables and a wedge of cheese from stalls in Straight Street. Earlier shoppers had snapped up the best produce, but the abundance of summer meant that even late in the day there were things worth eating. Isen carried his purchases in a string net, humming his way home. Maybe eating fresh greens would help Sunniva.
Isen heard Sunniva before he turned the corner into the narrow unnamed street that led to their house. Two storey buildings on both sides leaned out overhead; in some places the upstairs inhabitants had actually propped one building against the other. In winter the alley was dark indeed; on a summer evening it was merely dim.
Sunniva’s cough sounded worse. Isen’s sister was a pretty thing: pale skin and full red lips, long brown hair, and very large brown eyes. But she was eternally sick. She coughed every day and would suffer shakes and fevers, even in summer’s heat. Occasionally a Down’s End fisherman’s son would fall in love with Sunniva’s pretty face, but when this happened the parent put a quick end to romance. No one wanted a daughter-in-law too sickly to work or bear children. On her good days, Sunniva worked on the wharfs, helping fishing crews prepare the day’s catch for market. But she didn’t have many good days anymore. Sometimes when she coughed she spit up blood.
Isen reached the door of the house, if one could call it that. Brother and sister had a door and a roof, tucked in the narrow space between two older buildings. There were two sleeping cots; in the back, a firebox they rarely used. Fortunately, the backside of one neighbor’s brick fireplace and chimney comprised the north wall of Isen and Sunniva’s hovel. In the winter the warmth of the neighbor’s fire helped keep them from freezing.
Isen opened the door. “Here we are, Sunie. I’ve got bread, cucumbers, spinach leaves, an onion, and some cheese. Some solid food will make you feel better.”
Sunniva started to answer, but a cough interrupted. “It sounds wonder . . .” The cough began lightly but quickly grew into a spasm that shook the girl’s whole body. She rolled on her side, doubling up with the effort. She spat bloody sputum into a bowl on the floor. She fell back onto her pallet, sweating from the effort. “Thank you, Isen. Maybe it will help.” But in the end Isen ate most of the food; chewing and swallowing took more strength than Sunniva could summon.
Darkness became complete. After a long session of coughing, Sunie fell asleep. Isen lie awake, listening to her breathing. It seemed regular enough. He let himself drift into dreams.
11. In Castle Pulchra Mane
Eudes’ left knee pained him. He didn’t know why. In battle and in tournaments he had been wounded more than once, and his armor had absorbed many blows, but he had never been struck near the knee. Nevertheless, standing for a whole morning during Mariel’s Council produced an ache that threatened to distract him from the Council’s business, especially as the lords and lady of Herminia haggled over minutia. Fees for the Hinxworth Fair and Denis Mowbray’s ploy to steal Haxby from Lady Montfort—these had been the only items of even moderate import. The Council discussed guild reports from various free towns (blacksmiths, dye makers, weavers, wheelwrights); they noted births, deaths, and marriages; someone mentioned portents for the year’s wheat harvest; and Lady Avice asked help in finding a new scribe of the castle. Old Renweard could instruct an apprentice, she said, but he was no longer able to sit a horse or make the rounds to the villages subject to Tutum Partum. The meeting went on and on; Mariel attended patiently to all of it, but Eudes found it boring. And his knee hurt. Eudes reminded himself that he was a knight; surely a soldier could endure a balky knee for his queen.
At last it was time for Mariel’s move.
“Lord Toeni, word has come to me that you have offered your daughter as consort to the son of Hereward Mortane. I wish you had told me.”
“In this case rumor is accurate. And it never occurred to me that I needed your grace’s permission.” Rocelin Toeni answered stiffly. His blue eyes blazed defiance. “Edita is of age.”
Wymar Thoncelin said, “If it please your grace, it was always King Rudolf’s policy that lords had freedom to arrange our houses as seemed best to us.” Thoncelin was one of Mariel’s most loyal lords; that he would side with Toeni signaled danger.
“Of course. Far be it from me to infringe on Lord Toeni’s authority in his own house or castle. Edita is certainly free to marry as she sees fit, much as I did. Naturally, as her father, Lord Toeni is free to advise her.” Mariel smiled innocently. Eudes thought: There are limits to freedom. If any of one of you defies Mariel openly, she will send me to starve you out of your castle and destroy your house.
Mariel continued. “I only wondered: Which of Mortane’s sons will become your son-in-law? I understand he has two.”
Toeni appeared partly appeased. In his mind, marriage to house Mortane would turn Edita from an inconvenience into an advantage. Alliances by marriage were a time-honored way of extending a noble family’s influence. Even so, an ugly daughter could become a liability, requiring considerable dowry to achieve marriage. “It is not decided,” Lord Toeni said. “In point of fact, Mortane has three sons, Milo, Aylwin and Eddricus, though Eddricus is not of age. Lady Erline will sail with Edita for Hyacintho Flumen in a week’s time. She will discuss the matter with Hereward Mortane and his wife, Lady Lucia.”
Eudes reflected on the paradox of lordship. Rocelin Toeni can use the power of Prati Mansum only as long as he resides there. If Hereward Mortane were well, the two lords might negotiate directly by castle magic. But Mortane is dying, so Toeni perforce must entrust negotiations to Erline.
Toeni did not say what Mariel and Eudes already knew from their source: Hereward Mortane had promised a son in marriage, but the dowry price varied from son to son. Young Eddricus would cost Toeni nothing, but in that case Edita would have to wait another ten years for marriage to a man fifteen years her junior. Much could go wrong in ten years. Surprisingly, Cenric says the dowry price for marriage to the second son is higher than the first. Why?
Mariel responded, “In a week’s time? Ah! That will do. I propose that Lord Eudes accompany your wife and daughter to Hyacintho Flumen. His presence would insure Lady Erline and Lady Edita’s safety.”
Toeni frowned. “Surely no house of Herminia would attack my wife and daughter.”
“No. But there are highwaymen still. My husband knows how to deal with such men.”
“Your grace, the ship Little Moon will sail directly from Prati Mansum to Hyacintho Flumen. There will no danger of highwaymen, I assure you.”
Don’t be so infernally stupid, thought Eudes. Mariel merely smiled. “That’s true, isn’t it? But there might be pirates, and they’re every bit as dangerous as robbers.”
Osmer Beaumont’s bass voice rumbled into speech. “Your grace, might I ask? Wouldn’t a man like Eudes Ridere be bored to stupefaction by formal dinners in Hyacintho Flumen? Your husband suffers sufficiently in these weekly Councils. Why send the poor man to endure dances and masks?”
Two or three lords chuckled. Lady Avice merely grinned. Eudes was alarmed. Have I been that transparent?
“Fair question, Lord Beaumont. My husband will not travel as Lord Eudes, consort of a queen; rather, he will be a merchant or perhaps a common soldier, a guard for Lady Erline and her daughter.
“Now, my lords and lady, consider. What might my lord husband do while visiting Tarquint? I remind you of what you know: Tarquint is far larger than our Herminia. Here we have achieved unity under one crown, with the prosperity and strength created by unity. Tarquint is divided among fourteen castles—and of those, castles Inter Lucus and Eclipsis Lunaris have fallen into ruin. That leaves twelve lords, each one suspicious of the others, each one far distant from the others.
“A third of Tarquint is frozen wasteland north of the forests. But even so, consider its wealth. Tarquint has gold and silver. There are huge forests and plains. I’m told the sheep’s wool of the great downs could clothe all of Two Moons. That says nothing about the farms and villages east of East Lake. At least three cities in the south of Tarquint are said to be larger than any in Herminia. In sum: Tarquint is vast, rich, divided, and weak. All we need to know is which plum to pick first.
“Now, I ask you: what might Eudes Ridere do while visiting Tarquint? What report might he bring back to us?”
Mariel paused, letting the implications of her words sink in. Eudes tried to interpret their faces. Avice Montfort and Rocelin Toeni ruled the two seaports from which a Herminian army might set sail for Tarquint; Tutum Partum and Prati Mansum would play prominent roles if the queen extended her rule. Godfrey Giles, though his castle was on the far side of Herminia from Tarquint, had five sons, all knights; he could envision his younger sons gaining lands in Tarquint. Paul Wadard’s frown indicated puzzlement, Eudes thought; he was trying to figure out how he might profit from Mariel’s war. Mowbray, Beaumont, and Thoncelin would be the recalcitrant ones. Their castles lay inland in Herminia; trade with Tarquint meant little to them. And any soldiers Mowbray, Beaumont or Thoncelin contributed to an invasion force would have to serve far from home, probably under the command of Eudes or one of his lieutenants.
Thoncelin spoke first. “Your grace knows that I supported your father while he was alive, and I have supported you. It seems now that what you propose—let us call it an ‘adventure’ in Tarquint—has great risks. As you say, Tarquint is vast. Its lords are divided, true. But I fear the free cities alone could raise bigger armies than yours, that is to say, ours. The peril of failure would be great, and greater for none than for you.”
Eudes had said something similar when Mariel first confided her ambition to him. If we weaken our power by sending an army to Tarquint, Giles and Mowbray may seize the opportunity to rebel. Thoncelin’s caution is not merely self-serving; he is genuinely loyal.
“I appreciate your concern, Lord Thoncelin.” Mariel favored him with a bow of her head. “But you need not fear. If Eudes finds Tarquint bristling with spears we will stand down. You all know my husband has a keen eye for military weaknesses.”
Several members of the Council laughed quietly, even Giles.
“Just as important, I promise this. If we decide to pursue this ‘adventure,’ the chief knights of Herminia will wear new armor, armor of new steel, and they will carry new swords.”
“How is that possible, your grace?” Naturally, it was Toeni who had to have things spelled out for him. “All the smithies in Herminia could not make that much steel in a year.”
“True, Lord Toeni.” Mariel flexed her right hand while keeping her left lightly on globum deus auctoritate. “But the smithies will only need to craft the armor and weapons. I, that is Pulchra Mane, will supply all the new steel needed.”
Keeping his face smooth, Eudes exulted in the stunned expressions of the lords and lady. Few castle rulers could summon the magic of steel. And to blithely assert she could produce tons of it . . . For the first time they begin to see the truth; Mariel is stronger in her way than Rudolf.
“My lords, my lady,” Mariel resumed. “We have been careful in our speech today, even in Council. This is wise. I urge that we all guard our lips. My lord husband will set out for Prati Mansum tomorrow. He will sail on the ship Little Moon and return with Lady Erline. We may expect a report by summer’s end.
“Meanwhile, we in Herminia will not be indolent. Gods willing, we will harvest good crops. Beginning next week, wagons of new steel will roll from Pulchra Mane to all Herminia’s castles. Your smithies will be active, fashioning armor and swords. Your sons and knights must be well prepared when fall comes.”
“Your grace surely knows,” Lady Montfort spoke slowly. “After November, no captain will dare the sea between Herminia and Tarquint. And it would be inconvenient—extremely inconvenient—to supply an army by sending ships south to Horatia on the long route.”
Mariel didn’t hesitate. “That is correct. If we do this thing, our force must be prepared to winter alone in hostile lands. Whatever my husband asks, we will supply more. You will each do your part. They say that armies march on their bellies; you will make sure this army has a full belly indeed.”
12. At Castle Hyacintho Flumen
Milo Mortane stood on the god’s roof of Hyacintho Flumen, his father’s castle, soon to become his brother’s. He couldn’t decide which bothered him most, the blatant unfairness of the ridiculous charade that robbed him of his inheritance or the combination of fears that kept him from acting. I could bond with the lord’s knob; even Arthur admits it. If the older brother can’t command a castle, that’s one thing. Then the reins pass to a younger brother, or even a sister. But I can bond; if Father were to die tonight, I could slip into the great hall and become lord . . .
Milo knew he wouldn’t do it. Arthur had ordered Dag Daegmund and Kenelm Ash to take turns guarding the lord’s knob. Milo imagined ordering the soldiers to stand aside so that he could bond with globum domini auctoritate. Dag and Kenelm were loyal to house Mortane; surely they would obey. Except they wouldn’t, not now. Milo tasted the bitterness of it. I have been cheated of my birthright. He would have to kill whichever man stood on guard, but both Dag and Kenelm were expert swordsmen; Milo had trained as a knight, but he could not be sure of winning. A knife, concealed by a cloak? The armsmen would be on their guard; he would never get close enough. An arrow, already notched when I enter the hall. Yes. From the door by the coatroom. I could shoot before he raised the alarm.
He wouldn’t do it, he knew. Father had do die first. I must know Father is gone before I attack the guard. But Lucia will summon me to Hereward’s bed only after his spirit departs. Ha! Only after she has already told Aylwin and he has stolen Hyacintho Flumen. My own father, mother and brother; they conspired to cheat me. They don’t want me.
If he were dead, maybe then they would appreciate their error. Milo crept close to the edge of the roof. The god’s roof was the highest roof of Hyacintho Flumen. No one knew why the square tower was called the god’s tower, nor why it had a flat roof. Arthur brought the children up here on clear nights to teach them the constellations, but nobody supposed the gods had a similar use for it. Neither moon had yet risen in the east. Milo came gingerly to roof’s edge in starlight. The tiled roof of the great hall was perhaps thirty feet below him. I might survive, merely injured. On the opposite side of the god’s tower the fall was sixty feet to a paved courtyard. That’s the place. He walked to the east side of the tower and looked down. He could hear water splashing in the fountain and pictured his body broken on its stone lip.
Milo silently cursed Arthur, his mother, his father, and especially Aylwin: Usurper! May his hands burn every time he touches lord’s knob. May he die childless and Hyacintho Flumen become a ruin. His mother Lucia would condemn such a thought, warning against offending the castle gods. What do I care? The castle gods never did me any good.
Milo felt a slight breeze pushing him toward the edge. He knew he wouldn’t do it. I’m a coward. I can’t even kill myself. At the same time, he felt another fear, a fear he couldn’t name. His future reached out to him like a shroud, a future he could not imagine. It wasn’t that he couldn’t think of what to do; that was obvious. He had to leave Hyacintho Flumen. It wouldn’t really matter where he went: Stonebridge, Down’s End, Cippenham or one of the smaller cities of Tarquint. He owned armor, had been trained for knighthood—Faenum Agri, Vivero Horto or another castle; he could pledge liege to another lord. But not to Aylwin, never! He could buy passage to Horatia or some land even more distant.
What will I be? As long as Milo could remember, he knew he would one day be lord. He told himself he would rule gently, not demanding more in taxes than people could afford. Milo knew he wasn’t as clever as Aylwin or Amicia, but he could learn to access some of Hyacintho Flumen’s power. He would give something to poor folk. He would keep his women at a convenient distance, so that his wife (chosen, no doubt, for political reasons) need not be offended by them. He would try to keep peace with other lords. He would provide justice as best he could. I would be a good lord. The commons would love me, I know they would. But now what? What will I be?
There were no bounds on Milo’s future. Though unable to name it, that was the fear. Looking out from the god’s tower in starlight, he saw the years to come like an open sea, a sea with no limits at all. A lord had duties, and Milo was willing to fulfill them if they weren’t too hard. But now, what now? Seventeen years old, Milo did not know who he was and he feared what he might become. I won’t serve Aylwin, not ever. And since I’m not going to jump off this damned tower, I may as well get moving.
Eádulf, the stable boy, registered surprise at daybreak when he came to feed Hyacintho Flumen’s horses. Milo had already fed and groomed the black palfrey, and he was tying extra bags to the rear of his saddle. Milo’s sword hung from the saddle horn.
“Fair morning, sir Milo,” said Eádulf. “I did not know you were riding today, else I would have risen sooner.” He saw a canvas-wrapped bundle by the stable wall. “Shall I pack up my lord’s armor?”
Milo considered the choice, to travel alone or accompanied. To sell his service as a knight, he needed armor, and that meant a packhorse to accompany the palfrey, and that meant a squire.
“Fair morning, Eádulf. I’ll pack my armor while you do your chores. Then we’ll ride together.”
“Very good, sir. I’ve had no sup yet today, sir.”
Milo patted one of his saddlebags. “Nor I. But we’ll eat as we ride.”
Shafts of sunlight broke through the trees as Milo Mortane, with Eádulf behind him, departed Hyacintho Flumen, riding a horse into an infinitely wide sea.
13. At Castle Inter Lucus
The words in the wall disappeared. Seconds later, a string of symbols replaced the familiar Latin letters. More instructions? The symbols looked like none of the languages Marty had ever seen. As an electronics sales representative sometimes responsible for international shipping, he knew the appearance of Arabic, Cyrillic, Hebrew, Chinese, and Japanese scripts. Marty had seen markings from Thailand, Laos and other East Asian countries, though he couldn’t remember which was which. Marty felt sure the symbols now scrolling in the wall resembled none of them. How do you pass a test when you can’t read the questions?
Marty glanced briefly at Ora. Clearly, the alien symbols meant no more to her than to Marty. She was watching Marty watch the wall, her face serenely confident that “Min Domne Martin” would master the situation.
The alien inscription, if that’s what it was, stopped scrolling, like the credits at the end of a movie. It vanished and was instantly replaced by a list; astonishingly, the list reverted to Latin and was ordered with Roman numerals:
I. Materias Tranmutatio: non operativa
II. Parva Arcum Praesidiis: non operativa
III. Magna Arcum Praesidiis: non operativa
IV. Cibum Preparatio Homines: non operativa
V. Inter-Castrum Videns-Loquitur: non operativa
VI. Extra Arcem Micro-Aedificator: non operativa
VII. Potentia Fontes: parte operativa
VIII. Aquarum: parte operativa
IX. Intra Arcem Micro-Aedificator: operativa
X. Centralis Arbitrium Factorem: parte operativa
Below the list there was a question: Quod deficiens fulcutatem facit Dominus Martini desiderium aedificavit primum?
Marty’s exposure to theological Latin at Our Lady of Guadeloupe afforded him little help interpreting the message, but operativa, parte operativa and non operativa suggested that he was reading a list of subsystems, most of which were non-functioning. Subsystems of what? Ora calls this place a castle. It seems a “castle” comes equipped with a long list of computerized capacities. Most of which are broken, apparently. The only thing that works is “Intra Arcem Micro-Aedificator,” whatever that is.
The Latin message just sat there on the wall, unmoving. Marty knew he should answer the question, since Dominus Martini pretty much had to be him. But he had only a guess as to what the question asked, and he had less than a guess as to the purpose of the various “subsystems,” if in fact that’s what they were. Even if he had known these things, Marty didn’t know how to formulate a response in Latin. Would the machine—Marty had little doubt it was a machine—understand English? His stomach growled, but he pushed the distraction out of mind, keeping his hands on the glass ball for fear the message would go away. Why not start at the top? “Transmutatio” sounds like transmuting . . .“Materias Transmutatio” =changing materials? Change what to what?
To Marty’s consternation, the list and question disappeared. No dimming or blinking; without warning the wall turned opaque. Just as alarming, the light shining from the globe through his fingers faded out, and the warmth died as well. Damn! I’ve killed it. Or waited too long; the thing probably has a limited power source. Marty released the half-buried ball. He wanted to re-establish the connection immediately, but a thought restrained him. Don’t push too far. It’s either running on stored energy or it has a power source of some kind. Either way, it has limits. Marty surveyed the ruins around him. The shiny black wall brought to mind pictures he had seen. Solar power? Maybe the thing needs time to recharge.
Marty rose from the orb and stood on the grassy slope. Ora hopped to her feet, eyeing him expectantly. She thinks I know what I’m doing. Hate to disappoint you, girl.
Marty’s stomach growled again. “Let’s find some fodder,” he said. “Ic hyngre.”
Ora surprised him: “Okay.” She beamed at his startled reaction.
Rather than fish in East Lake, Ora led Lord Martin to village Inter Lucus. It was an hour’s walk, first through the forest ringing the castle, on cow paths past farms and then on a dirt road. On the edge of the village itself she stopped in front of a prosperous farmhouse: two stories tall with a chimney and a tiled roof, a stone fence enclosing a yard with fruit trees, and a barnyard lively with the sounds of chickens and pigs. She knew the family who lived here. Before she could announce herself, a round-faced stout woman came waddling out the door. “Ora Wooddaughter! I see you! Is it really you?”
Fridiswid Redwine’s fat bowed legs always seemed ready to collapse under her weight. Nevertheless, the farmer’s wife hustled to the rock wall. A brown and white dog came bounding around the corner of the house, barking excitedly. Fridiswid shushed the animal with a sharp word and a motion. She lifted the latch on the gate and stepped into the road.
“Fair afternoon, Fridiswid,” Ora said. “Can you spare some sup?” She stepped into the woman’s embrace. Mistress Redwine clasped her for a moment and then stepped away from Ora to examine her companion. “And who is this?” Fridiswid’s eyebrows were such a bright red that they looked like little flames.
“He is Lord Martin of Inter Lucus.”
Fridiswid Redwine did not bow to Lord Martin. “Oh, no, Ora. Alfwald told me you would be spreading some such twaddle. Attor was here yesterday. What have you done, girl? Taken up with some outlandish person from foreign parts? Look at those clothes! How strange!”
Ora had expected something like this. Attor would have enlisted the help of friends. “Yes, indeed, Goodwife Redwine. Look closely at his clothes—and his shoes. You have never seen the like. I tell you the truth, Fridiswid. I prayed for him yesterday morning, and he came.”
“You should go home, Ora. You prayed for him? Ha! You have been with this foreigner for two days then?”
“How many times has he put it in you?” Fridiswid made a rude gesture.
“Not at all.” Ora’s face went hard. “If you want to know, it was Attor’s son who took my maidenhead. He raped me two days ago. That is why I fled, and that is why I will never go back.” Ora spat on the ground. She turned on her heel and tugged at Lord Martin’s elbow.
“Ora! A lord has to bond with a castle. He can’t just attack men with a staff.”
Ora spun around to face the goodwife. “Aye. A lord must bond.” She locked eyes with Fridiswid. “Lord Martin is lord of Inter Lucus. I watched.”
Ora’s certainty and anger raised doubt in Fridiswid’s mind. “You saw this?”
Fridiswid’s eyes lingered on Lord Martin’s clothes, especially the many-colored canvas shoes. “If he is a lord, why do you need food? They all say a castle feeds its lord.”
Ora had been asking herself this very question, but the answer was obvious. “Inter Lucus has been abandoned a hundred years. A new lord cannot repair everything in a day.”
“Why doesn’t this lord speak?”
“He does.” Ora motioned to introduce the woman. “Fridiswid Redwine.”
Lord Martin bowed his head in greeting. “Good afternoon, Mrs. Redwine. I’m pleased to meet you, and I very much hope you will give us whatever help you can.” Neither woman understood more than two or three of Lord Martin’s words. Perhaps the very strangeness of his speech inclined Fridiswid to believe Ora’s version of events.
Fridiswid shook her head, but smiled as she did. “Ora, Ora. I have some boiled potatoes and a scrap of bread. Will that do?”
“Okay.” Fridiswid frowned at this word, but Lord Martin laughed.
14. In Down’s End
Isen dreamed of a glass swan. Ripples on the sides would suggest wings folded back against the body. The neck would be slender and tall, supporting a perfectly proportioned head. The buyer, some rich Down’s End merchant or a lord from a castle, would listen attentively as Isen and his apprentice packed the artwork into a special box, protecting it with straw and cloths. You must take care, Isen would warn the buyer; there is no glass like this anywhere else on Two Moons. And the patron would merely nod, happy to obey the commands of so skilled an artisan.
He awoke to a reality far different from the dream. Faint morning light penetrated between the boards of the door into the tiny house. Buildings shadowed the narrow street, so the light coming into Isen’s hovel barely illumined anything. Enough light, though, just enough, so that Isen could see Sunniva’s face, so pretty, so perfect, and for the first time in uncounted months untroubled by pain. She lay absolutely still in death, and Isen promised himself that he would remember her face this way. A part of him had long suspected this moment would come. Isen was no stranger to death; he saw death processions on the streets of Down’s End often enough, and he could remember his father’s burial. Their mother had died soon after giving birth to Sunie, so Isen had no sure memories of her, only faint feelings of warm arms. There must have been a burial then too, but he didn’t remember it.
Isen moved Sunie’s body from her cot to his, which enabled him to stand hers on end, exposing the hiding place. He dug up a rosewood box wrapped in rotting cloths; the box was finely made, their most valuable possession, and Isen hoped the wrappings would protect it from decay. The box held a gold coin, two silvers, and a handful of base pennies. Probably not enough for a death procession, but Isen thought it would buy a burial. Some priest of the old god might say a prayer.
Isen propped the door open and carried Sunie’s cot into the narrow street. He twisted the wooden blocks that served as bed legs until they came off. Stripped of the legs, the cot could serve as funeral pallet. He arranged the body on the pallet and went in search of a priest.
Prayer House stood next to a large burial field on a rise of land half a mile from the Betlicéa. Priests of the old god had chosen the spot for a burial field centuries ago, when Down’s End was much smaller. They chose a location higher than the river so that spring floods wouldn’t expose the bones of the dead. As generations passed and Down’s End prospered, the city had grown to surround the burial field and its Prayer House. Wealthy citizens had built handsome houses on properties surrounding the field, the one place in the city with a green, open space nearby. The same families contributed money so the priests of Prayer House could employ boys to tend the grass of the burial field.
The “new” Prayer House was actually eighty years old, a small stone structure that replaced a much older building made of rough logs. Isen reached the place before sunrise. He rapped on the unmarked wooden door, but no one answered. He tried the handle and, since it was unlocked, went inside. Prayer House was cold. The only light came from small glassed windows high on the side walls. Six kneeling benches, raised a few inches from the packed dirt floor so that worshipers need not soil their breeches or hose, were arranged three on each side of a center aisle. At the front of Prayer House the sign of the old god, a white pine cross, had been affixed to the wall.
No one here. Well, what do you expect? The priests can’t live here; it’s too small. It’s called Prayer House for a reason. Isen knelt on one of the benches. He was a stranger to prayer, but with no one else to hear he need not worry about using wrong words. “O God before the gods, my sister is dead,” Isen said. “I am only Isen Poorman; I have little to pay the priest. But he is your servant; make him grant Sunie a burial. And please let Sunie’s spirit rest. Let her breathe easy in the after-world.”
Isen couldn’t think of more to say. He felt it would be improper to ask the god to make Kent Gausman treat him better. Not on Sunie’s burial day. So he simply knelt in silence for a little while. Soon he must go seek a priest.
A sound: the door opening. Daylight behind the newcomer threw his face into shadow; Isen saw mostly an outline.
“Fair morning, young man. Ah! I think I know you. Isen, isn’t it?” The man wore a black robe that reached to mid-calf, leaving his leather-sandaled feet exposed. He threw back his hood and stepped out of the light from the door, revealing a healthy, weathered face. The priest was clean-shaven and bald, with mere wisps of white hair fringing his head.
“Aye. Isen Poorman. Apprentice to Master Kent Gausman.” Isen was several inches taller than the priest, but felt deference to his authority.
“The glassblower. And head of the glassblowers’ guild, if I recall.”
The priest pursed his lips. “An exacting man. My name is Eadmar.” He extended his hand and Isen shook it. “How long have you worked for Master Gausman?”
“Five years.” Something in the priest’s visage, his eyes maybe, told Isen that he would like him.
“Isen Poorman . . . hm. And why are you in Prayer House before sunrise today?” The man had brown eyes, smaller than Sunie’s, but they reminded Isen of her anyway. Warmth and welcome shown in Eadmar’s eyes.
Isen produced his tiny bag of coins. “I must buy my sister’s burial.” For the first time that morning, Isen wept. Tears rolled freely, and he felt a choking sensation in his throat. He stopped speaking, not trusting his voice.
Priest Eadmar took the purse and looked inside it. “Ah, Poorman. You are aptly named.” He took the two silvers and handed the bag back to Isen. “Fortunately, today we are burying two unclaimed bodies in a grave bought by the weavers’ guild. They will not object if a poor girl joins them. Take your gold coin, Isen, and buy a white shroud from one of the women on Clothsellers’ Street. Where is your sister’s body?”
Isen’s tears still fell, but he answered without his voice breaking. “The third little street from Straight, off Wide Street.”
Eadmar nodded. “I know the area. Find some friends to carry the body. I will meet you at noon, and we will make a procession. The unnamed boys go into the ground before mid-day. I will tell the gravedigger not to cover them until Sunniva joins them.”
Isen was surprised. “You knew Sunie?”
The priest looked sad. “I walk the streets in the Betlicéa district almost every day. I met her a few times. Such a pretty girl.”
Isen clasped both hands around the priest’s. A burial and a procession; he had hardly dared to hope for so much.
On Clothsellers’ Street Isen asked directions from passersby, and eventually found his way to a modest seamstress’s store, owned by two sisters accustomed to preparing shrouds on short notice. One of the women, Helu Oswyn, asked Isen for directions to his house and bid him go wait with the body, lest some wandering fool treat it shamefully. Four hours later Helu found Isen, bringing a fine white shroud. Together, they dressed Sunniva in it. She sat with the body while Isen recruited pallbearers.
Osulf Deepwater and his brother, Headby, volunteered promptly when Isen invited them to carry Sunniva. They were fisherman’s sons, and both of them had fallen for Sunie at one time or another. Isen found them on the docks, cleaning the day’s catch with their father and two other men. Fisher crews began their day in the wee hours before dawn; their fresh catch would fetch fair prices in the afternoon markets of Straight Street. When Isen found them, they had nearly finished the job. Their father, Bead Deepwater, readily agreed that the brothers should help Isen when he heard of Sunie’s death. The brothers washed themselves as best they could with river water and dressed in clean tunics.
On Wide Street Headby spotted another friend, Godric Measy, a laborer for a cloth merchant, eating his lunch on a public bench. Godric became Sunniva’s fourth pallbearer.
As he promised, priest Eadmar met Isen and his friends at the corner where the third little street met Wide Street. The four young men carried Sunniva’s white-shrouded body on the simple pallet that had been her bed. They followed Eadmar’s slow pace in the middle of Wide Street. Horse-drawn carts and riders moved out of the way, showing deference to the dead and the old god. Some well-to-do citizens of Down’s End shook their heads with annoyance—why should the death of some nameless waif occupy the city’s streets? Priest Eadmar paid no attention to their disapproval, so Isen ignored them too. As priest and pallbearers processed, people began walking behind them, joining the procession. When they reached the burial field almost fifty people surrounded Sunie’s grave. That she had to share a grave with two others didn’t bother Isen. The important thing was that she had a right burial. Eadmar prayed and said holy words that Isen couldn’t understand. It was proper and right.
Isen’s comfort lasted an hour. When all was done at the burial field, he walked to Alderman Gausman’s glass shop, arriving in the heat of late afternoon. He rang the bell, and Hamia opened the door for him. She made a face and pointed with her chin to the short hall that led to the workshop. Kent Gausman was lecturing someone back there.
Isen rapped knuckles on the wall as he entered an unusually crowded work area. Master Gausman and three others were there, two of whom Isen knew: Cenhelm Godspear and his son Elfgar. The third was a boy of about twelve. Gausman took notice of Isen’s arrival.
“Ha! You see what I have dealt with for five years. This boy thinks himself a journeyman, ready for the guild. Yet he can’t read. He can’t even use the abacus. But he shows up when? Ha! You, Eric,” Gausman addressed the boy. “You best be here every day, on time. Work hard, and someday you’ll be a master, like Elfgar.”
Gausman reached out to drop a silver coin in Isen’s surprised hand. “Elfgar Godspear will join the guild as a master next week. As he’ll be working with me and helping train Eric, I won’t be needing you. That’s your pay. Get yourself gone, Isen.”
15. Near Castle Inter Lucus
Fridiswid Redwine hastened Marty and Ora with words and gestures. Her guests were seated at a narrow table, more a food preparation area than a place for meals, in Fridiswid’s kitchen. Marty caught the general idea easily enough. She’s gone out on a limb because she likes Ora. But she doesn’t want us here when her husband comes back from wherever he is. Marty tried to comply with Fridiswid’s urging to eat quickly—and burned the roof of his mouth with a boiled potato little bigger than his thumbnail. The tiny potatoes would have been delicious with salt, pepper and sour cream but, given their hunger, Marty and Ora welcomed them without any spice. The bread was better still; it had a chewy crust and hints of hazelnut flavor.
The few minutes Marty spent in Fridiswid’s kitchen reinforced his estimate of the technological level of the planet. The farmwoman cooked with a fireplace, not a stove, burning wood, not coal. She baked bread in a stone appurtenance built into the chimney. There were knives aplenty in Fridiswid’s kitchen, and both wooden and metal spoons, but no forks. The farmhouse windows had wood shutters, but only one small window had glass.
The simple meal ended. Walking through the village, Marty compared other houses to the Redwine house; if anything, Fridiswid’s was richer than most. The tiled roof would be far more durable and expensive than the thatched roofs on other houses. And heavier—tile roofs require a sturdy frame.
The unpaved street between the buildings, packed and dusty now, would turn into a quagmire in a rainy winter like those at Our Lady of Guadeloupe. Maybe winter here is more like Illinois than Oregon, with frozen ground rather than seas of mud. Every house had a chimney, sometimes two or three. In the center of the village was a stone-lined well, with a bucket suspended from rope threaded through a pulley.
The technological contrast between village Inter Lucus and castle Inter Lucus could hardly be starker. They hoist water, because pumps are unknown or too expensive. They heat and cook with fireplaces. The better houses have privies in the back, but beyond that sanitation is non-existent. These people are centuries from electricity and computers. Or antibiotics, or Novocain—God have mercy on you if you need surgery. Castle Inter Lucus has high-tech electronics; I’d bet my life on it. The place had to be built by someone else. Who? Aliens?
Marty grimaced. His image of extraterrestrial intelligence was inflected with Hollywood mythmaking, bizarre creatures drinking gargle-blasters in Star Wars saloons modeled on Casablanca gin joints. He couldn’t take it seriously. Why not? Hey, Marty, did you notice the moons? And it’s summer here. It’s November on Earth, late fall in North American and early spring in Argentina. You’re on another planet, man. You actually have proof of life on other planets. Human life! Marty had no doubt the people he had seen were Homo sapiens. How did they get here if aliens weren’t responsible?
He shook his head. He had read somewhere that interstellar space travel would also be time travel. Could that explain medieval Europeans on a distant planet? Probably not. Maybe in the future people travel to other stars, even other galaxies. And they build Inter Lucus. Then some catastrophe produces a dark age. The “castle” is barely functioning, and no one knows how to use it. Marty’s thought suddenly veered in another direction. Good God! Could there be others?
“Ora.” Marty stopped walking; the girl gave him her attention. “Castel Inter Lucus be . . .” He pointed toward the castle hill, visible above the forest. He turned to gesture in the opposite direction. “Castel . . .?”
“Castel Hyacintho Flumen. Feorr. Oferfirr.”
Hyacintho Flumen. So there is at least one other “castle.” Marty remembered a word he needed. “Who is the lord of castle Hyacintho Flumen? Lord Feorr? Lord Oferfirr?” (“Hwa be domne castel Hyacintho Flumen?” Domne Feorr? Domne Oferfirr?)
Ora looked puzzled, shook her head and waved her arm toward the distant horizon. “Hyacintho Flumen feorr. Domne Mortane.”
“Oh. I get it. Feorr . . . far. And Mortane is the lord.” But that only raises a dozen further questions. Is Mortane’s castle in working order? How many castles are there? How far is “far”?
The questions Marty most wanted to ask were beyond his vocabulary. He forced himself to turn his attention from the things he wanted to know to the immediate task of language learning, a complicated business. As they walked, Marty would point to one thing or another with his staff and ask, “What?” (Hwa?) But the answers he received were strangely inconsistent. A single plant by the road might be blóstm or grénnes or unripe, and Marty had to stitch the meanings together: a green flowering plant with immature seeds.
Marty and Ora reached the castle grounds—the rectangle of land containing the manor hill was clearly demarcated from the surrounding forest—in late afternoon, judging from the shadow of the trees on the west side. Marty’s watch said six o’clock. If I had to guess, the day here is within minutes of a twenty-four hour Earth day. The planet is an earth twin; if it weren’t for the moons, I’d swear the place was Earth—complete with human beings, familiar fruits, chickens and pigs, everything. No, not everything; the alien script in the wall didn’t come from Earth.
A shouted greeting pulled Marty’s thoughts back to the immediate present. Marty and Ora had reached the shade of the broad oaks when two men emerged from the western forest. Marty’s pulse suddenly raced, and he tightened his grip on his staff. They weren’t the attackers from yesterday, but something in the shout put Marty on alert.
“Fair evening,” Ora answered. Marty understood the greeting, but before he could congratulate himself Ora continued with a rush of words he couldn’t follow. She didn’t seem alarmed by the men; to the contrary, she motioned for Marty to wait with her as they approached.
The men’s clothes were a pastiche of earth colors, brown, gray, black. They wore something like very long shirts, reaching to the knees, with leather belts at their waists, and boots rising well above the ankles. Their hair, black on one and gray on the other, had been cut short. One of the men, the taller, younger one, carried a walking stick much like Marty’s; Marty held his own staff ready. He pegged the men’s ages as about thirty and fifty.
Introductions. The black-haired man Ora named Wyrtgeon Bistan; the older man with gray hair was Syg Alymar. Apparently they lived nearby, either in the village or close to it. Ora presented Marty as Domne Martin Castles Inter Lucus, which elicited a burst of skepticism from the men. Ora said something about befégest and Domne Martin. The men’s expressions were easy to read: “Prove it.” Ora beckoned them to follow her and Marty; her green eyes fairly danced with confidence. I hope you’re not disappointed, girl. For the most part, Castle Inter Lucus doesn’t work. We can’t even be sure the wall will show any messages. For all I know, I burned up the last of the power.
Stepping through the gap in the tumbled wall, Marty was instantly aware that Inter Lucus felt different. At first he didn’t notice visible changes, but he sensed power, as if the air were charged. Ora pointed to the wall and the control globe and Marty saw something definite; the black ball, which had been half buried in the morning, stood several inches above the grass atop a black cylinder. The cylinder hadn’t been raised. Instead, the grassy slope at the south end of the great hall had been lowered, as if someone had started cleaning up by draining the dirt rather than digging from the top. A quick glance around the great hall suggested that the accumulated debris had been reduced everywhere.
It sure looks like Inter Lucus isn’t completely dead. Marty felt more confident when he knelt to touch the control globe. Immediately, along with the warmth of the ball, Marty again sensed something moving from him into the machine. How can that be? What could a computer take from a living thing?
Lights rushed back and forth in the wall for only a few seconds. Then the Latin list reappeared.
I. Materias Tranmutatio: non operativa
II. Parva Arcum Praesidiis: non operativa
III. Magna Arcum Praesidiis: non operativa
IV. Cibum Preparatio Homines: parte operativa, aedificaverunt initiati
V. Inter-Castrum Videns-Loquitur: non operativa
VI. Extra Arcem Micro-Aedificator: non operativa
VII. Potentia Fontes: parte operativa
VIII. Aquarum: parte operativa
IX. Intra Arcem Micro-Aedificator: operativa
X. Centralis Arbitrium Factorem: parte operativa
Marty spotted the change at once. While he was forming a hypothesis as to the meaning of aedificaverunt initiati, he became aware that Wyrtgeon Bistan and Syg Alymar were kneeling on the grass several paces behind him.
16. In the Foothills, Northwest of Hyacintho Flumen
“Sir Milo? Will we make camp in the wild? It’s near too late to go home before dark.”
Milo had been expecting Eádulf’s question for an hour, since it was already mid-afternoon. He urged his black horse around a fir tree to an open place on the spine of the ridge they had been climbing. He paused there, looking across similar ridges southeast of this one. Somewhere over there, in the second valley, lay castle Hyacintho Flumen, invisible from this place. Milo waited for Eádulf’s mount, a gray packhorse, to climb up beside him.
“Aye, Eádulf. We will camp in the wild tonight, and many nights after.” Milo noted surprise and alarm in the stable boy’s eyes. Eádulf was fourteen, three years younger than Milo. For a moment Milo wondered whether he had treated the boy fairly, stealing him away from Hyacintho Flumen, quite likely never to return. But that was an uncomfortable thought, so he pushed it away.
“You may as well know the truth, Eádulf. My father has named Aylwin his heir. I will not be permitted to touch the lord’s knob after Hereward’s spirit departs. Therefore, since I have been cheated of my rights, I have decided to leave Hyacintho Flumen and never to return.”
The stable boy’s blue eyes went wide. Eádulf had a freckled face and auburn hair. His expression of astonishment made Milo laugh.
“Don’t look so upset, Eádulf,” chuckled Milo. “I’m the one who has lost a lordship and a castle, not you. In fact, you’ve become a squire to a free knight. Quite a step up from stable boy, don’t you think? Remember the old story of Thurfirth. He was a squire who took up his master’s sword after Rothulf fell in battle and he defended Rothulf’s body against all comers. Afterward, the lord of Argentum Cadit made Thurfirth a knight in his own name, sir Thurfirth Berengar the loyal.”
Eádulf swallowed several times. His neck was so skinny and his Adam’s apple so large that he looked like a pelican downing its catch. Milo laughed again. However unlikely the thought that Eádulf would stand his ground in battle, the boy’s face was more ludicrous.
But now he was crying. “Ah, sir. My Ma. Ma’ll miss me.”
Milo spat on the ground. “Don’t flatter yourself, Eádulf. Your ma has three other brats to feed, and your brother Odo can take your place in the stable. Your family will have just as much income and one less mouth. You’ll not be wanted any more than I.”
Eádulf kept crying, which disgusted Milo. He edged his mount closer and snatched the reins from the boy’s hands. “By the gods, have it your way.” He gestured toward the southeast. “Hyacintho Flumen lies in the second valley. A couple days’ walk and you’ll be home, hungry maybe, but no worse for wear. But I’m keeping the old gray to carry my armor. Go on. Get on down.”
Eádulf gulped, wiping tears away with the back of his forearm. “Ah, sir. I am sorry, sir. Please don’t send me back. It’s not that I’d get lost; I can find my way. It’s just . . . it’s hard, sir. Never see Ma again . . .”
“Well, go back then.”
The wide eyes looked Milo full in the face. “Ah, sir, no. Please. Don’t make me see Lady Lucia’s face.”
“You seem to be under the mistaken impression that my mother gives a noble damn about me. I assure you, she does not. She’s as fully part of Aylwin’s scheme as Arthur.”
Eádulf plainly did not understand Milo’s situation. His peasant face was full of pity. That Eádulf might pity his master irritated Milo.
Milo swore under his breath. “Well, then. Come on. We’ll make camp in this next valley. There’s a creek there, and tomorrow we’ll follow it down to the Stonebridge road.”
“Aye, sir. But sir, if we are riding for Stonebridge, why did we climb the hills? We’d a made better time if we’d taken the road since morning.”
Milo hesitated. “Because no one from Hyacintho Flumen would look for us here. You don’t yet understand the deceit of my mother, Eádulf. As soon as our absence was noted, Lucia will have sent out Dag Daegmund and Kenelm Ash to look for us, bearing a message that I should return to Hyacintho Flumen. Lucia would remind me of her love, and my sisters’ love—and my brothers’ love, though in truth Aylwin hates me! And here is the depth of the deceit: Mother would actually believe all this nonsense. Not wanting to listen to such lies, I directed our path over the hills.”
Milo did not add his fear: If I heard Mother’s plea, if only through Dag, I might yield and go home. To what end? Obey Aylwin’s bidding? Never. He nudged his horse into motion, beginning the descent into the next valley.
They camped in the shadow of trees and mountain by a narrow creek running fast with cold water. Eádulf tethered the horses and brushed them down while Milo gathered firewood. Some bread, a quarter of a cheese, two apples and water made their supper, very much like their earlier lunch. Milo had enough food for maybe three days; after that they had to forage or buy. We’ll buy. From the beginning Milo planned to return to the road; there were way-houses on the road to Stonebridge. A bag under his outer tunic contained forty gold coins of Stonebridge make, enough to go a long way.
Knight and squire made no fire in the morning. Saddling and packing the horses, they set out long before the sun rose over the eastern ridge. At some places the trees and underbrush were so thick they had to dismount and lead the horses round about. Eventually the summer sun came over the hills, warming the sticky air, and they were glad of forest shade. The valley broadened out as the creek drew near a river—not the Blue River itself, but a tributary. Tended fields began appearing between dense clusters of pines and firs, some with wooden fences. Milo and Eádulf rode easily now, following a wide path that wound from field to field.
“Hoi! Hoi!” A farm boy, perhaps a year or two younger than Eádulf, came running toward the riders across a pasture. Three stolid cows raised their heads at the sound for a moment before returning to grazing.
“Sir?” Eádulf pointed with his chin to the boy.
Milo reined up. “We ought to listen to him, I suppose . . . What’s the trouble, boy?”
The shape of the black-haired lad’s nose recorded a violent history; it had been broken more than once. The boy saw Milo’s sword—or his boots or gloves, or the quality of his saddle—and his eyebrows registered surprise.
“My lord! Sir.” The boy made an awkward attempt at bowing. “It’s Osgar, Sir! The pigs got out.”
Milo grinned at Eádulf before returning his attention to the boy. “If the pigs have escaped, I advise that you recapture them. Is Osgar one of them?”
“Oh no, Sir. But yes, Sir. I mean, Sir. The pigs is back already; we caught ’em. But Oscar’s leg’s broke. ’e’s yonder.” The boy waved at the other side of the pasture.
“How did this happen?”
“Osgar, Wyot and me chased ’em ’bout an hour, and just as we was runnin’ ’em into the pen Osgar stuck ’is foot in a hole. Broke ’is leg awful. Wyot took off to get ’elp. Osgar’s Da got only one horse and ’e’s down at the lower shed. Gods, that’s eight mile gone. Osgar’s doin’ bad. Can you help us?”
“You want me to transport this injured boy?”
“Oh, Sir! If you would! The house’s two mile gone.” The boy pointed down the valley.
We’re going that way in any case. “Very well. Lead us to Osgar. If we can get him onto the gray, my squire Eádulf can walk him to the house. Are there people there to care for Osgar?”
“Aye. ’is ma. She’ll be grateful, sure ’nough.”
In the end, Milo decided, he made the right decision. By the time Osgar had been secured on Eádulf’s mount and safely transported to his family farm, a compound consisting of a three-room house, two barns, a well, and dozens of chickens, cats and other animals, half the afternoon had been wasted. But the boy’s mother thanked Milo repeatedly and gave substance to her thanks by rewarding knight and squire with a skin of wine and a large bag of brown beans, which she said Eádulf could cook over a campfire and make a tasty dish, using a blend of spices she presented in a small clay jar. Eádulf estimated it would feed them four or five times. It’ll make the gold last longer. Enough recompense, I suppose, for delay and labor.
17. In Castle Inter Lucus
When the magical writing appeared in the wall at the command of Lord Martin, Wyrtgeon Bistan and Syg Alymar lost all their doubts as to Ora’s truthfulness. They begged the lord’s forgiveness for their skepticism and repeatedly affirmed their loyalty to the lord of Inter Lucus. Ora wished she could render their promises in Lord Martin’s language; she wasn’t sure the lord understood the oaths of allegiance sworn by the villagers.
Eventually, Wyrtgeon and Syg admitted that, though they were ready to do whatever their lord commanded, they needed to go home, if the lord permitted it. Wyrtgeon’s wife, Gisa, would be worried about him, and Syg would fear for his aged mother, Leola Alymar, if he were not home at night. Again Ora tried to translate details without success. But Lord Martin seemed to grasp enough of the situation to respond adequately to the men’s request. “Farewell,” he said, surprising Ora as well as Wyrtgeon and Sig. Lord Martin was learning the speech of Two Moons quickly, but Ora hadn’t heard him use this word before. The lord graciously added a little bow to his words, an honor greater than they deserved, Ora thought.
Ora and Lord Martin slept on the grass of the great hall, shadowed by the ruined walls of Inter Lucus. They built no fire and neither had a coat or blanket, but the evening air was warm. Ora remembered Fridiswid’s rude question and wondered if Lord Martin shared Aethulwulf’s interest in her body. He is a man, after all. And he defended me from Attor and Aethulwulf. Ora decided that if Lord Martin reached for her in the night she would not resist. The lord was turned away, lying on his side. Ora reached out and almost touched his neck, but realized he was already asleep. She rolled back to face the stars. He is the lord. It’s not my place to touch him that way.
Marty slept well. Whether the cause was the absence of mosquitoes, a bed of grass rather than lakeshore pebbles, or a mysterious effect of the castle he couldn’t tell. Marty knew some important connection between him and Inter Lucus had been established when he first touched the control knob. He arose eager to explore the castle much more thoroughly, as a matter of first importance. In particular, he wanted to climb down to the corridors that ran under the grassy hall. Marty left Ora, still asleep, and walked around the nearest pit, examining it from all sides.
Exploring Inter Lucus would not be as easy as Marty’s dreams suggested. The floor of the lower level was at least sixteen feet down. To jump or drop that far risked injury. Even on the side where fallen debris shortened the distance, Marty estimated the drop at twelve feet, which puzzled him. I would have sworn that yesterday the debris pile reached much higher. He remembered the “draining” effect he had noticed the afternoon before. The castle is cleaning itself. Downstairs too?
Marty began a careful examination of the great hall. Without having “before” measurements with which to compare he couldn’t be precise, but it seemed as if the accumulated dirt, leaves, sticks, and rubble had been reduced everywhere in the hall. And the walls looked taller, not merely because the dirt on the floor had receded; Marty became more and more convinced the walls had grown. Then he came to the oddest thing of all.
Midway in the great hall, at a place where wind sweeping through the ruins had kept the accumulation of debris to a minimum, the soil had been completely removed, revealing a polished floor of oak. The patch of uncovered floor was perhaps eighteen inches wide, and its edges seemed to waver, as if obscured by haze. Marty dropped to his knees on the edge of the patch to look more closely. Bit by bit, almost imperceptibly, the cleaned portion of the floor was growing, the dirt disappearing. The wood floor had natural marks in it, growth rings and imperfections in the wood, as well as parallel lines where the wood had been joined. Marty watched intently for many minutes, perhaps a quarter of an hour, and in that time new details of the floor emerged into view. He sat back on his haunches and looked around the castle—in some unfathomable way, his castle—with a kind of awe.
It’s like the place is alive. No wonder the locals bow to the lord; if lords control this kind of technology they would be gods to medieval peasants. No, that’s not right. That first day—just two days ago, amazingly—Ora said “upgodu” had sent me to be “domne.” They conceive a difference between lords and gods. I need to discover what that difference is.
Ora came to him as Marty cogitated. She wore boots and brandished her fishing net. “Fair morning, Lord Martin. Shall we go fishing?” Ora swung the net expressively, making her meaning clear.
“Fair morning, Ora. I need to remain in Inter Lucus today. You go fishing. I will prepare a fire so that when you return we can cook. Do you remember the broken cherry trees?” Marty pointed north, through a gap in the castle wall. “There is wood there for a fire.”
“As my lord commands.” Ora grinned and bowed. She gave Marty her leather pouch with its flint and knife and hurried away cheerfully, leaving Marty nonplussed. I really am her “lord”; she is delighted to be my servant.
When she had gone, Marty sat for a while, watching morning shadows retreat across the north slope of the castle grounds. He felt a bulge in his pocket—the little Testament he had taken from his desk two days ago at Our Lady. He had forgotten it in the swirl of forty-eight hours. He searched for a few minutes to find a certain gospel passage.
Amen, I say to you, there is no one who has given up house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands for my sake and for the sake of the gospel who will not receive a hundred times more now in this present age: houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and eternal life in the age to come.
Does exile to a distant planet count? He returned the Testament to his pocket.
Approaching the orchard, Marty realized that the overgrown trees might provide more than firewood. He took his walnut staff with him. More than one cherry tree had split over the years from the weight of untended branches, leaving plenty of dead wood as supply for a fire. Marty found a gnarled fallen trunk of a tree about twenty feet long. From this he broke off as many small branches as he could, sometimes using his staff as a club.
Shorn of minor branches the cherry log still weighed more than Marty. Hoisting the upper end onto his shoulders to drag it, he had to rest for breath three times before finally lowering it, butt first, into one of the pits in the great hall. At the critical moment the weight and awkwardness of the log overcame him, and he dropped it. But the log butted into the dirt piled on the floor below as Marty had intended. He wiggled the upper end back and forth until the butt end was securely lodged in the debris pile.
“Lord Martin! Lord Martin! Where are you?”
Marty showed himself. “Here, Ora! At the castle!” The girl was already trotting up the hill, following the track left by the cherry log. She had several fish on a stick and had picked up the tool pouch and Marty’s staff.
“No fire?” No accusation in her voice, only puzzlement.
“I’m sorry, Ora. I got busy with other work. Come see.”
When Ora understood the purpose of the cherry log, she said, “I go first?” But Marty directed her to hold the log steady while he climbed down. With that accomplished, he told her to drop things to him, thinking the knife and his walnut staff might be helpful. But he must have used a wrong word, because Ora dropped the fish, still on a stick. Naturally, Marty missed catching the fish and three of them slid off the stick when they hit the floor. With Marty holding the log, Ora clambered down quickly, the leather pouch looped around her neck. Laughing over Marty’s error (cytwer doesn’t really sound like crycc), they searched around the debris field until the fish were recaptured and back on Ora’s stick.
Full morning light above them illumined the space below the opening and to walls many feet distant tolerably well. But the tall corridors beneath the great hall ran far off into the dark. Marty realized that Inter Lucus might be larger underground than above. In the dark there was no way to be sure. We need to make some kind of torch.
Then the lights came on.
18. In Wedmor, Herminia
It’s wonderful how fast five men can travel compared to an army. Escorted by four riders, Eudes Ridere had left Pulchra Mane the day before yesterday—and here we are, already at the approaches to Wedmor. An army, with its spearmen and archers, tents and wagons, servants and camp followers, would have taken a week or longer, in some cases much longer, to move the same distance. As commander of Rudolf Grandmesnil’s army, Eudes had endured and managed the snail pace of massed soldiers for many years.
In private Rudolf had called Eudes “my quartermaster general.” He said it admiringly, for without Eudes and his ability to procure and coordinate the supplies, weapons and men of large armies, Rudolf could never have subdued the lords of Herminia. As long as a lord controlled his castle, he could repel any direct assault. Of course, the defender had to maintain physical contact with the lord’s knob, which meant that lords were occasionally felled by treachery, and there had been a few cases of successful attacks coinciding with the lord’s illness (perhaps caused by poisoning). It was left to Eudes Ridere, the quartermaster general, to devise a reliable way to subdue a healthy lord in command of his castle: the long siege. First, if the rebel lord has an army in the field, destroy it. Second, surround the castle, cutting off all traffic in and out. Third—Eudes’s crucial innovation—organize a rotation system allowing soldiers to go home to their farms. At any particular time two thirds of the army would either be productively working at home or en route to or from the besieged castle. The system was massively complicated and burdensomely expensive, but it permitted Rudolf and Eudes to sustain sieges for two years and longer. In the end, they conquered the whole of Herminia.
Now Eudes served not the father, but the daughter. Mariel had taken him as husband—and in private she was as loving a bride as he ever wished—but in public he obediently filled whatever role she assigned. Therefore, for a season, he would be a spy; hence, only a small guard on the road to Prati Mansum. After that he would be on his own.
Four trustworthy riders accompanied him: Aewel Penda, Archard Oshelm, and brothers Fugol and Galan Hengist. Armed only with swords and tough leather jerkins, the company dressed for speed, not battle. A dozen years of good government under Rudolf and Mariel had greatly reduced the plague of highwaymen in any case.
In Wedmor they had a choice of two inns, Goose Hollow and The Shining Stag. Archard Oshelm made inquiries at both and reported the latter had three upstairs rooms available, so the party lodged their mounts at a public stable close by The Shining Stag. Fugol and Galan cared for the horses while Eudes, Aewel and Archard carried their limited baggage to the inn. The guards would share two rooms; Eudes had the smallest room to himself. The Shining Stag provided basins of cold and hot water so the visitors could wash. Presently, the five men shared one of eight tables in the common room: beer, hot slices of beef, onions and gravy.
Eudes declined an invitation from his guards for a second round of beer. Rising, he tapped Archard lightly. “Old bones need sleep. A mere three days on the road, and I long for rest. Take care you don’t drink the night away.”
“Aye,” replied barrel-chested Archard. “Early we rise, early we ride.”
At that moment a tall young man burst into the common room, followed by a shorter, older man dressed well in a fine gray tunic and a gold chain. “There he is!” exclaimed the bony youth. Eudes, like everyone else in the room, looked to see the object of this excitement. To his surprise, the man was pointing at Eudes.
With shocking speed, Fugol Hengist swung his legs from under the table and rose; in a moment he stood with drawn sword between the accuser and Eudes. The youth’s blue eyes went wide with fear and he staggered back into the rich man behind him. Eudes laid a calming hand on Fugol’s left arm, but as a matter of soldierly instinct he did not impede Fugol’s sword arm.
“Are you looking for someone?” Eudes directed his question to the older man.
The gentleman, seeing all eyes on him, spoke quietly. “It would be better to say we were hoping for someone. Bully, here, my boy, said that he had seen a certain person come to Wedmor today. If that’s true, I would surely like to speak with him. Only as a matter of friendship, I assure you. Since I have never seen this man, I am relying on Bully’s judgment. Could I prevail on you to speak with me privately?”
Eudes squeezed Fugol’s arm, and the soldier sheathed his weapon. Eudes said, “Very well. Let’s go outside. Fugol, Galan, come along.” Eudes motioned Aewel and Archard to stay seated.
Without a word, as they exited the inn, Galan took up guard at the door. Fugol strode ahead of Eudes into the street, looking up and down for possible threats. Eudes stood at ease, watching the fat man’s quick brown eyes.
The gentleman smiled. “Your men are well-trained, my lord. That, as much as Bully’s word, tells me you are indeed Eudes Ridere. I am Wilfrid Engoff, one of three Town Councilors in Wedmor.” He extended a hand. “You are the Lord Eudes, are you not?”
Eudes saw no point in dissembling. He shook Wilfrid Engoff’s hand. “How does young Bully know me?”
“Bully came to Wedmor a year ago, fleeing some trouble he doesn’t want to talk about. He used to live in Pulchra Mane—the city, of course, not the castle—and he claims to have witnessed the wedding procession of the queen. He says Eudes Ridere is easy to identify by his curly black hair, the scars on his arms and the pride in his gray eyes. The description does fit you, my lord.”
“How would this boy have seen my eyes?” Eudes looked at the skinny youth more carefully and remembered the pale blue eyes—an unproved accusation of burglary and two angry merchants. “No matter. Has there been trouble with Bully?”
“No, indeed, my lord. Bully is well liked in Wedmor. It was the possibility of finding you that brought me out.”
“Please explain, Councilor.”
“Sir, we—that is, the Town Councilors—must judge a most difficult dispute. It would be of great help to have the advice of a man so experienced as Eudes Ridere, not to mention someone who knows the mind of the queen.”
Eudes shook his head. “I must disappoint you, Wilfrid. I am on the queen’s business, which brooks no delay. My men and I ride before sunrise.”
“But that is no barrier to helping us. The Council meets tonight; in fact the other Councilors are sitting now, along with the parties at suit, awaiting my return.”
Eudes sighed, hope of good sleep fading. If Mariel were present, he knew exactly what she would require. “Councilor Wilfrid, I am a soldier, not a judge.”
“But you know the queen’s mind better than anyone. We need advice.”
“I will come. Fugol, come along too. And you too, Bully.” Eudes wagged a finger at the youth. “You got me into this, so you’ll have to stick it out.” Bully was delighted, which only showed how little experience he had with councils.
It took an hour of patient listening, after Lord Eudes had been introduced, with first one side and then the other objecting to various statements by the other, before the matter became clear. Hereric Black owned the largest farm in the vicinity of Wedmor; the flesh of his pigs and cattle appeared on tables throughout the valley. In recent years farmer Black had cleared large new fields and planted melons, and to supply these fields he dammed a river that ran across his land, diverting water through canals and ditches. The difficulty arose because that very river (Hereric Black insisted on calling it Aefentid River, after his deceased wife, but the townspeople would only call it Wedmor River) flowed into the drainage system that the town had built, at considerable expense, only a few years before. The reduced flow of the Wedmor in summer wasn’t enough to wash the town’s waste to the sea. Why should townspeople endure a stinking summer when they had so carefully constructed a drainage system? In response, Hereric Black argued that Aefentid River flowed unobstructed most of the year; he only irrigated in the hottest months of summer. And without the water, Black’s enormous yield of melons, which everyone admitted to eating, would be decimated.
When testimony ended, Town Councilor Caelin Aleric declared a recess. Councilors and witnesses cleared the room, looking for a one of the privies in the dark outside the building. Servants lit tapirs around the room. When the meeting resumed the councilors would turn to Eudes for advice, but he didn’t know what to say. It seemed that both farmer and townspeople had a just claim to a share of the water, but how much? Eudes rubbed his eyes. His neck hurt.
“My lord? May I have a word?” It was the watery-eyed youth, Bully. The Council room was almost empty.
“I suppose. Everyone else wants a piece of my time.”
“I have an idea, my lord. I am familiar with the land around Hereric Black’s farm.” As Bully talked, Eudes listened with greater and greater interest. Then, “Thank you, son. Let’s see how they take it.”
Townspeople were aghast, at first, when Eudes recommended that Hereric Black be allowed to raise the height of his dam three feet. He would be able to dam up all the water of Wedmor River, they complained. Hereric Black was aghast when he realized that he would be required to dam Aefentid River to a greater height. He objected that he had no need for all that water. Both sides were satisfied once they understood that the Town Council would have authority to order the release of three feet of creek water to flush the town’s drain system, but never more than once in two weeks.
After the meeting, Eudes sent Fugol for Bully. “If you like living in Wedmor, son, may the gods bless you. But I believe I could use you. My men and I leave The Shining Stag early tomorrow; if you meet us when we leave, I’ll have a job for you—in the queen’s service.”
The boy’s eyes shone.
19. In Down’s End
In the two days after Sunniva’s burial Isen visited every glassblower in Down’s End. Somehow word from Alderman Gausman preceded him in each case. No glassblower would take him on as apprentice. At first this rejection puzzled him; what had he done to offend master Gausman? Did the trouble lie with Cenhelm Godspear and his son Elfgar? But Isen had never sensed any enmity from Master Godspear or Elfgar. The whole thing was a mystery.
Mystery soon gave way to feelings of anger, anxiety and despair. Isen had spent five years toiling for Kent Gausman, learning his craft, and all the while earning barely enough to buy food for himself and Sunniva. Now what? Did his knowledge and skill count for nothing? What work could he do? Day labor on one of the many farms around Down’s End? Seek an apprenticeship with a weaver or some other guild? Isen was already nineteen years old; he shrunk at the idea of starting all over again. Alderman Gausman was an important man in Down’s End (Gausman himself had said so often enough); would his word against his former apprentice bar Isen from any sort of work?
Osulf Deepwater’s father, Bead, provided a temporary solution to Isen’s unemployment. Isen met Osulf in the market, in late afternoon two days after the burial; Osulf quickly invited Isen to sup with the family. Bebba Deepwater, mother to Osulf and Headby, hospitably set a place for Isen at the table. During supper Bead scratched his bushy black beard while listening to Isen tell Osulf and Headby how all the glassblowers shut him out. At length Bead said, “Gausman just up and tossed ya, eh? Don’t think on it too long; it’s not hard to understand. Politics, see? Gausman is head o’ the guild, an’ he wants to stay that. You could be twice as good as Godspear’s boy, an’ it don’t matter. Gausman’s buying votes for the next guild meet.
“Anyway, I got an idea for ya. How ’bout we take a boom ’cross the lake tomorrow? I think the wind’ll be good, soft an’ steady. We’d need an extra hand to load and unload.”
“Good plan, Da!” said Headby. “Not a boat’s brought over a load for two, three weeks. Builder’s Row must be needin’ cut lumber, or logs at least.”
“Aye,” said the father. “And if we get a good price, we can let Isen, here, share in the take. And if not, well, Isen, at least ya’ll get sup for the day.”
“I’m very grateful, Master Deepwater,” said Isen. “When do we start?”
Deepwater pursed his lips. “Early, early. Some other body might be thinkin’ the same.”
Osulf shook Isen awake in the dark. The fishing family was used to rising with first light; what they called an “early” start felt like the middle of the night to Isen. He dressed quickly and tried to rub sleep from his face. Bebba Deepwater kissed her husband and sons goodbye and handed them lunch: several small loaves of bread (still warm, as she had let them bake during the night) and a large skin of beer. Once on board Morning Glory, the Deepwaters’ fishing boat, Isen had little to do except stay out of the way.
A fishing boat is too small to carry loads of lumber or logs, but Down’s End fishermen had devised a practical way to transport forest products across West Lake. In good weather a fishing boat could pull a raft of logs or, as Bead intended this day, a raft of logs piled high with cut lumber. Before leaving Down’s End in morning’s gray light, Bead and his sons attached a line from Morning Glory to a boom of six logs kept under one of the docks near the mouth of River Betlicéa. The boom consisted of six fat logs cut the same length, chained end-to-end to make a ring. Once they reached the east side of the lake the fishermen would use the ring of logs to enclose their floating cargo, unfastening one of the chains and reattaching it once the load was surrounded. On the outward journey, with no cargo floating inside the ring, the boom collapsed into two rows of logs trailing behind Morning Glory. Headby stood on the pier with a pike pole, shepherding the boom between the pilings of the pier as Morning Glory slowly pulled the chained logs into open water. Isen began to think Headby would be left behind, or Bead and Osulf would have to turn back to pick him up, but at the last moment Headby jumped lightly from the fishing dock to the last logs of the boom. With a pike pole for balance, the young sailor walked on the logs of the boom as easily as walking a path on land.
Osulf remarked to Isen more than once how easy the crossing was; a steady breeze from the northwest filled Morning Glory’s modest sail and the crew had little to do but steer. Isen, who had never been surrounded by miles of water before, felt much less sanguine. He watched the black water of West Lake moving around the boat, a mere foot below the gunwale on the right side of the boat, and worried that the wind might tip Morning Glory far enough to bring water in.
The sun rose over the forest between the lakes as Morning Glory drew close to the east shore. There was no one there, in fact, no sign of human habitation except a rough dock built out into the water a short distance. The Deepwaters expertly guided Morning Glory near the dock; Headby used the pike pole to pull the little boat close, and they tied up. On the land end of the dock Osulf untied the clapper of a signal bell, which he rang loudly several times. Then the Morning Glory crew sat down to wait and eat.
Before half an hour had gone a woodsman named Baldric Forrest responded to their signal, and not long after that a youth came who called himself Aethulwulf Woodman arrived. He said his father, Attor, would be along presently. Negotiations proceeded amicably; soon it was agreed that Morning Glory would sail a half mile north to collect some raw logs from Baldric Forrest. Meanwhile, Attor and Aethulwulf would bring two wagon loads of cut planks, already seasoned by drying, to the dock; Morning Glory would pull the raft of logs back south to be loaded with lumber on top. This way, Baldric Forrest’s fresh logs would ride in the water and Attor Woodman’s seasoned lumber would stay mostly dry. The whole thing could be done in a few hours, leaving the boatmen time to return to Down’s End that day. “An altogether pleasin’ result,” said Bead. “Many’s the time it’s taken two, even three days, for a lumber run. Let’s hope the wind holds.”
Moving raw logs from land to water proved the hardest labor of the day. Baldric Forrest had dragged dozens of logs near the shore, various sizes, with a team of oxen. But for the last twenty feet, the logs had to be rolled into the water by men. Isen and Osulf did most of the work, using levers to roll the logs. Headby, meanwhile, stood knee deep in the water with his pike pole to shepherd their purchase into a reasonable semblance of a raft and keep any log from escaping. For the largest log, a fir more than four feet in diameter, Bead and Baldric joined Isen and Osulf to lever the monster into the water. By midday, they had surrounded the collection of logs with the six-log boom and refastened its chains. The boom now formed a rectangle, two log lengths long and one wide. The enclosed logs, of various lengths, nestled closely at the far end of the rectangle, but left some open water at the near end. Morning Glory proceeded to tow the enclosed raft of logs to the forest dock. As promised, Attor and Aethulwulf Woodman had brought a good supply of cut lumber to load atop the makeshift barge. Headby and Osulf worked on the raft, nimbly balancing on logs and stacking lumber. Isen and Bead worked with Attor and his son, handing long planks of pine and fir to the men on the raft. They took care not to overload the raw logs underneath, lest a log be pushed down far enough to escape under the logs of the boom.
“If I remember right, besides this strappin’ son o’ yours, you also had a daughter.” Isen was close enough to hear what Bead said to Attor. “But no sign o’ her today. I guess you found her a husband?”
Attor Woodman frowned angrily, which Isen thought strange. Bead spoke kindly enough.
“I only speak as a friend. Osulf there, he thought your girl a fair sight.”
Attor almost growled. “Aye. I know it. Eacnung won’t let me forget; says I shoulda married her off last year.” He sighed and shrugged. “The girl ran off.”
Bead’s face registered sympathy and surprise. “She seemed a good girl. Get herself a man?”
“In a manner of speakin’.” Attor shook his head.
“I don’t follow ya.”
“She says she went down to the castle n’ prayed, n’ she says the gods sent her a new lord for Inter Lucus.”
To this point, while Bead and Attor spoke, Isen and Aethulwulf had continued to pass lumber to Osulf and Headby. Isen now stopped to listen better. Aethulwulf pointedly ignored the conversation; he wrestled a heavy plank by himself.
Bead said, “So there is a man. A stranger I bet, from Cippenham or somewhere else far away.”
Attor pushed back his hair with both hands. “Far away? Aye. Wyrtgeon Bistan and Syg Alymar say it’s true. They say this lord made Inter Lucus magic. They say they saw it.”
Bead shook his head. “How’d a girl talk two men into such foolishness? There’s been no lord for a hundred years. Inter Lucus is dead.”
Attor shrugged. “I don’t know. Syg Alymar’s a good man. Known ’im a long time. He says he saw Lord Martin make magic in the wall.”
Bead clapped Attor’s shoulder. “Well, if it is true, we’ll know soon enough. Good news for you, too. Not every man’s daughter takes a lord of a castle!”
Attor tried to smile, but Isen thought it looked more like a grimace. And he saw a side-glance between father and son that he couldn’t interpret.
20. In Castle Inter Lucus
In one sense, Ora could come to terms with the marvels of Inter Lucus more easily than Marty. To her, everything the castle did was magic (scinnlác). The magic of the gods could do amazing things, and since Lord Martin had bonded with Inter Lucus, he had access to the gods’ magic. So, naturally: lights in the underground parts of the castle. Ora recognized that Lord Martin was only a lord, not a god, so there were limits; she could not expect him to do anything and everything. But she was always ready to experience new wonders.
Marty, on the other hand, was constantly guessing at the technology behind the surprises. The underground corridors of the castle were lit by softly glowing strips of some ceramic or glass material embedded in the floors, walls and ceilings. Fiber optics? Marty wondered. In his time as an electronics manufacturer’s agent he had sold some lighting systems that might be considered primitive versions of Inter Lucus’s lights.
Throughout the underground level the ceilings were about sixteen feet high, and the corridors were as wide as an expensive hotel’s. A lot of unused space that has to be heated and cooled; a big waste—if they were building for human beings. Maybe they built for really tall aliens. But if aliens built the thing, why is it inhabited by a bunch of medieval Europeans? And how did I get here? Marty shook his head. So many unanswered questions.
It became obvious that the underground level—levels, because Marty and Ora found staircases leading down—covered a far greater area than the ruins on the surface. Marty counted paces on some long corridors and estimated the third level, the lowest as far as they could tell, reached to the edge of the forest surrounding Inter Lucus. By counting paces Marty also concluded that the corridors made a perimeter around a large section of the second and third levels that had no doors. He speculated that some of Inter Lucus’s vital machinery, perhaps the central computer, lay behind these walls. You would think they had to put in access somewhere, if only for repairs. Try as he might, Marty found no indication of an entrance to the walled off section.
At various places they found signs or messages in a script that resembled the alien letters that had appeared in the south wall of the castle when Marty first bonded with Inter Lucus, always high on the walls. Marty took this as evidence for his “tall aliens” theory. Most of the messages were static, but some of them would fade and be replaced by others. Marty puzzled about them but realized he might never decipher a truly alien language; he didn’t know the letters, the words, the concepts, or the syntax. And the authors of the messages weren’t present for interrogation. I need something like a Rosetta stone for alien hieroglyphics.
While Ora and Marty were exploring the third level, a bell rang. It seemed to have no particular location; the sound came from the walls or the ceiling or both. In the wall to Marty’s right a square lit up, and Roman letters appeared:
Cibum est iam.
Ora looked at Marty expectantly. She couldn’t read the message, but she obviously concluded that letters at eye-level accompanied by a signal had to be meant for them. Marty remembered “cibum” appeared in the list of castle subroutines, and he had a guess as to its meaning. He led Ora up stairways to the first lower level and the open pit by which they had entered. Before they arrived, while still walking the corridor, they smelled confirmation of Marty’s theory.
A portion of the floor had pushed itself up, creating a slab table/counter and pushing aside a portion of the debris pile under the daylight opening. Atop the ceramic slab lay Ora’s fishes, sizzling in shallow depressions in the counter top. Pan fried fish, without the pan. “Cibum est iam.” “Food is . . .” what? Ready? I wonder where they keep the plates and silverware. Lacking these implements, Marty used Ora’s knife to push the fish out of the “pan” onto the counter top. Other than the depression where the fish cooked, the slab’s surface was cool. He cut the fishes into small pieces and they ate with their fingers. Marty attended carefully to the counter top as they ate. Tiny bits of grease or fish scales left behind when he or Ora took a bite gradually disappeared. It’s like the dirt absorbing floor upstairs. On Earth a company with this technology would make a fortune; it’s a true self-cleaning house.
Marty reasoned there ought to be a stairway to the ground floor level, but it took a long time to find it, because, in the end, it was under their feet. The “pit” down which they had climbed by means of a cherry log was actually a stairwell. Somehow the stair had detached from the upper floor and recessed into the lower level floor under the weight of accumulated dirt, leaves and other debris, no doubt pressed down at times more heavily by rains or snowfall. With Ora’s help, Marty dragged the cherry log away from the opening, laying it beside a wall. With bare hands they scooped at the dirt, digging like dogs hunting moles; an unceremonious procedure, no doubt, but without a shovel it was the best option. When they had reduced the pile to only a couple inches of soil, they heard a pinging sound and the stairway began rising from the floor. Like the cooking counter, the stair rose as a solid block, each step separating from the mass when the unit reached the appropriate height. At first the stairs had no handrails, but when the top step joined the upper floor, again with a ping, narrow slabs began to rise from the ends of each step. Marty couldn’t descry any join between the rising slabs; when the stair was finished the sidewalls looked as if made from a single piece of transparent ceramic. But unlike any handrail he had seen on Earth, this rail was not a continuous slope; instead, the tops of the sidewalls stair-stepped exactly like the stairs from which they grew. On the right side of the stairway (going up), the sidewall stopped rising about three feet above the stair; on the left side it rose over Marty’s head. All the stairways they had encountered followed this pattern, convenient rails on the right and impractically tall ones on the left. Earthlings on the right, aliens on the left—is that how it worked? Suddenly Marty had an idea; he rushed up the stairs with Ora trailing behind.
They had spent most of the day below; sun slanted above the ruin of Inter Lucus over the shadows of trees to the west. The dirt in the great hall had drained noticeably in the interim. The weeds and grass were reduced to patches and wood flooring—or something that looked like wood flooring—was showing in many places. But Marty paid scant attention to these details. Aliens to the left. He hurried toward the glass wall, the wall he had come to think of as “the interface.” The ball he thought of as the “control knob” now stood between two and three feet above the retreating grass; when the dirt was completely gone it would be something over three feet tall. To the left stood the much taller column with the broken ball on top; Marty had no doubt it had been a larger version of the control knob. He wished he had a ladder. The alien control knob is broken. Maybe that’s why they left. It couldn’t be that simple, could it? They have to know how to fix things. After all, the place is busy fixing itself. . . . But maybe the control system is a tougher matter; maybe Inter Lucus can’t self-repair that system.
There are other castles. Have the aliens deserted them too?
Marty found himself shaking his head yet again. So many questions, so few answers.
In the meantime, life among the mysterious medieval inhabitants of the planet kept providing complications. Behind him Ora was shouting, and an arrow struck the ground near Marty’s feet.
21. In Castle Inter Lucus
The arrow came from Marty’s left, where a figure stood in a break between ruined walls. The archer was notching a second arrow. Marty dashed right to seek cover but tangled his feet and tripped, falling next to the control knob. He pulled himself up, instantly feeling the connection with Inter Lucus.
The sound of an ear-splitting klaxon, as if ten fire trucks were combined into one, exploded out of the interface wall. Perhaps the sound emanated from the floor and the other walls as well; Marty couldn’t tell. At the same time, the wall blazed with a phantasmagoria of light: orange, yellow, green and red, too bright to look at. Marty curled onto his elbows and knees with his eyes screwed shut against the light, but he had the sense to maintain contact with the control knob. He wiggled around to turn his back to the wall and dared a quick look. Ora lay prone on a bit of floor, her hands covering her ears. More importantly, the archer was no longer in sight. As if in response to this information, the klaxon sound stopped and light from the wall switched in a moment from otherworldly bright to message board ordinary.
Marty crabbed around the control knob, blinking repeatedly as his eyes readjusted to the soft light of a summer evening. His ears were ringing. He looked at the openings between the walls of Inter Lucus, quickly shifting his attention from place to place, but the archer was not to be seen.
“Lord Martin, are you okay?” Ora liked using the word she had learned.
“Yes. Where is the . . . man?” Marty didn’t know the words for archer, bow or arrow.
“I will look.” Ora scrambled swiftly along the interface wall to peek around the end. Seeing no one, she hurried to a gap in the east wall, not far from where the archer had stood. She turned and beckoned Marty with a wave of her arm, at the same time putting her other hand over her mouth. For a moment, Marty questioned the wisdom of leaving the control knob; what if the sound attracted other attackers? Trusting Ora’s judgment, he jogged to join her, bending to recover his walnut staff on the way. He laid a finger on his lips in recognition of Ora’s call for quiet.
Ora pointed. The east side of the castle grounds was fully shadowed. Marty didn’t see anyone and shook his head. Ora whispered, “Berries.”
Quietly: “I see!” Someone crouched behind the blueberry bushes. The intruder was near enough to the forest that he could easily escape, but instead of running away he watched Inter Lucus from his hiding place. After perhaps a minute of this, the stranger jumped up and ran into the forest.
Suddenly Ora spoke aloud. “The gods take you! Prideful fool! I know where you live, Caelin Bycwine.”
Marty touched Ora’s arm. “Do you know this man?”
“No man he, but a foolish boy.” They walked back toward the control knob as Ora talked. “Caelin Bycwine is a year younger than I am. His father owns goats. Tomorrow, if Lord Martin desires, I can take you to his house and you can punish him.”
“If we go to his house, won’t he shoot us?” Marty picked up the arrow that had so narrowly missed his leg to illustrate his question.
Ora laughed. “Caelin Bycwine’s mother was sister to my mother. He will not shoot me. I will knock on his door and tell him Lord Martin demands to see him. In any case, now that he has seen Lord Martin’s magic, he would fear to shoot you.”
“Ora, I trust your judgment. If you think I should visit Caelin Bycwine, I will. But perhaps I will not punish him.”
“Lord Martin is merciful.”
Marty put his hand on the control knob, picturing in his mind the subroutine list, which appeared instantly. He half expected this result. Somehow the castle “read” his feelings or desires, fear a few minutes ago and curiosity now.
I. Materias Transmutatio: non operativa
II. Parva Arcum Praesidiis: parte operativa, aedificaverunt initiati
III. Magna Arcum Praesidiis: non operativa
IV. Cibum Preparatio Homines: operativa
V. Inter-Castrum Videns-Loquitur: non operativa
VI. Extra Arcem Micro-Aedificator: non operativa
VII. Potentia Fontes: parte operativa, aedificaverunt initiati
VIII. Aquarum: parte operativa, aedificaverunt initiati
IX. Intra Arcem Micro-Aedificator: operativa
X. Centralis Arbitrium Factorem: parte operativa
Three instances of aedificaverunt initiati, and Marty made a guess: Repairs initiated. The castle is fixing itself. And that means . . . Wasn’t IX the one operating system at the start? “Micro-Aedificator” =“small repairer”? Apparently I have two sets of small repairers: Intra Arcem and Extra Arcem. Inside and outside of what? The castle? That fits. Repairs are certainly going on inside the building.
Ora touched Lord Martin’s elbow. She had walked patiently back and forth between the lord’s knob and the end of the wall as Lord Martin contemplated the tiny lights. But darkness was falling, and there was need.
“What is it?” He took his hand from the lord’s knob; the lights winked out.
“Come.” Ora led Lord Martin to the west wall of the great hall. They stood behind two fragments of wall where they could survey the trees on the southwest approaches of the castle. “There. See? Beyond the oaks.”
Lord Martin let out a breath. “They must have heard the sound a while ago. How many?”
“Three, I think. My lord, use magic to frighten them.”
“Will they attack us?”
“I do not think they will attack. But if Lord Martin frightens them, they will surely not attack.”
“Okay. Stand here and watch them.”
Lord Martin went back to the lord’s knob. There was dark silence for a while. Without warning a narrow band of intense light shot from the outside of the wall, directed at the oak grove. Simultaneous with the light, the horrible horn sounded again. The intruders hiding among the trees fled for their lives. Ora counted four of them.
When Lord Martin released the lord’s knob, the wall fell quiet and dark. Ora had an idea. “Perhaps we should sleep downstairs.” Ora pointed to make her meaning plain.
As long as Lord Martin was awake, he could defend them with magic. But he had to sleep sometime, and Ora’s knife was not much defense. She felt sure they would be safer underground.
“Okay. Good.” Lord Martin led the way. The magic of Inter Lucus lighted their way as they descended the stairs to the first underground level. Walking a long corridor, Ora noticed that the light appeared where they needed it; in the corridor behind them light faded away.
Suddenly Lord Martin said, “What in the world? I should have guessed. Thank you, Lord!”
Ora had learned that Lord Martin’s word “lord” meant “domne.” It seemed strange that he would thank himself. She would have to ask him tomorrow.
The occasion for the lord’s thankfulness became clear. A portion of the corridor wall had retracted into itself, revealing a room they had not seen in their earlier exploration of the castle. It was a small room with much of its space occupied by two large troughs made of something that looked like stone, each trough half full of steaming water.
“Ladies first,” said Lord Martin, motioning for Ora to enter the room. Ora regarded him with wonder. She had heard tales of grand baths in the houses of rich men in Down’s End, though she had never imagined anything this opulent. That the lord of a castle would let a servant bathe in such luxury was beyond her ken. That he would call her a lady . . .?
“Take a bath, Ora. I’ll wait out here.” A thought came to him. “In fact, while you wash, I’ll look around for a linen closet. I bet there is one.”
It took a couple minutes to persuade Ora to bathe. Marty almost had to order her to do it. As he walked away from the bath chamber the corridor between them fell dark, but light still spilled from the bathroom. It shouldn’t be hard to find his way back, but Marty decided not to take chances. He confined his search for towels to the nearby portion of the corridor.
Of course, he didn’t know how to look. Since the bathroom had appeared in an otherwise unmarked portion of the wall, Marty reasoned that other rooms (Closets? Bedrooms? What else?) might turn up anywhere. He ran his hand along the wall; perhaps touch would identify a door invisible to sight. He returned unsuccessful and waited for Ora to come out of the bathroom. She emerged dressed in an under tunic, holding her dirty coarse outer clothes in a bundle. She made a little bow. “I’ll wait out here,” she said, mimicking his words.
As Marty sank into the bath water, he noticed the sheen of some oily substance in the corner of the tub. He palmed some of this and sniffed it. Soap! I should have guessed. Inter Lucus thinks of every thing. Well—not everything. Ora and I both need clean clothes.
22. On the Road to Stonebridge
Three days northwest of Hyacintho Flumen the road leapt across a narrow canyon by means of wooden bridge. Milo and Eádulf reined up in the middle of the bridge. At this point the unnamed river or creek that created the canyon broke through a gap in the hills on its way to West Lake. Looking to the northeast, through pine forests on both sides of the stream, they could see blue water stretching into the distance. “That is West Lake,” said Milo. “Blue River starts there on its journey to Hyacintho Flumen and the sea.”
Eádulf’s Adam’s apple moved up and down. He had never been more than two dozen miles from Hyacintho Flumen. “Will we see Down’s End, sir? Meccus told me Down’s End is a great city on West Lake.”
“No. We journey for Stonebridge, a city every bit as large as Down’s End. The road ahead will bear more and more westward, and Down’s End lies further north on the shore of the lake. But who knows? Perhaps we will visit Down’s End one day.”
Proceeding from the bridge, the road passed through a sparse pine forest with dry grasses and tough low bushes between the trees. In spring, the ground would have been soft from snowmelt, but full summer had now arrived. The forest smelled of pine and wild flowers. Bumblebees attended to wild roses and flowering shrubs: sidebells, wax currants, and huckleberries. The road consisted of two parallel lines where horses and wagon wheels had worn tracks through the scrub. Here and there, large rocks or ill-placed trees forced the road to rise or fall to get around barriers.
The riders rounded a bend in the road and found a pedestrian ahead of them. The man turned at the sound of their approach and held up a hand. “Fair morning!”
“Fair morning. Aye,” said Milo.
The man stood in the middle of the road, between the ruts made by occasional wagon wheels. He carried a tall staff, which he held sideways, as if to block the road. “Sirs,” he said, “You can see that I am an unarmed man. But I am not alone.” The stranger pointed with a nod of his head; two men with bows, arrows notched, aimed at them from twenty yards up hill. “We beg that you stop a while.”
Milo’s father, Hereward Mortane, had trained Milo in horsemanship and the use of a knight’s weapons. Milo had not yet fought a real battle, but he remembered Hereward’s opinion that in dealing with highwaymen taking initiative was crucial. The longer the robber controls the encounter, the greater the danger. Without a word in response to the pedestrian, Milo spurred his palfrey while bending low over her neck. The horse leapt forward, driving straight at the stranger. An arrow flew close over Milo’s back, felt rather than seen.
The highwayman jumped out of the way, scrambling up the road bank. Milo had his sword out only in time to touch the man’s leg as his mount rushed by. The speed of the horse and the extended sword, rather than any thrust on Milo’s part, sliced into the man’s leg. Milo looked over his shoulder; Eádulf was on his hands and knees next to his horse. The gray had fallen with an arrow in his neck.
Milo reined in his horse and jerked her around. Arrows flew by Eádulf as he scrambled off the road. The robbers’ spokesman was trying to stand, but his leg collapsed under him and he slid down the bank to the road. Milo spurred his horse into motion, passed the fallen highwayman, and charged off the road, angling across the slope at the archers. One of them shot hurriedly and wildly; the other failed to notch his arrow. Milo’s sword slashed as he came on them, and the tip cut into one robber’s neck. Milo brought his mount around, carefully now on the uneven hillside.
The battle was over. The archer whose neck Milo had slashed had a hand clasped to the wound, blood spurting between his fingers. In a matter of moments, he staggered and fell. The other archer sat on the ground dazed. Milo’s horse had struck him as she rushed by, knocking him mostly senseless.
Eádulf ran out from his hiding place. “Sir Milo! You’ve killed them!”
“Only one so far.” Milo dismounted and handed the palfrey’s reins to Eádulf. He walked to the stunned man, pointing his sword at him. “What’s your name, thief?”
He was a swarthy man, with long black hair gathered into two braids. His black eyes stared at the blood-tipped end of the blade. “Cola,” he muttered.
“All right, Cola. Now you get up and pull your friend there down to the road. Unless you desire to join him in the afterworld, you will move slowly and do exactly what I say.”
Milo kept his sword ready while Cola dragged the dead archer by his legs. “Sit him up there on the side of the road. He’ll be a warning to travelers of the dangers in these hills. Now lay down on your belly.”
Cola’s black eyes looked up at Milo, terrified. He had regained his senses. “O lord, please. No.”
“On your belly!” The man lay prone.
“Eádulf, fetch rope and a knife.”
“Aye, sir.” Eádulf had tethered Milo’s steed to a pine branch while Milo dealt with Cola. He found a knife and a coil of rope from the saddlebags on the fallen gray. The wounded horse had not tried to rise, its lifeblood slowly draining into the tufty brown grass between the road ruts.
“Give me the rope.”
“Now, Eádulf, one of these men put an arrow in your good gray. All we can do for the poor beast is end its suffering. Be a good man and use your knife.”
Eádulf had experience of life and death among farm animals; he was not surprised at Milo’s command. He knew how to cut the big artery in an animal’s neck.
“Don’t wipe the blade. Come over here. You see, Cola, how Eádulf can handle his knife. Put your hands behind your back and lie still. If you don’t, Eádulf will cut your throat as cleanly as the horse’s. Not that you deserve a quick end; it might be better if you bled slowly. Give me your hands!”
Milo laid aside his sword and tied Cola’s hands securely. “Rise, thief!
“We’ve lost a horse, Eádulf. For the time being you’ll have to carry some of the gray’s load. The rest we put on the thief. I leave it to you to decide what part he carries. Tie it on well. We don’t want him dropping things. If he doesn’t cooperate, cut him some place where it will hurt without incapacitating him. For example, he only needs one eye.”
Cola’s face was full of terror. Milo felt a thrill of pleasure; the man’s fear was intoxicating. The prisoner stood meekly as Eádulf tied Milo’s bundle of armor onto him. Eádulf then selected the most important items remaining from the gray’s load and packed them onto his own back. Finally, they were ready to go. Milo loosed the palfrey and walked her along the road. Presently they came to the place where the first highwayman, the spokesman for the trio, had fallen. The man had dragged himself up the hillside perhaps thirty yards, leaving a trail of crushed grasses and blood.
Milo handed the reins to Eádulf. “This won’t take long.” He pulled his sword from its sheath next to the pommel.
The highwayman cowered when Milo approached. “Oh Sir, my leg’s cut. I can’t walk or make trouble. Please, just leave me. I promise I’ll never thieve again. Don’t kill me, please just leave me.”
Milo smiled; again he felt delight. “Let’s see. You don’t want me to kill you. You promise you won’t steal again. And you want me to leave you here. Very well. Hold out your arm.”
The man had a puzzled look for a moment, but stretched out his arm. Milo’s steel blade flashed, taking off the man’s hand.
“If you tourniquet that, you won’t bleed to death. So you can’t say that I’ve killed you. And I dare say that you won’t be stealing again. Fair day to you.”
Milo watched the highwayman try one handed to wrap a bit of cloth around his stump, but the man couldn’t stop the bleeding. After struggling with it for many seconds, the robber gave out a sigh and slumped back. His eyes closed, blood still spurting from the stump. Milo turned away.
23. At Crossroad Inn
Five days from Hyacintho Flumen Milo, Eádulf and their prisoner, Cola, spied a cluster of buildings on the horizon. “Crossroad Village, I expect,” said Milo. At these words Cola, trailing Milo’s black horse at the end of a rope, jogged forward to draw even with Milo and Eádulf. It had proved impractical to keep Cola’s hands tied behind him, so they had bound his wrists, burdened him with Milo’s armor bundle, and roped him to the horse. Sometimes Milo rode the black palfrey, but other times, as now, he walked alongside Eádulf, leading the horse by the reins. For much of two days Cola had hung back as much as he could, although Milo warned him that if he stumbled he would be dragged.
“By my advice, my lord, ya’d do well to go avoid the village. I know a path that will take us round about, put us on the road to Stonebridge.”
Milo almost laughed. “Why would I want to miss the Crossroad Inn? We’ll find a comfortable bed and probably the best food until we reach Stonebridge.”
“I could not speak to the bed, since they charge so much I never slept there. But the food, now, they say they put poison in’t. Not so’s to kill ya, but so’s they can rob ya in the night.”
“And who says these things?” Milo shared a glance with Eádulf, who smirked.
“Well . . . Acca, whose hand my lord cut two days back. Mebbe my lord thinks Acca deserved wot he got. But Acca did say—many a time—that the Crossroaders were thieves themselves, wit’ their prices ’n food ’n poison.”
At this Milo did laugh. “Somehow my memory of Crossroad Village is kinder than that.”
Cola planted his feet. “My lord, I beg ya. Don’t take me there.” In response, Milo merely tugged on the black’s reins. When the rope went taut, Cola tried to resist. But the horse obeyed the reins and jerked the prisoner off his feet. After dragging Cola about fifteen yards, Milo stopped his animal, allowing Cola to regain his footing. He drew his sword from the scabbard on the horse and held its tip against Cola’s chest as the man panted.
“No doubt you have good reason to fear Crossroad Village. I suggest you pray the gods that if we meet someone there who has suffered your thieving that person will have mercy on you. That’s your best hope. I warn you: if you try to hold us back, I’ll drag you all the way in.”
Light seemed to go out of Cola’s eyes. He staggered after Milo and Eádulf, never speaking again.
Drawing near the village, they saw farmhouses on both sides of the road, set well apart from each other. Wooden fences enclosed some fields, but there were also large unfenced pastures and flocks of sheep guarded by dogs.
The Crossroad Inn was a long ramble of a building with two wings, one north-south and one east-west, meeting at the northwest corner by the crossroad. It was two stories tall in some places and one storey in others. A carved sign stood at the corner of the building by the crossroad; the sign’s curious emblem showed three curving brown lines meeting in the middle of a green field. Eádulf asked his master what it meant.
“The lines are roads, Eádulf. This is the Crossroad Inn. We’ve come from Hyacintho Flumen on the road at the bottom of the sign. If we were to take the right hand road, we would come to Down’s End. The left hand road will take us to Stonebridge. For tonight, we’ll stay here.”
Opposite the Inn a well sat between a house and the road, and next to the well a traveling blacksmith had parked his wagon. A tall oak tree provided shade for the well and the smith’s wagon. “Fair evening!” Milo called out as they approached the blacksmith.
Before responding the man poured a bucket of water on glowing charcoal in a stone ring. Steam billowed and hissed.
“Fair evening.” The smith extended a hand to Milo. “Saw ya a while back. Thought ya’d be here sooner. Then I thought: mebbe that horse’ll need shoeing. Now I sees ya got three on foot ’n only one horse. Just as well; I done enough today.” The blacksmith’s eyes took in Cola’s bonds, but he only said, “I’m Evoric Selwyn. I make the rounds from Stonebridge to the edges of the Downs, all the little places with no regular smith.”
“I’m Milo Mortane. I’ve come from the south. And this is Eádulf. We didn’t start out walking,” said Milo. “Somehow along the road we traded a horse for a prisoner. If the gods be pleased, we’ll buy a new horse before we move on. As blacksmith, you might know—are there horses for sale in Crossroads? A proper packhorse would serve well.”
Evoric Selwyn stepped close to Cola, seized the prisoner’s jaw and forced Cola to look him in the eye. “I think I know that story. Highwaymen they call themselves. Don’t know this un.” He released the robber and spat at his feet. “But I’ve had my share of troubles with others. There’s gangs of ’em in the hills. Ya go on into the Inn there and find the sheriff. He’ll do for ya.”
“There’s a sheriff here?” This would be news to Hereward Mortane; for as long as Milo could remember, his father had wanted to assert authority over the road north and the region between the lakes. As lord, Hereward had to stay in Hyacintho Flumen, so he had trained Milo and Aylwin as knights in arms partly to serve as his captains.
“Aye. The Stonebridge Council finally got grieved over losses on the road to Down’s End. Appointed a sheriff, who’s got coin to pay under-sheriffs. He’ll be happy to see you’s done some o’ his work.”
Milo left Eádulf in charge of horse and prisoner, charging him to cut Cola painfully if he should try to escape. Cola stared at the ground, unresponsive. Inside Crossroad Inn Milo quickly found the proprietor, a bony woman incongruously named Idonea Fatman. The widow explained that her late husband, Bryn, had well earned the name Fatman; she and her children merely retained it. When Milo asked about a sheriff, Idonea sent her son Beowulf scurrying to a room at the far end of the Inn’s east-west arm. Idonea took Milo’s payment and gave him directions to a room near the sheriff’s. Meanwhile, her daughter, Erna, served out pots of stew and trenchers of bread to a dozen travelers who had gathered for supper in the common room.
On the southeast side, between its two wings, Crossroad Inn had its own well and a fenced-in courtyard and stable. Milo and Eádulf were leading the black palfrey, Cola still roped to the saddle, through a covered passage from the road into the courtyard when a broad-shouldered, sandy-haired man slammed his way out of the common room door to catch up with them. Young Beowulf Fatman trailed behind.
“Fair evening!” The florid man had a wide nose and thick lips. “Bee here says you brought in a robber?”
“That we did.” Milo extended his hand. “Milo Mortane.”
“Sheriff Rage Hildebeorht.” Red eyebrows arched. “Mortane of Hyacintho Flumen?”
“The lord Hereward is my father, aye. But we have had something of a disagreement. I am not, shall we say, currently in his service.”
A shrug. “If that’s so, I don’t suppose you will try to insist that I be in yours.”
Milo nodded. “My father would imagine himself lord of the hills, the forest between the lakes, Down’s End, and Stonebridge. In fact he is lord of Hyacintho Flumen, and little else. I am happy to recognize your authority as sheriff in this region. The blacksmith, Evoric Selwyn, told me the Stonebridge Council had appointed you sheriff. Is that it?”
“Aye. I’m charged with making the road from Stonebridge to Down’s End safe again.”
“A worthy goal, and I’ve aided it. Eádulf and I were set upon by three men two days ago, just north of a bridge over a narrow gorge.”
“I know the place. Three men?”
“Two of them are dead. You might find their bodies.”
“Wolves can take ’em, for all I care,” said the sheriff, wiping a hand across his nose. “But I need to take custody of the third.”
Milo pursed his lips. “The man’s actually been of some use, carrying a portion of the load of a horse that he shot. Do you suppose, as sheriff, you could help me find a horse at a reasonable price?”
“Of course. Give me the man, and I’ll secure him. Your boy can stable this horse, and we’ll find someone in the common room to sell you another.”
So the deal was struck. Sheriff Hildebeorht trussed Cola, wrists and ankles, to a hitching post. In the common room of Crossroad Inn he called for attention and explained that a traveling knight, Milo, with his squire had reduced the pestilence of highwaymen by three, but had lost a good horse in the doing of it. Did anyone present have a sturdy beast for such a man at a fair price?
In the morning, Milo took possession of a mid-sized brown horse; the seller called it a rouncey, useful for riding, as a packhorse, and with training it might even serve in battle. Eádulf sensibly named the new horse Brownie and began calling Milo’s palfrey Blackie. After breakfast, Eádulf loaded the horses with their things and he and Milo led them through the passage from the courtyard to the road. Milo patted his side; under his tunic, in a purse with his coins, he had a letter of introduction from Sheriff Hildebeorht.
At the meeting of the roads outside Crossroads Inn the blacksmith’s wagon had been backed under the great oak tree. Cola stood on the board of the wagon, his hands tied behind his back; the noose around his neck was tied to a limb of the tree. Milo rode close by the condemned man. Cola’s eyes never focused on the riders, and he said nothing; it was as if he were already dead. Milo had felt a surge of pleasure in Cola’s fear when they captured him, but this empty despair was dispiriting. He urged Eádulf to keep up and rode away without looking back.
24. In Down’s End
“Master Bead, could there really be a new lord in Inter Lucus?”
Isen worked alongside Bead Deepwater on the pier in Down’s End, receiving lumber passed to them by Osulf and Headby. Morning Glory had successfully towed its cargo home.
The older man snorted. “Can stones float? I heard a man say once that he saw a stone boat on East Lake, way up north by castle Argentum Cadit. Nobody believed him. This was in The Windmill, a tavern that burned down a few years back. Ya know how it is—end o’ the day, we’d all had a few, and we were tellin’ stories. This traveler said he’d seen a boat made out o’ rock. He was from Cippenham, and someone said ‘but I been to Cippenham n’ I ain’t seen no stone boats,’ n’ the traveler says course not; the stone boat was up north. We all laughed. But then he pulls out this little rock, grayish white thing, and asks for a bowl of water. He put it in the water and, by the gods, it floated.”
“It’s possible, then, is that what you mean?” Isen and Master Deepwater kept stacking planks as they talked.
“Possible? I saw a rock as big as my thumb float. If ya had the same kind o’ rock but thousands of times bigger, then maybe a mason could carve a boat. But it’s more likely the traveler was jus’ foolin’ with us. Now, Inter Lucus is a real castle. Lords lived there for hundreds o’ years, n’ gods lived there ’fore that. But today it’s a ruin. Seen it myself. Maybe it’s possible some wood daughter got her prayers answered, but my guess is she’s foolin’ with folk.”
“How would we know?”
Bead grunted, straining with a particularly heavy plank. “Magic, o’ course. A real lord will make Inter Lucus do magic.”
“The woodman’s friend said he saw magic.”
“People see all kinds o’ things. Some real n’ some not. If there’s a real lord in Inter Lucus, we’ll know soon enough.”
“You wouldn’t go see for yourself?”
“Not if I had something better t’ do. Like fishin’ and feedin’ my family. A young man like you, now, ya might be free . . . By the gods! Isen, that’s not a bad notion. Don’t deny it. I see it in your eyes.
“If there is a new lord—mind, I’m not sayin’ that’s likely—but if there is, who knows what chances there might be? Senerham and Inter Lucus, the village I mean, might become real towns. If ya was to set up shop, ya might be the first glassman between the lakes. Might be rich new houses, n’ rich folk want fancy glass windows n’ bowls n’ wine goblets. Not a bad notion at all, Isen. Keep quiet now, n’ we’ll talk in a bit.”
Master Deepwater turned his attention to a newcomer to the scene. Isen recognized Sighard Rihtman, a builder and master carpenter in Down’s End. News of a delivery of lumber would find him quickly. Rihtman greeted Bead Deepwater as if he was an old friend, and he drew the fisherman away from the growing stack of lumber in order to negotiate in private. Apparently, Master Rihtman could not come to terms with Deepwater as quickly as he would have liked; the two men were still dickering when two others of the carpenter guild joined them, much to Rihtman’s displeasure.
Osulf and Headby climbed from Morning Glory onto the pier when the lumber had been stacked. The raw logs were left floating in the gentle current of the Betlicéa, the boom tied to an upstream piling near Morning Glory. Osulf tilted his head toward the three would-be buyers and his father. “It’s a pleasure, don’t ya think, t’ watch good men keep each other honest?” Isen joined Headby and Osulf in laughter, but quietly so the would-be buyers wouldn’t hear.
At supper Bead happily reported the handsome profits of the day. Sighard Rihtman bought the cut lumber for twice the amount Bead had paid for the day’s entire cargo, and one of the other buyers paid half that for the raw logs. Osulf and Headby thumped the table gleefully and Bebba beamed a flushed face at her family. Master Deepwater raised a cup of beer: “To Isen n’ good luck! What a day!” The other Deepwaters joined him, “To Isen! To good luck!”
After a deep pull of his beer, Bead said, “Aye, what a day. Perfect wind goin’ n’ not bad comin’ back. Just a bit west o’ north n’ steady all day. Lumbermen turn up right away n’ eager to sell, both logs n’ dried lumber. Builders on this side jus’ as eager to buy or even more. The gods blessed us t’day!”
Headby wiped foam from his lips. “Which gods, Da? The old god the priests preach or the castle gods?”
“Don’t matter t’ me,” his father answered. In Down’s End the rule is a man can have new gods or old god. Jus’ sayin’ I know when I been blessed. I’ve reason t’ be thankful.”
Headby inclined his head, acceding to Bead’s wisdom. The Deepwaters and their guest all tended their beers.
“Now, Isen. The thing we talked about.” Osulf and Headby shot questioning looks at each other; they hadn’t heard Bead and Isen’s conversation on the pier.
“I have not changed my opinion. Seems to me, it’s likely this girl has no more got a new lord than Bebba n’ me will get another child. Not likely at all, not at all. But it’s possible. So if ya want t’ go look . . . well, I say, why not? If there is a new lord, things will change between the lakes. A skilled man might find a chance.
“So here’s what I say. Why don’t we take Isen across tomorrow? He earned a share o’ today’s profit. So we give ’im passage as part o’ his pay. N’ we put a few coins in his purse.”
Osulf and Headby nodded vigorously. “That’s good, Da.” But Bebba Deepwater said, “Ah, Bead, the young man will need proper clothes. Go to the cloth sellers’ street tomorrow n’ buy ’im a new tunic n’ breeches. Take ’im across the day after.” Now Osulf and Headby thumped the table to signal agreement with their mother.
Bead scratched his beard. “All right, then. New clothes. In fairness, Isen, that means ya get less coin.”
“Master Deepwater, you are more than fair; you are generous. Thank you very much!”
“A moment!” interjected Bead. “I will not visit the cloth sellers tomorrow.” He leaned close to his wife and kissed her cheek. “My lady fair can do that, n’ my boys n’ I will do what we do. The day after we’ll take Isen across.”
The day after brought foul weather. All the Deepwaters assured Isen that they had fished the lake in worse weather, much worse, but these encouragements did not keep his heart from pounding or loosen his death grip on the gunwale near the back of the boat where he sat close to Bead. Rain pelted them first from one direction and then another as the wind shifted quarters. Several times the boat dipped so far to one side or the other that Isen feared they would capsize. Osulf and Headby seemed to be constantly changing the set of the sail. Bead managed the tiller with both hands and explained that Morning Glory’s small sail was an advantage in such weather, because his sons could adjust it so quickly. Isen could only nod and hold on.
At last Morning Glory neared the east shore. The rain almost stopped, but the wind shifted round to the east, so Osulf and Headby furled the sail, positioned oars between pegs on the gunwales, and rowed to shore. The fishing boat touched bottom five wet yards from a gravelly beach.
“As close as we can get,” said Bead. “Good luck to ya, boy.”
Isen lowered himself into the knee-deep water, surprisingly cold for a summer’s day. After the anxiety of the crossing, the relief of solid ground underfoot outweighed the discomfort of rain and cold. “Thank you again, Master Deepwater. If I ever get established, I hope you come to see me.”
“Aye. That we will,” said the fisherman.
Headby picked up a cloth bundle bound with cords and flung it to Isen. Inside the bundle Isen had packed a few items from his old hovel, including the rosewood box, his money, and the new clothes Bebba had purchased with his pay from the lumber venture. Isen caught the bundle without letting it fall in the water.
“Give us a push, boy.”
“Aye, sir! Just a moment!” Isen hurried to shore, deposited his belongings, and splashed back to push Morning Glory into deeper water. The Deepwater brothers shipped their oars and unfurled the sail. Within minutes the east wind had pushed them beyond earshot. Isen waved a last farewell.
25. In Castle Inter Lucus
Marty woke up hungry and sore. Since his interplanetary leap, he had eaten the equivalent of about one good meal per day. And the floor where he and Ora slept, not having found anything resembling a bed, was harder and less comfortable than the dirt and grass in the main hall. He looked up and down the corridor; Ora had risen without waking him. Maybe she’s gone fishing. Marty scratched at his chin, bristling with black whiskers. I wonder where one buys a razor on this planet.
He stretched out some of the soreness in his back and walked to the room with the stairway to the great hall; he mentally named the area at the foot of the stairs the “kitchen,” since the cooking slab was still there. Before climbing to the great hall, Marty inspected the appliance (stove? cook top?) once again. He had already explored its surfaces the day before. Like so many other features of Inter Lucus, the kitchen machine’s exterior looked like some kind of high-tech ceramic material. Obviously, it had risen from the floor, but where the slab emerged from the floor the two seemed fused together; however closely Marty looked, he could make out no division between them. The “pans” on top of the slab were cool to the touch, and nowhere did Marty see anything he could interpret as controls or switches. Suppose Ora does catch something. How do we turn this thing on?
Other than the three pan depressions on the top, Marty found no other clues on the slab. It was about four feet long, two feet wide, and three feet high—almost, no, exactly the same height as the right hand rails on the stairs. He ran his hands over the four sides of the slab, hoping maybe to engage a hidden panel or knob. Nothing. He gave it up and climbed the stairs.
The floor of the great hall was almost completely clean. Not merely swept or vacuumed; the wood surface looked polished. And the walls were unmistakably taller, the gaps between the sections smaller. Marty walked the inside perimeter of the room, examining the walls more closely. At one place, between two bits of wall, a seemingly gossamer line stretched from one section to the other. But it was perfectly level, and rigid when Marty blew on it, not like a spider’s thread. He resisted the urge to touch it, lest it break. But for all I know, it could be as strong as steel.
Marty half expected to see Ora on the east side of the castle either hunting for more blueberries or returning with fish. But he finished his circuit of the great hall without seeing her. He considered hiking to the lake to look for her. What if she went somewhere else? Best if I’m still here when she gets back. Marty returned to the top of the stairs, the best place in the chairless hall to sit down.
At Our Lady of Guadeloupe, Marty had meditated on daily lectionary readings, but his pocket-sized Testament had no lectionary schedule, though it did have Psalms. Rather than read haphazardly, Marty decided to start with Matthew and read a chapter a day.
The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham. Abraham became the father of Isaac, Isaac the father of Jacob . . .
“My Lord Martin!” Ora’s call interrupted the story of Joseph and Mary. Marty pocketed his Testament. Ora stood at the southwest corner of the great hall, near the interface wall, holding something in a mesh sack. “My Lord Martin!”
“Coming!” Marty carried his walnut staff over his shoulder rather than using it as a walking stick; it would be a shame to mar the floor with it. But then a thought came: The castle would probably repair it. To test this hypothesis, he walked near the west wall and marked the floor with his staff, an inconspicuous scratch. Let’s see if that’s still there tomorrow.
Ora’s mesh sack held potatoes, onions, and carrots. “Is my lord hungry?” she asked, raising the sack for his inspection. “Fridiswid Redwine gave them.”
“I am indeed.”
“Cook,” said Ora, offering the sack to him. She keeps expecting magic.
Before Marty could answer or accept the vegetables, he heard another voice. He glanced around Ora to see someone beyond a gap in Inter Lucus’s walls. “Who is that? Hey, there!”
“My Lord Martin.” A man’s voice. “May I, ah, approach?” Marty got a better look and recognized him, Wyrtgeon Bistan.
“Of course, Wyrtgeon. Come in.”
The farmer squeezed between two sections of wall, carrying a bulging canvas-like sack. More produce, I bet. So we go from shortage to surplus in one morning.
“Gisa—that is, my wife—she said I should make sure my lord has food. Castles make food, I told her. But she said maybe not, if the castle has been asleep.”
Marty received the sack from Bistan. More potatoes. Store in a cool, dry place, thought Marty. We won’t be starving anytime soon. I wonder: can Inter Lucus prepare fish and chips?
“Thank you very much, Wyrtgeon. You may tell Gisa that she is right. Inter Lucus is waking up, but the castle cannot make food out of nothing.” Even as he spoke, Marty wondered what alien technology could or could not do. Not even super advanced aliens could make something out of nothing—could they?
Wyrtgeon Bistan bowed. “I will tell Gisa, my lord. We are pleased to be of service.”
Marty shook hands with Bistan, which the farmer took as an honor. After Bistan took his leave, Ora helped Marty carry the sacks to the kitchen, but here they were stumped. Other than Ora’s knife, they had no tools, and Marty still didn’t know how to turn on the cooking slab. They made separate piles of potatoes, onions, and carrots on the floor. A few raw carrots comprised their breakfast.
Lord Martin doesn’t know how to make Inter Lucus prepare meals. This realization disconcerted Ora at first, but she came to terms with it. The castle is healing and growing. Maybe lords also grow into their powers. Ora reminded herself that Lord Martin already had demonstrated command of Inter Lucus; the ear-splitting sound and light that drove off Caelin Bycwine was proof of that.
Ora reminded Lord Martin that he should punish Caelin for his attack. He agreed to accompany Ora to the Bycwine farm, but once again Lord Martin said he did not want to harm the young man. “I don’t think I’ll gain much loyalty by frightening people,” he said. “Gratitude and respect are better than terror.” Ora considered her lord’s words as they walked toward the village.
News about Lord Martin had obviously spread through village Inter Lucus. Fridiswid Redwine, Leola Alymar (Syg Alymar’s widowed mother), and two women Ora didn’t know stopped their conversation in Fridiswid’s yard to watch as Lord Martin and Ora walked by. They said nothing, but Ora could read curiosity on their faces. Further on, an old farmer named Osulf Idan waved to the lord from a chair on the porch in front of Syg Alymar’s carpentry. Lord Martin stopped to learn Osulf’s name and shook hands with him, and with Syg, who emerged from the shop. Lord Martin’s graciousness broke the ice for other villagers. By the time Ora and her lord had passed through Inter Lucus to the well in the middle of the village at least two dozen people had greeted him, many of them bowing and all of them wishing him fair morning. When Lord Martin was introduced to Gisa Bistan, he thanked her expressly for her kindness and her vegetables. And then . . .
“This is my daughter, Liuba.” The brown-haired girl, perhaps three years old, peaked out from behind Gisa’s skirt.
Lord Martin squatted to bring himself eye-to-eye with Liuba, laying his staff in the dirt. “Fair morning, Liuba,” he said. “I’m pleased to meet you.”
With the unpredictable courage of a child, Liuba suddenly stepped from behind her mother and touched Lord Martin’s staff. “Is this magic?” she asked.
Lord Martin did not talk down to the child. “No. It is only a walking stick.” He picked up the staff for her. “Would you like to hold it?”
The child looked him in the eye. “It’s too big for me. You should keep it.”
“I think that’s right. It’s about my size.”
“Can you do magic?” Ora thought: the little girl asks the question the whole village wants to ask.
“I can make castle Inter Lucus do wonderful things. Is that magic?”
Liuba puzzled at Lord Martin’s response, but Gisa explained for her. “Liuba, child, remember: lords do magic by commanding their castles. Lord Martin is not in his castle right now.”
“Can I come and see magic at your castle?”
“Yes.” Lord Martin rubbed Liuba’s brown hair. “You will be very welcome to visit Inter Lucus.”
Ora thought: Gratitude and respect are better than terror. Liuba and Gisa’s faces displayed the wisdom of Lord Martin’s words.
26. Near the Village Inter Lucus
Five dirt roads converged in the center of Inter Lucus, meeting at a stone-lined well. One road ran directly west to the twin village of Senerham, three miles away. The others, including the one Ora and Lord Martin had walked from the castle to the village, meandered through the surrounding farm country. From the meeting of the five ways, Ora led Lord Martin on a road winding its way toward East Lake, opposite the road to Senerham. Her mother’s sister, Ethelin Bycwine, lived with her husband Caadde on a farm two miles distant, between the village and the lake. Unless he had run away, they would find her cousin Caelin there.
The Lord Martin evinced great interest in the produce of the countryside. He noticed fields of barley, oats, and wheat, vegetable gardens, pastures with milk cows, small orchards of apples and cherries, honeybee hives, pigs’ wallows, and corrals for horses. Ora could only guess the answer to many of his questions: where did the farmers store their grain? Were some fields left fallow? Did farmers rotate their crops? (It took several minutes for Lord Martin to explain this notion to Ora. She answered that perhaps Caadde Bycwine might know.) How many pigs, cows, and horses did most farmers have? How big were the farms around Inter Lucus? How often did the village have market days? Did most people barter their goods or use coins? Where do the coins come from? Ora had never so much as thought about some of these questions. A lord must concern himself with many details of the people’s lives, I suppose.
Ora led Lord Martin along a rutted path that branched away from the road. Caadde and Ethelin’s house lay on the far side of a small hill beside a very small creek; travelers couldn’t see the house or the other buildings from the road. On either side of the path well-maintained wood fences enclosed vegetable gardens and raspberries. Here and there sunflowers leaned over the fences. When they crested the hill Ora and Lord Martin began hearing the bleating of baby goats.
One or two other farmers in the region might own a few goats, Ora explained to Lord Martin, but only Caadde Bycwine kept scores and scores of them. The barns (two of them!) where the Bycwines daily milked the she-goats and where hay and grain were stored to feed the animals in winter were both larger than the farmhouse. Since goats will wander and eat anything they can find, Caadde’s fences, so he said, had to be the stoutest and best anywhere. On market days Caadde traded and sold goat milk, goat meat, and goat cheese. Goat farming had proved profitable; Ora herself had seen Caadde and Ethelin trade or sell the meat of a dozen goats on a single market day in the fall.
Lord Martin touched Ora’s arm to stop her before they descended to the farmhouse. “Tell me about Caelin. Why would he come to the castle and try to shoot me?”
Ora shrugged. “A foolish boy, that’s all. Every year I see him three or four times, when Attor takes a wagon of cut lumber to market in Inter Lucus. Ethelin says he dreams of dragons and gods and knights when he should be milking goats or cleaning out the barn. At harvest fest, he listens to the old men’s tales until the moons are set; he loves the stories of the lords and the gods.”
“If he likes stories about lords, why would he try to kill one?”
“Who knows? Caelin is a fool. Maybe he thought he could become a lord if he killed a lord. Such things sometimes happen in stories. But my lord Martin proved he is able to defend himself. Caelin learned the truth and ran away.”
“All right. Let’s go see him.”
The farm bore marks of prosperity that substantiated Ora’s description of Caadde Bycwine’s success. A well-built bridge crossed the creek, linking a barn on each bank. Pastures on both sides of the stream were divided into sections with sturdy fences. The house itself, on the near side of the creek, was painted white with blue trim on the wooden shutters gracing its windows. Pink roses grew in a flowerbed in a fenced yard.
A cat roused itself when Ora opened a yard gate and hissed at them. “Shoo!” she said and marched to the door. Marty followed a step behind while the cat scurried around the corner of the house.
A boy opened the door, skinny with brown hair, too young to be one who shot the arrow. He was probably ten or eleven, and Marty remembered the archer as much taller.
“Fair afternoon, Went,” said Ora. “I’ve brought someone to meet your Ma and Da.”
The boy eyed Marty. He showed no sign of particular interest. “Ma is here, but Da and Caelin are in the barn. Should I go get ’em?” Marty thought: Maybe the younger boy hasn’t heard about cousin Ora and Inter Lucus’s new lord.
“Yes, please,” said Ora. “Bring Caelin too.”
A round-faced woman came to the door as Went turned to go. She had bobbed brown hair and green eyes much like Ora’s. Recognizing Ora, with a man standing by her, the eyes went round. “Ora,” she whispered.
Pretty obviously, the mother has heard the news.
“Fair afternoon, aunt Ethelin,” said Ora. “I want you to meet Lord Martin of Inter Lucus.”
Ethelin curtsied awkwardly. “Fair afternoon, Lord Martin. Caadde told me just yesterday morn that a lord had appeared in the castle. Welcome!”
“Fair afternoon, Mistress Bycwine,” Marty said. He shifted his staff to his left hand and extended his right, which the woman touched very hesitantly. “I’m pleased to meet you.”
Ethelin stepped back, which Ora and Marty took as an invitation into the house. The boy Went had rushed away. Marty shut the door behind him.
“It is true? A lord in Inter Lucus?”
“Aye,” said Ora. “I prayed for a new lord, and Lord Martin appeared. Some folk do not believe me. My own father, for one. And other folk try to fight the new lord.”
“Aye. Yesterday, a boy with a bow tried to shoot Lord Martin. But Lord Martin’s magic frightened him off. Perhaps you heard the horrible horn even here.”
“Yesterday? I heard nothing.” But the woman’s eyes were on Marty, and they told a different story.
The blast last night was like a rock concert. The farmers and villagers all heard it, even if they didn’t know what it was. The woman is afraid. She wants to hide behind denials. Marty felt uncomfortable. He didn’t want to bring fear into the lives of good people. The boy needs to be confronted, but I don’t want to terrorize these folk. “Mistress Bycwine, may I sit down?” The room had simple wooden chairs; Marty nodded toward one.
“Yes, please.” The woman bobbed her head. Marty sat, leaned his staff on the wall, and tried to look unthreatening.
“All right, all right. We’re here.” The new voice belonged to a man, presumably Caadde Bycwine. He was taller than most villagers, with black hair and quick brown eyes. “Come on, Went. Caelin.” There was some shuffling of feet as two youths squeezed around the man and all three entered the room.
The older boy, taller than his father, saw Ora first, without noticing Marty. “Cousin Ora!” Caelin had his mother’s brown hair, cut very short, and his father’s eyes. Marty thought he was almost dangerously skinny, but maybe it was just his adolescent growth spurt. He had the barest beginning of a mustache.
“Cousin Caelin, you absolute fool.” Ora motioned toward Marty, and for the first time Caelin looked at him. Caelin would have turned to flee, except his father laid a powerful hand on his shoulder. The boy quivered in fear. If I’m not careful, he’ll pee his pants—breeches, Ora calls them.
“Fair afternoon, Master Bycwine. Please excuse me for not standing. It’s been a long walk and I’m tired. If you don’t mind, I’d like to have a little talk with you and Caelin. Why don’t you all sit down?” Marty tilted his head toward the other chairs.
“Aye.” Caadde pushed his son into a chair; he and Ethelin took the remaining chairs. Went sat on floor in a corner, and Ora stood by Marty’s side.
“Caelin, please listen carefully. I’m not going to hurt you. I’m not going to hurt your family.” The youth made eye contact; his terror might be lessening. “Have you told your mother and father what happened last night?”
Without the red and white pimples, Caelin might turn into a handsome man. He was dreadfully thin, but the brown eyes brimmed with intelligence. After swallowing a couple times, he said, “Not all of it.”
Well, that’s certainly true. “Tell us where you went last night, and what you did.”
“I went to the castle and tried to shoot you with my bow.”
Ethelin Bycwine looked horrified. Caadde kept his face blank.
“Why did you do that?”
“Harry Ectwine said the ‘lord’ of the castle would run away as soon as someone took a shot at him.”
“Did you really mean to hit me? To kill me? Look at me.”
Caelin dropped his eyes, and then looked up again. “I don’t think I did. I wanted you to run away. Then I would tell Harry it was me who chased away the false lord. But I was wrong.” Caelin looked at the floor again.
A moment passed. Caelin raised his eyes. “My lord, did your magic save you from my arrow?”
“No. Inter Lucus has been asleep a long time; its magic is recovering slowly. If your aim had been better, I would likely be dead.”
“By the gods.” Caelin slid from his chair to kneel on the floor. “I am sorry. I am so sorry, my lord. After a hundred years, I almost killed the lord of Inter Lucus. I am so sorry.” His forehead touched the floor.
“I accept your apology, Caelin. Please sit again.” Marty waited while the boy gathered himself. “I believe you tell the truth. I don’t think you will be so eager to impress your friends after this. And that is good. I need someone who is more eager to do my bidding than to impress anyone. I think you may be that person.”
Confusion reigned in the faces of Caelin, his parents, and Ora. Marty rose and grabbed his staff.
“Ora and I will return to Inter Lucus before dark today. I am now inviting Caelin to enter my service. You will live at the castle and perform whatever duties I assign you. But it is your choice. Talk to your mother and father. If you accept my invitation, present yourself at the castle by supper the day after tomorrow. Bring your bow and some arrows. If you do not come by then, I will find someone else.”
27. In Castle Prati Mansum
Six riders stopped on a narrow rocky shoal between a steep wooded slope and the sea. They had rounded enough of the headland to see the castle Prati Mansum at the eastern end of a curving bay. The castle and a couple dozen buildings clustered near it were three miles away across open water; the shoreline road was considerably longer.
“The tide will come in soon,” Eudes observed. “If you three come any further, you’ll have to wait for the next low tide or climb over the ridge on your return. Best you take leave of us here.”
Fugol Hengist spoke for the others. “A few more hours in the saddle, my lord, what is that to us? It seems unbecoming to escort you to within sight of an enemy’s stronghold and then desert you.”
Eudes caught the soldier’s eye and smiled. “Enemy’s castle? Do you doubt the loyalty of Lord Toeni?”
Fugol spat into the surf. “I have no doubt at all. Rocelin Toeni hated Rudolf, he hates Mariel, and he hates you most of all. He would hang you in an instant if he thought he could get away with it.”
Fugol’s brother, Galan, carried the thought further. “Toeni might think that without you, my lord, Mariel would have no one to besiege him. He might think he can get away with it.”
Eudes shifted in his saddle and rubbed a scar on his chin, scratchy beneath his new growth of beard. He eyed the castle across the bay. “Fortunately, though he may be disloyal, Lord Toeni is not stupid. He knows Mariel could find another general—who knows, maybe you, Galan—who could organize a siege. Her army would outnumber his thirty-to-one. With Mariel’s wealth and those numbers, any one of you could besiege him so tightly that the castle would eventually fall. And what would happen then, Galan, if Prati Mansum fell into your hands?”
“I would throw it into the sea, one broken bit at a time. The whole brood of Toenis would hang.”
Eudes laughed. “You should add: ‘unless my queen forbade me.’ Mariel would not look kindly on the destruction of a castle in Herminia. But the point is this. Rocelin Toeni knows that he dare not rebel. For that reason, I will be quite safe in Prati Mansum for the time being, and I won’t be there long.”
The men looked at Eudes, hoping he might say more. The whole journey he had said nothing about his true destination, only that they were to escort him to Prati Mansum. At Wedmor he had added the boy Bully to their party and announced that Archard Oshelm and the youth would go further with him, but he hadn’t said where. Eudes sidled his horse next to Galan and clapped him on the shoulder. “You want to know more, but I may not tell you. Now be gone.”
Fugol, Galan and Aewel Penda turned their mounts. “Farewell, then,” said Aewel. “Bully, you take care of these men, especially the old one. If you don’t, you’ll answer to the queen and to us.”
Eudes, Archard and Bully rode eastward and the promontory soon cut off sight and sounds of the other three. Beyond the point, they found a trail in the woods on their left, allowing them to avoid riding on the beach, which turned into loose sand in the shelter of the bay. Eudes reined up in the sanctuary of a particularly dense copse of firs. Dismounting, he opened a saddlebag and pulled out a clean tunic and breeches.
“At Prati Mansum we are going to board a ship, the Little Moon.” Eudes pulled off his boots and changed clothes while he spoke. “The lady Erline and her daughter, Edita, will also be aboard, sailing to Tarquint. Edita has been promised to one of the sons of Hereward Mortane of Hyacintho Flumen; Lady Erline is supposed to conclude an agreement as to which Mortane her daughter will marry.”
Eudes laced his boots and bundled his old clothes into the saddlebag. He perched a felt hat, dyed bright yellow, on his head. “I am not Eudes Ridere. You will call me Boyden Black from now on. Lord Toeni and Lady Erline know who I am, but they have been instructed to play along with our game.”
Archard asked, “Why is a marriage of this lord’s daughter important to the queen?”
“Actually, it doesn’t really concern us, except that we may hope that when we arrive in Tarquint the Mortanes will be preoccupied with their noble visitors and pay us little attention. Our business is something else entirely. Who am I, Bully?”
“Boyden Black, sir. May I ask, sir, what is Sir Black’s business? Folk in Prati Mansum will be sure to ask. And in Tarquint.”
Eudes gave the youth an encouraging grin. “Very good, Bully. I am a merchant. I will be particularly interested in finding supplies of wool to import to Herminia. You are my assistant, and you may properly call me master or sir. Archard is a mercenary guard from some tiny farming village in Herminia, someplace no one has ever heard of.”
Archard cleared his throat. “I think it is called Bitterwater, my lord.”
“Careful, Archard. I’m just a merchant.”
“Ah! Aye. Master Black earns my loyalty just so long as he pays well. And may I say, Master Black, that your yellow hat makes you look a fool.”
Eudes chuckled. “That’s more like it. When we get to Prati Mansum, Archard, you and Bully will need to arrange passage for our horses on Little Moon; if that isn’t practical, sell them and we’ll buy new ones in Tarquint. And there’s this.”
Eudes detached his scabbard from his saddle and handed it to Bully. “Somehow, you’ll have to hide this in our luggage. In Tarquint, if need arises I want it available, but Boyden Black can’t go about dressed like a soldier.”
“Aye.” Bully accepted sword and scabbard and hung them on his own saddle. “Master Black, may I ask: in addition to wool, will you be looking for anything else in Tarquint?”
“Indeed, I will. It is something you cannot buy. Anyone can have it for the looking, if he knows where to look. But I trust no one to look for me; I must see for myself.”
Eudes’s impromptu riddle produced confusion in Bully’s face, but only for a few moments. Then his expression changed. “Oh! Maybe the thing you seek can only be seen with the eyes of a general, not a merchant.”
“Just so, Bully. Just so.”
In the village of Prati Mansum Bully and Archard learned Little Moon had no space for horses. She was a small ship already loaded and ready to embark. Durwin Cyneric, her captain, had been eager to sail for two days, but the ship had waited while Lady Erline, her daughter, and her guard made last minute preparations. Archard had to sell their horses for a poor price. The castle town had never grown very large, partly because the bay, though pleasant to look at, was too shallow for big ships. Even Little Moon had to dock at the end of a long pier built out over mud flats to reach deeper water.
Rocelin Toeni and his wife Erline welcomed the visiting merchant, Boyden Black, to supper in Prati Mansum, and word went out from the castle that the lady and her daughter would depart on the morning tide. Lord Toeni also extended hospitality to Archard Oshelm and Master Black’s servant, Bully.
With Erline and Edita’s departure imminent, supper was a small affair. At the high table sat Lord Toeni and Lady Erline, their oldest daughter, Edita, Edita’s lady attendant, and the two guests, Boyden Black and ship’s captain Durwin Cyneric. Three other Toeni children, the castle scribe, and Archard and Bully shared a second table. Castle servants brought supper in courses: bread and butter, roast pheasant, a fish stew, hot vegetables, and finally honey-glazed wafers. A wine master kept cups refreshed.
Bully observed everything eagerly. Across the table from him, Gifre Toeni guessed the reason. “Never been in a castle before, have you?”
It would be silly to feel embarrassed, Bully decided. “Am I so obvious?”
The boy, who looked about ten, sopped up some pheasant drippings with bread and popped it in his mouth. “Aye. Your eyes are racing around, trying to make sure you don’t miss anything. It’s normal. Ordinary people aren’t used to castles.”
“But you are used to it. So you are not an ordinary person?”
“What do you think? Someday, when Father dies, I will be lord of Prati Mansum. Who knows? Perhaps I will bond better than Father and control more magic.” The boy looked at Bully unblinking.
Bully sliced a bit of pheasant, speared it with his knife. “I see your point.”
Gifre Toeni nodded toward the high table. “My sister Edita is not an ordinary person either. Tomorrow she boards a ship for Tarquint, where she will marry some lord’s son, gods willing, and I will never see her again.”
The boy answered matter-of-factly. “A lord must stay close to his castle, to be ready to defend it at any time. Edita might explore the world—that is, she could if she weren’t crippled and ugly—but I may never venture more than a day’s ride from Prati Mansum.”
“Edita is ugly?”
“She is practiced at hiding it. Look closely.”
28. In Castle Prati Mansum
Bully tried to watch the young woman sitting next to Erline Toeni without blatantly staring. Edita might be nineteen or twenty, he thought, certainly old enough to be married. He didn’t see why Gifre would call her ugly, unless he referred to Edita’s hair. The color was pleasant enough, reddish brown, but the shoulder length hair had been trussed into two rows on the top of her head; Bully thought the rows resembled ram’s horns more than anything else. But noble ladies may not adorn themselves like the girls of Wedmor. Edita’s hair might be the latest fashion for all I know.
The young woman wore a pale green gown with sleeves to the elbow. A necklace with a stone of much darker green lay between her breasts, accentuating the dress. During supper Edita rarely spoke, but to Bully this seemed due to the fact that Rocelin Toeni talked almost constantly. Toeni knows that “Boyden Black” is really Lord Eudes. He probably wants to influence Queen Mariel in some way. I wonder how much he knows of Master Black’s mission.
“Have you seen it?” Gifre Toeni had allowed Bully a few minutes observation.
“I haven’t noticed anything unusual . . . oh, wait.” Someone at the high table made a joke. Everyone laughed, including Boyden Black. But when Edita laughed, her face changed from a rather ordinary heart shape to an unbalanced hillside. The right side of her mouth lifted in a smile, but the left side drooped. A bit of spit escaped onto her chin and she hastily wiped it away with a small towel that she kept on her lap.
“You see?” Gifre said. “Mother says most girls are beautiful when they smile, but Edita tries to not smile. When she’s sitting and not smiling, Edita looks almost normal.”
“Wait. You’ll see.”
When supper ended, Lady Erline, Edita, and Edita’s attendant rose from table, leaving Lord Toeni, Captain Cyneric, and Boyden Black to sip wine and talk amongst themselves. The attending girl walked close on Edita’s left side, her arm tucked around Edita’s.
Bully observed, “She walks with a limp.”
“Aye. And that’s with Juliana at her side. Without help, Edita can walk a step or two, but she would never make it from the great hall to her bedroom.”
“Was she born a cripple?”
“No. That’s the sad part.” Gifre bit a honey wafer. “Her horse threw her five years ago. By the gods, I love honey wafers. You ought to have one.”
Bully obligingly accepted the treat.
“She struck her head on a fence post when she fell. I was five, and I remember Mother and Father visiting Edita’s room and praying at the gods’ knob, day after day. Everyone thought she would die. Instead, only half of her died, the left half. Her right arm, right leg, and the right side of her face—all fine. But her left side is useless. She drags her foot with her hips, so she can walk, in a manner of speaking, but it’s more like stumbling than walking. She can’t move her fingers at all.”
Bully brushed crumbs from his fingers. “Please excuse my ignorance. Where is the gods’ knob?”
“Right there.” Gifre pointed with another honey wafer. “The black ball on the tall post. The lord’s knob is the little one next to it. It’s there that Father controls Prati Mansum.”
“Oh! It looks unguarded. What’s to stop someone from using it against Lord Toeni?”
“Only one lord can bond with a castle at any time. I thought everyone knew that.”
Bully refused to take offense. “I didn’t. What would happen if someone besides the lord tried to bond with the castle?”
Gifre grinned. “Hurts like hell. And nothing happens, except—I don’t know how this works—the castle tells the lord who touched the lord’s knob.”
“Uh-oh. Let me guess . . .”
“You got it. Father made sure my butt hurt for a week.”
The next morning Archard, Bully and their master went aboard Little Moon before sunrise. Directed by a sailor, Bully stowed their belongings in the forward part of the ship in a small space where the deck met the ship’s hull. He stuffed the long roll containing Eudes Ridere’s sword at the back, behind the other bundles. Then he and Boyden Black went on deck to wait for Erline, Edita and their escorts. Besides Edita’s attendant, a narrow-faced woman named Juliana, a soldier accompanied them as a guard. Edita rode the length of the pier on a docile pony, guided by the guard, who helped her dismount near the ship. With the soldier holding her healthy right arm, and Juliana on her left side, Edita came to the edge of the pier. Little Moon rose and fell slightly on gentle waves, but even this small motion presented a problem. The gap between pier and gunwale necessitated a two-foot gangplank. At the crucial moment, the crippled woman would have to leave the security of her helpers and step to a sailor on board ship waiting to catch her. Bully watched, fascinated, and without a conscious decision he began walking closer.
Edita said nothing. Her lips made a thin line as she concentrated on the task. She took a small step with her healthy right leg, threw her weight forward and dragged the left leg with her. Her right arm shot out to the waiting sailor, who grasped her hand. Either the sailor didn’t realize the extent of Edita’s handicap, or perhaps he was intimidated by the presence of a noble lady. Whatever the reason, he failed to step forward to catch her.
Everything happened in a rush. Edita fell awkwardly, her right hand pulling on the sailor’s so that she would at least tumble into the ship. Bully leapt forward and caught her around the waist as she toppled over the gunwale. He staggered backward but did not fall. Edita slid down within his arms so that he gripped her around the chest. Regaining his balance, Bully stood the woman on her feet.
“Got ya!” Bully spoke without thinking.
“Thank you!” the lady whispered. After a moment, she said, “I think I can stand now, if you let me go.”
“Oh! Aye.” Bully became suddenly aware of the intimacy of their embrace. He eased his hold on Edita’s body and supported her by holding her right arm. Juliana and Lady Erline hurried up, and Juliana took Edita’s left arm.
Lady Erline looked from Bully to Boyden Black, a few feet away. “Thank you for your help, boy. Juliana will take care of Edita now. If you would, Drefan could use help bringing our things aboard.”
Bully released Edita’s elbow, looking to Master Black for guidance.
The fake merchant said, “That’s a fine idea, Bully. Help Drefan with the luggage.” He winked at Bully when Lady Erline couldn’t see.
Drefan, the guard, was moving bags and boxes from a wagon on the pier to the ship. Little Moon’s crew made quietly snide comments about rich ladies’ clothes. They were none too eager to help Drefan, who welcomed Bully’s aid when offered since the ladies’ baggage included a chest too heavy for one man to carry. As soon as the bags and boxes were on deck, the crew cast off.
The ladies of Prati Mansum were given Captain Cyneric’s cabin on Little Moon, at the stern of the ship. Cyneric himself shared a space immediately forward of the ladies’ cabin with Boyden Black and Drefan. Bully helped Drefan move the ladies’ baggage from the deck to this cabin, carefully stowing boxes and bags according to Erline’s directions in half of the space so that the women would have use of the other half. Edita sat by an open window, the shutters drawn in and latched, watching the harbor and Prati Mansum recede from view. Twice Bully stored boxes nearby, taking care that the shutters could swing shut unimpeded. The second time, Edita touched his arm and they made eye contact, but she said nothing. And she didn’t smile.
29. In Castle Inter Lucus
Caelin Bycwine entered Lord Martin’s service six days after Ora’s prayer brought the new lord to Inter Lucus. Ora had a mixed opinion of her cousin. He wasn’t cruelly self-indulgent like Aethulwulf; in fact, he was often kind. But he tended to flights of fancy that could distract him from useful work. Am I just thinking things I’ve heard from Ethelin? Lord Martin must think Caelin could be helpful; else he would not have taken him into service. Ora had great confidence in Lord Martin, so she adopted an open-minded attitude in regard to Caelin.
Villagers from Inter Lucus or Senerham came to the castle every day except for the day it rained. Many brought produce. Ora thought this entirely appropriate; the folk between the lakes ought to acknowledge their new lord. But Lord Martin felt unease in his mind about the gifts, and Caelin said something that brought the matter to a head, the morning of his third day at Inter Lucus.
Two farmers from Senerham had presented Lord Martin with yet more potatoes and onions and departed with much bowing and words expressing their loyalty to him. Caelin said, “If I may advise my lord, I suggest that you tell the villagers to bring clothes, iron or wood rather than vegetables. Of course, poorer folk must bring produce, since that is all they have. But you should insist that men like those two should pay with coin. Then you can buy whatever you need on market days.”
Lord Martin asked, “What do you mean, ‘they should pay’?
Caelin bunched his eyebrows. “Eadmar Eoforwine and Cnud Thorson are both wealthy men by Senerham standards. Since you have accepted their words and their produce, they will claim that their hidgield has been paid. In the fall, if you demand more, they will call it ungield.”
Lord Martin was not familiar with the words hidgield and ungield, but it didn’t take long for him to decipher their meaning. “These people think they are paying taxes to me?”
“Aye. When the knight from Hyacintho Flumen comes in the fall, they will say they have paid hidgield to my lord Martin. They will try to refuse payment.”
“I suppose, then, that they will expect me to defend them from the taxman. How am I supposed to do that?”
“My lord Martin should employ soldiers and sheriffs to protect the villages. Another reason you must receive coin from some of your people. Of course, if an enemy threatens, you may need knights. In extreme danger, villagers can take refuge in the castle. Many stories tell of wars between castle lords; the good lords always protect their people.”
“So these men, Eoforwine and Thorson, are paying their taxes, their hidgield, on the cheap and at the same time encumbering me with their security.”
Caelin frowned. “I do not understand ‘on the cheap.’”
“By paying with vegetables, they are paying less hidgield than they should.”
“Aye. Yet if a castle lord does not fulfill oaths to his lieges they will not pay hidgield. Even a lord in his castle must purchase some things.”
Lord Martin blew out a long breath. “Good grief! Medieval life is more complicated than I thought.”
Ora wanted to ask what medieval meant, but the expression on Lord Martin’s face told her to wait. He needed time to think. So Ora beckoned Caelin downstairs to the kitchen, which had changed in the last three days. A cooking pot had grown out of the floor next to the column Lord Martin named the “stove top,” and on the other side of the room a magical door opened into a cold room whenever anyone walked close to it. Lord Martin called the room a “fridge,” and told Ora to store fish or meat in it, but not their potatoes, carrots or onions. Ora retrieved three fish from the fridge and laid them on the stove top. Caelin selected some potatoes and onions, and put them in the cooking pot. Then they watched the magic of Inter Lucus. In the cooking pot, water swirled around the vegetables, and drained away after cleaning them. Sharp blades emerged from the top rim of the pot, forming a mesh of wires that descended through the vegetables, cutting them into chunks. The blades withdrew, fresh water appeared, and the soup began cooking. Ora could not see how, but she knew salt was being added. Meanwhile, an oil-like liquid surrounded and submerged the fish in the frying pan. Fish scales and heads melted and drained away with the liquid; the fish began frying and smelled wonderful. Caelin waved his hand at a certain section of wall; a sliding door revealed plates and bowls. When they judged the food to be ready, they filled three bowls and plates.
Marty sat alone in the shade of an oak on the southwest quadrant of the castle grounds. Taxes, sheriffs, and knights! What have I gotten myself into? Well—what did I expect? Before the modern world, that’s what “lords” dealt with.
What makes me a lord? The moment I stepped through the wormhole, or whatever it was, I became one. Ora calls me Lord Martin, and the people of Inter Lucus and Senerham follow her lead. Of course, it’s not like Ora convinced them by herself; the castle itself recognized me as lord. Inter Lucus responds to my commands when I touch the control globe.
But why me? Ora says the gods sent me. As far as I can tell, the “gods” are aliens—or were. According to Ora and Caelin, everybody knows the gods disappeared hundreds of years ago. Why would a race smart enough to build Inter Lucus and other castles desert them? What kind of technology enabled them to bring human beings here? Where is “here”? A “galaxy far, far away”—wasn’t that the Star Wars location? So Ora prayed to the gods, and Inter Lucus, despite its decrepit state, reached out and snatched me. Why? How?
God help me! Too many questions. And none of them addresses the immediate concerns. How much tax should people pay? How many sheriffs or soldiers will I need? What’s the going rate for sheriffs, soldiers, or knights? Where do I find them? It would really mess things up if I employed incompetent and/or corrupt sheriffs and soldiers.
After an hour of thought, Marty walked back to the castle and summoned Ora and Caelin. The cousins had prepared a lunch of fish and soup. They sat on benches that had pushed up from the floor of the great hall in a manner similar to the stairs and kitchen appliances. No visible joint separated the “wood” of the bench from that of the floor. Marty suspected both were actually made of ceramics.
“We’ve got work to do,” he said. “First, we will accept no more payments of vegetables, at least until we eat what we’ve already got. And from now on, only poor folk pay with produce. Second, I need to ask many people questions, and it will be easier if they come to me. Caelin will visit Senerham; Ora, you get Inter Lucus. Caelin, find Eoforwine and Thorson and tell them I need advice. Tell them also that Syg Alymar and Caadde Bycwine from Inter Lucus will be advising me. Ora, you invite Syg and Caadde and let them know Senerham men have been invited. We will call it the ‘Lord’s Council.’
“Third, we need paper, or at least I will.” Marty stopped, seeing questions in their faces. “What’s wrong? Do you know what ‘paper’ is? Something to write on.” He pantomimed his meaning.
“Bócfell? Carte? My lord, why would you want this?” asked Caelin. “You do not have a scribe, and it is too early to write the history of your house.” He couldn’t help smiling. “You have no child, not even a wife.”
“I want to write down what I learn from my ‘advisors.’ And I’ll need to keep records of gield payments from the people.”
Caelin expressed surprise. “You can write? Not all lords have this skill. They keep castle scribes.”
“Lord Martin is not like other lords,” Ora put in. Her tone indicated that Caelin should have known better.
“Aye. But without coins we can buy no carte, paper. And parchment, bócfell, costs even more.”
“We have no money. True enough,” said Marty. “Okay. So for now, we’ll have to wait to buy paper. For the time being, keep your eyes and ears open. Who might be able to sell us paper? Now—how soon do you think we can get my ‘council’ to meet?”
Caelin rubbed his nose. “The day after tomorrow, my lord, Frigedæg. The Inter Lucus men will be sure to come because the Senerham men will be there, and the Senerham men will not want Inter Lucus alone to have the lord’s ear. Give them no time to dissemble.”
“Frigedæg? What day is today?”
Caelin looked surprised. “Wódnesdæg, my lord.”
The days of the week, something else I’ve got to learn. “All right, then. We’ll convene the Council on Friday. Ora, do you agree?
“Yes, my lord. Make them meet soon.”
30. On the Stonebridge Road
Milo and Eádulf camped the first night out from Crossroads. They tethered their horses in a pinewood a hundred yards to the south of the road. They found a muddy pool of water for the horses to drink, but Eádulf didn’t want to cook beans with it, so they made supper with dry bread, cheese and a skin of wine. Since it was warm, they built no fire. Just as well, Milo thought. Unfriendly eyes might be drawn to firelight.
West of Crossroads Village, the road to Stonebridge angled a little north of due west, tracking the edge of the great downs and skirting the hills of southwest Tarquint. The River Betlicéa, winding its long course through the downs, came near the road at one point, a convenient place for an inn, called River House. Milo hoped to reach River House the second day after leaving Crossroads, though that meant a long day in the saddle. Knight and squire set out in gray light two hours before sunrise.
After five hours of slow trotting, the sun had risen and the day was hot. Eádulf broke a long silence. “Sir Milo, Brownie and Blackie been workin’ hard. Think we should give ’em a blow?”
“I suppose you’re right,” Milo said, slowing his mount to a walk. “We’ve still got seven or eight hours of riding ahead of us, I’d guess. Maybe more.” But before he swung down from the saddle, Milo saw a speck on the horizon. “Eádulf, wait! What do you see there?”
“The light sorta makes waves in the heat, sir. That’s prob’ly where the road lies. Might be riders, coming this way.”
“I think so too. Let’s ride on a while. They may be able to tell us how far it is to River House.” Blackie the palfrey resisted a bit when Milo urged her back into a trot; she had expected a real rest.
The speck slowly resolved itself into a wagon pulled by a pair of draft horses. At times a rider could be seen first on one side and then the other of the wagon, keeping pace on the uneven grass on the sides of the road. Wagon and escort moved slowly; it took half an hour for Milo and Eádulf to close the gap to the approaching party. A guard sat next to the teamster on the wagon, and he held a bow to one side, its arrow notched.
“Fair morning,” Milo called, raising first one weaponless hand and then the other. The guard nodded, but he kept the bow ready to hand. The wagon driver halted his team. Milo and Eádulf reined up and nudged their horses to the side of the road. “We’re not brigands, if that’s what you’re thinking.”
The teamster smiled. “And would you be saying any different if you were? Fair morning to you. My name’s Ro Becere. And this here,” he indicated the guard seated next to him, “is Aldfrith Ramm.”
“We saw a horseman too,” said Milo. As if in reply, the pony rider appeared from behind the wagon.
Ro Becere said, “Aye. And he’s Dougal Ramm, Aldfrith’s son. An extra hand is often helpful on the road.” The resemblance between father and son was obvious; Dougal had inherited a long narrow face from his father. Milo pegged him at close to Eádulf’s age.
“I’m Milo Mortane. The boy is Eádulf, my squire.”
Ro Becere and Aldfrith Ramm shared a quick glance and something else—skepticism? By naming Eádulf a squire, Milo implied he was a knight. They are both over thirty years old; they probably think I’m a foolish youth.
“You’ve met no trouble on the road, I hope,” said Milo. “There’s a sheriff in Crossroads village. He says he’s been charged with maintaining peace on the roads.”
“Rage Hildebeorht?” asked the guard, Aldfrith Ramm.
Milo touched his side where the pouch carried the sheriff’s letter. “The very man. As it happens, Eádulf and I had taken prisoner a highwayman in the hills south of Crossroads. I believe Hildebeorht hung him yesterday morning, but we didn’t stay to watch.”
The teamster and guard considered these words. Aldfrith lowered his bow, nodding. “Some men must needs hang, but it is heart-sickening to see it.”
Dougal Ramm, on the pony, disagreed. “Don’t they say that a hanging body serves to warn other brigands?”
His father replied, “People do say such things. Don’t believe everything you hear.”
The boy might have said something in response, but Milo spoke first. “You’ve come from River House, I expect. How far is it?”
Eádulf realized that the conversation might go on, so he climbed down from Brownie and began brushing the horse’s neck. Milo dismounted and let Eádulf tend to Blackie as well. While Milo and the strangers talked, Eádulf brushed the horses, letting them breathe and rest.
“It’s days that count, not only miles,” said Ro Becere. “We left River House yesterday morning with the wagon, but two horsemen like yourselves could get there today if you press on. You’ll probably meet Derian Chapman, heading for Stonebridge. He aimed to reach River House today.”
Becere wrinkled his nose and said, “He’s a merchant with a couple wagons. Moving slow like us. Skittish as a kitten, that one. Worried that some highwayman would take his wool. Gods! What would a gang o’ thieves do with two wagons of wool? But there it is; I suppose a merchant knows more about business than me. I just drive the wagon ’n deliver the goods. It’s Aldfrith here who scares off the baddies.”
“And what goods are you carrying? Perhaps you’re not allowed to say.” Ro Becere’s cargo was hidden under canvas covers, well secured with ropes.
“It’s no secret,” answered the teamster. “Fifty barrels of the best wine in Tarquint, from the Broganea valley in the Stonebridge hills.”
“Ah!” said Milo. “I’ve had that pleasure before. It would seem to me your wagon is a fitter target for thieves than any load of wool.”
“Aye,” said Ro Becere. “But try to tell that to Master Chapman when you see him! I’d a thought the man had his whole fortune wrapped up in that wool, the way he worried.”
Eádulf split an apple and fed half to Blackie, half to Brownie. The squire gave no outward indication whether he was following the conversation.
Milo raised his eyebrow. “Fortune? Is he rich?”
“Got to be. His uncle is Ody Dans, one of the five Councilors in Stonebridge and just maybe the richest man in Tarquint. Ody Dans might be as rich as that queen they have in Herminia.”
“Well now!” said Milo. “Perhaps the rich uncle is letting nephew play merchant, and the nephew has to prove himself.”
Ro Becere considered this. “Could be, could be. But that thought brings to mind another, Milo Mortane. I’ve heard the name Mortane before—the lord of Hyacintho Flumen is Mortane. Are you . . .?”
Milo inclined his head. “Of the house Mortane? Aye. My father is the Lord Hereward.”
“And you are abroad in your father’s service, as you think Derian Chapman is in his uncle’s?”
“I would not put it so,” answered Milo. “I ride abroad on my own account.”
“Ah! Still you are the son of a lord and a knight! We are pleased to meet you, Sir Mortane.” The teamster gave a little salute and his guard inclined his head to Milo. Dougal Ramm, still seated on his pony, did the same.
After a few more pleasantries, Ro Becere flicked the reins of his horses. Milo and Eádulf watched the wagon roll away.
Eádulf had said nothing during Milo’s conversation with the teamster and guard. “What now, sir? Will we press on to River House today?”
“Most certainly, Eádulf. Further, if need be. I very much want to catch Derian Chapman before he reaches the safety of Stonebridge.”
Eádulf mounted, but his face showed confusion. “Sir Milo! Do you plan to rob him? That would be . . .”
Milo laughed. “Oh, Eádulf. Don’t worry! I’m not going to turn you into a highwayman. Derian Chapman is far too valuable to rob!”
Milo swung into the saddle and spurred Blackie into a trot.
31. On a Farm Near Senerham
Torr Ablendan ate a breakfast of sausages and fried oatcakes, sitting just inside the open door of his house. Rain had pelted the region between the lakes most of yesterday and through the night, but the storm had blown away and the new day promised a return to summer heat. Farm fields around the house gave off a warm, green smell, almost as if the plants were eager to return to the air the gift of the rain. Window shutters stood open and cool air softened the morning. Later, when the day got hot, the heavy air would be much less pleasant.
Torr saw his twelve-year-old daughter, Whitney, through the window, running to the house from the barn, where she should be milking the cow. She came to a halt just inside the door. “Da! Come! There’s a man in the barn!”
Viradecthis Ablendan, Torr’s wife, turned at the sound. She had been frying more oatcakes on an iron griddle for the girls’ breakfast when they finished their morning chores. “A thief?” Viradecthis speculated. “Has he got into the feed?”
“Don’t think so,” said Whitney. “I saw just his feet, sticking out of the hayloft.”
Torr jogged across the packed dirt farmyard chewing his last sausage. Leaning against the barn were a shovel and a pitchfork; Torr took the latter, since the sharp tines of the fork would be more threatening to an intruder. He crept into the barn’s dim interior with his weapon at the ready.
Bliss, the milk cow, was standing with her head bowed to the manger in front of her. The milk bucket sat next to Whitney’s stool. Up and to the right—no mistaking them; two naked feet were visible. The stranger must be pretty tall, since one of his feet extended several inches over the lip of the hayloft, like a tree branch poking into the air.
Torr glanced around the barn. He handed the pitchfork to Whitney, who had followed him quietly, and took a coil of rope from a peg on the wall. Keeping his eyes on the intruder’s leg, Torr made a simple noose, the sort of thing he would use to rope a runaway calf. The sleeper never stirred, making it easy to lasso his foot. Torr tossed his noose and jerked it tight, nearly dragging the man out of the hayloft.
Isen hadn’t meant to be caught. He told himself, when he stole into the barn, that he would rise before dawn. The farm family would never know that someone had taken refuge in their hay.
After Bead Deepwater and his sons left him on the shore of West Lake, the rain had resumed. With brief breaks, it rained all day and half the night. Isen carried his clothes and everything else he owned in a bundle strapped to his shoulders. Very soon, he and the bundle were thoroughly soaked. He had a vague notion that Inter Lucus and its villages were somewhere south, but he didn’t find a road for the longest time. He spent hours in a forest overgrown with bracken, ferns, woody brush and thorny vines. The summer rain wasn’t cold, but the terrain and vegetation seemed to conspire against him. He tripped twice, muddying his breeches and raising welts on his forearm. Darkness fell early because of the dense clouds; still, he wandered. He tried sheltering under trees, but the wind, which had so frightened him while Morning Glory crossed the lake, shook water from branches and pelted him with slanting rain. Finally, in a bit of moonlight between showers he found a muddy road. He trudged along in the mud until he saw fences and a barn. The rain ceased about the time he took refuge, but the thought of a dry place to sleep attracted him like a moth to a flame. He stripped off his outer tunic, his breeches, and his boots and leggings and wiggled into the hayloft. Bits of hay poked his legs, but he was tired enough to sleep on thorns. This bed was warm and dry, better than his pallet in the hovel he had shared with Sunie. As he slept, his body heat dried his inner tunic, making this more comfortable than any bed he had known.
The rope wrenched Isen from sleep—and almost from the hayloft. He slid on his back, with bits of straw cushioning him on the rough planks, and braced his hands on the log that formed the lip of the loft. His legs flailed helplessly in the air. Since he had no breeches on, his inner tunic bunched up above his butt. Below him a girl hastily averted her eyes rather than look at his exposed privates. The farmer slackened the rope so Isen could push himself back a bit and sit more securely on the loft.
“Don’t touch the rope, thief!” the man commanded.
“Ah, Sir! I’ve taken nothing!”
The farmer jerked the rope. “And don’t speak unless I say you can!”
Once again, Isen pushed back from the edge. He swallowed his protests.
The man waited some seconds. Satisfied with Isen’s silence, he said, “All right, boy. Tell me your name.”
“Isen Poorman.” Isen resisted the urge to say more.
“Not from around here, are you?”
“Down’s End, Sir.”
“How’d you get here?” A woman and another girl came into the barn. All four members of the farm family stared up at Isen’s legs.
“Sailed across, Sir.”
“How can a poor man sail across West Lake?”
“Master Deepwater, a fisherman, brought me across.”
“In the rain? That was foolish.” By this time the farmer had let the rope go slack. Isen slowly pulled his legs onto the hayloft, and the farmer allowed it.
“That may be, Sir,” said Isen. “Not knowing my way, I got lost in the forest. And with the rain and wind . . . well, I was very happy to find shelter in your barn. But I haven’t taken anything!”
“Who are you running from, boy? The sheriffs of Down’s End?”
“No, Sir! I . . .”
“Then why cross West Lake in the rain? You’re running from somebody!”
Isen frowned. “You might say, in a manner of speaking, that I am running from Master Gausman. I was apprenticed to him, but when my sister died I spent a day getting her buried and he tossed me.”
The farmer’s wife spoke. “Your master fired you because you buried your sister?”
“Well, I missed work that day. But Master Deepwater says Gausman wanted to win votes in the guild. Master Gausman is Alderman, you see . . .”
The farmer interrupted, tugging on the rope. “It doesn’t matter to us. The upshot is your master tossed you. Why cross the lake?”
“We heard that a new lord has come to Inter Lucus. Master Deepwater said if that’s true, there might be need for a glassmaker between the lakes. Even Master Gausman will admit I’m a good glassblower. I hope to start out new in Senerham or Inter Lucus.”
The farmer said, “All right, boy. I’m going to let you climb down. Then we’ll talk.”
“I’ve got my pack up here. Can I . . .?” The farmer nodded and gave Isen enough slack to retrieve his tunic, boots, and the bundle containing his clothes. Climbing down the ladder, he turned to face the farm family. The older girl held a pitchfork, its tines pointed at him.
“You’re a glassblower, you say?” The farmer still held the rope, but loosely.
“Aye. Apprenticed five years. I can make anything you want.”
“Really? I don’t see any tools. And you don’t seem to be carrying a furnace.”
Isen made a wry face. “Aye. I have to earn money and buy tools. If there is a blacksmith nearby, maybe I can work for him.”
The farmer looked at Isen, considering. “I have a proposal for you, Isen Poorman. You can work for me, for a day or two at least. You give your things to my wife; she’ll clean your clothes along with ours. I’ve got to build new fences. Splitting rails is heavy work, a man’s work. You help me today and tomorrow—work hard—and we’ll feed you. The day after, I’ll walk you into Senerham to meet the blacksmith.”
Isen swallowed. Surrendering his things to the farmer meant trusting the man and his wife. But what else can I do? “That sounds like a fair offer,” he said. He handed his pack, all his possessions except the clothes he wore, to the woman. “Can I ask your names?”
The farmer handed the rope to Isen and shook his hand. “Torr Ablendan. My wife’s Viradecthis, and our daughters are Whitney and Willa.” The women of the family each nodded to Isen as Torr gave their names.
“The boy will need some food if you want him working,” Viradecthis said to her husband. “Isen, you better get dressed and come into the kitchen. Whitney! Quit staring, and take care of Bliss. The poor cow will burst if you don’t get to work.”
32. At Castle Inter Lucus
Marty’s Council meeting was set for noon. Ora had relayed his invitation to Caadde Bycwine and Syg Alymar, and they had promised to come. Caelin reported a similar response from Eadmar Eoforwine and Cnud Thorson. It wasn’t practical to meet earlier than noon, since every morning brought a stream of visitors to Inter Lucus, and Marty had resolved to greet all of them. Most came out of curiosity, to see for themselves that rumors were true. Some brought gifts of produce, and when Marty explained that he would not accept any more hidgield until autumn they were sorely disappointed. A few left their sacks of vegetables anyway, rather than carry them back home, but most kept their gifts.
Other visitors sought out the lord of Inter Lucus to ask for something—protection from an encroaching neighbor, resolution of a dispute, advice, and (of course) money. Marty attended carefully to all these requests, telling himself that he could learn much about Two Moons if he could practice the art of listening between the lines. He tried not to promise more than he could deliver, and he kept Caelin or Ora close at hand so they could explain requests he didn’t understand.
Daily, Inter Lucus provided more proof that a lord had returned. The gaps in the ground level walls had all disappeared, except for large doorways in the west and east sides of the great hall. Marty half expected the castle to make doors to fit them, since in the underground levels new self-retracting doors were turning up every day. But the exterior door openings remained unfilled, even as tiny filaments appeared, stretching from wall to wall in the corners, more than fifteen feet above the floor—the beginning of a ceiling. But no doors for the great hall. Marty wondered: Why can’t the automatic repair system replace the doors? Is there something wrong with the programming? The subroutine list doesn’t seem to indicate it.
I. Materias Tranmutatio: non operativa, aedificaverunt initiati
II. Parva Arcum Praesidiis: parte operativa, aedificaverunt initiati
III. Magna Arcum Praesidiis: non operativa
IV. Cibum Preparatio Homines: operativa
V. Inter-Castrum Videns-Loquitur: non operativa
VI. Extra Arcem Micro-Aedificator: non operativa, aedificaverunt initiati
VII. Potentia Fontes: parte operativa, aedificaverunt initiati
VIII. Aquarum: operativa
IX. Intra Arcem Micro-Aedificator: operativa
X. Centralis Arbitrium Factorem: parte operativa, aedificaverunt initiati
The kitchen works. Aquarum (water supply?) is fully functioning, it seems. And repairs have started on five other systems. So why can’t we get doors? Is there something especially difficult about doors above ground? Exterior doors?
As was often the case, events pulled Marty’s attention elsewhere, leaving his questions unanswered. Ora came to him as he stood before the interface wall. “My Lord Martin, two more visitors have come to Inter Lucus.”
“More produce as gield payments?”
“I don’t think so, my lord.”
Marty looked at his watch, not a mere habit. Experience had shown that a day on Two Moons was at most a few minutes longer than 24 Earth hours. Every few days, when he remembered, he reset the watch to 12:00 when the sun was at its zenith. “Okay. We can give them half an hour, but then I want to get ready for the council.”
Marty received the visitors in the shade of oak trees on the southwest approach to the castle. The first man wore a brown tunic, belted at the waist, and work boots. A farmer, he said, from beyond Senerham, Torr Ablendan. Marty greeted him with a slight bow of the head, a gesture that seemed to please most people. At the same time he wished yet again for paper. If I could just write down names, locations, and occupations! That would be something. How can I govern without keeping records? I can’t even remember names.
The second man’s russet tunic was stuffed into canvas colored breeches. Younger than the farmer, he was broad shouldered, with short brown hair cut evenly around his head like an upturned bowl. He carried a makeshift pack, tied into a roll with rope, and gave his name as Isen Poorman.
Poorman’s pack didn’t look like it contained produce, but Marty decided to head off the possibility, just in case. “We are not accepting any grain or vegetables as payment of gield. In fact, I am delaying all gield payments, except payments in clothes or coin, for the time being.”
The farmer and the younger man seemed puzzled by this pronouncement. Ora launched into a rapid explanation. Marty was learning the language of Two Moons, but when the natives spoke too fast he couldn’t keep up. Apparently, Ora’s elucidation satisfied the newcomers. The farmer said he would be ready to pay hidgield at the end of harvest, after he had a chance to trade his surplus on market day. Isen Poorman began telling a complicated story involving his sister, who had died, but he spoke too quickly for Marty to keep up. Marty raised his hand, interrupting. “Slowly, please.” He made a calming gesture, like a coach of over-excited basketball players.
Isen Poorman started again. “I have come to Inter Lucus not to offer gield, and indeed I have no money, but to offer service. I am an artisan, a glassblower; I have five years experience as apprentice to Master Kent Gausman. I have left Master Gausman’s shop, seeking work as a journeyman. In Down’s End we heard word that there is a new lord in Inter Lucus. A wise friend, Master Deepwater, counseled me to cross the lake. He said there might be need for a glassmaker between the lakes.”
“Down’s End?” Marty’s interest jumped.
“My lord?” The young man looked confused.
“You have lived in Down’s End, the city across West Lake?”
“Aye. All my life. But now I hope to work here. I am willing to swear fealty to my Lord Martin. Perhaps my lord could make use of a glassmaker.”
What I could really use is good information about Down’s End. “Why did you leave Down’s End? Something to do with your sister’s death?”
“Aye, my lord. I spent a day with the priest burying my sister. So Master Gausman dismissed me.”
Marty felt sure he was missing something. “For missing a day’s work? To bury your sister? Seems unfair.”
“Aye, my lord. Master Deepwater says Gausman was trying to please Master Godspear, to keep his vote in the guild. I went to every glassblower in Down’s End, but none of them would employ me. My lord must believe me. I am an able craftsman. I only desire a chance . . .”
“Blacklisted.” Marty made a face.
Marty’s watch said 11:40, and he recognized two men emerging from the forest south of Inter Lucus. “Isen Poorman, I want to talk with you more. But my council is gathering, so we must wait. Ora, fetch Caelin. He should be in the kitchen.”
Ora trotted away. Marty said, “I don’t know how long my council will meet. I would like you to wait here, Isen. I have many questions about Down’s End—and about glassmaking. If you can be my guest for supper, we can talk as long as necessary. Of course, your friend Torr Ablendan will also be welcome.”
Poorman and Ablendan evinced pleasure at an invitation to sup in a castle, but the farmer said, “My lord, if it please you, I should return home today. I do not mean to offend.”
“I understand.” Marty inclined his head as Torr Ablendan bowed and turned away. “Isen, can you stay?”
“Aye, my lord.”
“Very good.” Marty turned his attention to the men approaching. “Cnud Thorson and Eadmar Eoforwine! Greetings!” Marty called to the Senerham portion of his council. The men had come under the shade of the oaks. To Isen he said, “Don’t go far away. When the council is finished, we can talk.”
After two days of anticipation, Marty’s council disappointed, answering few questions and raising many others. Caadde Bycwine and Syg Alymar arrived minutes after Cnud and Eadmar. Marty sat with the four guests on blocks, made of plastic or ceramic material, that had grown out of the floor of the great hall. Inter Lucus still had no table, so Marty and his guests had to hold soup bowls in their hands. Besides a vegetable soup, they ate fried potatoes. The men had never seen French fries before, but they quickly decided they liked them. Caelin and Ora hovered nearby, ready to refill the men’s bowls. When lunch was over and bowls and plate returned to the kitchen, Caelin stood quietly by the wall; Ora went outside to ward off any more visitors who might turn up.
Marty asked questions:
How many people lived between the lakes, near Senerham or Inter Lucus? The four men gave estimates varying from a thousand to twenty times that number.
How large were the farms in the region? Cnud Thorson said some were as big as five hundred acres, some were much smaller, and some had no clear boundary, since farmers would sometimes claim land “all the way to East Lake.”
Where did people acquire metal tools—knives, plows, shovels, and so on? Answer: the blacksmith in Senerham, Elne Penrict, and one or two traveling smiths usually turned up in spring and fall to sell new tools and sharpen saws, axes, and other blades. Where did the smiths get their raw iron? Answer: From Stonebridge? We don’t know.
Where can I get a razor? (Marty rubbed his stubble ruefully, eliciting laughter from the councilors.) Answer: Elne Penrict could sharpen a steel knife for Lord Martin, and Melgar Elfwine the tanner would be glad to make a leather strop for sharpening it.
Who makes coins? Answer: Stonebridge coins are best, Cippenham coins are popular in the east, and sometimes you see coins from Horatia. Where is Horatia? Answer: vaguely south. Maybe. We don’t know.
How much do farmers pay in tax? Answer: the lord of Hyacintho Flumen demands one Stonebridge silver per hide of plowed land plus a copper for each living soul. How much is a hide of land? Answer: depending on the crop planted, it could be as little as two acres or as much as twenty. Caadde Bycwine pointed out that landowners in the Inter Lucus region rarely paid as much as Lord Mortane demanded. In practice tax collection was a matter of demand, negotiation, and avoidance. The citizens between the lakes did not think this disloyal. Besides, when had the lord of Hyacintho Flumen ever helped or even visited between the lakes?
Every item on Marty’s agenda revealed how little he knew and how hard it would be to get answers. He wanted to shout his frustration. Well, what did you expect? Detailed spreadsheets and a handbook on how to rule medieval Saxons?
Where can I get paper? Answers: They make paper in Stonebridge. And in castles, I think. You could buy some in Down’s End. Once or twice in recent years traveling merchants brought paper to sell on autumn market days in Inter Lucus and Senerham.
A castle can make paper? Answer: One of the traveling merchants said he got paper at castle Vivaro Horto. Where is that? Answer: Far east of East Lake somewhere.
Who enforces the law? Answers: If and when trouble arises, the men of Senerham or Inter Lucus would gather and appoint a posse to catch and punish lawbreakers. Generally, folk had to defend their own property against theft. The knight from Hyacintho Flumen usually held court for three days in the fall; besides collecting taxes, he decided disputes between citizens. But with violent offenders, the posse did not generally wait for the lord’s representative. Hangings and floggings were not unknown.
What do you know about the gods? Marty’s honest ignorance about the gods surprised his councilors. If anyone should know about the gods, it would be a lord. The men of Inter Lucus and Senerham knew very little about them. They left Two Moons long ago. Did Lord Martin refer to the castle gods or the old god? Marty had never heard of the old god; what god was that? Answer: The god before the castle gods. Castle lords favored the castle gods, but in free cities some people worshiped the old god.
After three hours, Marty thanked his councilors and asked if they could meet again in a week, and earlier if possible. If Inter Lucus could supply a breakfast, they all agreed, they could meet in the morning. Marty walked them to the west doorway, shaking each man’s hand as they left. The four of them were still talking among themselves when they reached the forest path. Now he felt the lack of paper more than ever. I’ll forget most of what they said. I need a journal or even just scratch paper. Then Marty remembered his New Testament. He rushed downstairs to his “bedroom”—he, Caelin and Ora now enjoyed the privacy of individual rooms—where he kept the book. At the back, yes! A blank flyleaf! He carried the testament up to the great hall.
Marty sat on a block on the west side of the great hall, looking at the blank page. He daren’t use the space for anything but the most important data. But the most important things would be the things I would remember anyway. And what do I write with? The blackened tip of a stick? He sighed and closed the book. I live in an oral culture, at least ’til I get paper and ink. The best way to “take notes” is to rehearse the meeting with Ora and Caelin.
As if in response to Marty’s thought, Ora entered the castle through the west door. She was accompanied by the glassblower from Down’s End. What was his name? Isen. The youth’s saucer eyes roamed over the interior of the great hall, a reaction common among the villagers who visited Marty’s castle. Then Isen saw the book lying on Marty’s lap and fell to his knees, his face full of astonishment.
In a whisper the man from Down’s End exclaimed: “The sign of the old god!”
33. Near River House
At Milo’s insistence, he and Eádulf kept the horses trotting all day, stopping for brief rests when they happened upon the few creeks, easily forded, that crossed the road to Stonebridge. To their right, the seemingly limitless green of the great downs stretched to the northern horizon. On the left, forested hills rolled up and down; Eádulf tried imagining the blue and purple mountains that Sir Milo said lay further southwest, but they were too distant to see. The road itself hardly seemed to vary at all: mile after mile of parallel wagon tracks cut in the prairie. After Ro Becere and his escort, they met no one.
The heat of summer wore on their mounts; Eádulf worried for them. But Sir Milo had made plain his intention, and Eádulf realized it would do no good to criticize their pace. So he kept his tongue, even when Brownie and Blackie began to tire noticeably. Several times Eádulf hoped that Milo was about to call a halt and a real rest, but every time the knight seemed ready to give up the pursuit Milo spurred Blackie back to a trot.
“There they are. What do you see, Eádulf?”
Eádulf squinted. “Can’t really tell, Sir. Didn’t Master Becere say they had two wagons?”
“So you were listening, after all. The way you fussed with the horses, one would have thought you paid no attention to Ro Becere.”
“Ah, Sir. I wouldna call it ‘fussing.’ Blackie and Brownie need care. With good care, beasts can do great things for men.”
“I’m sure that’s true, Eádulf. That’s one reason I’m glad to have you as squire. You love the horses, and for that they’ll serve me well.”
Eádulf didn’t know what to say to that.
The sun was three-quarters down the sky when Milo and Eádulf drew close to the wagons. As Ro Becere had said, there were two, each piled high with bales of wool and pulled by a pair of strong draft horses.
A rider appeared to the left of the wagons, circling back to meet Milo and his squire. Milo thought, No surprise here. If they were alert, they would have seen us gaining on them the last hour. The rider placed himself on the road facing the pursuers. He sat at ease, his hand toying with the hilt of a sword. Sunlight glistened on chain mail.
Milo slowed Blackie to a walk and stopped about five yards from the soldier. He raised his hands one at a time, as he had for Ro Becere in the morning. “Fair evening!” he said. “It seems damned hot to be wearing mail.”
“Aye,” said the rider. “But there’s worse things—like not wearing it and getting spitted.”
For the soldier’s benefit, Milo laughed at the joke. “My name is Milo Mortane. Eádulf and I mean you no harm.”
“You won’t mind, then,” said the rider, “if my master asks that you circle ’round ’n keep a good distance from the wagons.” He motioned with his arm, indicating the wide course he wanted Milo to take.
Milo wanted to make the acquaintance of Darien Chapman; so keeping distant from the wagons was precisely not his desire. “Actually, I prefer a shorter path. We’ve been pushing our horses hard, because we want to reach River House before dark if possible. So how about this: I present my sword to you, and you let us pass? You can ride with us and return it when we are on the road ahead of you.”
The soldier/guard responded warily. “All right. Just you. The boy stays back.”
Milo nodded to Eádulf, who dismounted and led Brownie back several steps. Milo urged Blackie forward, keeping both hands visibly on the reins. “My sword is right here, in the scabbard,” he said. He pointed with his chin. “May I ask your name?”
“Dreng Tredan.” The guard touched the sword hilt, watching Milo’s face. He drew it out and quickly moved his horse away. He glanced appreciatively at the steel. “What’s to keep me from taking your head with your own sword?”
Milo shrugged. “Nothing. Except Dreng Tredan is an honest man and not a murderer.”
The guard eyed Milo suspiciously. He had a spotty black beard and a hooked nose. “How would you know if I’m a murderer?”
Milo shrugged. “I suppose I can’t be sure. But I imagine the pay for armed escorts isn’t terribly high. Men-in-arms who do such honest work most likely aren’t thieves or murderers.”
“Well, you’re right about the pay,” said Dreng Tredan. “So maybe I am an honest man. Or I haven’t yet found the right gang to join up with. Or maybe the fear of hanging keeps me on the right side of the law. In any case, I prefer to use my own sword. Hoi, there, boy! Come and take your master’s sword.”
Eádulf led Brownie forward and, at a gesture from Tredan, climbed into the saddle. The soldier handed Milo’s sword to Eádulf. Eádulf secured the weapon by slipping it through a leather saddlebag strap. “Now you ride on around the wagons,” said Tredan. “Take care you don’t alarm the drivers. Your master and I will follow.”
The wagons had rolled ahead a little way, but Eádulf overtook them quickly. He angled onto the grass to the right and trotted past, the sword awkwardly banging against his boot. Dreng Tredan motioned for Milo to ride after Eádulf. “You may be an honest man too, Milo Mortane. But in case you’re not, remember I have a sword right behind you.”
A stout man in a coarse tunic and leather boots was driving the rear wagon. As Milo passed by, Tredan said from behind: “Win Modig’s the driver. Good man, but doesn’t say much.” As if in confirmation of these words, Modig silently waved and smiled.
“Fair evening!” said Milo. Win Modig merely waved again.
Milo passed the lead wagon. The driver here was a small man, lean and weathered. He wore a misshapen leather hat, a brown tunic and black leather boots. Beside the driver sat a taller man in much finer clothes—a blue tunic of linen with sleeves that reached to the elbow tucked into gray breeches. His boots were just as dusty as the teamster’s, but to Milo’s eye they looked more expensive, red leather decorated with intricate designs. This has to be Derian Chapman.
“Fair evening!” said Milo, giving what he hoped was a friendly wave.
“Meet Oswy Wodens,” said Dreng Tredan. “And Master Derian Chapman. It’s his wool we’re cartin’.” To his companions he said, “This here’s Milo Mortane. I made his boy carry his sword so he wouldna be a threat.”
Derian Chapman leaned forward to look around his driver and fix blue eyes on Milo. “Mortane? Hereward Mortane is lord of castle Hyacintho Flumen.” Chapman had light brown hair, neatly tucked behind his ears, and only a shadow of beard. He finds time to shave even on the road.
“Lord Hereward is my father.”
“You will be lord after him?”
“No. Though I am the older, my lord father has decreed that my brother Aylwin succeed him. Thus, I am free to seek my fortune in the wide world.” Milo gestured broadly, but he couldn’t keep an edge of bitterness from his words.
Chapman raised an eyebrow. “And how are you seeking your fortune?”
“It occurred to me that a knight might find employment in Stonebridge.”
“Really? Why there?”
“On the way north from Hyacintho Flumen, Eádulf and I encountered three bandits. I killed two and delivered the third to a sheriff named Rage Hildebeorht. We learned that the Stonebridge Council is troubled enough by highwaymen that they’ve appointed sheriffs. You yourself have hired Dreng Tredan as guard for two wagons of wool. So yes. With a proper introduction, I expect a knight could be of use in Stonebridge.”
Derian Chapman laughed loudly. “And you think I might give you one. Someone told you Ody Dans is my uncle. Ha, ha!
“I’ll tell you that the name Mortane might cause you some trouble in Stonebridge. Leading merchants and City Councilors resent castle lords who try to assert authority over free cities. We’ve heard stories from Down’s End that Hereward Mortane sticks his nose in where it doesn’t belong.”
Milo shrugged. “You may have heard stories, but the truth is that we have not collected land tax in Down’s End since my grandfather’s day. My father might wish that he was lord of the downs, but wishes don’t make armsmen. He has made no claim on Down’s End these thirty years. Castle Inter Lucus, on the other hand, has no lord, so my lord father does claim authority between the lakes.”
“Fairly answered,” said Chapman. “But now you say you have left your father’s service?”
“It would be more accurate to say I will not enter my brother’s service. My lord father is dying. My mother and brother have conspired to cheat me of Hyacintho Flumen. I am, as I said, free to seek my fortune.”
Derian Chapman considered Milo’s words for some seconds. “The son of a lord, trained to be a knight, could be a useful person. You will need to persuade the masters of Stonebridge that you can be trusted. If you do, you may indeed find a good future there.”
Milo said, “I’d like to hear more. Perhaps you could give me advice at River House. Eádulf and I are hoping to eat a hot meal and sleep in a bed tonight.”
“As am I,” said Chapman. “Oswy Wodens, who is familiar with the road, says we should reach River House in another hour or two. You will be safe in bed by the time we arrive.”
Milo made a pretense of deliberation. “We’ve ridden hard today, and Eádulf worries about our horses. Would you object if we accompany you? So long as we’re sure to arrive today, we needn’t push the beasts any harder. That way, we can share the hot supper, and you can advise me about Stonebridge.”
“I have no objection,” said the merchant. “Ride with us, if you can endure a snail’s pace. And you may as well retrieve your sword from your squire. What’s the good of traveling with a knight if he can’t defend me?”
“Surely you won’t need my help.” Milo gestured at the horizon. “It’s an empty prairie and Dreng Tredan is a capable man.”
Derian Chapman chewed his lip. “This land does seem empty, but that just means there’s no honest folk nearby if trouble should come. Wagons roll slowly. Grassland brigands could catch us with ease.”
Milo smiled reassuringly. “Very well. I’ll fetch my sword.” He urged Brownie forward and drew the weapon from Eádulf’s saddlebag strap. He made eye contact with Dreng Tredan, who frowned as if to say, I’m still watching you. Milo returned the sword to its scabbard and rode without comment. The guard needn’t trust him so long as Derian Chapman did.
Considering Chapman, Milo thought, Becere was right. The man worries too much about wool. There’s more here than meets the eye.
34. At River House
Derian Chapman’s wagons of wool, safeguarded by Milo and Eádulf in addition to Chapman’s hired man, Dreng Tredan, arrived at last shortly after sundown at River House, a solitary building where a bend of the river Betlicéa came within forty yards of the Stonebridge road. A fenced corral between the inn and the Betlicéa gave room for horses to wander to the river’s edge to drink. Oswy Wodens and Win Modig parked the wagons in the dusty space in front of River House, unhitched their draft horses and led them around to the corral. Chapman ordered Tredan, Wodens and Modig to take turns watching the wagons through the night. Out of earshot of Chapman, at the gate to the corral, Oswy Wodens muttered to Milo and Eádulf that robbers would more likely steal the horses than the wool. A team of strong horses could be useful on a farm, but what cottage weaver could use a whole wagon of wool, much less two? Win Modig merely nodded; Eádulf hadn’t heard Modig speak all day.
Eádulf stayed behind with Brownie and Blackie when the horses had been introduced to the corral. A stable boy named Esa Agleca helped Eádulf remove their saddles and baggage, including Milo’s armor. Eádulf brushed the animals thoroughly before carrying their things to Milo’s room. Then he headed to the common room for supper. It was dark outside except for moonlight, and the common room was darker still, a half dozen candles along one wall providing the light. The six men of Derian Chapman’s party (counting Eádulf and his master) were the only River House guests still present in the common room. Milo, Derian Chapman and Dreng Tredan were already halfway through their supper; Oswy, Win and Eádulf, having cared for the animals, came last to the table.
A pretty serving girl, Glytha, supplied them with cups of beer, bread trenchers, and a thick mutton stew with onions and barley. This late in the evening, the kitchen fire had been doused, so the stew was lukewarm, but the teamsters and Eádulf dug in eagerly. After emptying his trencher twice, Eádulf ate it, washing down the soppy bread with his third and fourth cups of beer. It was a weak, cheap beer—Eádulf would have to drink twice as much to get drunk—but it was enough to help him sleep as soon as he stretched out in bed.
Milo slept much less soundly than his squire. He churned in his mind Derian Chapman’s obsessive concern about highwaymen. He can’t really be that worried about unwoven wool. So—the wool is hiding something. Gold? Something else? But that can’t be the whole story. Only someone who knew Chapman’s cargo is not what it appears would take the trouble to steal it. Maybe Chapman thinks someone else knows what his wagons really carry. Well, it’s certain that someone knows; Derian didn’t load his wagons by himself. Whoever strapped on the wool knows what’s under it. He’s worried, not about ordinary brigands, but about brigands with friends in Down’s End, friends who know what was loaded on his wagons.
But, but . . . If it’s gold or something greatly valuable, why didn’t he hire more guards?. . . Because he had to make it look like an innocent cargo of wool; two many guards would tell all. Then why not dispense with the ruse? Hire a single wagon, protect it with a dozen men, and don’t bother with wool. There’s something here I don’t understand.
Milo snapped to wakefulness in darkness. It wasn’t just a voice in his dream; someone was shouting in the road outside River House.
“Fire! Help! Fire!” Milo couldn’t identify the voice. Other voices, from within the inn, clamored after it.
“Eádulf!” Milo fumbled for only a moment before strapping on his sword. He heard Eádulf pulling on boots.
“Get your sword.” Footsteps pounded past their door; men’s voices shouted in the dark. Eádulf rummaged in their baggage.
“Aye, sir. I’ve got it.”
“Good. Stay close to me. The commotion is out front, but we’re heading for the corral.”
Milo and Eádulf joined the tumult outside their room. Cries of “Fire!” and “The wagons!” pulled the guests of River House to the road like a mountain river rushing to the sea. Knight and squire followed the others down the stairs, but from the common room they turned left through a short hall to a door on the river side of the inn. Milo pulled his sword and sprinted for the corral gate, Eádulf close behind him.
The gate was open. Too late? No. The horses had been lying on the grass or standing in the shallow water inside the water fence; there were men among the animals, trying to separate the draft horses from the others.
“Eádulf, I need Blackie. And we need to shut this gate.”
Eádulf dropped his sword, put fingers to his mouth, and whistled sharply, twice. From the darkness a horse came galloping—Blackie; Brownie had the good sense to follow her. The thieves had been focused on the draft horses, and were unprepared to stop Blackie and Brownie’s escape.
Eádulf recovered his sword and rushed to shut the gate. Blackie recognized Milo in the starlight and came to him. Milo touched her neck and nose, letting Blackie smell him. “Good girl. No time for a saddle.” He sheathed his sword and, with his arms around Blackie’s neck, Milo threw his right leg over her. Without the advantage of stirrups, the leap was a close thing.
Growing up at Hyacintho Flumen, Milo had ridden bareback many times, but not at night, and never with sword in hand, which he drew from his scabbard. He clamped his knees to Blackie’s sides and leaned low over her neck. The horse responded adroitly to his left hand in her mane.
“Stay at the gate!” Milo shouted to Eádulf. “Keep the horses inside!” Then he and Blackie charged the intruders. Milo couldn’t see the thieves; warned by Eádulf’s whistle and the commotion when Blackie and Brownie bolted, they were hiding among the other horses. Milo swung Blackie to the right, toward the corral fence. He shouted and banged his sword on the wooden rail. He galloped by one of the big draft horses and slapped its butt with the flat of his sword. He pulled Blackie into a tight circle, nearly falling off in the process, and shouted again. The horses began moving as a group, running first toward the river and then toward River House. One of the thieves tripped when he tried to run with the animals; the other made a dash for the fence. Milo rode upon the fallen man just as he regained his footing. In the dark, Milo couldn’t tell where his sword hit the thief, but the man went down again. The other vaulted the fence and disappeared into the night.
Milo trotted toward Eádulf. “Open the gate!” The squire pushed the gate and Blackie squeezed through. “Guard the horses. Don’t let them get out.”
Milo rode around the west end of River House, pausing to take in a very different scene. As many as two dozen men stood chattering around Derian Chapman’s wagons, some holding torches and some buckets. The fire that had first roused the alarm had been extinguished, and the wagons seemed unharmed. The men were all looking south, across the road, as if expecting an enemy to appear from the dark.
“Over there!” a voice shouted above the others. A red light flashed into the sky, arcing toward the inn. The crowd scattered as a flaming arrow landed harmlessly a few feet from the wool wagons.
Derian Chapman, in a short tunic and no breeches, stood close to his cargo, a short sword in his hand. Pretty clearly, he didn’t know how to use it, other than to wave it toward the unseen archer. Dreng Tredan was with him, his sword sheathed, arms folded. “We’ve got to do something!” Chapman said. Tredan didn’t answer, but even in the dark Milo sensed the guard’s scorn.
“Something has already been done,” said Milo. Chapman, Tredan, and several others turned their attention to the knight. “The thieves weren’t after wool; they wanted your horses.”
Several voices cried out, and some of the men started to run around the inn. Milo shouted, “It’s all right! I drove off one thief and the other is wounded or dead. You’ll find him in the corral.”
“Here comes another!” Again a fiery arrow flew toward Chapman’s wagons, but the men avoided it easily. The arrow skidded in the dirt, still burning until someone splashed it with water.
Oswy Wodens and a few others said they were going to check on the horses and look for the thief Sir Milo spoke of. Win Modig stayed by his wagon, silent as ever. Derian Chapman’s concern was still the archer in the dark. “We’ve got to do something!” he said.
Milo realized the archer must have a fire from which he lit his arrows, but looking to the south there was no sign of flame. The man had to be hiding in some little hollow; given the generally flat character of the land near River House, the archer’s covert might be the only one available. “Just keep the fire from the wagons,” Milo said. Then he turned Blackie and jogged west, away from the lights of the inn.
After two hundred yards, Milo began circling south, and then eased Blackie to a stop. A minute of waiting—and there it was, another arrow. He rode quietly another twenty yards, and the archer’s fire became visible. Blackie seemed to recognize the need for stealth; her breathing was no louder than a summer breeze. Horse and rider crept closer.
The archer lit yet another arrow, and when he rose to his knees to shoot, he was silhouetted by his little fire. Milo kicked Blackie into a gallop. The archer loosed his arrow and ran. But he forgot to kick his fire, and its light betrayed him. Milo rode directly at him. The archer threw himself to the ground when Blackie rushed by and thus avoided Milo’s sword.
Milo hugged Blackie’s neck and wheeled around. His quarry might have escaped had he stayed on the ground, but he jumped up to run. Horse and rider saw him in the firelight and caught him again. This time Milo’s sword hit the man’s shoulder.
Milo pulled Blackie to a halt and jumped down. The fallen archer lay panting in the prairie grass when Milo came upon him. “A question, my friend,” said Milo. “An honest answer may save your life.”
In the dark, the man’s blood looked like a black stain. His shoulder was a mess.
Between gasps of pain, he answered, “The truth, I’ll swear.”
“Who paid you to stop Chapman’s wagons from reaching Stonebridge?”
“The banker, Eulard Barnet, from Down’s End.”
“I should have known,” said Milo. “And what has Chapman stolen from the good banker?”
The man panted and groaned. “Only the murderer of his son. Avery Doin hides in that wagon.”
“Ah. That explains it,” said Milo. “Why should you care if Avery Doin escapes?”
The archer struggled to his feet. “I don’t. I’m just earning my pay.”
“We all have to earn our pay,” said Milo. “That’s what I’m doing.” Then, with a great backhanded sweep of his sword, he hacked at the man. The archer flinched, but not in time; the blow aimed at his neck but hit him in the head. Milo pulled his sword free of the half-split skull and wiped it on the prairie.
35. From River House to Stonebridge
Beornheard Green, the owner-innkeeper of River House, recognized the injured horse thief. “That’s Andsaca Scur, one o’ the many sons of Russell Scur,” he said. “Should be no surprise. Bad seed shows. Wouldna be surprised if the other, the one wot got away, be one o’ the brothers.”
Beornheard made his opinion known the morning after the attack on Derian Chapman’s wagons. He and Glytha Samdaughter, she of the pert nose and blue eyes, were hustling to supply the breakfast needs of a surprisingly large crowd. Eádulf was amazed. River House stood all alone on the prairie by the river; when he tended to Brownie and Blackie in the corral before breakfast he saw not a single house or barn west, north or east, just rolling downs. Yet somehow the news of the excitement at River House had reached interested ears in just hours. Eádulf wished he could talk with Glytha, but it was impossible. She was constantly coming and going to the kitchen with plates and cups. Master Green worked at a slightly less feverish pace, and added his opinions to the common room conversation when he could.
“Russell Scur is the sorriest sheep man in the west part o’ the downs,” Beornheard said. “Always pickin’ scrapes with neighbors, saying they’ve stolen lambs, broken fences, or some such. More likely, it’s he and his sons doin’ it.”
“And how many sons does he have?” asked Dreng Tredan.
“Six or seven. Maybe eight, now. Hard to keep track,” said Green.
Meanwhile, the object of this conversation was slumped in a corner, a large bloodstained bandage wrapped around his upper right arm. Eádulf, guarding the corral gate as commanded by Sir Milo, had been near enough to hear when Oswy Wodens and the others found Andsaca. Some thought him dead, but Oswy pulled a cloth tight around Andsaca’s arm to stem the flow of blood, and saved his life. Temporarily. More than one man in the common room had suggested ways to hang the horse thief, despite the lack of a suitable tree nearby. Looking at him, Eádulf thought Andsaca was probably about his own age. He felt sorry for him.
In contrast to the horse thief, no one recognized the archer, whom Sir Milo had killed. “Not from around here,” more than one man said. Naturally, the locals asked Milo about his confrontation with the stranger, but Milo only said, “Not much to tell. The fool tried to fight me, even after I cut his shoulder. Never said a word; just came at me.”
Someone asked Derian Chapman if he wanted to take Andsaca Scur as prisoner to Stonebridge. “Why would I want that?” he responded. “You men know what to do with thieves. My drivers and Dreng and I don’t need an extra mouth on the road. Speaking of—it’s time we got started.” Chapman motioned to Oswy Wodens and Win Modig and the teamsters rose from the table.
“If you please,” said Sir Milo to Chapman. “Eádulf and I would like to ride along.”
Chapman’s relief was obvious. “I hoped you would say that.”
On the road to Stonebridge, Milo was careful to inspect Derian Chapman’s wagons casually, so that no one would notice. Most of the time he kept Blackie even with the front of Oswy Wodens’ lead wagon, which let him talk with Derian and the wiry driver. Occasionally, he jogged ahead to ride with Dreng Tredan and Eádulf a few yards in front. He had the impression Dreng Tredan was trying to limit conversation with Chapman; from the guard’s point of view, the sooner they reached Stonebridge and finished their business, the better. Milo had granted Eádulf’s request to ride in front of the wagons rather than in the dustier air behind them. After a few desultory words with Tredan or Eádulf, Milo would pull to one side and let both wagons pass him. “Every once in a while, it’s good to look behind as well as ahead,” he explained to Derian as the first wagon rolled by.
Chapman gave a little salute. “Already you’re doing Dreng’s job for him.”
It was then, riding for a while behind Win Modig’s wagon and while jogging up to retake his place next to Derian, that Milo studied the wagons. They seemed identical at first, but Milo noticed that the axles of Modig’s wagon groaned less than those on Oswy Wodens’. Could be it’s merely a better built wagon, but Modig’s could be carrying less weight.
“Your Win Modig must be the shyest person I’ve ever met.” It was late morning. Milo had “looked behind” for the third time and was merely making conversation. “I don’t believe he’s said anything all day.”
Derian Chapman laughed quietly. “Shy? I don’t know about that. He’s certainly the quietest of all men. He can’t talk.”
Milo’s tone registered his surprise. “But he’s not deaf. I’ve seen him respond to you and Oswy.”
Chapman nodded. “Oh, he hears well enough. And he can make signs to let you know what he wants or what needs to be done. He just can’t talk.”
“Why? There must be a story behind it.”
“I’m sure there must. I’ve never heard it. Oswy?”
The wiry little driver shook his head. “I been drivin’ wagons ’tween Stonebridge, Down’s End and the castles up north—that’s Auria Prati and Lata Altum Flumen—for fifteen years now. Win’s been drivin’ longer than that. I never heard nobody who knows why Win don’t talk. I asked him once, just once. Poor man got mad as hell, almost hit me, and then cried for an hour. Ya can ask him if ya want, but I won’t.”
Milo looked back over his shoulder. The driver of the second wagon was hidden behind the tall load on the first. “Far be it from me to second guess your wisdom, Oswy.” Milo caught Derian’s eye. “Some things are better left unasked and unsaid.”
Derian raised an eyebrow. “Perhaps that’s true, Sir Milo. But the audience makes a big difference, don’t you think? For instance, some things should not be said in the presence of one’s business rivals. But between friends and partners, there should be few secrets.”
Milo responded immediately. “I agree completely. The difficulty is finding a true friend or partner.”
In the afternoon the road began to climb, a long ascent up a hillside, to a kind of saddle between much taller hills. The road grew steeper and steeper toward the top. The riders’ horses could manage well enough, but the draft horses strained harder and harder. Finally, Oswy cried, “That’s good!” He hardly needed to rein up; the horses simply stopped.
The hilltop was perhaps three hundred yards away, the steepest part of the whole climb. Oswy called out to Eádulf, “Come help, boy!” Eádulf dismounted when he saw what Oswy wanted and received two wood wedges that looked like ordinary firewood. “Block the back wheels,” said Oswy. “And then help Win with his wagon.”
“Aye, sir.” Eádulf hustled to obey. Wodens climbed down from his seat and blocked the front wheels.
Milo puzzled over the situation. “I’m sure it’s a good idea to keep the wagons from rolling back, but how can we get them over the top?”
Oswy Wodens leaned against his wagon, stretching out stiff legs. “We can’t,” he said matter-of-factly. “Not unless Master Derian wants to unload half his wool, which, I’m sure, he don’t want to do.”
“So . . .?”
Oswy reached his arms over his head and swung them from side to side. “So we let the horses rest a bit, ’n wait for help.” He pointed up the hill. Unnoticed by Milo, Dreng Tredan had ridden on when the wagons halted. Milo saw him disappearing over the crest of the hill.
Derian Chapman explained. “On the other side of this rise is the last way-station on the road to Stonebridge, or the first way-station leaving Stonebridge if you want to think of it that way. The owner calls it, as you might guess, the Hill Corral. He keeps teams of draft horses for the express purpose of helping heavy loads over the top. It’s good business for him and a sensible solution for Stonebridge merchants. The only other way from Stonebridge to the downs would be to follow the Betlicéa through an impassible canyon.”
“Still goin’ to be a tough pull,” said Oswy. “Best if we all help.”
“Absolutely,” said Derian, climbing down from the wagon. “We are all at your command, Oswy. Sir Milo, if you would tether your horse to the back of the wagon, you’ll be available to help too.”
Within half an hour, Dreng returned, accompanied by a weather-beaten man with a shaggy black beard. The man, who introduced himself as Dru Gifardus, led a pair of magnificent draft horses. Gifardus and Oswy Wodens conferred for a while and decided that each wagon was a “six horse pull.” Oswy and Win Modig unhitched Win’s team from the rear wagon and carefully walked them around Oswy’s wagon. Then they hitched up the three pair of draft horses to the front wagon. Nobody rode. Dru Gifardus walked beside his horses in the lead, Win beside the middle team, and Oswy with his horses. Milo, Eádulf, and Derian took up places alongside the wagon where they could add human effort to horsepower. At Dru’s command, “Get up!” the six horses strained, the men pushed, and the wagon began moving. At the very top of the hill, the road widened to a broad flat place, where they parked Oswy’s wagon to one side. They unhitched the six horse team and the teamsters helped Dru Gifardus line them up with the second wagon.
The whole procedure was professionally managed by the teamsters and Dru Gifardus. It would have been unremarkable, except that when both wagons were safely on top of the hill, when Win was re-hitching his team to the second wagon, the wagon lurched, as if it were about to roll backwards down the hill. Derian Chapman cried out in what sound to Milo like genuine terror.
Milo took this as confirmation of his suspicions. Win Modig’s wagon, the second one. The man’s name is Avery Doin.
36. In Castle Inter Lucus
Do not go into pagan territory or enter a Samaritan town. Go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. As you go, make this proclamation: “The kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
Marty’s practice of reading a gospel passage each day gave rise to new questions as he lingered over the words. Why did Jesus forbid his disciples to preach to pagans? Other parts of the New Testament emphatically endorsed missionary preaching. Was this a temporary prohibition? Father Stephen, who had seminary training in theology and scripture study, could probably explain the matter quickly—but Father Stephen was very definitely not available for consultation. Frighteningly, the possibility loomed in Marty’s mind that he might be the closest thing to a Christian scholar on the planet.
Of all the astonishments since Marty’s appearance on Two Moons, Isen Poorman’s identification of “the sign of the old god”—the gold cross embossed on the cover of Marty’s New Testament—was in some ways the most troubling. Marty had accepted the idea that somehow he had been transported to another planet, a science fiction movie come true. He had only wild guesses about how a machine could reach across interstellar distances to kidnap someone from Earth to Two Moons. The fact of Inter Lucus helped; pretty clearly the aliens, or whoever had built the castle, had technology beyond the reach of early twenty-first century humans, and light-years beyond the understanding of the people of Two Moons. And if a castle could reach out and snatch one human, maybe it could take others. Marty had believed from the start that the inhabitants of Two Moons were human. (Only now did he realize that he could not say explicitly why.) And it would not be surprising if the kidnapped humans accepted the aliens as “gods,” especially if they came from a time before the rise of science. But now it turned out that some of the humans did not worship the castle gods; instead, their god, the god of the cross, might well be Marty’s God.
Marty had questioned Isen—and Ora and Caelin, but they knew much less—about the old god for hours, long into the summer night, after Isen pointed to the cross on the New Testament. Isen often admitted ignorance and said it would be best to question Priest Eadmar. Nevertheless, a few things seemed clear. The old god had been worshiped before the castle gods. But the people of Two Moons were expected to worship castle gods. (Expected by whom? By the gods, and then, after the gods left, by the lords.) But a few people had always asserted their devotion to the old god, even before the castle gods departed. In Down’s End, an important free city, the priests of the old god maintained a Prayer House and burial ground.
Isen said that Priest Eadmar had said holy words at Sunniva’s burial, but he couldn’t remember them. Marty gently encouraged him to try. Isen looked up at the night sky above Inter Lucus, pursing his lips. Finally he said, “Nomin Pater Fee Lee.” He smiled. “Yes. I remember. Nomin Pater Fee Lee.”
Marty said, “In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti.”
Isen frowned. “Too many words. I think Nomin Pater Fee Lee is right.”
Marty asked whether priests of the old god ever visited Senerham or Inter Lucus. Caelin and Ora agreed that they had never seen a priest, nor had they heard of one coming to the region between the lakes, not even after the castle had fallen asleep.
“How many priests are there in Down’s End?”
Isen replied, “Three, that I have seen. More. Maybe two or three more.”
Marty asked, “Would Priest Eadmar or one of the others come to Inter Lucus to talk with me? I have learned from Caelin that lords never go far from their castles, and I am beginning to understand why they do not. I desire greatly to learn from a priest.”
Isen pondered this question, delaying his answer a long time. Caelin tried to explain: “A priest invited to a castle would suspect treachery. There are many tales of priests hiding from the castle gods or being killed by castle lords. They would be afraid to come.”
Ora objected, “But Lord Martin’s book has the sign of the old god. If he invites a priest to come, the priest should come.”
Marty smiled ruefully. “They might think the sign of the cross is a trick. It sounds like the priests have hundreds of years of reasons not to trust lords. Isen, what if you took a page from this book and showed it to a priest? Would he come then?”
“It could be. Does the lord Martin wish me to do this thing—to ask Priest Eadmar to come to Inter Lucus?”
“Let’s sleep on it,” Marty answered. In response to their confused faces he said, “We will sleep now, and in the morning decide whether Isen should go to Down’s End.”
And now it was morning. After reading a portion of gospel, Marty walked the inside perimeter of Inter Lucus, his morning routine. The walls of the castle’s east and west wings, the arms of the T, had filled in and grown taller. Overhead, the filaments of the ceiling had become a thick mesh over most of the great hall. Marty half expected a new staircase, reaching up to the second floor, to appear any day. How can a building grow? Could it really be organic? A life form? But the interface list suggests a supercomputer with subsystems. What kind of technology grows walls and ceilings? Why do blocks rise out of the floor for chairs, and kitchen appliances? But no tables and no exterior doors?
As was so often the case, Marty had to live without answers. But just maybe . . . a priest of the old god might explain some things. Isen seems to have had a limited exposure to old god worship. Maybe he remembers the priest’s words perfectly, but more likely he remembers only a few sounds. Not really words, since Isen doesn’t know Latin. “Nomin Pater Fee Lee.” Do the priests know Latin? Do they have books? If they don’t, and if their community is very small, would they still understand Latin? Maybe they just pass on sacred words without their sense. Maybe the priests of the old god don’t understand the words they say any better than Isen.
Hash browns and fried onions for breakfast. Marty had learned that he could “program” or “teach” the Cibum subroutine new ways to prepare the foods in their larder. While bonding with the lord’s knob, he pictured in his mind as clearly as he could the shredding and frying of the potatoes and onions. Caelin and Ora would deposit a few vegetables in the “pans” of the “cook-top,” and Inter Lucus did the rest. But there were only so many ways to prepare fish, potatoes, carrots and onions. For variety’s sake, Marty thought he would modify his prohibition on gield payments. It would be wonderful to have some grain, fruits, or meat.
Caelin served the breakfast to Marty and Isen in the great hall. It was Ora’s turn to watch for visitors this morning. When she joined them, Caelin fetched a plate of breakfast for her.
“How many today?” Marty spoke to Ora while handing his empty plate to Caelin.
Ora was already digging in. “Ee, or.” She swallowed. “Three so far. More later, I think.”
“All right. We’ll see them in the usual way, beneath the oaks. I think I will tell some that they can pay part of their gield now, if they bring grain, fruit, or clothes. What do you think?”
“Yes. We have plenty of storage near the kitchen. Poorer people will find it easier to bring food as it ripens.”
Caelin returned from the kitchen with a pitcher of water. So far, the castle had formed or grown four water outlets, all underground. Why no faucets in the great hall?
When asked, Caelin agreed that accepting grain or fruit would improve their diet, but again he warned that Marty ought not to let between the lakes people underpay their gield.
“Here’s the big question of the day.” Marty rubbed his stubbly beard. “I want Isen to invite priest Eadmar to Inter Lucus. How long will it take Isen to get there? We have no money to give him, so how do we help him on his way?”
“It will take five days walking to reach Down’s End,” said Caelin. “There are inns along the way, but without coin . . .”
Marty grimaced. “Once again, a reminder of our need for money. Is there anyone in Senerham or Inter Lucus village who has coin? Someone who could lend?”
Caelin frowned. “If a lord must borrow, some would say he is no lord.”
“That’s stupid! Lord Martin controls a castle!”
Ora was about to say more, but Marty motioned her off. “Perhaps so, Ora. But if our neighbors believe a real lord never has need to borrow, we must take that into account. I would much prefer not to borrow money. Is there another way? What would happen to a traveler who did not stay in roadhouses, who camped out in the wild?”
“Bandits and poor people do this,” said Caelin. “Desperate people fleeing danger. It is risky.”
“My Lord Martin.” Isen took up Ora’s pattern of speech. “There is a faster way. Boats from Down’s End can cross West Lake twice in a day. If we could meet a boat on the near shore, I might ride to Down’s End with them.”
“But I suppose we would need money to pay them.”
“Most of them, yes. But Master Deepwater would give me passage for the privilege of meeting Lord Martin. And he would think—that is, I think he would think—there would be what he calls ‘chances’ in such a meeting.”
Marty thought he could guess, but he asked. “‘Chances’?”
“When he advised me to come to Inter Lucus, Master Bead said if there were a lord in the castle there would be good chances for a glassmaker.”
Marty grinned. “I think I would like to meet Bead Deepwater. There should indeed be ‘chances’ in it. But how can we summon a fisherman from across the lake?”
“By lights,” said Ora, as if this were a simple matter. “When the foresters and woodmen want the boats to come, they hold polished bronze to the sun and signal them.”
Marty was surprised, but then realized it made perfect sense. Attor Woodman and his fellows between the lakes would need some way to advertise their product to the market. “That’s wonderful,” he said. We will signal the boats of Down’s End. When a boat comes, we’ll ask that they take Isen across. If they won’t do it, we’ll ask that they send a message to Bead Deepwater.”
“My lord,” said Caelin. “Does this mean you have taken Isen Poorman into your service?”
“If he is willing, yes.”
Marty, Ora and Caelin looked at Isen. “I will be Lord Martin’s messenger—and glassmaker, when the time comes,” he said.
“Very good,” Marty replied. “Isen is part of Inter Lucus now, just as we all are.”
37. On the East Shore of West Lake
Two days after entering Lord Martin’s service, Isen began his journey back to Down’s End. Ora, the girl with the pretty green eyes, accompanied him. As did Lord Martin himself—a decision reached over the objections of Caelin Bycwine.
“My Lord, it will take at least a day to walk to West Lake and back,” Caelin had said. “It would not be wise for folk to discover that the lord of Inter Lucus goes abroad from his castle. And since visitors come every day they will know that you are not here.”
Lord Martin smiled indulgently. “Caelin, I’ve already visited Inter Lucus and Senerham. When Ora and I came to your parents’ farm, we were gone all day. No harm came to us.”
The slender youth shook his head. “That is true, my Lord, but the news about you had only begun to spread in the villages. Now, many people have seen you. If they see you away from the castle, someone—may I say, someone as foolish as I was—might think to win fame by attacking a lord. Away from Inter Lucus, you would be vulnerable. Also, if you are gone, strangers could enter Inter Lucus.”
“And what would they do?” The lord still smiled.
“Steal food,” the youth replied quickly. “Or worse, find a new door. My Lord searches the castle every day for Centralis Arbitrium Factorem; what if a stranger found it first?”
The strange words Centralis Arbitrium Factorem meant nothing to Ora, Caelin and Isen. Lord Martin had explained to them that he hoped someday to find a room in the castle that contained this mysterious object. He said Centralis Arbitrium Factorem was the castle’s own name for it; Lord Martin called it seepeeyou. Lord Martin believed that the castle’s magic was centered in the seepeeyou.
At mention of the Centralis Arbitrium Factorem, Lord Martin pursed his lips. “Point taken, Caelin. We don’t want visitors poking around inside Inter Lucus.” He turned to Isen and Ora. “How soon will a Down’s End boat respond to the signal?”
Isen shrugged his ignorance. As a glassblower apprentice, he had no experience of boating on West Lake prior to the wood expedition aboard Morning Glory. Ora replied, “We cannot know. One day? Six days? When Attor has lumber ready, he shines the light across the lake at mid-day and before evening. Every day with no boat, he shines the light again. Other woodmen also signal when they have logs or cut lumber. When a boat comes, the sailors ring a loud bell.”
“Six days! Isen should walk,” objected Caelin. “A lord cannot be gone so long!”
Ora bristled. “For all we know, Attor Woodman or Baldric Forrest signaled the fishermen yesterday or the day before. Boats cross the lake on many summer days.”
Lord Martin laid a finger on his lips, a mannerism they took as a signal for silence. “Caelin is right, Ora. We need to be careful, especially since we have no doors in place to bar entrance to the castle. We will pack food for Isen, enough so that he can wait a few days for a boat if need be. You and I will escort Isen to the lake and return. Caelin will occupy Inter Lucus alone for only a day.”
Ora knew the roads and trails between the lakes, so they did not wander as Isen had after he crossed West Lake in the rain. Starting early, with five hours walking, they reached West Lake before noon. A woodland trail tracked the east shore of the lake, sometimes running on rocky beaches and at some places winding its way under pines or firs some yards from the water.
They came to the dock with the iron bell where the Deepwaters had moored Morning Glory on the wood expedition. Only nine days ago! Isen marveled at how quickly life could change. For years I followed a constant routine: work for Gausman, learn my trade, nurse Sunie. Day after day the same. Now, in the space of twelve days I have buried my sister, lost my position, sailed across West Lake two days, and taken service with Lord Martin. Not yet as a glass monger, but a messenger! I wonder if Master Deepwater would count that as a “chance.” Isen smiled at the memory of the fisherman’s kindness. The farmer, Torr Ablendan, had been kind in his own way too. And now, Lord Martin was trusting Isen to be his emissary. Kent Gausman threw me aside unjustly; yet nothing but good has come to me since. I will tell Priest Eadmar to thank the old god for me.
Lord Martin looked around the dock. “I see the bell, Ora, but no bronze mirror. Where do the foresters keep their signal?”
“Out of the rain,” she answered. “This way.” She led them into a stand of tall evergreens—cedars rather than the pines and firs that made up most of the forest. A carpet of needles muffled their footsteps. In the middle of the copse stood a huge jagged stump, its upper parts torn off long ago, taken by lightning or wind. What remained of the tree was about forty feet tall, and Isen estimated its girth would be at least as great. Ora ran ahead and darted behind the stump. When Isen and Lord Martin reached the spot, she had disappeared. For a moment, Isen was mystified, but then he saw the dark crack that led into the hollow interior of the tree. Ora’s voice came from inside. “There are two mirrors. Does Lord Martin desire the big one or the smaller?”
Lord Martin knelt, peering into the dimness inside the stump. “Why not both? Isen is strong enough to carry the big one, and I can manage the other.”
The disks Ora rolled through the crack superficially resembled shields; they were round, with straps for the bearer’s arm on the back. But the bronze had been forged or beaten to great thinness and fixed to wood frames, so that the mirrors were much lighter than shields of similar diameter. If used as shields, they would have been easily broken by an axe or sword.
Isen’s mirror was about five feet in diameter, and when he looked closely he saw its surface was slightly concave. The mirror Ora rolled to Lord Martin was perhaps four feet wide. Lord Martin rapped on its surface and produced only a dull thump; the wooden frame absorbed any music the metal might have given.
Lord Martin hefted his mirror and slipped his arm into the straps. He tried walking a few steps and stopped. “It’s light enough, but awkward. Take this, would you, Ora?” The lord handed his walnut staff to Ora, freeing his right hand to steady the mirror while he walked. Isen carried his larger mirror in a similar way.
In the forest shade, the mirrors looked like badly made shields. When Isen and Lord Martin carried them into the sunlight the polished metal became extremely bright—and when the light struck them the right way, they were painful and dangerous to look at.
Having returned to the West Lake dock, Isen and Lord Martin practiced aiming their mirrors by shining the overhead sunlight at nearby trees. When they got the angle right, they could see bright patches on their targets, visible even at mid-day. They carried the mirrors to the edge of the dock and directed their beams at Down’s End. That is, they shined the light in the direction Ora pointed; Isen wasn’t sure he could see the city so far across the lake.
After several minutes, Ora said that they had already signaled longer than Attor usually did. They carried the mirrors back to the forest and replaced them in the cedar stump. Isen wriggled through the crack to make sure he would be able to access the mirrors; if a boat didn’t come he was to shine the signal at Down’s End twice a day for three days.
They sat on the ground by the mirror stump to eat a simple lunch: carrots and small black loaves of bread (baked by Gisa Bistan and brought to Inter Lucus by Wyrtgeon). Isen had loaves for five days, lake water nearby, and snug shelter inside the cedar should he need it. When they had eaten, he bowed to Lord Martin and promised he would do his best to persuade a priest to come to Inter Lucus. He patted the breast of his tunic; in an inside pocket he carried three pages torn from Martin’s book of the old god. One of the pages was blank, but two of them had writing on them. Isen could not read the words, but the letters were so perfectly formed anyone could see that they were made by castle magic. If anything would persuade Priest Eadmar it would be that.
Marty shook hands with Isen and wished him success. “But don’t stay long in Down’s End. Invite the priest. If he comes back with you, that’s good. If not, you will have at least planted the idea among the priests that I want to talk with them. Give a page from the book; let the idea grow on them. Later, we can invite them again.”
Isen headed back to the dock to watch for boats. Marty and Ora started home, the girl leading the way. Perhaps five minutes from the dock, at a place where the path bordered the water, Ora suddenly froze, her hand raised. Marty hadn’t heard anything, but he stopped immediately. A few seconds passed with only the sound of water moving on the pebbly shore.
A boy rounded a tree ahead of them, trotting swiftly, following the path as it turned from the shade of the forest onto the beach. He stopped instantly, his black braids swinging around his face.
“By the gods! Ora!”
“Fair afternoon, Aethulwulf.” The girl regained her composure—if she had lost it—more quickly than the boy. “Shouldn’t you be helping Attor?”
38. Near West Lake
Aethulwulf’s dark eyes flicked from Ora to her companion and the staff in his hand. The hilt of a dagger rode above the forester’s belt; his hand closed on it but did not draw it. Lord Martin stepped forward, his knees slightly bent, holding his staff in both hands. Ora held back; she did not want to impede the lord’s movement if Aethulwulf attacked.
“Ora said your name is Aethulwulf.” Lord Martin spoke calmly, evenly. “You are her brother.” He used the correct word, gefeadernes, to refer to children of the same father. Ora knew that Lord Martin’s own language, strangely, did not have an equivalent word. That Lord Martin could learn the common tongue so quickly was another proof of his wisdom and right to rule Inter Lucus.
“Aye.” Aethulwulf still had not pulled his dagger from his belt. He seemed torn between an urge to attack, a desire to run away, and the shame he would feel if he did so. A thought flashed through Ora’s mind: Caelin spoke truly. There could be men (or boy-men) foolish enough to attack Lord Martin. Away from the castle, danger is real.
“Very good! I honor you, Aethulwulf, as brother to my worthy servant, Ora. We should be friends.”
Aethulwulf looked at her, and Ora felt her face flushing. Lord Martin said she was weorþe þénestre, honorable servant. He must have learned these words from Caelin.
Aethulwulf looked again at the lord and released his dagger-hilt. “Are you really lord of Inter Lucus?”
“It seems so.” Lord Martin stood straighter, lowering the foot of his staff to the ground.
“Everwin Idan and Abrecan Landman said as much. Father does not want to believe it, but all the folk in Inter Lucus say it’s true. They say the castle is healing.”
“That much, for certain, is true,” said Lord Martin. “Since Ora summoned me, Inter Lucus has grown stronger every day. What say you, Aethulwulf? As brother to Ora, you ought to be my friend. But you will never be my friend if you try to harm her. Be warned, Aethulwulf! Ora told me why she fled your father’s house. I will not allow you to touch her again. Now—will you be friend to the lord of Inter Lucus?”
Aethulwulf went to his knees and inclined his head. In her heart, Ora exulted. Lord Martin speaks as a lord should speak. Even Aethulwulf hears the voice of command.
As the boy acknowledged him, Marty sighed quietly, relieved. Aethulwulf was young, agile, and armed with a short sword. If he had attacked, I’d have been lucky to get one clear swing. And if I missed . . . I’ve got to be more careful. A bold face won’t always win the day.
Marty extended a hand and pulled the youth to his feet. He was shorter than Marty, but already over five feet tall. Three thick black braids reached below his shoulders; the upper arms, exposed by a sleeveless leather vest/tunic, were muscled like a linebacker’s. That thought brought a smile: On Earth, Aethulwulf could be a Middle School football player. He’d be a star.
“You have the arms of a lumberjack, Aethulwulf.”
The youth frowned, his black eyebrows bunching together. Marty explained: “In my tongue, a lumberjack is a woodsman who fells trees. You do the work of a man grown, and that is why your arms are strong.”
Aethulwulf’s brows unknotted. “Aye. Da puts me in the pit now.” A half-smile appeared. “Especially now that Ora is gone. I was never her equal in guiding a ripsaw. So Attor guides and I push.”
Ora said something about a sawpit. Attor doesn’t just fell trees, he makes lumber. “Why are you not sawing lumber today? Where is Attor?”
“Senerham. We made wood-raft yesterday for a Down’s End boat, and Attor said it’s time to take blades to Elne Penrict, the smith. Two axes, the big crosscut, the ripsaw, the closed carpenter saw, and three lil’ handsaws—we loaded them all on the wagon and took them in early. Elne says it’s too much work for one day; he’ll have ’em sharp tomorrow. Da spits and swears, but Elne says he won’t do piss poor hurry-up work; Attor has to wait. So he’s awaitin’. Won’t leave his tools unguarded, Da says. He’s got Bley tethered by Elne’s smithy, says he’ll sleep under the wagon. I’m to get home and tell Ma.”
Marty followed this explanation with interest. “I suppose in the morning you’re to go back to Senerham?”
“No need. Da has Bley and the wagon. Said I should take a net to the lake. So tomorrow I’ll fish when it’s cool and swim when it gets hot. Holiday for me.”
Marty turned to Ora. “Do you know the way to Senerham from here?”
“Aye.” Her mouth twisted. “But if we go ’round that way, we will come to Inter Lucus late.”
Ora looked quickly at the sun’s position. “Summer days are long. We’ll have light.”
“Good. I want to talk with Attor. If we find him at Master Penrict’s smithy, we won’t have to make another trip.” To Aethulwulf he said, “I’m glad we met today. Someday you must come to Inter Lucus; as Ora’s brother, you will be welcome.”
Something troubled the youth’s face. “Why is the lord of Inter Lucus so far from his castle? Does your magic extend so far?” His eyes went to Marty’s walnut staff, as if it were a wizard’s rod.
Scenes from The Lord of the Rings movie flashed in Marty’s memory, and he decided that strict honesty might not be the best policy now. He waved the stick vaguely in Aethulwulf’s direction, and the youth tensed. “I am still learning how castle magic works,” Marty said. “I’m not sure how much I could do this far away.”
“Why came you here then?”
“To put a servant on a boat. I am sending one of my men to Down’s End. Ora showed us how to shine lights at the fishermen.” Only after answering did Marty ask himself whether it would have been better to keep Isen secret from Aethulwulf. But the young forester seemed impressed.
“How many servants have you?”
Marty smiled. “You must come to Inter Lucus and see.”
Three hours of steady hiking, with brief stops for toilet in the woods, brought Marty and Ora to Senerham. Where the village Inter Lucus gathered around its central well, the buildings of Senerham lay like two strings on opposite sides of the brook named Send. Two dirt roads bordered the town on the north and south sides, connected by sturdy cart bridges at the east and west end. In between, some of the villagers had built narrow footbridges over the brook, giving access to their cross-stream neighbors. At the east end of the village, stone-lined steps had been dug on both banks. Ora explained that the villagers all came here to draw their water, since every household spilled its waste into the Send. No one would want to drink the fouled water at the west end of Senerham.
Elne Penrict’s smithy stood in the middle of the town, where two oak trees provided some shade. In the winter, Ora said, the blacksmith worked a forge inside the walls of his smithy, but in summer . . . well, she pointed. A broad-shouldered man, naked to the waist, was hammering a bit of iron on an anvil. Near the smith a black-haired man sat on a large stone, obviously conversing with Penrict. “Attor,” said Ora, unnecessarily. Marty remembered him.
A wagon and two two-wheeled carts were lined up in the dirt of the road by a rail fence. On the other side of the fence a horse was tethered by a long rope, which allowed her to nibble at a patch of grass under the oaks.
Attor Woodman had his back to the road, so Penrict saw them first. He motioned with his hammer and Attor turned on his stone seat. “Fair afternoon, Father!” Ora waved as if there had been nothing amiss between them. The man leapt from his seat and seized a pair of black metal tongs lying on the ground. He faced Ora and Marty, brandishing his makeshift weapon.
Twenty feet away, the forester crouched as if he expected Marty to smite him from a distance. Marty raised his left hand, palm out. “Master Woodman, don’t be afraid. I mean you no harm.”
Attor eyed the intruders suspiciously for several seconds. When Marty and Ora made no advance, he came out of his crouch. “When I last saw you, you almost killed me with that stick,” he growled.
“Aye,” Marty replied. “But only because your son was attacking my honorable servant Ora. No one is attacking her now.”
Elne Penrict, the blacksmith, laid down his hammer and picked up another tool. “Attor, are you going to fight or not? I need someone to hold this saw while I file its teeth.”
Ora walked forward, patting the horse as she did so. “I can do it, Master Penrict. That’s a good girl, Bley.” She passed an arm’s length away from her father and smiled at him. “There’s no need to fight, Da.”
“You’ve taken a man, then.”
“No, Da. Inter Lucus has taken a lord.”
Attor’s eyes were still on Ora: “Then why isn’t he in his castle? Lords stay in their castles.”
“Ask Lord Martin, not me.” Ora positioned the handsaw as Elne motioned instructions; she held it with both hands and the smith pulled the file with a ‘zip’ sound. Seeing that the girl could hold the saw steady, Elne began filing rapidly: zip, zip, zip.
Reluctantly, Attor turned his attention to Marty. “You call my daughter weorþe.”
“Aye. I find her honorable. She has pledged service to me. I am teaching her the ways of the castle.”
Attor sighed. “She is a woman grown. Let her take a husband.”
“I hope she finds one who likes living in a castle.”
That brought a smile. Attor asked, “Why are you here?”
“I hoped to meet you, Master Woodman. I need some lumber, cut to the right size to make doors for Inter Lucus. Can you do that?”
The woodman’s brows arched. “No one better than me.”
“Good! Come to Inter Lucus and measure my doors. If you make my doors, I’ll will count it as your year’s tax, hidgield.”
39. In Down’s End
Eadmar watched Guthlaf Godcild’s face intently, but he couldn’t tell which way the bishop would decide. Guthlaf’s hazel eyes moved from brother to brother as the priests of Down’s End made their arguments. No bishop had faced such an important decision for generations, if ever, and all the brothers knew it. They sat around a rough-hewn table, and the door to Prayer House had been barred against visitors, to give the city’s priests privacy.
“The last lord of Inter Lucus died without heir when my great grandmother was a maiden,” said Phytwin. The gray-eyed man was priest of the city’s central district and at fifty was older than any of the others except Eadmar. “How can there be a new lord?”
Teothic, the tall, red-bearded, young priest who served the west side of Down’s End, answered, “It doesn’t matter how; it only matters that. No one really knows how a lord’s heir takes control of a castle. This man Martin may be no lord’s son, but if he controls Inter Lucus, that is all we need know. He is lord in fact, if not in law.”
“Aye,” Eadmar said. “But since he is not the son of a lord, he has not learned the faults of lords. Isen says Lord Martin worships the true God! He is not like . . .”
Bishop Guthlaf interrupted Eadmar with a raised hand. “I gathered the brothers at your request, Eadmar. You have already spoken. I want to hear the others.”
Eadmar pressed his lips together and bowed his head. He had never regretted voting for Guthlaf’s election as bishop when the old bishop, Aethelmod Godcild, died. The choice had been between Guthlaf and Eadmar, and many times Eadmar had counted himself blessed not to have been made “Godcild.” To be required to meet for hours with avaricious city councilors and guild alderman . . . Eadmar often pitied Guthlaf. But now, he wondered whether he had merely taken the easy path when he chose to serve the poor folk who lived in the crowded Betlicéa district rather than accept election as bishop. Perhaps the price of authority is the willingness to suffer the vices of powerful men. Guthlaf knows firsthand the treacheries of men of high station.
Wendelbeorht, priest of the south district, coughed several times. He was an albino, with white hair and beard. His pink hands spidered back and forth on the pine tabletop. He found the bit of paper that Eadmar had shown them. Wendelbeorht’s pale blue eyes were so nearsighted that he might as well be blind. He held the paper two inches from his eyes so he could see the red ink cross and perfectly shaped black letters. “Castle lords serve the castle gods. It has always been so. And castle lords lie. They have deceived and killed God’s priests before. This may be yet another deception; the words of the book are neither the old language nor the common tongue. But if it is not a deception, the new lord may have a treasure beyond treasures: God’s book in an unknown tongue.”
Eadmar wanted to respond: And I am willing to die if need be to see that book. He kept his words to himself.
The last of Down’s End’s priests was a fat, brown-eyed man of thirty years. Godbeorht served the north district, where the city was expanding along the shores of West Lake. “Is there any evidence of this new lord other than the report of Eadmar’s young friend? Today’s meeting is the first I’ve heard of him.”
Bishop Guthlaf said, “Phytwin mentioned a new lord to me a few days ago.”
“I said that I had heard a rumor,” objected Phytwin. Clean-shaven like Eadmar, Phytwin looked as if he tasted something sour. “I would credit it no more than stories of the castle gods returning.”
Wendelbeorht coughed again. He was not an old priest, and Eadmar did not expect him to become one. Lesions, brought by exposure to the summer sun, marred Wendelbeorht’s pale arms. “Perhaps Phytwin gives such rumors less credence than they deserve. If the smoke keeps returning, maybe there is fire.”
“The castle gods have been gone five hundred years!” exclaimed Phytwin.
“Unless the rumors are true,” said Wendelbeorht.
Phytwin rolled his eyes, but Wendelbeorht couldn’t see it. Teothic took advantage of the brief silence. “Rumors of a new lord are all over the city, not just in Phytwin’s central district or Eadmar’s Betlicéa district. Brothers, unlike stories of the castle gods returning, we can investigate this tale. Why not let Eadmar cross the lake to find out?”
“As brother Wendelbeorht pointed out, castle lords have a record of deceit and murder,” said Phytwin.
Teothic shook his red beard. “Brother Phytwin, you say there is no new lord in Inter Lucus and then you warn that the new lord might kill Eadmar.”
Godbeorht chuckled. “Phytwin only seems inconsistent. Some pretender might be playing at being a lord for the very purpose of attacking God’s priests.”
Now it was Teothic’s turn to roll his eyes. Guthlaf raised his hand for silence. “Brothers, I need to think. Please pray for me while I walk the burial grounds. Perhaps I will find wisdom amid the graves.”
Obediently, the five priests who served under Guthlaf rose from the meeting table near the door of Prayer House and knelt on prayer benches facing the pine cross on the front wall. Bishop Guthlaf quietly removed the bar on the door and let himself out.
Eadmar knelt beside Phytwin. That they disagreed about the decision facing Guthlaf did not change their station as brothers, and Phytwin had been a priest almost as long as Eadmar. Eadmar made the sign of the cross and bowed his head.
Holy and wise God, hear the prayer of your priest. I greatly desire to meet this Lord Martin and read your book. Therefore, I fear that my desire has swept away my reason, and I thank you for Phytwin and his skepticism. Please guide our brother and bishop Guthlaf this day. May your will be done on Two Moons—and the old world, if it still is. May all that we do bring glory to the true lord, Jesus. Amen.
For the ten-thousandth time, Eadmar wondered what “amen” might mean. It was not a word in the common tongue, nor was it (as far as he knew) a word in the holy language. But it was the word all priests repeated at the end of prayers. As was his habit, Eadmar remained kneeling long after he had prayed. He treasured such quiet moments after prayer, when he could simply observe the cross.
Soft steps at his shoulder—Guthlaf had returned. The brothers all rose from the prayer benches. The bishop sighed. “I am truly sorry, Eadmar, for you may be going to your death. I charge you: go to Inter Lucus as soon as may be. Be on your guard against deceptions. Send us word so we may know whether great danger or great openings await us.”
Isen waited under the porch roof of the Running Stag, not far from river Betlicéa. Officially, the Running Stag was an “inn,” but Matilda Starlight, the owner, rarely served more than beer in her tiny common room. The girls who worked for Matilda prepared and ate their meals in the kitchen or—in the heat of summer—on the back porch. Right now, in late afternoon, they would be refreshing themselves in the water of the Betlicéa or in West Lake. When the cool of evening came, the girls plied their trade in the upstairs bedrooms of the Stag.
Priest Eadmar had told Isen he would meet him here. Not that Eadmar approved of brothels, but Isen could wait undisturbed in the shade of Matilda’s roof and she would not chase him away. Not until evening, anyway. And the Running Stag had a clear view along River Street of the Betlicéa docks. Isen would be more likely to see the Deepwaters when Morning Glory arrived with the day’s catch.
A door opened and the Stag’s proprietress joined Isen on the simple wood bench by the wall. “Thought maybe I’d come out ’n see if there’s a bit o’ wind,” said Matilda. Mistress Starlight wore a loose green kirtle and cloth slippers. The kirtle was fastened below her rather large breasts, giving plenty of opportunity for the curious to observe the space between them. “Can hardly breathe inside.”
Isen shrugged. “A little breeze is all. I suppose it’s cooler here than in the Stag, and it’s far better than Kent Gausman’s furnace, that’s certain.”
Matilda Starlight frowned. “Everybody knows what the alderman did to you, Isen. Not fair, not fair at all. The man’s a snake. By the gods, Sunie was a good girl, ’n you took care o’ her to the end. Damned unfair.”
Isen shrugged again. “Do you believe in justice, Mistress Starlight?”
“Not in this world.” A quick laugh. “O’ course they say there’s justice in the after-world, but I’m not so sure I want that. That priest Eadmar, he says the old god doesn’t like my business.” She laughed again, and pushed a lock of her black hair behind her ear.
“Priest Eadmar told me to wait here for him.”
Matilda smiled. “He did? Not surprised. He’s spent a few afternoons sittin’ where you are, waitin’ for the boys to come off the boats. He’s not a bad sort, that Eadmar. Helps people when he can. But he just won’t see that for some girls, whorin’ is their only way. Why’s he want to meet you?”
“Ah . . . I’ve been talking with him about a bit of business. The truth is, I’m not supposed to tell anyone. Please don’t think I’m being rude.”
“Business?” Matilda poked Isen’s side. “You’re not lettin’ him make you into a priest, are you, boy?”
Isen smiled. “No! That much I can say.”
“Glad to hear it. Ho, now. The man himself.” Matilda pointed with her chin. Priest Eadmar had come around the corner from Wide Street, walking quickly for an old man, given the heat. Isen waved a greeting. Matilda said, “Maybe I’ll be goin’ back in, since you want to talk privately.” The innkeeper touched Isen’s shoulder. “You be good, Isen.”
Matilda Starlight watched the priest and the young artisan through a glassed window. Isen had hurried to meet Eadmar in the middle of River Street. The two men set off toward the docks, talking animatedly. She shook her head. What’s going on there? What “business” brings an old priest and an out-of-work glassblower together? But she didn’t think long about it. The day was too hot.
40. On Little Moon
Eudes Ridere worked to inhabit the persona of Boyden Black as Little Moon voyaged from Prati Mansum to Hyacintho Flumen. He wore his yellow hat and spent much of his time on deck plying sailors with questions that a trader might ask: How long did it take to sail from Herminia to Tarquint? Was the harbor at Tutum Partum better than Prati Mansum’s? How early in spring could ships safely cross the sea to Tarquint? And so on.
Boyden Black would observe four castles on the voyage. From Prati Mansum, Little Moon sailed north three days along the coast of Herminia, coming in sight of Tutum Partum before striking east. Another three days brought them across the sea to Oceani Litora on the southwest coast of Tarquint. It would take another six days to reach Hyacintho Flumen, much further east.
The ship docked for a day and a night at Oceani Litora so Erline and Edita Toeni could greet the lady Rowena Silver, ruler of the castle. Juliana Ingdaughter, Edita’s attendant, enlisted Bully’s aid along with the guard Drefan, and Edita exited the ship without incident. Boyden thought Edita rather enjoyed Bully’s help. Bully’s arm wrapped around her waist longer than was really necessary.
Once on the pier, Bully and Drefan seated Edita on a pony and the guard led her to the castle. Other than the noble ladies and Drefan, no one from Little Moon was allowed to leave the dock.
A sailor explained while Bully and Boyden watched the ladies ride a steep road to the castle.
“Bellinus Silver was lord o’ the castle, see? And lords—well, they’re never content, are they? Ya’d think, with magical food n’ soft beds n’ music n’ lights n’ stuff we common folk ha’ never seen, ya’d think lords would be content. But no. Ya always hear of lords layin’ claim to towns ’n cities. But what can Bellinus Silver do? Ya can see the mountains. Come right down to the harbor, ’n so steep that no road has ever been built. ’Tis a good harbor, but small. And the rest of the coast ain’t nothin’ but rocks—nasty, big uns—for a hunerd mile both directions. So Bellinus Silver was lord of ’is castle and naught much else. The village by the harbor—well, ya can see. I count, what? Eight houses all told? Too small a world for Bellinus Silver!
“So the damn fool—Bellinus Silver, that is—he gets hisself into a boat. Wanted to learn to sail they say. As if being lord ain’t enough! Storm comes up ’n he hits some rocks. Drowned dead.
“That leaves Lady Rowena in a tight spot, folk say. She can’t bond with the castle, see? No magic defense for her! Prob’ly not much fancy food neither! There’ll be no lord o’ the castle ’til little Fraomar grows up. ’N that’s why Rowena don’t allow anyone off the dock.”
Boyden Black rubbed his chin. He had been letting his beard grow since Pulchra Mane, and it itched. “How old is the boy?”
“Three years. Lady Rowena will have to guard the little lord’s inheritance without magic for a long time. Ten years, maybe.”
Boyden said, “Perhaps it’s fortunate for the lady that Oceani Litora is so isolated. No army can get at her through the mountains, and the harbor is so small there’s only one pier. An enemy couldn’t come by boat. Besides, there’s nothing here to take except a castle; and as you say, the magic of a castle only works if a lord or lady bonds with it.”
The sailor puckered his mouth. “Aye. But what if a body could bond with a castle? Then a body would be lord. O’ course, I never seen the inside o’ a castle. Wouldna know what t’ do if I was.”
At this point Bully spoke up. “The lord’s knob would be in the great hall, so it wouldn’t be hard to find. Then you put your hands on it and see what happens.”
The sailor turned to Bully, astonished. “Ya been in a castle?”
“Only once, as servant to Master Black.” Bully nodded deferentially to the older man. “While I was there, I did see the lord’s knob—from a safe distance! They don’t let folk like me and you get too close!”
From Eudes’ point of view, Oceani Litora was a deceptive prize. Without a lord or lady to command the castle magic, it could be easily captured; for in spite of his words to the sailor, a single ship could land two hundred men, enough to overwhelm Rowena Silver’s garrison. But once the castle was taken, what then? The brutally sheer mountains prevented access to the interior of Tarquint; it was no foothold for a larger invasion. The few small farms by the bay grew only enough food for local consumption. The harbor was too small to support a significant fishery. Other regions of Tarquint boasted gold and silver mines, but no such wealth had been discovered near Oceani Litora. The one thing worth having was the castle itself, and the one person on Two Moons who could be expected to bond with the castle was a three-year-old boy. The gods bless you, Fraomar. The Queen of Herminia will not be troubling you. Not for a while. But when you’re old enough to bond with your castle, I’ll come calling.
Mountains continued to dominate the coast of Tarquint for two days of Little Moon’s journey east. The captain kept his course well away from the rocky shore. On the third and fourth days the purple teeth of the mountains gradually gave way to hill country, and they occasionally saw isolated farms, with cattle and orchards. Boyden Black counted five rivers in the region that emptied into the sea, but none of them created a bay big enough for any craft bigger than a coracle. On the sixth day they reached Hyacintho Flumen, with its thriving town and generous deep-water harbor.
Boyden already knew the answer, but he played the part of an inquiring merchant. “What’s the name of the river?” he asked Captain Cyneric.
“The Blue River.” Durwin Cyneric stood with his feet apart, arms folded across his chest. The captain kept a watchful eye on his crew, rarely giving commands, as the ship maneuvered toward a dock. Experienced sailors knew their business. “It flows down from West Lake, more than a hundred miles to the north.”
A soft rustling of dresses announced the arrival of women: Lady Erline, Edita, and Juliana. Edita said, “In castle language, Hyacintho Flumen means Blue River.”
Boyden inclined his head in greeting to the noble ladies. “Are you conversant in the language of the castles?” he asked.
Lady Erline fixed him with her eyes. She knew his real identity, while Edita and Juliana had been told he was only a merchant. So Erline was naturally suspicious of Boyden, a wariness she extended to Bully and Archard.
“I am not.” Edita kept her face smooth. “Felix Fairhair, my father’s scribe, knows many words of the old language, but he doesn’t really speak it. Some people say that the words of the priests of the old god are castle words. But that seems unlikely. How would ignorant priests learn castle language?”
“I’m sure you are right,” said Boyden. “In Herminia I’ve met priests of the old god, and they have some magic words, though they make little sense. Perhaps I will find some priest in Tarquint who knows more. But then: how would one know if it were the same as the castle language unless one was a castle scribe? The whole idea seems far-fetched. And I won’t be researching languages! I’ll be looking first for cloth merchants and weavers, but maybe I’ll meet a priest or two. I plan to visit some of the free cities where, so I’ve been told, people can worship the old god or the castle gods as they like.”
“It sounds like Queen Mariel’s policy in the free towns, doesn’t it?” asked Edita. “Do you think it is safe for a city or land to have two religions? My father thinks castle lords should require worship of castle gods, the gods of Two Moons. The queen’s policy invites trouble, Father says.”
Edita’s eyes were directed toward Boyden. Since Erline was standing slightly behind her, Edita couldn’t see the distress on her mother’s face. Erline worries I’ll bear tales to Mariel. As if my wife needed evidence of Toeni’s disloyalty. Boyden covered his mouth while rubbing his chin. “I intend no offense to your father, but as a buyer and seller of cloth, I think the free towns are a boon to Herminia.”
Edita resisted smiling. “I agree. Father is stuck in the past. After all, the castle gods left Two Moons long ago, and no one knows if they will ever return. If I do become consort to a lord of Hyacintho Flumen I will advise him to make allies of the free cities.”
Lady Erline’s lips made a tight line, but she did not correct her daughter.
Boyden said, “I think that would be wise advice, Lady Edita. But now, let me ask you a harder question. Let us suppose, gods be pleased, that you bear your lord husband an heir. Would you permit your son or daughter, heir to Hyacintho Flumen, to worship the old god if your child so chose?”
The right side of Edita’s brow furrowed as she thought. “Master Boyden, I grew up with prayer at the gods’ knob every day of my life. It’s hard to imagine a child growing up in a castle and not worshiping the gods of the castle. But I would say that even noble children should worship as they see fit.”
Behind Edita, Erline’s face was a picture of disapproval.
Sailors threw ropes to waiting hands on the dock, and the business of unloading the ship began. Boyden crossed the gangplank and melted temporarily into the mass of workers. He watched a driver of a horse and carriage greet Lady Erline and Edita. The noble ladies were soon carried away while other men moved the ladies’ luggage from Little Moon to a cart.
Bully and Archard found him on the pier. They piled their bundles of clothes and gear nearby. Boyden gave Archard money and sent him to buy three horses. “We’ll stay a couple nights here. So look for an inn as well.”
Bully asked, “Do you hope to find wool sellers here?”
“You never know what you’ll find, Bully, ’til you look.”
Copyright © 2013 by Philip D. Smith.
All rights reserved. International copyright secured.