77. In Down’s End
Milo and Derian found Eulard Barnet’s house in quickly fading light. Storm clouds from the west darkened Down’s End as they walked along avenues of proud brick houses. This was clearly the wealthy section of Down’s End. But they could not tarry to admire the houses’ grand features, because rain began pelting down in dark sheets. They leaned into the wind and hurried to the fifth house on Alderman’s Row. Three stories tall and made of brick and wood, the banker’s house had a covered space on the right where horsemen might dismount and carriages could discharge their passengers out of the weather. Milo and Derian scurried forward to this dry spot, where they stood dripping and shaking water off their hats. Candles behind glassed windows threw pale yellow light into the disembarkation space.
On their left, a door opened, flooding them with brighter light. A woman’s voice said, “You must be Chapman and Mortane. Please enter.” An oil lamp immediately behind the woman’s head threw her face into shadow. “You may hang your wet things here.” There were pegs lining the inner wall of a narrow space inside the door; several of them already held coats and hats.
“Fair evening.” Derian pointed to the water dripping from his coat. “Except that it isn’t.”
“Don’t worry about that. Father had this corridor specially built to welcome guests. You see? A tiled floor tilted to drain the water away.” The woman shut the door against the wind. She had porcelain skin and striking blue eyes, features Milo could see now with light to the side rather than behind her. She wore a blue kirtle that matched her eyes and reached to the floor. “I am correct, am I not? Chapman and Mortane?”
Derian bowed. “Derian Chapman, merchant of Stonebridge.”
Milo held his fist across his chest. “Milo Mortane, sheriff of Stonebridge.”
The woman arched her eyebrow. “Really? Of Stonebridge? Father said something about you being from Hyacintho Flumen, brother to Amicia Mortane. It doesn’t matter; Hyacintho Flumen or Stonebridge, you are welcome. Sup will commence soon, as you are the last to arrive.”
“May we ask your name?” Derian’s voice was playful.
“Ada Barnet. You’ve heard that name before, I see.” A smile played at the corners of the woman’s mouth. “Please tell me Avery is safe and whole.”
Derian’s face expressed mock surprise. “It seemed to me at court this morning that your father would rather Avery be hanged or whipped.”
“My father is an ass.” Ada stopped before opening a door. Her eyes searched Milo and Derian’s faces. “Is he safe?”
Derian paused, so Milo answered. “Avery is as safe as a person can be in Ody Dans’s house. As long as he is useful to Master Dans, no one can harm him.”
The blue eyes were troubled by this answer. “Is he useful to Master Dans?”
Milo nodded. Derian said, “Oh, aye. Aethelred Doin has money, so Avery is quite useful.”
“He’s a hostage.” All humor had left Ada’s expression.
Milo leaned over the woman and touched her cheek. “You would prefer him free.”
Ada took his hand; the vivid eyes held his. “Aye, Sir Milo. I would. And whole.” She opened the door and led them into the supper hall.
Earlier, after Milo, Derian, Kenelm and Amicia had departed the Down’s End courtroom, they had eaten mid-day in the common room at Freeman’s House, the inn where Kenelm, Amicia and Raymond Travers, Kenelm’s squire, were staying. Milo gave Raymond directions to Dog of the Downs, sending a message to Eádulf that he and Derian would not return to the Dog until late. Milo listened and approved when Kenelm warned Amicia that she needed to pay close attention while at Barnet’s sup and dance. “You cannot speak effectively for Aylwin until you know the players,” Kenelm had said. “Not all aldermen are equally important. Which of them are the leaders? Which of their wives have influence? At least five aldermen will not be there tonight; what do those present think of those who are absent? Which of them have marriageable sons? Explain Aylwin’s need, yes, but listen, listen, listen.”
Privately, Kenelm told Milo what he would have guessed anyway. Amicia herself was part of Aylwin’s strategy, to be offered in marriage at the right time to the right family, if it would help create an alliance between Down’s End and Hyacintho Flumen. Milo suspected that if he were in Aylwin’s position he might have done the same thing; nevertheless, in his heart he held this auction of their sister against Aylwin. To Kenelm he said, “Find her someone gentle if you can. She has to live with your choice the rest of her life.”
After lunch, Amicia had gone to her room in Freeman’s House to dress for the evening. Without her mother, Diera, or even Boemia to advise her, Amicia feared dressing improperly more than anything. Milo told her to think what her mother Lucia might wear and to err on the side of simplicity. “You might not believe it, Toadface,” he said, using a nickname from their childhood, “but you’re not bad to look at. Scrub your face an hour before you go. They will see a healthy noble woman, and that’s what they want.”
Amicia hugged him. “I’m glad you’re here, Milo.”
Milo and Derian spent the afternoon tracking down Eni Raegenhere. After following directions to a corral, to a warehouse near River Betlicéa, and to a disreputable inn called The Running Stag, they finally found him at the wine warehouse in the western part of the city. Raegenhere said he expected Derian to look for him, so he thought to make the job easy by waiting with Chapman’s goods. Milo paid Raegenhere fifteen golds, recompensing him for damage to his wagon at Stonebridge, and made him place his mark on a document stating that fact. Since Raegenhere couldn’t read or write, they had to find a literate man who could witness the statement. Thus they were the final guests to arrive at Barnet’s house.
Alderman Barnet’s sup was a large room, not as grand as the great hall at Hyacintho Flumen or Ody Dans’s dining room overlooking River Betlicéa, but still a single room bigger than many peasant cottages. At one end, near a door leading to the kitchen, stood a serving table laden with several steaming dishes. The sup table was narrow (servants brought each dish from the board), so that the guests on opposites sides of the table could easily converse back and forth. Oil lamps in sconces on the long walls filled the room with light. A fireplace at the end opposite the kitchen provided warmth.
Eleven guests joined Eulard Barnet and his daughter for sup, making a party of thirteen. Someone made a joke about an unlucky number, suggesting that Barnet should have invited one more. Barnet said there was a young man that he wished he could invite, but mostly so Sheriff Egnenulf could arrest him. Ada frowned down her father’s attempted humor and hastened to make introductions.
Milo had already met Eulard Barnet, Ada Barnet, and Simun Baldwin, the mayor. He knew Amicia, Kenelm, and Derian well. For him, the new people were the mayor’s wife Adele Baldwin, Sheriff Wies Egnenulf, Alderman Kent Gausman of the glassblower’s guild and his wife Hamia, and Alderman Todwin Ansquetil of the weaver’s guild with his wife Esile. Adele Baldwin was middle-aged, medium height, fat and round, with thinning gray hair. She exuded cheerfulness and kindness; Milo quickly decided she counted for nothing. Sheriff Egnenulf, dressed in a dark blue tunic, was young, handsome, very fit, and somewhat dim-witted. Milo got the impression Egnenulf had been invited mostly to be a dancing partner for Ada. Kent Gausman had very full lips in a clean-shaven face; Milo wondered if years of blowing glass affected a person’s lips. Hamia, the glassblower’s wife, was short, round, and considerably younger than Adele Baldwin; her thick black hair could have been a girl’s. Todwin Ansquetil was an energetic man of modest height, about forty-five years old. He had the thickest, hairiest arms Milo had ever seen, the arms of a blacksmith. Esile, his wife, had to be at least twenty years his junior, and she was several inches taller than her husband. With a prominent nose in a skinny face, she might be compared to a horse, but never called beautiful.
As the evening progressed through seven courses of food into dancing, Milo evaluated the aldermen, their wives, and the mayor. Eulard Barnet had outlived his wife and son; the pain of that second loss cut deeply. The banker had great wealth, and apparently he thought it improper that Ada would inherit it. Milo came to understand that the glassblower’s guild had little weight in city politics, corresponding to the glassblowers’ numbers and possessions. In any case, Kent Gausman paid almost no attention to Amicia or the situation in the south; he attended Barnet’s party to eat and drink and hobnob with other aldermen. In contrast, Alderman Ansquetil’s weavers’ guild had more members and influence than any other in Down’s End. And his horse-faced young wife clearly had consequence in his thinking. Before and after sup Esile would stand behind her husband and bend over his shoulder to whisper to him, often drawing laughter from Ansquetil. The morning in the Down’s End courtroom had already convinced Milo that Mayor Baldwin was a crucial figure. The mayor could make Eulard Barnet do pretty much what he pleased. Simun Baldwin, Todwin Ansquetil, and—of all people—Esile Ansquetil; those are the players. I hope Amicia sees it.
78. Between the Lakes
The barrel maker Syg Alymar saw the knight first.
Syg had borrowed a two-wheeled handcart from Wyrtgeon Bistan to deliver barrels to Lord Martin. The apple trees on the lord’s estate had suffered years of neglect, yielding merely three bushels of small, misshapen fruit. Many farmers between the lakes had better apple crops. So the lord had decided to squeeze his apples into juice, and he had asked Syg for a barrel to store it. Syg decided to make two, since the lord might well find some other use for the second. With a harness on his shoulders, Syg left the village for castle Inter Lucus in mid-morning, the cart bouncing behind him. Two empty barrels made a light load and easy work. Almost certainly, Syg knew, Lord Martin would invite him to eat mid-day at the castle, a welcome thought. Syg liked eating, and the food at castle Inter Lucus was good.
Syg saw the two horsemen a quarter mile away, coming toward village Inter Lucus. A third horse trailed after the second, a pack animal. Immediately he pegged the men as visitors, a minute later he knew they were armsmen, and not long after that he recognized one of them, the knight with the diagonal black stripe on his shield. Syg pursed his lips, then remembered: Sir Kenelm Ash. The last three autumns Ash had collected hidgield between the lakes for Hereward Mortane of Hyacintho Flumen. Syg stepped out of his harness and lowered the cart handles to the ground. He felt nervous, a flutter of fear in his stomach. He wished one of Lord Martin’s sheriffs were present. Syg didn’t for a moment think Leo, Elfric, Ealdwine, or Os could match Kenelm Ash in combat, but they at least should be able to speak for Lord Martin.
Ash was a square-jawed man with a broad, flat nose. Probably broken more than once, Syg thought. Ash rode at ease, his sword and shield strapped over his great horse’s front shoulders. A battle horse: tall, strong, fast, and fearless. Of course, Syg had never seen a knight in battle, but this animal looked like the warhorses he imagined.
“Fair morning.” The knight reined to a stop a few paces from Syg. The second soldier drew up beside his master. Syg guessed his age at twenty or maybe less; squire to Ash. Something about him struck Syg as odd, then he saw it; the young soldier had two wildly different eyes. The right eye, black, peered steadily at Syg, but the left eye was blood red and wandered in many directions.
“Fair morning, Sir Ash.” Syg inclined his head.
“You remember me. I’m honored. My squire is Raymond Travers.” Ash indicated his companion with a tilt of the head. The squire nodded. “But I don’t remember your name.”
“Syg Alymar, Sir. Barrel maker from village Inter Lucus.”
“Ah! Now I remember. You have a widow mother. Is she well?”
“Aye, Sir. That I do. She is as well as a woman her age might hope; she complains of aches and pains, but she cooks and sews and generally makes my life better.”
The knight gestured at the cart. “What’s in your barrels?”
“Nothing, Sir. They are new made. I’m taking ’em up to the castle.” Syg realized the significance of his words even as he spoke, but there was no way to take them back. “Lord Martin wants ’em.”
Ash rubbed his flat nose with the back of his hand. Then he drew his sword and pointed it at Syg. “In Down’s End rumors say there is a new lord in Inter Lucus.”
Syg suddenly felt cold, and his throat tensed. His stomach hurt. If he tried to run, he might live ten heartbeats before the knight ran him down. “Aye, Sir. Inter Lucus has been healing since last summer.” Syg raised his eyes to meet the knight’s. If this is my death, I might as well face it.
“You say the lord is called Martin?” Ash looked to his left, toward the castle hill. “Does he have men of arms?”
Syg couldn’t read the knight’s intentions. Was he gathering information in order to attack Lord Martin? Would he slaughter Syg as soon as his queries were answered? “Aye, Sir. His name is Lord Martin. He has a few servants and four sheriffs. I would not count them as real soldiers. They could not fight a knight such as yourself.”
Ash raised an eyebrow. “You might be surprised. They would be fools to fight us here, on open ground. But if this lord Martin is a real lord, I cannot touch him or his men while they are in the castle. They would not need to fight, but only wait until Raymond and I go away.” Ash sheathed his sword and continued to gaze north. Inter Lucus could be seen in the distance, but not its people. Syg knew Lord Martin and several of the others would be building a barn on the north side of the castle property, invisible to people in the village.
Syg was surprised at Ash’s attitude. Somehow he expected the knight from Hyacintho Flumen to react violently against the existence of a lord in Inter Lucus. But Sir Ash sat thinking, chewing something in his cheek. Meanwhile, the squire’s red eye moved constantly. The squire’s good eye was closed; Syg thought Raymond might be napping.
Syg’s stomach unclenched and he breathed deeply. “Sir Ash? A word?”
“Hm?” The knight broke out of his reverie and looked at Syg. “What it is, Master Alymar?”
“Sir, since Lord Martin came to Inter Lucus, most of the folk in the village have pledged him hidgield. And in Senerham too. If the Lord Hereward takes hidgield between the lakes this year, it’ll be hard on folk. Real hard.”
Sir Ash frowned. “I take your meaning, Master Alymar. You worry that I’ve come to fight Lord Martin over hidgield, to make these people serve Hyacintho Flumen rather than Inter Lucus.” He shook his head and smiled. “You have nothing to fear on that score. Go ahead and take your barrels to the castle. Raymond and I are going that way, so you will see us there. I need to talk with this new lord.”
Ash snickered to his horse and prodded him into a trot. Raymond Travers woke up instantly (if he had been truly asleep) and followed the knight.
Syg harnessed himself, watching the soldiers ride toward Inter Lucus. He hoped he hadn’t said anything harmful to Lord Martin. Ash had admitted that he couldn’t attack a lord in his castle. But what if Ash and Travers came on Lord Martin and the others outside the castle, working on the barn or Prayer House, for example? Syg wished there were some way to warn Lord Martin of the knight’s approach, but he didn’t know how.
Priest Eadmar saw the armsmen coming not long after they left Syg.
Lord Martin and his servants were finishing the roof of the barn, on the north side of the castle grounds where Eadmar couldn’t see them. Since Eadmar had been forbidden to set foot on the lord’s land and they already had all the materials they needed to complete the barn, there was nothing left for him to contribute to that project. Eadmar spent the morning digging shallow trenches on the site of Prayer House so that when winter rain and snow came, ground water would flow away from Prayer House rather than turning the place into a quagmire. The sun had reached mid-day, and Eadmar anticipated Ora coming from Inter Lucus with a bit of sup. After looking uphill toward the castle, Eadmar glanced in the other direction—a habit, perhaps. He saw horsemen.
Soldiers, clearly. By the size of the horse, a knight. A shield with a sigil: definitely a knight.
Eadmar looked again toward Inter Lucus, hoping to see Ora, but not now for hunger’s sake. Martin needs to be warned. He should be in his castle. Where is that girl? The riders were trotting at an easy pace; they would reach Inter Lucus in minutes.
It’s forbidden. My bishop has commanded me. I may not. Eadmar walked to the very edge of castle property, where the road up the hill branched away from the forest road. If I don’t go now, it will be too late. He judged the distance to the horsemen. Perhaps I could delay them. If Ora saw horsemen on the road …she’s an intelligent girl. She would raise the alarm. Eadmar started walking toward the knight and his squire. One last look over his shoulder—there she is!
“Ora!” Eadmar shouted and waved his arms like a crazed man. “Ora!”
Emerging from the shadow of the oaks, Ora stopped. She dropped a basket and ran like a deer. Intelligent girl, indeed. Eadmar turned to face the intruders.
“Lord Martin! Lord Martin!”
At that moment Rothulf, Marty and Os were passing the last roof plank up to Isen and Ealdwine, who were on top of the barn. The planks were massive: thirty feet long, fifteen inches wide, and two inches thick. Many times Marty had wondered what the brothers at Our Lady of Guadeloupe would have said about using old growth lumber for a rustic barn. Ora’s shouting could hardly be less timely; hoisting planks was a five-man job, three below and two above.
“I’ve got it, my lord,” said Os. He lifted the plank above his head, out of Marty and Rothulf’s grasp. “Ora needs you.”
Marty blinked at Oswald’s arms. You really could play tackle for Notre Dame. Marty and Rothulf stepped around the side of the barn. Ora pelted down the hill toward them.
“Lord Martin! A knight!”
“Are you sure?” Marty’s advisors—Caelin, Eadmar, Isen, Elne Penrict, and others—had warned him this day would come. A knight from Hyacintho Flumen, sent to collect hidgield for Lord Hereward Mortane. Marty wondered if there had been trouble already. O God, let him come here first. It would be better to settle it here than have him hurt the people.
“Aye. Priest Eadmar thinks so too. He shouted at me.” Ora was panting.
“Up to the castle then. Tell Caelin and Mildgyd. We’ll be there shortly.”
Ora sprinted away. Marty was about to call out, but Isen, Os, Ealdwine, and Rothulf were already at his side. “We heard,” said Ealdwine. “The board is up. We can nail it later.”
Except for Elfric Ash and Leo Dudd, who were visiting farms beyond Senerham on horse, all of Marty’s people were present. Marty quickly reminded them of their tasks. “Ora and Caelin will meet the soldiers and invite them to come forward on foot and without weapons. Do not hinder them in any way. If they proceed unarmed, accompany them. If you are not with them, we will assume they are armed and mean to fight.
“Os and Ealdwine will be under the oaks, Rothulf and Isen at the west door where they can tell me what transpires. Mildgyd will sit with Alf and Agyfen here in the hall. If the soldiers come close, Isen and Mildgyd will take the children to the west wing. If they enter the castle, Isen, you are to escape with the children and run to Eadmar. Alf, you must do as Isen commands; he’ll carry Agyfen. I will stand at the lords’ knob. May God protect us. Now go!”
79. In Castle Inter Lucus
“My lord, they are coming. Caelin and Ora are with them.” Isen spoke from the west door of the great hall.
Thank God. Marty exhaled and shook tension from one arm and then the other, transferring his walnut staff from right hand to left. “Unarmed, then?”
“I think so. They left their horses with Eadmar.”
“Very good. Isen and Rothulf, come inside and shut the door. When Os or Ealdwine knocks, open and invite our visitors in. Mildgyd and Alf, please fetch tea service as quickly as you can. Caelin will supervise mid-day sup preparation once he’s here.”
Mildgyd bowed acknowledgement; she rarely spoke in Marty’s presence. Alf ran ahead of her down the stairs, leaving Agyfen alone at a table where the boys and the nan had been sitting. Marty stepped over to the little boy and put a reassuring hand on Agyfen’s curly hair.
The boy tilted his head to look at Marty. “May I sit by you, my lord?”
“Aye. Once the knight has been welcomed, I’ll sit right here.”
Ealdwine’s knock sounded faint, but only because Attor Woodman’s door timbers were so thick. A minor project, far down Marty’s to-do list: ask Elne Penrict for an iron knocker for the west door, something heavy and loud enough to be effective. Better yet, Marty thought, maybe we could arrange something like a doorbell.
Isen pushed the door open. Ora stepped through first and announced loudly: “My Lord Martin, visitors to Inter Lucus, Sir Kenelm Ash from Hyacintho Flumen and his squire, Raymond Travers.”
“Thank you, Ora.” Marty took a step toward the visitors when they had come into the hall. “I am Martin Paul Cedarborne. Welcome to Inter Lucus.” He bowed his head and swept his hand toward the tables in the great hall. “Mid-day sup will be laid on presently, and before that, we can offer tea. Please join me at table.”
The knight had green eyes and a misshapen nose. “Thank you, Lord Martin. We are happy to accept hospitality.” The visitors moved toward the places Marty had indicated.
“Caelin. Mid-day sup, as soon as may be.” Marty motioned Os, Rothulf, and Ealdwine to sit down.
“Aye, my lord,” said Caelin. Isen followed Caelin toward the stairs.
“My lord.” Ora still stood by the door. “We saw Syg Alymar on the path. He’s bringing barrels.”
“Very good. Invite him too. Caelin, one more!”
Caelin had begun to descend the stairs. “Aye, my lord.”
Alf came bearing a tray of cups, wooden spoons, and two clay honey pots. Behind him Mildgyd brought a kettle of steaming herbal tea. It tasted of berries and spices; when sweetened with honey, the tea was actually pretty good. Since it involved boiled water, Marty encouraged tea drinking as a safe alternative to untreated water or the weak beer most people between the lakes usually drank. Sir Kenelm and his squire tried it tentatively at first, but each refilled his cup before the midday repast had ended.
Alf and Mildgyd retreated to the kitchen. Before long, they returned along with Caelin and Isen to serve sup: small brown loaves of bread, butter, fish soup, and sliced pears. Eventually everyone was seated at the same table: Marty, Ora, Isen, Caelin, Rothulf, Mildgyd, Alf, Agyfen, Os, Ealdwine, Syg, and the two guests, Sir Kenelm and Raymond. By unspoken agreement, none of Marty’s people spoke unless he addressed them directly. Even Agyfen seemed to realize this was a particularly important sup.
The meal commenced with Agyfen bowing his head. “God of all good gifts, we thank you. Amen.” Other voices repeated, “Amen.” The guests wore puzzled expressions.
Ash dipped bread in his soup, tasted it, and nodded appreciatively. “I was here a year ago, Lord Martin. On this very spot, in this hall. Inter Lucus was a ruin, open to the sky, with grass growing on mounds of soil. Where did you come from? How have you healed Inter Lucus?”
Marty chewed the tough bread, considering his answer. “I came from a place called Lafayette. It is far, very far from here. The more important question is how I came here.”
Ash paused in chewing. “And?”
“Ora, here, came to the castle last summer. As you say, it was a ruin. She touched the lord’s knob and prayed, asking the gods to send a new lord to Inter Lucus. The castle pulled me from Lafayette and I stepped out of the interface wall, right there.” Marty pointed. “I laid my hands on the lord’s knob, though I did not know what it was. Since then, the castle has obeyed my commands.”
The knight peered at Marty quizzically, then nodded his head. “Does Inter Lucus speak to you?”
“Aye. When I put my hand on the lord’s knob, messages appear in the interface wall.” Marty smiled wryly. “I understand some of them.”
Again Ash nodded. “It is said that the language of the gods is hard to read. So lords keep scribes, whose task it is to learn the ancient tongue. It is also said that castles speak to lords in their dreams. It is said that some lords, who know nothing of the castle language, speak with their castles by thought. Does Inter Lucus speak in your dreams?”
Marty pursed his lips. “Not in my dreams, not yet. But Inter Lucus seems to read my desires. Very soon after Ora brought me here, when I touched the lord’s knob, the castle knew I wanted food.”
Ash looked at Ora, as if he could determine the truth of the story in her expression. “So the gods answered her prayers.”
“Not exactly. I do not believe the castle gods are gods at all.” Marty watched the knight’s face carefully; how would he react to heresy?
The knight pursed his lips. “You live as lord of a castle. You see its magic daily. Yet you do not believe in castle gods?” Ash wasn’t angry or upset. He spoke as if describing an intellectual puzzle.
Marty sipped tea. “I should speak more precisely. Clearly, beings of some sort built Inter Lucus and the other castles. Those builders I call strangers. I do not think they were gods, but creatures. Not human beings and not dumb creatures like cows or horses, but intelligent creatures. There is only one God who made everything that is not God, including human beings and the strangers. So the strangers were not gods, though they demonstrated great knowledge and power in building the castles.”
“One god! Isn’t this the doctrine of the old god?”
Marty nodded. “Indeed. I am almost sure that the old god Priest Eadmar worships is the One God to whom we prayed in Lafayette.”
Ash considered this. “I don’t suppose it really matters, does it? However you came, you are here. Inter Lucus is healing, as anyone can see, so you are in fact lord. I’m a soldier. I care little for doctrines about the gods, except when they change things. You say this girl’s prayer brought you here. Maybe it did; maybe it didn’t. But you are here. The question is: as lord of Inter Lucus, what will you do?”
The question nonplussed Marty for a moment. Then he said, “I will host a harvest festival in three weeks. People between the lakes will trade goods in preparation for winter. They will pay hidgield to me. I will distribute prizes for best animals, produce, and other things. We will have songs and games and dancing. It’s been a good year between the lakes. We’re going to celebrate.”
The knight rubbed his nose with the back of his hand. “That’s not what I meant. You don’t know what is happening in the wider world.” He took another loaf of bread and tore it into two pieces. “There have been changes at Hyacintho Flumen. Lord Hereward died last summer. His son Aylwin is now lord of Hyacintho Flumen. Lord Aylwin did not send me north to collect hidgield. In fact, he did not send me between the lakes at all.”
Marty leaned forward on his elbows. “Does Aylwin concede sovereignty between the lakes to me? If so, why did you come?”
Ash held up his palms. “Lord Aylwin knows nothing about you. Other matters occupy his mind. Mariel has invaded Tarquint; her army surrounds Hyacintho Flumen.”
“One moment.” Marty turned to Caelin. “Who is Mariel?”
“My lord, Mariel is queen of Herminia, a land across the sea.”
“Aye, my lord. She is lady of a castle in Herminia, but her father compelled the other lords of Herminia to submit to him.”
“Why haven’t you told me about her? Never mind.” Marty looked at Ash. “This Mariel has crossed the sea to attack Hyacintho Flumen?”
The knight shook his head. “Mariel sits securely in Pulchra Mane, her castle. Her army has crossed the sea.”
Marty turned back to Caelin. “I thought a castle could not be captured except by treachery. How did Mariel’s father conquer the other lords of Herminia? How many castles are there in Herminia?”
Caelin made an open palm gesture. He didn’t know.
Ash answered, “In all, there are eight castles in Herminia. Rudolf took the other seven not by treachery but by siege. At Pulchra Mane there is a large city, and Rudolf used its wealth and people to build an army. He sent that army to each castle, one at a time, and starved them into submission. Rudolf is dead now, but his daughter still controls the whole land. She requires each lord to contribute knights and soldiers to her army. Indeed, it is said that some of the lords of Herminia willingly submit to Mariel. They hope to gain wealth and power through her wars. And today, an army of ten thousand surrounds Hyacintho Flumen.”
“Ten thousand men. Wow!”
Ash’s brow furrowed. “Lord Martin? Wow?”
“It’s just an expression.” Marty frowned. “They submit to her?”
“They obey her commands.”
“This is fascinating. Do they travel to Pulchra Mane? Or does she send envoys to them?”
Ash made the same open palm gesture Caelin had made.
“Does she kill the lords if they don’t obey? Or replace them with someone else?”
Again Ash displayed his ignorance. “I think the lords are still lords in their own castles. Mariel does not go abroad from Pulchra Mane. But they have to pledge fealty to Mariel and pay her part of their hidgield.”
“That doesn’t sound so awful. The people pledge fealty to the lord; why shouldn’t the lord pledge fealty to a queen?”
Ash snorted disagreement. “Bah! In that case the lord has no dignity.”
Marty remembered something Ash had said. “Your lord—Aylwin Mortane—he did not send you to Inter Lucus?”
“Lord Aylwin sent me to Down’s End. While there, I heard stories of a new lord between the lakes, so I decided to investigate. A new lord might have knights, I thought.”
“And what was your mission in Down’s End?”
Ash dipped his bread in soup. “To raise an army. The Herminians have surrounded Hyacintho Flumen. They cannot take the castle by assault, but Lord Aylwin has too few men to break through the army that surrounds him. They intend to wait until he starves. That will take months, many months. My task is to convince Down’s End to raise an army to lift the siege before the castle falls.”
Marty’s tea had cooled. He took a bigger swallow. “Are they likely to do that? Why should a free city fight for a castle lord?”
Ash nodded. “Perhaps it is not likely at all. But what other choice does Lord Aylwin have?”
“He could submit to Mariel. If she lets him keep Hyacintho Flumen, what does he lose?”
“Do you really think that?” Ash rubbed his nose with his knuckles. “You are a lord. Would you obey a woman from a distant castle? Pay hidgield to her?”
Marty looked up at the ceiling. “I suppose there would be some commands I could not obey. If the queen were a tyrant, I would have to disobey unjust commands. But I don’t see why a lord should not give fealty to a queen, if he accepts fealty from his people.”
The knight shook his head, disbelieving. “This Lafayette must be a strange place indeed. You can be sure Aylwin will not submit willingly to Mariel. As it turns out, I found chances in Down’s End. By spring, I hope there will be an army to relieve Lord Aylwin.”
Ash shook his head again. “I will say no more.” He looked around the table at Marty’s people. “What sort of lord have you here? He openly confesses that he would submit to a foreign queen.”
Marty saw with some dismay that the knight’s words struck home with some. Rothulf looked at Marty disdainfully, as if pleased that a terrible secret had been revealed. Isen seemed embarrassed. Os and Ealdwine were staring down at their soup bowls. Syg Alymar’s expression was that of a man trying to comprehend something novel. Alf, Caelin, and Mildgyd’s faces were untroubled; they were confident Lord Martin would answer the challenge. But Ora would not wait for Marty to speak. Her green eyes bored into Ash as she leaned across the table. “You, Sir, do not know what you are talking about, because you are not listening. A moment ago, Lord Martin said that he would disobey the queen if she commanded something unjust. What have we to fear from a ruler’s just commands?”
Ash smirked. Turning to Marty, he said, “We might expect such words from a peasant woman with no pride. What is your excuse?” He pushed his chair away from the table and stood. “Raymond, we need to go. The sooner we return to Down’s End, the better.”
80. Near Inter Lucus
“I just don’t get it.”
“Excuse me, my lord, what do you want to get?”
“It’s an expression, Isen. What I mean is I do not understand dignity. Ash had contempt for the lords of Herminia who willingly obey Queen Mariel. They have no dignity, he thinks. And he had even more contempt for me. He thinks I also lack dignity.”
The conversation paused as Marty and Isen positioned themselves at one end of a twenty-five foot log. Ealdwine and Rothulf were at the other end, Eadmar and Os near the middle. Eadmar said, “Everyone ready? Okay! Lift!” Amid grunts, the log moved into its place, the foundational log for one wall of Prayer House. “Good! Wonderful! We’re making good progress.” The priest beamed at the other men. “And here come Caelin and Ora with mid-day sup.”
Sir Kenelm Ash from Hyacintho Flumen had come to Inter Lucus the day before. Ash and Travers stayed the night and departed after accepting breakfast at the castle, but all of the knight’s interactions with Marty had been marked by the same disdain Ash had shown at table the day before. With the visitors gone, Marty spent the morning reviewing his memories of his conversations with Ash, trying to understand the man’s attitude.
The construction crew had turned its attention to Prayer House, a somewhat more complicated structure than the barn. Prayer House reminded Marty of the Lincoln Log toys he played with at his grandfather’s house when he was four years old. Notched logs would interlock at the corners of the building, providing structural integrity. First, though, the base log of each wall had to be carefully positioned in a shallow bed of gravel to provide a stable foundation for the rest of the building. Priest Eadmar diligently supervised the placement of the base logs. Marty worked side by side with the other members of the crew.
Caelin and Ora distributed apples and sandwiches, a practical combination of bread, onion, meat and cheese that had been unknown between the lakes (nor had Isen seen them in Down’s End) before Marty introduced them. The crew sat down at various places around the work site to rest and eat. Clouds covered most of the sky, with only a sliver of blue in the east. As long as they worked, the men kept warm, but a wind out of the northwest bent the tree tops and promised colder weather.
Eadmar sat by Marty on one of the logs that had been dragged to the site. “I heard only a word or two of what you said to Isen. Please tell of your conversations with Sir Kenelm Ash.”
Marty took a bite of apple. “First of all, he made it clear he hadn’t come to collect hidgield. All my worries on that score—confrontations with a knight over tax money—just vanished. Poof! Aylwin Mortane, lord of Hyacintho Flumen, is in no position to exert any claim he might have between the lakes.
“The Queen of Herminia—whose existence was news to me—has sent an army to Tarquint. Ten thousand men, according to Ash! They’ve cut off traffic to Hyacintho Flumen; apparently they intend to besiege Mortane rather than assault the castle directly. Sir Ash and Travers escaped Hyacintho Flumen just in time before the siege closed in.”
Eadmar swallowed a bit of sandwich and nodded. “A lord in his castle cannot be taken; everyone knows this. Not by experience, of course! Few people in Down’s End have ever so much as seen a castle. After all, it’s a long way to Hyacintho Flumen or Saltas Semitas! So none of us has seen an attack on a castle. But all the stories of the past say that demon magic enables a lord to destroy enemies when they come near the castle.”
Eadmar held up a hand to interrupt Marty’s objection. “I know what you will say, Martin, that it is not demon magic, but only a machine made by the strangers. Of all the priests on Two Moons, I am the only one who might believe your account of things—and I live here and talk with you often. Please remember that no castle lord has ever worshiped the true God before you. At least some of my brothers in Down’s End will say you have deceived me. That you command a castle is proof, they would say, that you use demon magic.”
Marty shook his head. “As long as people assume castles work by magic, I can do nothing to shake their opinion. But Inter Lucus is a machine; I’m sure of it. I’m only gradually learning how to command some of its parts.”
Eadmar said, “Return to your discussion with Ash. He said something that bothered you.”
“Ash said that Queen Mariel intends to force Aylwin to submit to her, just as the lords of Herminia—and lady of Herminia, since one of the castles is ruled by a woman—just as the rulers of Herminia submit to Mariel. I asked about this. I thought submission must be some terrible thing, since Aylwin is willing to fight to escape it. But all it means is that castle rulers must regularly report to the queen, pay a portion of their hidgield to her, obey her laws and see that their people obey her laws. In short, castle lords and ladies have to pledge fealty to Mariel, much as their people pledge fealty to them.”
Eadmar took his last bite and stood up. “Getting colder.” He swung his arms back and forth. “Go on.”
Marty shrugged. “I said submission to a queen didn’t sound so bad. The lord or lady still has the comforts and powers of a castle. And an organized country with uniform laws would be good for trade. But Ash said I had no dignity. He had contempt for the lords of Herminia who cooperate with Mariel and even more contempt for me, since I haven’t got the excuse of having been starved into submission.”
Eadmar looked over the trees into the darkening clouds in the west. He might have been contemplating the weather, but he said, “Martin, I think I understand your problem.”
“Do you remember the words: ‘Anyone who wants to be great among you must be servant of all’?”
“Aye. I read those words to you a couple days ago.”
The priest nodded. “Just so. But you have heard these words many times.”
“I suppose so. They are part of the gospel reading for some days. The word of the Lord and all that.”
Eadmar grinned. “Do not take the word of the Lord for granted. I had never heard those particular words of the Lord until you read them to me. We brothers have long believed what these words mean, though we never heard them until now.”
Marty didn’t respond, thinking again how important his New Testament might be on Two Moons.
Eadmar began beckoning with his arms. “Isen, Os, Ealdwine, Rothulf, Caelin, Ora, everybody! Come here!” The workers, who had finished their lunches, gathered around Marty and the priest. “I want to ask some questions. Before I ask, though, I want you to know that Lord Martin will not be offended, no matter what you say. That’s right, isn’t it, Martin?”
Marty cooperated, though he didn’t know what Eadmar had in mind. “Of course.”
Eadmar looked around the circle of Marty’s people. “Os, these last few days you’ve been building a barn and now Prayer House. Lord Martin has been working side by side with you. He clears brush, digs holes, lifts logs and boards, and does everything else you do. Is that right?”
Os looked at the ground. “Aye. Except I lift heavier things than Lord Martin.”
“True enough. Of course, you lift heavier things than anyone. This is what I want to ask you, Os. Do you think it’s proper for Lord Martin to work this way, doing what you do?”
Os wasn’t the only one looking at the ground. Ealdwine and Isen seemed to share his embarrassment. Rothulf, in contrast, wore a mocking grin. Os said, “The Lord Martin may choose to do what he pleases.”
“He has authority to do as he pleases. Aye.” Eadmar spoke evenly. “But do you think it is right?”
Os could not bring himself to speak the answer aloud.
Eadmar turned to Caelin. “Caelin, what do you think? Is it right for a lord to work side by side with a sheriff or some other servant?”
Caelin pressed his lips together, then looked at Marty. “I think it is right.”
Eadmar raised an eyebrow. “Really? Is a lord no better than a servant?”
Caelin’s face took a stubborn cast. “Many people would say a lord who does such things has no dignity. I do not agree. I think that a person should do most often the thing he, or she”—Caelin nodded toward Ora—“does best. When we are building Prayer House, it is right that you, Priest Eadmar, should tell us where the cross should go. Someone who knows about building should tell us which log to use for each wall.”
Eadmar prodded, “I think you learned this idea from Lord Martin. Tell me, what things should a lord do?”
Caelin folded his arms across his chest. “Lord Martin is the only lord of Inter Lucus. Therefore, there are many things he must do, and no one else can do them. Only Lord Martin can command the castle. Only Lord Martin could receive Kenelm Ash or respond to messages from Aylwin Mortane. But—when Lord Martin is not doing the things a lord must do, he is free to help us on the building crew. As a builder he is no better than the rest of us. Os is probably better. When it comes to hunting, we should send Elfric, because he is good at it. As a hunter Lord Martin is probably useless.”
Laughter at this statement allowed the circle to release tension.
Caelin continued. “I believe that Lord Martin has dignity. Not as Ash would define it, perhaps. I believe a castle lord should make life better for the people. Lord Martin has already helped folk between the lakes. That is real dignity.”
Eadmar turned to Marty. “Caelin is learning his lessons, isn’t he? He thinks as you do.”
Marty nodded, considering the priest’s words. I’ve been introducing democratic ideas in a medieval world of knights and lords. Be careful, old man, or you’ll start a revolution without intending it.
But Eadmar did not talk about democracy. “Consider, Martin, the mind of a castle lord. The lord or lady of a castle knows from childhood that he will bond with a castle. The little lady or lord comes to believe that she is different from all other people; she has magic! Not even the ruler of another castle can command her castle. She—or he—owes allegiance only to the gods. Conveniently enough, the gods have been absent from time out of mind. So castle lords and ladies come to believe they owe nothing to anyone, except perhaps to their brothers, sisters, and children. I say ‘perhaps,’ because they say that Hereward Mortane killed his brother Wimund when Wimund returned home, having failed to bond with Inter Lucus. Lords sometimes fear treachery from their own family.
“Consider well, Martin, the things you say and do. I am convinced, more than ever, that you serve the true God. Though you are a lord, you believe you owe obedience to God. You also believe that a lord must be a servant. Kenelm Ash will not be the only person on Two Moons who regards you with suspicion or contempt.”
81. Near Castle Hyacintho Flumen
“I will hazard a guess, my Lord General. You’re trying to decide what to do with the woman.”
Alan Turchil was the commander of soldiers from Tutum Partum, loyal to Lady Avice Montfort, and as dependable as Eudes’s own commanders from Pulchra Mane. Alan and Eudes sat with their backs to a wall in the Rose Petal. Boisterous talk filled the room, allowing Eudes and Alan a measure of privacy. Oil lamps in wall sconces and candlesticks on three tables lit the room, but left corners in shadow.
Eudes swirled the wine in his glass and set it down without drinking. “Actually, Alan, I was merely noting how from the back Juliana Ingdaughter reminds me of another woman.”
Both men laughed. “Aye, my Lord General. I can see the resemblance. But surely our prisoner is not so fearsome as our Queen.”
“No, but I must consider what my royal wife will think if I decide wrongly about Mistress Ingdaughter.” By habit, Eudes said nothing to detract from Mariel’s reputation as the Ice Queen. “I almost wish Bully hadn’t captured her.”
The biggest room in the Rose Petal provided considerably less room than the great hall of a castle. When used as a conference room, it served admirably for Eudes and his commanders, gathered around one table. Every day they met to report on and manage the myriad details of a siege. But now the space was packed: more tables, more chairs, more people. Not for military purposes, but political.
The army of Herminia included “knights” from each castle except Lady Avice’s Tutum Partum. Three of them were of age and might be expected to fight: Odell Giles from Calles Vinum, Selwin Beaumont from Caelestis Arcanus, and List Wadard from Beatus Valle. The remaining four traveled with the army purely as hostages, guarantees for the good behavior of their fathers or grandfathers back home: Aldin Thoncelin from Ventus in Montes, Deman Mowbray from Rubrum Vulpes, Gifre Toeni from Prati Mansum, and List Wadard’s son Linn. Eudes did not clutter his daily conference with Herminia’s knights, and already Odell, Selwin, and List had begun to mutter against this exclusion. So Eudes decided to host commanders and knights to sup once a week. It would be a party rather than a military meeting, spiced by the presence of women from Tarquint.
Eudes met individually with the knights and commanders before the party, warning them bluntly. These women were respectable daughters of good families from the town Hyacintho Flumen and the surrounding country. Naturally, they would fear the invading army, especially its leaders. The weekly parties, Eudes told his men, would serve to douse those fears. Herminia’s knights and commanders would treat party guests with respect and decorum. “If you want a whore, go find one on your own. But if you touch one of these women, you’ll be whipped in the square, and I will wield the whip.”
On the first occasion, at least, Eudes’s warning seemed to hold. The knights and commanders ate and drank with the guests, told stories, acted pantomimes, and laughed freely as the wine flowed. At the end of the evening, when each woman’s father or brother arrived to escort her home, she would report honorable treatment at the hands of the Herminians. If the knights and commanders behaved themselves properly from week to week, Eudes’s parties would help pacify Tarquint. Meanwhile, the knights had their dignity assuaged.
But what do I do about Juliana Ingdaughter?
No Tarquintian father or brother would be coming to take Juliana home. When the party ended, Bully Wedmor would escort her to a room guarded both at the door and outside the window. There she would remain prisoner until Eudes determined her fate.
Eudes had no doubt the blond beauty had been sent to Tarquint to sweeten the marriage pot for Aylwin Mortane, and her position as “washerwoman” conveniently close to the castle confirmed her real role. Officially, however, she had come to Hyacintho Flumen as a serving woman for Edita Toeni, now Edita Mortane. The personal servant of Lady Edita ought to be accorded respect—officially. In reality, who could say what Edita thought of Juliana?
Alan Turchil leaned close. “They say you allowed young Gifre Toeni time alone with Juliana. Why?”
“The boy wanted news of his sister. It’s possible Juliana might say something to him that she wouldn’t let slip to you or me.”
Eudes massaged his forehead. “No. Apparently she was careful to maintain appearances. I don’t think Gifre suspects Aylwin’s true interest in Juliana.”
Alan leaned his chin on his hands. “Really? The boy is smart, and he grew up amidst the intrigues of a castle. Gods! He’ll be a lord himself one day. Surely he knows about mistresses.”
“I suppose. But he’s just turned eleven, and he wants to believe good things for his sister. I’d hoped Juliana would tell him the truth so I wouldn’t have to.”
Alan laughed quietly. “My Lord General, you’re like a thousand other soldiers, hoping someone else will bear the brunt of battle.”
“Aye. But I will do my duty when the time comes.” Eudes took a swallow of wine. “Though I still need to discern what my duty is in this case. What do I do with her?”
Alan splayed his left hand on the table and pointed to his fingers with his right. “One. Keep her prisoner. Question her. She might tell you something useful. Two. Give her to the men. She’s basically a whore anyway; let her earn her living honestly. Three. Send her back to Aylwin. He can keep wife and mistress together in the castle; it might cause him some grief. Four. Put Juliana on a ship back to Prati Mansum. It was stupid for Toeni to marry his daughter to a Mortane in the first place; surely he knew Mariel planned to invade. Let Juliana’s presence remind him daily of his daughter’s plight. Five. I don’t know. Hm. I could say you could have her yourself, but Queen Mariel might not appreciate it.”
Eudes smiled wryly. “I want to live a few more years, so I’ll decline option five.”
The next day, after conferencing with his commanders, Eudes inspected the siege works west of the castle. Aewel Penda, who had stayed the night at the Rose Petal, rode with him. Penda had charge of the southwest quadrant of the siege. Bully accompanied Eudes as squire. They crossed Blue River by boat well south of the bridge. The Herminians used the bridge every day, and so far nothing had gone wrong, but it was unnerving to ride across the bridge in daylight with the castle towering so close. Most of the army’s traffic crossed by boat a safe distance north or south of Hyacintho Flumen.
Penda’s men had dug a long pit a few hundred yards away from the farmhouse Penda used for his base. (Eudes had insisted that the farmer be paid generously for the house.) In this pit they stored the unexploded casks of liquid fire. Before winter they would roof the pit to keep the devilish stuff dry. Eudes saluted Penda and left him to his duties. Aewel would rise early the next morning to report again at the Rose Petal.
The many farmers in the coastlands southwest of Hyacintho Flumen had to accept Herminian dominion to transport their harvest to market. Eudes noted with satisfaction that wagons were already using the roads again. Over and over he had stressed to his commanders that they must treat the Tarquintians fairly. He wanted the markets in the town Hyacintho Flumen flush with produce, and the people of both town and country to feel safe doing business there. His war was only against the castle and its lord.
Further along, the northwest quadrant of the siege presented the greatest challenge to Eudes and his commanders. Three narrow valleys, each with its own creek, ran down to Blue River from the mountains in the west. It was rugged country, with plenty of places where a smuggler might try to penetrate the Herminian blockade. Archard Oshelm’s men were exploring the valleys, contacting the scattered farmers, and offering to help transport crops across Blue River by boat. They built permanent camps by each creek, and regular patrols marched between the camps.
Rather than complete the circuit of Hyacintho Flumen, Eudes and Bully turned around at a point northwest of the castle and retraced their route. During a siege, Eudes rode inspection almost every day, but he constantly varied his routine, sometimes sleeping on the line with ordinary soldiers. “The general has a remarkable capacity for showing up when you least expect it,” one solider had said. Eudes worked hard to keep that thought alive in his men.
The autumn sun sat on the horizon and campfires were beginning to spring to life on the southern line of siege. Soldiers here had easy duty, so long as the local farmers were content to take their wagons to town via boat. In the first week the blockade had not been challenged. Eudes and Bully came back to the riverside dock late in the day at the same time as two wagons. The last boat of the day, a flat barge propelled by two pole men, waited at the dock. To cross, Eudes would have to order one of the wagons to wait ’til the next morning.
The riverboat men recognized Eudes. “Fair evening, my Lord General. Please tie your horses to the forward rail.”
“Fair evening. Thank you, no. These men need to get their goods across before dark. Load the wagons.”
“My Lord, there’ll not likely be another boat tonight. Fog is rising; it’ll be too dark.”
Eudes dismounted and motioned the teamsters to move forward. “I understand. Bully and I will stay the night here if need be.”
The boatmen worked quickly, but by the time they blocked and secured the wagons, darkness was falling. “Hup! Hup!” They pushed with their long poles, and the riverboat moved away. Within seconds it disappeared into fog. “Hup! Hup!” came quietly over the river. Eudes and Bully stood alone with their horses on the dock.
“My Lord General, we should find a campfire with a bit o’ sup.”
“Aye, Bully. I’m ready to eat.” But at that moment a sound came out of the fog on the river.
“Damn, it’s thick tonight! Hup! Hup! Where’s the dock?”
Eudes called out into the darkness. “Ho there! Is that a boat?”
“What do ya think? A magic carpet? Light us a lamp, ya lump! Look lively, there!”
Dark, damp and cold, enveloped them. “I’m afraid we have no lamp. Aim for my voice if you can. The dock is right here.”
“Call out, then. Damn the fog!”
Eudes stamped his feet. “Dock right here! One, two, three, four! Dock right here! One, two, three, four!” Bully joined him the chant. “Dock right here! One, two, three, four!”
Many seconds passed. Out of the darkness a boatman’s pole swept over the dock, the tip of it smacking into Bully and throwing him down. “Hey! Careful!”
“Sorry ’bout that.” Only a stride distant, boatmen suddenly emerged from the fog, two of them, with a boy standing between them. A lantern hung at the near end of the boat, throwing a small halo around it. Their craft bumped into the dock, and heavy ropes thudded onto the wood. “Can ya tie us down?” Eudes held the horses’ reins while Bully wrapped a rope around a post.
“Thank ya, I’m sure. But why’s two soldiers waitin’ in the dark wi’ no light?”
Eudes handed the reins to Bully and extended his hand to guide the men onto the dock. “The last boat of the day had a full load. We were about to leave when we heard you. Fog dampens voices, I think.”
The boy jumped onto the dock. “General Ridere?”
“Aye. Who is it?” Eudes bent to look at the boy’s face. “Gifre Toeni! What in Two Moons are you doing here?”
“Come to look for you. Commander Turchil said I would have half odds of finding you on the south side. Is Bully with you, Sir?”
“Excellent! Now, Tom and Long Bob!” Gifre pressed a coin into each boatman’s hand. “You not only got me safely across, you found the men I wanted. Thank you, indeed.”
The boatman called Long Bob held up the lantern. “Lord General Ridere! Please don’t hold unseemly words against us.”
“Of course not. We all say things we don’t mean, especially in the dark. Can you find your way home?”
“Aye, we can.”
“Walk on ahead of us, then. If we follow the road we’ll come to soldiers. Once we see a campfire, we’ll turn aside.”
“As you wish, Lord General.”
Eudes walked slowly, letting the boatmen’s light dwindle ahead. “Gifre, what would you have done if you hadn’t found me? You are supposed to be a knight in this army; soldiers are not to risk their lives without good reason. Gods! A night like this, you could get lost and die of exposure. I hope you have a good reason for searching me down.”
“I do, my lord. But since it’s Bully’s idea, I’ll let him explain.”
82. At the Siege of Hyacintho Flumen
“There’s a campfire. We’ll stop here. Gifre, if you walk ahead of us, you can help find the path.”
The faint light from Tom and Long Bob’s lantern faded completely. Eudes and Bully led their horses cautiously to the right. Between the road and the fire tussocky ground sloped downward, dark and fog forcing them to feel their way.
“Name yourselves!” Someone at the fire had seen Gifre or, more likely, had heard the horses breathing.
“Gifre Toeni of castle Prati Mansum. I am here with General Ridere.”
The voice laughed. “Well and good—if you speak truly. Come forward to be recognized. One at a time.”
Following Gifre, Bully went ahead of Eudes. “Bully Wedmor, from Wedmor in south Herminia.”
A broad-shouldered soldier stood between Gifre, Bully, and Eudes and the fire. His face was shadowed, but they could see the glint of firelight on his drawn sword. Other soldiers clustered on the ground around the fire behind him. Eudes smelled something roasting. Eudes stepped closer and saluted with his fist on his chest, guiding his mount with his left hand. “Eudes Ridere, of castle Pulchra Mane.”
“By the gods! My Lord General! Ah, uh, welcome.” The soldier saluted and bowed. Four other men scrambled to their feet. “Lord General Ridere! Fair evening! How may we serve you?” They saluted.
“Be calm, soldiers. My squire and I missed today’s last boat across Blue River. If you don’t mind, we’ll camp tonight with you and be on our way at first light.”
A fat soldier, whom Eudes immediately identified as cook for this group, pointed to the fire. “We have beef on the spit, my Lord General, and beans with onions in the pot. And some mead for drink. But that will be all ’til tomorrow’s food wagon.”
Eudes nodded approval. “We will be honored to share your sup.”
Eudes, Bully, and Gifre ate as ordinary soldiers, sitting on large stones or an old log. Gifre complimented the fat soldier’s cooking, comparing it favorably to meals in Prati Mansum. Eudes observed that hunger improved the flavor of all food, and he thanked the soldiers sincerely. But none of their words put the men at ease; after an hour Eudes’s presence still intimidated them.
Eudes stood. “Men, we’re going to bed down a few yards east. Be careful walking your rounds; don’t step on us.”
The fog clung, making everything damp. Gifre obviously wanted Bully to talk with Eudes about whatever it was on their minds, but Eudes warned him that sound traveled in the fog. In the dark, they couldn’t tell when a watchman might be within earshot. So Bully and Gifre wrapped themselves in blankets and waited for sleep. Eudes pulled his boots off and massaged his feet. He would sleep with boots on, ready to leap into action at a moment’s notice, but aching feet had ruined many a night in the field. A few minutes kneading of his tired limbs was a secret quiet pleasure.
Sometime in the night a wind rose out of the south and blew the fog away. Eudes woke to a transformed scene. Both moons were setting in the west; they combined with a brilliant splash of stars to throw soft light on the grassy landscape. Twenty yards away the watch fire had burned low. The soldier standing watch hardly needed to walk rounds; he could survey the land a quarter mile in every direction. Eudes could smell the sea on the south wind; the shore lay only three or four miles away from the camp. Eudes reached high with his arms, willing the knots in his back to loosen.
Bully rolled over, sat up. He seemed to be attuned to Eudes’s waking and sleeping. “Fair morning, Sir.”
“Fair morning, Bully.” Eudes began rolling his blanket. “Better wake up Gifre. We’ll head for the dock, and you can explain this mysterious idea of yours.”
Bully shook Gifre, who stood up and shivered. “Cold wind this morning.”
“Aye.” Eudes stamped his feet and swung his arms around. “The men on the line won’t have much to share until the food wagon comes, so we might as well get going.”
Gifre swung skinny arms, mimicking Eudes. His breath misted away on the wind. Eudes remembered being a boy of Gifre’s age, how his feet would hurt in the cold. The boy’s coat was too light. “Bully, get the horses. Gifre will ride with me.” Eudes wrapped Gifre in a blanket and squeezed into the saddle behind him. They rode at a walk, Bully’s mount at Eudes’s left.
“It’s time for you two to tell me what this is about.” As if I don’t already know. Eudes had been thinking through the night.
Gifre and Bully shared a look. Bully cleared his throat. “It’s about Edita and Juliana, my lord.”
“Interesting. Commander Turchil and I were discussing Juliana only two days ago.”
Gifre spoke up. “Aye. And I talked with Alan yesterday. But Bully and I had already decided what to do.”
Eudes laughed. “Somehow I thought that was my job.”
“Aye, my lord.” Bully coughed. “We mean only that we have a suggestion.”
Bully hesitated, then plunged in. “We thought you might send another truce flag to Hyacintho Flumen. You could offer to trade Juliana for Edita.”
“Let’s see. Gifre, you want Edita out of Hyacintho Flumen because you want to see your sister, and you don’t want her to suffer in the siege. Bully, you want her out because you think you’re in love with her. Have I got that right? Gifre ought to consider that the lady of a castle will be the last to feel hunger in a siege. Also, Edita is another man’s wife, not to mention that she is of noble blood. Bully’s desire for her is out of place.”
Eudes couldn’t be sure in the dark, but Bully might be blushing. The squire appeared cowed by Eudes’s reasoning, but Gifre was young and the presumptive heir of Prati Mansum. Already, at eleven years old, he asserted himself like a lord. “General Ridere, you forget to mention a very important fact. Aylwin doesn’t love my sister. He took Juliana as his mistress from the day he married Edita.”
Eudes coughed, but he didn’t contradict.
“You know it’s true. Alan Turchil says so. And last summer you told Bully that Juliana came as part of the marriage agreement with the Mortanes.”
Eudes looked sideways at Bully. “Perhaps I should not have said that. Your father and mother tried to do the best they could for your sister.”
Gifre didn’t hesitate. “I don’t blame them, General. That’s what I’m doing: what’s best for my sister.”
Gifre shot a look at Bully, who answered. “My lord, if we offer Aylwin a trade, he can say no or yes. If he says no, that means he chooses Edita over Juliana. He may not love her, but at least he chooses her. On the other hand, if he says yes, that means he rejects Edita. You could require that he sign a divorce. As a divorced and dishonored woman, Edita could marry anyone, even a commoner. We think Aylwin might actually hate Edita. If we don’t offer a trade, he might see that she starves before others. He might punish her because we have Juliana.”
Eudes reined his horse to a stop. They had reached the little hill that ran down to the dock. Gray light of morning was lifting the veil of night even as the moons set behind them. The riverboat that had delivered Gifre was tied at the dock, but Tom and Long Bob had not yet made their appearance.
“Let us say you have convinced me as to the why. I must also consider the how. Gifre, do you know what a circle shield is?”
“Aye. Felix Fairhair, Father’s scribe, described the circle shields to me. Once, he says, Father was able to command one, and my grandfather could command them at will.”
“Your grandfather was a mighty lord, a worthy opponent.”
“But you compelled him to submit to King Rudolf anyway.”
“Indeed. That was my first siege. And we will force Aylwin to submit, even if he commands circle shields as well as Sherard Toeni did. But here is my point: how do we trade Juliana for Edita if Aylwin can command the shields? If we send Juliana to the castle, he could keep both women and not release Edita. If we merely bring Juliana close to Hyacintho Flumen, to make the exchange in the open country, he might clap the shield down. Again, he takes both. If we insist the exchange happen at a great distance, the tables are reversed. Aylwin will refuse. He will not trust us to deliver Juliana once we have Edita.”
Gifre’s head bobbed up and down against Eudes’s chest. “We thought about that, didn’t we, Bully?”
The squire said, “Lord General, if Aylwin agrees to the exchange, he should sign the divorce decree first. I will carry the divorce decree to Hyacintho Flumen. There is a risk that Aylwin will simply take me hostage, but then he abandons any hope of regaining Juliana. Once he signs the decree, I will bring it out to you. Then we deliver Juliana. Since he will have then publicly have rejected Edita, he won’t want her anymore. She won’t have much value as a hostage, since it’s pretty obvious her parents don’t want her, a point I could stress to him while I’m in the castle. He will let her go.”
“That’s not what we agreed, Bully!” Gifre twisted in the saddle to look at both Eudes and Bully. “I should be the messenger. I’m the only Toeni who cares a fig for Edita. I can convince Aylwin that she is of no use as a hostage.”
“But you are a perfect hostage,” Eudes objected. “Mortane would simply take you.”
“If he did, he would not get Juliana.”
Eudes thought. For all the boys’ confidence, Eudes could see ways their scheme might easily fail. On the other hand, the plan might offer advantages Bully and Gifre hadn’t imagined.
“You’re a brave lad, Gifre. And noble, willing to risk yourself for your sister. I will consider your advice carefully.”
83. In Castle Hyacintho Flumen
The image grew to life size. The blond woman stood at ease, her left hand on the lord’s knob. Her scribe stood to her left. “Fair morning, Lord Mortane. It’s good to see you again.”
At Aylwin’s left, Arthur the old had his slate, ready to take notes. Aylwin had decided that if he were to dare these meetings with the Herminian bitch, he would be prepared. And he would take charge of the meeting. Don’t raise the real issue ’til later. “Fair morning, Lady. Though rightfully lady only of Pulchra Mane, you compel people to address you as queen. You must not expect me to do so.”
“Oh, but I do. Expectations point to the future, and in the future I will be your queen. For the present, though, you may call me anything you like. You could simply say Mariel. May I ask, is there news of my husband?”
“Surely General Ridere sends you reports.”
“Naturally. But ships take days and days to cross the sea. And then the messengers have to ride; Pulchra Mane is inland, as I’m sure you know. So you see, Aylwin—may I call you Aylwin? —You have an advantage over my husband. You can tell me things immediately, whereas his dispatches take so long to get here.”
“I can tell you nothing about Ridere, not having seen him or talked with him.” Aylwin’s hands on the lord’s knob were still, a definite improvement over his first Videns-Loquitur encounter with Mariel. “You might tell him to come up to Hyacintho Flumen. If he stood beside me here, you could speak with him yourself.” Aylwin noticed the slight curve of Mariel’s belly. “Perhaps you want to tell your husband that you are with child.”
Mariel laughed and brushed hair behind her ear. “Am I showing already? General Ridere knows well that he is about to be a father. I am not so eager to speak with him that I would send him to your castle.”
“If not that, you should summon him home. My scribe Arthur tells me that some of Ridere’s sieges have lasted years. Your child will have been born and learned to walk and talk without ever meeting his father.”
Mariel rested her right hand on her stomach. “Her father, perhaps. It’s true. Some lords defy good sense for months and months. You’re strong and determined, so my daughter may not see her father for a long time. But in the end they all submit. Think about that, Aylwin. They all submit, and they discover it’s not so bad. I’m not asking you to surrender Hyacintho Flumen. You will continue to rule, you will enforce my laws, and you will advise me regularly.”
Aylwin felt anger, like a kettle boiling in his chest. I am lord of Hyacintho Flumen! I answer to no one but the gods, certainly not to a woman! He fought back the urge to scream defiance. “I suppose Rocelin Toeni has discovered the delights of your rule.”
“Lord Toeni speaks with me every week, as do the other lords of Herminia.” Mariel raised an eyebrow.
“You might greet him, then, for his daughter, Edita.” Aylwin kept his face blank. By her own admission, the Herminian bitch could not yet know that Juliana had been taken; she could not know of Ridere’s offer of an exchange.
Mariel sighed. “I will tell him, indeed. And I thank you. You should tell your wife that her father misses her and thinks of her often.” She frowned. “Be careful, though. If you say too much, Edita will know it’s a lie. Well, she would know, if she has brains.”
Mariel sighed again. “The truth is, Aylwin, I don’t know Edita well. Certainly not as well as you do, as her husband. I’ve only seen her when she stood by Rocelin during our weekly talks. Occasionally, I ask a lord to bring a family member to the lord’s knob. Since Edita sends him greetings, she probably still trusts her father’s love. But, as you undoubtedly know, your willingness to marry Edita relieved Lord Toeni of a sticky problem. It’s sad, really. If not for her accident, Edita might have inherited Prati Mansum. After her fall, she became something of a liability. Unless she’s stupid, Edita must know all this. So convey her father’s greetings, but don’t overdo it.”
Aylwin felt tension in his jaw. He blew a deep breath to relax. “Ironic, isn’t it? My father-in-law probably supplied some of the soldiers besieging my castle.”
“Not many, if that makes you feel better. Most of Toeni’s men serve in the ships. Their role is crucial, of course. We constantly re-supply the army. Please notice, Aylwin, that I hide nothing. I am speaking soberly and plainly. The army around your castle is always being renewed. I am not going to quit. Rocelin Toeni cannot and will not do anything to save his daughter. In reality, he doesn’t want to save her. You care for Edita, so you must come to your senses. There is only one possible outcome of this situation, and once you accept that fact, things will be much easier.”
Aylwin couldn’t help himself; his jaw clenched painfully. But he had learned what he needed to know. “I will consider what you have said, Mariel.”
The queen tilted her head, looked at him quizzically. “I hope you do. Remember, I will be here to talk every week. And you should try to reach some of the others. They will be impressed that you can command Videns-Loquitur. And they will reassure you. I really am not a monster.”
“Good-bye, Mariel.” Aylwin released the lord’s knob. He staggered a few steps, went to his knees, and held his throbbing forehead. Arthur was at his side immediately, but he brushed away the scribe’s hand. “I need a moment’s rest. Tell Diera to bring mid-day sup to my room. And get me Dag and Mother.”
Arthur bowed obedience.
Edita rose when Aylwin entered the bedroom. He waved her back into her seat in the breakfast corner. “Diera’s bringing sup. We need to talk.”
Edita inclined her head. “Aye, my lord.”
Aylwin slid into the chair next to Edita. “I don’t want to embarrass you before the others. You’re on your blood again, aren’t you?”
“Two days, my lord. Perhaps next month …”
Aylwin raised a palm, silencing her. The door swished open, admitting Lucia. Arthur followed, with Dag Daegmund. With Kenelm Ash gone to Down’s End, Daegmund served as Aylwin’s chief armsman.
Finally Diera came in, pushing a wheeled cart. “Chicken, bread, cheese, and sliced peaches,” Diera said. She began to divide the food onto wooden trays.
“That’s fine, Diera. Leave the cart; we’ll serve ourselves.” Aylwin motioned Arthur to sit and held the last chair for Lucia. “Mother.”
“Thank you, Aylwin.”
Dag stood, since there were only four chairs. Aylwin tossed him one of the round loaves. “Gods be thanked. Eat, everyone.” Aylwin tore his bread, spread it with soft cheese, and bit into it. The others began serving themselves.
Lucia cut a small bite of chicken off a thigh, speared it with the tip of her knife, and popped it daintily into her mouth. “What is this about, Aylwin?”
Aylwin swallowed bread and cheese. “I talked this morning with Mariel Grandmesnil by means of Videns-Loquitur.”
A knife clattered to the floor from Edita’s hand. She had speared three peach slices to her tray, but she hadn’t eaten yet. Dag bent quickly to retrieve the knife and returned it to the serving cart. Edita stared unmoving at the pieces of peach.
A moment’s silence was enough to emphasize his wife’s clumsiness. Aylwin continued, “Among other things, the lady of Pulchra Mane says that I am to offer Edita greetings from her father. That’s right, isn’t it, Arthur?”
“Aye, my lord.” The scribe bit into a chicken leg.
“She also said I must not overstate Lord Toeni’s affection for his daughter, since Edita probably knows that he doesn’t really care. Still accurate, Arthur?”
“Mm, mm.” Arthur was chewing. Edita’s eyes were now focused on her husband. Tears slid down her cheeks.
“Three days ago, as you all know, the Herminians sent their second messenger under flag of truce. The messenger said nothing, but delivered a piece of paper. Here it is.” Aylwin unfolded the missive and held it out to Arthur. “Read.”
The scribe wiped his hands on a cloth before accepting the paper. “To Aylwin Mortane, Lord of Hyacintho Flumen. I will exchange Juliana for Edita. Respond within seven days under flag of truce. Signed, Eudes Ridere.”
Aylwin focused on Edita first. “We used to hope that an alliance with the Toenis would be a bulwark against Mariel. But that’s an illusion, isn’t it? Mariel has your father under her thumb. Your father can do nothing, will do nothing, to save you. Isn’t that right?”
Edita swallowed twice. “Aye, my lord.”
He ignored her tears and turned to Lucia. “I want an heir. What I have is a broken, barren half-wife of no value. If I’m wrong, Mother, say so.”
Lucia’s face was rigid and pale. She said nothing.
“Dag, you will take my response under flag of truce to the Herminians.”
“As you will, my lord.”
“Arthur, prepare to write what I say.”
Aylwin paced in the great hall, back and forth between north and south wall, never far from the lord’s knob. At any shout of warning, he could raise circle shields in seconds. Daegmund had been gone three hours. Arthur sat at the far end of one of the tables, the only other soul in the hall.
Somewhere else in Hyacintho Flumen Diera and Boemia were preparing Edita for departure: helping her wash, packing a few clothes, clearing the rest of her things from Aylwin’s bedroom. Aylwin promised himself that after today he would never look on the cripple again. We still have to figure out the actual exchange. They would be fools to send Juliana up here, I can’t surrender Edita until I’m sure I’ll get Juliana, and I certainly can’t go out to them myself. He laughed to himself. I hope Ridere thought this through.
The autumn sun would touch the mountains in less than two hours. What’s taking them so long? Maybe they don’t have a plan. Aylwin glanced idly at the god’s knob. Strange. It’s there all the time, yet we never think about it. What could I do if I bonded with that? Aylwin knew the stories of fools who touched the god’s knob and died—or worse, lost their minds and forfeited their castles to siblings. He kept pacing. A new thought came: The proposed prisoner exchange is a ruse. Ridere wants something else. What? He can’t really mean to violate truce. Damn! What’s taking so long?
Aylwin’s hands were trembling. Not again! What if they attacked and I couldn’t bond?
One of the castle’s swordsmen, Warren Vere, stepped into the great hall. “My lord, Daegmund returns. A boy is with him.”
Aylwin scratched his temple. “A boy?” He spoke to Arthur. “Why would they send a boy? I don’t understand.”
Arthur shrugged. “Whatever the reason, we must receive him. Warren, please fetch Lady Lucia to the hall.”
“Aye.” The soldier trotted away.
Lucia brought Eddricus and Rose with her—and Edita. Aylwin wanted to reprimand her, but he realized Edita’s presence might be necessary. He had never negotiated a prisoner exchange before.
At last! Someone pounded on the north door of the great hall, and Warren opened for Dag and the Herminian messenger. Dag stepped into the hall and announced, “My lord, I present Sir Gifre Toeni, of castle Prati Mansum.”
Gifre Toeni? Edita’s brother? Aylwin overcame his shock and strode forward. “Welcome to Hyacintho Flumen, Sir Gifre. I presume you have come with some message from General Ridere.”
“I have.” The boy simply stared at him, waiting.
Aylwin coughed. Remember the niceties. “I introduce my mother, the Lady Lucia; My brother and sister, Eddricus and Rose Mortane; and of course my wife, Lady Edita. I believe you know her.” Aylwin swept his hand toward his family.
“Thank you.” Gifre bowed formally to Lucia. He looked long at Edita, but his face might have been made of stone. Aylwin thought he saw despair in her expression. His appearing is a shock to her too.
The boy turned to face Aylwin. “General Ridere suggests the following procedure. You will sign a formal divorce, which I have on my person, renouncing all responsibilities to Edita Mortane and all claims to the fruit of her body. Since the day is late and this is a momentous decision, General Ridere suggests you consider it carefully. He allows you one night. In the morning I will take your decision back to the general. At that time, if you have signed the divorce, Juliana Ingdaughter will be allowed to accompany one of your men to the castle. When Juliana arrives, we will trust you to release Edita. She should be brought down to us on a horse.”
Aylwin squinted at the boy. “The general trusts me to release Edita?”
Gifre looked at him steadily. “After you sign the divorce, why would you want to keep her? I know she doesn’t eat much, but in a siege they say every little bit counts.”
“Why is Ridere willing to give me Juliana?”
“Believe me, I know Juliana. She eats like a horse.”
84. In Castle Hyacintho Flumen
The door swished open. It was a temporary bedroom, for one night only, the last night Edita would spend in Hyacintho Flumen. Lucia Mortane stood in the opening. “Gifre has left with the decree. Gods! What have you done?”
Edita turned a grim face to the woman who had been her mother-in-law. “One hand haircut.” She held up the scissors. “Not very pretty, I’m afraid.”
Auburn hair and spatters of blood covered the floor around Edita’s chair. Diera and Boemia would have stopped her, so Edita had had to do it alone. The mirror showed the result; Edita’s head looked like a collision between a stubborn goat and an untrained shearer. Tufts of hair two or three inches long stood upright in some places, separated by bloody cuts.
Lucia turned on the spot. “Boemia! I need you! Now!”
In seconds, the nan bustled into the room. “Oh, gods!”
Lucia snatched the scissors from Edita and handed them to Boemia. “Do what you can. Cut it as evenly as possible, and salve the wounds. I’ll tell Diera to find a cap.”
“Diera has a coif that will do,” said Boemia. “We’ll tie it down snug, with a kerchief to blot the cuts.”
“Very well. Be quick about it. Aylwin wants her ready to go promptly.” Lucia walked into the corridor. “Diera!”
Boemia brusquely pushed Edita’s head from side to side, examining the damage. “What were you thinking, woman? Trying to kill yourself?”
The rough treatment fired the pain of the cuts, but Edita had felt worse distress many times. “If I wanted to kill myself, I’d have done so. Since our lord Aylwin has decided to humiliate me, I thought I should look the part.”
The nan wielded the scissors quickly and expertly, all the while shaking her head. “Lady Edita—no, you are no longer a lady, and you best get used to it. Humiliations are the least of your troubles. You are a cripple. You can’t do work. The lord says you’re barren; he can’t know that so soon, but he might well be right. You best hope your little brother survives this war and that he takes you home. If he doesn’t, you’ll have to beg. You’ll not marry again, and you have no attraction as a whore.”
Edita locked eyes with Boemia in the mirror. “I’m sure you’re right, Boemia, and I thank you for making my future so clear to me. Perhaps I should have killed myself after all. But just think how uncomfortable that would be for Aylwin, if the enemy were to deliver Juliana and receive only my body in exchange. No, I think as a last gift to my former husband I will leave Hyacintho Flumen alive. Discarded like a dead mercenary, but alive.”
Diera came into the room with dyed cloths and a clay jar. “Salve first,” said Boemia, setting aside the scissors. She dabbed the mixture of egg white, wine, and grease on Edita’s wounds. “Gods be pleased, this ought to keep the infection out.” Then she folded a white kerchief and placed it like a bandage, making sure all the cuts were covered. Last came a blue coif. Boemia pulled it down, one hand on each side of Edita’s face, while looking in the mirror to keep it even. “I think that’s as good as we can do. Now turn around.” Edita did so, dragging her left leg as always. Boemia checked her handiwork, nodded, and tied the strings of the coif under Edita’s chin. “Diera, help her out to the great hall. I’ll bring the bag.”
In the summer Edita had arrived at Hyacintho Flumen with eight boxes and chests of clothing, shoes, parchments, combs, jewelry, and assorted mementos from her childhood. When she departed the north door of the great hall, leaning on Diera’s arm, she had a cloth bag containing an extra kirtle, two linen tunics, and some hose. It was mid-morning, so the castle’s height threw the north door into shade. A raw autumn wind blew from the west. Edita shivered.
Aylwin, Lucia, Eddricus, and Rose were there, as was Dag Daegmund and some other soldiers. Aylwin faced west, watching the road that mounted the hill to Hyacintho Flumen on that side. He never looked at Edita, but spoke over his shoulder. “Put her on the horse. Odo, take care she doesn’t fall.”
A soldier lifted her by the waist and placed her in the saddle. The stable boy Odo secured her feet in stirrups and tied her bag in place behind her. The soldier put a cloak around her shoulders, tucking the ends under Edita’s legs. Odo knew his business; he had chosen a placid horse and cinched the saddle tightly.
“Go!” Aylwin still did not look at her.
Odo snickered to the horse; they moved forward. Edita took a last glance at the Mortanes as she passed them. Little Rose looked up at her with wide eyes, but the others cared only for what they saw coming up the hill.
Groom, horse, and rider passed from the shadow of Hyacintho Flumen; sunlight warmed Edita’s left cheek. Down the hill she saw the castle’s stable and barns; further on, cottages for servants. Who will move into Juliana’s house now? And there she was, Juliana, riding a chestnut horse beside a mounted soldier. The golden hair couldn’t be mistaken. Edita squinted and remembered the swordsman’s name: Warren Vere.
Juliana and her escort ascended faster than Odo led Edita down, drawing even with Edita and Odo as they passed the stable. “Keep going. Don’t stop.” Edita spoke quietly so only Odo would hear. He nodded acknowledgement without turning his head. Juliana’s eyes met Edita’s for a moment, and the former attendant favored Edita with a smile she couldn’t decipher. Pity? Condescension? Disdain?
Edita couldn’t look back had she desired it. Oddly, she found she didn’t. It was as if something fell from her heart when the women and their escorts passed each other. Her father had set her a task—to be the seal of an alliance between Prati Mansum and Hyacintho Flumen—and she had failed in that task. With failure came freedom.
Father had to have known it was an impossible chore. He had no choice but to obey Mariel, so when the queen moved to conquer Tarquint the alliance with the Mortanes would be ended. Did Father imagine Aylwin would submit to Mariel out of love for me? Not likely. From the beginning, the arrangement with the Mortanes was a convenient way to get rid of me. But there was a discordant fact. The Herminians had proposed an exchange. Why? This General Ridere thinks he gains something by trading Juliana for me. What does he want?
Failure brought freedom. Edita no longer owed duty to father or husband; each had cast her away. Except for Gifre, she was on her own; according to Boemia, she faced the life of a beggar. Ridere wants something from me. Whatever it is, I must obtain some living in exchange for it.
In her youth, before the accident, Edita would have galloped her favorite gelding down the gentle slope to the Herminians in minutes. It would have been breathless, exciting, and fun. Now, she had to sit and clutch the pommel with her good hand while the stable boy led her in a slow, lonely walk. The Herminian army would not venture out to meet her. They feared circle shields if they came too close to Hyacintho Flumen. Edita remembered at least that part of the previous night’s confrontation.
Aylwin had not allowed brother and sister to talk privately. Instead, he bade Gifre rehearse three times the mechanics of the exchange: Aylwin would sign the divorce decree, Gifre would deliver the decree at sunrise, Juliana and escort would ride to Hyacintho Flumen, and then Edita and escort would depart the castle. To demonstrate his “trustworthiness,” Aylwin said, Edita would be sent forth as soon as Juliana could be observed moving toward the castle. Sometime in this discussion, someone (Gifre? Arthur?) mentioned the circle shields. The Herminians did not know whether Aylwin could command the shields, but they had to assume he could.
Edita suddenly tightened her grip on the pommel. Aylwin can command the shields. He bragged about it to Arthur. Ridere has to assume, but I know. And that’s what Ridere wants. He wants to know what I know about Aylwin.
For the rest of the slow ride to the Herminian line, Edita tried to remember all she could about her former husband—feeling neither humiliation, regret, anger, nor desire for revenge. Rather, she searched her memory for useful information, something with which she could build a new life.
The castle road passed by fields planted with winter wheat and a cherry orchard, its trees bereft of leaves. Beyond the orchard it joined another road, which circled the castle, running south toward the seashore and northeast toward the Blue River. This road marked the Herminian siege line. Edita saw tents clustered right and left and soldiers standing guard. Near the intersection of the roads stood a farmhouse with a knee-high stone fence marking its yard. Odo stopped her horse at the intersection of roads.
Soldiers emerged from behind the house. “Lady,” said one, inclining his head. The second soldier freed one foot from its stirrup while Odo untied the other. The first soldier lifted her off the horse.
“Edita!” Gifre was hugging her as soon as she reached the ground. Her brother had grown in four months; he was taller than she. He squeezed her and kissed her forehead. The formal messenger of the previous night had been supplanted by the brother she remembered. “Got you safe at last! There’s someone I want you to meet.”
“Him too, but that comes later.” Gifre wrapped Edita’s lifeless left arm around his shoulders so she could lean on him. “We’ve got a little sup inside the house.”
Gifre helped her up two steps to the porch, then through the door. A bony young soldier took her left arm as Gifre stepped away. “Lady Edita,” the soldier said.
She remembered that voice and looked at his face, a face with pale blue eyes, marked by gentleness. Her jaw dropped in puzzlement. “Bully?”
85. In Down’s End
“What are they doing?” Amicia pushed close to Milo. Pedestrians and riders alike were moving to the sides of the street. Porches in front of businesses, including Freeman’s House, were becoming crowded.
An albino man with angry red splotches on his arms was walking in the middle of the street, one of the main avenues of Down’s End. He wore a simple brown tunic, tied with a rope belt. His feet and lower legs were filthy, clad in leather sandals with no hose. Cold rain the last three nights had made mud of many streets in Down’s End; the man’s legs were spattered with it. The albino’s snow-white hair lay like a glacier on his shoulders. Behind him walked twelve men carrying three bodies on pallets, four pallbearers to each. A crowd of mourners—Milo guessed five hundred people—filled the street behind the dead.
“It’s a priest of the old god. Name’s Wendelbeorht.” The explanation came from behind Amicia and Milo. Milo squeezed even closer to Amicia to let Ada Barnet move next to him. “Wendelbeorht is priest of the south district. They’ve probably been carrying these bodies for an hour or two, winding through the streets of Down’s End. The procession gets bigger as they move along.”
Amicia had never seen such a thing. “Where are they taking them?”
“Burial field.” Ada pointed. “There. Someone would have dug the hole this morning. Hoist her up, Milo, so she can see.”
Milo took his sister by the waist and lifted. Amicia was only beginning to take on the body contours of a woman, and as a girl she had always been light and wiry; if she had been wearing breeches rather than a kirtle, he could have set her on his shoulders. He held her above the crowd.
“Oh! You’re right, Ada. There’s just one hole. Will they bury all three in it?”
“Aye. The burial field is running out of space. The priests have already claimed a new field west of the city, but for now they conserve burial plots by stacking poor folk in shared graves.”
The pallbearers had moved beyond their position on the porch of Freeman’s House; mourners shuffled by ten abreast, filling the street. Milo put his sister down. She asked, “Do rich folk also bury their dead here?”
Ada motioned with her head. “Let’s go inside. Unless you want to fight through the crowd and listen to the priest.”
“No, no. Let’s go in.” Amicia followed Ada into Freeman’s House, with Milo on her heels. Once the door shut behind them, quiet enveloped them. The crowd in the street wasn’t riotous or angry, but jostling and whispering. Indoors, it was warm and spacious and clean, qualities paid for by the high rates Freeman’s House charged its lodgers.
Ada pointed to an alcove where three cloth-covered chairs were arranged around a small table. A round woven rug made the space seem almost like a private room. “The priests give preference to worshipers of the old god, which is why the burial field has so many paupers. But rich folk lie there too; you’d be surprised how many successful weavers and dyers pay for spaces in the burial field. You can find dozens of headstones of prominent citizens on the west end of the field.”
A young man wearing a blue tunic tucked into russet breeches came near their chairs and bowed; Freeman’s House employed men as well as women as servers. “Ladies, Sir. Shall I bring something to drink?”
Ada smiled at Amicia. “It’s your last chance, Amicia. After this, you have to drink whatever Father has in his cellar.”
Amicia looked at Milo. “Can I have pear wine?”
The pear wine served at Freeman’s House was sticky sweet, almost unbearable. Amicia loved it. Milo looked at Ada, but she merely held an open palm to him; it was his decision. Milo spoke to the waiter. “A bottle of pear wine. And three glasses, please.”
A bow. “As you wish.”
Milo looked around the common room. Only two other people were there; the breakfast guests had dispersed and mid-day sup would not be available for another hour. Tucked away in the alcove, there was no one to hear them. “We’re deeply grateful, Ada, that you and your father are willing to help us out this way.”
Ada’s blue eyes fixed him. “Oh? Really? I have never known Father to offer help without expecting something in return. Has he told you what he wants?”
“No. He heard me tell Simun Baldwin and Todwin Ansquetil that I need to leave Down’s End and that Kenelm Ash hasn’t returned; he immediately suggested inviting Amicia to guest at No. 5 Alderman’s Row until Kenelm and Raymond turn up. I expect them soon, possibly today. Amicia should not be your visitor for long.”
A smile flickered across Ada’s face, to be replaced by a frown. “Surely you didn’t think this offer sprang from pure generosity.”
Milo pursed his lips. “Perhaps not. But as I say, the visit should be short. And I hope that your presence in the house will protect Amicia’s reputation.”
The waiter came, placed wine and glasses on the table, and bowed. “Will there be anything else?”
“No,” said Milo. Milo handed the waiter a silver coin. When he didn’t move, Milo gave him two more coins. The waiter retreated and turned away.
Milo defended himself against Ada’s accusing expression. “Derian always pays when we come here.”
Chuckling, Ada filled the wine glasses. “I take it Chapman created your difficulty?”
A sip of pear wine was enough; Milo put his glass down. “Derian thought it would take weeks in Down’s End to sell his wines. When we left, I assumed I’d stay a week or two and head back to Stonebridge. But after this business with Raegenhere—and, I should say, the confrontation with your father—Derian looked for a quick resolution of his wine business. Two days ago he struck a bargain with a local merchant. He sold the lot. Says he wants to get back to Stonebridge promptly. So I’m in a bind. The fact is, without Derian to pay the bills, I can’t afford to stay in Down’s End. Eádulf and I must get back to the Citadel.”
“But Kenelm gave you money.” Amicia licked sweet wine from her lips. “A bag of golds. At least it looked that way to me.”
Milo met her grin. “You weren’t supposed to see that, Toadface. That money is for you, which is the only reason I spent a bit of it on pear wine just now. I can’t go wasting it on lodging and board for Eádulf and me; it’s got to last until you finish your business in Down’s End. That is why …” Milo turned a serious face to Ada, “… I am especially grateful to you. You can help keep Amicia and her money safe until Kenelm returns.”
“Oh? Really? Milo, you are a trusting soul. First my father and then me.”
Milo picked up his wine glass and put it down without drinking. “I’m confident you are worthy of my trust, Ada. As soon as Derian and I get home, we’re going to visit Ody Dans.”
Ada inclined her head. “I see.”
“I don’t.” Amicia put her empty glass by the wine bottle, motioning for more. “Who is Ody Dans?”
Milo poured Amicia half a glass. “That’s enough for now, Toadface. You can have more tonight at Alderman Barnet’s house. Ody Dans is Derian’s uncle; he’s rich and quite influential in Stonebridge.”
“Good for him. What does that have to do with Ada?” Amicia tossed her hair as she did so often as a girl. Milo couldn’t help but smile.
Ada laid her hand on Amicia’s forearm. “That’s something I think I should explain later. Let’s go get your clothes.”
“Right.” Milo stood up, stoppered the wine bottle. “Before we go, I need to leave word with the innkeeper. When Kenelm comes looking here, they need to tell him Amicia is a guest of Alderman Barnet.”
By chance, Milo’s message for Kenelm proved unneeded. Kenelm and Raymond Travers arrived in Down’s End in late afternoon, hurrying toward Freeman’s House because sleet was flying in a north wind. Miserable weather, cold and wet, and almost dark; the streets were practically empty. With coats pulled around people’s faces, one could hardly recognize friend or foe. Kenelm miscounted streets and turned into a side street that dead-ended in a farrier’s shop. The farrier was finishing his last work of the day, replacing a shoe for a horse whose owner, according to the owner’s servant, must be ready to ride the next morning. The servant was Eádulf.
Sir Kenelm and Raymond huddled close to the embers of the farrier’s fire while the workman tacked the shoe to Blackie’s foot. Eádulf explained to them how Milo’s plans had changed, and that Milo, Eádulf, and Derian Chapman would leave for Stonebridge in the morning. Rather than rent a room in Freeman’s House, Kenelm decided to accompany Eádulf to No. 5 Alderman’s Row. As Kenelm hoped, when they reached Barnet’s house, the alderman insisted that knight and squire be his guests for the night. Kenelm could share a room with Milo, and Raymond and Eádulf could spend the night comfortably in the hayloft of Barnet’s stable. Derian Chapman had a room of his own.
Kenelm thus joined Milo, Amicia, and Derian as guests at sup with Alderman Barnet and Ada. A table of six contrasted sharply with the sumptuous party Barnet had hosted two weeks before. Host and guests were seated around the end of the long table nearest the fireplace, Amicia seated as honored guest at Barnet’s right. Two serving girls brought mutton stew in bread trenchers, followed by grilled fish fillets. The fish was fresh, Barnet said, bought from the morning’s catch in West Lake. Fresh fish, Barnet opined, was one of the truly fine features of life in Down’s End, available almost all year.
Milo had no interest in discussing the gustatory advantages of Down’s End, so he was relieved when Ada blithely redirected the conversation. “Sir Kenelm, what did you find between the lakes? There have been rumors for weeks about a new ‘lord.’ Some are saying that the folk in the villages have pledged fealty to him. They probably want to avoid paying hidgield. Will they get away with it?”
Kenelm took a fishbone from his lips, laying it politely aside. He answered Ada’s question, but his eyes were on Milo. “The rumors are substantially true.”
“Say on.” Milo leaned forward on one elbow.
“A man named Martin Cedarborne has established himself as lord of Inter Lucus.” Kenelm spoke with plain sincerity, which slowly transformed Ada’s disbelieving smile into an expression of wonder. “I have viewed the castle before, in past years when I collected hidgield for Lord Hereward. It was a ruin. In little more than four months Lord Martin has greatly healed the castle. The villagers of Senerham and Inter Lucus are convinced that he is a genuine lord and that he can protect them. I think they’re right. I decided immediately, given Lord Aylwin’s current distress, to abandon any claim Hyacintho Flumen might have made between the lakes.” Kenelm shifted his gaze to Amicia. “I had hoped, Lady Amicia, to collect at least some coin between the lakes to supplement our resources. In this I failed.”
Amicia’s eyebrows knit together; the girl was obviously trying to deduce the implications of Kenelm’s speech, but she had to guard her tongue before Eulard Barnet. “Please continue, Sir Kenelm.”
“Lord Martin has imported a priest of the old god from Down’s End. He intends to build a Prayer House on property adjacent to the grounds of castle Inter Lucus. He claims that he came to Inter Lucus from a distant town called Lafayette and that in Lafayette he worshiped the old god. He says, in fact, that there is only one god, and that the castle gods are not gods at all.”
Eulard Barnet laughed. “The man is insane. He controls a castle but denies the castle gods?”
Kenelm’s expression prohibited levity. “He seemed sane to me. He simply does not believe in castle gods. At the same time he clearly and effectively commands Inter Lucus. And he has not a shred of dignity. He would submit to Mariel in a moment and think it right to do so.”
Milo’s thoughts flew to Aylwin, for a moment without hate. Kenelm’s mention of the bizarre mindset of the new lord brought a picture of Aylwin to Milo. To be lord of Hyacintho Flumen, yet surrounded by the army of the Herminians and foreseeing humiliation in the end—Milo almost felt pity for Aylwin. Almost.
Raymond Travers and Eádulf ate in the kitchen with Barnet’s servants. Raymond also told stories of what he had seen between the lakes. The youngest of the serving girls was a worshiper of the old god. Too shy to speak up, she listened in wonder to news of Lord Martin of Inter Lucus.
86. At River House
“If you don’t like the weather on the Great Downs, just wait fifteen minutes. It’ll change.” For Eádulf, this pronouncement constituted a major speech. Milo and Derian both laughed, partly from surprise. Eádulf’s proverb certainly fit their experience since leaving Down’s End. In four days on the road, the three riders had seen brilliant sunshine, wind-driven clouds, rain, sleet, an intense snowstorm that lasted only half an hour, and fog. Everywhere the road was a muddy track, in some places too slick to ride on; they avoided the worst spots by finding firmer footing in the prairie grass beside the wagon ruts. The wind rose and fell and shifted from one compass point to another, most often from the northwest. They had stayed one night at Crossroads Inn and camped out two others. Cold rain marked both nights out. Now, at the end of the fourth day, they were approaching River House, with its promise of a dry room and warm beds. As if in response to Eádulf’s words, a west wind came up, blowing fierce and cold into their faces. The riders leaned over their horses’ necks, huddling into their coats.
“Damn! How much further?” Derian shouted into the gale, though he rode only a few feet to Milo’s right. “Been more than fifteen minutes. If Eádulf’s right, we should see a change.” But rather than slackening, the wind gusted stronger, now throwing little arrowheads of sleet at them.
“There!” Milo pointed. A yellow glow in the distance, slightly downhill from them, then it disappeared; someone had shut the door against the weather. But the glimpse of shelter was enough to raise their spirits. Perhaps the horses, too, sensed the promise of food and a warm, dry place; they pushed through the wind with a will.
A mile later, at the entrance to River House, the wind had dropped by half and the sleet turned to a heavy rain. Milo and Derian yielded their mounts to Eádulf and entered the inn’s common room.
“Fair evening. That is, if you be indoors!” A gap-toothed man with sandy hair greeted Milo and Derian as they waited, dripping, just inside the door. The man and three others seated with him laughed. Four more guests occupied a second table, leaving most of the common room empty. Milo swept off his hat and inclined his head to the speaker.
“Innkeep?” Milo looked toward the kitchen.
“Ah! Welcome!” A bearded man wearing an apron bustled from the kitchen to them; Milo recognized Beornheard Green, the owner of River House. Green offered them a towel, which they used to wipe their faces and necks. “Master Chapman and Sir Mortane, if I remember aright. Two guests?”
“Three. But one room will be sufficient. Eádulf is taking our horses to your stable. He’ll come in after a bit.”
“Very good, Sir Milo. I’m sure he remembers Esa Agleca, my stable boy. Esa will help care for your animals. And here’s Glytha. Glytha, stew, bread and ales for Master Chapman and Sir Mortane. Unless either of you would prefer wine?”
Derian shook his head. “I’m tired of wine. River House ale is just what I want tonight.”
Glytha nodded, brown curls swinging around her head. “As you wish.”
“Tired of wine, Derian? Stonebridge wine? Is that possible?” Milo and Derian had a table to themselves. The other occupants of the common room were teamsters, four driving two wagons from Stonebridge to Down’s End and four going the other way. Once they learned that Milo and Derian did not share their occupation—and that they were Stonebridge sheriffs and Milo a knight—the wagon men shied away from conversation. Milo had no interest in the teamsters’ secrets and welcomed the privacy of a quiet corner.
Derian picked his teeth with a fingernail. “Seems that Eni Raegenhere and Eulard Barnet spoiled my taste for wine. Accounting for Raegenhere’s axle, our expenses in Down’s End, and warehouse charges, I sold a wagon of excellent Stonebridge wine at a pittance of a profit.”
“I thought you said the real profit would come next spring, when you take wines to the castles on the northern downs.”
“I did, and it will. Nevertheless, Barnet and Raegenhere took all the fun out of showing my wares to the worthies of Down’s End. Besides, this business with your sister changes everything; I thought I should report to Uncle Ody.”
Milo was taken aback for a moment. He leaned threateningly across the table. “Explain. What are you going to tell Ody?”
Derian held up his palms in a defensive gesture. “The same thing you will—or would, if you think about it. Amicia and Kenelm have been sent to Down’s End to raise an army to relieve Aylwin. What do you think are their chances of success?”
Milo had been considering this very question every mile of their journey. “I don’t know.”
“Maybe you don’t want to know. Maybe you don’t want to see.”
“Maybe you don’t want to know. Maybe you don’t want to see.”
“You tell me then.” Milo picked up his ale and glared at Derian over the mug.
“Kenelm is a soldier and Amicia is a girl. Neither of them really knows what they’re doing. I don’t mean to criticize, Milo, but you don’t either. The idea, of course, is to marry Amicia off to some influential Down’s End alderman and somehow by that to persuade the City Council to march to Aylwin’s relief. It won’t work.”
Derian drank, set his ale down, and wiped his mouth. “The most influential men in Down’s End are Todwin Ansquetil and Simun Baldwin. You saw that?”
“They’re both happily married, depressingly so, in my opinion. One is content with a horse-faced young wife and the other with a gray-haired ball of butter. The point is, neither will be interested in marrying Amicia, in spite of the fact that in two years she will be vastly more beautiful than their wives. By the gods! It’s as if these men actually find companionship with their women.”
Milo smiled at Derian’s feigned cynicism. “Well, I’ve heard that can happen; husbands and wives who love each other.”
Derian grinned. “Depressing, as I said. So, who among the leaders of Down’s End is available as a possible target? I’ll tell you. Eulard Barnet.”
Milo puffed out his cheeks. “Gods!”
“Don’t tell me you didn’t see that! The man’s wife is dead, his son is dead, and he certainly doesn’t want Ada to inherit his fortune. In two years he could have a son by Amicia—not an unpleasant prospect in itself—and appoint a steward to manage his heir’s affairs until the boy comes of age; that is, if Barnet’s health begins to fail. Who knows? Barnet might live to see a son grow up. He could enjoy Amicia and an heir.”
“Barnet offered to host Kenelm, Amicia, and Raymond as his guests.” Milo rubbed his forehead. “I declined for my sister, only thinking we shouldn’t be too indebted to one benefactor too soon. Kenelm has golds enough to keep them a year if he’s careful. I didn’t consider Barnet as a suitor.”
Derian looked puzzled. “Why not? It’s obvious, isn’t it? Barnet is rich and old, he’s an alderman, and he wants a male heir. Just the sort of man Kenelm and Amicia should target. Except it won’t work. Even if Barnet were to marry Amicia and push for an army to relieve Hyacintho Flumen, he doesn’t have enough influence on the Council. If you had Ansquetil or Baldwin on your side, then adding Barnet might win the day. But without the mayor or the weavers’ guild, you’ll not persuade Down’s End to fight.”
“Gods! It makes sense when you say it.” Milo kept rubbing his forehead. “I just didn’t want to imagine Barnet with Amicia. You know what I mean—my little sister.”
“Maybe you need to imagine it. That’s why Aylwin sent her to Down’s End, so some rich old man can take her into his bed. Barnet’s older than some, but there are fatter and crueler possibilities. She could do worse.” Derian swallowed some ale. “And here’s the point, Milo. I don’t think she could do better. Barnet’s the best target in Down’s End, but he couldn’t deliver the army Aylwin needs, even if he tried hard.”
Milo finished the thought for Derian. “And Barnet wouldn’t try hard.”
“Exactly. Barnet would bed Amicia, make a few speeches about opposing the invader, and wait for his heir. Down’s End is not the answer.”
“And you think your uncle Ody is?”
“Maybe. Think about it, Milo. Uncle Ody may be cruel, vindictive, calculating, and lots of other nasty things. But Ody Dans loves Stonebridge, or at least his private vision of Stonebridge. He wants the city to be great: beautiful and rich and powerful. He encourages my little attempts at trade with Down’s End not just to make money but also to assert influence. Whenever I return to Stonebridge, he interrogates me about the places I’ve been. He approved my idea of shipping wine to Lata Alta Flumen, Saltas Semitas, and Aurea Prati partly because he could get a report on lords Asselin, Le Grant, and Postel. Surely you’ve seen that some of his interest in you is sparked by the fact that you’re a Mortane; you know Hyacintho Flumen.
“Now, I don’t know exactly what Uncle Ody wants. Does he want Stonebridge to rule over the rest of Tarquint? Maybe he wants Cippenham and Down’s End to join Stonebridge as equals in a league of cities. Does he regard castle lords as allies or threats? I tell you, I don’t know. But I am sure of two things. His ambitions for Stonebridge are great, and he would forever oppose the rule of a foreign queen.”
Derian fell silent. Milo knew the merchant was watching him, but he sat for a minute without answering. The teamsters at one table laughed at some joke, then the other table joined in the humor. No one was paying attention to Derian and Milo.
“Where’s Eádulf? He should be done with the horses by now.” Milo pushed back from the table. “I better check on him.”
“Wait, please.” Derian patted the table. “Tell me what you’re thinking.”
Milo shut his eyes and sighed. “I think you’re right about Eulard Barnet. Kenelm won’t find Amicia a better match in Down’s End, but it won’t help Aylwin. I listened to Baldwin and Ansquetil. They are persuaded that the free cities in Herminia have prospered under Rudolf and Mariel; they anticipate similar treatment for free cities in Tarquint. They don’t see why Down’s End should fight to help a castle lord. So Amicia will give up her future for nothing. And that vexes me.
“The truth is, Derian, I don’t give two figs for Aylwin. The castle should have been mine, not his. Father chose him to inherit Hyacintho Flumen even though I am the older. If Mariel makes him bend the knee, it’s nothing less that what he deserves. But I would not like to see Amicia’s life bargained away for nothing.
“Now you hint that Ody Dans will be interested in this business. He won’t care any more for Aylwin than I do, but he might see an opportunity for Stonebridge, you say. Interesting. But the Herminians have ten thousand men. The Stonebridge City Guard would have to be multiplied ten times—fifty times—to become a force that could break the siege of Hyacintho Flumen. Would even Master Dans’s considerable influence be sufficient to persuade the Assembly to build such an army? And what about Osred Tondbert, the great hoarder of secrets? Who would want to give him an army?”
Derian nodded and tapped the tabletop excitedly. “Remember, Milo, what I said. I don’t know what my uncle will do or even what he really wants. But he will listen to me, and once he knows about Mariel’s invasion, he’ll listen to you. Why shouldn’t you and I benefit from this whole business? Who knows? You might find a way to save Amicia from Eulard Barnet.”
87. Between the Lakes
Eadmar trembled at what he was about to do.
The holy name was not to be bandied about like a good luck charm. The name was not a magic prop used to awe simple minds. In ancient times, good priests had surrendered their lives rather than speak the name in the presence of demons. For centuries castle lords had compelled believers to worship the demons, calling them gods, and laughing at the true God. Why would any believer speak the holy name in the presence of a lord? Why would a priest, a sworn servant of God, make the holy name known to common people? (Eadmar could hear Phytwin’s voice in his mind, asking these and other such questions.) The name was to be used only as a final blessing, whispered in the ear of dying believers to strengthen their faith as they passed to the after world. Even among themselves, priests spoke the name rarely, giving it the honor it deserved.
The appearance of Martin Cedarborne on Two Moons challenged many of these beliefs. He was not like other lords. Martin knew the holy name before he met any priest. He openly confessed his allegiance to the true God. He had built a Prayer House next to Inter Lucus. He had brought the book of God to Two Moons. In Martin’s book of God, the holy name was not secret. Martin’s book explained so many things…
In spite of all this, Eadmar’s hands shook when he lifted the board with its loaf of bread. He reminded himself that he really did believe that Martin’s book was genuine. “The book of God says this:
“For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, ‘This is my body, which is for you, do this in remembrance of me.’”
Eadmar put down the bread and lifted a chalice of wine.
“In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”
Having committed himself to his new path, Eadmar discovered calm. His hands stopped shaking. Lord Martin came forward first, followed by Ora, Caelin, Alf, Isen, Mildgyd, the four sheriffs, and Rothulf Saeric. To each of them Eadmar presented a bit of the bread and said, “The body of Christ.” Three-year-old Agyfen tagged at Mildgyd’s side; Eadmar touched the boy’s head in blessing rather than give him communion.
Thus did priest Eadmar launch a new worship of the old God, based on the memories, instructions, and book supplied by Martin Cedarborne of Lafayette. “May God have mercy on me,” he whispered.
After the first service in the nearly completed Prayer House, Marty and his people returned to castle Inter Lucus. But not Eadmar. The priest had violated a centuries old rule when he spoke the holy name in the presence of non-priests, but at least that transgression had the excuse that everyone present in Prayer House had already heard the name from Marty. Eadmar wasn’t going to compound his offense by disobeying a direct order from Guthlaf Godcild; he would not step on the grounds of Inter Lucus.
With Marty’s Harvest Festival four days away, the castle grounds and the field to the south had become a hive of activity. Together with farmer volunteers, Marty’s sheriffs had built temporary stock pens on one side. Since animal pens would stink anyway, latrines were dug close by. A short way up the hill toward the castle they built a musicians’ stand that could serve double duty as speaker’s platform. Marty would announce prize winners in categories that reminded him of a county fair; pastries, breads, livestock, fruits, vegetables, dances, songs, foot-races and throwing competitions would all be judged. Once he had mastered the use of Materias Transmutatio to cut and shape wood, Marty doubled the number of top prizes. He made eight chairs of white pine in a ladderback style, precision fitted without nails. In addition to “castle magic” chairs, there were also a couple dozen “Certificates of Excellence” to be awarded as Marty saw fit. The certificates were hand lettered by Caelin on the best paper Inter Lucus had yet produced, signed by Marty, and framed in oak. In addition to making the certificates, Caelin collaborated with Isen and Rothulf to produce more paper as fast as they could press and dry the new sheets.
Marty visited the west wing where his eight chairs were lined up against one wall. He congratulated himself; the chairs were functional and strong, held together by tenon joints and dowels. They weren’t particularly beautiful, but they would serve well in any village home and be highly valued by those who received them. An inchoate worry about the chairs had been growing in Marty, and when he saw them arranged next to each other, every one looking almost exactly like the others, the worry became articulate. It’s like I’ve got a little factory here. With practice, I could churn out chairs or tables—or paper!—in bulk. Every house between the lakes could have its own writing desk, with paper made at Inter Lucus. But if that’s true of Inter Lucus, it should be true of other castles. Trade between the castles should dominate the economy of Two Moons, each castle manufacturing its own specialty. I make paper, you make furniture, and somebody else makes—what? What are the limits of Materias Transmutatio? Could a castle make steel? Fiber optic cable? Computer chips? Geez! Why are the people of Two Moons living in the Middle Ages when they’ve got alien technology at their fingertips?
The answer came to him as soon as he posed the question. To them, it’s not alien technology. It’s magic.
Near the opposite wall of the west wing Caelin and Isen were debating which fibrous plants to include in their next experimental pulp. Eavesdropping for a minute, Marty digested the significance of their words. It’s not magic to Caelin and Isen; it’s a machine. They may not know how it works, but they’re eager to learn.
From the west wing, Marty walked to the east wing stairs. He still made daily inspection of the growth of Inter Lucus. Outside the castle, the paved paths grew longer, a few inches every day. In the building itself, ceilings and roofs had completed the great hall and the west wing. But the east wing kept growing taller. Already its first and second stories had their absurdly high ceilings, yet the walls continued to rise. Marty hiked up to the third floor. He watched, fascinated as always, as tiny filaments of ceramic material extended upward, tied across, latticed, and gradually filled the spaces between. The pace of building or growth had not been constant. At various times in the last five months the castle had seemed to take a breather or time out. But today Inter Lucus’s growth was so rapid that a patient observer could see it. Marty estimated the walls would be four or five inches taller by the end of the day. How tall would the castle grow? A completed third story would make the tower more than sixty feel tall; a fourth would push it over eighty. Already, situated as it was on a hill, Marty could see over some of the surrounding forest.
As often before, Marty wondered about the purpose of the east wing tower. The cavernous west wing housed Materias Transmutatio. The great hall had room for two hundred to dine at one time—and it was home to the lord’s knob and the interface wall. Downstairs they had identified the kitchen (with its walk-in refrigerator and freezer), bedrooms, bathrooms, seemingly purposeless rooms (storage?), and a room that had shelves like a library. But what about the east wing and its tower? Marty was pretty sure the large first floor room with its adjacent bathroom and small rooms (closets?) was supposed to be a master suite. But he had only guesses about the upper stories of the tower.
Since the tower was unfinished, one would expect the warm air of the castle to rush up the stairway into the November sky. But it didn’t. Standing on the third floor, Marty was completely exposed to the weather, but when he descended the steps he moved into warm air. It was as if an invisible hand lay across the opening of the stairs, holding the cold air out and warm air in. The barrier was permeable; rain and sleet could fall through it (to be absorbed by the floors and walls below) and Marty could climb through it. More than once he had stood on a step just below the third floor, feeling warm air around his ankles and a cold autumn wind on his face.
Movement to the south drew his attention away from the dancing filaments. Villagers had arrived to set up tents for the Festival; the sheriffs were helping. In the west, clouds were blowing across West Lake. I hope we don’t get too much rain or snow. November might be too late in the year for a Festival. Maybe we should put a tent over the musicians’ stand.
Sounds from below, from inside Inter Lucus, broke into Marty’s reverie. “My Lord Martin! Lord Martin!” Ora’s voice, tinged with fear or excitement. Marty started down the steps. She met him on the second floor, flushed from running.
“What is it, Ora?”
“Alf found a new room! You must come. It might be seepeeyou!”
88. In Castle Inter Lucus
Marty had long been confident of the castle’s label for it: Centralis Arbitrium Factorem. Inter Lucus’s marvelous technology had to be controlled by a computer, an alien computer that somehow coordinated the nanotechnology by which the castle grew and repaired itself, the water system, the power system (nuclear? solar?), interior temperature control, heating, lights, refrigeration, and so much more. But where was it? At first, Marty assumed the CPU would occupy a big room and consume lots of electricity. Counting steps in the corridors of the underground floors showed there was space on both levels for an extra room. A central core of both floors remained hidden. Marty often passed his hands over the walls, hoping to trigger a new door. He explained to Ora and Caelin as best he could what he expected to find, and they joined his search for the CPU. Twice they were rewarded, in that new doors presented access into the core—but only small parts of it. No appliances appeared in the new rooms, and Caelin used them to store vegetables; he pointed out to Marty that the doors to the new pantries appeared when the other storerooms were full. As time passed without discovery, Marty began to have doubts. Could Inter Lucus’s main computer be spread out—parallel processors hidden in nooks and crannies, packed into the very walls?
Marty followed Ora, rushing down the tower stairs, into the great hall, down to the kitchen, and further down to the lowest floor. They sprinted the length of two corridors, going first south and then west. At the end of the passage Alf, Mildgyd, and Agyfen were standing just outside an open door. To Marty’s surprise the new door did not open into the castle’s central core; rather, the new room lay straight ahead. The newly discovered space extended many feet beyond the west wall of the great hall. And when he got a look inside, Marty saw it also reached much further to the south than the interface wall. Whatever Centralis meant, it wasn’t “in the middle of the castle.”
Centralis Arbitrium Factorem was enormous, bigger than Marty had imagined. As everywhere in Inter Lucus, the room’s ceiling was at least twenty feet high, and Marty estimated the distance north to south and east to west at forty feet—sixteen hundred square feet! Yet most of the space was empty. Scattered around the room were six-sided ceramic blocks that resembled, at first glance, the appliance blocks that had risen from the floor in the kitchen, in the west wing, and in the laundry room. The things that marked this room as different hung from the ceiling. Above each hexagonal block—Marty counted eleven of them—a long ceramic stalactite reached down from the ceiling. The blocks, which Marty immediately conceived as growing out of the floor, were about five feet wide and varied in height. Many were like the appliances that had appeared in other rooms, from two to six feet tall. But two of the blocks were at least ten feet high. The ceramic tubes, which Marty could not help but think of as growing down from the ceiling, were also hexagonal, but only about four inches wide. At first glance, the tubes bespoke fragility, as if a light tap could break them. Marty reminded himself they were the product of alien technology. Stronger than titanium, for all I know.
Marty walked in, Ora and Alf close behind him. Mildgyd came in only a step, holding Agyfen’s hand; nan and child watched the exploration from the entrance.
Each block with its corresponding stalactite tube had a distinctive color: black, ash, brown, auburn, red, orange, yellow, green, blue, violet, and white. Marty, Ora, and Alf approached the red block and stalactite. The upper and lower parts did not touch. The gap between them was bridged by a shimmering filament, about four inches long, which pulsed intermittently with light. Marty immediately thought of fiber optics and imagined bursts of digitized data flowing through the glass strip. The other block/stalactite pairs also had glass connectors, most of them longer than the red block’s filament. Some were as much as a half-inch thick.
“My lord, what are the lights?” Ora nodded at the flashing filament. Following Marty’s example, neither Ora nor Alf touched the machinery.
“I am not sure, Ora. Remember, Inter Lucus was build by strangers, by creatures very different from us. So we can only guess. But my guess is that Alf indeed has found the CPU. This is where Inter Lucus thinks. The lights are like thoughts.”
Alf touched Marty’s elbow. His fingers still had tough scar tissue from his encounter with the lord’s knob in the summer. “If seepeeyou is like the castle’s head, shouldn’t it be in the east wing tower?” The boy brushed his white-blond hair back from his face as he looked up at Marty.
“Good question, Alf. Aye. If the strangers had built Inter Lucus like a person, we would expect to find the CPU in the tower. But perhaps a castle is more like a beehive. All the bees work to build, feed, and defend the hive, but the queen stays deep within. Inter Lucus has many parts that accomplish work: the interface wall, the kitchen, the west wing tools, the water supply, and so on. The CPU rules them all from deep within. In fact, I expected we would find it in the middle of the castle. What gave you the idea to look at the end of the corridor?”
“Last night I dreamed it.”
Ora and Marty responded as one. “You dreamed it?” According to Kenelm Ash, castles sometimes spoke to lords through dreams.
Alf’s blue eyes made a picture of innocence. “Aye, my lord. I dreamed I was in the great hall, not my bedroom. In my dream, I went down the stairs past the kitchen to the bottom floor. I walked the hall, turned the corner and walked to the end. Then I touched the wall and it opened. But today, the door opened before I touched it.”
“Have you told Rothulf about your dream, Alf?”
“No, my lord. I only told Mildgyd and Agyfen.”
Ora interjected, “My lord Martin…” But Marty cut her off with a raised palm.
Alf wore a solemn expression. “Rothulf would say this proves I am the true lord of Inter Lucus, wouldn’t he?”
Marty brushed his hair back. “I’m sure he would, Alf. So I don’t think you should tell him about the dream. He would try to convince you to bond with Inter Lucus, and depose me as lord.”
Alf looked at his fingers and trembled. “My lord, I don’t want to depose you.”
“I’m glad. But someday, Alf, I will die. A long time from now, I hope! When that happens, Inter Lucus and the people between the lakes will need a new lord. If it is true that you are descended from Thurwold Tirel, it may be that you will be that lord. It may be. We can’t know. But if it happens, you must prepare now to be a good lord.”
“Not like the lords in Caelin’s stories.” Alf’s voice was firm.
Marty laughed. “Indeed. Most of the lords in Caelin’s stories were narcissistic monsters.”
Alf mimicked the word. “My lord, what is narcissistic?”
“It means they care only for themselves and not for their people. If you ever become lord of Inter Lucus, Alf, please remember that God lets you be lord in order to help people.”
“Aye, my lord.”
Marty, Ora, and Alf resumed their exploration of Centralis Arbitrium Factorem. At first, Marty discerned no pattern in the placement of the block/stalactite pairs in the room. They weren’t arranged in a circle or square. Naturally, any three of them created a triangle, but Marty couldn’t see how the triangles thus described made any sense.
There was a rough order in the heights of the blocks; the taller ones tended to be further from the door, which was at the northeast corner of the room. The tallest block (thus the block with the shortest stalactite hanging above it) was the white one, and it stood nearest the southwest corner. But even this pattern was only a tendency; the block closest to the entry was only the second shortest.
Marty passed from block to block. Hexagonal—what does that mean? Eleven colors; surely that means something, but what? Ten subroutines show up on the master list, so… Maybe each block serves one subroutine, with one left over for… what? No matter what I learn about Inter Lucus, it seems I end up with more questions.
“My lord!” A new tone in Ora’s voice demanded attention. “Look at this!” She was pointing up at the violet block/stalactite combination. The second tallest block in the room, it stood about ten feet from the white block and very near the south wall. Marty immediately saw it: where there should have been a tube connecting block to stalactite there was only a space.
Alf said, “It’s broken, my lord!”
“It seems so.” Marty stepped closer and his shoe crunched on something underfoot. “My God!”
Ora and Alf turned their gaze from the machine to Marty. He pointed to the floor; bits of glass were lying about.
“The broken connection, my lord?”
“I think so, Ora. But it should not be here.”
Ora’s face showed puzzlement, then understanding. “Inter Lucus cleans up water, soil, and even broken pottery.”
“Aye. Why has it not cleaned up this glass?”
89. At Castle Inter Lucus
On Marty’s calendar (still provisional, as he watched days grow shorter) the Harvest Festival began on November 22. People began camping out three days before, and the crowd grew rapidly. By Elfric Ash’s count, which he made every morning during a sunrise tour of the festival grounds, at least four hundred people were present each day, and since people arrived and departed daily the total of those who attended had to be much higher.
The festival ran six cold days, with leaden skies and light winds from the northwest. To Marty’s relief, the only precipitation was a skiff of snow on the fourth day. The people between the lakes weren’t surprised; between harvest season and winter most years had two or three weeks of forstlic, when frozen ground made for relatively easy travel (compared to the mud of fall and the snow drifts of deep winter). Forstlic was the perfect time, they said, for market days. Lord Martin’s Harvest Festival constituted the grandest market anyone could remember.
Farmers and merchants traded grain, livestock, salted and smoked meats, prepared foods of many kinds, barrels, ironwork, baskets, leather goods, and clothing. Craftsmen repaired tools in temporary shops. Men cooperated together in a butchery that reduced dozens of cows and pigs to meat ready for storage in winter cold-houses. Bakery wagons sold fresh loaves every day. There was plenty of ale, wine, and cider, especially in the evenings.
Trading and manufacture occupied the mornings and early afternoons. When the sun began to get low, music and prizes announced from the “grandstand” created a party atmosphere. Bundled in coats and cloaks, people couldn’t dance much, but they sang loudly around their campfires and cheered the recipients of Marty’s prizes. After announcing prizewinners, Marty entered Inter Lucus and put on the nightly light show. He gave each night’s performance a distinctive effect by emphasizing a different color. Festival attendees quickly took to comparing the “green show” with the “red show” and so on.
During the day, Marty circulated among the tents, shops, and livestock pens with Os Oswald or Ealdwine Smithson as a kind of bodyguard. He worked hard to learn names, taking notes on castle-made paper. Many folk were intrigued and impressed; they watched intently as Marty dipped a quill into an ink bottle held by his guard and scratched words on sheets of paper clamped to a wooden slab. Marty saw a similar fascination when he stood near Caelin’s hidgield office. Assisted by Leo Dudd or Elfric Ash, Caelin sat at a table under a tent at the foot of the castle hill, only twenty feet from Prayer House. Every morning of the festival, heads of households lined up at the hidgield tent. In most cases, Caelin had a written record prepared of the hidgield the farmer or merchant had already agreed to pay. People watched in fascination as Caelin ran his finger down the list of names and found the hidgield assigned to them. Marty thought: In a mostly illiterate culture, written records are almost as magical as a castle. That thought helped catalyze a plan that had been growing in his mind.
Before sunrise on November 25, Marty found his way to a campfire where Aglefen Fairfax, a farmer from beyond Senerham, was frying bacon and eggs for himself and his eleven-year-old son, Besyrwen. Fairfax startled at seeing the castle lord appear in the dim light and laid his iron frying pan on the ground.
“Please don’t get up. Go ahead with your cooking.” Marty warmed his hands by the fire and squatted. “It smells good.”
“We would be honored to share, my lord. Besyrwen! Fetch a plate for Lord Martin.”
“Thank you, Master Fairfax. I’ve had breakfast already, but a piece of that bacon would be wonderful.”
Fairfax moved bits of meat around in his pan with a knife. When it was ready, he signaled to his son and speared some of the food onto a simple wooden plate held by the boy. Besyrwen, a short boy with close cropped black hair, brought it to Marty.
“Elfric Ash says you will quit the festival today,” Marty said. He bit off a bit of bacon.
“Aye, my lord.” Fairfax tilted eggs from his pan onto plates. “Besyrwen and me, we brought a full wagon o’ wheat three days ago. Sold some for golds, which my lord knows, as we paid hidgield. ’N we traded the rest for salt, leather, some wool cloth, and a new axe-head. ’Tis all gone, and well gone. Time to go home. Aedre, that’s me wife, be waitin’.” Besyrwen was already plowing through his breakfast, scooping up runny egg yoke with a wooden spoon. The father popped some bacon in his mouth and chewed deliberately.
“I’m glad I caught you before you left.” Marty tilted his head toward Besyrwen. “Your only child?”
“Only living, my lord. Aedre has birthed four. Three and one. Boys ’n a girl. Others died as babes. Devil’s fire took ’em.” Fairfax shuddered and stared at the ground. He looked from his son to Marty, his face tight, as if considering whether to reveal a secret. “Wise woman told me the gods was jealous ’o my rye. My father grew rye, ’n his father ’fore ’im. But after three babes… I told Aedre we’d grow only wheat. Twelve years ago, that was. ’N now Besyrwen is eleven. I honored the gods by growin’ wheat. But folk say Lord Martin don’t believe in the gods.” Fairfax’s expression pleaded with Marty for understanding, for permission to act as he had.
Something in Marty’s memory clicked, a random fact from a novel or Trivial Pursuit: ergotism, a fungal infection in grains, most often rye. “It is true, Master Fairfax, that I do not believe in castle gods. But your wise woman might be partly right. The devil’s fire can grow in rye, especially if it gets wet. By growing wheat, you may have kept the disease from spreading.”
The farmer considered this. “You say the gods don’t mind me plantin’ rye?”
“Rye is not the problem. The danger is not the gods or the grain, but the disease. The disease can grow in rye. If you plant rye, grow only a little. Harvest it dry and keep it dry. Grind it into flour and use all the flour in baking. If it gets wet in the field or in the barn, burn it.”
Fairfax’s eyes widened at these strictures, but he nodded. “Perhaps I’ll plant rye in the far corner, away from the slough. Mostly wheat, a little rye.”
“I suppose you have already planted winter wheat.”
“Aye, my lord.” Fairfax started eating his eggs.
“And you will plant summer wheat in spring.”
“Aye. And maybe some rye, too.”
“Very well. Will you need Besyrwen before then?”
The farmer’s eyebrows bunched in surprise. “I don’t understand, my lord.”
“I suppose you have a milk cow or two, or a goat. Some chickens. A plow horse. On a farm there is always work to do. But the heavy work comes in spring, doesn’t it? That’s when you need Besyrwen to help.”
Fairfax looked more confused.
“I propose, Master Fairfax, that Besyrwen live in Inter Lucus for the winter.”
“In the castle?” Fairfax was incredulous.
“In the village. But he would come to the castle every day.”
“By the gods!” Fairfax checked himself. “In God’s name, why?”
“I would like to teach him how to read, write, and keep figures. I watched you and the boy when you met with Caelin. I could see you thinking how useful it would be for a boy to read and write. And I agree. I think it’s very useful when people can read and write and figure. It’s good for the people, and it’s good for their lord. I wish I could teach many children, but I have to start with only a few. I think Besyrwen is a bright boy; I think he can learn quickly.”
Fairfax’s lips made a little “o” as he chewed on Marty’s words, but Besyrwen responded quickly. “I’d like that, I would! Da, can I do it? Can I stay?”
Marty answered, giving the farmer time to think. “You must go home first, Besyrwen. Your father and mother will need to talk about this. If they say yes, then you must be ready to work hard. You won’t learn all I have to teach you in four months. If you work hard and make progress, I’ll want you back in school next winter, and the winter after that. I won’t tolerate disobedience or laziness.”
“I promise, my lord! I’ll work hard. O Da, can I?”
Fairfax spoke to Marty instead of his son. “He stays in the village? Where?”
“I’ve spoken with Alfwald and Fridiswid Redwine. They have extra rooms in their house. You will need to pay Alfwald and Fridiswid, but the students who live there will do chores for some of the cost. Also, I will have work for students in the castle, after lessons, so I will help pay the Redwines.”
“O Da, can I?”
“If Lord Martin invites you to school, boy, to school you’ll go. But first, like ’e says, we go home. You’ll say farewell to your Ma.”
The boy placed his plate on the ground, stood, and threw his shoulders back. For a moment, Marty thought he would shout for joy. Instead, he bowed solemnly. “I am most pleased, my lord, to accept your invitation.”
Besyrwen was the first. No—Ora, Caelin, Isen, and Alf were already taking lessons. The sheriffs too—Ealdwine, Leo, Os, and Elfric wanted to learn. So Besyrwen was the first of the new students. By the end of Harvest Festival, Marty added five others: Went Bycwine, Caelin’s brother; Ernulf Penrict, son of the Senerham blacksmith; Dodric Night, son of a basket maker who lived in village Inter Lucus; a girl from Senerham, Tayte Graham; and Whitney Ablendan, the girl who had discovered Isen in her father’s barn. Besyrwen, Ernulf, and Tayte would board at the Redwine house; they could walk to the castle together, along with Dodric. Since the Bycwine and Ablendan farms were some miles from Inter Lucus, Marty decided that Went Bycwine and Whitney Ablendan would live in the castle. In all, Collegium Inter Lucus had 14 students, from 25-year-old Elfric Ash to the eleven-year-olds, Besyrwen Fairfax and Tayte Graham. A week after the Harvest Festival, the “college” began classes.
90. In Castle Inter Lucus
“It comes from the lake, my lord.”
Marty had some experience of lake effect snow when he lived in Chicago. But people with experience said that Chicago was a poor stepchild in comparison to Buffalo. In Buffalo, the west wind could sweep across Lake Erie and bury the city in a night. “Buffalo, not Chicago,” he whispered, not realizing he verbalized his thought.
“My lord?” Isen’s face showed puzzlement. Marty and Isen were on the third floor of the east wing tower, standing on stools so they could look out over the walls. The walls themselves had reached seven feet and were still growing, and atop them the snow extended their height several inches. Marty and Isen pushed the walls of snow outward; they fell in wet clumps on the roofs of the west wing and great hall.
“I was thinking of a city called Buffalo, Isen. They have a lake too, and they get deep snows when the winter wind blows across the lake.”
“You have lived in Buffalo?”
“No. I’ve heard about it, but never been there. The snow made me think of it.”
Light streaked across the landscape from the southeast; the sun had begun to poke above the horizon. A blue-white glare made it impossible to look sunward as the light reflected off miles of snow. The sky had emptied itself of yesterday’s storm clouds; today’s firmament was a brilliant blue almost painful to look at. On the east, north, and west sides of Inter Lucus forest limbs were weighed down with wet burdens, great firs and pines transformed into cones of snow. Here and there, as the sunlight caught an angle, gems sparkled on the trees. The roofs of Inter Lucus’s barn and Prayer House looked like wedding cakes, three feet of white frosting on top of brown log walls.
Marty pointed. “Snow can be awfully heavy. Will Prayer House hold the weight?”
Isen sucked his teeth. “Maybe. We built it strong. In Down’s End the wind comes across the lake from the north or east maybe once or twice each winter, bringing the deep snow. Sometimes a house or roof collapses from the weight, so men shovel it off to protect their buildings.”
“That sounds wise. When the sheriffs have finished breakfast, we’ll make paths to the barn and Prayer House, and we’ll clear the roofs of snow. The reading lesson can come after mid-day sup.”
Isen nodded, sucking his teeth again.
“Out with it, Isen. You have something you want to say, or you wouldn’t have sought me out.”
“With the snow so deep, my lord, this may be a wrong time to speak of it. I had thought, with the barn and Prayer House finished, we might build a glassworks.”
A bald-headed figure came around the corner of Prayer House, struggling through the snow: Eadmar. Marty waved and was surprised to get an answering wave. Of course, it would be easy for the priest to see Marty and Isen against the backdrop of a blue sky, but only if he looked up. Eadmar is the kind of person who will look into the distance even when he can hardly put one foot in front of another.
“Tell me what you could make in a glassworks. And where should it be built?” Marty looked at Isen’s face. “Don’t look so surprised, Isen. You’ve been living here and helping me for five months, and you haven’t once spoken about building a shop. I’ve been expecting it. What would you make?”
“Practical things, my lord. Window glass. Only two houses in Inter Lucus have glassed windows. In winter, when the shutters are shut against the cold, even a few small windows make a house much lighter, less gloomy. And I would make beautiful things. Glass goblets, now—much more difficult to make, but a lord’s great hall should have fine goblets when a knight comes to call. The aldermen of Down’s End have goblets for their wine; you ought to have some here in Inter Lucus. Pitchers, vases, bowls—in Master Gausman’s shop I fashioned all of them.”
“Very well. Now where should this shop be built? How big should it be?”
Convinced that Marty welcomed his proposal, Isen spoke eagerly. “It ought to be spacious, my lord, as big as the barn or bigger. It should have a melting furnace, a shaping furnace, a kiln, storage for sand and ash, a large barrel of water, and space—outside the shop itself—for firewood. Lots of firewood. The furnaces can be made of stone and brick. Glassmaking fire will be hot enough to glaze the furnace stones; the furnaces will become stronger as I use them.”
Marty raised a hand to interrupt. “Okay. Lumber, brick, stone. We have the materials, or we can get them. Where should we build?”
“Near Prayer House.” Isen pointed. Eadmar could be seen clearing snow from the door of Prayer House with a crude wooden shovel. “The castle road joins the forest road there. Folk from Inter Lucus and Senerham who come to the castle will see it.”
“I wonder. The road is impassible now. You might not see travelers ’til spring.”
Isen shrugged. “The glassworks must be built first, and the furnaces, and I need to burn beech logs to ash and find good sand. Ora says the early snow usually melts, but when the winter comes in earnest it will stay. At best we will get a start before spring. If I get Elne Penrict to fashion some tools, by summer I could make windows.”
“You mentioned a barrel of water. Where will you get your water?”
“From the lake or the village. A wagon can carry a barrel big enough for several days’ work.”
“I see. What if we could supply water from Inter Lucus?”
“From the castle?” Isen’s tone conveyed amazement.
“Why not? If we built your glassworks closer—on the hill below the oaks—it shouldn’t be that hard. We could line a trench with hollowed half-logs or make clay pipes. And I don’t think we need wait for spring. I’m feeding four sheriffs and Rothulf Saeric. Even if Caelin and I spend most of our time teaching the children, you’ll have five men to help you build.”
“Build during winter?”
“I have an idea.”
The idea came from holiday visits to Sun Valley, Idaho, before Marty turned ten. His aunt Rebecca, his father’s older sister, fought her way through a series of marriages, so that the young Marty was never sure of Rebecca’s current married name. One of Aunt Rebecca’s matches was to a television producer—Esteban, Everard, Etienne, or something like that; Marty couldn’t remember and in later years wondered if he had been related to someone famous, however tenuously—and for three years Marty and his parents were Rebecca’s guests for Christmas Day and the week after. The uncle’s house was huge, with a hot tub on the deck, a drinks bar separate from the kitchen, lots of bedrooms, and three cavernous fireplaces—the whole thing a testament to an unfettered budget. It was not a happy place in Marty’s memory; perhaps because Rebecca’s newest marriage was already failing.
Marty’s mother took him for walks to escape the poisoned atmosphere of the uncle’s snow palace. Thousands of skiers crowded Sun Valley’s slopes and trendy shops, but since his Mom didn’t ski and hated the pressing throng, she and Marty walked residential neighborhoods. Here and there, nestled among grander houses, Marty saw two story A-frames, a type of building unknown to a kid from Bakersfield. The design was inefficient, his mother explained, with unusable space lost to odd angles, but A-frames were cheap and they had one feature especially appropriate to a mountain climate: snow simply slid off their steep roofs.
Eyeing the snow-cone trees of the forest, Marty remembered the A-frames of Sun Valley. Isen’s glassworks wouldn’t need planed lumber for its walls. Two poles, roped together near the top, would make an A. String twenty or thirty As in a line, brace the ends so they wouldn’t fall like dominoes, and voila! An outdoor workspace. Branches trimmed from the logs could be fastened at the top to thatch gaps between the poles. Smoke from the furnaces might gather under the high ceiling but that wouldn’t impede Isen’s work. Snow that fell through the cracks would melt in the presence of furnaces, and snow piling up outside the walls would only hold them more firmly in place. Next summer the walls could be taken down and the poles used to build a more conventional structure.
Marty described his vision of an A-frame glassworks to the sheriffs, Caelin, and Isen during sup in Inter Lucus’s great hall. At first they were all skeptical, even Isen. Wouldn’t winter’s wind blow the thing down? How could they haul logs to the site through deep snow? Besides, the intended building spot was knee deep in snow; they would have to shovel it away to bare the ground.
Marty spread a sheet of paper on the table and drew the building he had in mind, and they began to appreciate its simplicity. But the snow was still a problem; no one wanted to drag 30-foot poles through it. “Still, we can fell the trees and trim them,” Marty replied. “And if we can’t build ’til spring, the poles will still be there, under the snow, waiting to be used.”
So it was agreed. In the six days after the snowfall, Isen and his crew (four sheriffs and Rothulf Saeric) felled and trimmed 60 fir trees, all about 40 feet tall. As they worked, Ora’s prediction of snowmelt came true. The grounds of Inter Lucus became a mud bath, which allowed them to horse-drag the poles, trimmed to a uniform 24 foot length, to the southwest slope of the castle, downhill from the oak trees. Horses and men worked from sun-up to mid-day sup, becoming thoroughly filthy in the process, with mud in their boots, tunics, breeches, and hair. Ora and Mildgyd commanded that they enter Inter Lucus through the west wing and strip to their skin. Naked, each man carried his clothes down to the laundry room, where castle machines could wash and dry their clothes before the next day. Went Bycwine, Whitney Ablendan, and Alf Saeric were given the job of brushing down the horses while the men bathed. After baths, Collegium Inter Lucus resumed, the grown men studying in linen tunics at one table and the children at another. On the 25th day after the end of the Harvest Festival, December 23 on Marty’s calendar, the whole community of Inter Lucus collaborated in raising the A-frame skeleton of the glass-works. (Mildgyd and the younger children watched from a safe distance.) Snow fell as they lashed the poles together, raised them into place, braced them, and tied everything into a unit. On the morning of December 24, they dressed the upper reaches of the frame with branches, covering gaps between the poles. More snow fell that evening, sticking in clumps on the steep pole roof but sliding down whenever it reached a few inches depth.
Baths, a late mid-day sup, and then the folk of castle Inter Lucus experienced something completely new.
91. Near Castle Inter Lucus
The first knock came before Eadmar expected it. The fire in his modest fireplace was still blazing. He hurried down the short hall to the sanctuary of Prayer House and opened the outer door. Alfwald and Fridiswid Redwine were there, along with Lord Martin’s students who boarded with them: Besyrwen Fairfax, Ernulf Penrict, and Tayte Graham. “It’s not dark yet,” Eadmar said.
Alfwald opened his mouth to speak, but turned aside to sneeze violently. He pulled a kerchief from a pocket to dry his bulbous nose. “Aye. But with snow clouds, dark will come early. Are we the first?”
Rather than answering, Eadmar motioned the visitors into Prayer House. “I’ll return in a moment.” He trotted back to his quarters, tamped down the fire, and changed into his cleanest brown tunic. He lit a taper at the fire and returned to the sanctuary. Already more people had arrived. Eadmar expected the residents of castle Inter Lucus to come; how could they not, when Lord Martin had instigated the meeting? But these early arrivers were people from the village: the Alymars, the Idans, the whole extended Entwine family, and others Eadmar didn’t yet know. He had begun learning villager names during Martin’s Harvest Festival, but that was a month past and Eadmar had forgotten many. Eadmar set about lighting candles and lamps: two candle stands with six candles each in the front of the sanctuary and three oil lamps in wall sconces on each side.
Another knock; this time it was the castle children: Alf, Ora, Caelin, Went (not yet as pimply as Caelin, but sharing his brother’s skinny build and brown hair), and the bright-eyed Whitney. The biggest of Martin’s sheriffs, Os Oswald, entered behind them. Eadmar marveled yet again at Os’s sheer bulk; he filled the doorway when he came in, dimming the light from outside. Soon after, two other sheriffs arrived along with Lord Martin, Rothulf Saeric, Mildgyd, and Agyfen. The little boy Agyfen eagerly accepted Eadmar’s hug. Only three sheriffs had come; Eadmar surmised that Elfric Ash was keeping watch in Inter Lucus, behind barred doors. Martin could not leave his castle completely unguarded.
More villagers came. The fourteen short benches in Prayer House were lined with folk, and others stood along the walls. Os stood like a sentry next to the door, perhaps to make sure Rothulf didn’t leave during the meeting. Prayer House was unheated, but with so many crowded together, some people were pulling off coats and cloaks to sit on them. Eadmar walked the aisle between the benches to face the people underneath the white pine cross, the sign of the old God.
Eadmar had been pronouncing the holy name in the presence of ordinary folk for more than a month. So it was no longer precisely fear he felt, yet excitement raced in him as he spoke before so many.
“As you know, when Lord Martin came to Inter Lucus he brought with him this book.” Eadmar held the little book high. “Lord Martin says it is the book of God. Some of my brothers in Down’s End will be slow to accept this, but I think it is true. The book of God tells about Jesus, the Son of God.
“The book of God does not tell if Jesus was born in spring, summer, fall, or winter. Lord Martin says that no one knows—that is, only God really knows—when Jesus was born. But the book of God says clearly that Jesus brings us light and life. ‘In him was life, and that life was the light of men and women,’ the book says. Because Jesus brings new life, Lord Martin says that believers in Jesus—and on Earth there are many, many believers in Jesus—celebrate Jesus’ birth at the beginning of winter, just when the days begin to lengthen.
“I will not hide from you the truth. My brothers in Down’s End would not be pleased that I tell you the name Jesus. We priests have long treated the holy name as our greatest secret. But my brothers have not read the book of God, and it says we should share the name freely.
“What we do tonight we do not to please Lord Martin but because this really is the book of God.” Eadmar again held the testament aloft. “Caelin has copied out parts of the story of Jesus in the common tongue, and I have asked Caelin Bycwine, Ora Wooddaughter, Whitney Ablendan and Lord Martin to help me. Tonight, we will read you the story of Jesus’ birth.”
Eadmar went to a small table by the wall, picked up several sheets of Inter Lucus paper, and laid Lord Martin’s book in their place. Caelin, Ora, Whitney and Martin joined him at the front of Prayer House. Eadmar distributed the papers, each reader assigned particular passages. Ora and Whitney were visibly trembling and even Caelin, who could read as well as Eadmar or better, was obviously nervous. The five of them had practiced together on four occasions. Whitney couldn’t actually read, since she had been taking lessons at the castle for only two weeks, but she had quickly memorized her small part.
Lord Martin began.
In the time of Herod king of Judah there was a priest named Zechariah…
Eadmar watched the faces reflecting candle and lamplight. Eadmar had himself first heard this marvelous story only two months before, when he had returned from Down’s End with Agyfen. Naturally, the people of Two Moons would puzzle over many things in the story, especially references to Judea, Nazareth, Galilee and Rome, but they quickly grasped the central theme: the births of two boys, promised by God, as God’s salvation for poor ordinary folk.
Ora’s reading picked up the story when it came to Mary: In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph…
Eadmar could not help reflecting on the story’s meaning for the people of Two Moons. They were familiar with castle gods, castle lords, and castle magic. Worship of the old God had survived on Two Moons because castle magic could not reach priests and believers when they hid far away in the wild. For generations, priests and believers lived on the knife’s edge of starvation while the castle gods lavished wealth, learning (for a select few), security, medicine, and ease on those who worshiped them.
Whitney’s turn came. Her eyes fixed on the paper, but she spoke from memory. Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and said in a loud voice: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! Why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?
The castle gods went away. No one knew why. Castle lords claimed the gods would come back, and they continued to insist on the worship of castle gods. But the centuries rolled on, the gods did not return, and in the growing cities worshipers of the old God found a measure of welcome and security. Lordly favor still meant that worshipers of castle gods enjoyed advantages in trade and learning. Even in the free cities rich people usually confessed loyalty to castle gods. After so long a time, God’s priests on Two Moons knew their place; their call to serve the poor and powerless had been ingrained in their hearts.
Ora read again. And Mary said: “My soul glorifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed…
He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty.”
Eadmar exulted again as he heard the words of Jesus’ mother Mary. God sent his son to help poor people, people suffering under a foreign king. All over Two Moons, people worshiped castle gods for straightforward reasons of privilege, but the castle between the lakes had lost its lord and fallen into ruin. For a century the people of Inter Lucus and Senerham had had no lord to dispense favors; they were like sheep without a shepherd. And now the book of God had appeared, proclaiming good news for ordinary folk.
Caelin’s turn came when the story returned to the priest Zechariah. His father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied: “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come and redeemed his people…
“…to rescue us from the hand of our enemies, and to enable us to serve him without fear in holiness and righteousness before him all our days...
“…to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace.”
Eadmar tried to read faces. Surely some of the folk between the lakes would link the story to their own situation. Eadmar was thoroughly confident that Lord Martin sincerely worshiped Jesus. Martin’s coming to Two Moons would enable many to serve God without fear.
Finally, the reading came to Eadmar. So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born…
But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you…
Eadmar finished his reading and handed his paper to Lord Martin. Ora, Whitney, and Caelin also gave their texts to Martin, and people looked at the lord, expecting him to speak. But Martin only inclined his head to Eadmar.
Eadmar held his palms up in a gesture of openness to everyone present. “The angel of God told shepherds that Jesus’ birth was good news for all the people. This is a message of joy and happiness for all of us. Tonight we celebrate the birth of God’s Son. He was born into a world of darkness much like our world of Two Moons. Tonight, to commemorate his birth, we will use light to symbolize his coming.”
Martin motioned and Alf picked up a woven sack that had been on the floor at his feet. Alf held it open and Went, Tayte, and Besyrwen helped him distribute small candles to everyone present.
“I trust that no one will be afraid of the dark,” said Eadmar. He took one of the candles from the candle stand on his right and nodded to Martin, who blew out the other candles on their stands one by one. While Martin extinguished the candles, sheriff Leo and sheriff Ealdwine put out the lamps. In a matter of seconds, the candle in Eadmar’s hand was the only light in the room.
The crowd in Prayer House waited in profound silence. “Jesus came as light into the world,” Eadmar said. “A single light in the darkness seems to be a small thing. But the light can be shared.” Eadmar held his candle still and Ora tipped hers to light it. “And when the light is shared, it grows brighter.” Eadmar and Ora held their candles for others, and very soon the light passed to every person in the sanctuary. With more than 100 candles burning, Prayer House was filled with light.
Eadmar returned his candle to the candle stand. “May the light of Jesus shine in your hearts. God bless each one of you! May peace be with you.”
The crowd took their cue from Lord Martin, who blew out his candle and gave it into Alf’s sack. Eadmar relit the candles on the candle stands, and Leo and Ealdwine relit the oil lamps. Soon the people were talking together and moving out of Prayer House for the walk back to the village. It was snowing; once outside, family groups walked quickly away, seeking the warmth of their houses.
Here ends part two of Castles.
Copyright © 2014 by Philip D. Smith.
All rights reserved. International copyright secured.