Book Four: Spring (149-174)

149. Various Locations

Castle Beatus Valle

Gods damn that woman!  Mariel Grandmesnil was the poison of Paul Wadard’s life.  When King Rudolf died, Wadard had hoped that she would bond weakly with Pulchra Mane; instead, she was the strongest lady in history.  Rather than marry his son List (whose wife had conveniently died), she married Eudes Ridere.  She trampled her lords’ dignity, requiring weekly Council meetings via Videns-Loquitur, and every meeting of the Council underscored the power of her magic.  She compelled Wadard’s son and grandson to accompany her army’s invasion of Tarquint.  Once they were there, she ordered List’s execution on trumped up charges.  Even now, when Wadard’s opportunity had come, Mariel’s decisions still hampered him.  Since most of Wadard’s best horsemen had gone to Tarquint with List and Linn, Wadard had few mounted armsmen and no knights to lead them.
            No matter.  Allard Dell and Aleric Whiteson were capable captains, and Paul Wadard was not about to miss his chance.  Aweirgan Unes’s insidious letters, intended to deceive or frighten him, had only spurred Wadard to decisive action.  He sent Allard Dell galloping away with a letter to Denis Mowbray less than an hour after reading the first lies from Pulchra Mane.  Four days later, he and Mowbray collaborated as Wadard’s letter suggested; together they managed to support Videns-Loquitur for ten minutes.  In that conversation, Lord Mowbray agreed to ally with Wadard; he would send four hundred armsmen to Pulchra Mane to join the attack.  That same day Aweirgan Unes’s second letter arrived, full of thinly veiled threats.  Wadard considered this proof of Mariel’s incapacity.  By the gods, she might be dead already.  I hope not.  I want Whiteson to drag her here, where I can tie the noose myself.
            Wadard had mustered five hundred swordsmen in the days since the first letter from Aweirgan Unes.  He would not wait longer.  He exhorted his troops before they marched; promising bounty from the sack of Pulchra Mane once the tyrant had been killed or captured.  Privately, to Aleric Whiteson, Wadard said, “Bring Mariel here if you can.  But if you find the boy, cut his miserable throat.”

City Pulchra Mane

            “Oh, I’m sure that’s right.  Doctor Whitgyl Ucede can read books and has studied long hours.  Wisdom from the gods, he has.  But how often do his charges get well?  That’s what I say.”  Midwife Felice Hale packed useful herbs from her shelf into her tall wicker purse.  She looked up into Bestauden Winter’s face.  “How often?”
            “I’m sure I don’t know, Mistress Hale.”  The youth held the door for her and followed her outside.  A small brown palfrey stood next to the great charger Bestauden had ridden from the castle.  “Scribe Unes asks that you come.”
            “Well, I’m coming, aren’t I?”  Felice mounted the palfrey.  In spite of her increasing years, she prided herself on her vigor.  “But I won’t argue with Ucede.  I won’t do it.  It’d be just like a man and a doctor to turn a deaf ear to good sense, that’s what I say.”
            Bestauden swung himself up, with a young man’s ease, onto the taller horse.  “I think Scribe Unes agrees with you, Mistress Hale.  I heard him arguing loudly with Doctor Ucede.”
            Midwife Hale snorted.  “A miracle from the gods, if true.  Let’s go.”

Castle Pulchra Mane

            Whitgyl Ucede sighed deeply.  He often encountered superstitious resistance to scientific medicine in the poorer houses of Pulchra Mane.  Often it wasn’t overt; peasants would listen wide-eyed to his diagnoses and solemnly promise to follow his instructions.  Then, on a return visit to the home, he would discover the patient subject to all sorts of folk nostrums.  Wealthier families obeyed his orders more frequently, perhaps because they had the resources of time and money to do so.  He hadn’t anticipated outright rejection of medical expertise at the pinnacle of society.
            Three years before, Doctor Ucede had been welcomed in Pulchra Mane, when King Rudolf fought a long battle with consumption.  Outside the king’s sick room, Ucede had explained privately that cold humors had descended from Rudolf’s head into his lungs, where they caused the unremitting coughing that racked the king’s body.  Ucede prescribed goat’s milk and honey to strengthen Rudolf’s lungs, and periodically bled him to restore balance to his body’s humors.  In spite of everything, Rudolf slowly wasted away, the typical pattern of the disease.
Ucede hid nothing from the king’s daughter, Mariel, or his scribe, Aweirgan Unes; he told them plainly that Rudolf was dying.  Nevertheless, when his prediction came true, it seemed that Queen Mariel held her father’s death against the doctor.  Since then he had not been summoned to the castle until the present crisis.  Now that the midwife had failed and the patient barely clung to life, he was supposed to remedy the situation.  Ucede had come to Pulchra Mane as soon as he was called, and he attended the Queen every day.
But now Doctor Ucede faced the unimaginable.  Aweirgan Unes, a mere scribe, was determined to obey instructions sent by letter from Lady Avice Montfort rather than Ucede’s advice.  He tried to reason with Unes: the possession of castle magic did not give the lady medical knowledge, and Lady Montfort hadn’t even examined the patient.  Unes then said that Lady Montfort’s advice was supported by the opinion of Lord Martin of castle Inter Lucus.  Martin had particularly insisted that Mariel not be bled.
At that point, Doctor Ucede gave up.  It would do no good at all to point out that a false belief does not become true merely because more people endorse it.  Lord Martin of Inter Lucus.  Who is he?  Ucede consoled himself that Mariel would likely have died anyway.  Heavy bleeding was only one of many risks of childbirth; unfortunately, in his experience it was often fatal.
Ucede paused at the castle door.  Merlin Torr, Captain of the Queen’s personal guard and Commander of the city’s sheriffs, waited there.  Their eyes met, and Ucede sighed again.  Torr could have done something to remedy the situation, but he wouldn’t.  He and his men would obey Aweirgan Unes as if the scribe were Mariel herself.  By the gods!  It’s hopeless.  Doctor Ucede exited the castle.
Outside, Ucede shielded his face against the sun.  Strange that such a bright, sunny day would be so depressing.  Bestauden Winter and the midwife Felice Hale were coming to the door.  Ucede almost cried; it was so ironic and pitiful. 

Castle Hyacintho Flumen

            “Are you ready, Arthur?”  A light blinked in the viewing wall.  Aylwin felt sure it would be Lord Martin, since Mariel hadn’t summoned him for a long time.  The silence of the bitch queen was puzzling, even troubling.
            “Aye, my lord.”  Arthur the old rubbed his slate with the arm of his shirt.  Aylwin laid his hands on the lord’s knob, and the image of Martin of Inter Lucus appeared instantly.
            “Fair afternoon, Lord Aylwin.  Thank you for answering my invitation so promptly.”  The evident ease with which Martin commanded Videns-Loquitur was a regular irritant, but Aylwin tried to ignore it.
            Aylwin said, “The Herminian b… Ah, Queen Mariel has not spoken with me for almost three weeks.  It’s not like her to miss opportunities to threaten me.  But I know you talk with her, so maybe you can tell me.  Has she given up trying to intimidate me?” 
            The lord of Inter Lucus pointed to something his recorder—a young man this time—had written.  The boy nodded and wrote again.
            “Perhaps the Queen has realized you can’t be intimidated,” Martin said.  “You may not believe it, but the truth is I often encourage her to respect you.  I think it would be much better if the two of you could learn to cooperate.”
            “Please, no more speeches about a parliament.”  Aylwin hardly noticed how polite his request sounded.  He was thinking instead about Mariel.  It’s a trick of some sort.  What is she up to?
            Lord Martin inclined his head.  “As you wish.  As a matter of fact, I wanted to ask you about something else.”
            Aylwin wiggled his shoulders, trying to release tension.  “Ask, then.”
            Hyacintho Flumen stands on a hill.  From such a vantage point, with castle powers, you must be able to watch Ridere’s men.  Have you noticed any changes in their numbers or positions?”
            Aylwin could hardly believe his ears.  Something has changed, and he knows it.  But what?  He’ll betray secrets if I play him right.  “Surely, Lord Martin, you do not expect me to tell you all I know.  You would turn around and tell Mariel.  Worse, you would tell Ridere.  I know letters fly back and forth between the two of you.”
            Martin rubbed his forehead.  “You’re right, of course.”  He sighed.  “I hoped…”
            “What did you hope?  That I would play into your hands?”  Aylwin smirked.
            Martin shook his head ruefully.  “It was nothing.  Good day, Lord Aylwin.”
            Videns-Loquitur blanked.  Damn it!  Learn to play the game, you fool!
Aylwin took his hands from the lord’s knob and looked at Arthur.  “He asked if we had noticed changes in the enemy numbers.”
            “Aye, my lord.”  Arthur pursed his lips.  “He may have reason to think the enemy is doing something.  We must be vigilant.”
            “Or he may be trying to mislead me,” said Aylwin.  “But I agree: we must be vigilant.  Dag and Odo can go up to the gods’ roof and survey the enemy, see if they notice any changes.” 
Aboard Fair Wind

            Alan Turchil and Fugol Hengist leaned on Fair Wind’s forward rail, watching the Tarquintian coast crawl by on their right.  No matter how much they wished for it, the ship would not move faster.  Gilles Guyot answered their inquiries with comments about winds and a dangerous shoreline.
            “Prevailing winds from the south.  Is good, and Fair Wind moves smartly.  But watchful and careful we must be.  Nasty rocks to starboard, easy to ground the ship.”
            To Alan and Fugol, Guyot’s explanation didn’t explain.  If a south wind was good, why couldn’t they sail faster?  Vere De Fry, Captain Guyot’s first officer, elucidated for them: “The south wind can push the ship, aye.  But she also pushes her north.  You see?  Helmsman must always correct our course, to keep away from danger.  We must sail with care.”  De Fry pointed at rocky headlands to the right of the ship.  “When we have passed Oceani Litura we will move to open sea and use full sail.”
            “Full sail now!” exclaimed Turchil.  Tutum Partum will soon be undefended.  I need to get there!”
            “Aye,” said De Fry.  “But you—and all these armsmen—must get there alive.  Captain Guyot makes as much speed as he dares.”
            Fugol Hengist consoled Turchil.  “Don’t worry, Alan.  The rebel lords won’t aim for Tutum Partum.  Pulchra Mane is the key.”
            Turchil stared at the horizon.  “I suppose you’re right.  By the gods, of course you’re right.  Can you save the city with five hundred men?”
            “If Lady Montfort sends them quickly enough, and if they aren’t slaughtered before I arrive.  I will ride for Pulchra Mane as soon as we reach Tutum Partum.  With five hundred I can hold the city for a while.  Time enough for my brother Galan to send reinforcements.  Gods willing, time enough for Mariel to get well.”

In the Blue River Valley

            Soldiering in the wild was a very different business than fighting the Hawks for supremacy in the Bene Quarter.  For one thing, there was a distinct dearth of women in the Blue River valley, and Ifing Redhair declared the few farmwomen in the valley (and their daughters) off-limits to the knife fighters.  A few men grumbled about this, but not in Ifing’s presence.  Secondly, in a forest there were no buildings, no beds, and no breakfasts except what the men made for themselves.  A man’s clothes and bedding and weapons had to be packed from camp to camp.  And thirdly, the wilderness confronted city men with a variety of surprises and pains, from poison ivy to poisonous frogs.
            The essentials of knife fighting, however, did not change in the wild.  Concealment, quiet movement, decisive action at the right moment, speed, and ruthlessness; Redhair’s knife fighters understood well the importance of these elements.  They had to relearn quiet movement in a forest setting, but their practice sessions in Winter Camp had taught them well.
            The valley road between Hyacintho Flumen and East Lake had been little used for two generations, since a rockslide had created a marshy lake in the middle.  North and south of the lake, the road still ran there, a useful, if narrow, track.  Naturally, Ifing Redhair considered deploying his men in the wetlands around the lake.  But one of his men, a wiry gutter rat from the heart of the Bene Quarter named Garwig, gave contrary advice.  “Any man with sense will take caution going round the lake.  They’ll do it in daylight and be extra watchful. Then, once they’ve come through the marsh, they’ll come back to the road.  Horses make good time on the road, and they’ll be strung out—single file or two abreast.”  Redhair considered Garwig’s plan and found a place to execute it.

150. In the Blue River Valley

            “Bron saw them over there.”  Acwel Penda and Bully Wedmor had reined up their horses on a rocky hill south of a lake.  General Ridere and the riders with him were two days north of Hyacintho Flumen, heading for Inter Lucus.  Penda pointed northwest across the water to a rock outcropping.  The western side of the lake lapped against tall, splintered cliffs.  One of those cliffs had fallen in the past, damming Blue River and creating the lake.  Close on their left the pooled water flowed over a stone lip, making a waterfall.
            Bully frowned.  “Where?  There’s no room between the lake and the rocks.”
            “Up higher.  On the top there.  Two riders, pretty easy to see against the sky.”
            “Stonebridge scouts?”  Bully chewed his lip.
            “We can’t know, but we have to assume they were.”
            “And we have to assume they saw you.”  Bully looked at the lake.  Half a mile of mirror flat water lay between them and the northern shore.
            Penda pointed.  “The old road ran alongside the river here, but it’s been blocked since the landslide.  Horses could swim across, but we’re carrying swords, shields, and mail.  No sense drowning.”  He turned his horse east.  “The longer, safer route takes us round to the east.  The water extends a long way, especially in the spring.  I’ll tell the men to spread out, ten or fifteen yards apart.  You, Gifre and Godric stay with General Ridere a good bit behind me.  That way, you’ll have plenty of warning if we see anyone.”
            “Godric, Gifre and me?  The general needs better guards than that!”
            Penda chuckled.  “Aye.  Aye.  Bron, Wylie, and Stepan will stick close to Ridere too.  Ned and I will stay out front.”
            With no clear track through shallow marsh, the Herminian riders picked their way carefully in a wide course around the lake: east, then north, and back west.  The horses waded in water that reached to their knees, sometimes to the riders’ knees.  Vines hung from trees, clingy water plants hindered the horses, and the bottom of the marsh was an uncertain mixture of mud and stone.  Buzzing and stinging insects flew around them, appearing and disappearing in the shadows of silvery-leafed trees.  As Captain Penda had directed, Bully and Gifre rode on either side of Eudes Ridere, with Godric Measy, Bron Kenton, Wylie Durwin, and Stepan Dell close by.  Ned Wyne, Acwel Penda and twenty-three other scouts were spread out in all directions, like a loose sack enclosing a treasure. 
            There was very little talk.  The men slapped at mosquitoes and flies, exchanged hand signals with the riders near them, and watched diligently for any sign of Stonebridge men.  Every one of them regarded the marsh with misgivings.  It was unfamiliar territory, with far too many places for enemies to hide.  After a while, even the gentle plop of a frog slipping into the water or the buzzing of flies seemed ominous.  The scouts maintained alert vigilance for six weary hours as the squadron passed through the swamp.  At last, in late afternoon, they emerged onto dry ground on the north shore of the lake. They climbed a gentle slope under tall conifers overlooking the place where Blue River flowed into the lake.  The squadron halted in the shade, and men took turns relieving themselves in the woods.  After stretching their legs, the company remounted.  They regained the road, and the riders formed into a double column, riding north now through a mature forest on the east bank of Blue River.  Great tree trunks held their branches far above.  Fir and pine needles blanketed the ground between the trees.
            Every man felt relief, having passed the danger of the marsh. The late afternoon shade felt wonderful, the air less close and clingy.  The men wanted camp and rest.  Penda told Ridere that he and his men knew of a good campsite two miles north of the lake, close to the river. More than one man thought a drink of cold river water would be welcome indeed.  The squadron quickened its pace to a trot.
            They came out from under the tall conifers to a place where great blackened stumps told the story of a fire in the past.  Between the stumps a new forest was growing; the trees were younger and denser, with much more undergrowth.  Dogwoods and willows competed with young pines and firs.  Ivy vines and prickly berry vines clung to the trees, making a kind of thick green screen on either side.  They heard Blue River close by on their left; the swift spring water splashed rocks on the near bank.  The encroaching greenery narrowed the road so much that the riders brushed against one another.  Bron Kenton, who was riding next to Bully, said the campsite was just a little way further.
            A shout came from the front of the double column, followed a second later by cries from the hindmost riders.  Sudden chaos struck the squadron.  The horses in front of Bully were rearing and crashing into each other, and the men were frantically trying to stay in the saddle and draw swords.  Several horses leapt east to escape the road and avoid the river, but they were quickly tangled in the underbrush or tripped by uneven footing.  One rider veered left, toward the river, but his horse stumbled on rocks; the rider fell from the saddle and was stabbed before he could get to his feet.
            The attackers came from both sides, springing like magic wraiths from hiding places in the dense foliage.  They had no armor, nor swords; they struck with double-edged daggers, honed to razor sharpness.  For a few seconds the knife fighters seemed intent on crippling the squadron’s horses, chopping at the animals’ legs.  Many of the poor creatures panicked, screamed their terror, and kicked wildly.  Some of the riders were thrown against trees or tumbled into prickly vines; others struggled to draw swords and get at the attackers.
            The Herminian riders shouted warnings and curses, cried out in pain, and generally added to the confusion.  The knife fighters went about their business wordlessly.
            With amazing speed the knife fighters leapt forward and back and from side to side, slashing at horses and riders while escaping most of the Herminians’ frantic swings.  In truth, the horses’ terrified kicking and rearing hurt the attackers more than the Herminians’ swords.  Bully saw one knife fighter felled instantly by a hoof to the head.  But that was the exception, not the rule.  Bully saw Godric Measy trapped against an old stump as his horse died under him; Godric waved his sword uselessly as a knife fighter stabbed him in the back, just under his leather jerkin.  The dagger plunged in and out so quickly that Bully could have doubted he saw it, except for the blood that spurted out.
            Horses and riders succumbed at the front and rear of the double column.  Those who plunged into the mass of trees and undergrowth on the right found themselves practically immobilized and vulnerable.  The knife fighters had chosen their ambush site well.  They clearly intended that no one escape.
            “Protect the general!”  Someone shouted.  Gifre?  “Protect the general!”  The voice came from behind Bully.
Bron Kenton managed to dismount with sword in hand.  He slapped his horse’s butt to urge it forward, thus creating a space in which to stand and fight.  Bully tried to mimic Bron, but his horse reared at just the wrong moment, throwing him into a nest of vines while at the same time twisting his left ankle.  He was on the ground with no weapon.  One of the attackers slashed at him, opening a wound high on his left arm.  The next blow would have finished him, but Bron’s sword took off the knife fighter’s arm at the elbow.  The attacker’s forearm and dagger landed on Bully’s chest.  
Bully leapt up, at the same time freeing the knife fighter’s dagger from his arm.  An arm, severed from its body, yet still warm with life.  The attacker looked on in astonishment as Bully stabbed him with his own weapon.
Eudes Ridere and two other Herminians were on foot, fighting attackers from the rear end of the column.  Bron Kenton and Wylie Durwin faced the attackers from the north, the front of the column.  Alone of all the riders, Gifre Toeni was still in saddle and on the road, probably because his horse was by far the smallest in the squadron, hardly more than a pony.  An attacker emerged from the wood, and Gifre reined the horse up so the beast’s front legs threatened the man.  For a moment, the knife fighter was distracted, and Bully swung wildly at him.  Sweat and blood clouded Bully’s vision, but he must have hit something, for the fighter collapsed in a heap.
“Gifre!”  Bully seized the horse’s bridle.  “This way!”
            On west side of the road, the limbs of two young pine trees interlaced, but a narrow opening showed Blue River a few paces away.  Bully pulled the little horse between the trees, pine branches brushing the horse and its rider.  Gifre leaned forward on the animal’s neck.
“By the gods, Bully!  What’re you doing?”
Bully jerked the horse’s head near, bringing Gifre’s face close.  “Warn the army!  Down the river, swim the lake, warn Archard!  Warn them!”
Gifre understood in an instant, both that Bully was saving his life and giving him a heavy responsibility.  No word, but his face said enough.  He spurred the little horse into Blue River.
Bully crashed back through the trees to the battle, except that it was over.  Bron Kenton and Wylie Durwin stood back-to-back with General Ridere and another Herminian, facing knife fighters who refrained from attacking.  Their element of surprise gone, the attackers hesitated to challenge skillful swordsmen.  Bully slipped in between Bron and Wylie.
“Back a pace, Bully.”  Bron kept his eyes on the enemy, but his muttered command brooked no debate.  Bully stepped back, giving Bron and Wylie room to maneuver. 
In such a confined space, the carnage of the battle was horrible.  Two dozen Herminians had been killed.  Their bodies, and those of almost all the squadron’s horses, lay bleeding and contorted along fifty yards of roadway, or littered in the woods nearby to the east.  In some places Herminians (and a few knife fighters) lay partially crushed and hidden under dead horses.  Other bodies draped over fallen mounts.  Not far from Bully’s feet, the final writhing of his mount had crushed Godric Measy’s torso; Godric’s eyes stared unseeing at Bully.
One of the attackers on the north side, facing Bron, called out to the knife fighters in the south group.  “One gone!  Lad on horse!”  They were the first words Bully remembered from any of the enemy.  The man pointed the way Gifre had escaped.  On the south side, two knife fighters disappeared into the trees and brush toward the river.  Indistinct shouts came from that direction, followed by curses, which raised Bully’s hope that Gifre might get away.
On the north side of the trap, a badly wounded horse struggled to rise from where it had fallen, but it collapsed, grunting loudly.  A very tall bare-chested man with red hair, smeared with blood on his arms and chest, slashed the horse’s neck and more blood spurted onto his arm.  The red-haired man pointed his dagger at the five remaining Herminians.  “Is one of you the general?  I heard somebody shout about a general.”
Eudes Ridere, sword drawn, was facing south.  He inched backward toward Bully, and Bully slipped around him, taking his place.  Ridere then turned to face the Stonebridge leader.  “I’m General Ridere,” he said.
The red-haired giant nodded his head appreciatively.  “Eudes Ridere.  I’ve heard of you.”  He lowered his dagger and stepped around another dead horse, coming almost close enough for Bron or Wylie to strike.  “I don’t want to kill you, General.  I will if I must, but I don’t want to.  I promise you now that if your men put down their swords, we will deliver you all alive to our destination.”
“And who are you that I should believe you?”
“Ifing Redhair, captain in the Stonebridge army.”  The bloodstained man dipped his head.  “You have my word.  I will deliver you safely to General Mortane.”
“General Mortane?  Really?”  Ridere’s voice seemed almost lighthearted.  “The same general who has given me his word—repeatedly—that the army of Stonebridge did not come into the field to rescue Hyacintho Flumen or attack my men?  Yet my men lie dead all around me.  It seems that Stonebridge men are not to be trusted when they give their word.” 
Ifing Redhair was not offended.  “Everybody lies, General.  At least now and then.  Right now I am telling the truth.  I will not kill you.  I intend to take you alive to General Mortane.  However, if necessary, I will kill the men with you.  You can save their lives by ordering them to lay down their swords.”
“I don’t believe you, Captain Redhair.”
“Have it your way.”  Redhair made a signal with his left hand.  At the southern end of the trap, the two knife fighters facing Bully and the armsman at his right stepped aside, allowing two others room to throw something—short-bladed knives.  The throwers moved so quickly, and the distance was so short—about ten feet—Bully had no time to move.  The knife embedded itself in his upper right thigh, just below the protection of his jerkin.  Bully staggered and fell sideways into his comrade.  The knife thrown at this man also struck its target, thrown with such force that it penetrated boiled leather and pierced his heart.
Ridere threw his hand in the air.  “Yield! Yield!”
No more knives flew.  Redhair held his left fist up in signal.  Ridere whispered to Bron Kenton and Wylie Durwin; Ridere, Bron and Wylie all dropped their swords.  Stonebridgers came forward, stepping around fallen bodies of men and horses.  They tied the prisoners’ hands behind their backs.  When they came to Bully, Redhair said, “This fellow can’t walk, and we can’t carry him.”
Eudes Ridere protested, “He’s alive!  Let him be.”
Redhair shook his head.  “Curious mercy you show, General, to let your man bleed to death alone.”
The man leaning over Bully raised his dagger, but Redhair stayed the executioner’s arm when another Stonebridge man called out: “Captain, we caught a horse!”  Redhair commanded two men standing close by: “Bandage him up, and tie him on the horse.  Who knows?  Maybe he’ll live.”

            Gifre Toeni clung to his horse’s neck after the plunge into Blue River.  A late spring torrent carried them quickly downstream.  Gifre heard shouts and curses briefly, but paid them no mind.  He was moving too fast and the water was cold.  He realized that the horse, which was trying desperately to swim, could easily break one of her legs if she crashed into some submerged rock.  He looped his arm around her neck and extended his legs in front of him so that he rode the current of the river like a boy sliding down a snow bank.  He watched for waves in the water ahead that might indicate obstacles.
            “Good girl.  Good girl.  This way, girl.”  Gifre spoke calmly in the horse’s ear and guided her away from rocks.  Her breathing became more regular.  Perhaps the poor creature’s terror was subsiding.
            Blue River widened and slowed as they went south.  After a mile it widened very quickly.  They had reached the lake.  Bully began swimming, pushing the horse toward the western shore, where they emerged on a gravelly bank.  Man and horse both shivered violently.  First moon, a crescent moon, had risen over the eastern horizon; its light, reflecting across the lake, would have struck Gifre’s sister Edita with its beauty.  But for Gifre its chief virtue was to illuminate the western shore of the lake.  Stony cliffs loomed over the water on that side; the beach where he and his mount climbed out was the last safe spot on the western side.  Further south, water poured over the lake’s outlet.  Even if Gifre and his horse could traverse the western shore, they would run up against the waterfall.
            He eyed the flat surface of the lake.  On a hot day in summer, Gifre could swim it.  But now?  He feared the cold for both him and his horse.  But what other choice did he have?  To go east would mean crossing the river where it flowed into the lake and circling through the marsh in the dark, a much longer route with perils of its own.
            Gifre stripped to his bare skin and wrung water out of his undergarments.  The night air wasn’t cold once he dried off.  He brushed his horse vigorously, which helped them both feel warmer.  He considered the task ahead.  I’m not going to win through by fighting.  He wrapped his sword and scabbard in his jerkin and hid the bundle behind a fallen boulder.  He loosened the horse’s girth, took the saddle off her, and threw it into the lake.  Saddle blanket—Gifre retrieved his sword, scabbard, and jerkin, wrapped the whole with the saddle blanket, and hid it again, this time burying the bundle with small rocks. 
           He brushed his horse until her hair was dry.  He pulled on his tunic, belted it around his waist, and tied his boots to his mount’s bridle on the back of her neck.  He hoped the boots would ride high so they wouldn’t fill with water and weigh her down.  Then he led her into the water.

151.  In Castles Inter Lucus and Pulchra Mane

            Therefore, dearly loved sisters and brothers, stand firm!  Don’t be dislodged by anything.  Always devote yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.  

            Alone on the gods’ roof of Inter Lucus, seated on a simple wooden bench, Marty watched the first rays of sunlight, slanting from the northeast on this late spring morning.  His watch read 5:32.  Not much change from yesterday.  It’ll be equinox soon—a few days more.  A year ago, more or less, a Trappist novice stepped through a wormhole into a world as strange in its own way as Wonderland was for Alice.

            He looked down again at the Book of God lying on his lap.  A copy of 1 Corinthians—made by Whitney Ablendan, he felt sure; her firm, clear handwriting was as good as a signature—lay open in his hands.  “Therefore…” He wondered how the apostle’s encouragement for ancient Christians might apply to him.  Father Stephen, he was sure, would say that the “work of the Lord” included all sorts of activities, including works of mercy and justice.  God willing, that’s what I’m trying to do.

            Marty unfolded another piece of writing and laid it on top of the Book of God.  It was a list of Latin words and phrases copied during the alien video.  He had not succeeded in summoning the alien message a second time; after many attempts he felt certain that Isen’s makeshift fiber optic repair had failed permanently.  Students checked the violet hexagon every day, and none of them reported seeing any pulses of light between the upper and lower blocks.  Until a new repair should succeed, the notes taken by Whitney, Caelin, and Elfric were the best clues he would have about the video.


nostro iure est simplex

Infans mortuus

Nostri autem perdiderit millions obsido

inritus exit genus retrorsum


intercedendo development naturae

nos dignitatem modeste secum omni tempore

conabamur adiuvaret

Humans sint stupidi, non potest docere

            The list was Caelin’s.  Elfric and Whitney’s pages added other bits of the video’s Latin captioning.  Marty felt confident about some of the words: infans mortuus had to refer to the dead baby in the video; accusatio reinforced his belief that he had seen some kind of trial or legal hearing; but most of his guesses were tentative.  Humans sint stupidi—humans are stupid?  Marty’s ignorance of Latin vocabulary was only part of the problem; isolated words or phrases needed context, and unless he could view the video again to match up phrases with the action on the screen the copied words lacked context.

His morning’s musings were interrupted.  A head popped through the invisible rain barrier at the top of the stairs and saw him.  In seconds, Tayte Graham and Alf Saeric stood before him.

            Even now, at this hour, on this perfectly peaceful morning, an interruption.  For a moment, Marty resented the intrusion.  Can’t it wait?  Alf’s blue eyes were wide, his expression solemn.  Reading the boy’s face, Marty’s irritation evaporated. 

          Tayte Graham brushed away tears.  “Lord Martin.  Something has happened to the CPU.”


          “Alf said not to touch it, and we didn’t.”  Tayte looked sideways at the boy and then met Marty’s eyes.  “We didn’t.”  She clasped her arms across her stomach, and her tears streamed.  Her breath came in gasps.  “We didn’t touch it.”

           Still seated, Marty folded Tayte into his arms.  She buried her face in his shoulder.  Behind the girl, seeing Marty comfort the girl, Alf’s face registered a kind of longing, a distant yearning for a parent long lost.  Marty freed his left arm and beckoned him.  Alf stepped into Marty’s embrace.  For some seconds Marty held the children close, without words.

           Gently: “Tayte, I know you didn’t touch it.  Now tell me.  What has happened?”

          Tayte sniffed and rubbed her nose on Marty’s shirt.  Alf replied.  “I saw the CPU in a dream, the violet block, the one Isen repaired.  So I told Tayte to come with me to see.”

          “Tell me about the dream first.”

           The boy slipped back a step to look Marty in the face.  “In my dream it glowed brightly—very brightly, like a noon sun.  I thought it might be working again.  I wanted to show it to you, but I thought I should see it first, to see if it really happened.  Then I thought it would be good if someone else saw it, before we bothered you.”

           “Alf, when you dream about Inter Lucus, you should always tell me.  Always—as soon as you can.  Okay?  So, the two of you went to the CPU.  Did you see this bright light?”

           “No.  We saw no light at all.  The fiber optic cable is broken.”  Now, Alf’s eyes brimmed with tears.  Marty quickly pulled the boy back into his arms.

           Marty squeezed both children.  “It’s going to be okay.  Let’s go look.”

           Other Inter Lucus residents noticed Marty, Tayte, and Alf on the way downstairs.  By the time Marty reached the CPU room he was leading a troop of ten, including Caelin Bycwine, Isen Poorman and Ora Wooddaughter.  They circled around the hexagon blocks nearest the door, heading for the violet block near the south wall.  Light pulsed intermittently between the lower and upper portions of the various hexagons, which made the condition of the violet block all the more striking.

           “There’s a piece of it all the way over here.”  Caelin pointed to a fragment of glass near the base of another hexagon.  “It must have exploded.”

           “Or melted.”  Isen stood close to the violet hexagon, careful not to touch it.  “There’s a bit of the linen still hanging here, and the glass has fused with it.  It must have been very hot.”

Marty walked around the violet block, examining the broken connection from every angle.  “You’re probably both right.  The glass strings are melted together and the linen outer covering, what’s left of it anyway, is coated with glass.  But very little remains.  I expect the rest is spread around the room, thrown by an explosion.  Let’s look carefully and find the pieces.”

           Students began inspecting the area close to the violet hexagon and soon went to hands and knees to search more carefully.  They brought tiny blobs of glass and linen, more than thirty of them, to Marty.  Many of the fragments were hardly more than flecks.  On Earth, Marty would have dismissed the bits as extraneous dust, but in Inter Lucus dust disappeared.  Nanotechnology removed it within minutes.  Only in the CPU had he ever seen debris that lasted, and that had been the broken pieces of what he believed was the original alien fiber optic connection for the violet blocks.

           In a few minutes Marty’s palm held the remains of Isen’s fiber optic cable, except for the bit that still hung from the upper hexagon.  He gestured at the remaining cable.  “I think, Isen, that we shouldn’t try to break that off.  We’ll bring a hot tool to cut it off smoothly.”

           “Aye, my lord.  Then we try again?”

           “That’s my thought.  Aye.  Your first cable worked, at least to a degree.  Perhaps your second will be better.”  Marty handed the broken bits to Ora, who stood close to Isen.  “I greatly appreciate what you accomplished with this.  I want you to know that.”

Castle Pulchra Mane

           Claennis the Nan paused outside Elfgiva Red’s room.  Yesterday she had forgotten to announce herself and had interrupted Elfgiva and Bayan, busily trying to make another baby.  Claennis smiled at memory of Bayan’s embarrassment.  Naturally, the young man was eager to return to lovemaking after baby Glytha’s arrival.  But how many young couples had ever been in Bayan and Elfgiva’s situation?  Invited—no, commanded—to move from their tiny house on Sestia Street into the luxury of a room in Pulchra Mane.  If that weren’t enough, their room held not one, but two little beds, and in one of them slept a future king.

           Claennis knocked, and then called out.  “Giva!  Bayan!  May I enter?”

           The door swished open immediately.  Bayan was already dressed.  Elfgiva was sitting up in bed, a baby at each breast.

           “Fair morning, Mistress Claennis.”  Bayan made a welcoming bow.  “As you can see, the babies are well, and Giva is busy.  I also ought to be about my work.”  Bayan stepped around Claennis and headed for the stairs up to the great hall.

           When he was gone, Claennis raised an eyebrow at Elfgiva.  “Will he forgive me for yesterday?”  Both women laughed.  “Any problems in the night?”

           “No.  But it’s a good thing Glytha’s so little.”  Elfgiva wiggled her back against pillows.  “Prince Eudes is two weeks younger, but he eats more than his share.  And he’s very demanding.  I make him wait until Glytha is hungry too.”

           Claennis nodded.  “Sensible girl.  With two babes, if you feed them whenever they want, you’ll get no rest at all.”  She leaned close to examine Elfgiva’s face and color.  “And it’s important that you rest, that you stay well.  For your sake, for Glytha, and for all of us.”  She touched the boy’s head.

           A tremulous smile.  “Is Queen Mariel no better?”

           “She is no worse.  But even if she were to wake today, I think we would discover it is too late for Mariel to feed our young prince.  Breasts dry if they are not used, even royal ones.  The task you have taken on will last until … until the boy is weaned.”

           Claennis’s hesitation caught Elfgiva’s attention.  “What is the trouble?”  Elfgiva began transferring Glytha from nipple to a burping cloth.

           “I can do that.”  Claennis took the baby girl, held her against her shoulder and began rubbing small circles in her back. 

            Elfgiva pursued her question.  “I heard trouble in your voice, Claennis.  What is wrong?”

The older woman lowered her voice, though the walls of Pulchra Mane made it impossible that anyone would hear them.  “Merlin Torr reports to Aweirgan every day.  He has all the sheriffs going about in small companies and carrying swords.  And they are drafting strong young men—boys, really—to be new sheriffs.  Aweirgan fears the lords of Calles Vinum, Rubrum Vulpes, and Beatus Valle.

           Elfgiva looked confused.  “Would Mariel’s lords rebel against her?  Are they not loyal?”

           Such naiveté!  But Claennis did not roll her eyes.  Elfgiva was unfamiliar with castles, nobles, and politics.  Truth be told, Claennis herself didn’t pay much attention to such things, but it was hard to ignore the rumors flying around the castle.

           “Ah, aye, girl.  There are powerful men who would like nothing more than to put a knife into our Prince Eudes.  After killing Mariel, of course.”

           The young mother’s eyes went wide.  Her arms trembled, and Eudes lost the nipple.  He whimpered.  Elfgiva quickly adjusted.  “They would attack Pulchra Mane?”  She looked at the door.  “They would come here?”

           “Merlin Torr commands hundreds of sheriffs.”  Claennis spoke calmly, exaggerating the number.  “They will defend the city, the castle, and more than anything else, that boy.”

           “What about Queen Mariel?”

           “If she recovers, of course, all is well.  She would command the castle defenses and destroy any attackers.”

           “And if she doesn’t recover?”
           “Well, as long as you hold the prince, you will be the most protected woman in Pulchra Mane.”
           Elfgiva looked down at Eudes, who had quit sucking.  His blue eyes seemed to be watching her face.
           “Ah!” said Claennis.  “Now we trade.”  She gave Glytha to her mother and received Eudes.  “I will take the little prince to the Queen.  The midwife says having the baby close by might help Mariel wake.”

            Aweirgan Unes saw Claennis in the great hall as she came up the stairs.  “Taking the boy to his mother,” she said.  The scribe nodded and returned his attention to something he was writing.

           Bestauden Winter sat guard outside the Queen’s room.  He stood to greet Claennis.  “Fair morning.  How is little Eudes?”

           “Full of milk.”  Claennis stopped and sniffed.  “And shit.”

           Bestauden laughed and tilted his head toward the door.  “Blythe is inside with the Queen.”

           “So?  You think I’ve forgotten how to change a baby cloth?  I won’t need Blythe to do my work.”  Claennis stepped to the door and it swished open.  Inside the bedroom, on the far side of Mariel’s bed, Blythe wore a startled expression.

           “It’s just me,” said Claennis.  “And a young prince who needs a bath.”  Claennis headed for the adjacent bathroom, with its tub and hot water.  The serving girl gave no indication of hearing her.
           “Blythe?  Is something wrong?”  Blythe might have been a statue, or a creature in a children’s tale, turned to stone by some magic word.

           Then Claennis saw Mariel’s face.  Blue eyes were open—and watching, looking at the boy in Claennis’s arms.

152.  At the Siege of Hyacintho Flumen

            “Are we heading for Rose Petal?”
            Gifre Toeni shivered, and the words came out haltingly.  Gifre knew he was sick, a violent chill caught while exposed to Blue River two nights before.  The intervening days had been sunny, even hot, but Gifre felt he might never be warm again.
            “Not straight-away.”  Darel Hain sat behind Gifre, sharing the saddle of Hain’s warhorse.  “I sent Allard Ing on ahead.  He’ll find General Oshelm and tell him you are coming.”  Hain’s arms on either side of Gifre kept him from falling.  Riding on a tall destrier, the ground seemed an awfully long way down.  Gifre rode with his eyes closed a good portion of the time.
            General Oshelm?”
            “Aye.  Since General Ridere rode north and left him in command.”
            Gifre remembered dimly the sounds of the battle on the forest road.  Bully had saved Gifre’s life so that he could warn Archard Oshelm.  But what should he tell him?  Gifre didn’t know whether Ridere or any of his men still lived.
            For a moment Gifre thought of his little horse, really no more than a pony.  The little palfrey had survived the plunge into Blue River, swum with Gifre across the lake, and carried him south for a day and a half along the Blue River road until he met with Darel Hain’s company of scouts.  The faithful creature was undoubtedly resting, warm and dry in a barn somewhere.  Gifre shivered again and envied his horse.
            The events since the Inter Lucus postman and General Ridere’s company of mounted guards departed Hyacintho Flumen were running together in Gifre’s memory.  Was the ambush really just two nights ago?  Another long spring day was fading into night.  Had he lost count?
            A voice in the dark.  “Stay!  Give your names!  State your business!”
            Hain reined his destrier to a stop.  “Captain Darel Hain of Pulchra Mane.  I bear Gifre Toeni, a knight in the Queen’s army.  He has information for General Oshelm.”
            Someone uncovered a lantern, revealing the source of the voice.  “Right.  Cavalryman Ing came through a while back.”  The soldier saluted with the hand not holding the lantern, and then gestured toward the dark behind him.  “Take care.  The road has holes and broken places.”
            Hain and Gifre left the sentry behind.  Gifre gave up even pretending to look ahead.  He rode in a half-dream, eyes closed, trusting Hain to deliver him safely.
            Voices.  Falling.  No—not falling.  Strong arms lowered him gently to the ground.  Gifre’s legs failed him, so soldiers on either side helped him toward a watch fire.  They tried seating him on a campstool, but Gifre tumbled off.  So they laid him on a blanket near the fire and covered him with coats.
            “Sir Toeni!  Gifre!  Wake up!”  Archard Oshelm’s breath, hot and sour, prickled Gifre’s nose.  Oshelm breathed like an athlete in a contest; he had been riding dangerously fast in the dark.  Sweat dripped from the hard-bitten soldier’s crooked nose onto Gifre’s face.  Opening his eyes, Gifre struggled to focus on Oshelm’s features, but the face was too close.  In the firelight it looked goblin-like, distorted and grotesque.
            “Ah!”  Oshelm grunted and drew back.  The goblin face disappeared from Gifre’s field of vision.  “Dying maybe, but not dead yet.”
            “General Oshelm.” Gifre’s words were barely audible.  “Gods protect you.  Congratulations on your promotion.”
            The angular face came back into view.  “Tell me what happened, Gifre.”
            “Ambush.  North of the lake.  Two days ago.”
            Oshelm leaned closer.  Gifre blinked repeatedly.  Somehow he couldn’t keep Oshelm’s face in focus.
            “Men of Down’s End?  Stonebridge?”
            “Could be.  Don’t know.”  Gifre licked his lips.  Oshelm’s face retreated.
            “Here’s water.”  Wetness splashed on Gifre’s face cheeks and lips.  It tasted wonderful.  Oshelm tipped a water skin, and Gifre drank eagerly.
            “Enough.”  Oshelm face came close again.  “Report, Gifre.  What happened to General Ridere?”
            Gifre coughed twice and swallowed.  “Alive, last I saw.  They trapped us.  Well-planned ambush.  Killed most.  No way out.  Bully pushed me to the river—advantage of the smallest horse.”
            “Other survivors?”
            “Don’t know, sir.”
            Oshelm’s face retreated into obscurity, and Gifre closed his eyes.

            He woke to the smell of bacon cooking, which made him gag.  His stomach revolted, and he might have drowned on his vomit if it had been more than a pitiful ounce of spittle.  Someone wiped his mouth with a clean cloth.  Gifre opened his eyes.
            The cold ground, the campfire, and the night were gone.  He was in bed, in a well-lit room, open windows admitting sunshine and warm air.  He recognized clothes tossed in a corner of the room as his; his body felt naked under a pile of blankets.  And—Gods be thanked!—he wasn’t shivering.
            Gifre’s eyes moved from the open windows to the clothes in the corner to the foot of the bed, then to the ceiling.  A smooth ceiling, made of polished wood, the work of considerable skill.  He craned his neck slightly to look toward the head of the bed.  A familiar face, framed in auburn hair, looked at him through eyes of love and fear.
            “Mistress Cooper!”  Edita called out.  “Your aid, please.”
            Godiva Cooper, a round woman with plain features, bustled into the room.  “He’s awake, then?”  The question evidently expected no answer; Mistress Cooper came directly to Gifre and peered into his face.  She felt his forehead.  “Ah!  That’s better.  Could you eat something, boy?”
            On another occasion Gifre might protest being called “boy,” but not now.  “Aye.  And water.  Please.  But no bacon.”
            Mistress Cooper’s eyebrows bunched briefly.  “Bowels unsteady?  Sour stomach?”
            Gifre grimaced.  “Maybe.  I’m thirsty.  I do feel hungry, but that bacon smell…” He shut his eyes, frowning.
            “Very well.  Water—and a bit of toast and egg.  I think so.  It will help if you sit up.”  Without waiting for his response, Mistress Cooper hooked her arms under Gifre’s shoulders and lifted.  She was surprisingly strong and, with very little cooperation from the patient, pulled Gifre into a sitting position.  Gifre felt lightheaded; the room went out of focus.  He gasped for breath several times.  Flailing about, his hand latched onto Godiva’s arm and he steadied himself.  Gradually, objects became clear again.  Godiva Cooper freed her arm and stuffed an extra pillow behind his back.  She smiled, seemingly pleased.  “And after the water, something hot to drink.  Mistress Wedmor, if you will assist me.”
            In truth, Edita provided little assistance.  In a matter of minutes, Godiva Cooper had arranged a table at Gifre’s bedside, and had set out toast, a poached egg, a pitcher of cold water, and a pot of tea.  Edita carried a plate.  Mistress Cooper arranged Edita’s chair close by.  “Well, then,” she said, eyeing them.  “I’ll leave you two to talk.”  She pulled the door closed when she left.
            Gifre sipped water first.  Then he chewed a bite of toast hesitantly, partly for his stomach’s sake but mostly so he could look carefully at Edita.  Her eyes were red-rimmed; she was obviously trying not to cry while he watched.  Her useless left hand lay cradled by her right.
            “We were ambushed.”  Gifre decided a full factual account was the best solace he could offer.  “I don’t know who they were.  Men from Down’s End, perhaps.  Or Stonebridge.  They took us by surprise at the end of a long day, in a place where the horses couldn’t run.  They attacked with daggers, cutting the horses’ legs and killing the men when their mounts fell.
            “Bully saved my life.”  At these words, Edita’s tears began streaming.  She nodded that he should continue.
            “My horse was smallest, the only one that could get between the trees to the river.  Bully told me to warn Archard Oshelm.  I never saw him or any of the others after that.”
            “He was alive when you last saw him?”  Only her mouth moved; the rest of her face could have been stone.
            “Aye.  He was alive.  Ridere too, I think.  And maybe a few others.”
            “And then?”
            “My little horse and I rode Blue River for a mile or more ’til we reached a lake and climbed out.  Gods, Edita, that water was cold—and fast.  The gods protected my horse and me, else we’d have hit a log or rock and died.  After we dried out a bit, we swam the lake.  No rushing current there, but it was just as cold.  I caught a chill.  After that, I just followed the road south.  I met Herminian scouts the second day.”
            Gifre pushed a portion of egg onto toast and ate.  Again he chewed slowly, observing his sister.  Eventually she nodded, as if signaling that she had absorbed the import of his words.  He swallowed and said, “I should get up and report to Rose Petal.  Oshelm needs to move.”
            “He already has.”  Something like a tiny smile touched Edita’s mouth.  “You’ve been in this bed a night, a day, and then another night.  Oshelm mustered two thousand men and marched north yesterday.”
            “Gods!”  Gifre paused in the process of pushing egg onto toast.  “Is there anything left of the siege?”
            “You’ll have to ask Galan Hengist.  Or Eadred Unes.  Oshelm left Commander Hengist in command; Eadred records all that is decided.”

            After eating, Gifre insisted on getting dressed.  Godiva Cooper advised him to rest in bed, but he ignored her.  Edita didn’t bother to say she agreed with Mistress Cooper; she knew Gifre wouldn’t listen anyway.
            Outdoors, Gifre counted on bright sunshine and spring air to rejuvenate him.  But he couldn’t detect much help from the elements.  He wobbled hesitantly toward Rose Petal, watching for soldiers exiting.  He walked at the very edge of the street, leaning against buildings when he could.  The sun was riding high in the sky, and the daily conference would be over.  Then Gifre realized that with Ridere and most of his commanders gone from Hyacintho Flumen, Galan Hengist might not convene a daily conference.
            Four figures emerged from Rose Petal as he approached.
            “Gifre!  You live!”  Linn Wadard, the youngest of the hostage knights, hopped from the Rose Petal porch to the dusty street where Gifre stood.  He thrust out a hand.  “Well met!”  Linn grasped Gifre’s hand, pulled him close, and made a strange face; Gifre had the impression Linn had more to say, but couldn’t.
            Linn Wadard’s companions also stepped forward, three more hostage knights: Deman Mowbray, Selwin Beaumont, and Odell Giles.  Giles was the oldest, at 23, but Selwin Beaumont, three years younger, took charge.  “A welcome meeting, but not in the best meeting place.”  Beaumont cast glances quickly up and down the street.  “It would not do for the five of us to be seen together.”
            “I know a place.”  Deman Mowbray started walking.  “I had a birthday party a week ago when I turned fifteen.  This way.”
            Gifre started to shake his head; he wanted to speak privately with Linn Wadard.  It was very unlike Linn to accompany Giles or Beaumont.  But Odell Giles wrapped an arm around him.  Giles was a strong man, though he had managed to avoid much fighting during his service in Tarquint.  He practically carried Gifre, hastening to follow Mowbray around a corner, down a narrow side street, and around another corner.  Beaumont had Linn Wadard right behind them.  Deman Mowbray knocked on a dilapidated door, the entry to an old warehouse.  The building had small windows, high under the eaves.
            A bolt was drawn and the door opened.  “Oh!  It’s the young prince.  Sir Mowbray.  And Sir Giles.  And friends!  It’s awfully early in the day, isn’t it?”
            The speaker was a frightfully thin, tall woman dressed in a flimsy white tunic.  She pushed stringy brown hair behind her head and deftly tied it with some kind of cloth ring.  She tilted her head to one side and leered at them.  “I’ll have to wake up some of the others.  Oh my.”  She leaned over Linn Wadard.  “Are you sure this one’s old enough?”  Grinning and winking: “Half price for him.  Do it myself.”
            “Not today, Ginny,” said Deman Mowbray.  Meanwhile, Selwin Beaumont pushed past the woman into her establishment.  Odell Giles brought Gifre in, pushing Linn Wadard ahead of them.  It was a small room, but dim, lit by windows high on the west wall.  Ginny shut the door, making the space dimmer still.  “What then?”
          Selwin Beaumont surveyed the room, nodded.  “We’ll have something to drink.”  He hand Ginny a coin.  “And we want privacy.  If you give us those two things, we’ll pay more.  Without them, we’ll be very unhappy.”
           Ginny took the coin and inclined her head.  “Very good, sirs.  I’ll get some ale and be sure no one knows.”
           The woman quickly lit two candles on a table, and then disappeared through a door.  The five knights drew up chairs to the table, a rough piece of furniture made of bare wood.  Released from Giles’s grip, Gifre slumped on the chair, supporting himself with elbows on the table.  He felt shaky.  Why did I leave the Coopers’ house?  Gods, I’m a fool.
           “Gifre.  What happened to Ridere?”  Selwin Beaumont wasted no time.
“I don’t know.”  Gifre held his head in his hands.  “We were ambushed.”
           Deman Mowbray jumped in.  “Come on!  Either he escaped, or they killed him, or they took him captive.”
           “Thanks for the obvious, Deman,” sneered Giles.  He looked at Gifre.  “But who were they?  The men of Lord Aylwin’s brother?  Doesn’t he have an army now?”
           Gifre thought he might start shivering again.  “I don’t know.”
           Giles snorted.  “Loads of insights you have Toeni.  Tell me why Ridere likes you so much.  Because your sister married his stupid squire?”
           Gifre was too tired to be angry.  Odell Giles’s petty cruelties were the least of his problems.
           “Stuff it, Odell.”  Selwin Beaumont ordered the bigger man calmly, in a quiet voice.  “It doesn’t matter who ambushed Ridere.  And it doesn’t matter whether he’s dead or captured or hiding out in some Tarquintian cave or forest.  The point is, he’s gone.  And Oshelm’s gone chasing after him.  Meanwhile, Galan Hengist is loading men onto ships bound for Herminia as fast as he can send them.  Alan Turchil is gone, and so is Fugol Hengist.  In a week we’ll have less than four thousand men here.
           “This army is falling apart.  And I think I know why.”
A door squeaked.  Ginny brought a tray with five clay mugs and tankard of ale.  Beaumont handed her a second coin.  “Privacy.”
           “Oh, aye, my lord.”  Ginny bowed and departed.  Mowbray dispensed ale into the cups.  Everyone drank, Gifre more eagerly than the others. 
           Beaumont resumed, his voice hardly more than a whisper.  “Ridere tried to hush it up, but I’ve heard that our dear queen almost died giving birth.  Isn’t that right, Gifre?”
           “Aye.”  Gifre met Beaumont’s gaze, keeping his face blank.  But Linn Wadard blanched.  The young knight’s shocked expression practically shouted: Don’t tell them anything!  But Gifre thought: Little point in denying what they already know.  The ale warmed his throat.
           Beaumont smiled, nodding.  “Mariel can’t defend Pulchra Mane.  So Ridere is sending men home to save the Ice Queen, because he thinks someone might attack her.  Let’s think.  Who might that be?  Odell, would your dear father rebel against Mariel?”
           The big man guffawed.  “In a heartbeat.”
           “As would my father,” said Beaumont.  “What about your grandsire, Deman?”
           “Of course.”
           The youngest of the hostage knights had won General Ridere’s praise, even though his father, List, had been executed.  He was just a boy, and he hesitated to answer.  Gifre wondered again about Linn’s presence with the others.  He’s not here by free choice.
           “The truth is, Linn,” Beaumont spoke gently, “your grandsire hates Mariel more than anyone, especially after Sir List’s death.  He will lead the rebellion.  You know this.”
           Linn hung his head.
           “And the Toenis.”  Beaumont addressed Gifre.  “Have you turned your back on your family, Gifre?  Since you came to Tarquint, you’ve acted the part of the Queen’s man.  I think, perhaps, it is an act.  You Toenis are clever.  Unlike Deman or Odell, you worm your way into Ridere’s confidence.  He even takes you as squire.  But then, somehow, at the right moment, you escape.  Very lucky, if luck it is.  And now you are ready to join us.  Is that the way of it?”
           “Join you?”  Gifre kept his tone neutral.
           “The siege of Hyacintho Flumen is collapsing.  Oshelm took mostly Pulchra Mane men north with him  If we appeal to our men, the armsmen of Calles Vinum, Caelestis Arcanus, Rubrum Vulpes, Beatus Valle, and Prati Mansum, we will have most of the army that remains.  Why should we fight some Tarquintian lord?  After we take the army, we parley with Lord Aylwin.  We use his Videns-Loquitur to communicate with our fathers and grandfathers.  Mariel is finished.”
           Gifre swallowed.  The wise course was obvious.  He needed to play for time, to convince the conspirators that he was with them, and then to tell everything to Galan Hengist.  But it grated on him to lie, and he remembered Bully Wedmor at the river.  He recalled Edita’s tears for her husband.  And he had downed two cups of ale.  “You need take care, sirs.”  Gifre looked Beaumont in the face.  “For all I know, General Ridere is dead, Bully Wedmor is dead, and Queen Mariel is dead.  Your rebellion may succeed.  On the other hand, the General, Bully, and the Queen may still be alive.  You risk everything in this conspiracy.  I risk everything if I join you, and I risk my life if I don’t.  I suppose you will kill me, but I refuse your offer.”
           Selwin Beaumont’s mouth twisted.  “You are a fool.  Odell.”
           Odell Giles grabbed Gifre’s arm.
           “Don’t do that.”  Eleven-year-old Linn Wadard spoke in the voice of a castle lord.  Beaumont, Giles and Mowbray looked at him in surprise.
           “There are men at the door.  You should let them in before you do anything to Gifre.”  Linn smiled.  “Now.  Who is the fool, Sir Selwin?”
           The others were frozen.  Linn went to the door and opened it.  Six swordsmen, led by Danbeney Norman, entered with drawn swords.

153.  Between Hyacintho Flumen and Down’s End

            Eádulf called it Hostage Camp, because it was near the place where he and Milo had routed the bandits and taken poor Cola prisoner.  The rest of Milo’s army called it Meadow Camp at first, situated as it was on a wide grassy slope surrounded by pine and fir forests.  But then they adopted Eádulf’s suggestion, not in memory of the highwayman executed months before, but because of General Ridere of the Herminians.
            The army left Crossroads on the second day of June and, moving warily, established Hostage Camp four days later.  Milo Mortane consulted with scouts daily, and began sending messages toward Hyacintho Flumen asking for parley with the Herminian general.  On June 13, Ifing Redhair turned the situation upside down by bringing that very man captive to Hostage Camp.  Milo interviewed the prisoner the next morning.
            A bright sun in a cloudless sky promised a hot afternoon, even in the hills.  Milo held court in the shade of a tall, hale pine tree.  Pine needles layered the ground, making footsteps quiet and soft.  Ifing Redhair personally escorted Ridere to the spot, loosed the prisoner’s hands, and bade him stand between two logs that had been dragged to the place to create a kind of courtyard.  Milo sat on a campstool, with Felix Abrecan standing guard.  Captains Aidan Fleming, Bryce Dalston, and Acwel Kent sat on the logs, listening.
            “There are other prisoners?”  Milo addressed Redhair first.
            “Aye, Lord General.  Three, one near death.”
            Milo raised an eyebrow.
            “One of the Herminians took serious wounds.  We would have given him the mercy of a quick death, but General Ridere asked that we spare him.  We captured two horses, so we used one to transport him.  The boy must be tough; he’s survived both lost of blood and being packed like a sack.  If we stay in camp a few days, he might recover.”
            “Four captives, no other survivors?”
            Redhair folded his arms.  “One rider escaped into the river.  The others we killed.”
            “Into the river?  Did you look downstream for his body?”
            “No, Lord General.  I judged it more important to bring the prisoner to you.”
             Milo pursed his lips and nodded.  “Blue River in spring flood—it’s unlikely that the man survived.  And you’re right about the prisoner.”
            Redhair inclined his head and stepped back, resting a hand on the handle of his dagger.  The implication was plain: a word from Milo would end the captive’s life.  Milo sucked on his teeth for a moment, examining Ridere.
            The beaked-nose general had dark eyes and black hair cut short, with a hint of the gray in a stubbly beard.  Wrinkles had begun around the eyes, in a lean face.  Scars marked his arms and his right temple.  Of medium height, Ridere gave the impression of being taller—was it his posture or his steady, fearless gaze?  He was obviously studying Milo, waiting for the captor to speak first.
            “My men found you on the old road from Hyacintho Flumen to Inter Lucus.  I presume that’s where you were going.  Why?”  Milo leaned forward and picked up a cluster of pine needles.  He rolled the needles back and forth between thumb and forefinger, idly, as if there were no urgency to his question.  Bent forward, he looked up at Ridere, standing so erect.  “I’ve been sending men to Hyacintho Flumen, asking to parley with you.  I certainly did not expect the meeting to be like this.  What were you doing?”
Ridere merely looked at him.
Milo smiled and straightened on his stool.  “You have invaded my country with an army of thousands; you have my brother confined to his castle like last year’s grain in a barn.  But now you have foolishly let yourself fall into my hands.  Why would you leave the security of such a great army with only the protection of a handful of horsemen?”
Ridere folded his arms, but his face was a blank.  He wasn’t feigning boredom or disdain.  He just waited.
“It may interest you to learn that I also have visited Inter Lucus recently.  So I know what you must know: Lord Martin of Inter Lucus can offer neither men nor steel to aid your war against Aylwin.  By the same token, he is of no use to Aylwin.  So why were you going there?”
Milo didn’t expect an answer, so after a short pause he continued.  “You may believe me or not, but the truth is that I care nothing for my brother’s fate.  I will not raise a finger to deliver him from your siege.”
That drew a response.  “You brought an army all the way from Stonebridge to no purpose?”
“That is not what I said.”  Milo flashed a brief smile.  “I brought an army from Stonebridge for many purposes.  Among them was this: I wanted to talk with you.  Now, your army outnumbers mine eight to one, or more.  You have nothing to fear from such an inferior force, but it is still enough—at least, I hoped it would be enough—to induce you to meet with me.”
            Ridere unfolded his arms and made a palms-up gesture toward Milo.  “And now we meet.  When our talk is completed, perhaps I may go on my way.”
            Milo grinned.  “Why not?  As yet, I have no reason to hold you prisoner.  But I need to know why you were going to Inter Lucus.
            A tiny smile; Ridere again crossed his arms, resuming his silent pose.  Milo waited a while, bending down to pick up more pine needles.  A step behind the prisoner, Ifing Redhair expressed impatience.  “My lord general, the prisoner defies you.”  He drew his dagger.
            Milo waved off Redhair’s threat.  “No, Ifing.  We are playing a game.  General Ridere fears no one, except perhaps his wife, the Ice Queen.  He does not know how much I already know, and he does not trust my assurance that we have not come here to aid Aylwin.  He is an honorable man.  For the sake of honor and loyalty, he will not say anything that might weaken Queen Mariel’s position.  Bit by bit, I will tell the general what I know.  He will come to see that he can trust me.  Perhaps he also will see how we can work together. 
           “Have a seat, Ifing.”  Milo gestured toward the logs where his captains were sitting.  Redhair clenched his jaw, but sat down next to Acwel Kent.
           Milo returned his attention to Ridere.  “It may help if I told you why I went to Inter Lucus.  I knew already that Lord Martin has few sheriffs and no steel.  I went to Inter Lucus to talk with my mother.  Of course, it meant speaking to Aylwin as well, but that couldn’t be helped.
           “Martin enjoys a strong bond with Inter Lucus, such that he can support Videns-Loquitur with ease.  So I went to his castle, stood at his side when he summoned Aylwin, and in the course of the conversation I greeted my mother.  I assured her that I was well and that her daughter, my sister Amicia, is also well.  I told Aylwin he could go to hell.
           “So—that is why I visited Inter Lucus.  I am guessing that your reason is similar.  With Martin’s aid, you could speak to any lord or lady you wished.  You could talk with Aylwin, just as I did.  As a matter of fact, you could communicate more directly with Aylwin from Inter Lucus than from your army’s headquarters outside Hyacintho Flumen.  No need for flags of truce, emissaries, written notes, or any of that.”
           Milo paused, watching for some reaction.  Ridere kept a blank face.  Pursing his lips, Milo reached down for another cluster of pine needles.  He tore the needles apart, dropping them one by one.
           “But you didn’t want to talk to Aylwin.  After all, you could send him a message any day.  Why take four or five days just to see him in a magic wall?  No, I think you needed to speak with someone else.  The Ice Queen, your beloved wife—she wanted some immediate report, didn’t she?”
General Ridere grimaced and looked at the ground.  Milo raised an eyebrow.  He continued, “Rumors about the siege of Hyacintho Flumen are easy to find.  Down’s End is full of them.  They say that Mariel ordered the execution of one of her hostage knights.  Not surprising, if true.  Is there someone else she needs killed?  You plan to hang some hostage knight, but need her permission?  Or is it something else?  Something has happened, something that even you, her husband and general, cannot decide alone.  She must decide, and you cannot wait for weeks, for letters to and fro, so you seek to speak with her directly.”
           Ridere opened and closed his mouth.  Then he clenched his jaw, folded his arms, and stared at Milo.  A minute passed before Milo turned to Ifing Redhair, who jumped to his feet.
           “Give the prisoners food and drink.  Keep them separate; don’t let them speak to each other.  I want no escapes.  And I want them kept safe.”
           “Aye, Lord General.”  Ifing prodded Ridere with his dagger.  Captive and captor left the shade of the pine and were soon beyond earshot.  Milo stood up to watch Redhair take the Herminian into a tent.  Captains Fleming, Dalston and Kent also rose.
           Fleming: “General Mortane?”
           “What is it, Aidan?”
           “Shouldn’t you have questioned the prisoner more closely?  It seems you were on the right track.  It might help us greatly to know what it is that Ridere wants to ask Mariel.”
Bryce Dalston snorted.  “The man would die rather than tell.  If we’re not careful and we push too hard, he’ll kill himself.”
           Milo laughed aloud, and the captains looked at him questioningly.  “I did say I wanted him kept safe, but not because I fear suicide.
           “Ridere plays a game with us, but either badly or very, very well.  He made a point of stoic silence until I suggested that his object in visiting Inter Lucus was speaking to Mariel.  Then he put on a show of dismay.  So I am supposed to think he does want to seek Mariel’s guidance.  But his dismay was too obviously an act.  If he wanted me to think I had hit upon his true purpose, he tried too hard.  Therefore, I should think his purpose was something else.  He wants to speak with some other lord; or maybe his purpose is something else entirely, having nothing to do with Videns-Loquitur.  But perhaps he is clever.  If at one moment he pretends one thing and at the next moment something else, I cannot be sure of what he is really hiding.”
           The captains’ faces showed varying degrees of confusion.  “What will you do?” asked Fleming.
           “I’m not sure yet.”  Milo pushed his hand through his hair.  “I will not try to outwit Eudes Ridere in one short meeting.  For the present we will stay here.  We will be proper hosts to our prisoners.  We will watch them and listen.  Perhaps I will learn something to decide our path.  There are chances before me; I must consider them.”

154. At Castle Inter Lucus

            Soft light before sunrise; Marty stole out of Inter Lucus through the east door of the great hall.  Passing almost-ripe blueberries, he tasted a few.  They’ll be ready to pick in two days, I bet.   He followed the path in the direction of East Lake.  Of course, he dared not wander that far.  In an emergency his place was at the lord’s knob, which made him a kind of prisoner in his own castle.  So he kept the east door within sight.  He took a deep breath of cool air, scented with pine and fir. 
            Marty prized the early morning quiet, whether on the gods’ tower or somewhere on the grounds of Inter Lucus.  He had dreamed of Alyssa again, one of the old bad dreams: a stupid argument about booze and her father.  Father Stephen’s voice sounded in his memory: “Marty, you are no greater sinner than others… You know all this.  In your head.  Your heart needs to know what your mind knows.”
            He turned at the top of the first rise, looking over the varied greens of Inter Lucus orchards, pasture, berry bushes and vegetable gardens.  The castle grounds, which a year before had testified to ancient alien planning even after a century of neglect, had flourished magnificently with a year of human attention.
Marty stopped.  In a pinch, he could reach the great hall in three minutes.  He left the clean paved trail—the effects of Extra Arcem Micro-Aedificator now extended half a mile from the doors of the great hall, keeping castle paths free of dirt or debris—and sat on a fallen log.  He unfolded a piece of paper and read a passage copied by one of his students.

The Lord told Ananias: “Go!  This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel.  I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.”

            Everyone at Inter Lucus, from Priest Eadmar to little Agyfen, called it the Book of God.  Even Marty found that he now thought in those terms.  It was almost irrelevant that he himself had brought it from Earth.  It was the Book of God.
What would Father Stephen say about the passage?  For that matter, what would Eadmar say?  It was surprisingly easy to imagine their voices chorusing.  First Stephen: “God does choose us, Marty.  He chooses us first to have faith, and then he gives us jobs to do.”  Then Eadmar: “Aye.  God chose Paul as apostle to Gentiles.  He chose me to be a priest in Down’s End.  And then he brought me across the lake to be priest in Inter Lucus.”  Stephen: “God brought me to Our Lady of Guadeloupe.  Note well: it was not clear to me all at once; it happened bit by bit.  I went to college, the first in my family.  I felt called to seminary.  Then, oddly, I was called not to a parish, but to Our Lady.”  Eadmar: “God has given you a task too, Martin.  Be patient.  Keep looking for chances to pursue justice and compassion.”  Stephen: “That’s right.  Follow openings of justice and love.”
            Marty smiled wryly.  God must have a sense of humor.  How does an electronics salesman qualify as castle lord?  Two Moons needs a peacemaker and statesman, not a novice Cistercian.  My biggest interests in college were tailgating and chasing girls, not political science.  Since Lyss died, I’ve sought absolution, not wisdom.
            The last sentence of the verse captured Marty’s attention.  And how much must I suffer for my calling?
            A figure emerged from the east door of Inter Lucus and stood looking in Marty’s direction.  Ora.  Marty’s log was partially hidden by a leafy huckleberry, but Ora knew the spot.  He half expected her to point at him or shout.  A minute later Isen came round the southern side of Inter Lucus and joined Ora.  They kissed briefly, and then walked hand-in-hand along the path toward him.  Marty smiled to himself; he had been expecting something like this for a month.
            “Fair morning, Ora.  Isen.”  Marty stood as they came near.  They were still holding hands.
            “Fair morning, my lord.”  Isen bowed his head, his eyes seemingly fixed on the ground.  “Ahem.  I…we…”
            Ora jumped into the gap.  “We want to marry, Lord Martin.”
            “I’m glad to hear it.  Congratulations.”  Marty extended his hand to Isen; after shaking, he opened his arms, drawing Ora into a hug.  “How soon?  Have you spoken to Priest Eadmar?”
            Ora and Isen looked at each other, apparently surprised.
            Marty laughed.  “What?  Did you come here to ask my permission?”
            “Aye!”  Ora put her hand in Isen’s.  “You are lord of Inter Lucus.
            “I’m a little disappointed, Ora.  You’ve been with me a year.  You should know that I am not like other lords of Two Moons.  You do not need my permission.  You and Isen are adults, free to marry if you want.  However, if you would like my advice, I think you make a fine couple and, God willing, you will build a good family.  And I hope very much that you will invite me to the wedding.”
            “Oh, aye, my lord!”  For a moment, Isen seemed surprised, perhaps at the notion of Marty needing an invitation.  Then he remembered something, and launched into a prepared speech: “My lord Martin, Ora and I would like to ask your lordship’s indulgence, to allow us to live in Inter Lucus for a short time, until we can build a house.  If it pleases your lordship, I would like to continue producing glass in the glassworks.  We thought it might be good if we built our house close to Prayer House, which would be conveniently close to the glassworks.”
            “A very good plan, I think.  Let’s shake on it.”  Marty extended his hand to Ora as well as Isen.  “I expect a good harvest this year, and many more students for Collegium Inter Lucus next winter.  We could put two each in the rooms you use now.  We need to plan ahead to accommodate next year’s students.”
            Ora became animated.  “Aye!  The youngest ones, those younger than ten, should live in Inter Lucus; then they wouldn’t have to walk from the village.  Ten and older can take rooms in town.  Of course, Caelin and Mildgyd and the sheriffs need to room in the castle, since they are your closest servants.  And maybe Whitney, your best scribe.  That is, unless she marries Elfric—I think she wants to—in which case they might want to build a house too.”
            “You’ve given this a lot of thought.”
“Aye, my lord.”  Ora’s serious expression melted as she looked from Marty to Isen.  Both men were grinning broadly.  Chastened, she said, “I have presumed too much.”
“No, Ora.  Not at all.”  Marty began walking toward the east door, Ora and Isen keeping pace.  You are one of my closest servants, as well as my first friend on Two Moons.  You’re my event coordinator and social planner.  Once you and Isen settle in your own house, I will still expect you to come often to the castle, so that I can benefit from your thinking.”

“Please pardon my appearance, Lord Martin.  In the Great Downs, even the lord of Saltas Semitas sometimes finds himself detained in the barns.”  David Le Grant was covered in sweat and mud.  His clothes, simple russet tunic and pants, bore stains that might be blood.  “A cow had a very hard birth, and I did not want to lose either calf or mother.  Still, I came as quickly as I could when Catherine called me.”
Marty chuckled.  “Cow and calf are healthy, I hope?”
“Oh, aye.  But there was not time to wash.”
“Perhaps I should call back later.  You don’t look very comfortable in those clothes.”  Marty gestured at the table to his left, behind the writing desk where Whitney Ablendan stood.  “I have some reading to do.” 
“Thank you, Martin.”  Le Grant inclined his head.  “I’ll clean up promptly and be ready to speak with you in half an hour.”

When Marty next summoned him, Le Grant had changed into a bright red tunic and green pants; to Marty the ensemble contrasted oddly with the pink glow of Le Grant’s lord’s knob.  No matter how long I live here, Two Moons will keep reminding me that I’m on a different world.
Orde Penman, the silver-haired scribe, sat at Lord Le Grant’s right, dressed mostly in black, with a writing slate on his lap.  A young woman with brown hair stood close on Le Grant’s left.
“Thank you for accommodating my needs, Lord Martin.”  Le Grant wiggled his shoulders, reminding Marty of a pitcher trying to relax before going into his wind-up.  “I introduce my daughter, Kendra.”
“Fair morning, Lady Le Grant.”  Marty bowed, keeping one hand on the lord’s knob.  He motioned to his left.  “Whitney Ablendan is writing for me today.”
“Fair morning.  I’m pleased to meet you, Lord Martin and Whitney.”  Le Grant’s daughter curtsied politely.
“I’ve asked Kendra to appear with me for a purpose.”  David Le Grant nodded to the girl.  She stepped out of the picture for a moment, returning with a rolled parchment.  “It is a letter from Merlin Averill.” 
“So soon?  You sent Ro Norton to Stonebridge only a few days ago.”
“Seven days, actually.  Ro rode quickly, of course, as I commanded him, and he came back straightaway.  It seems that Averill did not need very long to compose his reply.”  Le Grant pointed to the parchment with his chin.
Kendra Le Grant hid her face behind the scroll as she read aloud.

Merlin Averill,
Gentleman of Stonebridge

To David Le Grant
Lord of Saltas Semitas

Dear Lord Le Grant,

Yesterday your postman, Ro Norton, delivered your letter to me while I dined with Lady Amicia Mortane in her residence, Ambassador House.  This is now the second time Norton has visited us, and both occasions have seemed momentous.  He was present when we commissioned Sir Milo Mortane to take the Stonebridge army into the field, the very night Sir Mortane arrested Ody Dans.  And now Ro brings your letter, in which you propose an astonishing plan to unite Tarquint and Herminia under one government.  Should we expect something equally dramatic on Ro’s next visit?
I am intrigued by Lord Martin’s parliament plan.  But it has obvious flaws, and apparently neither you nor he has noted them.  Stonebridge will never agree to any parliament unless certain key matters are adequately resolved.
First, of signal importance: where would the House of Commons meet?  We would never consent to a Commons that met in Pulchra Mane, under the Grandmesnil thumb.  Are you or Lord Martin or Queen Mariel be willing to let the Commons meet in Stonebridge?  Have you even considered the question?
Castle lords and ladies with sufficient command of magic may consult with one another any time they like via Videns-Loquitur.  Yet my father, a prominent Stonebridge leader for thirty years, can count on one hand the times he has received official guests from Down’s End.  He has never personally met any prominent person from Cippenham.  All we know of that distant city comes via infrequent letters or equally rare travelers.  How are the cities, which are not blessed with gods’ magic, supposed to form an effective Commons?  Do you see how seriously this compromises your parliament plan?
A second problem, which grows from the first: how would the houses of parliament communicate with the Queen?  For the Lords, this is easy; they can debate with Mariel from the safety of their great halls.  What about the Commons?  Suppose representatives of the cities do meet in some safe place.  How will they communicate their concerns to Mariel?  Do you expect the Queen to leave Pulchra Mane to meet with the Commons?  If not, must every step of discussion take place via the post?  In that case, real negotiations would take years.   
Third, and just as vexing as the first two problems: who pays for the House of Commons?  Lords can meet together without so much as leaving their castles.  The Commons, to be effective, must gather scores of men (Amicia bids me write “and women”) from all of Tarquint in one place.  Indeed, even that is not enough, since the cities of Herminia must also be represented in your plan.  Would they consent to cross the sea?  Do you hope to charge all this expense to the Queen?  Somehow, I doubt Mariel will consent.
In spite of these difficulties—and more that I will not mention now—I am, as I said, intrigued by Lord Martin’s idea.  For that reason, I now offer my own, much more limited, proposal.  I will come to Inter Lucus to discuss these matters with Lord Martin.  The Lady Amicia will come with me.  We will depart Stonebridge, with mounted guards sufficient to protect the Lady Ambassador, very soon after entrusting this letter to Ro Norton.  By the time you read these words, we should be nearing Down’s End.
One of my father’s advisors warned me against writing this letter and against going to Inter Lucus.  He fears for my safety and that of Lady Amicia.  Nevertheless, my father agrees with me: Sometimes we must push through a door when it is barely open.  Otherwise, the door will close and a chance will be lost. 
I expect you will communicate my thoughts to Lord Martin.  He may appreciate advance notice of our visit.  I hope he sees the chance that lies before us.
If you, Lord Le Grant, wish to respond in writing, a letter might catch us at Crossroads Inn.  But we will not tarry there long.  It may be that you and I will soon speak—that is, if Martin welcomes me into his hall!
            With appreciation and respect,
            Merlin Averill

            Marty laughed aloud.  “Wow!”
            “Lord Martin?”  David Le Grant’s tone expressed his surprise.  Wow?”
            “It’s an expression.  Merlin Averill is not afraid of decisive action.  It seems you wrote to the right man in Stonebridge.  Son of the Speaker, obviously well connected, engaged to Amicia Mortane—I look forward to meeting him.”

155. Castle Pulchra Mane

            Whitgyl Ucede muttered imprecations on midwives, superstitious peasants, wealthy guildsmen (often just as superstitious as the peasants, in the doctor’s opinion), army commanders, scribes, castle nobility (especially the mysterious Lord Martin, whose ill-formed beliefs about medicine threatened to kill Queen Mariel), and every other class of idiot he could think of.  But he kept his curses very much under his breath, since he rode toward Pulchra Mane accompanied by castle servant Bestauden Winter and Felice Hale, the midwife.  The midwife and her little horse trotted on the right side of Bestauden Winter’s great destrier, while Ucede rode on the left.  Ucede was glad for the separation.  The conspiracy of stupidity of which Felice Hale was a part had kept Ucede from the Queen’s side for ten days.  By some miracle, Mariel still lived, and now—now they wanted him to see her.
            The three riders stopped at the west door of Pulchra Mane.  Ucede looked up at Bestauden on his tall mount.  “She opened her eyes?  When?  Why wasn’t I summoned immediately?”
            The castle servant swung down from the saddle with the ease of a young athlete.  “Five days ago, I believe.”  Bestauden’s manner was so solemn that it checked Ucede’s next question.  The youth received reins from midwife Hale and the doctor when they dismounted.  “Merlin Torr asked me this morning to find you and the midwife.  That’s all I know.”  He snickered to the horses and led them toward a stable.
            Doctor Ucede looked at the castle door, as if to ignore Felice Hale, but she wouldn’t allow it.  “‘Why wasn’t I summoned immediately?’  You pompous ass!  You practically killed the Queen by draining the poor woman of the little blood she had.  Avice Montfort put a stop to that, and the gods spared Mariel’s life.  After ten and seven days, she opens her eyes and naturally Master Aweirgan and Claennis and me and Commander Torr—well, we all thought she was getting well, didn’t we?  But she said naught in four days, nor moved her hands, nor anything else.  The truth is, we didn’t know what to do, and yesterday Aweirgan Unes says we ought to ask you.  And here you are, though little hope it brings.  That’s what I say.”
            “That’s what you say.”  Ucede sighed.  There was no point in voicing his frustration aloud.  “And perhaps I agree with you.  There is little hope.  But not no hope.  Let us enter.”  Ucede inclined his head and let Hale lead the way.  A nervous armsman admitted them into Pulchra Mane.
            “Doctor Ucede!  And Mistress Hale!”  The speaker was one of the castle servants, Bayan the Red.  Someone had told Ucede that Bayan and his wife, Elfgiva, had moved into Pulchra Mane and that Elfgiva was nursing Prince Eudes. 
The elderly scribe, Aweirgan Unes, rose from a table as the castle door shut behind the midwife and the doctor.  “Fair morning.  Welcome.”  Unes bowed politely.  “Has Felice explained the Queen’s condition to you, Whitgyl?”
            “She explained nothing,” Ucede answered.  “But she has described Mariel’s condition.  It sounds like a stroke.”
            Aweirgan Unes frowned slightly.  “Can anything be done?”
            Ucede snorted.  “What?  You haven’t consulted with Avice Montfort?  Or the great Lord Martin?”
            If Aweirgan felt anger, he didn’t show it.  “It takes time for a rider to reach Tutum Partum and return.  Commander Torr worries that our messengers will be intercepted on the way.  And he begrudges the weakening of his forces by even one rider.  In spite of that, I did send a man, but he has not come back.”
            Ucede pursed his lips.  He knew well that Commander Torr had been making sheriffs of almost all the able-bodied young men in the city.  “Will the city be attacked?”
            Scribe Unes held up a piece of paper.  “We received an ultimatum this morning.  Four lords say that Merlin Torr and I have conspired to murder the Queen.  If we do not surrender Prince Eudes in two days, they will take that as proof of our conspiracy.  The lords Wadard, Giles, Beaumont, and Mowbray will attack the city.”  Unes glanced at the paper.  “The lords, of course, will not attack personally.  They are all safe at home in their castles.  The commander of their combined army is a man named Allard Dell, from Caelestis Arcanus.  They claim, of course, that their chief concern is for the safety of the prince.  If we surrender Eudes, Lord Wadard offers to foster the child at his castle until he is old enough to command Pulchra Mane.  Soldiers of the four lords will inspect the castle and patrol the city, in an attempt to discover where we have hidden the Queen’s body.  And, naturally, Commander Torr and I must be surrendered to them.
            Ucede’s mouth felt dry.  He licked his lips and swallowed.  “You haven’t asked me here to cure Mariel.”
            “No.”  The corner of Aweirgan’s mouth lifted briefly.
            “Then what?”
            “We desire your opinion.  The Queen is alive.  Her eyes are open, and she watches.  You can see that she is watching things.  But she cannot move or speak.”
            Doctor Ucede nodded.  “Aye.  Midwife Hale told me.  What do you want to know?”
            “There!”  Aweirgan pointed suddenly at the magic wall of the castle.  A light was blinking in the middle of the wall.  Not a surprise; Ucede had witnessed Mariel using Videns-Loquitur more than once.  “Some lord is trying to speak with Mariel.  If we bring her here and place her hands on her knob…” The scribe’s voice caught in his throat and his face twisted; the old man wept.
            “Will it kill her?  That’s what you want to know.”
            Aweirgan nodded.  “Aye.”
            Ucede’s resentment and anger drained from him.  He felt compassion for the old scribe.  He loves Mariel. It’s not about the kingdom, or the prince, or the city—or maybe it’s about all those things.  He put a gentle arm around Aweirgan’s shoulders.  “I don’t know what will happen, Aweirgan.  But if they come into the castle, they will kill Mariel and blame you.  You have to make the attempt.”  He turned to Felice Hale.  “I suppose you have willow extract in your bag.”
            The midwife’s eyes widened.  She hadn’t expected the doctor to exhibit good sense.  “Aye.” 
            “Very good.  We will make a tea.  After Mariel drinks some, we’ll bring her here. Then, when the magic wall lights, I will place her hands on her knob.”
            “Bayan is young and strong,” said Aweirgan.  “He can do it.”
            “No!”  Ucede smiled wryly.  “I’m the physician.  If there is danger I will dare it.  Besides, if this works, I will be famous.”

            They positioned Mariel’s favorite chair, built like a throne, close to globum domini auctoritate.  Made of yellow pine polished to a golden sheen, the chair matched her hair.  With a cushioned footstool in front of it, and lined with blankets, Mariel’s chair was made as comfortable as possible.  Bestauden Winter and Bayan the Red carried the Queen on a litter, descending the stairs slowly and gently.
            To no one’ surprise, by the time everything was ready the light in the magic wall had vanished.  “We will be ready the next time,” said Aweirgan.  “It’s all we can do.”
            And so the last watch over Mariel Grandmesnil began.  Felice Hale, Whitgyl Ucede, and Aweirgan Unes took turns sitting with the Queen.  Bestauden Winter and Bayan the Red came and went, bringing news from the city and reports from Merlin Torr of the city guard.  Elfgiva Red cared for the babies and visited the great hall when they slept.  Blythe and Claennis brought food and drink from the kitchen to any who wanted it.
            On the morning of the second day, Commander Torr sent a message to Aweirgan Unes.  On the intervening day the four lords’ army had taken up positions on the north, south and west sides of the city.  Torr believed that Allard Dell left the east side open deliberately; many folk were fleeing Pulchra Mane into the mountainous country on that side.  A knight under flag of truce had delivered Dell’s final ultimatum.  If Prince Eudes were not surrendered by noon, the army of the four lords would attack.
            Aweirgan thanked the messenger for his service and scribbled a quick note, telling Torr to defend the city as best he could.  Then, just as Mariel’s scribe handed the note to the messenger, a light began blinking in Pulchra Mane’s magic wall.

156.  In the Hill Country North of Hyacintho Flumen

            The main force of men led by Archard Oshelm marched in a long sinuous column, three abreast, on the dirt road that wound north through the hills from Hyacintho Flumen to Down’s End.  Strung out in this way, the army was vulnerable to surprise attacks if an enemy concealed men in some convenient spot.  Since the road wound up and down hills and passed through intermittent forests, there were plenty of dangerous places.  Naturally, then, Oshelm surrounded his army with a penumbra of scouts.  These men rode unarmored on nimble rounceys rather than warhorses, the better to traverse hills and valleys.
            It was one of these scouts that first saw the two white flag riders coming south on the road.  From high on one hillside he made signals to a fellow scout, and that man passed the signal to another.  In this way Archard Oshelm had ample notice of the approaching messengers.  He took Danbeney Norman as scribe and a guard of ten mounted lancers and rode ahead of the marching column to meet the couriers.
            The Stonebridge horsemen trotted smartly toward Oshelm’s lancers, reining to a stop about twenty yards away.  Both of them carried truce flags.  One of them handed his flag to his companion and then urged his horse forward a bit.  He had white-blond hair that touched his shoulders.  He stood in his stirrups and rested his hands on his saddle pommel.
            “Fair morning!  My name is Reynald Henriet.  I serve Milo Mortane, General of the Stonebridge Army.  I bear greetings from the General under flag of truce to the Commander of the Herminian forces besieging Hyacintho Flumen.  My companion and I demand that you let us pass, that we may deliver Sir Mortane’s messages to the Herminians.”
            The unwise use of the word “demand” brought a quick response.  The ten lancers who accompanied Oshelm readied their spears, preparing to charge.  In a real battle, their lances would be used once in an initial charge and then abandoned, and the rest of the fight conducted with swords.  But in this confrontation the initial clash would be the whole of the conflict.
            Reynald Henriet raised his arms, weaponless.  “We come under flag of truce!”
            “Hold!”  Archard Oshelm’s command was quiet, but clear.  The lancers kept their horses still.  Oshelm and Danbeney Norman rode forward, closing the space between them and the Stonebridge men.  Reynald Henriet reseated himself on his saddle, but his expression still conveyed disdain for the Herminians.
            “I notice that you say your message is for the ‘commander of the Herminian forces.’”  Archard spoke conversationally, as if he were discussing some ordinary topic over a beer in a tavern.  “Why is that?  General Mortane has sent earlier messages to Hyacintho Flumen.  Surely he knows our commander’s name.”
            “You men are Herminians, then.  Good!  We thought so, but we weren’t sure.”  Henriet smiled, ignoring Oshelm’s question.  “And I presume you are the commander, since your men obey you.  What is your name?  It seems I should deliver Sir Mortane’s letter to you.”
            “I am Archard Oshelm.  You may give Mortane’s letter to Danbeney Norman.”  Archard tilted his head toward his companion.  “When I have heard the letter, I will reply.”
            “Thank you, Commander Oshelm.  If it please you, I will wait until you have prepared your answer and take it with me to General Mortane.”  Polite words, but Henriet’s tone and countenance shouted insolence.  “Perhaps we should dismount and make ourselves comfortable.”
            “That won’t be necessary.”  Archard nodded to Danbeney Norman, who prodded his mount forward.  The silent courier, holding the two flags of truce, sidled his horse away to let Danbeney come close to Henriet.  The Stonebridge spokesman opened a leather cylinder that had been hanging near his right leg and pulled out a roll of rough paper.
            “Read it loudly, Danbeney, so the men can hear.”  Archard fixed his eyes on Reynald Henriet.  They glared at each other until the Stonebridge man looked away.
            Danbeney Norman unrolled the paper and turned his mount to read to the lancers.

Sir Milo Mortane, General of Tarquint
To the Commander of the Herminian Forces near Hyacintho Flumen


            The presence of the Herminian army in Tarquint has provoked a crisis in our country, as you no doubt are aware.  Lord Aylwin Mortane of Hyacintho Flumen urges us all to unite to protect Tarquint against the invaders.  As the siege of Hyacintho Flumen goes on and on, he begins to convince castle lords.  Some leading men of Down’s End are also nearly persuaded.
            I speak as Commander of the Stonebridge Guard and representative of our city.  If a Tarquintian alliance forms to oppose you, Stonebridge will take the lead, and I will command the forces arrayed against you.
            I say now, as I have said before, that Stonebridge does NOT yet stand with Aylwin.  You undoubtedly know that Lord Aylwin is my brother.  I regard him as a usurper and a fool.  I love him not.  Nevertheless, if a Tarquintian alliance forms, the Stonebridge Assembly may decide to join it.  In obedience to the Assembly, it would then be my duty to defeat those who besiege Aylwin.
            Therefore, I plead with you to act now.  Make alliance with me, before the Assembly joins any Tarquintian alliance, so that together we may create order and security in Tarquint.  Let us together quell any movement toward rebellion in Down’s End; that will leave your army free to subdue my wayward brother, no matter how long a siege is required.
            It may interest you to learn that my men have captured a beak-nosed armsman who claims to be “Eudes Ridere.”  He says he was going to Inter Lucus, but of course he can give no reason for doing so.  I suspect he is actually the leader of a gang of highwaymen, accustomed to preying on travelers on the old road south of Inter Lucus.  They gave us battle in the Blue River valley, and we destroyed most of them.  I would hang the man as a common criminal, but we discovered among the ruffians’ baggage several items bearing marks of the Herminian army.  As one of my captains pointed out, the man and his gang have probably been raiding some of your outposts.  Therefore, as a gesture of cooperation, I offer to deliver this imposter to you for punishment.  Or, if you like, I will execute “Eudes Ridere” for you.
            An acquaintance of mine recently asked me what I planned to do, given the situation in Tarquint.  I replied that a man must seize the chances that come to him.  It seems to me that you, Commander, have great chances before you—here, now, in Tarquint.  I urge you to ally with me, the better to seize your chance.

Begging that you give my words careful scrutiny,
Milo Mortane

            Danbeney Norman asked, “Shall I read it again, General?”
            Oshelm shook his head.  “To what end?  I believe our first letter is the proper reply.”
            “Aye, General.”  Norman’s saddle had a leather tube attached to it, much like Reynald Henriet’s.  From this cylindrical sheath Danbeney pulled out two papers, one rolled inside the other.  He separated the two pieces and gave one to the Stonebridge courier.
            “Written beforehand?  General Mortane asked that you give his words careful scrutiny.”  Henriet’s tone mocked.
            Archard Oshelm leaned sideways to spit on the ground.  “The quicker you deliver my letter to Mortane, the more he will thank you.  Go now.  Ride quickly.  My men won’t harm you.”
            Henriet glanced at the paper and slid it into his letter pouch.  His silent companion tossed aside the flags of truce, and the two Stonebridgers spurred their horses to a gallop.

            Danbeney Norman had written the letter, so he knew its contents.  “Are you sure, Archard?”  He spoke after the lancers had been dismissed to rejoin their unit; general and captain could converse frankly.
            “No doubt at all.  Mortane admits that he has General Ridere, and he invites me to collude in the general’s murder.  It is plain, Danbeney, what Mortane wants.  He wants me to treat Mariel’s army as my private estate, to be joined to his.  He dangles visions of empire before my eyes.  But the empire would be his; tyrants don’t share power.  His advices are those of a snake.  No, Danbeney.  Our duty is clear.”
            Norman chuckled.  “No turning back now, in any case.”

Archard Oshelm, General
Herminian Army

To Sir Milo Mortane
Stonebridge Army

General Mortane,

Many times you have stated your desire to treat with us.  We now discover that all such affirmations were lies.  Therefore, the Army of Herminia will soon engage your forces.  We intend to destroy you completely.
You might promise to spare General Ridere if we delay our attack.  But we have learned that your words are lies.  We expect that you will murder him in any case.
If you wish any other outcome, you must give us General Ridere alive and unhurt.  If you do this, the General will resume command of our army; perhaps he knows some way to come to terms with you.  But since you are a fool, you will ignore that possibility. 

With joy I will dance on your grave.
Archard Oshelm

157. In Castle Inter Lucus

            “God in heaven!”
            Marty glanced quickly over his shoulder to the source of the exclamation.  He thought: At least Elfric’s learning to swear monotheistically.  I haven’t heard “By the gods!” for a month.
            Elfric Ash happened to be looking at the interface wall when Videns-Loquitur snapped into vivid color.  Everyone knew that Lord Martin had been trying often to contact Mariel Grandmesnil.  But for many days the only result had been dim black and white views of the great hall at Pulchra Mane, sometimes with the old scribe staring at the camera but often with no one.  Now, suddenly, the colors of a rich hall—tapestries and tablecloths, red bottles of wine and blue goblets for drinking it—appeared in an instant.  And five people populated the scene, not just one.
            A man with short-cut black hair, dressed in gray and white, stood by Mariel’s knob, holding her palm on it.  The Queen was propped up on purple pillows in a grand chair, eyes open.  To Mariel’s left stood the wrinkled-face scribe, Aweirgan Unes.  Behind Unes a brown faced, round woman wore an awed expression.  Another man, dressed in a blue tunic and plain russet pants and wearing a scabbard, shared the round woman’s astonishment.
            Marty cut off Elfric’s oath with a raised hand.  He interpreted the scene before him: they brought her to the knob to answer.  He saw intelligence in Mariel’s eyes; he was sure of it.  “Queen Mariel!  Fair morning, your majesty!”
            The Queen of Herminia did not reply, though her face trembled with the attempt to do so.  Her jaw dropped, but her lips and tongue betrayed her.  Instead of words, her mouth delivered a hoarse croak and spittle. The man holding her hand to the lady’s knob looked with alarm at the straining monarch.  “My lady, no!  Do not harm yourself!”
            Aweirgan Unes gently lifted Mariel’s jaw, closing her mouth.  Then he rested a calming hand on Mariel’s left arm.  He spoke to the viewing wall.  “Lord Martin, the Queen cannot speak.”
            “Fair morning, Aweirgan.”  Marty kept his attention on Mariel rather than the scribe.  “She cannot speak yet.  But I also see that she very much wants to speak.  She is awake; even now she hears me.  Judging by what your letters have said, she must be much improved.”
            The scribe nodded.  “No doubt that is true.  The Queen is healing, though perhaps not quickly enough.”  Unes gestured.  “I introduce Whitgyl Ucede, the Queen’s physician; Felice Hale, the midwife who helped deliver Prince Eudes; and Merlin Torr, commander of the sheriffs of Pulchra Mane.”  The doctor, the midwife, and the commander all acknowledged Marty, inclining their heads.
            “The Queen’s physician?”  Disquiet colored Marty’s voice.  He forgot to introduce Whitney Ablendan, Caelin Bycwine, and Elfric Ash, all present with him in the great hall.
            “Aye.  I am Doctor Ucede.”  The man holding Mariel’s hand to the knob glared at Marty challengingly.  “I am learned in the various diseases that afflict mankind and their cures.  I have served Queen Mariel, and King Rudolf before her, for many years.”
            Marty closed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose.  If they’ve let him back into the castle, I must not antagonize him.  He puffed out a slow breath.  “It is an honor to meet you, Doctor.  I imagine that you may have been upset that I prevailed on Aweirgan Unes to stop you bleeding the Queen.  I want to say clearly that I intended no insult.  You have studied medical art, and you have much experience.  However, I have had conversations with doctors in my home country.  I know that they believe—very strongly—that the practice of bleeding patients rarely helps them recover.”
            Ucede pressed his lips together, angry.  “And where is your home country?”
            “Lafayette is far, far from here.”
            “And it is on the second-hand authority of these physicians of Lafayette that you interfered with my treatment of Queen Mariel?”
            “I see that I have offended you.  I apologize.”  Marty bowed his head.  “But the doctors I know would insist that bleeding Mariel after she had already lost much blood would not help her.”
            Ucede didn’t know how to respond.  The apology seemed sincere.  But Marty’s opinion on the question seemed unshakeable.
            Aweirgan Unes spoke quietly.  “Whitgyl, be honest.  Did you expect the Queen’s condition to improve, as it has?”
            The doctor’s expression changed from anger to acceptance.  “No, I did not.  But I stand by my advice.  The humors causing the Queen’s illness should have been released.  That she improves is a testimony to Grandmesnil strength.”
            “That may be.  The point is: she has improved.”  Aweirgan gestured toward the viewing screen.  “And as a result, we can talk with Lord Martin directly.”
            Marty rubbed his chin.  “Aweirgan, a moment ago you said Mariel may not be improving quickly enough.  What did you mean?”
            Aweirgan fixed his eyes on Marty.
            “The lords Wadard, Beaumont, Mowbray, and Giles accuse me of assassinating Queen Mariel.  They have sent an army, under one Allard Dell, to take me captive—along with Captain Torr, whom I introduced.”  The scribe nodded toward the captain.  “This is, of course, all artifice.  They would have us admit their soldiers to castle Pulchra Mane; and then they would kill the Queen and execute us as her murderers.  Young Prince Eudes they would make prisoner at one of their castles.  The kingdom and the city would be devastated.”
            Unes paused for a moment, letting his words sink in.  “The lords’ army is even now outside the city.  If I do not surrender the Prince in two hours time, the attack will begin.”
            “Two hours!  What are your plans?”
            “Captain Torr has deployed sheriffs to defend the city.  With luck we may keep them out of the castle for a day or two.”  Unes coughed quietly.  “In truth, I believe our best hope is for help from you.”      
Marty felt dismay.  “Me!  Why?  How could I possibly help?”
“You are obviously a strong lord.  Your bond with Inter Lucus rivals Mariel’s connection with Pulchra Mane.”
From behind Marty, Caelin Bycwine whispered in his ear.  “They need Mariel to raise her shields.”
            “But I am a thousand miles away!  How could I help…?”  A thought interrupted Marty’s question.  He closed his eyes and gave a silent mental command.
            “What is he doing?”  Doctor Ucede turned to Aweirgan Unes in alarm.  A square window had suddenly opened in the castle’s magic wall.  “Don’t let him hurt the Queen!”
            “Don’t worry.”  Unes nodded toward the screen.  “Fair morning, Lady Avice.”
            “Fair morning, Lord Martin.”  In the viewing wall frame, Avice Montfort’s eyes went wide.  “And Queen Mariel!  Fair morning, indeed!  Gods be thanked, the Queen is well!”  With her hands on her lady’s knob, Montfort bowed her head in greeting; beside her, the young scribe, Gentian Bearning, bowed more formally.
            “I am sorry to report, Lady Avice, that the Queen is not well.”  Unes bowed in return.  “We have brought her here to place her hand on globum domini auctoritate, not knowing whether it would work.  I suspect it is Lord Martin’s magic, and not the Queen’s, that sustains Videns-Loquitur.”
            Lady Montfort frowned.  “But look at her!  Don’t you see…?”
            Marty thought: Do Montfort and I see Mariel more clearly than they do?  Is Videns-Loquitur some kind of alien diagnostic tool, not just a video conference?  For the millionth time, he chafed at unanswered questions.
            Marty said, “Lady Avice, I agree.  Mariel hears us, and she wants to answer, but she is not yet able.  Unfortunately, we must discuss something even more important than the Queen’s health.”
            More important?”
            “Aye,” Aweirgan Unes answered.  “The army of Wadard, Beaumont, Mowbray, and Giles will attack Pulchra Mane today if we do not surrender the city to them.”
            “Lady Avice, I need your advice.”  Marty covered his mouth for a moment, his eyes on the floor, considering his next words.  “You are much more learned in castle lore than I am.  Would it be possible, if Mariel’s hand were on her knob, for another lord—or lady, of course—to raise Pulchra Mane’s shields?”
            Montfort smiled.  “An exterior lord or lady can do nothing to command another lord’s castle.  Not even Rudolf could do that.  He compelled the lords of Herminia to submit, but he could not take their castles from them.”
            “Nothing?”  Marty’s brows bunched together.  “But when I call a castle, I see into the great hall.”
            “Amazing,” Aweirgan Unes said.  “You see us before the Queen answers?”
            “Aye.  The image is poor, but I have seen you many times sitting at the table behind you, writing or looking at my summons.”
            Montfort was stunned.  “That can’t be.  Castles bond to a family—parent to child, parent to child.  It is basic law of castle magic.”
            “Lady Avice, I’ve looked into the great hall at Tutum Partum as well—when you were not present at the knob.”
            Unes shook his head.  “Lady Avice, do we really know the magic of castles?  How is it that Martin, who comes from who knows where, is able to bond so powerfully with Inter Lucus?”
            Avice Montfort shrugged her shoulders.  “I…I don’t know…”
            “We have little choice but to try.”  Marty pointed at the man in the blue tunic.  Captain Torr—that’s your name, isn’t it?”
            “Aye, my lord.”  Torr stepped closer, standing by Doctor Ucede.
            “How long can you protect the city against the enemy without castle shields?”
            Torr squared his shoulders.  “Truth?  A day or two.”
            Marty pursed his lips.  “How long would it take to move your sheriffs within the greater shield?”
            The soldier thought for only a moment.  “Less than an hour.  That is, if we are to take up defensive positions.  If we merely flee, even less.”
            “Oh no.  No rout.”  Marty said.  “You need to fall back in order and show the enemy that you are ready to fight.  When all is ready, you will send word to Queen Mariel.”
            “Send word?”
            “You will inform the Queen that your men are in position and ready.”  Marty made a fist.  “When Mariel, Lady Montfort, and I receive your word, we will—all three of us, all at the same time—command Pulchra Mane’s greater shield.  Your men will then throw, or shoot, or launch projectiles against the shield.  We want the enemy to see for themselves a real castle shield.”
            Commander Torr locked eyes with Marty.  “Can you do this thing, Lord Martin?”
            “Truth?  I don’t know.”  Marty realized the risk he was pressing on Torr.  “But I know that Mariel can hear me.  She too will try to raise the shield.  Perhaps she is well enough to do it.  Perhaps the three of us together will have an effect.”
            “Fair enough,” said Torr.  “I would rather take my chance with this plan than three hundred raw sheriffs.  “We will throw bottles of red wine.  That should get their attention.”
            Torr saluted Queen Mariel, Aweirgan Unes, and Marty.  Then he sprinted away.
            Marty’s thoughts were elsewhere when Avice Montfort spoke.  “Lord Martin.”
            “I think it would be a good thing—for me and certainly for Mariel—if we were to rest for a while before this great experiment.”
            “Oh.  Oh, all right.  Aweirgan, I will break the contact now and summon Lady Montfort and the Queen in half an hour.  Doctor Ucede, if you can comfort Queen Mariel in that time, it might be helpful.”

            Marty decided to apply Montfort’s advice to himself.  He ate a small sandwich and drank a cup of tea while reviewing Whitney’s notes of the meeting.  Then, like a seven-year-old boy at his desk in second grade, he laid his head on his arms and closed his eyes.  He was far too keyed up to sleep, but five minutes rest couldn’t hurt.
            Can this possibly work?  Surely there have been lords and ladies on Two Moons who would have been motivated to take control of a rival’s castle if it could be done.  So Montfort has to be right.  Castle authority passes from parent to child.  Something genetic, I guess.  And Grandma Edith came from Charwelton.  Wow.

            Shortly after noon, Allard Dell raised his arm to signal the first assault on Pulchra Mane.  As he did so, a shout went up from some mounted lancers a hundred yards to his right.  An answering cry rang out somewhere to the left.  Then general uproar ensued.
            Clay pots were smashing into an invisible barrier twenty or thirty feet in the air.  From the pots dark red wine ran in little rivulets to the ground.
            A lone archer ran into the street between two buildings.  Notching a lone arrow he let fly directly at Captain Dell.  The missile splintered when it hit the shield.
            “By the gods.”  Dell whispered to himself.  At least he thought so.  “Mariel lives.”
            Men close to Dell heard him.  Within ten minutes the words had raced through his army: “Mariel lives.”

158. In the Hills of Tarquint

            Archard Oshelm’s letter, brought to Hostage Camp an hour before sundown, required that Milo Mortane decide his course promptly.  Milo’s captains immediately denounced the option of surrendering Eudes Ridere to the Herminians.  The Herminian commander’s belligerent words—“I will dance on your grave”—enraged them.  Just as important, that very day, while Reynald Henriet met with Oshelm to deliver Milo’s letter, an unexpected turn of events had influenced their thinking.
            The man’s name was Roalt Valerin.  A soldier in the Herminian army, he said, he hailed from Caelestis Arcanus, the castle of Lord Osmer Beaumont.  He was serving his second turn in Tarquint.  He first came to Hyacintho Flumen at the beginning of the siege, he had been rotated home for three months in winter/spring, and now he was back in Tarquint.  He was a good soldier, Roalt said.  Like most soldiers in the siege circle around Hyacintho Flumen, he had endured many days of boredom.  But unlike others, he had also known the terror of war.  He and his brother Simun participated in a night raid last winter, a daring attack that had destroyed some of Aylwin Mortane’s cattle.  Roalt recounted the episode bitterly.  Simun had died in that raid, burned to death by the castle’s magic shield.  General Ridere, Roalt said, soon forgot about Roalt and Simun’s exploit; Roalt had never been promoted or rewarded.  Nevertheless, Roalt Valerin remained a loyal Herminian—that is, until they arrested Lord Osmer’s son, Selwin Beaumont.
            Sir Selwin was no fool, said Roalt.  He had confided to Roalt that Archard Oshelm could not be trusted, and he had given Roalt a message to be delivered to the Stonebridge army if anything should happen to Selwin.  So when they arrested Sir Selwin, Roalt had stolen a horse and ridden north.  After three harrowing days avoiding Oshelm’s scouts, Roalt reached the Stonebridge camp.
            Stonebridge captains demanded to read the message.  Oh no, said Roalt, pointing to his head.  It’s all here.
            They brought him to Milo Mortane, and Roalt Valerin rehearsed Sir Selwin’s message. One: something has happened in Herminia, something that alarmed Eudes Ridere. Two: Pulchra Mane armsmen are being packed off for home as fast as possible.  Three: General Ridere left Hyacintho Flumen for some unknown destination, but not aboard ship.  Four: Archard Oshelm had split his remaining forces, marching north with only two thousand and leaving three thousand to maintain the siege.
            At noon, when they first heard Valerin’s testimony, Milo’s captains expressed skepticism.  How much of the man’s story could be believed?  But in the evening, after hearing Archard Oshelm’s bellicose letter, they abandoned caution.  Two thousand only?  The Herminian force approaching from the south now outnumbered them two to one rather than nine to one.  With one mind, Milo’s captains wanted to fight.  This is our chance, they said.
            Milo asked for tactical suggestions.
About three miles south of Hostage Camp the road from Hyacintho Flumen passed through a narrow gap between two steep wooded hills.  Aidan Fleming proposed that archers placed on these hills could harass and significantly weaken the Herminian army as it marched north.  If the enemy tried to attack the archers, they would be slogging uphill, and a ring of swordsmen could defend the archers.  Bryce Dalston endorsed the plan; he said that three hundred men would be sufficient to defend the hills, one hundred fifty on each hill, leaving the bulk of the army free to maneuver against the Herminians.
Hrodgar Wigt and Ifing Redhair considered the proposal, and then nodded their approval.  Derian Chapman, the last of Milo’s captains, offered no opinion; and no one asked for it.  Derian’s role was quartermaster, not battle strategy.
            Milo ordered immediate action.  Every archer in the army was assigned to one of two squadrons, fifty in each group.  (Some swordsmen with comparatively little training with the bow were pressed into this duty to bring the number to fifty for each.)  One hundred swordsmen were added to each unit.  Aidan Fleming and Bryce Dalston took command of the archer/swordsmen companies, departing Hostage Camp under the light of first moon.  Before second moon set, Fleming and Dalston’s companies were concealed in the woods on top of the two hills.
            The thick forests on the hills provided plenty of cover for the swordsmen/archer companies.  If the men were quiet, there would be little danger of being seen by the Herminians.  It took some searching, though, for each archer to find an opening through the branches to launch arrows at the road.  Eventually word came to Dalston and Fleming that their archers were ready.
            When morning came, the still heat of the previous day was relieved by a wind from the west.  As dry as ever, at least the air was moving now.  Under the trees, Fleming and Dalston’s men felt only a fraction of the breeze, but they welcomed the slight comfort it brought.  They ate the limited bread and salted meat they had and waited for the enemy.  They didn’t wait long.
            The soldiers on the hills spied lightly armed Herminian scouts, one rider on the road and others picking their way through the wild countryside over ridges and between stands of pine and fir.  In their haste to establish their forces on the two hills, Dalston and Fleming had neglected to take signalmen with them.  The only way to send reports to Hostage Camp was via runners.  Rather than give away their position, Dalston and Fleming delayed sending news.
            Milo prepared the rest of his army for quick action.  The tents and gear were packed up in record time, and forty men were assigned to guard the prisoners and the baggage.  Everyone else assembled with his unit captain, either on the road or close by it, ready to fight.  Milo ordered two dozen runners, a few at a time, to fan out in the land between Hostage Camp and the hills; they were to report back to the main army often.
            Milo now experienced the discomfiture of military commanders throughout the history of warfare: once he had thrown his army into battle he had little knowledge of what they were doing and even less ability to help them.  He could see the hills where Dalston and Fleming were positioned, but nothing more.  He paced like a caged tiger, waiting for his runner scouts to bring news.
            Dalston and Fleming strictly ordered their archers not to fire on the enemy or do anything to reveal their position until commanded to shoot.  If a good portion of the Herminian army could be lured into the narrow space between the hills, Fleming hoped, Stonebridge arrows would decimate them.  All the men understood the plan, so hundreds of eyes watched the first Herminian scout pass between the hills, anxious to detect any sign that he suspected danger.
            The lone rider entered the defile cautiously, his gaze passing from side to side.  Halfway through, his little mount slowed to a stop, and the watching Stonebridgers held their collective breath.  Satisfied, the scout spurred his horse and trotted through the gap.  Many of the men began to think their plan would succeed.  Two miles further north, the rider would encounter the bulk of the Stonebridge army; many men smiled grimly, thinking of his fate.
            Soon after the scout, a dozen Herminian lancers rode through the gap.  They wore light helms and carried small shields and short swords.  Their main weapons were twelve-foot lances, lying couched across their horses’ necks.  At a moment’s notice, the lancers could ready lances and charge as one—but only on relatively level ground.  Aidan Fleming smiled to himself.  He had no intention of leaving the refuge of the hill.
            On both hills, a few Stonebridgers kept lookout on the other Herminian scouts.  These riders, spread out east and west of the road, constantly changed directions as they maneuvered around rock outcroppings and tree roots.  In general, though, they circled the two steep hills, which were too densely wooded for the nimblest of horses.  On both hills, men dared to believe: They haven’t seen us.
            The west wind increased its intensity, moving fir and pine branches.  Now Aidan Fleming, on the west hill, began to worry that his whole scheme might be ruined.  The thought came to him that some of the Herminians had to be experienced hunters; they might detect the smell of men on the wind.  It had been his idea to position archers on the hills.  He didn’t want the plan ruined by some foul smelling soldier.  But he put the thought out of mind; it was too late to do anything about this worry.
            Herminian infantry came into view, marching on the road, six abreast.  They were armed with broadswords, wore helmets, and carried shields.  Aidan Fleming could hardly credit his good fortune.  The rows of marching men were close together.  He quickly estimated numbers.  When I give the command, there will be almost a thousand targets between Dalston’s men and mine.  They can’t really come at us, since we have the higher ground.  We will rain arrows on them until they flee.
            Fleming can be forgiven his mistakes.  Before this day, he had no battle experience outside the streets of Stonebridge.  He had never fought a veteran army.  He had never witnessed the quality of castle steel weapons (except for Milo Mortane’s).  And he misjudged the wind.
            The Herminians filled the defile, close to one thousand men in a column five hundred yards long.  Aidan Fleming signaled his men, and fifty arrows flew, spaced out irregularly over a quarter mile; a moment later, fifty more missiles launched from Dalston’s hill.  Some Herminian soldiers fell, and Stonebridgers on both hills cheered; the time for concealment had ended.
            The first volleys were less effective than one might have expected.  The freshening wind, quite strong now, pushed arrows from Fleming’s side too far.  Arrows from Dalston’s archers fell short.  On both sides, archers adjusted their aim and their arrows began falling accurately on the enemy—to surprisingly small effect.
            Up and down the Herminian column, swordsmen held shields over their heads.  The Stonebridge arrows, falling from considerable height, hammered the shields powerfully.  But they rarely penetrated castle steel.  Most shafts shattered on impact, broken bits falling to the ground like a particularly ugly hail.  Only those arrows that slipped between the shields could strike targets, and these were few.  Aidan Fleming estimated more numbers: each of his archers had about forty arrows; together they might shoot two thousand times.  Dalston’s archers could match that: four thousand arrows in all.  Fleming anxiously realized they might expend all their missiles and kill less than one hundred enemy.
            The enemy attacked neither hill.  They seemed to be content to stand their ground under the rain of arrows.  Then Fleming saw it wasn’t so.  The swordsmen holding the shields were stationary, but under the roof of steel a single column of men was still moving north—bent double almost, but running the gauntlet.  To Fleming’s left, at the north end of the defile, a company of Herminian swordsmen was rapidly growing and forming up outside the range of his archers.  Fleming now realized that his plan, which had seemed so promising, was heading for failure.  The bulk of the Herminian army would pass through the gap unharmed, and then they could attack Milo’s main force.  The three hundred men committed to the hills only reduced the number who would face the Herminian assault.
            Fleming seized a young man and shouted at him to take a report to General Mortane.  He had to shout over the wind.  And then he smelled smoke.  In despair, Fleming realized his doom.
            Herminian scouts had set fires in the dry brush on the west side of the hill.  Fleming’s men didn’t notice at first.  The fires were on the backside of their hill, and every one of them was watching the battle.  It probably wouldn’t have mattered if they had been more attentive.  Pushed by strong hot winds in dry forest, the fires exploded upward.  In the defile between the hills, the Herminians started more fires on their right, at the base of Dalston’s hill.  At first, the fires at the base of the eastern hill spread more slowly, but then the wind kicked them into an inferno.
            The smoke of the fires on Dalston’s hill quickly obscured his archers’ vision.  They stopped shooting.  Within minutes, they were fleeing for their lives, as the wind-stoked fires raced up the hill at them.
Fleming’s men could still see to shoot, since the blaze and smoke on the western hill were raging into the sky behind them.  For a few more minutes they could yet launch missiles into the enemy.  But they could not escape.  A conflagration raged behind them and an overwhelming force lay before them.  With no order from Fleming, his swordsmen and archers began fleeing in the only direction possible, down the steep slope to the north.
            When the hail of arrows stopped, the Herminians lowered their shield roof and quadrupled their speed through the gap in the hills.  In an hour’s time, Archard Oshelm’s army had passed through the Stonebridge trap, routing Fleming and Dalston’s men as they went.
            Aidan Fleming, veteran sheriff in the Stonebridge Guard, died in a choking haze of smoke.  He tripped while trying to run down a brushy slope and smacked his head against a tree.  He tried to get up, but something had broken; whether his back or his leg he couldn’t tell.  From somewhere in his subconscious a vision of River Betlicéa in Stonebridge came before his mind; how refreshing it would be to feel the spray once more.  So he smiled at the last.

159. In Flight from Hostage Camp

            From Hostage Camp, the Stonebridge army saw plumes of smoke to the south.  Suddenly the fires blew up, burning so fiercely that Milo and his men could see flames from their location three miles distant.  No one needed to say what everyone guessed: Something has gone terribly wrong.  It wasn’t long before runner-scouts confirmed their fears.  Dalston and Fleming’s companies were routed.  The enemy had come through the gap in force.  The Herminians were two miles away and marching.
            With joy I will dance on your grave.
            In the moment of crisis, Milo felt an inexplicable calm.  He had a sense of being outside himself, as if he were watching someone else take charge of the situation and give commands.  He was gratified and impressed with the way the Stonebridge general organized a retreat—all the while equally surprised that he was that general.
            He spoke first to Hrodgar Wigt, telling him to quick march the Red and Blue companies, which comprised most of their remaining army, north to a creek they had named “Damned Creek.”  (Days before, when moving south, two wagon wheels had broken while fording the creek; hence the name.)  Each man was to march with the food already in his pack; there was not enough time to distribute supplies from the wagons.  Red and Blue companies could rest north of Damned Creek.  The high water of the creek would hinder the enemy’s pursuit, since they would have to cross at the ford.
            “Will we stand there, sir?”  Hrodgar asked.  “Make our defense at the ford?”
            “Perhaps.  You and I will assess our situation once I arrive.  You need to get there before nightfall, guard the ford, and give the men rest.  Right now our task is to slow down the enemy and keep our army together.  If we scatter, we lose everything.”
            Milo commanded Felix Abrecan to form a small mounted company.  “We’ll need the scout ponies for the main army.  So you get the draft horses from the wagons.  Take three prisoners and Derian Chapman.  Leave the wagons here.  Don’t stop.  Ride all night if you must, and tomorrow.”
            Felix frowned, confused.  “Only three prisoners?”
“Aye.  Take General Ridere, the wounded man, and one of the others.  Bring the fourth to me before you ride.”
Felix had another question.  “We will reach Damned Creek well ahead of Captain Wigt.  Should we not stop there?”
            “No.  Ride to Crossroads Inn.  We will need resupply.  Idonea Fatman knows the farmers in that region.  Sheriff Chapman will negotiate for food, wagons, and horses.  Your job is to keep our prisoners safe.”
            Derian Chapman overheard Milo’s instructions to Felix.  “How am I to negotiate for our needs?  Does the army have bags of gold that I am unaware of?”
            “Captain Chapman!  Use your imagination.  This is the Stonebridge army.  Of course we have gold; it just isn’t with us right now.  You will have our prisoners as exhibits.  Surely you know how to threaten and promise!  What would your uncle do?  Get what you can as quickly as possible.  Then…”
            “And then?” Derian raised an eyebrow.  Will you bring the army to Crossroads?”
            “I’ll send word.”
            Chapman was not satisfied.  “And if I don’t hear from you?  Should Felix and I take the prisoners to Stonebridge?”
            “No!”  Milo spoke emphatically.  “Our chances don’t lie there.  Not yet.  We will either defeat the enemy in the field or move toward Inter Lucus.”
            Inter Lucus!”  Chapman’s words were both exclamation and question.  But Milo had neither time nor inclination to explain.  Felix took Derian’s elbow, and Milo waved them away.
            “Redhair!”  Milo summoned the captain of the knife fighters.  With Bryce Dalston and Aidan Fleming lost, Ifing Redhair, Hrodgar Wigt, and Derian Chapman were Milo’s remaining captains.  The red-haired giant had been standing close, arms crossed, listening to Milo’s instructions to the others.  “I have a crucial job for the knife fighters.”
            “No doubt.”  Redhair did not mask his sarcasm.  “I suppose we are to make a grand stand, blocking the road, sacrificing ourselves to slow the enemy.”
            “Ifing!  You underestimate me.”  Milo grinned.  “If the road is to be defended, I will do it—with Eádulf, of course.  We will need every man we have, so I certainly don’t want the knife fighters to sacrifice themselves.  When second moon rises, I want the whole army, including the knife fighters, on the north side of Damned Creek.”
            Redhair unfolded his arms.  “What, then?”
            “The Herminians have shown us what we must do.”  Milo pointed south.  “I want knife fighters to spread out, in teams of three or four, east and west of the road.  Set fires everywhere there is good fuel.  Then move north.  Eádulf and I will guard the road and set fire to trees near it.”
            For a moment, Redhair’s gaze lingered on the southern horizon.  He nodded, approvingly.  “It may work.  Falcons will fire the forest.”  He glanced at Milo.  “But one of my teams should be with you.  You and Eádulf can fight, and Falcons can start fires.”
            “Good idea.”  Milo noted Redhair’s use of ‘Falcons,’ and the way he agreed to Milo’s order as if it were a mere suggestion.  But this was not the time to insist on a proper acknowledgement of his authority.  “Let’s move!”
            When Herminian swordsmen reached the place, Hostage Camp had become a blackened field, with pine trees burning on the edges.  The Stonebridge army had obviously left in haste.  Charred bits of firewood, camp gear, and wagons littered the meadow and road.  Tall trees burning very near the road forced the Herminians out of their way around them; and a quarter-mile after regaining the road their progress was blocked by more fires.  In every direction smoke transformed the blue spring sky into swirling clouds of white, gray, and black.  The west wind blew the smoke eastward, but it also fanned the flames.
            Along with the detritus of the enemy camp, they found Wylie Durwin, one of the men who had ridden with General Ridere and taken prisoner by the Stonebridgers.  He was bound hand and foot, lying facedown in the dirt of the road with a wet cloth over his head.  The fires that destroyed the camp and the surrounding vegetation had not touched him, but heat and smoke-poisoned air almost killed him.  Wylie coughed incessantly and lost his balance whenever he tried to stand.  They freed Wylie from his bonds and put him on a scout’s horse; the scout took him in search of General Oshelm.
            Riding with Danbeney Norman near the middle of the advancing column, Archard Oshelm tried to piece together information coming from scouts.  They reported fires everywhere.       
“Mortane has turned our weapon against us,” Norman commented.  For the moment, he and the general were stopped, waiting for two scouts.  One was picking his way carefully across blackened rugged country.  The other approached equally slowly on the road’s edge.  He walked his horse, which was bearing a slumped rider.
Norman rested his hands on his saddle pommel, surveying the horizon to the north.  “Not as effectively as we used it, of course.  We routed the archers on the hills and killed most of them.  He merely uses it to retard our advance.”
            General Oshelm pointed to a bit of unburned grass a few yards from the road.  He nudged his horse into motion, and Norman followed him.  “Mortane’s use of fire is just as effective as ours, Danbeney, in its own way.  He cannot defeat me, so he flees.  Fire gains him time.”
            “He is a coward.”  They reached the grassy spot, a good place to receive the scouts.
            “Nonsense, Danbeney.  If you were in Mortane’s place, you would flee as well.  He keeps his army alive today so that it may fight tomorrow.  Not only does he protect lives, he preserves an army.  I wager they are not racing pell-mell to the north; no, they are marching in ordered companies, and they will turn to face us at some good defensive spot.”
            Norman looked thoughtful.  “Mortane grew up in Hyacintho Flumen, son of the lord.  The Mortanes claimed sovereignty over all this land in times past, all the way to Down’s End.  He is torching lands that might have been his.”
            “Might have been,” said Oshelm.  “They are his brother’s lands now.  But even if these forests were his, he would burn them to save his army.  And he would be right to do it.”
            The two scouts reached Oshelm and Norman at the same time, one climbing a steep slope and the other plodding down from the road’s verge.  Ten yards away, Herminian soldiers continued padding their way northward.  The column’s advance had slowed greatly, and many of the swordsmen cast wondering eyes at Oshelm.
            “General Oshelm.”  The scout leading the horse glanced at the other, hesitating.  The body on his horse had been tied in place, a rope passing from boot to boot under the beast like a girth.
            Oshelm looked at the passenger’s face.  “By the gods!  It’s Wylie Durwin.”
            The rescued soldier turned toward Oshelm’s voice.  “General.  I…” A spasm of coughing interrupted whatever Durwin intended to say.  The violence of the cough shook Durwin’s body, and the scout who attended him reached up to steady him. 
Oshelm sidled his horse closer.  “Wylie, how came you here?”
Durwin coughed again and held up a palm.  “Ridere lives.”  More coughing.  “I am to say: Ridere lives.”
“Mortane left you behind to tell me this.”  Oshelm looked closely at Durwin.  Black sputum dribbled from the soldier’s mouth, and his eyes wandered, unable to focus steadily.
Coughing: “Aye.”
Danbeney Norman asked, “Is it true, Wylie?  Mortane has kept the general alive?”
More coughing.  Durwin nodded, a clear affirmative.  Oshelm looked at him for a time, and then turned to the other scout.  “Report.”
The mounted scout saluted.  “We have lost men to secret attacks.”
            Secret attacks?  Explain.”
            “Men say that knives seem to come out of nowhere.”
            “Aye, Lord General.  The Stonebridgers throw knives.”
            Oshelm couldn’t believe what he was hearing.  “And after?  If a man throws his weapon, is he not defenseless?  Do we not cut him down?”
“They throw and run, my lord.  They escape into the smoke and hide again.  Rarely do our men catch them.  I did see two knife throwers dead, but they generally get away.  We have lost only one man killed, but more than two score have been injured.”
Oshelm considered this odd development.  The scout added, “There is worse, sir.  A knight attacked our vanguard, and several men were lost.”
A knight?  A single attacker?”  Oshelm drew the back of his hand across his forehead.  “Tell me!”
“He had a squire.  But it was the knight that hit us, a true knight: great gray horse, castle steel armor, and lightning sword.  He splits helms like eggshells.  Before our men recover from the first charge, knight and squire gallop off.”
“It has to be Mortane.”  Oshelm looked at Danbeney Norman.  “The steel for our weapons is made at Pulchra Mane by the queen herself.  But it is fashioned into shields and swords by ordinary smiths.  Milo Mortane’s personal armor and sword would have been made for him by his father, Hereward, at the full height of his magic.”
“But Mortane is only one man,” said Norman.  “He can be defeated.”
“Of course.  He took a great risk in attacking our van.  If one of the men had struck his horse’s leg, Mortane might be dead now.”  Oshelm shook his head.  “I wonder, should we judge him brave or foolish?”

Three times Milo charged marching Herminian swordsmen on the road.  Madness?  His father’s calculating voice echoed in his head, lessons driven home in ten years of training.  Keep the initiative.  Surprise is worth five swords in a melee.  Once they start running, you’ve won.  If they don’t start running, get away!  Each time they attacked, Milo and Eádulf chose a bend in the road or a copse of trees, hiding until the last moment before the charge.
The Herminians didn’t exactly run, but neither did they stand effectively.  Gray Boy was a true destrier, a thousand pounds of bone and muscle, clad with armor and yet able to charge and maneuver at speed.  Milo’s superb sword, impelled by Gray Boy’s momentum, threw aside the weak blows of the Herminians and smashed their light helms like vegetable crates.  While the enemy still reeled from the first assault, Milo wheeled Gray Boy in a tight circle and escaped.  Milo had no intention of entering a melee.  He wanted only to bloody the Herminian nose, and then get away.  After each encounter, knight and squire rode swiftly northward, and the three knife fighters who accompanied them would set another blaze.

By late afternoon, the Herminian army halted.  Oshelm’s men spread out along an unnamed and much muddied brook.  They formed into units and established a rough camp.  The captains counted their men.  On the whole day, including the initial battle with the archers in the gap, the Herminians had ninety-five men killed, and twice as many wounded or badly harmed by smoke.  Of course, almost every man suffered from smoke inhalation to some degree, but at least eighty were badly sickened.  Summing up, Captain Allard Ing told Oshelm and the other captains that fires and smoke had hurt or killed more Herminians than the enemy’s weapons.  Ing estimated that the Stonebridgers had lost two hundred or more at the battle of the gap.  And, he said, the enemy left behind most of their baggage in their haste to flee; the burned wagons proved as much.  “We’ve got them on the run,” he concluded.
“Aye.  But as many as three hundred of our men will be unable to march in the morning,” replied Darel Hain, another captain.  “The wounded and smoke-injured must rest.  There is water here, but we must not leave them unprotected.”
“A small guard only.  We must not let Mortane get away!” Ing protested.
Oshelm let captains Ing, Hain, and Norman debate for a while whether they should pursue the Stonebridgers on the morrow.  Then he gestured for silence.  “Captain Hain will take two hundred men to guard the wounded.  Start for Hyacintho Flumen, Darel.  Every man who can walk must.  We can spare only three wagons for the badly hurt.
“That leaves fourteen hundred, more or less.  We will pursue the enemy tomorrow.”  Oshelm ground his teeth.  “Mortane will not escape me.”

160.  Various Locations

Crossroads Inn

            “By the gods!  It’s Merlin Averill.”
            The claw arm could not be mistaken, even from behind.  Averill turned, without haste, to face the speaker.  Derian Chapman, followed closely by Felix Abrecan, had just entered from the corral that lay between the wings of Crossroads Inn into the common room.  With raised eyebrow, Merlin said, “W-w-well met, D-D-Derian.”  Nodding to Felix, he added, “Sh-sh-sheriff Abrecan.”
            “What are you doing here?”  Derian expostulated.
            “We could ask the same.  Why are you here?”  The speaker was a brown-haired woman, descending the stairs from the second floor of Crossroads Inn.  She was dressed in a fine blue kirtle that contrasted strongly with the muddy leather breeches and riding cloak worn by Merlin Averill.  Amicia Mortane crossed from the stairs to Merlin’s side and touched his arm.  “Bee Fatman is fetching hot water for a new bath.  You can go up any time.”
            “The lady ambassador!  Gods!”  Derian’s mouth hung open for a moment, bringing smiles to Merlin and Amicia.  Then he recovered his composure.  “Master Merlin, Lady Amicia, it will be to our advantage to meet privately.  I assume you have rooms already?  Can we retire to one of them?”
            “We have a room,” answered Amicia.  “Merlin and I wed just before we left Stonebridge; it makes traveling together much less awkward.  Of course, the sheriffs—we have a guard of four—have rooms on either side of ours.  Small bedrooms—none of them would serve for a meeting.”
            “Married?”  Derian blew out his cheeks.  “Already?  What will Milo say?”
            Amicia tossed her head, shaking brown locks on her shoulders.  “If he has any sense, he will say, ‘Congratulations.  Blessings on you.’  Which is what you should say as well.  By the by, Merlin has waited very patiently for his turn at a bath.”  She nudged her husband.  “Go on.”
            Derian appeared flummoxed.  But Felix wasn’t.  “Congratulations, Lady Amicia, Master Merlin.  May the gods bless your union.”  Looking around the room, Felix said, “I suggest that we gather around the table in the corner.  The sheriffs who have come with Master Merlin and Lady Amicia can sit at the nearer table.  That will keep prying ears away.”
            Derian took thought for a moment.  “I think you’re right, Felix.  The corner table will have to do.”  To Amicia: “Congratulations on your marriage.  May the gods bless both of you.”  To Felix: “I’ll talk to Idonea Fatman about supper.  Perhaps you should instruct Jarvis and the others to take their supper in shifts.  Our guests must be kept safe.”
            “My thought exactly, Captain.”  Felix saluted and left the common room through the door leading to the corral.
            “G-g-guests?”  Merlin Averill hadn’t obeyed Amicia’s nudges yet.
            “I will explain over sup,” answered Derian.  “In private.”
            Averill frowned, but Amicia tugged on his elbow.  “The water won’t stay hot long, Beloved.”

Castle Hyacintho Flumen

            Arthur the old, Dag Daegmund, and Aylwin Mortane stood on the god’s tower of Hyacintho Flumen.  The flat roof had no parapet, so Arthur used a thin stick, much like a blind man’s cane, to warn himself from stepping too close.  Decades before, Arthur used to stand right on the edge, but he no longer trusted his balance.
            “There.  There.  And there.”  Captain Daegmund indicated various points in the ring of Herminian camps surrounding the castle.  “They disguise what they’ve done.  The number of men on patrol stays the same, and the catapults throw fire or refuse as often as ever.  But the camps themselves are thinner.  Ridere has sent some of his men away; I’m sure of it.  They’re going by ship, some of them.  Others, I think, have marched north.”
            “Herminian armsmen have been leaving and returning from the beginning,” said Arthur.  “It’s part of Ridere’s plan, to maintain a siege for years.”
            “Aye.  But look at the camps.”  Again Daegmund pointed.  “No man comes or goes from many of the tents.  They keep them only to deceive us.  Count the food wagons; they are far fewer than before.”
            “Martin of Inter Lucus hinted at something like this.”  Aylwin watched one of the catapults launch a clay jar.  Rather than disintegrating on Magna Arcum Praesidiis, the jar—no doubt full of human or animal excrement—simply crashed to the ground.  Cleaning up after bombardments had become a regular routine among Hyacintho Flumen’s farm servants.  “Damn!  I will have to go down and hold the shield for a while, remind the Herminians I’m here.”
            Descending the stairs to the great hall, Aylwin found himself wishing Martin would contact him via Videns-Loquitur.  Aylwin continued to try to connect with other lords on his own, but without success.  Martin hadn’t called for four days.  Aylwin held the fool in contempt, which made it all the more irritating to have to rely on him.  And the silence of the bitch queen had lasted more than three weeks.  For all Aylwin knew, she might never call again.

Castle Pulchra Mane

            Mariel woke up, yet again, in sheets soaked in sweat and urine.  Despair threatened to overwhelm her.  She was twenty-three years old, but her body behaved as if it were ninety-three.  How had this happened to her?  She knew the answer, in general terms: she had given birth to a boy, whom they had named Eudes; but something had gone wrong, something about blood; and she had been unconscious.  How long?  Some days at least, but she couldn’t ask, and she didn’t recall anyone saying.
Blythe or Claennis would strip the bed, and castle machines would soon render the bedding clean, dry and fresh smelling.  The women would bathe Mariel as well, but what then?  What about tomorrow morning, and the days after that?  Doctor Ucede had said something about stroke.  What did that mean?  Why could she not control her bladder?  Why did her body sweat like a wrestler every night?  Most importantly: how long would this go on?  Would she be forever imprisoned, incapable of speech?
Unable to ask questions, Mariel had listened closely when Aweirgan explained the situation to Lord Martin.  She wanted to scream her frustration.  Aweirgan Unes and Merlin Torr had assumed rule over the city of Pulchra Mane in her incapacitation.  She couldn’t fault that.  But now they could see she was awake; they should consult her.  Martin and Avice, at least, could see that she was ready to help.
But was she?  Mariel had been long accustomed to the warmth and power of Pulchra Mane’s magic when her hand lay on her knob.  Yesterday, though, when Ucede laid her hand on globum domini auctoritate, she had felt only the slightest twinge.  She wanted to believe that the connection was as strong as ever, that her weakened senses simply didn’t register it.  But her eyes were working properly, and the light that filtered between her fingers from her knob had been a faint purple, not the vivid violet of old.  Does the faint light from the knob indicate a weakened bond?  Black fear rose in her mind: It may have been Martin who raised my shield.  And then a worse fear: This may never end.

Between the Lakes

            The lord of Inter Lucus might be fixated on the affairs of castles and great cities, communing daily with lords and ladies and weighing news that came by messenger, but ordinary affairs also needed managing.  The castle estate was in full flower: berries, orchards, vegetable gardens, wheat field and hay field, livestock (two cows, four horses)—all needed tending.  Caelin Bycwine kept careful records of the castle’s stores and the work of estate laborers, he and the sheriffs Ealdwine Smithson and Os Oswald being chief among them.  Combined, the three of them had experience with most aspects of farming.
Isen Poorman’s glassworks, with Ernulf Penrict as apprentice, produced a steady stream of plate windows and glass jars, vases, and cups.  Isen built a little shop beside the glassworks to display products.  When duty did not demand her presence in the castle, Ora Wooddaughter worked in this shop, selling her fiancé’s goods to people from Inter Lucus and Senerham.  To supply the glassworks, Isen and Ernulf regularly procured sand, ash, and firewood.
            The farmers of Senerham, Inter Lucus, and the surrounding country were experiencing a banner year, which meant the candle makers, butchers, coopers, blacksmiths, and other artisans of the two towns also prospered.  Elne Penrict had had to take on a new apprentice in his Senerham smithy, and he told anyone who would listen that he half-regretted letting Ernulf enter Isen’s employ.  Of course, anyone who knew Elne well could tell he spoke facetiously.  That Ernulf lived and worked so close to Inter Lucus was a point of great pride to Elne.
            Rumors, encouraged by Ora, spread throughout the region between the lakes that Lord Martin would hold another mid-summer party.  Official announcements would come soon.
            Daily, folk appeared at Prayer House, on the edge of the castle estate, asking to see the lord.  Ora and Priest Eadmar organized Marty’s schedule so that he hosted visitors only three days a week.  Five hours, three times a week: Marty thanked Ora repeatedly for keeping public audiences from overwhelming him.
            Elfric Ash and Leo Dudd recruited new sheriffs.  Inter Lucus would need more sheriffs come autumn, when harvest hidgield had to be calculated and collected.  Out of two score volunteers, Elfric and Leo selected eight as the strongest candidates.  Marty agreed to interview the eight and appoint four of them, but he hadn’t done it yet.  He spent most of his time standing at the interface wall or reviewing Whitney Ablendan’s notes of his Videns-Loquitur conversations.

The road north of Damned Creek

            “I don’t understand—sir.  Another message to Oshelm?”
            Milo again noted Ifing Redhair’s nearly sarcastic use of “sir.”  He rejected the temptation to nudge Gray Boy into a faster walk.  Redhair could not ride a horse, so he often walked beside Milo.  A bit faster pace and Redhair would soon be out of breath.  Don’t be childish, Milo thought.  You’re going to need Ifing before this is over.
            “Aye.  Another message to General Oshelm.  He needs to know that Ridere is still alive.  Oshelm says he means to destroy us; I want him to consider other possibilities.”
            Redhair snorted.  “Such as?”
            “Reaching an agreement, of course. I will give him Ridere, alive and well, at the right time, provided we have peace between us.”
            “Oshelm’s letter said we cannot be trusted.  Why should he believe Ridere is alive?”
            Milo glanced back over his army.  Marching four abreast, the column stretched back over a quarter-mile of narrow road.  Their food would run out with evening sup, so there had been no question of making a stand at Damned Creek.  If Derian hadn’t acquired re-supply, it would be a very hungry march to Inter Lucus.  A rider carrying Milo’s latest communiqué to Archard Oshelm passed the last row of men, heading south.
            Milo explained, “If the prisoner we left at Hostage Camp survived the fire, Oshelm will believe him.  If things go well, we’ll meet up with Derian and send another of the prisoners to Oshelm.”
            “If you plan to use prisoners as messengers, it was damn foolish to pack them off with Chapman.  Sir.”
            “You may be right, Ifing.  That’s why I had to send Reynald.”  Milo pointed at the disappearing rider.  Then he turned his gaze forward.  They had summited a hill; in the distance he could see farm buildings.  Hrodgar Wigt and the vanguard were a hundred yards ahead.  Judging by the out buildings, Crossroads might be two or three hours ride away, longer than that for infantry.  “I may have mistimed things.  It might have been better to keep the prisoners with us.”
            Milo stood in his stirrups to call out.  “Wigt!  Captain Wigt!  Eádulf, quickly!  Ride down to Wigt and tell him to go right at the bottom of the hill.  We head to Inter Lucus, not Crossroads.”
            “Aye, Sir.”  Eádulf’s horse trotted away.
            “What?  Are you insane?”  Redhair’s voice could be heard by the men marching behind them.  “We need victuals.  Isn’t that why you sent Chapman to Crossroads?”
            “Indeed.”  Milo spoke calmly, but loud enough for his soldiers to hear.  “I hoped for—I still hope for—some resupply from Crossroads.  At present, though, there is no sign of it.”  Milo pointed to the empty road running northward.
            “Then we should march to Crossroads to meet Chapman!”
            “Captain Redhair!  I command this army.  We march to Inter Lucus.  Derian and our resupply will catch up to us eventually.”
            “General—sir!  The Herminians are after us.  They’ll intercept Chapman if we don’t go to him.”
            “That’s possible.”  Milo kept his voice smooth.  “In that case, we will resupply between the lakes, at Senerham and Inter Lucus.  I may have misjudged the time Derian’s mission would take, but we still must go see Lord Martin, victuals or no.”
            “By the gods!  Why?”
            Eádulf was trotting back toward them.  Milo smiled at Redhair.  “You’re going to have to trust me on that, Ifing.”  Then he spurred Gray Boy forward.

Castle Aurea Prati

            “You have talked with Queen Mariel?”  Gentle blue light suffused Jean Postel’s hands.  Her husband and daughter, Artus and Sidney, stood close by.  All three Postel faces shone with hope.
            “Not exactly.”  In the viewing screen, Avice Montfort chewed her lip.  “Lord Martin and I both believe she wants to speak, but she hasn’t yet.  She is alive and her health improving.  We hope she will talk with us soon.”
            “But you said…” Sidney could not restrain her impatience.
            Lord Martin, in the other frame, interrupted with a raised hand.  “We said that Pulchra Mane’s shield convinced the rebel army to hold back.”
            Jean Postel struggled to understand.  “Mariel can raise her shield, but she cannot speak?”
            “We are not sure,” Montfort replied.  “At the crucial moment, Lord Martin and I also bent our wills to raise the Pulchra Mane shield.  We presume that Queen Mariel did so as well.  What we know is that the shield went up for a few minutes.  We don’t know whether Mariel, or Martin, or I, or some combination of us did the work.”
            “Amazing.”  Jean shook her head.  What new magic will Martin try next?
            Artus clarified, “A few minutes, you say?”
            Montfort smiled.  “Just long enough to give a convincing demonstration to the rebel army.”
            Lord Martin explained, “We feared wearing out Mariel.”
            Jean Postel chuckled.  “You assume she did the work, Martin.  I do not.  Will you be ready to defend Pulchra Mane if the rebels attack?”
            Martin frowned as if he hadn’t considered the possibility, which made Jean Postel laugh aloud.  “Lord Martin, you never cease to surprise me.  But you and Lady Avice did not call me today merely to deliver news.  What is it you want?”
            “An intervention.”  Lord Martin had to see Jean’s confusion, but he didn’t stop to explain the new word.  “As soon as Mariel can speak, I will arrange a group meeting via Videns-Loquitur.  We want many lords and ladies to join in.  We will ask together, and each one of us will ask individually, that Mariel consult with us to establish Parliament.  We will pledge our loyalty to her, on condition that she consult with us.”
            Artus Postel touched his wife’s shoulder before she could answer, and then spoke for her.  “Lady Avice, if you do this, the Queen may call it treason.”
            Montfort’s gray visage didn’t flinch.  “She may.  But Mariel knows I am loyal, and just yesterday we saved her castle.  And I will be one of many.”
            Jean Postel said, “Many?”
            Martin began ticking off lords and castles.  “Ames Hewett of Faenum Agri, David Le Grant of Saltas Semitas, Isabel Baro of Argentum Cadit, Simon Asselin of Lata Alto Flumen, and Marin Dufour of Altum Canyon.  Lady Postel recognized them all as castles in Tarquint.
            “And Wymer Thoncelin of Ventus in Montes,” added Lady Avice.  “Mariel trusts Wymer as much as me.  And then there is Rocelin Toeni of Prati Mansum, another castle in Herminia.  Lord Martin is very persistent, very persuasive.”
            Jean Postel glanced at Sidney.  Aurea Prati would be hers in a few years.  Her daughter understood the unspoken question and nodded affirmatively. 
“What did you call this thing, Lord Martin?  Intervention?  I will take part.  I will be ready when you call.”

161. From Crossroads Inn to Inter Lucus

            An unexpected late arrival interrupted the supper conference in Crossroads Inn.  Derian Chapman, Merlin Averill, and Amicia Averill sat on two sides of a corner table, their chairs snug against two walls.  Felix Abrecan sat opposite Merlin and Amicia with his back to the center of the common room.  Lady Amicia’s personal guards, Kenelm Ash and Raymond Travers, and two Stonebridge sheriffs, Osric Green and Yffi Stonebeard (a strangely fitting name for a clean-shaven man), occupied a table nearby, keeping other Inn guests at a distance.  Before the interruption, the conferees had much to say—everything said quietly, so that no one else could hear.  
Amicia and Merlin talked first.  They described the letters sent by David Le Grant to Merlin, and they explained Lord Martin’s proposal for peace: the creation of a “parliament.”  The scheme had obvious flaws, but it intrigued Merlin, which explained his decision to visit Inter Lucus.  Kingsley Averill opposed the journey at first.  In Kingsley’s oft-repeated opinion, Stonebridge risked much by involving itself in foreign affairs.  But Merlin pointed out that the city had already opened itself to foreign entanglements by sending its army into the field.  Merlin also argued that a trip to Inter Lucus would almost certainly give him a chance to check on General Mortane and the army.  While in Stonebridge, Sir Milo had affirmed his allegiance to the Assembly—Would his submission prove genuine in the field?  Kingsley finally agreed to the mission, but he urged Merlin to take trusted bodyguards.
(Actually, Merlin said very little of all this.  Amicia spoke for both of them, with a gesture or stuttered word from her husband emphasizing certain points.)
            When their turn came, Felix and Derian recounted the march of the Stonebridge army to Crossroads, their interactions with Down’s End officials, the dismissal of Rage Hildebeorht, and the capture and interrogation of the Herminian General Ridere.  Derian told most of the tale, though Felix supplied military details.  Amicia peppered them with questions, especially about the capture of General Ridere.  When she learned that the Herminian general and two other prisoners were at that very moment being held in the Crossroads Inn corral, she wanted to see him immediately.  But Merlin signaled that they should hear the whole report, and Derian then told of the battle in the hills and Milo’s subsequent retreat and the loss of the supply wagons.  Hearing this increased Amicia’s alarm.
            “And you are here to do what?  Buy supplies for the whole army?  With what money?”
            Derian grinned ruefully.  “I made that very point to your brother, Lady Amicia.  He said that I should use threats and promises.  I will do what I can, and as quickly as I can.  Rage Hildebeorht, ex-sheriff, is even now spreading the word among the locals.  Rage thinks that by a good result tomorrow he will regain the favor of Stonebridge.  At best, I expect a few farmers will show up, looking for a quick profit.  It will be hard to reach agreements without golds to press into their hands.  Hildebeorht says I might influence their thinking by hanging one of the prisoners.”
            “Absolutely not.  I forbid it.”
            Derian raised an eyebrow.  “Lady Amicia, you are ambassador for Lord Aylwin, not Stonebridge.  You and I may not like the suggestion, but we must consider it.  I must procure supplies as quickly as possible.  Promises and threats.”
            “Merlin is son of the Speaker, and he forbids it.”  Amicia, still whispering, spoke with such vehemence that Felix, Derian and Merlin all laughed.  Taken aback, she said, “What?”
            “Does the lady speak for her husband and the Assembly?” asked Felix.
            “B-b-both.”  Merlin raised his claw arm and let it thump on the table.  The odd gesture emphasized his word, but also redirected their attention.  The interruption had arrived.  Merlin motioned with his head toward the serving board, where a thin youth, dressed as a soldier, surveyed the room.  Felix looked over his shoulder.
            “Eádulf!”  Amicia and Felix spoke in unison.  Felix sprang to his feet and escorted Milo’s squire to the corner table, where Derian readied a chair for him. 
            Eádulf eyed the remains of sup with evident desire, but he did not sit.  “Captain Chapman, I bear urgent word from General Mortane.”  Bowing his head, he added, “Fair evening Lady Amicia.  This is an unexpected pleasure.  And Master Averill.”
            “Out with it, Eádulf.  Any word Milo sends to me can be shared with his sister and her husband.”  Again Derian motioned to the chair.
            Eádulf seemed startled by the word, “husband.”  He looked behind him, and then bent forward over the table, lowering his voice.  “The army is marching for Inter Lucus.  General Mortane commands that the prisoners be brought to him as quickly as possible.”
            “But I was sent to Crossroads to procure supplies,” objected Derian.
            “The situation has changed.  Unless you sent wagons immediately—and I mean right now—the Herminians would intercept them.  I am commanded to tell Felix Abrecan that he and I are to bring the prisoners as soon as possible.  We must ride all night if necessary.  The Herminians will reach the fork to Inter Lucus in the morning.  We must leave now if we are to precede them.”
            The conferees looked at each other for a moment.  To Eádulf’s surprise, it was Amicia who took charge.  “We will all go, and we will be ready in twenty minutes.  Kenelm and Raymond are sworn as my personal bodyguards, but Osric and Yffi will join Felix’s men to help guard the prisoners.  Once we leave this place, until we reach Milo’s army, Felix is our captain.  Agreed?”
            Merlin and Derian nodded affirmatively.  Felix whispered, “Aye.”  Eádulf inclined his head.
            Amicia continued, “In that case, Eádulf, you have twenty minutes.  Eat.  Merlin and I need to change clothes.”
            Nineteen horses departed Crossroads Inn after the interrupted sup.  Amicia had a gentle palfrey; Merlin, Kenelm Ash, Raymond Travers, Osric Green and Yffi Stonebeard rode the rounceys that had brought them from Stonebridge.  Two smaller packhorses carried the lady’s clothing and camp equipment.  Eádulf, Felix Abrecan, and Derian Chapman had their army mounts, well-trained chargers.  The remaining eight beasts, bearing five swordsmen and three prisoners, were converted draft horses, better suited to pulling wagons than carrying people.
            Bee Fatman, with his mother Idonea and her lover, Rage Hildebeorht, watched them ride away in double moonlight.  Having spent four hours spreading word in the Crossroads vicinity that the Stonebridge Quartermaster would spend freely on the morrow, Hildebeorht complained bitterly at the sudden change of plans.  Derian Chapman cornered the ex-sheriff and told him, in a fierce whisper, that he ought to be glad.  Would he rather Crossroads be the meeting place of two armies? 
Before she mounted her gray palfrey, Amicia slipped five golds into Idonea Fatman’s apron pocket and thanked the innkeeper for her hospitality.  
The prisoners rode bound and gagged.  Felix and Derian had commanded their swordsmen to call them “one,” “two,” and “three.”  In spite of such precautions, Bee Fatman overheard a snatch of conversation between two of the swordsmen, so Bee knew that one of the prisoners was named Ridere.  In recent months Bee had heard enough in the Crossroads Inn common room to guess the significance of that name, but he also had enough good sense to keep this knowledge to himself.

His captors had bound Bully Wedmor’s arms securely, one wrist on back of the other, an arrangement that restricted his freedom of movement but still permitted him to hold his horse’s reins and rest one hand on the pommel.  A mile south of Crossroads, the Stonebridgers removed his gag, so Bully could ride in something like comfort, breathing normally and bumping along with eyes closed.  This condition seemed almost normal to Bully.  Except for a two-day interval at Hostage Camp, Bully had spent every day since the ambush like this, trussed up on a horse.  It seemed like he had been half-asleep forever, an interminable bad dream, with pain from his wounds mixing with memories of the carnage by Blue River.  And now the evil dream threatened to become nightmare.  Just when Bully had fallen fully and blessedly asleep, nestled in the hay barn of Crossroads Inn, the Stonebridgers had woken him and tied him back on the horse.  Bully could scarcely believe it: they were reversing course, heading back the way they had come.  Why won’t you just let me sleep?
But what could have been nightmare wasn’t.  Maybe it was the cool night air.  Maybe Bully was recovering from his wounds.  Whatever the cause, he found that for the first time in more than a week he could follow the sense of a conversation.  Someone was speaking to General Ridere.
            “I’m told that you were captured on the road to Inter Lucus.  You will be pleased to learn we are going there.  Provided, of course, that your own army doesn’t stop us.”
            Bully shook his head to clear his mind.  A woman?  The speaker, riding parallel with Ridere, turned her face toward the general.  In double moonlight, her features were unmistakable.  Indeed.  A woman.
            “If we get there safely, what will you do?”  The woman’s tone was light, almost playful.  “Felix says you wouldn’t answer Sir Milo, so you won’t tell me either, I suppose.”
            The woman waited for a reply; receiving none, she continued, breathlessly: “My guess is you wanted to talk with Lord Martin.  But why?  That’s what I want to know.  Felix says Lord Martin uses castle magic to make paper rather than steel.  Strange, don’t you think?  And Martin can hardly have raised an army.  Until last summer Inter Lucus was a ruin, and there are only a couple small villages in that region.  Felix says he hasn’t really tried.  To raise an army, I mean; I’m sure the man has worked very hard; restoring a castle can’t be easy.  Lord Martin seems really strange, don’t you think?  He must be some forgotten descendent of the Tirels, but no one seems to know where he came from.  Cippenham, or someplace further east?
“Anyway, why would the general of Mariel’s army want to go to Inter Lucus?  Do you know what I think?  I think you just got tired of that boring old siege.  That’s it.  Lord Aylwin sleeps every night in castle luxury, but you have to stay in some flea-ridden inn in Hyacintho Flumen, month after month.  So you wanted to get away for a while, visit Inter Lucus, and sleep in a grand bed.  You’ve lived in Pulchra Mane, so you know what that’s like—clean sheets and plush pillows!  Or maybe you just wanted to talk to your wife.  By the gods!  I wager that’s it!  You wanted to talk with Mariel.
“But why?  Everyone says Mariel is a real hard case.  The ‘Ice Queen,’ they say.  I suppose you know the truth of that better than anyone.  Oh!  But maybe… maybe Mariel isn’t the cold-hearted, prideful bitch they all say.  Maybe, secretly, you have tender love for each other.  What a romantic idea!  Here you are, far away in Tarquint, longing to see your wife.  And—unlike the other soldiers in the army—you can!  All you need to do is go to Inter Lucus
“But that doesn’t make sense.  You’re Eudes Ridere!  You’re famous!  You’ve maintained longer sieges than this one.  A soldier like you would never desert his post just to talk to a beautiful woman, even if she was his wife.  They do say that Mariel is beautiful, though her heart is ice.  And you would know better than anyone.  So it can’t be that you would leave Hyacintho Flumen just to talk with Mariel.  There must be some other reason…”
The woman’s lighthearted prattle achieved more in five minutes than Milo Mortane’s interrogations at Hostage Camp.  General Ridere responded.  “I cannot believe, Lady Amicia, that you are as empty-headed as you pretend.”  Bully was riding immediately behind the general and the woman.  He saw her head snap left to look at Ridere.
Ridere chuckled.  “Surprised that I recognized you?”
            “Aye.”  The woman’s voice took on a deeper, flatter tone.
            “It’s the eyes.  Not their color, though I wager yours are brown, like Sir Milo’s.  Even in moonlight, there’s something about Mortane eyes.  Hard eyes, in hard faces.  I saw your face before we left the Crossroads Inn; I said to myself, ‘That’s a Mortane.’”
            A sound came from the rider in front of the woman, an odd sound, like a sneeze choked into a cough.
            “General Ridere, my husband thinks you are lying.”  The woman’s voice regained its lilt.  “Come to think of it, my eyes don’t look anything like Milo’s.  So how is it that you know me?”
            “Your husband?”
            “Merlin Averill of Stonebridge is my husband.”  Now it was General Ridere’s turn to look quickly at the woman.  “It does not mean, as you may fear, that Stonebridge has allied itself with Hyacintho Flumen.  We are going to Inter Lucus partly so that I may tell Aylwin that I can no longer serve as his ambassador.”
            “I see,” said Ridere.  “And what other reason would you have?”
            “General!”  The lady laughed.  “If you want answers to your questions, you must first answer mine.  How did you know me?”  After many seconds of silence, she said, “If you tell how you know me, I will tell you more of our purpose.”
            Ridere sighed.  “It’s not hard, Lady.  I have an eye for faces.  I saw you a year ago in Hyacintho Flumen, across Blue River from the castle.”
            “But that was before the siege.”
            “True.  It was.  Bully and I came to Tarquint, with another, as scouts.  We saw you then.”
            “General Ridere, a spy?  This will add to your fame.” Amicia laughed again.  “Who is Bully?”
            Behind them, Bully cleared his throat.  “I am Bully Wedmor.  I have served as the general’s squire in times past.”
            The lady half-turned on her saddle.  “Well met, I’m sure, Bully.”  To Ridere she said, “And fair is fair.  You told me how you knew me.  So I will say: we are going to Inter Lucus to meet Lord Martin.  My husband believes Martin, not my brother Aylwin, is the most important castle lord in Tarquint.”
            “He does, does he?”  Ridere coughed.  “I think, Lady Amicia, that I would like to talk with your husband.  Could he ride beside me for a bit?”


162. In Castle Pulchra Mane

            “Fair morning, your majesty.”  Blythe bowed perfunctorily when she and Claennis entered Mariel’s bedroom, the bedroom door swishing magically closed behind them.  “Master Aweirgan wants Bestauden and Bayan to bring you down to the great hall, as he expects Lord Martin to call again today.  Best we bathe and dress you quickly.”
            A single syllable brought the serving women to an abrupt stop.  With a tremulous smile, Mariel raised her right hand, lying on the bedcover.  It was a small movement, and the hand quickly fell back.  But it was enough.  Blythe and Claennis rushed to their monarch’s bed to kiss her hand, forehead, and cheeks.
            Mariel cleared her throat.  “Hm.”
            “Pardon, your majesty.  Pardon.”  Blythe and Claennis turned with delight to the tasks at hand.
            Bestauden Winter and Bayan the Red did not carry Mariel on a chair as they had the previous two days.  She entered the great hall with her arms around their shoulders, and each of them with an arm around her waist.  In truth, the men bore her weight, but Mariel’s slippers did touch the floor, and she shuffled her feet.
            The servants of Pulchra Mane, including soldiers, gardeners, and kitchen workers, lined up to welcome her.  Mariel smiled and responded to their cheers with slight movements of her head.  Elfgiva Red held out baby Prince Eudes, and Mariel kissed his forehead.  Felice Hale smiled broadly and wept simultaneously.  The little procession reached Mariel’s purple-cushioned chair, but before they settled her into it, she made a small gesture with her hand.  Everyone became quiet.
            “Tank you.”  She struggled to control tongue and lips.  “Tank you.”

            As soon as she was seated beside her knob, Mariel bonded.  Violet light glowed between her fingers and enveloped her hand.  That’s better.  She closed her eyes and breathed deeply, feeling the warmth of the connection.  After a minute of therapy, she removed her hand.
            “Food,” Mariel commanded.
            She had eaten half an egg with soft brown bread, fed to her by Blythe, when the Videns-Loquitur light began blinking.  Blythe deftly wiped Mariel’s mouth and chin with a cloth and took the breakfast tray away.  Mariel glanced to her left, where Aweirgan stood at a writing desk.  “Ready?”  The scribe nodded, and Mariel lifted her hand to the knob.
            The narrow-faced Martin appeared in the center of the viewing wall, left hand concealed in a glowing green ball.  His right hand was pointing to something on his young female scribe’s paper.  Mariel wondered: Does he do that to try to impress me?
            “Fair morning, your majesty.”  Martin inclined his head. 
            “Morn,” said Mariel.  She wanted to say more, to demonstrate her improved condition.  Apparently, one word sufficed.  In the picture frame, Lord Martin beamed.
            “Thank God!” Martin exclaimed.  “I can’t tell you how pleased I am, Mariel.
Has there been further communication from the rebel army, from Allard Dell?”
            Mariel leaned her head toward Aweirgan, who answered.  “Aye.  Dell sent two rather short epistles yesterday.  The first acknowledged the demonstration of Magna Arcum Praesidiis and requested an audience with the Queen.  The second, late in the afternoon, reiterated that request, though it was expressed as a demand; the rebel commander says it is imperative that he be permitted to see and talk with Mariel.”
            Martin looked delighted.  “That’s what you want, isn’t it?  Let Dell see that Mariel is recovering, that she can defend Pulchra Mane.  Then tell him to take his army home.”
            “Muh-muh-be.”  Mariel forced the sounds out.  “Maybe.” This is my responsibility, not Aweirgan’s.      
            Lord Martin knit his eyebrows.  “You don’t want him to see you as you are.”
            “Aye.”  That was easier.
            Aweirgan explained.  “Two days ago, Mariel held her shield for only five minutes.  It was enough to impress the rebels.  But if they knew her condition, they might deduce that she has limited strength.  In a real battle, she would need to command shields for an hour or more.  If Allard Dell is desperate or clever, he might yet attack us.”
            “I see.”  Martin rubbed his temple with his free hand.  “Queen Mariel, I observe that though you are able to speak, it is difficult for you.  Is that so?”
            “As much as possible, then, I will ask you questions to which you can answer ‘aye’ or ‘no.’ When necessary, Aweirgan can explain your thought it more detail.  Will that do?”
            Sensible man.  “Aye.”
            Martin smiled.  “I propose, then, that Avice Montfort and I, as we did two days ago, cooperate with you, Mariel, to raise your shield.  We should do this as many times as you think possible through the course of the day, and Merlin Torr’s men should demonstrate the shield to the enemy each time by throwing things at it.”
            “Aye!”  Mariel’s confidence in her voice was growing.
            “Very good.  I suggest, then, that Aweirgan explain our plan to Captain Torr while I contact Lady Montfort.  We should speak again in half an hour.  Meanwhile, your majesty, you would do well to rest.”

            In the space of seven hours, Mariel raised Magna Arcum Praesidiis five times.  Did she do it by her own power, or did it depend on assistance from Martin or Avice?  Mariel didn’t know.  Tomorrow, when I’ve rested, I will experiment alone. 
Did the repeated demonstrations of Pulchra Mane’s defenses have the desired effect?  Had the rebels been intimidated?  Again Mariel didn’t know.  But Merlin Torr’s confidence, shared by Aweirgan, was growing.  “If they are going to attack, they’ll do it soon,” Aweirgan said after the last display of Magna Arcum Praesidiis.  “If not tonight, then not at all.”  Lord Martin heard Aweirgan’s comment.
The narrow-faced lord said, “If that is so, Aweirgan, Lady Montfort and I ought to stand ready through the night to assist the Queen if the rebels attack.”
Mariel turned her head slightly so she could see her counselor’s face.  Aweirgan frowned.  “I do not see how that could be done, Lord Martin.  During a battle Queen Mariel would have to devote her energy and attention to the shields, not activating Videns-Loquitur.  You’re not suggesting that you or Lady Montfort can wait with us through the night.  I don’t think even one as strong as yourself could maintain Videns-Loquitur hour after hour.”
            Lord Martin pursed his lips.  “You’re right, of course.  Extended exertion of castle power is draining.  I propose, then, that I contact Pulchra Mane periodically through the night, every hour, let’s say.  Queen Mariel need not bond.  If all is quiet there, you, Aweirgan, or another of Mariel’s servants could make a sign to that effect.”
            Aweirgan shared a quick glance with Mariel.  Her disquiet must have shown on her face.  He can see into my hall.  Aweirgan said, “I—or another servant—could hold up my slate, with a mark for ‘all is well.’  If an attack had begun, my slate would have a different sign.”
            “That’s right.  Of course, if the enemy attacks, you would bring Mariel to her knob in any case.  If I see a sign meaning ‘rebel attack,’ I would contact Lady Montfort immediately.  Then we would call Pulchra Mane and be ready to assist Mariel.”
            Mariel thought: He is very careful to say ‘we.’  In reality, it is his astonishing bond with Inter Lucus that makes it work.  If Martin ever learnt to use all his magic, he would be either the greatest ally or most deadly foe.
            Aweirgan was speaking, pulling Mariel from her reverie.  “Should we accept Lord Martin’s plan, your majesty?”
            “Aye.”  What choice do I have?  He can look into my hall any time he chooses.  Besides, I may need help to stop Allard Dell.

            Mariel almost pulled her hand from globum domini auctoritate.  The conversation had reached a natural conclusion; she wanted rest and food.  But Lord Martin was rubbing his cheek as if something were troubling him.
            “There is another matter, your majesty, that I must mention.  I know your recovery needs rest, and I would not trouble you with something minor.  I really think this cannot wait.”
            Mariel looked at Aweirgan, who spoke for her.  “The Queen appreciates your aid, Lord Martin, so she will wait a bit more.  Please speak briefly.”
            “Of course.”  The green glow around Martin’s left hand brightened, enlarged, and began to pulsate.  Mariel drew in a sharp breath.  She had seen similar displays, but only in one place.  It’s like Father—or me.
            Windows opened all over the magic wall.  For her weekly Council meetings, Mariel had supported Videns-Loquitur connections with seven other castles, but now there were ten frames on her wall.  Lords and ladies quickly populated them all.  Each one greeted her courteously.
            “Your majesty!” exclaimed a bluff-faced young woman with small eyes.  “I am greatly pleased to meet you.”  She bowed from the waist with both her hands on her knob, and for a moment the lady’s head disappeared behind the pale rose glow of her castle’s knob.  “I am Isabel Baro, of Argentum Cadit.”  Another woman, who looked like an older copy of Isabel, stood behind her.  The mother also bowed.
            “Warm greetings from Altum Canyon,” said a stocky lord with curly black hair.  “I am Marin Dufour, and my consort is Victoire.”  Dufour nodded to his companion, who bowed formally.  “Your majesty,” she said.
            “Fair afternoon, your majesty.”  The next lord’s knob had a faint pink color.  Mariel immediately suspected a weak bond.  “I am David Le Grant, of Saltas Semitas.  My wife, Catherine.”
            A lady with a pastel blue bond spoke next.  “May the gods smile on you, Lady Mariel, and speed your recovery.  I am Jean Postel, of Aurea Prati.  My husband, Artus, and my daughter, Sidney.”  The husband inclined his head while the daughter curtsied.  “Fair afternoon, your majesty.”
            “My name is Simon Asselin, your majesty.  This is my consort, Arbe.  We are delighted to meet you, and we also pray for your recovery.”  Simon and his consort made an odd couple, as Arbe was far taller, dark-complexioned, and skinny, while the lord reminded Mariel of a thick pasty dumpling.  His knob glowed gray.
            “Warm greetings, Queen Mariel.”  Mariel could not help but notice this lord’s color.  His knob shone with a violet almost exactly matching hers.  “I am Ames Hewett, of castle Faenum Agri.  My wife, Louise, and our son, Edward.”  The youth, who looked to be about sixteen, bowed alongside his mother.
            “Greetings, my liege.”  Mariel was astonished.  Wymer Thoncelin!  The earlier lords and ladies were from Tarquint.  But Ventus in Montes, Wymer’s home, was in Herminia.  He and Avice Montfort were her most loyal Counselors.  What is this all about?
            “Your majesty.  I am pleased to see you recovering.”  Rocelin Toeni, another Herminian lord, inclined his head.  Toeni might actually mean it—now.  His son and daughter are both in Tarquint, and Eudes wrote that Gifre Toeni is an honorable young man.  Mariel’s informants had told her of Rocelin Toeni’s attempted alliance with Aylwin Mortane, but she had never confronted Toeni with the evidence.  There had been no need; Mortane had disgraced Toeni’s daughter, replacing her with a washerwoman and canceling any friendship between the houses. 
            “And so we are all here,” said Avice Montfort.  She and Lord Martin occupied the ninth and tenth frames.
            Mariel’s mind raced.  What is this?  A conspiracy?  If so, Martin is behind it.  But that can’t be.  Avice and Wymer would never… A display of Martin’s magic?  To what end?
            “Thank you, Avice.”  Martin took a tiny step forward, as if he would walk into Mariel’s hall.  For a fraction of a moment, Mariel half expected him to do it.  But his left hand remained enveloped by the green ball.
            “Queen Mariel, I have asked these ladies and lords to meet with you today.  We—all of us together—wish to lay our request before you.  We—ladies and lords of Tarquint and Herminia—want peace and prosperity.  We want to acknowledge you as our sovereign, but we must have a parliament.”
            Mariel wanted to laugh.  Incredible.  He still pursues fantasies.  Her mouth opened.  But no sound came.
            “I would change only one word, your majesty,” said Avice Montfort.  “I desire a parliament.  I acknowledge your sovereignty with or without it.”
            “My liege.”  Wymer Thoncelin’s slow, gravelly voice commanded attention.  “I have supported you since Rudolf’s death.  I will continue my support, no matter what you decide.  But I agree with Lord Martin and Lady Avice.  Herminia needs a parliament.”
            David Le Grant, one of the Tarquintians, said, “I believe that one day Herminia and Tarquint will be united in one country.  I would like to see unification come peacefully, in my time.  That will not happen by force of arms.  Queen Mariel, we present you with an opportunity.  Grant us a parliament.”
            And so it went on.  One by one, the conspirators each expressed support for Martin’s idea.  Had she been able to speak perfectly, still Mariel would have been bereft of words.  She felt shock, pride, fear, anger, bitterness, and desperation.  I am Grandmesnil!  How dare you!  I will not be compelled by the schemes of some Tirel bastard!  Avice and Wymer—treachery!  I would have expected this from Toeni or Wadard, but not you.  In my time of weakness you conspire against me.  I will not forget.  When I am stronger, there will be reckoning.
            Mariel became aware of silence.  In her anger she hadn’t heard the last of the speeches.  The ten faces framed in the magic wall all waited on her.  If she had been able, she would have laughed at them or cursed them.  Her jaw trembled and she swallowed.  She looked at Lord Martin, staring at his dark eyes and narrow face.  What do you expect me to say?  I will never submit to you.  But then the fear underlying her anger suddenly surfaced.  How long will my weakness last?  What happens if I don’t recover completely?
            “I will…consider…” Mariel breathed several times.  She tipped her head toward Aweirgan.  “We will…talk.”
            Wymer Thoncelin rumbled into speech.  “Queen Mariel wishes time to think about our proposal.  She demonstrates wisdom, reserving judgment for the time being.”
            “I agree.”  Martin addressed the others, but his eyes were on Mariel.  “This is another reason why I believe the lords and ladies of Tarquint should recognize Mariel’s sovereignty.  She is wise enough not to act on impulse.”
            Mariel thought: And do you know what my impulse is?  For a moment she wanted to squash him like a mosquito.  But the words hung in her mind: “wise enough not to act on impulse.”
            Martin continued, “I propose, then, that we meet again tomorrow—or the day after, if the Queen prefers—and reiterate both our loyalty and our request.  With Aweirgan’s aid, perhaps Queen Mariel will be ready to discuss our ideas.  Another meeting tomorrow—what is your pleasure?”
            “Good idea,” said Le Grant. 
            “I agree.”  “Aye.”  “I will be ready.”  The other lords and ladies chimed in.
            “Your majesty?”  Martin lifted an eyebrow.  “Will you accept another meeting with us?”
            The defense of Pulchra Mane may depend on this man tonight.  I have no choice.  Mariel was in a box, she resented the box, and at the same time she recognized that her resentment was foolish.  I can talk with them without yielding.  There was some comfort in that thought.
            “Your majesty?”  It was Aweirgan, at her side, prompting her.
163. Toward Inter Lucus

            Question: How fast can an army march on an empty stomach?

            Answer: Not fast enough.  Even healthy men, when deprived of sustenance, will slow down as the miles stretch out.  Some of the Stonebridge soldiers were not wholly healthy; they suffered from the after-effects of smoke exposure.  Without re-supply, it was physiologically impossible for Milo’s army to reach Inter Lucus before Archard Oshelm’s Herminian army caught them.  They had to eat.  Thanks to a farmer named Pax Hubbard, they did.  Thanks to Amicia Averill, farmer Hubbard was pleased with the whole episode.

            From Crossroads, Felix Abrecan’s company rode steadily through the night.  The company included prisoners and swordsmen on draft horses as well as Lady Amicia, the lady’s pack horses, her guards, two Stonebridge sheriffs, Merlin Averill, Derian Chapman, and Eádulf—seventeen people in all.  They rode no faster than the slowest of the draft horses, but steady plodding proved sufficient.  They joined the Stonebridge army before sunrise, at the time the men should have been eating a hurried breakfast.  Instead, they were forming up to march, having consumed nothing more nourishing than water.

            Scouts Ford Ormod and Noel Night reported the existence of Pax Hubbard’s farm a few miles along the road toward Inter Lucus.  In the ordinary course of things, Milo might have confiscated farmer Hubbard’s three cows with an empty promise to pay him for them later.  Such injustices often happen in wars, unreported in the stories about battles and strategies and heroes.  Amicia, riding beside her brother with the vanguard, urged and enabled him to deal fairly with the good farmer.  In the end, in exchange for his three cows, Pax Hubbard received two solid draft horses and enough golds (from Amicia’s purse) to buy cows the next time he visited Senerham or Down’s End.  Hubbard was delighted, and in testimony of his pleasure he helped the soldiers butcher the three cows on the spot.

            Amicia, Merlin and the others who had ridden all night enjoyed a short respite while the army butchered and cooked farmer Hubbard’s cows.  They lay on blankets in a corner of a pasture and slept, captors and captives alike, while the Stonebridge army made a breakfast.

            With seven hundred hungry men to help, it takes little time to turn three cattle into strips of roasted or boiled meat.  Before noon, each man had a solid meal in his stomach and a bit of cooked meat in his pack that he would enjoy at nightfall.  Leaving Hubbard’s farm, the army would march well for eight hours.

            Meanwhile, Ned Freeman and Fletcher Norris, scouting behind the army, reported that the Herminian infantry trailed them by ten miles.  It seemed clear that the Stonebridgers would reach Inter Lucus safely, but only shortly before the Herminians.  Before leaving Pax Hubbard’s farm, Milo wrote two letters and entrusted one to Ford Ormod and Noel Night, ordering them to hurry to Inter Lucus.  The other he gave to the prisoner, Bron Kenton.  Milo told Kenton he was free to do and go wherever he pleased, but that the letter was intended for Archard Oshelm.  Eudes Ridere told Kenton to deliver Milo’s letter as if it had come from him.

            “Milo, what did you write?”
            In late afternoon, Amicia and Milo had dismounted to stretch their legs.  Merlin, Eádulf, and Derian Chapman were with them.  With a small company of lancers as guards, Milo had ridden ahead of the main mass of the army.  Senerham and Inter Lucus were another long day’s march ahead.
            “You’re gaining patience, little sister.”  Milo grinned at her.  “The Amicia I know would have pestered me all day to know what was in those letters.  You’ve waited hours.”
            Amicia tossed her head.  “That was Amicia Mortane.  I am Amicia Averill.  The girl you knew a year ago has since served as Aylwin’s ambassador in Down’s End and Stonebridge.  And she married Master Merlin Averill.  I am now a lady of Stonebridge.  If you don’t want to tell me, just say so.”
            “Excellent.  I don’t want to.”  Milo turned away from Amicia, pretending to focus on the swordsmen marching toward them.  He waited for her protest; the Amicia he knew would quickly press him for an answer to her question.  But she didn’t.  He looked back to see Amicia climbing into her saddle.  Merlin was mounting too.
            “I think I’ve outgrown that name.” 
Amicia smiled gently, but her face seemed harder.  Just sixteen, but she really has changed.  Little Toadface has become a serious woman.  Milo climbed onto Gray Boy, frowning.  “I’ll tell you what I wrote.”
Merlin coughed.  “Th-th-thank you.”
            My sister has become a serious woman—and she is married to the Assembly Speaker’s son.  Milo said, “The letter to Oshelm starts with the obvious.  Eudes Ridere is still alive.  Oshelm may send a man to see and speak with Ridere if he likes.  I am willing to surrender Ridere alive, but only if Oshelm’s army ceases its pursuit.”
            Merlin made an odd sound, which Amicia interpreted.  “Manifestly sensible.  But what about Lord Martin?  What did you say to him?”
            Milo twitched Gray Boy’s reins to start him ambling toward the oncoming soldiers.  “First, I told Martin that though I am coming with an army, he should not be alarmed.  The Stonebridge army intends no harm to him or the people between the lakes.  Second, I told him that Merlin Averill of Stonebridge was coming with us.”
            “G-g-good.”  With only an occasional word or sound, Merlin was as much a part of the conversation as Milo or Amicia.
            “Third,” Milo continued, “I said that Archard Oshelm and a portion of the Herminian army are pursuing us, bent on our destruction.  We need time to parley with Oshelm and prevent a battle.  Lord Martin, I have observed, is strongly opposed to battles.  I suggested that Martin could help us greatly—that is, help us negotiate with Oshelm—if he were to allow us to camp inside his greater shield.  With a barrier between us, we might reach agreement with Oshelm.”
            Amicia objected, “Inside his shield?  Would any lord agree to that?”
            “Inside the greater shield.  Martin would still have Parva Arcum Praesidiis to protect his castle.”
            Merlin cleared his throat.  “S-s-same time?”
            For once, her husband’s meaning escaped Amicia.  “Darling?”
            “B-b-both sh-sh-shields?  Same time?”
            By this point, their slow amble had brought them to the army’s vanguard, where Ifing Redhair strode long-limbed in front of knife fighters.  Milo turned Gray Boy and the riders matched their speed to Redhair’s.  The knife fighter captain wore a sleeveless leather jerkin; his shoulder-length hair looked like a bright flame rising from the garment.  He strode along between Milo and Amicia’s mounts.
Milo explained: “Merlin is right.  It is harder to command two castle shields at the same time.  But most lords learn to do it, because that is the most effective tactic against an attacker.  The castle ruler catches the enemy’s forces between the shields and then brings the shields together, destroying them.  In Down’s End we heard rumors that Aylwin did this to some of Eudes Ridere’s men.  We should ask Ridere if that’s true.  Whether or not Aylwin can do it, I expect Lord Martin is able to command both shields at once.  Parva Arcum Praesidiis will keep us away from the castle and Magna Arcum Praesidiis will keep Oshelm away from us.”
Amicia objected, “That would put us between the shields.  Lord Martin could kill us all.”
“True,” said Milo.  “But I’ve talked with him.  Lord Martin will not betray a promise.  If he gives us shelter, we’ll be safe enough.”
            “Ridere?”  This time Merlin didn’t stutter.
            Milo looked past Amicia to Merlin.  “What about him?”
            “T-t-tell M-m-martin?”
            “Oh!  Did I tell Martin that I have Ridere with me?”  Milo grinned at Amicia and her husband.  “No.  I think it’s good to have some surprises to spring when we get there.”
            “Surprised or not, Martin will be glad to see him,” said Amicia.
            Milo’s grin faded a little.  “Why should Martin want to see Ridere?”
            Amicia looked from Milo to her husband.  Merlin made a little circle motion with his claw arm.  Amicia said, “Your men intercepted Ridere on his way to Inter Lucus, but he never told you why he was going there.  Last night he told Merlin and me.”
            Milo interrupted.  “He wanted use of Videns-Loquitur to talk with Mariel.  I already guessed that much.”
            “No.  Of course, he would have talked with her if possible, but he didn’t expect it.  He actually planned to talk with Lady Avice Montfort, of Tutum Partum.”
            “I don’t understand.”
            Merlin snorted.  Amicia said, “Indeed.”  She didn’t elaborate with words, but paused expressively.  Then: “Ridere went to Inter Lucus to talk with Lady Montfort, because he already had word that Queen Mariel nearly died in giving birth to a son.  He knew that Mariel was bedridden and unable to bond with Pulchra Mane.”
            “By the gods.”  Milo swore quietly.
            “This news came to Ridere round-about: A messenger from Pulchra Mane to Tutum Partum, Lady Montfort speaking to Lord Martin, and then Martin’s messenger from Inter Lucus to General Ridere.  So Martin knows that Ridere faced a crisis.  He will be eager to speak with him.
“Meanwhile, the lords of Herminia would suspect something amiss with Mariel as soon as the Queen did not convene her normal Council meeting.  So Ridere had no time to lose.  He began sending men home to defend Pulchra Mane.  And he set out for Inter Lucus in order to confer directly with Lady Montfort.”
            Milo made deductions.  “Some of Mariel’s lords are ready to rebel.”
            “And by capturing Ridere, I have somehow undermined the defense of Pulchra Mane.  How so?  Even if Ridere had reached Inter Lucus he would only have been able to talk with this Lady Montfort.  How could a Videns-Loquitur conversation save Mariel?”
            Amicia explained, “Ridere had already dispatched men to defend Tutum Partum.  He wanted Montfort to send her own sheriffs to Pulchra Mane.  The point is that Montfort’s men could reach Pulchra Mane far sooner than soldiers from Tarquint.  Ridere thought that quick reinforcements from Tutum Partum could get to Pulchra Mane before a rebel army.”
            “Clever plan.”  Milo thought about Amicia’s report.  “Why did Ridere tell you all this?  Why did he not tell me?”
            “He told Merlin because he thinks it is too late now and thus makes no difference.  He did not tell you because he thought you were in league with Aylwin.  Whether you intended it or not, by preventing his conference with Montfort, you have given the rebel lords a window of time.  As we speak, Pulchra Mane may well be lost and the Grandmesnil kingdom destroyed.  And that, of course, is what our brother Aylwin prays for every night.  Ridere believes that you and I have convinced Stonebridge to ally itself with Hyacintho Flumen.”
            Milo objected, “I care nothing for Aylwin.  I sent Ridere messages to tell him so.”
            Amicia snorted.  “Why should he believe that?  In the field he sees a Stonebridge army headed by a Mortane.  And yesterday he learned that I, another Mortane, have married an Averill.  Stonebridge and the Mortanes together—you see?  Even now, he is convinced that this army is moving on Inter Lucus in order to capture it, to use it as a base of operation against his army.”
            “But he can’t think that Lord Martin would allow that.  Martin made it very clear to me that he would not take sides for or against Aylwin.  Surely he made that plain to Ridere as well.”
            “Of course he has,” said Amicia.  “Ridere is confident that Martin will not ally with you.”
            “But… Now I’m confused.”  Milo gently tugged Gray Boy’s reins, pulling him away from Ifing Redhair.  “If Ridere knows that Martin won’t help me…”
            “Martin will not help you willingly,” said Amicia.  “It’s possible that you might outwit and manipulate him, though that is not what Ridere fears.”
            “What then?”
            “Ridere spent a good bit of time in Tarquint as a spy, before Mariel’s army invaded.  He learned much, including much of our family history.  He knows about uncle Wimund.”
            Ifing Redhair’s head swiveled back and forth between Milo and Amicia.  “Who is Wimund?  What did he do?”
            Milo didn’t answer; his thoughts were elsewhere. 
           Amicia explained, “Our father Hereward had a younger brother, Wimund.  Wimund and Hereward were both grandsons of Aerlene Tirel, daughter of Thurwold Tirel, the last lord of Inter Lucus.  After Thurwold’s death, with no lord for Inter Lucus, the castle fell into ruin, and our family claimed authority over the territory between the lakes, though they had only spotty success collecting hidgield.  Since he was descended from a Tirel, Uncle Wimund thought he might establish himself as a castle lord.  He rode north and tried to bond with Inter Lucus.  If he had succeeded, he would have become a sort of rival to Father; he would have been lord between the lakes.  But he failed.  All he got for his effort were blistered hands.”
           Milo laughed harshly.  “He got more than that.  Father decided he couldn’t trust Wimund, so he ordered him strangled.”  He looked down at Redhair.  “You see, Ifing?  I come from a calculating family.  We Mortanes do what we must, much as you and I did when the Hawks made trouble in Stonebridge.”
           “Aye.  I understand better now,” said Redhair.  He turned toward Amicia, whose face, because of a shorter horse, was only slightly above his.  “You are saying that Ridere fears Sir Milo will take Martin’s castle for himself.”
           Amicia smiled sadly.  “I tried to explain how foolish that would be.  A castle will not accept a new lord while the old lord lives.  Ridere knows that as well as anyone.  Furthermore, Merlin is convinced, based on letters from Lord David Le Grant, that Martin is a particularly strong lord.  Martin has completely revived Inter Lucus in only one year.”
            Merlin cleared his throat.  “M-m-more im-im-important…”
            “Aye,” said Amicia.  “Merlin thinks Lord Martin’s ideas are more important than his magic, as great as that is.”  Amicia might have said more, but their conference on horseback was interrupted by shouts from behind.  Fletcher Norris was galloping toward them.

164. Some Miles from Inter Lucus

            Someone touched Milo’s arm.  He woke, dismissing a dream, and threw aside his blanket.  He leapt to his feet, ready to receive news and issue commands.  According to Fletcher Norris’s midnight report, the Herminian army had closed to within six miles.  But the touch was not from one of his captains.
            “I’m sorry, Milo.  I didn’t mean to startle you.”  Amicia still crouched where she had knelt beside her sleeping brother.
            Milo’s military trained senses evaluated the situation in seconds.  Dark—second moon obscured by clouds; first moon already set.  Quiet—the men of Stonebridge army were sleeping in ordered companies under the stars without tents; the night had been comfortable with no threat of rain.  The horses not currently on scout duty were loosely tethered to trees, standing or lying at ease.  Secure—Milo could see dim outlines of sentries at the boundaries of the camp; mounted scouts would be roaming beyond sight.  He let out a long breath. 
           “Not your fault, Toadface.”  Milo extended a hand and pulled Amicia to her feet.  He spoke just above a whisper.  “Even when I’m asleep, I’m half-ready to fight.  I think my men are afraid to wake me sometimes.”
           She searched his face, her eyes reflecting starlight.  “The general of an army has worries he shares with no one.”
           “Trouble comes with the job, I think.”  Milo looked at the horizon.  The first light of the approaching dawn touched hilltops in the east.  He began rolling his field blanket; the day’s march would begin soon, so there was no point in lying down again.  “And what about you, little sister?  You rode most the day yesterday and the night before that.  Why aren’t you getting every bit of shut-eye you can?  You must be tired.”
           Amicia noted his quick survey of the camp.  “Tired?  Not too bad.  I dozed on and off in the saddle yesterday, and I had some nice springy grass under my blanket last night.  And it’s important that I talk with you.”
           Milo felt curiosity and doubt.  So serious she is!  How much has Averill changed my little sister?  “We talked yesterday—will today too.”
           “We need to talk alone.”
           Milo looked at her.  “Something you don’t want Merlin to hear?”
           “No.  Well, maybe.” 
           Rolled blanket over his shoulder, Milo started walking and Amicia kept pace.  “Has he… mistreated you?”
           “Oh, no.  I’m a happily married woman.  It’s just that I’m not sure I want him to hear what you have to say.  Where are we going?”
           “Got to stow my bedroll on Gray Boy.  If it’s not Merlin, what’s so important you need to get me up early?”
           Amicia caught a boot against a tree root, invisible in the dark, and suddenly pitched against Milo.  She clutched at his arm, righting herself.  “I want to know why we’re going to Inter Lucus.
           Milo led her toward the army’s horses, almost invisible in the shadow of trees.  “I already told you.  I want Martin to protect my army while I work out a truce with Archard Oshelm.”
           A sentry materialized from blackness under the trees where the horses were tethered.  “Hold!  Announce yourself!”  The man’s sword reflected moonlight.
           “Be at ease, soldier,” commanded Milo.  “I’m here to see to my horse and stow my roll.”
           “Lord General!”  The sentry sheathed his sword and saluted, hand on chest.  “Pardon.  I did not recognize you.  If you please, sir, I will feed and water the beasts before we ride.”  He reached out to receive the blanket from Milo.  “Gray Boy is over there.”
           “Very well.  See that he’s ready.”  Milo had always relied on Eádulf or someone else to care for his mount.  He and Amicia walked away from the horses.
           When they were out of earshot, Amicia resumed the conversation.  “That’s not the whole truth, is it?  I believe you do want a truce, but that isn’t the whole story.  Why Inter Lucus?” 
           They were on a narrow path between two grain fields; the overnight stay of the Stonebridgers had largely trampled one of the fields.  What would the owner say when he discovered his grain ruined?  Milo remembered farmer Hubbard, whose cows had fed the army the day before.  Amicia had insisted they pay Hubbard fairly—more than fairly, actually!  The man turned a handsome profit on his cows.  Will Amicia want to pay this farmer too?
           Amicia interrupted his thought.  “Milo?  Why Inter Lucus?”
           “To see Lord Martin, of course,” Milo said.  “Your Merlin has come all the way from Stonebridge to see him.  Why shouldn’t I?”  In the growing pre-dawn light they could see stirring in the camp, men standing and stretching stiff backs.
           Amicia grabbed his arm, turning Milo to face her.  “Merlin wants to talk about Martin’s ‘parliament.’  He thinks Martin is a great lord, whose ideas might serve Stonebridge’s interests.”
           Milo laughed.  “Ha!  As far as I can tell, this parliament thing would make us all subjects under Mariel.”
           She tossed her head, the old Amicia again.  “Citizens, not subjects.”  She released his arm and pointed a finger at him.  “If you really think Martin’s parliament idea is faulty, why do you want to see him?  What are you about, Milo?”
            “Chances, little sister.”  Milo seized her hand and held it.  “Aylwin sent you to Down’s End to be bargained off for an ally.  If I hadn’t sent for you, you might be stuck there.  But a chance came for you.  You met Merlin Averill and married him.  And now—I heard you yesterday—you intend to tell Aylwin to go to hell.  Don’t misunderstand me.  I approve!  The lord of Hyacintho Flumen hardly deserves loyalty from you.  You had chances.  Most of them were bad.  But among them, you found one to your liking and you seized it.  Good for you.  I’m going to Inter Lucus because my chances lie there.”
           Amicia shook her hand free.  “I’m going to tell Aylwin I can’t be his ambassador anymore.  I am not telling him to go to hell.”
           “You should.  He sent you away to be married to a fat banker on the hope that he would gain him allies in Down’s End.  A stupid policy, with no chance of success—but, of course, no cost to Aylwin, since he doesn’t care about you.”
           A sudden intake of breath.  “Aylwin loves himself more than anything or anyone; that much is true.  But we’re not here to talk about Aylwin.  I want to talk about you.”
           “All right.  Talk.”  He folded his arms across his chest.
           “Are you going to Inter Lucus to kill Martin?”
           “How could I?  He has a castle!  By all accounts, he is a powerful lord.  As you pointed out yesterday, my whole army will be vulnerable to him between his shields.  I’m depending on his good will not to destroy us.  How could I possibly hope to kill him?”
           Amicia touched his folded arms.  “I don’t know.  But I don’t like what you said to Ifing.  ‘We Mortanes do what we must,’ you said.  Felix told me what you did to the Hawks.  You and Ifing together, you betrayed them and slaughtered them.  Then, later, you used me to trap Ody Dans at Ambassador House.”
           “Ody Dans” interjected Milo, “is a blight on humanity.  He is a murderer who takes delight in humiliating helpless people.  My only regret is that I will not be in Stonebridge when he hangs.  I saw the thrill he got when he crushed Tilde’s trust in Adelgar.”
           “Tilde told me about it,” Amicia said.  “And about the bed and the mouse and everything.  I agree: Dans is a monster.  That doesn’t change the fact that you used me to trap him.  ‘We Mortanes do what we must’ you said to Ifing.  Now, I’m asking you—not Sir Milo the Commander of the Citadel or the General of the Stonebridge army, but Milo Mortane, my brother—what are these ‘chances’ you are pursuing at Inter Lucus?”
           Milo unfolded his arms and brushed her cheek.  “All right.  What would you say if your brother became King of Tarquint?”
           She was stunned.  “What?”
           “When I was a boy, I wanted to be lord of Hyacintho Flumen more than anything.  So did Aylwin.  Funny thing is—I was always better at riding, hunting, and fighting; more fit to be a knight than a lord, because a lord has to stay in his castle.  Aylwin learned writing and figures quicker than me, and he spent hours watching father at the lord’s knob.  He will manage the castle estate better than I would have.”
           Amicia shook her head.  “What are you talking about?”
           “I’m telling you why I’m going to Inter Lucus.  If Aylwin hadn’t stolen Hyacintho Flumen I would have been a lord, confined to one castle the rest of my life.  Think, little sister, how did Rudolf become King of Herminia?  Not by castle magic.  He sent an army, under Eudes Ridere, to besiege the castles.  One by one, he made his neighbors submit to him.  It was his army, not his magic, which made him king.  Now I have an army.  Who is stronger, Aylwin or me?”
           She objected, “It’s Stonebridge’s army, not yours.”
           Milo answered, “In the field, it’s my army.  Stonebridge has supplied the men, weapons, and supplies.  And I’m grateful.  But the Assembly doesn’t really know what it wants.  Some say: Clear out the highwaymen.  Others say: Make Down’s End acknowledge our position as first city.  Others say: Warn off the Herminians.  I’m going to do all those things.”
           Amicia was dismayed.  “But you have no right…”
           Milo cut off her objection.  “Why should Mariel rule this country?  Why should we not have a king of our own in Tarquint?  And why shouldn’t that king be Milo Mortane?”
           “You swore obedience to the Stonebridge Assembly.”
           He smiled, his eyes shining.  “I did.  And when I return to Stonebridge I will report success on every task they gave me.  Stonebridge and Down’s End will be free cities under my rule.  But my capitol will be Inter Lucus.”
           Again she seized his arm.  “Milo, this is madness.”
           “I don’t think so,” he said.  “It’s a chance.  I will have to make the cities see that it is too their advantage to support the throne and the security my army will provide.  A king will protect them from Herminian invaders, from castle lords, and from the anarchy of highwaymen. 
           “You see, then, that I do not want to harm Martin.  He is perfectly harmless—and useful.  As his guest, the king of Tarquint could speak to any lord or lady in this country, much as Mariel speaks to the rulers of Herminia.  Since my army will control the region between the lakes, I think Martin will cooperate with me.  He wants no harm to come to Senerham or Inter Lucus, and by helping me he will promote peace.”
           “So now you are going to use Martin!”  Amicia’s grip on his arm tightened.  “It’s as if he is Rudolf and you’re Eudes Ridere, except that the general is the king and the castle lord is his minister.”
           “Well said, Toadface!”  Milo grinned.  “I hadn’t thought in those terms, but that’s exactly right.  There is no good reason a king must be a castle lord.  Lords and ladies should serve the king.”
Amicia looked at him, a mixture of disbelief and wonder.  “You’ve got this all figured out.”
           “Hardly.”  Milo smiled.  “It is a chance only.  I invited Archard Oshelm to join me, and his response was to swear to kill me.  Pretty obviously, I blundered.  Now, I have to hope that Martin can win me a truce with Oshelm.  It’s like the dice game you see on the street corners in Stonebridge.  They call it Liar Lives.  When a player has all six lives, he often calls ‘liar’ lightly; but when he is down to his last life, he is much more careful.  I don’t have many ‘lives’ left, so I have to be careful.”
Daylight had grown during their walk.  Milo pointed.  “We ought to go.”  Soldiers were quickly taking down the tent where Amicia and Merlin had slept, the only tent in the camp.  Merlin had spotted them and was waving.  
           Amicia said, “I’ve seen them play Liar Lives in Stonebridge.  When a player loses his last life, they take his money.  What happens if you lose the game you are playing, Milo?”
           “The truth?  I don’t know.”
165. At Inter Lucus

            Marty woke up late and tired.  As he promised, he had checked the situation in Pulchra Mane hourly throughout the night.  Each time he did so, some person was present in the great hall—either Aweirgan Unes or another servant—holding Unes’ slate with the “all is well” sign.  Marty took naps between times, and at sunrise he let himself sleep for two hours, but it wasn’t sufficient.  He felt like the time, seven years before, when he had flown from California to Tokyo for an electronics sales seminar.  Jet lag.  What a wasted weekend that was.  He bathed; first hot, then cold water to wake him up.  He dressed and went down to the great hall.
            “My lord Martin.”  Ora greeted him, her green eyes brimming with enthusiasm.
            Marty rubbed his forehead.  “Fair morning, Ora.  Audiences after breakfast today, right?  How many?”
            “No, my lord.  Eadmar and I sent them away.”  She tapped a clipboard with a pencil.  “I have rescheduled everyone.  Today is open.”
            Marty frowned briefly.  “Okay…Why?”
            “Riders, my lord, from the Stonebridge army.  Elfric and the sheriffs are keeping them at Prayer House until you are ready to meet them.”
            “How many?”
            “Only two.  They have already disarmed.  They bear a message for you from General Mortane and wish to take your reply as soon as possible.”  Ora motioned toward the tables of the great hall.  “I told Whitney to be ready to write for you.”
            “Very well.  Show them in.”  Marty moved toward the table.  Whitney had several sheets of paper ready, with quills, and two inkpots.  “I’ll need some tea.  And we should offer them something to eat.”
            Ora grinned.  “Caelin started for the kitchen as soon as you came down the stairs.”

            The couriers, who gave their names as Ford Ormod and Noel Night, declined the offer of breakfast.  Ormod handed Marty the letter, and both men stood stiffly, waiting for his response.  Milo Mortane’s message provided a greater jolt than any of Mildgyd Meadowdaughter’s teas.  Upon reading it, Marty began pacing back and forth, his mind racing.  “Men, I must ask you to wait outside,” he said to the couriers.  “I will compose a reply and give it to you shortly.”
            The Stonebridge riders bowed and departed.  As they were leaving, Marty turned to Caelin and Elfric, who had escorted the couriers from Prayer House.  “We better have Isen and Eadmar.  Caelin, get them.  Quickly!  Elfric, please find Alf.  He should be here too.”
            “Aye!”  Caelin and Elfric spoke together, and Caelin sprinted from the hall.  Elfric would have followed, but at that moment Alf appeared at the stairway from the kitchen, bearing a tray of rolls and sausages.  “Something hot, my lord,” he said.
            “Thank you, Alf.  You’d better stay and listen.”  Marty gave Mortane’s letter to Elfric, picked up a roll, and resumed pacing.
            In less than a minute, Isen and Priest Eadmar preceded Caelin through the west door.  “Eadmar guessed he would be wanted,” Caelin explained.  “He and Isen were almost at the door when I called them.”
            “Martin, what has happened?”  Eadmar’s weathered skin looked especially leathery.  An old man, getting older.  But his blue eyes were clear and his expression calm.
            “Milo Mortane is coming to Inter Lucus with an army of seven hundred Stonebridgers,” Marty said.  “They will arrive before nightfall.”
            “Seven hundred!”  Alf’s voice almost squeaked.
            “That’s not all,” Elfric said, handing the letter to Caelin.  “Mortane says an even greater Herminian army marches on their tail.  He says that, since he cannot flee any further, he implores Lord Martin to shelter his army with Inter Lucus’s shields.  If that is not done, he says, he will stand and fight the Herminians here.”
            “It’s a threat!  ‘Protect me or there will be slaughter between the lakes.’”  Caelin shook the document.  “He doesn’t say it in those words, but that’s what he means.”
            Marty interrupted his pacing for a moment.  “He also gives the name of the Herminian commander as Archard Oshelm, not Eudes Ridere.”
            Caelin looked again at the paper.  “Aye.  What does this mean?”
            “I’m not sure.”  Marty frowned.  “Oshelm must be one of General Ridere’s subordinates.  Ridere may have taken ship for Herminia in order to defend Pulchra Mane and left Oshelm in command.  But something is amiss.  I would have expected Ridere to send me some word, and we haven’t seen Godric Measy since I last sent him to Hyacintho Flumen.
            “In any case, it’s clear that the armies of Stonebridge and Herminia have come to blows.  Archard Oshelm is pursuing Milo Mortane.  The strange thing is that, rather than retreating to Stonebridge, Mortane is coming here.  Mortane says that he wants to avoid a battle.  He asks me to help negotiate a truce with the Herminians.”
            “Can he be trusted?  If he comes inside the shield, he could attack us.  Ora spoke, but others nodded their agreement.
            Marty considered the question for a moment.  “I don’t know.  I think we must assume he cannot be trusted.  We would have to require the Stonebridgers to disarm before coming inside the shield.”
            Caelin said, “And if they refuse?”
            Elfric answered, “Then we must refuse.  We can’t let them in if they are armed.  They must surrender swords, arrows and bows, otherwise Lord Martin should hold the shield against them.”
            “Doesn’t Inter Lucus have two shields?” Eadmar asked.  “I agree, Martin.  The Stonebridgers should surrender their weapons.  But you could also tell them to stay outside the lesser shield.  The greater shield would divide the Stonebridgers from the Herminians, and the lesser shield would keep the Stonebridgers away from us.  If at all possible, you must find a way to prevent a battle.”
            Marty nodded.  “Okay.  Good idea.”
            “Lord Martin.”  Ora drew out the words, as if hesitant to speak.  “How long can you maintain shields?”
            “I’m not sure.  A few hours, I suppose.”  Marty saw the worry on her face.  “But most of the time I would not hold the shields.  I would be resting.  If either army made threatening moves, that’s when I would raise the shields.”
            Eadmar said, “As a matter of precaution, the villagers of Inter Lucus ought to be warned.  Many of them may want to seek shelter near the castle.”
            “Aye.”  Marty rubbed his chin. 
Eadmar noticed his hesitation.  “Martin, what is it?”
“Mortane’s letter also says that Merlin Averill of Stonebridge is with him.  He is an important man in Stonebridge, the son of the Assembly Speaker.  David Le Grant thinks Merlin will be Speaker himself someday.”
Whitney, seated with her papers and ink, raised a hand.  “Perhaps that explains why Mortane is coming to Inter Lucus rather than retreating to Stonebridge.  We know that Averill wants to meet you.”
Marty frowned.  “Would he risk his army just so Averill can see me?  There’s something in this I don’t understand.”
Eadmar’s weathered face lit with a smile.  “Let us hope General Mortane accepts your invitation to lay aside his weapons,” he said.  “You need to talk with him as well as Master Averill.”
“Invitation”—what a useful word.  Marty pointed at Whitney’s ink and paper.  “We have two letters to write, Whitney.  Ready?”
The first letter:

General Milo Mortane
Stonebridge Army

Honored General,
            I hereby extend to you and Merlin Averill an invitation to dinner, an hour before sundown today, at castle Inter Lucus.  You may bring a reasonable number of guests with you, but not more than six.  I should inform you that I have also invited General Archard Oshelm to attend.  Please do not take offense, but I must insist that my dinner guests enter my castle unarmed. 
            On another matter: I agree that the army of Stonebridge may take refuge within Magna Arcum Praesidiis.  I offer temporary refuge in order to facilitate negotiations with the Herminians.  However, your men must surrender all swords and bows to my sheriffs before they enter my protection.

            Eagerly awaiting your reply,
            Martin Cedarborne

The second letter:

            General Archard Oshelm
            Herminian Army

Dear General Oshelm,
            I hereby extend to you an invitation to dinner, an hour before sundown today, at castle Inter Lucus.  You may bring a reasonable number of guests with you, but not more than six.  I have also invited General Milo Mortane of the Stonebridge army to attend.  Please do not take offense, but I must insist that my dinner guests enter my castle unarmed. 
            On another matter: I have agreed to provide refuge to the army of Stonebridge under Magna Arcum Praesidiis.  I assure you that the only reason for this decision is to facilitate negotiations between you and the Stonebridgers. Therefore, I urge and insist that the Herminian army establish its camp at least two miles from my castle. When this affair is concluded, I expect to discover that your men have treated the villagers of Inter Lucus fairly and with dignity.

            Eagerly awaiting your reply,
            Martin Cedarborne

            Marty summoned Ford Ormod and Noel Night and handed the first missive, sealed with wax, to Ormod.  “Sirs, I hope you will deliver this message to General Mortane as quickly as possible.  When you see the general, please tell him that I have written a second letter, a letter to General Oshelm of the Herminians.”  Marty flourished the second epistle and passed it to Elfric.  “My sheriff, Elfric Ash, will ride with you.  When Sir Milo reads my letter to him, he will agree that it is crucial that Elfric be allowed to pass safely through your army.  The letter Elfric carries may well preserve the Stonebridge army and prevent a battle with the Herminians.  I am counting on you to guarantee safe passage for Elfric.”
            Night and Ormod held fists to their chests.  “He will ride safely with us,” said Night.

            The couriers gone, Marty ate a light breakfast that included, Caelin reported, the first blueberries of the summer.  Then, with Whitney at the writing desk, he bonded with Inter Lucus and bent his mind toward Videns-Loquitur, asking for David Le Grant.
            “Fair morning, Lord Martin.”  Le Grant appeared on the screen with his scribe, Orde Penman, and his daughter, Kendra.
            “Fair morning, David.”  Marty rubbed his eyes.  I’m going to need a nap before sup. “I want you to tell me everything you know about Merlin Averill.”
            “Has he arrived at Inter Lucus?  So quickly?”
            “No, but I expect him today.  In fact, Milo Mortane and the Stonebridge army will arrive today, and Averill is with them.  Thirteen hundred Herminians, commanded someone named Archard Oshelm, are in hot pursuit.  So my first order of business will be negotiating a truce between the two armies.  My second goal—and in the long run, the more important goal—is to gain Averill’s support for parliament.”
            “By the gods!  Lord Martin!  Two armies on your doorstep?”  At Le Grant’s side, Orde Penman stopped writing; lord and scribe were both shocked.  “And you still have—what?  Four sheriffs?”
            “We won’t allow the Stonebridgers to come inside the greater shield unless they disarm.”  Marty spoke reassuringly.  “I think they will comply, because they need my protection against the Herminians.  I am duty bound to try to achieve a truce.  Now, about Merlin Averill?”
            Le Grant shook his head with a sigh.  “You already know what I know.  Averills have been a leading Stonebridge family since Warren Averill led their rebellion against my family long ago.  Kingsley Averill, the father, has been a leader of the more conservative faction in the Assembly for thirty years.  They are wealthy and have a large estate, devoted mostly to vineyards, somewhere west of the city, but Kingsley was not driven to amass ever-greater wealth like Ody Dans.  Kingsley despises Ody Dans—something to do with Kingsley’s sister who married Dans and then died.  Merlin, until recently, kept away from business and political matters; apparently content to collect and enjoy wines.  But Merlin was present the night Ody Dans was arrested—arrested by none other than Milo Mortane, who is now at your doorstep—and Merlin is engaged to Amicia Mortane.  It seems that the alliance of house Mortane and house Averill was sufficient to bring down the richest man in Stonebridge.  And now, it seems, they want to use you against Herminia.  I advise caution, Lord Martin.”
            Marty looked at Whitney’s notes, which summarized Le Grant’s speech accurately.  “Thank you, David.  I will try to be careful.  Now, how do we best prepare a meeting between Merlin Averill and Queen Mariel?”
“What!” Le Grant interjected.  “Do you think that’s a good idea?”
“I do.  Averill is coming because he wants to discuss the parliament, so I hope he will see the advantage of talking about it with Mariel.  Mariel, however, might be another story.  She already resists the House of Lords, so I haven’t really pressed her on the House of Commons.  Perhaps I should arrange another group meeting of castle lords and ladies.”
“Lord Martin, I alone of them have seen the need for a House of Commons.  If you bring many castle rulers into the conversation, two or three may take the opportunity to argue against a Commons.  It will complicate things greatly.”
“Okay.”  Marty rubbed his eyes again.  “How about Lady Postel and Lady Montfort?”
Surprisingly, it was Kendra Le Grant who answered.  “I think that’s a good idea.  Include Isabel Baro as well.”
“What?”  Marty felt flummoxed.  The square-faced Isabel would not have occurred to him as someone who might persuade Mariel.
“Merlin Averill won’t reach Inter Lucus until later today; isn’t that right?  You can introduce him to Queen Mariel at that time.  For now, it’s time for the women to speak.”
Where is she going with this?  Kendra Le Grant—first feminist on Two Moons?  Marty said, “I don’t understand.”
“Of course you don’t,” Kendra replied.  “Lord Martin, Father is very impressed with you; you are obviously a strong lord.  But you are also a man, subject to a man’s skewed vision of the world.  Trust me.  You need women to talk with Mariel.”
What will it hurt?  “Okay.  I will summon the others.”
Postel, Montfort, and Baro appeared in the interface wall within minutes.  Jean Postel asked, “Where are the others, Lord Martin?”
“I asked Lord Martin to summon only women.”  Kendra Postel stood at her father’s side, her hand tucked around his upper arm.  “Queen Mariel is undoubtedly expecting Lord Martin to contact her, and she probably expects to see as many as a dozen castle lords and ladies.  You will all once again pressure her to accept a parliament, or so she expects.  I think we should do something other than what she expects.  Queen Mariel is mother to a new prince.  I think we should ask her about that.”
Avice Montfort chuckled aloud.  Jean Postel said, “Why not?  Will you speak for us, Lady Kendra?”
“Well, I… Yes, I will.  But, as I am not yet a mother, I expect you, Lady Avice and Lady Jean, to carry the conversation.”
Isabel Baro was more timid.  “Lord Martin?”
Marty said, “I have no objection.  I will contact Pulchra Mane, and I will speak as little as possible.”
Mariel’s frame opened as soon as Marty turned his thought.  Her feet were no longer propped up on a footstool, and her bearing, while still seated, was more erect.
“Fair morning, Lord Martin.”  She spoke carefully.  A serving girl at her side deftly wiped Mariel’s mouth with a cloth.
“Fair morning, your majesty.”  Kendra’s firm voice drew the queen’s attention.  “You may not remember me.  I am Kendra Le Grant.”  She inclined her head slightly, which brought brown hair swinging by her face.  She brushed it back.  “Lady Montfort, Lady Postel, Lady Baro and I all want to take this opportunity to congratulate you on your recovery.  And we have a very special request.”
Marty kept quiet.  Mariel looked at him for a moment, and then back to the women.  “What is your desire?”  Mariel’s words came slowly.
“Could we see your baby?  Your scribe Aweirgan said yesterday and the day before that Prince Eudes is thriving, but like a typical man he never thought to bring him out to Videns-Loquitur so we could see him.  Later, of course, Lord Martin will want to talk about politics, but we just want to see the baby.”
Mariel eyed them with evident suspicion at first, but gradually her expression softened.  She whispered to the serving woman at her side.  A minute later another woman entered the frame, carrying a blanketed bundle.  Mariel kept her right hand on her knob while the woman laid the baby on her lap, cradling him in Mariel’s left arm and uncovering the boy’s face.  The wet nurse stood close, bracing Mariel’s arm.
“Oh my goodness!  He’s perfect!”  Jean Postel played no role; her delight in the infant was genuine and infectious. 
“Gods be thanked.  You majesty, he really is a wonderful looking boy,” said Isabel Baro.  “The hair must come from the father.”
Mariel grinned.  “Aye.  Eudes has dark hair.”
Avice Montfort said, “That reminds me, your majesty.  Aweirgan called the new prince Eudes, but only until you or the father could name him.  Have you decided on a name?”
Mariel seemed bemused.  “Other matters have occupied my mind of late.”  Her speech was still deliberate and slow, but her wry smile drew laughter from Montfort, Postel, and Baro.  The women’s laughter encouraged a broader and contented smile from Mariel.  “I shall give the matter some thought,” she said; somehow this occasioned more laughter, as if she had told a joke.
The meeting of castle ladies went on for almost an hour.  Marty never said a word.

166. In Castle Inter Lucus

            As the castle ladies talked on and on (the whole event dependent on Lord Martin’s magic), Ora felt some impatience.  Shouldn’t they be talking with him, about more important questions?  Why didn’t Kendra Le Grant shift the conversation from Mariel’s baby to Mariel’s army?  Ora wanted to step close to Lord Martin and speak to the ladies, to remind them that there were matters of state that needed attention.  But then she realized that Martin himself had no intention of interrupting the women.  He wants to let them talk.  Realizing this, Ora walked slowly to Martin’s side.  The others greeted her and she introduced herself while, by unspoken agreement, Martin remained mute.  Ora bowed to Queen Mariel, praised her baby, laughed with the others, and pretended that she too was a castle lady, the lady of Inter Lucus.  Eventually, when Lord Martin yawned and rubbed his eyes for perhaps the seventh time, Ora politely suggested that the Videns-Loquitur session should end.  Only at the close did Avice Montfort ask Queen Mariel if she would welcome a more formal consultation, to discuss other matters, later that day.  Mariel said she looked forward to it.
            So ended the castle ladies meeting, with Isabel Baro and Kendra Le Grant saying they ought to meet again soon.

            Supporting an hour-long Videns-Loquitur session made “jet lag” far worse.  Marty retreated, physically spent and mentally groggy, to his bedroom.  He promptly fell asleep in his clothes.
            “My lord Martin,” said Caelin’s voice.  Marty blinked until two figures came into focus: Caelin and Ora.  “Forgive us for disturbing you, but the Stonebridge messengers have come back.”
            Marty rubbed sleep from his eyes and looked at his watch: 3:31 pm.  Good grief!  I was more tired than I thought.
            “I picked out some clothes.”  Ora gestured toward a chair; black trousers and a fine gray tunic were folded over the back.  “My lord needs to dress appropriately.  We’ve never had such a gathering in Inter Lucus: three generals, an ambassador, and the Stonebridge Speaker’s son.”
            Three generals?” Marty swung his legs to the floor.  “Ambassador?”
            Caelin answered, “General Mortane’s messengers said that he will arrive soon, and he acknowledges your invitation to Archard Oshelm.  He promises safe passage for Oshelm to Inter Lucus.  With him Mortane brings Lady Amicia Mortane Averill, who is ambassador for Lord Aylwin of Hyacintho Flumen, her husband Merlin Averill, who is the Stonebridge Speaker’s son, and General Eudes Ridere.”
            “Ridere!”  Marty stood, his eyes wide.  He had expected Mortane to accept the invitation, bring Merlin Averill with him, and welcome Oshelm’s presence.  He was slightly surprised that Merlin and Amicia had married so quickly and that Amicia had come with Merlin to Inter Lucus.  But the last name shocked him.
            “Aye, my lord.  Mortane holds Ridere prisoner.”
            Marty picked up the tunic Ora had selected.  “But I thought… This explains why we’ve had no word from Ridere.  The Stonebridgers captured him somewhere—but not at Hyacintho Flumen surrounded by his army.  He must have left Hyacintho Flumen, but he didn’t sail for home.”  Marty looked at Caelin.  “He was coming here, where he could speak with Mariel.”
            Caelin shook his head.  “No, my lord.  Your letter to Ridere told him that Mariel was disabled and gravely ill.”
            “Right.  Right.”  Marty concentrated.  “He believed Mariel was in danger and disabled.  So… He may still have been coming to Inter Lucus to dicker with the rebel lords or speak with Avice Montfort, since she was loyal.”
            “Aye.  And that is why we have not seen Godric,” said Caelin.  “Godric was probably captured along with Ridere.”
            Marty and the two cousins fell silent.  Then Ora inclined her head.  “Godric was Isen’s friend.  I should tell him.”  She nodded at the tunic in Marty’s hands.  “And you should get dressed.”

            For the second time that day, Marty met Ford Ormod and Noel Night in the great hall.  They handed him a slip of paper, folded and sealed, but it said only: Night and Ormod speak for me.  I will arrive Inter Lucus soon.  Mortane.  Couriers Night and Ormod repeated what they had told Caelin: General Mortane accepted Lord Martin’s invitation to sup; he would bring with him Merlin Averill, Lady Amicia Mortane Averill, Eudes Ridere, Captain Derian Chapman, Captain Ifing Redhair, and a personal guard.  Mortane promised safe passage to Archard Oshelm if the Herminian general wished to join the sup at Inter Lucus.
            Ealdwine Smithson came to the west door.  Stonebridge soldiers were gathering near Prayer House, he said.  Marty told Ealdwine and the Stonebridge couriers to direct the Stonebridgers to assemble outside the greater shield, where they would receive instructions for disarming.
            Having slept through lunch and now thoroughly awake, Marty descended to the kitchen, where he made a quick sandwich.  Mildgyd Meadowdaughter, Alf Saeric, Went Bycwine, and Tayte Graham were already preparing the evening meal.  Mildgyd proudly listed the menu: early summer greens for a salad, freshly caught fried bass from East Lake, roasted potatoes, beef in gravy, fresh brown bread with butter, honey wafers; and for beverages tea, ale, and bottles of wine from Down’s End.  As Mildgyd worked, the fosterling, Agyfen Baecer, tagged after her without getting in the way.  Marty drank a glass of ice water and commended Mildgyd for what looked to be a splendid sup.
            Returning to the great hall, Marty bonded and used the interface wall as a camera to survey the castle grounds.  Hundreds of armed men were standing in groups not far from Prayer House.  Os Oswald and Leo Dudd had hitched two horses to a wagon, which the horses were pulling down to the place where the Inter Lucus road intersected the forest road.
            Marty blinked in surprise.  Much nearer to Inter Lucus, on the slope south of the castle, were dozens of villagers.  Ernulf Penrict and Isen Poorman were moving among them, encouraging them to sit on the grass, probably reassuring them that the very visible army would not harm them.  For the thousandth time, Marty wondered: What strange story have I gotten into?  If Mortane’s men charged, nothing could protect the villagers except my castle shield.  Would I hold it against the Stonebridgers if that meant watching men burn?
            Os and Leo parked the wagon by Prayer House.  Eadmar scrambled onto the wagon—pretty spry for an old man—and began waving his arms.  Marty couldn’t hear, but he could imagine Eadmar’s instructions.  Presently, the Stonebridge soldiers began walking single file beside the wagon, handing weapons to Leo and Os.  These were almost all swords; the Stonebridge army appeared to have very few archers.  Even without sound, Marty could see the swordsmen’s reluctance to surrender their blades.  It probably didn’t help to have to yield one’s sword to a man as enormous as Os Oswald.
            It took the better part of an hour for the Stonebridgers to give up their swords.  They were almost finished when a horseman galloped into view.  Some of the Stonebridgers flinched at his approach, but Elfric ignored them and rode directly to the castle.  Marty left globum domini auctoritate and met Elfric at the great hall’s west door.  Whitney and Ora came with him.
            “My lord!” Elfric was breathing hard; his lathered horse panted in the shade of the oaks.  “The Herminians are no more than two miles distant.”  He waved toward village Inter Lucus.  Oshelm says he will wait there in accord with your invitation.”
            “Very good.  Walk your horse down to the barn and clean her up.  Once you’ve got her squared away, bring the last horse here.  I want you to go to Oshelm and escort him to the castle.  He and his guests may ride. 
            “Ora, go down to Ealdwine.  Tell him that as soon as the weapons wagon reaches the oaks, he can let the Stonebridgers inside the greater shield.  Walk.  There’s no need to hurry.  I’m sure Eadmar has already told them, but they should be reminded; they may not come inside the lesser shield.”
            “Aye.  Aye.”  Ora and Elfric spoke one after the other.  Ora said, “Lord Martin, maybe we should demonstrate the lesser shield for the Stonebridgers, so they are not tempted to come too near.”
            Marty considered this idea.  “All right, Ora; this is what we’ll do…”

            Leo Dudd turned the weapons wagon toward Inter Lucus, snickering the horses into a slow walk up the hill.  Os Oswald stayed with Ora and Ealdwine as Ora gave instructions to the Stonebridge soldiers.  The Stonebridge army spread out, seven hundred strong, in a curving line half a mile long on the southern edge of Inter Lucus property.  On the interface wall, Marty could see Ora standing near another woman, whom he guessed must be Amicia Averill.  Os and Ealdwine also stood among the Stonebridgers, each about a hundred yards on either side of Ora, and each leading one of the Stonebridgers’ horses.  When Leo and the weapons wagon reached the oak shade near the castle, Ora put her hands to her mouth like a megaphone and shouted to Os and Ealdwine.  The whole line of Stonebridge armsmen began marching forward. 
            A wave of tension passed through the Inter Lucus villagers gathered on the south lawn.  Many of them stood up as if preparing to run from the Stonebridgers.
            When the line of soldiers had advanced a couple hundred yards, Ora shouted again, left and right.  The Stonebridgers stopped.  Marty gave a mental command: Parva Arcum Praesidiis!
            Ora picked up a stone and threw it toward the castle.  It struck an invisible barrier and fell to the ground.  The Stonebridge men followed her example, throwing clods of dirt, sticks, and rocks at the shield.  Nothing penetrated.  Marty thought: Coming from Stonebridge, they’ve never seen this before.  I wonder what Milo and Amicia think.  Can they tell a difference between my shield and their father’s?
            Ora shouted an instruction, and the Stonebridgers turned around.  Marty commanded: Magna Arcum Praesidiis.  Now the men pelted the outer shield with a similar result.  Every missile rebounded slightly after hitting the shield and fell to the ground. 
            Now comes the tricky part.
            Ora waved her arms.  Most likely she still shouted, but Marty imagined she wouldn’t need to cry out too loudly.  The Stonebridgers watched her every move intently.  Ora began walking toward the castle, her visage locked on the tall south wall.  Marty could see her green eyes, as confident as ever.
            Ora walked through the shield, never hesitating.  Twenty yards beyond the line of debris the Stonebridgers had thrown against the invisible barrier, she turned.  She raised her arms and pointed them both, very dramatically, at Ealdwine.  Ealdwine ran forward, pulling the Stonebridge horse he had chosen into a trot; then, shouting at the beast, he smacked it on its rump.  The animal galloped forward—and exploded in flame.  The entire line of Stonebridge armsmen shrank back from the invisible line of death.  The frightened villagers on the lawn sat down again.
            Waving and shouting, Ora repeated her double arm gesture, pointing now at Os Oswald.  Os turned his horse, pulled it into a trot, and sent it galloping away from Inter Lucus.  Its destruction, when it encountered Magna Arcum Praesidiis, was as horrifying as the first—and in its way more terrifying, since the Stonebridgers knew they were trapped between the shields.
             Elfric Ash rode from Inter Lucus on a fresh horse, the last of the castle’s horses.  The Stonebridge armsmen watched him warily as he crossed the line of debris that marked the lesser shield, passed Prayer House, and continued south toward village Inter Lucus.  Shortly afterward, Os Oswald and Ora Wooddaughter walked to Prayer House, where they found Eadmar waiting with General Mortane and several others.
            Ora bowed to Mortane and his party.  “Lord Martin invites General Mortane and his chosen guests to come to Inter Lucus, provided that you have disarmed.  Priest Eadmar will remain here to welcome General Oshelm and escort him to the castle.  You may follow me.”
            Ora walked a few steps and turned.  Os Oswald stood in front of Milo Mortane, pointing silently to his scabbard.
            “My men have already surrendered a wagon load of swords,” the general said.  “Must you have mine too?  It is of somewhat higher quality than most.”  Mortane’s tone was playful rather than challenging.  He was already loosening the scabbard.
            “Aye,” answered Os.  “All swords.”
            “Very well.  Can it remain here at Prayer House?  It would be convenient at the end of the evening to return here and find my sword.”
            “Certainly,” answered Eadmar.  He accepted Milo’s sword and scabbard and carried them into Prayer House.
            “Shall we, then?”  Ora led the Stonebridge contingent up the hill to Inter Lucus.  Amicia and Merlin Averill walked beside Ora.  Then came Milo Mortane, Derian Chapman, and Milo’s bodyguard, Felix Abrecan.  Ifing Redhair and another knife fighter walked next to the prisoner, Eudes Ridere, and with them Os Oswald.  Ifing Redhair stole many surreptitious sideways glances at Os; the sheriff was very nearly as tall as Ifing, and he was much bulkier.  Redhair had never expected to see such a man.
            Caelin met them at the west door.  “Welcome everyone.”  Caelin walked around the Stonebridgers, obviously inspecting yet again for swords.  “Very well, Leo,” he said, having finished his loop.  Leo Dudd opened the door and Caelin motioned them in.
            Ora announced them.  “My Lord Martin, I present Sir Milo Mortane, Lady Ambassador Amicia Mortane Averill, Master Merlin Averill, Captain Derian Chapman, Captain Ifing Redhair, Sheriff Felix Abrecan, Sheriff Garwig Gray, and General Eudes Ridere.”
            Three tables in the great hall had been prepared with tablecloths, candles, flowers in vases, and place settings.  A fourth table, nearest the door, presented two large bottles of wine and many small glass goblets.  Marty stood at the end of the head table, three paces from the lord’s knob.  “Welcome to Inter Lucus,” he said, bowing formally.  “We expect General Oshelm’s party to arrive before long.  Please enjoy some wine while we wait.”  He motioned to the wine table.
            Amicia Averill nudged Merlin forward.  He eyed the heavy wine bottles with an expression of mixed suspicion and disdain.  He poured a little into two goblets; a white wine with a yellowish tint, with many minute bubbles rising to the surface.  Merlin raised his glass, examined it closely, and raised a questioning brow.  Meanwhile, Amicia sipped hers.
            “It’s champagne,” Marty said.  “Actually, of course, it’s not champagne, because the authentic beverage has to be grown in a certain place, according to certain rules.  This stuff came a long way, however, from Cippenham.  Two tradesmen brought their wagons to Senerham and Inter Lucus a month ago.”
            “From Cippenham?”  Merlin’s wariness was evident.
            “But it’s nice!” said Amicia.  “Try it, Darling.  Milo, try some.”
            Milo Mortane, Derian Chapman, and Felix Abrecan accepted goblets of the sparkling wine.  Merlin sipped his drink and stopped frowning.  Apparently, the strange wine from Cippenham gained his approval.
            Alf Saeric and Went Bycwine came up the stairs from the kitchen bearing boards with fresh bread and bowls of butter.  Alf placed the bread and butter on the three tables while Went hurried back.  Soon after, Went and Tayte Graham brought up plates of salad, which they laid at each place.
            General Ridere, the tall man introduced as Ifing Redhair, and the stoop-shouldered man called Garwig Gray stood back from the others, each of them surveying the scene.  Marty noticed a distinction he had seen before when Mortane first brought some of his men to Inter Lucus.  Captain Redhair’s eyes roamed everywhere, taking in the strangeness of a castle interior: recessed lighting, ceramic boxes along the walls, the extremely high ceiling, the interface wall, and the two knobs on their columns.  Everything was new and strange to the tall soldier.  Ridere, in contrast, looked steadily at Marty.  He’s wondering if I’m party to a conspiracy with Averill and Mortane.
            “General Ridere, if you please.  Join me near globum domini auctoritate.”  Ridere, who had said nothing since entering the hall, raised his hands in a questioning motion.  Marty explained, “I think negotiations during sup will progress more smoothly, General, if you first have a word with someone else.”
            Ridere started toward the lord’s knob.  Milo Mortane was obviously displeased, but before he could protest, Ealdwine Smithson spoke loudly from the west door.  “My lord Martin!  Elfric and six others are coming.  They’ve passed Prayer House.”
            “Very good.  That will be General Oshelm and party.  Caelin will inspect them, and Ora will announce them.  We have just a moment, then, General.”  Marty motioned toward the interface wall and laid his left hand on the lord’s knob.  He gave a mental command: Videns-Loquitur.  Mariel Grandmesnil.
            She must have been waiting in her chair, because she responded within seconds.  The footstool was gone.  Mariel sat straight-backed in an opulent blue dress, a gold chain around her neck, her hair freshly brushed.  “Lord Martin,” she began immediately.  But then she stopped, her jaw dropping and her lips making an “o.”
            “My liege.”  Ridere inclined his head, and a broad smile transformed his face.  The beaked nose and rugged scars were submerged in delight.  Ridere faced the interface wall with his back toward everyone else, so only Marty (and Aweirgan Unes, who stood at a writing desk next to Mariel) witnessed the evidence of affection on his face.  But Mariel’s joy was visible to everyone in the hall.  So much for “Ice Queen,” Marty thought.
            Mariel whispered, “Eudes.”
            “They tell me,” Ridere said, “that I have a son.  I cannot tell you how pleased I am to see his mother alive.”
            “They tell me,” Mariel replied, “that I almost died.”  She smiled.  “Your son is healthy and vigorous.  Aweirgan called him Eudes; I think I like that name.  And I am recovering.”
            “The city?”
            “Secured.  Four of my lords raised an army against me—though they claim they only sent their army to Pulchra Mane because I had not contacted them and they suspected Aweirgan and Merlin Torr of murdering me.”
            Ridere said, “How will you punish their treachery?”
            “I’m not sure.  Their army threatened, but never actually attacked.  I will consult with Avice Montfort and Wymer Thoncelin.”  Mariel looked at Marty.  “And perhaps Martin Cedarborne.  He has been helpful.  Lord Martin, my bond is growing stronger, but you can see it is still a bit faint.”  She nodded toward her hand, enveloped in a violet aura.  “I hope you will connect me with my councilors.”
“Of course, your majesty.  But we have pressing business that must come first.”  Marty gestured at the scene behind him.  “I and my guests are about…”
Without warning, pain exploded into Marty’s world, erasing all thought of Mariel, Ridere, or anyone else on Two Moons.  His body collapsed, pulling his hand from globum domini auctoritate, but the bond with Inter Lucus was lost even before he hit the floor.

167. In Castle Inter Lucus

            After Alf and Went carried bread to the great hall, Went returned to the kitchen to help Tayte bring up salads.  Alf stayed in the hall, watching the Stonebridgers sample champagne.  When Lord Martin invited the Herminian general to stand next to him at the lord’s knob, Alf naturally watched that too.  But he only watched with one eye, as the saying goes.  After all, Alf had witnessed Lord Martin speaking with castle lords and ladies, including Queen Mariel, many times.  Alf was just as interested in watching the Stonebridgers’ reaction to Lord Martin’s magic.  Of course, he knew that Lord Martin refused the word “magic.”  Lord Martin called it “technology,” and he said the aliens had created it.  But Alf still thought in the words used by his brother, Rothulf.  Except for Lord Martin, Priest Eadmar, and a few of Martin’s students, everyone on Two Moons spoke of gods, not aliens, and castle magic, not technology.
            Alf knew that Milo Mortane grew up in Hyacintho Flumen.  Mortane was accustomed to castle magic.  So Mortane’s alarm when Lord Martin invited Eudes Ridere to join him in a Videns-Loquitur session was not because of the magic.  Alf thought: He’s worried that Lord Martin will upset his plans. That led to another thought: What if Queen Mariel commands Ridere to destroy the Stonebridge army rather than make truce with them?  I hope Lord Martin can persuade her.
            Other than General Ridere and Milo Mortane, Alf hadn’t kept all the newcomers’ names straight in his head.  The man with the strange left arm might be Averill; Alf had heard that name in conversations between Lord Martin and David Le Grant.  If so, the woman standing by the claw-armed man would be Averill’s wife.
            A red-haired Stonebridger, who had to be every bit as tall as Os Oswald, stood behind Milo Mortane and the claw-armed man.  He was obviously unfamiliar with castles, casting his eyes around the great hall as if trying to memorize every detail.  Apparently the red-haired soldier did not notice Alf looking at him; he knelt, pulled up a leg of his breeches, and took a knife from a leather belt around his leg.  The whole procedure was so deft and quick Alf almost didn’t believe his eyes.  Again, the red-haired man glanced around the room, but everyone’s attention was focused on Lord Martin and the interface wall.  Alf looked away, hoping he hadn’t been noticed.  He ripped a loaf of bread in two and frantically squashed some of it into earplugs.  Lord Martin doesn’t have bread in his ears.  Alf looked to the west door, where Os, Ealdwine, Ora and Caelin were watching Lord Martin.
            Alf shouted to Os, warning him that the Stonebridge soldier had a knife.  That is, he intended to.  But the red-haired man threw his knife at that moment, and Alf’s warning cry disappeared in an avalanche of voices.
            The knife blade struck Lord Martin at the base of his neck.  The interface wall blanked instantly, and the lord of Inter Lucus fell limply, like the victim of a hanging Alf and Rothulf once witnessed in Downs End.  Whitney Ablendan, who was nearby, though Alf did not remember her entering the great hall, screamed.  Other voices screamed or shouted as well, but Alf couldn’t tell whose they were.  It was cacophony.
            Milo Mortane wheeled around and shouted at the red-haired man, who had another knife in his hand.  Alf could never swear to it, but he assumed the tall soldier produced the second knife from a holster around his other leg.  It happened so quickly he didn’t see it.
            Os Oswald charged the knife fighter, bellowing, with sword raised.  The red-haired soldier feinted, ducked around Os’s swing, and planted his knife in the side of the sheriff’s neck.  He leapt away as Os staggered two steps and collapsed.  Ealdwine Smithson, coming behind Os, slashed at the knife fighter, almost hitting him, but the tall soldier dodged between the tables, knocking spoons and plates to the floor.  Ealdwine assumed what he must have thought was a sword-fighter’s stance; he bent his knees like a wrestler, eyeing his adversary warily.  The red-haired man seized a butter bowl and feinted throwing it at Ealdwine, who flinched.
            Two more Stonebridgers, one of medium height and the other a dark-haired man with hunched shoulders, ran behind Ealdwine.  Rather than attacking the sheriff as Alf expected, the men raced to the west door, pushing past Ora and Caelin.  The force of the soldiers’ blows threw both cousins to the floor, but the soldiers did nothing further to harm them.  Instead, they closed and barred the west door. 
            Alf stuffed his ears with bread.  He started walking around the tables toward Lord Martin.  No one paid him attention.
            The red-haired knife fighter threw his butter bowl at Ealdwine, hitting him squarely in the chest.  It had little effect, and Ealdwine began circling the table to get at the knife fighter.  But this meant that the soldiers at the door had a clear path to Os’s body.  The shorter, hunch-shouldered man ran to the fallen man and took his sword.  Os’s sword was far too long and heavy for the knife fighter to wield with skill; nevertheless, he waved it, two-handed, at Ealdwine.  Seeing a new threat, Ealdwine abandoned his pursuit of the red-haired man.  He backed away toward the north part of the hall.
            Went Bycwine and Tayte Graham appeared at the top of the stairs from the kitchen, right behind Ealdwine.  The black-haired soldier feinted at Ealdwine, who retreated another couple steps—and bumped into Went and tripped.  The Stonebridge soldier leapt forward to slash at Ealdwine, but instead his awkward swing hit Went.  Tayte screamed as Went’s blood spurted into her eyes.
            Milo Mortane was still screaming at the red-haired soldier.  For the first time in the melee, Alf discerned a particular word.  Mortane was crying, “No!  No!”  It had no effect.  General Ridere tackled Mortane, throwing him to the floor and grappling with him.  Mortane, much the younger man, flipped the general onto his back and freed an arm, ready to strike.  Rather than smashing Ridere’s face, he screamed again: “No!”          
            The cousins, Ora and Caelin, regained their feet.  Like Mortane, they shouted, “No!  No!”  They ran to Lord Martin’s body where it had fallen by the lord’s knob.  They were only a few paces from Alf, but paid him no mind.  Ora ripped Martin’s gray shirt away from the wound and pulled out the knife.  The wound bled less than Alf would have expected, but when Caelin turned Lord Martin on his back Ora wailed despairingly.  Martin’s face was flushed and still.
            Fists were pounding on the west door—and they were heard, because for a brief time the shouting stopped.  The red-haired man ran to Mortane and pulled him off Ridere.  “Here’s your chance, Milo!” the knife thrower shouted.  General Ridere tried to get up, but the red-haired soldier kicked his head.  “Now, Mortane!  You will be lord, and I will be Sheriff Commander.” 
            Mortane pushed the red-haired man away.  “You damned fool!”  But then Mortane looked at the lord’s knob, and Alf saw a strange hunger in his face.  He wants to be a lord, thought Alf.  If he can’t be lord of Hyacintho Flumen, maybe he can be lord of Inter Lucus.  That’s what he’s thinking.  But he’s too late.
            With three quick steps Alf reached the lord’s knob.  For the first time, Mortane and the red-haired soldier paid attention to him.  They opened their mouths, but no one heard what they said, because Inter Lucus responded instantly when Alf bonded.

            Outside the west door, Eadmar heard the castle klaxon with relief, though it was alarmingly loud even on the opposite side of a heavy wooden door.  Elfric Ash and Leo Dudd stopped pounding on the door.  Eadmar thought, Martin has stopped them. Whatever mischief Mortane brought to Inter Lucus, Martin has mastered it.
            The Herminians standing outside the castle with Eadmar and the two sheriffs covered their ears.  After many heartbeats, Archard Oshelm shouted, “What is it?”
            Eadmar shouted back, “Lord Martin is defending… his castle.”  The klaxon stopped abruptly in the middle of Eadmar’s sentence, making the last two words unnerving.  Far down the hill, beyond the line of debris that marked the lesser shield, Herminian soldiers were standing in nervous groups, watching the castle.  They had heard the klaxon and wondered at its meaning—both the sound and the silence following. 
            Elfric put his ear to the door for several seconds and looked at Leo and Eadmar.  “I hear nothing.”
            “They’ll unbar the door,” Eadmar said.  “Won’t they?”
            Elfric was plainly worried.  “I don’t know.  Leo, go get an axe.”
            “Wait!” Eadmar commanded.  He tilted his head toward the south.  “There are several hundred Stonebridge soldiers at the bottom of the hill.  If they see us trying to break in, they might decide it’s safe to charge.”
            Archard Oshelm snorted.  “They are fools if they do.  If Lord Martin is alive, his shield will stop them.  If Martin is not alive, my men will slaughter them.  Either way, they should stay where they are.  My army stands ready near the village.”
            Eadmar responded, “I don’t want to see Stonebridgers massacred.  And if Martin is not alive, your army might not get here in time to save you.” 
            Oshelm raised an eyebrow.  “Good point.  The situation seems delicately balanced.  But I warn you: if General Ridere has been killed, blood will flow.”
            Leo looked anxious.  “We need to get in,” he said.  “The east door may not be barred.”  His eyes asked Eadmar for direction.
            Eadmar passed his hand over his sunburnt head.  “Right.  Go ’round the north side so the Stonebridgers don’t see you.”
            Leo ran away, following the path toward the barn and then the orchard.  He disappeared from view just as Elfric said, “I hear something.”  Something thumped just inside the entrance; Eadmar guessed it was the heavy beam used to secure the door.  Moments later, the guess was confirmed.  The door swung open a few inches until blocked by the beam.
            “Can you help us?  Please?” asked a woman’s voice.
            Elfric and two of Oshelm’s guards shoved against the door, pushing the wooden beam—and the unconscious body of a man—ahead of it.  Mildgyd Meadowdaughter sidled away as the door opened.  She looked terrified.  “Oh, Elfric!  It’s you!  Thank God!  And Priest Eadmar!  Thank God.”
            Eadmar expected to see people disabled by the Inter Lucus klaxon.  He did not expect carnage.  Bodies lay contorted in various places in the hall.  Went Bycwine, a gangly boy of fourteen, lay dead near the stairs to the kitchen.  Next to his body sat Tayte Graham, alive, dazed and covered with Went’s blood.  Ealdwine Smithson lay crumpled on the floor beside them, bleeding from the ears.  A Stonebridge soldier, Garwig Gray, was flat on his back, staring fixedly at the ceiling.  Os Oswald was dead.  Near his body were Derian Chapman, Milo Mortane, Ifing Redhair, and Eudes Ridere, all unconscious and bleeding from ears or mouth.  Felix Abrecan lay sprawled on the floor beside the door beam; he looked like he had taken a blow to the head.  Amicia Mortane and her husband Merlin had fallen together; blood trickled from their ears as well.
            Eadmar’s eyes went to the lord’s knob, where Alf was standing beside three more bodies.  Lord Martin!  Eadmar and Elfric rushed to the bodies, going to their knees by the fallen.  Caelin and Ora resembled most of the people in the hall, stunned or unconscious, bleeding from ears or mouth.  Martin, by contrast, showed little damage from the sound, but a smear of blood near his shoulder led Eadmar to the wound at the back of his neck.
            Kneeling, Elfric looked up at Alf for a moment.  “What happened, Alf?  How did they attack Lord Martin?  Why didn’t the sound stop them?”  Beside the sheriff, Eadmar bent closely over Martin’s face and felt the arteries in his neck.  “Alf?” said Elfric.
            Eadmar was puzzled.  He looked from Martin’s body to Alf.  The boy had brown mushroom-like fixtures on his ears—bread plugs.  “Alf?” Elfric questioned again.  As if distracted, the boy shifted his gaze from the bodies strewn around the room to the sheriff and Eadmar.  Alf held up his palms, which showed bright blisters between strips of white scar tissue, reminders of the boy’s attempt to bond with Inter Lucus months before.
            “It didn’t hurt much,” he said.  Alf pointed with his chin at the Herminians who had followed Elfric and Eadmar into the hall.  They had gathered around Eudes Ridere.  “Tell them not to come near, or I will do it again.”
            The truth dawned.  Elfric said, “They attacked Martin before he could summon the sound.  It was Alf who summoned the klaxon.  Alf is lord of Inter Lucus.
            “But, but…” Eadmar hesitated.  His hand rested lightly on Martin’s neck.  “Martin’s heart still beats.  How can Alf be lord if Martin lives?”
            “God only knows,” answered Elfric.  “Or her.”  He pointed at the interface wall.  A light was blinking.

168.  In Castles Inter Lucus and Pulchra Mane

Inter Lucus
Alf looked from the interface to Eadmar.  “Should I answer her?”
            “No!”  Eadmar’s mind raced.  “Alf, she should not see your castle in disarray.”
            The boy pursed his lips.  “If she is like Lord Martin, she can see us right now.”
            Eadmar glanced at the interface wall with some alarm.  He hadn’t heard of this feature of castle technology.  “Can lords and ladies look into other castles?”
            Alf seemed amazingly calm.  “Most of them can’t.  But Mariel is a great queen, they say.  Lord Martin can do it, so she probably can as well.”
            “But she’s recovering from grave injury.  She might not be strong enough.  Give us some time to prepare.”

            Sheriff Leo Dudd had reached the east door, found it locked, and returned to the west entrance.  Quickly sizing up the situation in the hall, Leo dashed away and came back with Isen, Ernulf and two village men who had come to Inter Lucus for shelter from the Stonebridgers, Syg Alymar and Alfwald Redwine.  These five men and the six Herminians, directed by Leo, quickly moved injured people, including Caelin and Ora, to the sides of the great hall.  They carried Os Oswald and Went Bycwine’s bodies, wrapped in sheets, out of the great hall to the Materias Transmutatio room.  Elfric stood guard between the lord’s knob and the rest of the hall, keeping the Herminians away from Alf, Eadmar and Martin’s body.  Eadmar would have moved Martin as well, but he feared worsening his injury.  He had stopped the bleeding from Martin’s wound by pressing a cloth to it.  It puzzled him that Martin appeared so near death; Eadmar had seen bloodier wounds without such distressing results.
            Eudes Ridere was on his feet, supported by Archard Oshelm and another of the Herminians.  They had cleaned his face with water and a cloth napkin.  “Bring him here,” Eadmar commanded.  The Herminians looked at him questioningly.  Gesturing at the interface wall and its blinking light, he said, “Mariel wants to speak with him.”  Eadmar seized two chairs and positioned them near Martin’s body.  He knew he was taking a risk, but Eadmar sensed that he had no time to waste.  The two armies outside Inter Lucus needed clear guidance from their respective commanders, lest they blunder into disaster.  “And him!” Eadmar pointed at Milo Mortane, who was being helped by Isen and Syg Alymar.
            Elfric permitted Oshelm to stand behind Ridere’s chair, but ordered the other Herminians to stay away.  Syg Alymar placed himself behind Mortane once the Stonebridge general was seated.  Ridere and Mortane were conscious, but both appeared confused, as if they had received a beating that somehow left no bruises.  For a moment Eadmar doubted whether he was doing the right thing.  Two armies outside the castle, he reminded himself.  “Okay, Alf.  You may talk to Queen Mariel.”

Pulchra Mane

            Shock.  Why had the narrow-faced lord suddenly broken the Videns-Loquitur connection?  Mariel’s face flushed.  Seeing Eudes after so many months was delightful, and losing that delight an almost physical pain.
            Irritation.  Why did not Martin summon her again?  Mariel waited several minutes, annoyance growing into anger.
            Triumph.  Videns-Loquitur responded when she turned her mind.  Her bond with Pulchra Mane was growing stronger with every day of her convalescence.  She wouldn’t need Martin much longer to speak with her Council, though for the present he would remain the only way to see Eudes.
            Frustration.  Martin was in his hall, standing by his knob.  At least, he had been there ten minutes ago.  Mariel couldn’t see him; her command of Videns-Loquitur did not permit Mariel to see into Martin’s castle.  Knowing that Martin had such a power alarmed her.  Mariel’s anger began slipping into fear.
            Weariness.  She had maintained her summons for only a few minutes, but already fatigue grew in her.  Her energy faded rapidly; soon she would have to abandon Videns-Loquitur.  A terrible thought: What if Allard Dell attacked now?  Raising shields would be impossible.
            A window opened in the magic wall.  Beside Mariel, Aweirgan Unes said, “Gods save us.”
            A boy with white-blond hair falling to his shoulders stood with both hands on globum domini auctoritate.  Mariel guessed his age at eleven or twelve.  His blue eyes met Mariel’s unflinchingly.  “Fair afternoon, your majesty,” the boy said.  “Or evening, since it is almost time for sup.  My name is Alf Saeric.”  He looked at the floor for a moment and said, “No.  That is not right.  My name is Alf Cedarborne.  I am lord of Inter Lucus.”
            The boy’s calm words belied an astonishing scene.  His downward glance drew Mariel’s attention to an old man with a bald and wrinkled head kneeling beside a body.  The angle of vision made it hard to tell, but Mariel felt sure the body was Martin.  Next to the kneeling man were two chairs; her Eudes sat in one with a soldier—Archard Oshelm—standing behind him.  The second chair held a much younger man, brown-haired and muscular; his face reminded Mariel of Aylwin Mortane.  By the gods—is that Aylwin’s brother?  Eudes and the younger man both looked sleepy, as if they had been drugged, whereas only twenty minutes before Eudes had grinned at her with his familiar humor.
            “Alf Cedarborne?”  Something was tugging at Mariel’s mind, but the boy took her attention.
            “Lord Martin adopted me, you might say.  Therefore, I will call myself by his name.”  Soft yellow light surrounded Alf’s hands.  No, thought Mariel.  Not yellow, but golden, with touches of green.  How can an adopted child command a castle?
            “I don’t understand,” Mariel said.  The nagging in the back of her mind wouldn’t go away.
            “Neither do I.”  Absentmindedly, the boy brushed a lock of hair from his face.  The gold-green glow from his knob flickered a moment and then resumed its full strength.  Alf didn’t seem to notice.  “My half-brother, Rothulf, tried to make me bond with Inter Lucus, to usurp Lord Martin.  Rothulf said I was the rightful heir, but the knob burned my hands.  Lord Martin should have hated me and punished me, but he didn’t.  He sent Rothulf away and let me live at Inter Lucus.  Lord Martin told me I might be lord after him.”
            Mariel’s nagging thought forced its way into consciousness.  Her weariness, though still present, was not growing so fast as it had.  Alf was carrying Videns-Loquitur with her.  Gods!  And he’s just a boy!  “What has happened to Lord Martin?” she asked.  “What is wrong with General Ridere?”
            “The red-haired soldier from Stonebridge threw a knife and hit Lord Martin,” Alf replied, his tone very matter-of-fact.  “I thought he killed Lord Martin, so I put bread in my ears and bonded with Inter Lucus.  The castle must have known what I wanted, because the sound came right away.  It knocked down everyone in the hall, except for me.”  Alf looked briefly at Eudes, seated nearby.  “General Ridere was knocked down too.”
            “Sound?”  Mariel had no idea what the boy was talking about.
            Alf bunched his eyebrows.  “When there is danger in the hall, Inter Lucus can protect its lord with a loud sound.  Of course, I had to plug my ears first.”  Again the boy brushed at his hair with his left hand and pulled a brown mass from his ear.  He held it out for Mariel to see.  “Bread.”
            Mariel heard Aweirgan muttering, “By the gods!”
Inter Lucus

            The queen in the interface window said, “Eudes!  Eudes!  General Ridere!  Can he hear me?”
            Eadmar, still kneeling by Martin, looked up at Mariel and then sideways at the Herminian general.  He remembered Caelin and Ora telling about the very first episode with the Inter Lucus klaxon, when Caelin had been an interloper chased away by the sound.  There had been only three people in the castle on that occasion—Martin, Ora and Caelin—and none had been injured.  The castle’s defenses have probably grown stronger since then, he thought, or now that the walls are complete, the sound is held inside and strikes harder. 
            The Herminian standing behind Ridere’s chair answered Mariel.  “Your majesty, if I may.  General Ridere has been struck deaf by the castle horn; the malady is temporary, I hope.”
            “Who is the other man?”  Mariel pointed, indicating Milo Mortane.
            Archard Oshelm motioned with his hand, deferring the answer to Eadmar, who still knelt by Martin.  Eadmar said, “That is Milo Mortane, General of the Stonebridge army.  Like General Ridere, he was present in the hall when the klaxon sounded.  You can see that he and Ridere have been similarly affected.  We may hope they will recover with time.”
            Mariel shook her head, as if fighting weariness.  Mortane?  General of Stonebridge?  Archard, explain!  Is Stonebridge allied with Hyacintho Flumen?”
            “It seems they are,” said Oshelm.
            Eadmar interrupted before Oshelm could say more.  “That is not clear, your majesty.”  He stood up to speak and inclined his head to Mariel.  Anxiety about Martin pressed on him, but Eadmar knew this was the more important task.  “General Mortane came to Inter Lucus to ask Lord Martin to broker a truce with Archard Oshelm, whose army was pursuing him.  That is what Martin intended to do.  Queen Mariel, you know that Martin would not want a battle here.  With Martin fallen, you must help us negotiate a truce.  And we do not know that Stonebridge has allied with Hyacintho Flumen.  More than once I have heard Milo Mortane express disdain for his brother Aylwin.”
            Oshelm snorted.  “Indeed.  Mortane sent messages to General Ridere and to me, saying the same.  He has no interest in helping Lord Aylwin, he said.  But then he captured the General and slaughtered his company, who were coming here, to Inter Lucus, so that he might speak with you, your majesty.  Mortane can’t be trusted.  We have the Stonebridgers bottled up here at Inter Lucus and Lord Martin can no longer protect them.  Your majesty, we should destroy the Stonebridge army.”
            Mariel did not respond immediately.  Perhaps she was considering Oshelm’s recommendation—or maybe she was distracted.
            Eadmar felt dismay.  “No!  Mariel… Queen Mariel – no!”  He caught his breath and turned to Oshelm.  “We ought to do as Lord Martin intended.  Agree to a truce.”  Eadmar calmed himself.  “Besides, how will you send word to your men, ordering them to attack?  Your currier would have to pass through the Stonebridgers.”
            Oshelm snorted again.  “I’ll find a way.”
            Eadmar and Oshelm looked at each other in surprise.  The Herminian moved quickly from behind Ridere’s chair.  “My lord general?”
            Ridere swallowed and made eye contact with Oshelm.  “Truce, Archard.”  To the interface wall, Ridere said, “See Queen.”  He raised a hand, gingerly, to his ear.  “Hear little.”
             “Eudes!” gasped Mariel.
            “General Ridere!” exclaimed Aweirgan Unes.
            “Lord General Ridere, I don’t think…” Oshelm began.
            “Aye!  Truce!” said Eadmar
            Ridere waved his hand, a small movement bringing quiet.  “My liege.” His eyes were on Mariel.  Ridere sounded very tired.  “Rest.  Then talk.  Mortane.  Averill too.”
            “General Ridere speaks wisely,” said Eadmar, not wanting to miss his chance.  “General Mortane, General Ridere, and Master Averill all need rest—and sup.  Perhaps this is true of you as well, Queen Mariel.  Can we talk again tomorrow?”
            Mariel was unresponsive.  She’s a young woman, thought Eadmar, but she looks as tired as Ridere sounds.  The scribe in the interface frame prompted her, and Mariel said, “Tomorrow.  Aye.”  The interface blanked.

Pulchra Mane

            The Queen of Herminia remained conscious, but she panted as if she had climbed a mountain.  The Videns-Loquitur session had ended only just in time.  Another minute, Aweirgan thought, and she would have collapsed.  He ordered Bayan and Bestauden to carry Mariel on a chair to her room, where her serving women would bathe her, feed her, and give her water.  Returning to the great hall, he met with Merlin Torr.  Aweirgan’s account of the Videns-Loquitur conversation alarmed the Sheriff Commander.
            “Mariel cannot raise the shields, neither on her own nor with the help of Lord Martin?”
            Aweirgan nodded affirmatively.  “It seems that Martin is lord no longer.  In any case, our Queen is incapacitated again.  For one night only, I hope.”
            “Gods!” swore Torr.  “Let us hope Allard Dell doesn’t try his luck tonight.”

169. In Castle Inter Lucus
            Mildgyd Meadowdaughter was unhurt by the klaxon sound; apparently, some invisible barrier between the kitchen and great hall greatly dampened the effect of Inter Lucus’s sonic defense on those downstairs.  Mildgyd took over management of the injured.  With Agyfen tagging along, Mildgyd moved around the hall, giving instructions to Isen, Ernulf, Syg Alymar, Alfwald Redwine, Fridiswid Redwine, and some other villagers who came to the Inter Lucus door.  They mopped blood from the floor (unwilling to wait for the castle to absorb it) and brought up jars of water from the kitchen.  Injured residents of Inter Lucus, including Ealdwine, Ora, Caelin, Tayte, and Whitney, were taken to bedrooms on lower floors.  They put Amicia Averill, Merlin Averill, Felix Abrecan, and Milo Mortane in comfortable chairs on the east side of the great hall.  Eudes Ridere and the Herminians who had entered the hall after the klaxon were given chairs by the west wall.  Mildgyd insisted that her patients be given water—in multiple cautious sips—before anything else.  There was plenty of food.  The magnificent sup Mildgyd had planned for Lord Martin and his guests was parceled out to the injured, their nurses, the uninjured Herminians, and to the villagers still on the south lawn.
            Alf told Elfric and Leo to bind the tall red-haired knife fighter and the hunch-shouldered soldier who had joined the knife fighter’s attack.  They soon learned these men’s names: Ifing Redhair and Garwig Gray.  Redhair and Gray were blindfolded and bound to chairs at the north end of the great hall facing the wall; Elfric did not want them to observe comings and goings either by sight or sound.  Elfric and Leo scoured the hall, searching the bodies of the fallen, to make sure every weapon in the hall was possessed by Alf’s people.
            At Eadmar’s urging, Alf sent delegations to the Stonebridge and Herminian armies.  Eadmar pulled Isen away from his nursing duties and paired him with Felix Abrecan, the first of the Stonebridgers to recover his senses.  “Go to the Stonebridge army.  Do not tell them that Lord Martin has fallen,” he said.  “Not yet.  Tell them that General Mortane and General Ridere have agreed to a truce through the night.  They will be safe if they remain where they are.  Further word will come in the morning.”  For the delegation to the Herminians, Eadmar chose Elfric and one of the Herminian guards, a swordsman named Shelny Holt.  He would not allow Ridere, Archard Oshelm, or Danbeney Norman to go; the Herminian officers would serve as hostages in case the larger army contemplated aggression.  “Tell the Herminians that General Ridere is alive and well.  He and Archard Oshelm have agreed to a truce with the Stonebridgers until tomorrow.  We will send more news in the morning.”
            Villagers moved Lord Martin with great care, slipping a sheet under him and carrying him very cautiously to his bedroom.  Rumors about Martin’s condition spread quickly among the Inter Lucus folk who had come to the castle, so Alfwald Redwine and Syg Alymar passed quietly among them, reassuring them that Martin still lived.  They stressed that information about Martin needed to be kept secret from the Stonebridge and Herminian armies.  The villagers on the south lawn agreed to avoid contact with the visitors.
            Mildgyd and Fridiswid Redwine approached Eadmar and Alf with a proposal, which they approved.  With their permission, Fridiswid waddled on her short legs all the way to Wyrtgeon and Gisa Bistan’s cottage on the edge of the village, an hour’s walk.  As she passed Prayer House, Fridiswid smiled and greeted Stonebridge soldiers as if an evening stroll through a foreign army were an everyday affair.  After a short but intense conversation, the young farmer and his wife walked back to the castle as darkness fell, leaving Fridiswid to care for their sleeping four-year-old daughter Liuba.  In this way Martin came under the care of Gisa Bistan, a young mother acknowledged by all the women in Inter Lucus as the best healer between the lakes.
            Elfric and the Herminian soldier Shelny Holt returned to Inter Lucus late, in the light of first moon.  They reported to Eadmar that the Herminian army agreed to hold its position just west of village Inter Lucus, though the Herminians warned that if the Stonebridge army tried to escape in the night they would be ready to pursue them.  Elfric appointed men from among the villagers as night watchers on the castle grounds and wardens at the doors.  They set up a cot for Alf next to globum domini auctoritate, so that he could bond at a moment’s notice.  Elfric and Leo took turns as Alf’s personal guard through the night, standing close with drawn sword while he slept.

            Early summer nights in Tarquint and Herminia are short; sunset is late, sunrise early, and two moons light the night.  In many places country folk, especially younger adults, celebrate the whole night with dances and revelry.  But on this night anxiety made the hours drag for some people, a night of dread.  Merlin Torr was one such.  He made the rounds of Pulchra Mane, fearing attack from the rebel army, an attack that would overwhelm his sheriffs.  Sharing Torr’s anxiety, Aweirgan Unes sat at a table in Mariel’s great hall, a plate of uneaten food pushed aside, waiting on Torr’s reports. 
Lords and ladies in other castles wondered and worried about the lack of a Videns-Loquitur summons.  Lord Martin had set the evening as time for another meeting with Queen Mariel, and she had agreed to it.  But evening turned into night with no summons.  David Le Grant, Jean Postel, and other lords and ladies paced their halls, imagining what might have gone wrong. 
            In Inter Lucus, Ora Wooddaughter refused the bedroom assigned to her.  She occupied a chair just outside the door of Lord Martin’s bedroom, sleeping fitfully and waiting word from Gisa Bistan about Martin’s condition.  Ora feared the knife used to attack Martin had been poisoned.  Why else would such a small wound lay him so low? 
Gisa gave Caelin Bycwine a draft of drugged wine as a mercy, to let him sleep.  But before morning, the drug wore off and Caelin suffered terrible dreams.  On waking, the dreams were true: his brother Went was dead. 
            Ifing Redhair spent the night silently cursing Milo Mortane’s timidity at the crucial moment.  What had become of the clever Sheriff of Stonebridge who had eliminated Osred Tondbert and Bo Leanberth in one night?  Redhair’s mind alternated between trying to imagine some way to escape Inter Lucus and wondering how he would die—would he be executed by Martin’s sheriffs or delivered over to Eudes Ridere’s revenge?
            When Amicia Averill shut her eyes, she saw over and over the knife striking Lord Martin.  She had no mental image of it flying by her though it must have passed within inches of her head.  In her memory, the knife simply appeared, piercing Martin’s neck.  And with the image came an overwhelming feeling of dread: they will blame Milo for this.  Ridere will blame Merlin too, and me.
            Eadmar walked from Inter Lucus to Prayer House while first moon was setting.  Undeterred by the Stonebridge army, a dozen village folk had gathered.  He led them in prayers for peace and healing (without saying anything specific about Martin’s condition), and after they dispersed, he prayed alone.  Then he went to bed and slept fitfully.  It had been a long day, but concerns about the day to come would not leave him.  He rose in the cool before dawn and returned to the great hall.

            Marty dreamed of Alyssa, a dream like many others, yet different.  This time he followed her into the apartment building.  The elevator doors closed too quickly; he had to wait for the next lift.  When he reached the third floor, Lyss was halfway down a long corridor.  She walked by the door of the meth addict, deaf to Marty’s warning cry.  But there was no explosion; Lyss just went on toward the next apartment.  Marty ran after her, amazed and rejoicing.  Only then did the blast erupt, hitting him and not her.  He felt searing pain at first; his left arm was on fire from bone to skin.  But then the arm was numb: dead or amputated.  And Lyss’s cool hands were touching his face.
            “Lord Martin.”  Not Lyss’s voice.  “He’s waking.”
            Marty blinked several times before he could name the face.  “Gisa?”
            “Thank God!  Fair morning, my lord.”  Gisa’s fingers stroked his cheek.  “If you can see me and name me, that is good.  Could you swallow water if I give you some?”
            “What happened?”  Moving only his eyes, Marty saw Mildgyd Meadowdaughter and Ora Wooddaughter standing on either side of the bed.
            “Water first,” said Gisa.  She held a wet cloth to his lips and squeezed out some liquid.  Marty’s tongue lapped the water eagerly, and he swallowed.
            “Slowly, my lord, slowly.”  Gisa put a bit of dried straw in his mouth.  “Mildgyd will hold the water for you.  Can you…?”
            Marty knew what to do with a straw.  Cold, delicious: I was thirstier than I thought.  After several swallows, he pushed the straw away with his tongue.  He tried to lift his head, which produced a sharp pain in his back.
            “No, my lord!”  Gisa’s hands restrained him and Mildgyd took the water away.  Gisa leaned over him, twisting her torso so she could face him.  “Lord Martin, the enemy’s knife struck your neck.  Do you feel the wound?”
             “Enemy?  Who?”    
            Gisa watched his eyes intently.  “The tallest of the Stonebridgers.  He threw a small knife, but very sharp.  For a time, we thought you were dying, and that was odd, because you did not bleed overmuch.”
            Knife in the neck.  Fear ran through him like an electric shock.  Spinal cord injury.  Gisa saw his eyes widen.  “Lord Martin?” she said.  “Are you all right?”
            Marty tried to calm his breathing and relax his extremities.  “I’ll be okay.  What happened with the Stonebridgers?”
            Gisa moved away and Ora leaned in.  “When you fell, Alf bonded with Inter Lucus.  The castle horn blasted everyone in the hall.  All except Alf, for he had plugged his ears.”
            “Alf commands Inter Lucus?”
            Ora’s hands trembled and tears glistened in her green eyes.  “Aye, my lord.”
            “I am not dying, Ora.  At least I don’t think so.”
            Tears slid down her cheeks.  “But how can Alf be lord if you are not…?”
            Marty shut his eyes and reminded himself to lie still.  “I don’t know.  There is much about the aliens’ technology we don’t understand.  But since I am stuck in bed, it’s good that Alf can command the castle.”  Marty’s eyes popped open.  “Oh, my God!  Can he raise the shields?  There are armies on our doorstep!”  He raised his right hand, which brought a twinge of pain.  He felt nothing from his left arm.
            Gisa stepped close.  “Lord Martin, you must lie still.  Here.”  She placed pillows on both sides of Marty’s head.
            As she tucked the pillows close, Marty remembered Gisa’s first words, which brought new worry.  “Ora, what time is it?”
            “Your watch says seven, one, three.  They are beginning breakfast in the hall.”
            “I was asleep all night?”
            Ora looked sideways at Gisa.  Gisa said, “I gave you wine mixed with a bit of poppy.  It seemed to help.”
            “Wow.”  Marty remembered a thousand TV drug ads warning against taking the advertised products with alcohol.  “I trust the poppy was very little.”
            “Oh, aye.  Too much would be dangerous.”
            She didn’t kill me; that’s what’s important.  “I need to talk to Alf and Eadmar.  Eadmar is here, isn’t he?”
            “He came early from Prayer House,” replied Ora.  “Eadmar is with Alf.  Elfric, Leo, and Ealdwine guard Alf at all times, and he stays close to the lord’s knob.  They are awaiting a message from Queen Mariel.”
“What!”  Marty turned his head—or started to turn—but pain stopped him.  “Alf can summon Videns-Loquitur already?”
“Who knows?”  Ora used a phrase she had picked up from Marty.  “Mariel summoned him last night and he talked with her.  Eadmar thinks she will call again this morning.”
            Mariel is regaining her bond.  “I see.  What about General Ridere and General Mortane?  Were they hurt by the horn?  And Amicia and Merlin…?”  Marty trailed off.  “Ora, send for some men to carry me to the great hall.”
            Gisa objected.  “My lord Martin, we agreed that you must remain still.”
            Spinal cord injury.  I’ll be no help to Alf if I paralyze my lungs.  Marty said, “Indeed.  In particular, my head and neck must not move.  All the same, if I am to be of any help to Alf, I must be present with him.  He will need my help to negotiate with Averill, Mortane, Ridere, and Mariel.  I have an idea.  Ora, send for Isen and Caelin.”
            Elfric hit on a plan—a seating arrangement—for the great hall while standing guard at night by Alf’s bed.  A small trestle table was moved close to the lord’s knob, where Alf ate breakfast with Eadmar; when breakfast was cleared away, Whitney Ablendan brought writing materials and sat by Alf.  Three larger tables were set up perpendicular to Alf’s table, but separated from his by twenty feet of open space.  The Stonebridge contingent—Milo Mortane, Felix Abrecan, Derian Chapman, Amicia Averill, and Merlin Averill—was seated at the table near the east wall.  Ealdwine Smithson, conspicuously armed, ate his breakfast at a chair between this table and Alf’s table.  The Herminians—Eudes Ridere, Archard Oshelm, Danbeney Norman, Shelny Holt, and three other soldiers—were given a table near the west wall.  Leo Dudd, also armed, sat between the Herminians and Alf.  Residents of Inter Lucus used the middle table.  Many of the villagers who had taken shelter at the castle were present, and they took seats at the center table in shifts.  When they weren’t eating they volunteered as door wardens, kitchen servants, or general help.  Mildgyd had so many helpers in her kitchen (gawkers, mostly, who had never seen alien magic before) that she had to shoo most away.  The overall result was that the center of the hall teemed with people loyal to Lord Martin—and by extension, Lord Alf.
            Eadmar endorsed the seating arrangement for the hall with one amendment.  Ifing Redhair and Garwig Gray were loosed from their bonds and put in chairs near the Stonebridgers.  Castle servants brought them breakfast.  “We may need their testimony at some point,” Eadmar told Alf.  “And they must have opportunity to speak in their own defense.”  Alf consented, but he insisted that their ankles be roped firmly to their chairs.
            Eadmar shuttled between the Stonebridge and Herminia tables.  “We have a great many things to discuss,” he told them.  “The attack on Lord Martin, for one.  Making peace between Herminia and Stonebridge, for another.  General Ridere and General Mortane have recovered enough of their hearing that we can have a fruitful negotiation.  It’s possible that Queen Mariel will contact Alf.  We need time, gentlemen!” 
Both sides agreed that the overnight truce should be extended.  Elfric picked village men to accompany Derian Chapman to the Stonebridgers and Shelny Holt to the Herminians.  To both armies the message was simple: Wait.  The truce is extended for a day and a night.  Permission was granted to buy provisions from the people of Senerham and Inter Lucus, but only if the villagers willingly brought their wares to the armies.
            After breakfast, Alf conducted a trial.  He had no experience with trials or guidelines other than his observations of Lord Martin’s dealings with folk who came to Inter Lucus.  Nevertheless, Eadmar thought Alf performed well; at least, he started well.  Alf commanded that no one, especially the Herminians, interrupt while he questioned people.  Whitney Ablendan took notes.  One by one, the persons Alf interviewed stood while he questioned them.
            Alf began by stating what he himself had seen.  Ifing Redhair threw the knife that felled Lord Martin.  Redhair then killed Os Oswald.  Garwig Gray killed Went Bycwine with a sword, though he probably intended to kill Ealdwine Smithson.  Having stated these facts, Alf then asked Garwig Gray if he had anything to say.  Gray stood up, his feet still bound to a chair.  Gray said he was a soldier of Stonebridge, fighting a war.  He had acted on the orders of his commanders.  Alf asked Gray if Stonebridge was at war with Inter Lucus.  Gray had no reply.
            Ifing Redhair rose.  Alf asked him if Stonebridge was at war with Inter Lucus.   Of course not, Redhair replied.  Was it true, Alf asked, that Redhair had told Gray to kill people in Inter Lucus?  “I just told him to follow my lead,” was the reply.  Alf then asked why Redhair had thrown a knife at Lord Martin.  “To kill him, of course.  Then Milo could take the castle.  But in the end, General Mortane had less courage than a boy.”  Redhair’s contempt for Mortane was evident.
            Alf surprised everyone by next asking Amicia Averill to stand rather than her brother, Milo Mortane.  He asked her who she was and why she had come to Inter Lucus.  She explained that because she had married Merlin Averill, she could no longer serve as ambassador for Lord Aylwin Mortane of Hyacintho Flumen.  She had come to Inter Lucus because she hoped to speak with Aylwin.  Of course, she said, she could have written Aylwin a letter.  The more important reason to come to Inter Lucus was Lord Martin’s parliament idea.  Her husband, Merlin, son of the Assembly Speaker, thought the parliament proposal worth discussing.  At Inter Lucus, they might discuss it with the most necessary person, Queen Mariel.  Alf pointed out that Aylwin had sent her as ambassador to Stonebridge to find allies against the Herminians.  Amicia admitted this was true.  But, she said, the Assembly had never acceded to her requests.  Stonebridge was not allied with Hyacintho Flumen.
            On the west side of the room, the Herminians murmured disagreement with Amicia’s statement.  Alf reminded them not to interrupt.  He asked Amicia why, if Stonebridge had not made league with Hyacintho Flumen, the city had sent its army into the field.  “The truth?” she said.  “For no single reason.  Some in the Assembly want to impress Down’s End with our power so they will follow Stonebridge’s lead.  Some want to negotiate a long-term peace with Mariel, and they think a show of force will make the Herminians more reasonable.  Others want to eliminate highwaymen.  And a few simply wanted to get Milo out of the city; they feared the City Guard was too strong.”
            Now it was Stonebridgers—Derian Chapman, Felix Abrecan, and Milo Mortane—who murmured among themselves.  “One at a time!” Alf exclaimed.  “You will all get a chance.”
            Next, Alf called on Milo Mortane.  Alf asked him why he brought his army to Inter Lucus.  “I wanted Lord Martin’s help to make truce with Archard Oshelm,” Milo replied.
            Suddenly the Herminians were whispering among themselves more loudly than before.  Alf said, “General Ridere, I asked that no one interrupt.”  But then he saw that Ridere’s people were not attending to Milo Mortane.  They, and now everyone in the hall, were looking at four men carrying a pallet into the hall.
            With the wood working machines of materias transmutatio, Isen and Caelin easily constructed the bed that Lord Martin described to them.  He called it a stretcher; they had long since grown accustomed to him introducing new words.  It was a simple thing: a rigid wooden frame covered with thin pine boards and padded with folded cloths.  They lifted Martin’s body and slid the stretcher under him.  Then they gently, but firmly, bound him to the stretcher with linen strips around his legs, abdomen, shoulders, arms, and forehead.  Pillows on either side of his head kept his neck motionless.  When Wyrtgeon, Isen, Alfwald, and Syg carried him to the great hall, Marty could voluntarily move only his eyes and his mouth.
170. In Castle Pulchra Mane

            Mariel opened her eyes.  The high ceiling of her bedroom, created so long ago by the gods, floated in azure distance.  Growing up, she had often asked why the gods made Pulchra Mane’s ceilings look like the sky.  Neither Aweirgan Unes nor her father, Rudolf, had been able to tell her.  Why had the gods made the castles of Two Moons in the first place?  Aweirgan couldn’t answer that either.  Rudolf told her not to waste time on such questions.  The gods had arranged things—no doubt, in great wisdom—so that noble persons could bond with castles and command their magic.  The only important question was this: How pure was a ruler’s bond with his or her castle?  Rudolf’s magic was very strong, and he was sure Mariel’s would be as well.  Someday, he told his daughter, the knob will glow under your hand.  His prophecy proved true.  Mariel wished her father could have lived to see the perfect violet ball that surrounded her hand on globum domini auctoritate.

            I am Grandmesnil!
            But now… things had changed.  She could not silence the wearying voice in her mind.  The color isn’t the same.  Not quite.  What if I don’t recover all my strength?
            Blythe noticed Mariel had woken.  She came quickly from a cot by the wall to Mariel’s side.  How long must I have a girl sleep in my room and watch me through the night?
            “Fair morning, your majesty.  Would you like breakfast here, or shall we bathe you and take you to the great hall?”
            “Bath, then breakfast in the hall.  But summon Aweirgan and Merlin immediately.”
            “Aye, my lady.”  Blythe went to the door, which swished open at her approach, and spoke to someone just outside.  Mariel’s scribe and commander of sheriffs entered while Blythe was running the bath.
            “Your majesty.”  “My liege.”  Aweirgan and Merlin inclined their heads.  Mariel, sitting up in bed, acknowledged them with a nod.  “Report,” she said.
            “A perfect night.  Nothing happened.”  Merlin Torr smiled wryly.  “I suppose it would be even better to report the rebels abandoned their positions and went home, but at least they did not attack.”
            Mariel sighed.  “If Allard Dell doesn’t have the courage to attack, I would think he would leave; disperse his men to their respective lords.”
            Aweirgan said, “He hasn’t the courage to go home, my lady.  Not without convincing proof that you are securely in command of Pulchra Mane.  Paul Wadard will hold him responsible for the failure of the rebellion.”
            Mariel pursed her lips.  “Send a message to Dell.  Invite him to come, in person, to my hall.  We will give him proof that I am alive and active.  And now, my bath is ready.  Gentlemen, if you please.”  She nodded toward the door.  “I will come down for breakfast presently.”

            Bestauden Winter aided Mariel down the stairs to the great hall.  Her sense of balance was returning, but she there was no point in risking a fall.  With his powerful right arm around her waist and her left arm around his, he practically carried her.  A stranger seeing them might have thought them intimates.  Once in the hall, she walked more demurely, with one arm tucked in his.
            She ate a solid breakfast of summer fruit, eggs, and meat.  She anticipated hard work at Videns-Loquitur.  A smile: Eudes had often said she ate like a plowman on Council days.  But then the smile faded.  The images of Eudes at Inter Lucus worried her; he had been his ironic, normal self at first, but the second Eudes seemed dazed or drugged.  He looked as if he had aged ten years.  She wanted very badly to see him again, but she did not move toward her lady’s knob.  One thing at a time, she told herself.  Allard Dell first.  When it’s time to talk with Eudes, maybe the boy Alf can help.
            Finishing her breakfast, Mariel asked Aweirgan, “Do you think he will come?  Dell, I mean.”
            Aweirgan sipped hot tea.  “He will certainly come, my lady.  Dell cannot go home, having never attacked Pulchra Mane, unless he can show Paul Wadard that the attack would have failed.  I presume you intend to give him some proof that will satisfy Wadard.  But I don’t know what it is.”
            “I’m going to let him watch me work.” 
            Aweirgan frowned, but before he could speak his mind, Merlin Torr entered Pulchra Mane with a stocky newcomer.  Not a complete stranger; Mariel thought, I’ve seen him before. 
Torr said, “Your majesty, I present Allard Dell, from Beatus Valle.”  Dell had short, tightly curled black hair and a trimmed beard. 
            The rebel commander bowed.  “Fair morning, your majesty.”
            Mariel and Aweirgan rose to acknowledge Dell.  “Welcome to Pulchra Mane,” Mariel said.  “We have several matters to discuss, Commander.  Your future, for one.  And the army you have brought to my city.  But before we talk about these things, I invite you to breakfast.”  She motioned to an unoccupied table.  “Tait, my chief cook, is very skilled.  If you like, we can ask for bread or meat or anything you prefer.”
            Dell licked his lips.  “You are gracious, your majesty.  A glass of wine would be sufficient.  My chief assignment in coming to Pulchra Mane was to see you in person.  My master had heard rumors of your demise and was concerned for your health.”  He moved to the indicated table.  “Shall I sit?”
            “Please do.”  Mariel overcame her urge to laugh at Paul Wadard’s supposed concern for her health.  “You can see that reports of my demise were greatly exaggerated.  I think our conversation will proceed better if you see my health demonstrated first hand.  You will see that I command Pulchra Mane.
            Allard Dell slipped into a chair.  One of Torr’s young sheriffs stood close by, ensuring the guest would stay in his seat, and one of the castle serving girls brought a tray with a glass and wine bottle.
            Mariel looked at her scribe and Merlin Torr.  “Shall we, gentlemen?”  She walked to her purple-cushioned chair to sit by her lady’s knob.  Aweirgan took his place at the writing desk.  Torr stood behind Mariel, resting his hand on his sword hilt.  She bonded and for a few seconds simply enjoyed the warmth of the connection.  Then she gave a mental command: Videns-Loquitur.  She specified: Ventus in Montes and Tutum Partum.
            Wymer Thoncelin and Avice Montfort appeared in window frames almost immediately.  They’ve been waiting since yesterday morning, Mariel thought.  Unless the boy has talked with them, they don’t know Martin has fallen.
            “My liege!” said Thoncelin.  “Your majesty!  I am so glad to see you!” said Montfort.  “I expected to see Lord Martin as well.  Will he join us?” 
Thoncelin’s scribe, Albin Bearning, and Montfort’s scribe, Gentian Bearning, bowed formally to Mariel.  Father and son also nodded silent salutations to each other.  Meanwhile, Mariel eyed Avice suspiciously.
            “Fair morning, Lord Wymer.  Lady Avice.”  Mariel acknowledged their greetings.  “Perhaps you see now that I am not dependent on Martin’s magic.  My strength grows.  I want to speak with you privately, to confront you with your misdeeds.  You two have long been my most loyal councilors.  But three days ago, you joined Martin’s conspiracy against me.”
            Montfort looked as if she had been slapped.  “Not so, my lady!  You are my queen whether you adopt Lord Martin’s parliament plan or not.  I did say, and I do think, that a parliament is a good idea.  There is no conspiracy here.”
            Mariel felt her face flushing.  “And you, Wymer?  Do you hold to similar nonsense?”
            “My liege…” His bushy eyebrows bunched together.  The gravel voice rumbled, “Mariel, are you ill?  Is something wrong?”
            “I, I… Oh, damn!”  Mariel’s heart was beating too fast.  “Can you help…?”
            The Videns-Loquitur burden lessened.  Mariel read strain on both their faces.  “My lady Mariel, you are my queen.”  Thoncelin spoke deliberately.  “I will always help you in any way I can.”
            Mariel felt she might choke on the lump of fear in her chest.  “I am the queen.  I am Grandmesnil.”  She drew in a long shaky breath.
            “Oh, Mariel.”  Avice Montfort sounded like a mother, like the memory of Mariel’s mother.  “You are Grandmesnil.  You will rule.  Wymer and I have supported you and support you still.  But we do think that Martin’s parliament can help you.”
            The lump of fear occasioned new fear.  She feared her fear.  She was losing control.  “But Martin is dead,” she said.  “He cannot help me.”
            Montfort frowned, puzzled. 
Thoncelin said, “How can you know this?  If he is dead…”
             Mariel’s arms were shaking.  I am losing control.  Damn it!  I should never have done this with Dell watching.  “A boy, a new lord of Inter Lucus.  He named himself Alf Cedarborne.  A son not of Martin’s body.  Adopted, he said.”
            “How can that be?” asked Montfort.  “Only an heir of the body…”
            Trembling, Mariel said, “I don’t know!  He said he was Martin’s adopted son.”
            Thoncelin: “This boy said Martin was dead?”
            I am losing control.  If Dell isn’t stupid, he knows I’m weak.  Damn!  Mariel felt sure her fear would strangle her.  Surprisingly, like an ice flow, fear cracked.  She closed her eyes for a moment.  Opening them, she said, “Not exactly.  He said… I don’t remember.”  Her voice quavered, but she watched their faces, full of compassion.  Wymer and Avice really are loyal—to me, not just my power.
            “Your majesty,” said Montfort.  “If Martin is dead, it is a terrible loss, but I think a parliament could be a help with or without him.”
             But I am Grandmesnil!  Terror flooded back, threatening to overthrow her mind, but now it was a brittle fear.  She looked into Thoncelin and Montfort’s eyes.   I am losing control.  But there are others who will help.  With that thought, a new path opened before her.   “I need to talk with my husband,” she said.
            “What?”  Avice’s voice shot up an octave.
            Thoncelin rumbled, “Have you found General Ridere?  Spoken to him?  Where is he?”
            “At Inter Lucus,” Mariel replied.  She smiled wanly.  “They’re all there, it seems.  Eudes and Archard and Milo Mortane, the brother of Aylwin.”
            “Your majesty, rest.”  Montfort’s words were more than a suggestion.  “Rest half an hour.  Wymer and I will attempt to assist you when you summon Inter Lucus.
            “Very well.”  Mariel removed her hand and the Videns-Loquitur windows disappeared.  She blanked her face, stood, and turned to face Allard Dell.  “What do you think, Commander Dell?  Isn’t it time you took your army home?”
            Dell’s hands were steepled in front of him, his expression impassive.  “It does seem that you can command Pulchra Mane.”  He sighed.  “I should get back to my men.  We need to prepare to march.”  Dell rose and inclined his head.
            “Just a moment, please.”  Aweirgan finished writing something on his slate.  “Merlin, take Commander Dell to Materias Transmutatio.”  He waved vaguely toward the east end of the castle.  “Show him some of our steel.  It will remind him of the queen’s power.”
            Mariel nodded.  Aweirgan knows.
            “As you wish.”  Torr nodded to Dell, motioning him toward the eastern end of the great hall.
            Dell looked at Mariel, hesitated.  “I would rather get back to my men.  It’s a long way home.”
            I should never have let him watch. “It will only take a couple minutes,” Mariel said.  “Please go with Commander Torr.”
            Dell sighed.  “Very well.  Lead on, Commander.”  As the two soldiers departed the hall, Aweirgan held out his writing slate.  His finger tapped the last words written there: He sees.
            “Wymer and Avice had to help me.  Did he notice that, do you think?”
            “Perhaps.  More importantly, he saw your color, my lady.”  Aweirgan swallowed and slumped onto a chair.  “I’ve seen this Allard Dell before.  More importantly, he has seen you.”
            Mariel remembered.  “Oh, aye.  He stands sometimes behind Paul Wadard, during my Councils.”
            “Aye, my lady.  He has seen you command Pulchra Mane many times.  He has seen the color of your bond.”
            Mariel felt shaky.  She sat down as well.  “And you think…?”
            “My lady, the color of your bond has improved each day since you awoke.  I trust that you will one day—soon, I pray—recover all your strength.  But today, I fear, you have given Dell proof not only that you can command Pulchra Mane, but also that your command is not as strong as it has been.”
            Mariel pressed her hands on the tabletop.  “You speak very carefully, Aweirgan, but the truth is I have played the fool.  Attempting to demonstrate my power, I have shown him my vulnerability.”
            Aweirgan laid his hand on hers.  “Sometimes, when we have plunged into a dark wood, the best way out is to press forward.  I suggest you invite Dell to observe you yet again.”
            Mariel raised an eyebrow.
            “It’s your intention, is it not, to talk with General Ridere, and the lord of Inter Lucus?  Montfort and Thoncelin expect this, and they will help support Videns-Loquitur.  Allard Dell may well hear things that caution him against rash behavior.”

            When Merlin Torr escorted Allard Dell back to the great hall, Aweirgan Unes was sitting by himself, sharpening a quill.  “What did you think of our steel?” he asked.
            Dell said, “Very impressive.  Queen Mariel, I must admit, is far stronger than my master, Paul Wadard.  Where is she?  I wish to offer her the blessings of the gods before I go.”
            “My lady stepped out for a few minutes.  She will return soon.”  Aweirgan gestured toward a chair.  “Please sit.  The Queen invites you to observe another demonstration of her command of Inter Lucus.
            “That won’t be necessary…”
            “Her majesty insists.  You will stay.”
            Dell bristled.  “I am a prisoner?”
            “I do not say so.  You may decide—after you observe the Queen’s next council.”

171. In Castle Inter Lucus

            “Lord Martin!”  Alf rose from his chair in respect for the man he had claimed as his adopted father.  Inter Lucus folk at the middle table, Stonebridgers on Alf’s right (the eastern side of the room), and Herminians to his left all copied his example.  Murmuring among the Herminians and Stonebridgers rose at first, but then died away as they observed the silent honor given to Martin by the local people.  Wyrtgeon Bistan, Isen Poorman, Alfwald Redwine, and Syg Alymar bore Martin’s bed the length of the hall, eventually lowering him to the floor near the lord’s knob.  Alf went to his knees beside Martin, his eyes taking in the cloths that secured him to the bed.  “My lord…” he began.
            “No, Alf.”  Martin spoke softly.  “I believe you are lord now.”
            “I am sorry, Lord Martin.  I am no usurper.”
            “Alf!  Listen to me!”  Martin’s voice regained its usual timbre.  “You did not attack me; someone else did.  You bonded with Inter Lucus to save the castle, did you not?”
            “Aye, my lord.”
            “You did the right thing, Lord Alf.”  A wide bandage covered Martin’s forehead, but his mouth smiled.  “Don’t worry.  I hope to live a long time as one of your advisors.  By the way, my friends on Earth called me Marty.  From now on, since I am your friend, I hope you will call me Marty.”
            “Aye, my lord.”  A pause.  “Aye, Marty.  What should I do?”
            “They tell me Eadmar expects Queen Mariel to call.  You need to be ready to speak with her.”
             The boy took in a deep breath.  “Can you help me?”
            Marty’s mouth smiled, though the rest of his body remained still.  “I have some ideas.  First, we need to rearrange the furniture.  Second, I want a private word with Milo Mortane. Third, we—that’s Eadmar, you, and I—need to agree on an agenda.  Fourth, we need to use our immediate advantage to push that agenda.”
            Alf bunched his eyebrows.  “Lord…ah, Marty.  What immediate advantage do we have?”
            Martin chuckled.  “My guess is that’s you, Lord Alf.”

            “Closer,” Marty commanded his guest.  His stretcher lay on a tabletop, and Mortane stood by his feet.
“My lord,” objected Leo Dudd, who stood guard.  “His man attacked you.”
“So they tell me,” Marty replied.  “I don’t have much time, Leo.  Eadmar expects Mariel to call, and I need to talk with Mortane.  Privately.  Let him come close, and keep everyone else away.”
Leo pressed his lips together.  “Aye, my lord.”
“Please remember that Alf is the lord, not me.  If Mortane attacks me, the important thing is to protect Alf.”
“Aye, my… Lord Martin.”  Leo backed away.
Coming closer, Mortane loomed over Marty.  “Maybe I should sit down,” he said.
“Actually, this is better,” Marty said.  “I need to keep my neck immobile, so it’s easier to see you if I can look up at you.  I don’t have to turn my head.”
Mortane surveyed Marty’s body from head to foot.  “You look…uninjured.  Are all these bonds necessary?”
“The knife hit my neck.  A spinal cord injury is dangerous, and we must be careful not to make it worse.”
Spinal cord…?”  Mortane frowned.
“I will try to explain, if you are interested, but not now.  I need to ask you some questions.”
Mortane held up a palm.  “I did not tell Redhair to attack you.”
Marty blew out a long breath.  “That may be true.  I’m going to assume it is true.  I have other questions.”
Mortane knitted his brows.
Marty said, “When you visited Inter Lucus not long ago I asked you what you intended to do.  You said a man had to pursue his chances.  An interesting philosophy, I think.  What chance brought you to Inter Lucus a second time?  What are you looking for?”
            Mortane shook his head with just the hint of a smile.  “You don’t expect me to answer.”
            “Actually, I do.  Or perhaps: I hope you will answer.  Milo, you don’t have much time.  Whatever your plans were, your chances did not turn the way you thought they would.  You don’t have much time, and you need to think clearly.  Why did you come to Inter Lucus?”
            “I couldn’t go to Stonebridge.  The Assembly would have blamed me for starting a war with the Herminians.”
            Marty interjected, “And losing it.”
            “Aye.”  Mortane made a wry face.  “Victory covers many faults.  Few would have complained if I had broken the siege of Hyacintho Flumen.”
            “Was that your intent?  To save Aylwin?”
            “Of course not!”  Mortane laughed.  “No one will believe me now, but you heard me tell Aylwin I wouldn’t give two figs for his comfort.”
            “That’s right,” Marty said.  “You told Aylwin you would help him if it served Stonebridge’s interests and you would ignore him if it served Stonebridge’s interests.  You declared loyalty to the Assembly.  So why did you come to Inter Lucus?  What became of your loyalty?”
            Mortane’s mouth became a line.  His jaw clenched.  “It would not serve Stonebridge’s interests if I quit the field in defeat.  Too many Assemblymen are ready to hide in the hills like a turtle in its shell.  Ody Dans was a monster, but he was also right.  Stonebridge needs to assert itself.  We need to make Down’s End follow our lead.  Mariel must recognize Stonebridge’s preeminence in Tarquint.”
            “You don’t believe any of that.”  Marty carefully kept his voice quiet.  “It’s a load of self-serving bullshit.”
            “What?”  Mortane’s voice rose, almost a shout.  Marty couldn’t see them, but he guessed Leo Dudd and others took notice.
            “Mariel will call soon,” Marty said, his voice even quieter.  “We have no time for dissembling.  Be honest with yourself, Milo.  Why did you come to Inter Lucus?”
            Mortane swallowed and became much quieter.  “It was my last chance.”
            “I don’t understand.  Why should it be your last?”
Mortane whispered.  “Coming here, I kept command of my army.  I hoped, with your help, to make truce with Oshelm.”         
“In other words, you hoped to use me.”
            Standing over Marty, Mortane had been looking at him the whole time.  But now Marty saw him really look.  Slowly, Mortane said, “You have—Inter Lucus has few sheriffs.  You lack an army.  With an army…” Now his words became more confident.  “The villages are small, but there is room between the lakes for many more farms.  You… I thought, you could speak to lords and ladies.  Down’s End might ally with us, and if not, at least some men from Down’s End would join us.  I thought we might make a genuine alliance, a lord and a… and an army.”
            Mortane looked over his shoulder at the great hall.  Then he bent close to Marty.  “It could still be,” he said fervently.  “The boy has bonded, but he will depend on you for direction.  He trusts you.  We could establish a kingdom, with its capitol between the lakes.”
            Marty delayed responding, watching Mortane’s face.  The soldier finally said, “Well, what do you say?  Can we be partners?”
            “Look at me, Milo.”  Marty licked his lips.  “I think there are chances before you that you haven’t recognized yet.  We may be partners, but in ways you haven’t imagined.”
            Mortane frowned, knitting his brows.  “Now I don’t understand.”
            From across the hall, someone called out, “Lord Alf, the light!  Mariel summons you!”
            “Damn!” said Marty.  “Listen, Milo.  Trust me.”
            Leo Dudd and Ealdwine Smithson came to the head and foot of Marty’s stretcher.  Mortane bent closer.
            “Don’t say anything until Alf calls on you.  Trust me.”
            Leo and Ealdwine lifted Marty and carried his pallet to a table.  They directed Milo to sit with Merlin and Amicia Averill.


172. In Castle Inter Lucus

            Inter Lucus men had repurposed Alf’s breakfast table to hold Martin’s bed, positioning it between the lord’s knob and the stand up writing desk.  With Martin’s stretcher on the table, his head was at the new lord’s elbow.  If he desired, Alf could lean to whisper with Martin without taking his hands from the knob.  “I’m your left-hand man, Alf.”  Martin grinned when he said this, but Alf didn’t understand why it should be funny.
            Alf said, “We did not prepare the agenda.”
            Martin nodded.  “First, take initiative and keep it so you control the meeting.  Second, get a truce.  Third, keep all the principle people here at Inter Lucus.  Fourth, depend on Eadmar; he will help.”
            They had arranged four chairs in front of the lord’s knob—that is, between the knob and the interface—and close to the knob, so that Mariel would easily see the chairs’ occupants.  For the moment, they left the chairs empty.  Eadmar stood at Alf’s right, and Elfric Ash and Ealdwine Smithson stood nearby on either side, armed guards protecting Inter Lucus’s new lord.  By the east and west walls, “off screen” from the Videns-Loquitur camera, Stonebridgers and Herminians sat in chairs, waiting to be summoned.
            The Videns-Loquitur light blinked insistently in the interface wall.  Alf said, “Lord Martin, ah, Marty, should I…?”
            “Is your team ready, Alf?  I am, but I’m not going anywhere.”  Martin’s voice sounded lighthearted, which encouraged him.  “Ask Whitney.  She’s your scribe, and by the sound of it she’s a bit anxious.”
            Alf felt chagrin.  He was so focused on Lord Martin’s four instructions that he hadn’t noticed Whitney fidgeting with her quills.  He looked across the stretcher to the writing desk.  Whitney Ablendan was almost three years older than Alf and the best student in Collegium Inter Lucus.  “Are you ready, Whitney?”
            “One moment, Lord Alf.”  Whitney swept her hair back with both hands, making a brown ball behind her head, which she secured with a cloth band.  She smiled at him.  “Ready.”
            Alf blew out a breath.  Whitney calls me lord.  Somehow that affected him more than Eadmar or even Lord Martin using the word.  He put his hands on the knob.  Gold-green aura radiated between his fingers.
            The blinking light immediately separated into three frames.  Queen Mariel occupied the center window, with a lord and lady in the other frames, both much older than the queen.  Alf remembered the lady, Avice Montfort, from Martin’s Videns-Loquitur conversations.  He did not recognize the lord.  “Fair morning, Queen Mariel,” Alf said.  He dipped his head.
            “Fair morning, Lord Alf…” Mariel’s eyes widened.  “Is that Lord Martin?”  In the frame with the queen Alf recognized Mariel’s scribe, Aweirgan Unes, and the commander of sheriffs, Merlin Torr.  Like Mariel, both men startled when they saw Martin.  Another man, unfamiliar to Alf, watched from the side of the picture.
            With his left hand Alf touched Martin’s stringy black hair and the cloth band around his head.  “Aye.  This is Martin Cedarborne.  He survived the attempt on his life, but he says he is no longer lord of Inter Lucus.  I regard him as my father.  Lord Martin—that is, Marty, as he wishes to be known—has agreed to advise me, along with Priest Eadmar.”  Alf tilted his head toward Eadmar.
            The lord and lady in the side frames wore expressions of astonishment.  They expected to see Lord Martin at his knob, Alf thought, not on a litter.  Alf absentmindedly brushed a bit of hair behind his ear, and the lady stared open-mouthed.  And they did not expect to see me, a mere boy, command Inter Lucus.  That must be what Martin meant; I am our advantage, because they don’t know me.
            Unlike her councilors, Mariel had seen Alf the day before; if seeing a boy lord command Inter Lucus disturbed her, she didn’t let it show.  “I introduce Lord Wymer Thoncelin and Lady Avice Montfort, two of my councilors.  And Allard Dell, arms commander for Paul Wadard.”  She gestured at the curly-haired man in the Pulchra Mane frame.
            Alf bowed his head.  “Fair morning, Lord Wymer, Lady Avice, Sir Dell.  The lady will not remember me, but I have witnessed her meetings with Martin—ah, Marty—these last few weeks, during the queen’s illness.  If I may speak boldly, Marty’s advice through Lady Avice helped save the queen’s life.”
            Martin’s voice, a whisper audible only to Alf and Whitney: “Good move, Alf.  Start now.”
            “If it please your majesty, I must ask your aid.”  Alf rested his left hand on the knob, turned halfway, and motioned with his right hand.  “Ridere and Oshelm.” Facing the interface wall, he said, “Before anything else, we must arrange a long term truce between the Stonebridgers and your majesty’s army.”  Again switching hands, he waved at the eastern side.  “General Mortane and Lady Averill.”
            When General Ridere and Archard Oshelm came on camera, Mariel and her councilors greeted them warmly.  “Eudes!”  “Gods preserve you!”  “Well done, Archard!”
            The Herminians said nothing to Milo Mortane or his sister.
            With some reluctance, the four guests sat in the chairs when Alf motioned toward them.  In the process of sitting, the two sides pushed back from each other, creating a space in front of globum domini auctoritate.
            “I have two armies on my doorstep.”  Alf told himself to speak slowly.  Martin had said he should be in control; at the least, he would appear to be in control.  “I regard neither of them as my enemy.  In truth, Inter Lucus threatens no one.  We have few sheriffs and we make no steel.  I want these armies to go home—peacefully, without slaughtering soldiers uselessly, whether Herminians or Stonebridgers.  I hope that you, Queen Mariel, also desire peace.  I plead for your aid, your majesty.  How can these armies leave here peacefully?” 
            Archard Oshelm jumped up. “The Stonebridgers attacked us, your majesty!  They killed our men and took General Ridere captive.  And Milo Mortane invited me to rebel against you.”  Oshelm waved a piece of paper for all to see.  “I have proof.”
            At Alf’s left hand, Marty whispered, “Stay on task, Alf.”
            “Very interesting, Commander Oshelm.”  Alf scratched his head.  “Please sit down.”  Alf waited several seconds, regarding Oshelm placidly.  Oshelm was discomfited; perhaps he expected rebuttal from Mortane.  He glared at the Stonebridge general, but his enemy said nothing.  Finally Oshelm made eye contact with Eudes Ridere.  The Herminian general commanded with his eyes and a tip of his head toward Oshelm’s chair.  Pressing his lips together, Oshelm sat.  
Alf smiled.  “If, as you say, General Mortane is untrustworthy, that will affect our plan for peace.  Remember, that is the question.  How do we get a lasting truce?”
            Now Oshelm glared at Alf, and turned to speak to Mariel.  “Stonebridge has allied itself with Hyacintho Flumen.  The chance has come to us.  We should destroy them.  If not, the Mortanes will win.”  He gestured dismissively toward Milo and Amicia, but he did not leave his seat.
            “He’s not challenging you, Alf,” Marty said.  “He’s arguing policy.”
            Alf switched his hands on the knob, laid his forefinger on his lips, and then pointed it at Ridere.  “General Ridere, what do you think?  Is Stonebridge allied with Hyacintho Flumen?”
            The battle-scarred soldier frowned.  He met Alf’s gaze.  “The truth?  I don’t know.  It seemed obvious.  He and she are brother and sister to Aylwin Mortane.”  Ridere pointed at Milo and Amicia.  “They went to Stonebridge.  Then the Stonebridge army came out to help Aylwin.  Pretty clear, I thought.  But I no longer think so.”
            “Why not?”
            Ridere looked first at Mariel and then Oshelm as he answered.  “Milo Mortane serves himself, not his brother and not Stonebridge.  After defeat, he brought his army to Inter Lucus rather than retreating to Stonebridge.  He wanted to keep it as his army.  I thought he wanted to set himself up as lord of Inter Lucus.  But then, yesterday… I don’t know.”
            “What happened yesterday, Eudes?”  Queen Mariel questioned her husband.
            Ridere inclined his head to Mariel, not leaving his seat.  “It seemed to me that yesterday Mortane was surprised by the attack on Lord Martin.  I am convinced that he did not approve it or intend it.  Still, I do not trust him.  Most likely, he brought his army here for some bad purpose.  We must be wary.”  Ridere turned on his chair.  “And you, Lord Alf, I advise you to be wary too.  Milo Mortane is not to be trusted.”
            At Alf’s elbow, Marty said quietly, “Now, bring in Eadmar.”
            “Thank you, General,” Alf said.  “I’m glad I have advisors as wise as Lord M…as Marty and Eadmar.  They too encourage me to be wary.  What do you say, Eadmar?”
            “I say we have more important things to discuss,” said Eadmar.  He rubbed his red pate.  “We need to get this truce arranged so that we can discuss them.  You asked how to get a truce.  Our Herminian guests tell us we can’t trust General Mortane.  Perhaps that is true.  We should arrange a truce that does not require that we trust him.”
            Alf gestured for Eadmar to continue.
            “I propose, Lord Alf, that the Stonebridge army be freed to return to Stonebridge.”  Eadmar paused dramatically, forestalling rebuttals with a raised palm.  “Milo Mortane should not go.  Keep him here as prisoner.  The men who attacked us, Redhair and Gray, must stay for trial in any case.  Derian Chapman, Amicia Averill and Merlin Averill should also stay, at least for a week, so that we may discuss a parliament.”
            Several people spoke at this point: Milo Mortane, Archard Oshelm, Queen Mariel, and Amicia Mortane among them.  Alf stepped to the right of his knob, keeping his left hand in place and laying his right hand on Eadmar’s shoulder.  Alf didn’t know why; it just seemed like a natural thing to do.  The gold-green light of globum domini auctoritate blazed out around Alf’s hand like a cool fire.  For a few seconds, the brightness obscured the interface wall.  All interruptions stopped.  The old priest looked at Alf, his blue eyes full of wonder. 
            “Eadmar, please.  Say on.”
             “As I was saying, Lord Alf.  The Stonebridge army should go, but not their swords.  Marty took their weapons when they came under his protection.”  Eadmar again held up his hand to forestall objections.  “And we will return them.  The Stonebridgers can send a small number of soldiers with wagons to pick up their swords after they reach Crossroads.  An army without its weapons will be especially eager to return home.
            “The Stonebridgers will, of course, fear to leave the security of Inter Lucus without their swords—especially with a Herminian army close by.  Therefore, I propose that General Ridere, General Oshelm, and the men who came with Oshelm to the castle also should stay here as your guests until the Stonebridge army has marched far away.  The Herminian army will not pursue the Stonebridgers, but will stay between the lakes until the Stonebridgers are safely away.”  Eadmar raised his hand again.  “You, Lord Alf, will guarantee the safety of the Herminians who stay here, and their presence here will guarantee the safety of the Stonebridgers who march away.  You will appoint men of Senerham and village Inter Lucus to witness the safe passage of the Stonebridgers through the Herminian forces.  Besides the need to separate the armies, General Ridere and his company will need to stay at Inter Lucus so that they can participate in discussion of a parliament.”
            Alf put both his hands on his knob.  Queen Mariel, Lord Thoncelin, Lady Montfort, and everyone in the great hall of Inter Lucus anticipated some great show of power.  Alf had no idea what to do or how to do it, but he knew they were watching him intently.  He said, “Queen Mariel, you have heard Eadmar’s plan.  I think it’s a good idea, but perhaps you disagree.”
            The blond queen pursed her lips.  “The Stonebridge army marches away without swords.  Milo Mortane and his sister stay there as your prisoners.  You protect General Ridere and his company and pledge to free them once the Stonebridgers are well gone.”  She paused.  “Eudes, what do you think?”                       
            Ridere turned on his chair.  “You said Merlin Averill would stay as well?”
            “Aye,” said Eadmar.  “I did.”
            “I think it’s a good idea,” Ridere said, “if we add that when Redhair and Gray are tried, I must be permitted to bring charges against Mortane as well.”
            “Well then!” said Alf.  With a sweep of his hand he directed attention to Milo and Amicia.  “Amicia Averill, you came with Merlin to talk about Lord Martin’s parliament idea.  Eadmar’s plan seems to fit perfectly with that intention.  Are you willing to stay in Inter Lucus as my guest?”
            Milo Mortane began to interrupt, but Alf brushed him off with a wave.  “Lady Amicia?”
            Amicia looked at Milo and then over her shoulder to Merlin.  “Aye.  If the Stonebridge army is freed on Eadmar’s terms, we agree.”
            “Be tough now, Alf,” whispered Marty.  “Don’t let him off easy.”
            Alf continued to point at Amicia.  “I am inclined to accept General Ridere’s amendment to the proposal, that he be permitted to bring charges against your brother.  Do you accept this?”
            Without turning her head toward Milo, Amicia said, “Aye.”
            Now Alf pointed at Mortane.  “Sir Milo Mortane.  Please stand.”  Mortane complied.  “You came to Inter Lucus under the pretext of concluding a truce with the Herminians.  While you were here, your men attacked Lord Martin, whom I count as my father.  Now I ask you, will you accept a truce on the terms Eadmar and Ridere described?  Will you stay here as my prisoner, to be tried along with Redhair and Gray?”
            Mortane smirked.  “What choice do I have?  You won’t let me go.”
            “On the contrary, Sir!”  Alf improvised.  He pointed to the east door.  “Outside that door you will find your own sword and armor, made of castle steel at Hyacintho Flumen.  Also, there is a paved castle road that leads to East Lake.  Anchored by the shore there is a fishing boat prepared to take you across the lake or anywhere you like.  Your escape is prepared, Sir Milo.  Of course, if you leave, the Herminians will believe that I conspired with you.  They may consider this a breach of our truce and attack your army.  Now, you claimed that you sought a truce for your men’s sake.  Will you stay here as the price of that truce?”
            Mortane looked stricken.  “Martin said nothing about escape.”
            Alf pointed at the door.  “You have a chance, Sir Milo.  What will you do with it?”
            Milo Mortane looked at his sister.  He surveyed the great hall of Inter Lucus, as if looking for guidance.  His eyes rested at last on Marty’s bed.  With a sigh, he said, “I will stay,” and sat down.

173. In Castle Inter Lucus

            Five days later:

“Have you worked out the wording on paragraph seven, concerning the House of Commons?”
            Whitney Ablendan looked at her counterparts in their frames near the center of the interface wall.  Gentian Bearning and Aweirgan Unes nodded agreement.  Whitney stepped back from her writing desk to allow Merlin Averill to read the paper on it.  Whitney’s working copy of the Instrument featured widely spaced lines of text, with lots of emendations between the lines and in the margins.  Coming to the desk, Merlin made eye contact with Martin Cedarborne.  Both men smiled.
Marty had attended every day of the debate, though he rarely spoke to anyone except Whitney.  At breakfast, before the conferences with Mariel and the nobles, Marty and Eadmar had advised Alf extensively.  During the meetings, Alf addressed the other lords and ladies frequently; Marty never. 
Merlin bent close to examine the document.  Most of its language had come from Marty, but Merlin had helped frame certain sections.  Running his finger over the paper, Merlin tracked the changes Whitney had indicated.  Finally, Merlin said, “Aye.”
Whitney sighed.  “We have, Lord Alf.”
“And we previously agreed on paragraph eight.”
“We did, Lord Alf.”
The boy lord pushed a lock of blond white hair behind his ear, suppressing a smile.  Whitney calls me Lord Alf.  He looked at the interface.  “Your Majesty, I suggest the Instrument of Union be read in full.  As scribe to the Sovereign, this honor should go to Aweirgan Unes.”  Between Videns-Loquitur sessions, Eadmar had repeatedly urged Alf to defer to Mariel and her servants when he could.
Mariel and Aweirgan whispered to each other, inaudible to those watching via Videns-Loquitur.  The queen’s scribe took a sip of water and began reading.

Instrument of Union
Between House Grandmesnil, Sovereign of Pulchra Mane, and the Lords and Ladies of Castles and Free Cities of Herminia and Tarquint.
1.     We hereby proclaim the United Kingdom of Herminia and Tarquint.
2.     The Head of House Grandmesnil, of Castle Pulchra Mane, is rightful Sovereign of said United Kingdom.
3.     The Army of the United Kingdom will serve at the pleasure and under the command of the Sovereign.
4.     Free cities and Castle Lords and Ladies retain authority over matters within their regions, albeit under the superior authority of kingdom law.  No army or body of sheriffs may trespass on any region outside that allotted to the Free City or Noble to which the army or body of sheriffs belongs without express authorization in kingdom law.
5.     No kingdom law shall exist without majority approval by the House of Commons, majority approval by the House of Lords, and the consent of the Sovereign.
6.     The members of the House of Lords are those castle Lords and Ladies who pledge allegiance to House Grandmesnil.  Such castle Lords and Ladies each have one vote in meetings of the Lords.  Such meetings will occur at convenient and regular times announced by the First Lord, who shall be elected by members of said House of Lords, and conducted via Videns-Loquitur.  A Rightful Heir of a castle not able to join in such meetings due to limitations of youth or incapacitation may be represented in the meetings of the House of Lords by a regent appointed by agreement between the First Lord and the Sovereign.
7.     The members of the House of Commons are those representatives selected by any free city that pledges allegiance to the United Kingdom and House Grandmesnil.  The number of representatives of any city in the House shall be proportionate to the population of that city.  Meetings of the House of Commons will occur at convenient and regular times announced by the Speaker of the House, who shall be elected by members of the House of Commons.  The House of Commons shall meet in the town called Senerham, in the region of Castle Inter Lucus.  Communication between the House of Commons and the House of Lords or the Sovereign shall be conducted via Videns-Loquitur at Castle Inter Lucus or by written correspondence.  Should Castle Inter Lucus begin producing steel, the House of Commons shall relocate to a town agreed upon by Commons, Lords, and Sovereign.
8.     The House of Lords and House of Commons may create other offices to serve their needs and appoint members to fill such offices.

Aweirgan paused.  “That is the entire document.”
“Paragraph eight is unnecessary.  The Instrument need not say everything,” complained Avice Montfort.
“I still think there should be a population requirement for cities,” said David Le Grant.  “You can’t have villages with four families sending representatives to the House of Commons.”
“By the Gods!” swore Rocelin Toeni.  “Not again!”
Jean Postel said, “That question doesn’t concern us nobles, Lord Le Grant!  The Commons can decide that on their own.”
Simon Asselin weighed in.  “The biggest problem is the definition of ‘free city.’  No ‘free city’ should be within forty miles of a castle.  We cannot grant representation to a city like Pulchra Mane, no matter how large it is.”
“Why the hell not?” demanded Ames Hewett.  In the lead-up to today’s meeting, Hewett had argued repeatedly that the town around his castle, Faenum Agri, ought to have representation in the House of Commons.
“Because no lord or lady, not even the queen, should have voice in two Houses.  It’s a straightforward question, and only self-serving fools won’t admit it,” said Asselin.  There was no town close to Asselin’s Lata Alta Flumen.
A half-dozen voices joined in at once, some reproving Asselin for his intemperate language (though some would have agreed that Lord Hewett was indeed a fool) and others weighing in on both sides of the question.  Even Isabel Baro, who rarely spoke up, contributed to the disorder.  Alf shook his head, smiling wryly.  It was as if the lords and ladies enjoyed wrangling and feared that once the Instrument of Union was adopted, their opportunity for debate would end.  Queen Mariel smiled as well.  She said something, but Alf couldn’t make it out through the insistent noble voices.  Alf gestured to Leo Dudd, standing close by.  Leo put two fingers in his mouth and whistled—a loud, unmusical shrillness.  Over the past five days, Leo’s obscure talent had proven itself invaluable.  The whistle brought the nobles to silence.
Queen Mariel held up a hand.  “Lords and Ladies, as the Sovereign I am willing to agree to this Instrument.  As a practical matter, I urge the House of Lords, when it meets in future, to adopt more circumspect manners of speech.”
Alf said, “Queen Mariel says she can agree to the Instrument.  Master Averill, will the free city of Stonebridge agree to it?”
Merlin Averill stepped in front of Whitney Ablendan’s desk to face lords and ladies of eleven castles, four in Herminia and seven in Tarquint.  “I s-s-speak for S-S-Stonebridge t-t-today.  B-b-but other cities will f-f-follow us.  S-S-Stonebridge says aye.”
“Thank you, Master Averill,” said Alf.  “As of this moment, the Instrument has not been agreed.  It says that any lord or lady may, by pledging allegiance to House Grandmesnil, become a member of the House of Lords.  My scribe will call the roll one by one.  Lords and ladies, if you now pledge fealty, you will by that act join the House of Lords.  Whitney, if you will.”
Whitney held up a piece of paper.  “Lord Wymer Thoncelin, of Ventus in Montes.  The order of the roll call had been determined by Marty’s advice.  The three loyal lords of Herminia came first.
“Aye.”  A rumbling bass voice, pleased to go first.
“Lady Avice Montfort, Tutum Partum.”
“Lord Rocelin Toeni, Prati Mansum.”
Seven lords and ladies of Tarquint (in addition to Alf) had participated in the five days of debate.  Fraomar Silver, who would be lord of Oceani Litura some years in the future, might someday join the House of Lords, but not today.  Alf had tried several times to make contact with the lords or ladies of castles Flores et Fructus, Mitis Sinus, and Mare Sudere, without success.  
“Lady Jean Postel, Aurea Prati.”
“Lord David Le Grant, Saltas Semitas.”
“Lord Marin Dufour, Altum Canyon.
“Lady Isabel Baro, Argentum Cadit.”
“Lord Ames Hewett, Faenum Agri.”
“Lord Walter Troy, Vivero Horto.
“Lord Simon Asselin, Lata Alta Flumen.”
There was a pause, while Whitney finished writing something.  She turned to Alf.  “Lord Alf Cedarborne, Inter Lucus.
Alf couldn’t help smiling.  “Aye,” he said.
Whitney handed Alf a sheet of paper, and he read what Marty had dictated over breakfast.
“Her sovereign majesty Queen Mariel, the free city of Stonebridge, and these several castle lords and ladies have agreed to the Instrument of Union.  By the words of that Instrument, the United Kingdom of Herminia and Tarquint now exists.  I propose that communication of these facts be spread far and wide, to all interested persons.  In particular, I urge that Down’s End and Cippenham be invited to pledge allegiance and elect representatives to the House of Commons.  I urge further that the lords Godfrey Giles, Denis Mowbray, Osmer Beaumont, and Paul Wadard, all lords in Herminia, and Aylwin Mortane of Hyacintho Flumen in Tarquint be invited to pledge allegiance to House Grandmesnil and join the House of Lords.”
Mariel raised a hand, gaining everyone’s attention.  “Thank you, Lord Alf. I have already sent written communications to lords Giles, Mowbray, Beaumont, and Wadard.  I will also contact them via Videns-Loquitur, and I expect to receive satisfactory responses from them.  Frankly, they should be grateful that I am willing to overlook certain recent indiscretions.  I leave it to you, Lord Alf, and General Ridere, to communicate with Lord Mortane.”  In private conversations with Alf and Marty, Mariel had agreed that Aylwin Mortane would have opportunity to pledge his allegiance to House Grandmesnil and that Aylwin might respond better if the invitation came from Alf.  But she had adamantly refused Marty’s idea that Aylwin be included in the conferences that produced the Instrument of Union.
Alf inclined his head.  “The general and I have already discussed how we should contact Lord Mortane.  We will do so soon.”
“Lord Alf!”  The voice was Wymer Thoncelin’s rumble.  Alf held out an open palm, inviting Thoncelin to continue.
“Since the Union has been effected,” Thoncelin said, “It will be to our advantage to elect a First Lord immediately, so that we may all know the times the House of Lords will meet.  I therefore propose and nominate Lord Alf Cedarborne for the office of First Lord.”
Marty had predicted this.
Alf waved his hand vigorously, and the gold-green glow of globum domini auctoritate brightened.  “Lord Thoncelin does me honor.  Nevertheless, by reason of my youth, my advisors have counseled me against this proposal.  I decline the nomination.”
“But Lord Alf…” Jean Postel led the chorus of protest.
“I am not Martin Cedarborne!” Alf cried.  “I am willing, even eager, to join others in supporting Videns-Loquitur for meetings of the House of Lords.  But the First Lord cannot be a mere youth.  He or she must be ready to contradict the Sovereign if need be.  Her loyalty to Mariel must be unquestioned, even when her duties require that she oppose the Queen.  She must direct our meetings and lead us to good decisions.  Therefore, I nominate Lady Avice Montfort.”
“How can a lady be First Lord?” Someone said.  Alf thought it might be Simon Asselin, but he couldn’t be sure.
“If not Alf, it should be Wymer.”
“Why not someone from Tarquint?”
“Le Grant?”
“Lord Walter, what about you?”

Eventually, they voted, choosing between Avice Montfort, Ames Hewett, and David Le Grant (after Wymer Thoncelin refused to be nominated, saying he was too old, an excuse derided by several).  Lady Avice Montfort of Tutum Partum became the First Lord of the House of Lords.  Then, after a lengthy debate, the House of Lords failed to pass a bill to revise the Instrument of Union, a bill that would have renamed her office “First Lady” whenever a Lady was elected to it.  Lady Montfort undermined support for the bill when she opined (as she often had) that the Instrument of Union need not say everything.  Smiling: “I think it’s charming that you have elected me the first lady to be First Lord.”  Montfort announced a date and time for the next meeting of the House of Lords, in two weeks. 
Queen Mariel predicted Lords Wadard, Beaumont, Giles, and Mowbray would join the House of Lords before the next meeting.  Regiments of the Herminian army had reached Pulchra Mane while the lords had debated the Instrument of Union, she said.  The four lords’ army sent to Pulchra Mane to inquire about her health had begun to evaporate even before Commander Hengist arrived.  She was wondering, she said, whether she might have to compel Allard Dell to return to Beatus Valle.  The captain seemingly had little enthusiasm for going home to Paul Wadard.
The lords and ladies of the United Kingdom laughed at Mariel’s words.  But pity colored their laughter; Allard Dell faced an uncertain, but likely unhappy future.


174.  In Castle Inter Lucus

            “General Ridere, please present your case in the matter of Milo Mortane.”
            The second day after the adoption of the Instrument of Union, Alf held court in Inter Lucus’s great hall, sitting near globum domini auctoritate.  On his left sat Alf’s adopted father, in a special chair devised by Isen Poorman and constructed in the materias transmutatio room.  The chair had a tall back with wooden rods curling around Marty’s neck on which Marty could rest his chin, and linen straps that held his neck and chest still.  Eight days after his injury, Marty could move his toes and fingers of his right hand.  With eyes closed, he could feel pinpricks in the soles of his feet and the back of his right hand.  Only his left arm hung limp and senseless.  Marty had begun to hope that left arm paralysis would be the extent of his long-term incapacity, that he would regain full use of his other limbs.  Isen was already working on a brace that would fasten around the patient’s waist and chest and immobilize Marty’s head, allowing him to walk rather than being carried on stretcher or chair.
            The intervening day had seen the execution of Ifing Redhair and Garwig Gray.  Marty opposed this decision, arguing that Redhair and Gray could be banished from Inter Lucus, sent back to Stonebridge.  But Eadmar and Elfric said that such treatment amounted to no punishment at all.  “We cannot keep them here as prisoners without endangering the men who would have to guard them,” argued Eadmar.  “Redhair and Gray murdered men of Inter Lucus.  Alf must show his own people that he will punish those who attack them,” said Elfric.  Despite his respect for Marty, Alf sided with the priest and sheriff.  He ordered the murderers to be killed.  When General Ridere offered soldiers to carry out the sentence, Alf declined.  “They killed our people in this hall,” he said.  “The people of Inter Lucus will execute them.”  That afternoon, Leo Dudd, Ealdwine Smithson, and several village men hanged Redhair and Gray on a tree north of the castle grounds and buried them nearby.  The graves of the murderers could be seen from the barn.

Eudes Ridere rose from a seat on the west side of the hall.  He bowed.  “Lord Alf.  Lord Martin.”
            Whitney Ablendan recorded the proceedings at a table to Alf’s right.  Ridere waited until she finished a sentence and looked up at him.
            “Milo Mortane ordered his knife fighters into the Blue River Valley.  As their commander, he is responsible for their attack on my men, Lord Martin’s postman, and me.  That attack killed the postman, Godric Measy, and most of the men of my company.  Three others and I, taken prisoner, were delivered to Mortane in the Tarquintian hills.  He then interrogated me, trying to find out why I was communicating with Lord Martin.  At no time did he reprimand Redhair for the ambush of my company.  Naturally, I thought he was in league with Aylwin, his brother, so I told him nothing of Queen Mariel’s illness.
            “Without provocation, Mortane attacked Queen Mariel’s army, under the command of Archard Oshelm.  Oshelm defeated him, and Mortane retreated.  In his retreat, Mortane used one of my men, his prisoner, to deliver a message to Archard.  That man, Wylie Durwin, later died of the injuries he took from the smoke of the fires set by Mortane.  Then, rather than retreating to Stonebridge, Mortane brought his army to Inter Lucus.  He claimed that he wanted Lord Martin’s help in gaining a truce with Oshelm.  The very day Martin welcomed Mortane and his men into Inter Lucus his men attacked Lord Martin and killed both a boy and a sheriff.  These facts are undisputed.  It is not clear why Mortane came to Inter Lucus; yesterday we heard Redhair say that he thought the object was to kill Lord Martin and take his castle.  If that was not Mortane’s purpose, he did a damn poor job of instructing his second in command.
            “To summarize: Mortane has conducted war against Herminia, by ambushing my company and by attacking Herminia’s army.  By the testimony of his own sister, Lady Amicia Averill, the Assembly of Stonebridge had not authorized such a war.  Mortane attacked us on his own authority and should take responsibility for it.  He is to blame for the death of Wylie Durwin.  After begging and accepting the hospitality of Lord Martin, Mortane’s men attacked Martin in his own hall and killed Sheriff Oswald and the boy Went Bycwine.  Either by intention or by incompetence, Mortane is guilty of those crimes as well.”
            Ridere spread his arms and dipped his head.  He eyed the young lord, waiting for his response.  During five days of Videns-Loquitur debate over the Instrument of Union, during which time Derian Chapman and the disarmed Stonebridge army had marched for home, Alf had said nothing about Milo Mortane.  Ridere and his men had asked Inter Lucus villagers and even Alf’s sheriffs what the boy lord would do with the Stonebridge general, but no one claimed to know.
            Alf chewed his lip.  “My father would like to question you.”
            Ridere raised an eyebrow.  Throughout the negotiations over the Instrument of Union, Marty had been the silent presence, whispering advice to Alf, never speaking to Mariel or the lords and ladies of other castles.  The Herminian turned slightly to face Marty.
            Marty gestured with the fingers of his good hand, beckoning Ridere closer.  “Thank you, General.”  Marty’s voice was little more than a whisper.  “Believe me, I look forward to escaping these bands around my throat.  Can you hear me?”
            “Aye, Lord Martin.”  Ridere dipped his head.
            “People keep saying that, but Alf is the lord.”  Marty smiled.  “General Ridere, when did you come to Inter Lucus?”
            Ridere counted days on his fingers.  “I arrived here as a prisoner eight days ago.  I intended to come some time before that, in response to your letter.”
            “I’m sorry, general.  That’s not what I meant.  When did you first visit Inter Lucus?”
            For a moment Ridere registered incomprehension.  Then he grinned.  “I came to Inter Lucus a year ago, shortly after midsummer.”
            “That’s right.  I think you called yourself Boyden Black.  A cloth merchant, you said.  Archard Oshelm was your bodyguard.  And there was a youth, who stayed the night in castle Inter Lucus.  What was his name?”
            Ridere nodded, remembering.  “That was Bully, Bully Wedmor, though at the time he called himself Bully Poorman.  Bully survived the ambush in Blue River valley.  He is with our army.  Five days ago, when Lord Alf permitted the Stonebridge army to march home, Derian Chapman freed Bully and Bron Kenton, returning them to my army.”
            Marty nodded, a slight movement but one that showed progress in his healing.  “Perhaps Alf will invite Bully to visit us for sup; I would like to see him again.  But now I want to ask: Why did Boyden Black visit Down’s End and Inter Lucus?  You were not the cloth merchant you pretended to be, so why did you come to Tarquint?”
            Ridere frowned.  “Truth?  I came to reconnoiter.  Mariel trusted no eyes better than mine.”
            “Reconnoiter?  To what end?”
            The Herminian general paused only a moment.  “We were preparing our invasion of Tarquint.  From the beginning I thought the harbor at Hyacintho Flumen would be the best entry.  But we worried about the possible alliance between House Mortane and House Toeni.  And we wondered whether Down’s End or some castle lord would fight for Hyacintho Flumen.”
            “And the result of your scouting expedition was positive?”  Marty smiled encouragingly at Ridere.
            “Aye.  Hyacintho Flumen has a well-situated harbor.  The castle is strong, but I judged it vulnerable to siege, especially since Aylwin had just succeeded his father.  I discovered the Down’s End Council divided among guilds and financiers; Aylwin was not likely to gain help from them.  The nearest castle to Hyacintho Flumen is Inter Lucus, and I found it to be a near ruin, albeit with a new and mysterious lord.”  Ridere grinned at Marty.  “I reported to Queen Mariel that Tarquint was ripe for our taking.”
            Marty waited several seconds; Whitney’s quill could be heard scratching on paper.  “It seems, then, that you came to Tarquint as a spy.  I want to be fair in what I say.  It seems that Queen Mariel had already decided to invade Tarquint.  You came to Tarquint, misrepresenting your true intentions, in order to prepare war against the Mortanes and anyone who might ally with them.  Would you agree with that assessment?”
The general frowned.  “Aye.  Mariel had decided to add Tarquint to her realm.  I came to Tarquint to implement that decision.”
Whitney’s quill caught up.  Marty said, “I have a question, then.  If what you say is true, how is Milo Mortane’s attack on you and your army any different from Mariel’s war against Hyacintho Flumen?”
            “I don’t understand.”  Ridere’s face flashed anger.
            “I think you do,” Marty said.  “Milo Mortane is responsible, you say, for the deeds of his men in attacking you.  He is guilty, you say, of unprovoked war against the Herminian army.  But Mariel sent you to attack Hyacintho Flumen, quite without provocation.  How is his attack wrong if hers is right?”
            Ridere straightened his back.  “Mariel is a sovereign queen, and her judgment is not to be questioned.  Mortane was a renegade general.”
            Marty made a wry face.  “But Stonebridge is a free city, sovereign in its own affairs.  That is, it was such a city.  Now, of course, Stonebridge is part of the United Kingdom.  Remember, General, that we are all citizens together now.  I am accusing neither you nor the queen.  My point is that when Mortane attacked you, Stonebridge had just as much right to make war on Herminia as Herminia had to make war on Tarquint.”
            The Herminian shook his head.  “Stonebridge was sovereign at that time.  That I will grant.  But Mortane acted without authorization from the Assembly.”
            Again Marty waited for Whitney to catch up.  “That may be true.  If it is true, Milo committed a crime against Stonebridge and its Assembly.  He should defend himself in their court, against some charge brought against him by Stonebridge officials.  Here, though, you are in Alf’s court.  If Alf were to find Milo guilty of war making, he might also find you or your men equally guilty.  Since we make no charge against you, we should make no such charge against General Mortane.”
            Ridere waved a dismissive hand.  “No castle lord has authority over the Queen.  However, I am willing to set aside that matter.  As you say, we are all citizens together now.  Let us ignore Mortane’s attack on Herminia as something outside Alf’s authority.  Mortane came to Inter Lucus where he attacked you and killed Os Oswald and Went Bycwine.”
            “Aye,” Marty said.  “These are serious crimes—if Milo is responsible for them.”
            Ridere raised a hand, interrupting Marty.  “Mortane may not have ordered the attack, but as I said, he is still responsible for it, through incompetence if nothing else.”             
            Marty did not reply.  After a few seconds, Ridere lowered his hand, looking quizzically at the former lord of Inter Lucus.  Finally, Alf spoke.  “Lord Martin… Father.  Do you have more questions for General Ridere?”
            “Aye,” Marty said.  “One more.  General, let us suppose that one of your men failed in some duty you assigned him.  How do you punish incompetence?”
            “Punishment would vary from case to case, depending on a number of factors.  If a picket falls asleep on guard duty he is subject to the lash.  If he sleeps on duty and the army suffers loss, he hangs.”
            “Different punishments in different cases, then?”
            “Of course.”
            Marty smiled.  “Thank you for answering my questions, Eudes.  Notice my use of your name.  It is my hope that we shall long be friends.”
            Ridere inclined his head to Marty and Alf.  “I share that hope.  Lord Alf, do you require more of me?”
            The white-blond hair swayed as Alf shook his head.  “No.  Thank you, General.  I will consult privately now with my advisors.”

            Eadmar, Elfric, Marty, and Alf whispered together briefly.  They had debated the question in Marty’s room the night before.  Elfric still had reservations, but he bowed acquiescence to Eadmar and Marty’s advice.  “He must agree without conditions,” Elfric said, and the others nodded.

            “Milo Mortane, please stand.”  Alf’s court resumed.
            Milo cast a glance at his sister and Merlin Averill.  Since the departure of the Stonebridge army, Milo, Amicia, Merlin and the two murderers had eaten alone at the east table in the great hall.  Alf invited Merlin and Amicia to join him at the lord’s table, but they chose solidarity with the accused.  Today, with Redhair and Gray buried, only three ate at the east table.  Amicia tried to communicate love and confidence with her eyes, but she and Merlin knew no more of Alf’s intentions than Milo did.  Milo lifted the corner of his mouth, a wry smile.
            Milo stood up.
            “General Mortane.  No, that isn’t right.  The army you once commanded has marched for home.  You are a general no more.”  Alf paused.  He had an innate sense of timing.
            “You brought death and injury to Inter Lucus.  My father and I do not believe you did this deliberately.  Not even General Ridere accuses you of that.  Nevertheless, you bear some responsibility for what has happened.  You acted recklessly.  You provoked war, in which you took prisoners and killed men.  Battles between you and Archard Oshelm killed hundreds—and much worse could have happened if my father, Lord Martin, had not intervened.
            “But… but.  You came to Inter Lucus, you say, to ask for Martin’s intervention.  In doing so, you risked bringing battle between the lakes.  More recklessness—which, by luck it seems, turned out well in this case.  You brought your army, and Master Averill, and Lady Averill, and Eudes Ridere, and Archard Oshelm, and his army—all of them, here, to the only place where the Instrument of Union could be forged.  You are a reckless man, whose recklessness has by good luck produced a happy outcome.
            “Therefore, on the advice of my father Lord Martin, I declare you guilty of wanton recklessness.  And I announce the following punishment.
            “You forfeit your armor and sword, and the right to carry a sword.  We brought your armor and sword from Prayer House to Inter Lucus, and here they will stay as my property, in partial payment of the debt you owe my house.  Without a sword or squire, you are no longer a knight; you will be Master Mortane only.  Such is my judgment.”
Alf let Whitney write.  Milo coughed to clear his throat, thinking that he was expected to reply, but Alf held up a hand.  “There is a remaining question, and you must answer it, Master Mortane.  Stonebridge is now a free city within the United Kingdom.  Master Averill tells me that the Assembly will disavow your attack on the Queen’s army and will terminate your office in the City Guard.  If you go to Stonebridge, you will probably be thrown into a cell in the Citadel.  By your own confession, you have no welcome at Hyacintho Flumen.  I intend to write a letter to the Down’s End Council, telling them of what has happened between the lakes.  Eulard Barnet will know with certainty that you helped Avery Doin to escape Down’s End, and the City Council will learn that you have made yourself odious to the Herminians.  So Down’s End will be closed to you.
“So where will you go?  Not to Stonebridge, nor Hyacintho Flumen, nor Down’s End.  What will you do?  I have a proposal; or rather, my father Martin has one.  Would you like to hear it?”
Mortane’s eyes roved between Alf and Marty.  “Aye.”
“Lord Martin wishes to be a teacher.  Collegium Inter Lucus will relocate from my castle to village Inter Lucus.  Because of his recent injury, my father says he will need an assistant to run Collegium Inter Lucus.  My father Martin proposes that you be permitted to live in the village as his helper.  Since, as General Ridere has said, you are partially responsible for Martin’s injuries, it seems fitting that you help him.  The question is: Will you accept such a chance?
“If you do not accept my father’s proposal, you will be free to go.  We will permit you a horse and a saddle, but no weapon or armor.  Consider carefully, Master Mortane.  Will you live and work with Martin Cedarborne in village Inter Lucus?”
             Mortane stared at the floor for a long time.  When he looked up, he said, “Could Tilde come?”
Alf blinked.  “I don’t understand.”
“Lord Alf, I would gratefully accept Master Cedarborne’s invitation if a letter could be sent to my wife, Tilde, in Stonebridge.  She may refuse, but my letter would invite her to join me here.”
            Alf looked at Marty, but only for a moment.  “We grant your request.  Write your letter.  I am confident that Master Averill and Lady Amicia will be delighted to carry it to Stonebridge.”

Here Ends Part Four of Castles.
The End

Copyright © 2015 by Philip D. Smith.
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