56. In Prayer House, Down’s End
56. In Prayer House, Down’s End
The priests of Down’s End passed the book around the table quietly, each one taking care not to tear the paper. The pages were so thin! How could such paper stand up to repeated use? Wendelbeorht, the albino, held the book three inches from his nearsighted eyes. “All the book is like this? Perfect letters in perfectly straight rows?”
“Aye.” Eadmar answered, unnecessarily. Wendelbeorht only stated what each man had observed for himself.
Limited daylight came through the windows of Prayer House. Four short candles in the middle of the table added to the light.
“The book has the secret name, you say.” Phytwin’s voice expressed skepticism.
“I do not say so, since I do not know the tongue,” replied Eadmar. “Lord Martin says the name Jesus occurs again and again.”
Phytwin raised his voice. “I suppose he pronounces the holy name as casually as you do.”
Eadmar did not answer. He seemed to be intent on his finger, tracing a circle on the tabletop.
Guthlaf Godcild folded his arms across his chest. “We are all sworn priests here. We may speak the name without offense.” To Eadmar: “You believe Lord Martin.”
“I do. Lord Martin read and translated large portions of the book for me. He showed me the word that he says is the holy name. That word looks very like the holy name on the parchment at Dimlic Aern, which you and I have seen. I have examined Lord Martin’s book, and the word occurs many, many times. There is hardly a page without it. And when you think about it, it seems reasonable that the holy name would appear repeatedly in God’s book.”
Phytwin objected: “Why does that seem reasonable to you? The holy name is secret! Why would the book of God display the name for anyone to see?”
The fat priest, Godbeorht, nodded vigorously. “That is my question. If an unbeliever could read this language, he would find the holy name, and the more frequently it occurs the more easily he would find it.”
Teothic, the priest of the west district, slowly twisted a strand of his red beard between thumb and forefinger. “Perhaps believers in the before time did not regard the name as forbidden.”
Phytwin shook his head. “Are you saying this book dates to a time before the demons?”
“Not this book,” said Eadmar. “Lord Martin says this is a copy of God’s book. But yes: God’s book was first written in the before time, and it has been copied and recopied ever since. The parchment at Dimlic Aern is undoubtedly a copy of a portion of God’s book, he says.”
Phytwin, enraged, began to stutter, but Guthlaf silenced him with an upraised hand. Wendelbeorht spoke for him: “You told Martin about Dimlic Aern?”
By this time Godbeorht had the Testament in his hand. He shook it at Eadmar. “You told a lord—a castle lord—about the parchment?”
Eadmar directed his answer to Guthlaf. “I told him that these things exist. I did not tell him where they are.”
The bishop’s face registered doubt. Eadmar went on: “There is a page marked in the book. It has the words of the Supper, the words of Jesus.”
“According to you! That is, according to a castle lord!” Phytwin was almost shouting.
Guthlaf slapped the table. “Brothers!” Everyone shut his mouth. The bishop let silence continue for many heartbeats. He took a deep, audible breath, letting it out slowly, and the other priests did so as well. Guthlaf reached across the table and received the book from Godbeorht. He opened the book to a page with a folded corner. “This is the passage you mentioned, Eadmar?”
Guthlaf ran his finger over the words; then he smiled and shook his head. “Naturally, we cannot read the foreign tongue.”
Eadmar spoke slowly. “I know it sounds suspicious. But when Lord Martin read that passage to me, and then translated it, I knew I was hearing the words of the Supper. Hoc est corpus meum pro vobis hoc. This is my body which is for you.”
Guthlaf looked at the windows high on the wall. “If this is the book of God, we must learn to read it. You must ask Lord Martin to teach you this tongue.”
“When you are able, you must write these words in the common tongue. If this is the book of God, we must make copies for the brothers in Cippenham, Stonebridge, Dimlic Aern, and every other place.”
“But!” Now Guthlaf’s eyes focused on Eadmar. “I and the brothers are not yet convinced this is the book of God. You are to go back between the lakes. I forbid you to enter the castle or set foot on its grounds. Additionally, you will demand that Lord Martin prove his good faith by building a Prayer House for the village Inter Lucus.”
Phytwin chuckled. “Wise demand, lord bishop. That will put the lie to the deceiver’s claims.”
Eadmar shook his head. “Really? You would be persuaded if Lord Martin builds a Prayer House? Brothers, he has already asked me, without any suggestion on my part, where we should build one.”
They were all astonished.
After the meeting and an hour of meditation facing the white pine cross in Prayer House, Eadmar walked toward the Betlicéa and the fishermen’s dock. He had been gone more than two months from Down’s End, and the ordinary sights and sounds of the city struck at his heart. Even the smells—horse shit on the street, slop from a butcher’s shop, a dyer’s shop, a leather goods store, and the fish market—reminded him of thirty years walking these streets, knowing these people. He remembered Isen’s beautiful doomed sister, Sunniva. O God, I love these people!
Shouts from nearby smashed Eadmar’s reverie. From an apartment window above a bakery came a voice unfamiliar to Eadmar: a man cursing his wife, making foul accusations. There were sounds of a fight, and a woman cried out. Eadmar looked up to see the shutters of the glassless window fly open. A man appeared, holding a screaming child.
“Damned bastard!” The man twisted his body and threw the child like the carcass of a dead animal. With pipe stem arms and legs churning the air, the boy fell on top of Eadmar, who reacted too slowly to catch him. The impact threw priest and boy to the ground. Pain shot from Eadmar’s left shoulder like a fire racing into his brain. The boy rolled off him, stood up, and screamed again.
Men and women arrived at a sprint. A man lifted Eadmar, and pain from his shoulder staggered him.
“By the gods!”
The little crowd around Eadmar scattered as the man who had thrown the boy toppled from the window, landing head first in the shallow water path on the edge of the street. The tip of a knife poked out the front of his neck; the hilt was buried in hair at the back. The body lay motionless at Eadmar’s feet. At his side, the boy stopped screaming.
Minutes later, when a sheriff arrived, men had already run into the building and brought out the wife of the dead man. She wore bruises and a fierce smile.
“Murderer!” someone shouted. “She knifed her husband!”
“The baker Paega is dead! His wife killed ’im!”
The sheriff stepped close to the woman. “What have you done, Aefre?”
“I put a knife in a pig’s neck. He hit me.”
“Man has rights over his wife,” said the sheriff. “I arrest you for murder.” He turned to the people standing near. “Will someone take care of the dead man’s child?”
“Agyfen is no pig’s child. He’s my son, mine alone!”
The sheriff turned on the woman. “This is a child of adultery?”
“He is the child of love, my child. Paega hated him, tried to kill him.”
Someone said: “The bastard child of a murderer.”
Eadmar touched the boy Agyfen with his right hand. It hurt too much to move his left arm. “The boy will come with me,” he said.
57. In Pulchra Mane
Eudes Ridere stirred from his dream. He snaked his arm under the blankets to Mariel’s side of the bed, felt only sheets. He opened his eyes. A wedge of light from Mariel’s toilet room cut across the floor. Eudes heard labored breathing and gagging sounds. He swept away blankets and rushed to the toilet room.
Life in a castle meant regular interaction with magic. Pulchra Mane featured artificial lights, carpeted floors, and baths that filled with water of any desired temperature with no need for servants to heat the water. Just as marvelously, the toilet room had a water device that carried away human waste deposited in it. But Mariel was not sitting on her “throne” (a jest she shared only with her husband); she was kneeling beside it, panting. In a weak voice she said, “Oh, gods,” and vomited into the throne.
Eudes dampened a cloth in the washbasin and offered it to his wife. “Thank you.” Mariel wiped her face with the cloth while Eudes waved his hand at the magic spot on the side of the throne; the water device whooshed Mariel’s vomit away, and fresh water replaced the old.
He helped her stand up. “What’s wrong?” He pushed golden hair away from her face.
“Nothing is wrong, you old ass.” Mariel touched Eudes’s cheek gently. “Something is very right, and it’s your doing.” Her hand slid from his face to the black hair on his chest. “My last blood was six weeks ago. Being queen does not exempt me from nature. Claennis says it’s not uncommon for women to feel the sickness early on; it will cease in a month or two.”
Eudes’s mouth opened, but no words came.
“Don’t act so surprised.” Mariel giggled. She wiped her face again with the cloth and tossed it aside. She stepped into his arms. “You’ve been working diligently to achieve this result.”
“Aye.” He squeezed her close. “Mariel, the army. It’s not too late . . . Maybe I should stay.”
She tilted her head back to look him in the eye. “To what end?” Eudes was familiar with her fierce, determined gaze. “What would you do, except watch me get fat? Claennis and Blythe will take care of my body, and Aweirgan Unes will advise me on matters of policy. Your place is with the army I have prepared for you. You will take it to Tarquint, leaving today, as we have planned.”
“Yes, my queen.”
“An obedient consort. I like that.” Mariel giggled again, her hand sliding to his stomach. “But since you will be gone a long while, you owe me one more before you leave.”
He carried her back to the bed.
General Ridere left Pulchra Mane with a small escort: Archard Oshelm, Aewel Penda, the brothers Fugol and Galan Hengist, and his new squire, Bully Wedmor. Bully had considered possible names carefully when Eudes told him to give up “Poorman.” “Bully Knight” was too obviously ambitious, and “Bully Freeman” might imply that he was a runaway serf. The farmers of Wedmor had treated Bully fairly, it was there that Eudes Ridere had invited Bully to his service, and it was not uncommon, Archard said, for soldiers to call themselves by place names. So General Ridere’s squire became Bully Wedmor.
The city that took its name from Pulchra Mane surrounded the castle grounds on all sides. Citizens saluted the queen’s consort as Eudes and his guards rode by. Two days before a crowd had shouted greetings to more than 1000 men marching away, commanded by Ridere’s captains. The general himself had not marched with his army; none of the onlookers knew why. Bully did.
The day after Pulchra Mane’s men marched north Bully had watched from a doorway, out of sight from the viewing wall, as Queen Mariel spoke with her councilors. She stood at the lord’s knob, her hand resting lightly on the globe, with Aweirgan Unes and Eudes Ridere standing behind her on either side. Bully couldn’t see them, but he heard the voices of the lords of Herminia (and Lady Montfort, who ruled Tutum Partum) as they acknowledged Mariel’s commands. Each one, except for Lady Montfort, reported that their armsmen were already on their way to Tutum Partum. Most were marching, but Rocelin Toeni’s men were sailing to the rendezvous—everything as the queen had ordered. Lord Toeni and Lady Montfort were supplying the ships that would carry Mariel’s army to Tarquint. Each lord reported that one or more of his sons or grandsons were coming as knights. Bully knew, from prior conversations with General Ridere, that most of these “knights” were valued not for their military prowess but as hostages. Mariel was not about to send her husband and the bulk of her army over the sea without some guarantee of her lords’ fidelity.
General Ridere also questioned the lords, mostly about supplies. All over Herminia, men were marching toward Tutum Partum. At the same time, wagons loaded with grain, smoked meats, wine, winter coats, boots, weapons, and lots of other things were rolling south to Prati Mansum. It was all part of a complicated plan that the general had explained to Bully. The army would sail from Tutum Partum with limited supplies, perhaps enough for a month. Once they landed in Tarquint, the ships would return to Herminia, not all at once but in little fleets of five or six ships. During winter they would come back to Prati Mansum, on Herminia’s south coast, rather than Tutum Partum. Supplies would be loaded and the ships would sail for Tarquint. Once the siege of Hyacintho Flumen began, half of the ships would carry soldiers in both directions. Ridere’s army would be constantly re-supplied, and its men would be rotated home for a portion of every year. The lords of Herminia knew by experience that the quartermaster general could sustain a siege for many, many months.
Each returning flotilla would also bear a messenger. This man would report at Prati Mansum and stand by Rocelin Toeni when Mariel’s councilors spoke weekly with her through their magic walls. The queen and her councilors would thus be informed of their army’s success—or lack thereof. After reporting via castle magic, the messenger would ride to Pulchra Mane. Herminia’s lords and lady would not like it, but they had to know that some of Eudes’s reports would be for Mariel alone.
Autumn weather was fine all over Herminia. Ridere and his escort saw evidence of agricultural bounty everywhere on the way to Tutum Partum. Eudes breathed silent thanks to the gods; his army would be eating this surplus all winter. Eudes could not expect to capture enough in Tarquint to sustain an army, unless he reduced the local population to starvation. And that, he knew, would only cement their hatred of the invader. A conqueror needs to show the conquered people that they will be no worse off under their new master.
Eudes and his escort carried little food themselves, supping each night in a roadhouse and eating lightly during the day. Riding easily, they passed the men of Pulchra Mane the second day. The marching soldiers cheered their general. Eudes conferred with his captains briefly and moved on.
They saw wagons moving south—not many yet, but there would be hundreds more as harvest rolled on. They passed men marching northward from Hinxworth and Beatus Valle in southwest Herminia: Paul Wadard’s soldiers had started out eight days before. Later, riding through the Green Mountains, they came upon men from Rubrum Vulpes, where Denis Mowbray was lord. On the sixth day Lady Avice Montfort welcomed Eudes to Tutum Partum. The morning of the seventh, he stood behind Lady Montfort during Mariel’s Council.
It feels different from this side, thought Eudes. The faces of the lords of Herminia looked the same as when they appeared in the magic wall of Pulchra Mane. The difference was seeing Mariel this way. She projected an image of confidence, power, and unchallengeable authority: the Ice Queen. With Aweirgan Unes at her side, she moved through scores of details, ensuring that the mobilization of Herminia stayed on schedule.
After three hours, the queen dismissed her Council; one by one, the pictures of the lords of Herminia disappeared until only Mariel’s face remained on Lady Montfort’s wall. “My Queen, perhaps you have words for your consort,” Lady Avice said. For three hours Avice Montfort had kept both her hands on the lords’ knob to maintain her bond. She was visibly tired. “I can try to forget what I hear.”
“I have a better idea,” replied Mariel. “Walk around the lord’s knob so that I see your back.”
Montfort did as commanded. Now, only Eudes could see Mariel’s image in the wall. She didn’t say anything, but she laid her right hand on her abdomen and winked.
“Fare well, General Ridere,” said the Ice Queen, and her image vanished.
Day by day, the fleet of ships in Tutum Partum’s ample harbor grew. The army that would sail aboard them swelled into the thousands.
Bully’s thoughts often turned to Edita, who by now must be wife of the lord of Hyacintho Flumen. He wondered if she knew the truth about Juliana Ingdaughter, whom Boyden Black had said would be mistress to Lord Aylwin Mortane. Aylwin Mortane, the very man Herminia’s army would soon besiege.
58. In Stonebridge
“I don’t know how you do it, Milo.” In public, Felix Abrecan was always careful to address him as “Sir Mortane,” or “Sir Milo,” but in private they were more familiar. Felix was the closest thing to a friend Milo had ever known.
Autumn sunlight peaked over the hills west of Stonebridge as they began their daily patrol through the weavers’ district. “Do what?”
“How you stay in Tondbert’s favor. He approves all your ideas.”
“Hah!” Milo’s laugh sounded like a bark. “I seem to remember suggesting more mounts for the sheriffs and dropping our current blacksmith for a competent one. What happened to those ideas?”
Felix grinned. “Point taken. But Tondbert approves some of your ideas. He promoted Bryce Dalston to training master and made Trymian Wallis into a glorified scribe. He let us employ Tilde Freewoman as maid. With your Eádulf in the Citadel to help Bayen, the stables look a world better, and the horses are healthier. Tondbert actually listens to you. Of all the City Guard, you’re his pet.”
“By the gods, don’t say that. It’s bad enough that Wallis hates me. You’ll have all the men against me.”
“Not so! Bryce and Hrodgar and the others all know that you’re on Tondbert’s good side, and they admire you for it. Naturally Wallis hates you, but that’s another reason the men like you. Yesterday Aidan Fleming said something about you being toady to Tondbert and Bryce shut him up quick; he said we were damned lucky that Tondbert listened to somebody other than Wallis, somebody who actually knows what the Guard needs.”
Milo waved a greeting to an armsman standing guard at a warehouse. The man blinked against the sunrise and saluted lazily. It was a friendly thing, a daily occurrence.
“Do I know what the Guard needs? Consider Tom there, the night guard for a warehouse full of wool. First of all, why should the weavers need to hire guards? Who would steal great bolts of undyed wool thread? He’s really there to keep paupers out, runaway boys from the Bene who would like a dry and quiet place to sleep. Maybe if the city had enough proper sheriffs, the weavers wouldn’t need to hire Tom. But, but . . . maybe it’s cheaper for the weavers to hire their own guards. A second thing: Tom sees us ride through every morning, regular as moonrise. He waves or says, ‘Fair morning.’ If some burglar or robber was paying attention, he could strike an hour before we make our rounds, or an hour later. I’m sure it’s a good thing for the people to see sheriffs ride through everyday; it reassures them. But on the other hand, it might be better if we varied our time and route; we might catch more thieves. Who knows what the Guard really needs?”
Felix snorted. “That’s part of it. Your humble act.”
They turned a corner and were hit by a morning breeze. A smell of possible rain came with it. Milo huddled his shoulders. “Weather’s changing. Need to start wearing a coat. What do you mean, ‘part of it’? What is ‘it’?”
“How you keep Tondbert’s favor. You put on your humble act. ‘It might be this way, Commander, but I’m not sure. I’m sure you know the ways of the city better than I, Commander, but might this work?’ You never say: ‘Do this, you incompetent fool!’”
“But it’s often true. I am not sure.”
Felix snorted again, guiding his horse around some pungent slop thrown from an upstairs apartment the night before. “Granted. But your tentative suggestions are better than Tondbert’s certainties! When you put on the humble act it’s easy for our commander to take credit for your best ideas.”
“Well then, you’ve answered your question. How do I stay on the commander’s good side? By my ‘humble act,’ according to you.”
“You’re right about the wind.” Felix shivered. “I’ll wear a coat tomorrow.” He nodded a greeting to a woman sweeping the patch of street in front of a dyer’s shop with a straw broom. A little further on, a man used a shovel to push refuse into the ditch between storefront and road. “There’s got to be more to it. By the gods! Think of Bayen Mann, our stable master. He really is humble, no act there! Much like Eádulf. But Tondbert wouldn’t listen to either of them! Maybe he fears you, being a knight and all.”
Milo laughed. “Hah! I assure you, Commander Tondbert does not fear me.” To himself, Milo thought: The Commander thinks he has me under his thumb as securely as Ody Dans. He takes credit for my ideas because I dare not complain. And I won’t—ever.
Felix and Milo finished their circuit of the weavers’ district in time to eat at mid-day in the Citadel. They didn’t hurry, stopping often to greet folk in the street, listen to complaints from merchants, and note arrivals of wagons from farms in the countryside around Stonebridge. Spinners, dyers, weavers, and tailors all had their shops jumbled together in a hive of activity. To some extent, Milo knew, folk of the district regarded him and Felix as “their” sheriffs.
After mid-day, Milo and Felix joined with two other mounted sheriffs, Acwel Kent and Aidan Fleming, to ride the perimeter of the Bene Quarter. They dared not ride in the twisting alleys of the Bene. Once a week since the catastrophe of the summer raid the City Guard invaded the Bene in force on foot, but only in daylight. It seemed that the Falcons and Hawks tolerated their presence; these raids resulted in few arrests and no confrontations with the gangs. Perhaps even Ifing Redhair knew the people of the Bene needed some respite from lawlessness.
On these afternoon rides, Milo felt like he was a physician applying a tourniquet to an infected limb. Inside its boundary, the Bene Quarter was full of rot and pus, and the City Guard could do nothing but contain it. But tourniquets don’t stop infections. The rot has to be cleaned away or the limb cut off.
In late afternoon the mounted sheriffs brought their horses to the Citadel stable. Milo and Felix hung their saddles on wall pegs while Bayen Mann and Eádulf brushed the animals and tended to their hooves. The stable master and Eádulf would feed and water their charges and put each in a paddock for the night. At Milo’s suggestion, Commander Tondbert had ordered that at least four horses be kept in reserve in case of emergency; each day Eádulf exercised the reserves by walking them in the Citadel courtyard. Eádulf also washed saddle blankets so the mounts would begin the day free of bugs.
Leaving Blackie in Bayen and Eádulf ’s care, Milo climbed stone stairs to his room on the second floor of the citadel. A woman was in the corridor, carrying buckets of steaming water. She handed one bucket to Acwel Kent, who had left the stable before Milo. Acwel nodded his thanks, stepped into his cell, and shut his door. The woman turned and saw Milo. Dressed in drab brown, with her plaited black hair tied in an artless mass behind her neck, Tilde contrasted starkly with the beauty Milo remembered from Ody Dans’s dinner party. The cheekbones and chin were still perfect, but the lines around the eyes were those of a much older woman.
“Sir Mortane,” Tilde said. She pushed open the door to his cell and nodded him in. She came in, shut the door, and put the bucket on the floor.
“That’s your last of the day?”
“Aye. Shall I stay?” She took a wet cloth out of the bucket, offered it to Milo.
Milo laid his sword and scabbard on the narrow bed underneath the room’s barred window. He accepted the cloth and wiped his face and neck. “Not today. Tondbert was talking with Wallis, watching for me. He’ll be at my door soon.”
The slightest smile touched her lips. “He can’t see through doors. I don’t think he would care what happened in this room. I’m sure Lora Camden has told him that you visit me at her house.”
Milo stepped close, putting his hand on her breast. He pinched the nipple through the rough cloth. “He knows. But the testimony of one woman isn’t enough for my Lord Commander.”
Tilde raised an eyebrow.
“I’ll explain later. For now, we should go.” Milo quickly changed from his riding tunic and breeches to clean hose and a longer tunic. He considered a cloak, but left it. “Weather is changing. Won’t be long ’til we need coats in the evening.” He belted on one of the Citadel short swords.
Tilde followed him out of his cell. When they started down the stairs, Commander Tondbert was ascending. The man had a receding chin anyway; when he looked up at Milo from below, he looked to have no chin at all, as if there were nothing beneath the nose.
“Sir Milo!” The bass voice expressed surprise.
Disappointed, you snake? Milo answered cheerfully: “Fair afternoon, Commander.”
“Fair afternoon. I see you have found the cleaning woman.” Tondbert waited as Milo and Tilde descended toward him, and then went down the stairs ahead of them. “Please, would you step into my office? Both of you?”
Commander Tondbert unlocked a thick wood door and bowed them in. Shutting the door, he sat behind a dark-stained table. “Please sit.” He motioned to two chairs.
The commander propped his elbows on the table. “Tilde Freewoman.”
Tilde looked at the floor. “Aye, my Lord Commander.”
“Perhaps I should say: Tilde Gyricson.”
Suddenly her black eyes were alive with fear, looking from Tondbert to Milo. For a moment, Milo felt a thrill of satisfaction. But he couldn’t let himself enjoy it. “Tilde, we have to keep you safe. So I told Commander Tondbert about Ody Dans.”
“How does that keep me safe?”
Tondbert laughed softly. “If Master Dans took you by force to pay your husband’s debt, he committed a serious crime.”
“The man never touched me.”
“What?” Tondbert slapped the table. “Mortane! You said …”
Milo lifted a finger. “Lord Commander, I beg you hear the whole story.”
Tondbert pressed his lips together. Finally, in a bass rumble: “Go on.”
Tilde looked at Milo and tears ran down her face. “You said I could trust you.”
“You can, and you must. This is the only way.”
“That’s what Gar said.” Her tears fell into the rough brown cloth of her tunic. Her hands lay in her lap, no longer the soft manicured hands Milo remembered from the party but red and scabbed.
Tondbert sighed impatiently. “Let’s have the truth. Did Ody Dans rape you or not?”
She turned steely eyes on the commander. “He couldn’t do it. He tied me to a bed, pulled off my clothes. He looked at me and looked at me. But he was limp as a wet rag. He never touched me.”
Milo said, “You should have seen Dans at the party, Commander. He enjoyed that moment, the moment when Tilde knew her husband had betrayed her, more than normal men enjoy women. Afterward, the two weeks in his house, that meant little.”
Tondbert’s lips parted slightly, showing his teeth. He nodded. “He did nothing else?”
Tondbert looked puzzled. “What?”
“Dans couldn’t do it. But he has a pet mouse. He let the mouse run on me. At first I was terrified. What if he bit me? But it’s a tame mouse. After a while, Dans put it back in its box. He untied me, left the room, and I never saw him again.”
Tondbert snorted a laugh. “A mouse!” Then he laughed again, heartily, in his deep voice. “A MOUSE!” He waved Milo and Tilde out of his office.
59. In Castle Inter Lucus
Paper comes from wood. In the beginning, Marty didn’t know much more than that. He remembered something about “rag paper,” which was of higher quality than cheaper kinds of paper, so it must be possible to mix fiber from other sources with wood fibers. He assumed that on Earth modern paper making involved chemicals and complicated manufacturing processes that yielded predictable results: quality control over many varieties of paper product. Marty’s own goal was modest; he would be content if he could make something he could write on.
The first step toward the solution had come many weeks before, in the days leading up to the mid-summer party. Marty had been contemplating Inter Lucus’s recovering subsystems:
I. Materias Transmutatio: operativa
II. Parva Arcum Praesidiis: parte operativa, aedificaverunt initiati
III. Magna Arcum Praesidiis: non operativa, aedificaverunt initiati
IV. Cibum Preparatio Homines: operativa
V. Inter-Castrum Videns-Loquitur: non operativa, aedificaverunt initiati
VI. Extra Arcem Micro-Aedificator: operativa
VII. Potentia Fontes: operativa
VIII. Aquarum: operativa
IX. Intra Arcem Micro-Aedificator: operativa
X. Centralis Arbitrium Factorem: operativa
Materias Transmutatio had moved from non-operativa to operativa soon after the lights came on in the castle’s west wing. Marty speculated that what appeared to be a cavernous empty space was really the alien equivalent of a home garage workshop. By analogy with the “kitchen” (which Marty surmised was actually Cibum Preparatio Homines), he expected ceramic blocks to grow out of the floor. But would he know how to use them? With his hands on the lords’ knob, Marty had shut his eyes and pictured in his mind a ceramic block workbench with a shovel handle lying on top of it. He released the lord’s knob, walked the length of the great hall, passed two anterooms at the north end of the great hall, and entered the west wing. Lights came on when he entered, but the boxy room was as empty as ever.
In the three days before the party, Marty spent much time practicing motifs for his light show, making colored dots chase one another on the interior of the interface wall. In between trial runs for the light show, he tried several times to communicate his intentions for the new room. No results. He began to think he had guessed wrong about the west wing. The breakthrough came by accident, when he absentmindedly left his walnut staff in the workspace. On his next inspection, he found the staff clamped to the top of a ceramic block with chocolate colored wood shavings on the floor. His sturdy walking stick had been lathed into a long thin pole less than an inch in diameter. Passing his hands over the top and sides of the workbench, he located control sensors; trial and error taught him how to use the workbench to cut, smooth, plane, lathe, and polish wood. From his original staff and some fallen limbs of cherry trees Marty made hundreds of thumbnail sized “nickels.”
After the party, Marty filled weeks with much more trial and error. Caelin found a fallen walnut branch; Marty used the workbench to fashion a staff to replace his first one. More work-blocks rose from the floor, which led to further experimenting. Marty planed and polished Attor Woodman’s planks and cut them precisely to fit the east and west doors of the great hall. Elne Penrict supplied nails and hinges, and the castle doors were hung five weeks after the party.
As he experimented, Marty conserved wood chips, shavings, and sawdust. One of the workshop blocks resembled a top-loading washing machine, except that its central “agitator” was a ceramic arm with dozens of sharp projections; Marty thought of it as an industrial size blender. He filled the machine’s bowl with wood chips and sawdust, added water, and sealed the top by passing his hand over one of the sensors. Then he pureed the whole mass into wood fiber soup.
How do you press out excess water? Marty envisioned wide rollers squeezing the mash between them, but he could not seem to communicate this idea to Materias Transmutatio. He dipped out pails of watery pulp and spread it on parts of the paved path that had been slowly extending itself from the castle. The fibrous mash dried in the sun, and it had the feel of paper, but when he tried to peel it off the pavement it crumbled. For three weeks Marty’s ambitions were stymied at this stage, pulp but no paper.
Fridiswid Redwine provided the answer. One day in late summer Marty took Ora with him on one of his visits to Priest Eadmar. At Ora’s suggestion, she and Marty turned aside to call on Fridiswid before returning to Inter Lucus. They found Mistress Redwine outdoors, attending to very shallow square boxes; to Marty they looked like jewelry drawers without the jeweler’s chest. Three boxes lay on top of a table, propped at an angle to receive the afternoon sun.
Ora called out a greeting as they approached; Fridiswid turned on her bowed legs, waddled close, and hugged the girl. “Fair afternoon, Lord Martin,” she said, inclining her head.
“Fair afternoon, Mistress Redwine.” Marty gestured toward the odd boxes. “What’s this?”
Ora peeled away from Fridiswid’s arms. “Berry leather! Fridiswid makes the best!” Ora leaned over one of the boxes and touched its contents gingerly. “Not quite done, is it?”
“No. More’s the pity.” Fridiswid shook her head. “I’ll have to carry these into the house, finish them tomorrow.”
“I don’t understand,” said Marty. He looked closely; each box contained an inky looking substance smeared into a thin layer. Under each box was a drying puddle of purple. Suddenly he understood. He picked up a box and looked at the bottom; it was made of cloth.
“My Lord Martin! Be careful!” Ora snatched the box from Marty, replaced it on the table. Marty looked at his fingers; they were purple. He ignored Ora and turned to Fridiswid.
“Aye, my lord. Blackberries and raspberries. Sweet and good when picked, but they rot in a few days. But mashed and well-dried, berry leather can be eaten in winter, or crumbled and cooked in a tea.”
“Mashed and well-dried. Fridiswid, you are a genius. You’re a gift from God.” Marty bent over the woman and kissed her cheek. “Deo Gratias!”
Fridiswid stammered a little, embarrassed. “My L-lord M-martin. I did not invent berry leather. I l-learned it from my Ma.”
“No matter, no matter,” Marty said. “Do you have more cloth like this on bottom of your berry leather box?”
“A little. Leola Alymar, the widow, she has more.”
“Syg Alymar’s mother?”
“Aye, my lord.”
“Excellent! Ora, I think it’ll work! This will work!”
Ora was puzzled. “My lord?”
It took a few more days and more trial and error, but it did work. Spreading wood mash in a thin layer on a linen screen allowed excess water to drip away and air to reach top and bottom of the pulp. The paper could be peeled off the screen when mostly dry and then completely dried in the sun. It wasn’t very good paper—lumpy, easily torn, and of uneven color. But it was paper.
Isen and Caelin devoted themselves to improving the product. They experimented with wood chips and sawdust from different species of tree, especially with different kinds of tree bark. They made pulp with more water and less water. They tried mixing straw into the pulp. At Marty’s suggestion, they tested wool fiber in the mix. They learned to press the still damp paper between polished wood boards, squeezing out the last of the moisture and giving the paper a smoother surface.
Villagers knew how to make charcoal ink, and when it became known that Lord Martin of Inter Lucus wanted quality inks, a farmer named Wurt Raedwald walked from Senerham to tell the lord how to make gall ink by finding gall wasp balls in oak trees, crushing them and soaking them in rainwater. Ten days later, when Marty was able to try the gall ink, he was so pleased that he recorded Wurt Raedwald’s hidgield as paid for the year.
Written record keeping had begun at Inter Lucus. It was time for harvest and taxes.
60. In Stonebridge
“I need to get you some boots,” Milo said, watching Tilde strap on leather sandals. She retrieved them from a small closet near the main doors of the Citadel where she left them in the morning. During the day, she walked barefoot on the fortress’s worn stone floors, saving her shoes for Stonebridge’s rugged streets. They exited the Citadel and began the short walk to Lora Camden’s shop.
“I own boots,” Tilde said bitterly. “And good sandals for everyday use. Unlike many of the clothes I used to wear, they were mine before I married. Unfortunately they reside in Master Adelgar Gyricson’s house, where I will never go. I have only these fashionable leather shoes. They must last me a long time.”
Milo admired Tilde’s pride, at least in regard to Adelgar Gyricson. “If I fetched your boots, would you wear them?”
She looked at him suddenly. “Don’t! You must not give him reason to think I am alive or that you know where I am.”
“Oh, I agree.” Milo inclined his head. “But if Master Gyricson were detained in one part of the city—being interviewed by a sheriff, for instance—burglars might enter his house and take a number of things. He might not miss a pair of boots amid other losses.”
“You’re sworn to defend the laws of Stonebridge, not break them. Besides, he has servants in the house.”
Milo chuckled. “You are extremely noble, Tilde. I defend the laws of Stonebridge for very little pay. But I see your point.”
Tilde touched Milo’s elbow, something she rarely did in public. “Why did you tell Tondbert about Ody Dans?”
He looked at her and smiled reassuringly. She’s worth having. “Because Tondbert uses secrets. Derian Chapman told me that Tondbert has proof of nasty secrets regarding many members of the Stonebridge Assembly. That’s why they don’t remove him, even when his incompetence endangers the peace of the city.”
They were nearing the shroud maker’s shop, squeezed between a cobbler and a candle maker. “That makes no sense, Milo. If Tondbert is as bad a commander as you say, why do you strengthen his hand?”
“Lots of reasons. First of all, Master Dans is the richest man in Stonebridge. He’s ruthless, as you know, and dangerous. Tondbert will undoubtedly find a way to inform Ody Dans that he knows about the Gyricson affair, and that may keep Dans from asserting too much influence. Also, Tondbert may remember that I can sometimes give useful information. It’s not that he would be actually grateful, but he might value my continued existence.”
“So . . . you’re more afraid of Dans than Tondbert?” Tilde’s question hung in the air, unanswered, as Lora Camden admitted them into her shroud maker’s workshop. Bolts of white linen lay in a bin by the wall; a half-finished shroud, sized for a child, lay on the counter.
“You’re a bit later than usual, Tilde,” Lora said. She was a heavy woman with a plain round face. “Fair evening, Sir Milo. Will you sup with us?” It wasn’t a purely friendly invitation; Lora expected payment for meals.
“Not tonight, Mistress Camden. I’ll have a word with Tilde privately, but I’ll sup in the Citadel.”
“A word.” Lora grinned broadly, showing misshapen yellowing teeth. “Enjoy your talk, then.”
Tilde’s room was upstairs, at the back of the building. On the second floor, a narrow hall skirted the stairwell, leading from Tilde’s room to Lora Camden’s bedroom at the front, over her shop. On the ground floor beneath Tilde’s room was a small space with a table and fire grate; this served the two women as kitchen and dining room. As soon as Milo shut the door to her room, Tilde began unfastening her tunic.
Milo stopped her undressing with a hand on her shoulder. “Not tonight. You need to understand.
“I fear Dans and Tondbert in different ways. Tondbert can get me killed by accident, through stupidity. Dans might have me killed quite deliberately. Obviously, I can’t trust either man. But you and I live and work under Tondbert’s beak; he’s the immediate problem. So it’s useful for him to think of you as a weapon against Dans. He would protect you if he knew how. More importantly, he will keep you secret; he’s good at secrets.
“Mistress Camden undoubtedly told my Lord Commander about you and me weeks ago. He didn’t think much of it then. But now that he knows Adelgar is looking for you, he thinks he has a secret to use against me. If I were ever to challenge him, Tondbert would threaten to tell your husband about me. Strictly speaking, adultery is a crime in Stonebridge.
“You see, then. Tondbert values you very much, mostly as evidence against Dans, but partly as a yoke around my neck. For a while, at least, you will be welcomed and protected in the Citadel. In fact, in a day or two, I will suggest to Tondbert that there are yet empty rooms in the Citadel. He might see fit to move you inside, away from possible discovery.”
Tilde smiled. “In that case, I might not need boots.”
Lora Camden came out of the kitchen as Milo tramped down the stairs. “Sir Milo! That was a quick word indeed.”
Milo bowed low. “Sometimes a word really is just a word, Mistress Camden.”
“Too bad. Perhaps you will stay longer next time.”
“Maybe I will.” Something caught Milo’s eye, hanging on a peg on the wall. Milo couldn’t remember seeing it before. “What’s that, Mistress Camden? Have you decided to start making hats?” Milo stepped close to examine the object. It appeared to be made of shroud linen, but on closer examination it couldn’t be a hat; it was conical and tall. It would look ridiculous perched on someone’s head.
Lora Camden cackled. “No, Sir Milo. Not a hat. That’s a face shroud. Have you never seen one?”
“I have not. In fact, I’ve never heard of such a thing. It is made to cover a dead man’s face?”
“Aye. Sometimes a body is found and the face is, shall we say, unattractive—beyond the skill of embalmers. As a sheriff, Sir Milo, you should know about these things.”
Milo did. “Like the man they brought out of the Bene Quarter two days ago. Someone knifed him and left him face down in a sewer, and nobody touched him for four days. Finally someone told a sheriff. Tondbert sent two of the newest recruits to pack him off to the pauper’s field on a cart. Afterward the boys said they had never seen anything like it. Rats, they said.”
“Just so,” said Camden, nodding. “Now, I don’t suppose anyone bought a shroud for that one. Wander naked in the after world, I suppose.”
“Hah! Do you really think wearing a shroud or not wearing one makes a whit of difference in the after world?”
Lora Camden’s smile showed her teeth. “What I think don’t matter, now, does it? People like shrouds, and it’s a good thing. Keeps an old woman in business, don’t it?”
Milo inclined his head, acknowledging Camden’s practicality.
She continued: “Sometimes folk do buy shrouds for bodies that ha’ been, shall we say, waiting too long. They don’t want the kiddies to see, so they buy a face shroud. Been a couple times when I was asked to make body shrouds extra long, for similar reasons, to cover feet or arms. But the face—well, I make a half dozen face shrouds every year.”
Milo exited to the street. If he didn’t hurry, he would miss sup in the Citadel refectory. Suddenly he stopped and hurried back to Lora Camden’s shop. She came to the door when he pounded on it.
“Sir Milo! What is it?”
“Mistress Camden, is the face shroud intended for anyone in particular?”
“The one on the peg? No. I like to keep one on hand; never know when a customer will want it.”
“Very sensible of you,” Milo said. “Make another. I’ll buy one, and you’ll still have one in stock.”
A puzzled expression—but she said, “As you wish.”
61. From Down’s End to Inter Lucus
Aefre Baecer, the wife of the dead baker, perversely insisted that her son was the progeny of another man, whom she would not name. If she hadn’t said this, she might have lived. Eadmar’s weren’t the only ears that heard Paega Baecer’s assault on his wife, and her bruises corroborated Eadmar’s belief that the baker was a habitually violent man. Even the fact that she knifed him from behind could have been excused, since Paega had thrown her child from the window the moment before.
But Aefre stated clearly and repeatedly that Paega was not little Agyfen’s father. It was possible, of course, that she merely spoke the truth. But Eadmar did not believe the woman condemned herself out of integrity. Hate and spite were the operative motives, he thought.
Given Aefre’s admission of adultery and the clear fact that she had killed Paega, no one was surprised that the city magistrate declared her guilty of murder. The trial occurred the second day after the killing; her execution came immediately afterward. On the day between her arrest and the trial, Eadmar took Agyfen to visit his mother; they were the only visitors she accepted. She was in a small room in the Down’s End jail, bound by iron chains anchored in the brick walls. The short chains made it impossible to embrace the boy as she would have liked, but she clasped him with one arm and kissed him over and over. Her eyes were bloodshot, her voice hoarse from pleading for the gods to repay Paega for every blow he had landed, and her cheek an ugly reddish-purple.
“Priest o’ the old god?”
“Aye. My name is Eadmar. We’ve met before, Aefre.”
“I remember. Been gone these last weeks?”
“Aye. I’ve been to Inter Lucus, on the far side of West Lake.”
She clutched Agyfen so tightly he couldn’t breathe. The boy wiggled and she relented. “Can you take my son there?”
Eadmar nodded. He had decided that much immediately after the killing. “That is my plan, Aefre.”
“Good. Don’t make ’im a slave. Foster ’im with some farm family, some good folk. And take ’im soon. Don’t let ’im see what they do.”
Eadmar nodded again. “That was my thought as well. Bead Deepwater has agreed to take us across in the morning.”
The wide bloodshot eyes stared into an indeterminate distance. “That will be my last thought in this world, Agyfen going away.”
Bead Deepwater and his sons, Osulf and Headby, transported Eadmar and the little boy across West Lake the next morning. Eadmar, who was familiar with the swiftness of trial and punishment in Down’s End, sat on a bench in the Deepwaters’ boat, Morning Glory, with his arms wrapped around Agyfen. Eadmar easily imagined the events transpiring in Down’s End: the prisoner being led before the magistrate, the accusation made by the sheriff, Aefre pleading self-defense, the magistrate asking a few questions, Aefre cursing Paega and refusing to name the true father of the boy, and the magistrate condemning the accused to death. On the way to the gallows some priest of the old god (Guthlaf Godcild, most likely) would urge the condemned woman to repent of her sins and offer her absolution. Then they would tie her hands, slip the noose around her neck, toss the rope over the gibbet, and hoist her writhing body into the air. The crowd would watch until the body hung limply and then drift away. Some hours later a sheriff would take Aefre’s body to an unmarked grave outside the city.
Eadmar shook that image from his mind. He concentrated on the gray water of the lake and the close-hanging clouds that looked like leaden hammers. The north wind blew spray on them, and Eadmar tucked his thin cloak around Agyfen. The Deepwaters, father and sons, went about the business of sailing Morning Glory with very few words. Eadmar sensed that they didn’t like the weather; the fall could bring dangerous storms on West Lake. He breathed a silent prayer for safe passage.
As expected, there was no one on the woodmen’s dock to receive the Morning Glory. The Deepwaters deftly maneuvered the fishing boat close to the dock and turned her north into the wind at the last moment, thus bringing her almost to a stop. Osulf leapt from boat to dock, caught lines thrown by his brother, and secured the boat. Eadmar couldn’t hoist Agyfen, because of the damage to his left shoulder, so Headby lifted the boy to his brother, and Eadmar climbed onto the dock. A few words of farewell, Eadmar cast off the ropes, and the Deepwaters used poles to push away from the dock. They adjusted their sail, and the boat moved away. Eadmar waved a last goodbye.
His shoulder was still painful, two days after being thrown to the ground, so Eadmar made Agyfen walk at first. Where the path was narrow, he walked behind the boy; in wide spots he held Agyfen’s hand. After an hour, the three-year-old was tiring badly. They stopped by a fallen tree; with his good arm Eadmar helped Agyfen climb onto the log. From atop the log, the boy was able to climb onto the priest’s shoulders. The weight on his left shoulder made agony for Eadmar, but there was no other solution. He held Agyfen secure with his right hand, his left dangling uselessly.
Eadmar carried the boy for two excruciating hours, until he thought he might collapse. Something was wrong with his eyes. He couldn’t see anything peripherally; his field of vision had dwindled to a tiny spot of the path in front of him. He stopped and sank to his knees. Agyfen slid off Eadmar as the priest fell onto his side. “Sit down. Stay close,” Eadmar said in the firmest voice he could muster. “We will rest here.”
Baldric Forrest came upon the little boy sitting next to the priest of the old god, Eadmar, who was lying unconscious under a pine tree. Baldric had been introduced to Eadmar several weeks before, but their conversations had been few, since Baldric spent most of his summer days cutting trees many miles north of Inter Lucus.
“What’s ya name, boy?” When winter’s snow deepened, Baldric lived in town, so he knew most names in Inter Lucus and Senerham, though it was hard to keep up with babies. This lad was past the age of infant deaths, yet Baldric didn’t recognize him. “What’s ya doing with Priest Eadmar?”
The boy said nothing. He looked at Baldric with wide brown eyes. He scooted closer to Eadmar and laid his hand on the priest’s open palm.
Baldric knelt to touch Eadmar’s other wrist; he felt a heartbeat. “How long ya been here, old man?” He felt the priest’s skinny leg. It was cool, with a sheen of sweat. “Priest Eadmar!”
“Uh.” Eadmar’s eyes opened. A few seconds later, they focused on Baldric’s face. A whisper: “Fair afternoon, Master Forrest.”
“Are ya hurt, priest?”
The answer came back in a stronger voice. “Both exhausted and injured, I’m afraid. Like a fool, I was trying to carry this boy, but my shoulder was knocked out two days ago. The burden has done me in. I am taking him into Inter Lucus.”
“My comin’ along be ya good fortune, then,” Baldric said. “If ya get the lad t’ trust me, I can carry ’im for ya. I’m t’ see Lord Martin, meself.”
“Deo Gratias. And thank you, Master Forrest.”
Baldric Forrest had two hard black loaves left in his sup-bag, having eaten the rest before finding Eadmar. He gave one to the priest, who gnawed on it as they walked side by side, having reached the wagon road leading to Inter Lucus. Feeling stronger, Eadmar concluded that his body needed the strength of the bread. He told himself he needed to be more careful to eat properly. When he finished the loaf he asked Baldric for the second, which the woodsman promptly gave him.
They neared village Inter Lucus, the parting of the ways where Eadmar would go right toward Heline Entwine’s farm and Baldric would turn left to go to the castle. They stopped when they saw four men approaching on the road from the village. Syg Alymar, Everwin Idan, and the red-haired butcher, Hors Cnud, were marching a prisoner in front of them. The man’s hands were tied behind his back, and Syg Alymar held a rope tied around his neck. The prisoner was Rothulf Saeric.
Eadmar greeted them while Baldric stood near, the boy on his shoulders. “Fair afternoon, Syg, Everwin, Hors. Trouble?”
Hors Cnud spat on the ground. “Trouble again! For the last time!”
Syg Alymar looked at Eadmar. “Fair afternoon, Priest Eadmar. Lord Martin will be pleased at your return. He has come to the village the last three days looking for you.”
“My business in Down’s End took longer than I expected,” said Eadmar. “May I ask what has happened? What has Rothulf done this time?”
“The usual,” said Everwin Idan. “More thievery.”
“Nay!” exclaimed Hors Cnud. “Erna came on him in the salt house. Told him to run off. Threatened her, he did!”
Eadmar knew Rothulf Saeric to be a thief, but he had never known him to fight. Perhaps his worst deed had been to command his half-brother, Alf, to try to bond with castle Inter Lucus, a bit of foolishness that might have cost Alf his life.
“I only said she was pretty!” the prisoner protested.
Eadmar scratched his head. “Let’s not conclude too quickly. What do you say, Syg?”
Syg Alymar puffed out his cheeks. “Erna Cnud did say that he touched her in a private kind of way.”
“If I hadn’t come in, he’d a raped my wife!” interrupted Hors.
Eadmar didn’t believe it. The salt house was a room adjoining the Cnuds’ house; loud sounds there would have been heard in the house. Besides, Erna was a sturdily built woman, easily as strong as Rothulf Saeric. Eadmar felt pity for Rothulf’s repeated stupidities. “I gather you are taking your prisoner to Lord Martin?”
Syg said, “Aye. Some among us wanted to hang him immediately; save Lord Martin some trouble. But Everwin says we can’t usurp the lord’s authority.”
“Oh, I agree. If you don’t mind, since Baldric was already heading to the castle, I’ll come along.”
Syg expressed surprise. “You will come to the castle?”
“No. I am forbidden to enter Inter Lucus or walk on the grounds. But I would like to talk with the lord before he passes judgment.”
62. At Castle Inter Lucus
Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.
The apostle’s words echoed in Marty’s mind as he listened to Rothulf Saeric deny Hors Cnud’s accusations. He had translated this passage in Romans for Eadmar shortly before the priest went to Down’s End, and he could recall young people passionately debating its application during his year in the Chicago Catholic Worker house. The apostle’s words must not be generalized to all governments, one voice had said; the Bible doesn’t require obedience to tyrants like Hitler or Pol Pot. Someone else replied: why not? It’s not like the Roman government of the first century was fair or democratic; the government that Paul said was established by God was the very government that executed Paul a few years later. Most of the twenty-somethings at the Catholic Worker house agreed with the first voice. Marty didn’t know which side was right.
The irony is that now I’m the governing authority! Some alien wormhole snatches me from Oregon to Two Moons—and that makes me God’s established authority? Proof positive that God has a sense of humor.
Marty had to do something about Rothulf Saeric. The vagabond had stayed in the Inter Lucus vicinity until Marty’s midsummer party, begging meals here and there, sleeping under the stars. Before he disappeared from the area, Rothulf complained often and bitterly against Marty’s decision to keep Alf in Inter Lucus, calling it kidnapping and usurpation; by rights Alf should be lord of Inter Lucus, he said.
Marty had surprised Ora, Caelin, and Isen by listening carefully to Rothulf’s story. He was, he said, the son of Aelred Saeric, a farmer in the Blue River valley. Aelred’s land flooded often, and life was hard. Aelred died of the bloody flux, leaving Golda, his wife, and a son, Rothulf. A year later, the same disease almost claimed Rothulf, so Golda moved downriver to Hyacintho Flumen. She might have married again, but Lord Hereward Mortane intervened. Riding along the river road on a fine day, Mortane saw Rothulf’s mother working in a field and lusted for her. Rothulf, a boy of eleven, was restrained by one of the soldiers who rode with the lord. They made him watch. When she discovered she was pregnant, Golda moved back to the Blue River farm, where she lived in abject poverty with two sons. A few years later, Golda died, and Rothulf took his half-brother to Down’s End.
In Down’s End Rothulf learned a surprising fact about Hereward Mortane. The lord’s grandmother was Aerlene Tirel, daughter of the last lord of Inter Lucus, Thurwold Tirel. Since Thurwold Tirel had no living sons, Aerlene might have become lady of Inter Lucus, except she had already died giving birth to Hereward’s father. Thus, the Mortanes of Hyacintho Flumen claimed that they were heirs to Inter Lucus and rightful lords between the lakes. There was a story in Down’s End that Hereward’s younger brother Wimund Mortane had ridden all the way to Inter Lucus and placed his hands on the lord’s knob, hoping to become a lord in his own right. But this happened eighty years after Thurwold Tirel’s death; the castle had already fallen into ruin. It was also said that when the ambitious Wimund returned to Hyacintho Flumen he was murdered in his sleep.
Hereward Mortane was descended from the Tirels and that, Rothulf concluded, made Alf a descendent of the Tirels. If, beyond all understanding, the magic of Inter Lucus had come back to life, the castle rightly belonged to Alf, not some wizard usurper. Rothulf defiantly insisted that it was only proper for him to distract Marty while Alf slipped into Inter Lucus to bond with the lord’s knob.
Marty kept ten-year-old Alf in the castle, where his burned hands could be kept clean and bandaged, and he forbade Rothulf to communicate with his brother. But otherwise Marty did not punish Rothulf. The older brother used his freedom to tell his story to anyone from Senerham and Inter Lucus who would listen. Alf, not Martin Cedarborne, should be lord, he said. The villagers very sensibly pointed out that Lord Martin had bonded with the castle while Alf had not. And after Marty’s midsummer party, Rothulf had disappeared from the area.
With autumn, Rothulf had returned between the lakes. Men coming to Inter Lucus to pay hidgield reported seeing him; some said they suspected him of thievery. Now Erna Cnud had caught him trying to steal pork from the Cnuds’ salt house, and Hors Cnud was accusing him of attempted rape.
Priest Eadmar would still not set foot on castle property, so Marty and Caelin went out to the band of men with their prisoner. As usual, Marty took his walnut staff with him. Caelin carried a leather pouch and a polished flat board the size of a dinner plate. Marty took a seat on a stump across the road from Inter Lucus grounds.
Eadmar explained that he had brought an orphan from Down’s End, Agyfen, hoping to foster him with some family between the lakes. Marty acknowledged the boy’s presence, but the matter of Rothulf Saeric had to be managed first. Marty commanded Syg Alymar to take the rope from Rothulf’s neck, and everyone sat on the ground. Agyfen sat quietly next to the priest, his tiny leg touching Eadmar’s.
Hors Cnud rehearsed his accusations against Rothulf, and Syg Alymar confirmed that Erna Cnud said Rothulf had touched her inappropriately in the salt house. Everwin Idan reminded Marty of neighbors who thought someone had been stealing from their henhouses and barns; no one had actually seen Rothulf thieving, but it was common knowledge that Rothulf had practiced thievery in Down’s End. Marty noted Rothulf’s angry glare directed at Eadmar; in this case “common knowledge” rested on the priest’s testimony.
When his turn came, Rothulf denied as much as possible. He was not a thief; the accusations Priest Eadmar had heard against him in Down’s End were false. He hadn’t stolen anything from anyone between the lakes. It was true that Erna had found him in the salt house, but he had only taken refuge there because the nights were getting colder. He had told Erna that she was pretty, and she was friendly about it until Hors suddenly turned up.
Leaping to his feet, Hors Cnud interrupted angrily. “You lying sneak-thief! How dare you say that about Erna!” But Marty stood up and stepped in front of Hors. The red-haired man spun around and swung his fists at the air. “Yah!” But then he controlled himself and took his place on the ground between Everwin and Baldric.
“Caelin.” Marty held out his hand and received the wood tablet. “Paper and ink.” Caelin opened his pouch and produced two sheets of paper, a small clay jar of ink, and a goose feather quill. Sitting, Marty positioned the writing board and paper on his legs. Caelin unstoppered the ink jar and held it out so Marty could dip the quill.
Marty took notes while he spoke. Except for Caelin and Eadmar, the men present were taken aback. Writing was a rare skill on Two Moons, reserved for castle scribes and the wealthy elite of cities like Down’s End, Cippenham and Stonebridge. Yet here was a man who wrote easily, as a matter of course. Syg, Baldric, and Everwin traded wondering glances and nods.
“What do we know?” The goose quill made scratching sounds, which could be heard between Marty’s sentences. “Rothulf Saeric is accused of attempted theft of salted pork.” Scratch, scratch; he dipped the quill the ink jar frequently.
“He is also accused of attempted rape.” Scratch, scratch.
“There are other suspicions against him. But not accusations.”
More ink. “None of these things can be proved.” Hors Cnud almost interrupted, but Marty silenced his protest with a glare.
“He was not found with pork outside the salt house.” Scratch, scratch.
“Rothulf denies intending rape. No one says he actually tried to force Erna; perhaps Hors came to the salt house before he could.
“He has been guilty of theft before. Eadmar’s testimony settles that point.” Now Rothulf wanted to object, but thought better of it.
“He provoked Alf to invade Inter Lucus, exposing Alf to danger and injury.” At this point, Marty paused for a long while. He locked eyes with Rothulf until Saeric looked away.
“Rothulf Saeric has put himself in great danger.” Scratch, scratch. Now Saeric’s black eyes were questioning Marty.
“If people between the lakes catch Saeric thieving, they have my permission to whip him.” Vigorous nods from Hors, more careful acquiescence from Syg and Everwin.
More ink. “Rothulf Saeric needs honest work to do, to keep him out of trouble.” Scratch, scratch.
“Therefore, I order that: Rothulf Saeric will live here, in the woods near Inter Lucus. He will assist Priest Eadmar in building a Prayer House. Prayer House will have extra rooms, one for the priest and one for Saeric. Inter Lucus servants will bring him, and Priest Eadmar, meals as long as he stays here. He will report on his activities every day to me.”
Marty had to dip his quill repeatedly to write out his judgment.
“If Rothulf Saeric abandons this task before Prayer House is finished, Eadmar will report to me. I will declare him persona non grata between the lakes. If found he will be whipped and expelled from the area.”
Threatening a vagabond with public whipping. Is that the best you can think of, old man? Marty looked at the words on the paper and chewed his lip. What else can I do?
“Caelin, you’ve been practicing. Do you think you can copy this?” Marty pointed to the judgment. “Just the order part, from here to here. When you’ve copied it out, give it to Rothulf.”
“He can’t read it, my lord.”
“He deserves a copy anyway. Now Eadmar and I need to talk about this boy, Agyfen.”
63. Near the Mouth of the Blue River
Eudes Ridere knew nothing of warfare at sea, so he didn’t pretend to advise Gilles Guyot, captain of the Fair Wind, when the enemy sailed to meet them. All he could do was watch and hope.
The Fair Wind was one of twenty longships sailing as vanguard for the Herminian armada. The longships used sails when crossing the ocean, but in battle they relied on banks of oarsmen. With steel prows for ramming, archers, and swordsmen ready to fight ship to ship, the longships provided formidable protection for the forty fat cogs that made up the rest of the fleet. The cogs relied on sails for propulsion, no oarsmen, so they were slower and less maneuverable, but they were able to transport an army. Twenty of them carried five hundred men each: knights, squires, archers, pikemen, and swordsmen. The other twenty brought the paraphernalia of war: horses, food, weapons, tents, extra clothing, and many other things.
The success of the invasion depended not just on the size of Herminia’s army but also on its ability to sustain a siege over months, perhaps years. As Rudolf Grandmesnil’s “quartermaster general,” Eudes had perfected the art of the protracted siege, the only way to subdue a lord in his castle. Unfortunately, invading Tarquint greatly complicated the art of the siege, because the army had to be constantly re-supplied by ships. If the Tarquintians could defeat Herminia’s armada, Eudes’s invasion would fail before it started. But the greater worry was the sea-lane. Eudes was confident that once his army was ashore, he could occupy the town named Hyacintho Flumen and besiege the castle from which it took its name. Would the Tarquintians recognize his weakness, the long sea-borne supply line? Could the longships protect the Herminia’s supply ships over the long term?
Those questions must wait. At present Fair Wind was perhaps five miles from their goal. The forty cogs were spread out over three miles of water behind the longships. It was not yet noon, and Eudes hoped to put most of his army ashore before nightfall.
“Is good, yes?” Gilles Guyot pointed toward the harbor where the Blue River emptied into the sea. Several ships were moving toward the Fair Wind and the other longships. “They come out to us, and we crush them now!”
Eudes wasn’t so sure of this point. He had hoped that he might catch the Tarquintian ships docked at Hyacintho Flumen. His swordsmen and archers would make short work of sailors in an engagement on land. With no experience in battles between ships, Eudes couldn’t tell whether Guyot’s confidence was bluster or well founded.
“I am in your hands, Gilles. Bring my men safely to land. If you don’t, be sure I will cut your throat personally, if I have to swim the sea to do it.”
Guyot laughed loudly. “Do not fear, my general! Hoy, there! Vere, signal the captains! Battle formation!”
“Aye, Captain!” Vere De Fry was the first officer under Guyot on Fair Wind. He motioned to a sailor nearby and the two of them began waving red and black flags, signals that were acknowledged by flags on other longships.
Eudes counted only six ships sailing toward them. We vastly outnumber them. Do they really intend to fight? “Gilles! Do you think, perhaps, they want to talk rather than fight?”
“Is possible.” Guyot stroked his neatly trimmed beard; a few years before it had been black, but now it was streaked with gray. “But if they want to parley, why six ships? One would be enough. On the other hand, six is no match for twenty longships.”
Suddenly he wheeled around and ran to Fair Wind’s stern. “By the gods! Clever bastards, they are!”
Eudes did not see at first the cause of Guyot’s imprecations. The captain was already shouting new commands to Vere De Fry. King Rudolf, Storm Cloud, Herminia, Gods’ Breath, Vengeance, Iron Bones, Queen Mariel, Victorious, Sea Booty, and Winter Wind were directed to attack the ships lying between the fleet and the harbor. The other longships, including Fair Wind, began peeling back, turning toward the nearer Tarquintian shore.
What is the matter? Eudes scanned the shore; he saw nothing. Then he noticed what looked like a wine cask floating on the ocean, then another, and then many of them, all gathered around the mouth of a tiny river that emptied into the sea six miles west of Inter Lucus. Moving quickly among the casks were little boats, like nothing Eudes had ever seen. “What are they?” Eudes shouted over the sound of oarsmen grunting in unison and the archers calling out to each other.
“Sea kayaks,” Gilles Guyot shouted back. “Little boats, low in the water, damned hard to see. One-man boats. But the danger is the barrels. You see? Is liquid fire, or I’m a fish!”
Eudes had heard stories about liquid fire, supposedly a weapon invented in Horatia, a landmass east and south of Tarquint. Eudes found it hard to believe all the claims made about liquid fire, that it could destroy whole ships in minutes, that it stuck to a man’s skin and could not be extinguished, that it could float on water and still burn, and that the secret for making it was a closely guarded secret. In fact, rumors said, in Horatia two sects of alchemists concocted the ingredients for the fire, and neither knew the proportions by which a third group mixed the fire. But if the stories were even half true, and if Tarquintians could make it, the implications were terrible.
He grabbed Guyot’s arm. “Liquid fire? Here?” If the Tarquintians could attack his supply line with liquid fire, how could he sustain a siege?
“Aye. Clever, they are. Six ships sail from Hyacintho Flumen; we see them; longships destroy them. Meanwhile the fire burns Mariel’s army.”
“And the sea kayaks will set them burning? How?”
Guyot shrugged his arm free from Eudes’s grip. “How it works, I know not. Some say water sets the fire alight; break barrel—fire! Lit by kayak men, maybe so. Fire spreads on ocean, lights other barrels.”
The rowing drum beat a fast rhythm and Fair Wind raced toward the barrels, but another longship, the Lady Avice, ran ahead of her. Most of the sea kayaks began retreating to the shallow water along the shore. On Eudes’s right, the Ice Queen turned into the surf, pursing the kayak men. When Ice Queen crunched into the gravelly beach, swordsmen leaped into water that reached their thighs, rushing ashore to chase the kayak men.
Directly ahead, the last kayak delayed its flight; the kayak warrior threw some projectile at the nearest barrel but missed. Lady Avice bore down on him, archers preparing to shoot. Still the kayak warrior would not flee. He used his oddly shaped double paddle to drive his tiny craft toward the barrel; coming alongside, he hit the barrel with something, maybe a hatchet.
The barrel exploded, throwing phosphorescent fire into the mid-day air. The warrior who ignited it was tossed across the surface of the sea, his tiny boat blazing. Eudes had seen thousands killed in battle, but not many by self-immolation. What did he hope to achieve? Glory? Rewards in the afterworld?
Liquid fire shot out from the barrel in every direction, but it fell short of the other barrels. Some of the devilish brew struck the side of Lady Avice, and it clung to her, burning and threatening to light the ship. Men threw water on the fire to no effect; panic began to spread. But then two quick thinking men brought out an extra sail—dry canvas—and blanketed the flames, lowering the sail like a patch on the side of the ship. Other men immediately joined the effort, helping to hold the canvas in place and beating the flames with oars.
Lady Avice altered course, bearing away from the barrels of liquid fire. Gilles Guyot ordered Fair Wind’s oarsmen to slow their speed. Floating islands of liquid fire dotted the surface of the sea, burning brightly, some of them dangerously close to other barrels. Shouting a stream of commands to the helmsman, Guyot maneuvered Fair Wind between the fire and the closest barrel. Experienced men, sailors and soldiers alike, tightened frightened grips on ropes and swords.
“Touch it not!” Guyot shouted. Eudes thought this was the most unnecessary command ever uttered. Grown men held their breath as the deadly canister passed within three yards of Fair Wind’s side. “Our wake will push it away!”
Fair Wind passed on. Looking back, Eudes saw Guyot was right. The ripples of their wake widened the gap between the barrel and the fire. Fair Wind came about. The islands of liquid fire were burning themselves out; the fleet had escaped one threat.
Signals flew from ship to ship, confirming what the captains had already concluded, that they should steer clear of the barrels floating on the tide. The wind from the south was steady in the fall, said Gilles Guyot; it would drive the barrels onto the shore.
To surround castle Hyacintho Flumen, Eudes had planned from the beginning to occupy land west and south of the castle. He had thought to take the town first and march from there. In any case, the bulk of his army had to go that way since the cogs needed proper docks. But he could not let opportunity slip through his fingers. Through signals to the other ships he commanded swordsmen from Lady Avice, Superior and Fair Wind to join those from Ice Queen who had already gone ashore, a force of about 160 men. He put Aewel Penda in command. “Make camp; set sentries; hold the mouth of that little river,” he ordered Aewel. “I don’t want any more kayaks launching from there. And collect as many barrels of liquid fire as you can.”
“My lord general? You wish us to keep them?”
“By the gods, I do! You don’t have to sleep with them, but I want them protected! Archard will relieve you in two days or less. I promise.”
Aewel saluted. “It will be done.”
From Eudes’s point of view, the other half of the battle was anti-climactic. By the time Fair Wind had deposited Aewel and his swordsmen on shore, all of whom had to wade through thigh deep ocean water, the battle in the harbor was over. King Rudolf, Storm Cloud, Herminia, Gods’ Breath, Vengeance, Iron Bones, Queen Mariel, Victorious, Sea Booty, and Winter Wind overwhelmed the six Tarquintian ships. Three were rammed and sunk. Three were boarded and captured. The cogs sailed unhindered into the harbor and tied up at docks already controlled by swordsmen from the longships. The town’s garrison surrendered as soon as the swordsmen leapt from longship to pier.
All told, the Herminians suffered 28 deaths. Herminia’s captains didn’t bother to count the losses of the Tarquintians, neither at sea or on land, which angered Eudes. The quartermaster general valued such information. One day’s triumph, he reminded his officers, did not end the war. Certainly not if the enemy could make liquid fire.
Eudes Ridere had use of the best bed in The Rose Petal, a fine inn. But he didn’t sleep well.
64. In Castle Hyacintho Flumen
“So much for stopping the invader at sea! Damn cowards! Only one man willing to actually fight.”
Aylwin Mortane folded his arms, glaring at his three councilors, Arthur the old, his mother Lucia, and his wife Edita. They sat round a small table in the lord’s bedroom, the room where Lucia had given him birth, the room where Hereward Mortane had died ten weeks before, and the room where Edita cried every night. Morning sunshine fell through a window on the remains of breakfast, Aylwin’s portion mostly uneaten. Crisp rye bread with pungent white cheese, his favorite—yet he couldn’t enjoy it. Aylwin stood three paces behind his chair, chewing his lip. His councilors’ expressions invited him to sit, but his stomach was too tense. He began pacing.
“You can’t really blame them, can you?” Lucia spoke evenly. “Liquid fire has a nasty reputation. Especially now that they’ve seen what happened to Giffard.”
Aylwin ground his teeth. “The kayak men fled at the approach of the longships, before they ever saw the fire. Giffard was the only one with courage.”
Arthur the old sighed. “My lord, our attempt to use the liquid fire was disappointing, I’m sure. But we knew from the outset that our chances of success were small. The Herminians sent more than ten thousand men. At best our fire casks would have reduced their number by a fraction.”
“The Horatians have destroyed whole navies with liquid fire!” Aylwin continued to pace.
“On one occasion, celebrated in Horatian lore, one fleet was trapped in a harbor and ravaged by liquid fire,” said Arthur. “Other times, the fire has enabled smaller fleets to defeat larger ones. It is a powerful weapon, but I advised you plainly that it would not likely work as well in the open sea.”
Aylwin’s stomach hurt. Anger or fear? He changed topics. “The sheriffs also surrendered without a fight.”
Lucia motioned to the empty chair. “What would you have had them do? Emulate Druce Bowden? He fought bravely enough, but now he is dead along with a great many of his men, and his ships are sunk or captured. Hyacintho Flumen is whole. A battle for the town would have killed scores and left hundreds homeless.”
“My enemy rules my people, and I am supposed to be glad?”
Lucia’s eyes flashed with anger. “Of course not! But if you are to ever rule your people again, they must be alive. The Herminians will not stay forever. When they leave, what will be left? It will be better to rule a prosperous town than a heap of ashes.”
“That’s just it, isn’t it Mother? The Herminians do intend to stay forever, according to Edita. Tell them!”
Edita’s eyes fell immediately when Aylwin turned his glare at her. The pity or compassion Aylwin had felt when he first met Edita had long disappeared. By the gods! A crippled, weeping dishrag of a woman. If it weren’t for Juliana . . .
Edita spoke as if talking to her lifeless left hand. “King Rudolf conquered all the lords of Herminia one by one, besieging them until they submitted. Eudes Ridere, the king’s general, commanded the army while Rudolf stayed in Pulchra Mane. Ridere made them stand every week at the lord’s knob so that Rudolf could question them and command them.”
Arthur the old raised a finger. “My Lady Edita, only a strong lord, bonded well with his castle, can see and speak with other lords.”
Edita made a half smile. “That may be. My father never explained the mysteries of the lord’s knob to me. I do know that every week my father stood at his knob and talked with the king, though he never spoke to others. Perhaps the king’s bond with Pulchra Mane was strong enough to support the others.
“In any case, King Rudolf recognized free cities, answerable only to the king’s law. He required each lord to account for hidgield and pay one twentieth to the crown. When he died, Queen Mariel maintained all her father’s policies. She even took Eudes Ridere as her consort. My father and the lords and lady of Herminia submit to Mariel every week.”
Lucia started to speak, but Aylwin interrupted. “Damn it, Mother. Don’t say it.”
“You’re going to say it wouldn’t be so bad. All I need do is humiliate myself once a week and the Herminian bitch will let me keep my castle. All my decisions subject to her veto. Arthur’s records open for her to read. I won’t have it!”
Aylwin rounded the chair and sat, leaning forward on his elbows. “You know the price I pay to be lord of Hyacintho Flumen, Mother. I am trapped here as surely as a fly in a spider web. I’d rather be exiled like Milo than be locked here and subject to Mariel.
“I have been practicing with Parva Arcum Praesidiis and Magna Arcum Praesidiis.” Aylwin smirked at Arthur; his old teacher probably didn’t know Aylwin could pronounce castle words. Arthur certainly didn’t know how well Aylwin had bonded with Hyacintho Flumen. “I can make circle shields. What I need to know is how to use them to defeat this enemy.”
Arthur wrinkled his nose. “Can you move the shields?” He made a pressing motion with his hands, as if squeezing some invisible object between them.
“I’m sure of it.”
“Then you know the answer. When the enemy attacks, establish the shields, dividing the attacker into three groups. Crush the middle group between the shields. Destroy the inner group, which must be few in number, with soldiers housed in the castle. The enemy remaining outside Magna Arcum Praesidiis will be hesitant to attack a second time. Send an emissary to offer peace.”
Aylwin balled his fists. “As you say, I know all this. But my dear wife tells me it will not be enough.” Aylwin hadn’t let Lucia or Arthur see his disdain for Edita so clearly before. “The lords of Herminia knew how to make circle shields. Rudolf conquered them anyway. How do I defeat a siege?”
“Allies,” said Arthur. You must send emissaries to the free cities while you still have time, before the Herminians surround you.”
“The free cities? Not to Mare Sidere? Or Flores et Fructus? Wouldn’t other lords make common cause with me?”
Arthur grimaced. “They might. But if they did, what help could they send? A half dozen knights? Five hundred men? That is the most you could hope for, from even the richest lord. Lords stay in their castles, and they keep their men close at hand.”
“So you say. Rudolf sent his army to besiege every castle in Herminia. Mariel sends her army here.”
Arthur acknowledged Aylwin’s objection with a bow of his head. “Two Moons has never seen the likes of House Grandmesnil before. Still, I believe Cippenham, Stonebridge or Down’s End could send an army as big as Mariel’s. The free cities have far more men than any lord.”
Aylwin considered this advice. “How do I persuade free cities to fight for me? Such men don’t acknowledge castle lords. Many of them won’t even worship castle gods.”
To Aylwin’s surprise, it was Edita who answered. “Don’t ask them to fight for you. Ask them to fight with you. They will defend themselves; you must make them believe that your war is their war. It doesn’t matter if they worship the old god or castle gods. They don’t have to love you or acknowledge your rule. They only have to believe that Mariel would oppress them and that by fighting with you they avoid her boot.”
Aylwin tilted his head sideways, looking at Edita with pursed lips. “My dear wife speaks the truth, I believe. We will send emissaries to Down’s End and Stonebridge.”
Edita bowed her head. “Perhaps my lord husband would send me on this mission.”
Aylwin laughed aloud. “I think not, dear wife. You would not survive the journey. Besides, you need to stay here until I get a baby in you. Dag Daegmund can represent me. He can take a few men as escort.”
Arthur the old pressed his fingertips together. “My lord, there may be wisdom in Lady Edita’s suggestion.”
“Send my wife as ambassador?”
“No, my lord. Lady Edita is, as you point out, unfit for such a journey. But a member of House Mortane might impress the men of Down’s End more than an armsman. Lady Lucia could go. Or Amicia.”
Lucia objected forcefully: “Amicia is a child! She can’t negotiate for us.”
Aylwin looked slowly from his mother to Arthur. “A child who will soon be a woman,” he said. “I have thought to join her to a lord of a castle. But perhaps a mayor or city minister would see an advantage in marrying a Mortane.”
Lucia blanched. “You would barter my daughter to a merchant?”
“Of course I would. Mother, you were bartered to Hereward, and Edita was bartered to me. Would it be so much worse to be wife to a Down’s End banker? Rich houses have no castle magic, but there are servants to make life tolerable.”
Lucia inclined her head. “Consider well, my son. I am ready to speak for you. Amicia is young.”
“I will consider carefully, Mother. Perhaps you will both go.”
Arthur said, “My lord, we must also consider well our preparations within the castle. We must have constant watch. When an attack comes, you must be ready to command Parva Arcum Praesidiis and Magna Arcum Praesidiis within minutes. We must reserve, here in Hyacintho Flumen, enough men to repel any attackers inside Parva Arcum Praesidiis. But you must not house too many, for every defender must be fed. We must gather supplies, especially food, for every mouth, growing as much as possible within the circle shield. The longer we withstand the siege, the greater the difficulties of the besiegers.”
Aylwin nodded. “I will consult Kenelm Ash today about how many men. And I will consider the matter of ambassadors.”
A knock sounded on the lord’s bedroom door. Lady Lucia, still accustomed to the role of mistress of Hyacintho Flumen, spoke loudly: “Who is it? Come!”
The door disappeared, sliding into the wall. Dag Daegmund was there. “What is it?” asked Aylwin.
“My lord, the Herminians have sent an envoy.”
65. In Stonebridge
Derian Chapman came to the Citadel on a fall morning, two days after Milo told Commander Tondbert about Ody Dans’s bizarre abuse of Tilde Gyricson. Milo had waited a day, letting the import of Tilde’s testimony sink into Tondbert’s scheming mind. He planned to suggest to the commander how convenient it would be to move a woman who had such damning accusations against Ody Dans within the walls of the City Guard fortress. It would be best, of course, if Tondbert imagined that this idea was his own.
When Milo knocked on the commander’s door, it opened to reveal Derian sitting at ease in a chair opposite Tondbert’s desk. The commander motioned Milo to another chair and sat behind the desk, after shutting the door.
“Fair morning, Sir Milo.” Derian’s brown hair had been cut short and neatly brushed. Clean-shaven, he looked healthy and confident, his blue eyes fixed on Milo. “Commander Tondbert has been telling me about your fine service to Stonebridge these last three months. You’ve made yourself quite indispensable.”
Milo inclined his head in greeting and lowered himself into the chair. “Fair morning, Derian. May I ask, just out of curiosity, where the gods have taken you? The last I saw you we had barely escaped with our lives from Gaudy’s Tavern.”
“Ha ha! Indeed. I owe you my life, Sir, and I won’t forget it.” Derian’s smile gave way to thoughtfulness. “The answer is: I’ve been out of Stonebridge. As a dutiful under-sheriff, today I report back to the commander, since I’ve come home.”
Abroad from Stonebridge for three months? “Details, Derian. I don’t suppose you want to say precisely what you’ve been doing.”
“Oh, I don’t mind at all.” Derian grinned at Commander Tondbert. “I made a long circuit of the great downs: castles Saltas Semitas, Auria Prati, and Lata Altum Flumen. Finally I came round to the city by East Lake, Down’s End. Along the way I also sighted Eclipsis Lunaris, but it is a ruin, as you know.”
Milo was genuinely surprised. “Gods! A thousand miles in the saddle! Alone?”
“Of course not,” said Derian. “Ingwald Freeman was my guard.”
“Naturally. To what end did you make this journey?”
“More than one purpose, actually,” said Derian. “My uncle thought it wise to get me out of Stonebridge for a while after Gaudy’s Tavern, and he needed a postboy. He had me carry letters to the Le Grants of Saltas Semitas, the Postels of Auria Prati, and the Asselins of Lata Altum Flumen. Don’t look so surprised. Uncle Ody doesn’t spend all his time reviewing business contracts or torturing young brides. He corresponds with castle lords all over the western half of Tarquint. Unfortunately, I do not know what his letters said, but you can be sure they seek to promote the power and influence of Stonebridge. My uncle is a farseeing man.”
Tondbert noted Milo’s surprised expression at the words “torturing young brides.” The commander said, “Sir Milo, you should know that Ody Dans’s crimes against Adelgar and Tilde Gyricson are not his first. Derian has reported murders and other outrages at The Spray. I find this information valuable. You may ask why I do not use such testimony to move against Dans. The answer is that I love my city. Ody Dans, depraved sadist that he is, is quite effective in representing the interests of the city in our dealings with castle lords. And—he supports the Citadel budget; of all the voices in the Assembly I can count on Dans. So he is a useful criminal.”
Milo inclined his head.
“There was a second purpose to my tour of the downs,” said Derian. “A commercial purpose. I took with me three dozen bottles of Stonebridge’s best sweet white wine, which I shared with the lords and ladies I visited. Castle lords live in luxury hard for ordinary people to imagine. Gods! I forget! Sir Milo, having grown up in Hyacintho Flumen, you know well what I mean. Lady Arbe Asselin, Simon Asselin’s wife, let me bathe in a magic tub when I visited Lata Altum Flumen—my uncle Ody has nothing to rival that! But they eat and drink the foods grown locally. Lots of beef and mutton and beer. Not bad beer, by the way! But when they tried our white wine, with a touch of apricot, they tasted paradise.”
Milo smiled. “And so . . .?”
“So they must wait until spring. I’m not going to haul a wagon of wines across the downs in autumn. Snow comes early at Lata Altum Flumen! But there are also thirsty throats in Down’s End, and that’s only a few days away, as the wagons roll. Uncle Ody has lent me golds to buy and store wine, reds as well as whites. I’ll hire out a couple wagons and take them to Down’s End. The profit will be modest, but I explained to Uncle Ody how I’ll reserve a third of my purchase for next spring. I should get excellent returns from the Le Grants, Postels, and Asselins.”
“An ambitious plan,” said Milo. “And likely well-paying.”
“I hope so, for my sake. My uncle expects me to turn profits. But now, Milo, your dealings! Tondbert says you rescued Tilde Gyricson.”
Milo held his palms out. “The commander speaks kindly. Felix Abrecan and I prevented her, in a moment of despair, from throwing herself into River Broganéa. Felix suggested a place where Tilde might stay.”
“In Laura Camden’s house,” Tondbert added. “You speak too modestly, under-sheriff Milo. By the way, shouldn’t we make you sheriff soon? You obtained my permission for Mistress Gyricson to work here in the Citadel, keeping her largely from the public eye, without telling me much about her. Clever of you.”
“Ah, Commander! About that . . .”
Tondbert interrupted with a raised palm. “You need not apologize. You hadn’t learned to trust me then as you do now.” Tondbert smiled indulgently. Milo thought: You imagine that I trust you? Surely you know better than that!
The commander continued, “We all can agree that Tilde Gyricson ought to be protected. If ever I have to bring charges against Master Dans, her testimony would corroborate that of others. So I have decided to house her here, out of the public eye, in a room on the second floor of the Citadel. The men will undoubtedly see that there is a, ah, relationship between you and the cleaning woman. All to the good. The men like you, and they will not trouble Mistress Gyricson, knowing that she is yours.”
Milo smiled conspiratorially. “If the commander suggests such a pleasant plan, who am I to object? Will you tell the woman, or should I?”
Tondbert grinned. “I expect you will see her before I do. See that she’s moved here soon. The less the world knows of her existence the safer she will be from Ody Dans.”
“I understand that, sir. The woman herself is concerned that Adelgar Gyricson not discover her whereabouts. Perhaps we should call our cleaning woman Daisy, a fitting name for a washerwoman.”
“Fine. Introduce her to the men as Daisy.”
Daisy Freewoman took up residence on the second floor of the Citadel of the City Guard on a cold, windy, wet day in October. As she went about her work, she typically wore a poorly mended russet kirtle, mismatched hose, and a ratty shawl. Her hands were often red, almost raw, from long days of scrubbing. Some of the new under-sheriffs told each other that Daisy would have been pretty if life had treated her better. But word quickly spread that she was already taken; Sheriff Milo often visited her cell after sup.
A crisp aroma captured Milo and Felix on a sunny afternoon. They had finished their morning and afternoon rounds as sheriffs; this outing was for pleasure, visiting shops, mills, glassworks, forges, smiths, and the like—the productive heart of Stonebridge. It was the smell of apples; Felix gestured to Milo, and they followed a farmer’s wagon laden with bushels of red apples.
The wagon master guided his team into a medium sized wood building. Surprisingly loud sounds were coming from somewhere inside the warehouse. Milo nodded to his companion and they followed the wagon out of the bright afternoon into interior shade. Milo blinked several times until his eyes adjusted to the dimness. Two youths, younger than Eádulf, had begun carrying the bushels from the wagon into an adjoining room; the grinding sound was coming from there.
“Cider pressing.” Felix almost had to shout. By leaning near their horses’ necks they could see into the next room without dismounting. Milo saw a man cranking a metal flywheel while the two youths threw apples into the maw of a toothed spindle box.
“Ah!” Milo had never seen such a contraption before. Below the spindle box shredded apple bits fell into a tub.
Suddenly Milo’s attention diverted from the process of cider pressing. He swung down from the saddle. “Hold Blackie a bit, will you, Felix?” Without waiting for his partner’s reply, Milo walked into the cider pressing room. A man stood on the far side of the press, his tunic protected by a body-length leather apron. Bits of apple pulp and drops of apple juice decorated his apron.
“Adelgar Gyricson!” Milo shouted over the noise of the cider press. The man looked up, frowned for a moment, and then motioned to one of the boys feeding apples into the grinder. He beckoned Milo with a wave through a further doorway into a small room outfitted as an office. He shut the door, reducing the sound from the grinder room significantly.
“Sir Milo Mortane of Hyacintho Flumen! I remember you. I’d offer my hand, but it’s sticky.”
“Fair afternoon, Adelgar.” Milo extended his hand and Gyricson took it. “You’ve moved into industry, I take it. No more selling lumber in Down’s End.”
“Hah! Not by preference, I assure you. There is no one so pathetic as a merchant without credit. I fear Ody Dans has attached a dark cloud to my name; none of the bankers will underwrite my proposals.”
“I’m sorry to hear it,” said Milo. “I myself have become a sheriff of Stonebridge. We all have to earn our keep.”
“Sheriff!” Gyricson’s interest was evident. “Could you help me find Tilde? I’ve never seen her since that awful night.”
Milo knew this question would come. “Find her? But Dans demanded only two weeks.” He hoped his feigned ignorance convinced Gyricson.
“She never came home.” Gyricson looked stricken. “I asked a sheriff for help, but he didn’t offer much hope.”
“I fear the Guard spends most of its time keeping the Hawks and Falcons from slaughtering each other and burning the Bene Quarter,” said Milo. “But I promise I will watch for Tilde. Such a beautiful woman! By the way, you should be on your guard. Your testimony against Ody Dans could destroy him.”
Gyricson shook his head. “Not likely. I spoke to Commander Tondbert. He told me plainly that if I filed a complaint against Dans, the Guard could not guarantee my safety.”
“I’m very sorry. Nevertheless, I will keep my eyes and ears open. If I discover anything about Tilde, you will be the first to know.”
66. In Stonebridge
Derian Chapman found time to visit the Citadel daily, though his main business was bargaining for wines in the hills east of Stonebridge. It was widely acknowledged (in Stonebridge, anyway) that the best wines of Tarquint came from the south-facing hillside vineyards near Stonebridge. Derian’s visits gave Milo opportunity to talk with the merchant, and he offered to ride as escort for Derian’s wine wagons when they set out for Down’s End. Chapman eagerly accepted; he went to Commander Tondbert to gain approval for Milo’s absence from Stonebridge. Milo and Derian agreed that the wagons should leave Stonebridge as soon as Derian had made his purchases.
Milo had about a week to carry out his plan.
A quarter mile separated Wilene Strong’s brothel from the burial field. She had the temerity to call her house Stonebridge’s Finest, and the bar where Wilene served drinks prominently displayed four glass bottles of vintage rosé. These bottles were never opened; patrons of Stonebridge’s Finest drank beer or hard cider. In any case, customers didn’t tarry long in the small barroom at the front of the house. They chose a companion from among Madame Strong’s young women (there were always four or five hanging about the bar) and took her to one of the well-appointed bedrooms that opened off the house’s long hallway.
Milo and Felix Abrecan entered Stonebridge’s Finest at the end of their morning round. This was not unusual; Madame Strong welcomed occasional visits from sheriffs and under-sheriffs. She said it gave her girls a sense of security.
Madame Strong set out two clay cups. “Fair morning, sirs. Beer or cider? A free drink for those as protects the laws.” This too was normal.
Two of the women in the barroom had come toward the doorway as Milo and Felix entered—ready to please customers. But now they recognized the visitors as men of the city guard; the young women reseated themselves in chairs scattered in the barroom.
“Cider today,” Felix answered. Milo nodded his agreement. He sipped cautiously; too often the cider in the Finest was vinegary. He surveyed the room.
Milo set his cup on the bar and walked to one of the women. Black hair and pale white skin. “Excuse me, miss, what is your name?”
“They call me Cyrten.” The prostitute wiggled her shoulders to emphasize her breasts.
“As well they should. You’re quite pretty, Cyrten.” The face isn’t quite the right shape, but that won’t matter. “Stand up, girl.”
Cyrten stood, bringing her eyes almost level with Milo’s. Almost exactly as tall as Tilde. Milo said, “You’re even prettier close up, Cyrten. But, unfortunately, I’m working this morning. Felix and I have to report back to the Citadel.” He leaned close and touched her hip. “After sup, I’ll come and take you for a walk. How would that be?”
Cyrten smirked. “Unfortunately, after sup I’ll be working. Madame Strong keeps us girls busy.”
“I quite understand. Madame Strong will be compensated for your time.”
The woman’s black eyebrows bunched. “A walk?” She looked to Wilene Strong, who nodded her approval. “All right then.”
Milo and Felix took their leave of Stonebridge’s Finest.
“Why do you want a whore?” Felix and Milo rode close enough for casual conversation. “Getting tired of the washerwoman, Daisy?”
Milo had no intention of telling Felix the truth. “Daisy’s blood started yesterday. I figure if I let her be a few days, she’ll be happier. And this way I can get outside the Citadel for a couple hours. Don’t you feel boxed in sometimes, spending every night in a fortress?”
Felix thought, then shrugged. “Mostly I’ve been glad to have a roof and hot meals. ’cept for Tondbert almost getting a body killed, the Guard’s been an improvement in my life. I figure if I stay close to Milo Mortane, I might even survive Tondbert’s next bit of stupidity.”
“You flatter me, Felix.”
“Gods no. Most the men in the Guard envy me, ’cause I ride rounds with you. They’re hoping that when you get back from Down’s End, you’ll choose a different partner.”
Milo was taken aback. “We’re supposed to be friends. Don’t jest.”
“I’m serious as a father-in-law, Sir. Hrodgar Wigt and Bryce Dalston have all the men’s respect. But they aren’t knights. They didn’t grow up in a castle.”
“Castle born, castle soft.” Milo repeated the proverb.
“People do say that, Sir. Out of ignorance and envy, I figure. The truth: castle knights have the best armor, the best swords, and the best training. Sir Milo Mortane rides out into the world, where he’s not protected by magic, and he relies on his own sword and his own brains. You’re the best man in the Guard. We all know it.”
Milo shook his head, pondering this. Then he spoke the honest truth. “You may believe what you like, Felix, but I know quite well I am not the best in the Guard. There are braver men than me, and some who are better fighters—or would be if they had armor as good as mine. I left Hyacintho Flumen because I had no choice; it was either that or give obeisance to my detestable brother. Nevertheless I thank you; I would like to live up to the honor you do me.”
Gray clouds swept in from the southwest. Felix and Milo made their afternoon circuit of the Bene Quarter in air that felt colder by the hour. Milo pulled the collar of his coat tight against his neck.
A scream sounded from the mouth of one of the Bene Quarter’s shadowy alleys just as the riders reached it. They stopped. Another scream. The woman couldn’t be far off. “Damn!” Felix looked to Milo. “Some Bene bitch fighting her man. If we go to help, as like she’ll turn on us!”
Milo swung down from the saddle. “Hold Blackie. I’ll see what it is.”
“We go together.” Felix dismounted and quickly tied both mounts’ reins to a porch post. The partners drew their swords.
Ten yards into the alley they heard another scream, very close, above their heads. In the rapidly darkening alley they saw an open upstairs window in the building on their right. Just past the window, an entrance from the alley. Milo tried the door—locked. Bodies slammed into the walls above them; the door handle shook in Milo’s hand. He rammed his shoulder into the door, breaking the flimsy lock.
Sheriff and under-sheriff entered a dirt floor room with no light except that from the broken door behind them. A cot lined one wall. Several boxes were stacked along another. The ceiling shook; more sounds of fighting above them. Sword pointed ahead, Milo squeezed along a passage to the foot of a staircase, turned, and started up. He could see Felix’s eyes in the dark. “Here’s your chance to stay close,” he whispered. He charged up the stairs and threw open the door to the upstairs room with Felix right behind him.
Dim light showed a man’s back, covered with matted black hair, thicker than Milo had ever seen or imagined. He was completely naked, a woman lying under him, his massive hands squeezing her neck. So intent was he on doing murder, the man knew nothing of Milo’s arrival until Milo stabbed him. By fate or chance, the castle steel sword with its perfectly sharp tip slipped neatly between the murderer’s ribs and penetrated through him. Milo jerked it out, slicing the man’s internal organs as he did so. The hairy man collapsed onto his victim with a quiet “ugh.”
Felix stepped around Milo and rolled the heavy male body off of the woman. Blood was soaking her tunic above her right breast where Milo’s sword had cut her. The woman’s eyes were staring fixedly at the ceiling. Sheriff and under-sheriff knelt over her. Felix shut the victim’s eyes. “Look at the neck. She was dead before your blade touched her, Sir.” Bruises on the neck spoke of a crushed windpipe.
“I think you are right, Felix.” The woman’s dark hair and bloodless skin reminded Milo of Tilde. He straightened her legs. About the right height too.
“I did the stabbing. I get to pick.” Milo sheathed his sword and hoisted the dead woman over his shoulder. Under her tunic she was skinny and light—a good thing, since the stairs and hallway were so narrow. “You get the brute.”
“Impossible. I could never carry him.”
“Roll him out the window then. We’ll leave him in the alley and send a cart tomorrow.”
Staggering under his load, Milo made it around the turn at the foot of the stairs, through the dirt floor room and out the door. Rain was starting. The alley provided a little more space, letting him straighten up. To Milo’s relief, Felix’s horse and Blackie were still tied where they left them. Milo draped the woman’s body over Blackie’s saddle, wondering if he would have to go back to help Felix. The rain was coming down hard now. It might be impossible to maneuver the naked murderer through the window. As if in answer to this worry, he heard a “womp” sound, as the heavy body struck the ground. Milo was still securing the woman to Blackie when Felix arrived at a run, panting.
“Gods! What a load a dead man is!”
Milo finished tying the body in place. “You managed it?”
“Tell you what, Felix. I’ve got this body to deal with. Why don’t you go to Stonebridge’s Finest after sup? Take my place with Cyrten.”
“What would I do?”
“The weather rules out a walk, so buy her sup, or take her to bed. I don’t care. I’ll be at the burial house.” Milo gestured at the body. “Somehow, after this, I don’t feel much like having a woman.”
Felix climbed into saddle. He was still breathing hard, blowing rain water from his face. “I think I will. A dry room and a warm bed would suit me. Will you be safe?”
Milo took Blackie’s reins, looked up and down the avenue. Not a soul; the wind threw rain in dark waves against Stonebridge’s buildings. “I can’t think of a safer time to walk the streets of our city. Who wants to come out? Besides, who would want to steal a body?” Milo touched Felix’s horse’s mane. “Tell Cyrten she’s a lucky woman.”
67. In Stonebridge
Four days later, Derian Chapman told Milo his purchases were complete. Two wagons of carefully packed wine bottles would be ready to leave the following day.
Milo and Derian shared a table in Citadel refectory, where Derian had found Milo to deliver his news. “I can be ready as early tomorrow as you like,” Milo said. “Today there’s some business I need to attend to. Unless you need to supervise the loading, I would welcome your help.”
“Oswy Wodens knows all about packing a load. He doesn’t need me.” Derian drank the last of his mug; weak beer was a morning staple in the Citadel. “What is your business, and what assistance can I offer?”
“I’ll explain on the way. Ah! Just the man. Felix!”
Felix Abrecan stopped just inside the entry to the refectory. “Sir Milo?”
“Master Chapman and I leave for Down’s End tomorrow. Can you take Aidan Fleming round this morning?”
Felix tilted his head. “Aye, Sir. Should we fetch the man?” He looked as if he were ready to bolt out the door.
Milo laughed. “Get yourself some food, man. No rush. If you get him there an hour before noon, that will be fine.”
“Thank you, Sir.”
“Fetch the man?” Derian asked. “Who?”
“Patience. You’ll see.”
Once they were in the street, Derian said, “You’ve got to be more careful, Milo.”
Milo glanced questioningly.
“Your partner, Felix, defers to you too readily. He’s not the only one. Somehow you’ve turned sheriffs and under-sheriffs of the Stonebridge City Guard into Milo Mortane devotees. Tondbert will notice. The Commander of the Guard is a jealous and dangerous man.”
Milo considered Derian’s advice. “Not much I can do about it now, since I’ll be gone three weeks starting tomorrow. But I’ll warn Felix when I get back.”
Milo turned at an intersection toward the northwest part of Stonebridge. Ody Dans’s estate, The Spray, could be seen on a hill ahead of them. Derian slowed for a moment, then jogged to catch up to Milo. “Where are you taking me? What is this all about?”
“I need to see your uncle. If you are present, it will help me get past Ingwald.”
“Damn, Milo! What’s this about? You can’t just barge in on Uncle Ody.”
Milo kept marching. “I think he’ll welcome what I have to say. In fact, I think he will want to confirm what I say by a personal inspection.”
“Personal inspection! Of what?”
“The body of Tilde Gyricson.”
“What are you talking about?” Derian was puffing to keep up with Milo. “Has something happened? Just yesterday I saw . . .”
“Daisy Freewoman. Just yesterday you saw Daisy Freewoman. Every sheriff and under-sheriff in the Citadel knows Daisy. There’s not a one of them who ever saw Tilde Gyricson. Now you and I—we saw Tilde at an exquisite sup at The Spray. Do you remember what she looked like, Derian?”
“What game are you playing, Milo?”
Slowing his pace a little, Milo looked Derian in the eye. “This is only a move in the game. I’m playing defense right now, to create some space for maneuver. The game is the only one worth playing in Stonebridge. It’s called Power. Your uncle is very good at it, so we have to be careful.”
Chapman didn’t speak for several minutes. They had almost reached The Spray when he said, “Milo, if you make Uncle Ody your enemy, I’ll be in a damned difficult position between you and him.”
“Don’t worry, Derian. I want Ody Dans as an ally. If today’s business goes as I hope, our alliance will be strengthened. In any case, you owe me your life. If you ever have to choose, I advise you to side with me.”
Ingwald Freeman met them at the entrance to The Spray. “Master Dans is not expecting guests.”
“Fair morning, Ingwald.” Milo noted the guard’s short sword, sheathed on a belt. Milo kept his hand from straying to his sword hilt; he had no need to emphasize the fact that he too was armed. “Actually, this morning I am not a guest. I come as a sheriff, on business for the City Guard.”
Ingwald raised a brow. “And Master Derian?”
“Damn it, Ingwald. I’m an under-sheriff. We’re here on important business. I came along when Sheriff Mortane told me about it.” Chapman let his voice express just enough irritation.
Ingwald Freeman let them into the room at the top of the house. On an autumn day the thick stone walls were winter cold. “Wait here.” The soldier disappeared down a corridor.
Derian sniffed. “Wait here. As if I don’t know my way around The Spray.”
“Patience, my friend.” Milo touched the wall. The stone was wet with condensation; moisture ascended on air from lower, warmer floors of The Spray.
Inga came trotting. “Master Dans will see you in his office. You may follow me.” When they reached the door to Ody Dans’s place of business, Inga bowed and hurried away. Derian knocked.
Derian pushed the door open and motioned Milo to go ahead. Ody Dans’s pink head was bowed over a parchment with words and symbols arranged in columns. Dans looked up. “Fair morning, Sheriff Mortane.”
“Fair morning, Master Dans.” Milo stopped only inches from Dans’s desk, towering over the round-faced man.
The bland face ignored Milo’s provocation. “And my nephew as well.”
“Fair morning, uncle.”
Ody Dans folded his hands and leaned back to better look up at Milo. “Ingwald says you come on important business of the Guard. Most of what Tondbert thinks is important really isn’t, so I hope you’re not wasting my time. I have work to do.”
Milo inclined his head. “Commander Tondbert does not know I have come. I would not presume to claim your time for trivial matters.”
Dans’s frown looked almost like pouting. “What is it, then?”
“A woman’s body. She will go into the pauper’s burial field today, unless—it is the body of Tilde Gyricson, if I am correct. The last time I saw this woman, she was alive and standing by you, Master Dans. I got the impression on the night of your party that she would rather die than go back to her husband.”
Dans rubbed the white beard that edged his jaw. “Am I being accused?”
“Not at all.” Milo raised palms to signal his pacific intentions. “But we are not absolutely sure the body is that of Mistress Gyricson. I ask for your help in identifying it.”
“Speak to her husband.” Dans waved his hand, as if shooing an insect.
“Mistress Gyricson never returned home. You have seen her, in the days after your dinner party, more recently than Adelgar. I believe her agreement was to stay with you for two weeks?”
Dans’s lips formed a tight line. “She agreed to pay her husband’s debt by staying as my guest. I know it may sound strange, to offer free lodging in exchange for a debt, but I was feeling generous that night. The woman stayed two weeks, and when she left my house she was well and completely unharmed.”
Milo nodded. “Of course. I remind you that you are not accused of any wrongdoing. But since you are the last—that we know of—to see her alive, I thought you could help us in identifying the body.”
Dans frown-pouted again. “Why should it be hard to identify?”
“I’m afraid this body was dead for some days before sheriffs took custody of it. To tell the truth, it was found in the Bene Quarter. It’s possible that Tilde Gyricson took up residence in the Bene after her stay in The Spray. According to her husband, she never returned home. We will, of course, also ask Master Gyricson to look at the body. But identification may depend on the woman’s clothing and other items as much as physical appearance. May I ask, Master Dans, if you noticed any personal items missing from your house after Mistress Gyricson left?”
Dans’s expression remained as bland as ever, but he paused before replying. “I’m sure Inga or Aisly would have told me if they missed anything.”
Milo thought he heard a bit of doubt in Dans’s tone. Set the hook and haul him in. “Perhaps I was mistaken then. It’s been months since Mistress Gyricson was your guest. Most likely, if she had taken anything of value, she would have sold it already.” Milo made a little bow and turned as if to leave.
“Oh, hell. Now you’ve got me curious.” Ody Dans pushed back from the desk. “I’ll get a coat and come with you. Some exercise would do me good anyway.” He pulled open a wide drawer and carefully positioned the parchment in it. Milo leaned close as if to look at the document. “Excuse me!” said Dans. Milo stepped back quickly, bumping into a bookcase. Dans slowly slid the drawer shut. Neither Dans nor Derian noticed Milo steadying himself with his hand on the bookshelf.
With Ody Dans setting the pace, the three men walked downhill from The Spray much slower than Milo and Derian had walked up. Ody Dans and Derian Chapman reviewed the nephew’s plans for his trip to Down’s End. The uncle was pleased to hear that Milo Mortane would ride along as guard for Derian and his wagons. They reached the stone building next to the pauper’s field in the late morning. Felix Abrecan and Aidan Fleming had not yet arrived. The gap-toothed crone who prepared bodies for burial met them outside the door. She had forced a brush through her gray hair and tied it behind her head, making herself look somewhat less witch-like.
“Fair morning, my lords.” The woman bowed them into the preparation house. “Got ’er in ’ere.”
The body lay white-shrouded on a sturdy wood table. A strong smell of lye masked other odors. Ody Dans stepped close. “How are we supposed to identify a body that has been masked and shrouded?” He picked up an arm. “By her hands? Did she wear a ring?”
“She did, my lord,” announced the burial woman. “Look close at ’er finger. Course it’s gone now.”
Dans frowned. One of the body’s fingers showed where a ring had been worn. “Take off the head shroud.”
“I want to see the face.”
The burial woman rolled up the head shroud beginning at the neck, moving slowly. Milo wondered at the special gentleness displayed to a dead person, then realized that if the shroud were pulled back too brusquely, it would take rotting flesh with it. While the woman worked with the shroud, the door opened. Adelgar Gyricson entered, Felix behind him. Felix nodded to Milo and nudged Adelgar forward. Gyricson had washed but hadn’t had time to change his clothes. He smelled of apples, an odd juxtaposition with the odor of lye.
“Oh gods.” Gyricson’s words were less an imprecation than a sigh.
The body had black hair and black eyebrows that could have been Tilde’s. But the rest of the face was a mixture of decaying flesh and exposed bone. For three days after he took possession of the body, Milo had kept it hidden in a cellar with the torso wrapped so that rodents could only access the face and feet. He judged that the body’s hands resembled Tilde’s close enough to pass, so he had protected them. The result was a body that looked like Tilde Gyricson in all the parts still whole.
“Cover it up.” Ody Dans turned to Milo. “You were right about identifying the face, Sheriff Milo. This could be any woman. Of course, Master Gyricson would be familiar with the body. Perhaps he would like to examine that.”
Gyricson was weeping. He shook his head.
Dans continued: “In that case this body could be any woman found in the Bene. She goes into the pauper’s field.”
Milo knelt to a box at the end of the table. “There were a couple items found with this woman.” He laid a pair of fine lady’s shoes on the shrouded form, made of red leather. Against the white shroud the red was almost garish. “You may think you recognize these; I remember Mistress Gyricson wearing something like them at Master Dans’s house. But we should be careful; they may not be the same shoes.”
Gyricson cleared his throat. “Inside the left shoe, two letters: T and G.”
“I didn’t know that.” Milo kept his face plain. He looked at the left shoe, then handed it to Ody Dans who passed it to Gyricson. The young husband wept again. “Oh gods. Tilde. Oh gods.”
Milo had knelt to the box while Dans and Gyricson looked at the shoes. “There was only one other thing. This was found inside the woman’s tunic. As a sheriff I’ve learned that women often have a secret pocket.” He laid a thin, leather-covered object on the white shroud. Dans snatched it up.
“It’s mine!” Dans unfolded the leather cover, revealing a few pages of dry paper. He quickly satisfied himself that no pages were missing. “Where did you get this?”
Internally Milo exulted. Apparently I lucked onto something he values. “As I said, Master Dans, it was found on this body.”
For once Dans’s round face was a study in anxiety, followed by relief. He swallowed. “It’s mine. As you guessed, Mistress Gyricson must have taken it while she was my guest. That makes her a thief.” The bland face returned. “But we need not speak ill of the dead. I have my papers back, and whole. Tilde Gyricson need not go into the pauper’s field, if her husband can pay for a proper burial.”
Gyricson merely stared at the shrouded body, weeping.
“Hah! In that case . . . here.” Ody Dans put some coins into the burial preparation woman’s hand. “See that she goes into her own hole, in the west cemetery.”
68. On the Grounds of Castle Inter Lucus
How do you recruit a police force? Or is it an army? Or a revenue service? Apparently, they all consist of “sheriffs.”
Abrecan Landman, a leather worker in the village and a friend of Everwin Idan, had suggested that men fight with swords—wooden swords, of course—and that the winners become Lord Martin’s first sheriffs. Marty would have laughed off this idea except that his councilors Syg Alymar and Elne Penrict thought it perfectly rational. Syg and Elne were probably the most respected men in Inter Lucus and Senerham, respectively, so Marty knew he had to take their opinions seriously. Sheriffs have to be able to fight, they said. Maybe. But I’d take intelligence and integrity over martial talent any day. Give me someone like Caelin, but five or ten years older.
Marty needed a constabulary, whatever it was to be called. Many of the folk between the lakes had journeyed willingly to Inter Lucus to pay hidgield. But Caadde Bycwine and Torr Ablendan assured him that many others, easily the majority of the outlying farmers and a good number of people from Inter Lucus and Senerham, had not.
Caadde and Torr explained the mindset of many: If the tax collector came calling, most would pay readily enough. But they would not go out of their way to pay hidgield to a castle lord. After all, for three generations they had paid tax to the Mortanes of Hyacintho Flumen only when that lord sent a knight between the lakes. The new lord of Inter Lucus might have to defend his claims against the Mortanes’; a body wouldn’t want to pay hidgield to one side or the other only to have that side lose!
As much as Marty liked calling on homes and farms, it would be impossible, even if he bought a horse, to personally visit all the residents between the lakes. Caadde said he would need at least two mounted sheriffs to assess every farm before winter’s snows. So that was the goal: find two honest men who will be loyal to me and intelligent enough to collect hidgield fairly.
It seemed to Marty that the ability to fight with swords was hardly a priority. Nevertheless, on the advice of his councilors, he was now to judge mock sword fights.
When the word went out, a half-dozen men had come forward to be sheriffs. Marty sent two away immediately: the simpleton, Bill, who lived in a barn and stacked wood and carried water for the widow Leola Alymar; and Dun Thorson, a twelve-year-old son of the Senerham farmer-merchant Cnud Thorson. Marty interviewed the other four and took notes.
Ealdwine Smithson. Son of Senerham barrel maker. 18 years old. A blond, blue-eyed Viking with bad teeth.
Leo Dudd. Senerham farm family. 21. Skinny. Black hair, dark eyes, full beard.
Os Oswald. Inter Lucus. Intimidate by size alone, if necessary. 20 years old; could play offensive tackle for Notre Dame.
Elfric Ash. A forester from up north, on the East Lake shore. (Do they all name themselves for trees?) 25; scruffy beard. Black hair. Lean build; probably stronger than he looks.
Not one of them can read or write. Can they learn at this age?
Thank God for paper and ink!
The sword fight space had been created on the edge of castle property, not only for Priest Eadmar’s benefit. A small crowd had gathered, mostly from village Inter Lucus, but including some of Ealdwine and Leo’s friends from Senerham. Marty paired Ealdwine Smithson against Os Oswald and Leo Dudd against Elfric Ash.
The onlookers enjoyed the combats immensely, though they didn’t last long. Afterward, Marty wrote a note to himself: What do people on Two Moons do for fun? I need to host another party, a harvest festival like a county fair.
Marty announced ground rules. If a fighter drove his opponent out of the fighting area, Marty would call time out and reposition the fighters in the ring. But a second exit would mean that the retreating fighter had lost. The men wore leather jerkins and hats as protection. They had sturdy small wood shields strapped to their left forearms and their fighting staves in their right hands. Marty told them to try to disarm the other fighter or strike him in the ribs. In a real battle, he said, they might strike an opponent’s head, but he didn’t want injuries today. A fighter could yield at any time. When Marty judged that one or the other had won, he would shout the end of the match.
Marty guessed, correctly, that the movie sword fights he had seen wouldn’t be like a real contest. Smithson and Oswald advanced on each other cautiously. They tried a few pokes and slices, all turned aside with shield or parried with sword. Oswald realized that he had a size advantage on his opponent; he started advancing, crowding the smaller man, steadily raining blows on Smithson’s shield, and easily blunting the few strokes the blond haired youth threw at him. Smithson retreated to the boundary of the fighting space. Oswald stepped inside the Senerham youth’s next blow and thrust at him with his shield. Smithson tumbled backward out of the ring, and Marty shouted for time out.
The fighters readied themselves again. Oswald advanced quickly, seeking to drive his opponent from the ring a second time. But Smithson would not try strength against strength again. He feinted to his left and danced quickly right, swinging his stave low. The blow came under Oswald’s shield and struck him behind the knee. Oswald staggered, and Smithson bull-rushed him, throwing him to the ground. Smithson stabbed at his opponent’s jerkin—two, three, four times, until Marty shouted an end.
The second fight lasted longer than the first, partly because Leo Dudd and Elfric Ash learned from watching Oswald and Smithson. They spent a few minutes dancing and feinting, trying to gain a victory like Smithson’s. Dudd was a wiry man, light on his feet and fast. At first Marty thought he would run around the forester and knock his legs from under him. But Elfric Ash slid sideways and pivoted; he parried every blow with sword or shield. And Ash was sinewy and strong. Dudd’s feints tired him; and when Dudd slowed, Ash attacked as Oswald had, advancing and thrusting against Dudd’s shield. Dudd retreated a few steps and darted to one side, but Ash struck under his shield as Dudd escaped. Body armor would protect against such a blow, Marty thought.
Dudd’s escape energized him. He tried again to feint his way past Ash’s sword, to land a real blow. But now Ash moved faster than before. He stepped inside Dudd’s stroke, thrust Dudd’s sword arm away with his shield, and pushed his opponent back. Dudd tripped and fell. Ash stepped on Dudd’s stave, pinning it to the ground, and pointed his “sword” at Dudd’s neck. Dudd called, “Yield” even as Marty shouted the end of the match.
Some of the onlookers wanted more battles, but Marty had seen enough. Shoving matches with wooden staves weren’t going to make sheriffs. I’ve got find someone with real expertise if I want trained fighters.
Marty called the four applicants to him, walking them twenty yards from the gathered crowd. He spoke quietly. “You all want to be sheriffs. Do you think you’re ready to fight a knight if one comes from Hyacintho Flumen?”
The others looked at Ash, who was oldest and who had fought best. Ash stared at the ground. “No, my lord.”
“Caelin tells me I will someday learn how to make castle steel. But even if I made some and you had the best swords on Two Moons, you men are not ready to fight a real knight. Am I right?”
Red-haired Os Oswald said, “Lord Martin speaks truly.”
Marty kept his voice calm. “Then why do you men want to be sheriffs? The men I choose might lose their lives.”
Leo Dudd shuffled his feet. “My lord, I thought, um, I thought you might make me into a fighter. Castle magic.”
“I assure you, I cannot.” Marty grinned at Dudd, and the grin produced a puzzled expression on the would-be sheriff’s face.. “No castle magic can create the skill of a swordsman. With practice and better weapons you would improve, but right now I can’t even promise good weapons. Look at me.”
For the first time all four looked up. “Do you still want to be sheriffs?”
They spoke as one. “Aye.” “Aye.” “Aye, my lord.”
“’cause o’ this.” Smithson held out a palm with a polished chocolate colored wooden nickel. I was here last summer, ’n I saw the lights. I’ve heard Elne Penrict talk. All this . . .” Smithson gestured toward Inter Lucus, standing tall on the hill. “this is real.”
Os Oswald nodded agreement. “I’ve lived in village Inter Lucus all my life. I grew up hearing stories of the castle, of lords and ladies, and fine things. But now it’s real.”
The lean forester, Ash, drew a palm across his spotty beard. “I’ve no wife. I’d like a family, but the deep forest’s not a welcome place for a woman. In twenty years I’ll be too old to fell big trees reg’lar. If nothing changes, that’ll be my life. Inter Lucus is whole. Lord Martin is real, not just a story. This is my chance.”
Marty remembered Isen’s word: chances. “You are right. There is a great opportunity here for you. But I will ask the men I choose to work hard, to learn new skills, and to think in ways you have never thought. Can you learn new ways?
“I want you to consider this very carefully. I’m going over to those men and announce that I have not decided. All four of you will sleep here, on castle ground, tonight. In the morning you will come to breakfast in Inter Lucus. In the morning if you tell me you still want to be a sheriff, then I will tell you the conditions of your service. Do not tell anyone what I have just said. Think very carefully this night whether you want to serve me.”
69. In Castle Inter Lucus
Caelin laid a sheet of paper on the table where Marty was drinking a pre-breakfast cup of tea. “We have a problem, my lord. I thought I should show you this before we serve our guests.”
Marty pulled the paper close, anchoring one corner with his cup. It displayed three columns: Roman numerals on the left, clusters of names in the center, and lists of foods on the right. Marty could guess what it meant, but he asked anyway. “Please explain. What is the problem?”
“This paper shows how fast we are eating our food.” Caelin pointed as he talked. “Here are the days since Priest Eadmar came back from Down’s End: one, two, three, and so on.”
Marty held up a hand, interrupting. “Pen and ink, please.” Ora, seated opposite to Marty, leaned to her left to pull a writing tray, with its stopped ink jar and quills, from the far end of the table. “Thank you, Ora.” Marty unstopped the jar and dipped a quill.
“Caelin, I want you to use the digits I’ve been teaching you.” Marty blotted out the Roman numerals Caelin had written in the first column. “In time, you will see how important this is. Instead of I for one and II for two, we will use digits, like this.” Marty replaced Caelin’s left hand column (I, II, III . . .) with his own (1, 2, 3 . . .).
Caelin hit his temple with his characteristic backhand finger. “I should have remembered, my lord.”
“You’ll get used to it. Go on.”
“Each number is a day.” Again Caelin pointed. “Here are the people Inter Lucus fed on each day.”
Marty nodded. “I see. For instance, on day four, we fed Isen, Ora, you, Priest Eadmar, Rothulf Saeric, me, and the two fosterlings, Alf and Agyfen. Eight in all. And this is the food we ate that day?”
“Aye, my lord. Eight people—and more on some days, when my lord hosts guests, such as counselors Elne Penrict and Caadde Bycwine.”
“I see that.” Marty ran his finger down Caelin’s columns. Besides mastering the kitchen, the boy can be a secretary or accountant. “And now, let me guess the problem: we don’t have enough food.”
“Indeed, my lord. The winter will be long. We have eight to feed. And now you add four sheriffs to our table. Twelve! We cannot feed so many.”
Marty twisted the stopper, a conical wedge of soft pine, into the mouth of the ink jar. “Actually, I expect it to be thirteen. Eleven members of my household, plus Eadmar and Rothulf.”
“Aye. In addition to the sheriffs we need a nan for Agyfen. That makes thirteen. But of course there will be guests at various times. You have told me yourself, Caelin, that lords must sometimes give shelter to needy persons. So on average we can expect to feed fifteen this winter.”
“My lord!” Surprise and dismay. “We cannot do it.”
Ora leaned from the side of the table to look as Caelin pointed. She couldn’t read, but she had learned to recognize letters. She was determined to gain the skills of literacy and numbers that Marty so obviously prized. She laughed at Caelin’s distress. “Don’t be thick, Cousin! We will get more.”
Caelin’s brown eyes flashed with impatience, his finger stabbing at his table of names and consumables. “You don’t understand, Ora. We’re going to need a lot more food.”
Marty interrupted before the cousins could squabble. “You are both right. We will need much more food. And we will get it. Think.
“Nearby farmers have been paying hidgield, in roots and vegetables mostly, for three months. Harvest will soon end, and they need to store up for their own needs. But Torr Ablendan tells me that more farmers, especially those further away, haven’t paid anything. Our new sheriffs will collect from them. We will not take more than is fair, but everyone will pay. We will have grain. We will also grind grain into flour and store it downstairs.
“In addition to hidgield, I expect the sheriffs will be able to hunt; Elfric is an experienced huntsman, I believe. We have room in the freezer to stockpile as much game as they can take. Also, I have learned that men from Down’s End chop holes in the ice of West Lake and bring in fish in the dead of winter. We can do this in East Lake.”
Marty laid his hand on Caelin’s forearm. “We are going to have enough. More than enough. Nevertheless, I’m glad you’ve been paying attention to this. It is important for you to keep clear and accurate records of all that we receive and all that we use. You must master the numbers I’ve been teaching you. Eventually, record keeping will be your full time job; we’ll find someone else to cook. For the time being, our nan and Alf can help with the kitchen, and that will allow you to work on bookkeeping.”
“Have you found a nan already?” asked Caelin.
“I hope so. I will breakfast with the sheriffs, then Ora and I will go visit Mildgyd Meadowdaughter.”
Ora clapped her hands. “I was hoping you’d ask her. Mildgyd is the great granddaughter of a cook who served in Inter Lucus before the old lord died. And with her daughter dead of measles, she’s all alone.”
Marty wagged his finger at Ora. “If she is to come here, she must do things as I want them done. That includes food handling and washing.”
Ora inclined her head. “Caelin and I will teach her.”
Marty finished his tea and motioned for Ora to accompany him. “Let’s go rouse our sheriffs. Do we have breakfast ready, Caelin?”
“We do, my lord.”
“Something for our priest and Rothulf?”
“I prepared a basket; it’s by the door.”
“Very good. Breakfast for the whole staff, including the sheriffs, once we gather them.”
Marty delivered the willow basket stocked with food for Eadmar and Rothulf for the day. As Marty had decreed, the thief spent his days helping the priest build a prayer house just off the Inter Lucus grounds. So far they had been clearing and leveling a patch of land big enough for the prayer house itself and an attached dwelling. Attor Woodman had promised that he and Aethulwulf would fell and trim nearby trees appropriate for building a log house. Isen had expressed eagerness to help with the project—hoping, Marty knew, that after the prayer house Marty would order the building of a glass-making shed.
Handing over the basket, Marty explained to Eadmar that today he would not be able to read and translate from the book of God; he had to walk to village Inter Lucus to see the widow Mildgyd later in the day.
“Ah! A respectable woman, that one.”
“I agree. Do you think Mistress Meadowdaughter would live in Inter Lucus if I asked her? Young Agyfen needs a nan.”
The priest nodded. “I do not know. But I commend your idea. It is not good for Ora to be the only woman in your castle, Lord Martin.”
Marty climbed the hill to the oaks, where Ora had gathered the four candidate sheriffs. He opened a palm to the men. “Fair morning Ealdwine, Leo, Os, Elfric.”
“Fair morning, my lord.” “Lord Martin.” “Thank you.” “Fair morning, Lord Martin.” The sheriffs bowed with their words. Something about the four men seemed out of place; it took Marty a minute to realize each one had wet his hair and combed it. They must have hiked to East Lake early this morning. I wonder who advised them to wash and comb.
“In we go.” Marty waved his hand toward the west door. Pine planks, supplied by Attor Woodman and planed in the west wing of the castle, had been joined into a magnificent door by three iron bars shaped like leafed branches. Elne Penrict had offered the hardware for the east and west doors of the castle, including iron hinges, as his hidgield for the year, but Marty declared it too much. Marty paid Elne, using money obtained months before from the traveling merchant, Boyden Black.
Marty sat at the end of a sturdy long table with the four guests on his right and left. The other inhabitants of Inter Lucus, Isen, Ora, Caelin, Alf, and Agyfen, gathered around the opposite end. The table and its benches were recent additions to the furniture of the great hall, built by Baldric Forrest. Marty laid his hands flat on the table and bowed his head. “We give you thanks, Almighty God, for life and food and friendships. May your kingdom come in our lives. Amen.”
“Amen,” said five other voices. The sheriffs looked at each other in confusion.
Isen grinned at Elfric, seated across from him. “Surely you noticed that Lord Martin is permitting the priest of the old god, Eadmar, to build a prayer house in the forest. In Inter Lucus we pray to the old god, not castle gods.”
“I did notice.” Elfric looked at Isen. “It is not a surprise. Folk told me of Lord Martin’s preference for the old god. But what is ‘amen’?”
“It is a word long used by worshipers of the Old God,” Marty answered. “It means ‘may it be so.’”
Leo Dudd turned his face to Marty. “For my part, I will be glad to worship whichever god Lord Martin directs.”
Marty shook his head. “In that case, you will worship no god at all, Leo. I will not tell you whether you should pray or which god you should pray to.”
“My lord?” Leo voiced surprise.
“Prayer is worthless unless sincere.” Marty sprinkled salt on his fried potatoes. “A man must pray, or not pray, in accord with his own beliefs. The same is true for a woman. At meals in Inter Lucus, I invite my guests to pray with me, but it is an invitation only, not a command. Priest Eadmar and I will pray in the prayer house he is building. No one else need pray there to please me. At the same time, anyone who wants to pray there will be welcome.”
Ealdwine, the youngest of the sheriffs, ran his hand through his blond hair. “Why do you pray to the old god, Lord Martin?”
Marty leaned his chin on his interlaced fingers, resting his elbows on the table. For several seconds he pondered Ealdwine’s simple question. “I think there is only one God. He made all the worlds and all the creatures of the worlds. I think that some of those creatures built the castles. I call the castle builders ‘strangers.’ If I am right about these things, the makers of the castles—the strangers—were not gods; they were creatures made by the one God. I think the strangers brought other creatures—human beings—to this world we call Two Moons to serve them. Then, after many hundreds of years, the strangers left Two Moons.”
Marty pointed his finger. “Now you know what I think. You do not have to agree with me. You may pray to castle gods if you like; it’s up to you. Of course, Priest Eadmar would ask that you not go into Prayer House to do so.”
Marty’s last sentence produced hesitant smiles around the table. Caelin finally interrupted the silence. “I’m hungry!” He took a huge bite of fried egg, and some of the yoke escaped to his chin. Ora and Elfric laughed, and everyone dug in.
70. Between the Lakes
Two brothers, Teon Leofstan and Tilian Leofstan, who farmed adjoining parcels near Caadde Bycwine’s land, offered horses in payment of their hidgield. Marty knew nothing about evaluating horses, so he relied on Leo Dudd’s advice. Based on Leo’s judgment, Marty declared inadequate the old, broken down plough horses put forward by the Leofstans. The brothers could pay with healthier animals or supply castle Inter Lucus with two wagonloads of hay. Other farmers would undoubtedly be willing to pay with live animals in good condition; Lord Martin would only accept choice livestock.
Another farmer, Rine Garbarend, tried to pay hidgield with ten bushels of barley, winter barley stored dry since he harvested it in August, or so he said. He had the grain ready and loaded on a wagon when the sheriffs came to his farm. But Leo and Os Oswald had visited Torr Ablendan when they started collecting hidgield from the farms on the forest road north of the castle. Torr’s wife, Viradecthis, warned the sheriffs about Garbarend’s tendency to shade the truth. Leo and Os waited until the wagon bearing Garbarend’s grain reached the turn onto Inter Lucus property before stopping it. There, in the presence of Lord Martin and the priest of the old god, Leo spilled one of the bushel baskets on the ground. The top layer of good dry winter barley covered a mass of recently harvested spring barley, damp and already showing signs of rot. Marty ordered Leo and Os to take the wagon into village Inter Lucus and give the grain to anyone who wanted it for chicken or hog feed. Further, he decreed that farmer Garbarend would be excluded from the Inter Lucus harvest fair unless he first made payment with ten bushels of grain that could pass inspection. Priest Eadmar remarked that in Down’s End a tax cheat was often assessed double, or was beaten publicly. Marty declined harsher punishments; exclusion from the harvest fair would be severe enough, he said.
The sheriffs spread the word of these decisions as they made their way (on foot) from farm to farm, and their reports had the desired effect. Most folk between the lakes cooperated with Lord Martin’s sheriffs. Word spread quickly: the Lord Martin’s hidgield demands were modest, his sheriffs were eager to help rather than threaten, and the chief penalty for non-payment was exclusion from harvest fair. Naturally, rumors about the harvest fair grew faster than weeds in early summer. Remembering the midsummer party, what might they expect in fall?
By the third week of October the sheriffs had the use of two fit horses. Leo called them palfreys, explaining to Marty that they were too small to serve as plough or draft horses nor big and fast like a destrier, a knight’s warhorse. They would serve well, Leo said, for long days of gentle riding—for most men. Os Oswald’s bulk would wear them down. Since they were smaller, Leo Dudd and Elfric Ash became the riding sheriffs, making hidgield arrangements for outlying farms. The younger sheriffs, Os and Ealdwine, made the rounds on foot in Senerham and village Inter Lucus. Rarely did the sheriffs actually collect hidgield; they agreed with people on payments to be made at harvest fair. A few artisans and merchants from the villages paid with coin, but most were more than willing to trade their goods at the fair and pay hidgield then.
Mildgyd Meadowdaughter moved into the castle in early October. Her brown hair swept back in crescents from a point just above her eyebrows, giving her face a distinct heart-shape. She was heavy, short and grandmotherly. She treated Marty with great deference, keeping silence in his presence unless he directly questioned her. Ora and Caelin taught her the use of Inter Lucus’s cleaning and cooking appliances, and these were sources of enormous delight to Mildgyd. The nan rose daily very early to lay freshly cleaned clothes, neatly folded, at the door of every bedroom in the castle. The fosterling Agyfen could almost always be found tagging after Mildgyd. Alf, who was eleven now, considered himself too old for a nan and spent as much time with Caelin as he could; Marty encouraged this connection since he wanted Alf to learn letters and numbers.
Horses—winter coming—Inter Lucus needed a stable/barn. Attor and Aethulwulf felled forty trees in the forest west and north of the castle, but there is gulf between fallen tree and completed building, and Prayer House was only begun. Priest Eadmar observed that Prayer House could wait, while Lord Martin’s horses would need a barn before snow. So the building crew shifted its attention, concentrating on the barn. Attor, Aethulwulf, and Eadmar worked in the forest so that Eadmar need not set foot on Inter Lucus ground. They trimmed, split, and sawed logs, sometimes with help from sheriffs Os and Ealdwine. Isen, Rothulf, Ora, Caelin and Marty cleared a space on the castle’s north slope. Attor’s draft horse, Bley, was used to drag split and whole logs to the site, and the barn went up. It was a simple design, a shed with a long, sloping roof that extended over the front to protect the entrance from weather. Split logs provided a wood floor raised from the ground so that the animal feed could be kept dry. More than half the barn’s floor space was devoted to storage.
Senerham and village Inter Lucus hosted market days every week from spring to fall; people between the lakes depended on trade to meet their needs for things families did not make at home. Lord Martin’s harvest fair would be far grander. The sheriffs announced it would last for six days in the third week of November. People would bring hidgield payments, but also prize animals and produce for judging; Lord Martin, using castle magic, was preparing particular prizes for the best cow, horse, blanket, and pie. There would be bonfires, dances, eating, and drinking. Artisans and merchants would have booths to sell their wares, and as on ordinary market days livestock would be herded into pens where they would be bought and sold. Temporary butcher shops would render some of the purchases on the spot. On top of everything else, Lord Martin would provide a new and different light show.
Day after day, Leo and Elfric reported people between the lakes agreeing to hidgield obligations and promising to bring them to the fair. Folk were energetically preparing their best products for trade; Elfric said he had never seen such excitement between the lakes. “The year Lord Martin brought the castle to life” was going to be remembered as a favorable year indeed.
Marty foresaw a month of unremitting work leading up to the fair. The barn had to be finished, the Prayer House raised, fair prizes constructed (Marty had already made a ladderback style chair using the machines of materias transmutatio in the west wing; he planned to give away four such chairs at the fair), livestock pens built, and the light show planned. He hoped that snow would hold off until after the fair. When winter did come, he wanted to turn Inter Lucus into an educational center. He envisioned Isen, Caelin, Ora, Alf, and the four sheriffs learning to read, write, and manage simple arithmetic. In future years, children from the villages could come to school; even better, they could build schools in Senerham and Inter Lucus. Caelin could be a good teacher, and there would be others.
Winter would also be a time for making more paper. The pace of work in October took Marty away from papermaking just when he and Caelin were running through their supply to record hidgield agreements reported by the sheriffs. Marty also began taking daily notes on his activities, with special attention to things other than hidgield that he needed to remember. Once I’ve got enough paper, I’ll keep a proper journal. He could not know whether the Two Moons year was longer or shorter than Earth’s, but he decided to make a rough calendar anyway. He would watch carefully for the winter solstice, and then begin calculating a year more precisely.
Marty realized he was happier than he had ever been. Living a science fiction fantasy, he was more useful on Two Moons than in his former life. By magic or alien technology, he felt that he had come to where he ought to be.
Then, on the day Marty noted as “October 31,” a knight rode into village Inter Lucus.
71. On the Banks of the Blue River
Eudes Ridere warmed himself by a watch fire near the bridge over the Blue River. He had risen in the dark, sleep ruined by mental images of casks of liquid fire floating among Herminia’s supply ships. Bully was awake and ready with Eudes’s clothes when the general called for him. The boy reads my feelings well. He knows. Bully offered to fetch breakfast, but Eudes wanted to join men in the field. Eudes wore a sword and leather jerkin, throwing a cloak on top because of the chill. General and squire rode in darkness from the inn in Hyacintho Flumen to the guard post at the eastern end of the bridge.
The soldiers on duty, six men from Rubrum Vulpes, were startled to find Herminia’s general at their fire. “My lord Ridere! Sir! General! Your Majesty!” They fumbled to express themselves properly.
“Calm yourselves, soldiers.” Eudes and Bully dismounted and tied their horses to a nearby fence. “What do you have there in the pot?”
“Hot barley tea, with a bit o’ honey.” One of the men hastened to dip out some for Eudes and his squire.
“Thank you.” Eudes wrapped his fingers around the clay cup, sipped the beverage and spat. “Gods! We’ll have to get you men something better than this.”
Chuckles around the fire. “Mead and water would be a sight better, Sir. The best one can say for this stuff is it’s warm.”
“Tell me what you’ve seen through the night.”
A thin, sinewy man who seemed to be the leader of the guards said, “Naught from the other side, Sir. Some Pulchra Mane men went over about midnight. Didn’t say a word, an’ they ain’t come back. My lord must know what that’s about.”
“Hoo, ah. Maybe a hunnerd.”
Eudes frowned in the dark. Archard Oshelm was supposed to position four hundred men north of castle Hyacintho Flumen, taking control of the road northward, before sunrise. If the first hundred crossed the bridge five hours ago, where are the rest?
As if in answer to Eudes’s worry, horses approached the bridge from the north, on the east side of the river. The guards drew their swords, and the thin sergeant called out. “Name yourselves!”
The horses stopped just at the edge of the firelight. “Commander Oshelm of Pulchra Mane.” It wasn’t Archard’s voice, but Eudes thought it sounded like Darel Hain, who served under him.
“Come forward to be recognized. One at a time.” With the General of the Army standing a few feet away, the sergeant was careful to follow correct procedure. One of the horsemen rode closer; it was Hain.
“I’m Sergeant Hain.” The rider saluted with a fist across his chest.
The sergeant of the guard returned the salute. “Allard Ing. I serve Lord Denis Mowbray of Rubrum Vulpes. Welcome. Next man! Come forward.”
There were two other riders with Hain, then Archard Oshelm. Eudes stood cloaked in the shadows as Allard Ing made the newcomers present themselves one by one. One of the riders said, “Don’t overdo it, Ing. It’s our second day in Tarquint, and there’ll be a thousand more. Don’t be so tight-assed.”
Eudes stepped close to the fire as Archard was dismounting. “Actually, I prefer it when men follow proper procedure.” He extended his hand to Oshelm. “Fair morning, Archard.”
“Fair morning, General!” Archard clasped hands vigorously. He grinned at the embarrassed soldier standing next to him. “The general has a remarkable capacity for showing up when you least expect it, Ranulf. General Ridere, I present Ranulf Travers, swordsman of Herminia.”
“Fair morning, soldier Travers.” Eudes saluted the speechless man. “Do not forget that discipline will be key to the success of this whole venture. My army follows procedures because they work. They keep men alive. Don’t get lazy, Travers. And you, Ing, can be as tight-assed as you like, if it means obeying orders.”
“Aye, Sir!” Ing and Travers both laid fists across their chests.
Eudes took Archard aside to hear his report. One hundred men had crossed the bridge in the darkest hours to take up a position on the west end, securing the bridge for later use. Three hundred had crossed the river upstream on boats.
“They must control the road.”
“They do already, Sir. Of course, we will need to reinforce them. And we will need a great many more to prevent riders escaping through our ring.”
Eudes snorted playfully. “I don’t expect magic, Archard. A siege clamps down gradually. Aylwin Mortane will undoubtedly send a few of his most trusted men to ask for help from the free cities. We can’t stop him. Our net around Hyacintho Flumen can’t possibly catch such small fish yet. I’m not particularly concerned about soldiers moving into the castle. The more mouths he must feed, the better. What we must do is prevent any food getting in. The road must be ours; all the boats on the river must be ours.”
“My lord, you ordered that we were not to commandeer the produce of Tarquint.”
“Precisely. Herminia will supply us by means of the sea. We are not here as thieves. The farmers of the region may sell their goods as they have before in the town Hyacintho Flumen. Our men may buy things, but if they do they must pay fair prices. But no food goes into the castle. Ah! Speaking of food!”
Out of the growing predawn light came a food wagon. Of all Eudes’s innovations, this was the one most appreciated by ordinary soldiers and the one he was most proud of. Food wagons were light, two-wheeled carts, pulled by ponies or small horses. A supply soldier walked beside the draft animal when the cart was full; empty, the soldier rode back in the food wagon. The army had two hundred of them, swarming like ants from supply kitchens to the men who maintained the front lines of the siege. They brought bread, fresh vegetables (when available), meat (most days), something to drink (watery beer—safer than water scooped from a puddle) and always a pot of something hot (often beans with salted pork). As quartermaster general, Eudes understood that his success depended on the health and morale of ordinary soldiers.
Archard, his three escorts, the six men of the bridge guard, and Eudes and Bully partook from the food wagon. Archard already knew his next assignment: to take two thousand men across the river near its mouth to relieve Aewel Penda and the swordsmen who had been put ashore from longboats to collect and guard the enemy’s barrels of liquid fire. Eudes reviewed the plan with Archard privately and sent him back to town. “Tell the others I’ll be there presently.”
Two more food wagons came by. Eudes ordered two men of the bridge guard to accompany the wagons across the bridge and to come back with a report after delivering rations to the guard on the west end. He waited impatiently; daylight was growing stronger, and he was needed in town. “Bully, mount up. Sergeant Ing, I can’t wait here longer. When your men come back send one to report at my headquarters.”
“Aye, Sir. But Sir! Here they come.”
Sunlight broke through the morning overcast and met the two men approaching over the bridge. They walked at their leisure, which told Eudes much of what he needed to know about the guards at the west end. “Sergeant Ing, tell your men that soldiers march. They never loiter.”
The sergeant shouted something foul. The soldiers sprinted the last twenty yards across the bridge. They reported that the men of Pulchra Mane had occupied some barns and warehouses on the west bank of the river. They were concealed from the view of castle Hyacintho Flumen but in full control of traffic across the bridge. Eudes accepted their report and warned them that the men of Rubrum Vulpes would not always have today’s easy duty on the safe end of the bridge. “Fare well. Do your duty.” The men saluted, and Eudes and Bully rode away.
General and squire arrived at the inn called Rose Petal, Eudes’s headquarters in the middle of town Hyacintho Flumen. Archard Oshelm, Gilles Guyot, and a dozen other commanders were present in chairs seated around a long table. Captain Guyot stood up when Eudes entered.
“Late, yes, the general is. To his own meeting, he is.” Guyot’s words were playful rather than sarcastic. He bowed. “Fair morning, my Lord General.”
“Fair morning, Captain. Didn’t sleep very well, I’m afraid. Visions of liquid fire dancing in my head—not really a comfortable picture.”
“Ah! Indeed no.” Guyot made a sour face.
Eudes seated himself at one end of the table. Bully and other squires ringed the room like human furniture while the general and his commanders talked. The commanders reported succinctly. Herminians controlled all the ships in the harbor. They had unloaded the whole army and most of its provisions; six cogs and three longships would be ready to sail for Herminia on the morrow. They controlled the sole bridge over the Blue River. They had captured eleven riverboats, all that could be found within three miles of Hyacintho Flumen. The riverboats would serve nicely to put Archard’s men across to the west side so they could march to relieve Aewel Penda. The crossing would be carried out that very day.
Eudes summarized. “We have achieved every goal for the first stage. I had thought it would take as much as a week to do this. You—we—should all be pleased. My first report will go with the ships that sail tomorrow; the Queen and your lords will enjoy it, I’m sure. But I remind you this is the first stage only. We will move as quickly as possible toward our next goals. Does any of you see a reason we should not send our emissary today?”
Eudes’s commanders looked at each other, then at Fugol Hengist, seated two chairs to Eudes’s right.
“Very well, then.” The general turned to Fugol. “Commander Hengist, you are commissioned to speak to Aylwin Mortane, offering him terms of peace if he submits to our Queen. Tell him clearly that no other choice is acceptable.”
Fugol rose and laid his fist on his chest. “It will be done, my Lord General.”
72. Near Hyacintho Flumen
“Bully, I’m tired, so I’m going to try my bed again. Be sure to wake me when Fugol Hengist returns.”
“Aye, my lord.” A thought. “My Lord Ridere, a word?”
“What is it?”
“Might I accompany Commander Hengist to the castle? Naturally, I would return with him and be present to serve you.”
Ridere covered a yawn with his hand, rubbed his forehead. “You’re hoping to see the woman, aren’t you? What good would that do, Bully? She’s the wife of Lord Aylwin Mortane; her fate is tied to his. I know you are concerned for her, but of all the souls in Hyacintho Flumen she will be last to suffer the pains of a siege.”
“Aye, my lord. But it might be useful to have a second set of eyes in the castle while Commander Hengist conveys your words to Lord Mortane.”
The general raised an eyebrow. “And that’s why they won’t let you in. They’ll make you and the rest of Fugol’s escort stand outside. However, even that could be useful. You may accompany Hengist. Keep alert; see what you can see from the doorstep of Hyacintho Flumen. It will be long time before we enjoy that view again.”
Fugol Hengist’s escort consisted of just two men: Danbeney Norman, who carried the flag of truce, and Frasor Rain, an armored swordsman. Fugol resisted the notion of adding another man to the embassy, but Bully informed him that Ridere had approved. “So be it,” Fugol said. “Strap on some armor so you can look the part. Once we’re across the bridge, Danbeney will announce the embassy. At the castle, I do all the talking. Get yourself ready; we ride promptly.”
Bully hustled to a warehouse that the Herminians had converted into an arms depot and explained his need to a sergeant there. The man recognized Bully as squire to General Ridere and was quick to cooperate. He outfitted Bully with a mail shirt, breastplate, and a better sword than the dagger Bully usually wore. When Fugol saw Bully’s attire he nodded approvingly.
They crossed the bridge on horse two by two; the road widened west of the bridge and they rode four abreast, Fugol and Danbeney in the middle and the swordsmen, Frasor and Bully, on the outside. At the nearest point, castle Hyacintho Flumen stood on a hill only a quarter mile from Blue River with steep, almost sheer, faces to the south and east. The road from the bridge ran between the river and the castle hill, circling all the way around to the northwest corner of the castle grounds, where the slope moderated. Thus, on the east side, between castle and river, they were completely exposed to the scrutiny and power of Hyacintho Flumen. Bully grasped why Archard Oshelm had moved most of his men across the river by boats further upstream; cover of darkness would not hide an army this close to the enemy. Between the guard at the west end of the bridge and the Pulchra Mane soldiers stationed north of the castle, Fugol’s embassy traversed an empty and defenseless mile. Bully felt the hairs on his neck prickling. In the summer, he had ridden this road with Archard Oshelm and Boyden Black without any sense of danger, but that was before. Now—the flag of truce was almost always respected—but what do we really know about Mortane? Castle magic could destroy us at any moment.
“An embassy of truce for Her Majesty, Queen Mariel!” Danbeney shouted their mission every hundred yards. No one came to meet them.
The road passed wide to the north of the castle. On their right, Bully spied Herminian soldiers in fields, barns, and sheds, preparing their camps for the siege ahead. Several of them waved or saluted the embassy, but Bully followed Fugol’s example and did not acknowledge the salutes.
“An embassy of truce for Her Majesty, Queen Mariel!” The riders had reached the northwest approach to Hyacintho Flumen. The slope here was still steep, but not nearly as severe as the south and east sides. Bully and Frasor bunched closer to Fugol and Danbeney as the road narrowed. They passed some servant cottages, a barn, a stable, and a garden on the west slope of the castle. At last, as they rode under the very shadow of the castle, a man came out to meet them. He held up a palm and they stopped.
Fugol spurred his horse one step ahead. “Commander Fugol Hengist. I speak for Eudes Ridere, Consort of the Queen and General of the Army of Herminia.”
“Hear me! You have come without invitation onto the lands of Lord Aylwin Mortane. You and your master must depart these lands immediately; else wise, the Lord Aylwin will consider you at war with him and his house.”
Fugol said nothing.
“Have you no reply?”
Fugol moved his horse forward another step. “Observe! The army of Herminia is not departing these lands, neither immediately nor in any other fashion. If Lord Aylwin considers this war, so be it. He should then consider terms of peace before he is destroyed. It is for that reason I have been sent. Will Lord Aylwin receive me and hear Lord Ridere’s words?”
“He will.” The man pointed at Fugol. “You alone. These men,” he gestured at Bully, Frasor, and Danbeney, “will dismount and stay here. Odo will care for your horses.”
The man pointed with his chin. A gangly boy, perhaps twelve years old, was jogging up the hill. The riders swung down from the saddle. Wide-eyed and solemn, the boy received the leads to their horses. Danbeney kept his flag of truce. Bully almost offered to help the stable boy, but he remembered he was not to speak. Odo snickered to the animals and led them gently away.
“This way.” The man bowed Fugol into Hyacintho Flumen and shut the door.
Nowhere to go, nothing to say, and nothing to do but wait—except Ridere had said to keep his eyes open. Bully stood with his hands behind his back and surveyed the land west and north of the castle. Pastures and grape vines occupied the lower slopes of the hill; further away were gardens, fields, and farmhouses, then forests. Ridge after ridge of wild lands filled the horizon. Looking north, Bully knew the road to Down’s End found its way somewhere over those ridges, but he couldn’t make out where it lay. In the distant west was a blue smudge of mountains.
Frasor and Danbeney used their time as Bully did, observing and memorizing the lay of the land around Hyacintho Flumen. The more he looked, Bully discovered, the more there was to see. He began counting farmhouses and barns on the west side of the castle, trying to fix in his mind how the fields fit together in a puzzle. There were people working in one of the fields, digging something—potatoes? —and loading baskets on a wagon. Near one of the farm cottages, a woman was putting out wet clothes to dry in the sun, hanging them on wooden frames. She went about her work languidly, stopping often to stare up at the castle as if she were looking for something.
Something about that woman... She lifted a garment to drape it over the drying frame and the motion clicked in Bully’s memory. A tall woman, with blond hair curling about the shoulders, and strong, graceful arms. Turn around. Let me see your face. The woman did turn, but the distance was too great. Bully couldn’t be sure. But if it is her… Bully couldn’t chance being recognized. He stepped back into the shade of the castle.
Bully continued his survey of the farms and fields west of Hyacintho Flumen, but he kept returning to the washerwoman. Even with her desultory pace, she finished hanging her clothes and went inside the cottage. It was a trim little thing, with a thatched roof, a rail fence, and a detached root cellar. Bully compared it to the other peasant houses he could see and smiled to himself. The washerwoman’s cottage was clearly the best, he thought. It would be, wouldn’t it?
Sounds behind Bully interrupted his thoughts. Fugol Hengist marched out of Hyacintho Flumen with the soldier servant who had greeted them right behind. “You may walk to your horses. Odo will have them there, at the stable.” The servant pointed. “You have but an hour to depart the lord’s lands. He will not honor the truce any longer than that.”
Bully thought: I guess that answers the first question about the parley. Fugol will give a complete report to General Ridere.
The four soldiers of Herminia quickstepped down the hill. At the stable, Odo met them with an expression of fear and wonder. Fugol clasped him on the shoulder. “Don’t worry, boy. We’re not here to hurt the folk of Tarquint. The fool up there”—Fugol indicated the castle—“that’s a different matter.”
Odo, wide-eyed, did not reply. He held Danbeney’s flag while the men took their mounts. He was still staring after them when they turned away.
Now Bully rode on the left side, which gave him one last chance to observe the washerwoman’s cottage, this time much closer up. The walls had been painted a pale blue, the window shutters in white. The finest peasant house on Two Moons. As if on cue, the washerwoman came out of the cottage to look round the corner of her house, again as if she expected to see someone at the castle. Now Bully had no doubt at all.
He pulled his horse left and kicked his sides. The horse easily leapt a ditch at the roadside and galloped toward the woman’s house. Behind Bully his companions were cursing him excitedly. The woman turned at the commotion and screamed to see a rider bearing down on her.
Bully reined up and slid off his horse in one motion. He chased the woman to and through the entrance of the house, catching her arm before she could shut the door. She hit him in the face; he staggered for a moment. He pulled his sword and swung it wildly. Seeing the bright steel, she cowered back. “Out!” Bully stepped aside and the woman obeyed his command. He followed her into the sunshine, the point of his sword at her back.
Fugol, Danbeney, and Frasor were reining up on the patch of grass outside the woman’s cottage. “By the gods! You damn fool!”
Bully ignored them. “On the horse!” He poked at his prisoner. The woman hitched up her kirtle and climbed into the saddle. She might have fled, but Bully had taken a firm grip on the reins.
Fugol bellowed. “You idiot! Mortane has castle magic! We’re dead men!”
Bully pulled the horse’s reins, walking horse and prisoner from behind the house into full view of anyone watching from Hyacintho Flumen. He waved his sword, reflecting sunlight like a beacon. “I think not!”
Bully sheathed his sword and threw himself into the saddle, thrusting his prisoner against the saddle’s horns. He bent close to her ear. “I intend to return you, whole, to Mortane. But I’ll cut you if I must. So do as I say.”
Fugol, Danbeney, and Frasor were stunned into momentary silence.
Bully held his horse’s reins with his arms firmly around the woman. “Sirs! I introduce Juliana Ingdaughter, the servant of Edita Toeni, who is now Lady Edita Mortane. We will take Juliana to General Ridere.”
“Madness.” Fugol spoke while Danbeney and Frasor were slack jawed. “What value is a serving maid as prisoner?”
“Enough to keep us alive.” Bully nudged his mount into a trot. The others followed.
73. In Castle Hyacintho Flumen
Aylwin seethed with anger and anxiety.
Cowardice, stupidity, and bad luck. What more can go wrong? He paced between the window and the bedroom table, consciously trying to unclench his jaw. He slammed his hand against the window, causing no more harm to it than if he had struck a rock. Besides the immediate pain in his palm, he felt a sharp stab in his elbow. Damn!
The liquid fire, the secret of which had cost his father thousands of golds, had done nothing to stop the Herminian fleet. His father’s spy, so carefully cultivated in Lady Montfort’s castle, Tutum Partum, had given him barely two weeks advance notice of the invasion. If only we had had more time… Druce Bowden, his best ship captain, was dead. His few longships were taken or sunk. Due to the cowardice of the kayak men only one barrel of fire had been lit in the battle, and the Herminians had captured the liquid fire casks that drifted ashore. They’ll make more use of it than we did. Of course, the fire was devilishly volatile, and the Herminians had no experience with it; Arthur the old said the casks might well explode and take a hundred men into the after world. Gods grant our prayer! But what is one hundred in an army of ten thousand? If only we had burned their ships!
The damned invaders had crossed the Blue River the very first night and taken control of the road north. In the four days since, they had moved hundreds more across by boat and extended their siege lines to the northwest. Two thousand others had crossed the river south of the castle, securing the coast for miles and building siege works on the west side too.
Aylwin had been forced to act quickly, entrusting Amicia to Kenelm Ash and sending her as ambassador to Down’s End. Kenelm knew the mountain trails northwest of Hyacintho Flumen; he promised Lady Lucia that he and the young swordsman Raymond Travers (serving as Kenelm’s squire) would deliver Lucia’s daughter safely to the city by the lake. Aylwin had hearty confidence in Kenelm and Raymond, but doubts inevitably crept in. Once the knight, the swordsman, and Aylwin’s sister had left, there was no way to know how they fared. Had Kenelm eluded the Herminians? How long would it take to reach Down’s End? When, if ever, would Aylwin hear a report? Was Amicia a great enough prize to win him the ally he needed?
His mother had insisted they tell Amicia the whole truth. Immediately after the parley with Fugol Hengist—another waste of time! —Dag Daegmund had told him of the Herminians north of the castle. They crossed the river the first night! Damn! No time to consider other options; it had to be Amicia. Aylwin had always preferred his quick-witted sister to Milo. She was a confidant and ally rather than a rival. So it stung in his memory, the way her hazel eyes filled with tears when Amicia understood Aylwin’s use of her.
“I’m to be sold to the highest bidder? Some rich fat tanner, stinking of dung, piss, and sheep fat?” After sister and brother shouted obscenities at each other, Amicia had retreated to her room, where Boemia the nan helped her choose clothes for her journey. In the wee hours of the morning after the parley with the Herminians, Amicia departed. Her brown hair was tucked under a knitted cap; wearing a leather jerkin, she looked like a boy. She hugged Lucia, Rose, Eddricus, and Edita. Aylwin thought she might ignore him, but she hugged him as well. She whispered, “Arthur and Mother say it must be this way. I will get you an ally if I must marry ten fat bankers. I love you still, Aylwin.”
Aylwin covered his face with his hands, remembering the smell of Amicia’s hair. O gods! Protect my sister. Let her fat banker be kind as well as rich.
A sound came from the bathroom. In Hyacintho Flumen a sliding door joined the lord’s bedroom to a private bath. Edita insisted on bathing alone, though Diera had offered many times to help her. She has pride. I’ll say that much for her. After her marriage, Edita claimed it was a relief to escape Juliana’s constant presence, and she had surprised Aylwin by learning to limp from bed to closet to bath. With a cane she could walk as far as the great hall, though she kept Diera close by lest she should fall. Getting into and out of the tub was difficult, so Edita ran only a few inches of water for her bath. She explained matter-of-factly to Aylwin that if she slipped she might bump her head and drown.
Many times Aylwin had thought: And why not? It would be so easy. He imagined Edita’s auburn hair floating above her face, obscuring the expressionless left side as he held her down. But he hadn’t done it. Instead, three or four times a week he deposited seed in her crippled body, hoping for an heir. Why does she have to cry every time? If she were half the woman Juliana is… And that’s the problem! She’s less than half a woman.
And now Juliana was gone. Juliana, who was definitely whole, active, energetic and eager—Juliana was gone. The day after the invasion, on the day of the parley with Commander Hengist—in fact, in the very hour Dag sent Hengist away—the Herminians had taken her captive. Aylwin’s jaw clenched again. Why Juliana? How could they know? Who could have told them?
More water splashed into the tub. Edita? Surely she has guessed about Juliana; maybe that’s why she cries. But she had no chance to communicate with the Herminians. She never goes outside, rarely leaves this room. Who, then?
Aylwin sat at the table; immediately he rose again. He blew a long breath and tried to relax his face. In truth, Juliana is the least of my problems. Arthur is right. I must concentrate on the tasks at hand. Swordsmen. Archers. Food—lots of food. More weapons, and that requires steel. I’ve got to master materias transmutatio. Father managed it, and Arthur says I have a good bond; I just need to practice.
Edita was draining the bathtub. Rarely, she asked him to help her get out. Aylwin exited the bedroom quickly before she could call on him. If she falls when I’m not there—well, gods be merciful.
Aylwin entered the great hall briskly, almost shaking with nerves. Diera was the only person present, laying a linen cloth in preparation for mid-day sup. “I’m going to practice magic, Diera. Find Arthur and send him here.”
“Very good, my lord.” Diera bowed and hurried away.
His hands quivered as he reached for the lord’s knob. Aylwin stopped short of touching the knob, tried to still the shaking, and sighed. If I can’t control my hands, how can I control the castle? He closed his eyes and bonded.
Something was different. Aylwin opened his eyes. The lord’s knob glowed orange, as good a color as he ever had. Familiar words filled the magic wall. But Aylwin noticed the difference immediately.
I. Materias Transmutatio: operativa
II. Parva Arcum Praesidiis: operativa
III. Magna Arcum Praesidiis: operativa
IV. Cibum Preparatio Homines: operativa
V. Inter-Castrum Videns-Loquitur: operativa*
VI. Extra Arcem Micro-Aedificator: operativa
VII. Potentia Fontes: operativa
VIII. Aquarum: operativa
IX. Intra Arcem Micro-Aedificator: operativa
X. Centralis Arbitrium Factorem: operativa
A bright orange light was blinking next to Inter-Castrum Videns-Loquitur. He had never seen this before, not in the three months since Father died, nor during the many times he had watched Lord Hereward bond with Hyacintho Flumen. A thrill ran through Aylwin. I’ve achieved a better bond than Father. Milo would never have been able to do this.
The list disappeared. In its place a white square grew rapidly, becoming a window or picture frame. A woman stood in the picture. Blond hair and blue eyes; Aylwin thought it was a picture of Juliana, but it couldn’t be. This woman’s hair cascaded around her shoulders, reaching to her elbows. And her face was fuller than Juliana’s, projecting a glow of health and an attitude of authority. The picture reached life-size, as if the blond woman were standing only a yard beyond the magic wall. To the woman’s left stood a man, obviously a castle scribe, the lady’s equivalent of Arthur the old.
To Aylwin’s astonishment, the picture spoke. “Fair morning, lord. May I ask to whom I speak?”
Aylwin didn’t know whether to answer or what to say.
“Come, Sir. Don’t be bashful.” The woman pushed her hair back with her left hand, keeping only her right hand on the lord’s knob. “Videns-Loquitur only works for strong lords; you must be secure in your castle. Name yourself!” An unmistakable tone of challenge and command sounded in the last two words.
“Aylwin Mortane.” Did he speak out of obedience or envy? The woman maintained her bond with a single hand, projecting an air of ease far superior to anything Aylwin could remember of his father.
“By the gods!” The voice came from behind Aylwin. He could never remember an oath on Arthur’s lips. Again, a thrill: Arthur has never seen this.
The woman in the wall put her hand over her mouth to conceal a smile. “Lord Mortane of Hyacintho Flumen! Fair morning, my lord. My name is Mariel Grandmesnil.”
Aylwin’s hands, still lying on the lord’s knob, trembled. He swallowed. “Fair morning, Queen Mariel.”
Mariel motioned to the scribe at her side. “Ah. You know who I am, then. If you don’t mind, I’d like to ask how my husband is doing.”
“You haven’t met him yet? Tall man, beaked nose, black hair, lots of scars. He’s twenty years older than me.”
Arthur was standing by Aylwin’s side, panting from exertion or excitement. Aylwin couldn’t tell which. He couldn’t help comparing Arthur with the scribe standing beside Mariel, a picture of calm and assurance. “Lady Mariel, I have never met your husband.”
“Oh. That’s too bad. I am confident you’ll meet him soon. I was hoping he had encouraged you to talk with me. It will save us no end of trouble if we talk often.”
Aylwin pushed his hands more firmly onto the knob. “And why should I meet your husband? Isn’t he with you?”
Mariel laughed. “Don’t try to deceive me, Lord Mortane. In future, I will be your queen. We need to cooperate.”
“Ten thousand men can not make me submit.”
“I see. They have arrived, then. You had me just a little bit concerned. Don’t worry about submitting to a woman or submitting right now. The thing to remember is that a week from today, at this time, I’ll be here to talk—if you’re ready. If you like, you can try to reach out to other lords. Practice with Videns-Loquitur. Maybe you can do it. Meanwhile, I’ll be waiting here for you, once a week.”
74. Near Down’s End
“Comin’ on dark. Camp here.”
“Oh, Gods. It’s but ten miles more. We can do that!”
The second voice belonged to Derian Chapman. His complaint had no more influence over the first speaker than a farmer’s pleadings with rain clouds. Eni Raegenhere was not about to let Chapman tell him how far to push his beasts. “We might, p’raps. But I ain’t gonna break ’nother axle.”
Raegenhere’s face was that of a veteran teamster, wrinkled, dry, and red. There were four young sons waiting for him in Down’s End, he said, all of them sharing their father’s green eyes. He had short hair and a bushy beard, both mixtures of gray, white, and black. When he announced his decision to stop, he wagged his beard in a way that bespoke finality.
On the question of stopping, Milo’s opinion mattered even less than Derian’s, but if asked he would have sided with Raegenhere. The “road” leading into Down’s End was really only a wagon trail, a rope of interwoven ruts carved by wagon wheels into the prairie. Once the second moon rose there would be enough light to find the best track, but until then it would be easy to drive over a rock or into a washout. Milo also guessed that the warehouses of Down’s End would be locked up for the night. Better to spend one more night on the ground than delay sleep until Derian had haggled a good price from some merchant’s proctor.
Raegenhere and Chapman had been at odds most of the way from Stonebridge. Problems started the first day out. With the aid of Dru Gifardus’s Hill Corral horses, Chapman’s rented wagons, laden with Stonebridge wines, inched their way over the summit of the Stonebridge hill. The first wagon, driven by Oswy Wodens, descended the first and steepest part of the outer slope safely. But Eni Raegenhere’s wagon went too fast; either his brake didn’t work properly or the load was too great. The wagon picked up speed and would have run away with Raegenhere’s team if Dru Gifardus hadn’t thrown the “land anchor,” a device he invented for just this purpose. The land anchor consisted of a heavy iron chain attached to a wagon’s rear axle at one end and a great five-headed iron hook on the other. The anchor caught in the rocky soil and the chain jerked the wagon to a stop, breaking the axle in the process. The resulting crash broke four wine pots, though most of Derian’s cargo survived intact.
Raegenhere blamed Chapman, claiming he had overloaded the wagon. Chapman blamed Raegenhere, saying he should have controlled his team better. Raegenhere objected that he had safely carried many a load between his home city of Down’s End and Stonebridge; the fault lay in an overloaded wagon! Chapman appealed to Dru Gifardus, who had much experience with wagons on the Stonebridge summit, but the way station master refused to take a side. The most important point in the whole affair, Gifardus said, was that the land anchor prevented a much worse crash. But neither Chapman nor Raegenhere felt much gratitude; they were concerned with costs and delay. In the end, Raegenhere had to pay for a new axle, and Chapman had to wait while repairs were made. For the rest of the journey, Derian pushed the drivers to move faster. Eni Raegenhere was content to take his time.
Now, ten miles from Down’s End, Chapman kept most of his imprecations under his breath. Once Raegenhere decided to stop for the night, the matter was settled. Wodens and Raegenhere unhitched their horses, brushed them down and tethered them loosely so they could wander a bit. Milo drew straws with Eádulf for first watch. Milo cheated, making sure that Eádulf won the draw every night. It was an easy way to win Eádulf’s affection, and Milo had no preference between sleeping early or late anyway.
In the morning, Eádulf built a fire to roast some bacon while Oswy and Eni hitched their teams. Eádulf had become unofficial cook for the wagon train, cooking mostly beans in the evening and rashers of bacon in the morning. Milo was eagerly anticipating better meals in Down’s End. Though they transported excellent wine, the teamsters and their guards drank watery beer from a large keg on the back of Oswy’s wagon.
Derian had to dicker with three warehouses before getting the rental price he wanted for his cargo. It seemed to Milo that Derian greatly enjoyed bargaining with the Down’s Enders. By noon he had what he wanted, and he directed Wodens and Raegenhere to a building in the western part of Down’s End, away from East Lake. “I’m going to like this location,” he predicted to Milo, when the unloading was almost complete. “I don’t want some place on the south side near the tanneries, and the lake front gets really cold in winter.”
Milo puzzled at this. “I thought you planned to sell your wares quickly. If you rent space into the winter, you’ll eat up your profits.”
“To a degree, yes.” Derian shrugged. “The big profit comes in the spring when I take a wagon north to castles Saltas Semitas, Auria Prati, and Lata Altum Flumen. While I’m here, though, I must balance the extra expenses of holding my wares against the higher prices I may get by making the Down’s Enders wait. It’s something of a game, you see?”
“You’re risking your own money, I suppose.”
“Actually, it’s uncle Ody’s money. Of course, that only means that if I lose it, the consequences are worse.” Derian smiled broadly and chuckled. “In Stonebridge you said you play the game of power. I play the game of profit. I’m pretty good at it.”
As if sent by a god to punish Chapman’s pride, a city official met them at the door of the warehouse. He was a short man with wavy black hair, wearing a blue tunic and black hose. A silver chain around his neck held his badge of office, a silver disk embossed with the seal of the city. With him were two mailed men wearing short swords.
“I’m looking for Derian Chapman of Stonebridge,” the man announced. “From the description given me, I suspect you’re the man I want.” One of the armed men behind the official touched the hilt of his sword.
Derian looked sideways at Milo, mystified. He shrugged. “I’m Derian Chapman.”
“Fair afternoon, Master Chapman. I am Talbot Theobald, clerk of Down’s End Court and Council. You are hereby summoned to present yourself in court chambers tomorrow morning.”
“On what charge?” Derian made his voice calm, dignified.
Theobald made a pacific open palmed gesture. “You are not charged with any crime. The court requires your testimony on two matters. The more recent matter involves damages suffered by one Eni Raegenhere, a wagon master of Down’s End, while he was in your employ. He claims that you overloaded his wagon, which cost him a broken axle. He claims recompense.”
“What? How?” Outrage mixed with astonishment. Derian spun around, looking for Raegenhere. Only moments before the teamster had been helping unload wine. “If Eni has claims against me, he should bring them to Stonebridge, where the damage occurred.”
At that moment Raegenhere emerged from the warehouse. He greeted the city clerk with a polite nod and grinned at Derian. Milo maintained a straight face, but only barely; Derian was almost bursting to ask how the teamster’s allegations had arrived so swiftly.
The court clerk nodded as if agreeing with Derian. “Perhaps you will convince the court on that point. Until the matter is settled, the city will guard your merchandise.” Theobald motioned to the men with him. “These sheriffs will see to it that no one disturbs your cargo. It will stay here, all of it, until the court decides this matter.”
Derian put a hand over his mouth, shaking with anger. After many heartbeats he said, “I presume the expense of the guard will be borne by the city?”
“By no means. You will be presented with the costs after the court has ruled.”
Derian chewed his lip. Milo was impressed with the merchant’s restraint. Raegenhere has completely outmaneuvered him, using city sheriffs to extort the price of a new axle. I wonder how a teamster has such influence with the Council.
Derian looked daggers at Raegenhere, but directed his words to Clerk Theobald, “You said this was the more recent of two matters on which I am to testify. What is the other?”
“One of the Aldermen, a banker named Barnet, would like to question you about a fugitive. I believe the young man’s name is Avery Doin.”
75. In Down’s End Court
In Down’s End governance centered in a pair of two-storey brick buildings not far from the shore of West Lake. Given the size and prosperity of Down’s End, Milo would have expected city buildings to be bigger; Stonebridge’s Citadel of the Guard dwarfed these structures. One building had rooms for sheriffs, cells for prisoners awaiting trial, and two courtrooms for criminal trials. Between this building and the lake was a small greensward with a whipping post and gibbet. The second building had a courtroom devoted to property disputes, the mayor’s office, rooms used by aldermen between sessions of the Council, and the actual Council Chamber. It was to the courtroom in this building that Derian Chapman had been summoned.
Derian, Milo and Eádulf ate breakfast (not excellent but far better than bacon and beer) early in the morning at the Dog of the Downs. The Dog was an inexpensive inn with only five guest rooms separated by thin walls. Its chief virtue was its location near the warehouse on the west side of Down’s End where city sheriffs guarded Derian’s wine at his expense. Milo told Eádulf to tend to their horses and wait for them in the Dog, then he accompanied Derian to court.
They entered the City Council building through double doors into a passage running left and right with doors to many other rooms. After a brief inquiry, a sheriff directed them to the right door. In the courtroom a low railing divided the court into two parts. On the near side of the rail were plain wooden benches; on the other side were two long tables with cushioned chairs positioned so their occupants could watch and interrogate people on the benches. Each table had a clay inkbottle with quills lying close by. The chairs were all empty when Milo and Derian arrived, but a man stood near one of the tables.
“Fair morning,” said Derian. “I’m supposed to appear in the city court today. Am I in the right place?”
The man turned from a document lying on the table. He wore a blue tunic and a silver medallion, similar to Talbot Theobald’s; Milo assumed this marked him as another clerk of the court.
“What is your name?” The clerk had a prominent Adam’s apple, as noticeable as Eádulf’s. He was skinny and the sides of his head were shaved, as was his chin, but tall curly hair covered the top of his head; if not for his arms he could have been a carrot pulled from the ground.
“Derian Chapman.” Derian had picked a gray tunic for his appearance at court. With black hose and a plain leather belt, he was trying to project an image of sober-mindedness. Beside him, Milo was dressed even more conservatively, in a brown tunic only a little finer than a priest’s. Milo and Derian stopped at the rail and Derian extended his hand to the clerk. “Fair morning.”
“Fair morning, Master Chapman.” The clerk clasped hands with Derian and inclined his head. “I am Roalt Godfried, clerk for the court. According to this”—Godfried indicated the paper he had been reading—“you are expected this morning. But not by the full court or Council, apparently. Alderman Barnet requires your attendance. Interesting.” Godfried’s Adam’s apple worked up and down as he contemplated the document.
A door opened on the table side of the room. Two men came in. The first wore a black robe loosely over a dark green tunic; he was stocky, with a boxer’s arms. He spotted Derian and Milo immediately; fixing his eyes on them, he quickly took a chair behind the table nearest them. The second man also wore a black robe, which served as background for a magnificent gold medallion. He was a jowly man, clean-shaven, with very short white hair. He sat at the second table and propped his head in his hands. Milo guessed: The Mayor of Down’s End, I suppose. But it seems he’s here to watch rather than participate. The clerk Godfried sat at the stocky man’s table and took up a quill.
The stocky dark-haired man picked up the paper Roalt Godfried had been examining. He glared at Milo and Derian. “Which of you is Chapman?”
The jowly man whom Milo pegged as mayor interrupted, his voice sounding like a rumble. “Ah, Eulard, um.”
The occupant of the near table looked at the mayor for a moment. Then he said, “Very well. Fair morning. I am Alderman Eulard Barnet. I have agreed to represent Down’s End this morning in a hearing regarding a certain matter.” Barnet looked at the paper in his hands. “A complaint registered by a citizen of Down’s End, a teamster named Eni Raegenhere. Raegenhere’s complaint names a Stonebridge merchant by the name of Derian Chapman. I presume that one of you is Chapman?”
“Fair morning, Alderman Barnet. I am Chapman.” Derian inclined his head.
“And your companion?”
Milo saluted, placing his fist on his chest. “Sheriff Mortane of the Stonebridge City Guard. I came along as a friend and extra escort for Derian’s wagons.”
Barnet pursed his lips. “A worthy service, Sheriff Mortane. Since this matter concerns a complaint against your friend, Master Chapman, I will not ask you for testimony, to spare you the difficulty of testifying against him.”
“That’s too bad. I might enjoy testifying against Derian.” Milo grinned at the alderman.
Barnet frowned. “I have little appetite for humor this morning, Sheriff Mortane. You may be seated while I interview Master Chapman.”
Milo sat. The man at the second table was rubbing the back of his neck with one hand while his forehead rested on the palm of the other. He appeared to be massaging a headache, but Milo noticed his eyes. From beneath bushy white eyebrows the mayor was watching him.
“What is your business in Down’s End, Master Chapman?” Barnet spoke quickly, efficiently.
Derian put his hands on the rail. “I have brought two wagons of Stonebridge wine. Naturally, I hope to sell my wine at a profit. It’s excellent wine; perhaps the alderman could be persuaded to sample some?”
“I’m afraid not. You are not permitted to sell any wares until this matter has been resolved. Master Raegenhere says that his wagon was damaged on the journey.”
“That’s true, but …”
“Don’t interrupt, Master Chapman. The wagon was overloaded, according to this complaint, and that caused the loss. Raegenhere had to pay fifteen golds out of pocket to repair his wagon. That hardly seems fair if the loss was caused by excessive weight.”
The alderman looked up from the document at Derian. Behind him, a door opened and the clerk Talbot Theobald poked his head into the courtroom. Seeing the white haired man, Theobald paced silently to the mayor, handed him a note, and bowed out of the room. Alderman Barnet ignored this interruption, glaring at Derian.
Derian waited several more seconds. “Am I to speak now? I don’t want to interrupt.”
Barnet’s face went red in anger. “Don’t play at fool. Did you overload Raegenhere’s wagon?”
“I did not. Raegenhere helped load the wagon, and he never suggested it was too heavy until it got away from him on the Stonebridge summit.”
“So you say. Raegenhere says otherwise.”
“The difference is that I am telling the truth.”
Barnet let the paper fall to the table. He stared at Derian. “You have done business in our city before. Is that true, Master Chapman?”
“Aye. I’ve visited Down’s End many times. Trade between our cities is a boon to people in both. Most recently, I came to Down’s End little more than four weeks ago, with samples of Stonebridge wines. They were well received, and that led to my current venture.”
Barnet interlaced his fingers and rested his head on them. He seemed to be considering his next question. “I believe you were also in Down’s End at the beginning of summer. Is that right?”
“Aye. That time I was moving goods from Down’s End to Stonebridge, two wagons of wool.”
“No problems on the way? Axles breaking on the Stonebridge summit, that sort of thing?”
Derian stroked his hair. “To tell the truth, we did have trouble, but not with the pass. You might not believe it, but some brigand tried to set fire to the wool. Or, at least that’s what I thought.”
“We were staying at River House, an inn. The wagons were parked in the road, and the horses had been put in a corral. Past midnight, someone started shooting fire arrows at the wagons. Foolishly, I thought he was trying to destroy my cargo. My friend Milo divined the true nature of the attack. Everyone else, including me, was running to guard the wool wagons, but Milo ran to the corral, where he caught two youths trying to make off with the draft horses. The attack on the wagon was a diversion. The thieves were really after fine draft animals. After stopping the thieves, Milo rode down the archer with the fire arrows—in the dark, mind you—and killed him.”
“No damage came to your wool or your wagons?”
“None.” Derian smiled ruefully. “But not through my doing. Sir Milo deserves the credit.”
Throughout the interrogation, Milo kept his face blank. Internally he applauded Derian’s ability to play the innocent. When Derian praised him he merely looked at the floor. The man with the gold medallion continued to pay more attention to Milo than Derian.
Barnet rested his chin on his nested fingers again. “Master Chapman, who finances your trade?”
“I’m a banker, Master Chapman. I know how business works in Down’s End, and I suspect it works similarly in Stonebridge. Who lent you the money to buy wool last summer?”
Derian smiled sheepishly. “Actually, I have an advantage there. I have a rich uncle, and he lends me money. His name is Ody Dans. Perhaps you have heard of him. He’s quite well known.”
“Indeed. Many know of Ody Dans. And he is your uncle?”
“This means you have visited his palace?”
“The Spray. Uncle Ody would prefer to call it a house. But I agree it’s spectacular.”
“Have you visited your uncle recently?”
“Aye. Shortly before we left Stonebridge with the wine I now hope to sell in Down’s End.”
“While you were there, did you see Avery Doin?”
Barnet rose up in his chair, leaning forward on his elbows. “Don’t play at fool, Master Chapman. Did you see Avery Doin at your uncle’s house?”
“It happens that I know Avery Doin. I met him some months ago while on business in Down’s End. But the last time I visited my uncle I did so in the company of my friend, Milo Mortane. We saw uncle Ody on official business as sheriffs of Stonebridge. We had the unfortunate duty to ask Master Dans to identify the body of a young woman. While we were there, we saw my uncle, the guard at the door, and one of the servant girls. That’s all. I think I would remember Avery if I saw him. I didn’t. May I ask a question?”
Barnet stared at the tabletop. Finally he waved a hand permissively.
“Is Avery Doin missing? Are you looking for him?”
Contempt and rage contorted Barnet’s face. Milo marveled at Derian’s ability to maintain glib innocence. The merchant stood at ease before the bar of Down’s End justice, while the alderman ground his teeth. Finally Barnet pushed his chair back and stood up. “Your cargo will be protected by the city until teamster Raegenhere is made whole.” He snatched up the piece of paper.
“Not a copper less.”
“It’s unjust, but I’ll pay Raegenhere today. May I sell my wine beginning tomorrow?”
Barnet trembled in anger and could not speak. The man at the other table, who had not spoken since admonishing the alderman at the beginning, cleared his throat. “Eulard, I think it would be wise if you sat down. This matter is more complicated than we thought.” His finger tapped the paper clerk Theobald had given him.
Barnet turned on the jowly man. “Simun, it’s not complicated at all. They’re harboring the man who murdered my son.”
The man called Simun waved his hand as if brushing that matter aside. “Sit down, Eulard. Roalt, please go out to the hall and bring in the next party.”
Alderman Barnet sat. Clerk Godfried lifted a hidden latch in the rail, which allowed a small portion of it to swing out like a gate. He passed through the outer court and opened the door through which Milo and Derian had entered the courtroom.
Two people came in: Kenelm Ash and Milo’s sister, Amicia.
76. In Down’s End Court
The bulldog-faced man with the gold medallion stood to greet the newcomers. “Fair morning and welcome. I am Simun Baldwin, mayor of Down’s End. To my left is Alderman Barnet. Please approach the bar, state your name, and explain why you have requested a hearing with the Council.”
Kenelm Ash and Amicia were halfway to the railing before Amicia noticed the presence of others in the courtroom. When she recognized Milo, Amicia’s jaw dropped in bewilderment and (Milo hoped) happiness. She stopped and half turned toward him, at the same time seizing Kenelm’s arm with her left hand. Kenelm’s face also registered surprise, but he kept his composure. Kenelm tugged on Amicia’s arm, she shut her mouth, and they turned their attention to the mayor of Down’s End. Baldwin took his seat, waving them closer to the bar.
Kenelm stood ramrod straight a step behind Amicia, who bowed to the mayor, then placed both hands on the rail. “Fair morning, my Lord Mayor. My name is Amicia Mortane. I represent my brother, Lord Aylwin Mortane of Hyacintho Flumen. Sir Kenelm Ash, my guard, is a trusted knight sworn to my lord brother’s service. We seek audience with the Down’s End Council to bring kind greetings from my lord brother. More importantly, we bring great and evil tidings from the south.” Amicia bowed again, indicating the close of her speech.
“Great and evil tidings? Hm.” Mayor Baldwin leaned forward on his elbows. The bushy white eyebrows seemed even more prominent. “The Council’s next meeting is four days hence, but for great and evil tidings perhaps I should call an emergency session. Alderman Barnet, give the young lady attention. I will need your advice presently. Lady Mortane, please tell us what transpires in the south.”
Amicia stiffened her back. “The army of Herminia, borne on sixty ships, ten thousand men of arms, has invaded Tarquint. They have surrounded Hyacintho Flumen. My lord brother acceded to his castle only last summer, so the Herminians may believe he cannot yet protect Hyacintho Flumen by magic. It is more likely, however, that they intend to besiege us and force submission through starvation.
“Lord Aylwin sends me to Down’s End to ask for aid in breaking the siege and to warn of the coming of the invader. Make no mistake: the Herminians will not be content to take Hyacintho Flumen. The Ice Queen intends to make slaves of us all. The time and place to defeat the invader is now, in the south, before her armies reach Down’s End.”
Milo felt a swirl of emotions: pride in Amicia’s performance as ambassador in a foreign city, consternation that the enemy should choose Hyacintho Flumen as the place to attack, and gratification that disaster had come upon Aylwin so quickly. At the same time, he had a premonition that this turn of events presented him with a vast opportunity, though for the moment he couldn’t tell how he should use it.
Mayor Baldwin tilted his head. His gaze kept moving from Amicia to Milo and back. Still leaning on his elbows, he turned toward Barnet. “What do you think, Alderman? Are these great and evil tidings sufficient reason to summon the Council?”
Barnet made an open palm gesture. “My Lord Mayor, I think not. If the Herminians besiege Hyacintho Flumen, it will take months or a whole year or longer to subdue the castle. Suppose the Council chose to intervene on behalf of Lord Mortane. The best time to do so would be in the spring. We would have all winter to consider our course and raise an army. Personally, I am not convinced a threat to Aylwin Mortane is a threat to Down’s End. Other aldermen will be equally skeptical, I’m sure.”
“I agree. Lady Mortane, I invite you to the regular Council meeting Monday morning in the Down’s End Council Chamber. That’s the big room at the end of the corridor.” Mayor Baldwin waved vaguely with his right hand. “I warn you that you will find it hard to persuade councilors to fight for a castle lord. It was only in my grandfather’s day that the lords of Hyacintho Flumen abandoned their attempts to collect hidgield on the South Downs. Memories of lordly conceit still linger in Down’s End.”
Amicia bowed her head, unsurprised. “Thank you, Lord Mayor, for this invitation. My lord brother warned me that our plea might fall on initially unreceptive ears. The people of Down’s End will not be quickly convinced that my brother’s war is your war. Nevertheless, it is true; when we fight, we defend you. Therefore I am willing to speak to anyone, high or low, to explain how it is wise for Down’s End to resist the invader. I gratefully accept your invitation to address the Council on Monday.”
Amicia took a half-step back, as if she expected to be dismissed. Baldwin beckoned her back to the rail with a slight gesture. “Lady Mortane, if I am not mistaken, you are acquainted with the men on your right.” He tilted his head toward Milo and Derian.
Amicia turned and made eye contact with Milo. He answered her tremulous smile with a wide grin. After a moment, grin begot grin. “My Lord Mayor, I know one of these men quite well, but the other is a stranger to me. The taller man, with the dark hair, is my brother, Milo Mortane.”
“I thought as much.” Baldwin shifted in his chair and summoned Milo with a wave. “Sir Milo Mortane. Earlier you introduced yourself as a sheriff of Stonebridge. But Lady Mortane of Hyacintho Flumen claims you as her brother. Can you explain this?”
Milo approached the railing and inclined his head, acknowledging the mayor. “Easily, Lord Mayor. It is a story as old as inheritances and brothers. My father, Hereward, chose Aylwin to succeed him as lord of Hyacintho Flumen rather than me, though I am older. Sadly, it is true that some lords cannot feel secure whilst their siblings live. Therefore I deemed it best to leave Hyacintho Flumen before my brother should fall prey to jealousy or suspicion. This happened at the beginning of summer.
“My squire and I happened to meet with a merchant of Stonebridge on the road, none other than Derian Chapman. We became friends and, as Derian said, I helped to protect his wagons from attack. Derian felt some gratitude toward me, I think, so in Stonebridge he introduced me to his uncle, Ody Dans. Master Dans inducted me into the city guard. I am, in fact, a sheriff of Stonebridge, sworn to protect her laws.”
The mayor nodded. “I take it, then, as you have been abroad from Hyacintho Flumen, that the invasion of the Herminians was unknown to you?”
“Aye, my Lord Mayor. Amicia’s words are the first I have heard of this matter.”
“Nevertheless, you are familiar with the strength of Hyacintho Flumen and its defenses?”
“My Lord Mayor, I was familiar with the castle until the day I left. Since then, my brother has acceded to the lordship; his bond may be stronger or weaker than my father’s. If he had warning of the invader, he may have enlarged the garrison. Sir Kenelm would know about these things.”
“I see.” Baldwin pursed his lips, then stood. “Eulard, a word in private.” The alderman rose and followed the mayor through the side door.
Milo quickly stepped to Amicia and threw his arms around her. Then he clasped hands with Kenelm. “Fair morning, and well met, Sir,” Kenelm said.
“Well met, indeed, Kenelm.” Milo turned to the clerk, Godfried. “Are we expected to stay?”
The clerk’s Adam’s apple bobbed. “I think Mayor Baldwin intends to return presently. It would be best to stay.”
Godfried was still speaking when the door opened again. But it was Barnet, not the mayor. “Sir Milo and Lady Amicia. It happens that I am hosting a few friends, including Aldermen Gausman and Ansquetil and their wives, for sup and dancing at my house tonight. I invite you to join us. The mayor suggests, Lady Amicia, that informal talk around the table might give you opportunity to explain your brother’s case more persuasively.”
Amicia looked at Milo, then Kenelm, seeking direction. Barnet continued, “Naturally, Lady Amicia, your guard will also be welcome. And we must not forget Sir Milo’s friend, Master Chapman. You are all invited. In fact, Master Chapman, in a friendlier setting we might have a more productive conversation about certain things.”
Milo spoke for all four. “Thank you, indeed, Alderman. Please tell us how to find your house and we will endeavor to attend.”
Copyright © 2013 by Philip D. Smith.
All rights reserved. International copyright secured.