Part Four: Spring
122. At Castle Saltas Semitas
“The eye is blinking, my lord.”
“The gods blast that woman!” David Le Grant tossed his spade aside and straightened. “I’ve got better things to do than listen to her boasts and threats.”
Spring at last was coming to the Great Downs. Wind from the west carried clouds and perhaps a hint of the sea, sixty miles away. On the grounds of Saltas Semitas Le Grant’s peasants were plowing fields, turning over the accumulated winter compost, and pruning fruit trees that had been neglected too long. In the distance, Le Grant’s chief shepherd, Kipp Downsman, was sauntering behind two hundred sheep cresting a gentle hill; Kipp’s dogs managed most of the work when moving large flocks. The lord himself was attending to his favorite flower garden, twenty yards south of the castle.
“It won’t hurt to talk to her, Father.” Le Grant’s twenty-year-old brown-haired daughter, Kendra, had overheard the exchange between scribe and lord. “Besides, I can tell your back is hurting again. A break will go you good.”
“Very well.” Le Grant rubbed dirt off his hands. He motioned his long-time scribe, Orde, back toward the castle. “I’ll be right along.”
Orde, silver hair tied in a ponytail behind his head, bowed stiffly. Orde’s back was worse than Le Grant’s. “Shall I prepare a writing slate, my lord?”
“Slate, aye, Orde. Paper is too dear to waste on Mariel.” Le Grant stamped his boots on the paved castle-path, knocking away mud. He breathed deeply the smells of earth and sky. Even the aroma of the compost pit reminded him of growing things. Spring was his favorite season, refreshing to body and spirit; he should not let Mariel Grandmesnil spoil his enjoyment of it. At the south door of the great hall, he pulled off his boots and washed his hands in the gods-made basin. Then he followed Orde indoors.
A white light blinked in the center of Saltas Semitas’s viewing wall. David Le Grant knelt briefly on the floor under Globum Deus Auctoritate, the god’s knob. The Le Grants had always been careful to observe pious traditions. Rising, he looked at Orde, who sat on a stool, a black slate resting on his knees. Orde nodded. Le Grant crossed to the lord’s knob and bonded, the familiar pink glow enfolding his hands.
In the viewing wall, the blinking light instantly became two lights. Lord and scribe shared a quick glance of surprise. They knew from prior conversations that Mariel required the Herminian lords to meet with her via Videns Loquitur all at the same time, but she had never included another lord or lady when talking with Le Grant. The lights in the viewing wall became rectangles and enlarged quickly to life size. One frame showed a narrow faced man with black and gray hair cut short. The other held a woman, but not Mariel; she had a deeply wrinkled face and brown hair. The woman’s green eyes registered recognition. “David Le Grant! It’s been years!”
The greeting startled him, but Le Grant quickly responded. “Fair morning, Lady Postel. Aye, many years. I’m afraid Videns-Loquitur is too great a strain for me. I am not the lord my father was.”
Jean Postel smiled wistfully. “Few of us equal our ancestors, David. I am pleased, then, to introduce Lord Martin Cedarborne of Inter Lucus. You may be sure that Lord Martin supports the magic, not I.”
Le Grant looked more carefully at the narrow faced lord. Martin Cedarborne might have been forty, or maybe a few years older or younger. He wore a golden green tunic that reminded Le Grant of new spring growth; the tunic was tucked into brown breeches made of some rough fabric. By his dress Lord Martin could have been one of Le Grant’s more well to do tenants. “Fair morning, Lord Martin. I am David Le Grant.”
“Pleased to meet you, Lord David. Fair morning.” Both men inclined their heads.
A youth, who could not be yet fifteen years old, stood at a stand-up desk close to Cedarborne. Apparently, this was the lord’s scribe, for he wrote continuously. Cedarborne leaned close to the youth and pointed at something on his paper. The youth chewed his lip and made some correction. Le Grant watched with rising astonishment; the green aura around Cedarborne’s left hand never wavered in the least. Le Grant looked to Jean Postel, who nodded at him.
Le Grant coughed. “Lord Martin, I had understood that Inter Lucus was a ruin, that the Tirels were no more. And yet you have a very clear bond with your castle. I suspect that the history of a lost Tirel must be a remarkable tale. Are you willing to tell it?”
“Of course. First, I’d like to introduce Besyrwen Fairfax. He’s a student here at Inter Lucus, and I’ve asked him to take notes of our talk.” The youth looked up from his writing long enough to wave; he dipped pen in an inkbottle and resumed his earnest penmanship.
“My scribe is Orde Penman.” Le Grant nodded toward his man. “Orde has served me, and my father before me, for forty-one years. Even at that, he did not begin so early in life as Besyrwen.”
“I’m honored to meet such a faithful servant. Fair morning, Orde Penman. But I should say clearly that Besyrwen is not my scribe. For him, this is a school exercise.” Again, Lord Martin leaned close to the youth and pointed to something on his paper. The boy’s shoulders slumped and he seemed close to tears. His left hand never leaving the lord’s knob, Lord Martin took the pen from Besyrwen, dipped it in ink, and made some correcting mark on the paper. The youth’s countenance brightened. “Oh!”
Cedarborne fixed his eyes on Le Grant. “My story. I came to Inter Lucus only last summer from a very distant place called Lafayette. I had no idea I might be related to the Tirels. To my great surprise, I bonded with the castle, and it began repairing itself. As you could guess, there’s been a great deal of work to do—appointing sheriffs, finding servants for various jobs on the castle grounds, collecting hidgield from people between the lakes who weren’t used to paying it, and so on. Only now am I beginning to meet the other lords of Tarquint.
“Lady Postel explained to me that Saltas Semitas lies in the Great Downs, but far west of Down’s End. Closer to Stonebridge, is that right?”
Le Grant made a wry face. “Indeed. For hundreds of years the western downs swore fealty to the lords of Saltas Semitas, and this included the little town in the hills. But men discovered silver in the hills. They harvested forests, they quarried stone, and they planted vineyards. The little town grew. There came a day when they declared themselves a free city and refused payment of hidgield; a man named Warren Averill killed the knight sent by my great, great, great grandfather Corbett Le Grant. For twenty years my ancestor tried to reassert his authority in the hills, but the Stonebridge men fought back; they threw us out of the mountains and even raided flocks and herds in the downs. In the end Corbett Le Grant made peace with Warren Averill.”
Le Grant shrugged. “That was one hundred forty years ago. A Tirel still ruled Inter Lucus—so long ago it was. Now, Stonebridge has become a great city. I should be happy they are mostly content to ignore Saltas Semitas.”
Lord Martin asked, “Do you worry that the Averills will attack you?”
“Stonebridge is ruled by an City Assembly, not the Averills. They remain an important family in Stonebridge politics, but only one among several.”
Cedarborne nodded and pointed to something on Besyrwen’s paper. “Right. Assembly, not Averills. Do you think the Stonebridge Assembly would attack you?”
“No, I don’t really worry about that. I may not control Videns-Loquitur well, but I can manage Magna Arcum Praesidiis and Parva Arcum Praesidiis. They would die by the hundreds or thousands, and they have to know that would be the case. The men of Stonebridge would much rather sell me lumber or their excellent wine—which they have done, by the way—than challenge the magic of my castle.”
Jean Postel said, “Derian Chapman, was it? He came here with Stonebridge wines last year. Early fall I think it was. Artus liked it; he says we should buy more if we get the chance. As I remember, Chapman said he visited Saltas Semitas before he came here.”
Le Grant nodded. “Aye. Chapman. That was the name.” A thought came to him. “Lady Jean, do you know that Bellinus Silver, that’s Artus Silver’s nephew, drowned? Fraomar, the heir, cannot be more than four years old.” Le Grant raised a questioning eyebrow.
“Excuse me,” Cedarborne broke in. “Artus is your husband, Lady Jean, isn’t that right? Who is Bellinus Silver?”
Jean Postel shook her head. “David, Artus took my name. He’s not interested.” To Lord Martin she explained: “My husband, Artus, is descended from the Silvers, the lords of Oceani Litura. His brother, Aldin, inherited the castle; as younger brother, Artus had already been pledged to me as consort. Aldin Silver died ten years ago, leaving Oceani Litura to his son Bellinus, who apparently was foolish enough to go sailing. So now Bellinus is dead, and Oceani Litura waits for his son to grow up. Forty-four years Artus has been content to be my counselor and friend. Why would he want to go down to that little shelf by the sea and displace his grand-nephew?”
Cedarborne pointed at Besyrwen’s paper. “So there is no lord in Oceani Litura now?”
Le Grant answered, “Fraomar is the lord, but no child that young can command magic. I suppose the few sheriffs they have obey his mother, Rowena Silver, and they all wait for Fraomar to come of age. It’s really just a small fishing village with a castle.”
“I don’t understand.” Cedarborne frowned. “If it’s so small, and Fraomar cannot bond with the castle, why hasn’t Mariel taken it? She could install some captain as regent for Fraomar and guarantee that he would accept her rule when he comes of age.”
“Ah! That points to a problem, doesn’t it?” Jean Postel bent over, bringing her head to the back of her hand for a moment; then she straightened. “Sorry. Itchy nose for a moment, and I didn’t want to let go.
“For all we know, Queen Mariel has captured Oceani Litura. There’s no road through the mountains. Ships sometimes stop there when sailing to or from Herminia, but now the Herminians control the sea and they’re not interested in carrying news for us. All the more reason for Artus to stay home. Imagine Artus on a boat—even worse, hiking through the mountains—somehow arriving at Oceani Litura, just to be arrested by Mariel’s armsmen. Not a likely adventure for a seventy year old man.”
Cedarborne rubbed his chin with his right hand. Le Grant envied him, not just the easy mastery of Videns-Loquitur, but also the ability to scratch when needed. Cedarborne said, “What about other places? We have no way to get information about Oceani Litura, but what about other castles? Do you talk with other lords or ladies?”
Le Grant shook his head. “As Jean said, few of us equal our ancestors, it seems. My father used Videns-Loquitur several times when I was a child, but I remember those times as special occasions, so they must not have been frequent. I do remember him talking with Hereward Mortane. That ended shortly after I became lord.”
Jean Postel laughed. “For good reason. Mortane sent messenger knights to various castles, asking lords to connect with him at set times on certain days. When both lords summon Videns-Loquitur simultaneously, they can mutually support the magic. But the whole thing depended on cooperation. As soon as one lord insulted another or the two disagreed about when to reconnect, everything fell apart. It didn’t take long for Mortane to destroy his own project. He talked about cooperation, but he really wanted power. He wanted to be Rudolf Grandmesnil.”
“Just to be clear: Rudolf was Mariel’s father?” Cedarborne pointed again at something on Besyrwen’s paper. Le Grant wondered what exactly the youth was writing.
“That’s right,” Lady Jean answered. “Rudolf made himself king of Herminia. Hereward Mortane envied him, I think. He wanted to fashion a kingdom in Tarquint. Foolishness. The lords of Tarquint were far too proud to yield to him.”
“Surely Herminian lords have pride as well.” Cedarborne’s words might have been a question or an objection.
Lady Jean answered, “But Rudolf Grandmesnil had an army of thousands to do his will. He could compel submission. Lord Hereward might have raised a few hundred sheriffs at most.”
Le Grant changed the subject. “Lord Martin, I notice that young Besyrwen is writing on paper. For a school exercise?”
“Aye.” Cedarborne glanced momentarily at the youth’s desk. “I’ve invited a number of children from local villages to learn writing in Inter Lucus. I call our school Collegium Inter Lucus.”
“Do they all practice on paper? Where do you find coin to pay for it? You said the people near Inter Lucus weren’t accustomed to paying hidgield.” Le Grant knew that Orde’s writing closet contained several quality lambskins, but almost no paper. The paper makers in Stonebridge demanded exorbitant prices.
“We make our own paper.” Cedarborne made it sound like a matter of course. “Someone told me they make good paper in Cippenham, but that’s too far away. I learned to use Materias Transmutatio to make paper.”
“You chose paper rather than steel?” Le Grant asked the question, but he read the same dismay in Lady Jean’s countenance. “How will you armor your knights? How will you arm your sheriffs?”
“I don’t understand,” Cedarborne said. “I haven’t made steel yet. But I suppose it’s just a matter of learning how.”
Jean Postel was wide-eyed. “No, Lord Martin. Materias Transmutatio accustoms itself to one material. A lord or lady may train it to work with sand to make glass, clay to make pottery, iron to make steel, wood to make paper, or some other transformation I suppose. You must choose wisely at the start. It is like a sapling growing on the downs. If the gardener does not stake it, the wind will push the sapling in one direction; and once the direction is set, the tree will always lean that way.”
Cedarborne frowned. “But that can’t be right. Besides paper, we use Materias Transmutatio to make chairs and doors and desks.”
“All of them made of wood.” Le Grant stated the obvious. He observed Cedarborne’s face carefully, watching doubt and consternation take root. “Did no one ever explain this to you, Lord Martin? It is clear that your bond with Inter Lucus is strong. But unless you are a god, you will never make steel. You must plan your future accordingly.”
123. At Castle Inter Lucus
“Everyone ready? As Lord Martin says, ‘on three.’ One, two, three!”
Eadmar’s voice coordinated their effort. Marty, Teothic, Ealdwine, and Os lifted a log into place. The walls of the new Prayer House were waist high already. Eadmar exuded happiness. “What teamwork! You men are amazing.”
Marty laughed. “Hardly amazing, my friend. With Ealdwine on one end and Os on the other, Teothic and I don’t really lift much.”
Red-bearded Teothic stretched his arms above his head. “Lord Martin has the truth of it. There’s not a man in Down’s End that I would pick in a contest of strength against Os Osgood.”
“Down’s End? True enough. You’d have to go to Pulchra Mane to find a brute as big as Os.” The construction crew spun around at the sound of the voice. Godric Measy sat at ease, hands on a saddle pommel. He and two other riders had appeared while the builders were intent on hoisting the log.
“The postman returns!” Marty rubbed bits of pine bark from his hands and strode to shake hands with Godric, who dismounted. “Welcome home! We had begun to worry about you.” Ealdwine, Os, Teothic and Eadmar all hurried forward to greet Godric.
“You’ve been to Pulchra Mane and back in the space of three weeks, have you?” Eadmar threw his arms around Godric. “The Down’s End laborer has become a world traveler?”
Godric grinned and shook his head. “The men of Pulchra Mane have come to Tarquint, remember? At the siege of Hyacintho Flumen I saw one even bigger than Os, if you can believe it.”
One of Godric’s escorts dismounted to shake hands with Marty’s crew, but the other remained mounted. The horseman chewed his lip. “Lord Martin!”
Marty looked up. “Stepan Dell, if I remember? Has your hearing returned?”
“Almost completely.” The rider waited still in his saddle. “It is not my place to criticize, my lord, especially after our last visit to Inter Lucus. But…”
“If you have something to say, Stepan, say it.”
“My lord, three armed riders approached this place without being observed. No alarm was raised. We find here five men hard at work, but unarmed and unprotected. Perhaps the five men have no cause to expect danger. But one of the men is a castle lord. An undefended lord puts his people at risk.”
Eadmar raised an eyebrow and looked at Marty. “Thank you, Stepan. Lord Martin pays no heed to my warnings. Perhaps he will listen to a soldier.”
“If I acted on your warnings, Eadmar, I’d be a prisoner inside Inter Lucus.” Marty tried to make his tone jocular, but irritation colored his words. Since their return from Dimlic Aern, Eadmar had harped often on a lord’s duty of self-protection. It didn’t help that Caelin and Ora pushed the same point when they had opportunity.
Os Osgood cleared his throat. “Hm. Not so, my lord. You could post Alf or Ora to watch. We would have warning of strangers approaching and time to go up to Inter Lucus if need be.” For such a big man, Os had a surprisingly quiet voice.
Marty began to object but checked himself. “You are in the right, Stepan.” He looked at Eadmar. “And so are you, my friend. We will arrange for someone to stand watch while we build Prayer House.” With the arrival of spring, Marty had suspended Collegium Inter Lucus for four weeks; Whitney Ablendan, Went Bycwine, Tayte Graham, Dodric Night, and Besyrwen Fairfax had all gone home to help with planting. Marty hoped his school might resume for most of the summer; but he worried that some students would not come back until after harvest. Ernulf Penrict had stayed on at Inter Lucus as apprentice in Isen’s glassworks. But Ora, Caelin, and Alf were permanent residents of Inter Lucus and thus available to serve as lookouts.
Marty turned to Godric. “Well? I’m hoping for a response from General Ridere.”
The postman reached inside his tunic and handed Marty a folded paper, sealed with blue wax. “You asked Ridere to sign your letter and return it. It is folded inside the general’s letter to you.”
“Thank you.” Marty touched the wax seal, but didn’t break it. “It’s close to noon. You three have been riding and we’ve been building. Let’s all wash up and have some lunch.” He motioned everyone toward Inter Lucus.
“Aren’t you going to read it?” asked Teothic.
“Of course he will.” Eadmar began walking toward the castle. “But it is a private letter from General Ridere to Lord Martin. If there’s anything in it that pertains to us, I think we can trust Martin to say as much.”
Once inside Inter Lucus, Marty retreated to his bedroom and read Ridere’s letter. He bathed, dressed and sent for Caelin, Ora, and Eadmar. When they arrived, he bade them sit. There were only three chairs in the room, so Marty sat on the edge of his bed. He held two sheets of paper. “My letter to Ridere.” He laid that one aside on the bed. “His reply.” He read aloud.
To Martin of Inter Lucus,
Please excuse my delay in writing to you. A message from Queen Mariel arrived today, ten days after Godric Measy delivered your letter. The Queen confirms everything you wrote about Acwel Penda, his men, and the other prisoners. Therefore I have ordered that each of Penda’s men be flogged. Penda himself, as captain, received twenty-five lashes; his men will get twenty. Captain Penda, Ned Wyne and Bron Kenton have received their punishment already. Since Stepan Dell and Wylie Durwin begged the privilege of escorting Godric Measy back to you, I have delayed their penalty; the whip awaits their return from Inter Lucus. I personally witnessed the punishment of Wyne, Kenton and Penda, as did your postman, Godric Measy. He will assure you that these men deeply regret their errors. Dell and Durwin know well what awaits them when they come back to Hyacintho Flumen; nevertheless, they, like Wyne, Kenton and Penda, are sincerely grateful for the mercy extended toward them in your letter. Your kindness spared their lives.
Unfortunately, Rothulf Saeric, Able Darcy and Ewert Green, the troublemakers who persuaded Captain Penda to join in their traitorous attack on Inter Lucus, tried to escape on the way from Inter Lucus to Hyacintho Flumen. The three criminals were killed in the attempt, which deprived me the satisfaction of hanging them.
Queen Mariel tells me that you have expressed willingness to acknowledge her sovereignty, though you seem to pollute your expressions of fealty with criticisms of the Queen’s actions. I warn you plainly: Defiance will not be tolerated. Contrariwise, if you submit full-heartedly to Her Majesty’s rule, the lord of Inter Lucus and his people will benefit enormously.
Like you, Lord Martin, I welcome the exchange of letters between us. I propose that your postman, Godric Measy, make regular rounds between Inter Lucus and Hyacintho Flumen. Armsmen Dell and Durwin will not be fit escorts for Measy until they recover from the punishment that awaits them here, so I will appoint other horsemen to guard the postman for the time being. I may also, if need arises, increase the number of armsmen in Measy’s troop. I will order my men to make their camp at any place you designate reasonably close to Inter Lucus. They will not come closer to your castle unless doing so is necessary to ensure safe delivery of the postman and his messages. Please report any expenses incurred by my men, whether in the village or on the castle grounds; I guarantee payment of all just debts.
You will take a large step toward proving your good faith toward Queen Mariel if you permit one of Measy’s escorts to stand with you when you speak with the queen, much as Acwel Penda did. You will, of course, be present to hear anything my soldier says to Her Majesty; nevertheless, I judge it a gain if I can send her a message in five days rather than fifteen.
I await your reply.
Marty handed the letter to Eadmar. “I’ll have to tell Alf. Rothulf is dead.” Marty’s voice wavered and almost broke. He felt depressed. Well, what did you expect? A nice prison cell for Saeric? You sealed the man’s fate when you sent him to Ridere. “Ridere says Rothulf and his friends tried to escape. Is that likely? Or did Penda and his men simply kill them?”
Eadmar sighed. “Ask Godric. It may be true. Rothulf and the others had to expect death from General Ridere—or some worse punishment. In Down’s End, the magistrates sometimes order a thief’s feet to be waxed and held over coals until they smell like roast fowl. Afterward, the victim can only crawl and usually dies of worms or black humors. The three prisoners may well have taken what they judged to be their best chance.”
Marty hung his head. At the Catholic Worker house in Chicago, passionate and intelligent reformers had condemned capital punishment. Even with all its resources, they said, the state of Illinois continues to convict innocent people and sentence them to die. Execution falls disproportionately on poor people and people of color, showing that the prejudices of juries influence judgments. Prisons may be bad, and courts may be imperfect, they said, but at least an unjust prison sentence can be ended if innocence is proved. When the state kills innocent men, the injustice is permanent. Their arguments persuaded Marty; he had voted against a state legislature candidate who strenuously supported the death penalty. And now I am the judge; I am the executioner. What else could I have done?
“My lord?” Ora brought him back to the present. Eadmar had passed Ridere’s letter to her, and she was rereading it. “Will you permit Stepan Dell or Wylie Durwin to speak with Queen Mariel? Have you pledged liege to her?”
Caelin and Eadmar watched Marty as intently as Ora. A shudder rippled through Marty’s shoulders; he had not felt the weight of his calling so keenly before. The lord of a castle has to take responsibility for his people, their safety and welfare.
“I have not pledged loyalty or obedience to Mariel. However, I do not oppose her, and I will support her rule if she comports herself as she should. So, aye, I will let Dell and Durwin speak with the Queen. In fact, it may be to our advantage to listen to that conversation.
“I do not believe that God brought me to Two Moons so that I could join in some pointless war between castles. Eadmar and the brothers in Down’s End can already predict how the suffering of a wider war will fall on ordinary folk. Somehow I must find a way to persuade Mariel and Aylwin to end their war before it spreads.”
124. At the Siege of Hyacintho Flumen
Fugol Hengist interrupted. “This is common knowledge. Certainly General Ridere is aware of it. He’s consort to the Queen!” Knowing grins spread around the conference table: all Herminia acknowledged the power of Mariel’s magic. The steel armor and weapons enjoyed by the hostage knights testified to it.
Eudes Ridere stifled the humor with a raised hand. “I lost good men to Sherard Toeni at the siege of Prati Mansum, so I want to hear Captain Wedmor’s plan. Go on, Bully.”
Some of the hostage knights raised eyebrows at the word “captain,” but everyone listened.
“We have all seen that Mortane holds the shields at some times and not others. He blocks projectiles from Ranulf and Thorwold for a while and then he stops. So we can see when he has lowered the shield. We can attack then.”
Fugol Hengist objected again. “Mortane is no fool. He lowers the shield, invites us in, and then slaughters our men before we reach the castle. This is no plan.”
Bully nodded affirmatively. “Aye. But our plan is not to reach the castle. And we do not attack with hundreds. We put only fifty archers at risk.
“Spring plowing has begun. Every day on the south side of Hyacintho Flumen Mortane’s servants are turning the soil. The enemy’s best grain fields are in the flat land downslope from the castle, more than a thousand yards from Hyacintho Flumen. Our plan is this: On a day when the plowmen are working far from the castle on the south side, we have Ranulf and Thorwold fire missiles at the enemy on the north and west side. Mortane will block them for a while, as he usually does. When he lowers the shield, Ranulf and Thorwold will start launching fires—something that will burn brightly and make lots of smoke. We want to draw his attention north and west. At the sign of the smoke, fifty archers advance on the south. They loose one or two volleys only at the plowman, then retreat. They will be inside the circle only a short time. If Mortane is distracted or tired, the archers escape.”
Archard Oshelm leaned forward, elbows on the table. “You want to kill a farmer?” There was some disdain as well as disbelief in his tone.
“Perhaps. We prefer to kill draft horses.” Bully met Oshelm’s gaze unblinking. “The less grain they grow, the sooner Mortane must submit.”
Fugol Hengist snorted. “We’ll lose the archers and gain nothing. Even if you kill one, Mortane will have another farmer plow that field. And the second time he’ll be sure to protect the plowman with a shield.”
Oshelm did not join in Hengist’s derision. He turned from Bully to face Ridere. “If it worked, it would delay spring planting by a day or two, maybe more. More importantly, it might provoke fear in Mortane’s people. It could be a way of harassing the enemy, my Lord General.”
The corner of Ridere’s mouth lifted. “I did say that we would be like bees, didn’t I? We allow no quiet rest to Mortane and his folk.”
Fugol Hengist made one more objection. “My Lord General, if we lose our archers without killing horses, we may actually encourage the enemy.”
Ridere nodded. “There’s a risk. Therefore, Captain Hengist, I put the overall operation in your hands. It will need coordination between the catapult crews and the archers, and it must happen soon, when the plowmen present a close target.”
Fugol bowed his head. “As you wish, Lord General.”
Ridere wasn’t finished. “Captain Wedmor will lead the troop of archers.”
Bully hadn’t proposed the attack to gain promotion. That was Gifre’s doing, when he broached the idea to Ridere. The squire had access to Ridere’s ear unmatched by any of his commanders. Gifre, of course, proposed that he be included in the archer troop, along with Bully. Ridere squelched that suggestion, but he agreed with Gifre that the leader of the archers ought to have rank. So Bully Wedmor, who a year before was a landless laborer in an insignificant Herminian town, advanced to captaincy in the Herminian army.
The men of the archer troop were drawn from Beatus Valle. Linn Wadard, hostage knight and eleven-year-old grandson of Lord Paul Wadard, came with the archers before dawn to the designated point of attack, an old barn by the rim road south of Hyacintho Flumen. Linn’s father, List, also a knight, was absent. Whispers among the men suggested that Sir List could probably be found in a bedroom in town, either sleeping off too many rounds of drink or lingering in the company of a certain tavern owner’s daughter. The men whispered carefully. They liked Linn Wadard and didn’t want to embarrass him with facts about his father.
When Bully announced the plan for the morning, all jocularity disappeared. The archers stood in a ring around Bully, voicing objections.
“Inside the circle in broad daylight?”
Bully replied evenly: “Ranulf and Thorwold will be launching fire. Aylwin’s attention should be on them.”
The second objector: “And what if it is? He doesn’t need to see us, does he? He could throw down the shield, aiming to stop fires, and kill us by accident.”
Bully acknowledged the question by nodding. “The catapults will launch fire after he lets down the shield. We’ll see smoke from Ranulf’s missiles hitting the ground. So we’ll know the shield is down.”
A sandy-haired archer: “And what’s t’ stop him throwin’ it up agin?”
Bully: “The longer he holds the shield against the morning’s bombardment, the weaker he’ll be. If he lets the fire projectiles through, it’s probably because he’s too tired to stop them.”
A fourth objector: “Says who? How can we know he’s tiring?”
This time Linn Wadard answered. “General Ridere says even Mariel gets tired making magic. He should know.”
The first objector spat on the dirt floor. “By the gods! We don’t know he’s tired! They’re sending us to our death based on a guess. Whose idea was this, anyway?”
“Mine.” Bully turned on his heel slowly, meeting the gaze of each man in the ring. “I proposed the plan to Ridere.”
The archers fell silent, glaring at Bully, and in that silence Linn Wadard spoke. “Captain Wedmor told General Ridere how to use the slough to escape to the river. He’s also the one who captured Mortane’s strumpet and traded her for Lady Edita. Captain Wedmor is as clever as any of Ridere’s commanders, and he is not sending you into battle; he’s leading you.”
The sandy-haired archer turned on the boy. “Cap’ Wedmor, ya say? And what abou’ you, ya lil’ ass?”
The second archer intervened. “Watch your mouth, Rob. Sir Linn is just a boy.”
Another man put a hand on Rob’s shoulder. “And he will be Lord Wadard someday.”
Sandy-haired Rob blew out a breath. “I mean no offence, Sir Linn. Gods know yer here, which be more th’ can be said fer others.”
The second archer commented, “Rightly said, Rob.” There was some shuffling of feet and nodding of heads. “So—what now?”
“Our target is a plowman and his horse.” Bully had their attention. “We attack today because he’ll be plowing close to the ring road, on the near side of the washerwoman’s house. We will run toward the plowman until we are in range, loose two arrows each, and run back. That’s all: run in, shoot twice, and run back. We will not shoot until I signal. I want a rain of arrows all at once.”
One of the archers spoke up. “We do all this to kill a plowman?”
“I’d rather kill the horses and leave the man. The man has to eat. An unplowed field, or poorly plowed field, grows less food. Less food for the castle means a shorter siege. A shorter siege lets you go home.”
Bully hadn’t foreseen the hardest part of his plan. After the archers selected two arrows each, they had nothing to do but wait. From the vantage of the barn they could see nothing on the north side of Hyacintho Flumen, so all their cues came from Ranulf, on the west side of the castle. At first, several men lined the barn’s wall, looking out through knotholes and cracks in boards. Time dragged with nothing remarkable happening, so the men wandered around the interior of the barn, worrying. Bully had to appoint men to keep watch in turn.
Weeks of practice had made the Ranulf crew efficient in bombardment; a rock or some other projectile flew from the catapult every five minutes with great regularity. But only the sharp-eyed among the archers could be sure of the missiles at this distance. Unfired clay pots were the easiest to spot; they broke into many pieces when they struck the invisible circle shield and rolled down like pebbles on a hillside.
The day’s plowing had begun shortly after sunrise. Two teams of horses worked separate fields, one just south of the castle close to Blue River and the other where Bully predicted, between the washerwoman’s cottage and the rim road. The archers tried to encourage each other: “We’ll only have to run a little way to get a shot,” they said. In spite of hopeful predictions, tension grew. At some point or another every man thought: Let’s just get on with it.
“Shield’s down!” Men raced to cracks and knotholes at the word. Five minutes later Ranulf’s next missile smashed into the shield high in the air. The response from the lookout’s friends was immediate.
“Damn you, Albin! Gods damn you to hell.”
“Be sure before you say anything!”
“Do that again and I’ll put an arrow up your butt, you idiot.”
Perhaps because of the angry words, Bully thought the tension in the barn lessened a little.
Linn Wadard piped up from the other side of the barn. “Any of you know how to play Fox and Hens?” He drew a circle on the ground with a stick. “I don’t have any money, but we could play for arrows.” He pointed to bundles of extra arrows the men had laid aside.
“Oh, hell. Why not?” Someone said. Within minutes five men were playing the children’s game, and ten others were watching.
The man named Albin said, “It really is down. Ranulf is throwing fire.”
“Lower your breeches, Albin. I’m getting my gear.”
But this time when men crowded the wall, they could see smoke rising west of the castle. They made room at a knothole for Bully to look. He waited until the next launch from Ranulf: more smoke. “The shield is definitely down.” Bully turned from the wall and made fists with both hands. “We’ll let Ranulf shoot once more before we leave the barn. Spread out just a bit on the road. No shouting, for gods’ sake! At Ranulf’s next shot after we leave the barn I’ll say go. Run straight for the plowman. Don’t shoot ’til I say shoot. Take your second shot as you like, then get out. That’s all: in, shoot twice, out. Got it? Get your gear, then.”
Bully watched through a crack while the men grabbed bows and arrows. The next missile from Ranulf hit the ground and made a cloud of white smoke. Wet hay, Bully thought, irrelevantly. “Let’s go.”
The archers exited the barn at a quick trot, following Bully. They spread out about a hundred yards along the rim road. Someone crouched down, as if this might hide him from Aylwin’s magic, and soon all were doing it.
Another missile from Ranulf; this time it produced black smoke. Oiled hay, I bet. Bully waved his arm forward. There was no need to shout a command; the archers charged as one. A quarter-mile away, the plowman saw them immediately. Bully heard the man’s shout, but it was faint. Surely it would be inaudible in Hyacintho Flumen.
Two hundred yards of uneven ground, and some men ran faster than others. One man tripped, dislocated his shoulder, and sat on the ground in disbelief. In spite of all, most of the men reached firing distance in less than a minute. “Hold here!” Bully said. The archers quickly formed a firing row.
All around him men notched arrows. Bully looked from side to side. “Ready. Ready. Loose!”
Arrows shot away. “Shoot again! Then run!”
The plowman deserted his team and started running when he saw the archers preparing. His horses, hitched to a plow, had nowhere to go. Naturally, most of the arrows missed the beasts, but one cannot stay completely dry in the middle of a storm.
“Back, back, back!” The archers goaded each other as they ran. The man with the dislocated shoulder got up and staggered after the others. Ten minutes after they left the barn, the archers were all back inside. Not one had dropped or thrown aside his bow.
“By the gods! We did it!” Men panted, laughed, and shook hands. “We got ’em,” said someone, and they all looked. The plow horses were hard to see, because they had fallen to the ground.
“No plowin’ t’day!” exulted sandy-haired Rob. His comrades laughed at his enthusiasm, the laughter of shared relief.
125. In Castle Hyacintho Flumen
A white dot blinked in the center of the viewing wall. Aylwin put down his wineglass abruptly, spilling some. “Not now!”
Seated next to Aylwin, Juliana brushed the spilled wine onto the floor where castle magic would dispose of it. She spoke to Lady Lucia and Arthur the old on the other side of the table. “She can’t know already about the horses, can she?”
“No, she can’t.” Arthur pushed aside his own glass and reached for the slate he kept ready in the great hall. Hyacintho Flumen’s store of paper was dwindling, and Arthur used the slate during his master’s Videns-Loquitur conversations. “General Ridere would need castle magic to tell her what transpired this very day. She may have known by prior arrangement that they would attack our plowman, but it seems unlikely she would know which day.”
“Damn it, Arthur. The way you speak—always so calm, so dispassionate—it’s as if we were talking about the procession of the moons.” Aylwin rose from the table. “I’m fighting for my life, and you make measured guesses about the Herminian bitch’s plans: ‘she may have known by prior arrangement.’”
Arthur also stood. “I apologize, my lord, for my apparent lack of concern. I assure you, it is only apparent. In reality, I am greatly distressed at the terrible difficulty my lord faces. However, I do think the greatest service I can offer my lord is dispassionate advice. For instance, in conversation with Lady Mariel, it might be helpful to remember that she does not know what happened today on your lands.”
“I figured that out on my own, Arthur.” Sarcasm established, Aylwin moved to the lord’s knob. “Ready?”
“Aye, my lord.”
It wasn’t Mariel.
“Fair afternoon, Lord Aylwin.” The strange lord of Inter Lucus stood at ease with a young woman at the writing desk beside him.
“Lord Martin.” Aylwin sighed in irritation. “I see you employ yet another of your students as scribe today.”
“Oh, I’m sorry. I introduce Ora Wooddaughter. She’s been with me since I first came to Inter Lucus, and I forget that some people haven’t met her yet.”
The green-eyed girl looked up from her writing. “Pleased to meet you, Lord Aylwin.”
Aylwin nodded. “Lord Martin, why should I spend my time talking with you? You’ve made it clear that you have neither the armsmen nor the willingness to come to my aid. The lack of armsmen I can understand, since you inherited a ruined castle only a month before I bonded with Hyacintho Flumen. Arthur and I still regard your success in bonding with Inter Lucus as a rather stunning achievement. But what have you done with it? Opened a school? For peasants with names like Wooddaughter?”
Martin showed no sign of embarrassment. “A school seemed to me the best way to serve my people. Senerham and Inter Lucus have several cottage industries that will benefit from written records and accurate accounting. And I have plans to publish many copies of the book of God.”
Aylwin couldn’t help laughing.
Martin asked, “Have I said something foolish?”
“Doesn’t it strike you as at least a little odd? There you stand, with your hand on the lord’s knob. Surely you see the god’s knob? To your left, up high? How can you believe in the old god while you are at the same time using magic supplied by castle gods?”
“But I explained this,” replied Martin. “I do not believe…”
“I remember! You don’t believe in the gods. Still, a school? For peasants? You ought to be arming knights and sheriffs as quickly as possible. I grant you, you haven’t enough time to raise a sufficient army by yourself. If the Herminian host were to defeat me, they would overwhelm Inter Lucus like a flood. You ought to be making league with Down’s End or Stonebridge. But no! You sit there, with your little villages between the lakes, making paper. You are an absolute fool, Martin of Inter Lucus. So I ask again: why should I spend my time talking with you?”
“Because you can.” Full stop. Martin pointed to something the girl had written. Then he looked at Aylwin again.
Aylwin couldn’t resist asking. “What do you mean?”
“I think you know what I mean.” Martin’s face was blank, giving no clues. “Every time we have talked, you have pressed me to ally myself with you against Queen Mariel’s army. But you haven’t asked Ames Hewett of Faenum Agri, Walter Troy of Vivero Horto, Lady Jean Postel of Aurea Prati, nor David Le Grant of Saltas Semitas. These lords, and Lady Jean, have ruled their castles for many years. They all have more sheriffs than I do. Lord Hewett alone could field an army of two hundred men! But you haven’t invited any of them to ally with you. It can’t be because Inter Lucus is so much closer to Hyacintho Flumen.”
Martin left the rest unsaid. Again he pointed at something on the girl’s paper, perhaps to emphasize the point. Aylwin thought: He shows his magic is stronger than mine.
“I’m getting stronger.” Aylwin refuted Martin’s unspoken implication. “I’ve made steel. I can hold shields for three hours.”
Arthur coughed politely, and Aylwin realized his blunder. This fool talks with Mariel. Don’t tell him anything she might use.
Apparently Martin didn’t catch the point. He wore a thoughtful expression. “They all make steel. Lord Hewett, Lord Troy, Lady Postel, and Lord Le Grant. And you. Maybe that’s why they can’t command Videns-Loquitur very well. Perhaps it is easier to make paper—and somehow it makes it easier to use V-L.”
Aylwin looked quickly to Arthur, who shrugged ignorance. Arthur hadn’t heard Martin’s hypothesis either. “You’re forgetting the obvious,” Aylwin said. “Mariel makes steel, and she uses Videns-Loquitur every week.”
“Every day, for all we know,” said Martin. “She certainly uses it more than once a week. She meets with the Herminian lords, and she talks with you, and with me, and who knows how many others? But Mariel really is the exception, don’t you think? No one likes to admit it, but they all fear her. They fear her, not just her army. Her bond with Pulchra Mane allows her great power.”
Aylwin didn’t want to talk about Mariel’s magic. “I take it that you’ve talked with Hewett, Troy, Postel, and Le Grant?”
“Any others? The lords of Herminia?”
Aylwin smirked. “I see. You boast of your facility with Videns-Loquitur, but really you’re like me: a new lord gaining strength and testing the limits of your magic. In a month perhaps I’ll be where you are now. So I make you an offer. As soon as I connect with other lords, I’ll let you know; as soon as you can speak with Herminian lords, you let me know.”
“Boasting has nothing to do with it.” Again Martin pointed to something on the girl’s paper; the habit grated on Aylwin. “It seems to me I ought to be wary of calling Mariel’s lords. I don’t think she’s told them I exist, but if I connect with them, they’ll certainly tell her. Would you want her to know I can talk with them?”
“Are you saying you can reach the Herminians?”
“As I said, perhaps this is an advantage of making paper. Perhaps I give less strength to Materias Transmutatio, leaving more energy for Videns-Loquitur.”
“Damn it! Answer the question directly! Yes or no. Can you connect with the Herminian lords?”
Martin’s face showed neither anger nor amusement. “I have not, but I believe I can. As I said, I don’t think it would be wise. I don’t think Mariel should know everything about me.”
Aylwin felt queasiness in his stomach. If he conceals things from Mariel, what is he hiding from me? He commands Videns-Loquitur better than I do… Then Aylwin reassured himself: Fortunately, the man is a fool. Paper, not steel; a school rather than knights. “On that point I agree with you. You should conceal as much as possible from the bitch.”
Martin’s disapproval showed in his face. “I don’t see that we gain anything by insulting Mariel, even in her absence.”
Irritation at the strange lord’s calm demeanor, and uneasiness about his easy magic, plus anger at his censure (however mildly expressed); Aylwin exploded: “And who are you to tell me how to talk? You condescending idiot! The bitch has an army on my lands. My lands! She wants me to grovel every week like the cowardly lords of Herminia. If I had dignity like yours—that is to say, none—her army would be at your gate in a week. Have you ever thought about that? I’m the one who’s protecting you. How dare you criticize me?”
The other lord looked steadily at Aylwin, apparently nonplussed by Aylwin’s outburst. Martin almost said something, reconsidered, and shut his mouth. Aylwin decided to drive the point home. “Don’t you ever…”
Martin held up a palm, interrupting, which angered Aylwin further. Suddenly two rectangles appeared on Aylwin’s viewing wall, one on either side of Martin. The frames swelled to life size, displaying a man and a woman. The lady’s smile, in a thoroughly wrinkled face, reminded Aylwin of a kindly merchant woman in town Hyacintho Flumen. Of course, he hadn’t seen the old seamstress since the siege began. But the association of images felt reassuring.
“Fair afternoon, Lord Martin,” the lady said, inclining her head. “And David. Fair afternoon. And this must be?” She smiled at Aylwin.
The three pictures in the viewing wall—Martin, the lady, and the lord the woman addressed as David—all disappeared in an instant. Aylwin looked at his hands; the familiar orange-red glow was there. Yet the wall was blank. “Damn it! Where are they?”
“I believe Lord Martin has broken the connection.” Arthur spoke quietly.
Aylwin lifted his hands from the lord’s knob and looked at them, as if the fault lay there, though he knew Arthur had the truth. He whirled on Arthur and screamed, an inarticulate release of frustration. The old man absorbed the emotion, hands unmoving on his slate, eyes on the floor. Juliana and Lucia still sat at the table, the only other persons in the great hall. Juliana seemed intent on examining her wineglass; Lucia stared at the wall. Aylwin stood alone, panting. At last Lucia, Arthur and Juliana looked at him.
Lucia rose and smoothed out a fold in her kirtle. “The man may or may not be an idiot, Aylwin. But he has something you want, and you can’t force him to give it.”
“You think I should show deference to him?” Aylwin almost snarled. “I should respect him?”
“I don’t think he cares whether you respect him.” Lucia made a slight bow. “If my lord will excuse me, I need to lie down.” She walked toward the stairs leading to the lower floors. Since Hereward’s death, Lucia had moved out of the great bedroom in the gods’ tower.
She turned, her hands folded at her waist. Aylwin read cool disappointment in her brown eyes. Lucia had teamed with Arthur to persuade his father Hereward to choose him over Milo, but now she looked at him with something close to pity.
“What should I do? What does he want?”
“I don’t know, Aylwin. I will tell you that Martin of Inter Lucus is unlike any lord I’ve known. I think you have to ask him what he wants.” She inclined her head and descended the stairs.
Aylwin looked down at his hands and tried to make them stop quivering. He couldn’t. Juliana came, pulled his hands around her waist, and stepped into his embrace. “He showed you those people because he knows you want to talk with them.” Her blue eyes searched his face as she spoke. “He will contact you again, and when he does, you will play his game. You will use him to talk with other lords. We need to find out who can help us. We need some news of Amicia.”
“I will play his game.”
“That’s all it is. A game.”
126. In Castle Inter Lucus
“Fair afternoon, Lord Cedarborne. I don’t see Lord Le Grant or Lord Mortane.”
Lady Postel wore a kirtle the hue of summer apples that set off the color of her eyes. The blue light from her lord’s knob contrasted with the kirtle; the combination reminded Marty of the sky and fields south of Inter Lucus.
“I’ll contact David in a moment, Aylwin when we are ready.” Marty dipped his head toward the person beside him. “You remember Ora Wooddaughter from yesterday, I hope.”
“Indeed. I’m pleased to see you again, Ora.” Lady Jean smiled kindly.
Ora, unencumbered by a lord’s knob, stepped from behind the stand-up desk to bow formally. Her brown hair fell around her face. “My pleasure, my lady.”
Before Ora resumed her place behind the desk another window appeared in the interface wall. So she bowed again. “Fair afternoon, Lord Le Grant.”
“Fair afternoon. Ora Wooddaughter, wasn’t it?” Le Grant’s knob glowed flamingo, which struck Marty as incongruous, but he reminded himself that the aliens who built the castles of Two Moons had no idea of a social convention linking pink with females. It seems that each castle has it’s own peculiar color. Or is it each noble family?
“Lady Jean.” Le Grant nodded in greeting. To Marty: “You haven’t called Mortane? Is he ignoring to your summons?”
“I’ll contact Hyacintho Flumen in a minute. We’ll see if he answers. I want to remind you that neither of you has to do this.” As he often did, Marty marveled at the quality of Videns-Loquitur; Lady Postel and Lord Le Grant appeared right there, just two strides away. He had the feeling that if he stepped from the lord’s knob he could walk into their castles.
“I’m not afraid of Aylwin Mortane,” Le Grant said. “I didn’t let Hereward bully me twenty years ago, and I’m not going to cower before his son now.”
“Lord Martin… Excuse me a moment.” Lady Postel whispered to someone beside her, bringing her husband Artus into the picture. Artus held a cloth over Jean’s face, and she sneezed. The husband deftly wiped his wife’s nose. “My apologies. Springtime.” The lady sniffled. “Did you speak with Lord Mortane yesterday after you let him see us?”
Marty shook his head. “No. I let him stew overnight, hoping he might come to see things a bit more clearly. It seems to me that he judges everybody purely in terms of what each person can do for him. So I showed him what I might do for him; that is, I can let him talk with you. Hopefully, the possibility of contacting other castles will entice him into longer conversations.”
“I can guess what Aylwin wants, but what do you hope to gain?” Lord Le Grant asked. “What is the point of longer conversations?”
Marty knew this question would come up, and he had decided to be transparent. “I want to save lives that ought not to be wasted in a pointless war. You, Lord David, and Lady Jean have each admitted that you have no expectation of defeating General Ridere’s army if he comes to you. That is a level of realism that Aylwin resists. His pride will not let him submit to Mariel, so he tells himself that he will defeat her.”
Le Grant spoke cautiously. “Are you certain that he will not?”
“No. I am not certain. General Ridere conquered all the castles of Herminia, but that is no guarantee he will subdue Aylwin. I am told that the lands surrounding Hyacintho Flumen include pastures, orchards, and grain fields. If Aylwin’s people can harvest those lands, working behind protective shields, he could hold out a long time. Meanwhile, we know that he has sent emissaries to ask Down’s End and Stonebridge to raise an army to help him. I should say this very clearly: Aylwin seems determined to resist, and he might succeed.
“However, consider the cost of Aylwin’s war. A battle to dislodge Ridere’s army will probably kill hundreds of men, perhaps thousands. One battle might not conclude the war; more battles would bring more deaths. And what benefit would accrue? If Aylwin were to win, he would continue as lord of Hyacintho Flumen as outright sovereign. If he were to lose, he would continue as lord of Hyacintho Flumen, under the sovereignty of Mariel. Frankly, I don’t see a lot of difference. Unless Mariel is a tyrant, Aylwin’s war is all about pride.”
David Le Grant made a sour face. “He preserves his dignity, and that of his ancestors.”
Marty thought: There it is again. Dignity. “How many young men from Down’s End or Stonebridge should have to die for Aylwin’s dignity? Lord Le Grant, would you fight to preserve your dignity, knowing that you would not prevail? Would you do so at the cost of a hundred men’s lives?”
Le Grant’s shoulders slumped. “The dignity of house Le Grant was broken long ago by the rebel Averill. Today, I would be hard pressed to field an army of a hundred. And who would lead them? My daughter Kendra is not yet married, and she is no knight. When the Herminians come… In the end, I must submit, though I will delay that result if I can. But Lord Mortane… Did you know his mother, Lucia, is my half-sister? I must tell you, part of my heart hopes Aylwin will fight to the last.”
“To preserve dignity?”
“Aye.” Le Grant looked sad even as he said it.
Dignity. God help us. And Aylwin is his nephew. At least he doesn’t remember Hereward with any affection. Marty switched topics. “Does Lucia still live?”
“I hoped that you might tell me.” Le Grant became more animated. “Lucia was a beautiful woman when she left for Hyacintho Flumen; after that, I saw her only one time, via Videns-Loquitur. Lady Jean told you how Hereward Mortane persuaded various lords to jointly support the magic of Videns-Loquitur; my father was one of them. After Father died and I bonded with Saltas Semitas, I rebelled against Hereward’s bullying. I haven’t seen Lucia since.”
Marty pursed his lips. “We could ask Aylwin to communicate your greetings to Lucia. If she is alive, perhaps you will get to see her even today.”
“Now that would be worthwhile,” said Le Grant. “I am not at all persuaded that you can prevent the coming battle between Mariel’s army and Aylwin’s friends. He will find allies somewhere. He is the lord of Hyacintho Flumen; he will not yield. You think it is regrettable than hundreds of peasants will die in this war. Regrettable or not, I think it is inevitable. Yet I will help you today because I want to see my sister again.”
“Okay.” Marty nodded.
“Lord Cedarborne? Okay?” Lady Postel asked.
“I’m sorry. In Lafayette, we had some words that are not common in Tarquint. Okay means ‘I agree,’ or ‘That is acceptable.’ I hope that Lord David will be persuaded to help me seek peace between Mariel and Aylwin. But for today, it is enough that he wants to see Lucia again.”
“What about you, Lady Jean?” Le Grant raised an eyebrow. “Why do you consent to help Lord Martin? Do you think he can persuade Aylwin to yield to Mariel?”
Lady Jean smiled mysteriously. “You put me on the spot, David. Let us talk with Aylwin. Then I’ll tell you what I think.”
“I share David’s curiosity,” Marty said. “So don’t forget. When we’re done talking to him, you need to give us your thoughts about Aylwin. But I should clarify something. I want to end the war between Mariel and Aylwin. That does not necessarily imply that Aylwin must yield. Perhaps we can achieve a compromise between them.”
“Perhaps.” Le Grant sounded skeptical. Jean Postel’s smile lingered.
With a shift of thought, Marty summoned Aylwin Mortane of Hyacintho Flumen. The window into Hyacintho Flumen opened, showing a dim black and white version of the great hall. The old scribe, Arthur, peered at the interface for a moment and then walked out of the picture.
About thirty seconds went by. “Does he refuse to respond?” asked Le Grant.
“I don’t think so. Arthur went to find him.”
“How do you know this?” Le Grant expressed surprise.
Marty was puzzled by Le Grant’s question. “The man in the great hall… That’s Aylwin’s scribe, Arthur. Arthur looked at the interface wall and walked away. I presume he went to fetch Aylwin.”
“Gods.” Le Grant spoke to no one in particular.
Jean Postel said, “Perhaps this changes your expectations, David? Possibly?”
Le Grant’s wide-eyed astonishment and Postel’s response confused Marty, but he didn’t get to clarify. While Lady Jean was still speaking, in the interface frame Aylwin Mortane came to his lord’s knob and bonded. Instantly, the black-and-white world of Hyacintho Flumen was transformed by the orange-red glow of Aylwin’s knob highlighting the crimson of his fine tunic. Arthur was dressed in gray and white, with a pale yellow sash.
“Lord Martin.” Aylwin dipped his head almost imperceptibly.
“Fair afternoon, Lord Aylwin.” Marty tried to sound casual, as if yesterday’s confrontation hadn’t happened. “You probably know them already, but I introduce Lady Jean Postel and Lord David Le Grant.”
“Fair afternoon, Lord Aylwin.” Postel and Le Grant spoke in unison.
Now Aylwin inclined his head more respectfully. “I am pleased to meet both of you.” To Marty: “As a matter of fact, though I have heard their names I have never seen either Lady Jean or Lord David before yesterday, and I am grateful that you make this meeting possible.” Aylwin paused, as if searching for words. “Sometimes I say things I don’t mean. If I gave offense yesterday, please accept my apology.”
A classic faux apology. Marty’s memory flashed to a training session at the Chicago Catholic Worker house. A psychologist/social worker, expert in domestic violence, had talked about the difference between genuine and fake remorse. For now, we’ll make do with humbug. “I’m happy to provide a service, Lord Aylwin. It seems to me that it would be natural for you, especially in light of your situation, to desire contact with other lords and ladies.”
“By my ‘situation’ I presume you mean the thousands of Herminians camped around Hyacintho Flumen.” Aylwin’s words might have been sarcasm, but his tone was light. “Precisely so. The Herminian invasion is a threat to all lords in Tarquint, not just me.
“Lord David, Lady Jean: I presume you know that Mariel of Pulchra Mane has sent an army to conquer Tarquint. Surely no one believes she will be content to compel my submission alone. Any help you can give me will, in effect, defend your own interests.”
Le Grant cut straight to the point. “What kind of help do you require?”
“Knights and armsmen, but particularly knights.” This part of Aylwin’s speech had been carefully prepared. “I need lord’s sons, Lord David, as leaders of an army. My sister, Amicia, is even now negotiating in Down’s End to build that army. But herdsmen, weavers, and tanners need real knights to lead them in battle.”
Aylwin might have said more, but Le Grant shook his head. “I have no sons, Lord Mortane. My daughter Kendra will inherit Saltas Semitas when I am gone.”
Aylwin’s balloon had sprung a leak. Lady Jean deflated it further. “I, too, have only a daughter, Sidney. But why do you say Down’s End? I thought Amicia was in Stonebridge.”
“Stonebridge? Are you sure?” There was both wariness and eagerness in Aylwin’s question.
Jean Postel looked thoughtful. “A wine merchant from Stonebridge came to Aurea Prati last fall. No. No, it was something Lord Martin said. That’s it. Both Amicia and her brother have gone to Stonebridge. The priests in Down’s End worry about Stonebridge getting involved in your war.”
Aylwin’s eyes blazed, but Marty met his glare with a blank face. He had been careful not to say anything to Aylwin about Milo or Amicia in their previous talks. Angry? Of course. But he needs to talk with Le Grant, so he bites his tongue. And he begins to worry he may have misjudged me.
Twice Aylwin began to say something and stopped. Finally he said, “I assume, Lord Martin, that you had some reason for concealing the truth from me. Why did you not tell me where my sister is?”
“Aylwin, at the time I thought that I should wait to tell you about Amicia. But now I see I was wrong.” Marty sighed heavily. “I apologize. Amicia did go to Down’s End, and while she was there, her knight came to Inter Lucus. That was Kenelm Ash. Ash spoke insultingly about my lack of dignity, but he laid no hidgield claim on my people. I have no right to complain about that. Later I learned that Sir Ash and Amicia had gone to Stonebridge. So when you and I talked, and you told me you hoped your sister would raise an army to help you, I already knew that Amicia had left Down’s End. I should have told you. I am sorry.
“You ask me why. I did not think it wise for Amicia to convince Down’s End or Stonebridge to fight against the Herminians. I still don’t. I am deeply troubled by the likelihood that hundreds or thousands of men will die because you and Mariel stubbornly refuse to cooperate. I suppose I thought that by keeping back some information I might discourage your resistance. I see now that was wrong.”
Aylwin Mortane, David Le Grant, and Jean Postel stared at Marty with varying sorts of wonder. Mortane felt confusion: a kind of disgust at the strange lord’s humility mixed with a sense of triumph over Martin’s capitulation, while at the same time remembering that it was Martin’s magic that made the conversation possible. Le Grant wondered if Martin really expected to influence Aylwin’s behavior by speaking so openly; did Martin possess still more hidden powers? Postel felt exhilaration tinged by fear, a worry that Martin’s naiveté would confound his magic.
Marty could not read their faces, but their hesitation warned him to wait.
Finally Aylwin spoke. “That’s settled, then. Mariel and I will never ‘cooperate,’ and you are wise to say so. True lords of Tarquint have wills of adamant; I will starve before I submit to Mariel. And of course you had no right to hide the truth from me.”
“You are willing to starve rather than submit.” Marty gestured at Ora and then pointed to Arthur. “How many others, like Arthur, will have to starve with you?”
“My people are loyal. They would count it a privilege to fight and, if necessary, to die for me.”
Marty nodded. “No doubt that’s true. What are you willing to do for them?”
“How can you ask such a question?” Aylwin looked briefly at Arthur. “It is by my magic that Hyacintho Flumen prospers. You of all people must know this. I am the one who makes steel for our blades. I throw down the shields that terrify the invaders. Without these hands here on this knob, Ridere’s thousands would take us all.”
Time to try a different tack. “Yes. A lord must protect his people. Does that include your mother? Lord David is understandably interested.”
At a nod from Aylwin, a woman walked into the frame to stand between Arthur’s seat and her son’s knob. Her kirtle, the color of pale apricots, seemed to flow like water when she moved.
“I assumed you would ask,” Aylwin said. “I present my mother, Lady Lucia Mortane.”
The woman smiled. “David. Fair afternoon. It’s been more than twenty years! We’re old now.”
“Lucy!” Le Grant was close to tears. “I’m sorry I quarreled with Hereward. Father had died, I had newly bonded, and…”
Lucia waved off the rest. “Don’t speak of it. In the end, my husband offended every lord he spoke with via Videns-Loquitur. I lived with him twenty-six years, giving him five children. I knew the man. You need not have regrets.” Le Grant inclined his head, accepting her words.
Marty watched Aylwin’s face as Lucia spoke. Hereward Mortane was a hard man, apparently, mourned by neither wife nor son.
Lucia shifted her attention. “Lady Jean. I am pleased to make your acquaintance.”
“Fair afternoon,” replied Postel. “Five children! All living? You should thank the gods. My Sidney had three brothers, but none lived.”
As on many other occasions, Marty was struck by infant mortality on Two Moons. Most of the students in Collegium Inter Lucus had had siblings who died before they could talk. In some villages, it was said, children were not properly named until they could walk. Living with castle “magic” hasn’t spared Jean the suffering of peasant women.
“You have my sympathy. And naturally, I do thank the gods for my children. A mother’s heart must lie there.” Lucia looked at Le Grant. “David, if you can do anything to help us…”
Le Grant looked tortured. “Lucy, I have no sons and few men…”
Marty was ready to speak, but Aylwin made it unnecessary. “Lord David. Uncle. May I call you uncle? There is another way you could help me. If Amicia really has gone to Stonebridge, you could send a trusted man to meet her. It would be a great boon to know how her embassy fares.”
“How could I report to you? Lord Martin does not favor Amicia’s embassy. Only his magic permits our conversation even now.”
All eyes—Postel, Le Grant, Mortane, Lady Lucia, Arthur, and even Ora’s—turned to Marty. He frowned, trying very hard to look grave. “A moment ago, Aylwin, I confessed that I disapprove of this war. Yet now you would use me to facilitate communication between Hyacintho Flumen and Stonebridge. How can I aid something I think wrong?”
Lucia continued playing her role, no doubt on instructions from Aylwin. “Lord Martin, Amicia is my daughter. We need not discuss matters of war. Could you not permit greetings from her?”
Marty rubbed his forehead, hoping he wasn’t overacting. “Okay. Send a man to Stonebridge. We will talk again. That, at least, is important to me.” He sighed. “And now, I must say goodbye.”
“Videns-Loquitur requires energy, even from the strongest,” said Le Grant.
Marty terminated the link to Hyacintho Flumen. He laid his finger on Ora’s paper, indicating Aylwin’s removal from the conversation. Then he looked up. “Thank you, Lady Jean, Lord David.”
“Do you really want me to send a man to Stonebridge, to Amicia?” Le Grant asked.
“Aye. Your man will report to you. You will report to Aylwin while I am listening. You will also report to me when Aylwin is not listening.”
“Surely he will discover the duplicity. He will cease to trust me.”
Jean Postel answered, “He doesn’t trust you now, David. He wants to use you, much as he used Lucia.”
Postel’s wrinkles wove themselves around a smile. “You asked me, David, why I cooperate with Martin. I think you can see why. He is the greatest lord in Tarquint, the perfect counterweight to Mariel.
“Lord Martin, you asked me what I think of Aylwin. He’s a Mortane, and the Mortanes are dangerous. He uses his mother. He uses his sister. If he can, he will use his brother. He would like to use you. And there are other men, dangerous men, who do not live in castles. This Ridere, for instance.
“You are a great lord, Martin, but even great lords can err. They can be outwitted or betrayed. Please be careful.”
127. In Castle Pulchra Mane
“Are you ready, Aweirgan?”
“Aye, my lady.” The scribe sat in his chair, ornately carved, almost like a throne, on Mariel’s left. He had slate and chalk in hand.
Mariel laid her hand on the lord’s knob—her knob, the key to empire. Violet light flared. At the same moment, the baby moved in her womb. Yes, my daughter. You will stand here one day, your hand where mine is.
Almost without effort Mariel summoned lords Giles, Thoncelin, Mowbray, Beaumont, Wadard, Toeni, and lady Montfort—her Council. As always, they presented themselves punctually. A variety of greetings bubbled forth. “Fair morning, my lady.” “A pleasure to see you again, your grace.” “The blessing of the gods, your majesty.”
Avice Montfort spoke last: “You look radiant, my Queen. If my pregnancies had been so easy, I would have had more children.”
Mariel swept back her golden hair with her right hand, laughing. “But look at this sack I am forced to wear!” Her kirtle was a vast tent-like garment, a mixture of linen and cotton, dyed softly in peach and white. It had light straps over her shoulders and a comfortable band under her breasts, which were getting larger in anticipation of the baby’s birth. Boemia the nan had provided Mariel with cotton pads so her nipples wouldn’t wet the kirtle through.
Lady Avice smiled benignly. “You look like a healthy mother, my Queen. Fashion be damned.”
Mariel laughed again. “I’m sure it is. Fortunately, my husband will not see me this way. Now, Councilors, we have work to do. Aweirgan, the general’s latest, please.”
Aweirgan Unes made a last mark on his slate and set it aside. He picked up a calfskin sheath from which he drew out four sheets of paper. He performed this little ritual every week, to draw attention to the words he now read: “At the command of Eudes Ridere, a faithful record in the hand of Eadred Unes…” Mariel allowed herself a tiny indulgent smile. It was pure pleasure to see Aweirgan’s pride in his son.
The report itself bore unmistakable evidences of her husband. It was methodical, detailed, and thorough. Every day since the last report was accounted for: on no day had food or other material reached Hyacintho Flumen. The number of projectiles thrown by catapults. Expenditure of funds since last report. Complaints from local merchants, townsfolk, or farmers, heard and resolved. Observed movements of Mortane’s armsmen and farmers. Rotation of Herminian troops, both those newly arrived in Tarquint and those departing for home. And so on. Mariel’s councilors endured the report patiently.
Aweirgan slipped the papers back into the sheath. Mariel said, “Now we have something new. General Ridere sends another report, by the mouth of Captain Acwel Penda.”
Mariel waved off possible interruptions. “Captain Penda is still in Tarquint. A remarkable thing has happened at the castle called Inter Lucus. Last summer, three or four months before our fleet sailed from Tutum Partum, a new lord bonded with Inter Lucus after a hundred years of ruin. Aweirgan and Eadred both speculate that this Martin Cedarborne is a bastard descendant of some Tirel second son. My husband points out that it matters not how Lord Martin came to his position; he has in fact revived Inter Lucus and commands its magic. I have spoken with Lord Martin. He has exchanged letters with General Ridere. And he has permitted Captain Penda to stand at his side, to speak to me via Videns-Loquitur.
“The advantage to us is obvious. Captain Penda departed Hyacintho Flumen five days ago and spoke to me earlier today. The report Aweirgan just read to us spent nine days on ship and four days on land since Eadred wrote it. Further, as you know, weather sometimes delays our ships; General Ridere’s reports can take as much as twenty days to reach us.”
Paul Wadard said, “What pleasant news! We need never again hear the words ‘a faithful record in the hand of Eadred Unes.’”
“Nonsense.” Mariel wondered, not for the first time, how Beatus Valle and its people could prosper under such a stupid man. And every report about his son List was worse. At least now we can pass over List and move directly to the grandson, Linn. “Whatever Captain Penda reports to us is heard by Lord Cedarborne. And, obviously, he will hear any instructions we send to General Ridere in this fashion. Therefore, the general will continue to report to us in the usual way on many matters.”
“True,” said Osmer Beaumont. “This new channel of communication is best reserved for times when Ridere needs your decision on some difficult matter.”
Denis Mowbray asked, “Does Cedarborne command Videns-Loquitur, or does he respond to your grace’s summons?” It was an insightful question, and all the councilors took note of her answer.
“Lord Cedarborne commands Videns-Loquitur well enough to contact Aylwin Mortane. Aylwin himself betrayed that fact unwittingly. When I asked Cedarborne he readily admitted it.”
Wymer Thoncelin, Mariel’s best advisor after Avice Montfort, rumbled in a bass voice: “Have you tested this Cedarborne’s loyalty, my Queen? In a pinch, a speedy word to the general could prove invaluable. But if you cannot trust him…”
“You touch on the crucial question, Wymer. Who can I trust?” Mariel played her eyes over her councilors’ faces, lingering on Rocelin Toeni and Godfrey Giles. “Lord Martin may soon contact one or perhaps all of you. You are free to speak with him on condition that you report that conversation to me as soon as possible. We all know that of my councilors only you, Wymer, are able to support Videns-Loquitur by your own strength. Some of you may be fascinated by a strong new lord, and tempted to keep secret your conversations with him. I promise you that it would be foolish to do so.
“Lord Cedarborne has four sheriffs. He rules two small villages. Like Lord Thoncelin, he has chosen to use Materias Transmutatio to make paper. Four sheriffs and no steel. To restore a castle he must be, undoubtedly, a remarkable lord. But he is no ally on which to build a rebellion. Already he serves my purposes by relaying General Ridere’s messages, and I believe he will pledge liege to me in due course. For the present, however, I will not expose any truly important message to the ears of Martin Cedarborne.”
Avice Montfort coughed quietly. “No doubt that is wise, my Queen. You say that Captain Penda reported today…?”
“I did. Five days ago, the plan to disrupt spring planting was put into action. Archers from Beatus Valle succeeded in killing two draft horses in a quick raid. Mortane’s shields were down; none of our men were killed. General Ridere says we should be satisfied with the result. Small gains like this will shorten the siege.”
“Beatus Valle archers under the command of Sir List Wadard.” Paul Wadard corrected a small omission, or so he thought.
“No.” Mariel frowned and glared at the stupid man. “List Wadard did not report on the morning of the attack. As a knight of Herminia, List met daily with General Ridere’s captains and knew the day of the attack. Nevertheless, on the appointed day he was found in the town Hyacintho Flumen in bed with a girl of fourteen. The girl’s mother led armsmen to the place so that he could be taken, the mother’s chief complaint being that she was supposed to be the Herminian’s bed partner. In her opinion, Wadard hadn’t paid enough to get the daughter too.
“You all know Eudes’s policy: our army will treat the people of Tarquint fairly. We pay for the food, housing, and material we need. In every way we show the Tarquintians that they have nothing to fear under our rule. To enforce this policy, General Ridere has ordered the flogging of twenty-eight men since the siege began, for theft or rape or other crimes. Considering the number of armsmen we have in Tarquint and the months they have been there, Eudes has not been displeased. But in the case of List Wadard, he wanted my judgment.
“The accuser in this case is an admitted whore. Her complaint is that List Wadard took more than he paid for. No charge of rape. So one might say this is merely a case of theft. But List Wadard was a knight of Herminia. Sons of lords should be exemplars of conduct. Just as important, on this day List Wadard shirked his duty as a soldier. At the very time he was enjoying this fourteen-year-old girl, his men were risking their lives for their queen. It may comfort you to know, Lord Wadard, that your grandson Linn was present with the archers on the morning of the raid. Captain Bully Wedmor, who led the raid, did not permit Linn to join the attack itself, since he is yet a boy. But Linn’s behavior was completely satisfactory, according to Captain Wedmor.”
Mariel paused and stood straighter. They call me the Ice Queen. “I commanded Captain Penda to give my judgment to General Ridere. By his thievery and treason, List Wadard has forfeited his position and rights as knight. Linn Wadard is hereby declared direct heir to Beatus Valle. For his thievery, List Wadard is to receive the standard flogging common to Herminian armsmen. Afterward, for his treason, List Wadard is to be executed by hanging.”
Paul Wadard’s rodent-like face was a pasty mask, drained of its usual pink. “My son is dead.”
“You should say he is dead to you. Your son is a traitor. He will stop breathing when Captain Penda returns to Hyacintho Flumen, and that will take some days. However, your heir, Linn Wadard, is in good health and held in esteem by his comrades. General Ridere will make it plain to Sir Linn and to all his captains that List Wadard’s crimes are his alone. The sins of the father do not reflect on the son.”
Silence. Aweirgan Unes looked up from his slate. “The justice of the Queen,” he said.
The lords and lady of Herminia bowed their heads. “The justice of the Queen.”
128. In the Stonebridge Citadel
A knock. Unlike his predecessor, Milo never bolted the door to the commander’s office. Tondbert’s many boxes of “secrets” had been removed, a handsome rug laid on the floor, and an armless lounge long enough to serve as a cot had been installed. The new commander’s comrades knew the door was unlocked; nevertheless, they protected his privacy vigilantly. It was common but unspoken knowledge that Daisy Freewoman sometimes visited him there. At the sound of the knock, Milo gently pushed Daisy/Tilde from his embrace, his hand on her rounded abdomen. He seated himself at his desk and she picked up a washrag.
The door opened only enough to show a face, revealing Alberta Day, the serving girl. “My Lord Commander, the Lady Ambassador is here.”
“Don’t make her stand in the hall.” Milo sprang toward the door. “Toadface! What are you doing in the Citadel?” But when the door swung open Amicia wasn’t alone.
“You ought to be careful, big brother.” Amicia grinned as she strolled into Milo’s office, trailed by Merlin Averill. “I’m Ambassador for the lord of Hyacintho Flumen. What would Assemblyman Verge Courney or Speaker Kingsley Averill think if you called me Toadface? You don’t need to worry about Merlin; I’ve already told him how you and Aylwin used to torture me with that name.” She tossed her brown hair and leaned close to Averill, kissing his cheek. “I also told him that ‘Toadface’ from you is better than ‘Lady Ambassador’ from most Stonebridge assemblymen.”
Milo matched her grin. “Well, if Merlin isn’t offended, I can call you what I like, can’t I, Toadface?” He turned to the assemblyman’s son, but Merlin Averill wasn’t following the banter between brother and sister. Averill closed the door behind him with his left hand and pointed with his claw-like right arm.
Tilde’s washrag slipped noiselessly from her right hand into the bucket of soapy water. “Hello, Merlin. Fair morning.”
“B-b-but…” Merlin Averill stammered. “A-A-Adelgar said you were d-d-dead. S-s-saw your body.”
“Adelgar erred.” Her lips pressed together, one end of her mouth tilted up. Tilde’s face had begun to fill out, due to generous portions eagerly supplied by the kitchen girls. And her hands weren’t as raw as they had been in the early winter, because Alberta Day and another new girl had lightened Daisy’s load. Though still a serving woman in the Citadel, Daisy Freewoman enjoyed kind treatment from sheriffs and servants alike. “He mistook the body he saw. Before that he misjudged the woman he married. He misjudged me completely.”
“I don’t understand.” Amicia’s eyes flashed between Merlin and the cleaning woman. “Who is Adelgar? Merlin, how do you know Daisy?”
The claw lowered. “N-n-not Daisy. Tilde. T-T-Tilde Gyricson. D-D-Dans saw her too, A-A-Adelgar said.”
“I will explain,” Milo said. “Please.” He indicated the padded lounge. Merlin and Amicia sat together, his left hand holding her right. Milo pulled his own chair from behind his desk to sit beside Tilde, who took the last guest chair. He spoke to Amicia: “I think you’ve met Daisy Freewoman twice since you’ve come to Stonebridge, on the two occasions I let you enter the Citadel. There were good reasons to keep you away, and she was one of them. As ambassador for Aylwin, you meet often with Stonebridge Assemblymen, and it would have been awkward for you to speak with them if you knew Daisy’s history. Merlin is correct, partly. Daisy was Tilde Gyricson until last summer.”
Amicia looked puzzled, but Milo cut off her question with a wave. “Adelgar Gyricson is a young merchant in the city. He borrowed money from Ody Dans to finance a commercial venture—selling Stonebridge lumber in Down’s End. He overestimated his profits and bought a house for his wife.” Milo touched Tilde’s neck. Her face was rigid, eyes fixed on something beyond the Citadel walls. “By overspending his resources, Adelgar put himself in debt to Master Dans. I forget the amount. At least two hundred gold.”
Merlin drew in a sharp breath.
Milo said, “Merlin understands the implications well, I think. I happened to be present, having arrived for the first time in Stonebridge, when Master Dans confronted Adelgar Gyricson with his demand for payment—at a dinner party, with armed guards, in Dans’s house, The Spray. Gyricson could not pay. Tilde Gyricson begged Dans to grant her husband more time. Dans refused. Adelgar would either pay or…”
“Fall into River Betlicéa.” For the moment, Merlin’s stammer vanished.
“Aye. The river. But Master Dans offered another option. Tilde Gyricson could discharge her husband’s obligation by prostituting herself with two men—immediately, right there in Dans’s dining hall. Alternatively she could serve two weeks with Dans in The Spray.”
Amicia was horrified, but did not speak. Barely more than a whisper, Merlin Averill: “He never told me…”
Milo nodded. “No. Gyricson would not want to admit what he did next. In the presence of the dinner guests, he pled with his wife to pay his debts for him.”
“Two men—and we are free.” Tilde’s lips barely moved as she repeated Adelgar’s words. “He sold me.”
“I sat next to Master Dans that night,” Milo continued. “And I think it important to say that was a moment of supreme delight for Ody Dans. Forcing Tilde Gyricson to his bed meant almost nothing. It was seeing Adelgar wittingly beg his wife to prostitute herself that pleased him.”
Merlin’s face registered disgust. “I have heard rumors…”
“In this case, not mere rumor,” said Milo. “To save Adelgar’s life, Tilde chose two weeks in The Spray. Degradation in private is perhaps less vile than humiliation in public. The dinner guests departed. After the two weeks, Tilde was free of The Spray but did not go home. Later, as an under-sheriff in the Guard, I found her on a bridge parapet. As one might expect, she refused to return to Adelgar. And she refused to live as a whore in Madame Strong’s house. As an alternative to the river, I persuaded Tilde to come work in the Citadel.
“Naturally, Adelgar searched the city for her. To seclude her, I moved Tilde into the Citadel—with Commander Tondbert’s blessing. Tondbert saw her as living evidence against Dans, should he ever need to accuse him. In the Citadel, sheriffs and servants know her only as Daisy Freewoman. In the Guard there are sheriffs named Freeman or Stoneman or Woodman; they know not to pry into closed histories.
“In my rounds in the city I found a body, a body enough like Tilde in size, coloring, and hair and sufficiently disfigured—with a few misleading details both Dans and Adelgar were persuaded Tilde had drowned. Adelgar abandoned his search.”
Amicia asked, “Is she still the wife of Adelgar Gyricson?”
Milo rubbed his chin. “You spotlight the error of my ways. By the laws of Stonebridge, if Daisy is proved to be Tilde, she is still Gyricson’s wife. This concerns me, since the child she carries is a Mortane and must carry that name. If the Commander of the Guard takes a wife, that fact cannot be a secret. Wives of many prominent citizens would insist on meeting her. As Merlin recognized her, others would. You see the difficulty we’re in. If I marry Daisy, Adelgar will discover that Tilde lives, and our marriage will be void. If I do not marry Daisy, our child is a bastard. Tilde proposes that she raise him here in the Citadel with the name Freeman, and that I adopt him when the time is right.”
This news stunned Amicia momentarily. Her eyes widened and flashed to Tilde’s abdomen, but she quickly met Milo’s gaze.
Merlin shook his head. “Y-y-your men know the child is yours. They know the mother. Any one of them…” Merlin raised his claw to point at Tilde. “Will be able to say, ‘That’s the one.’ Your secret will become known.”
Amicia recovered her aplomb. “If Daisy is to be mother to my nephew or niece, she deserves to be my sister-in-law. You must marry.”
Milo held out his hands, palms up. “I agree that we should. But if we do…”
Merlin scratched his temple with his claw-hand, an odd maneuver that required him to tilt his head to the right. Amicia turned to him, raising her eyebrows. She waved off Milo’s question without looking his way. “Wait,” she commanded.
The claw dropped, falling against Merlin’s side like a broken toy. “The s-s-solution is obvious. I will arrange it.”
Amicia, Tilde and Milo together: “What?”
He smiled broadly, enjoying the moment. “T-t-trust me. T-t-twill be an honor to serve the Lord Commander. Now, Amicia, our b-b-business.”
Amicia’s smile expressed unreserved confidence in Merlin. Milo knew they had been spending much time together. He wondered: What has he said or done that you trust him so? We must be careful, Toadface.
“Merlin has asked me to marry him, and I wish to accept.” She spoke evenly, without hurry. “When I set out from Hyacintho Flumen, I expected Kenelm Ash to negotiate some marriage that would benefit Aylwin. I tried to harden my heart, since I anticipated someone old or fat or smelling of sheep—or all three. I consoled myself that at least he would be rich.
“We very nearly made a pact with Master Barnet in Down’s End. He is rich, though not as rich as Todwin Ansquetil or Simun Baldwin; not as old as some; and not terribly ugly or fat. Nevertheless, it would have been disastrous. Eulard Barnet has not enough political influence to raise an army to help Aylwin, and he had no feelings for me. Your man Felix Abrecan arrived only just in time.”
She paused, looking contemplative. “I believe an alliance with the Averills of Stonebridge is as advantageous a match as Aylwin could wish. Strangely enough, it is to our benefit that Kingsley Averill has steadfastly opposed building Stonebridge’s army or trying to project Stonebridge power the way Ody Dans and Lunden Ware desire. If Averill does not oppose you, your proposals for the Guard will pass. Merlin and I have spoken several times with his father. We have not fully persuaded Kingsley, but it delights him to see Merlin taking an interest in city affairs. And so the Averill faction in the Assembly has acquiesced in the expansion of the Guard. As commander, you will have freedom to move against the Herminians. But you must win, Milo. If you take an army into the field and come back defeated, your support in the Assembly will evaporate.”
Milo pursed his lips. “I am aware that my future rests on victory. I remind you, Lady Ambassador, that I care nothing for Aylwin’s future. For what it’s worth, I think you have judged accurately; a marriage to Merlin serves Aylwin far better than a marriage to Eulard Barnet. But you speak as an ambassador. What about you, Toadface? Will you be content to marry this wine grower?”
“Speaking for myself?” Amicia pulled Merlin’s head close and kissed his cheek. She turned her brown eyes on Milo. “Aye. It was beyond my hope to find such a man when I left Hyacintho Flumen.”
Tilde asked, “Really? What did you find in Merlin?”
“I met a man who stutters, who therefore does not speak much. Not all who are quiet actually listen; Merlin listens. Through Merlin, I have learned about wine. Through me, he has learned about castles. We are friends; we can do much together.”
“Well said, Amicia.” Tilde placed her hand in Milo’s. “Well said.”
Milo nodded his agreement with Tilde. “You came to the Citadel for some reason. What do you want?”
“Your blessing on our marriage, silly. You are my older brother.”
“Kenelm is your guardian; you should ask him.”
Amicia tossed her head in her habitual way. “In Down’s End I would have obeyed Kenelm’s decision. Not any more. Kenelm is a soldier, a knight. I understand politics better than he does, and I know my own heart.”
Tilde laughed. “You’ve made up your mind, it seems. So why ask Milo?”
A shrug. “I know it sounds strange, but I love my brothers: little Eddricus, Aylwin, and even the Lord Commander of the Stonebridge Guard. He’s my brother. I’d like him to approve.”
Merlin’s blue eyes weren’t looking at Milo, but Milo thought he saw pride and affection in the gaze turned toward Amicia. “That’s easy,” Milo said. “Of course I approve.”
129. In Stonebridge
Merlin Averill and Adelgar Gyricson rode unhurriedly through the streets of Stonebridge. “I promise you, it will be worth your while,” Merlin had said, inviting his old friend Adelgar to ride with him to an undisclosed location.
“Old friend” overstated the case. Merlin was the scion of one of Stonebridge’s most prominent families. From birth he was destined for the Assembly or even the Speakership, but for his deformity and persistent stutter. Adelgar’s father was a moderately successful vintner who bought grapes from the Averill estate, fruit the Averills judged not quite up to their own standards. In lean years, Averill wine graced the tables of as few as twenty rich homes in Stonebridge; family tradition forbade using anything but perfect grapes for Averill wine. In contrast, Gyricson’s winery filled many bottles for ordinary wine houses. Merlin and Adelgar played together when they were very young, and as they grew up they renewed their acquaintance every harvest.
Adelgar inherited modestly from his father and sold the winery to enter trade. He prospered and married a stunningly beautiful woman. Table talk on the Averill estate marked young Gyricson as one of the rising names in the city. Merlin’s uncles said Gyricson might reach the Assembly. Perhaps the childhood friendship between Merlin and Adelgar would prove politically useful.
Gyricson’s precipitous downfall was something of a mystery. Tilde suddenly disappeared last summer, and Adelgar simultaneously lost all his money. Ody Dans and Lunden Ware refused to lend to him, and on their warning the minor lenders in Stonebridge quite naturally turned him a deaf ear.
Adelgar’s absence during grape harvest spurred Merlin to look for him, and he found him working as a laborer in a cider press. Without offering details, Adelgar said he had lost the winery, that Tilde had died, and that he had no backing to re-enter trade. Merlin knew nothing more of the affair until he met Tilde alive in the Citadel.
“Where are you taking me?” Gyricson’s tone wavered between complaint and curiosity. Merlin had brought the horses to Gyricson’s house in the southwest quadrant of the city—not the fine residence Adelgar bought for Tilde, but smaller and shabbier—and they had crossed rivers Blide and Broganéa. Now they rode east, angling toward hills northeast of the city. “I’m not interested in seeing the Guard’s Winter Camp, if that’s your intention.”
“N-n-no. We’ll n-n-not go over the high ridge. The foothill road.”
“Toward the Gunnara estate?”
“Aye. B-b-but I have questions for you.”
“In a moment.” Adelgar pointed to their left. They were at a meeting of streets, and a man riding in the middle of the street was waving at them. “What do you suppose he wants?”
A shrug. They reined their mounts to stop and wait. The rider cantered close. He had red hair that fell to his shoulders.
“Fair afternoon, sirs. Your livery marks you as men who should know the city. I am looking for the home of a visiting lady, Amicia Mortane from Hyacintho Flumen.”
Dressed in blacks, browns, and grays and spattered with plenty of mud, the questioner had the marks of long riding. Merlin and Adelgar shared a quick look; from established habit Merlin let his companion speak.
“The Lady Ambassador has been in Stonebridge many weeks now. She lives in what they call Ambassador House.” Adelgar pointed west. “That way. My friend here could undoubtedly guide you, but we are going this way.” He gestured east.
“On the west bank of River Blide, a little south.”
“I am grateful.” The rider inclined his head and lifted reins. Merlin grunted an interruption. The man looked at Merlin.
The obvious question spurred Adelgar’s wits. “I apologize, sir. I forget my manners. May we learn your name? I am Adelgar Gyricson and my friend is Merlin Averill.”
The rider looked with great surprise at Merlin, a glance of sudden intense interest. Merlin thought: He’s never seen an arm like mine before. They kill deformed newborns in some places.
“Ro Norton,” said the rider. “A fit name for a man with hair like mine. My mother also had hair of fire.”
Adelgar chuckled. “Aye. A proper name, indeed: Ro the red. You mentioned our livery. Yours marks you as a man of standing, and I would guess you’ve come a long way—a stranger to Stonebridge who did not know the Lady Ambassador arrived weeks ago. Where are you from? Do you bring her messages from her brother in Hyacintho Flumen?”
“No.” Ro Norton answered Adelgar, but he looked steadily at Merlin. “That would be impossible, since the Herminians besiege it. I serve Lord David Le Grant of Saltas Semitas.”
Merlin read the stranger’s expression differently now. It’s my name, not my claw, which interests him. A question leapt to his mind. Lords speak to lords by castle magic, so why would Le Grant send a messenger to Amicia? If you can talk to Mortane, why contact Mortane’s ambassador? Just as quickly, a possible answer suggested itself, accompanied by a worry. Aylwin sends instructions to Amicia through Le Grant’s servant. Amicia will undoubtedly want to respond, and she may ask Aylwin to bless our marriage. Will he approve? As he often did, Merlin kept his thoughts unspoken.
Adelgar noted Norton’s focus on Merlin. “Ah! I guess the lord of Saltas Semitas remembers the name Averill with little fondness. Would you agree?”
“I cannot say. My task is to find Lady Amicia Mortane.” Norton tried to blank his face, but Merlin felt sure Adelgar’s guess was right: the Le Grants probably cursed ‘Averills’ frequently in their prayers.
Again, a chuckle from Adelgar, and he pointed. “That way. Cross the River Blide, then go south. It’s a handsome house in blue and white.”
Ro Norton rode away. When the emissary was out of earshot Adelgar said, “I did not say anything about you and Lady Amicia. Do you approve?”
“Q-q-quite. T-t-talk to Amicia later.” Merlin pointed east with his claw, and they reined their mounts into motion.
“You said you had questions for me, Merlin. What’s this all about?”
Merlin took a long time before responding. “L-l-last summer…”
“I don’t want to talk about last year, Merlin. I lost my wife. I lost everything I inherited from my father. I lost my standing with lenders, so I am shut out from trade. At harvest, I had to work as a common laborer making cider; no vintner in Stonebridge would employ me. And winter was worse. I chopped firewood for old women, who paid me with meager food.”
“I’m not naked, as you can see. I sold my house, bought smaller, and carefully conserved the difference. I can still dress like a merchant, even if I can’t trade. Perhaps I will sell the little house and quit Stonebridge altogether. I could go to Down’s End, but Dans’s censure would follow me there. Maybe I could manage lands for a castle lord—David Le Grant, for example. I could go to Saltas Semitas with Ro Norton.”
“C-c-could you make w-w-wine?”
Adelgar bunched his eyebrows. “You forget. I sold my father’s winery to finance trade. That too is gone.”
“B-b-but you know the b-b-business. Everything from planting vines to s-s-selling b-b-bottles and b-b-barrels.”
“Aye. I know the business.” Conjecture broke over Adelgar’s face. “Why are we riding to Gunnara’s estate? Has the old witch fired another manager? Are you thinking she might employ me? And that I would consent?”
They had emerged from the city onto a country road. Adelgar looked east and north; the Gunnara hills were two miles away. “Don’t misunderstand me, Merlin. I would be eager to work for Gunnara; I’m that desperate. But it couldn’t last. She changes managers yearly; either that or they get tired of her shrewish tongue and leave. It’s a bad show all around. Half the land is poorly suited for vines, they have too few laborers, the winery is old, and old Gunnara herself is mostly blind. And now, if she takes me on, she’ll get no credit in Stonebridge. Dans and Ware and all that crowd are determined to break me.”
Inwardly, Merlin was pleased. Adelgar’s analysis of the Gunnara vineyard and winery matched his own. Far better that he take on the task knowing the challenge. He said, “Z-z-zoe Gunnara will not employ you. Of that I am sure.”
Again Adelgar’s eyebrows bunched. “Then why are we riding this way?”
“… is nineteen and pretty.”
Comprehension dawned. “I grant you that. She’s also not terribly bright.” On the hill, Gunnara’s house and outbuildings could be seen. “There are worse things, I suppose.”
“Ev-ev-evelina w-w-wants a husband. Zoe fears a bad match, and she knows she will not live much longer. If you p-p-persuade the g-g-grandmother, you can have the g-g-granddaughter.”
“And the estate.”
“Aye. C-c-can you make it succeed?”
Adelgar Gyricson had the good sense not to answer quickly. “I would need to survey the whole. Some of the land should be given over to goats or sheep. There are some good slopes, some good vines. It could be done. But without credit, it will take years. Evelina would have to live like a pauper.”
“There are w-w-worse things. D-d-don’t try to hide the t-t-truth from Zoe. The old w-w-witch can s-s-smell a lie.”
Zoe Gunnara’s eyesight wasn’t as bad as she pretended. She couldn’t recognize the riders, but she saw them coming a hundred yards away. The post boy had delivered Averill’s letter two days before and she was ready. Zoe rose from her chair on the porch and limped into the receiving room. The hip was worse than usual today.
She liked the receiving room. Evelina and the servant girl Bliss kept it tidy. Too many rooms in the great old house looked like warehouses, with extra furniture, boxes stacked in corners, and misplaced family treasures lying under shawls and coats. Of course, the “treasures” weren’t valuable to anybody but Zoe, but it pained her when she remembered one and couldn’t find it.
Zoe eased herself into her favorite padded armchair, lessening hip pain for a while. If she sat too long it would return redoubled, but that didn’t matter. Today’s business did.
“Lady Zoe, there are two men to see you. One of them is that Merlin Averill, cursed of the gods.” Bliss was far too free with her opinions.
“Cursed, you say? Don’t be foolish, girl. Tell the men to come in, and go get Evelina.”
Evelina might have been standing about in the hall; she came into the receiving room before the visitors. Zoe silently blessed the girl’s appearance: white skin healthy enough to hide most veins, graceful brows above warm brown eyes, a slightly upturned nose, and fine hair. A pretty face that would still be attractive in later years. Her figure would please some men too, though Zoe predicted the prominent breasts would sag after the first baby. No matter; if today’s business went well, Evelina could buy garments to support and conceal.
“I’m too tired to stand, Evy. Greet our visitors for me.”
The men came in, first Merlin and then the other.
“F-f-fair afternoon, Lady Zoe. Lady Evelina.” Merlin stammered less than Zoe expected. “My friend, A-a-adelgar Gyricson.”
“Fair afternoon, Master Averill.” Evelina curtsied. “Master Gyricson.” Was the smile offered to Gyricson a bit brighter than to Averill? Good. Her natural instincts are on my side for once. He’s a handsome man; it’s a shame Evy can’t see more than that.
Evelina said, “Gentlemen, please sit. Grandmother is much more comfortable in her chair. And I think it’s easier for her to see you if your faces are on her level.”
“Aye,” said Zoe. “And scoot up closer, if you will. Ah! There you are, young Averill. Can’t miss you, the crab-man of Stonebridge.” She cackled. Merlin’s letter had said she should maintain her reputation, the witch Gunnara. “And you. You must be Leland Gyricson’s boy. A vintner. He makes wine, Evelina, or at least his father did.”
“You remember my father?” Adelgar expressed surprise.
“I would not.” Zoe cackled again. “Except your great beak of a nose reminded me of him. By the gods, you might as well be a vulture. A whole family of vultures. Leland used to buy our surplus for his winery. But he had a sharp eye, did that one. He could tell a good bushel from a bad.”
Evelina blanched. “Grandmother, I think you should speak more accurately. Master Gyricson looks nothing like a vulture.” She smiled at Adelgar. “I think you look quite fine, sir. Do you make wine, like your father?”
“Not at present. I did learn winemaking from my father, but when he died I decided to enter trade. Stonebridge’s forests produce excellent lumber, which is as much desired in Down’s End as good wine. I had some success moving lumber to the downs.”
“Some success?” Zoe’s tone communicated skepticism. Merlin vouched for the man, and the gods knew Zoe had need, but she would not tolerate deception.
“Not enough success, I fear.” The man looked Zoe in the eye, which didn’t mean anything. The worst deceivers practiced looking sincere. “I borrowed from Ody Dans, and I did not fully repay. As a result, no lender in Stonebridge will do business with me. I am shut out of trade.”
“And shut of your wife, if what I hear is true.” Zoe peered at him intently, hoping he would think her gaze beady.
“You were married?” Evelina exclaimed innocently.
Gyricson turned to Evelina. “I was. Tilde and I were very happy. But when I lost my money, I think she became despondent. She left me. They found her body in River Broganéa.”
“She left you just because you lost your money?” Evelina’s indignation was as real as it was naïve. Zoe prayed: Please, gods protect this girl from herself.
“No. Tilde loved me. I believe she loved me very much. But the shock of my failure overthrew her mind. I think she threw herself in the river to escape humiliation.”
Zoe tilted her head. What are you leaving out, boy? Don’t lie to me. “Are you certain she is dead?”
“Aye. Aye. Aye.” But that was not what he meant. Gyricson stammered, almost like Merlin. “I-I-I…” He looked at the floor and then at Zoe. “No, Ma’am. I saw a body that had been in the river some days. I think it was Tilde, but only the gods can be certain. I looked widely in the city for her and did not find her. I believe she is dead.”
Evelina was solemn. “How horrible! I’m very sorry for you.”
Zoe didn’t want to miss an opportunity. “You see, Evy? A wife needs more than a pretty face. Bad times will come. Always do. That’s when you must be strong, strong in your heart.” She fixed Adelgar Gyricson with her eye. “And you must treat your partner honorably.”
Gyricson looked stricken, as if Zoe knew his deepest secrets. She didn’t. Merlin’s letter said explicitly that he would not tell certain things, but asked that Zoe trust his judgment. Zoe had burned the letter after reading it.
“I’m not as simple as you think, Grandmother.” Evelina folded her hands on her lap. “I know our vineyards are poor. We have but one housemaid, Bliss, and no cook. Three servants for the vines. One of them, the manager, is Paul Freeman. Who knows what crimes he fled to come here?”
Evelina looked whiter than usual, and she trembled, not looking at the visitors. Zoe had never been prouder of her granddaughter. There’s hope for you yet, girl. Zoe rocked back and forth. Her hip was crying out, but she made herself smile and cackle. “You think you see? Hm, Evy? Good! Very good! But will you be strong in the hard times? Tell me that.”
Evelina did not answer. She stared at the floor, until the silence distressed the visitors.
Adelgar Gyricson said, “Sometimes, Lady Gunnara, when facing a trial, it is wisdom to hold one’s tongue. Impetuous persons promise greatly, and when they fail the test, they are crushed. I speak as one who has promised and failed. Sometimes, I think, it would be best to promise only that one will try. Lady Evelina, will you try your best when hard times come?”
“Aye.” Evelina looked at her grandmother first, then Gyricson. “I will be strong in my heart.”
Zoe pounded the arm of her chair. “Gods, my hip hurts! Help me up, girl.” Merlin Averill jumped up, and with his left arm he helped. With Evelina and Merlin on either side, Zoe rose. Hunched over, she beckoned Gyricson with a finger. The man came close so she could whisper.
“I like you. You may call on Evy if you like. But first, if you cannot prove Tilde Gyricson is dead, you must divorce her. My Evelina will be no man’s concubine. And if you do call, make up your mind soon. These bones will be in the ground by year’s end.”
130. In Ambassador House, Stonebridge
Merlin Averill had “arranged things” more quickly than Milo thought possible. Four days after the unexpected meeting of Merlin and Tilde Gyricson in Milo’s Citadel office, Adelgar Gyricson paid three silvers in the city clerk’s office to register his divorce from Tilde.
In the meantime, a courier from Saltas Semitas, Ro Norton, had come to Ambassador House. After consulting with Milo, Amicia sent out urgent invitations for a dinner to be held in three days, before Ro Norton would depart. The invitations noted that because of its limited size, Ambassador House could welcome only select guests for the evening. The names of the guest list made the Lady Ambassador’s intentions clear. She wanted her allies in Stonebridge to act. It was time for the Stonebridge Guard to move against the Herminians.
On the appointed day, Milo walked to Ambassador House with Felix Abrecan. It had been a glorious spring day, the sort of day when sunlight seems to draw green things from the soil before the watcher’s eyes. Still, as day gave way to evening, a chill wind whistled among the buildings and over the bridges that gave Stonebridge its name. Milo and Felix pulled their coats close.
Kenelm Ash and Raymond Travers stood guard on the Ambassador House porch. Travers’s blind eye moved constantly, but Felix had seen it enough to ignore it. Milo and Kenelm didn’t even notice. After greetings, Milo said, “You need to sit at table tonight, Kenelm. Aylwin appointed you as guard for Amicia, and she acts officially as ambassador. Felix can stand guard out here with Raymond.”
Kenelm Ash frowned playfully. “Hard duty, Sir. Eight courses of food, unlimited drink, hours of boredom—and I’m supposed to watch out for my Lord Aylwin’s interests? As a soldier I’d prefer the porch.”
Milo chuckled. “You’re a knight, Sir, and you will do your duty. You will politely taste every course yet not fill your belly. You will sip wine but keep your wits. You will attend to every joke, no matter how pathetic. You will be ready to advise Amicia at any moment.”
Kenelm laid his fist on his chest. “Aye, Lord Commander.” The four men all laughed.
Milo leaned close to whisper. “I trust your swords are sharp. Stay alert. None but the listed guests are to enter. No one leaves apart from my word.”
Raymond and Felix nodded obedience. Kenelm raised his eyebrows and followed Milo into the house.
Ten places at the dining table would not have crowded the room so badly, except for side furniture. A warming tray stood just outside the kitchen door. Opposite the kitchen, a dozen bottles of prize Stonebridge wines graced a sideboard. A long side table on one side held forth cold meats. On the other side a wide hearth and fireplace warmed the room. The result underscored the intimacy of the proceedings. Once seated, the diners could hardly move, and those by the fire had to ask their friends across the table to serve the cold meats.
Lady Ambassador Amicia Mortane sat at the head of the table, opposite the kitchen. A table setting at the foot went unused. When the serving girl, Anna Vinedaughter, brought in successive courses, she placed the tureen or platter near this setting. Then she served the food into bowls or plates as the food warranted. Thus she needn’t carry things around the table, which eliminated the danger of stumbling and spilling something on the guests.
Kenelm Ash, as Amicia’s official protector, sat on her left. Of all the guests, he had easiest access to the wine board, so Ash spent much of the evening filling glasses. On her right, the place of honor went to Ro Norton, the messenger from Saltas Semitas. Next to Ro came Ody Dans and his nephew, Derian Chapman. Across from them sat Lunden Ware and his wife Adela. The fourth spot on the two sides were for Milo and Merlin Averill. Without more places at the table, Amicia could not have invited a better group to support her policy. Merlin, of course, said almost nothing, but his presence signaled the acquiescence of the Averill faction with the group’s intentions.
As typical with such dinners, conversation moved slowly, as if it were linked to the procession of courses. With the soup, greetings and light-hearted jokes; with the pheasant, questions directed to Ro Norton about life on the western downs; with the fish, comments about Winter Camp and inquiries into the progress of the City Guard; with bread and cheese, requests for Amicia and Kenelm to describe castle life at Hyacintho Flumen; with the beef, similar questions for comparison’s sake directed to Ro Norton concerning Saltas Semitas; with the pork, a discussion of sieges in general and the siege of Hyacintho Flumen in particular; with fruit pies, speculation about whether and which lords might ally with Aylwin; and finally with the honey wafers, contented praise for the Lady Ambassador’s hospitality.
Like the others, Milo attended closely to Ro Norton’s answers. David Le Grant’s man rarely spoke except in response to questions. Milo knew that Norton would report everything he learned in Stonebridge to the lord of Saltas Semitas. Somehow, as he listened to the man’s cautious statements, Milo became convinced that what Norton reported to Saltas Semitas would be passed on to Hyacintho Flumen. Milo thought: Aylwin must have mastered Videns-Loquitur. Either he or Le Grant must have done it, probably Aylwin. And if it’s Aylwin, he’ll take that as proof that he deserved the castle. The thought curdled Milo’s enjoyment of the fruit pie.
When the guests began praising the food and thanking her for inviting them, Amicia pushed back her chair and stood.
“Gentlemen, and Madame Ware, I believe we agree on one crucial point. Sir Milo Mortane should lead the Stonebridge Army—for beyond the bounds of the city the Guard is an army—toward Hyacintho Flumen. This is possible only because the Assembly has allowed my brother to enlarge the Guard and train its men. I thank you.
“What is our objective? In particular, I direct my question to Master Dans and Master Ware. My brother, Lord Aylwin, asks that your army break the siege of Hyacintho Flumen. It is true that the Herminians outnumber you. But Milo need not attack the main body of the enemy.” Amicia held out her hands and motioned. “A diversion here that permits food to reach the castle here would defeat the siege. I am asking that the Assembly direct and empower Commander Mortane to break the siege of Hyacintho Flumen.” Amicia nodded her respects to the guests and sat down.
Lunden Ware exchanged glances with Ody Dans before speaking. “Lady Amicia, we understand your request, but we do not think a resolution to that end would be helpful or necessary. The Stonebridge Army will demonstrate first that we will no longer tolerate highwaymen. The road to Down’s End will be secured. Second, we will not threaten Down’s End, but Commander Mortane will make clear that Stonebridge laws will rule all the southern downs. Along with our forces, we will send emissaries to Down’s End, inviting them to join us in creating a Tarquintian army, led by a commander of our choosing. For the present, of course, that will be Commander Mortane. The key point is that Down’s End must acknowledge Stonebridge authority for the long term. They may be slow to do so, and we will be patient if need be.
“Thirdly, the Herminians will undoubtedly send parley flags to Commander Mortane. He will tell the Herminians, quite explicitly, that we have not ordered him to interfere with them. They will not believe him, but that does not matter. The crucial decision will come in the field. If Sir Milo believes he can extend Stonebridge power and influence by smuggling food to the castle or by diverting the enemy in the way you suggest, then he will. But if he decides that such actions are impractical—especially if they would put our army at extreme risk—he will not do so.
“This expedition is our first move into a greater future for Stonebridge, the first of many. Commander Mortane’s mission is to extend Stonebridge influence, not to save Aylwin Mortane. Of course, it is an irony not lost on any of us that Sir Milo is brother to Lord Aylwin. But we are confident the Lord Commander will obey Assembly directives.”
At the foot of the table, Milo seemed lost contemplating his wine glass.
“S-s-sir Milo?” Merlin Averill spoke for the first time in an hour.
Milo looked at Amicia and deadpanned, “I told you before, Toadface.” The day before, they had rehearsed this part of the dinner. She wore a face of stone. “Aylwin cheated me of my place. He can go to hell for all I care. I serve Stonebridge. If I can serve Stonebridge by helping Aylwin, I will. If I can serve Stonebridge by not helping Aylwin, that’s fine too.”
Ody Dans’s cherubic face crinkled in laughter at “Toadface.” When the others saw that Amicia wasn’t insulted, they laughed too.
Amicia replied to Lunden Ware. “We understand each other clearly then. In the end, I suppose, I must trust my brother’s judgment.” She dipped her head toward Milo. “I will be satisfied if the army moves soon.”
“That it will,” said Milo. “We will leave a Guard of seventy for the sake of order in the city, and march with six hundred.”
“When?” Several asked at once.
“Four days, I think. Do you agree, Derian?”
Derian Chapman had participated in the conversation much like Kenelm Ash, which is to say less than he ordinarily would. But now he took his cue obediently. “We will be ready, my Lord Commander. There is only one more prerequisite, as far as I can see.”
Across the table from Derian, Lunden Ware asked: “And what is that?”
Derian nodded toward the foot of the table. “Lady Amicia’s ninth guest never came. I think his opinion should be sought.”
Adela Ware, the banker’s wife, said, “I’ve wondered about that place setting all through dinner.” She turned to Amicia. “Did you invite someone else?”
“She didn’t. I did.” Milo waved his hand toward the kitchen door. It opened, revealing a dark-haired man dressed in hues of gray, clean-shaven with piercing eyes. Thinner and more angular than the previous summer, Adelgar Gyricson advanced to the table like it was a lectern in a court.
“Fair evening, Lady Ambassador. My business here does not concern you, but I thank you for bringing these witnesses together.” He pointed at Ody Dans.
“That man destroyed my business when he could have granted me time to repay my loan. He has prevented me from borrowing, thus locking me out of trade.”
Ody Dans slapped the table. “Sir Milo, what is this foolishness?”
Gyricson continued. “That man threatened to kill me, ordering his men to throw me into the Betlicéa because I could not pay.”
“Ridiculous!” Dans stood up, pushing his chair against the wall. “Lord Commander, I insist you silence this man.”
“I will not. His charges are not ridiculous. I was there.” Milo spoke quietly, but everyone heard. Dans was stuck. In another situation he might shout down Adelgar Gyricson or even Milo, but not here. In the crowded dining room, there was no way to squeeze around Derian on one side and Ro Norton on the other without stepping on the hearth.
“That man,” the accusation continued, “forced my wife to prostitute herself to pay my debts.”
“These are bizarre and baseless charges! Am I to be accused by a ne’er-do-well whose wife deserted him? The man defames me and his wife, who cannot defend her reputation, since she is dead.”
Milo stood up, motioning at the same time that everyone else should remain seated. “Once again, Master Dans, you are wrong.” Milo extended a hand toward his chair. Adelgar sat in it.
“Derian, you are an under-sheriff of the Guard.” Milo made his tone conversational.
“Aye, Lord Commander.”
“Very good. Keep Master Dans here.” Milo walked quickly from the room through a short hall to the entry. When he opened the Ambassador House door, a woman came in. Behind her, Felix Abrecan and Raymond Travers stood on the porch with Ingwald Freeman, Ody Dans’s bodyguard. Milo addressed the woman. “Follow me.” Milo and the woman left Abrecan, Travers, and Freeman on the porch. He hurried ahead so that he reached the dining hall a few seconds before her. Ody Dans was still standing, his face pink as salmon.
Tilde entered, wearing a free-flowing cream-colored kirtle that effectively masked her pregnancy. A cloth hat of a slightly darker hue and a necklace of blue stones proclaimed her a lady. A heavy fur cloak lay on her shoulders. Ebony hair framed the square face, matching the lashes around the eyes; the cheeks lived with color and the lips were red. The Citadel washerwoman had been transformed, and she had no need to point.
“My former husband owed money to Ody Dans. I stayed two weeks in The Spray to pay that debt. Shall I tell, them, Master Dans, how you used me? Would you like that?”
Ody Dans looked around the table and clenched his jaw. “Enough! Mortane has built an army for us, Lunden. Now it’s time we found a commander we can trust.”
“Ody, why don’t you sit down?” By his tone, Lunden Ware could have been inviting a friend to share a beer. Dans’s pink face flushed to red, and his lips parted.
“What’s wrong with all of you? We meet here to launch Stonebridge toward greatness. Will you throw it away? Without me, nothing goes forward.”
Ware said, “I don’t think so. Verge Courney and I support the army. Merlin Averill supports the army. Kingsley Averill won’t oppose his son. Commander Mortane obeys the Assembly. We don’t need you. Sit down, Ody.”
“I want Ingwald,” Dans said. “I am going home.” Dans pushed his chair further back, almost into the fire. He pushed at Derian, trying to get around him, but Derian remained securely seated in place. Dans’s eyes flashed around the table in desperation.
Kenelm Ash snorted. “Ingwald Freeman looks like a fine swordsman, but if he tries to enter this house, Raymond will cut him in pieces. Sit down, Master Dans.”
“Sit down, Uncle.” Derian, closest to Dans, was his immediate captor. Dans’s knees slowly gave way. He panted, round body on the edge of his chair, his hands splayed on the table.
“You will come to the Citadel with me tonight,” Milo said. “Derian will sort out your office in The Spray. I suspect he will find evidence of further crimes. Speaker Averill will be notified, and the Assembly will conduct your trial. I will not take part in that trial unless the Assembly commands my presence. I ought to be in the field with the Stonebridge Army. Perhaps it will comfort you, when you are condemned, to know that Stonebridge strides forward without you.”
131. At Castle Inter Lucus
So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature.
Went Bycwine read slowly. Quills scratched audibly as the other students copied the words. Teothic and Eadmar and two sheriffs labored alongside the students, the great hall transformed into a scriptorium. The priests rejoiced daily over the portions of the book of God being copied at Inter Lucus. For his part, Marty was pleased that all his students except Besyrwen Fairfax had come back to Inter Lucus after helping with spring planting, and Aglefen Fairfax had promised that Besyrwen would return soon.
“Lord Martin, my page is full.” Ernulf Penrict’s expression was innocent, but his eyes danced.
“Let me see.” Marty glanced quickly at the sheet of paper Ernulf handed over. “What is this? The Reader’s Digest large print edition?”
“My lord?” The reference meant nothing to Ernulf.
“Your letters are twice as big as Whitney’s or Caelin’s. One would think you are trying to fill your page.” Marty couldn’t help smiling at the youth.
Eadmar came to Ernulf’s defense. “His letters are no larger than mine. I can hardly read Whitney’s; they’re so small.”
“Aye,” said Ernulf. “The most important thing is that our letters be well-formed, consistent, and readable.” These last words quoted Marty’s frequent instruction.
“Well, they are that.” Marty put down the paper. “Okay. We’ll go. Alf!”
“My lord?” Alf’s round blue eyes looked up from his paper, his quill suddenly still. Months of healing and use had not restored full dexterity to the boy’s fingers. When working as a copyist, Alf’s concentration on the task was total.
“Put away your ink, Alf. I’d like you to come with Ernulf and me.”
“Aye, my lord.”
To Went Bycwine, Marty said, “Nine or ten more verses, I think. Then lunch.”
Ernulf had asked freedom from all copying so he could work the whole day with Isen, as he had during “spring break.” Marty insisted that Ernulf continue lessons in arithmetic, reading, and writing, but they compromised when it came to copying. When Ernulf had filled one page with good work, he could go to the glassworks. After lunch, he worked all afternoon with Isen while the other children helped the sheriffs work on the estate. With so many experienced hands laboring, the gardens and orchards of Inter Lucus promised a very productive year.
“Do you want me to apprentice to Isen too, Lord Martin?”
“I think you already know the answer to that, Alf. Your hands will never let you be a glassblower. No. We need you to judge what Isen and Ernulf have made.”
“But it was only a dream…”
“And we have learned that we must pay attention to your dreams, Alf.”
“Fair morning, Lord Martin. Alf. Ernulf.” Isen was sweating inside the glassworks, not just from the heat of the furnace but also from his labor. He had been hauling firewood from outside.
“More wood, Master Isen?” Ernulf laid aside his school tunic and slipped on a sleeveless leather garment. The apprentice’s arms bore many nicks and scratches from carrying wood, and his biceps and forearms soon would be the envy of any high school boy, Marty thought.
“We’ve enough.” Isen nodded toward Alf. “We want to show Sir Alf our latest.”
The white-blond head jerked up, looking from Marty to Isen. “What did you say?”
“I mean no offense, Alf.” Isen wiped his hands on a cloth, cleaning and drying them. “I only say what everyone knows is true. When Lord Martin takes a wife and has a child, that one will be heir to Inter Lucus. Until then, you are as a son to Martin. The sons of lords are called sir, even before they become knights.”
“Please, I do not want to be called sir.” The blue eyes watered, on the edge of tears. “Lord Martin, please don’t let them… It’s what Rothulf would have wanted.”
Marty remembered schoolyard names, and pity for Alf welled up. “What Rothulf wanted was wrong, because he wanted you to supplant me. Isen is not suggesting that. You must be ready to take my place if the need arises.”
“I do not want to be called sir.”
“Very well. I will remind everyone that you are only a student at Collegium Inter Lucus, no more and no less. Now, Isen, let’s see what you have.”
Ernulf climbed a stool to open the annealing oven. Marty expected a blast of heat, but Ernulf reached into the oven with bare hands. He pulled out a ceramic tray and handed it down to Isen.
“These have been cooling for three days,” Isen said, answering Marty’s unspoken question. He held the tray for Alf’s inspection. It held dozens of glass rods, four to six inches in length. “You said the glass string was for the CPU. I’ve seen the broken part, so I made ’em about that long.”
Alf stared at the bits of glass. “May I touch them?”
“Over here.” Isen carried the tray to a tall table near the western door of the glassworks. Marty, Ernulf and Isen stood near the table while Alf cautiously poked at the glass rods. Some resembled toothpicks or hairpins; these Alf quickly rejected and pushed to the side of the tray.
“They must be very thin,” he whispered. He touched one that reminded Marty of cotton candy; it broke. “O God! I’m sorry!” Alf was stricken.
Isen laughed. “These were trials only, Alf. We intended from the beginning to melt them and try again. Are they like what you dreamed?”
The boy’s face took on a distant look. “Aye. No. The glass strings I saw were thin like hair, but straight. And, and…”
“Smoked. You said they were smoked.” Ernulf finished for him.
“I did say that, but… I don’t know if it’s the right word.”
Marty prodded gently. “Perhaps it isn’t the right word. Try to say what you saw.”
“I saw glass strings with white smoke—or white steam, like from a kettle—rising around the glass.”
Isen nodded encouragingly. “And the strings were thin, like hair?”
The glassmaker looked at Marty. “With a bit o’ practice, Ernulf and I will make glass hair, as straight as you like. But I don’t know ’bout smoke or steam.”
“I have some ideas about that,” Marty said. “I used to be an electronics sales rep. We need to reinvent cladding.”
Isen, Ernulf and Alf were baffled.
“Annie lectron icksails rip?”
“Sounds mysterious and impressive, doesn’t it?” Marty chuckled. “It isn’t. Five years ago I had a job in trade. I didn’t make the things I sold; I only talked with tradesmen who bought the things and then sold them to other people. One of the products my company made was called fiber optic cable. I think that Alf’s dream describes something like fiber optics. As a salesman, I often described our products, including our fiber optic cable, to the tradespeople who bought them. That does not mean I actually know much about fiber optics. I just learned to say things that other men and women told me about our products. But the basic idea of fiber optics is a glass fiber surrounded by cladding. Sometimes the cladding is also glass, with a slightly different chemical composition.”
Marty’s companions were speechless. He waved off any attempt to explain.
“Make the glass strings. Once we have many of them, we will suspend them in the air above a very hot crucible of new glass. It probably won’t work, but maybe the vapor rising from new glass will coat the strings. And it may work as cladding.”
After lunch Caelin Bycwine took his turn as recorder, standing at a new writing desk. Caelin and Elfric Ash had used dark walnut in building the new desk, polishing it until the wood gleamed. Paper and furniture, Marty thought. With the forests north of Inter Lucus and alien technology in the west wing, we’ve got the wood products industry nailed. We may never make steel or ceramics, but I’ve got something to trade for them.
“Who will you summon today, Lord Martin?” Caelin had paper and ink ready on the writing desk.
“Aylwin Mortane, as usual. He wants to meet Ames Hewett. And Lord Hewett has sent a messenger to Argentum Cadit, to Lord Con Baro. The messenger started out five days ago, so he may have reached Argentum Cadit.”
“You have never spoken with Lord Baro?”
“No. I’ve tried to summon him, but he hasn’t responded. I’ve seen into the great hall of Argentum Cadit, and the castle doesn’t seem abandoned. Lord Hewett thinks Lord Baro may be sick and unable to come to the lord’s knob.”
Marty laid his left hand on the lord’s knob and issued the mental summons: Con Baro of Argentum Cadit. The interface wall quickly revealed the interior of some great hall, presumably Argentum Cadit’s, in the familiar black and white. “Still no one home,” Marty said. “Hewett’s messenger might not yet have arrived.”
“It will take equally long to return to Faenum Agri,” replied Caelin. “If Lord Baro is sick, Lord Hewett’s messenger will have to return home before Hewett will know for sure.”
“You’re right, of course. What’s this?” Marty was considering whether to summon Mortane or Hewett when a woman entered the picture. She looked to be about twenty-five, very short but broad shouldered, with small eyes set wide apart in a heavy face. She hesitated and then clasped both hands on the lord’s knob. Colors transformed the picture: a pale rose glow surrounded the woman’s hands, only an inch below the woman’s face. She wore a turquoise kirtle with a bright gold necklace. Her hair and brows were a mousy brown. Altogether, she reminded Marty of a cartoon cat or even a bulldog.
“Fair afternoon. I am Martin Cedarborne, lord of Inter Lucus. May I ask your name?”
“Isabel Baro.” The woman shuddered. “I am the lady of Argentum Cadit. My father died yesterday.”
Behind the woman at the knob, another woman walked into the scene; gray haired and obviously the mother of the first, she too was short and broad with an extremely jowly face.
Marty bowed to the women. “I am very sorry to hear of your loss, Lady Isabel. Perhaps it would be best if I contacted you again some later time.”
The older woman stepped close to Isabel, who said, “No. I should like to talk now. This is my mother, Lady Avis.”
“Fair afternoon, Lady Avis.”
“Fair afternoon, Lord Martin.” Avis Baro inclined her head. The growly voice made Marty think of a female Winston Churchill. “We are pleased to meet you. The Herminian queen told Lord Con to expect a summons from the new lord of Inter Lucus. But Con fell ill shortly after and was not able to answer you.”
“Your husband talked with Queen Mariel?”
“Aye. Loves to show her strength, she does. Much like you.” The mother turned to examine the daughter for a moment, her jowls swaying. “Isabel first laid hands on her knob this morning. Perhaps you can see her color is a bit faint. Still, a weak bond is better than none. Argentum Cadit will survive.”
Faint colors signal weak bonds between rulers and castles? Marty looked briefly at Caelin, who finished writing something. Caelin nodded his readiness to go on.
“Survive it will, I’m sure. Lady Isabel, I had hoped to talk with Lord Baro and two others. With your permission, I will summon Lord Mortane and Lord Hewett.”
Isabel Baro rotated her shoulders and wiggled her elbows, clearly fighting against tension. “Please do, Lord Martin. Newly bonded to my castle, I do not know how soon I might command Videns-Loquitur, and I welcome the opportunity to meet other lords and ladies.”
Marty admired the woman’s pluck. Father dead only a day and she’s thrown into the business of running a castle. I wonder. Has she already chosen what to make with materias transmutatio?
With a change of thought, Marty summoned Mortane and Hewett. Full color images appeared instantly; both men had been waiting for the interface signal. Hewett’s knob shined violet; Aylwin’s was an orange-yellow.
Marty began: “Lord Aylwin, Lord Ames. I believe you have never met before. And I’m very sure you’ve not met Lady Isabel Baro, who has only today bonded with Argentum Cadit.”
Marty listened as Hewett, Mortane and the Baro women proceeded to greet each other. Hewett and Mortane congratulated Isabel on her succession to authority and offered consolation to Avis on the loss of her husband. Then Aylwin Mortane quickly moved to what he considered the chief item for discussion.
“Lord Martin tells me you have two hundred men in arms, Lord Hewett.”
Ames Hewett was middle-aged, with a long face much scarred by acne in his youth. With thick graying brows over slate colored eyes, it was a hard visage, not welcoming to nonsense. “Has he also told you I have five sons, all knights?”
Aylwin hastened on. “He did, which is why I have so much desired to talk with you, Lord Hewett. Of all the lords of Tarquint, you I desire most as ally against the Herminian invaders.”
“I, most? Because I have two hundred armsmen?”
“Your sons are more important than your armsmen. The Herminian Queen has sent ten thousand against me. So I am engaging the cities—Down’s End, Stonebridge—to raise an army of Tarquint to oppose her. That army will need knights to lead it.”
Hewett smiled broadly. “Confident young pup, aren’t you, Aylwin? I’ve never been to Cippenham, much less Down’s End or Stonebridge. So I don’t know the free cities well. But tell me—why should the cities fight for the lord of Hyacintho Flumen? Do they love the castle gods still?”
Aylwin disguised any resentment of “young pup.” He said, “The gods have little to do with it. Mariel won’t be satisfied to grind me down. She chose Hyacintho Flumen for its harbor, and through our harbor she sends an army to conquer the whole of Tarquint. The Herminians threaten the cities as much as they do castle lords. We must, we will, all fight together because it is in all our interests.”
“Well, it is certainly in your interest.” Hewett made a sour face. “But I don’t see that it serves me to send my sons eight hundred miles to war. If Mariel subdues you, then Down’s End may raise a real army to fight, and if Cippenham allies with them, they could match her ten thousand. My sons might lead that army, then. Frankly, I don’t think the timing is right, now.”
Aylwin’s self-control wavered. “But Lord Hewett, how can you be so blind? If I am beaten, the fools of Down’s End will capitulate. All of Tarquint will fall, bit by bit. The siege of Hyacintho Flumen is the key. We must fight together or not at all.”
“Lord Martin says it would be better not to fight at all.”
Now Aylwin’s composure broke completely. “The man has not a shred of dignity! He values the mean lives of peasants over freedom and honor. He makes paper, so naturally he is ready to bow to the Herminian bitch!”
Marty promptly cut off the connection with Hyacintho Flumen. Isabel Baro and her mother both looked at him with expressions of surprise. Ames Hewett pressed his lips together. “I’m sorry,” said Marty. “I made it plain to Aylwin that I won’t tolerate some of his language.”
Hewett lifted the corner of his mouth. “Surely he knows that your magic supports Videns-Loquitur.”
Marty shrugged. “Aye. He’s under much duress. He gets angry and forgets. Tomorrow or the day after we will try again.”
Isabel Baro coughed. “Do you really make paper, Lord Martin? Such a strong lord as yourself?”
“I do. Have you considered how you will use materias transmutatio?”
“Not really.” The bulldog face scowled in thought. “Father made steel, but not very much.”
“Consider well your decision.” A new theory emerged even as Marty expressed it. “It may be that each castle, or each noble family, is best suited to different materials. Why should every castle make steel? Who knows? You might be able to make the best ceramics on the planet.”
Isabel looked confused, and Marty remembered that “planet” was a foreign concept on Two Moons. Avis Baro, the mother, ignored that point. “Without steel, how can we arm our sheriffs? We only have six armsmen as it is.”
To Marty’s lasting astonishment, Ames Hewett solved Avis’s puzzle and advanced Marty’s own agenda in one stroke. “Lady Avis, I will send you steel, enough to arm twenty sheriffs, along with my son, Edward, if you will permit Edward to pay court to Isabel.”
Widowed only a day, Avis Baro did not miss her chance. “He may certainly pay court, but Lady Isabel will choose her husband.”
Hewett dipped his head. “I quite understand. The steel I send is my gift. Edward is my third son and an able knight. His older brothers already have wives. If he and Isabel do not please one another, he can come home. Neither family will take offense.”
Mother and daughter looked at each other. Isabel Baro said, “I look forward to Edward’s visit.”
132. In Stonebridge
When the evidence in Osred Tondbert’s “secrets” convicted Stonebridge City Clerk Ibertus Tibb of corruption, the Assembly replaced Tibb with a man named Hugh Norville. It was this man, Norville, sallow-faced and dressed in all in black, who recorded the marriage of Tilde Gyricson and Milo Mortane. There was no ceremony. Tilde and Milo signed a marriage registry, Felix Abrecan and Derian Chapman signed as witnesses, and Milo paid two silvers into the city treasury.
“That’s all there is to it?” Amicia Mortane expressed disappointment. She and Merlin Averill were the only other persons present. The Clerk’s office was a cramped, drab place. With the marrying couple, two witnesses, and two friends, the chairless room was full. A smudged glass window and an oil lamp provided dismal light.
“Citizens of Stonebridge are free to solemnize their marriages as they see fit.” Hugh Norville’s tone and expression disapproved of Amicia’s question. He closed the marriage registry. “It is an honor for me to record the Lord Commander’s union.” Norville inclined his head solemnly to Milo and turned away. Clearly, Norville thought their business concluded.
Outside the Clerk’s office, in the wide reception area of the Assembly Building, Derian explained. “Stonebridge is a free city, Lady Amicia. Some families ask priests of the old god to bless their marriages, some honor castle gods, and some appeal to no gods at all. So long as both man and woman are at least fourteen years of age, are unmarried citizens of Stonebridge, are not children of the same mother or father, and they pay the registry fee, that is all the city requires.”
The six companions passed through the tall doors of the Assembly Building. Bright spring sunshine warmed the stone pavement. “Don’t you want a wedding?” Amicia addressed Tilde.
“I had a wedding already. I don’t need another.” Tilde slipped her arm around Milo’s. “Today, I got what I wanted: a family name for my baby. However, I will be happy to come to your wedding, Amicia. Have you decided when?”
“W-w-we w-w-will w-w-wait.” Merlin squeezed Amicia’s right hand with his left. She completed the answer for him. “I want at least one brother present when I marry. Merlin and I will wait until Milo and the army come back.”
“A wise move, both politically and personally,” said Derian. But he didn’t elaborate.
The wedding party met two men not far from the Assembly Building: Kenelm Ash and Raymond Travers. As always, Amicia’s guards wore leather scabbards and swords manufactured at Hyacintho Flumen. Ash and Travers greeted the Lady Ambassador and her companions with bows and flourishes. The spring air and sunshine infused ordinary exchanges with delight.
Milo kissed Amicia’s cheek and Tilde’s mouth. “Felix, please escort my wife to the Citadel. Find Captain Fleming and Captain Dalston; tell them I will arrive shortly.”
“Aye, Lord Commander.”
“Where are you going?” Amicia asked her brother.
“Derian asked me to help sort through the last of Ody Dans’s records. We’ll take Kenelm and Raymond with us to speed things up.” Milo grinned. “Don’t worry, Toadface. I’ll return your guard before sundown.”
Amicia tossed her head. “Well! We were going to invite you to mid-day sup, but since it’s all work for the Lord Commander, Merlin and I will eat alone.”
“I’m afraid it must be all work for me. The army marches tomorrow.” Milo kissed her cheek again. “Come to the Citadel for evening sup, both of you. We can talk then. Hm?”
“We will come.” Merlin spoke without stammering.
Milo, Derian, Kenelm and Raymond climbed four abreast on the broad steps to The Spray. “Doesn’t look so grand,” opined Kenelm. “Felix and others speak of it as a palace almost.”
“You see only a little from here. From the top it goes down, hanging over the river. It’s much more impressive on the inside.” Derian looked sideways at Kenelm. “But then, for men accustomed to Hyacintho Flumen, my uncle’s house may not seem like much.”
“It’s a magnificent house, more luxurious than anything in Down’s End,” said Milo. “I’ve seen the houses on Alderman’s Row in that city. The Spray may be the grandest house anywhere not built by gods.”
“Not built by gods.” Kenelm echoed Milo’s phrase.
“We can’t expect the edifices of men to equal castles. You’ve seen the magic of the viewing wall in Hyacintho Flumen, Kenelm. The dining hall in Ody Dans’s house has a wall even longer, made entirely of windows, and through those windows his guests watch the falls of River Betlicéa. Of course that is all they see. With castle magic, a lord can look here and there, near or far. The Spray should not be measured against magical things.”
They reached the flat pavement outside the first, highest, level of The Spray. Ingwald Freeman, blond hair combed and trimmed above his shoulders, stepped out of the shadows. He wore a short sword tucked inside a belt; his right hand touched it nervously. “Master Derian.”
“Fair morning, Ingwald.”
“Is Master Ody still detained?” The soldier’s blue eyes roved over the four men, giving most attention to Kenelm Ash and Raymond Travers.
“He is.” Derian and Milo stood still while Kenelm and Raymond inched forward. “I must tell you, Ingwald, that my uncle has been charged with serious crimes. There are credible witnesses against him, including Commander Mortane. And I have found further evidence against him here in this house, written in his own hand.”
Milo said, “Master Dans will be tried by the Assembly. I will not be there, unless the Assembly commands me to attend. The army will be in the field. Nevertheless, I venture to predict that Master Dans will be convicted. He will never return to The Spray, which will become property of Derian Chapman. Now, Derian is a sheriff. More importantly, he serves as quartermaster for the Guard. Therefore, he will march with the army. In Master Chapman’s absence, while we are waiting for Dans’s trial, I must appoint someone to manage Master Dans’s estate as a steward.”
“By the gods.” Ingwald Freeman grinned. “I am a soldier, not a clerk. You don’t want me for that job.”
Milo matched Ingwald’s grin. “That’s right. We don’t.”
Ingwald’s grin disappeared. Derian said, “Some of my uncle’s records indicate pretty clearly that you were involved with his crimes. For instance, you killed a young man named Cold Morning, by throwing him into the Betlicéa.”
Now Ingwald sneered, and his hand gripped his sword. “A man named Cold Morning? Most likely a thief, don’t you think? He threatened Master Dans in his own house. I am sworn to protect the master.”
“Of course.” Derian coughed quietly. “Who is your master now?”
Milo said, “Ingwald Freeman, I offer you now a choice. Swear obedience to me as Commander of the Stonebridge Guard and march with us tomorrow. You are a soldier, as you say. As an armsman in the Guard, you can prove your worth and honor.”
“Swear obedience to the rejected son of a dead lord? I don’t think so. My other choices?”
“Otherwise you must answer for your crimes,” said Derian. “Last summer, no doubt in obedience to my uncle, you tied a young woman to a bed here in The Spray. Then you stripped away her clothes. That woman was confined to that bed for two weeks while Ody Dans tortured her.”
Ingwald might have expected many accusations, but not this one. He was genuinely puzzled. “I don’t understand. Am I to answer for confining a woman?”
“Aye. That woman has become my wife.” Milo drew his sword.
“Damn you all,” whispered Ingwald, and swept out his sword. “You intend murder, nothing less.” He crouched with weight finely balanced on the balls of his feet. “Four swords—enough, do you think?” He feinted toward Derian, and then danced back.
Milo pulled Derian away with his sword arm, making no attempt to engage the threat. His main concern was to keep Derian out of danger.
Raymond Travers’s blind eye whirled in its socket when he advanced on Ingwald, a distraction that had often proved fatal to previous enemies. Ingwald was sufficiently experienced to ignore it. He retreated a half step, hoping to draw Raymond away from the others, to engage his enemies one at a time. Milo and Kenelm cooperated with Ingwald’s tactic, holding back to let Raymond fight alone.
Kenelm had predicted, on the night when Milo arrested Ody Dans, that Raymond could cut Ingwald Freeman in pieces and, having seen Raymond practice sword-fighting many times at Hyacintho Flumen, Milo’s confidence equaled Kenelm’s. The one-eyed swordsman moved like a cat, with an agility and speed almost beyond belief.
Ingwald Freeman’s last combat lasted about thirty seconds. Raymond brushed aside Ingwald’s first thrust and bounced out of range of a second. His castle steel sword, lighter and stronger than Ingwald’s weapon, flicked out to cut Ingwald’s bicep. Ingwald’s blue eyes widened, recognizing deadly peril; he leapt forward in a desperate attempt to strike his opponent. Raymond slipped around this wild thrust and whipped his blade across the man’s throat. Ingwald’s face registered only the slightest shock before death took him.
Milo stepped carefully, to avoid the blood pooling from the dead body. “Raymond, you will continue on duty at Ambassador House. My sister’s life is your responsibility now. Kenelm will serve as steward of Master Dans’s possessions until the Assembly decides Dans’s case. Kenelm, your new duties begin immediately. Derian will take you into The Spray and introduce you to all the servants. I expect full reports from both of you when I return to Stonebridge. You left Hyacintho Flumen at Aylwin’s bidding, but now you serve me. Is that clear?”
“Aye, Lord Milo.”
“Aye, Lord Commander.”
133. At Castle Inter Lucus
Creating hairs of glass was deceptively easy. Isen and Ernulf needn’t blow anything; they had merely to touch a molten gather with an iron punty rod and draw out a string. They quickly learned to make flowing curved patterns with such glass filaments. With glass strings of contrasting colors, they could create art: a butterfly brooch or a flower hairpin.
The glass hairs demanded by Alf’s dream would have been easier than art pieces, since they were only line segments, except Alf insisted they be literally thin as hair and absolutely straight. Isen found a way. Ernulf would hold a hot gather very still while Isen pulled two or three glass strings down from it. Each tiny filament had a molten drop at the end, providing enough weight to straighten the hair. Later, after the glass strings had been “cladded,” the drops at the end could be clipped away.
Lord Martin’s explanations of “cladding” mystified Isen repeatedly. Martin talked about “internal refraction” and the “chemical composition” of different kinds of glass, and Isen understood that this meant different batches of glass were made of slightly different materials. But every glassmaker and apprentice knew that! How else could glasses of various colors be produced? Isen grasped the notion that two batches of glass could have the same color and yet be made of differing materials. For example one could use differing amounts of beech ash while keeping the quantity of pure sand the same. And, naturally, “pure” sand dug from one location would not be exactly the same as sand from another. Lord Martin thought that “chemistry” could explain all these facts and that a thorough knowledge of chemistry would allow one to produce all sorts of wondrous effects in one’s glass. Unfortunately, Lord Martin admitted frequently that he personally had nothing like a thorough knowledge of chemistry. Privately, Isen suggested to Ernulf that it might have been better had Lord Martin never mentioned chemistry at all.
In the end, they had to experiment. That is, they tried to obey Alf’s dream by “cladding” glass hairs with a variety of vapors. On one occasion Martin said that what they were doing wasn’t a real “experiment,” because their work lacked “control.” Isen and Ernulf decided that “control” was as useless a concept as “chemistry,” unless a real expert should explain it to them.
Over the course of a week, Isen and Ernulf fashioned eighty glass hairs, five to six inches long, and each straight as a sunbeam. Alf said they resembled those in his dream. They “cladded” them by suspending them, one at a time, over a crucible of molten bubbling glass. With the heat of the furnace so intense, the glassmakers could expose the tiny filament over the steaming crucible for only a few seconds at a time. After many repeated exposures, they hoped that the hair had collected a sheath of the vapor. Looking at them, Isen and Ernulf couldn’t say with confidence that the cladded glass strings were any thicker than before. Lord Martin insisted that they make trial with different batches of glass in the crucible. So the glassmakers heated ten differing batches and exposed eight strings to the vapor of each crucible.
When the fifty glass hairs had been “cladded” and the droplets at the end clipped away, Isen laid the tiny filaments in a bed of soft white matter prepared by shredding and grinding clean cotton threads. He then bundled the whole, wrapping the glass hairs and their cotton fiber padding in a piece of tightly woven linen. He clipped off the longer glass strings, so that the final product looked like a non-metal rod, five inches long and about half an inch thick, with the outer layer of cloth constituting much of the bulk.
Alf’s dreams hadn’t shown him how the glass strings were supposed to fix the CPU. He just had the feeling—“the way it happens in dreams, when you are sure of something but can’t say why”—that his vision related to Centralis Arbitrium Factorem. When Alf saw the wrapped bundle of glass strings lying in Isen’s hand, he said, in complete transparency, “It’s not like what I dreamed. I never did think this would work.” Lord Martin, in contrast, praised Isen and Ernulf for their painstaking odyssey in glassmaking: “If anyone can make fiber-optic cable with eighth century tools, it’s you two. We may as well give it a try.”
The residents of Inter Lucus gathered quickly from their afternoon labors as they excitedly passed the word: Lord Martin will try to repair the violet block in the CPU, using the glass strings dreamed by Alf. What new magic might be released if Centralis Arbitrium Factorem were whole?
Lord Martin told Ernulf to bring the smallest pair of shears from the glassworks—with the blades buried in a bucket of hot coals from the furnace. Martin carried the “cable” to the castle, where he and Isen descended the stairs from the great hall down two levels to the lowest floor of Inter Lucus, and then proceeded south and west through the corridors. As always, castle lights came on ahead of them.
Once in the CPU room, Martin walked to the south wall, where the mysterious violet hexagon stood under its six-sided tube that reached down from the high ceiling. Around the room, ten other blocks rose from the floor, each a different color and different height, and each one was connected to its tube by a flashing strip. Only the violet block lacked the connecting “cable.”
The violet hexagon was second tallest in the room. Lord Martin had to reach above his head to measure Isen’s creation against the gap between block and tube. From his pocket Martin pulled out a wooden handled razor and flicked it open. Isen recognized the razor as the one Ernulf’s father had given to the new lord of Inter Lucus months ago—last summer when the castle had only begun to heal. Isen had a sense that the next few minutes could be as momentous as Martin’s original peregrination from Lafayette to Inter Lucus.
Martin gently cut away bits of linen sheathing from both ends of the cable. Holding it up to the gap, he said, “I think that’s about right.”
The entire population of Inter Lucus, except Caelin and the priest Eadmar, had gathered in the CPU when Ernulf carried the smoking bucket of coals into the room. Eadmar and Caelin steadfastly refused to leave their posts as guards that afternoon. Even Mildgyd Meadowdaughter and Agyfen Baecer were there, the fosterling holding close to Mildgyd’s skirt. Ernulf’s bare arm streamed sweat, and he held the iron bucket handle with a thick pad. The bucket glowed red.
Martin pushed the blade of his razor into the coals. Wrapping his hand in a cloth, he took the hot shears from the coals and cut a tiny portion from one end of Isen’s cable. Measuring again against the gap above the eleventh block, Martin cut the other end. He drew the glowing razor from the coals and touched the ends of the cable, heating the exposed glass. Then he positioned the cable between the ceramic block below and the tube above. When Martin released his hold, the cable remained in place.
“It’s done.” As usual, Ora had unshakeable confidence in Martin’s competence.
Lord Martin turned from the violet hexagon and its tube. He looked at the expectant faces gathered in the room and sighed, smiling wryly. “We have honored Alf’s dream by making an attempt.” He shook his head. “I should not have encouraged you all to hope. It takes modern manufacturing to make fiber optic cable. And even if we made real cable, there’s no reason to think it would fix an alien machine.”
“But it is done,” said Whitney Ablendan. She pointed. Lord Martin spun on his heel. Everyone present could see pulses of light visible through the cable’s linen cover.
“My God!” said Lord Martin. Then he ran ahead of the others.
As fast as Marty sprinted to the great hall, his mind raced faster. Is it really possible to repair alien technology with hand-worked glass from the middle ages? Why not? That’s no more implausible than the very existence of Inter Lucus and everything else on this planet. No, it’s not that a planet with alien machines is unbelievable; it’s the fact that I’m here, that human beings are here.
What does the eleventh hexagon do?
He rushed through the great hall, watching for some indication of change in the interface wall. Nothing. He reached towards the lord’s knob, but stopped and stood near it, panting. Hold on, old man. Think. What if Centralis Arbitrium Factorem really is fixed? Are there new “magics” waiting when I bond? Some new decision point, like choosing paper over steel?
Members of the Inter Lucus community were gathering behind Marty. They watched to see what he would do.
Could, might, possible… I could speculate forever. The only way forward is to try. Marty shook his hands for a moment and laid them on the knob.
Nothing. The interface wall was blank. With a mental command, Marty called up the familiar list.
I. Materias Transmutatio: operativa
II. Parva Arcum Praesidiis: operativa
III. Magna Arcum Praesidiis: operativa
IV. Cibum Preparatio Homines: operativa
V. Inter-Castrum Videns-Loquitur: operativa
VI. Extra Arcem Micro-Aedificator: operativa
VII. Potentia Fontes: operativa
VIII. Aquarum: operativa
IX. Intra Arcem Micro-Aedificator: operativa
X. Centralis Arbitrium Factorem: operativa
Marty considered the last item. Centralis Arbitrium Factorem was working. But the list had declared it operativa for months, when the eleventh hexagon was obviously not working. Should there be a new item on the list? Come on, alien masterminds, I need some answers.
The list of castle functions vanished, leaving a blank wall. But it wasn’t blank; it was black, a deep inky black. Then points of light, infinitesimal bits, thousands—no, tens of thousands—of them, appeared in the wall. Almost irrelevantly, Marty wondered: How many pixels did they build into this screen? Do aliens even count pixels?
The inhabitants of Inter Lucus gazed in wonder, hardly daring to breathe. To most of them the montage of lights was both incomprehensible and stunningly beautiful. In addition to the myriads of tiny lights, the picture showed faint dark blue patches near one corner, like almost invisible clouds. Thousands of lights clustered in the middle of the screen, combining into a mass, and from the center more lights gathered into paths, curved like the blade of a scythe.
“Lord Martin, what is it?” A voice behind him whispered. Tayte Graham or Whitney Ablendan, Marty couldn’t tell whose. He waved his right hand for silence, keeping his left on the lord’s knob. A carnation red dot came into view near the upper edge of the screen. Marty had no doubt what he was viewing; the dot located a point in one of the spiral arms of the galaxy. A red line began to extend from the beginning point, but not a straight line; it curved around the mass of stars in the center until it reached a terminus in the galaxy’s opposite arm.
Marty still held his hand up, forbidding speech, waiting for something more. Come on, come on. That can’t be all you meant to say.
Nothing. The galaxy photo—or map?—lingered, the red line glowing. After two full minutes, the whole display slowly faded away, leaving the interface wall genuinely blank. Marty removed his hand from the knob. His shoulders slumped. “I already knew that much.”
“My lord?” Isen, at his side.
Marty realized that he had verbalized his disappointment. “It’s a great achievement, Isen. I think your cable fixed the CPU, to a degree. Not completely. The map showed me what I learned already at Dimlic Aern. The strangers must have intended to show us more than this, but it may be that our repair is only partial.”
Ora, of course, had a different interpretation. “Lord Martin, this was your first attempt with the new power. “You will learn more of the strangers’ secrets next time.”
134. In Castle Inter Lucus
The half-inch of wine swirled around the bottom of Marty’s goblet. The motion stirred bits of grape pulp, bitter dregs if he wanted them.
Isen and Ernulf had manufactured three dozen such wine glasses to grace Inter Lucus’s tables. Teothic had praised the work, claiming he hadn’t seen quality in Down’s End that could match Isen’s goblets. Teothic admitted that he had never visited many wealthy private homes in Down’s End, so he couldn’t say what treasures Mayor Simun Baldwin or the banker Eulard Barnet might have in their cupboards. “But I’ve been inside the Dog of the Downs and Freemen’s House and others,” Teothic said. “These are beautiful, Isen. Folk in Down’s End would be happy to buy them.”
But that was some days ago. Today, as Marty contemplated the rose colored liquid in his glass, he knew his friends weren’t thinking about goblets or possibilities of trade with Down’s End. Throughout sup the whole community had watched him brooding.
At last he said, “You don’t have to worry,” to no one in particular. “I’ll be okay.” He stopped swirling the goblet and let the dregs settle. “It’s just… When the map came up, I thought I was finally going to get answers.”
“Why do you call it a map?” At sup, Caelin had heard many descriptions of the picture shown by the interface wall; a picture of the night sky without moons, one had said. Not exactly, another corrected. When the moons weren’t in the sky to obscure them, the stars looked like a wide splash of lights, not like two scythes joining in a ball.
Marty answered Caelin: “The aliens—the strangers—showed us what the galaxy looks like from up above, or from the side, depending on how you think of it. It probably wasn’t a real photograph, but a digital representation of the galaxy, an interstellar map.”
He read incomprehension on the faces at table near him: Caelin, Dodric, Whitney, Ora, Eadmar, and Teothic. “Okay. I need pen and ink.” Teothic fetched writing materials, and Marty drew.
“This is the sun, with Two Moons going around it. And these are the moons going around Two Moons. I’ve talked about this before, so you know that the sun is one of the stars.” Marty pushed the first paper aside and took another sheet. “When you look at the sky, you see thousands and thousands of stars, spread out like this. We call this whole group of stars a galaxy.” He drew a flying saucer shape. “It looks that way to us because we are out near the edge. If you could see the galaxy from the side, it would look like this.” On a third sheet of paper, Marty took care pixelating a double spiral, making it easier for his friends to connect his depiction with the picture they had seen in the afternoon. “To take an actual picture of it, the aliens—the strangers—would have to go way out here. Maybe they can do that. Apparently, they can create wormholes when they want to.”
Marty sighed, seeing puzzlement again. Careful, old man. These people trust you, but there’s a limit to how many new concepts they can swallow at one time.
“The point is this, Caelin. They showed us a picture of the galaxy as seen from the side. Then a red line appeared, reaching from someplace over here to another place over here.” Marty drew in the curved line. “Now I think—I’m almost certain—that they were showing us that they brought people from Earth to Two Moons.” He pointed at the two termini of the line.
“I’ve heard you say before that the strangers brought human beings from your planet to Two Moons.” Caelin pointed to Marty’s drawing. “This is a very great distance, isn’t it?”
“Aye. I’ve heard numbers given by scientists, but I don’t remember them. On Earth, with great effort, people have launched machines to go as far as our one moon. Sometimes even further. But we made nothing, nothing at all, like the aliens’ machines. Somehow, the aliens moved human beings—and cattle, and sheep, and cedar trees and, as far as I can tell, the whole planetary ecosystem—all the way across the galaxy. That is a thing so hard to do that many scientists on Earth would say it is impossible.”
Marty looked at his drawing and closed his eyes. “I thought, I hoped, that if we repaired the broken hexagon in the CPU, Inter Lucus would tell me how to go home. Or explain why the aliens wanted people to think they were gods. Or why they brought people here in the first place. Or why they left. Or how Inter Lucus brought me here hundreds of years later.”
“Perhaps God brought you here, not Inter Lucus,” said Ora. “I prayed to the castle gods, because I didn’t know better. Inter Lucus was a ruin. Eadmar thinks that the real God heard my prayer and brought us the new lord we needed.”
Marty smiled at Ora and the priest. “I think that’s true, Ora. God brought me here. But, as is usually the case, I think God did it through creaturely powers. There are mysteries surrounding Inter Lucus I haven’t unlocked. I hoped our repair of the CPU would unlock them. But not yet.”
In the night, Marty dreamed of Alyssa Cedarborne for the first time in weeks. This time there was no argument, no recriminations, no explosion, and no funeral. Instead, she floated before him like a portrait in an art museum. Her hand lay on her stomach and a hint of smile touched her lips. The smart business suit she wore had no place in Marty’s memory, but it seemed to fit her personality. It couldn’t be a real portrait, because Lyss’s lips twitched as he noticed the painting and moved toward it. He stood before the painting and reached out to it, but it retreated into the wall. He chased it down a tunnel, yet he couldn’t catch it.
He opened his eyes in the dark. For a moment he toyed with the idea that he was in bed in Our Lady of Guadalupe monastery, that it was still November and that his final vows were some months ahead. But that was impossible: Trappist monks don’t sleep in luxury like this. On Earth I would be four months past my vows.
He threw his legs out of bed; subdued floor lights came on, anticipating a visit to bathroom or closet. Slipping a tunic over his head, he walked down the stairs to the great hall. Seemingly without deciding he knew he intended to try again. He needed answers. He placed his left hand on the lord’s knob.
Videns-Loquitur activated immediately, without Marty commanding it. Mariel looked at him in surprise.
“Greetings, Lord Martin. Like me, it seems, you take comfort in magic when you can’t sleep. Is that the way of it?”
“I woke in the night, and it occurred to me that I might practice.”
Mariel shifted her weight and grimaced. Her baby blue kirtle flowed like an ocean wave over her abdomen. Marty surmised her delivery could not be far off. “I think I can guess why you’re awake.”
The queen smiled, and then grimaced again. “My daughter is active tonight. Only the knob gives comfort.”
Marty had felt more than once a sense of wellness after bonding with his castle. Somehow it had never occurred to him that others would feel it too. “Why is Videns-Loquitur open?” he asked. “I didn’t command it.”
“Neither did I,” she replied. “But Pulchra Mane follows my feelings as well as my thoughts, and sometimes she surprises me. Perhaps she knew I wanted to speak with you, even if I wasn’t aware of the desire. Or Inter Lucus may sense that you want to speak to me.”
Marty didn’t know what to say to such speculation. Castle technology surpasses anything on Earth. Did the aliens master artificial intelligence? Is Inter Lucus a living thing?
Mariel continued her thought: “So—is there anything you want to say to me, Martin of Inter Lucus?”
Seemingly out of nowhere, Marty thought of his grandmother Edith Leicester, who immigrated from Charwelton to America in 1952. Charwelton, the Northhamptonshire village of Grandmesnils and Mortains. And he thought of Elizabeth, the young woman who became queen that same year.
“There is. I propose, Queen Mariel, that you should be monarch of Tarquint and Herminia.”
The blond queen laughed. “We are agreed.”
Marty held up a palm. “And the lords and ladies of all castles—all those who swear fealty to you—should constitute what we can call the ‘House of Lords.’ They would vote on proposals, and when they pass a proposal, it would become law after you approve it.”
A cough from Mariel. “Really? I am to yield authority to lords?”
“Not exactly. There should also be what we can call the ‘House of Commons.’ Citizens of the free cities would elect members of the House of Commons. Laws of the realm must be approved by the House of Commons, the House of Lords, and the Sovereign.”
Mariel almost laughed, but pain shot across her face. “Not so hard, little one.” To Marty she said, “Your proposal is designed to prevent governance, not accomplish it. Why should ladies and lords agree to laws also approved by the free cities? Why should I permit dilution of my authority?”
Marty was out of his depth. How did Britain adopt such a system? Don’t talk to her about presidents or congresses. We don’t need that revolution. “You have said yourself, your majesty, that the lords of Herminia have discovered that unity under the queen brings benefits. And that applies to the free cities too. In general, everyone in Herminia is better off under your rule. That is what you claim.”
“It is true. And it will be true in Tarquint as well.”
“God permitting, we all hope so. The lords and people of Tarquint will acknowledge benefits of the wisdom of Mariel. But what about your daughter? Will she also rule wisely?”
Mariel’s left hand rested on her stomach. “Why should she not?”
“For many reasons, and you know them. No parent can guarantee that her daughter will not be a fool, a sadist, or a madwoman. If your daughter has your power without your wisdom, she could burn a thousand homes on a whim. If you give her power without also giving her compassion and justice, you create a monster.”
“Then I must guide her into compassion and justice.”
“Indeed you should. But my proposal guards against the day when some queen or king fails in that most crucial task. A monarch whose power is limited, shared with Lords and Commons, will not become a tyrant. There will of course be bad queens, unjust lords and stupid commoners, but by sharing power the evils they do will be limited.”
“So the chief virtue of this proposal is that it limits evil?”
“Exactly. Such limitations remove fear. Nobles and commoners alike will give fealty when they are not afraid. Rather than crushing opposition and compelling obedience, such a monarch gains the willing allegiance of the people.”
Mariel indulged him with a faint smile. “Martin, I take more pleasure in talking with you than any lord of Herminia. I would almost trust your judgment, if it weren’t mixed with such bizarre ideas. I promise you, no power on Two Moons will compel me to yield my authority to men as stupid and venal as Paul Wadard. The nobles of Tarquint will submit to me for the same reason Herminia’s nobles submitted to my father and continue to obey me. We force them. After they bow, they discover they like it.”
135. At Winter Camp
“Eádulf, my horse! It’s time to move. Where’s Derian?”
“Sheriff Chapman is inspecting the wagons, sir.” Eádulf brought Milo’s mount through the mud. It was raining, and had been for two days. The boots of armsmen and the melting of snow had long since reduced the spaces between Winter Camp’s buildings to mud pits. Rain only compounded the mess.
Milo’s new destrier, given to him by Assemblyman Ham Roweson shortly after Milo became Commander of the Guard, stood quietly with Eádulf patting the magnificent animal’s nose. The unimaginative Eádulf called him “Gray Boy,” which understated the creature’s size and strength, but Milo hadn’t objected. Gray Boy had a heavy black mane and tail that accented his silvery gray horsehair. Milo had ridden Gray Boy weekly from Citadel to Winter Camp and back to accustom the horse to his weight and manner, but in truth Eádulf had been the creature’s most regular companion for many weeks. In battle knight and mount needed to act as one, and Milo regretted not spending more time in the saddle. We’ll have some days together before Down’s End, Milo thought. An army can only move as fast as infantry and supply wagons. There should be opportunity to take Gray Boy for a gallop or two.
Milo stepped on a sawn block with his right foot so he could raise his left to the stirrup and then launch himself into the saddle. Weeks before, Felix Abrecan had teased Milo about using a mounting block like a woman or an old man. Milo had responded by laying aside his sword, stripping to an under tunic, and then leaping onto the horse. Gray Boy had reared and nearly thrown him. After that, Felix and Eádulf insisted Milo use the mounting block, especially when he wore armor or weapons. Today, with the army setting out, he wore a boiled leather jerkin over his clothes and carried his sword.
Other than the great horse, the Commander of the Guard was distinguished mainly by a pale yellow felt hat. It was exactly the color of globum domini auctoritate the day Milo had bonded with Hyacintho Flumen, and he bought it the moment he saw it in a Stonebridge shop. “Gods! Why that?” Tilde asked when she saw it. “You look like a mushroom or a peasant, not a general.” He replied: “It will keep the rain off. And if an archer sees lots of ugly hats, he might shoot at others rather than me.” Privately, Milo resolved that if he returned victorious to Stonebridge, he would have a new sigil invented for his shield and armor, and that sigil would in some way feature just this shade of yellow.
Felix and Derian rode up before Milo could go looking for them. Their mounts were considerably shorter than Gray Boy and flecked with mud that reached the riders’ knees; either man could have been a boy looking up at his father.
“Do we have everything?” Milo directed his question to Derian.
“Of course not.” Derian wore a misshapen leather hat that drained water to the side. “If there is anything I’ve learned since you pressed me into fulltime service as a sheriff, it’s that officers of the Guard never have enough. Hrodgar Wigt, Aidan Fleming, Acwel Kent, and Ifing Redhair all have insatiable desires for more men, more food, more weapons, more horses, more fodder, and on and on. And of course there needs be more wagons to carry everything. You may be absolutely sure that should anything go wrong your captains will complain that it would have been prevented had I provided them with more.”
Milo tossed his head, mimicking Amicia’s habit and throwing rainwater on his pommel. Grinning: “I take it that we are ready.”
Derian saluted, his fist on his chest.
“We move, then. Spread the word, Felix. Easy march for the first day, twelve miles. The men will want tents and campfires at the end of the day.”
“Easy march” proved to be anything but. The only sustained marching the Stonebridge recruits had experienced was from the city over the ring of hills to Winter Camp. Some companies had reversed the journey, but not nearly all. And the practice marches had been in good weather and on firm frozen ground. Now they marched in the rain, with full packs, in mud. They marched not in lone squads of twenty, but in units of fifty in a long line; the groups behind had to wait for the groups ahead. Consequently, the army moved like a caterpillar, each section impeded at some point by comrades before or behind.
The road from Stonebridge to Down’s End was only a dirt track. Some of the infantry abandoned the road to trample the prairie on both sides, which meant that the last third of the army either marched in mud or widened the track further. Besides Milo and his commanders, the army included fifty mounted scouts; some rode ahead of the main body while others paralleled the infantry on either side. The wagons came behind the swordsmen, knife fighters and archers, their draft horses plodding in the mud. Fortunately, the first day’s terrain sloped gently down for the most part; the animals would have struggled mightily going uphill.
After twelve miles Milo’s men were tired, thoroughly wet, and filthy to their waists. They wanted tents and campfires, but had little practice erecting camp in the wild. It took three hours of confusion, frustration and shouting before everything was properly set. At last, after dark, the rain stopped, and men could dry themselves and sup.
Derian and the captains—Hrodgar Wigt, Aidan Fleming, Acwel Kent, and Ifing Redhair—came to Milo once the scouts had come in and sentries were in place. They sat dispirited on logs around a campfire. Milo listened as each listed frustrations of the day. The commanders complained about the weather, about the road, about their men, and about stupid decisions made by each other. After half an hour, Milo finally signaled for silence.
“I promised these men that they would be an army. Today we discovered they are not. I promised more than I knew. True, I know how to fight. I can handle sword and shield and fight on horseback or afoot. You men, my commanders, are accomplished fighters, and we’ve trained our men as fighters. But we have not trained them to march, and without marching they can’t be an army. This is not their fault. We failed. I failed.”
Wigt, Fleming, Kent and Redhair didn’t answer.
“Now, we can go back to Stonebridge as failures. That would be honest. We could spend the summer training these men to march, and they would probably be a real army by harvest. But that is not what we’re going to do.”
Derian and the captains stared at him, waiting.
“Tomorrow we will break camp at the sound of a horn. We will march a mile—or two, or three—and then we will set camp at the sound of the horn. I will inspect the camp. Then we will do it all again: break camp, march, set camp. If there is still daylight, I may order it all yet again. We will do this every day until we are an army. When the morning horn sounds, we must be moving in half an hour. When the evening horn sounds, we must set camp in half an hour.”
Milo stood and pulled on his yellow cap.
“Where are you going?” Derian asked.
“I’m going to visit every campfire and tell the men what I’ve told you. I will apologize for my failure and promise them that they will yet be an army. I would appreciate it if you five would spread out among the men and tell them to keep their fires burning until I come by.”
The practice regimen worked. In the next three days, the Stonebridge army advanced only fifteen miles total, striking and setting camp seven times. Efficiency improved with repetition, and the spirit of the men improved with it. They could see for themselves how much more quickly tasks were accomplished, and they acknowledged the way efficiency reduced the discomforts of campaigning. Shared experiences of improvement generated feelings of competence.
On the fourth day, the fifth from Winter Camp, Milo rode Gray Boy up and down the marching column announcing the end of practice. Today we march like a real army! By nightfall they had covered sixteen miles, and they set camp without complaint in the rain in half an hour. In the evening, the captains congratulated Milo that his army had a sense of pride. He replied that they had overcome a preliminary hurdle only; an army’s real worth had to be proved in battle.
Six more days brought the army to Crossroads. They camped on the prairie north of the Crossroads Inn for two nights, and the intervening day permitted rest for footsore armsmen. It also afforded a bonanza to Idonea Fatman, owner of the inn. She rented no rooms to the Stonebridge men, but she sold gallons of ale and as much meat as her kitchen could cook.
At Crossroads, Milo and Derian interviewed Rage Hildebeorht, the sheriff appointed by the Stonebridge Assembly to rid the country of highwaymen. Hildebeorht had a regular room in the inn since he stayed there much of the time. He remembered Derian and Milo’s faces from their appearances in Crossroads the previous year, but he was taken aback that Milo Mortane, refugee from Hyacintho Flumen, was now Commander of the City Guard.
Derian corrected Hildebeorht, “We are not in Stonebridge. Here, Milo is General Mortane, general of the Stonebridge army. This should not be a surprise to you; surely you’ve received news from Stonebridge of the Assembly’s doings.”
“Not like you’d think.” Hildebeorht signaled to Erna Fatman, Idonea’s daughter, to bring more drink to their table. “I sent reports to Frideric Bardolf twice a month last summer, either sending them with some trusty teamster or taking them myself. But in winter wagons get scarce on the road, and Speaker Bardolf stopped sending messengers—and Ibertus Tibb stopped sending my pay, I should add. The truth is, I’d about decided to quit sheriffing and marry widow Fatman. Now you’ve turned up; if I get paid, I just might continue.”
“Last summer I delivered you a highwayman and you hanged him,” said Milo. “What have you done since? Have you earned your pay?”
Hildebeorht crossed his arms, scowling. “Bardolf and Dans gave me fifty golds to hire under-sheriffs. I sent Bardolf and Tondbert a report, detailing how I used it.”
Milo accepted a mug of ale from Erna. “I don’t need the whole report. Give me the short version.”
“I hired twenty under-sheriffs for three months each. We hanged three thieves, including the one you brought in.”
“With twenty men you caught two bandits? In three months?” Derian was incredulous.
Hildebeorht was fifty years old, not ready to be intimidated by men as young as Derian and Milo. “That’s right. Traders like you, Master Chapman, see highwaymen behind every tree, and you complain to the Down’s End Council or the Stonebridge Assembly that the road isn’t safe. Teamsters, too, howl all the time. I don’t really blame them or you. But the truth is, the road is not that dangerous. We hanged three and put the fear of the gods in others. I earned my pay until it stopped.”
Milo leaned sideways to unsheathe his sword. He laid the weapon on the table between him and Hildebeorht, where its castle steel reflected the inn’s candles, lit already, though sup was an hour away. He leaned forward and saw Hildebeorht swallow. “Things have changed in Stonebridge. Speaker Bardolf stopped sending you pay because he has been accused of defrauding the city. He is in a cell in the Citadel, as is Ody Dans. Tondbert is dead. Kingsley Averill is now the Speaker, and I am the Commander of the Guard—your commander, Sheriff Hildebeorht. I find your service barely acceptable, and I am of a mind to replace you.”
Hildebeorht looked long at the sword. He swallowed again.
“However,” Milo continued, “I think you may yet repay the trust Stonebridge placed in you.”
“How can I do that, Lord Commander?”
“You will sup with me and my captains tonight. And Idonea’s son Beowulf, he will sup with us. You are not stupid, Sheriff, only lazy. You and Bee will tell us every scrap of rumor you have heard from Down’s End and about the siege of Hyacintho Flumen.”
Derian raised an eyebrow. “Rumors, Milo?”
“It’s up to us to sort out truth from fiction,” Milo said. “Bee Fatman is an intelligent youth. I promise you we’ll know more in the morning than we do now.”
136. In Down’s End
“I’m not here to threaten or make demands. As I told the clerk yesterday, I bring greetings from the Stonebridge Assembly and an urgent request that Down’s End send an embassy to Stonebridge so that the two cities may agree on a common response to the Herminian problem.”
Milo stood at a railing that separated the gallery for the public from the Down’s End Council. It was a different, somewhat larger, room in than the one where Amicia had spoken to the mayor and Eulard Barnet. The aldermen, each representing either an established guild or district in the city, numbered fourteen. They sat in two rows of handsomely carved chairs facing each other, presumably to better facilitate Council debate. Some paces behind the aldermen on either side were desks with assistants and pages. Space on Milo’s side of the rail, reserved for members of the public who might bring testimony, was comparatively small. Milo had brought Derian Chapman and Hrodgar Wigt with him to the Council. Outside the building Felix Abrecan and six others stood armed guard. Milo, Derian and Hrodgar had surrendered their weapons to Down’s End Sheriffs when they entered the courthouse.
“You intend no threats, but you brought an army of hundreds.” The aldermen had turned their chairs to listen to the visitor’s testimony. The speaker had a florid face, very full lips and sandy hair; Milo estimated his age at over forty.
“I am sorry, Alderman … I don’t know all your names.” Milo was determined to appear deferential throughout the hearing.
“Kent Gausman, of the glass-blowers guild, though that should make no difference.” The sandy-haired man was smooth shaven, and he cast glances at other aldermen; his comments seemed directed as much at them as Milo. “Down’s End is more than weavers and tanners. All of us, even those with no seat on the Council, such as fishermen or shroud makers, are threatened by your army.”
Gausman’s words unleashed a storm.
“Gods! Not again!”
“Now you want a guild for shroud makers? You want a woman alderman?”
“Fishermen live in my district, and I speak for them.”
“Bankers don’t have a guild, but we don’t hear them asking for a seat.”
“Question the witness, Gausman; don’t campaign.”
A portly man adorned with an enormous gold chain rose from a chair on the left. Milo remembered Simun Baldwin, the mayor of Down’s End. “Gentlemen!” The hubbub died. “Alderman Gausman is surely right that today’s business concerns everyone in Down’s End. I implore you to question the witness, not engage in intramural squabbles.”
The mayor gestured at Kent Gausman, but spoke to Milo. “The alderman asks a serious question, General Mortane. Why has Stonebridge fielded an army, if all she wants is to invite an embassy?”
“We believe the matter is urgent. So urgent that Stonebridge has borne the expense of raising a force.” Milo inclined his head. “Since you seem to know about our army, you must also know that most of my men are camped on the open downs three days march from here. I brought only ten men with me to Down’s End and I stand here before you unarmed.”
Milo let go of the railing and began pacing to and fro. “Some of you will undoubtedly think that I have somehow hoodwinked Stonebridge into giving me an army so I can rescue Hyacintho Flumen. You imagine an older brother trying to save the younger. Consider the irony in that notion. I am a Mortane; I am the older brother.
“You know the story of my uncle Wimund Mortane. He and my father were both descended from Thorwold Tirel, the last lord of Inter Lucus, through Aerlene Tirel. Uncle Wimund, the younger brother, tried to bond with Inter Lucus, a ruined castle. He thought that, since my father Hereward had Hyacintho Flumen, he might establish himself in the castle of the Tirels. He failed. When he came home to Hyacintho Flumen, Hereward chopped off his hands so he could never try to bond again. Wimund spent the rest of his days, which weren’t very many, being fed by another.”
The aldermen regarded Milo suspiciously. Milo laughed. “Surely you see the point? I am very much like my father. There was a day when I would have deprived Aylwin of his hands to gain Hyacintho Flumen. Alas! That day is past. The younger brother usurped the elder.”
Milo ceased pacing and faced the aldermen. “To my surprise, I find the gods have blessed me. Beyond all expectation, I became Commander of the Stonebridge Guard, General of the Army. I tell you, gentlemen, that I would not trade my position for my brother’s, not if this rail were the lord’s knob and all I had to do were place my hands on it.”
Rather than touch the rail, Milo resumed pacing. “Nevertheless, the fact remains that our cities face a crisis. Aylwin sent his sister—my sister—to ask help from Down’s End. From here, she took her entreaties to Stonebridge. I should say, as an aside, that I love Amicia dearly. She is not responsible for Aylwin’s treachery. In both cities, she argued that the Herminians are a threat to all of Tarquint. Aylwin put this argument in her mouth to serve his purposes, so you ought to regard it skeptically. I propose, then, that we remove Aylwin from our calculus.
“Let us assume that Hyacintho Flumen falls. Perhaps Aylwin dies. Little Eddricus would bond when he comes of age. I assure you, such a result would not trouble me in the least.
“The question is this. What will Mariel do after she takes Hyacintho Flumen? Surely you have contemplated the matter. The only safe assumption is that she aims to rule all of Tarquint. If you grant that, one need only look at a map. Almost certainly, the Herminians will march north, following Blue River to West Lake and East Lake. They will come to Down’s End and Inter Lucus.
“The Stonebridge Assembly is alarmed by the Herminian threat. Frankly, they think Down’s End ought to be even more alarmed. What do you propose to do? Stonebridge has put an army in the field. We are ready to work and fight as your allies, if that is your choice. As a first step, we urge and invite an embassy.”
Todwin Ansquetil, the black-haired alderman of the weavers’ guild, raised a palm. “We judge that Lord Aylwin is strong. Hyacintho Flumen will not fall this year. Therefore we have refrained from rash and expensive decisions. We have time to raise an army.”
Milo nodded. According to Bee Fatman, the Down’s End weavers’ guild opposed every action of the city that would cost them money. “You’re right, I’m sure. May I point out that in Stonebridge my predecessor, Osred Tondbert, laid the foundations for a larger City Guard over many years. Since his death, and with the authority of the Assembly, I have been building the Guard as rapidly as possible for five months. With all that, the Stonebridge army encamped on the downs numbers less than seven hundred. The Herminian host is ten thousand. You do have time. But it takes time to raise and train an army.”
Ansquetil wasn’t pleased, but another alderman seized the opportunity to speak. “Ah, General Mortane. Hors Baldric, dyers’ guild. How long would it take to prepare an army? How big should it be? To fight the Herminians, I mean.”
“I have an army of six hundred, plus some scouts. We have been training hard for five months, as I said. I am proud of my men, but the truth is our training is barely adequate. To be safe, I should say you must give six months to train five hundred men, provided you have experienced armsmen to train them.”
“Five hundred would be sufficient?” Baldric asked.
“I did not say that. No. I only illustrated that it takes months to make soldiers. The Herminians number in the thousands. I believe we need five thousand men.”
Dismay appeared on many faces. “We will be bankrupted,” Ansquetil said.
“Better that than be dispossessed entirely,” another alderman said. “Cedric Sibbald, river district. General Mortane, why have you marched against the Herminians if you are so outnumbered?”
“Stonebridge sends its army to demonstrate good faith with Down’s End. I’m not eager for suicide, so I do not plan to attack the Herminians. I say again: Stonebridge urges and invites your embassy. Send your own people, trusted men, to parley with the Assembly. We stand ready to ally with you.”
Another alderman waved his hand. “Garrock Unwine, blacksmiths’ guild. The Herminians wield swords made of castle steel from Pulchra Mane. What do your men have?”
“For years the standard weapon of the Stonebridge Guard was iron, a short sword. That is unacceptable. This year the smithies of Stonebridge are making steel blades as fast as possible. Most of my men now carry steel swords or knives. Archers, naturally, are a different matter.” Milo let himself smile broadly. “Of course, I and a few others have superior weapons.”
“General! Byrni Eadgard, south district.” This alderman sat closest to the public gallery. Milo thought at first he was blind; his eyes were the color of blood. But Eadgard had tracked Milo’s movements to and fro. “I presume the weapons you speak of were made at Hyacintho Flumen. Castle magic, castle steel.”
Alderman Eadgard continued: “Have you asked Saltas Semitas for steel? I assume Stonebridge would seek help wherever it may be found.”
Milo nodded, smiling. “A natural suggestion. But you must understand how difficult it is for some. Suspicions and resentments between Stonebridge and the Le Grants run deep. Nevertheless, the Assembly has exchanged messages with Lord David Le Grant, and we may yet offer to buy from him. However, it seems to me that Down’s End might have better luck asking Saltas Semitas for weapons. You don’t have a history of war with the Le Grants.”
Eadgard’s blood red eyes turned to Garrock Unwine. “If we bought steel from Saltas Semitas, our blacksmiths’ guild could arm our soldiers well.”
Unwine was about to reply, but Ansquetil objected. “Hang that! You’re talking about thousands of swords and shields. Le Grant has what? Twenty sheriffs? Fewer?”
“We want his steel, not his men,” answered Eadgard.
“Exactly! But if he only arms a score of men for his own protection, is it likely he has more steel—tons more? Even if he does, do we want to devote the city treasury to David Le Grant?”
Mayor Baldwin rumbled into speech. “Gentlemen! We will debate policy in due time. Do you have questions for the witness?”
“I do,” said Gausman, the alderman of the glassblowers. “We have it on reliable testimony that a new lord has revived Inter Lucus. Have you made contact with this Lord Martin?”
“Not yet. I have been told that Martin of Inter Lucus uses castle magic to make paper rather than steel.” Milo rubbed his chin thoughtfully. He saw no reason to tell the Council about Kenelm Ash’s visit to Inter Lucus or Kenelm’s low opinion of the strange lord. “A man that can revive a ruined castle might be powerful indeed, but I don’t see how paper helps us much. Nevertheless, I will send men to interview him. Perhaps I will go myself.”
“General Mortane.” An alderman rose from far chair of the right side. Milo recognized the cropped hair and black mustache. “Eulard Barnet. I’m sure you remember me, and I have a question for you. How can Stonebridge hope to gain Down’s End as an ally, given your past treacheries?”
Barnet raised his arms to squelch protests from other aldermen. “I will explain, my friends!” Then he pointed at Milo. “Your sister did, indeed, make entreaties for Aylwin Mortane in this city. She lived here some weeks and enjoyed our hospitality. And then, quite abruptly, you spirited her away.”
Barnet faced his fellows. “Most of you do not know, though Sir Mortane certainly does, that I offered marriage to the young woman. Rather than allow her to respond, Mortane smuggled her to Stonebridge. Where, no doubt, he is trying to pair her with some Assemblyman of that city.
“I deliberately say smuggled because that man…” Barnet pointed theatrically at Derian. “That man, Derian Chapman, smuggled my son’s murderer to Stonebridge, where he lives under the protection of the notorious Ody Dans. I say also, General Mortane, that you helped Chapman deliver Avery Doin from justice. Will you deny it?” The stocky Barnet wrapped himself in a black coat like an avenging fury. “I ask again: Why should Down’s End ally with Stonebridge, given such treacheries?”
Milo waited. The aldermen looked from Milo to Barnet and back and saw Milo cover his mouth, trying to conceal a smile. The aldermen began smiling too, as if a joke were already made, though they didn’t know what it was. Barnet saw their smiles and shouted: “Answer, you fool!”
Milo bowed formally. Then he rested his hands on the rail. “Alderman Barnet, we two will surely agree on this: Amicia is a beautiful and delightful woman. I sincerely apologize for the pain of heart you have felt in losing her. The truth is, sir, that she does not love you. She might have married you, for love of her brother Aylwin, had I not ‘spirited her away,’ as you say. I despise Aylwin. It would have pained me endlessly to see her marry simply to help him. So in the matter of my sister, I plead guilty. I did rescue her from a marriage she did not want.
“The matter of Avery Doin is more complicated. You say Avery murdered your son. Avery claims it was an accident. Aethelred Doin feared his son would not be fairly tried in Down’s End, and he arranged Avery’s escape. Derian Chapman, as you say, smuggled Avery to Stonebridge. It chanced that I met up with Chapman’s wagons on the way, and I helped defend them from highwaymen. Therefore, unwittingly, I abetted Avery Doin’s escape.”
Milo smiled indulgently. “Shall I go on, Alderman Barnet? I could stop.”
Barnet frowned, confused. “If you have more to day, say it.”
“The rest of your question is easily answered. Ody Dans is in prison in the Citadel of Stonebridge. My men guard Avery Doin at camp three days from here. Master Doin is quite willing to return for trial, provided that it is fair. You should know, Alderman Barnet, that important witnesses, including your daughter Ada, will testify that Hue Barnet’s death was indeed an accident.”
Milo considered saying more, to accuse Barnet of paying the highwaymen who attacked Chapman’s wagons. But it wasn’t needed. Barnet’s little drama had collapsed on him. The banker staggered back to his chair while the other aldermen ignored him. Milo addressed them.
“You should trust Stonebridge if our actions match our words. We have raised a force as a token of good faith. We urge and invite an embassy. I only add this: please act soon. Send your own men to Stonebridge.”
137. In Castle Pulchra Mane
“Fair morning, my lady.” The servant girl Blythe curtsied as she did every morning when she entered the queen’s room.
“By the favor of the gods, aye. Send for Midwife Hale.”
“Are you sure, my lady?” Blythe had been expecting this command for days, yet the actuality of something long expected may still surprise.
Mariel started to laugh, but the laugh became a gasp. “I’ve not done this before, Blythe, and neither has my daughter. But it seems she is determined that today be the day.”
“Aye, my lady.” Blythe hurried away without bowing.
Aweirgan Unes sipped hot ale, alone at a table in the great hall. He had before him written notes from last week’s meeting and the latest missive from General Ridere. Aweirgan used this slow hour before the Queen’s Council meeting to review. Mariel had the habit of asking him to produce, at a moment’s notice, the exact wording of some communication from the general or the records of past decisions.
Blythe rushed into the hall. “Where’s Bestauden?” The serving girl neither bowed nor showed any deference to Aweirgan’s age or status as castle scribe. “He’s needed, now!”
“I don’t know.” Aweirgan surmised instantly the cause of the girl’s excitement and forgave her cheekiness. “Perhaps at the stables. I’ll look downstairs. What do I tell him?”
Blythe waved her arms pointlessly. “We need the midwife!” She ran to the north door, heading for the stables. Aweirgan rose, leaving behind his papers. Apparently the Queen’s Council would not be meeting today. What will they think, he wondered, when Mariel fails to activate Videns-Loquitur? Aweirgan chuckled. Avice Montfort will understand immediately, but what about that idiot Paul Wadard? Perhaps I should prepare letters to be sent by post riders. He smiled at his own foolishness. But I won’t know what to write until afterward, and then Mariel can tell them herself.
Descending to the kitchen, Aweirgan called out: “Tait, have you seen Bestauden? We need someone to fetch Felice Hale.”
The cook clapped her hands, sending puffs of flour into the air. “Gods be thanked! I’ll wash up and get towels and bowls.”
“First things first. Where is Bestauden?”
“Outside, outside.” Tait waved off other concerns. She thrust her hands under a faucet and began scrubbing in the hot water that cascaded over them.
“Who is it?” The woman’s voice inside the cottage was garrulous and raspy.
“Bestauden Winter, Madame Hale. From Pulchra Mane.”
The door flung open, banging against the wall. “The whole city is Pulchra Mane, you fool. You mean the castle. Get in here! We’ll need that chair, over there. I can still manage it, but why not use an able young body when he presents himself, that’s what I say. No! Not that one! Over there!”
“But …” Bestauden hesitated. The midwife’s desired object looked like a strange deformation of a chair.
Felice Hale slapped his back. “Have you never seen a birthing chair before? Bring it!”
Bestauden picked up the birthing chair and followed Midwife Hale out her door. In the street she turned on him. “You didn’t bring a wagon?”
“Was I supposed to?”
“Gods! No wonder men are stupid. They start out as boys.” The midwife pushed a large woven wicker purse into his hands. “Hold this.” Without seeking permission she swung herself into Bestauden’s horse’s saddle. She motioned for the purse, and he handed it up. “We won’t actually need the chair for some hours. So it’s up to you. Borrow an ox and wagon or carry it yourself. Just make sure you get that chair to the castle before mid-day.”
“Gods be praised.” The stocky midwife stared at the bedroom ceiling, her mouth opening and closing like a fish. “Is every room like this? A lying-in room ought to have a low roof.”
“My home was not designed according to your specifications, Madame Hale. Pulchra Mane was built by the gods.”
Felice Hale moved her attention from ceiling to queen. “Aye. And they were tall ones, weren’t they?” She bustled forward, leaving aside her tall wicker purse. She took the queen’s hand in her own. The midwife’s stubby fingers were strong and sensitive. Mariel wondered what Felice learned as she touched and squeezed all the way to Mariel’s shoulder.
“Well, it’s cleaner and fresher than most wives’ rooms.” Hale, still compressing various points on the queen’s arm, turned to Tait. “For all that, we ought to have some rushes and some nice, sweet herbs. Can you do that?”
“Oh, aye!” Tait hurried away.
“With your permission, your majesty.” Felice Hale didn’t wait for permission, but put both her hands on Mariel’s neck.
“Have a care!” Aweirgan Unes leaped up from his chair. The midwife noticed his presence for the first time. She wheeled on him.
“Out!” She pointed to the door. “Out! Out! Out! Out!” As Aweirgan retreated, Hale spoke to Blythe. “By the gods! We’ll not have men in here. See to it!”
“Oh, aye!” Blythe bowed her head. Meanwhile, Mariel laughed. “You really weren’t about to strangle me, were you, Madame Hale?”
“Indeed not. But the pains aren’t too close together yet, are they? When you’ve got time, you might as well make sure the mother can breathe clearly, that’s what I say. Anyway, your majesty has a nice strong throat. No problems on that end, it seems. Now, let’s see here.” Hale laid her hands on Mariel’s abdomen. “It’s warm enough. Take this off.”
Once Mariel was naked, the midwife folded the billowing tunic and laid it around the queen’s neck. Then her hands returned to their exploration just as Mariel’s womb contracted. “Ah! Nice, strong mother. You can call out if you want to. Just say ‘Damn Billy,’ or whoever it was who did this to you.”
“That would be General Ridere.”
“Too long. Does the general have a first name?”
“Perfect. Say ‘Damn Eudes’ when the pain comes. Or not. It’s up to you, that’s what I say. Now, your majesty, please lie on the bed. I need to look.”
Aweirgan sat again in the great hall, banished from the birthing room. Of course, a different midwife had treated him in the same way thirty-five years before, when Eadred was born. Aweirgan smiled inwardly, recalling the joy he felt that day. How proud Gisa had been when they let him see her with the baby. But one memory led to another: the black earth on Gisa’s grave three summers later, when a second pregnancy ended in some horror. Not one of the birthing women would answer his questions. They let him see her body only after it was washed and dressed. When he asked to see the baby (understanding, of course, that it must have died) they denied point blank that there was anything to see.
His hot ale had long since cooled. Aweirgan sipped it slowly anyway. He contemplated the strangeness of the day: when it came to birthing, society was turned on its head. Women suddenly had the power to turn husbands out of their homes; men had to wait helplessly for an announcement of joy or terror. Queen Mariel of Herminia, the most powerful person on Two Moons, was subject to the commands of Felice Hale, who lived in a one-room house on King Rudolf Street. In other affairs, Mariel, relying on Aweirgan’s advice, controlled the fate of thousands of thousands; but today, Aweirgan’s advice counted for nothing. On this day, only the expertise of the midwife really mattered.
The north door opened, and Bestauden Winter backed through it, carrying a wooden object. Aweirgan nodded when he saw the birthing chair. He had wondered whether he ought not to have one built for the castle; somehow in the intervening years the chair on which Mariel entered the world had disappeared. But so many things had been going on… Aweirgan stopped his excuse and chastised himself. The fact was he had forgotten to do it. Fortunately, the midwife had her own.
Blythe and the nan Claennis intercepted Bestauden on the stairs leading to the lord’s tower. They would not allow him to deliver the birthing chair into the queen’s room. The women carried it into Mariel’s chamber, and Bestauden retreated to the great hall, where he joined Aweirgan at the table. “The women are in charge, and we do nothing?” he asked Aweirgan.
“Not exactly nothing.” The scribe pointed to the magic wall, where six lights were blinking. “The lords of Herminia—and Lady Montfort—are waiting for Queen Mariel to speak with them. The Queen always meets with her Council at this time on Fridays. Queen Mariel, for obvious reasons, can’t come to her knob. You see only six lights. There were seven a while ago. One of them has given up waiting already, though we cannot know which. So… what I am doing is watching those lights. I will see how long it takes for the others to abandon the wait.”
Bestauden pursed his lips. “We cannot speak to them in any way?”
“Ha! I don’t suppose you want to lay your hands on Mariel’s knob?”
The youth shuddered.
“I didn’t think so. No. Today, we wait.”
“It won’t hurt if you walk around a bit. I recommend it.” It was more than a recommendation; Midwife Hale took hold of Mariel’s elbow and shoulder, practically pulling her off the bed. “This will help speed things along.”
Between contractions, Mariel felt joyously well. Blythe offered a hand, but Mariel shook her head and walked barefoot, skirting the bed and avoiding the bundle of rushes Tait had piled next to the birthing chair. Once Felice Hale understood that the castle’s floors were warm as well as smooth she said there was no need for rushes. “In poor cottages mothers birth their babies in rooms with dirt floors,” she explained. “And even in fine houses of rich merchants covering the floor makes it easier to clean up afterward. But if castle magic will clean the floor, as Claennis tells me, and if the floor is nice and warm, it looks like we don’t need them, that’s what I say.” She nodded to Tait. “Still, it was good of you to bring them. And that bowl of herbs is very nice.” Tait had prepared a bowl of mint, thyme, and rosemary leaves in hot water. The aroma penetrated Mariel’s bedroom and the adjacent closet and bathing room.
Blythe found an older tunic in Mariel’s closet and cut it short so the queen could wear something over her upper body as she moved around the room. In the quiet moments Mariel’s hands lay on her belly; contractions brought a grimace to her face and Tait and Claennis would jump from their chairs to hold her arms. Periodically the midwife ordered Mariel to lie down so her knowledgeable fingers could assess the queen’s progress. She and Claennis rubbed oil and spices on Mariel’s thighs and belly.
“Why does it take so long?” Mariel knew better than ask, but pain compelled the words.
“First baby takes longer, your majesty. Don’t fret. You’re doing well.”
“Shall I bring food?” asked Tait.
“No. Some wine would be good, with small cups to drink it. And keep a fire going so you can exchange buckets every hour. I want hot water.”
Mariel’s servant women all laughed. In castle Pulchra Mane hot water required no fire or effort.
News of the day’s great event spread widely. In the great hall, Pulchra Mane’s male servants gathered one by one, and in the afternoon prominent burghers (with their wives) from the city surrounding Mariel’s castle joined them. Aweirgan took charge, commanding Bestauden Winter and Bayan the Red to bring food and drink for the guests from Pulchra Mane’s storerooms. Hourly some woman appeared with a report from the birthing chamber: “The queen is doing well.” Alternatively: “We see progress toward a healthy birth.” Aweirgan commented to himself that Mariel would never tolerate such uninformative reports from the lords and lady of her Council. Afternoon moved into evening. Some guests went home and others took their place. Merchants and artisans sat together in little groups, talking about affairs in the city or news from Tarquint. Wives bunched together and talked exclusively about childbirth.
“The door to the womb has opened, your majesty. The birthing chair will be useful now.” Midwife Hale nodded to Blythe, who aided in raising Mariel from the bed. A contraction came, and Mariel cried out. The pains were clearly lasting longer now. When it finally eased, her servants settled her on the chair. Mariel’s sense of strength and wellness had drained away; now, even between contractions she felt spent. Blythe mopped Mariel’s forehead with a damp cloth. Hale and Claennis spread her legs, gently tying knees and ankles to the chair’s legs with cotton strips.
Outside the birthing chamber, it was long past midnight. The guests had all left, and Aweirgan Unes had ordered the doors locked.
“Gods, I’m so tired.” Another contraction came, and Mariel’s whole body quivered. Midwife Hale draped a warm towel over her shoulders, tucking it close to her neck. When Mariel vomited, which happened several times, the midwife mopped up the bit of spit she managed to produce with another towel. Hale and Blythe repeatedly told Mariel how well she was doing. Claennis and Tait rubbed more oil on thighs and belly. But Mariel hardly noticed their efforts at comfort; her mind moved from one pain to the next like a tiny ship on stormy waves.
And the storm went on and on.
Midwife Hale, solid of body and bolstered by long years in her craft, yielded a yawn in the morning. She had sent first Blythe away to nap, and Claennis and Tait in turns. Hale never left. Stroking, encouraging, offering sips of wine, bathing sweat from Mariel’s straining body, replacing warm towels—she was apparently indefatigable, never turning from optimism. By an innate inner clock she roused Mariel over and over so a contraction would not take the exhausted and half-conscious woman by surprise. And finally:
“There we go! Ah! Good work, your majesty!” Hale was on her knees, arms covered in bloody discharge as she received the head. “Push again, your majesty!”
“There we have him. It’s a boy, your majesty.” With a cloth handed her by Blythe, Hale quickly wiped the baby’s face and with a finger cleared his mouth. Nature took its course; the boy cried out. Claennis took him and laid him quietly on the queen’s belly, covered him with a cloth and put the mother’s arms over him. Midwife Hale deftly tied a knot in the birth cord and cut it below the knot. “Now, one more push for the afterbirth, my lady.”
Mariel paid no attention to Hale, filled with wonder at the tiny body lying on her. She passed from consciousness in joy.
The queen’s womb contracted, expelling the afterbirth, which Midwife Hale caught in a bucket. After that came blood, a stream of blood that didn’t stop.
“Gods no! No!” Hale ripped away the cloth strips binding Mariel’s legs. “Help me with her!” Claennis snatched the baby from Mariel’s body and laid it screeching by a wall. Tait and Blythe took the queen’s arms, Hale and Claennis her legs. “On the bed! Get her legs up. Raise her butt! Pillow there, aye!” The midwife’s strong hands massaged Mariel’s abdomen, squeezing the womb as she muttered prayers.
Aweirgan was dawdling over breakfast with Bestauden and several other Pulchra Mane servants when Blythe entered the great hall. The girl’s face warned them all, a face drained of color. She blinked at the questions thrown at her. Aweirgan hurried to her side, took her arm and whispered. “Give me the news, girl. I will do the rest.”
Red-rimmed brown eyes met his, recognized a friendly face. “A baby boy. We need a wet nurse.”
Still a whisper: “The Queen?”
“She breathes, Aweirgan. But I am so afraid.”
138. In Castle Inter Lucus
Marty entered the great hall alone. His watch, which he still reset at high noon once a week, read 2:12, with a tiny “am” in the corner of the display. As before, he had dreamed of Alyssa, but the details of the dream faded when he woke, leaving him, as always, with questions. Not the old guilty questions about his marriage and Lyss’s death, but unanswered questions about castle technology and the aliens who built it. Why did you bring people here? Why did you leave? Rather than wait for sleep to return, he slippered his way downstairs.
He tried to clear his mind before bonding. He didn’t want another late night chat with Mariel. Marty put his hand on the knob and the Latin list appeared.
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 Arcem0 Micro-Aedificator: operativa
VII. Potentia Fontes: operativa
VIII. Aquarum: operativa
IX. Intra Arcem Micro-Aedificator: operativa
X. Centralis Arbitrium Factorem: operativa
Videns-Loquitur did not open. Either Mariel was asleep or Inter Lucus correctly interpreted his desire not to speak with her. How do I ask what I want? The list suggested an idea to him. Marty lifted his hand from the knob, took paper and ink from the writing desk, and went to work at a table.
Latin, he knew, depended on inflections much more than English. So there was no chance that he could construct grammatically proper sentences. But according to Mariel, Inter Lucus could read his intentions, so maybe…
He started with words from the interface list that might prove useful: homines for humans, Centralis Arbitrium Factorem (Central Arbitrating Factor? = CPU), aquarum/aqua (water), and arcem/arcum/castrum (castle). He listed individual words in two left hand columns, leaving space to put together phrases on the right.
A key word came to him, freed from some forgotten lecture during a retreat: Cur Deus Homo? Why a God Man? Cur? had to mean “why?” Cur (why) joined the list.
Christmas carols sung with visiting crowds at Our Lady of Guadeloupe: Venite Adoremus, Come let us adore. Marty added venite (come) to his list.
After half an hour racking his memory, Marty felt he had reached the limits of his useful vocabulary.
Centralis arbitrium factorem (CPU)
Luna (moon) (lunas = moons?)
Eleison (have mercy)
Cogito (I think)
Sum (I am)
Further effort, Marty realized, would probably only yield more bits of church Latin. He could not by any effort think of a Latin word for “go” or “leave.” He strung together a few phrases that might be useful. Then he went back to the lord’s knob.
Marty bonded with his right hand this time, holding the paper in his left. He closed his eyes and let the soothing warmth of the knob spread through his arm into his whole body. He whispered, trying to make it a question: “Vobis est?”
He opened his eyes. The interface wall was totally blank.
“Cur homines venite Duo Lunas?” Nothing.
“Sum pro pacem.”
“Hoc est Duo Lunas.”
The interface remained blank. Marty tried to calm his mounting frustration. Ungrammatical Latin, no doubt mispronounced; there was no reason to assume the alien machine would understand him. Nevertheless, he felt tension and helplessness growing. How much did Mariel really know about castle “magic”?
Isen’s medieval version of fiber optics had accomplished some degree of repair to the violet hexagon in Centralis Arbitrium Factorem; that much could not be denied. Inter Lucus had shown him the galaxy map, which had to mean something. They brought us from the other side of the Milky Way. But I already knew that. Why show me what I already know?
“Damn it!” Marty whispered aloud. “All I want are some answers. Is that too much to ask, you alien masterminds? Give me some answers. You’re not gods.”
Marty looked at his vocabulary, and this time he shouted: “Tu est non deo! Vobis est non deos!”
The interface wall began to flicker.
“My lord! What is it?” Ora spoke from the top of the stairs. Her bedroom was one floor below, on the same level as the kitchen. Marty held up a silencing hand, waved her forward. She padded silently to his side.
He whispered, “Why are you out of bed?”
“I heard you shouting, my lord.”
“Anyone else up?”
“No, my lord.” Somehow it didn’t surprise him that of all the inhabitants of Inter Lucus only Ora had woken.
“Okay. Ora, I want Caelin, Whitney, Elfric, and Alf. Wake them; tell them to come quickly; but tell them to be quiet. Don’t wake the others if you can help it.”
“Aye, my lord.” She started away, but turned to look at the interface. “Are they the gods?”
“Aliens, Ora, remember. They are not gods. Go quickly.”
An alien race from a very different world, a shocking physiology, a culture with no ties to anything on Earth, and a language unlike any he had ever heard—for all that, it seemed plain to Marty that he was watching a trial. The aliens, who looked like an impossible combination of praying mantis, stork, and human, were gathered in a room far larger (higher, wider, and longer) than Inter Lucus’s great hall. On one side of the picture three aliens sat (knelt? stood? It was hard to be sure) behind a softly glowing wall that might have been ceramic or burnished metal. The wall concealed the lower half of their bodies, and Marty realized he could not be sure how tall it was or how tall the aliens were. The dimensions of Inter Lucus suggested very tall aliens, but there was nothing in the interface picture of unmistakably human scale, so no comparison was available. The three behind the barrier rarely spoke, but the others (there were lots of others) seemed to address most of their words to the three. Marty couldn’t help but think of them as judges.
The courtroom scene, if that’s what is was, occupied two-thirds of the interface wall. On the right, outside the picture of the courtroom, words in very large white letters scrolled from top to bottom; it was disorienting until Marty realized he was supposed to read up, not down. The caption language was Latin. Marty watched the words flowing by with some despair; his pitiful vocabulary would yield only the tiniest clue as to the meaning of the video.
And it was a video, a recording. He felt sure of that. Surely this meeting or congress or hearing or trial—whatever it was—had been recorded and left in Inter Lucus as an answer to questions like his. He was watching alien beings from hundreds of years in the past. The video had been waiting for some representative of Homo sapiens to repair Centralis Arbitrium Factorem. If Marty hadn’t come to Two Moons, the video would have waited another thousand years until someone learned how to access it.
“Lord Martin!” Caelin whispered, but his voice at Marty’s side carried excitement. “The strangers! What do you want me to do?”
Marty pointed to the Latin captioning. “Copy down as many of the words as you can.”
“But they move so fast!”
“I know. Do your best. Try to get groups of words if you can.”
Whitney Ablendan arrived to overhear the instruction. “Shall I copy too, my lord?”
“Aye. Groups of words, if possible. We’ll try to make sense of them later.”
The aliens’ speech was opaque to Marty, full of squeaks, clicks and whistles. They had to converse with the people they brought here. Did they teach their worshipers to speak alienese? Or could their voices manage Latin? Marty concentrated on the drama of the alien meeting rather than try to decipher their words. Presently, Elfric joined Caelin and Whitney in the copying task, receiving whispered instructions from Whitney.
Alf came to his side. “Shall I copy too, Lord Martin?”
“No, Alf. I want you to watch with me.” Marty pointed. “See the one with the red, ah, vest? I think we can call it a vest.”
“I see him, Lord Martin. He’s waving an arm, or maybe it’s a leg.”
“Right. He or she seems to be the main speaker for all the aliens on that side of the room. He or she has been speaking for a few minutes. Earlier, the one over in this corner with the bright string around his neck was speaking. I think he’s the speaker for those on this side.”
Alf speculated, “Maybe the string is a necklace. Maybe that one is a lady alien.”
“It’s possible, but we don’t know the difference between male aliens and female aliens. In fact, we don’t yet know if they have males and females.” Even as he cautioned Alf, Marty realized he had been doing the same thing, applying human categories to the aliens. The video seemed to Marty to be a scene from a trial or hearing, but how could he know that? For all he knew, the aliens were composing a menu or were engaged in some artistic event or were worshiping their god. Don’t assume. Observe.
The alien in the red vest finished his speech and then prostrated himself before the three. Red Vest lowered himself (herself?) slowly to the floor; sticklike arms and legs splaying out like a spider. It seemed to be a solemn moment (Do aliens recognize solemnity?), but the brief seconds of silence ended in a cascade of squeaks, whistles, clacks, and hoots from those on the near side of the picture. The alien with the bright string (necklace?) began walking back and forth between her group and the “judges,” waving his or her arms in wild gesticulations. Red Vest stood up—the long, sharp limbs again reminded Marty of an insect—and began dancing (marching? prancing?) in front of the aliens on the far side. Then, without any signal that Marty noticed, the two speakers changed sides of the room. Now Red Vest was waving his arms in front of the nearer crowd, and Bright Necklace was waving and hooting at the aliens on the far side.
Meanwhile, the Latin caption scrolled by relentlessly. Caelin, Whitney, and Elfric wrote furiously.
The three “judges” raised their arms (the “arms” looked much like the creatures’ “legs,” but seemed to be used like arms). Instant silence; both sides obviously took their cues from the judges. Red Vest and Bright Necklace returned to their respective sides. The video stopped, as if someone had pushed a pause button. With a still picture, Marty began to count. There were dozens of aliens on both sides of the room.
An alien hieroglyph superimposed itself on the still picture. It was a heading of some sort, Marty assumed, telling him (if he could read alienese) what he had just seen or what he was about to see. It’s a title, or the alien equivalent of “Part 2,” for all I know. Or: “brought to you by our sponsor.”
The interface went blank for a brief moment. The Latin captioning winked out. Then the “courtroom” reappeared, very much as it had been, and new Latin sentences began scrolling down again. The “judges” were on the right side of the scene, and the two opposing sides (if that’s what they were) stood on the left. If the judges were seated, they were the only ones; everyone else was standing. Someone made a long hooing sound; Marty thought it was one of the judges, but couldn’t be sure.
The two opposing groups of aliens turned toward each other, but their eyes focused not on the other group, but on something in between. A single alien emerged from between the groups carrying something—a human baby, suspended silently from the alien’s hand, ankles clamped in the alien’s grip, head and arms swinging below.
The noiseless infant, unmistakably dead, gave the scene human scale. Dangling from the alien arm, the baby’s arms were thinner than the alien’s digits, and the creature that held the human specimen had to be ten or eleven feet tall.
More importantly, the baby’s presence brought home to Marty the terror and mystery of extraterrestrial contact. The skin on his arms prickled, and his mouth tasted sour. To them, it’s an object, a mere exhibit in a debate. He tried to check himself. I don’t know that. Maybe this is the way they show respect to the dead. But he couldn’t shake the notion that the dead child was displayed as a bit of evidence, of no more significance than a lump of clay.
The baby’s bearer (Marty labeled this alien as the bailiff) brought it to the ceramic wall and raised it for the three aliens behind the barrier to see. Then, with no ceremony at all, he stepped back from the wall and dropped the dead baby on the floor. The bailiff moved away from the baby, leaving it in the middle of the room for all to see.
Again, the hooing sound—and this time Marty was sure; the judge in the middle gave the command. The two groups of aliens attended to something between them; this time an alien came forward, pushing and prodding a terrified young woman. Marty guessed she might be fifteen, certainly not yet twenty. She saw the baby and ran to it, screaming her anguish. On her knees she scooped up the lifeless body and rocked back and forth, keening, a perfect picture of grief.
Both groups of aliens erupted in speech: hoots, whistles, squeals, and loud bass humming. It was painfully loud. Arms waved wildly, and three or four aliens (at least one on each side) began dancing vigorously. If it had been a human gathering, Marty would have thought it verged on a riot. In the middle of the alien storm, the poor mother continued to wail.
The “judges” raised their arms, and the alien shouting subsided. The right hand judge began to speak. The other aliens quickly silenced themselves. The broken-hearted human mother ceased her keening and raised a tear-soaked face to the alien behind the wall. With sweeping gestures, the right hand judge pointed at the woman, those on the left side of the room, and his or her fellow judges.
“My lord Martin! The words are gone!” Caelin spoke in alarm. To the right of the courtroom scene the Latin captioning had disappeared. A moment later, the sound of the video ceased. On the interface wall, the right hand judge continued to point this way and that, and his or her mouth moved, but nothing could be heard. The silent movie continued for a minute and abruptly vanished.
Marty held his hand on the lord’s knob for another minute, but the video didn’t resume. He stepped away from it, letting his hands fall to his side. Marty’s pulse raced; his hands quivered. He took another step back and almost fell down. Alf seized his arm. “My lord?”
“I’ll be okay, Alf. I’m very tired. I’ll feel better after sleep.”
The blue eyes searched Marty’s face. “Do you think that’s why they left?”
“I don’t understand, Alf.”
“The gods—aliens, strangers. Did they leave Two Moons because of the woman’s baby? The judges were very angry.”
Marty could only stare at the boy.
139. In Castle Inter Lucus
“Lord Martin! Riders are coming. They’ve passed Prayer House.” Ealdwine Smithson shouted in the lower corridor of Inter Lucus. Marty and Alf were about to enter Centralis Arbitrium Factorem. Marty had come to the CPU room with Alf after breakfast, suspecting that the alien video had stopped because of some problem with Isen’s fiber optic patch. Alf had wanted to come here immediately when the video failed, and Marty would have agreed, but he collapsed in exhaustion after taking only a few steps from the lord’s knob. Elfric Ash and Whitney Ablendan took charge of the situation, decreeing that Marty had to sleep. After three hours in bed and a rushed breakfast of bread and tea, Marty and his heir were now ready to inspect the bundle of glass fibers they had installed in the violet hexagon.
“Riders? It’s not Godric?” A regular protocol had developed for the arrival of Marty’s postman. Whenever Godric Measy came to Inter Lucus, his Herminian escorts would stop at the castle estate boundary, letting Measy enter the castle alone. Then Marty would send a servant to invite the soldiers to sup in the castle, provided they surrendered their weapons for safekeeping. The Herminian riders always accepted the invitation to eat castle food, and Marty suspected that escort duty for the Inter Lucus postman was regarded as a plum assignment among Eudes Ridere’s mounted soldiers.
But these riders had not stopped at Prayer House. “I don’t recognize them, my lord.”
Marty and Alf turned around and jogged after Ealdwine. The exploration of Centralis Arbitrium Factorem would have to wait. Most of the students of Collegium Inter Lucus had gathered in the great hall, preparing for the day’s lessons. They stood when they saw Marty.
“Fair morning, Lord Martin.”
“Is it true? Did you see the strangers last night?”
“Are they as tall as Caelin says?”
Marty waved off the questions. “Ealdwine says unfamiliar riders have come.” Marty implemented the Inter Lucus defense plan. “Leo, Os. Join Ealdwine to greet our guests at the oak gate. Caelin—you’re at the west door. Ora—notify Elfric and see if there are riders on the east side. Alf—you’re with me. Tayte—warn Mildgyd and Agyfen downstairs. The rest of you—follow Teothic and Eadmar to the west wing. Move quickly everyone.”
Marty stepped to the lord’s knob, bonded, and called up the view of castle lands to the south. Ten mounted armsmen had spread out in a line at the bottom of the hill. He read confusion on their faces. They were surveying the castle and its grounds, undoubtedly noticing the many signs of Inter Lucus’s revival. He tried to guess their provenance. They can’t be Ridere’s men, or they would have stopped at Prayer House. A delegation from Down’s End, come to confirm the priests’ reports? They might be from Stonebridge, or even Cippenham. Do they see a revived castle where they expected a ruin?
“They fear you, Lord Martin.” Alf stood obediently at his side.
Marty replied quietly, “Maybe they see a castle revived where they expected a ruin. It may be simple curiosity. But as you say, they may fear shields.”
Marty had learned the significance of Parva Arcum Praesidiis and Magna Arcum Praesidiis from conversations with Jean Postel and others. Force fields that could burn living things more quickly and thoroughly than napalm—the shields were yet another feature of alien technology right out of Star Trek. Marty had practiced with both shields enough to know he could use them if necessary. But he felt intense revulsion when imagining it: a human being burning to death… and his hand directing the alien machine doing it.
“Will you not use the shields, Lord Martin?” Alf’s tone was serious, reflective.
“I hope not, Alf. Do you have bread for your ears?”
Alf held out his hand. “And yours, my lord.” Four balls of tightly wadded bread lay on his palm.
“Thank you, Alf.”
On the interface wall, one of the horsemen rose in his stirrups, his mouth moving. Not for the first time, Marty wished the view screen featured sound. I can talk to distant castles, but I can’t hear what’s said outside my walls.
Ora entered the great hall through the east door. “Elfric and I see no ‘guests’ on the east, Lord Martin.”
“Good.” To confirm, Marty directed the castle view eastward, toward the blueberry bushes and the forest beyond. Neither he nor Alf saw any horses or men.
Caelin appeared in the west door. “My lord! The riders are from Stonebridge! They say they bring greetings from the Stonebridge Assembly. Ealdwine told them they must surrender their weapons before entering the hall. They have agreed, at least for those who will come in. Some will stay at a distance.”
“That’s fine. They can tether their horses at the barn. Send them in two at a time.”
The captain of the Stonebridge men named himself Hrodgar Wigt. He had oily black hair cut like a bowl above the ears; it reminded Marty of one of the Three Stooges. Below the hair were gray eyes, intelligent eyes that roamed the great hall. He and five of his men crowded together on one side of a trestle table. Caelin reported that the other four riders, rather than surrendering their arms, had retreated beyond Prayer House, leaving castle grounds.
Marty sat ten feet back on a chair facing Wigt and his men, the table creating a barrier between host and guests. The four sheriffs of Inter Lucus stood near Marty with swords ready to hand. Ernulf Penrict and Isen were standing guard at the east and west doors. Otherwise, the inhabitants of Inter Lucus were gathered in the hall, watching and listening.
The guests had been supplied with ale, bread, and cheese. “Good cheese,” Captain Wigt said. His gaze kept moving around the hall. “Never been in a castle before.” He looked sideways at Os Osgood, chewed slowly and swallowed. “Never seen castle sheriffs before.”
Wigt was a man of few words, it seemed. Marty grinned. “They’re not all as big as Os, as you can see.”
Wigt nodded. “Still only four?”
“Why do you say ‘still’? Has someone told you about Inter Lucus?”
Wigt had a long face, with very thin lips. The lips curled slightly. “Aye. Remember Kenelm Ash?”
Marty’s cup contained water, not ale. No point in dulling his wits, and no harm if his guests assumed otherwise. “The knight from Hyacintho Flumen. I do remember. Sir Ash was not favorably impressed with me. But you are from Stonebridge, you say. How do you know Kenelm Ash? Please explain.”
Wigt took a long time considering his answer. “Ash came to Stonebridge.”
“If I remember right, Ash was escorting Amicia Mortane, sister of Lord Aylwin. Did she also reach Stonebridge?”
The soldier chewed a slow mouthful of bread before answering. “The Lady Ambassador. Aye.”
“I take it you mean Stonebridge has welcomed Amicia as Aylwin’s ambassador.”
A pause—then Wigt said, “She will marry Merlin Averill, new Speaker’s son.”
Averill… Marty couldn’t remember the significance of that name, though he had heard it before. “A marriage!” he said. “To the Speaker’s son! Does this mean Stonebridge and Hyacintho Flumen are in league? I’m sure Amicia was commissioned to seek allies for her brother.”
The armsman kept his face blank. “You would have to ask General Mortane.”
“General Mortane? Who is that?”
Wigt drank ale, opened his mouth, and then reconsidered his reply. He swallowed more ale. Finally: “Sir Milo came to Stonebridge last summer—before Lady Amicia. The Assembly made him General of the Army.”
“Doesn’t that answer my question? It sounds as if Stonebridge has allied itself with Lord Aylwin. His sister marries the Assembly Speaker’s son, and his brother commands the Army.”
Wigt still kept his face expressionless. “You must ask Mortane.” After a moment, he added, “Sir Milo despises Aylwin.”
“How interesting! I would very much like to ask him about it. Where is the general? In Stonebridge?”
Wigt glanced for a moment at his men. Throughout the conversation between Marty and Wigt, the soldier’s comrades had been eating and drinking—but with so little enthusiasm that their real purpose could not be mistaken. They’ve been told to learn and remember everything they possibly can about Inter Lucus. They’re counting the kids, memorizing the layout of the hall, and so on.
“Sir Milo is with the Army.”
Marty waited, drinking some water and making a pretense of contemplating his cup. “As a soldier you have probably been ordered not to reveal the location of the army. I understand that. However, you must understand that to protect the people of Inter Lucus, I must be physically present in my castle. I cannot go to General Mortane, wherever he is. I cannot speak with him unless he comes to Inter Lucus.”
Marty made eye contact with Wigt. The soldier stared back, blank faced.
“Would you carry a letter to General Mortane if I entrusted it to you?”
The Stonebridge armsman waited several seconds before answering. “Aye.”
“That’s something, then.” Marty went to the stand up desk used by his students during Videns-Loquitur sessions. As he prepared to write, an obvious question occurred to him. “Captain Wigt, why did you come to Inter Lucus?”
“To ask questions.”
“One moment.” Marty took sheets of paper and two inkbottles from the desk and conveyed them to Caelin and Whitney. “Notes.” They unstopped the bottles and prepared to write. “Okay. First question.”
“How many sheriffs have you?”
Marty pursed his lips. “Four. You already knew that.”
Wigt nodded. “Knights?”
Marty couldn’t help smiling. “None.”
Wigt nodded again, pursing his lips. “Can you throw shields?”
“I can. I hope not to use them, but if I need to protect the people between the lakes, I will.”
Wigt looked sideways at his men. “Will you show us?”
“I will not. You’re going to have to take my word for it.” Marty had paper ready; he dipped a quill into ink.
“Can you make steel?”
“We make paper. I’ve been told that means I can’t make steel.” The guests exchanged meaningful glances with each other. Marty continued. “Lord Aylwin asked all these questions. He wanted me to send knights or sheriffs to fight for him. I have no knights and few sheriffs, and I would not send them to Hyacintho Flumen if I did. He also asked if I would supply steel weapons for Down’s End, if he could persuade that city to fight with him. But we use materias transmutatio to work with wood. We make paper and excellent furniture: chairs, tables, and desks—that sort of thing. If General Mortane wants paper or furniture, I’m your man. But Inter Lucus is not a source of weapons.”
For the first time Wigt looked surprised. “Aylwin asked…?”
“Of course.” Marty gestured at the interface wall. “You really haven’t been in a castle before, have you? I can talk with Aylwin right here. And that is what I will write in my letter. If General Mortane wants to talk with his brother—even if he hates him he might find that useful—all he needs do is come to visit me.”
Once Wigt had asked his questions, he asked to see other parts of the castle. Marty refused. After that, there wasn’t much to say. Marty gave Wigt a letter to deliver.
General Milo Mortane,
Greetings from castle Inter Lucus. Today I received a delegation from the Stonebridge Army led by Captain Hrodgar Wigt. I sincerely thank you for sending Captain Wigt, and I hope this beginning will lead to further communication between you and me.
Captain Wigt made several inquiries, exploring my willingness and capacity to aid your army. I repeat here what I told him. I have few sheriffs and no knights. Therefore, I am not a threat to any castle lord, city, or army. I have chosen to use materias transmutatio to made paper, and I am told this means I cannot make steel. Therefore, I am not a source of war materiel for any lord, city, or army.
To repeat: Inter Lucus is neither threat nor resource.
There is another matter, however. I have regular conversations with Aylwin Mortane, lord of Hyacintho Flumen by means of Videns-Loquitur. You might consider it useful to communicate with Lord Aylwin. If so, I invite you to come to Inter Lucus. You might stand beside me as I talk with your brother. Indeed, whether you ever wish to talk with Aylwin, I invite you to visit Inter Lucus simply as my guest.
Marty invited Hrodgar Wigt and his men to stay for evening sup at Inter Lucus. In spite of his eagerness to inspect the violet hexagon in the CPU, Marty tried to make the invitation sincere. To Marty’s relief, Wigt declined. Since the lord of Inter Lucus would not permit a more complete exploration of the castle, the Stonebridge captain saw no reason to linger. He tucked Marty’s letter to General Mortane into a pocket sewn into the inside of his leather jerkin, bowed to Marty, ordered his men to prepare to ride. By Marty’s watch, the Stonebridge armsmen left the castle grounds at three o’clock.
Except for guards at the east and west doors and Mildgyd Meadowdaughter (and Agyfen Baecer, who always tagged at Mildgyd’s skirt), the whole population of Inter Lucus had entered Centralis Arbitrium Factorem by 3:15.
They gathered around the violet hexagon in concentric rings, Marty, Alf, Isen and Ora standing closest and the rest in two semi-circles behind them.
“It looks the same as ever,” Ernulf Penrict said, trying to express optimism. Isen’s fiber optic bundle still connected the upper and lower parts of the violet block. But after a few minutes, the problem could not be ignored.
“It’s dark,” said Isen. “The light pulses don’t go through any more.”
140. In Castle Tutum Partum
Four days! Lady Avice Montfort found herself unable to concentrate much on Gentian Bearning’s report. Lady Avice and the young scribe sat on opposite sides of Avice’s morning desk in her bedroom. Remains of her breakfast, mostly uneaten, had been pushed aside.
“Gentian, the harbor captains know their business. I’m not interested in engineering details right now. Please fetch Renweard.”
Gentian pressed his lips together, dismayed. His father, Albin Bearning, had served as Lord Wymer Thoncelin’s scribe and engineer for many years at castle Ventus in Montes, and Lord Thoncelin always appreciated Albin’s expertise in planning and building bridges, docks, and other structures. Gentian, Albin’s second son, had learned much at his father’s side and jumped at the opportunity to come to Tutum Partum to serve Lady Montfort. The lady’s old scribe, Renweard, suffered various maladies that confined him to the castle, with its warm floors and soft beds. Gentian had already taken over most scribal duties for Lady Montfort, and he had hoped to cement her confidence by proposing improvements to Tutum Partum’s harbor.
“Aye, my lady.” Gentian’s disappointment and frustration were palpable.
Lady Avice’s impatience got the better of her. “By the Gods! Gentian, wake up! A scribe’s job is more than record-keeping.” His eyes dropped to the drawings on the desk. She sighed. “I know you’re trying to be helpful. If we can improve the harbor docks, that will be fine. But today we face a possible crisis, and I need Renweard’s advice. Renweard will be gone soon, and I’ll follow him into the afterworld a few years hence. Then Anne will rely on your advice. A scribe must provide wisdom as well as clear records. That reminds me. Find Anne too. She needs to be part of this.”
Gentian’s round face went from disappointment to repentance in a heartbeat. “I apologize, my lady. Shall I bring them here?”
“No. I’ll come down to the great hall. If we make Renweard climb too many stairs, he’ll collapse.”
Gentian met her smile with one of his own. He bowed himself out of the room.
Anne greeted her when Avice reached the great hall. “Fair morning, Grandmother!” Anne bounced forward and kissed her cheek. “Gentian said you want to see me.” Avice took much pleasure from the girl’s vivacity, but she worried too. Sixteen. Will I live long enough to see her ready to take my place?
“Aye.” Avice looked quickly at the empty tables in the hall. “Renweard will want hot tea.”
“I’ll see to it.” Anne started toward the kitchen and saw a servant. “Holly! Tea service, please. With honey wafers.”
“Aye, my lady.”
Renweard and Gentian entered the hall, the old scribe leaning heavily on the younger. Anne took Renweard’s free arm and she and Gentian helped him into a chair. Once they were seated the old man’s labored breathing was the loudest sound in the hall. Avice looked carefully at her friend and counselor and wondered if she expected too much of him.
“I need your help, Renweard. I wouldn’t drag you in here otherwise.”
The old scribe dipped his head almost imperceptibly. Avice read pride in the set of his chin. “It is a pleasure to serve, my lady.” Renweard took a deep breath, settled back on his chair and rested his hands on his lap. He looked long at her. “Four days, is that it?”
Avice would have replied immediately, but the servant girl Holly approached with a large tray. Anne scooted her chair a little, which made it easier for Holly to place the tray on the table. “Thank you, Holly,” Avice said. “You may return to your duties.”
The servant curtsied and left.
Avice answered Renweard. “Four days. Not a word.”
Her counselor frowned. “Aweirgan will send letters.”
“That’s what you would do. Will he?”
Renweard said, “Of course. But he will write carefully. Each letter will have the same news, but each will subtly remind the reader what he stands to lose if he makes the wrong move.”
“A moment, please.” Anne started pouring from a large teapot into cups. “Grandmother, I don’t want to disappoint you, but I have no idea what you’re talking about. Do you, Gentian?”
The young scribe blew out his cheeks, as if he were working on a problem. Avice felt alarm. Really, Gentian? Has the harbor project blinded you to all else?
“Four days ago…” Gentian picked up a honey wafer as if it might hold the key to mystery. “Four days ago, Queen Mariel was supposed to speak to her Council, which includes Lady Avice.” He used the wafer to point, first at the magic wall and then at Avice. “But she did not appear. Lady Avice believes the Queen was birthing her child. I think that was a guess, but Lady Avice is usually right.”
Anne spoke animatedly. “That’s wonderful! Do we know the baby’s name?”
“We do not.” Avice picked up a cup of tea and eyed Gentian over its rim.
With that, Gentian began to understand. The honey wafer broke between his fingers. “Queen Mariel is a very willful woman, to say the least. If she were able to contact her lords, she would do it. She has not, so something has gone wrong.”
“If she has given birth, wouldn’t she be resting and caring for the baby?” Anne’s natural optimism sought a way out of the problem. She stirred sugar into a cup for Renweard, who accepted it from her.
“For a day, perhaps two,” Avice said. “The privilege of a lady. You should know, Anne, that some women outside these walls give birth in the morning and clean house in the evening.” Avice pointed vaguely to the west, where the houses of town Tutum Partum clustered above the bay. “They have other children, and the demands of life do not stop. Mariel, it is true, has castle magic and servants to ease her life. But she is also Queen, and, as Gentian said, a very willful woman. I cannot believe that she would neglect her Council if she were able to bond.”
Gentian pushed the broken crumbs of honey wafer into a pile. “Perhaps the Queen’s baby died, and she is overcome by grief. But we must assume, at least for now, that Queen Mariel is unable to bond with Pulchra Mane. She may have died.”
Anne resisted the possibility. “But she is so… so strong.”
Avice shook her head. “Castle magic means nothing when it comes to childbirth, as we well know. I birthed three, and only Emma lived.” Avice didn’t have to complete the thought: Anne’s mother Emma died giving birth to Anne’s younger sister, a simpleton who could not speak.
“Mariel is strong,” Renweard said. “And therein lies our problem. Herminia depends on her strength. She holds the kingdom together when she puts her hand on globum domini auctoritate. The lords will rebel if she cannot.”
Gentian pursed his lips. “The hostage knights are with the army. Would Giles, Toeni, and the others put their sons at risk? The Queen ordered List Wadard’s execution, leaving Linn Wadard as heir to Beatus Valle. Given that, would even Paul Wadard be foolish enough to rebel?”
Avice grimaced. “Oh, aye. The army is in Tarquint, far away and no immediate threat to a rebel lord, especially one as stupid as Paul Wadard. Wadard might attack Pulchra Mane itself. Ridere could execute Wadard’s heir, but Wadard is a man. Men can always produce new heirs.”
Gentian looked at Renweard. “Aweirgan Unes will write letters, you said.”
“Aye.” Renweard sipped hot tea. “He will send his first rider here, in order to send word to General Ridere. We should make ready our fastest ship. Ridere will have no choice. He must return to Herminia.”
The old scribe shook his head. “In the end, if both Mariel and her baby have died, nothing the general does will matter. Pulchra Mane will become a free city, with a castle falling into ruin. The kingdom of Rudolf Grandmesnil and his beautiful daughter will end in civil war.”
Gentian spoke reassuringly. “We will be safe enough. Tutum Partum provided ships, not armsmen, for the Queen’s adventure in Tarquint. Most of Lady Avice’s sheriffs are still here. Besides, there are the castle defenses.”
“No, look!” Anne pointed at the viewing wall. “She’s not dead! She’s calling for you, Grandmother.”
They looked. A light shined steadily in the center of the wall.
“Gods be praised!” Avice whispered. “Gentian! Paper and ink.”
“Aye, my lady!”
Avice stepped quickly to globum domini auctoritate. Gentian pulled two chairs close; he sat on one and laid out paper and ink on the other. He nodded his readiness. She bonded, mouse gray light enveloping her hands. Behind her, Anne cried out again, not in terror but shock.
Videns-Loquitur revealed a man, not a blond queen.
“Lady Avice Montfort, I presume.” The man had a narrow face with a chin that jutted forward. His eyes were dark gray or even black, and he wore an unadorned blue tunic. But what Avice noticed was the lord’s knob—or rather, she didn’t, because the globe itself was concealed somewhere in a green ball. The green orb glowed, sometimes pulsing with gold, like an appendage to the man’s left arm. Next to him, a girl no older than Anne stood at an upright desk. The lord’s right hand pointed to something on the desk.
Avice’s first thought: Mariel told us about him, but she didn’t say he was a new Rudolf. Then: No. Not as tall as Rudolf—and he doesn’t have the air of a knight. A great lord, certainly, but not a warrior like Rudolf.
“Oh, aye. I am Avice Montfort.”
“I’m very pleased to meet you, Lady Avice. My name is Martin Cedarborne. This is Whitney Ablendan. She is a student here at Inter Lucus.”
Beside her, Gentian’s pen was scratching on paper. Avice recovered her wits to say: “And I am pleased to meet you, Lord Martin. Fair morning, Whitney Ablendan. My scribe is Gentian Bearning.”
Lord Martin nodded. “Fair morning, Gentian.”
Gentian and the girl called Whitney both inclined their heads without speaking.
Avice said, “Excuse my ignorance, Lord Martin. If I remember my lessons, Inter Lucus means ‘between the lakes’ and refers to a castle in the heart of Tarquint. But Inter Lucus fell into ruin long ago.”
A shadow crossed the man’s face. “Mariel hasn’t told you about me? No matter. If she hasn’t, perhaps only two people in Herminia know that Inter Lucus has been restored. It’s long story that I won’t tell now, but I came here last summer. By a kind of accident I bonded with Inter Lucus, and the castle has revived itself.”
“Very interesting.” Avice didn’t believe in “accidents,” but she wasn’t about to contradict Lord Martin.
When Avice didn’t say more, Martin continued. “The two I mentioned—the two people in Herminia who surely know about Inter Lucus—are Mariel of Pulchra Mane and her scribe, Aweirgan Unes. As one of Mariel’s Councilors, I assume you know Aweirgan Unes as well.”
“Good.” The narrow-faced lord pursed his lips, as if he were reluctant to go on. “Lady Avice, have you talked with Queen Mariel recently? I don’t mean to pry into the Queen’s counsels. I only want to know if she is well.”
Avice temporized: “You have talked with the Queen by means of Videns-Loquitur?”
“Many times. She calls me, and I call her. But for several days now, she has not responded to my summons. I don’t think she’s angry with me, though she might be if she knew I was speaking to one of her Councilors. I don’t mean to go behind her back, but I’m concerned for her health.”
Avice was loth to admit she shared the same worry to Martin, obviously a powerful lord and not yet pledged to Queen Mariel. She changed the subject. “As the lord of Inter Lucus, you must be aware of events in Tarquint.”
“If you’re talking about the siege of Hyacintho Flumen, how could it be otherwise? Everyone in the region knows the Herminian army holds the harbor, the town, and countryside around Lord Aylwin’s castle. A moment ago I told you that I often talk with Mariel; she has pressed me hard to side with her against Aylwin. Nevertheless, I made it plain to her that I support neither her invasion nor Aylwin’s resistance. I want Mariel and Aylwin to make peace before they waste thousands of lives.
“But all that is all to the side right now. Please tell me. Has Mariel contacted you recently—in the last few days?”
Avice decided she would tell Martin what he wanted to know, but not yet. She put him off again: “Have you used Videns-Loquitur to talk with Lord Aylwin of Hyacintho Flumen?”
“I have, and Mariel knows it. Aylwin and Mariel have been willing to talk with me, but I fear neither of them really listens. They are stubbornly set on this stupid war.” Martin paused for a moment. “I mean no offense, Lady Avice, to the Queen or her Councilors, or to Lord Aylwin for that matter. But I don’t see why peasant boys from Herminia should come to Tarquint just to kill or be killed by peasant boys from Stonebridge or Down’s End.”
“Have you also communicated with General Eudes Ridere?” Avice knew the answer, since Mariel had said as much. But Avice had an idea how to use the situation.
“I have. In fact, we write to each other regularly. I have a postman who carries our letters back and forth, and the general supplies escort riders, who keep the postman safe.” Lord Martin leaned to look at Whitney Ablendan’s writing. “I think I know the answer to my question, Lady Avice. It will help us both if you are frank with me. Please. Has Mariel contacted you in the last four days?”
“She has not.” It was possible, Avice knew, that Mariel, if she lived, would condemn her for telling. Martin could tell Aylwin, and the knowledge would encourage his defense. But there were more important fish in the net now; if Mariel did not live, Eudes Ridere needed to bring his army home.
Avice breathed deeply. “Lord Martin, I must ask your aid. I believe Mariel gave birth four or five days ago. Anyone who saw her recently had to know her time was near. As days pass with no word, I have become worried. I expect a letter from Aweirgan Unes, which could come any time. Since I am Queen Mariel’s most loyal supporter, he will write to me first and ask me to send news, whether good or bad, to General Ridere.
“You are a gift from the gods, Lord Martin. A ship from Tutum Partum could take ten days or more—sometimes, many more—to reach Hyacintho Flumen. I imagine your postman can reach General Ridere far more quickly. My request is this: When Aweirgan’s letter comes, I will read it to you, and your scribe will copy it and give it to your postman to deliver to Ridere. Would you help us in this way?”
“Of course. I will be glad to help.” Martin rubbed the back of his neck with his free hand and smiled sheepishly. “Mariel has been communicating with the general by sending messages through me for a few weeks now. I’m sure they send each other letters by ship as well, since they don’t want me to know everything they say. But this may be an emergency, and speed is more important than secrecy.”
“Lord Martin.” Avice sighed. “One thing more. I am an old woman. I can’t support Videns-Loquitur for more than a minute. Could you…?”
Martin nodded affirmatively. “I will contact you twice a day, Lady Avice, until Aweirgan’s letter arrives. As it happens, Godric Measy—my postman—came to Inter Lucus today. I will hold him here until we have news. That way, General Ridere will know what has happened as quickly as possible.”
“May the gods reward you, Lord Martin. Certainly, Ridere will be grateful—as am I. And there is one thing more.”
Martin chuckled. “This will make two ‘one thing more.’”
Avice grimaced. “Aye. Well. Please do not share the news, good or bad, with Aylwin. At the least, don’t tell him until Eudes knows.”
Martin considered this request. “I agree. Aylwin is the sort of person who might trumpet the misfortunes of his enemies. It would be horrible for Eudes to learn bad news from Aylwin.”
Avice inclined her head. “I do not know the Lord Aylwin as you do, but I suspect you are right. General Ridere must learn the truth from friends, not enemies.”
141. In Castle Inter Lucus
“Five times seven is thirty-five. We carry two, so we make it thirty-seven. The seven lines up under the five, so the three lines up here. Then we add. Zero plus nothing is zero. Five plus five is ten, so we have a zero and carry the one. One plus one plus seven is nine. Nothing plus three is three. The answer is three thousand, nine hundred.”
Tayte Graham surveyed her work on the tall slate, nodding her head as she reviewed. She turned around to face Marty and the other students. “Seventy-five times fifty-two equals three thousand, nine hundred.”
“Stop.” Marty held up a hand. “The rest of you—do you agree? Dodric? Went? Ora?” Marty avoided calling on Caelin, Whitney or Elfric, who would certainly know the answer. The star students kept their faces impassive, providing no help for Dodric, Went or Ora.
Ora compared the numbers on the slate to those on the piece of paper in front of her. “Tayte is correct,” she announced.
Dodric Night: “Aye.”
Went Bycwine: “Aye.”
Marty smiled. “Very good! Lunch, everyone!”
Collegium Inter Lucus dissolved. Some students traipsed off to the kitchen to bring up the mid-day meal while others cleared the tables of paper and inkpots. Marty beckoned six men to join him at a table. Godric Measy and his escort of five Herminian riders had been watching the class from seats by the wall.
“Your numbers are a mystery.” Godric pointed with his chin at the slate. “But the students are comfortable with them, and Isen says the new numbers help him in the glassworks.”
“Arabic numbers make it easier to calculate accurately,” Marty said. “They will be useful in any home, in any shop.”
“And in any army,” said Acwel Penda. “General Ridere could use some of your students as accountants.”
Marty nodded. The military mind has its own uses for education. “By the way, my friends, this is the first time all five of you have come back to Inter Lucus since that unfortunate day when Rothulf Saeric persuaded you to take my castle. I’m glad to have you here on friendlier terms.”
Penda and his men—Stepan Dell, Wylie Durwin, Ned Wyne and Bron Kenton—evinced some embarrassment, looking at their hands or the floor or each other, but not at Marty. Penda said, “We owe our lives to your graciousness, Lord Martin. We count it a privilege to come to Inter Lucus.”
“You’re very welcome. But now I want to explain, as well as I can, the situation we are in and why I kept you here all morning. First, you must understand that I cannot tell you everything. The letters I write to General Ridere and those he writes to me sometimes contain secrets. Godric first of all, and you men secondly, are given a great trust. If the messages Godric carries were to be captured, great damage could come to Inter Lucus or Ridere’s army.”
Stepan Dell’s mouth curled. “The general has made that point very clear to us.”
“Right.” Marty could imagine punishments Ridere might have threatened. “Second, I have begun a letter to General Ridere, but I cannot finish it until I have further information. This information is very important, and it must reach the general as soon as possible. I think you will have to stay here at Inter Lucus until the information comes.”
Penda tilted his head toward the interface wall. “Information from the Queen, perhaps?”
“Remember, I am not free to tell you everything.” Marty grinned, knowing that Penda would read it as an affirmative. Ridere would not want his men speculating about Mariel’s health, so Marty concealed his own worries.
Marty continued, “A third thing, and this may be the most pressing. Six days ago, ten riders from the Stonebridge Army came to Inter Lucus. They left the next day, and you arrived here four days later. It seems that you missed them on the road only by chance.”
“Not entirely by chance,” said Penda. “General Ridere has scouts spread out over much of the country between Hyacintho Flumen and Down’s End. We had some warning of a force of men near the place called Crossroads.”
Marty raised his eyebrows. “Go on.”
“General Ridere commanded us to come to Inter Lucus without revealing ourselves to the mystery army.” Penda smiled. “When we left, Ridere did not know the provenance of this other army. He thought Down’s End may have raised a force, since he knows Aylwin appealed to them for aid. It won’t please him to learn that Stonebridge is also involved.”
By this time lunch had arrived. Students, sheriffs and priests filled the great room tables, Ora and Eadmar sitting with Marty and the guests. “Whose turn today?” Marty called out.
“Mine.” Alf stood at his place. “Father God, we thank you for the safe arrival of Godric and our Herminian friends. We thank you also for today’s food, and we pray for peace. Amen.”
“Amen. Amen.” Penda and his men bowed for prayer like everyone else.
Chatter arose and people fell to eating. Marty returned to the point of conversation before prayer. “You’re telling me, Acwel, that the Stonebridge riders didn’t see you?”
Captain Penda shook his head. “I can’t be certain, Lord Martin. We did not see them, but it is very hard to hide yourself from an unseen enemy.”
“I understand.” Marty took a sandwich from a platter. “You should probably take a different route back to Hyacintho Flumen.”
The west door opened abruptly, interrupting Penda’s reply. Leo Dudd announced, “Riders, my lord! At least twenty. They are waiting at Prayer House.”
Marty put down his sandwich. “Apparently Stonebridge’s army has responded more quickly than I expected.” He stood, and everyone present listened.
“Teothic, Eadmar and Ora, please go to Prayer House with Leo and welcome our guests. Delay them there for a few minutes and send me their names as soon as possible. Permit only a handful to come up, and they must disarm.
“Ealdwine and Os will guard the doors. Elfric and Caelin—our new guests must not see Penda’s men’s horses. Suggestions?”
Elfric answered, “We will politely insist that they let us care for their mounts. But first, we will tether the Herminians’ horses behind the barn so they can’t be seen from the path.”
“Make it so.” The sheriffs and students receiving commands moved quickly even as Marty continued. “Acwel, you and your men need to disappear. You too, Godric. Went, take them down to the CPU. Then get back here.”
Went Bycwine raised his hand. “My lord, if I leave them alone the lights will go out. Inter Lucus does not know them.”
“Captain Penda and his men are soldiers, not children. They won’t fear bogeys in the dark. And we’ll fetch them back once the Stonebridge men are gone. Whitney and Besyrwen—we need to clear these places so there’s no sign of guests. The rest of you—we need to make this look like a normal lunch, only slightly interrupted by the arrival of guests.”
Students, sheriffs and priests obeyed promptly and without panic. In two minutes the visiting armsmen were gone and the mid-day table settings rearranged. “It ought to look like an ordinary lunch,” Marty said. “Go ahead and eat.” He bit into a sandwich and sat down.
Isen and Ernulf brought their plates to Marty’s table. Isen grinned. “We don’t want guests to think the lord of a castle eats all alone.” Went Bycwine returned to the great hall, and he joined Marty, Isen and Ernulf. “The Herminians may not be afraid of bogeys, my lord, but a castle is a very strange place to most people. If the new guests stay very long, one of us should sneak down there and give them light.”
Marty frowned. Soldiers, afraid of the dark? No, afraid of alien technology, afraid of the gods. “Okay. It’s your job, Went. Excuse yourself at some point to go to the kitchen. Then go down and check on them.”
Marty had finished two sandwiches when Ora came through the west door. “Lord Martin, Sir Milo Mortane and four men wish to visit Inter Lucus. They have agreed to disarm. Eadmar has invited the others to camp near Prayer House.”
“Show them in.”
Marty stood by his chair, only two strides from the lord’s knob, when the Stonebridge men entered. “My Lord Martin!” said Ora. “I present General Milo Mortane, Captain Aidan Fleming, and armsmen Felix Abrecan, Earm Upton, and Jarvis Day.”
“Welcome to Inter Lucus. I am Martin Cedarborne.” Marty watched the newcomers, waving them forward. In some way Milo Mortane differed from the others, but at first Marty couldn’t identify how. Medium build, brown hair, about twenty-five, muscular, with the balance of a natural athlete—but there’s something more than that. The arrogance of a young conqueror? The way he stares at me? Then Marty understood: Mortane grew up in a castle. Nothing here is unusual to him, except me.
The young general inclined his head. “Fair afternoon, Lord Martin.”
“Please take seats. I offer you food and drink. Nothing special, just an ordinary mid-day sup.”
“Excellent. This may settle a dispute between Felix and Earm.” Mortane nodded toward two of his companions. Earm says the food of the gods will be different somehow from ‘ordinary’ food, and Felix disagrees. They asked my opinion, but I told them they would have to decide for themselves, if ever they ate in a castle.”
“Well! Today is your chance, gentlemen.”
Tayte Graham and Dodric Night brought fresh water, cold tea, French fries and sandwiches. The guests, including Mortane, regarded the fries quizzically. After sampling a few, the one named Earm filled his mouth and leaned into his companion. “Food of the gods. I win.” Residents of Inter Lucus and guests joined in laughter.
Caelin and Elfric entered the great hall from the west wing rather than the main west door. They slipped down the stairs to the kitchen, and then returned with plates of cookies for students and guests. A meaningful nod from Caelin told Marty that Penda’s men’s horses had been hidden successfully.
Marty felt conflicted. He very much wanted to contact Avice Montfort, in hopes of getting news about Mariel. But if news had come, it would be impossible to hide Penda’s men for long inside Inter Lucus; they needed to be on their way. At the same time, he dare not call Montfort with Mortane present, lest the general conclude he was allied with Mariel. Clearly he first had to facilitate conversation between Aylwin and his brother, and then hope Milo would return promptly to his army. Fortunately, Milo Mortane was equally eager.
“Lord Martin, we thank you for your hospitality, especially these French fries. But I did not come to Inter Lucus to eat castle food. Hrodgar Wigt says that you invited me here for a particular reason.”
“I did, General. If you would like, we can proceed to that matter.”
Mortane looked around the room. “I would prefer privacy for this.”
“Sir Milo, I must be present, obviously. I will need a student as scribe. And my best counselors insist that I keep at least one sheriff with me as personal protection.”
Mortane pursed his lips, nodded. “Felix will stay for me. Both guards can sit at a distance.” The general grinned. “Only your man will have a sword. If anything, I am the one in danger.”
“You are a brave man, General.” Marty stood up and raised his voice. “General Mortane and I need some quiet while we use the interface. Elfric will stay as guard for me, and Felix Abrecan for Sir Milo. Whitney, you will stay to take notes. Ernulf and Isen, take Captain Fleming, Earm and Jarvis to the glassworks. Show them your latest projects. I think the rest of you all have afternoon work to do. Go to it.”
The clatter of dishes and trays rose quickly and died away almost as fast. In five minutes Marty stood at the lord’s knob, Whitney on his right at the desk and Milo to his left. Elfric Ash and Felix Abrecan sat by a wall.
“I should tell you that Aylwin sometimes doesn’t respond promptly to my summons. He doesn’t like me.”
Mortane snorted. “I’m not surprised. My brother is a cheat and an arrogant braggart. Like his father, he probably sees himself as a great king, another Rudolf.”
A harsh judgment, but not without insight, Marty thought. “And you?”
“What do you mean?”
“As the older brother, when you were a boy, you must have imagined yourself as lord. Did you want to be a great king, another Rudolf?”
“Of course! When I was eleven. Then I grew up. I think I could have been a good lord, partly because I admitted I would never be great.” The corner of Mortane’s mouth edged up. “You may not believe it, Lord Martin, but a knight in the world can find chances, greater chances than my brother’s.”
“Oh, I’m sure of it.” Marty regarded the general seriously. “The question is: what will you do with those chances?”
Mortane grinned like a high stakes gambler. “I have yet to decide.” He gestured at the interface. “Shall we talk to my brother?”
142. In Castle Hyacintho Flumen
“Arthur! Fetch a slate. Diera says the summons is blinking.”
Aylwin and Juliana had ventured outside castle walls, not far of course, to enjoy sunshine and spring air. Arthur, too, was outdoors, pulling weeds in a flowerbed with Lady Lucia. Eddricus and Rose were playing nearby, watched over by Boemia the nan. Anytime the lord left the castle, some servant had to stay in the great hall to monitor the magic wall; today the task had fallen to Diera. She had run breathlessly to find Aylwin with the news.
Arthur climbed up from his knees slowly, joints protesting. “Coming, my lord.”
Aylwin didn’t wait for the scribe. He hurried toward the castle’s north door, Juliana trotting with him. Part of his mind welcomed the Videns-Loquitur summons; he needed news of the wider world, and it had been five days since Martin of Inter Lucus had called him, which meant he hadn’t talked with Postel, Le Grant, or any other lord or lady of Tarquint. At the same time, he resented his dependence on Martin’s ability to sustain Videns-Loquitur. That last conversation had ended with Aylwin insulting Simon Asselin of castle Lata Alta Flumen for Asselin’s boneheaded blindness to the Herminian threat. Asselin the ass! Martin had abruptly cut off the contact. Aylwin suspected that Martin intended the five-day interruption in Videns-Loquitur summons as a lesson in civil speech. Pompous fool! Someday I will teach him a lesson or two.
Meanwhile, the bitch queen hadn’t contacted Aylwin for a week, which gratified Aylwin more than it irritated him. Pretty clearly, she had realized that her threats only hardened his resolve to fight. And he had consistently rebuffed her feeble attempts to trick him into revealing information about the siege. Still, underneath his satisfaction there was a tinge of regret. Every Videns-Loquitur session, even those with Mariel, brought a tiny thrill, proving again that Aylwin could lay his hands on the power of the gods.
When Arthur entered the great hall, Juliana said, “By the gods! Look at him.” Mud caked the scribe’s coarse breeches at the knees. “I’ll find the slate, Arthur. Go change.”
Arthur shot a questioning look to Aylwin. “At once, Arthur!” Aylwin said. “That damned Martin might produce a possible ally. We have to look good. Hurry!”
Having upheld Juliana’s command, Aylwin immediately resented her giving it and the delay it caused. What if the Videns-Loquitur light went out? If Aylwin missed this summons, how long would Martin delay before giving another? Aylwin clenched and unclenched his fists, waiting with mounting anger.
The summons light still shone when Juliana and Arthur re-entered the great hall. Aylwin decided the wait had been worth it; Arthur wore a gray tunic with silver sash, and he had brushed his hair out of his face. Turning to the magic wall, Aylwin let out a deep breath. Focus on the job at hand. Try not to offend Martin’s stupid sensibilities. Play the game. Play the game. Aylwin glanced sideways. Arthur nodded his readiness.
Aylwin bonded. Videns-Loquitur instantly revealed Martin, his left hand hidden in the green Globum Domini Auctoritate. One of the girls of Martin’s school stood to his right. Martin’s free right hand covered his mouth and chin, as if he were contemplating some difficult question. Disappointingly, no other window opened in the magic wall. Then Aylwin noticed someone standing to Martin’s left.
Martin inclined his head. “Fair afternoon, Aylwin. I don’t need to introduce Sir Milo Mortane, but I’m very happy to bring the two of you together.”
Unencumbered by a lord’s knob, Milo bowed from the waist, a spectacularly insincere flourish. “Fair afternoon, brother. Just think, it’s been almost eleven months since you cheated me of Hyacintho Flumen. Is Mother there? I’d like a word with her, if you will allow it.”
Milo began laughing, and laughed louder at Aylwin’s speechlessness. Aylwin fought the urge to lift his hands from the knob. Play the game.
He recovered aplomb. “Forgive my surprise, Milo. When you disappeared from Hyacintho Flumen, you disappeared from my thoughts. I would say it’s a relief to see you’re not dead, but it wouldn’t be exactly true.” Aylwin regretted his words before he finished them, worrying that Martin would end the conversation. Damn it, man! Control yourself.
Martin looked thoughtful, as if he were judging whether Aylwin’s insults were grave enough to deserve immediate rebuke. Before Martin could reach the wrong conclusion, Aylwin said, “I’m sure, however, that Mother will rejoice that you live. If Lord Martin will permit the time, Juliana will bring her to the hall.” Aylwin turned his head to command Juliana, but she was already scurrying toward the door.
“Thank you.” Milo wore a faint smile. “Who is Juliana? Oh, wait, I know. The washerwoman, who came with Edita Toeni.”
“Juliana…” Aylwin stopped in mid-thought. “Dear brother, you left Hyacintho Flumen before the Toenis arrived. Who told you about Juliana?”
Milo’s smile had become a smirk. “Well, let’s think. It had to be someone who was there when you married Edita. Who might that be? Someone who recognized Juliana for the marriage supplement that she is. Who might that be?”
Aylwin’s mind raced. “Is Amicia well?”
“Oh, very good, brother! Aye! Amicia is well, and she has represented your interests well, very well I should say, both in Down’s End and Stonebridge. You should be proud of her. I certainly am.”
Aylwin’s resentment of Martin and Milo evaporated for the moment. “Down’s End? Stonebridge? Where is Amicia?”
Rapid footsteps sounded behind Aylwin. Without waiting for permission from Aylwin, his mother ran to his side. “Milo? Milo?”
“Aye, Mother.” Milo bowed his head, not the sarcastic formal bow he had offered Aylwin, but something neutral and restrained. “Kenelm and Amicia both say you shed tears over me. They say it so often I think I believe them. As you can see, I am alive and whole.”
Lucia squeezed out a single word: “Amicia?”
“Aye, Mother. She too is well.”
Lucia’s relief was palpable. “Thank the gods.”
“Where?” Aylwin jumped back into the conversation. “Down’s End? Stonebridge? What is she doing?”
Milo snorted. “I think you mean, ‘What is she doing for me?’ Isn’t that your meaning, Usurper?”
At this point Lord Martin switched his hands on the knob and gently touched Milo’s arm with his left hand. “Sir Milo, please take care. An exchange of insults won’t serve anyone’s interests.”
Aylwin almost laughed aloud, seeing Milo shrug off Martin’s hand. Go ahead, fool! Try to teach manners to my brother! We Mortanes have a dignity you’ll never understand. Then, to his consternation, Aylwin realized he felt pride in his brother, and with the pride a glimmer of sympathy for Milo’s pain in losing Hyacintho Flumen.
“Milo.” Aylwin pursed his lips, and then spoke gently. “Whether it was just or not, I do not know. Our father chose me, and I rejoiced at the time. But now I am here, surrounded by foes, and unable to go a quarter mile from the lord’s knob. I have wished more than once to change places with you.”
Milo’s brown eyes examined Aylwin calculatingly. The sneer was gone. “That may be true, brother. I have come to know that I would not change places with you, not for a pot of gold, not for a dozen crippled wives.” A thought rippled across his face. “Where is Edita, anyway?”
“She is with the Herminians.” Aylwin beckoned Juliana with a quick flip of his head. “I traded her for Juliana, who is now my wife. It all happened after Amicia and Kenelm left, so they couldn’t tell you.”
Standing between Aylwin and Arthur, Juliana curtsied. “Sir Milo. Lord Martin.”
Milo chuckled. “It seems you got the best of the trade. Why did the Herminians accept such terms?”
Aylwin shrugged his shoulders and joined Milo’s laughter. “You would have to ask General Ridere. I’m told he uses her as a scribe, which, I must admit, is better use than I ever got.”
Juliana laughed with Aylwin and Milo. Aylwin noticed that Lucia, Arthur and Martin didn’t. He pushed on. “Milo, I asked about Amicia. True, I wish to know whether Stonebridge or Down’s End have responded to our plea. But I ask also because I, and Mother, and everyone else here love her. You have talked with her. Where is she?”
Before answering, Milo looked at Martin for a moment. The thought that Milo needed the strange lord’s permission irritated Aylwin. Someday I will manage Videns-Loquitur without him. Someday.
Milo said, “Amicia is in Stonebridge. She lives in what they call ‘Ambassador’s House,’ though in reality it is a gift from a rich Assemblyman. Amicia has agreed to marry a man named Merlin Averill, a man with a crippled arm and a sharp intelligence.”
Lucia coughed. “A cripple?”
“He has a deformed arm, Mother. Nothing more or worse. As I said, he has a good mind. Amicia says she loves him. She asked me, and I gave her permission to marry.”
“You gave permission?” Aylwin might have said more, but held off.
“Aye. I am her oldest brother, after all. If it makes you feel any better, Amicia judged that by marrying Merlin Averill she would do more to advance your cause than anything else she could do. She’s probably right.
“The Averills have been a leading family in Stonebridge for generations, ever since Warren Averill led the fight for independence from the Le Grants of Saltas Semitas. Merlin’s father, Kingsley Averill, has been Assemblyman for twenty years and recently advanced to the Speakership. Kingsley Averill has long opposed increasing the City Guard. But now, with Merlin and Amicia bending his ear, Kingsley’s faction in the Assembly has allowed me to recruit hundreds of men. We have an army now.”
Aylwin did not miss the obvious. “Allowed you to recruit? What is your role in all this?”
Again Milo looked to Martin before answering. Perhaps he was not seeking permission as much as guidance. Aylwin found that a disturbing thought.
Milo said, “Last winter I became Commander of the Stonebridge Guard. By city tradition, the Guard is called the Army when it is outside the hills that ring Stonebridge. Since we are far from Stonebridge, I am General of the Stonebridge Army.”
Juliana touched Aylwin’s side, whispering: “General…” Aylwin twisted his torso to shake her off, keeping his hands on the lord’s knob. He didn’t need her help to interpret the situation.
“Milo.” Aylwin let out a deep breath. “Gods be thanked. You know my situation and need. I must apologize for what happened last summer. You know…”
Milo waved his hands to interrupt. “Stop. Stop, before you say something you will regret. Amicia has served your interests faithfully and with remarkable success. However, I don’t give two figs about your situation. I tell you now, Aylwin, what I told the Assembly: if I can serve Stonebridge interests by helping you, I will. If I can serve Stonebridge interests by ignoring you, I will. I serve Stonebridge; I obey the Assembly.”
Aylwin wasn’t deterred. “If you help me, you do serve Stonebridge interests.”
“That’s what Amicia said, many times.” A smile played on Milo’s face. “I’m not persuaded.” He shrugged. “We’ll see.”
143. In Castle Inter Lucus
After the Videns-Loquitur session with Aylwin, Marty’s sense of urgency returned stronger than before; he needed information from Avice Montfort. But what to do with Milo Mortane? A good host—the lord of a castle—ought to show hospitality to guests. And the general of the Stonebridge army was no ordinary guest. For a minute, Marty pretended to read over Whitney’s record of the conversation with Aylwin. In reality he was considering the possibility of somehow excluding Mortane from Inter Lucus just long enough to contact Lady Montfort. He frowned. Even if I get some news from Montfort, how do we sneak Penda and Godric past the Stonebridge armsmen?
Mortane solved the problem for him. After a whispered conversation with his bodyguard, Felix Abrecan, Milo said, “Lord Martin.”
“Hm?” Marty turned from Whitney’s report.
Milo stepped away from Abrecan toward Marty. At Marty’s side, Elfric put his hand on his sword hilt—a slight motion, but not unnoticed by Mortane. “I am unarmed.” He grinned at Elfric and held out open palms. “I must thank you, Lord Martin, for inviting me to Inter Lucus and for creating this meeting with Aylwin and Mother. I am tempted, of course, to stay and beg you to make possible another such conversation tomorrow. You are clearly a powerful lord; perhaps you can support Videns-Loquitur on consecutive days. But it cannot be, even if you were willing. I must return to the army; in fact, we must depart immediately. Felix says if we ride hard for three hours today, and let the horses rest overnight, we can take a day off the return to Crossroads.”
Marty rubbed his nose, concealing his relief. “How quickly can you rejoin the army?”
“Three days, perhaps two if we ride the horses into exhaustion.” Mortane cast his gaze around the great hall. “If fortune permits, I would like to return to Inter Lucus. I have never been to a castle other than Hyacintho Flumen. The differences are subtle, but worth exploring.”
“Really? I’ve never been in another castle either. I’d be interested in what you conclude. In any case, you will be welcome.” Marty motioned to Elfric, who escorted Mortane’s bodyguard, Felix Abrecan, through the west door. Marty and the general followed. Outside, Ealdwine Smithson, Leo Dudd, and Ora awaited them in the shade of the oaks along with other Stonebridge soldiers. Caelin and Went Bycwine had already come from the barn, leading Stonebridge horses.
“General Mortane.” In spite of his eagerness to return to the lord’s knob and the interface wall, Marty suddenly realized an important opportunity might disappear when the general departed. “Might I have a word? Privately?”
Milo shrugged. “If you wish. Briefly.” He waved at Felix Abrecan and the other Stonebridge armsmen. “Take Gray Boy and the other horses down to the priests’ building. I’ll be along presently.”
Elfric raised his eyebrows when Marty motioned him to accompany the Stonebridge men. “My lord? You should not be defenseless.” He touched his sword hilt.
“The general has no weapon.” Marty sighed. “Very well. Give it here.” Receiving Elfric’s sword, Marty said to Milo, “My sheriffs are trying to train me to protect myself.”
“As well they should. Outside his castle, a lord is vulnerable.”
The Stonebridge soldiers and Marty’s people were walking down the hill, armsmen as well as Inter Lucus folk casting backward looks at Milo and Marty. “Your men are as nervous about your safety as Elfric is for mine. I suppose a general without his guards is as vulnerable as a lord outside his castle.”
“Not in this case.” Milo pointed with his chin to the sword in Marty’s hand. “How many times have you fought with a sword? Not many, I wager.”
“You are certainly right about that.” Marty wondered what gave him away. “But surely, even an inexperienced man could kill with a blade like this.” He pointed the sword away from Milo.
“Blacksmith forged. A useful weapon, in the right hand.” Milo nodded. “My own sword is castle steel, lighter, sharper and stronger. But the quality of the sword matters less than the arm that wields it. There are many ways to take advantage of an untrained fighter. Fortunately for you, I have no designs against you.” The two men resumed their walk downhill. Milo asked, “Now, why did you want to speak privately?”
“I wanted to speak with you about what you just mentioned—your designs or plans. You have no designs against me, you say. You told Aylwin that you serve the Stonebridge Assembly. If that is true, your plans are determined by the Assembly’s will. What does Stonebridge intend?”
Milo stopped. He seemed to be weighing his reply. “They don’t know what they intend, not clearly, not yet.”
“But they sent you with an army into the field. Surely they gave you some instruction.”
“Aye. I am to destroy highwaymen. I am to reconnoiter the Herminian invader and advise the Assembly about its strength.”
Marty asked, “Why send an army? Fifty horsemen should be enough to rout bandits and size up the Herminians.”
“Aye.” Mortane began walking again. “But they also—at least some of them—want Down’s End to acknowledge Stonebridge as first among the free cities. Some day there will be an alliance between the free cities, and Stonebridge must be first among them. The Herminian invasion brings that day close. That is the mind of some Assemblymen. As I say, the Assembly as a whole is not entirely clear about its aims.”
They came to Elfric, standing thirty yards apart from the Stonebridge soldiers, none of whom had yet mounted their horses. “My sheriff will insist that I stop here,” Marty said, handing Elfric his sword. “And I want to rephrase my question. What are your designs, General Mortane? The report you make to the Assembly will greatly influence their policy. What will you tell them?”
Milo kicked at some grass at the edge of the paved castle road. “General Ridere is a dangerous man. For the moment, he has the upper hand. A battle between us would mean the destruction of my army. But Ridere’s advantage will not last. His supply lines are too long. There are great chances before us.”
Marty replied, “Aye. There are chances, opportunities, before us. It seems to me that we ought to use them to persuade Aylwin and Mariel to stop their war. I have said this to both of them, so far without success. You, General, are in a position to aid the cause of peace. Aylwin might not take your advice, but Stonebridge will. The Stonebridge Assembly already sees that the free cities must cooperate, and I agree. We all—Stonebridge, Down’s End, Inter Lucus, and Mariel and Aylwin—would be better off in peace than war.”
Milo grinned. “How is that possible? I am Stonebridge’s general. I will be better off if I win battles. What use is a general if there are no battles?”
Marty felt dismay. “Will you, then, push Stonebridge toward war?”
The general’s lip curled into a harsh smile. “As I said, there are great chances before me. The gods have given me chances greater than Aylwin’s. Who would have guessed it? If a man is alert, he seizes his chances.” He walked to Felix Abrecan, who held the reins to his horse, stepped up on a box placed beside the animal, and mounted. Once in the saddle, he saluted Marty. “Farewell, Lord Martin. I will come again, if I can.”
In spite of his eagerness to call Avice Montfort, Marty waited until the Stonebridge riders were out of sight, and then a few minutes more. He felt queasy, as if he had eaten contaminated food. Milo Mortane’s words hung in his mind: “There are great chances before me.”
Marty felt instinctively the danger of doing anything to betray the presence of Ridere’s soldiers in Inter Lucus. He half expected General Mortane or one of his men to come galloping back to Prayer House under the pretext of delivering one last word. Finally he said, “Okay. We’ve got work to do.”
Marty marched double-time back to Inter Lucus, issuing orders. “Caelin, it’s your turn to take notes. Come with me to the interface.
“Ealdwine, Went and Ora. I’m going to call Avice Montfort, and I hope for news that I will share with Captain Penda. But I prefer that he not witness the conversation. Go find Penda and his men and take them to the kitchen. Give them something to eat and drink. You can tell them plainly that they are not to come to the great hall. I will send for them when I’m ready.
“Elfric, make sure the Herminians’ horses are saddled and ready. They may need to leave Inter Lucus tonight.”
When Marty established the Videns-Loquitur connection to Tutum Partum, Lady Montfort stood between two men. She introduced the older man, who sat on her right in a rather plain wooden chair, as her long-time scribe, Renweard. Renweard’s fingers could no longer hold a pen for more than a minute or two, Lady Montfort said, though she still treasured his advice. A younger man, Gentian, sat in the ornate scribe’s chair with paper and ink spread on a small table. Marty introduced Caelin as his recorder for the day.
Formalities accomplished, Marty delayed no further. “Lady Avice, I grow more concerned about Queen Mariel with every day that passes. Have you received any news from Pulchra Mane?”
“We have.” Montfort, standing with her hands on her knob, nodded her head toward the old scribe. Renweard read from a sheet of paper.
“My Dear Lady Montfort. I announce to you the birth of a prince, blessed of the gods, who will one day rule Herminia. Her majesty Queen Mariel gave birth to a healthy son on the twenty-fifth day of May. The prince will be known as Eudes Grandmesnil until such time as his father or mother decides on another name. The boy is healthy, and we have procured an able wet nurse for him.”
The old man hesitated to read further. Lady Montfort said, “Go on, Renweard. Eudes Ridere needs to know.”
Renweard cleared his voice and obeyed. “I will write to the lords of Herminia to tell them that Mariel lives and will resume Videns-Loquitur meetings with them as soon as her strength returns. She is under the care of physicians. However, General Ridere must be told that the Queen bled much after the birth of her son, and she is gravely ill. Her true condition cannot be longed concealed from Herminia’s lords. The general must do as he deems best, but I advise him to return to Pulchra Mane as expeditiously as possible.
“Only to you, Lady Montfort, of all the Queen’s counselors, do I write this full report. I beg you to send this news to General Ridere without delay by the fastest means. I write in full confidence that wisdom will guide your actions. May the gods protect the realm created by King Rudolf and ruled so well by Queen Mariel. Signed, Aweirgan Unes, scribe for her majesty Mariel Grandmesnil, Lady of Pulchra Mane and Queen of Herminia.”
The old scribe looked up from the paper and set his jaw as if his lady had crossed a Rubicon. Avice Montfort waited for Marty to speak, her hazel eyes watching his face.
“Does Aweirgan know that you can speak with me?” Marty asked.
“I don’t know.” The gray light around Montfort’s hands wavered a little.
“He knows that I can contact Aylwin.” Marty pushed his hair from his eyes. “I said as much to Mariel, many times. Aweirgan may be hoping that you would send news to General Ridere through me, much as Mariel has before.”
Lady Montfort said, “Perhaps. More likely, he knows that he can trust me. My fastest ship is his best hope.”
Marty smiled. “Well then, we have already surpassed his best hope. Captain Penda and his men are here in Inter Lucus today. They will ride with my letter to General Ridere as soon as may be.”
Avice Montfort smiled weakly and briefly. “Good.”
“You are still troubled, Lady Montfort.”
“We must all die, Lord Martin. But it is a deep sadness when the young die. And I fear it will be a sadness beyond words if this young queen dies. If your letter spurs Ridere to return home immediately, his army will not reach Pulchra Mane in real force for two months. In that much time a rebel lord might sack the castle. Prince Eudes could become the target of assassins. The kingdom could be rent by civil war. Furthermore, how much of Ridere’s army will be loyal to him once they know Mariel is gone? All that Rudolf put together could fall apart.”
At first, a Herminian withdrawal from Tarquint had struck Marty as good news: the unnecessary slaughter of young men on both sides would be avoided. But now Montfort’s analysis predicted an even greater disaster would befall Herminia, a civil war between multiple lords. International politics: a desperate voyage between Scylla and Charybdis. War on one hand and worse war on the other. Meanwhile, Milo Mortane has an army and the wealth of Stonebridge to feed it. What happens in Tarquint if Ridere withdraws to Herminia?
“Lady Montfort, Mariel is not dead yet. Aweirgan’s letter did say she was under physicians’ care. Surely the Queen will have the best doctors available. Perhaps she will recover.”
“Perhaps.” Montfort’s face contorted, and tears rolled freely. “They will do what they can, I’m sure. Perhaps by bleeding her, they can dissipate the poisonous humors.”
Marty was shocked. “Bleeding her? What is Mariel’s disease? Didn’t Aweirgan’s letter say she lost blood in childbirth? What in God’s name are they doing?”
Avice Montfort shook her head. “Aweirgan’s letter does not say what her physicians are doing. I am sure they are doing their best.”
Breathing deeply to calm himself, Marty said, “Lady Montfort, I now beg you to listen to what I have to say.”
144. In Castle Inter Lucus
Esteemed General Ridere,
Queen Mariel has not responded to my requests for conversation via Videns-Loquitur for eight days. I became worried, so four days ago I contacted Lady Avice Montfort, a member of the Queen’s Council. Mariel had not talked recently with Lady Montfort either. Today, I talked with Lady Montfort a second time. She has received a letter from Aweirgan Unes. I now tell you the news Aweirgan sent to Lady Montfort.
Queen Mariel has given birth to a son. Aweirgan calls him Eudes, though you may decide on some other name. Mariel did not name the boy, because she is unconscious. Aweirgan’s letter says that she is “gravely ill.” Physicians are attending to her, but neither Lady Montfort nor I trust their cures. Young Eudes, however, is healthy and is in the care of a competent wet nurse.
I am dreadfully sorry to give you this news. I pray to God for Mariel’s recovery.
You surely understand better than I do the implications of the Queen’s condition. Mariel cannot use Videns-Loquitur to speak to her lords. They will soon discover that she is wholly disabled, though Aweirgan will write letters to mislead them as long as possible. Aweirgan and Avice Montfort believe that some lords of Herminia will rebel against the Queen once they know she cannot command Pulchra Mane. You know the lords of Herminia and can predict what they may do. You also know how well Pulchra Mane can defend itself without Mariel’s hand on Globum Domini Auctoritate. Aweirgan Unes and Lady Montfort believe you should return to Pulchra Mane as soon as possible, with sufficient force to protect the Queen, the castle, the city, and the kingdom. Of course, you must act as you see fit.
Your son will one day be king—but only if there is a kingdom for him to rule.
You know that I have urged Queen Mariel and Lord Aylwin to make peace before their war draws in other lords or the cities of Tarquint. Therefore, you may suspect that I have invented this story of Mariel’s illness to induce you to leave Tarquint. I plead with you to believe me. Your wife is gravely ill. You understand better than anyone else how dangerous her illness is.
In this time of crisis, I am eager to help you if I can. I am able and willing to contact Aylwin of Hyacintho Flumen or any lord of Herminia if that would be of use.
Anxiously awaiting your reply,
Castle Inter Lucus
Marty folded the paper, dripped red wax from a candle on the edge and pressed his thumbprint into it. Despite urgings from Caelin, Marty still had no ring or insignia to seal his letters. Slipping the sealed letter into a leather pouch, he looked at Godric Measy and Acwel Penda, seated across a table in the great hall.
“This letter gives General Ridere information I received only today from Avice Montfort. You must understand that some things communicated between the Queen and the general must be kept secret, secret from everyone. This letter must reach General Ridere as soon as possible. In no case may it be allowed to fall into the hands of enemies.”
Captain Penda smiled wryly. “Your postman will protect the letter. We will protect the postman. You may be sure that if the seal is broken, Ridere’s punishment will be severe.”
“Aye.” Marty pushed the pouch to Godric. “You should leave at first light.”
Godric frowned. “Why not begin now? There is nothing that prevents us from riding at night. And darkness will be an aide in hiding from the Stonebridge men.”
“I would think that you must ride much slower in the dark.”
“Aye.” Godric looked puzzled. “But tonight there will be four hours of double moonlight. We’ll be fine.”
Marty kicked himself mentally. Almost a year and I still forget the basics. Two Moons, old man.
Penda said, “We will not follow our usual route. Mortane’s army is near Crossroads, so we must not go that way. We’ll take the old road, in the Blue River valley.”
“But…” Marty pursed his lips. “Someone told me the river road was flooded a long time ago. Something about a landslide that blocked the river.”
“Aye,” said Penda. “Priest Teothic says that’s so. He also says that much of the road is still good. We only have to find a way around a marshy lake.”
“He’s not been down that way himself, he says. His report depends on what travelers have said. But Teothic is a story keeper and a good listener. He has confidence, he says, that the road is still there except where the new lake buried it. In any case, since we can’t take the usual road to Hyacintho Flumen, the old road is our best route.”
“I trust your judgment, Captain.” Marty swallowed. “Godspeed.”
The dream started as many others had. Marty stood outside an apartment building; somewhere on an upper floor a meth addict was heating his concoction over an open flame. Alyssa Stout Cedarborne had just entered the building, intent on visiting a social services client. Marty tried to run after her, calling for Lyss to stop. She did not hear him. Somehow either the distance to the building grew with every step he took or an invisible force reduced his run to slow motion. Before he reached the door, a window high above blew out, the explosion that would kill his wife and child. Glass, brick and bits of metal landed around him.
This time, though, the dream changed. The paramedics arrived and raced past Marty, unaffected by any invisible barrier. Marty’s agonizing attempt to reach the building morphed into an overwhelming desire that they reach her in time. Almost instantly, they emerged from an elevator with an emergency stretcher on wheels. Alyssa lay on the gurney, and an EMT leaned over her, holding his hand to her neck. As she came by, her eyes were open and alert.
My God, she’s alive! He knew he was dreaming, and yet hope uninvited flooded his mind.
We know, they said. But her condition is dire. She needs a doctor asap.
Eternity in a moment: Marty examined Lyss’s body and saw little wrong. A little bleeding, some bruises; did she have internal injuries? He asked: What will the doctors do?
Dark humors in the blood, they said. Docs will bleed her and drain them out; God willing, she’ll get better.
What? Docs don’t bleed people! That’s medieval.
But they swept by him and loaded the gurney into a two-wheeled cart, pulled by horses. Marty wanted to follow them, but he couldn’t lift his feet. The invisible net around his feet held fast. He shouted after them, but they didn’t look back. The wagon lumbered away on a narrow cobblestone street.
He opened his eyes in the dark of his Inter Lucus bedroom. As so many times before, a dream of Alyssa induced deep sadness. His heart was trapped in his chest like a prisoner of war; how it longed to break out of him and go home, to find her. But no. He was trapped in an unscripted science fiction story, in which the fate of thousands—millions—of people hung on his performance.
Marty pulled blankets aside and swung his legs out of bed. Night lighting immediately shone at the intersection of walls and floor. He went to the bathroom, filled a basin and plunged his face into the water.
He had explained to Avice Montfort that bleeding Mariel was exactly the wrong thing to do. The Queen’s problem was lack of blood, not excess.
Montfort had asked the obvious question: Was he, Lord Martin, a physician?
What was he supposed to say to that? Tell her that he came from another planet—and then explain about planets and galaxies and aliens who built machines that controlled wormholes? Marty couldn’t give a description of a wormhole that would pass muster in a high school physics class. It was just a word from a sci-fi book.
No, he told Montfort, I am not a physician. But I knew some very good physicians in Lafayette. Lafayette physicians firmly believe that a person’s blood is what carries strength to all the body’s parts. They believe that we need our blood, and when we lose a lot of it—as Mariel has—the body must have time to make more. A weakened body needs all its blood.
He said nothing about transfusions or bacteria, antiseptics or antibiotics. He pled with her to believe that he wanted Mariel to recover and that draining the Queen’s remaining blood was precisely the wrong thing to do.
She believed him.
Montfort said she would write to Aweirgan and urge him to persuade the physicians to follow a different course of action. She could not promise Aweirgan would do as she asked, and she could not predict whether Mariel’s physicians would obey him in any case. By the way—what alternative course of action did Lord Martin propose?
Marty had no answer but what he remembered from first aid training as a Boy Scout: keep her warm, elevate her legs, give her water as possible. Then he improvised: And some fruit juice or warm broth, but only a little at a time.
Avice Montfort had smiled at him. Perhaps you should have been a physician, she said. You make more sense than the ones I know.
He knew sleep would not return easily. Marty climbed the stairs of the east tower—the gods’ tower, according to Jean Postel. Apparently, every castle had one, but neither Postel nor David Le Grant could say why it was called that or what it was for.
On the flat roof Marty marveled at the night sky. His life on Earth, with its nearly ubiquitous light pollution, had rarely given him such a view of stars. Second moon was just peeking over the eastern horizon. As Penda had predicted, first moon would not set for four hours. Godric Measy and his guards would have double light for a portion of their journey.
Marty tilted his head to take in the vast expanse of the Milky Way. He pointed up. Somewhere, unimaginably far way, there was a planet, his home. And there was a woman buried on it.
He spent a long time praying for safe journey for Godric and recovery for the Queen of Herminia. Then he went to bed and fell asleep.
145. Near Crossroads
Near Hyacintho Flumen
Milo, Felix, and the rest of Milo’s escort rejoined the Stonebridge army three days after leaving Inter Lucus. Men were lined up to receive mid-day sup at four meal wagons. Milo found his captains and told them to prepare to march the next day. Then, seated on a campstool, he took reports from four leaders of scouts.
Noel Night and three other scouts had the easiest assignment, closely watching Down’s End. The four men rented rooms in the city and walked the streets daily. To no one’s surprise, the Down’s End City Council had dithered since Milo’s testimony in the Council Chamber. No tradesman had yet been dispatched to Saltas Semitas to negotiate for steel, no diplomat had been sent to Stonebridge to discuss joint policy, no ambassador named to meet with Eudes Ridere, and no decision made to raise an army. Captain Night reported that other people in Down’s End were less ostrich-like. Fishing boats sometimes crossed West Lake, and there were rumors that some boats carried priests of the old god, traveling to Inter Lucus. Milo remembered the priests’ house near the revived castle. Lord Martin had obviously befriended the priests, and Milo wondered whether the strange ruler of Inter Lucus might not be somehow using them for his own purposes.
Ned Freeman commanded the largest group of scouts, twenty-two riders. They had scoured the countryside north and south of the Stonebridge road, from Crossroads to River House. In a single week they had captured five highwaymen. In Milo’s absence, Aidan Fleming and Derian Chapman had decided not to wait for Milo to decide the bandits’ fate. They ordered a trial for the highwaymen and posted notices at Crossroads Inn and River House. A small, but appreciative, crowd gathered in Crossroads to witness the quick trial and execution of the bandits. The hanging had been carried out the day before Milo rejoined the army. Milo assured Aidan and Derian that they had done the right thing. The Army’s commanders must have the authority to execute criminals when the general was unavailable. It would have been different, of course, in the case of a soldier. Milo insisted that he be consulted before any Stonebridge armsman was flogged or hanged.
Milo sent men to bring Rage Hildebeorht.
Ford Ormod, with fifteen other scouts, had ventured south along the road through the hills toward Hyacintho Flumen. Theirs was perhaps the most dangerous assignment. They made themselves conspicuous and achieved their goal, meeting up with Herminian scouts on several occasions. In every interaction with the Herminians, Ormod’s men repeated Milo’s message: We are not here to fight you, Aylwin of Hyacintho Flumen is a usurper resented by our general, and Milo Mortane will soon send a man under white flag with a message for General Ridere. Milo questioned Captain Ormod closely. In his opinion, Ford said, the invaders were close-mouthed, confident soldiers. General Ridere was an honorable man, the Herminians claimed; he would undoubtedly give safe passage to a white flag emissary. But the general would show no patience with deception.
Milo and Ormod also talked about likely campsites south of Crossroads. Milo wanted some place nearer to Hyacintho Flumen and more easily defended than the open prairie; the place also ought to have a good water supply. Ford described two spots in the hills with nearby creeks. One was a large meadow a hundred yards uphill from the road to Hyacintho Flumen; Milo adopted this “upland meadow” as the place for the army’s next camp.
Fletcher Norris and seven others had explored east, in the valley of the Blue River. They had seen remnants of the old road between Inter Lucus and Hyacintho Flumen, but for the most part only local farmers used portions of the road. Halfway between the two castles Blue River pooled behind a natural rock dam, creating a wide marshy lake. Fletcher noted that a loop around the lake would add a day to the journey between Inter Lucus and Hyacintho Flumen; in his opinion, this didn’t explain why men had made the extra effort to find a path (later widened into a road) through the hills between Down’s End and Hyacintho Flumen. The real reason the river road hadn’t been repaired, Fletcher said, was that Down’s End had outgrown the little villages between the lakes. The road through the hills offered a more direct route between Hyacintho Flumen and Down’s End, and the city of the downs was a more inviting trade partner.
Felix Abrecan brought a share of army fare from one of the meal wagons: a barley loaf and a bowl of bean soup flavored with small bits of pork. Milo had made a point of eating the common diet of his soldiers. He received the bowl and was about to dig in when he realized Captain Norris was still standing close.
“Do you have more to report, Fletcher?”
“Aye, Lord Commander. I left the most important for last, sir.”
“Out with it then.”
“Sir, the men and I believe we saw Herminians on the river road.”
“We saw six mounted men on the river road south of the marsh. They were a mile distant, so we couldn’t be sure, but they didn’t seem to be farmers. They were riding at a good clip. Of course, they could be bandits or something else. I thought you ought to know. They were following the road south, so I imagine they were aiming for Hyacintho Flumen.”
“You’re probably right, Fletcher. General Ridere would be a fool if he didn’t have scouts patrolling the countryside around the siege. Did they see you?”
“They may have, sir. But they certainly didn’t turn back to talk with us. It seemed they were eager to get on south.”
“When was this?”
“Two days ago, sir.”
“Thank you, Fletcher. Is that all?”
“Very good. Get some sup.”
While Fletcher was leaving, Hrodgar Wigt came with Rage Hildebeorht at sword point. Idonea Fatman, the owner of Crossroads Inn, trailed behind them, her eyes red.
“Sheriff Hildebeorht!” Milo strode forward, extending his hand. Hildebeorht shook hands, but his face showed confusion. Wigt’s sword had him expecting a colder reception. “I congratulate you. In a whole summer, with twenty under-sheriffs, you caught two highwaymen. I delivered you another, so we can count three for you. However, in one week, with twenty-two men, Sheriff Ned Freemen caught five highwaymen along the Stonebridge road.”
Milo paused for a moment, watching Rage’s face.
“Lord Commander?” Hildebeorht was still confused.
“As I say, I congratulate you. For almost a year you have cheated the Stonebridge treasury. Very sly. But no more. You are a lazy, worthless excuse for a sheriff, a waste of fifty Stonebridge golds. I hereby remove you from your rank as sheriff and expel you from the Stonebridge Guard. But I have decided that since you did catch two—but we will say three—bandits, you only need to repay the city half the gold you squandered.”
Alarm registered on the man’s face. “But my Lord Commander, the money is gone.”
“I anticipated this.” Milo spat on the ground. “In place of the twenty-five golds, you will now make payment with twenty-five stripes. Captain Wigt, fetch a whip. If you want to preserve your tunic, Hildebeorht, you should remove it now. The city is going to get value for its money.”
Idonea Fatman cried out: “Oh, no! Lord Commander, please!”
“This matter does not concern you, Mistress Fatman.” Milo reached out to receive a rawhide whip from Hrodgar Wigt. “When I’ve finished, you can tend to the prisoner.”
Idonea fell to the ground before him, clutching at Milo’s tunic. “But he’ll die! Lord Commander, let me pay his debt for him.”
Milo feigned shock. “You would pay twenty-five golds to spare a failed ex-sheriff?”
Mistress Fatman’s arms hugged Milo’s knees. “Oh, aye! I would.”
Milo grasped her arms and pulled Idonea to her feet. “Very well. Hildebeorht has until evening sup to deliver twenty-five golds to Derian Chapman, who handles the Army’s accounts. If you want to give Hildebeorht money, that’s your business. Personally, I think your generosity could easily find more worthy targets.”
Hildebeorht and the widow Fatman bowed deeply and beat a hasty exit. When they were gone Milo finished his bread and soup quickly, and then walked a quarter mile away from the camp. He waved away Hrodgar Wigt and Felix Abrecan, who both made as if they would accompany him.
The spring prairie grasses were a lush green, but nature’s carpet made little impression on his mind. He dismissed Hildebeorht from his thinking and mulled over the scouts’ reports, particularly Fletcher Norris’s. Herminians on the river road, moving south. Scouts heading back to Ridere, no doubt. Had they been north of the marsh?
Milo’s gazed south unseeing over the prairie and the distant hills. Somewhere in that direction Ridere’s men surrounded his brother. Has he sent men to Inter Lucus? Stupid question! By the gods, Milo! Wake up! Ridere has besieged Aylwin for more than six months. He would have sent an emissary to Downs End right away. No wonder they dither. He’s given them a mixture of promises and threats expressly concocted to make them wait. And once he heard rumors of a new lord in Inter Lucus, he would have sent someone there too. He can’t afford to have a rogue lord coming to Aylwin’s aid.
Of course, his emissary to Inter Lucus will have told Ridere that the new lord is weak and foolish. Four sheriffs, no knights, no steel—and he speaks regularly with Mariel and Aylwin, trying to persuade them to come to terms.
Milo turned to face east. Somewhere a bit north of east lay Senerham and Inter Lucus. He corrected himself. Not weak. And perhaps not a fool. Martin can support Videns-Loquitur, apparently with ease. What other magic might he do? He makes it known that he is not a threat to anyone; yet all must assume he can use the shields. Cunning, one might say. What does Ridere think of the strange lord?
Milo turned south again. Ridere will find it hard to communicate with Down’s End with my army in the way. But he still sends men to Inter Lucus on the river road. Damn! If we had been alert, Felix or I or the men might have seen them while they were close. Does this mean Ridere knows I’ve been there? It’s the only safe assumption. We need to watch that road carefully—without being seen.
Milo strode back to camp and spoke to Felix. “Find Commander Redhair and bring him to me.”
On the evening of the following day, Godric Measy delivered Lord Martin’s letter to Eudes Ridere. During the journey from Inter Lucus, Bron Kenton had spied horsemen across the marshy lake. Acwel Penda didn’t see them, but he trusted Bron’s eyesight. He had to assume they were Stonebridge scouts. Acwel and his men pushed their horses relentlessly after that, almost to the point of ruining the poor animals.
The general read the letter at table in the Rose Petal, swallowed a large draught of ale, and read it again. He invited Measy and Penda into a private room, where he questioned them about their visit to Inter Lucus. The postman and captain testified they knew nothing of the contents of the letter, except that Lord Martin told them it was vitally important to deliver it quickly and safely to Ridere. They also reported seeing the Stonebridge scouts in the Blue River valley.
Eudes folded the letter into quarters and slipped it into a pocket. “Martin was certainly right. This letter demands a quick response. I will write something tonight, and you must leave in the morning.”
“My Lord General,” said Godric. “Our horses are past spent. They will hardly be worth riding without a good rest.”
“I don’t doubt it.” Eudes rubbed a scar on his cheek. “See Galan Hengist; tell him you need new mounts ready at daybreak.”
Acwel and Godric inclined their heads wordlessly and departed the Rose Petal, Eudes following them as far as the conference room. Bully Wedmor and Eudes’s squire, Gifre Toeni, were there.
“My Lord General,” said Gifre. “Trouble is afoot, as plain as the nose on your face.”
Eudes lifted the corner of his mouth for only a moment. “If you want to succeed as a squire, Gifre, you need to learn the discretion of silence. You don’t need to always say the first thing that comes into your head.”
“I’m sure that’s true, my Lord General. Unfortunately, I have the disadvantage of being heir to Prati Mansum. Father and Mother have spoiled me for years, especially after Edita’s injury. Unlike Bully, I have never learned the virtues of silence or discretion.”
At this, Eudes laughed out loud. “You can practice now. Walk with me, both of you, but say nothing. I must think.”
Dusk had come, the slow waning of light on a long spring day. The air was warm, with scents of flowering trees. Eudes walked through the streets of Hyacintho Flumen without any particular destination. His son had been born—his son! I’m forty-four years old, and I have a son. I should feel joy. But this birth brings disaster for mother, child, and father.
Martin Cedarborne had written: “You know the lords of Herminia and can predict what they may do. You also know how well Pulchra Mane can defend herself without Mariel’s hand on Globum Domini Auctoritate.” Indeed, Lord Martin, indeed. Giles and Mowbray would take special delight in killing my son, repaying me for my service to Rudolf. Toeni would as well, unless Gifre’s letters home have changed his mind. And Paul Wadard will be worst. He’s closest to Pulchra Mane. He’ll have armsmen on the road as fast as he can give the orders.
Eudes imagined Mariel lying in a bed, with servant girls and physicians leaning over her. And he thought of the boy at the breast of some peasant woman. I can’t make this about my wife or my son. The whole kingdom, everything Rudolf and I put together, hangs in the balance. Avice Montfort wants me back. So does Aweirgan Unes. “As soon as possible in sufficient force”—but it’s not possible. I would need four thousand at least to defeat Giles, Mowbray and Wadard if they combined forces. I cannot possibly get there in time.
Eudes kept walking, trailed by Gifre and Bully, for a long hour. They came to the city docks in the dark, where Eudes stood for a long while, watching the reflection of first moon on the water. I cannot possibly get there in time. That was the key. The quartermaster general began making a plan.
146. In Castle Inter Lucus
After the departure of Godric Measy and his Herminian escorts, Marty pitched his parliament proposal to some lord or lady every day, often two of them. Whitney Ablendan and Caelin Bycwine took turns at the scribal desk; these negotiations were too important to use them as practice sessions for other students. Whitney and Caelin’s notes summarized a dismal reception of Marty’s plan by almost everyone.
In Herminia, Godfrey Giles of Calles Vinum, Denis Mowbray of Rubrum Vulpes, and Osmer Beaumont of Caelestis Areanus expressed open hostility to Mariel, but this did not make them supporters of a parliament. Marty’s plan might circumscribe the Queen’s tyranny, Mowbray said, but that wasn’t enough. The only real solution would be the end of her rule. Of course, if Marty reported Mowbray’s words to Mariel, Mowbray said he would deny them. Paul Wadard of Beatus Valle regarded Marty with overt suspicion and hostility throughout their talk and refused to even ask questions about his proposal; Marty got no sense at all whether Wadard could warm to the parliament idea. Wymer Thoncelin of Ventus in Montes and Rocelin Toeni of Prati Mansum liked the idea of a house of lords, but they had no sympathy for a house of commons. Avice Montfort was the only one of Mariel’s Councilors who seemed to grasp the importance of a system that gave a voice to everyone.
In Tarquint, Marty talked with Ames Hewett of Faenum Agri, Walter Troy of Vivero Horto, Jean Postel of Aurea Prati, Isabel Baro of Argentum Cadit, Marin Dufour of Altum Canyon, Simon Asselin of Lata Alta Flumen, and David Le Grant of Saltas Semitas. There were other castles in Tarquint, he learned. Eclipsis Lunaris on the northern downs had been a ruin far longer than Inter Lucus. Flores et Fructus was not a ruin (according to Jean Postel, anyway), but its lord or lady never responded to Marty’s summons. The lord of Oceani Litura was a five-year-old boy, not yet bonded and unable to respond. And, of course, Aylwin Mortane of Hyacintho Flumen was well aware of Marty’s proposal.
None of the lords or ladies of Tarquint genuinely welcomed the idea of bowing to a queen. They realized that if Mariel could conquer Hyacintho Flumen she could eventually control all of Tarquint, which was, in essence, the heart of Aylwin Mortane’s argument that they should band together now. But they didn’t trust Aylwin, some of them still resented Hereward Mortane’s arrogance, and they feared for their dignity. Marty could not grasp the full meaning of dignity, but he knew that for the lords and ladies of castles it was immensely important. Somehow, uniting to save Aylwin was almost as much a threat to dignity as being forced to acknowledge a queen. A few of them—Isabel Baro, Ames Hewett, and Jean Postel—were reluctantly willing to accept a sovereign if her power were limited by Marty’s “house of lords.” But even these did not like the “house of commons.”
Postel’s attitude disappointed Marty. He liked the square-faced lady, and respected her opinion on most matters. Yet she rejected a House of Commons, not because it infringed her dignity but because she thought it would only exacerbate the injustices of the free cities. “The aldermen, bankers, and merchants of Down’s End already run roughshod over the laborers and peasants. What would they do if they controlled this House of Commons too?” To Marty’s contention that poor people could use their votes to improve their lot in life, she replied, “What foolishness! The poor give all their attention to avoiding starvation; they would happily sell their vote for bowl of beans. In a proper world, castle lords should care for their people—surely you agree with me on that, Martin. What we need are better lords and ladies, not some strange plan that requires peasants to do things they can’t do.”
Surprisingly, it was David Le Grant, alone of all the nobility in Tarquint, who fully embraced Marty’s plan. Le Grant often reproached his ancestors for the dignity lost when Stonebridge won its independence. And yet, Marty realized, perhaps that was precisely the reason Le Grant could support the parliament plan. The others all fear a queen, or each other. Le Grant fears Stonebridge. He has a sense that the free cities grow stronger with each generation. They hold the key to the future of Two Moons. Someday they will field armies large enough to defeat castles, and General Ridere has already shown how. A patient siege—someday the lord of Saltas Semitas may have to bow to the Speaker of the Stonebridge Assembly.
Marty wasn’t absolutely sure why Le Grant had come aboard, but he began including the lord of Saltas Semitas in all his conversations with the others. He will persuade them in ways I never could. So it’s time he saw the whole picture.
“Ready, Lord Martin.” Whitney Ablendan stood at the scribal desk, close on his right so he could see her work. Marty laid his left hand on the knob, mentally summoning David Le Grant.
“Fair morning, Lord Martin.” The lord of Saltas Semitas had been waiting for the Videns-Loquitur light to shine. Orde Penman stood at a writing desk close by.
“Fair morning, Lord David. Today I want to introduce you to someone new, Lady Avice Montfort of Tutum Partum.”
“In Herminia? One of Mariel’s Councilors? Does the Queen know about this?”
“I’ve spoken with Lady Avice several times recently. And aye, she is one of the Queen’s Councilors. As far as I know, Mariel has not been told.”
The pink light of Le Grant’s knob flickered. “But she will surely learn. You can’t keep a conspiracy secret from such a strong lady.”
Marty raised an eyebrow. “Is that what you think we are about, David? A conspiracy? Well, maybe it is—a conspiracy to prevent war, not just the one between Mariel and Aylwin but also future wars. And not only here, but also in Herminia.”
Le Grant looked puzzled. “Whatever your noble purpose, Mariel will not appreciate her Councilor going behind her back. Lady Montfort may have put her neck in a noose. For that matter, we may have too.”
“Maybe. Let’s talk to Avice.” Before Le Grant could object further, Marty thought: Avice Montfort of Tutum Partum. Lady Montfort, her hands enveloped in gray light, appeared immediately. Her younger scribe, Gentian Bearning, was ready to write.
“Fair morning, Lord Martin.” She inclined her head slightly. “I see you bring someone new.”
“Fair morning, Lady Avice. This is David Le Grant, lord of Saltas Semitas.”
Avice Montfort and David Le Grant greeted each other and introduced their scribes. There were polite compliments, bowing by the scribes, and blessings for good health. Marty and Whitney listened to the formalities without interrupting. Marty thought he could read tension in Le Grant’s voice and trepidation on the face of his scribe, Orde Penman.
“Lady Avice, Lord David.” Marty launched into the business of the call. “Of all the lords and ladies of Herminia and Tarquint, so far you two are the only ones favorable to the creation of a parliament. That is reason in itself to introduce you. But there is another reason. I have kept the news about Mariel secret from all in Tarquint, except Eudes Ridere, of course. I think David should hear the facts from you, Lady Avice.”
Montfort wrinkled her brow. “Lord Martin, you surprise me at every turn. Why keep things secret?” Then she smiled. “Ah. You are a clever one, aren’t you?”
She looked at David Le Grant. “Lord David, eleven days ago, Queen Mariel gave birth to a son. As sometimes happens in childbirth, Mariel lost much blood and might have died. I suppose it was only her youthful health and the quick action of the midwife that saved her life. Since that time she has been unable to bond with Pulchra Mane.”
“Will she recover?” Le Grant asked the obviously crucial question.
Montfort grimaced. “We don’t know. We may be sure that if she does, she will go to her lady’s knob to speak to her Council. She hasn’t yet.”
“Videns-Loquitur requires strength.” Le Grant was thinking methodically. “Perhaps she is recovering slowly and not yet able to bond.”
“I pray that is so, but Aweirgan’s letters have not been encouraging.” Montfort pursed her lips. “Aweirgan Unes is Mariel’s scribe. Knowing that I am the Queen’s most loyal Councilor—and lady of a fortuitously placed castle—he has told me the truth about Mariel’s condition. He has also written to the lords of Herminia, telling them precisely what you suggested—that Mariel is recovering slowly, that she will return to globum domini auctoritate soon.”
Le Grant diagnosed the situation. “The Queen’s scribe deceives the lords of Herminia to prevent them rebelling.”
Lady Montfort smiled wryly. “I think ‘delay’ would be more accurate than ‘prevent.’ Once they know with certainty that Mariel cannot fight them, some of my fellow Councilors will promptly attack Pulchra Mane. There will be civil war.”
Le Grant opened and shut his mouth several times. Finally he said: “General Ridere knows all this?”
Marty answered. “I hope so. I sent him a letter a week ago. Unless my postman ran into trouble along the way, he should have reached Ridere two or three days ago.”
“What will he do?”
“We can’t know.” Marty sighed. “Aweirgan Unes and Lady Avice both think Ridere should bring the army home to protect Pulchra Mane. Perhaps even now he is aboard ship, sailing west from Hyacintho Flumen. Unfortunately, the lords of Herminia can reach Pulchra Mane more quickly than Ridere can.”
Le Grant laughed aloud. “This means the siege of Hyacintho Flumen will disappear. Aylwin has won.” He paused, and frowned. “But you have not told this news to anyone, you say. Why not?”
“For several reasons.” Marty closed his eyes and rubbed his nose. “First, Ridere has an army of ten thousand, and we do not know what he will do. You know what they say about bears; they are most dangerous when wounded. If Ridere does not return to Herminia, he could march his army north to fight Milo Mortane or sack Down’s End. Second, Mariel still lives. She may recover. She may reassert herself at any moment. Third, I still hope that we may somehow avoid a civil war in Herminia. Aweirgan Unes is doing what he can to delay a rebellion; the longer he can do so, the better. Fourth, if Mariel’s threat suddenly disappeared, lords and ladies of Tarquint might simply revert to their old ways of thinking and acting. We must not do that. The free cities are growing more and more powerful. We need some way to build peace between castles and cities.
“I believe Mariel is basically right: Herminia and Tarquint should be a united kingdom. But the Sovereign’s power must be countered by the House of Lords and the House of Commons.”
Avice Montfort cleared her throat. “In your own way, Martin, you are as ambitious as Mariel. You will happily extend her rule, so long as your parliament constrains her.”
“It won’t be my parliament,” Marty replied. “It will belong to all of us. I want to make this point clear: the parliament plan should probably be amended. Not erased, but adapted. We ought to ask castle lords and ladies how the plan can be improved. Similarly, we ought to ask the Stonebridge Assembly and the Down’s End Council what changes they would like. You see, in my own way, I am more ambitious than Mariel. I want a system that includes all voices, and restrains all sides.”
The lady chuckled. “What next? Should the kingdom annex Horatia too? And then Sestia?” She smiled. “For now, it seems we are waiting on Ridere’s decision and Mariel’s health. Is there anything we should be doing?”
Finally. The point of the whole conversation. Marty gestured toward David Le Grant. “I think so. That is, there is something I think Lord David could do.”
147. In Castle Saltas Semitas
David Le Grant leaned forward, his face in his hands. Orde Penman sat to his left, prepared with ink and dingy gray paper. The paper was a poor choice for important correspondence, but the best available in Saltas Semitas. Orde suggested using calfskin (they had a well-cured skin that might serve), but Le Grant said no. In an emergency it would be easier to destroy paper than calfskin. The letter he would dictate must not fall into the wrong hands.
Le Grant had a fairly clear notion of what to say. Oddly, he hadn’t decided to whom. Ro Norton had returned from Stonebridge with letters from four individuals: Lunden Ware, Derian Chapman, Amicia Mortane, and Kingsley Averill. What a choice! Ware—Assemblyman and moneylender; Chapman—nephew to Ody Dans and sheriff of Stonebridge; Mortane—ambassador for Lord Aylwin and sister of Stonebridge’s general; Averill—Speaker of the Stonebridge Assembly. All of them important voices in Stonebridge, but Le Grant doubted any of them would welcome his appeal.
Le Grant’s daughter Kendra came into the hall, accompanied by Ro Norton, he of the flaming hair and rugged countenance. David knew that Kendra was in love with Ro, or at least she thought so. At nineteen Kendra had little experience with men other than the unlettered herdsmen of the downs. Ro Norton could read, and he had journeyed to Stonebridge and Down’s End, carrying messages for Le Grant. Considering the few young men in Kendra’s life, it was natural that her affections should fall on Ro. How could it be otherwise, in an isolated castle, with a father who can’t manage Videns-Loquitur? I should ask Lord Martin’s aid. Ames Hewett has two more sons. Kendra ought to meet other options before she settles on Ro. Le Grant gestured Ro and Kendra to chairs on his right.
“I have the letters you brought from Stonebridge, Ro.” Le Grant spread four sheets of paper on the table. “I need your advice.”
“My lord! I assure you, I carried the letters, but I didn’t read them.”
“Of course not. I’m asking you about the persons, not what they wrote. For instance, take this one, from the banker, Lunden Ware. He is an Assemblyman.”
Ro pursed his lips. “Aye. Short man with brown hair. He must be important, I think. At the Lady Amicia’s dinner, when she asked the Stonebridge army to help Lord Aylwin, Ware was the one who said Stonebridge would not fight the Herminians.”
Le Grant’s wife, Catherine, joined the group at the table and overheard Ro. “The banker opposed the Lady Ambassador? I thought she invited her supporters to the dinner.”
Ro looked confused. “Aye, my lady. It was a strange affair. The lady’s bodyguard was there, and Lunden Ware with his wife, Ody Dans and his nephew, Milo Mortane, and a crippled man that almost never spoke. They put me in the place of honor. Lunden Ware told Lady Amicia that Stonebridge would not fight for Aylwin, and Sir Milo said his brother could go to hell for all he cared.”
Le Grant had already interviewed Ro several times about his visit to Stonebridge and the dinner at Ambassador House. He tried to steer his postman back to his question. “So you think Assemblyman Ware is a man of influence?”
“Aye, my lord. Commander Mortane seemed to accept his authority. And I might say the Lady Ambassador wasn’t displeased with Ware’s words. And then there was the business with Ody Dans. The whole thing was confusing.”
Catherine reacted to the name. “Ody Dans? What business?”
“A man and a woman came into the room and accused Ody Dans of crimes: kidnapping and threatening murder and other things. Commander Mortane arrested Dans on the spot. Later they took Dans under guard to the Citadel. That’s the fortress of the Guard.”
Kendra had been listening. “Perhaps this dinner was arranged not so much to gain support for Aylwin but to capture Master Dans.” Intelligent girl! Le Grant thought. Good for you, Kendra!
Ro shrugged. “That’s possible. Dans’s bodyguard wasn’t in the room. When Mortane turned against him, not even his nephew helped him.”
Le Grant coughed politely. “Ahem. Stonebridge politics seems full of infighting and betrayals, which makes my decision harder.”
“What decision is that, Dear One?” Catherine asked.
“Lord Martin has asked me to write to a leader or leaders in Stonebridge, to explain the parliament plan. I’ve been considering Lunden Ware. Apparently, he has influence.”
“But you’re not sure.” It wasn’t a question; Catherine could read his face.
“No.” Le Grant laid fingers on Ware’s letter. “The Assemblyman is formally polite, but I read threats behind his words. The Stonebridge army will venture toward Down’s End. Ware doesn’t say it, but the army could just as easily come to Saltas Semitas.”
“You can defeat them, surely,” said Ro.
“Could I? For how long?” Le Grant pressed his palms together. “King Rudolf and General Ridere have shown the world how to defeat castles. Saltas Semitas is particularly vulnerable. We have shields, but very few sheriffs, just a few unlettered herdsmen. I am suspicious of Ware.”
“Who else, then?” Catherine asked. She looked at the other letters.
Le Grant touched one. “This is from Kingsley Averill, Speaker of the Assembly.”
“A man of influence. Surely,” said Kendra.
“Aye. But we know almost nothing about him.” Le Grant pushed the letter toward her. “He offers us polite greetings and invites me to attend the marriage of his son, or—since I am unlikely to leave Saltas Semitas—to send someone in my place. Unfortunately, Ro never had the opportunity to meet him.”
Le Grant picked up the third missive. “This is from Derian Chapman. He is nephew to Ody Dans, but apparently not implicated in his uncle’s crimes.”
“Right,” said Ro. “In fact, I got the impression that Sheriff Chapman was Commander Mortane’s quartermaster. He was part of the conspiracy against Ody Dans.”
Le Grant raised an eyebrow. “You never mentioned that before, Ro.”
The postman scratched his chin for a moment, and then shrugged. “I’m sorry, my lord. I didn’t think of it.”
Le Grant tried not to show his frustration. Ro Norton was the best man he had.
“So Sheriff Chapman has influence too,” Le Grant said. “But if he betrayed his uncle, how much trust can I give him? Judging by his letter, Chapman is chiefly interested in buying castle steel, no doubt to turn it into swords for the Stonebridge army.” He laid aside the Chapman letter and picked up the fourth.
“This one is from Lady Amicia. She says that since she has decided to stay in Stonebridge, she writes as a neighbor as well as Aylwin’s ambassador. She urges me to join in a league of cities and castles to repel the Herminian invaders. ‘Stonebridge and Saltas Semitas ought to work together,’ she says.”
“Stay in Stonebridge?” Catherine reached to receive Amicia’s letter from David. “How long does she plan to live there?”
“She doesn’t say.” Le Grant surrendered the paper.
Kendra laughed. “She doesn’t have to.” She held up the Averill letter and read from it. “‘Kingsley Averill invites the lord of Saltas Semitas (or the lord’s representative) to the wedding of his son.’ The son is not named, nor the woman he will marry. But look closely.” Kendra handed Averill’s letter to her father. “The sides of the paper have been cut, as with a knife. But the bottom has been torn. Someone tore a part of this letter away.”
Ro Norton blanched. “That’s the one, then.” Le Grant, Catherine, Kendra and Orde all looked at him. “At the dinner, after they hauled away Ody Dans, the claw-arm man gave me a letter. Some wine spilled on it, so the Lady Amicia tore the bottom part off. She showed it to the claw-arm man and they laughed about it. She folded it for him and sealed it with wax from a table candle. I put it in my sheath with the others. I swear, my lord, that is how it happened. I have never interfered with my lord’s letters.”
A broad smile lit up Kendra’s face. “The son of Kingsley Averill must be an important person, and he is marrying. The Lady Amicia is staying in Stonebridge. I think we can put the two together.”
Again, Le Grant mentally congratulated his daughter.
Catherine asked, “But who is the claw-arm man?”
Now Ro was wide-eyed. “By the gods, my lady. I remember now. He said not three words at the dinner, but earlier, on the street… The man’s name is Merlin Averill.”
That was when Le Grant had his answer.
To Master Merlin Averill,
Gentleman of Stonebridge
I congratulate you on the news conveyed to me by Ro Norton, my postman, that you are betrothed to the Lady Ambassador Amicia Mortane. May the gods bless your union, granting you prosperity, healthy offspring, and great happiness.
As lord of Saltas Semitas, I write on a matter of great importance to every city and castle in Tarquint, including Stonebridge and Saltas Semitas.
Living in Stonebridge, you may not know much about Lord Martin Cedarborne of Inter Lucus, though you must have heard that he came to the ruined castle almost a year ago and since then has revived it. I have conversed many times with Lord Martin via Videns-Loquitur. These conversations have convinced me that Martin is a man of integrity and vision. Lord Martin requested that I write this letter, since my postman can reach Stonebridge far more quickly than a rider from Inter Lucus. You may regard it as coming from both of us.
Lord Aylwin of Hyacintho Flumen has been actively seeking allies to save himself from the Herminian army that besieges his castle. Obviously, you know all about this, since Lady Amicia has brought Aylwin’s appeal to Stonebridge. Stonebridge, I am told, has already committed an army to the field. Yet I am also told that General Mortane has NOT been commanded to attack the Herminians. It seems that Stonebridge has not yet committed itself to open war. I believe this shows wisdom on the part of the Stonebridge Assembly.
The war between Queen Mariel of Herminia and Lord Aylwin threatens to pull us all into an inferno of destruction. Together, Stonebridge and Down’s End could raise an army to rival Mariel’s. General Mortane could then lead that army against Ridere. Other than the death of thousands, can anyone predict the outcome of such a battle? And when it was over, Grandmesnils would still rule Herminia, lords like Aylwin would still fear Grandmesnil power, the free cities would still distrust castle lords, and castle lords would still envy the cities. Battle would follow battle until some future Rudolf or Mariel subdued all the lands. And what then? Subject lords and cities would rebel whenever they thought they suspected weakness in the king or queen.
Lord Martin and I believe we can make a better future for Two Moons. Lord Martin proposes that cities, lords, and sovereign all unite in one scheme of government. The queen’s power would be limited by two “houses”: the House of Commons and the House of Lords. Free cities would choose members of the House of Commons, and castle ladies and lords would comprise the House of Lords. Together, the two houses would be called “Parliament.” The essential idea is that laws must be ratified by both houses and the sovereign. The freedom of the cities would be preserved through the power of the House of Commons. The dignity of lords would be protected through the House of Lords. Unity under the sovereign would benefit us all.
Lord Martin’s parliament idea may strike you as bizarre and impossible. I suggest that it is merely unfamiliar. Lord Martin and I, by means of Videns-Loquitur, have been talking with lords and ladies of almost every castle in Tarquint and Herminia in an effort to acquaint them with the plan’s benefits. We want to include the free cities in this discussion, and that is why I am writing to you. Lord Martin will send similar letters to leaders in Down’s End and Cippenham, inviting them to consider the parliament plan. Please give Martin’s idea careful consideration.
After you have considered Lord Martin’s idea, you may still think it impractical. Write to me (and I will share your letter with Lord Martin) and tell us how the idea could be improved. Neither Lord Martin nor I believe the parliament plan is perfect, and we are eager to hear better ideas. But we are absolutely sure that talking and corresponding is better than warring.
Lady Ambassador Amicia will be interested to know that her brother General Mortane has visited Inter Lucus. Lord Martin welcomed Sir Milo and explained his desire to end the war between Herminia and Hyacintho Flumen. Naturally, he has had many conversations with Queen Mariel and Lord Aylwin already. We are taking every step possible to include cities, lords, and sovereign in an open correspondence. We are eager to receive ideas to improve the parliament plan.
It may happen that we will fail in the short term. The armies of General Ridere and General Mortane may clash, dealing death and misery to many. Aylwin may win for a day, or Mariel may force him to submit. None of that would change the fundamental situation. In the long term we must find a better way, or we will repeatedly suffer wars between lords and cities. You, Master Merlin, are an important voice in Stonebridge, and your influence will grow. Whenever you have a chance, please use that influence to make peace.
I have no request or advice about how you should act in the present crisis. You may reveal the parliament plan to the Stonebridge Assembly or your father the Speaker, or you may judge that the time is not yet ripe. I write simply to inform you of the parliament proposal and what Lord Martin and I are doing to promote it. We ask that you consider it carefully.
With Cordial Regard,
David Le Grant
Orde Penman read the letter aloud twice. Finishing, he raised an eyebrow.
“That’s all, Orde. Thank you.” Le Grant nodded toward the document. Orde began folding it, carefully keeping the words unsmudged. Kendra noticed the exchange.
“What do you mean, Father, ‘That’s all’?” she asked. “Is there something the letter does not say?”
Le Grant looked at Kendra and Catherine. They had not witnessed his most recent conversation with Lord Martin. “The letter says nothing about Mariel’s condition.”
Their faces asked the obvious question. David said, “Lord Martin’s magic is strong. He introduced Lady Avice Montfort of Tutum Partum, one of Mariel’s councilors. Mariel has given birth. She almost died afterward, and she has yet to rise from her sickbed. Orde and I learned this yesterday from Lady Avice.”
The news drew shocked expressions from Catherine, Kendra, and Ro.
Le Grant shifted his gaze to Ro Norton. “The letter says nothing about Mariel’s sickness, Ro. I expect similar silence from you, when you deliver it to Merlin Averill.”
“Aye, my lord.” Ro hesitated. “My lord?”
Le Grant explained: “If the lords of Herminia believe the Queen cannot bond with Pulchra Mane, they may rebel. In that case, General Ridere would have to take his army back to Herminia. But there is no way we can be sure. It is possible that Mariel will die. On the other hand, she might at this very moment be up and about and ready to assert her power. Lord Martin and I agree that we should keep the Queen’s condition secret. We certainly will not tell Hyacintho Flumen, and we should not tell Stonebridge.”
“Darling,” Catherine said, “You are convinced we must have this parliament?”
“Aye.” Le Grant absentmindedly drew a design on the tabletop. “Without it, Kendra will one day have to bow to some Stonebridge general. With it, our descendants may hold Saltas Semitas with dignity.”
148. At the Siege of Hyacintho Flumen
Edita Wedmor lay still, watching early morning spring light creep over her husband’s face. Bully had returned very late to the extra room in the Coopers’ house and said something about guarding Eudes Ridere as he walked the dark streets of Hyacintho Flumen. The general’s unease must have infected Bully; he had woken Edita several times in the night, bumping into her as he tossed and turned. Edita sighed. She loved Bully, and that meant she wanted to let him sleep, but it also meant she had to wake him, lest he be late to Ridere’s daily conference. She stroked his cheek.
Eyes the color of a dawn sky opened, recognized her. He began to smile, but thought interrupted. “By the gods! I must be up.”
Even as he scrambled into his clothes, Edita took delight in her husband. So lithe, so muscled and strong! Others didn’t know, since shirt, tunic, and breeches deceived them. Merely another soldier, that’s what others saw. But Edita knew the glowing skin, the breathless tension in his belly, and the easy power of his legs and arms. More importantly, under the skin dwelt a kind and loving heart.
“You’re not late,” she said. “Godiva Cooper hasn’t put on the bacon yet.”
Bully sniffed, pulling a leather tunic over a short-sleeved russet shirt. “You’re right.” He came to her, kissed her forehead. “But I can’t wait for it.”
Anxiety began tugging at Edita. “Is something wrong?”
“I think so. But he didn’t say what.” Bully pulled on boots. “At mid-day I’ll tell you anything I learn.”
Trotting toward the Rose Petal, Bully congratulated himself. Archard Oshelm had not yet gone in, so Bully wasn’t late. Then Oshelm saw him.
“About time, Wedmor! Come here!” Oshelm had a bit of paper in his hand, and he thrust it at Bully. “You can read, right? I know you can. Listen, this is strict. Let no one but these names into today’s meeting. Stay here and keep people out.”
Bully frowned, looked at the paper, and said, “Archard, my name is on the list. How can I stand guard if I’m supposed to be in the meeting?”
“Damn. Are you sure?”
Bully pointed to his name on the paper.
“Go on in, then. But don’t tell anyone.”
“Don’t tell what?”
Archard opened and shut his mouth. Bully said, “I already knew you couldn’t read, Archard. We all know. And no one says anything because it means nothing. You’re a brave soldier and an intelligent captain. Ridere depends on you more than any of us.”
“Then why did he give me this job?”
Bully looked at the list again. “Because he scribbled in haste. Something important is happening. Anyway, your name’s right here. We both ought to go in.”
Relieved, Archard asked, “Then who will guard the door?”
“They can.” Bully pointed. Two of the hostage knights, Aldin Thoncelin and Deman Mowbray, were coming toward Rose Petal. “They’re not on the list.”
Aldin and Deman drew close and stopped. They looked surprised and a bit anxious, realizing that Commander Oshelm was waiting to speak with them.
“We’re not late, are we?” Aldin Thoncelin’s squeaky voice betrayed his trepidation. He brushed stringy white hair away from his eyes.
“No.” Archard received the sheet of paper with the names from Bully. “You’re just in time. I’ve a job for you two. Captain Wedmor and I are needed inside, but General Ridere commands that only these persons be admitted.” He thrust the list at Aldin. “Just these. Let no one else in.”
Deman Mowbray took the paper from Aldin. He read the names and frowned. “Sir Linn Wadard and Sir Gifre Toeni are admitted, but not Sir Thoncelin nor myself, not Sir Odell Giles nor Sir Selwin Beaumont.” He looked at Bully disdainfully. “Of course our newest captain is included.”
Oshelm seized the petulant youth by the throat, pushing him against the wall of the Rose Petal. “Very good, Sir Mowbray! You seem to understand the assignment. I assure you, it’s important. If anyone not on the list comes through the door, it’s on you.” Mowbray’s eyes bulged. Oshelm released a suddenly terrified knight.
Aldin Thoncelin squeaked, “We will do our best, Sir.”
Oshelm snapped his fist to his chest in salute. The two hostage knights saluted in return.
At the Rose Petal conference table Eudes Ridere waited for his captains to gather, hands steepled together. As they entered the room his captains read the tension in the general’s countenance; his dark eyes seemed to be drilling holes in the table. If he chews his lip any harder, Bully thought, it will bleed. The captains slipped into their chairs without conversation.
In the usual place of the hostage knights, Linn Wadard sat at the foot of the table. At the other end, Gifre Toeni stood behind the general as his squire. Two ship captains, Durwin Cyneric and Gilles Giyot joined Acwel Penda, Archard Oshelm, Fugol and Galan Hengist, Danbeney Norman, and Alan Turchil on the two sides of the table. Bully and the Inter Lucus postman, Godric Measy, took empty places near Linn Wadard. Eadred Unes came into the room last and sat next to General Ridere. He smoothed out a sheet of paper and unstoppered an inkbottle. His materials ready, Unes looked round the table.
“The captains are all present, Lord General.” Eadred’s flat tone belied the tension in the room.
Ridere laid his hands flat on the table and looked at his chosen captains. “Gentlemen, we reach a crisis.”
Ridere paused. He unfolded a piece of paper. Beside Bully, Godric Measy shifted on his chair. Ridere tapped the paper.
“Queen Mariel has given birth. As sometimes happens, there was trouble.” Ridere’s somber tone and raised hand forestalled any congratulations or questions. “The Queen’s son is well. But at the time of this writing…” Ridere picked up the letter. “…The Queen had not regained consciousness.” He paused and swallowed several times.
“Lord Martin penned this letter five days ago. That was eight days after the Queen gave birth. The day of her seclusion was a Friday, so she did not speak to her Council that day. A week later, on another Friday, again she did not speak to her Councilors. Tomorrow, unless she has recovered, she will yet again not summon them.
“Aweirgan Unes, father to our Eadred, has written to the lords of Herminia, telling them that Mariel will soon be back on her feet. He deceives them to gain time. Aweirgan wrote the truth to Lady Avice Montfort. The Queen is…” Ridere squinted at the letter. “…‘gravely ill.’ Lady Montfort and Master Unes urge me to return to Pulchra Mane as soon as possible.
“I’m sure you understand Lady Montfort’s reasoning, but I will spell it out anyway. If Mariel dies, or if she is unable to bond with her castle, the security of Pulchra Mane depends entirely on the armsmen of the city. They have eighty sheriffs—enough to patrol a city, but hardly enough to fight a war. The lords Wadard, Mowbray, Giles, and Beaumont may, individually or in concert, attack. Together, they could field two thousand men or more, even though most of their armsmen are here in Tarquint. They could destroy the castle, sack the city, and kill the Queen. They could kill my son.”
Ridere’s lips were pressed into a line and his left hand balled into a fist. Bully thought the general might break his teeth; his face was so tense. Halfway down the table, Alan Turchil lifted a hand. Eadred Unes nodded at him.
“My Lord General,” Turchil said, “What about lords Thoncelin and Toeni? Lady Montfort?”
Ridere swallowed, nodded. “Thoncelin is loyal, but has few armsmen, and most of them are here in Tarquint. Toeni chafes under Mariel’s sovereignty, but I reckon him unlikely to intervene. The road from Prati Mansum to Pulchra Mane is long and rugged. Also, it cannot be lost on Toeni that his son has become my squire and that his daughter is married to Captain Wedmor.
“Lady Montfort is the key. She is loyal to Mariel, and most of her soldiers are still in Herminia. That is why we will prevail.”
Turning his thought from crisis to solution, Ridere became calm. He was the quartermaster general again, solving a problem.
“Lady Montfort must send men to Pulchra Mane. Captain Turchil, how many do you think she has?”
Alan Turchil pursed his lips. “Four hundred, perhaps.”
A grim smile. “She will scrape the barrel and send five hundred.”
“My Lord General! That will leave the town undefended.” Turchil had proved himself able and loyal, but Tutum Partum was his home.
“Aye. That is why, Captain Turchil, you will embark with as many men as can be immediately gathered. I believe Fair Wind and Victorious are ready in the harbor. Is that right?”
Gilles Guyot made an open hand gesture. “If the general commands it, sail on the morning tide, Fair Wind will.”
Durwin Cyneric was not to be outdone. “Victorious will cast off before Fair Wind. I swear it.”
Ridere smiled slightly.
Alan Turchil said, “We can have three hundred on each ship by nightfall, but they will be lightly armed and poorly victualed.”
Ridere nodded. “It will be enough. Your task is to defend Tutum Partum. The sooner you arrive, the safer your home. Other ships will follow as soon as may be. You will send most on to Pulchra Mane. We will send four thousand in total, I think. Six thousand can maintain our siege here.”
“With us the general will sail, no doubt?” Gilles Guyot asked. “Tutum Partum and thence to Pulchra Mane, no?”
“You sail for Tutum Partum, aye. But you will not carry me. Captain Fugol Hengist will sail with you, and he will hasten to Pulchra Mane, where he will take command of the defense of the city and castle. Galan Hengist will choose and organize embarkation of the four thousand.”
Several faces showed confusion. “My Lord General,” said Galan Hengist, “Will you not be here?”
“I will not. Captain Oshelm will command the army in my absence. He will maintain the siege. I want no food entering the castle, Archard. Keep the catapults firing.”
“It will be done, my lord.” Archard laid fist to his chest. “Where will you be?”
“Inter Lucus. I will presume on the hospitality of Lord Martin, who will let me speak with Lady Montfort.”
Ridere grinned at their incredulous faces. “Gentlemen, speed is the key. By going to Inter Lucus I can speak to Lady Montfort in five days. Her men will then reach Pulchra Mane four or five days later. By ship and land, the men we send from here will not reach Pulchra Mane for some days, perhaps many days, after that. We cannot wait so long. Montfort will send her troops to Pulchra Mane on my command; in turn, Turchil will defend Tutum Partum when he arrives. This plan carries risk, because the harbor at Tutum Partum will be vulnerable in the interim. But this is the only plan that can save Queen Mariel, if she cannot defend herself. The defense of Pulchra Mane and the Queen and the Queen’s heir must be our first concern.”
Acwel Penda cleared his throat. “Ahem. My Lord General.”
Ridere began folding the letter. “Captain Penda.”
“We saw riders in the Blue River valley. Stonebridge scouts, we think.”
“Indeed. So I must have an escort. Captain Wedmor will assemble some riders, at least thirty. You, Penda, and your men will guide us. Lord Martin’s postman, Measy, also knows the road. So he comes too.”
Penda inclined his head. “Very good, my lord.”
Ridere turned his head to look at his squire. “See that we are ready to ride by noon, Gifre.”
“Aye, Lord General.” Gifre saluted, fist on chest.
For a few seconds, everyone waited for the next command. Ridere said, “Speed, gentlemen.”
Gifre and Bully outraced the others to the door.