— 3 —
SOME OF THE SERVANTS LIVED IN THE CASTLE, BUT MOST LIVED in the village of Briarwood. Wilson did not know why anybody would want to be a servant if he could be a lord. Outside—he had started to think of everything extra-Scadia as the great Outside—nobody had to work if they did not care to do so. In the economy of abundance, established over one hundred and fifty years ago, the minimum guaranteed income had a very high floor indeed. Most wealthy people of the mid-20th century would have been quite happy with the material things given free to all in the 22nd century.
They would not, however, have liked the restrictions on travel outside their cities and restrictions on conspicuous consumption. Nor would they have liked it that the only way to gain prestige was to be an artist or a scientist or a servant of the public. A “servant of the public” could be anything from a waitress in a Folk Restaurant or a plumber or an electronic repairman through a school teacher or medical doctor to the mayor of Manhattan or the president of the North American Commonwealth. “Servant” had different connotations and denotations in the 22nd century. It was usually associated with prestige.
But in Scadia, it indicated a person who was content to wait on the upper classes, content to be without ambition, content to remain lower class.
The truth seemed to be that, just as there were born leaders and followers, so there were born masters and servants.
The difference between the Middle Ages, most ages, in fact, and Scadian times was that the servantship was voluntary. A man could work his way up to a lordship, and many had. But if a man was happy with his station as farmer or servant, he had no pressure put on him to leave his happy state for the sake of prestige or ambition. Moreover, the lower classes were not harassed or put to the sword or their possessions burned or stolen and their women raped during wartime.
They might find themselves with a new lord one morning. But the change meant little to the farmers or servants. Their rights and obligations were the same. They would not be exploited or oppressed.
Gore, standing in the middle of the suddenly quiet courtyard, wondered if he shouldn’t change his plans. Why try to lose himself in the high when he could do it so much more easily among the low?
All he had to do was declare for servantship, live in the village, perform his non-onerous duties there or in the castle, and have plenty of leisure time to enjoy himself. He could marry a village girl—they were all good-looking and cheerful—and settle down. It was true that the low classes afforded fewer people among whom to hide. Here, unlike all previous societies, the lower classes were greatly outnumbered by the higher.
But then any police searching for him would look in the aristocracy for him. Knowing his psych index, they would know that he would not be content to be a servant. The police would not even bother looking among the lowly.
That was what he would do! Make himself suffer a strange sea-change! Show that he was the master of his own character, which was the same thing as his own fate, and double back on the psychic track. He would become a Proteus of the personality. He would never be found.
A few minutes later he told himself: To hell with that! He did not want to be on the receiving end. He wanted to dish it out from the seat of the mighty.
Besides—and this was the determining reason, or, at least, his greatest rationalization—if he remained a servant, he could never have Melisounde.
“Where is the Black Tor?” he asked Jack Ratch, a villager who kept bees and provided the castle with honey and mead. “And what is the Black Tor?”
“’Tis a tall crooked blackish rock about two miles to the northwest o’ here, knave,” Jack Ratch said. “It lies in a corner o’ the land o’ Sir Palamides the Saracen. Sir Palamides, if thou did not notice, was the master o’ the hunt and a guest. He…”
“How do I get there? And don’t call me knave, old man.”
Jack raised thick white eyebrows. “Why not? Ain’t thou?”
“Not to thee, a villager. Nor to anyone for long.”
“Perhaps they will name thee Sir Orgulous when thou gain thy knight hood, if ever thou do,” Jack Ratch said. “Sir Orgulous de Payne en-le-Cul will be thy full name.” He cackled.
“I know not what the hell thou mean,” Gore said. “And I won’t inquire, since I don’t wish to mix it up with the lowborn. Now, where do I get Sir Bobaunce’s drinks?”
“’Tis no business of mine. I’m the honeyman.” Ratch turned away.
Gore spun him back around. “Don’t turn your back on me, old man!”
Ratch blinked but did not shrink away. He said, “If you would climb, you should get a sturdy ladder. And you can’t trust the rounds if you’ve been abusing them.”
“Meaning that I should kowtow to the likes of you?”
“You’re a stranger and alone, and you need others to teach you.”
Gore released Ratch, swallowed, smiled—though it came hard—and held out his hand.
“I apologize for losing my temper. No hard feelings?”
Ratch shook his hand. The old man had a grip that a 25-year-old would have been proud of.
“Knave it shall be then,” Gore told him. “But one day…”
“See the butler about his knightship’s refreshments,” Ratch said, and he walked away.
Gore asked several of the household help where he could find the butler. His polite requests finally got him directions to the dungeon. This was, essentially, the basement and consisted of the enormous booze and wine cellar, a few cells for prisoners which had apparently never been used, and a number of dimly lit moisture-oozing corridors leading to dark places somewhere in the bowels of the castle.
The butler, James o’ the Inkwell, was standing under the flickering light of a torch set in a stand on the wall. The tall thin long-faced man was inventorying barrels, tuns, casks, and racks of wine bottles. At least he seemed to be busy listing them, though he may have heard Gore coming and so put on the appearance of activity. Several newly emptied wine bottles were sitting on a nearby table. The butler’s breath was strong with very good vintage.
“Sho, thou’rt the new knave from the washtelands?” He leaned back and forth as if he were a buoy on a gentle sea.
“Yes, that be I,” Gore said, determined not to take offense or, at least, not to show that he had. “His knightship told me to bring the wine and booze for the hunting party to the Black Tor.”
“Which thou had better do quickly or pay for thy indolence and ineptness,” James o’ the Inkwell said.
“I hope there’s something left here for me to take to his knightship.” He regretted the words as soon as they were spoken. But there they were.
“Stableboy! Would thou mock me, the butler, a lowly fellow who is, no matter what one says to the contrary, fit to…”
“Eat with the hogs,” Gore said. “I know.”
“That is all thou know.”
“Just give me the stuff for his Boozeship, and I’ll be on my way.”
The butler laughed loudly and long. In between brays, he gasped, “His Boozeship! That’s a good one!”
Finally, over his fits of merriment, the butler picked various bottles and packed them in a big wicker case stuffed with straw.
“Here be the 2069 wine, from an excellent wet year, which is wasted on his Boozeship, haw, haw! That honorable swine is a guzzler, and a mighty one, I’ll say that for him. When he’s sober, he has an excellent discrimination, a tender palate. Unfortunately, he’s never long sober, and so great wines and liquor, or even good stuff, is wasted on him. ’Tis enough to drive even a second-rate connoisseur to drink, and I am a first -rate one, if not a great one.”
Gore hoisted the basket onto his back by its strap. The basket and contents seemed to weigh about seventy-five pounds.
“If thou go through the woods, be careful, knave!” the butler shouted after him. “Beware of the Green Baron! I hear he is skulking in this neighborhood, or so the last report from the king’s high sheriff said!”
Gore almost stopped to ask what he meant, but decided he should not waste any time. He had not the least idea of how soon the hunters would be at the Black Tor, and he did not want to get there and find them thirsty and in a bad humor.
A few minutes later, saddle packed, he mounted a big brown stallion. The beast must have smelled the molecules of apprehension pouring from its rider’s sweat glands. It acted exactly as it wished, which was in every way contrary to Gore’s desires.
The horse danced sideways through the village’s only street while the citizens and their children laughed so hard they rolled in the dust. Gore was hot with embarrassment and cold with fear but also thankful that the horse had not leaped off the drawbridge into the moat, as he had thought it would as they galloped along the edge of the bridge.
Then the big brute scraped his leg against the corner of a house, and he forgot any gratitude that might have survived the jeering of the villagers.
He shouted and pulled on the reins and kicked the beast in the ribs with his heels. But the animal seemed to enjoy his efforts to control it. It turned its head and snickered at him.
When the two had gotten, somehow, through the village and were headed towards the woods, but in a direction opposite that in which they were supposed to be going, Gore got off.
He did not, however, just abandon ship. He hung on to the reins and managed to stop the beast. Then, while it wheeled, dragging him around and around, or backed, still dragging him, he got the wicker case unstrapped from the saddle. It slid off and would have struck the earth hard if he had not succeeded in placing his body between it and the ground. Its heavy butt drove into his stomach and knocked the air out, and he toppled with a crash. The stallion galloped away and was soon out of sight.
Gore hoped it would stay out of sight.
When he had regained his breath and quit shaking, he got up. He hoisted the case to his back and started into the woods in what he hoped was the proper direction. Actually, he anticipated getting to the Black Tor on foot faster than he would have on the horse, even if it had been well -behaved. According to the servants, the road ran around the edge of the woods to the great rock. By going as the crow flies, or the pedestrian trudges, he could cut three miles off his journey. But he would be in a forest so dense that only a man on foot could make it. A horse would not be able to force its way through the bushes.
“This land is made to seem much bigger than it actually is by cunningly placed growths of extremely thick woods,” the border inspector had told him. “The many woods force one to go around to get to one’s destination. Time is usually of little consequence here, but the feeling of spaciousness is. Hence, the lack of direct routes.”
Sweating, even though the towering redwoods and lesser trees provided a cooling shade, Gore forced his way through everything but the thickest bush. The case grew heavier with every step, and he had not gone far before he sat down to rest. The only sounds were the buzzing of insects, the harsh cry of a bird, and a sudden rustling as something ran through the tall grasses to his right.
He would have been surprised that bushes grew so thickly in the shadows of the tall and crowding trees if the inspector had not told him that these bushes were mutations made for these forests, and they thrived on lack of sunlight.
Where he sat was cool and dark, and he could see the bright shafts of sunlight here and there, thrusting down between openings in the forest ceiling. The earth was cool and moist, and the grasses and bushes were green. Once, he understood, this area would have been dusty and the vegetation brown at this time of year. But planetary weather control brought a light rain every other day to this part of California. The land was green throughout the year.
After an estimated ten minutes (his watch had been taken at the border), he got up. He shouldered his pack and started to push on. He broke through the branches of a bush into a clearing and started across it until something buzzed by his ear. He thought it was an insect until he heard a thunking noise coming from a pine about forty feet ahead of him.
He stopped. An arrow was sticking out of the tree.