Castle Roland


by David McLeod


Chapter 14

Published: 11 May 15


By David McLeod

The Joy of Cooking

The next morning, after breakfast, Artie and Alan took Larry and me on a tour of the monastery-that-wasn't-a-monastery, and to the village located a few miles down a path that wound its way through forest and fields. After lunch, we asked for a meeting with the senior. Artie and Alan led us to an herb garden, where the senior knelt in the dirt, removing stunted plants so that others might grow more freely. He sat back, and gestured for the four of us to join him.

"We cannot stay here forever, yet we are unprepared to venture into the world. That is a dilemma—" I was interrupted by Artie.

"Another new word!" the boy crowed.

"Yes," I said. I saw that the senior was puzzled. "We are faced with two choices that are irreconcilable. We cannot walk one path, nor can we walk the other."

"Like when I want apple cobbler and cherry cobbler, and Master Flynn won't let me have but one," Artie said. Before I could correct him, he said, "No—that's not right. You said you could do neither.

"It's more like when Master Flynn asks me if I want to wash dishes or mop the refectory floor, and I don't want to do either," he concluded.

"You have grasped the essence of the problem," I said. "Those are two equally unpleasant choices; we are faced with two nearly impossible choices."

"You need not be concerned," the senior interrupted my impromptu lesson in language and logic. "I believe I can help you on one path—the path on which you elect to remain here for some time."

His gesture encompassed the gardens, the fields, the orchards, and the pastures. "We are self-sufficient. We grow our food save wheat, and we trade for milled wheat with the people of the village. We keep sheep and goats for wool and milk, as well as a little meat. To obtain what we cannot make or grow, we gather herbs and distill the essential oils. Caravans traveling between Paxunt and Elvenholt and between Barbican and Carter visit often.

"I think you are wise in your understanding that you are not prepared to go into World, especially on your own. If you wish, you may remain here for such time as is necessary. We do ask that you contribute to your own support and to the community."

Larry gave our reply. "We anticipated that, and I've been talking to Artie and Alan, trying to find what skills we have that might be useful to you. It wasn't an easy task. I did, however, learn quite a few new words." He grinned.

"We were both deputy sheriffs. I understand that the village just beyond the woods has a sheriff. However, I also learned that his duties are not very difficult, and that he needs no assistants.

"I did learn, however, that there is a need in the kitchen for people to prepare food, to wash dishes, and to clean the refectory. The people who do those tasks, now, might be better employed elsewhere. I propose that we take those jobs until we learn more useful skills."

Before the senior could reply, I added. "However, in addition to room and board, we ask something more: we ask that you teach us the skills we need to know in order to survive and make our way in this world. You see, we want to find a way home."

The senior nodded. "Of course," he said, "it shall be as you said." The bargain was struck.

After introducing them to Master Flynn, who described what would be their duties in the kitchen, Brother Sebastian brought Paul and Larry, as well as Artie and Alan, who insisted on shadowing them everywhere, into his workshop.

"I have been thinking on something you said, yesterday when we were searching. You said that you were pulled through something into this world, and that someone was very selective in what they allowed to come here with you," Sebastian said. "What does that mean? How do you know this?"

Paul thought for a moment. "As I said yesterday, I only have a hypothesis—perhaps only a collection of facts and questions. I also have some strongly held beliefs that probably influence how I think. The scientific method helps me collect facts and arrive at conclusions that are not colored by beliefs.

"Here is what I know. Larry and I were in our world. Now, we are in a different world. We were in winter; now it is summer. We were wearing winter clothing; we were found with little more than our . . ."

Paul hesitated, and then continued. "Little more than small clothes. Small clothes is an example of the many differences between our language and the way we spoke in our world and the language and way of speaking, here. I am unable to speak about certain things I know, and this language does not have words for those things. This language does not have words for other things that I know, but I can speak about them.

"My beliefs do not include mysterious and unexplainable forces and mysterious entities that are not human—_or elvish, sorry—_who operate outside the bounds of understandable cause and effect. In fact, my beliefs specifically exclude such things. That's a hard concept to explain, especially given what has happened and what we have seen and experienced.

"The conclusion I have reached, so far, is that someone for some reason has brought us from our world to this one," Paul said. His voice—firm, flat, emotionless—conveyed certainty.

"I conclude that a person or persons are responsible for determining or deciding what came with us and what did not. Whoever that person or persons are, they are responsible for teaching us this language. This person or persons are responsible for preventing us from talking about certain things related to our science and technology.

"Science and technology are two other words that do not exist in this language, but about which I can speak."

"Science and technology?" Brother Sebastian said. "I do not understand."

"It will take much longer than we have, today, to talk about this," Paul said. "We—we four—are due at the weaponsmaster's."

Brother Sebastian nodded, and then chuckled. "You've given me enough to think about for one day," he said. "We will, however, meet again."

Larry's crying woke me that night. He had always cried easily, even though I knew he was really stronger than I was. I rolled over—we were sharing one of the beds—and hugged him. He snuggled closely. After a while, I felt the shaking of his body stop. It was another few moments before he could speak.

"They must think we are dead," he said. "The plane must have crashed when we left. The locator beacon would have gone off. They would have found it. Even if they had to wait until spring, they'd have found it. Wouldn't they?"

I nodded even though I knew he couldn't see me in the darkness. "Yes," I said. "I'm sure our friends would not have given up the search, even though we were not there."

"My parents, your dad, our friends—they think we're dead."

"Probably," I said. "Little Buddy, I don't know what to say. I don't know how to comfort you. Please help me?"

I wondered if perhaps our bodies were in the wreckage, on a mountainside in Wyoming. I wondered what people would have thought if we—or our bodies—weren't in the wreckage. I wondered if the wreckage, itself, was still in our world. I wondered if perhaps we were still alive in that other world, and were pursuing an entirely different future from that which we were experiencing, here. My mind spun with these and even more fanciful possibilities until I accepted that I'd probably never know, and that I had more important things to worry about, Larry being the most important of those things.

We had had some pretty wonderful sex before we had gone to sleep. Even though this thing called boy magic seemed to be responsible for a capacity for repeated, even serial orgasms, I knew that was not what was needed at this moment. I kissed Larry gently, and pulled him close. "I love you, Larry. Whatever has happened, whatever will happen, I will always love you—in this world or any other. We'll make it work, somehow, because we're together."

That seemed to work. Larry hugged me and returned the kiss. Then, his arms relaxed and his breathing became slow and regular. He was asleep. Knowing that he was at his ease, I followed almost immediately.

There were two kitchen crews. Larry and I were assigned to the morning shift, which began just before dawn but ended after the lunch dishes were washed. That wasn't as bad as it might sound. There is little artificial light, and we were learning to go to bed at dark. Besides, the afternoon shift prepared the bread. It rose in the residual warmth of the ovens overnight, and all we had to do was bake it.

Our morning shift did not mean that afternoons were free. Honoring their commitment to prepare us to face World, the monks-who-are-not-monks offered training in magic, physical sciences, geography and history, and armed combat.

A ten-day or so after our first discussion, Brother Sebastian called us to his laboratory, but not to teach us. He wanted to continue our conversation about science and technology.

"Science is simply a way of looking at reality," I said. "We see something that happens—a thunderstorm, for example—and we wonder: why does it rain? Why does lightning flash? Why is there thunder? Why does it stop raining?"

I had thought of this example because there had been a thunderstorm the day before. Everyone had been quite excited. We were with Artie and Alan, in a history class, which consisted of listening to one of the men tell about a great war between Light and Dark that had been waged "a thousand lifetimes ago," and which had involved a hero named Colin and his companion, Ara, or Arabion. At the first clap of thunder, Artie and Alan ran to a window, and urged us to come look. The teacher didn't seem surprised or upset that the lesson had been interrupted, so we joined the boys at the window.

Neither Larry nor I were impressed by the storm, and it was a long time before we understood the boys' excitement.

"The first step is questioning," I continued my impromptu lesson in the scientific method, relying on the ancient words of Peter Abelard. "For only by questioning can we come to understanding.

"The second step is observation—trying to answer questions by looking at what we see. For example, we see that thunder is usually preceded by lightning; that a gentle rain usually falls from low, flat, clouds. We see that storms are often associated with puffy clouds in warm or hot weather, and that those clouds often rise very high into the air.

"We collect these facts, these observations, and then we draw tentative conclusions, for example, that since lightning precedes thunder, lightning causes thunder.

"Then we try to determine the physical causes. In this case, lightning, which is very hot, causes the air very quickly to expand around the lightning bolt creating a compression wave in the surrounding air. Then the air is pushed back into the near vacuum that is created, it creates another wave. Those waves hit our eardrum and are interpreted—"

"I'm going too fast," I said in response to several glassy-eyed looks I had received.

"Yeah," Artie said. "And it's a lot simpler than that. It's giants who live in the clouds hitting each other with war hammers, anyway."

Artie's giggle helped me understand that he didn't really believe that, but it gave me an opening to my next point. "Giants, if they existed at all, couldn't live in clouds. That is a fanciful and fun way of answering the question. It is suitable for a child's tale. But it is not science."

"Trolls are giants," Alan said. "At least, they're usually bigger than any human or elf. But you're right, they don't live in clouds. They live in the mountains."

I put aside Alan's assertion that there were trolls, and continued my explanation of a thunderstorm, albeit a little more simply. After two hours of discussions, I felt that Brother Sebastian had a good understanding of the scientific method, and I had forgotten about trolls.

The fall equinox was marked by a festival in the nearby village. More important, it reminded me of how long we had been here.

All the boys were excited about visiting the festival, but none more than Alan, who offered to purchase treats for us all. I was reluctant to accept. We had not needed money. In fact, we had not known or thought about money until he showed us the coins he would use to pay for the pastries.

"I don't think we can accept," I said. "We have no way to repay you . . ."

I saw and felt a deep sense of loss, of disappointment, and of confusion from Alan.

"Alan! I'm sorry. What did I say that was wrong? Please help me understand."

"I thought that we were friends," he said. "I do not bargain for friendship, nor can it be bought and sold like a—like a pastry."

He turned his face from me, and I felt a wall forming between us. I was stunned. Here, a boy who was hardly into his teens was lecturing me about the most important thing in any world: friendship.

"Alan, I am sorry. You are right." I thought back over the relationship among Larry, Alan, Artie, and me. "There has never been a tit-for-tat . . ."

I saw that he was puzzled, and used his own language. "There has never been a quid pro quo among the four of us. Each of us has brought something to our relationship."

The words, in his language, got through to him.

"How do you know Elvish?" he asked. It was a safe question, one that would perhaps put off the question that threatened to break our bonds.

"It's like a language spoken on our world," I said. "It's called Latin. It's the root language of about half of the words in our mother tongue." I did not add that it was the language of the mass, and of the Catholic school I'd attended until I was 12.

Alan hugged me, and I felt not only his forgiveness, but something else, as well. Something I could not put a name to.

The festival was much more than I had expected. I thought perhaps since it was near harvest time, that it would be like the J'ville farmers market. There were farmers—including some from the monastery—offering fall vegetables. The two bakers in the village set up next to one another, and conducted a friendly competition as they lured people to try this pastry or that. The blacksmith's booth held not only plowshares and pitchforks, but swords, daggers, and a long dagger-like thing that Alan named a poniard.

I remembered reading about Punch and Judy puppet shows, and understood that what we watched was this world's version of those, but with a twist. Punch and Judy shows were full of physical violence, of angry words between the two puppets. I think I remember Punch being a drunk, but I wasn't sure.

The puppet shows we saw at the festival were about history, about conflict between good and evil. And at least two of the stories included dragons which flew by threads from the top of the tiny stage—and which had riders.

I was unprepared for anything as fanciful as a dragon, much less one which could be tamed and ridden, and treated this as part of a child's story.

"We talked about science," Brother Sebastian said. "There was another word you used: technology."

In that way, he introduced the subject of the afternoon's discussion, and threw the ball into my lap. I thought for a few minutes before replying. Brother Sebastian did not hurry me. I realized, at that moment, that no one at the monastery was ever in a hurry, and wondered why. Then, I addressed his unspoken question.

"Are conditions here similar to those elsewhere in this world?" I asked. "Are there machines more complex than . . . oh, the grist mill in the village? More complex than the pumps that bring water from the wells to the cistern?

Brother Sebastian thought for several minutes before replying. "The grist mill, with its wheel and gears and millstone is perhaps a little less complex than flax mills, which turn the rotary motion of water wheels into the up-and-down motion of hammers. I have seen pumps driven by wind vanes, such as may power a grist mill. But no machines more complex than that.

"Technology is simply putting the results of scientific understanding to work," I said. "Technology is the application of the simple machines of the wheel, lever, inclined plane, pulley, wedge, and screw to perform work. In the most basic form, a simple machine changes the direction or magnitude of a force."

Artie looked at me both raptly and with a question in his mind. I knew I'd gone too fast, and spent the rest of the afternoon demonstrating. He was a quick study, as was Brother Sebastian. These monks were conversant with the lever, the wheel and axle, the pulley, the inclined plane and wedge. The screw, including Archimedes' use of a screw inside a tube to move water, was new to them, however.

Afterwards, I wondered if introducing new technology had been a good idea.

"Is that all?" Brother Sebastian asked.

I shook my head. "There are many things about our technology about which we cannot speak. It is not only that there are no words, but it is as if our mouths are sealed. We simply cannot speak of them.

"My conclusion is that someone doesn't want us to talk about our technology. That is the only logical explanation I can fathom."

Brother Sebastian nodded. "Do you have any idea who might have done this, or why?"

"No," Paul said. "Nor do I know how. But I will find out."

I did not add what I was planning to do to whoever that had been. I didn't think it would be appropriate to introduce thumb-screws to these people who seemed to be so gentle.

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