Read A Tale of Two Castles Online

Authors: Gail Carson Levine

A Tale of Two Castles (16 page)

Chapter Twenty-Eight

W
as there a dragon? Did I do it?”

I didn't have to think. “There would have been a struggle as well. You didn't do it. But I knew that already.”

The ridges above ITs eyes rose. “Ah. You have already exonerated me.” IT sat up and picked ITs teeth with a skewer. “Undoubtedly the attacker planned to create signs of a struggle. If Nesspa had not barked and given warning—unintentionally, certainly—you might have caught him or her at it. Someone wants the folk of Two Castles to believe in the lion, and most do believe, save us deep thinkers.”

“Then who or what attacked the ox?”

“Yes, who? Who indeed?”

I considered. “A person with a rake. Someone the ox trusted. Someone he wouldn't run from.”

“But who? You stayed in the castle. You may know better than I.”

“The stable master Gise . . . The grooms and stable hands. Master Dess, the animal physician . . . no animal fears him. And the beasts may be used to Master Thiel if he often sleeps in the stable.”

“You are ready to accuse handsome Thiel?”

To cover my discomfort, I helped myself to a handful of cheese squares. I no longer knew what Master Thiel might do.

IT said, “He was with you. He couldn't have interrupted himself. May he be exonerated too?”

I hoped he might be, but I wasn't sure. “Perhaps he was frightened off before I came.”

“Then someone else would have discovered the ox.”

“Anything might have startled him.” I frowned, searching for ideas. “The grooms exercise His Lordship's steeds in the outer ward. At the sound of hooves Master Thiel—or anyone else—would have run without looking back, but the grooms might not have rounded the tower. Then he might have gone with me to discover the ox, which he knew was there.”

“That is cold-hearted enough for Thiel. Anyone else?”

I hesitated, hating to say the words. “His Lordship as himself, not as a lion. But why would he maul his own ox?”

“I doubt he did. Common sense deems it unlikely.”

I felt tears coming. “He is likely dead, isn't he, Masteress?”

“Common sense says yes, but induction and deduction have not yet proved the result.”

I swallowed the tears. “He may be alive?”

“Or dead. We may never know.”

I felt like a bird that kept rising and then being thrown to earth.

“I will hate not to know. Not knowing will gnaw at my liver. Dragons have livers, too, Lodie.”

“Masteress, whoever mauled the ox wanted to en-
danger His Lordship, right?”

“I can think of no other reason.”

“Does that person know for certain that His Lordship lives?”

“It would seem so, but that conclusion is not proven either.”

I sighed, then yawned in spite of myself.

“Lodie . . . when Thiel was mending His Lordship's plates, did you notice his satchel?”

I missed nothing when it came to Master Thiel. “It was at his elbow.”

“Did it lie flat?”

“No. I saw the angles of his tools through the cloth.”

“Think, Lodie.”

I was too tired to think.

IT waited.

The plate mender rarely came to our cottage on Lahnt. Poor people learned not to be fumble-fingered.

What were a mender's tools? A glue pot. Thiel's had been on the hearth. A glue jar. Next to the sack. Two or three clamps, which would occupy little space. I could think of nothing more.

No!

Yes. “Some of His Lordship's goblets and bowls and such were in the sack.” I marveled. “With Sir Misyur in the hall, too.”

“Thiel is a master thief, light-fingered enough to steal a man's beard.”

I smiled at the idea.

Enh enh enh.

“And Pardine is a master thief among cats,” I said. “He must have taken my copper.”

“Very likely.”

“Do you think Master Thiel is the thief His Lordship told us of, who made off with the linens, the wall hanging . . .” I'd forgotten what else.

“Also very likely.”

He had probably taken Master Dess's cow, too. But we still didn't know who the poacher was. Or, most of all, who had signaled the cats.

“How can Master Thiel make people like him and then rob them?”

“Speculation exhausts the mind, Lodie.”

“Do you think His Lordship discovered Master Thiel's thievery?”

“Possibly.”

“And so Master Thiel set the cats on His Lordship and mauled the ox?”

“Perhaps, Elodie.”

“Elodie? But I'm speculating!”

“You are deducing.”

Deducing when IT called it so, speculating when IT called it so. How happy I was to be back in ITs company!

“Be wary of Thiel.”

I imagined him, not only his form but also his friendliness, his way of setting everyone at ease. “Is he the one you think the most likely?”

“There is an entire town and a castle to choose among.”

I couldn't help yawning again.

“You would like to sleep?”

ITs voice had a lilt I hadn't heard before. IT plodded to the new curtain and drew it back.

“Lambs and calves!” Three big pillows mounded under a linen sheet (no blanket needed in the lair). A small pillow lay at one end of the bed—a pillow for my head, such as rich folk had. I ran my palm across the linen, which was smooth as butter. The pillows were soft as white bread.

“I layered straw under the pillows.”

I sat. “I'll float!” I had never slept in such a fine bed.

“The straw is fresh. The pillows are stuffed with down, and the linen is scrupulously clean, as are the pillow covers. Good night, Lodie.” IT pulled the curtain closed.

“Good night, Masteress Meenore.” I shed my kirtle and slid under the sheet in my chemise. My last memory before sleep is of pushing the little pillow aside.

I woke up remembering what I'd failed to report last night.

IT had cooked pottage for breakfast, and IT watched me closely as I put the first spoonful into my mouth. “Do you like it?”

I nodded and managed not to spit out the mouthful, but there were limits to my mansioning.

IT took my bowl away. “I will prepare skewers. What did I do wrong?”

“The beans have to be cooked first.”

“Ah. I enjoy them raw.”

Certainly, if you can cook them in your stomach.

“You may cube the cheese.”

I began to cut. “The princess is betrothed again.” I explained.

“Mmm.”

I hated
Mmm
! “What do you conclude, Masteress?”

ITs voice tightened, became
mistressish
, as Father would say. “It is not for an assistant to question her masteress.”

Mmm
, I supposed, was sacred, so I asked something else. “Did you discover anything yesterday before I came?”

“I passed the morning,” IT said, not minding this question, “circling the castle, flying low, scanning for a fleeing mouse or any creature behaving in an untoward manner. But if His Lordship in any shape had been north of the castle while I was south or vice versa, I would have missed him. I cannot deduce that he was not there.”

“In the fields a hawk or an eagle might have caught him.”

“In the afternoon I visited Thiel's brothers. After I threatened to boil away the water in their millstream, they were happy to answer my questions.”
Enh enh enh.

I smiled. “What did they tell you?”

“That Thiel does not live with them, that they know not where he lives, that they saw no one signal the cats, and that they gave no signal themselves. They were abundantly supplied with
no
s, both of them. I peered in a window of the mill house. Every comfort in full measure. Whatever one thinks of Thiel, the old miller was unkind to him.”

“If his father had left him anything, he might not have become a thief.”

“He stole before his father died, Lodie.”

Oh.

The nine-o'clock bells rang.

“Then, in the square, I interrogated this one and that. The townsfolk expect a lion to run up and down the way, dining on people as he goes. They are worth nothing, the lot of them. If His Lordship becomes His Lordship again, he will not last long. He would do better to come back as a lion and really eat them.”

Chapter Twenty-Nine

W
hen we had finished our breakfast, IT announced that we would visit Master Sulow and his troupe. “You say mansioners are observant. We shall find out.”

Master Sulow had seen my performance at the banquet. Had he liked it? Had he hated it?

As I walked to the mansions, missing ITs warmth, IT flew to and fro, ITs shadow scribbling across the landscape. Both of us looked for any animal not acting as it should. Most likely we were too late, but we looked.

Finally the meadow ended. I was close enough to see the cats lolling under the mansions.

My masteress landed and lumbered along at my side. “The villain, whoever he or she is, must object to my questions. You may be in danger. I am near invulnerable, but he or she may attack me through you.”

I shivered, then felt surprise. IT would be injured if I were hurt?

“My wing is an impervious shield. Seek its shelter if need be. Do not stray far from my side until the danger is over.”

I swallowed over a lump in my throat. IT wasn't using common sense. No one would think of harming me to stop IT.

As before, we reached the mansions from the rear. I heard voices calling to one another, the beat of a hammer, the thud of a mallet. Someone laughed. Then came a cry like none I'd ever heard—a bleat, a bray, a deep wail—all three at once.

“That, no doubt, is Master Sulow, portraying himself as a donkey.”
Enh enh enh.

We rounded the side of the purple wagon.

Master Sulow, wearing a bull's mask, strode back and forth before the black mansion. He sounded like nothing human even as he began to blare words: “Whoever imprisons me will die. I am the whelp of a woman, son of a god.”

I had it. This was
Theseus and the Minotaur
. Just as at the count's feast, the next entertainment would be about a beast, this time the bullheaded minotaur, portrayed by Master Sulow.

The front walls had been removed from three mansions. Within the green (for love), trees had been painted on the side walls, and cutouts of trees stood before the back curtain. In the purple (for pomp), a cutout of a castle blocked most of the curtain, and the stage was bare. In the black (for tragedy), the prow of a ship with a single black sail projected from the left-hand wall. Wooden ocean waves, painted blue-green, scalloped the floor.

In front of the mansions a low wooden fence, unfinished,
zigged and zagged and was the source of the hammering and pounding. The apprentices I'd seen at the castle were busy building it, one of the boys steadying the fence while the girl hammered and the other boy held a pail, probably containing nails.

Beyond the fence, four rows of benches had been set facing each open mansion. These seats would accommodate those willing to pay extra for comfort. The rest—called the
tin audience
, because they paid only a tin or two—would stand.

A group of journeyman mansioners and older apprentices stood by the closed yellow mansion, closed because there was no comedy in
Theseus and the Minotaur
. I recognized the minstrel from the ogre's feast. The journeymen spoke lines to one another, softly enough that they didn't compete with their master, who was trying his lines one way after another. Now he alternated an animal and a human voice. The first made me fear the beast; the second made me pity him.

Experimenting further, he began softly and rose to a rage, animal the whole while. Next he gave an all-human reading drenched in bitterness.

He surpassed Albin and all the mansioners I'd admired in Lahnt. Not merely surpassed. The gulf that separated genius from talent stretched between. If he'd accepted me as an apprentice, how much I could have learned!

And if I'd stayed with Master Sulow, I wouldn't have grown to love His Lordship. I'd be free of the grief that traveled everywhere with me.

But I wouldn't have discovered inducing, deducing, and using my common sense.

Master Sulow removed his mask. “Meenore! Young Elodie or Lodie or any other name you prefer!” Holding the mask, he bowed elegantly. “How long have you been watching my wretched attempts?”

Had he truly been unaware of us?

I curtsied. IT inclined ITs head.

“Come! I will not refuse you food today.” He led us to the yellow mansion and opened the door. “Please come in, Lodie.”

“Elodie.”

“Serve us out here, if you please, Sulow. Your mansion is impossible for me, as you know.”

I was being protected. I felt embarrassed, as if Master Sulow would guess that Masteress Meenore didn't trust him.

He entered the mansion and returned in a few minutes with a tray that held a bowl of apples (again), a smaller bowl of dried apricots and walnuts, a sliced honey cake, and a bowl for each of us. He set the tray on the bench in the first row before the purple mansion. Gallantly he motioned me to sit.

I did, and he took his place on the other side of the tray. IT settled ITself before us, positioned to see Master Sulow and his mansioners and to raise a wing between me and an attacker.

The three of us followed the custom of serving one another.

“Tomorrow afternoon we perform the whole of the minotaur tale, not merely Theseus's scenes. It is rarely performed in its entirety, Elodie.”

Ordinarily I would have wanted to see the play more than anything, but now I wanted most to find His Lordship—or His Lordship's killer.

IT put an apple in Master Sulow's bowl and ate one ITself, core and stem. “Why more mansioning on the subject of a monster?”


More
means more than one, Meenore. We were unable to perform
Beauty and the Beast
.”

I burst out, “Your minstrel sang about a giant slayer and a giant. A giant is a monster.”

“Young Elodie, my audience is in a mood for monsters. Meenore, would you grill white cheese if your customers preferred yellow?”

“I can turn white to yellow with my flame, and a mansioner as skilled as you can turn anything to anything.”

I smiled with pride. How clever my masteress was.

“No one has eaten any walnuts.” Master Sulow put two in my bowl and three in ITs.

I passed one back to him.

He cocked his head toward his three apprentices. “One will be a tolerable mansioner if I heckle and hound him ceaselessly. The girl shows promise as a carpenter, which I can always use, but the third might as well be a piece of cheese for all the good he will do me. If you hadn't come, Meenore, I would have sought you out.”

My stomach fluttered.

“Why?” IT asked.

“To apologize. I own up when I'm wrong, unlike some conceited dragons.”

“I am never wrong.”
Enh enh enh.

“To apologize to Elodie.” He turned to me.

My heart fluttered.

“I regret that your improvisation for His Lordship's guests was cut short.”

“Th-thank you.”

“I should have taken you when I saw your Thisbe. I'll be honored if you apprentice with me.”

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