The Queen of Mastakara Chapter 3

In which Barrister recalls the departure of his father

Granville had been observed departing from the White Castle. Barrister had heard his brother rise from the next room and he was always curious about his brother’s movements. Sometimes it would be some kind of prank and Granville was usually the butt of the humour. Barrister had grown so accustomed to water being spilled on his head or toads for bedfellows that he could now almost sense where his brother was without seeing or hearing him. On this occasion he had heard Granville stumble around in the dark looking for his clothes. Barrister had woken instantly from a half sleep from dreams in which he was alone on a high hill overlooking a bleak sea while a single ship with torn sails was thrown from trough to crest as though by the hands of a giant juggler. He had crept from his bed and hidden behind the wooden door of his chamber.

Waiting in the period when the sun is just below the horizon but its light has only begun to taint the sky above the horizon, Barrister thought about his dream. It had doubtless been fired by the night’s storm that had woken him several times with the violence of the thunder and lightening, but the dream in contradiction to the reality had been calm and enervated and coloured by eerie silence. He had enjoyed the solitude, the bleakness of the scenery, the height from which he had gazed like some gaunt carved god.

Barrister often had vivid dreams and they were better than the life of torture he endured with his older brother. He waited now, hidden in the shade, feeling as though he was still in the dream and imagining the whistling of the wind and the sharp salty taste of the sea air, imagining a world where Granville did not exist. Then he heard retreating steps and he knew that Granville was going out.

It would be fishing. He had talked of nothing else for the last weeks, an obsession with an old trout that lurked in the Gorge Bendure waters.

Barrister sent up a prayer to his private Giriadier. The prayer was confused: Images of Granville’s successful escape, catching of the trout and subsequent good humour, warred with those of Granville falling concussed into the gorge and disappearing forever from the world. Barrister fought to conquer the negative image. He had no real wish to see his brother dead; if only to avert future bad luck or spiritual repercussions.

Barrister waited as the light crept through the slits in the shutter to suffuse his room. As often happens when one is half asleep, the familiar surroundings took on an unfamiliar aspect. His eyes saw the curtained four-poster bed, the stone floors and the lush Keefer rug, the candleholders and the single large wooden cupboard that contained his clothes. However, his mind transformed these mundane objects into features of a wonderland. He seemed at once big and small and the objects at first the trappings and gear of a giant and then those of a colony of dwarves or elves. The colours would change hue even as he watched, moving from blurred drab hues to vivid preternatural hues as though some alchemist was mixing up liquids in a series of beakers of variegated glass.

On the back stone wall his long sword and shield hung, catching the fragmented light of the new dawn. As a baron’s son Barrister was expected to be able to wield these weapons by the time he was fifteen. His older brother was proficient at the age of fourteen.

Within his half dream state it seemed at one moment the weapons were the impossible treasure of some long forgotten warrior, enchanted with spells so intricate that they would be beyond touching and then again he himself seemed like the warrior and the weapons the familiar extensions of his own powerful arms.

All the ambiguities of his own position in the Leath overcame him, the absurdity of his own intelligent roving mind and the duller confident Granville, his own strength of build and the slimmer but quicker Granville, his own reticence and Granville’s bravery; all this seemed to come up like a tidal wave and overwhelm him. In it all he saw the face of his father as he last remembered him.

The baron had returned alone having remembered some last detail in the preparations for the Canope expedition and doubtless being too impatient to trust his men with the task. The castle drawbridge was still open after the great exodus, the Leath company out in the fields organizing the peasantry and the hunters, all his warriors abroad in a din and noise; and in that moment when the remaining castle soldiery, only a skeleton garrison, were all busy with some kind of preparations, there had only been his father, gaunt and austere, clad in black amour bearing the crest and emblem of his house: Only his father, seemingly attached to his black horse as a sword to a sheath, who stared downwards at Barrister with his deep blue eyes in a long, strange moment of bewildering complexity – and a silence seemed to enwrap Barrister as though all the noises of the preparations, the horses hooves, the clanking of arms were all outside a glass case and he was an imprisoned fish suspended in water with his father staring down. His father had looked once, ridden on through the eaves of the portcullis and then, having got what he needed, he took the horse out at a walk before cantering through the open bridge out into the black.

All the while Barrister had remained, a small and lonely boy, standing in the great archway of the portcullis. Seven years old and alone and his father had said nothing.

Even now when he thought about it he asked the question whether his father, in the confusion and dust and stour, had known it was his son. If he had known why not speak one last word of tenderness. If he had not, how could a father not know his son?

Barrister had remained on the bridge for over two hours looking out as the scattering of torches and campfires had gradually died to a solitary fire some two miles off. Even now and so for the rest of his life, Barrister would always ask the question of his Giriadier and the answer would remain as inscrutable and undiscoverable as that tiny distant campfire on the wide rolling plains of Leath.

A spear of light flicked from the long sword on the wall momentarily distracting him from his reverie. For a second he stared at the sword and then he ran on tiptoes to the window throwing open the shutters to look where the sea like the grass plains of Leath made its eternal dance. The sun would be rising like a God from the water to clip his restless waves and the whole of the Western wall of castle Leath, the long flat wall, would blazon with reflected glory and the white walls and turrets like the clean jawbone of a giant horse, would be seen the from the Cuff and beyond.

Inside the castle inhabitants would stir, shutters would be flung wide for the sea air and the women would soon be warring with the gulls and sea hawks for the privilege of placing webbed feet or washed hose and linen on the lines. By full morning those fortunate few on the higher balconies would be eating fresh sea trout, winkles, clams and crabs dressed with herbs and fine salads drawn from the plains of Leath but before this there would be a short lull when private prayers and offerings were made to the household Giriadier. In this lull Barrister was determined to find out what Granville was doing.

Barrister dressed quickly making hasty ill-considered prayers. It was always wise to know what Granville’s plans were because then Barrister could plan how to circumnavigate them. At best he could avoid Granville all day. At worst he could be prepared for the bent of his foul humour.

From his keen sensitivity to his brother’s movements he knew that Granville had headed in the direction of the keep. As an accomplished spy that could mean two possibilities: The pigeon loft which Granville loved or the secret passage that led to the ‘scape. Within moments he knew that his brother had determined not to spend an hour or so tending the doves but was instead leaving the castle for the Gorge Bendure waters.

The secret entrance to the ‘scape was placed in a recess to the left of the back stairwell. Here access was possible from the sleeping chambers of the House of Leath, his mothers chambers upstairs on the second level and the brothers on this the third level. From long habit and secrecy he always placed a hair at the bottom of the hanging tapestry (a gift from the lighthouse girls) which disguised the hidden alcove, which in turn led to the long stairwell, and tunnels of the ‘scape.

The hair had been moved. Granville was after his trout.

Barrister smiled inwardly, although the smile could not find its way to his face. Carefully he replaced the hair. It was unlikely that Granville would return this way. He felt a great weight roll off his shoulders.

Back in his room he stoked and set the fire, watching until the flames were high and then dashing the fire down before he set the cauldron on the grill. His movements were practiced, even confident, when his older brother was gone, but his face remained an immobile expressionless mask.

Even as he washed in the stone bath, rubbing his back with the pumice stone in the lukewarm water thinking back on his strange dream his face betrayed no emotions. In the clear water he could see again the high hill, the bleak sea and the single ship with torn sails. At least he had this facility, he mused, to remember his dreams very clearly. For a long time he had thought this was down to his hatred of his brother: Dreams, the one room that his brother could not unlock. But there had to be more to the contents of this special room. Was a dream just a dream? Why see a ship? Why torn sails? Was the ship a dream ship or had he seen it before somewhere in reality, perhaps from the low cliffs of the Cuff on a visit many years before.’ One day,’ he said aloud, ‘I will enter the world of my dreams and I will never return.’

Almost shy after he had pronounced this solemnity he finished his ablutions. As he looked at the mists curling about the frame of his window Barrister thought again of his father riding out into the black. He dismissed the thought.

‘Better the world of dreams,’ he whispered and the mists enveloped his words.

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