The castle was a relatively unimpressive sight. Despite being one of the country’s busiest, it wasn’t built in any way that made it seem a dominating force over its surroundings, nor a sanctuary of the landscape. Eamonn felt there was no feeling of command or character for those passers-by to marvel at or to admire. It was, however, the perfect setting for the sorts of lives that unfolded throughout the area.
Castle Faraday wasn’t the largest of castles in the country of Aylesbury. However, it did make up for it in its importance. It acted as a key road block in the heart of the country’s east. Being the only significant landmark within ten leagues, it was the only real source of supplies and food meaning all major traffic was forced to pass through the dwelling in order to resupply or to continue on to further destinations. Checkpoints patrolled the castle’s borders and all served to keep an eye on movement within and without the walls of the keep.
What’s more, it was also only a few days ride to the borders of Aylesbury’s neighbouring allies including Azarowa farther to the east, Rozelle to the south, Merrindale to the far north and Normlieth to the south-west. Added to that was Caledonia, the corrupt nation that languished in the dark foothills between Azarowa and Normlieth.
The castle served as a military post for the country’s armies that made their way to those nations in times of need. At all times, a force of fifteen-hundred soldiers were kept on rotation throughout the province’s grounds, some were on simple guard duty at the castle, others were sent out on patrol duties and acted as additional men throughout some of the larger towns nearby and many others were placed in the academy as either instructors or were undertaking training themselves. Finally, there were those that were kept on a more permanent housing basis at posts further afield that were on hand if ever a large force needed to be mobilised.
Faraday’s well manned fortress also brought some welcome entertainment to the locals. Monthly prized tournaments brought champions from around the country as well as international competitors looking to make some gold and often brought their wives or partners along with the new season’s stylings for the women interested in the latest fashion trends.
The scenes of the tournaments painted a rather attractive picture for younger men in the area, seeing the idolized champions come and go and women flocking toward them on the off chance of meeting them and of course the servants who supplied them with their every command. Even graduated members held such men in high regard. In short, the tournaments proved to be an additional driving force for recruits to improve and for the older soldiers to retain their competitive edge.
Unfortunately, as a major hub, politics tended to take control of the general running of the place, with Baron Maddox at the helm. He was tasked with maintaining the general standards of the keep and allocating recruits such as Eamonn and Sam to the different factions made available to them.
The Baron was a busy man at all times, sending out messengers or meeting with his exulted guests, while dealing with the rigors of the diplomats who seemed to be constantly bringing less than pleasant news from afar. These diplomats would often act as representatives, with their signed parchments from allied countries and the country’s provinces bearing the insignia of an official. Maddox of course, had his own entourage of officials who were perfectly capable of tending to such matters, but he felt the responsibility of work deeply and he was realist enough to know that if things were to fall into chaos, he would need to be the one to put things right again.
What few people knew was that Maddox was also one of the only people proficient with dealing with the egotistical minds of other leaders, where he saw responsibility and the need for guidance, other men in his position saw power and wealth and the opportunity to warp others’ minds towards their own agendas. Because of this, he was a strong supporter to have whenever he was called up by his allies for assistance, and he often was. It placed Maddox as the means of contact for others seeking the help of Aylesbury to shield them from impending attacks, whether they be physical or political.
In short, as Eamonn would later reflect on, Faraday was the heartbeat of the eastern regions of Aylesbury, the finances and goods it acquired rippled through to the rest of the country. Its trade importing and exporting opportunities meant lower tax levies placed on the people needing to bring supplies into the country, which helped to keep the persisting problems with smugglers at bay.
The boys entered through the main gates, each taking a moment to comment on the make-up of the castle grounds. In particular they remarked on the simplistic styling that was adopted in the draw-bridge and the towers they could see from afar. Having crossed the drawbridge, they could see the academy barracks off to the left of the entrance. There were the stables positioned to the immediate left as to accommodate those new arrivals with horses. From there, the walkway widened out to an expansive area, surprisingly though many areas were zoned as off limits to regular townsfolk and men could be seen patrolling the laneways, watching as people approached and only allowing those who carried written permission from the Baron in and refusing entry to anyone else.
To the right were the markets and the homes of the wealthy, Sam remembered how his mum was fond of saying “Location is key. The prime living arrangements are difficult to come by, those in greatest view of the public were well sought after and attracted many visitors when open.” Taking his mother’s words into consideration, Sam figured that these establishments would be well furnished and generally very pricy to own, particularly as they afforded its occupants a place within the safety of the castle walls and the protection of the men-at-arms.
Further down was a range of houses. They lined the narrow streets towards the southernmost tower and would house soldiers visiting throughout their travels, as well as acting as the temporary sleeping quarters for messengers waiting to make their address to Maddox before they returned home with the Baron’s response. There was also the most frequently used road that led straight on from the drawbridge to the main castle structures and the other towers, including the Baron’s office and quarters.
The drawbridge would be opened for most of the day Eamonn knew. Once it reached full dark though, the bridge would be closed off, meaning late night visitors had two options, wait on the outskirts of the grounds, or gain entry via the double garrisoned path to the north-west. Those on duty were not to be trifled with, it was well known for people to be tossed out without so much as a word of explanation about their arrival, Faraday were always on their guard, even towards officials.
Their attitudes were slightly better during summer, without the added depressives like the driving cold or the constant threat of attack, they tended to greet people with a stern reminder and slap on the wrist. Nevertheless, day or night entrants were always required to undergo a standard procedure of identification and were made to answer simple questions to clarify their intentions for visiting. Being such an important dwelling, a guard could ill-afford to become complacent, even with the locals. In turn, each person would receive an officially stamped note with arrival time and the time allowances for that particular person within the grounds, over time such a note had adopted the name of ‘time pass’.
Visitors with official business with the Baron or those that had been summoned to the castle grounds were exempted from a time pass. Since the Baron and his associates were busy in their days, they could never fulfill all of the requests placed on them. Instead, these visitors received an altered time pass that granted them access to a list of buildings inside the castle, it did however, include a restriction of departure until such time as their business was completed, commoners on the other hand were given the liberty to come and go as they pleased once they had their time pass.
Eamonn and Sam, being summoned for official business, would be receiving the alternate time pass. Approaching the main gates, they were ushered into the line on the northern side where four guards were on duty. One was at the head of the column with full view of the goings on in his line while one acted as the usher who moved throughout the line and the other two guards were charged with inspecting each person that arrived. Eamonn quickly grabbed his and Sam’s letter of summons from their bags. Checking for his name, he handed the other letter to Sam. “Move up” instructed the ushering guard and Eamonn quickly took his letter from his pocket to show the inspector.
“Here to see the Baron for assignments” he said to the guard, briskly the guard nodded his understanding, taking the letter, he scribbled some notes on the letter, “Here is your alternate time pass” he said, “you are forbidden to leave the grounds until you have met with the Baron, however if he cannot see you today, you are welcome to use the temporary sleeping barracks in the housing estate in the southern quadrant”. Quickly, the guard gave Eamonn his pass and waved him through and set his sights on the next arrival. Two new guards approached the man at the head of the column, calling for Eamonn’s letter again as they arrived to read through it, “Baron’s office is directly through the town square” the guard told the boy. Eamonn nodded curtly and pushed through the mob of people by the entrance.
Eamonn stumbled momentarily and, after hearing a garbled insult from a less-than-pleased mature-aged woman whose foot he’d trodden on, he turned to look for his companion. He wasn’t surprised to see Sam was still busy with his inspection. He went for a closer look and shook his head with frustration as he realized that Sam had misplaced his notice and was having trouble explaining his reasons for visiting. Sighing inwardly, Eamonn forced his way through the crowd of people to get to his friend. The column guard turned quickly and tried pushing Eamonn back, “I need to help my friend.” he told him, the man looked at the boy, saw the look of innocence there and let him through.
Eamonn held out his letter, pushing his way back through the line and tapped the guard on the shoulder, “He’s with me.” he told the guard, presenting his summons letter to the guard for critiquing. Finally Sam managed to find his own letter and handed his on to the inspector, there was a brief moment as the guard looked through the letters and handed back the notice, “they’re good” he said to the boys. He curled his lip at Sam, “Meet with the Baron, but until then you are to remain inside the castle grounds, I’ve assigned you cots in the building by the water fountain if you need them” he turned his attention back to his next arrival, not before eyeing Sam darkly as the boy walked through, the guard hated maiden arrivals.
Eamonn showed his pass to the column guard again, the man nodding at Eamonn, “Go there directly, I’ll know if you don’t” he barked rather unnecessarily. Eamonn grabbed Sam by the shoulder and led him through the mass of people occupying the castle entrance.
Together they stood inside the castle now, admiring the size of the place and taking it all in, neither of them had been inside the castle before. They hadn’t had an opportunity or any reason to. Eamonn was sure they could have come with Darcey some time when she had attended the markets each month, but she needed them to look after the house. From experience they had known she was generally away for up to a couple of days at a time, and needed to spend time keeping the house clean in her absence.
Eamonn marveled at the sights and smells of the market stalls, if this was just an ordinary market, he couldn’t imagine how absurdly crowded it was at the monthly one. He took a moment to get his bearings again, smiling as Sam continued to gape at the ongoing torrent of shop keepers haggling with their customers or the sizzling of meats in their cooking fires. Looking into the far reaches of the central area, Eamonn saw the sign leading up before the tower. He pushed his way through the crowd again, pulling on Sam’s shoulder as he led the way to the Baron’s office.