Taranna's death is not the only shock Garia gets when she returns to the castle as they realize she has inadvertantly exposed their plans to discovery. Confined to quarters she faces a scramble to adjust to the changed circumstances. Later, Garia uses her entire musical knowledge attempting to play a dajan, and the following morning causes problems when she visits the bereaved pair.
by Penny Lane
58 - The Best Laid Plans
Disclaimer: The original characters and plot of this story are the property of the author. No infringement of pre-existing copyright is intended. This story is copyright (c) 2011-2012 Penny Lane. All rights reserved.
After Feteran had stumbled past them into the castle Terys returned her attention to the others.
"Jenet! What are you doing here? You're supposed to be resting, isn't that what Margra prescribed?" The Queen swung to Garia. "Explain yourself, milady."
Oh, no! We completely forgot! Stupid, stupid, STUPID! What do I do now? She's mad, too, she called me 'milady' instead of 'Garia' or 'dear'.
"Uh, Your Majesty," Garia stammered, "I forgot, I apologize. It was my mistake, I take full responsibility. It was stupid of me to insist that Jenet came out with us."
Terys regarded Garia severely. "As you wish, milady." She turned to a nearby castle servant. "Please take the Baroness's maid to the infirmary, and make sure that Mistress Margra is informed that she is there."
The man bowed. "As you command, ma'am."
Terys watched the two depart then returned her attention to Garia. "As for you, milady, you will go to your suite and remain there until I come for you. Perhaps we have over-estimated your maturity."
Grounded! And if anybody noticed Jenet and understood what they saw, our whole plan just went splat.
Not to mention Bleskin and his poor wife. What's going to happen there?
First things first.
Garia curtseyed low. "As you command, Your Majesty." She turned to the Guildmaster. "Master Parrel, thank you for your invitation this afternoon. I'll be in touch -" she eyed Terys, "- when I am able."
Parrel bowed. "As you say, milady." He paused, considered saying something to Terys, then decided to wait for a calmer occasion. "I'll leave you now, milady. Your Majesty." He bowed again, then walked off.
"Varna," Terys said, "accompany the Baroness back to her suite and then join me in our own, please."
Garia walked back up the ramps and along the corridors to her rooms, the Queen's younger maid silent behind her.
I think I'd sooner face a hall full of baying Questors than a coldly furious Queen, she thought. I've seen her like it once before, when Yolda got out of order, and I didn't learn my lesson then. Wonder what she'll do? Looks like I'm grounded for the duration, anyhow. How the heck did we all forget that Jenet was supposed to be laid up with a bruised throat?
We were enjoying ourselves, that's how.
Garia reached the door to her suite and gave Varna a brief smile of thanks before entering. As she closed the door behind her Milsy poked her head round the door to the bedroom before joining Garia.
"What's happened?" she asked, concerned by the expression on Garia's face. "Where's Jenet?"
"Jenet's the problem," Garia replied with a sigh. "She was supposed to stay up here nursing a bruised throat, remember? We all forgot."
Milsy's hands flew to her mouth. "Maker! We did forget, didn't we? What happened?"
"The Queen met us at the entrance when we returned, and she isn't happy," Garia said. "If anyone saw Jenet while we were out, or more correctly noticed her, our plan for leaving her here in the castle is out the window." Her face fell. "I think I've been grounded."
"Grounded?" Milsy looked confused. "What do you mean?"
"Oh, it's an Earth expression. It means, roughly, confined to quarters. Uh, not allowed to fly." This explanation seemed to confuse Milsy further. Garia realized Milsy was on her own. "Where's Merizel?"
"I've no idea. She had a message after you left and went out with Bursila. She didn't say where or what for."
"Oh, great. So, what have you been doing while we've been out?"
"I've been practicing walking in these shoes," Milsy said. "And," she added diffidently, "I've been looking at your clothes. I hope you don't mind."
"Of course not, Milsy. After all, you'll be wearing some of them in a few days."
"Thank you, Garia." Milsy frowned. "You wear some very strange things, don't you? I don't know if it's because they are clothes that noble women wear or if they are new designs you brought with you from where you come from. Some of them look very odd."
"Oh. Well, let's go into the dressing room while we wait for the others to come back and you can show me what you found."
It turned out that Milsy had found Garia's riding gear and couldn't quite believe that any woman would be seen wearing breeches. Garia was forced to demonstrate, recounting the story of what had happened the first time she wore them in front of the King. Other items of her exercise gear also fascinated Milsy and she pronounced herself a fan of circle skirts. The two spent a relaxing time in the dressing room before noises through the passage to the sitting room heralded the return of Merizel and her maid.
"Hello, Garia! Look what I've been given!" Merizel held up a bag as she and Bursila joined Garia and Milsy in the bedroom. She noticed the expression on Garia's face. "What's happened? Where's Jenet? She's not hurt, is she?"
Garia sighed. "She is supposed to be, but she went out with me this afternoon, didn't she?"
Merizel's eyes widened. "Oh, no! We got carried away, didn't we? What happened?"
Garia recounted her arrival back at the castle ending with her presumed confinement.
"Oh. Do you think anyone saw her?"
"I've no idea. The point is, if anyone realized that she shouldn't have been there with me at all. Excuse me, Bursila, but people don't notice maids, do they? If you're a noble lady, then you have one. It would have been more obvious if I hadn't had a maid with me."
"But I should have gone with you instead, milady," Bursila said.
"Possibly," Garia agreed, "but, I was so focused on the fact that Jenet had the Guild badge that I forgot she shouldn't have been out at all." She grimaced. "I don't think I would have been comfortable with you wearing the badge, Bursila. That would have been lying, wouldn't it? The guildsmen make a big thing of those badges."
Bursila nodded. "As you say, milady. Where is Jenet now?"
"The Queen sent her to the castle infirmary." Garia scowled. "It's all our fault. If we had thought about this more carefully, Jenet ought to have been sent to the infirmary right away and none of this would have happened."
Garia looked at the bag Merizel was carrying. "What's that? It looks like another instrument."
Merizel beamed. "It is! It's another dajan. Terinar remembered that he saw some old instruments in a store-room they went in while they were searching for those men. It's not as fancy as the one Aunt Vivenne," she blushed saying the name, "gave me, but I've been told it's mine to keep. I'll be able to take it with me when we finally leave for the north." Her face changed. "Oh, no! You don't suppose that we can't go now, do you?"
Garia shrugged. "I've no idea. You heard about Taranna, I suppose?"
"No. What happened to Taranna?"
"I have no details at all, but it looks like she collapsed and died while we were out." Merizel looked shocked. "The Queen started telling us when we arrived back. Unfortunately, she saw Jenet then and got angry with me. I didn't find out any more."
"That's terrible! Oh, the poor woman! Oh, and Captain Bleskin! Just when he was about to set off to enjoy a quiet retirement with his -" Merizel looked upset. She shook her head. "That's terrible," she repeated. She started. "Oh! Feteran! Does this mean..? I don't know." She shook her head again.
"And I'm stuck in here, waiting for the Queen to arrive and shout at me," Garia said.
"But I'm not stuck here," Merizel said. "Let me go out and find out what happened. Um, it might be safer in any case if I'm not here when the Queen arrives."
Garia gave a wry smile. "Thank you for your unwavering support. No, you're right. Go and find out what you can, the Queen isn't annoyed at you, only me. I'll need to wash up and change before dinner, Milsy can help me do that and learn how to be a lady's maid at the same time."
"As you say, Garia. I'll just go and find somewhere to put this," she held up the bag, "and we'll be away. Come, Bursila."
With just the two of them left alone in the suite again Garia and Milsy undressed each other then climbed into the tub to clean up before getting ready for the evening meal. It seemed a huge waste of water for two people so Garia decided to leave it there until Merizel and Bursila returned. Previously she would have grossed out at sharing bath water with others but life on Anmar had cured her of that early on. The two dried each other and returned to the dressing room to find something to wear.
They were still going through the rails in their underwear when noises indicated others entering the suite. With fluffy robes around them they emerged to find Terys, Margra and Merizel waiting in her sitting room with their maids.
"Please be seated," the Queen said. She came straight to the point. "Garia, dear, you have made an error of judgment today but I ought not to have scolded you on the steps of the castle entrance." She thought a moment before continuing, "However, despite that, it may serve to our advantage. This is not an appropriate time to talk of such matters, though. I have just visited the infirmary to speak to Jenet, finding Margra already there. Jenet tells me that you all forgot about her throat injury, even she did herself. Therefore, it would not be appropriate to make you entirely responsible for what happened today, although you must accept as any noble does that you bear formal responsibility for the actions of your staff."
Terys sighed. "I forget that you are yet so young, child. I also forget, sometimes, that you come from somewhere else entirely and that you are not yet completely familiar with our ways and customs. The present circumstance -" Terys waved a hand to indicate their surroundings, "- must be completely unlike anything you would be familiar with in Kansas, must it not? While there is much on Earth which would be strange to us so there will still be much here that will confuse you from time to time. It is therefore understandable that on occasion our plans may fail despite our most careful efforts."
Garia bowed her head. "Thank you, Your Majesty. What happened was thoughtless of us. One of us should have remembered the plan at least."
"As you say, dear. Now, we are left with a new circumstance and must add that to our schemes. Margra and I have decided that she examined Jenet this morning and gave permission for her to accompany you on your visit to the miners' hall. On your return Margra examined her again and discovered that she ought not to have been permitted to go, prescribing her complete rest in the infirmary for some days to come." Terys looked steadily at Garia as she explained, "That will ensure that the mistake is not made again."
"As you wish, ma'am."
"As for yourself, we have decided that my public displeasure at your taking Jenet shall serve a useful purpose, that is, you will have to stay up here in this corridor until the time comes for you to return to the palace. That will provide sufficient reason for your absence from the other parts of the castle."
"But, ma'am," Garia objected, "does that mean I'll have to take all my meals up here? What about exercising? And the frayen? We can't go all that time without visiting them."
"Yes, you'll have to eat most of your meals in here, dear." Terys indicated Milsy. "That will help keep your shadow away from public gaze... and provide her with sufficient food. As for exercises and frayen, well," Terys thought for a moment, "yes, you may perform those duties, but not as often as you otherwise might. And you shall have a strong escort whenever you leave our corridor, is that understood?"
Garia reluctantly agreed, "As you command, ma'am."
"There will be one or two formal meals which will require your presence in the dining hall," Terys added, "Including, I regret, a funeral meal. We met Merizel in the infirmary and discovered none of you knew what had happened to poor Taranna. That is the reason Margra has accompanied us here. Margra?"
"Thank you, ma'am," the palace Healer said. She turned to Garia. "Milady, Taranna rose after her afternoon nap and about a bell later complained of pains in her left chest and arm, about here," she indicated on her own body. "She has suffered such pains before and we have prescribed herbs and ointments to relieve her, but this time it seems that what happened was much stronger than before. She fell to the floor and appeared very ill. We did what we could for her but she died about a bell later." She shook her head. "We do not know what was wrong with her, milady. Might it be familiar to you?"
Garia sighed. It would have taken a modern crash team to save Taranna but it would probably be a century or more before such methods arrived on Anmar. She nodded.
"From what you have described," she said slowly, "I would guess that Taranna had what we call a heart attack. No, that doesn't mean attack in the sense you use it here, it just means a very sudden failure of the heart organ."
"The heart? We thought that it was a muscular problem she had suffered from for many years."
"It just seems that way, Mistress Margra. What you describe is familiar enough to me that I can tell you it was definitely a heart attack." She shook her head. "I'm sorry, it would not have been possible to save Taranna. There are ways in which she might have been saved, had this happened in Earth, but even there survival is not guaranteed. It sounds like this has happened before?"
"As you say, milady. Five or six times, by my memory, over many years."
Garia nodded. "Then her heart was already damaged, I guess. I don't know much of the gory details, but the heart is a muscle like others in the body and needs good blood flow to work properly. If one of the arteries gets blocked for some reason the flow gets cut off and part of the muscle dies. Each time it happens the heart gets weaker until eventually it can't work at all." She shook her head again. "On Earth, saving someone who has had a heart attack involves highly trained... healers... using expensive and delicate equipment. Time is important, too. If you can't get them to the equipment inside about a bell there's usually little hope of them living. I'm sorry."
"If that is how it must be, milady, then we shall continue to do what we can until such time as we may do better." Margra's eyebrows raised. "Blocked arteries, milady?"
Garia shrugged. "You understand I know nothing of the details, Mistress Margra? I'm no healer. There are at least two ways an artery - or a vein - might be blocked that I can think of. Firstly, if there's an internal injury a blood clot might get formed as the damage heals itself." Margra nodded. "Part of the clot might break off and get swept through the arteries until it finds itself in one that's too small for it. Just like a blocked drainpipe, nothing else can get past the blockage. Things start to die. The other way is if your diet is bad, you can get deposits lining the arteries and veins. Again, some of these deposits might break free and block something." Garia shrugged. "For all I know there are any number of other reasons why a heart may become damaged. Those are just two I've read about."
"I see, milady. Can you tell me more at some other time? I do not wish to subject Her Majesty to matters she might find distasteful."
"I might be interested, Margra," Terys put in dryly. "But perhaps I might not be that interested. You may come and consult Garia whenever your duties permit, Margra. After all," she added with a small smile, "you know where you shall find her, don't you?"
"As you say, ma'am."
"Mistress Margra," Garia said, "I am always willing to tell you what I know, even though it probably isn't very much."
"Every little fact you can tell us is something more than we already know, milady. Every little fact we learn helps us to save another life, make someone else's life more comfortable, helps us understand more about how our bodies work."
"Very well," Terys said. "Now, to the future. The King and I think it only appropriate to delay our return to the palace in order to attend Taranna's funeral. Although Captain Bleskin had a private family life we both knew his wife well and it is only fitting that we show him support in his hour of need. Her pyre will be here, on a private mountain terrace where such ceremonies are usually held. It will be two or three days before the arrangements may be completed."
Garia stared at Terys before realizing what her expression must look like and softening it. Were the King and Queen so cold-blooded? Her mind whirled with the possibilities, the dates and movements of people that this personal tragedy might improve. She gave a small nod.
"As you say, ma'am."
Terys gave her a stern look. "Other matters we will discuss once the funeral has taken place. That much we owe Captain Bleskin, don't you agree?"
Garia bowed her head once more, rebuked for doubting her Queen. "Yes, ma'am."
"Good. Then we must depart. I see you are preparing for your evening meal, we must make ready for our own." The Queen stood, and therefore so did everyone else. "Come, Margra. We shall leave these young folk to their own affairs."
After the evening meal the other young nobles, learning of Garia's restrictions, came together to visit her. Soon the sitting room was filled, some of the dining chairs having to be used to seat some of her visitors.
"What happened, Garia?" asked Dalenna. "You went out this afternoon, what went wrong?"
"I went with Guildmaster Parrel to visit the Miners' Guildhall, to pay a courtesy visit. Unfortunately, I took Jenet with me and she wasn't supposed to be out because her throat is still bruised. The Queen decided that I had gone against Margra's orders." Garia shrugged. "I'm stuck up here until we go home, now. Oh, I can go visit the frayen and maybe do some exercises, but no more wandering around the castle for me."
"You did that deliberately, Garia?" Terinar asked.
"By no means, Terry. We all simply forgot. I couldn't take Bursila or another maid in her stead since Jenet has a guild servant's badge. I was so focused on that I forgot about her bruise and she was too loyal to mention it."
"A guild servant's badge?" Korizet asked, amazed. "I thought they never allowed women into their buildings?" A thought occurred to her and she put a hand to her mouth. "You went to the Miners' Guildhall? How did you manage that? Did they make you have your meeting in the courtyard? That's what happened last time father and mother went to a ceremony there."
Garia grinned. "I actually got inside the building. Last month I was formally made a Guildmistress in Palarand, the first ever. That's why Jenet has a servant's badge. Mind you, there was a certain amount of disagreement about my rank today which the presence of His Highness there helped to clarify."
Keren grinned in turn. "Horran had received notices of guild business from the main guildhall in Palarand, as you might expect. As he considers himself independent he ignores most of what he reads. He hadn't expected Garia to appear on his threshold, though. When she turned up with Parrel and twenty armed men, including me, it made him reconsider his position."
"Let me understand this," Terinar said. "You, Parrel and Keren went inside the Miners' Guildhall? Does that mean he'll let anyone in, now?"
Keren shook his head. "I don't think so, Terry. Today's visit was special, because Garia will need the co-operation of the miners to advance our plans for the future." Many of them nodded. "She basically appealed to his greed. The amounts his men will dig out of the ground will become so great they are all bound to become rich. Many more miners will need to be employed as well, meaning his power base becomes larger as time passes."
Terinar raised an eyebrow. "Does this mean we'll have problems in the future from the miners? They are bad enough now."
"We think we can control them, Terry. If we can't, then we'll just have to deal with them... firmly. We need those materials." He grinned. "If I have to choose between Garia and Horran, guess which one I would pick?" He flicked a dismissive hand. "It will take many years for the results to show, in any case. It's possible I would be King by the time that happens, and I'm not going to take any nonsense from the miners, I can assure you."
"So you're restricted, then, Garia," Korizet said. "Are you to stay in this suite, or may you go further?"
"I'm not entirely sure," Garia replied. "I think I'm allowed to visit those with suites in this corridor but no further, except under heavy escort." She gave Korizet a shame-faced half-smile. "Don't get angry with them, Kor. They mean well, after all. They are trying to keep me safe from external dangers, and we just proved the castle wasn't as safe as anyone thought."
Korizet looked positive. "Then we'll all have to come and keep you company, won't we? Um, I don't necessarily mean all of us together, like we are now, but we could each find time so that Garia isn't left lonely, can't we?" She looked appealingly at the others. "What do you say?"
Stebenar and Willan nodded. "Of course," Willan said. "We have some activities planned for the rest of our stay but we have plenty of free time as well. We'd be delighted to keep you company, Garia."
There was murmured agreement from the others but some faces showed brief flashes of alarm. Garia fought to keep her own expression hopeful as she realized what the problem was.
"Uh, that's very generous of you all," she told them, "and I'm sure we can work out an arrangement so that you're not all in each other's way. But, uh..." she looked flustered. "Excuse me, I have to leave you a short while, I think my dinner is making itself felt. Bursila, if you would..?"
Garia rose and went through into her bedroom followed by Merizel's maid, closing both of the passage doors behind her. Once in her bedroom she turned to Bursila.
"We can't have someone with us all the time and keep Milsy a secret! The poor girl will be stuck in her room for a week!"
She walked to Milsy's door and knocked on it, the young servant girl opening it almost immediately. Garia explained the problem and a possible solution.
"Since I'm stuck in this suite my friends want to take turns to keep me company. We can't do that, someone would be bound to find you, won't they? But, you're a castle servant, there's no reason they shouldn't know about you, is there? Go and put on your servant's uniform, Bursila will help you change, and then we'll go back and introduce you to the others. I'll tell them something which is truthful but won't give anything away. That will allow you to be around when my friends come to visit. Thank goodness we didn't decide to cut your hair right away!"
Milsy thought briefly, then nodded. "As you say, milady. I'll just be another castle servant, won't I?" She paused, horror-struck. "But I only have the kitchen dress I came up in, and that's been sent to the laundry! What can I do?"
Bursila supplied the answer. "Milady, you and Milady Merizel were each given servant's clothes so that you might walk the castle corridors unnoticed. Your own must fit Milsy, must it not?"
"That's right. Go, quickly!"
Garia pointed and Milsy and Bursila went into Garia and Merizel's dressing room. While she waited Garia untied and re-tied her sash, just in case anyone thought she hadn't used the facilities. Given her luck today, someone would notice. When they returned Milsy wore a servant's dress in castle livery. The three made their way back to Garia's sitting room where the others were listening to Keren describe the visit to the Guildhall.
"Uh, guys, this is Milsy," Garia gestured to the young woman. "She's been lent to me while Jenet is in the infirmary."
Bursila and Milsy joined the other maids against the wall. Korizet eyed Milsy with interest.
"I don't know you, girl," she said.
"My Lady, I was previously employed in the kitchens," Milsy explained with a curtsey. "Master Samind thought I could do better and the Queen required another maid at short notice."
"Ah. I thought I would have known your face a little better if you had been one of the personal staff. Are you finding the work difficult? This must be different than what you have known before."
"My Lady, I have learned much since I have left the kitchens. I have nothing to complain about."
Korizet nodded. "As you say. You travel with the Queen? I trust you shall not disgrace the name of Dekarran by your future actions, Milsy."
"In front of the Queen, My Lady? I do not intend to disgrace anyone."
Garia breathed a sigh of relief as Korizet lost interest. The others, being visitors to the castle, wouldn't have known Milsy and she thought that Terinar probably didn't take too much notice of the staff he didn't personally interact with, but Korizet might have noticed Milsy in the past. Now that she was known to be around, Garia hoped that she would fade into the background just as the other maids did. She just wished that sometimes she could do the same thing!
They talked then about things that the others had done until Terinar remembered the dajan.
"Have you tried that instrument out yet, Merry?"
"What's this?" Stebenar asked.
"While we were searching the castle for Garia's attackers, we found some old musical instruments in a store-room. I suggested to my parents that we donated a dajan to Merry. By the look on her face she hasn't tried it yet."
"No, Terry, I haven't," Merizel responded. "What with Garia's adventures and the death of Captain Bleskin's wife I've had other things to think about."
"Oh, of course! How sad," Terissa said. "To die so suddenly, and on the way to a peaceful retirement!"
"Such a blow," Keren said, "and it must be such a shock for poor Captain Bleskin."
"Can I visit him, Keren?" Garia asked. "To express my sympathies."
"Of course! Perhaps I'll collect you tomorrow morning and we can offer our respects. I'm sure mother will permit you to do that."
After some talk the discussion returned to Merizel's dajan.
"I'd heard," Stebenar said to Garia, "that you have some theory regarding the use of the frets of the dajan."
"It's no theory," Garia replied. "That instrument design came originally from Earth and though I'm no musician I know how those frets are used, and it isn't how you use them here. That's why the music you play here sounds so... bad... to my ears, you're forcing the instrument to play notes and scales it wasn't designed for."
Stebenar raised an eyebrow. "Shall you show us how you think it is meant to sound, Garia? Or do you not play such an instrument?"
"I've never picked one up in my life," Garia replied cheerfully. "Either of my lives, actually. But I ought to be able to get my point across. If you wouldn't mind, Merry?"
"Garia? Oh, yes, of course."
Merizel left and returned with the bag, from which she drew out the instrument. Garia could see immediately that this dajan was far older and plainer than the one Merizel had used before. Merizel passed the instrument to Garia who put it on its side on her lap, neck to the left.
Willan immediately pointed. "That's not how you hold a dajan. It should be the other way round."
"That's how we hold stringed instruments on Earth," Garia said, "with very few exceptions. The left hand always goes on the neck. Now, give me a moment to figure this out." She looked at Merizel. "You haven't even tuned the strings, I suppose?"
Merizel shook her head. "No, Garia. It has only been out of the bag twice since we found it in the store room."
The strings were slack so Garia turned the pegs until they were roughly tightened, then gently strummed across the sound board. Everyone winced.
Garia smiled. "Now you know what your music sounds like to my ears. So, now I'll try to do a scale. Er, that's what you call a ladder, I think."
Now, how the heck do I do this? I know almost zero about making music! I had a go at learning to play the piano many years ago but my co-ordination was just abysmal. I couldn't read the music and put my fingers in the right places at the same time. I couldn't read music, period. And forget about timing! About all I remember is that notes go from A to G and some of them are half tones.
Garia thought and then a picture of a piano keyboard came into her mind.
That's right! The black notes are the half tones. So, if I start at the end here, and work my way down, then I ought to... skip a fret when it matches a black note. Keys? Don't ask me about keys. Keys are for keyholes. Let's go.
Laboriously she picked her way down the highest string, skipping frets along the way, noting that the apparent decoration on the neck actually helped her decide when to skip and when to play the half-note. She stopped and looked expectantly at her friends.
"That's interesting," Stebenar mused. "The sound is quite pleasant. But why did you stop there?"
"Because that's an octave," Garia said, noting that the word didn't translate. "That means that once you get to that point the whole thing repeats itself as the notes get higher."
"But why there?" he persisted. "Why not somewhere else?"
"Um, because..." Garia plucked the whole string then the higher note. "The second note is twice as high as the first one. That's what defines an octave."
Stebenar's brow furrowed. "Twice as high? I don't understand."
"Look. When you pluck a string, it vibrates, right? So many vibrations per... interval. The number of vibrations is related to the length of the string. The shorter the string, the faster the vibrations, the higher sounding the note. When I play this note the string is exactly half the length of when I play this note. That means the vibrations are twice as fast."
Stebenar stood and walked over to Garia, kneeling so that he could inspect the neck of the dajan closely.
"Garia, that's brilliant! I don't know much about music myself, but I'm sure this is something that our Guild of Music Makers will be interested to hear about."
"I agree," Terinar said. "I'll arrange for the castle's Music Master to meet Garia before she leaves for the palace. This is something we must investigate."
"And you can't play any tunes at all, then?" Korizet asked.
Garia grinned. "Sorry, no. When I was learning to play I discovered that my hands had too many thumbs and my timing was hopeless. I can just about sing, but not to any kind of standard, only for my own amusement."
Willan's eyes lit up. "For our amusement, perhaps?"
Garia wished she'd kept her mouth shut. "We-ell, maybe, but not tonight. I'm going to have to consider very carefully what songs I dare sing here in Alaesia. We have so much music, and a lot of it you'd consider terrible or shocking or just plain weird. And my renditions of some tunes won't be very good, either. On Earth, unless you are making the music for yourself, most of it is just listened to."
"But that surely is all you can do?" Merizel asked with a frown. "Make music or listen to it?"
Garia shook her head. "The musicians record their music," she explained, "then the recordings can be replayed over and over again. Most people have their own copies of the music and listen to it all the time, even when they are working."
"Recordings?" Terinar asked. "How does that work? I didn't even know it was possible to record music."
"Not just music, any sound," Garia said. "And... that's about all I ought to say on that subject right now, otherwise I'll have the King on my back as well as the Queen."
"Oh." Terinar looked disappointed. "Of course, I keep forgetting about your special knowledge and how it must be carefully considered." He relaxed with a smile. "Very well, let's change the subject. What else has been happening that Garia should have word of?"
When Keren and Garia entered the room the following morning the two occupants rose slowly to their feet. Feteran looked bad but his father looked terrible. Bleskin's wan face stiffened as he tried to make a salute for his visitors. Garia took in his woebegone expression and something filled inside her. Without saying a word she crossed the room and wrapped herself around Bleskin's middle, resting her head on his chest.
"Oh, captain! I am so sorry that this had to happen to you and your wife. It must have been such a shock to you."
Bleskin tentatively began to place his hands gently around Garia and then thought better of it.
"Thank you, milady," he said softly. "It was entirely unexpected. I thought that we -"
His voice failed and Garia felt him shake. She released her grip and stood back.
"Captain, please, if there is anything we may do for you, you have only to ask," she said. "Sit down, please. We don't need to be all formal at a time like this. You too, Feteran."
"Garia's right," Keren said. "You've both had a great loss, sit yourselves down. You both know that if you need anything you have only to ask."
"You're very gracious, Highness," Feteran murmured. "Thank you from both of us."
"I don't expect you to perform any of your duties right now," Garia told him. "Both you and your father need some time to adjust to what has happened. I want you to stay near your father and help him, if you can manage that."
"As you command, milady."
Everybody sat down and there was silence. At such a time there was not very much that could be said, but their presence provided some comfort to the bereaved pair. Garia spoke in a low voice to Bursila, who vanished and reappeared shortly with pel and pastries.
"It's a little early," Garia said with a small smile, "but I think it may help."
Bursila handed out the drinks and snacks. Bleskin managed a wan smile for Garia.
"I know of your unusual background, milady," he said. "Yet you perform the woman's part as though one born."
Garia smiled back. "This body has certainly made an impression on me." The smile disappeared. "I, too, have known a loss like yours. My own grandparents - my father's parents - both died not so many years ago. It affected us quite deeply. I can just about imagine what you must be feeling these days. I understand what's needed at times like these."
"As you say, milady."
As the morning went on Garia began to get worried about Bleskin's mental state. Her father's mother had died and her father's father had not lingered much longer. It seemed that it was possible to die of a broken heart, after all. Garia had known of other couples whose surviving member had not survived very long after their partner had died and she wondered if that would happen here.
Apparently ignoring Bleskin, she asked his son, "Feteran, do you know what will happen now? What will your father do?"
"Milady, I had not thought... perhaps it is too soon for such questions, before the pyre is yet lit. Have you advice for us?"
"Not advice, exactly, Feteran. I just wanted to assure Captain Bleskin that he is very much valued by the whole court and we would hate it if something should happen to him. We are all greatly in need of his knowledge and experience."
Bleskin looked up, his eyes damp. "Who is in need of me, milady?"
"Why, the King is, and the Queen is, captain. If you choose to continue north, then the Prince will be as well, especially if you're joining his caravan. Even though you have not visited the area for some time, I myself will benefit from your knowledge when I -" Garia froze.
It must have shown in her expression because a light flickered in Bleskin's eyes.
"I thought..." he said hesitantly, "that you were to accompany the King south, milady. That your visit to your lands would happen at a later time." The expressions on Garia and Keren's faces were enough to rouse Bleskin sufficiently. His tone became sharper, the old Bleskin began to reappear. "Do you tell me, milady, that you intend to defy the King's command? Explain yourself."
Keren replied for them. "Captain, we both obey the King's command in this, though it is not for public consumption. My father intends a feint, to send a decoy south, while Garia travels north in disguise to avoid being harried by those of Yod. Some complicated scheme was woven which has now," he gave a rueful smile, "fallen apart completely. We still intend to smuggle Garia out of the castle, but how this is to be arranged will now have to be determined again."
"Do you say so, Highness? And myself? I and... Taranna... were to join your party, were we not?"
"It was decided that the less who knew of the plot the better, captain. Of course, once Garia joined us you would have been told all. She is right, though, in what she says. We would benefit greatly from your years of experience on the journey north."
"And of me, milady?" Feteran asked, stiff-faced. "I take it that I will still be going south with your double?"
Garia shook her head. "Of course not, Feteran. You can't go off and leave your father on his own right now. You must accompany him wherever he goes. Everybody will understand that decision, I'll just find someone else to lead the fake bodyguard instead."
"Fake bodyguard?" Bleskin asked.
"Father," Feteran explained, "Milady would take her own men north, dressed as extra palace guardsmen as part of the Prince's party. Others of the palace guard would go south, wearing the uniforms of milady's men. In this way we hoped to deceive those of Yod into thinking milady was returning to the palace. Because I am well known it was felt that I must needs take charge of those men who pretended to belong to milady."
Bleskin put his hands to his head. "Complicated scheme, indeed! And I was part of this." He lifted his head and stared at his son. "You are part of this deception, then?"
"How could it be otherwise, father? Aye, I was present when the King first made his desires known." Feteran turned a glance at Garia. "But I mistrust milady's motives in this. I should still return to the palace with her double. She will have need of me to help her in her task."
Feteran gave Garia a long, considered look. She returned it with an exasperated sigh.
"Look, Feteran! There's no sneaky scheming going on here. Your father has just had the biggest shock of his life and he needs someone of his family with him to help him come to terms with it. Whatever else is going on around us, I just want the best for your father, and that's that. Bereavement is one of the worst things that can happen to anyone, especially after years of happy marriage, and he needs your help. Understand?"
Feteran bowed his head. "Milady, I apologize for doubting you. You are of course correct. I will stay with my father."
"Good," Garia said positively. "And now, perhaps we have stayed here long enough. What do you think, Keren?"
Keren stared at Garia, his expression unreadable. "As you say. Perhaps it is time you were returned to your suite and we left the captain to have some peace."
The two stood, bowed and curtseyed politely to their hosts and walked out of the room. Garia's men were waiting in the corridor outside and the whole detail moved off as one. Keren bent to talk quietly to Garia.
"What were you doing in there?" he hissed. "Why bring up our plans now? Couldn't you see Bleskin was in a state?"
"I was giving him a reason to live," she replied quietly.
"When my grandmother died, her husband didn't live for very much longer afterward," she explained. "It's something that can happen when two people have lived together for a very long time. Depending on his character, the captain might not have lasted another week." She shrugged. "That's the way humans are, I guess. I know Taranna's death was a huge blow to him, but I had to give him a reason to see beyond her death. He's too good a man for us to lose right now."
"You were trying to keep him alive? I didn't realize..."
"As I said, I watched my grandfather lose the will to live after his wife died. Who knows, that may be the best thing for Captain Bleskin, but I don't believe that. Much of his attention has been on the palace guard until he retired so he might be resilient enough to cope. Only time will tell."
"Garia, you surprise me yet again. I thought you were being insensitive by talking about our plans but it seems you had another quarry in mind." He nodded thoughtfully as they walked along. "It would not have occurred to any of us, I think. You are right, it would be a waste to watch Bleskin follow his wife though few but my mother may have considered how to save him."
"I didn't even consider it myself until I walked in that room and saw what he looked like. You're right, I probably was a little insensitive but it's made him think about something else rather than retreating into himself, which certainly wouldn't have been good for him."
"As you say."
They reached Garia's door and the men dispersed to their usual stations, two outside the door and the rest at either end of the corridor. Inside the sitting room Keren turned to her.
"I'm beginning to realize that I'm seeing another side of you, Garia. As well as being smart and knowledgeable you're thinking into the future and you're thinking of people's lives as well. Mother was right, you are a treasure."
He stooped and kissed Garia on the forehead, then bowed, turned and let himself out of the room. Garia stood there thunderstruck, not noticing as Merizel and Milsy joined her from the bedroom.
"Did I just see the Prince kiss you?" Milsy asked, eyes wide.
"Yes," Garia said, absently. "Yes, you did."
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