Somewhere Else Entirely -97-
After the inevitable morning distractions Garia's caravan finally departs Holville for the next stop to the south. Their new host seems out of touch and his children even more insular, with predictable results. Serious trouble is avoided, but all may not be well as they depart for Teldor.
by Penny Lane
97 - On to Haligo
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) 2011-2014 Penny Lane. All rights reserved.
Of course, making an early start from Holville proved next to impossible the following morning. To begin with, there was the fact that seventeen women had to rise and make themselves decent using two bathtubs and a single privy - which also meant that lots of firewood and water had to be fetched during the process.
Fortunately, Garia could call upon the resources of many willing men-at-arms who commandeered a wagon to bring the required water and wood from the other end of Lower Street. Others visited the bakery and arrived with armfuls of hot, freshly baked loaves which improved the spirits of all those inside the "women's tent".
Then there was the small matter of getting dressed...
"Milady, whatever is that?"
"This? Oh, this is called a bra. Um, I think they will eventually replace bodices for general wear but you'll need patterns to make them properly. Here, take a look at this one while Jenet sorts me out."
Garia, Merizel and Jenet were wearing bras, since theirs had been made in the palace before they had left for the north. Senidet, Jasinet and Lanilla were still using the old-style bodices because the patterns hadn't arrived in Blackstone before the company returned south. Now the chests were opened so that the Holville women could inspect bras for themselves. This inevitably led to other garments being pulled out and gushed over. Eventually Garia had to call a halt to the activity.
"Please! Ladies! We're supposed to be leaving soon, and now we'll have to repack all our chests! Besides, none of us have eaten breakfast yet!"
With a sigh the gowns and other gear were carefully laid down and the whole party congregated around the table in the rear portion of the tent. Bread was cut, pel was poured, meats, cheeses and fruits - all involuntarily supplied by Mandel - heaped in the table center on wooden platters. With a gesture Garia made sure no-one stood on ceremony but helped themselves.
"Milady," Triss said as they ate, "we have all learned much, haven't we, girls? Until we met someone like you we did not know that any woman could do such things as you have shown us. We know that you are of another world but Lady Merizel and Mistress Senidet show us that the women of our own lands may do as much as you can, had they only the will and the teaching."
Merizel waved a finger. "Mistress Triss, it is not just that we may do much that any man can do. As Milady has said many times, it is attitudes which must change. In my father's household everyone knew that a woman of noble birth could do this and that, and could not do certain other things. Everyone knew that a woman who was a servant or the wife of a farmer could do this and that, but not other things. Milady Garia teaches us that what everyone knows is but custom of ages past, and it is this custom that must be questioned. That is our hardest task, I deem."
"Merry is right," Garia agreed. "It is what is between people's ears that is our biggest problem. Once we can get them to see that there are lots of things both men and women have assumed women can't do, then that is the biggest battle won. But there are many who won't like the idea of women doing more than they do now. Some of them dislike any change to their way of life."
"But you yourself are the biggest example of what a woman may do," Triss said.
Garia nodded. "That's true, but," she smiled, "I'm a foreigner, and foreigners are known to have strange ways, aren't they? It's only when people are faced with women of their own, like Merizel and Senidet, that they will eventually accept that a woman has more to offer than they realized." She took a bite of bread and cheese and then added, "I have to tell you that the King and Queen are fully behind this change, although the King is naturally more cautious. The guildsmen are also behind what we're doing, which is one reason they made me a guildswoman despite my age and inexperience. Being a guild member isn't all about hammering lumps of metal or sawing wood, there is much that a person of lesser strength can do, whether they are man or woman."
"As you say, milady." Triss looked thoughtful. "What about us? Some of us like the work we do but others have drifted into doing it because we dislike the other choices a woman of our station has. Could we..?"
"It won't be easy, I think. Everyone who already knows you has an idea in their heads of who you are and what you do. That's natural, it's human nature and we can't get away from it. But now that you know it is possible to break out, I'd suggest you think about what each of you could do and how you might get there. As I said to you all last night, the key to all this is education. Learn to read and write, learn as much as you can, and that will open doors for you. If both Merry and Senidet can read and write I'm sure you girls can learn as well."
"But, milady, how may we learn to read and write? Those who teach us will require coin to do so."
"Easy! Just ask for lessons as payment for your... usual activities. Obviously, it would depend on what your customer was capable of as to what you could ask for."
Triss nodded thoughtfully. "Aye, milady, I had not considered simple barter, since that is what you suggest. Girls? We shall speak of this after milady and her party have departed."
Then the chests had to be repacked...
"Whatever are these? Swords? Milady, surely these are not yours? So fine and delicate!"
"Yes, they are mine. I'd explain more but we're out of time."
"They are real," Merizel offered, "and Milady Garia fought and captured one of the Blackstone bandits using these very swords."
"But... swords, milady? Do all women wear swords in your own world?"
"Heck, no! Almost no-one wears swords on Earth now, Triss. We have... other more deadly weapons. These swords don't come from Earth anyhow, they are of a design used in the Six Cities, over the other side of Alaesia."
"The... Six Cities, milady? I do not know of those places."
"Hm? Oh, I mean, K'Kjand. That's what I was told those people are known as, over here on the East Coast."
"As you say, milady. They are a warlike people, then?"
"Yes, by necessity. They get attacked by raiders from the sea, so everyone, man and woman, has to know how to handle weapons. I use these because I'm too small to manage a normal sword. There are women in the palace, more your own size, who can hold a normal sword and are training to become members of the palace guard."
Triss and several of the others looked suddenly thoughtful.
"Do you think -"
Triss was interrupted by Brazan lifting the front tent flap and poking his head through.
"Uh, milady? May I enter?"
"We're decent, aren't we, ladies? Yes, Brazan, come on in."
Her armsman pushed his way in, thumped his chest, then said, "Milady, the Prince's compliments and we will shortly be ready to load your chests onto the wagons."
Garia looked around. "Give us ten... uh, we're just packing up the chests and when we're finished we'll be about ready. Any trouble last night?"
"No, milady. There were men wandering about outside the fence but they seem to be miners who refuse to help the reconstruction. They offered no objection when we told them to move away. Uh, Milady, the Prince and the new Baron desire to visit these quarters. With your permission?"
Garia turned. "These aren't my quarters, Brazan, we're only guests here. Triss?" Triss nodded and Garia told Brazan, "Send them in, please."
Keren, Halkor, Trosanar and Terinar joined the women in the now very crowded front part of the tent.
"Milady," Halkor began, "We won't stay here long but I wanted to see what these quarters were like after you gave your description yesterday. To me it seems there are too many here for comfort."
Some of the women went into the back part of the tent to relieve the space.
Keren asked, "You all slept well? I had not realized there were so many of you."
"Six of us and eleven already here," Garia told him. "It was cozy at times but at least we kept warm because there were so many of us. We had plenty of blankets and the range in the back helped as well."
Halkor's eyes took in the booths along the side walls. "Mistress Triss, this is your place of business as well, I take it?"
Triss snorted. "It would be if any of the men had been allowed to join us, my lord. As it is," she shrugged, "we have amused ourselves as best we can. That is, until milady came and showed us that there are other things it is possible a woman may do."
Halkor nodded. "Mistress Triss, the Prince has spent an evening telling me of the changes to come. After what happened yesterday we will make no more assumptions where a woman's duties are concerned."
The men looked around, watching as the final chests were packed and strapped.
"This cannot be your only room," Terinar noted. "Do you eat in here or do you use the canteen that the men go to?"
"We can wash and cook in the rear tent out back, my lord," Triss replied, pointing. "Do you wish to see?"
The men did, so they all followed Triss and Garia into the back part of the canvas building.
"I see," Halkor said. He walked over and inspected the two bathing cubicles, then recoiled from the privy. "This is your only toilet, mistress? For how many women, did you say?"
"Eleven presently, my lord, but last night we had six guests."
"And what is that smell?"
Terinar replied, "That is the open sewer which runs behind all these canvas buildings, my lord. I joined the men for a patrol late last evening and nearly fell into it."
Halkor's lips pursed. "I did not realize... Milady Garia was right, we will need to replan this part of the town. We had planned, of course, to enclose the sewer lines in time but, as milady has noted, these buildings will eventually be replaced by more permanent buildings which will have the usual courtyards and kitchen blocks. The present sewers are thus too close. And this building is not adequate for those who reside here. Mistress Triss, you and your... associates have my apologies. We will make other, more fitting arrangements to accommodate you all."
"Thank you, my lord."
"Then let us return to the street," Keren directed. "We are too many for such small quarters, and I can see that milady is anxious to have her chests loaded."
Most of those inside followed Keren out onto the street, which was the signal for several armsmen to enter and begin bringing the chests out ready for loading.
"I trust you all slept well, Garia?" he asked as they watched.
"We did," she replied. "It seemed crowded to begin with but the number of bodies meant that we were never cold. Triss said that when they first ended up in this tent there were twenty of them and it was uncomfortable. The biggest problem we had was the single privy."
Keren pulled a face. "As you say. That number of men sharing a latrine would be too many, I deem. We have Lord Halkor's word that he will make changes to improve their circumstances within the day."
"I'm glad to hear that. Though," she added with a smile, "I think he'll be surprised what they want to do once we've gone."
"Keren, we spent bells talking late into the night. Triss and her girls have learned much and we've learned a great deal as well. This is the first real chance I've had to just talk, casually, to women - people - at the bottom of society. I don't say I'll be able to do very much short-term but I won't forget anything they've told me. Keren, some of their stories are heartbreaking."
He nodded. "I spoke with some of the townsmen while we were at Blackstone but not of those who you describe as 'the bottom of society'. They knew they were talking to Palarand's next King and that would make them choose their words carefully. I envy your ability to speak freely with those you meet and hear their real problems. Perhaps you shall pass some of your conclusions on to me as we travel?"
"I'll do that, Keren. Oh, much of it was just woman talk but there are things you need to know."
The chests were finally all brought out, supervised by Jenet, and loaded onto the wagons.
"Shall we walk up to the highway and meet the wagons there?" Garia asked.
Terinar shook his head. "If you would walk, then you must needs walk the long way round, Garia. The signal-station men have taken back their poles, since they wished to prevent further damage to come to them. Until Lord Halkor contrives a new footbridge, there is no way to cross the ditch except by the main entrance."
Everybody therefore climbed onto wagons and frayen while Garia resumed her unwanted passenger seat inside the carriage. This led the way along the leveled but unmade road back to the through route and the procession pulled up outside the entrance to the military encampment. Terinar disappeared inside and reappeared shortly afterward accompanied by six men in Dekarran colors bearing three chests which Jaxen found space for on one of the wagons. The men went off again and came back with mounts, while Terinar himself came out of the mess tent bearing a mail sack.
"We had two messengers stop here last night and this morning," he explained to Garia, "and when they found out who was here they dropped off some letters, some of which are addressed to you, myself and the Prince. Do you want to read them now?"
Garia thought then shook her head. "Let's get going," she decided, "we can read them when we next stop. We've delayed here long enough as it is. I can't imagine there's anything important enough it won't wait a bell or two."
"Aye, I agree," Keren said. "Jaxen, where shall we stop?"
Jaxen scratched his chin. "Highness, I reckon we'll be taking lunch at Toomer's Gulley, given how much of the morning has passed. If we do not dally there," he added, "we should reach Lord Thermin's castle at Haligo as the sun sets."
Keren grinned. "I can take a hint, Jaxen! Very well, we'll ride straight for Toomer's Gully and make a quick lunch there." He waved an arm at Garia. "Bearing in mind the requirements of our female travelers, of course."
"Don't concern yourself about us," Garia replied. "We'll manage, we always do."
"This? This is another note from the Queen," Garia told Keren. "I guess it's normal for mothers to worry over their children, isn't it?"
"As you say, milady," Trosanar added. "Perhaps you will discover the same when you become a mother."
Garia pulled a face. "I guess so. I can't say I'm thinking too hard about being a mother anytime soon, though. There's just too much to do!"
They were seated around a table at the Toomer's Gully lunch stop, with a pile of letters in front of them. It appears that messengers from both directions had discovered the location of Keren, Garia, Terinar and Merizel and they all had at least one letter to read.
"Mayhap, milady," Trosanar continued with a smile, "motherhood will take you by surprise. It certainly seems to come as a surprise to many of your age!"
"Yes, but -" Garia scowled and then stopped. How could she explain family planning, when she had almost no knowledge of the subject herself? Especially when what she did know was from the boy's viewpoint anyway? Of course there was a certain amount of cross-knowledge but much of that was teenage rumor and speculation. The only people who did know were usually those with older sisters. And most of that knowledge wouldn't apply here anyway. She sighed.
"To answer you, my lord, I can only say that I have no plans to become a mother at this time. Of course, as always, plans can change."
The next letter she put down on the table with another sigh. Keren looked up at her expression.
"Yes. This is from Master Hurdin, in his capacity as Master of the Guilds." She tapped the letter. "A steam engine has exploded, the first real accident they have had. Two men were killed and a third seriously injured."
"Oh, no! Do they know what happened?"
"Not really, as only the three men were attending the engine when it blew up. The survivor has serious scalding burns and has lost part of an arm. It seems they were testing a new engine and something jammed so they gathered round to try and fix it but didn't pull the fire out and didn't let the pressure out." Garia shook her head. "That's about all Hurdin knows. I imagine that by the time we get back they will have made a complete investigation. I did warn them that something like this might happen."
"Milady," Trosanar said, "I do not know anything about the steam engine of which you speak, but I do know that sometimes men - and women - take no heed of the warnings they are given. Sometimes they must needs be burned by the fire before they learn to keep their distance."
"Aye," Keren agreed, nodding. "This is a lesson most learn while still at their mother's knee, but there are always those few who refuse to believe. The steam engine is a new and unfamiliar device and its ways must be learned like those of a strange animal. I hope that these lessons are learned fast before too many others are injured or killed."
Garia carried on reading. "It looks like Hurdin has problems in his own craft," she remarked. "The glassmakers don't know whether to concentrate on sheet glass, jars for batteries or lenses for telescopes and other optical instruments. He has a crew out looking for a site for a new workshop but is wondering whether he ought to be looking north of the Sirrel."
Keren put down his own letter and regarded Garia thoughtfully. "This is what you meant by long-term planning, isn't it? If the guilds just find a patch of ground and set up a new workshop every time we'll end up with sheds all over the city, with the usual problems of wagon traffic going through the streets, not to mention the noise, smoke and smell. Have you by chance mentioned zoning to the King in any of your letters?"
"I might have," she replied. "I wrote a lot of letters to a lot of people while we were in Blackstone. I don't remember."
Merizel said, "I might have a note, Garia, but I don't think I can find it before tonight."
"Oh? Thanks, Merry. I'll think up something and write a note to the King tonight, then. We need to get some zoning controls set up before the complaints start rolling in." She tapped the letter. "One final thing, Keren. It looks like about half the small brass steam engines they are making are being used to run generators for trolleys of batteries for welding experiments. They seem to be excited about the idea of electric welding."
"Oh?" Keren started to reply then glanced at Trosanar. This was verging on Council of the Two Worlds business so he decided to leave the matter until later. Instead he said, "That's... interesting, Garia. Is there any other news?"
"Nothing that can't wait until tonight. You?"
"Ah, the King has had my last letter and agrees that it will be impossible for us to make our way down to the palace as fast as he originally thought we would." He grinned. "He knows what it is like to travel in state, after all. He does urge us not to delay any longer than we have to."
"As if we're doing it deliberately!"
"Aye." Keren gathered his letters into a pile. "Merry, will you look after these for me? Garia, would you walk with me a moment or two?"
Leaving Merizel to gather up the combined correspondence Keren led Garia away from the cluster of men, women and animals. Immediately Feteran and Jenet followed, keeping a distance, and Feteran made a few gestures which ensured that some of the men made a perimeter around the couple. Keren stopped and turned.
"Do you remember the first time we came here?"
"We did? We did! Oh, yes." Garia blushed. "Made a spectacle of ourselves, didn't we?" Her eyes gazed into his. "Showed my true colors that night, didn't I? And I meant all of it, Keren."
"Do you mean it now?" he asked softly.
"More than ever! What did you think we've been doing ever since that day?" Her eyes narrowed. "Not having second thoughts, are you?"
"No," he replied slowly, "but it is weighing more on my mind the closer we get to home. With everything else that has been happening I have not thought too much about what awaits us in the palace, but that will change soon enough. However, both my father and Uncle Gil may have more important matters to consider, so don't be upset if I don't give you all the attention you deserve."
"Trouble?" she asked.
"I'm not sure. There's just something about the way they have written to me. We'll find out more once we get to Dekarran."
Their caravan reached and entered the gorge which formed the northern approach to Haligo. There was a small fort hidden each side of the narrow defile, either side of the road and the churning river. On their way north, Garia had been so fixated on finding Keren that she hadn't taken much notice of her surroundings at all. Returning south, none of it was recognizable.
A long way in, with the cliffs closing in either side, the road forked and Jaxen called a halt. By arrangement the commercial wagons would continue to Tanon's depot in Haligo while only Garia's carriage and six wagons with their belongings would angle back up the fork towards the castle which overlooked the road. Behind and to their left, the road rose, climbing a switchback route to gain the castle entrance. Garia breathed a sigh of relief. Although this was the third day of her Call there were still consequences and she longed for the journey to be over.
"Your Highness, My Lords, My Ladies, welcome to Castle Haligo. I am humbled to receive such honored guests, you may treat my home as your own."
The speaker was a heavy-set man in his mid-forties Garia had been told was Count Thermin who ruled over Haligo and the surrounding lands. Beside him stood his wife, two boys and two girls, all in their teens or thereabouts and a number of people she assumed were retainers. He began to introduce everybody but then noticed the state of the travelers and changed what he was about to say.
"Highness, your party has traveled long and will need to refresh yourselves. If you would permit, I will leave introductions until we are assembled for our evening meal."
Keren inclined his head. "As you say, my lord. For myself, a seat and a drink will suffice but I know our women will desire more elaborate attentions. If I may ask your wife the Countess to show them the way?"
"Indeed, Your Highness. Florizel? If you would conduct our women guests within."
Because the castle had been built halfway up a cliff inside the gorge the accommodations were cramped. The rooms themselves were of an acceptable size but the corridors were narrow and twisty besides being damp, cold and poorly lit. Garia's immediate concern was a bathroom followed by a hot tub and Thermin's servants ensured that her needs were satisfied. By the time she and the others had emerged, dry, from the bathing suite their chests were waiting in the rooms they had been assigned. Not knowing whether she would be cold or warm she chose a thicker evening gown to wear before the servants conducted them down to join the menfolk.
The meal had been set in Thermin's equivalent of his Receiving Room, a low, vaulted chamber with narrow windows on the west side. It was made of stone blockwork roughly hewn from the local rock and left mostly unfinished. The east wall, which was the cliff side, showed raw rock in places. The whole building showed great age and little attempt had been made to upgrade the fabric.
A long table had been placed along the east side so that those seated would face the windows. Thermin sat in the middle, as host, with Keren at his right, the seat of honor, Trosanar to his left and Terinar beyond Trosanar. To Keren's right was Thermin's wife, Countess Florizel. The rest of the table appeared to be officers of Thermin's guard. There was no-one seated facing any of these. Instead, there were three short tables edge-on to the main table and Garia, to her surprise, was conducted to the middle one of these along with Merizel. Senidet appeared to be relegated to the outside edge of one of the other tables, while Tanon and Jaxen were seated at the fourth table.
"Greetings! I'm Jordan and this is my brother Smendar. These two are our sisters Bellina and Velinet."
The speaker was one of the boys Garia had seen outside, apparently one of Thermin's sons. She looked more closely and realized that all those seated at her table were about the same age group. Jordan might have been her age or a little older, Smendar looked younger. The older girl might have been between the two boys but the other one was about the age of the Twins, twelve or so.
Thermin is treating us visitors as kids. I hope this isn't going to cause any problems.
"Oh, hi," Garia replied. "I'm Garia, Baroness Blackstone, and this is Lady Merizel who is the daughter of Baron Kamodar of South Reach. Merry is my secretary."
"Your secretary?" Bellina repeated, surprised. "Whatever do you need a secretary for?"
"My memory is quite good," Garia explained, "but I can get in a muddle what with everything that's going on. Merry is a lot more organized than I am and takes care of my diary, writes up meeting notes and so on."
"Diary? Meetings? Is it because you're traveling with the Prince?" Bellina asked. "I can't imagine having so much to do that I'd need a secretary."
Velinet added, "What's it like, traveling with the Prince? Do you have parties and all that?"
Garia hesitated before replying. These young people obviously thought the same way as their father, that Keren was the reason for the caravan and the women were just tagging along.
"Our journey north," she said eventually, "had two purposes, neither of which involved parties. Prince Keren was told to go and learn the lands of Palarand by his father the King, and I traveled north to inspect the lands of my barony. We both have had some serious work to do and we've met many people both good and bad. As for the Prince, we all get on well together."
"Blackstone?" Smendar asked. "Where's that? Not that pokey little village up off the Chaarn road, surely?"
Garia flushed. "It's hardly a pokey little village. It was a small town when we arrived there and by this time next year it will be a fair-sized town."
"But there's nothing there!" Smendar objected. "I heard even the miners can't find anything useful out that way. Is that your barony? Did you get given that to pay back some debt, perhaps?"
Garia was about to reply with a retort but realized that it was, in fact, the truth.
"Yes, it is my barony, yes, it was in part payment for a debt, and yes, there is something there worth the effort."
Any further explanation was halted by the arrival of servants with the first course. Jenet leaned over and handed Garia and Merizel their forks, having noticed that none of the tables had any at the place settings. This surprised everybody else at their table.
"You've managed to get some of those things!" Jordan exclaimed. "We've asked father and he says the metalsmiths are too busy to make such things and, besides, they are just a fashion and people will soon tire of them."
"How did you manage to get those?" Smendar asked. "Is it because you're with the Prince? How do they work?"
"They make eating your food much easier," Garia explained. "The best way to see how they work is to just watch us, I think."
The table concentrated on their food, which meant that everyone else watched Garia and Merizel eat theirs while picking at their own with spoon and knives. It didn't seem to reduce the stream of comments and questions much.
"That's clever! I wonder who thought that idea up? Now we have to ask father to get us some!"
"It does make eating seem easier, doesn't it? Oh! I see! If you switch hands - look, Velinet - you can use that thing a bit like a spoon as well. What did you say it was called, Garia?"
"I didn't actually. It's called a fork. I thought you would have had news of these up here by now. They were certainly producing them in quantity in Palarand when we left three months ago. We've even seen one or two in Tranidor."
"Ah, we don't bother much with that kind of news, Garia," Jordan told her. "If there's anything that might become interesting then father or mother will mention it. The only reason we know about... forks, you called them? ...is that a recent visitor came to the castle and one fell out of his pouch when he was pulling out a letter for father."
The first course was cleared and the next arrived.
"So," Smendar said. "You went all the way to Blackstone, I take it? That must have taken days. And now you're going all the way back down to Palarand. Was it boring? At least you had a carriage to ride in, imagine being stuck on a wagon all that distance!"
"Lady Merizel was riding a frayen," Velinet put in. "Didn't you see? I liked your outfit, milady." Merizel inclined her head. "Do many girls ride where you come from? I don't think Daddy would like Bellina or me to ride, he says that it's unnatural for women to ride as men do."
"Garia said that Merizel's father is Baron South Reach," Jordan added. "That's right down south, isn't it? On the old river. I think people in country areas have customs that us town folk would find strange or uncultured."
"I ride," Garia said, getting irritated. "I'm only in the carriage because Kalikan has called." The boys flinched. "Normally I ride a frayen as well, although we did ride on the wagons part of the way up. The carriage is only borrowed from Lord Trosanar until we get to Dekarran. He'll take it back when he goes back to Tranidor." She considered. "Besides, the Queen rides and I wouldn't call her uncultured, would you? At least, not in her hearing."
"The Queen rides?" Smendar scoffed. "You're making fun of us!"
"You remember the Queen doesn't come from Palarand, right? Where she was born and brought up women customarily ride."
Smendar waved a hand. "Aye, but she is foreign and everybody knows foreigners have strange customs."
Jordan's eyes narrowed. "Where was it you said you came from, Garia? Now I think on it, nobody mentioned your father. What rank is he, that you have your own barony?"
"Nobody mentioned my father or mother because they aren't in Alaesia, they're somewhere else entirely. I'm all on my own here in Palarand, essentially an orphan. The barony was a gift from the King for services rendered."
"Services? What services?" Jordan sniffed dismissively. "I can't imagine anything a girl could do that would make the King grant her a barony." He smirked. "Or perhaps you're traveling with the Prince to keep his bed warm! Is that it?"
Garia felt the familiar flash of heat as the mist turned red.
"You clowns know nothing, do you?" she retorted, keeping her temper barely under control. "I was made a Baroness because I have given Palarand many new things. Forks, for one. Paper, telescopes, sheet glass, steam engines, semaphores, electricity, lots of other things. I don't think I care to sit here and be insulted by a bunch of ignorant dumbasses." Garia stood, handing her fork to Jenet. "You'll excuse me, I am indisposed. Good-night."
Having blown a hole through table etiquette by not asking the nominal head of her table, Jordan, for permission to leave, Garia turned on her heel and stalked out of the room with Jenet close behind. The others watched her go with mouths open.
"What did we do?" Smendar asked. "Is it because of her Call?"
"What was she talking about?" Jordan added. "I didn't understand half the words she said. Surely she couldn't be serious."
"My lord," Merizel said primly, "I would suggest you find something else to talk about. If you continue to insult your guests there may be unpleasant consequences."
"But -" Jordan studied the expression on Merizel's face and decided that he and his siblings had strayed out of their depths. "As you say, milady." He thought about her words and asked, "Unpleasant consequences? What do you mean?"
Merizel shook her head. "I could not say, my lord. But you would be wise not to make any further thoughtless remarks to the Baroness. She has a short temper with fools and the means to make them regret their words." She turned and handed her fork to Jasinet, who had been serving her. "Now, with your permission, my lord, perhaps I had also better retire before any more unwise words are spoken."
A puzzled Jordan raised his hand in assent and Merizel stood, turned and left, followed by Jasinet.
"What did we say?" Smendar repeated. "I don't understand what just happened."
"Neither do I," Jordan agreed. "Don't these country folk do strange things?"
On the main table Keren had watched Garia's abrupt departure. Thermin leaned over to speak.
"Highness, the Baroness, she seems upset. Is the food not to her liking, do you think?"
The food, in fact, was tolerable but nothing special, but Keren thought he knew what had happened.
"I don't think the food was the problem, my lord, rather the conversation at table. May I ask, why was the Baroness not seated at your own table? After myself, she should be your honored guest. She is the reason for this entire expedition, after all."
"She is? I did not realize, Highness. I thought that you undertook a progress about your father's lands and the girls but accompanied you."
"It is the other way around, my lord. She travels to inspect her lands and the rest of us are there for her protection. Lady Garia is key to many of the changes which are coming to Palarand in the future."
"Changes? Yes, we have spoken of such. But a mere girl? Of what, your own age? Surely not."
"It is Garia who discovered coal in Blackstone and has begun the increased traffic you complained about earlier. It is Garia who told us of the semaphore stations you mentioned just a moment ago."
"Strange talents for one so young, Highness! But, I do not understand why it is necessary that a Prince would protect a Baroness. Surely a file of her own men would suffice?"
"Garia has given us many new things and that makes her a target for others. That is why we must protect her as we would the King or Queen. There have already been several attempts by others to abduct her, or failing that, to kill her so that we would not benefit from her knowledge."
"Abduct her? Is she that important?"
"She is the most important person in Palarand today, my lord. She has already suffered three abduction attempts that we know of. There has also been a confrontation with brigands and a battle with armed men who we think were paid by those of Yod. We take our responsibility seriously."
The unspoken thought was, I expect you to do the same.
Thermin looked upset. "Highness, I take my responsibility as host to yourself and your companions as seriously as I would for any other guests. But, in light of what you have just told me, I shall give instructions for the guard to be increased tonight. Will that suffice?"
Keren nodded. "Aye, my lord, with the aid of those men we brought with us we should all be safe."
Thermin's brow furrowed. "But why, then, did she depart table so soon? You were right, Highness, I should have made a place for her at this table but I thought she would feel easier among those of her own age."
"Garia... is not yet comfortable with nobility, my lord. Especially nobility her own age. I have no doubt they would not believe some of what she told them and they perchance insulted her without realizing it. Besides, she suffers Kalikan as all women must and that makes her short-tempered. It is best that she withdraws as she did else there might have been injuries in your hall."
Keren gave Thermin a measured look. "My lord, she is a much better warrior than any man of the palace guard. She teaches them unarmed combat. She has already killed a man, one of those who attempted to abduct her."
Thermin was shocked. "Highness, this is surprising news. Perhaps we should withdraw after the meal and you may tell me more about Lady Garia. It seems I have quite misunderstood what you and milady have been doing."
"Aye, my lord, perhaps we should."
"Whatever are they doing? I don't understand any of this."
Thermin's four children looked out of a window overlooking the courtyard. It was early morning and they had been on their way to breakfast when the unusual activity in the yard had caught their attention.
"I don't think it's a dance," Smendar opined. "If it is, it's one of those weird foreign dances you sometimes see in fairs and festivals."
"Well, she is doing it. Do you think it's all her idea?"
No need to ask who she was.
"Perhaps. But, look, that must be every single armsman who came with them down there as well! Even those, those are the wagon drivers, aren't they?"
"No, look, that group of men over there are just watching. Wait, their colors are different. Trosanar's men, surely? But all the others are doing it."
"What do you think it means?"
"Let's get down to the breakfast table and we'll probably find out," Jordan said.
Bellina snorted. "You think she'll deign to speak to us after last night?"
"I'm still not sure what we said," Jordan replied, although he didn't sound very sure of his ground any more. "Aye, look, they seem to have finished, let's go."
But they were not to find out immediately since Thermin had rectified his mistake and added Garia to the top table, seated to his left.
"I trust you are feeling better this morning, my lady?" he asked her as they sat down.
"I am, my lord. I should apologize for running out halfway through dinner last night."
"No need to apologize, my dear," Thermin beamed at her. "I have had the Countess and two daughters to educate me in the ways of Kalikan. You have my sympathies."
"Thank you, my lord."
"I gather that you had planned to leave immediately after breakfast, to go to Teldor."
"We did, my lord."
"I have learned there are a number of townsmen who wish to speak with you, my lady. Would it be possible for you to delay a bell or two to satisfy them?"
"Well, we're already delayed as it is, my lord." Garia leaned forward to see past Thermin. "Keren?"
He smiled back at Garia. "I half expected it, actually. Perhaps we ought to do what we did before and delay our departure until after lunchtime. Lord Thermin, would your hospitality stretch that far?"
Thermin spread his hands. "Your Highness, I would be honored to serve you as long as you desire. What will you require?"
"I half suspect that some of these men will be guildsmen, my lord, with questions for milady. Ah, a largish chamber, perhaps, where we could meet these people. A good-sized table, for the spreading of plans and documents. A blackboard and chalk, if you have such available. Oh," Keren smiled, "and the occasional appearance of quantities of pel."
"Those will present us no trouble, Highness," Thermin replied. "If you have no objection, I would wish to attend these meetings myself."
"I would assume nothing else, my lord, especially as the topics we will be discussing will involve your town and your demesne. You may learn more of that we spoke of last night."
"That was my desire, Highness. Until recently Haligo was little more than an overnight stop along the trade route but now I find that great works may be required to satisfy developments I can barely comprehend."
"Aye, my lord. As I mentioned last night, the carriage of coal, which you have already noticed, will increase so much that the road through Haligo will become completely choked and your town impassable. And coal, though it will be the greatest material to begin with, will be but the first of many such products which must needs pass through your lands, so I would be more concerned should you not wish to attend."
"Jenet," Garia said as she received her fork, "could you go and give Tanon and Jaxen the good news? We won't be leaving until after lunch."
Garia watched her maid go to one of the smaller tables and whisper in Jaxen's ear. He looked up, grinned at Garia and gave her a small wave.
Jenet returned and told Garia, "He had been expecting such a delay, milady."
"He knows us too well, doesn't he?"
By the end of the meal Thermin had been primed with what had happened the previous evening so, when his children clustered round as the tables were cleared, he had stern words to say to them.
"Boys, girls, you made House Haligo look like ignorant fools yesterday. Baroness Garia is clever and knowledgeable and has the favor of the King in everything she does. To treat her as if she was a rural bumpkin was merely to show your own want of knowledge. I have learned that she is Palarand's greatest treasure and you must apologize at once for your unthinking behavior."
Keren observed this exchange and saw that, while Garia was the same age as Thermin's sons and daughters, they were still children while she was definitely a young woman. The expression on her face, the way she held herself, all showed that she had recovered from the previous day's difficulties and was in full possession of her faculties and ready to go.
And he loved her all the more for it.
"Father, we don't understand," Jordan said. "We merely tried to make light conversation at table."
"The reason you don't understand," Thermin told them, "is because you refuse to involve yourselves in anything that happens outside the castle. You carry on with your own games and other pursuits and think that is all a noble should need to do. I admit that is partly my fault but whatever the cause it shall happen no more. It is more than time that all four of you learned what the rest of Palarand has already learned, that change is coming and that we must all play our part in it. With milady's permission, you shall observe the meetings she is about to hold and you shall learn what manner of person she is."
Garia said, "That's a good idea, my lord. Assuming these men you mention are who I think they are."
"That's settled, then," Thermin said. "Jordan, Smendar, next week you will both begin training with the castle guard." There were groans of protest. "I am informed that His Highness has already been training with the palace guard for more than a year and Milady Garia has trained with them as well, ever since she started residing there. Indeed, I am told she teaches them new methods of combat."
There was complete disbelief on all four faces.
"As soon as instructors become available," Thermin continued, "we will begin to use these same methods here, boys. Jordan, in the afternoons you will join me in administering our responsibilites, which includes organizing the taxation and budgets." Jordan groaned. "Don't take that attitude, boy!" Thermin said testily. "What in the Maker's name did you think would happen when I died? Did you imagine House Haligo would somehow run itself?"
Jordan's face fell. "No, father."
"As for you girls, it seems that your futures may not be just as wives to noble sons. Lady Merizel, who is Lady Garia's secretary, is a Journeywoman Scribe and the third woman of their company is traveling to Palarand to become a guild apprentice to Lady Garia in one of the new crafts."
Bellina and Velinet gaped at their father and then turned to Garia, who merely smiled. It would take too long to explain and there were guildsmen waiting.
"Wait a moment," Smendar said, "you mean the guilds are admitting women now? How is this possible?"
"Lady Garia is a Guildmistress, though I can barely believe it myself. I have seen her charter. We shall discuss this further when our guests have departed. Now, children, the grown-ups have business to conduct. If you would all follow me..."
"I still don't understand," Jordan complained. "How can you possibly know that much?"
"I think," Smendar added, "that she is much older than she appears. She can't really be our age, can she?"
Garia smiled. "I'm sixteen and some months, that's all. The reason I know all this stuff is that we begin our education at about age five and we're still learning even when we get to sixteen. In the lands I come from, all that I showed the townsmen and the guildsmen is commonplace and everybody knows about much of what goes on. Of course, someone my age really doesn't know everything, that takes many years of practical experience. It's like, I don't know, the difference between a raw recruit, say, and a seasoned archer."
"Did you really mean what you said back there," Bellina asked, "about demolishing the castle to make a new road? Though road wasn't the word you used, was it?"
"The word I used was railroad, and yes, I suggested that would be one way to make a route through from the north to the south without tunneling. A railroad is a special kind of road and uses wagons that can't go on normal roads."
Jordan said, "But, knocking down our castle to build a... viaduct... through the gorge and over the top of Haligo! That will cost thousands of crowns!"
"There's a good angle to that," Velinet said. "We'll have a nice new home that won't be old and damp and drafty."
"Thousands more crowns," Jordan muttered grumpily.
"It's about time this old castle got retired anyway," Terinar commented. "Once upon a time, centuries ago, this was the northern border of Palarand and having fortifications here made sense. Now it's old and crumbling and a danger to traffic on the highway below. It's a good opportunity, as Garia said, to take it down and re-use the stones for something else."
Jaxen arrived. "My lord, my lady, it is time."
"As you say, Jaxen. Come on, Terry, we're holding everybody up."
"You'll send us those patterns you promised, Garia?" Velinet asked.
"Of course. Merizel has it written down. I'm sure there's a set of copies in Dekarran we can pass on."
"Fare you well, Lord Terinar, Lady Garia."
"Fare well to you. We'll probably visit again next spring."
Terinar added, "Aye, and I expect you'll be seeing the Duke before then."
"Lead the way, Jaxen."
"Fifty-two." The tallyman moved a bead on the top wire of his abacus. "How many more are there?"
"Good. Then we can move this scow out of the way and make a start on that load of timber."
The laborer expertly swung the sack off his shoulder into position on top of the pile on the wharf. He straightened up, putting a hand to his waist to ease the stiffness. The tallyman noticed.
"Tell you what. Once you've finished these you can have a quarter bell or so for a bite and a drink while we swap barges." He grinned. "Give you a chance to work the kinks out of your back."
"Sounds fair to me, boss."
The laborer was in the hold of the barge preparing to lift the last of the sacks when there was a shout from above.
"Hey! Sopo, come lookit this!"
Sopo climbed out of the hold and his gaze followed the indicated finger. On the far bank, a procession was headed south along the highway which ran the west side of the Palar.
""Did'ya ever see so many, Sopo? All those armsmen! Must be somebody important."
"Oh, it's just some noble off to visit a drinking buddy. Don't get so excited."
"There's too many wagons for that! And look, I reckon I can tell four different liveries over there. Do you know any of the local colors?"
"Not me. Just the colors of the local watch, to stay away from! Come on, Beran, there's just two sacks left and then this barge can leave."
"Right you are."
Back at the tallyman, Sopo had a request. "Look, boss, is it all right if I go over there a moment?" The laborer pointed to a barge tied up at the next wharf. "That's the Gray Skwod and one of my cousins is on it. His father - my uncle - wasn't feeling too well last I heard and I wanted to see if there was any further news."
The tallyman considered and then nodded. "All right, then. I did promise you a breather while we move the barges, didn't I? Off you go, but mind you're back before the bell sounds or I'll dock your wages two soo. That timber won't unload itself, you know."
Sopo returned before the indicated time bringing another man with him.
"I'm sorry, boss. It looks like my uncle is worse than I realized. The Skwod is pushing off shortly and I want to be on it, to see the old man before he snuffs it."
"What about my timber?"
"That's why I brought Bari here along. He's about finished over there and he says he'll be glad to help an old mate out."
The tallyman thought, then nodded. "Sounds fair to me. Go grab your gear while I reckon up what I owe you. No," he held up a hand, "you've been a good worker and I won't cheat you, if that's what you're thinking. You'll be welcome back here if you're up Haligo way again."
"Why thanks, boss. I appreciate that."
Sopo did really mean it. The work had been hard, as might be expected, but the pay was fair and the company good. He had enjoyed the weeks he had worked on the wharf.
Pity I'm likely never to be here again, he thought. Except maybe as leader of an invasion force! Now, the old Skwod will get downstream with the current much faster than any plodding dranakh can manage, so there's plenty of time to reach Dekarran and make some arrangements.
With duffle over his shoulder and coin in his pouch, the man whose name was not Sopo walked the short distance between the two wharves. His mind was already thinking of the future.
I've got you at last, you little cow! Couldn't be anyone else sitting in that carriage, not with hair that short. If the word of what is happening upriver is right, then the next time we meet the odds will be completely in our favor.
Next time I meet you, little girl, Fikt promised himself, I will make certain that I win the day!
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