Julina of Blackstone - 031 – Connections

Julina has a very full evening followed by a less remarkable day.

Julina of Blackstone
Her Chronicles

by Julia Phillips

031 - Connections


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 © 2013 - 2018 Julia Phillips. All rights reserved.

It uses some of the associated characters and situations that arise from the world called ‘Anmar’ created by Penny Lane, whose stories
are also copyright © 2010 - 2018 Penny Lane. All rights reserved.

Julina of Blackstone
Her Chronicles
031 – Connections

“ ….. and then he said: 'Like a pakh does!'”

A storm of laughter erupted from us all as Uncle finished yet another tale. Another storm of laughter, to be more accurate in my reporting, for my sides were already aching.

I looked round the table and saw Swayga wiping the tears from her eyes. The three other grown men were all chuckling still and little Kissa had to dash out in that funny, scuttling way that told me she had had a little 'accident' brought on by the laughter.

Little Kord was delighted and 'Kin was especially pleased that a character very, very, very like him had been the hero of the story. The grinning Julu and Kords were busy handing round little cloths for people to wipe their eyes, whilst I felt my face would split with the wideness of my grin and/or smile. And my ribs protested that they were nearing their limits.

Which left just Sookie.

Her eyes were bright as she too was laughing freely, but those eyes were for just one man and the adoration that shone out of them was just SO intense somehow. I suspect that I was the only one to notice it, maybe Swayga had as well, but there was no doubt where the wind lay in THAT relationship. And the subject just sat back to take another draught of the beer in the huge tankard in front of him, a look of surprise and innocence plastered on his face that made us all laugh some more. But he too had been, from time to time, casting looks designed for Sookie's eyes only. And their hands would reach out and touch the other as the occasions permitted.

Both of them oozed contentment and their bodies were saying to each other: 'For me to love you now would be the sweetest thing'.

And we all heartily approved, it must be admitted. I could see the men swallowing some ribald remarks which they would probably think were funny, but wouldn't say out loud in front of the children. I thought it was sweet, and Swayga had a misty-eyed and somehow wistful smile on her face before going to fetch another pot of pel.

Uncle and Sookie had brought with them, on a hand-dray, a cask of the now-famous ale she brews down at the Claw, and Uncle had also brought his own personal flagon to drink it out of; but, judging by his actions, maybe it would be more accurate for me to say 'quaff' rather than 'drink'. He had also brought along the favourite mugs of both Master Bezan and Master Yarling, having fetched them from the Bell specially.

As well as that of Papa, which was a bit of a shock to us all – we had no idea that he attended the Bell often enough to have a favourite mug there. Certainly, Swayga, Kords and I viewed him in a slightly different light from that moment on.

The evening had actually started out a little awkwardly – Sookie was feeling guilty about having some time off from her hostessing and managing at the Claw, and my adoption of Master Brydas as my honorary uncle was highly confusing to my brothers and sisters. Swayga was worried to be catering for a renowned caterer, for some silly illogical reason, and Papa had been worried that all these invitations might have been too much for Swayga and Kords to cope with, particularly since tomorrow night was a scheduled Deegrum night.

I smiled fondly at Papa for that. He was a good provider for us all and he was a good Papa (on the whole – there was not one of us who could claim to have never found some reason to doubt that from time to time) but he was hopeless when it came to organising the household. Of course, he maintained that he was just letting me do it my way and was trying not to interfere, but I shudder to think of the chaos we would have had had I not imposed some order these past few years. Now I had 'retired' from those duties, I noticed Swayga also had to overrule him sometimes, at which point he would throw up his hands and disappear.

To the Bell it had now become apparent.

As it transpired, the slight awkwardness at the beginning of the evening was made ever so slightly more so by Uncle's attempts at joviality with the younger ones. They were totally unused to a character with quite so large a figure and personality, so they started to withdraw from him and search for my or Swayga's protection. It was here that Sookie's character came out and saved the day for it was she who quietened him down (at first!) and who settled the children's nerves. She soon won them over and from that point in time it was easier for them to accept her man.

Sundown had already paled the sky when our further guests came a'knocking. The arrival of these two other Masters, both of whom were, of course, by now familiar to us all, and the obvious respect and friendliness that they had with the Smith and with Sookie, must also have been of assistance in allaying any fears the younger ones might have had. As a result of all of this, I don't suppose that any of that awkwardness lasted for more than half a bell, during which we each had a serving of whatever we would drink – pel for all the women, ale for the grown men, water for Kord and water with a splash of Papa's wine for 'Kin.

“.... there are some pastries here, just to soak up some of that drink, but you are not to eat too many, lest you spoil your meal. Is that understood?” asked a mock-stern Swayga.

“As you command, Mistress,” was the general tone of the replies. I had the feeling that, were they guardsmen, they would have leapt to attention and saluted.

The meal was tasty and filling and the conversation flowed well, Master Brydas warming the kids up with his attention, once they had overcome their natural shyness. I had spotted the quick interchange from him with Papa and Swayga, asking their permission, before Uncle started to let 'Kin have a sip or two of the beer, pretending that they had to hide it from Papa particularly. Papa made sure to not notice, as did Swayga, once she caught on to what was happening; which was after Papa tapped her on the arm to stop her making a fuss about it. 'Kin was soon a firm follower, and that helped enormously with Kord. Both boys declaring before their night's end that they would become smiths when they grew up!

And they would have flagons to drink from.

Not only the boys were won over, for the girls had also fallen under his spell, since he also made sure to address them individually and to include and involve them in the conversations that were, at times, fast and furious.

Now I do not wish to imply that Uncle took over the entire conversation at table, not by any means. The others all contributed too, and they also involved the children as and when they could. I loved it, especially as it meant that the kids were exposed to a variety of points of view, which could only be of benefit to them – a sort of rounding of their education, if you like.

Once all the supper things had been cleared away, which event I had never seen performed so thoroughly and rapidly (all the kids not wanting to miss anything that might be said) then it was time for Master Yarling to take the lead, since I had encouraged him to bring along his stock of pictures to show us and to discuss with us.

Now I, of course, had seen some of Pomma's work and her picture of the Vale had impressed us all, none of us imagining that her skill could be much bettered. But I feel a tad disloyal here by having to declare that Master Yarling's work was at least a step better, and it showed. His lines were somehow superior, his colouring somehow more vibrant, his subjects unfailingly of interest.

I really have to jump in now and say that Pomma's work is acknowledged by others as being good, far better than just adequate; there was a life and a tone to her work which was noticeable. But these drawings done by Master Yarling seemed to draw you into them, seemed to make you feel you were actually there.

Ah! That's the difference I am trying to explain! I had been struggling with how to present this difference, but there, it just leapt to my fingertips as I was scribbling.

Pomma's pictures were accurate reporting, which made you gain an understanding of the subject. They were like mental images that you retain, but of someone else's viewpoint which was presented to help the viewer understand. But Master Yarling's pictures made you feel somehow involved, somehow present IN the picture itself. They made you live the picture rather than Pomma's more simple recording of a view.

(Older Julina says: I filed away these ideas at the time since I was aware that I was breaking some new ground in my thoughts, and I would need to mull over all this. At that time I knew not the meaning of 'philosophy' but I was certainly indulging in it!)

And so it was that Master Yarling entertained us for a bell and more. With twelve of us round the table, the pictures were passed, reverently, from hand to hand, right to left as the picture circled the table, whilst he gave a condensed, but nevertheless thorough description of what, where and when. He did not make the mistake of handing out too many pictures at once, such that his commentary could then well have been about a picture that an observer did not have actually in their hand, they looking at a different one entirely.

As it happened, I was sitting at his side as he went through his collection, so I, and Master B who was to his other side, got to see many more than he showed to everyone else. I was fascinated, but totally in the dark as to understanding it, by his selection process. Some he just skipped over, some he considered, some he took out straight away.

“I really don't know why I keep this one,” he muttered to himself at one point and went to tear it up, obviously having meant to do that on frequent occasions beforehand.

I cheekily and swiftly grabbed it from his hand and studied it. I couldn't help but gasp, since it was one I found particularly arresting.

“No, no. You cannot destroy this one. It's beautiful!” I placed it face down on the table with my hand on top, keeping it until the previous picture had finished it's round. I then handed that picture round for others to see, looking for support for my statement.

Which was not long in coming. Everyone that saw it also exclaimed that it was a particularly good picture, and wanted to know, not just all about the picture, but also why he wanted to destroy it.

“It is one of the worst pictures I have ever done!”

“Oh nonsense man! It is excellent, although I feel you have now cast a small doubt in my brain. Maybe I imagine it after your words, but it gives me a slight feeling of unease, but I could not say why.” Master Bezan managed to say what we were all thinking.

“I must confess that most of this picture is as good a representation as I have ever done. But I have made a mistake, a fundamental mistake, which I suspect is the root of your unease. Just above the bottom left corner I have ruined it, and it annoys me every time I see it. I have got the angles of the reflections wrong. And that is what bothers. For some unknown reason, I drew the first tree at an un-lifelike angle, and then I aligned all the others on THAT, rather than on a sensible angle. I may have been able to rescue it had it just been that first tree, but I did all those trees, and the light gaps between them, which are as well too wide, all at the wrong angle. I have no clue as to why! And, as the painter, it annoys me to distraction when I see it.”

Here – you be the judge:

River Valley_FS.jpg

“Is that up the Telar Minor? From that small island we all used for fishing?” asked Master Bezan.

“Indeed it is. You have a good eye and a good memory. When were you there?”

And so the two of them discussed their experiences in that valley as we all looked at the picture he wanted to destroy. Everyone, when it came round to them, agreed he should keep it.

'Kin asked: “Why don't you just cut that bit out? Or overpaint it and start again?”

“I see your brother, Mistress Julina, gets his directness from you. It must be a family trait. It is most refreshing. Just speaking thoughts, unlike us adults who are burdened with all sorts of considerations that just don't occur to those a little younger.”

He turned to 'Kin to continue: “Well young Kordulkin, those were splendid suggestions, and believe me when I tell you I have considered those actions often. So, to answer your questions, let's examine the possibilities, shall we? The whole point of doing anything like that would be to preserve the picture, to render it still useful without the glaring mistakes, right?”

'Kin nodded in agreement.

“So just cutting that bit out would also remove much of the 'useful' part. I have looked and looked, and can find no obvious cut lines, so the excised part would have to be very oddly shaped, and that in itself would detract attention from the picture itself. So I feel that cutting out a great lump would be too much of a distraction.

“Which leaves the repainting option. Now that is certainly a doable option. However, it is a highly complicated operation. First the existing piece would have to be overpainted with a neutral base colour. This is easy but would add extra thickness to the picture in just that part, and then more thickness would have to be added on top of that when I did the repainting. This would make a ridge which would cast a shadow, even if it was ever so slightly.

“Also there's the question of matching the colours. These colours have faded over time, so if I mixed up a shade to match exactly the colours at the moment, then they, with a different base and a different start composition, would fade differently in the future making it obvious in time to come that alterations were done. I see no way out of the difficulty, so I thought to just throw it away.”

There was a small silence as we all thought about what he had said, broken by Kords with a nervous-sounding question.

“Master Yarling, do you have any other pictures of that spot?”

“That is precisely my problem, Mistress Kordulet. I regret that I have no other. That's the only reason I have kept the picture, even though it annoys me so much.”

“I just thought that maybe I have a solution for you.”

There was a silence all round the table as everyone sharpened their attention upon her. I could see her get nervous at that, and her voice was shaky as she continued, but there was also a determination in her to get over the anxiety. I think we all admired her greatly for that; I know I felt a swelling of pride in my breast. As she was talking, she took one of the pieces of paper we had used for lettering lessons and was using a sharp knife to slice it into a strange shape.

“Have you considered using a piece of paper? You could cut out a piece of paper to the correct shape and simply paste it over the bit you dislike. You could write a description on the piece of paper and the writing and the material of the paper would hide nearly all that is below it, but allow a hint of it to show through. It would disguise the worst of the bad bits, but would tell a viewer that there is still a part of the picture that has simply been covered up.”

She took the piece of paper she had sliced and placed it on top of the picture. There was meaningless writing on it of course, but it was excellent for use as an example.

There was a short moment of silence before we all applauded her, which made her blush ferociously. She announced that she needed to just go and do something in the kitchens, just so she could escape the attention. I went with her and we had a good 'sisters session' away from prying eyes. I was touched when she told me that it was my example that had made her think of things, and made her brave enough to suggest them, so half the applause was for me really.

By and by, we dried our tears and, with a final hug, we returned to the other room, only to find a fierce argument in full swing.

A very friendly argument, mind you, with many laughs and jokes and teases and everything like that. All about the wording to be used on what someone had suggested should be called a 'caption'.

… … …

It was too much to expect that we would have an evening without tears, and they, totally unsurprisingly, came when the younger boys had to go to bed. I could sort of sympathise with 'Kin as he was roughly two years older than Kord and so, logically, should have been allowed to stay up even later. However, I had made it clear to him earlier that this was a special treat for Kord to be allowed to stay up later rather than a hardship for 'Kin – thus it was that the tears came from Kord and the (reluctant) acceptance from 'Kin. And Kord's tears were really just a factor of over-excitement and over-tiredness.

I suppose it was more embarrassing for Masters B and Y as they had no children and had had no exposure to them. All the rest of us were, in our way, used to it, even Sookie had some past exposure we discovered.

That unpleasant interlude over, the rest of us settled down to some more discussions, Julu being fully aware she had another half a bell at most, and Kissa to go soon after that.

So we chatted about generalities for that first period, Uncle taking care not to cause too much laughter, aware that that would just make it worse for Kord and 'Kin. The discussions got more serious once the two younger girls had gone to bed and I saw suddenly that, nowadays, Kords was very much counted amongst the grown-ups. That state of affairs had crept up on us somehow or other, but we as a family were all happy with it, and I don't recall any problems stemming from that in the times that came from then on.

When the discussions started about the town and developments, Papa demanded attention as he wished to clear up a mystery, or so he said. He wanted to talk about the semaphore and it was Master Yarling, surprisingly, who opened the chat on that subject.

“Well, Kordulen, I'm glad you picked that topic as I have some developments to report. They are starting to build one up there at the top of the pass on the road to Chaarn, where you and I visited – the extent of our travel. That will join in with the one at the Chaarn road junction, again built where we suggested. The one at the edge of Milady's lands and the road junction one have now been completed, and the one at the falls is due to be finished tomorrow or the next day. Staffing for these has yet to be finalised, but the builders have been told to stay for a maximum of 3 days for testing and the like. The one between here and Strettalm has been surveyed and a suitable spot chosen. All this means that, with the better weather conditions and with a bit of luck, we could, from tomorrow be in touch with the southernmost point of Milady's lands. The weakness being, of course, the distance between here and Strettalm, a connection available only in the very best of weathers. Mayhap, Bezan, you know a little more?”

“Actually, I do have some more for you. The station at Milady's borderline is positioned close to the river and from there southwards, the other stations are easily positioned on the river banks, or nearby at the very least. Sightlines are considerably easier. I am told that one has been built on the EAST bank of the river by the bridge into Tranidor and another on the hill above Count Trosanar's keep, and a third at the mouth of the Sufen. How they are arranged up the Sufen valley, I have no idea and, frankly, no interest; just as likewise I have no interest in how they arrange the flow of messages between their three stations dotted around the town. For us, it is the Palar valley downwards from Tranidor that is of significance. So, finally, on the inside of the large sweeping bend in the river south of Tranidor, another has been erected. Tranidor is already in touch with Holville, where it has been erected on the bit that used to be an island, and we shall join in in the next day or two. South of Holville, I know not, but I feel there lacks just one other station to join Haligo to Tranidor and thus to us.”

“Well, I confess I am quite shocked by the speed, although I understand not why I am so shocked,” said Papa. “We knew that they were building stations even as Milady departed, so I suppose the surprise for us is simply the knowledge that they are already prepared, having heard nothing of the ongoing process. Now I think more clearly upon the matter, I can see that we would only really be involved with our station here and on Strettalm – and the intervening one. But for now, with permission, I wish to concentrate upon the Strettalm station. I understand that, due to the awkward access, a bunkhouse has been built atop the peak?”

“Ah – bunkhouse. I have something else to report to you later Julina, please don't let me forget,” replied Bezan. He returned his attention to Papa before continuing: “Indeed so, Kordulen. They have placed a bunkhouse with a kitchen and latrine up there, although, of course, the water supply is a problem up there. They are working on that, constructing I believe a device to lift buckets from the stream, with an access point some halfway down. But at least it is now considerably more civilized than it was.”

My thoughts were grabbed by one of my background ideas, one that was once more bubbling up, one that I had begun to think about earlier to do with curtains of rain and so on.

But again I was distracted before I could delve deeper.

“And may I suggest that maybe the bunkhouse is some two or three casts from the station?”

“Why yes it is! It's actually just under four. How on Anmar did you know? Or has someone already told you?”

“It is a logical conclusion from what I believe to be the solution to a problem that Julina and Kordulet had the other night.”

Kords and I looked at each other, not knowing what Papa was going on about. I was still trying to regather my thoughts, so I was more than a little fuzzy in my head.

He looked at us and said: “Your 'spooky eyes'?”

MY eyes widened at that, and so did Kords'. We were all agog to hear Papa's solution, but first he asked Kords to describe the problem which she did with a noticeable shudder. The men smiled indulgently, which sort of irritated me as it was obviously being written off as mere female imaginings. But Papa picked up on that and spent some time addressing that impression. Soon, his earnestness convinced them of the scariness and they were suitably contrite after that.

Papa continued by talking to Kords and I, and we nodded our agreement of each of his points as they came up: “It was near a full moon that night, was it not, Kalikan shining brightly? And not too cloudy? And the 'eyes' appeared downvalley from here? Almost exactly along the line of the wall outside? And Kalikan was over your shoulders when you looked at the 'eyes'?”

He paused, unnecessarily dramatically, at this point.

“Both Julina and I had an experience in town earlier which tipped my thinking to the solution. Julina, m'dear and sweet Kords, I believe that your 'spooky eyes' were in fact the reflection of the moon in the new glass windows of the buildings atop Strettalm.”

He stopped at that point and stood back, exuding a sense of self-satisfaction and self-gratulation.

The memory of being blinded by the reflections of the sun from one of the windows was almost as blinding as the realisation that Papa had indeed solved our mystery for us.

Kords and I breathed a sigh of relief and looked at each other quite sheepishly when we realised the plain and simple explanation rather than the fanciful conclusion to which we had originally jumped.

But even then I could feel another idea birthing in my idea-forming pool, an idea connected to what was just said and to my visit to Uncle's smithy a short while ago, or was it Pocular's?. Hmmmm, another idea that would need to simmer there at the back of my mind.

Thus it was that the spooky 'eyes' were forever banished from bothering us, all the facts neatly dovetailing into Papa's hypothesis.

… … …

I asked for a reminder about what had been said about civilization on the top of the Strettalm and Bezan nodded knowledgably, saying: “Ah yes! The bunkhouse. Well remembered. Well your idea about the bunkhouse at the end of the Loop Road …...”

“No. No. Hold! Something was said about about the one at the top of Strettalm that made me think about something else, something that's been worrying me all afternoon.”

“Let me see, bunkhouse on Strettalm. Four casts from the semaphore station? Newly built. Getting water up to ….”

“That's it! Water! Water supply. Water runs downhill not up. The hot water tank in our new kitchen. To get the hot water to the bathrooms and the privies, the tank will have to be higher than the outlet, and the pipes will have to run DOWN. How can it work? The tanks aren't that high up, perching there on top of the ranges. That's what's been bothering me. Do we have a design problem?”

“Ah! I must say I am impressed that you managed to work that one out. No, I believe that we have found a design or two that gets round that problem. One is something called a 'siphon'. If no air can get in, then a pipe can be filled with water and automatically make water flow as long as the output point is lower in height than the input point. So we can have a pipe that descends from a small 'header' tank, runs across the floor and CLIMBS again the other side. The water will still flow properly through it. The other solution, which is probably the most practical, is to raise the water as it comes out of the hot water tank and pour it into the pipe system as high as possible, using a header tank there. A simple pulley arrangement should work for this. But we have thought of that problem, I assure you.”

“Your solutions seem to conjure up more questions, Master Bezan. The pulley system seems to defeat the object of having pipes in the first place. But that is just a first thought. I feel I need to sit and discuss this so I understand it, but I deem it too complicated for an evening such as this. Perhaps we might chat soon?”

“I should be delighted. I shall let you know when would be best.”

“Thank you. Now, you were saying about the bunkhouse at the Loop Road?”

“Yes,” interrupted Papa. “That sounds like something I have not yet heard about.”

The others all nodded as well and so Bezan explained the background and then continued: “...so the family have agreed to move to the fish farm, they shall get more space to live in and they could also provide cleaning services for the bunkhouse, and it makes the breakfast production and serving so much easier. So all around, there is an advantage, any which way you look at it. We shall start converting the building to a bunkhouse as soon as both the weather breaks and we can get the existing house builds finished up here in town. We reckon at most three days for the conversion.”

“I strongly suspect that the weather will break this night – I fancy I saw some clear patches just before the light went.”

“Aye, Kordulen. Happen you're right. I noticed the same.” Uncle nodded as he agreed. “That Guildmaster should have an easier trip in the morning, when he departs. Oh, talking of that, Fedren tells me that there was a problem arresting that assistant of his down at the Forest Roadhouse. Apparently, the semaphore operators were not believed and the men to be used for the arresting at the roadhouse were employed by the miners. So Brathan simply told them that it was just a hoax used to test the semaphore system and went to his room. When they went to call him for a meal, it was discovered that he had disappeared. And his frayen was no longer in the stables, as was another traveller's beast. It would appear that Brathan has stolen that as well, for whatever reason. A Valley Messenger Service urgent message has been sent. He will be having a miserable time of it in the weather with no civilised shelter for many marks. But of course it took time to bring the message up to us and then get the Valley Messenger Service into action. Fully a day will have passed before the message can even be imagined to overtake the thief.”

Master Bezan then picked up the conversational thread. “Talking of shelter, that shed for the shuttle has proved to be a boon. With the known arrivals and departures of the shuttles, many of the 'campers' used its cover to escape the worst of the weather recently, and the wagoneers, of course, are pleased to have a comparatively dry space to ….”

“That was it! That was my other thought!” I burst out, unable to stop my tongue for the moment. “I'm sorry Master Bezan to interrupt you, but I had two thoughts not quite formed before this evening. One was jogged into existence by the conversation earlier and it was the pipes question. Now this one has been jogged into being – our new house, and more specifically its roof line. The way it is at the moment, any wagon delivering to the house would back into our 'courtyard' as we designed. But only the back part of the wagon would be under shelter, the roof there would make a curtain of rain descend into the belly of the wagon.”

“Maker! You are right. We need to change that roof part. Well spotted!”

I sighed a huge sigh of relief. Always carrying round those unformed thoughts was exhausting. Now I had rid myself of two of them. Only one left now, the one that had been triggered earlier in the conversations this evening. I had the feeling that it was a refinement of a thought I had already had and mentioned, some while ago.

But before we could go any further, Uncle jumped in on the word 'roof' and another topic was opened.

“What has always puzzled me,” he began, “is the way we build these rooves. They are all the same, all over the place. Even down in Tranidor and Teldor. They all have steep pitched angles. And when I asked about it, they explained to me that a flat roof might gather too great a weight of snow and collapse under the strain. Rain, they explained, wasn't a problem as even the slightest angle would make it slide off, but snow can stick and gather. I have always wondered why we need snow-protective rooves up here. Our climate, even when it gets cold, is not such that we get a great amount of snow. And yet, somewhere there is something that says we must have a roof that slopes so sharply. It's like no-one dare think for themselves. Which is why Julina and her family are a breath of fresh air to us all.

“Long may you and Kordulet, and the others, keep having these ideas, 'Lina. My fear is that, as you grow up, you will begin to be weighed down with all the so-called important stuff that we elders burden ourselves with, so much so that we lose sight of the simpler things. I feel we look at matters in a far more complicated way and have more inhibitions about speaking our minds. Your ideas, and please don't be offended by this, appear to be born of a child's curiosity, and are unhampered by the host of considerations that we elder ones tend to heap upon such matters, unimportantly it seems, now you have shown us the way.

“I find myself thinking slightly differently nowadays, having been exposed to your insights and viewpoints. Your father has started to think in different ways too – previously he would probably not have found the solution to your 'scary eyes' or whatever it was that you called them. But he did. And so many others are also doing it, I have remarked. It's almost as if our minds are awakening after a long sleep.”

I was naturally blushing so much by now, I could barely reply: “It was something that just seemed so right once I had observed Milady. It was HER attitude that made me sit up and take notice. It's nothing really to do with me. I just have these thoughts and questions – like why do we do something in a certain way, is there something else, some other consideration, that everyone else seems to know about but not me? So Milady taught me that I should ask. That's all it is.”

“But it requires a certain intelligence to apply the knowledge and that is what amazes us so much. But enough of that, I don't wish to embarrass you further. I have little further to report, other than we have decided definitely to go ahead and create a new village downvalley exactly where the road kinks and your proposed railroad route crosses, Master Kordulen. We can clear a road there down to the riverbank, though the last few casts are very dense, and investigate the possibilities of using barges to ship the coal downstream.”

“Excuse me,” I interjected. “Do I understand that you want the road to go all the way to the riverbank? Would it not be possible to use one of those continuous carpet thingies like from the third quarry up here in town? Then you would just need a walkway and a passage just wide enough for the conveyor.”

Again the men looked at each other, shaking their heads.

“Another worthy suggestion, Mistress Julina. I feel you may have saved Milady much more coin now. And we can get going sooner. I shall make a note of that. I find your mind a wonderful thing. Long may it so continue.”

“Er, it was nothing, Master B.” I managed to stammer out.

Yarling decided to change the subject to save yet more blushing from me. “Kordulen, what of you? Which projects are benefiting from your experience at the moment?”

“Well, I am having a sort of half-holiday at the moment as you are aware – this, for the benefit of you others, is for me to be able to supervise the move into our new abode. But in practice it means that I accompany my wife-to-be and my two talented daughters on a morning excursion as they get more and more practice at riding frayen, where I can not only provide them, and Mistress Sukhana as well, with an escort, but I also get to see most of the new roads that are being built and can keep an eye on their developments. I have made suggestions for the improvement of the new dam slope road and I am pleased to be able to report that my suggestion is being acted upon.”

“And what might that be?” asked Uncle and Sookie at the same time, after which they both laughed at them selves.

“Well, there will be a lot of heavy traffic on that road, wagons laden with stone mostly, so I proposed that actually they start by reinforcing the roof of the aqueduct just where the dam lake road joins it presently. At that point the road will not be able to be straight and so we might as well have a bend or two there. They will also create a solid foundation on the outside of the aqueduct to provide the base for the roadbed, and they will ramp that foundation down at a gentle slope parallel to the aqueduct for as much as four casts, more if we can make it so, to make the slope as gentle as possible. The slope they have just constructed will be for access to the work site as the construction takes place, and later for light traffic, since the slope is that much steeper than my proposed one.

“Then, once that slope is completed, we will be in the narrower part of the canyon, and the road can follow the side, at its base of course, of the aqueduct for a bit more, gradually losing height as it gets to the point where the canyon widens out, the point where the aqueduct makes its only remaining sharp bend. All this will have to be a single-track road with passing places, at least in the first instance. Eventually I imagine a divided road, with one for upvalley traffic and another for downvalley traffic, but I know not whether the traffic density will be such as to justify the expense. And the narrowness of the valley just there would make it difficult, there really being only room for a single width.”

Swayga spoke up then: “Kordy,” I think we all winced a bit at that, “if there is lateral place for just a single width, would it be possible to do what we used to do back when I was a child? On the boat, we often needed to have two or more separate channels for things, but needed to use as little space as possible, so we built the channels on top of each other. You surely have no vertical space problems? Could you not have a roof over the lower road, and use that roof as the roadbed for the upper road? Or simply strengthen the roof of the aqueduct for much farther, and then construct a further slope down from there?”

I confess I was reeling with shock at that point, since I was still amazed at the 'Kordy' business, that was the first time we had heard her use that term of endearment, and that amazement was nearly as great as that created by her suggestion; not just because the suggestion had much merit, but because Swayga had made it. I don't wish to imply that Swayga is in any way stupid, but that was the first such practical suggestion she had ever made in our hearing.

All conversation stopped and many mouths dropped open.

It was Yarling who said: “It must be catching. There must be something in the wood of this house.”

Papa slowly answered: “My dear, that is certainly a suggestion that I should consider, and I would have to discuss load strengths and so on with these three Masters as well, so it is excellent that they were here to hear it. My immediate reaction is to go with the two-tier solution as I fear the effects of possibly blocking the water flow to the town by working on the aqueduct, even if only temporarily, could be very grave. But the problem I immediately see with the two-tier system is that, at least in one direction, we would be restricting the height availability of the loads. Hmmmmm.”

“But how many existing loads are so tall? I can barely recall a single one that extended above the driver's head level.”

“Ah that may be so at the moment, but what do we see in the future? Maybe …........”

… … ...

A very pleasant, laughful, interesting and absorbing evening came to an end a while later. Further topics had been raised, Yarling's third quarry and the progress there, Uncle's bridge supports, Sookie's problems down at the Claw, Bezan's expanded problems now Milady's lands were so much bigger and his continuous need to juggle resources, our house move. The final topic was the start of the schooling and I had some things to say which made all my listeners open their eyes a little.

“Mistress Epp tells me to plan for a two week absence for our trip down to Tranidor, although it is anticipated that it may be as short as a pair of hands of days. Once that is over then the Salon can open in earnest and the schooling can begin. Mistress Epp and I will try to finalise as many details as possible whilst on the trip, but I can foresee a problem coming up that I do not know how to solve. So maybe I dare ask all of you here to consider it with a part of your brain and we can discuss it properly upon my return. The children up in the Vale. They will also require schooling, but they cannot travel back and forth each day, no matter how much of a shortening is achieved with the dam lake quarry. I have thought about and discarded so many schemes for accommodating them, that the new ones are getting more and more fanciful and less and less practical.”

“How many are involved?”

“Let me see, Sookie. Denesar is the oldest, but he is already here in town, apprenticed to the carpenter. But his siblings and cousins are a different matter. There are two boys, Matwyn and Toren, aged 10 and 6 respectively. And there are four girls, two of whom are twelve or thirteen, that's Venna and Kalisel, then the ten year old who is Renys, she's a little shy and withdrawn, and finally there's Portra, also a six year old.”

“So six in all. What thoughts, sensible ones that is, have you had?”

“Epp and I have a strong feeling that two days a week would be good to start out with, so we thought that the Vale children could stay somewhere for the nights before and after school days. They would thus be four nights a week in town and three back at home. However, that schedule would depend upon one of the adults being available to either bring them or fetch them. We here in this family would have nowhere to accommodate more than one of them, and even then it would be a pinch, we are already so many. If M.... Master Michen's Salon starts soon, as is foreseen, then having any of them staying in the rooms above would not be too helpful, considering the probable noise that that enterprise will generate. Furthermore, Epp and I feel that none of the children should be alone, being as how everything would be so strange for them at first, so we would need somewhere for at least two of them to stay together.”

“Well the women's accommodation down at the Claw is scarce used so we could take all four girls together, with the parents' permission of course. I could make one or two of the individual rooms available, I suppose, keeping the larger dormitory free for any travellers. It is above my own accommodation, so the noise should be at a minimum. But I confess I have no suggestions regarding the boys.”

“Well that is a BIG help, and an excellent start. My problem has now diminished considerably.”

… … …

“I think I have just become a fair weather rider!”

Swayga, Kords and I sat there listening to the drumming of the rain on the roof. We were dressed for riding, we were all disappointed, and we were all wondering about which of the many chores to be done we would make a start on instead.

It hadn't been raining last night when the evening finally broke up. The moon was shining but we couldn't repeat the 'spooky eyes' thing so our guests left and we quickly cleared away before doing the night chores. I slept well and enjoyed writing up the notes of the day during the wake period. I also made some plans for the day. They were quite exciting actually so I tossed and turned a lot during the second sleep.

So when I got up and pottered around, thinking and thanking that, at last, morning has broken, I had my day already sorted in my mind; my time would be occupied by some simple but satisfying plans.

Which were totally destroyed when the heavens opened again just after we had got ourselves prepared.

Kords it was who volunteered to brave the rain and scoot down to the Claw to let them know we were not keen on a ride that day and I confess we were getting worried about her when she eventually returned some bells later, quite some time after that final flurry of rain had moved on and the sun had reappeared. But she explained that Sookie had provided her with some dry clothes and then they had fed nibbles to the animals and they had had a chat whilst her own clothes dried in the heat of the kitchens. She was fascinated by events there, and learnt some tricks that would be useful for mass catering, which she offered to tell me. But there was an air of something else about her, something she was delighted with but wanted to keep to herself.

I tried, using subtle and direct methods, to extract her secret, but nothing I could say or do during the entire day worked, which was mystifying because usually I could worm information out of her. I felt quite frustrated actually.

It was with some surprise that I realised as I went to bed that night, after an excellent meal this time with Deegrum as our guest, that for the very first time since the arrival of Swayga, I had actually had a full day at home, going nowhere and burying myself in the household chores. And I STILL hadn't found out what she was keeping to herself. But I also had a strong feeling that some, if not all, of the others knew as well. It was all very, very frustrating.

I suppose I should have been surprised at the ease with which I fell asleep; but, being asleep, I had neither opportunity nor capacity for surprise.

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