Julina of Blackstone - 051 - A Firm Hand

The Steward shows his mettle

Julina of Blackstone
Her Chronicles, Book 2

by Julia Phillips

051 – A Firm Hand


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
051 – A Firm Hand

“Maker! I had never considered that!”

Em had joined us in the 'slack' period at the Salon before starting our first sitting of the two scheduled for that evening. It really should be called the 'slacker' period, because there were still things to be done, but it was not the hecticity (I remember I used that word earlier, saying if it isn't a word, then it should be), the hecticity of later on when we had clients in, nor the busy time when we in the kitchens were rushing around in every direction carrying boiling pots and spitting pans.

Our routines had developed such that for a bell or a bell and a half before we figuratively opened our doors, we could all gather in the kitchen and have a chat about this or that. On this particular evening, our together time was devoted to Em and her tale, or at least as much of it as she would be able to fit in in the limited time.

When I report that she actually started with a part of the return trip and we all found it sensible, you may be surprised, but the reality was that it was logical to do so, at least to us, in the way she explained it.

The trip had been all about attending the wedding of Milady Garia at which she became the Princess of Palarand. I believe I may have already mentioned that weddings in our land were almost always after the Festival of Spring Dawning, and that the law was such that the appropriate liege lord (or lady), or their immediate representative had to be present at the ceremony in order to legalise it.

The consequence of this, when combined with the territorial expansion granted to Princess Garia back at the beginning of last Zuberak, meant that His Honour, the Captain Bleskin had been begged all the way back to “just stop and quickly marry us.”

Which was what had brought forward my exclamation: “Maker! I had never considered that!”

“Nor had the Captain, nor indeed any of us in the travelling party. We reacted much as you have done, 'Lina. I deem that that shall also be the case when we report to the Assembly on the morrow! Naturally, we discussed it on the way up here, and I further deem the Captain has made a sensible decision. The most such celebrations and ceremonies shall take place here in Town. However, that is too far to expect all citizens to come, why some would maybe have to travel down from the Chaarn pass, then up to us here. So there will be four set dates a year upon which the Steward shall travel down to Brayview, which shall be the wedding location for the southerners of the Princess' holdings. The southerners and those who live up the Chaarn road, of course.

“Furthermore, as Bezlet grows, then His Honour foresaw a need for a third centre there sometime in the future. He could attend there more frequently since it is, just, a day's journey from here, as opposed to the longer journey to and from Brayview. It was also seen that he might be required for some judging so those four trips have been planned to allow for his absence for a week at a time.

“He therefore gave orders for a large village, or maybe a township to be built up gradually in the Brayview area. Your Papa's 'southern team' can be accommodated there, at least the 'office' functions can and there could probably be a storage facility for the necessary equipment, 'Lina, as could also be provided for Master Fedren's colleagues. It shall become an administrative centre.”

“How very sensible indeed. These are all matters I had never even thought about before!”

“Nor had we actually. This, as you say, sensible decision was made despite the Captain not being his usual self on the trip back; there was something weighing heavily on his mind. He was never discourteous, never anything other than polite, but he was somehow a little more distant than he had been on the way down. The other women felt that perhaps his heart wants to be nearer the centre of our land, but he would continue to do his duty, at least until the Princess visits us once more. As you are all aware, His Honour and I had occasion to discuss defensive measures for Blackstone lands ...”

Frowka giggled as she broke in: “We have started to call the area 'Garialand' if you mean all the lands under the Princess now, because we kept getting confused with the lands just around here and above the Forest which are also sometimes called Blackstone lands. Sometimes we need to refer to those lands, the ones close to Town. We sort of feel there are three areas – Blackstone, which includes the Vale and down to the Forest edge, then there is the Forest, then there is the Chaarn road area.”

“Ah! I understand! A good idea, I suppose, but perchance that name is best kept private, I deem. I was indeed referring to the entirety of the Princess' holdings, your 'Garialand'.

“But anyway, back to His Honour and our earlier defensive discussions. These meant that he and I have been a little closer on military matters than others have been. And I can tell you briefly that some military matters he learnt of down in the Capital are also contributing to his sense of disquiet. More I am not at liberty to reveal. He was also unimpressed by a chance meeting we had one evening in the Palace, with some drunken soldiers. Even I was shocked that such a thing could come to pass in the King's home itself.

“I also think that the constant chatter of a half-dozen of us women got on his nerves somewhat. He was always fine with me, for after that time we worked so closely together he treats me always well. And Sookie and Epp of course are also well-known to him. Another factor, which I deem was also important, was that we three had all travelled, all seen more of this land. However, Yanda, Terpet and Brogla had never before left their home towns or villages, in effect, maybe a short journey here and there. This meant that nearly everything we passed, every bend we negotiated, every new vista that was opened up had to be exclaimed upon and discussed in quite some depth. It even started to get on MY nerves after a while, but I suppose that is because I am still learning to be a woman!”

“So what were these other women like?”

“Yanda you know quite well, of course, but the other two … how shall I put it? Just saying 'different' tells you nothing. It leaves so many questions open. So what I will say must be associated with the fact that this is MY opinion, not necessarily that of others. And I think the overall impression is best summed up by my telling you I have invited both of them to dine here, something I am sure they shall enjoy. For I like them, now I know them so well.

“Let us start with Terpet, as she is of Blackstone now but has some limited experiences of elsewhere. Previously she and her man had worked nearer Tranidor, so they have had that slight introduction to travel. She is a hard-working home creator. That has been her life, that has been all she knows. She believes that her job is to provide a safe, calm, clean atmosphere in their home so that her hard-working man has a nice place to rest and recover his strength. She works to a budget that is astonishingly tight. She was delighted to win one of the places in the wedding party, but was very nervous about it all. About EVERYTHING involved. About the journey, about fearing to look foolish, about being a burden to the rest of us, about leaving her man to fend for himself. About voicing her opinion amongst her 'betters', about keeping quiet when she shouldn't. About her clothes, about her accent, about how she would 'come over' to others. I must needs return to this when I get to the part where we all attended Master Korond's.”


“Never mind for now, all shall became clear, in time. You will be amazed by that little episode.

“Now, onto Mistress Brogla ...”

“That name is familiar to me, for some reason?” I managed to ask, declare and interrupt all at the same time.

“Indeed it is, 'Lina. She works in the kitchens at the Brayview roadhouse. You have met her there, and she sings your praises at any given opportunity. Why, when we met Milady Merizel, by now I suppose Countess Merizel for she was due to marry Count Terinar, Duke Gilbanar's son on the first day of this month in Dekarran ...”

“Do you tell us? I knew from my letters with Milady that she was soon to be married, but I knew not precisely when. Why she ...”

“Hush now, 'Lina. Let me get there in my own time please. We are discussing Mistress Brogla, not the Countess Merizel.”

“I beg pardon, Em!”

She nodded at me and smiled. “... When we met Countess Merizel, your name cropped up when Brogla mentioned your lessons you gave to people there and how you need never pay for a meal in the Brayview roadhouse again. The Countess seemed most interested as Brogla went on and on about you, and made some notes on a curious pad thing made of sheets of paper cut down and which she has permanently with her, with a reedlet attached. Anyway, I deem Mistress Brogla to have a heart of gold – she is unmarried and feels that her chances have slipped away by now, at her age. She is very knowledgeable in the arts of the kitchen I deem. She did mention that your recipe ... was it for Gavakhan? ... was excellent and she was grateful to you for sharing it.”

“Anyway, I have invited her, and all the other women on our trip, to dinner here pending the permission of the Royal party.

“I would like to make a little celebration of our trip, but would not wish to detract from the Princess' visit. She DID promise a four-week stay twice a year when she was here last, so I deem this visit shall be at least those four weeks in duration. I need to speak with Berdon and Bettayla, that we might make an especial evening of it, and of course with the Steward, so that the Princess might perchance join in with us. We ladies shall dine here, with partners for those that have them, and then go on to whatever I might persuade B and B to arrange for that evening. This shall be a reunion for us all, and, I hope, shall be one occasion upon which we shall all be able to wear our special gowns – for Princess Garia purchased for us each a special gown as a memento of our trip and our visit to the Palace and the Capital City. We would delight that the Princess and we can show off a little. ”

She was drowned by a chorus of excited females all demanding to see this treasure, but she refused to allow it, saying that she, along with Sookie, Yanda, Megrozen and Terpet, have all agreed to show the gowns to the seamstresses only, preferring to keep them a secret until they parade up the Main Street on this to be arranged night in the near future.

She then went on to explain about Master Korond and we all gasped and hugged ourselves as the details became clear. I know I was extremely jealous, and I am sure nearly all the others were too. Strangely, Gyth was the most pragmatic about it. We all know she wants desperately to travel, but the gowns bit just wasn't important to her. We appreciated more of Mistress Terpet when Em told us of the exchange she had with the Princess with regards to the gowns from Master Korond.

We settled back as we could, someone had to still check the sauces weren't burning and the like, for the next phase of Em's revelations; we still had a half bell before our evening's activities would commence in earnest.
Now that she had described her travelling companions, well the female ones that is, she started on her immediate overall impressions.

Again she surprised us.

She started with a question: “I deem you had a semaphore message while we were away that the war was over?”

We all looked at each other, in quite some dawning amazement. It was Paivi who actually replied: “Why yes. I think we did, I remember someone mentioning it but I'm blowed if I can remember who told me! Or precisely when!”

“Precisely! A good word is that. Especially as that very word is very valid right now. For that describes indeed my point.”

We all looked puzzled and glanced about at each other, searching for enlightenment.

Em paused for breath for a little heartbeat or two, and then carried on, really very impassioned: “What knew we here of that war and its progress?”

She didn't wait for an answer to her question.

“THAT was for me the biggest difference I noticed. It was the citizenry and their attitude to that war.

“Did you know that the Prince and Princess were themselves involved in a bloody battle on Palarandi soil? Did you know that there were fires and injuries and losses even in Palarand City itself?”

Our gasps told her that we were all stunned by her words.

“On top of that, nearly every woman down there has a son, a husband, a father, a brother, a cousin who has been sent up the Great Valley to fight for Palarand and its allies. All the while, we here have hardly been affected. Even Tranidor has sent men to the cause. When we arrived in Palarand City, there was a tense undercurrent that took us a little by surprise. The capital was not the carefree place that rumours would have us believe. The streets are NOT paved in gold and silver, but I, of course, knew that already. What I was NOT prepared for was this tense undercurrent. And seemingly none could account for it.”

We had all again gasped and so on as she told us this, unspoken words punctuating her account.

“And then, at the Shevesty Field in Palarand City, a messenger came to the King's party in the middle of the Spring Dawning celebrations. The message was passed on to the King by the Captain of His Guard. His Majesty looked a little annoyed at first, but then took in the information and smiled. Our King incorporated that information when he soon made an announcement. The message had been that the war was now ended! You should have heard the roar and the joy that erupted then!

“And it made me think just how sheltered we have been up here. I for one felt very humbled by it. Not all shall return, we all know, but there is now a far greater chance of a loved one making it back eventually from those far-off places. This news was the start of my noticing an easement in that uncomfortable undercurrent. 'Twas then I realised that the unspoken, unknown feelings were fear and worry for loved ones far away and fears for the horrors of a war. These feelings had permeated the very fabric of their society.

“And yet it has never even occurred to so many of us up here.”

We ourselves had been carried along by Em's tones, and she made us, to a far lesser extent of course, feel much as she had.

But by then it was time for us to start with our 'proper' work and we had to break off our time with her. I think we were all a little sobered by her statements. Certainly my mind was churning it over and over during that evening – and on some other occasions afterwards!

… … …

We were busy that night and had a half sitting for the early one, with a full sitting to follow at which we squeezed in two extra diners, making it a little more cramped. I worried that approaching thirty diners at once would destroy the ability for discretion so enjoyed by our regulars, but all present assured Kelly who was in charge of the Dining Room that night that they would not mind, provided the extras were “more discreet than last e'en”.

Which told us all that rumours of last night had already shot around the Town.

And told us also that most were in support of us, and the way we ran the Salon.

The evening passed peacefully, as was usual. The last few diners were just finishing at the last table when the door opened and our Steward entered.

As it happened, the three new 'girls' were helping Kelly and Gyth clear the other now deserted tables when this occurred. They in particular were, Kelly told me later with a large grin, thrown into a fair tizzy and kept curtseying and putting on silly grins. Kelly, Gyth and the Captain, being familiar riding companions, had shared a knowing look before he addressed all of them: “Good e'en Mistresses Kellonika and Gythy. And to you three young ladies, whose faces are regrettably new to me. I am here but quickly, to make a small arrangement. Would Mistress Julina be available for a mere moment or two?”

“Good evening, Your Honour. I shall fetch her immediately.”

“Thank you, Mistress Gythy. Now Mistress Kellonika, might I enquire further these charming ...”

I was just finishing helping Kassama with the last of the heavy pots, when Gyth came in and told me that the Captain wanted to see me for a quick discussion in the Dining Room. Kassama and I finished what we were doing and I wiped my hands, tidied my hair as best I could and twitched at my dress.

“... could not have a better start. Ah! Mistress Julina. We are returned as you see.”

The formality of his greeting threw me at first, but then I realised 'twas because of the three girls, for our society reverts to formalities if even one of the group is not familiar with at least one of the others. So I responded in the same fashion.

“Well met, Your Honour. I assume that Mistress Kellonika has introduced you to the three new members of our team here?”

“Indeed she has, and very charming I find them too.” They blushed at his praise and he then continued directly to me: “We have need of your services again on the morrow, I regret, for I am informed that you are, or have been, involved in some of the matters to come under discussion. I further regret that we must begin early. Would half a bell after the 1st day bell be convenient for you?”

“Your Honour, I shall be honoured to be of assistance, once more. At the half after the first, then. I assume,” I added with a little twinkle in my eye, “that 'twill be in the usual place, or had you intended somewhere else entirely?”

He twinkled back: “'Twill indeed be in the usual venue. My thanks Mistress Julina, until then.” He turned to the others. “Good night Mistresses Kellonika, Frowka, Venket and Paivi.” He turned to those few diners left in the room: “Masters!” he added before taking his leave.

'Twas not long before those final diners departed and the room was once more all ours. I had to hush the new girls once or twice as they were all atwitter about talking to the Steward, and were getting loud about it. I reminded them that there were guests above who may be trying to sleep.

… … …

So there I was on the following day, once again in the Salon's Dining Room, but this time unusually early.

The Captain smiled, nodded and briefly greeted each of us as we filed in. Once everyone he had invited was present he asked Kassama to close the door behind her on her way out; then he stood and began the formalities.

“Good morrow all. My apologies for such an early start, but I have much to do today, as I suspect is true for us all, although I deem some of you are as yet unaware of that fact!”

He paused then before beginning with some words which led up to some thanks.

“There has barely been a pause in the months since I assumed my duties here, and I would like to thank you all for sharing some of the burden with me. Your warm and often wise advice has been of great assistance on frequent occasions. There were, as you are aware, four of us amongst those who made the long trip to the capital and back, so the burden was placed upon the remaining ten for those three weeks or so, and I have been briefed in overview by Master Jepp during yesterday afternoon and evening. There are some details I would like to glean and some issues upon which I would like to hear the 'fors and againsts', but Master Jepp's tales reveal that things went mostly calmly. I must thank you all for keeping things running quite so smoothly.

“Before we get down to our urgent and comprehensive business, I wish to make a small announcement and that is to mention some tidings of a national importance, and a brief explanation.

“The war with Yod is over, as I believe a semaphore informed you on the same day as the Spring Dawning.

“There are some details of our victory which I must keep to myself, and some methods were employed which I find questionable; however, I am an old man now and must accept that time marches on. Newer and newer methods will develop, much as we see happening here in town as we struggle to keep up with the demand for our coal, principally. Although I notice the demand for our stone is growing, and we have hopes for the Stone Sea products as well. And it appears our coke production has become quite significant, allowing us as it does to ship full wagonloads at last, up that wretched incline to join the Chaarn road.

“But, to return to the war, I shall report, in brief, that some of our forces managed to take a fort of strategic value from the Yodans' control, which abruptly altered the balance of power in that part of Ferenis in particular, but also affected strongly both Forguland and Joth. What many of us suspected, but never actually knew, was that Yod had invaded other countries upstream of their territory as well as those I just mentioned which are downstream of Yod. Our successes in that downstream area encouraged the citizenry of these upvalley countries, Pakmal and Upper and Lower Fanir, to revolt against the invaders. This created more pressure upon the Yodan forces and subsequently their masters and commanders increased the pressure upon the Yodan citizens. These citizens eventually themselves rose against their yokes, and thus the Yodan structure crumbled suddenly and rapidly. The danger is fully and completely over.

“It shall take some time for all our soldiery to return, but the rest of our country are celebrating joyously. We up here were scarcely involved, mostly because the importance of our coal production meant we could spare no-one. Of course, that is as well as our relative remoteness. But I assure you that the nation rejoices.”

He paused and we all broke out clapping politely; somehow it seemed to be the thing to do.

He didn't have to pause for too long, though., which made me reflect that Em had been right, the war just was not, nor had been, a major topic to us.

“Now, as to this meeting I have called. My absence has meant that there is much for me, and my fellow travellers to catch up upon, and much for us to decide as time has become pressing.

“You will have noticed that today we have several additional bodies with us, all of whom we have had present on other occasions, so they need no formal introductions: Mistress Julina, Master Simman, Master Suril, Master Jerrit and Master Rindal. I deem Goodman Brethen there is the most of a stranger to us. Although I did see earlier that Mistress Julina, with her enthusiastic greeting, needs no introduction to him. For those of you possibly uncertain, he is the head of our Vale residents, and is here today to report upon developments up there.

“And now, we must needs get to business.

“I think the first subject should be the upcoming Royal visit and the basic preparations we still have to make. I am informed that their party is some two weeks behind us on the road, and it is doubtful they shall progress as rapidly as we did, so we have probably two and a half or three weeks before their arrival.

“I shall start with Master Simman, asking him to report on the progress over at the Community Hall. Master Simman?”

The Captain sat back down and took a sip of water as Master Simman rose to his feet.

“Your Honour, Mistresses and Masters, good morrow.

“Following discussions with yourselves and using ideas provided by several Assembly members here, and also from Mistress Julina and others, then I can report that the first floor above the ground has now been completed with a complex of seven rooms, one of which shall be the Office, which shall double as the room for these Assembly meetings. It is ready for you to move into as it happens, although I would not recommend that just yet, as we are still busy building yet another floor above that one, which we shall term the second floor above ground level.

“If the weather continues to hold fine, then I deem we shall be finished with that upper floor, a complex of four rooms, within a week. We have all the required window units and pre-built wall sections already to hand, and Master Torin promises me the final flight of stairs shall be delivered on the morrow, at the latest in the afternoon. We shall need to install that by hoisting it up to the uppermost level and passing it into place that way. Once that is in, then we shall be able to add the rest of the windowed and wall pieces, and finally the roof. The upper roofing is yet to be delivered, but I have now sent the specific measurements off for it to be built. But this must wait until we are reasonably sure we have two days of fine weather – 'twould be a large problem should we let heavy rain into that first floor, and the roof shall needs be open whilst we deal with that final phase of building. It is currently protected with heavy tarpaulins.

“Once we have achieved an overall good cover from the rain, then we can consider allowing the school masters to move in and then yourselves – unless you wish to delay all activities until after the Prince and Princess have departed? The playactors have done several tests and have pronounced themselves satisfied; they are preparing a special piece of what they call theatre for their inaugural performance in the Hall, to be presented to their Royal Highnesses. So that part is already completed and tested.

“We really will require an enormous clean-up crew to make sure that everything is in pristine condition for the arrival, but I am confident we shall have finished all the building activities and will have furnished the upper rooms with time to spare.

“The uppermost floor shall consist of a large sleeping room, a sitting room, a room for the most important maids and one for a close guard – this arrangement as was suggested by yourselves. We have paid particular attention to the guarding aspect, by restricting access to just one narrow stairway which will form the only access to the upper floors, both from the ground floor up to the first above it, and then again from that first up to the second. Narrow stairways are, we deem, more easily defended.

“The first floor above ground shall have a large office, to become also in effect your Assembly Room, a larger room for guards sleeping, another two rooms for servants; there shall be two smaller rooms for privies. The final room shall be a private bathroom. We have made allowance for possible further expansion of this level, which in turn might allow for a future expansion on the floor above.

“We have built, outside of the rooms of this lower of the two upper floors, a large water tank and holder so that water demands can be met easily; we anticipate that we can pump water up there at selected quiet times of the day, although our tests show that a steam-engine driven pump down near the kitchens is relatively quiet and could theoretically be used at any time of the day or night. This tank, following instructions I gather from the Princess, shall be what she called 'insulated' to prevent freezing on the coldest nights of the winter.

“I would welcome an inspection visit from you in shall we say four days? By that time I would expect all walls, windows and rooves to be fitted, probably also all internal doors. Maybe some of the furniture shall have been delivered by then. And maybe some of the bulkier furniture shall require larger apertures so those shall be closed AFTER the furniture is in.

“I deem there is little more to say Your Honour, Masters, Mistresses.”

He sat as the Captain stood once more.

“Thank you, Master Simman. A concise and yet detailed report that has told us most of what we require, I deem. Does anyone have any questions?”

There were just a few queries on minor matters that were swiftly dealt with. The Captain then closed that subject, but requested that Simman stayed as he might find there to be another topic to intrigue him, another possible project for him to lead. Simman indeed looked interested and sat once more, with an air of expectation.

“In fact, now I think on't, I shall introduce that subject now, as it involves almost all of our guests here today, I deem.”

The Captain paused as he obviously swiftly marshalled his thoughts. It was in fact a minor shock when he started once more, so silent had we all been.

“Allow me a heartbeat or three to commence with some background information. As one public speaker down in the capital once said: 'I always like to remind myself occasionally of the subject from which I am straying!' So ...”

He broke off as we laughed. None there gathered could ever imagine the Captain straying from a topic!

“When we were down in the capital, several of us visited the new College area and we learnt much whilst there, without being students ourselves!”

Again a good-natured laugh.

“Those students told us that having the openness around them enables a more relaxing atmosphere, and that they seem to learn more in such an environment. Mind you, we all felt embarrassingly old in comparison with those earnest students, several of whom were engaged in outdoor activities which they also recommended. Why some were even running on a special runners' track, for fun!”

His introduction was again broken by a few more chuckles and giggles.

“Coupling this with several strolls around town and observations made by several members of our party, I have come to the conclusion that we require here in our town at least one public area, the likes of which are known as 'parks' or 'recreational areas'. We four, and the others actually, discussed most aspects of this on our long trip back, so obviously those that travelled have a deeper knowledge than the rest of you. However, I wish merely to introduce the topic at this 'moment in time' as our Princess says occasionally.

“What are they then, these parks?”

We stared somewhat blankly back at him as he held up a hand to prevent anyone saying anything.

“They are areas for the populace to use for relaxing, for wandering, for strolling, for just sitting. For enjoying a bit of Nature in the midst of a forest of buildings. For breathing room, if you like. Soon our town will be growing in another spurt, and others here agree with me that we should follow the Princess' principles and think ahead, and think big.

“Now, the Camping Place we deemed to be too busy with traffic to have as a peaceful area, which is the principle principal behind the provision of a park.

“And the Camping Place wouldn't be a true open area, it couldn't be with important streets running through it. For these parks are, as I have said, open areas, and I wish to provide within our park, or perchance within our several parks, for I see others being built later, all the facilities that we have seen in my travels. We shall require a stream, a few fountains, maybe a pond or two, some tree-lined walks for shade and some open areas for children particularly to play in. Some benches, maybe a table or two, that sort of thing. The details we can work out once we have found a location.

“But we shall need to plant trees – Master Rindal; we shall need to move rocks or create rockeries, after a survey of the allocated area – Master Jarrit; we shall require a project leader – Master Simman; and, once the park is established, we shall require some provision of light eateries for those citizens enjoying the other benefits of the park – Mistress Julina can probably advise, perchance with Mistress Mousa who was unavailable this morn, and/or Mistress Megrozen.

“There, we have a design team.

“You who have lived your lives effectively in the open countryside with just a few buildings around, may not appreciate the lack of vistas afforded from the middle of a built-up area, as our town will soon become. I repeat: we must think ahead.”

My visits to Tranidor had shown me that the Steward was right, so I understood his point from the start. Nearly everyone else was wallowing a bit trying to follow his words, but the silence in which they spent time thinking was broken by first one exclamation of comprehension, followed by another, and a third. Before long, everyone had grasped the significance.

It was then that the Captain spoke again.

“I should like to have a design ready to discuss with her Highness when she is here. Simman, would you gather together all the necessary threads, please?”

“With delight, Your Honour, I deem this will be a valuable addition to our town's facilities.”

“Good! Moving on then, we need now to discuss this Master Topor and his mission. Master Yarling, you spent time with him yestere'en?”

“That I did, Your Honour. At first, I ...”

… … ...

And so the meeting went on, the Steward delivering an enthusiasm and a keenness which seemed as if it refuelled all those present and helped drive them on.

We were all impressed that so many of the preparations had already progressed so far, and were so … controlled … that's not quite the right word; I wish to convey the sense that things were not being left to chance, rather than being held back in some way.

For the sake of brevity, I shall report here that at that meeting many topics were covered, and I managed to learn a lot more about our town and its coming expansion.

For example, I knew already about the waste water treatment, after all I had seen with my own eyes that the town bridge had been renewed when they extended the waste channels; but what I didn't know was that there should be a separate but similar treatment area for the waste from the workshops. This would be situated across the river from the developing domestic waste treatment area.

I further gleaned from that meeting that the upper level of the lakeside road, the one above the dam, the one that led to the stone quarry and the Vale, was now a fully paved double-width road, and that the access to the Vale through the stone quarry was being used to transport much needed large items into the Vale itself.

The pakh up there were thriving and that second farm had been demolished, a replacement being built further upvalley for the new family who had decided to move up there. Brethen reported that the assistance would be most welcome, as his resources were beginning to be stretched. He mentioned that perhaps a third family would not go amiss, either. He made me blush when he said that my teaching had been so good, that his daughter could now act as the starter teacher for anyone else who came up there to live.

There was much more that was revealed to me during that meeting, which lasted until just after the 4th Bell.

As one of the final topics, we all had to gasp when the Steward told us how far advanced were the plans for using barges to transport our exports. Apparently an adequate wharf had been constructed down at the riverbank near Bezlet and there were hopes that the first cargoes could be shipped to and from that wharf not long after the rains, treating this year's operations as a testing time before operations could begin in earnest next Spring.

After that, the meeting closed with a few more gasps, and also smiles and handclaps.

For the Captain closed it with a topic that Em had brushed over in her descriptions the day before.

“I wish for another building to be built.

“We have already discussed the building of a new inn to be nestled between the two Miners' Villages, but I wish for yet another! Not, you will understand, because I wish to visit it to imbibe, although I am sure I shall do so occasionally, but an inn with a second purpose. Let me come back to that in a moment or two as I report on seemingly another matter first, but shall link it all up a little later. It may appear so, but I am not straying – not really.”

We laughed at his reference to his earlier remark.

“All the way back up here, from almost the moment we crossed into the Princess' lands, I have been near-swamped by petitioners. We stopped at the border semaphore station to provide them with details to let news of our progress be sent ahead. There were two petitioners there and then, along with their respective families! With my recent experiences of marriages, I was able to deal with the matter quite swiftly, but shall have to send the paperwork down there as soon as Master Mesulkin has finished it and entered the details in his tomes.

“I mention in passing that we also said our farewells to Goodman Linan there for he is from Tamitil, a small village on the river bank just up from the border. He is a woodsman, a solid character that was a fine travelling companion once the inevitable first awkwardnesses were overcome. He was proud to be a local witness to the marriage.

“He was actually the second to leave our party, since Mistress Megrozen had required to visit her house in Tranidor. It made good sense for her to do so, not just because we had been closely passing her door, in effect. More of that in a little while.

“We then, of course, dropped Mistress Brogla off at the Brayview roadhouse, where we were all treated most hospitably. And also petitioned by other couples, so a hand more of marriages were done and witnessed there. But this all took time, so much so that we were nearly late getting to the Forest Roadhouse for that evening. Thank the Maker that the days are now that much longer. I had to refuse some petitioners in Bezlet as we passed, and we didn't even have time for my planned inspection visit. That shall have to wait until next week.

“But Brayview, in view of all this, has itself become an important topic.

“I have consequently already given orders for some building to occur around the Brayview roadhouse, to make it effectively the second administrative centre for Princess Garia's lands. For I have been petitioned all the way along our roads not only to perform marriage services but also to deal with various petty criminals, all of which requests I had to deny for now. Those judgings require far more time and a certainty that all relevant facts are in place.

“All of his made me realise that I shall have to spend time away from Blackstone to deal with these matters in the other parts of these lands. I shall therefore have an office and an audience hall down there in Brayview. It would be unreasonable to expect marriage hopefuls to have to travel all the way up here, so I must needs travel to them. And transporting criminals, particularly the petty ones, makes no sense. We shall make the Brayview area the central place for the marriages of those from the Chaarn road part of our country and for trying those criminals from that area. A schedule shall be sent there so they can make all necessary arrangements for my visits.

“We can also then build administrative houses for Master Kordulen's road maintenance teams, and Master Fedren's law-keeping team can also have a district office down there. There are others who may also require a local representation, and furthermore we must needs set up an efficient militia, some of whom shall need to be stationed there. I shall discuss that last point with Mistress Michet shortly and report back to you as soon as feasible.

“It should, by now, have become obvious to you all that I have effectively commissioned the start of a new village or township down there. There are several consequences of that decision not the least being that we must needs find administrators to run it.”

He took a short break there for a sip of water, which he took as he gazed around the table at everyone there. He replaced his glass and cleared his throat with a little cough which made us all focus once more upon his words.

“But I see several of you thinking 'what has this to do with a fourth inn up here in Blackstone?'

“Before I answer that, I wish to start by looking at the inns we currently have.

“The Claw is not a publicly open inn, in effect, for it is tied strongly to Master Tanon's company. Yes, the Common Room is open to all, but the sleeping rooms tend to be occupied by company men, and invited visiting wagoneers.”

He looked over at me sympathetically as he said that, and I suddenly felt a few tears burn my eyelids as I thought of dear Jaffy.

“The Bell is running well and is, as can be confirmed by Master Fedren, full every night.”

We all looked at Fedren who nodded in agreement.

“The third inn we have discussed earlier and shall be built 'tween the two so-called Miners' Villages. Indeed, it has even been started already as part of the development of the new Miners' Village.

“So where are those who travel up to Blackstone to be married going to be able to stay?”

He paused, somewhat dramatically at that heartbeat, and several of us gasped, mumbled or exclaimed as his obvious point hit us.

“We require an establishment to give those people a priority. And which can then be run as a normal inn at other times. Suggestions please for a site for this, and we really do need to apply a priority to this. Remember that when they arrive, they shall not be wed, so will need to be kept separate – but after the ceremony, that shall be different. Mesulkin shall inform all who travel here that the necessary reservations shall have been made. I daresay some will wish to spend a few days here before returning to their work, so we need to provide good facilities for their days and not just for their nights!”

We all laughed at that, but the Captain forged on with a related topic before we could descend into ribaldry.

“As regards weddings, then Master Mesulkin has so far had applications from two hands and four couples. I shall commence working my way through this list as from the day after the day after tomorrow, which shall be the 8th of Pertulin for those who wish a numbered date ...” he glanced over at Uncle and made a hand gesture to him as he said this and received a small nod in reply, “... at the 4th Bell. We shall join together Master Brydas and Mistress Sukhana, and follow their joy with Master Kordulen and Mistress Swayga, and Master Shemel and Mistress Megrozen. That day has been chosen to allow the last two sufficient time to reach here, Mistress Megrozen, you will recall, having dropped off the Wedding Party's transport to fetch her family. There shall follow another four of ceremonies on that day, and the rest shall be done the following day, the 9th.

“Master Mesulkin has, or shall have, informed all. I have no doubt we shall receive other applications now it is known I am returned. I deem we can get those ones to wait a pair of weeks by telling them that the Princess herself shall be able to perform their ceremonies, if we cannot fit them in on those other days already mentioned.”

… … ...

“I must ask you if you are certain these are your notes as you wrote them, and that their contents are true? Please confirm those things officially.”

I inspected the bundles presented to me and could detect neither additions nor subtractions from their bulk. All pages contained my handwriting and they flowed sensibly from one to another. It took me maybe two hands of moments to complete my study of the papers, two whole hands of moments in which no-one spoke. It was so silent I could almost have believed that no-one had even breathed.

We were all gathered in the Steward's receiving room later on in that same morn. I can report that it was exceeding crowded, with close to half the Assembly members there as well as those who were awaiting their punishments.

“Your Honour,” I began, “Masters Jepp, Brydas, Mesulkin, Graber and Fedren, Mistresses Lendra and Michet, and all those here being held to trial, with their wives – I officially identify these papers as being the notes I wrote at the initial hearings conducted by Master Jepp, here in this room.”

“Thank you, Mistress Julina,” the Captain replied equally as formally before turning to his stand-in for when he was away. “Master Jepp, do you confirm that each of those here present being tried confirmed at the time that these notes were a true and accurate report of what was said?”

“I do, Your Honour. And each of them have either signed or made his mark as agreement of their completeness and accuracy.”

“Very well.”

He turned his most serious face towards the eleven men standing together in a sort of semi-circular array facing him at the other end of the table.

“You all – all eleven – swore a public statement to the effect that I had given you each exclusive rights to something or somewhere. You all did this in the hope that my representative, acting for me because I was somewhere else entirely, would grant you favours or rights – WHILST I WAS NOT HERE TO CONFIRM THE FACTS. You have used MY NAME dishonourably.”

I shuddered as his angry roar thundered into everyone else in the room. I even squeaked a little in terror. Some of the wives went very pale. The Captain had arranged them in a particular order which we all who had been there recognised as being that in which the hearings had ended, the sequence in which those people had been dismissed from this same room.

“I did speak to ONE of you, just one, about his suggestion before I left, and I told him that his idea had merit, and that the Assembly would need to discuss it all. But that they would do so after my return. But I never gave anyone any permission, nor any promises, and certainly no Exclusivities. You shall ALL pay for that, for lying on oath and for falsely representing the facts.

“Goodman Betruk, you were the first to withdraw, the first to see sense, so you shall have one week of public service duties to be performed on a new project that shall get fully underway once the Royal Visit is concluded. Master Simman shall be the project leader and he shall assign you your duties. I can assure you that you shall be working hard during that time, and you shall not be paid for that work. Goodman Loogner, you and those other three next to you also came to your senses, but later. You shall each have two weeks hard labour on that same project, also unpaid. You five are hereby dismissed, and hope fervently that you never come before me for any sentencing again.”

They filed glumly out, knowing that their lives would be awkward without that much needed pay. But I suspect they were relieved not to be on the receiving end of what was to come.

I was idly thinking of all that had gone on and was about to happen when I suddenly had a brain explosion, or at least that's how it felt to me. I swiftly grabbed a reedlet and scribbled on a piece of paper. I may have squeaked slightly again as I rapidly wrote down the bare notes of my idea.

When I looked up, I saw all eyes on me.

The Captain's were not too friendly.

I immediately understood that he hadn't want to be interrupted just as he was about to sentence the others, but I swiftly wrote his name on my folded paper and handed it over to my neighbour to be passed to him. He gestured impatiently with his hand as the others passed it towards him. He received it, opened it grumpily and read it.

His head shot up and looked at me, and I could see him trying not to grin. He nodded at me and mouthed a “Thank you”, which made me glow a little with pride.

He turned back to the others: “You will by now have recognised what is going on. The longer you persisted in your lies, the longer shall be your punishment. The next to withdraw from the hearings were yourself Goodman Bogdan and your neighbour there. You were both issued another warning before you both decided to withdraw, so you both shall work on this project for a month. Remember clearly that the work shall be hard and shall be unpaid. I care not what hardships this may cause in your domestic arrangements, 'twas yourselves who decided to try to cheat your way to some perceived advantage, and you employed lies and deceit when trying to achieve those advantages. Begone now, the both of you. And your wives.”

We all watched the dejected couples make their way out. It wasn't until the door closed behind them that the Captain turned to the remaining four couples, the four men who had been held in Fedren's cells.

He studied them impassively, their discomfort and apprehension increasing with each heartbeat.

“You four are the most despicable, and yet, in many ways, the most stupid.”

I happened to be looking at one of them as the Captain said that – Murree, the one who had been so arrogantly confident in the initial instance. Despite his uneasiness, I could see that he resented being called stupid. The Captain surprised me by also picking up on that immediately.

“Yes, Goodman Murree, I said stupid and I meant stupid.”

Murree's resentment flared again as the public who were in the room tittered at him and his discomfort. He looked around them as if memorising their faces for some future retribution. Fedren sat forward and took great scrutiny of this man, who seemed more intent on scanning the audience rather than being aware of the authority figures who were both focussing on him.

“And you continue to demonstrate your stupidity, even now. I will never condone revenge upon anyone who is involved merely as a bystander and you have clearly signalled to all your intention of trying to extract some form of revenge from those who have observed your behaviour's consequences. Goodmen Frodper, Slarty and Rident share your guilt at allowing greed to over-ride common sense, but no-one has laughed at THEM. All anyone here has done is to laugh at YOUR stupidity.

“All of you laid claim to a parcel of land; each claimed that I had promised it to you. Not even I, in my most intoxicated moments, could manage to promise the same piece of land to four separate people. You all saw a moment of opportunity to try to get something for yourself without having to work for it. Greed I can understand, and have indeed observed it often enough in my life and career; but lying and deceit are unacceptable, doubly so when trying to involve MY name and MY honour.

“It was supremely stupid of each and every one of you to imagine that you could ever get away with it. We have an Assembly here, and we have a Semaphore system. It was stupid in the extreme to imagine that your claims would not be checked out.

“And it is of the utmost stupidity to imagine that such disrespect would go unpunished. This town is growing rapidly and you all managed to see that some part might become valuable, and you wanted to take advantage of that.

“We on the Assembly recognise that rapid expansion, and are aware of even more still to come. Due to that growth of the town, we wish to avoid being swamped by buildings at every turn. What is now the Camping Place shall become a Market Place, with traders invited to commence operations once the Royal Visit is concluded certainly, maybe before.

“The Community Hall is on the verge of completion of the first and major phase of building and shall soon be opened for the various uses envisaged.

“We also intend to build certain open areas for the citizenry to enjoy, these areas shall be known as 'parks'. We see there being several of these areas built. Between the Community Hall and what is to be the Market Place lies a roughly triangular parcel of land, bounded on one side by the new Dam road, and on another side by East Street. A service lane that connects these two major roads forms the southern side of this triangle. You all recognised that this triangle shall be strategically placed. Your stupidity was in trying to gain control of this place. And the double stupidity was in attempting to use underhand methods to do so.

“I shall be recommending to the Assembly that this very triangle be developed as the first citizen's park to be built. It is away from the inevitable coal dust produced by the shafts beyond the Cistern, and it would be a way to maintain an attractive approach to the Community Hall from the town centre. To which end, I shall propose that a further triangular plot of land, north and north-east of the Community Hall kitchens, between the Dam Road and the Aqueduct, shall be the second, thus sealing the Community Hall in an open and clear space to its town side. These spaces shall never be owned by private individuals, but forever owned by the Town.

“Wherever the park area or areas are chosen to be, YOU four shall be doing the hard labour work involved in developing that first one, and possibly some other, for however long it takes. Reports of your behaviour shall be provided on a regular basis, and any slacking shall be further punished. Master Simman shall be the project leader and it is this project that all the others shall be working on as well.

“However, we are cognisant of the fact that you cannot be expected to work for nothing for several months. Therefore you shall work one month on, unpaid, and then one month off during which you can return to your normal work, if they will still have you. If not, we the Assembly can always find paid work for you.

“That sequence of one month on and one month off shall be repeated for four cycles, unless the Parks project is successfully completed before then. Goodman Murree shall work the first cycle, alongside Goodman Rident. Then, after their month is finished, you other two shall have a month on. In this way we shall have two labourers permanently working.

“As a further punishment, fully warranted because you attempted to deprive the citizens here of a potentially valuable asset, all your current landholdings will be forfeit to the Town. The Assembly shall then decide upon their fate, which MIGHT be that they are to be returned to you, if your behaviour warrants.

“Ah! Goodman Murree, I deem that at long last you have realised the consequences of your own actions. Yes, actions that really were rather stupid were they not? Did you seriously imagine that we were not already aware of your bullying and cheating tactics that you have employed to gather several properties to yourself, and to charge much higher rents for them than any other property owner? You have overstepped the mark this time, and provided us with the perfect reason to curtail your antisocial activities.

“So yes, sir, you have indeed been incredibly stupid.”

… … …

“Thank you, Julina, for the wonderful suggestion that the plot of land they claimed should become the park, thus putting it forever out of their grasp.”

“It just came to me, Captain. Some ideas sometimes leap into my head.”

We were sitting once more in the Salon's Dining Room after the hearings were concluded, having walked up the Main Street together with Em, Uncle, Mesulkin and Jepp, all of whom agreed to accept some pel just before they went to take their luncheons.

“And a very good one it was too. I deem furthermore that you should have the choice as to naming the Park.”

“Jafferkin Park,” I said immediately.

And then had to relate the details of that story, from my point of view. I tried to avoid the Konna connotation.

“Jafferkin Park it shall be, then!” said the Captain, to immediate murmurs of agreement from the others.

“I am glad that we are here in your Salon now,” then continued the Captain, “for I wish to ask you a favour if you can, and also ask about some about the goings-on here in our absence.”

“Captain, I will do all I can to grant you what you require.”

“Hmmm! Well from what little I hear, you may find this request difficult. I wish to have a dinner for the Prince and Princess and their officers and the Assembly members and their wives here in your Salon. We are fourteen upon the Asssembly and six of those are, or shall be by then, married, so that makes twenty already. Then there are the Prince and Princess, Commander Feteran and his wife ...”

“Wife?” I exclaimed in surprise and Uncle nodded with a grin to me. His eyes told me he would explain later.

“... which shall make two dozen already. Then there shall be several others in their party, I am sure – so we would be around thirty. We would not need the normal separation on dining places, so I deem we could all fit, even up to another hand or six. But I hear that there was a problem of some sort, when another tried to reserve the Salon for a private occasion?”

“This would be no problem, Captain. The circumstances are entirely different. He wanted the entire room for the entire evening for a mere fifteen people. Let me see. As long as we made it the later sitting, no-one could complain that I was going against the principles I most openly stated. Although, for the Prince and Princess, I deem all would make such allowances. I would certainly use argumentation of that nature to justify myself in the unlikely event any should complain. What happened that other evening was ...”

And so it was that I had to explain the events with Master Topor. I was gratified that they all agreed with my stance. And that they agreed with my assessment of the changes in Master Topor.

But that story led somehow onto the story with the K-woman.

Which itself led onto the story about the Consociation, and I could see the Captain's mind thinking furiously about something as we, that is Mesulkin, Jepp and I, explained what had been envisaged.

After that I was more of a listener.

I did learn something new when Em talked about the missing fork.

She astounded me, and the others when she said: “Those forks, by the way, are individually recognisable, for they are in fact numbered in a coded way. I have number 1, Julina has number 2, and I believe that you, Captain, have number 3. I have them all written down in a file. Some I know not individually; if, say, six were sold in a single evening, then I have noted the range of numbers and the range of purchasers! With respect to you all, I shall show Julina privately how they may be deciphered, then she may check those that her clients bring and we may assign more exact notes. Most clients ask for their forks to be cleaned between courses nowadays, or so I have been told. Julina could use that cleaning pause to identify them. We have twenty-odd still remaining from the first batches we had made, so I should be able to identify exactly which number it is that is missing. Nowadays, Julina leaves out only a hand or so on display, as most who would wish to purchase them have already done so.”

“You had best tell Master Fedren too, I deem,” added the Captain.

Em and I looked at each other and agreed how we would proceed with that suggestion, without saying a word. We were NOT going to be taking up one of the Steward's suggestions, for the first time ever I deem.

Soon, the others went on their various ways with well-wishes being thrown in all directions. Em and I remained to not only have my latest lesson from her, but to also discuss experiences and the future.

Before we could start however, the door opened and Uncle came back in.

“Julina, my dear, I have had an idea. I need to fetch Sookie though, so please don't leave here before I get back – say a quarter of a bell?”

I looked at Em and our eye-speak told us that neither had any clue as to what this could be.

“Very well,” I agreed, no doubt looking confused, and Uncle bustled off, looking pleased with himself.

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