Julina of Blackstone - 052 - Plots, Plans and Schemes

Developments continue apace

Julina of Blackstone
Her Chronicles, Book 2

by Julia Phillips

052 – Plots, Plans and Schemes


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
052 – Plots, Plans and Schemes

Author's note for this episode: Click on the Palarandi sketches to get the same sketch but with English notation. Then click on 'previous page' arrow to get back to the story.


“Maker ! Do you really think I could? I mean ... I had never … But ...”

“Don't be silly, 'Lina, of COURSE you could. You may not have ever thought of it, but isn't it one of your favourite expressions: 'If someone else can do it, then I can do it'? You don't have to do the work itself, that's why you would be paying someone else to do it.”

I looked round at Uncle, Sookie and Em, all of whom were smiling encouragingly at me. I was sort of stunned myself.

Uncle had been swifter then he promised, he must have literally run down Main Street to fetch Sookie to have been so fast, and she must have had nothing on that was of immediate importance. But even then, she must surely have been showing signs of being a little breathless? There was a small mystery there. Now let me see, what could have …

I realised that I was thinking of these things rather than the subject at hand, just so my back brain could process the information, the stunning information, that Uncle had handed me, well Uncle and Sookie together, to be accurate. I forced myself to concentrate on my reaction to Uncle's suggestion.

I opened my mouth to say something, and closed it again, three thousand thoughts all clamouring for attention. After a few heartbeats, I opened it again, but this time even I myself was surprised when my words came out.

“No! I can't do it. Not without talking to Epp. SHE should also be involved.”

It was the turn of the others to be sort of stunned – but not for long, as they nodded their agreement after thinking it through.

“It does you great credit, 'Lina, that you should think of others. Perchance 'tis better we all think of it for a little longer.”

“Thank you, Uncle.”

His soon wife-to-be piped up: “And I promise I shall always be able to find drivers or loads, which and whatever is required. Just ask for help, even if it is something else entirely.”

“I thank you, Sookie, right heartfelt. But I myself do not feel right about this all, it sits not comfortably with me. I must talk with Epp as a first step. And Papa is also a wise man, perchance he shall help me with this quandary.”

“So be it. Just let me, us, know whenever you come to your decision. They shall require either using or selling!”

“Of course I shall. Thank you both. And now 'tis time for my own luncheon, before the hard work in my kitchens begins. Mayhap I shall soon have time to go for a ride, my mornings have been somewhat busy of late.”

“Aye! I missed my rides when I was away. I was on my way to Pomma's to arrange something soon when Brydas came out and found me just now.”

Ah! That was how they achieved that so quickly, a part of my mind reacted.

“Well count me in with your plans! I have scarce had time even for the Tai Chi in recent weeks, it seems. I deem that with the Steward back, Master Jepp can resume his scribing duties, and I can have some peace, instead of being dragged into those oh so boring meetings!”

But my eyes twinkled at Uncle and Em as I said that, and they laughed along with me. Uncle and Sookie got up to go, it was nice to see them holding hands as they went, and Em ushered them out, leaving me alone for just a few heartbeats.

Mulling over what they had said.

Could I REALLY do it? Along with the Salon, and the Consociation? Not to mention the occasional teaching. Why I …

“That was a very sensible suggestion of Brydas. You should consider it very seriously.”

“That I shall do, Em, but right now, my tummy is considering my missed breakfast. Will you join me for a little something to eat? Shall you also call Kassama?”

At that heartbeat, the door opened once more.

And once more, it was Uncle and Sookie.

But this time 'twas Sookie who spoke: “Julina, I nearly forgot. I have some very surprising news for you. When you have a bell or so spare, maybe even just a half bell, if we're quick, I can show you the most amazing thing – a special sort of cake or pie that is just so easy, and ideal for wagoneers and travellers. I learnt it from, of all people, an officer in the Joth forces who is a special aide to their ruler. His name is Maralin. Apparently he used to work in the kitchens back where he comes from, before he discovered his military talents. He calls them 'peet-zers' and told me that nearly everyone where he comes from eats them, sometimes as a snack, sometimes as a full meal. He says it depends a bit on their size, which can be made almost as small as you like, or as big as your oven will allow. Maralin said his family often used to have a HUGE one and share it amongst themselves.”

“THAT sounds REALLY interesting. Tomorrow morn, say 3rd Bell? Here? Oh no! Let's go for a ride first, at the normal time, then get here at noon for a lunch. Maybe this peet-zers thing would make a good lunch?”

“Excellent suggestions. Until the morrow then!”

And so they left again, allowing me at last to have my lesson in fork identification.

… … ...

“No, Paivi, you get a better taste if you tear the leaves rather than cut or bash them. Let's mix up two quickly so you can compare ...”

Paivi was proving an adept pupil and she was blooming more and more each day, now that she could go out and about and now she had some friends. Venket was still a little reserved but Frowka too was becoming more outspoken and showing more and more of her acute sense of fun. Venket wasn't exactly worrying me, but I knew with my Mama's instincts that she was holding something in. Maybe if I ever again had a few clear moments, I could talk to her but I always seemed to be doing something these days, somethings that stopped me doing all that my overactive mind came up with.

I was using half my mind to do the jobs here in the kitchens that had now become routine to me, and half my mind thinking about Uncle's proposal. Another half of my mind was listening to the girl's banter, and even joining in occasionally, and another half was trying to work out how we would discover the whereabouts of the missing fork that the K-woman had stolen. We knew now that it was from batch number four, and was item number seven. Em and I had kept to our words and maintained the strict secrecy of the identification marks, all anyone else knew was that there were four hands of forks in each batch. Still another half of my mind was thinking about our family, whilst yet another half of my mind was thinking about the other weddings coming up.

And the final part of my mind was preoccupied with something else entirely.

With thoughts that I kept pushing to the back of my head.

I definitely needed to do that. Because if I didn't …

“Julina! Julina!” exclaimed an excited Em as she came into the kitchens. “That Konna has just appeared before the Steward and has been sentenced! She is to be branded and will work as a drudge for the Town for a year. Any monies she would have earned as that drudge are to be paid into the Salon accounts, as shall all her current assets once they have been sold. She is to be fed on anything that is left-over at the end of the day AND that kitchens like ourselves decide to donate.

“Her man, a Goodman named Jomas, has applied for a divorce, for it seems she has caused him many problems in the past. If that divorce comes through in a few weeks time, maybe the Princess shall grant it whilst she is here, then the woman shall be alone and friendless, for it appears that all those whom she counted as friends have turned their backs on her since her arrest. Mistress Haka has in the end been feeding her whilst she was in the cells for no-one else would.”

Suddenly, another idea shot into my head.

I hurriedly found a piece of paper and a reedlet to write it down lest I forgot it again.

Even as I was scribbling, my mind was thinking of dear Haka. She would not have much food spare, and yet she took pity upon that wretched woman. I idly wondered when her baby would be born, for I had secreted away a little present for the child AND another for the mother.

“Thank you for letting me know so promptly. But will this cover our costs and losses due to her actions?”

“Oh yes! And a significant amount towards the damages we have been awarded.”

“But if her monies are all spent here, how will she survive?”

“The Town will buy her basic food from here or from Mousa, or from any of the Inns. She will have nothing for herself to spend, and her clothing will also be maintained at the Town's expense. It will be basic, and all the costs will be taken from her wages as well. She will be encouraged to work well, for she will be rewarded at the end of the year according to the report of her activities.”

“I see, I think.”

“And there is other news from this afternoon's sessions! That Vittima, who works for Fedren, her divorce petition has been granted. The paperwork was processed and sent to the Captain. It arrived with last night's shuttle. Konna is now to be the one who does the basics for Vittima's man, Neerkel, amongst others.

“Further, the Steward confirmed that the disputed triangle shall be the first Park, and that the second such Park shall be where he described, another triangle formed by the old Aqueduct and the new one that leads to the Community Hall, so this time the park shall be to the east of Dam Road.

“Furthermore, Berdon and Bettayla shall be leaving here shortly. They, well 'twas more just Berdon to be truthful, petitioned the Assembly for permission to build a house, having given a commitment to stay here with his troupe for at least two years! The Steward has therefore sold a building plot to them which is on the south-west corner of the junction of the Dam Road and North Cross Lane. Neatly between the two proposed parks, but nearer, of course, to the Town Centre one.

“The Steward wishes for the south side of North Cross Lane to be built with houses, along with the west side of the Dam Road all the way down to the Community Hall, except that short bit where the road comes near the ledge, leaving one space for a further Lane to cross to East Street, roughly half-way along Dam Road, but the slope will mean that this second Lane shall need to be built at an angle and/or with a curve in it. All the Assembly members have agreed. They also agreed … oh!” She clapped her hand over her mouth. “I'm sorry. I should not have started that. Er.. it is something that I am not permitted to tell you. Yet.”

She smiled at us all in an attempt to alleviate any awkward feelings that might have come up because of her statement.

She continued: “Other areas were also identified as being places for people to build, I shall tell you all about them some other time. West Street shall go ahead and be built, which shall cut off a little of the paddock down behind The Bell, which up to now has been longer than the Claw's paddock, but thinner. Another park area will be just off West Street, on the east side, the Main Street side, the final location being decided once everyone has moved their workshops and so on over the other side of the Bray. It shall probably be across the Cross Lane proposed to run along the north side of the Bell's paddock.”

“Maker! The Steward HAS been busy!”

“Indeed he has. As have all of us to be precise. I feel that nearly all of this is so that definite plans can be shown to the Princess when she arrives, which makes a lot of sense. So the Steward is doing all he can to set things up as definitively as anyone could. He has asked us to think about setting up a Planning Committee, headed by an Assembly member who can then report to the Assembly itself. We need to come up with proposals to be presented at the next meeting!”

“That all sounds very interesting. I look forward to chatting with you some more, but right now I'm sorry to say that I have a lot to do to be sure we are ready for our diners. Perchance you could return at the same time as you did before? Or, of course, you could roll up your sleeves and help?”

We grinned at each other as she backed gracefully out of the door, waving her hands in denial and pulling a comical face. We all laughed.

That day, Paivi, Venket, Kords and I did the kitchen duties, with occasional help from Kassama when her household duties allowed, while Kelly, Gyth and Frowka handled the Dining Room end of the business. By now Kelly and Gyth were familiar to our diners and this helped Frowka with her development in customer relations.

Em did not return in that less busy period before the evening got underway, which was vaguely disturbing. However, I knew she would explain when next we saw her.

Thus another filled Salon evening passed with no great upheavals, but with many words of praise and a not inconsiderable amount of coin for The Pot. Frowka sold her first Salon fork about which we rejoiced after service was over. Paivi and Venket were a little jealous of her, I deem.

… … …

The next day, I did indeed manage a sensible Tai Chi session followed by a ride.

We were seven riding that day – myself, Pomma, Sookie, Molly, Parry, Bezan and Papa. We started from the Claw and headed first towards the Bridge as though we were departing the Town before we swung to the right, slightly back on ourselves, opposite the mouth of East Street. We were following the planned route of West Street. We did this first as it was best to do so early before the still existing workshops started pouring out their strong smelling waste products.

I was surprised to see one of the flattening teams there making the very first traces of West Street. I had assumed that all the flattening teams would be working up on the Stone Sea road.

“No, no, 'Lina. There are other projects, as you know full well. And anyway there would not be the space for all seven of them up there, they would be in each other's way. We have three on that road and two on the road to the middle semaphore station as that track is being widened. The other two are here in Town.”

I thanked Master B for that information as we passed below the back of the Bell Inn. I was interested to see that their paddock was a lot smaller than the Claw's and also far more uneven. I had seen it before, of course, but never from frayen back nor from this particular angle. I could tell the Inn was full, because the paddock was quite crowded with all of the guests' beasts.

“You will notice that we are climbing, just like Main Street does, and does East Street, at an angle across the general slope. We wish to place West Street slightly further away from Main Street than East Street is though, and not just because the Smith's buildings sprawl so far out ...” Bezan looked smilingly at Sookie as he said this, “... but also because, if you look ahead of us, and just to either side of our track, you will see that this is the most smooth route through all these tussocks and rocks and whatnots here. We do not wish to disturb the tussocks too much, for their roots, which dive right deeply into the soil, are what binds the earthy layer of this slope together. You can see little watercourses that weave in and out of them, so when West Street is built, we must channel the water properly, particularly for the times of the rains.”

“Aye, Bezan, you have the right of it, I deem,” said Papa. “We wouldn't want any landslides if this is to be a road.”

“And houses,” Bezan added. “We see houses on both sides of both East and West Streets, and also Dam Road, but leaving space around the Community Hall. The service lanes that shall connect West Street shall also probably have houses either side as will those lanes that are already built from East Street up the slope to the Dam Road. I expect the Main Street side of East Street shall also have several houses. But we shall inspect that part closer in a Bell or so's time, as we work our way round there.”

We had moved on a little by now and were passing below the houses upslope from the Bell. The first two had little or no sprawl of outbuildings spilling down towards us, but the third did, and ahead of us we could see Uncle's forge sprawl scattered in a very ungainly fashion. However, the first of these two sprawlers was Master Torin's carpentry complex. Master Horbelan's much tidier musical instrument workshop and home was sandwiched between the two.

Bezan directed our attention over our shoulders to the back of the Bell.

“There shall be a service lane there that runs alongside the Bell's paddock and along the north face of the Inn itself where it shall join Main Street. We expect to place another of those parks we spoke about to the north side of that service lane and to our right now, which shall be to the East of West Street.” He grinned engagingly as he said that. “The first of the untidier houses is Master Torin's carpentry; and, as you can see, most of the outbuildings are now unused, for he has removed his working places across the Bray to the workshop area we can see over there. Yesterday, at our afternoon meeting, someone suggested that we call that area the 'Artisans' Area' and that name seemed appropriate somehow. So much so, that we all agreed to it.

“There shall be another service lane immediately after Master Torin's house, that shall run between that and Master Horbelan's. Just here, in fact,” he said pointing off to our right, for by then we had progressed that far up the slope.

“As you can see, the slope goes abruptly up just here, so we will smooth that out a little.”

We all peered at the ground, trying to imagine the changes he was talking about. We murmured amongst ourselves, and clarified some perceived misunderstandings as we rode on.

“And now we have come to the back of the Forge. Again many of these outbuildings are unused as Master Brydas has … ah, there he is himself, waving to us.”

We all waved back to him and then Bezan continued: “Master Brydas has indeed already moved a lot of his projects across to the Artisans' Area. But we are here today to look at the terrain rather than unused outbuildings, so I would point out that, after that sharper slope we have just negotiated, the ground flattens quite rapidly just here. As a result of that, we see no need for a further service lane to Main Street from here onwards. If there was to be one, then it would pass along the Smith's northern side, between the Forge and the Wheelwright's. 'Twould join Main Street almost opposite where the existing North Cross Lane joins it.”

We passed behind another building and by then had reached as far up as Master Waldan's, the saddler. Again we waved to him, who waved back to us all, it seemed, but may have been just to his wife who was riding next to me then. Pomma was grinning in delight. It was nice to see how the two loved each other.

“From here, West Street shall kink to the right and then go to join the flat area as it bulges out towards us between the Bellringers and the Miners' Hall. I deem, just between ourselves, that His Honour is a little upset at losing some of his Parade Ground if we follow these plans!”

We giggled at that as we continued on our interesting and educative ride.

Soon we reached the aforementioned Parade Ground and headed across it, intending, I assumed, to skirt past the Shuttle Shed and from there go on to the Dam Road.

But we were halted as we met another party of riders, some of whom were frankly gawking at us. We managed to suppress our smiles as we greeted each other, in the long and complicated way we have of doing so when there are strangers present.

The other party of riders consisted of the Captain and Masters Yarling and Blandel, along with Master Topor and his Goodmen Ree and Goshie. 'Twas these last three who were gawping, whilst the other three, behind them, were grinning like mad, even the Captain! I noticed that the goodmen still used the older-style saddles, although Topor was more modernly equipped.

Eventually, Topor managed to splutter out: “Do you tell us? Women here ride? I have never seen such a thing!”

The Captain, as I mentioned, was amused, I could see it in his eyes and face, but his voice was matter of fact as he said: “And why should they not, Topor? The Queen herself does, as does the Princess. Even the Princess' maid does. Many of the ladies of Palarand City ride every day. And we are far more remote here than they are down there. Here, it is a practical thing which enables far greater efficiency. Amenities are not so readily to hand up here. That fish dish you enjoyed so much was made with a fish from our fish farm – a fish farm that needs about a Bell to get there and back. Would you have fish fetching as a purely male activity? Particularly when we require so many males just for the expansion works and the mining and transporting?”

Topor, without taking his eyes off us, said: “Maker, Your Honour. I had never thought on't. But I understand what you say. 'Tis just that it seems so unnatural to my untrained eyes. This town has shocked me yet again.”

“I deem 'twill not be the last occasion,” said the Captain, somewhat wryly.

He then addressed us all: “Well, we must bid you good day, for we have a longish ride ahead of us, up to the Stone Sea. Even with the longer daylight, we shall be pushed to do all we might. So forgive us ….”

“Master Steward, Yer 'Onour, sir?”

We heard the call from a cast or two away.

The Captain broke off his farewell to turn and see the man and woman who were arriving on a smallish cart pulled by two frayen. The man held up his hand in a curious mixture of both a plea and a command, for the Steward to hold.

I could see from his face that the Captain knew not who these people were, so I, being the nearest at that heartbeat, bent towards him and whispered: “Master Levin, Miller, Watermill at Forest's Edge. Wife is Jyrset.”

The Captain flashed me a quick 'thank you' with his eyes and then moved his frayen nearer the oncoming cart to greet the newcomers.

“Master Liven, I deem. And Mistress Jerset? How may I be of assistance?”

The two were taken aback to be greeted by name, even if the names were just a little wrong.

“Er, Yer 'Onour, that would be Levin, and this be Jyrset, me wife.”

“My apologies, Master Levin, Mistress Jyrset. You have caught me just for a moment or two for I have an appointment some Bells ride away and am a trifle pressed.”

“Er .. fergive me, Master, Yer 'Onour. It's just that I must speak with thee. I need the Town's help, fer I am quite overwhelmed. The demand fer flour is just too great now fer me to cope wiv it all. And that Coke factory means smuts in the air and my flour ain't so clean no more. And ...”

He broke off as the Captain raised a hand.

After thinking swiftly, the Captain said: “Do you see that faint track there to the west of us at the edge of the relatively level ground, the Parade Ground? Just south of that outhouse? If you follow that, it leads to that larger house over there, which belongs to Master Jepp, my second-in-command. Please be so good as to go there and get him to make a report. Your matter is indeed serious and I shall deal with it as I may on the morrow, so be so kind as to leave as many details as you may with Jepp. This shall save you some further travelling I deem. Unless, of course, you wish to be present when we consider the matter at the outset, at say the 3rd Bell of the day, at my house?”

“We shall do both, yer Lordship. Thank 'ee kindly for so prompt an action. My wife and I ...”

“I am no Lord, sir! Just the Princess' representative up here. 'Your Honour' is my correct title. Now, I must request again that you shall forgive us, for we are already behind time.”

He signalled to his accompanying riders and they nodded politely to us all before heading off up the Loop Road. The Miller puffed out his cheeks and looked round at us, obviously seeing us clearly for the first time.

“Why Master Kordulen, Mistress Julina! And Mistress Pomma. And is that a grown-up Molleena? And you sir, I 'ave seen yer near that dratted Coke horror place. Excuse me, I know not the rest of yese, although yer, young lad, yer look somewhat familiar.”

Papa took over the conversation at that point, probably feeling it his duty because he had been named first.

“This is Master Bezan, who is in overall charge of all the development around here, and this is Master Parrier who is employed at the Claw, in charge of the animals. Which establishment is run by this lady, Mistress Sukhana, soon to be wed with Brydas! Ladies and gentlemen, may I present Master Levin and his wife Mistress Jyrset?”

“Do you tell us! Ye're the one what caught ol' Brydas eye, eh? Right pleased to meet yer, and all the rest of yese. Mistress Sukhana, yer be one of my larger customers. I've been right busy, too busy to come a-callin' so I must beg pardon.”

Sookie smiled sweetly and genuinely at him: “Master Levin, 'tis my honour to meet you at last. I find myself moved by your plight, and will lend what support I may find to your application. And rest assured, the Captain, our Steward, is an honourable man and shall ensure you are looked after as promptly as can be.”

We chatted on for a few more moments before we took our leave and continued our informational tour of the town. The Miller's cart bounced slightly as it went over the edge of the Parade Ground and headed up the track towards Jepp's.

Meanwhile, we had crossed the Parade Ground part and were keeping out of the way of the constant traffic coming down the Loop Road, as we edged over to the Cistern, in front of which Bezan halted us and, with a raised voice to get over the noises produced by the passing traffic and bustling population, he launched into an explanation: “We have examined the Cistern from the inside as well as from the outside. Frankly, we are amazed at the strength of its construction. The walls are thick and need only slight maintenance here and there. They are already generations and generations old, originally constructed by the Chivans, more than two thousand years before, although there are a few signs that some small repairs are more modern.

“We have broken a new hole through the walls at the north and west corner, ready for the new water feed, which shall be joined in quite shortly. We have all been surprised at how rapidly we have been able to lay the ground-works for this important event. Inside the cistern, we have built a few more columns to support the roof and most of the top of that roof shall be public stabling. In keeping with the sensible suggestion made ...” He looked at me as he continued: “... to use these buildings for more than just one purpose, we have decided to utilise the large roof area.

“As you are all probably aware, the north-east corner is practically level with the ground as the hillside slopes down. The track to access the roof, which has up to now run up the east side of the Cistern, the one that has been traditionally the most used, shall be shut soon to allow us to work on the aqueduct. The less used access track along the north wall has been widened and opened, along with an open area there for wagon parking. That shall become the access to the roof area.

“The semaphore station shall naturally stay up there, 'twould be folly to move that. Fencing shall be erected all around the sides where the new stables are not. The more solid part of those new stables walls shall be over the existing walls, to lessen the strain upon the roof. This will allow more space in front of the Cistern, between it and what has been up to now the Camping Ground. It is here that we have determined that the Wedding Inn shall be constructed. We plan on having it be the same width as that of the Cistern, divided into four roughly equal sections. On the left as we look at it from here, to the west if you prefer, shall be the men's quarters, then shall come the open section, meaning open to all, then shall come the married quarters and finally the women's.”

At first, our eyes followed his waving arm as he pointed out the various things about which he was talking, but then he nudged his frayen along, so we all followed him too.

“Just from here ...” 'Here' was the south-east corner of the Cistern. “... and up to the north side of where the Dam Road joins in ...” He pointed over there. “... there shall be a few houses built, a row of which shall continue along the north side of Dam Road. Let us cross quickly though until we are between the Dam Road and East Street.”

We matched actions to his words and were all soon safely out of the way of traffic, and facing southwards along the edge of East Street. Several casts ahead of us, we could make out the North Cross Lane - a straight track, surfaced, which joined the Dam Road to East Street and actually carried on to Main Street.

“For the sake of clarity should it come up again, we are temporarily naming the spot at which we are currently gathered as the 'Market Point'.”

We all nodded our understanding, even though the place was not really a point, but a slightly curved edge some two or three casts long. We all looked back and forth along that point.

Master B then spoke again which directed our attention along the edge of East Street down to the first junction and then along to the left, allowing our eyes to follow North Cross Lane all the way to where it met Dam Road. Then, at his bidding, we eye-followed the Dam Road back towards us.

“There! That enclosed space formed by those roads we have all just looked at shall be the location of the first Park. You can see that it is relatively flat, not as steep as the hillside gets on the other side of the North Cross Lane. Nor as steep as that hillside is across the Dam Road, along almost all its length!”

It was quite different looking at the actual plot of land, rather than imagining it in my head. It helped me realise just why those men had all wanted control of it.

“Now let again your eyes wander back to the junction of North Cross Lane and the Dam Road. On the other side of the Lane, just at that junction, you can see four men working. They are marking out the building plot that has been sold to Master Berdon and Mistress Bettayla. Let us make our way down there.”

And so we found ourselves soon after at that junction, crossing over the Dam Road that we might not disturb those workers who were hammering in stakes and tying twine between them.

From here, we could look along the length of North Cross Lane and see the front facade of the Wheelwright's home. Master B then directed our eyes southwards, along the mostly straight Dam Road all the way to the Community Hall, its upper levels peeking over the roof of its kitchen complex. We could see much frenetic activity going on on those upper levels.

After a quick look at B and B's plot, we continued along the gently-rising road towards the bustling building site. But we only got half-way there before Bezan again halted us. He pointed to the west where the large house that had been deserted for several years but had in the past belonged to a successful pakh-wool trader, successful that is until the disease attack ruined the demand. I knew it well for we children had often played in and around it. It sat in a sort of bowl in the hillside and we had often used those steep sides as slides, getting our clothes SO muddy.

Bezan interrupted my reverie as he continued his explanations: “This unmarked point is actually a very important point in our town's development. You will notice a large deserted house down there – it nestles in its own private hollow. That house and its hollow are why we cannot construct another linking lane to go straight down to extend the one that runs past your Salon, 'Lina, the one to the south of Em's. A direct route would also be too steep we feel. So from here, the new lane will head towards the junction of East Street and North Cross Lane that we were looking at a little while ago, thus making a less steep descent, until it gets about half-way there, then it shall kink to the left as we regard it and run straight to East Street, meeting there just about opposite the NORTH wall of Em's house. This shall be named Middle Cross Lane.

“It is expected that building plots all round the edges of this larger area between Middle and North Cross Lanes shall be sold. But back up here on the Dam Road, this point is also important for a second reason. For on the hilly side of the road, between here and the aqueduct shall be a second Park, also mostly triangular in shape. It shall stretch along the road as far as the Community Hall, and be bounded on the third side by the newly made water channel that comes down from the Aqueduct.

“Let us go up to the Community Hall now.”

We made our way along the road as instructed and dismounted when we got to the kitchens there. We tied our beasts to a rail that had been built specifically for that purpose, and followed Bezan across the Dam Road to the south side of the junction where South Cross Lane wound its way up the slope. It had to wind because of how steep it was. This junction was almost directly above our house so I could look down and see my family going about their various businesses. I saw also workers checking over the imported fruit trees in the orchard.

I snorted as Parry looked down and saw one of the handlers doing something wrong in the Claw's paddock which made him swear in what he only thought was under his breath. He blushed and apologised, which I waved away.

Bezan resumed his commentary: “We anticipate that arrivals for events at the Community Hall shall mostly come up the Dam Road from the Town Centre, or up South Cross Lane. As you can see from this vantage, the Dam Road just here follows the top of a land feature that some might call a ledge. There is scarce two strides to the west from the road edge to that ledge. It was one of the reasons that we chose this site for the Hall; access to it can be relatively easily controlled should it ever become necessary. Obviously building plots will not fit in between the road and the ledge just here, so the Hall should always have unobstructed views to the west.”

As he was talking, he kept looking over at the Hall itself. Suddenly, he half raised a hand and sketched a complicated wave.

“Come on then, we have a half bell to inspect the Hall itself. It appears that the extra stairway has already been hoisted up and they are fixing it in as we speak.”

We took maybe a quarter of a bell to cross the road and meet with Master Simman who then took another quarter bell as he explained a lot about the site and the building itself. All the while, he kept his voiced raised over the clatter and banging of the workers as they scurried about on the upper floors, calling to each other as they did so.

I, of course, was most interested in the upper floors as I had already seen the rest, so Master Simman allowed me to slip up there on my own while he showed the others the features of the main hall. He had set up some of the moveable walls already, and let the others in our riding party fold them back and away, just to get a feel for how it all worked.

Meanwhile, I was going straight to the very top where I was the first ever to walk, well skip actually, up that new stair. The workmen there were tidying away their tools, so freshly was it in place.

I went first into what was to be the bedchamber.

None of the walls were fitted in place yet, only a few wall panels of the entire floor were already erected, ones that would not have interfered with the hoisting up and positioning of the stairway. However, the underfoot surface here was carefully marked with where the wall panels would be and where the windows, doors and even furniture would be.

Even as I looked around, I saw some workers pull out a fresh wall panel from their pile of prepared units. They started to put up the east wall of the bedchamber there and then before my very eyes.

The bedchamber!

Now THAT is how I want my bedchamber to be someday.

A bed more than twice the size of my own would sit in there, with a view out of the windows to the north AND those to the west. You could have sat our family at the table which would be provided in there, positioned in what looked like an extension of the room to me, for that alcove, if you would like to refer to it, also had a window to the east, and a larger one to the south. Why, you would be able to walk around the room without having to avoid furniture. You could probably even DANCE around the room!

On the north side of this room would be a windowless alcove that Simman later told me was to be a clothing storage room! A 'dressing room' he had termed it. I shook my head at having an entire room just for hanging my clothes in and for getting dressed in them.

Next to the bedchamber, the other side of the dressing room, on the south side was a room to be equipped with two normal sized-beds, the maids' room, with windows to south and east. Nearer the head of the stairs a further room was to be equipped with three cots and a table, for use by off-duty guards. All these rooms had doors leading off a central room in which there was to be a table placed, with two chairs next to each other, facing the stairs. This I later learnt was for the on-duty guard or guards. A final room led off this area, to a magnificent sitting room. This room also had windows to the north and to the west, it was slightly offset from the wall of the bedchamber, to allow views from there.

(Here is a sketch to assist you:

Second Upper Floor, First layout

I hope it helps!)

I indeed saw all the magnificent views from standing way up there and sat for a moment on the rolled-up tarpaulin that had been, and would probably again, used to keep any rain out. I was just drinking in this most unusual vista of our town.

From up here, all that Bezan had shown us so far this morning was clearly visible, and it helped make sense of it all.

I looked around everywhere. One thing I caught sight of was the little group of riders making their way round the Loop Road before tackling the climb to the Stone Sea above. They looked so tiny! And they were passing some new construction that I didn't know about, with several tiny little men scurrying about just there. I watched as the Captain's party stopped briefly for a short chat before moving on. Suddenly the group broke into a faster pace, which soon meant that the two with the older-style saddles were struggling to keep up.

At least, that's how I interpreted what my eyes were telling me from so very far away.

Going down one floor, I rejoined the main group as they were gasping at the size of the Office and the views from it. Only the east wall of it had no view. The bathroom and the privies were stuck over there on the east side since they required no grandiose views. That's not to say that there were no windows, though.

The guards dormitory was to be at one end of the complex, one corner really, a corner which was next to the stairwell and in the north and east end. On the other hand, the servants rooms were on the south side. At the moment this was just one largish room, which could be divided, should it prove necessary, into both male and female rooms. Alternatively, male servants could also share the guards dormitory.

Once again, the stairway that came up here from the ground-level led into a sort of antechamber off which all the other doors led, as did also the stairway down from above, after using a linking small corridor. This antechamber was actually 'fully' furnished in that table for the guards was sitting there looking a little forlorn, it must be said. However, it did help me visualise the set-up as it would be up there on the floor above.

A window at the turn of the corridor which linked the two stairways allowed some natural light in, unlike the totally enclosed antechamber up above. There the only light would be from this same window, which of course was on the floor below, unless some of the room doors were left open.

(And here is another sketch:

First Upper Floor layout

which I hope is equally of use!)

Everyone was amazed at how well designed it all was, and also at the flexibility of building that the flat surfaces gave, before the roofing was finally fixed. We exclaimed, chatted and discussed this after we took our leave of Master Simman, remounted our beasts and headed off to the dam itself, hurrying a little now since time was beginning to close in on us.

… … ...

What we learnt at the dam was also interesting.

As was getting there.

Master B set a very brisk pace indeed!

What I found of most interest when we got there was that it was a sort of 'rail in reverse' situation. What they were doing there was lowering and raising wagons themselves. What they were NOT doing was unloading the wagons and placing the contents onto another, and then repeating the action at the bottom.

I remembered a suggestion made earlier, that maybe the wagons could be carried on other flat wagons that ran on rails and so I mentioned it to Master B.

“It was a good suggestion and mayhap we shall follow up on it soon, but we have had priorities elsewhere and wanted not to change a good working practice just yet. There is also another reason which I shall come to in a moment or two. Rather than running on rails, the wagons run in ruts which guide them up and down, even though this places more of a sideways strain on the wheels themselves. We have also, as you see, built another slope, less steeply sloping, up to the top, which is used by lighter loads. This has speeded up our work here quite significantly, as the main wagon-exchange can be devoted to only the heavier loads, and the waiting times are thus reduced.”

We turned back towards Town after watching the activity for nearly a quarter bell, but had gone scarce a cast or two before Master B stopped us once more.

“Look ahead of us here. You see that in fact the valley narrows in front of us. We know not why the Chivans chose to build the dam at a wider point, I suspect that maybe some of the reasons are underwater behind us, and thus we shall never know.

“Now, I said earlier that there would be another factor as to why we have not changed the system to run on rails. I deem this news shall come as a bit of a shock to those who were not present at our meeting yester afternoon.

“We may, in fact, build an entirely new dam there just ahead of us at the narrower point.”

We indeed all gasped with a kind of shock.

“We have first to calculate that there would be sufficient drop in height for the water to flow. The entire town is relying, at the moment, on THIS water source. As soon as the newly discovered underground lake can be fitted into the existing system, then we can start the new building works here and at the same time build a usable road. Her Highness has also mentioned some things we must do if we do build a new dam. Something to do with using the water flow to drive a power generator, something she calls hider-elect-ricks or whatever. I regret I am insufficiently educated to understand it all. And I have NO idea how to make the spelling of it.

“But now I regret I must hurry along, I have another appointment soon and must get back now. Shall I go ahead or will you all come with me?”

… … ...

“Maker! And that's all there is to it?”

“Indeed, 'Lina. Tenant Maralin said a neat way of making the circle is by spinning the dough on your fingers, but alas I just made a mess of it when I tried to do it the once, so I use a rolling pin, having started with a sphere of the mixture. He also said that they do not NEED to be circular, any shape is good. The extraordinary feature of all this is that you can vary what the Tenant called the toppings to give different tastes.”

I was excited about that revelation as I mentally added it to a list in my head, the list I had actually started the other day when I scribbled down an idea on a scrap of paper.

“And what are you thinking about now, young lady? I am beginning to recognise the signs when you have an idea.”

“Oh Sookie! I was just thinking that soon there shall be a market place up there on what we have so far called the Camping Place. And I had already thought that I could bake some pies with the food we have left over in the Salon kitchens. This peet-zers recipe could be used to make other things we could sell there too. Shall we combine to make a stall at the market when it comes? And the Captain said that he would want something similar set up in that new Park thingy. Maybe we ...”

“Slow down, 'Lina! Don't try to do everything right now. We have time to make plans. What think you others of 'Lina's gabbled explanation? It DOES seem a good idea, I deem.”

Parry and Bezan had left us to do their required actions, which meant that Pomma, Sookie, Molly, and I were all sitting in Sookie's office along with Papa, and tasting slices from two of these peet-zers things that Sookie had so quickly made. These were made with toppings of sliced sausages and some cheese, all placed on top of a wet vegetable sauce that had dried in the oven most flavourfully.

“They are indeed delicious, I deem,” said Papa, who was first to answer. “Although I would not wish to eat them at every meal.”

We women all agreed with Papa but were excited at the ease of making them, so we went off in our talking about that aspect and about suitable combinations of the 'toppings' and so on which left Papa rather alone. He put up with it for a little while but then he gracefully withdrew by thanking Sookie for the snack lunch and bidding us farewell.

… … …

And so it was back to the Salon for me, for another afternoon and evening of feeding our guests. The following day, the 7th, was to be our first scheduled 'closed' day, so I made the suggestion to all the girls that they came in for lunch there, and I could teach them about the peet-zers recipe. They all seemed very enthusiastic, so my day on the morrow was set.

We had another good evening in the Salon and we were all pleased at how well the entire team was bonding together. That night, Paivi was in the Dining Room and Frowka was the one of the three in the kitchens. The next night, 'twould be Venket in the Dining Room.

But, back to that night.

Again, I was called into the Dining Room, this time 'twas Master Schild who wished for an appointment in the morning. We agreed upon meeting there in the Dining Room at the 4th Bell, which sadly would cut short my riding time by just a little.

A thought hit me.

I had suddenly realised that people were only certain of finding me in the Salon, or at home in the early morning. That's why they came there!

I mentally hit myself for not realising that earlier.

… … …

That next day, there were just three riders, Uncle, myself and Sookie – and Uncle had an appointment too, so we just had a shortish ride up to the head of the Bray.

But that ride was not lacking anything in the way of information.

As we went along up from the Claw and past the various quarries, the other two told me all about Tedenis and Senidet's marriage, which was of course of the most importance to them, Uncle in particular. And then they spoke about that of Commander Feteran to Jenet, the Princess' senior maid.

They told me of their impressions of the capital, and also of the nation as a whole. At one point, Uncle jumped down to the ground and scratched a crude map in the dirt, that I might better understand. I think that was the first time I had ever seen a map of our lands. It burned itself into my brain.

They mentioned Uncle's suggestion once more, but I waved it off with my hand, just saying: “Epp!” as an explanation for not wishing to converse more on that subject.

One other thing that surprised me in all their information was that they were going to delay their wedding. Apparently, through a semaphore message, they had learned that Tedenis and Senidet had joined the Royal Party and thus they would wait until Uncle's daughter and her husband had arrived, so they could be witnesses.

When we reached the head of the Bray, there was some new construction that required explanations. I had seen these workings yestermorn from the top of the Community Hall, you may recall. Although there was little metal involvement at the present, Uncle was fully informed about what was going on – the reasons for which became quite obvious as he explained more and more to us.

“This is where we are conducting some rail experiments,” began Uncle. “See, we have four or five casts of rails laid and we have two old wagons that we have slightly modified – converted to use the new wheels that shall be required. Her Highness has given us notes on how to make railed wagons cross from one set of rails to another, and we have constructed these rails of wood that we might learn. Her Highness insists that the railroad shall run on steel rails, but our early tests can be done with these wooden ones. My workshops shall have difficulties producing sufficient of the rails, indeed we have difficulties producing them of sufficient length even, but apparently there is a steel works being set up just this side of Haligo that shall have the job of producing these.

“Her Highness also specified the width the rails shall be apart, must be apart, something she calls the 'Standard Gauge'; there shall be exactly a stride and a half between the inner sides of the rails at the top. She also says that the wheels of the railroad wagons shall be of steel too, so sets of wheels can be produced at exactly that same width. Given just one of those sets of wheels, we will be able to lay the steel rails precisely.

“However, we have none of that up here yet, we are concentrating on the techniques of how to get sets of rails to join, to diverge, and even to cross. We have erected the tarpaulins to prevent as far as we can the weather from disturbing our experiments. These rails are nowhere near the exact width that shall eventually be used, but they are more than adequate for our experiments.”

There was little more to say, or to be seen, so we retraced our steps back towards town. Just near the slope under the 'Yarling' shaft, I saw Molly with that Madden. She blushed when she saw me looking at them, so I looked away.

But stored the information for some future teasing. Hee, hee, hee. I must make sure the others in the Salon team get to know about this as soon as I may.

We passed on a little further.

In those warming months before the summer heats (and the rains – ugh) the need for coal for domestic purposes was reduced, despite the increased population, so they had built a deep trench across the face of the Town Quarry and used some sturdy wooden planks to bridge that trench to allow access to our coal.

When we returned we could take a little more time to inspect these works. As we got there, we could see them filling in that trench, and there were also workers on a rickety structure pouring buckets and buckets of water into the top of a concrete tower just upvalley of the quarry's mouth. This tower went down into a sort of concrete cube, which Uncle explained to me was like a mini-cistern.

He pointed out where a concrete pipe jutted out to the north at ground level: “That is where the water from Yarlings lake shall join into the system. The mini-cistern is actually, apparently, called a header tank and an amount of water there shall ensure that no air enters the pipework in the middle. Those pipes in the middle shall form what is called a ...”

“Syphon,” I said. “yes, I understand that. We were shown how it works.”

Both Sookie's and his eyebrows raised in surprise.

“Then you know more than I,” said a Sookie who I could see was slightly jealous that she alone didn't know how it worked. Uncle stroked her hand and promised to show her.

“There is a matching header tank the other side you shall observe, this one half-buried in the ground. Both are required to ensure the lack of air, for if any air gets in there, then the entire system shall not work. AND the whole thing will only work if that header tank on the other side is lower than the one on this side. For, as we know, water only flows DOWNhill.”

He broke off as I exclaimed.


“Oh, what you just said made me realise a mistake I made, when I visited the underground lake with Papa and Master Bezan. I feel so stupid now.”

“What did you do that was so wrong?”

“Oh. It seems so really stupid – but I suggested that they used a syphon and an intermediate tank to suck water UP from the lake to the ... what's it? … header tank, I suppose is the right name … from where the new flow will come. I remember now that neither man actually said anything at the time, they just applauded me! I feel like such an idiot!”

I was blushing ferociously as I said that. I quickly changed the subject back to what Uncle was saying by asking about a third tower in the works, in the centre of the trench from side to side of the quarry mouth.

“That extra, much less tall tower in the middle is merely a way for the air to escape as they fill the system with water. When water flows over the top of that one, then the system is certain to be filled. At each end there are large sluice gates or spigots or whatever to prevent water flowing out, and to enable the connection of the main supply pipes too. The air escape tower also has such a control, but that will be used just the once and could then be buried. However, we shall not do that, we shall just have a hole there around it, fenced off of course, as we have never done this before and we might needs adjust something.

“That will also enable one side to be the in and one to be the out routing to and from the quarry, since we have had on several occasions a knot of traffic chaos here!

“What is perchance of more interest is that the designers of this have not relied upon just a single pipe underground, there are in fact FIVE pipes, so the supply should continue even if one gets blocked or damaged.”

This all gave us much to discuss as we returned to leave the animals at their home.

All too soon, we were back at the Claw, rubbing down the animals, feeding them their little nibbles, and hanging up the saddles and bridles.

I thanked Uncle for the information he gave on the ride and hugged Sookie and then him before I rushed up to the Salon for my appointment with the banker.

… … …

I sat down next to Master Schild, that we might both examine his papers at the same time.

He started by explaining what the information was on each page, and how it related to myself. It soon made sense to me.

He directed my attention with his finger to one particular number at the foot of the last page.

I sat back in quite the shock.

I could feel the blood drain from my face.

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