Julina of Blackstone - 055 - Business Trip

Are Business trips fun? Or are they just hectic?

grakh
 
Julina of Blackstone
Her Chronicles, Book 2

by Julia Phillips

055 – Business Trip


Disclaimer:

The original characters and plot of this story are the property of the author. No infringement of pre-existing copyright is intended.
This story is copyright © 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
055 – Business Trip

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

“Maker!” exclaimed Defan, as he gazed with awe at the Captain. We all felt much the same really, since the Steward had demonstrated again why he was the perfect man for his job.

In less than a hand of moments, the Captain had analysed so many factors, had added his interpretations of what the community for which he was responsible required, and found a sensible solution.

For when Master Tolltak appeared, led in by Goodman Dartrook, he had quickly interviewed the man, found his qualifications and had offered him a contract to take over the running of the mill down at Tamitil, thus allowing Master Grint to receive his needed rest and healing. The two had gone off swiftly to agree the coin side of things in private, and they both came back wreathed in smiles.

The Captain sat back down with us to finish his interrupted meal, but not before remembering to send a round of drinks over to Dartrook and his cronies, whom Master Tolltak had joined.

We chatted and ate on for a little while.

I had just finished my repast when the door opened and another man appeared.

This turned out to be Goodman Drom.

“Mistress Julina,” the Captain turned to me and smiled, “could I prevail upon you to do just a little more scribing for me?”

I was nodding my assent and about to say so, when I was interrupted.

“Your Honour, I myself could and would be delighted to ...”

“No, Goodman Defan, I am grateful for your offer, but Mistress Julina has done this for me and the Assembly sufficiently often in the past that she knows what is required. And anyway, this man, Goodman Drom, works for her father, Master Kordulen, and so there is another useful connection there. On this occasion, I deem that Mistress Julina is the most sensible solution.”

He took a final large forkful of his food as Epp said to Jogantha: “Jogantha, would you be so kind as to go with Mistress Julina, His Honour and Goodman Drom here, for the Mistress should not be alone with two men.”

I flashed her a glance of thanks, for despite everything, it had just not occurred to me. I was so used to there being other women present in the Assembly meetings and other meetings where I had previously scribed.

The Captain then flashed me a glance of thanks, he could only do so as his mouth was still full, when I said: “Epp, could you please be responsible for the Captain's and my forks? I further suspect that Master Mesulkin will also have to leave table soon.”

“Of course I shall, Your Honour, Julina. And I shall get Mistress Basset to arrange for some pel to be sent to you.”

“Excellent, Mistress Megrozen. A good thought indeed. We thank you,” said His Honour as we stood to leave.

Thus it was that the four of us retired to the office room provided for the Steward, adjoining the hearing room. Both these rooms smelled strongly of new wood.

We entered the small suite of rooms through the Hearing Room, which I noticed had a spacious antechamber, presumably for disrobing any protective clothing in the rainy season.

That hearing room, through which we passed the full length since the office opened only from it, or so it appeared to me just then, had a long thin table down the middle which butted up against a sturdy desk. That desk had, on the far side, one imposing chair in the middle flanked by two less grandiose chairs, but still fancier than the other chairs in the room. These three chairs had their backs to the wall in which the door to the office was situated, so there was a certain amount of space behind them. The long table started on the other flank of the high desk and reached to about the half-way point of the room, maybe a little more; there were three chairs situated along each side. This left a large open space at the far end, limited by the wall containing the door through which we entered. Some of that large space was occupied by stacks of benches which could be easily set out should they be required.

When we got into the office, I saw that there was another door on the side wall to our right, not in the middle, but nearer the wall to the hearing room. This was standing open and we could see another smaller disrobing chamber had been provided. My eyes suggested to me that this antechamber filled the space to make the entire combination of hearing room, office and the two antechambers a simple rectangle. The Captain went round the main desk, closing the other door on his way.

The office itself was furnished with no less than three desks. Two smaller desks flanked a larger one, which had a single chair on one side, obviously the Steward's, and three chairs drawn up against the opposite edge. The flanking desks each had one chair on each side. All three desks were furnished with several drawers on the … the … the … operating side, I suppose you could call it. Storage space had been provided along the wall that separated the hearing room from the office.

Automatically, I went to one of the flanking desks, the one away from the other door, and Jogantha followed me. I opened the drawers on 'my' side of the desk, and was pleased to find some sheets of paper at my first attempt. It took me a little longer before I found a reedlet. I checked all the drawers and then finally found the reedlets in the same one as the paper!

Despite repeated urgings from both the Captain and myself, Jogantha refused outright to sit down, so she retired slightly until she was half leaning up against the wall behind me.

I nodded to the Captain that I was ready. He had been chatting with Drom to put the man at his ease whilst I was sorting myself out, whilst at the same time rummaging through some of his papers.

Both men saw my nod.

The Captain got the meeting underway.

“Goodman Drom, we are here this e'en to discuss an idea I have just formulated, based on a variety of information that has been presented to me over the course of time. I formally apologise for dragging you out of your home at this relatively late moment, but would attempt to justify such an intrusion by pointing out that I have myself less than a full day to conduct my business here and then to move onto Bezlet for a busy afternoon's work.

“I state now for the formal record that Mistress Julina is present to scribe the official notes of this meeting. She has done this before for our Assembly and she is also more closely involved with the subject because she is the eldest daughter of Master Kordulen, the man who is in charge of your own department. You are hereby formally charged with the duty of reporting this meeting to your immediate supervisor, Master Leofer. I will send all the relevant documents as soon as I may, to Masters Kordulen, Leofer and also to your good self.

“We are all here residents in the lands that belong to Her Royal Highness, Princess Garia, who was, until recently, Baroness Garia of Blackstone, Vassal of Duke Gilbanar of North Palarand. These lands were ceded to the now Princess on the ...” He glanced briefly down at his papers in front of him. “... 30th Bretherin in the year 1174 since the Great Flood. I have here several copies of a sketch map made at that time upon which the new boundaries are clearly marked. The map details are all identical, but the handwritten annotations differ only very slightly. Formally, I must ask you both to confirm that fact.”

Drom and I looked at the hand of papers he showed us, and indeed the arrows pointing out the new borders were ever so slightly different on each one, but the rest was identical as far as I could see. We both formally confirmed that.

“Goodman Drom, I am about to shock you. You are about to receive some information that your senses, indeed your very being, will reject as being impossible.

“However, the Princess herself swears it is true, and I have no reason to doubt her. She has given us plans, hints, details and descriptions of a method of travel that shall come about probably in the next hand or so of years. Using this method of travel, which she has termed a 'railroad', it will become possible, indeed commonplace, for residents of Blackstone, say, to visit Tranidor AND THEN RETURN to Blackstone, all in the same day. In specially designed wagons pulled by a giant steam engine.”

I deem the Captain would have paused at that point anyway, but our startled expressions and indeed chokings of amazement would have forced him so to do.

Drom managed to get out of his strangled throat: “'Tis easier to believe there is a Bisken living in every tree root!”

The Captain waited until our shock abated a little before adding: “Or Brayview residents could reach Dekarran on the same day!”

Again we gasped with the shock of it. So great was it that Jogantha was forced to blurt out: “Oh those poor animals!”

Which was sufficient of a distraction to make us all turn to look at her.

What on Anmar had beasts to do with anything in this conversation?

She blushed bright red: “What will all the frayen and dranakh do if they are no longer required? Oh, I'm so very sorry for interrupting you, Your Honour. The shock caused me to forget myself!” She flusteredly dropped a curtsey and tried to melt into the wall behind her.

The Captain good-naturedly waved away her apology, grateful, I suspect, of the way that her outburst had allowed Drom and myself to mellow down just a tad.

“To travel at those speeds, then the routing must be at a gentle slope downvalley and entirely without any sharp bends. The miners use a similar system in their shafts, to wheel their loads of spoil out of the way, but their rails are made of wood. Her Highness' shall be of steel. Just one of the reasons that the coal and coke are so important, for they are required to make high quality steel. And the rails are just one application amongst many for high grade steel.

“Master Kordulen has made a strong and persuasive case for the route down from Blackstone to pass down the eastern side of the Bray Valley, crossing the main road close to Bezlet and then following the east bank, roughly speaking. There is a problem only at the riverbank by Bezlet, and some of our miners have been despatched there to try to remove the 'nose' of what is now called 'Kord's Peak', that the railroad can then follow the river.”

His finger showed us his points on the scrap of map as he was talking.

“For the record here, I shall briefly mention the reasons for this proposal. The major reason being that the West Bank of the Bray is largely unexplored territory, but we do know that there exist at least two major sets of waterfalls and jumbled watercourses, the lower of which reaches to the west wall of the valley. We know this from the establishment nearby of the Semaphore Station, which is now here ...” He jabbed the map again. “... and a lane has been cleared from there to Bezlet, that the operators have access to some, admittedly limited, civilisation. Higher up the valley, Master Kordulen suggests that the east valley wall can be more easily worked with and the route would thus avoid the incline that goes across the rock face between the Forest Roadhouse and Strettalm. He claims that the trees are sparser on that side as well.

“I was informed just this evening that there exists a village called Tamitil through which passes a lane, a lane that reaches almost all the way to the south side of Kord's Peak. Are you, Goodman Drom, able to draw on one of these map copies just where we are, where Tamitil is, where is the lane that services Tamitil and perchance also where it winds its way to?”

“Indeed, Your Honour, I shall be able so to do. I know it well! It won't be exact of course, but will convey the regular features. I am no drawer of maps.”

“The mapmakers can be sent in later. I need just for the moment to be aware of the lie of the land in the affected area. Here, take this one,” he said as he slid a copy of the map fragment across the table.

We all watched Drom take a marker, a sort of small reedlet, from his pockets and swiftly sketch in a feature or two on the map fragment. He then added some labels and so on, drawing the straight lines that connected the labels with the points they were naming with a small straight edge he took out of another of his pockets.

(And here is what he hastily drew

Lands round the Chaarn junction

and so swiftly done too!)

“Excellent, I am indebted Goodman Drom. I can visualise so much more now.”

I murmured my agreement even as I was writing furiously.

The Captain studied Drom's new markings for a short while and then commanded Drom to: “... make a start as soon as possible. I require a report on how long it would take to widen that Tamitil lane into a full road – first of sufficient width for one wagon, with passing places, and then to extend those passing places to create a road more than wide enough for wagons to pass each other easily. And then an estimate as to how long it would take to build another such road just next to the first.

“I shall also require an estimate of how long 'twould take to drive a route through to the south side of Kord's Peak, from wherever the existing lane loses itself in those forester tracks.

“Hmm, I see from your sketch that it might be better to drive a way through the land to make a shorter cut of it; look here, on the inside of the river bend opposite the Princess' new border on the west bank. Remember there must be no sudden turns, just smooth curves.”

“Very well, Your Honour, I shall brief Master Leofer first thing in the morning. I deem it shall take a month ...”

“'Twould be most helpful were I to have at least a rough estimate to discuss with Her Highness when she arrives in Blackstone, which is expected to be in a week or so, no more than two.”

Drom's face visibly paled, but he swallowed before faintly saying: “We shall do as we can, Your Honour.”

“Excellent man. Now, tell me more about this area here around Tamitil. Tell me also about the extra half-built mill, for I see a need to reinstate that project ...”

And so this hastily-called meeting went on, much to the strain of my right wrist.

… … …

I spent the morning in discussions with Epp and Shemel, trying to see how we could take advantage of this railroad thing, or how it would affect us and our new business. We saw only briefly the couples who arrived to be joined by the Captain and Mesulkin.

We also saw some of the miscreants the Captain had to try.

The Captain had hired a messenger to take messages down to the Semaphore Station should it become necessary, and kindly allowed us to use the man's services while the weddings were going on. Epp sent a message to the people at the South Point house, and several to her business; Shemel also sent two messages. I sent one to Rohid, confirming that I would be arriving that afternoon and asking that we meet briefly when I arrived with the shuttle in the late afternoon, despite having a frayen I could ride.

Then it was time for a light luncheon.

His Honour and Master Mesulkin joined us once more at table as we all had a meal to keep us alive whilst we travelled on. The two senior Assembly members then loaded up all their stuffs that they needed to get back up to Blackstone on the upvalley shuttle and the ex-Steward climbed aboard for his trip to the Forest Roadhouse whilst the Captain and his men mounted their frayen for a fast dash to Bezlet.

Epp and family climbed aboard the downvalley shuttle, onto which I and Pomma also scrambled. We had joined them since we were all travelling to the same place.

We passed out of Her Highness' lands, our driver setting a brisk pace for a wagon with seven passengers and a fair share of baggages. Trumpa and Boxin were behind us, attached to the shuttle on loosely tied leading reins; the two were snickering together as we made our progress.

None of us could quite believe the Captain's announcement that in the not too distant future, people could travel all the way from Blackstone to Tranidor and back in a day. But we certainly discussed it – in detail.

I estimate we had managed maybe one half of the distance to Tranidor when Shemel surprised me by saying: “Julina, I have had a thought. We have had permission, and almost a command, to paint our wagons in Blackstone colours. I suggest we have a broad stripe down each side and across the tailgate, one colour for Blackstone-based vehicles, and another colour for the Brayview-based ones. You could get Rohid to suggest a wheelwright's address to get the wagons checked over and perchance arrange for the painting of them.”

“A valid suggestion, Shemel, I deem we shall do exactly that. But your words have triggered something in my head, another elusive thought. Something we forgot to do back in Brayview. I feel 'twas associated with the Captain, but for us.”

We all thought hard about it for a hand and more of moments, but none could come up with any suggestion, so Shemel and I went back to discussing the maintenance and colouring of the wagons.

A few moments went by before Jogantha spoke up, extremely diffidently: “If it pleases you Masters and Mistresses, I deem I might be able to help you?”

We all stopped talking and turned to her, the question written on all our faces.

The poor girl was scared to have initiated a conversational thread all on her own, so we encouraged her as effusively as we could.

“It seems to me that the Steward suggested you set up a small depot and office for your company at Brayview, and I cannot recall you discussing that with anyone in authority there, if you'll forgive me for saying, Masters and Mistresses.”

I was struck silent for more than just a few heartbeats, and I assumed that was the same with the others. This was EXACTLY the point that I had wanted to recall. Our silence was however worrying to poor Jogantha, who eventually seemed as if she would burst into tears.

I was the first to react. I scooted over to where Jogantha was sitting, I barged my way between her and Epp and just hugged the girl.

“Maker! How could we forget to do something like that?” I turned to Shemel and said: “Let this be a lesson to ourselves, Shemel. Let us NEVER assume that the other is doing something. 'Tis better that we repeat something than to forget to do that something!”

“I deem you are right, Julina. And I thank you most heartfeltedly, Jogantha. That is indeed the best reminder you could have done. Very good indeed.”

I felt her muscles loosen somewhat as we said this, but still not enough for my complete peace of mind.

And so it was that we travelled on. It seemed to me that Jogantha took a greater part in the proceedings than she had ever done before.

I was uneasy about that.

How would this affect the working relationships inside Epp's household? I determined to speak to Epp about it later, when we could be alone.

Then we had another shock. Well not exactly a shock as such, more of a surprise really.

The wagoneeer coughed as a way of drawing attention to himself.

“Mistress Julina, Master Shemel, might I mention something?”

I looked more closely at the man, for there was something familiar about him, and his tone suggested that we knew each other.

'Q' my mind was suddenly shouting. Wagoneer lessons at the Forest Roadhouse and up in Town. Yes. But what was his name? Quick or Quist, or something???

Shemel was faster to it than I. He replied with his engaging grin: “Yes, Quizzen? I deem you have heard enough to know that we are open to almost any discussion. How may we be of help?”

“Do I understand that yourselves are starting a wagonning company, sub-contracting with Master Tanon's? With a prospective base and depot at Brayview?”

“Indeed Quizzen, so we are. We have a contract with the Blackstone Assembly which is unlikely to require our wagons for every bell of every day, and so we shall be discussing with Master Rohid how we may fit in with Master Tanon's organisation. We shall have a small depot in Brayview and a larger one up in Blackstone. We have my two large wagons already and Mistress Julina here shall provide four others, two large and two smaller.”

“Ah so 'tis true! Mistress Julina shall have old Jafferkin's belongings?”

I joined in just then with: “That is correct, Goodman Quizzen. Do I remember you from my lessons? I miss those days in a strange way!”

“Indeed, Mistress. 'Twas Dorsal what was singing your praises so we got together at the Forest Roadhouse when I were driving the down shuttle and you was going to your home on the up one with him, and that young lad, Farr. Since then I have had five or so of your lessons when I been in Blackstone. I have also been singing the praises of that education, and there is now much demand among other drivers to be allowed to go up there to learn.”

“And may I ask what prompted your question now?”

My whole instincts were telling me this man wanted something more, that he needed us in some way; and that he believed he had something to offer. I'm sure that Epp picked up on that, for our eye-speak told us that we each had the same thought, but Shemel seemed not to have noticed the undercurrent.

Quizzen swallowed before answering my question.

And again.

“My lad, my son – well he is our only child that survived childhood – he is apprenticed to the wheelwright in Tranidor what works for Master Tanon, does all the wagon maintenance. Master Rader is the wheelwright's name, and my lad, he's named Pyor. His apprenticeship is over just last month, he is now a Journeyman.”

He broke off as he weighed his next words. None of us pressed him. We could tell there was much emotion involved.

“Well, thing is, since the lad's been mostly gone, my missus, Rasta, she's been lonely, and I'm away a lot and she's a lot unhappy. We both agree that I should continue to get my lessons 'cos that way I can better myself eventually, but that means going up to Blackstone or Brayview, I have recently heard. But Rasta, she's from a village close to Her Highness' southern border what we passed a while ago. Her family's nearer Brayview than it is to Tranidor ….”

He paused, and somehow we all knew he was nearing his big point, nearing the thing he was building up to.

“I can get easily to Brayview from Tranidor, and I was thinking that maybe with your new depot to be in Brayview, perchance my lad could be your wheelwright? We can get references and the like. And then we could all move to Brayview and the missus'll be happier, I shall have easier access to those lessons and the lad will have a job. Perchance you could consider my Pyor?”

We were silent once more, sufficiently long for our driver to get worried.

But in that time, eye-speak was extremely busy; Epp swiftly and not gently nudged Shemel, nodding as she did so, mouthing the word 'Consider'. I let Shemel give the man an answer.

“Quizzen, I can say that we shall definitely consider your son, that is a promise. But we still need to make arrangements just to see if we can set up anything at all at Brayview. It is not certain that we shall have a depot there, but if we do then you are correct. We shall need a workshop and will have to appoint someone to run it. Your boy shall be one of the first we shall interview for the job.”

“Thank you, sir. You shall not regret that decision, you and Mistress Julina. I understand you can do no more than promise to consider, but you have given me hope.”

“And what of yourself, Quizzen. What's your story? I remember you as being quite advanced in the lessons and your enthusiasm for the Garian numbers. Where did you gain your prior knowledge?”

A shadow passed his face, which he had turned to look at me at that heartbeat, and his shoulders dropped slightly before he turned round once more to look at the road ahead.

“Ah, Mistress! I weren't always a driver; I too was signed up to a wheelwright, but at the end of my first year of apprenticing, my old father upped and died and I had to go and work to keep my mother and sisters alive. They were strained years, I can tell you. Then my sisters got married and were no longer a burden to me and my mother. My feeble pay as a driver stretched farther and yet my mother was sad without her man and her girls; I did what I could but was also away often with my driving so she got sadder and sadder, so sad she soon had her pyre and I was left alone. I would not have my wife descend so far, and will do what I can to help her from her depression.”

We all looked at each other, those of us in the belly of the wagon. We all felt somehow embarrassed.

It was young Mohini who broke the awkwardness by changing the subject slightly.

“Where do you reside at the moment, Goodman Quizzen?”

“Along the Inner Ramparts, young Master. Just three doors up from Jafferkin's place, on the same side as the old 'Gallin House'.”

My surprise made me ejaculate: “I know that street! That's where Mistress Nayet has her seamstressing business. I have been there. In fact, we all have I deem, maybe not you Termerik, but certainly all the rest of us. I knew not that the street name was 'Inner Ramparts' though.”

Quizzen was glad to change the subject so he jumped in once more: “Officially, I believe, it is named the 'Lane of the Inner Ramparts', but we around there always say just the two words.”

“I was unaware that Jafferkin had his home there! He never said anything to us. How annoying it must have been to leave there, fetch his wagon, come down to South Point just to return to Mistress Nayet's! That man was just so tight-lipped, wasn't he?” I made them all laugh.

“I recall now,” continued Quizzen with a small tone of wonder in his voice. “It was YOU, Mistress Julina, who made that speech to the town at the official ceremony to open the Wenders service. And it was YOU that invented them!”

I laughed. “Guilty as charged!”

“And you praised Mistress Nayet in that speech.”

“That I did.”

“Well since then, she has had almost too much work. She needs to find a larger set of premises to cope with it all. It shall be sad if she was to leave our little village inside a town, for that is how we see ourselves. And yet I myself am considering doing just that.” He shook his head at that.

… … …

“Well met, Mistresses Julina and Megrozen, Masters Shemel, Termerik, and er... Monani?”

Mohini flushed slightly, but politely corrected him: “Mohini, Master Rohid. And allow me to introduce Mistress Pomma, also of Blackstone, the wife of Master Waldan, who is the Saddler there. Mistress Pomma this is Master Rohid, the Tranidor factor for Master Tanon's company.”

The introductions were made as custom dictated and then Master Rohid surprised us.

“Firstly, I would like to congratulate Master Shemel and Mistress Megrozen. May your life together be long and happy!”

The two newly-weds were still sufficiently freshly together that they blushed slightly but beamed their delight.

Rohid continued: “I have taken the liberty of providing this light frayen cart to convey your baggages down to the South Point house. I knew not what arrangements you might have made for your own onward transport, but thought that perhaps this might be welcome. Should you have made your own arrangements, then I can still use it for other tasks, but you have priority of use. I was also informed that Mistress Julina was mounted and with, naturally, a companion, so I have arrived today with my own beast, that they might accompany me on a slight detour before arriving at South Point.”

“Master Rohid, that is most thoughtful, most thoughtful indeed. We thank you kindly,” stated Shemel somewhat formally.

“Master Shemel, it is the very least we can do for the two who have provided us with much income, and the Town here with a groundbreaking transport system. Whenever Master Termerik or Mistress Julina arrive, a simple semaphore shall be sufficient to ensure such a conveyance shall be here awaiting them, if they deem it necessary.”

I needed to break in just then, so I did by saying: “I thank you too, Master Rohid. I deem the Wenders are a successful enterprise then? We saw a line of people waiting over there across the bridge. And are those also three more lines awaiting over there, there and there?”

“Indeed, Mistress. We have even expanded outside Tranidor. The Count has relaxed his high fees for crossing the bridges, and now we have many, many more visitors from surrounding villages than before. They required some easier means of transport from their villages to the outer ends of our Wender system, so we have initiated a combination of the Wenders and the Shuttle systems, to deliver folk to the Semaphore Stations across the rivers from here. We are even starting a transport up from Holville in the mornings and back again in the evenings. This, we have decided, shall also come under the Wenders system. If it proves as successful as we expect, then we shall initiate another in the opposite direction, Holville down to Haligo.

“And, if it grows there as many believe, perchance we shall also make Brayview another destination.”

We were interrupted, quite rudely as it happened, by a very self-important man who was demanding of the carter if he was available for a short-term hire, claiming that he and his wife needed to get back to South Tranidor and there were “too many people awaiting the Wender!”

Quizzen was quite polite when he told the stranger that the cart was not for hire. Certainly far more polite than the man himself had been.

It happened then.

I know that because I felt a sort of tingling.

But it was my face that told the story to Epp, who was the one amongst us all who knew me best.

She laughed as she said: “There's another idea coming!”

I waved my hands to show it was not yet formed, but also to agree with Epp that there was indeed another thought.

Mohini decided at that moment that he would slide away to see some friends, knowing now that his baggages would be dealt with, so took his farewells, promising to be back home for an evening meal in a bell and a half's time.

The carter, who was waiting patiently for a decision to be made, was chatting quietly to Quizzen; they were obviously talking about us, judging by the frequent use of Quizzen's thumb to direct attention our way. The carter's face showed him to be quite impressed by Quizzen's words. The two of them began to unload the packages to be stored in the Shuttle Shed.

It's funny how that happens with me. My thoughts were churning and yet part of my brain was also observing in acute detail other things going on around me.

“Master Rohid, I deem that Master Shemel and I need to talk with you anyway, not just about this my latest idea. Perchance we should meet in the morning, if that is convenient, unless you can manage a meeting somewhere this e'en, after we have all eaten? I have only a limited time this visit to Tranidor, and must needs cram as much business as I may into the shortest time possible, and you and I have much to discuss I am most certain.”

“Indeed Mistress. I anticipated such and my dear wife has given me permission to be absent for most of the rest of this day, so we could indeed discuss much this very e'en. I could report to the South Point mansion after you are all fed, and I shall ...”

“Then you must eat with us,” interjected Epp.

“Oh but Mistress Megrozen, surely you ...”

“Nonsense! It is settled. We shall expect you for dinner then. It shall merely be whatever my company can supply, but we shall be in the comfort of our home down there. Now Shemel and I must get down there as soon as we may, that all can be ordered and prepared. Termerik, come you with us or shall you go to be with your friends, or even with Mistresses Julina and Pomma to wherever Master Rohid wishes to take them?”

“I shall accompany the baggages, Mama. I deem we can get them all, and myself on that cart. You and … Father … I'm sorry, it still feels strange to say that … can walk down or take a wender, if you want to wait.”

“Hold!” said Rohid. “Quizzen, I deem you have unloaded all the stuffs that came down on your shuttle and that need be left here in the Shed for collection? May I require of you a bell of extra work?”

“Indeed Master Rohid, overtime coin is always welcome.”

“Then you take all the baggages and Master Shemel and his wife down to South Point, and probably Master Termerik too, then Plostrum can accompany me, for I deem I will have use of him and his cart where we are going. We can tell your wife when we pass your door, for we are off to Goodman Jafferkin's to show Mistress Julina his goods that he has left.”

“Hold yet once more!” I almost shouted, as another idea hit me. “Epp, if you could spare Shemel, then we could start our discussions with Master Rohid as we go along, and save some more time. Term, perchance you could accompany your mother with Quizzen and Jogantha of course?”

And so it was arranged, and we went our separate ways, Plostrum following Master Rohid's instructions, as the four of us acted as passengers, dangling our feet off the cart's edge and followed by the three frayen on leading traces.

Pomma kept silent as we, Shemel and I, explained to Rohid what we had decided and the ways in which we intended to put Jaffy's wagons to use.

Rohid interrupted us at one point, surprising us yet again by saying: “I anticipated that you might like to use or sell the wagons, so I had them taken to our wheelwright's to be ...”

“Master Rader's?”

“Why yes, you know a lot about our … Ah! You spoke with Quizzen!”

“Indeed!”

“Anyway, the wagons, as we expected are very well maintained, and are all fully usable. Master Rader told me that Quizzen's son, Pyor, who is now a Journeyman, has examined them closely. He swears that Pyor's word is safe and can be relied upon as if it was his own.”

“Master Rohid, this was indeed one of the tasks I was going to have to arrange upon my visit here. I deem you have saved me much trouble. We were going to ask you for a recommendation for someone to inspect the vehicles, and Master Shemel here was going to chase things up if it couldn't be done before I had to leave. We want them painted too, in Blackstone colours, but with a differentiating stripe down the sides and across the tailgates. Can you recomm ...”

“Plostrum! Turn right here, and go first to Master Rader's. I deem we might just catch him before he leaves.”

I noted an extra smug look appear on Rohid's face as we abruptly changed direction. He had a further surprise for us there, I realised.

When Shemel and I asked how much we should pay for the work done on what were now my wagons, Rohid waved the matter away: “Nothing, nothing at all. Young Pyor required a project, I required to gather together Jafferkin's belongings, and Mistress Julina's idea has brought in much coin. We shall cover those costs!”

Our protests fell on his deaf ears.

Shemel and I agreed then with Rohid to discuss our close association with Master Tanon's organisation later at dinner, in particular the financial aspects of it, so we (well I really!) changed the discussions to Quizzen first of all. This was to be my way of getting Rohid's opinions of Pyor.

“Ah! Quizzen. He is far more capable than being just a driver, we all know it, don't we Plostrum?”

“Aye, Master, that we do!”

“He was apprenticed to Rader's predecessor and showed great promise. He is intelligent, and that intelligence has been passed onto his son. But back then, young Quizzen had to find coin desperately when his Papa died unexpectedly, and he became a driver. I employ him sometimes in the office for he has a talent for organising and planning which is unusual in many of our drivers. He is not that far off retiring now, a hand or so more years, maybe two hands but I deem that would be stretching it a bit too far, so I try to give him office tasks that perchance he might find a higher-paid position for his last few years, to really build up something for his family when he does give up the reins, and settles down to a well-earned rest.”

“If'n I might be allowed, Master?”

“Carry on, Plostrum.”

“Master and Mistresses, it is for reasons like that what we all who work for Master Rohid are so pleased to work there and fer him. And Master Tanon too, of course.

“And Quizzen, he does things for the new lads what join. He gives them tips and tricks like, and takes them with him a few times to gain experience, like. We was all grateful fer what he done. We is all looking out for something what would be good fer him, like.

“If he were to go to another company, then we would all be sad fer us but glad fer him. And his boy, that Pyor, he's a real good wheel man. Shame he must go off elsewhere to do 'is final qualifications like. The Guilds expect Journeymen to change companies so no-one can claim that their Mastership is 'cos of playing favourites in just one place.”

It was a day for thoughts hitting me.

I looked at Shemel and mouthed the words “Brayview depot manager” at him. He looked startled, thought for a moment, then nodded as the idea grew on him.

Just then, we arrived at Master Rader's busy sheds.

The narrow entrance to what was indeed a complex of sheds and offices and storage huts was off a lane that ran parallel to Main Street. I guesstimated we were maybe one third of the way from Junction Square down towards the Market Place.

Deep gouges in the ground showed that traffic in and out was heavy, not just in volume of wagons, but in size of loads too. The narrow entrance was scratched and gouged at all the heights that are common to drays, carts and wagons. Piles of animal waste had been scraped into the wider courtyard just inside the entrance itself, to maintain a simple and clean look for the approach.

I dare say that, of an evening, when the gates were shut, there would be nothing to suggest from the street that such a widespread and extensive place of work existed behind the outer walls and fences.

A man came over to us, trailing a trio of others.

“Rohid! Always a pleasure, even if there is always extra work when you turn up!” He was looking all of us over even as he was greeting Rohid in a slightly long-suffering tone, it seemed.

“Master Rader, may I present Master Shemel and Mistresses Julina and Pomma.”

Rader's eyes widened as he heard my name and they focussed on me, staying there even as he acknowledged the other two.

“Pleased to meet you Mistress Julina. So young! And yet clever enough to double my work load, maybe even treble it, huh?”

I looked at Rohid in confusion. He was chortling away to himself.

“Mistress Julina, he always moans about the work, but he means it not. He loves it, I assure you. Since your Wenders invention, we have had to near double the number of vehicles we have up here. And they all pass through here sooner or later.”

“Pish, Rohid! Fingers worked to the bone, to the bone I tell you. Lucky I have these chaps to give me a bit of a rest on all too infrequent occasions. But Mistress Julina, you will need the lad in the middle there.”

He raised his voice to call one of them over: “Pyor, come and meet your client.”

The young man in the middle, who did indeed resemble his father, left the other two and approached us to join in our conversations.

Master Rader made the introductions: “Mistress Julina, Journeyman Pyor. You may want to take her and Mistress … Pomma, was it? … to see Mistress Julina's belongings.”

With a movement that was as abrupt as his commands had been, he turned to Rohid and Shemel once more. “And Master Shemel, I know that name, what brings you here then? I have had your wagon sometime or other but never you. Rohid?”

Journeyman Pyor led us away with a grin on his face.

He was taken aback a little when the younger of the two women with him started the conversation: “So Journeyman, I understand you require a different job to complete your attestation, now that you have successfully completed your apprenticeship?”

“Indeed Mistresses, I shall be sad to leave here, but Master Rohid has promised me a guaranteed interview when I gain my Masters.”

“Oh I remember when Waldan was at that stage,” Pomma said as she smiled in a gentle, and yet extremely satisfied, way. “It was then he proposed to me. We were both so poor then, but life has been good since, although we were never blessed with an heir.”

“Your man is a Master, Mistress?”

“Aye, Journeyman, that he is. Saddler. In Blackstone.”

“Blackstone! We hear a lot about Blackstone these days. And there has been a noticeable increase in traffic and people since that place has exploded.”

“Well,” I informed him, “you shall be hearing more I can tell you. We need to find a painter to paint these wagons in the Blackstone colours. Sage green above, olive green below. The sides and tailgate shall have a stripe of colour separating the two greens. The big wagon, one of deep red, much like the red in the Duke Gilbanar's colours, same for one of the two smaller ones. The last shall have one of yellow, for that shall be based at Brayview.

“The company that shall operate these wagons shall be the 'Blackstone Wagons' company, and shall start with Jafferkin's four wagons, and also others that shall be supplied by Master Shemel and his contacts. Blackstone Wagons shall be associated with Master Tanon's company very closely, but already have a contract with the Assembly of Blackstone Lands to give priority to Assembly business, whatever that might be.”

“Do you tell me, Mistress Julina and Mistress Pomma? There shall be a wagon base at a roadhouse?”

“Oh! Please! Just call me Julina. All this title business is just so laborious.”

“And I am Pomma.”

“I thank you both for the honour. I am, as you have seen and heard, Pyor.”

As was traditional, we all shook hands at that point, to seal the bargain. We stopped to do so, not having reached our destination yet.

I took up the conversation again, as we walked onwards: “Pyor, Brayview is expanding. It is being developed as a small town, as the administrative centre for all of Her Highness' holdings outside of the Bray Valley itself. Well that's not QUITE accurate, actually. Outside of the Bray Valley AND on the Chaarn road. No, again that's wrong. A heartbeat , please, whilst I think of it. Ah! That's it. All around the Chaarn Road, even when it is in the Bray Valley. That's better.”

“Maker! I had not heard of that! It makes sense though. However, for now, welcome to my little work space.”

We were approaching a shed that was in one of the far corners of Rader's complex.

We studied the outside briefly. The shed had a nameplate hanging on the lintel above the double doors. A simple message to all who approached.

Pyor.

He gestured with a hand and ushered us towards a small door set inside a larger one. Called a wicket door, I remembered from somewhere and somewhen. It, no THEY, were different from other doors we had seen. These were a particular shade of green that I was certain I had not seen before. Not garish, but nevertheless noticeable.

Ducking our heads even as we clambered over the very high sill, we entered a surprisingly roomy workspace, with good light coming through opened shutters along the sides.

Inside, both Pomma and I were impressed at the tidiness and general orderliness in what was obviously a busy working space. Tools were clean and stored tidily. There were a hand of vehicles in there, one in pieces and another up on blocks and being worked upon by two, no three, young lads.

Pyor took us over to where an obvious cluster of three wagons were standing – gleaming so much that I gasped, as did Pomma.

'Twas Pyor who broke the surprised silence: “These, Mi … er .. Julina, these are yours.”

“Pyor! You have made them beautiful! Truly!”

“Thank you, Julina. I have done my best; and indeed the Guild Inspector, for so he is still called, has inspected them to award points towards my Mastery. He too was most praising, from a more technical viewpoint, of course. The apprentices I have been leading helped of course, all three of them, the ones you can see over there, but the project was mine from the outset.”

He lifted his voice and he dismissed the young apprentices that were working on the wagon on blocks. They scuttled out, shutting the wicket door behind them. All except one who came across to join us.

“Now, I need to ask you something formally,” he declared, looking intently at me.

At first, I was a little taken aback.

Pyor was staring directly at me, with a meaningful and quite hard glint in his eyes. Almost menacing in a way, but without menacing body postures.

Suddenly, I suspected I knew what this was about, so I looked back equally as determinedly.

“In front of these two witnesses, do you, Mistress Julina, formally swear and declare that you are indeed Mistress Julina, of Blackstone, and that you are the legal heir of Goodman Jafferkin?”

“I do so swear, Journeyman Pyor.”

“Heard and witnessed,” said the one remaining lad, a fraction before Pomma did likewise.

“Very well!” He turned to the lad and dismissed him as well. He waited for the boy to leave and shut the door.

“Julina, thank you for your clear statements. I have a secret to share with you and I trust that you are happy for Pomma to share this secret as well? Those lads know only that I have a secret, not what it is.”

“Indeed, Pyor. I have no problems with Mistress Pomma being present.” I laughed a little as I added: “I would possibly have more problems if she were NOT here. Please feel free to say what you have to with my total agreement.”

“Very well. If you will, may I show you something first?”

I nodded, as did Pomma.

He led us over to one of the smaller wagons and asked me, us, to look at the chair, paying attention to the woodwork at the front.

After a full hand of moments, we both admitted defeat. We could see nothing out of the ordinary.

“Goodman Jafferkin was a driver of the old school, so I suspected what I was about to find. It took me half a bell for the first one, but after that I sort of knew what to look for, and the others were much quicker as a result. Now imagine you are a man, with a man's hands, and you are sitting in the driving position.”

He hopped up as he said this, matching his actions to his words.

“See here, he was right-handed, and just where his right hand would rest on the frame of the chair, where the little finger of his right hand would naturally come into contact with it, there is a slight indentation in the wood, with a little bump at the bottom. Look closely where my little finger of my right hand is now resting.”

That same finger tapped lightly to mark the place as I came closer.

Then I saw it! A small spot, slightly darker than the rest of the wood around. In, as he said, a small depression. I beckoned Pomma over to come and see it too.

He applauded me when I immediately started inspecting the rest of the wooden surround. I stiffened as I got to just by his leg.

That was surely another?

I looked up at him and he nodded his agreement. This one was, I estimated, about where the middle finger of his left hand would rest.

“Press the first one, Julina. Directly into the wood, quite firmly.”

“You do it, Pomma. You are there!”

She did so, and we both squealed a little as a cunningly disguised little flap clicked open on the top of the wooden surround.

Pyor raised the cushioning and pulled open the flap fully, revealing a small cavity. I looked at Pyor in amazement. He pressed the other tiny button, the one by his leg, and again a similar sized flap popped up with a slight click. He then closed the lids again by pressing them down. He did so with a surprising gentleness for a man used to working hard with his hands.

“Now let me fetch what I found in there, in those cavities.”

He hopped down once more, and headed over to a workbench, where he opened a small cupboard at the left hand end. He unlocked it, and then unlocked yet another locked door inside it. His hand went in and then withdrew something which at first I could not clearly see.

He came back and handed over a drawstring pouch, which was quite heavy. It clinked into my hand, and I knew immediately that it was filled with coin.

“Julina, I have searched and searched, whenever I have been alone, and am prepared to state categorically that I have discovered all such cavities. In each of those two that I have opened for you, I found mixed coin to the value of five Sollies. Yes, there was a half a crown in each. They are yours, of course.”

I swallowed before I could reply. My surprise made me not thank him immediately, I just said: “Surely there is more than a Crown in this purse?”

He smiled and gently said: “The same in each chair, Julina. And probably in his fourth wagon which must be up in Blackstone, I surmise?”

“Maker! I congratulate you, Pyor. I would never have guessed. But this purse still seems heavy. Heavier than I would have expected from three Crowns. But I must thank you formally, for outstanding work.”

“I confess I am amazed at your astuteness and your knowledge of the weight of coins.”

He paused in a strange little way that made me focus more intently upon him: “Erm ... Julina. There is something I haven't told you yet.”

I stopped fidgeting with the purse in my hands and looked at him closely.

“There were no less than four other cavities in the chair that I discovered. And each of those contained a full Crown made up in various ways!”

My mouth dropped.

“FIVE Crowns? Two halves and four fulls? You found five crowns? No, seven Crowns, with the two found in the others?”

“No, Julina.” He was openly laughing now. “I found fifteen Crowns, each chair was exactly the same. Two halves, and four fulls in EACH chair. Six cavities in each chair. Two on the front side, which you have seen, two on the back side, which you haven't, and one on each side. It was the way they thought back then. If one is discovered and robbed, the robber is unlikely to go and search for more, so they spread their wealth around. Maybe two might be discovered. But unlikely all six would be.”

I looked at Pomma in shock, and she looked back at me, equally amazed.

Again my brain was racing, and I was doing some adding up in my head. Yes, it was much easier to do so now we had those Garian numbers.

I came to a decision.

Then it was my turn to shock Pyor.

This should be fun!

I grinned as I began: “Your honesty does you great credit, Pyor. And therefore I am going to insist upon something, which is NOT NEGOTIABLE. You shall take one Crown for yourself.”

“No, no! Julina, I couldn't. It is part of my work. It is what I am supposed to do, what I am trained to do.”

“You shall take it, Pyor. It is mine as you already said. If you don't take it, I shall just drop it on the floor.”

“Pyor,” said Pomma, “I assure you she shall do exactly as she says. You had better keep your workplace tidy.”

He looked at her, he looked at me. He saw my set jaw, he read my eyes and then he almost snatched the pouch back. He opened it and was fumbling in the coins, counting out a crown's worth.

I smiled as he did so. I knew what was coming up.

He went to hand the pouch back, but I folded my arms and refused to take it from him.

He looked at me queryingly.

“For EACH wagon, Pyor!”

Even Pomma opened her eyes at that. Pyor was definitely startled, which made my delight that much greater.

He started to protest but soon stopped when both Pomma and I shook our heads in unison, keeping silent.

When he had finished his task, he handed the purse back.

Again I didn't take it.

Again he looked at me, a question in his eyes.

“Take out a further crown and a half. Half a crown each for your three lads.”

“Julina!” he said, shocked. “You will be poorer than you need be. Surely you need the coin?”

“Not so much, Pyor. I receive a tidy sum each month from Master Tanon's company, my payments that they pay me for inventing the Wender system.”

“Maker! YOU?”




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