Julina of Blackstone - 056 - Opportunities Abound

A very packed and significant evening

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Julina of Blackstone
Her Chronicles, Book 2

by Julia Phillips

056 – Opportunities Abound


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
056 – Opportunities Abound

“Maker! You are GOOD, young Pyor! Very good indeed.”

The delight written all over Shemel’s face gave me a huge clue as to what my own visage must have looked like when I too saw those wagons for the very first time, wagons that were now mine somehow. Something that I was still struggling to believe.

Shemel and Rohid had entered the apprentice's, now journeyman's, wheelwright's workshop only just after our financial transactions had been concluded. It was actually quite funny because Pyor had gone across to the door to open it, thus indicating to the apprentices that they could come back again; just as he got there, the door itself had swung open, banging into his outstretched hand. Pomma and I giggled.

The two men had come in the low wicket door and had crossed to us as they exchanged a significant glance with each other. When Rohid showed Shemel my wagons, it was then that Shemel made his admiring comment.

The three apprentices came back in very shortly after the Masters and Pyor called over the one who had remained to be a witness to my formal statement as to my identity: “Flemak! Would you join us please? You other two, finish off changing that wheel, then you may go to your homes!”

Flemak came over, a question written large upon his face.

But we could all also tell that the two Masters recently arrived had something else in their minds too, something they had discussed as they came over here.

It was Rohid who brought it out into the open: “I have known Goodman Jafferkin almost all his life, and he required me to know a lot about him; should anything happen while he was away, then I was to help his inheritor or inheritors. At his first opportunity in this new year, he told me that he would balance his bequests between Mistresses Megrozen and Julina; so I was not unsurprised to receive your semaphore message, other than being surprised that the poor man was gone to his pyre, of course.

“As a result, I can tell you a little something about his wagons that perchance shall be news to you all. In the chairs of each of his wagons, there are four secret compartments with coin ...”

He was interrupted by Pomma's and my giggles, and a short laugh from Pyor. When Master Rohid looked at us with questions in his eyes, we women indicated to Pyor that he should answer. He tried not to, but we insisted without actually saying anything.

“With respect, Master Rohid, I have actually discovered SIX such cavities in each chair!”

Of course, Master Rohid was taken considerably aback, and Shemel was forced to laugh at him: “Well, Rohid, Pyor is even better than you have been telling me all this time, say you not?”

With a wry smile, Rohid confessed that perchance he had been overshone, just this once of course, and his big secret was not quite as he had deemed.

But his eyes told me something extra. I had the great impression that he still had a secret or two he had yet to reveal.

And that he had a further question of Pyor.

Flemak's mouth had dropped open at the declaration and I would have deemed it impossible had I not observed with my own eyes that his chin could drop any more. However, it did so, when Pyor explained what he had found in there. He understood now why the three of them had been banished from the shed sometimes.

He was almost pathetically grateful when Pyor related the full secret of the cavities and what my reaction had been. Pyor then told Flemak what I had decided about the share of the coin for the younger men. Flemak was about to gush his thanks to me, when Pyor held up a hand to silence him.

Pyor then continued: “Mistress Julina here, Flemak, is also known to you for another reason, a reason of which you may as yet be unaware. Do you recognise her name, at all?”

All of us looked on in interest at this twist in the conversation. Even I was taken aback.

“Errrm, I declare the name sounds familiar, for some reason.” He looked at me apologetically. “But I am unable to place it within any immediately known context, I regret. Perchance because it is rare to see a woman here in our work space.”

“Flemak, 'twas she who invented the Wenders system!”

The lad looked at me, again then looked round at everyone else as if seeking confirmation. He was a little confused when he saw that all were nodding their agreement.

His eyes came once more to my own. He was obviously shocked, but this was an emotional shock, we somehow knew. Not a shock that a 'mere' woman had done something. This was on a far deeper level than that.

“But … but … but … that means you ...”

It became my turn to be shocked. I was shocked to see tears spring to his eyes. Pomma and I glanced at each other, both wondering what this was all about.

Again Pyor took over the conversation: “Indeed! 'Twas she who made the speech at the official ceremony.”

I think we were all of us shocked in yet another way when Flemak dropped to his knees, grabbed my right hand and kissed it passionately, over and over again.

… … …

“... so that is what we feel would be the best use of my unexpected inheritance.”

“I deem that 'twould indeed be an excellent way indeed to make use of, and coin from, poor Jafferkin's wagons. Master Shemel here has considerable experience in our world of transport, and your own contributions, both with equipment and with ideas, when coupled with your enthusiasm, will ensure a successful venture.”

I was of course blushing at Rohid's effulgent praise but even Flemak stopped his quiet chatting with Plostrum and they both turned round and agreed.

As did Shemel and Pomma.

Fortunately the subject was changed from necessity.

Plostrum pulled on the reins and we stopped outside a house. A house almost indistinguishable from its neighbours.

On this street, one building comprised two houses actually. And a narrow alley created a not so wide gap between neighbouring buildings, an alleyway that Flemak explained the neighbours shared to reach the stables and wagon/cart sheds at the back. Furthermore, those stables and wagon parks and whatever formed the barrier between the houses in this street with the row of houses in the street that paralleled this one.

I looked around at the general area rather than at the specific house. It was then I recognised the street after a fashion, for I could see what was surely Nayet's place just down there, which meant that the larger house further down on this side of the street must be the old Gallin House. We must be on the Lane of the Inner Ramparts.

Flemak excused himself and departed from the rest of us, almost running down to his mother's house.

For that is what had surprised me a little earlier, when Flemak was on his knees to me.

I found out that Nayet was his mother.

And he had been grateful for the turnaround in his mother's fortunes as a result of my advertising her undoubted talents. In fact, she now had so much work, she had taken on two young girls to train, which in turn meant that she was looking for a larger space to work in, rather than the suite of rooms she had been renting up to now. I learnt further that she had had to sell their own house shortly after her man died, leaving overwhelming debts. That sale had cleared most of them but left the little family with no reserves; Flemak's early life had not been easy but Nayet had just managed to scramble through. When Berdon had recommended her to me, her life changed round, although none of us knew that at the time.

My attention was abruptly changed as Rohid ushered me into this house, he and Shemel following Pomma and I, while Plostrum waited patiently outside once more. This time though, we all knew it would not be a long wait, for the visit to Pyor's had taken far longer than it should have – well, it had been unplanned after all! And a dinner had been arranged for us in the very close future at a house not in the immediate neighbourhood.

The interior of the house into which we had been ushered showed immediately its character. Little sign of a woman's touches, a very manly way of stacking all the contents, mostly using the floor as a storage area, much dust around and several things obviously undisturbed for a long while.

Something was niggling at me though. A part of my mind was working on that even as I gazed around, moving about Jafferkin's room carefully lest I get dust on my clothing.

“This is all mine now?” I turned to get the confirmation from Rohid.

“Indeed, Mistress Julina.”

I turned to Shemel to include him as well.

“Can either of you recommend a storage facility where we can move all these stuffs?” Even as I was speaking, another consideration leapt into my mind. “And by when does the landlord have to have the room returned?” My earlier thought suddenly set itself. “And where did Jaffy sleep? There is no bed in here!”

Rohid and Shemel exchanged a glance even as they looked a little shocked.

Then Rohid grinned and said: “You had best ask the landlord yourself! I'm sure she shall answer you promptly.”

“She? A woman owns this? I am surprised.”

“Mistress Julina, this entire house, this half of the combined building, belongs to YOU now. Jafferkin owned the whole thing, he took it over from his father – this and the two upper floors, the attics, the cellars, the kitchens, bathrooms and stables and wagon park out the back. And everything that is in it. It is all yours now.”

I suddenly had a need to sit down.

… … ...

“Please sit there, Master Rohid,” said Epp as we all filed into the dining room, “Julina there I think this time, Pomma would you be comfortable there? You boys together at the end there and then we can alternate this end. I deem Shemel you and Julina should be together this evening since there shall be discussions about your new business venture with Master Rohid. The three of you there will allow Pomma and I to chat with the boys if you get too technical. Termerik should also be close lest there be some Wender business to discuss. So I think my arrangement covers all.”

Indeed it did, we all found the seating to be sensibly arranged and so our evening meal started.

It was not at all too long before we dispensed with the formalities of titles.

This certainly turned out to be the most eventful evening meal of my so-far short life.

After discussions in general about our journey down, during which Epp made sure to include Jogantha whenever possible, and which gave me pause to think about that since it appeared to me that Epp was doing it deliberately, we brought Rohid up to our level of understanding about the Steward's actions, and the intentions and developments in Blackstone lands.

Which brought us on to the subject of 'Blackstone Wagons'.

“... so you see, the Blackstone Smith and Assembly member, Master Brydas, had the basic idea, I just refined that and included Shemel, and, in that way, his family also, as he was already working with you. So I wanted to include my unexpected wagons with his that we might then be able to offer Master Tanon a better service. Yes, if you like I have provided more wagons to the enterprise, but they would be useless without Shemel's expertise, so we shall share any costs and any profits half and half.”

“That is a most sensible arrangement, I deem,” said Rohid, encouraging me to go on, but at the same time giving me a chance to have a forkful of food. “And how came about the idea of a depot at Brayview? You both mentioned that earlier. That seems to me a large leap of the imagination.”

Shemel had himself just taken a bite of his food, so I once again answered as soon as I had swallowed my mouthful: “When we were there last evening, there came a declaration that a wagon would be necessary to help transport a sick man to nearer the healers. And it sort of sprang into mind. Her Highness' Steward was with us and 'twas he, as I recall, who first put it into words. He suggested we opened an office and depot there. Brayview is indeed being developed as a second town within Her Highness' lands. It shall also be increasing, perchance not as much as Blackstone itself, but nevertheless still swiftly.

“The Steward it was who had given us our first commission, after we came to the initial agreement, to provide priority to the Blackstone-based wagons to be used for Assembly business. Her Highness' lands now cover much more than her original allocation, so we could all see that the Steward and/or the Assembly shall require some mode of transport to be readily to hand. Yes, most of the officers concerned can ride frayen, but we could all see that often something with a larger load-carrying capability would be required.

“On top of that, we have a slight problem up in Blackstone with the supply of sufficient flour for our ever-increasing population and I deem that the Steward has taken an interest in the mill, or, rather, the mills at Tamitil. We,” I continued as I indicated Shemel and myself, “deem that there will soon be a regular and frequent stream of deliveries up to Blackstone, with the flours from Tamitil leading the way.

“There is already a steady stream of supply wagons, but with mining supplies mostly, as you must be aware. And the Chaarn road traffic has increased, as it always does at this time of year, so we deem that some of that traffic might be served by shipping goods up to Blackstone rather than letting all of it pass downvalley. That part of Her Highness' lands is less remote with connections up to the dead-end of Blackstone as well as all along the Chaarn Road and downvalley to the capital. Wagons based solely up in Blackstone will have a much more limited set of opportunities for use. So Brayview becomes more important. And Bezlet shall do so also, soon.”

Master Rohid looked slightly startled at our vehemence. And at some of the information we had imparted.

“Bezlet?”

“'Tis a small village at the moment, but I happen to know that there are plans for a barge port to be constructed near there and we both feel that there shall be an increase in usage there. Much construction is currently being done there, and destruction actually.” I grinned at that, proud of my choice of words. “They are trying to take off sufficient rock from the face of a promontory that a road may pass through there. And only just now, we witnessed the Steward issue orders to explore the difficulties of bringing a road to the other side of that very promontory.”

We gave him a little time to digest both that information and some more of his food, before Shemel restarted the conversation: “We would appreciate your advice as we would need to find someone competent to run the Brayview end of things.” He grinned engagingly. “Or the Brayview centre of things, rather! I shall be mostly here in Tranidor as my other business interests mean that I must be in close proximity. Julina here shall be mostly busy up in Blackstone.

“Now, there have been two things that we have seen since our arrival, that suggest we may have found the ones we want already. But we would be, in effect, 'stealing' them from YOU, so we would naturally require your permission first before we say anything to the men themselves.”

Rohid raised his eyebrows at that, but said nothing as yet.

I then started once more: “We are fairly certain we shall require both an office and a depot, and also a repair and maintenance facility. We have learnt this evening that Pyor requires a practical experience away from Master Rader's. And his father you have told us has office and organisational skills, and also wants to move nearer to Brayview. This way we could help that family and ourselves at the same time!”

Rohid looked thunderstruck as our idea, or, to put it more accurately, our set of ideas was presented to him. We continued to eat in silence whilst he searched for words.

It took him at least two moments before he said: “Where on Anmar do you get these ideas? How do you come up with them, when others, myself included, have all the information and yet do not 'see' such simple solutions?”

He paused to take his final forkful from his plate.

“I deem this suggestion to be excellent and a boon for all involved, myself included. I had been searching for something that would help Quizzen and his family. This would indeed be a solution, an elegant solution, to all the factors. What sort of time scale do you both see?”

“At the moment, there are no facilities there at all, and so we would have to give instructions for them to be built. We would like to involve the persons who shall be working there in their design. With your permission, we would broach the subject with Quizzen and Pyor on the morrow?”

“So shall it be! Shall we say at the 3rd Bell? At Pyor's workshop?”

A quick glance between us, a mutual nod, and Shemel said: “Agreed! We shall make some drawings to be used as discussion start points. Brayview is where the road to Chaarn and Blackstone climbs across the side of the Bray Valley up towards the shoulder. The roadhouse is on the east side, the hillside if you like. The valley slope, as opposed to the road slope which is of course at a different angle, the valley slope there is quite steep as it happens, so most of the development around Brayview shall be to the west of the road, downslope from it towards the river. But a wheelwright's workshop and a depot should be as near the road and/or the roadhouse as possible. It needs to be 'handy' for the passing traffic. Perchance the wheelwright's could be in the roadhouse area and the depot elsewhere, but not too else!” Again he grinned that engaging grin of his. We all laughed at his little word-joke.

“Now,” said Rohid as Jogantha and Karmanya cleared away our dishes and prepared to serve the desserts, “let me tell you the Wenders, and how the developments have come about.”

“Good,” I replied, “I have an idea for a development myself that I wished to discuss this evening.”

“Do you tell me? I shall look forward to that. Allow me to explain what we have done so far. And the ever-increasing demand it appears we have.”

And so he spent the next two or three hands of moments describing how it had been so enthusiastically received by the citizenry, and how that, coupled with the Count relaxing some of his tolls, had encouraged more and more people to visit and make business in Tranidor. His account of it all took us up to the point when the girls were clearing away the eating stuff and the remains of our evening meal. They brought out another bottle of wine, some ale for Mohini and Termerik, water jugs, and two pots of pel and then retired for the evening, Epp promising that she and I and Pomma would tidy up.

Originally, they had just had Wenders running across town from the other side of the Bray Bridge (by the East Semaphore Station) to the other side of the Palar Bridge (by the West Semaphore Station), and up and down between the East Gate of the Castle and the Market Place. Both these 'rounds' as they termed them had one intermediate halting place, at Junction Square.

Then they discovered, at first particularly on the up and down 'round', that people were stopping them frequently between Junction Square and the ends where the wagons turned round to retrace the 'round' in reverse. So they added in some extra intermediate halting places, and named them 'roundpoints', giving the ends of the rounds the logical name of 'roundends'.

And then the South Tranidor residents, those living across the Sufen from West Tranidor, demanded their own connection. Their solution to that was to extend the end stop of the cross-town 'round' all the way to the guard and tax house where the South Sufen road arrived. This in turn saved another small problem they had had, which was finding space in the built-up areas for the wagons to turn around easily at the roundends.

One thing led to another, and they developed other rounds that then connected with some already established intermediate roundpoints – there had even been developed a circular route round the edges of Tranidor's main town which had become very popular with visitors. This circular route had no roundends of course, and the early days of it had the wagons rolling eastwards along the outside of the castle wall and basically westwards down at South Point and the Market area, but they soon had extra wagons rolling round the circle in the opposite direction too.

As a result of all this, and of their experiences gained, then they had learnt to have a journeycard seller/collector travel on each Wender who would then take a journeycard from each passenger who climbed on.

“'Twas difficult at first to decide how much coin we should take, but we simplified the system quite early on. We decided the charge for a single journey and defined a journey as being the time spent on a single wagon, limited to reaching the roundends to prevent people just staying on the wagon for the whole day. Yes, we had some of those in the first days! So if, for example, you wished to travel to the Market Place from the East Semaphore Station, then you would have two journeys – one to Junction Square and the second from there down to the Market Place.

“We then allowed customers to purchase either a single journey, in which case no journeycard need be issued, the wagon controller could remember that the customer had paid for that one journey, or they could purchase a book of journeycards; each book would be of a number of hands of journeycards, one, two, three or four. A hand of journeycards would cost the same as four individual journeys, the two hand book would cost the same as seven individual journeys, the three hand book would cost the same as ten individual journeys and the four hand book would be priced at the same as thirteen individual journeys. So book purchasers would get the equivalent of one, three, five or seven free journeys.

“We are now debating whether to implement another system as well, one where the customer pays, say, the same as the two hand book but gets travel on any Wender within Town for a complete day. Mayhap have a weekly one too.”

“Maker! You must have an army of scribes to write out so many journeycards!”

“Ah, Megrozen ...”

“Please call me Epp, it's so much easier for everyone.”

“... Epp,” he pronounced it as if he were tasting a new fruit or something, “there has arrived in Town, from the Capital I hear, a new process called 'printing'. Many scribes fear for their own futures as this is a far more efficient way of reproducing written materials. But we can take the time that it would require a scribe to write three hands of the journeycards to set up for the printing, and then we can produce the journeycards, we do thirty-two at a time, at a rate of about ten every moment. That's three hundred and twenty journeycards each moment!”

We all gasped at that.

“And we shall use colour for the daily or weekly journeycards to simplify all that.”

“Maker!” I said, “you do seem to have it all well organised. I am most impressed. But earlier, you mentioned Wenders farther afield than just in Town?”

“Ah yes! Many of our visitors from out of town have been impressed by the Wender system, claiming that it increases their productivity when they are in Town, and they can get so much more done. However, they have difficulties then getting to and from from the roundends, between there and their homes. Some have solved that problem by having friends or relations arrive with onward transport, but many then have several marks to go on foot, thus limiting what they can carry back. Thus in turn limiting their purchasing abilities.

“So we have expanded the Wender system, using really a combination of the Wender system and the Shuttle system. We provide a transport one way, towards Tranidor, of course, in the mornings that bring the visitors to the roundends from where they can connect with the Wender system proper. Then we provide an evening run to take them back again. This is more expensive for us as we have to pay for the driver to overnight at his farthest point away, but nevertheless we have managed to break even so far, even after extending the service all the way down to Holville. We also do the same but less far UP the Palar valley, so far only the east bank, and up the Sufen valley on both sides. We shall shortly do the same for Brayview. As a result of all this, some enterprising family has developed a small almost village just above the East Semaphore Station with a small inn/bakery there for light refreshments for those who attend the comings and goings of the various Wenders. They are extremely pleased with you, Julina, and you Termerik, for bringing this system into effect!”

“That's always nice to know,” I said, “perchance we should pay them a visit, eh, Term?”

He grinned back at me before turning back to Rohid: “I have noticed that there are more Wenders at certain times of the day, Rohid? Or is that just my imagination?”

“No indeed, Termerik, we too have noticed that. Indeed, as you all saw last evening, we have people who must needs await a seat, particularly in the evenings at around the time the Shuttle gets in. We have taken to supplying Wender wagons more frequently, but there are only so many wagons and so many drivers we can call upon. We have some cart drivers spare, but not enough wagoneers, particularly those trained in transporting passengers.”

“Ah! Now I had an idea about that ...”

“Uh oh!” laughed Epp and Shemel together.

“Look out!”

I whirled round and glared at Pomma who had decided to issue that warning. Even my companion was conspiring… oh never mind!

I grumped a little at them all, but couldn't help grinning and giggling when they all looked back at me, totally unaffected.

“Your idea?” asked Mohini.

“Well, it's a combination of Wenders and the like, but could still be in the Wenders category, I suppose.

“At the moment, the better off families and business can simply hire a wagon and driver for a day, or for a week, or for a specified journey or whatever. And that sort of gave me this idea, that and what I saw when we came in earlier.

“Suppose you used your carters just like you used Plostrum tonight? But not specifically hired by any one person or group, for any one journey. Have them there, in Junction Square so that customers can just hire them for a single, simple journey, probably restricted to within the town boundaries, and charge the customers more than a Wender journey fare. Let me see now, say charge them double the Wender single journey because this would be in effect a better service, and then double it again, because there is unlikely to be someone to use this driver again for the return trip. The driver could then take them exactly to their front door, or wherever they wished to go.

“Then the driver could return to Junction Square again, and maybe, hopefully, find another customer who would prefer to pay more than just stand there until a seat comes along.”

There was silence round the table as all considered my words.

'Twas Rohid who understood the concept the first, as I could tell by the dawning look that appeared on his face. He had a very expressive visage, one that constantly showed his thoughts and emotions, so it was fascinating watching the different contortions his face underwent.

“How simple, and yet effective! Another brilliant thought, Julina. We shall indeed implement that. I deem we must needs have a separate agreement because, as you say, this isn't the same as a simple Wender operation. Would this be between us and you and Termerik as before ...”

“No, absolutely not,” almost shouted Termerik, “I have had no input into this process, it is nothing to do with me!”

“... or perhaps to do with Blackstone Wagons?”

“No, no,” added Shemel hastily. “This enterprise should be with Julina directly, not anyone else.”

I was surprised when all round the table, including Rohid, agreed. I began to worry that maybe they were distancing themselves from a possible disaster.

“I shall set up a meeting with Ruckem on the morrow, for his advice and maybe to draw up a new contract. May I suggest it be in the 'Nest of Skwod' for a light luncheon? That should give you sufficient time after your meeting with Quizzen and Pyor.”

“Perfect! So shall it be!”

Mohini surprised us by jumping into the conversation at this point: “So, the basis of your latest idea is to have smaller and more nimble conveyances on hand for any potential customers, to be at their beck and call.”

“Exactly! Why do you ask?”

“I was just thinking about a name for these. Let me see, at citizens' beck and call. How about Bacs? Short for beck and calls, using the first letters.”

We all laughed and then thought about it. It was right, somehow. They all looked at me. A full moment went by. I found I could not think of anything better.

“I concur. A good idea, I deem. They shall be named Bacs. Thank you, Mohini.”

My mind, well a part of it anyway, went off and thought about the amazing effects of giving something a name; it sort of tamed the thing in question in some way.

Shemel's cough and surreptitious little nudge brought me back to my surroundings. I nodded to everyone to let them know I was back with the stream. I blushed a little at having 'gone away' in the first place!

I paused before saying something else, and was just taking a breath to continue when I was interrupted somewhat sharply.

“Now Julina, tell us what you think you might do with your house here in Town!” said Epp, changing the subject abruptly. “Particularly, would you require any of it for this new enterprise you are talking about?”

We could all tell that she had been waiting for this discussion, and had possibly been getting fed up with all the Wender business that had been discussed for so long now.

But that made me feel quite some pressure, for I really had not had time to think about it. I was aware enough to know she would be disappointed if I didn't at least have a conversation about it, so 'twould be impolite of me in the extreme to just say, in effect, 'Drop the subject'.

Something however must have shown in my face, because Epp continued by saying: “I know 'tis still very early, and you may not have had a lot of time for thinking things through, however, I have some ideas for you to consider, and I might have a solution to one of my own little problems. So with your permission, I shall start making my suggestions. I would,” she looked round the table at everyone else as well, “appreciate the thoughts of all of you. As we all have learnt, open discussions often produce sensible ideas.”

We all looked more carefully at her, since it was suddenly clear that she had her own ideas and they might be equally as valid as anyone else's.

I indicated she should start.

Which she did in a surprising way.

“Jogantha has been with me now for four years, Karmanya for three. It will soon be time for Jogantha to leave me. Just a few more weeks of training and she shall be risen above the level of any duties she might have here. I need to find another girl to train up. And preferably a position that would be suitable for Jogantha. So I put my brain to it.

“It is my contention that we have more and more visitors to Tranidor nowadays. I know some is due to the new businesses and industries being opened up, mostly on the west bank of the Palar, downstream from here, as more and more of Her Highness' 'suggestions' are put into practice.

“There are also more visitors to Town, now the Count has seen the better way of doing things and has relaxed the bridge tolls. For some reason, we also have a lot more actual coin being used nowadays, rather than being shut up in sacks in the Castle. I deem this is something to do with this new 'banking' scheme that Master Moshan has introduced, which has enabled the Count to release his vast stockpiles of wealth from his dark and dank cellars, a scheme of which all of us round this table have had the benefits and advantages.

“I deem there is a greater demand for overnight accommodation now than there has ever been – and I deem further that that demand shall grow rapidly. Taking all those factors into account, coupled also with our close ties with Master Rohid's organisation, I am certain that 'twould be easy to provide some beds to paying guests and to persuade sufficient people to fill those beds. The staff costs could be kept down by providing only a breakfast for those who have bedded with us the previous night. Other meals could be from our company, as has this evening's meal.

“I have asked Master Ruckem to make discreet enquiries into finding buildings that would be suitable for such an enterprise. Particularly, any close to where your house is. I am now very aware of a proper price to pay for a house in that neighbourhood. My thinking was that we could have Jogantha, as housekeeper, run an accommodation business for us, if the two houses were sufficiently close together. You yourself would never require accommodation in Tranidor, as you have been and always will be welcome here at South Point Mansion. We would each provide a similar house to the enterprise, we would share equally all costs, and we would share equally the profits.

“Julina, you already have such good ideas, you and I have worked closely together with the Blackstone schooling, you have a business relationship with my husband, you have another with my son; I was wondering if you might like another such with me?”

Were the day's surprises never to cease?

Again I took a little while marshalling my thoughts before I replied: “Upon one condition will I consider your proposal, dear Epp. No, hold, make that two conditions.”

Everyone was all ears awaiting my explanation.

“One – you yourself shall personally assist me examining and evaluating all Jafferkin's stuff still there in his house. We shall leave together on the morrow, Shemel and I shall have our discussions with Quizzen and Pyor with you present, then we two, maybe also with Shemel if he is willing, will go to Jaff – er – my house and start to look at what is there. I, but you two would also be welcome, shall then go to the 'Nest' and return after my business there to the dirty work at the house. That is condition one. I shall need a lot of advice as to what to keep and what to discard. We may require more time, of course, but I would like to make a great inroad into the task.

“Condition two – we two shall each take advice from innkeepers and the like before we make the decision to go ahead. We try to learn as much as we can before making any binding commitment.”

“I agree!”

“Heard and witnessed,” said Pomma with a grin.

“I shall ask our depot managers and crew accommodation managers for their advice as well,” said Rohid. “I deem this to be a most sensible development, for we have noticed the increased numbers of visitors. We who reside here have seen everything there is around, but now 'tis easier for others to get here, and to get around, then I sometimes ask myself if we should not provide more things for those visitors to gawp at, and of course more things at which those visitors can leave some of their coin.

“I deem we need more attractions here. And with those more attractions, then we shall have the visitors staying longer. So they will need to overnight. Perchance we, my company and yours could get together to offer deals. Something like transport and accommodation. In the old days, I would have asked Mistress Sukhana for her ideas, for she ...”

“Sookie!” Epp, Pomma and I all exclaimed at the same time.

“You know her? Ah, but of course, she is up in Blackstone nowadays is she not, running our office and depot up there?”

“And brewing Blackstone's most popular beer!”

“Do you tell me? Now I have another reason to come up and visit your town! But I just can't quite justify being absent for a whole week.”

Pomma laughed. “Just wait a hand of years, and you shall be able to get to Blackstone and back within a day, let alone a week!”

“Maker! That will be the day! I deem that ...” Rohid broke off as he looked at our faces.

Rohid stuttered, obviously shocked to his very core: “You're serious, Pomma, aren't you? And you Megrozen, Shemel, Julina, you all know about this! This is no shock for you. You two too. Pray tell me more.”

He looked to Shemel who held his hands up, palms towards his interrogator: “I am not from Blackstone really, so I deem that one of the women should answer you, although I have picked up a lot on my travels. Megrozen has recently been to the capital after being invited to the wedding of Prince Keren to Princess Garia and ...”

Rohid's breath hissed in, in surprise: “Do you tell me?”

The sheer amount of wonder he managed to get into his tone was quite impressive really. He turned his eyes towards Epp.

“Where to start? Where to start? I assume you ARE aware of some of Princess Garia's background?”

“Very little actually, I know only that since she arrived there has been a giant change in attitudes. It's as if we were all sleepwalking for decades, centuries even, and then she came along and all of a sudden there are ideas shooting about right, left and centre. There is something called a 'coke' plant being built down river, almost to Haligo, on the West Bank and the lane down that side of the river is being upgraded into a full road, wide enough for wagons to pass. But all I know about that is that Her Highness suggested it.”

“Julina here actually knows a fair more detail than I, since her father is the Chief Road Inspector for Blackstone lands ...”

Rohid shot a startled glance my way but didn't want to interrupt Epp.

“... but Her Highness has shown the Guildsmen and Questors down in the capital many wondrous things. Including new weaponry!”

“Do you tell us?”

“She has assured them, and us, that there is a method of transport that will make a nonsense of all our currently accepted ideas about transport. She calls this method of transport a 'railroad' and says that a single driving engine shall be able to drag as many as fifty wagons at one time, special wagons designed to run exclusively on this railroad. It is so called because the wagons shall roll on a roadbed that supports parallel rails, like the miners use in their mine adits.”

“Hold! Hold I say! FIFTY wagons at a time? A driving engine?”

“Not fifty at first. We need to start with less and learn. Allow me to finish and I deem most of your questions shall be answered. It is necessary, in my humble opinion, to understand the big picture before concentrating on the details. And I deem you shall require your concentration on the big picture, unhampered by thoughts of other things. I shall come back to it, I promise.”

“If you so say, Mistress!”

“Her Highness has described the make-up of the thing that shall run on the rails. The driving engine shall pull – normally pull, but push is apparently also possible – a string of wagons all coupled to the next, forming what she termed a 'train'. The driving engine will pull one wagon, which shall pull the next, which shall pull the next and so on. 'Tis obvious that such a train's driving engine must naturally be of immense strength, of such strength that Her Highness believes that eventually, as techniques and technology progress, such a train could make the passage between Tranidor and Blackstone in a mere bell!”

“Impossible! Why 'tis near seventy of marks. It takes us two full days travel. To do that in a mere bell is just a dream – a scary dream at that.”

“That was indeed all our thoughts when we too first heard of this, but Her Highness assures us that this is no exaggeration. Indeed, Dekarran would be less than a day's travel away. But to come back to the driving engine, I must needs mention that you have, in one way, already seen one!”

“Never! I would have remarked it most especially.”

Epp smiled and then I did too. I suddenly realised what she meant. I noticed Pomma and Shemel catch on too.

“Master, you have seen the steam engine they are using to pump water up, have you not?”

“Indeed I have, Mistress. There is, I deem, an ever increasing number of steam engines being used nowadays. And not just for pumping water. Many factories appear to be employing them for various activities.”

“Indeed. They are most useful for repetitive activities. Nearly any job can be improved by use of an engine. A hammer can be used and the steam engine slams the hammer down, then raises it again then slams it down again and so on. This is very much a cycle of events.

“And what could be more cyclic than the turning of a wheel?

“Well the driving engine of the railroad trains shall be a giant version of those very steam engines, as soon as we can produce sufficient steel for such a large device. Then there needs be found a way for it to drive wheels attached to the platform upon which the engine sits. They must before then of course learn how to work with such steel, how to create what they require from it.

“And there must needs be found some reliable way to apply the brakes to such a platform and the wagons following it.

“However, due to the speeds and the weights involved, the rails upon which all these engines and wagons shall run must also be made of steel. And they must be set upon a specific road bed.

“To do all this, then it shall be a minimum of a hand of years they all say. The railroad bed must have no sharp curves, no steep pitches, no sudden changes in slope and so on.

“Because there shall be no other traffic on the road, these railroad trains need stop for nothing. Even if the engine manages to keep going only at the same pace as a sprinting man, that shall be about four times as fast as a dranakh. You have already said a dranakh requires two days for the Blackstone journey, so that means the railroad train will do the same in a quarter of the time – in a half day.

“So you see, Blackstone and back in a single day shall be possible. And Her Highness assures us that as we gain experience, then speeds shall increase. She somewhat cryptically said that there were railroad trains where she came from that could travel from Blackstone to Dekarran in a single bell! But those roadbeds were specially laid to have no curves at all, or if there were any, they were very, very gradual ones.

“I can only report that Her Highness was totally and utterly convincing. And there are many people working to bring that vision about. It shall indeed happen as she says.”

Rohid sat back, looking worried. I realised immediately that he would be scared about the future of wagon delivery systems.

I hastened to add in my little bit: “And it is we who can shape the future of all this. Maybe some of the long-distance jobs may be lost to us, but remember two things, at the very least.

“One – not every destination will be next to wherever the railroad trains shall stop to unload. There will always be a requirement to transport whatever it is, goods or people, from the stopping place to some other destination, a depot, a warehouse, a shop, a business – or humans to a routesend of a Wender system, or whatever.

“Two – it will be at least twenty years before everywhere has a stopping place for the railroad trains. And that's just inside Palarand. Imagine how many years it will take to just lay down steel rails all the way to Chaarn, or to Tel Botro, or to Moxgo, even, although that last will require far more advanced engineering than anyone knows about right now, to go over high mountain passes. In that time, we in the transport business will keep in touch with the engineers and be able to forecast trends and needs – and we will be able to maybe even direct some of the developments.

“Those with the vision necessary will be a stride or two in front of those trying to catch us up. Exciting times ahead. Exciting times indeed.

“And there is another thing to think about, certainly in the next few years. You have perchance already realised that there shall be a huge demand for steel; a huge, huge, huge demand. Let's put the other factors out there in front of us all.

“Better steel is apparently made with coke rather than with coal. So the steel manufacturing plants require a lot of coke. But coke is made from coal. So coal has to be delivered to coke manufacturing facilities.

“And then coke has to be delivered to the steel manufacturing facilities.

“And then the steel has to be delivered to the steel finishing facilities – where they make the railroad rails, or the steam engines, or other things that Her Highness apparently has suggested.

“In the meantime, all these roads have to be made, houses have to be built, ditches dug and pipes laid. Steam engines to be conveyed, woods chopped down and taken to sawmills, flour delivered from flour mills to bakers and other places that use it, saddles delivered, meat and fruit distributed, and all the stuff that is already done. You probably know far better than I.

“This is the time to set ourselves out for the now, for the next few months and then for the next few years.”

I think everyone was a little shocked at my vehemence and my passion, but soon they all showed me they agreed.

… … ...

I had so much to think about when I went to bed that night, I didn't believe I would sleep easily.

But, as it happens, I did.

And deeply.

And soundly.




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