Julina of Blackstone - 057 - Ground and Paper Works

Decisions, decisions; dusty and dry

Julina of Blackstone
Her Chronicles, Book 2

by Julia Phillips

057 – Ground and Paper Works


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
057 – Ground and Paper Works

“Maker!” exclaimed Quizzen and Pyor together, which caused Pomma and I some little amusement.

We were seated in Pyor's workshop deep in Master Rader's complex.

Shemel and I had arrived there early and were delighted to find that Pyor had already issued Flemak and the other lads with instructions to commence painting my, no OUR, wagons as we had previously directed. The work was well under way when we got there and Pyor had first confirmed the colourings of the stripes to separate the two shades of green. That stripe of colour would be an overpainting on top of the two greens so there was no need for there to be an exact definition where the two greens met. This was a detail of which I myself would not have thought, but it seemed so obvious when he pointed it out to us. Another of those ideas that are so simple, they have an added attraction precisely because of that simplicity.

“So please confirm the stripe colours to be employed,” Pyor said looking directly at me.

He smiled appreciatively when I said: “Yellow has a 'Y', and Pyor has one too, so does Brayview. Mayhap that will help us all remember it?”

Shemel nodded in agreement, while silently applauding me. It had just come to me at that moment; Shemel and I had never discussed it in those terms.

“And it is just one of those smaller ones that is allocated to the Brayview operation?”

“For the moment, that is correct. As soon as we find another wagon then we shall base that one at Brayview too. Shemel's spare wagon is hired out at the moment, it is due back from Dekarran sometime next week. That shall be the one allocated to Brayview. There is another of Jaffy's up in Blackstone, so we shall need to find a painter for that one. Mind you, I can think of no-one up there that has demonstrated this high degree of competence. Mind you again, I have not before required any wagons to be painted!”

I paused but briefly: “To complete the overall picture, between us we have in total four larger wagons and two smaller. One of each shall start at Brayview, until we gain better knowledge of the work loads. The larger wagon to be based there shall be the spare one of Shemel's once it has returned. Both Shemel and I feel that we shall need to find at least one more large wagon on top of the original one for the Brayview operation, and suspect we shall require yet another, particularly if our suspicions about Tamitil flour prove correct.”

Shemel jumped in then: “And we also require dranakh and frayen, as well as staff drivers to use them! We shall ask Master Rohid if he has ...”

With timing that could not have been bettered, he broke off when the shed door opened and that same Master Rohid entered - accompanied by Master Rader and Goodman Quizzen, the latter looking a little confused but awed. The lads briefly stopped doing their painting, but a flicked hand signal from Pyor got them restarted.

We welcomed the arrivals and performed the usual protracted introductions. With eight of us, this took a while.

It being within his 'kingdom' if you like, the discussion was started by Master Rader.

“I hope this is as important as Master Rohid here suggests. Or are you all conspiring to make me even busier later in the day?”

His voice was gruff, and his demeanour suggested extreme irritation, but I was slowly getting to know him and could detect the glint in his eyes. Rohid and Pyor were both grinning. Epp looked on with an air of slight amazement.

In fact only Pomma looked worried so I squeezed her hand and pointed out the others and their expressions. She took notice of them, looked at me gratefully before she relaxed and squeezed my hand back.

“I know I shall have all the others slacking off while I am here, and will no doubt end up having to do it all myself, as usual, just to catch up.”

I was tempted to point out to Master Rader that so far I had never seen him actually working, but I bit my tongue. I didn't know him well enough yet to make such a joke.

But it really was very tempting indeed. I even found myself drawing a breath to start the conversation once more. I snapped my mouth shut.

Rohid was the one to get things going: “Master Rader, I would have thought you might know me well enough by now to realise I live solely to increase your overwhelming workload, a workload that I deem no-one has ever managed to see you actually lift a finger to lighten.”

Even Master Rader laughed at that, and I sort of wished that I had indeed been braver and had spoken up a little earlier.

“But all joking aside,” continued Rohid, “I deem that you shall be important to some decisions and consequences arising from details about which we all shall soon hear. I mean nothing derogatory to Mistresses Pomma and Megrozen when I say that they are present today in an observatory and advisory capacity, the principals involved are Master Shemel and Mistress Julina. Those two, Master Rader, have joined together and have incorporated a business called 'Blackstone Wagons' which shall be sub-contracted to Master Tanon's company when their wagons are not being commanded by the Blackstone Assembly. The incorporation documents are already arranged up in Blackstone.

“Now before I go further, I find I am required to explain some of the background in order that later questions might be avoided. I shall first describe a little geography and some associated facts; all here already know these facts but not necessarily all here know ALL the facts.

“Blackstone is a town at the end of a route that is increasingly busy, even though there is but one road in and out of that town and its valley. That road joins the Chaarn road, which as we all know is connected to the rest of our land and also to foreign parts.

“Later on in the last year, Princess Garia's land holdings were increased to stretch along the Chaarn Road from the first minor pass to the north down to a line to the south of the junction of the two roads I have been mentioning.

“Along that stretch of the trade road, south of the junction with the road that leads to Blackstone, there is a well-known roadhouse named Brayview. The powers that be have decided to expand Brayview from a roadhouse into a small town, to become effectively the second town of importance in Her Highness' lands. It shall be an important administrative centre, since Blackstone Town is so remote. I would remind you that Brayview is the first intermediate stopping place for the shuttle service we run daily, or near daily, up to Blackstone. It is in actuality twice as far from Brayview up to Blackstone, than it is from Brayview to here in Tranidor.

“In summary, Brayview sits beside the main Chaarn trade route, with connections to Chaarn, and downvalley to Dekarran and beyond. It is a summer's day journey from Blackstone and less than half that to here. It is crying out for reliable connections.

“And now I hand over to Master Shemel and Mistress Julina, for them to outline their ideas.”

Neither of us was expecting that sudden switch so we were just a tad taken aback. We looked at each other. I motioned to Shemel to take over. Actually, I knew that our proposals would be more readily accepted if presented by a man. It annoyed me, but it was an important time to be practical.

I had so much more to do that day, and the next, that I wanted to keep this as short as we could. At least I knew I could trust Shemel implicitly.

“Mistress Julina and I have joined forces to create the company currently under discussion, and as Master Rohid mentioned, we have already a commission from the Assembly up in Blackstone.

“On our journey down here, we identified several other areas that require the services of our company. To that end, we shall divide our wagons between Blackstone, where the initial majority shall be based, and Brayview. We deem there shall be many more possibilities in the Brayview area as it grows and consequently we see our company's expansion is likely to be mostly in that Brayview area.

“Now Mistress Julina has many calls upon her time up in Blackstone and I myself have many down here in Tranidor. So 'twill be difficult for either of us to oversee that expansion. Nevertheless we shall commission a depot/warehouse to be built there. And another building or two! Mistress Julina, would you announce please what we discussed and decided upon last night?”

I was a little taken aback, but rallied swiftly: “Before I get to the specifics, I would point out that I have, sadly, inherited the wagons belonging to dear departed Jafferkin, a good friend to both myself and Mistress Megrozen here. Mistress Megrozen is now married to Master Shemel, my new business partner, who I suspect you all know has been in your branch of work for many a year. I realised that, given all those factors, I had an opportunity to put my inheritance from poor Jaffy to good use. And so it was that I and Master Shemel joined forces so as to speak, to create a working memorial to a dear friend.

“Blackstone Wagons, we have just heard, shall open a depot/warehouse in Brayview. And Master Shemel and I discussed last night who we are going to employ to run it for us. Normally, we would now arrange interviews and the like. However, there is another addition to our plans for Brayview. And that affected our behaviour with regard to the depot manager's interviews. I was also aware that even Master Tanon's company have a small problem in the Brayview area and 'twas Her Highness' Steward who placed the final thought in my, in our, minds.

“We shall also open in Brayview a wagon maintenance centre, a workshop much as that in which we are standing. Since arriving from Blackstone last evening, and following our hard questioning of Master Rohid, we have agreed, easily I must now point out to all here present, just who it is we want to run those establishments, for they will be closely allied.

“We require a depot manager and we require a wheelwright. There are furthermore several other reasons and problems that shall be solved by our final choice. Master Tanon's company have already had some little problems on the road there, I was present when one of the shuttles had a broken wheel, so we guarantee that Blackstone Wagons then Master Tanon shall have priority in the workshop there.”

I signed to Rohid that he should take it from there, admittedly enjoying just a little payback from his earlier hand over to us. After a quick look of surprise, he rallied and thought quickly. The others were all buzzing with their reactions to the announcements so far. I saw Quizzen and Pyor exchange a glance, tinged, I believe, with a little hope.

Rohid held up his hand to gain attention, which was immediately granted: “I have given my permission for Blackstone Wagons to make their offer of a position to one of my men, and the offer of the second position shall be made with Master Rader's permission. Blackstone Wagons wish to make offers of employment to both Goodman Quizzen and Journeyman Pyor.”

Another hush fell on the entire workshop.

Pyor and his father looked at each other. All could see the hope fully spring to the eyes of both these men.

It was then that the two involved made their comment.


Pomma and I giggled, which may have been somewhat inappropriate, but we did so because Quizzen and Pyor both exclaimed with the same word at exactly the same time.

And at the same time as each adopted exactly the same expression on their faces; they both looked completely and utterly astounded.

Which was really only right, if you take the time to think about it. After all, it can't be every day that someone comes along and offers you and your family a complete and utter change, a change that was so utterly beneficial in so many ways.

“Can this be so? 'Twould answer all our hopes and dreams. 'Tis scarce believable.” Quizzen was nearly stuttering in emotional overload as he formulated his question.

“You may believe it, Masters,” began Shemel. “Yes, I am the first to call Pyor a Master. For Mistress Julina and I would be proud to be the means of him gaining his Master's rank.

“And a depot manager of such importance shall also be a Master, Master Quizzen.” Shemel's beaming smile and open attitude went a long way to convincing them both.

I like to believe that my enthusiastic endorsement of Shemel's statements was also a factor: “The Masterships won't happen overnight, of course, but I and my business partner here are both convinced that they shall arrive much sooner than later. We would both be proud to have you with us. Please say you shall.”

Master Rader said: “I now understand your request for my presence, Rohid. I find I must approve of this suggestion and hereby give Journeyman Pyor permission to accept this offer. Quizzen here shall require YOUR permission of course, but I can approve for his son. I would further say, Pyor, that you would be mad to turn down this opportunity. You have a chance here that few ever have; you can start your own establishment rather than take over someone else's. And one in a hitherto unserviced location.”

The three lads were not even pretending to continue with their painting and they enthusiastically called out: “Heard and witnessed!”

Which prompted Pomma and Epp to do the same.

And then there were barely held back tears, cheers, applause and a multitude of back slapping.

A multitude of voices making a multitude of statements.

A myriad of questions.

Master Rader, the man in overall charge of this space, allowed the celebrations to continue for a moment or two and then raised his voice in such a way as to demand immediate attention: “Now we have got this waste of my precious time over and done with, I will point out that some of us still have too much work to do. Not all of us can afford to slouch about all day. I myself shall wonder if I can keep all the skin on my fingers this day. I dare say they shall be worn down to the very bones afore I lay my weary head down tonight.

“Pyor, report to me before you leave tonight, let me know what other factors these wretchedly disruptive outlanders have come up with. As I understand it, the new workshop has yet to be built, so I deem you should have a hand in both its design and perchance its positioning. And I am certain this shall not be an overnight appearance. I therefore further deem 'twould be several weeks before I can reclaim this space you are wasting on a daily basis, along with those three young layabouts over there. I would wish to be kept informed of developments as they occur.”

He swung round with a huge sigh and made his way to wicket door which he opened abruptly and then gently slammed it shut after he went out. If a slam can ever be gentle that is. Everyone was widely grinning at his attempts to be grumpy and appear overworked.

The rest of us gathered together, but Pyor sent the lads scuttling back to their tasks to give us all some space for our important discussions. We drifted over towards the workbench as a large, ever-shifting group.

Pomma handed over to me the sheaf of papers that she had in her carry bag. I riffled through them, then Shemel and I called Quizzen and Pyor over to the workbench where we proceeded to spread out the designs we had worked so hard on. They were intended to be used as suggestions to form the basics for these important formative discussions. Rohid, Pomma and Epp kept more in the background, leaving Quizzen and Pyor to huddle more closely with Shemel and myself.

In all, we spent over a bell going over everything that we had thought about and desired. Pyor particularly had many questions, Quizzen less so – for the father had travelled to Brayview quite often, whereas the son had not. Shemel and I had done the greater part of the talking, however Rohid, Pomma and Epp had also made valid contributions. Some alterations to our designs were added. Finally an agreement in principle was reached. We were all relieved that most of the points had proven to be not contentious.

Just before we all broke up, there was a further point raised, for Quizzen then asked me: “When do you return to Blackstone, Mistress Julina?”

“As soon as I may, Goodman. But I have much to do down here in Tranidor before I can depart. Master Shemel shall stay here of course, but I must perforce return to my restaurant...”

There was a small gasp of surprise as I said that, mostly from the lads.

“... Blackstone Wagons needs to find drivers and beasts, and, if possible, loads for either Brayview or even all the way up to Blackstone, or anywhere in between. Shemel and I can make a start on that. I myself must needs meet with Master Moshan's people, and I also need to meet with Master Tapio before I depart. Today is the 14th, I would hope to leave early in the morning on the 16th, but will stay longer if it necessitates. Mistress Pomma has been kind enough to accompany me but she too needs to return to her household as soon as she may. I would be a poor friend indeed if I took her concerns not into consideration.”

Quizzen turned to his chief: “Master Rohid, could I have permission to travel up to Brayview with Mistresses Pomma and Julina on the day after next? Mayhap Master Rader shall also grant leave that Pyor could also travel with us, that he might see the lay of the land at Brayview.”

We all knew that Rader would not withhold his permission, well we all felt that rather than actually knew that, but we would still have to make a formal approach to him.

“'Tis a good suggestion, but perchance not sufficiently good!” Rohid's grin told us that he had thought of something else. “I deem that Pyor should travel with the Mistresses all the way to Blackstone.”

He paused then, as Pyor and Quizzen particularly showed their surprise. The rest of us looked at him queryingly, but not quite so concernedly.

“I deem this is an opportunity for the lad to see more of the world than he has so far had a chance to. And he could fetch down, from Blackstone, Jafferkin's fourth wagon which he could then bring here and do up as well as he has done the others.”

Shemel and I looked at each other in some amazement, for this was something that neither of us had thought about. But we dared not let the others think of that, lest our authority be dented so early on in our relationships.

I swiftly said: “What an excellent suggestion, Master Rohid, we had been wondering how to handle that point. And your idea gives even more advantages than simply that. Excellent thinking, we deem.”

“Indeed,” agreed Shemel. “If Pyor has no other arrangements of course. We know this is short notice?”

Pyor had eye-speak with his father and then with the lads. He swiftly came to a decision.

“Nay, Master Shemel, I have nothing so urgent to do that I cannot go without doing. Master Rohid's idea is excellent, I deem. With Master Rader's permission, of which I confess I am confident, I shall be ready early on the morning of the day after next. As shall these wagons be ready, eh lads?”

The three juniors yet again scurried back into some form of activity.

“Then I declare that this meeting is finally finished, and we can go and disturb Master Rader once more.”

“Not quite,” I hastily added. “Errrm – Master Shemel and I require one other little thing.”

The three lads, I saw out of the corner of my eye, turned back to pay us their attention once more.

All present then picked up on a more serious note in my voice. Shemel looked at me from behind the two potential employees, a question in his eyes. I reassured him with mine and he backed off slightly, but still wondering where I was going with this latest development.

“Master Shemel and I, as the owners of Blackstone Wagons, have formally made an offer of employment to both Goodman Quizzen and also to Journeyman Pyor. We have all agreed to formulate the final details and formalities at a later time. However, neither Journeyman Pyor nor Goodman Quizzen have actually formally accepted our offer, as yet. We require now a formal acceptance!”

Everyone was quite shocked and I could see them all running back over in their minds the events of a bell and more ago. Quizzen and Pyor looked panic stricken.

So I smiled and made light of it by saying: “Goodman Quizzen! Journeyman Pyor! The owners of Blackstone Wagons formally offer you positions of employment in our company, on terms that have already been discussed and with final details yet to be arranged and confirmed.” I expanded my audience with a gesture to include all there present. “Would someone please formally acknowledge that offer?”

It took just a little while, but Flemak was the quickest to catch on. I smiled as he yelled in his haste: “Heard and witnessed!”

Pyor was swift to follow that up with: “I accept the offer of employment from Blackstone Wagons, subject to permission from my Master, Master Rader!”

This time a chorus of voices said: “Heard and witnessed!”

There were smiles all round as Quizzen then repeated a formal acceptance, naming Master Rohid of course. Once again the others all chimed in at the end.

“Goodman Quizzen, I, Master Rohid, factor for Master Tanon here in Tranidor, officially give you permission to accept the offer made by Blackstone Wagons as has been discussed in this workspace this morning.”

“Heard and witnessed!” erupted from all throats, mine included.

Rohid stayed for a few moments more, chatting with us four and Quizzen before he turned to leave. He took Quizzen off with him 'to add to Rader's workload'. They promised to mention Pyor's potential absence to the head man when they were with him.

“I shall see you in the 'Nest' then, at noon,” said Rohid. “I have some papers to fetch for that meeting too.”

“Indeed, Master Rohid!” I turned and looked at his companion. “We'll talk again before I go, Goodman Quizzen. For we shall require your newly-hired advice as to purchasing animals and employing drivers. And perchance finding a commission or two rather than head north with empty wagons. Consider those to be your first tasks,” I concluded with a laugh.

Quizzen blinked. Shemel and I could see his brain start to whizz. He and Rohid were deep into discussions even before they left Pyor's workshop.

We two were by then also about finished, and were determined to dash over to my new house for an initial evaluation of the task ahead of us.

Before we could depart, though, there was a rattle of chains behind me and a curious rumbling noise. We all looked around and saw the lads each tugging on a chain. Those chains were attached to a platform of sorts, upon which there was a solid wooden structure supporting a sturdy wooden beam. They manoeuvred the platform until the jutting wooden beam was over the wagon they were about to work on.

Dangling from the beam was a net bag containing what was revealed to be a long, sturdy rope neatly coiled and a number of wooden wheels, each enclosed in a sturdy frame. These wheels were then threaded onto the rope, which they had stretched out on the floor. One of the wheels, one of the end ones, was then secured to the beam. This was achieved by one of the lads scrambling up on the wagon where he stretched up and tightened four screw type things that held the encased wooden wheel immovably to the beam. The wooden wheel at the other end of the complicated arrangement, or rather the case that contained that wheel, was attached to the wagon by means of three or four sturdy leather belts wrapped round the entire vehicle. A number of securing ropes were also employed, but the whole thing was far too complicated for me to say with any certainty exactly what it was they had done.

Then they bewildered me by attaching the wooden wheel cases to each other, but I confess I was unable to discern why they attached that one to that one and not that one. Far too confusing.

Then Flemak took a hold of the end of the rope that was trailing across the floor. He pulled the free end, using alternating hands and dropping the unused rope at his feet. The other wooden wheels were then all gathered together, eventually hanging somehow between the beam and the lowest wooden wheel attached to the wagon. Still pulling, Flemak removed all the slack in the complicated arrangements. Without so much loose rope around, the arrangement sprang into a sharper focus that was suddenly much easier to appreciate.

Flemak then kicked the pooled rope away from under his feet and took a firm grip with both hands. He was facing the wagon, and kept doing so even as he walked steadily backwards.

To my complete and utter amazement, just by pulling on the rope, Flemak alone was able to lift the entire wagon! The other two lads were hovering at each side of the target wagon, offering up blocks of varying heights as the wagon slowly lifted higher and higher. Pyor explained that these were temporary props in case the lifting apparatus broke, or Flemak let go, or whatever.

Their tasks were over when Flemak had it at the correct height for their purposes and when these two other lads had positioned props so that the wagon would not fall back down once more when Flemak eventually let go of his rope.

“How on Anmar, Flemak, did you manage that alone?” I spoke for all us three women. The men were not apparently amazed.

Flemak looked worried that he might have to explain this wonder to someone, but Pyor waved him back, saying: “I shall explain to the women, you lads need to get going with that painting. Remember, the wagons must be ready for the road on the morning after next. Flemak, just hold the rope taut for a moment while I point out the loops.”

He turned to us, ushering us closer, but not too close.

“Mistresses, look here if you will. This apparatus we term a 'load lengthener'. See the upper wooden wheel thing, which we call a sheave, is attached firmly to the suspension beam. The lower sheave you can see is attached to the wagon. Now, count you the number of ropes hanging down between the top and the bottom sheaves, wound round the other sheaves.”

We did so, and we all agreed that there were a hand and one of them.

“Correct. So that means that the entire weight of the wagon is now spread over those six ropes, rather than on just one rope. So that further means when we pull on the end of the rope like Flemak did ...” he turned to Flemak to allow him to gently let down the rope and sheave arrangement “... then we are actually lifting just a one-sixth part of the weight. If we had four ropes there, then 'twould be a quarter of the weight. If we had eight ropes there, then 'twould be an eighth part of the weight. Experience with this team of men has shown us that six is about right for them.”

“The difference between lifting on just one rope and this method is that we have to pull a corresponding increase in the length of the rope. If we have, as we do here, a six rope load lengthener, then to raise the load one stride, we must pull through six strides of rope. Hence we call it a 'lengthener'. It's not that the load itself is lengthened, you will understand.”

I did indeed sort of understand what he was saying; certainly I understood his words, but I was struggling with the totality of the concept somewhat. I filed the details away for future contemplation. I confess I always get a little flustered when it comes to numbers.

But then it was time for us to depart, so we took our leave of the lads and of Pyor and his shed.

We picked our way across the large complex to the main gate where we finally took our leave of Rader who was with some other men.

I noticed he was again talking rather than actually working, but I hid my grin.

We followed a narrow town lane for a little distance, then a wider lane at right angles to the first, and then yet another and so on as we made our way to our next destination.

… … …

“Maker! This is dusty!” exclaimed Epp, who had not seen the house last night. “How shall we do this?”

“I deem we look through every room we can, and the stables and wagon parks out the back just to get a feel for what shall be required. I do not wish to get too dirty this morn, for I have that meeting in the Nest soon. I deem we should evaluate matters here, go to the meeting, go back to your mansion, change into something more … robust … and then return. I would prefer to start at the very top and work our way down.”

“That's one way, certainly.”

“Do you then have a better suggestion?”

“Not at the moment. Certainly we should investigate as much as we can. We can then go to your, our, luncheon meeting and discuss how best to approach this whilst we eat. Perchance then we shall find another method.”

“I concur.”

So it was that we climbed up to the very top of the house where we found four tiny attic rooms that were all entirely empty, except for one which had a hand of chests just sitting there in an unordered state, not neatly stacked or anything.

The next floor down had three sleeping rooms and a tiny toilet, into which any water would have had to be hand-carried.

The next floor down had two larger sleeping rooms, each with a tiny attached toilet, likewise without running water to hand.

The ground level floor had two large rooms either side of the staircase, one obviously a sitting room, the other, mostly unused by the look of it, as a dining room. Another pair of rooms straddled the corridor as we headed towards the back of the house, one of which had obviously been used, rarely, as a sort of office.

Out at the back, the kitchens and bathroom jutted out into the courtyard there, they were not below the rooms on the upper floors, but stood alone as it were out in the weather. This was the normal arrangement for most houses in Palarand, to reduce damages in the event of fires getting out of control and the like.

Talking of the weather, a quick look at the skies told us that it might rain soon, so we scurried quickly across the courtyard to the wagon park and the stables, neither of which were particularly large. Part of the wooden wall in the wagon park was in need of repair, but the roofing looked good. The stables were in better condition, with stone and brick walls seemingly solid. Fortunately, the threatened rain stayed up in the clouds, and didn't actually fall that day until we were sleeping soundly at night.

Back in the house itself, we had just time to descend into the cellars and have a quick look round there, before we had to leave to go to the Nest. A quick look was all that was needed. The cellars were entirely empty of anything at all.

Except dust.

Jaffy had indeed lived very simply.

… … …

“We shall be joined in a hand of moments by someone who would prefer you did not say his name out loud. Experience shows that he is inundated with questions and demands when people know who he is, so we refer to him in public as Goodman Malaki, is that clear?”

His voice got even quieter, which was a difficult feat: “I'm sure you can all guess who it is really, but that name must not be uttered aloud lest we be smothered with others wishing to accost him either with questions or just to be seen with him.”

We all nodded our agreement and sat back in our chairs once more.

We had huddled together for Master Ruckem to whisper his warning instruction to us, but now we could again speak more freely. Not totally openly of course as we didn't want everyone to know all our business, but Goodman Kaffer had been kind enough to place us in a secluded area, after his unexpectedly enthusiastic welcome when Epp and I came in.

Pomma was the only one with us who had not been here before but she signalled her approval very early on. I mentioned quietly to Kaffer that I would effect a more formal introduction before we left, but we would rather not draw too much attention right now. He nodded in acknowledgement and set about preparing that secluded area for us, persuading two other guests to move in such a charming way that they were all smiles as they were conducted to another table.

There were the four of us along with Masters Ruckem and Rohid, with a spare chair for the mystery guest, carefully placed to my left, where the man's back would be mostly to the other customers, but also protected in a way by the wall to his left. The large round table could have seated two or even three more, but the surface was taken over by drinks, places for the platters to be put down when the food was served, files and papers of all sorts. It was still a little of a shock to me at how quickly pieces of paper had begun to take over our lives.

Pel was brought very early on, without our needing to order it. The staff there knew Epp and I well enough by now! Shemel and Rohid had a mug of small beer, a watered down version of their normal beer. In those days, small beer was normally drunk in our society by nearly everyone with almost every meal.

As well as the pel and the small beer, there was a large flagon of water on the table, along with all the necessary drinking vessels.

We made general conversation for the hand of moments during which we awaited 'Goodman Malaki'.

When he arrived, my suspicions proved to be well-founded. I had correctly guessed that this would be Master Moshan himself. Introductions were made and the food list studied. Our choices were selected and ordered and then we got down once more to business.

'Goodman Malaki' started off by pushing a sheet of paper to me. It was almost a copy of the one I had been shown up in Blackstone by Master Schild. The figures were very slightly different, for they had grown slightly larger. Before I could really study the figures though, 'Malaki' laid another piece of paper on top of the first one. This too was covered in figures, all of them considerably larger than any on the sheet underneath.

Almost in a whisper, he said to me: “The top sheet is the accounting for the Wenders, for last month. At the bottom of it shall you see the various portions allocated as per the agreement. Master Schild told me you disputed the figures he showed you. These sheets of paper are just to assure you he was right.

“You also, I have discovered from him, have another advantage. You are a resident of Blackstone and that means that you pay no taxes to your Lord, in this case your Baroness who is now a Princess, since Her Highness has declared that she will raise no taxes from her long-term citizens. The town and/or Blackstone lands are ruled by an Assembly who may demand some contributions for some project or other, however your landowner extracts no taxes for themself. We have therefore decided to put all your payments into your Blackstone ledger.”

I was shocked for that meant I was nearly twice as rich as I had originally thought, and on top of that I had the Jaffy coins, the house and the wagons!

And now, for the very first time, I fully realised that I was being advised by some very astute people.

I was still reeling for many a moment after all that had been revealed to me.

But I was not there for that alone. I still had to do a lot of other business, so it took quite some effort to concentrate on that.

Blackstone Wagons opened a ledger, as did Meglina Accommodation, the latter after formally formulating the rules of our association, with lots of 'heard and witnessed's. That then became another job I would have to do whilst down here in Tranidor, taking the association papers to be ratified by the local authorities. No, hold! I was a partner, why would I have to do everything. My partner could do some of it!

And Bat Bacs came to life, the company formed along the lines of my latest idea of using the carters at extremely busy times for the Wenders. The first word of the name being created from the initials for Blackstone and Tranidor. A ledger was opened for that too, several actually.

Master Moshan was very excited and enthusiastic about this idea. In an attempt to be involved in another money-making scheme, he felt that he could help set up the system with a ready loan to us; however, he retired with good grace when Master Rohid gently pointed out that Master Tanon's company actually had the resources already and that furthermore they were lying about being unused to a certain extent.

Papers, yes more papers, were signed to form these last two companies, and even more papers were signed to have all the financial ledgers set up. More repeats of “Heard and witnessed!”.

Then Goodman Malaki endeared himself to us all by suggesting that these two companies would be better to be registered up in Blackstone, to gain those not inconsiderable taxation advantages that he had earlier mentioned to me in conjunction with my coin. He did point out that in order to register them, then they would have to have an operating part in Blackstone.

The Bacs would be easy to do, but the Meglina might be more difficult. We would have to see. He assured us that we could register the 'branch offices' here in Tranidor before the Blackstone end was fully arranged. He explained that traditionally a confirmation would have to be sent from Blackstone within one month. A semaphore message would be sufficient to tide things over until the written copies were received.

And then we, Epp, Shemel and I, started getting advice and information on Tranidorian house prices, on where to find the best animals, where to look for temporary drivers and for permanent ones who might be tempted to join us. And all the rest of the details important to us to progress our plans.

Goodman Malaki took his leave soon after all the papers were signed, but he had been most encouraging of those plans and had congratulated us fulsomely. His confidence in us was most gratifying.

Our meeting eventually broke up with Master Rohid suggesting that perhaps we should be at Junction Square this evening to see the first outing of Bat Bacs.

… … …

“Phew!” I exclaimed, as we carried the final load down to the ground floor. Pomma, Epp, Karmanya and I were all dusty, sweaty and smeary, particularly where we had wiped our faces with the backs of our hands. We all had our hair tied up to keep some of the dust off. Shemel and Plostrum, for we now had our own 'Bac' for the rest of the day, were also dust-covered.

What we had achieved was that now we could look through everything in just one place; we could sort it and then decide if it was worth keeping or not. We could have all like things together rather than have to keep running elsewhere to compare similar things that were in differing rooms.

The piles of stuff however had spread quite widely, so that meant that we women had to leave by the front door and walk to the side alley in order to get to the stables and wagon park out the back. We just wanted to be certain that there was nothing there that required fetching indoors for the 'Great Sorting Out'. We had decided, once this final little task was done, to just call it a day for today and to try to finish everything tomorrow.

We were just turning into the alleyway, when a man came out of the house on the other side of it. He called to us and made it clear he wished to talk with us. He didn't hurry towards us though, making us wait upon his arrival. I deem that Karmanya was the only one amongst us who was not a trifle irritated by this.

“Good women, I see you have been employed to clear out poor Jafferkin's house.” We all looked at each other, even Karmanya, for there was no sincerity at all in his tones when he mentioned dear Jaffy, and he was very bossy in his attitude. “I understand that some uneducated girl from upcountry has managed to lay claim to the house, much to my surprise.” His sneer as he said 'girl' managed to annoy us all.

I was about to reply a little heatedly but Epp grabbed my arm and I saw a glint in her eye that made me pause. I had seen a similar look before, and doubted this man would like whatever she came up with.

Nevertheless we were all surprised when she spoke in a very Tranidor accent: “That she 'as, Master. Indeed we are 'ere ter-dye to make a start on the cleaning. We was just goin' to ther stables area ter see what's art there. Like,” she added this last word almost too late, but I don't think anyone else noticed that. Certainly not our accoster.

“Well, when you see her, tell her to call upon me here in my home, for I would perchance like to buy this house, a transaction that we, that is Jafferkin and I, discussed often. I understood that we two had had an agreement and I would talk with this girl as soon as I might. I, you may tell her, am Master Trooger.”

Without waiting for an acknowledgement, he swung round on his heel and walked back towards his front door, clearly under the impression that what he had said, what were effectively his commands, would be carried out as he wished.

I looked at Epp, as did the other two. My eyebrow was raised in query, and I could tell the others were agog to discover her plan.

Epp waved her hands urgently, encouraging us to bunch together before she turned round and led us down the alleyway, making it perfectly clear to us with her gestures that she wished to be certain she was not overheard by anyone else.

“There is something not quite right about the way he did that. I appreciate we are dressed in working clothes and will therefore, grudgingly, accept that we might be considered rather beneath him, but he could have been more polite, and he could have tried to find out more information. Now 'Lina, didn't Master Quizzen not tell us that there was a villagey-feel to this area of the town? I propose that you speak with him, and Mistress Nayet, Flemak and anyone else you can before meeting with that man. Find out all you can about that Trooger. I wonder what he has done to gain his Mastership?”

She paused as she thought about it all a bit more.

“I deem he will not have considered us too closely, for we are just hired cleaners as far as he is concerned. But your magnificent red hair shall be a give-away once he has met you. However, fortunately it was mostly covered with your headscarf, and, I must confess, with not inconsiderable amounts of dust, so he shall not recognise you as one of those he just so curtly ordered about.”

By this time, we had reached the stables. It took us less than a quarter of a bell to investigate all the stuff that was there and to recognise that none of it matched anything indoors. I would get Shemel to look all this over and decide what was worth keeping. Maybe some of it was technical stuff that we might need for Blackstone Wagons.

We returned to the house, told Shemel what we had discovered and Epp asked Plostrum if he knew anything about that Trooger fellow.

“I do not, Mistress, but I deem that many round here will. Young Flemak 'as told me like that this is quite a tight community hereabouts. 'Is ma'll be one what yer can ask, like.”

“A good suggestion, Plostrum, thank you. Mayhap you yourself could ask him, Flemak that is, should you see him on the morrow. I will visit his mother in a little while, and ask for introductions perchance to others. I do not feel the man was entirely honest with us. Something has made us all wary of him.”

Thus it was that we all started unpacking and sorting things, making many silly games and jokes of it which helped the time slip away almost unnoticed.

It turned out to be an easier job than any of us had anticipated, and we saw that it would require maybe a further half day, that was all. So we finished even earlier than we had already planned, sent Plostrum on his way, suggesting that he enjoy the Bat Bac opening, and we had just time to call in on Nayet before going back home to clean ourselves, intending to visit Tapio before going further up to Junction Square to see the launch of the Bac service. Shemel decided to dash home first to get clean before we women blocked all the facilities!

When we got to Nayet's, we could not of course enter, for we were so dusty, dust which may have contaminated her cloths or her creations. As a result, it took a little while before Mistress Nayet descended to the street to talk to these grubby women her assistant had almost but not quite sneered at.

“Mistresses, how may I be of assistance? My girl tells me you require myself rather than her? I am … Maker! Julina? Megrozen? Is it you?” She squealed with not a little excitement and went to hug us.

I waved her off though, trying to show her the clouds of dust that were dancing in the air near to us as soon as we moved.

“Oh pish! A little dust shall not cause too many problems. I have another work dress above I can change into should it become required. And do I now recognise young Karmanya there? Welcome to you too. Perchance I know not this lady, though?”

“Ah! Forgive me,” I gushed. “Mistress Nayet, may I present Mistress Pomma, wife of the Blackstone saddler, Master Waldan. Mistress Pomma, Mistress Nayet.”



She turned back to me, saying: “And what brings you here, dear Julina? Here to me. I know a little about your new wagoning adventure, of course.”

She was quick enough to catch the shadows that flitted across our faces. It was up to me to make the explanations.

“Nayet, I regret to have to inform you that I am the new owner of poor Jafferkin's house. We have just spent the early afternoon starting on the clean-up.”

“Oh Maker! I am so pleased! Pleased that 'tis yourself, we knew only that some upcountry lass would be joining our community here. Not pleased that it became necessary.”

“Nayet, we also would much rather that Jaffy was still with us, but are proud to have been selected to carry his memory forward. Oh! That reminds me. There shall be a public space up in Blackstone named Jafferkin Park as a permanent honour to his memory!”

“Why that is a wondrous item of news! We too would prefer to have Jaffy with us, but such an honour to him will be greeted with delight by all, or nearly all, of us who live here. Do you intend to move in here soon?”

“Ah, Nayet. I have far too much to do in Blackstone to move down here, but Megrozen and I shall start a company using Jaffy's house. We are searching for another similar property to purchase, and shall then run an accommodation business, providing beds and breakfasts to the now more frequent visitors to Tranidor. This should bring more people into this area. We require the second property not just to make it worthwhile, but also that we each are providing the same to our new alliance.”

“My Flemak tells me that you are involved in this wagon business with Megrozen's man?”

“Indeed, 'tis also a new-born! But shall start with the advantage of an already-agreed long-term commission.”

“I am delighted to hear that. So you came to me now to ask if there is another house similar to Jaff – yours, that is, to buy?”

“Well yes, in a way.” I paused to gather my thoughts as to how to raise the other strand of our enquiries.

Nayet jumped in though: “You know, you may be in luck!

“There is a man. We have long discussed his departure down to relatives near Holville, and now there is to be a new, easier connection, we deem the time is nigh; your neighbour is thinking of spending the autumn years of his life down there.”

“Master Trooger? We met ...”

“No, no! He, Trooger that is, is a mean-spirited and deeply sad man. And he is no Master. Goodman is his appellation. He has no friends around here, and he and Jafferkin in particular never saw eye to eye on anything. Trooger tries to order us all about and do things HIS way, but few of us, if any, allow him his way, for 'tis always slanted to his own gain or advantage. No, the man you should speak to is Goodman Voysin, a retired carpenter's assistant who lives in the other half of your building. I deem 'twould not take much to persuade him to sell.”

“Trooger just sent a message to me, without realising he was actually talking to me already, that he wishes to buy my house. He claimed that he had an agreement with Jaffy to do so. He thought we were a group of cleaning women and he ordered us about, with the barest of politeness.”

“That is typical Trooger. Don't trust him. Don't trust him a thumb! He probably wants the house so that he can claim to be the biggest home-owner in the area and try to use that to order us about! We all around here would love to pull him down from his self-appointed peak!”

I couldn't help smiling as Epp said: “Maker! We found out what we wanted to know a lot faster than we ever imagined we could.”

“What did he say, exactly?” asked Nayet.

“Nothing – really nothing of substance. Just that he was disappointed that his apparent agreement with Jafferkin had been ignored, and that I should call upon him at his house to discuss it,” I answered.

“Hmm. Sounds to me like he has some scheme in mind. He doesn't deal well with change and the need to react quickly. You will be in the driver's chair if you somehow disturb his planned approach.” She paused, looking a little apologetic. “But please excuse me, all of you, I have a client upstairs who should by now be changed. Please come by later this evening and we can chat properly. Thanks to you, Julina, I am now so busy, which is far better than struggling to find customers as I was this time last year. For now, goodbye all.”

She whirled round and dashed up the stairs, her front door swinging closed behind her all on its own. We had called a collective good-bye and then walked quite rapidly back to the South Point mansion, where Shemel had arranged everything to be ready for us, doing his own business in what must have been a record time. We could not have been as much as half a bell after him, and yet he was out of our way when we got there. Such a considerate man!

As we bathed, we of course discussed our day and our future. We came up with a plan for Trooger that nearly made us spill water out of the bath, we were giggling about it so much!

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