Julina of Blackstone - 061 - Selections And Habits

The developments settle into place, mostly smoothly

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Julina of Blackstone
Her Chronicles, Book 2

by Julia Phillips

061 – Selections and Habits


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
061 – Selections and Habits

“Maker Subrish! Are you trying to get us kil...”

My shocked outburst at my neighbour was drowned by a voice that was … massively unexpected. It was so deep, it was like two mountains rumbling up against each other. But it did something to me, it was like Master Pocular's voice and Master Schild's smile all rolled up in one – and then doubled again. It came from the man that had been staring at Subrish.

“I see weak and pathetic Valleyman, so-called man I could snap in two with click of fingers!”

He glared ferociously at Subrish who glared back.

Suddenly, the two of them broke out into a laughing fit, laughing uproariously, after which they began speaking in another tongue; which caused some of the other riders to swing round and laugh loudly too. I swear I heard some of them exclaim: “Subrish!” amongst their many other unintelligible words. Subrish raised a hand and acknowledged some of them. The entire cavalcade faltered as some of them reined in preparing to come over to where we were standing.

Another voice was heard, a command voice – actually, it was an extremely annoyed command voice: “Guard! Attend! Discipline, you lot. Dschorg, drop out, the rest of you continue!”

I looked around and saw one of the mounted men from the front coming rapidly back to where we were. It was the one I thought I recognised as the Commander when he passed me just a moment or two before. The men in the passing Prince's party all stiffened in their saddles and regained their positions once more. Several were sheathing their swords again. The one that had challenged Subrish and then laughed so … movingly, he reined in and pulled close to our wagon, to give the rest of his party room to pass.

The officer threaded his way through the stream, flanked by two guardsmen also with swords drawn. The trio approached, the officer waving his drawn sword at Subrish and, by association, at me and Pyor who was driving our small wagon, which was being drawn by Saras and Booch. The officer's eyes were taking in everything in the immediately surrounding area even as he half-threatened Subrish, Pyor and I with his weapon: “Who are you? Why do you challenge the Prince's progress? Dschorg, what means this?”

It was Epp's brother though who was the first to provide an answer: “My name is Subrish, sir. I am a Captain, alas only an 'acting' one though at the moment, in the Forguland Military Command, currently on an extended leave. I was astounded and delighted to see some of your men, for I fought alongside several of them at Boldan's Rock in the recent war against Yod! I apologise for disturbing your progress.”

Dschorg then answered himself: “Commander, 'tis 'deed so. Is very very true. Subrish and I, we two we smash Yods together up Great Valley at fort on rock. He good fighter and good officer.”

The Commander promptly sheathed his sword, swept back his hood and saluted Subrish. “Commander Feteran at your service, Captain. Commander of Her Royal Highness Princess Garia's personal guard. I am most honoured to meet you, very honoured indeed. I would be proud to shake your hand. That was a fine action indeed and pivotal. We ...” he waved a hand to indicate the entire procession “... shall be guests of the Count here for at least two days and would welcome you for a dinner, always assuming that would be convenient, of course. Pray send a message to myself from the Castle gate and I shall make sure you are admitted after as short a delay as possible.”

He turned to Dschorg: “Rejoin your position, Guardsman. I shall follow shortly.”

“Aye, Commander,” said the huge-looking Einnlander before he added a swift word or two in what must have been the Einnlander language, addressed naturally to Subrish, who nodded and grunted something short in some sort of reply.

The Commander meanwhile had turned his eyes upon me: “Do I recognise you, Mistress? There is, I deem, a familiarity ringing at the back of my mind.”

“Perchance Commander you do, for I am from Blackstone and we met when Mil – Her Highness came up there last year. I deem your father is our Steward, if my memory serves well as to your family.”

“Indeed Mistress, that he is. And that must be where I remember you from, I suppose. You will forgive me for not remembering you immediately, I trust? I have met so many people in her Highness' service, 'tis difficult in the extreme to keep a complete track of them all. Might I refresh my poor memory and ask you your name?”

“'Tis Julina, Commander, eldest daughter of Master Kordulen, whom I know you met, he is Her Highness' road inspector.”

“Ah yes! Indeed I recall Master Kordulen! My pleasure, Mistress Julina. Shall you accompany your Captain Subrish to our dinner?”

“My regrets, Commander, I ... we ... are even now on our journey back to Blackstone. Captain Subrish here accompanies us not. I am giving him merely a lift to the semaphore station that he might have a message sent as soon as the weather permits. I daresay there is already a vast backlog.

“When I get home, shall I tell your father that his son is close once more? I am certain he shall be pleased. He has recently been so very busy finalising the details of Their Highness' visit, and I have been down here in Tranidor for a few days, so your father and I have not spoken for a good while now. I should state that I dare to claim the Steward has shown great faith in me, and we sometimes take rides together, from which activity we have become on a first name basis. Although, try as I might, I find I can but address him as 'Captain'.”

Even as I was speaking, I was taken slightly aback by the fleeting frown that crossed his face at some of my words. Words I spoke in the middle of that last little speech, it seemed to me. Maybe a little earlier. My instincts were raised and I was sure that there was something else going on in the background, somehow or other. But I had no idea what it might be. I confess my mind was racing, suggesting and discarding ever more complex scenarios.

“I thank you, Mistress, that would be a kindness. We shall be two or three days behind you, I deem. But this weather has closed down the semaphore and we have been out of touch for near a week already.” He turned to Subrish then. “Does that mean you shall be unable to come to dinner, Captain?”

“Negative Commander, I stay here in Tranidor with my sister. Although I deem I should visit Blackstone as I am so relatively close. Every day here I hear more about the place and would satisfy my curiosity before I return. I still have time, but only just, to make such a visit before I must report once more for duty back in Forguland. I had hoped to attend my sister's wedding up in Blackstone but she is now returned to Tranidor. I confess I would be both delighted and honoured to accept your invitation and would leap at the opportunity to rekindle my friendship with those of your Einnlanders whom I met up the Great Valley. I recognise some of them, but most appear to be strangers to me.”

Subrish lowered his voice for his next utterance: “From what I hear of the Count hereabouts, he is given to flashes of annoyance, petulance even. Not a good quality in a leader or ruler. And if these Einnlanders are like all the ones I know, then they can be a handful after a good few ales have been quaffed. I recommend some strict discipline, Commander.”

“Indeed, sir,” replied the Commander, “some of these Einnlanders have arrived in Palarand only relatively recently. 'Tis a long story, and not for now I deem. And yes, that problem with a few of the Einnlanders has already manifested itself on our journey, more than once even. I thank you for your warnings.” He raised his voice again to normal levels as he changed the subject smoothly: “Do I know your sister, Captain? I suspect I do, if she lives in both places!”

“Perchance you do, Commander, for she was also down in Palarand for the recent Royal Wedding and was with you there. She is Mistress Megrozen.”

“Maker! I DO know her, of course. My kindest compliments to her, and to her man, although I have not met him yet I deem. And she has a brother in Forguland? That itself is a minor wonder. But it shall and indeed must keep until another time. Now if you would excuse me Mistress, Captain, Goodman I shall dash to catch up with my men.”

“Commander,” we three replied in unison. We watched him hurry away to his position, efficiency oozing from him as he went, his two men falling in precisely into obviously pre-set positions as they formed up on him.

We ourselves jerked back into motion once more, nearly before we had a chance to sit again. Pyor chuckled and we laughed too.

“Well!” I said, “that was interesting to say the least. I was SO scared when you seemed to challenge that Dschorg man.”

He laughed: “His name is actually nearer what I called him than it is to Dschorg. These Einnlanders pronounce their letters slightly differently to the way we do. The nearest we can get in Valleyspeak is to use a 'J' as his initial letter. The next letter is said somewhere between our 'a' and our 'e'. The final letter is somewhere between our hard 'g' and a 'k' sound. As a result of all this, I started teasing him that his name in Valleyspeak was 'Jerk'. The byname stuck somehow, although in all honesty 'tis not actually a byname.”

… … …

After dropping Subrish off at the Semaphore Station, we continued our miserable journey up the Chaarn road, silently cursing our luck that we should have quite such dismal weather with which to cope. To leave from the semaphore station, I climbed back up onto Trumpa's back - and discovered the discomfort of a wet saddle under my nether regions! Oh that bath at Brayview was going to be so very goooooooooood!

However, relatively soon after pressing on up the Trade Route, the rain began to ease. Somehow it seemed as if the clouds had grown lighter.

And lighter as the rain trailed off.

And lighter still once the rain had stopped. We looked at each other in hope, did Pomma and I, catching Pyor's gaze as we did so and he grinned at us, showing his own hopes that the weather would soon break.

And then we had the strange experience of our heads being in sunshine while the road was nearly invisible below us. It seemed to me the animals pressed a little harder, to break out of the blanket of cloud as soon as they may.

I turned to Pomma: “I deem I have discovered that sunshine on my shoulders almost always makes me happy!”

Her delighted giggle rang out as clear as a bell, above the creaks and groans and hoof noises of our progress.

Riding along in sunshine, we soon stopped to shed our cumbersome outer clothes. After that our spirits improved and I'll swear so did those of our animals. There was an extra bounciness in the gait of them all. I looked back down the road behind us and saw an unusual view as it disappeared into the clouds, with wagons passing in either direction. Drivers heading downvalley took notice of the garb of those coming upvalley and pulled over to rootle through their belongings for their waterproofs.

It seemed almost no time before we arrived at the edge of Her Highness' lands. I waved the wagons on, saying that Pomma and I wanted to send a quick message up home via the semaphore station just there. Quizzen objected but briefly, muttering something about two unescorted women on a busy highway. We just ignored him, knowing that we could ride at a greater pace to catch them up once more, the greater pace that we both so much enjoyed, and that I was convinced dear Trumpa and Wiget did too.

Once we had tied the frayen to the hitching post, and had entered, we were greeted by a cheerful voice.

“Mistress Julina, Signalman Stanim at your service. You may remember me from one of your lessons up at Brayview!”

I looked at the face and I deemed it was indeed familiar, but I would never have been able to put a name to it, so I was grateful for his thoughtfulness in supplying his name early.

“Signalman, indeed I recall you. What a delight to see you once more. Mistress Pomma and I are on our way back to Blackstone and shall be at Brayview this evening. Shall you come there tonight?”

“If I get to dance once more with you, then no wild frayen, dranakh, grakh nor ptuvils could stop me.”

“Oh don't be so silly, Stanim,” I replied laughing and blushing.

“Now what is your message, and for whom?”

It didn't take long for me to dictate the message: “To His Honour, Captain Bleskin, Steward at Blackstone and Master Kordulen. Just met Royal Party entering Tranidor as we left. Captain Feteran sends compliments and suggests they shall stay with Count there two, three days before following. We overnight Brayview, then Forest. Compliments. Julina.”

Stanim read the message back to me and I then had an argument over the necessary coin. Stanim refused to accept any payment and just asked if the message was alright. I confirmed it and suggested he warn his colleagues about the pending arrival of His and Her Highnesses.

So I managed to have a free message.

As we went back outside, Pomma asked me about the dancing that Stanim had mentioned. I explained and I also gave her the bad news that her feet would be aching by the time we went to bed.

Pomma and I remounted, and the frayen did indeed enjoy going so much faster. The steepness of the incline had slowed the wagons quite considerably so we were all too soon joined back up with them. We both could have enjoyed riding fast for many more moments.

I kept up a running commentary to Pyor as we approached Brayview. The roadway was still running below the shoulder of the valley at that point, but it started climbing at an angle just after the entrance to the roadhouse, which was to our right, to the east. It had been built many years ago, no-one knows just how many, in a sort of hollow between two rock formations. Rock formations that were uneven and steep-sided in parts. The entrance was flanked by two large boulders and the Captain had suggested that many years ago, those boulders had been rolled there to create a relatively secure resting place that was unlikely to be able to be outflanked. The large boulders had been added, he felt, to narrow the access, making it more defensible. He had told me that he fully expected them to be removed again before long.

Outside there was the width of the road of course, wide enough to allow passing wagons with outriders. And opposite the entrance to the roadhouse there was perhaps a four stride wide flat edge to the left of the roadway, before it pitched downwards suddenly. After that pitch had dropped maybe a hand of strides, the terrain flattened out again, became less steep that is, as it sloped down towards the distant river. I noticed that some trees had been felled down at the flatter level, making an alleyway between them heading almost directly downslope.

We turned into the roadhouse and I pointed out everything I could to Pyor as we drew up and selected a corner of the wagon area for ourselves. Quizzen was looking round so much that I thought his head might start to spin on his shoulders. At first, I was somewhat confused, for I knew he had been here before, but now he was looking around as though he had never seen any of it.

Then it hit me.

This WAS indeed the first time he would have seen any of this – looking at a place where he would live, start up a new company, work, move his family and everything else involved in that process. He was looking at it with fresh eyes.

I think the others were impressed by warmth of welcome I got from Kolston and Basset. And then from several of the wagoneers in there.

I lost no time in introducing Quizzen and Pyor foremost, and Shemel along with Rabeez in a slightly less pointed way. I suppose I was relieved that there were no immediate dislikes raised and we had a good start.

“Master Kolston,” I added in the 'Master' bit as we were not all formally on informal terms, if you see what I mean, “I saw some tree felling downslope that looks recent, deliberate and aimed for the river. That is new, is it not?”

“Aye, Mistress Julina, that it is. We had orders from the Steward to cut a new road direct down to Tamitil through the forest. At the moment, the lane that leads to Tamitil joins the Trade Road downslope from here, down almost to the edge of Her Highness' lands. The semaphore station there is at the junction of where the Tamitil lane comes in. A direct lane from here would save more than two marks of distance to travel.

“There is a lot going on at Tamitil nowadays, I deem the mills there - yes, the Steward has decreed that the second mill shall be operative as soon as possible - the mills there are to produce all the flour for all of Her Highness' lands, which have now been officially designated as Blackstone County. Although I know not of any Count involved.

“But whatever, the way to Tamitil is to be made as short as possible. So the new lane will join the Trade road here, well there shall be two junctions actually, for we need sloping roads to cope with that steep pitched bank just across the road here. So there will be one for downvalley connections and one for upvalley ones.

“And above the first pass on the Chaarn road, beyond your turning up to Blackstone, there is to be a jointly-administered region, a province, to be named 'Ptuvilend'. Jointly administered by Palarand and Vardenale no less. The Steward is investigating ways, or at least he is to do so when he can, of driving some road through from Blackstone across the vales in between, to join again to the Chaarn road somewhere in the new Ptuvilend Province, which is to stretch as far as the old Chivan strongpoint and which was the northernmost extent of their holdings, atop the major pass some days north of here where the Trade Road essentially starts its downhill journey to reach Chaarn.”

“Do you tell us? That's fascinating.”

It gave us cause to discuss much as we settled into a relaxing pel or two before we bathed. But before we women could leave the table, we were joined by another new arrival, Kulyer. He had found his way here easily and made good time. He recognised our wagons from the excellent paintwork, so he joined us having parked his wagon there amongst ours.

Pomma and I rose to go and have our bath and we left the men talking altogether and promising to go out to inspect the locality for a suitable place to pitch the wagon repair workshop, and the family homes, and the Blackstone Wagons offices. We agreed to meet once more for our evening meal in a bell's time.

We had a good dinner, and our bonds within our smallish group seemed to become tighter and friendlier somehow. And good bonds were being built with Kolston and Basset.

The men had told us what they had concluded about positions for the living quarters, the offices and the workshops. Kolston was called over and he agreed to their suggestions.

But he, like me, was surprised at the workshop request. We all smiled and laughed when Pyor explained his idea, for it was really most clever.

Kolston had started with a question: “Master Pyor, I applaud the fact that you wish to be situated directly across the road from us, close to the hub of the community, but there is scarce any land there. Surely you must require more ground space for your workshop?”

“Master Kolston,” began Pyor with a light laugh, “you are indeed correct, however my design for it shall provide all the space I require. I shall keep the roof level as low as I might to minimise the disturbance to the views of the buildings here in your enclave, estate, or whatever you may require to call it. A taller building just across the road there might promote a feeling of being closed in. There are already effectively walls on the up and downvalley sides and the steepness of the slope above also gives a looming feeling somehow. I would not wish to give you, my neighbours, any feelings of discomfort.

“However, there are other factors I have considered. As I understand matters from that which you have described, then the trail to that other village, Tamtal or something ...”

“Tamitil.”

“Tamitil, thank you. Yes, you said that the trail up from there will split so that one branch shall head downvalley, climbing the slope gently until it reaches the Trade Road, whereas the other branch shall climb more steeply in the other direction, upvalley, across the slope to join the Trade Road maybe a mark above the other. So that will form a three-sided patch down at the bottom of the steep bank opposite here.

“My building will have its foundations down there, we shall build up three storeys from there, and the upper storey shall expand into the area up here, above the bank. So it will seem like one storey from this side, but shall be three storeys from down below! And wagons on both roads shall have access when required.”

“Maker! You decided on that in such a brief inspection?”

“Indeed, Master Kolston. And I have another little idea as well. I shall employ some of these newfangled steam engine thingies. Inside the building I shall build a platform that can be raised or lowered to connect the two ground levels! And make a short cut sometimes for wagons leaving here to go to Tamitil.”

As I mentioned, we all laughed at that and we were all still smiling when the event I had been warning Pomma about actually started.

For the next bell, the two of us did indeed dance until our poor feet hurt.

… … …

“Do you tell me?” I exclaimed. “This is such an excellent idea. Do you perchance have suitable pots that I might purchase?”

A strange light came into Bandarabbas' eyes and this caused me to think hard about some memory that was lurking, and had been lurking ever since I saw the strangely dressed trader from Chaarn that morning when his small caravan pulled into the roadhouse. I was about to say something more when my arm was gripped tightly, and I turned to see Kolston frowning warningly at me.

“If you would excuse me for a little, Rayzi Bandarabbas, I must ask Mistress Julina some questions about her meal, which we can prepare while you conduct your business with her man. I shall bring this woman to our kitchens and leave her man to your negotiations.”

“Amin!”

I detected something important in Kolston's attitude, so I very reluctantly allowed him to drag me away. But I was not happy about it. My face must have shown its annoyance. Some of the wagoneers were gathered round in the common room, for I had been conducting a numbering lesson that morning and they all looked a little shocked.

This foreign trader who had turned up half-way through the morning, was a man of strange intensity.

Which I found, at first, intriguing.

Particularly his broken Palarandi phrases and talk; and yet I suspected, from the way he listened so intently, that his Palarandi skills were more than he wished to let us know.

Apparently, he had made better time in the last week than he thought he would and so had stopped at Brayview for an early luncheon before pressing on southwards. He had originally intended to stay the night here, had planned it long ago, but now he was so much in advance of his original schedule, he would prefer to push on, hoping to get as near Holville as he could this night. He was planning on trading as far downvalley as Dekarran.

Pomma followed Kolston and I across the floor, leaving the stranger calling something in his own language to his colleague up on one of their wagons parked just outside the window, before turning back to Pyor.

Pyor had accompanied me after we caught sight of something very unexpected, revealed to us when the stranger opened the door to come in, but we saw it outside.

We had both been amazed when we went to inspect that very something that now stood by one of their wagons, poor long-suffering Pomma trailing dutifully along too; until such time as she too understood what it was we were looking at, whereupon she too was amazed and intrigued. When we had started asking questions, Pyor was directed inside to talk directly with the traders' leader, Bandarabbas, who had some strange foreign title which sounded like Rayzi.

This abrupt dismissal, noticeably made only to Pyor for the man would look neither at me nor at Pomma, caused that elusive memory to surface; someone else entirely somewhen else entirely had told me that there were reportedly some peoples who refused to do business with women, for women were of utterly no importance in their system of beliefs! I had not really believed it at the time it was told me.

I suspect that the high spots of colour on my cheeks might have told the entire room that I was angry when Kolston just about dragged me away; Basset came over with questions in her eyes. I was about to ask her man just what he thought he was doing, when he held up a hand to shush me, jerked his eyes back towards the trader and whispered: “Don't let him hear or see anything. I must give you a warning before it goes any further.”

I saw a dawning comprehension rise in Basset's face and she nodded ferociously to get me to understand. I stopped and Kolston let go of my arm, which I rubbed as he had managed to hurt me.

Keeping his voice low and his (and my) back to the trader, Kolston told me: “The robes that the trader are wearing tell the world that he belongs to a certain tribe, or nation, country, whatever. They have very strict beliefs, one of which annoys every woman here in Palarand, and I dare say in the entire Great Valley; for to them women are belongings. Women even have to walk three strides behind the man, even if the man is years younger. Had you tried to deal in a business manner with him, then he would have been offended and would have caused trouble. He is already uncomfortable that women and men mix in our common room. We have had two or three of these types through every trading session. He is the first repeat customer. And the first this year.

“As I understand it, 'Rayzi' means, in their language, roughly what we term 'Master'. And 'amin', sometimes 'amen', is the equivalent of our 'so be it'.

“These people have strict times when they eat, when they travel, when they wash even. They have, in fact, these strict ways of conducting themselves in all areas of their lives, as far as I can see.

“And they barter in their trade dealings – he will start with a price about ten times that which he will accept. I hope your young man will understand that. But trust me, he would never have even spoken with you in any form of business transaction. He would have said as well that I had brought dishonour to him and he would spread the word to his fellows.

“BUT there are also advantages, we can learn things from them too, from their words, their knowledge and they bring worthy goods with them. Not to mention acceptable coin and value metals.”

I was in one way pleased that my resurfaced memory had proven to be accurate and apposite, but even so I was still very conflicted.

Here we were, in my own country, in my own home lands and yet I was being reduced to a less than second class citizen just to appease someone passing through and whom I would never again see in my life.

And yet this Zia thing that the man outside had shown us was something I could see would be of immense value. So I was prepared to pay a small price to get to know more about it. But what that price was to be was an unknown quantity. I felt that maybe ...

I suddenly made up my mind and beckoned Shemel over to me, and Quizzen. I deliberately turned from Kolston and drew our chat away from him.

“Pots,” I started, “tell me about them. Do we have skilled pot-makers, that make sort of earthy pots that are somehow leak-through as well as pots that are glazed over so nothing gets through? Surely I have seen some around, but I have never before thought about them and where they come from. Do we, as in Palarandis, preferably North Palarandis, preferably Blackstonians, have the capability of producing such items ourselves?”

“Indeed we do, Mistress. We have, if I understand you properly, things that are called 'porous' pots which allow some trapped liquids and the like to slowly filter through, and I know you have seen beautifully painted earthenware pots, so well covered that nothing gets through ...” his eyes twinkled “... most probably under your own bed!”

Quizzen had waited for Shemel to answer, before he chipped into the conversation: “Despite their uses nearly everywhere, pots such as you question are made by potters who are very rare. I deem there to be maybe two such potters in all Tranidor. Outlying farms tend to have their own methods, but those pots are normally very crude. May I ask why you have such an interest?”

“I have had an idea, after Rayzi Bandarabbas' man showed me his Zia thingy. I believe Master Bezan shall be most interested as well. And the Town Planners.”

“What is this Zia thing, then?”

“I hope that young Pyor has extracted some more details for us to enable us to make our own, but that Rayzi Whatever fellow told him, with me standing by, that by putting a containing pot that is unporous ... I believe that's the word you used? ... inside another pot, but this one porous, and with sand between, by pouring water over the sand, and by having a good dry wind most of the time, then the inner pot gets for some reason very cold, and its contents too of course. That would be fantastic for me in the Salon particularly, for we have found that food keeps longer if it is kept cold. We have dry winds, oh they have to be warm too apparently, up in Blackstone most of the time until the rains. So the sun and warm wind dry out the filling sand inside. Apparently, as the sand inside the outer pot but outside the inner pot dries out, it sucks the heat from the inner pot. All you have to do is keep watering the sand, and the inner pot gets cold!”

“Maker! That does sound like a simple and sensible idea, although I venture to suggest that your explanation was more complicated than necessary. I understand your interest now.” His twinkling eyes removed any offence from his words.

“I would have bought all his pots, but apparently his people's traditions prevent him from dealing with females. So now I just want his knowledge, and will try not to part with coin to get it. We can delay our departure a bell, I deem, and I would ask you men to glean what you can.”

“So be it! I understand your anger. I shall try to let Pyor know our feelings. Quizzen, perchance you could go outside and chat with the others of this man's party, see what you might gather!”

Quizzen nodded and headed off, trying to look nonchalant.

“Shemel, Kolston told me that the Rayzi will start negotiations by asking for a price around ten times that which he would accept. I deem you should ask Pyor what that opening figure was before you join the negotiations. But I would rather leave with no pots, for the whole situation has annoyed me immensely. Maybe one set of pots for examples. But if in doubt then just keep offering too low a figure.”

His eyes widened as he understood the background to what I was saying. He nodded in acknowledgement.

And so we split to go our various ways. I was not going to enjoy what I now had to do.

Pomma and I went across to Kolston, who turned round and raised an eyebrow in query as we approached. I smiled as sweetly at him as I could, but it took an effort. It must have worked for I saw him relax. Basset looked over and I eye-spoke with her to join us. Kolston started to speak, but I held up a hand to stop him until his wife had joined us.

I started, trying desperately to keep my voice light: “I am aware, from running my restaurant, just how difficult it is to keep everyone happy all of the time. It must be doubly so for those who run accommodation services too, as I am no doubt going to find out in the future.”

The two of them nodded in agreement, and smiled at me.

Those smiles disappeared quickly as I continued: “But I have to say that I am very upset by what happened. You did, I concede, well, Kolston, to think to issue me with the warning, but nevertheless you managed to insult me.

“You decided that 'twas I who had to change my ways, my habits, my very upbringing rather than upset a stranger who shall be passing on in a matter of bells, and unlikely to return for many a month. I, however, am setting up a company here in Brayview, one that shall no doubt work closely with you in the days, weeks, months and years to come. And I have given of my time to help others here to improve themselves which I dare say has added to your own reputation.

“I was the one selected to have to back down because I was, am, a woman.

“And 'twas a man who made that decision. A man I deemed to be a friend up to that moment.

“My respect has taken a denting, quite a severe denting. Will I forever be treated thus, here, in a place where up to now you have ever made me so welcome? Am I a second-class citizen when it comes to matters such as that which arose? Will I have to fight every time I come here for my right to do what I want and how I want it done? Will my ideas and suggestions have to be passed through some masculine approval before they are allowed to be acted upon?

“I am deeply hurt and upset - and now you both know exactly how wounded I am. I regret that, as of now, a note of caution has entered into all our future dealings.

“Now let me make this most clear - I, whatever has happened, shall continue to act professionally and I expect the same from you. Is that fully understood, and all of its ramifications?”

“But … but … Mistress Julina,” sputtered Kolston, slipping into formal address, which was entirely appropriate, “I had to let you know information that I had no way of knowing if you knew already or not. I had to lead you away ...”

“Why? Why did anyone have to be led away? Why was it I who had to be the one who was conducted away? Hmm?

“Why could you not say all that you then said to me in private out loud and in front of that man? Or why could you not send HIM away?

“Your very actions have brought about this divide, which I can only hope shall prove to be temporary. YOUR actions note, no-one else's. Those actions have also given me bruises.”

Basset gasped and glared at her man.

“But Mistress, he would have been upset if ...”

“So? What matters it if he was upset? I notice you are concerned that HE might have been upset? But you seem to have no concern if I was upset! So that implies it was alright for me to be upset. Is that really so? And it's alright for a stranger to our lands to ignore the norms of those lands and to impose his own way of life?

“If I were to travel to HIS lands, then I would expect to take care NOT to offend my hosts, but YOU decided that he can impose his own ways on us.

“And on me!

“I ask you to think on this; is it more important that he is not upset, or is it more important that I am not upset?

“The answer is plain for all here gathered to see; you appear to have decided that it was alright for me to be the one to be upset.”

“Well, no, that's not ex...”

“And I AM upset.” I said holding up my hand once more to interrupt him and his attempts to justify his actions. “You made sure of that.

“And that has changed much. That very fact has changed our dealings forever.

“I shall be on my way as soon as I and Mistress Pomma can have another cup of pel. I deem 'twould not be appropriate for me to take with me that Silton cheese you promised me. My joy in it is quite dissipated.

“As for the future, then I expect to always hear that my employees have been dealt with fairly in my absence. They are, with you two and your current neighbours, the fundamentals to making this area the second town in Blackstone lands, Blackstone County in fact. The Steward has already opened some government administration buildings here inside your somewhat enclosed area, and he has appointed some staff as has my father but the town that is to be will spread far and wide from here.

“You have a chance right now to build with intelligence and foresight, according to Her Highness' suggestions. I expect this town to grow properly, based on proper foundations of honesty and equality. Which is precisely why I chose here to set up a branch of my business. Why I persuaded my partner Shemel that here was the right place. Why I persuaded Quizzen and Pyor to upheave their own lives and move to here. I have promised them that you two in particular are of great character.

“Because I had great respect for you and your wife. But you have now cut the ground from under that respect. I no longer have certainty in our dealings, for you have made it plain that I am of lesser importance than even casual passers-by. What are these newcomers to think when they see you treat their employer so?

“Now, you must both excuse me, I have a need to make a little room for that pel. Please prepare the reckoning and bring it with the pel.”

With that, I swung on my heel and stalked off to the public facilities.

I ignored the sudden silence from all the others in the room just as I ignored the hissed argument that broke out behind me for 'twas necessary to get swiftly into some privacy.

Where I burst into tears and sobbed on Pomma's supportive shoulder.

Pomma left me in the sanctuary of the women's room while she went back to tell the wagoneers their lessons were finished. She came back to me and tried to soothe me, wordlessly.

… … …

Our departure was very subdued when compared with other times. I was still angry, upset, wounded and feeling betrayed by Kolston's actions, so I was keeping my distance from them for now.

Shemel told me that he had settled the reckoning, so I needed not approach the two who had been my friends. Which meant that I was also keeping the locals I had come to know at arm's length. Pomma had told me that I was right to protest, but I heard unsaid in her words that I had gone one step or two too far.

At least that was how I interpreted things.

The wagoneers at least tipped their hats to us as we swept out of the common room and went to saddle our beasts, but I had no eye contact with Kolston and Basset.

Frankly, I didn't know how to redeem the situation. No, to be more accurate, I didn't even know if I should even try to redeem the situation.

And it seemed that I had created a barrier with my travelling companions somehow.

No, that was surely unfair! Kolston had created the situation, why was I suddenly to blame?

I sulked.

And it showed.

We waved goodbye to Shemel, who was the only one smiling at me. Shemel was heading back to Tranidor without having found a load to help with our costs, while Pyor, Quizzen, Rabeez and Kulyer all decided to leave Brayview and come at least as far as Bezlet. Quizzen did arrange shelter for the small wagon that was to be left behind. He had heard of a dranakh for sale up at the Forest Roadhouse and an exchange of semaphores had made arrangements for him to meet the seller at Bezlet. Had we waited for two days, then there was a possibility – possibility, note, not probability – of a load of flour to be taken up to Blackstone, with some of the load offloaded at both Bezlet and the Forest Roadhouse. But we didn't have two days.

We waved to the semaphore men as we swung off the Chaarn road and onto our own, a little narrower, road that leads up to Blackstone. But this time, even though they waved back enthusiastically, our journeyings seemed subdued, at least to me. Little was spoken amongst us which I could not but help feeling was my fault. Had I been too harsh back at the roadhouse? Certainly our free banter and chats seemed a little strained now – why, even the miserable progress in the drizzly rain had been more fun.

I fell more and more silent as we went along.

The semaphore tower we had just passed, the one at the Chaarn road junction, was the one upvalley in the chain from the one at the border to Blackstone County and which was the one most handy to Brayview. The ancient Chivans had concentrated on the Trade Route and only built a road off to the side, to go up this less-explored valley, much later. So their junction was up above the shoulder of the valley, presumably because the main road had been built to climb out of the valley to head up to the pass of what looked like a side valley to them, and the most convenient point for them was up here, rather than construct many more marks of valley floor road.

A fairly strong stream flowed down that side valley which was very narrow, so it made sense in a way to have this side road start a little earlier than the canyon down which the stream flowed. Our Blackstone road dropped quite sharply at first but remained above the shoulder for a mark or more before tipping over that edge and diving down to the Bray valley floor, where a bridge crossed that side stream.

We headed down again, in an uncomfortable silence, except for required explanations when one of those new to these lands asked something.

I found I was answering these queries more and more curtly. Chatter dried up completely as we reached the lowest point where the road began to rise once more.

Soon after that, we came to Bezlet, where Kulyer's load was to be delivered. Of course, the destination for the load was down at the riverbank, so we would thread our way through the trees to the water. Although it was not necessary for us all to go down there, we all did out of curiosity. I led the way with Pomma behind me, followed by Kulyer with his load, which I now learnt was cement from a new production facility down near Teldor. They wanted to test this version up here for some special use or other, I didn't understand the details.

We broke out of the trees into a clearing that was larger than it had been before, with many wagon tracks and ruts and the like. All of us who had been there before gasped in surprise.

There was now a fully formed barge docking area, with a protective wall upstream of it to provide a less turbulent resting place. Stout ropes led across the river, supported by two clearly ancient outcroppings in the middle of the river bed.

Just downstream of where we emerged from the trees, I could see that a great amount of the 'nose' of Kord Peak had been removed. So much so that the miners were now able to work on a solid flat platform that had been cleared. A new bridge, narrow and sturdy, spanned the side stream from that platform to our river bank, allowing far easier access to the worksite than had existed last time I was here. I could see the preparations for a second bridge were being constructed, presumably this one would be wide enough to allow wagons to cross.

My musings were cut short by a call from a familiar voice: “Julina, what do you here? Ah! Excuse me you others, I know not all of you. Good morrow. My name is Steef. I have been appointed by His Honour to develop a barging connection with what is now known to be Blackstone County. My sister Swayga is now Julina's new mother, so Julina is my niece.”

There were the usual moments taken up in introductions and welcomes before Uncle Steef said: “I can see many questions in the eyes of those who have been here before, so perhaps I should commence with some explanations.

“First of all, we are now standing on a constructed stone thing that we name a 'wharf' (he told me afterwards how to spell it) which is what we bargers call something that runs alongside the river bank. If it was jutting out into the river, then we would call it a 'jetty', although I have long thought that 'jutty' would be appropriate. But don't pay my musings any mind, it is a jetty. That is if boats and ships tie up onto it.

“The little bit of wall just there, that protects this wharf from the flow of the river is termed a 'mole' rather than a jetty, since it is not designed for barges to tie up to it. The combination of the wharf and the mole, together with this cleared land area for the wagons to come near is referred to as a 'dock'.

“A roof-covered warehouse, built mostly of stone, shall also be constructed here, with an extended overhang so that barges can load and unload in almost all weathers. The stone used in building this dock has almost all come from over there where they are chipping away the rocky nose of that promontory that has been named Kord Peak. The load that Goodman Kulyer ...” he glanced over at the man for confirmation he had the name right and received a nod “... has brought up is a new cement for us to try in the various building projects we have commenced around here.”

“We have used a small boat to cross the river and to take a rope across. A thin rope, of course. This was necessarily so thin to start with because a thicker one would have been too unwieldy. We gradually used the thinner ropes to pull heavier ropes over there, and then even heavier ones, and so on.

“That shall be most important indeed. Because of Kord Peak, we shall not for quite a while have any adequate tow path to reach our wonderful new wharf. So stout ropes shall be trailed from the cross ropes to allow approaching barges to have some way to pull themselves against the current and reach the relative safety of the wharf.

“I doubt we shall be busy enough to get overcrowded here, so I deem we can have little rowing boats handy here that can float down on the current to the approaching barge carrying the end of a stout rope. That rope can be attached to the barge, it shall run through a pulley block attached to the cross river rope and then run across to the bank here, where it shall be harnessed to a dranakh or two. The barge can then be pulled into the wharf.”

We all nodded as his clear description made sense to us. But something was nagging in my head, something else.

I was pleased when Quizzen asked a question which put into words that thought which was so far unformed: “How do you know that this is above the high-water level in the rains, Master Steef?”

“Master Quizzen, that is indeed a good question, but we feel very certain that we shall be fine. If you look out into the river you will notice eight or nine large rocks, a couple almost large enough to be called islands. If you look closely at them, you can see markings that show where the high water has come. The markings are all at the same height, do you see? We have built our mole to be two strides in height higher than those markings, and the wharf you can see is more than a stride higher than them. We shall have a rainy season before ever any barge traffic, so we shall have a good indication if our designs are correct.

“The ropes across the river are a good four strides higher than the high water markings and so should be well clear of anything that survives the crashing down the falls which are not too far upriver. As you probably know, Kord Peak there is between two contributory streams, one the large stream that comes down from the first pass up along the Chaarn road, there are several other contributory streams on the far bank, one also a large one about a mark or more downstream, so we are here at the narrowest part of the river and thus the least turbulent.”

I looked out at the river, the rocks there, the stone removal from Kord Peak and suddenly an idea sprang to mind. I determined that I would talk to Uncle Steef about it. As soon as I could get him alone.

The others were all discussing various things when again there came a hail.

And again my name was uttered first: “Mistress Julina, what a pleasure. And Mistress Pomma. What may I ask are you doing here? And these gentleman are?”

“Master Bezan, well met. May I introduce Goodman Rabeez here, he is a driver for Blackstone Wagons, a company formed by Master Shemel and myself. He shall be based up in Blackstone, along with Goodman Kulyer here, who shall also act as our Supervisor. Our wagons shall be painted in Blackstone colours, as you can see by the two examples there and the Steward has been kind enough to appoint us – we shall give the Assembly priority on our capacity, and then look for loads for ourselves.

“These other two gentlemen are also employed by Blackstone Wagons, but shall be based at Brayview. Master Quizzen here shall be our Manager and Factor, while Master Pyor here shall be our wheelwright and wagon builder in a newly constructed workshop. That is if they still want to be employed by me.” This last I said a little bitterly. “Gentlemen, this is Master Bezan, responsible for the rebuilding and development of Blackstone County.”

I was shocked at what happened next though.

Quizzen stated forcibly: “Of course we wish to be employed by you, Mistress Julina. We doubt not that you shall be an excellent employer. Even today you have shown you are fearless in stating and holding your position. You have gained even more respect by your stand. Kolston apologised to us and admitted he handled it entirely wrongly. But they knew not how to redeem themselves in your eyes. Even the wagoneers you were teaching told him off. They are all on your side I can tell you, and that just confirms our own impressions.”

“What? But I thought … none of you said any … I was sure you all disapproved!”

“No, no, Mistress Julina. We didn't know if you were still so annoyed. We didn't want to make it any worse for you. So we were all treading carefully, we thought.”

I looked at Pomma and she nodded her confirmation.

I reacted as you might expect.

I burst into tears.




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