Julina of Blackstone - 065 - Surprise, Surprise, Surprise

Maybe Julina should learn to expect the unexpected

Julina of Blackstone
Her Chronicles, Book 2

by Julia Phillips

065 – Surprise, Surprise, Surprise


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
065 – Surprise, Surprise, Surprise

Maker, or maybe I should say Balth, or Davikto, or Kallisthena, mayhap you may choose whichever you like. But was I ever stiff when I awoke!?

A hard day yesterday had started with much riding, continued with much walking and finished with much kitchen work – all mixed around much emotional and mental work.

And I was not just stiff but was also bruised, as I had indeed expected, from Venket's close and tight embraces of yesterday.

The stiffness, however, did not last long and I was pleased when my muscles managed to relax enough to allow me to accept the hugs and cuddles from my siblings. A chat, a bath, a breakfast, a brief tidying of my room, a swift dressing, family Tai Chi and then I was once more on my way to the town centre. In those days I was young enough to be impatient to get on with the tasks I had set myself and had no worries about not having the energy required to see it all through.

The sun was shining brightly; once it later fully cleared the ridge to the east, I would feel one of the first real morning stings of the year in it, even before it rose very much higher, but for now it was yet to heave itself up above that ridge to the east. The upper levels of the western ridge were of course bathed in its rays, and those reflected gloriously down upon us, but we down here in the valley floor had a little while to wait before those wonderful rays reached down to warm us all directly - and to gladden our hearts. Although the days were now closing in upon the longest ones, we had been feeling the sting of the sun's rays only in the afternoons really. Soon, we all knew, that would change, and the mornings too would begin to bite.

But at that heartbeat, I must repeat, I was walking still in the shadow cast by the mountains, it being barely the second Bell; the night 'chills' had not all yet completely dissipated.

Downvalley, most of the Forest was still buried in a thick cloud cover, so for the tenth or eleventh day in a row, the semaphore was not clacking.

Even as I thought that, it started doing so. I whirled round and saw that the Strettalm was visible, and the one over to the right, all the way down above the falls, was it my imagination or could I see the outline of it? My eyes swung to the station between us and Strettalm, and there it was, clearly to be seen. Maybe we would be back in communications today? No doubt our station here in Town was getting as much as it could down as far as it could. I wondered if the Strettalm one also had a huge backlog of signals to pass on. Maybe to us?

I decided today to walk up the east side of East Street for a change, to see what other building plots were allocated and ready to be built upon. There were several I had spotted yestere’en and I deemed they warranted further investigation.

Once I had a feel for what had happened, an overview type thing, I realised that I had noticed that actually the corner plots, where the Cross Lanes joined, seemed to be the most popular. I idly wondered about to whom these plots belonged.

I further realised that a trend was appearing; it hit me that this was something that I needed to ponder more deeply. The old established buildings had extensive rear courtyards with large stables and quite expansive wagon parking. They mostly had separated kitchens and bathing rooms. However, these newer ones seemed more compact somehow, most people not having a need for frayen, dranakh and wagons of whatever size. And the buildings were closer together somehow, more crowded, if you like.

And yet, it appeared to me as I walked slowly by, that the purchasers, or reservers, or builders, or whoever it was who was responsible, that they preferred to have plots inside the corners of junctions, having roads on two sides of them. Why would they want to be near two roads and yet not have pulling beasts?

Those thoughts, along with its very large visual clue, reminded me of something, so I walked along North Cross Lane to the junction with Dam Road and there inspected Berdon and Bettayla's plot; for I could see (from afar) that their house was nearly complete. At that time, 'twas in fact the only one that had all walls and a roof. You may, I suppose, consider that visual clue a bit of an attention-grabber. I walked up to the plot and had a good nose around. No-one was about, so I indulged my nosiness as completely as was ever going to be possible.

I made a mental note to discuss their designs with them, for some things appeared to me to be most … interesting, I suppose; not exactly puzzling, you will understand, more … unexpected. I further noticed that they had allocated only a small stable out the back, enough for maybe three frayen. They had no real paddock and the kitchen and bathroom were, as now usual, an integrated part of the ground floor, but kept as separate as possible lest a devastating fire took hold.

That early observation gave rise to another thought, so I scurried on up to my new building plot where I wanted to confirm something. Something that indeed I had subconsciously noted; there were no arrangements whatsoever for frayen. I started to worry about that ...

Duh! The public stables above the Cistern were so close by, any visitors with frayen could stable their beasts there!

And so it was that I had eventually come to the Market Place. And what was now my building. Market Point Mansion. And there I met my dear friend Gyth who was already inspecting the site.

She waved a greeting and opened her mouth to speak. As soon as I saw that, I was waiting for a torrent of questions and so I mentally braced myself.

But her first words were about something else entirely: “Have you set up a wenders scheme here in Blackstone?”

“Well I mentioned it yesterday to several people. Why do you ask?”

She gestured to the Shuttle Shed where I saw a throng of people I had not yet noticed, my concentration being on my house and my friend. Over there was also a wagon just departing; it was loaded, and yet not fully laden I remarked, with other people. The wagon was starting out in the direction of the Loop Road. Another two wagons were waiting to load up as well. I blinked rapidly in surprise, for yes, it appeared a wender system was running!

Which meant I needed to go and find out what was happening.

And yet I needed to talk with Gyth too. I almost began to dither before my decisiveness returned.

I spoke briefly with Gyth about the house, for we had already discussed it in general terms the day before. I also kept it brief because I suddenly realised we both wanted to get over to the Shuttle Shed to discover more – Gyth was as curious as I was! And it had to be done fairly quickly while there was still someone to ask.

Yes, I already had questions.

I relaxed slightly when I got a glimpse of Mutab there, directing, so I wanted to find out more precisely what arrangements had been made. And how it had started so swiftly.

Gyth and I made our way over there as rapidly as we might without actually running.

We waited then for Mutab to finish his conversation with someone else, then I greeted him and made the introductions.

… … ...

“... so we spread the word last night after favourable feedback. We have promised to have three days of trials upon which we shall charge nothing. We shall have four wagons that leave here at this time every day to go round to the Artisans' and one to go to the Dam. Same arrangement for returning of an evening.”

“But why are they not full, there are people aplenty here?”

“We have planned two intermediate stops, one at each of the round settlements, at what are known as the Miners' Villages, so we have allowed a little space for anyone there. We shall learn and adjust as we do this.”

We chatted a bit more about the wenders project before we parted, giving Gyth and I an opportunity to speak in more detail about Market Point Mansion. We did this even as we went on our short way to the wheelwright's, Gyth stating firmly that she was staying with me as she apparently found it fascinating to learn more and more.

And neither of us should really be wandering around alone, we knew.

As mentioned, we talked some more about the Market Point Mansion as we went, but 'twas not far from the Shuttle Shed to the wheelwright's, so we drew no conclusions nor made any binding decisions.

“Good morrow, Mistress Julina, Mistress Gythy.”

“Master Trokos, may I suggest that we should drop our titles, for we shall be working quite closely in the future I deem? And you and Pyor have already done so, and Pyor and I too. And Mistress Gythy here is one of my best friends, she will soon be working closely with Pyor ...” I saw his eyebrows rise at that “... and she already knows almost all of my business. So I deem we should all drop the formalities as soon as we might.”

“It shall be my honour, Julina, an honour for which I thank you.”

We did the usual formal handshake to confirm the deal. “And Gythy, I shall be delighted and honoured to do the same with you!”

This was followed by Pyor's repeat with Gyth and at last, finally, we could talk business without worrying about titles.

“Trokos, Pyor, I deem I shall require...”

We had an efficient and fruitful discussion session now those tiresome formalities were put away, in the course of which I learnt that the men and Trokos' apprentices had worked until gone midnight last night. Jafferkin's wagon and two of the smaller ones had been stripped down and were already ready for painting.

Trokos had arranged for some frayen to be presented for consideration later that morning, so Blackstone Wagons had started strongly. Gyth made a good suggestion or two and we bounced ideas forward and back, all of us enjoying the thinking and free discussions.

Gyth and I ended up inviting Pyor, Trokos and the latter's wife, whose name was Gaynika, for a dinner at our expense in the Salon that night. Trokos went off to tell her and we three remaining all heard the squeal of delight with which the invitation was received. Gyth and I both caught Pyor looking at us a little quizzically, but neither of us were prepared to boast about our own establishment. Gyth and I told them of the available choices for food and noted their preferences.

Again Pyor looked at us and I suddenly realised that he must be mightily confused about what we did during our days. Gyth caught on at the same time so we delighted in teasing poor Pyor, knowing that eventually Trokos or someone would put him straight.

And we made it even more confusing for him by telling him about Gyth’s assignment to design houses and rooms for him and his family. The sensible man held his tongue though, just absorbing the information given out between our giggles, and we could see a dawning understanding soon in his eyes.

And so it was that Gyth and I worked our way down Main Street, chatting here, checking there, asking and telling as we went. We dropped into the Salon as we passed, but only Kassama was there, clearing up after her breakfasts for her staying guests and Em came down to us when she heard our voices. It was, of course, still far too early for the Salon girls to have arrived. We left the three dinner place reservations and the associated orders of food with Em to write in the Book and then we carried on down Main Street.

I was concentrating upon setting up what I could, when I could, for I was all too aware that I needed many, many more staff for all the schemes I needed to get up and running. I let it be known wherever I went that I was looking for more restaurant workers, both kitchen and front-of-house. Gyth added her enthusiastic endorsements whenever 'twas appropriate. I also mentioned the wenders thing and dropped hints about the bacs. And let it be known I was looking for drivers and animals. I received some strange looks when the full scope of my enquiries were revealed. All were told to register interest or suggestions with Sookie down at the Claw and I would be available only later in the afternoon, at around the 8th Bell, maybe the 9th.

Gyth and I had our arranged meeting in the Claw with Sookie and, for a short while, with Maglaga, and we agreed on the basics for the 'Mansion' quite quickly. When Sookie had joined us she informed us that this morning's wender exercise had been a great success. The four of us discussed things like range requirements in the Mansion, should students sleep in house or elsewhere, storage and also course development. Not forgetting the serving side of things, and table decoration and layout.

And our next ride out on frayen. These other two had not spent so much time in a saddle as had I recently, so were far more keen than I.

I never thought I would ever get to the stage of considering riding a frayen to be a chore!

We had a light meal and then it was time for me to go to the Assembly Meeting to which I had been 'invited'. I chose to take Gyth with me, as my companion lest no other females were there, and she was highly excited, and nervous, about that. I put it down to a natural feeling of being 'honoured' to be present with all the decision makers of what was now Blackstone County. Again, I sensed something was up when I caught a meaningful glance between Sookie and Gyth but neither had otherwise given any indication that anything might be known to them but not to me. Maybe I was being over sensitive after my reactions of yesterday had been shown to be somewhat over exaggerated.

… … …

“... and so we welcome Master Simman and Mistresses Julina and Gythy. I am glad that the latter is here today as well, for we are able now to make a formal vote of thanks to them both for the work and suggestions they made to the design of the living quarters in the Community Hall.

“But we shall get to that. We have a lot to do today for 'tis entirely possible that the Royal Party shall arrive this evening, more probable though that they shall do so on the morrow.

“I have despatched two men to camp in the woods at the top of the slope across the rock face, at the foot of Strettalm if you prefer, to keep a watch upon the road, that they might then rush here with advanced warning of when the Royal Party depart the Forest Roadhouse. Sadly the clouds have rolled back in and, after a brief flurry of message exchanges earlier this morning, we are once again reliant upon mounted messengers.

“I confess that we have all been somewhat remiss. The original idea, not so long ago now if you all set your minds to it, was that the semaphore would transmit a message and a written copy of such a message would be sent with the Messenger Service. But the number of messages soon exceeded anything that had been foreseen, by more than fifty times, maybe even one hundred times, and the written copies were rapidly forgotten. Even the copies of the important ones. Nowadays only messages sent with the highest priority codes are actually copied and sent by messenger.

“And no-one has noticed! If the original system were still in place, then we would have more information about our forthcoming guests. As it is, we are left with some guesswork.

“So let us commence this meeting with the arrangements each here have made on matters OTHER than the Royal Party, for that topic we shall leave almost to the last. ...”

And so was it that His Honour got the meeting properly underway.

I had some idea of the sort of things that they discuss in these meetings but for Gyth 'twas an eye-opener. She finally realised that these men and women really tried their best to help everyone and everything grow. And that sometimes decisions had to be made for the good of the majority but to the detriment of a small number of people.

It was quite early on in the process that I was asked to speak.

“Mistress Julina, you were kind enough to describe to me yesterday a form of transport available to the citizens of Tranidor called the 'Wender System', and its cousin called 'Bac'. Would you be so kind as to describe this again to everyone here, but for now confine yourself merely to that description?”

“With pleasure, Your Honour. The idea came about because of the Shuttle service we have here and I ...”

I reddened when I got a round of applause from everyone after I finished.

“Thank you, Mistress Julina,”said the Captain. “Count Trosanar has seen fit to grant an Operator's Licence to run the Wenders and the Bacs to Master Tanon's company within his lands, and Master Tanon has employed a partner company to help with the demand. And there is a HUGE demand. So much so, that they are now running extended wenders to neighbouring villages to ease their inhabitants' difficulties of getting into the town.

“Unwittingly, we have created a similar sort of situation up here by shifting most of our industry over to the Artisans' Area. For this reason, I granted a temporary licence yesterday, valid for one week whilst investigations were conducted into whether or not this service would be valuable for us. From this morning's experiences, I deem we can already safely say that the service will be a success.

“I granted this temporary licence to the same partner company that Master Tanon uses down in Tranidor. This company has the name 'Blackstone Wagons'.”

The Captain paused just then, to allow the others not in the know to gasp with some surprise.

“This is a company run by two Blackstone residents. One spends time also down in Tranidor, mind you, and he is Mistress Megrozen's man, Master Shemel. The other is Mistress Julina there! Blackstone Wagons, as you all know, have a commission from us to provide some form of transport to us, the Assembly, as a priority. Mistress Julina can now ...”

And so it was that I then described the developments with Blackstone Wagons, the personnel involved and the wagons, beasts and buildings that were underway.

The end of all this was that the Assembly voted unanimously to provide Blackstone Wagons with a Licence to operate Wenders and Bacs in Blackstone County. I formally promised to involve Master Tanon's company and to share the proceeds.

Then the conversation went onto the development of the Market Place. Soon I needed to interrupt with the idea I had had yesterday with Papa and Master Pocular, about the ease of clearing space in the Auction Shed should it become necessary. The upshot of that was, after a huge amount of meaningful glances all around the table, my suggestion was adopted and Master Simman dashed off there and then to tell the men to change from a stack of ever smaller platforms to having a central tower from which one or two sides could be easily removed. I tried hard not to feel smug.

Then they discussed the barracks to be, which let me sit and listen for a while. Simman returned in the midst of this.

Then they discussed the Cistern and the public stabling and wagon parking.

It was thereafter that Master Bezan said: “I have a suggestion for the Assembly to consider with regard to the 'Wedding Inn', however, I would request that we delay such a discussion while I deal first with another subject. I will return to this subject, I promise, but have reasons for delaying it right now. I would needs, believe it or not, first discuss some developments down at Bezlet, for they have a bearing on this subject and indeed on another subject that we all, except for our guests, know is going to come up.”

Everyone round the table was puzzled at that, I can tell you. After catching everyone's eye, the Captain allowed Bezan to take the conversational reins in hand.

“I was down in Bezlet recently and actually took delivery of some cement from a Blackstone Wagons driver. Whilst we were there, Mistress Julina had another one of her ideas – I mentioned this briefly yesterday, you will all recall. At the time, I was deep in discussions about the barge dock there and frankly I listened to her suggestion and only really thought about it in terms of the usage of the dock, which is what I reported yesterday. I saw in my mind that her suggestion of building a bridge across to some of the standing rocks in mid-stream would provide an easier way to hold approaching barges against the current.

“'Twas only afterwards that I really began to think about what we had said then. For there were other great advantages that we mentioned at the time, but which I somehow pushed to the back of my mind.

“First of all, Mistress Julina proposed to build a bridge across the entire width of the river, not just between a few rocks. And I have to say that I fully support that idea, for a number of reasons; but to my mind there are two of these reasons that appear to be the greater.

“One – we will eventually require a railroad connection to Tranidor. Due to the falls along the river Bray, it is difficult in the extreme to construct a roadbed for this railroad down the west side of the Bray and we have already agreed that 'twould be best to do so down the east side. We are even now working on removing the 'nose' of Kord's Peak to enable the roadbed to pass downstream there. However, I realise now that this was one of the advantages that Mistress Julina then mentioned. The river there is far narrower than downstream near Tranidor itself, so a shorter bridge would be required here. She did mention it, I even agreed with her, but soon returned once more to the barging thinking.

“Two – a bridge here would open up access to the West Bank Lands which are fertile but totally unused agricultural lands. There is NO-ONE over there doing any farming because their access to markets is severely limited. A bridge would open up those valuable growing areas. And we are already feeling the pinch with providing fodder for us all up here. Again Mistress Julina mentioned this, again I concurred with her, and again I went back to the barging questions. Clearing the land there for farmers to grow needed provisions shall furthermore provide us with some more wood for construction and the like.

“As you can see, Mistress Julina's suggestion has more and larger advantages than I have hitherto reported. I needed to mention this now, for the event to happen soon.”

All nodded, and murmured agreement with a slight air of wonderment. But Gyth and I looked at each other in confusion. We had NO idea what Bezan was referring to, except, of course, I knew what Bezan and I had discussed the other day.

My musing was interrupted once more. My attention sharpened as Master B continued: “However, there was something else I learnt that day. I call upon Mistress Julina again, but perchance this time she could report to us about Meglina Accommodations.”

All eyes swung round to me. I couldn't help myself but to blush. And then I told them about Epp and I and our fledgling business, and our insistence upon the highest standards we could achieve. I was surprised by the round of applause at the end.

Master Bezan spoke up again: “So it occurred to me that maybe one of the difficulties we mentioned yesterday could be solved. I propose that we offer the operation of the 'Wedding Inn' to Meglina Accommodations!”

There was a chorus of 'Of course's and 'Neat solution's and so on.

“Masters and Mistresses, I had actually some other ideas for Meglina's involvement up here, and was going to wait until the end of this meeting to mention them. I require some more information before I can make a concrete proposal. I had never thought about the 'Wedding Inn'.”

“And what are your proposals, in general terms, of course, that we might offer our advice?”

“Well I was checking on the wender trial this morning and I thought that maybe we should have more wagons available in the mid-day period so that workers over there could be brought back for their lunches. And then I thought that maybe we could open an eatery over there to save some journeys; and then I thought maybe there should be an inn somewhere near the Stone Sea Road junction ...”

My voice tailed off in a questioning tone, for in truth I had not got much further than that in my thinking.

There was a silence. Which made me look to Gyth for support. But then they all exclaimed and pronounced themselves amazed at my visions. And gave me permission to start building an inn over there. One thing led to another and before I really knew it, Meglina had purchased the 'Wedding Inn' which I had managed to get renamed. I had suggested, based on what I saw yesterday, that it be called the 'Frolicking Frayen' and they all laughed and agreed. None had liked the 'Wedding Inn' appellation.

After that, I felt my involvement was really at an end, but the Captain did not indicate that I should leave, as he normally does.

Gyth and I sat there as other matters were cleared off the agenda. We learnt what steps were being taken to increase the 'Country Guard' as the Captain referred to it at the moment, and we learnt about Ptuvilend, the region jointly-administered by Palarand and Vardenale, and the efforts to map it more accurately, and the instructions to investigate if there was a possibility of any route from the Vale down to Ptuvilend.

We learnt that a new business was being set up up here – we now had a printer's establishment.

We learnt about the railroad trials that were taking place. Apparently they were using wooden rails and were trialling ways of making them diverge and to cross one another. They had some problems with wheels dropping into gaps as far as I could make out.

We learnt about the development of the flour mills down in Tamitil, and the proposal to use the old mill by the forest's edge to maybe grind the larger stones extracted from the Stone Sea.

We learnt about a third Miners' Village to be constructed further along again towards the head of the Bray valley.

We learnt that the water supply was copious and the under-mountain lake was probably larger than the open lake above the dam.

We learnt that maybe a new dam would be built now that we didn't depend solely upon its waters.

And so on. And so on.

These were all topics that they wished to have clear in everyone's minds, to be discussed with Her Highness when she arrived.

Thus it was that, finally, the Captain introduced the major topic, that of the Royal Visit.

He did so in a way that was shocking to me. Shocking in the extreme. When it got to a certain point, that is.

“Our town has expanded so much and so quickly that we can no longer refer to well-known places like the 'White House' or the 'Grey Rock'. The Quarry Track has been entirely subsumed by the town end of the Loop Road, as an example. We have the Dam Road, we have East Street. And so on. Even the Miners' Village has been doubled and we have agreed to add a third portion as well.

“'Twill be, I deem, easy to slip into confusions and inexactitudes in all our dealings if we do not immediately allocate names to various parts of the town. We have made a start, as I have indicated with some of the names that I just mentioned. We have the Cross Lanes, North, Middle and South. And so on.

“We have determined that there shall be at least three open areas which are known as 'parks'. Mistress Julina here suggested that one of those areas be called Jafferkin Park, which suggestion was unanimously accepted. 'Twas originally to be the park closest to the now-called Market Place, but for reasons that shall become apparent, we decided to use that name for the park area around the Community Hall.

“There shall also be another park down on the east side of West Street, down behind the Bell Inn's paddock. Master Bezan here has requested that he be allowed to build a home there, which we all approved. The lane that leads to West Street from Main Street and which passes down the north wall of the Bell Inn shall be called Bell Lane. The Bell itself, then its paddock, then Master Bezan's thin plot shall be the only areas occupied, if that is the right word, before reaching this third park area. Bell Lane shall cut straight across the park, which shall be broader north of Bell Lane than south of it. We all agreed that this park shall be named for a stalwart of this community for many years. It shall bear the name Jepp Park.

“And now I have the pleasant duty of announcing the name of the third park, although 'tis in fact the first park that shall be completed. We are all aware that Masters Kordulen and Pocular did as they promised yesterday e'en and presented the Mistress here with her Mansion – the Market Place Mansion. It is the only building between the Market Place and the park. For this reason we have all agreed, with almost no need for discussion, to call this park a name that will fit with the others. We have Jafferkin Park, we have Jepp Park and now we shall have Julina Park.”

They all stood up, grinning as they clapped me enthusiastically.

I think I might have managed to not burst into tears, but Gyth handed me a cloth to catch them and that set me off.

It took me a little while before I could actually see the copy of the map they had had drawn up. By that time, my body had learnt to breathe once more.

Blackstone close-up 1,000.png

“It is little enough reward to you for all you have done for this Town,” said the Captain after the applause had all but died down, “your ideas have been excellent and we wanted to get all this out of the way before Her Highness arrived that we might start referring to places and things with authority and definite meaning. I have no intention of listing all your ideas that have been so instrumental, but I assure I shall do so as soon as the Princess and I sit down together. For surely there will be a lot of kerfuffle first with welcomes and speeches and a certain amount of chaos as the Royal Party are allocated their spaces around town.”

“Errm,” I hesitantly started. “This is all so totally unnecessary. Welcome indeed, but nevertheless unnecessary. Surely others have devoted time and effort and ideas. Why, I can look around this table and see ...”

“Indeed, Mistress Julina, there have been others, and they shall themselves be rewarded appropriately – the big difference was that your name shall be associated with a specific location, and the location names we deemed to be of raised importance. Particularly at this time.”

“I see. Then I must formally thank you and your Assembly for the great honour. I hope and trust I shall do nothing to make you all regret this decision.”

“If any of us,” said Uncle as he jumped into the conversation, “had any fears on that score, then we would never had done this in the first place!”

There was a murmur of agreement round the room. While this was going on, I noticed the Captain consulted some notes, whispered something to Master Jepp and received a nod of agreement in reply.

“Mistress Julina, we have I deem a quarter bell in which to hear of your latest trip to Tranidor. Would you perhaps give a quick but formal overview report to the Assembly that we might all hear of developments downvalley. 'Twill save me much repetition, I deem,” he added with a laugh.

And so I stood and told them all about my trip. I tried, mostly successfully, to gloss over some things and on others I was stopped and questioned, most noticeably about the make-up of the Royal Party.

And Master B was indeed most interested in further information about the Zias, as were the rest of the Assembly, they all grasping the significance of having a standing cooling apparatus in the warm months, which might save some of the water demand.

“Do we have a decent potter here in Town?” asked the Captain.

“Mayhap not a Master of the craft, for 'tis not up to now been deemed to be of great importance, but perchance we could ask one of the farmers down near the Forest, for there is one there whose products are generally superior – the one who makes most of the Chamber-pots. Tell us again of the requirements. The outer must be porous ...”

And so the meeting eventually came to an end.

… … …

But the day had yet to finish with its surprises for me.

The kitchens, clearly, were but a few strides from where the meeting had just ended and I had duties to perform in those kitchens.

But first, I had to go down to the Claw, for I had told people that I would be there for them to apply for any of the jobs for which I had vacancies.

'Twas close to the ninth Bell when I arrived there, the time that I had suggested earlier, the time when several were beginning to stop their work prior to cleaning themselves up before eating their evening meals. There were just a few moments more than eleven bells of daylight between dawn and dusk in those days, not the longest days of the year which were possessed of over twelve, but getting there. And several present in the Claw showed obvious signs of having been working out in the sun, which had indeed been quite fierce in the afternoon. I winced at the colour of some of the exposed skins there.

The place was packed, which surprised me.

But then I was even more surprised to find that half the customers were there waiting for me!

There was a great clamour and I had to stand on one of Sookie's tables and shout just to impose some sort of order. I managed to catch Marnie's eye and she kindly came over.

“Marnie – I shall need help here. Can you find an urchin to send to Mistress Michet's kitchens, the Salon kitchens, and get Kelly to come down urgently? And then can you fetch preferably Goodman Kulyer, but mayhap Goodman Mutab too, for many here are interested in driving? With paper and reedlets?”

She bobbed a quick curtsey and scurried purposefully off. Again I was impressed by her efficiency.

Most of those that had come to see me to find some work were the younger ones of the town, but the second largest group were the most ancient ones. All the groups were split mostly evenly between males and females, and I recognised many of the faces of those between my age and Papa's.

“It will surprise many of you here that do not know me that I appear to be so young, and so female, and yet 'tis I who am looking for workers. If you feel that taking orders from me might be a problem for you, then I suggest you slip away quietly right now. For those that remain, and know me not, my name is Mistress Julina.”

I looked around expectantly and was pleasantly surprised that I noticed no-one leaving, but my eyes could not be everywhere so I am unable to state definitely that no-one went.

“I cannot pretend to be unsurprised at the number of you here, but I thank you all for your interest, and your effort in attending. I had imagined that I might be done here in mayhap a half bell, but your numbers I deem mean that I must needs take considerably longer. For that I apologise here and now, and I beg your understanding. I have duties elsewhere this day for the evening meal, so I will try my best to get through it all this e'en, but if I fail, then we shall have to recommence on the morrow. If anyone shall not be able to make the morrow, then please make it known as soon as you have a chance. No, not right now, please. I have some more words to say first.

“Mistress Megrozen, known to many here in our town as Mistress Epp as she started the honey providing many years ago, and her man Master Shemel have kindly accepted me as a partner in a pair of business arrangements. And I myself also have another pair of business arrangements. All four of these are in need of staff, workers unafraid of hard work. All in all I am looking for probably a hand of hands of fresh faces to start immediately and, if these businesses are successful, I deem I shall need that many again before the year is out.

“I warn you all now,” I continued sternly, “that I expect only the very highest of standards from my workers and I shall be fair but tough. If you are not prepared to work hard then save us all some time and trouble and leave now!”

I gazed round at all the upturned faces, challenging each and every one of them with a fierce gaze. I noted particularly those that did not hold my eyes.

“Many of you know me from the reading and writing lessons I have given – this is something that I shall continue to do but on a much reduced basis as will be understood easily now my interests have been so enlarged so suddenly. Anyone who impresses me and my partners successfully will be taken on and given a trial period. At the end of that trial period, if both sides are still interested, then formal contracts of employment shall be signed and witnessed.

“Ah! These two gentlemen coming now from the back are Goodmen Kulyer and Mutab. They shall be responsible this evening for the initial chatting with all those interested in driving carts and wagons, or otherwise being involved in a transport business. I, or Master Shemel when he arrives in town, shall give the final approval, but for now I ask all those interested in that department to gather over there in that corner and talk with these men.”

I stopped talking at that point and waited for the 'Wagons' group to make their way across to the other corner, noticing that they were all men. Kulyer brought me some of the paper and reedlets he had in his hand.

Once the group around me had compacted, I could lower my voice slightly as I continued: “And now for my other three areas of interest. They are all connected in one way, in that they are all to do with supplying services to guests in various ways.

“So I shall start with the news that Mistress Megrozen and I have started a company that shall run inns and the like, called Meglina Accommodations. 'Meg' from Mistress Megrozen's name, and 'lina' from my name. We have an establishment that we own down in Tranidor, we have one also in Bezlet, and we, since a few scant Bells ago, now own one here in Blackstone. What was referred to jokingly as the 'Wedding Inn' shall be called the 'Frolicsome Frayen' and I need staff to operate the place – kitchen staff, organisers, and general staff to make the beds and keep the place clean. Perhaps stable boys and grooms. Maintenance staff and so on.

“Meglina Accommodations shall also open another establishment nearby soon. But the actual location and services to be provided shall be announced at a later date. I deem 'twill be smaller than the Frolicsome Frayen, but not by much. I suspect this shall have mostly daytime activities.”

I caught sight of Kelly making her way towards me. She looked a trifle flustered and yet intrigued when she saw the press of people around.

“And now I can gladly introduce you to Mistress Kellonika whom I have dragged away from her urgent tasks up in the Salon. Yes, she and I run that restaurant, and it is our efforts that have gained it such a good and wide-spread reputation. We are also looking for staff to train there. And it is to there I must return soon, for the evening sittings, so you will understand how pressed I am right at this heartbeat.

“Finally, some of you may be aware that there shall be a building named 'Market Place Mansion' built on the south side of the Market Place, which used to be called the Camping Place, the building filling the gap between the Dam Road and East Street. This shall become the centre of excellence for anyone to learn the catering trade. I shall be setting this up, with the objective of having a Palarand-wide guarantee of excellence, which shall be run much as the Guilds have run their businesses for all these years. I shall require cleaning staff as well as other teachers and so on there. Also organisers and all the other staff such an establishment shall need.

“So now you know the wide scope of the people I am looking for. I would ask those interested in working at the Salon to introduce themselves now to Mistress Kellonika here, that she might first select the hand or so of new staff we need. Please be aware that, as the Salon is in Mistress Michet's house, and as the Assembly use that room for their meetings, then both Mistress Michet and at least the Steward will need to give their approval as well to anyone that shall have free access to those rooms.

“The rest of you can then chat with me here. Just an initial chat mind you, just to find out GENERALLY if the positions suit you in any way.”

Most of the younger ones, mostly females, went towards Kelly leaving a crowd around me that had been further reduced.

I stood down and pulled a table over to me, sitting myself on one side of it, indicating that the applicants should come three at a time to be seated on the other side. There was some nudging, hesitancy and so on before the first three women came and sat opposite me. I pulled some paper close to my right hand, picked up a reedlet and started with the woman to the left as I looked at them.

“May I have your name, please?”

But before she could even open her mouth to reply, the day threw yet another surprise at me.

“Mistress Julina, Mistress Julina.”

“Surtree! What do you want? I am very busy!”

“If you please Mistress, a package, a present has arrived for you on the Shuttle. It is quite large and they want to know where you want it. Oh, and this letter was attached to it.”

The cheeky grin on the urchin's face made me smile too as I stretched out my hand for the letter. I broke the seal and scanned it quickly, forcing myself to skip read through it although I knew it was important. It would be rude of me in the extreme to ignore the ladies waiting for me but the urchin needed a reply too. I gasped when I got to the point of the letter, well one of the main points that is.

“Surtree, thank you! Please ask them to deliver the package to outside the kitchen door at Mistress Michet's and then try to find Master Bezan and let him know it is there. He will want to inspect it.”

The boy was about to dash off with the coin I handed him when a thought shot into my head. I called him back to me: “Surtree, can you give me the whole day tomorrow? I shall have a great many messages to send and receive. Be at my house for the second Bell. Can you do that?”

He nodded in delight and then scampered away.

I turned back to the ladies waiting for me.

“Forgive me ladies. Now, I was about to get your name ...”

… … …

“... Venket, that looks perfect! Well done! And Paivi yours is also excellent. My how much you have improved in the short time I was away. And Frowka has done wonders with the dining area this evening. You three are certainly working well - and fitting in well Kelly tells me. Right, this base for the sauce is done, I will start the base for the sauce to go with the Foti while Paivi – you make two big batches of the meat sauces with the base I have just finished. Use that pot of boiling stock over there and you know the other ingredients – the ones for the gavakhan and the ones for ...”

I relaxed as Paivi nodded back to me with a smile, her hand gesture cutting off any further comments. I trusted her not to try to appease me if she was uncertain, so I gave her her head with a gesture of my own.

“Venket come here and watch as I start from scratch … Oh! Good evening Master Bezan. You have unfortunately come at a very busy time. Please stand over there out of the way, or, better, go outside and inspect the Zeer I was sent on the Shuttle, I learned from the accompanying letter that the thing is spelled 'Z E E R' and not 'Z I A' as I had assumed. I need ten moments here, and shall be able to let you have three moments at most before I needs do my Dining Room duties. Now Venket, I take this ...”

… … …

“... I will test it tomorrow. I shall find some suitable sand, thankfully your gift-maker included three different sorts. I assume that your letter shall explain their varied uses?”

“I deem it does, but I have not had enough time to read the entire thing. The first few pages appear to be long apologies. But I have no time tonight at all. We have diners already and I must wash my hands, tidy myself and then oversee Frowka and whoever else is on dining room duty tonight.”

… … …

“That is an excellent idea Em, thank you. I am sure the girls will appreciate to know that there is a little room now available for the ones who stay later each night. Please get Kelly to arrange a sleep schedule and for the bedding to be washed and the room properly cleaned and the like.”

… … …

“I thank you for your compliments, Master Trokos and Mistress Gaynika. And Master Pyor, does your amazed face mean you liked our fare?”

He nodded enthusiastically and commented: “Julina that was the best meal of my life. You continue to be a wonder to me. I thank you most wholeheartedly.”

This persuaded me that he had indeed been impressed. I cut off any further gushing by leaning more closely to the three of them and lowering my voice so my words would remain private: “If I might just gently point out something without offence? As you have seen, the girls here tonight have been busily working for your enjoyment and so it has become habitual for our diners who have been delighted to leave a small coin or two for the staff, which I shall distribute when we are quieter.”

I believe that my hidden message to them that, as they had eaten for free tonight, they could afford to be generous, was readily received and understood – certainly The Pot's contents were increased by a noticeably greater than normal amount, a fact we discovered as we cleared everything away at the end of the night.

I was idly thinking about my day, thinking that it had been a long day with many surprises. I realised that I had yet to read the letter that accompanied the Zeer; I would do so when I got home and into my bed. I ushered the others off, Kassama leading Venket upstairs. I seemed to imagine that Venket's nervousness was increasing somehow, but I put that down to worry about what would happen to her and her mother in the future – maybe her mother would worry about the girl not coming back that night, even though we had sent an urchin round, making sure that only the mother heard the message.

I was the last to go, having banked the fires properly, made sure all the lanterns were doused and leaving what I could ready for Kassama to make a breakfast for her guests. I was about to close the kitchen door behind me when I saw a lantern carried by someone else come into the kitchen. I briefly debated whether I should pretend not to have noticed, but I found I couldn't do that.

I went back into the kitchen and saw 'twas Kassama who was looking at me with huge eyes, but gesturing to me to remain quiet.

I had by then believed that there wouldn't be any more surprises for me that day, but what happened next was the biggest of them all.

“We have a problem with little Venket,” hissed Kassama closely into my ear. “I don't know what to do. I have discovered something about her, but she doesn't know I know, if you follow.

“I put her to bed in a borrowed nightgown and tucked her in. She was mentally and physically exhausted and dropped off to sleep almost immediately. I then silently went about all my 'last thing at night' duties and crept back into the bedroom. The poor child was obviously too hot and had thrown off her blankets. She had tossed and turned and her nightgown had ridden up. I quietly and gently covered her again and then came down here hoping to catch you.

“I need your advice, or help, or whatever. What do I say to her, if anything, in the morning? What do we do about it all? I suppose Mistress Michet will be able to help, but I know not if I should wake her. Oh Julina, what should I do?”

“I cannot help you, Kassama, until you tell me the basic problem,” I whispered back to her.

She swallowed, gulped once or twice, and inwardly consulted herself.

In the dim light of our lanterns, her eyes seemed to get even more enormous to me.

She debated with herself for a little while longer and then I could actually see the heartbeat when she made up her mind.

As quietly as anyone had ever spoken to me in my life, I only just managed to hear her words: “Julina my dear – Venket is a boy!”

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