Julina of Blackstone - 066 - The Arrival

The long-awaited moment arrives

Julina of Blackstone
Her Chronicles, Book 2

by Julia Phillips

066 – The Arrival


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 - 2017 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 - 2017 Penny Lane. All rights reserved.


Julina of Blackstone
Her Chronicles
066 – The Arrival

With very special thanks to Penny Lane

“Maker!” I whispered.

Well, there wasn't really any other way to react, was there?

Then I continued, but almost immediately wished I had not said anything more just yet. It had to have been one of the world's most stupid questions: “Are you sure?”

I waved a hand as if I was trying to wipe away the question from an imaginary slate board.

“Of course you are! Or you wouldn't have gone to these lengths. I deem your instincts are right and we need to involve Em, and immediately at that. Just go and wake her quietly. Tell her, if you like, that I need to speak with her urgently. Down here in the kitchens!”

As Kassama went as quietly as she could, I sat there and pondered. The revelation was shocking, certainly, but I forced myself to think of just what it would mean for my business, rather than think about whatever internal turmoil the poor girl … boy … might be suffering.

But it didn't work. I could not but help myself think about the person. I was getting ever wilder in my thoughts about the hows, the whys and the wherefores when Em and Kassama returned, Em looking remarkably alert for someone aroused from their slumbers.

“What is this all about, Julina?” whispered Em.

I just shrugged and held a hand out for Kassama to repeat her tale, which she did.

“Maker!” Em whispered.

We were all silent for a good hand of moments, and then we all started to say something at the same time. Stifling our giggles, Kassama and I deferred to Em, for 'twas her house after all.

“I am sure we all have questions, many of which can only really be answered by Venket herself. I met Venket as a girl, and she is in my mind a girl, so I will continue for the time being referring to her as a girl. I know there are some people who wish not to be men but would rather be women, even with all the disadvantages, so for now, we shall all pretend we don't know her secret. When she wakes in the morning, then nothing must have changed. Are we all clear on that?”

Both Kassama and I nodded, feeling relieved somehow. I got up to leave, but Em held up a hand to stay me. I looked at her queryingly.

“Julina dear, you should not be here. You will burn yourself out if you are not careful. If you truly want Kellonika to take over from you, then she should be the one here now.”

“You are right, Em, but I said I would do this just this final time tonight, just to remind myself of all the little things that need doing, so I can write them down and tell Kelly about them. Then the two of us shall do it together, then Kelly shall do it all herself with me watching, and then I shall be able to leave it!”

“Very well, young lady. But I am watching you – you are doing four or more times more work than anyone else I know. And we shall all have an increased load during the first few days of the Royal Visit. Be careful!”

“Yes, mother!” I hissed back at her as I waved a farewell and managed to head home at long last. She grinned at me and I fancied I had a glimpse of slight sadness flit across her face. It may have been the flickering of the lantern, mind you.

It was the past the 3rd Bell when my head actually reached my pillow.

Sleep did not come easily, for my brain was churning. I heard the 4th Bell before my eyes closed on their own.

… … ...

I counted the bell announcements just after I surged upright in bed, heart racing and body cooling. 'Twas, I heard, a quarter after a Bell. The thought that had startled me awake was still there and I made a swift note on a paper before settling back for hopefully my last bell or two of sleep. I had left a note outside that I was to be awoken at dawn, just in case my body decided to sleep rather than wake up as usual to hear the Dawn Announcement. Which would come at close to what would otherwise be the half bell after the 8th night bell at this time of year.

… … …

But my body did not let me down and I awoke just before dawn. That last bell and more of sleep had been deep and, I felt, restful.

Which was good, because I just threw some clothes on and galloped back to Em's after telling Swayga I would be back for my bath, breakfast and all the rest of a normal day's start: “... but this can't wait, this is vitally important.”

I exited, swinging the door to behind me which cut off the rest of Swayga's protests. I decided that I might intercept Kassama on Main Street, if she was going down to get the bread, so I went straight across to Main Street myself, passing between the Claw and the Valley Messenger Service office.

I turned right and headed up towards Em's, passing the VMS building and then the Steward's. I had to smile wryly to myself as, in all my days here, I rarely had to wait to cross the mouth of the South Cross Lane where it joined Main Street between the Steward's and the Watch House, but this morning I had to wait for no less than three wagons to emerge from that side street, and turn into Main Street, one then going uphill whilst the other two turned down to go, as it happened, to the Claw. Typical, when I wanted to hurry!

I called a 'Good morning' to the drivers and scurried on, arriving a little breathless at Em's. At last my luck had changed, for both Kassama and Em were in the kitchen, Kassama because she had early morning duties and Em because she had to rush off to give her orders to the hunters she controlled. I was about to burst into speech when they both hushed me, their waving hands and nodding heads telling me that Venket was just close by in the bathroom.

I gestured which brought both of them to me and delivered the message I had thought about in the middle of the night. I whispered: “When I was down in Tranidor once, just after meeting Berdon, I met him in the town. He was leading about a group of men who were dressed as women. Some were really pretty, but others were not, shall we say, as convincing. However, Berdon and Bettayla have experience and would be able to give us much advice, I deem. Why don't you ask them and let me know? I needed to tell you that and will now go back home for my usual preparations for the day! We are all agreed that we shall not let on that we know, for now, are we not?”

They nodded their agreement and thanks and then shooed me out, before Venket came out and saw me, which would probably mean starting a conversation and so on.

… … …

“Come in Surtree! Sit down and have some breakfast. Don't pretend you don't want any, I have experience of growing boys.”

I was impressed, for the lad had appeared before time, was freshly scrubbed and was eager to go.

“Let me introduce everyone. These are my sisters ...”

And so it was that this day started 'properly' if you get my meaning.

Surtree was introduced to the Tai Chi, Kissa being suddenly keen to teach someone else.

Swayga and I looked at each other, raised our eyebrows and grinned. Young Kissa was suddenly not quite so young in our eyes. Surtree looked at me as if asking permission and I struggled to keep a blank face as I nodded to him. It was a little difficult when Kissa was finding more and more excuses to touch the lad; most of which were unnecessary, I deemed.

The two were both the same age, well close to each other rather than on the exact same day, and I suddenly and urgently had a need to rush off, disappearing in the direction of the privy. I had all at once realised that I myself had never had any such carefree moments. Should I stop all my businessing? Should I …

I cuffed away the stupid tears that had sprung to my face and then returned, giving the impression that I had needed the toilet facilities. I was aware of Swayga studying me but I refused to look at her. I followed the Tai Chi movements without thinking too much about them. I was wondering what had got into me. There was still a week to go before my call.

I mentally shrugged myself back into more proper thinking and Surtree and I soon left to get on with my day.

… … …

“Good morrow, Sookie. How are you today?”

“A little grumpy, 'Lina. I haven't ridden in what seems years because Tixi had her foal, and now young Parrier deems that she is recovered enough for me to ride, I have to stay here in case Her Highness and that lot arrive. We don't even know if they are coming today or tomorrow or next week, what a time for the semaphore to be out. And for such a long period. But I can't not be here. It is most frustrating.”

I could tell from her demeanour that she was half-joking so I felt able to grin and make a somewhat silly remark: “You could always go round and round in your paddock, my dear!”

I turned and brought Surtree into the conversation: “This is Surtree who is today working for and with me, mostly as a messenger I expect. You may recognise him from being one of the more conscientious of our urchins, still, but only just, too young for a real job. If I should have to send him to you today, I would appreciate your cooperation.”

“Of course, 'Lina. Well met Surtree!”

“Mistress!” acknowledged the lad with the tiniest of tremors in his voice, the only thing to betray to us his nervousness. We were standing in the middle of the courtyard where Sookie had been observing the early activities.

“Now,” I started again. “The first thing we ...”

“Good morrow, Julina,” came a lightly toned but firm male voice from behind me.

“Master Pyor, good morrow!” said Sookie even as my head was turning.

“Mistress Sukhana,” said Pyor, inclining his head, for he was on the driver's chair of a cart that had been painted in Blackstone Wagon's colours, being pulled by Saras, I deemed. Or was it Booch? No, Saras I'm sure. Booch has the darker haunch.

“Oh that is well painted, Pyor – er, Master Pyor, I mean. It looks lovely. But what are you doing here in it?”

“I went round to your house to show you how a cart would look painted in our livery. We actually did it after we left from that wonderful meal last night. We managed to paint three of the carts. Two are being used as we speak, for the wender/bac duties as well as the other wagon. I came here first that you might approve of what we have done. We both felt that we should report to you our progress as soon as we could. I shall go now and start earning ...”

“Hold!” I said urgently, and perhaps a little overloudly, for a thought had suddenly crossed my mind. “Shall you be missed, if you go not back immediately?”

“Er... I deem not. Or at least, not too much. Why? Have you some other idea?”

“Indeed I do! You want to see more of this town, I have several tasks to do and Surtree here is at my beck and call for the day – in fact, I was just about to despatch him to find you, for I have some questions of you. I deem that you and your bac shall be hired for the day also, by me. That will make my duties far less onerous. Have you yet broken your fast?”

“Indeed I have. If you are ready, we could depart right now. I must inform the others that they shall have one less bac to 'play' with today, and 'twould be best to do so as soon as I might.”

“Very well. We shall do that, just as soon as I make a swift visit to Sookie's facilities.” So saying, I dashed off for a precautionary visit to the toilet, for I knew not where and when I might next have an opportunity.

… … …

We waved to Sookie and Parry as we left; they were both preparing to ride frayen, Sookie Trixi and Parry Trumpa for I had said he may use her. They had both decided 'twould be a good exercise for the beasts, and for Sookie, to do as I had jokingly suggested and just do some light work in the Paddock, thus meaning that the mother beast would know she was not that far from her fresh baby. (They later reported that the two does appeared to have enjoyed themselves.)

Pyor turned onto Main Street and headed uphill. I was seated on the cart also, but Surtree was already on his first task, fetching Gyth to me if she could spare the time. Otherwise 'twould have to be nearer noon. We had arranged to meet at the Shuttle Shed or at the Market Place Mansion.

On the way, I began filling in Pyor on some history, and why, as a result of events long ago, some things were done in our town still today. So I was both guide and history teacher for a little while.

We made our way up Main Street, passing the Bell on the left and the VMS office on the right. Then came Bell Lane to the left and the Steward's house on the right, South Cross lane coming to join us between the Steward's and the Watch House.

“Except it can't really be termed the Watch House any more, I suppose. Watch Complex would be more appropriate, what with the main office, female cell block and Suril and Haka's house.”

We passed on, soon reaching the junction where The Axis crossed our street. The part of it to the west, that is the lane to the left, between the Carpenter's and the Musician's was ever so slightly further downhill than where it came in from the right, immediately downhill from Em's, running along the south wall as it does.

On the left, as we carried on up the sloping roadway, came Uncle's smithy and then Pyor's resting place, the Wheelwright's, opposite which the next lane came in from the right. This was North Cross Lane of course, which connected Main Street with East Street before continuing up to the Dam Road, forming the lower edge of Julina Park. A secret thrill ran through me when I mentioned that name. Perhaps not quite so secret for my tone made Pyor glance sharply at me.

After the Wheelwright's on the left came the Saddler's, which was Pomma and Waldan's place of course, which itself was opposite the Shoemaker's, the only building set back slightly from the roadway. After the Saddler's came the final building on the left, the Bellringers' with its distinctive tower.

And then we were at what used to be the Camping Place but was now called the Market Place.

“That area lined off with the white stones was appropriated by the Steward for an open area, used as a sort of Parade Ground I believe the military call it. But also an area for the younger ones to congregate in safety. And also West Street comes up over there on the far side.”

“That little lane?”

“No,” I laughed, “that's the lane that leads to Master Jepp's house – he is our scribe and deputy to the Steward. I see that they have started to put a harder surface on his lane. No, West Street is further downhill from there. It is not yet completed but I deem you can see plenty of tracks showing where it shall be.

“Now I am going to tell you something that you will find hard to believe. Just pull over to the right here so as not to block any traffic. Yes, that's good. I have much to show and say. Much information to impart.

“Now, one year ago, there was only Main Street here. It stopped just where we now are and only a tiny track went onwards towards the head of the valley.”

“Maker! All this has changed in a year only?”

“Indeed! That's why there are so few other buildings, for this was the very end of a Chivan road. It has been here for thousands of years. And 'tis why we have a problem nowadays. For the Chivans diverted most of the flow of the Blackstone River to feed that big grey featureless building up there that they called 'The Cistern'. They needed their buildings to be above the river bed for the rains and yet they wanted water in their houses. So they filled up the Cistern and let the water flow out in two streams, one for fresh and one for flushing away their waste.

“So every house here, every OLD house that is, has permanently two running water channels. This was no problem for the Chivans for all they really did was to bring an existing stream uphill a bit. But 'tis a great problem for us nowadays as the town expands so rapidly. We doubt there is a sufficiency of water to allow it to be running the entire time. And so we are learning rapidly to use water tanks and so on. Her Highness suggested ways for us to handle water, and waste, and so we are also building those facilities as well as housing for all the miners that are required to dig out the coal, the 'black stone' that eventually pays for all this.”

“Why did they just not make the Cistern bigger then?”

“Well that was difficult for the walls are Chivan, and therefore very, very thick. The Chivans also had a strange roof to it, sloping back down from the side we now see, in a series of 'valleys' if you like. They were obviously concerned, at least according to Master Bezan it was clear that they were 'obviously concerned', about having too much standing water on the roof in the rains.”

“But the roof is now flat?”

“Well yes, sort of. When the semaphore Tower was placed up there, they needed a solid base for it, so they went INSIDE the Cistern and added in more columns and so on to support a flat roof – actually slightly sloping of course since our modern methods are so much better than the Chivans had – but they made a solid base for the Tower, rather than try to fit the Tower's feet to the weird shape of the Chivan roof. Then they extended the flattened bit over the entire roof area, because they wanted to use the space up there.”

I didn't mention that the basic idea for all this had been mine, that I had suggested the new Cistern over at the Community Hall be used for something else as well as just storing water. Master B extended that principle to his plans for the buildings in town.

“They experimented and tested and did all sorts of things before making the roof into what is now basically the public frayen stabling for the Town. The earth they spread on this new rough roof is apparently at least two hands deep and fodder plants were placed up there as well as bales of bundled fodder. Master Bezan told me once that they hope their designs will prevent too much soil and plantation stuff being washed away in the rains. They have placed low retaining walls all about to minimise it.”

“Not all that long to go before they find out,” said Pyor with a grin, which I returned.

“Now that we have discovered more extensive water supplies up there in the mountain,” I gestured in the right direction, “half that feed has been routed into the Cistern, the rest being used as water supplies for the Miners' Villages which have been built along up there.” I waved my hand again in the apposite direction. “The Cistern now is run on water from the mountain; the aqueduct that once brought it here has now been severed, its feed going into a new Cistern over where the Community Hall has been built.”

“Ah, yes. The Community Hall. I want to ask about that. It is a fascinating concept as well as a fascinating building.”

“Well, it was like this. When Milady, as she was then, arrived here last year, she ...”

“Well met, you two.”

We whipped our heads round to see a grinning Gythy arriving with an equally grinning Surtree. My explanation had been cut abruptly short as we greeted them in turn and, subsequent to that, talk went onto other matters.

“So what have you got for me to do today, 'Lina?”

“Do you want to guess? Pyor here is going to drive us round the Loop Road across to the Artisans' Area. We have to inspect things over there and make a decision or two.”

“Not another new building, surely?”

“Yes! Maybe even two! Today, we have to discover if there is a need for a restaurant of some sort over there, and/or maybe an inn, or just a bunkhouse-type thing. Where, how big and so on. The thing is ...”

… … …

“Goodman Hobil, isn't it? How nice to see you working once more. You are quite recovered then? This is Master Pyor a wheelwright from downvalley, Mistress Gythy a resident for all her life and young Surtree here.” I turned to the others. “Goodman Hobil was one of the team that discovered the inside mountain lake. Regretfully, the other three members of his team were killed in the accident.”

My companions hissed in a breath and looked both worried and sympathetic at the same time.

“Ay, Mistress Julina – 'tis good to be able to work once more; and yet I find it difficult to go back inside the mines so I work here now, out in the open air. And I must say I find the work fascinating.”

We were getting near the head of the valley by then, close to where the great loop actually starts. The roadway there was wide enough to allow wagons to pass and, on top of that, extra width had been added for the railroad to eventually use. But that part was somewhat mysteriously screened off here. It had been for some time now and I had long idly wondered why so, without being sufficiently intrigued to make the extra trip up here to find out.

“Goodman Hobil, why the screens? Is there some secret to be kept in what you are doing?” Pyor voiced my question without any prompting from me.

“Nay Master!” Hobil replied with a laugh. “'Tis to allow us to get on with our work. Without the screen, we get less than half our work done, for everyone stops and asks questions, gives advice, tells us we're doing things wrong and so on. As soon as Master Bezan suggested we erect those screens, we have been far more productive.”

“And what do you there? That everyone must needs so interfere?”

“Why we are working out how the wheels shall run on rails. At the moment we are dealing principally with a problem with the wheels dropping off the rail when we have rails crossing each other, or when we make two tracks of rails from one. We have other tests and trials going on as well, for instance how best to attach the rails to their footings, and how to attach those footings to the ground. And several others like that.”

“Wheels you say? My speciality. Mistress Julina, have we a moment or two to spare that I might take a look. Mayhap my advice might be helpful.”

Now I was torn, for I wanted to get on with my own things, I had a lot to do that day, and yet I was also relatively desperate to know what they were up to here, now I had an opportunity to do so. I needed to see things with my own eyes for me to better understand. I looked at Gyth who shrugged and then I saw the gleams in both Pyor's and Surtree's eyes, and I decided: “Very well, we can spare the odd quarter bell or so. But I see why they had to screen this off now, for we are the ones who delay their work this morn!”

We were led by Hobil through a gap in the screening. He told us to stay off to one side as he took the time and courtesy to explain much that was going on. When Pyor asked about the design of the wheels, even Hobil was impressed as I explained to him that they were two circles screwed together, one circle larger than the other. The overlap was on the inside of the wheels so as to stop them slipping off the rails sideways.

“Indeed so, Mistress Julina. How an Anmar did you know that?”

And so Gyth and I reduced all the others to laughter as we described our visit to the coal mine when the workers had told us there might be a BIT of coal dust flying around.

Then Hobil continued: “So that overlapping circle, which we refer to nowadays as the 'lap', is very important in keeping the truck, wagon, cart whatever you want to call it, on the rails. However, it causes us great difficulty. And we must needs find a solution for this railroad thingy to be able to work.”

“How so?”

“Ah, Master Pyor. We must have some method of selecting which set of rails the wagon is going to run along. We cannot have dedicated rails just for each route – when this works as designed, then these railway wagons shall go to Tranidor and Holville and Teldor and so on. We can't have one set of rails running to each of those destinations. So we must have some way of splitting the rails, allowing one set of wagons to take the left side rails and another to take the right side rails when we come to a split in the way.

“Or indeed for railwagons to pass each other, the tracks must split and then later come back together again. There cannot be just one 'train' as they are termed on a set of rails, particularly at the ends of the routes. I can explain more fully but that would waste our time, so for now please accept that these parallel sets of rails, which we now call 'tracks' MUST have the ability to diverge or converge.

“This is easy to achieve with the outside wheel of course, but then the other wheel has to cross a rail. Here let me scratch this in the dirt.”

He drew a track, two parallel lines, to represent the rails in the dusty ground. Then he drew another track coming together with the first.

“HERE is the problem, see. THAT rail must cross THIS rail, just here. With the lap hanging down in effect, we must then cut this rail to allow the lap to get through. And we must cut THAT rail too to cater for the split in the other direction. But that then makes a gap the wheel itself can fall into. And that would de disastrous for a train of wagons.”

“Ah! Yes! I see the problem,” said Pyor. Gyth and I were struggling with it when suddenly a picture of it sprang into my mind, and I got it too.

“Goodman Hobil, I know you use rails in the mines. How do you cope there?”

“A fair question, Mistress. It's simple, but complicated. We have a short stretch of parallel tracks with a convergence/divergence at each end. The last half stride of the single track and the divergence rail are nailed to a large board. We simply lift the large board and turn it round. One at each end. Then the upgoing wagon slides onto the left track and the downgoing one slides onto ITS left track. They pass each other. As they are doing that, we lift the boards and turn them round once more. Then the wagons can be directed back onto the main track once more.

“But this means the floor of the tunnel has to be dug away so that the tracks nailed to the under side of the board have space to hang in, and a solid base for the board to rest on has to be built. This is obviously not an option for the outside railway tracks as opposed to the smaller ones we use inside the mines, for they shall be so much heavier and unwieldy, and 'twould be very difficult to turn the necessary solid bases over.”

“Yes, yes indeed,” said Pyor thoughtfully. “So in your mine tunnels, the main track, as you call it, approaches the bit where there are parallel tracks exactly in the middle between them?”

“Just so, Master,” concurred Hobil, but not saying more for he could see that Pyor was essentially thinking aloud.

“So for a similar system to work, the moveable bits must be much lighter in weight, so they can be turned over more easily. But that means less strong. Hmmm.”

Pyor was lost to us for a few moments then, Hobil explaining some other bits and pieces to us girls and a fascinated Surtree. I myself thought it interesting in a superficial sort of way and Gyth wasn't at all interested, I could tell.

“We do have some places where the tracks cross over each other, and we have to hack out a bit for that lap to be able to pass as I first described. But for us it is relatively easy, we have just one wagon to deal with, so we lever it up again. If these are to be trains of many wagons, someone mentioned as many as four hands of wagons at a time, then we must needs find a solution to the wheel dropping into the gap. 'Tis awkward to say the very ...”

“So don't flip it over!” said Pyor suddenly. “Have a base with TWO tracks on it, one for going straight ahead and one for making the branch. And SLIDE it into the appropriate place. Here Julina, let me have a piece of your paper and a reedlet.”

He quickly scribbled a diagram on a piece of paper, tore off the bottom of it and scribbled another diagram on that. Then he placed the one on top of the other and slid it to and fro across the paper underneath. We all gasped as the sets of rails lined up perfectly.

“When we are in our workshops, we find that some tasks are more efficiently performed if we move the work to us, rather than move ourselves to the work. That was the basis of this idea, and I deem that 'twould work better than flipping over base plates, or levering wagons back up onto the rails. With a sufficiently large moveable base plate, then you could have the single track split into any number of tracks, three, four, a hand – maybe even more. But I confess I fail to see the need for more than a simple split.”

Here is what he drew, with the coloured piece being his moveable 'plate'.

Pyor points 1.00.png

“Maker!” breathed Hobil. “The tracks point perfectly to where they have to go! And it saves ground space, and one track can run straight! This is indeed a wonderful solution. As long as the strength required of it does not make it too heavy and thus too difficult to slide the base plate thingy,” he added worriedly.

A stray thought leapt into my head. “You should call it the Pyor Pointing System!”

We all laughed, but that indeed was its name everafter, the 'Pyor Points'; it and its so-called improved versions.

'Twas I that made him take out an Exclusivity Licence.

There and then.

I wrote out a description of the problem and the solution, Pyor accepted that it be called the 'Pyor Points' and we did all the necessary 'Heard and Witnessed' things.

Hobil asked Pyor if he could take the pieces of paper with him to his supervisor, which permission Pyor granted.

“But these designs are Pyor's, don't forget to emphasise,” I said as Hobil went away and we turned to make a dash for the Cistern.

I had scribbled out a quick semaphore message to be sent to Palarand City and we all jumped aboard the cart and rushed to the Semaphore Station.

“Why must we rush so, 'Lina? And the weather is again against the sending of such messages.”

“We need the date and time to be registered.”

But no-one else seemed to grasp the significance of that.

'Twas only after we had left the message there and were once more heading towards the Artisans' Area that I explained in more depth that we needed the date and time of our receipt to later prove that we were the first. Someone else might try to get it in first – a lesson I had learnt from my Tranidor contacts!

As you shall find out in a while, Pyor had another valuable idea with regards to 'Points' which helped the railways immensely, but that is to come later on in the year.

… … …

“... so 'twould be a good development to have an eatery over here then?”

“That it would, Julina, that it would.”

“And Uncle, I was told that sometimes men stay over here at night when some urgency in their work requires them to start early in the morning or work later in the evening.”

“Yes, m'dear.” He chuckled. “I was at the Assembly meeting too, you know!”

Pyor looked on in a little wonder as the Smith and I bantered with each other. I could see he was confused about the Uncle bit and our easiness together, but I heard Gyth whisper the explanation to him while we were fooling about.

“All right, let's be serious now,” I said. “This area you Artisans use is spread out a lot wider than the Town. If there is to be an eatery, my first question is should it also be a part of a bunkhouse/inn type arrangement, or should it be separate? Secondly, will one eatery be sufficient for all of you over here? Should there be a choice? Thirdly, what about the future, both near and distant? Fourthly, what expectations are there for the expansion of any works up the Stone Sea Road – would an eatery inn type thing here be of use to those that work up there? Should there perchance be even another eatery up there? If so, what about accommodation for the staff as well as customers? And so on and so on and so on.”

“Aye lass. Simple ideas rapidly become complicated. And once the population here expands, then we needs find water for them all, and mayhap a public bathing room and the like. Methinks Bezan is the man to be asked for this is like commencing a new community and he has done that. However, he is staying in Town for now, in case the Royal Party show up. But my feeling would be to start with an inn that provides both beds and food and to position it somewhere near the junction of the Loop Road and the Stone Sea Road. That will be a fair step for those that work nearer the Valley Head, but still nearer than going back to Town.”

“Thank you, Uncle. We shall pass on now and go to have a look at the area you suggest. I may find need to have other questions answered and shall mayhap send young Surtree here if I am unable to do so myself.”

And so it was that the four of us found a good spot for an inn down near the junction of those two roads.

Which was an important factor, for a combination of the road names gave rise to the eventual name of this inn – 'The Stoop'.

Young Surtree was kept busy as I sent him dashing about hither and thither asking questions of the workers around. Sometimes Pyor took him when the distance was greater, but generally the lad ran willingly as he went about his tasks.

Gyth and I designed the space that would be required, making sure we had a good supply of water from a stream that cascaded down the flank nearby, but not too near that the area would flood in the rains.

I sent Pyor to fetch Uncle from his smithy to give us the final approval, and to bring some stakes with which we could mark the ground. I sent Surtree to get four more of the Assembly who were working over here so that the hand of them could approve and witness the claim I was making.

We had just finished that small ceremony when Surtree's keen eyes saw something and directed our attention off to the Main Road as it came up from the Forest.

“Looks like there's two frayen being ridden fast over there,” he called out.

We all whirled round and peered at the distant happenings. Suddenly, I realised what it was all about.

“Mompik and Zarda, I'll wager. That means the Royal Party have left the Forest Roadhouse and are approaching. Probably two or so bells until they get here then.”

“Maker!” “Of course!” “That must be it.” And other ejaculations flew about.

The Assembly members all started dashing about, for they should be amongst the welcoming committee.

I however had another idea.

“Pyor, we can take Uncle back to town if he requires it, but unless we go now, there shall be no time for you to inspect the Community Hall, so we should get going there NOW!”

Uncle waved us off, saying he had his riding frayen over here and so we started dashing back along the Loop Road, even as the two scouts were dashing up the ancient road.

… … …

Thus it came about that Pyor, Gyth, Surtree and I were not actually there when the Royal Party arrived. We had gone to the Community Hall where Pyor's and Surtree's eyes had been opened. The staff of the Hall were glad of our advanced notice of the pending arrivals, they allowed us to look round all the rooms and facilities but then shooed us away so that they could do a final clean. After all the place had to be fit for a Princess, didn't it?

So we carried on along the road to the Dam, again new territory for the two men here. I deemed we had time to go up to the upper level and part of the way towards the Stone Quarry and the Vale before the Royal Party would reach Town, so we did that.

“Julina, matters it greatly were we not to be there for their arrival? I would like an opportunity to see the Stone Quarry and the road through it. I deem as we are so close, 'twould be folly to turn back just to stand and gawp and achieve nothing. And I shall be leaving on the morrow with Gythy and her mother?”

I looked over at Surtree and saw him torn between wanting to take this possibly only opportunity in years to see the Quarry or wanting to go back to see the arrival.

Gyth slowly said: “Her Highness has promised to visit us twice a year ...”

And so it was; we urged Saras to her best pace and we bowled along to the Quarry.

A few moments there, certainly less than a quarter bell, and we were racing back towards Town once more.

… … …

Not actually being there at the right moments, it was necessary for me to ask of others about events as they occurred. With the help of many, both those awaiting and those arriving, the following account has been produced. I trust I have done all of those who helped me proud, and offer the following description as as fair a report as I am capable of. I must mention specially the Countess Merizel who not only gave me much information, but who also read this through and suggested a few changes to my first effort.

Certain events that occurred upon the 20th Pertulin,
the fourth month of the year 1175 since the Great Flood

The onlookers waited expectantly as the train of wagons and riders approached. Some were expectant, some were happy, but others, like Bleskin, looked concerned. Semaphore signals, old now of course since the weather had prevented recent messaging, from downvalley indicated that all was not well with the party that approached, yet nothing had been sent to alert those waiting of any problem.

The leading riders came over the bridge, the first of them carrying the Ptuvil pennant made for them months ago by the ladies of Blackstone. Bleskin recognized his son but not the expression the Blackstone commander wore. This only served to confirm the Steward's fears, or at least that the Steward should indeed have some fears. Behind the Commander came a double line of mounted troops, none of whom appeared to be particularly glad that the end of their journey had arrived.

Some of those troops looked odd, heavily-built men with facial hair in tones of red, black and gold, colours uncommon in Palarand. Bleskin knew who those men were and wondered why the Crown Prince should have some in his escort. The answer came as the first of the party appeared, the Prince himself astride his favourite frayen riding beside another Prince, but one who was heir to an entirely different realm.

Torulf.

The line of riders, carriages and wagons halted as the Prince reached the reception committee. Keren lightly slid off his saddle and strode to greet Bleskin. The Steward of Blackstone was undecided whether to salute or bow; Keren smiled and grasped his arm in the fashion of close friends, which indeed they were.

"Well met, Highness," Bleskin said. "I trust you had a good journey from Tranidor this time, despite the miserable weather. Our locals declare that it shall improve within a couple of days, but I confess their divinations appear arcane to me. Nevertheless, I deem your reception here will be much better than the first time you came."

"Aye, that would not be difficult," the Prince replied, though his face remained serious. "All was well as we passed through Blackstone lands. Indeed, we were impressed by the activity and energy we observed as we passed."

"As I told My Lady before, we would order all in her absence and we have done exactly that, I deem." Bleskin looked anxiously down the line of now halted vehicles. "Her Highness... your wife, I mean. I do not see her. Does she sit a carriage this day?"

Keren sighed and his voice was rough as he replied. "Captain, she is not with us."

Bleskin was bewildered. "Not with you? What do you mean, Highness? Has she met with some accident, some adventure?"

"An adventure, perhaps it could be called. Of course you know she comes not from Anmar but from somewhere else entirely?"

"Aye, of course." Bleskin's eyes widened. "You don't mean -"

"Captain." Keren decided to try a formal approach. Time was passing and the travellers were becoming restless. "As Her Highness' Steward in these her lands I may tell you certain things but not others."

Bleskin bowed. "As you say, Highness. I know I am no longer privy to many matters as I was in His Majesty's service."

"But," Keren continued, "As someone who has been in His Majesty's service, and as a personal friend, I may tell you a little more." The Prince looked around. "But not here, I deem. For the present, let us just say that Her Highness has been unexpectedly called away to carry out an important task by those who brought her to Anmar."

"So sudden?"

"Aye, we departed Dekarran as man and wife but I arrived at Teldor alone. We had been forewarned that she must needs leave but it was still a shock, as you can imagine. We decided that, as Garia had pledged to make this journey to see her people, that we would continue anyway."

At this point Torulf and Feteran had joined Keren. Father hugged son.

"Son, welcome."

"Thank you, Father. I deem we have much to discuss while we are here." Feteran looked around. "My! I am impressed by what I see! I barely recognize the worn-out scarce-a-town we visited before. Doubtless we will discover all you have achieved, Father."

"Me? I have merely kept a light touch on the steersman's oar, if I may use such a phrase. 'Tis the people of Blackstone who have achieved all this. Aye, we have much to discuss later - over a beer or two, perhaps."

Bleskin turned to the fourth person, an eyebrow raised.

"Captain," Keren said, "If I may introduce His Highness Prince Torulf of Einnland, who has accompanied us on our journey to improve his education as I improve my own. Torulf, this is Captain Bleskin, Steward in these lands for House Blackstone. He is Feteran's father and has recently retired from his post as Captain of the Palace Guard."

Bleskin bowed and then held out his hand for Torulf to shake.

"Highness, be welcome in Blackstone. We are a small place at the end of His Majesty's lands, but I deem you may find much of interest to you during your stay." He turned back to Keren. “Prince Torulf and I met, but just briefly, when I was down in Palarand for your wedding. We had no time to get to know each other, however.”

"Thank you, Captain," Torulf replied with a distinct accent, “I recall our brief acquaintance. Commander Feteran has spoken more to me of you as we rode."

He looked ahead, examining the buildings. "Not so small a town, I deem."

The group was joined by Best, the Wagonmaster, who bowed.

"Highness, if you can tell us where the carriages and wagons must go. I deem we are blocking the street to other traffic."

Bleskin asked, "You are?"

The Wagonmaster flushed. "Best, My Lord, Master Tanon's Wagonmaster for His Highness' journey. My apologies, I see you are the person of rank in this town."

"As you say. Have you any with you who have been here before?"

"Aye, My Lord. Most of Master Tanon's men who ride with this train have visited before saving myself. Normally Jaxen would be Wagonmaster for His Highness the Prince ... uh, Prince Keren I mean, but he is assigned a special route this spring."

"Very well. The wagons will mostly go to the Ptuvil's Claw as before, I deem. That building there," Bleskin pointed. “Some shall go to the Community Hall, but mayhap just to unload. We have a guide standing by to show the way.

"We have accommodation arranged for His Highness..." Bleskin trailed off, then harrumphed. "This will become very confusing! Accommodation for Prince Keren, then. We naturally assumed that Her Highness would accompany him thus there is a bed chamber equipped for man and wife in the Community Hall allocated to them, and another on that floor for Count Terinar and Countess Merizel. I do not know at this very heartbeat how to accommodate Prince Torulf."

He looked puzzled for a second before his visage cleared. "No matter! We will find a way! The minds of those of Blackstone, even the younger ones, are very sharp and I doubt not we shall have an answer to this riddle before nightfall. For now, I suggest you take all to the Claw where Sookie - ah, Mistress Sukhana - will prepare a meal for you all. We shall determine where the carriages and frayen are to go even as you all take a no doubt welcome rest."

Bleskin led the two Princes and the Commander away on foot to the common room of the Claw, leaving the Wagonmaster to direct the wagons, carriages and mounted men into the Claw's courtyard. A hand of guards fell in around the party as they went the short distance to the Claw's main door, they having handed their frayen's reins to colleagues.

As they went, a bugle call sounded. Prince Keren smiled a little grimly to himself for he had glanced about at the skylines of the buildings and saw several heads retreating. He was remembering the defensive measures he himself had instigated in this very town.

In terms of the buildings here themselves, little had changed, excepting mayhap the maintenance. All had been painted and looked so much better. He had seen as they approached that there were many more roads laid down and there was a new large building, nay two, off upslope to the right. The Cistern had changed, but the Semaphore Tower atop it demanded so much more attention that the other changes needed to be closely observed.

He also noticed a subtle difference particularly in the Claw and the Bell's facades. It took a little while but then he realised that the windows had been replaced. A quick glance up and down the street just before they entered the Claw showed him that more and more people were gathering outside.

“Your Highnesses, Commander, Your Honour,” said Sookie immediately they entered, for she too recognised Prince Torulf. But even so she was looking questioningly at Prince Keren as she guided them across to a table in a corner. The Commander used hand signals to allocate the guardsmen to their protective positions. The common room looked larger but that was probably because of the extra light that now gained entrance.

… … …

We returned from the Vale entrance in time to see the great procession peel off the road into the Claw's courtyard. We were, of course, at that heartbeat still some way distant and by the time we got back to Town, a scurry of activity was happening, and there was a sense of a suppressed shock somehow. A number of wagons were leaving the Claw and heading for the Community Hall, several people were milling about, and it took a while for us to find out that Her Highness was NOT in the party after all.

I needed to know more and I knew exactly where to go to find out. We went quickly to Em's and all four of us rushed into the kitchens to get the knowledge.

Em was there. With Masters Jepp and Simman.

“Ah Julina, there you are. We were looking for you. We need urgent ideas. There is an extra Prince travelling with them, and the Princess herself has been called away to other duties for the moment. Where can we accommodate these people now?”

Various ideas were thrown about, and a noticeably more relaxed Venket said something, Paivi something else, Kelly and Gyth said …

“Hold! I deem I have it!”

All looked at me.

“No Princess, so probably fewer meetings with people trying to get her ideas and her support. So her Office room that is also to be the Assembly room, is less likely to be required. The Assembly can continue to meet here. And His Highness the Prince has a sitting room on the top floor in the Royal Suite. Those other meetings, if any, could take place up there. Then this other Prince, Prince Whoever, could have the Office as his room. Guards are about, servants too. We just need to get a comfortable bed up there. And some of the ...”

I would have continued, and Gyth was ready to join in too, but we would have been talking to a swinging door, for Em, Simman and Jepp had dashed out already.

I looked around the room, frowning as I took in three new faces. But I suddenly remembered we still had to discuss the mass interviews from yesterday – presumably these three were as a result of that.

The Claw common room would be crowded, I knew, we could not let just anyone in to our Salon dining room which was also the Assembly Room, the Community Hall would be busy. Hmmm.

Ah!

“Surtree, could you pop down to the Bell and ask Mistress Yanda if I might use a corner of her common room for a bell or two, in a bell or two? Staff interviews, tell her.”

The lad scuttled off, grinning because he would be in the thick of current activities.

I swung round. “Pyor, could you please go and ask Mutab and/or Kulyer how successful they were yesterday? If they want to discuss it, I shall be in the Bell hopefully. Confirmation of the venue shall be made in due course.”

Pyor grinned too, shaking his head slightly as he left. I briefly wondered what THAT was all about.

“Then I have to arrange the Meglina interviews too. I wonder how many of those could also make it to the Bell. Paivi, I have had an idea I need to talk to you about. But not just yet. Venket, could you be a good girl and start checking the supplies and everything we need for tonight's meals. You and Frowka perhaps. And Paivi too, actually, for Kelly and I need to talk about and with these others. Oh, tomorrow is a closed day you will remember.”

Then the three 'new' girls, soon presumably not to be called the 'new' ones any more, went out to the Salon to do their tasks there.

Leaving Kelly, Gyth and I along with the trio of so far unnamed ones.

I turned to Kelly: “Now Kelly, introduce me to these smiling faces.”

Not that they were actually smiling, they were looking nervous for some reason.




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