Julina of Blackstone - 068 - First Young Steps

Julina encourages the younger ones to grow

grakh
 
Julina of Blackstone
Her Chronicles, Book 2

by Julia Phillips

068 – First Young Steps


Disclaimer:

The original characters and plot of this story are the property of the author. No infringement of pre-existing copyright is intended.
This story is copyright © 2013 - 2018 Julia Phillips. All rights reserved.

It uses some of the associated characters and situations that arise from the world called ‘Anmar’ created by Penny Lane, whose stories
are also copyright © 2010 - 2018 Penny Lane. All rights reserved.


Julina of Blackstone
Her Chronicles
068 – First Young Steps

“Maker, 'Lina. Your little sister is certainly growing up fast, isn't she?”

I silently laughed along with Swayga as we watched Kissa flirt with Surtree even as we were doing the Tai Chi.

I had given her the task earlier of measuring his head, so that I could get a riding hat made for him. But he wasn't to know why she was doing it. She gleefully set about the task. For soon he would need to be riding, just to cover the distances that would be required. I looked forward to a less hectic time when I could resume my morning rides, but those hopes seemed very unlikely, going even perhaps so far as to say there was no chance of those for a good few days yet.

But to get back to the two young ones; the gaiety of their laughter somehow added an extra lightness to the start of the day. It made it so that all of us were smiling, even the latest addition to the urchin ranks who was normally so serious. I looked at 'Kin fondly. Serious he might be most of the time; however, when he did let go of that seriousness, his inner fun self shone through. At those times, he was a delight to be with. This was one of those all too rare times.

Surtree had turned up early so I had got him to sit with 'Kin as we were all breakfasting, Surtree having eaten his own before he arrived. I wanted those two to discuss urchining. You know the sort of thing: the dos and don'ts, the better service methods, the difficulties and so on. 'Kin hung on his every word, and I confess to being quite impressed at some of his questions, which were far more intelligent than I had supposed he would ask.

I was also impressed with some of Surtree's answers.

Their conversation drew all the rest of us in and I confess that I think we all learnt that there were some unexpected aspects of urchining that we had never before considered.

With the meal over and the clear-up done, 'twas time for the Tai Chi. And Kissa's flirting.

When we were finished with that and Kissa had been sent to tidy her room, I told Surtree to use the facilities, since he was probably going to have to go a long time without.

With those two out of the way, I turned to Swayga and spoke only just above a whisper: “Don't let Kissa know that Surtree is going to spend the morning with Paivi. I deem the greening of her face with envy might ruin her day!”

“Yes, indeed. And 'twere that so, she shall soon make the rest of us miserable before we could count to ten. She is, regrettably, just getting to that stage when children are awkward to their parents. Hopefully, having responsibilities with seamstressing and sometimes working in the Salon will keep her from too many strong outbursts. I can but hope...” she said wistfully, before continuing in a different, much more serious tone. “Now that Paivi, I need to talk about her. She is also a girl, a little older than Kissa, I deem?”

“Indeed, she is in fact of an age with Kords. They get on well together, I in turn deem.”

“So what you have planned for them today. Is it right? Should she really be alone with a young man, and a driver? Should she not have a chaperone?”

“Oh Balth! That thought had simply just not occurred to me.”

“Excuse me! And JUST what was that word you used, young lady? I trust 'tis not unfit for a woman?”

“Oh Swayga, no, no, no. Not at all. Sookie no less assures me that it is perfectly acceptable. A simple wagoneer's expression, apparently.”

“I sincerely hope so young lady! I would not have your standards slip so far as to actually use foul language to others.”

I looked at Swayga with a mixture of fondness and exasperation. Does she really not remember that I am a busy business woman? And that I was a mother to these other five for more years than she has been around Blackstone?

But I had to acknowledge that she means well. Even if I suspect her concern for proper behaviour is more about how it reflects upon our family, and therefore, by extension, upon herself.

And then yet another thought caught my mind. A thought to question her herself. A question to which her answers might be of great interest to record: “Say! What words did the fisherfolk and the coastal traders use then? Other than 'Maker' of course. Someone should write them down lest they are lost in the distant moments of our far future. And anything else that all this hectic change might lose forever. Now there's a project for us all.”

I could see that Swayga was struck by that thought. I felt like expanding upon the theme but as it happened that was as far as I got before Surtree returned, which meant we needed to leave for work.

We both waved good bye to the rest of the family as we exited the door and our day began in earnest.

As soon as we got outside, it became immediately apparent that for many others too the day had already started.

There was a lot of activity up the hill above our house as the soldiery and staff at the Community Hall were scurrying about. We looked at them, but just swiftly, atop the slope behind us before diverting our attention to what was going on in front of us. East Street was teeming as the early departures made their way out of town to get downvalley as soon and as far as they might. We decided to go straight across and scurry down the alleyway between the Claw and the Messenger building, coming out onto Main Street opposite the normal entrance to the Bell, of course.

There, we turned uphill in order to progress towards our destination which was to be Em's. Our passage was not uninterrupted for we passed and/or greeted several people even in that relatively short step.

One of those people was dear Pomma, working her way back home with two freshly baked, and still warm, loaves she had fetched from Mayler's. She chatted with us as together we made our way up the slope.

Klo came down, she was Master Wainer's (the shoemaker who lived opposite Pomma and Waldan) housekeeper. She called gaily to Pomma: “I see you have beaten me to it this morn! Oh, look yonder. There is Donet, I shall catch her up. No doubt she too is after some fresh bread. I hope that you early ones have left us others some. A good day to you all.” With that she scurried on her way.

Master Selden was another. He was crossing diagonally across the street to get from his house, which of course had been poor Polbinar's, to the Valley Messenger Service office, which snuggled between the Steward's house and the Claw. His house was the next one uphill from the Bell, the other side of the new Bell Lane. It was opposite both the Steward's and the Watch Complex, opposite therefore where the South Cross Lane joined Main Street.

Now I have mentioned this in detail because the South Cross Lane was far busier that morning than anyone had ever seen it. This was entirely due to it being the most direct route from the centre of Town to the Community Hall. And the Community Hall was of course full of residents suddenly. All out-of-towners.

Master Selden waved a greeting to us, and I believe he would have spoken with us had not his attention been grabbed by a hail from up the street. A semaphore messenger was coming down with a large basket of papers. It was only then that I realised I had been hearing in the background all morning the almost constant clack clack of the semaphore arms, which were naturally quietened somewhat by being this far distant. The other significance of Master Selden receiving the message copies quite escaped me at that moment. I only had to think about it the next day!

My own attention was then taken by a hail from someone riding along South Cross Lane towards us, obviously having descended from the Community Hall. The slope of the road on the far side of East Street was sufficient for the lane to have to have several gentle, and one not so gentle, curves to allow carts and wagons to ascend and descend in safety, but the state of the mud on the frayen's lower legs and feet told me that Master Simman had in fact ridden straight down.

“Mistress Julina, a very good day to you! I am on my way to the Steward's house to report on how we accommodated all the six and seventy bodies that arrived in the Royal Caravan yesterday. Thanks to your brilliant suggestion, we managed to do it all with only a few awkwardnesses, some of which are being corrected even as I speak. I am most grateful to you.”

“Good morrow, Master Simman. May I present my young assistant, Surtree?”

“Surtree! And Mistress Pomma. A very good morrow to you both too. Forgive me, I spoke in haste to Mistress Julina here, for I needed, as you heard, to thank her right heartfully.”

“Master Simman!” said my two companions in unison.

'Twas only then I could continue the conversation Simman had started: “Seventy six! Maker! How on Anmar did you squeeze so many in?”

We were interrupted by a laugh from Pomma. “Oh, Maker, indeed! I would very much wish to hear this and yet I must needs get the warm bread home. How very inconvenient!”

We laughed too and waved as she went on her way, her waving restricted of course by the load she was carrying.

Simman continued: “Everyone said they accepted the difficulties we would have had since we knew not the numbers to be expected. I assured them 'twould be but for a night, maximum two.

“But I have to confess that actually we needed number only fifty seven, for the Wagonmaster, the six drivers and the eight wagon guards were all accommodated in the Claw, along with the two animal men they had brought with them. Hah! Later I was told that these two animal men are oathsworn Palarandis originally from Yod! What very strange travelling companions in that column! And there were two other men as well, both of whom found accommodation in the Town, both military men ...”

“Ah yes, that would be Captain Subrish and Quadrant Ponstib.”

“Indeed Mistress,” he said with amazement writ large on his face, but still using the formal address since Surtree was there with me, “so that was one plus six plus eight plus two plus two, making nineteen fewer than the original seventy six.

“To account for those remaining fifty seven bodies, allow me to start with the uppermost floor.”

I nodded as he paused.

“The Prince, Keren that is, expressed his delight with the bedchamber and sitting room arrangement we had provided and assured me that the Princess would most thoroughly approve. He fully understood that we are but a country residence and thus does not expect the Palace standards, however, he asserted that the arrangements were the most comfortable he has had since departing Dekarran castle. He mentioned also that he had not anticipated the provision of a dressing room, a luxury he treasured he said, in a remote country habitation. The views he found spectacular, and the somewhat restricted access he deemed to be excellent as regards defence and so on. He also thoroughly approved of the emerg … Oh Balth! I said nothing, d'you hear? Nothing! 'Tis a secret known only to the residents of the top floor.”

“I cannot but be intrigued, and would naturally know more, but I will endeavour to control myself and question you no further on the matter that you didn't mention at all!”

We all three grinned.

“Count Terinar and the Countess Merizel likewise expressed delight with their room. And the Countess' maid, Tandra, said that her room was larger than the one she had in the Palace.”

“The uppermost floor, you say? Do you tell me that there is but one maid in the room we, well you really, allocated, thinking there to be at least three of them?”

“Indeed so, Mistress. Since the Princess is not with the Royal Party this time, then there is no call for her two maids to be squeezed in on that floor.”

I turned to Surtree at that point: “Can you run up to the Salon please and tell them I shall be there in a hand of moments? I deem we have two hands spare but I would like to let them know I am nearly there, lest they start sending out urchins! And I personally will tear you apart if you mention to anyone anything that Master Simman here didn't mention.”

I turned back to Simman, gesturing to him to carry on, even as Surtree threw a cheeky salute at me and ran off dutifully.

“We just managed to accommodate six of the guards in the guardroom on the top floor, so in all there were ten bodies a-snoring up there.”

I laughed. “Oh Simman, you silly! What would the Prince and the Countess say if they heard you?”

He grinned wickedly as he continued: “Those six guards were four of those of Einnlander origin plus two of the Palarandis. I deem they allocated the Einnlanders bunks on the 'Command Floor' - if you like to call it that - as a way of reducing any trouble they might get into!”

Ah yes! Subrish did say they can get a little unruly from time to time.

“Another two guards were at the desk in the ante-chamber throughout the night, so they required no beds. There were also two guards of course at the desk in the ante-chamber on the middle floor. And eight more in and around the building at ground level. Thus another dozen were removed from the list, making twenty-two so far accounted for of the fifty-seven. Leaving merely another thirty five.

“Acting upon your brilliant idea, we turned the Office room there into a bedchamber for the Prince Torulf, and his two personal guards, who are apparently named Brinte and Inge. That's one of the changes we shall make more permanent today, and also to have a separating wall to let the two guards have their own room. I have stockpiled some wall units, both internal and external, and far too much roofing just in case any adjustments were required. I dare say I have enough to build another house entirely! If not two!

“But back to what was the Office, and shall be of course in the future, we shall also make of the rest a bed and sitting chamber. I deem the Prince Torulf shall likely have a larger suite that that of the Prince Keren!”

“Maker! Is that not a little embarrassing?”

“Not really! They all understood the original plan, and accept the temporary changes we shall make. The new wall in that office shall be unpainted as it will be coming down again in just a few weeks. The Prince Torulf says he dislikes the smell of paint and will accept a blank wooden wall.

“To continue then, the room we had provided for a possible manservant was taken over by the two female guards. Female guards! Quite incredible really. I never thought I would see the day. 'Twas bad enough seeing you women up here riding, but to know that there are female GUARDS around …” He shook his head to show his disbelief.

I snorted in derision, at which he laughed.

“To continue once more,” he said, frowning at me, but still with a twinkle in his eyes. “the Commander Feteran and his wife Jenet who is in charge of all the maids were also delighted with their room and its outlook. They were most complimentary. Most complimentary indeed.

“Next to them, we threw up another temporary wall making a long thin corridor there. The bottom part of that, the bit snuggling into the gap between the Commander's room and the south wall, into the south west corner, was allocated to the two other maids, those that were to be for the Princess and so are thus now underutilised. And these maids too are originally from Einnland. So many questions arise! So many nationalities in this visitation!

“The long thin room thus left of the space originally allocated to the servants is occupied by the three men all from Vardenale, the Count kindly accepting to share with his landsmen. He did say that he expected at least two of them to be out in the mountains most of the time they were here, so they could accept some cramping for just a few nights of the time they were here.

“Three and two and two and two and three make twelve. So those dozen taken away means there are left now twenty three to be arranged for.

“However, fortunately within the party there were several members who came from this town, so these were dispatched to their families, that makes another five accounted for ...”

“Five? Ted, Senidet, Briswin and Lanilla make just four.”

He coughed discreetly at that point, following it up by gently pointing out that apparently these days Senidet has her own maid.

I was truly astounded! Senidet, with a maid! Maker! The world really IS changing.

“We just managed to squeeze the remaining eighteen guards into the room allocated for them on the middle floor. It was a very tight squeeze indeed! VERY tight. But,” he said triumphantly, “I have a solution.”

I raised an eyebrow in query. He was really quite pleased with himself I could tell, so 'twould have been rude of me not to let him show off a little.

“I shall build a barracks room atop the Community Hall Kitchen building, making sure there is space for a dozen and a half men. Then each shall have his own bed, and the crowding in that middle floor dormitory shall be relieved.”

I nodded in agreement. Yes, quite right, that could be a good …

Oh! Balth! That won't work after all!

I felt guilty that I would have to point out a flaw with that plan, one that I myself had been corrected about a few days, nay weeks, although it seemed months or even years earlier. I thought rapidly as to how to break it to him gently.

“What a splendid idea! That would certainly solve the problem, and all would surely be happy to have a solid roof over their heads. But I feel I must point out something that was told me a few weeks ago, although I confess that it seems years ago now.”

His grin dropped from his face and he looked so downhearted suddenly.

“What have I overlooked, Julina?”

“'Tis indeed the overlooking that is the problem! Remember the Community Hall design was so that there could be splendid views all around, the Royal Suite and the Office being the ones with the best views. Would not an extra layer atop the kitchens be blocking some of that view, especially that from the Office?”

“Bu … er Balth! I was so carried away with the neatness of my solution. You are, as usual, perfectly correct. Oh well, I must think again. And I seem to remember 'twas I who corrected you when you made a similar suggestion, or asked a similar question. That makes it all the more embarrassing.”

“Oh hush now, silly. These things happen. No need for embarrassment. Can you not just expand the current guard dormitory?”

“Regretfully not, those poor dozen who were on night duty will require their sleep, and they are in there right now. The Kitchen was SUCH a good solution!”

“Then let me think a heartbeat or two. Such a fuss just for a few weeks and for men who must be used to camping out ...”

We were both silent for a little while.

“Simman,” I began again, slowly, “how strong are those roof pieces? Could they be used as a floor, just for the next few weeks?”

“Oh yes, definitely. Why, what have you in mind?”

“I deem you have not enough time to flatten properly a new building site before building a new house or anything; also, you cannot add to the existing structure. It seems impossible to find a solution! I must needs think a little more, to double-check my idea.”

Again we were silent for a little while.

Then I spoke again: “Unless that is ... unless you use the upslope wall of the kitchens as the back wall of a new build, use some roof pieces to make a solid and level floor, build a temporary structure on top of that, throw some walls round the outside, throw on a roof. That's all they need, they can use the bathing facilities inside the Community Hall itself.”

His face was a picture as he thought it through. His smile, when he reached his conclusion was like the sun coming out.

“'Tis you who have had a genius idea. I would never have thought of using the roofing as a floor. Julina, you have solved it! I shall suggest that immediately. I shall lay the credit on you of course ...”

“Oh no, please don't, 'tis only a silly idea. You just pretend its all yours, after all, you came up with the idea of an extra room attached to the kitchen. I just put it on the ground and upside down really, if the floor is going to be made of roofing! As I said, a silly idea.”

I had to cut short his protests by claiming I was late for my next appointments – and indeed I could already see that in fact I was!

There up the road, outside Em's, was a wagon with three people aboard, pulled by a dranakh. I knew of course who the three people were but 'twas only as I approached that I saw it was Hedda who was harnessed to a freshly painted, in Blackstone Wagons (Brayview) colours, wagon.

“Good morrow, Mistress Waxerwet! I trust you are well. And Gyth, I can see you are excited to be travelling once again. No doubt Master Pyor will look after you on your travels. Have you decided upon which sequence you shall do?”

“We shall hope to reach Bezlet this day,” replied Pyor. “The longer days now should mean that Mistress Gythy can gain an adequate feeling for the site there this very e'en. Then we can have an early start and reach Brayview where I deem her task shall require as many bells as she can fit in. No doubt she shall make her notes as she goes. I deem that Master Shemel may be at Brayview when we overnight there, and take her to Tranidor early the following day. Mistress Gythy and I have discussed this, of course, and we deem that she shall be able to make general recommendations as we go down, perchance enough for the skeletons of the buildings to be started. Then, when her duties in Tranidor are finalised, she shall have more time for a more detailed and longer stay at Brayview and then at Bezlet.”

“Aye 'Lina – your initial report tells me that the Bezlet Inn, or whatever it is or shall be named, is mostly done, and any dockside extension or addition shall scarce be required afore the barges start, so there is plenty of time there. So a quick look around, and a few discussions will suffice for a few weeks. Brayview will require longer, not just because of the number of buildings, but because of the number of discussions that shall be required and the need to discuss the general feel for the area, so that perhaps there is a 'look' appropriate.”

“And Mistress Waxerwet, you are well and happy to go?”

“Julina my dear, I cannot thank you enough for this opportunity. I am well, excited and utterly grateful. We shall do you proud, I promise. If I could ask just one little favour from you?”

“Name it! I shall endeavour to do my best, as you have sworn to do.”

“Would you please keep an eye on our home in our absence and get a few basic provisions in for when we return – no doubt the semaphore can inform you of our estimated time of arrival.”

“Of course I shall. It will be a pleasure.”

“And 'Lina, I have left a written report for you there on my thoughts and designs for both the Wedding Inn, although I hear you have renamed it to the Frolicsome Frayen, and also the restaurant/inn thingy over at the Artisans' Area. A separate one is there with regard to the Consociation Hall in the Market Place Mansion.”

“Oh Gyth! That's so good of you. Now, have I given you enough coin to get you round? If not, then apply to Shemel or Epp for we shall be in constant touch.”

“I'm sure we have a sufficiency. I shall maintain a strict reckoning, you may be certain.”

“Then both Blackstone Wagons and Meglina Accommodations wish you success. Master Pyor, farewell. I look forward to our next meeting.”

I waved them off as they headed down Main Street, that being allowed at that time of day, for the uphill traffic had yet to start.

Then I had to address the next vehicle, with a driver new to me; a light cart also painted in Blackstone Wagons colours to be pulled by a frayen I did not recognise, but with two would-be passengers with whom I was very familiar.

I turned to the driver. “Good morrow, Goodman. I am Mistress Julina ...” his eyebrows rose at that “... and I have hired you for the day. Might I enquire your name?”

“'Tis Nutel, Mistress. I joined Blackstone Wagons only yesterday. Me and my frayen here, old Lumin.”

“Then welcome to my company, Goodman Nutel. Please take these two where they need. The young lady is Paivi, and the lad Surtree. Paivi is in charge, but please help her if she has any questions. They need to go round the Loop Road across to the Artisans' Area. They shall return probably just after noon, maybe a bell later. I shall then require you for some bells to go in the other direction. I do not expect any heavy loads.”

“Very well, Mistress. Right you two, let's be off. Try to keep the cart balanced would you? Either both with feet dangling down the sides of the cart, or both next to each other at the rear. You may talk to me, but when you turn round be careful of the balance.”

“Hold!” I broke in. “I had overlooked something and need therefore inform you that there must be a further young lady accompanying you. 'Tis not seemly, Paivi, that you travel alone with two men.”

Their faces fell as they too realised that they should have thought of it.

I dashed inside and called loudly for Frowka. The urgency of my tone brought Frowka to me quickly, Kelly as well. I explained the problem and the two of them immediately grasped the situation. Thus it was that Frowka and I returned to Main Street after less than a hand of moments.

“Remember you three, Paivi is in charge today. No doubt you shall have your turn as your training advances, but, today, what Paivi says, goes! I have thought some more about it, and if necessary you may consult either Master Brydas and/or Master Bezan to seek advice, or another Assembly member I suppose. But try to keep the basic idea from being widely spread. Clear? Now be off with you! “

The three youngsters mounted as instructed and told Nutel that they were ready. They looked both nervous and excited as I waved them off.

I turned and went into Em's, where 'twas time to get these new girls started with some of their training. At the fourth bell, I had a class of youngsters in the Salon, trying to get them started upon some schooling in reading, writing and numbering. I confess I preferred the little ones as pupils for those lessons were more about having fun. Yes they were there to learn, but they were keen to come back because of the fun we had.

But first, there were others to teach.

And sauces to prepare, stock levels to check and replenish if necessary, dishes to plan to offer, new dishes to consider making. Ovens to clean, and pots, pots galore. Coal to fetch. Everything to get the restaurant back ready for another six days of full nights.

When I entered the kitchen, the others were all there. Kelly, of course, Kords – it struck me suddenly that Kords was one of the three so-called old hands nowadays. There that day were just her, Kelly and I from the original group. Plus the four newcomers. Four because Paivi and Frowka had of course had gone off with Surtree.

No sooner had I thought that than Kassama came in too, all her guests having broken their fasts early, so she was already caught up on her duties.

So we had the usual round of introductions before we could get started.

My first task was to take the three really new ones into the Salon to test their reading and writing skills. Numbering would be important too, but not quite yet, so the first two were of priority. While I did that, Kelly started giving Venket some detailed instructions.

I took not long to assess their abilities. I made up some sentences and got them to write those sentences down from my words. Then I took their papers with a reedlet and added two more sentences to each piece of paper before I handed them out again, but making sure that no one person received their own back.

Then I asked them to read what was written, aloud.

Amidst many giggles, the tasks were done, but only after some embarrassment, Dravna in particular not wanting others to see her writing – until I pointed out that writing is a form of communication, intended to convey something to another person, that we were a team which meant that usually they would be writing notes for the benefits of the others in that team, and that the more she wrote, the better she would become. This was eventually accepted, albeit with obvious reluctance.

Two of them were still at the stage of needing to run their finger along under the writing as they were reading it. But reading it all they managed. And it helped them lose some of their embarrassment. And it helped build a team spirit.

We left the Salon then and went back to the kitchens, after making sure the Salon was left ready for my lesson in a little while.

In the kitchens, Kassama and Kords were going round the storage cupboards and racks, making a note of what we had and what we need to replenish. Kelly and Venket were over at a work surface laying things down. I suddenly realised that they had three identical sets of things over there, so I knew something had been set up for the new new girls. So I took them over there directly.

Venket turned round and said: “Good morning once more. Today, you are going to start by listening to me and then doing a little exercise. This is a kitchen, to state the obvious, but you would do well to always remember that. We are here to prepare, cook and serve the best food on the planet. It will get noisy, hot, steamy and hectic in here. We all, the leaders as well, will have to wash, cut, cook, plate up and wash up each and every dish that is made here. And so we have used and developed some tools to help us make those necessary tasks easier. Here comes your first question. Which tool that is used in here is the most important, the one without which we could not do as well as we actually do?”

Kelly and I had stood back to leave room for the four of them. She and I looked at each other in amazement. Gone was the shy, nervous, diffident and self-conscious Venket we thought we knew. Here was someone brimming with confidence, knowledge and a desire to share that knowledge. She had a friendly but firm demeanour and already the three new new girls were attentive and engaged.

“I deem we have a born teacher here 'Lina, one I wager would give even you a run for your money!”

“If she really is as good as that start, Kelly, then I deem there is another body I shall steal from you, this time when I get the Consociation going. I shall not be able to do ALL the teaching myself. I must find out more, and quickly, about how to handle her, and her little problem.

“Now, put me to work. I have some time before my lesson with the little ones begins.”

“Very well, but I must needs tell you something first, something that ALL the others here do not know, except Em. And I deem that the others should not know.” She dropped her voice. “We have the Royal Party in in four nights time. Second sitting so they can take their time. Em told me quietly this morn. The Steward told her to tell us.”

“Maker! There are fifty seven of them – oh hold! That includes all the guards and so on. How many of them then?”

We were interrupted by a shout of laughter from the newcomers, and then Venket said: “Well I agree that they are all very useful, but none of you have mentioned the actual tool yet. All of those that you have said COULD be, note COULD be, done without. We COULD wash the dishes with our hands and fingers for example. No, THE most important tool here is … your knife!”

There came various exclamations of agreement, all with a note of wonder.

“And today we shall start of learning about knives. How to care for them, for example NEVER EVER sharpen someone else's knife (I will be explaining why), how to use them and how to store them. You shall each have your own knife set ...”

Kelly shook her head: “I said nothing of this to her. This is all her own entire idea. And I deem a brilliant way to get the newcomers into the right frame of mind.

“But back to the night of the 25th – there shall be two Princes, the Count and Countess, and another Count. The Commander and his wife. Master Brydas and Sookie, with Senidet. And Lanilla, for apparently she is being trained to be the Countess' assistant. There shall be two other military men ...”

“I thought there might be. Subrish and Ponstib, I deem.”

“Indeed – I shall ever be wondering at your sources of information! The other Count I mentioned is apparently from ...”

“Vardenale,” I said, showing off. Her eyes widened again and she shook her head.

“Anyway, he has two companions who shall also accompany him. That makes fifteen. Then there shall be the Steward, Master Jepp and Mistress Shantoona, Masters Bezan and Yarling amd Em herself. That makes twenty one, so far!”

“Maker! We shall be hard pressed with many more.”

“Indeed, but Em already knows that. The Steward had hoped that there could be a mixture of the entire Assembly and the Royal Party, but Em vetoed that. On another occasion then there shall be the Assembly together with the relevant members of the Royal Party, the Prince, the Count and Countess and so on.

“But back to our night soon, Fedren and Yalda, Graber, Selden, and Mistress Lendra shall make it twenty six. With maids standing around too, the room shall be tight!”

“Do you tell me indeed? Are we doing a set meal, or are we offering our normal choice?”

“Good question, 'Lina. I deem a set meal would be easier in one way for us. And we have neither Molly nor Gyth.” But I could tell that Kelly was just a little reluctant so to do. It took little thought to realise why.

“And yet we would pass up a golden opportunity to show our skills off. With Kissa, Kords and Kassama, you and me, plus the six newcomers surely we could manage?”

“It is indeed tempting, as I deem you gathered from my tone of voice.”

We looked at each other. I knew that Kelly was waiting on my decision for this.

I took me a moment or two thinking it all through.

“Choice offering, I deem. But we shall reduce the number of choices we offer!”

“So be it! I shall inform Em as soon as I may. Now 'Lina can you please go and check the outside storage rooms? And the fish tank? I feel you may soon have to take a morning ride down to the fish farm. And then ...”

… … …

“So are you all ready?”

“Yes, 'Lina.” came the chorused reply.

“Here we go then.

“One, two three, clap your hands with me. … Four, five, six, run and touch the bricks … seven, eight , nine, on your paper draw a line. …” There was a dull rumble of thunder as the children ran over to the wall and then back to their school tables.

I waited a little for them to do their tasks, then I started chanting again: “And now we start again.

“One, two, three, put your hand on your knee … No, Jordik, your knee, not your ankle. That's right. And … four, five six, draw a bunch of sticks … seven, eight, nine, please point to the bottles of wine …

“And … one, two, three, all come and touch me … now four, five, six, point to the candlesticks … and seven, eight, nine, get ready to dine. Good – well done all of you. Now today we are going to count up to nine all together. We shall clap our hands on each number as we call it out. And I want you to YELL the number out ever so loudly, just a loudly as you can.

“Ready? Good. Then here we go. One … two ...” I grinned at their little faces as they belted it all out as loudly as they could as they also concentrated on clapping. We did that a total of five times, then I changed it.

“Starting with Jordik then, who shall call out the number one, we shall go round in a circle, each saying the next number. No clapping and yelling this time, just sit quietly and call out your number. Got it? Good, then Jordik, whenev ...”

“One.”

I should have known that Jordik particularly would be impatient to discharge his task which meant he cut off the rest of my sentence.

“Two.”

“Three.”

And so they went round.

Now I had a dozen little ones in there that day, so of course they ran out of numbers before they got to the end.

Just as I had planned.

But I had not planned on the confusion that that would cause the next little girl in the circle. She was nearly in tears that she didn't have a number to call out.

“So we need three more numbers, don't we? Your number,” I said to her, “is ten. An easy number to say. Ten. And you shall be the first one here ever to say it.”

She said it and looked both pleased and proud.

I turned to the next child: “And yours is like ten, but longer. It is eleven.”

“Evelen.”

“Very good. But not QUITE right. El-ev-en. Try again.”

“Elven.”

“And stretch it a little more. El - e - ven.”

“Eleven.”

“Excellent. Say it quickly again … and again … and again! … There - you have it. And now for you. Thank you for waiting so politely. Your number is twelve. It rhymes with delve. Can you say twelve?”

It was not long before they were all counting up to twelve properly. So I could do the rowdy version this time.

Half-way through the third time, the door opened and everyone, myself included, stopped in mid-shout.

“Children! Please bow or curtsey to the Countess Merizel!”

They all did, promptly and with no further coaching. We all looked, myself included, at the beaming face of the Countess, delight written all across it.

“Well children, you certainly seem to be enjoying yourselves! And you can all count so very well. Much better than I could when I was your age. Do you come here often?”

As it happened, she was looking at Jordik when she asked her question, so he answered: “Indeed your Countessship...” There was a giggle, swiftly swallowed from Milady's maid, named Tandra. “... We come here on this day, and at this time every week, for Mistress Julina to teach us writing, reading and numbering. Then we shall go on to Master Magser or, more probably, Master Klastik to learn all the other things.”

“I see. And do I need to ask if you enjoy it here?”

“Oh yes! We sing and dance and run about while we are learning.”

“How very good!” She turned to me and added: “Excellent job, Julina! We must find time to talk with each other. Once the initial flurry has died down and we settle into some sort of routine.”

“Very well, Milady! I am yours to command. Well, if I don't have any other urgent appointment of course! I am here most afternoons.”

We both grinned at that.

Then I quickly added: “Have you both been to see Kelly?”

“No, 'Lina,” said Em, “should we?”

“I deem it so. 'Tis about the food to be served here in four nights time,” I said with a slightly heavy emphasis.

“Ah!” said Em knowingly, “then we shall repair there immediately! Thank you.”

… … …

“... and Masters Bezan and Brydas were also there. I must report that they think this to be an excellent idea, and are fully in favour of it. So much so, that they have staked off a site for it which is ideal, I deem.” Paivi's face shone as she reported her success to Kelly, Em and I. Surtree nodded in agreement beside her.

I was once again in the Salon, which was the quietest room for us to talk in. The children had departed some bell or more ago and now Paivi and Surtree were reporting their morning's activities to the three of us. I had had a quiet word with Nutel that he might quietly confirm with smiles or frowns what the youngsters were telling us. He was seated behind the two, tucking in, with gusto, to a peet-zer that Paivi and Frowka had made specially for him. With his choice of what we now called 'toppings'. Frowka had left us to start working hard with the others out the back.

“Fine. That all sounds good. Now Paivi, we congratulate you. For now, though, I would hear Surtree describe the location, for he knows what we saw together yesterday and may be able to call on some scene or so to paint the picture more clearly in my mind.

“Errm … Mistress Julina … how best to put it?” He gathered his thoughts for a moment or two. “I deem we should start at the Stoop actually.” He broke off again at that point, but my hand gestures encouraged him to continue. “As you know, we have marked out the Stoop area to be the inside of the junction where the wagons can turn off the Loop Road and go up to the Stone Sea. This is very close to the downvalley end of the Artisans' Area that is to the west of the Loop Road. The part of the Artisans' Area that is to the east of the Loop Road, the stream side of the Loop Road if you prefer to so designate it, is about twice as large as the other part and extends downvalley almost to the point where the Loop Road splits for the railroad to go over the stronger bridge.”

“Yes, I have the picture in mind now! So I am standing at the Stoop, the paddock and wagon parking all around me, the building nestling into the junction. My back is such that I have just come down from the Stone Sea. Where do I go from here?”

“You turn left, Mistress. As though you were going back to Town. You follow the Loop Road for about a mark.”

“So I have got just about to the point where the westside Artisans' Area stops?”

“Precisely.”

“There are some jumbled large rocks there? Two really large ones? And something else, something a little unusual? We stopped there yesterday for a little while. Oh, and there was a small spring in the ground upslope of the rocks, and a tiny beck running down from it!”

“Very good, Mistress! There are in fact three large rocks there, and what I deem you consider is your unusual feature, is a lonely but sturdy tree. The road has actually has a slight kink in it just there to avoid some of the uneven ground.”

“Ah yes. I can picture that quite clearly.”

“Well THAT is our spot!”

I looked at Paivi and she nodded. My glance behind them got a nod too.

“Why there, Paivi?

“Master Bezan told us that already they had a small problem over that side of the Loop road, in that some of the workers have now to travel all the way down to the Stoop junction, one mark, and then another mark up the Stone Sea Road, to get to their workplace. Master Bezan has determined to actually drive another road across the north and west sides of the westside Artisans' Area, to create a giant triangle of roads enclosing it entirely, each arm of the triangle being about a mark long. This will therefore also cut off two marks of distance for wagons between the Stone Sea and Town. And our peet-zer plot would then also be on the inside of a Stone Sea Road junction, just as the Stoop is.

“He also assured me that the rocks and the tree provide excellent bases for our roofing that we want over there, there is fresh water to hand, the area looks like it is relatively untouched by the rains, there being no markings whatsoever of rushing water, and there is protection for any of our less portable items like the oven, and the fuel required to heat it and so on. That spot is just about the closest we can get to Town and still be by the Artisans' Area.”

“Well done Paivi, and you too Surtree, I am sure you were of great help. Goodman Nutel, what think you of the youngsters' solution and the selected site?”

He swiftly swallowed his last mouthful before replying: “'Tis, I deem, the perfect spot, Mistress. They could not have done better, and 'twill be good for them workers over there!”

“Thank you, Goodman. Now I have to tell you that certain things came up this morning whilst you were over there, so I cannot after all fulfill the plans I had for this afternoon. So please go and report to Goodman Kulyer for any work he might have for you. If there is no work right now, which I doubt, then I will make sure you are paid for the bit I didn't take up after all. Thank you for your efforts this morn!”

“Mistress Julina,” he said whilst sketching a half-salute. “Ladies, young Surtree, I wish you a good day. And thanks for that there peet-zer thing, 'twere very good.”

With that, Em ushered him out whilst I again thanked the two youngsters for a job really well done. Surtree added that Master Bezan was going to drop by later with a copy of a map he had updated to let me know where the two establishments would fit in within the grand scheme of things.

Older Julina says: Incredibly, I found that copy of the map and append it here. The pinkish areas are the two parts of the Artisans' Area, and the brownish areas are the waste treatment plants that were to be built according to the Princess' design, the industrial one being upvalley from the domestic one. This map shows roads that at the time were not yet completed.

INCLUDE M A P HERE

… … …

“... and so we do it like that. Not only does it save a bit of time, but it reduces our wastages too. Talking of which, we actually separate our cast-offs from the preparation as follows: first the peelings and tops and bottoms which are inedible, we place those in this bin here. Second ...”

I spent the next passages of time teaching the three new new ones (I think I will call them the 'NN Girls' from now on to save me some time) the basics of working in our kitchen, which was less hectic as we were closed for this night, it being our replenishment day. Surtree actually joined in with us, doing some of the easier tasks and doing a good job at pot scrubbing too. I sent him home quite early as it happened, for I could see he was nearing the end of his stamina. He had done a lot that day, and I was particularly pleased when Paivi thanked him prettily for his help. He wasn't far from being a team member already!

I did take a little longer than was actually absolutely necessary when I left for a little while to go down to the Claw and arrange an early morning ride with Sookie, and then went up the Main Street to add Pomma to the group. Only that morning, I had deemed that it was nigh impossible, but things had gone well today, I could afford a few bells. Whilst I was down at the Claw, I managed to also have a word with Parry, explaining that young Surtree now worked for me and he would need to learn to ride a frayen. Parry promised to make a sensible schedule to fit him in. I could already see the delight that would be on Surtree's face when I sprung the surprise upon him. I returned to the Salon in a good mood, and we all did our tasks most efficiently.

By the time Kelly and I were satisfied and everyone had gone home, and Master Bezan had dropped in the promised map copy and all the rest of it, I was definitely ready to get home and have an early night for a change.

I knew that Surtree would be there in the morning quite early so I really didn't want to be too late on what was probably the only night I could get to bed earlier than usual. I was planning what I would do when I got in, what I would say to Swayga and so on.

I set out in the dark intending to go down the alley called the Axis, gain East Street, follow that down to our turn off by the Claw's paddock, and take our drive way as my final stretch. In my head, I was already looking forward to a good relax.

I squealed when I literally bumped into someone in the dark of the alley, barely a cast from where I had set out. Someone large, solid, clad in light furs and with a bushy beard.

'Twas Jerk.

And three of his colleagues.

All Einnlanders.

And Subrish had warned me about them.




If you liked this post, you can leave a comment and/or a kudos!
Click the Thumbs Up! button below to leave the author a kudos:
up
149 users have voted.

And please, remember to comment, too! Thanks. 
This story is 8788 words long.