What Milsy Did -20-

Milsy and Tarvan climb the High Tower to view the installation of lightning rods. It is the first outing for her new inventor's suit. Later on, the experimental coke oven is run and Milsy investigates the gas which is expelled. In the evening, she receives some good news from Guildmaster Parrel.

What Milsy Did

by Penny Lane

20 - Sparks and Flames


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 (c) 2017 Penny Lane. All rights reserved.



Milsy looked up as the door to the lab opened and Parrel entered. She put down the paper and reedlet she was holding and smiled a welcome to him. The palace joiner who was with her, Bassen, gave Parrel a nod, as did Yubold and Faranar. The two journeymen with them just watched.

"Master Parrel, good morning," she greeted him. "If you're looking for Tarvan -"

Parrel waved a hand. "No, Milsy, it was you I wished to speak to. Bassen, Yubold, Faranar, good morning."

"Good morning, Guildmaster." The joiner, who was in nominal charge of the others, gave Parrel an enquiring look. "Should we perhaps depart? Our task here can wait until later."

"No, please continue. I came by to discover if Milsy had any free time this afternoon. I am at the palace on another matter and it has occurred to me that I will be going to a place which may interest her."

Milsy's curiosity was alerted. "If I may ask, Master, where that might be."

"I must needs speak with the masons and smiths who are adding lightning rods to the High Tower," he explained. "Lady Garia has ascended the tower twice but I do not believe that you have yet done so. It may prove instructive to you."

"The High Tower? Is that like the tower of the Great Clock?"

Parrel shook his head. "Not at all the same, save that both are towers and both are of stone." He smiled mysteriously. "There are changes being made both at the bottom and the top which may be of interest to you."

"If you think that I would be interested, Master Parrel, then who am I to disagree? Aye, if you would give us leave to change after lunch. Bursila and I will wear the new attire which Rosilda has made for us, with your permission."

Parrel's eyebrows rose. "I have heard much of these fabled garments. I trust we will not bankrupt our guilds in providing clothing for the female members we expect to join in due time."

Milsy shrugged. "I could not say, Master. The first set, naturally, are but prototypes and will thus be more expensive than those that follow. They will, however, be provided by the Palace Wardrobe and should cost our guild nothing."

"I am relieved to hear that, Milsy. What with the blast furnaces and the new coke plant, our coin is sorely strained. The only reason we keep afloat is through sales of forks and paper and by passing on the making of clocks to Bayorn." He grinned briefly with a sidelong glance at the two clockmakers. "I have managed to obtain a design licence for clocks that use electricity, and another on clocks that will use the new balance and winding springs. You will receive your rightful share."

He waved a hand. "That is by-the-by. I have disturbed what appears to be a complicated design session."

"This? Aye, Master Bassen and I were designing the control panel for the new master clock. As you can see, the final result will include two battery cupboards at the bottom, the necessary switches to adjust the time and dials, and the master dials above it, all in one cabinet."

"Ah? To the untrained eye, that drawing looks complicated."

Bassen gave a small laugh. "Aye, Master Parrel, I were fair puzzled when Mistress Milsy first told me what she desired! Once she had explained each part, though, I began to see that it was not complicated at all, merely feature upon feature the way that our carvers sometimes embellish doorways and windows - not that any of these particular features are mere embellishment, of course. Once the woodwork has been fashioned and Mistress Milsy has screwed in her switches and solenoids the resulting cabinet will be simple enough to understand."

"Ah, indeed. Well, I look forward to seeing the finished object."

"It will not take long, Master Parrel, to finish the woodwork, but Mistress Milsy considers that an extra example may be required, which will doubtless consume further time."

Parrel rolled his eyes. "Another master clock, Milsy?"

"It isn't like that, Master Parrel! As we originally intended, and in accordance with the King's wishes, the first cabinet will be installed in here behind the door you just came in through. We will need to put it there to keep the wires to the repeater short enough for testing purposes. However, if the King considers that these double clocks will be a suitable addition to the palace furniture then I wonder if this is the right place to keep such a master clock. There is, of course, a second master clock which was commissioned for Master Gerdas, but I thought to have an extra example made in order to be installed somewhere else in the palace at some future time, perhaps in the tower of the Great Clock."

Parrel thought briefly. "An excellent notion, Milsy, and it shows you are thinking ahead." He grinned. "Suppose, for example, that such a second master clock is not required. What would you do with it?"

"Why, Master Parrel, it could be installed somewhere else entirely, could it not? If the double clocks are seen to be popular, many others in the city will desire such in their own properties."

"I can tell you now that the next set of clocks to be installed will be in the Hall of the Guilds, Milsy, followed almost immediately by a set in the City Assembly Hall. Beyond that," he shrugged, "I suspect we will need yet another factory to satisfy demand."

Bassen was apprehensive. "Master Parrel, yet more clocks? Do you expect me to provide cabinets for them all?"

"Indeed not, Bassen. That is, after all, why Faranar and his journeyman are with us, is it not? In the same way, Yubold and his journeyman will be making the mechanisms for any future clocks, I deem." A sudden thought made him smile. "I know that the demands of the palace occupy you, Bassen, but, if I may observe, with this many clocks screwed to the walls it is possible that in future the palace may soon require additional resident guildsmen to look after them."

Both Bassen and Yubold looked thoughtful at that.

"Well," Parrel said. "I will depart and let you all continue in peace. Until after lunch, then, Milsy."

"After lunch, Master."

* * *

As Milsy was officially a palace resident a long-sleeved silk undershirt had been made to wear under her new outfit. There were also silk panties and a pair of breeches made of light cotton, designed purely to preserve modesty should she have the need to climb anywhere. These breeches were not made like those for riders, or even like the modified ones presently being made for the new guardswomen's uniforms, but shorter in the leg so that they would never normally show. Milsy wondered how hot they would become in use.

Bursila, of course, wore similar garments beneath her own ensemble. Her jacket and skirt were of a more conventional design than Milsy's, both being made of thin flexible leather carefully prepared and treated to give a smooth, water-resistant surface. The color was that of the natural material, a pale brown, though doubtless other finishes could be applied where appropriate. Like that of Milsy, her mandarin collar came up high enough to prevent any liquids, solids or dust entering at the top. Both women wore soft, light calf boots.

"It is the first time that I have seen you both fully dressed," Rosilda commented. "It is an interesting look, if I may say so."

"Well," replied Milsy, "I wasn't going for high fashion, even if I knew what that was! My intention, as you well know, was simply to find some way to protect myself yet still remain modestly dressed while attending a workshop somewhere. Since we do not know what any site will be like before we arrive, I thought to ensure we would not put ourselves in danger." She shrugged. "Of course we will not know if either of these works the way we intend them to until they have been tried. I will come and report, if there is time, after we have returned from the High Tower."

"Of course, Mistress, but there should be no hurry unless you discover some fatal flaw we have overlooked. I have no doubt that you will be visiting the wardrobe in the near future, I can wait until then."

Milsy smiled at the seamstress. "Oh, yes, I'm sure that I'll be back! The Palace Wardrobe has a kind of addictive quality, I find, to most women." She turned to Bursila. "Are we ready? Then we should go and find Master Parrel."

"I have my bag, Mistress," Bursila replied, "though as you suggested I have only brought what I think essential to today's exercise. It is a pity I could not enquire of Jenet about the climb we are to undertake but of course she has other concerns presently."

"Indeed!" Milsy's eyes took on a faraway look. "I wonder what they are doing, all that way north? Enjoying themselves, I deem."

"But they had to fight off bandits when they arrived," Bursila pointed out. "I expect that life in such a remote town will be very different from that in the palace."

"As you say. Let's go," Milsy instructed, leading the others out of her bedroom. "You're right, of course. I have only ever lived in a big castle and this palace so I could not say. Of course you came to the palace from the south of Palarand, didn't you, with Lady Merizel."

"Aye, Mistress, by way of a number of other lodgings. Let me just say that, while my experience of life is wider than yours, it is still that of residences of nobles. For a view of life among the people I deem we must needs go to somewhere like Pakh Lane."

"As you say."

They had reached the corridor and the two guardsmen on duty straightened when they appeared.

"Kendo, we have to find Master Parrel and then we're off to the High Tower. Do you know the way?"

"To the High Tower, Mistress, I do. Where Master Parrel might be I do not know."

Milsy thought. "Let's try the laboratory first. That's where Tarvan will be and Master Parrel will likely be there talking with him."

Bassen, Yubold, Faranar and the two journeymen were in the laboratory discussing some point concerned with the making of the new clocks. They pointed Milsy in the direction of the study, where she found Parrel and Tarvan using the blackboard to elaborate some design.

"Master Parrel, Tarvan, we are ready."

"Ah, Milsy, Bursila, come in and let me look at you. Maker! That is a clever design, if a mere man may make such an observation."

Milsy blushed. "Of course, Master Parrel, our attire is as yet untested, we have yet to prove if the idea is as clever as it appears to be."

"As you say. As with any new design, it must needs be tested." His eyes went to her belt. "That looks interesting."

"Aye, Master Parrel. I became irritated with the fuss caused by having everything in one of our usual pouches, even the larger one Rosilda found for me. Whatever I wanted seemed to be at the bottom, always, so I determined that this suit would have a row of box pouches, such that each would hold different items in safety. If I may turn around."

Milsy suited action to words and Parrel saw that, as well as the four pouches at the front, two either side of the buckle, there were three pouches behind, the middle one lengthways along the belt.

Parrel nodded in appreciation. "Another clever idea. I take it you would not object if a similar design were available for men?"

She shrugged. "I don't see why not. It is a simple belt, after all."

"We have already copied the goggles, to great acclaim from all who possess any of the first batch." Parrel shrugged in turn. "Which does not include me, it seems. Most have gone either to Hurdin's men or out to the blast furnace site."

"As you say, Guildmaster." Milsy looked at the blackboard.

"Ah. We were talking about the coke plant, Milsy, but doubtless you desire to ascend the High Tower. Let us go, then, and consider our design later."

Kendo led the party through the corridors to a remembered door in a stone wall. Outside was an apprentice keeping watch. He bowed when they approached.

"Guildmaster, I must remind you and those with you of the works within. If you would all take care of your footing and heed instruction from the guildsmen doing the alterations."

He opened the door and the party entered. Milsy had been here before, so was expecting to see the large treadmill wheels and the two chain pumps. What she did not expect were the several men who were attending to a thick metal rod that came through a hole, roughly carved in one wall, and then crossed the room above the two treadmills. They were installing brackets to support the rod, which Milsy now saw carried drive wheels like those she had seen at the blast furnace site.

"Ah! I understand! Outside there will doubtless be a steam engine driving that rod," she said. "But what is proposed in here? I would have expected the treadmills to be removed but that is not what seems to be happening."

"Indeed not," Parrel agreed, "for above is the main water tank for the palace and it is essential that some means for filling it be retained, should there be a fault with the steam engine. After they have installed the drive shaft they will fit wheels on the treadmill shafts to take the belts. The belts may then be removed at need. Doing it this way also allows us to provide a valuable reduction gear, since the weight of water lifted by each wheel is considerable."

"Of course," Milsy agreed, nodding. "It is not just a matter of convenience but security." She looked up. "So we are to ascend above this chamber? But how?"

"The small doorway over there leads to a stair," Parrel pointed, "as well as an access to this chamber from the other side of the tower. Shall we go?"

The men inside stopped whatever they were doing while the party picked their way across the untidy floor to the far side. Beyond was a small spiral staircase cut into the stonework of the tower and the party followed Parrel to the top. The chamber they emerged into was as big as the one below, but almost completely occupied by an immense vat or tank, the top of which stretched away into the gloom. Unlike the tower of the Great Clock, there were no windows set into the stonework to provide light, since none was needed. She could just see that the tank, if that is what it was, was made from immense lengths of wood and that there were iron bands, as wide as the palm of her hand, around it every stride or so. The outside of the wood was slick with condensation.

Facing them was an open wooden staircase which rose alongside one wall of the tower, between the stonework and the tank. Looking up she could see that it turned when it met the far wall and continued climbing. At the bottom of the staircase stood two guardsmen who nodded a greeting to her own escort and then stood back. Apparently the party was expected.

"If the Guildmaster permits," Kendo said, "Berdon and I will remain down here until you descend. There may not be room for all at the top, especially with the craftsmen who are working there, but the Mistress will be safe there in any event, since a permanent watch is kept up there by His Majesty's men."

"As you wish," Parrel replied. "Milsy, do you desire to go first?"

"It looks a long way up," she said, peering into the gloom above. "I doubt I have climbed any ladder so far before in my life. I assume it is safe, but is there anywhere to pause for breath?"

"Indeed, Milsy. At each turn of the stair there is a small landing where most who climb will stop for a moment or two. The climb is steep but the stair goes around only four of the walls."

This last statement briefly puzzled Milsy, as there only appeared to be four walls, until she understood that the stair didn't just go round and round above.

"I will do it," she said. "Bursila, do you foresee any difficulty? If you think it will be too much then you could remain below."

"Mistress, Jenet ascended with Lady Garia so I do not foresee any great difficulty. We may both be winded when we reach the top but that is all."

"Oh. As you say."

Milsy grabbed the open rungs of the steep staircase and began to climb, discovering that it was similar to some of the stepladders the castle servants used for cleaning. This one was steep but strips of iron in the lip of each step assured her feet of grip. The treads were farther apart than she would have preferred but they did not cause her much difficulty. She was pleased to note that her skirt had enough fullness that it did not tighten against her legs as she ascended, and that it was short enough not to catch in her boots.

Behind her she heard Bursila climbing. The small landing where the stair turned eventually appeared and she gained it with relief, the maid joining her a few moments later. Below, she saw Tarvan making his way up the steps, hanging on to the treads as she had done, with Parrel following just behind. Once the Guildmaster joined them she began climbing the second set of steps.

By the time she had reached the third landing she was feeling hot and sticky and wondering whether this was such a good idea after all. Looking up she saw that the next set of steps didn't climb to yet another landing but disappeared through the roof that covered the chamber, ending in an small covered doorway to keep the weather out. Once Parrel had joined them she climbed the final stair to emerge into daylight atop the tower. A guardsman helped her out and she stood aside to permit the others to come out as well.

"Guildmaster Parrel! Welcome again." That was a guildsman wearing a dusty linen apron, presumably a mason, who approached with a nod and an outstretched hand. He continued, "Your men are below, on the scaffolding. Shall I call them up?"

Parrel put out his own hand for the mason to shake. "No, Kornik, let them finish whatever they are doing. There will be time enough to talk later. If I may introduce Craftmaster Tarvan, Electricity Department, and his staff Journeywoman Milsy and her assistant Bursila. I have come up to see the work and it seemed a useful opportunity to bring them up with me, none having ventured here before."

Kornik nodded to all three. "Welcome... colleagues. I was about to say 'brothers' but that is clearly no longer appropriate." He gestured. "As you can see, we are presently installing the lightning rods which the Guildmistress tells us will save the High Tower from damage in future. Those on the North-east and South-east sides are complete, apart from some work on the grounding rods below. We are presently setting in the ironwork on the South-west side, should you desire to view our activities more closely."

"Thank you, Kornik," Parrel replied for the party. "I may do that shortly. Milsy, have you yet any questions?"

She had gotten her breath back so asked, "These seem like a big expenditure to make, Master Parrel, for something that happens but a few times a year. Is it really worth the effort?"

"Indeed it is! During the last rains, Milsy, the tower was struck seven times by lightning and the masons are only now completing repairs to the damage to the stonework. I would also add that stones which are dislodged by strikes can also cause considerable damage to the roofs of the palace buildings, should they fall in the wrong place. I must admit that the initial installation of the rods will cost His Majesty some significant coin, but the amount saved in continual repairs will surpass that in but a year or so."

"Journeywoman," Kornik began.

"Just Milsy, by your leave. I know the custom."

"As you wish, Milsy. We have only installed rods on two sides so far, as I said, but they have already saved the tower during that recent storm. Two of the five rods that you can see were hit, one being completely destroyed while the other was partially melted. The stonework, however, and the scaffolding presently around the tower survived completely untouched. If the rods had not taken the strike then likely the stonework would have been destroyed yet again and in addition all our scaffolding would have been burned away."

Even Parrel was impressed. "Is that so? Then we have already saved your men some work and His Majesty some coin. Was it easy to replace the rods?"

Kornik shrugged. "Guildmaster, I only cut stone. Since I see five rods surrounding us then the answer is presumably yes, but for details you must needs ask your men who are somewhere below on the scaffolding."

"Very well. Tarvan, Milsy, I assume you will just wish to have a look around to begin with. The space is crowded but there is little chance that you will fall over the edge, as you can see." Parrel waved a hand. "While I climb down the scaffolding to inspect the work, you should enjoy the sights you may see from the tower."

Tarvan bowed his head. "As you wish, Guildmaster."

As Parrel climbed over the south-west wall the three picked their way over the spare wooden scaffolding, several long iron rods and coils of rope to the nearest parapet. Below, in the sunshine, the roofs and courtyards of the palace surrounded them. Milsy could now clearly see the grid-like structure of the old building, the green-tiled roofs protecting the corridors and chambers below from the annual rains while the courtyards provided much-needed light and fresh air to the inhabitants.

The direction they had chosen was the north-east side, facing the rear of the palace, and she could look down and view the training field with men practising archery and the other arts of war. Around the edge of the field was a high stone wall which had an inner walkway just wide enough for two guardsmen to pass. Her eye followed this around until it disappeared behind the armory on the left side and the stables and barracks on the right. Beyond, the streets of the Old City spread out in what appeared to be a confused jumble, although she knew by now that at street level it was actually more organized.

"What do you think?"

"It's about what I expected," Milsy replied to Tarvan. "From up here you can get a good idea of the real size of the palace, though. When we're walking along the corridors you have no idea of scale."

"As you say. I believe it all started completely within the walls of the old fort but soon outgrew those confines. Shall we try another side?"

Milsy went right, past a guardsman who was examining something in the distance through a long telescope. He paid the visitors no attention at all. On the south-east side, the new lightning rods stood about two and a half strides above the edge of the parapet, apparently ready for action. Milsy went to the corner and leaned over, but her view was partially obstructed by the scaffolding and walkways that the masons had erected.

"That's a pity. I wanted to look straight down, to see how these rods worked."

"That is straightforward enough, Milsy. Each rod is held by, let me see..."

Tarvan cast round and saw a rough sack near the rods they had stepped over before. He went to it and pulled out a wrought iron fitting, returning to hand it to Milsy to inspect. It was an iron ring on a stem, with a widened flange at the other end of the stem.

"The masons make a hole in the stone big enough to sink this in," he explained, "then they fill it in all around with mortar so that it is held fast. The rods simply drop through these rings and into a socket at the bottom."

"A socket?" She frowned. "Wouldn't that fill up with water the moment it rains? And rain is when you get most lightning, I recall."

Tarvan had a matching frown. "That is so. I do not know if there is provision for the water to drain or mayhap there is some other means of preventing water to enter the socket. If water does get in, then it will of course rust in time."

"The idea of the socket, then, is that the rods can be replaced easily when they become damaged. What is below the socket? More iron?"

Tarvan shook his head. "No, all of the sockets are welded to an iron band which runs right round the tower, like those bands we saw around the water tank. From that band a rope of copper wires descends which the masons have stapled to the walls. At the bottom, well, there is argument. Some say that it is folly to put copper into the ground since it will corrode quickly. Others say that all metals will corrode in time so whatever is chosen will make little difference. Like the rods up here, they expect the grounding rods to be replaced as often as these will be."

"An interesting problem, I deem."

"Aye. And the works below are complicated by the foundations for the tower, which spread wide to take the great weight of stone. Lady Garia tells us that the safest way for a lightning conductor to function is to make as straight a route as possible from rod to soil but for many reasons we may not do that here. Only on the north-east side are the tower walls not joined to corridors or chambers in the palace below."

Milsy was frustrated. "I would see better if all this scaffolding was not here. If we may return again, once the rods have been placed and the guildsmen departed?"

"Aye, of course. You will want to come by day again, I deem, though I am told there is a fine view of the sky by night as well."

"I hear enough about the night sky from Gerdas. If I come up here at night I'll only become even more distracted. No thank you, if we can come again I would ask that it be on a day like this."

She gestured at the fine sky which had a few fluffy clouds to break up the monotony.

Tarvan noted, "You did know that there is customarily an awning up here, to protect the watchers from the summer sun and most normal weather? Of course, it is usually taken down for storms or when the masons are working like this. When the lightning struck during the last rains the awnings were destroyed immediately, but normally it provides shelter at all other seasons."

"That's good to know."

Milsy looked down to the side of the palace, noting the cluster of chimneys smoking below them. From the arrangement of the buildings she thought that might be where the kitchens were. Below and just in front the boundary wall came to meet the foot of the High Tower, but to her right the palace buildings resumed, later constructions which took over land in front of the old fortification. The roofs which abutted the stone wall showed up differently since those portions were in effect lean-tos.

Moving further round, to the south-west, Milsy could identify the Receiving Room by its great size and height. Surrounding it were offices she knew were occupied by tax and legal staff who worked there by day and returned to their homes in the city at night. Large as the palace was, it could not provide accommodation for all who worked there.

There was a ladder here, roped to the scaffolding beyond the parapet, and she looked over cautiously to see what was going on. Below, on a platform about four strides lower down, Parrel was speaking to two other men, all using expansive arm gestures to help whatever they were describing. Some of the support rings could be seen sticking out of the wall, as could the iron band which went all the way round. The discussion apparently centered on some feature of the iron band.

On the fourth side, the north-west, Milsy was faced with another tower, that of the Great Clock. This was lower than the High Tower but still much taller than most of the other palace buildings. She noticed that scaffolding was being erected around that tower as well.

"What's happening there, Tarvan?"

"After the masons have finished here they will move over there to add lightning rods to the Great Clock Tower," he explained. "Although this one takes most of the lightning strikes, any high point may also receive them and that is the next highest. In fact, Lady Garia told me that during the last rains the roofs of the palace took several strikes as well as those that happened on the towers. There is a plan to eventually provide lightning rods at every high point in the palace and wherever two corridors cross."

"So many? I thought lightning always chose the shortest path to the ground, thus, we would be safe once this tower was finished."

Tarvan shrugged. "That may be so, but Lady Garia was not certain exactly how it all worked so we are being extra cautious. There is apparently another effect, which is that we can use the lightning rods to drain the charge from the clouds as they pass above us. I have no idea how that works. The more rods, the faster the charge can be drained, so I was told, thus preventing the lightning from forming."

Milsy considered this. "Oh. So if we do that, there would be less strikes, then?"

"Aye, that is what should happen. Only time will tell if we have done this right."

"What about the rest of the city?" Milsy gestured beyond the palace complex. "Do they have to do this as well?"

"Oh, aye, of course. If the only result of these works was that the palace was no longer struck but buildings in the city were instead, I doubt not that the local folk might be unhappy with His Majesty! For this to work, all must install lightning rods and the Crown will provide for part of the cost, so I am told. We should be ready by the next season of rains, I believe."

"I look forward to the experience with interest. Of course, in the castle we had different concerns, though the King's Tower is known to attract lightning." She cocked her head. "Does the palace flood?"

"Not any longer. The Chivan drains run under all the palace courtyards and keep the water out of the buildings completely."

"I'm relieved to hear that! I didn't fancy paddling around the corridors for two months."

"Heh. We get the labris coming up out of the flooded drains instead. There are special parties arranged to go round the lower corridors and kill any that they see."

"Ooh! Do you think any can get into the Laboratory?"

"I have no idea. Perhaps the palace guildsmen can tell us."

Milsy noticed a strange construction further out in the city and pointed. "What's that? More scaffolding?"

Tarvan chuckled. "Indeed not, Milsy! Those are the four towers of the Central Semaphore Station for the city. I believe that they are substantially finished, but until some of the other towers are also completed it can serve little purpose except as a place to train the operators." He spotted something in the distance to the west and pointed. "Look yonder! There lies the next station west, along the road to Brikant. Once the chain is complete we shall have word from Brikant in as little time as a bell."

She shaded her eyes to follow his finger. "Oh, I see. You did talk about the semaphore system a while ago but because it has no electrical parts we have not become involved, is that right?" She turned to him. "Will we be involved in the future?"

"Well, the system does not require us to make anything, I deem, but what you really ask is what may come next? Lady Garia says that eventually all the stations will be connected by wire and the towers will no longer be needed." He shrugged. "We have been told not to investigate that project yet, to let the semaphore... network... be commissioned and everyone become comfortable with its use. To change everything so soon would waste coin and annoy many people the length and width of Palarand."

"As you say." She turned back to the central station and frowned. "That looks funny. Why are the towers, if that is what they are, positioned like that? Why do they need four of them?"

"It was decided to have one tower for each direction we desire to send messages, Milsy, and that essentially means along the main routes out of the city. Thus, we have one facing each main highway north, south, east and west. If you will consider, each tower must needs send messages as well as receive them, therefore the towers are offset so that the arms may be seen from the next tower in each direction without confusion."

"Ah! Now I understand. From a distance the man, who presumably has a telescope? Aye? He would see a jumble of masts and not be able to pick out which tower is his."

Below them, men from around the corner appeared on the scaffolding planks and began doing something to the iron band at the corners of the building. After a few moments Milsy decided that they were dismantling it, since it seemed to be made from four strips of iron joined by flanges at the tower corners. She turned to see Parrel climbing back over the parapet.

He smiled. "Enjoy the view?"

"Aye, Master Parrel," she replied. "It has been most interesting. If I may ask, what are those men below doing?"

Parrel joined Milsy and Tarvan, leaning over to see what she was talking about.

"Oh! They are removing the band so that the other sockets may be welded on. As you may well imagine, we cannot yet bring all those batteries up on the scaffolding, it would be dangerous to all. It is therefore necessary, once the positions have been marked, to take the section down to the ground to do the welding."

Milsy frowned. "But... surely... you can simply run a cable up to the welding place? You need only one, since you already have a thick cable of copper running up, and that is already fixed to the piece you desire to weld!"

Parrel looked at Tarvan. "I don't know how she does it," he said. "We have puzzled over this problem for many days and did not see the obvious. Milsy, you are of course right, and I shall direct that the fourth side should be welded in that manner. For now, since the iron is already half removed, we will weld in the original way."

He walked back to the south-west side and held a conversation with those still below before returning to join them.

"There! That is done. Have you any more questions, now that you have seen what the palace looks like from above?"

"Um, if I may come up here again when the scaffolding is removed, Master Parrel. Although I can see much, much also remains hidden."

"Aye, I have no problem with you coming here again. You had best enquire of Captain Merek when would be a suitable time."

Milsy inclined her head. "Thank you, Master Parrel."

"Tarvan? Any comments?"

The young Craftmaster smiled. "You know me, Master Parrel. If there are questions I will doubtless think of them later."

"Then let us return below again. We have a coke plant to design."

* * *

"What are you going to do with all that stuff which comes out of the pipe?" Milsy asked. "Garia called it... gas?"

Parrel nodded. "That's right, although I am told that it is better described as a mixture of gases and vapors. It seems that everything in the air around us," he waved his hand around, "is also gas but that word can mean many things, just as metal or liquid may mean many things."

"Of course." Milsy nodded. "I remember now, the experiments Tarvan showed me when I first came to the palace, where he split water using electricity. This gas is something like that, then?" Her brow furrowed. "Vapor... you mean, like steam is? Sort of in the air but not dissolved in it?"

"Aye, somewhat like," Tarvan replied. "I did one or two experiments before you arrived and it seems to leave a sticky residue behind. We need to know more, but that must needs wait until Lady Garia returns from the north."

"To answer your original question," Parrel added, "the gas will burn and it seems that use may be made of it in any way that other fuels can be used. For example, we may heat with it or make light. There is an added bonus which is that, like electricity, it can be produced somewhere away from where it is to be used and brought there by a pipe. That alone has caused interest in several guilds. Glass-making, for one, may benefit from such a flame."

"What you are saying, then, is that instead of burning one fuel, we can heat it and obtain two others. Is that right, Master Parrel?"

"Aye, Milsy." He grinned. "It seems that it may even be possible to use the gas for heating the coal in the first place. Once we get the process started, it can provide its own fuel, it seems."

"Would you like to see it working?" Tarvan asked. "We have a few lumps of coal left over from our experiments and we can set up our... retort, as Lady Garia named it, in the courtyard behind us. We are told that the gas can be dangerous to breathe in an enclosed space. There should be enough coal to demonstrate the principle."

"Aye, if Master Parrel agrees. Will we have time to do it before the evening meal?"

"Of course," Parrel agreed. "We may leave the retort to cool down while we eat, I deem. Let us go and find the required materials."

It did not take long for the four to carry the various items required outside to the paved courtyard on the opposite side from the Family Dining Room. Parrel thought it best to use that side to avoid both being distracted and being a distraction to those who would later that afternoon set out the room for the next meal.

A simple iron frame had been made to support the retort and the round-ended tank placed securely on it. The inside had been filled with several large lumps of coal while others went into a deep metal tray which slid underneath. Milsy could see the resemblance to a steam engine but knew the results would be completely different. Tarvan fitted the end cap and knocked home the metal wedges which held it in place.

"Hmm. Master Parrel, we will need something which is... better sealed, I deem, for our full size retort, else the gas escapes and will be wasted."

"A good thought, Tarvan. It may inform our design."

"We are ready, then. If you would light the kindling beneath, Bursila, to start the fire."

They stood back and watched as the coal caught light and began to burn, making comments about how such matters would be arranged in the final device. The fire was encouraged with some bellows. Soon there came a whistling from the stub pipe at the other end of the enclosed tank.

"Milsy," Tarvan pointed, "that is the gas escaping from the coal and presently just being lost to the air. If I take a piece of kindling and light it below, I can apply the flame to the end of the pipe like so."

Tarvan lit the gas stream and a smoky yellow flame appeared at the end of the pipe.

She walked round the apparatus and examined the flickering flame. Although there was enough pressure to force the gas out, the flame looked like that of a badly trimmed lamp.

"Is it supposed to look like that? I would get told off if I left a lamp in that state."

Parrel shrugged. "This is just an experiment, Milsy, and the gas is essentially raw. In the final product, if we desire to collect the gas and use it for heating and lighting, doubtless we will need to clean it up somehow. For now, it is merely a byproduct of coke production, which is the more important concern to us for making steel."

"As you say, Master Parrel."

Tarvan suggested, "It may benefit from more air, Milsy. Some lamps have an adjustable slot to allow more air to enter at the base."

"Hmm."

Milsy stood deep in thought for a moment and then went into the laboratory, emerging almost immediately with a writing reed in her hand.

"Let's see if this will make a difference."

She bent and, with one end between her lips and the other end just inside the flame, she gently blew. A small jet of bluish flame came out the other side. The reed immediately caught fire so she withdrew it and stood, blowing out the charred reed end.

"Is that what you meant?"

"Well, aye, it was, but I didn't think something like that would work." Tarvan frowned. "I don't see that we could use reeds to improve the flame, Milsy."

"I've done things like that in Dekarran, trying to get debris out of the bottom of lamps. So, if that worked, let's try something else."

She grinned at him and returned inside the laboratory. This time the delay was longer before she returned, a length of thin copper pipe in her hand.

She smiled. "I remembered that you had some pipe left over when you made that strange cold box," she explained. "I think copper will work for an experiment but it will really need steel like the rest of the apparatus."

Repeating her earlier experiment, she blew a small blue flame out of the side of the yellow exhaust flame, although it was less well defined than the earlier attempt since the pipe was wider. She stood.

"Master Parrel, how long is this likely to give us gas? Is there time for me to try something? I need to make the hole smaller."

Parrel shrugged. "I have no idea, Milsy. Just go and do what you need to and mayhap the flame will still be here when you return."

Milsy went inside and almost completely flattened one end of the pipe with a hammer, leaving just a narrow slit. Then, taking pincers that were used for cutting lengths of wire, she nipped the sides of the slit to leave just a small hole in the middle. Skipping outside she showed her work to Tarvan.

"That looks interesting. Go on, show us what it will do."

With a tiny hole for the air to go through, it took a lot more effort to blow but produced an impressive flame.

"I like that," Parrel remarked. "It looks a lot hotter too. What made you think of doing that?"

"I reasoned that what was needed was a good mixture of gas and air, Master Parrel. Like any flame, it must have air. I think the yellowness of the flame shows that the gas isn't being burned properly. When that happens with an ordinary lamp you get deposits on the glass chimneys and then the glass has to be cleaned. It occurred to me that we could use a similar method to the injectors on the steam engines, that allow water to be added to the boiler. The mixing isn't the same, of course, but I think the result will be more useful to us."

"As you say!" Parrel was impressed. "I would never have made the connection with a water injector and a device to mix air into gas. You are suggesting that we use the flow of gas to draw air into the... lamp, or burner, or whatever... in the manner of an oil lamp?"

"I think that is what I had in mind, Master Parrel. Only, here we deal with gas, not... liquid, so the device must needs be differently shaped. Hmm." Her eyes unfocused briefly. "Perhaps I may use the injector design as a basis?"

"Master," Tarvan offered. "If we had some means of making flexible pipe for the gas to travel within, we could take our blue flame to the workpiece instead of having forges, just as we may now use wires to weld wherever we have need."

Parrel raised an eyebrow. "Do you seek to make all our forges redundant, Tarvan?"

"Oh, no, Master Parrel. I doubt that will ever happen. Even Lady Garia says that such methods of working iron and other metals still exist in Kansas, despite all the other ways they have of doing things. However, I can see a certain convenience to having such a flame at a workbench, especially for such as Fulvin who works with small parts and precious metals."

Parrel nodded. "Very well. Another task for you two, then, or perhaps two tasks. Using gas as a fuel, seek practical ways of using it for heating, which means domestic heating, cooking and use by metalsmiths and others, and of using gas for lighting. Your injector method may be more useful for lighting, I deem, but assuming we can provide a supply of gas to our mansions and other buildings, we will have lamps that should never run out, should we?"

Tarvan looked doubtful. "With that blue flame, Master? I'm not sure that would light a chamber very well but," he shrugged, "that is what our experiments will reveal, will they not? If I may ask, have we finished here? I will withdraw the firebox if so and we may go inside to ready ourselves for the evening meal."

Parrel looked at Milsy. "Milsy? Any other thoughts?"

She smiled. "I think we have each suggested enough for one day, Master Parrel. Aye, let us go inside."

* * *

Parrel stayed for the evening meal so he nodded appreciatively when Milsy appeared in the dining room on Tarvan's arm in a demure evening gown.

"Mistress Milsy!" He bowed. "It is interesting to see that you may appear as seasoned guildswoman one moment and delightful lady of the court the next."

Milsy dimpled and gave him a curtsey. "We women have many talents, Guildmaster. Of course, it helps when we have the run of the Palace Wardrobe, as you may imagine."

Parrel smiled. "As you say. I dare say that if you had not found Tarvan on your arrival here there would be a line of young men willing to provide you favors."

"Aye, Guildmaster," Tarvan acknowledged, "I am an extremely lucky man." He looked at Parrel with interest. "Ah, is there some meeting arranged for this evening? I have not been informed of any."

Parrel gave a smile which told of secrets. "There is no meeting that I am aware of, Tarvan. However, just before I was due to depart a package arrived at the palace which concerns me - and it also concerns you and Milsy. I have asked the King if I may remain to explain all and he has agreed."

"I am intrigued, Master Parrel, and I have no doubt that Milsy is too."

Robanar arrived and after the usual show of respect from those in the dining room he strode over to them.

"Parrel? You, Milsy and Tarvan shall conduct your business in my parlor this night." He beamed at Milsy. "Doubtless what is to happen will become commonplace but for now, it is right that we take note of such events." He saw the expression of alarm on Milsy's face. "Do not concern yourself, my dear. Nothing unpleasant will happen tonight."

Try as she might, Milsy could not get another word out of anybody the whole length of the meal. Afterwards, slightly annoyed that the men obviously knew what was going on but were not prepared to let her into the secret, she followed Robanar, Terys, Parrel and Tarvan along the corridor to the parlor.

At least the Queen doesn't know either and she is also annoyed that the men are behaving in this way.

Once they had all taken seats, Robanar picked up a bulky packet and handed it to Parrel, who began unwrapping it. Inside was a scroll and a soft leather pouch.

"Milsy," he began, "Journeywoman Milsy. I am doing this because you are a Journeywoman of the Metalsmiths' Guild, and by custom it is the Guildmaster of each guild who presents awards of the greater ranks to members of that guild. The proposal made recently by Guildmaster Bayorn of the Clockmakers' Guild, and seconded by Laikin of the Cabinetmakers' Guild, has been approved by the Council of Guildmasters and thus you are hereby granted Guildswoman status as a Metalsmith, in the Department of Electricity. You have my congratulations!"

They both stood and he handed her the scroll. She untied the blue silk ribbon and opened it to read her very own charter as member of a Guild of Palarand. The words blurred as she read the ancient formula which gave her certain rights and abilities.

"Thank you, Guildmaster," she stammered. "I did not expect this, not as soon as this."

Terys said, "It was inevitable, dear. You have astonished us all with your insights and ideas and you have proved that you know at least as much as any guildsman. We consider that you will be but the first of many women to travel the path you are making."

Her eyes filled up and she felt foolish, standing there in front of the King. A nudge on her arm and there was Bursila with a cloth to dry her face.

"Sire, I am quite overcome. So much has happened to me in such a short space of time. I am still not convinced that I deserve any of it."

Robanar beamed at her. "Nonsense, my dear! Though you do not possess knowledge from Earth in the way that Garia does, and you have not her martial bent, you have shown that someone born in humble circumstances may yet hold abilities useful to themselves and their fellows. We would be remiss if we did not reward those things you have already done for Palarand and it is fitting that you will in time become an example for others to follow. If I may add our own congratulations, my dear."

"Thank you, Sire."

Parrel then held out the pouch, shaking the contents onto one palm.

"For your new rank, it is of course necessary to provide a new badge. If you would permit me to pin it onto your gown."

He did so, with the comment, "It is customary for guildsmen to retain their old badges of rank. No other may use them as they display their own register number. Your number is of course two, Guildmistress Garia being number one."

"Thank you again, Guildmaster."

Milsy curtseyed and then returned to her seat.

This must be how Garia feels. She told me that she considers herself to be ordinary but the King and Queen obviously think otherwise.

How do I keep up the standard of what I have begun? Maybe Garia has that problem too.

It makes no difference to what I am able to do now, does it? The work Tarvan and I have started must be continued as before. Apart from Bursila there is no other who can do any of it.

I'm looking forward to the future, though. There must be so many more interesting things we can do!



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