What Milsy Did -21-

Milsy and Tarvan complete the wiring of the first two clocks helped by some of the other palace guildsmen. Startling and alarming news is heard from afar which upsets the King and Queen, causing consequences which include Milsy having to find somewhere else to live. Finally, the new clocks are started, fascinating both servants and royals!

What Milsy Did

by Penny Lane

21 - A Disturbing Report


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 lowered her arm and winced. The act of holding it up for a period of time while balancing at the top of a step-ladder made the muscles ache. In addition, the earlier sunsets as winter neared meant that, despite the best lanterns the palace could provide, it was becoming difficult to see what she was doing and her eyes hurt.

"That's it, Tarvan," she decided. "It is too dark to do any more this evening, I deem. I'm coming down."

"But you have finished, have you not?" he responded. "What else is there to do up there?"

"You're right," she agreed, looking at the apparent tangle of wires. "I have just fixed the last wire which means that we should be ready to try and start it again. The cover needs to be replaced on the box, that's all."

"I can do that, Milsy," Bassen said. "I agree that it may yet be too dark for you, indeed for anyone, to see enough to screw down your wires but fitting the cover to the connection box is a simpler matter. If you would descend, I will attend to that while you tidy your tools away." He grinned. "While I may yet hear the palace bells I deem that you must needs return to your chambers presently and prepare for the evening meal." He added, "We rude craftsmen are permitted to take our meals clothed as we are, I know that the King and Queen will desire you to don gentler attire."

"But -"

"He's right, you know," Tarvan said. "I know you wanted to get the clocks going today but we have no time now - at least, you have no time left today. We've spent all afternoon up stepladders and I, for one, will be happy for a short soak before eating. I know that you and Bursila will take longer getting dressed..."

"Very well, Tarvan."

Milsy was not happy that they would have to wait until tomorrow morning to start the clock but she could see his point. In truth, several parts of her ached from the unaccustomed activity of the day. If she and Bursila could get in the tub and soak for a while, it would make a big difference. It would also mean that they could come to their problem tomorrow morning fresh and ready to tackle whatever new and unexpected wrinkle presented itself.

"We'll go. Thank you, Bassen. This probably isn't what you are used to doing with your time but you've been a great help. Even with all of us working together it has been a complicated job running these wires."

"As you say, Milsy. If it is true that more of these clocks are to be fitted around the palace I deem you will require more assistants in future but for now I am happy to help. After all, this is a new experience for all of us, is it not? Until the first one is installed, no-one has known what to expect."

"Aye," Tarvan agreed. "I hope that we have learned enough today that future clocks will be easier to install. Bassen, my thanks also. Let us clear our tools from the corridor while you screw the lid on the box. Then I suggest we can all go and clean ourselves up."

* * *

"Feeling better?" Tarvan smiled at Milsy as she joined him in the Family Dining Room.

"Yes, thank you. A good soak was definitely what we needed, wasn't it, Bursila? I never realized just how much my arms would hurt holding up nothing but a wire and a screwdriver. The backs of my legs were little better, having to balance on those step-ladders."

"It is partly because you have done little work of that kind before," Tarvan explained. "As with most things, after a while your body becomes used to it. Were there not tasks you had to do in the kitchens which made you ache at first?"

"Aye, that is true, now I think of it. I remember how my fingers ached when I first started to write! However, working on a bench is one thing, working in the corridors and chambers of the palace altogether different, I deem. I never before realized what the guildsmen had to put up with."

"Aye. Of course, most of the palace is very old and that can make matters worse. Since I began residing here I have learned much from the palace guildsmen. For example -"

After a while Robanar and Terys arrived and the whole room made for their seats. Since the newly mounted repeater clock was clearly visible to all above the doorway, Robanar invited them to sit opposite him during the meal.

"Your clock looks fine, my dear," Robanar said to Milsy. "Yet, it seems to me that it does not show us what bell it presently is, nor does any of it move. Have you not yet connected it up, then?"

Milsy reddened. "Sire, it is connected, aye, but we have finished too late this evening to set the right time and start it. There was... an accident... earlier today which meant that we had to replace much of the wire. It seems that our original design did not take into account certain matters and some of the wires touched. When we turned it on... um, let me just say that we won't be doing it that way again."

"Sire," Tarvan added, "we have completed the rewiring and will be ready to test it in the morning. If all happens as it should the clock should be showing the correct time when you come to take your lunch tomorrow."

Robanar nodded. "Then I look forward to the experience. As for the appearance of the clock, I think I approve. I was concerned that the... case? cabinet? What would you call that?"

"Either will do, Sire. We are re-using words for new purposes and it will take us all time to become familiar with what they may now mean. You were saying, Sire."

"Aye. I was concerned that we would find it difficult to discover the time through the ornamentation, young Tarvan. I have seen that little clock which the Clockmakers originally sent to you and I must say that I think I am in favor of less fuss than they provided. This design, although plain, shows us what we need to see. We must remember that it is not a work of art which is only there to be admired but a machine, even so, it blends in well with the paneling of the walls, do you not agree?"

"I do, Sire. We consulted with many in the palace to determine the best way of presenting such a device. Save for the indicator boards in the servants' quarters, there is little else in the palace which is similar so we had to consider how to show the time clearly yet not be offensive to the eye."

"Good. Such a device as this has never before been seen in Palarand, in Alaesia even. Most who see our clocks will seek to imitate them, I deem, thus we must make sure that they provide a good impression to the stranger. I look forward to lunch tomorrow, then."

"Thank you, Sire."

At the end of the meal a small incident occurred which meant little to any of those at the tables yet would have significant consequences. A palace Messenger entered holding a package and spoke to Kendar, who took it and put it to one side. When everyone rose at the end of the meal, Kendar brought the packet to Robanar, who was standing admiring the clock together with Terys and Merek. Upon hearing his words, the four then rapidly departed from the room.

"Hmm! I don't know if that was good news or bad," Tarvan remarked. "Doubtless we will find out, should it be important. What do you wish to do this evening, then?"

"Actually, we've had a busy day today. Why don't we just sit somewhere and talk? I could think of many excuses to go to the laboratory or even to the study but I think I want to be doing something different this evening. And I would rather not be standing while doing it. What say you?"

"Agreed. Where shall we go? Your sitting room? Morlan's sitting room? One of the courtyards, if it is not too cool?"

"I don't mind, Tarvan, just as long as we can talk... you know, the way everyone else talks."

Tarvan smiled. "What's this? Your brain finally tired of thinking up new devices and ideas?"

"Not at all! It's just that it seems that is all I do these days, Tarvan, and sometimes I just want to do something... normal, you know?"

"Very well. If I may suggest..."

~o~O~o~

The next morning Milsy and Bursila made their usual way down to the Family Dining Room. Milsy had discovered a drawback to her new work suit, which was that it was not really suitable for wear to the meal table. Thus, if she wanted to put it on after rising she would have to eat in her suite, the alternative being to wear a day gown to breakfast and change afterwards. She had been annoyed when she had first realized this.

Today there seemed to be fewer people about, though that was not unusual given the wide range of activities which went on inside the palace. She glanced up at the clock, wondering if she was earlier than usual, but then remembered that it hadn't been switched on yet.

Perhaps I can go to the laboratory and work dressed like this? It's only just there, after all.

It isn't as if I'm going to get dirty today, is it? Turn a switch to connect the battery, push some press switches to set the time right and...

Don't be silly. Remember what happened yesterday? You expected none of that, either, and look what happened! Best be prepared for anything and then you won't risk damaging your day gown.

She sighed and linked her fingers, tapping her foot while she waited for Tarvan to arrive.

"Something is the matter, Mistress?"

"Oh, nothing, Bursila. Just wondering where everyone is."

"I could not say what keeps Their Majesties but Master Tarvan approaches, Mistress."

He walked across to her with an eyebrow raised. "What, no fancy suit today?"

"I'm not sure that I should wear such attire to the King's table, Tarvan. And good-morning to you, too."

He smiled and made a small bow. "Good morning to you, Milsy. Aye, perhaps you have a point, though I remember that both His Highness and Lady Garia attended breakfast attired for exercise with the guard. I even remember Lady Garia attending in her riding outfit once or twice, once she was permitted to ride. Perhaps we must needs ask Kendar what the protocol is for such matters. Your work suit is novel, perhaps that may be deemed acceptable."

Milsy snorted. "It may look acceptable now, Tarvan, but once it has been worn a while and gotten scratched and splashed with who-knows-what, it would be as bad as a mason attending the King in his apron. No, I think that it had best be kept away from such places as this."

"Except, of course, while you are installing clocks."

"You know what I mean! At meal times. Oh, look, here is the Queen. Maker! What has happened?"

Terys stopped in the doorway, noticed the absence of Kendar and raised a hand. All conversation in the room stopped and everybody made obeisance to her.

"The King does not attend breakfast today, he has a serious matter to resolve. Please be seated."

She noticed Tarvan and Milsy and walked across to join them. Although she was as immaculately attired as usual, her expression was that of worry and there were definite rings under her eyes.

"Ma'am? What has happened?"

Terys gave a small, brief smile. "I will tell you later, if I may. For now, if you would join me. I am in need of the company of Garia's friends."

Oh, no! This has to be bad. I have never seen the Queen like this before.

The meal was subdued as everyone picked up the mood of the Queen. Something obviously had happened and doubtless the rumors were already flying. For now, Milsy didn't attempt to pry but chose other topics of conversation. With a little gentle prompting she made sure that Terys didn't ignore the food that was put in front of her, prompting that caused the Queen to smile briefly when she understood what the younger woman was doing.

"Forgive me, dear, I know that you mean well. I have much on my mind but you are right to make sure that I properly break my fast. In the next few days we may require all the sustenance we can eat."

"Ma'am, I'm sure that you and the King have an answer to whatever has happened. We think only of your welfare, as you think of ours."

Terys gave Milsy a sad smile. "As you say, dear, but..." She shook her head. "Later, dear. I will not say anything at table, though doubtless the whole palace will know by lunch time."

When the Queen rose, naturally everybody else did as well, but of course Terys made sure that all had eaten their meals before she stood. She turned to Milsy.

"If you and Tarvan would join me in my sitting room, please. I will not keep you long. You have a clock to... get working? What word should I use, dear?"

"Um, Ma'am, in this case we will be switching it on, I think, but you could also say that we were starting it, I suppose. This is all new to us as well."

"As you say. Tarvan? Are you ready?"

"Aye, Ma'am."

Milsy, Tarvan and Bursila, with the inevitable guardsmen in tow, followed Terys and her two maids through the corridors and upstairs to the sitting room. Making themselves comfortable, they bent forward to listen to the Queen, who was still uncharacteristically disturbed.

"My dears," she began, "yesterday we received a letter from Blackstone, sent by both Prince Keren and by Lady Garia."

Milsy nodded. "That was the letter that arrived yesterday, was it not, at the end of the evening meal? I thought that it might be important." She paused, considering. "Something has happened, hasn't it? But... if both Keren and Garia signed it, they must be safe, surely?"

Terys sighed and suddenly looked much older. "Aye, they are both safe, as are most of their party. But... they have faced an ordeal I can barely imagine, an ordeal I do not want to imagine. As Garia desired, she took a small party from the town to explore Blackstone Vale, that she might discover the limits of the lands granted her and learn what she would be responsible for. Keren went with her, as did Jenet, Feteran, six armsmen and two local men as guides. They made camp at the far end of the vale and spent a peaceful night."

She closed her eyes, trying to picture what might have happened all those marks away. "In the morning the camp was attacked by an armed band of perhaps twelve to fourteen men. Their words in the letter were very carefully chosen, against interception by others, but it seems that the attackers were not simple bandits, like those they faced when they first arrived at the town, but a more organized group who... carried arms of a kind not seen before in Palarand. At least, that is how the King interprets their words. Guardsman Thoran was killed outright by such a weapon and others injured, though it seems that none who survived were so seriously injured that they could not ride.

"Now, by chance, Keren, Garia, Jenet and Feteran were not in the camp when the attack happened, but down at the stream which feeds the vale. They hid, but were seen and chased by some six of the attackers. Finding shelter among some large stones, Keren and Feteran faced their enemy with their swords, knowing that the odds were not in their favor."

Tarvan asked intently, "Did not Lady Garia have her swords with her? That would have made the odds three against six, I deem."

Terys shook her head. "She did not. It was early in the morning, they had barely finished breaking their fast when the attack happened. In any event, Keren and Feteran did not need to use their swords, since... a ptuvil... landed among their attackers and killed them all."

Both Milsy and Tarvan gasped with shock. To see such a monster flying high above was bad enough, to have one close at hand was unthinkable!

"How, then, did anyone survive?" Milsy breathed.

"I do not know, dear. From the letter it seems that Keren and Garia decided the creature had obtained sufficient food for itself that it need not cast about for more. It took two of those it had killed and departed, whereupon Keren, Garia, Feteran and Jenet took their chance and returned to the others. By that time the fight had ended and the only task left was attending to the wounded and catching all the frayen, who had been scattered by the battle and the appearance of the beast."

Tarvan whistled. "Maker! It would seem that adventure finds Lady Garia wherever she may be! What happened then, Ma'am? Did they depart immediately, to return to the town and safety?"

Terys shook her head. "It seems not. It took some time to tend to the wounded and they were afraid that the beast might return as they made their way back, finding them easy prey. They may have been right, since some time later, perhaps several bells, the ptuvil returned with its mate and collected the bodies of the remaining four attackers. Only after that had happened did they begin the journey back to the town."

Milsy asked, "The Prince and Lady Garia are safe, Ma'am?"

"Physically, dear, they are, if the letter is to be believed. Of course, such a close encounter with such a beast... I spent a poor night thinking about it. I doubt not the fright will stay with them all for the rest of their lives."

"As you say, Ma'am! We are hundreds of marks away but I feel a little fear myself, just from hearing you recount the matter. I cannot imagine what they may be feeling."

"Just so, dear. They are such terrifying beasts that -" Terys stopped and closed her eyes.

"Ma'am? I understand a mother's fears for her son. If you need someone to talk to, we are always at your service."

"Thank you, dear. You are most kind. Sometimes us older folk have fears that the young do not. Just like Garia, you are thinking of others."

"And the King, Ma'am?"

"Is naturally anxious for the safety of his son and heir, dear." Terys gave the two a sidelong glance. "There are other implications, you should know, because of the attack. It would seem that there was a traitor in their ranks, someone who traveled with them as part of their original company who yet informed others that they would be most vulnerable on such a journey. One of the Dekarran wagonmen, who was killed during the battle on the main camp."

Milsy gasped again. "Do you have a name, Ma'am? I might know of him."

"I do not, dear. As I said, the letter was very carefully worded against others reading it so much has been left untold. Doubtless we will learn more when they return to the palace." The Queen shifted in her seat. "The King is also very angry, you must know. The attack is proof that the attempts against Garia - since we assume that this is but another - are more organized than we had realized. We must now assume that another country is behind all this, even if we cannot yet name Yod with certainty.

"The King has written a decree commanding that Keren and Garia return to the palace immediately, and with as strong an escort as can be provided along the way. For additional protection, they will reside each night in the residences of Gilbanar's nobles whenever possible. We expect the journey to take no longer than seven or eight days, though we all know that journeys of such length cannot be so easily organized, especially where crossing the Sirrel is concerned."

"As you say, Ma'am," Milsy agreed.

Terys made the first smile they had seen on her that day. "Which raises another point, dear. If Garia is to return, and return soon, then she will desire to return to her own chambers, will she not? That means that I must needs find you some other chambers to call your own. I would warn you, it may not be so well appointed as that of Garia, since those suites were designed for the children of Palarand's Kings and Queens." The smile became humorous. "It would seem, dear, that it might be wise to move you in any event. I have learned that, since you have resided there, the cleaning staff have discovered holes in the sitting room carpet."

"Oh!" Milsy put her hand to her mouth, reddening. "Ma'am, I must apologize! I was doing some experiments one evening with a battery and some coils and splashed a tiny amount of acid. I didn't think it would be enough for anyone to notice."

"Perhaps in Dekarran, dear, they might not have noticed." Terys's tone was dry. "Here, and especially along this corridor, the cleaning staff take their responsibilities seriously. Do not alarm yourself, dear. I am told that the carpet can be repaired easily enough. But, mayhap it would be better if you were found somewhere more... suitable for your activities, let us say, and the obvious place presents itself."

Milsy had visions of being sent off to a dwelling in Pakh Lane. "Ma'am?"

"Why, you should move to the quarters of the place you already spend much of your days within, dear. I speak, of course, of the chambers of the Royal Questor. Brovan, who is the present appointee, prefers his own domain, at least for now, and in the new year the Questors should begin thinking of moving to the new College when it becomes ready. Thus, the chambers will likely remain empty, at least until next spring, I deem. There is no reason you should not reside there until then, if not longer."

"Me, move over there? I never considered... Tarvan, what do you think?"

He nodded. "Aye, I had not thought so far but it makes sense, Milsy. You will be near your workplace and you can experiment whenever you have a new idea." He grinned. "If it stops you from carrying jars of acid about the palace, I believe it will be a good move."

"Looked at that way... Ma'am, it seems that it is not only myself who has good ideas. Aye, I will move, but by your leave, not today. We are ready to start the clock going this morning and I would like to get that working before getting involved with moving my things." She had a sudden thought. "Oh! Of course, my dressing room has a mixture of my own attire and that of Lady Garia. I feel that I must needs be present to ensure that the wrong things are not moved."

"As you say, dear. I would not move you immediately, I think. It will take a day or two for the assignments to be adjusted and to make arrangements for your things to be taken to the Royal Questor's chambers. You have other duties, I would not want to interrupt those."

"Thank you, Ma'am." Milsy cocked her head with a thought. "Ma'am, does Garia's return mean that I will no longer need an escort about the palace?"

"Why, dear, do you find their presence irksome? I believe that some might do."

"Not at all, Ma'am. If anything, I am used to their presence now and it would feel strange to walk the corridors without a man-at-arms beside me. I was just thinking of what might happen when Garia gets here."

"Dear, I deem that the King will say that you will still require an escort, for this reason, that you resemble her so much that others might mistake you for her and cause you harm. Do you not agree?"

"Aye, Ma'am. I had forgotten that." Milsy's brow furrowed, her thoughts elsewhere. "So... Garia will be back here in what, two weeks?"

Tarvan asked, "When was the King's letter sent, Ma'am? This morning?"

"Aye," Terys replied. "A letter has already been dispatched to Blackstone and another to Tranidor, because they are so far away. There are other letters to follow, to Haligo, Teldor and Dekarran, but it will be easier to write those and easier to send. Two weeks? Surely not as long as that."

Tarvan grinned. "Ma'am, I know Garia better than that! Their journey north was with one of Master Tanon's caravans to avoid notice, was it not? Yet, as they return, she will be with the Prince in the middle of a large armed escort. No-one who sees them pass could fail to notice who they are. I deem that Garia will be waylaid at every place they stop, Ma'am. Every guildsman will desire to hear her counsel."

Terys's expression sharpened as she realized what Tarvan was saying.

"Dear, I believe that you are right. We may wish them to fly back overnight but that will not happen, will it? A letter may take five days to reach Tranidor, even one so urgent, and Blackstone is two days travel beyond there. It is unlikely that they would depart the same day that the letter arrives, I deem. Therefore, it could be eight days before they even begin their journey back."

"Aye, Ma'am, and they may not travel so fast as the Messengers do, they have wagons and gear which must needs be returned with them. It may be three weeks before they reach the palace again."

Terys turned to Milsy. "Does that answer you, dear?"

"Aye, Ma'am, it does. I was just thinking, once Garia gets back my plans for the future could be disrupted." She grinned. "It won't be anyone's fault, Ma'am, just the effect of all those people appearing again."

Tarvan asked, "What are you thinking?"

"Oh, mainly the coke works. That would be about the time that is ready to fire for the first time, isn't it?"

"Oh, aye. But we can discuss that afterwards, I deem, we do not need to give the Queen other matters to distract her."

Terys asked cautiously, "Do I need to know what a coke works is, Tarvan?"

He grinned at the Queen. "Not today, Ma'am, and probably not in any detail either. It will be a... works... which will make fuel for the new foundries around the capital."

"Ah, I see."

The door opened and Robanar came in. Tarvan and Milsy stood, bowed and curtseyed as appropriate.

"There you are! Am I interrupting anything important?"

"Not at all, dear. These two young people are comforting me after last night's unpleasant news."

Robanar looked at the two and nodded. "Aye, I see. You have my thanks for your attendance this morning."

"As you say, Sire. If we are needed again, you have only to call."

"We are grateful for your attention, young Tarvan. Are we keeping you from your clocks?"

Tarvan started. "Aye, Sire! I doubt not that the laboratory will be full of guildsmen awaiting our appearance. If you would excuse us?"

Robanar waved a hand. "Aye, of course. We have had a shock, it is true, but the work of the palace must needs continue whatever happens beyond the walls."

"Thank you, Sire."

Tarvan and Milsy left to go next door so that she could change into her inventor suit. Once ready for work, the two hurried through corridors and down stairs to the laboratory. When they reached the great chamber it was, indeed, partially filled with guildsmen. These were all gathered around the master clock, which Yubold was endeavoring to explain to the others.

"Ah! here they are!" he said. They nodded to the others as Yubold continued, "There is something happening within the palace, I deem. We wondered if it had anything to do with you, and if the starting of the clock would thus be delayed."

"It was not us," Milsy replied. "Greetings, all. Our apologies for the delay. Their Majesties have had some... disturbing news overnight and Tarvan and I were called to attend the Queen. We are here now, so we can begin what we intended to do yesterday."

Both Parrel and Bayorn were present and the latter asked, "Disturbing news, you said? May we know or do Their Majesties desire to keep it a secret?"

She answered, "Guildmaster, it is simple enough to tell, though we have only been given the bare details. A band of armed men attacked the Prince and the Baroness as they made camp in the remote parts of her lands. The attack was fought off and the King desires that both should immediately return to the palace. I know little more than that, but I expect that the news will be available throughout the palace by lunchtime, with varying degrees of resemblance to what actually happened."

There were in-drawings of breath from several of those present. Bayorn said, "That is serious news, Mistress! Do you know if any were hurt?"

"The Prince and the Guildmistress are safe, Guildmaster. I understand a Palace Guardsman was killed and several others of their small party injured."

There was a short discussion among those present before the topic turned to the reason for everyone being there, the electric clocks.

"I'll begin at the bottom, if I may," Milsy began. "These two doors are where the batteries are kept. I designed the cabinet so that only one door can be opened at a time, to prevent someone accidentally removing both at once and stopping the clock - which would stop all the clocks, of course. To open either door, one must turn the switch above from vertical to horizontal, like so."

Milsy clasped the handle and turned.

"The two handles are connected, so that once one is turned the other cannot be moved."

She waggled the other handle but it refused to turn.

"I can now open the door and push a battery box inside. These are an idea of Bassen, that both keeps the glass jars safe and prevents the battery from being put in the wrong way round."

The boxes were rectangular, held three jars in a line and completely enclosed the batteries except for two copper contacts on the top, next to a carrying handle. The box ends were shaped so that they could only be inserted one way round. Milsy pushed the box all the way in and closed the door.

"Now, I can turn the switch back to vertical and the battery is connected. You can see that nothing happens yet, that's because of this other handle higher up. With at least one battery installed, I could now start the pendulum if I wanted, but as the clock isn't going yet we can leave that until we're ready. What I can do now the battery is in, is to set the time ready for the clock to start."

She pointed to a large door above the battery switches, the lower half of which had a window made from a sheet of the new float glass. Inside they could all see the pendulum, motionless now.

She turned to her audience with a smile on her face. "Now comes the difficult part, or the interesting part if you are so inclined. We must needs set the correct time on all the clocks. As you can see, this clock is presently set to midnight, as being a known position, but it would be possible to start from anywhere else if you have the bell tables to hand."

Bayorn gestured. "How will having the bell tables help, Mistress? As I recall, they do not concern themselves with the new hours and minutes."

The smile turned into a grin. "They do now, Guildmaster, but even if they did not we can use what is printed. With the aide of the Garian numbers, Questor Gerdas has calculated the hours and minutes for certain bells of the day, just so that the Timekeepers may be sure that everything is correct. The new information is printed in an extra column on their tables."

Bayorn frowned. "How does he do that? I thought that such things could only be determined by observation."

Tarvan said, "Guildmaster, it is relatively easy. All sheets already contain the times of noon and midnight as bell times, do they not? We know that a bell is seventy-two minutes long, therefore it is easy to work backwards or forwards to find out the relationship for any day."

Milsy watched Bayorn's expression change at the light dawned.

"Ah! That is a very clever thing to discover, if I may say so." He turned to Milsy. "If you would continue."

"As you wish, Guildmaster. As I said, this clock is set to midnight, but we must now make sure that any other clocks are set to the same time as this one. Of course, if you are adjusting a running system they all should be. For now, the only other clock is in the Family Dining Room. If you would all follow me."

She led the out through the adjacent door and along the corridor to the dining room. Bayorn looked up at the wall above the door line.

"Is that how you take your electricity from room to room, Mistress?"

"Aye, Guildmaster. With your permission, I thought to explain all once we have gotten the clock started."

"As you wish."

They walked into the dining room and immediately turned to look at the repeater clock above it.

"Since this is a new installation, we decided to set the clock to midnight the same as the master clock. If we... when we add more clocks to the system we will not be able to do that. We needed to work out the best way to make sure that all clocks show the same time once any new ones are connected."

Bayorn nodded thoughtfully. "A good point. I trust you have considered this problem?"

"Aye, Guildmaster, and I think I have found a way that works." She gestured. "Having made sure that all clocks show the same time, we can return to the laboratory."

Back facing the master clock, she opened the door containing the pendulum window. Above, and previously hidden by the door, was a panel showing a hole and several small round objects.

"These are the push switches which set the clocks to different times," she said. "They are seconds, minutes, hours and dawn or dusk. The minute switch moves both left and right dials the correct amount. The hour switch moves only the hour hand on the right dial. The dawn-dusk switch of course only resets the left dial but, since both sides work together, its use is important when setting the whole system. We could set the system from midnight but we can save a little time and effort by using dawn instead. So, Tarvan, what time was dawn today?"

Tarvan lifted a set of sheets from a nearby bench and leafed through them, pulling one out.

"Um, today, dawn occurred at the tenth bell and five-sixths," he read. "Since half of the night bells occur before midnight, I deem that will give us five and eleven-twelfths bells since midnight. That in turn gives us..." He consulted the sheet again. "Seven hours and six minutes, Milsy."

"Very well. So, I need to push the hour switch seven times and then the minute switch six times."

She pushed the hour switch and there was a click every time she pressed the switch. The hour hand moved round as she did so.

"I have to do the hour hand first," she explained, "since moving the minute hand will also move the hour hand - slightly. If I did not do it this way it would make the clock hands look strange. Now I have to move the minute hand."

She pushed the minute button six times before turning to her audience.

"The next thing we must do is to set the left dial to dawn, which will make it correspond to the right dial. Doing this won't change the right dial but will set everything else to the proper place."

She pushed the dawn-dusk switch.

Thunk! Ticka ticka ticka ticka ticka click!

She smiled. "Of course, on the right dial, midnight shows the same as noon, so that makes setting that side easier. If the left side had showed noon, and we wanted a morning time, then I would have had to push that switch twice, to set first dusk and then dawn."

Bayorn nodded. "I understand. So, now you have both the right and left sides set to dawn. I presume that you must now make the clock show the present time."

"As you say, Guildmaster. For the purposes of this experiment, we will use the bells of the Great Clock as a guide, but I know that in time we may decide to use other means. Bursila, what time will the Great Clock strike next?"

"Mistress, I believe that we will shortly hear the third bell. I heard the three-quarter bells as we walked back from the dining room."

"Oh! I'd better hurry up, then. Tarvan, when the third bell sounds, what hours and minutes will that be?"

"Um..." He looked at the sheet again. "Ten hours and forty-two minutes, Milsy."

Milsy turned to the others. "Now, our clock already shows seven hours and six minutes, which is dawn. We have to wind both dials on to the third bell. Because that will take a long time and give the possibility of mistakes, I have designed a way of speeding up the setting of minutes."

She reached inside the cabinet below the motionless pendulum and retrieved a crank handle, fitting this into the hole beside the push buttons.

"This is a cheat," she explained. "Behind here is simply a disc with ten notches cut into it that touches another minute switch. That means that turning the handle round once moves the minute hand by ten minutes."

She wound the handle and they watched the hands on both dials move round, the bell disc clicking on as the part-bell hand below it reached the top each time. When the right dial reached the tenth hour she stopped and turned to her audience again.

"The way this works we can use either the left side to set the clock or the right side. You can see that the right side now shows the tenth hour, so we can continue to adjust our clock to show the precise time by setting the minute hand. Forty-two minutes, Tarvan?"

"Aye, Milsy."

She continued turning the handle, but more slowly. "One... two... three... four. That's forty. Now, it would be possible to turn the handle to do the last two minutes but I think it will be safer to add them using the single switch."

She pulled out the handle and made the final adjustments.

"If somebody would open that door, please. We can hear the Great Clock easier that way."

Parrel opened the door and they waited until the sound of the third bell could be heard. When the bell sounded Milsy reached up, grabbed the top handle and turned it vertical. Nothing happened until she remembered that the pendulum had to be started. She gave it a push and they all watched as it settled down to a smooth movement, each swing being echoed by the seconds hand on the dial above. Milsy closed the door, concealing the switches and protecting the pendulum, then dusted her hands and turned to her audience with a smile.

"That, gentlemen, is all we need do. The clock is started and running."

"This seems a lot of fuss, if I may say so," Bayorn said. "Though I will admit, resetting the Great Clock would probably be as complicated. If these electric clocks work the way you intend them to, this procedure would needs only be carried out once."

Tarvan answered, "As you say, Master Bayorn, though a similar procedure must needs be done whenever an extra clock is added to the system. To avoid confusing people then, we would probably adjust the clocks at night."

"As you say. To adjust twenty clocks using only a single switch - that is amazing to me. And of course the time may be seen plainly on each clock dial so they are much easier to set."

Milsy objected. "More than a single switch, Guildmaster, but your point is generally true. It will be possible to correct all the clocks in the palace using just this switch panel."

"I am corrected, Milsy. You have invented something important here, even though I understand very little of it at present."

"Thank you, Guildmaster. It isn't really difficult to understand and I'm sure it will be no trouble to you once you become familiar with the way it works. If we may all go and confirm this in the dining room."

The group trooped out through the open door, along the corridor and into the dining room, where they surprised two men and five women staring at the clock above the door. Behind them, cleaning materials were in disarray, so it was apparent that they had interrupted some normal housekeeping work.

Or, rather, the clock had. The servants bowed and bobbed to the newcomers. One of them asked, "Masters, the... thing over the door, it made a noise and parts have moved! Did we do something that we should not? Is it dangerous?"

Milsy came forward with a smile. Most of those in this part of the palace had become used to her by now, so she was a familiar face and, mostly, approachable.

"Have no fear, friends. What happened to the clock is what was supposed to happen as we set it to the correct time. There is nothing down here anyone may do that will affect the clock."

The oldest man asked, "Mistress, it is a clock? How may this be? I thought the palace clock to be big and mysterious and in a tower somewhere."

Milsy turned to the others. "Guildsmen, I must needs explain to these servants, else strange rumors would run through the palace. They must know what these new clocks will mean to them, for they may make the work of looking after so great a building to be easier."

Parrel nodded. "Of course, Milsy. After all, it is not only our King who needs to know the time as he works. If you would proceed. We will examine the clock as you do so."

She turned back to the servants, who appeared more relaxed now, though still curious.

"It is a clock, one which is installed here by the King's command by way of an experiment. This is, in some respects, the way that clocks are used where Lady Garia came from."

The servants nodded. The lands where the Baroness came from sounded mysterious and wonderful, it would not be surprising if such devices were used there.

Milsy continued, "In Kansas they measure their days in a different way to the way we do in the Valley. There, they do not account the dawn and dusk but measure from noon and midnight instead. Further, their days are divided into twenty-four, not twenty as we do, and this apparently makes it easier to do many things. Master Gerdas finds the new system much simpler for sighting the stars, for example."

They nodded again. They probably had little idea what Gerdas actually did, but they knew he was connected in some way both to the stars of the night sky and the timing of the bells across the land.

"It also makes it much easier for the clockmakers to make clocks," she added. "Since dawn and dusk change every day as the seasons progress, that makes the design of clocks very complicated. Using this new system is much simpler, and thus the King desires to see if it would benefit all Palarand to use it instead of our customary bells."

The man who had spoken before nodded. "I understand, Mistress. Is it permitted for such as we to know how these new clocks work? How may we tell the bells one from another?"

Milsy smiled. "These clocks do not use bells at all since they do not need to. You may discover the time merely by looking at the clock. Now, the King understands that all may find it confusing to reckon by the new system, so this clock, and any others we may install around the palace, will show both the old times and the new times as you can see. On the left, the little window at the top shows the present bell with both our traditional numbers and the new Garian numbers..."

She tailed off as a thought struck her. "How many of you actually know your numbers?"

The man coughed. "I do, Mistress, but not the Garian numbers, whatever they may be." He turned to his companions. "How many of you know your numbers?"

It appeared that the other man and two of the women could use numbers, though with difficulty. The others could just about recognize numbers, though, even if they did not know how to do math.

Milsy thought. "Umm, okay. I'm not sure whether that will make things more difficult for you or not. Learning the Garian numbers should be easier, actually, since there are only ten new shapes to know and they are on the right-hand clock dial. So, the window at the top on the left shows the most recent bell and under it, should it be necessary, another window shows whether it is the bells of day or night.

"Below that is what we call a dial, with a pointer called a hand which goes round once for every bell."

"Oh! I see!" the man said. "So, as we have just heard the third bell, that hand shows that we have had perhaps one twelfth of a bell since, and as we work it will tell us how close we are to the fourth bell. See, Hathra, as that little pointer goes round it shows us how much of a bell is left!" He turned back to Milsy. "You are right, Mistress. Such a device will be a great boon to us, once we have learned the new numbers. May I assume that the other... dial..? counts the time as they do in the lands of the Baroness?"

Milsy wasn't about to confuse matters by mentioning different day lengths, so merely agreed.

"As you say. Now, since they reckon twelve hours between noon and midnight, the right dial is divided up that way. At noon and at midnight, both hands will point upwards together. The short hand thus numbers twelfths which we name hours, and it will go around twice in one day. We account sixty minutes in every hour, so the longer hand numbers minutes and will go round once as the hour hand moves from one number to the next. An hour is shorter than a bell, so the minute hand will go round faster than the hand on the left dial.

"Then we have the very thin hand which you can see moving. That is called the second hand and goes round once for every minute. Each second is one sixtieth of a minute and is about the same rate as your pulse might be. The fact that the second hand moves shows us that the clock is working properly."

Milsy could see the man get confused, and the others weren't much better. "Uh, second hand, Mistress? Surely... that would be the third hand, not the second."

"I'm sorry, it is confusing, isn't it? I think it is called the second hand because it counts seconds. The other hands count hours and minutes."

"Oh. I see." Milsy wasn't sure if they did or not, but she knew from her own experience that enlightenment would come with familiarity. He bowed. "Thank you for explaining, Mistress."

"Any time. Look, if the King decides that he prefers the new way of counting time, then clocks like that one will be placed all over the palace eventually. We'll all have to get used to looking at them to find out the time and we'll all have to learn how to read them."

"As you say, Mistress. What of the Great Clock, then? Will we no longer hear the bells any more?"

Bayorn decided to join the conversation. "Goodman, even if the King does decide that the new way of counting time is better I doubt that the Great Clock will fall silent. So many are used to hearing the bells, even beyond the palace walls, that I cannot foresee a time when it falls silent." He glanced at Milsy before adding, "It is possible that, some time in the future, the Great Clock may be modernized, to make it more accurate, but it will never be stopped."

Milsy thought, Never is a very long time, Guildmaster. If these new clocks become popular, I can think of a time when the old bells might just be confusing to everybody.

The man bowed. "Thank you, Guildmaster."

Milsy told him, "Perhaps you had better carry on with what you were doing. It is possible to waste a lot of time just watching the hands move round." She smiled to defuse the implied rebuke. "I speak from experience."

The man started, gave her a nod and gestured to his companions. They turned and went back to their work while Milsy gave her attention to the others.

Bassen said, "An excellent job, Milsy! I'm sure the King will be pleased."

"Thank you, Bassen, but I could not have done it without everybody's help. I just had the original idea, it required experienced guildsmen to guide the design and make it work."

"Agreed," Parrel said, "but you did have the original idea, and without that no-one among us could ever have dreamed of making a clock like this one. All Palarand will benefit from what we have done here, I deem. If we may return to the corridor? I desire an explanation for the problems you had yesterday."

"As you wish, Guildmaster."

Back in the corridor, they all stared at the wiring arrangement.

"Originally," Milsy said, "we had the wires fixed to those wooden rods -"

"Dowels," corrected Bassen.

"Aye, dowels, Bassen. These were simply tapped into holes drilled in the paneling, which meant that if the wires stretched in summer, any droop would not affect another wire. The problem comes at the ends, where the wires have to go from a horizontal line to a vertical line to enter the Connection Boxes. You see -"

Milsy explained what had happened when two wires touched and the battery was connected. The small fire was easily put out but another way had to be found.

"- Then Bassen suggested a simple wood block to hold each end of the dowel, to fix the wires vertically against the paneling. Personally I think it makes a neater arrangement."

Parrel asked, "What about expansion?"

Tarvan explained, "That is why we have that full turn at the end of each wire, to allow for the heat of summer."

"And when we need to add another clock?"

"That is the purpose of the Connection Boxes, Guildmaster. Wires may come out of all four sides of the box as required and even through the back, as we did at the dining room end."

Parrel nodded. "You have both thought this through, have you not? What will you have to do next?"

Tarvan spread his hands. "Nothing, Guildmaster. As far as we are concerned, the clocks are running and all we must needs do is change the batteries every so often and check that the clocks are not fast or slow."

Milsy added, "Changing the batteries while the clocks yet run will be our next test, Guildmaster. I have done it while developing the master and repeater system but this is different. The King will be relying on this clock system now it is working."

"As you say. Well," he turned to the others, "are we all satisfied with what we have seen? Aye? Then let us return to the laboratory and consider what we must do next."

"Aye," Tarvan said as they went through the door into the laboratory, "Guildmaster, we have another such pair of clocks to prepare for Master Gerdas."

"Oh, aye! Tell me -"

* * *

Terys entered the dining room and joined Milsy, Tarvan and Parrel, who were standing by one of the tall windows that opened into the courtyard between that room and the laboratory.

"Milsy and Tarvan, thank you for attending this morning." She made an aside to Parrel. "We heard bad news yesterday eve and spent a troubled night because of it. These two were very reassuring this morning."

Parrel nodded. "Indeed, Ma'am. I have lately heard the news myself. I can understand how you might be concerned for the safety of the Prince and Lady Garia."

"Thank you, Parrel. Know that the King and I have had further thoughts and realize that, while distressing, the incident appears to have had less effect than we had originally supposed. Aye, they were attacked by a band of armed men, but they fought off the attack. Aye, a... ptuvil... entered the fray but it appears to have left Keren's party alone for some reason. We deem that if they return to the palace with a sufficient escort, there should be little further cause for concern."

"I should hope so, Ma'am! The highways of Palarand are relatively peaceful now, not like the days of old. Remember, too, that your son and Lady Garia are no mean warriors either, from all accounts. I do not consider there will be further trouble, Ma'am."

Terys sighed. "I trust you are right, Parrel. Oh, is the new clock working now? Aye, I see that it is."

"Ma'am," Milsy said, "setting the clock to the right time was... interesting, but now it is working it is there for all to see. Now all you have to do is to stop everybody staring at it all the time."

"What? Oh! Yes, it is kind of addictive, is it not? Is this going to be a problem, do you think?"

"Until the novelty ceases, Ma'am. Lady Garia said that everybody on Earth wore such clocks on their wrists, and there were clocks everywhere. I do not think the folk of Earth stared at them all the time. I doubt not we will become used to them as they have done."

Robanar arrived and everyone greeted him in the usual fashion. He turned and looked at the clock.

"Working? Good. A fine job, all of you." He stared at the clock.

"Dear?"

"Hmm? Yes, my dear?"

"Milsy has just warned us of this, dear. It seems that the clock holds a certain fascination when it is first seen."

"What? Oh, aye." He turned back to the Queen and smiled. "It is something new, my dear, of course we would be interested in it. I do not think you have cause to become alarmed though, since I have too much to do to spend time staring at clocks."

"Then, husband, once you have discovered the time, let us all sit to lunch. Milsy, Tarvan, please sit by us today. You may join us as well, Parrel. Did I hear somebody mention a small fire yesterday?"

Milsy gulped. "Aye, Ma'am, you did. You see -"



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