What Milsy Did -24-

A foreign Princess has arrived at the palace and Milsy is called in to assist, as she is the one most familiar with the visitor. What she discovers causes confusion and embarrassment to all.

What Milsy Did

by Penny Lane

24 - Culture Shock

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.

"I do like it when you dress up properly," Milsy said as she opened her door to Tarvan later that day.

"Hmm. I admit I prefer my work attire," he replied, "or something that permits me to relax a little. What of yourself? You suit that gown most beautifully, if I may say so."

"Well, us girls like to dress up, you know? Since I had to wear Garia's gowns at the start I have learned much that I didn't know in Dekarran." She grinned. "Having access to the Palace Wardrobe makes a big difference, too! I have much enjoyed experimenting with colors, materials and textures, not to mention designs. So, you like what you see, then?"

"Of course I do. I did, the first time I saw you, you know that."

"Ah, but I wasn't sure of your intentions, then. I knew how nothing worked and I had to be careful in case anybody exposed the secret." She smiled up at him. "I am sure of my man now, so perhaps he would escort me to the Receiving Room?"

Tarvan made a florid bow. "My Lady, it would be my pleasure."

Milsy turned to Bursila with a mock whisper. "He's after something!"

The maid smiled back. "Aye, Mistress, and he will likely succeed in his quest."

"When you two have finished," Tarvan broke in, "shall we go?"

He held out his arm for Milsy and they walked off along the corridor with their backs straight and heads held high. At the door of the Receiving Room their escort peeled off and took station outside while Milsy and Tarvan entered. To their surprise Kendar was there and he banged his staff as they appeared.

"Craftmaster Tarvan and Guildswoman Milsy!"

Many of the diners had already arrived and were standing around talking in low voices. This included their visitor and her assistant, who were with the King, Queen and Captain Merek. Terys watched Tarvan and Milsy enter and beckoned them over. As they joined the small group Tarvan bowed while Milsy curtseyed.


Terys turned to the girl. "If I may introduce Craftmaster Tarvan. He is in charge of some exciting new investigations which have recently begun in Palarand. With him is Guildswoman Milsy, who has a keen mind and works with him in the palace. Tarvan, Milsy, this is Her Royal Highness Princess Eriana of Einnland, a distant land somewhere to the east beyond the Palumaks, I believe... or perhaps to the south, I am not certain. With her is Master Gullbrand, her... aide? assistant? If you will forgive me, I do not know how to name the function he performs."

Milsy curtseyed again. "We met briefly, Ma'am. Her Highness's carriage followed ours into the service yard by mistake."

"Ah, yes, I believe that I heard what happened. An unfortunate mistake, indeed, but perhaps natural to strangers to the city. You should know that Eriana will be staying in the palace for a while as our guest, dear. I'm sure that she will be able to rely on you for assistance, should your paths ever cross."

"As you command, Ma'am. Aye, I am to be found along the corridors these days, installing wires, so it is very likely we will meet."

Eriana stared at Milsy. "I do not understand what it is you do," she said finally.

"Um, well, that can be difficult to describe, Your Highness. See that clock above the door?"

Everybody in the group turned to look at the clock. Milsy was relieved to note that it was still working properly. After the strange happenings in the kitchen, she had not been certain whether it would eventually affect the other clocks.

Gullbrand spoke. "That is a clock? I noticed it when we entered but could not decide what it was."

Eriana added, "A strange thing to see. How does it work? Our clock uses water, which has to be replenished every day by the house thralls."

Huh? How do you make a clock work with water? Floats, maybe? And what are thralls?

"I designed that clock and partly constructed it. It uses electricity," she explained. Blank faces. "Um, like the force of lightning, you know? We can make a very small, tame version of that and send it around the palace with copper wires. That isn't actually the clock, that is somewhere else entirely. The part that you can see is just to show the time to everyone in the room."

Gullbrand asked, "How do you use what I see to read the time, Mistress? Is it to do with those pointers?"

"That's mostly right. The square hole on the left shows the bells that are traditionally used in Palarand. Oh. Do you read our script? I don't know what you use in your own country."

"Mistress, we use different letters and numbers in Einnland, but since the Great Valley is known to us and we speak and correspond with folk from here, some of the royal family and their retainers, such as myself, are tutored in your words and script. Both Her Highness and myself can speak and write as you do, though as I am... a secretary, say, I am presently more fluent than she is." Gullbrand studied the clock. "Ah, so the clock shows me the second bell of night, is that right? And that circle below it has measured two-thirds of another bell, I deem."

"That's correct... Master Gullbrand?"

Gullbrand nodded to Milsy. "As I have explained to Their Majesties, my title and function are difficult to translate. For tonight, Master will suffice." He gestured at the clock again. "What of the other side? That is divided into twelve, much like the way we measure time in Einnland. If those are numbers around it, I do not know them."

Robanar decided that he had been left out of the conversation for too long. "Gullbrand, this is a new scheme which Lady Garia promotes. We are in favor of it but presently it is restricted to the palace. It divides the day into not twelve but twenty-four hours, each of which is further divided into sixty minutes. The hands, the black pointers, go round twice each day, pointing straight up at noon and midnight."

Eriana looked at Gullbrand. "That's similar to the way we count the stunder!"

He replied in their own language, adding to the King, "I have just told her that is so, but our clocks do not appear to measure time in the same way yours do. It involves a lot of water."

Milsy tried hard not to stare at Eriana's gown, which was not of a kind which would normally be worn to an evening meal at the palace, especially one that was effectively a state occasion. It was of some closely-woven undyed material, quite thick, with a full skirt that fell to mid-calf and a scoop neckline that was laced down the front to just below the waist. To preserve some kind of modesty there was what looked like a thin shirt underneath but it was not clear whether it was actually a petticoat or similar or just to cover the gaps in the gown. The sleeves were narrow and ended at the elbow. There were lines of small shells stitched down the front of the bodice on both sides.

I'll wager that the Queen will have our guest taken to the Wardrobe within two days, if that is the best she can bring with her. She's supposed to be the daughter of a King, even I know that she ought to have better attire than that!

...Actually, I do believe that is the same gown she had on when she followed us in through the service gate! Surely she would have changed for such a meal? Or... maybe they don't do that where she comes from?

From the doorway Kendar banged his staff again and announced a few latecomers, one of which was Fulvin and another Lady Dyenna. Milsy suspected that the Mistress of the Wardrobe would have used a sword to make sure she was present at this meal, just to have fresh material for tomorrow's gossip.

Robanar turned. "We are all here now, it seems. Let us be seated so that we may offer you a proper welcome to the Kingdom."

Milsy had never eaten in the Receiving Room before and she looked at the arrangements with interest. There was a single table placed along the center of the chamber and she suspected that it would normally hold many more diners than had been set tonight. She realized that this was probably due to the small size of the visiting party.

There's the Princess, Gullbrand, that bodyguard and, what, two female servants I saw looking out of the carriage? Where are the rest? Aren't they permitted in the chamber to serve?

Why so small a party? Not even a proper escort for someone of such rank, if you excuse that bodyguard. Why, even Garia has a bigger escort, and she's only a Baroness! There is a mystery here.

As the honored visitor, Eriana was seated to Robanar's right with Gullbrand facing her to offer advice, explanation and perhaps translation duties when required. Milsy was seated facing Terys with Tarvan to her right and Merek to her left. The visitors seemed overwhelmed by the silverware and other ornamentation on the table. The Princess appeared somehow shocked by what she saw in front of her and around her.

"Your pardon, Sire. I am not used to such a gathering as this. My father's house is more humble, I deem."

"Ah? Do not concern yourself, my dear. We expect there to be differences in customs and decoration from those who may reside far away. Do not think we offer your father any slight."

"You are gracious, Sire."

"Sire," Gullbrand asked, holding up a fork, "what are these? I assume they are used to eat with, but this is a tool we do not know in Einnland."

"Indeed, Gullbrand. They are named forks and are a recent addition to table. We have discovered that they make our meals so much cleaner and easier to enjoy. For now, you should watch how everybody else uses them, I'm sure you and Her Highness will soon become used to them."

The first course was various appetizers and everybody soon became engrossed in their meal.

"Eriana, dear."

"Your Majesty?"

"Ah." Terys's voice lowered. "You should know that in the court of Palarand it is customary to address us as 'Your Majesty' on first meeting, but afterwards you and any in your party may address His Majesty as 'Sire' and myself as 'Ma'am'. Now, I am concerned that your party is so small."

"Oh... Ma'am? You shall be told the full story but it is grim and not suitable for a table such as this. If I may briefly say here that four ships set out from Einnland to come north but we were beset by storms. Three were lost and we almost sank ourselves. We lost several members of our own crew including our captain and his whole family. Most of those who survived remain in Plif to repair the ship, that it might later sail closer to Palarand. That is why I have only brought Gullbrand, who speaks your tongue well, and a manservant and two maids."

"Maker! We did not know that. We are saddened to hear of the loss of so many of your people, dear. We thought your visit was part of a normal embassy and wondered what happened to them."

"It was an embassy, Ma'am. The other ships..." Eriana shrugged. "Such is fate when your lives are ruled by the sea." She frowned. "But, Ma'am? Surely you were expecting us? Letters were sent by my father once he learned of Palarand's need but we received no reply. It was decided to send out the embassy regardless. If your son had already been wed then no harm would have been done. If I may ask, I do not see him here."

Robanar grunted. "We have received no such letter, Eriana, but considering where your lands are then perhaps that is not so surprising. When I have exchanged greetings with your father our letters have traveled by a longer land route."

"I did not know that, Sire. I am only a daughter of my father, I am not privy to how he conducts his correspondence."

Terys added, "Keren is not presently in the palace, dear. Having come of age some weeks ago he departed for our lands in the north to learn of our country and its people. He is now on his way back, as it happens, and we expect him to arrive in about seven or eight days time." Terys leaned forward to smile at Eriana. "That means you will have plenty of time to settle in and adjust yourself to the ways of the palace, dear. It will give you a chance to relax after your long and difficult journey."

"You are gracious, Ma'am... But I must ask, is your son yet wed? Has my journey been in vain?"

Robanar and Terys exchanged a look. He replied, "He is not yet wed, Eriana, nor has he been formally betrothed to anyone. If you are indeed the daughter of a King then it is possible you would make a fine consort for him."

As the serving staff put out the next course Terys added, "Of course we can guarantee nothing, dear, not until you have met and considered each other. If it were not so he would have been betrothed long ago. You do offer a strong claim, I deem."

"Thank you, Ma'am."

Faced with an avian leg in gravy Eriana picked it up and then saw how everyone else was using their knife and fork to remove portions. She put it back and licked her fingers clean before attempting to use her own fork. Her efforts were initially awkward and Milsy could see that she was beginning to lose her temper.

"This tool is not easy to use, Ma'am."

"As you say, dear. It took us some days to adjust after Garia introduced them but now we would not be without them. I do not think it will take you very long to find them so useful you will not want to be without one at table."

"If you say so, Ma'am. Who or what is... Garia, Ma'am?"

"Oh, she is another visitor to Palarand, dear. She travels with the Prince, you will meet her when their party returns to the palace."

Milsy could see that Eriana wanted to ask the obvious question but had sufficient tact to leave the matter until later. It wouldn't be difficult to find out what she wanted to know, anyway, since the whole palace would probably be able to tell her.

She decided to shift the conversation. "Highness, do you have different foods than those we eat today? I know that sometimes people in other places grow different fruit and vegetables."

"Oh! Why, we do... Milsy. Our climate is much colder, you see, so many of the fruits I see in the bowls on the table do not grow in our lands. We trade for some, it is true, but I see some that are unknown to me." She sniffed. "As a rule, Einnlanders do not eat vegetables. There is cultivation of a root called gokken and also various leaves, but only the poor eat them. In my father's hall, most eat fish, meat from sea beasts or large animals or occasionally avians according to season."

She turned to Robanar. "Sire, I am your guest and so I would not expect you to serve me anything different than that you are served yourselves. If I am to succeed in my quest, it will be necessary for me to become used to the food you eat and the way you eat it."

"Well said, my dear. If you are presented with anything you do not recognize, then you have only to ask. As you are not used to our foods or customs we would not seek to embarrass you but you must still learn what you need to know. We will understand."

"Thank you, Sire."

Eriana wrinkled her face when presented with a goblet of wine.

"Sire, I have drunk something like this in Plif and I do not like the taste. Would it be possible for me to have some beer, such as that your Warrior Chief drinks?"

"Who? Oh, Captain Merek!" Robanar regarded Eriana thoughtfully. "Aye, I suppose that can be arranged. Kenila, a mug for the Princess."

The rest of the meal passed off reasonably quietly and everybody rose.

"Sire, I must needs retire. I have had a long journey and I need to rest. Your hospitality has been more than I could have expected and I thank you for it, but I fear I would not be pleasant company this evening. With your permission?"

"Of course, my dear." Robanar looked around. "Milsy. If you would conduct Her Highness back to her suite, she will not know the way yet. We have given her Malann's old suite, you know the route well."

"As you command, Sire."

He's specifically asked me to do it so there must be good reason, she thought. Of course, Malann's suite is arranged the same as Elizet's was, isn't it? If she needs any help...

She looked around for Tarvan and Robanar realized his error.

"He will await you here, Milsy, until you return. I have some questions to ask him while we wait."

"As you wish, Sire."

Milsy led Eriana out of the Receiving Room, trailed by Gullbrand, Bursila and her two escort guardsmen.

"Do you not become lost in this huge place? I never believed that a building could be so large!"

"Highness, it was difficult at first and I guess that most people only learn the basic routes they need to, to do what they have to, like coming to meals or going to the Wardrobe. I don't think that anyone apart from the Palace Guard knows how to get everywhere."

"These men that follow us, they are the guard? Do they follow everyone everywhere? I would find that strange, not to go where I wished."

"Oh, I can go where I need to, Highness. These men are for my protection, I have to have them even inside the palace. Nobody else needs an escort, not even the King. It's... a long story. If I may ask, where are your maids? Should not at least one of them have been in the Receiving Room to serve you tonight?"

"I did not know that, Milsy. They are in my chamber. I will remember that in future."

"But they will not have eaten, Highness. Our maids feed us at table but they eat before or after their mistresses."

Eriana did not look concerned. "Then they will have to wait until the morning. There is no food in my chamber."

"That is not so! When we get there I can call for a servant and have something sent up for them. If you desire to eat on your own, at any time, you can order meals from the kitchen. I'll show you how."

Eriana stopped and stared. "I did not know such a thing was possible. In my father's hall, unless you were sick or infirm, you went to the main hall to eat or you went without."

Milsy shrugged. "This is a different place, Highness. That's just what they do here. Where I came from, a big castle the other side of the Sirrel, we had different customs again."

They carried on walking. "You are not of this place, then?"

"I have been here some two months now... as I said, it is complicated and the story would mean nothing to you right now. Here, we go up these stairs."

"I remember the stairs. Do you usually eat in that big hall?"

"The Receiving Room? Only when important guests arrive, such as yourself, or when a lot of nobles or such are visiting. There's a more friendly dining room the family uses otherwise. Round this corner." Milsy considered and then stopped. "Master Gullbrand, have you been given a bed chamber?"

"I and Lars, Her Highness's bodyguard, have been assigned beds in a servant's dormitory at the end of this corridor. Why do you ask?"

"I just wanted to make sure you knew where each other's rooms were, that's all. Here we are, I know this corridor well, I used to live in that suite there." Milsy pointed.

Eriana was astonished. "You lived there? Next to the King and Queen? I was told... a noblewoman lived there now."

"Highness, as I said, it is a long and complicated story."

Milsy opened the door to the sitting room and entered. Inside were the two servant girls, who Milsy now saw were about the same age as herself, and the bodyguard. The three had obviously been sitting on the chairs and jumped up when the door opened.

Not quickly enough. Eriana let out a tirade that caused them to pale and back away, one of them actually cringing. Once she had finished the Princess turned to Milsy, annoyed.

"They should not have been sitting on the furniture! That is for their betters. Now, how do you ask food for them?"

Milsy went over and pulled the yellow rope, saying, "This one summons servants from a room at the end of the corridor. Whoever comes will arrange whatever you need." She paused, thinking. "Master Gullbrand, I do not know if that is the same room you are in or whether it is at the other end." She pointed to the next rope. "The green rope rings a bell in the King's Sitting Room so I would be careful not to use that unless you have to."

Eriana's eyes were wide. "In the King's Sitting Room? Is this a normal thing, to be able to summon your King?"

Milsy smiled. "Oh, no, Highness! This suite and the one next to it were used by the daughters of the King and Queen, their children, before they married and moved away. We are in the corridor of the Royal Household. There are more suites just like them the other side of the corridor."

"Ah, I understand now. It would not be wise to pull the green rope, then. And the blue rope?"

"Was used by those children to call their nursemaids, or nannies, governesses or tutors. At the moment the room where those used to be stationed is used as a guardroom."

There was a knock on the door and Milsy opened it to find a footman.

"Her Highness is not yet accustomed to palace routine so she desires three meals for her servants. Is that still possible?"

"Why of course, Mistress. Since the food is recently cooked and served, it should not be difficult to fill three plates. I will ask someone to bring them up immediately."

The man left and Milsy closed the door. Eriana was looking around the room.

"How do you sleep in these places? I expected you would have different customs but here there is nowhere to lie down. Do you lie on the floor? Where is the bedding kept? At home we would have a shut-bed at the side of our chamber."

Milsy didn't know what a 'shut-bed' was but tried to keep a straight face at Eriana's questions. Hadn't they even gone into the bedroom?

She smiled. "No, of course not. You have a bed chamber right this way."

She walked to the bedroom door, and turned the handle. Nothing happened.

"That's funny. It's stuck. It shouldn't be as hard as all that to open."

They were repairing and redecorating, weren't they? That is why the door has gotten stuck.

Gullbrand said, "Should I get Lars to push it open? He should be strong enough."

"That might not be a good idea, Master Gullbrand. He could damage the woodwork. These chambers have been recently redecorated which is why I think it has stuck. If you would excuse me, I'll send for somebody who can open this door without damaging it."

She pulled the yellow rope again and went and opened the door to wait. Shortly the same footman reappeared.

"It looks like the bedroom door is stuck. Could you fetch the carpenter Bassen to come and have a look at it?"

"Of course, Mistress."

"Oh, and tell him we might need a locksmith if it is the door latch."

The meals arrived before the workmen and the contents shocked all the Einnlanders. There were three loaded plates on the trays, each of fine china, and each was accompanied by a pewter mug of beer and a knife, fork and spoon of silver!

"Mother of Thor! This is how you feed your underlings?"

"Highness, I cannot answer for the servants' dining hall but if you order food in your chambers then this is what you get, usually." Milsy directed the two servant women with trays. "If you would put the food on the table, please."

She continued her explanation to an astonished Eriana and Gullbrand, "If you desire to take your meals in your chambers regularly, as I did when I first came here, a list is brought in the morning of what will be available and one may choose what to order. If it is short notice, like this evening, you'll get whatever is left from those who dine below."

"Servants as well?"

Milsy's expression was innocent. "Aye, Highness. In general all of us are provided the same quality and quantity of food."

Eriana rattled out a series of commands and the three 'underlings' went to the table and began, gingerly, to eat. They did so standing up, Eriana seeming to frown on servants sitting down anywhere. As they were finishing their food Bassen arrived along with another man. They bowed to Eriana before the carpenter turned to Milsy.

"Mistress, we are told the bedroom door is stuck."

"Aye. I was afraid to force it for fear of damaging something."

"You did right to send for us, Mistress. Let us have a look."

After some tests and discussion he turned. "Aye, it looks like the latch needs adjusting. Tobin will lever it open - he can do that without causing too much damage - but it would be wise not to shut the door fully again until we can repair it properly sometime tomorrow."

The tool used was a blunt chisel and the door was soon opened. Eriana led the way into a room she had not known existed.

"Woden's blood! Look at that bed! I will sleep easily in such a great space. And look, Gullbrand! There is plenty of space here for both my amblatt to sleep."

Milsy wasn't sure what Eriana had just said but it didn't sound right.

"Highness, if I may show you the facilities in this chamber. At the front, here, is your dressing room, ah, look, they have brought your chests up and left them for your maids to unpack. I bet they closed the bedroom door when they had finished which is why it became stuck."

Eriana was disbelieving. "This is a room just for my clothes?"

"Aye, Highness, and a table where you may prepare your face and hair before showing them in public."

Bassen coughed. "Mistress, those chests look as though they have had heavy wear."

Eriana turned to him. "They would do, they have survived a journey of weeks at sea and many storms. You are?"

He bowed. "Bassen, Your Highness, and one of the palace carpenters. When you have emptied your chests onto the rails and shelves, if you would send for me and I will have your chests repaired for you."

"You will do that? Aye, then I will ask, in a few days, perhaps."

Milsy moved out of the dressing room. "The other side of your bed, Highness, is your bathing chamber."

She opened the door and the visitors crowded in.

"This is ridiculous!" Eriana sounded as if she had had enough. "I may bathe in here? How? In that great dip in the floor?"

"Highness," Milsy explained, "in Palarand, indeed, in the Great Valley, it is customary for all to bathe at the same time." She reddened. "Ah, that would be yourself and your maids, of course. The men have other arrangements. Each may assist in washing the other which makes life a little easier when Kalikan calls."

"That seems strange to me, though I can see the sense of it. I am accustomed to being washed in a barrel in one of the outbuildings of my father's hall. Who brings the water to this great bath, then? A procession of men? Must I pull a rope each time I wish to bathe?"

Milsy pointed. "Highness, there are two ropes to call for water. You pull the red one for hot and the white one for cold. The water comes out of those two pipes and has to be heated each morning before we rise. There are signals which are used, it might be better if you learned about those tomorrow... when there are no men present."

The men had cautiously backed away into the living room during this conversation. Eriana stared at Milsy for a long space.

Finally she spoke. "I did not believe those who have visited these shores before. I thought that much of what was told was wild tales, such as any seaman may tell of the sea. I am a stranger here and I do not understand much of what I see. I see now why your King sent you with me as a guide. Will you help me learn my way about this strange place, Milsy?"

"I am at your service, Your Highness," Milsy replied, with a curtsey, before adding, "but you must know that I have other duties to the Crown which means I may not always be available."

"As you say. So, what other wonders should I know about before I retire?"

Milsy smiled. "Just two more doors, Highness. If we may return to the bedroom."

"Here on the other side," she continued once Eriana had joined her, "is the toilet. There's room enough for you and a maid to be inside when either of you need to use it."

Milsy opened the door to show a small tiled room with a hole in the floor. At one side was a set of shelving containing baskets of wool clippings, some cloths and towels and, on the top, a bowl and jug of water for washing hands afterwards.

"There's a plan," she added, "for this to be changed for a special seat at some time in the future. I don't know the details, I just heard some of the plumbers speaking about it recently. If anything like that happens you should be warned about it well before anything happens."

Eriana looked at the space with interest. "As you say. I expect that I will discover how to use this place."

Milsy closed the door and moved to the other side of the fireplace, opening a narrow door that could easily be overlooked. "And in here, Highness, is where your maids should sleep."

"By the gods, I never expected anything like this." Eriana turned to Milsy. "Are all the sleeping chambers like this one?"

"Not all, Highness. You must remember that this was where one of the King's daughters lived and so her quarters were ordered accordingly. Other chambers may not be as grand as this one is."

Eriana nodded. "So. I have seen all that you have shown me and I now know where to sleep, where to bathe, where to find my clothes and how to summon help. Thank you for your assistance, Milsy. You may return to - what was his name? That boy, was he your... swain? Your mate to be?"

Milsy blushed. "Tarvan? Aye, we have an arrangement."

"An arrangement?"

"Um, it is what comes before a formal betrothal. More than just friends."

"Oh, I see. Yes. He will be waiting for you. I will see you tomorrow, no doubt, when we break our fast?"

"I expect so." Milsy suddenly realized that the Einnlanders didn't know about the bells. "Ah, about tomorrow morning. If you would permit, I'll send somebody up to bring you to breakfast at the right time, so that you don't have to wait around. Oh, and it is possible the Queen might call. She does things like that."

"The warning is useful. And now, I must tell you all good-night."

It looked like Eriana was becoming twitchy so Milsy joined the men and servants in the living room.

"Her Highness would like to be left to go to bed," she announced.

Bassen and Tobin left immediately with a nod; Gullbrand and Lars followed more slowly and Bursila closed the door behind Milsy. From the other side of the door they could already hear shouting.

Gullbrand shrugged apologetically. "I regret that Her Highness has a short temper, but may also be tired and affected by her long journey," he explained. "I'm sure that as she learns her way around this amazing building she will relax and show all her better nature."

"As you say, Master Gullbrand," Milsy replied diplomatically. "Are you and your man... Lars, was it?"

"Lars, that's right. He is sworn to the Princess, as am I."

"Are you going to your dormitory? There are other recreations to be had in the evenings but you are probably as tired tonight as Her Highness is."

"I will retire. Lars must remain outside her door tonight, as a good handsman must. He will sleep across her doorway."

"Um, I don't think Captain Merek is going to like that. It really isn't necessary, not in a place like this."

"But you yourself have men to escort you, though you are not of royal blood." He paused. "Are you?"

"Me? No, not at all," she grinned. "Like I keep saying, my story is complicated. The reason I have an escort is because I look like somebody else, that's all. That person suffered some kidnap attempts. In fact, I would think that the chances of anything happening to me are very low now. I doubt there is any danger at all to Her Highness, especially up here near the King and Queen."

Gullbrand shrugged. "As you say. Lars will remain here tonight, though."

"As you wish. I'll bid you good night."

Milsy turned to her escort. "Right, boys, back to the Receiving Room."

They stared at Lars as he took position impassively in front of Eriana's door but followed Milsy and Bursila back to the front of the palace. When they reached the Receiving Room there were several small groups still standing and talking, among them one with the King and Queen, Merek, Kendar and Tarvan which she joined.

"Sire. I have much to report."

"Any trouble?"

"Some, Sire."

She glanced briefly at the other groups and Robanar took the hint.

"Ah, it would be more comfortable for us all to go to my parlor, I believe. Lead the way, Kendar."

Once everybody had found seats, and with the door closed, Milsy began.

"Sire, Ma'am, you should know that the door to Eriana's bed chamber had become stuck. None of them even realized that there was a bed chamber, and so they were all preparing to sleep on the floor of the sitting room."

Terys was shocked. "Maker! I assume that you have remedied the problem?"

"Partly, Ma'am. I called for a carpenter and a locksmith and they soon had the door open. It seems that something was not adjusted correctly after the recent redecoration, Ma'am."

"Oh dear. Is the door now working properly?"

"No, Ma'am, but they know not to close it completely until Bassen and Tobin can come tomorrow and fix it properly. There is something else, Ma'am, and that is it seems the door was closed by those who brought Her Highness's chests up and left them in her dressing room. That may explain why she came to the evening meal attired in the gown she traveled in, she did not know where her clothes had gone."

"Ah. I did wonder. So the palace staff were at fault, then, for not noticing and reporting the sticking door. Kendar, you should question them tomorrow but there is no need to lay blame, if what Milsy says is correct."

"As you desire, Ma'am."

Milsy said diffidently, "If I may suggest, Ma'am, I suspect that Her Highness's clothes... will not be found suitable for His Majesty's court."

Terys looked at Milsy. "You are suggesting that she visit the Palace wardrobe, I deem."

Milsy was silent for a while and Terys was about to ask a question when she said, "Ma'am, it is not my place to say but you asked me to observe and to me that means suggesting solutions to any problems that I may see. If I may speak freely? You may have ideas about my abilities but I do not have experience in many of these matters."

"Why, of course, dear! In this case I believe that you value yourself less than we would. You have told us yourself of the intrigue that exists among Dekarran's servants and retainers. Say what you would, we would not refuse your counsel for a task we asked you to do. In such matters as these you probably have a better idea of what is going on than we do."

I doubt that! The Queen knows everything.

Only, perhaps sometimes she doesn't have the background to appreciate some of it.

Terys continued, "So, dear, tell me why Princess Eriana should be given attire from the Wardrobe."

"As you wish, Ma'am. Well, to begin with, Bursila pointed out on the way back to the Receiving Room that her maids and that bodyguard must needs be attired in palace uniforms, just as she herself was when she came to the palace with Lady Merizel. If the Princess is to remain in the palace for some time..."

"That is so, dear. We would have asked Kendar to arrange it after a day or two."

"Then there's her own clothes, Ma'am. Firstly, I saw the chests that had been left in her dressing room. There are four of them and it doesn't look like they could hold very many gowns or other clothes. If those are the only chests that arrived, they presumably contain the clothes that all five of her party would have available to wear while they are here." She shook her head. "I'm assuming that Master Gullbrand does not have his own chests, Ma'am."

Terys looked at Kendar who shrugged. "I was not present when the carriage was unloaded, Ma'am. I do not know what instructions were given."

"Hmm. This whole situation could cause much embarrassment to both ourselves and to Princess Eriana," Terys mused. "It may be possible for you to find out what we need to know without causing offense or upset. Do you think that you have Eriana's confidence?"

"That's a strange one to answer, Ma'am. Since we met at the service gate she knows me and she knows that I know what goes on around the palace so I think the answer would be yes, Ma'am. But, I have heard her speak sharply to her own servants - she names them underlings - and she also knows that I am just one of the palace staff. I don't know what ideas about status she has."

"I would not consider you 'just' one of the palace staff, dear," Terys said dryly. "You are very much more than that! Now, you said 'to begin with'. There is more?"

"Aye, Ma'am. The chests were all battered and obviously damaged by the storms she spoke of and I wouldn't wonder if whatever is inside had been damaged by the water. Indeed, when Bassen saw the chests he offered to repair them once her clothing had been hung up."

"As you say. She may not have much to wear that is not damaged. Perhaps the Wardrobe may make repairs to the rest."

"It may be worse than that, Ma'am. If what she wore this evening is any sample she may be too embarrassed to wear any of it out in public once she discovers what we wear."

Robanar gestured. "But, surely, it is no dishonor to wear the garments of your own lands when you are a visitor to the ruler of another?"

"Sire, I think it is a little more basic than that. I didn't learn much this evening but what little I did learn makes me wonder what kind of people they are. She didn't know that at least one of her maids should have been at table to serve her this evening. Because they were not, they had no food and she was content for them to wait until breakfast. I had to show her the call ropes and order meals for her servants. She also expected her maids to sleep on the floor at the foot of her bed until I showed her the maids' closet. She was amazed at the bathroom, she told me she was usually washed in a barrel in an outhouse behind her father's hall, as she calls it."

Teeys protested. "But we expect there to be differences in customs and attire, dear. Palarand is a rich land and I myself found it difficult to adjust at first. There is nothing like this palace in Stirmond, indeed! No doubt Eriana will also adjust, should she remain."

"Ma'am, I keep forgetting that you came a long way but I am concerned that the difference may be too great. What else was there? Oh, the bodyguard, Lars, plans to sleep across her doorway in the corridor tonight."

Merek straightened up. "He does, does he?"

Robanar put out a hand. "Wait, Merek. You may deal with this later. Let us hear the rest."

"That's about all for now, Sire. Much happened in but a few moments, I am still remembering things."

"Very well. I agree with you about her attire. If she is truly a Princess, and we do not know that yet, she would not want to appear belittled by our generosity but neither she would wish to be made fun of. However, were she to become Palarand's next Queen then of course she should become accustomed to the styles and materials we use here. Perhaps we may use the storm damage as a device to gain her admittance to the Wardrobe. What think you?"

"Aye, Sire, I should have thought of that."

Robanar smiled at her. "I may be a man, my dear, but sometimes even a King has need of intrigue. Her servants, aye, they must needs wear palace colors as is customary. Merek? What can we do about this man of hers?"

"Sire," Merek said stiffly, "in your palace there is only one person who needs a close escort and she is in this room. We all know the reasons why. I have been wondering what we will do when Lady Garia returns... but that is for another conversation, I deem. We must tell Her Highness that the Palace Guard provides for all and that her man may not do those duties. If he has other duties he may perform those with your blessing."

"Hmm." Robanar turned to Milsy. "Does he carry a sword?"

"Aye, Sire, a fairly big one though I am no judge of weaponry."

"He'll have to hang that up, I think. I do not want large armed men roaming my corridors without an oath to bind them."

Merek asked her, "Does she carry a sword, do you know? I would not normally ask, only we have the example of Lady Garia before us. The Princess is certainly of a size and build to wield one."

"She wasn't wearing any blade that I could see, Captain, but there might have been something in those chests of hers."

The captain looked unhappy. "It will be difficult, Sire. We do not want to cause offense or worse, a diplomatic incident, by confiscating any arms they may carry."

Robanar grunted. "I'll deal with that tomorrow, Merek. They are unlikely to cause trouble but someone else might if they discovered that there were loose weapons about the palace."

"I would hate to try and take a sword off that man but I know what you mean, Sire. Tomorrow, then."

Robanar asked Milsy, "Anything else, my dear?"

"Aye, Sire. It looks like Her Highness has a poor temper. The only words I ever heard her say to her maids were by shouting, Sire. As I showed her around her bedroom I could see that she was having trouble containing herself. She even stopped being polite to me."

Robanar looked at Terys. "That may be a point against her, my dear."

She replied, "Still, a long journey after nearly losing your life, that may fray anyone's nerves. Let her remain here and relax, dear, then we will find out what she is really like."

"As you wish, my dear. Is there more, Milsy?"

"Aye, Sire. While I was speaking with Master Gullbrand I had the impression we might have misunderstood what he is. He speaks our tongue much better than Her Highness does, indeed, he probably speaks it better than I do. I do not believe they would teach the Valley tongue to someone who was just a manservant, even a personal one. Nobody has actually said anything, it is possible that they didn't think it was necessary, but I believe that he may be some kind of noble. He probably performs a similar function for Her Highness as Kendar does for yourself."

"What? And we have sent him to sleep in a servant's dormitory! I trust your instincts, my dear. If anyone would know a noble from a servant you would, I deem. Kendar, we must find him a chamber tomorrow."

"Aye, Sire. It should not be difficult, especially as we presently have no other guests. Ah, apart from Lady Garia and Lady Merizel, of course, but they can no longer be considered guests. I'll have to ask Terevor, but I believe that there are some smaller chambers free just around the corner."

Milsy said, "Sire? Depending on the room, that may just be the place to put the manservant as well. That way he'll be away from Her Highness's door and with someone else who speaks his tongue."

Robanar smiled. "See? Did I not tell you she is clever?"

"Sire, I cannot pretend that I am not, yet I do not wish you to have unrealistic expectations of me. Ah, there is one more thing, Sire. Of course they do not yet know the bells so I have told Her Highness that someone will be sent to escort them down to breakfast tomorrow morning. Since we do not know when they may waken, that should stop them wandering about the corridors. They do know about using the yellow rope to summon servants but I thought it best to make sure she stayed in her suite."

"You have served Palarand well this day, Milsy. You show a rare talent for observation and for planning ahead. Thank you again for your time this evening. You will be available tomorrow morning?"

"Aye, Sire, as you command."

"Then it is getting late and you should be spending time with young Tarvan here. Off you go, and we shall see you tomorrow at table."

"Thank you, Sire. Good-night, Sire, Ma'am, Captain, Kendar."

As Tarvan was holding open the door for Milsy, the Queen called.

"Oh, and Milsy, dear."

She turned. "Yes, Ma'am?"

"Thank you for finding Fulvin and bringing him back. Your loyalty does you credit, dear."

The Queen knows everything!

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