04 - Farfetched

The pace picks up

grakh
 

Tales of Faralmark


by Julia Phillips

04 – Farfetched


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 © 2020 Julia Phillips. All rights reserved.

It uses some of the associated characters and situations that arise from the world called ‘Anmar’ created by Penny Lane, whose stories
are also copyright © 2010 - 2020 Penny Lane. All rights reserved.


Tales of Faralmark
04 — Farfetched

“And where d’yer fink yer goin’?”

Dab sighed deeply while laying a protective arm across Daret’s shoulders.

“I fail to see how my intentions are any of your business, but the short answer is: In there.” She nodded towards the Fortress and the temporary construction just outside its gates.

“Them’s not lettin’ no-one in, Mistress Hoity-toity. Yer’ll ’ave ter wait like what the rest of us all is doin’.”

“I think you may be mistaken, goodman. I advise you to just watch.” Her voice hardened as she continued: “And please remove your hand from my arm, immediately.” He snatched his hand away as an instinctive reaction to her tone. She could see him debating whether or not to reach out for her once more.

“Why would thems let someone like yer in there when the Margrave and that new Minister chappie is gonna make big speeches to us all gavvered ’ere?” His eyes swept up and down her as he spoke, noting her robes which were not the usual wear of women in Faralmark’s streets. “Yor a furriner, aincha?”

Shooing his reapproaching hand off, she looked him directly in the eyes as she leant slightly closer with her own eyes narrowed. She tried not to flinch from his bad breath. Her steely gaze actually made him back off just a little. “Mayhap because I am married to one of those ‘chappies’.” It was difficult not to laugh as his face showed his shock.

She deftly ushered Daret away from the pressing of the crowd and pushed on towards the large stage that had been erected just outside the Fortress’ gates. The man who had accosted her was left with his mouth gasping like a landed fish. She smiled to herself as she heard the man desperately trying to construct an explanation to his neighbours as to why he had been right to stop her. She was sure she heard someone telling him: “You always were a blustery blowhard ...” By that time the clamour around her and Daret was sufficient to drown out the rest of that exchange.

Another few heartbeats of wriggling, pushing and sliding through gaps brought them out of the press of bodies. A hand of unhampered strides then allowed them to reach the guardsman on duty. It was only then that Daret started trembling violently.

The guardsman there automatically began to angle his pike across to block her passage, but then he recognised her, smiled and greeted: “Mistress Dab, a good freshness to you.”

“And a good freshness to YOU, Airen. I trust you slept well?”

“Thank you, Mistress. We had no alarums for which we are grateful. This promises to be a day of action, I deem.” He lowered his voice slightly. “Let us hope the Margrave does not inflame sensibilities TOO much!”

“You could well be right, young man. And we hope for the same, too. See you later.”

“Until later, Mistress.”

… … …

“Good freshness all, I thank each and every one of you for coming here today. You will be aware that I have already made a few announcements since I returned from Palarand, almost eight weeks ago now, but this one today is probably the most important and the most detailed.

“First I asked you for patience and understanding as I tried to make good some of the problems set by the recent war with Yod. Well, I must say that I find it necessary to praise you all for that very patience, for your faith and your tolerance. I know things have been difficult for nearly all of you since the Yodans chose to disrupt the entirety of the Great Valley. With all the lost contracts, not to say equipment and many men, our life as we knew it has been almost violently overturned. And the aftermath has so far gone very little in the way of easing many of our difficulties.

“I have not been idle in those weeks and months since the war ceased. I have been rebuilding old and constructing new agreements, particularly with those lands downriver. I have had to, at the same time, help calm some outbreaks of trouble from several instances which were brought about by enforced idleness and a lack of information. And then there were other duties as well, so my progress was naturally slowed. At first the task nearly swamped me, but the very capable assistance of Minister Yussuf here, along with his wife standing next to him, Mistress Dab, has given me much required breathing space. I’m sure you will all have noticed how much more productive we have all been over the past few weeks.

“And today I can announce that the wine bottlers can once again start emptying their overflowing vats since we received a consignment of empty wine bottles from the Forguland makers yesterday and more are due in the next few days. We also now have the ability to start moving those bottles around in bulk, once they are filled and stoppered. The empty bottles are already on the roads and lanes to the wine growers.”

A cheer went up, markedly limited, but nevertheless some of his audience showed they were happy.

“That consignment of empty bottles was not the only cargo on the vessel that docked yesterday. But before I pass onto describing the rest, I must first hark back to my visit to Palarand and tell of some of the truly amazing changes that they have wrought down there, and are continuing to do so, and other stunning developments. These will affect ALL of us in the Great Valley, and quite possibly much further afield.”

The crowd seemed to settle somehow as they strained to pay attention.

“When I was there, I met no fewer than TWO new Princesses of their realm, neither being a daughter of King Robanar. Although their stories are in many ways interleaved, I shall report on each of them separately – starting with the one who married Crown Prince Keren and who will one day be the Queen of Palarand. Princess Garia’s background would be so amazing, so confusing and so unbelievable to us all that it would distract from the very important messages I have to impart today. Suffice it to say that sufficient proof was provided to us all that a dozen heads of states and their advisors and companions were all convinced. Including our very own Captains – Captain of the Field Woltass and Senior Captain Hannar.

“I do not exaggerate when I say that this young woman, younger than anyone else present there that day, demonstrated that her education and her intelligence is AT LEAST twice that of anyone else in all Alaesia. Her knowledge is formidable. And it is, or was, to be more accurate, precisely for her knowledge that Yod waged this war that has devastated all of us, even if we were not actually fighting. Yod’s ultimate objective was to kidnap Princess Garia and then to force her to reveal her knowledge. As a last resort, the Yodan forces were under instructions to kill her.”

A loud gasp arose as the audience let that last sentence sink in.

“Yod wanted all that knowledge for themselves, and for themselves alone. To lord it over all of us, the entire Great Valley.”

There were boos then. Loud ones.

“But Princess Garia is giving us - yes all of us, not just Palarand - this knowledge OF HER OWN FREE WILL. Which means that, in the coming weeks, months and years, we will see many changes come to all our lands. Some few, small changes in fact have already arrived. Some of you will have guessed that these were indeed a part of the cargo that arrived yesterday.

“But I still have much to say before we get to those details. Let me dispense now with the final words about the war. It is over and we all, all nations of the Sirrel Great Valley, have no desire for another similar war, ever again.”

He paused deliberately then, to allow a certain tension to build.

“And indeed in order to reduce the possibilities of such an event ever happening again, practically every nation downvalley from Yod has joined together into a solid alliance in which each nation retains its independence and yet all belong to the aptly named Sirrel Federation. Each nation will assist each other with development and with defence. And all the other factors nations normally have. Federation-wide decisions are to be made by a committee formed from all the rulers. But such an arrangement has many benefits, not the least, I repeat, being that it is highly unlikely that we shall ever have another war to contend with!”

Another pause.

“You should all be aware that I have added Faralmark to this Federation. We too are part of what is now known as the Sirrel Federation.”

It took a little while, but some of the crowd began to applaud. Soon more than half were showing their approval. The Margrave let it build for a few heartbeats, then held up a hand; it was not long before he was once more the centre of rapt attention.

“And now, ’tis time to make some introductions. To my right here, we have a most noble couple. They are the Magel Gorgay and his Lady Franaka.”

He paused to allow the audience to concentrate upon the elderly couple. A couple that appeared to be most frail. Some wondered how they had even managed to climb up onto the stage.

“As many of you know, the Magel is the ruler of Upper Faral. We have had deep and meaningful discussions in the past day or two so the Magel is fully aware of all that I have told you. He has properly considered all the relevant factors and has decided to reunite Upper Faral with us here in Faralmark. Once again we are united as one nation. A nation we shall call simply Faral.”

A few more cheers rang out which the Margrave allowed to carry on uninterrupted by his words. He waited until there was once more almost complete attention.

“I have now spoken with ALL of our close neighbours, and with Jestik, Vosanal and Hofer. Across the Sirrel Pakmal, Zebrin, Benmond and Mirdul are all aware of the Sirrel Federation. These nations have decided to sit back and observe to see how this all works out. I beg of you all to give the very best of examples to those observers.

“Now I need to mention the rest of the cargo that arrived yestere’en.

“There were many gifts from the Federation, gifts that demonstrate some of those incredible developments I mentioned that are spreading from Palarand, from Princess Garia’s knowledge. First they have provided us with a plentiful supply of something called paper and quite a few reedlets too. Paper is a cheap and plentiful alternative to parchment and reedlets are implements used to scribe upon this paper, without the need for complicated inks and associated care! You just need a piece of rag wrapped around them to keep your hand clean. Why is this important for us? Because I intend that each and every citizen of Faral shall learn to read and write! Man and woman, boy and girl.”

A huge gasp arose.

“Not only that, but each citizen shall also learn to number properly. For there is also a new way of numbering, using what are known as Garian numbers. Now I wonder where that name came from!”

A titter came from the crowd.

“Also in the cargo were things known as steam engines, at which you shall all be amazed but to which you shall all become accustomed surprisingly quickly. I wish to keep this address as short as I may, so I shall forgo any attempt now to describe the incredibly useful steam engines. Which shall also hold good for the beam lanterns that were included in the cargo. And the telescopes, although I doubt these latter shall be in very wide usage, at least not yet.

“We were sent several instruction manuals for the items we have received and also several samples of the new designs for saddles, for – yes – there are even new ways of riding frayen. The WOMEN of Palarand are enjoying their exercises astride their mounts as well as the men finding the new methods far better than the old.”

The audience were now stunned into silence, so the Margrave pressed onwards, confident that his every word was being listened to.

“The renowned seamstresses of Joth have sent several examples of female riding wear which shall be given to our seamstresses here to be able to create the things themselves. There are other items of interest to our womenfolk, things called hand mirrors, which are mirrors made of specially-coated glass that give a startlingly clear reflection. I believe there are furthermore other things of a womanly nature but frankly we men who inspected it all were far too embarrassed about that to discuss it amongst even ourselves. The Minister’s wife shall add to her duties and oversee the proper distribution of those items. I know only that we are now talking of various articles of apparel.

“Another gift from downvalley is a crate loaded with forks. The explanation of those shall become clear in time – right now is NOT that time. I know only that I myself could not live properly without mine.”

All those behind him on the stage who had themselves forks nodded their agreement.

“Finally, I must mention something else that was included. Along with the explanatory documentation, we have the spars necessary to create the working part of something that will enable messages to be passed from one end of our country to the other, and get a reply all in the same day! These things are called semaphore stations. That is sema, ending with an ‘a’ sound, followed by ‘fores’ as in foreshore or foresight. Don’t ask me why, I simply don’t know. But the workings of these semaphores shall be immediately apparent once we have seen them in operation. Princess Garia told me that they shall probably all become obsolete within a decade, but the advantages of having them shall more than outweigh the costs of constructing and using them.”

That stunned silence from the crowd was by now total. No-one could have expected such wide-sweeping and life-affecting revelations would crash upon their heads when they arose this morn. Maker! What other revelations are there to come?

“Now I promised to mention more about that second Princess, Princess Eriana – this time her backstory deserves some deeper explanation. Her origins lie in the rugged and mountainous nation of Einnland, a remote country on the south coast of Alaesia, somewhere all the way across the mighty Palumaks from here. The daughter of the King there, her father was attempting to force her into a deeply unsuitable marriage so she absconded with her ship and a loyal crew. They survived a danger-fraught voyage around the coast and crash-landed in Plif. From there they made their way to Palarand, leaving but a scant repair crew with their ship.

“After a little training in Palarand, they were dropped off from a caravan and then walked across the northern mountains in Shald where they entered the Ferenis Uplands. They made a successful attack from this unexpected direction on the fortress at Boldan’s Rock and sent the occupying Yodan forces reeling down to the valley floor. They even then swept downhill and cleared the Yodans out from the littoral down there. This shock to the Yodans precipitated their ultimate defeat. It certainly spread their available forces far too wide for comfort.

“After being feted and other much-deserved celebrations for her role in the war, Princess Eriana returned to Palarand and to her ship, which was now repaired and had been moved from Plif. After some time there, she left Palarand to come upriver on a large exploratory voyage. She told me that she would attempt to reach us up here, but we know not her precise timetable. Nor do we know what delays she might encounter. We must bear in mind that, at any port of call upriver from Ferenis, she shall effectively be an ambassador for the Sirrel Federation. Her vessel was damaged once again on her way upriver and they had several weeks of delay in Joth. We know they left there some three or more weeks past and have spent some time in Forguland before moving on to Ferenis. We await more information.”

The Margrave then took half a step backwards, saying as he went: “Now, my mouth and throat tell me I have said far too much so far and will gladly therefore hand over now to your Minister of Trade and Transport.”

A smattering of applause broke out as the two men on the stage changed positions. Yussuf was uncertain that any of it was directed at him. He looked down at the sea of faces all regarding him, most inquisitively, the majority of the others neutrally. The sheer volume of people made his knees weaken. This was something he had never done before.

But no-one would ever have guessed from his voice; strong, confident and carrying: “And I too shall wish you all the very best of freshness. Helped of course by the balmy weather we find surrounding us this day. I deem the late afternoon shall be a warm one, very warm.

“I can make such a pronouncement with confidence after thirty and more years of practice by navigating the rivers that centre our lives. I have knowledge of the Faral River from the Falls all the way down to here, and I have been afloat on the Sirrel from all the way upvalley in Stirmond all the way downriver to Smordan.” His voice took on a smiling quality at that point. “And when there, I took a wagon across into Virgulend just so I could boast of having visited THAT land too.”

His confidence was given a great boost by the ripple of laughter that ran round the crowd. Actually, the shaking of his knees disappeared at that moment, although without being noticed until later.

“Our Margrave has seen fit to appoint me to oversee the development of trade and transport as we rise once more from the depression that Yod recently plunged us into. Many of us were brought to financial ruin, or at least very close to it, by the stagnation of business. ’Tis my task to regenerate faith in the minds of other lands of what Faralmark, sorry Faral as it is now, has to offer, which means that my first major step must be to regenerate faith here amongst ourselves, for without that confidence here at home, we cannot secure solid and lasting trade up and down the rivers. As our Margrave so eloquently explained, lands nearby to us are watching very carefully as to how we progress in this Federation thing – well maybe Pakmal aren’t, they will require another century or so to make up their minds!”

A great roar of laughter went up then; Pakmal was renowned for indecision and was thus the butt of many jokes in Faralmark and Upper Fanir. Pakmalis were always depicted as being slow in thought and unintelligent, often with a strange kind of twisted logic. Sometimes the people of Zebrin were painted with the same brush, so as to speak, but the implied insult didn’t really stick to them as they weren’t as extreme as the Pakmalis. A typical joke for example was: a Pakmali named Sonroy goes into a tavern and takes a drink. A little while later, the taverntender says to Sonroy: “Your mug is empty, do you fancy another one?” Looking puzzled, Sonroy replies: “Why now would I be needing two empty mugs?”

With no training, Yussuf timed it perfectly when he began to speak once more, just as the laughter began to trail off.

“Seriously, we as a land are being looked at very carefully, so let us remember that we are living advertisements for the Federation. I have identified various areas that need attention to enable us to improve. But I have already negotiated, along with the Margrave, several trade deals that will help finance the required improvements. The wine business shall be the spearhead of our recovery. We now have a plentiful supply of empty bottles and tomorrow a boatload of filled ones shall depart downriver where they shall fetch yet more empties for their return journey.

“Our Margrave himself has promised to fund several of the development threads out of his own pocket. He wishes to demonstrate his desire to get on with things without hesitation.

“Among the first of these shall be the betterment of our roads and streets. The main Trade Route up the Great Valley passes along the far side of the Sirrel, going from the more desolate parts of Yod through Pakmal, Zebrin, Benmond, Mirdul and onwards as it climbs along. As a result of that, very little investment has been made on OUR side. As a further result, getting our trade goods to the neighbour’s towns or to our ports has become more tedious than it really should be. We shall start with the road from here in Bibek to the Upper Fanir border, near their capital of Faralan. At the same time we shall also concentrate on certain stretches of the road up the Faral Valley.

“But the roads are not the only things that shall be improved. Our ports shall also be refurbished. Some of you will have seen the construction of the Royal Dockyard, so called for that is where we expect Princess Eriana to dock if she should ever get here. But the Royal Dockyard shall also be reserved for more special uses; the commercial port shall be the main area of activity. Larger storage areas shall be built there, and also larger loading areas, increasing the capacity for vessels. We expect to be able to handle twice as many as can currently be fitted in, and larger ones at that. The more observant of you will have noticed some new features on the ends of the walls at the Royal Dockyard. Not just the walkways which will help warp the barges in and out, but at the very ends of those walkways have been placed some lights to identify the port mouths. These lanterns are known as Faros, a single Faro being on either side of the mouth. By employing colours, visiting vessels shall be able to identify which port mouth to use.

“But I wanted not to get into such detail here and now; I wish merely to mention the ways in which we shall be moving forward. There are several other schemes to be finalised but what I am essentially saying is that there shall be more ways than usual for those prepared to work hard to earn plenty of Medals and Dopars, Drams even. We estimate that there shall be hundreds of Seals spent before the rains come.

“Talking of monies, then we estimate that we shall begin to see increasing amounts of Palarandi coins up here too. Like us, they have four levels of coin but they are not so logical as us. We have of course 32 Medals to a Dopar, 16 Dopars to a Dram and 8 Drams to a Seal. But, and try not to laugh too much, the Palarandis have 4 Soos to a Fenik, 20 Feniks to a Solly and 10 Sollies to a Crown.”

Indeed, more than a few chuckles could be heard as the audience shook their heads.

“I would like to finish by saying that anyone who wishes to apply for any of the plentiful positions we have on the roads or in the ports, then come to the Fortress and ask for my assistant, Master Lim. He will take a few details from each of you and assign anyone to a final interview with the appropriate chargehand or project leader. We have a very busy period in front of us. We must not neglect our traditional tasks either. If they are not maintained, then we shall have nothing to offer in trade.

“And now you have heard quite enough from me. There is one more speaker for you to listen to before we finish, so, men and women of Faralmark, excuse me, of Faral, pray silence for Senior Captain Hannar.”

This time Yussuf tried to convince himself that the applause that rang out was simply pleasure that Captain Hannar was about to speak. He bowed his head as he shuffled towards the back of the stage.

The Captain’s practiced military voice rung out. “Citizens, I thank you for your attention. And I convey thanks on your behalf to both our Margrave and our Minister for the unexpected, incredible and exciting news they have imparted this morn.”

There was a generous round of applause which startled Yussuf. He looked at his wife who mouthed ‘Well done!’ to him. He began at that moment to believe in himself.

The Captain continued: “I was fortunate enough to accompany the Margrave down to Palarand where I saw many of these mentioned wonders in action. I can only reiterate the Margrave’s words when I say that you will be amazed at what can happen.

“Now when we were down there, just a small party of us, we all had many tasks to perform, and so it was that I was assigned to learn about several things that shall become vital to all of us to make and maintain progress. I have knowledge to pass on and so am looking for others to first learn the facts and then be able to pass that knowledge on in turn. There shall needs be a representative either from each corner of our land, or one who is prepared to travel to each corner of our land.

“We now have a new numbering system that is so incredibly easier to use that ’twill revolutionise the way we all do our business. On top of that, there is also a new way of measuring time which was complicated to me at first, but once it had settled into my brain, I find far more sensible. Of course, there are new words we deal with here, and there are new ways of keeping a clock running. Trust me, this will become commonplace ’ere too long. Documents included with the delivery tell us that they are developing a simplified version of the new clocks, something to do with working using springs, and they promise to send one up to us as soon as they have something reliable. They currently use a differing method of driving their new clocks, but for us to use that method here would require an expert, much schooling and even more equipment. All that will have to wait.

“Those wishing to learn these methods and to then go out and teach them, should apply to me at the guardhouse; there behind me now in the courtyard of the Fortress.” He pointed in the general direction.

“The Margrave also mentioned the ‘semaphore’ system. That shall be built as rapidly as we might and will initially fall under my remit; it will NOT be a part of the road building projects. It will require building towers in line of sight of each other and each shall have a cadre of operators to function. The system sends messages from one tower to the next, the tower operators reading the message from the previous tower. They then either write the message down, for theirs is the destination tower, or they send the message on to the next tower. Once developed, then I expect that the system will be taken over by the Valley Messenger Service, just as happens in Palarand, Plif and, soon, Brugan.

“And I would remind you that we are also, as always, looking to increase our squads of armsmen ...”

… … …

When the speeches were over, the principals all retired to their offices in the Fortress. Dab was with Yussuf and they had just started to discuss their returning vessels when Birug knocked. He asked the Minister to go up to see the Margrave, explaining that the invitation was for the Minister alone. Yussuf took his apologetic leave of his wife and ran, almost skipped, up the stairs. He knocked perfunctorily and marched in, only to pull up rapidly. And to blush deeply.

“Your Grace! Excuse me. I foolishly assumed you were alone. It shall never happen again,” he managed to stammer out.

“Minister Yussuf. Thank you for your oh so very prompt acceptance of my invitation.” The Margrave and his visitor were both smiling, so Yussuf felt a little better. “Allow me to introduce the Ambassador from Upper Fanir, Representative Olva. Representative, this, as you already know from listening to him down below, is Faral’s Minister for Trade and Transport.”

“Delighted, Minister. A most amusing speech, even if not entirely to the taste of those from Pakmal! But you certainly scored a hit with the populace.”

“I am honoured er… your Representativeness!”

Again the Margrave and his guest smiled. The Ambassador simply said: “Oh let’s dispense with all that nonsense. Master Olva is quite sufficient.”

“And Master Yussuf for myself.”

“Honoured!”

The Margrave then led the men over to the low table and indicated their seating places. After pel was poured and all had settled in comfortably, the Margrave began: “First, Minister, I must gently take you to task. There were several Ambassadors present today, listening to us as we chattered away. Rep... Master Olva was one of them. Another was the Ambassador from Pakmal so perhaps it was not overly diplomatic to tell Pakmali jokes. I deem that this should be a lesson to you to think a little deeper before some utterances. Or try to know your audience before you commence.

“On the other hand, it won the audience over to you and made our job of selling hard work to our citizens that little bit easier. So I commend your performance. ’Twas as if you were born to it, so easy and confident was your presentation.

“But just to get back to Pakmal for a heartbeat or two, and just between the three of us here now in this room – and I shall deny ever saying this if it ever gets repeated – Count Tofero down in Pakmal is about as decisive as a wind direction flag in a circular storm. He is probably still trying to decide if he should side with Yod in the war that was over months ago. It’s a wonder he ever manages to dress properly – unless, of course, he has someone who makes those decisions for him.

“Be that as it may, we pass now onto the roads. The Ambassador here has asked to be involved in the designing and repair of the road that shall connect our two capitals. He suggested that ’twould be to our mutual benefit to such an extent that Faralan might make some small contribution to the costs. As a result, I feel that we should be fully open with him and mention all that we have discussed about transport, with particular reference to those future things called railroads and our intention to widen the road to twice its current width, if not more. So...”

… … ...

“You look tired, husband of mine.”

“Indeed ’twas a comprehensive session with the Margrave and Ambassador Olva from Upper Fanir. Between you and me, I got the feeling that the Ambassador wants Upper Fanir to join us as one large nation, but would accept becoming an individual part of the Federation. He seemed to deny, without actually saying so, that Lower and Upper Fanir shall ever reunite into one country. But that will all have to wait. Princess Eriana apparently would like to visit Faralan for some talks before she gets here, and the Ambassador would be reluctant to make any decision until after all information is known. He is, by the way, not quite certain just WHO is now in charge back in his capital, such were the depredations visited upon them by those of Yod.”

“Oh Maker! That sounds dreadful! Surely he must have travelled back to Upper Fanir to get instruction?”

“It is somewhat complicated but I deem I can encapsulate the necessities.” Daret looked confused at Yussuf’s words; even Dab was taken aback slightly.

“Both the Fanirs, Lower and Upper, have a well-known strategy in the event of attack. Government figures retire to the land’s uplands, protected there by narrow passes which would be expensive for invaders to attempt to conquer. Yod’s attack on Upper Fanir was so sudden that only a small cadre of minor government figures made it up to their strongholds. In order to suppress any possible organised resistance, the Yodans then proceeded to remove any senior Fanirans. When it became obvious what was happening, some of these figures went into hiding. There are now several factions claiming to be the legitimate government of Upper Fanir. Ambassador Olva felt vulnerable there lest someone tried to either silence him or forcibly enlist his help in some move of which he could not approve. He deemed it best if he rushed back here.

“The Margrave believes that HE might have to travel to Faralan to sort it all out. He certainly had grave difficulties trying to find someone to talk to last time he was there. Much of this is the reason that the Margrave has given priority to the erection of the semaphores along the Faralan road.”

Yussuf got up from his chair, stretched and walked over to the big window which overlooked the arms of the Sirrel. He peered wistfully out at the riverscape. His heart lifted as he observed the more frequent river traffic nowadays.

“This job I have is exciting, important and to a certain extent, interesting. But I am beginning to miss the water. Feeling the currents, the waves, the wind. The feel of a craft moving beneath my feet. I deem I must have a day to myself soon, rowing on the river. Would you like to come along too, like we used to do?”

“Oh Yussuf, I would LOVE to. When shall we do that?”

“Errm, Minister...” broke in Master Lim, “I doubt that you shall be allowed to do that. The Mistress now has her own employment in your department, so there would be no way that the two of you could place yourselves in such potential danger at the same time. And I deem your rowing boat may not be large enough anyway, for Daret here would also have to go along.”

The married couple looked at each other and frowned. Lim felt it necessary to say that he had read their thoughts. “And no Mistress, Minister, your resignations are unlikely to be accepted. You are both now far too valuable to Faral, being the new name of both Faralmark and Upper Faral.”

“Yes, Slavemaster,” responded Yussuf despondently as he turned away from the window. And then he suddenly turned back again, peering attentively at the downriver arm of the Sirrel. He scooted across to his desk where he grabbed his telescope from its normal resting place and then swiftly returned to the window, aiming it at one of the vessels; once he had adjusted it properly, the craft sprang into his vision.

“Lim,” he called enthusiastically, “could you please run up to the Margrave and tell him the next cargo fetched from all the way downriver is about to arrive; add that we probably have a bell or even a bell and a half. Dab, we must go to the Royal Dock again. Your presence there shall be required.”

Lim looked at him doubtfully, which made Yussuf laugh. “No, we are NOT running away. I shall go down there and alert all those necessary. Dab you will be meeting an old friend once more.”

Dab looked at Yussuf, one eyebrow raised in query.

Vesper Sha-dhow.

“How do you know?”

“The Margrave told me the names of the four rescued vessels; you know one already, this one I have just told you. The other two are Dhow-nriver Dancer and Silver Sha-dhow. And the Margrave arranged them and their cargoes when he was on his way back from Palarand. Knowing that the repairs would take some while, he arranged for the cargoes to be delivered to the shipyard, where all were held in storage until the craft was ready to depart. But your question was how I can tell one from the other. Well, with this telescope I can see the boat as if it were but four ghallies distant.”

“Did YOU name those craft, Minister?” asked Lim.

“I did, Lim. At the time I thought I was being ever so clever, but the names just look dated to me now. But could you please go and tell the Margrave that a second craft approaches? Like I asked you to do about a week ago now.” He turned to Dab. “It’s just so difficult to get reliable staff nowadays, I deem.”

“As you say, Minister,” replied a grinning Lim before starting to exit.

He still heard the Minister though when he called after him: “And have you chased up those maps for the Princess yet?”

Lim had placed them on the Minister’s desk a scarce bell before. And Lim suspected Yussuf knew that. He grinned again at the remark, but turned his mind to the mentioned maps. He himself had been very impressed with them when he had received them.

When the door closed behind Lim, Yussuf picked them up once more. Indeed he had inspected them already but he wondered how much they would have to be changed again, now it was just Faral. He noticed with a frown that a town name was missing in the middle of Zebrin – Old Zebrin, as was; now renamed to Fort Vanip. He jotted down a note on his pad.

Villages Great Valley Zebrin to Ferenis.pngVillages Great Valley Mirdul to Faralmark.png

By and by, the incoming vessel was disgorged into the storage house in the Royal Dockyard, its cargo not to be trusted to the public storage houses up in the main port. There were three more sets of semaphore station spars and signalling arms, two more steam engines, another crate of forks, and some more telescopes. And even more empty bottles.

… … …

And so their lives settled into a routine, if it could be called that, which was rarely broken in those first hectic days as plans were drawn, positions interviewed for and appointed, systems designed and implemented. Two more deliveries from afar took place by which time the En-dhow-ment had departed again with a load of wine destined for Mirdul and Benmond. The pull of the water was great for Yussuf but he was honour-bound to stick to the ever-increasing number of tasks that he had to oversee and make decisions about. And when he had to stand in for the Margrave whenever His Grace was off somewhere for a night or two.

The routine was basically: sleep, eat, work in the office, attend lessons, eat, sleep.

Lessons? Yussuf, Dab and Daret had also joined in on one of the classes given by Captain Hannar, where the advantages of the Garian numbers soon became clear. As did the concept of twenty-four hour days which was explained, along with minutes and seconds. There was confusion as the Captain tried to explain electricity so that subject was rapidly dropped. When the Captain moved on to the state of the semaphore project, they smiled in appreciation when he said: “Without a second tower, the semaphore is useless.” Then he had continued: “We have first to decide upon the positioning of the towers, which, now we have those marvellous telescopes, can be farther apart than I had first imagined. We ...”

Yes, there may have been different decisions to be made, different people to talk with and to, but that was still office work. Still routine.

Routine that is, until the day Yussuf looked out of his window and saw a very unusual craft making its way swiftly upstream.




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