Somewhere Else Entirely -103-

Garia joins the men in the Large Training Hall to recount the details of the recent battle. The men learn of Yod's new weapons and how they might be countered. Later, Garia hears how Eriana's people came to Anmar, before attending a funeral for all their fallen friends.

Somewhere Else Entirely

by Penny Lane

103 - The Debrief


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) 2011-2014 Penny Lane. All rights reserved.


"You have one tunic left, milady," Jenet informed Garia. "All the rest of your exercise attire went to Blackstone and must therefore still be in our chests. Even when they arrive they must be sent immediately to the laundry." Maid studied mistress. "Did you plan to exercise today, milady? Forgive me for saying, but I thought your day would be too busy for such pursuits."

Garia sighed, something she seemed to be doing a lot of at the moment.

"I won't be doing any exercise, Jenet, but we'll have to go to the training rooms anyway, since Captain Merek wants to get the debrief over with. I thought exercise gear would be the best outfit since I'll be among the men."

Jenet nodded. "I understand, milady. Fortunately, there is a matching skirt and we still have plenty of the hose on the shelves, but until everything else is washed, or new is ordered, milady, you will not be able to take your preferred exercise."

"You're right, Jenet. I expect to be somewhat busy over the next few days, so I don't foresee a problem there."

Garia looked at the log fire flickering in the fireplace and considered the Large Training Room.

"Do we have enough undergarments? Is it going to be cold where we're going, do you know?"

"I do not know, milady. Before you came to us, I was not in the habit of frequenting those parts of the palace, especially in winter."

"Oh, okay. I guess it wouldn't have been sensible, would it? We'll just have to go as we are and see what happens."

Jenet was tying Garia's sash when a knock came at the door. The maid answered it and in trooped Merizel, Senidet and two maids Garia had never seen before.

"Ready to go?" Merizel asked with a cheery smile. "I hope your meeting went well last night, since I wasn't there to take any notes or anything."

"That's fine, Merry. There weren't any decisions, made or anything like that, fortunately. I did learn a bit about the new girl which I'll pass on when I get the chance."

"Is she going to be a problem?"

"I don't think so, but you never know. Certainly I don't think Keren is swayed by her appearance but there's the King and Queen to consider. Now, why have you got two maids? Are they both for Senidet?"

"Milady."

Senidet curtseyed but Garia waved a hand.

"Don't bother with all that if it's just ourselves, Senidet. You'll get enough practice doing it for everyone else now you're in the palace. If we all did that every time we met someone of higher rank we'd never get anything done. First time is fine, when you leave is fine, and always do it for the King and Queen. Remember that and you won't be far wrong."

"Thank you, milady." Senidet indicated the darker and taller of the two maids. "This is Molleena, who has been assigned me while I reside in the palace. I know that you and Milady Merizel have maids but I find it very strange to have one of my very own, milady." She gave a half-smile. "And Molleena is the name of someone I know in Blackstone, milady! It is strange to have someone the same name as my friend but so different a person."

Molleena curtseyed to Garia.

Merizel explained, "After you left the Receiving Room yesterday evening I went and sat with Senidet as you suggested. She told me about being assigned a chamber and a maid then. Her chamber is on the same corridor as my own, Garia, so I'll be nearby if she has questions. Molleena is like Jenet here, she was born in the palace and grew up in it, so she knows every chamber and corridor, and, I discovered, most of the gossip."

Molleena looked offended by the last remark but didn't defend herself from the accusation.

"So," Merizel continued, "It occurred to me that, with Lanilla still in a sick bed and Bursila somewhere with Milsy I had no maid of my own to help me with my attire. While we were on the road we could manage without help, just about, but now we're back in the palace that won't be possible, not having looked at some of those winter gowns. Kendar was still in the room so I made inquiry of him and Tandra here is the result."

Merizel waved a hand at the other maid, who made a curtsey. Tandra was the older of the two but could not have been more than about twenty-five or so. She was shorter and had a plain face topped by hair of a rich chestnut color. Molleena by contrast had hair that was almost black and a lively face that made Garia wonder if she could ever keep secrets.

"We met Milsy and Bursila last night as we were heading for bed," Garia said. "You'll probably meet her at breakfast. I'll tell you about it as we go down."

A surprise awaited Garia when she entered the family dining room, for the room seemed much lighter than previously. The cause was immediately apparent and she walked over to examine the doors leading into the courtyard.

"These are good, aren't they?"

"Is this the float glass you were telling us about, Garia?"

"It is, and I am surprised at the quality. You can see straight away how much extra light it lets into a room."

All the glass in the doors had been replaced by single panes about two feet square. The original panes had been the same size but had been composed of many small squares of glass, some of it rather rough, held in place by lead strips. The difference it made to the room was remarkable.

"What a difference this is going to make! Do you think they'll change all the glass in the palace?"

"I don't think so, Garia," a voice said, and they all turned.

"Milsy! Good morning."

Milsy curtseyed to Garia, who was amused to notice that the other girl had chosen almost identical clothing to herself this morning. Merizel went straight to Bursila and hugged her.

"I'm glad to see you're all right," Merizel said. "Milsy keeping you busy?"

"Very much so, milady. I am pleased to see that you are unharmed by what happened recently."

Merizel looked a question at Milsy and received a nod. She led Bursila away and the two began a quiet talk. Milsy continued her remark to Garia.

"The glass. If they changed every window in the palace, at the present rate, they have estimated it would take around three years, and that is with the glassworks making panes for nobody else at all. Several have protested that, while the extra light is beneficial, changing all the glass risks losing much of what gives the character of the building. What do you think?"

Garia nodded. "They may be right, specially since parts of this building have to be very old. This is a controversy which happens on Earth as well, where old buildings are concerned. Do you improve them all the time as technology or fashion changes or do you preserve them as they were at some point in the past? There are arguments both ways."

"Fortunately I don't have to make that decision, but I would like some extra light in the laboratory, specially at this time of year."

"Oh yes, you mentioned you've moved in there, didn't you?"

"Don't look so alarmed, Garia. I haven't disturbed anything. I'm just using the living quarters and the two benches you cleared at the end of the laboratory. I've stayed clear of the rest and I took just one look in the study and backed away again."

"A good idea! You've obviously been busy since we last met." Garia looked at Milsy speculatively. "We must arrange a good, long, chat." She smirked. "After I've paid a visit to Rosilda, of course."

A flurry of activity signaled the arrival of the King and Queen and behind them, Eriana.

Everybody bowed and curtseyed. Terys headed for the group.

"Garia, my dear. You look refreshed today, good. Good morning, Milsy. And to you, Merizel. Ah, of course, Bursila was your maid, wasn't she? Are you content to permit Milsy to make use of her? I have heard that she has gained knowledge of some of the strange new arts which Milsy practises."

"Your Majesty, I am content," Merizel replied. "We will always remain friends and, should circumstances change, I will welcome her back to my service with pleasure. I have asked Kendar to assign me another maid, here she is."

"You are..?"

"Tandra, if it please Your Majesty."

"Ah, yes. You're the daughter of one of our guardsmen, aren't you? I must warn you that service to Lady Merizel and Lady Garia could be somewhat different than your previous service."

"Lady Merizel explained that to me, ma'am. I know of Lady Garia's activities before she went north and I am ready for the challenge."

Terys nodded. "Good." She turned to Senidet. "My dear, we have not been introduced."

Senidet curtseyed again. "Your Majesty, I am Senidet, daughter to Brydas, the smith of Blackstone."

"Ah, yes. Garia spoke of you yesterday eve, I regret we did not meet you then. You are welcome in our home, my dear. Shall you then become a smith like your father?"

"Ma'am, I do not know what I may be able to do, but I have not the build for smithing. Lady Garia says I have other talents which will be of use to Palarand in the future."

"I see. I assume you will be with Garia or Milsy during your days, then?"

"Ma'am, I have only today met Mistress Milsy. I do not know what lies in the future."

"Nor do any of us, my dear." Terys turned to Senidet's maid. "Molleena. You are well-known to us, but serving Mistress Senidet may require more self control than you presently practice. Do I make myself clear?"

Molleena curtseyed. "As you command, ma'am."

"Good. Come, let us be seated, our food awaits and the smell has awakened my appetite."

Keren arrived late and slid into a seat next to Merek. "My apologies, father. I had forgotten that many of my clothes were still in the traveling chests." He turned to Merek. "You wanted to get the debriefing out of the way as soon as possible, I assume?"

"Aye, Highness, while the memory is still fresh in the minds of the men. Which reminds me, should we also learn of the other battle you fought, which you briefly mentioned yesterday evening?"

Keren looked at Garia. "What do you think?"

"It's a while ago, Keren, and would only cause wild rumors if we told it all. We can run through what happened for a selected group but I don't think telling everyone would be worth the complications."

Keren nodded. "As you say. Does that answer you, Captain?"

"Aye, Highness. Of course," Merek smiled, "now I am only intrigued the more! I know you have written to Their Majesties about that battle but we do not know the detail. To hear that tale would be an honor, Highness."

"Aye," Keren said in his turn, grinning. "You may well think so. Feteran thinks it will keep him in beer the rest of his life!"

Merizel thought back over their adventures as she ate and remembered something from one of their rides. Between courses she dug into her satchel and came up with a wad of notes. Robanar watched with a raised eyebrow as she leafed through them, looking for something.

"Ah! Here it is. Garia, do you remember your visit to the Stone Sea?"

"Of course, Merry. But you did not come with us, I recall."

"His Highness told me two things to write down when you returned, and I had forgotten them until today as one of them concerns the King."

"Oh?" Robanar looked interested..

Merizel went on, "Sire, it was something about an old man your son met up there. Larsenar, it says here."

Robanar looked at Keren. "Larsenar? The name sounds familiar."

"Aye, father. I remember it now. He is extremely old and now spends his time herding the pakh. He asks to remind you that he served with your father when he wore the colors of Prince of Palarand. They were at the battle of..." Keren's brow furrowed.

"Some river, I think," Garia said.

"That's right! The Battle of Perent River, I believe."

"Larsenar of Teldor," Merizel read from her note. "You didn't mention a battle or a river, Highness."

Robanar nodded. "Larsenar! Maker, he must be near ninety years old if he fought beside my father. I doubt many of his generation are still alive. Aye, I remember the man. I will have a letter of salutation drafted and sent to him. If I remember aright, he made Under-Marshal in my grandfather's forces at the time. Garia, I trust he has all he needs?"

"Sire, he does. Those we left in Blackstone will look out for him."

Eriana watched the exchanges between those dining with some disdain, coupled with a certain amount of distaste. This King's court was so much more relaxed than that of her father. People would never have spoken to each other in front of him or her mother that way! It was going to be hard adapting to the ways of this people but she knew that Queen Terys had come from a distant land to marry Keren's father, and the Queen had managed to accustom herself so it was at least possible.

Of course, this whole country was so much bigger than her own. Why, the palace itself could comfortably hold every person in their capital! At least she thought so, since her discreet explorations had done no more than scratch the surface. Why did it have to be so big?

"I don't think I'll join you, dear," the Queen was saying to the King. "I'm sure you'll tell me what I want to know but I don't think I need to hear the details of another battle. I have an appointment with Shelda this morning, so if you'll excuse me..."

"Of course, my dear. We'll see you at lunch, then." Robanar turned to Eriana. "The battle we spoke of last night, my men are going to describe their actions before all their fellows, so that we may learn such lessons as are possible and perhaps save the lives of our men in future conflicts. Prince Keren, being part of the defending force, will be there to tell his tale. Would you join us? It may not be the way a Princess expects to spend her time but you will learn more of what faces Palarand in the near future."

"Your Majesty, I will join you. If I am to succeed in my quest I must learn how your palace functions and of the men who protect it."

Garia had a sudden thought. If Morlan was here he'd be jumping up and down and blue in the face! Why didn't I think to pretend to be a Princess when I arrived?

Supposing she is really a spy? What better way of infiltrating the palace than how she did it? How well does that story she told us check out? Einnland really exists but the story she told us is a bit far-fetched.

Who do I go to? Who can I warn?

The diners rose and most dispersed to their jobs about the palace. Robanar led the way with Captain Merek with Keren following beside Eriana, to Garia's disgust. She deliberately allowed some distance to come between herself and Eriana by letting two armsmen precede her. With some hand-signals she arranged herself next to Milsy.

"What do you think of the visitor?" she asked in a low voice.

"Don't ask me, she's the only Princess I've ever seen," replied Milsy, equally quietly. "On the other hand, working in the castle kitchens you learn how to read people's characters and I think she's real, if that's what you're worried about. Only... there's something not quite right about her, if you understand me. It is difficult to talk to her, since her accent is so bad, but I just have a sense that we're not being told the complete story."

"What do you mean?"

Milsy shook her head. "I don't know. It's just a feeling." She turned to Garia and grinned. "Between you and me we ought to be able to discover the truth, though."

"How long has she been here?"

"Six days... no, seven now. She has two maids but they don't speak our language. She talks to them in their own gabble. Treats them poorly as well, in my opinion. I think Duchess Vivenne would have slapped her by now if she'd tried that in Dekarran, Princess or no."

Garia's eyebrows rose. "She does that in front of the Queen?"

"No, she's not that stupid. But she does it in front of others, like the palace staff and myself, and thinks she can get away with it because we don't know what they're saying. Only, the tone of voice is enough to tell me it isn't good."

"Interesting. What about other staff? She can't have come here with just two maids, surely?"

"No, there's someone who is a sort of Chancellor called Gullbrand who speaks our tongue reasonably well. He's handling the negotiations, so I'm told. Oh, and there's a thug called Lars who must be some kind of bodyguard. He doesn't speak our language either."

"Hmm. Thank you, Milsy. Where are they? I don't see the maids here or her... bodyguard."

"The maids will be at the back of this lot, they aren't considered important enough to be permitted that close to the King or Queen. Lars has been told, in blunt terms, that protection of everybody within the palace is the job of the Palace Guard and I think he spends his time following her Chancellor around at the moment. Where Gullbrand is today I have no idea, possibly talking to Kendar."

Milsy's eyes suddenly widened, she went, "Ooooh!" and everybody stopped in their tracks. Sheepishly she flapped her hands and said, "Sorry, everybody! I just remembered something, no need to worry!"

When the fuss had died down and everybody had resumed walking, she bent next to Garia's ear and hissed, "I'm slow today! No wonder you want to find out about Eriana. You're still sweet on the Prince aren't you?"

Garia replied, "It's worse than that. A lot worse than that."

"Oh, my! So you have competition!" Milsy looked at Garia speculatively. "I didn't know about the marriage rule until recently. Have you two -"

"We'll discuss this later."

"As you say. Perhaps it would be best."

The Large Training Room was full, and the royal party only made it more so. When Keren and Garia appeared there was a round of applause, but Keren stepped forward into the central space and held up a hand. The room quietened.

"Men, thank you for your welcome, but we must also remember those men who are injured and those who did not return except to rest on a pyre. The battle was won, it is true, but at great cost to our numbers and those of Dekarran. As we will tell you, the fighting was desperate."

The front rows of men were seated cross-legged on the floor. Behind them, men were seated on benches brought from the smaller rooms and behind them, men stood to see over the shoulders of their fellows. Apart from the passing-out parade after her Coming of Age ceremony, Garia had never seen so many of the Palace Guard together at one time.

In the center of the room was a line of frayen blankets concealing a number of bulky items and Garia guessed these were the recovered guns. Her guess proved right when Keren explained what was to happen next.

"Normally one who had taken part at the battle would first describe the layout of the forces and any buildings or other obstacles on the field. Today, I'm first going to describe the main weapon the enemy used, since it has a significant effect on how the battle was fought. If I did not do so, much of what will follow would not make sense."

With that he bent down and removed the blankets, showing a row of guns. At the end the ammo satchels lay neatly ordered. There was an audible intake of breath from many of the men.

"These are called guns. Lady Garia tells us that the word gun is a general term for such weapons, much like we may say knife or sword. To begin with, I'll tell you how they work and what they would do to an opponent facing them. After our debriefing we'll talk about ways of protecting ourselves from such a weapon should we face them in future. These two thinner weapons at the end are the ones we faced in Blackstone Vale, which is why most of us had some idea how to defend ourselves during the recent battle. Unfortunately, that was not enough to protect all of us from death or injury."

After Keren talked about the guns they were removed and carried out to one of the smaller rooms. The blankets were laid out in a line to represent the wagons, in order to make the defender's accounts more understandable. Beginning with those at the rear of the caravan each person recounted, as well as they could, what had happened to them and what they observed during the battle. There was another great intake of breath when the killing of the dranakh was first described, and all eyes turned to Garia when Feteran told how she had used Beth as a messenger.

"Milady," Merek asked, "how could you be sure that the beast would understand so complex a command?"

"Captain, during our journey to Blackstone and back we had lots of time to observe dranakh behavior and I am almost certain that they are a lot more intelligent than most people suspect. I also believe that they can communicate with each other by telepathy, by which I mean that they can use their minds to talk directly to each other. They can also, it appears, read human minds to some extent. I decided to test this with Beth and it came off perfectly."

"It has long been known that dranakh can anticipate the wants of its owner, milady, but surely they cannot, as you suggest, read our minds?"

"I don't know how else to explain it, Captain. The clearest example of what I mean is during the other battle. I'm not going to describe that today because it would only confuse proceedings, but what I will tell you all is clear enough. After the first attack on our camp, four of our dranakh appeared nearby, when we had last seen them grazing on the hills above Blackstone eight marks away. They had traveled that distance in maybe a bell as we were dressing wounds and making ready for any second attack. They could not have seen or heard either that battle or any instruction from anyone in our party."

"But surely, milady, they could have followed you, knowing -" Merek stopped, realizing what he was suggesting.

"If they knew beforehand, Captain, that would imply they knew the future, wouldn't it? If they had known the future, they would have turned up earlier and helped defend the camp from the first attack. No, I think they only started moving after the attack because they read about it in our minds." Garia shrugged. "I'm not suggesting that they can read minds the same way we hear one another speaking, because they probably don't understand language the same way we do. What they probably do is take our thoughts, intentions and fears from the surface of our minds instead. That's why they appear when a caravan is ready to move, because they can detect the wish to get going again in the minds of the wagoneers."

"As you say, milady. Does this mean we have to treat dranakh differently in future?"

"I don't necessarily think so. Because they are so powerful it is difficult to mistreat dranakh, so what they do for us they do voluntarily, yes? If they disliked what we ask them to do for us I'm sure they would let us know. As for the future, I expect that some group of Questors will investigate what I've just said and maybe ten years from now we'll get a report nobody can understand." She grinned at the men. "That's how it works, doesn't it? Until then, treat your animals with respect and you'll get the same in return."

"What of frayen, milady? Are they capable of such feats? I notice that they have become calmer and more responsive since your ideas of husbandry have been followed."

"I don't think frayen have the brainpower that dranakh obviously have, captain, but treating animals with respect works for all animals, not just dranakh."

The battle was gone through and several points noted which Merek said he would consider later. Garia and Keren then stood in the middle and told their audience what to do in the event someone pointed a gun at them in future. She also told them of future improvements Yod might make in gun design, and not to make assumptions about the possible range or capability of anything they faced. Some of their audience looked sceptical.

"Forgive me for saying so, milady," one said, "but these look clumsy things that can be used only once in a battle. You did tell us they may be reloaded, as a crossbow is, but in that time anything could have happened."

"You are right, Torin is it? That's exactly what happened in this battle. However," she emphasized, "if they had carried twenty guns instead of ten, or even thirty or forty, then we would have all been dead. We were lucky that Yod came to get me with everything they had to hand and it wasn't enough, just. Our two archers made a great difference by killing one gun team before it could fire and archers will always be able to outfire guns, at least for now. But remember, one of these guns can kill several people with a single shot. No archer or crossbowman can do that.

"In the future, a man with a gun will be able to fire and kill a single person from beyond the range of any archer. The guns of the future won't need teams to fire them or be so heavy. They'll also be easier and quicker to reload. The armor you now have will be useless. At that point we might as well surrender right away because nothing we have would be able to stop them."

There was a dead silence in the room as Garia pronounced this.

"What do we do, milady?" came a small voice in the crowd.

Garia turned to Robanar, who strode forward to stand beside Keren and Garia.

"This is but one of the terrible secrets Lady Garia hides from our world, and one of the secrets Yod wished to gain by kidnapping her. She knows what happens when whole armies of men numbering millions are armed with nothing but guns and worse weapons. She seeks to prevent our world following the same dreadful path, and I am entirely in agreement with that sentiment."

He turned around at the attentive audience. "Left to ourselves these devices would have been kept for a future where their deadly abilities may be more successfully restrained, but Yod has given them to the world and we must make reply. Men, there will be guns in your future, and we will rely on Milady Garia to ensure that no mistakes are made in their manufacture or use.

"We will take the war to Yod. There is no choice, our lands have been invaded. We trust that Lady Garia will assist us in ensuring that the war will come to a successful conclusion with fewer casualties on both sides." Robanar shook his head. "There are those who guide Yod who are responsible for their belligerence, and it will be those we seek. I trust that many of their ordinary folk like war about as much as we do. Let us prove to them there is a better way."

Robanar made a sign to indicate the session was at an end and turned to go. That was a signal for Merek and Master-at-Arms Haflin to head in Garia's direction. Haflin reached her first.

"Milady! Would you tell me of your swords? I know from the accounts just given they have served you well but are they damaged? Did you find any flaw?"

Garia put on an angry face and pointed with one finger to the floor.

"On your knees, Haflin!"

Robanar turned around as the murmur in the hall checked at Garia's imperious command. The shocked smith came down on his knees with a thump, but before he could begin to voice a protest she wrapped her arms around his neck and planted a kiss on his cheek!

As the men roared their delight she murmured in his ear, "I couldn't reach you all the way up there, you great lump." Speaking normally, she added, "Rise, please."

Standing back from a beaming Haflin she raised her voice so that the whole hall could hear.

"Master, your swords served me perfectly. I'll send them all along later today for you to examine. But the plates you made from the leftover star metal, that you had sewn into my tabard, saved my life twice during this battle. I took a direct hit from a crossbow bolt here and later a swipe from a sword across here. Neither more than scratched the metal. Master Haflin, I owe you my life."

Haflin executed a great bow. "My Lady, it is my honor to provide weapons and armor for those who defend our King, Queen and country. I would be derelict in my duty if I did not make sure those weapons and armor were of the best quality I could possibly devise. I am gratified my efforts have saved such a wonderful person for Palarand."

This time the cheers were louder. The only person who didn't cheer was Eriana, who was furious.

~o~O~o~

In her sitting room Eriana faced Gullbrand, who wished he was somewhere else entirely.

"This Garia! She has the Palace Guard eating out of her hand! How is this possible? Have you learned anything of her?"

"Highness, I know only what I have been able to glean so far, and that is that she arrived in Palarand in high summer under mysterious circumstances and was immediately taken in by Robanar. Much of what is said about her is only rumor and it is impossible to tell fact from fantasy."

Eriana glowered. "Is she high-born? Do we at least know that?"

Gullbrand shook his head miserably. "I have not found that out, Highness."

"Since you fail to supply me with even basic information, I'll ask what you have been doing this morning. What does Kendar have to say?"

"The custom of which we were told is real, Highness. Among the countries of this Great Valley it is expected that the sons and daughters of rulers will only marry those of other rulers. This is to bind the countries together by ties of blood and to reduce conflicts among them."

"So how is it that Prince Keren isn't married already to someone from nearby?"

"Highness, I do not know. Kendar did say that a number of candidates have presented themselves before the King but none were found suitable."

"So my chances are..?"

"Greater, Highness, I would think. Especially now that war looms for Palarand, Robanar will want to make sure the succession is secure." Gullbrand considered keeping his mouth shut but prudence overrode personal safety. "Despite what I have just said, I would not underestimate Lady Garia, Highness. She has just spent some months traveling with the Prince and the two are doubtless close."

Eriana snarled and Gullbrand took a step back. "Find out, Gullbrand! That's what you're here for. I need to know if there is opposition to our plan so that I can counter it."

"Highness, I will do so but it will take time. We have not yet been here a week and Lady G-, uh, the Baroness only returned yesterday. Now their party is in residence again we can develop sources of information. Uh, Highness..."

"What?"

"I would advise that you try and control your temper when you appear in public. You are here, after all, to be betrothed to Prince Keren and it is him you must satisfy."

"Very well." Eriana visibly calmed down at Gullbrand's caution. "Sometimes your advice is worthy, Gullbrand. I will do as you suggest. Now, let us go downstairs, it will be time for these people to serve lunch."

~o~O~o~

Terys turned and waited for Garia as they entered the dining room.

"Garia, my dear. Do you still nap?"

Garia was instantly wary. The way she understood it the afternoon nap was something that everyone did in the heat of summer. They had done it when they first went to Blackstone but as the seasons changed there seemed little reason to bother. But maybe the Queen had other ideas... or maybe not. Which meant almost any reply she gave could be the wrong one.

"Uh, ma'am?"

"I forget, dear, that you are not used to our changes of season yet," the Queen said, noticing Garia's apparent confusion. "In the hot weather it is best to nap after lunch but it is not so necessary in these cooler days. Indeed, I am told that a different custom prevails in some of the more remote parts of the kingdom, and that is to wake in the night for perhaps a bell. Have you knowledge of this custom?"

"Uh, yes, ma'am, I do but I don't - we don't - do that ourselves just now. I know that some do it in Blackstone. I have woken up some nights but that was because I have been thinking about various problems or," she grimaced, "because the bed has not been so comfortable. Perhaps it is something I might do when I am older, ma'am."

"As you say, my dear. I just wanted to make sure that you were not going off after lunch to lay down, because I have asked Eriana to tell you how her people came to Alaesia originally. She recounted the story briefly to us some days past before you returned and she said then that they knew they came from another world. Of course they are so remote that no-one else knows their story, so it has not been possible for any to prove or disprove it. Then I realized that of course you might be able to do so."

"It's possible, I suppose." Garia was interested, despite the circumstances. "Ma'am, you mean to do this straight after lunch?"

"I do, dear, before everybody else sets upon you with their demands."

Garia rolled her eyes. "As you say, ma'am. I think Merizel has already had notes from several people, including some inside the palace. After lunch, then."

"After lunch."

Lunch was a quiet affair after the morning's business. Robanar seemed to be thinking about the forthcoming war and Keren's attention was torn between Garia and Eriana. Garia tried to be civil around Eriana but the Princess made it plain she was not happy. However, she carefully deflected any solicitous questions from Terys and Keren, preferring to concentrate on trying to make her fork do as she wished it to.

Merek finally managed to speak with Garia right after lunch.

"I'm sorry, Captain, I am expected at a meeting with the Queen shortly. How can I help?"

"Milady, we must meet together soon to decide how you wish to manage your troops."

"My troops? I don't have that many, unless you mean all those men who look after Milsy."

"I do, milady. Since Mistress Milsy kept up the pretense to be yourself after she arrived here it was found necessary to increase the size of the squad protecting her on her visits throughout the city. These men, perforce, wear your colors and are separate from the normal routine of the Palace Guard. It seemed logical to me that, once you returned to us, these men should become a normal part of your own retinue, milady. After all, you will have need of an escort yourself and I know your numbers are yet small."

"Actually, Captain, I did bring back two young lads from Blackstone with me. One is being trained by Stott and promises to be a fine archer. The other can handle a sword and fortunately neither was seriously injured in the battle."

"That is good to know, milady, but that still only brings your numbers up to... nine, perhaps? You would need more than that to provide a proper escort and allow the men rest days. Mistress Milsy will, of course, still require her usual escort."

"How many are we talking about? All twelve?" Merek nodded. "Did they all have a free choice in becoming Milsys's escort?"

"All knew that those who volunteered would almost certainly become your men in time, milady." Merek reddened. "Unfortunately, when I called for volunteers, every man stepped forward. It was necessary to do some winnowing so that those who were selected covered a suitable range of talents, milady. Some of them lack experience, it is true, but they make up for that in other respects."

"What does the King say about me stealing some more of his men?"

Merek looked injured. "Milady, I would not consider it to be stealing. After all, since you reside in the palace, those men would be available should circumstances require extra reinforcements. Aye, the King has consented to what I have proposed."

Garia smiled at Merek. "Then we appear to have a deal, Captain. I suggest you get together with Commander Feteran and decide how you both want to organize things in future." A thought struck her. "One thing. What about Milsy herself?"

Merek looked blank. "Why, milady, I assumed that, as she is part of your retinue, your men would continue providing escort duties for her as before."

"Actually," Garia said slowly, "I'm not sure what Milsy's status is at all. I don't remember her swearing an oath to me... or to anybody else, come to that." She thought. "I'll ask her, of course, but this may have to involve the Queen."

Merek nodded. "As you say, milady."

~o~O~o~

Robanar, Terys, Keren, Eriana, Garia and Merizel were in the downstairs parlor. Merizel was there to take notes.

"Eriana," Terys asked, "you told us some days past that your people knew they came from another world. Could you tell Garia how they could prove that?"

"Certainly, ma'am. We have sagas of our coming to this world, stories originally told by singers, now written down so we have a record. All who are of the royal family of Einnland are required to know them, although I must admit my studies were not as thorough as they might be." She smiled at Terys. "My interests lay in other, outdoor, pursuits. I leave the reading of books to others.

"The sagas tell of a time on the mother world, when our people were great mariners, able to cross oceans by following the stars. It is told that the people who came here were in ships intending to found a colony in a great new land far to the west of our native homes. There are names of myth that we have remembered, the Land of Ice, the Land of Vines, the Green Land... these sound like names out of childrens' tales. Garia, do you know of these?"

Garia was forced to nod. "Iceland, Vinland, Greenland, yes, I have heard of them. They are not myths. Two even still exist."

"Even now, after so long? The Land of Vines was where my ancestors were heading. Does that yet exist?"

"Yes and no. I'm afraid, Eriana, that the Vinland colony failed. We don't know exactly when or how, but there may have been one or more very severe winters they could not survive. We have dug up remains of some of their settlements." Garia shook her head. "Just like you, I learned some of this stuff but it didn't seem especially important at the time. I can't tell you any more, I'm afraid."

Keren pointed out, "Garia, you said yes and no."

"Ah, well, North America, which was the continent that Eriana's people were heading for, was settled again some centuries later by others who didn't know about Vinland. My people were among them. Much later those colonies gained independence and the whole thing, which might be about the size of Alaesia, is divided into two collections of states much like the Valley. My homeland, Kansas, is one of those states in the southern half. So you might say that I came here from Vinland in a strange sort of way."

"As you say," Eriana was sad. "But the ships carrying my people never reached the Land of Vines, Vinland as you name it. Just as my own voyage here was beset by storms, so a great storm destroyed the ships of the settlers and they were washed up on the shores of Einnland instead. At first they thought that they had reached Vinland but that was soon disproved. In those days there were many who knew the arts of sailing across the wide oceans and they knew the night sky. They only had to wait for the sun to set before they knew they were on a different world."

The Veil. One look at that and you'd know you weren't on Earth. So why..? Oh, this was more than a thousand years ago. It's not surprising it has fallen into myth.

"Sire," Garia addressed Robanar. "You remember I told you there was nothing in the night sky of Earth that was anything like the Veil. It seems there were those among the settlers who recognized that fact right away. It's a pity they landed in such a desolate spot, but amazing that they survived."

Assuming the Beings didn't just plan the whole thing, of course.

"As you say, Garia." Robanar nodded.

"Eriana," Garia asked, "Do your people know how long ago this all happened?"

"I am told a thousand years, milady. Such numbers are, of course, so vague as to have little meaning, but I understand the time to be more than nine hundred years, certainly, perhaps as many as one or two hundred more. While the singers told the stories, they did not take much account of time passing."

"That's true. We have old stories that have been retold over the years so much they bear little resemblance to what originally happened."

"Much seems to have changed on the mother world since my people left," Eriana said reflectively. "Would you tell me of Earth as it was when you left it?"

Garia glanced at Robanar, who gave an imperceptible shake of his head.

"Um, that could be difficult, Eriana. So much has changed since your people left that it would be like talking about a whole different world. That's going to take a lot of time and unfortunately since I've been away I expect to be very busy in the next few weeks." Garia forced herself to smile at the Princess. "If your quest is successful then you'll probably have lots of time to hear tales from Earth."

Eriana looked disappointed but not, perhaps, as much as Garia expected.

The King's hardly going to trot out all our secrets for her to take home, is he? And home is definitely where she'll be going if I have my way.

Not to mention, she has her own secrets she's keeping from us.

"A pity," Eriana agreed, "but you speak the truth. We will both be too busy in the next few weeks."

"Alone Land," Garia said, absently. "That's what Einnland means."

"Your pardon?" Eriana asked surprised. "Do you speak our language, Garia?"

She shook her head without thinking. "No, it was just a lucky guess. It makes sense, doesn't it? Your people are alone in Alaesia and you are as exiled from Earth as I am."

"As you say. I am pleased that, when spring comes and someone can take a letter to my father, that my people can be told that the story of their origin is the truth. I am saddened that there is no way back for us." She paused, struck by a thought. "There is no way back to the mother world, Garia?"

Garia shook her head. "Nope. I don't know how I got here and I don't even know where here is. There's no chance of going home, I'm afraid, for me or anyone else."

~o~O~o~

"What do you think?"

Merizel reflected. "She's honest enough, when she is genuinely interested in the subject being spoken of. I deem she has a temper much fiercer than your own, Garia. That's how I expected a Princess to behave. She seems driven, too. As Milsy said earlier, there's something we're not being told." Merizel regarded Garia with anxiety. "What do you think? Do you still think there's no cause for concern?"

"Regrettably, I think she has to be considered a competitor. She's a Princess, after all, and she knows how to manipulate the situation to her benefit." Garia sighed. "We just have to do our best, that's all. Now, we have a bell and a half before we have to get ready for dinner. Who's on your list?"

"Let me see... in the palace? Haflin, of course. Kendar, Fulvin, Shelda, Rosilda, Margra, Captain Merek... Do I need to go on?"

"About what I expected. Okay, let's get my swords and armor to Haflin first, they'll be out of our way then. After that I think we'll go find Margra. Since she'll probably be with the wounded we can go visit them at the same time, cheer them up. That should take us to dinnertime, right?"

~o~O~o~

"So, I found out what you could not! Garia is from the mother world."

"Is that possible? Can you be certain, Highness?"

"As much as anyone could be. It seems our sagas tell the truth. She said things that showed knowledge of the mother world. Earth, she called it."

"An uncouth word, Highness. I do not like the Valley tongue."

"That word is in her own tongue, Gullbrand. Though she speaks the local language easier than I do it is not the tongue she learned from her mother, I am sure of that." Eriana looked complacent. "The important fact is that, since she came from the mother world, she cannot be the daughter of any ruler or noble here. Robanar cannot consider her a match for his son, and I shall remind him of that on every occasion."

"I advise caution, Highness. The Baroness is very popular in the palace."

Eriana's face twisted. "I do not care. When I am Queen, those in the palace will do as I command. Those who do not shall be banished."

~o~O~o~

"Captain Merek, just a few words, if you have a moment."

"Lady Garia. How may I be of service?"

"Eriana." Garia didn't bother with the title. Merek frowned. "How do you know she is real, Captain? After all, she's turned up here in the palace almost the same way that I did all those months ago. Okay, she has a story but there's almost no way of knowing if it's true or not. I was only thinking earlier, if Morlan were still around he'd have a fit."

"Aye, milady. When she first arrived our suspicions were roused, as you say, particularly as some noted the similarity with your own appearance. But Princess Eriana brought with her a letter of introduction from the Grand Duke of Plif explaining her circumstances and she wore a ring thought to belong to the royal family of Einnland." Merek shrugged. "It is still possible she may be an imposter but until she makes a misstep we will not know. I am pleased to note your own scepticism, milady. As we have noted before, you have a good eye for intrigue."

"Yes, well, living in the palace does that for one, doesn't it? As it happens, she really is from Einnland even if she might not be a real Princess. This afternoon she told us things no outsider could possibly have known. In fact, they only made sense to me."

Merek nodded. "That's good to know, milady. As always with strangers in the palace, we watch and observe. Now, if you would excuse me?"

"Of course, Captain."

~o~O~o~

The dusk bell sounded and the assembled congregation fell silent. The priest intoned the words for the dead and then those who had known them came forward. There were two piles, one with a row of defenders who had died in the battle or afterwards from their wounds, and a smaller one bearing two innocents caught up in the whirlwind of war.

Garia let Senidet say some words for her friend before taking her place.

"Jasinet was a willing servant, someone who dearly wished to explore the world beyond her small town. I am glad I gave her that opportunity. Her mother sought to use Jasinet as a lever to curry favor with me but we found out and rescued her from her own family. I hope that we treated her better than any who she had dealings with before." Garia's voice became warmer. "House Blackstone became Jasinet's family and she was content with that. She was an inquisitive girl, always curious and interested in everything we did or saw. She was a good companion on our journey home and I am honored to have been her friend on that journey."

Garia took one pace to the right, and then started again.

"I have been asked to speak to you about the last of our dead this evening since I have the nearest connection of any here tonight. This young man is about my own age and he is called Yves Perriard. He came from the same world that I do but from a different country in that world, many thousands of marks away from my own.

"As I arrived in Palarand, so Yves ended up in Yod. We don't know the circumstances of his arrival or how they treated him once they realized what they had, but I can promise you he was not dealt with by them the same way the King has looked after me. As far as we can guess, he resisted their treatment and only told them the barest basics of what they wanted from him. I do not know, if our situations had been reversed, whether I could have held on as long as he did.

"Although we had our suspicions we did not know for sure that Yves Perriard actually existed until the very end of the battle. It was unfortunate, blind chance that caused his death. I saw his face alive for only a few moments as he lay dying in my arms. Because of his circumstances I suggested that Yves be given an honorable funeral as if he were one of our own. His actions certainly helped to save the lives of several of our own men. I suspect that he will be remembered in Palarand much longer than he will be in Yod."

The priest walked forward and handed Garia a torch, which she pushed into the small pyre. As senior armsman at the battle, Feteran was given a torch to ignite the larger pyre. All then stood back and remembered their friends and comrades. Eventually, with the sky almost dark, the crowd began to disperse to their evening pursuits.

Eriana asked Terys a question as they walked back to the main part of the palace.

"Do you fire all your dead, ma'am?"

"We do, Eriana. It has always been the custom in the Great valley to do so. This is partly for historical reasons, from when the river used to flood every town and village, to avoid disease from the bodies. Why do you ask, dear? What do your own people do?"

"Mostly we bury them, ma'am. There is a field, away from the town, where most of our dead are put. Our royalty and some of our most renowned warriors are not buried, though, but sent out to sea in a burning ship. It is a very old custom, milady."

"A burning ship? How do you stand the expense?"

"It is not a question of expense, ma'am, but to honor the dead in a suitable fashion. The ship will usually be one that the dead man owned during his life."

"Dead man? What of those like yourself, then?"

Eriana shrugged. "We are not considered so important, ma'am. We are buried and then, if our husband should die later, we may be dug up and sent to sea with him."

Terys shuddered. Eriana's people were a strange folk... She wondered how well she would fit in... if she were to become Queen of Palarand in due course. The customs of her own folk were different than here, of course, but at least she considered herself to be an inhabitant of the Great Valley. Eriana was almost stranger to her than Garia was.

"Join us in the parlor, would you? I'll have some fresh pel made."

"Of course, ma'am."

~o~O~o~

"That's all I have so far." Merizel lowered her list.

Garia groaned. "That's enough, don't you think? I'll be spending a month just driving around the city in a carriage looking at all the projects! That's without finding out what Milsy's been up to."

"I don't think you need worry just yet, Garia. She can only have continued what you started, surely?"

"That's what worries me. And we need to sort out her status pretty quick. It occurs to me that Milsy is getting royalties from all those gadgets she's making, like clocks."

"You don't begrudge her the money, surely?"

"Of course not. But she may not be as wise in the ways of finance as I am. Oh," she suddenly had a thought, "I guess the Queen is keeping a watchful eye open, don't you think? I may be worrying over nothing."

"Hmm. That's another thing, actually." Merizel turned over a few sheets. "Here it is! Kendar has suggested that you consider taking on some accountants. Your own finances are threatening to swamp the palace finances."

"Ouch. Okay, we'll talk to some people tomorrow, then. Perhaps I'll have to open my own bank! Anything else?"

"There's a note here... Kendar says you need to send something to Bleskin as token of his stewardship."

"Oh, okay. We'll have to talk with him tomorrow, then. We'll see if we can do that first thing after breakfast, and with any luck we can involve the Queen as well."

Garia climbed off the settee and stretched. "Aaah! That's better. Another long day, don't you think?"

"As you say, Garia, and I don't think they'll be getting any shorter very soon, do you? You're right, it's time I went to bed as well. I'll see you in the morning."

"Good night, Merry."

"Good night, Garia."



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