Somewhere Else Entirely -104-

Garia's plans are derailed by outside events and she is reduced to sitting with the Queen. This does provide an opportunity to have an honest private conversation, though the results are not what she expected. Later, Garia learns some important new information...

Somewhere Else Entirely

by Penny Lane

104 - Eriana Revealed


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.


Garia's carefully laid plans only lasted until she reached the breakfast table the following morning. The diners had all found their seats and the servants had begun placing the food platters on the table when a guardsman ran, breathless, into the room. He skidded to a halt facing Robanar and banged his chest with a fist.

"Sire! Forgive the intrusion. The Yod Residency is in flames."

Merek's knife and fork went back on the table with a clatter and he pushed back his chair.

"Sire. With your permission?"

Robanar nodded and Merek turned to follow the guardsman, but Garia called, "Captain! Wait!"

Everybody turned to face Garia.

Merek said, "My Lady, time is important -"

"I won't keep you long, Captain. Just consider what might happen in the rest of the city if everybody is heading for the burning building to help."

The guard captain looked taken aback initially but then his eyes narrowed as the implications of Garia's remark filtered through. He gave her a curt nod and then gestured to the guardsman to lead the way out. Robanar turned to Garia, a question on his face.

"Sire, where I was brought up we didn't experience anything like this, but you know that we had means of knowing what was going on in other parts of the world."

Some of the less well-informed diners regarded Garia with scepticism but the King merely nodded.

"Should we discuss this at table, milady?"

Garia considered briefly. "I don't think any harm would come from talking about it now, Sire, but I think I want to give you my thoughts privately before we start issuing instructions or anything like that."

Robanar nodded again. "I agree, milady. Merek has the situation in hand, having noted your warning, so I suggest we finish breaking our fast and retire to the parlor."

Eriana was all ears. "Sire? What has happened?"

Robanar explained, "Eriana, I do not know how you organize such matters in Einnland, or even if you have need to do so. Most of the countries in this part of Alaesia send representatives of their own governments to those others who they trade with or have other close contacts. These representatives have special diplomatic privileges and are usually called Residents, since they reside in the other country. If they have many staff they will often live in buildings which are considered small pieces of their own territory. Sometimes if the countries are far away or there is little contact there would only be a man or two, living in a house or even an inn in the city."

The Princess shook her head. "We have nothing like that, Sire, since we are so isolated. There are diplomatic visitors from time to time and naturally they are treated with all respect by my father's court."

"From what you have described to us so far I thought that would likely be so. The Residency, then, is where the representatives of Yod reside and the building appears to have been put to the torch."

Eriana frowned. "Yod are those who attacked His Highness, is that right? Have your people taken revenge on their countrymen, then?"

Robanar shook his head. "I cannot answer that, Eriana, until we know more. If I would know my people, I would not consider this a thing they would do, but these are unusual times. We must allow for any possibility."

Garia asked, "I don't know the particular location, Sire. Is the rest of the city at risk?"

"Again, I cannot answer that, Garia. Let us wait until we have finished eating before continuing. We may have further information by then."

The meal proceeded to a nervous conclusion, everybody anxious to finish and find out what was going on. As the diners were putting their utensils on their plates and finishing their drinks another guardsman came into the room, this time at slightly lesser speed.

"Sire. Captain Merek requests your presence at the front door."

Robanar tossed down the last of his drink and placed his beaker on the table before rising. Of course, everybody else began to stand but he raised a hand.

"Stay. Forgive me, all, but I must depart. Finish you your meals in good time, Captain Merek will have everything in order."

Keren gave his father an anxious look but Robanar merely shook his head.

"I do not think the palace is in any danger, Keren. Remain here for the while, keep the women company while I find out what is happening."

"As you command, father."

The dining hall settled into a kind of tense silence as the King left.

Keren asked, "Mother, what should we do this morning? I doubt we may do as we had previously planned."

Terys considered. "Wait until we have some word, Keren. Until then, perhaps we shall all rise and go to our parlor. If you wished to hear more of Einnland's past, perhaps, that may be a more suitable place to do it."

Everybody followed the Queen through the corridors to the parlor, where they all found seats. Garia thought of a question she had been meaning to ask Eriana.

"Highness, when you told us how your people came to Anmar, you said they were a sea-faring people, able to navigate across oceans."

Eriana looked at Garia carefully but saw nothing but curiosity.

"That is so, Garia. After they were stranded here it took several years to establish a permanent home for ourselves. There were few who remembered how to properly build the large boats and the available wood was difficult to work. There were factions, some wishing to remain where they had been washed ashore, some wishing to move inland in search of better soils, others wishing to attempt to return to the lands we had come from.

"These last insisted that by sailing east they could do this, despite the stars being different to any they had known before. As soon as a boat was completed some few would provision it for a long voyage and set off. None were ever heard from again. After many years such sailings ceased, both because it was apparent that no-one had ever returned to signal success and because all those who had known the ways of the sea had either departed or died. There was nobody left who knew that art."

Her face showed that this was part of her people's history she didn't agree with.

"Of those who remained more than half chose to leave that lonely coast and migrate inland. We do not know what happened to them, either, but we suspect that they may have reached the west coast and made a new colony there. There were centuries of darkness, as all here will know, when the different peoples who live on Alaesia were ignorant of each other. When trade routes were established again a fierce people were discovered on the west coast whose language has words similar to ours. They may be the lost colonists or they may be others who have made the same voyage my people did, we do not know."

"Thank you, Eriana. Ma'am, do you know of such a people?"

"I do not, dear. The King would of course know and probably Kendar. Otherwise, you might have to ask Master Tanon or even possibly a Questor like Master Gerdas. Does he not correspond with his fellows in far lands?"

Garia thought. The Queen's suggestions probably had merit but it would only be to satisfy her own curiosity, after all.

She said, "Ma'am, I think that might be something worth investigating, don't you agree? I don't like mysteries, even though my own appearance here is a mystery. I don't think it's something that is going to have a high priority, though, when you think of what is happening outside right now. Merry?"

"I've already made a note, Garia."

"Did I ever tell you you were a treasure?"

Eriana's blood simmered. How is it this girl had a good helper, one who anticipated her mistress's needs before she spoke them? Why instead did she have to put up with that dolt Gullbrand? The problem was, the only other two women who had survived to land at Plif were her two maids, and both had as much sense as damp seaweed.

Keren said, "Eriana, the story of your people sounds worse the more we hear of it. What you tell us is of a thousand years past and Palarand did not even exist at that time. Much has changed for all our folk and I doubt not that there will be more changes in the future. Take heart from this, it will not be all bad."

"You are gracious, Keren."

Now it was Garia who flashed into jealousy as Eriana gave Keren an ingratiating smile. She had to force her expression to remain pleasant but unmoved as Keren turned to the Queen.

"Mother, I had thought that I might take Eriana on a tour of parts of the palace she might not have visited yet. Do you think this would be safe to do?"

Terys considered. The Yod Residency was not that close to the palace and she couldn't see that there was any immediate danger to those within. However, she was still uncertain exactly what was happening. Was it an attack of some kind? Some kind of diplomatic subterfuge to put Palarand in the wrong? Perhaps a diversion?

"My dear, we must wait. Until we know what is happening it may not be safe even to walk about the palace."

"As you wish, mother."

Terys turned to Garia. "My dear, while we await news why don't you tell us of your journey to Blackstone? Now you have visited your domain what impressions have you of the town and its people?"

Merizel looked up in alarm at this suggestion but Garia made a small motion with her hand, signaling that she would restrict her story to the more public parts.

"Well, ma'am, the first thing you ought to know is what happened when we arrived there. When the wagons rolled into Main Street it seemed strange -"

Garia launched into a retelling of the attack by Trogan and the results, including what happened over the next few days. Keren and Merizel aided in the retelling and it was Eriana's turn to become jealous. After all, it appeared that Keren had just spent months with this girl, the two of them behaving as if it were a day's ride out to a favorite picnic spot. Although she was interested, to a certain extent, in the story she became restive and her expression could have curdled milk at ten paces.

Blackstone, the seat of Baroness Garia, seemed to be little more than a large village from the girl's telling of her story. Garia's status went down in Eriana's estimation because of this. If this village was in such an out-of-the way place, why did the King bestow it on the girl? Was it a sop to satisfy her vanity? Why did everybody find it so interesting? What was so important that the palace staff had spoken of little else until news of the battle arrived?

Her musings were interrupted by a knock on the door and she resumed her usual 'public' expression. Captain Merek entered and banged a fist on his chest.

"Ma'am, Highness. All appears to be quiet in the city now. The Yod Residency is almost embers, the ruins have been searched but no trace of bodies discovered. It seems that the building was deliberately fired, those inside leaving before the fire was noticed. No other buildings around the Residency were damaged although," Merek indicated Garia, "I must thank Lady Garia for her timely warning. Marshal Forton, already aware of the state of war, had sent patrols about the streets but when I explained Milady's thoughts to him he altered the patterns. It seems that three attempts were made to fire other buildings in the confusion, one succeeded but the fire was put out almost immediately. The damage was small. In the two other cases the fire-starters were seen and seized before they could enter the buildings."

"Thank you, Captain," Terys said. "What of the palace?"

"All training routines have been cancelled, ma'am. I sent twenty to assist Marshal Forton, the rest are at the gates and on the walls. We have accounted for all who have entered or left the palace, ma'am, according to the present rules on securing the building and grounds."

"I am relieved to hear that, Captain. And the King?"

"He is with Marshal Forton, ma'am, at the site of the main fire. I do not know when he plans to return."

Terys nodded. "As you say. I think he will most likely return for lunch, do you not agree?"

Merek nodded. "Ma'am." He turned to Garia. "Milady, it seems you have knowledge of such methods of war. I have many questions and I am sure that the King and Marshal Forton also have many questions."

"It's going to be another meeting, isn't it? Merry, what was I supposed to be doing this afternoon?"

Merizel consulted her papers. "You wanted to meet Milsy sometime, otherwise it was Rosilda and Shelda." She frowned. "This other list, on the other hand, is full of Guildsmen and Questors. I don't think you'll be able to manage any of them today, unless they have information relevant to today's events."

"No kidding. Captain, I am at the King's disposal, should he wish to discuss events some time today."

"Thank you, Milady. Ma'am? With your permission?"

Terys nodded and Merek saluted and withdrew. The Queen turned to Keren.

"Well! It seems that today's excitement is finished, my dear. Shall you take Eriana for that walk you mentioned before?"

"Thank you, mother." Keren turned to Eriana with a smile. "Coming?"

The Prince left with Eriana, the Princess's two maids following meekly behind. Garia watched as the door closed behind them.

"My dear," Terys said, "Will you tell me about it? You cannot hide what your face shows the world."

"Ma'am, I -"

Garia checked herself in confusion. She didn't think she had been that obvious, but then the Queen saw everything. She felt both rage and heartbreak at the same time and had no idea what to do. Although she had become comfortable in her new body and content with the way her new life had unfolded, she had little experience of dealing with matters like this, especially from the female perspective.

The Queen had given her an out, she had said "will" instead of "shall", the latter being almost a direct order in the local tongue. It was still possible to make this a surface-only conversation instead of baring her soul to the Queen. Garia didn't like that option since the truth would still have to be faced sometime soon. Besides, if there was one person she ought to be able to confide in, it was the Queen.

She took a deep breath and began again. "Ma'am, I think you ought to know that Keren will not marry Eriana."

Terys's gaze fell on Merizel, who was trying to look inconspicuous.

"Merizel knows everything, ma'am. She has been my confidante since before we left the palace."

Terys nodded assent and then waved a hand. "Continue."

"Ma'am, you know we became very close before we left the palace. All the time we were away we just became closer and closer and finally, during the last battle, Keren pledged to marry me and make me his Queen. We had known long before that it would be difficult if not impossible for either of us to choose anyone else. I'm sorry, ma'am, but I think Keren will outright refuse to marry anyone but me."

Terys's face was impassive. "And if he is commanded to?"

Garia had hoped that circumstance wouldn't arise. "I don't know, ma'am. It would put him in a very awkward position. I think he has made a decision, but what that is I don't know. You see, soon after we met up, on the road north, we wondered why we had been allowed to travel together after all that happened in the palace and the warnings you gave us. We talked it over and decided that you and the King were using our trip north together as some kind of test, a test to see if he was suitable to be King... or maybe some other reason. The problem we came up against is that we couldn't figure out what the test was for, and without knowing that we couldn't begin to work out what answer was required."

"As you say, dear. If the King has decided to test Keren, he has not made me part of his plan, but I can see that there might be need for such testing. Tell me, did you plan this yourself, this wedding? Did you desire to be Queen of Palarand?"

"Me? Ma'am, no! It is the person I am drawn to, not who he happens to be. I think we were attracted to each other the very first time we ever met, when Master Tanon brought me to the palace. I didn't even know he was a Prince then! There's something about him that just drew me in. Ma'am, I know that can't be the entire factor where the marriage of an heir is concerned, but surely the two parties must be compatible and I think we can say we are definitely compatible. Whereas Eriana..."

"What, dear?"

"It's occurred to me that she's effectively my rival for Keren's hand and perhaps I shouldn't be trashing her, if you understand me."

"Why not, dear? Oh, I forgot, didn't I? Yes, women do that on occasion where perhaps a man might not. But I am interested in your opinion of Eriana. You have seen her about the palace, heard her describe her homeland, tell me if you think she would make a good Queen for Palarand, assuming there is some reason why you cannot be."

"Ma'am, I don't think she would. She comes from what amounts to a small, isolated fishing community and Palarand is about to undergo a massive upheaval. I'm not sure she would be able to cope with that. I also don't think her personality is the right one to follow yourself as Queen, ma'am. When we were in the bathroom last night, we heard a lot of shouting from next door. Couldn't make out a word but the voice was hers and she was angry with her staff. I think she has a high opinion of herself."

"And why should she not, dear? She is after all, a Princess and born to privilege. I have made the court my own during my time here but I know that the woman who follows me will make a different court. Such is the way of the succession. Tell me, have you heard her using her own tongue? I wondered, when she arrived, if you could speak it as you have spoken others."

"Ma'am, I have not. Whether she knows about my gifts or not, she has not spoken anything in my hearing but the common tongue. It's probably just chance." Garia remembered a remark made recently. "Milsy has heard her speak her own language, ma'am."

"Oh? Does Milsy then have the same gift as yourself? No," Terys answered her own question, "she is from the kitchens in Dekarran, she has had no opportunity to learn other tongues, especially one so rare! Whatever else Milsy may be capable of, I do not think she has been able to learn Eriana's tongue in such a short time. You were saying, dear?"

"Ah, yes, ma'am. Milsy says she has seen and heard Eriana shouting at her staff in the corridors and so have a number of other palace staff. She behaves herself at court, ma'am, but does not seem to care when you or the King are not around." Garia added, "Milsy also thinks she's hiding something. I've only known Eriana a couple days but there's something in her voice when she says certain words which makes me wonder if we've been told everything."

"The King and I have our own reservations, dear, but we must keep them to ourselves for now. Remember, unless she is a complete substitute, as Milsy was for you, she is still a Princess of the blood and therefore eligible to marry Prince Keren." Terys gave Garia a very small apologetic smile. "Which you, presently, are not."

"Ma'am, I hope you and I are not going to fight over this but I don't think that's necessarily true. However, I can't do anything about the situation, I can only stand and watch. This is something that has to be decided between Keren and his father."

"Would you not fight for your man?"

"Heck, yes, ma'am! I recently did, at his side with my own swords. But I can't affect what happens between Keren and the King, nor would I want to. This is not a battle I can fight for him."

"I agree, dear. You show remarkable sense for one so young but then," Terys smiled, "we already knew that, didn't we? If it is any consolation the King and I have known of your attachment to the Prince for a long time but we have not interfered. It is true that you are not of any royal blood but you have many qualities which a Queen must have and so we permitted your relationship to continue, to see what you two would do. However, in the end, as you have said, it will be between the King and his son to resolve this puzzle. I can offer advice and support where it is requested but in the end it is Robanar who rules Palarand, not me."

"Thank you, ma'am. I had hoped you wouldn't be angry with us."

"How could I, dear? You are both dear to me and I want you both to be happy. Now, I think it is time we all had some pel. Kenila?"

The pel had been brewed, dispensed, drunk and the empty cups replaced on the table before Garia remembered something else that needed clarifying.

"Ma'am? I just remembered something that Captain Merek said to me yesterday. He wants to merge the men he has escorting Milsy with my own armsmen and give them all to me. They would still do what they are doing now but they would all officially belong to House Blackstone instead of the Palace Guard."

Terys nodded. "I remember hearing Merek talking about it with Robanar while you were away. It seems to me a sensible arrangement. Do you object to having more men-at-arms, dear?"

"Oh, no, ma'am! It wasn't that. The problem is Milsy. Captain Merek thought she already belonged to House Blackstone but I don't ever remember her swearing an oath to me or to anyone else for that matter. Do you know whose vassal she is right now?"

It was not often that the Queen of Palarand was surprised but she showed it now.

"Why, my dear, I do not know! Surely she is... but no, that could not be. Garia, we all assumed that she had sworn you an oath when she took her place as your double, all those months ago. If she has not, then she would still be vassal to Gilbanar... but, being born in the castle and working in the kitchens, I doubt she has formally given allegiance to anyone. What a curious situation!"

"Ma'am, I guess that's so. We'll just have to ask her what she wants to do. I hear she is heavily involved with the guilds now, perhaps she should just do whatever they do instead of becoming my vassal - or someone else's."

"My dear, the guildsmen make their oath to their King, knowing no other master. If she were to do so, it would be your decision to provide an escort for her or to leave that to the Palace Guard, so long as she resides here."

"But... I'm both a noblewoman and a guildswoman. There appears to be no conflict with my own oaths... or is there? I don't think these situations have ever happened before, ma'am."

"As you say, dear," Terys said slowly. "You raise an interesting point. Perhaps we need to examine our customs and laws more closely, discover whether any changes must be made." The Queen smiled at Garia. "Most such laws and customs assume that they bind men to their King or their Guild. Since your own arrival we recognize that certain laws must change. I will speak with the King and with Kendar about your problem, dear, since it is unlikely this will be the last time such a matter will arise."

"Thank you, ma'am. I haven't had a chance to spend a lot of time with Milsy yet, so when I do I can ask her what she would prefer to do. With your permission?"

"Of course, dear."

~o~O~o~

"Milsy, this is Senidet," Garia said, introducing the Blackstone girl. "She is the daughter of Brydas, Blackstone's smith. She can read and write and she understands the technical drawings which the guild sends her father."

"Pleased to meet you," Milsy said. She gave the other girl a quick inspection. "You decided to chance your luck in the capital, then?"

"If it please you," Senidet said, "Lady Garia suggested that I come with her on her journey south. She believes that I will learn much more here than at home with my father. She plans to prentice me, though we do not yet know in what craft."

"Ah!" Milsy smiled at Garia. "Milady, I sense a hidden motive here. You want me to look after your friend here while you are tangled up with this war, yes?"

"If you would, Milsy. As you say, I'm going to be somewhat busy the next few days." Garia frowned. "We really must have a talk, and soon. There are a couple of very important items outstanding between you and me."

Milsy nodded. "As you say, Garia."

But Garia's attention was elsewhere, and there was dismay on her face.

When Keren ushered Eriana into the dining room he noticed Garia's expression and it was like a dagger to the heart. He had enjoyed himself showing the Princess around the rambling palace buildings and courtyards, telling her of its long history and ancient origins. Eriana had been cool at first but eventually the two had relaxed in each other's company. There were still some rough edges but they could at least hold a civilized conversation.

Now he remembered what he was missing and the effect his actions were having on the one person he really cared about. He knew his own anguish was probably reflected on his own face for all to see and he forced a smile.

"Eriana, it looks like we'll have to wait for father to join us before we sit down to lunch. Shall we go and find out if there's any more news? I don't see Captain Merek here but mother might know some more."

Keren steered a path away from Garia, who was talking to Milsy and Senidet, heading towards his mother instead.

"My dear," she greeted him, "did you have a good walk?"

"We did, mother. Everybody seemed tense wherever we went."

"It is to be expected, dear. We are at war, we are all uncertain what will happen next."

"Have you any further news? Will father join us for lunch?"

"I do not know, dear. If he does not come shortly I will ask Kendar to begin, since those already here will become hungry. As to news, I have heard no more. What of your walk? Eriana? What do you think of our home?"

"Ma'am, I found the size of your palace astonishing when I first arrived here, but Keren has explained that it is much more than just a home for the royal family. It seems you also have many underlings... I think I mean retainers, who work at the front of the building and govern the country on behalf of His Majesty. I had not appreciated the size of Palarand, in Einnland we do not need so many to rule but it seems that here you do."

"It seems that we do," Terys echoed. "The palace has been extended three times since I came to join Prince Robanar at his father's court and I doubt not it will be extended further in the future. What have you seen today, dear?"

Terys and Eriana talked for a few moments with Keren standing awkwardly beside them. After a short time Kendar announced the King and Captain Merek and everybody headed for the tables. Keren took the opportunity to intercept Garia. When she noticed him coming he could see that her expression was filled with pain and reproach.

He bent to her ear and said, "I meant what I said, you know. Like my father, I shall be true to my oath."

"Shall you, Highness?" she questioned softly. "What about this morning?"

"I but do what is required of me," he replied. Realizing what he had just said, he added, "As a host to a guest in my father's house, Garia. That is all I do."

There was no time for any more as they found their seats. Garia had been slightly comforted by the Queen's attitude earlier but when Keren had appeared with Eriana on his arm, both smiling and talking, it had been like a blow to the gut.

I can't do this for him. He has to handle this problem all by himself. I trust you, Keren, but you're making it very difficult for me to watch.

The fire, fortunately, occupied everyone over lunch and Garia was thankful for the diversion.

~o~O~o~

The afternoon meeting involved Garia, Merizel, Keren, Robanar, Merek, Forton and Feteran. All gathered in the parlor, Garia thinking that she was spending so much time in there she might as well move in.

"Milady," Robanar began. "This morning you showed knowledge of criminal actions which those of Yod might take in our city. The events which followed showed that your warnings were needed. Might you share your knowledge with us, that we might better protect our lands and our people?"

"Sire, the actions the Yodans took this morning might not be criminal, as I understand things. I'm assuming that normally, if two Valley states went to war, there would be some kind of declaration made?"

"That is so, Milady. The Valley Messenger Service would take a formal letter from one ruler to another, and usually there is a reply to be returned. In this case, of course, there was no such letter or reply."

"That is true, Sire, but I would consider that the attack on our caravan to have the same effect as a letter. After all, they could hardly claim that a hundred or so men dressed in similar uniforms and carrying their latest weapons were bandits, could they? On Earth there are several cases where war was declared by one side attacking the other with no warning. It isn't honorable, but that's a different matter."

"As you say, milady."

"So, from the moment of that attack, Yod knew they would be at war with Palarand... if not for some time before, and those inside the Residency began their preparations the moment they heard about the battle. They would destroy anything that could give us help and then try to make their escape. Marshal Forton, when you investigated the ruins, did you find any tunnels?"

"Aye, Milady, we did. There were two, a short one which crossed the street to emerge in the cellar of a tavern in the next block, and a longer one which we have not been able to follow, since the structure is dangerous."

"I'm betting there's at least a third one, probably hidden and going off in a different direction. There may even be hidden store-rooms where saboteurs have left weapons and other stuff for the future."

"If you say so, Milady. I will have my men conduct a meticulous survey of the whole area." He paused. "What are saboteurs, Milady?"

"They are members of the enemy who stay behind and try and make life as difficult as possible for the other side. There's not too much they can disrupt in Palarand as it now stands but you should all be aware that might change in the future. They'll target things like bridges, boats, stores of food, they would be stealing or destroying arms, causing confusion, that sort of thing. They might even do a bit of assassination when they get the chance."

"Maker! This is not how we are accustomed to conduct war, Milady. However, if Yod are prepared to stomach such measures then we must be ready to counter them. What of the other fire attempts, Milady?"

"Right. Those were probably done by some of the men who escaped, but don't think they will be the only Yodans in the city. They have probably had a number of people here, both their own men and bought locals, for years. Tell me, Marshal, what happens normally when a building catches fire in the city?"

"Why, Milady, we have three priorities, firstly to save anyone within the building, second to attempt to put out the fire and lastly to prevent the fire spreading to other nearby buildings. We have pumps to bring water from the nearest drain or ditch and therefore we need men to operate the pump. Many of those living or working nearby will help to carry valuables out of the building should that be possible. There will be others wetting down nearby buildings or removing flammables such as fodder. Of course, if it is anything but a minor matter a large crowd will soon surround those working against the fire."

"That's what the Yodans wanted. By drawing people away from where they work or live towards an obvious big fire, it leaves them free to attempt to set fire to other buildings. By this means they can divide your forces, cause confusion, lower morale. They can also take the opportunity to steal things. Money, a change of clothes, food, even perhaps frayen, to help them leave the city or remain nearby in disguise."

"My Lady, I never considered such a thing! Your warnings are well founded. Our watch list has already been redrawn, we must needs take into account your new ideas."

"It gets worse, Marshal," Garia said grimly. "That's only the first step, though in a united city it should be difficult for them to do much more. Imagine, at that Residency fire, if there had been a wagon left nearby, the wagoneer perhaps gone to help rescue people or something."

Forton nodded. "Milady, there were wagons nearby. We had to move some to make sufficient room."

"Now, suppose that those wagons weren't innocent. Suppose those wagons were filled with gunpowder, and there was a fuse timed to explode the powder long after the driver had left the scene."

Forton looked confused but everybody else understood suddenly what Garia was getting at, even if some of them hadn't ever seen an explosion.

Robanar grunted. "Explain, Milady."

"Suppose the wagons had been filled with barrels of gunpowder... even one or two barrels might have been enough. Around them they would have packed scrap iron, nails, anything to increase the amount of injuries. Now, when the barrels explode, all that stuff flies everywhere, bringing down many of those who came innocently to assist at the fire. Or whatever else was happening nearby."

Forton said, "Milady, I cannot imagine what you describe."

Keren explained, "Father, Marshal, I understand. The wagons would have disintegrated, blown into splinters and shattered fragments of wood and metal. Marshal, imagine being hit by several large splinters at once, driven as deep into your body as crossbow bolts. Any injuries made by metal would be far worse. Most of these injuries would not be to soldiers in the field but our own people, innocent of the war and with no enemy apparently nearby." He shook his head. "This is not an honorable way to wage war, Garia. Is this what happens on Earth?"

Everybody looked shocked at Keren's description, but as they all knew he had first-hand experience of the new weapons they had to believe him.

Robanar asked Garia, "Milady? Is there no remedy? Is this the future you tried so hard for us to avoid?"

Garia looked sad. "Sire, it is, in certain respects. You can decide not to use such tactics yourself but you have no way to stop any enemy doing whatever they want to. All you can do is respond to their moves, and it will be very hard to win a war that way."

Keren asked, "Is there no way we can prevent such methods and devices being used in future?"

Garia shook her head. "There isn't really, Keren. They have tried on Earth with certain kinds of weapons but the problem is, even if you hold another Great Convocation and outlaw them, everybody will know they are possible and that they can be re-invented in secret by somebody in the future."

Robanar lowered his head. "Milady, I fear that you have the right of it. As with most of the ideas you have brought us, once discovered we may never go back. Very well. You must tell us what we may expect."

"Sire, I don't know. Uh, I mean, I can't know what Yves Perriard told the Yodans. He lived like me in a part of Earth where there was a relative level of peace, much like you had in the Valley before all this started. But we've both seen pictures and descriptions of parts of our world where atrocities like I've described happen on a daily basis. We call such tactics various things like guerilla warfare, asymmetric warfare, sabotage, terrorism and many other names and the idea is to take the war to the enemy's heartlands, disrupt everything he does so that his efforts would have to be split between fighting you and guarding everything of value. The Wagon Bomb I just described is just a simple means of causing distress and confusion. If there are lots of injured you have to divert resources to looking after them. There are many other ways they could hamper what you do."

Based on her own journeys around the city and through Palarand she gave them some idea of weaknesses that an enemy could seek to exploit. Forton and Merek nodded at some of them since they would already have taken them into consideration but others raised eyebrows.

"Milady? Poison the water supply? What civilized person would stoop to such a dishonorable act?"

"Can you use the words 'civilized' and 'warfare' in the same sentence, Marshal? That's really the point, isn't it? By lowering yourself to killing someone else's people you're not being civilized any more. We have to stop thinking in those terms."

"It will be hard for us, Milady. Describe for us, if you would, this dishonorable warfare."

Without going into details of specific weapons Garia detailed actions one side or other might take like fifth columns, armed resistance units, scorched earth techniques and special forces operations. She told them about booby traps, landmines, artillery and naval warfare, going back in her memory of the War of Independence and the Civil War to explain methods that might be familiar to her listeners.

Forton looked at Merek. "We must review our procedures and assumptions, Captain."

"Aye, Marshal. There appears to be much that we may have overlooked. Milady, would you answer further questions at a later date?"

"Of course, Captain. Palarand is my country now, and I want it to win if it comes to all-out war. You'll have all the assistance I can give you, though I'm afraid it won't be as much as you would wish."

Robanar said, "You have already been of considerable assistance to us, Garia. Without your counsel no-one would have survived the recent battle."

"Sire, if I had not come to Palarand there would not have been a battle. Don't forget, my knowledge is the only reason Yod came to get me. Now I want to get as much of that knowledge out to as many people as possible so that if something happens to me you won't be at a disadvantage."

~o~O~o~

"My throat's sore again, Jenet. Am I condemned to spend the rest of my life talking?"

"It is unfortunate, Milady, but that would seem to be the case. Perhaps I could ask Mistress Margra for something that would soothe your throat?"

The two were walking through the corridors, on their way back to Garia's chambers so that they could change for the evening meal. The meeting had been long, detailed and had stretched Garia's recollections in ways she had not considered. Like most boys Gary had had an interest in weapons and warfare but his attentions had been focused on other, more civilized subjects. All he knew was from the TV and the occasional movie that he had watched in the past, plus conversations with guys his own age whose knowledge was little better than his own.

"Does she have stuff that can do that? I didn't know."

"I do not know either, Milady. We have but to ask."

"As you say -"

Garia stopped so suddenly that Jenet ran right into her, staggering off balance. Garia grabbed her to stop her falling over and, to Jenet's astonishment, clamped a hand over her maid's mouth. She immediately lifted her hand and placed a finger to her lips. From around the next corner came the sound of an angry argument. Garia caught two sentences before the voice broke off.

"Who's there?"

Garia turned to Jenet, wagged a finger at her and raised her voice. "Watch where you're going, Jenet! You nearly had me over!"

This was accompanied by a wink, so Jenet replied, "My Lady, I did not watch my footing. I apologize."

Eriana appeared around the corner, followed by Gullbrand.

"So, I'm not the only one with servant trouble, I see."

"As you say, Highness," Garia answered smoothly. "We are both tired, having met with the King for several bells. I trust you will excuse us? We must needs change before the evening meal."

Eriana graciously inclined her head. "Of course. We will see you at table." In her own language she added, "Come, Gullbrand, we will finish this conversation elsewhere."

Garia and Jenet turned the corner and headed for their chambers. Garia let out a sigh of relief.

"That was a close call, Jenet! I'm glad you caught on, there could have been trouble." Her expression changed to one of purpose. "We have to be quick. I need to speak to the Queen before we eat."

Kenila opened the door to the Queen's sitting room and admitted them. Terys was surprised to see them.

"My dear! You have not yet changed for the evening meal!" She noticed Garia's expression. "What has happened, dear? Sit down."

"Ma'am, I'd rather stand if you don't mind. Ma'am, do you trust me? I once promised to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Will you trust what I have to say?"

"My dear, whatever is the matter? Of course, we know you to be a truthful girl. What is it you have to tell me?" Her expression became more serious. "Is it about Eriana?"

"It is, ma'am, but I didn't want you to think I'm telling tales to blacken her or to make my own position seem better, especially after our talk this morning. Besides, you will only have my word for what I'm about to tell you."

"I see. You had better tell me, then, so that I can judge for myself."

Garia stood, hands behind her back, and closed her eyes. She recited the two sentences she had overheard. When she opened her eyes again it was to see the Queen's impassive face.

"Now I understand what you meant, dear. You are certain of those words?"

"Ma'am, I am, as much as I am able to translate them for you."

"This is very serious, dear, as you no doubt realize. If what you suspect is true, it answers several questions we have had concerning Eriana's appearance here. I must speak privately to the King."

"Of course, ma'am."

"Good. I'm sure that you will not discuss this with anyone else, will you?"

"Of course not, ma'am!"

"Very well. Now, go and get changed or you will be late for the meal."

~o~O~o~

The meal was another tense affair but Garia didn't think it was because of what she had heard. Robanar did give her a quick, keen glance across the table but nothing more than that. As at lunchtime, the talk was mostly about the disturbances in the city and what might be done about them. It was no surprise to her, as the tables were being cleared, when Robanar made an announcement.

"Eriana, my dear. I would be pleased if you would join the Queen and myself in our parlor when we rise. Oh," he added, apparently as an afterthought, "Keren, Garia, Merek, I'll want you as well, and if you would ask Kendar to join us. There are important decisions to be made."

Everybody followed Robanar and Terys to their parlor and found seats. Keren looked at Garia, finding her expression one he couldn't determine. She didn't appear unhappy, so she didn't think his father had decided to arrange the betrothal tonight, but it did appear that she knew what was about to happen. Something was obviously going on and somehow he had missed it.

Terys spoke. "Garia, dear. Please tell the King what you heard this afternoon."

Garia stood and, as she had done before, clasped her hands behind her back.

"Sire, I don't want you to think that I have been deliberately sneaking around the palace trying to overhear conversations. I'm not that kind of person. However, I did overhear a conversation, entirely by accident, that I thought you should be informed of."

Robanar said, "Daughter, we know you are not that kind of a person, although the Maker knows there are enough of that sort in our palace. I know you to be truthful and ever willing to help your fellow countrymen, so speak, that we may judge this matter."

She closed her eyes and spoke, first in Eriana's language, so that she would know Garia wasn't lying, and then translating the words into the common tongue.

"...it will be Spring before my father can get here and by then it will be too late. I will have married the Prince and there will be nothing he can do about it!"

Eriana had gone white. She shifted her attention to each person in the room, finally fixing on Garia.

"I did not know that you could speak our tongue. How is that possible?"

Garia didn't want to give a secret away but the truth would serve.

"I can't tell you, Eriana. Until I heard you talking I didn't even know that I could understand your words."

Robanar spoke and Eriana froze.

"Your Highness, is what Garia tells us the truth? Did she report your words correctly?"

She rose and immediately thumped her knees down on the carpet in front of Robanar.

"Your Majesty! Don't send me back to my father, I beg you! I can't go back there, I can't!"

Over her head Robanar asked Garia, "Milady, you have heard and considered her words. Read us this riddle."

"Sire, it seemed to me that Eriana was saying that she was here without her father's consent. What she wanted to do was to marry Keren and that would somehow stop her father taking her back... perhaps she is already betrothed to someone there! Maybe someone she didn't want to be betrothed to. So... she's run away, hasn't she?" Garia's eyes widened as she worked out the rest. "That's what happened, isn't it? There was no 'embassy', as she claimed, she was running away from Einnland! Those ships she spoke of weren't with hers, they were chasing hers, weren't they?"

"Is this so, Eriana?"

Eriana bit her lip and lowered her head, finally nodding her agreement with obvious reluctance.

Garia frowned in thought. "That can't be all, Sire. I guess it is just possible that she knew there would be a way out if she escaped and came here... but that's not what happened, is it? I wonder... Eriana said that her father sent a letter to you, Sire, but that there was no reply. I'm beginning to think there was no letter sent. She didn't like what was happening at home and just ran away, perhaps taking a sea route because she knew a ship would be difficult to follow this time of year. Or perhaps she was just plain desperate. I'm betting that Eriana didn't know about Keren's need for a consort until she arrived at Plif, probably in some innocent conversation. Isn't that what happened, Eriana?"

Eriana nodded again, not daring to speak.

"You are a guest in my home and you have lied to us," Robanar rumbled. "I cannot allow this to pass, whoever you are and whatever status you claim to possess."

That brought a reaction from Eriana.

"Sire," she said, her eyes flashing, "I am a Princess! I am the only daughter of Embrikt, King of Einnland."

"And the rest of your tale?"

She bowed her head again. "Sire, I apologize for misleading you and your court. My need was great, my father wished an unsuitable marriage for me. I sought to find sanctuary in one of the fabled countries of the Great Valley, where my father could not make me return." Her eyes flickered up, then lowered again. "It is true, I did not know that any country had need of a consort for its heir until we reached Plif. I thought to satisfy two needs at the same time."

"Eriana dear," Terys asked, "how is it your father could order your return? Are you not considered adult in your own lands?"

"Your Majesty, I am not an adult," Eriana replied. Her eyes widened with surprise. "Do you imply that I would be an adult in Palarand, ma'am?"

"We account our young people adults at age sixteen, my dear. You are nineteen, you told us. What age, then, would you become an adult in Einnland?"

"Twenty, ma'am. Though that would not stop my father dragging me back to his palace and making me marry somebody unsuitable."

Terys cast a sidelong glance at Robanar. Wasn't that, in essence, what the Rule forced on those in the Valley countries? A dangerous precedent could be set here if they were not careful.

"Wait a moment," Garia interrupted. "You came from Plif to Palarand because of the rule that says children of rulers must only marry children of other rulers, right?"

"That is so, Garia."

"But... in Einnland, who could you marry? If your lands are so isolated, then there are no sons of other rulers for you to marry. So what..?" Her eyes widened again at the possible answer. "Oh, no! I wonder... Sire, Ma'am, I think that Eriana's folk also have a rule... and it's the complete opposite of the one you have here. I think she can only marry someone who is not noble, to prevent inbreeding. Am I right, Eriana?"

The look on Eriana's face showed that Garia had guessed right.

"So, your father wanted you to marry a... smith, or a fisherman or something, right? No wonder you wanted to escape!"

Eriana's face showed disdain. "I am a Princess. I deserved better!" She scowled. "I did not like the man my father picked for me, so I departed." She turned to Robanar. "Sire, I beg sanctuary of you."

Robanar glared at Eriana before replying.

"Highness, you give me a hard puzzle to solve. In Palarand you are accounted an adult and I must therefore consider your request to stay. Against that I must consider relations with Einnland, which presently are slight but should not be disregarded on that account. I do not wish to anger your King without reason. Kendar?"

"Sire."

"You must needs search our annals, discover if there is any precedent for what we have learned today. We must know that whatever we propose would fit in well with the laws and customs of the Valley. Merek."

"Sire."

"Princess Eriana is from this moment restricted to the palace and grounds. Her retinue is also thus restricted. She brings only two men, they are permitted no weapons excepting their customary belt knives. She is to have an escort of no less than four guardsmen at any time when she is beyond the confines of her quarters."

Merek banged his fist. "Sire, it shall be done."

Robanar turned to Eriana. "As for you, young lady, consider yourself lucky that I do not throw you into our cells. You have deceived us all when no deception was needed. Once we have determined what action must be taken, we will give judgement. Until then, you will remain in our palace at our pleasure."

Eriana bowed her head. "Sire."

Keren asked, "Father, does that mean Eriana is no longer to be considered as a consort for me?"

Garia's heart leapt at Keren's question. With one obstacle out of the way her own desire might be that closer to satisfaction. However, the King's reply left her hopes in tatters.

Robanar eyed Keren. "My son, it does not. Eriana, though accounted a liar and a runaway, is still a Princess of the blood. Her petition to become your consort must therefore be considered as would any other such petition."



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