Somewhere Else Entirely -107-

Garia resumes her exercise regime, this time with Eriana as an interested spectator. After lunch a 'Council of War' is held where she finds out how Palarand intends to fight back against Yod and makes an unconventional suggestion. Later, conversations are held with Rosilda and then the King at which the latter drops a bombshell.

Somewhere Else Entirely

by Penny Lane

107 - The Sixth Quadrant


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.


"This is a bit of a guess. Who knows how warm or cold I'm going to get? What I'm more concerned about is you, Jenet. You'll be sitting watching us, not being thrown about on the mats."

"You need not fear for my comfort, milady. I know how cold parts of the palace can be in winter, I am sure that I will be attired warmly enough."

Garia was uncertain what to wear to go to the dojo this morning. If she wore too little she might become cold when not actually exercising, but if she padded out then she could overheat while exercising. In the end a compromise had been reached with thicker tights and a long sleeved undershirt below her exercise tunic. Both were woven of fine pakh wool but the tights were thicker.

Over Garia's exercise gear she wore a 'house coat' of the royal colors of green and purple, since those were the only colors available in her size. She thought the coat might have belonged at one time to Malann. Jenet wore a similar house coat but in the quartered servants' livery. Both now wore thin indoor gloves, as the weather had gotten even colder overnight.

"The guardsmen must wear thicker clothes during the colder months, surely?"

"As you say, milady. Of course, their clothing will be issued them whereas your own exercise attire is specially made. Yet another reason to speak with Mistress Rosilda today."

"That's true. Have we got everything? Lead on, then."

They had reached the end of the corridor when a call came from behind. Keren hurried up to them as they waited to turn the corner.

"Good morning, dearest one. Colder today!"

Garia and Jenet bobbed curtseys.

"Good morning, Keren. We noticed. Are you exercising today?"

"I am, and it seems that you are as well." Keren smiled. "What was that saying of yours? 'Great minds think alike'."

"I'm not so sure about that! You do remember our visit to the Hall of the Questors, I suppose?"

"Hah! I doubt any who attended could ever forget it." Keren held out his arm and she wrapped hers around it. "Shall we break our fast?" As they walked he asked, "What plans have you for today? Anything I should take note of?"

"I have to speak to Rosilda, I don't think you'll find that too interesting," she replied. "There's lots and lots of other trivial matters I have to take care of and then there's that long line of Guildsmen and Questors desperate to involve me in all kinds or projects. Merry knows it all, of course, I'd have been sunk long ago without her."

"Aye, that's the truth! Have you thought any more about the guns? I mean, what Palarand might make to use against Yod? I would be part of that conversation, if possible."

"Yeah... about that. Although I know there are guildsmen anxious to know all about what we captured and so on, I think it might be better if your father's War Council decided on a strategy before we began making our own weapons."

"How so? Surely we should make similar to what we captured, only of better quality."

"It's complicated, Keren. The sort of weapons we might use depend on what kind of battles we fight. The guns Yod used - in both battles - depended as much on surprise as anything else. They are close-quarter weapons designed to thin out an enemy who didn't know anything about them. They won't be as effective again. Like I said, what battles are we likely to fight? Are we meeting them on a field in open battle or are we laying siege to their towns? Are we defending bridges, perhaps, or fighting in boats on the Sirrel? It all makes a difference to what we decide to build."

"Maker! You do think of many things, don't you?"

"You have to in war," she told him seriously. "It is often said, and with good reason, that every country prepares for the last battle, not the next one." She waved a hand. "I can't give you examples that would make sense to you but believe me it's true. The point I was making is that we don't have the resources to make everything in the time available. What we build has to be just right for what we plan to do."

"And that might be? If Yod has knowledge of new ideas of war then our own methods may not be so useful in the days and weeks to come."

Garia shrugged. "We need to talk it over with your father and people like Merek and Forton. When we spoke previously we discussed protecting the city and, to a certain extent, protecting the other towns in Palarand. What we never talked about was pressing the war against the enemy."

"You must have ideas, surely?"

"Um... some, perhaps. Not specific details of actions in Earth's past, perhaps, I was never too interested in wars to that degree, but each situation here is going to be unique and will require specific planning. The first thing we must have is more information. We know they took Joth, but where else? They had Sheldane for a while, have they taken any other town on the river to help them on their way back? Do we even know if they plan to retreat or not? We're assuming so, but we don't know, do we?"

Keren gazed at Garia fondly. "I am as a babe compared to your knowledge, Garia. And this despite you insisting you paid war little attention on Earth! My father was right, you are a treasure."

In the dining room Eriana was pacing up and down with a set look on her face. She reminded Garia of a caged tiger. When Keren and Garia appeared she stalked over to join them.

"Highness." Eriana curtseyed. "Milady. Your pardon, I am out of sorts this morning. I am like one adrift, I do not know my place in this land and it makes me uncomfortable." She took note of how the two were dressed. "You wear the colors of the guard? Is there some ceremony?"

Keren shook his head. "Not today, Eriana. Garia and I are going to join the men in their morning exercises, which is something we used to do before we traveled north. Would you like to join us? I mean, of course, to observe, since you do not have suitable apparel as we do."

Eriana raised an eyebrow. "You exercise with your men? This is something my father's sons have done, of course. I approve of such pursuits, since to be a King a Prince must learn how to fight, but women are forbidden from such activity."

Garia said, "I thought you said you used bows and spears."

"I do, Garia, but we are taught separately from the men. It is not thought seemly for men to practice against women in Einnland."

Keren eyed Eriana. "It wasn't thought seemly in Palarand, either, but Garia soon changed that!" He smiled. "You can see the difference in our sizes and she made fools out of all of us. I will ask father if you are permitted to join us, you may learn something to your advantage."

"What do you mean, Keren?"

Garia answered. "I think what he means is that, if you decide that you want to join in, it might help you with your own problem. You can't do what we do unless you have a cool head."

"An interesting thought, Garia." Eriana nodded. "I am sufficiently intrigued that I desire to accompany you, Keren. Ask your father, if you would."

Robanar seemed more interested in keeping Eriana occupied and out of mischief so agreed that she should accompany Keren and Garia to the training rooms. Garia had booked most of the afternoon but the King decided that the war was more important so arranged for an afternoon session in his parlor before dismissing them. Garia rolled her eyes and asked Merizel to rearrange everything she had just organized. The usual mass of maids and guardsmen then accompanied Keren, Eriana, Garia and Merizel to the Large Training Room.

There was the usual cessation of activity when they entered the room. Merek walked over to them and saluted, noting how Keren and Garia were dressed.

"Highness, Highness, Milady. Do you intend to train with us, Highness, or do you use the Self Defense Training Room today?"

"We thought to go in the dojo this morning, Captain," Keren replied. "The King permits Princess Eriana to observe our activities today. If there is no objection?"

"As you desire, Highness." Merek glanced at Eriana. "Our guest may find the morning instructive."

"Thank you, Captain. A word, if I may, before we leave you. Would the men cease fighting, should I appear on the field of battle thus?"

Merek flushed. "As you say, Highness. They should not, of course. I will make the point to them most forcefully... again."

The group walked across the room to the door to the smaller chamber. Near the door stood Stott, Briswin and a small number of other guardsmen Garia knew could use a longbow. Stott saluted as they approached.

"Highness, Highness, Milady. Milady, knowing that your time is limited, the men and I are looking after your beasts for you as you would desire. I am ashamed how I first treated Snep, as a countryman I should have known better. Now we attend all our beasts the same as you and Lady Merizel have shown us you treat your own. You need have no fear for their welfare."

Garia nodded thanks. "Thank you, Stott, and thank the men for me. You're right, I am very busy right now. We must see if we can squeeze in a visit or two along the way."

"As you say, Milady."

Inside the Self Defense Training Room the session had already begun but everybody stopped when Keren and company appeared. Bessel, as the trainer who had been left behind and was thus in nominal charge of the group, came over and saluted.

"Highness, Milady, welcome back. Your Highness," he bowed to Eriana, "welcome to the dojo." Turning back to Keren he asked, "Do you join us, Highness?"

"Aye, if you will have us, Bessel. Her Highness will merely observe today, as Lady Merizel usually does. We have already done our Tai Chi before breakfast."

Garia looked at those already present with interest. Bessel was accompanied by Tord, who had obviously been co-opted the moment he returned to the palace with Milsy. All the others in the room were women, eight of them. Four were the original group who had asked Garia if they could become guards, the other four were apparently new recruits and wore white sashes. Bessel noticed Garia's interest.

"Milady... Teacher, we have four new recruits to the Sixth Quadrant. As yet they have only learned to properly fall and rise again. I have not yet had time to progress farther." He smiled. "Recent arrivals in the palace have required my services elsewhere."

Keren raised an eyebrow. "The Sixth Quadrant?"

"Aye, Highness, 'tis an unofficial naming but one that all use. All those who are not part of the shift rotation are placed together for training and duty days. The women do not rotate their duties as the men do. Begging your pardon, Milady, of course your own men have their own duty roster as well, but are considered part of that quadrant."

"Oh. Makes sense, I suppose." Garia spotted Danisa and the guardswoman came across and saluted.

"Milady."

"Danisa. How are you and the others managing? Are they taking you seriously?"

"Aye, Milady. Especially since news of your efforts during the battle reached the palace. The four new recruits," she gestured, "saw what we were doing and offered their service to the King. I do not think they will be the last." She grimaced. "There have been some problems with the men, mostly some too stupid to realize we are not their evening's entertainment, and our accommodation could be better, but we know that such changes will take time to settle down. Do you join us today, Milady?"

"Yes, Keren and I need our exercise. I hope you don't mind?"

"Milady, I would like nothing better! To test ourselves against the one who started this all, I can think of nothing better."

"You'll have to let us spar together first, I think. Give us time to warm up a bit."

"As you desire, Milady... Teacher."

Merizel gestured to the bleachers and Eriana followed, interested. There was a definite frown, though, when Merizel insisted that their maids took seats as well.

"This is unseemly!" she growled. "Servants should be ready to do whatever we ask of them! How may any tell who is noble and who is maid when all are seated?"

"Your Highness," Merizel replied with a defusing smile, "it seems to me that the Princess is the one who can be heard complaining."

Eriana stared at Merizel, not knowing what to do about the remark. If it had been one of her own underlings she would have given them a slap for the impudence. It dawned on her after a time that what was happening here was normal, if not for the palace then certainly for the group of people who revolved around Garia.

"Well." Eriana's tone was defensive. "Lady Merizel, there is truth in what you say. I have not visited this part of the palace before, I do not know the customs."

"Jenet, Tandra and I could be sitting here for two or more bells," Merizel explained. "There's absolutely no reason why our maids should have to stand all that time. We're not going anywhere, Highness." She leaned nearer, her voice that of a conspirator. "In fact, one of the benefits of a seat at the show is that there's usually some beef on display. Not today, though, but does not even a Princess appreciate a good male body being worked to a sweat?"

There was grudging acceptance by the Princess. "Aye, Merizel, I take your point. Still, to see the Prince in action may suffice for today."

Their attention turned to Keren and Garia, who were now standing near one of the practice mats. Jenet removed Garia's skirt and rewrapped her sash before walking over to join the other watchers.

Danisa frowned and said, "I had forgotten... Milady, you intend exercising like that?"

Garia looked down and realized that, while she and Keren were now similarly attired in just tunic and tights the guardswomen were wearing a different uniform as befitted their duties. They wore tunics like Garia's but theirs had proper skirts which ended on the knee. These were cut so that they allowed full movement of the legs. Though their boots were of the same soft suede-like material as her own training boots they were calf length and laced at the rear.

"Uh, yes, Danisa. This is what we wore before, wasn't it? Of course you can't go walking round the palace looking like I do now. Whose idea was the uniform?"

"Milady, it was between myself and Mistress Rosilda. The Queen was also consulted, of course."

"A wise move. Is it comfortable?"

"Aye, Milady, and we have additional protection as well. Behold."

Danisa lifted up her skirt to show a pair of breeches that covered all eventualities. Unlike the riding version these were designed for wearers whose jobs involved mostly standing. The material was thinner and there were no leather patches.

Garia nodded. "A good design, I should have thought of it myself. Hot in the summer?"

"As yet they have not been tried in the warmer seasons, Milady. The Queen suggests we may vary the design if these become uncomfortable when it is too hot or too cold."

"As you say. Right, we'd better get started or it will be time to stop for lunch."

Garia and Keren faced off and began the simpler of their routines. Since they had sparred together for so long they knew each other's intent and the rolls, tumbles and falls were soon coming thick and fast. After a while they decided that they were just providing an exhibition and switched partners, Garia taking Bessel and Keren facing off Tord.

After a while they took a break so that the two instructors could get back to teaching their students. The two walked back to the seats to have a drink, Jenet pulling the bottles out of her bag ready. Eriana, for perhaps the first time in her life, was speechless.

Merizel was smug. "See? Told you. She might be small but I wouldn't want to get in her way."

"But... I had no idea she could fight like that." As Garia took a pull from her bottle Eriana asked her, "You are dangerous, Garia, for one so small. Can any best you, at this strange art?"

"Oh, yes, they can if they know what to do." Garia remembered the fight with Fikt. "Or if they take me by surprise." She grinned. "One did, during that battle. I still got him in the end, though. I was tired and he grabbed me round the neck. Fortunately I was wearing riding boots and I managed to pull out my knife -"

Eriana nodded. "I remember, you described it when the men had their... debrief?" Garia nodded. "You stabbed him in the leg and then... ah, I see."

The look on Eriana's face was calculating. Keren stepped in.

"Eriana, I would consider carefully what you desire. As yet you are still a visitor of state in my father's house. Should you desire to join us in these activities then your circumstances must needs change."

"As you say, Keren." Eriana's expression was thoughtful. "Before I can decide my future I must find out what future there might be for a Princess who does not wish to return to her father's hall." She gestured. "This is something new to me, it offers many thoughts of what might be."

"That's one reason we suggested you came today," Garia said. "You said you enjoyed physical activity. We don't have any sea-coast nearby but I'm sure you can do much of what the guardsmen can do, just like Danisa and her girls have. It's not easy now the weather has turned but there's still plenty of things going on in the training halls."

Eriana nodded. "As you say, Garia. If I may, I will accompany you here again, there is much to see and learn."

"That's good. I'm pleased that you're finding it instructive."

Garia and Keren returned to the mats, this time with Garia facing Danisa and Keren choosing one of her companions. Keren found his opponent provided a reasonable challenge, even if she had less experience than Garia. Garia, by comparison, found Danisa a much more difficult prospect. The first contact found them sprawling in a heap on the mat.

"Oof! Teacher, I am so sorry! I don't know what happened then."

The two picked themselves up and Garia considered.

"I've never faced a woman before," she decided. "All my opponents without exception, in training or in actual combat, have been men and usually men larger than myself. I know my own balance is different than that of the men and so I adjust my movements and reach to suit. With you, I'll have to remember your weight is distributed differently." She frowned. "Something fresh for me to learn, then. But what about you? I'm sure you'll have sparred with the other girls."

"Aye, Teacher, but none so small as you are." Danisa gave a smile indicating uncertainty. "Also, facing you, I was uncertain what would happen, knowing you are the one who brought this art to us."

"Huh! Maybe, Danisa, but I'm not a fearsome monster, you know. I'm really just a normal person who has had a bit more training than you have. There's no need to worry I'm going to fling you through a window or something like that."

"If you say so, Teacher. It's just that we all know that you are capable of so much more than we are."

"Look," Garia said, exasperated. "You'll have to learn to ignore those feelings, understand? If this was a real fight, you have no idea what your opponent can or cannot do. You just have to rely on your own experiences and training and do the best you can."

"As you say, Teacher... but the bout failed for both of us, so I submit that we must needs rectify the problem before us. Do you agree?"

Garia nodded. "Yes. Let's think about this and then do some experiments."

Garia and Danisa faced off across the mat and then tried again in slow motion. Having a lower center of gravity meant that throwing a woman was a different proposition than throwing a man and the two puzzled over the problem, which was that Garia's training automatically made her reach for a higher grip on her opponent. How could she train herself to instinctively select a different grip according to who she faced?

Danisa's problem was that Garia was so much smaller, lighter and faster that her own attempts to find a grip simply didn't connect, or found the wrong leverage point. That problem would be more readily solved by finding a wider range of opponents to train with.

Eventually they decided to rotate partners in order to let everyone have a bout or two with Keren and Garia, as being the most experienced. This lasted another half-bell until Jenet stood and began removing bottles and towels from her bag, indicating their time was coming to an end.

"That was... different," Garia said as she took a swig. "I think we need to make some recommendations to Captain Merek, don't you?"

"Aye," Keren agreed. "A wider range of partners, in size, shape and weight. That means that we will have to look beyond those in the Palace Guard, do you not agree?"

"Looked at one way, we already do," Garia pointed out. "Technically, neither you nor I are members of the Guard. Yes, we must expand to include others who live and work in the palace. After all, I used to do this for relaxation and sport on Earth, there's no reason why people here can't do that as well. Besides, we'd be helping them get fitter, wouldn't we?"

"As you say. Eriana, what think you of this morning's activities?"

"I am interested, Keren. We do not have such arts in Einnland, though some of the men indulge in crude wrestling in better weather. It seemed to me that what you do is as like wresting as a broadsword is to an assassin's knife. I do not believe that the King would permit me this exercise, though, unless I gave him an oath of fealty."

Keren nodded. "Aye, but you can understand his problem, can't you? I deem you would do well at this art but you could become dangerous to us without some obligation to Palarand."

"As you say, but I am... impatient, as you know. Garia must teach me to gentle myself before I may venture any of the arts of war among you and your people."

"We'll get there," Garia reassured her. "It just all takes time."

Eriana smiled as she said, "But time is not what an impatient person desires to hear, Garia. I shall wait, I have no choice. There is much else of interest for me to observe before I should take any step I may regret."

~o~O~o~

What Garia mentally called the War Council met again in Robanar's parlor after lunch. Merek and Forton joined Robanar, Terys, Keren, Garia, Feteran and Merizel, the last being there as taker of notes.

Robanar told them, "My son has related to me a conversation with Baroness Garia where she described certain aspects of war we ought consider." He gave Garia a fierce stare. "Milady, are you certain you do not come from a race of warriors?"

Garia gave a wry smile. "It certainly seems that way, Sire, but I can assure you we are not warriors as a rule. Unfortunately there have been a number of episodes in our past which tend to make us wary, and we have many, many stories of past military adventures we watch for amusement. However, my background doesn't really matter other than the fact I can suggest things to you which may be useful in the war against Yod." She turned. "Marshal, I don't want you to think I'm doing your job. I have no idea how you fight wars in Alaesia. You may think some of my suggestions are simple-minded or just plain crazy."

"Milady, since I have yet heard no suggestions," Forton replied, "I can make no judgement. But I will remember your caution for the future."

"Proceed, Garia," Robanar instructed.

"But... Okay. All I was saying to Keren was that I've only heard discussion so far about defensive measures in the towns and cities. Presumably you'll want to take the war to Yod, Sire. I wondered how you'd do that."

Robanar nodded. "Indeed, Garia. Normally we would prepare in late winter and early spring, then, as soon as the weather improved, an expedition would travel along the Sirrel to make a landing somewhere on our enemy's shore. That is historically how disagreements among the countries have been settled. The making of alliances for such conflicts is important since it assists with the supply of men and the means to support them."

"Late winter and early spring?" Garia's eyes narrowed. "So you wait out the worst of the winter weather and then get going as soon as possible, before... what?"

"The enemy's stores may be low, Milady, before any early crops are harvested," Forton explained. "In addition the level of the river becomes low enough for such adventures to become uncertain once the summer months begin."

"...And once the rains start there are other problems," Garia finished. "Okay, I get that. Then what?"

Forton shrugged. "Much depends on the enemy, Milady, as always. We may fight in his fields or we may invest his towns and cities. He may seek to flank our forces or use his galleys to cut off our supply routes. You must know this from your own history, Milady."

"I do and I don't, Marshal. Every war is different." There were a number of nods around the room. "So what you need to do is to get your troops to Yod when and where they aren't expecting them." She frowned. "Sire, I think I need to see a map, if you have no objection. I want to get all this clear in my mind."

The map was located, unrolled and spread out on the small table in the center of the room. Because of the indifferent light Jenet and Tandra lit some lamps and placed them at the corners of the table. Everybody crowded round.

"I see," Garia said. "I've looked at this map before but most of it didn't mean much to me then. I hadn't appreciated just how big Palarand is compared to everywhere else."

"In the Valley, perhaps," Keren qualified. "Vardenale has more land than Palarand and I doubt not several of the lands beyond Moxgo are as large as we are."

"Sire," Garia asked, "Who can you rely on for support along the way?"

"Those who have already been insulted by Yod, Garia. Ferenis, for certain, and Joth. When Duke Jarwin of Virgulend passed through I spoke with Vice Marshal Dalbinar about the situation but that was months ago. I do not know their temper now, but I deem they would not account us a foe in any adventure we propose. Brugan, Smordan, Forguland," Robanar shrugged, "I have no recent word, and with the weather as it is, it will be difficult to obtain such assurances as we may need."

Garia had put her finger on each country as they were named and now her lips pursed.

"The problem with the Sirrel is that because it wanders about so much the enemy can see you coming miles... uh, marks away. Especially if they continue to hold Joth. Is there any way to get to Yod without using the river? For example, how about going up to Teldor or even Tranidor and cutting across the mountains from there?"

Forton said, "A difficult route, Milady, for such a large body of men as we would require. And impossible for wagons. We must needs transport everything by pack animal, if such a route is even possible."

"I see. Okay, perhaps we'll think about that if we can't think of anything better." Garia looked at the empty area to the south of the Great Valley. "What about this side? What's up here?"

"More mountains, Milady. A rugged land only fit for hunters and pakh herdsmen, mostly. There are some small side valleys here and here," Forton pointed, "where there are herds of gavakhan and also some forests where timber is obtained, but at this time of year all will be cut off by mud, ice and snow."

"Oh. So going through the mountains is out, then. Tell me, we have the Lookout on the cliffs overlooking Palarand, is there anything similar further along the Valley? Places Yod might, for example, have seized to provide advance warning of any counter-attack?"

"Of course, Milady. Most countries maintain them for their own benefit. If Yod have captured any, we have not yet received word of it."

Garia shook her head. "You wouldn't necessarily know, Marshal. They could be pretending that they are the regular men who man those places. That kind of deception wouldn't last long, maybe, but it doesn't have to." She put her finger on the map. "Forguland is the key. If we can secure that then we cut off Joth, since they'll have no route back, and we could then attack Ferenis anywhere along this shore here."

Robanar grunted. "As you say, Garia. But should Forguland reject our attempts to help them? They have men of Yod on both sides, perhaps they desire a quiet life."

"I don't know, Sire. That's up to you and your Residents up and down the Valley to find out, I guess."

Garia leaned forward and placed a finger on a spot near the city of Forguland.

"What's this? Looks interesting."

"It is where the Sirrel parts, Milady," explained Merek, "to flow either side of Joth. As you probably understand, the course of the river moves all the time over the years and there have been many occasions when there are two or more separate flows. There is another here, west of Yod itself. Usually all but one eventually dry out for reasons we do not understand, but in this particular case the two streams persist. Forguland was established alongside the river, as you can see, but when it parted those of the city constructed a canal across the land between, hoping to build a stronger city on the island thus formed. Alas, the flooding of the river prevents that from happening and the island is but meadows and a summer retreat now."

"I see. Thank you, Captain. What about this bit sticking out here, overlooking the island?"

"A finger of harder rock, Milady, upon which a fortress has been built. All who must ply the river, from any direction, must needs pass beneath the walls of the fortress."

"If that's so, I can't imagine that Yod haven't seized that fort, whatever you may have officially heard," she stated. "Hmm. No cannons yet, or... I wonder. Captain, what... would the defenders in that fortress do if somebody they didn't like floated by?"

Merek shrugged. "I am not familiar with that fortress, Milady. I would imagine that there may be catapults, perhaps even trebuchets, which deliver stones into the vessels passing below. Such devices were once used in Dekarran but are no longer considered necessary, the countries of the Valley being at peace." He gave a snort. "That, of course, is no longer true."

"Oh. I wonder," she asked, "if those catapults could reach as far as the city?"

"I do not believe so, Milady. If that were so then the city would have a weakness, would it not? Normally, Forguland would hold both fortress and city, so the question would not arise. Ah, Milady, what of the new weapons? Could any threaten Forguland from the fortress?"

Garia thought. "Modern Earth weapons could, certainly. I don't know if Yves told Yod much about cannons, though. Cannons are really big guns able to fire great distances, but you need big furnaces and big forges to make them. They use lots of powder and big iron balls for shot, about this size." She held her hands about eight inches apart. "Does Yod have access to quantities of iron, Captain? Oh, they could make the guns out of other metals, I suppose, like brass or bronze."

Robanar grunted. "Garia, most of the copper, brass and bronze in the Valley comes from the mines of the Telar. I would be... most upset if Palarand has given Yod the means for its own destruction. As for iron, we supply much of what is required -" the King made a small smile, "- I should say most of what was once required by the countries of the Valley. Brugan has access to some small supplies from the north and," his face twisted, "a trade route provides some iron directly to Yod from the west. I do not know if they have yet obtained influence over the production of iron from that source."

"Ouch. Thank you, Sire. To answer your original question, Captain, I don't think, if Yod has taken the fortress, that any gun they now have would be big enough or powerful enough to reach the city. There's no way of knowing till we get there, of course."

Robanar raised an eyebrow. "We, Milady? You intend to join this adventure?"

"Me? Sire, I intend to keep as far away from the fighting as possible! I haven't forgotten that it's me they are after in the first place. By we I meant Palarand, Sire."

Merek muttered, "Brugan... Brugan. That reminds me. Sire, I must needs look at another map. With your permission?"

Robanar gestured assent and Merek went to the shelf of scrolls. While he was searching among the maps the Queen sent out for some refreshment and Merek was spreading out the result of his search when the trays arrived. All present took the opportunity for a drink, a nibble and a stretch before leaning over the map Merek had found.

"This one does not have the detail we require, Sire. Doubtless there are better ones somewhere in the palace we may consult if my idea proves worthy of consideration. Your mention of Brugan's iron reminded me of the trade route which goes north from there, Sire. With their consent, we might send a small body of men along that route, and then cut across the mountains around here to appear behind the fortress. I do not think it is so strongly constructed to face attack from the rear, being designed to command the river."

Forton said with some skepticism, "You intend to attack during winter, Merek?"

"Aye, Marshal, when they least expect it. If we can attain the fortress then the winter will make it that much harder for them to respond. I do not think that will be too difficult a task for a small body of men, provided we can move them without anyone noticing."

"Very well," Robanar said, ending the discussion. "You two, learn what you can about this fortress and the lands between it and the trade route through Brugan. Bring me a plan within a few days, if you would. If we are to essay this attack then we must begin before the worst of the weather locks us into Palarand, agreed?"

Forton, as the senior military rank present, answered, "Aye, Sire."

Robanar turned to Garia. "Milady, you have knowledge of such warfare, if not experience. Educate us, if you would, during the coming days, of ways that we may face men with guns and yet succeed. I am sure there are things we might learn, such as camouflage, which may be of use to us."

"I'll do my best, Sire. What have we been able to find out about Yod, Sire? That's going to make a difference. Have the prisoners said anything?"

Merek made a noise. "Hmph. Milady, most of those captured were like the servants of the Princess, that is, bonded men, some of whom were promised freedom if their raid was successful. They must have been told who and what they faced but the quality of the men is indifferent. I gather they thought surprise and the power of their guns ought be enough to gain them yourself as prisoner." He shook his head. "None of those who survived had been trained to use the guns, Milady, so we have none who could instruct us in their use."

"I think we can manage with what we already know, Captain. There were some officers there, I think. Those who wore the calf boots."

"They will not speak, Milady. We have not yet applied such pressure as is usual in war to make them give up their secrets."

Garia was unhappy. "That might not be a good idea, Captain. One day soon I must tell you all about something called the Geneva Convention. What about the man who attacked me? Fikt was the name he used."

Forton replied, "I have shown his body to several from the city, Milady, and he was recognised by all. Each knew him by a different name, though, so it is proving difficult to trace his progress through the city. It is certain that he was a man of Yod, though, from the uniform he wore at the battle."

"I guessed that, Marshal. He may have been an officer from the way he spoke to me."

"Aye, Milady. What of the clothing they all wore? It is unlike any I have seen before. If we must needs consider wearing like clothes, who may tell friend from foe?"

"Ah, there's a kind of convention on Earth, Marshal. Each nation chooses a particular color scheme and pattern for their clothes and this becomes known to all the others. Usually it is distinctive enough there's little chance of any mistake."

"How may we choose such a pattern, Milady? It will be difficult and expensive to weave."

Garia shook her head. "We'll either do like those of Yod and sew patches on the cloth or we can print the design directly on the material before it is cut up. Designing the printer will be interesting but it won't be expensive once that's done." She had a thought. "Setting off across mountains during winter gives me an idea, actually, for a different kind of camouflage. I think we'd better talk of that another time, perhaps, when you know this attack on the fortress is possible."

"As you desire, Milady."

~o~O~o~

"Milady! I am sorry our paths have not crossed before, there is much to do with all the extra people arriving in the palace."

"Don't worry about it, Rosilda. I've been super busy as well. Besides, what I wear is way less important than all the other people the Wardrobe has to fit out."

"That is not so, Milady, and you know it! Some of the designs you have shown us are now essentials about the palace. The new skirt designs have been popular but I refer, of course, to bras. Every woman who wears one is forever in your debt, Milady."

"Umm, thank you, I think."

"I have to tell you that Master Fulvin has thought about your description of hooks and eyes and discovered an alternative which is simple to make and use. I will bring you a sample when next you commission a garment from me."

"We-ll, now you mention it, there's that outfit of Milsy's..."

Rosilda smiled broadly. "I thought you would like that, Milady! I will order the leather immediately, but I think it would be a wise idea to measure you again before I make the garments."

"That's true, actually. I have noticed that some of my garments are not as well-fitting as they used to be. In fact, I had to ask the seamstresses in Blackstone to let out some gowns while I was up there."

"Your body is still young and growing, Milady. I will come and measure again. Is there anything else you presently have need of?"

"There is, actually. I went to the dojo this morning."

"Dojo?"

"Ah, the Self Defense Training Room. All the female guards were in there. I notice they now have a uniform which is different than the way I dressed when I began doing the exercises."

"As you say, Milady. The women of the guard must needs be attired modestly when they are on duty, and their uniform must permit them the movements your martial art requires. Oh! Milady, you wish me to make you a similar uniform."

"Yes, please. It makes sense now for me to do it that way. Now everyone is used to seeing women in the palace dressed like that I shouldn't need a separate skirt, should I?" Garia frowned. "Actually, it made a difference when we fought the battle. I removed the skirt as soon as possible so's it didn't get in the way."

Rosilda considered. "Perhaps you can compare the different designs, Milady. It may be that another arrangement is more useful when a guardswoman must do her duty."

"That's a good thought, Rosilda. I'll speak to Danisa about it, but meanwhile you go ahead and make me a uniform like hers, please."

"As you command, Milady."

* * *

"Ah, Garia, I'm glad that I found you before you retired."

"Sire?"

"A moment, if you please, in our sitting room."

"As you command, Sire."

In the sitting room Garia found Terys and Keren waiting, along with Kendar and Merek.

Robanar turned to Garia and said, "I have considered deeply the matters we spoke of this afternoon and also your betrothal to Keren. I regret that I have come to a conclusion you may find... unwelcome."

Garia's heart sank. "Sire?"

"As we mentioned, it will be necessary for me to send a embassy along the Valley to visit the other countries who lie between us and Yod. We must needs explain to them the reasons for the present circumstance and ask for assistance, should they be willing to provide any. Since the reason for Yod's adventures revolve about yourself, and since your betrothal to Keren must also be explained, I have decided that it would make sense to send him as our representative. He is the person of highest rank I may send if I do not go myself and that will give weight to our embassy."

Garia looked at Keren, who nodded back reluctantly.

Robanar continued, "In order to insure that his journey may be made before we are all beset by winter weather, he must needs leave immediately. He will lead a small escort of men from the palace at dawn tomorrow. I am sorry, Garia, but you must be parted from him for a while as you were parted once before."



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