Somewhere Else Entirely -108-

Garia sees Keren depart on his Valley journey and then has to find out what the Guildsmen have been doing while they were away. Later, she begins teaching meditation to Eriana, receives an unexpected visitor and is summoned by the Queen...

Somewhere Else Entirely

by Penny Lane

108 - Oaths of Fealty


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.



The storm from the ocean had blown itself out, which meant the air was still and slightly warmer. It was still cold enough to cause the breath of men, women and animals to steam in the pre-dawn air. Fortunately all who were outside were dressed for the conditions, the men and women being bundled up in thick winter coats while the frayen had generous felt blankets over their backs and necks.

Garia had both arms wrapped awkwardly around Keren's middle.

"This is stupid," she said. "We've been back only a few days and now you have to leave me again! It was hard enough the first time."

"What first time," he murmured. "I don't recall - ah, wait, you mean when I set off from Dekarran with Bleskin." He looked down at her upturned face. "I didn't realize then it would have affected you so much."

"Maybe it didn't," she explained. "But everybody else was leaving as well and I discovered I was upset all my friends were going away."

"Of course. But the palace is different, do you not agree? I deem you will be too busy the next few weeks to concern yourself over absent friends."

"You may be right, but you're not just an absent friend, are you? You're much more important to me than that."

"Indeed, my love." He kissed her forehead. "And when I return, we will prepare ourselves for the most important day of our lives." His face grew serious. "You know I must needs make this journey, Garia? Father is right, this embassy is too important to be left to one of lower status and I am the best person to explain why I have chosen you for my bride, in defiance of all custom."

"Do you think there will be trouble? I mean, I know you can take care of yourself in a fight but it's the diplomatic battles I'm thinking of. You haven't had a chance to get used to the infighting and manoeuvering that usually goes on."

"I've attended my father at some meetings, so I know what may happen, I'm not completely innocent of such stratagems." He grinned. "My direct approach may convince some of my honesty, which may be a good thing. Remember, I may have to treat with these people directly in the future, when I become King."

"I hope that's a long way off, Keren, and first you have to survive long enough to be King."

"Aye, I know it."

"Son," Robanar spoke. "It is time, the men are waiting."

"As you say, father."

Keren embraced Garia strongly and gave her a long, passionate kiss. Behind them, on the upper steps of the porch, Terys smiled fondly at the sight. Eventually Keren broke away from Garia and stood before his father, saluting him before they clasped forearms.

"Be safe, my son. Bring us back friends."

"I will, father."

Terys came forward and embraced Keren, who leaned down to kiss her on the cheek.

"I know you can look after yourself, Keren, but not all dangers are the same as you have yet faced. There are two women here who must wait your return. Go safely, my son."

"Mother, I..."

Keren ran out of words. He kissed his mother again and turned to join the escort and their mounts in front of the palace. There were low-voiced commands and then the men mounted. Because it was winter there were no carriages or wagons, the men each taking a pack animal instead with their belongings. Since Keren's journey would use the major trade route through the Valley, from capital to capital, it would be easy enough for them to find suitable accommodation, especially at this time of year when few others traveled except at need. Keren turned towards his parents and Garia, who waited on the steps, raised one arm in salute and then led the procession out of the gates. Those remaining watched until the procession had disappeared from sight.

"Let us get in," Robanar said. "While it is necessary to attend such a departure we need not punish ourselves by remaining outside in the cold any longer. Besides, I deem it is time we broke our fast, do you not agree, my dear?"

"As you say, dear."

Terys walked beside Garia through the corridors to the dining room.

"Are you upset, dear? I remember the last time that Keren parted from you."

"A little," Garia admitted. "Mostly from the sudden decision, I think, more than anything else. I know why he has to go and I know why he has to go now, but I still don't have to like it."

"This is the life you must expect from now on, Garia. As Prince and eventually as King there will be many occasions through your life when you must needs remain behind while Keren departs. It was ever the fate of a woman to stay at home when her man sets forth."

"As you say, ma'am. I'm learning that the hard way. Keren will be all right, won't he? He's just going along the Valley meeting heads of state, it's not as if he's doing anything dangerous, like when we went to Blackstone."

"That is true, dear, but remember your last battle was fought on the highway of Central Palarand, far from any imagined danger." Terys was about to expand on her theme but thought better of it. Garia didn't need to know all the possible things that could go wrong on such an innocent-sounding journey, it would just make her worry more. Instead she said, "My dear, there has been a clamor from the guildsmen of Palarand for your presence. When shall you attend them?"

"Ma'am, I'm going to go to the training rooms this morning. I have only been once, yesterday, since I returned and I need to refresh myself. This afternoon I think Merry has some meetings set up for me."

"Ah. Perhaps Keren was right, dear. You have so many who desire your attention you may not have time to think of his journey."

"Oh, I'll think of it, all right! It will be difficult not to, but you're right, it is time I attended to business."

In the dining room Merizel, Milsy and a sleepy-looking Tarvan were waiting. They descended on Garia the moment she appeared.

"Morning, all. Tarvan! When did you get back?"

"Late last night, Milady. I have not even unpacked but fell asleep, exhausted, and now I am here to try and fuel my hunger."

"Well, join us, please! Since we're early, why don't we try to bag the end of a table so we can all sit together? I'm sure there is loads to talk about."

Tarvan quirked a smile. "Milady, it is good to hear your voice again. 'Bag the end of a table'? You speak as though a Palarandi born but your word choices are refreshingly unusual." He nodded. "As always, you make sense whichever words you use. Aye, there is much to discuss since you departed those months ago." He smiled again, warmly this time. "You brought me another treasure, one who more than doubles my meager efforts in the new world of electricity."

"I did, and it never occurred to any of us that you would be waiting when Milsy reached the palace. What happened?"

"If I may tell you all another time, Milady. The tale must needs include those things we have discovered and devised."

"Like electric clocks? Perhaps you're right. A moment, I must have a word with the Queen."

Terys joined them at a gesture from Garia and everybody bowed and curtseyed.

"Master Tarvan. We are so pleased to have you return to court."

"Thank you, Your Majesty. I only arrived late last night so I do not yet have all my wits about me."

"As you say. Shall we see you at the next Council?"

"Aye, ma'am. There is much to report."

"Ma'am," Garia said, "Since Tarvan has returned we'd like to sit together for breakfast. It will give us a chance to catch up on all the news."

"Of course, dear. We will speak later."

The four found seats and the girls' maids began to serve out their breakfasts. Garia discovered that her appetite was very good and put this down to the early start and hanging around outside in the cold.

"Milady," Tarvan began, "If I may ask, where is Prince Keren today? I do not see him among those eating."

"He left at dawn, to take an embassy along the length of the Valley. We've just been out the front seeing his party off. If you did not know, we are at war with Yod and the King wants to find out if he has any allies out there."

Tarvan nodded, his expression somber. "Aye, I had learned of your battle while I was at Teldor. The town talked of nothing else. Is it true that those of Yod had an Earth person like yourself?"

"It is true, though unlike me he stayed a boy. Unfortunately he was killed during the battle."

"Those of Yod brought him to the battle? A strange tactic."

"They thought to use him as a hostage against me. They knew I would be unable to resist speaking to him so would give myself up rather than see him hurt."

He shook his head. "These people do not know the meaning of honor."

"Tarvan, you have no idea."

His head turned. "Who is that girl sitting next to the Queen? I have not seen her at court before."

Milsy replied, "Ah, she appeared fairly recently, Tarvan. She's Princess Eriana of Einnland and she's run away from her father."

Merizel added, "She discovered that Palarand's Prince needed a consort and so she presented herself at court, not knowing that Keren had already made his choice."

Tarvan smiled at Garia. "And I learned that at Dekarran, Milady. You have my warmest congratulations. I did not know that another had entered the contest."

"She only did it to escape her father, Tarvan," Milsy said. "She is hot-tempered and not technically minded as we four are."

"Do you include me?" Merizel said, with a raised eyebrow. "I play the part of a Scribe and I may organize Garia's time, but I am not as clever as the three of you. I am honored to be in your company but I am not of the same cloth."

"Don't sell yourself cheaply, Merry," Garia said. "Your qualities are just what I need to balance me. We work together perfectly as a team. As for these two mad inventors, well..."

"Mad inventors!" Milsy grinned. "I like the sound of that. Mayhap you are right, Garia." Her expression sobered. "I have considered what we spoke of some days past, Garia, and I desire to consult Tarvan before I make any decision. With your approval?"

"You have it. If you two are going to be together then it makes sense that you should talk this thing out, since it will affect both of you."

"Thank you, Garia. If I may ask, what are your plans today?"

"As you can see by my attire I'm going to the training rooms after breakfast. This afternoon... Merry, what am I supposed to be doing?"

"That's an easy question, Garia. You have a meeting with every single guildsman in Palarand."

"Very funny." She sighed. "Also probably true." She grinned at Milsy and Tarvan. "Did you miss me?"

Milsy grinned back. "A little, though we found some distractions of our own."

Garia turned back to Merizel. "So, who exactly?"

"Parrel, naturally. Hurdin and Haflin, although I imagine Haflin will want to talk weapons so he'll have to wait. Fulvin, now I think of it. Selvar, the paper maker. Pitchell. Margra. These two, of course. Do you want me to get my list out?"

Garia waved a hand. "No, we'll start at the top, I think. I also have to keep Eriana occupied and I'm supposed to be teaching her how to meditate."

Milsy asked, "Meditate? What's that?"

Garia gave them a rough description.

"Um, can we join in? It sounds like a useful way of calming the mind and focusing one's thoughts, which can be good for someone like myself. Sometimes I can be easily distracted."

Garia thought hard, then nodded.

"It makes a kind of sense. There's no reason Eriana is the only person who has to learn and it's a little bit more knowledge that I'm spreading around, isn't it? Let's set up a session for us four plus Eriana, then, say two bells before the evening meal. Can we do that, Merry?"

"Aye, if Her Highness is willing. Master Tarvan, Mistress Milsy, will that time be okay?"

Milsy grinned. "Okay? I see you are picking up Garia's strange words. Aye, we will be ready. Where will you do it, Garia?"

"We don't need anywhere special, just a bit of space and no distractions. My sitting room, then."

"Agreed."

~o~O~o~

"My Lady, we are pleased to see you back again, and safe and uninjured."

"Thank you, Master Parrel. The fight was... unexpected, and there were several times we came close to being overrun but we sort of just got through in the end. Keren says, ah, Prince Keren says that oft-times it is an error by the enemy that makes a victory and that's what happened that time."

Master Hurdin of the Guild of Glassmakers asked, "My Lady, what did they do?"

Garia's expression was one of regret. "They shot a dranakh. Big mistake. The other dranakhs hunted them down and trampled every last one to death, no quarter given."

The men all winced, and some of them were shocked. The relationship between dranakh and human was such that incidents of cruelty were unknown in the Valley states. The fact that a weapon existed that could kill one with a single shot was frightening, as well.

Royal Armsmaster Haflin asked the obvious question. "These would be the guns you mentioned, Milady. I know you described them during your debrief, but should we know more today?"

Garia shook her head. "As I explained to the King a day or two ago there are a huge range of possible weapons we could make and almost no time to make them, prove their usefulness and train the men to use them. What I suggested was that we find out what plan of campaign Marshal Forton had in mind first and then concentrate on just the weapons we need for that. That will save time and effort. Besides, with the current state of Yod's firearms we don't need to have our own to beat them - we've just proved that over two battles."

Haflin nodded. "As you desire, Milady. But I desire a full accounting of the weapons you captured, for my own education, if you would."

Garia smiled at the huge weapons maker who took up nearly half the meeting room.

"You shall have it, Master Haflin, and more besides. And let's leave off the 'Miladies' this afternoon, if you please. This is really a meeting of Guildsmen, is it not?"

"As you wish... Guildmistress... and Journeywoman." Haflin gave a nod of recognition in Merizel's direction as she made notes of the meeting. She blushed and bent her head over her papers.

"Let me go first," Garia suggested. "I suspect my report will be the shortest and then we can get down to finding out what you have all gotten up to while we were away. Uh, Merry?"

"Let me see... Railroads. Containers. Truss bridges. Concrete. Semaphore stations. Bezan's roadhouse design. Zoning. Sewage treatment. Conveyor belts. They are the most important items."

Haflin looked at his brother with a half-smile. "Trivial stuff, do you not agree? It should take us no more than a bell and then we will require four bells of our own in reply."

"As you say," Hurdin replied grumpily. "All I know is that when Mistress Garia opens her mouth I must needs employ forty more people." Garia saw that his eyes twinkled when he gave her a glance. "Not that I object, of course, to the increase in production and profits."

"Agreed." Parrel added, "Mistress, do you begin? We have written each other concerning most of those matters on your list but I believe the railroad concerns us most of all."

Garia nodded. "That's the conclusion I came to as well, on our journey down from Blackstone. It seems to me that we'll need to increase the priority for making railroad equipment and attempt to get some kind of line into operation as soon as possible. If we don't do that soon we'll destroy all the roads of Palarand with the heavy traffic."

"Line, Mistress?"

"That's what we call a railroad route on Earth, Master Hurdin. Probably because it is an actual line of metal from one place to another, I guess. But almost any kind of railroad we can begin will ease pressure on the road system, particularly around Blackstone and Tranidor."

"I have been corresponding with Bezan almost every day since he arrived in Blackstone and I agree with your conclusions, Mistress. Poor Bezan! We did not imagine he would end up with such a task when we sent him to join you. He seems overwhelmed by the size of the project before him, but we are aware that he has many willing helpers from both the guild fraternity and the townspeople. We do not doubt his ability, Mistress, merely his stamina. Perhaps we should send him such assistance as he may desire."

Hurdin stuck a finger out. "If you do that, Parrel, there will be fewer to manage all the other towns in Palarand. Forget not what happened at Holville, if you would."

Parrel nodded. "Aye, Hurdin. We will find a way, we must. But my point to Mistress Garia is this, that we have determined the railroad must also be started from the southern end, the two parts to meet near Haligo. Traffic between Teldor and Dekarran must be worse than that between Blackstone and Tranidor, since there is already an existing trade in metals and other goods besides the new traffic in coal and coke. The roads will not bear it."

Garia thought. "That makes sense. The only problem is, it will double your requirement for steel in one go."

"We recognize that, Mistress. We have factored that into our projections for future demand and we believe that we can produce what will be required."

"Really? I find that surprising."

"Not so surprising, if you consider what we already do, Mistress. We may supply half from our existing furnaces, newly heated by coal, and half from the prototype furnaces which we constructed to experiment with your new smelting method. The only problem we may face is from the needs of war, which would obviously take priority over all else."

Garia shook her head. "Not always the case, Master Parrel. Railroads became important during wars for the ability to move men and materials about very quickly. Thinking about it, a temporary railroad is a lot easier to lay than a road, a highway, would be. It's also easier to take up and re-use when you've finished doing whatever you laid it for."

There were several thoughtful expressions around the table.

"If you would explain more, Mistress Garia. This may serve our purposes better than we had previously imagined."

Garia spent a bell describing what fine detail she could remember about the railroads of America, with many diagrams put up on the blackboard only to be erased and replaced by others. The basic structure of the track was determined, the gauge fixed, rail length and cross-section discussed, ties and switches described, depots, platforms, bridges, tunnels, embankments and cuttings sketched, signalling detailed. Then she moved on to locomotives, wagons, freight and passenger cars and the different ways each could be operated together. There was a brief discussion on how railroads were used during the Civil War, brief because Garia didn't know very much. She only stopped when Jenet and Tandra brought in trays of pel and pastries.

"How much of all this have you described to Bezan, Guildmistress?"

Merizel answered for Garia as the latter had a face full of pastry. "Almost all of it, Master Parrel. And when I have fairly written out my notes from today's meeting, he shall know the rest."

Garia picked up her mug. "You've just reminded me, that's a side matter I wanted to bring up. We left the typewriter you gave us with Master Jepp in Blackstone. Is there another that Merizel may use?"

Parrel spread his hands wide. "Indeed, Guildmistress. We know the task Journeywoman Merizel faces and I shall arrange for a new typewriter to be sent to the palace immediately. It will be," he added apologetically, "an improved design."

Merizel smiled at the smith. "I think I can live with that, Master Parrel. Thank you."

"Have we done enough for now?" Garia asked. "If we carry on at this rate we'll still be here next summer. And I'll have no voice at all."

"We have enough for our railroad, Guildmistress. If you would move on to the other items."

Garia briefly described everything else on her list, getting raised eyebrows during the discussion on concrete. Most of the rest had already been partly discussed by letter while they were away. Finally it was the turn of the guildsmen to tell her what they had been doing while she was in Blackstone.

"Mistress Garia," Parrel began, "I will begin first with the prototype blast furnaces. As you know, we began building almost as soon as the bricks were available. Indeed, bricks proved not to be the problem but transporting them to the site was. We managed to find enough wagons and barges to bring sufficient materials that construction continued, even though slowly at times. We constructed three different designs and the first was put into operation as soon as it was finished. This proved to be a mistake since the mortar required additional time to cure in so thick a wall. Although it did produce steel, cracks developed in the walls and we were forced to abandon it.

"The second and third furnaces, although differing in design, exceed our greatest expectations, Mistress. Once the principles of operation were established we quickly discovered how much steel each could produce, and continuously. In the furnaces we customarily use it is necessary, as you may be aware, to demolish and rebuild the furnace from scratch for each batch of iron or steel so having a structure which remains active increases our output by at least a factor of four or five. In fact, our problem became what to do with all the steel and we resorted to building a warehouse to store ingots of the stuff in."

"I take it there is no problem finding uses for what you produce."

"The opposite, Guildmistress! It is like the clamor for forks and paper. There are so many demands for steel that we must press ahead with our plans for full sized furnaces as soon as the end of winter permits us. Those will of course be situated somewhere near Tranidor and, perhaps, Teldor. We understand that much coal will still travel south but by placing the furnaces in the far north, as we previously discussed, the bulk will have but a shorter journey."

Garia nodded. Their plan was self-evident. The ingredients were either side of Tranidor, why bring them all the way to the Valley to be combined? She was glad that some production would still remain nearby, however.

"So, what are you going to do with all this steel, then?"

"Mistress Garia, much will remain on site, although some will be brought to the city and made available to local smiths for their use. We have examined ideas for rolling mills and therefore much of what we have presently in stock will be re-melted and cast into the rollers we will need to make bars, sheets and other sections from our future production." He chuckled. "And, of course, to make the steam engines which will be needed to drive the rollers and all the rest of the machinery."

"Of course. Are you expecting to use any of this for the railroad, would you think?"

"Considering what we just spoke of, Mistress Garia, probably not. The size of some of the items required makes that impractical. We are more likely to be building water vessels here instead, once we can produce flat steel sheets of the required quality. I have already seen a design for a flat-bottomed steam boat, the hull made entirely from welded steel. Most think the designer is crazy but I do not."

"Quality."

Parrel nodded. "Aye, Mistress. The steel that comes forth is the best that we have ever made, and more consistent in quality. That point alone would justify the coin we have spent building the furnaces."

"Wow. I didn't think you would get so far so fast. You have my congratulations, Master Parrel."

"Some mention must also be made of Master Gerdas's contribution, Mistress."

"Oh?"

"You spoke to him of a... spectrograph? Is that right, Hurdin?"

"Aye, Mistress Garia." Hurdin took up the narrative. "You demonstrated prisms to us and described ways in which the spectrum from the light could be analyzed to discover the quality of that we produce."

"You're right," she agreed. "I remember now. Go on."

"We have learned, in some measure, to use such devices to check the quality of our output, Mistress. Parrel's men use one for steel and iron and mine use one for glass. I would not claim to understand much of what we are seeing, but we know what a good sample looks like and we also have bad samples to compare. It has improved the quality of our output considerably."

"I'm... astonished. I didn't think you'd be able to make use of such ideas that quickly."

Hurdin smiled. "Mistress, you have given us, to use an expression, a 'poke with a sharp stick'. Your knowledge has made us all question anew what we may have thought about our crafts and many other subjects. We take your words very seriously, though we know you are yet young and inexperienced in any art or craft. We understand that you cannot tell us all there is to know about those ideas and devices you describe to us, yet that makes us more curious to discover the truth."

Garia was overwhelmed. "Why, I... I do what I can, Masters. I can tell you all that I know and it is true, you'll have to figure out the rest for yourselves. I don't want you all to think that I'm infallible, though. I'm not, and that may make some of my memories the wrong things to tell you."

Hurdin spread his hands wide. "Did I not say we understand your youth? We make allowances for your age and inexperience. Yet," he added, "so far you have not led us astray even once. Mistress Garia, we have full confidence in all that you may tell us."

Garia ducked her head, her face red. It took her a few moments to compose herself.

"Master Hurdin. Please continue."

"As you wish, Mistress. The production of float glass proceeds apace, the usual complaint being that of shortage of men and materials. We are also grinding lenses for telescopes and microscopes, although we expect the demand for those to slacken as all those who require such instruments obtain them. Next..."

* * *

"...and that is about all I have to report today, Guildmistress," Tarvan finished. "If you desire, I could tell you about certain problems we have encountered during our experiments. The wiring of the palace has thrown up some other, unexpected problems as well."

"Umm... Thanks, Tarvan, but I think we've about run out of time today. I think you and Milsy should schedule a session in the laboratory so that we can go over everything you're worried about."

"As you wish, Guildmistress."

Hurdin inquired, "You have some other engagement, mistress?"

"I do, unfortunately. I'm trying to do something about Princess Eriana's temper and we've booked a session before this evening's meal. I'll see you all at the next Council meeting?"

"Aye, Mistress Garia. I deem there will be much to discuss."

"Oh, yes. Master Haflin, I'll come over and talk to you about guns before that meeting, if I may."

"At your convenience, Guildmistress."

The meeting broke up and Garia, Merizel, Milsy and Tarvan walked back to her suite. There was no sign of Eriana so Jenet went to her adjoining suite to find out where she was. Shortly afterward Jenet, Eriana and her two maids appeared and joined the others in Garia's sitting room.

"Right, let's push back the chairs, tables and settees against the wall so we have enough room to sit comfortably on the floor."

Eriana raised an eyebrow. "You want us to sit on the floor, Garia?"

Garia shrugged. "It's traditional, although you can practice this anywhere once you understand what's going on."

She lowered herself onto the carpet, crossing her legs and pulling her skirt tidily over her knees. After some hesitation the others followed, leaving just Eriana's maids standing.

"Oh! I'm sorry, Tarvan, are you comfortable? I know that the female body can do this much easier than a man's can."

"I can do it, Milady. Some parts of my body seem tight, I trust this will improve with practice?"

"Up to a point, yes. Your hip joints are hinged differently than ours are and you're old enough that probably won't change. But, yes, it should become easier with practice, and I can give you some extra stretching exercises to help make you a little more flexible."

"I understand, Milady."

Eriana asked, "What must we do now, Garia?"

Garia thought. Teaching the exercises was easy enough, but she had to phrase things in such a way that Eriana wouldn't take offense.

"Okay. The purpose of these exercises is to help you gain control of your mind and body. Particularly when emotions are running high, you're not really in control of yourself and that can be a bad thing in certain circumstances. Fear, anger, panic, shock, these are all things that can make your body do things you might not want it to. I can't make you take control of your own body, you can only do that by yourself. What I can do is to help you know when things are going wrong and what you can do to put them right."

Eriana nodded. "Good. That is just what I desire."

"Two things," Garia continued, "the mind and the body. To control and stabilize the mind you must learn to rid it of unwanted thoughts. To control the body, the first step is to control your breathing. We'll begin by focusing on breathing, since by doing that you can train your mind to ignore outside distractions."

She corrected the posture of most who were seated in their circle, noting that Jenet and Bursila were already correctly positioned.

Must be something in the maids' training. They spend a lot of time just standing about, perhaps they have picked up some of this stuff without realizing it.

Perhaps these exercises will help me with my own personal problem. I wonder how far they have traveled today?

"Okay, close your eyes to block out distractions. Just listen to the sound of my voice. Breathe in slowly and hold until I tell you to let it out. ...And out. In..."

~o~O~o~

"Ma'am, do you know how far Keren will have gotten today?"

"Why, I'm not sure, dear. Perhaps Captain Merek will know. Captain?"

Merek finished what he was chewing and swallowed it.

"Ma'am, Milady, tonight the Prince should be resting at the roadhouse at the Moxgo junction. He will leave tomorrow morning and he expects to arrive at Castle Brikant just before lunch time."

Garia said, "Thank you, Captain. Do you have an itinerary, by any chance?"

Merek shrugged. "Milady, I can tell you how long it should take to go from one place to another, and how long each river crossing may take at this time of year, but the Prince expects to spend some time in discussion with his hosts at each destination. Only the Maker knows how long each of those meetings may take."

Garia nodded. "Of course, Captain. I realize this is a sort of open-ended journey and much depends on what he finds along the way. My problem is that I don't know how long it takes to travel anywhere in the Valley." She smiled. "I think I can just about figure out Palarand, now. Other places are not so easy."

"As you say, Milady. As in all travel, much depends on the weather and the state of the Sirrel. The roads left to us by the Chivans are generally in good condition whatever time of year it is but even so ice and snow may make a difference. The Sirrel is not difficult to cross in most places, just tedious, but of course the level changes according to the time of year. After the rains, of course, almost no river crossings are possible."

"What about the countries he is going to visit? Where I lived on Earth the situation was... different. Anyone could travel wherever they liked and there were no border crossings or anything like that. I'm not familiar with a situation where people do different things the other side of a river."

Robanar grunted. "Garia, I thought you told us that your country was part of a collection of states, much like those in the Valley."

Garia's face screwed up with thought. "It's not that simple, Sire. I consider my country to be the whole collection of states, which we call the Union. In that union, each of the fifty states has its own laws and customs, we all speak the same language, mostly, and we all use the same, er, coin. So I consider myself to be both an American citizen and a Kansas citizen." She considered. "I guess you could say... that someone here could call himself both a Palarandi and a Brikant, for example."

Robanar nodded. "Ah, I see. A strange arrangement."

"As you say, Sire. I only realized that myself when trying to explain it to you just now."

Merek asked, "What might a citizen be, Milady? I can guess it is an inhabitant of a certain country but it seems to mean something different than it appears."

"Ah, Captain, that's because we have no King or Duke or anything like that. The United States of America is a republic, and we choose our head of state every four years by election."

"My dear," Terys said to Robanar, "is this a suitable topic for discussion at table?"

Robanar grunted again. "Umm, no harm has been done so far, my dear, but perhaps you are right. Captain Merek."

"Aye, Sire?"

"The arrangements by which many of the Earth countries rule themselves is a complex one, and a subject we have not yet covered in Council."

"Ah, of course, Sire. I understand."

Captain Merek might have taken the hint but Eriana had not.

"Garia, do you tell us that your people elect a ruler from among themselves? How is this possible?"

Garia turned to Robanar. "Sire?"

"You may answer, Garia," the King agreed, "but be careful of what you speak."

Eriana looked confused by this side-play but looked interested in Garia's explanation.

"Well, you see," Garia began. "Hmm. This isn't so easy to explain. Usually two people line up against each other to become President. How those two people get chosen and by who is a long story, I'm afraid. So, each state holds an election where every man and woman has a single vote, and they can choose one of the two people standing to be elected. Once the votes are counted up there's a sort of electoral college and the votes are portioned out according to how the people voted and the size of the state. Then the electoral colleges for all the states get together and they add up their votes to see who has the most, and that decides who's going to be President for the next four years."

Eriana frowned in intense thought and then shook her head.

"I'm sorry, Garia. That sounds so complicated to my ears I wish I had not asked."

"That's okay, Eriana. All you've ever known is a Kingdom so other ways of doing it are bound to sound strange."

"But we will need to learn more," Robanar put in. "As Palarand grows and changes, and by those changes causes all those countries round and about to change also, we must consider if our present ways of governance will be sufficient for the future. But," he held up a warning finger, "as I mentioned to Captain Merek the subject is a complex one and we ought not to speak of it further at open table."

Eriana lowered her eyes. "As you command, Sire."

~o~O~o~

Garia and Merizel were in the former's sitting room, working out Garia's itinerary for the next few days. It seemed that things were changing so fast it was not possible to plan much further ahead, so Merizel had ended up making a list of people to see and another of things to talk about. There was a knock on the door and Tandra answered it, to admit Gullbrand and Lars.

"My Lady," Gullbrand said, executing a deep bow, "forgive the intrusion. If it is possible, I would ask a short audience of you."

Garia looked at Merizel, who breathed a deep sigh of relief.

"At the moment, we would be glad of any interruption," Garia answered. "Please, take a seat and tell us what's on your mind." As Gullbrand selected the settee she asked, "I'm not sure how I should address you, sir. I haven't heard anybody use a title or rank for you."

Gullbrand grimaced. "My Lady, I have none that you would recognize. In Einnland I am entitled to be addressed as Lord, through my family ties, though few would bother except at formal gatherings."

"If you have no objection, then, I'll address you as My Lord. You'll already have noticed that we are less formal in the palace when the King or Queen are not around." Garia became attentive. "What can I do for you, My Lord?"

"My Lady, it is this. Like yourself, we are strangers in Palarand and, through circumstances not of our own making likely to remain here for some time. The Princess is headstrong and I do not fault her rejection of the man proposed to be her husband, though I deem her action in fleeing Einnland was foolhardy. The situation is this, My Lady. If the Princess were to return, doubtless her father would accept her back into his house but for the rest of those who survived the voyage there is only the certainty of execution.

"Thus, we are forced to consider breaking our oaths to King Embrikt and pledging anew to another ruler. As someone who has recently been in a similar situation, I wondered if you could offer advice to us. For example, what of the King? We have observed him at work but know little of him. Further, if we should stay, what might become of us? It seems you have yet been in Palarand but half a year and you are already a Baroness, though I understand the King views you favorably since you came from Earth."

Of course, there's a whole bunch of people beside Eriana to consider, isn't there? I can see that Embrikt would consider them all traitors so they really have nowhere else to go. Well, Palarand is going to need all the manpower it can get...

"Of course," she said. "I'd been focusing on Princess Eriana but there's all the rest of you to think about, isn't there? You're right, the King does look on me favorably, but not just because I came from Earth. There are two things, really, the first is the fact that I was a young, unprotected girl in a strange land. Like Eriana I knew nothing about the Valley or any customs or anything like that. The second is that I have a good memory of what happened on Earth and I promised to give all that knowledge to Palarand."

"Ah!" Gullbrand's eyes lit up. "I understand, now. During the conversations I have had with His Majesty and his palace officials that was not made clear. So, you are the reason for the recent battles, then?"

"Just so, My Lord. And I was made Baroness to permit me to have my own bodyguard and a title to protect me."

Gullbrand nodded. "The King of Palarand is both shrewd and thoughtful, My Lady. But our situation is not of such use to the King."

"That's so, but I don't think you'll have much problem if you wanted to pledge yourself to the King, or indeed to someone else. There's a war coming, and even if that were not so we have a huge demand for manpower at all levels. You just have to figure out how you could be of use to the person you select." Garia remembered. "Oh! You already have a connection to Eriana, don't you? Would you stick with her if she pledges to Robanar?"

"She has told Lars and myself that she will not bind us should we choose some other action, My Lady. My relationship to the Princess is one of convenience, since we both served her father." He spread his hands. "Much may depend on the Princess's own position, should she pledge to the King. If she does I do not think she would have further need of my services. As for Lars, his liege lord perished during the voyage. He feels out of place in the palace and would find some suitable position for himself."

"And her two maids? Will she let them make their own decisions? Slavery is forbidden in Palarand, though I'm told some of the other Valley states permit it."

Gullbrand scowled. "My Lady, I doubt she has given her bondswomen a single thought. Since they do not speak the Valley tongue they have no knowledge of anything but their duties."

"You realize the King will insist on her maids being freed? If nothing else they would become palace servants." Garia frowned. "Of course, if they can't speak the language..."

"My Lady, I am curious to know how you may speak the tongue of Einnland," Gullbrand said.

"Ah, that's a very complicated business, and one I'm not sure about myself. It seems to be something to do with the way I arrived here." When Gullbrand raised an eyebrow, she added, "I don't know how I came here, My Lord. I don't even know where here is. Certain things about me have changed along the way, I didn't look quite like this on Earth. It's possible there are some other changes I haven't yet found out about. The fact I can speak some of the local tongues is just another in a long list of questions that need answering."

"As you say, My Lady."

"As to your original question, I have no complaints of King Robanar. He's sharp and thoughtful and ready to listen to unusual ideas." She grinned. "Since I arrived he has had little choice!" She then remembered a certain heated discussion in the Large Training Room. "Heh. Don't underestimate the Queen, either. I think she's smarter than the King, but don't you dare tell them I said that. I don't know what it's like in Einnland, but in Palarand the Queen wields some real power. I come from a country where there are no Kings or Queens, no Lords or Ladies, but I've settled in here reasonably well and the system they have here seems to work. You'll have to make up your own mind, of course, but I can't see how you'd lose by pledging to King Robanar."

"Thank you, My Lady. Your words reassure me. I shall go away and contemplate what my future may be in this new land."

"I'm sure you have talents somebody will welcome, My Lord." She turned. "And what about your man here?"

"I am not sure, My Lady. Perhaps his future is easier to guess than mine. He is not so... clever between the ears, perhaps, but as you may see he would make a fine armsman."

Lars was as tall as Keren, but almost twice as wide - and ten times uglier. His shock of red hair was receding, showing him to be in his middle thirties. He had a thick red beard as well, reminding Garia of a typical Viking berserker. His thick arms showed scars from many fights.

"Hmm. I don't think he'd be trained anything like the Palace Guard are, but that might be an advantage. Why don't you take him to see Master Haflin? He'd give him a proper assessment and tell you if he'd be worth training up. If we're at war with Yod then even if he isn't with the armies he'd be a good man to have at your back."

"As you say, My Lady." Gullbrand rose. "We thank you for your words and your time, My Lady. If you will excuse us?"

"Of course."

After Gullbrand and Lars had left Merizel looked at Garia.

"That was interesting! I had thought about Eriana's position but forgotten that of all the others. Eew. Do you think Embrikt would really execute everyone else for helping Eriana get away?"

Garia shrugged. "I don't know what he's like, Merry, and we only have two self-interested accounts to go on. He could be as bad as that, or they could be making him look bad in order to improve their chances of staying here."

"As you say. So, do you think Gullbrand might be of use to House Blackstone? The way things are growing you're going to need more help than little old me in the future. If he has some experience in court intrigue and administration then he might be useful."

"I never considered such a thing, Merry! But you're right. If things keep going the way they are," she rolled her eyes, "then I'm going to need more people to help run things, aren't I?"

"You might also," Merizel added, "need some advisors of your own once you become Queen."

"No!" Garia groaned. "I so do not want to go there, Merry. Let's get the winter over with first, and then the wedding. The King is going to be around for a few years yet, we've plenty of time to organize courtiers."

Another knock came at the door and Tandra admitted Varna, who curtseyed.

"My Lady, the Queen regrets the interruption but she desires your presence in her sitting room."

Garia stood. "Ah, okay. Would that include Lady Merizel, do you think?"

"Milady, considering those who already attend, then Lady Merizel's presence may be required, yes."

Intrigued, the two followed Terys's junior maid the two doors to Their Majesties' sitting room. Inside they found Terys, Milsy, Tarvan and Kendar. Garia and Merizel curtseyed and Terys indicated that they should find seats. To Garia's surprise, it was Milsy who stood before her and curtseyed.

"My Lady, I've thought about what we spoke of earlier and I have come to a decision. Only..."

"Milsy?"

"I talked it over with Tarvan and we decided to ask you if we could both join your house. Would that be acceptable, Milady?"

Garia's eyes widened but she had half been expecting something like this to happen.

"Why, yes, I think so." She turned. "Ma'am, I assume this has your approval?"

"It does, dear. I thought about what might happen in the future and I see no obvious difficulty. You understand they will belong to House Blackstone and not to the royal household?"

Garia saw the distinction. It meant that when she eventually became Queen Milsy and Tarvan would be vassals of whoever then became head of House Blackstone. That meant in turn that they would remain free of any palace influence - apart from that of Garia herself, of course.

"I do, ma'am." She addressed the guildsman. "Tarvan, as the only person present who has any idea about guild rules, how does this work? I thought you could only give oaths to the Guild itself."

"Not so, Milady," he replied. "I may make my oath to the guild, as you describe, when I am of suitable rank, and then offer my services under contract, or I may bind myself to any master who will take me. The situation is common enough, Milady. In the palace are such guildsmen as Fulvin and Haflin, who have given oaths to the crown. If you would have me, I will give you my oath."

Garia studied the expectant look in the faces of the two. They were both young and eager and entirely capable of absorbing some of the strange ideas she had yet to tell to Palarand. With these two as the core she could start up a research unit to develop some of those ideas. She nodded.

"I accept."

Terys said, "Kendar, shall you provide the standard oath, appropriate for such occasion?"

"Aye, ma'am."

"Merizel, shall you copy such oaths that they may sign them, along with your liege lady?"

"Ma'am, I will."

With Kendar acting as witness, and with Terys countersigning, speaking of the oaths and recording the facts took very little time.

"Milsy, Tarvan, welcome to House Blackstone." Garia smirked. "I know you only did it to get your hands on my treasury."

Terys was outraged. "Garia!"

"Ma'am, I specifically pointed out to Milsy that access to my treasury was one of the reasons she might consider. It appears that the Hall of the Guilds is tight for funds right now."

"Ah. As you say." The Queen was mollified. "But I shall warn this pair that I will be watching their progress closely. I do not want Garia's income to be squandered, it will be sorely needed for future projects."

"Ma'am," Milsy said, "We know this. It is likely that we will be thinking up many of those future projects, and we will always be careful with Garia's coin. After all, without Garia, Tarvan would be making arrow heads and I would still be a kitchen servant."

"Quite so." Terys bestowed a beam of approval. "Garia, my dear, you have gathered around you some clear-headed and talented young people. We look forward to the future of House Blackstone."



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