Somewhere Else Entirely -111-

Garia spends a day meeting people all over the palace. Plans are made, ideas are discussed, decisions taken, and a surprising offer comes from an unexpected direction.

Somewhere Else Entirely

by Penny Lane

111 - Five Conversations


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.


"Einnland?" Tanon stroked his chin as he considered. "I know of the country, of course, but we have little to do with it. I deem it a poor, remote land which offers few opportunities for trade." He started, and turned to another member of the meeting. "Your pardon, Highness! I did not intend any insult."

Eriana replied, "I do not take offense, Master Tanon. We know that we are not as rich as others may be. There is little reason for us to trade, though we must needs obtain our iron from elsewhere. I was, frankly, astonished when I came to Palarand and discovered how rich a land it is. I could never have imagined the wealth I see walking its streets and this palace," she gestured around them, "a building larger than any I could have imagined to exist."

"As you say, Highness. Ah, I know little of your people or why you are here, Highness. That, I presume, is the reason for this meeting?"

"Yes and no, Master Tanon," Garia said with a smile. "We have a shipload of Einnlanders who are joining us here from Plif and it seems they have the right talents to perform a task for the King. That task will involve traveling through Brugan and up the trade route into the mountains. We wanted you to give us whatever information you can about that route."

"Brugan?" Jaxen was mystified but intrigued. "Milady, whatever interests you in Brugan?"

"It's not Brugan itself but the fortress overlooking Forguland. We want to attack it by going over the mountains from the north, which means going along the trade route."

"Ah! All becomes clear," Tanon nodded. "Let me look at that map, Jaxen."

The map was unrolled and positioned in the center of the table where all could see it clearly.

"Boldan's Rock," Jaxen commented. "I have often seen it as we passed through Forguland. It is said to be impregnable, and, from the river, that is certainly so. I am no warrior, you understand," he explained to Eriana, "but the nature of my business means I have some appreciation of that art."

Eriana nodded as Jaxen continued, "Ah, I see! Aye, that would be an interesting idea! Your plan, Milady?"

Garia felt warm. "Sort of, Jaxen. If you say so. It wasn't something they would think of in the Valley, because of the traditional ways they make war here. But to me, it seemed an obvious question. If you can't get in the front, why not try round the back?"

Tanon stroked his chin again. "Of course we regularly send caravans along that road, Milady. There are foodstuffs of high value which we may obtain further to the west."

Jaxen added, "Remember, Milady? Those sacks of irris beans that concealed you when we went north? It was through that route they came to Palarand."

Merek leaned forward. "What lies there, Master Jaxen? I know it is a vale governed by Brugan but I do not know the terrain."

"It is two vales actually, Captain," Jaxen replied. "The part nearer to Brugan is theirs, much as we have North Palarand. That is called Therel Vale. The lower reaches, along which the road travels to begin with, are heavily farmed as is the Great Valley, though the soil is drier and suited to different crops. There is a market town called Therelis just here, where the river doubles back. Here," he pointed to where the road zigzagged, "the road climbs through a pass to enter Nardenis Vale which belongs to the Kingdom of Shald. From there the road drops and follows the River Nardenis all the way to Pradens, the capital."

"As you say, wagonmaster. And would this route still be open during winter? We would seek to send a small party, perhaps twenty, along to about this point and then strike south through the mountains. What kind of terrain might they face?"

"That route is open all winter, usually," Jaxen replied, "but wagons may not use it if there has been much snowfall. The riders of the Messenger Service can usually get through all year round, unless the winter be particularly bad. You pick a good place to depart the road, I deem, since there are few who live near that ridge. There would be few unwelcome eyes to see which way your party goes."

"Who lives up there?" Garia asked. "Is it just shepherds and the like?"

Jaxen shrugged. "There are some small villages along the road, Milady, and in the nearer slopes. I have not inspected the route with a military campaign in mind. There are also minor roads leading into the hills either side, which may be of use to your party. I deem there would be few living on those hills through winter and most flocks would be brought to lower ground at this time of year."

"What do you think, Eriana?"

The Princess thought. "It is a long way, Garia. Perhaps fifty to sixty marks of rough country and all of my men would be on foot. We will have pack animals, of course, but I do not think we may ride across such mountains. Some of the men do not ride, in any case, as I do not."

Tanon disagreed. "Highness, you may reconsider. Although we may term these lands 'mountains' and 'rough' they are nothing like the high mountains to the south, the Palumaks, which your Einnland is near. I deem you may ride a good portion of your journey, perhaps as much as half."

"Jaxen," Garia asked, "is the country anything like that round Blackstone? We could ride over most of that with no problem."

"Aye, Milady, especially away from the wall of the Great Valley. I agree with Master Tanon, your party may ride much of the way, which will keep them fresher and may shorten their journey."

"But I do not ride," Eriana objected, "and there are those of my men who cannot ride."

Garia grinned. "We can fix that, I think. With the new saddles I'm sure we can get most of you riding before you have to go. It's not really that hard, trust me. Merizel learned in around two weeks."

"Even Lars? Is there a frayen big enough for him?"

"Hmm. I don't know that, Eriana. We'll have to ask those who know about such things. Captain Merek?"

"It may be possible, Milady, leave it to me and I shall find such a beast for Lars. Are there any more of such a size, Highness? I must know what numbers to seek."

"He is the largest, though there are two others of near size, Captain."

"Then I will inquire discreetly of that we wish." Merek counted up the possible participants in his head. "You will need between fifty and sixty frayen all told, Milady. That is, assuming the party may obtain forage as they go. If not," he spread his hands wide, "you may need eighty or more."

Eriana was astonished. "So many for such a small party? "

Garia said, "Let me get this one, Captain. Eriana, if each man rides a frayen, that's twenty. As well as himself - your pardon, himself or herself - they will need clothing, weapons, food and camping gear, that's one pack frayen each, that's forty. So now you have forty frayen who themselves need feeding. With the fodder blocks they use in Palarand you might manage with another twenty, since the frayen who carry the fodder blocks themselves need feeding! And so it goes on."

Merek said, "Milady, I am pleased you appreciate such problems. Many a campaign has foundered because we could not take enough supplies."

"Supplies is what wins wars, Captain, That's something I do know."

"I am amazed," Eriana said. "Knowing nothing of land warfare I did not consider such a matter. At sea, of course, we take what food we may but we also take lines to fish along the way."

"And your boat doesn't need feeding," Garia pointed out. "Okay, let's leave that for Captain Merek to sort out. Master Tanon, can you provide us with some notes about what is along that route, please?"

"With pleasure, Milady." With his fingers he drew a rectangle on the map enclosing the whole route from Brugan to the fortress. "I will have a map made of this region and we will annotate it as required, Milady."

"Good. Is there anything else?"

Jaxen asked, "Milady, how do you propose that the party travels to the departure point on the ridge?"

"Um, I hadn't planned that far, Jaxen. Master Tanon, would you be prepared to run a caravan or two that way, with some extra special guards to help out?"

Tanon nodded. "I imagined that you might suggest such a way, Milady. I must consider my resources. When would your men wish to depart from Palarand, do you think?"

"No idea. It depends on when Gullbrand gets back with the men, and some extra training... and we'll have to teach some of them to ride, it looks like. Captain Merek?"

"Milady, I would say no sooner than four weeks, once the men have arrived from Plif."

Tanon nodded. "Thank you, Captain." He smiled. "It is winter and the season when we cannot run many of our regular caravans. I can arrange something. The men may look forward to a change in winter routine."

"Master," Jaxen said, "or they may object to being called out of taverns! Many, as you know, find other work during the slack season."

"We'll manage, Jaxen. Of course," he added thoughtfully, "if wagons are to be taken at least as far as Nardenis Vale then they may be used to carry fodder. Milady, I would discuss the details later with Captain Merek, if I may. Using a caravan may reduce the frayen numbers somewhat."

"Then we'll leave it there and have another meeting after Gullbrand arrives with the men," Garia decided. "We won't know exact numbers until then."

Tanon pushed back his chair to leave but Garia stopped him.

"Master Tanon, while you and Jaxen are here..."

Tanon sat down again and looked at her with interest. "Milady?"

"There's a substance we need for future processes and you or Jaxen might know where we can get hold of it. On Earth we get it from trees but here there might be other sources, so don't just think about it that way, will you? What we use is a sap from the trunk which dries to form a substance called rubber." Garia shook her head. "I have difficulty describing what this stuff does, but I'll try. When it is dry it is waterproof, that's the first thing. It doesn't melt, either, like wax does when it is heated. The second and more important property is that it is flexible. What I mean by that is you can press it and when you let go it will return to its original shape. You can also mold shapes out of it which can bend and stretch but go back when you let go. Have you come across anything like that?"

"Milady, I have," Tanon replied. "In the north, on the sea-coast which can be reached by both the Tel Botro and Chaarn routes, there grows a tree whose sap has the properties you describe. It is considered little more than a curiosity there, though the local fishermen do use it sometimes for floats for their lines. Jaxen? Shall you describe it to Milady Garia?"

"Aye, Master Tanon. Milady, mostly it is made into balls which bounce extremely well. These are used for a number of games the locals play. The balls last for a time and then harden and crumble so a constant supply is needed."

"Ah! There may be ways round that, Jaxen. Thank you, Master Tanon, that sounds just what we need."

"Garia?" Eriana joined in. "We also know of such a substance. There is a shrub which grows in Einnland that, when crushed, provides a juice that hardens as you describe. We call it the Yolli bush."

"Oh, wow! I'm surrounded by rubber substitutes." Garia leaned back, impressed. "Okay, I'm going to have to ask you, Master Tanon, if you can supply samples of both these substances. If either are any good, then we can try growing the trees or bushes here or find some way of increasing the trade to get more of it. We have a lot of uses for rubber."

Tanon looked at Jaxen. "Looks like we'll be busy next year. How would you like to take a caravan to Einnland?"

Jaxen grinned. "I'd prefer Chaarn, as it happens, but either will do. We have all of winter to plan out the trains, Master Tanon."

"As you say. Well, Highness, Milady, Captain, we must take our leave. I see Jaxen and I have much to discuss, very little of it our usual transport business."

"Thank you for your time, Master Tanon, Jaxen. And thank you for yours, Captain. I had forgotten about the supply problem until you mentioned it."

"As you say, Milady. There is nearly always something that is forgotten."

~o~O~o~

"No, please, don't stand up!"

The nine men and two girls subsided back into their seats. All looked at Garia enquiringly.

"I've come to see how you all are again," she told them. "Make sure you're all comfortable and that you've begun to heal."

The room was next to the chamber that Garia labeled 'Sick Bay'. Those who could get out of bed could sit in here and perhaps, depending on their injuries, do activities which those forced to stay in bed could not. Garia headed first for Lanilla.

"My Lady."

"How's the arm? I'm sorry I couldn't come before, it's been madness the last few days."

Lanilla lifted the plaster-cast covered arm and showed Garia.

"Milady, it still hurts very much, though not as much as when the wagon fell on it. Mistress Margra and her women say that I should be able to use the arm as normal when it has mended." Lanilla looked anxious. "When shall I be able to serve you, Milady? If you are pressed then you will need my help."

Garia looked fondly at the girl. "Ah, don't you worry about that. You'll be out of here when Margra tells you to and not a day before, understand? I don't want that arm mending badly and leaving you with future problems."

"As you say, Milady." Lanilla looked downcast.

"What about your ribs? And your legs?"

"Milady, I may walk on my own legs, though slowly. Mistress Margra says the bruising is responding well to the salve. As for my ribs, she thinks they were only cracked, not broken. Milady, I do not know the difference, only they hurt so much."

Garia nodded. "Yup, that's about right. I've had cracked ribs in the past and it stung like fury." She smiled. "That should fade, don't you worry. Now, it sounds as if you're bored in here. I'm not surprised, most people get bored in hospital."

"Hospital, Milady?"

"Oh, that's what they call a place like this where I come from, Lanilla. A place where the sick and injured get taken to be treated and looked after until they are well again."

"As you say, Milady." Lanilla pursed her lips. "I'm not bored, really, not here. There's so much going on around me but I'm unhappy not to be helping, if you understand me."

"Oh, yes, I understand all right. We'll see what we can do."

"Oh! Milady, I forgot! They have begun to teach those of us who can sit up and use a reed our letters. In Blackstone nobody in our family could read nor write. We had to ask Master Jepp or one of the others to read anything that came for us."

Garia remembered that Lanilla's family had been one of the poorer ones in the town and looked afresh at her maid. It had been fourteen days or so since the battle and Lanilla had been laid up in Sick Bay doing little but mending and eating good palace food. She was no longer the tall thin girl who had begun the ride away from her home town. She was still tall and slender, but there was an obvious difference about her face and her body strained the nightgown she wore under the fluffy wrap. Garia smiled inside, for Lanilla might have a surprise the next time she looked in a mirror. How would she deal with the inevitable attention she would get from the menfolk of the palace?

Thinking of which, she turned and surveyed the others in the chairs around them. Four were armsmen she knew had wounds from the battle, two were servants who had somehow injured themselves caring for the palace and those inside it while the other female might have come from the kitchen. That left -

She glanced around more sharply, now, noticing the armsmen standing at either door. So, these men weren't here covering herself, they were guarding the three Yodans who shared the sitting room with the other injured. She shook herself, came back to Lanilla.

"Your letters? That's good. That's a very good use of your time, Lanilla, and all the better since you can't do much else yet. Have you written to anyone at home yet?"

Lanilla knew that Garia meant, had somebody else written a letter for her.

"Milady, I have. I asked a letter for Papa three days hence." She hesitantly added, "Can you tell me how long it takes for such to travel to Blackstone, Milady?"

"Well, I don't rightly know, Lanilla. If the King writes something the Messengers take it as quick as they can but for ordinary people like you and me it can take much longer. It all depends on when the wagons go north and come back."

"Milady." This was an interruption from one of the armsmen. "Begging your pardon, Milady, but there's no letters going at the moment, they cannot pass the Sirrel so easily."

"Trevil, isn't it?" Garia smiled at the man, who had one leg in bandages and another around his head. "That's no longer true, ever since the semaphores were set up at South Slip and Dekarran. We can't pass much, it is true, but we're not cut off any longer."

"As you say, Milady." Trevil's eyes slid toward the Yodans.

"What you said wasn't true anyway, Trevil," said one of the others. "You know the post may send letters through Brikant, then across the West Ferry to Brugan and back along the trade road to Dekarran. Takes some time but they gets there. I know, since my own family are in the Upper Telar."

"Ah, I didn't know that, Marsh. My apologies, My Lady, I interrupted your conversation."

Garia waved a hand. "That's okay. There are few secrets here." She turned to Lanilla. "To answer your question, probably about ten to fifteen days at this time of year. I know that the last leg from Tranidor to Blackstone will take three now Jaxen has gotten the shuttle going."

"Thank you, Milady. So I know not to expect a reply for some days yet."

"But..."

Garia stopped. She had been thinking that everybody ought to know already how long mail took to get from place to place. Only it wasn't that easy, especially for some of those living in Blackstone. For starters, Lanilla's family had probably been poor enough and ill-educated enough that they sent and received few letters from anybody. The post wasn't free, after all. Add to that the fact that Trogan had effectively censored all traffic in and out of the town for many months and it was no wonder Lanilla had little idea of how long things took.

"As you say." Garia nodded. "In time that might change, you know, but for now we'll have to rely on Jaxen and his band of men."

"Thank you, Milady."

"Has anyone come to visit you? I know everyone is so busy right now."

"Aye, Milady, Tedenis and Briswin come every day, since their barracks is so near, but Senidet has found time to visit me as well." She smiled shyly. "What with the lettering and the Healers coming round there is little time to become bored."

"I'm pleased to hear that. Well, you carry on and get well and then we can show you all the wonders of the palace, right?" Garia smiled at Lanilla. "It won't be like Dekarran but it has a charm all its own."

"As you say, Milady."

"Let me have a word with all these others, while I'm here."

Garia moved to the next chair, the one with Trevil in it, his leg stretched out on a footstool.

"Milady."

"So. What happened to you, then?"

"I got a cut over my ear, Milady, then a spear through the leg. Do you remember, you bandaged me yourself that day."

"I do, though I bandaged lots of men that day." She nodded at the three brown-clad men. "Yodans, too. Do you think you'll be able to serve again, once the bandages come off?"

"Can't tell, Milady, not until I finds out what damage it did. The head wound, that's nothing, just a scar to show my family. The leg, well..." Trevil shrugged. "That's what happens in a fight, isn't it? You does what you has to, and the other fellow does what he has to. I don't blame these," a nod to the Yodans, "they just did what their officers told them to do, right? That's the way it goes. I knew what I was doing when I gave my oath to the King and I take back none of it."

"As you say. Your family?"

"Wife. Two boys and a girl, Milady. The palace will look after them. My wife works in the laundry, both boys are in the stables at the moment and my daughter helps out in the kitchen."

Garia nodded. "Good. The King takes his oaths seriously too."

After talking to the other guardsmen and the woman from the kitchen, who had managed to get herself scalded with hot fat, she turned to the three Yodans.

"Lady." The first said, nodding to Garia. "I remember, you bandaged me after the attack." He shook his head. "This place is nothing like we were told, Lady. This is better care than we could ever expect back home. Is this special care for us, though we be your enemies? What do you gain, by treating us this way?"

Garia shook her head. "Nope. You're being treated exactly like everyone else, with the possible exception of having those men at the doors." She glanced briefly at the guardsmen. "Your treatment is what your wounds require, not who you are. I'm not sure what will happen to you once you are thought fit to leave this place, though."

"Milady." One of the room guards spoke. "When they are deemed fit they will be taken to rejoin their fellows at a mansion outside the city. We have already sent four of the lesser wounded that way."

"Thank you." The man nodded. She turned back to the Yodan. "You said that you were told stuff about Palarand."

"Aye, Lady. Not just about Palarand, all the other cities of the Great Valley. It was explained that you were all lesser folk who lived in poor towns and barbarous conditions which we of Yod could only improve." His expression was one of contempt. "Even on the journey here from the battle, Lady, we could see that was not true. I know this is the palace and that would be better than what surrounds it but we saw well-kept farms, many mansions, prosperous shops, people dressed in fine clothes, wide, busy roads and sidewalks."

"He's right," another of them agreed. "When we got here we expected to be treated roughly, as any who were defeated might. That's not what happened, though. They treated us as enemies, it is true, but with respect also. As you said, our wounds were tended just the same as the wounds of those we fought against. We have spoken to those who were bedded beside us and it seems we were not told the truth by those who brought us to Palarand."

The first man spoke. "Aye. We wonder about much we have been told, Lady. We wonder if our leaders really believe what they told us or whether it was some device to encourage us to fight as we did."

"I can't help you there," Garia said. "I personally know nothing about Yod except they keep coming after me. I know where it is but nothing about it or its people. I don't know what you've been told, or what your leaders believe, or even if that's just ignorance or deliberate."

"You are the one?" the third man said, surprised. "You are but a girl... and so young. What quality is it makes our leaders so frightened of you?"

"Knowledge," she replied. "I just happen to know more than most people round these parts do. The boy you had, Yves Perriard, he also had similar knowledge and I guess Yod didn't want to let anyone else have any. It would disprove their claim to be better than anyone else, wouldn't it?"

Eyebrows rose. "That boy," the first one said, "he was like you? We did not know, Lady. Our betters tell us nothing except, 'go here', 'do that' and we go and do as we are told. We was told that the boy had to be guarded well, that he was not to be captured by those of Palarand and if that seemed likely to kill him but we was never told why." He shook his head. "When the great beasts ran wild there was no chance to follow orders, Lady. We surrendered else we be killed where we stood."

"Perhaps it was just as well you did," Garia said, thoughtfully. "There is a real possibility for misunderstanding here, and I'm wondering if there is something we can do about that. If I were to ask you," she said slowly, "if you would stay in the palace and talk to us, about what's going on in Yod and what Yod thinks of us, would you be prepared to do it?"

The three were instantly wary.

"What you ask is treason, Lady."

"I don't think so. Look, I'm not asking for your leader's greatest secrets, or the layout of your castles, that kind of thing, because you probably don't know anything of that anyway, do you? What I want to know about is what life is like in Yod so that I can get an idea of how they think of us." Garia had a thought. "Look, you all have families back in Yod, don't you? Don't you want them to be safe and sound? If this war drags out there's always a chance they will be caught up in it. You already suspect you have been lied to by your leaders, why not find out what the truth is and make up your own minds? You might decide that making the war shorter would be the best way to keep your families safe."

There was a silence in the room while the men digested this. Eventually the first man spoke.

"Lady, I trust you, but you cannot know the minds of your leaders. How do we know we will not be betrayed if we do as you ask?"

Garia smiled. "I speak daily with the King and Queen, and I can ask him to permit you an audience so that you can ask him yourself, if that will reassure you. I trust him. He is probably not what you imagine our leader to be either."

"If you say so, Lady. We must needs talk about your offer before any may decide, with your permission."

Garia waved a hand. "Take as long as you like. If you want to be alone, I'm sure something can be arranged." One of the guardsmen nodded assent at her. "If you want to talk to the others in here as well, then I'm sure nobody will object to that either. Talk to Lanilla if you like, she's one of my retainers and she can tell you what I'm like and all about life away from the capital."

"Lady," the second one said, shaking his head in wonder, "this is not what we are used to. We would never be permitted to speak to anyone of rank, we are too lowly. Aye, we will do as you suggest and send word when we have reached a decision."

"Then that's settled." Garia turned to the guard at the door. "You heard? If they want privacy, find a way to let them talk it out between themselves. If they ask for me, you know how to send word. If anyone wants to move them away from here then refer them to me before anything happens, would you?"

"As you command, Milady."

"Right. I think it's time I moved on. Coming, Jenet?"

~o~O~o~

"You want me to do what?"

Robanar raised an eyebrow at Garia.

"Just meet with these men, Sire. They have discovered that their leaders have misled them and they wonder what the truth is. They seem ready to talk about where they come from and about what they thought goes on in Palarand. I know they are only foot soldiers, and injured at that, but it may be an opportunity to find out about what those in Yod are thinking and what they are telling those who have to fight."

"How will this help us, Garia?"

"It should give us a better idea of what conditions are like in Yod, Sire. My gut feeling is that there's only a small group at the top who have this superiority complex and if we can turn those lower down against them then we could get an easier win. Looked at the other way, we can show the Yodans what Palarand is like and they'll know they were told lies about other countries."

"Shall we not give secrets to each other, should we meet as you suggest?"

Garia shrugged. "There's not a lot they can tell us, in a military sense, that we don't already know, Sire. The same goes the other way. Oh, there's maybe some tactics we shouldn't tell them, like how we defend ourselves against gunfire, but that's not what we - or they - would be interested in. They have been told the rest of the Valley countries are poor, miserable barbarous lands, Sire. They already know that to be untrue, just from their journey here and their stay in the Healers' dormitory. What they wonder is about how the rest of our people live."

"They name us barbarous? These people are certainly arrogant." Robanar stroked his chin. "What is it they seek from me?"

"If they should start talking to us, Sire, I'm sure that some of their fellows will call them traitors. They want assurance that we would protect them against such accusations, possibly by giving them shelter in Palarand."

Robanar peered suspiciously at her. "Have you some scheme, Garia? First it is Einnlanders, now Yodans. I know our country will soon need more hands to do the coming work, but you choose strange folk to help us."

"Me? No, Sire, no scheme, just an idea of the moment. I don't think there would be many, but you can never tell. Most will want to return home once this is over, I would imagine, as they have family there. The other reason is a desire to see you, Sire. In Yod it would never be possible for any goodman or freeman or whatever they are called to meet their leader. If you meet them you'll show them we are different - and better."

"As you say. It is not something that would ever have occurred to us - is this perhaps a lesson from Earth?"

"It might be, Sire. There have been occasions when nations on Earth have told their people all manner of lies about other places and it has taken a long time for the truth to make its way in. Most collapse once that happens."

"Then let us see if this gut feeling of yours bears fruit, Garia. I will speak with Merek and arrange something. It occurs to me that we may risk little but gain much, if you are right."

~o~O~o~

"You are right, Milady. You have grown slightly since your journey to the north."

"I thought so, Rosilda! What's changed?"

"You are perhaps a finger taller, though that should not affect your clothes, fortunately. There is about a thumb and a half to your bust and the same to your hips, Milady. Your waist is almost exactly the same."

"Ouch! I don't mind adding a bit up top but I would have thought my hips were wide enough already." Garia sighed. "So be it. How many of my outfits can be altered and how many are no good any more?"

"It varies, Milady. Some have enough room already, many of your new outfits were made with sufficient seam allowance since we knew you still to be growing. I deem it is mostly the gowns you obtained from the Wardrobe that may need replacing... I must needs check your bra sizing again, I think, though there is some allowance in the ties."

"Oh, of course. Let's do that now, while I'm half-dressed."

Rosilda did the required measurements then said, "Your band is less than a finger wider, Milady. It is the cup which must needs expand. I will order you five more bras." She paused, then added, "I should, of course, ask you if Kalikan presently calls, Milady. That will make a difference to your cup size."

"Well, no," Garia replied, "it's not until -"

"Oh!" Jenet put a hand to her mouth. "Milady, I am so stupid! I had forgotten, your Call was early last time. It is so long since I had that experience myself, you understand."

Garia turned to her maid. "What do you mean?"

"Milady, it often happens, when a young girl first gets her Calls, they are not as regular as those of a mature woman. Of course they will eventually settle down into the usual pattern but first there will be a short Call. I forgot, of course, since we were traveling back from Blackstone that time and our attentions were elsewhere."

Rosilda objected, "But surely, Milady would have had her short Call many years ago."

Jenet shook her head. "Milady's circumstances are unusual, Rosilda. Before she came to Palarand, she had not experienced the Call of Kalikan at all. I am told that on Earth things are... different. We assumed that this was what caused Milady's Calls to be irregular but perhaps it was not so."

"So," Garia asked, "when is Kalikan due next, then?"

Jenet totted up on her fingers. "If I am right, perhaps the twenty-third or twenty-fourth, Milady."

"And today is but the fifteenth," Rosilda added. "So this increase I have measured is real, then. I will order your bras, as I have said, but I will make a note to come and measure you again in a week, if I may." Garia nodded. "Is there anything else you may consider, Milady, while you are here?"

"Let's see... You haven't finished that leather outfit yet, the one like Milsy's?"

"No, Milady. At this time of year the leather is stiffer to work and harder to sew. The pieces have been cut, however, and await attention by a seamstress who can work with such material."

"Oh, goody. I have some visits to make to factories in the new year and I want to wear that, if I can. Now, you're making some winter riding gear for me, aren't you? And some exercise outfits like the guardswomen wear?"

"Aye, Milady, we are, and they should be ready next week. I will ensure that the sizing is correct before they are presented to you. These will be in palace colors, shall you need them in Blackstone colors as well?"

"That's a good thought, Rosilda. Are you particularly busy this time of year? Am I overloading you with work?"

"You are not, Milady. At this time of year, when the light is not so good, cutting and sewing can be difficult but we manage. Apart from your own needs we are making similar garments for Milady Merizel, Mistress Senidet and Her Highness Princess Eriana. This year there is much to do, next year you will already have your winter attire."

"Hmm. I'd like some in Blackstone colors, but I'm not sure there's going to be space in my dressing room... That's a tricky one. I'm probably not going to be able to get to Blackstone much in the future but I ought to wear my colors while I'm there... Okay, add them to the order but you don't have to make them a priority. I'll only need those after... after the wedding, I guess."

"As you desire, Milady. You mention the wedding, Milady. We need not prepare quite so soon, but it would be useful to know your chosen color and design so that we may obtain suitable materials."

"Me? How do I get to choose the color and design? Don't you already know what the bride of the Crown Prince is going to wear? I thought that was some kind of tradition thing."

"Milady, of course! But it is the tradition of the bride we follow. When Princess Terys came to Palarand, so I have been told, the gown she wore was deemed unusual for this part of the Valley. In your own case I would ask what you would have expected to wear on Earth at your wedding, Milady."

Oh, no. I've finally run into the Big White Dress. I don't think I ought to -

"Wait a moment! Let me guess. Whatever I wear at my wedding, every girl who marries afterwards is going to want to do the same, aren't they?"

"Well, that is true, Milady -"

"Then I'm not going to choose an Earth fashion, I don't think. I don't want to bring that here, Rosilda. It's bad enough everyone imitating my clothing as it is! If I'm supposed to become Queen of Palarand, then I'll wear whatever Palarand women wear to their weddings. There are certain traditions people should definitely not meddle with."

Rosilda looked disappointed. "As you command, Milady."

"Now, look - I'm sorry to upset you but I'm trying not to turn Anmar into a copy of Earth, right? This is one case where what I wear is not important enough to want to change what happens here. If you like, ask me in a year's time and maybe - just maybe - I'll tell you what they do on Earth, okay? You got to remember that whatever I do I'm going to upset people and the fewer I upset the better. A Palarandi gown will be good enough for me, Rosilda."

"As you say, Milady." A small smile. "I look forward to that conversation, Milady."

"So, what does a noble lady wear to marry a Crown Prince, then?"

Rosilda told her.

~o~O~o~

"If you are not careful, dear, your face will stay like that."

"Huh? Ma'am?"

"You have an expression, Garia, which is not becoming in one who is to become a princess. Whatever is the matter, dear?"

"Oh. I'm sorry, ma'am, I didn't realize. It's just... I haven't heard from Keren again. Has the King heard anything?"

"We have not, my dear, but that is not unusual. Come and sit by me and we will talk about such matters."

"As you wish, ma'am."

Garia made herself comfortable in an armchair next to Terys and accepted the cup which Kenila offered her. It was early evening and she had spent a full day working her way through the palace, speaking with a varied selection of people about all sorts of subjects. At the back of her mind, though, had always been the next letter from Keren. Perhaps Merry had been right?

"It's been two days since the last letter and I thought..." Her shoulders dropped, putting the cup of pel in jeopardy. "Ma'am, although I thought I was as patient as anything, this waiting is hard to bear."

Terys gave her a sidelong glance. "Are not you teaching Eriana how to calm herself? How is it you can show someone else the art but not have the patience yourself?"

Garia blushed. "Ma'am, it's true. I need to use the practice to get hold of myself and make myself wait as I should. I know the mail won't get here any sooner just by waiting."

"As you say, dear. Now we don't know when Keren will arrive or depart from anywhere, or how long it may take him on the road, or whether the ferries will cross as he wants them, or how long he may take speaking to those he visits along the way, do we? It is possible that such matters are more easily determined on Earth, my dear, since you tell us you can go anywhere in the blink of an eye, but in Alaesia we cannot, at least not presently."

"The blink of an eye?" Garia quirked a smile at the Queen. "I didn't say that, did I? You are right, ma'am, things happen more quickly on Earth but it still takes time go go anywhere or send a letter. I'm just not used to how long everything takes around here... but it's no different to the United States. A hundred and fifty years ago, it might have taken a letter six weeks or more to get from one side to the other, and it didn't have to cross the same river six times to get there."

"Six? You exaggerate, dear. Tis only three crossings from here to Smordan and Keren may not travel further, the next crossing is into Joth and the enemy is nearby. The real problem, as I see it, is how he may be received by those he visits along the way. Brugan is our friend, we now know that, and after your rather frank discussion with Duke Jarwin I believe that Virgulend is also. We do not know what the temper of the other states may be and it will be difficult for Keren to find out, unless he questions those who may have ventured further."

"As you say, ma'am. I just hope he doesn't try anything stupid."

"He will not, Garia. His dearest wish is to be by your side and I doubt he would do anything which risks that purpose."

Anything further Terys wished to say was ended by the door opening and Robanar appearing through it.

"No," he held out a hand, palm down, "do not rise, Garia. You are family now, stay where you are and drink that pel."

He walked over to Terys, bent down and kissed her before taking his own armchair. He ran a hand through his hair and visibly relaxed before accepting a cup of pel from Varna.

"Thank you, my dear. Garia, you ruin me. I must needs consider an extension to the palace. What with your accountants, my own accountants and extra clerks, not to mention engineers and printers, we are quite run out of rooms."" There was a wry smile as he added, "House Palarand is threatened by House Blackstone, it seems."

Garia reddened. "My apologies, Sire. I did not mean to take over the palace." Then, realizing what she had just said, added, "Ah, I suppose I'm going to do that anyway, aren't I? But that's not what you meant."

"As you say, my dear. When you told us we would need more workers to make things we did not understand that also meant more clerks to account for everything and everyone, more Messengers, more footmen, more cooks, more cleaning staff, more building maintenance. What am I to do? How does Earth manage such a problem?"

"That's a very good question, Sire. If you would give me a moment to think of an answer."

Everything, well, almost everything, the King does is run out of the palace, isn't it? I can't think of many countries in the world where that still happens, unless they are very small. North Korea, perhaps? Swaziland? Monaco? Don't ask me. Perhaps this is the time to suggest the next step.

"Sire? I think you might have to do something you could find very strange if you want an answer to your problem, and it will also be the answer to some other problems that are bound to happen in the future." She hesitated. "You might not like what I have to tell you, Sire."

"Is this something we should put before the Council, Garia?"

Garia's lips twitched. "Yes and no, Sire. I believe that the decision will have to be all yours, since it will involve a complete change in the way Palarand is governed. I'm using the word governed very deliberately, Sire, instead of ruled, since it will affect your relations with your people."

"I'm listening, Garia."

He's calling me Garia instead of 'my dear'. Boy, this suddenly got serious.

"Almost all countries on Earth, Sire - and there about one hundred eighty-odd, I believe - separate their head of state from their apparatus of government. By head of state that could mean a King like yourself, for example, or it could be an elected President, like the United States has, or it could be some other man or group of men. This person usually lives in a palace like yours or something like it but all the actual administration happens elsewhere, Sire, in separate buildings.

"In the US I told you about the Congress and that has two huge meeting halls, one for the Senate and one for the House of Representatives, and each member of either of those bodies has an office in another building nearby. On top of that there are Departments which carry out major functions like Defense or Justice or Energy or Agriculture. Each of those has its own building and staff to run it. The Departments are headed by what we call Secretaries, though they aren't like Lady Merizel or anything like that. They answer to the President and run the Departments according to the way he wants things done."

"Buildings? Are you suggesting taking all these people out of the palace and giving them each their own building, Garia?"

"Essentially yes, Sire. In fact, the US has a whole city built just for the purpose of running the country, Sire. I doubt we'd need that for Palarand."

"Thank you, Garia," he said dryly. "I am relieved to hear that. But I am no President."

"As you say, Sire. Well, most other countries, those that have Kings and such, do something similar, they just call people by different names. For example, England has a Queen and they have Ministers who run their departments, all under a Prime Minister who effectively heads the government and runs things for the Queen."

"Who decides who is to be a minister, then? This Queen?"

"Ah, we're back to elections, Sire. The party with the biggest number of votes forms the government and their leader offers himself to the Queen as Prime Minister. If she agrees, which she usually does, then he chooses from those of his party who got elected and they share out the ministries."

Robanar nodded, his face thoughtful. "And this Queen? She rules and the ministers carry out her decrees?"

Garia looked unhappy. "I'm not sure, Sire. It's not my government and I don't know very much about it. I think she doesn't really rule, Sire, but it's more the Prime Minister who does the ruling. It may be that in some other countries the King or Queen or whatever they are called have more power than the Queen of England does. I'm sorry, I should have picked a better example."

"No matter, Garia. If we must needs seek to understand what may become of Palarand in the future, then you must tell us of those governments you might have knowledge of, that we may find an answer for ourselves. Let us return to buildings, then, since by your own words most governments need them to rule their people."

"Aye, Sire." Garia had an inspiration. "Perhaps this is easier than I thought, Sire. Remember we spoke a while back about zoning? Separating industrial areas from residential ones? This would be just the same, I think. You could have a zone for government and within that a zone for each department and so on, just like the zone we'll have for the new University buildings." She added, "Of course the palace doesn't have to be in that zone, it's a historical building, isn't it? We just move out the paper pushers into offices somewhere else in the city."

Robanar nodded. "I understand, Garia, but there is a question I must ask. How big must these zones be? I consider the future now. I accept that the numbers of people I must needs employ to administer Palarand will grow as the years continue, as the numbers of people who live and work in Palarand increase. How much land, then, shall each department require?"

Garia grinned at Robanar. "Sire, how long is a piece of string? I can't give you an answer, Sire, not directly, but imagine this. In time, say a hundred years, maybe two hundred, your capital city will fill this valley from side to side."

Both Robanar's eyebrows shot up, but then he grunted. "I forget, Garia, each time. What was it you said to us? Think big. Very well, I will think big and with your assistance, we shall make such provision for Palarand's future as we may. Do not," he held up a finger, "forget that offer from Brugan. It seems to me I must needs consider a different future for Palarand than most may have imagined."

"Oh, wow, Sire. Yes, I had overlooked that. Oh, well, perhaps we should put aside talk of buildings until you have some idea what's going to happen with Yod. A lot can change between now and then."

"Aye, Garia. But until then you shall educate me about the different governments of Earth, shall you not?"

"As you command, Sire."

Terys, who had been listening placidly to this exchange, now asked Garia, "My dear, since you are suggesting moving our clerks out of the palace, what of your own people? Already there are three rooms assigned for handling your mail, your treasury and your guild projects."

Garia scowled. "Don't remind me, Ma'am! Every time I want something done it means I end up with more people. I'm sorry, I didn't mean to fill up the palace with Blackstone retainers. I've been thinking about that, actually. Perhaps House Blackstone needs to have its own place out in the city, so that when I become part of the royal family proper there's some place the House can be administered from on its own terms."

"As you say, dear. I must admit, it would take some strain from those who work for the Crown. Much of the mail delivered to the palace is for you or your accountants." Her mouth twitched with a mischievous grin. "As it happens I can think of a vacant plot in the city which may serve, do you not think, my dear?"

"What's that?" Robanar was momentarily puzzled. "Oh, you mean where the Residency of Yod was, I suppose. Hmm," he nodded thoughtfully. "A suitable response to their treachery, do you not think?"

"Uh, Sire, I'm not sure I want to build anywhere near that place, if you don't mind." Garia grinned suddenly. "It might be a good place to put your intelligence organization, though! Remember all those tunnels! It would be ideal for your spies to get in and out without being seen."

Robanar chuckled in agreement. "A suitable jest, Garia! Aye, I will consider that idea seriously."

She frowned in thought, her mind elsewhere. "I'm wondering who I'd need to keep in the palace if I moved the administration out. Merry, certainly. My armsmen? I don't know. Maybe most of them, especially as... Oh! There's Milsy and Tarvan as well, isn't there?" Her expression changed as she considered the new factors. "Am I right in thinking that you'd want the use of the Royal Questor's suite back, Sire?"

Robanar waved a hand. "It is not important, Garia. Perhaps when these new colleges are built we would have no further need for a resident Questor."

"Thank you, Sire, but we are still taking up room, aren't we? I think, if we build a place for House Blackstone, I can equip it with a modern laboratory and workshops that my engineers can use. That means Milsy and Tarvan can move out, meaning I'll only need enough men to look after myself and Merry in the palace." She nodded. "There is a lot of planning to be done, I guess. I'll need to talk to a lot of people first." She rolled her eyes. "I thought winter was a time when little got done, Sire. It seems I was wrong."

Robanar grinned at Garia, showing his teeth. "To use a saying of your own, my dear, welcome to my world."



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