Somewhere Else Entirely -115-

The letter that Garia receives causes her to question what it is the Beings are doing, but other more urgent matters require her attention. It seems the Einnlanders need to know the effects of firearms, and it so happens the Kallend estate is the perfect place to show them.

Somewhere Else Entirely

by Penny Lane

115 - Fire in the Hole


Disclaimer: The original characters and plot of this story are the property of the author. No infringement of pre-existing copyright is intended. This story is copyright (c) 2011-2014 Penny Lane. All rights reserved.



Garia struggled to focus on the sheet of paper in front of her. It was in a wobbly hand-writing and in English, a language she had not seen in any written form for eight months or more. Eventually the words crystallized and she read the short note while Robanar glanced between Garia and Keren with increasing curiosity and frustration. She finished and looked up.

"Sire, I think you ought to hear this. It might mean some changes to our plans."

Robanar nodded assent and she began.

Prince Keren suggested I write this letter to you, as we share something in common. I am also from Earth.

My name on Earth was Marilyn Baker and I lived in Chicago, Illinois. Here I am known as Maralin of Shicargo and that seems to satisfy the Jothans.

We share something else in common as you can see from my different names. I am now a man and advisor to His Grace Duke Wallesan. On Earth I was a woman and one in trouble. Here I have decided to make the most of the second chance given me and will assist His Grace taking back his city as it seems I have a talent for warfare.

If I had known I was not alone I might have done things differently but since I did not I have given my fealty to His Grace.

Prince Keren has made His Grace and myself aware of the dangers I face from Yod and we will make sure I keep a low profile. He suggests a meeting with his father but I don't know when that will be.

I understand that you are now a young woman soon to marry the Prince. I congratulate you and wish you well for the future.

If you wish to correspond with me I would not object. It will be one way to keep up my English, which is beginning to get rusty from lack of use. I understand you know more about this strange world and our part in it and I would be interested to learn more.

Maralin.

Robanar grunted. "Another one! Thank the Maker that Keren found out about... him... before Yod did! What say you, Keren? Describe to us what happened."

"Father, it was when I first went to Thorn. We were talking about the Yodan firearms we had both experienced and one of Duke Wallesan's captains mentioned that a levy of his from their southern town had recognized the Yodan weapons and named them guns. I showed mild interest but said that this person would likely be in danger should Yod discover their knowledge and I desired to meet them when I returned through Thorn on my way home. I tried not to display any anxiety or undue interest, in case any from Yod should learn of his existence.

"On the way home Maralin was waiting at Wallesan's residence. It seems he was found the night of the evacuation of the city and, like Garia, had no memory for several days. As a man of about twenty-two or so he was inducted into the levies in Galdarin and immediately began making a difference. Father, they now have their own camouflage, which looks as though it could be very effective in the winter fields."

"So, a seasoned warrior before he came to Anmar, then?"

Keren shook his head. "Apparently not, father. Maralin worked in kitchens, sometimes as a cook of some standing, at others merely serving at table. Then she began a relationship with a man of ill-repute who plied her with... noxious substances, from what I understand. Garia? Drugs, he called them."

"Yes, Keren." Garia sighed. "I can guess most of the rest. No wonder she or he jumped at a second chance at life! My own situation was somewhat different but I am comfortable here, Sire."

Robanar had a frown. "I understood that there were only two here from Earth, Garia. Yourself and Yves Perriard."

Garia shook her head. "Sire, I have no idea who else might be anywhere else on Anmar, in Alaesia or even in the Valley. There just could be us... three or there could be many. How would we know?"

She didn't want to go into too big a discussion about the Beings, especially with Merek and Kendar in the room. Besides, she didn't really understand what was going on in any case.

She continued, "I don't know what those who sent us hope to achieve so I can only guess, but at this time I can't explain Maralin's presence at all."

"Supposing he is here to help Joth get their city back?" Keren suggested.

"There is that," Garia said doubtfully. "As always, Sire, I doubt we will get any serious answers to these questions."

You might not but I'm going to try! The Beings must have had some reason for bringing him here and I want to find that out, even if I can't pass that information on. There's so much about this whole mess that is such a mystery!

Robanar stared carefully at Garia. "You said once that you had some kind of communication with those who brought you here, Garia."

"Nothing that I'd care to talk about, Sire. Mostly just weird dreams."

Robanar realized there might be unwary ears in the room and understood why Garia was being reticent and nodded.

"If you learn anything, you shall inform us?"

"As you command, Sire."

"Good. Now," Robanar adjusted the direction of the conversation, "let us consider what this new person might mean for the coming changes. Keren? You have spoken of such matters to Wallesan, I take it?"

"Aye, father. I explained the Council of the Two Worlds and suggested that he might wish to co-ordinate efforts between our two countries. It would be unwise for one to release some knowledge that the other had determined held some danger. His Grace understands this."

"As you say. I will write a letter to Wallesan explaining our thoughts in detail and requesting a meeting." He smiled at a thought. "It may be that your own wedding will provide an opportunity, Keren. I doubt not that rulers from along the Valley will attend such an important event. I have already anticipated that I must needs spend some time describing our thoughts and our present strategy at such a gathering." He turned to Garia. "I regret, Garia, that your wedding will be the occasion for statecraft but it was ever so. Gatherings of all the leaders are always rare events and much business is conducted at those times. We shall ensure that you and your new husband will not be distracted by any of these matters."

"Thank you, Sire." She thought. "If I want to write a letter to Maralin, do you want to see it before I send it off?"

"No, my dear! Your letters are between you and the person you send them to. I doubt not you will have many questions for each other, and will speak of many matters of no interest to any on Anmar."

"That's probably true. Thank you, Sire."

"Garia." Keren leaned forward. "May I look at the letter? I was present when it was written, but I have not seen the document itself. I am interested to see your language as it written."

"Sure, Keren. There's nothing to hide. Here."

Garia handed the letter to Keren and he held it up to one of the parlor lamps to study it better.

"The writing looks strange to me," he commented. "You have shown us your letters, remember, some months ago. I do not recall anything that looked like this."

"That's because it is handwriting," Garia explained. "The Valley script is no different, Keren. That's just what happens when you write with a pen and ink. The letters are different shaped but we know what they are."

"As you say, Garia." He handed the letter back and Garia gave it to Merizel to file away. He added, "At the time you showed us those letters, you said that you would teach me some of your tongue. Would you still do so? It seems to me that Anmar has more than one English speaker on it now."

"Hah! I had almost forgotten suggesting that, Keren. What with several attempts to kidnap me, learning to ride and to use swords, endless meetings, traveling to Blackstone and back and getting betrothed, I'm not surprised, really. Are you sure you're still interested?"

"Aye, Garia, I am."

Robanar grunted. "It is winter, and while there are many decisions which will have to be made it seems to me that this may be a useful thing to do, Keren. We have the time. If you so desire to learn Garia's tongue then I shall not object."

"Thank you, father."

Garia shrugged. "I don't know how much time I can spare but, so be it. In fact, we're already slipping some English words into the Valley tongue, if you hadn't noticed. It still surprises me when someone in the palace says 'okay'."

Keren grinned. "It is a natural feature of any tongue, that they will acquire words from other tongues. Still, it is English that is my present desire."

Garia held up her hands. "Okay!"

Keren grinned again.

* * *

Keren and Garia had their arms around each other, the first opportunity since his return. They were standing in the cloister of one of the quieter courtyards, so out of sight from most eyes. Near the other end of the same cloister stood Feteran and Jenet, in much the same proximity, although since they were older they did not feel the same need for public displays of close bodily contact.

"Are you going to ask the Beings what is going on, beloved?"

"If I can, Keren. It isn't like just knocking on the parlor door and entering, you know. I have no control over whether or when I meet the Beings or even if I remember such meetings afterwards. Of course I'll ask if I can! I was surprised to hear about Maralin but I shouldn't be, really. We have no idea of the Beings' plans at all, remember, I'm just guessing what my own part was supposed to be."

"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to upset you. It was just the thought that if Maralin is out there then so could others, that Yod might get their hands on."

"I know that. I'll do what I can, but I'm not promising anything, you know I can't."

~o~O~o~

Several days later, Merek had a sensitive request for Garia, during one of the regular Council meetings.

"Milady, I have received several requests from those at the Kallend estate that they be given some further information about the guns we have acquired. Since they will likely be facing them at the end of their journey, they desire to understand these new weapons."

"That's a good idea, I think," Garia replied. "I would guess we'd have to fire the things so the Norse would understand how they worked."

"Milady," Parrel added, "For some weeks now we have been anticipating some testing of the captured weapons. The Kallend estate is isolated enough we could probably use it for our test firings."

"Oh, you want to make a party of this. Sire?"

Robanar considered. "What you seem to be suggesting is that all interested parties travel to the Kallend estate and some test firings of the weapons would take place in front of all. Is that so? If so, how many would attend? Would we need to keep such a meeting secret?"

"Sire, that is about what I meant, yes. We only have a limited amount of captured powder and we have no idea what state it is in. If we use it up, then as many people as need to know about the guns have to be there when we do the firing, Sire. As for keeping it secret, passers-by may hear some noise and see some smoke, that's all. Yod already know we have captured some of their guns and nobody local is going to be able to make a gun or the powder without spending years in experiments. I don't think that's a problem, Sire, so long as we can keep people off the grounds while we're doing it. I'm more concerned about accidents than loose talk."

"Anybody else have thoughts on this matter?"

Hurdin said, "While I do not desire to witness these experiments myself, Sire, except perhaps out of idle curiosity, there is one person who may, and that is Guildmaster Horran. I hear he will shortly arrive in Palarand from the north. Lady Garia has said previously that this powder would be of great use for mining purposes and I'm sure he will be interested."

"Sire," Garia added. "If we're including Horran, then we ought to have some chemists as well. Can you offer some names, Master Gerdas?"

"Of course, Milady. Leave it with me, I will give you a list of perhaps five or six who should attend."

"Thank you, Master Gerdas." She turned to Merek. "Captain, I trust the guns and powder have been kept in good condition?"

"Aye, Milady, to your own instructions. The guns have been greased and wrapped in cloth and the powder bags sealed in wax packets to prevent damp. They are stored in a place we know to be dry and reasonably fireproof. All may be provided at a day's notice."

"Then we shall make such a demonstration," Robanar decided. "Merek, you shall organize this meeting with Garia's advice and when all those who would come may attend. I will also attend this demonstration, I think. If we are to be at war with Yod then I must understand what the men of Palarand will face on the field of battle."

"As you command, Sire."

Robanar grunted. "Good. Now, let us move on. Lady Merizel, what must we discuss next?"

"Sire, the extension of the semaphore system to Brugan."

"Aye, Merry. Now, it seems to me that the physical aspects of the extra towers would be no different than if they had been on our own lands, do you not agree? The problems will come with the operators, who would not be under the control of Palarand. What say you all?"

~o~O~o~

"Guildmaster Horran!"

"Good afternoon, My Lady - or should I say Guildmistress? With the reorganization of the Guilds I know not what to call people these days."

"Come in, please and take a seat." Garia turned to her maids. «Odgarda, some pel for the...» and then switched languages to some words the maid had now learned, "...Guildmaster, please." Turning back to Horran she said, "Call me whatever you wish, Master Horran. As far as I know they are still using the old ranks and titles. May I present Lady Merizel ...or should I say Journeywoman Scribe Merizel, who is my personal aide and secretary. Without her I would struggle to manage my many meetings and events."

Horran bowed to Merizel and took a seat on Garia's settee, looking around him with interest.

"This is the first time I have been in the domestic part of the palace, Mistress Garia. I find the decoration in your quarters to be interesting. Not as opulent as I expected, perhaps."

"This suite used to belong to Princess Elizet, Master Horran. The King moved me in here after the first kidnap attempt, way back last summer. None of this is my idea, though I don't object to it."

"The first kidnap attempt?" Horran smiled. "And I was stupid enough to assume you were but a spoiled noble, Mistress Garia. Since then I have learned different, of course."

"Well, yes. When I first arrived nobody took me seriously so I had to try and show them I could do what I said I could." She smiled back. "Most of those doubters now believe, but there are still one or two holdouts." Her expression became more serious. "What can I do for you, Guildmaster?"

Horran spread his hands wide. "From time to time I must needs come to the Hall of the Guilds to discover what may have changed among the guilds, as you will readily understand. Normally I remain north of the Sirrel, as there are no mines in the Valley itself, the ground being but river deposits. At the Hall I found a note asking me to speak with you concerning some... substance? which may be of interest to the miners. I will also take the opportunity to tell you what I found when I visited Blackstone last year. I deem I am the most recent to return to Palarand from there and what I saw impressed me greatly."

Garia looked concerned. "You were able to get across the Sirrel, then?"

"Only by traveling the trade road and coming through Brugan and Brikant, as it happens. The ferry was not operating from Dekarran because of bad weather."

"The long way round, then."

"Aye, Mistress Garia." Horran grinned. "You are now going to tell me you have plans to build a bridge from Dekarran to South Slip."

Garia grinned back. "One day, perhaps. The unlikely we can do right away, the impossible takes a little longer. On Earth there are bridges over rivers as wide as the Sirrel, but it will be fifty years or so before we have that level of expertise here. If your men fancied a challenge we could consider a tunnel instead. Tell me about Blackstone first, please. I think the substance you mentioned will need some extra thought."

"As you wish, Mistress." Horran promptly surprised Garia by blushing. "I made a fool of myself when I first arrived, I regret. As when I met you, I made assumptions I should not have. Captain Bleskin soon put me right, however, and I began to see what changes you had made in so small a place while you were there. By the Maker, some of those women are sharp! Even the younger ones, it seems, are bursting with schemes and notions. The whole town fairly bustles with ideas and energy and it makes me proud to be part of it, I can tell you!"

Horran's face grew by turns embarrassed and annoyed then. "Do you remember my assistant, Brathan? He were at that meeting you and I held at Dekarran and he journeyed to Blackstone beside me. I discovered that he had been cheating the Miners' Guild of funds behind my back! He had told me that we were paying that mason Bezan who is doing all the organizing and it were only when we reached Blackstone that I discovered Bezan's contract was with the town! He'd run by then, and managed to avoid capture at that fancy new roadhouse of yours, even though they used the new semaphore to send a message! I were distinctly unhappy at that, seeing as how I'd already found Moriskin dipping into the coffers. When I got back to Tranidor - but everything in its time, Mistress. Where was I? Oh, yes. Brathan. He'd been uncivil to almost everybody and it seems that he knew he were about to be found out."

Horran took out a cloth and wiped his forehead with it before continuing.

"I was interested to see your town and the coal workings. My, there's a lot of coal there, isn't there? It's the reason we turned up our noses at Blackstone before, of course, but that doesn't excuse us, does it, Mistress? Somebody ought to have taken note of what the locals were doing! Anyhow, Bezan and Yarling between them have a solid plan made out and I understand there is a goodly supply of coal already flowing, even though we are still in the depths of winter."

"Did you notice any developments while you were there, Master Horran?"

"Too many to tell, Mistress! It seemed to me the whole town were being reorganized, though of course with the mines behind the town and only one road out it were necessary. I doubt not your steward keeps you informed? Captain Bleskin is of course known to me by name and I must say he does a good job for you up there. The dinner he gave me was something to remember, I'll tell you! I understand you have plans to open shafts elsewhere on your lands, Mistress?"

"We do, there is good potential up Blackstone Vale and the seams can also be seen on the western side of Bray Vale, so I expect many more pits to eventually join those already started. We're even thinking of exploring further east, between Blackstone and the Chaarn road."

Horran rubbed his hands together and smiled at her. "More work for my men! Those steam engines of yours will really help us get the black stuff from the ground as well. It seems I have much to be indebted to you for, Mistress."

"I'm pleased to be of assistance."

"So, when I returned to Tranidor I heard about what happened when your party arrived back there, Mistress! Of course, His Lordship were nowhere about, him having gone to Dekarran with you to 'ave His Grace's judgement. The streets of the town were full of the story, though, and I'm glad the miners of Palarand were able to be of assistance to you. I had a word with the Countess while I was there and we soon straightened out some of the differences we had. Of course," he looked apologetic, "we were partly to blame and I admit that. Still, all's right in the end, don't you agree?"

"As you say, Master Horran."

"And then there were Holville! I spent some time in Tranidor so it were a while before I passed through Holville again. Maker, they've made some changes there! I completely agree with what you did there, Mistress, the whole thing were completely ungoverned. And making Halkor a baron, that were a master-stroke, if you'll forgive the word. He's just the man to make sure everyone works together and get the job done. I've met Halkor a time or two at guild dinners, so I know him slightly, he's a good man."

"We had to do something, Master Horran. The different armsmen who had been sent there wouldn't work together and there was no direction at all."

"Aye, well, that's all been changed now, hasn't it? Oh, and I spoke to those miners who wouldn't work on the new town. A lot of them weren't guildsmen, did you know that? I told them that the guild system was changing and they'd make more coin working for Halkor than they ever could on their own, and most went in and signed on there and then. Not a difficult decision to make with winter about their ears!"

"I have to thank you for that, Guildmaster. You didn't need to do that for people not your responsibility."

"Looked at one way, Mistress, neither did you, after you first passed through," Horran pointed out.

Odgarda came back with a tray of pel and they busied themselves with their drinks for a while. When they had finished their drinks Horran leaned forward.

"Now, lass, there's a particular thing I must needs ask you about. It seems that Blackstone is building something called a railroad to get the coal to Tranidor and eventually all the way down here, is that right?"

"Well, you're right, Master Horran, but it will be three to five years before much gets done, I would guess. Until then it will have to be wagons and barges as usual. What did you want to ask about?"

"See, the extra demand we already have for metals from the Telar is straining the supply of wagons and dranakhs and you can only get small barges up there because of the rapids. I was wondering, what if we can put one of these railroads in there? Perhaps as far as Teldor to start with."

Oh, no! It's begun. This will put even more pressure on everyone to move things forward and that's when accidents happen and bad decisions are made.

"I don't know, Master Horran," she replied cautiously. "The problem is, now that we can produce steel in quantity and quality, the demand had gone through the roof. Trouble is, that production hasn't even properly begun yet and, as you can guess, building a railroad is going to use a lot of steel, both for the track and for the locomotives and wagons that run on the track. Not to mention the immense amounts of wood we'll need. We also have to remember we're at war with Yod and that will demand a lot of Palarand's resources. But... I take your point, Master, and suggest you talk to a new body the King has set up called the Railway Commission. We've had two meetings already and I don't recall anyone mentioning the Telar at all."

"You are a member of this commission, then, Mistress?"

"Me? Oh, no, Master Horran, I simply don't have the time to do anything like that. I'm simply there at the moment as an advisor. They pick my brains for anything I can remember about how railroads worked on Earth and then figure out the best way to adapt that knowledge to Palarand."

"Ah, I see. Do they have anybody from the Miners' Guild on this here commission, then?"

"Not to my knowledge."

"See, we have been using little wagons on rails inside some of our mines for many years now. Bigger rails outside as well, to get rid of the spoil. Mayhap our experience could be useful."

Garia smiled at Horran. "Mayhap you are right. Merry, can you drop a note to Parrel, have him or one of the others contact Master Horran while he's still in town?"

"As you wish, Garia."

"But... I'll be seeing Parrel next week," Horran objected. "I can speak to him then."

"You'll be seeing him before then, Master Horran. You'll be joining us when we all go off and find out just what the new Yodan weapons can do."

"Oh, aye." A thought flickered into life. "Oh, aye! So, this substance that was spoken of, that is something to do with the Yodan weapons, then?"

"That's right. What happens is, when you set fire to this stuff it burns extremely quickly and the resulting smoke and debris expands very fast. If you put some in a metal tube, with one end blocked, whatever is in there has to come out the other end, moving very fast. Now if you were to block both ends of the tube, the tube would burst. I'm thinking this substance can be used to split rocks, Master Horran."

Horran's eyes glinted. "You have my complete attention, Guildmistress."

"In mines on Earth, as well as using picks and drills we also use blasting powder which is a variant of what we'll see at the demonstration. You drill into the rock-face, then put some powder down the bottom of the hole with a long fuse. You bung up the hole, perhaps with something like clay, and light the fuse before running away very quickly. The explosion will shatter the rock and you can then just shovel it away."

"You speak of a fuse. What might that be?"

"Oh usually it's a length of something like string or cord, prepared with chemicals, which can be used to allow you to light an explosive but then get safely away. It can burn quickly or slowly according to how you prepare it."

Horran considered. "It sounds dangerous, Mistress."

"Oh, yes! Firstly, even striking a light in a mine can cause gas explosions, as you already know." The Miners' Guildmaster nodded. "Then, the explosion can be very loud and violent and bring down the roof of the workings, even some distance from the work-face."

"Aye. But your people still did it."

"We did and we do, although the explosives we use nowadays are even more powerful. We don't light fuses any more with naked flames, we use electricity, but it will always be dangerous."

Horran frowned. "Electricity, Mistress? I am unfamiliar with the word."

"Hmm. You have been away from Palarand a long time, haven't you? The simplest explanation I can give you is that what we use is a very mild form of lightning, Master Horran. We make it ourselves and we can control exactly where it goes and what it does. More than that will probably need a demonstration we don't have time to give today, I'm afraid."

Horran waved a hand. "No matter, Mistress. You desire my presence at the demonstration of Yodan weapons, then?"

"If you can spare the time. The best person to ask is probably Captain Merek, who is organizing the event."

Horran rose and bowed. "Then I will seek out the good Captain, Guildmistress, and stop wasting any more of your valuable time." He smiled at Garia. "I now know your place in Palarand's future and you shall have the full support of the miners and our other workers. If you have need of our services, then you have only to ask."

"Thank you, Master Horran, and good-day."

~o~O~o~

Garia sat up in bed, the blankets tented over her knees. There was a scowl on her face. The night had not yet ended so the room was completely dark, it still being the depths of winter. That didn't matter to her. She didn't want to look at anything in the room, after all, her gaze was entirely inward.

Why is it that when I want to get in touch with the Beings, I can't do it? Every time so far has been a complete accident. Now I need to find out things I can't figure out how to do whatever it is I did before to take me there.

It's so frustrating!

I was an idiot to think that I would be the only Earth human on Anmar, wasn't I? Why should I be? Oh, we guessed that Yves Perriard was here as well before we finally met but I thought that that was it. Stupid!

I know nothing about the Beings' plans. I know very little about Anmar, or even Alaesia for that matter. I don't know how big it is or what shape, or anything about outlying islands or... well, almost anything! Then I have no idea if Alaesia is the only continent or if there are any others. Or many others! For all I know Alaesia could be the local equivalent of Australia and the whole of the rest of Anmar is out there waiting. ...With a whole load of peoples and civilizations we know nothing about.

There could be dozens, hundreds of people from Earth - and, yes, other worlds - out there now and I'd never know in a million years. All I have to go on is that Being's statement that such transfers were 'expensive' in energy terms.

How does what I'm doing fit into this picture? It is fairly clear that Yves and I were brought here to start a war which would drive up the level of technology and I'm guessing that I'm doing what is expected of me. Only things didn't go to plan... and my influence here has been much greater because of it. The Beings have been forced to adjust their plans. Is Maralin part of that? Was he just brought here to balance out the death of Yves, to keep the war going? Sounds like that didn't work out, so there must be some other reason.

It's so frustrating!

There was a small noise and Jenet's cupboard door opened. Jenet emerged with one hand over her yawning mouth while the other held a night lantern. She noticed that Garia was sitting up and walked over to the bed to join her.

"Milady, you are already awake. Is there something wrong? Could you not sleep?"

"Yes and no, Jenet. My brain has been chewing through everything that has happened recently but I'm afraid there are few answers. Is it time to get up yet?"

"I'm not sure Milady. I have yet heard no bells. I must needs use the toilet, so if you would excuse me..."

"Yeah, fine, Jenet, go ahead."

When Jenet returned Garia said, "I heard some bells while you were in there, I think it was the twelfth bell, is that right? So dawn shouldn't be far off." She threw back the covers. "I gotta go, Jenet. You might as well pull the rope for water while I'm busy, there's no point going back to bed, is there?"

"As you say, Milady."

After bathing came the inevitable discussion over clothes.

"We all need to be warmly wrapped up, Milady. You saw the snow falling yesterday."

"True." Garia went to the window and pulled a drape. Outside, the first glimmers of dawn were appearing but the sky seemed clear. "Doesn't look like snow today, though. Yet. If we're going to be spending all day out in the fields then you're right, we'll have to muffle up. I'm just glad it isn't raining, that's all." She shrugged. "Actually, I wouldn't mind if it was raining, since we'd have to postpone the demo for another day. We can't do this in the rain, after all."

"Why not, Milady? Oh, because it will involve lighting things, won't it? I remember from our first battle, how those guns worked. Does this mean guns cannot be used when it is raining, Milady?"

"The ones Yod have can't, that's for sure. There are improvements which will mean a gun can be used in any weather, Jenet - rain, snow or even under water. I hope we don't have to go that far. What am I going to wear, then?"

"I assume you won't want your exercise clothes, Milady. What about a riding outfit?"

Garia shook her head. "Not today, Jenet. The whole of House Blackstone is going, maids, Milsy and all, so we'll be filling a number of carriages. Just warm comfy winter clothes today, I think."

"Then might I suggest one of these, Milady..."

* * *

When they arrived at the dining room Keren was already there, talking to Captain Merek. They both bowed to Garia, who curtseyed in reply.

"Good morning, both. Captain, do you think the weather is good enough today?"

"For our demonstration, Milady? Aye, if the ground is not too hard after last night's frost. If you recall, the tests require a number of stakes to be fixed in the ground and if the ground is too hard -"

"I understand, Captain. Is everything else ready?"

"For my part, Milady, I think so, but of course we will not know until we arrive." His brow furrowed. "I am more concerned at the numbers who are going from the palace."

"As am I! What with Guildsmen and Questors, not to mention the Einnlanders, it will be quite a crowd. I just hope that powder works after all this time."

"As do we all, Milady."

Milsy and Tarvan came into the dining room, accompanied by Bursila, bowing and curtseying to those already there.

"Morning, Highness, Milady, Captain. A cold morning!"

Keren replied, "As you say, Milsy. Are you all ready for today's adventure?"

Tarvan observed, "Highness, it is to be hoped that today is not an adventure! I know it will be interesting but I would not wish danger upon those attending."

"I mis-spoke, Tarvan! But you two will have not yet seen where the new college will be. I'm sure you'll find today's outing to be interesting."

"Of course, Highness."

"And all those big hairy men," Milsy added. With a conspiratorial smile she added, "Or so I have been led to believe."

"Ah, well, there are lots of hairy men, it is true," Garia told her with a smile, "and some may even be large. Don't get too interested, will you? They speak mostly their own language, though they have managed to pick up a few words of ours since they arrived."

"Mostly swear words, Milady, from my experience," Merek qualified.

"I spent years in the kitchens at Dekarran, Captain," Milsy reminded him. "I'm familiar with such language and the incidents which usually provoke their use."

"Of course, Mistress."

Merizel and Tandra arrived followed almost immediately by Robanar and Terys. Those in the room began to move toward their seats at table, ready to fuel up against the winter cold. During the meal Robanar noticed Milsy and Tarvan, dressed ready for the outside.

"Mistress Milsy, do you accompany us today?"

"Aye, Sire. My Lady says that it will be the most efficient way of using our armsmen and I agree."

Robanar turned to Garia. "Shall you explain, my dear?"

"Captain Merek wanted to take as many of the Palace Guard today as possible and he asked me how many I could spare of my own. I pointed out that if House Blackstone all went, we could take all of them, leaving more of your men here to look after the palace. I checked with Tarvan and Milsy and they agreed to come." She added apologetically, "It will mean the use of two more carriages, Sire."

Robanar waved a hand. "We have enough, my dear. It is not as if we travel to Dekarran, it is just a day's visit we make today."

"Thank you, Sire."

* * *

Out at the estate the wind had died and it promised to be a fine day, if cold and short. Guildmaster Stannis welcomed all the guests and led them a mark or so along farm tracks to the pasture fields which were being used for the demonstration. There they found Parrel waiting with a number of guildsmen who had been setting the apparatus up.

Also there, divided into two groups, were the Einnlanders. Eriana was acting as interpreter for one group and Gullbrand the other. All were now dressed tidily with combed and brushed hair. Some had trimmed their beards after the Palarandi fashion while others had put one or more braids into theirs. All bowed towards the King.

Parrel greeted the visitors. "Your Majesty, Your Highness, My Lady, Guildsmen and women, welcome. I am led to understand that the demonstrations will take little of our time, which means we can retire to some warmer place for pel and to discuss what we are about to see. Milady, if I may ask Commander Feteran to assist me today? I deem he has most experience of these weapons after yourself."

"Of course." Nobody in their right mind was going to let Garia anywhere near an untried enemy weapon of doubtful condition. "Feteran?"

Parrel turned to his audience. "The commander will show you how the Yodans held and fired their weapons, but we will not risk him with one when it is being fired. For that we have constructed a simple frame to hold the weapon, that we may all stand a safe distance away."

"Guildmaster," Feteran said, "If I may have Brazan? It takes two to operate these guns and he has the same experience of them as I have."

"As you wish, Commander."

Feteran took the proffered weapon and held it with the muzzle facing down. He thumped the barrel to make sure it was unloaded, then nodded. One of Parrel's men gave Brazan a length of the fuse rope and the two took up position, aiming down the field away from the onlookers.

"As you can see, Sire, the stance resembles that of a man aiming a crossbow, except that when the weapon is fired I am told there is a sharp recoil which will drive the back end of the gun - the stock - into the holder's shoulder. The recoil may also affect the direction of the shot, although with the particular shot the Yodans use this will matter little. I am also told that, as the shot flies much faster than a crossbow bolt, it is not as necessary to allow for the fall of the shot when aiming. Thank you, Commander."

Feteran turned and said, "There is another way to use these, Master Parrel. Should I also demonstrate that?"

"There is? I did not realize. Please, if you would."

Near the muzzle two strips of metal had been clamped, and Feteran now hinged these down to show they formed a bipod which could support the barrel when the gunner was laying down. A short conversation between Feteran and Brazan, and the two lay down, positioning themselves as a machine-gunner and his mate would on Earth.

"I see!" Parrel said. "We examined these weapons carefully but did not understand what those two metal pieces were for."

Garia explained, "When we collected the guns after the battle on the North Road, Master Parrel, we noticed they were an improved design over those we had faced before. I told Feteran how the legs were used on Earth."

"Ah! It seems that point was forgotten when the devices were explained to us, Guildmistress."

"Probably my fault," Garia said. "I've had a lot on my mind recently. Now if you can all imagine gunners lying down in the long grass, or concealed at the side of a road, perhaps with camouflage, you can see they would be deadly against troops who didn't spot them there."

Robanar looked pale. "As you say, Garia! If this is what warfare is to become, we must seek to understand how it may be countered."

That is going to be difficult.

She said, "Thank you, Feteran and Brazan. You can stand up now."

The two rose, brushing off the frozen dirt, and handed the gun back to one of Parrel's assistants.

"If you look yonder, Sire, you will see the frame which we have built to hold the weapon," Parrel explained. "When we have loaded this gun we will lash it to the frame and then fire it. Loading it involves using a fuse, which allows the fire to get from outside the barrel to inside."

Parrel explained what he was doing as his assistants carried out the operations to load the gun and then he took the weapon and carried it to the framework and secured it. The framework was a number of stakes hammered into the ground with cross-bracing to approximate the position had a man been holding the gun. The stock was placed on the top of one stake with others each side to hold it. A similar stake went under the end of the barrel, with others each side. Further stakes behind braced the end of the stock against recoil.

Ten strides in front of the gun stood a dummy, with another a further five strides away. Parrel explained how these were made.

"Sire, they are wood forms, staked into the ground, around which we have wrapped vikhan and gavakhan flesh to resemble a human shape. Over that we have put clothing, and Master Haflin was kind enough to donate some spare pieces of armor. The intent is to discover what effects the shot may have upon the armor and flesh. I know that some of us have seen wounded from the battle but we feel this demonstration will make clear to all what danger these guns may represent."

"Very well. Proceed, Master Parrel."

Everybody stood well back, but positioned themselves so that they could see what happened. An assistant brought a smoking end of rope and cautiously touched it to the end of the fuse. Once it spluttered into life he dropped the rope and ran for safety. There was a brief fizzing, a tiny delay and then a loud thump which made everybody jump. The whole gun was immediately surrounded by a cloud of smoke, which the faint breeze promptly blew over the spectators. Many began coughing. Once the air began to clear they all surged forward to see what had happened.

The gun hung half out of the frame, pushed back by the force of the explosion. The nearer dummy lay flat on the ground, while the further one was tilted back. When Garia reached the dummies she could see that the shot, mere river gravel, had punched right through the armor of the nearest and embedded itself deeply into the flesh. If that had been a real soldier, he would already be dead. On the further dummy, the shot had dented the armor but none seemed to have gone through, though there were deep wounds on areas of the dummy not protected by the armor.

"Maker!" Robanar stared at the carnage. "One shot can do all this?"

"So it would seem, Sire. Milady, does this agree with your own experience?"

"It does, Master Parrel. I think the explosion might be louder sometimes. We're in open fields here so the sound is carried away. This poor fellow," she pointed to the closer dummy, "looks just like Thoran did after the first battle - except Thoran wasn't wearing any armor."

Many in the crowd winced at that. Robanar regarded the dummies and then turned to Garia.

"You have perhaps some ideas about how we may protect ourselves, Garia?"

"It is very difficult, Sire, even with these crude weapons. That shot will go through wooden walls, and in case any of you think stone walls are safe, let me tell you that the shot will bounce off and can be even more dangerous if you are in, say, a corridor, or a shot is fired in through a window." She thought. "There's essentially two things we can do, Sire. For the first, you'd perhaps have either very soft materials which would trap the shot, like maybe a layer of felt over a shield, or you can use a very hard material. We have developed specially hard ceramics to do that job. Or you can deflect, think of holding a metal shield at an angle, Sire, like a mirror. The shot should just bounce off."

Robanar grunted. "A change of armor, then. What if a man has no armor? Is there no remedy?"

"Dive out of the way, Sire. Get behind anything, rocks, walls, anything. Even if that shot goes through a wood wall, it will be weaker when it comes out the other side and you'd have less injury than if you hadn't jumped."

Keren added, "Father, in the second battle we used our frayen. With their backs to the guns and saddles and packs still secured, there were very few injuries to either man or beast, and those minor."

Garia said, "The fuse does take a small amount of time to burn down, Sire. If you have a gun pointed at you, and you see the fuse being lit, if you move, you might get out of the way before the powder goes off. But it's not the kind of thing I'd ever rely on, Sire."

"As you say. We have much to consider. Tell me, these wounds. How did you attend them? There is no bolt nor arrow to pull out."

"Wood tweezers, Sire. We boiled them first. I'll be telling Margra about all that when we get these dummies inside so that she can examine them."

"Very well. Parrel, your next demonstration?"

"This way, Sire."

Twenty strides away stood a similar framework on which another gun rested. Parrel and his assistants took this and loaded it while the onlookers found suitable viewing places. In front of the gun was a collection of odd, insubstantial forms. Parrel explained their purpose.

"Sire, this was Milady's idea, to show how far and wide the shot may be scattered. These forms are simply thin cloth sewn over lengths of sallas shoots to give the approximate shape of a man. The idea is that the thin cloth should not impede the shot by very much but continue through, so we can gain an idea of the spread and distance of such a weapon."

There were maybe twenty or so of these forms, each shaped like an inverted 'U' formed from a bent shoot of something like willow, the ends being pushed into the ground to retain the shape. Over these had been sewn a thin cotton sheet to give a shape roughly the same size and area as a man would have. They were spread out in a fan from five strides in front of the muzzle to twenty strides.

Parrel gave the order and the fuse was again lit. This time the thump was louder and many put their hands to their ears. Forewarned by their previous experience most held their breath as the cloud of smoke passed by. When the air cleared they could see that many of the closest forms had been blown down while every one of those that remained standing had holes, and sometimes great rips, in them.

"Maker!" Robanar was shaken. "There is no need for the gun holder to aim, even! If our men face these, we are lost."

Garia was shaken by the spread of the weapon but less impressed by the power.

"Sire, it is not as bad as you think. We suffered at first in the second battle, but we still managed to win. The important points are, first, if you see the guns being aimed you can take some avoiding action. You may even be able to shoot the gunner with bow or crossbow before he can fire. Second, immediately he has fired he's surrounded by this cloud of smoke which means he can't see you. That's the time to counter-attack. Third, it takes a certain amount of time to reload these guns and that means that in many engagements they would only have time to use them once."

Robanar calmed down rapidly once he had considered Garia's words. In truth the power of such primitive guns was fear, the fear of something unknown and seemingly unstoppable. Once the pros and cons had been laid out the guns turned out to be dangerous but no more so than other weapons both sides might use. Eriana walked over to join Robanar and Garia.

"Sire, a most impressive display. We will consider carefully all we have seen together with Garia's words. This is the first time any of us have seen so evil a weapon but it makes my men more determined to do that we are ask to do."

"Thank you, Eriana." Robanar shook his head. "Evil indeed. I trust this experience will guide you on your adventure."

Garia said, "Don't overlook the possibility that the Yodans have further developed these weapons, Eriana. You can't assume that these are the only firearms you might face."

Eriana turned. "As you say, Garia. Sire, shall we find somewhere warmer to continue this conversation?"

Parrel coughed. "Sire, we have one more demonstration, one that may show us a peaceful use for this gunpowder."

"What's that? Oh, as you will, Parrel. Lead on."

Another twenty strides brought the party to a cube of rough-hewn stone. Horran came forward to stand by Parrel.

"Sire," he said, "Guildmistress Garia told me that there was a peaceful use for the powder that drives those guns. This is intended to show us how that might be."

Parrel added, "The masons have provided us this stone, Sire, for our experiment. I believe," he said with a smile, "that it was taken from the ruins of the Residency of Yod. Master Horran has had one of his men bore a hole in it, about halfway through, in the same manner as if the stone were being quarried. Inside we have placed two of the bags of powder, Sire, and twisted together lengths of the gun fuses to reach out of the hole. The fuses are protected by a length of reed from the clay which seals the hole. Now, I would ask all to stand much further back, since we have no idea what is going to happen. There could be chunks of stone sent flying by the explosion."

Everybody promptly doubled their distance from the hole. Garia considered this, then called, "Further away, please! We don't know the quality of this powder."

With everybody at what they thought was a safe distance a guildsman walked in with a rope slow-match, lit the fuse, dropped the slow-match and ran for his life. There was such a long delay that Garia wondered if the fuse had gone out, followed by a sharp bang and a cloud of smoke that shot upwards. The stone block promptly split into three pieces which fell apart, releasing more smoke.

Without waiting for anyone to check that it was safe, Horran walked over to the stones and bent over, examining them. He turned and came back to Garia, grinning broadly.

"Guildmistress Garia! If you were not already promised to the Prince, I'd offer to marry you myself!"



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