Somewhere Else Entirely -125-

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As she had vowed, Princess Eriana returns to Palarand to be at Garia's wedding. With her are most of the survivors from her expedition, all anxious to join in the forthcoming festivities. Also traveling with Eriana are some august personalities, taking advantage of her journey to meet with Robanar, but Palarand's King has been deliberating the future and come to some interesting conclusions.

Somewhere Else Entirely

by Penny Lane

125 - Robanar Suggests

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) 2011-2015 Penny Lane. All rights reserved.



"Whee!"

"Hey! Wait for me!"

Merizel urged Topik into a canter and set off after Garia, who was now disappearing into the distance. Behind her, Soomit and Tedenis rolled their eyes and urged their own mounts into action, attempting to keep up with the pair. Jenet and Tandra, by contrast, merely sat on their frayen and gave each other knowing looks.

"I did not know this was so much fun," the younger maid said.

"Aye, it is indeed enjoyable," Jenet replied, "although personally I prefer a more sedate progress. My bones are not as young as those of our charges."

"Bones! It is not my bones that complain. Are you sure this ache disappears after some while? When I climb off, I wonder that I will not walk funny the rest of my days."

"You will find that your aches will indeed fade, Tandra, but you must keep up the riding to make it so. Any gap of more than, say, two weeks or so will set your progress back again."

"Do you tell me?" Tandra sighed. "Then I must needs force myself to enjoy it, I deem." She looked around. "Is it not time? Should we not be considering pel for our mistresses?"

"We have some time," Jenet said after some consideration. "Out here at the estate we cannot hear any bell, so we rely on a servant from the mansion to convey us the time. Once our charges have had their fun I deem they will desire a rest and a drink before we must needs return to the palace."

Garia and Merizel were racing their frayen along the paths between rows of fruit trees in one of the orchards once part of the Kallend estate. Some of the farming land would survive, at least for a time, until the College grew into a proper University and consumed the entire property. The fruit trees had budded, and green leaves were beginning to unfurl, but the flowers which would in time set fruit were still merely clusters of small buds at the tips of the branches.

"I like the spring," Tandra said meditatively. "New life comes again to the land. Beasts giving birth. The cries of returning avians in the trees."

"Aye," agreed Jenet. "And it is already warmer now. We do not have to bundle ourselves up in heavy clothes any more. You will find riding to be more comfortable, now that your body may move and breathe."

"As you say."

Garia and Merizel returned to the pair, walking now to allow themselves and their mounts to cool down and talking and laughing over their romp through the orchard.

"- and when Snep changed direction so suddenly I was sure you would end up against that tree!"

Garia grinned at the memory. "He's a crafty one, that, but he wouldn't let me become unseated. I think he was having a little fun of his own at my expense."

"Aye, he is more human than many I could name! Jenet, do you know the time?"

"I do not, Milady. Perhaps by the time we return to the mansion you will be ready for some pel?"

"Oh, yes! Galloping about like a mad woman has indeed made me thirsty. Garia?"

"As you say, Merry. Once our brave armsmen have caught us up we should go in, I think. We have a busy afternoon ahead of us."

"Yes indeed! The King is preparing a proper ceremony for Eriana's return, I deem."

"Merek says they have done something so incredible that they'll have to put on a parade to welcome them back. I'll be honored to take part in that."

"Don't forget it was you who thought up the whole idea." Merizel turned. "Ted! Did we leave you behind?"

"Aye, Milady," Tedenis said, as he and Soomit joined them, panting as hard as their frayen. "Your ride was... exciting."

"Not the way I would describe it, Milady," Soomit added. "I am greatly impressed with the new saddles though. With the traditional design, we would have been tossed on the ground almost immediately. With the new design we may chance so much more, and in safety."

They turned their frayen and began walking them towards the mansion.

Garia said to Soomit, "That was the whole point, of course. Just changing the saddles makes you so much more effective."

"I agree, Milady. The Palace Guard -" he reddened, "- and your armsmen, of course, thank you for it."

In the yard of the mansion stable hands took charge of their frayen and provided them with buckets of water. After a pat and a word with Snep, Garia took the others into the house where pel was indeed waiting for them. Master Stannis joined them as they sat.

"Guildmistress, I trust you are satisfied with your inspection of the lands?"

"Thank you yes, Master Stannis. To be truthful, we did have a look round but mainly we wanted to let our frayen have a good run out and get some fresh air."

"Indeed, Guildmistress. Your activities were remarked upon by some of the men." He held up a hand. "No need to apologize, Guildmistress. After spending winter in a stable, most of our frayen desire the open air and a little frolic."

"Thank you for understanding, Master Stannis." Garia's brow furrowed. "There's a thought there... Oh, right! What provision have you made for frayen on the campus, once you start erecting the buildings? I know a lot of the land will be swallowed up but I wondered if you were going to have an exercise path or something. I would think most of the teaching staff will have their own frayen and maybe some of the students will as well."

Stannis considered. "Well, Guildmistress, we have provided for stabling in the plans... If I may fetch the overall plan."

The Guildsman left and returned with a large plan, drawn on sheets of parchment sewn together, which he spread over the tabletop. All stood and craned over to view the drawing.

"The colleges will be placed here, here, here, here and here, Guildmistress. That will be the first phase of construction. Provision has been made for stabling in each of the accommodation blocks, with enough space for the mounts of staff and about one-third of the students. Of course, as we discussed, this mansion will become the administration block and it has its own stabling. I take your point about exercising, though. Hmm..."

Stannis ran his finger around the plan, following a possible route for a riding track.

"Yes. I believe that we can arrange for such a path, Guildmistress. It might require relocation of one or two of the smaller buildings but no work has yet been started there so nothing will have been lost." He nodded thoughtfully to himself. "Aye, I will see it done, Guildmistress. It will be useful yet cost little. The ride will be some seven marks long, I deem."

"That's good, Master Stannis. Thank you."

And what he doesn't know is that by the time frayen are on the way out and wheeled vehicles are in use instead, that will have become a good running track.

"How's progress?"

"Guildmistress, apart from the changes we have just discussed most of the ground has been laid out with posts and cord ready for the foundations to be dug. We intend to begin the first one shortly to assay the quality of the ground. Much will depend on the supply of stone for the foundations, regrettably the shortage of wagons may delay us there."

"Are there any ditches you could use as canals to bring barges nearby?"

"An interesting thought, Guildmistress. I will inquire."

They were forced to take their leave to ride back to the palace, in order to prepare themselves for lunch. After bidding the masons farewell the party, now augmented by the rest of Garia's escort, made their way along the Kendeven Road towards the capital and home. They rode directly to the palace stables, stripped their mounts of saddles and harness and began rubbing them down.

"Is that the furthest you have ridden, Tandra?"

"Aye, Milady."

"Still suffering?"

"Aye, Milady."

"It will ease, I can assure you. It is just that your body has to adapt to the different exercise it is taking. Did you enjoy yourself?"

"To my surprise, I did. I am glad you permitted me the chance to learn to ride, Milady."

Garia smiled at Tandra. "Any time."

~o~O~o~

Bathed and in her new Guardswoman-style dress uniform and with her shoulder sash and badges of rank in place, Garia joined the others in the dining room for lunch. She curtseyed to Robanar.

"Sire, when are we expecting Eriana to arrive?"

"It depends how anxious they are to reach here, my dear. Some time this afternoon is all we know."

Keren added, "They overnighted at the Moxgo Junction, so the semaphore signal said. You do know their party is not just that of Eriana and her men?"

Garia said, "Well, yes, but everybody has been careful not to name names, haven't they? I can understand the caution, but if they are between here and the Moxgo Junction then they ought to be safe enough, surely?"

Robanar grunted. "Aye, my dear. Know you then that Eriana is accompanied by Duke Wallesan and by Duke Bardanar with some few of their own troops as escort."

"Wallesan and Bardanar? Wow! No wonder the palace staff are rushing round preparing rooms."

"As you say, my dear. I am told they both come for different reasons but I suspect our meeting will have much in common." Robanar fixed Garia with his gaze. "My dear, you will be intimately involved in our discussions. If you would hold yourself ready for my summons."

Garia gulped. "As you command, Sire."

"And myself, father?"

"Aye, son, since whatever we decide will fall to you when you are King. You must understand what I seek to do when I meet my fellow rulers."

Keren inclined his head. "As you command, father."

Terys joined the group. "I think we are prepared, husband. I have inspected the suites and I believe they are suitable for those who come. It is some while since we last entertained those of such rank, is it not?"

"Aye." Robanar thought. "Last year... No, indeed! The previous year, I deem, when Prince Jarith visited us with Malann and their children. But he does not yet rule Vardenale."

"As you say. His father is as vigorous as you, is he not? I deem Jarith may wait as long as Keren before he sits a throne."

Keren grinned. "You'll not find me complaining, father."

"Aye, you'll have enough work of your own to keep you busy, I doubt not! Come, let us sit. That stew smells delicious, though I must admit I could wish for some of the new year's fresh produce."

"As you say, father -"

During lunch Garia learned that the Dukes had taken advantage of Eriana's journey home to travel with them, using the Einnlanders' presence to save taking an enlarged escort of their own. Wallesan would be staying in the palace until after Garia's wedding while Bardanar would return home after meeting Robanar and then come back for the wedding. Although nothing was said or even implied she realized just who had to be traveling in Wallesan's retinue.

Maralin. I'm not sure whether I'm looking forward to that meeting or not. Both of us have been changed in ways we could never have imagined but both of us still have that essential connection to Earth.

After lunch it was a question of wait and fidget but Keren's presence calmed her down. There was a great deal to talk about but they both knew that the King had some ideas of his own, so their thoughts had to be left imprecise until they found out what was happening. It was slightly frustrating but they took the time instead to think about the wedding and their journey north to Blackstone which would follow.

Early afternoon brought a column of men from Blackstone House. It included every Einnlander with the exception of Heliga, whom everyone agreed ought to be kept under cover for now. All were turned out in House Blackstone colors, as were Garia's other troops. For this particular welcoming parade, Robanar had granted her a dispensation from requiring the use of palace colors. For a while the front of the palace was alive with armsmen and guardsmen, all checking each others' uniform and equipment.

A boy ran from the gate. "Sire, they approach!"

Merek and Feteran gave the orders and the guardsmen scurried to form files against the railings while Garia's men formed up either side of the entrance steps. Feteran and Vern were the only ones mounted and carried their house standards. The King, Queen and others from the royal household stood ready on the steps.

The first rider through the gate was Eriana. Garia thought that was inevitable given who she was and what her personality was like. Following her were two women riders she identified as Danisa and Heldra, then two columns of five riders, all Einnlanders. None of those who had gone on the fortress expedition were wearing uniform, only travel clothes and furs. Next came an armsman in striking blue-and-white colors leading four troopers dressed the same way and a carriage bearing the same colors. Another carriage, this time decorated in maroon and yellow, a third in green and gray, four wagons then more troops in a mixture of those colors.

The armsmen in blue and white held up a hand and the column halted just inside the gate while the Einnlanders carried on until they were abreast of the palace steps. Robanar thumped his hand to his breast while Feteran and Vern lowered their standards to the ground. From far right a bugler sounded a martial tune. Eriana turned her mount to face Robanar, pulling her sword over her shoulder with one swift movement and holding it aloft.

"My King! We have returned! We have hammered your enemies and given them cause to fear the name of Palarand!"

Robanar stood forward and his voice boomed out over the yard.

"Men and women! Your fame and honor precedes you! You are welcome to join us at our table tonight and you shall have all that you were promised and more. All Palarand thanks you for what you have done, a feat many believed impossible."

At this the other twelve survivors all pulled their swords and held them up with a huge roar. Merek strode forward to stand in front of Eriana before saluting her.

"If you and your men would follow me, Highness. I will have men take charge of your frayen, I believe the King desires your presence on the steps for what follows."

Eriana re-sheathed her sword and dismounted, handing the reins to a guardsman. Behind her, her men were doing the same. Merek led the Einnlanders to the steps while the rest of the procession came into the yard. The foreign troops formed up either side of the three carriages. Servants riding on the two end coaches leapt down and opened the doors to allow the occupants out.

Garia leaned over to Keren. "Who's in that middle carriage?"

"Nobody, I expect," Keren replied. "I think that's the carriage the Forgulanders gave to Eriana."

Eriana reached Robanar and curtseyed to him. He stepped forward and enveloped her in a hug.

"It is good to see you return safe and sound, Your Highness."

Eriana's expression was solemn. "Not all of us return, Your Majesty. We left two on the field of battle and five were too badly injured to travel with the rest of us. Mayhap they will rejoin us in time, if they should live."

"Ahh. Tis the fortune of war, I regret." Robanar gave Eriana a keen glance. "You have grown, I deem. You are not the wilful girl who once stalked our corridors."

Eriana lowered her gaze. "No, Sire. I have learned much these last weeks. I now understand Garia much better." Her expression became determined. "Sire, if you have further need of me, I will not fail you."

Behind her, the Einnlanders had now all mingled and welcomed one another with hugs and backslaps. The two men from the carriages had now climbed the steps. The first, about the same age as Robanar but less solidly-built, approached to clasp arms with him.

"Bardanar," Robanar greeted him. "Be welcome at my court, brother. We have much to discuss."

"Robanar, thank you for receiving me. Kasona sends greetings and hopes she will join me when we return for the wedding."

"As you say," Robanar said. "My sister's husband is always welcome in my house."

"You are gracious, brother." He turned. "May I present my traveling companion, Wallesan of Joth."

The other man clasped arms with Robanar. He had a lighter complexion than Bardanar but there was a similarity between the two, Garia thought. Not cousins, perhaps, but a connection somewhere in the family tree. Given the nature of the marriage rules in the Great Valley such connections were inevitable.

"Robanar," the man said with a smile. "Your fearsome warriors were passing through and I determined to take advantage of their company to visit you. I trust you do not mind?"

"Wallesan." Robanar returned the smile. "I am delighted to host you in my home. As with Bardanar, we have much that must be discussed." He turned. "First, some introductions. This is my wife Terys, Palarand's Queen. She will provide you any domestic assistance you may require during your stay. You both know my son Keren, who will become Palarand's ruler after me, and beside him his bride-to-be, Garia. Then there is Terinar, who is the son of my brother Gilbanar with his bride-to-be Merizel."

Keren and Terinar bowed while Terys, Garia and Merizel all curtseyed. It was the first time that Garia had ever seen Terys curtsey, but of course in Palarand there was no-one she would have needed to curtsey to. Wallesan nodded at Keren, who he had already met, then stared with undisguised interest at Garia.

Robanar inclined his head. "If you would excuse me briefly. I have a pleasant duty to perform."

He turned to the Einnlanders. "Men! If you would follow Captain Merek. He will conduct you to our guardsmens' quarters, where you may eat, sleep, bathe and relax after your long adventure. There is room for all and you will not be expected to perform any duty until you are all well rested. I give you Royal Thanks again for the work you have done for Palarand. Her Highness will find that the suite she used before is ready for her to use again."

Merek and two guardsmen led the way into the palace and the Einnlanders all followed. Eriana stayed behind, knowing that a footman would take her to her suite if Garia wasn't heading that way.

"Perhaps some introductions of our own," Bardanar said. "This is my senior military aide, Marshal Kembin." He went on to name several others with him. Wallesan introduced two men and then added, "Oh, and this is my personal aide, Tenant Maralin."

Maralin immediately became the focus of interest of everyone on the steps. Garia appraised him and realized he was doing the same to her.

He's hellish good-looking, isn't he? If I hadn't stumbled across Keren, then I think I'd definitely be interested. He's certain to get attention wherever he goes in the palace. Oh, I wonder if Eriana...

Hmm. He was a woman on Earth, perhaps he doesn't see things the same way. We're sure to have a meeting somewhere along the way, that conversation could get very strange.

She said, "Pleased to meet you."

"I'm pleased to meet you, My Lady. I have heard much about you from your betrothed."

Of course, he's already met Keren, which is how this whole thing got started. Interesting, indeed!

"Let's get inside," Robanar decided. "Vern will organize the carriages and frayen and ensure that your chests get to the suites we have provided for you. We'll let you all get settled and then it will be time for the evening meal. I suggest we leave any serious discussions until afterwards."

"Sounds good to me, Robanar," Wallesan agreed. "I like riding, it is true, but sometimes I like not riding as well."

* * *

Garia walked through the corridors with Eriana towards their suites.

Eriana asked with a smile, "Has it been peaceful in the palace while I was away?"

"Oh, Eriana, you weren't that bad!" Garia thought. "Okay, maybe you were to begin with. No, it hasn't been peaceful, at least not for me. I've been very busy visiting factories trying to make all kinds of new things, there's been testing of new devices, of course there's also been a wedding to arrange, you know? Oh, there was a ball I went to at the City Assembly Hall and a battle erupted when the meal ended."

Eriana stopped, her eyes wide. "Do you say so? This tale I must hear. Was anyone killed, injured?"

"Some of the enemy, who were sent by Yod, of course." They resumed walking as Garia explained, "It seemed that one of the men who tried to kidnap me from the palace - you remember that? - well, he was in hiding in the city and he'd built up a band of local criminals. Some of them were part of the second attempt, during the Harvest Festival. We thought we had found them all but obviously not.

"Anyway, Serdel reported to another man, one who worked for the Resident of Yod and who escaped into the city when their mansion burned down. It seems he had another band of criminals who even Serdel didn't know about and they all managed to get temporary jobs as serving staff, seeing as how the Assembly didn't have enough people to serve the dinner."

"What number of men were they?"

"Two were killed and sixteen captured." Garia shrugged. "Of course some may have slipped away during the battle. Tarvan got stabbed, though fortunately not badly. Several of the other guests had the odd cut but we got away with it again."

"It seems odd to me to start a fight in the middle of a meal. Tell me more."

"Well, it was at the end, actually. You know they have this custom here where everyone stands up and the tables and chairs are dismantled and taken away?" Eriana nodded. "Well, that's when they struck. There were swords and long knives fixed under the tables so they pulled them free and threw the tables at the crowd. That left a large group in the middle while everyone else was trying to get away from them by squashing against the walls."

"Then they made for you, I am guessing."

"Yes! But Keren, Terinar and Nebranar - he's the Moderator, the man who leads the City Assembly - they defended me against the swords, and I had Brazan and Tord there as well with spears. Only, it didn't quite end like that, since the attackers pushed one side of our group and I got spat out the other." Garia reddened. "I had to make a fool of myself fighting off two men with swords armed only with a borrowed spear."

"You fought with a spear? I should not be surprised, Garia."

"I had a spear but I didn't use it like one, I haven't been trained to. I used it like a staff. Do your people fight with staffs?"

"Staffs? I do not know this word."

"Just a long pole, about two strides long or so." Garia smiled. "It seems I'll have to give yet another demonstration. That's what my life seems to be these days, demonstrations."

"And you won, I take it?" Garia nodded. "What happened to those you captured?"

Garia's face grew serious. "Tried and hanged, all of them. The last ones were executed two days ago, in one of the market places in the city. It was the city they had transgressed against, the King let them hold the trials to show everybody that everything was being done in an open manner."

Eriana grunted. "My father has run traitors through with a sword, himself, in the middle of his Great Hall. I have attended such executions. As a rule Einnlanders do not bother with trials, unless the guilt of the accused is in great doubt."

"Well, Palarand has a lot more people so it's easy for someone to say something was unjust. This way they have no complaint, because everyone can see what happens with their own eyes."

"Aye... Garia, I have just realized! I have no maid to help me."

"Oh! You're right." They stopped in the corridor. "Jenet, which way is Terevor?"

"Milady, it is Kendar's responsibility to assign personal servants, not Terevor. If you would follow me."

They retraced their footsteps and went downstairs again, following Jenet to Kendar's office. He was not present but his assistants quickly found someone to serve Eriana.

"I will only require one maid this time," she informed them. "Since traveling I have learned that my needs are not so great as those of the Queen."

The woman assigned was one about Jenet's age called Marisa and had to be collected from one of the servants' common rooms. After more wandering about the palace they eventually arrived at the corridor where their suites were.

"Do you want to join us in our bathtub, Eriana? There's plenty of room."

"Thank you, not this time, Garia. After traveling all week I feel the need to have some time to myself."

"I can understand that. As you wish. We'll see you at the evening meal, then."

~o~O~o~

The evening meal had been a boisterous affair. All the Einnlanders, those who had gone and those who had not, had been given a whole table to themselves, hosted by Eriana. Robanar came and sat with them at the beginning of the meal, and towards the end of the official part of the meal went over and talked to every one of those who had gone and given battle. Soon after that more beer was called for and the table became somewhat loud.

The two Dukes had sat facing Robanar and Terys, with their backs to Eriana's table. They did not mind the attention their host gave to the Einnlanders since they were both familiar with their story, having traveled together for a number of days. Maralin sat beside Wallesan, but on the wrong side from Garia so that they were able to exchange little more than polite acknowledgements of each other.

The expressions on Garia's face caught Bardanar's attention. "What ails you, Milady? The Einnlanders are uncouth, it is true, but they are permitted some discretion this evening."

"Uh, Your Grace, perhaps you did not know but I speak their language. The song they are singing is very crude."

"Is that so? Then perhaps it is as well for the ears of the Queen that they do not sing in the Valley tongue. This is a custom of theirs, then?"

"Uh, Your Grace, I don't really know, but in the past they had that sort of reputation. It's possible, yes. This could go on most of the night."

"Garia," Robanar decided, "If what you say is true, then perhaps we should retire at this point and leave them to their amusements."

He signaled to a waiting servant and gave instructions. "We shall rise now, but clear away only our table and that behind. Leave the Einnlanders alone, that they might enjoy their evening together. If they desire anything, food or beer, supply them." He turned. "Merek, detail some to wait near the hall. I doubt not that these men will be drunk enough they could not find their own feet by midnight."

"Aye, Sire."

Robanar rose and therefore so did everybody else. He walked over to Eriana and had a word in her ear, after which he and Terys conducted the Dukes out of the hall. Keren and Garia followed as he led them to the downstairs parlor. Merek, after arranging to keep a solicitous eye on the revellers, joined them moments later. Keren and Garia took the settee while the others made themselves comfortable in chairs. Bardanar began the conversation.

"Robanar. I have discussed with Wallesan on our journey here the proposition which I made you some time earlier. I will let him speak for himself, but I am still of the same view as when I made that proposition."

Robanar replied, "I was surprised to receive your letter, brother. Perhaps I should not have been, our countries have become closer ever since you married Kasona." His expression was closed as he turned to the Duke of Joth. "Brother, I have not been privy to your talk with Bardanar, obviously. I would hear your thoughts on the matter before I give reply."

Wallesan made himself more comfortable in his chair and stroked his chin.

"Robanar, I was as interested as you probably were when Bardanar told me what he desired for his lands. You and he may of course do as you see fit, but I can see that your two lands can only benefit from such an arrangement. We have seen that happen already with Brikant and Kendeven." He waved a hand. "From another point of view, however, your joining with Brugan will be viewed with alarm by some of the other Valley states. Palarand is already one of the largest and we have Yod threatening us from one direction. We do not need another large state bottling up the Valley in the other direction as well."

Bardanar objected, "The river is free to all, as you know, Wallesan."

"Aye." Wallesan nodded. "But, combined with the increased activities happening in these lands you will make us very nervous, Robanar. We have seen the many building works along the road into Palarand - and in winter! I have learned that much coin flows through your lands and some will deem it threatens to make them paupers by comparison."

"I agree," Robanar said, making the other two raise their heads sharply. "What you may not know is that the imbalance will grow even larger over the next hundred years or more." Now they were staring at him. "This is because of Garia, who has given us such knowledge that it will alter every country in the Valley for ever. No, I cannot but agree, Brugan should not become part of Palarand as suggested. I have thought about how we would be viewed by the other states and I believe it would only make relations between us worse, not better."

Bardanar looked disappointed. "I understand, Robanar."

"Mayhap you do not," Robanar continued. "The alternative, to continue as present, may give us an even worse future. Wallesan is right, if Palarand continues to develop, and other countries do not, in time there would only be resentment and fear."

Wallesan said, "Ah! You have some third way, I deem, and I have no doubt that Lady Garia has told you of that way."

Bardanar looked at Wallesan and Robanar, puzzled. "Is there something that I'm missing here, brothers? I have heard of Lady Garia and some of her abilities, it is true, but you imply something different."

Wallesan gestured to Robanar, who nodded.

"Bardanar, there is a secret which Wallesan and I share, and we will share it with you in complete confidence."

Bardanar's eyes widened, but he nodded. "Whatever you tell me shall stay in this room."

"Then know that Garia is not of Anmar. She comes from another world, far away, called Earth. She knows not how she came here or where her world is, and she may not return. I have taken her in, adopted her, and now she will become Palarand's next Queen. It will be the best place for her to be while the inevitable disruption of the Industrial Revolution rebuilds Palarand from one end to the other."

"Maker! I had heard rumors, it is true, but I never believed any of them. So... knowledge from another world, then?" Garia confirmed that with a nod. Bardanar had a thought and gestured to Wallesan. "But why, then, should Wallesan share this secret? We are nearer to you than Joth."

Robanar continued, "Garia is not the only person to arrive on Anmar from Earth. One was also discovered by Yod. That person, a boy, was maltreated by those of Yod and it was from him that they learned the secret of guns and camouflage. Once they learned of Garia, they made many strenuous attempts to obtain her or to kill her, one of which was why Joth was taken, to act as a staging point for a raid on Palarand itself. They landed at Sheldane and it was only by luck that the caravan which contained both Keren and Garia was able to fight off the attack."

Bardanar nodded. "We were alarmed when we heard of the attack on Sheldane and what happened after. I did not understand then what they sought to achieve by so foolhardy a move."

Keren added, "It was by chance, during that attack, that the boy which Yod had captured was killed. We did not know that he had been brought to the battle and thought him one of the enemy trying to escape."

Wallesan smiled. "Then there is another factor. You know my aide Maralin? He also is from Earth. That is why we share a secret, Bardanar. While the Yodans yet occupied my city we dared not let Yod find out there was another who would be of interest to them."

Bardanar mopped his brow with a cloth. "Maker! I am astonished."

Robanar said, "So you see, brothers, while Garia has given us ideas of a practical nature she has also told us some of the arrangements by which countries on Earth are governed. We may glean useful grains from that knowledge. Her own state is called Kansas but it is only a small part of a greater country called The United States of America."

"Do you tell me? That sounds a strange arrangement."

"Garia, why don't you tell them - simply, if you would - what you told us regarding the United States."

"Aye, Sire."

She gave them a brief history of the US, telling them its origins and why they had decided to break away from the mother country and form their own union. She told them of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, how each state still made its own laws but with overriding adjustments from the Federal level, how the Federal government was arranged and how it had worked out in practice. She told them of the colonization of the great empty lands between the two oceans and pointed out that the local situation would be somewhat different than that.

This time it was Wallesan who had the surprised look.

"Maker! Robanar, your aim is audacious, is it not? I deem that what you have in mind is not Brugan, nor even the Valley but Alaesia itself!"

Robanar's grin was broad. "Another of Garia's sayings, my friend. Think big. Aye, I have considered it, but the Valley countries are what concern me today. We will not have a union like that of America, but perhaps we three can discover a way to unite our lands in peace, such that all may share in what is to come."

Bardanar said doubtfully, "But, brother, while I can only agree that your idea may be sound in theory, in practice I wonder if we must needs go so far. The rights and privileges of each country are guarded jealously by their rulers, as we three know well. I do not think all would agree to subject their lands to a greater power, whoever that might be."

"Aye, I know it," Robanar agreed. "I did not say that we should force every state in the Great Valley to become part of a union because I know that would not work. While we speak the same language and share many of the same customs, most are proud of the lands they call home. We must find some other path, I asked Garia to tell you of her birth land merely as proof that such a union is possible."

"Sire," Garia interrupted. "If I may. There are many other examples of government on Earth which may be a better fit to the local situation. There are countries to the north and south of the United States which are also collections of states. On the other continent, that I told you about, several countries were made up of small states just like those here, with common language and customs, and those combined to form larger countries. I don't know the history of those amalgamations but I can describe what I do know."

"That sounds interesting," Wallesan said. "Robanar, if you permit, I would hear of these other arrangements."

"There's something else you might consider," Garia added thoughtfully, "The Six Cities on the western shore of Alaesia have a sort of federation. Perhaps that might be the kind of thing you should aim at."

Robanar looked startled. "The Six Cities, Aye! I had forgotten them. Unfortunately I do not think any of us know sufficient detail of their society to help."

"Sire, you forget D'Kenik. He would be able to tell us how his people are governed."

Robanar looked at Garia with surprise and then beamed at the two Dukes. "Did I not tell you she was a treasure? Aye, Garia, if you would permit, let us send for D'Kenik and hear from him of the lands of his birth."

"I'm sure he will want to help, Sire. Only... if you would try not to embarrass him."

"I'll try not to, Garia," Robanar replied dryly.

Garia rose and went to the door, opening it to talk to the armsmen standing guard outside. One departed to fetch D'Kenik. Behind her, Bardanar frowned at Robanar.

"What means the Baroness, brother?"

"You no doubt have men from the Six Cities in Brugan? Aye, well, most are merely young men from those lands who seek fortune, knowledge and experience in the remote east, as they call it. D'Kenik is one of those, but in the lands of his birth he is the son of an important offical. A noble, if you would. Here, he is content to be merely an armsman, and would not like his rank to become well known."

The two Dukes looked at each other.

Bardanar said, "Do you think we have any such among our lands?"

Wallesan shrugged. "I know not, but I know they value honor and they are known never to break oaths. If there are any such among my people I permit them to live however they desire."

Robanar murmured, "D'Kenik broke an oath here."

The two looked at Robanar with astonishment.

He explained, "The circumstances were exceptional. It involved teaching Garia how to use swords. She is too small for a normal blade, as you can see." There was a wry smile. "There was a fuss, as it happens, at her coming of age ceremony. I will tell you of it another time, if I may."

While they waited Terys sent Kenila off to have pel prepared, and it arrived at about the same time as D'Kenik. He stood to attention and saluted the King.

"D'Kenik, we discuss possible futures for the Great Valley, in view of recent occurrences," Robanar explained. "It came to our notice that your own lands have some form of federation. If you would describe to us how your government is managed."

"As you command, Sire."

D'Kenik moved back so that all could see him and then attempted to explain how the Six Cities were organized. It turned out that, although there were six cities, the settlements of that region were much more numerous and covered almost as much land as the western end of the Great Valley. The coastline there was rugged and the cities, towns and villages occupied narrow valleys along the coast, together with a strip of land to the east of the coastal mountains. The six cities were the key to the governing arrangement but Robanar and the Dukes found it hard to follow.

"So, each city is ruled by a Guide and the six Guides elect from themselves one who is called the Over-guide, is that correct?"

"Aye, Sire."

"How are the Guides chosen then? It seems you do not pass the rule from father to son, as we do here."

"Yes and no, Sire. Our families keep our rank and pass it from father to son, as they do in Palarand. But they do not hold land in the same way, all land is owned by the communities. The families are responsible for functions instead. My own family is concerned with the fisheries, Sire, and I expect my elder brother to take my father's place when he dies. From among the tektet, that is the group of noble families in a particular community, several are chosen to rule and one of those will become the Guide for the city. It... is not an election, Sire, as I understand the word, but partly that and partly an agreement among the heads of houses."

Everybody in the room looked confused. Robanar thought for a moment and then nodded at D'Kenik.

"Thank you for your time, D'Kenik. I think you have told us enough for now. Garia?"

"Aye, Sire. D'Kenik, thank you for that. I don't think we'll need you again this evening, but we might ask you some more questions another day."

"Milady." D'Kenik banged a fist against his chest and left.

"Well." That was Bardanar. "I don't know whether that helped us or not."

"Indeed," Wallesan agreed. "The more I hear the more confused I get."

"Look at it this way," Robanar suggested. "The Six Cities appear to be run more or less independently, each one the center of a domain similar to the way our cities rule our lands. They elect from among their rulers what they call an Over-guide, who presumably decides policy of the whole nation whenever it is required."

"Aye," Wallesan said reflectively. "Perhaps that is what we should suggest? A federation which chooses a ruler from among the rulers of each participating state, to be changed... when, exactly?"

"If I may, Sire," Garia said. "There is a country on Earth called Malaysia, which does just that thing. There are thirteen states, some of which have Kings, I don't know about all of them. They elect one of them to serve for a number of years, perhaps five or six. I have to add that underneath the ruler they have what I would call a normal government with parties that elect members to something similar to the US Congress. I'm sorry, Sire, I'm surprised I even remembered that much."

Both Dukes seemed impressed by Garia's remarks. Robanar noticed this and thought to make a necessary point.

"Your Graces, brothers, you are discovering now what we learned painfully many months ago. I beg you to understand that from today you must view the women of your lands differently, for if you do not there will be great trouble in the future. Though she seems small and slight, Garia is the equal of any man or woman in our court, saving only perhaps the Queen." Here he cast a warm smile at his wife, seated next to him. "She is a warrior, a Guildswoman and a Questor and she has earned each of those titles by demonstration of her abilities, despite her tender years.

"You may think that this is because she is a stranger to Palarand, to Anmar, even, but it is not so. Within our lands we have discovered other women of like talents who lived unrecognized amongst us. You have met two of them, guardswomen who six months ago worked as servants in our palace, yet in the taking of Boldan's Rock none could deny their courage and ability. We have others who have for the first time become guildswomen and are learning the crafts as our young men do.

"Yet others seek to work in occupations normally chosen by men, and that is because we shall very soon have a serious shortage of labor for our needs. Already there is a gentle movement from farm to workshop and that can only increase. If you do not attend these changes, your people will come to Palarand to become rich while your own lands will suffer the shortage."

The two Dukes stared at Garia, who smiled back at them.

"His Majesty is right," she told them. "Back where I came from, I'm nothing special, really. I've just had a good education and kept my eyes open about what was happening around me, that's all. Any woman can do that. Okay, maybe we're not as strong or as fast as a man can be but we can do other things that men might find difficult. Women can do most jobs that men do. Please consider what the King says, because if you don't you'll be wasting the talents of half your people."

Bardanar cleared his throat. "Robanar, it seems we have a great deal to discuss before I return home. There appears to be much more happening here than has been reported in Brugan. My views, however, remain the same, I desire a closer link between our lands. I will agree, the new ideas we have heard this evening may answer my desires better than the union I had originally thought, and between the three of us, I deem we may describe a plan to lay before..." He paused, uncertain.

Robanar grunted. "Your Graces, the wedding of my son seemed a suitable time to broach these matters. Many will travel the length of the Sirrel to join us, it seems natural that we will discuss the future while we are all gathered together. We are agreed, then?"

Bardanar said, "Aye, brother."

Wallesan added, "Aye, Robanar. I have often wondered whether there was an answer to the threat of Yod in the west and, begging your pardon, Robanar, the rise of Palarand in the East. I find that I like what I have heard here tonight and you shall have my complete support for whatever we decide."

~o~O~o~

"I must admit," Keren said, "tonight was somewhat of a surprise. I thought our time would be spent talking about the war with Yod."

"We might have done, if Wallesan had started speaking instead of Bardanar," Garia replied. "Bardanar is further away from any danger and he has a different focus. He sees what's happening in Palarand and he wants a piece."

"A piece?"

"Sorry. An Earth saying. The whole thing is, he wants a piece of the action, meaning he wants to be part of what's happening here."

"I can understand that! It works the other way, too, did you realize that? Palarand has an interest in Brugan, since Therel Vale shares a mountain ridge with Telar Vale."

"What..? Oh, of course! All those lovely minerals. You're right, and I don't think that has occurred to many people yet. Of course, there's also the Vardenale question."

"Aye. It is Master Yarling's belief that there is much more coal to the east of Blackstone and Tranidor but the lands are not legally ours. I trust that with Malann on our side we may come to some reasonable agreement."

"Yes. We'll have to wait until they come for the wedding, won't we? Does... Jarith... have authority to speak for his father?"

"I believe so, but this situation will be a new one for both countries. He is old enough to appreciate the problems involved, though."

"Good. So, what did you think of your father's surprise?"

"I half expected something of the kind, but as he said himself, he was looking at a very large map, wasn't he? If we include all of the Valley states, plus Plif and Vardenale, we could have nearly twenty countries. Maker! That must be about the size of the Chivan empire while it lasted."

"Didn't they get to Moxgo and Tel Botro as well?"

"They certainly went as far as Moxgo but the routes to the north were only for trade, we believe. I think trying to make roads across the Stone Sea to Tel Botro and the mountains to Chaarn wore them out. Nobody knows why they disappeared so suddenly. I hope we last a little longer."

Garia snuggled closer to Keren, marvelling again just how much the touch of his body comforted her.

"Oh, I think we'll last longer, all right. Trust me on that."



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