Somewhere Else Entirely -126-

Garia finally has a one-on-one with the latest arrival from Earth and they swap stories. Later, the War Council inspects the most recent additions to the Allies' armory.

Somewhere Else Entirely

by Penny Lane

126 - Maralin

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.



"And this is where we practice every morning," Garia explained. "I don't believe you do any martial arts?"

"Hardly," Maralin replied. "If I had done then maybe I wouldn't have ended up the way I did. Don't worry, I'm content to observe for now. Perhaps His Grace will permit me to exchange ideas with yourself and your people sometime later."

"I'd like that. Although all the Valley countries are supposed to have similar customs, I have already noticed some differences in military matters. If we're going to be fighting together, then we ought to learn from each other wherever we can."

"Aye, I agree." Maralin looked around the Self Defense Training Room. "So what do you want me to do?"

"Just go and sit on the bleachers over there with Jenet and watch. Some of it won't be very pretty, but I'm sure you'll enjoy yourself."

Maralin gave Garia an exaggerated bow. "As you desire, Milady."

She grinned back. "You'll go far with that attitude, though in your case it comes directly from Hollywood. We aren't so formal behind the scenes."

"So I have noticed."

Jenet said, "If you would follow me ...Tenant."

Jenet conducted Maralin to the side seats where Merizel, Tandra and Tarvan were already seated. Garia walked to the mats in the center to join Keren, Terinar and Milsy. Garia and Milsy were both wearing 'guardswoman' style fatigues while Terinar wore his normal exercise gear in Dekarran colors.

"How much more practice at falling do I need?" Milsy demanded. "I want to get onto some proper combat."

"The last few days have been good," Garia judged. "Tell you what, let Keren show you some throws while I try and improve Terry's movements. You started a little later than he did so it is natural that you're behind."

"Oh. I thought you'd be teaching me throws, not Keren."

"There's a method to my madness." There were smiles, so she added, "Though many might not agree. Most of the opponents you will face in real life will be men, so it would be better for you to learn to cope with them first. Afterwards you can learn how to adjust to a woman opponent. At the moment there won't be that many since there are only eight guardswomen, Eriana and myself who know how to do any of this."

Milsy nodded. "As always, you make sense, Garia. Highness, whenever you are ready."

The two pairs faced off across the mats, taking care to keep out of Bessel's way as he taught four others. On the seating, Maralin leaned towards Jenet.

"They do this every morning?"

"Aye, Tenant. Milady says that it is important to continue practicing so that the muscles learn what to do when it becomes necessary. When the time comes to reply, the response is immediate, without thought, so she tells us." Jenet thought. "Certainly, whenever I have seen her defend herself in a fight, she seems to do so automatically. She owes her life to her reflexes."

"Interesting. There was nothing like this near where I grew up in Chicago and..." it was mainly the boys did it. "...I had other interests. Perhaps His Grace will agree to introduce some martial arts to Joth in time."

"I do not think His Majesty would raise any objection if the practice was to become more widely known. Look! See how she uses his heavier weight to lever him over her body? Having watched her for so long I now understand how she does it, though I do not practice it myself."

"But you all seem to do the Tai Chi, don't you?"

"Oh, yes, Tenant! It is suitable for all and Milady is trying to get everyone to do it wherever she goes. Even the King and Queen now attend the sessions every morning. It is only the very young or the very old who may not attempt such a gentle exercise."

"Then this is something we must take back to Joth when we go. I will mention it to His Grace."

The small group watched the exercises, noting the apparent violence held in check during the bouts. A bell passed and everyone stopped to take drinks. Jenet pulled bottles out for Garia and Keren, Tandra readied a drink for Terinar while Tarvan, whose injuries were still not healed enough to permit him to practice, did the same for Milsy.

"I should have started this months ago," Milsy said. "I know it takes time away from my work but the events of that ball showed how necessary it is to be able to defend myself."

"Aye," Tarvan agreed. "I wish we had both thought of it earlier, I might not have been stuck like a zinakh."

Garia shook her head. "You can never tell, Tarvan. That hall was so packed with people anything could have happened to anybody. The only reason they didn't get away with it was because the guardsmen stopped reinforcements coming from the kitchens. When I got pushed out from behind Keren -" she shuddered, "- I thought I was a goner. It was only because Stott happened to be right there with a spear that I saw a way out."

"As you say, Milady. It was interesting to see you fight with a spear, but not as a spear, if you understand me."

Garia shrugged. "It was ready to hand, that's all. I don't know how to use a spear properly, especially not in a crowded room."

Maralin remarked, "I have heard the story, Milady, but I do not understand. You had a spear but you did not know how to use it?"

«Quarterstaffs,» she explained in English. "The shaft was too heavy, really, and too long, but I managed. The school of martial arts I attended encouraged you to use anything and everything available. If the spear hadn't been there I'd have used a chair." She grinned at Milsy. "Or a fork."

Terinar asked, "Will you be demonstrating quarterstaffs to the men, Garia? I would attend that session, if I may."

Garia thought. "Maybe. With all the additional visitors around the place, yourself included, my time has been limited. I'll ask Merek and see what he thinks."

* * *

Garia asked in English, "You're happy to be meeting like this?"

Maralin replied in the same language, "I am if you are, My Lady. I'm assuming it is permitted for us to be alone like this?"

"There's a certain level of trust involved, but yes, it is. Of course, I can't be with you without having another woman present which is why Jenet is sitting over there. Oh, and leave off the 'My Lady' if you don't mind. I get enough of that all the time. Just plain Garia will do today. This court isn't so formal behind the scenes."

"So I have learned this morning." Maralin looked around. "These are your quarters?"

"That's right. It's a suite of sitting room, bedroom, bathroom, separate toilet and a big dressing room." Garia jerked a thumb. "Eriana has a suite the same that way. These two used to belong to Keren's sisters before they married and moved away. The other direction," she indicated, "is the Royal Suite. It's much bigger than ours, as you would expect."

Maralin gave a wry grin. "Of course the quarters of a mere Tenant are much less palatial but I do live with His Grace so that gives me some privileges." His expression became serious. "Would you tell me how you came here, Garia? I'm trying to understand what has happened to us and I need some answers. The Prince said you knew a little more about what was going on."

I never considered that question, Garia realized suddenly. How much do I tell Maralin? How much will I be allowed to tell him? Personally, I can't see it making any difference but if it causes him to make a decision another way because of that knowledge, it might change the future.

Shit. I don't want to do this but I'd better keep my mouth shut about the Beings for now.

"Well, let's start by telling you who I was before I arrived."

Garia told Maralin her story, beginning with her Earth background and then describing how she had been found in the mountains before briefly outlining her subsequent adventures and developments. Maralin proved an attentive listener and asked several questions which showed he had been thinking very carefully about his own experiences since he had arrived.

"So, what happened to you, then?" Garia asked at the end. "I know you wrote me how you had been found but little else."

"It has been difficult for me to find time to write since we have been so busy," Maralin replied. "I have no problem telling you about myself now but I warn you, it won't be pretty."

"I guessed as much from your letters. I don't think I'll be too shocked, I promise."

"Okay, then. I was born in Chicago about twenty five years ago, I think." He frowned. "It's odd, but I can't really remember the events leading up to my coming here, so I can't figure out the dates. Are you the same?"

"I am. I have no idea what I was doing at the point I came here. I know I was a high-school senior and that's about all. The fact the years are longer here doesn't help matters."

"Aye. I am still getting used to the strange day and month system. Anyway, I had a reasonably normal upbringing in Chicago and left school with good grades. I wanted to work in the restaurant trade since it runs in my father's family. I went to college and got a food preparation diploma and for a while all was well. I worked myself up to sous-chef in a couple of the better Chicago restaurants and then unfortunately met a man who basically destroyed my life. Benny."

The venom with which Maralin pronounced that name surprised Garia.

"Benny the Blade, they called him. Only, he didn't seem like that to begin with, of course. He sweet-talked his way round me and before I knew it he had taken over my life. Unfortunately Benny liked his women pliant so he fed me booze and, eventually, drugs. Out went the job and over a period of about two years I was reduced to waiting tables in corner dives. Then he started using his fists and other things. In the end I was a virtual prisoner in his apartment, just barely living and hoping he wouldn't come home for a few days."

Maralin stopped, overcome for a moment by the sheer horror of her situation.

"Then, one night, I was found in a ditch on the road out of Joth," he resumed. "I had no memory or anything for five days or so. I could speak the language, though. Was it like that with you?"

Garia nodded. "It was exactly the same. I think it must have to do with the way we were brought here. I am told I had headaches for those few days which became worse and then there was a big one, after which everything came back to me."

"That's exactly it! Do you have any idea why?"

Careful, now.

"Well, I sort of figured it out, you know? Look, neither you nor I have the bodies we had on Earth, right? Therefore, we must have been recreated by some sort of machine in order to provide a body here. So we're clones, right? I'm wild-ass guessing, now, that to send a whole body however far away we are is too expensive in energy terms... or something like that. So, like, maybe they just send the DNA. Or maybe even a description of the DNA."

"Yes. I think I'd worked that much out."

"So perhaps something goes wrong with the machines every now and then and they get the gender wrong. That's fair enough, a man's body and a woman's body both start out much the same in the womb after all. Now, the problem is, we have to have all our original memories stuffed into that clone brain, which isn't going to be exactly like the one we had on Earth, is it? That's why the headaches, I'm guessing."

Maralin nodded. "That makes sense. And then after a few days everything clicks into place and we remember who and what we were." There was a rueful grin. "The first few days were a disaster, I can tell you. Trying to adapt to a new body at the same time as trying to adapt to a whole new society, well... I was lucky I managed not to give myself away. I had decided not to say anything to anyone about my origins but when we were training out in the fields the Yodans used guns on us and I knew what they were. Since I apparently knew about Yod's secret weapon things got difficult. I was accused of being a spy but managed to talk my way out of it.

"That word, gun, eventually filtered up to His Grace, who just happened to be entertaining a Prince of our acquaintance. He realized immediately what danger I was in from Yod and I was called to His Grace's side. He very graciously decided to take me on as an aide to keep me safe, though I think I have managed to pay my own way. Who would have thought that I would be so good at warfare? Me, a cook, leading troops into battle."

"Well, don't get yourself killed, will you? We need all the good men we can get to defeat Yod."

"Don't forget the women! We were all amazed by the assault those Norsemen made on Boldan's Rock. We had all suspected that the fort had been captured by Yod but there was no proof. When the Forgulanders met Eriana's men - and women - at the end they were astonished that so few could have inflicted such a massive defeat." Maralin grinned. "Of course, I knew what Vikings were like but I couldn't say anything."

"We were lucky there," Garia said. "Those people thought they were sailing to Vinland a thousand years ago and ended up on Anmar instead. In those thousand years they could have just settled down and turned into farmers. I'm pleased to say that it was me who thought up the idea of attacking the fort from behind and they certainly lived up to expectations."

Maralin frowned. "There's a strange thing I found. When they came to Joth on their way back through I discovered that I could understand their speech, and fairly well, too. Now I didn't expect that at all and I had to cover it up straight away. I don't think anyone realized. So, as we were journeying down here I got them to teach me their language, making sure I acted dumb and got things wrong occasionally. I think Eriana suspects something but I can't be sure."

"Do any of them know you're an Earthling?"

He shook his head. "No. In Joth, only the Duke knows. Oh, and Renita, of course. She's my partner and as soon as we whip those Yodans I'm going to do the decent thing and marry her. The Prince and yourself are the only others who know."

"Congratulations! If I have time maybe we can come and join you when you celebrate your wedding. Say, do you realize that your body here has had an upgrade? Your mention of knowing another language makes me think."

Garia switched languages and began talking in the Six Cities tongue. Maralin was startled for a moment, then thoughtful, then surprised.

"Another language? Who speaks that?"

Back in English, Garia explained, "There's a people who live on the west coast of Alaesia, about four or five thousand miles away." She shrugged. "I don't know and I don't think anyone has actually measured it. Anyway, that's the language they speak over there. There is a tradition that many of their young men make the trek all the way over here to learn different stuff and gain experience. We have several in the Palace Guard and I now have one as an armsman. In fact, you may have met him since he went with Keren on that trip. You might have seen them around, they kind of look like they could be natives from North or South America or something like that, only not so brown."

Maralin nodded. "You're right, I have seen one or two along the way but thought nothing of it." He smiled. "After all, there's a lot about this world that's still new to me."

"You have no idea! Anyway, the point is, I think we could know a lot more languages than we realize but we'll only discover we know one when someone else speaks it in front of us. Just to warn you in case it ever happens again, you might want to keep that knowledge secret like you did before."

"That's a good point, thank you for warning me."

"And that reminds me of something else. You may also have noticed that your memory is better, particularly of memories from Earth. That's how I've been able to help these people, by telling them things I remember from back then."

"I have noticed, but I hadn't realized it was anything special."

"If you put your mind to it, you'll find that you can probably remember every single thing you did or saw for any particular day in your former life. For a boy suddenly dumped in a woman's world, that can be downright embarrassing. I never realized just how much I noticed of what girls wore."

Maralin smiled. "I wouldn't worry about it. Our lives on Earth were so different than they are here that nobody is going to pick something like that up - unless you tell them, and even then they probably wouldn't understand the significance. For myself, I never realized just how much I learned from old war films shown on daytime TV. I've had to be careful but the army that Joth now has bears almost no resemblance to the one it had when I arrived."

"Do you use guns?"

"Only the ones we captured. We don't have the resources to make many of our own and nobody knows how to make the powder."

Garia looked smug. "We are making our own, and we have figured out the powder problem. At the moment we're concentrating on two specific types but we don't have the resources to make many either."

"But I thought Palarand was rich and full of metals and engineers."

"It is, but they are caught up in the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution - which I brought to them. They're too busy figuring out how to build railroads and steamships, not to mention how to use electric power, to have resources for advanced weapons. Besides, we beat the Yodans off twice when they did have guns and we didn't. Three times if you count Eriana."

"Specific weapons, you said."

"Um, we'd better leave that topic until the War Council meets, I think. I know that you know that what we are talking about is ancient history but the King and the Dukes don't."

"As you say. Uh, you spoke earlier of being a boy in a woman's world. How is that affecting you?"

"It's not an issue now, but it was strange at the beginning, as you must have noticed yourself. If I had had a choice, I think I would have wished to be a few inches taller. Fortunately I have a whole palace of people who are quite happy to run round after me and lift things down from high shelves. As for the rest, this body seems to be reasonably fit and healthy although I had to learn to deal with breasts, of course."

Garia couldn't decide whether she ought to be embarrassed discussing breasts with a man who used to be a woman, mentally shrugged and carried on.

"Periods?"

Garia grimaced. "Not nice, most of them. Every single one I've had so far has been different. Some good, some bad. No tampons here, of course, but they have it all worked out so it's just handled without much fuss."

"Do you want to introduce tampons?"

Garia was cautious. "Not sure. You must realize I know nothing about the personal habits of Earth females. All I remember is there is something called toxic shock if you get it wrong."

Maralin nodded. "You're right, and they do require a certain level of basic hygiene. However, if you want to consult some time..."

"Yes, I keep forgetting, you've been there, done that, haven't you? Glad to be free of it all?"

"Absolutely! For myself, I can't get over how different everything is. My body is harder, stronger and faster than I could ever have imagined. I'm so tall I have to duck to get under some doorways. The down sides are, my hands and feet are too big, my sense of touch isn't as sensitive and I'm not sure the colors I see are as good as they used to be. Nobody wants to talk much in the way a bunch of women do, they are all too reserved. Most men seem to be self-centered, talk a lot of bullshit and I've noticed some can get aggressive very easily. I guess that's the testosterone. But testosterone lets me focus on whatever I'm doing much better than I could concentrate before." Maralin shrugged. "I don't think it's worse or better, just different."

Garia nodded. "I agree. I was a bit upset at first but, Call of Kalikan aside, I've really gotten used to it now. I don't think I want to go back to what I was."

"I bet you don't," Maralin said with a grin. "You're having too much fun here."

"Damn straight!"

"What about the clothes? I think that's my one regret, that I'll never have the chance to wear some of the fabulous gowns I've seen along the way."

"They're not so fabulous when you have to get all bundled up in deep winter, so much on that you can barely sit down. Mostly I agree with you, though. I really didn't like a lot of the clothes they gave me when I first arrived but just put up with it, there was no choice with a body that looks like this. That was partly because a lot of them were hand-me-downs from the two Princesses and the styles were out of date or too young. It is only in the last few months that I've really had an eye for what I think I like and what I don't. I've started introducing some new ideas which are based on Earth styles, but I'm taking it gently."

"Styles? Can't say I've noticed."

"Keeping your eye in, then? Can't say I blame you. Here, they are fairly conservative about what women wear, men too, come to that. For example, a woman can show arms but only up to the armpit. No shoulders at all. But in summer you can have a fairly deep scoop neck and nobody seems to mind. Hemlines, they get anxious if even a hint of knee shows when you're standing up but they recognize you'll show something when you sit down. Like any society, they just have fads and fancies and I work within those limits... mostly."

Maralin grinned. "Somehow, from what I've heard along the way, I didn't expect you to be the sort of person who just blended in."

"Absolutely! Of course, it was a conscious decision I had to make soon after I arrived at the palace. Looking at me, what do you see? A young girl. She can't know much of anything, can she? Just fit for looking ornamental and swooning over the guardsmen. So I had to do something to get them to take me seriously. The hair style is one thing, the martial arts exercises another. I've had some fun with clothing styles and also introduced bras to them. That all snowballed when I realized that Anmar is going to have to take its women workforce seriously if it wants to get this industrial upgrade to work."

"Ah. Women's Lib?"

"Sort of. It helps when you have the Queen behind you, though. Nobody says no to the Queen. Fortunately the King and Queen recognize that I'm here to do a serious job and support me to the hilt."

Maralin nodded. "Good. At least this time we get to do things the right way."

"That's the whole point, isn't it? We can avoid making all the mistakes that were made on Earth. That way, we can make big leaps in technology while keeping the downsides in check."

"Do you think that's why we were brought here?"

"I have no idea. Maralin, the problem we both have is that we don't even know if any of this is real. This could all be a figment of one of our imaginations. I feel real but that proves nothing. This could all be some kind of bizarre dream. I've been thinking about it all and concluded I can't ever know whether I'm real or not - the old philosophy professors would have a field day."

"Aye. Will we ever know, do you think?"

"Maybe." Garia shrugged. "Eventually, perhaps."

And that's all I'm going to say on that subject right now.

She switched to another topic. "What do you know about the animals around here?"

"Weird. My first experience was in a kitchen, naturally, and I didn't know what anything was, animal or vegetable! They have four-legged things and six-legged things, that's about all I can tell you."

"Well, it seems as if there's a mixture of animals from more than one world around here. Some of the four-legged ones originally come from Earth, probably the same way we did, and it's possible that the six-legged ones come from somewhere else entirely. Frayen are sort of evolved from rhino, I think, and dranakh look like hippos but they're much more intelligent. They can read people's minds but I don't think they understand speech the way we do."

"Ah." Maralin nodded. "That explains the curious way the dranakhs pulling our wagons behaved. I couldn't get over it."

"Yes, it's a bit of a surprise the first time. You've seen pakh? I'm guessing they are a late arrival, since they resemble alpaca from Earth and the name has hardly changed at all. What about avians?"

Maralin grinned. "Tasty. I've cooked a few of them in my time here. The fact they have four legs and bat-like wings means, I'm guessing, that they are imports like us."

Garia shrugged. "Who knows? Now, there's a thing you ought to know, Maralin. They have a creature here that would be called a dragon on Earth. It's called a ptuvil here and I don't know why. They are avians, but imagine one about thirty feet long with a forty foot wingspan. Teeth to match."

"Seriously? What do I do if I see one?"

"You shouldn't see them very often. They appear to inhabit the mountains to the north-east of here but that's all I know. They may be other places as well. As for what you do, you'll do nothing. The sight of a ptuvil in the air freezes all the men to the ground, rooted with fear. It must be some kind of instinctive thing from our past. If there are any women around, they will grab hold of the nearest man with a grip like death. You can break the paralysis but it will be very hard."

Maralin whistled. "This suddenly seems like an exciting land I've come to. Any other surprises like that I should know about?"

"Well, there's grakh. Ptuvil seem to treat them as food animals but both species will eat anything else if they can get it, including us. Grakh are... older. To my way of thinking they look something like a pteranodon, but those died out sixty million years ago on Earth with the dinosaurs."

"Pteranodon?" Maralin frowned. "I didn't do much dinosaur when I was younger."

"They aren't avians but more like a reptilian bat, if you will. They aren't as big as a ptuvil but big enough. If you see one, run. They will spook your mounts as well, so you'll have to be aware that you'll need to control them firmly if they see any. Grakh appear to migrate along the Valley every spring and fall, I don't know where they go either end. Just to let you know."

Maralin shook his head. "This is all so amazing. On balance, though, I think I'd rather be here than back on Earth. It's as if I've been given a second chance." He pulled a face. "The first one was nothing to write home about. Like you, I plan to stay here and do what I can to help these people along."

"Well, my life back home wasn't so bad, I guess, but I can't think of anywhere else I'd rather be than here, Maralin. Providing our liege lords can get their act together, we should have a long and fruitful collaboration fixing these people up, don't you agree?"

"Aye, but as the Prince has already pointed out, some of that technology could be dangerous. How do you propose we handle that?"

"We already figured that one out, so you've no cause to worry. We have a special council set up which evaluates everything I tell them that comes from Earth, and they decide what to release and what to seal in the archives until the future can handle it. Firearms were on that list but unfortunately nobody told Yod."

"So the Prince informed us when he came to Joth."

"I think what the King wants to do is to expand the council to include Joth initially. That means that you and His Grace would meet us fairly often to decide progress and we would take joint decisions. Given what the King proposed last night, that council might end up a great deal bigger in a year or two's time."

"Aye. That was somewhat of a surprise, wasn't it? But from the perspective of two Americans, it's the obvious answer. I'll agree Anmar won't end up with a copy of the US but then this place is way different. I'll be interested to see what happens, and proud to be a part of it, too."

Garia grinned. "Yes, well, let's hope it doesn't end up like that old Chinese saying. You know the one, 'May you live in interesting times'."

"Aye, indeed. Let's fix Yod first and then we can plan out the future."

Garia turned. "Jenet? Perhaps it is time for some pel."

"Pel," mused Maralin. "I miss coffee but pel is a really good substitute, isn't it? I'm glad I don't miss the rest, though. My body was pretty much screwed up by the end."

"Substance abuse?"

"How much is contained in just those two words! Aye, I was into anything that shit could lay his hands on. Since we have new bodies here, I'm guessing I wouldn't even have withdrawal symptoms."

"That's right. If only your DNA came here, there will be no addictions, no viruses, no bacteria, no parasites, no nothing. We start off again with a clean body. I just wish I'd been a little taller, is all."

"I suppose there might be congenital conditions," Maralin mused. "You know, things that are in your DNA to begin with."

"Perhaps, but remember it is all our DNA, so we'd only have what our parents gave us originally. I'm guessing the upgrades we have had in terms of memory and languages are only what our bodies were capable of anyway."

Garia was about to say more but realized it would reveal the existence of the Beings, so she smiled at Maralin.

"So, tell me what happened when you arrived in Joth."

Maralin described how he had been found by the retreating Jothans by the roadside as the invaders expelled everyone from the city of Joth. He had been taken south to the town of Galdarin and recovered slowly. Once recovered, he, like all male Jothans of suitable age and fitness, had been inducted as levies into the forces defending Joth from the invaders, who just sat in their captured city, waiting for... something.

Part of the training of the levies had involved practice engagements in the countryside south of the city, and during those exercises a Yodan patrol had surprised them and killed most of Maralin's group. The survivors managed to get away and avoid capture but their escape had been hard won.

On return to their base Maralin had realized that the Jothans had been easily visible in their blue-and-white uniforms while the Yodans had worn the brown camouflage Garia had already encountered. After a discussion some temporary uniforms had been made out of sacking and Maralin sent forward again to try and find out what he could about the city. It was while he was away the second time that Keren had passed through the country and met Wallesan, discovering that someone had used the word gun.

He had been summoned to meet Wallesan and while there met Keren, returning from Forguland. He had told the two of Maralin's other-worldy origin and revealed that a similar person existed in Palarand, that person being the reason for the Yodan activity. He also told them of the danger which Maralin faced if the Yodans should ever discover his existence.

Wallesan had taken Maralin into his care and learned that, surprisingly, he could teach them much about warfare. The city had been re-taken, Maralin playing his part in the house-to-house fighting that resulted, but the defenders were too few to keep out the Duke's forces once the walls had been breached. Much of the city had been trashed and a number of prisoners had suffered under the occupation. However, a number of the Yodan guns had been seized together with quantities of powder and shot.

Maralin lowered his cup. "That was that," he concluded. "His Grace couldn't move back to his mansion since the Yodans had despoiled it, burning part of it to the ground. So, that is one reason why he decided to use the opportunity presented when Her Highness turned up with her band of Vikings." He grinned. "I think the building crew will work easier without His Grace looking over their shoulders. After learning of my connection with you it made sense for us to travel here and, with your wedding less than a month away, we might as well stay for the duration."

"Isn't His Grace needed for the fighting against Yod?"

Maralin shook his head. "Nope. Oh, he could if he insisted, but he has professionals to do that for him. Since the contingents from Palarand and Brugan came through he knows his men will only be part of a larger army anyway. If he's not around he can't get into arguments with the leaders of the other forces."

"That's a refreshing outlook, if I may say so."

"Maybe. I remembered I'd watched movies from the Second World War where the leaders squabbled as they advanced across Europe after D-Day and I mentioned the stories to His Grace. He took the point, although I think part of him naturally wanted to be at the field of battle. A larger part of him wanted to come here and see you, I think, and when Her Highness appeared, it made up his mind for him."

"Well, speaking for myself, I'm delighted to see both of you, even though the circumstances could be better. You realize we both had to fight battles to get this meeting. If Yod hadn't interfered, neither of us would ever have known the other existed."

"Too true."

"Tell me, you said you were a cook? Sorry, a chef."

"Chef is just a fancy French word meaning Head Cook. I know what I was, Garia." Maralin nodded thoughtfully. "I think I was good enough at what I did. Of course, I'm not going to be able to do much of that here, am I? I'm too valuable to spend much time in kitchens now." He smiled. "Thank you for bringing the fork to Anmar! I'm not sure I would have thought of that myself, I'd probably just have put up with the existing tableware."

"My pleasure. Introduced anything yet?"

"Ah, well, I have to be careful, don't I? If word gets back to Yod of new dishes suddenly appearing someone might accidentally add two and two and get four. I have introduced pizzas to Joth, though, although they call them peet-zers. I could demonstrate them here if I get the go-ahead."

Garia thought. "I don't see why not. If they are now known in Joth, and His Grace has traveled here, then we can say they came from there, can't we? We'll have to raise it at that council I mentioned. What about pasta?"

"I'd like to, especially if we now have forks to eat it with. Oh, by the way, His Grace insists that you get a commission for every fork made. It's only a small amount but he thinks you deserve it. The money is in an account in Joth at the moment. The pasta, I've done a few experiments but the grains they use here for flour are different, of course. The attempts I've made so far haven't worked out as I expected."

"Hmm. I hadn't thought of that." Garia brightened. "You must speak to Master Tanon, I think. He's a Master Trader and he's one of those who found me on that mountain, so we know each other well. The point is, he knows foodstuffs and he might be able to find you a flour that does what you want."

"Oh! I hadn't thought of that. Aye, if he is willing, he might be useful. I'm still learning all the spices and herbs they use here."

"He's on that council I spoke of, so you'll get your chance and fairly soon, I think."

Jenet stood and curtseyed.

"Oh, right," Garia said, with a wave to her maid. "Jenet has just indicated that it will soon be time for me to bathe and change for the evening meal. I'm afraid we're going to have to finish up for today, I hope you don't mind."

Maralin shrugged. "It's not as if I have to go travel somewhere else, Garia. We'll have plenty of time to talk to one another. I've enjoyed speaking English again, as it happens. I wondered if I would begin to forget it."

"Actually, I've begun to teach some English to Keren. If you didn't mind, we could have a session together with him. Hearing a different voice may help him to pick up differences in the way we speak."

"I'd like that." Maralin frowned. "How does your maid know what time it is? I can't hear anything."

Garia grinned. "It's there if you listen carefully enough. Jenet was born in the palace so she can make out the bells almost anywhere inside it." She rose, and Maralin stood with her. "I'll see you out. Us girls take longer to get ready than you rough men."

"Don't remind me!"

~o~O~o~

The numbers present meant that the War Council met in the room where the Council of the Two Worlds usually met. On the large oval table a map of the Great Valley had been spread, lit by candelabra at each end. In front of each of those present was a drink suitable for that person and plates of nibbles were placed at reachable points.

Robanar grunted. "Very well, let us begin. We have a lot to discuss tonight, so let us try to remain on the subject. Your Grace, as you are closest to the fighting, shall you begin?"

"Aye, brother," Wallesan agreed. "I see that your map shows the countries as they were originally. My men have produced this close-up of that central area to show the areas under the Yodan thumb, with thanks to the Forgulanders and Ferens for bringing us this knowledge. You are, of course, welcome to make copies."

At a sign from Wallesan Maralin produced another map, at a larger scale, which the Duke spread over the one already on the table.

"From what my advisors tell me," he continued, "it looks like Yod has now been pushed back to the lands they took from Ferenis, excepting this narrow strip on the north bank of the Sirrel facing Forguland. We have your amazing Einnlanders to thank for that. The shock of losing that wharfage area was so great that much was left behind when the invaders retreated. Many of their guns and supplies of powder were captured and, after consulting with myself, the Forgulanders and Ferens have preserved those weapons carefully for us."

"For you, Wallesan?"

The Duke nodded. "Aye, Robanar." He quirked a smile. "It seems that following our own experiences in cleaning them out of my city we are accounted experts in the use and management of such weapons. Of course, we have Tenant Maralin to thank for that."

Robanar nodded at Maralin, sitting unobtrusively beside Wallesan.

Wallesan continued, "The first four thousand of your troops arrived while we were preparing to leave with Her Highness's party. By now they should be encamped in Forguland with a like number of my own levies. Of course they met Her Highness and her men and it seems that morale among your men is high now, Robanar. An example has been set they are anxious to exceed."

Robanar grunted. "A fortuitous encounter, then. I pray no-one else may attempt anything so reckless while trying to better Eriana's adventure." He nodded. "It was good to hear of such a victory, obtained against such odds. As you say, it will enliven the men."

"Aye. Of those who contend, only the Ferens and my own people have tasted battle in anger. Your pardon, Robanar, I know you have had your own battles against those of Yod but they were incursions designed for a specific purpose. What I mean is, only we have suffered continuous battle and permanent occupation of our lands. Anything that may enthuse others to the party can only help."

Wallesan nodded at Bardanar. "We have around three thousand of your own men camped in our fields, Bardanar. Since your men have little recent experience, we plan training exercises against some of our reserves to let them understand what will be expected of them. We will demonstrate guns to them and introduce them to the art of camouflage."

"I thank you, Wallesan," Bardanar replied. "We spoke of this as we journeyed here and we are in agreement about what must needs be done. My men will not thank me for it but at least they will remain alive long enough to curse me. What of the supply situation? Have you enough to feed so many men?"

"We manage, though the diet will become tedious in time. The river is almost quiet enough we can begin bringing supplies from further downstream."

Robanar added, "I will do my share, brothers. Mayhap it will mostly be by wagon at first but as soon as we can get river barges moving we will. The seasons turn and the river has already begun accepting traffic." He leaned forward. "Have you considered what guns may do on an encounter between boats?"

"It has been near the front of my mind these last weeks," Wallesan admitted. "Maralin says that a gun like those which Yod have used against us could blow a hole in the hull of any water vessel. A carefully prepared galley could bring river traffic to a standstill."

Garia couldn't let that pass and held up her hand to speak.

"Your Grace, for a gun to make a hole in a boat, the galley would have to be close enough that defenders on the boat could fire arrows at them or throw spears. You could possibly send fire-pots or something similar across at that range."

"As you suggest, Lady Garia. However, not all of our barges can be defended that way. Each vessel would need double the number of crew at least."

"Oh. You're right, I hadn't considered the whole picture. Unfortunately, I've been stuck in the palace so I don't really have any knowledge of what happens up the Sirrel."

Bardanar said, "Lady Garia has a point, though. Are we at risk from attack on the river?"

Wallesan shook his head. "Not any more, brother. Remember, we now hold Boldan's Rock - the Forgulanders do on behalf of the alliance, of course. Those of Yod have lost their wharfage which means they have another whole bend of the river to sail their craft around - and they shall not be permitted to pass Boldan's Rock."

"You would deny them free passage on the Sirrel?" Robanar asked.

"Aye, Robanar. To my way of thinking they forfeited that right when they attacked Palarand." He looked belligerently at the others. "This nonsense has gone on too long, brothers. I deem the only way we may end such outrages is to invade Yod and subjugate it completely."

Bardanar added, "I cannot disagree, Robanar. If we consider what we spoke of last night it is apparent that Yod must be remade in the mold of our own lands. The territories it has taken must be returned to their former owners at the very least."

Robanar considered briefly. "Think you the others will agree to this? It sets a precedent I would rather it did not."

Wallesan replied, "Wave a Federation under their noses, Robanar. If our countries may rely on one another, no-one need fear invasion by any other."

Bardanar said, "Those of Yod may be unwilling."

"Those of Yod sought war against us! They must bear the consequences."

Robanar nodded acceptance. "Then so it must be. Though we are far from the affairs at the center of the Great Valley they still affect us here. I am concerned that the precedent may cause the break-up of Palarand."

Bardanar was startled. "I did not think of that, Robanar! Of course, your situation is different, I deem. You joined together in mutual agreement, and Visselen rules Brikant as his family have always done. Is this what you sought for your federation?"

"Briefly, aye. We demonstrate a good model for such a union of countries. But we stray from the point, brothers. Yod must be subdued and the infection cut out. Their people are like our own, I know since we hold many as prisoner and most would rebel against their master had they the chance. It is those who lead who must be held to account for the insults we have been dealt."

"Agreed."

"Agreed."

"Then let us move on. Uniforms, we are agreed that the traditional uniforms of our countries shall no longer be worn during campaigns? We shall each choose a cloth that makes our men less visible when facing the enemy. With the advent of guns, a man may be killed at a distance no arrow can reach. We must keep our men safe against such dangers, it is our duty."

Wallesan turned. "You have guns that can reach so far? I thought such weapons were only for close-quarter combat."

Robanar grinned. "We have developed a single weapon which is designed to cut the head off the enemy. Garia calls it a sniper rifle. My dear, if you would?"

Garia left her chair and lifted three bags onto the table. She opened the longest one and from it withdrew a sample of the rifle. There were murmurs of surprise from some of those around the table.

Wallesan asked, "May I?"

"Of course." Robanar grinned. "Just mind my table, if you would."

Wallesan handled the weapon, being careful not to touch anything important. "Fearsome. Heavy. How is it used?"

"If I may, Your Grace." That was Maralin. He took the rifle, stood and held the butt to his shoulder, sighting through the tube on top. "Ah. I get it now." He looked at Garia. "Your idea is to take out the officers, then?"

"Exactly right, Tenant," she replied. "From what I have learned of their common troops, most are levies like our own and are just farmers and laborers. They do what they are told and no more. It seems they aren't told anything about what they are supposed to be doing, that's left up to the officers. If we can get a few of these rifles out there and take out those in charge, their army should just fold up in front of us."

"Do you really think that will happen?"

Garia shrugged. "It's a war. Anything can happen. But if it means their officers have to keep their heads down, then they won't be in such a good command of their troops, will they? Either way, we win."

"As you say. So, how does this work, then?"

"It's a single shot breech loader, Tenant. The barrel is rifled and we have cartridges which fit down the bore. We didn't have time to invent caps to ignite the powder so our clever engineers came up with a way to use a flintlock mechanism instead."

"So I see. This lever does the work, then?"

"Yes. Push it all the way to the right and the gun will break for you to see inside."

Maralin broke the gun and looked at the cartridge before closing it up and returning the lever to the vertical.

"But like this the lever is in the way of the sight."

"Right. Now you know the gun is loaded and secure against the weather. I won't ask you to do it, because you'll make a mess, but if you were to push that lever to the left it cuts open the cartridge so that the pan is filled and tightens the screw thread holding the two parts together."

Maralin looked and nodded. "Clever. Should make a good difference to how we fight. I can see these being used to pick men off city walls."

Wallesan looked startled. "You can do that with this gun?"

"Aye, Your Grace. Uh, Garia, what is the range of this rifle?"

"Well, I'm told they have tested them out to six hundred strides, but what kind of accuracy you can get at that distance I don't know."

Wallesan blurted, "Six hundred strides? Maker! No wonder you wanted to conceal these designs from all, Robanar. This will change the art of war for ever."

Robanar grunted. "Aye. Unfortunately those of Yod did not receive my letter. Guns are known to the world now and we must take account of everything they may do, since if we do not we will suffer the consequences. We seek to limit the knowledge that is inevitably spread over a battlefield but we know such ideas will travel, and there are engineers in other lands than Palarand who can improve what they may learn about."

"Aye. This council you mentioned?"

"As you say." Robanar came to a quick decision. "I may not invite you all, since some of the matters we will speak of there are best heard by as few ears as possible, against accidental exposure. Wallesan, Bardanar, you will both be welcome when next we meet."

"Thank you, brother."

"Aye, Robanar. I deem there are serious matters in the air around this table."

"Agreed. Tenant Maralin, with His Grace's permission, you may attend as well." Robanar turned to Garia. "What are in those other bags, my dear?"

Garia opened one of the smaller bags and pulled out a brand new pistol. After breaking it to ensure that it was empty she passed it around for the others to examine.

Bardanar commented, "From one extreme to another. I didn't think it was possible to make a gun this small."

"That's not particularly small, Your Grace," Garia said. "It's that size because of the limitations of the materials and machinery we currently have." She shrugged. "It will be good enough for personal defense and that is what it is intended for."

Bardanar nodded. "I see. So you would carry it... where?"

"A specially designed holder called a holster, usually made out of leather. It can be positioned on your hip, or in the small of your back, in a bag or perhaps under your arm like this." Garia demonstrated.

When it got round to Maralin he said, "Just a single shot, then?"

"Yes," Garia replied. "We do have an example of a six-shooter to use as a model but until we can develop a reliable cap then it would be pointless. I'd like to do a Derringer but again, without a cap..." She shrugged again.

Wallesan asked, "Derringer?"

Garia explained, "Your Grace, they are a very small gun, usually carried concealed by a woman or a... rogue, shall we say. They had either one or two shots and they would fit in the small of your hand. Not accurate, but good enough to kill someone standing... two or three strides away."

Wallesan had gotten over his surprises so merely nodded. Garia opened the third bag and lifted out... something. She passed it around.

Bardanar asked, "What is this?"

"Your Grace, it is called a grenade. It is intended to be thrown at the enemy when he is close enough on the field of battle, but far enough away that your own troops would be safe. The handle contains a fuse which the thrower lights. We may come up with a way to do that without needing a separate flame. Anyway, once lit, the thrower has about three breaths to get rid of it before it explodes."

"Explodes?"

"Your Grace, if you think of the round end like a gun barrel, it is full of powder. Only difference is, with this device there's no way for the explosion to get out along the barrel. So the whole thing flies apart with great violence and will kill or injure anyone standing nearby."

"Maker! What a terrible device."

"Is it any worse than having a man stick a sword in you, Your Grace?"

"As you say, Lady Garia."

Robanar asked, "What is this made of, Garia? It is not metal."

"No, Sire. We could not cast the required shapes reliably enough. Some didn't come apart at all, merely blew the end off. Somebody pointed out that they could do this just as easily in ceramic so that's what we did. It is a lot easier to mold these out of clay and bake them hard and they shatter in a consistent and reliable way."

"I see. These are intended only for use in the field, then?"

"Sire, there are other uses. His Grace Duke Wallesan could have used these when he retook his city because they can be used for clearing houses. You just throw one through the window or door of a room and stand back. Nobody inside stands a chance."

Robanar pursed his lips and Wallesan looked thoughtful.

Bardanar asked, "Have Yod anything like these devices?"

Garia shook her head. "Your Grace, we can't possibly know until we fight them. Certainly the weapons we have seen up till now have been fairly crude and unreliable but somebody up river must have some brains. If we can think of ideas like these then so can they."

"But these are inventions of your own, are they not?"

"I brought the original ideas from my homeland, Your Grace, but most of the design of these weapons is down to the engineers I work with. I would never have thought of some of the improvements they suggested. Using clay for the grenades, for example."

* * *

It was a thoughtful meeting that broke up late into the evening. Keren walked Garia back towards their suites.

"Bardanar suspects, does he not?"

"I'm not sure how much your father has told him, Keren. If he comes to the council he'll learn everything anyway."

"I think father will talk to him before that. Telling the whole story will take too much of the council's time."

"As you say."

"What about your meeting with Maralin? A satisfactory afternoon?"

"Yes, thank you. I have asked him if he wants to join us for some English lessons and he said yes."

Keren nodded. "That's a good idea, my love. Tell me, how much does he know about the Beings?"

"Nothing. I've been debating how much to tell him but I think I need to ask permission before I do. Problem is, if he acts on information he wouldn't otherwise have, then he might do something unexpected and throw off the future. At the moment he's no different than any of the other transferees scattered around Anmar."

"Other transferees? There are more?"

Oh, crap. Me and my big mouth.

Garia waved her hands. "I'm just assuming, all right? There's me, and there was Yves, and now there's Maralin, and we're just in a tiny portion of Alaesia. Who knows what's going on around the rest of the world?"

"Oh. As you say. You want to talk to the Beings, then? I assumed that you meant father."

"Well, one thing at a time, Keren. And with all these visitors wandering about the palace it is getting difficult remembering who knows what."

Keren grinned and squeezed Garia's waist. "Including me, I take it? I know you're hiding secrets, my love, but I can see the need for it. Just be careful, you hear?"

"I'm trying, Keren, but it's not going to get any easier."



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