Somewhere Else Entirely -132-

Garia finally welcomes all those who had traveled down to the capital from Blackstone. The customary feast of Spring Dawning is observed, during which an important announcement is made. The next day several members of House Blackstone are married, giving Garia a foretaste of her own wedding which is to follow.

Somewhere Else Entirely

by Penny Lane

132 - Three Weddings

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.



Feteran entered the dining room of the Blackstone Hotel and naturally everybody looked up to inspect the newcomer. Breakfast was about finished but most were still sitting at two big tables discussing the coming days events. His father stood and came to meet him, giving him a hug and a slap on the back.

"Morning, father."

"Morning, son. Is this a social call or was there something..?"

Bleskin looked at his son's face, trying to see if there was anything wrong. He knew who Feteran served and trouble was often nearby. Feteran, however, merely smiled back.

"There was something, father, but it doesn't concern you, not directly. I have come to request the attendance of the women in your party. They have a short engagement before House Blackstone sets off for the Spring Dawning ceremony."

Bleskin frowned. "Request the attendance" wasn't the normal phrasing; if Lady Garia wanted to talk to the women especially she would have said, "Desires the presence" or some such.

"All six of them, son?"

Feteran nodded. "Aye, father, for about two bells."

Bleskin turned. "Ladies, did you hear? Lady Garia desires that you accompany Commander Feteran as soon as your breakfast is complete."

Sukhana looked up at Feteran. "Commander, will we be returning here? How far must we go?"

Feteran shook his head at the first question but added, "Just around the corner, Mistress Sukhana. Do you know where we are?"

"Aye, this is Copper Street, of course."

"Then we will be going to the Street of the Thatchers, which is where Blackstone House is."

"Oh, I know the Street of the Thatchers very well! That is where Master Tanon's mansion is."

"Indeed, Mistress. Blackstone House is the next building to Master Tanon's mansion."

"Do you tell me? Very well, Commander." She began to stand. "Come, ladies, let us gather up our bags... we do not have to walk far, it seems." To Feteran she added, "Will we need coats or cloaks today?"

"Not at all, Mistress Sukhana. I am told there was a fine sunrise earlier and the day is clear and already becoming warm."

"Okay, we'll gather what we need and join you as soon as we can."

Bleskin turned to Feteran as the women left to pick up bags and other necessities.

"I am ready to depart, as it happens. Might I join you? We can catch up on our adventures as we walk."

"Of course, father. Though I must warn you I would not discuss battles in front of our womenfolk, not unless they ask me themselves."

Bleskin gave an amused grunt. "You may be right, Fet, but some of them have fought their own battles, I deem. Our women are hardier than we knew."

"Aye, that is true enough. Why, even Jenet felled an assailant at last year's Harvest Festival, do you remember?"

Bleskin winced. "How could I forget! Even then My Lady was proving her importance and her resourcefulness. Which reminds me, Fet. The battle on the highway, after your party left South Slip? I have not heard the full details."

Feteran sighed. "That was a desperate battle, father. That day we left South Slip and rode south, hoping to reach -"

The story had mostly been told by the time the six women returned with bags and, for some, light coats. With a light escort of four armsmen Feteran conducted them out into Copper Street and along to the junction with the Street of the Thatchers, turning towards Blackstone House. Sukhana spotted the house standard first, recognizing it from when it had hung outside the Ptuvil's Claw.

"That is Blackstone House? A fine mansion, but not at all what I expected Milady to choose. Why, it seems large... I remember, now. I thought that property belonged to a maker of wagons! Do you know, Feteran?"

"It did, Mistress, but the business was forced to move since the demand for wagons had become so great." He smiled knowingly at Sukhana. "I wonder why?"

"Why, because... of all the wagons needed to carry the coal, of course! But why would Lady Garia choose somewhere so large?"

"Because, Mistress, it houses most of her armsmen and their families as well as laboratories and workshops for Master Tarvan and Mistress Milsy. It is intended to be a place of experiment as well as Milady's administrative center. Lady Garia, of course, will return to reside in the palace once she is wed."

"Of course... Tarvan? Milsy? I do not know these names."

Feteran grinned. "No, you have not met Master Tarvan yet, I deem, but you have met Mistress Milsy. She was the young girl who was Milady's double when she departed from Dekarran for Blackstone."

"Oh! That was her name? I was never told, of course, and I didn't want to know, not then. How is it she remained in Milady's employ, then?"

"Because she is exceptionally clever, Mistress Sukhana. She has not the knowledge that Milady has but she can understand anything Milady says almost straight away, and she can think for herself. Master Tarvan, a young guildsman Milady employed before she went north, is in reality Mistress Milsy's assistant."

"Oh, I see. Hey! Where are we going, then? Shouldn't we be crossing the road to go into Blackstone House?"

"Not yet, Mistress Sukhana. Our destination is further along."

"Oh, that's Master Tanon's! Mayhap we going there?"

Feteran grinned. "We are not going there either, Mistress. In fact, we have arrived."

Opposite Tanon's mansion was a small shop that had a board hanging outside painted with a gown and the word Korond. Several of the women gasped.

Megrozen said, "Maker! Commander, you cannot be serious!"

Sukhana added with alarm, "We cannot afford such garments, Commander! Milady must know that!"

Feteran's grin was wide. "You shall not be paying for anything Master Korond supplies, ladies. You were invited by the Baroness, she will provide."

Michet was looking at the sign with wide eyes but it was Terpet who asked, "Mistress Megrozen, who or what is Korond?"

Megrozen explained to the younger woman, "Why, he is one of the foremost designers of gowns in all Palarand, Terpet! He has Duchesses and Countesses on his register and provides a very discreet service, so I have heard. Of course, being so far away we have mostly rumor of his abilities but those women of Tranidor who have chanced to come to the capital speak highly of him."

Sukhana added, "Master Tanon supplies cloth for Master Korond and I have seen some of the fine silk he buys. If Lady Garia is willing to provide, ladies, then we must enter at once!" She stopped and turned to Feteran, suddenly uncertain. "What is it that Lady Garia offers us, Commander?"

"For today, it is thought that your present attire will be sufficient," he held up a hand at the beginnings of protests. "However, if Master Korond has some spare garment he deems more appropriate for any of you, he may offer to loan it to you for today. Today's visit is to measure you for gowns to be worn tomorrow, when Milady's people will be wed, and also the next day when she will wed the Prince herself. Those gowns will be Milady's gift to you, as mementoes, to keep for yourselves when you return to Blackstone."

He opened the door and ushered the stunned women through. Waiting inside for the women was the proprietor, a small man who bustled forward to bow to the female group. He eyed Feteran and Bleskin with interest.

Feteran said, "Master Korond, these are the ladies Lady Garia spoke of. Oh, and this is my father, Captain Bleskin, formerly of His Majesty's Palace Guard. If you are content, we will await the ladies outside."

Korond bowed again. "Of course, I know of Captain Bleskin, Commander, though we have not been introduced before. All Palarand owes you great respect, Captain. Your ladies will be safe in my hands, I deem. With six to measure and choose it will take some little time but today, as it is Spring Dawning, I have nothing else to do but attend Milady's commands before I may join the celebrations."

"Then we will take our leave of you, that you may finish sooner."

As Feteran and Bleskin left the shop six seamstresses entered the room from the rear, tape measures in hand. Bleskin closed the door behind himself with a sigh of relief.

"Pleasant enough company, I deem, but they do talk a lot."

"Father?"

"I have been seven days on the road with them, Fet, and they did not cease their chatter the entire journey! I do not object to the lilt of a woman's voice, but six and something new around every corner... Sookie, Megrozen and Em, ah, Michet have been to Palarand before but the others were visitors for the first time. Everything had to be explained and examined and discussed until the next wonder appeared... do you understand why I must needs beat a hasty retreat from a gown-maker's parlor?"

Feteran smiled. "Aye, Father, I do, and I am as glad to be outside as you are."

"How is it you came by this duty, then? I would think that the Baroness herself would have conducted the ladies here."

"Ah, father, it is the first day of her Call." Bleskin winced. "Though she will manage the rest of the day, she thought it wiser to begin the day slowly in order to adjust."

Bleskin raised an eyebrow. "And she marrying the Prince in two days? Does he know?"

"Aye, father, it has been discussed, among a great many other subjects." Feteran looked uncomfortable. "There is much that will be unusual about the next month or so, and I regret I cannot tell you most of it."

"Ah? Well, I am no longer the King's Captain so I should no longer expect to know the secrets of his family, should I? I doubt not you will tell me what I need to know, son."

"As you say, father."

"So, while we wait, tell me about this ball you went to. I have read the letters, of course, but the eye always sees more than can be written."

"Aye, father. Well, as I explained, this was the ball given by the City Assembly in honor of Prince Keren and Lady Garia, to give them -"

Feteran explained what had transpired, assisted by the memories of the armsmen who waited outside with them. They were still discussing the finer points of the melee when the door opened and the six ladies emerged again, all chattering away.

"Did you see that sky-blue silk gown with the lace ruffles?" Terpet gushed. "Such a clever idea! I wish I had crowns for such a garment but I would never dare wear it anywhere, for fear of damaging it."

"True," Megrozen agreed, "but you could only ever wear it to the palace, I deem. I was more taken with Master Korond's more practical outfits, like that riding skirt and jacket in the darker blue. Sookie, what did you think?"

"It was very nice, wasn't it?" Sukhana said. "Not practical for riding around Blackstone, of course. I deem it would be worn by the city ladies to be seen and admired as they progress through the streets. For proper riding at home we require more sturdy attire, able to withstand dust and wear and be easy to wash." She shrugged. "Such is the life when one lives at the end of the land. Doubtless one day Blackstone will be as fine as Palarand itself but until then..."

"Aye. We are too remote for such fancies, at least for now." Megrozen thought, then turned to Michet. "Tell me, Em, did you see those skirts with the box pleats? I noticed Milady wearing such a garment when she arrived last night. Such a fascinating idea, with the contrasting inserts!"

"As you say, Megrozen. From what I have learned, the skirt that Milady wore is a part of the dress uniform for His Majesty's guardswomen. I was not able to examine the uniform which Milady and Her Highness wore last night closely but perhaps we will have a better view today."

"But My Lady and that Princess were both wearing such uniforms," noted Yanda. "Are they then of the Palace Guard? This all seems strange to me."

"Ladies!" Bleskin's parade ground tones brought an abrupt end to the torrent of words. "If you will observe yonder, you will notice the rest of our party approaching. I suggest we join them at Blackstone House immediately." He considered, then added as the group stepped off the sidewalk to cross the street, "Ahem! Of course, Lady Garia holds an honorary commission as Quadrant of the Guard, which entitles her to wear the King's colors. Having seen what she is capable of leaves me in no doubt as to her right to wear them. Her Highness Princess Eriana holds a commission in her own right as Captain, by reason of her attack on Boldan's Rock, which is why she was also attired thus."

"Boldan's Rock?" Michet was astonished. "I have seen Boldan's Rock, Captain, during my time with His Majesty's armies. The Princess attacked the fortress? How is this possible?"

"I know only the bare details, Em. If there is time then doubtless someone in the palace, with more information than Milady's letters have informed me, can tell you what happened. It was a stunning victory, so I am told, which may have changed the course of the campaign completely."

"Do you tell me? Then I must learn more, Captain. I'm sure you will understand that I have a particular reason for learning about women who have taken arms for His Majesty."

By now the two parties had reached the carriage entrance of Blackstone House and combined, exchanging greetings. Entering the courtyard they discovered a crowd of people waiting ready, with a line of carriages and wagons behind in the entrance to the warehouse area. Garia was there and came forward to greet the newcomers who bowed and curtseyed to her.

"Welcome, all my friends from Blackstone! I am pleased that you can join us for House Blackstone's first ever Spring Dawning celebration in the city. Captain, I'm pleased to see you again and I hope that visiting the capital doesn't upset you too much."

"My Lady, thank you for your concern. The city holds many memories for me, it is true, but there is nothing here that will cause me distress, I deem."

"I'm relieved to hear that. Um, I hope we'll be able to get together sometime later so that I can have your formal report, Captain, but for now, let's just relax and enjoy ourselves." Garia turned. "Master Brydas, welcome! And Sookie! I trust that you're both well?"

Brydas replied for both of them, "Indeed, Milady, and looking forward to several weddings."

Garia grinned. "Including your own, I'll bet! Master Yarling, welcome. I'll have a few words with you as we walk and then we can talk some more at the palace."

Yarling bowed. "As you desire, Guildmistress. Sometimes it is good to be away from the noise and dust, I deem."

Garia raised an eyebrow. "That wasn't what you said when we first met, was it? Of course, you didn't know then what you know now."

Yarling smiled. "As you say, Guildmistress. If I had known then what I know now..." He gave a rueful shrug, "But you do not see me complaining, Guildmistress. I am busier than I have ever been, and the work gives me great satisfaction."

He stood back as Garia turned to greet the others.

"Mistress Megrozen and Mistress... Michet? Have I got that right?"

Both women curtseyed. "Aye, Milady." Michet added, "The name seemed strange to me at first, though I know who I am now."

"Yes, you're not the only one who has had to change their name recently. Mistress Yanda? I assume my Sheriff is keeping the peace in Blackstone?"

"Aye, Milady. Doubtless the Captain has written you concerning such matters."

"And the Bell?"

"Busier than ever, Milady. Between Sookie and myself... ah, I mean Mistress Sukhana, of course, we strive to find beds for all, though it is a losing battle."

"You'd rather be busy than otherwise, wouldn't you?"

"Of course, Milady."

"I don't know the rest of you," Garia said to the remaining travelers.

The middle-aged woman curtseyed. "I am Terpet, My Lady. My husband is a carpenter in the town."

"Oh, yes, I remember, we met last night."

"Aye, My Lady. I must thank you for the fine gowns that Master Korond will provide us, I never imagined such a thing would happen to those from so remote a place as Blackstone."

Garia studied the woman, noting the tinge of embarrassment. "Don't be upset, please. I'm not providing gowns because you're from a poor town a long way away and I think that you'll make me look bad, or anything like that. I've been to Blackstone and I know the kind of clothes that country folk wear. That's fine, and I wouldn't expect you to have fancy gowns or anything like that, you just don't need them in Blackstone, it wouldn't be practical. Think of the gowns instead as gifts from me to remember your visit to Palarand."

Terpet curtseyed again. "Thank you, My Lady. I wasn't sure... but you do understand."

"I do. It has been hard for me, too, trying to figure everything out, because they don't wear clothes like this at all where I come from. It's taken me some time to work out who wears what and under what circumstances."

A young man stepped forward and bowed. "I am Ladis, My Lady, a signaller in the semaphore station at Blackstone."

Garia smiled at him. "Are you finding it interesting work?"

"I am astonished, Milady, that such a thing is possible! To have a message, sent by the King himself the very same day, pass through my hands... such a wondrous thing!" He swiftly added, "Of course, we would not allow such details to be known by anyone who the message is not addressed to."

Bleskin coughed, then added, "Indeed, Milady. I have heard that certain persons were found to be reading the messages and using the information to make their own profit. That does not happen anywhere on your lands, I can guarantee it."

Garia shook her head. "No, I heard that too. I believe that the whole system is to be integrated with the Valley Messenger Service, especially now that we are extending it to other countries. That means that their rules and regulations will have to cover semaphore signals as well, once the details are sorted out."

"Extending it to other countries, Milady?"

"That's right... uh, Ladis, was it? It was always an option for the future but the fact everyone went to war kinda speeded things up. We've only plans to go as far as Brugan and Plif this year, so I wouldn't worry too much about it."

Ladis bobbed his head. "Thank you, Milady."

The next man bobbed his head. "Goodman Holgate, My Lady. You may remember my face from when you first went to see the Stone Sea. At that time my family and I lived in the holding at the foot of the track leading up to the Sea."

"I'm sorry, Goodman Holgate," Garia replied. "I probably did see you, but of course I have met so many people since that day and there are just too many faces for me to remember them all."

"I understand, My Lady. I did not expect anything more."

"You said that at that time you lived in that holding..? Don't you still live there?"

Bleskin interrupted to supply an answer. "Milady, you suggested to us that the stone of the Sea could be of use to us as building materials, and so we are making a roadway from the floor of Bray Vale all the way up to the Stone Sea. That road must needs pass near the house of Goodman Holgate and it was not difficult to persuade him that a more suitable home could be found for him and his family nearer town."

"Ah, I see. Thank you, Captain, and thank you, Goodman Holgate. I hope you enjoy your visit to the capital."

The last man bowed. "My Lady, I am Goodman Linan. I am a woodsman from Tamitil, which is a small village near the southern border of your lands." He gestured. "My cousin Mistress Brogla is a cook for those who use the Brayview road house."

"Welcome to Palarand, both of you. I must admit that I never expected to end up having all those lands when I started my journey to Blackstone. I hope you are all being well looked after?"

"We have no complaints, Milady, except perhaps there is enough work for twice the staff since the numbers of wagons has increased so much. Who would have thought that a sleepy place like Blackstone would become so important?"

"Well, I certainly didn't! Enjoy your visit, both of you."

After everyone bowed and curtseyed again Garia climbed the steps to address the crowd.

"It is customary for everybody to walk to the Shevesty Field in their Houses but as usual we have carriages for those who can't walk all the way or at all. I am told the pace will not be very fast so everyone should be able to keep up. We have food in the wagons for our lunch, which I'm afraid won't be all that exciting bearing in mind the time of year, but should be enough to feed everyone.

"After the ceremony those from Blackstone House will return here and our visitors will return to the Hotel. I'll join our visitors this afternoon and for their evening meal. That will give me a chance to talk to them and to tell them what will happen during the next few days. Any questions?"

Bleskin asked, "Milady, last night you said that the ceremony might be different."

"It's because of all the rulers, Captain. Both they - and we, for different reasons - have to travel round with fairly large escorts, so once we get to the field we'll be separated from our people by armsmen." She grimaced. "I know the King hates that idea but until we can be sure that there's nobody going to attack us, we have to be careful."

Bleskin nodded. "As you say, Milady. I remember the last ceremony you attended at the Shevesty Field."

"Yes." Garia's grin was crooked. "We were such innocents then, weren't we?" She looked around the courtyard. "Feteran? Gullbrand? Everybody here? Let's go, then."

* * *

Crowds were already streaming into the huge oval arena known locally as the Shevesty Field. Most were organized files following the standard of the local noble who governed them, but there were plenty of unattached individuals and indeed families who owed allegiance to no-one but the King. The population of Palarand had grown too large for the strict divisions of older times.

Feteran angled their procession through the growing mass toward his left-hand side, where a space had been reserved for Garia's retainers on the sloped bank which surrounded the playing field. Garia suddenly realized that the arena was what was left of a Chivan amphitheater modeled on the original Roman style, now buried under ages of decay and a covering of cropped grass.

At one end a light sideless pavilion had been set up, and her escort, accompanied by Bleskin, Lanilla and Merizel, led her in that direction once her people had been settled. Garia recognized many of the rulers who had come to the city to observe her wedding, together with several palace officials, but Robanar and his family had not yet arrived. She and Eriana joined the rulers who had already arrived and exchanged greetings. Some of Garia's young noble friends were there and she spoke to them while they waited.

Merek was already there, managing the security of the event, and Bleskin approached him and gave him a salute. The two then clasped arms and that evolved into a comradely hug.

"You look well, Captain," Merek remarked to his predecessor.

"Aye, Captain," Bleskin replied with a smile. "Milady has saved me from a lonely fate, I deem. Aye, I have relatives and old friends enough in the north but I would be merely a burden on them if not for the honor which Milady bestowed upon me." He smoothed the graying hair on his head. "Mind, as her Steward the job is no sinecure, I may tell you! Why, Blackstone is a ferment of ideas and activities! I am relieved to find I have a willing Quadrant of helpers, both young and old, to assist me in my duties."

"Do you tell me? Of course, we hear much of what transpires, through Milady's reports, but I cannot imagine what they are doing in so remote a place!"

"As you say! Well, let me tell you -"

As Bleskin took Merek's arm and led him off to continue their talk, Eriana found herself accosted by Torulf, with Vilken close behind the Prince.

«Will you not reconsider, sister? The wrath of our father will be very great if you do not return with me.»

Behind, unobserved, an officer in blue and white stiffened, then leaned forward to catch the conversation.

«That is no longer my problem,» Eriana replied with a sniff. «I have given my oath to the King of Palarand and that is final.»

«But, Eriana -»

«Stop whining! What kind of a King do you think you will make, if this is the way you behave! We will talk later, this is not the time or place for a family argument. Now I have duties I must attend, if you would excuse me.»

Eriana turned and headed for the other side of the pavilion.

Vilken hissed at Torulf, «She will not change her mind, Highness! We must change it for her.»

«What can I do?» Torulf whined. «She has given her oath, and she is protected by large numbers of well-trained troops! I do not see any way she can be made to return.»

«We have time, Highness. These people will be occupied several days with festivals and weddings, perhaps something can be arranged to happen during the confusion which always attends such events.»

Their conversation was cut short by the appearance of Robanar, Terys, Keren, Jarith and Malann. Keren immediately searched out Garia, came to her and gave her a hug.

"All safe?"

"Of course, Keren. Why shouldn't it be?"

"Oh, nothing -"

A glare from Terys made Keren shut up and the royal family, plus Garia, congregated at the center of the row of rulers and senior nobles lining the front of the pavilion. The priest and his two assistants appeared and presented themselves to Robanar before turning towards the huge crowd which now filled every possible vantage point. The crowd quietened, waiting the customary signal which soon came. The bells of the nearest clock struck noon, followed by the sequence which indicated five, the middle of a day of exactly ten bells.

"The Maker made the world, and the Sun, the moons and the stars above. The Maker made the plants and creatures within the world including ourselves. We do not know the Maker's purpose, and we do not know if the Maker has ever visited the world since it was made. All we know is that the world is the Maker's creation, not ours, and we have a responsibility to live in the world in such a way that it is kept as the Maker may have originally intended."

Garia now had a new perspective of the matters the priest was reciting from faith. The Maker himself - or herself, or even itself - may or may not have visited the world since it had been created, but there were many other beings who had. She had met some of these, and was perhaps about to become one of those beings herself, if time and circumstances permitted.

"Today is the day when day becomes equal to night. From now on there will be more light for all to tend the soil and the animals who live on it, to provide the food for the coming harvest. We gather together to affirm -"

There was a disturbance off to Garia's right, and she turned at the noise to look behind the line of rulers. A dusty Messenger had entered the pavilion from the rear and presented a letter to Merek. The Captain broke the seals on the enclosure and read the sheet of parchment enclosed, his expression changing to one of shock. He bent his head and there was a hurried conversation, after which the messenger withdrew.

Merek made his way forward and tapped Robanar's upper arm. Robanar turned, irritated at the interruption, but Merek whispered something in his ear and the King's expression changed as well, from surprise to thoughtfulness to contentment. He waved off Merek and resumed his position attending the ceremony. Garia turned as well, wondering what fresh problem now faced them.

The priest turned towards the King. "Sire, is it your will that we take lunch together?"

Robanar inclined his head. "Aye, it is." He raised his voice, addressing the crowd. "On this occasion, as all know, we eat the food which we provide for ourselves, food we have reserved after winter, perhaps the first fresh produce of the new year, and so it is with each household. Though we do so, we acknowledge that many may not have sufficient, and so we ask their neighbors today to ensure than none may go hungry."

There was a murmur among the crowd and some began opening their bags to begin eating, but Robanar raised his voice again.

"My people! Before we begin, you will all have noticed that we break custom today. There are strange faces with me and, I regret, armsmen separate us from you today. Those you see here are friends, rulers from many of the countries which make up our Great Valley, come here to attend our son's wedding, and there are even representatives from places beyond the Valley. You all know we are at war and there have been several incidents within our great city, resulting in injuries and loss of life. I trust it will not be necessary for your King to be separated from his people at future celebrations."

He continued, "I have further news, it seems, news which has reached me at this very moment, news which will ease the hearts of every woman whose husband, brother or son has gone to fight those of Yod. Yod has fallen."

There was a brief gasp of shock from the crowd, followed by dead silence, as everyone strove to catch the King's words.

"You may or may not know that Yod had invaded two countries further upriver as well as Ferenis. It seems that, having heard of the efforts of our men, the peoples of those subject lands rebelled against their conquerors and begun to drive them from their lands, just as our armies have done in Ferenis. Now some of the subject peoples of Yod itself have turned on their masters and a civil war has erupted. Faced with opposition from all sides, the armies of Yod have pleaded mercy and surrendered to our forces. The war is finished."

A cheer erupted from the crowd which spread as news traveled through the crowd, to those who could not hear Robanar's words directly. After a while things quietened enough that Robanar could speak again.

"My people! This festival thus becomes one of thanksgiving. I caution you, we do not have all the details, and so I tell you that your loved ones may not return immediately. But there is no more threat of war, nor any longer of attack closer to home. Sit now, and join us in a lunch of celebration. Then we must return to the work which the longer days of spring and summer lend us to provide food, clothing and shelter for the coming year."

There were no tables or benches as at the previous Festival Garia had attended. Everyone simply sat cross-legged on blankets or spreads which had been stretched on the ground. Food was placed on platters in the center of each group of sitters and eaten in the hand. Of course, this being the Royal pavilion, there were still attendants to ensure that everything ran smoothly and that everyone was sufficiently fed.

Keren leaned over to speak to Garia. "You'll notice that this is a simpler meal than the Harvest Festival."

"As you say."

"It is intended to be more like the meal a working man would take at lunchtime, rather than a feast once everything had been gathered in before the rains. Most of the ordinary people will be nearing the end of last year's stocks so we don't attempt to embarrass them by bringing out the fancy foods we might eat in the palace."

"Ah, I see. That makes sense."

"Everybody knows that we could eat better, of course, but they all appreciate that my father makes the effort to respect their own limitations. I intend to keep doing this when I am King, but," his brow furrowed, "I am not sure that the population of the city will fit in this field for much longer. We are growing too fast."

"Yes. You simply can't go on having everyone get together in the same field, can you? As Palarand grows that will become impossible."

"Another field, perhaps? Out in the country?"

Garia shook her head, thinking of coverage of papal visits to remote countries. "It is possible, for exceptional occasions, but it isn't something I think you ought to be considering. Maybe this is one time a custom needs to be looked at carefully."

"Oh. I keep forgetting the incredible numbers of people you say there are in Earth countries. You have solutions, perhaps?"

"Maybe. Maybe there are other ways to do things that achieve the same ends."

"What do you mean? Surely you must needs -" Keren broke off. "I forget. I see a simple problem but of course Earth will have faced such problems long ago. Doubtless your answer will involve some strange machine which will surprise us all."

Garia chuckled. "Maybe and maybe not, Keren. Not everything on Earth needs strange machinery, as it happens. You just need to look at some problems a different way, that's all. Leave it for now. I'll get Merry to add it to the list."

There was wine to drink with their meals but Garia's stomach was delicate enough that she stuck with water. There were meats, cheeses, bread, dried fruits and a little fresh salad greens, enough for an organized picnic among a crowd.

Garia hadn't managed to arrange a specific meeting with the other young nobles so they talked in low tones while they ate, bringing each other up to date with recent events and speculating what the end of the war would mean. Of course, the major interest among the females present was the upcoming weddings.

Soon enough the food had been consumed and the meal was at an end. Robanar and the other rulers sat in a circle intently discussing matters of mutual interest until Kendar leaned forward and told him that most people in the crowd had now finished. The King stood, followed by everyone else in the pavilion, and he made his way again to the front to address the people.

"My people! We have once again come together to celebrate the beginning of a new year of production. This year we are so many that we overflow the field. I can remember a time when the whole city fit comfortably inside it but that was some few years ago. It may be that we must needs find some other way to mark Spring Dawning in future but for today, we do as our fathers and forefathers have done. Thank you for coming today. It shows that our city is still one large family, able to call upon each other in times of need."

"As you all know my son will wed Baroness Garia of Blackstone in two days time. Since she did not wish her own wedding to overshadow that of several of her retainers, we have graciously arranged for them to have their own marriages first. Tomorrow, then, in the Receiving Room in the palace, a number of servants and retainers of Lady Garia and of our own palace staff will be joined together. On the day after, we shall all meet here again to celebrate the marriage of Prince Keren to Palarand's next Queen. We look forward to greeting you here once more."

Robanar looked around the crowd and then around the pavilion, calculating. It didn't take him long to reach a decision.

"Merek! The Queen and I will walk through the crowd as we have done in previous years. I do not consider it wise that any of our guests should join us, so you may arrange for them to return to the palace as soon as they desire."

Merek considered briefly, then nodded. "Do you wish an escort, Sire?"

"Four men only, I deem - no, make that two men and two women, if you would. The crowd is too great for a larger number and we are not in danger from our own people."

Garia felt Keren's hand on her arm and she turned to look at him.

"We should stay a little, Garia," he said. "I understand my father's reasoning but I want to watch how he does it. One day this will be my responsibility." He thought. "What are you doing afterward? Going back to the mansion?"

"I'm going to the Hotel with all those who came from Blackstone, actually. We'll spend the afternoon talking and then eat the evening meal together. You?"

"Looks like father wants to spend some time talking about the Yodan surrender. I think I'll be involved and so will Eriana, since she has been that far upriver."

Garia nodded. "Makes sense. See you tomorrow, then? I'm bringing those of Blackstone to the palace in the morning for a look round, then we'll have lunch and be ready for the ceremonies in the afternoon."

"As you say." He smiled. "Then it will be time for our own oaths of joining."

She shivered with a glow of anticipation. "I can't wait."

~o~O~o~

The audience in the Receiving Room the following afternoon was small but very select. On one side sat all the rulers who had come to Palarand with their partners and children if any. On the other side sat the party from Blackstone and a number of local relatives and friends of those who were to be married. At the head on their thrones sat Robanar and Terys with Gilbanar and Vivenne beside the King and Garia and Keren beside the Queen. All wore their 'normal' regalia as opposed to their heavily-ornamented ceremonial crowns, coronets and symbols of rank. The other senior nobles, plus their children, sat either side on more ordinary chairs.

In front of the King stood the priest. He bowed to Robanar.

"Sire, is it your wish that we may proceed?"

Robanar gestured. "Aye, it is. This afternoon we have seven to marry, Parissan. You may continue."

The priest turned and made his own signal to Kendar, who was standing by the double doors. Kendar banged his staff.

"Would Mistress Jenet stand forth before the King!"

There was a commotion and then Jenet entered, resplendent in her gown. This was the garment made for her to attend Garia's wedding, and it would normally be used in this way after the wedding of her liege but today the order had been reversed. The gown was of pale blue, long and of a similar but plainer design to that which Garia would wear. On Jenet's head was the customary silk cap wound round with a garland of spring flowers and she and her two attendants, Geska and Odgarda, carried posies of similar flowers.

Jenet walked to the center of the room and then stopped.

The priest asked, "Who speaks for this woman?"

From behind him, Terys answered, "I do."

The priest turned and bowed to Terys, then said to Jenet, "Advance, if you would."

When Jenet reached the priest he asked her, "Do you enter this marriage of your own free will?"

"Father, I do."

"Does your liege lord consent to this marriage?"

"Father, my liege lady, Baroness Garia, has consented to this marriage."

The priest blushed. "My apologies, Mistress." He turned to find Garia. "My Lady, my apologies. Do you confirm the marriage of your vassal Jenet?"

"Father, I do."

The priest bowed and then faced the audience again. "Who seeks to marry this woman?"

From where he had been sitting, at the side, Feteran stood up, dressed in his best uniform in Blackstone colors. "Father, I am Feteran. It is my desire to marry Jenet."

"Then advance and stand beside your bride."

Feteran walked forward and stood at Jenet's right side. The priest asked him, "Do you enter this marriage of your own free will?"

"Father, I do."

"Does your liege lord or lady consent to this marriage?"

"Father, my liege lady, Baroness Garia, has consented to this marriage."

The priest turned to Garia again. "My Lady, do you confirm the marriage of your armsman Feteran?"

"Father, I do."

The priest nodded to Garia and then addressed the whole room.

"In order to follow what we believe to be the Maker's plan, it is desirable that men and women should be legally joined for the raising of the next generation. These two who stand before me now desire such a union. Shall any here object?"

There was a short silence in the room.

"Then let us begin. Feteran, do you confirm your desire to be joined to Jenet?"

"Father, I do."

"Jenet, do you confirm your desire to be joined to Feteran?"

"Father, I do."

"I must ask if you both understand that your joining may be dissolved at any time by mutual consent, unless you bring forth or are otherwise possessed of children. Once you are possessed of children, then you must needs remain together until the youngest of them becomes an adult. Do you understand?"

"Aye, Father, I do."

Jenet blushed at the mention of children. "Father, I do."

"Feteran, shall you look after Jenet always, provide her with a home, keep her whether you are rich or poor, attend her if she be well or ill, cherish her all her days?"

"Father, I shall."

Behind the priest, Garia said formally, "Heard and witnessed."

"Jenet, shall you look after Feteran always, keep his home, serve him truly whether you are rich or poor, attend him if he be ill or well, cherish him all your days?"

"Father, I shall."

Garia again said, "Heard and witnessed."

"Do you have tokens to exchange to seal your joining?"

"Father, we do."

Feteran dug in his belt pouch, pulled out a small silk purse and shook from it two gold rings into the priest's hand. Parissan looked at the rings, guessed which one was which and handed one each to Feteran and Jenet.

"Repeat after me, if you would: 'With this ring I pledge myself to you.'"

Each repeated the pledge and then place the rings on each other's ring finger. Parissan smiled, took Feteran and Jenet by the shoulder and turned them to face each other.

"Then by the Maker's Grace and the laws of Palarand, from this moment you shall be accounted husband and wife."

Robanar stood, followed by everyone else in the room, and the applause began as Feteran gently gathered Jenet to him and kissed her.

There was a lectern with a parchment to sign, showing the legal basis for the marriage. The only item of note to make this document different than most others were the list of witnesses. These numbered Counts, Dukes, grand Dukes and even Princes, a King and a Queen. Kendar took this document and gave it to a clerk to be added to the palace archives while a simple certificate was also made out to give to the couple.

Garia joined them as they were surrounded by well-wishers, which in their case included most of those present.

"I'm sorry," she said. "I wish I could let you have some time together but the next few days will be somewhat busy, won't they? Perhaps once we get to Dekarran you can relax and enjoy yourselves."

"We serve you, My Lady," Feteran said simply. "Our marriage will not change that."

Garia raised an eyebrow. "You think it will be that simple? I'm not so sure."

"Milady?" That was Kendar at her elbow. "If I may ask you all to return to your seats. We have other weddings to conduct."

"Of course, Kendar. Feteran, if you would like to take your wife to the side..."

Her commander smiled. "With pleasure, My Lady."

The audience dispersed to their seats and the room became quiet once more. Kendar banged his staff.

"Would Guildswoman Milsy stand before the King!"

Milsy's gown was a silvery gray. Her wedding to Tarvan followed the same pattern, except that Vivenne "spoke for Milsy" and the witnesses, apart from Garia as Liege to both parties, were Guildmaster Parrel and Master of the Guild Hall Hurdin.

Kendar banged his staff for the third time.

"Would Mistress Senidet stand before the King!"

As Senidet was only a Journeywoman she could not be addressed as Guildswoman so bore the courtesy title of Mistress. Once married to Tedenis her own rank would depend on his, unless she rose in the Guild ranks at a faster rate than he rose through the ranks of Garia's armsmen. Her gown was a pale violet.

"Who speaks for this woman?"

Brydas, wearing new tunic and hose, rose from his seat among the Blackstone contingent.

"Father, I do. I am Brydas, Blackstone's smith and father to Senidet. I have raised her alone since her mother died these eight years since."

The priest bowed his head briefly towards Brydas. "A difficult task for any man." To Senidet, "Advance, Mistress, if you would."

"Who seeks to marry this woman?"

Tedenis, in a new dress uniform of Blackstone green-on-green, stood up.

"Father, I am Tedenis. It is my desire to marry Senidet."

"Then advance and stand beside your bride."

The ceremony progressed to the inevitable conclusion and Garia relaxed. She had realized that this day's event's were a valuable rehearsal for what would happen tomorrow. It was, of course, not possible to rehearse tomorrow's grand events at all, but at least today she could see what would happen and what responses were required, by whom, and when.

She was also thoroughly delighted at the happiness of her friends. Now that her retainers had wed their partners, she could sit back and watch the other weddings, all of which were of retainers of the King and Queen.

The wedding feast was held in the family dining room, presided over by the Queen. The King, of course, presided over the Receiving Room which contained all the visiting rulers and their families. Those who had married that day sat at the center table with Terys and she made sure to speak to each and every person there, showing her reputation for personal attention.

Garia sat on one of the other tables and spent most of the meal speaking to Haflin and Parrel about various matters. Recent days had just become too busy to snatch more than a short conversation with anyone and it would only become worse in the day or two ahead.

"These trusses you gave us, Milady," Parrel said. "Korfen had an idea after speaking to Fulvin, of all people. You know how Fulvin now extols the virtues of vertical presses for making almost everything?"

"Aye," Garia smiled back at Parrel. "He has just casually mentioned the matter once or twice, I believe."

Parrel snorted. "More than once or twice, I deem! To my point, it seems that a kind of kit for making trusses has been invented. It involves castings for the joining points and pipes for the struts, which are flattened each end to take a bolt at the joint."

Garia thought. "I believe we call that kind of structure pre-fabricated on Earth, Master Parrel. What are you planning to do with these trusses, if I may ask?"

"Korfen plans two sizes at present, Milady, one with long, thin struts which may perhaps be used for roofing and a much larger variety which was planned for temporary bridges to be used for the war." Parrel shrugged. "Of course the war has now ended so he is wondering what to do with the larger size."

Garia concentrated. "We had bridges made like that, also originally for a war, I believe. We called them Bailey Bridges. I might be able to find the time to make a drawing for you -"

"Please, Milady, after tomorrow you will have far too much to think about! Do not concern yourself. You yourself said that we might find a better way to do something than Earth did, did you not?"

Garia nodded. "That's true, but... Okay, you're right. Let's talk about something else, then. Master Haflin, what about those experiments of yours with welded armor?"

* * *

"Hssst!"

Garia's brain was confused. Why would a dranakh make a noise like a steam engine?

"Hssst!"

"Unh?"

As she struggled awake a small hand clamped itself firmly over her mouth. Garia didn't worry, since she recognized that it was one of the children at the mansion. But why? She became instantly awake and turned her head, looking for whoever was there. The hand was removed and a voice, which still had an Einnland accent, whispered in her ear.

"Milady. Bad man."

Heliga. Garia's eyes opened and she made out the girl standing in the dim light. At the foot of the bed, Lanilla still slumbered. Jenet was, of course, in her marital bed along the corridor with her new husband. Garia reached out a hand and touched Heliga's arm, intending to reassure her, and then swung silently out of bed.

Her first thought were her swords, resting ready on top of one of the several chests in her bed-chamber. Before she could take a step, however, there was a flash and a loud thump from along the corridor. This was followed by a clatter and then a longer thump. Realizing instantly what had happened she immediately abandoned the swords and made for the door in her night-gown. As she reached the corridor several other people appeared including a half-asleep Feteran.

One end of the corridor was full of dispersing smoke so everybody headed that way. Feteran caught up with Garia.

"Milady!" he hissed.

"I know, Fet," she muttered back, "but that was a gunshot."

"Let me go first, then."

Garia forbore to point out that his nightshirt was no more protection than her nightgown and that almost nobody who had come into the corridor was armed. She allowed him to go first, however, and he stopped and gestured at the door to the other large guest bedroom.

Eriana!

Garia reached the doorway to see, by the light of a lamp one of the roused sleepers carried, a scene that she would long remember. Eriana stood, in her nightgown, at the foot of her bed, looking only half awake. In her lowered right hand a Personal Pistol still smoked. At her feet lay a bloody knife, beside it a body, the blood welling from it over the carpet of the bedroom.



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