Somewhere Else Entirely -136-

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Several of the invited guests have to depart but it seems the rest wish to clarify their ideas. Eventually, Garia and Keren leave to travel north to Dekarran before the other guests follow. Along the way they remember previous journeys along this important highway.

Somewhere Else Entirely

by Penny Lane

136 - Departures and Memories

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.



The line of rulers and visiting dignitaries took turns to shake the hands of those leaving. Shabreth came first.

"Thank you, Robanar," he said when he reached his host. "I regret we must leave so soon but I only expected to attend a wedding this time. I have discovered, to my amazement, something almost as important as that cute young woman who will sit the throne beside your son. I'll be back whenever you have a treaty to sign."

"Thank you, Shabreth, for coming," Robanar replied. "We are neighbors, after all, and we have many common interests. I'll be sending a team to Simbek to discuss the semaphore extension and several other matters of interest. First, though," he rolled his eyes, "we have a Confederation to design."

"Aye, brother. I know you will keep me informed of progress." He leaned forward so that only Robanar could hear his next words. "At least I won't have to put up with Torulf on the way back. I hope you can do something for him or he'll get into trouble all by himself."

Robanar grinned. "I have my best team on the project, Shabreth. We shall not fail you. Are you happy taking his men back?"

"Aye, if they will be removing those two ships of theirs from my lands as a result. I have your letters to Embrikt and I will add one of my own, I think. Something tells me we will have more of these hairy men landing on our shores in future years."

"Indeed, and it is possible there may be trade with them in the future, if Garia's idea proves to be true."

"Aye? Well, I would rather trade with them than fight them, I deem. So. I must go, it seems. Luann appears to be getting impatient."

Robanar looked at Duchess Luann, Mariswin's sister, sitting in the carriage and felt the presence of his own wife standing next to him.

"I can offer no remedy," he said diplomatically, "other than for you to join your wife, as is proper. Fare you well, Shabreth."

"Thank you again, brother. Until the next time, then."

Shabreth descended the steps and entered his carriage. Behind this stood an empty carriage which had previously brought Torulf and Vilken to Palarand, and behind that waited sixteen mounted Einnlanders. With a shout from one of the Duke's men, the procession moved off towards the gates. Another smaller procession, a single carriage surrounded by nine riders, pulled up to the steps.

"I must depart as well, Robanar," said Simbran. "I have a very long way to travel. I regret I cannot stay any longer, even thought the company is excellent and the conversation stimulating."

"Ah, for an unexpected arrival we have enjoyed your company, Simbran. As always, you are welcome to visit again whenever you can spare the time."

The two men grinned at each other, the opportunities for travel seemed to be getting rarer all the time.

"Aye, I'll agree to that, Robanar, and of course you will always be welcome in Faralmark should you travel so far."

Robanar's expression became serious. "Aye. There might be such need, if we are to administer Yod properly. I will of course keep in touch by letter, especially concerning the Confederation."

"Good."

Simbran nodded, then clasped Robanar in a warm embrace before bowing in front of Terys.

"Your Majesty. I will ensure your letters reach Stirmond as soon as possible. If any of your family pass by I will speak to them of you and your son and new daughter."

"Thank you, Simbran," Terys replied. "Maker grant you a safe passage."

He turned to Eriana. "Highness, I look forward to your visit later in the year. I will ensure that my men have charts of the upper parts of the Great Valley ready for you when you arrive."

Eriana bowed. "Thank you, Your Grace. May your journey be quick and peaceful."

Simbran grinned at her. "I came through the middle of a war to get here, Highness. My journey home must surely be more peaceful than that!"

He nodded to Robanar and Terys before stepping down to enter his carriage. With a shout, the carriage and escort jolted into movement and headed for the gates. Keren turned to Garia.

"'Tis a pity that some must leave so soon, just when we need our most agile brains to consider such weighty matters. Do you not agree?"

"Yes and no, Keren." He surreptitiously poked her in the thigh. "Ow. I'm making notes of all this abuse, you know! What I meant was, Simbran has gone but his land is far away and not so important to us right now. It's a shame that Shabreth has had to go as he's a neighbor, but on the other hand we are his only neighbor. It's more important that the others, who all have to live next to each other, are staying and coming with us to Dekarran."

Keren put his arm around Garia's waist, which immediately made her feel better.

"I'm sorry, you just use that expression all the time and it can be infuriating. I do understand what you mean, though. Some of them are delaying their returns just so we can make this right."

Garia resisted the strong desire to lean her head on his chest, as they were still standing in the line of rulers.

"True, but you know we aren't going to get it right the first time. Even the American Constitution has had to be amended any number of times over the years, as circumstances have changed."

"As you said last night, Garia. We can but do what is required of us. Now, shall we go inside? It may be Spring but I would be warmer."

"As you wish. It won't be long before lunch and there are some matters to see to before then."

"Then if you would lead the way."

* * *

Garia was in one of the front offices after lunch talking with Gullbrand when an unexpected visitor arrived.

"Your Highness." Jaxen bowed. "I trust I'm not interrupting anything important? I thought to pass by and see you before I left."

"Oh?" Then the intent of Jaxen's remarks caught up with her. "You're leaving! Are you going back up the pass?"

"I am, Highness, on my way to Moxgo." He looked at the expression on her face. "No, we are not the first of the caravans on the southern route this year, Master Tanon has already dispatched two along the usual trade routes to the south. The caravan I will lead, if I may call it such a thing, will attempt to discover the overland route to Einnland."

"Oh, yes, of course!" Garia remembered a conversation. "You're going to find that rubber bush Eriana talked about."

"Aye, and to discover if there is ought else which Einnland produces which may be of use to the rest of Alaesia."

"I fear you will not find much of consequence, Master Jaxen," Gullbrand observed. "We have entertained traders in the past and mainly sent them away empty-handed. Einnland is a land of survival, not of production and trading."

"You'd be surprised, Master Gullbrand," Jaxen replied. "Until Her Highness mentioned the stuff, we had no idea that this substance of hers existed in Einnland, or that there was a use for it. Who knows what else may be growing about your lands, lurking in your marshes or swimming in your seas, that you once thought of no account? I am to bring back samples of as much that I can find which is unusual, that we may test them here and see if they may be of use to any."

"Test them? What do you mean?"

Jaxen grinned. "I am just the wagonmaster, Master Gullbrand. The testing, whatever that may entail, will be done by His Majesty's Questors when I return. I doubt that either of us would understand what they intend to do." He turned to Garia. "Highness, I am also taking copies of the King's letters and His Highness Prince Torulf's letters, against the originals being lost at sea. With so many Einnlanders remaining in Palarand, Master Tanon wonders if a regular mail service may be a useful addition to his services."

"It's a thought," Garia replied, "but, remember, most of those who are staying are here because they would be considered traitors back home - like Gullbrand here. King Embrikt might not be pleased if there is regular correspondence between them and the people who were left behind."

"Actually, Highness," Gullbrand noted, "it may be worse than that. Most of our people can neither read nor write. Only those brought up in court or as family members of one of the nobles are literate in Einnland. Most of those who are now here are learning to read and write, of course, and that may only serve to aggravate their status to King Embrikt."

"Ow. I hadn't thought of that." She smiled at Jaxen. "I think that's going to be a no, then, at least for a few years. Perhaps if we can get a rubber trade going it may soften Embrikt a touch."

"As you say, Highness." He paused. "I'm taking the same crew that found you, Highness, and we intend to do a complete search of the area where we found you as we pass by. I'm assuming that if we find anything seeming made by man, they are likely to be yours and you would want them brought to the palace?"

Garia nodded. "If you wouldn't mind, Jaxen. As I said before, it is likely to be a bunch of keys and a cellphone - um, that would be a small black object about so big." She demonstrated with her fingers. "They've had a year out in the weather so I'm not expecting much but you might as well bring them back here."

"And you wish us to mark the spot with paint, Highness?"

Garia tried hard to keep her expression from showing her thoughts. Of course, when she and Jaxen had first discussed this point she hadn't met the Beings. Now she knew exactly how everything worked there was little point marking the spot, but she couldn't tell Jaxen that.

"Yes, please. It was only a long shot anyway but if you're going to be there, you might as well do it."

"As you desire, Highness." He smiled and bowed. "And with that, I must take my leave of you."

"You're not going far today, then?"

"Only as far as the Moxgo Junction roadhouse today, Highness. Tomorrow will be a long climb up to the Lookout and we must needs make an early start."

"Oh, yes of course. Farewell, then, I hope you all have a safe journey. Tell the men I'm thinking of them."

"You are as gracious as always, Highness."

Jaxen bowed again and made his way out. Gullbrand looked at Garia with curiosity.

"You were found in the mountains, Highness?"

"That's right. There's an old Chivan road which goes from here up and over the mountains to Moxgo. Master Tanon, Merina and Jaxen were returning to Palarand late last spring when -"

She recounted the first part of her adventure again to an interested Gullbrand.

"How did you get to that part of the mountains then, Highness? Can those who brought you fly?"

For someone brought up on sci-fi movies and TV the question was without meaning but Garia realized that these people had no tradition of space-travel stories, no idea of what 'other worlds' might mean, of teleportation or any of the standard transport devices used in such tales.

"That's kinda complicated, Gullbrand. When I said I came from another world, that means somewhere that is not part of Anmar. You can't get from one to the other by flying or any other way that you can think of. It's just -" she waved her hands in frustration, "- not a way that anyone can describe. I just appeared on that mountainside, out of nowhere, if you like."

Gullbrand considered this. "If you say so, Highness. If this is so, then perhaps my people came to Anmar in the same fashion?"

"That's what we're thinking, yes. But what happened with your people was that there must have been some kind of storm at sea and they were sort of shipwrecked, so that when they arrived it was just as if they'd washed up on an Earth shore. It was only later, when someone noticed the stars were different, that they realized they weren't on Earth any more."

Gullbrand nodded thoughtfully. "Ah, I see, Highness. If one was to come alone, then they must needs be found, is it not so? If many are to come, together, then it makes sense to give the seeming of a shipwreck on a coast which none might question directly."

"Yeah. I guess there's probably more to it but I think you get the idea, Gullbrand."

"As you say, Highness." Gullbrand looked at the repeater clock over the doorway. "If I may, perhaps we should consider returning to what we were discussing before the wagonmaster arrived. We have but three quarters of an hour before the evening meal and you must needs go prepare yourself soon."

Gullbrand always seemed more comfortable using the 24-hour clock, since that was the basis they used in Einnland. Garia nodded.

"You're right, we'd better. Now, about those repairs to the Hotel warehouse -"

* * *

At the meal table, Garia now customarily sat between Robanar and Keren, facing whoever the King desired to converse with that night. The seats for the guest of honor changed every meal, as usual, but Garia was now always seated to Keren's left, just as every wife was always seated to the left of her husband.

Since the entire day had been occupied with discussions concerning the new Confederation, whenever they weren't saying farewell to somebody, other subjects were chosen. This time Garia found herself justifying the building of the College complex to a skeptical Bardanar.

"You've seen all the new factories and workshops around the city, Your Grace," she said. "The people who work there will have to have a certain level of education in order to be useful to the system. The colleges are the places where they gain that education."

"Surely your Guild system supplies whatever Palarand might need?" he objected.

"A traditional Guild apprenticeship lasts five, six or seven years according to trade," Garia told him. "The apprentice learns only what his master can teach him, so advancement on knowledge and techniques occurs very slowly over the years. With what is to come that will be far too slow, Your Grace. We're inventing new things, having new ideas and learning new things about the world around us and we need to be able to teach all this quickly to the people who are going to make use of it all. The Guild method is good but it is too slow."

"If you say so, Highness."

"I do... let me think of an example, Your Grace. Take the Glassmaker's Guild. Because of all the new techniques they have learned the last year they have had to employ as many new people as were in the whole of the guild before last year. Some of those will go the traditional guild route, though quicker, and some of the rest will be taught by metalworkers and masons how to make the new foundries and glassworks. Those are the ones who will eventually be college graduates."

"Ah, I begin to understand, Highness."

Robanar grunted. "Something that Garia identified very quickly after her arrival was that the guilds rarely spoke to one another, and that few guildsman would consider collaborating with a Questor. Almost the first invention she provided for us, that of printing, required four or five guilds to co-operate in the construction and running of the first print and paper works. That example made it plain what must needs happen in future, and it was decided to combine all Palarand's guilds into a single Institute.

"The Questors of Palarand hold the knowledge of our lands and we have required them to teach of that knowledge to our young people, that they may spread the knowledge to all. To further their task they must collaborate with the new Institute in the running and direction of the colleges."

"A bold move, Robanar. I see it is not just a Confederation which occupies your thoughts."

"Aye, well, before the war with Yod the reconstruction of Palarand was our main concern. Garia has played a large part in that process, giving us examples and warnings from her own world."

"Do you tell me?" Chorvath remarked from further along the table. "Then I desire to learn more, Robanar. My own lands will likely require a similar change in years to come. Have we the time for such talks?"

Robanar shook his head. "Not here, Chorvath. Perhaps when we reach Dekarran."

"As you wish, Robanar. Will Princess Garia be joining us in Dekarran? I feel sure we will require more of her advice as we talk."

Terys leaned over and said, "Keren and Garia will be going to Dekarran, Chorvath. In fact, they will be departing before us, on the morrow, with Duke Gilbanar, who leaves to prepare the castle for the arrival of so many guests."

Robanar added, "When we travel north, regrettably, we must needs take so many people that our procession takes more than two days for the journey. For this occasion we must split our procession into three, that we may not strain our stopping places along the highway. Thus Gilbanar will travel first, with Keren and Garia, my brother to make ready his home for us and my son and his wife so that the people may see them as they travel."

Chorvath's eyes opened. "I had not considered the effect of so many of us traveling the roads, Robanar. You plan wisely, I deem."

"Not me! I leave those details to others these days. When I was newly sat upon Palarand's throne matters were much simpler and we could ride out with but a few retainers and an escort of twenty. The last time we traveled north, after last year's rains, our company was more than two hundred fifty."

Wallesan observed, "Perhaps the new railroad will make your journeys easier, brother."

Robanar grunted. "In time, Wallesan, in time. For now we must needs deal with a multitude of nobles and a host of servants and retainers, not to mention all the beasts required to pull us from here to the Sirrel."

* * *

"What are you thinking about, my love?"

"Wallesan mentioned railroads. Yes, it will make travel a lot easier, for us as well as for the general population. I seem to remember most of the heads of state in Europe had Royal Trains, with comfortable cars they could eat and sleep in to make their journeys easier."

"Eat and sleep in a railroad train? Now why did I not consider that? Of course, there is no reason at all a train must needs stop for the night, is there?"

"Nope. The train can only go where the rails send it so trains can run all through the night if that is what is needed. Of course, you have to take precautions, just in case a tree has fallen on the track or somebody accidentally left another train in the way."

Keren winced. "That sounds... horrible, my love. Were there many accidents on Earth on the railroads there?"

"Oh, yes, and lots of people lost lives in the early days. That's why I was so insistent at the Railroad Commission about making sure we got the signalling right to prevent much of the problem." Garia shook her head. "Won't stop trees falling over, though, or landslides. Nobody can ever think of everything."

"I can only agree, but with your memories we shall provide for much that your own people could not foresee, I deem." He shrugged. "As for the rest, only the Maker knows. There are lessons which only experience can teach, as well you know."

Lanilla entered the sitting room and curtseyed.

"Highness, your bath water is ready."

Garia stood. "Thank you, Lanilla." She turned and gave Keren a speculative look. "Um, I think I want to try something different tonight, if you don't mind."

"Highness?" The maid's expression was wary.

Garia's face was flaming. "I think... maybe tonight... if you didn't mind, I would like to share my bath with my husband."

Lanilla squeaked and reddened. "As you desire, Highness." She struggled to add, "If I may retire?"

Garia forced a smile. "That was the general idea, yes. We'll see you as usual in the morning, then."

"As you say, Highness." Lanilla curtseyed again. "I'll bid you both good night, if I may."

"Good night, Lanilla."

The maid practically ran from the room as Keren looked up at Garia, a smile on his face.

"Are you corrupting our loyal servants, now? You know what Lanilla's family life must have been like before she joined you."

"She'll adjust, I think," Garia replied. Her own expression now held a gleam of excitement. "I'm more interested in corrupting Palarand's next King."

Keren rose, still smiling. "If you must needs teach us barbarians how a civilized man and wife should bathe, then I can only submit to the lessons with interest. Lead on, my love."

~o~O~o~

The next morning Garia was fuming. It had been decided that she and Keren would join Gilbanar in the first party to head north, so that they could be seen by the people as they drove through the towns and villages on their way to South Slip. This seemed a reasonable arrangement until she learned the fine detail, which was what had left her cross.

Gilbanar would ride, he had decided, accompanied by his son Terinar. Behind them came Vivenne and Korizet, also mounted on frayen, the latter wondering if she had had enough practice for such a long ride. Third in line came Jenet and Milsy followed by Feteran and Tarvan; next came Merizel and Bursila and behind them was the escort of Blackstone armsmen surrounding an open carriage.

Keren and Garia were not riding, which was what had upset her. Terys had more or less decreed that they should travel in an open carriage so that the people could see them as they passed by. This of course had meant a day gown instead of riding gear, lace gloves and another unsuitable hat. Garia simply hadn't found the time to raid the wardrobe and find something she liked, which was why she was grumpy.

Terys had tutted, of course. "My dear, you look wonderful, and I'm certain that everybody who sees you is going to think so too. Now, take that look off your face before somebody thinks you have eaten something unfortunate."

"As you command, Ma'am."

The Queen rolled her eyes. "And to think, when Robanar goes to the pyre Palarand will be left in your hands."

"Now, mother," Keren chided from his seat beside Garia. "You know that Garia has been too busy to visit the wardrobe and find something that she would like to wear. As it happens, I think she looks beautiful but then," he beamed at his mother, "I did marry her, didn't I? I do not think, if I had been a girl, that I would care to wear such a bonnet as Garia does today. It does not suit her."

Terys regarded Garia a little more closely. "Well, mayhap you are right, Keren. Garia, tell me, what kind of hats do women -"

The Queen's question was cut off by the blowing of a bugle at the front of the procession. Hands went up along the line of frayen, carriages and wagons, then an answering blast came from the rear.

"Ma'am," Garia said quickly, "We'll talk about it in Dekarran, okay?"

"As you wish, dear. Have a pleasant journey, both of you."

Terys stepped back onto the palace steps as the procession got under way.

Garia glowered in her seat as the carriage left the palace grounds and then realized immediately that she would have to change her attitude. Word of their departure had flashed around the city and the streets were filled with people waiting to see them as they passed. So much so, in fact, that the riders ahead frequently became separated from those behind as the crowd surged to get a good look at their Prince and new Princess.

"Wow," she managed to say during a momentary quiet spell. "Have all these people come out just to see us go past?"

"Of course," Keren replied. "I don't expect their enthusiasm to slacken for a year or two, my love. They are always pleased to see me, but you are the reason many of them are busier than they have ever been. You are the one who provided the weapons that ended the war. You are the beautiful one. It is you they desire to see."

"Is it always going to be like this from now on?"

Keren thought. "One day, mayhap, they will become accustomed to us moving among them but then, one day, we will become King and Queen and it will begin again. I suspect many of your outings in the future to be of like kind, my love. It is the price we must needs pay for the status we are given."

"Oh. I should have thought of that, shouldn't I?"

"As you say. I deem that I would prefer this to the alternative. I would not wish to be a ruler who was unloved by his people."

"Well, if you put it like that -"

Then the procession turned a corner and the crowds surged forward again.

At the first, late, comfort stop Gilbanar approached the pair as they walked back to their carriage.

"I regret, Your Highnesses," he said with a grin, "that I must put you at the front of our procession, I deem. This morning we have become separated far too often and Feteran reminds me of his duty. The people desire to see you, not an overweight old Duke like me, so you shall go first, with an appropriate escort, of course, and you shall set our speed. Mind you," he added with a twinkle, "I will not be happy if we reach our lunch stop too late. This poor body of mine must be nourished frequently, else I waste away!"

Keren eyed Gilbanar with exasperation, while behind him Vivenne rolled her eyes.

"Uncle Gil, how can you be overweight and undernourished at the same time?"

Gilbanar made a grand gesture. "I am a Duke, I can be anything I desire, young Keren. Just don't keep me away from food too long, that is all I ask."

Feteran asked, with a straight face, "Does Your Grace suggest that we should cut our way through the crowds with drawn swords, that we may reach the lunch stop on time?"

Gilbanar winced. "Feteran, you have been consorting with this foreign woman far too long, I deem. Just do your best, and preserve the honor of Palarand!"

They did make better progress after that, but only because the highway mostly ran through open fields now, past many farms and the occasional village. As usual, there were numbers of people tending the fields and most stopped to give a wave and a cheer when they realized just who was passing, but few lined the roadside so their procession made reasonable time.

Over the lunch table, Garia reflected on her previous journey north.

"It's completely different. The last time I came I was in a closed carriage with Parrel and Gerdas, way behind the King and Queen, and nobody had any idea who or what I was. I'd never even seen any of the countryside we're passing through now, nor many of the strange creatures that live in it. I was just passing through what was to me a whole new world."

Gilbanar asked, "And are you any better informed now, Garia?"

"Well, of course, but there's still a whole lot out there I don't know about. Until we can get some expeditions going to explore Alaesia and the rest of Anmar, there will always be strange and new things for any of us to discover. Because of my background I might know a little more than the average Valley dweller but there must be lots of animals and plants which nobody here has ever seen."

"Is that so? I assumed that most of Alaesia would be similar to what we see around us."

Gilbanar waved a hand at the scenery beyond the roadhouse boundary.

"Uncle Gil, you have no idea. Why, even here we have mountains to the north and south, different kinds of mountains, there is the Stone Sea to the north and an ocean to the east. I've heard there are deserts to the west and great plains to the south. Travel even a few hundred marks away from this spot in any direction and you'll be somewhere that looks entirely different."

Keren added, "Uncle Gil, we know that Chaarn to the north is on the coast of a warmer sea, with strange fish and other sea creatures not seen around here. Tel Botro is in the middle of what is called jungle, that is, a forest so dense and fertile that one must needs take a long knife the length of a sword to chop a path through it. Garia is right, if we but travel away from the Valley we know the country must needs be of a different kind."

Gilbanar gazed at both of them. "Most people stay within a few marks of the place where they were born, you know. Only the call of war, or some other emergency, is enough to urge many away from familiar surroundings. I admit the odd Questor may travel to hunt new plants, or perhaps a miner may search distant hills for new ores, but most do not venture far. On Earth, do they travel more?"

Garia thought. "Uncle Gil, many people probably don't travel any further than they do around here, I guess. A lot do, though, either for work or just for leisure. I'm not sure this is something we ought to be discussing in any great detail at the table, if you take my meaning."

"As you say, dear. Now, with your permission, perhaps we had better think about departing."

Garia suddenly realized that by marrying Keren she now outranked Gilbanar. In fact, only three people now had higher rank, Keren and his parents. She wondered what other complications this would cause in the future. Fortunately, this time Keren took charge of the decision.

"Of course, Uncle Gil." He rose. "Let's get going before you start getting hungry again."

~o~O~o~

On the morning of the following day, Garia enjoyed a pre-breakfast bathing session with Lanilla, Jenet, Milsy, Bursila, Merizel and Tandra. It was almost the first time she had been able to bathe with her friends around her and it relaxed her completely. They spoke of many inconsequential things and she was in a much better frame of mind as they joined the others for breakfast.

When they entered the dining area of the roadhouse everybody stood and bowed or curtseyed, even Gilbanar, which only served to reinforce her change in rank. She acknowledged them with a wave and along with Merizel and Milsy joined Gilbanar, Vivenne, Korizet, Terinar and Keren at their table.

"You really shouldn't have to do that every time I come into a room, you know. It took me a while to stop the Blackstones doing it but they get the idea now."

"Hmm? What now, dear?"

"Uncle Gil, I don't want my people standing up if they have started eating before I get there. I don't want to interrupt their meals. If I'm already there and they come into the room, then that's fine, but the other way round doesn't make sense. Nobody knows when I'm going to get to the dining table and it isn't fair on those who got there first."

Gilbanar stopped with a hunk of bread and cheese halfway to his mouth and stared at Garia.

"But that is custom, dear. When entering a room, you should always be acknowledged by your retainers and servants."

"But Garia is right, father," Terinar said. "Having lived and worked at Blackstone House I can tell you it is sensible. We all know who she is without all the bowing and scraping."

"Hmm. I never thought about it before. Are you suggesting a change in custom, Garia?"

"Uncle Gil, I never thought of it that way. I just thought of what seemed right for the occasion. Up in Blackstone, if I came into a roomful of diners, it didn't seem right to make them all stand up and bow in the middle of their meals, so I stopped it. They were already in the room, I was the newcomer. It's not the same as at the palace, where everyone stands around until the King and Queen arrive."

Gilbanar frowned. "You might have a point, dear. We'll talk about it when we get home, perhaps." He grinned at her. "My home, that is."

"As you say, Uncle Gil."

They were walking to the carriage when Braskath joined the party and bowed.

"Braskath, good morning."

"Good morning, Your Highness, Your Highness."

Lanilla smiled a greeting at him and he returned the smile, but obviously wouldn't say anything to her in front of Garia and Keren.

Garia asked, "Is there some kind of problem?"

Braskath bowed again. "Highness, I just wanted to know when you would next be riding Snep."

Garia turned on her heel on the spot and headed for the corral. Everybody else perforce took in the sudden change of direction and caught up with her.

"I've been neglecting Snep the last few days, haven't I? I'm sorry, Braskath, I don't think it is going to be possible this side of the Sirrel. You've seen all the crowds we're getting along the road?"

"Aye, Highness, of course. It shows how much you are loved by the people of Palarand."

"Well, yes, but it means I'm stuck in the carriage so that everyone can see me. Keren, do you think we will be able to ride once we leave Dekarran?"

"I don't know, Garia. Remember, there will be just as many people who desire to see you north of the Sirrel as there are to the south." Then Keren remembered what was planned to happen once they departed Dekarran. "Hmm. Perhaps between Dekarran and Teldor, you may ride, I deem. We must needs plan carefully what we must do when we leave the castle to travel to Blackstone."

Garia belatedly remembered what he was talking about and her mood changed again. To stop thinking too much about it she concentrated on the four-footed member of her circle of friends.

"I didn't think to bring any nibbles. Has anyone got any?"

"Highness, of course I have some."

Braskath dug into a pouch and put several offcuts of vegetable into Garia's waiting hand. She gave him a smile of thanks.

At the corral wagoneers, armsmen and servants were already collecting beasts for the next leg of their journey, so there was a mass of animals milling around the gates. Even so, it took almost no time at all before Snep noticed Garia standing to one side and pushed his way through the jostling throng.

"Here, boy," she said, holding out a nibble. "I'm sorry, it seems I'm too important to be allowed to ride you at the moment."

Snep regarded her for a moment before carefully taking the proffered nibble. He crunched it quickly and swallowed it before raising his head and reaching over the fence. Before anyone realized what was happening, his lips had rolled back and his teeth clamped firmly on the brim of Garia's hat. He tugged strongly back and the hat fell forward, the hatpins dragging through Garia's hair. The ribbon holding the hat under her chin slid forward and Snep had the hat out of reach before anyone could react. It was dropped on the ground and trampled by many feet before anyone could do anything to save it.

"Hey!"

Snep looked down at the wreckage on the ground and then back to Garia, his expression one of satisfaction. Merizel collapsed with uncontrollable giggles.

Keren said with a smile, "It seems you are not the only one who disliked that hat."

"Hoo!" Merizel gasped, trying to get herself under control. "I doubt I shall ever see anything as funny as that. I didn't know Snep appreciated fashion."

Garia smiled ruefully while rubbing her chin. "I don't think I can blame him for doing something I wanted to do myself," she said finally. "But how am I going to explain this to the Queen?"

"Oh, that will be simple enough," Keren replied, trying not to laugh himself. "There is always the possibility for accidents with attire where beasts are concerned. I doubt not mother will understand." He added, "Mayhap Aunt Vivenne has some more suitable headwear in the castle wardrobe. Your hat should not be difficult to replace."

Garia held out another treat to Snep, who this time regarded her with suspicion.

"Take it, Snep. You have done me a service and that definitely deserves a reward."

The frayen leaned forward, sniffed her outstretched hand and then took the cube of vegetable before turning his head and looking at his back.

"I'm sorry, boy, I can't ride you today, even if you chewed off all my clothes so that I had to go change into riding gear. You'll just have to tag along for a few more days, then we can have a nice long ride together."

Snep regarded her again before turning his head to Braskath, who held out a halter.

"Sorry, boy, that's how it has to be. I'll look in on you tonight, I promise."

Back at the carriage Jenet insisted on tidying Garia's hair with a brush before allowing her to climb in.

"Do I assume that women do not wear hats on Earth, Highness?"

"That's a difficult question to answer, Jenet. Most ordinary women don't wear hats any more, although I know that at one time almost everybody did, men and women. I think it depends on the occasion. If it was a wedding or a funeral, say, then women would usually wear something on their heads. There are certain other events where women would wear fancy hats along with special dresses but usually those are the people with lots of money. Er, coin. Then again, on other parts of Earth women hide their hair completely for religious reasons so it varies over the whole world."

"As you say, Highness. Is this the reason you dislike wearing hats? That it was not your custom on Earth?"

Conscious that Lanilla was standing nearby and hanging onto every word she spoke, Garia shaded the truth.

"That's more or less true, Jenet, although we did wear hats in the summer to keep the sun off our heads. They didn't look anything like the hats we wear here, though."

Jenet stepped back and regarded Garia. "The sun is not sufficiently hot today to require something on your head, I think. You will not provoke any outrage by traveling with a bare head today, Highness. If you would enter the carriage."

Garia climbed in followed by Lanilla while Jenet went off to find her own mount. After a certain amount of confusion, inevitable with a procession of this size, they jolted off onto the highway again. The morning was a repetition of the previous day, with small crowds from the surrounding farms and villages waving and cheering as the procession passed. The morning break came and went, and so did lunch, and Garia began to look forward to their first sight of the great castle across the wide expanse of the river.

The landscape became flatter as the highway approached closer to the banks of the Sirrel. The gaps between farms and villages was wider now, with much of the available land given over to gavakhan pasture. For some reason Garia's mood began to become darker as they progressed, and she noticed a similar change in Lanilla. Keren noticed, too.

"Is something the matter, Lanilla?"

"Highness, I deem we must approach that place where the battle happened, is that not right? I have... sad memories of such a place."

"Oh, of course." Keren stood up in the carriage, keeping his balance with an outstretched hand, and surveyed the scenery around them. "Aye, this does become familiar to my eye." He sat down again and turned to Garia. "You are the same?"

She nodded. "Yes, although I hadn't realized why I felt that way until you said it, Keren. That was a tough day and we lost friends there." She was suddenly overcome with emotion. "Keren, we have to stop when we get there, it wouldn't be right to just drive past."

"Of course. We must needs pay our respects at so important a place." He waved an arm and someone in front noticed. In a few moments Feteran had reined in and come back to ride beside the carriage.

"Highness, is something amiss?"

"The battle, Fet. Are we near, yet?"

Recognition came to the Commander's eyes and he looked around.

"Aye, Highness. I see the local folk have built a cairn yonder. Do you wish to stop?"

"It would be seemly to do so, I deem. We all have good and bad memories of that day."

As the sediments of the Great Valley were mainly deposited by the Sirrel stones of any size would have been hard to find in this landscape, especially so close to the river. The local people had still managed to unearth enough to build a cairn of about man height beside the highway. A flattened stone leaning against the foot simply had the date of the battle painted on it: '31 Breth 1174'.

The procession halted by the roadside almost without any instructions at all. Everybody dismounted or climbed out of their carriages. Garia put an arm around Lanilla's shoulder, knowing how hard the girl would find this moment. The two stared over the ditch at the side of the road.

"She was so full of life," the maid said thoughtfully. "After we rescued her from her parents, that is."

"She was," Garia agreed. "I often wonder what she would have been like if she had survived. She would have loved living in the palace."

"As I do, Highness. I still have trouble believing the change to my life."

"You and me both, Lanilla. But I remember, you had your own escape here, didn't you? Trapped under that wagon while who knows what happened behind you on the road."

"Aye, Highness, and I wish I had not. I mean, I wish I had been of use to you and His Highness in the battle, as Mistress Jenet and Lady Merizel were."

"I'm not so sure. It was genuinely frightening. There were several times I thought we were going to lose but in the heat of battle you just have to keep going."

Garia felt Keren come up behind them, and the Prince put a hand on a shoulder of each.

"You mourn Jasinet, I deem?"

"Aye, Highness," Lanilla replied. There was nothing more to say.

"It is my hope that we shall never have to suffer such a conflict again," he said after a while. "I doubt that will be possible, but my eyes have been opened to the pain and distress all suffered here. My father's ideas, of binding the Valley countries closer together, may help but there are always other countries beyond. There will always be other battles but we shall do whatever is necessary to prevent our people suffering so. Lanilla, do you yet dream of this battle?"

"I used to, Highness, but it seems to have faded with time."

"I did, sometimes," Garia added, "but my dreams are more normal now. I think today may revive some of those memories though. Remember that tonight, Lanilla."

"Aye, Highness, I will."

They stood together in silence, remembering. After a while Gilbanar came, followed by Vivenne, Terinar, Korizet and Merizel.

"Time and the elements have disguised the signs of battle," Gilbanar muttered, "though I deem this place will never be entirely free of it. You mourn those who you lost?"

"Aye, Uncle Gil. The loss of friends is always hard to bear."

"I know, and these will not be the last in your lives. You must needs accept that only the Maker knows when we shall come into this world and when we shall depart again."

That's not entirely true, Garia thought, but his sentiment is mostly right. Living is just the roll of a dice even without men trying to kill you.

She turned to Gilbanar. "What about your part in it, Uncle Gil? What did you see?"

Gilbanar left out a breath of frustration. "I was stuck in the castle, lass. There were reports by semaphore from across the river and the lookout on the King's Tower could see things happening but we were not sure what. If you remember the day was cold and overcast so the lookouts could not properly see very far in any detail. Eventually we realized something bad must be happening but the tide was against us. For two bells we just sat there and waited, knowing that we could not come across to find out what was going on."

"Aye, Uncle Gil," Keren said. "The forces of Yod picked a fortunate moment to mount their raid."

"Mayhap, young Keren. It is our view that someone in Dekarran made them aware of the tides and the impossibility of any relief across the river."

The group walked along the roadside, their eyes looking for any traces of the fierce battle that had been fought there, but there was none. The winter weather and fresh spring growth had erased it all.

"What of the farmhouse?" Keren pointed. "It seemed to us they mounted their ambush from there."

"Aye. They slaughtered everyone within when they first arrived, so it seems." Gilbanar pointed across the fields. "They did the same in yonder farm, they were too many for one to hide so many men and beasts."

"They were really desperate to get hold of Garia," Keren said. "They threw absolutely everything into that raid, even bringing their own Earth person along to use as a bargaining token."

"Yes, and we killed him anyway," Garia added, remembering her shock at the death of Yves Perriard.

"If there is one thing I have learned in my long life," Gilbanar said, putting a hand on Garia's shoulder, "is that anything can happen in the chaos of battle. Do not blame yourself for his death, Garia. You were too busy preventing your own."

Garia sighed. "You're right, Uncle Gil, but that doesn't make it any better."

"I know, lass. I know."

Eventually they all climbed back on their mounts or into their carriages. Keren sat facing Garia this time, while she and Lanilla had arms about each other for comfort. The rest of the journey to South Slip was conducted mostly in silence.

* * *

As usual, the party was split along gender lines for their overnight stop. The noble women and their maids all gathered in the parlor of the women's hostel after their evening meal.

"Garia," Korizet asked, "would you tell us of your battle? Father gave us a brief account when he returned but we know little more. I do not think that even Terinar knows what really happened that day."

Garia shook her head. "Not tonight, I think. I'm sorry, Kor, but it's a little too soon after riding past the site today. Leave it until we can all get together in the castle and we can all tell you what happened. Besides, some of those who are coming tomorrow or the next day might want to hear the story."

"Oh, of course. I understand, Garia. Tell me, how long do you plan to stay with us? The last time you went north you stayed two weeks."

"I'm not sure, Kor. I don't think we can afford more than three or four days this time. We have made arrangements -" with the Beings, "- so there's a timetable we have to follow."

"Oh, I understand." Korizet looked disappointed.

Garia brightened. "Of course, last time I went north I didn't! Not to begin with. I think there should be no problem telling you how we came here to this very building and then were smuggled north again, with Milsy taking my place in the royal procession back to the palace."

"Milsy?" Korizet regarded the young guildswoman carefully. "I know that name. I thought your face looked familiar somehow."

Garia grinned. "Indeed it is! Let's see. It all began when -"

~o~O~o~

It was early in the morning but still spring so the air was cold. There was a slight mist across the Sirrel which meant that the further shore was indistinct.

Garia held Keren's hand and didn't want to let it go.

"What?"

Feteran was most apologetic. "Highness, it is now necessary. Since you have been wed to His Highness these several days, it is not impossible that you could be with child. If that were to be so, you must needs travel on a separate ferry to him, that the line of succession may be preserved."

I'm not pregnant! It's the wrong time of month, for one thing, and for another, this body has only a week or so to live so it wouldn't matter if I was. I can't say that, though. Even if Feteran knows what is going to happen, nobody else does so we have to keep up appearances.

I just don't want to be separated from him for that long.

Accidents do happen, and the Beings haven't said much at all about Keren's long-term survival! Only my own. Until I return to Anmar.

"As you wish, Feteran. Who am I with?"

"You are on the second ferry with Her Grace and Lady Korizet, Highness. With so many so close to the line of succession crossing today, it will take all day for everyone to travel to the castle."

Of course. We have Keren, Gilbanar, Terinar and theoretically my child, haven't we? Best if we split up.

"As you say, Feteran. I'm not thinking, am I? Can I wait for Keren on the other side?"

"If that is your desire, Highness. Of course, you must needs join him in the carriage for the ride up the ramp to the castle today."

Garia nodded reluctantly. "I'd hoped I could ride like last time but you're right, aren't you? Well, then, let's get on with it. Keren, I'll see you on the other side."

A brief kiss, and they parted to find their different ferries.



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