Preparations continue for Garia's disappearing act, with her stand-in proving an apt pupil. The finger of suspicion for her attempted abduction seems to point ever more firmly towards Yod, and security measures are tightened. Even so, there is a visit which must be made, to the Guildmaster of the miners, a person difficult to please. Can Garia find a way to gain his co-operation?
by Penny Lane
57 - Meetings and Arrangements
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) 2011-2012 Penny Lane. All rights reserved.
The following morning was full of surprises for Milsy. First, there was a procession of women using the toilet facilities. Then, to her amazement, all five of them climbed into the sunken tub together and washed each other. After that, they pulled on fluffy robes and took positions on the floor in front of the huge bed. Garia told Milsy to sit on the foot of the bed and watch.
"What are you all doing, Garia? Is that a kind of dance?"
They stopped and Garia explained the purpose and philosophy of Tai Chi. Having explained it several times already made it easy but she had to tailor it to someone who had limited experience of matters outside the kitchens and the servants' quarters. When she had finished Milsy watched attentively as the others ran through the whole exercise. For all of them now, the movements and sequences of Tai Chi had become automatic and they could relax their minds instead of having to concentrate on the forms.
Garia had reluctantly agreed that she would have to take breakfast from now on in her suite, in order to cover the extra food needed for Milsy. There was still plenty for everyone and in fact a certain amount was returned when the service was collected. Bursila carefully put the trays outside the door to the suite so that no-one who did not know what was planned needed to enter.
"I don't think I can put off going down to the training area," she said when they had tidied up. "Everyone will expect us. We'll have to go check the frayen as well because soon enough they'll be on their own for a while. Keren said he'll take good care of them but it won't be the same."
"I agree," Merizel said. "The extra saddles and tack, is anyone going to ask questions?"
"Not really. The guards' equipment is modeled on our own, so it will just appear to be spare riding gear in the back of the wagon." Garia frowned. "The tricky part will be getting our chests packed and down there without anyone realizing they are ours. And from that point on, we'll all have very little clothes left to wear."
"We'll ask the Duchess if there's normal clothing we can wear," Merizel suggested. "We'll need some disguise for when we leave, in any case."
"Let's wait till we speak to Tanon," Garia decided. "There might be certain clothes the traveling crews wear that the townsfolk don't."
She raised her eyebrows at Merizel, who shook her head. "Don't ask me, I never paid attention to that kind of detail. You're the only one of us with any experience of what merchants do. You're right, we don't want to stand out once we're on the road."
Jenet said, "Milady, you cannot take your own chests with you. They will have to return to the palace with Milsy."
Garia thought. "You're right, they are too obviously chests of a member of the royal party. Okay, let's leave that question till we can meet the Queen and Aunt Vivenne. I'm sure they'll be able to decide what we need to do."
It was time for them to dress and this brought the next new experience for Milsy.
"It is very strange to me that we wear harness as that of the beasts," she remarked as Jenet secured a borrowed bra on her.
Jenet returned a wry expression as she tied the bow under Milsy's breasts. "Do we not toil and labor at the behest of men, as beasts do?" Then she smiled. "That is not the point, child. Tell me now, how do you feel, with a new garment supporting your breasts this way?"
Milsy looked startled, then thoughtful. With the others watching she moved to a free space in the bedroom and began bending and twisting her body to try and determine the effect it would have. When she finished there was a surprised look on her face.
"It is very different to the bodice I have always worn before. Is this what women wear on your world, Garia?"
"Mostly, it is," Garia replied. "And you will find, once you get to the palace, that every woman there, and I mean every one, will be wearing bras, so you had better get used to them quickly."
Milsy nodded. "I like it. I can move my body more easily and while the season is still warm it will help me to keep cool." She looked at Garia with a plea. "Once I stop pretending to be you, shall I have to wear bodices again? I do not think I will like that."
Garia shook her head. "I don't think so. Bras are so popular in the city that I guess everyone there will be wearing them in future. Our seamstress Rosilda brought patterns with her, so everyone here will soon begin wearing them as well."
Garia dressed in her exercise clothes in the colors of the Palace Guard, one of her older outfits. She had brought them along in case there was a problem washing her new outfit in the Blackstone livery. The only change was that she wore her new sash instead of the all-pink one. Milsy had been dressed in one of Garia's day gowns and could hardly get over the feel of the cloth compared with what she had worn before.
"Do all of your clothes feel like this, Garia? I know that what nobles wear looks wonderful, but I never thought about how the cloth would feel."
Garia smiled. "It varies. What I'm wearing now is the same cloth as the uniforms of the guard. I have some evening gowns back at the palace that feel even better than what you have on."
"As you say, Garia. But," Milsy frowned, "This gown feels somewhat short to me. Someone might see my knees!"
"They are shorter than most gowns because I wanted to be able to kick my legs when I needed. Most people have gotten used to seeing me that way, so there shouldn't be any problem. Now, do you and Jenet mind being left here alone?"
"No, Garia. I know that is how it must be."
"Milady, I will take care of her. We will not be idle while you are gone. There is much about you that she will have to know, even if she is not expected to do all that you do."
"Thank you, Jenet. Come on, Merry, Bursila. We have a long walk ahead of us."
"I apologize to you all," Garia said to the assembled men. "Such a thing as happened the day before yesterday ought never to have happened. I am not yet used to entrusting my safety to my men-at-arms and we were all taken by surprise."
She looked round at their faces, some attentive, some shame-faced. Feteran had an unreadable bland expression. Garia thought that he probably disapproved of what had happened but that was tempered by the fact that he was, theoretically, in charge of her men and thus responsible for her safety.
"That's why we are gathered here this morning," she explained. "I don't know if this is a procedure that you did in the Palace Guard, but I would like to make it standard practice after any incident that happens from now on. We call this a de-briefing. Just as you have a briefing before any operation, afterward you should all de-brief so that what actually happens can be analyzed, any faults identified and any lessons learned."
Feteran was definitely disapproving now. Garia turned to him.
"We're not here to assign blame, Commander." Since she used his title, he straightened. "We're here to analyze what happened and see if we can do any better next time."
He bowed to her, admitting his own personal feelings of failure.
"So, let's begin. Who were the two stood guard outside my door that time? What happened? How many approached you? What exactly did they say?"
The men of her guard were taken by surprise at the depth of the questions she asked and the details she drew out of them. The others who had joined them, her 'file' of instructors, had become used to the detailed analysis she usually made of their bouts on the mat which taught them to question every move they made and to remember everything that happened. All contributed what they could, admitting that even if they had been thoroughly alert Garia would probably still have gone with Dorrin, who they all knew, and a man wearing the uniform of the castle guard.
It was left to Garia to describe in detail the mechanics of the fight itself, which she did using four of her instructors as the four assailants. She showed them how they had been surprised in the corridor and how they had been held, pointing out that she had no freedom of movement even considering her martial arts expertise. It had only been Jenet's unexpected response which had given Garia an opening, and she demonstrated in slow motion what she had done, right up until she had heard her assailant's neck snap.
"It all fell apart then," she told them ruefully, "because they had threatened Jenet and that had made me mad. I should have remained calm, should have maintained complete control over myself, but I didn't. Funnily enough that turned out to be just the right thing to do, because the two with swords backed up and then ran. As Feteran said to the King yesterday, Dorrin at least had seen me fight but none of them knew what I might be capable of. If I could kill with a kick, if I could disarm a man with a knife, I might be able to take two with swords."
"Could you, Teacher?"
Garia shook her head. "Not a chance, Bessel. Not unless I was very lucky. If I could have run, with a good chance of getting away, I would have. But my legs are short, and I would never leave Jenet behind, just as I would never leave any one of you behind. Fortunately fighting doesn't only consist of landing blows. Psychology plays an important part as well, as all of you must know. This time, I got away with it. Next time I might not."
The nobles gathered in Gilbanar's parlor about a bell before lunch.
"Jokar, you have news."
"Aye, Your Grace. We have now spoken to the man Milady Garia's maid injured. He offers to tell us what he knows in return for his life."
Robanar grunted. "As well he might. Has he told you anything so far?"
"Sire, he has. His name is Rathonel and he comes, he says, from Brugan. His accent is slight but I would think he is originally from somewhere around that part of the Valley. He is what you might expect, a free man who takes whatever work is offered. Somehow - I'm not quite sure I follow the details, but one of my men who understands such things assures me that it is plausible - he managed to get himself into debt and to cancel it he agreed to join another in a journey to Dekarran. The stated purpose of this journey to secure a girl wanted by the other man's masters."
There was an intake of breath from the women in the room.
"This other man," Gilbanar asked, "did he have a name?"
Jokar hesitated. "He was told to call the other man Brotho, Your Grace, but that is probably an alias. He also said that Brotho had an accent he couldn't place. When one of my men began naming countries and districts he agreed that it might very well be that of Yod."
There was another intake of breath, this time from the men.
"Just the two of them?" Gilbanar asked.
"It appears so, Sire. They arrived at Dekarran about a week before the royal party did and stayed in an inn in the town. Then, the day after the arrival of the King, they met a man who gave them further instructions, including a warning about Milady Garia's abilities. Needless to say, they didn't quite believe what they were told. That night they were smuggled into the castle -"
Gilbanar interrupted, "Did he say how they got in?"
"Not yet, Your Grace, but I believe he will in time."
Gilbanar nodded. "Carry on."
"He says they were taken to a store room in the vaults." Jokar turned to Garia. "Milady, that is one of the lowest levels of the castle, where grains, dried vegetables and other foodstuffs are kept, along with fodder for the beasts." He resumed, "A hiding place was concealed behind some drums at the back of the store room, Your Grace. They stayed there until the day of the attack and then the man led them to the place of ambush."
"Does this other man have a name?" Robanar asked. "The one that let them into the castle?"
Jokar shook his head. "Not from what we have learned so far, Sire. The man Rathonel was told to refer to him as Fikt if he needed a name."
Garia thought, Fikt. A biting insect. Quite. Typical melodramatic gesture.
"Fikt placed the men and said he would come back with another in their pay leading the young woman they wished to secure and probably her maid. He and Brotho were to seize the women in such a way that they couldn't use their leverage. At that point he and the fourth man, who I assume was your man Dorrin -" Robanar's face twisted at the 'your man', "- would turn and present their swords and the young woman would have to surrender to their show of force." Jokar turned to Garia again. "Milady, it is as well that you refused to surrender. If you had been taken, well..."
"We would likely not have been able to find her," Gilbanar finished the sentence. "He told you this freely?"
"He did, Your Grace. We have had no need of the usual methods. It seems, despite the healer's administrations, that his eye socket is very painful. That appears to be incentive enough for him to talk."
Robanar considered a long while before saying, "Gil, give him his life. But make sure he tells you all he knows."
"As you command, brother. I had minded to in any case. It is possible we can learn much more if we take the time." His face hardened. "Fikt, eh? Still running around inside my castle, and only two people who can identify him." He turned to Garia. "You can recognize him again, Garia?"
"Possibly, Your Grace. I didn't see him that long and he was walking in front of us, in poorly lit passages, most of the time. I can probably give you a description which would narrow down the list of suspects. Height, color of hair and so on. He only spoke that one time when they were facing Jenet and I with drawn swords. I don't know if he had an accent, I haven't been around long enough yet to be able to recognize accents."
Gilbanar nodded. "We'll take whatever you can offer, Garia."
Robanar asked, "Did the man Rathonel know what was to happen once they took Garia?"
"Sire, he does not, although when we asked he speculated. It seems that in their hiding place there were packets of certain herbs. Given where they were hiding he believes the idea was to stupefy Milady Garia with herbs and then put her in an empty drum. Yesterday there would have been a collection of drums to be taken to the wharves, loaded into barges and shipped back to the producers' warehouses. We stopped that, of course, when we closed all the gates."
Gilbanar's eyes narrowed. "You have a list of the barges which would have loaded the drums?"
Jokar looked startled. "No, Your Grace, but it will be easy to make one. I shall also inquire if any of them left yesterday without loading."
"I want that whole storage level searched, Jokar. Every drum opened. I want to know if there are drums stored where they should not be, and anything else which is not as it should be."
Jokar bowed. "As you command, Your Grace." He paused. "Ah, if we open all the drums, then some food may be spoiled."
"Do it, Jokar. We'll manage. If we have to eat soup for two weeks then we'll do that, too."
Robanar turned. "What of your own plans, Garia?"
Garia explained about the clothes and the chests.
"I see. Yes, we'll wait and ask Tanon tonight. We have time to arrange matters as we desire." He gave her a smile. "Your guest, is everything as you would wish?"
"We've barely started, Sire. As Her Majesty said, she's smart. I just hope she's not too smart and starts over-acting. So far there's been no problems, Sire."
"Good. Keren, your part?"
"Father, I have considered what I'll be taking north and I think it's going to be much the same as if Garia was going. Uh, I mean before this happened. I'll need the two wagons she brought and probably another one. We'll have eight to ten more men, I assume, and there will also be Bleskin accompanying us with his wife."
"Maker!" Gilbanar started. "I'd forgotten him! Will he be a problem, Rob?"
Both Robanar and Keren grinned. "Just the reverse, Gil," Robanar said. "He'll keep any secrets we want him to." To Keren he said, "You're right, you'll need another wagon. There will be Garia and Merizel's riding gear, not to mention the other clothes they will wear, their helmets and Garia's weapons. With an extra say ten men another wagon will cause no-one to ask questions."
"I'll find you one," Gilbanar offered. "That way you know it will be reliable."
"Good," Robanar said again. "Now, let us prepare for lunch. I think this time, Garia, you should put in an appearance. If you hide away completely, questions may be asked."
"As you say, Sire."
"You're bathing again?"
Garia smiled. "That's what us noble ladies do, Milsy. It helps keep us fresh and clean, especially in this weather."
"But... should I join you? All I've done today is to sit and talk with Jenet."
"It might be best, I think. If you're to act my part, you'll have to follow, more or less, the routine that I follow every day. That includes bathing first thing, just before lunch and just before dinner."
Garia thought and turned to Jenet. "Of course, I bathe before lunch because I spend the morning in intense physical activity. Do normal ladies of the court bathe three times a day?"
"Sometimes, milady, especially when the weather is very hot, as it was before the rains started. Mostly the ladies of the court bathe when they rise and again before changing into an evening gown. Of course, there are exceptions to that custom as one might expect," Jenet added. "When the weather is much colder, perhaps, one might bathe less, or before a special ceremony one might wish to have an extra wash. When Kalikan calls, of course. And when we are traveling we wash when we may."
"Much as I thought." Garia turned to Milsy. "Jenet, of course, bathes when I do. I have no idea what the ordinary servants of the palace or this castle do."
"Um, every morning, of course, we wash down below, and our hands and faces are supposed to be clean before we are permitted into the kitchen. Otherwise," she shrugged, "it depends on the servant. Some bathe every day, some every two days, some only once a week." Milsy wrinkled her nose. "You can tell the ones who only bathe once a week by the smell, but because they work in the kitchen they can't smell it themselves. We do tell them, but most ignore us. The women are usually better than the men are though." Her eyes lit up. "I like the idea of all getting in the tub at once and washing each other. I didn't know that noble women did that."
"It makes sense for us to help each other." Garia regarded the girl thoughtfully. "You had no idea what life was like up here, did you?"
"No, Garia. I thought I might find out if Master Samind allowed me to leave the kitchens as he said he might. We all have ideas of what goes on up here but there's lots I never knew." She smiled at Jenet. "Jenet has been most helpful today, Garia. I have learned much and," she looked earnestly at Garia, "I will honestly try and do the best I can for you. I know now that what you do is very important to us all." Her hands went to her back. "So, how do I get this gown off?"
"A clever plan, Sire. You may be sure that we will do all that we may to assist you. I understand the great risk you are all taking."
Tanon had arrived early before the council meeting and Robanar had seized the opportunity to take him aside and explain to him what they had planned.
"It is not so much a risk, I think, Tanon, not where she is concerned. I just want her out of the way somewhere so that the attention of these... villains is elsewhere. She had planned to go north in any case so we will make it seem she returns home with us."
"About that, Sire. Since we would probably be hauling ore from Blackstone... ah, excuse me. Is coal to be considered an ore? In any event, I had thought it wise to send a small expedition to join Milady Garia as she traveled north from here. You say she is to meet up with the Prince?" Robanar nodded. "Then we shall arrange to do the same. I was planning to send two wagons, if there are to be three women along perhaps another would be a good idea. If I may send a coded message, I can ask Jaxen to make the necessary alterations to his plans."
"Keren will have ten extra men so he is traveling with three. That means he can take away what clothing they need and all their gear. You need only accommodate them perhaps two nights."
"Ah? In that case the two we have available will do, Sire."
"About what date was your caravan to reach Dekarran? The Prince leaves in four days."
"That soon?" Tanon looked doubtful. "I could not be ready so soon, Sire. It will be more like seven days before Jaxen can get his wagons here, he is presently on the road from Brikant, arriving in Palarand in two days."
"That means..." Robanar looked annoyed. "She will have to wait either here in the castle... or could she hide in your establishment in the town?"
Tanon shook his head. "Not presently, Sire. The warehouses are full with the recent harvest and there are too many casual laborers around to be safe. To join the caravan there, yes, they might stay overnight, but longer may not be safe. Not for three women, even if one of them is Milady Garia."
Robanar nodded. "I understand. She may be able to take care of herself, and I would wager on her in a fight with any man, but the two who accompany her are not so warlike. We'll keep her here, then, in some obscure corner of the castle. Shall you meet her? She needs clothing suitable for riding caravans and would ask your advice."
"Of course, Sire, though it is a pity Merina could not accompany me this time. I may know a great deal about trading, but my knowledge of female fashion is somewhat limited. There should be time for a few words after the council meeting."
"As you say, Tanon."
The council meeting occupied all evening and many subjects were covered, since this would be Garia's final meeting until she returned from the north. Most of those attending didn't know that, of course, but enough hints were made and enough comments slipped that most figured it out before the meeting ended.
Topics covered included blast furnaces, coke production, canal locks, paper and cardboard manufacture, the need for standardization of thread sizes, lightning conductors, the new semaphore system, ball, roller and needle bearings, seals for steam engine cylinders and pumps and many other subjects. The sanitary facilities in Garia's new quarters were not as good as those in her original rooms so she introduced them to the toilet bowl and the S-bend, thus provoking more discussions about the pottery trade and what other items might be made from fired clay.
After the meeting ended she had talks with Tanon about their plans for her trip north and he went away satisfied that she understood the risks and complexities involved. He understood her point about clothing and arranged to have a selection of suitable items brought discreetly to the castle for them to wear when they left.
When Tanon left she discovered that Parrel had stayed behind awaiting a word with her.
"Milady, it is apparent to me, and to others at the meeting, that your future plans involve some deception." He held up a hand to forestall her words. "Rest assured we will keep your movements secret, milady. While I am merely a Guildsman and not a maker of strategy, I agree that your interests are better served by not returning to the palace with the King and Queen. However, it would seem to me that there is a person here in Dekarran it is essential that I should introduce to you whatever you might do. That man is the Guildmaster of the Miners Guild."
"You're right, Master Parrel, and we rely on the discretion of every council member anyway. I will appear to return to the palace but instead I'll go north as was originally planned. The Miners Guild, eh? I get the feeling I'm not going to look forward to this meeting somehow."
Parrel grimaced. "No, milady, indeed not. Guildmaster Horran is, like most of his breed, self assured and willing to argue with anybody about anything. If you stated that the sun rose in the east, he would find some reason to doubt you."
"Oh, wonderful." Garia looked glum. "We have to get this Guildmaster Horran on side, don't we? After all, it's his men who will be digging our rocks out of the ground."
"As you say, milady. Now, I had already arranged a courtesy meeting with him at their Guildhall in the town for tomorrow afternoon. I suggest that you accompany me to that meeting, with a strong escort of your men, of course, and we shall attempt to show him that the sun does, indeed, rise in the east." Parrel smiled. "If you were to wear your Guildmistress regalia, that might stun him long enough that we may press home our arguments."
"Of course," Garia mused, "he might die of shock and we would end up dealing with someone more reasonable."
"These are the miners, milady. I do not think that any of them like using the word 'reasonable'."
The following morning was spent in necessary assignations. Milsy, dressed in a clean castle servant's uniform and accompanied by Garia and Jenet wearing palace colors, was taken through the secret passage by Vivenne and out to the castle's equivalent of the Wardrobe storage area. With only Vivenne's Mistress of the Wardrobe in attendance Milsy was fitted with appropriate footwear and a selection of new clean underwear suitable for a noble's daughter.
While this was happening Vivenne took Garia to a store where the wigs were kept. Most were in a decrepit state but she found several to try on, choosing one which was mid-brown in color that reached just past her shoulders. Finally Garia and Jenet were given castle servant's dresses to permit them to be seen in the corridors without comment. With the wig hidden inside the servants clothing they rejoined Milsy and made their way back to Garia's suite.
"When do you wish to cut my hair, Garia?"
"I don't wish to cut it at all, Milsy, but one of us is going to have to do it, I suppose. We can't let someone at the salon do it, it will be all over the castle before we got back to our rooms." Garia thought. "People here in the castle know you, and they know that you have transferred to the Queen's service, so it wouldn't be too much of a problem if someone does catch sight of you as you are - provided you weren't dressed like me, that is. If we cut your hair now, it will be obvious what's going on. We'll do it the day before we are supposed to leave, I think. Do all your new clothes fit properly?"
"Yes, Garia." Milsy frowned. "I'm going to have to practice walking in these new shoes, because I've never had any this fancy before. I don't know how to walk in a shoe that has a heel."
Garia grinned. "Neither did I before I came here. Yes, you'll need to practice. It shouldn't take you too long to get comfortable."
"I'll need to practice walking the way you do, Garia. You have quite a distinctive sway."
"Me? Really? I hadn't noticed."
"Perhaps not, but someone else might. My face and voice are different than yours but nobody is supposed to get close enough to me to notice the difference. A walk, though, could be noticed a long way away. I don't want to be found out before we even get to the palace."
Garia looked at Milsy with new respect. "You are taking this seriously, aren't you?"
"Of course. It is important that everyone believes that you are returning to the palace or else they will come after you again. I must work hard to make sure that everyone sees what they expect to see."
Garia walked over to Milsy and hugged her. "You're wonderful! I think you were wasted in that kitchen. When we're done with this disguise I promise to find you something to do with your life that makes proper use of your talents."
"Thank you, milady."
The afternoon outing involved a lot of people. Neither King nor Duke would permit Garia to go anywhere without a heavy escort and Keren had asked if he could use the opportunity to gather together the men who would accompany him on his tour of the north. Therefore, gathered in the courtyard in their respective colors were eight of the Palace Guard and all six of the Blackstone men-at-arms, all correctly attired and riding frayen, surrounding a closed carriage driven by a Dekarran castle coachman, with a castle guard beside him and two more seated on the rear pillion, each wielding crossbows.
Four guardsmen rode in pairs at the front. Feteran came next, in front of the four frayen which pulled the carriage. Three of Garia's men rode in line each side of the carriage. Behind the carriage Keren rode, dressed anonymously with a Quadrant's sash, in front of another four guardsmen.
The carriage clattered out of the North Gate and down the ramp that led from the courtyard into the town of Dekarran. Inside were Parrel, Garia and Jenet, all carefully dressed and bearing the insignia of their positions as Guild members, or in Jenet's case, as a registered servant of a Guild member.
Garia looked out the window with interest. She had viewed this part of town from the terraces on this side of the castle, but close up there was more detail. The buildings were of two types, the first being sturdy dwellings, shops and inns built with stone at ground level and timber uppers, much like those of the towns they had passed through on the journey up. The other kind were larger industrial buildings, either workshops or warehouses, and these were almost entirely constructed from hastily thrown together timber planks.
The ramp joined the main road which ran around the foot of the castle and their carriage headed west, away from the town. Progress was slow as the roads were crowded with wagons, carriages, mounted men and people on foot. On both sides the buildings were now entirely industrial, and Garia could see men working at furnaces and forges through open doorways as they passed. On the river side the warehouses stepped down to the wharves at the water's edge.
This procession sounds weird, she decided. I didn't notice so much when we were coming up from the palace, but it's clearer here. Frayen don't have hooves like horses, so they can't be shod the same way. No clip-clopping on the road, then, more a sort of distinctive pitter-patter as their nails hit the stones. Just one more confirmation that this place is very different than home, I guess.
Parrel pointed. "I believe that Master Tanon's main warehouse is down that way," he said. "Of course he does so much business here that he owns a number of warehouses, stables and even several inns and boarding houses." The carriage slowed, then turned left and began to climb. "Our business today is this way. The miner's Guildhall is just up here."
The carriage turned and pulled up in front of a large stone building, set against the slope of the hillside. The mounted men spread out and formed a perimeter before dismounting. The coachman jumped down and opened the carriage door. After some polite hand-waving Parrel climbed out first, followed by the women. Waiting for them on the steps of the building was Guildmaster Horran. He was, naturally, speechless.
"What is the meaning of this?" he eventually spluttered. "Am I arrested? Parrel, why do you arrive with an army at your side? What have I done now, except protect the interests of my guild members?"
Horran reminded Garia of a weasel. He was slender, little taller than herself, with a narrow face filled with anger. He was dressed in a tunic of fine cloth with rich leggings and she suspected that it had been some years since he last entered any mine.
Parrel spread his arms wide. "Horran, this was not my idea. These men are not here to arrest you, they are here at the King's command to ensure the safety of Lady Garia."
Furiously, Horran pointed a finger at Parrel. "No further! Not a step further! Parrel, how dare you bring women onto these premises! You know it is against all custom. I will not have it! I shall write a strongly worded protest to the Guildhall in Palarand. Parrel, you have gone too far this time."
"Horran, you're a fool," Parrel said. "If you've read any of the notes of recent guild meetings you should know that Lady Garia is now a fully attested member of the Guild fraternity, voted in by general acclaim. Your strongly worded note would be laughed at. She has as much right on these premises as you do."
Horran sneered. "I saw those notes. Didn't believe any of them. You soft southerners are all the same. If I had been at that meeting she would never have got past the door. Look at her, anyway! She's barely old enough to be an apprentice, let alone a journeyman! Not that we allow women to be apprentices or journeymen, of course. It's impossible that she could know enough, even in that short life, to be judged a guild member." He stabbed a finger at her insignia. "She's a Guild Master? Impossible!" He folded his arms and glared at them both.
Parrel smiled. "You did read those meeting notes, then? Tell me, Horran, what were those notes written on? It certainly wasn't parchment."
Horran instantly looked shifty. "I don't know. Something different than I've seen before, I think." He looked suspiciously at Parrel. "I remember, now. Something to do with trees, was it? More crazy nonsense. And who writes like that? Strangest writing I ever seen a scribe do."
"But you could read the writing, then? It was clear? Understandable?"
"Well, yes, but..." His eyes flicked to Garia and then back to Parrel. "If you're going to tell me she had something to do with it, I won't believe you. It's just not possible!"
"It's called paper, Horran, and she told us how to make it. No scribe wrote those notes, either. We have now started printing the meeting notes, two hundred copies at a time, and it takes us less than a day to do it. Now, shall you admit us?"
Horran said gruffly, "Parrel, you have every right to enter here. But she -"
"- can show you and your guild how to make more money than you've ever seen in your life," Garia finished for him, speaking for the first time. She carefully didn't smile at him, that would give entirely the wrong signal. Today she had to be mature, business-like. She continued, "Master Parrel will shortly be requiring great quantities of iron ore to fill the large new blast furnaces he is about to construct. Great quantities of clay, to make the bricks, to make the furnaces. He'll need more copper, tin and zinc for the brass and bronze he's producing to make all the new devices which will shortly come. How about the new steam engines which will pump water out of your mines? Steam engines which can operate elevators which will allow your mines to go deeper? Mines which will become so large you will soon have to employ ten times more men than you do now."
Horran stared at her, his jaw slack. How could someone so young know so much? He turned to Parrel, who was grinning.
"That's the way we all react, Horran, the first time we meet Milady Garia. Close your mouth, man. Something might fly in. She's real, and you had better believe what we say or your guild will be the worse for it."
"You threaten us, Parrel?"
Parrel shrugged, clearly enjoying the situation for once. "No, Horran. This is too important to Palarand for it to be obstructed by the Miner's Guild. At best, we just work round you and you fade into insignificance. At worst, I'm sure Lord Gilbanar will have something to say when you begin to obstruct his increased income."
Horran goggled. "The Duke agrees to this?"
Parrel nodded. "The King agrees to this. And almost all of the Guildmasters of every guild in Palarand. And a significant number of the Questors." He grinned again. "And the Palace Guard are delighted with the new saddles which mean they can ride and fight as never before. They are also delighted with the new unarmed combat techniques which the Guildmistress has taught them. Come, Horran. Let us not argue outside where others might hear what they should not. Let us go inside and make ourselves comfortable, and I shall explain in detail how your guild might help us."
Horran stared, fuming, then turned abruptly on his heel and made to go for the doorway. He stopped suddenly and turned back. By this time Keren and Feteran had joined the others and Horran glared at them.
"Under protest - under great protest, I say - I shall permit you and this girl to enter our hall so that I can find out what is going on. If I judge that you have not explained yourself to our satisfaction, Parrel, the whole lot of you shall be expelled immediately." He pugnaciously thrust his chin at the alert guardsmen standing around. "I don't care if you brought all Robanar's men, if I tell you to leave, then you'll go. Miners are not soft folk, we can manage our own affairs." He jabbed a finger at Jenet. "You."
"You are this... girl's servant? I see a guild servant's badge on your gown."
"As you say, Guildmaster. This badge was presented to me by Guildmaster Hurdin himself."
"I am called Jenet, Guildmaster."
"Then, Jenet, you may accompany your mistress." He regarded Keren and Feteran briefly. "Who are these? I'll not have armed men within my doors."
"This man commands my men-at-arms." Garia turned to Feteran. "Commander, the area is secure?"
"Aye, milady. I have sent men to check the rear of the building." Horran looked outraged, but said nothing. The situation was obviously beyond his control. "I'll stay out here, milady, if..." Feteran paused, uncertain whether Garia wanted Keren's status revealed.
"Keren will be coming in with me," Garia told Horran.
"I told you, I'm not having armed lackeys inside my hall."
"I'm not an armed lackey," Keren said mildly. "I'm your next King. The business of all the halls of the guilds concerns me as it does my father."
"You what?" Horran thrust forward, eyes squinting. His expression changed. "Your Highness, I did not recognize you." He reluctantly got down on one knee. "It has been many years since I last saw you, Highness. You are a boy no longer."
"Rise, Horran. If you had bothered to pay attention to anything other than your holes in the ground you might have noticed that I have grown up recently. Now, let's get inside before you make a bigger fool of yourself."
Horran led the way to the doors of the miners' Guild Hall, two servitors opening them as he reached them. When the party got inside they discovered five men waiting for them, their faces etched with anger and revulsion. One of the men wore no uniform, the other four were apparently servants of the hall. Each of these carried a turned wooden club similar to a baseball bat.
A shocked Horran sensed impending disaster. He held up his hand. "Hold! Hold, I say!"
If his men began beating up the Crown Prince he would be lucky to escape with his head, Guild Master or no. Setting about a noblewoman, especially a young one, would also ensure days of torment before his execution.
Horran waved a hand behind him. "This is Guildmaster Parrel of the metalsmiths, whom you know well. With him is Prince Keren and -" He turned and his spine became ice.
Parrel, faced by armed retainers, had taken a step back. He had known that each hall had its own security arrangements so the appearance of these four was not unusual. Horran would explain and all would be well.
Keren and Garia, however, knew no such thing, and they had automatically shifted into ready positions facing the four servants. Horran suddenly had the sensation that he had no idea what was happening, that he was falling down a bottomless mineshaft. There was too much about today's events that were completely beyond his experience. Did this boy, for that was what the Prince still was, and this girl, really think that they could take on four men armed with clubs? The Prince hadn't even bothered to draw his sword!
"Put up your weapons," he gasped. "These men - ah, these people are invited here. This is Prince Keren! You shall not molest your next King on pain of expulsion." Horran turned to his right, gesturing. "We shall use this meeting room. Bring the best wine and enough goblets for all. You are dismissed."
The four put down their clubs and bowed, presumably for Keren's benefit. They then stood to the sides of the wide passage to allow their Guildmaster to pass. The fifth man had an objection.
"Guildmaster! You permit women to enter the hall!"
"There seems to me to be sufficient reason for it," Horran replied. "At least for now. That is why we meet, to discover the truth. Brathan, you shall join us as witness for the craft."
Horran gestured again and Brathan preceded him into the room. Keren, Garia, Parrel and Jenet followed, the first three finding chairs around the richly polished table which filled the center of the paneled room, Jenet taking position behind Garia. Horran lost no time getting down to business.
"Highness, forgive me if I seem rude but there is much said already which makes little sense to me. I need information. Brathan, sit down and take that look off your face. First, Parrel, describe to me what happened when -" he found himself unable to say her name, "- she came to the Guildhall in Palarand."
"That's not quite so easy, Horran. We must start at the beginning."
He bent down and produced from his waist pouch an exquisitely detailed bronze dinner fork, which he laid on the table in front of Horran. Horran's eyes widened as he picked up the fork.
"So," he said slowly, as he examined the object, "the rumors are true, then. We have seen forks here in Dekarran for some months and we wondered..." He turned to Garia. "These are yours? I mean, these are used where you come from, I take it?" Garia nodded. "And where might that be, milady?"
"If you will permit me," Keren said. "Garia was found, about six months ago now, in the high mountains by Master Tanon and his caravan as they returned through the Palumaks from Moxgo. It was apparent from the start that Garia was like no other person on Anmar." Horran's eyes widened again at the implication behind the Prince's words. "She comes from another world like ours called Earth, and the societies there are much in advance of our own. She estimates that it is as if she comes from about two hundred years into our own future. She has no idea how she came to Anmar so is effectively stranded here. My father has adopted her and she resides with us in the palace. She is willing to pass on to us what knowledge she holds of ideas and devices from her own world."
Keren grimaced as he continued, "Unfortunately it seems that there are others who do not wish her to share her knowledge. Two days ago, four men who we believe were in the pay of Yod attempted to abduct her from inside the castle and smuggle her away. They told her that if they could not do so, they would kill her rather than allow her to pass on her knowledge. That is why we traveled here today with such a strong escort."
Horran was bewildered. "But, Highness, if she was not abducted, and she is obviously not dead, then how was she rescued? Were the men discovered in time?"
"Regrettably not, Guildmaster. She and her maid were led by two of the men deep into the castle, through rarely used passages," Horran nodded, remembering the labyrinth, "and held by two more men in ambush. Her maid managed to put out the eye of her own attacker and that caused sufficient distraction that Garia was able to kill the man who held her. The other two, who held swords, then fled, not knowing if she was capable of defeating them also."
Horran rested his elbows on the table and put his head into his hands. He looked up after a moment.
"Highness, if any other had told this tale but you, I would have judged them a madman. Even now, I think it will take me some time to accept what you have told us. It seems that I have missed much during my absence from the south."
Keren gave him a wide smile. "As you say, Guildmaster. You have missed much indeed. No doubt Master Parrel will be able to inform you of the many changes Garia's presence has brought to Palarand. Trust me when I say that although she is barely old enough to be called apprentice, yet she has such knowledge that the Guildsmen of Palarand fairly made her their equal. But today's visit is about matters which concern your own guild directly, as we mentioned in the courtyard."
"As you say, Highness," Horran said slowly. "I heard tales of such expansion of our mines that made my eyes water, let alone my mouth. Tell me, Parrel, how much of that was talk, to attract my interest?"
"None of it, Horran," Parrel replied. "The position was stated fairly, I think. But you cannot expect your domain to be run as it has been so far, the other guilds will not permit it, even if the King were so willing."
"...not permit it?" Horran was outraged. "You have no right, Parrel!"
"You have no guild, Horran," Parrel replied shortly. "At the turn of the year all guilds in Palarand, which are chartered by the King, remember, will be merged into a single new body which will be called the Royal Palarand Institute of Engineers. We have found over the months since Lady Garia has been with us that we need to collaborate more and more closely together and so the distinction between the crafts is rapidly disappearing. When we build a works for the manufacture of paper, which employs metalsmiths, stonemasons, carpenters, plumbers and millwrights, and operates its own wagons, then the mixing of guildsmen between the crafts becomes inevitable. Our narrow divisions will not be practical in the future."
"You may have a point, Parrel. The mines employ metalsmiths and carpenters as well as miners and wagoneers, after all." Horran shook his head. "I won't pretend that I like it, Parrel, and there are many of my guild who will like it even less."
"Even when they begin earning more money?" Garia asked. "Even when their working conditions become more comfortable, when their standard of living improves?"
"There are many who dislike change, milady."
Keren and Garia exchanged a glance.
"Yes, we've already met some of them," Garia said. "We didn't expect everyone to understand right away, Guildmaster. And we fully expect that you will stand up for the interests of your own members. But the only people who you will harm by obstructing what is to come will be yourselves."
Horran stared at the others, thinking hard. Suddenly, the world had shifted around him and everything he thought he knew looked different. He looked at the young woman across the table, wondering just how much she really knew. He smiled at her for the first time.
"So, milady. You say it is as if you are from two hundred years into our future? Tell me, then, what changes there might be in mining in that time."
"That went better than I expected," Parrel said as the frayen toiled up the ramp to the castle, pulling the carriage. "I thought he'd never let you set foot inside the door."
Garia smiled. "You don't think that the twenty armed men had anything to do with it, then?"
Parrel smiled back. "That certainly helped, milady. And I shall treasure the look on his face when you told him about strip mining. To remove entire mountains to smelt into steel!" He shook his head in wonder. "That made my jaw drop as well, I will privately admit. But the lure of wealth was what turned it, milady. The inevitable increase in the size of the miners guild - and their section of the new institute, of course - certainly has its attractions for Horran."
Garia snickered. "Did you see the look on his face when I told him about Blackstone? He thought the King had given me a mountain of rubbish, but then I told him his men would be digging it all out to feed your blast furnaces. Priceless!"
Parrel grinned now, relaxed. "It is not often I have seen Horran lost for words, milady. Truly, I think he now understands what is taking place in Palarand."
The carriage jolted to a stop and the coachman jumped down to open the door. Garia climbed out to find the Queen hovering anxiously in the entrance to the castle foyer.
"Oh, good! I wasn't sure whether to send a messenger after you," Terys said, her face pale.
"Whatever is the matter, ma'am? Has there been more trouble?"
"Come inside, both of you," Terys requested. "No need for everyone to know, though most of the castle is already aware, of course." She paused, uncertain how to explain. "Your own affairs are untouched, Garia. But there may be delay. This afternoon, after she rose from her nap, Taranna had a seizure and collapsed. I'm afraid that we could do nothing to -"
Terys looked past Garia to see Feteran walking through the doorway behind them. He raised an eyebrow at the group.
"Feteran," Terys said to him, "Go to your father." She sighed. "I regret that I have to tell you that your mother has just died."
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