Somewhere Else Entirely -130-

Arrivals keep coming at the palace and the staff are forced to take measures to ensure everything works smoothly. Eventually almost everyone has arrived and Garia joins the wives and daughters of the various rulers for a get-together... which exposes a gulf in comprehension. On the day before Spring Dawning the last visitors trickle in... accompanied by some unwelcome guests!

Somewhere Else Entirely

by Penny Lane

130 - Full House

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.

"I don't think we can avoid internal combustion engines completely," Garia responded. "They are just too useful. Imagine a timber operation, far from any electric supply, a rock drill, a lawnmower or even just a small boat. Electric motors just won't cut it everywhere and there's only so much we can do with steam."

Maralin shrugged. "I guess. As a city girl much of that would never have occurred to me. I tend to think in terms of city blocks and freeways, not farmland, open country or the sea. What I was trying to suggest was that we'd want to make sure they went to electric or renewable power as soon as possible which means electric railroads, cars and trucks. We want to try and avoid the whole oil mess if we can."

"Oh, yes! You got that right. But in the larger towns and cities we can have a policy which allows rapid transit of some kind, plus cabs, so we won't need so many cars or trucks on the streets."

"Rapid transit? You mean a subway, right?" Maralin was doubtful. "That would work for the larger cities, I agree, but it would be overkill for most of the towns I've passed through, even after the Industrial Revolution has happened."

"Maybe." Garia considered. "I'm not so sure about driving a subway under Palarand, or anywhere else in the Great Valley, thinking about it. The ground is too soft, so I'm told. I was thinking more of trolleys or possibly elevated."

Maralin shook his head. "Elevated is too noisy, trust me. And all that rusting steel is too hard to maintain. You're right about the tunneling, and don't they have these marvellous sewers here under the bigger cities? What the Romans left?"

"Chivans, they call them here. I believe it's after the leader of the group of Romans who arrived here two thousand years ago. Hmm. I don't know squat about subway systems but we could go under the sewers, there are Earth cities that do that, right? As for the rusting steel, I was thinking of jumping that phase and going straight to concrete where needed."

"That's a good idea! I'll add it to your shopping list. Some kind of reference manual on making structures out of precast concrete."

"Just general concrete techniques would be a start. Would you believe they only used it here for backfilling postholes and filling foundation trenches?"

Maralin thought back to his schooling. "Didn't the Romans - Earth ones, I mean - use concrete? Even stuff that set under water? Why hasn't that knowledge survived here?"

"The way I heard it, the Chivans died out through some kind of plague or virus leaving just a load of deserted buildings and water systems behind them. Nobody since has even recognized the writings they left behind, let alone remembered anything they did or how they did it. There's just a few words that survive in the common tongue, that's all."

"Oh. Concrete, then." Maralin made a note, then paused. "Say, subways could be at a disadvantage here in the Valley, though. What about these rains I keep hearing about? Are they really that bad?"

Garia grinned. "Oh, yes, trust me on that. I guess it would be like a monsoon on Earth but since neither of us have experienced such a thing just let me say that it will rain more or less for two months straight. Most road surfaces will be under water which is why the sidewalks are raised up so much. Almost every field will be flooded so they have the harvests just before it's due to start. Here in the palace every courtyard turns into a swimming pool, although the drains just about manage to keep pace with the downpour."

"Hmm. I have that experience to come, of course."

"You might get more experience than I did, actually. Are you going to be in Joth itself?"

"Not sure. Depends if they finish rebuilding His Grace's mansion. Probably."

"Joth is right on the river and the Sirrel expands considerably during the rainy season. You might find that you're living in Venice for a while."

Maralin looked startled. "Wow, I hadn't thought of that!"

There was a knock at the door and Jenet went to answer it. She spoke to the footman and returned, closing the door behind her. The conversation switched from English to the local language.

"Milady, a party approaches the palace and His Majesty desires your presence to welcome the visitors."

Garia sighed. "Okay, Jenet, I'll be right there." She turned to Maralin. "Have you got enough for now? I'm guessing opportunities to talk like this will be harder to arrange from now on until afterwards."

"Aye, I would agree." Maralin stood up. "Can I join you at the porch?"

"I don't see why not. The King has said that this will probably be the last time he can go to the door because there's so many people here already. Later visitors will have to go to the Receiving Room to be greeted." She grinned. "That's why it is called the Receiving Room, after all. He goes to the porch to show his guests he's making an effort for his friends."

The three made their way through the corridors towards the front entrance, to be on the way stopped by Captain Merek.

"My Lady, if I may take a moment of your time."

"Certainly, Captain. Only, we are going to greet some more arrivals."

"I'll walk with you if I may." They resumed their route to the porch. "Milady, we are stretched for people, as you well know," Merek explained. "Since most of those who are visiting are strangers, it will be necessary to arrange more patrols about the palace and grounds. Intending no offence, Tenant."

Maralin waved an arm dismissively. "Not a problem, Captain. I'm surprised you manage with so few, actually, given the size of the building. Can I or my men be of any assistance?"

Merek colored. "Ah, regrettably not, Tenant, thank you for offering. The men I need must wear the colors of His Majesty, so as to be identified as familiar with the palace and its methods."

"I understand, Captain. Still, if you can make use of us elsewhere..."

"I'll bear that in mind, Tenant."

"I see why you wanted to speak to me, Captain," Garia said. "Of course, my men also have the option of palace colors. Yes, of course you can borrow them, that was understood from the beginning. I'll need to keep a few to look after Blackstone House and of course my own personal escort but these are special circumstances for special days. Have you talked to Feteran yet?"

"I have not, Milady."

"I'll find him and get him to arrange matters with you, okay?"

Merek bowed. "Thank you, Milady."

Garia had a thought. "Captain, what about the Einnlanders? I'm sure Her Highness would be ready to help."

Merek's smile was apologetic. "Milady, I have already asked her and her men are presently about the palace. Since they do not know the customs and practices of the Palace Guard they have been given tasks that keep them away from our visitors, but that release other guardsmen in their place."

"Oh. I should have thought of that, shouldn't I? Okay, like Tenant Maralin said, if I can help any other way..."

"Of course, Milady."

The arriving party consisted of a carriage and ten riders. Maralin bent to whisper in Garia's ear.

"I know these people, Garia. They are from Forguland and Ferenis. I'll let them make the introductions."

The carriage disgorged two noblewomen and two maids, who stood waiting while the men dismounted. Garia saw then that two of the men were in plain traveling clothes while the others wore three different kinds of uniform. The two men led the party up the steps to the waiting reception. Both noblemen bowed to Robanar before the most senior of them spoke.

"Your Majesty. I am Count Saram of Ferenis and this is my traveling companion Count Fard of Forguland. May I present my wife Countess Bartra and Fard's wife Countess Windra. His Grace Duke Gathol offers his regrets at being unable to present himself here for your son's marriage but he knows that you will understand the reasons. Both my father and His Grace Duke Sildenar desired to come, as is customary, but found it necessary to send their sons and heirs instead."

Robanar grunted. "Be welcome in my house, my friends. With the enemy on your lands I am not surprised that your fathers felt unable to come to Palarand. Ladies, welcome. I know that you have been given a chance to enjoy our Spring Dawning festivals and attend a wedding, I'm sure that the Queen will make your visit to us enjoyable."

Saram replied, "Thank you, Sire."

Fard added, "Sire, thank you for understanding. My father feared you might consider his absence to be a slight."

"Nothing of the kind, Fard! Those of Yod have despoiled our own lands, I know how you both must feel keenly about leaving the field of battle... although perhaps your wives may be more relieved to have some distance between themselves and the enemy."

"Aye, Sire, I can but agree. If I may, I have brought Captain Brevin with me, he will advise you on the most recent situation concerning the war. He has dispatches from both our fathers."

The officer saluted and Robanar responded. "Captain, it is good to see you here. The dispatches we have already received are of good quality but the best witness is always one who has faced the enemy. We will have much to discuss while you reside with us."

"Thank you, Sire."

The three men then turned and bowed to Terys before facing Eriana. To everyone's surprise they got down on one knee in front of her.

"Your Highness," Fard said. "It is good to see you again. All Forguland thanks you once more for what you and your people did for us. I doubt your deed will ever be forgotten in our lands."

A flustered Eriana put out a hand. "Rise, please. I do not deserve this. We have already been richly rewarded, both by yourselves and by His Majesty." A thought occurred to her. "Have you news of those of my men we left behind?"

"Indeed, Highness," Fard replied as they stood again. His face was sober. "I deem it best we spoke of your men in private."

Eriana nodded. "As you wish."

Robanar resumed the introductions. "Fard, Saram, this is my wife Terys, Palarand's Queen. This young man is my son Keren, who is to be married shortly, and beside him his intended bride Garia, presently Baroness Blackstone."

Saram shook Keren's hand and said, "I believe we have met, Highness, when you came to Forguland."

"I remember it. Well met and welcome to my father's house."

"Thank you, Your Highness." Saram turned to Garia. "My Lady. When the Prince told us of your ideas and abilities we could scarce believe him. I am curious how one so young can possibly know so much."

Garia smiled a greeting as she curtseyed. "A long story, My Lord. Doubtless you will find out what you need to know while you are staying with us."

Robanar said, "We have others already arrived who doubtless will wish to be introduced to you. Someone will take you to rooms we have prepared for you and by the time you have freshened yourselves I deem that lunch will be ready. I will introduce you then."

"Sire, I beg you," Saram protested, "we realized that your house would be crowded for the celebrations and so we have arranged to stay at our countries' Residencies in the city. We did not have far to travel this morning."

"Oh!" Robanar was taken aback. "Hrm, very well, I must thank you for your consideration. It is true we have many staying here presently. I trust you will join us for lunch and the evening meal?"

"Of course, Your Majesty. There is a great deal for us all to talk about."

"Then join us inside." The King turned. "Where is Kendar? He must know of the changes."

* * *

Lunch was now taken in both the Receiving Room and the family dining room because of the numbers. Garia thought the kitchen was doing a great job but by the day of the festival things could possibly get somewhat stretched. Many guests were yet to arrive, not the least Uncle Gil and family. For now, only two lines of tables were set up in the big room and the newest arrivals faced the King across his table. Neither could take their eyes off Eriana who sat between Keren and Garia.

"Highness, it seems strange to see you attired thus," Fard remarked. "We are used to seeing you in more martial attire, yet I believe my wife will permit me to say that your gown suits you well."

"Thank you, My Lord," she replied. "I was a Princess born before I was a warrior, of course, but the gowns I wear now are the gift of the Palace Wardrobe here in Palarand. At home we do not customarily wear such fine attire. I must admit I find the gowns of Palarand very comfortable to wear." She turned to Garia. "Do you not agree, Garia?"

"Like yourself, these are not the clothes I would choose to wear at home," she said carefully. "Some of the styles they wear around here are odd to my way of thinking but I've gotten used to them now. You mentioned martial wear, My Lord. Let me tell you that I had a hand designing most of the clothes which women wear for fighting around here. I'm guessing that women don't fight in Forguland?"

"Indeed not, Milady! We were astonished to find that the party that took the fortress from those of Yod were led by a young woman, and that she had two other women beside her who took equal part in the battle. We knew that Eriana and her men came from a distant land, we thought the tradition of women warriors came from there." He paused, struck by a thought. "Do you tell me that women fight in your lands as well?"

Garia nodded. "That's right, My Lord. In fact, I think Eriana's father only tolerated her learning to fight because she was his daughter. In the lands of my birth women fight almost as much as men. We have a standing army and women can join most parts of it."

Fard's wife Windra looked surprised. "Lady Garia, how may a woman fight as a man does? Men are much stronger, I deem."

"It's not that simple, My Lady. Brute strength is not as big a factor as it is here. Hmm. This is an awkward subject, as it happens. For various reasons I can't talk much about what happens in... Kansas."

As one wife digested this the other spoke. "Lady Garia, if men and women fight side by side, are there not... consequences?" She blushed. "You know what I speak of."

"Lady... Bartra, is it? I'm sorry, there's been such a lot of new faces... um, we have ways and means around that problem, including strict regulations and a certain amount of separation. But yes, it still happens on occasion. Nonetheless, men and women can do most of the same jobs. If a pregnancy happens the army will arrange maternity leave and the mother can return to her unit afterwards."

Bartra in turn was shocked. "The mother returns to the army? But what of the infant? Who attends him or her?"

"Uh... it's difficult to explain, especially here." Garia turned. "Ma'am, can we speak about this later? I feel that would be more appropriate."

"As you wish, dear," Terys replied. "Yes, I believe it would be a good subject to discuss another time. Perhaps the lunch table is not the right place for such matters."

"But, Ma'am," Fard said, "If women are to fight, then naturally we would be interested in such a discussion."

Terys waved her fork. "Perhaps, My Lord, but let the ladies discuss it first. If you desire more information, perhaps you could speak to Captain Merek. Let him tell you how the women in our Palace Guard are managed."

"You have women in your guard?" Fard repeated, disbelieving.

"Aye, My Lord," Eriana confirmed. "The two who came with me, Danisa and Heldra, are members of the Palace Guard. They are the most experienced of those now training to protect Their Majesties." She smiled. "In truth, it was them and Lady Garia who taught me to fight properly."

Fard, speechless, stared at Garia. She smiled at him.

"I'm sorry, My Lord, it's a lot to accept. I'm sure we will be giving you and our other visitors a demonstration in due course."

From that point until the end of the meal it was Garia who had the attention of the visitors, not Eriana.

After lunch had been cleared the parties split along gender lines, the men remaining in the Receiving Room to talk while the women occupied the family dining room, as being the two largest free rooms in the palace. Some more comfortable chairs were found and the women gathered around in a circle.

"Your Majesty," Bartra asked, "How did you manage to find pieces of glass so large and so clear? Why, it is almost impossible to see that it is there at all!"

They all turned to look at the tall doors which led out into the courtyard.

"Oh, that," Terys said, with an air that indicated the subject was of no importance, "our glassmakers have gained the knowledge to make so large a sheet, Bartra. If your guildsmen will talk to our guildsmen, then I think we might come to some suitable arrangement."

"I think you'll want to do that, Bartra," Dianel added. "In our suite we have a mirror so large and so clear I might almost be looking at my twin! I can see the whole of my attire from head to foot and the colors are not changed as they are with a metal mirror. I cannot believe the difference it makes."

"Do you tell me? Perhaps we were mistaken, choosing to stay at our Residences."

"In fact," Terys explained, "the supply of mirrors and plate glass is small presently, there being so large a demand for it. The rooms you would have occupied would not have such mirrors, I deem, nor window glass so large. Plate glass is one of many new ideas and products recently arrived at Palarand and we are still building up production."

Windra said slowly, "When she was with us Princess Eriana spoke of a..." She looked at Garia. "Did she mean you, Lady Garia? I cannot believe the half of what I have heard, so much seems impossible."

"Am I the cause of what has happened to Palarand?" Garia said. "Probably. Most of it, I guess, but there are smart people here in the guilds and they have seen what can be done."

"But you are, what, sixteen?" Bartra objected. "What knowledge can a young lady of the court - forgive me - have of such matters?"

"Ma'am?" Garia appealed to Terys.

"Very well, Garia."

"Garia is not strictly a member of Palarand's court, Bartra," Terys explained. "She is not a Palarandi by birth, she does not come from anywhere in Alaesia or even Anmar but from somewhere else entirely. She comes from a different world called Earth, so far away that we have no idea where it is and there is no way for her to return home again."

The standard story, Garia thought as she listened to the explanation. Of course, the Queen knows better now... This will do. The truth is complicated enough as it is.

Terys explained that things were different in Kansas and that Garia had much knowledge which she had offered to give to Palarand. She skimmed over Garia's adventures and then sat back to await the inevitable questions.

"At lunch," Bartra asked, "You said that women in your country's army could bear children and then return to duty. I agree that the meal table was not a proper place for such words, but we are all women here. Would you explain, Lady Garia?"

"Of course," Garia replied. "I'm sorry, I might have given the impression they would go back to duty immediately after giving birth. The period of maternity leave could be as much as a year afterwards, or until the baby is weaned. After that there are daycare facilities where a number of babies would be looked after together."

"Oh, I see. You mean, like a nursery, then?"

"That's right, My Lady. There are trained carers and the children benefit from being with each other and growing up together. Of course at night they are returned to their parents. When they are four or five years old they would go to school."

Windra was surprised. "Lady Garia, all of them would be schooled?"

"My Lady, in Kansas every child must attend school from the age of five until they are eighteen. Oh, uh, our years are shorter than those here on Anmar so the equivalent ages would probably be five to sixteen."

"What do they spend all those years doing, if I may ask? I cannot believe that anyone would need so much teaching, unless they are not very clever."

"My Lady, on Earth our society is a lot more advanced than it is here and we need all that time to learn how to get around and make use of all the things we use. When we leave school most of us go on to spend another three or four years at an advanced place of learning called a University. That's where we learn in fine detail how our world works and how to make it even better."

"Indeed," Terys agreed. "We understand the methods of Garia's birth world and we seek to begin something similar here in Palarand. Even now we are laying out Anmar's first University to the west of the city, along the Kendeven Road."

"But who will teach in such a place? I accept that Lady Garia may have useful knowledge to give us but she cannot teach everyone all by herself."

"She will take almost no part in the teaching, Windra. Our teachers will be the Questors of Palarand." She smiled crookedly. "It seems they have been tamed by Garia and are anxious to obey the King's command."

Bartra said, "You have tamed your Questors? Extraordinary!"

"I am told she made lightning for them and they did not know how she did it." Terys waved a hand. "No matter. Let us talk of other things you should know."

"My Lady," Bartra asked Garia, "You told us that your women fought in your army. Do they use swords as the men do, or are they employed some other way? I cannot believe they are strong enough to pull a bow."

"I can use swords," Garia replied. "I'm too small for a normal sword so Master Haflin, the King's Master-at-Arms, made me some special ones. You'll probably get to see them before you depart. But... on Earth, we don't much use swords or bows any more, My Lady. We have far worse weapons than that. I'm sorry, but I really can't explain much more except to say that the guns the Yodans used, they originated on Earth. The idea was brought to Yod by an Earth boy they captured."

"You all use guns then? How frightful!"

"And other weapons, My Lady, some of which can destroy an entire city in the blink of an eye. We don't want anyone here to find out how to make those, which is why I can't say much more."

The women stared at Garia, suddenly realizing that the girl who sat in front of them was anything but a simple noblewoman.

"You are to be Palarand's next Queen," Bartra said. "I deem that is the best place for you to be, Lady Garia. I now understand much that has puzzled me and my husband about your betrothal."

"Aye," Windra agreed. "Perhaps those rumors are not as wild as I thought them to be."

Terys commented, "I have heard some of those rumors, though of course they may be wilder the further away from the palace one travels. Most, I can assure you, are not true, but the truth is just as strange. There is no need for rumor where Garia is concerned."

* * *

Later in the afternoon, as the women were taking pel and pastries, a footman came and bowed before the Queen.

"Ma'am, the King begs to inform you that a procession approaches the gates."

"Very well," Terys said, lowering her cup. "Do we know who it is?"

"I am told it is the Duke Bardanar who returns, Ma'am."

"Ah. Is he alone, do you know?"

"Ma'am, it is two carriages and two wagons. I would not presume to know their numbers."

"He has probably brought his family with him, then. We shall go and welcome them. Coming, ladies?"

The ladies walked through to join their menfolk in the Receiving Room. All had found appropriate seats before Bardanar appeared behind Kendar with his family in tow. He bowed briefly to Robanar before the two embraced.

"Welcome again, brother. As I have said before, you are always welcome here - especially as you are accompanied by my sister this time. Ah! And I see behind her my nephew and nieces."

Another embrace, this time for Kasona. The sister of Robanar and Gilbanar was a plump middle-aged woman with dark brown hair and a homely face. She stood taller than Terys but had the same air of an experienced consort. Robanar turned to the other rulers.

"Friends, you may know Bardanar of Brugan, our neighbor. With him is Duchess Kasona, my sister, and their three children Padrik, Mesria and Yanderet. Bardanar, you already know Visselen and Sindenna of course, here is Mariswin of Virgulend with Grand Duchess Dianel, Chorvath of Smordan, his son Chorsond, and we have even managed to entice Margrave Simbran all the way from Faralmark. On this side you know Wallesan of course and we have Count Saram and Countess Bartra representing Ferenis and Count Fard with his wife Windra for Forguland. Phew! Have I forgotten anybody?"

The others looked at each other but it was Bardanar who spoke.

"Robanar, it is I who have forgotten someone. Permit me to introduce Vigond Morgis representing Kenigen Botold of Shald. When I returned to Brugan I discovered him there, attempting to discover the truth behind some strange rumors about activity in the upper reaches of Nardenis Vale last winter." He gave Robanar a sidelong glance, then continued, "I informed him of the impending marriage here and he offered to join us for the journey to represent his King. I have told him that his inquiries might be satisfied during his stay in Palarand."

"Well! Vigond Morgis, be welcome at my court. We do not receive visitors from Shald very often, I wish there were more."

The slim courtier bowed to Robanar, looking slightly overwhelmed at the array of rulers in front of him. When he replied, his voice was firm but his accent exotic.

"Thank you for your welcome and your kind words, Your Majesty. If my country had received better warning, a more appropriate delegation might have been arranged but the turn of the seasons cannot be denied. It seems I must manage by myself. I am authorized to provide seal and signature if so desired."

Robanar's eyebrows rose. "I do not know you. Are you of the royal family?"

"Aye, Sire. My mother is the Queen's sister. I have their full confidence."

Robanar gave a brief nod. "Then you shall do your part when the time comes, Morgis. A room will be provided in the palace for your stay. You may sup with us when we eat, as your country's representative."

Morgis bowed low. "Thank you, Sire."

"Then, if you will follow Kendar, he will take you and those of Brugan to your chambers where you may refresh yourselves. This evening we shall feast in here and there will be time for all to make themselves familiar one with another."

Eriana leaned over to speak in Garia's ear. "I do not know this title, Vigond. Is it familiar to you, Garia?"

"I have no idea, Eriana," Garia replied in a whisper. "From the sound I would think it might be a corruption of Viscount... I think a Viscount is about halfway between a Count and an Baron, but I could be wrong. You remember we don't have titles like these where I came from?"

"Aye, I do, but I do not understand how your land can possibly function without. What of his liege? What manner of title is that?"

"Again, I have no idea. I have heard Shald called a Kingdom, so presumably he is the equivalent of a King. Until we can get a proper Alaesian history project going and find out what the roots of all these places is, we're not going to know why these titles exist."

"For once I understand your desire to increase learning among these people, Garia."

* * *

The carriage ride back to Blackstone House was late, and the streets that their carriage clattered through were almost deserted. Garia yawned. It had been a long day and this time she had attended the evening reception along with Eriana. Bardanar's children were older than her friends but were still interested in her adventures, so some time was spent trying to explain what had happened without appearing too big-headed. Of course, Dalenna and Terissa were also there and wanted to hear more about the Battle of the Highway.

"It is nice to speak with those our own age, is it not?" Eriana asked. "In my father's house we do not have the visitors a Kingdom such as Palarand must host and those who attend there are all known to me, of course. Some of them can be tiring, I deem. To speak freely with younger folk, it is refreshing."

"I agree," Garia replied. "It is a pity that my friends live far enough away that we only get to see them maybe twice a year, though. When the others come tomorrow you'll find more our own age, Eriana. We're still young enough we can fool about and talk about things in a less serious way."

"I might like that," the Princess said reflectively. "To grow up in a royal court is a serious business, and that builds barriers between ourselves and normal folk, do you not agree?"

Garia smiled. "That's an interesting comment, coming from you. When you arrived here you were almost untameable. I certainly found it difficult talking to you."

Eriana blushed. "Aye, Garia. Now I think on my conduct I am embarrassed. My world was once so small and I thought myself mistress of it all. Now I know better."

"You're doing good and your experience will help over the festival. We are in company with Kings and Dukes and Rulers with Strange Names, after all." She giggled. "You realize that I'm not from a royal household at all, don't you? I'm looking at this from the other end, Eriana, but I have made friends with a number of the young nobles who live nearby and they have all accepted me."

"Aye," Eriana nodded. "Yet you have the touch that will make you a fine Queen, I deem."


At breakfast the following morning there was news.

"I have received a semaphore signal from Dekarran," Merizel announced. "The party from Blackstone arrived there late yesterday and will cross the river this afternoon. They will stay overnight at South Slip and head south tomorrow morning, so should arrive here sometime tomorrow afternoon."

"That's good news," Garia said. "It must be difficult for them, having to find accommodation and so on. A journey like that must be quite complicated to organize. When we came down, of course, we just stayed in castles along the way."

"Aye, and Jaxen arranged the accommodation on the way up, as I recall. It is not so easy for ordinary folk."

"At least the semaphore can make the job a little easier," Garia observed. "It must be possible to find accommodation and reserve it before you set out."

Terinar said, "I deem the semaphore would be too expensive for ordinary folk, unless the message was important. Was it so cheap on Earth, Garia?"

She shrugged. "I don't know, Terry. Maybe a soo or two, that's all. Remember, the semaphore system didn't last very long on Earth since we moved on to other methods. I have no real way to compare costs anyhow. I still don't know the value of anything people buy or sell. That doesn't happen when you live in a palace."

Terinar grinned. "Or in a large castle. I understand you, Garia. The smallest coin, then, would buy you lunch, perhaps, and may also permit you to send a message from one end of your country to the other. A bargain, indeed."

"So, you're joining us today?"

Terinar nodded. "Aye, since our friends are arriving from Dekarran and Kendeven. It will be good to see the others again but I doubt we shall find a quiet corner for a meeting as we did before."

Garia thought. "Well, hang on to that thought, Terry. Since Milsy and Tarvan moved out of the old Royal Questor's rooms I doubt anyone else has gone there. We could go in there like we did before."

Merizel warned, "This will not be like Harvest Festival, Garia. There will be more people and much more to arrange." She regarded her friend seriously. "I wouldn't want you to be late for somebody else's wedding, let alone your own."

"Truth, Merry, but looked at the other way it keeps us all from getting in everybody else's way and Kendar will know where to find us all, won't he?"

"As you say. I think Milsy still has the keys." Merizel looked around. "Where is she?"

"I have no idea. We'll have a look in the workshops before we leave for the palace."

Milsy and Tarvan had taken an early breakfast to finish up some projects before the enforced break over the festival period. The keys to the laboratory were handed over to disappear into Jenet's bag and the augmented party set off for the palace. This time there were two carriages, one borrowed from Tanon's establishment next door, with Merizel and Terinar traveling in the second.

As they pulled out onto the city streets they were met by crowds who had obviously arrived soon after dawn and waited for the procession to appear. The city inhabitants had figured out Garia's arrangements and knew she had to travel to the palace each day so wanted to get a good view of her. They respectfully kept to the sidewalks but the numbers were larger than anyone had expected.

"Is it going to be like this every time I set foot outdoors?" she asked plaintively.

"Probably," Terinar replied. "You're a well-known figure now, of course, and you're about to become the wife of the heir to the throne. Of course they want to see you."

"I knew if I married Keren there would be more attention, but this -" She pasted on a smile and began to wave to the crowds, who cheered in response. "People back home are envious of folk who live in big palaces and travel round in fancy carriages. Nobody ever mentions the other side of being royalty."

Terinar grinned. "To use your own phrase, Garia, welcome to my world."

Once at the palace they had a spare half bell before being required for anything so went to investigate the old Royal Questor's suite.

"Looks okay to me," Terinar commented. "Tarvan and Milsy have even cleaned up after themselves."

"I think that's standard Guild practice," Garia said. "Most of the laboratory is still untouched, of course, but we won't go near that. The sitting room will do fine for a get-together." That triggered a thought. "Merry, do you know what that business with Molleena was all about?"

"Business, Garia?"

"She obviously said something in the palace that caused embarrassment and had to be told off. You remember."

"Oh, aye!" Merizel giggled. "It would never have occurred to any of us! Tarvan's overalls were in the palace laundry and he borrowed a cleaning dress, since all ours were still hanging up in the bedroom. Molleena saw him and couldn't keep it to herself. Neither Milsy nor Tarvan thought to warn her it was supposed to be a secret."

"Oh, I see! Poor Tarvan. Well, she was warned."

"Aye, she keeps her mouth shut now, I deem."

* * *

The day's first guests arrived in a train of three carriages and four wagons in the mid-afternoon, just as Garia was considering asking the Queen if pel and pastries could be ordered. Waiting in the Receiving Room wasn't so bad especially with everyone asking her questions but she was beginning to feel the need for the regular afternoon habit. Then Kendar banged his staff and everybody hastily found their seats.

"His Highness Prince Jarith of Vardenale, accompanied by Princess Malann and Count Haldren!"

Jarith strode forward and bowed to Robanar before clasping arms and then hugging him.

"Uncle! It is good to see you again. Your Majesty," he turned to Terys, "I have brought your daughter for a visit."

Malann rushed forward and hugged her mother before being enfolded by Robanar's arms.

"You look good, my daughter," he said. "Those children of yours haven't worn you down, then? Where are they?"

"Ah, father, if this were a normal visit they would be beside us. With all the august guests I see before me I thought best to keep them away from all the fuss and confusion. We will visit again later in the year, perhaps, when all is quietened down."

Malann turned to Keren. "Little brother!" She gave him a hug. "I see that you have finally found someone who can keep up with your activities, then. Which is she?"

She turned and her gaze lit on Eriana, but the Princess merely shook her head with a smile and indicated Garia.

Malann raised an eyebrow. "Well! You are not what I expected. Mother has written of you but I imagined... someone taller."

There were chuckles from others in the crowd.


Garia said, "Your Highness, almost everyone who meets me says that very thing. I can assure you that I'm just the right size for what I have to do."

Jarith surprised Garia then by standing in front of her and kissing her hand.

"I am pleased to meet you finally, My Lady," he said. "Malann has talked of no-one else for months."

"I hope it's not rumors," Garia told him. "I can do a lot of things but most of the rumors I've heard are just that."

"Mayhap. I am intrigued by what I have heard so far." Jarith turned to Robanar. "May I introduce my second cousin Count Haldren, Your Majesty. He has not traveled to Palarand before, I do not remember if you have previously met him in Vardenale. He is a man of the mountains which I believe are of interest to both our countries."

"Your Majesty." Haldren bowed deeply. "The King of Vardenale sends his best wishes but regrets that he is unable to join us for the festivities. In the matter His Highness spoke of, I am authorized to discuss certain matters affecting both our countries and to make agreements if that should prove possible. Of course, His Majesty always reserves the final word in such matters."

"Of course." Robanar considered briefly before nodding. "Haldren, I deem that you will have much work ahead of you before you return to Vardenale. There are... other matters which have arisen that will be of great interest to your country. Jarith, I include you in that discussion. The allied armies have invaded Yod and the outcome may be unexpected to many. There are wider considerations at stake than merely mining rights.

"But I am forgetting myself. Let me introduce you all to the others who arrived before you. Of course you know Bardanar and his wife Kasona. Have you met their son Padrik before? Well..."

Malann could have been no-one else but Keren's sister. She was a perfect female version of him in looks but slightly shorter, softer and rounder. Garia knew she had two children and that had had a natural effect on her body but she was still younger than many of the younger generation who had accompanied the other rulers to Palarand.

Aside from the Queen, Malann was the one person Garia knew she would have to give a good accounting of herself to.

Jarith was another matter. Taller than Keren, he looked to have stepped right out of a Disney movie. His eyes were blue and his hair was a rich chestnut. From the angle he held his head to his square chin to the planes of his cheekbones she knew that many girls would struggle to breathe in his presence. Fortunately for all concerned it appeared he was content to be with the mother of his children.

"If you would excuse us briefly," Robanar was saying to the others, "we would appreciate a small family reunion before we begin to consider matters that concern all of us. Merek, if you would look after Count Haldren? Garia, I think you should join us, as you will soon officially become part of our family."

That was as far as Robanar got before Kendar banded his staff again, causing everyone's head to turn in surprise.

"His Grace Duke Gilbanar of Dekarran, accompanied by his wife Duchess Vivenne and their daughter Countess Korizet, together with Captain Jokar."

Gilbanar, Vivenne and Korizet walked into the room and right up to Robanar, where they made the necessary obeisance to him. Robanar and Gilbanar then clasped each other in a bear hug before separating.

"Welcome, welcome! Gil, you arrive late and almost last, but the palace kitchens thank you for it. As you can see, we already feed a crowd of the high and mighty from along the Valley. Vivenne, my dear, it is good to see you once more. Your usual suites are prepared for you. Young Terinar has found a bed in Garia's House for the while but doubtless you will be able to spend some time with him. Korizet, let me see you! You grow more elegant and beautiful each time I see you."

After the inevitable hugs Gilbanar replied, "Thanks, Rob. We saw the other procession turn into the gate in the distance but couldn't manage to catch up with it. Well!" Gilbanar turned to survey the others waiting to be introduced to him. "I see familiar faces and there are some here new to me. I doubt not we shall speak of many things while we are here." He grinned. "Garia! Still causing mayhem, I see?"

Garia curtseyed demurely. "As you say, Your Grace. It's just a festival and some weddings, you know? Nothing out of the ordinary."

Gilbanar guffawed. "I see your sense of humor hasn't changed, at least!" He turned to Robanar, his face becoming serious. "I hear there is important news from the west."

"Aye, but let us complete the introductions before the whole afternoon descends into confusion."

"I am forgetting myself, Sire."

Robanar grunted. "Well, you hardly need introducing to Norvelen or Visselen, do you? Norvelen arrived just before you did. Jarith and Malann arrived earlier though they left the children at home this time. Now, Bardanar and Kasona are friends, of course, but have you met Mariswin before? He has brought..."

* * *

"Why are we coming here?" Garia asked Keren.

"Because you wanted a break and Terry and Merry have had enough of all the high-powered talk going on in the Receiving Room." He gestured at the courtyard. "Don't you recognize it?"

Garia looked around. The sun was in the far west and the shadows were lengthening, so it was difficult to make much out. The palace appeared to have dozens of courtyards and most looked very similar. This one, on the other hand, had raised beds with gravel walkways between them.

"This is the herb garden!"

She stepped out onto the paths, glad that her shoes had square heels and not stillettoes which would have sunk in the gravel.

"Merry, Terry, look! This is the place I fell into when I climbed out that window."

She shaded her eyes and looked up at the windows above the cloister roof, trying to figure out which one she had climbed out of before making an undignified backward flip into a bed of herbs. Now that she had been reminded of her location, the smells began to be more noticeable.

"Here?" Terinar asked. "What happened, Garia?"

She recounted the events of the night somebody had tried to break into her sleeping chamber and she had climbed out of the window to escape. She explained her dilemma when people had come to rescue her and what had happened afterwards, ending with Keren carrying her upstairs to Elizet's old bed.

"Oh, how romantic!" Merizel breathed. "What a wonderful beginning!"

Keren reddened. "Well, it was a tense night and we were both tired and embarrassed, Merry. The whole palace was in an uproar, looking for intruders or possible assassins. I doubt either of us were thinking in romantic terms."

"Hardly," Garia agreed. "Besides, I had scraped my shins so they were bandaged up and I was only wearing a filthy nightgown..." She stopped when she realized she was just making Merizel worse.

"You jumped from up there?" Terinar asked, pointing to the upper windows.

"That's right, although I didn't really jump. I climbed out and turned round so that I could try and walk along to another window. Unfortunately those tiles are so slippery that I slid down the roof, my feet got caught in the guttering and I flipped out to land on my back... over there, I think." She pointed. "It looks like all the evidence has been washed or tidied away."

Keren smiled. "I have to admit you smelled nice with all those herbs on you."

Garia stuck out her tongue. "Yes, like a lump of meat on a spit! Every time I have that particular herb in a meal I think of that night." She cocked her head. "Maybe it's not such a bad smell to have after all. It could have been a lot worse if I'd missed the bed and landed on the stone surrounds. As it was I had bruises, remember?"

"Aye, and I remember that didn't stop you at all. That was when you decided you needed to start doing those exercises."

Garia giggled. "Look where that ended up!"

The others joined in the laughter.

A door at the far end of the courtyard banged open and Captain Merek came through. He spotted the group and crunched his way rapidly along the gravel paths towards them.

"Oh, no," Keren groaned. "Our peaceful few moments didn't last long, did they?" He looked up. "Captain, what can we do for you?"

"Highness, Milady. I thought you ought to see this." He held up a semaphore message sheet.

Keren took it and scanned the clear text printed below the signal groups.

"It says here that Shabreth will arrive tomorrow, having crossed the border into Palarand..." He looked up at the expectant faces of the others, explaining to Garia, "Duke Shabreth rules Plif. It was he who Eriana went to meet, which ended with her coming here to Palarand." He read further. "He is accompanied by Duchess Luann, as we might expect, and -" His voice was suddenly shocked. "Maker! Captain, I'm glad you forewarned us of this. Does she know?"

Merek nodded. "Aye, Highness. She was the first person I told, before even the King."

Garia suddenly felt cold. "Who is it, Keren?"

He turned to her, his expression one of turmoil. "Prince Torulf, Eriana's brother."


"Are you sure this is a good idea?" Eriana asked again.

Garia looked her up and down. "I think so, Eriana. You have to show your brother that you have sworn to Robanar and this is about the best way to do it."

They had both dressed in riding gear this morning, in palace colors. Upstairs, Terinar was doing the same and Merizel and their three maids were also in palace gear rather than Blackstone greens. Today, the four nobles would ride their frayen while the maids sat alone in their carriage.

Three of the nobles would also be heavily armed, Merizel not being proficient with anything except the personal pistols they all now carried concealed somewhere about their uniforms. Terinar had his usual dress sword hanging from his belt while Garia had her crossed swords across her back. Eriana's back bore her big broadsword. All of the maids now carried pistols in their bags, although only Jenet and Marisa were confident enough to use them properly.

The procession set out through the carriage entrance and the crowd fell into silence while they digested what they saw in front of them. Faced with a carriage that held only maids and unexpected riders in the King's colors they were momentarily confused until Garia and Eriana began waving. Then people understood what they were seeing and the cheers grew even louder.

Dear God. What have I started?

As they progressed through the streets Eriana leaned in to make herself heard.

"I think they like what they see, Garia."

"I'm forced to agree," she shouted back. "Who knew? Still, I'm not objecting. I'd rather this than silence."

"Aye. It shows you are already well liked by the people."

"Some of them. This display of affection is going to annoy some nobles, for sure."

"Huh. Nobles." Eriana made a face and swept a hand dismissively to one side. "What do we care about nobles?"

"The nobles are going to do the hard work for us, Eriana. Don't discount them just like that."

"As you say."

Then they had to stop speaking because the noise was becoming too loud.

In the palace there was an air of tension as everybody made ready for the final visitors. Garia and Eriana changed their riding skirts for pleated ones like those worn by the palace guardswomen. Although the meaning would not be obvious to foreigners Garia now wore her 'differenced' royal sash and Eriana had one with a white band through the middle instead of Garia's pink one. Eriana had now put her hair up as in a ponytail but then plaited the tail so that it would not get in the way should anything happen.

There was a shocked silence when Garia and Eriana encountered Jarith and Malann in a corridor on their way to the front porch.

"Maker! Your Highness? Lady Garia? You really know how to use those swords?"

"Aye, Your Highness," Eriana replied to Malann. Jarith simply couldn't keep his eyes off either of the armed girls. "We are both proficient in the weapons we bear and we have both tested them in battle. Mayhap it is battle we prepare for today, since my brother arrives with the Duke of Plif."

"Your brother, Highness? I thought you came from a land far away, beyond the Palumaks."

"Please, we are friends, are we not? Let us dispense with titles and use each other's names. I am Eriana. Though born a Princess in Einnland, in Palarand I am a Princess only by the courtesy of your father. In four days Garia will become a Princess as well and your relative by marriage, so there is no need for formality between us. To answer your questions, aye, my brother comes and Einnland is indeed far away beyond the Palumaks. You see, I ran away from home, since my father ordered a degrading marriage for me that I could not face, and Palarand has given me sanctuary. I doubt not my brother seeks to return me to my father's court, and I deem cold steel may be the only way to convince him otherwise."

There had been a lot to go over the previous evening and Eriana's past adventures had not been brought up in any detail.

"Oh! I see! But, ...Garia? How is it you bear swords as well? Do those come from your world, then? Do women fight there as men do?"

Garia smiled. "As always, the answer is complicated. Yes, women fight on Earth but this style of swords comes from the other side of Alaesia. We don't use swords much where I come from. I'm all dressed up to provide support for Eriana since we're expecting trouble. Einnlanders are a warlike people, if you didn't know."

Jarith spoke up. "We know of Einnland, since the occasional ship comes to trade in the summer months, but they are a mystery to most of us. I have seen armed women walking the palace corridors but thought them auxiliaries of some kind."

"Nope, they are full members of the Palace Guard. Have you heard about the retaking of Boldan's Rock?" Jarith nodded. "Eriana led that expedition, composed mostly of men who escaped Einnland with her, but two of the women from the Palace Guard went with them to provide her with some support."

Jarith's eyes were wide. "I heard the fighting for Boldan's Rock was indeed bloody." He turned to Eriana. "Eriana, if you permit, I would desire a full accounting of that adventure from you."

Eriana's face twitched into a smile that rapidly faded. "Aye, Jarith, you shall have it. Not now, though. Presently we must gather at the porch to await Duke Shabreth and my brother."

Malann's face paled. "Is there going to be fighting?"

Garia replied, "We hope not. We just want to make sure her brother doesn't try anything stupid." She thought. "It would probably be better if you spent the morning somewhere else, if you take my meaning."

"Aye," Jarith agreed. "Come, Malann. Let us find a quieter place to wait events. Maybe the Receiving Room?"

Garia nodded. "That should be okay and some of the other visitors are waiting there. We'll see you later."

Since the message had reported a large escort, armed, the arrivals would be met outside the palace so that there would be room... if anything ugly should develop. Fortunately the weather was fine and those waiting could do so in comfort. To delay being noticed by the arrivals Garia, Eriana and all the other guardswomen were lined up behind the ranking nobles, appearing as part of the palace guard, but they could still observe what was happening.

Having stayed overnight at a roadhouse to the east of the capital, where the direct trade route from Plif crossed Crescent Lake by ferry, the procession was expected to arrive a bell before lunch. There were spotters in the nearby streets and they reported sightings at about the expected time. Eventually the visitors rode in through the front gate of the palace and pulled up in front of the steps.

There were two carriages, seven uniformed outriders and twenty riders behind in the characteristic furs of Einnland. As Merek's men came to attention footmen opened the carriage doors and helped out the occupants. Two were a man and woman of about Robanar's age, accompanied by a maid and a manservant. Garia decided that these were the Duke and Duchess of Plif with their personal servants.

From the other carriage stepped two men, one older than the other. The younger glanced at the steps and impatiently gestured at the couple. The Duke gave him a glare in return before shrugging and climbing the steps with his wife.

"Shabreth," Robanar said, holding out his hand. "I am pleased you could join us."

"Robanar," the Duke replied, giving the other a hug, "I would have come sooner if not for our own unexpected visitors. You know Luann, of course. Ah, I see Mariswin among the mob you have collected. All this for a wedding, Robanar?"

"Aye, and worth it. What of yonder angry young man? Will he be introduced to us?"

"Aye, brother. Normally I would have enjoyed the company of another on my journey but he is a prickly sort."

Behind Robanar, Eriana snorted quietly. Shabreth beckoned and the young man took the steps two at a time to stand before Robanar. The two stared at one another, sizing each other up before the man flushed and executed an awkward bow.

"Your Majesty. I am Prince Torulf, heir to King Embrikt of Einnland, a land which lies south from here far beyond the Palumaks."

Robanar grunted. "I know of it," he said shortly.

"I regret that I have not been invited here to witness the marriage of your son, as His Grace Duke Shabreth has been, but I am sent by my father in urgency to discover the whereabouts of my sister Eriana, who has run away from home and was taken in by His Grace. I learned at his court that she sought to come here to Palarand and marry your son. If that is so, I must make the objection of myself and my father plain. She has no permission to marry anyone and, as she is not an adult, she must be returned to Einnland immediately to rejoin her father." He paused to take breath. "Your Majesty, is she here? Where is my sister?"

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