Somewhere Else Entirely -135-

Despite being freshly married Garia's days are filled with the same demands on her time as before. Some important matters are resolved before she joins the rulers in debating the future of the Great Valley.

Somewhere Else Entirely

by Penny Lane

135 - Oaths and Decisions

Disclaimer: The original characters and plot of this story are the property of the author. No infringement of pre-existing copyright is intended. This story is copyright (c) 2011-2015 Penny Lane. All rights reserved.

The space was just as inscrutable as ever, but she was beginning to recognize some of the strange shapes, even if she still had no idea what they might be.

Garia: Hello?

Senusret: Greetings, youngling! I wondered if you would be able to appear here soon.

Garia: Well, I still have little idea how I do it. My days have been somewhat busy lately, as you no doubt already know.

Senusret: I do, youngling. In most human societies, mating is an important ritual and I would have been surprised if you had not devoted all your attention to it. I assume this is presently your nocturnal phase?

Garia: My what? Oh, you mean I am asleep. I guess. I mean, I think so. I haven't had the time or opportunity to meditate since all the other rulers came to the palace.

Senusret: That is what I meant. Some Emerged individuals undergo periods of quiescence similar to sleep so I understand the process.

Garia: So, has anything happened while I was away? What about the project?

Senusret: That is why I am pleased you are here, youngling. I can tell you that we have verified what we are attempting to do and all preparations have been made. Timing is important as several of the steps take measurable amounts of time as you perceive it and we must be ready to take advantage of the substitution opportunity on Earth.

Garia: Can you tell me any more? What will I find when I get to Earth? What are my parents going to say when I wake up from a coma?

Senusret: I cannot give you any information about what will happen on Earth, youngling. It is important that you behave in the correct manner as events come to pass. There will already be sufficient uncertainty concerning the substitution and we are anxious not to raise suspicions.

Garia: Oh. Yes, I understand. If I already knew something then my reactions would be different. [A mental shrug] Darn.

Senusret: There are things I can tell you, however. It seems that my idea of placing your existing Solid manifestation into stasis as a reserve is not practical. It could be done, true, but we would not be able to revive you as I originally proposed. Therefore you will be given a new body just as when you originally came to this world.

Garia: Not practical?

Senusret: This may be difficult to explain, youngling. The essence which makes up the you I am conversing with is separate from the physical manifestation. It... does not have a Solid counterpart. [Ponders] Perhaps this essence is what your Earth people call their soul. Some Eastern religions call it the chakra, others call it mana. Whatever the name, the essence is not what anyone on Earth believes it to be. When a transfer is made, we must integrate the essence with the new body, which is why we seek out those who are in the process of ending their Solid existence.

Garia: Ah! That's why I can only be in one place at a time, isn't it? I see.

Senusret: Quite so, youngling.

Garia: Wait a minute. Is that why it is so hard to transfer living things? Because they all have this essence thing attached to them?

Senusret: Indeed, youngling, you understand. So far as we know, this essence is what separates life from non-life. For beings such as ourselves it is very much easier to relocate the thread of essence, as it were, than it would be to do the same for a vegetable or a very small creature, although as I explained before it is still a complex operation.

Garia: That is why there are no Earth plants here, isn't it? You can't transfer the seeds. And Anmar has enough insects and small life of its own, hasn't it? It all becomes clear now.

Senusret: On Earth you have seen what happens when inappropriate organisms are introduced to parts of that world and cause problems. We only transfer that which is absolutely essential for the end result. [considers] I can also tell you that you will return to this world in about eight to nine of this world's months. There are various probability factors which mean I cannot give you a closer estimate.

Garia: As long as that? Well, of course, I don't know what will happen when I get back to Earth, do I? Can I let anybody here know that time period?

Senusret: You can inform those who know of my existence, youngling. Of course, they have probably already estimated as much by themselves.

Garia: That's a shame. It means I'll miss two visits to Blackstone.

Senusret: Indeed, youngling. You need not concern yourself. Your mate will undertake those visits on your behalf. He feels to be as bound by your oath as you are.

Garia: Can you tell me anything that will happen here while I'm gone?

Senusret: I would rather not, youngling. While I trust you not to tell anyone there is always the chance of an accidental disclosure.

Garia: Oh. And I might change the future by doing so, is that right?

Senusret: Quite so, youngling.

Garia [distracted]: What? Stop that, Keren! I'm trying to have a conversation here!

* * *

Garia couldn't be annoyed by Keren so she merely thumped him on the chest.

"Barbarian! I was deep in a conversation when you woke me up!"

"What? I thought you were asleep so I kissed you, that's all. It seems I like kissing you."

Garia looked at Keren then melted back down beside him, snuggling against his chest.

"You're hopeless, and so am I," she replied. "Of course I like kissing you and I like being kissed by you!" She gave him an exasperated look. "But I was having an important conversation with Senusret when you put your hand somewhere sensitive."

"Senusret? But... Oh, of course. You originally spoke with him in your dreams, did you not? I'm sorry, my love, I didn't realize." He chuckled. "I also did not realize I would be sharing my marriage bed with a bisken. At least he does not take up too much room."

"I would try and limit my conversations to meditation periods, but you tell me when I've had a chance to meditate recently!"

"Aye, my love, that is the truth. We have just been too busy. Mayhap we will have more time once we reach Dekarran."

Garia's voice was small. "We need all the time we have left, husband mine. One day soon I'm just going to go pop and I know it will cause you pain."

His grip tightened around her. "I know, my love, but I am a Prince, one day I will become King and I must learn to deal with sorrow as much as with joy. Besides," he brightened, "it is not as if you will depart forever, is it? We have Senusret's word that you shall return."

"Yes, well, that's one of the things he wanted to talk to me about. You remember he said they would keep my old... this body and wake me up if things went wrong?"

"Aye, he did."

"It seems that won't work the way he thought it would. It would still mean I'd be in two places at once and that isn't possible. Sorry. What you'll get is a whole, fresh me when I return."

"I'm not sure whether I like that notion or not, my love. I am content with the wife I have, I deem. What else did the bisken say?"

"Not a lot else. Perhaps he might have if I hadn't been so rudely interrupted -"

He poked Garia in the ribs and she squeaked.

"Ouch! You wait, barbarian! I'll get you for that!" She thumped his chest again and then added, "Senusret did say that I'll be back within eight to nine months. You can tell that to anyone who knows about him but nobody else."

"Eight to nine months? No closer an estimate?"

"They are looking into the future, you know. Most things are probably well determined but what the Beings are attempting is unprecedented. There's bound to be some uncertainty."

"As you say." Keren's expression became soft and solicitous. "Tell me, what was it like for you, last night? It was nothing like I expected at all."

She hitched herself up higher in the bed, so that her head rested on his upper arm and she could look at him properly.

"We-ll, I did have some idea," she replied slowly, "because we're taught all that in school, though it's really all about how babies are made. Nobody mentioned the amazing feelings or the smells." She grimaced. "There was some - um, it's not your fault, believe me! It hurt a bit but I didn't mind that at all. I've been told that that's just because we're using parts of our bodies for things they haven't been used for before."

"Ah, I'm sorry, my love. I didn't know." He looked at her expression. "Aye, parts of me were sore as well. How were either of us to know?"

"Well, that's what they say, isn't it?" she responded lightly. "We need to practise if we're going to get this right."

"Does it worry you now that you're a girl? What I mean is, you never expected to find yourself in this position."

"That's true," she said, meditatively. "No, not at all. I'd hardly have married you in front of all those people if I wasn't sure what I wanted, would I?"

"I hope you are right, my love. I will treat you as I would have treated any other bride, but I will always respect that your past makes you different." He smiled down at her with a glint in his eyes. "Perhaps we need to practise some more. This morning, no-one will disturb us until we call and I intend to make the best use of the time we have."

She smiled back at him with anticipation. "Ooh! The barbarian has brains! I think I might like that idea."

Breakfast that morning was late and taken in their chambers.

* * *

The Receiving Room held a special audience that morning, since no other room was large enough for the gathering. Taking their thrones were Robanar and Terys while Garia and Keren sat beside them in positions of honor. Two more chairs were occupied by Eriana and Merizel, who had a reedlet and pad in front of her. Behind the chairs stood eight maids. Against one wall sat Terinar, Milsy, Feteran, and Merek, against the other sat Gullbrand and Bleskin with the others who had traveled down from Blackstone. Near the door stood Kendar with a group of other people. Merizel stood and read from her pad.

"This special court of Princess Garia, presiding as Baroness Blackstone, is now in session. King Robanar and Queen Terys attend as guests. As most of those here have other duties this day the proceedings will be kept as simple as possible. Before the first matter may be determined, certain oaths must be made to the King. Would Braskath of Chidrell, Sorin Labslayer and Korf Woodsman stand forth before the King."

Dressed today for the first time in the ordinary clothes of Palarand, the three former Yodans came forward and went down on one knee.

Robanar said, "I must needs ask each of you formally, are you prepared to renounce completely your present allegiance to Yod, its rulers, its people and its lands?"

Each replied, "Your Majesty, I am."

"Are you prepared to serve me as your King, forsaking all others, while you yet remain alive?"

Again they replied, "Your Majesty, I am."

"Do you swear to honor the laws of Palarand, follow its customs and traditions and obey the orders of your superiors and betters?"

"Your Majesty, I do."

"Are you prepared to defend Palarand in whatever ways you may be able, against all its enemies, now and in the future, even at the cost of your own life?"

"Your Majesty, I am."

"Heard and witnessed!" said Kendar in a loud voice.

"Then rise, and join your fellows as true Palarandis from this moment forward."

The three rose and made a low bow to Robanar, their new ruler.

Robanar acknowledged their obeisance and then said, "I am a man of my word. Braskath, Sorin and Korf, you have given me your trust and I shall repay you with mine. There shall be no stain on your character for anything you have told me nor I you. You have betrayed nobody, only followed your consciences. I wish there were more in the world of your ilk. Now I believe Baroness Garia asks another oath of you."

They turned and went down on one knee again, facing Garia. She smiled at them.

"This won't take long," she reassured them. "If Lady Merizel would read the oath, please."

Merizel read, "Do you, Braskath, swear to join House Blackstone and take Baroness Garia as your liege?"

Braskath answered, "My Lady, I do."

"Do you agree to accept all instructions and commands from Baroness Garia, or any of her appointed officers?"

"My Lady, I do."

"Do you swear to keep secret any and all that you may learn while in the service of Baroness Garia, save only what you are permitted to tell others?"

"My Lady, I shall."

Kendar said, "Heard and witnessed!"

Garia added, "I shall swear in turn that House Blackstone shall provide suitable clothing, food, work and lodging for you, keep you while you are ill and protect you from harm, as much as I am able."

"Heard and witnessed!"

This formula was repeated with Sorin and Korf, followed by a signing ceremony where the three were able, by reason of the lessons they had received, to sign their names to an official document for the first time. Garia stepped forward and wrapped a sash in Blackstone colors around the waist of each man.

"Welcome to House Blackstone," she told them. "I'm afraid that not much will change to begin with but when we leave the palace you'll be moving out with me. I think you had better go and stand over there with the other Blackstones until the business we have here is finished."

"Thank you, My Lady," Braskath replied for the three. "We shall not fail you."

As the former Yodans moved off to join the other watchers Kendar spoke again.

"Would Count Terinar and Mistress Milsy stand forth before Lady Garia!"

This had been the subject of some intense discussion between Garia, Keren, and the King and Queen, but nothing had yet been said to either of those who now approached them. There was puzzlement, therefore, on the faces of both. Garia stood and moved toward them. As she was now a Princess, she no longer had to curtsey to Terinar, but she decided to shake his hand instead.

"This is going to be a total surprise to both of you," she began. "You see, up until now I've just run House Blackstone as its head, as everyone would expect, but now I have other responsibilities," she rolled her eyes and the two grinned at her. "Unfortunately, there's the problem of succession to the barony. Until Keren and I have children, there is nobody who would automatically be a successor to House Blackstone. The documents setting up the house are both specific and peculiar, at least to my way of thinking."

The two expressions were serious, now.

"You want someone to run Blackstone if something happens to you," Terinar said. His eyebrow raised. "Are you thinking of me, since I would be third in line to the throne?"

"Well, not exactly," Garia said. "The throne is a whole other set of rules, actually, which I didn't know about myself. Because of the way the Blackstone charter is written, I would prefer to have a female head, if that were possible."

"Me?" Milsy gasped. "You want me? I can't do that, Garia! I'm not even a noble!"

Garia grinned. "Neither was I when I was made Baroness! But I understand your problem, Milsy. What I'm suggesting is that you do become temporary head of House Blackstone if I have to be absent for any reason, and you'd inherit the title should anything, um, permanent happen to me before I have children. Because you're married to Tarvan there's no conflict with the throne. I know you'd be overwhelmed by the management side of things, which is where Terinar comes in. I want you, Terry, to act as a kind of Guarantor for House Blackstone, seeing as how you'll shortly be married to one of the two people who run the place anyway."

The two looked at her, dumbfounded. Whatever they thought they had been asked here for, it certainly wasn't that. They looked at each other and then back to Garia. Terinar's voice was low.

"Is there something we should know, Garia? I understand you have to nominate a successor but this seems... strange somehow."

Garia shook her head. "No, this is something that maybe Kendar should have pointed out to me when he thought up the charter for the barony. Until recently there wasn't really a need for a successor to be nominated but," she shrugged, "with my marriage I have to do things a little more formally now. What do you think?"

"I don't believe you," Milsy said, her voice low, "but I deem you have sufficient reason for honoring us so." She grinned. "Do I get to be called Baroness, then?"

Garia grinned back. "Huh! Not content with raiding my treasury you're after my coronet now! No, no title unless you've seen my body on the pyre, and not before. But you'd have the rank and authority of Baroness in your dealings with everyone."

Milsy thought briefly. "I think I can accept that, Garia. Does this mean you're thinking of taking a trip? Maybe upriver with Eriana?"

"That was part of the thinking, yes, that there could very well be occasions in the future when I might have to travel somewhere distant. You could also think about what happens when I'm about to give birth as well. I'm going to be somewhat distracted around about then. We've thought long and hard about the problem and this seems to be the most sensible answer."

Milsy curtseyed. "Then I would be most honored by your trust in me, Your Highness."

Terinar added, "I see what you mean, Garia. If I can be of assistance in a time of need, then of course you may call on my service. As you have said, I am already in some respects doing what would be required."

Garia let out a breath followed by a smile. "Great! That's a big problem off my mind, and thank you both for volunteering. I'm sure it won't ever happen but you know we have to do these things just in case. It's only like fire precautions, after all."

Terinar spoke for both of them. "We're always pleased to help, Garia." He looked at Milsy. "I think you and I and our respective partners ought to sit down somewhere and talk this through, do you not?"

"Aye, Milord. I'm sure Lady Merizel will arrange something."

Garia spun on her heel and curtseyed to the King and Queen. "Your Majesty, Your Majesty, Count Terinar and Mistress Milsy have agreed to the proposition."

Robanar bowed assent but stayed silent, leaving the detail to Terys. The Queen replied, "As you say, my dear. As you know, I have some reservations concerning this arrangement but it seems my fears may be groundless. Kendar, if you would make the necessary arrangements."

Kendar bowed. "As Your Majesty commands." He then turned and added, "Would Captain Bleskin stand forth before Baroness Garia!"

Bleskin shot to his feet with a start. As for Terinar and Milsy, the request was unexpected. He came forward and saluted.

"Captain. You heard what I just said to Milsy and Terinar?"

"I did, Highness. It seems to me to be a sensible precaution."

"As you say. Now, if something should happen, then I would expect you to carry on as normal as the Steward of Blackstone, using your own judgement until either I return or a new Baron or Baroness is appointed. Does that sound reasonable?"

"Highness!" Bleskin turned to glance at Milsy and Terinar, who were still standing beside him. "I must protest, you make it sound as if you desire to leave us."

"Not at all, Captain. Now, I know you are doing a great job in the town, since Lady Merizel tells me everything that has been happening up there and I'm anxious to come and see all the changes for myself. But, bearing in mind all the attacks there have been on me, a certain amount of contingency planning has to be made, doesn't it?"

"As you put it that way, Highness, then I must needs agree." He considered. "Aye, you have shown us the path and we are progressing as I would never have believed possible. Why, the Community Hall -" He broke off. "Ahem! This is not the proper place, I deem. Highness, if those are your wishes, then of course I will do as you ask."

Garia gave him a warm smile. "That's all I'm asking, Captain. Milsy and Terry can look after this end and you and the Town Assembly can look after the other. That's settled, then."

Garia made a sign to Kendar, who banged his staff. "This court is ended! All rise!"

Robanar and Terys stood, gave a nod to Garia, and led the way out.

* * *

After lunch Keren, Garia, Jenet and Fulvin shared a carriage on a ride out to one of the new engineering workshops near the pipe-making facility. Behind them in another carriage came Milsy, Tarvan and Bursila while a third carriage carried Senidet, Molleena and Rosilda. Garia had decided that they wouldn't be getting dirty enough to wear their 'Inventor' outfits but compromised and Jenet had a bundle of leather aprons 'just in case'.

Waiting for them were some faces now becoming familiar to Garia. The modes of address had been carefully considered.

"Your Highness, Guildmistress, Masters, Guildswomen, Mistresses, welcome."

"Master Turan, so good of you you let us come. I know your own time is limited."

"Aye, Guildmistress, we are as busy as you are, if I may say such a thing. If you would all follow me, we will waste no more of your own valuable time."

Inside the workshop, which still smelled of sawn wood and smoke, the visitors were led over to a bench on which rested an object made of soldered brass sheets, strips and sections. Fulvin began the explanation.

"As you can see, Guildmistress, these are merely functional models so that we can determine the proper way to make the individual parts work together. I think we have done enough to show that we understand what is required. When we make the first true models we will, of course, enclose the moving parts in either brass or steel plate to begin with. Casting such a casing as you described is not possible for us at the moment but we have a group working on such methods."

"I think you'll find it won't be that hard to make your castings but that's a subject for another day, Master Fulvin. Let's just concentrate on the workings first."

"As you desire, Guildmistress. Firstly, Turan will run the sewing machine without thread so that you can observe the action."

The flywheel was a spare pulley which had a short rod of brass welded to it. This rod held a turned wooden handle to make the machine go. Turan turned this and the internal parts, all plainly visible, burst into motion. On the left a rod with a needle attached went up and down while a plate moved backwards and forwards under it to advance the cloth. Below, the shuttle holder swung backwards and forwards, just missing the needle as it descended.

Turan said, "We think this is how it is supposed to work, Guildmistress. From your description the operator turns the handle with her right hand and feeds the material through the left side, is that right?"

Garia nodded. "Yes, that's exactly what is supposed to happen."

Turan stopped and took a strip of cloth handed to him by an assistant. "Then we understood the original description correctly. Guildmistress, we were not sure if that was what you intended."

"All I did was describe a common machine from my home lands, that is all. I didn't intend anything."

Turan bowed. "I am corrected, Guildmistress. My apologies." He laid the strip of cloth on the base of the machine and lowered the foot. "The next step was to ensure that cloth would travel smoothly through the machine."

He turned the handle again and everyone watched as the cloth was pulled through. Turan removed it at the end and handed it to Garia who saw a neat line of holes running the length of it.

"Yes, that's exactly what I would expect to happen." She looked at Turan, puzzled. "But there is some problem with the thread, I take it."

"Indeed, Guildmistress. If we use thread... perhaps it would be easier to show you."

With thread from a bobbin on the top, fed down to the needle and more in the shuttle Turan once more placed the cloth and turned the handle. It was obvious immediately that something was wrong.

"Oh," Garia said. "Can I take a look at that?"

"Of course, Guildmistress. Do you wish me to remove the cloth?"

"No, just leave everything as it is."

Garia peered down and tried to understand what had gone wrong. This was difficult since Gary had never operated the original machine, just stood by as a very young interested observer while his grandmother mended some clothes with it. She closed her eyes and tried to remember exactly what her grandmother had done to set the machine up before sewing. Finally she nodded and turned to the waiting guildsmen.

"I'm sorry, it seems I left a couple details out when I described this machine. First, you'll have to turn the needle so that the eye is at the side, not the front."

One of the other guildsmen stepped forward. "See, I told you -"

Turan gave him a glare but then turned to Garia apologetically. "He is right, Guildmistress, but I regret our opinions differed. Even Senidet argued that the eye should be to the side but -" He flushed. "I am still uncomfortable with receiving suggestions from a woman, even though she has proved her worth time and again. It shall not happen again."

"I see. So, you tell me, why should the eye be to the side?"

"Guildmistress, I could not see a reason. If you would explain."

It was apparent that Turan, although obviously able at constructing complicated items out of brass and steel, was not able to visualize how the things he made worked in the first place. He simply constructed them according to drawings that others made. Such people would be necessary in the future to come but in a workshop like this imaginations were required. Garia resolved to have a word with Parrel at their next meeting.

"If the eye is to the side, then when the needle goes through the cloth the thread will be to the side. That is where the shuttle will go through the loop between the needle and the thread."

The guildsmen gathered round and considered her words. The one who had spoken before nodded.

"That is what I suggested, Guildmistress. The shuttle does nothing if it does not pass around the other thread."

"That's right," Garia confirmed. "There's another thing though, that might be harder for you to fix. There should be another lever in the top which actually makes the loop. I forgot about it before." She pointed. "Look. When the needle comes down the thread's going to be tight, isn't it? The needle is pulling it down through the cloth. There's no room for the shuttle at that point so you have to wait until the needle is just rising. So there should be another lever up here which keeps the thread down to give some slack, and then it takes up the slack once the shuttle has passed."

She mimed the action and Senidet leaned forward.

"Guildmistress, would that be another arm connected to the same crank? If so, I deem it will be an easy change to make."

"Well, I dunno. See, it has to drop after the needle goes down and then come up after the needle rises again."

"Ah, so it is tied to the position of the shuttle? Of course." Senidet nodded. "It will take me the rest of the day to consider the motion and draw up the required modifications, Guildmistress. If you could return tomorrow and see the changes?"

"Ah, I don't think that's going to be possible, Senidet. We're going to be busy tomorrow, aren't we, Keren?"

"Aye, Garia. Shabreth returns to Plif tomorrow and some of the others are leaving too. We'll be too busy to come here again for a day or two."

Garia turned to Senidet. "I'm sorry, as you can see we're up to our eyeballs in all kinds of meetings and happenings. It looks as if you'll have a few days to experiment with the new parts I've described."

"As you say, Guildmistress. Father has told me that it is always better to consider what one is building rather than hurrying and making mistakes."

Garia grinned. "He hands out good advice, Senidet." She turned. "So, if we can't do any more with the sewing machine, what else can you show me?"

"Guildmistress," Turan said, "The new knitting machine is a more successful project so far, as you can see over here." He gestured. "We do not have to concern ourselves with flywheels, gears, cams or levers to make this machine work so progress has been rapid."

The group clustered around the device which had been built on the adjoining workbench. Garia could see that it had already been used that morning for tests and was loaded with a spool of undyed wool, with a short length of knitted fabric dangling from the line of gleaming needles. The main body of the prototype was brass but the needles had been formed from steel wire, stamped and shaped as required before being tempered to prolong life.

"Can I have a go?" Garia asked, bending to examine the device closely.

"Of course, Guildmistress."

She put a hand lightly on the slide and ran it slowly in front of the row of needles. Each one in turn rose up, opened and accepted the wool before lowering. As the needles dropped they passed below the material already made so that the yarn was pushed through, making the next row. She nodded.

"That looks good, Master Turan. You already know that you can knit with it, all you have to do now is refine your mechanism as required. Smaller needles closer together to make finer fabric or larger needles to make traditional knits. As many needles as you like to make the output as wide or as narrow as you need. Oh! Or," she added thoughtfully, "How about this? Instead of making a long straight machine, how about making a circular one? That way you can make hose, sleeves, anything else that is a tube. And don't forget that knitting isn't just for clothes, there are many other things you can do with this sort of cloth."

"A circular machine, Guildmistress?" Turan's brows furrowed. "I do not understand... What you suggest seems impossible."

"Master," Senidet said respectfully, "I think I know what the Guildmistress is saying. If you were to construct the machine around a section of brass pipe, perhaps, with a shaped rail -"

Senidet then went on to describe a circular knitting machine she had thought up on the spot from Garia's simple statement. Turan looked at Senidet with amazement and then annoyance.

"Master Turan," Garia said when Senidet had finished, "If you feel yourself unable to follow designs submitted to you by someone in your team, then perhaps you are not the right person to be in charge of this project. For any work like this an open mind is essential."

Turan flushed, then bowed. "Perhaps you are correct, Guildmistress," he said stiffly. "I must consider my position here, if that is what you suggest."

Garia waved her hands. "That is properly a matter for the Institute, Master Turan. My position is somewhat unusual so that although I have the rank of Guildmistress, I'm limiting myself to suggestions only. However, I have seen circular knitting machines in my own country so I know they are possible, and it seems that Senidet can visualize such things in her head. If you do not take advantage of the talent you have around you then you're just wasting everybody's time."

Turan bowed again. "I am rebuked, Guildmistress. You are of course correct and I must needs change my ways if we are to make progress. After all," he gave her a small smile, "without your suggestions we would not have either knitting machine nor sewing machine at all."

"Indeed," Keren put in. "So, Master, you understand now what is required of you?"

"Highness, I do," Turan replied, knowing that he was speaking to the next King of Palarand, and one who was obviously interested in matters previously reserved for Guild members. "You may rely on me." He turned. "Senidet, if you would make a drawing of this circular machine, we can discuss ways in which it may be constructed. But first, there is the sewing machine to consider. I deem that has the higher priority."

Senidet inclined her head. "As you command, Master Turan."

"Then we'll leave you to it," Garia said. "You've made more progress than I expected, actually. I'm not sure when I'll next be able to come for another look but no doubt Senidet will keep me up to date with your projects."

"As you say, Guildmistress."

Everybody bowed and the party took their leave.

* * *

This time, the rulers hadn't bothered with separate tables in the Receiving Room but simply gathered their chairs in a large circle in the center of the floor. Although not rulers, Garia and Keren had chairs in this circle. Around them, their aides and advisors sat, some with small tables to support their documents and notes, others just with pads of paper or parchment on their knees.

"If I may," Keren said. The rulers turned to look at him. "Duke Wallesan is right. The folk of the river are one people, even if they may have different rulers above them. Plif is the same and although most of Vardenale is beyond the end of the river, most of its folk are of the same stock as ourselves." He shrugged. "Having separate rulers makes little difference, I have seen this as I traveled along the Sirrel meeting many of you who join us today. Our own people have Barons, Counts and Dukes above them, having a Grand Duke or a King is but another step of the same kind. The Sirrel binds us together through ties of language, custom and kinship. If we take my father's suggestion seriously we are only restoring what, historically, personal argument once drove apart."

Chorvath said, "And yet you would have us bow down to another, what? An Emperor, mayhap, as ruled the Sirrel before?"

"We're not suggesting that, Your Eminence," Garia replied. "All we're saying is, there are other ways of doing this that wouldn't involve any of you bowing to anybody. There are examples from Earth I could tell you about, although some of them you probably wouldn't care for."

"I have heard some of your ideas," Mariswin muttered. "This Congress of yours, for example. It seems to me that you would have no need for any of us under such an arrangement."

Garia responded, "That was how my own country works, Your Grace. I know that won't work here because the circumstances are completely different. However." Here Garia paused to catch the eye of each of those in the circle. "However, I would like to point out that, as the population of each of your countries grows, and more and more of your people come to live in towns and cities and work in industry instead of on farms, they are going to want a bigger say in how their country is run. They are going to want to elect representatives who will present their arguments to whatever form of government you decide. If you ignore them, they will likely overthrow you."

There was a murmuring around the circle as each of them understood her warning.

Robanar grunted. "Aye, Garia has the right of it, my friends. We each think that our ways of governing our people is the right one and in most cases we would be right - today. In the future, as our population grows, there will be problems we can scarce understand presently and what we seek, in agreeing some plan for the future, is to ensure such problems do not happen. That is why we speak of Congresses, elections and the other matters. There is little point us gathering our peoples together under one arrangement if all must be changed again at some later date."

Bardanar added, "That was one reason I sought the union of Brugan with Palarand, brothers. I can see the future approaching and I can also see the chaos it would cause if we remain apart as we are now."

Shabreth leaned back, then raised a hand. "Robanar, Wallesan, count Plif in your planning, if you would. We are but a poor land on the edge of the Great Valley but the changes will come to us in time whatever we do. Palarand has ever been a good neighbor and the discussions we have had so far have only shown good sense. I would that my country be part of whatever you decide."

Mariswin stared at Shabreth. "You would give up your sovereignty so easily, brother?"

"Of course not, brother, any more than one of my Barons gives up his sovereignty. We would each govern our lands and render to this... Sirrel Confederation, or whatever it will be named, as much or as little as it will require of us. For myself, I do not feel threatened by such an idea, though I grant that richer lands may have cause to think more carefully."

"Aye." There were nods from around the circle.

Bardanar said, "Brugan makes two, Robanar. Who else will cast their lot into the ring?"

Wallesan said, "I will venture Joth, Bardanar. But we shall not shame our fellows into joining. It must be done of their own free will."

Saram looked at Fard before addressing Robanar. "We do not have the authority to make such an undertaking, as you must realize, Sire. For Ferenis, I believe that your proposal will be considered favorably, especially so soon after the war with Yod."

Fard added, "Forguland has much to thank Palarand for, Sire, in the same conflict. Such a proposal will be unexpected but I can assure you all it will be given careful consideration."

Wallesan looked at the two men, then around the circle. "There is also the matter of Yod to consider, brothers. As victors to a defeated land we may decree what is to happen there but I deem that makes us no better than they. Have we some remedy? I am loth to see their poison rise again."

The rulers all looked at each other but no-one spoke. It seemed they were of the same mind, that they wanted Yod to participate peacefully, as a means of keeping it in check, but could not see a way to do that without seeming as oppressive as Yod itself had been. Finally Keren spoke.

"Your Grace, perhaps we may make use of an example from Garia's world for Yod. Let us create in that land what Garia calls a democracy, that is, every official in that land, high and low, should be elected from among the people and by the people. If every Yodan has a voice in the governance of his land, they cannot say that they are being oppressed by us. We, in turn, can examine such an arrangement as it progresses should our own lands require something similar in the future."

Wallesan objected, "And what of the Confederation? Shall we yoke them to ourselves without their consent, or should we leave them outside?"

Simbran replied, "Your Grace, logically, if we allow them to elect their leaders, then they must decide among themselves whether to join the Confederation or not."

Garia added, "If those we captured are any guide, I don't think you'll have much problem there, Your Grace. To me they seemed like fairly normal people, it was just the few at the top that had such odd ideas."

"Then that is what we shall do," Robanar decided. "Another meeting, I deem, to set out the conditions, then we can watch with interest what happens."

Bardanar looked at Simbran. "What of Faralmark, brother? Do you consider we of the remote east to be fools to think such ideas?"

Simbran smiled. "I find, as Shabreth has said, that the proposal is of good sense. It seems the east is not as remote as one might think, Bardanar, and if Her Highness is right, we may travel to Palarand in the future in but a day or so. We will be too close together to be unaware of what happens in each other's lands and to come together again is, I believe, inevitable. All we have to do is to design a method of government which will keep us and our people all happy."

Jarith asked him, "Your Grace, what of the lands around your own? What of their temper? Vardenale is indeed far to the east, presently, and word of what happens beyond Yod is difficult for us to hear."

Simbran considered. "Lower Fanir and Upper Fanir have both been under the yoke of Yod and may wish to enjoy their renewed independence a while, I deem, but when I return home I will of course take Robanar's proposal to them. As for Hordelend, Upper Faral, Pakmal, Zebrin, Benmond, Thesk and those even further upstream, why..." His voice trailed off as he thought about the problem.

He shook himself. "Aye, I deem that your strategy should be thus, brothers. Make your Confederation in the lower Sirrel, then spend the time making sure that what you build functions as it should. Then, I believe, you will find a line of rulers desiring to join themselves to it."

Wallesan asked with a smile, "And yourself, brother?"

Simbran nodded. "Aye, Wallesan. We will be part of this new adventure. We will make Faralmark an example for other upstream countries to follow."

"Good." Wallesan turned to Jarith. "Though you are not yet ruler of your own lands, Highness, you can yet tell us how Vardenale may view our deliberations."

"As you say, Your Grace, I am not yet King of Vardenale. Were I King, I would consider your proposal most carefully. It offers much of advantage to us but, as you all know, we face the ocean rather than mountains and the Sirrel is little distinguishable from the sea. Though we always keep an eye on what our friends, our family, are doing along the river we have other concerns and, if Vardenale is to be part of what you propose, you must also think of matters beyond our borders, and how they may influence all of us."

"Well said," Robanar agreed with a nod. "I do not personally think that such a Confederation as we propose would in time be limited to the Great Valley only, Jarith. It is likely that others will desire to be a part of our family, as you name it."

"Indeed? Then, Uncle, I will carry your words to my father and discover his thoughts for you. We are already cooperating in the matter of the mining rights, I see this as but a beginning for closer friendship."

Bardanar raised an eyebrow. "Mining rights?"

Robanar waved a dismissive hand. "Another time, brother. We also share a border with you, perhaps this is something else of mutual profit to discuss, but not today."

"So, that leaves but Chorvath and Mariswin." Wallesan grinned at the two men. "No pressure, brothers, but tell us what concerns you have, that we may have overlooked."

Mariswin replied, "I would be more relieved, brothers, if I knew how such a Confederation might be ruled. It seems to me I must bow the knee to another or become an irrelevance in my own lands."

Robanar turned to Garia. "It is time, I think, for you to tell us what you remember of such arrangements on Earth, my dear."

"As you command, Sire." Garia turned to the others. "In a part of the world... ah, Earth, that is, a long way away from where I lived, there is a country called Malaysia. They are made up of a number of -"

* * *

Keren was sitting on his bed, reading a letter, when Garia and Lanilla emerged from the bathroom. Lanilla was somewhat red-faced and gave a quick curtsey to both Keren and Garia before scurrying from the room. As the door closed, he looked up at Garia, one eyebrow raised.

"What was that about?"

Garia smiled. "Lanilla hasn't yet learned what goes on between a man and his wife, it seems."

Keren put the letter on his night-stand and stood, discovering that Garia wore a fluffy robe... and nothing else.

He smiled. "Ah, I see. What was wrong with the gown, then? Did it get torn, or something? If it did, I didn't notice."

"No, I just decided that it was getting in the way."

His eyebrow rose again. "That is... one way of describing it, I deem."

"Besides," she said, coyly, "I've discovered how addictive the touch of bare skin is. To feel your body against mine is... just amazing!"

"As you say, my love." He reached for the tie on his own robe. "Perhaps it is time for you to be amazed yet again."

Their robes fell on the floor at the same time.

"I thought you'd never ask!"

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