In her prompt, kailing asked for "moar train journeys" and said that I could mix a few of her prompt suggestions together. Well, a few of the other prompts flavour this piece but I seem to have written a multi-part travelogue for a new setting - but with plot elements! This first part runs to 3,439 words. I hope that you all enjoy it.
Saylie was being sent into exile, there was no other word for it. The official letters for her post-school assignment had come, and her parents hadn't let her see them as they tried to get the decision changed or the blow softened. As they came to grips with their failure her mother's temper got shorter and rattier, and her father became more soothing and more distant. Instead of letting her read the official letter herself, Saylie's mother gave her verbal summaries and her own critiques of how Saylie's failings had led to a state of affairs that her parents couldn't get her out of. How her school and aptitude assessments had told the authorities that she wasn't someone that they wanted hanging around the city, and so, now she had finished her compulsory schooling, she was being sent away. Borasboom was a civilised place surrounded by tamed, cultivated and managed lands. How it wasn't just that Saylie's particular talents were messily explosive and barely confined but that she lacked the personal discipline and application to keep her magic in check.
Hers was a magical family, but everyone else's magic was what it should be - controlled, worked with neat runes, tidy cantrips, and orderly spell effects, and not requiring the frequent use of fire extinguishers. It was clear to everyone, her mother said, that Saylie simply didn't make the effort.
Naturally her mother pointed out that to make things worse, Saylie's magic didn't keep itself to itself but seeped out of her and got into everything that was going on around her. Simple cantrips flared out of control. Runes glowed with sufficient power to burn their way into the surface that they were written on or that the paper they were on had been resting on. Potions being stoppered in a classroom two doors down exploded. Saylie had to admit that despite her efforts to control her powers, her classmates had gained an inordinate amount of practical safety experience by the time that they all graduated from high school.
In the end it seemed the city authorities had decided that enough was enough and when the post-school placements were decided, Saylie was assigned to Bolton-on-the Edge. Literally as far from Borasboom as you could get. It was a three-day train trip to Bolton-on-the-Edge, perched as it was on the very precipice of the Reality Ravine. Saylie was seen off from the country platform of the Central Station by most of her family. Given the trouble she had caused over the years, she assumed that most of them were there to make sure that she got on the train and left. Her mother's final words after she gave her a peck on the cheek were, "If you'd just tried a little harder this could all have been avoided. Perhaps now you'll make the effort to do your control exercises! That's the only thing that's going to get you allowed to come home."
Saylie couldn't help it: she started crying, again. "I do do them, but they don't work. I keep telling everyone that but all any of you do is tell me I'm not doing them well enough, and that's no help. Why can't you tell me how I'm doing it wrong? Working harder at the wrong thing doesn't help at all!"
"Application is everything," her mother told her briskly, "so it's clear that despite what you think you're doing, you're just not applying yourself hard enough. Now, we've had this conversation enough times already - dry your face, do what the people in charge of you tell you, and work hard. Hopefully this labour camp their sending you to will finally manage to get some decent work habits into you!" At that moment the guard's whistle blew and Saylie joined the people, mainly rail labourers, climbing onto the train in the last minute rush.
There was a conductor checking travel chits and identity papers just inside the door and while the labourers were sent to seats in the carriage they'd boarded, Saylie was handed over to a stern looking woman in a railway uniform who was the age of her grandmothers and had been waiting against the door on the far side of the carriage. "You won't be travelling in here, dear," she said briskly. "There's a compartment for you closer to the front of the train." She indicated the door that led through to the next carriage and then looked critically at Saylie's luggage, one battered red suitcase and a slightly better off backpack. "You're not overburdened with useful items and farewell gifts are you? Well, at least it means you'll be able to keep everything with you during the trip."
Saylie just looked at her. It hadn't occurred to her that anyone might give her gifts when she was being exiled for being too dangerous to have around.
"Now, don't just stand there, dear," the woman was very firm. "We need to go through the next two carriages to get to your compartment, and I have other things to do once I get you settled."
Saylie gave her a guilty look, murmured, "Sorry, ma'am," and adjusted her load so that she could open the door into the next carriage. It was a catering car with an ablutions recess for hand washing beside the entrance and scattered sets of tables and chairs. Saylie went straight through, past the second ablutions recess and into the next carriage. The second carriage was divided into compartments with the first two being showers and toilet cubicles, and the rest being private seating with name plaques slotted into frame on the doors. Most of them were empty despite the names, and as Saylie was opening the door to the third carriage her companion commented, "This will be filling up when we stop at Temporlead. The Institute is running an excursion out to the Ravine, so most of the passengers in here will be students, and all of them will be at least a few years older than you. You'd do best to ignore them, frankly. They won't have any common sense and they'll all think that they're just wonderful."
Saylie quietly replied, "Yes, ma'am," and opened the door.
This third carriage had a corridor down the left-hand side, two doors in the outside wall, and one door on the inside wall of the corridor. There was nice carpet on the floor and the corridor walls were finished in either wood or stone: whatever the material, it had been polished to a silken gloss. The corridor walls were both set with large windows, the ones in the outside wall showing the scenery outside as the train gathered pace and the inside ones covered with curtains from the other side. The grandmotherly woman said, "This is your compartment, dear," and opened the single door. The room inside also had the nice carpet. There was a table with four chairs, four long lounges set against the walls, and the curtains for the windows on the outside wall were pulled back to show the view and let in the light. At the far end of the room there were some luggage racks, and then an internal door which, as it happened, led to a small room that contained a shower, basin and toilet. The towels in there looked to be nicer ones than Saylie's family had at home.
"As you can see, we can sleep up to four people in here," the railway employee told Saylie, "but there's just you this trip. I'll bring you your meals, so there's no need for you to go wandering around the train. Just before we get into Temporlead, I'm going to lock the compartment door because if I don't some of the students and professors will try to upgrade themselves. They always do." She sighed. "They're also often plausible and I don't want them taking advantage of you and persuading you that you need to move out for them. If any of them do come into this carriage and start to annoy you, pull the curtains on the corridor side and ignore them. There are pens and paper here, as well as cards and a few board games." She showed Saylie the cunning constructed drawers where these supplies and some packaged snacks were stored. Then she led Saylie over to the luggage racks and added, "Don't get too enthusiastic about taking everything out of your bags or leave it to the last minute to get ready to get off the train - we only stop for five minutes at Bolton-on-the-Edge so you don't want to leave things to the last moment." She indicated two bundles already on the luggage racks, "And these are your new pillows and sleep sack for you use on the trip and to take with you when you get off the train. I'll be back with a fresh snack in about an hour, and lunch will be about two hours after that. Our first stop will be at Temporlead, about an hour and a half after lunch. Now, why don't you wash your face, have a nice cold drink of water, and make yourself comfortable?" The woman gave her a grandmotherly smile and then left.
Saylie took the woman's advice and felt much better when she had. Truth be told, she had expected to be confined for the duration of the trip, she was being exiled, after all, but this large, comfortable room was not the space she had imagined that she would be locked into. For the time being she opened all the curtains and was rewarded with backyard views of the orderly farms and small towns along the train line.
Saylie simply hadn't expected the trip into exile to be so...beautiful. Fields of seed flowers were in bloom - nigella, canola, nasturtiums, and all four varieties of sunflower. It was a beautiful day and even fields of green leaves, and no two crops were the same green, seemed to sparkle in the sunshine. She saw clouds of butterflies dancing in the sunlight and wondered if they were pollinators, the source of crop-eating caterpillars, or both. As the train rolled past a field of sunflowers beset by a flock of sulphur-crested cockatoos the scarecrow began to caper and dash around the field trying to startle the birds into going elsewhere, clearly bespelled for just that behaviour. It duplicated a scene from one of Saylie's favourite books as a child and she giggled with current and remembered delight until the field was out of sight.
Lunch was served on a nicely set table that had been covered with a tablecloth. There was a hot main course, a dessert of custard soaked and jam-striated pudding, and a choice of drinks. The snack earlier had been biscuits still warm from the oven and a glass of milk. Apparently going into exile was not an uncomfortable business, but all her life Saylie had been warned that the work camps awaited the lazy. Her mother was very certain that Saylie was lazy.
After lunch the train traversed a small forest with an understorey of ferns before passing into the farmlands surrounding Temporlead. The fields here were taken up with grains. Saylie couldn't tell the difference between most of them: to her there were the ones that looked like the pictures she'd seen of wheat and the ones that looked like corn. Wheat, truth be known, looked to her like giant grass stalks, so many of the fields looked to her like slightly differently coloured long grass with the fields making up a pleasing subtle patchwork pattern. The corn looked to her much like the corn on the cob that she was used tp seeing in grocers' shops, but there was a variety of corn silk colours, including the yellow-white that Saylie was used to.
As she promised, the railway employee who was looking after her locked the door to Saylies' compartment when she cleared away her lunch plates. "Just you pull the curtains and ignore them," she reminded Saylie just before she closed and locked the door. "I'll be back with your afternoon tea in about two hours." With that she'd gone and left Saylie to her own devices again.
The train was suddenly moving through the outskirts of Temporlead and the buildings began to crowd along the track. They shone in warm metallic tones and browns; amber-coloured glass, bronze, and copper abounded. Temporlead station was no exception to the colour scheme with its buildings and platform made of a creamy brown stone, all the windows were done in amber glass, and the roofs of the buildings and the shelters over the platforms were either of bronze-glazed tiles or of polished bronze. The train swept Saylie past a cluster of tertiary students clustered on the platform as it pulled to a stop in the station.
It seemed like the train had barely stopped when Saylie was interrupted in her reading of the orange and black indicator board on the platform's wall by a peremptory knocking on her door. She turned to see a set of older men in yellow and orange trimmed academic robes who made it clear that they wanted her to open the door. Saylie smiled regretfully, shook her head, and turned back to the indicator board. Apparently, the last stop before Bolton-on-the-Edge was going to be Far Ramparts which she knew as the place that some of her father's best inks came from. Her perusal of the list of stops was interrupted by more knocking on the door. She turned around to see that the same group of men were still there, now looking tetchy. Saylie had seen a lot of tetchy looks in the last few weeks and it was an expression that she felt she was too familiar with. There were also some younger looking men with open yellow and orange trimmed academic robes over their normal clothes who were looking enviously through the windows at the space she had to herself. Being looked at through the internal windows like that was a bit like being a fish in a fish bowl, so Saylie decided to take the advice she'd been given and draw the curtains.
Saylie didn't make eye contact with the younger men, but simply pulled the heavy velvet curtains across the glass to block their view. One of the older men was still rattling at the door when Saylie reached it and he demanded, "Open this door and let us in! Do you know who we are?"
"No, I don't." Saylie smiled nicely as she said that and added, "I don't have the key."
He looked taken aback at that, and she moved on quickly, drawing the rest of the curtains before he could think of anything else to say. Unfortunately, by the time she had finished doing that, the train was already on its way again and she had lost her chance to check the names of the rest of the stops.
The grain crops continued after they left the golds, oranges and browns of Temporlead and Saylie noticed that fields of pumpkins and other vine fruits began to appear among the plantings. She was just trying to decide whether the spire she could see in the distance was the Olraeau Observatory when there was a knock on her door, followed by it being unlocked and her stewardess/warder/chaperone pushing in a two-tiered trolley laden with covered plates. She asked cheerfully, "How are you keeping? I see that you took my advice about the curtains. No-one was too obnoxious, were they?"
"It was uncomfortable having people standing out there looking at me through the windows," agreed Saylie, "but there was only one older group who wanted me to open the door. They seemed surprised that I didn't have the key."
"They are why you don't have the key," the older woman locked the door behind her, then pushed the trolley to the table to begin unloading it. "They're tenured professors and they always assume that they'll get one of these compartments if they're on the train. They run the same excursion every year and they can upgrade, for a price, if no-one is using it. I believe the Institute pays, but personally, I think they should have to pay the extra out of their own pockets."
Saylie was looking at the food going on the table and asked, "Are you sure all of that is for me?"
The older woman looked at the table and replied, "Three savoury and four sweet. A pot of tea, a small jug of milk, a sugar bowl, and a jug of cold water. One serve on each plate. It might seem like a lot, but dinner won't be until eight tonight. We don't want you getting hungry or bored while you're with us." She smiled kindly at Saylie.
"Thank you, ma'am." Saylie asked, "I'm sorry, I forgot to ask earlier. What should I call you?"
The woman smiled. "Most people are happy with 'Stewardess'. If you aren't, and I suspect that you would be uncomfortable with using my given name," Saylie nodded vigorously, " then I suggest that Mrs Rist might suit us both."
"Mrs Rist, yes ma'am. I apologise for not asking earlier." Saylie stood there with her hands clasped together in front of her, not sure what to do next.
"That's all right, dear. It's a big day for you. Now you sit down and enjoy your afternoon tea while the hot things are still hot, and I'll be back in an hour to collect the plates." Mrs Rist smiled. benevolently and left the compartment with her trolley, locking the door behind her.
Once she was alone, Saylie poured herself a cup of tea from the teapot decorated with blue-work trains and investigated the food. The hot components were some small spiced, smoked, and boiled sausages served with a sauce, and some small savoury egg tarts. The third savoury component was a plate of fish finger sandwiches. The sweet plates were: cupcakes decorated with icing sculpted to resemble flowers; slices of light, flaky pastry filled with golden jam and whipped cream; a slice that was mainly preserved fruits bound together by a little cake-like mixture; and set of soft biscuits carefully arranged to make a graduated display of chocolate. Being a teenager with a healthy appetite, Saylie made sure that she tried some of everything before she considered finishing anything off completely. Then she went and finished off everything, including the entire pot of tea.
She was sitting quietly and contemplating the bends of the Falnar River outside the windows when Mrs Rist returned with her trolley. "That was delicious," she told the older woman as she stood to help clear the table off. "I'm afraid I might have eaten too much."
"I'll let the kitchen know that you enjoyed it," Mrs Rist promised. "Our job on this trip is to get you to where you're going, and have you arrive in good order. That includes feeding you and keeping you both safe and amused. To be honest, eating is a time filling activity we provide for you, and one that might be helping you feel better about leaving home for the first time." She smiled and added, "Many young people in your situation can do with that."
Saylie sobered up, "Do you get many people being sent away from home, like this? Like me?"
"Most aren't quite like you," Mrs Rist told her as she stacked the empty plates on the top level of the trolley. "We get a lot of small groups going to the Institute, the Academy, and a few lesser known places - but those tend to be a bit later, just before the tertiary academic year starts and not just before it ends. The ones travelling on their own tend to go to Keelstone or Lambast, which are completely different train lines to this one. Bolton-on-the-Edge gets the occasional official and the locals travel a little, but they are more likely to travel on the slow train that starts in Far Ramparts and goes to the terminus."
Saylie was going to ask about the people who lived in Bolton-on-the-Edge, but then she thought better of it. This trip wasn't being horrible, Mrs Rist was being kind and grandmotherly, and Saylie didn't want to hear that when they got to where they were going, she was going to be a prisoner who wasn't going to be treated kindly and given delicious food. Life was going to get real and earnest very shortly, but Saylie was happy to put that off.
This is now followed by Travelogue: Part 2.
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