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Travelogue: Part 2
Elf
rix_scaedu
This follows on from Travelogue: Part 1 and runs to 3,360 words.

The afternoon didn't drag on, but Saylie did pull out a puzzle book and some pens so she had something to do aside from gazing out the window.  The sun was getting lower in the west and the shadow of the train was making the details of the near fields more difficult to see.  There was more pasture in among the crop now too and Saylie noted that there were separate herds of black or white cows in some of those pastures.  Darkness came as the train was pulling into Morphelstone and she realised that she couldn't see the colour of the buildings.  

 

The station, at least, was detailed in blue and gold and this time the platform was on the other side of the train so Saylie had no view of the indicator board for her own train.  The news that the next train in the opposite direction had six stops before it got back to Temporlead didn't seem particularly useful, but on a whim, she pulled out a notebook and made a list of the stations.  Then she wrote what little of the places she'd noted as the train had raced through.  Hammorred had had an elegant road bridge across the Falnar in parallel to the railway bridge, but Bengelmack had only been notable for a herd of brindle sheep and a crowd of school children waiting together for the train to pass so they could cross the tracks.

After the train pulled out of Morphelstone the reflection of the interior on the carriage windows stopped Saylie from seeing anymore of the scenery and, as she had no desire to gaze at her own reflection for the evening, she drew the rest of the curtains and pulled out the novel she had smuggled into her luggage.  According to her mother the instructions for this journey had included 'no frivolities' but experience had taught Saylie that might simply mean that there was a small luggage allowance and keeping to the essentials was her mother's method of keeping within it.  It was a good story, forbidden or not, and Saylie read four chapters about the gathering mystery surrounding the improbably handsome senior university student and the apparently deserted house he supposedly lived in.  She only put the book down because the door was being unlocked and a dinner trolley was being pushed in.  Mrs Rist asked Saylie to clear the table so she could lay a cloth.  Saylie did so, and then went to wash her hands.

Dinner was three courses that led off with a cream of something soup, followed by a spiced chicken dish and finished with a citrus and meringue pie with ice-cream.  Saylie was reasonably certain that the 'something' in the soup was an expensive and slightly exotic mushroom but she was more impressed that the creamy part of the soup was actual cream and not starchy root vegetables rendered to a pulp.  The chicken dish was heavy with vegetables, and the pie was good enough that Salyie wished that there was more of it.  Instead of sitting and waiting for Mrs Rist to return, Saylie stacked her plates neatly and folded up the table cloth so that everything was ready to be taken away.  

Mrs Rist clucked appreciatively and recommended that Saylie try to get to bed about her usual time.  "I'll be along with a hot breakfast for you just after seven," she told her.  "It doesn't matter if you're not up and about yet when I get here, but we don't serve breakfast in bed, as much as some of our older lady passengers would like it."  She finished with a smile so Saylie concluded that she wasn't being scolded and smiled back.

Once she was on her own Saylie read through the instructions for the shower, got out her pyjamas, then stripped and used the shower recess for its intended purpose.  Once she was clean, dry, and dressed in her night clothes, Saylie hung up her daytime clothes and then investigated the provided pillows and sleep sack.  The pillows were already in their satin pillow cases, and both the pillow cases and the sleep sack were scarlet red.  It was a glorious colour that Saylie would never have chosen for herself, mainly because among her siblings red of any description was her sister Hoppence's colour and avoiding arguments was easier than dealing with Hoppence in full flight.  Saylie was surprised to discover that someone had embroidered her full name and date of birth, followed by a number sequence she didn't recognise, on the sleep sack's inside binding.  Someone wanted to make it clear that the sleep sack was for Saylie.

Saylie shrugged off the questions about why anyone would specifically want her to have these items and spread them on the bench along the outside windows and next to the luggage racks.  She pulled back that section of curtain, turned off the lights, and put herself to bed.  The inside of the sleep sac was just the right texture against her skin, the weight of it was just right for the conditions, and Saylie was asleep before she could try looking for the stars through the compartment window.

She woke once in the night as the train jolted over points and an orange light shone in through the carriage window.  Saylie raised herself enough to look out the window but the orange light was dropping rapidly behind them and there was nothing of interest to see.  As she was awake anyway, she visited the bathroom, then went back to bed.  There was another lot of jolting over points just as she lay down again, but no light outside the window this time, so she rolled on her side and was soon asleep again.

Morning came in early through Saylie's uncovered window. When she sat up to see what the light was doing, the sun's disc was only three quarters of the way over the horizon. The land outside was no longer divided into neat fields under cultivation but was covered in long grass with clumps of other plants that Saylie didn't recognise and small thickets of trees. There were lines of silver-grey wooden fence poles strung with wire, so this portion of the grassland was under someone's hand even if she could see no sign of plantings or a herd at first. After she emerged from the bathroom, where she'd gotten dressed, Saylie did see a flash of black as the train zipped past a solitary animal, then as she was pulling back the curtains to let in the light, the train passed a herd of black cattle.

By the time Saylie had finished her breakfast of porridge with milk and hot stewed fruit, bacon and beans, and fruit toast accompanied by hot chocolate and tea, she had seen white, red, and multi-coloured, as well as black cattle. Breakfast was followed by neatly stacking her dishes, cleaning and washing her face, and then doing her magical exercises. Mrs Rist came back for the dirty plates and cups just as Saylie finished her first repetition and Saylie happily stopped to talk to her. The exercises, really the one exercise that her mother insisted that she had to master before moving on to anything else, were a thing that Saylie loathed. Her mother described the result as putting her power neatly into a set of drawers and keeping it in there, but all Saylie could ever produce was a metaphorical leaky box, no matter how hard she tried or applied herself. Frankly, she thought there must be something wrong with her technique because she knew that her siblings had all begun with the same exercise and moved quickly on to other things.

Mrs Rist told her that she would be back with morning tea at about the time the train had left Borasboom the previous day. Saylie thought that she should raise an issue that she had begun to worry about. "Uh, Mrs Rist, I don't want to sound like I'm complaining, because the food has been wonderful, but isn't there rather a lot of it?"

Mrs Rist smiled kindly, if a little sadly, and replied, "Our instructions are that you'll need to be well fed to begin your work and learning, dear, and you were looking a little...peaky when you arrived. People leaving home for the first time are often too excited to eat properly for a while beforehand. Besides, bringing you food gives me a reason to visit you. You probably can't see why you can't just wander down to the dining car and talk to people, but we've had young people enticed off the train before by flim-flam folk. Or taken advantage of by other travellers. It's our job to get you safely to where you're going, and we've already had three complaints of inappropriate behaviour by the Institute's students and one from them. The conductor is much happier knowing that you are happy and safe in here, rather than potentially mixed up in some of the things going on in the rest of the train."

Saylie persisted, "But if I decided that there was more than I could eat, would it be rude to leave it?"

"Of course not, dear. No-one wants you to make yourself sick." She smiled again. "We'll be stopping at Curdmere just before morning tea. Would you like a copy of the local paper? They've a local magazine aimed at people your age that's very popular too."

"Yes, please." Saylie thought that fresh news might be an excellent idea. It might help her get a better idea of the countryside she was moving through too.

Saylie alternated between reading and gazing out the window at the scenery. This was definitely cattle country and the animals she saw seemed very happy with their purple-sheened grasses. There were no really small calves to be seen, and she supposed that it wasn't the season for them. She did spot one small herd of cattle who were so fluffy that she wondered if they were being kept for their hair.  As the train progressed there were more and more dairy cows, or that's what Saylie assumed from the larger udders that these cows had.  Their body shape seemed different too from the animals that Saylie had seen earlier, and their horns had some distinct bends in them that almost looked like they'd been put in deliberately.  At one point Saylie was watching a herd of brown and white cows with large horns when a goods train thundered past and blocked off the view, replacing it with refrigerated shipping containers, round bales of dark purple hay, and hoppers of broken orange rocks.

When the two trains had finished passing each other, they were in Curdmere, passing factories painted with names like "Dairy," "Curdmere Farmers' Co-operative," and "Berylsdaughter's Cheese."  Aside from a few spires on public buildings and some silos attached to factories, Curdmere seemed to have shorter buildings than most of the train's earlier stops, and Saylie saw only one building that was four stories tall.  The town's architectural palette, Saylie didn't think it looked big enough to be a city, ran to cream walls and yellow or gold roofs.  Those were certainly the colours of the station that the train stopped at, with the addition of some touches of sky blue.

Saylie was disappointed that she couldn't see an indicator board from her window and contented herself with looking at the people on the platform.  She noticed that some of the Institute students had gotten out to stretch their legs and hoped that they didn't get left behind.  In fact, she saw one who'd gotten into conversation with an attractive woman being dragged back onto the train by one of his friends as the station attendant blew the whistle warning that the train was due to depart.  Saylie got a good look at the woman's face as the young men climbed back aboard and saw a very unpleasant expression that made her wonder if this was one of the people who tried to entice young passengers off the train.

The train gathered speed out of the station as Saylie pondered on why someone might what to steal away a young, not yet qualified, male, student of natural history.  The train's route soon had it out in the pasturelands again and Saylie put aside thoughts of someone else's possible near adventure to look at more cows, increasing numbers of sheep, and some obviously deliberate small plantings of trees that started turning up in every second or third field of pasture.  Whatever else the trees might be for, it was soon clear that the animals enjoyed rubbing up against them, presumably to deal with itches.  

By the time Mrs Rist arrived with Saylie's lunch, along with the newspaper and the magazine, the grass outside the window had gotten shorter and its sheen had turned blue.  There were still fenced-off fields but the animals inside them were almost entirely sheep with the occasional small group of taller, long-necked animals that Saylie couldn't identify.  Lunch was a very cheese-based meal, with a vegetable soup, a cooked egg dish spotted with three different sorts of cheese, and cheesecake for dessert.  The only cow she saw after her lunch was one that someone rounding up sheep with the assistance of two dogs had been riding.  Riding cows hadn't been something that Saylie had considered before, but the evidence of her own eyes showed that they were a thing.

The afternoon went on, taking her through a flat landscape spotted with sheep, then goats, that was obviously becoming drier.  Leafing through the newspaper, Saylie discovered that Curdmere had a large lake that she had missed entirely.  Of course, if it had been on the side of the rail line that her compartment curtains were closed on, then that wasn't surprising.  The mention of it in the newspaper involved some new factory wanting to discharge waste water into it and trying to get out of paying for an appropriate treatment plant.  Given the size of the article and the number of letters to the editor on the subject, it seemed that this was a matter of some local importance.

By the time the train stopped next, at a place called Houesen that was clearly too small to be a city, there were beginning to be outcrops of purple and orange rocks that seemed to glow in the afternoon sunlight.   This time Saylie could see the indicator board and she had time to read the names of the remaining stops and write them down. In order they were Gulchwater, Dry Happenstance, Deeproot, Underheight, Far Ramparts, Bolton-on-the-Edge, and Rail Terminus.  She knew that Rail Terminus simply indicated the current end of this rail line, which was undergoing a big project to create a loop joining the line to Bolton-on-the-Edge with the one to Keelstone - the announcement had been all over the news and not even a person who was in the middle of exams and trying to get her marks up had been able to miss it.  Far Ramparts she knew as the source of inks.  Unfortunately, geography had not been one of Saylie's school subjects and the other places, aside from Bolton-on-the-Edge, weren't anywhere that she'd heard of.  The other thing about the list of stops was that she knew that there were several important mountain towns that should be on or near the train line, but the train didn't seem to be stopping at any of them. 

The quantity of food in the afternoon tea that was delivered to her just as she finished checking the newspaper for anything about the towns on their route was no smaller than the previous day's but the sandwiches were some sort of beef spread, and there was even more cream than the last time.  The scones, with golden jam as well as cream, were very good.

By the time it was sunset, the rock outcroppings had got much larger and the formations she could see through her window glowed in the evening light like a reverse sunset.  The light seemed to linger outside tonight and Saylie could see the glowing formations through the internal reflections on the carriage windows for longer than she expected.  She could see the moonrise behind them too, enormously magnified by a trick of light, atmosphere and horizon as it sometimes was, and almost full.  The golden disc slowly resumed its normal grey-marked and yellow-cream aspect, but its rise over the still-glowing outcrops wasn't anything that Saylie would have seen if she'd stayed at home.

The train pulled into Gulchwater as Mrs Rist was collecting Saylie's dinner plates.  "There are some miners in the common cars getting off here," the older woman told Saylie companionably, "and we usually pick up some passengers for Dry Happenstance and the mountains, but we're not expecting anyone this trip for the compartment carriages.  Although, we have been surprised before."  She added quietly and in a confidential tone, "I will be very happy if I never have to look after the last but one Lady Mayoress again.  If anything, she's gotten more demanding since she was replaced.  Almost worse, in her way, than the professors."

As soon as she finished speaking, Saylie heard the sudden rise of a rumble of voices and then a penetrating female voice that was still too distant or muffled to be heard clearly beyond tone and pitch.

"I may have been counting my chickens before they hatched," said Mrs Rist grimly.  "Serves me right for speaking truthfully of what I want to avoid.  You sleep well tonight, dear, and I'll bring you your breakfast at the same time in the morning."  

She wheeled the laden trolley out of the room and while the door was open, Saylie heard the penetrating female voice saying, "-private compartment with full service-."  The door was locked behind Mrs Rist, and Saylie pulled the window curtains closed after taking a brief look out the window.  Gulchwater Station was small enough that the station buildings didn't run the full length of the platform and the view from Saylie's carriage was of an openwork metal fence and, on the other side of the road beyond that, a rather lurid neon sign.  The penetrating voice continued, with breaks that Saylie supposed were for other people to speak.  As soon as the train started moving again, Saylie went into her bathroom and had her shower.

The woman with the penetrating voice could have pounded on her compartment door, and Saylie wouldn't have heard a thing.

She spent the night in the same configuration as the night before and slept through this time with no inconvenient points to shake her awake.  Morning showed her a plain of oranges, reds, and purples outside her windows, each fold and rock a distinct colour.  The ground between the rocks was covered in small stones and sand and there were no plants or water to be seen.  Then the train dashed into a long cutting through a hill or stone formation and plunged its way through a channel of palm trees, ferns and unfamiliar, damp and shining green undergrowth.  Saylie could see the orange, red and purple stone of the cutting beyond the plants but she was mesmerised by the unexpected lush growth.  There was a final flash of cream on a flowering bush, and then the train was out on the open rock plain again.

It would have been amazing if it had happened once, but it kept happening.  Every cutting was the home of a small, secret rain forest.  There were bushes and shrubs with cream, lilac, or crimson flowers.  There were clouds of brilliant blue and black or green and black butterflies.  Speckled birds ignored the train to investigate the nooks and crannies of trees.  Once the train cut across a natural narrow gorge or fissure in a large hill, and Saylie found herself, briefly, looking at a long, narrow lake lined with reeds and surrounded by greenery.  Once out of the cutting again, the sun beat down as if the little patch of greenery didn't exist.

 

 

This is now followed by Travelogue: Part 3. This entry was originally posted at https://rix-scaedu.dreamwidth.org/119762.html. There have been comment count unavailable comments there.