Note: Everything has wound up blue, which was not what I intended and fixing it will take much playing with the formatting. Please let me know if blue on white makes reading this post too hard - if it is a problem then it can be fixed but I don't know whether it is a problem, so feedback, please.
Dry Happenstance, where they stopped at midmorning, seemed to be a town of wide verandas, shaded footpaths, and buildings made of red and purple stone, with only a little orange in the mix. The roofs were mainly made of corrugated metal, much of it unpainted and shiny. In the residential parts of town, the train went past walled properties, and the railway station had a tall wall on either side of it. Inside the walls of the station there was a lush garden, reminiscent of the railway cuttings along the line, but full of fruit trees, kitchen herbs and ornamental flowers. It seemed likely to Saylie that the tall walls around the town's houses enclosed similar gardens, and she wondered why the walls made the difference between no plants and this amazing lushness.
After Dry Happenstance the cuttings through rock formations and hills became more common. Half an hour before lunch Saylie was able to get a clear view of the Westrim Mountains marching down the landscape to intercept the train line and assumed that the track would start climbing. Her knowledge of the mountains was all by word of mouth and highly anecdotal: for a while they had been the edge of the world, the Reality Ravine a part of their landscape; the mountains had formed as part of a battle between Order, Entropy, and Chaos when the Watchtowers had failed; there were mountains so high in the central ranges that you could climb them to the stars; and somewhere in the mountains, in a little valley far from any road, town, or city there was hidden a library that could explain the whole world. Saylie reminded herself that she didn't have to look down.
However, the train didn't begin to climb but carried on, fast and level. Saylie asked Mrs Rist about it when she brought in Saylie's lunch. "Mrs Rist, I was wondering, when will the train start to climb to go over the mountains?"
"We won't, dear," said that lady as she laid out Saylie's meal. "They had the route surveyed, the bridges designed, and then someone in authority decided that there would be a tunnel. It only took them the better part of a decade to finish the drilling, and the original route would probably have taken longer to build. I've been told that as they had no drilling collapses, the number of deaths was less than they'd estimated for the overland route."
"That sounds like an advantage," commented Saylie. "Particularly if you were one of the workers."
"Stable rock and a lack of multiple hundred-foot drops both probably contributed," added Mrs Rist. "I'm sure their families appreciated it as well. We'll pass through a number of smaller stations in between stops, but they're all very much the same, made of widened sections of tunnel. I got off at Deeproot once, and the elevator took ten minutes to get up to the city at Haggenrood. There are stairs, but I'm so glad I didn't have to use them."
By the time Saylie had finished her meal, with a dessert that had been something delicious involving blackberries and meringue, the train was into the tunnel and the world outside the window was black with the occasional blue tinged light. She caught the name of the first station, Fallonmeadow, as they passed through its blaze of yellow lights and then they were plunged into the darkness again. The afterglow in her eyes made her wonder whether she should just pull all the curtains to avoid the problem for the rest of this portion of the trip.
Saylie dealt with the problem by reading and doing puzzles, leaving the curtains open to give a sense of movement and the passage of time. The train reached Deeproot shortly before dinner. The lights were bright yellow; it seemed to be a tunnel station feature. The people on the platform were warmly rugged up in heavy coats with scarves and hats, and the train swept onto the platform past stacks of luggage and huddles of people spaced as if aligned to where the carriage doors would be when the train stopped. Both the stacks and groups were smaller at the far end of the platform where Saylie's compartment stopped, so the part of the boarding that she could see was neat and orderly. She did wonder why so many people seemed to be getting on here - it might have been a perfectly normal number of new passengers, but she hadn't seen so many at their previous stops and she wondered why this one was different. She made a note to ask Mrs Rist about it and went back to her book.
A little while later she heard raised voices, but as they weren't close enough for her to hear the words and weren't coming closer, she decided that she could ignore them. Outside, the train was passing through the station of Faithbridge.
Mrs Rist arrived almost half an hour late with the serving trolley carrying Saylie's dinner. "I'm sorry I'm late, dear," she said as she locked the door behind her. "There have been mechanical problems with the Far Ramparts yard, and that's meant no local trains in that direction for a few days. Everyone who's been trying to get to any of our stops has jumped aboard this evening and they're all trying to get somewhere to sit. The conductor's been getting people into seats, even if they're not the seats that they wanted, and keeping the corridors clear. Some people," she added darkly, "have not been co-operative. This is my third attempt to get your meal to you - the catering car was overrun for a while there with people needing food. We won't talk about the first two times, but these are not the original servings. If you're wondering about the meat in your main course, it's goat. Foot hill pasture raised and taken on board in Dry Happenstance. The soup is chicken dumpling, and for dessert you have what the menu writer likes to call 'a fantasy of desert honey,' which is actually very good despite the purple prose."
Mrs Rist left Saylie to eat her meal and went off to help deal with hungry passengers and whatever else her duties entailed in these circumstances. The goat dish was a spicy stew served in a bowl with side dishes in smaller, matching bowls. The cooking Saylie had grown up with didn't use much in the way of spices, and Saylie was cautious at first, then the flavour notes and the heat hit her tongue and her brain took a happily enthusiastic little time out from the rest of reality to just enjoy the sensations in her mouth. Saylie finished the entire thing, refrained from licking the bowl, and resolved to find out what the stew was called and which spices were in it. After the spicy main meal, the sweet dessert was a palate cleaner and general calmer down. By the time she'd finished it, Saylie was sleepily looking forward to a shower and going to bed.
Mrs Rist bustled in ten minutes after Saylie had finished stacking her plates for collection and started pulling put her shower gear, night attire and sleep sack. "Did you enjoy your meal?" She was already stacking the plates on the trolley as she spoke.
"It was wonderful," replied Saylie replied truthfully. "I don't think I've had that before. What's the stew called and what were the spices? My mother doesn't cook things like that and one day I'd like to learn to make it." She suspected that she wasn't going to be doing her own cooking or have access to a kitchen for a few years.
"It was a desert-spice stew," replied Mrs Rist. "Goat is one of the traditional meats and there is a spice and herb mix they use in it that everyone's grandmother makes slightly differently. I can ask the cook if he could write the recipe out for you, if you'd like."
"Yes, please," replied Saylie. "Only if he has time, of course. He must be very busy."
"Well, he is, of course," acknowledged Mrs Rist, "but he also likes to know that people have enjoyed his food. So, having you ask about it will make him happy."
The stewardess finished loading up the trolley and was pushing it the door when a strong female voice said loudly, "See, Rema, this must be the first-class lounge. Stewardess, we have two first class tickets and we want to use that lounge. Don't close the door!"
The last line came as Mrs Rist closed and locked the door. "I'm sorry, ma'am," Saylie heard her say politely, "but as the conductor explained earlier, there is no dedicated first-class lounge on this service. This is a private travelling compartment."
"That's ridiculous," the strong voice scoffed. "The railways don't provide private first-class travelling compartments for one person. They just won't hire them out to individuals." Saylie assumed the speaker had been counting plates.
"But they might be used for individuals," prodded Mrs Rist in the helpful tone of someone providing a prompt.
"Well, only if the central government authorities have organised a sequestered transport," conceded the strong voice. It paused and then said, "Oh, oh, so that's.... I'm so sorry to have bothered you stewardess. Please excuse my...pushiness. Rema, come back to the buffet car and I'll buy us a dessert each."
The words "Only if the central government authorities have organised a sequestered transport" echoed in Saylie's head as she showered and got ready for bed. After lying a while in her sleep sack imagining a sequestered life on the edge of the world, she cried into her pillow. When that was done, she found her handkerchief, blew her nose, wiped her eyes, and then closed the curtains above her head as well because the blue tunnel lights were even more annoying than ever with the internal lights off. The leaking eyes and sniffling nose continued to be a minor problem until she fell asleep.
Sometime in the night the train stopped at Underheight. Saylie was woken by the sound of a heavy metallic object clanging against another hard surface. The face of the timepiece on the carriage wall was still dark, which meant that it was somewhere between midnight and six in the morning. She sat up and lifted the edge of the curtain to see a brightly lit, busy platform rather too full of metallic boxes on pallets. There were station staff and passengers in heavy winter clothing milling around and Saylie thought it looked like tickets were being checked on the platform before anyone was allowed on the train. There seemed to be some excited or excitable exchanges going on, but Saylie couldn't hear the words, and she was tired, so she pulled the curtains again and lay down to go back to sleep.
When she woke again, it was quarter past six and by the time Mrs Rist brought in her breakfast, she had dressed and washed her face to remove the evidence of the previous night's upset. The grandmotherly stewardess bustled in to deliver bacon, hotcakes, two sorts of syrup, butter and jam along with three different hot beverages. "The cook apologises, but we're out of fresh eggs and most of the cereals. The Institutes' students eat like they've got hollow legs, and we've picked up more passengers than expected at the last two stops. He's worried that this won't be enough to keep you going for the morning."
Saylie looked at the half a plate of crisp bacon and the stack of hotcakes flanked by jugs of syrup and replied truthfully, "There's enough here for two or three people. Back home, I'd be sharing this with at least a couple of my sisters."
Mrs Rist looked her up and down. "I said that you looked peaky when you came aboard. Everyone knows that the magical folk need to eat more to keep their strength up."
"Within moderation," protested Saylie. "I don't want to be greedy."
"If you need more, then you need more," replied Mrs Rist. "It's not being greedy to eat what you need when there's plenty to go around. Now, sit down and enjoy your food while it's hot. We've got about three quarters of an hour until the tunnel ends, then we'll be at Far Ramparts at about morning tea time. You'll be leaving us just before lunch at Bolton-on-the-Edge, so you'll need to be ready to get off then." She paused and added, "I think you must be the first passenger I've had in this compartment in the last year who hasn't used the call button once. Has everything been alright?"
"I didn't realise that there is a call button," admitted Saylie. "But I've had more than enough to eat, and you've been very kind and helpful. I was expecting a much more uncomfortable trip."
Mrs Rist was about to say something when someone opened the compartment door from the outside and a voice Saylie hadn't heard before said triumphantly, "See, I told you that there would be a passenger lounge in the leading car!"
Mrs Rist turned on the spot and said firmly and sharply, "Sir, this is a private compartment. All lounges on this train are clearly labelled as such."
"But there's not enough room for us to sit down for a cup of tea back there!" The man complaining was tall, with a crimson waistcoat under a long, warm, brown coat.
"The train's at capacity so you'll have to get it to take away, and take it back to your seat," replied Mrs Rist implacably. "You certainly won't get one in here. I'll come with you to the catering car and help you order it, as you seem to be unable to work things out for yourself." She drove the two men before her by the force of personality and Saylie heard the door lock behind her.
With nothing else to do, Saylie made a good breakfast from the hot food in front of her and then practiced her control exercises with her usual results. Mrs Rist returned almost an hour after she'd left and found Saylie enjoying the return of sunshine and a world that wasn't the inside of a tunnel out the window. The older woman eyed the much-reduced stash of food and simply smiled before asking, "Was everything alright, dear?"
"Yes, thank you." Saylie smiled back at her. "Did you sort out those men and their cup of tea? And is the country from here to Bolton -on-the-Edge all like this?" She gestured at what at least appeared to be a warm, damp, and verdant landscape outside.
"I managed to convince them that they would be perfectly happy with a large mug of tea each instead of a full tea service", replied Mrs Rist. "Not there was any space for them to share a pot of tea, they were right there. As for the scenery, I understand that it's mainly warm rainforest here but certainly it's more open by the time we get to Far Ramparts. I believe that by the time we get to Bolton-on -the-Edge it could be called a savannah."
"So, grass with trees," remarked Saylie.
"Warm and dampish with grass and trees," agreed Mrs Rist. "It seems to rain regularly."
It rained for half an hour between the tunnel exit and Far Ramparts, and then it was fine again by the time that they reached the stop. On the way Saylie had seen the rain forest thin out and farms begin appearing - dams seemed a common feature. It also seemed to be the season for a large waterlily-like flower because every standing body of water seemed to have at least a few of them in white, yellow or pink. There was an entire lake of the things as the train pulled into Far Ramparts, and Saylie noted that some of the flowers were mauve as well. It was a thing of beauty and she could appreciate why there were picnic tables scattered around the lake's foreshore.
The station was a white and cream coloured affair with all the signage lettering in black. The station buildings didn't run the full length of the platform, and from her window Saylie could see a large machine on its side across two sets of tracks in a trainyard beyond the station. There were workmen, two large cranes, lots of warning lights, and a man drawing something on the ground with chalk. Saylie watched with interest became it appeared that they were going to try and right the downed machine with magic.
While passengers carrying warm coats poured out of the train onto the platform and untangled their luggage from other people's, Saylie watched the mage draw his symbols, do the quick, rough practice of hand gestures that many practitioners often did to get their head into a particularly difficult piece of casting, and held her breathe in anticipation as the man did his actual casting. The cranes strained, the machine quivered, and the caster was just beginning to look as if he thought the spell hadn’t achieved what he wanted it to when vines sprouted out of the ground behind each crane, grew rapidly up through and over their superstructure, and dropped down, twining around the chains to reached the downed machine. The vines strained, and then rooted themselves in the ground before bursting into more growth. An explosion of plant material started lifting the machine, and then vines rooted on the other side of the machine pulled it over onto its wheels. The crane drivers seemed to have kept control over their equipment and they hastily moved the no longer toppled machine onto one of the sets of tracks. The machine, which Saylie could now see was some sort of engine, wobbled a little and the vines seemed to pat it into place, upright and on the tracks. Then the train was moving off, the man in the train yard was gesturing, and the last thing Saylie saw of the whole business was the vines disentangling themselves from the machine and the cranes. She wondered what the railway people were going to do with them.
When Mrs Rist came in with Saylie's morning tea, her final meal of the trip, Saylie asked if she'd seen what had happened in the train yard.
"I can't say that I did," replied Mrs Rist. "I was helping make sure that everyone who wanted to get off back there did, and that everyone and everything that was supposed to stay on board did. Normally," she added, "the problem is just people trying to make off with teaspoons. Not today." She set out the tea service decorated with blue-work trains and two plates of food, one of syrup-soaked pastries and the other of biscuits set with candied fruit. "Now, eat up, dear, then you should make sure that you're all packed up. As I've told you before, you won't have long to get off the train at Bolton-on-the-Edge."
"Yes, ma'am, I remembered. I've been packing as I go this morning." She added, "But I will double check everywhere after I finish eating. The sleep sack and the pillows really are for me to keep, aren't they?"
"Yes, they are." The older woman nodded to confirm her own words. "I suppose they know they're going to provide you with one in your new home, so you might as well begin using it as soon as you leave your old home, and if you get it as soon as you get on the train, then it doesn't need to be shipped separately."
"I wanted to make sure that I understood properly," Saylie told her humbly.
This is now followed by Travelogue: Part 4. This entry was originally posted at https://rix-scaedu.dreamwidth.org/120568.html. There have been comments there.