"Didn't you get a letter explaining everything?" The stewardess looked at her questioningly.
"There was a letter," Saylie admitted, "but I never got to see it. I don't think it was addressed to me, because my parents had opened it and read it by the time I got home from school. It had my train tickets in it, but I wasn't given those until we got to the station, and there were some checklists of things that I had to do and pack, so I got given those to do, but I didn't see the letter itself. My parents told me what it was about." Saylie sighed. What she didn't tell the stewardess was how her mother had discussed her annoyance and shame at having a child exiled for hours at a time.
The stewardess seemed as if she was about to say something and then didn't speak, as if she'd changed her mind. Instead she said, "Take your time with the tea and food. I won't come back and collect it before you leave us, but I will come and get you when we get to Bolton-on-the-Edge. We'll go through a little station with a red roof and detailing about twenty-five minutes beforehand, so you can use that as a warning."
Saylie thanked the stewardess for the information and sat down to enjoy the food. She had decided some time ago that the cook had a very different idea of snacks to hers but being sent into exile seemed to imply more difficult food arrangements than she was used to so it would be foolish not to eat when there was food. As she ate a concoction of flaky pastry and custard soaked in a rose scented syrup, she reflected that in a few days’ time she might be cross with herself if she hadn't eaten this when she had the chance.
Saylie found herself surprisingly hungry and polishing off both plates of food and most of the pot of tea proved no problem at all. She resumed watching the scenery when she was done and used the red roofed station as a signal that it was time to use the bathroom for the last time, and then to double check that she really had repacked everything that she'd brought on board. She still had time to sit nervously and wait for the train to get to her stop after she was done.
The train came started slowing, and Saylie saw a platform the length of a carriage and with a silver and blue roof over its entire length glide past as the train slowed down. It seemed to her that the platform must be quite some distance back by the time the train stopped.
Mrs Rist unlocked the door almost as soon as the train stopped moving and said apologetically, "They've stopped the train so the parcel car is on the platform, which would have been a useful thing for us to have known sooner. We'll have to go back to the catering car to get you off - it has extending stairs that will get you down to the ground. I'd prefer to take you back to the parcel car to disembark, but we won't have time. Let me help you with your sleep sack and pillows, and come with me."
Saylie followed the older woman back through the cars that she hadn't seen since she'd boarded the train at a surprisingly fast pace. Even so, in the compartment carriage an Institute student managed to step out into the corridor between them. Saylie was just saying, “Excuse m-,” when she recognised him. “Oh, you’re the one who dragged his friend back onto the train in Curdmere! You did the right thing, you know – I saw that woman’s face when you did it and she was…foiled and angry. I think she was trying to keep him there on purpose.”
He turned to look at her straight on and she notice that he had different coloured eyes, one amber and one brown. “Was she, you think? That’s…good to know. We go back through Curdmere. I’ll keep an eye out. Who are you?”
“Saylie, and I can’t stay and talk. I have to get off here and I’m getting left behind.” She gestured in the direction of Mrs Rist who was almost at the next carriage.
“Then go!” He stepped back into the doorway of the compartment and as she went past added, “I’m Tom.”
Saylie didn’t have time to acknowledge him as she hurried to catch up with Mrs Rist. She managed to do it as that lady opened the carriage’s door, and in the catering car they met the conductor who already had an outside door open. Saylie thanked Mrs Rist for her all her help then took back the sleep sack and the pillows. She climbed down the steps onto the ground beside the tracks and thanked the conductor, who nodded and wished her well before climbing back onto the train and closing the carriage door.
Saylie looked around her. Obviously, she wasn't on a platform or even on a paved area, but she was standing on a platform-wide strip of mowed lawn grass. On the opposite side of the grass to the tracks was a rock-edged garden bed planted with colourful shrubs and herbaceous clumps of brightly leaved or flowered plants that she didn't recognise. The actual platform was almost six carriages back along the length of the train and Saylie was pleased to see that it had a gently sloping ramp leading down to ground level from her side - she wasn't sure that she could negotiate narrow steps or stairs with her current load of luggage and extras. Because there was nowhere else for her to go, she started walking back down the train towards the ramp and the platform where some men in railway uniforms were handing over pallets of boxes to a man who seemed to be wearing a calf-length skirt. Saylie stopped and checked that she was interpreting what she was seeing correctly - she didn't want to make her arrival memorable for insulting an official of whatever establishment she was going to be confined to.
The man on the platform was indeed wearing a skirt-like garment that was not in any way trousers. His top half was mostly covered by a wide sash that went over his right shoulder and tied in a knot on his left hip. The colours of his clothes were those of the Watchguard, whose task it was to protect people and property from physical dangers and injury, but the clothes themselves were not the items of Watchguard uniform that Saylie was used to. Most of the time it took Saylie to walk to the platform and climb the ramp he was busy checking a clipboard against the boxes on the pallets and she was almost within normal conversation distance when he signed something and handed a copy over to the railway employees. As the railwaymen reboarded the train, the man in the skirt and sash turned to face Saylie. The Watchguard insignia on the sash proclaimed him to be a sergeant and the name plate identified him as Tanerov.
Saylie spoke first, nervously, "Uh, good morning, Sergeant Tanerov? I believe I'm expected? My name is Saylie Chaterhalm."
The watchman, if that what he was given his outfit, looked at her for a moment then smiled widely. "Ah! Our little chaos witchling, yes. Your supervisor and mentor send their apologies - they had meant to be here but the Reverend Father's poultry kicked their way out of their coop this morning and the learned gentlemen are helping him round them up again, which is what I'll be doing when I finish with things here. I've got your keys and a map to get you to your house just here." He turned and walked over to a satchel sitting out of the way at the back of the platform and pulled out a piece of paper and a set of keys.
"I get a house?" Saylie's voice squeaked in surprise. "I was expecting, maybe, a dormitory."
"There aren't enough of us out here for that," he gave her another smile. "Not that my wife complains, anywhere else the place we have would be a commander's house."
Saylie asked hesitantly, "I don't want to be rude but what you're wearing doesn't look like a Watchguard uniform?"
"One of the problems with being on this part of the Reality Ravine," and the sergeant was deadly serious now, "is that stitching doesn't hold. Weaving does, but not the stitches, so we have to wear things without seams, or hems. This outfit of mine isn't acceptable uniform anywhere else but here, so don't be surprised that you haven't seen it before. Speaking of clothes, all of your things probably have seams?"
"Of course they do. Oh, are they going to fall apart?" This was beginning to sound like a disaster she was going to have to cope with, and she wondered if there had been anything about this in the letter to her parents.
"They will, in a few weeks." He gave her another smile. "Dame Matheric, the astromancer, is going to drop by your place this afternoon to help you sort out clothes. Now, take these keys, follow the map and start getting settled in your house. The kitchen is stocked so you can make yourself lunch." He handed her the keys and the map, then play shooed her off the platform.
It took her a little over ten minutes of walking to get to the location marked on the map. The address was helpfully written on the map along with the directions and various landmarks along the way were labelled. Bolton-on-the-Edge was a very comfortable looking, and much spread out village. The streets and lanes were wide and white, though unpaved, with the plant life apparently in competition to display the greenest green. The house at the address Saylie had been given was white walled, two stories tall, free standing, and looked to be three rooms wide. Saylie, whose expectation had been more cell than dormitory, didn't know what to think.
She opened the garden gate, stepped onto the garden path, and two kittens tumbled out of the cat flap in the front door. One was a blue tabby, and the other had a lilac body with purple points - Saylie had never had a cat but she was certain that neither of those colourations were usual. There was a deafening booming call from her right, and when she turned to look where the sound had come from, a bird her own height with a thin long neck, long skinny legs ending in heavy three-toed feet, and bronze feathers with some gold and copper markings. It tilted its small head to one side as it looked at her and grunted softly as if asking a question.
Saylie made a stab in the dark and commented, "So, you're what counts as poultry in these parts, are you?"
Six months later....
Dame Heldana Chaterhalm had prepared her part of this interview for days, had planned for it for weeks, and had been thinking about it for months. She had dressed to convey her seriousness, her devotion to duty, and to hide the deep sense of personal failure she felt that one of her children had been exiled from their home city for lack of personal control. She could fix that, she was certain, if she could just find out what was required of Saylie before she was allowed back into the society in which she had grown up. No part of her person wobbled or bounced as she moved, Dame Heldana had made sure of that by investing in foundation garments designed for that purpose despite being a naturally slender person. Her outer garments were tailored to perfection and her few pieces of jewellery spoke of her magical affiliations to order and automatia.
She had come straight from the railway station to the main administration building, and although she had expected to at least see the outside of the detention facility, she could understand the desire to maintain an orderly environment by keeping it out of sight. Saylie's letters home had been less than useful, flitting as they did between tales involving farm animals and asking how the rest of the family was. The girl had not even mentioned the name of the Warden of the facility, so her mother was reduced to asking the woman at the front desk if she could see whoever was in charge.
The woman had raised an eyebrow when she'd given her name but said nothing and gone back to what Dame Heldana assumed were office spaces, positively wriggling her fabric draped hips as she went. The woman's quiet, "The Director can see you now," had, however, been everything that Dame Heldana could hope for, and she had let herself be ushered into an office that was everything she could have expected.
The man who stood to greet her when she entered the office was not who she was expecting. He was younger than her by up to a decade, he had facial hair albeit neatly groomed, and his main garment was a skirt of fabric wrapped around his waist and falling to below his knees. He had a shawl across his shoulders in a matching piece of fabric.
"Dame Heldana," the man had a pleasant voice, she would grant him that. "I'm not sure to what I owe the pleasure. Please take a seat." He indicated a chair with its seat and back made of strips of cane, or something similar, woven into a pleasing pattern. He let her sit before he did so to. "Now, why have you asked to see me today?" He sat with his hands folded on the desk in front of him on top of a file in the blue cover of an official personnel file.
"One of my daughters, Saylie, is an inmate in your facility, and I want to know what she has to do to be allowed to come home." She twisted up her courage for the next part. "I am a Dame and her mother. I can make this right. Please, Administrator, what do we need to do?"
He looked at her and sighed. "Dame Heldana, firstly although I am the Director here, I am not an Administrator. You may address me as Magister Tarlan.
Dame Heldana quivered. She had made a potentially critical error.
"Secondly, I don't know what you think we are here, but there are no inmates. Saylie is a member of my staff, and as such gets four weeks of recreation leave after her first twelve months in the job, just like the rest of us. If she chooses to use it to travel to visit you, that's entirely up to her." He looked her up and down, then went on, "Now that you're here, Dame Heldana, I have some questions for you. Why did you turn down the tutoring offer Saylie received when she was eight, and why didn't you go back and ask for help when you couldn't get her through the basics on your own?"
This is now followed by Reconnection.
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