The visit to Chatham had gone well. Denfia Sarobrast had discussed new siege machines with the workshop supervisors and managers, while Erima had talked delivery schedules, space requirements and maintenance needs. Alvithis Mordvill had made notes about floor space and clearance requirements. When they were done, Erima and her little retinue of experts moved on to the stone quarries at Sudentenvale, travelling in the cart supplied and driven by Temus Porter.
As Temus drove, Erima explained her plan. Temus chortled. Denfia and Orratram Baanthazar, one of Erima's archery captains, were amused and agreed to play along. Alvithis sniggered. The oxen, if they had an opinion, must have thought it below them to comment because they said nothing.
The trip from Chatham to Sudentenvale took half a day and they arrived mid-afternoon. In line with Erima’s plan, when they got there everyone acted as if Denfia was the important member of their group. Senior commanders are important people, after all, and a ballista captain has a vested interest in the stone their machines pitch across the battlefield. Consequently, no-one was surprised when, after Erima had helped carry their bags and boxes into their accommodation, she nipped into the kitchens to collect afternoon refreshments for the group to tide them over until dinner in the common hall. That done and delivered, she went back to the kitchen and asked about alcohol.
"You'll want the buttery for that," one of the kitchen drudges told her helpfully. "It's on the other side of the common hall, where the ovens can't warm the drink up. It'll cost you, not being a mealtime, but Ropas'll set you up, no worries."
"Thank you." Erima smiled at her informant because drudges should stick together. "I can pay, so that's not a problem. Should I use the door from the hall or a door from the outside?"
"The one from the hall will be fine," the woman told her. "I'm Sulie, by the way. You?"
"Erima," she was told with a smile as that lady slipped out of the kitchen and across the common hall.
The buttery was a cool place with thick stone walls and the only person in sight when Erima opened the door was a bald man who scowled at her. "What do you want?" His voice sounded like his expression.
"Master Ropas? Lady Erima has a meeting with Lord Halyard, and I've come to get them each a pint of their usual to make the thing go better." Erima finished her tale with a little respectful bob of her head and upper body.
The bald man relaxed his scowl, slightly, and said, "It's just Ropas, girl, I'm no brewmaster or butler but I thank you for the nod. Halyard has his own tun that he had brought in himself. What does Lady Erima drink?"
"Cider, if you please." Erima grinned back at him. "The way she tells it, her mother would still forbid her to drink it if she could."
Ropas didn't look up from the jug he was filling from a tapped tun behind the bar. "How old is this Lady Erima?"
"No older than me," confessed Erima.
"Ah, then her mother no doubt thinks she needs to keep her safe still," commented the barman. He put the jug of beer, a mug of beer, and a mug of cider on a tray. "Halyard, bless him, drinks this stuff like water, no matter what else I offer him. Now, just between the two of us," he dropped his voice, "Halyard keeps his hands to himself, but if you have trouble with any of the masons or clerks while you're here, come and see me."
"Thank you. I'll keep that in mind." Erima smiled at him and went to pick up the tray. Then she smelt the beer. "Wait, Lord Halyard drinks this stuff? Even I can tell it's...off just by the odour."
"Buys it in with his own coin," confirmed Ropas. "It's not always this bad, but it's never good. Strangely, I have no trouble keeping everyone out of his private stock."
"I can't imagine why," returned Erima drily as she picked up the tray. "It's been very nice to meet you, Ropas, but I'd best be getting this to where it belongs."
Finding Halyard wasn't hard, at least not for Erima. He didn't look up from the ledger entries he was making when she entered his office and put the tray of drinks down on the clear part of the desktop next to both the ledger and the pile pf papers he was entering data from. He commented, "You're early," as he wrote in a line about basalt blocks.
"I didn't realise that you were expecting me, Cousin." She smiled at him as he looked up and she sat down in the chair in front of his desk. "You agree then that we need to talk?"
He put his pen down and said, "I was expecting my afternoon tray, not you. Who are you anyway? You're the wrong age for anyone in my mother's family who might call me cousin."
"Wrong side of the family," Erima told him cheerfully. "We're related through our fathers."
He squinted at her. "So, which of my cousins is your father? You don't particularly look like any of my godkin." He paused then asked, "Are you a daughter or a granddaughter?"
"Neither." She was almost laughing now. "We're first cousins, Halyard."
He didn't do a double take, but he did squint at her again. "Who are your brothers?"
"I don't have any." She gave him a slinky smile. "I'm a First Born."
He looked at her harder then, "So you are, Elder Cousin. How do you do that? Look so, subtle?"
"I have no idea," Erima replied. "It could be because I'm not a boy. My father tells me that he both doesn't know and has no opinion on the subject."
"Helpful." Halyard snorted. "So, why are you here?"
"I want to talk to you about building a fortification. My name is Erima, by the way." She folded her hands in her lap.
"You should talk to my eldest brother then," replied Halyard. "He insists that all new fortifications go through him."
"I went to see your brother. He'd fallen asleep at his drafting table in the middle of morning. I organized clean bed linen for him, got his laundry done, had him put to bed, and then I hired him a batman and travelling household staff." Erima grinned and added, "I now have three reasons I want you for this project."
"Oh?" He leaned back in his own chair and put on his inscrutable face.
"Firstly, he's running the maintenance and repair of the Yarn Wall and on top of that more than full time job, he is, as you pointed out, insisting on having a hand in all new fortification work. That's logical if the new work ties into the Yarn Wall, but not so much if it's a separate venture. Secondly, because he's doing the work of nearly three men, he's exhausted. I suspect he's both too tired to stop and think about better ways to do things and afraid to take a break in case he won't be able to return to everything he's doing now if he stops for a while. Thirdly, my original reason is that he specializes in a particular type of fortification, and that style is just what the Yarn Wall needs, but it's not what my site needs. You, on the other hand, do design the sort of fortification I need." Erima leaned back in her own chair. "I'm sure you have questions. I have a sketch map of the site. My architect, one of my archery captains, my haulage supervisor, and someone I want to hire as my ballista commander are here. What do you want to know?"
"You have an architect and you want to talk to me about designing fortifications?" Halyard leaned forward and reached for the beer mug.
"He's designing my father's temple and he says he doesn't know enough about fortifications to take them on." She looked at the beer mug now being raised towards Halyard's mouth and asked, "Do you truly drink that stuff as is? It's really not supposed to smell like that."
"It's cheap and I have the constitution of an ox." He drank and didn't so much as wince at the taste and smell.
"They should be paying you to purify it through your kidneys, just so it doesn't contaminate someone's water supply," commented Erima. "If you're paying them anything, then you're paying too much. Besides, if your drink is always foul, how can you tell if it's been adulterated?"
"I'm just the man who sits up here and signs off on the quality of the stone being shipped down to the Yarn Wall." He raised his mug to her as if making a toast, and added, "The enemy isn't going to waste resources trying to assassinate me, Elder Cousin."
"You may be underestimating their contingency plans," Erima replied calmly. "And disruption of the stone supply for repairs to the Yarn Wall would be a viable objective. Of course, it's also possible that you're deliberately making yourself an easy target to draw the enemy out." She picked up her mug of cider and drank.
"You," he pointed at her with his half empty mug, "give me too much credit."
"Really? Argenthan must have someone, probably several someones, working on that." Her eyes narrowed. "Frankly, if you are being targeted, it would suit me to dispose of the enemy agents now, before I lure you off to work on my project."
Halyard put his mug down, carefully. "You're serious."
"About all of it." He folded his hands on the desk in front of him.
"If we assume I didn't agree to be bait, what do you think I'm doing here?" He turned his head slightly, so his right eye was looking directly at her.
"A needful thing, but not a thing that has to be done by you. I suspect that you're also somewhat resentful that your major talents aren't being used." Erima sipped her cider.
"As you may have noticed, my Eldest Brother has views on the style of fortifications that we build." He rocked a little in his seat.
"And I've already said that I think that he's too tired to think straight." She smiled. "Think of it like this, if you help me, and this plan works so he has less to do, then you'll be helping rescue him from overwork. Then he’ll be able to think enough to realise that not everything has to be built his way. And then you’ll get to do more of the work you like."
"Indeed." He smiled. "So, the first thing you want to do is flush out any enemy agents. How do you propose to do that?" He wasn't quite smiling, and he had the expression Erima associated with a man going to do something serious and unpleasant.
“First, we’re going to consult my architect.” She smiled again.
“He keeps complaining that I’ll ruin his reputation by introducing him to respectable people. My father also says that he has a delightfully squirrelly mind,” explained Erima. “I’m sure he’ll have some useful suggestions. They might expand my vocabulary, but….”
Halyard drank more of the dreadful beer. “Why do I think that this is going to be an educational experience?”
She gave him her slinky smile again. “Because you don’t get out on your own enough?”This entry was originally posted at https://rix-scaedu.dreamwidth.org/130042.html. There have been comments there.