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Steam and Thunder: Book One of the Creationist Duology Chapter 8

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Chapter 8

Six quartermoons had gone by since the funeral of Queen Karanhit. Jac had seen Annaxier from a distance since then, at her end of the council table, or in the temples. Once passing in a line where all three royals took the condolences of their subjects.

Since the Queen’s death they had not been together privately and that was a good thing. Jac had carefully, with the aid of his sister Melissandier on some of it, written an affectionate letter to Annaxier. He did not tell his sister it was for the Princess. He tried to make it seem that he was having a romance with one of Annaxier’s ladies-in-waiting. A fabrication that Mel would believe.

That letter had proved to be a good thing, and Annaxier had written back since the first. Jac had exchanged two others. Jac’s were not written without the aid of his younger sister. Once the first had been written with the correct tone, that was all that was needed to find the rhtyhm between their friendship. Jac applied a pacing to not allow the princess to become too attached during the period of mourning she was encountering.

Attending the King’s Council again, ArchPater Kendiltur was giving the report to the council of what measures the small committee had taken to combat the crisis of a famine. That by harvest, if they were correct, they might meet the challenge.

Hornik’s neighbors had not realized that recent orders for foods in their marketplaces were the work of the kingdom. If they were delivered soon enough, not easy in Winter, then the kingdom would be fine.

King Lancellnick said “We see that the Chancellor has added several new clerks. Three groups of them. One to record all the new citizens that have come to us, with the aid of the temples, to help with the counting. Another to monitor across our kingdom all of our harvest so that we can see if this becomes a problem again, and the last set to specifically help feed us all. It will be good to inform the cooks here in the castle that they may give us a little more to eat.”

The king had been the very model of a leader, as had all on the committee that Jac had been a part of to deal with the crisis. They had added four more members of the King’s Council to their committee as the work became so encompassing. Each member of the small committee had their households cut back on the food they consumed and told others to do so as well. Not all on the King’s Council had done so, and Jac was sure King Lancellnick kept track of who did and did not treat the crisis as serious.

“Sire, a great deal of thanks is deserved to each of the members of our committee. The men we have hired in your name to assist the chancellor in the management of these areas. It will aid your rule in the future,” the ArchPater said. Having finished his report, the ArchPater sat.

King Lancellnick stood and said, “We are in awe of the new efficiencies we see in so many areas. This light trumpet; we know that we used to have fires to make signals. Now three lights can be used between towers and we can send a specific message to our borders in mere rounds now. It uses new special glass forms to magnify and help see the lights. By using different signals with them, the light trumpets can spell. Why soon, you will tell us there is some device where we can speak and the King Emperor of Nosgovia will hear what we say when we say it,” the king smiled.

Jac did not imagine that there was anything he knew of that could do that. Nor that he would ever think of something. But then the towers had been a new idea since the crisis had begun.

It had seemed so easy to use the telescope to see over a long distance, miles, and at the other end, to make a light for different letters. But then, if that light was behind another piece of glass, a suggestion of Princess Annaxier, the light could be seen from even further away. The Princess had played with refraction and reflection and taken notes until she had made an even better device that seemed to cast light a distance too. The system added lights and a colored flag to show that the message was being received and then sent on. Gearman and Cartwright received several silvens for each message, for it cost money to build the towers and pay for the men to work them, but several hundred men now had employment. The couriers still had plenty to do, for the messages of the light trumpets were best short. Long messages still were better carried by messenger.

And this was not a Creation that Jac had prompted to give Annaxier credit. She had made this all on her own. It was why the King was so familiar with it. Annaxier made sure her father understood all she had done.

“Yes, majesty, that and the new plows that many lords will be using at their farms. Even the new creationist additives to the soil, we hope will increase our yields,” Jac said half rising and then sitting when his remark was finished.

“Did not you already tell us that these additives had been tested for some years?” the king looked at Jac, who rose to address the issue..

“Yes majesty, another Creator came up with this. Adding nutrients from fertilizing agents, in more potent strengths, and a few other minerals is new and we have seen a better result. First in the Creatory, then where it has been tried these last three years on other farms. Even on one that I own. My yield was a third greater than the year before, and each year the farm also employed the better plowing. Now nearly twice better all told then all before I had owned it. The food seems to be good, and graces my own table. I think I show no ill affects from these new techniques,” Jac sat.

“Well perhaps you have gained a little weight,” the king smiled and then continued. “Good. More Lords should do as Lord Cartwright. As you have said ArchPater, near three hundred thousand free men of our neighbors’ have come to our lands looking for work, or perhaps for the free food we do hand out to the poor. That may be necessary, but it is also giving too many a reason not to look for honest work.”

The ArchPater said, “The food we give is the bare minimum a man needs to sustain themselves. Even so, I think many will die this winter for it will not be enough.”

Jac was not sure of that. Some months back the healers of his acquaintance had come to him asking for money to erect a building near the Creatories area. They wanted to build a Healing Hall where the poor could bring their ill and be treated. The churches all tried to help but they had different training, and it was not consistent. Nor were the areas they used to heal the sick all designed to do such a job well. Some, the ill were not kept warm and free of the elements. Rats and other vermin running about. Not an environment to heal at all.

The Searching Healers had built their hall, and word had spread to the poor. As many of the sick that they could reach were being seen to, though several pretended to illness to have a warm bed, these were sent away when found. Some, though were terribly sick, even if none could see the evidence upon them, and these did die in Firtoskin. “Let us pray then for the best. We are doing a great deal more then we have ever done before, and though we have tried to think of what else we can do, we seem to have exhausted all such ideas. It that all, Chancellor? Your report ArchPater?” The king asked around and it was evident that they had finished for the day.

“Good, then let us adjourn. Prince Edmanstow, will you attend us in my audience room. Annaxier. Oh, Chancellor, you too, as well as Baron Cartwright.” Jac did not like that. He had been avoiding audiences announced after council. It always meant that the King wanted the council to know who he was seeing. Often he would summon someone to meet with him when not in Council. The court would find out, but that was a degree different then his asking a member to join him right as he finished council.

“Good,” the king said when they were all together. He sat, and had his daughter sit. The others stood. “Now my son, we have heard you have come to your senses about the GrandMaster.”

“Father, I do not understand,” Edmanstow looked to Jac. Jac was not comforted by that look.

“Son, if you wish to keep a secret of a meeting, and what takes place in a meeting, best that you do not take your guards or your friends to such a meeting. We have been doing our best to teach you this. You and the other should keep the meeting to yourselves. If you wished to speak to the GrandMaster privately, then at council, calling him aside and talking of the information from the farms, would have done so. You could have spoken to him in the midst of everyone gathered and none would be the wiser. A meeting at the gatehouse between Old and New Town, not being told to us, when it took place at such a late round? Come now, all here are aware that we have spies to find out such things for us.”

“Yes, then, I did have words with the GrandMaster. They were not harsh as you seem to think,” Prince Edmanstow said.

“We do not think that. In fact, I am told sound carries well in the dead of night. That the city, being to bed then, does not provide a great deal of noise to make what takes places, masked,” the King grinned. Jac was sure King Lancellnick knew all of what had been discussed.

“I informed the GrandMaster that he had my good wishes for a long and happy life.”

“Yes. We are sure of it, my son. Now we called the Chancellor here for one thing in her majesty’s last months that brought joy to her, was the window in her room. She found in her discomfort some happiness in looking out upon the city and what was outside, though she could no longer venture there. This was a very generous gift that was done by our GrandMaster and we should reward him with a patent of nobility, not only because of the generosity he displayed, but the ingenuity in this and so many other creations that have enriched us. Our exchequer informs us that we are three times as wealthy now as we were before the Steam Twirler was created. Our neighbors, in this same time are not even half that.”

Prince Edmanstow was shaking his head, and Jac also wished to do the same. “I do not see, father what this has to do with a reward. The GrandMaster sold many other nobles these windows that mother so enjoyed.”

That was true. They had made back a great deal of money on all the court wanting them, as well as the king purchasing many more for the castle. Lancellnick shook his head as if it was not important and then said, “In any case, we wish to show our care and concern of the GrandMaster as you too have done, for did you not elevate him to Baron? Well we shall elevate the Baron to Count in honor of all that he has done for us personally, and for the realm. Without his notice, we should be facing famine in the Summer. We should not be as wealthy as we are now, he has been a friend to your sister, Edmanstow, and has made her more valuable to all of us with her new insights of Creationism. Look to her making the light trumpets work so well.”

The prince did not look happy and he instantly turned to Jac so that Jac saw his countenance. Now happy at all. Jac was not that happy as well for he knew this would cause trouble. “We think that there are several in our kingdom who are worthy of recognition and have not been so till now. Chancellor, not only must you record that we honor our Lord Cartwright and see it announced in our royal news, but also these others.”

The king pulled out a list, and then, he called for his page, “We have these new eye pieces that Annaxier advised we used. Truly wonderful. They make that which was small, large enough to see.” The page had brought him the eye pieces and he placed them on then began reading. Jac lost count, but several were known to him, three of them were Creationists, including Master Gearman.

“We make these barons of our court, and each shall be given a demesne from our hands. We have the lands of Helist, Porland, and Frenick to distribute. The main part of Frenick, north of the river Pule we give to Count Cartwright, for the monies from such, which we doubt that he needs, he can use to fund his school of Creationists that he talks of. Perhaps with a great number for women who would study this art, as has our daughter.”

Jac nodded. That was as near to a royal command as he would hear. Seventeen men elevated to the rank of Baron. The most at one time that Jac remembered hearing of. “Tomorrow, let these men be summoned to our court so that they may be elevated. Count Cartwright, you should have your family here then, for we will invest you in your new title and they, we understand, would appreciate such. We also understand your mother makes a pie of peaches. Now we would not want to make a command that we should try this pie some day, but it does seem that it would not go amiss were we ever to try it,” the King grinned.

“Sire, you shall have one on the morrow, I assure you.” That had been another royal command. “My mother would be most honored to cook for her king and will tell the story so much to all her friends, that I am sure their ears will fall off.” Jac smiled, for Vivan would do something along those lines, especially if the King liked it as much as Annaxier did.

The Princess had been to the Cartwright house not quite half a dozen times, but each time she was treated well, though no more special then if she was one of the other daughters of the house. That was probably why she kept returning to his parent’s house. Annaxier had now sampled the peach pie Vivan made more then once. Next, Jac was sure, Vivan would offer to teach Annaxier how to make it. Jac did not think Annaxier had ever cooked a thing in her life. Vivan did not do that much any longer either. Not with more than a dozen servants in the house. His mother did, however, cook the pies.

“Good, we look forward to it. Now not a word to those others we shall elevate tomorrow. But here, let us have a glass of wine to your good fortune, Count Cartwright.” Annaxier, Jac noticed was quite. But she was smiling. Jac was sure she was thinking that he was rising high in stature and that he might be high enough that he could pursue her as a wife. Perhaps a Count had married a Princess before, but Jac was not your typical Count. A year before he had been a commoner. Not many nobles acted as if they felt he was really a noble. Annaxier would be misplaced in any thoughts she might have that she could wed Jack.

Nice to think of it though. It would never happen, but nice to think of it. Edmanstow would never let it happen.

Jac had been a model young man but his brother Col had been rather wild. They had too much money and the boy did not know what to do with all that wealth. Eventually though, Col looked at the money that the family had amassed as a game and had begun to manage and understand it all. So well that he had made it a Creationist undertaking. How money worked had become the thing that kept Col out of trouble. But there was nothing keeping the Prince, who was Col’s age, out of trouble.

Edmanstow was still a child, and a dangerous one. Jac knew that his safest course was to stay away from the man. He resolved to do that more. He left shortly after they had sipped their wine. The King had always been between him and Annaxier. That just further enforced Jack’s thought that the man would never allow a mere Count to pursue a princess. His Princess.

Jac’s family was delighted that they had all been invited to the King’s court. Vivan went to make half a dozen pies calling for her daughters’ to attend her. Neither the weaver nor the actress wished to do so. But they did so with a stern word from both parents. Jac sat back and ignored his brothers attempts to find out what was happening. Col declared that he should go and corner the market on grains for his own pocket, instead of having worked so hard for the crown. The Royals Col said did not seem to appreciate it.

Jac said with some force, “You used my money for all that, did you not? Of the money you have of your own, it still is dwarfed by that which I earn. Further the money you earn is all from the fees for the money you manage of me?”

Col nodded. Jac continued, “Then the money that you used for the kingdom, was mine, and not yours. Let us not talk of this again, then. It tires me, how you always know what is best for the money that we have as a family. I fear that if you had more of your own, that you would take it, amass a great fortune, but without regard for all the politics and advice that you give me. Money is not all that there is. It is one part of what we need to do our work. Father, tell him. You don’t need to work, we saw to that, and yet you have a full shop and smithy here. You can not stop working.”

“It is so, Col. You do look too much at money. Do you not have more than a thousand Guildens of your own? Is that not enough for a lifetime,” Samathon said.

“Father, I have a lot more than that. I know what you both are saying. I do not look at money as the only thing that is important. I know that there are other things that are important as well. I just want to be rewarded as fairly as others are. Thus when I make profit, I know I am being rewarded fairly,” Col said.

Jac was still not sure that his brother understood, but he would let it go, “As long as you do not profit by the kingdom’s dire straits this year. Those who do may face headsman or hangman.”

“Not this year. Nor do we use only our money to have bought grains in the other kingdoms and have had them shipped to us before they realize that we are in any danger. But I too should look to these trends and reports that you have generated this year. In future years, when we do not face a famine, I may watch closely, and if there is an advantage to be gained in the trade of wheat, I shall try my hand. Wheat, or peaches, or apples. Money can be made, and it can be lost if one does not look carefully at the reports.”

“I think, father, Col should marry. We must find Col a bride with a tremendous dowry. He is so distracted by money that perhaps a family would balance him well,” Jac said.

“Oh, ho. Do not talk to me of marriage, brother, else you and whatever lady-in-waiting to the princess that has caught your eye, our mother would have you wed. You are several years older then I and all the men your age back in Cawless are fathers of two or three children now.”

Samathon now turned his gaze on Jac, “It is so, son. Do not let your mother hear any talk of marriage for she will speak as Col says. Though I should like to have some grandsons. Perhaps you two could look into that. As well as find men for your sisters. I fear that Kathierin may never marry for she needs a man as strong as she is. One that will stand up to her, and we know few of those. Melissandier, she I think would like to marry one of your noble friends. Though are any of the nobles, truly your friend Jac?”

Jac bit his lip. “That is a good question, father. Some I think are friendly, but not what we would call a friend.”

Samathon said, “You should work on that. It is better to have a noble for a friend, then one for an enemy.” That was a saying of all the commons and the peasants. It was wise advice.

“You do remember, father, that the prince has made me a noble. I am a Baron, I even have arms.”

“Yes, I know. You have arms… There is a joke in there. Well, come, we should remind your mother that not only does she cook a pie for the King, but we would like our dinner as well. I should hate to miss a meal because she will over think how to make this pie, which she has made hundreds of times.” Their father gathered his sons behind and headed for the kitchen.

The next day gathered at court, three servants of the Cartwrights each carried two pies behind his mother. The six pies were given to several pages and Jac had to assure his mother that the King would know that they came from her. That they would not get lost, or eaten until King Lancellnick had sampled one. Jac thought the king would allow the pages to share one for bringing them to him. After the months of being on the council, that was what he would expect from Lancellnick.

Jac then found a place in the large court chamber for his family to stand and wait for all to be gathered. Master Gearman had come, much surprised by his own summons. Jac talked with Master Mikonal and seeing three other members of the guild, his partner wondered if they were to received a royal charter as certain other guilds did. It would help with some taxes, the master was sure.

“In normal years, I think so,” Jac allowed, “but we have had to suggest to the king that to deal with the crisis of the food shortages, those industries hit hardest by the lack of grain, mostly the peasants and free farmers, and even some less wealthy lords, should have some exemptions. Those industries that will profit, such as Col and many of his endeavors, should receive an additional tax.”

“You rat.” Col said, “You did that on purpose.” Jac was shaking his head. But he could not stop a little smile from creeping onto his lips.

“It makes sense that those who sell grain will profit more in a time of scarcity. Those who sell aids to make food better, with less waste also stand to profit. I volunteered a list of several of the things we sell that would indeed do well. If his majesty agrees with all that we have proposed, we should see a little more tax this year too.” Jac continued to smile, but Master Gearman scowled. But then Mikonal did not know why he really had been summoned.

King Lancellnick came then, and as he walked through the ranks of his subjects, all bowed or curtsied to honor him and his two children. He stopped and chatted along the way with those he wanted to acknowledge. He stopped amongst the Cartwrights. “Mistress Cartwright, you do us honor. We must have your recipe for the cooks here, though we believe they shall never do your pie justice. If you will permit us to give you a gift in exchange. We are told that Master Cartwright you garden and groom flowers to delight Mistress Cartwright. Our gardeners did try to delight her late majesty, and some of her favorites we are told are very singular. If you would accept cuttings from three of our specimens, it would do our heart glad to see them cared for by another whose life touched hers. Princess Annaxier did describe your delicious peach pie to our wife, the queen, and she was glad of it.”

Jac’s parents were overcome and did not know what to say. In the silence Jac spoke, “They would be all too delighted your majesty. My father, I am sure, shall devote the entire spring to helping the cuttings bloom.” Jac bowed and so too did his parents. Vivan forgetting that she should curtsy.

Samathon stuttered, “I’ll coddle them more then me own children.”

The king chuckled. “Good, good. No need to go that far though. We have taken a great like to one of your children though. We are sure the others are much more valuable then flowers from our garden.” He nodded and moved on, Jac bowing again, and the rest of the family honoring the king as well. Soon enough King Lancellnick reached the top of the hall.

“My lords and ladies, other honored guests. In two days we start our seasonal holidays of the Winter Solstice. We have seen a great deal of turmoil these last moons, and more may come. During the course of this time, we have found several of our country that deserve recognition for the great works that they do. And as is custom we will dispense gifts, as many do amongst their families at this time. We will do so amongst ours. As King, our family is not just these two children, or our many cousins, but also all our subjects. The king must be a father to all.”

He paused and saw some nod in the court, but Jac looked also and did not see as many nobles nod. Jac did notice that with the many clerks, servants and people of the city, the nobles were outnumbered in the room, and that was the first he had seen of that. “This last years we opened our council to those not born noble. This was not the first time such has been done, for several kings before us have ennobled heroes of the battlefields, especially those that helped them secure their thrones. But we have not fought a war for some time, and the nobles on our council were born to their title, or are nobles of the temples. Now we have men who are not noble serving us, some though, we are sure our other nobles here have not realized, have served us long already. First we would gift these men, commoners all, who serve our council each day. Chancellor?” Lancellnick turned to the man.

The King’s Chancellor read from a list and called eight men forward to kneel in front of the king, whom the king then handed to each a small bag. Jac later found the bags to contain five hundred silvens. A bonus of more than they made in any year. He called two more after, “Master Camitrick, and Master Petjanter. You have both served us well and good these thirty years, doing the work of clerks for the council and rising in our estimation. We grant the title of knight, long in disuse in our kingdom, and shall also elevate others accordingly. For your many years of service, we grant of our largess, a small house here in our holdings in Firtoskin and a measured sum for you and your wife each year until the last of you survives. The title of knight, unlike that of our other nobles, shall not be hereditary, but you the bearer and your spouse shall be known as noble and will receive all the rights of any noble. Knights shall be honored as Sir, and their wives as Dame.” The King finished speaking and then the two men, in shock, really, went their way.

Throughout the course of the morning, forty knights were created. Some from the military, and the small navy that the kingdom had, others from the city. Three sons of nobles, not the heirs, one the son of a son, were recognized with this as their own honorific. Earned the King said. Not inherited.

Then came a greater reward, the Chancellor announced. He called the men that Jac had learned of the day before, his mentor Master Gearman surprised and no doubt thinking he too was to be honored as a knight. When the seventeen kneeled in front of the king, they were much surprised to find that they were made Barons and given land grants.

The forty newly made knights, if they had no house better, had been given two room houses along the outer wall of the castle. Slightly better then grace and favor accommodations that the royal family maintained for loyal servants who had no better place to live after a lifetime of service.

The award over, Master Gearman stumbled over to his friends of many years. “You did not say anything… Did you know?” Master Gearman asked.

“I was told to be quiet and not give away his majesty’s surprise. It was an order.” Jac said. “But I think you enjoyed it. Now what do you think of that increased taxation?” Jac knew that the lands the man had just been given would pay for them.

Maser Mikonal said, “It is a small matter. I, a Baron, who would have thought it? Commoners being made Noble. Will wonders never cease?” Though Jac believed the Guiildmaster had been thinking this would happen the last few years.

The Chancellor then called another man, this time a Baron, who was made a Count. Given great lands, also. When he was raised to his new title, signified by the King raising him to his feet after Lancellnick touched the new Count’s shoulders with the sword of state, all applauded .

Then Jac heard his name called. Not that he was surprised, but the day had gone on for some time. When Jac had settled on a kneeler, he and the last Baron had been given one as they were already noble, the King spoke once more, “Many of you know that Hornik has faced a crisis these last moons. One that we hope will be resolved. Many contributed to providing us with solutions, some of which many of you do not like, but we believe all of you would have liked starving much less. We are sure of that.”

The king looked around the room. Jac could not tell who the King looked at, but he could see those that stood with the king and behind the thrones. Several were friends now. As well as high nobles could be friends. No man lower than a Count could stand on the throne, or less than an ArchPater. The new count had been taken up and placed on the dais.

“We placed a group of men we trusted to see to this problem, for we were in the midst of our grief for Karanhit. The man that all have said has worked the hardest on all our behalfs, who recognized that the problem was upon us and needed to be solved, was Baron Cartwright. We now elevate our good Baron, a man whose ingenious device has made fortunes for many in this room, including ourselves, to the rank of Count. We gift him with…” Lancellnick went on to describe not just the lands he talked of with the Chancellor before, but three other pieces of property in the kingdom, including a very nice manor in Old Town. Larger than the Creatory, so he could move his workshop to the new house. This largess was more than Jac had expected knowing that he was to be made a Count. Jac was stunned. Annaxier looked very happy, yet Jac still knew that he was not so high as to attempt to reach her.

King Lancellnick finished and then raised Jac from his feet. As with the prior Baron, there was applause also. As the hall was filled with so many newly elevated commoners, there was a great cheer, and the king turned Jac and faced him towards the hall. Jac though could see some nobles not too pleased.

Jac made to start back to his family, “What Count Cartwright, you would abandon us so quickly. We have a place for you here upon the dais.” Jac then turned and as he did so, he came to see the face of Prince Edmanstow. One of the many that did not look happy at the elevation. When King, Edmanstow could strike off the head’s of Dukes, should he choose. It had happened before, but it was rare to take the lives of the high nobility. It made the others nervous.

Jac moved back into the crowd of twenty or so high nobles and clerics, and soon found that on one side of him was ArchPater Kendiltur and the other Duke Hendriker. “Good work lad. We thought the King would have elevated you further a month ago, but he chose wisely to do all at once.”

“Yes, but it is a good omen to do so now, before we send home the many lords and start Winter Court,” the ArchPater said.

“You do know, Count, that I shall demand an accounting of your levy and your ability to supply that, come this spring. I fear you will be torn this Winter from attending court and traveling to your holdings to ascertain their readiness. I would advise, as you are friendly with Generals and Blademasters, that you should appoint some very strong men to get your levy into shape,” the Duke said.

“Levies, my lord,” Jac said. “I did not know that I had any.”

“As a Count, and the holdings, including those that you received from the prince, you must have five thousand men that you will provide us and the army. Why, I would not be surprised if I did the maths that you have more land than I, and my grandfather’s father was a king.” Duke Hendriker smiled when he said that, so it was probably a joke.

“The Chancellor will know, when he hands you the deeds of your lands. He will tell you all and it shall be clear,” the ArchPater said. “That will be when all this is done. I have a question for you, this uncle of yours, I have not worked with him, but Larwellton has this horrible cough. The healers says it is age and he has more than thirty cycles on me. I believe them. He is older now then my own father lived. Will Lincarjirt serve as a good ArchPater? He is the leading candidate, in great part because of what you have wrought for the kingdom, and here on the King’s Council.”

Jac had not thought about that. He quickly came up with an answer, “I am biased, but I think he will be good. Speaking as a councillor, he is a man who does see things across all the areas he must. And he sees the individual man as well. You know that my brother Coloskthon has been of help to us during our planning, and thinks of the common man and that of the kingdom as well. He has learned this from my uncle. That is how helpful that he has been to Col. For myself, my uncle does not know much of Creationist thought, and so he does not help me much. I suppose the most he has helped was when he made Master Fenntrel pay me a just portion for the Creation of a better wheel.” Jac then explained the idea of bearings and how that he made them better, and how he was paid for it. How uncle Linc got involved. In the years since it had happened, the story had become more humorous, and the events were like caricatures of what must have really happened, almost twenty years before.

ArchPater Kendiltur said, “I think I must talk more to Lincarjirt. Even though I do not influence such a vote in the temple of Krien, some there do listen to what we of the One True Faith think on such matters.” Jac nodded, he was not going to get involved. Col, though, was probably deeply involved in helping their uncle to the post of Krien’s ArchPater.

Jac looked out and saw his family very happily looking back at him. He smiled. They waved, but he did not wave back. He looked further around the dais, and saw the Princess from the side. She was as beautiful as he had always known her to be. This day, Annaxier was dressed in her gold gown, the one she had for great sate occasions. He had seen her wear it before but as always, she was radiant when she put it on. It had a train of four feet, and one could barely see her slippered feet when she walked. Nor any of her under chemise showed at the floor. Only at the wrists could you see the pure white of it, and the chemise here was hemmed with threads that matched the patterns on the edging of the gold down. Red and black threads that danced about in emulation of the Farserit crests and guardian beasts. Her belt was black with the same embroidery patterns in gold thread. Patterns Jac knew that Annaxier had done herself. She did not have to try to be the loveliest women in the hall, it was just something that happened. Though to be fair, there were young ladies as pretty as the Princess, even Melissandier, but they could not afford to wear such finery as Annaxier and somehow that made her even more alluring.

Jac continued to look about the dais to see if he knew everyone upon it, and found that he did know all. Duke Conlinton was there, and then looking back to the hall he saw that Riclarpur was in the group of nobles that were the friends of Prince Edmanstow, as too was Perimont. A lord he had talked to a few times since the altercation that had resulted in lord Riclarpur’s maiming. Jac was not proud that he had to lame the man, but was not sad that he had kept the man’s blade from laming him.

Jac had placed third in that year’s weapons trials when they had taken place. He still had his one round of practice each day. The trials had been held but mere quartermoons before the news of the oncoming famine. If the trials had been after, there would have been no possibility of his practicing as much as he had. Or of his entering the three day challenge. Jac had been very busy working to avert widespread famine.

Jac turned his study to the king, who spoke and conducted his last court before sending his vassals home for their own Winter Courts. Jac knew that near two thirds of the lords would leave and not return until the middle of Spring. Not that many liked to travel at this time of year, but it would be worse in the moon to come. The roads were better though, for all were becoming a uniform width and level, clear of debris, and well maintained.

Not only had that been due to innovations of the Creators to make the roads better, but the famine committee knew that making the roads better would help to distribute what foods there were in the next year. Steam cart lines were also improving, and the line to the border with Giurance was more than half built. Until the snows were too deep, crews would build, for steam carts could carry supplies right up to where they worked. And some lords were fortunate enough to be able to travel to their homes quickly on the steam cart lines.

“Tell me, Count, can your steam carts be made to reach our northern border?” The Duke asked.

Jac gave Hendriker his attention, “I am unsure. We certainly have plans for them to do so. But I know that the terrain gets more difficult the further north we get. We need a certain width for the steam bed road, and it has to be reinforced. Then we have had problems with hills, and with rivers. Also, the biggest problem is that often the best place for a steam cart line is right in the middle of a field. Right now, I have told those that build our stem cart roads, that they must not hurt the crops this year, and so must rethink how to move about the countryside. If they wish to use the lands where we grow crops, we must find twice as much land and make that farm land. If that is no good, we might have to wait on a road until the year following when fallow land, or land we are preparing can be used. I have told my teams that we will have steam cart roads soon, but we may not have enough food for a harvest, so the steam carts can wait a year or two.”

The Duke shook his head, “No, I actually need those roads to the North as quickly as you can. I do not like what the King’s spies tell us of our neighbors. I do not trust them, and I think it would help us if we could move men North. Men and those blast lifters of yours. It would take quartermoons to transport them by horse. Can we not find some way to build a road? I know I told you that you should go to look in upon your new estates, but this is important, and I should certainly like to see you start work on this before you leave. Can we discuss it on the morrow?” The Duke seemed nervous. In council they had never talked about the Duke thinking they would be betrayed in the North.

Jac knew to be agreeable, “Certainly, I can be at your manor early.”

“Good, then I shall have you there at dawn, before army rounds.”

“I shall move my blade session around, for I meet with Master Fredardic then, then General’s Artshikal and Barthome,” Jac said.

“Bring them, if you would. I will ask a few others join us as well. Artshikal might have some thoughts that we should hear. He always did before, and I am not so sure some of the new men who command the army would not hurt to remember that we have great resources here in Firtoskin. They may be too old to sit in a saddle and march with an army, but they still have all their memories and can tell the young men how to fight a war. I think that skill may be very important. Yes, bring them tomorrow. Sunrise.”

The duke was finished and Jac saw that the king was about to finish as well. “We have honored a good many this day. In years to come, as we finish our year ahead of the solstice, we shall make such honors at this time, so that those honored can return to their homes, to their friends and families, and celebrate. My lords, we thank you for this year of service. We look forward to a much happier year to come.”

In all the king had mentioned his personal grief rarely, and he was dealing with this next stage of his life. In seemed to Jac that Lancellnick was possibly pointing out that they had two other marriages now that they could use to arrange treaties with their neighbors. If the other nations were not so powerful, or so envious, of all that was Hornik. Jac wondered even could their neighbors be bribed towards peace.

Jac found himself for a moment with Annaxier. She said, “You have done well my lord. I did not ever imagine you would rise so far when I first met you.”

“Thank you highness. I am sure that I own much of my success to your patronage.”

“You are wrong Count Cartwright. You do not owe your elevation to our friendship. You have an ability to Create and this has seen your rise. The skills it has taken to be a Creationist master applied to the King’s Council have helped you to rise so high,” she said.

Jac was unsure of that. He knew he had come far. But before he had joined the King’s Council, surely there were men in the kingdom who looked to doing things in the most appropriate fashion. Everything was not words of flattery to the king so that Lancellnick’s good opinion was achieved. Many in court were men of accomplishment. Even amongst the nobles and the leaders of the temples, there were skilled men.

“Thank you highness. I wish all thought the same as you.” Duke Conlinton was close enough that Jac noted Annaxier had seen him also.

Annaxier said, “It is of little matter. Come, shall we not see your family that they may wish you well this day?” She offered her arm to be led to them, as if he led her to dance.

Something Jac had not done. As a Councillor, he would have been asked to attend court where dancing was held, and the princess would attend. All the moons of that year, there had not been such at court, though this day, there was to be feasting, and dancing. The illness and then death of Queen Karanhit had quashed all celebrations. Now however, the lords were leaving and a smaller court, those of the King’s favorites, would stay until the first moon of Spring.

With Jac’s family, Annaxier was gracious as always, and Vivan treated the princess now just as she did her own daughters. Since the queen had died, Annaxier had come once to the house of Samathon and Vivan, his parents had told him.

His mother and the Princess had spent more then three rounds together. Alone.

Now as they greeted each other Vivan almost did not give Annaxier her honorifics. An action that would set all the castle to gossip, though Vivan’s pies might already have done so.

“I thought Master Gearman being made a Baron was a great thing. You a Count. You do us proud, son,” his father said.

“Do not say so, father,” Kathierin said. “His head will swell.”

Jac already was shaking his head. “Perhaps sister, but you will remember to address me as my lord, hence forth.”

Kath’s eyes opened wide but Jac was chuckling. Jac knew Kathierin did not know if he were serious or not. The family was overjoyed, but not much later, the King’s stewards and pages were announcing that a meal awaited them. The princess needed to be returned to her own family, and when Jac escorted her back to the dais the king said, “Count, our cousin tells us you should spend some of your time this Winter Court seeing to your levies. We have had to agree though we shall expect you often at our court. You do live in Firtoskin and we find our discussions with you edifying. See to it that you are not gone from court for any great lengths of time. Now back to your family for we must dine, and we shall have another piece of Mistrees Cartwright’s pie.” The King smiled. Those little details were what endeared so many to him.

Jac believed he would be hard pressed to remember such small tributes to make people feel a personal attachment to him. Jac was going to have to tell his mother of the King’s compliment, he was thinking when a man blocked his path. “Excuse me excellence, I am slow to move, for I have an impairment.” The man said in front of him. Jac looking upon the face and saw that it was Riclarpur. He had been waiting to stand in Jac’s path.

“I want no further trouble with you, young lord.” Jac said.

“Me, oh I am not able to make trouble for anyone. Someone has seen to that, excellence.” The man spat those words out. Hatred and venom were clear upon his features. “But the cycle changes and soon a cub will ascend the throne. Then it may not be I that causes you trouble, excellence.”

“Riclarpur, come away,” Perimont was there of a sudden, grasping his friends arm, Riclarpur shook it off.

“I know what I do,” the maimed man said.

“The King, he looks on,” Perimont noted. Jac did not look around to see if it was so.

Riclarpur spat, “The king has elevated this monstrosity to the highest places of power in our kingdom, but he is one who advocates honesty. I shall take myself, but not before I warn the man. There will come a reckoning…” Riclarpur started to turn from Jac.

Jac raised his voice. He wanted many to hear. “I should hope not, Riclarpur, for you are like shit, always turning up on my boot that I must scrape it off. Next time you think to threaten me, think twice about it. Dueling has been made a crime that will see you imprisoned. But if ever you seek to draw on me, I will kill you,” Jac said.

He clipped each of his words. He used the tone that he used with his apprentices. The tone when they had done something that had been wrong and gotten him mad that they could see how angered he had become, but would not scold them in any other tones.

Perimont pulled Riclarpur away then, almost causing him to topple, before the young lord could say anything. Jac just stood there for a moment, recovering his composure. He then started back towards his family, as the room thinned, for many others were going to the hall that had been set with tables that they could feast. It was nearly as large as the room court had been held in.

“My lord, a moment, please.” Jac could tell he was being addressed again. He turned to find lord Perimont had returned. “My lord please, I wish to say something. We started badly as I have long been associated with Prince Edmanstow. But I can see that he does little to help our kingdom, and you do a great deal. Riclarpur thinks I come to apologize for him, for he is in wine. But should you feel the need to punish him for his arrogance again, I shall not lend him aid. I wish to learn how I too may do something for the kingdom.” He said. Quite a speech Jac thought.

Jac replied, “I would attend the clerks of his majesty and ask for an assignment. We have been in great need of young men who could serve as the eyes and ears of the king across all these lands. Why not ask for such an assignment. We have spent much time trying to see what all these changes of Creationism have been doing to our lands. Do that, and prove yourself, and I may be able to recommend you higher.”

“Thank you Count Cartwright, and if you would, my best to your sister.” Jac knew then, that there was something more to Perimont’s friendly gesture. But which sister? Most likely Melissandier as Perimont was younger then Kathierin. Kathierin also liked men young. Jac turned and finally rejoined his family, guiding them to where they were to sit in the hall. Not at the lowest end, nor at the highest. Closer to the royals, then away from them. The Cartwrights had done well for themselves indeed.

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We have come to a point where the King is overcoming his grief and knows that Hornik must be governed again. He is thankful for the work that has helped to avoid the effects of famine. And he rewards many more, further changing the makeup of the nobility of the kingdom to begin to address that the wealth of the kingdom, in the hands of more common people, mean they need to be made part of the upper class that is responsible for the continued stability of the kingdom.

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