"I can read this. I'm just not sure what it is saying." I said.
I had been pouring over through surveyor's notes for some time now. The Princess's men had provided it shortly after the coronation. These notes had been transcribed and handed to each one of us in turn. Clearing the Hlofolk Tunnel had cemented the Princess's faith in us as those who were loyal, but who also could get work done. Defending her from the assassin during the race had made that loyalty even more apparent.
You could see it, as she looked on some of the other nobles with disdain, she looked on us with a sort of pride that I had rarely seen. It brought my thoughts to Duncan, which made my heart ache.
We were doing right by Duncan, though. In a way we never thought possible. Tagaern's plan for gaining the lands that the Princess had offered in exchange for clearing the passage were solely to allow Amalia a chance to grow the new established township of Lyon, on the land where Kellas House stood, into a standing monument to Duncan himself. Tagaern promised her that she had control of her fate in this.
The burden with these lands ended up being that they were meant to be made profitable and essentially be taxed by the Princess. The thought of making these lands profitable was daunting and looking through the tiny handscrawl of notes was beginning to make my head hurt.
My indirect plea to Silah had fluttered past her as she had settled into our room at Butterwicks. Her only intention was to relax and let the day's events flow over her. She wasn't quite naked, wearing a clean tunic of mine that hung mid-thigh. The billowy sleeves swallowed up her thin arms and she flapped them around as she lighted from bed, to mirror, to my shoulder, and then back to the bed again.
I raised an eyebrow at her as she smiled glitteringly into the mirror.
"You're adorable." I said with a chuckle then continued, "Can I ask where your head's at?"
"Oh, just... That felt good." She said, drawing out the words.
She tipped her chin my way, looking toward me briefly, then back to the mirror.
Vague, but fitting. I thought.
I focused back on the page and looked over the map. I could feel the heat rising in my head again, creating a tinge of pain as I scrunched my face at the infuriatingly small words.
"I need you here. I am not sure what to do and taking this on has me worried." I said.
It was an understatement. I was terrified. I tried to meet her eyes, but she was spinning across the floor, the flapping arms twirling with her movements.
"I am not like Sig and Bromm, I can't make money from nothing like they seem to be able to do." I said, feeling the panic edging into my voice.
Silah clucked her tongue.
"You just need to right people to help you." She said, still spinning, but her voice remained perfectly steady.
"And how do you propose that I find those people? I am not a people person. Sig and Bromm had all sorts of connections."
She stopped, smiled, and tilted her head.
"And you don't? Who was your friend at Fenton's? Who knighted you?" She righted her head and giggled again, "Oh, my Beast. Your willful ignorance is stunning."
I grimaced at her, feeling the heat rising even further and that twinge become an ache. I turned back to the maddening scrawls and map that laid out a semblance of my future, if I could somehow decipher it.
"Oh, don't take it personally. You do realize that you don't consider yourself capable and you simply dismiss yourself. I still ask why, but still see that you believe you are a soldier following orders." She draped her warm body over my shoulders, catching her head in the nook of my neck.
I could see her purse her lips as she perused the maps and other paperwork.
"You should realize that you haven't been taking orders for a long time." She said absently, her eyes speeding down the laid out pages. "You're being treated as an equal, even if you refuse to see it."
I closed my eyes against her touch, feeling her warmth seep into me and I let my mind wander toward her. Feeling her cheek press to my neck.and her fingers lazing on my biceps.
"What do you want to do?" She asked, her body vibrating against me with her words.
"I have no idea." I said, giving my head a slight shake as she pressed against me.
"That's not an answer. Be decisive. You had a thought when you decided to accept the lands." She said it sternly, but didn't move from her perch.
"I wanted a place for those who'd feel like outcasts. The displaced. Those I'd consider my people, whether they were half-orcs, elves, dwarves, humans, it doesn't matter. It's a fresh start. A chance to put down roots."
"You continue to both amaze and confound me. A bloodthirsty romantic. You are one of a kind, my love." She mused then her voice sharpened, "Wait, you plan on setting down roots?"
"Well, not me." I said with a shrug, flopping her arms in the process.
"Good. Roots are boring." She said tersely, then continued, "Do you have someone in mind that you'd put in charge? Bromm has Erland back at the Brewery. They have a solid foreman at the mines. They have Beidrick handling their shipping."
I suddenly felt overwhelmed and now felt that throbbing at my temples.
"No. Don't disappear on me." She said, tapping my arm as she picked up on my shift in mood, "This isn't as hard as it seems. Let's put the word out there, just like Sig and Bromm did and they'll come to us. I'll help you interview."
"I'd appreciate that." I said, letting out a sigh.
"Think of your friend earlier. There are people like that all over. And you said exactly what you needed to get both his friendship and his interest."
I nodded at her words.
"You're a natural, you just don't know it." She said.
She turned and kissed my neck, sending warmth percolating through my body and I shivered. She laughed into my neck with the reaction. She arched her back and rose from my shoulders.
"So, we know you'll need people to run the space. What do you intend for those people to do?"
"I thought of mining or farming, but it all seems so trivial. The Princess will want more than that." I furrowed my brow, looking over the words again. "The others will likely want a place on the council to defend the Ether Tree. I like the idea, but there's nothing interesting in those lands there for me."
Silah moved to the window, looking out at laborers breaking down the stands and moving straw bales from what was once the Landframe race track.
My finger slid over the lines on the description and I stopped short.
Plot E - 900 acres. The old camp occupied by the army during the liberation of the area is still in evidence on the site. Jack trenches and abandoned siege equipment as scattered over the area. A number of piers were built to aid in access to the river during the siege. They are still in good order. Good quality granite has potential to be a quarry for any construction needs.
"I think I've got it. Why not a quarry? All of this new construction is going to need stone. With an investment in the right skilled laborers, we could be turning a profit almost immediately." I smiled in spite of the overwhelming fear that came along with it.
Silah turned, the light from the window revealing her elegant shape through the baggy tunic. She flopped the oversized arms into a folded position and she nodded with a smile.
"That sounds like a fine plan. I'm glad I thought of it." She said, rocking back and forth.
"Uh huh. Sure." I said with a furrowed brow and started looking more closely at the map as she padded over.
"Bromm mentioned running a barge up and down the river here. There is a pier stretching out to the river from this plot. The surveyor says it's in good shape." I said tapping on the map.
"Then what's next?" Silah asked.
It had become obvious that she'd been prompting me to make decisions, but it was becoming less intimidating with each decision made. I was starting to see the pieces come together. And with both the winnings and the payoff from the Princess for helping clear the Hlofolk Tunnel, I could invest enough to get the property well on its way to turning a profit.
"Cranes. Tools. Housing. Carts and tracks. That barge, perhaps Bromm and I could go in on that together? An alchemical barge! I bet the engineers could work something like that. I could rent that out to the neighbors, too."
"Maybe down the road. You're getting the hang of it. Just don't get ahead of yourself. Let the investment pay for itself before putting too much money down."
"There is old siege equipment out there. I bet engineers could make those into cranes and rigging? Perhaps we can even have the barge built from the scraps?"
"Good use of existing resources, as long as they're still sound." She said with a nod.
"And contracts. Yes. Maybe I could negotiate contracts for deliveries?"
"You? Probably not. Me? Maybe. Who knows, maybe Sig's father could help?"
My eyes widened.
"I wonder how much his services would run?" I looked to her and nodded.
"It doesn't matter. You'll be making enough money to compensate. You choose the people who are best for the task. When you are being told you'll eventually be in charge, you begin to realize that it's impossible to do it all yourself. Find those you can trust. Keep them happy and you'll be in good hands." She spoke evenly, but a flutter of pain crossed her face for a moment.
I nodded, watching her closely.
"So, people first." I said, looking back to the paper and starting to scratch away with ink and quill that came with the room.
Stone Cutting and Shaping Tools
Silah padded over and looked down at the scrawls on the parchment.
"Your handwriting is awful." She shook her head with a grimace. "I'm not sure if we'll be able to fix that."
(Get to know Akeron.)
Wednesday, March 16, 2016
Our rattling Landframe limped to a stop inside of its designated space then sighed to a stop. I hurriedly pulled the activation plunger on the engine, quieting the reaction. I glanced over my shoulder to a pale and wide eyed Floki in the pilot's seat. His face was slicked with sweat and he seemed to be just catching his breath. Turning a bit further, I could see he'd let the steering grips drop to the floor. They had made angry red grooves in his hands and his gaze dropped absently as a rubbed the blood back into them.
"You've got this, then?" I said in a rush.
"Yeah." He said quietly, not looking up from his hands.
I peeled back from the alchemical reaction chamber I had been hunched over for the entire race, keeping it in place regardless of the damage to the Landframe itself. Straightening my back sent shocks of pain around my rib cage and up my back. The Crugg boy's term for what I had done as an improvised engineer, a humper, was very different from what he had done so elegantly as a true Alchemical Engineer. It didn't matter. We finished the race, even if dead last. Finishing was all that mattered to me.
But, more importantly, Sig and Danin had finished first. And Silah and I had an enormous bet at incredible odds sitting back at Fentons. She was there, babysitting this nestegg. And I fully intended to make sure they made good on the bet. Within moments I jumped from the Engineer's seat of the beaten Landframe and began to bolt down the street. The pit Engineers dove to the side with shouts, peering at the ragged Landframe waiting for an explosion from the alchemical chamber that never came.
The road was still mostly clear as the citizens began to emerge from behind the barriers and spilling over the streets. Rounding on Fenton's, I felt my bond with Silah take hold and it made me catch my breath. She felt it, too. She was holding her place in the front of the line. She glanced around and lifted her head so I could see her. She was bent like an animal protecting her young, hands on the table with elbows poised to strike with a strength that belied her size. At least one had already taken a blow as a man limped away gasping, clutching at his ribs.
I began to press in and the half-orc bouncer eyed me with a plea. He had been friendly just earlier, giving a smile and nod when we made the bet.
"A little help?" He said, sounding overwhelmed.
My body was still vibrating from the rattling Landframe and a fierce excitement was already rushing through me. We began to muscle order into the onslaught winners and losers.
After some bloodied noses and a few cracked ribs later, I moved to Silah's side and she called out to the bookie.
"Silah on car seven finishing first."
A few eyes peered at her. She wore her simple white dress, but it looked fantastic on her. And, as much as those around her gripped, groped, grappled, she stood firm. Giving a threatening look around her ever so often and swinging an sharp elbow when things got out of hand.
I recognized that glare. She had given it to me many times before.
I saw the bookie's eyes follow his finger down the list and stopping on her name. As he moved his finger along the line, his eyes bulged slightly and he looked at her closely.
"I'm going to need to verify that this is you." He looked at her crosswise and tried to figure out how he'd determine who she was.
This delay prompted a snarl from Silah. Her lips curled back and she began to lean into a serious tongue-lashing. Another voice interjected as she was about to unleash her fury.
"It's her, man. Give it to them." The half-orc's gruff voice bellowed over the now slightly calmer crowd. "I recognize them from earlier."
The man looked stunned, but moved back to the counting tables pulling one, then two, then three, then four, and finally five bags from the stacks. He almost said the winnings out loud, but the clunking sound turned enough heads. I grabbed three and of the bags and Silah took the remaining two.
The half-orc shook his head with a smile, but said nothing. As I moved past him I fished out a handful of gold coins from the thousands that I had just won.
He backed away at first, hands up, but seeing everything was in order, I shoved the gold laden hand into a pocket.
"I may be coming into some land, soon. You should join me." I whispered, leaning in.
I patted him on the shoulder as I passed and moved through the crowds.
I looked about at Silah. A wide smile spread across her face until her lips parted showing her pearlescent teeth. Her honey brown eyes glanced up to me as she effortlessly lifted the bags with thousands of coins in them. I nodded, my own grin matching hers.
"You have a coronation to go to, right?" Silah said, seeming to suddenly remember.
I looked ahead and saw the crowds began to gather.
"This would look bad, wouldn't it?" I asked, looking at the sacks of gold and knowing the answer. "And I don't think I have enough pockets."
She smirked and stacked her bags in my folded arms. She took the strings from each of them, and, one bag at a time, began making them into an improvised belt. She lifted her dress just enough, tying it around her bare waist. She let the dress drop and it almost appeared like she wore a slightly lumpy petticoat. She tightened the dress around her waist with a cinch and she immediately appeared regal and ready to stand by my side during my knighting.
I nodded with another smile and offered my arm to her and we moved through the crowds together.
(Get to know Akeron.)