“Arrival”

This is an excerpt from chapter twelve of Arrival. Not the most exciting action, but this shows Gisel’s people, the arrivals from space, beginning to come to terms with the difficulties of establishing themselves on the strange 17th century world. Gisel also manages to scandalize the locals with her modern attitudes and freedom of expression.

Gisel rode in a jolting wagon on a pile of sacks behind M’Tov, Ascher, and the carter. She was wearing the grey coveralls again but had left the katana behind. Sir Gavril rode out in front of the small column of wagons that carried the supplies they had bought from Sir Joskey. Behind them came two smaller two-wheeled carts loaded with beef and baskets of vegetables – rather tired looking turnips and beans that had been in storage over the winter. At the end of the column Mortis and Will’m rode on a cart loaded with oats and sacks of flour. Sir Gavril had charged them with watching out behind while he checked the hills and rutted dirt road ahead.

Would some ruffians try to rob them? It didn’t seem likely for anyone to chance five armed men, but perhaps if they were desperate enough . . . Famine wasn’t unknown here, so perhaps some peasants could be that desperate.

Ascher and M’Tov discussed their situation as they bounced along, and she listened carefully even though it made a depressing topic.

M’Tov changed the position of the assault rifle resting across his knees. “No matter which way you look at it, it’s impossible to let everyone down to the surface to begin their development programs – we’d need guards and supplies; as well as air time Johansen says we don’t have.”

“The Intruder giving trouble?” Ascher asked.

“No, but he gave me an estimate of flying hours versus maintenance. We don’t have many more flights before he wants to hangar the plane for a major check.”

“Already? What have we done – eight recon and supply flights?”

“All the flights have involved re-entries – apparently the most stressful component of its flight envelope.” M’Tov shook his head and shrugged. “If we had a ground base and were flying mostly in-atmosphere missions we could get away with four times the flight hours.”

Gisel wanted to ask what was wrong with Kenstar, but decided they might say more if they forgot she was behind them.

Ascher rose slightly to look around. “Did you find out what you wanted from Sir Joskey?”

“Not a damn thing. I tried to pump him about his question the other evening  – those muskets to arm some guards, but he wouldn’t talk about it. All I got was the idea he’s scared about retribution.”

“Retribution for what?”

M’Tov shifted position on the hard seat. “That’s the thing he won’t talk about, but I suspect it’s connected to that attack in Aquitaine.”

“He had some connection to that mill?”

“No, but he’s spooked about Empire investigations.”

Gisel had to grab for the side of the wagon as it pitched over a huge pothole. They were all silent until the ride smoothed a bit. Likely Joskey was involved with activity against the Emperor’s interests. With everyone’s concern about money she’d bet it involved trying to steal Imperial treasure from the Kosmoneos – it tied in with her history reading about the Spanish Main, on Earth.

“Is it reasonable to suppose Imperial troops would arrive in Lingdon to take revenge for something?” Ascher said.

M’Tov nodded. “You have to realize that these nations are not as organized and not as secure as we’re used to. Anyone could sail a warship loaded with men into a port and take control for a few days. If the port was the administrative centre for the area, it could take weeks before the locals could raise troops by alternative means to drive them out. It takes about a week to get a message to the King, so it’d take him almost a month to send an army to repel an outright invasion.”

“We need guards, don’t we?”

M’Tov grunted assent. “I figure we’ll have to hire three or four locals for everyone operating on the surface. Security of course, then domestic services like catering and shelter – add the need for transport, like these wagons.”

Gisel couldn’t help groaning.

“We either need to learn to ride or else we must hire carts to get around,” M’Tov said over his shoulder to her.

Damn, he hadn’t forgotten her. “I’d rather learn to ride.”

Ascher turned to grin at her. “Yep. Gavril was surprised to learn this morning that I couldn’t. He’d expected me to ride escort with him for this trip.”

“And then there is another group of people we need,” M’Tov continued on the earlier subject. “Your father is always talking about training locals to run his steelworks. We’d have to hire all the promising people we can, because they must become the workforce for our development projects.”

“So how much money do we need?” Gisel asked.

“Fifteen thousand ducats a month to get our projects going – food supply, building, health care, the goldmine, the oceanography, and your father’s steelworks. Say a quarter of a million this year as a low estimate; and we made about three hundred the other evening. I hope our financial wizards, Scopes and Mich’l, have some good ideas.”

The thud of cantering hooves made them look up. Sir Gavril had turned and was riding back.

“Is there trouble?” M’Tov asked as the knight drew rein alongside the wagon.

Sir Gavril shook his head. “No, I need to ask the drovers whether we need to double the horses to get the loaded wagons across the ford ahead.” He turned his attention to the man at the reins and discussed that very thing.

“Like as not, Sir Gavril,” the man replied. “I should hold up at th’ water meadow an’ let the others use these two ‘osses.”

“Good enough,” Sir Gavril said. “I’ll go to the rear and have Mortis come ahead to help.”

The wagon squeaked to a halt and Gisel jumped down. “I’ll come with you. I need to stretch my legs.” As the rest of the wagons came to rest she loped ahead of Gavril’s trotting horse toward the wagon with Mortis and Will’m. She stood beside their draft horse’s head as the men talked. That was a good idea of M’Tov’s, it’d be neat to learn to ride. What did it take? She fed the horse a piece of turnip she’d picked up as they were loading at Sir Joskey’s barn. These horses seemed docile old beasts, bet it would be fun.

She stayed on the ground, walking with the horses as they covered the rest of the distance to the ford. Most of the way she walked beside Mortis’ animal. “How would I learn to ride one of these?” she asked him.

“Lor, My Lady. T’aint fittin’ for a young gentlewoman to ride.”

“Garn,” Will’m said. “They says the King’s daughters both do ride.”

“Ah, they do say, but like as not a princess has reasons o’ state to straddle an’orse like a man.”

Gisel put her hands on her hips. “The Lady Blanche can ride.”

“Well, yes. Sometimes ’er do, but she be a married woman with a family.”

“So why can’t I?” Then she grasped the cultural issue. “It’s because I’m not married, isn’t it? The riding will destroy my maidenhood?”

Mortis’ mouth opened and closed several times as his complexion grew crimson. Will’m hid his face to hide a laugh.

“Well, I need to learn to ride. It’s not fitting for my aching back and all the teeth shaken out of my head to ride much more in a wagon.”

“What do thy father say?” Mortis said doubtfully, as his colour diminished.

“I haven’t asked him, but I’m sure he’ll agree. He let me learn to drive when I was fourteen.”

“Drive?” Mortis said. “Drive what, pray, a carriage?”

She managed to avoid explaining as they arrived at the ford and the men dismounted to take the horses out of their traces. The two horses from the big wagon were matched with the horses in the smaller carts. When they were ready everyone gathered around to whoop and holler in encouragement as the drivers rushed their carts into the ford. Gisel and Will’m followed too far as they pushed and ended up in water to their knees, but soaked much more from the splashing.

She laughed and ran across to Sir Gavril who sat his horse on the bank.

“You’re not helping push?”

He shook his head. “Better I stay on watch, young lady. This would be a perfect time for someone to attack and make off with one of the wagons.”

The expression on his face seemed calm, so it wasn’t as if he expected they were in imminent danger. “Do you always look for the worst?”

He smiled guiltily. “I would prefer not to, but my training at arms obliges me to be on my guard when I have a duty to perform.”

She glanced around at the hillsides. Not a thing in sight. “I want to ask you a favour. Colonel M’Tov thinks it would be a good idea for us to learn to ride. Would you teach me?”

“You do not ride?”

“I never even saw a horse before that day I followed you and Sir Instarn in the woods.”

His eyes widened. “How does a person get about in your world – by carriage?”

“I guess you can say that, but they are self-propelled. I’ve been able to drive one of those since I was fourteen.”

“That sounds very strange, and must be very inconvenient when compared to a horse.”

She strove to hide a smile. “So? Will you teach me? Can I have a go on your horse?”

“It wouldn’t be suitable for you to ride a warhorse. Perhaps the Lady Blanche can loan you a quiet palfrey.”

“If I’m to ride I’d prefer a horse of my own. What would one cost? Father says I have some local allowance coming next time we get some coin. But you would teach me? Say you will.”

“I would offer some instruction, but it is customary for one of the grooms to accompany a Lady riding, and give her advice.”

“Then I would welcome your instruction, but how much must I have to buy this palfrey and hire a groom?”

“Your father would have to. Unmarried women do not buy things for themselves – it is not considered proper.”

“Oh not again. I’m tired of being treated like some delicate piece of china. I’m as capable as any of the men.” She put a hand to her waist where the katana should be. “I’ll prove it to you.”

He laughed and shook his head. “I need not see any more proof. My heart goes out to the man who will marry you – if there should be anyone capable of such a task.”

Her mouth fell open. What brought that up? Just because she was the youngest woman around and not engaged . . . “I’m not looking for a man. But if one did come along, he’d have to be less of a chauvinist than all of you. I’ll be damned if I’ll let any man keep me barefoot and pregnant.”

His face lengthened in horror. “Say no more  I must leave you . . . it’s not fitting.”

She watched him ride away. Not fitting – if she heard those words again she’d scream.

A voice called to her, Ascher was standing in the back of their wagon. “Are you coming, Gisel? You either ride now or else you’ll have to wade across.”

The big wagon now had four horses in the traces, two carts on the other side now resting with their shafts on the ground. “Hold on – I’m coming.”

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