Chapter 4—Gilden City
Tax Office, Gilden City
December 17, 862 AF
“I understand you’re here to pay taxes?” The wiry, little bald man in the traditional frock coat of a royal courtier grinned merrily. “We approve of that here.”
Maggie grinned back. The little fellow’s attitude was infectious. She motioned Walt and Ed forward. They lifted the heavy sacks of gold onto the counter.
The little fellow blinked. “What’s this?”
Maggie felt her brow wrinkle in confusion. “Gold. Isn’t that all right?”
“Well, it’s not the usual way,” the clerk confessed. “But I don’t think it’s against the rules.”
Sam leaned on the counter. “What’s the usual way?”
“A bank draft from one of the city’s banking houses is more common.” The little guy grinned again. “That may be because very few people have gold or silver, especially bags of it. Ah, I assume you’re not here to pay the taxes on a single farmstead. What are you here to pay the taxes on?”
“The free city of Torton,” Walt told him.
The clerk motioned a boy over but didn’t bother to whisper his instructions. “Run quickly to the exchequer’s office and inform His Grace that the representatives of Torton are here to pay their taxes in person. With rather a large amount of gold.”
Shortly after that things started happening in a big way. The gold was taken, weighed and assayed. A receipt was produced, as well as tea and scones for the whole party. They found themselves in the exchequer’s private office and spent a fairly pleasant three hours discussing the needs of Torton and where they might best acquire the things they needed.
When they left, they each had a little sheet of paper that they were to show to the city guards or anyone else that seemed overly officious. There was a rather larger piece of paper with gold inlays that reaffirmed Torton’s status as a free city, responsible only to King Jackson of the Kingdom of Gilden.
Sam looked at the document and found himself thinking about the changes in the language. Even the writing was different from the documents Alen showed him back at the Buckley Homestead. Not as different as the spoken language, but different.
There were a lot of words that changed their meaning over the years. The word Sam used for king, Alen told him was the shortened form of a long ago military rank “Captain,” a commander of a company, or a ship. Sam’s word for kingdom, Alen said was a made up word “Captaincy.” The word “general” that Sam used for the emperor from the east coast who controlled most of the coastal lands and, by law, ruled all the world, Alen said used to mean a commander of an army. And there, in gold leaf on the document, the emperor’s emblem—five five-pointed stars in a circle.
Now Sam knew why there were five. The rank traced its way all the way back to pre-space flight Earth, when it was the symbol of a general of the armies of a place called the United States. There were other changes and, in away, the most incongruous thing were the words that had not changed over the years and centuries.
Then he looked over at Maggie and wanted to tell her about it. But he couldn’t. It was increasingly difficult to keep this secret. With all the things he knew from Alen, his whole world was so much bigger now. So much richer. It was hard not to share that.
Hotel Calibraie, Gilden City
December 19, 862 AF
Maggie’s eyes were shining. Sam grinned. Gilden was a wonderland. There were fancy restaurants and theaters, even an art gallery. “Reckon we ought to have a night out, Miss Maggie? Get dressed up all fancy and see the sights?”
Maggie looked up at him. “Reckon we should, shouldn’t we?” She looked back at Hiram. “You might want to close your mouth, Hiram. Unless you’re trying to catch flies.”
Sam laughed. “Well, I can’t blame him. I haven’t seen a place like this since . . . in years.”
Darn, Maggie thought. Just when he was about to say something about where he came from, he quit. She was beginning to wonder if Sam would ever loosen up a bit. “Well, let’s enjoy it while we’re here. Tomorrow is soon enough to start looking for supplies.”
Maggie smiled. “Oh, you like it?” She turned around slowly, showing off the deep green velvet dress. “I was really happy to find something that fit so well.”
Sam’s eyes glittered. “Yes’m. It sure does fit well.” He held out his arm. “Shall we?”
Maggie placed her gloved hand over his. “Oh, yes.”
The evening was magical. The latest play, followed by dinner and dancing. Sam seemed to lose his rustic accent a little more with every hour that passed. The restaurant was rich in eastern hardwood shipped up the Gilden River, with real lace doilies on the table and fine plates made of porcelain. The glasses were made of real glass.
By the time they got to the dancing, Maggie felt like she was the queen. The dance hall had a twenty-three-piece band with horns, guitars, drums, and a piano. Finely dressed ladies and gentlemen, some of them hired by the dance hall so that everyone would have someone to dance with, circulated through the room. The drinks had real ice shipped down the river from the north.
Then, as she and Sam made a turn of the dance floor, she saw someone she’d hoped was left far behind them. “Uh oh.”
Sam looked down at her, brows creased. “What’s wrong?”
“Don’t look, or at least don’t be obvious about it. But I’m pretty sure that’s Baron Wright.”
“Apparently so.” The last of Sam’s western accent disappeared. “There is little, I fear, we can do about it at the moment.”
Maggie was shocked, just a bit. He spoke like a noble from the southeast, all clipped and refined with their overly proper diction.
Then Sam seemed to realize what he had said. He grinned in embarrassment and looked down at his boots. “Sorry, ma’am,” he muttered, the western style of speech fully back now. “I used to talk like that a long time ago. Highfalutin’ and all.”
Steamship Josi Scarbrower
December 23, 862 AF
While Maggie and the others were getting supplies for the town, Sam had some business of his own to attend to. The steamer captain was agreeable to a meeting. “What can I do for you, Mr. Martin?”
The steamer was just as he had described them to Alen, with great big paddlewheels on either side. Alen insisted that was a wasteful method of using the steam engine. Sam was going to change that or at least try to.
“Actually,” Sam answered, “it’s what I can do for you. I have drawings for a device called a propeller . . .”
The captain had been polite, but not enthusiastic. So had the smithy and the dyer, when he approached them with methods for improvements.
It was proving a lot harder to give away advances in technology than he had expected, especially when you couldn’t explain where you had learned about it.
Hotel Calibraie Lobby, Gilden City
December 25, 862 AF
“Mr. Martin. Mr. Martin!” It took Sam a moment to realize that he was the one being called. He wasn’t used to his new last name yet.
“Yes? What can I do for you, Mr. . . . ?”
“Carstairs. Professor Andrew James Carstairs. It’s about your propelling device.”
“Not mine, Professor. A fellow told me about them back east.”
“That can’t be. I’m just up from the coast. They don’t have anything like you described to Captain Twain.”
Sam pushed his hat back and scratched his forehead. “Gee, Professor. Do you think the fellow was lying to me?”
The look he got made it clear that Sam’s famous ability to bluff was working as well as ever.
“Young man!” Sam doubted if Professor Carstairs had five years on him. “Do not toy with me. That propulsion device is years beyond the state of the art. You must tell me where you acquired those drawings. I insist.”
Sam looked at the pudgy little man. “Mister, the only things I must do are live and die someday.” Then he turned and left, silently cursing. The one thing he didn’t want to do was attract attention to himself.
Botanical Gardens, Gilden City
Compensate 2, 862 AF
Sam noticed the question in Maggie’s eyes over the next few days. He wished he could talk to Alen about it and was surprised to realize how much he had come to depend on the impersonal analysis of the AI. Finally, on a walk through the botanical gardens, he told her. And for some reason he told her the truth not the lie that he repeated so often it became almost like truth.
“I was born Samuel Richard two months before Alendel Merchantson, the heir to barony of Feld in the kingdom of Candis. I was Alendel’s milk brother then companion. I thought I was the baron’s son, born on the wrong side of the blanket.” He shrugged. “Maybe or maybe not. But I was educated right along with Alendel Merchantson. It was almost like I was part of the family. When I was seventeen there was a dispute over the ownership of the barony. A cousin of the king from Laris claimed that the barony was his. We could have gone to the king’s court, but went to war instead. We lost, fairly badly, and my place was made suddenly clear. Alendel was ransomed, but there was no ransom for Sam. I was made a slave and later escaped. I stole a pig and headed west. Since I was already a wanted man, I didn’t worry too much about which side of the law I was on.”
Sam shook his head. “I felt like the world had cheated me. All my life I had been sure that I was the baron’s son. That he loved me. That I was as much of the family as my brother Alendel. Then, when it came down to it, they abandoned me. Like I was nothing. I took the name Samuel Richard Merchantson, feeling like I was owed at least that much. I did some bad things, I admit it.
“Anyway, back in July, I was living in a little town on the edge of the badlands. Somebody recognized me. The sheriff locked me up, but the town didn’t have a jail. They stuck me in a tool shed. That night I busted out of the shed, stole Porky from the livery stable I’d been working in, and rode into the badlands.
“They chased me and then they stopped. I didn’t realize they’d stopped til I was in a little valley. I had managed to slip into Demon’s Butte.” He explained the rest of it. Who Alen was and how Porky was so smart. Who the demons really were and that Alen said the had to be long gone by now. Then he told her why he told her.
“While I was in the valley, I realized that the tech from before the attack needed to be brought back to the world.” Sam shook his head. “The things Alen can do, the things our ancestors could do . . . you wouldn’t believe it. But I couldn’t just invite people into the valley. There’d be a war. The church would declare a jihad. Burn anyone they could catch to appease the demons. Besides, would you really want Baron Wright to be the one who ended up owning the Buckley homestead? That’s how I knew about the men in the Gap; Alen told me. I’m pretty sure it was Baron Wright and I don’t think he’s given up.
“I’m blind on this side of Demon’s Face Ridge, Maggie.” Sam stopped a moment and studied her face. She was sitting quietly, absorbing it all, but didn’t look as surprised as he thought she would.
Her fingers tapped the railing they stood by. “So, what you need to do is leave us here, right? Head out early and scout.”
Sam nodded. He had two repeaters left in his gear but to do any good he was going to have to find high places to put them. Then he was going to have to go back to the valley to pick up some more gear. He wanted to leave Porky here with her, and when he got the link set up Porky would be able to nod and shake his head to direct the wagon train back to Torton.
“I’ll try to put up sensors and repeaters on this side of the ridge and keep the baron’s bullyboys busy. But you’ll have to keep the wagon train together and keep them following Porky.”
“Let’s go get Hiram, Sam. He’ll need to know.” Maggie grinned. “I think he knows some of it already. Or suspects some of it, at any rate.”