The Levour Exhibition Chapter Two–Tasks of Duty, continued

Anna was, by now, very familiar with Sherard station. No trains ran to Shandor, so the nearest place to board was the station just over the eastern passes. Sherard station nestled in a pine-forested valley, in a town of almost Shandorian looking half-timbered houses. Anna knew the workers’ foreman, and he greeted her by name as she alighted from the first of a train of wagons.

“I miss the days, Miss Darvin, when you and your father came with just the tents and digging tools,” he admitted, looking with some dismay at the daunting wagonloads of materials that stretched down the road behind.

“As do I, Jerrim Thatcher,” Anna said. “As do I.”

“The last Shandorian lad who came through here with this much cargo handed me the manifests with such a mad grin, I was worried he’d somehow stole it all.”

Anna shrugged. “We’re going to the fair in Levour.”

“And bringing the whole country with you, seems like.”

“Oh, they’ll be along once the fair is open,” Anna said. To stare and judge, she did not finish.

“As long as they don’t have all the luggage you do,” Jerrim sighed as she handed him the manifests. “More rocks and dirt? Why are you Shandorians moving so much of your own country? Never mind. Maple syrup and cider, that’s more expected.” He thumbed through the pages, eyebrows rising and lowering, and then started barking orders at his lads.

Anna’s Shandorian workmen assisted Jerrim’s. The Sherard station crew loaded the foodstuffs and equipment, but the Shandorians didn’t let anyone else move the important cultural ruin stones. Anna supervised, holding her breath at times against accidents with fragile or heavy things, and trying to remember the names of her men. She’d be working with them for the next months, and be depending on them to get everything built and ready in time.

“And this here packet was sent for you. Just came in.” Jerrim handed her a wrapped sheaf of papers, tied neatly with a blue ribbon. It read Shandorian exhibition plans, for the director’s eyes. Applicable maps, timetables, and vendor lists included. “Your car is down that way this time,” Jerrim said. “Looks like you’re moving up in the world.”

Anna looked where he was pointing, and saw to her surprise that he meant one of the nice, expensive sleeper cars. Anna waited to explore it until everything and everyone was safely aboard, and then, still clutching the unopened and ominous packet of plans, she turned the handle of the leaded glass and hardwood door that led from the carpeted corridor into her room.

It was nice. The bed was set into the wall, under another identical one, though she had the car to herself. There was a little table by the window, with a lamp and a big vase of wildflowers. They were, she discovered, from Teresthan, judging by the note reading, “Rescue me, my lady. You will find me in far Ellesienne, where the myrtle grows. If my soul has departed when you find me, build a fair exhibition o’er my bones. –T”

She let the thick stack of papers thud down on the table, and unpacked her clothes into the tight little closet to help unwrinkle them. The train lurched forward as she finished this task, and she hurried to rescue the papers from tipping wildflower vases. She was relieved to find the vase nicely heavy and well-balanced, and in no danger of tipping. She also found a second note under the vase. “ ‘Gold her hair and cold her heart, and red the blood she drew.’ Extra coin for any expenses that may crop up are ‘doing as bones under Fairfields do.’ ”

“ ‘Pushing up the gentle flowers, in the colors of every banner,’ ” Anna finished the quote from the old Shandorian poem. In the original K’shay tanna,it sounded better. She tried lifting the vase again. Far too heavy for porcelain. “Why can’t you leave a purse like a sane person?” She sighed. “The rest of the plans had better not be like this.”

She washed her face in the basin provided, dried it lightly with the towel, which smelled of lavender, and looked into the mirror on the wall. This really was a nice, spacious car. Perhaps the Queen was trying to smooth down her nerves with this gift. Whatever the case, she was profoundly grateful, and almost ready to look at the papers, and what had become of her once-beautiful plans. “You can do this.” she told the rattling mirror. “You’ve helped supervise digs. They said you can do this and they are letting you.” Yes, but only after first telling you everything was all wrong and to do it over again and again until it was ruined.

“Just look at it once and let it be over.” Anna scowled. She unwrapped the papers, laid them out on her little table, and took several deep breaths. The first thing that struck her was that the shape was entirely different from what they’d first given her. It wasn’t a rectangular patch amid structured walks, but a long, thin, irregular slice with a confusing splinter through the center, all riddled with little squiggles that broke everything up. She looked at the topographical notes near the bottom. There were no ridiculous quotes or riddles, just a clear key explaining the peculiar landscape.

“We’re on an incline. They put us over two levels on the steepest part of the slope.” She closed her eyes, then opened them. Was this some strange justice for accidental past misdeeds? Calm, she told herself. You did ask before if some earthworks could be arranged to make things look more like the Shandorian landscape. Nearly vertical was common in lots of northern Shandor.

In a rather lovely, clean handwriting, the magic and somehow reassuring words “the waterfalls” were written, right in the center, where a crooked line split and squiggled through the site.

On the farther side of the waterfalls, where the land grew most uneven, were “the gardens” and “ruins.” “Tower of rookery and falcons” had a precarious perch of a place that would be seen, Anna realized, all down the slope as well as from the capital city of Levour on the opposite hill. Her own pavilion design was there, in the smoother section, only split a bit, with an additional story and a tower that had only been in her earliest plans, until it was judged too difficult and costly by the budgeting committee. Additionally, there were arching bridges a bit like castle buttresses over little rivers to more pavilions she’d mapped almost a year ago, made like different K’shay tanna clan tents with fabric walls and flying banners. There was the art gallery she’d wanted, only expanded up the tower, and the little marketplace with food vendors and the music tent and even a dancing green she hadn’t planned at all, because the committee had seemed far too stuffy to agree to it. There was also an area labeled “horses and riders,” and the themed tents seemed to be peopled now. “Master carver, potters, glassblowers, musicians.” Anna wondered which ones. Hadn’t they been nixed for not being modern enough? At the cliff tops were K’shay tanna words meaning “wind sails.” The gardens were broader and wilder even than her first ambitious drafts, with labels like “lantern way” and “grower’s rest.” Anna closed her eyes and tried to see the plans as they would look, finished: a city of tents and music and animals and flowers clinging to a cliff’s edge, and held together with spindly bridges.

Taken as a whole, this would either be something beautiful and surprising, or a complete disaster. Here they were, heading off at the barest beginnings of spring into what looked like it would be, in Shandor, a prime spot for flooding. She had to admit, though, that whoever had drafted these made it look amazing on paper.

She wanted so much to believe it would be wonderful, but a year’s worth of rejection and disappointments and mute fury had made her wary. “I don’t like collaboration any longer,” she told the lovely handwriting. “I don’t know that I can trust you at all.”

Her worry deepened when she found yet another note, addressed in the beautiful writing, which devolved in the first hurried lines into what was clearly Teresthan’s scrawl. “Do say you like it. I think it’s possible, and it’s mostly yours, do you see? I made some changes, as I said. If it’s a disaster, you can kill me in all honor, but if it’s a success, say you’ll spare me a dance on the green. (fig. 129)” There followed a rather awful stick figure sketch of two people dancing. Anna surmised that the fatter, lumpier one in a dress was probably meant for her.

“You are gleefully ignoring everything the committee ever said, aren’t you? Why would I even worry?”

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