Mirrored from Sythyry.
“Great guzzling gods, it’s Dr. Sythyry!” cried Allam.
“Dr. Sythyry?” said Prince Rastomil. “Why, I suppose zie is a healer, but never have I heard zir called that. In any case, I do not see the whole of the lizard. But that blue tail emerging from under that wagon, largely scaled but adorned with feathers, could scarcely belong to anyone else. ”
I popped my head out from under the wagon. “This afternoon, I seem to be Apprentice Plumber Sythyry. This wagon is not leaking enough, Prince Rastomil, which won’t do at all. And who is that with you — why, it’s Elecampagne, with both zir antennae all matching and tied with green ribbons in bows! And zir parents and, um, whatever the other two are called.”
“We’re honored that you remember us, Dr. Sythyry!” said the farmers in unison, giving the excessive bows that peasants sometimes make to royalty or other people they want to impress.
“Well, you’re only actually honored if I write your names down in my diary,” I said. “Which I did, so you’re about as honored as I can manage. What brings you to Kismirth? Not another injury, I hope.”
“If it please your lordship …” said Allam.
I cocked my head. “I don’t have one … a lordship I mean. Prince Rastomil does, so you could try to please his lordship. I’m just an esquire, and that’s not much more than a courtesy title.” (Which is true — my hereditary rank is ‘Zi Ri’, because, well, I’m a Zi Ri, which is enough to count me as a noble of the lowest order. If I had been several parts better at politics I could probably have been a great baron by now, but I’m dreadful, so I’m not.)
“Well, it pleases me to have an excuse to stop having mud drip in my face,” I said. “My various titles and offices have no opinions.”
“Why on wood are you under that wagon with mud dripping on your face?” asked Rastomil.
I tried to rub the mud off my face with a handkerchief, but, unfortunately, the handkerchief was in the ordinary universe — being washed — rather than the pocket universe I use as a pocket — where I could have gotten it. “When you say, ‘why on wood’, are you referring to the wood of the World Tree, as the expression usually means? Or the wood of which Kismirth is made?” It is good Zi Ri manners (which is to say, ‘bad manners, but almost instinctive to Zi Ri’) to answer questions as obliquely or evasively as possible.
“Do you prefer a modern exclamation, such as ‘by the spanglio!’?” asked Rastomil, whose Zi Ri manners (like all his manners of any sort) are better than mine, despite him being a Rassimel rather than a Zi Ri.
“Not until I learn what ‘the spanglio’ is,” I said.
“Well, I can’t tell you that,” said Rastomil. “Not until you tell me why you’re under that cart anyhow.”
“It’s not a cart,” I said. “It’s a plant-wagon. Crucially different, let me tell you!”
“I shan’t let you tell me,” said Rastomil. “I shall let you tell these stout Herethroy, whom you seem to know already, who are considering moving to Kismirth and who would like to know about farming here.”
“Oh! By all means!” I pounced to the rim of the plant-wagon. “Here in Kismirth, we grow food and flowers and flutterby-fodder in the Most Scientific and Advanced Way Possible. Mostly because doing it in the Classical and Best Way Possible needs farmland, and we don’t have any.”
“Allam was wondering about that,” said Tansy.
“What we do is, we grow plants in these here Plant-Wagons,” I said. After I heard myself say that, I decided that I ought to talk like myself, not like a farmer. “They’re big wagons full of soil, and their wheels are a bit unusual. Anyways, we have a lot of some things that the regular countryside does not have extra of, like time and space. But we don’t have some things that the regular countryside does have, like soil and farmers. So we make do. We plant these plant-wagons with seeds, as if they were garden beds. Then we roll them into the Quick Quarter, where they grow fast.”
“What about light, water, pollenation, weeding, pruning, all those things…?” asked Cory.
“Light we’ve got in the QQ; that’s easy enough for magic to do well. Bees, too — bees are happy enough to live their whole lives at nine or eighty-one times speed. What we can’t have, though, is people living in there farming. I mean, it’s fine and safe to go in there for a bit, but if you work all day every day in there, you’ll grow old and die long before your family and friends do, and that’s not fair.”
“I’ve read my magic fiction,” said Periwinkle. “I don’t want Cory and Gathern to go like that.”
I nodded. “Of course not. We’ve got some golems which roll the carts in and out of the fast regions. All the tending by people is done out here.”
“That’s why you plant in carts then!” exclaimed Periwinkle.
“Just so! And that’s why I need to make sure that the carts drip enough but not too much. The golems can water, but they’re not as reliable as real people, so we need to provide for the plants but not drown them. So I am staring at the carts and getting instructed by Twelve-Spikes here, trying to figure out just what I want in a device for making the carts semipermeable to water, so it lets out enough but not too much,” I said.
“You make enchanted carts? Isn’t that awfully expensive?” asked Allam.
“I make tools to put spells on carts. And statues to make golems, and light-spell-casters, and whatever other gadgetry we need to have a decent agricultural system here. And whatever else we need to have a decent city here, actually.”
Periwinkle looked at the corridor, which was made of shining white meng, and sloped rather steeply down from the Quick Quarter. “Your golems must be strong, if they’ve got to haul carts that size up such a hill-hall.”
The Prince curtsied. “Actually, if I may interject, I do believe that the hallway slopes downward both ways. We were coming from above, so we see it slope thus; but when we set off for the central regions again, it will be downhill for us again.”
“Though the golems are pretty strong,” I added. “Oh! And that’s the reason for that track in the floor.” I pointed at a groove in the middle of the meng floor, three inches wide and over a foot deep. “The carts have sticks on the bottom that fit into the groove. With crossbars at the bottom; the groove is in the shape of the perpendicular-sign [an inverted "T"].” My guests looked confused, even the Prince, so I explained a bit. “The carts won’t go wild and roll crashing down the corridor and crush someone against a wall; they stay on their tracks. You could get still get hurt by one if you’re standing on their track, so, if you’re working here, stay off the track. I don’t want anyone hurt in a farm accident — or any other kind.”
I’m pretty sure that at least the two women decided to move to Kismirth right then. Not every farming village has a wizard who pays attention to farmer’s safety!
Or, in this case, who takes advice. Cory asked, quite tentatively, “What if you drill holes in the cart, instead?”
“I tried that,” I said, “Holes all over the bottom of the cart like a sieve. The water all runs out the holes in a gush of mud, and the soil gets dry and gone. We want to leave some water in the cart, and all the soil.”
Cory said, “Well, how about holes in the side of the cart, a few inches up?”
“That would leave a layer of wet mud at the bottom of the cart, would it not?” I asked.
“Just a shallow one. Enough to humidify the rest of the cart, I should guess,” said Twelve-Spikes.
“But my device would be adjustible! If you need wetter soil, you could make the wood less permeable!” I insisted.
“Well, we could close off some holes, if we were doing it that way,” said Allam. “Stuff corks in them.”
“Ah, corks!” said Twelve-Spikes. She waved her antennae mysteriously, and I had the impression she had already thought all this through and decided that she might as well get another magic item off me if she could so she didn’t tell me, or rather than going through the work of drilling any number of holes through hard meng carts. “We could drill two or three courses of holes, even, for the making of more adjustments.”
I folded my wings. “I daresay that it’s faster to drill holes in fifty wagons than have me make one make-wood-somewhat-transparent-to-water-e
“Quite so, O Zi Ri,” said Twelve-Spikes. She glanced at me, and what I was smeared with. “I shall instruct the golems to scoop up whatever mud trickles out of these uncorked side-holes, and scoop it up, and put it on top of the carts.”
I turned to some Rounses and/or Noritts. “And thank you for your suggestion! I hope you stay to see how well it works.”
Twelve-spikes handed the Herethroy some radishes from the truck. “What do you think?”
“They’re fine,” said Allam. “A very soft flavor, as radishes go.”
“Too soft by half!” said Twelvespikes. “We’ve got the problem here, that our produce is bland. We grow squell peppers — squell peppers — that you can pick off the vine and pop in your mouth and munch away, and you won’t want to drink half a river the next minute.”
“Is it poor soil, then?” asked Periwinkle.
Twelvespikes said, “It’s healthy soil, but maybe too healthy. I’ve got the thought that soil gives experience to plants, the way that adversity gives experience to people. These plants are bored — they’re bored flavorless!”
“Well, you know, when I grow squell peppers and go weeding and digging around the roots, I always see little isopods or grubs in the dirt. Do you think those might matter?”
“Might could be, might could be,” said Twelvespikes. The farmers went off to chat and discuss the technical details of planting. I, for my part, poked more at the cart, and decided that I’d probably be best off with the most potent water-control device I could manage: less, and I’d surely end up making the better one at some point.
Prince Rastomil, the exemplar of grace and dignity, offered me his handkerchief.