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The Myth of Kyrrell Swamp – Chapter 2 Part 5 September 16, 2009

Posted by Yarnspnr in The Myth of Kyrrell Swamp - Chapter II.
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The worth of a state, in the long run,
Is the worth of the individuals composing it.

– John Stuart Mill


Chapter II.5:  OutSider

© D. Erick Emert

tubes

Herkiens removed his pith helmet, setting it on the seat beside him, and ran his fingers through his thick blonde hair. “You’re a lucky man, Briggs. Uppsala’s at the height of her power I should think. Plenty of ways for a gentleman to make his mark these days.”

Briggs eyed his fellow passenger. Clean, square-cut jaw. Flash in his eyes. Strong, nimble hands. Uniform sharp, impeccable. Boots and brass polished to a high shine. He liked what he saw in this young man. He made a mental note of his name. “Would you mind explaining what I’m looking at? I’d like to know more about the areas we’re driving through.”

“Of course. You’ve never been in the City before, have you?”

“Not this one.”

The lad nodded.  “This area of the docks is controlled by the State for official visitors. That’s why it’s all so posh here and why there’s fewer carriages on the roads.

The street we’re traveling on is Svear, one of only two streets in Uppsala that runs east to west, straight through all five terraces. Right through the Palace itself, if you can believe that. The other, Gutar, runs north to south. The only way to enter or leave a terrace is on one of those streets.”

Briggs listened with intent as Herkiens spoke, but kept an eye on the people and buildings as their carriage passed. A short time later, the horses slowed and they started up a sharp incline. The road led through the first wall by way of a massive arched gate, featuring a double portcullis, one at either end of the wall.

A man dressed in a green uniform similar to the one worn by Herkiens but with a polished silver helmet with a white plume stopped the carriage at the last portcullis, checked his papers and signaled them through.

“I’ve seen hundreds of walled cities in my travels,” said Briggs, “but nothing the likes of this. Doesn’t all this checking of paperwork slow commerce to a crawl?”

“It’s meant to slow it down.”

Briggs shook his head and watched out his window. Their carriage made slow progress as traffic increased in degrees. A brick hump ran down the center of the street separating carriages heading east from those heading west. At the cross of every main thoroughfare a man dressed similar to the one at the portcullis stood atop a circular pedestal directing traffic, sometimes allowing north-south carriages the right of way and sometimes east-west. No buildings stood more than one or two stories high and had the appearance of shoddy construction. Briggs noticed that those off the main street seemed more rundown than the buildings along the Svear.

People of all shapes, sizes and colors cluttered the wooden sidewalks. They dressed in rags or homespun clothing at best.  Keeping their heads lowered as they walked, they milled around trying to keep out of the way of the carriages and roving packs of pigs that seemed to be everywhere. Few, if any, paid attention to the ostentatious carriage that plied its way through their midst. Could be London, New York or Amsterdam, thought Briggs.  Shops, tenement houses, factories, taverns, eateries, all looking like a stiff wind could blow down the lot.

“It looks like a total firetrap to me.”

“It is,” said Herkiens, “But in this part of the City, it’s easy to rebuild and the people are expendable so it doesn’t matter to the Empire. The quarters on the west-end of Two are cleaner and more respectable. Four thousand years ago, this section of Uppsala contained nothing but trees with corpses hanging on them.”

“The smell never went away, did it?”

Herkiens laughed.

Again a sharp incline led up to the edge of the wall, this time between the second and third terrace.  Now the portcullis at the east-end stood closed and it took longer for the guard to clear them to continue. After a half-hour wait, the sentry told them to move through and park by the carriage waiting on the opposite side. The massive grate opened just high enough to permit passage to where the other carriage stood in silence. They moved forward and pulled along side.

Briggs and his guard accepted a greeting by a uniformed man more strikingly dressed than any he had seen before. The man wore a dark green fez with a knotted gold cord hanging from its center to his shoulder. A light green jacket with swirls of dark green embroidery on its front held gold and white scales on his shoulders. His shirt appeared white, as did his paints. His boots reached knee-high, polished to a bright shine. Briggs noticed a brass trimmed saber with a three-bar grip guard and scabbard buckled to a bright red sash around the man’s waist.

Herkiens stepped from the carriage and saluted by pounding his left hand just under his right shoulder. The soldier returned the salute in kind.

“I’m here to relieve you of this gentleman.”

He reached inside his carriage and produced a field writing kit of pen, ink and straight-board, along with a document, all of which he handed to Herkiens.  After glancing over the page, Herkiens signed and returned the document and kit to the soldier.

“Thank you. You’re relieved. Report back to the Port Administory. You sir,” he looked at Briggs, “come with me please.” He reentered his carriage and Briggs followed him aboard.

The soldier paid little attention to Briggs as the carriage sped forward.  Briggs spent the entire ride watching out the window. They passed division quarters, with their flags presented at their headquarters, and streets filled with rows and rows of barracks, mess halls, stables, smithies, armories, and parade grounds where uniformed men marched and trained in the use of the sword and bow. After an hour’s drive they pulled up in front of a huge multi-storied stone building. Neither had spoken to the other during the entire journey.

As Briggs looked around after climbing down from the carriage he had an uncomfortable feeling. The majority of windows in this building appeared to be barred. The soldier took him by the arm and led him up the steps and through a large set of double doors with what Briggs, who had seen it enough by now, knew to be the state seal of Uppsala on each.

Immense and bold, the receiving hall contained large gas-lit chandeliers hung from the ceiling. Glass cases lined the walls filled with busts of officers and memorabilia. A sculpture of a cavalry officer stood in the center of the hall, brandishing his sword, his mount full of fury. In front of the statue Briggs saw a lone desk, behind which sat a man in a green tunic and pants. Five feet in front of the desk stood six high backed upholstered chairs. Along the right of it, a dozen tubes, two rows of six, curved up from the floor. They looked similar to the ones Briggs had seen in what they referred to as the Administory. Behind the man stood a low bookcase containing a number of volumes and half a dozen containers for use in the tubes.

The soldier marched Briggs up to the desk, saluted smartly and handed the man the signed document he had collected from Herkiens. The man simply said, “Thank you, you’re dismissed,” and motioned to Briggs to take a seat.

Grabbing one of the cylinders behind him, the man rolled up the document, placed it inside and sealed the cylinder. He opened the door on one of the upper tubes. Briggs heard the characteristic whooshing sound of air.  He placed the cylinder inside and closed the door. A slight clanking sound occurred and Briggs guessed the cylinder had sped on its way to its destination.  At this, the man continued to busy himself with paperwork on his desk. Briggs started to feel the pangs of hunger, as he had not eaten since being aboard ship. The clicking of wooden heels on the tile floor also started to make him feel a bit drowsy. A long hour later, a man dressed the same as the one behind the desk came walking toward him.

“Mr. Briggs.  Are you ready to go? The time has come to discuss your future with us.”

The officer smiled and extended his hand. Briggs stood up, shook the man’s hand and followed him up the stairway to the far left of the main hall.

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