The Silk Mind

Ashlin Smith is bored with his apparently pointless job in the Royal Badger Survey, and is trying to quit so he can go and be a blacksmith like his family expected. However, the true purpose of the Badger Survey is a lot less boring than he knows or would prefer.

Ashlin, Jenna, Justin and Derk face monsters natural and unnatural as they are tangled up in political intrigue and the civilization-threatening side-effects of ancient sorcery.

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39. Funny-Web Spiders

“I am quite disappointed in him, you know,” said Queen Celandine, as she led Jenna around the exhibits of her museum. “Doctor Grey. He very nearly started a war. I always thought he was trying to avoid doing that.”

“I'm sure he was. But I think he was also trying to stop something worse than a war. It’s complicated.”

There was a pause. Celandine stopped walking and turned, with a raised eyebrow.

“Forget to whom you were speaking there, for a moment? How nice. We are already talking together like friends.”

“I’m sorry. It’s complicated for me. I’m sure your majesty would understand it well enough. But I’m also sure I’m not supposed to be talking about it.”

“No doubt. Although you have told me quite a lot by admitting that you know more than you are willing to tell.”

Jenna blushed. She was very new at this.

“And, Doctor Grey has now told me quite a lot, whether he intended to or not, by sending someone who was involved in one matter, to advise me on another. I almost wonder if he thinks they are related.”

“I’m sure I couldn’t guess. Your majesty hasn’t yet told me what I’m here for.”

“We’ll come to that. I do mostly trust Doctor Grey’s judgement. That’s why I sent to him for advice on our wildlife problem. Do you know, the first time I asked Atlar for help, Doctor Grey showed very good judgement?”

Jenna said nothing.

“Well, it was a long time ago. I sent away to Atlar for a tutor, because I was very bored and all my servants were stupid, and all my father’s friends laughed when I asked them questions. And it made my father angry sometimes. Doctor Grey sent me a tutor, who turned up at court, and of course father was furious, because he didn’t know anything about it. But I begged him to let the tutor stay, and he agreed.”

“What did you learn?”

“First, reading different languages, and how to search books properly for what I needed to know. Then mathematics, and medicine, and history, and natural sciences. I started reading political histories and military theory by myself. Father saw me reading a big book on siege warfare, and laughed at me. He said no war was ever won by reading books. I cried a bit, because I was only five.”

Jenna’s mouth opened, but her brain refused to supply anything useful to say. She recovered and tried to look sympathetic.

“My tutor though, Jeremy, he was very kind. After father left the room he said, ‘the first time a war is won by reading books, your majesty shall be on the winning side, and one of the few who will understand how it happened.’”

Celandine turned left abruptly and pulled Jenna with her.

“Now, let’s look at my spiders!” she exclaimed.

This was another side-room like the room of the fungi. Jenna stayed near the middle of the room, away from the glass cases of spiders and spider-related facts. There were real but dead spiders pinned to boards, neatly labelled, and large models showing all the separate fangs, eyes, legs, silk-spinners and so on that together made up one of Jenna’s least favourite creatures. There was also a row of tanks with vegetation in them near the window. There might have been live spiders in these. Jenna didn’t get close enough to see, although the queen beckoned her. “Come and see these. They make such funny webs. I call them my funny-web spiders.”

“I’m sorry, I don’t like spiders very much.”

“No matter, it might not be relevant. The main thing was to get into a room where we can talk again. Let’s talk about forests, and wildlife, and monsters.”

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