"The thing is," Joanna Baker was prone to say to anyone who stood more than five seconds in her vicinity, "that bridges are so very useful. I don't want to hurt the river god and the naiads, obviously! That would be horrible. But boats and fords aren't reliable. Boats get swamped by storms and there's all the bother of unloading a cart on one side of the river and reloading a new cart on the other. And not everyone is tall enough or strong enough or any number of enoughs to cross a ford even at the shallowest and warmest part of the summer. And the riverbed is murder on cart axles, since the rocks and sand keep shifting about as the water flows. There must be a way to make a bridge that doesn't hurt the rivers, or at least to make some kind of paved causeway with little artificial islands, don't you think?"
Generally by this point people were trying, with various degrees of politeness, to get away and find someone slightly less focused to speak with.
Many people might have been deterred by this and found some other way to spend their time. Perhaps that would even have been the most sensible reaction. But Joanna had both a romantic turn of imagination (this is common to girls of a certain age, who see themselves as the protagonists of grand, world-changing adventures) and a relentlessly practical turn of mind. If someone seemed unwilling to become her faithful comrade in arms, she marked them cheerfully off her list and went on seeking a partner.
By her sixteenth birthday she had exhausted every one of her neighbors, all the customers of her parents' bakery, and what sometimes felt like everyone who lived in Port Paravel or came into the growing royal city for the weekly markets. And so Joanna decided she would have to set out on her quest alone.
"Are you quite certain this is how you want to spend your journey year?" her mother asked as Joanna packed her rucksack. "Don't you think staying home another year or two and apprenticing with a mason might be more practical? After all, bridges don't build themselves."
"We already know stone bridges won't work, Mama. The war made that very clear," Joanna said. "I'll find a backcountry stream or brook who won't mind experimenting with me. Surely one of them will be curious!"
"Hmm," her mother said. "Well, you have enough food for three days and money to get you through two weeks more. Try to find somewhere to settle down before that runs out."
"And send letters," her father added. "The post's a bit irregular still, but you can always trade favors with a passing Bird."
"I will," Joanna said. She hugged them both, and set out on her way. This involved paying for a ferry to the Great River's southern shore, across waters spread wide and luxurious as they flowed into the Eastern Sea. As she sat on the sun-warmed boards and listened to a pair of Moles gossip about some new cellar work, and a Tortoise and an elderly man in the clothes of the Seven Isles discuss the chess match they were both going to watch, she thought that this boat ride proved her point completely. Bridges were much more efficient, and likely cheaper too.
She did admit that there was something pleasant about the ferry on a clear, late-spring morning, but Joanna only had to remember the river high and roaring in the early spring floods to reaffirm her convictions.
Two weeks later, Joanna hadn't found either a willing partner in her quest or a stream whose spirit was interested in speaking with her.
She had, however, found a job as a file clerk in the Beaversdam tax office. Mostly this involved sorting through old papers covered in bad handwriting and worse arithmetic (King Miraz's officials having been appointed more for political loyalty than for skills relevant to their positions) and putting them into folders and boxes for the accountants and tax collectors to correct the math and have stern talks with people about their debts and responsibilities to Narnia. The work only took a few hours each day, but it paid room and board, and she didn't mind sleeping in the rickety office attic during the green half of the year.
She asked, once, why she'd been hired when plenty of locals knew their letters and had dexterous enough hands or paws to handle the pages.
Chief Auditor Salyx, a grizzled Lynx with green glass beads woven into her ruff and strung on little gold-wire rings through her tufted ears, gave Joanna a stern look over her spectacles. "Because you're not local, of course. Locals would be inclined either to let their friends off easy or to get their enemies in trouble. You have no fur in the fight."
"Oh," Joanna said, unexpectedly abashed. "That makes sense."
"Don't be embarrassed," said Auditor Salyx. "We're all young once, and how do you expect to learn anything if you don't ask questions? Now get back to work. I need that box organized by noon."
Joanna organized the box by noon and passed it off to the accountants: a portly young woman and a Mouse with a deep notch in his left ear, who traded papers and quills at great speed, kept a running tally of who had found the most errors, and regaled the office staff with the most blatant, bald-faced lies unearthed each day.
She had never thought much about taxes. They were something her parents paid four times a year -- a few silver pennies at a time to the king's representatives -- and which paid for whatever it was that kings did. When she was very young and the king was Miraz, this seemed mostly to be soldiers, swords, and a handful of warehouses to collect what little trade still came to Narnia from the eastern islands. Since King Caspian had taken over, there were still a fair number of soldiers, but now there were also crews who came around to repave old roads, build fountains to supply fresh clean water, and turn the sleepy backwater of Port Paravel into a proper city, where anyone could buy trade goods direct from foreign ships instead of watching them all get carted inland for the king and his court.
Joanna could see why nobody had wanted to pay Miraz one bent farthing more than they absolutely had to. She could also see why that habit was a problem that needed to be fixed in order for Narnia to thrive.
"It's like bridges," she said to Auditor Salyx. "Obviously nobody wanted to give money to a tyrant, but if nobody ever pays taxes then the kingdom can't hold together. And obviously we can't hurt the river spirits, but if we can't build proper roads, that will be just as big a problem as if the king can't pay the government."
"An unusual analogy, but not without merit," said Auditor Salyx. "It seems to me that you may have some spare time on your hands."
"Sorting papers doesn't take very long," Joanna agreed.
"In that case, I have a task for you. We have a document granting royal permission to build a gristmill near the confluence of Crowfeather Stream and Beaversdam Waters, dated from the last year of King Caspian IX's reign, but no record that the mill was ever built or taxed. This might be a simple case of a would-be miller realizing their dreams were impractical, but the person in question, one Aloysius Trimble, vanished from all extant tax rolls the year of Miraz's usurpation. That strikes me as suspicious. I need you to check whether the mill was ever built; if so, whether it's still in working order; and if it's no longer in use, how long ago it was abandoned. After all, there's no point in trying to tax a business that isn't there."
"Wouldn't it be faster to send Aurelia?" Joanna asked, naming a Goldfinch who had a knack for persuading, or perhaps intimidating, tax evaders to come to the tax office and speak with Auditor Salyx. (For those who wonder how a Goldfinch can intimidate a human, I invite you to imagine one diving toward your face while loudly informing your friends and neighbors of your financial failings.)
"Quite possibly, but I need her for other things, whereas you can easily do tomorrow morning's sorting this afternoon and have a whole day off to tramp around the woods," said Auditor Salyx.
Joanna agreed that this was fair, and so as the next morning dawned with a pale gray sky, she tramped upstream along Beaversdam Waters toward Crowfeather Stream.
As with most Telmarine-influenced towns, Beaversdam retained a sharp line dividing human lands from the forest. First vegetable plots gave way to grain fields, orchards, and stands of coppice-wood. Then those gave way to pastures. Last the wood loomed like a green wall and the freshly cobbled road narrowed abruptly to a bare dirt path along the side of Beaversdam Waters.
Joanna paused to check her map. Crowfeather ought to be just another half mile upstream, and there was no reason to be afraid of Trees and dryads these days -- no matter that the sight of all that deep green shade still brought back memories of the fireside tales her Nana Abella used to tell, of careless girls who wandered off and died alone in the dark wilderness.
She shook her head briskly and walked on.
The forest was lovely in the early summer -- even on a cloudy day that carried an ever-present threat of rain. Joanna tramped along the banks of Beaversdam Waters, listening to the little river rush along its busy way and splash impatiently over any rocks or branches that broke the smoothness of its path. The banks themselves were mostly moss over stone, with occasional impenetrable tangles of roots where trees leaned precariously outward to drink every scrap of sunlight. The path hadn't been well maintained, and was really more a suggestion that occasionally dissolved entirely into a muddle of fallen leaves, underbrush, and loam. Now and then Joanna misjudged her footing and rolled her ankles on loose stones or sank up to her shins in mud, but mostly it was a pleasant walk.
By her pocket watch, it took half an hour to reach the confluence of Beaversdam Waters and Crowfeather Stream. She almost missed it, since the stream was only about six feet wide, but the swirl of sand-colored foam that marked the mixing of the two currents (or perhaps the greeting of two naiads) caught her eye and then she spotted the dark water emerging from what looked like a tunnel of raspberry canes, bowed low over the stream from both sides.
Obviously somebody had once cleared the trees here, perhaps to make a path. Just as obviously, nobody had walked up Crowfeather for a long time. Whether somebody had flown or swum was beyond Joanna's ability to see.
She pulled off her boots, waded across Beaversdam Waters toward the mouth of Crowfeather Stream, and then paused to let her feet dry. "This is exactly why bridges are important," she remarked to a passing dragonfly, which ignored her in favor of snatching a water bug from the surface of the river. Joanna sighed and bent to pick a handful of early raspberries. They burst tart and sweet on her tongue, and she half-wished she had a bucket to bring the rest back to town.
She re-laced her boots, brushed the dust and bits of fallen leaves off her skirt, and struck into the woods, circling around the thorny tangle of raspberries until the trees closed back in and the stream banks were once again lined with grasses, moss, and gnarled roots. Crowfeather ran clear and swift, and surprisingly deep and quiet, as if the stream bed were made of smooth paving stones to speed the flow rather than a jumble of debris to break it into eddies. Joanna could see why somebody would choose to build a mill here.
There were no signs of a mill at the confluence, but Auditor Salyx had said 'near' rather than 'at,' so Joanna tramped on with a many-twigged branch held before her face to break and catch stray cobwebs.
Finally, as the ground started to rise toward the northwest, she spotted the rotting remains of a wooden millrace, and a bit further on something that might once have been the mill itself: a plain rectangle of rough-sawn boards now fallen into an untidy heap, with the skeletal frame of a wheel to the western side, over the millrace and a wealth of moss and ferns.
"Nobody's used that in ages," Joanna said to herself as she tossed her branch aside and set her hands on her hips.
"Not since the war, when the Trees woke again," a bright voice agreed from somewhere to her right.
Joanna jumped, hands flailing wildly for something to grasp. Then she took a deep breath and reminded herself that even strangers sneaking up on people in the woods were far more likely to be friends than foes -- and besides, many Narnians forgot that humans didn't have particularly good senses of smell or hearing.
She turned, ready to make a polite greeting.
What she said instead was, "Oh my goodness you're beautiful."
Then she clapped her hands over her mouth and squeaked in mortification.
"I am, aren't I?" agreed the naiad of Crowfeather, as she leaned out of her stream, arms crossed on a mossy stone. Her skin was a thousand shades of blue, green, gray, and brown, and her dark, shining hair seemed to ripple like water as it fell in a dozen braids over her shoulders, each strung with nails or gears or crumpled wires. "So are all my sisters. It's because we're made of water and water is always beautiful, even when it destroys you."
"Um. I also like your hair ornaments?" Joanna ventured.
The naiad's face lit up like sun shining through rain and she pulled herself out of the stream to sit on the mossy stone with only her feet still in the water. "Really? None of my sisters have ever said that. They don't understand why I like them, or why I didn't mind the mill, or why I spent so long smoothing out my streambed. They say it's not natural. But I think Aslan gave us minds so we can learn about the world and try new things, not just shift our paths a foot or three each year, or spend centuries carving gorges into the hills."
"Yes!" Joanna said, taking an involuntary step forward. "It's like-- well, like water, right? Streams have to move, or else they turn stagnant and then nothing can live there or even drink from them without getting sick. Aslan didn't sit around before creation doing nothing; he made the world. So obviously it's natural for people to want to make new things, too."
"Exactly!" said the naiad of Crowfeather. "The millrace itched dreadfully at first, but so do oxbows or beaver dams or boulders crashing around in spring floods, and nobody says those aren't natural and gives you funny looks for not tearing them down at the first opportunity. Besides, mills are interesting. Many things humans do are interesting." She paused and tilted her head, birdlike, as she studied Joanna. "Say, what are you doing all the way out here? I haven't seen a human since the last day of the war, when a few soldiers crashed through like bee-stung bears."
"I came to see if the mill was still working," Joanna said. "To see if it needed to be taxed. I work for the Beaversdam tax office."
"That's a human thing, isn't it?" asked the naiad. "Taxes?"
"Um. Maybe at first? But mostly it's how the king or queen gathers the money to keep Narnia running properly," Joanna said. She paused, then retraced the conversation to a statement that suddenly struck her as worrying. "Do you know what happened to those soldiers? Auditor Salyx says the census office is still investigating what happened to all the people who went missing when Aslan came and the Trees woke and the Beruna bridge fell down and all that."
"Oh, I drowned them," the naiad said in an offhand tone. "My father asked, and we were very angry back then. I kept their armor to see if I could figure out how it was made, but I could never quite work it out and it's rusted terribly over the years."
Joanna swallowed and reminded herself that the war was long over and she had had nothing to do with it. Then it occurred to her that the naiad's father must be the Great River, and the thing the river spirits had been angry about was the Beruna Bridge... and she wanted to build bridges herself. She swallowed again and managed to say, somewhat dry-mouthed, "I see."
"Do you know how armor is made?" the naiad asked.
"Not in detail," Joanna said. "It's specialty work, not everyday blacksmithing. There are only a few armorers in all of Narnia, since King Caspian doesn't keep a big standing army the way Miraz did."
"A blacksmith lived on my west bank once, centuries ago. She was a Black Dwarf, and she mostly made woodworking tools: axes and saws, hammers and nails, clamps and files, that sort of thing" the naiad said wistfully. "I asked if she would teach me, but the forge was so hot I couldn't stop myself from steaming and she said that was too distracting. So I had to watch from my waters, which were too far away to see any details."
"That sounds frustrating," Joanna said. "Um." Why was it so hard to think of sensible things to say to the naiad? It wasn't as though Joanna hadn't met beautiful or dangerous people before. All kinds of strangers traveled through Port Paravel these days.
An introduction might work. That would be polite. "I'm sorry, I don't believe we exchanged names. I'm Joanna Baker, from Port Paravel and lately of Beaversdam."
"I'm Crowfeather, of course," said the naiad, "but that's a formal name. Among my sisters I go by Tinker, because of the gears and such. Pleased to meet you, Joanna."
"Pleased to meet you, Tinker," Joanna said, and ventured an awkward curtsey. "Would you be willing to come back to Beaversdam with me to tell Chief Auditor Salyx what you remember about the mill -- who built it, when they stopped using it, and so on? It would be very helpful for our records."
Tinker tilted her head the other way and stared for a long moment, as if gauging whether Joanna could be trusted. Then she smiled. "I haven't been to a town since Caspian the Conqueror had his men nail bridges over every stream and reroute my sister's course to outside Beaversdam's walls. This will be a great adventure. Give me your hand."
Joanna walked forward, trying to hide her nerves, and wove her fingers into Tinker's grasp.
And then everything was water.
They surfaced at the edge of Beaversdam's town wall, bobbing in the slow yet powerful current of Beaversdam Waters. Joanna bent over Tinker's arm and gasped like a landed fish, lungs straining to pull in air, until her mind caught up with instinct and informed her that not only was she not drowning, she wasn't even out of breath.
"How?" she demanded weakly.
Tinker blinked, her shimmering lashes leaving droplets on her cheeks like the fine spray that dances around a cataract. "I carried you with me. All my sisters could do the same if they bothered to learn. It's only a sideways turn of thought -- that if a living creature is mostly made of water (which is true of all Narnians), then we can bring your water with us and drag the other bits along like salt or sediment in a current."
Joanna had a sudden, vivid image of herself melted into a muddy blotch of red and brown, like a swirl of molasses or jam stirred into a bowl of dough. "That's-- interesting," she managed. "Please don't do that without asking my permission." What if next time Tinker couldn't unmix the flavor from the dough, or all the human bits from the stream?
"It's perfectly safe, but yes, I'll ask your permission," Tinker said in a vaguely puzzled tone. "Do you think dissolving would bother other humans as well?"
"Yes! Beasts and Beings, too," Joanna said as she treaded water against the current. "We may be full of water, but we're not made to flow the way you do. We grow from babies to adults, but our bodies are meant to stay mostly in the same shape."
"You are very fond of fixed shapes," Tinker agreed. "I suppose that's why you're good at building things, while my family is better at wearing things away. But we're circling an eddy. Shall we find your Auditor?" She offered her hand again.
Joanna hesitated for a moment, but Tinker had promised and she didn't want to be rude when Tinker had come to Beaversdam at her own request. She wove her fingers into the naiad's grasp.
This time, Tinker simply pulled her into the shallows and then out onto solid ground; somehow, impossibly, Joanna stepped out completely dry as if she hadn't just been drenched, and before that, dissolved. "Thank you," she said as she stamped her feet to adjust the fit of her boots. "Um. The west gate isn't far."
They walked up the bank from the river, past the small docks and sheds where the fisherfolk stored their supplies and cleaned their catches, and along the cobbled road that led to the town's west gate. A little cluster of houses huddled outside the gate, surrounded by vegetable plots and a handful of dairy animals. Tinker eyed them with great curiosity.
"Those fences look like they would hurt, great chunks of wood stabbed down like spears, but the land is comfortable and proud," she said. "It sings of being loved."
"That's good to hear," Joanna said as they approached the gate itself. It stood open, as most Narnian gates did these days -- the old fear of the Wood and its angry people no longer had cause, and the Lady Prunaprismia's rebellion had been dispersed, so there was little need to stand watch within the borders. The wall still rose steep and forbidding, rank upon rank of gray-brown stones laid higher than houses, with crenels on top and a broad walkway for guards to patrol, but now the guards watched for smuggling rather than spies, and half of them were Birds or Beasts or Beings.
Joanna waved awkwardly at the short man with a spear, a brightly polished mail tunic, and an undyed surcoat with the crest of Beaversdam -- three gnawed logs in yellow set diagonally like spears on a green background (vert three logs or set bend, a little corner of her mind whispered, left over from a childhood where memorizing noble coats of arms had been a merchant's best defense) -- who stood in the cool shadows of the west gate's arch. A Shrike perched on his shoulder, also wearing the Beaversdam crest on a neckerchief. They were gossiping idly about a rumored rat infestation at one of the local bakeries.
Both man and Shrike snapped to attention as they caught sight of Tinker.
"My lady naiad?" the man said. "What brings you to Beaversdam?"
"My friend Joanna Baker asked me to come," Tinker said, "to tell a tax auditor about a ruined mill on my banks. I am Crowfeather."
The Shrike exchanged a sideways glance with her partner, then said, "Well met, Lady Crowfeather. Please don't flood anything within the walls."
"I'll cause no floods today. I can't speak for the future," Tinker said.
"Then be welcome today," said the guardsman, and waved Tinker and Joanna through the open gate. The Shrike took wing, flying to the northwest quarter where the guardhouse stood. Joanna hoped they wouldn't have to deal with other guards later on, but for now she led Tinker through the narrow, twisty streets to the southeast quarter. That was the trade district, where the tax auditors had commandeered a somewhat rickety house and shopfront that had once belonged to a goldsmith, until that man and his family had walked through the Door in the days after Miraz's overthrow.
The shop door was open and Zarabel, the portly young human accountant, was sitting behind the counter paging through a ledger, with a furrow between her brows and a goose quill tucked behind her left ear.
Joanna knocked on the door frame and said, "Is Auditor Salyx available to visitors?"
Zarabel glanced briefly up and down, then raised her eyes again and stared at Tinker, who was wandering around the office with undisguised curiosity and leaving damp footprints on the floorboards. "Goodness. Yes, I think she's free. She was planning something with Aurelia but it wasn't anything with a tight deadline."
"We'll head up to her office, then," Joanna said, and suited action to words.
She and Tinker trailed more damp footprints up the stairs until they reached the open door of a former bedroom that was now Chief Auditor Salyx's office. Joanna once again knocked on the door frame.
"Um. I brought the naiad of Crowfeather Stream to answer your questions about Aloysius Trimble's gristmill?" she said.
Auditor Salyx glanced up from her desk, where she was tracing one claw along a string of close-written figures. She blinked once, very slow and deliberate, then brushed a paw over her ruff to tidy her fur and the green-glass beads woven through it. "Lady Crowfeather, my greetings. Thank you for agreeing to visit on such short notice."
Tinker bowed her head in acknowledgment. The wires and gears braided into her hair clinked against each other as the strands cascaded over her shoulders. "It's been a long time since I walked among humans, let alone came to a town," she said, "and I'm curious how things have changed since the war. What do you need to know about the mill?"
Auditor Salyx held up a forepaw with one claw extended. "One moment please while I find a clean sheet of paper to make a record."
"I could do that," Joanna offered. "Or I could leave if this is a private interview?"
"No need, this is all part of the public record," said Auditor Salyx. "Unless Lady Crowfeather prefers to speak in private, of course."
Tinker wrapped her long, cool fingers around Joanna's upper arm and tugged her close. "I prefer for Joanna to stay."
"Very good. And now, one moment," said Auditor Salyx, and leapt down from her chair to retrieve some sheets of paper (each blank on at least one side) from one of the many boxes scattered around the edges of her office. She bit delicately down on their corners and carried them to her desk. She retrieved her quill, sharpened the tip with one claw, and dipped it into her inkwell. Then she looked up with a businesslike air.
"Most information required for tax assessments and calculations is numerical -- dates, quantities, and so forth. However, any other information you can provide may also prove useful. For now, let's start with dates. To the best of your recollection, when was the mill built?"
It took some work for Joanna and Auditor Salyx to translate Tinker's observations into a tax-relevant chain of events, but in the end the story went roughly like so: Aloysius Trimble won permission from King Caspian IX to build a gristmill, but hadn't opened for business when Miraz usurped the throne. The old Lord of Beaversdam petitioned the new king to withdraw permission for the mill (lords, you see, often hold local monopolies on mills and dislike anyone getting out from under their thumb), whereupon Aloysius Trimble dismantled his mill, moved both it and his family upstream into the woods, and began life as a fugitive from the law.
"How in Aslan's name did he keep that a secret?" Joanna said. "Hauling carts of grain and flour isn't a quiet business! My parents run a bakery; I should know."
Tinker shrugged. "I couldn't get close to the humans without scaring them, but I think partly the human soldiers were afraid of the woods and waters -- as well they should have been! -- and partly the miller made cider as well as flour and used that to bribe anyone who might have looked too closely."
Auditor Salyx looked thoughtful. "Fermenting or distilling illegal alcohol in the forest is certainly less unusual than grinding illegal flour in the forest. So long as Master Trimble paid his bribes, anyone in power might well have turned a blind eye. And that would certainly help explain the discrepancies between the seigneurial mill's records and the local grain tax records. Those have been bothering me, because they implied greater than average corruption without any matching records of lavish spending by local officials."
"But what happened to Master Trimble and his family?" Joanna asked. "You said no one had been to the mill since the Trees woke, and if any of the Trimbles were still in Beaversdam, we-- there would-- I wouldn't--"
She fell silent, unable to work out a way to say, "I wouldn't have met you because Auditor Salyx would have learned everything about the mill weeks or months ago," without sounding like that would have been a greater tragedy than the war and the potential deaths of an entire family.
"I don't know," Tinker said with another shrug. "A few months before the Trees woke and Aslan freed my father from his chains, two soldiers came to the mill. Everyone shouted, the oldest woman knocked one of the soldiers into my waters, and the other soldier ran away. Then the whole family packed themselves into a wagon and left by sunset. I didn't see any humans again until the war, and after that only a passing woodcutter or hunter until you came today, Joanna."
Auditor Salyx peered over the rim of her spectacles. "Nobody came to destroy the mill?"
Tinker shook her head, the metals gears and bits in her braids clinking and ticking with the motion. "No one."
"Hmm." Auditor Salyx tapped a claw against her papers. "That suggests that someone was aware that the Trimble family had fled, and also that there was disagreement over whether to destroy or coopt the gristmill and the cidery. Then the war rendered the question moot as nobody needed a mill so awkwardly distant from the town. Well then. I'm glad to have that settled. I'll send word to Port Paravel to have somebody look into what became of the Trimble family, and I suppose someone can organize a group to dismantle what remains of the mill at your pleasure, Lady Crowfeather."
Tinker cocked her head, birdlike. "Why would I want it removed?"
Auditor Salyx blinked. "I'm given to understand that most naiads dislike any constructions that constrain your flow, unless you've granted permission yourselves."
"Oh, yes, it stings and itches to be held in place," Tinker agreed. "But I liked the mill. It was interesting, trying to work out how all the gears and belts and such fit together. It's a bit like the way I use spring snowmelt to grind rocks in my bed, only much faster and more versatile since you can grind dry things instead of needing to keep everything in the water. I'd give permission to rebuild if anyone wants to. I'd even be willing to pay taxes."
Auditor Salyx blinked several times in rapid succession. "I... see." She glanced toward Joanna with a questioning set to her ears.
Joanna gestured confusion with her face and hands. Just because she'd known Tinker a few hours longer than Auditor Salyx didn't mean she knew how the naiad thought.
Auditor Salyx turned back to Tinker and adjusted her spectacles. "I don't think anyone's taxed a naiad before -- or if they have, all records have long since been lost. What would the king tax you for? How would you pay?"
"For the mill, of course, and I'd pay with whatever it makes. I didn't say I'd sell it, only that I'd let someone rebuild. It's my land and my water, so I think the mill should also be at least half mine."
"An interesting position," Auditor Salyx said, "with many interesting implications."
Joanna thought about that for a moment. If streams and rivers owned rights to whatever people used their water to do or to make, then that would certainly turn a lot of businesses upside-down. And yet, why shouldn't naiads get something back in return for lending their water? If you looked at it from a certain angle, not paying them was almost like slavery.
No wonder they hated bridges, especially if nobody asked before laying the foundations.
"It sounds fair to me," she said, and reached across to hold Tinker's cool, damp hand. "I don't know much about mills, but I'd be willing to learn."
Tinker's smile glinted like sunlight on ripples, or the flash of a dragonfly's wings as it hunted midges and minnows in the shallows.
"I don't think a gristmill in the forest makes much sense now that King Caspian and Queen Tarazeth have lifted noble monopolies on milling," Joanna said that evening as she and Tinker wandered the outer edge of Beaversdam's walls, hands still twined together. "Even a sawmill wouldn't turn much profit -- it's easy enough to float logs downstream closer to where more people live. The cidery might work best. Alcohol stores and transports better than fruit and obviously it's good land for trees."
"The Trimbles' apple orchard grew wild after they left, but the trees are still there," Tinker said. "And the mill doesn't need to be alone in the woods. There have been villages along my banks in the past. There could be a village again, especially with a waterwheel already built to run a mill and a cider press, and maybe even the bellows for a forge."
"Wouldn't the Trees and dryads mind?"
Tinker squeezed Joanna's fingers. "Dryads understand that forests grow best when someone herds and shears the trees. So long as everyone who comes to build and farm is respectful and loves the land until it sings, you should be fine. And I'll put in a good word, of course."
Joanna pictured a flock of trees wandering over the hills like sheep for whom a year could pass in a single step. It made a strange sort of sense, she supposed. Farming and forestry meant working with the land, just like baking bread meant working with the dough, not against it. Why shouldn't growing a village be the same?
"That's the problem with bridges! Nobody ever asked before they built them, and we never move them or take them down. No wonder the river god called them chains."
"Hmm," Tinker said again. "That's part of it. Any obstruction itches a bit, but they itch much less if they fit the flow of things: a tree falling when I undercut a bank, or a family of dumb beavers building a dam. If people ask, we can tell them the least itchy ways and places to build bridges -- and when to tear them down because their time has run its course."
With her free hand she gestured toward the river, which glimmered under the slanting blue-gold light of approaching dusk. "That's why Beaversdam sits at this bend in my sister's course, you know. She made a bargain with Sir and Dame Beaver during the Witch's reign, and when the Winter ended a few folk built a village around their dam and fishing pond. My sister was smaller in those days -- I flowed more south, into our other sister Tumbledown -- but when I changed course the city began to grow."
"I didn't know that. I thought-- I didn't think about it much, really, but when I did, I thought Beaversdam was named after the river. But it's the other way around?"
"When did your sister change her name?" Joanna asked.
"Oh, she didn't; her name is Heartsease, as it always was. But she took the other for everyday use sometime between the Winter's end and the Telmarine invasion. We do that now and again, the same as any other folk. Everything that lives must change in time."
Her tone was careless, light as spray thrown off by a laughing cascade, but her words struck Joanna like a stone dropped into a deep well, plummeting down to the heart and leaving ever-expanding ripples in its wake.
Everything that lives must change in time.
Narnia had changed: had cast off a false king in favor of a true, opened her gates to let Beasts and Beings return to the towns and Humans venture into the woods, raised her head to look once more beyond the horizons.
Joanna was changing, too. She had left home on a single-minded quest, but while she'd lost none of her love for bridges, she'd found new interests, new mentors, a new friend -- who might even be something more, in time.
Perhaps she and Tinker could change together, and give whatever things they found and built to Narnia as a gift and a source -- a seed, a spring -- of new growth.
"If people built a new village beside your stream, what would you call it?" she asked.
Tinker shrugged. "Trimble's Mill, perhaps, since that will be the heart of anything we build."
Joanna shook her head. "It's not their mill anymore. It's yours. Crowfeather Mill would be better. Or no, wait! Not Crowfeather Mill, Tinker's Mill. Because it isn't only a mill built on Crowfeather Stream -- it's a mill that belongs to Crowfeather Stream."
"Tinker's Mill. Tinker's Mill? Tinker's Mill." Tinker tilted her head as she tasted the name, trying it out in varying intonations. Then she smiled. "Yes. I like it. My village, named for my mill, which runs on my water and pays my taxes. No naiad has had anything like that before."
"You deserve it," Joanna said.
"I do," Tinker agreed. "And when we build a bridge, we'll name that after you."