Moyri’s village, Two Bridges, is on the South bank of the Rycha, and when I asked about the nearest leper colony, they pointed at the North bank. Might as well have been in Rizenay, for all that. We’d have to go west along the South bank until we reached a place opposite Ferin and Tamsin’s inn, and then ask someone to ferry us over. It would only be about a week by foot, and no, Two Bridges doesn’t possess a single boat, not even for fishing! They make baskets from reed or willow branches, and once a year, their stock is collected by a merchant — like the one we travelled with from Three Hills to Tilis. There’s a Temple of Naigha, but that serves a number of small villages. There are about three families here, that’s all, and nobody is gifted…
Moyri’s niece and nephew, Leva and Seran, were our guides.
They soon became fast friends with Maile and Moryn, and the four of them were always off exploring, or catching fish or birds, telling each other tall tales or showing off how to make things from whatever you can find in the marshes.
Moyri and I had to be pretty grown-up, of course, but not so grown-up we could make love as much as we wanted, but then, that’s unlikely to be possible in Selday either. I’m sure we’ll be kept really busy!
We came through a couple of other villages, had to sleep in abandoned villages sometimes. Villages here are built on top of man-made hillocks, which don’t flood when the Rycha is in spate. Between the villages are paths, though, honestly, I don’t know know why they are called paths. You have to know the best places to cross and pass and wade and slither through, and then, if you know those places, you might arrive, or you might get lost because everything has changed since the last time anyone went between two villages.
Fortunately, I can sense the vicinity of people even if they’re not really gifted, only almost, so at one point I got us on the right track, which made Leva and Seran pause.
It’s not that it isn’t beautiful — I guess it could be, in the right season, if enough plants flower — and the birds are gorgeous in all their colors. But it’s very desolate, and I do dislike the way the leeches bore in your skin to drink your blood. The only one who’s allowed to drink my blood is Moyri, if she wants at all.
And after a week, we arrived at the “ferry”. We had to take turns; only the ferryman and one of us fitted in his “boat” at the same time. The river is very, very wide here, so it took almost all day to put us over, and he only wanted two pennies a person — two pennies also being the price of a mug of beer at Ferin and Tamsin’s inn.
That’s where we stayed the rest of the evening, and the night. It’s a very friendly place, and according to Moyri, Tamsin brews the best beer between the triangle of Essle, Valdis and Gralen, but I don’t know… It’s very cloudy and a bit sour, and a bit bitter, and a bit strong. Still, it’s amazing that a Khas woman has learned how to brew beer that a Valdyan wants to drink, and even more amazing that she’s learned how to cook.
The inn itself isn’t very busy. I think Ferin set it up mostly as an outpost for Guild runners to hie to, and as a line in the sand — here Anshen IS. And he and his wife don’t need lots of people around them, although they have a host of children. He’s very big, and he’s actually been through the Khas lands west of the City. If I have to believe him, he’s actually the chief of a Khas tribe… Or maybe that was his friend, a Valdyan Sworn called Ailin.
That night, Moyri and I were just too tired to make love. We had done the evening prayers all together, Ferin, Tamsin, us six and the — few — other guests in the inn. And then we went to bed and slept, and slept, and slept. Well, I’d also healed everyone’s injuries to their feet and legs before prayers, so I was exhausted anyway.
In the morning, we couldn’t do more than cuddle and kiss before we had to get up. There was a mighty noise coming from downstairs, and it turns out that Tamsin is very much a morning person. Before we knew, everyone was sitting down having breakfast, and the reason we had to be so early was that there was a boat from Tilis that had come to collect barrels of beer, and we could come with it.
A couple of hours later, we were in Tilis — again!
Jilan and his dad — the basketmakers — weren’t home, again, so we went on straight to the Castle. It wasn’t the first time any of us had seen it, though Leva and Seran had only seen it from a distance, they hadn’t been to Tilis itself. Though Leva wants to become a midwife. I hope she will turn out to be gifted! It’s not necessary, but it’s such a help, and besides the midwife in Tilis is gifted, too. On the other hand, being gifted, being a semte, that can be a bit of a burden, too. We had a long discussion about that, but like all long discussions, it actually went nowhere.
Having sent off the four kids to explore Tilis and the castle, we had ourselves — the Baroness of Selday, and her wife, the baroness-consort and sheriff of Selday — announced to dear old Sidhan, the Baroness of Tilis.
A few surprised looks later, we were seated in her solar, having a pretty informative chat on what had happened since our last visit, in Valdis and elsewhere. And she’s strong for the idea of barons writing each other regularly, too! Of course, Tilis is, maybe apart from Sarabal, the smallest of baronies in Valdyas, so there’s not much chance for educational improvement for her. Even a medical school would be too much. After dinner, she sent us down to get a chit for the hostel, then had us called up again because of course we should be her guests and sleep in her personal guest rooms!
That meant that the Terrifying Four, who were right now making Tilis a very unsafe place, would be on their own until the morning. Well, it’s probably good for Tilis, it can stand a bit of being shaken up, and it probably wouldn’t end in real disaster. So I reached out to Maile and told her she was on her own, and to make sure she paid for everything from the travel funds. And she promised she would.
At that, Sidhan looked at me with a kind of exasperated look and said, “I wish I could do that… But I’m not gifted.”
I blushed a bit, then asked, “but you do pray, when you pray, to Anshen, don’t you? Not the Nameless?”
“Yes, I do,” she answered, “but I never can see whether he attends my prayers. Maybe he never does.” Then she hesitated and blushed herself, and asked, “And you — you’ve been in Turenay… Can you pray in the Iss-Peranian way?”
I immediately understood her. She wanted dancing lessons…
So I nodded, and we sent away all servants, and undressed, and I took her through the first four movements, the essential ones (all the rest is embellishment…) And Anshen was there, and I winked at him and asked him to kiss Sidhan.
And he did.
And she noticed it — the peck on her cheek.
And after that, we went to bed, and Moyri and I spent the entire night making love. We were rested, we had prayed, we were alone, we were in a huge bed with a canopy and curtains and pillows and… Each other, too.
In the morning, four remarkably chipper under-twenties were chattering like magpies at the breakfast table, while the two of us, old women, were nursing our baggy eyes and bleary brains with ironheart tea and porridge. Of course, we would be able to sleep on the boat to Essle, and from Tilis to Essle, that takes almost a whole day. We had been counting on that sleep!
Seran and Leva had gone home by boat, and we set out for Essle. And yes, we fell asleep almost immediately. The last thing I noticed was the giggles of Maile and Moryn over the splash-splash of the oars, the scent of Moyri in my nose, and her hands over my back, and off we were.
We woke up, rather stiff, late in the afternoon. At least, I woke up, Moyri was still asleep, but she had buried her hands deep under my skirts, and, asleep and well, had put her fingers where I couldn’t help noticing. That made even me blush, because the skipper and his mate, well, they were grinning like loons, too! I rearranged my skirt with all the dignity I could muster, slipped away from Moyri’s hand and sat up.
We were already past the worst areas of Essle’s slums. It’s incredible that this city continues to exist. Even when the Emperors of the the City were at their worst, their first task was to bring enough grain to feed a million people — and here, there’s nobody, nobody at all who bothers. And people do starve, but Essle doesn’t get deserted. Instead, more and more people arrive from all corners of the world, and then somehow, why I don’t know, stop here, instead of coming further in-land.
Having mustered my composure, I reached out to Rusla, to Maile, to Viceroy Uznur. All of them had a right to have our news as expeditiously as possible, so I gave them all a mental poke, and they promised to be at the Order House when we arrived.
As Maile had promised to bring her baby, I started massaging my breasts in the way that Queen Asa of the Ishey had taught me. It is possible to make your breasts have milk even if you haven’t had a baby, and she does that every year when she’s going out to collect twins in the frozen north. It’s a matter of massaging, a bit of semsin and some wistful longing for children.
That done, I made a mental list of what we needed in Essle:
- item: a ship to Selday
- item: new stores for my sweet shop
- item: stores for our new doctor’s post
- item: one or two suitable people for our new school (I pinged all of our friends and the priest from the Temple of Mizran we knew, and asked them for candidates.)
- item: clothing and other stores that are cheaper here than in Selday and that we’d need
I think that was that, and that was when we were near the Order House, so I had the not disagreeable job of waking Moyri. When she noticed the wet spots on my shirt, she wanted to know whether she had been drooling on my breast… When I told her what was going on, I let her drink from my tits, a little bit, skipper and mate and apprentices notwithstanding. The milk won’t last long… And this was so much fun that I didn’t mind. Moyri looked up, a bit wistfully, and then decided not to try this herself. Just me suckling her made her want children, right now!
And Maile had brought her baby! And she let me nurse her when we had our talks. This was delightful. Babies suck much stronger than adults! I want to have babies, too! But it would be wise to wait a couple of years, of course.
I don’t actually remember too much of the talks… I was too distracted. Fortunately Moyri is good at that, and I had this little bundle of warm greediness to hold.