The Rycha is beautiful, even in the middle of autumn. Around Nesh it starts getting wide, before that it’s not that wide. There aren’t many villages or even farms, and there are so many birds, and as soon as Veray is out of sight, it also smells clean and fresh.
We did stop in Nesh, and stayed the night in the inn there. There wasn’t enough space for me and Moyri to have a room of our own, so apart from a touch here and a caress there, we’re sort of in a desert, when it comes to love making! But that wasn’t unexpected. What I had not expected is that I had the sheer courage to go and visit Hylti’s mom, the local Priestess of Naigha!
But I did, I’m big and brave and courageous and my strength is boundless because I dare!!!
I wanted to speak to her — a woman should learn she’s become a grandmother, shouldn’t she? And I know that Hylti doesn’t write her mom any more, she told me when I asked whether I should take a letter for her. Poor Hylti… So happy, and then always the pain of knowing your mother approves of nothing you’ve ever done.
But I think that her mother has gone through a lot of painful thinking, too, in the three years that Hylti has gone out from the school, and that she practically kicked her daughter out of the place where she was born. She didn’t rail or rant — she was mostly silent, and listened. And I told her she had three grandchildren now, two by Hylti and one by Hylti’s wife, Arni, and that the people in the new barony of Little Valdyas worshipped her. I told her about the leper village. About the whores. About the fathers of her grandchildren. About the baron. About… How we all love her and Arni, all of us who are sent out to cement Valdyas together in the name of the King and the Queen. About me, myself and my wife and my apprentices, and how much we had learned from Hylti and Arni. And about how she would be completely happy, except for one thing…
And then I left her, because I could see she was going to cry and I could feel she didn’t want me to see her crying, and because I’m not cruel enough to start giving advice to a new grandmother three times my own age.
(Or maybe just two times, she looked old, but that was mostly on the inside.)
From Nesh on, the Rycha is wide and is more like a wide stream in the middle of a big marsh. We mostly stayed on the small gravel islands that crop up in the middle of the river here and there — those seldom have more growing on them than a few stunted trees and weeds. One evening, a flock of birds flew over from North to South, and immediately made it dark. Completely dark. It was like a thundercloud, so dark and so big.
I was told these birds are very edible, but you can only catch them around Rizenay, when they come over Ryshas, they fly too high to catch, and they only come down between the Rycha and Sarabal, where nobody lives, because it’s actually too dry. They also told me what they were called, but I forgot. I’m a town girl, there are only a few kinds of birds: on water, in the air, in the yard or on Moyri’s plate.
A week later, we were close to the village where Moyri was born. There was a rickety landing on the south bank, and the skipper and her husband dropped us there. It was at least an hour from there to the beginning of the fields of the village. They mostly make reed and willow baskets there, and they have a bunch of little hills they made themselves in the swamp where they have pasture and some fields.
After an hour of trudging through the swamp, we met a man, and that was Moyri’s brother, Jilan! They hadn’t seen each other for over fourteen years!
(Moyri has always regularly written letters to her family, they hadn’t fallen out.)
They had to embrace for quite a long time before Moyri introduced us. Jilan gave me a wary look, one that said, “you look weird, young woman, and foreign, and I am not sure I can trust you.” But he did smile when Moryi and I held hands the rest of the way to their village.
Moyri’s mom and dad are both still alive, as are her other siblings.
It’s just that this is so strange to me… Here they live, they make jokes about the Baron of Veray and the Baroness of Tilis both thinking this village is theirs, but they almost never go there. They get visited at the end of the winter by merchants buying the baskets and bringing salt and cloth and iron to them. They are so incredibly poor, but they still do have their Temple of Naigha — though the dead are floated down the Rycha on rafts, since there’s nowhere anyone can dig a grave. And there isn’t a single gifted person around for as far as I could see, except for me, Moyri, Maile and Moryn.
Moyri’s father didn’t say a lot. We told her parents about us, and he frowned a bit, then nodded, then spat and told his wife to prepare food. I went with Moyri’s mother outside — they don’t have a kitchen, and food is prepared outside, weather permitting, only in winter is there a fireplace in the middle of the single room in their house — and I helped her peel and chop onions.
And we talked. She’s… She told me she found me very strange and very foreign, but that she was prepared to love me, because she had seen and felt that I had made her Moyri happy, and that she had understood from Moyri’s letters home a little of how unhappy Moyri had been. And that Moyri had been even more unhappy here, in their village in the swamp. I told her that the Mother had had words for us, in Three Hills, and that satisfied her. I even made her happy when I told her that we would have children, and that we would make her a grandmother again.
Of course, Moyri’s brother, Jilan, has a wife and children. Moyri and Jilan were in deep, deep talk, so I really had Moyri’s mother to myself, for as long as it took to prepare the stew. Dried mutton shaved into flakes into a vegetable stew with lots of onions. At least the onions will keep them healthy!
Moyri’s mom even said she and her husband might want to travel out to Selday, one day, to see their daughter, the baroness.
They believe us, when we tell them things like that, but they cannot encompass the thought.