Are Ishey Baths Civilized?
When we had clothed the ragged and fed the curious, and when the inn-keeper finally realized it was the baroness who was giving his guests treats, we felt it was time to be just the two of us together. And have a bath. And a shave… So we asked the trembling man, who swore everything we ordered was on the house (fortunately we managed to get him to present a bill at the Temple of Mizran for us…) whether there were baths, proper baths in Hokaji.
He said there were.
This was only a half-truth, though. There was a house with baths. The house and the baths were clean. The attendants friendly. But… while the girls could do our hair, somehow, they had no notion of proper shaving and oiling! We had to send out a runner boy to fetch my necessities, and we had to do it ourselves!
I’m not sure why Moyri finds shaving my rose’s lips so exciting, only that she finds it so, and this time she actually had to stop a few times because she was shivering with pleasure. One of the girls was really interested, though, and was looking on so closely I could feel her breath on my skin.
Then it was my turn to shave my wife. Tesfaye really wanted to try, but there’s no way I’m going to let someone who has never used a razor before near the skin of my love! But we did let her work the oil into my skin, and a different oil into Moyri’s skin. And then we asked her to leave our compartment for a bit, because we were now really, really excited and could stop touching each other.
She left, giggling like a loon.
When we called her back, I had a proposition: we would sponsor a training place for her in the Iss-Peranian baths in the harbour of Banay. Since she already had some training, she probably would be a journeyman in a year, and a master in two more years.
Dismay! She couldn’t believe it would take three years to learn how to properly bathe a woman. But at the same time, she really wanted to learn! (Normally, it takes six or seven years, and you start when you’re ten, at least in Sithi baths; Iss-Peranian bath attendants are trained to a higher level of proficiency, though.)
We also asked the proprietress of the baths what she thought of the idea, and she was all hm-mm-could-be-a-good-idea-but-three-years-and-what-will-it-cost.
So we told them to mull it over, and we’d talk to them again when we would return from Tal-Borin.
(We also told them what the word “sponsor” means.)
The Ishey ladies totally agreed with us that improving the baths would be a worthy goal, and were all ready to pay for the interested girl, too! Though they were thinking on the grand scale, and were considering sending her to Iss-Peran. That would be a bit too much for the poor girl, who only speaks Ilaini and Ishey!
Once again, more people left with us, than came with us, when we left for Tal Boryn. This time we were taking precautions; north of the trade post is wild land, officially part of no barony, though we were going to claim Tal-Borin as our north-most outpost. And there were rumours of bandits, so a very good chance for all our people to learn scouting and woodcraft.
It made me wish I could join them, but… Moyri and I are the teachers, not the pupils, and I’m the original townee anyway. Plus, trying to become yet another something else, that would be too much. I’m already quite tired, sometimes. Maybe we should stay in Tal-Borin for a week or so…
After a couple of days of trekking, we arrived at the Trade Post. There were a couple of boats, one inn and a few houses — it wasn’t a village, there wasn’t even a priestess. We had a good chat with the boatpeople, but the inn… Yes, we stayed in their best room. And yes, we made ourselves a little nest with our blankets in a corner where we had burned some sulfur.
The next morning, when our host asked us about our night, I felt like giving him a piece of my mind, but instead, I gave him a tour of the rodent and insect life that flourished so abundantly in his “best bedroom”.
The boatpeople told me that, yes, they preferred to sleep on their boats as well…
And I suggest that they should take Selday as the end point of their route, trading all along the coast, and had I already told them there would be a fine map of the entire coast ready by the time they would be in Selday? I hadn’t, so I told them.
This really is remote… In the next two, three days, we encountered one person, and Ishey man who was on his way north-west, to the City of the Mother. I think he was going there to pray; we had a long talk about the Gods with him, and how Anshen and Archan are divided and connected, and how banning one aspect unbalances the other aspect, or how banning one person unbalances the other person. And what if… Anshen and Archan being one for some people and two for other people tells us that we people, who were created by the One to amuse and seduce the Mother, who thus existed before the Children of the One and the Mother came into being, are like… Also one and apart? Shouldn’t we consider, especially since some of us can touch each other’s minds, that we’re just as ambiguous (that means, are you two or not) as Anshen and Archan?
Because by the time we came to this part of the discussion we had opened the bottle of brandy from Habali, and had made inroads on it, the discussion became a bit speculative, and also hard to remember. But it was very deep and illumination, I’m sure of that. I’m also sore of it; the ladies in Habali should double distill their cherry or plum wine.
Rani… Might’ve been for too long in the Barren Lands. Or she should never have been conceived and born there, so close to the source of the disturbance. She’s smart, she’s cute, she’s pretty, she’s curious, she’s handy… But she’ll be barren for always. I might have to send her to Turenay, but she’s not really sick. She’s just a bit of in-between boy and girl. Small tits, cute cunny, but it looks like it’s only as deep as a one phalange, and beyond, it looks like she’s a boy. A boy whose penis has grown inwards? She doesn’t have a womb, but neither has she got balls, not even inside.
She took this remarkably calmly, and told me she didn’t want kids anyway, and all the fumbling and so on she’d seen didn’t make her feel like she was going to miss out on something important. Especially when Maile was teaching her to read and write!
She’s smart enough that she started to wonder about what makes women women, men men, and people people, instead of animals. So I instanced Veh, the Ishey man with tits and an adze, and a wife and more than a score of children. And she was wondering about me — did I like men as well as I liked women? Yes, I had to answer, but I don’t like anyone, man or woman as much as I like Moyri. She’d heard from Maile that I had been sceptical about all that ichan stuff, and what had changed my mind? The itching in my belly, and talking with Aldan; I recommended that she’d find herself a best friend, someone she could discuss everything with.
Slyly she said, “I’m discussing things I’d get a right ding around my head from my mom for with you, so are you my best friend? Instead of Vauri?”
I thought for a bit, after having mentally ratched up my appreciation of this girl another notch or two, and answered, “Well, I’m the lady doctor here. We started talking about your body. But I think that if Vauri is your best friend… Go to her, and share what we talked about with her? I think it would be good…”
So she went, and I went to Moyri, but while we were both still on the move, as it were, I touched Rani with my mind, and asked her permission to tell Moyri about our conversation, she gave that, without reservation, because, as she said, “Don’t bottle things up! I know how bad that can be! For a whole year, my most trusted telling-to-person was a goat!”
I like her, a lot.
More travel. The road to Tal-Borin is surprisingly clear, but then, the river on our left is innavigable now. Lessons, tracking and scouting practice, Lessons in reading, writing, high finance, history and, of course, semsin. It’s a lush country, but there are so few people…
Finally a village. It’s so small… But the people are so friendly.
And then, in the middle of the night, when Moyri and I were cuddling and fingering each other, I suddenly realized…
They hadn’t offered us food. We had fed the villagers.
This village is in desperate straits.
I started to cry, and Moyri asked me what was wrong… And I told her, “They’re so poor! They cannot live here — they ate our food! We need to tell them they need to move! Maybe join our barren-landers?”
It was so strange… Such a lush country, and still near-famished people. Not enough hands to till the land, I guess, or to keep the forest from encroaching on the fields?
So we huddled together, Moyri and me, and discussed that. And in the middle of the night, I went to Tho, one of our Ishey boys, and told him, if he could carve a staff, a staff that would show Naigha, and the gods, I would give him my iron knife for that, and it would be a man’s work, and he would be a man.
Because I had realized that the Priestess of Naigha was the core of the village, and if she would say to her people, go, they would go.
So, while Tho was carving, I woke up the Priestess, and tried to convince her that the village needed to move… And that was hard, because it was where they had always lived, and their parents, and grandparents… But in the end, she gave in, only saying that she wasn’t sure she had the authority.
So I told her, the baroness would give her a staff of authority this morning, and that was that.
When we were leaving the village, they were packing up, the council (that is, everyone over ten years old) had decided to leave, and ask the Barren Landers whether they could join to strengthen their village.
Now I was really tired, and decided to sleep a bit in one of the carts.