The voyage took five days. I only could stand up and move around a bit when Moyri was asleep, for the rest, I held her in my arms, trying to give her stability with my mind and my body. I got puked on a lot, and Maile pitched pails full of sea water over us to clean away the muck, but it stuck everwhere. All Moyri could get inside was water boiled with honey or tree-treacle and a bit of salt… All I could eat, I was fed bite by bite by Maile, because I couldn’t stop holding Moyri.
But there were no mysterious ships filled with people belonging to the Nameless, like we encountered on our way out. Maile had lots of fun doing odd jobs all over the ship. Ajay was moody, and mostly hung around in the bows, while we were sternwards. And, frankly, after half a day I had forgotten all about him, with Moyri clinging on to me for life and sanity.
And then early one morning, we sailed into the harbour of Essle. Filthy, stinking, bloated Essle! I had discussed the question of “where is the nearest baths” with one of the older sailors, and he had promised to take us three straight to just the place — a brothel, true, but Iss-Peranian, so they would wash us and take care of us. Ajay went to Prince Uznur, or at least, the Viceroyal Palace. We were going there later in the afternoon.
As soon as we were on firm ground again — well, a muddy quay — Moyri started breathing properly again. We all felt a bit dizzy, and I said, “Thanks — that you have trusted me to let me do this for you.” Which surprised Moyri, because she wanted to thank me… But I thought, she had trusted me much more than I could express — it’s not everyone who is so sure of another person that they dare to make them sit with them in all the filth a human produces in five days of seasickness, and not be afraid that they’ll be disgusted with you for the rest of their lives. But I’ve worked in Doctor Cora’s hospital, and I can handle even well-aimed projectile diarrhea without batting an eyelid. (Or rather, I would close my eyes for a bit, until it would be safe again, of course. Also, I would close my mouth, which is not something that happens often.)
Oh, what a glorious bath! What delightful bath attendants! Clean! Shaven! Oiled! Perfumed! Fed — and such dainty little dishes that Moyri actually noticed she was getting hungry, after five days of eating nothing, not such a surprise. We put on clean clothes, and the three of us went to Order House, feeling not a little dread.
Rusla had already noticed us landing, I understood from Moryi. We entered the courtyard, and she was waiting for us. She embraced Moyri, and remarked, casually, “So, that’s it, isn’t it?” And Moyri nodded. And I started babbling excuses, but Rusla took me apart and gave me a hug.
“Child,” she said (I am eighteen!), “Moyri was deeply unhappy here. She did her duty, and did it as well as any commander before her, but it ate her up. From what I see, you’re making her happy, so go on doing that!”
I nodded, and answered, “I will. This stuff, being ichan and all that, that’s new to me, but I am working hard on it!” (I’m not sure when this happened, but Rusla is going to give me a new cuirass, without cleavage… And old one of hers, fixed and refitted. She must like me.)
We dropped our bags — Moyri and I were put in one of the guest rooms, nice touch, Maile with the rest of the journeygirls. Moyri was still in uniform when the two of us went to Prince Uznur. The Palace is quite grand! Bigger, much bigger, than the Royal Palace in Turenay, but that, of course, is only a holiday cottage for the King, the Queen and their kids.
We were handed from servant to servant — one of them was the “thankful man” that Lesla and Rhinla had told about — and then we were made to wait. His Highness was busy with someone else. To while away the time, I started petting Moryi with just semsin. We weren’t even touching hands. And she started petting me back, and putting little finger traces of semsin all over my most sensitive spots. I had to bite my lip to stop myself from making a noise. Just when I had to warn her that if she continued, I’d have a very visible wet spot on the seat of my skirt, me not wearing a loincloth, while she had diapered herself after our bath, the secretary came into the room to tell us the Prince would see us. Saved by the bell, but… Later.
I realized on our way there that I had actually met Prince Uznur. He is a widower, but when his wife, Moyri (what a coincidence!) was still alive, they lived in Turenay for some time, and their youngest son, Bahar, he was always slipping away and trying to rob our sweetshop.
So I greeted him like an old friend and asked after his children, and he smiled the widest smile I’ve ever seen on an Iss-Peranian male (and such a pity that he has decided never to remarry!) and welcomed us. He knew Moyri, of course, and Moyri gave him her official report, succinctly, competently, straight-forward and very complete. I know I would have waffled too much!
In the meantime, let the clerk copy the documentary evidence, which was then sworn to as accurate and true, and added to the chancellery’s archives.
Prince Uznur was very much disturbed, and offered two of his guards as well, to help us bring our prisoners and witnesses to Valdis. He agreed that this went beyond what he should handle on himself, it truly is a matter for the King to hear.
When we were done, I asked, “Your highness… We’re still really tired from the voyage. Moyri is a worse sailor than the King. Would you have a guest room where we could sleep for a while, and something to eat and drink? We came almost straight from the ship, only taking time to take a bath and drop off our bags at the order.”
He smiled, and I suspect he smiled too knowingly, he is gifted, too, after all, and nodded.. “Certainly! A page will bring you to one of the guest rooms and provide for you.”
We thanked him, and went off.
The guest room was all it should be: there was a bed, freshly made, water, a sponge, soap, oil. Soon there was cool green wine and a plate of various pasties to nibble on, sweet and savoury both. The page made a small bow and promised to keep everyone out of the room while we were inside.
“A glass of wine, my lady, and something to eat,” I said grinning, with a page-like bow.
“Ha!”, my lady said, and grabbed me under the armpits and threw me on the bed. Pretty soon my skirt was over my belly, and soon after that, we both had nothing on anymore. Evidently, the seasickness had worn off, and we both felt that we had squandered almost six days — days without love-making are wasted days!
Afterwards, and after the food and wine, I first tried to make a turban or something like that on my head out of Moyri’s loincloth, but that only made her laugh so much that she got the hiccups, so I just hung it over one of the paintings, as if it were decoration, and I put on her trousers. Moyri shrugged, and put on my skirt. “I guess you feel that loincloths and skirts don’t go together”, she asked. I grinned, and agreed. The skirt was a pretty good fit — Moyri has more muscles and a broader build, but I’ve got more fat on my hips — and now at least she had begun not to look like a Sworn anymore, being only in half a uniform.
“Are you still hungry, my love,” I asked.
“Actually, yes…” Moyri answered, after a bit of thought.
“Shall we have squid with onions somewhere?”
“I know just the place. It’s in a really sketchy neighbourhood, though,” Moyri answered, and we asked the page to bring us to the exit of the Palace, and from there we walked, hand-in-hand, shoulder-to-shoulder through lots of small alleys and over lots of bridges. The neighbourhood did become sketchier and sketchier, and I not only sealed the papers (which were in an inside picked in my shirt) and my purse, but I asked Moyri to put her seal over mine, to make double plus sure.
I also paid a beggar to bring a fake package to the Temple of Mizran. A dangerous job — if we were followed by servants of Koll Konandé, so I paid him two shillings.
There was a queue! There was an actual queue of people waiting their turn at the squid-and-onion stall. We were giggling, looking around, looking at each other. I guess that meant that it looked like we weren’t paying attention, but, wise lesson people, Khushi can do several things at the same time. So when a young boy tried to stick his hand up my shirt to get at my purse, I had him solidly in my hands before he could run away.
Goodness! This boy was so thin, so very, very thin. He looked up at me, and asked “Are you going to give me to the Grays now?” (The Grays is the nickname of the Order of the Sworn, because everything they wear is a boring gray, even their loincloths.) “You look like half a Gray, you and your friend! But not the same half!”
Well, I was reminded of Aldan (small), because this boy seemed smart. I said, “We will take you to the grays, yes, because that’s where we live. But I guess you’d like some rice, squid and onions first?”
He nodded. “Food! But I don’t like going near the Grays…”
“It will be all right,” Moyri put in. “What’s the worst that can happen?”
He looked pretty miserable at that, like he could imagine a lot of bad things — he probably never had had good things happen to him. But it was our turn, so we ordered the biggest bowl of squid for him, and a medium bowl for each of us, and we went to sit near a stack of used bowls, and started eating. I had only eaten half of mine, when he and Moyri were both done.
“Moyri, can you get another bowl for — what’s your name?”
“Well, I’m Khusi, and that’s…”
“Moyri,” he grinned.
Moyri said, “Sure, but you’ll have to give me two pennies, because I — I literally have nothing at all.”
When she was queuing for more food, I told the boy something about us, about what we were going to do, and why, and about the ship in the wharf in Selday. I asked him, “Do you know of anything like that?”
And he said, well, I get really seasick, so I cannot run away to sea — but I do know of a boat that’s been described like that, here in the harbour!”
Oh Gods. I knew we wouldn’t leave for Valdis tomorrow morning. I also knew that Moyri and I wouldn’t be officially involved in the search for that boat.
“Moryn, if we can find that ship, I will make sure that your future is assured. School, training, apprenticeship, enough money to start out — I am certain that it will be yours. The Queen will do no less.”
“Have you seen the Queen? Do you know her?” he stuttered.
“Yes, I have. I have spoken with her.”
At that point, Moyri came back with the another big bowl of squid and onions, and Moryn devoted his attention to that, so I had time to bring her up to speed with the big news. She frowned, then smiled, and said, “Rusla and Prince Uznur will be so interested. And it will be interesting to see them handle the problem!”
I nodded, we kissed, and Moryn had finished his second bowl, and the left-over half of mine, so we started out for the order house. On our way, Moryn asked whether he could get a bath at the Order house, and the promise of one reconciled him completely to us taking him to the Grays.
On arrival, he gave as exact as possible the name, size and current location of this ship, and Rusla grabbed half a dozen Sworn and went for the Palace. Moryn went with Maile to the bath house, and I went with Moyri to the training fields.
I had a couple of fights — one with Moyri, one with another Sworn. We had agreed that these were, apart from drawing blood and things like that, real training fights, so fighting dirty was allowed. I won both, because I can be really sneaky and nasty. In the last fight, I dropped Moyri’s trousers on the ground, and tried to let my opponent slip over them. When that didn’t work, I grabbed them, made them stiff with semsin and hit him in the back of his knees. He stumbled a bit, so I dived underneath him, lifted him and threw him. Praying that he would not fall on his sword.
He didn’t and I had won, so I put on the trousers again.
For me, it was time to go to the bath house, too, because I was sweating like a waterfall, and besides, I wanted to see whether Moryn had any diseases. He didn’t! Sure, I had to shave his head, because he had lice, and he missed an eye tooth because of a fight, but his teeth were healthy, his stool was free of worms, he had no lingering infections or sores, no scurvy, no scabies — he was perfectly healthy.
After dinner, Moyri and I went to sleep, or rather, to our guest room, and Maile to Moryn to the library to read stories to him out of a book. She’d already found the library and found that it had at least three hundred books!
I am so, so happy with my apprentice! She’s diligent, smart, kind, sociable and doesn’t complain when I’m kissing Moyri.
Oh, and the beggar I sent to the Temple of Micalacuk as a messenger arrived safely, so nobody is on our track.