That was a way to get the gods’ attention that Maile has never heard of. I wonder if it’s something that the twins have picked up in Essle.
I needed Lyase-Lédu to find the doctor, because she was the only one of us who knew her way around the harbour district. Serian attached himself to us, so I left Raith and Moryn to take care of Moyri and give Arin the portion of porridge we’d saved for him. Lochan had stayed for breakfast but then gone home to work, promising to be back later for more lessons.
Long before we were there I started wishing that Serian hadn’t discovered his gifts yet: he was making something from spirit in his cupped hands, which looked like bees or beetles, clearly to launch at Lyase-Lédu as soon as he could.
“Don’t even think about it,” Lyase-Lédu said before I could say anything. “I’m not afraid of cockroaches and I’m wearing a seal inside my shirt.”
“I can do mice if you like,” Serian said.
“I’m not afraid of mice either,” she said. “Just don’t.”
Then we entered the harbour district and she kept up a running commentary of everybody we saw on the wharves. “Coran is turning the last customers out. There’s Dina, she’s been working all night and still hasn’t got a penny for bread. That man with his arm around the dark girl is wearing his purse inside his clothes. Wise of him, but it’s Iss-Peranian clothes so you can see exactly where it is. Wait until she distracts him.” And then the girl did, and her companion got the purse, and they ran away giggling.
“Good catch!” Lyase-Lédu called after them, and then went invisible so the man looked around and saw only a grown woman and a small boy in our boat, not the girl whose voice he’d clearly heard.
“We’re here,” Lyase-Lédu said a moment later, visible again. There was a small queue of women waiting in front of a house, all young, all gifted, none trained. I climbed out of the boat, Lyase-Lédu following, and greeted them and went to stand at the back, with Serian watching the boat.
There was lively talk going on and they included us immediately. When I said I only wanted to talk to the doctor, because I’d been a student of her master in Turenay, they all urged me to go first. Apparently they thought I’d come all the way from Turenay just to see Doctor Ashti!
After a while a young man came out, a bit younger than me, and the doctor followed him. Somehow I’d expected her to look like Doctor Cora, but she was tall and had red hair and freckles! “I tell you again,” she said to the young man, “learn a proper trade, smithing or carpentry or repairwork, instead of dallying with the sailors! Make an honest living for a change!”
“But I don’t know where to go to learn that!” he said. “And I do know where the sailors are.”
“Wait,” I said, “if you want to learn smithing or carpentry or repairwork, or all three, I’ve got a workshop on the east side. I’ll give you a try, we can use another pair of hands.”
When I said that the doctor screwed up her eyes and gave me a piercing look. “Why, it’s little Maile!” she said. “I got a letter from Cora, to expect you. Do come in.”
I was surprised that she knew me, but I did vaguely remember two girls, leaving school just when I entered, who looked like this: twins, one an apprentice doctor, one an apprentice apothecary. And indeed, her sister came in just then carrying parcels.
I offered to help with the work first, so we’d be free to talk afterwards. Cora hadn’t taught us, apprentice runners, for nothing! And Lyase-Lédu had a lot of strength too, which she was eager enough to lend.
The three young women were called in one by one: bruises all over the body (“You should choose your clients more carefully!” “This was my husband!”), the kind of ringworm that won’t go away until you almost scour away the skin, and the third — “You don’t need to be in on this,” Ashti said, and I went out to find the other two and the young man talking to Lyase-Lédu and Serian near the boat.
“Did you mean that?” the young man asked, “about teaching me to do proper work?”
“Sure,” I said, “I was sent here to set up a workshop and help people, and it turns out that we can all help each other!”
He nodded. “I’m in.”
The third woman came out, looking pale and shaky, and the others hugged her and stroked her hair. Ashti called me in, with Lyase-Lédu still in my wake. “Well,” she said, “let’s hear what you came for. Obviously not because you need a doctor. She looked searchingly at Lyase-Lédu. “And not you, either, thank Anshen.”
I told them about Arin, what was wrong with him, and that Anshen had told him to be my master. “Anshen told him? Well, I never. Let’s see what we can do.” She conferred silently with her sister for a while. “Right. We’ll need beeswax, sulphur, roses and lilies. And plenty of firewood.”
“Firewood we’ve got,” I said. “We’ll get the rest.”
“Show us where to go and we’ll meet you there in the afternoon.”
Then they were back to work again, and we took the boat to the market to get the supplies Ashti had asked for. “Roses are for Timoine,” Lyase-Lédu said, “and lilies for Naigha. I don’t know about the other stuff.”
“I’d think the sulphur would be for Anshen because it burns, and the wax for Mizran because bees are industrious?” I ventured, but I wasn’t sure at all. This was teaching we’d never had.
We came home with the boat full of not only those things, but also vegetables and fruit and bread and a couple of chickens. “No time to catch any ducks, I suppose,” I said, and Serian nodded sadly.
Ashti and her sister (now I remembered her as Vauri) arrived almost the same moment, with not only the young man I’d offered a place but also the three young women. We all crowded into the house. That disturbed Arin, but only a little “Come here, girl,” he said to me, “now I’ll teach you to teach! You’re learning to be a master, after all.” And he started, very patiently, to go through the basics of semsin with everybody who needed it, including Serian.
Ashti and Vauri, meanwhile, were doing things with the flowers and sulphur and wax that I couldn’t see. After a while Arin stopped teaching, almost collapsed, and I realised that most of the power he’d used had been mine. I felt hands on my shoulders, supporting me: Lochan, who must have arrived while I was too busy to notice.
And the gods were there. Not really visible but I recognised every one as they went past me. The house felt stronger when they had gone, as if each one had left a bit of essence behind. Arin was fast asleep now, looking peaceful.
As we left the house, I saw that a lot of people had come on to the island: about twenty in all, of all ages, smaller and darker than most Valdyans. It seemed to be three families — two headed by old women, one by an old man — and perhaps a handful of people who didn’t belong to any of the families. One of the old women scooped up water in her hands and let it flow away, and I could definitely see spirit in the water. Whether it was a creature or just anea I didn’t know, but she did it with great reverence.
The other old woman came up to me and took both of my hands. “My grandfather lived on this island,” she said, “it’s so good that there are people here again who know how to pray!”
“Thank you,” I said. “It’s the gods who we have to thank for that.” And Ashti and Vauri who had called the gods, but I didn’t have the right words at that moment.
I was worried how to feed all these people, even though we had bought extra food, but they had brought their own and we all shared what we had. Then they started to leave in little boats, smaller than ours.
“Always happens,” one of the twins said. “You do stuff, you attract people.”
“Well, I came here to attract people and help them,” I said.
“Yes, but if we want to keep it up we’ll need something stronger than this, more permanent, even though this island is already of Anshen.”
“I know of an eight-sided tower,” I said.
“Hmm, an eight-sided tower, that would do. Do you know if it’s one of Anshen, or of the other?
I’d thought eight-sided towers were always of Anshen! But there was one in Rizenay, or at least there had been, and the round tower in Lenyas was eight-sided on the inside.
“I don’t know,” I said, “I haven’t been there yet.” I didn’t know if Jeran would let us use it, but it wouldn’t hurt to ask.