Learning

This was complex and engrossing and I’ve probably missed a lot, but the gist is there. Also, I may have ascribed whole conversations (at least the half that’s not Maile) to other people than actually said it.

Once everybody who didn’t live on our island was gone, except for Lochan, we had the lesson. “You handle it now, Maile,” Arin said, “and I’ll be right at hand if you need me.” The first lesson had been about finding yourself and your place in the world; now they learned to make that place into a firm foundation. “You’re firm and stable yourself,” Arin told me, and I knew that wasn’t just a compliment, there was a push in it to become still better. His first lessons had clearly been much harsher than mine, but he let me do it my own way as long as people learned.

When I was setting Jeran’s saw the next day, one of the girls came to look. “Can you teach me that?” she asked. “Sure,” I said, and started by explaining that you set a saw to make the cut wider than the blade so it doesn’t stick, and either she knew that already or she understood it immediately, because she nodded and said “That’s how you get sawdust! But what about sawing gold? You don’t want to lose anything then.”

I had to admit that I didn’t know. “You’ll have to ask a goldsmith,” I said. “I know about wood and iron, not gold and silver.”

The saw was so long that setting and sharpening it took me all day, with interruptions by people with questions, Moyri who wanted a cuddle, Lyase-Lédu and Raith who were in one another’s hair. Serian would take it to Jeran the next morning and catch some ducks for dinner on the way.

The next couple of days we settled into a pattern: work, evening prayers, lessons. There were gifts of food and flowers every morning, but we never saw the givers, though I made a point of thanking them out loud every time. There was a decent little house at the end of the week, and enough dug-up ground to plant all our seeds. I hoped someone else knew more about growing vegetables than I did! The boy (he hadn’t given us his name yet, and I hadn’t asked) turned out to be good at sewing and mended whatever needed mending.

We’d uncovered a lot of small bones with the digging, not a complete enough set to see what animal or person they came from, but we could boil them into glue. Also handfuls of coins, mostly pennies and half-shillings, but also some foreign-looking ones that I’d take to the Temple of Mizran the next time I had business there.

There were a lot of people at evening prayer, including a couple of young men who were mostly looking at the girls, some wistfully, some with a glint in their eyes that made Moryn scowl and clutch the hilt of his sword. Not that he could have reached them fast enough, but he did look like a guard and that might just be enough to deter them.

The damaged men’s mother was early, they themselves were late, and I saw Ashti and Vauri arrive halfway through prayers. Ashti caught me by the arm when we were done. “You’re doing fine, aren’t you? Good to see those two here, they can use some prayer.”

“I asked their mother whether I should offer them work,” I said.

“Ha! Bashing people’s heads in, that’s what their work is. ”

“I thought they’d be good strong builders.”

“Those two have never built anything in their lives, only broken. She is gifted and never let them learn. You don’t even need to do anything, simple neglect is enough. Yes, it will break them, but that makes them much sharper weapons.”

“Like a broken bottle,” I said.

“Exactly. The three Radans have much to answer for. These two — the old Radan first noticed them when they were ten. Took them as his apprentices, said he’d send them to the school he has here. ”

“But never taught them?”

“Obedience, that’s what he taught them.”

“You said a sharp weapon, but they’re not sharp at all, blunt, rather!”

“If it happens to a clever person they become sly, foxy. These men were never clever.”

“Their mother said they were servants of the youngest Radan, not the grandfather.”

“Assigned to the youngest’s household, couldn’t take them along when he fled to the south.”

“I thought his grandfather sent him to the south?”

“Who told you that?

“I’m not sure, Merain, I think, or it might have been Raisse. At the feast.”

I think he’s fleeing from his grandfather. Wrong child, by a wrong wife, the old man will be out for his blood. Oh, when you meet him he’s a gentleman. Watch out for him.”

“I saw him, only once, he had grey hair and walked with two sticks. Yes, a gentleman. But I can believe that he’d cut your throat and then wipe the knife on your clothes so his own won’t get dirty.” If old Radan hadn’t been angry when I saw him, I’d have thought he was a really nice old gentleman, too.

When everybody left, one young man stayed behind, though his friends were impatient for him to come. He came up to me and asked “You’re the boss here, right?”

“Sort of,” I said. He was fair, a bit pudgy, dressed richly like all of his friends. Gifted, too, and somewhat trained though not a journeyman yet. He looked as if he’d been touched by the Nameless, but he wasn’t exactly in that Guild. “Anything we can do for you?” I asked.

“Well, it’s like — You see, my friends and I, all of us are middlemen, merchants without ships, and I’ve been thinking — now that I’m here — well, what’s it all good for?”

“We’re craftspeople,” I said, “we don’t know much about trade.”

“That’s the point! You know how to do things, to make stuff. We — I — just know how to move money from here to there. It’s a dismal existence, you get three from here and hope it comes out six on the other side — he mimed receiving and paying out money — and there’s nothing real to show for it. Gods, I’d rather go and dig out sewers so people don’t get sick from the stench.”

“Jichan!” his friends called from their boat. “Are you coming?”

“I’ll introduce you to Arin,” I said, “he knows about things.”

Jichan looked from me to the boat, from the boat to me. He nodded. “I’ll come.” And raising his voice: “Sorry, guys, I have something to do, see you later.”

Arin was tired from having a lot of people around him, of course, but he didn’t mind talking to Jichan. It turned out that Jichan had been learning semsin in the Guild of the Nameless, and he would have gone to Radan’s Guild school but for some reason that hadn’t happened. I’m sure he said it, but I don’t remember! Perhaps because then Lyase-Lédu came to bring herb tea with honey, in earthenware cups that I didn’t know we had. “Made them!” she said proudly. “Dug up clay, squeezed it, baked it in the forge fire!” I hadn’t noticed that, but then the forge fire stays hot for a long time after it’s been used. Perhaps we’ll have to build a kiln if there’s clay on the island suitable for earthenware — and it might double as a bread oven.

But then Arin was telling me and Jichan about how he had started to learn: in the Guild of the Nameless as well. “And then I had my journeyman’s trial and I chose the light,” he said.

Then we noticed that all the apprentices had been listening. “Will you tell us about what happened then?” Serian asked.

“Yes,” Arin said. “But not now. Not here. When we’re at the tower. I need more protection for that than we can make on our own.

Jichan, meanwhile, still wanted to make a difference, to do something to help. “Perhaps he should go to Doctor Cora in Turenay to learn!” Raith said. “You were her student too, weren’t you?”

That wouldn’t be a bad idea at all. If something else was better for him than being a doctor, the school would sort it out. “I’ll write a letter for you,” I said. He stayed the night, of course, because his friends had taken the boat hours ago: I could even write the letter in the morning.