Lots and lots of shopping. And meeting friendly and helpful people. (But still no bellows, so she can’t get her forge going after all.)
It was still only late morning when we were back on the island. Radan’s rowers helped us unload the boat: we had more grain and peas and dried fish, a barrel of salted herring, a barrel of salt pork, dried apples, and a hamper with real delicacies, marzipan and almonds and preserved fruit! “That’s for the Feast,” I said, and then realised that I’d been planning to celebrate the Feast of Anshen with the Guild if that was at all possible.
It was strange to get back to the island I was already thinking of as mine, and see that the people who hadn’t been away had done so much that I’d wanted to do myself. The small shack was completely clean now, and there was a ladder made of mostly parts of the broken boat leading to the attic where we could store our stores, including Radan’s bounty. The shack had three whole walls now, and the boat tarpaulin was the fourth. We’d be able to sleep there, make a fire in the fireplace, seal it!
Little Moyri had crawled to the middle of the island — she really didn’t walk, either crawled on hands and knees or pushed herself forward on her buttocks — and was worrying at a piece of metal sticking out of the ground. It didn’t move, not when I pulled it either, so I took the little shovel and dug it out. “I’ll dig and you push the sand away, like this,” I said, and she did push a lot of the sand away though she couldn’t manage all. Quite soon the metal thing began to look like the pointy end of an anvil. I kept digging until I’d uncovered a whole anvil, quite large, too heavy for me to lift on my own. All of us together had to drag it to the workshop, but there we discovered that there was no stone floor to put it.
“I think the smith used it outdoors,” I said.
“Then I can imagine that it sank into the ground!” Raith said. “It’s heavy and the ground is soggy!”
We resolved to make a place for it outside again, fill the hole with any hard stuff we wouldn’t need again and cover it with something hard like boards or an iron plate, but we left it in the house for the time being. “Now I wish I could make a proper coal fire,” I said.
“I know where to get coal!” Lyase-Lédu said. “But it’s a long way, in the boat.”
I tied my purse to the knife-sheath between my breasts — the safest place for it — and let Lyase-Lédu take me to where we could get coal. She rowed to the back of a huge warehouse on poles, that the boat could get under. “Here!” she said. “Through this hole, it’s all in sacks, doesn’t belong to anyone.”
“Wait,” I said, “it probably does belong to someone, and if we take it it’s stealing. I won’t have that.”
“But there’s nobody here!”
“Not on this side, no, but I’d like to go around to the front and buy the coal like an honest person.”
She wasn’t convinced, but we did row around to the front: quite a long way, the warehouse must be three normal warehouses deep. There were people there loading flat boats with sacks of coal.
“Will you come with me or would you rather watch the boat?” I asked Lyase-Lédu.
“I’ll watch the boat so it doesn’t get stoled!” she said.
I fended off cries of “hey girlie” from the loaders and asked them where their boss was. “In the office,” they said and pointed. There were double doors that all the loaders walked past, with a grimy little window next to it. I knocked on the window and got “round the left” as an answer — that was through the doors.
It was clear that the middle-aged man at a table spread with papers was the boss. “I’ve got two things,” I said. “First, you should fix the hole in the floor of your warehouse or anybody will be able to make off with your coal.”
“Hole in the floor of my warehouse? Incredible! Can you show me?” He took me to the back of his warehouse, about half the way I remembered from outside, where we encountered a wooden wall. “No holes in the floor here.” He started to dismiss me as a silly girl, but I said “It looked much larger from the outside,” and he pulled out a couple of planks to reveal a muddy alley, with another warehouse on the other side.
“Well, I never!” the boss said. He stood in the alley looking both ways — it was too dim to see to the end, but I wouldn’t have been surprised if it was walled off, because we sure hadn’t passed an entrance going round the building. There was another door just in front of us, with flaking letters that I could just make out as “Arin’s Coal Company”. The door was padlocked, but the lock fell off the moment I touched it. Behind it, there was indeed another warehouse, enough dust on the floor that Lyase-Lédu must be right about it being abandoned. I made a light, and the boss looked at me suspiciously. “You’re one of those fighters, right? Can’t say I approve. At least the murders have stopped. Couple of years ago there were dead bodies found all over the warehouses.”
“That’s an awkward thing to have in your warehouse all right,” I agreed. “But no, fighting isn’t what I do, mostly smithing.”
“Hm. Well. Never heard of this Arin. Temple of Mizran will know.”
“And my second thing,” I said, “I’d like some coal from you. Or from Arin, I don’t mind, but I’d rather buy from the man I see in front of me.”
He stuck out a forefinger and prodded me in the middle. “No, you’re no spirit. I’ve never seen a real honest person in Essle before. How many tons do you need? Twopence a bag, best bargain you get in this city. Where can we deliver it?”
“Oh, only a couple of sacks, and I’ve got a boat here, we’ll take it with us. I’m setting up a small smithy, I don’t have that much space to store it.”
“You know what, I’ll give you two sacks now, and you come back when you want a couple of tons delivered.” He didn’t want my fourpence either, “consider it a free sample!”
Lyase-Lédu still wasn’t convinced how getting coal for free from the merchant was different from getting it from a hole in an abandoned warehouse. “It didn’t belong to anybody! It’s only stealing when it does!”
“Yes, but in this case we didn’t know if it belonged to anybody. And then we found out that it belongs to this Arin, whether or not he still knows that it’s there. If you’re not sure, and you take it, it’s still stealing if it turns out to belong to somebody after all.” We went on like this for a while, rowing through the harbour quarter, when Lyase-Lédu suddenly fell completely silent and stared open-mouthed at something on the quay. I looked where she was looking and saw brightly-coloured shirts hanging outside a shop. And by the name above the door it was Ardin’s shop, the one Mialle had told me about!
“That’s a good idea,” I said, “we all need something decent to wear for Midsummer.”
Mialle had said that her cousin didn’t sell clothing, but here were shirts and breeches of sturdy indestructible canvas! As we went in, a man came from the back of the shop and looked us over.
“By the sight of you, you might be the person I had a letter about, from Tilis.”
“Indeed. What can I help you with?”
“We need shirts,” I said, counting on my fingers. “For me, this girl, another girl about the same size, a smaller boy, and — shall we get one for Moryn too, Lyase-Lédu? — a man about your size.”
“I understood from Mialle’s letter that you had only the one girl with you?”
“Well, I picked up another girl when I arrived in Essle, and the boy and the man came all on their own, and people left a toddler with us as well but I can sew a shirt for her, I’ve got a bolt of linen.” That greatly confused Aldin, of course, but he went on bringing us different shirts.
“For this young lady — you’re Velihan, right? Not even the size of a cabin boy yet. But I think I’ve got the perfect thing for you.” He rummaged in a chest and came up with a shirt made of bands of different colours. Holding it in front of Lyase-Lédu, he patted her on the head with his other hand and she bit his finger.
“Don’t do that!” I said, not sure which of the two I was saying it to.
“You can only touch me if you pa–” Lyase-Lédu started, but shut her mouth in a hurry.
Ardin was unperturbed. He bandaged his finger with a scrap of clean cloth and told Lyase-Lédu to change in the back room. “It’s not new, but good enough, there’s a bit of blood on it but that’s your own fault!”
While Lyase-Lédu was changing I found a leather bucket, a lantern and oil for it, some rope, airtight jugs to store food in — “they’re expensive, glass from Iss-Peran, but I guarantee that not a single mouse or rat will get in” — soap, and a beautifully carved bone comb. “Whalebone,” Ardin said, “the sailors make those on the voyage and let me sell them for them. I’ll throw in some buttons.” The buttons were carved too, wood and bone, in different sizes. I’d put one on little Moyri’s shirt to start with.
Lyase-Lédu emerged from the back room dressed as a rainbow. The shirt came to her knees, and it needed a belt, but Ardin had those too, otherwise we’d have used a bit of rope.
“Do you want wooden shoes?” Ardin asked. I bought a pair for myself and one each for Lyase-Lédu and Raith, in the smallest size he had but Lyase-Lédu’s had to be stuffed with straw. “If I’ve got these I can make some smaller ones myself,” I said, “if I can get the right kind of wood.”
“Willow,” Ardin said, “or poplar is even better. Just don’t try to make wooden shoes out of oak.”
“I don’t want blisters!” I said, and showed him my callused hands.
We chose a sky-blue shirt for Raith, “like her eyes,” Lyase-Lédu said, a bright red one for me, a green one for Serian, and a deep wine-red one for Moryn. “There are lots of veterans who have fallen by the wayside,” Ardin said when he heard who Moryn was. “Not everybody thinks of claiming the bonus, or knows where to go, or even wants it.”
“Would it be a good idea if I went to talk to Prince Uznur?” I asked. “I should go to see him anyway, I have a letter for him.”
“That’s always a good idea,” Ardin said.
Suddenly I thought of something. “Perhaps a stupid question, but when exactly is the Feast of Anshen? I’ve been out of everything lately.”
He grinned. “In three days.” he said.
I bought breeches for everybody, at least everybody who needed a size that Ardin could provide, but he didn’t have a bellows or any cookware. “You could ask the wife where to get that,” he said, “she’s in the market.”
The market was quite a long way back to the west, but we needed so many things we could get there — vegetables! I was craving a carrot or a turnip after days of only gruel and dried fish! — that we doubled back anyway. It was one of those markets where you could buy everything a household needed, from needles to live chickens and from carrots to copper kettles.
The first thing we saw was fruit! Several different kinds of berries — it was berry season, after all — and things that looked like lemons but were rounder and much darker yellow. “What are those?” I asked. “Oranges,” the fruit-seller said. She cut one in half, revealing segments in a thin skin, and gave Lyase-Lédu and me a segment each. It was tart and sweet at the same time, and altogether delicious. “Sailors take them on the voyage,” she said, “keeps them from getting the runs at sea!”
“How much are they?” I asked.
“One rider a dozen.” That was more than a shilling and a half each, and I could feed my whole household on cabbage and bread for a shilling! But they tasted so joyful, and some of that was what we needed, too.
“I’ll have a dozen,” I said.
“Do you want dates as well?” the fruit-seller asked, and I was tempted because the dates were plump and juicy, not at all like the dried things we got in Turenay, but so expensive that I didn’t want to buy them. “For the feast?” Lyase-Lédu pleaded, but I didn’t give in. “The next feast,” I said, “or if we have something to celebrate, now we’ve still got marzipan left.”
Then we went to the next stall and bought spinach and lettuces and carrots and tiny white turnips and green cabbages.
I found a coppersmith who had a cooking-pot large enough to do the laundry (or to make soup from a dozen ducks) and a smaller one that would hold stew for the six of us with leftovers for whoever happened to come by, and also a small kettle to boil water. “It’s not cheap,” he said, noticing my threadbare work clothes. “Twelve shillings for the big pot, eight for the smaller one, seven for the kettle. But it’s all tinned on the inside, and you won’t have to have it mended for years if you take good care of it.”
“It’s reasonable,” I said, “and my parents did give me some money to set up a household, they wouldn’t like it if I didn’t buy durable stuff.”
All the fruit and vegetables went into the big cooking-pot, as well as the wooden spoons we got further on. But I completely forgot to ask about a pair of bellows, or indeed spotted anyone who could be Ardin’s wife!
The shortest way home turned out to be past the Temple of Mizran, and when we turned into the eastward canal there Lyase-Lédu was suddenly invisible. It looked strange, because she was still rowing, so I silently took the oars from her and tried to see what had made her do it. The only thing that looked unusual was a very large barge, blue with gold trim, rowed by two men and steered by a third. Three more men, dressed as soldiers, brandished short spears with pennants. The passengers were a man and a woman, both with dark skin and dressed very richly.
When we were out of sight of the barge Lyase-Lédu appeared again. “That was the captain!” she said. “Who was looking for me in the temple. And his wife.”
“He wouldn’t have dared speak to you in front of his wife,” I said.
“But he’s from Iss-Peran! Iss-Peranian wives don’t mind if their husband had someone else. Some of them have dozens of wives!”
Back on the island we found Moryn busy making a fence around the house and the workshop so little Moyri couldn’t crawl into the water. They’d found seven wagon-wheels buried in the ground, and the spokes were perfect for the fence. “I don’t see why this Erian of yours would have seven wheels,” Moryn said, “nobody has a wagon in Essle!”
“The only reason to have a wagon-wheel if you don’t have a wagon is to put it on a pole or on your roof and hope that a stork will nest there,” I said. Then we gave everybody their clothes. “For the Feast! It’s in three days. And we’ve got a washing-copper, and a kettle, and soap, let’s do some laundry.” That was very useful, because Lyase-Lédu had been so scared that she’d pissed herself.
When I put the coal away I saw a wood-pile at the back of the workshop. “That’s from Jeran,” Moryn said, “he lives in an old deserted castle in the willow-wood out there, he was passing with a load, and I bought from him on credit. He’ll come by and collect from you later, I thought we’d need it.” If that wood-pile was all willow, there would surely be a piece suitable for small wooden shoes!
Then we had a very good dinner: spinach with vinegar and oil, and herring, fresh bread, and marzipan for afters. We talked a bit about the friend that Moryn usually lived with, but he’d left him alone now because he couldn’t always stand to be around people. “When we were fighting the Khas, in Iss-Peran, and the witch conquered the chasm, that’s when he went wrong in his head. If it was the Khas or just everything we don’t know, but sometimes he really needs to be alone, I’ve made sure that he’s got everything he needs but the last thing he needs now is people, even if they mean well.”
Another of those veterans who don’t get help! I really had to go and talk to Prince Uznur about it.
Now I finally had time to talk to Merain. He was right at the edge of my reach but when he’d noticed me it became easier, because his reach was longer, of course. We were both surprised that it was only this morning that we’d met at Rusla’s house: there had been a lot of to-do after Serian and I had left. There was trouble in young Radan’s family, it appeared: his mother was living apart from his father in a house with a lot of Iss-Peranian servants. Merain thought the conflict had to do with the Resurgence, and yes, that seemed plausible. If she had Iss-Peranian servants, she was likely to be the supporter of the Resurgence! Then Radan’s grandfather had turned up, cranky old Radan of the Dawn who walked with sticks these days, and he had said that his grandson’s wife could and should have had high-class doctors and waved a stick at all of Rusla’s helpers — not that they let themselves be scared away. Well, Rusla was the person whose name I knew, and Radan and his wife hadn’t complained!
Then I told Merain what we’d already done, and that apart from my girls I’d acquired a boy, a man and a toddler — he approved! And we arranged that I’d take the whole household to celebrate the Feast of Anshen on the Order of the Sworn’s training field. Moryn too, though he wasn’t gifted. The whole Guild would be here with their guests, three or four hundred people. — Well, not the whole Guild, not the woman of the Drunken Seahorse and her cronies, most probably. Perhaps I’ll find someone to teach me there, I said, and Lochan as well, the boatman’s son, he made my boat. I showed Lochan to Merain and it turned out that he knew him. Take him by all means!, he said. His parents might come too and in that case they’d probably go in Loryn’s boat, but if not we could squeeze him in with us.
The next couple of days we spent tidying and building. Moryn pressed something into my hand, “I’ve been saving too”: four riders! “I’ll buy timber with that,” I said, and we got that from the shipyard and built a wall to replace the canvas sheet that was the fourth wall of the house, and a little jetty for the boat so we wouldn’t have to pull the boat up on land every time, and wade to pull it adrift again.
The day before the feast I went to the smith I’d seen next to the shipyard. I was ready to get my forge going, but it needed some things that I couldn’t make myself because I didn’t have a forge! A grate to hold the coals, an ash pan, a new tool rack, and if the smith didn’t have bellows to sell he’d know where to get them. I took Raith this time to practice her rowing.
The first thing the smith said when he saw Raith was “Hungry?”
“Then run to the kitchen, through there, and tell my wife ‘The boss says that I may have something to eat.'” Raith ran, looking very hungry indeed.
“Now,” the smith said, “let me look at you.” He looked for a long time, then said, “No, you’re not one of those people who kidnap children. You’re one of those people who help children who have been kidnapped.”
Then I told him the whole story about how I’d got Raith to care for, in between choosing a grate — he had several of the right size, but he insisted that I got the best one, tempered and oil-blackened — an ash-pan, a tool rack, tongs and a poker and a coal shovel. When the conversation came round to Moryn and I mentioned he’d been a cooper, the smith gave me a roll of canvas that contained cooper’s tools — “got it lying around here anyway, should have a use again”.
Finally, I went to collect Raith in the kitchen: after a bowl of porridge and a mug of herb tea she’d been conscripted to help clean vegetables. A woman who must be the smith’s wife was stirring the pot, and the other vegetable-cleaner was a girl in her teens who seemed to get on very well with Raith. “She’s from Ildis!” Raith said. “She ran away when there was a lot of fighting, and then the king came and she never got to see the king!”
“I did see the king when he came through here to go to war,” the girl said, “but only from a distance! He’s got only one eye.”
“I’ve only seen the king from a distance too,” I said, not telling her that the distance had been a dozen yards at most when the king came to the Day of Anshen service at the school. “When he still had both of his eyes, but I don’t think he could see very well even then!”
We had to leave then, and Raith hugged the woman and the girl as if they’d been friends forever. It wasn’t until we were well on our way that I realised that the smith hadn’t asked me for any payment at all.