That morning, we set out to explore the grounds of the White House. The pleasure garden had already been destroyed to make room for the regimental training grounds, a pity, but, well, much as I like flowers (especially the edible ones) as long as the kitchen garden and herb garden are intact and can supply the school, the hospital and the barracks, as well as the Baronial Residence, I don’t mind.
Iss-Peranian gardens are boring anyway, Doctor Cora has one in her country retreat, and it’s all geometrical. I prefer a garden that looks like you’re not in town any more. And then we went on, because behind the — large! — kitchen gardens were orchards. We found pears, apples, apricots, mulberries, oranges, limes and lemons, almonds, grapes, cherries, all kinds of berries, peaches, figs and even trees I didn’t recognize. Most were in blossom, too, it’s nearly the Feast of Timoine, and it’s already getting warm enough to be outside all night. This was lovely, so very lovely, and we made love under the almond trees.
(And those needed pruning very, very badly!)
There were also quite a lot of beehives everywhere, and when we checked, there still was honey in there. Or maybe again. Apart from herbal gardens, I’m not much of a farmer…
By now we were getting hungry, it was already almost noon! Of course, we’d been dawdling, we didn’t get started particularly early, but Great Mizran, we “own” some considerable estate! And if we’d walk back to the Pink House, it’d be nearly dinner time before we’d have any food. Moyri looked around with her mind, and we found a village, at about half an hour to an hour walking.
So we made for that. First we had to cross rather a large piece of woodland — oaks, and when I looked closer, cork oaks! And it looked completely neglected! But cork is valuable! This discovery made us kiss, cuddle and diddle each other a bit, and then we pulled our skirts down and went on, climbing a rather steep slope all the way.
The oak wood made place for a mixed wood, clearly being maintained for building wood, fuels and other agricultural uses of wood, because we saw tree stumps, stacks of logs and clearings, before we came out of the woods and saw the fields. Here, everything was as flat as… as… as my baby sister’s breast! Slightly undulating, but we had a good view of the whole area.
Some outlying farms, a village with a Temple of Naigha in the middle, fields that were being weeded out, and quite a few people of all ages.
I fixed my and Moyri’s hair, fixed some smudges on our faces, and then we went to meet the nearest people.
“Hi there!” we shouted, and they shouted back, “Hello visitors! Welcome!”
A middle-aged woman stretched her back — weeding is something that’s really hard on your spine because of all the bending over — and with two kids in her wake came up to us.
“Welcome, again, I’m Ayselle. Did I just see the two of you come out of the woods?”
“Yes,” Moyri answered, “we were looking at the White House’s gardens, and ended up in a wood, and decided to make for where we could see there were people.”
“I’m Khushi Cheraim, and this is Lady Moyri,” I put in, “We’re the sheriff (that’s me) and the new baroness.”
“Great Gods! A baroness!” she said, curtsying, “But what happened to the foreign guy and his bailiff?” And she looked at me, with rather suspicious eyes, “You are foreign too!”
“Yes, well, no, not really! I am Síthi, but I was born in Veray!”
“Besides, she’s my wife,” Moyri said, hugging me a bit closer. True to her promise, Moyri really very, very rarely doesn’t touch me, hold me, hold my hands when we’re together. I’ve heard Maile and Moryn discuss the possibility of glue being involved. All I know is that I love Moyri better than I love being able to breathe, and that she’s much too good for me. She does tell me I’m much more than she ever deserved to get, too, so I guess we’re even? I only wish that something in me wouldn’t be urging me all the time to also let other people have fun with my body. I guess that if I ever gave in, it couldn’t be more than that, but it’s such a fight!
And Moyri has told me, the first night we spent together in the Pink House that she would be fine with me giving in, but dash it, Dayati!!!, I don’t want to give in!!!!! Sometimes it seems that life is an endless fight between me and myself.
Anyway, Ayselle looked at us, grinned, and asked, “Are you hungry? It’s time for our noon meal, so come to my house.”
I guess I was forgiven for being foreign, and Moyri for being baroness.
During the meal, we got pelted with questions about what had happened at the White House, about what we were going to do with the grounds and the barony, and about what was happening in the rest of the world. Moyri gave most of the answers, and I was rather contently playing with Ayselle’s youngest, who is two and is already quite articulate.
After the meal, for which we paid, which surprised Ayselle rather, we went on to meet the Priestess of Naigha. Now that was a pleasant surprise! This half-Ishey, half-lots-of-other-peoples woman, in her early twenties was both gifted and intelligent, and she made tea for us, and we discussed the local village, her duties and training with her. I think she should do a stint in the hospital, and so does she. Maybe in autumn, if we can find a temporary replacement for her.
From there, we went on to talk to the village council and headwoman, and had to give out all the news again. After that, I finally could put in a question about the cork oaks, and they found an old man who still remembered how the cork was harvested and transported to Dol-Rayen, to be sold to the south. The harvest had stopped when the “foreigners” had taken over Selday, and I am not sure whether he meant the Iss-Peranians or the Ishey women… So, I offered the village a partnership: they were allowed to harvest the cork responsably (is that a word?) and sell it, in return for a twenty percent cut of the revenue, decided by the Temple of Mizran.
The villagers grumbled at that! I thought I was being generous, but they actually only wanted to allow us the five percent fee that the Temple of Mizran asks for any transaction. My goodness… Dear Mizran, in this country of Anshen and only Anshen, you’ve got some prime acolytes.
But given that it was about my, or rather, Moyri’s oaks, we held them to the twenty percent, and in the end, I think they respected me for it. Because, by now it was time for dinner, and dancing, and all that sort of thing, because, having the Baroness around, that’s a reason for a feast. We went to bed early, though because tomorrow Merain and his wife and children are coming for dinner, and I still needed to make sure we’d have some meat to give them — lambs would be good!