Just like Maile, another young runner goes off to make a place for Anshen in the world. Several places, in fact!
Today a lot of us were called from class by Rava. We first thought it was about the noise we’d made coming home the night before, but instead each of us heard we had a mission from the Queen. Each of us was to go to a particular place in Valdyas, where the Nameless was still strong and where schools or temples of Naigha were rare and povery abundant. We were to go and put down anchors for Anshen and for Valdyas everywhere where there is neglect and isolation.
I am to go to the peasants living south of Valdis, Lenyas, if you like… Poor Maile has to go to the slums of Essle. Even poorer Rath has to find a place in Rizenay. Fortunately he likes big, blonde boys. Jichan is luckier — Veray is going to be his stamping ground, close to Turenay and not one, but two hospitals. Erne is going to have the toughest assignment, I guess, the slums and wharves of Ildis. Selle — I think she’s actually going to Ironlode. That, or Trynfarin? Not fun either. But this isn’t about fun, it’s about helping the country, and making sure everywhere, in the isolated villages, in the new towns where there’s no sheriff, maybe not even a Temple of Naigha, in the slums where there is nothing.
We all have some money, and at least one person to contact where we’re going. Mine is… The Queen. It’s a good thing I’ve seen her, bare legs in the air, the King tumbling her without regard for who was present, on the bottom stair of ***Doctor Cora***‘s house. I know what sound she makes when her husband pleases her, and that sort of rubs off the royal mystery. (It’s a deep sound that starts with a bilabial nasal and descends into a glottal fricative with a kind of rippling motion.) Yes, I read too much. I have read all 412 books in the School Library, the 187 books in Lord Vurian’s library, Master Ferin from the school on the other side of the river’s 18 books, and my own dozen. (Oh, and the King? He is completely silent, even when he spends. He only murmurs endearments using semsin, directly at his wife, which are barely visible as little sparks of the brightest light, and that only if you’re gifted, but, oh!, if I could find someone who would whisper like that at me — I would drop my life-long crush on ***Doctor Cora***, like a hundred-weight of lead.)
Anyway, we agreed that, since I was going to be the most central one, that I would come to Valdis every two months or so and be the clearing house for letters — everything sent to me, I would copy and send to everyone else. And we’d use a secret code, too. Some of us would be going to places where being of Anshen could be an instant death sentence, and others to places where being a nice, healthy young thing would mean a free ticket on a ship to Albetire and a guided tour of the slave markets in the South. And of course, then I had to design the cypher. Why is it that nine semti out of ten think maths doesn’t count? It is fascinating.
Maile has gone. She was the first to leave, I’ll be the third, after Rath. So as to deceive people about my destination, not that I suspect there to be spies in this town, Turenay, at least not until the nobility arrive for their season of snobbery and robbery, but I will follow in her foot steps. Veray first, which is, naturally, on my way to my mother. Whom everyone, even people in school, expect will scold me for having been sent down without having finished. None of our little group has finished school… Not officially, not publicly.
My Mother, and my Grandmother, are Priestesses of Naigha. Once you know that, you should know everything. Yes, I don’t know who my dad or my granddad are — or even whether they are alive! Mother and Grandmother would never tell, it’s not done. Yes, I knew a lot already about setting broken bones, preparing herbal infusions, salves, poultices, pastilles and lotions before I came to school. (I probably was a better doctor at ten than some of the quacks you find in Valdis at sixty.). Yes, I could read when I was two, and yes, there three books in our Temple, until my Grandmother left for Tal-Vauryn — then there were two, my Mother’s and the Book of Halla’s Left Hand, which was used for teaching the village children. And yes, I have been beaten with a willow-twig switch for reading two of the books. Yes, my Grandmother’s and my Mother’s. And, yes, the village children used to beat me and drive me back to the Temple when I wanted to join them for the Feast of Timoine’s Procession. I belonged to Naigha, to Death and sickness, and the scary women who took their grandparents and parents, not to Timoine.
So it is a good ruse to go and visit my Mother, and ask after my Grandmother, and get my behind tanned, just like before I went to school.
I went to take leave of the hospital. The moment I arrived in Turenay, I had fallen in love with ***Doctor Cora***. I first met her when she was just outside the Veray gate, where she had met her husband, and torn the clothes from his behind and sat down on him then and there, in the middle of the road, kissing, stroking, making love — making great waves of love that affected everyone. I later learned that the first time she and the Captain (I am not jealous of him!) had made love, well, nine months later, give or take two weeks, half of the women of Turenay were giving birth.
She taught me in the hospital, even though I wasn’t going to be a doctor, and she taught me to dance… For the Gods, and for one’s lover. For the Gods, you dance naked, because you shouldn’t hide anything from the Gods, it is like a total surrender, but it’s also a gift you’re giving the Gods. It’s like Velihan singing, but with one’s body. And for one’s lover, you dance naked, because, well, clothes are expensive, and darning tears takes valuable time, too. And I have been taught to fence by Lord Vurian, Father-in-law-to-the-King, Father-to-the-Queen, Lord-General of the Kingdom, and I’m not too bad at that… And I’m pretty good at all semsin, and I did my time with the pharmacies, and in the Temple of Mizran, as mixer-up and clerk (respectively), and haunted the Ishey house, but especially ***Doctor Cora***‘s house. Helping her major domo, Arvi, with whatever would need to be done. As long as I could fill my nostrils with Cora’s heavenly scent, feel her mind in and on everything I touched — as long as I could have that, I had no need to waste time on crushes or puppy love for any of the other people in the school or town!
And so I have seen, read and memorized every page of every book that I had access to.
In Veray, I stayed with Maile’s mum and dad. Lovely people! There was a bit of bother with some people of the Nameless, and I had to help a little whore who came to their place for food — she was saving up her earnings to be able to afford a place in the School in Turenay! She went north, the next morning, and I went south. With a brand-new knife, courtesy of Maile’s dad, and a scalpel, and lots of food, courtesy of both of them. I wonder what will become of that girl — she wants to pay her way at school, but no way Rava will let her pay!
About Nesh, well, let’s be silent. Mother was there, and not pleased to see me again, but after I explained, I at least got a leather chest with salve and herbs and things. I think she understands now that I have not been sent down, but on a mission, but think she feels the whole thing is wrong-headed, and should have been organized by the level-headed, practical, experienced people from the Temple of Naigha in Valdis instead — not a Guild of Anshen matter at all, meddlesome busy-bodies that we are, poking where we shouldn’t. A good thing Grandmother wasn’t over to visit her daughter…
Even better, the dog I had picked up along the road, he’d decided to stay at the wharf, so Mother didn’t see him.
By the time I was in Tilis, I had forgotten all of that! The river, the Rycha, there is nothing, nothing, nothing so wonderful and awe-inspiring in the whole of the world! It’s wide, gloriously full of birds and other animals. There are little islands, full with soft-green willows, little clumps of golden-grey reeds, scintillating hazes, glittering patches of sunlight — there are flowers everywhere, too, white, red, green, and again gold.
In Tilis, I… Met my first petite amie, Rava. She was a clerk in the Temple of Mizran, and I was a clerk sent out north… She had had some little friends before, and I, I had only had my big crush. We went out to Chief Ferin’s, he’s the father of the Crown Prince of Velihas’s wife, and Chief of a Khas tribe in his own right, to his inn together, and we had wine together, and a place to sleep together… I’ll always think tenderly and fondly of Rava, because she was my first, and she was gentle and warm — and full of smiles. But then and now, we never imagined we were in love, and even that was a welcome change for me!
She also helped me find a boat to take me north.
The boatspeople turned out to be Chief Ferin’s parents, and their apprentice, Moryn. The apprentice was in our Guild, and his parents had been staunch supporters of Anshen going back to before the invasion by Generalissimo Rhanion, from Velihas. As they said, sometimes having someone around with all the gifts of the average trout, and still all the loyalty is the difference between success and the most ignoble failure. Great people! I learned so much from them, about the river, about history, as it is, down on the ground, not in books. And with Moryn, I had several bouts of fencing, not with swords, but with semsin, and we taught each other a lot, too.
He was on the boat for the last time, it turned out. He’s very gifted… Maybe more than me, even. And he had promised to join the Order of the Sworn in Lenay, next time he was there. Brave man! And since he was going to be Sworn anyway, we could indulge in some last flirting, the first time I flirted with a man. I almost wrote a boy, but that is wrong. He wasn’t a journeyman yet when we met — but a man. I might’ve teased him a bit, but that’s what men are for, but maybe even more because I was impressed with him, and I guess I never learned to allow myself to admire menfolk…
When we arrived in the last safe place before Lenay, it was almost the Feast of Anshen. Here, Jeran and Mialle decided to stay for the feast, but Moryn wanted to be in Lenay, to be with the Order for this, the most important of all Feasts of the Gods. So I suggested we’d walk, and he concurred, and I shouldered my pack, and he his.
My dog has the stamina of a God! He walked all night, now five hundred paces in front of us, then hunting in the verge, then running back to us, snout covered in fur and rabbit blood.
Alas! We had been walking all afternoon, all evening and all night, and in the morning the straps of my backpack had cut deep furrows in my shoulders, and I had to rest, and couldn’t go on. We were almost in Lenay, though.
Moryn caught us a ride on a cart! It was a family, all of the Nameless, the woman pregnant of the next little obedient servant of the Liar (as they call him in Iss-Peran), the man full of his own importance! He, hero of mythical proportions had, after all, managed this nearly-superhuman feat, and made his wife pregnant. All hail the conquering hero, the farmer that tilled the fields to give of their glorious bounty!
Well, they were actually quite sweet, even though they were of the Nameless, and they helped us get into town without trouble, without even suspecting our lack of bona fides.
The Order House in Lenay is quite new, and hidden a bit behind a leather-worker’s shop. Not that that helps… The Nameless finds its way there without trouble, whenever they want to have their bit of fun. Which mostly seems to take the form of excrement, rude texts on the wall and pyromania. The later is a particularly unwise proclivity since large parts of this town are still all wood — many houses don’t just have wooden walls and sidings, but even wooden slats instead of roof tiles. Even on the famous bridge!
The Captain of the Order, Vauri, bade us welcome, gladly. Both of us, not just her new recruit. When I explained to her my mission, she gave me permission to go into their armory and select some weapons. Lenyas is even more dangerous than I ever imagined, it appears. I selected an Iss-Perianian sword, long, thin, strong, of the best blue steel, with a point and an edge, a sword that would add inches to my reach.
And I was sent to the doctor. I wasn’t surprised: even with my Grandmother’s own, secret salve, my shoulders were in need of real help. I would never be able to carry out mission carrying my own backpack! And it isn’t that heavy — a dozen books, my medicine kit, extra clothes, some tools, some of them iron, I admit and various odds and ends. All in all, barely half my own weight.
But Anshen provides. Not often, and not often this explicitly, but in the afternoon, Captain Vauri came home from a meeting dragging a recalcitrant donkey. A cute little donkey, in a horrible state. The Master of the Guild of the Nameless, a road worker, had abused the poor beast until its flanks were hairless and even bleeding. Well, it didn’t take me a day to earn its trust, and less than that to use the salve I had used on my own shoulders on its shoulders… And we were friends, and my dog was friends as well.
But with a donkey this damaged, I couldn’t travel yet. Not for some weeks! Of course, there was the Feast first, tonight in fact, but that didn’t help. We had the Feast, of course, and a very proper Feast it was, thanks to our foresight in making seals over the courtyard. All the dung thrown by our worthy, dignified and respectable opponents bounced off and landed in their faces. All they could do to regain their self-respect was to rub it into our walls, forming various slogans of little literary interest. We cleaned that up next day.
After Moryn was made a journeyman! He went into the Temple, and asked me to be one of the ones to stand guard before the door. And of course he returned a journeyman!