The island

Obviously, the secrecy about coming here was useless all along. Though Radan of the Dawn — this one is the “famous” Radan’s grandson — is bound to know things that not everybody knows. (Also, Raith seems to be confused as to who the Nameless is; in Tilis it was definitely the other one)

The little boat was wonderful to handle, so light that Lyase-Lédu could row it on her own. We took turns, not because she got tired, but because I wanted to get used to it too. It would be easy to teach Raith or anyone else who wanted to learn!

We had provisions too: sacks of peas and groats, dried fish, honey, salt, and a little barrel of brandy. “You’ll be wanting some of the strong stuff!” Ayneth said when she loaded it in the boat. Well, that meant we weren’t in so much of a hurry to find a market, though I’d like some vegetables other than peas. And I hoped the water was fit to drink and cook with where we were going. It certainly wasn’t where we were now. I asked Ayneth if she had a cooking-pot we could borrow, but she had only the one large stew-pot that hung over the kitchen fire. The little one I’d bought in Veray would have to do for now.

The farther we went to the east, the lower the houses became; there was more water between the islands, and that water was indeed clearer though it was a lot shallower. We were now really on the outskirts of the city. The boat ran aground on a small island where an old man and woman looked at us and then went into their house without saying anything. “Hey!” I called, and the woman came back out, looking suspicious.

“Good day,” I said, “we’re looking for Lysei Erian’s shack, it should be somewhere here.”

“You’re one of those people who fight, right?” the woman asked.

“Yes,” I said, “but I don’t fight unless I really need to.”

“We don’t need to fight here,” she said. “I don’t know Lysei Erian but there’s a couple of empty shacks over there, might be that.” She pointed to an island in the distance.

“Thank you!” We pushed the boat off — it was on soft mud, it didn’t seem to have taken any damage — and went where the old woman had pointed. That was an even smaller island with two shacks on one side — one in fairly good shape, the other fallen down except for its stone hearth and chimney. The pile of rubbish between the houses was higher than Raith was tall.

I was surprised to see that this seemed to have been exactly what I was planning to set up: something of a smithy, something of a carpenter’s workshop, something of a boatyard. There was a small wooden ramp leading into the water, all rotten, an overturned broken boat next to it. In the larger of the two shacks — the one that was almost intact — the remains of a rusted-away iron tool rack hung on the wall with some rusty tools under it that had fallen through. The hearth there looked almost like a forge, and I found a blackened leather bag that must once have been bellows.

It looked like nobody had been here for years, but if all of this had belonged to Lysei Erian he was a man after my own heart.

We dragged our boat all the way on to the island and unpacked, putting the supplies in the driest-looking corner of the large shack. We got a small fire going with some wood from the rubbish pile and made a pot of gruel with dried fish. As we sat down to eat I felt eyes on me from behind. I looked with my mind but all I could see was that there was a gifted person, nothing new; then I looked over my shoulder and saw someone small dash away. “If there’s anyone who would like to share our meal they’re welcome!” I said aloud.

A short while later the small someone appeared: a boy, no more than seven years old, carrying a couple of dead muskrats that he dropped in front of me. “You understand me?” he asked in trade Iss-Peranian. “Yes,” I said, “and thank you!”

“They’re from out there” — pointing even farther east, where it looked as if there was open country, no longer any part of the city — “they haven’t been eating rubbish!”

I searched for something to use as a spit, but all the iron was too rusty and all the wood too rotten, and then I remembered how you can cook hedgehogs wrapped in mud. That worked very well for the muskrats, too. The boy sat at our fire, still bashful. “I’m Maile,” I said, inviting him to tell us his name.

“Serian,” he said, at least I thought it was that, it had a strange sound at the end as if he was holding his nose while saying it. “Until you came here this was my island.”

“I’ve got a letter saying it’s my island,” I said, “but you can share it with us, no problem. And share our food, too.”

“Then I won’t bother you at night,” he said, and when I looked surprised at that, “Hair is twopence a hank. I’m good! I can sneak in at the window and cut a girl’s hair without waking her up. But I wouldn’t bother your girls anyway, one has hair too tough to cut and the other too fine to be worth anything.”

I brought my own braid round to the front and asked, “And mine?”

“That’s twopence all right.”

“Well, do you want my hair? Or else I can give you twopence.”

“You’re giving me food,” he said, and that was the end of it as far as he was concerned.

I had to translate everything we’d said for the girls, and they were appalled at someone sneaking into houses and cutting girls’ hair off, of course! I wondered what the people paying Serian twopence a hank were using it for, perhaps to make wigs and hairpieces!

Serian was writing in the mud with a stick now; it looked like practising his letters, but only the same three over and over again as if those were all he knew. “Do you want to learn more letters?” I asked, startling him.

“Are there any more, then?”

“At least twenty more Iss-Peranian letters,” I said, “and if you want to learn Valdyan letters as well, over forty more!”

His eyes went large and round. “When we were in Dadán we went to school,” he said, “but I was very small then and I didn’t learn more!”

I wondered when he’d been in Dadán, if he’d been one of the stolen children, and how he’d ended up here, but I was sure he’d tell us in his own time, I wasn’t going to push him. Instead, I wrote all the Iss-Peranian letters I could remember in the sand — not in any proper order, I suppose, but I was fairly sure I got them all. The girls came to watch, then to copy, and it turned into a writing lesson.

I thought we might sleep in the boat, but the girls and Serian said they’d build a tent to sleep in. Lyase-Lédu started the evening prayer the Velihan way and we all joined in, even Serian who I saw could only catch some of the semsin part, not understand any of the words. Not that I could understand much of the words either, it was in a mixture of languages! But it was a good prayer, and as we held hands Anshen was suddenly at my side, holding my left hand and Raith’s right. He looked younger than ever, about sixteen. When the prayer ended he gave me a peck on the cheek as before and vanished.

“That was–” Raith said. “Was he real?”

“Yes,” I said.

“But it was the Nameless!”

“I call him by his name,” I said, but that didn’t convince Raith.

The children had set some pieces of wood of the old houses upright, tarpaulins from the boat spread over it. It looked more wholesome than even the not-so-broken house would have been. They put me in the middle, Raith and Lyase-Lédu on either side and Serian at my feet. “Shall I seal it?” I asked, and the girls were relieved because they’d wanted to but didn’t know how yet.

I slept surprisingly well. There was more prayer — Lyase-Lédu seemed to have taken it on herself to lead it, so we got lots of prayer to Timoine and Anshen and the rest were hurried over, but I didn’t mind. We had last night’s leftovers for breakfast, and then started on clearing out the shacks. That was much harder than I’d expected, because everything looked like rubbish at first sight but when I wanted to throw a scrap of leather away Lyase-Lédu said it could be used to make straps, and when Raith tossed a piece of iron on the pile I thought I’d be able to reforge it when I could get a good fire going, and so on. At the end of the day both shacks were empty but still not clean enough to sleep in, and we had piles of wood, metal, pottery and other stuff that needed to be sorted more carefully.

“Tomorrow we’ll clean,” I said, “and now we’ll cook!”

Serian and Lyase-Lédu had been whispering, I don’t know in what language. “Can we use the boat?” Lyase-Lédu asked. “To get food.”

“If you can show me you can use it,” I said. “Do you need money?”

“No,” Lyase-Lédu said, “we’ll manage!” Serian got in the boat and Lyase-Lédu dragged it into the water with him in it, then got in herself, and yes, between them they could row and steer it well enough. I nodded, and didn’t realise until they were too far away that I hadn’t asked where they were going and hadn’t said I wanted them to be back before dark because they didn’t know the water yet, but both of them had lived in Essle much longer than I’d been here, so I supposed they could handle it.

When they came back it was still full light — almost Midsummer, after all — and they had ducks! Four of them: we plucked one each and saved all the feathers. Wing feathers to make pens later, and there would be some use for the rest too.

Now we had more wood for the cooking-fire, and a brass rod with a handle that might have been the support for the bellows but was now a spit. We’d need a bigger pot soon, but I still wanted to celebrate the Feast of Anshen with someone in the Guild — perhaps Merain and Raisse and their whole crowd — and then I’d be able to do some shopping too.

When we were almost finished, a raft bumped against the island with people on it: a man and a woman with three little children. They were small people, the man in his thirties, the woman perhaps younger than me, the eldest child about three years old, the youngest still nursing. They stood at the fire silently, sat down when I asked them to, and accepted the leftovers of the meat and gruel, the man feeding the middle child, and Raith had somehow ended up with the eldest on her lap and was pulling scraps off a duck carcass for her.

They left as silently, but we’d still got the child! She didn’t cry or look for her parents, I was beginning to think that she might be retarded, but it could also be that she hadn’t had enough to eat in her whole life. “What’s your name?” I asked. “My name is Maile.”

She said something that sounded like “mo mo”, so I asked “Moyri?” She seemed to like that, so Moyri it was for now. Perhaps her parents would be back, or perhaps they’d given her to us because they didn’t want her themselves.

“It’s like her head’s been scrambled like eggs!” Serian said — I was translating for him without thinking now, this was very good for my Iss-Peranian — and yes, he was right. “We’ll feed her and take care of her,” I said, “see if that makes her better.”

That night, the little girl slept in my arms in the sealed tent.

The next morning we found a man sitting on the upturned old boat, dressed in the torn and stained remains of an army uniform. He had a sword across his lap, but his legs ended at the knees. And all the scraps of dinner were gone, even the duck broth that Raith had set to simmer in the embers the night before. We cooked up some groats again and I wished I had some apples, but at least we had honey.

The man was called Moryn, slightly gifted but not in a Guild. Before we could talk to him and hear how he’d found us and what he wanted, Raith pulled my arm and said “There’s someone of the Nameless coming!”

“Which Nameless?” I asked. “The one you don’t name in Rizenay or the one we don’t name in Turenay?” And little Moyri said, under her breath but understandably, “Archan.”

Just then a large boat arrived with two rowers, bringing a well-dressed man and woman. And yes, in the other Guild, that Nameless. The man jumped out and greeted us, telling me elaborately that he was Radan, the younger, from the trading-house the Dawn, with his wife. “It has come to my attention that the queen, the husband of our King Athal who, though he is a grand master in the Guild of the Nameless, is still our esteemed king, has sent out young unseasoned students to establish themselves in the poor quarters of our cities, which, though highly recommended, is perhaps unfeasible without assistance” and things like that, which made me wonder whether he could actually hear me think “come to the point, man!”

He seemed to be genuinely willing to help us, but I didn’t want to accept help from someone of the Nameless, and from a trading-house at that, because there were sure to be strings attached. I did make a point of getting the list of names from my tool-bag and adding him and his wife at the bottom. “Thank you, and I’ll surely call on you when there’s something you can help me with. I’ve actually worked with people from your Guild before, Lydan and his wife and son, on a boat on the Rycha. It’s nice to have another ally in the other Guild.”

He scowled, as if I’d said something indecent, but his wife in the boat smiled, and when I paid attention to her I saw that she was pregnant and that it wasn’t going well at all. I strode past Radan and said to her, “Madam, I have access to the head of the midwives’ guild, Rusla, and I think you need her attention.”

That surprised both of them, and they conferred in low voices for a while and then agreed to take me along to Rusla. “Lyase-Lédu,” I said, “you can take care of everybody until I’m back. Moryn has a sword and I’m sure you and Raith both have knives.” Raith blushed and shuffled her feet, but I’d seen her take a knife from the things her kidnappers hadn’t needed any more.

It didn’t occur to me until we were well on our way that of course Radan and his wife were important people, and they could easily have gone to a midwife — even the head of the guild — themselves. But they hadn’t made any comment that implied that my idea was ridiculous.

There was a small shadow swimming along behind our boat, a shadow that I’d come to know rather well in a day of working together. Having Serian close to me made me feel much safer.

I happened to be the one to knock on Rusla’s door, because Radan was helping his wife –I hadn’t even heard her name yet, I realised — out of the boat. A young girl opened. “You are not pregnant, are you?” she asked.

“I’m not, but this lady is, and she needs Rusla urgently.”

We were left outside for some time, but then the girl came back and motioned for us to come in. Rusla was middle-aged, with a blunt scrubbed look about her, and after she’d taken one look at Radan’s wife she turned to me and said “You! Do you know Merain and Raisse?”

“Yes,” I said, surprised.

“Get them. And anyone they can bring. You’re only an apprentice, you can’t help here.”

“I’m a journeyman,” I said, “but only just.”

“Goodness, so you are. Still, this needs masters.” And she bustled me outside, where I called to Merain, who was surprised but promised to come at once.

Radan was also sitting outside, on a bench that seemed to have been put there especially for nervous expectant fathers. “She’s been pregnant four times,” he said, “gone wrong every time. We’ve adopted two children, but we need one of our own — no, it’s not that, my father needs a grandchild, my grandfather needs a great-grandchild. If she doesn’t have any of her own they’ll tell me I shouldn’t have married this woman who isn’t strong enough, I should have taken the one they picked for me.”

There was little I could say, but it didn’t seem to be necessary. We waited until Merain appeared, and Raisse with her hamper, and several men and women I who were clearly masters in the Guild. They all went in, and I saw a very wet Serian slip in behind them.

If I’d been in the Order, I’d have guarded the door. Instead, I sat on the bench with Radan until Rusla’s apprentice came to fetch us. Serian was at my side at once, “I’ve seen it! It’s a boy and he’s already making jokes!” Raisse was handing out fish-cakes, “I’ve got this left over, we’d better eat them!” and they disappeared as if the masters were her harbour children.

“If I can do something…” Radan said, not so flowery-insincere now but heartfelt. I interrupted him. “You can have me and Serian brought back,” I said, “and if we can take back some food you’re helping us a lot!”

So we came home to our island in Radan of the Dawn’s boat, rowed by the rowers of the Dawn, with new food supplies as well as a basketful of Raisse’s fish-cakes.