It was early afternoon when we arrived in Three Hills. To get into the town was harder than I’d thought: someone stopped us, and took us into a little guard house. She was a big woman, strong, with the looks of a veteran soldier. She was also in our Guild, but that didn’t make her any friendlier. She put us down on a bench, and sat down on a chair on the other side of a table. On the table were a flail and a scythe, crossed.
She was especially suspicious of poor Arni, which made both of us as mad as wet kittens; and we showed her the Temple Arni had made with our minds, right then and there, and also Arni’s made-of-spirit strike-a-light. She climbed down a bit then, and told us that she and her mates were guarding the town, to keep “his ruffians out”. That sounded interesting, as if she wasn’t too friendly with Lord Faran astin Eraday, something she immediately confirmed when asked.
It was really busy; the Summer Fair had just started, and the main square was packed with merchants and customers. We first tried to get lodging at the inn, but the only thing they could do for us was give us a place under the overhang, next to the stables, to share with a score of others, for three pennies a person!
That wasn’t going to work for us! Then I got an inspiration: I remembered the letters of credit I had received in Turenay, and proposed to Arni that we’d go to the Temple of Mizran and see if we couldn’t buy a little house for the two of us! It really made sense, I argued, since this was the most central place in my turf (which seems to go from Valdis in the north to as far south to Tilis until there are no more villages and hamlets and the swamps being, and from Tal-Nus in the west to as far east towards Turenay until you reach the stretch where nobody lives, the wild lands.
She didn’t disagree, but rather thought it would be difficult for two girls like us to get the Priest’s attention. But money talks — and I even had coin in my pocket, at least twenty riders, even. So we walked in…
The Temple of Mizran was a smallish building, on the main square, which isn’t square, but sort of liver-shaped, pig-liver, not chicken-liver, and about as flat as said liver if you put it down on its flat side. It might be a small Temple, but it was busy this afternoon! Nobody paid us any attention, so I decided to Take Steps, and I grabbed the oldest person, a scrawny man with bad teeth and a small goldish cope over his shoulders.
“Are you the Priest here?”
“And what if I am? I am busy young ladies, I have no time for the likes of you!”
“Oh yes, you have — we want to buy a house in this town. Right now, yes. We’ve got work to do.”
He blinked once, twice, three times, gargled a bit, then looked us up and down. Well, mostly down, especially at me. What it is with men and big tits! I’ll never understand.
“To work? I’ve got a house in the right street, but on the wrong side. It’s only the other three houses, on the other side where, ahem, ladies are allowed to work in the evenings,” he said, and blushed rather prettily. Such delicacy of sentiment! But no… He got us wrong. I was interested though, because for what I was intending to do, living next to whores is better than living in the best quarter of the town. Plus, I was guessing the house would be cheaper.
“No, we’re not whores. Do we look like whores?”
His eyes answered yes, his voice said no.
“Well, we’re nurses in training, and we’re going to open a practice here in Thee Hills. A nurse-station, as it were. And we can pay, so show us the house. If it’s next to where whores live, we can at least be sure of one thing: we’ll have honest, dependable neighbours with whom we can always have a chat and giggle!”
After I’d shown him my Letters of Credit (from a distance, no need to let him learn they were made out in Turenay, nor to let him see the amounts), he took us there himself. It was on the other side of the town, at the foot of one of the hills. This hill had a white stone house on top, whether it was made out of chalkstone or plastered, I couldn’t see at this distance. The big house… With guards on the walls!
But the house was nearly perfect! It was one of three in a row, the street ending in a cul-de-sac, with three other houses opposite. There was a public well in the area behind the other houses. The middle house of our row had collapsed, leaving lots of bricks from its chimney, and I was already making plans to appropriate it, have it cleared and have a place to fence and dance and have friends visit. Our house was the third in the row; the first one was also empty, but not as nice as the one we were shown.
It had a front with two windows, now shuttered, but quite big, and a door in two halves. The house itself had been divided into a front and a back room — the front room being perfect for a practice, it would be nice and light. In summer, we could put a bench outside for people to wait, in winter there was place for it inside, though consultations wouldn’t be so private then, of course. But a curtain across the room could help.
The back room was also nice and roomy, and had a fireplace with chimney on one side, and a trapdoor to a cellar on the other side. And two more windows and a door to the yard. Also lots of light, once the shutters were opened. Of course, we’d need parchment to close the windows, but… There was lots of other things to be done as well.
The cellar was large, went up a long way into the hill, and also had, at the side of the house a ramp so large things like barrels could be let down into the cellar for storage. Made of stone, with a stone floor! Almost perfectly rat-proof. There were no rat droppings in the entire house, actually.
When we went closer to the fireplace we discovered why. It had been used a place of worship for the Nameless! The previous owner, a weaver woman, had lived here for forty years, and she’d been with the Nameless. Well, that could be cleaned up. And finally, a ladder gave access to a dry loft, where we could make a place to sleep, next to the chimney, where it would be warmer in winter.
“Well, it’s what we want and what we need,” I told the Priest. “How much do you ask for it? Two riders?” I knew one should always begin with a really laughably low offer when buying houses!
So, picture my astonishment when his eyes lit up, and he immediately said, “Done, and sold! Please come to the Temple for the paperwork!”
Arni consoled me, told me I couldn’t have know that prices were so low here in Three Hills, and that probably everything in the Fair would be really expensive… But I could’ve known, because that hamlet where we met Leva of the Nameless, they told us they had bought the freehold of their lands and the right to build farms for eight riders. Still, it was only pocket-money for me, I felt, since I had twenty riders or a bit more in my purse anyway.
When we came back with the deed in our hands, our new neighbour was up and awake. A bit underdressed, she was busy washing her hair in the front of her own house. At our arrival with Dog and Donkey she looked up, interested.
“Hey, are you new colleagues?” she said, smilingly. So she wasn’t afaid of the competition, apparently!
“No — we’ve bought the house, but we’re nurses, we’re going to have a practice here.”
“Awesome! Need any help cleaning up? When me and my friend next door, Arni, aren’t working on our backs, we’re working on our knees, so we’re used to it! I’m Lyse, by the way. Next door is Serla, but she never wakes up before noon!”
Well, the help was welcome, especially since we had to buy everything still! Lyse went to fetch Arni-from-the-other-side, to avoid any confusion with my Arni, and they fetched mops, buckets, soap, water, brooms and what not, and went to work with a vengeance, singing loudly, and very off-key.
We went to the blacksmith to order new locks, new hinges for the front door, new latches for the shed… To the carpenter for temporary shelves, new panels for the door, new panels for the blinds. Then we went to the Fair for linen, blankets, plates, kettles, a frying pan, pitchers, a big mortar and pestle, fifty dozen stone jars for medicine, more cloth, this time to make shirts and skirts and trousers. We asked a farmer to stock the woodpile behind our house, and to repair the fence so Donkey wouldn’t wander away. We ordered feed for Donkey, and bought meat and meal and vegetables for ourselves. We got seed for a winter crop, to be planted on the hill behind our house.
We ordered the carpenter to make two cupboards, a table with a slate leaf for the practice, a clothes chest, a safe chest (for which the apprentice blacksmith was going to make the hinges and locks, as her master’s trial).
We went to the Fair’s second-hand area, behind the Temple, where people from the Town and the vicinity had put out their surplus to swap or sell, and we bought two jars of last year’s sauerkraut, an easy chair big enough that we’d fit in both, for cuddles, another chair, a rather wonky table, four hard chairs, a bench. We forgot to get some candlesticks, and some candles, so Arni had to make a temporary light out of some goose fat, that we did get.
When we got back, Lyse had just finished sweeping out the hearth.
“Hey gals! That hearthstone of yours, that stank!” she shouted cheerfully, “But I swept it all out.”
So she had seen it too… She must be gifted, but at 18 or 19, completely untrained. That added another item to my todo, and I asked, “Lyse, can you read?”
She blushed and answered, “Not too well… I was usually playing truant, I’m afraid.”
“Well, one of the things we’re going to do is have regular classes for adults. Anyone’s welcome, an hour before dinner. We’ll spend half and hour or a bit more on reading and writing, and ciphering — and then a bit of a break, and afterwards, well, there’s some more stuff we can teach. And after that, there’s dinner for everyone! Are you game?”
“Sure! That sounds lovely! I’m sure we’ll become friends as well!”
And I was sure of that as well. And before we knew, we had our little house all set-up: clean, comfortable, with parchment in the windows, the doors safe and sound, Dog snug before the hearth and Donkey happy in her field.
We even have, and that’s really special, warm water! One of the people in the Fair, a coppersmith, he had a big, flattish copper chest, taller than wide, and less deep than wide. Put on four feet, fits snugly in the back of our hearth, which is bigger than you’d expect in such a small house. And we got him to add a tap at the bottom. Filled with water, it takes all night to heat up, but if we then top up what we tap out, and clean it fully once a week, we’ll ALWAYS have warm water.
And if there’s anything that a practicing nurse needs, it’s warm water. (Well, and kisses from her girlfriend, of course.)