I’m beginning to think that the rash decision was a good thing after all.
I must have been very tired, because when I woke up it was bright day and everybody around me was already working. We got the boat unloaded completely so we could turn it over to do some emergency caulking. If I’d wanted a boatyard job I could have stayed in Tilis! But then, if I’d wanted a boatyard job I’d have stayed with Geran in the first place.
At the end of the day I found myself in the castle courtyard with Rhanion. “If you give me your ticket I’ll get the food,” he said, and presently he was back with a full plate in each arm and a mug in each hand.
“I wish you could go with me,” he said. “I know you can’t, but I really need a woman to box my ears occasionally in front of those girls. Not because I need it, but because they need it. There are two who… I don’t want to do anything with them, and they don’t want it, but they’re afraid I will and I can’t get it across to them that I won’t.”
“Mialle will know someone,” I said. “I’ll go and ask her.”
He looked relieved already. “That’s why I’m asking you, it’s something I can’t do. Thank you.”
Mialle was writing something when I got to her house. “One moment, I’m just finishing this letter to the queen.”
“To the queen!”
“Yes, she’s in our Guild, isn’t she? Someone has to get the news to Valdis.”
“Can I write a few words?”
“On a different sheet of paper.” I borrowed Mialle’s pen when she was done, and wrote that I was on my way, that I’d taken my journeyman’s trial working together with a journeyman of the Nameless, and that I expected to be in Essle to start the real assignment in a few days. I supposed the queen would want to know that, and if only a clerk read it, it would at least get read.
I folded the letter and put a semsin seal on it. “That boy of yours is taking the letters, right?” Mialle asked. “Is he reliable?”
“I trust him,” I said. “And he’s the reason I’m here. He needs a woman to go north with the children, someone firm, like a bossy aunt. Who can box his ears so the girls feel safe from him.”
“Hm.” Mialle was clearly going over possibilities in her head, while Erne came in with a load of folded linen cloths and went back into the kitchen to do the rest. “I think I know someone, and I think I can persuade her.”
Then we all had tiny cups of brandy. “Do you think the king sent weather to make the river rise?” I asked.
“Not likely,” Mialle said. “When Raith — Her Majesty, I should say, she’s queen of Solay now — caused all that rain a couple of years ago she was in the north of Iss-Peran and the king should be in the middle now. It’s not his style, either.”
“Lydan thought it was him. But I grew up in Veray and there’s high water in spring every so often. I remember the water came into the smithy when I was little.”
When I came back to the boat there was another boat moored next to it. It was larger and flatter than Lydan’s, like the green one Geran was working on in Veray, which he called a Valda boat. This one was bright blue with white trim. Rhanion was in it with a bunch of light-haired kids. “Hey!” he called. “I’ve saved a space for you!”
I climbed into the boat and found my own bedroll there, spread out between Rhanion and the children. “Done,” I said, “she’s sending someone.”
The next morning I was woken up far too early by someone poking the side of my head. I thought it was Rhanion, but out of the corner of my eye I saw him still asleep next to me. It was a tall thin old woman — seventy at least, perhaps older– pushing me with her walking-stick. “Get up! Get that boy up, too! We’re leaving!”
I sat up and rubbed my eyes, then shook Rhanion. “Here’s the lady Mialle sent,” I said.
“Hah, I’m no lady,” the old woman said. “Well, perhaps I am now my granddaughter has married royalty.”
“Oh!” I said. “You’re the innkeeper’s grandmother!”
“Yes, he’s royalty too, of a sort. Now get your asses up and give me a hand!”
I rolled up my bedroll, lifted my bags out of the boat and helped the old woman in while Rhanion was stretching and yawning. “You’re not coming?” she asked.
“No, that’s the reason you’re here.”
“Ah, yes, Mialle said as much. Well, let’s go!” She sat in the middle of the boat like a schoolteacher, or perhaps a queen. Rhanion jumped out and embraced me. “This isn’t going to be easy!” he said. “But I think it’s exactly what I needed. I hope we’ll meet again.”
“I’ll write. To the Temple of Mizran here in Tilis so you can ask for it when you’re back.” I wondered whether to tell him Rath’s name, but I thought it better to write to Rath in our code and tell him Rhanion’s name; Rath might be using a different name in Rizenay, and he’d definitely want to stay out of sight, not for a runner of the Nameless to find him. “You write, too! To the Temple of Mizran in Essle.”
When the boat was out of sight the girl I’d asked to come with me to Essle appeared from behind a pile of bales. “I thought they’d never go! That old woman was scary, she’d have caught me by the ears and taken me away!”
As I was about to haul my stuff back on to Lydan’s boat, Lydan stopped me. It was clear that he didn’t know where to begin, so I tried to guess what he wanted to say. “Shall we take another boat to Essle?” I asked.
He nodded. “It’s not often that we and the Nameless work together like this,” he said. “That we both have the same enemy right now doesn’t make us friends.”
“Rhanion and I are almost friends now,” I said.
“Yes, that’s because you and he took your trial together, not by fighting but by cooperation. Your guild doesn’t keep histories–” I almost protested but held my tongue–” so you may not know that since the One made people there have been instances, not many, of a connection like that. You are both runners now, you may have to fight each other yet.”
“I know,” I said, and I knew that Rhanion knew it too. I hoped it would never come to pass.
“If you travel to Essle on my boat, it will make both you and me stand out more than we can deal with.” Yes, I knew that too. It would be easy enough to travel: there were boats going south all the time.
“Thank you for your work.” And he paid me two shillings!
“You don’t need to do that, I agreed to work for travel and food. And I have to thank you, all of you, I had a great time.”
“It’s for the extra work you’ve done, it’s only fair.”
It was indeed easy to find another boat: one that was just leaving. “Essle? Can take you there for four shillings.” I thought that was rather steep and said “I can work!”
“Don’t need your work, pay or stay here in Tilis.” I agreed — I had enough, anyway — but when he saw that I was taking the little girl he became suspicious. “How do I know that you are who you say you are, and that you’re not kidnapping her? Her Grace has just hanged eight kidnappers, who says you’re not one of them?”
“I’m rescuing her from kidnapping! And I’ll tell you who I am, I’m Arnei Maile from Veray, daughter of smiths. You can ask Lydan. Or Mialle for that matter.”
“You could be anyone’s daughter! But I hear Ryshas in your speech so I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt.”
“I’ll pay you four shillings for me and two for my — cousin.”
“Cousin! You’re from Veray and she’s from Rizenay, you can hardly be related. I’m still not convinced. But I’ll tell you what, I’ll take you to Essle and let my father look at you, he’s in the Guild of Anshen, and if he says you’re all right you pay up and go your way, and else I take you back to Tilis to be hanged.”
Well, I wasn’t afraid of the Guild of Anshen. If the Nameless had rubbed off on me too much I still had the papers from Master Rava. “Done.”
It wasn’t a long journey to Essle, but a very boring one because I wasn’t working, and the crew was too busy to talk, and I didn’t want to bully the girl into talking. She hadn’t even told me her name yet! I thought that it was perhaps because she’d had a bad experience, so I said “if you want a different name, just call yourself by it!’ but she said “Names are stupid!” and was silent again.
And I realised I’d completely forgotten to buy wool in Tilis. I supposed Essle would have markets.
Essle started insidiously, with some huts made of pieces of boat, and straw and rubbish, thicker on the ground after a while. Little children swam after the boat, and there were people on the bank too, all of them very thin. “I wish I could give them a good meal!” I said, and the girl broke her sulk and said “What, your leg or your arm, or mine, or both?”
The houses got better as we went on, but the water more and more dirty. I gave up trying to see everything or even to keep track of where we were; now it was a huge sprawl of everything people could build, all squashed together on islands with bits of the river in between. It felt like a whole day’s travelling. Then we moored at a small landing-stage between some buildings and the boatman gave us a push. “Here’s where you get off. Hey! Merain!”
A man came out of one of the buildings, a master in the Guild of Anshen. “Ardan, what have you brought me?” He wasn’t old enough to be the boatman’s father, though he did look a bit like him. The two men talked for a while, just above a whisper, which I was too tired to try and understand.
“I’ll take it from here,” the man called Merain said to the boatman, and the boatman gave me a gruff nod, threw my luggage on the landing, and pushed off without even asking for his shillings.
“Welcome to Essle,” the man said. “I’m Merain of the Guild. And who might you be?”
I told him my name, and he said immediately “From Turenay.” I’ll have to pick up the accent!
“I’m from Rizenay,” the girl said.
“And what’s your name?”
“I’m with her.”
“Yes, but what is your name?”
“I’m not telling you.”
“I said you can call yourself whatever you want,” I said, but Merain interrupted, “no false names here! Tell me your name, please.”
“It’s stupid,” the girl said.
“Whether it’s stupid or not isn’t important; what is it?”
“My name is mumble.”
“I didn’t catch that.”
We’d be at it all day at this rate, I thought, but the girl suddenly spoke up: “I said my name is RAITH!”
“That’s not stupid,” I said, “it’s a perfectly decent name.”
“I was born in Rizenay! And my stupid parents had to call me after the witch!”
“Come on in,” Merain said with a smile. “You’ll excuse my cousin– he’s always a bit suspicious. But on the other hand, with what’s been happening lately we can’t be too careful.”