Before we arrived in Valdis, I hid my lover from all prying eyes. Not because I’m ashamed of her, but because she was afraid her Master or someone else she knew from her Guild would recognize her. She’s been to their Temple, which is hemmed in between houses, accessible through a plasterer’s cottage. She was shocked I knew about it, thought it was a secret. It really brought home to me that we’d been beating the Guild of the Nameless pretty consistently for pretty long now. And maybe that’s the reason for their Resurgence or Renaissance movement, which is quite scary. Apparently there must be good and evil, or selflessnes and selfishness or even right and might in the world.
Not that Arni agreed with me, and I know that, whatever I think of the Nameless, his followers aren’t all following the path of evil, selfishness and might makes right — but many do, and the idea that the stronger takes all and that it’s right that way, even Arni tried to defend to me, when we were on our road to Valdis, talking, talking all the time.
So, she was well-hidden, and I took her straight to “my friend’s place, it’s totally safe”, Palace Square No. 1, in fact. Getting in wasn’t as hard as it was the first time, besides, my room was still available. Raisse was again playing with her children, and once again glad to see me.
She did raise her eyebrows at Arni, though, but was all smiles and welcome when we’d explained what we had been doing. Yes, she agreed, beer in the Piglet and wine in the Crown was the right beverage, but didn’t we find the public in the Crown objectionable. So, we told her about the little contretemps we had after leaving the Crown. And also about the two Hayan boys. It turns out that Raisse is familiar with both, and with their little excursions to the hunting lodge, and the reason for it.
I still feel bad, really bad for not having trusted them, but damn it! This was our little holiday, being away from everyone else, not having to see anyone… We only crossed the river once, when we were staying at the lodge, to buy wine and breat at the inn on the other side of the river. The Ilda is navigable, but only with special, flat-bottomed boats that are not too heavily loaded. We could wade from one side to another, and Arni hasn’t even learned to swim. In Rizenay, the water is too cold, always, even in summer! I can swim, Mistress Rava insists on that, but we only had time enough together to go through the floating part. We had stayed up a whole night to watch otters play, we had spent a morning making lazy love under a willow tree… It was perfect! And then those two boys appeared, and I was just too shocked and too afraid that they would be nasty to Arni, because one of them was with us, and a nobleman.
But Arni felt at home with Queen Raisse soon enough, and we had a lovely evening, first dressing up in all kinds of finery, then getting our faces painted (***Doctor Cora*** has done that for me sometimes, but I never learned how to do it properly myself, a Naigha brat is distant to such things!), then all kinds of lovely jewelry. Together with Raisse we went down for dinner in the Great Hall. Prince Radan also came, complaining about his way-too-warm velvet doublet… At least, he complained until I explained to him that if it was too big last winter, it’d be too small next winter, so if he ever wanted to wear it and look like a dashing young prince, it had to be now!
Food was good, of course, though Raisse is very indifferent eater. She pecks at whatever is on her plate and only eats when she has conversation that captivates her — then she eats without looking, and I noticed a server watching out, and whenever it happened, put something extra on her plate. Otherwise she would be too thin! She is a mother of four, almost five, she should be plump by now!
At the end of the banquet, she waved us away. She had learned of Arni’s deep interest in everything that lives and grows, all plants and especially animals, and she suggested we visit the library. We very quickly divested ourselves from our finery, disrobed, put on clean clothes and went! Arni might not have had the chance to live in a library, like I have, but Mizran! She was ten paces ahead of me, and was overjoyed to find a great bestiarium with incredibly detailed and colorful plates.
While we were there, and I was looking over the shelves to get familiar with what books are were, I started getting suspicious of the state of my skirt… I had stopped taken the travel herbs when I first arrived in Valdis, and that meant that it was time for the monthly cramps again! And that takes me at least five or six days, three of which I can’t do anything but lie down with a stack of cloth underneath, because when I bleed, I bleed. And I get horrible cramps, too. There’s only one remedy, every doctor has told me, and that’s bearing a child, but I’m not planning on that! Not for years and maybe years.
Arni was sweet and didn’t mind getting her hands dirty, so she gave me some good cramps now and then, to offset the bad cramps, but mostly, I was just having pain and being extremely tired and grumpy. As long as she would visit me a couple of times a day, she had all day to herself, and Raisse had given her the run of the Library, the nursery and the Palace. She had no desire at all to go out and maybe meet people who knew her… And I think she really wasn’t bored. I got to hear stories of what she’d discovered in the Library, how she and Radan had made a huge house of bricks, how she’d taken a bath in the Royal Bathroom, how she’d helped out in the kitchen (and to prove it, she brought something made from nuts, honey and whatever else, that was lovely and made me forget I hate my womb for a moment).
But even the bloodiest period comes to an end, and after a few days I was able to get up, and we went for our promised visit to the Temple of Anshen. The Temple is in the middle of the castle of the Order of the Sworn, and of course some people raised some eyebrows when we entered… But Rava, the order smith, who is famous throughout the Guild for being as irreverently dedicated to Anshen as is possible, she smiled at us, and we went into the Temple.
Yes, Anshen is Present in this Temple. In his Temple. It’s not possible to be mistaken about that. But I understood that Arni needed her own words with the Presence, and I was only there to give her my silent support. I guess I’m self-centered enough, sometimes, that I could even be in the Guild of the Nameless. That’s to say, I know what my task is, and I know I’m going to do it — even though I’m not even a journeyman in the Guild. It’s not like I don’t need Anshen for that task, of course I do, but I am just so sure that He won’t fail me, that that support is present. I guess I have no capacity for doubt…
Arni was silent, for a bit, and then tried to explain how Anshen had felt to her, and how he had made her uncertain of everything in her life. And, maybe inconsequentially, but it made me happy still, how hard this was going to make it to present me to her parents, something she was apparently really sure that we’d have to do, one day in the not too distant future.