We saw that coming, right? I think even Lyse has been seeing it coming for ages.
Travelling was fun! And I’m sure we’ll go on travelling a whole lot more, but first, tomorrow morning, we’re going home! We’ve been away for something like ten months! We’ve been to Veray, Turenay, the mountains, Ruby Village, more mountains, the girls’ camp, Pai’s village, Mizna’s village, Harah’s village (with the Island of Timoine), Baraz, Istila, Cuytim, the Ishey bridge, Lédu’s village with the oil mill, Fire Mountain village, Tal-Havin with the Temple of Naigha and Sarabal!
So we said goodbye to Rabia and her mum and dad, and I gave Rabia my cap with grouse tail feathers. And I cuddled Auntie Senthi and said that I’d be back, too. And it was lovely weather! Warm but not too warm, the sun was shining (but we still had our big straw hats, so we didn’t get a headache), and at first everything was green and had started to grow and blossom and flower… It was quite steep, though, getting up the hill, and there we came across a farm…
And their cow had calved! So there was fresh milk. And the farmer, he said, we could go inside and ask for milk, and we’d be given milk, so we went inside and asked for milk, and his wife, she said, only if you milk the cow! We’d never done that before, only goats! But she said, it’s easier than goats and gave me a bucket.
And it was easier, but the calf, it wanted milk, too, and tried to butt me away, but I didn’t let it, and soon we had half a bucket of the best milk I’ve ever had. There was enough left in the cow’s tits, because the calf started drinking as soon as we were done, and we wondered whether there’s separate milk in each teat, or that it all mixes up so you can drain a cow’s udders by milking one teat. It’s different for humans, because we’ve got two tits, and a cow has only one udder.
But the farm lady, she said that each teat has its own milk, so you need to work them all.
In any case, she gave each of us a whole cup of the fattest, creamiest, warmest, nicest milk we’ve ever had. Just imagine pancakes made with this milk!
And her husband, he showed us where the King’s Road began, the track made by King Athal’s army after he had beaten the Khas at Sarabal. That is ages ago, but it’s still real easy to follow, it’s still a bit of a hollow road, and sometimes you come across a broken wheel or a trash heap carefully buried under stones, in one of them Wolf found a big bone to worry and carry.
So we weren’t afraid that we’d get lost, and in any case, Fikmet had learned how to mark where to go the next morning after sleeping so even the sun turning around wouldn’t turn us around.
It was a bit like the south of Velihas except that there were nearly no people! The first night we camped out, I had made a really nice bed of ferns and blankets for us, I could still see Auntie Senthi, but not reach her, so we’d travelled further than when we’d left Baraz, and back then we had horses! And the next day, we couldn’t see anyone at all! We were completely alone, the three of us and Wolf. And we tried to sing in the Old Language of Velihas, but that didn’t work! The words came out all right, but not the bit behind the words. So we decided to just do the Invocations in Ilaini.
The next day we were closer to a village, or at least, to place where there were some gifted people, but there was also a bit of forest where lots of wild animals came to drink from a spring. And there was even a hut there! So we decided to catch something nice to eat, and Fikmet and Fekemme went out to hunt, while I prepared the hut for sleeping and the fireplace and the spit.
Because I’d learned how to make fire, Fikmet also wanted to learn that, and Fekemme, too, but even though Fikmet tried every evening, she still hasn’t managed to make fire with semsin! Fekemme, though, he did make fire, and quite good, too! I wonder whether we’ll be in Tilis when it’s the Feast of Anshen… If we are, maybe I will be allowed to light the Midsummer Fire for Anshen!
A little bit later on, Fekemme called me with his mind, and went out to the watering place, and he had shot a great big deer. The arrow had gone right in its throat, so it couldn’t breathe anymore, it was a beautiful shot!
And Fikmet was already cutting up the deer to make it easier to carry and Wolf, she was going crazy with the smell. It was huge deer, its shoulders were as tall as Fikmet. And Fikmet told me there also had been two wild boars! Those are really dangerous, but fortunately they hadn’t seen Fikmet. The King, he’s been trampled by a wild boar, once!
The next morning, we decided to visit the people nearby first. They would like travellers, because they were so out of the way! Besides, everyone who was gifted was with Anshen, we could see that.
It was only a few hours from the woodland, first we found sheep, and their shepherd, he was gifted but also really dumb. Not stupid dumb! Just not smart at all, really slow in thinking. But that wasn’t a problem of course, I don’t mind that, as long as people aren’t stupid. He pointed us to the village and wondered about the dog and so on, and that was all.
Fekemme was quite impressed by the size of the sheep, as he had been with the size of the cow! He’d been silent for an hour after we’d milked the cow! The deer was as big as the stag we’d caught in Velihas, though the one in Velihas was an old one, and this was still a young buck, born last year, to judge from its horns.
When we were near the village there were a man and a women ploughing. And that’s what they were: they didn’t have an ox or a horse, the man was pulling the plough and the woman was doing the thing with the headboard, pushing the plough into the sod.
Fikmet immediately had to giggle when she saw me looking at them. She knew what I was thinking! And Fekemme, he was grinning, too.
I can’t help it that if I see something that looks like real, hard work you have to be strong for that I want to try it! If I have to have a big, stupid, ugly body instead of a pretty, small one like Imri, at least I can do what it’s good for!
So I went to the man and woman and asked if I could have a turn!
And they said, yes, sure, but first we’ll bring you lot to the village, where you can stow your packs and hang your meat to cure in our chimney — and then, we’ll give you a try, my young filly!
That was the most stupid thing I’ve ever been called! So I wanted to do the plough-horse thing even more! I want to show them!
And we went to the village and got the stuff stowed and Fikmet and Fekemme stayed back there to do chores around the village and I went back with Ayran, he’s probably just as big as Ferin is, and just as strong.
And he put me in the harness, and… Well, it was hard work! But I did pull the plough for two furrows, maybe even two and a bit, but that was enough! I drank some water, and we chatted, and he said, their ox had died, and they would have to go to Veray to get another one, and that’s two weeks. But I asked, and he said, the river is only about a week, but the last part is really hard going.
And I told him about the little bull-calf at Sarabal, and he got thoughtful, and said, maybe we can get that one, swap for some sheep. But that’s his business, and it won’t be strong enough to do anything this year anyway! Maybe not even next year, but I don’t really know about cattle, since they don’t fit in a boat.
And then he said, “right, filly, let the old stallion pull the plough a bit, then the filly can get her turn at the headboard,” and so we did, and this was hard work, too, I could understand how tired his wife, Erne, had been, she is about as big as me but I guess not so strong!
So I was satisfied still, and good and tired, but that night we had a party again!
Every village we visit, nearly every village at least, there’s a party when we visit! Visitors are fun, it seems. And we made music, and danced, and told tales. And then Fikmet did her juggle act, with the balls of semsin together with the balls of horse-hair. And the dumb shepherd boy, he’s called Jeran, he saw the balls, and he was really impressed! A bit of spittle dripped down his chin as he was watching! But he is very good with the flock, Alyse told me, and he wasn’t stupid even once, so we gave him a cuddle when we left next morning.
That was when we went back to the woodland, so we could take the King’s Road again to the north.
We had five days of lovely walking! There was a bit of rain now and then, but we had our straw hats and our blankets are so greasy, nothing can get through! There was game to catch, wild roots and plants to eat, flowers everywhere and birds trying to out-sing us all day long! I could have walked like this all spring and summer — but I wanted to get home so badly that I was the one making haste. I wanted to see Ferin and my parents (only I expect they’re on the Valda) and my granny and tell her about Auntie Senthi!
And then we came to the wetlands. Here there was no track anymore — at least nobody but me could see it. The thing is, it’s spring! And then the Rycha is in spate, so it’s really wide and shallow, well, it’s always shallow, because the land is flat enough that the river just cannot go deep, I explained it to Fekemme and Fikmet, it’s like the difference between having water in the tub or on the kitchen floor!
The good thing is, it’s hard to drown, the bad thing is that there’s places where you can sink in mud, and there are some holes that are deeper than I’m tall.
And, of course, there were all the flying horrors! Stinging, buzzing, bumping against us, stinking! When we’re in Tilis we ought to go to the midwife (because there’s no doctor) and make her check us for eggs! I know I had insect eggs in in my arm one year, and it got all white and gray and gooey and it still looks like an eagle has pecked me in my upper arm, there’s a big pit from where the eggs were.
It’s just like ticks, except that all of us know that we need to look for ticks on each other every evening before going to sleep. Fekemme already has really soft hair in his armpits, and ticks love that!
We really had to reach the river before dark, because apart from some little pebbly islands, there isn’t any place dry enough to sleep, and those islands move around from year to year or even week to week. But I could use semsin to find people and I saw boatpeople quite close by!
So we went on, without much going wrong except Fekemme falling into a sinkhole and getting all wet and muddy, so he had to go on without clothes! And then we came to one of the pebble islands and I saw old Arin and Selle! They were coming from Veray, and I hailed them, and when they didn’t recognize them, I dived into the river and swam up to their boat and pulled myself aboard.
Then Arin recognized me, and he said, is that you Lyse? You’re big!
And I said, I was, and sure, I had grown, and could I and my friends come with them to Ferin’s inn?
And he said, yes, sure, and steered to the island and Fekemme came on board and got a pair of trousers on loan, and I carried Fikmet aboard, and then our bundles.
It’s so good to be on board of a proper barge again! Arin and Selle were carrying Veray wine, and they had to deliver a barrel to Ferin anyway, and we slept on the boat that night, and I took watch, too, and helped punting the next day. Is there any better life? I don’t think so! In the middle of the river there aren’t so many flying horrors, too.
It’s so strange! When I left home with Fikmet, I didn’t even know I was going to be semte, and now, I knew I should be able to see Ferin! And I knew that the only gifted person in his inn must be Ferin! But I couldn’t see. It was just someone.
But when we had moored and I had jumped out of the boat and ran ashore and into the inn, there was Ferin, and now I will know him forever with semsin. And I ran up to him and jumped into his arms, and I was with my big brother!!!
He’s grown a bit fatter! But he’s still my brother Ferin, big, ugly, strong and the best brother in the world. And he looked at me, and looked at me, and his grinned as wide as I’ve ever seen him do, and said, he’d never dared to expect me to be grown so big, and I knew he was talking about me being semte, not just me being big old Lyse.
And then it was Fikmet’s turn! And if Fikmet and I hadn’t been such good friends, well, I might have been jealous! Because Ferin loves Fikmet as another little sister, and I was always his little sister, but now we’re his little sisters, and I grabbed Fekemme by his middle and pushed him to Ferin, and said, and this is Fekemme! He’s our friend from Velihas!
And Ferin had the most awful grin! And he grinned at Fekemme and embraced him, and said, how about beer?
And Tamsin’s beer is so good! And when we had had a mug, we went to the back, where Tamsin was putting little Arin to sleep, and she was looking so good! And we cuddled, and went back to the taproom, where Tamsin and Fikmet started talking in Khas, so Ferin and I, we talked in Ilaini and I told him all about our travels. And Fekemme, he had said, he wanted to ask Ferin lots of things, but he was so shy!
Well, I have to say that Ferin did look at Fekemme in a way that would have made me shy, too!
Which reminded me of the thing I had wanted to ask Fekemme, but hadn’t dared to. I had been trying all kinds of ways of asking him in my mind, but… Front or back, it was a stupid thing to ask, and if I wanted to ask him, I should ask him that night…
So that night, after we’d had roast suckling pig in the back, and cuddled little Arin (and Fikmet had changed his nappies), I proposed to take a swim out at the small quay, and so we did.
And I said, Fekemme, if I’m going to be stupid, tell, but would you want to play at being my boyfriend in Tilis?
And he said, yes! Only, I won’t have to play.
So I blushed and dived down and came up on his other side, and explained that it really was because I wanted to show Imri and also stupid Jeran! After all, Imri has had a different boyfriend every morning, afternoon and evening! And Jeran and his mates have been running after me, calling out “Lyse! Ogre of the Rycha! Show us your tits! you know nobody else would ever want to see them!” forever, until I went with Aine and Rovin’s boat on the Rycha.
Except that — well, I want to kiss with Fekemme on the drawbridge of Tilis Castle! At least, I think I want to… And I wouldn’t even mind if he put his hand under my shirt!
But I think that Fekemme understood me anyway, when I tried to explain, because he blushed and proposed we’d go out of the water and get dry and inside and see if there was something to eat.
And Fikmet, she said, now you still haven’t asked what you want, not properly for real! But are you going to kiss?
And I said, yes, and yes, I haven’t and I will…
So we were chatting with Ferin, while Tamsin was out in front helping the customers, and I was holding Fekemme’s hand, and then we told Ferin the whole story, about Fekemme’s dad and everything. And Fekemme grinned, he wasn’t so shy now! He said, he wondered whether I had just asked him so my granny could be proud with her friends, and I bumped him one and said, yes, only don’t act the prince, everyone will be much more impressed by a prince acting like normal, and he bumped me one back and said we’d had enough of Tamsin’s beer, and we should go to sleep, all of us.
And I guess that tonight, when Fikmet is properly asleep, we’ll give kissing a trial, since he hasn’t kissed a girl ever before, and I haven’t ever kissed a boy, so we need to practice or we will look so stupid tomorrow or day after tomorrow when we kiss on the drawbridge in Tilis.
And Imri will know, whether she sees it herself or just hears about it, that fat ogre Lyse has the cutest, nicest boy in the whole world for a boyfriend!