Helping the king
When we were done sanding the building bricks, and had taken a bath (my hair is once again bright flaming red!) we finally went to the palace. It wasn’t so hard to find, it was right in the middle of Valdis, we only had to go back on our steps and take another way a couple of times. Valdis is big — and it was so full of people! But we finally found the palace square with the front door. There’s, just like in Tilis, a bridge in front of it, only it’s not so long, but it’s still a drawbridge.
So we went in, me, Fikmet, Fekemme and Wolf. Only one of the guards at the door stopped us! I guess it was his job, but I was sort of annoyed, after all, we know Athal already, and Fekemme and he are family, aren’t they? Even if it’s a bit remote. So we told the guard that we’d got letters for the King and that we were going to deliver them.
Which meant the guard had to send for his boss, and his boss had to send for the King’s secretary, who turns out to be Khas! Her name is Selmet. And she took us into the palace, after she’d seen the seals on the letters. And she took us through the great hall (at least, I think it’s the great hall, I cannot imagine there being halls greater than this), and up some stairs.
And in the corridor, something small and fast came barrelling towards us and started hugging Fekemme, shouting, Uncle Aidan, Uncle Aidan! It turned out to be little Radan, the smallest of the princes! And then he looked up and got all shy and murbled, you’re not uncle Aidan, you’re only like uncle Aidan. And Fekemme was so surprised he couldn’t say anything!
So I grabbed little Radan and said, can’t you see that my Fekemme is much younger than old uncle Aidan — because uncle Aidan is, of course, the wife of the little Queen doctor of Turenay!
And he was a bit taken aback, but then he squirmed towards Fekemme and said he thought Fekemme was nice anyway! And that’s how we were brought into the King’s own apartments. They were a mess — there were Vurian and Rovin building something from blocks and trying to prevent their little sister from destroying it (by running right through it), and the King, he was trying to read something, while the Queen, she was breastfeeding little Moyri, and that’s when we where ushered in.
So we said, Hi! and here are the letters, and this is Fekemme, and he’s family, and how are you doing! But uncle Athal, he was looking so bad. Much worse than in Turenay! So I cuddled him and gave him a bit of anea, and then Fikmet cuddled him and gave him some anea, and Fekemme did the same! But he was still so tired… So he started reading the letters, while Raisse explained that Fekemme’s mum had already left for Velihas while they were still in Turenay.
So at least we won’t have to meet her now!
And then, while Fikmet was gone to talk to the Khas secretary, Fekemme and me, we had to explain about ourselves and getting married, and listen to the Queen telling us we were too young and so on… I’m not too young to marry! I just want to wait a bit before Fekemme and me do the other thing again, there’s enough fun to be had just kissing and doing stuff, without doing things that can cause babies!
When we were explaining about wanting to catch another bandit so we would have money for a hospital in Istila, at first uncle Athal and aunt Raisse didn’t understand us — they didn’t get that I wanted to found a hospital, though, duh, that’s what queens do, don’t they, and they didn’t get that you can make good money by catching bandits and selling their horses! But when we explained that carefully, grown-ups can be so slow sometimes!, they got it and uncle Athal got kind of thoughtful.
He asked us, so, you’ve caught bandits before? And we said, sure! Heaps! After all, we caught bandits in Baraz, Istila and Cuytim! (Though I was sort of sorry for the bandit we caught in Cuytim, and I’ve asked Lyse, she’s the boss of the Order of the Sworn, to ask whether he arrived and if he’s ok now.)
That got uncle Athal thinking some more, and then he asked Lyse to come to the Palace, and she came, and she was thoughtful, too. And it turns out that there are bandits in Valdis! In fact, it’s a conspiration! There is a bunch of people who are trying to give the Order of the Sworn a bad name! And Lyse suspected they were in Valdis and might be trying to do something for the Feast of Anshen (which is tonight!!!).
So Lyse and Athal asked us to keep our eyes and ears open for anything that might be interesting — us being just a bunch of young people in sailor’s clothes that nobody would pay much attention to. So we said, sure! And cuddled little baby Moyri and then the rest, and went out to collect Wolf and go into town.
Because we’d seen something really interesting! That was a market and it looked like it was full of fair people — singers, dancers, sellers of costumes and instruments and more! And it was what it looked like, so we wandered round, looking for, well for something for our act! Because Fikmet said, and she was really right, if we look like fair people, people of the green ribbon, nobody will suspect us of anything but wanting a few pennies! And we are acrobats, we really are, even though we miss Mík a lot!
And there was a woman, and she was selling the most gorgeous costumes! And really cheap, but we found out they were really flimsy as well, and badly dyed, and now I’ve got bright red tits! Because I got a red velvet bodice, it matched my hair perfectly, Fekemme said, and later on someone spilled beer over me, and the dye ran!
But we got gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous stuff, and Fekemme looked like a real prince, and Fikmet, she had a snake-head shaped crown thing that fit on her shoulders and bobbed when she juggled! And a dress that made her look like a princess from Iss-Peran. And her real snake was in the head-dress and it sometimes looked like it was the snake-head’s tongue!
So, we were dressing up and rehearsing and already getting some pennies when a man came up to us, and he asked, are you performers? And we said, sure, we have given a show in all the largest towns of Velihas! So he grinned, and asked, are you with Timoine then? And Fikmet nodded, and I pointed to her white streak, in her hair. And he grinned again, went to another stall and came back with three green ribbons, and gave each of us one, and now we’re properly in the Guild of Timoine as well! He’s called Coran, he is also with Anshen, and we’ll meet again tonight, when we have the Midsummer Fire.
So we packed up Fikmet’s Snake Head and went into town to do some investigation. I still wore my red bodice, because I’d seen Fekemme look… And that was both a good and a bad thing! Because when we had wandered around a bit and had gotten thirsty, it was warm!, we came to a journeymen’s inn, it was real busy, and people looked like they were drinking the beer with pleasure. So we thought, we can get some beer here. But when I went in to get three mugs, the taproom boss, he asked me, are you Cynla? And I said, no, I’m Lyse! And he said, well, you’ve arrived, that’s the main thing, go and hand out beer.
I was drafted as a waitress! And then I looked around and I knew why — it was because in this inn, the Donkey’s Head, all the waitresses had red bodices like mine! It was a bit silly, but it would mean some pennies, and besides, a chance to keep my ears open! Only the butt-pinching and sometimes even tit-pinching was a bit much. So I poured my beer over one the pinchers, she was, from the dust on her clothes, a journeyman carpenter — and she was pissed off enough that she poured her beer over my bodice. And now my belly and tits are red, as I said, but on the other hand, the taproom boss came over, and took charge and said, my waitresses are not to be pinched, and the carpenter was thrown out! So, there. My body is mine, and I choose who can touch it, and nobody else.
It’s a good thing for her I didn’t swat her with the mug in my hand, but then, swatting people… I’m still quite afraid that I might really hurt someone.
Fekemme and Fikmet, I brought them beer, and explained what had happened, and Fekemme wanted to go after the carpenter, but I said no, and and went in again, to hand out some more beer. It was easy — there were only two kinds, beer and better beer, and almost nobody wanted the better beer, because it was two pennies a mug. And then I discovered I only earned two pennies an hour! That’s ridiculous! If I’d work here all day, I’d only have earned enough for a two rolls of bread, and two mugs of decent beer! I thought boatpeople don’t have much money, but waitresses, it’s awful!
And then… I was handing out beer and handing out more beer and I overheard two women talking in a corner. They were saying something like, tonight… it’s bound to be quiet… everyone will be at the celebration! but… there will be seals? sure, but that’s what we’ve got Riei for. And I couldn’t help snooping on them, and thinking, what place will be empty tonight, full of seals? So I went to the yard, to one of the easements, and I pulled up my skirts and tried to find Lyse. And I found her, it was easy, except that she was asleep, and I had to wake her up. But she thought I was on to something and said well-done, with her mind, which means I know she really meant it!
(By now, I think of Velihas as my real language, as “our” language — it’s so much better than Ilaini! If you can speak it, that is.)
In any case, this was interesting — three people who were planning to break into someplace where there were seals.
So I went to the boss to get my pennies and then joined Fekemme and Fikmet for a last pull of beer, and we went off to mum and dad, and then to the field next to the Order House, where the fire would be lit. Mum and dad aren’t gifted, of course, but uncle Athal had said, sure, there are more people who belong, who aren’t gifted, just like in Tilis.
The field was huge! And just like in Sarabal, it was lined with trees, and Fikmet and I did our shoulder-standing-act and hung up the lanterns. Lots and lots of food arrived, and separate fires were prepared for roasting! Before long, uncle Athal and aunt Raisse and all their children arrived, and more and more people came, also Coran, and most people from the Spotted Dog. But then uncle Athal told me that this wasn’t the only Fire in the town, there were at least three more places where our Guild celebrated, and two for those stupid people from the Nameless.
Soon, there was music, so I took out my loud flute, and Fikmet her flute, and Fekemme cast around for something to make a rhythm with, and while the food was being prepared, there was dancing and games… And then when we all had had enough food and the little princes were falling asleep, almost, the sun went big and red and started to hide itself… And I asked, can I light the fire? Because Auntie Senthi taught me that, of course, and then I said, not just me, but Fekemme, Fikmet and me? Together?
And Lyse said, yes, you three together. Velihas, Khas and Valdyan, lighting the fire for Anshen together — that is good.
And we did it! All three of us, we were part of it, and we did it together, really. And it was the first time Fikmet made fire! At first it was just a little bit of smoke, but then it started blazing out! And then the King sang, the Invocation to Anshen.
We sat down, and we looked around, and we saw that the King, uncle Athal, had his hand under aunt Raisse’s skirt, so I nodded to Fekemme, and he put his hand underneath my shirt, and now the tips of his fingers are red, too, and we sat together and started the wake. Fikmet was a bit bored with us, I guess, so she started doing a hunting game with the princes and the little princess.
Coran was making thoughtful music with his fiddle — there was some more music in other places, soft-like, and soon it was midnight, and I said, Fekemme, you said when you heard the King sing, that you understood how it worked here — do you mean you think we can sing, too, in the old language?
And he smiled, and nodded, and we started to sing, some of the songs we had sung that night in Velihas, near the mill, with little Luli on my lap. And the night grew really silent, even more silent when Coran started stroking his fiddle to fit our song. Mum and Dad, they had fallen asleep! Mum was snoring even, but I didn’t care, and we just sang…
But before it was light, early in the morning, there was noise and lights from the Order House! And it turns out that the Order had caught three burglars! Well, two, the last one, the gifted one, that one had escaped! By then, it was getting light, and Fikmet and the princes had fallen asleep, and Mum and Dad were waking up. We decided to bring our stuff to our room in the Palace and then go out and earn some pennies!
And so we did. We went all through Valdis, first from South to North, and then through other streets back again, dressed up, carrying a juggling Fikmet on our shoulders, stopping all the time to give a show! When we got back to the palace, we had earned more than three riders! Enough to pay for the costumes, but not so much more. It must be hard to eat if you’re fair people who go to town and have to buy bread and beer from what you earn — it’s easier to give shows in villages and be paid in food, I think.
Near the Velihas Gate, we found an inn that was full of the Nameless. We gave our show in front of it, and Fikmet juggled with her juggling balls made from power. And when they wanted to come out to us, I quickly sealed the door with Mík’s mum’s spiderweb seal! And they were stuck! So we quickly ran away, laughing like nothing else. I guess we shouldn’t have drunk a mug and a half of good beer with our lamb-pie lunch — not after not sleeping during the night.
But soon we noticed we were being followed!!! Finally real adventure, because having the Order catch some bandits in their own Order House doesn’t count, we weren’t there, and we couldn’t be there when the bandit they’d caught would be asked questions. So we backed up and went into a little alley, and then down the main street, and into another alley, and we were really followed.
So we made a plan, and decided to turn the tables and start chasing our chaser! And she turned out to be a woman, and we could see she wasn’t gifted. But I wasn’t sure, and when it looked like she was getting away I made a stumbling-line from anie, and she jumped over it! She must have seen it, so she must be gifted! And then she clean got away, and we went back to the palace, we were getting really sleepy. Must be the beer! And so we stopped doing the act and went back to our room.
The bed was wonderful, actually, big, and deep and so soft… Last time we had slept in real bed was in the temple of Naigha in Tal-Havin! And then we didn’t sleep together, even. So we cuddled up and slept, and slept, until Fikmet woke and wanted to go around and do things… Well! I didn’t, I wanted to cuddle some more with Fekemme, so we said, just go out then, and see to Wolf, we’ll sleep some more. And Fikmet, she threw her pillow at us, and left, but before we knew, Fekemme and me, we But soon enough she was back, and in the meantime, I had gotten this idea, that uncle Athal wasn’t so very fit, not so fit as he should be — and how about taking him with us to Tilis for our wedding? And Fekemme agreed that punting a boat would make any man strong, it’s healthy work, and we could help uncle Athal with seeing things, he can just look through our eyes, can’t he? We tried that before, and he can, and we looked through his eyes, and that was scary.
So we went to find uncle Athal, but he was in his bedroom with aunt Raisse, and they had a seal on the door, so I guess they were having a pillow-fight of their own… And we played with their children for a bit, and had something to eat, since it was along time since that lamb pie!
Finally, we sent Fikmet to the chancery to get paper, pen and ink, and made a real invite, in three languages!
So, we when they finally came out, I said, Fekemme has something to say, and Fekemme said he invited them both and their children to come to our wedding in Tilis, and here’s the invite! That made it official-like, no king can refuse to go to the wedding of a crownprince who is the son of his cousin, right?
And then I explained what our plan was, that it was because we thought a vacation, a real one, instead of being a palace-building King in Turenay, would be really good for him, so he should come on my mum and dad’s boat, with us. And aunt Raisse got a bit of a faraway look in her eyes, took off her glasses and had to clean them, and said, it reminded her of her trip north from Essle, with her best friend. And Vurian and Rovin, they were all like, we’re going on a real boat! A really, real boat! They wanted that!
Uncle Athal was a bit more dubious, because he gets seasick something horrible, but I said, it’s the river, not the sea, and they had to admit that that was true. But they couldn’t go right away, they were just back from Turenay and had to do business, but that is not a problem! My mum and dad have to down to Veray and back up to Valdis again anyway, and we only wanted to have our wedding on the Feast of Mizran, since the Bear, that’s Fekemme’s family, they belong to Mizran, so that would be fitting.
And since they said yes, we went out to find mum and dad, and ask them about it, and they were a bit scared, but finally agreed, especially when I said, think what gran will say, when we’ll have uncle Athal and aunt Raisse for our wedding! Only during the trip, they will have be disguised, otherwise Lenyas is too dangerous. We might have to go around Lenay in any case. But that’s for later! So mum and dad, they said we could say it’s okay, and we went back to say that.
But!!! Half-way we saw the woman who’d been chasing us. And she saw us, and she disappeared down an alley again, but this time we could follow her with our mind, so we went to where she was going and caught her. Another bandit! Possibly the third one, who had escaped when they’d tried to break into the Order House!
Soon, there was quite a crowd around us, and our bandit, she was shouting at us. So we had to do something, so I said, she’d been picking my pockets, and I started shouting for the Watch. Soon, one of the watch arrived, but he was with the Nameless! He would have let our bandit go for sure, if I said why we’d caught her — so I couldn’t explain to him what was going on, so I had to call the order as well, with my mind. Soon after, a Sworn and a watchman were watching each other, looking daggers… Then a sergeant of the watch came, and Lyse, and I could own up and tell them who this was.
Then we took her to the Order House to ask questions. She tried to die at first, so stupid! I still don’t understand why, but the other bandit, the one who had been caught in the night, she had died, too, and did it to herself with just her mind! But we were very devious and by making her think by asking her weird questions, we kept her interested, sort of, so aunt Raisse could come. Aunt Raisse knows some really weird Khas magic songs, and we’d heard the stories… She could keep our bandit alive!
And she did! It was really difficult, and little Alyse nearly screamed with hunger when aunt Raisse was done, but we had kept Riei alive! But it was already late and we had to stay in the Order House, and Wolf wasn’t even allowed in — but Fekemme made a nice nest of straw pallets in the attic, and we put Riei in between us, and cuddled up and slept, even aunt Raisse, who is the Queen!
The next morning, Riei was wondering what was going to happen to her, but that was simple enough, she can go to Lenay with my mum and dad, and then Jilan will take her on his boat to Tilis, so my brother-in-law can bring her to Ferin’s place, from where she can be put on a boat to Veray, where someone from the Sworn can take care of her and send her on to Turenay, to the Ishey.
If she doesn’t know what she is or why she’s alive now, the Ishey will help her out!