Perhaps not the most convenient place to suddenly become a woman. Er, perhaps not the most convenient place for anything.
We still haven’t properly kissed again! And we’re almost in Lenay already. We’ve been on the boat for five nights now, sleeping in inns, well, in the stable lofts, of course, not in the real bedrooms! Jichan was pleased with how little we were spending along the way! But there never was a place where Fekemme and me could settle down for a good, long kiss! And I feel him thinking about it, all the time, and I bet he feels me thinking about it all the time, too. We’re being thoroughly stupid!
Fortunately being silly about a boy doesn’t make clumsy, I’ve seen that happen to my sister! So no accidents happened, not even the morning when we had to pull down an old barn for an innkeeper, it was rotten down to the ground, but there were still heavy slates on the roof.
Our soaked-through clothes really began to chafe, though, so we need to get some salve in Lenay. We really did forget all the stuff the two little doctors in Turenay had given us, way back in Istila! And in any case, it might be for the best that we never were alone enough to do the kissing thing because I still hadn’t figured out the leaves the midwife had given me, and Jichan, though he’s big enough that he should be getting married, he didn’t know anything about it either, he was no help! Not that I asked him, of course.
Lenay is pretty stupid, lots and lots of people belong to the Nameless, this used to be Eraday country, I guess named for that village, Erday, which the King made disappear into a big hole. And the Eraday, they are almost all with the Nameless, fat lot of good that that did to them! But we knew we had to be extra-double-plus-super careful and we were!
In Lenay, the Valda runs through a kind of gorge, it’s very deep. Downstream, the gorge turns into a kind of hilly country, and gets properly flat when you get near Tilis. And upstream, it’s kind of flattish, too, they say (we haven’t been there yet), with some mountains and hills, but mostly just flattish, as I said. And there would be lots and lots of rapids and maybe even waterfalls but, the river kind of cuts through the chalk, and the kings and barons, they made lots of locks, so boats can go upriver from Lenay. It’s vineyards, vineyards and vineyards, all around Lenay and lots of stupid people keep quarreling about whether wine from Lenay is better, or wine from Ryshas, but the answer is clear: Tamsin’s beer is best, so there!
It isn’t easy, though! Because of all the locks, you can barely use a tow-horse, and it’s mostly punting or sculling, depending on where it’s deep, or not.
And as I said, it’s in Lenay, where the banks are really steep. You have to climb a couple of hundred steps to go up, to where the cranes are, so I went up first, and talked to the crane-master, and he told me that the gang who had thrown the barrel at Seran and Jichan, that they had been locked up, but had already been let go — and in fact, one of them, a boy about as big as me, he was carrying cargo into a warehouse, he works for one of the other cranes, there are three. In every crane, two big men are holding a big bar to keep themselves steady, and they move the crane with their feet!
Soon, Fikmet came up with the first load, and when she saw me looking at the men, she laughed out loud, and said, you want to try that, too, don’t you? And I said, yes, but I don’t think I’m heavy enough yet! And the crane master, he is bigger than me, he said, no, you aren’t, come back when you’re twice as heavy!
So I went back to guard Jichan’s cargo from that mean, Nameless-serving bully! I sent him some very nasty glances, but I didn’t use semsin, that would have really provoked him! Jichan had three loads to send up in all, lovely stuff, linen, glassware and medicine for the hospital and herbs from Iss-Peran and a box of bottles of sweet wine for an apothecary.
Nothing happened to our stuff, and Jichan paid the quay people to guard his boat, and we hired a carter to deliver our stuff. She was pretty nice, and told us a lot about the baron, he used to be in the Temple of Mizran and still very clerkish, as is his wife, the baroness. She first took us to the hospital, just outside Lenay.
The hospital was pretty awesome! It’s not finished yet, but it’s going to be beautiful, and it was built by orders of the Queen! I’m going to have a hospital built, too, in Istila, I guess, when I get to do some queening! There isn’t a single hospital in all of Velihas yet! I’ll ask Queen Raisse how one goes about building hospitals, it’s obviously something queens do, just like having lots of books and making people learn to read and write.
We delivered the linen into the linen room and the glassware and medicine were for the dispensary, but when the doctor started unpacking, she was stopped by someone else, he said, stop that! Wait at least until we’ve got the shelves up, and shutters in the windows! And it’s true, the room was bare, it was walls, floor and ceiling, nothing else yet, apart from a carpenter who was busy planing shelves.
But she needed to check that nothing had been broken, and nothing was, so that was fine, and a load off Jichan’s mind, too!
The remainder of the load was for the apothecary. This was a posh place! And there wasn’t a woman behind the counter anyway, so we dropped off the load, got the bills signed and then went to a more cheerful part of town, closer to the big bridge.
The big bridge is really big! It’s wide enough that there are houses on both sides, and where there aren’t houses, there are wine gardens, where you can sit down, order wine and food and look over the river. Those places are very expensive, of course!
At a less posh apothecary, I got advice about the leaves — take a pinch, put in a bowl, add boiling water and drink, and do that every week. And I got salve for the sores our wet clothes had given us, first they wanted to give me thin goose grease! But I wasn’t having that, I wanted proper, thick salve, that’s the only thing that helps! Goose grease! That will have dripped down into your clogs before you’ve gone two steps! And mud to make my hair red, like I had promised Fekemme, that was four shillings! So my hair is still stupidly colourless.
Our clothes were a bit of a problem, too. Not as filthy as when we’d arrived at Ferin’s place, but still… And Lenay has a day market, and there were stalls with second-hand clothes. But at the first stall I could see the nits in the seams, it was horrible! We’ve managed to travel all year long, from Tilis to Velihas and back without getting lice or fleas, not even once! But then Fikmet saw that the other stall, it had a placard, and it said “Second-hand clothes, freshly laundered, guaranteed!”
It turned out to be two girls of about my age, Arvi and Maile, and they were doing a brisk business! They said, they and their aunt, they did laundry, and had gotten this idea, and I put my nose in a heap of shirts, and they smelled of lavender, and were absolutely clean! So we got our clean shirts and trousers, and moreoever, they were really friendly and said, if you come and stay with us, you don’t have to stay in the boatpeople’s hostel, that’s so dirty! And if you bring some wine, our aunt, she’ll tell stories, she’s a really good story-teller, knows all of them, even the story of the Mirror of Sarabal.
So we went to take our bath, went to buy a huge pie to share with the laundresses and their aunt, and then got a jar of wine. And the wine-merchant, he said, do me a favour, and take this bottle, for free, and give it a try and tell me — what do you think of it? And he said it was because it was Swan’s Blood from Erday, and he had got a basket-ful of bottles, but they were over twenty years old and he didn’t dare taste it himself, afraid that his memory would play tricks with his tongue! So we promised, and went to the laundresses’s place, a cottage as big as gran’s, with another one next-door, where they did laundry.
We had a wonderful evening! The pie was so huge, Fekemme and me, we had to carry it together, and it was lovely, lamb and leeks. The aunt, her legs had withered a bit, but she had a lovely friendly face, and she really was a wonderful story-teller. And at the end of the evening, we gave the Swan’s Blood a try. I was a bit disappointed, it tasted really earthy, somehow, which of course meant that Fekemme and Fikmet loved it! And the aunt, her name is Aine, she used to be linen maid in a big house, she loved it too, and so we told the wine merchant the next day. And Fekemme poked me when I said, she’s coming down to tell you herself, she’s very nice! Because I knew he was a widower, and Aunt Aine had said, when she saw Fekemme’s hand going under my shirt that she was looking for a boyfriend, too. I didn’t know you could have a boyfriend when you’re very nearly a granny!
Anyway… Arvi and Maile had promised to wash our sailor’s clothes, for free, because of the wine and the huge pie, and we went on to the baron’s castle (and from there, we wanted to go the other Khas village, the one we hadn’t known about before). We got a lift from a carter who had collected several barrels of wine. Lenyas seems pretty enough, if a little muddy (ha! said Fekemme, when I said that, you’re one to complain about mud, girl-from-Tilis that you are! and he’s right).
But I was getting a rumbly feel in my belly again. And when nobody was watching me I took a quick peek, and I was so pissed off! My courses had started! My brand-new, guaranteed freshly laundered trousers, I’d stupidly bled into them! The important thing, of course, was to make sure that nobody could see! And that I could find a friendly woman to help me out, because, well, I haven’t got rags or a girdle or anything! I hadn’t expected this to happen already! Maybe Fekemme poked something loose or something…
So I was really glad that the carter’s daughter was there, with her little baby daughter, to welcome her father, and I slipped off the cart and quickly explained, and she bustled me into their cottage, it’s in the castle’s courtyard, and she tried to keep my bottom half out of sight while I was carrying her daughter.
And then when I was washing my between-my-legs, Fikmet wandered in, and wanted to know what I was doing! I was really snappish at her, I don’t know why, actually, after all, what did it matter that she saw me become a woman? But I was snappish all the same and I told her to go out! And the woman, Serla, she put my trousers in a pail with cold water and gave me a girdle and some rags, and also lent me a skirt, it’s bit tight around my bum, but long enough, it goes all the way down to my ankles. Serla is quite thin, but very tall! And she told me, replace the rags three, four times a day, not less than that, or it’ll start stinking real bad. Besides, it’s bad for you.
And my belly still hurts! If this is going to happen all the time, well, someone is going to pay!!!
And then we went up, to the Baron and his wife, he’s called Aldin and she’s called Halla. Neither of them is gifted, which is a good thing, I think, otherwise I’m sure they would be with the Nameless, what with being in Lenay. The previous baroness, Raith, she was with Anshen, she can make the weather do what she wants and cause fire storms to come from mountains and she’s married to the king’s sister, Ayneth, who is married to a prince from Iss-Peran. They now live in Solay, and Fikmet has met them.
The Baron wasn’t as stuffy as I had feared, and Halla is downright nice. And we spent an hour to talk about what a baron does, and about Lenay and things — it’s all part of Fekemme and me learning the job, that’s what I think, even if it’s a bit boring now and then, and besides, soon enough we’ll be having fun again, and we’ll never again have a chance of meeting so many different people who take care of a barony or a country.
And then the Baron took us to his tower — he said it was very special, Raith had set a lot of store by it, and if we were gifted, we should see it! And it was very impressive, the tower, a bit like the one in Tilis, it was built of stone, and every stone was set in place with semsin, it was ancient power, so much power! Almost a temple, but it didn’t belong, it was just power making this place a safe place. And it’s older than the Kingdom, I guess the semti back then made it to keep the people safe from bandits and war and so on.
And then the Baron took Fekemme and Fikmet down into the cellars, but I didn’t care to go, and neither did Halla want to go, so we spent some time chatting, mostly about Fekemme, but also about not wanting to go into the cellars. But my belly got worse and worse, it was like cramp, and she saw it and didn’t do or say anything, just gave me a bit of a cuddle.
And then Fekemme came out and was all, this is wonderful, and I want to see it again! And I was looking daggers at him, and then he said, Lyse, it’s only your period, it’s not so bad! And I said, how do you know! And he said, I’ve seen you! And then we had our first spat! And he held me and kissed me, but I wanted to get loose, only not, but still, and in the end, I said, what I want is that we don’t go on to the Khas village today! I want to be in a room with just you and me, and you must rub my belly and do the Iss-Peranian tickling thing, and he kissed me, and Halla showed us a place where I could be properly miserable.
What I really want next, actually, is catching a real bandit or two tomorrow! And maybe giving them a thumping. That’s what I really feel like doing!