On the river
I thought the rest of the month would be boring, compared to Fikmet getting her mum back! And with just the two of us. But it wasn’t — I guess Fekemme and me, we can sort of settle! We did our work, and worked hard, and had pie together and a beer at the end of the day, and we had regular pillow fights and didn’t forget to kiss and stuff… And did the invocations in the morning, and now and then sat together to sing in the old language. And taking uncle Athal out, disguised as Old Arin the Blind Lute-player (the disguise was wearing thin, especially when aunt Raisse came out, disguised as well, and sat down to listen to us play), well, that was always fun and we learned so much music from him!
I so wish I could get a fiddle… I’m beginning to find my lovely loud flute a bit boring!
All in all, with all the work I did, I’ve got nearly fifteen riders now, a fortune!!! I’m sure we can get wine and pigs for the wedding with that, and have some over to get started in Sarabal.
Fikmet teases me, and even aunt Raisse teases me, but I know that this is sort of our only chance to have a few years just together — and I’m so looking forward to building our own place in Sarabal, and be there together, and cook for each other. I guess we’ll be pretty poor, so I want to go to Veray first to buy some livestock to sell in Sarabal, and maybe one of the fishers in Sarabal wants me to help in the mornings, before I can bother auntie Senthi for lessons. With a bit of care, we’ll be fine! After all, Fikmet and me, we traveled around the world never spending more than a penny at most! I don’t think we’ll have to go hungry, at least, unless something happens to the harvest, like it did, a few years ago.
And then mum and dad came back. I was working in the sawpit, so I saw them arrive, and got leave from the master to go to them. And I sent Fikmet a message with semsin, even though she was ever so far away, in the Khas camp, that we’d leave for Tilis the next day.
Oh! I took mum and dad home with me, well, home, that’s the Palace, of course! I am used to it now, but they weren’t, so I took them through the kitchen door instead of the great gate. Though the kitchens are plenty great, too, and my mum and dad were impressed by all the fires, ovens and everything. But then a few hundred people eat here every day! I think there are just as many people living in the Palace as in Tilis.
And when mum and dad had had their dinner with uncle Athal and aunt Raisse, I think they both now really believe that I’ll be fine, that being queen isn’t something weird, not-quite-respectable or something like that. In any case, Fekemme and me, we lent them our bedroom with the pillows for the night — I don’t think mum and dad have ever slept in a feather bed! And when we came to wake them up in the morning, well, they sure were sleeping! And the pillows were all over the room, so now I know where my liking for pillow-fights comes from!
Chaos! Trying to get Vurian, Rovin, Radan, Alyse dressed and up — and yes, I am good with small children! Well, so is Fekemme. But I’m still going to wait a few years before I have a baby! And when we had everyone dressed and smuggled out of the Palace to the harbour, it was clear that we had a problem… There was no way all of us would fit in mum and dad’s boat! That’s eight adults and all the children! Because Senthi, Rovin’s mum, was coming with us as well. And lots and lots of luggage, chests, bags, blankets, packs and bales! There was no room for merchandise!
I guess I’ve gotten good at haggling, because an hour later, I had a slightly lame sow and a slightly leaky boat, for about ten shillings! That was ridiculously cheap, but then, the owner had just lost his daughter and son-in-law on their wedding day — the house had collapsed after a lightning strike! And to think that me and Fekemme, we were having a snuggle in the hayloft, just when that thunderstorm was striking! It made me feel bad to get the pig and the boat for so little money, but in the end, the seller was determined to get rid of everything he had in Valdis and go back to Ildis, where he came from.
The boat was a bit of a monster, it wasn’t quite flat-bottomed, and the prow was highish, with the stern flat and covered. My dad said it would do well in the rapids, but that it might be unhandy otherwise.
So it would prove to be — but first I sold the lame pig to my master at the sawpit, for eight shillings (making the boat almost for free!) and for enough hemp and tar to caulk my boat. It’s mine, because I paid for it! And I guess we’ll sell it in Veray for a cart, to take us to Sarabal. It only needs a coat of paint, and we can get that cheap in Tilis, from Essle! There’s always some paint that nobody seems to want…
And then we left!
I promised Raisse and Athal that they could have their turn at punting, but first I needed to get the dratted boat out of the harbour. Great Gods! That boat was clumsy… But I got the hang of it, and we made it out of the Watergate without scraping off anybody else’s paint… And when we were in the wide bit just beyond the Watergate, Fekemme took over, and did very well! I’ve gained quite a bit of strength in the sawpit, but he’s still as strong as me, so I guess he’s been doing some good, hard work too! I can’t get enough of watching him handle my boat — and then I have to blush and look the other way, which Raisse noticed, of course, she notices everything.
So then Raisse got her turn… Her poor hands! She hasn’t got any calluses at all! And the pole gets wet, and that burns away skin! So I had to warn her to take it easy and not rub her hands dry and take away the skin. But she did good, no accidents, and we got further downstream at least.
Athal was sitting in the prow all the time, looking out over the river with Fikmet’s eyes. He said he could use semsin on the river, no problem — only the sea is a problem, when the bottom is too deep for him to reach. Fortunately, the Valda never is really deep!
That night, we camped out at the west bank, together, making music, washing the children — they were horribly tarry after clambering all over my freshly-caulked boat! And then I sent them into the river with a piece of soap to get washed, telling them to throw the soap at each other, and who misses their catch most has lost! But a big carp snatched the soap and ate it! Then I asked Radan, who told me this, is this true? And he said yes, and ran back into the river and came back with the carp!
It must have been a hundred years old! I’m so amazed that Radan managed to catch and and keep it caught, and even carry it out of the water! It must have helped that the carp’s dinner of soap hadn’t done it any good, and when I squeezed its belly, it puked out the soap! With a bit of water, the cake was as good as new, and in the meanwhile, day after tomorrow, we’ll have a lovely carp for dinner! So we put it in a bucket to shed the muddiness and soapiness.
Next day, we got to Tal Sorn, which is famous for its cabbages. And yes, I know that cabbage isn’t the nicest food ever! But if we’d take cabbages to Tilis, aunt Mialle would surely buy them, and we’d be able to get some jars of pickled cabbage for the winter. Fikmet was a bit unbelieving, she said, you really want a boat full of cabbage? But I said, sure, it’s good merchandise! And we went outside Tal Sorn, to a farm, to get fifty cabbages, because out of town, it’s cheaper, and the princes, they all helped carry them to the boat! And those big, white cabbages, they are big. They’ll grow up pretty strong, the princes!
Oh, it really was a gorgeous journey…
Sometimes, when we camped close to an inn, Raisse and Athal would take a room, and be together. For really old people, they really are in love! And they don’t hesitate when they want to act stupid at all.
And then we’d camp out with the children and tell them stories, and sing. And Athal learned to take the rapids really well, in the end he didn’t need Fikmet’s eyes anymore, he didn’t even need his own eyes, he did it all with his spirit! And my boat, she’s really good indeed on those rapids! Pity there are none on the Rycha…
But Athal, he got his color back, and his strength, and he and Raisse have calluses and I was so right! A couple of weeks on a boat! There is nothing better!
And not just strength in his arms, but also his spirit! And sometimes we make music, and Athal is teaching me to play his fiddle, it’s really difficult, but so much fun! I’m using semsin to help with the bow, but Athal does that, too. I wonder if I can make the fiddle anea power, as well music.
And sometimes we just play with semsin, I once made a light to look at the boat, whether it had been hit by one of the weirs, when we’d made camp late at night, and then I threw the light at Fikmet, who held it, and then Fikmet and Athal, they started throwing my light at each other. Soon, Fekemme joined in! I couldn’t see the boat anymore, but, in fact, I’d seen enough, and there wasn’t any damage.
Soon, we’ll be in Lenay, which is going to be a challenge!