And on to Valdis.
Being a woman is stupid!!! Just when I have, like, bumblebees in my belly, that’s when my body decides to be at its most tiresome! Or is it always like this, every month, these things flutter in my belly and make filthy, stinking, rancid, clotty, smelly blood come out of my between-my-legs? Not that Fekemme cares, he tickles me anyway, and only washes his hands when I tell him to…
Oh, I was so annoyed and grumpy! We spent all afternoon cuddling and I took care to have plenty of towels to put on Fekemme’s lap so I could sit on his lap without spoiling his new trousers, not that he was wearing them, but anyway. He was sweet to me, and I was grumpy, and then I was grumpy some more. But he didn’t care and just cuddled me, which, I guess, was just what I needed.
So, after all the cuddling, I said, look, if we ask for horses, could we be in Fikmet’s Khas village tonight? And Fekemme said, yes, sure. So we went out to ask auntie Halla for horses, and she said yes, sure, too. And I promised I’d help in the stables tomorrow, when we’d be back.
That’s when Fikmet came back, too, she’d gone out, because Fekemme and me, we were being boring (at least, to her) and she’d been playing hunter with Wolf and a boy, he was about five, and they’d caught a rabbit so they’d brought us bread and cheese, only we were cuddling on the pallet auntie Halla had her maids make for us.
So we got on our horses, Fikmet in front of me, and we had the fast one this time! Our Lightning was fast! We had a really good run! And Fekemme’s Hazelnut, she was old she didn’t want to run! But we had to stop anyway to swap out the bloody rags and bury them at the roadside and put in some new ones. And I had to speak really sharply to Wolf, because she wanted to grub up my rags! Ew!!!!!!!!!!
And then we came to the Khas village, they have fields of beans and runner beans and peas and so on, and it all just grows and grows! Fikmet was really surprised because, of course, back in the home country, the Khas don’t grow nothing, they just gather what grows on its own.
But the Khas in this village are famous all over Lenay for their vegetables. The village was almost completely Khas, except for Merain, a veteran soldier who ended up here and married a Khas woman. At first, I couldn’t figure out a way to talk to the Khas, but then it dawned upon me that they were almost all gifted! So I just spoke Velihan to them, and some of them actually figured it out, and we managed to discover that this is a tribe that had fled from the Khas mages to Essle. They’d been really poor in Essle, when the Queen and Lady Moyri were led by Anshen (or Timoine — I’m not totally clear, maybe both) to the island where they were hiding.
And they had given the Khas this village, and now they are here, but they still speak almost nothing but Khas, and their priestess is a priest! A priest of Naigha! Can you believe it? He even does the birthings and everything, and has been to the big temple in Valdis to learn. Now I have seen everything!
There was also an old Khas lady and she had a great solution for my problem, a kind of bag filled with moss or stuff and when put that in, I felt a lot less dirty and prone to leaking in Lady Halla’s skirts.
We spent the night in the Khas village, eating with them, too. For dinner, we had, well, a mess of all kinds of thing thrown in a pot and boiled until soft… And then next morning, for breakfast, the same thing! No wonder that Fikmet is so small, I wouldn’t have wanted to eat that all the time either! We skipped breakfast… And went back to the castle as fast as we could, to see whether we could scrounge up some pancakes. Even Fikmet had to admit that pancakes are the better breakfast.
And in the kitchen of the castle, I taught Fikmet and Fekemme how to make pancakes properly, and they learned it pretty quickly!
We were lucky, too, because we could cadge a ride with Ruzyn, from the brewery, who was bringing empty barrels into town. Her cart was only drawn by an ox, but it was still better than walking the way, and it was nice to chat and sing all the way.
We found Jichan ready to go, he was quite happy he’d had the delay in Lenay since he’d managed to get reimbursement for the butter cask disaster! The Order had stepped in, on his behalf. And he had big news, too! My mum and dad’s boat, it had been in the dock to the north of the town, because they had had a collision between Valdis and Lenay! And they’d been staying in the boatpeople’s hostel, but since we never went there, we hadn’t known! And now their boat had been repaired, and they had gone north again, with another load!
I couldn’t wait to cast off and go, too! We might overtake them, they had left only yesterday.
North of Lenay, the river is different from anything I’ve ever seen. It’s not really deep enough, and it’s still quite steep, actually, which a river can’t be because it wants to be flat, so there are nine locks to go through. And beyond the locks, the river has staunches, at least a dozen! And those really are dangerous, because boats coming downstream shoot them, that means, they go between the dams that staunch the river to make it deep enough, and that also make the water go like a real rapid, and they go fast.
But the upstream boats have right of way, because it’s real hard for the horses, we had four to a team now, to pull the boats up against the stream. It needs a really fine judgement for an downstream boat to figure whether it can shoot the staunch or or should wait for the upstream boat to navigate it.
And in fact, we did have a bang! Clumsy Lyse (not to be confused with me…), she mistimed, and her bows scraped our side, and we got tangled up! I called her some pretty clear things! And so did Jichan, but Fekemme and Fikmet were white as sheets, it was a big bang, only afterwards they could laugh at the things we’d been calling Lyse.
And about half-way, we came across my mum and dad!
And we went over, of course, and I said, this is Fekemme, he’s my boyfriend and gran approves, so we’re going to marry. And dad was a bit like, who are you, and can you afford a boat? And mum was like, you look like a foreigner, can you even handle a boat? So we had to explain… And Fekemme, I’m sure he blushed beetrootsoup-red, but it was dark already, so that didn’t matter, and I said I wouldn’t stay in Tilis, or go on the river, but go to Baraz and become queen.
I’m not sure my mum and dad actually like that idea… And not just because I’ll be gone, but also because they probably think queening isn’t a proper job! Which means I’ll have to spend extra effort to learn to be good at it, and make sure I do a good job of it.
But they weren’t making a fuss, at least, and seemed to like Fekemme well enough, which is a good thing, because my period was over by now and we wanted to go to the bows, and do a bit of kissing among the bales of wool.
It also helped that we’re both in the Guild of Anshen now and that I told them about Aunt Senthi.
So the next morning, mum made the tea with the packet from Mialle and said, drink this. It tastes disgusting… But I guess I should have expected that. I asked her whether me and Fekemme couldn’t share drinking the stuff, he one week, me the other week, but she said no, just like he couldn’t share the periods… (Well, except by being extra nice to me, which counts for some.)
We stayed together the rest of the trip… Every evening, we’d moor on the east bank of the Valda, and we’d tell about our journey, and mum and dad told about their adventures on the Valda. And once we’d cleared the staunches, we could send the horses back, and I taught Fekemme to properly handle a pole. He’s a quick learner, of course! And by the time we arrived in Valdis, I wasn’t ashamed to let him handle the boat.
It’s so close the Feast of Anshen, that the whole city was full, there was barely any room in the Spotted Dog for mum, dad and Jichan, but I guess we don’t need to care about that, I guess the King will find a place for us in the palace… (And who’d believe that I just wrote that… A year ago, at the Feast of Anshen?)
So Fekemme, Fikmet and me, we went to get a present for the princes, we decided a bag of building blocks would be good, since Rovin wants to become a builder, so we got a huge number of odd bits of wood from the shipyard’s carpenter’s workshop, he even gave us a bag to put them in and some sandpaper to make them smooth. And tonight, we’ll go and see the King. I bet I can even ask him to meet mum and dad, and that should convince them that kinging and queening are proper jobs!