Tilis

For completeness: Lyse’s great-grandmother was one of three sisters, Arni, Mialle and Moyri. Arni married a thatcher, gave birth to Senthi and died in a scarlet fever epidemic; Moyri and her husband took eleven-year-old Senthi to the Temple of Naigha in Valdis; Mialle also died, and her daughter Aine (Lyse’s grandmother) was too sick and/or too young to take as well.

Funny image that didn’t make it into the text: Fikmet hanging from the bellows because she wasn’t heavy enough to pull them. Also, at some point crayfish were collected and a big pike was caught.

I was really nervous! Because Aunt Tamsin, when she’d come in from the common room and seen me and Fekemme hold hands, she smiled and said to Ferin that she thought we should go “behind the screen” tonight. I didn’t know what that meant! But Fikmet did, and she laughed at us and said that if we were going to be all stupid, then that was what the screen was for! And Ferin nodded, too, with a horrible grin on his face! One that makes him deserve the worst tickling he’s ever had from me!

And then Aunt Tamsin, she took us upstairs, to the corridor with all the guest rooms, and at the end, there was a door with “Private” painted on it. And she took us inside, and it was all done up like a Khas tent! There was a round wall of leather and skins, of all kinds of different animals, some skins were old, others looked new, and there was a kind of tent-like roof, too, also made of skins. And in the middle of the room, there was a leather screen.

And Aunt Tamsin said, Ferin has made this for me, so I don’t feel so homesick!

Isn’t my brother the best brother in the world? He’s made a Khas tent right inside his house for his wife!

And I felt Fekemme squeeze my hand and I had to blush. Because I remembered the tent we had borrowed from his mum and dad! The tent that his dad had told us that they’d used to make Lelem and Fekemme and all his brothers and sisters in. The people from Velihas and the Khas, they have some things where they are exactly the same, like not thinking that Anshen and the Nameless are two different Gods — and making children in tents, too.

Not that I want to have a baby already, so I wasn’t intending to make one here and now!

And Tamsin smiled and gave us a cuddle and said she and Ferin and Fikmet, they’d use one of the empty guest rooms tonight. And then we went behind the screen, and there was a sort of bed, it was a big straw pallet with more skins on top and linen sheets, too. It must have cost Ferin a fortune to get so much leather and so many skins!

And Fekemme had a really silly grin on his face, shy and eager at the same time!

I guess I wasn’t any better though, and we sat down and gave kissing a trial.

It was fun, even when Fekemme started playing with my tongue with his tongue, which was strange, but I guess I got the hang of it quick enough and did the same back to him.

And we had a cuddle, and I put his hand under the shirt that I’d borrowed off Ferin, and he felt my tits.

And then… Well, we kissed some more and I said, how about semsin? We’re both gifted, so could we kiss with semsin, too? And we gave that a try, and it was really funny to feel little semsin kisses all over my face and neck!

But then Fekemme did the tongue thing again, this time both with his real tongue, AND with semsin, and it was like nothing else… It was like he was in my mind and in my body and I was in his mind and his body all at the same time! And we kissed like that, and I felt what he was eager for, and, and, and I was eager for it, too, because his eagerness was mine and the other way around, and he kissed me and cuddled me exactly where I was feeling I wanted to be cuddled and kissed. And I knew that he knew that I knew that he knew — well, it was like we were one person with two bodies and two persons with one body, it was very strange, and I must ask Auntie Senthi if that’s usual thing if two semte kiss!

And then, before I realized what I was doing I had taken off my shirt and Fekemme’s shirt, and I was pulling him on top of me — and then we were even closer together. Two weeks, no, even two days ago I would have thought all of this just about as stupid as stupid can get! And now I was being stupid myself!

And it made an awful mess in the end! We were all sticky and bloody! And there wasn’t an ewer or anything, so we couldn’t wash, Khas never wash, after all, so we just did some more kissing and I asked Fekemme where he had learned about the bit with the tongues.

He said his brother Lelem had told him about all of it — the bits he’d learned from his dad and from the doctor in Baraz, and also of the bits Lelem had learned from Abatté. Fekemme said that Lelem had admitted that Abatté had been really disappointed that a prince from Velihas knew almost nothing about kissing and stuff. So she’d decided to teach him the Iss-Peranian way of kissing and stuff.

And then he grinned and started tickling me where I have never been tickled before!

That was an Abatté thing, too, he said, when he was done.

So next morning I teased Fekemme a bit. I know exactly why he always leaves our nest of Ishey blankets nearly every morning to go into the nearest shrubbery, only to return and cuddle up against us a little later. I’ve got plenty of brothers, after all! It’s not like I know nothing! So before he properly woke, I was making him make more stickiness, and then I had to really go down to the kitchen to get water to wash.

Aunt Tamsin went all cuddly over me, and she said that I didn’t have to be afraid that there’d always be blood — only the first time, or at most the first few times, and she gave me water and towels and fresh bread and small beer to carry upstairs.

Washing your boyfriend is maybe even more fun than kissing and than the other thing. And I really have a boyfriend now!

So when we had had our bread and beer and were clean, Aunt Tamsin came to bring us our trousers and shirts, the ones that we’d washed out and hung on the clothes line yesterday, and she ruffled Fekemme’s hair, and he had to blush and then we went downstairs.

She didn’t mind at all about the mess we’d made behind the screen, she said that with the Khas, everyone who lives in a tent shares the behind-the-screen, and when two people want to kiss (and do the other thing), they say they are going to use the screen, and so everyone who has somebody to kiss shares the bed behind the screen.

And then Fikmet looked sad and said, now you two are suddenly looking so big and grown-up, and I looked at myself, and I said, yes… I wouldn’t go skipping with the other girls in front of the Temple of Naigha anymore. Just like Imri had stopped skipping and playing with knucklebones two years ago, when she had been with her first boyfriend. And for a moment I thought, I’m just as stupid as Imri! But then Fekemme put his hand on one of my tits and squeezed it a bit and I thought, no, I’m not, because I’m not going to let any other boy do that! Ever!

And I smiled as sweetly as I could at Fekemme and said we’d best borrow Ferin’s rowboat because we needed to visit the midwife, and he looked and looked and looked at me! And because of last night, well, I could feel his thoughts, well, churn inside him. “Is Lyse going to have a baby? Is she joking? Will there be a baby, do I want a baby, I don’t want a baby, I do want a baby, or is there something else the midwife needs to look at? Was it all the blood?” he was thinking all of that.

So I gave him a kiss and a bump and took his hand out from under my shirt and said, well, no! I’m not going to have a baby, I couldn’t!, I haven’t even had a single period yet! But she’s the master of the Guild of Anshen, and besides, she’s also the only doctor in Tilis, and after nearly a year of camping out and eating deer, not always completely well-done, well, I think we need to have the doctor look at us.

And he looked so relieved and sad at the same time that I kissed him, and I asked, if I have a baby, should it be made or born in Baraz, because of the birthright? And he said, no, because you only get it when you get back from camp anyway.

That’s when Ferin came into the kitchen from the sty, where he’d been feeding their pig, and he asked, are you two going to be married?

And Fekemme said, yes, we are, and I said, “yes”, too.

And Ferin grinned while Fikmet groaned!

I guess I know what’s going to happen next, first we’ll be a couple of years in Sarabal, and I’ll take care we’ll have our own hut so I can take care of Fekemme and meals and things and then we’ll go to Baraz and, in the end, be king — and queen… — and give Fekemme’s dad some time to travel round Velihas and maybe outside, while he’s still young enough to traipse around. After all, you don’t have be King until you die!

And we took Ferin’s rowboat and Fekemme rowed until we were near Little Tilis when I took over, because he’s getting better, but real boatpeople would still laugh at him — he moves about so much when rowing! Fikmet at the tiller was doing a good job, though!

And I took Fekemme by the hand and we went to our house. It’s not a big place! Just one room with a hearth, two bedsteads, a table and a chair for my grandma, and the upstairs where my cubby-hole used to be. And the Rycha all over the floor… We really should put the house on poles!

And my gran, she was home, of course, she can barely walk any more, but she got up anyway and said, how big have you gotten, Lyse! And she said, hi Fikmet! You’re not so big, but you look good. And then she said, Lyse, do I know the young man? Is he your young man?

So I said yes, he’s Fekemme, he’s my boyfriend and he’s from Velihas. And then my gran gave Fekemme her sauciest grin and said that she thought he was the handsomest boy she’d ever seen, and would I share him with her?

So I knew she approved of him and I said, no, he’s all mine!

And we sat down on the table, feet out of the wet, and gran asked Fekemme where he was from and whether he was guild or not and what he was going to do to help provide for the family and whether he was boatpeople in Velihas, too.

And then Fekemme said, no, he wasn’t boatpeople, but he was with Anshen, too, otherwise I wouldn’t have looked at him twice, and that he was, well, the crown-prince of Velihas.

And Gran said, are you joking?

And Fekemme said, no, of course not!

And then Gran was silent! That never happens normally!

And she said, you’re not joking, you’re really not joking.

And then she was silent a bit more, but then told me to come to her, and I waded through the Rycha to her chair, and she cuddled me some.

I told her I’d been afraid that I would have had to become a cobbler or something because I had nearly got the twelve riders to become an apprentice, but that I wouldn’t, now, though I cannot imagine I’ll ever be a queen… But I’ll have to, if I marry Fekemme. I guess I’ll be the ugliest queen the world has ever seen!

And gran said, of course you wouldn’t be a cobbler! Nearly twelve riders is nearly half a barge, too! But if you’re going to marry this boy, make sure that it’s me who is going to wed the two of you! And she smiled again, and tried to squeeze Fekemme’s behind! I’ve never seen her approve of the first boy or girl anyone brings home! Aine’s Rovin is her third, the first two gran had sent packing immediately!

And then I told her we’d first go to Valdis, to give the King the letter Fekemme’s dad had written, and that we’d go back to Sarabal afterwards, to learn, Fekemme from Rikhi, and me from Auntie Senthi — and then I told gran that Auntie Senthi, the baroness of Sarabal, that she was gran’s actual cousin.

They’d lost each other after the sickness that had killed half Tilis back then and gran had never heard of her cousin Senthi ever again, but Auntie Senthi had given me a letter for gran, and I gave the letter to gran to read while we went out to the midwife.

Mialle, she’s called, like every woman in Tilis who isn’t called Lyse, Aine or Imri! She lives near the Temple of Mizran, so her house was still dry, and she was doing her spring cleaning. We offered to help, but she said it wasn’t necessary, and why had we come?

Well, I explained about the worms and so on, so she took a look and found we didn’t have worms or ticks or anything else — we must’ve been good and careful travellers! And then she looked at me, and asked whether she was needed as a midwife, and I said no! I haven’t had my period yet, but she figured out that my stomach trouble two weeks ago must have been sort of a first period, and gave me leaves to steep in hot water that’ll make sure I won’t have a baby unless we want to.

Only I’m not sure how much I have to make and when and how much to drink, or whether I have to drink it at all, or wash my between-my-legs with it when it’s sticky! When we left Turenay we’d taken a packet of leaves as well, and that had writing on it telling us how to use it, but we forgot all our medicines at the apothecary in Istilla.

Maybe we weren’t so careful travellers after all.

But then she noticed all of a sudden that I’m going to be a grand master as well, which, I guess, is why she forgot to tell me how to use the leaves, and she took out the Guild Register (because she’s the boss of the Guild of Anshen in Tilis, and we don’t have anybody in the Guild of the Nameless!) and she wrote down my name, and she was very proud and said she’d seen it coming already.

Well, it was a surprise for me! And I told her that.

And then we went to the Castle, first to do the kissing on the Long Bridge, and then to give the baroness her letter from Auntie Senthi. Fikmet said, are you two sure you are going to be stupid, and I said, yes!!! Because I’d already seen Imri in the street, carrying a bunch of papers. She’s going to be a clerk, just like her ma and dad.

And on the bridge, we started to kiss, with our tongues and Fekemme grabbed my tits and I grabbed his behind, and we were actually having a lot of fun when Imri and her friends came to us and started yelling and shouting, but we did like we didn’t hear them, and kissed some more, and Imri was like, you shouldn’t kiss her! You should kiss me, what’s a cute boy like you doing with an ogre like Lyse? And Fekemme said he’d never kiss anyone but me or squeeze anyone’s tits but mine and that as far as he was concerned Imri was as cute as a boiled mudbug!

And that made Imri fume, but worse, it made Jeran really angry, I guess because he was Imri’s current, and also because I guess he’d always fancied me. Fekemme told me later that boys often tease and bully girls they fancy because they’re too stupid to get the girls to look their way any other way.

So Jeran got into the river, and started pelting us with mud!

And Fekemme jumped over the bridge and started fighting with Jeran!

I never dare to fight, because I’m horribly afraid that if I hit someone when I’m angry, that I’ll break something for real! I really am stupid strong.

But Fekemme was good! It’s true Jeran managed to give him a black-and-blue eye, but then Fekemme twisted and turned and suddenly Jeran was up in the air, went over Fekemme’s shoulder and landed in the mud, flat, with a big THUD! And then he’d had enough, so we went in to the Castle.

Fekemme was completely wet, of course! And the three of us, we were wearing our best clothes, that is, the seaman’s shirt and breeches we had gotten in Istila… So when I called out “Mrs. the mother of Imri! We’ve got a letter for the baroness!” Halla, she’s Imri’s mum, she wanted to take the letter, but I wouldn’t have that. After all, if Fekemme’s going to be King, it’s a good thing for him to have met people like the baroness! As many of them as possible, in fact.

But Halla said we’d have to wash first, and she was still looking at us as if she’d bitten in a rotten onion when she was bringing us to the baroness.

But she was very nice! And she was happy to get the letter and she actually didn’t know that Senthi was still baroness or even that she was from Tilis! And then she talked to Fekemme for about an hour about Tilis, and being a baroness and governing and stuff. That’s one reason it’s really good for us to visit all these people — Fekemme will learn a lot about how Valdyas works, and that can only be useful! I tried to listen, too, but there’s so much I don’t know yet, and half the time, I was translating back and forth because, well, Fekemme’s Ilaini is good enough for ordinary things, but this was too difficult. And I couldn’t listen while translating, that’s not how it works!

And then the baroness was busy and she promised us a letter for the King and for the baron of Lenay, ready by tomorrow, so we went away, and I showed Fikmet and Fekemme the covered harbour! That’s something the baroness had built ten years ago, it’s a long quay, a warehouse and it’s all covered, so when it rains, the boats can load and unload anything and still keep dry.

Cousin Jichan was unloading a cargo from Valdis, and I ran to him and he hugged me, but when I asked him where cousin Seran was, he looked sad and said that people in Lenay had thrown a whole barrel of butter down the quays (they are fabulously high in Lenay, and they need cranes to unload the boats), on Seran’s foot, which was now badly broken.

And he said, it was the Nameless, they did it intentionally because they had brought stuff for the new Order House as well! The people in Lenyas are for the most part very stupid, they are with the Nameless, and I guess they are really pissed off that the King has allowed the Order of the Sworn to build a House in Lenay!

And then they had had to pay for the butter, too — forty pounds of butter at five shillings a pound! That was the whole profit of the journey! And more — ten riders!

I asked him what he was going to do now, and he said, unload as quickly as I can, load as quickly as I can and find someone for the return journey!

Ha! I said, and the three of us began to help him unload and I said, we’ll come with you, we need to go to Valdis anyway! And he knows that I know my way around a boat, so he was very happy, too. Seran and Jichan live in the next-but-one cottage from ours in Mud Row, in Little Tilis, and I promised Jichan I’d go and tell Seran, too, he’d be relieved.

So went back to the Castle and at the market in the castle square I got a really nice side of bacon for pancakes and a big chunk of best neck of mutton for the pot, and a small jar of sweet wine from Solay (or maybe even Iss-Peran) for gran. Though I guess I should be careful with money, now, because if we need to dress up for the King in Valdis, we need real money and I don’t think it’ll be so very easy to catch crooks and sell their horses as it was in Velihas! And I would feel bad asking poor Seran and Jichan for money now.

Though Seran wasn’t so very poor! Maile from the Two Bridges inn was fussing over him and I think that she might have decided to make her choice! He thought the wine was for him, but when I said it was for gran, he nodded and said we’d best bring it to her then. And when we told him we’d help Jichan the next trip he was really glad!

And so was gran, when she saw the wine and the back. She asked me to cut up some more onions and the mutton and put it in the pot for tonight’s dinner. And she also nodded about the bacon and said we could go and make pancakes, and said we could use four eggs! And half milk, half water instead of just water! Yum! Fikmet made the batter and I cut bacon strips, and Fikmet actually baked the pancakes.

She had too, because gran had decided that it was time to cut my hair, and I sort of agreed, but at first Fekemme thought it was going to be really ugly, he likes it long, I guess, but I wanted all the red bits off, so if there’s a Síthi baths in Lenay it can be made one color again. And in the end, he said the result was really cute, and it was, gran is good at cutting hair, she does it for all of Little Tilis.

And Fekemme’s hair was getting really big as well! So he asked gran to cut his hair, too, which meant of course that we needed to bring the scissors to the smith as soon as we’d finished the pancakes. Gran was wondering whether Fekemme’s hair would melt like the copper she said it looked like, but that doesn’t work! ` But the smith also asked, have you been cutting copper wire with this pair of scissors!

The smith is always fun, I’m usually allowed to work the big bellows, and Fikmet got a chance turning the grindstone, and Fekemme was allowed to use the big hammer! And I had my axe reset, and all our knives sharpened. And smith didn’t even ask for any money, he said he was happy to see me again, and gran gave him a goose at every feast anyway! And he promised to come along after supper tonight, to listen to my adventures. And we borrowed the knife to make new clogs out of the logs the midwife had given us that morning. Making good clogs is quite hard, the ones I had made in Velihas were the wrong wood and made with the wrong tools, but these came out quite well! And now we all have clogs we made ourselves.

That night gran’s house was full! People brought beer and sausage and bread, and we were all sitting around, and even though Tilis is in the middle of the world and everyone passes Tilis all the time, we had so many new things to tell, that it was really late when we went up and squeezed ourselves in my cubby-hole. No space to move, let alone kiss or do the other thing!

And the next morning we got our letters, took our bundles and went on our way. The last big bit of travel, I guess! Fikmet wants to go back to the Khas to find her ma, when we’ve been in Valdis, and Fekemme and me, we’ll be going back, first to Sarabal.

I think the other boatpeople have been helping Seran and Jichan as well — he had a beautiful cargo, and I think people shared parts of their best contracts with him. There was silk and cotton, medicines, wine in glass bottles from the far south, packs of herbs, linen… So we carefully stowed everything, covered it with the oilcloth and started punting out until we got to the tow-path where we got a big, placid, yellow mare.

Jichan knew her well, he said, she’s a good one, but if it rains, she doesn’t want to go anymore. But when it started to rain, Fikmet was riding her, and she just went on! It was because she was used to be ridden home, and then she never stops, for nothing!

We had had three days of rain when we arrived at the first inn in Lenyas. This one has got a covered quay as well, which means the innkeeper is getting rich from all the boatpeople who choose his inn to inspect their cargo for damage. Only I didn’t want him to get rich from us, so I asked him, can we do something for supper, breakfast and a place in they stable attic? We can do… chop wood, clean stables, bake pancakes, hunt deer, clean watermills, do acrobatics, make music, squeeze oil from oil berries and much more!

And he said, are you sure you can hunt? I’ve got a big wedding party in a week, and meat is scarce and very expensive this year. Only the forest is an hour by foot from here.

And we said, sure! We’ll catch a deer, and we get food and a place to sleep! And we told Jichan, and he said, go ahead, I’m busy with the cargo, the water had gotten into some of the silk! No real damage yet, though.

It’s of course Fekemme and Fikmet who are the real hunters, and though they both don’t know much about Valdyas, deer are deer and pretty soon we were on the track of a herd! The biggest one looked like she was going to have young deer pretty soon, so we were careful not to catch her, but there was a young buck, a year old I guess, and Fekemme got him with his arrow, and Fikmet with her knife.

Not as clean a kill as the last deer, but good enough!

Only the Khas way of cutting the catch up for meat wasn’t a good idea, I thought the innkeeper might want to roast the deer whole. In any case, after we’d taken out the insides and let Wolf share them with Mizran, the carcass barely weighed as much as Fekemme, so I took off my shirt, hoisted the deer over my shoulders and we walked home.

Yes, it was heavy! And I got blood all over me, but I made it, and I got a warm bath, too, in the kitchen! And now it’s time for some warm food and then we’re going to see if we can make a nice place in the stable attics, in the hay, with some blankets and see whether we can do some kissing without everyone looking at us. We haven’t managed to really kiss since — well, since we kissed on the Long Bridge!