Meeting lots of people. And realising that travelling with horses isn’t actually any faster.
I woke up first! So I quickly checked the door, but my beautiful seal had gone! I made another one before Fikmet or Fekemme could wake up, but I didn’t really fool them! Fekemme could pull the door open anyway, it only seemed to be a little bit stuck, I had hoped for more — but at least he noticed it, so it wasn’t a real waste.
We had to decide how to to go to Istila now, from there, we could follow the road, or not, and go through the wood. The nice lady at the inn gave us lots of meat, flat bread and a jar of honey, as well as a basket with eggs, so we had enough food. So we decided to go through the wood! It was a shortcut, after all, said Fekemme, and he should know.
But he was a bit, well, there was something. Not sure how to explain. When we asked him, he said it was about his brother, everywhere we’d go, they’d think he was him, and every time he felt he would, like, burn with shame! It must be very hard to have a brother who makes one ashamed, fortunately, all my brothers are really awesome!
So, the next night we slept in the tent again, and had honey-egg-bread-on-a-stick, with raisins swollen up in honey-wine. My own recipe! And it was very good! Even though I had invented it then and there. We were getting really handy with the tent, breaking up and setting up, and travel was wonderful, even though I think now, that we should leave the tent and the horses and go on foot to Cuytim, because, going on foot goes slower and you see more and meet more people and horses take a lot of caring for!
Also, you need to bring lots of feed for horses, they can’t just go out and hunt like Wolf does for herself. Feed is expensive! It takes almost a whole morning of work! So we don’t actually go faster anyway.
The next day, we were singing and teasing Fekemme — if he wanted to make people think he wasn’t his brother, he should wear a beard! He has some down on his chin, it’s just a bit cute, but then he said, glumly, that his brother had had a beard when he had gone down to Istila, so if people recognized his bearded brother in him, then it wouldn’t help, would it? But it took days before he had a shave in any case!
Half-way the next day we heard voices ahead. Robbers! Bandits! I was all for a new adventure, but Fikmet was more practical, and she sent Wolf ahead, and soon she came back with a tiny dog! It was smaller than a decent cat! And Fekemme said it was the kind of dog that would hunt rats.
It was very friendly with Wolf, and we thought that it wouldn’t be bandits ahead, and it wasn’t, it was woodcutters. They were here in a little vale to cut down just the right oaks for the shipbuilders in Istila. They need not just straight oaks and firs for masts, but also specially bent trunks for bows and things.
They had one, old, iron axe, two stone axes and a stone knife! So we tied our horses to another tree and went to help them — we have a real iron saw and a good axe! The woodcutters were one man, two women and a really small toddler girl, she was very cute. And the man and I, we went to saw down a big tree, and Fikmet helped stripping twigs and Fekemme helped hauling the trunks on their cart. It was great fun! And Fekemme has shown he can work, too, and he had fun, too. soon we were all sweaty and shared lunch, and they said, if we followed the path we’d get to the trading post.
So we followed the path, and we arrived at a bit of a river, where we caught trout and had some more food, and then we came to a small village around a jetty. And there was a woman, she was clearly the boss, so we asked her if we could put up our tent, and she said yes and she also said that if we’d help to load the barge the next day, our horses would be stabled and fed.
There was a real boat, and I was very wistful… If we hadn’t had the horses we could have been on the boat! And the skipper, he was wistful, too, for he needed a mate. Aw… But there was nothing we could do, you cannot load three horses on a boat!
So we put up the tent and started making dinner, and then the woodcutters arrived, and Luli, their daughter came to our campfire (I failed again to light the fire with semsin! I suck!), and I took her on my lap, and I was homesick a bit, because I was wondering about my little nephew or niece, Ferin and Thamsin’s child, and I miss the river, and my parents and Tilis and the way the boat smells, sun going down over the water — I was homesick!
Nothing better for homesickness than singing, so we ate our last food, drank some bitter tea and nestled ourselves close to each eather, skins under our feet and buttocks, Ishey blankets shared over our shoulders. And Luli on my lap…
Then… Fekemme started singing in the old language! The same songs the doctor sang, or so it seemed. It was the same language in any case. And we joined in, after a while, and while we sang the songs, the language was clear as mountain river, as a glass from the glasses shop in Veray, we understood it all!
And we sang of the beginning of the world, and the way we sang it, it was as if the Khas, that is Fikmet, and the Velihans, that is Fekemme, shared the song of how the world began, and where the Gods came from, and it was so wonderful…
And then one of the woodcutter ladies came to look for Luli, and she saw that Luli had fallen asleep in my lap, and I said, she can stay here, it’s warm, and she’s sleeping, and I said, do you mind us singing? And she said, no, not all, it was like peaceful, so we went on singing, and soon Fikmet had fallen asleep as well, and it was just me and Fekemme who were singing, and singing and singing, all night long!
When dawn came, we were still singing, and I had tears in my eyes, I have never been so happy… It was the song, it was singing all night, it was the Gods, it was Fikmet and Luli in my arms… The woodcutter lady came for her daughter and I wrapped Fikmet in the blanket, and together with Fekemme I did the Invocations, and ever since, we’ve done the invocations before going to sleep and at dawn, and that is really good. And we’ve started to really learn the old songs by heart, and also the Midwinter Song, because it’s nearly the Feast of Naigha!
Before we went to load the ship I went to the woodcutters and cuddled Luli and gave the woodcutters my saw. They needed it more than us, and Fikmet agreed with me. And so they went back into the wood, they always sleep under their cart, they have a sort of tent, but it must be very cold sometimes.
Because soon we’d have snow! But that comes a bit later, first we had to load the boat. That was good work! I could show Fekemme and everyone else that, well, I may be fat and big and ugly and stupid-looking, but I am strong. Fikmet carried bales of duck feathers, and Fekemme bales of flour, but I could carry two barrels of treacle or tree syrup, and never dropped one or gave a grunt!
And then there were pancakes in the boss lady’s kitchen, lots of them! We had really cold feet, too, because the boat, it was too big and couldn’t moor at the jetty, we had to carry the goods out into the river. And the skipper told me that only in Winter, the river was deep enough for the boat to carry a real load, in summer it is one shallow after another.
And so we travelled along the river… It was getting colder and colder, until I was wearing all the clothes I had (that is, one pair of stockings, one pair of breeches, one skirt, two shirts and my for-nice dress and my wooden shoes), and I was still cold! I was taking to wearing my Ishey blanket while riding Blackie! I will never, ever, never go to Rizenay between Mizran and Timoine! I’d sooner go and serve the Nameless!
And then… It started snowing. For real. One day it was just white fluff falling down, the next day we had trouble getting out of the tent, and the poor horses. They didn’t like it at all! Their blankets were covered with snow, lots of it. And Fekemme and Fikmet started fooling around throwing snowballs around, while I took care of breakfast (marmot soup, they are too stringy to eat roasted, but good for making soup), nice, warm soup!
We had put up our tent near a ferry, on the other side was a village, and there was a boy called Satha and he ferried over and promised us goose grease and food, and asked us to ask after his brother who had gone to sea, and his brother’s name was Sesut.
But it was clear that we’d need a real place to stay the next night because the horses could stay outside in all this cold stuff.
Which made it fortunate that there was an inn, and we reached, even though it was already dark when we got there. That’s another thing, it’s not long light in Winter here! I thought it must already have been Naigha, and that we’d missed it, and was wondering why the day wasn’t growing longer yet… But it wasn’t Naigha yet! Stupid north, it’s stupid! Why can’t the sun do its job up here? I bet that if Anshen were the boss, it weren’t like this, and it would get light at the right time, even here. It’s the One who cannot count the hours properly, that’s what I say.
It was really busy at the inn, though, and there were lots of people outside, in the snow, around a big fire. And on the fire, they were roasting a whole sheep! Well, I knew it was a sheep, not a lamb, because it’s nearly Naigha, and because it was bigger than the lambs are here in Velihas, but at home, it’d have been a rabbit, or something like that. (Fikmet says I’m exaggerating, and I bet I am, but the animals are small in Velihas, whatever she says.)
It turned out to be a big celebration! The innkeeper, a really, really fat woman came to us and cuddled us and said, put your horses in stable, and a boy of about eight took them with him, he was called Mík, and I went with him, and we took care of the brushing.
And then I learned that the reason for the celebration was that his big brother had come home. His brother was a sailor and had been away for two years, had been to the East and to the South, even to Solay. So I understood why his mother was celebrating, because most sailors, they don’t come home.
And the food was really good, and there was real beer. I had missed that! But it was strong beer, the kind I’m not allowed to drink at home, so I was careful. Our hostess, she was already nine over the eight when we arrived…
What struck me was that nobody was singing or dancing or making music. I could understand all of them wanting to hear the sailor’s stories. The sailor was called Kanan. But music! So Fikmet and I took out our pipes and started to play, and soon people were dancing and singing, and because Kanan was a sailor and had sailed on a Valdyan ship, I tried some of the songs Ferin had taught me.
But that was so stupid! Because we were singing in Velihan, and because if you sing in Velihan you sing half with our mind you know what the other people singing think the songs are about! So the song about the girl who is hiding in the captain’s cabin, they all think it’s about captain and the girl doing stupid things with each other. And even the one about catching hares and rabbits in summer, they thing it’s about doing stupid things! They were all thinking of, well, they were all thinking of underneath a girl’s dress! They were all stupid! Why can’t they sing a song without thinking about being stupid! It’s stupid. If you cannot help being stupid, you shouldn’t sing with your mind.
So I went up to the hay loft and went to sleep, with Mík, and Wolf, and nobody came up to disturb us with their stupid goings on.
The next day we had pancakes for breakfast, lots of them, and helped with the stables and cleaning up and then we went to Istila.
We knew there was a Khas village near Istila, where the Khas take salt from the sea and sell it, but it was on the other side. All the fields around Istila where white, but the sea, it was gray and huge. I had never thought it would be so big. But it was. And Istila wasn’t white, but black and grey.
And when we came to Istila there weren’t gates or a wall, just narrow streets and cramped houses, and the streets were so dirty… We didn’t get off, but stayed on Blackie’s back and went down and down, to the sea, and there we found the harbour.
When we arrived, there was a fight going on, not with fists yet, just words, and then someone came out of a white building and he stopped the fight, and we thought, this must be the Harbour Master, so we went to him, and gave him the letters and the news.
He also said that he didn’t know of anyone dying of poison, but that was just being stupid, it stands to reason, if you’ve got good poison, it’ll either kill slowly or in a way that doesn’t make it look like poison, so he should investigate.
And we talked about where we could stay and where we could keep the horses, but first I want a real bath! Warm! And there’s a Sithi bath house here.