Leaving lots of loose ends lying around in Essle. But, as Lan said, this is Essle after all. (I do wonder –and so does Sedi– what adventure leads we left dangling, and whether we were supposed to do something about those. According to the GM “that’s for Athal to handle”.
Another far too short night. A boy no older than nine knocked on my door to bring washing water. Once again, I was grateful for Lyse’s purse full of pennies. I could hear breakfasty sounds downstairs and realised I was hungry — no wonder with all the work last night! The taproom was full of people eating, and the moment I sat down I got a plate of fried rice and fish with a small bowl of yellow porridge on the side.
A florid-looking man came downstairs and sat down in the only empty place, next to me. “Morning!” he said. “New here?” “Yes, and I won’t be staying long either, I’m travelling.” “North?” he asked. “No, south, my ship sails tomorrow.” “Ah! It’s a good season for sailing. I’m staying the summer in Valdyas.” “Here in Essle? Might be on the warm side.” In fact, even though it was still only spring it was almost warmer than I liked. “No, I’m off to Ryshas, summering in Veray, wine for breakfast, wine at noon and wine for dinner! And I think I could eat half a dozen pheasants every day.” He polished off his breakfast before I could finish mine, got up and made his way to the door, catching Athal halfway and paying him. The small boy came down the stairs carrying a heavy-looking trunk and a bulging bag. When they were out of sight I could hear the man curse, “Orian! Clumsy oaf!” and the sound of a slap.
When Athal passed my table I said “You have prosperous patrons! Too bad he was so rude.” “Oh,” Athal said, “Orian did drop the trunk on the boat! I hope there wasn’t any glassware in it.” “Probably unlikely,” I said, “he was going to Ryshas, they make glass there, don’t they?” “He told me he was going to Lenay,” Athal said. “Lenay, Veray, doesn’t that smell of the Nameless?” I wondered. But the man wasn’t gifted –though only just not, there was a hint of perceptiveness about him– so I couldn’t see if he belonged with the Nameless. It would have been strange for him to stay at the Drunken Seahorse in that case, though.
The breakfast dishes had barely been cleared away when a priestess of Mizran came in, dressed in a plain robe with a silver-embroidered stole over it. “I think you’re here for me,” I said before she could even ask, and yes, it was Senthi from the local temple who had been sent to handle my papers. We got the room that I’d talked to the captain in. “Travel money, and a letter of credit for the temple in Solay. How much?” “Frankly I have no idea,” I said, “this is my first sea voyage! I don’t know what I’ll need, if I’ll even need any money at all on the ship.” “Well, unless everything’s been settled in advance you may need to pay for your food,” the priestess said. “I’d say two hundred in hand and transfer the rest to the Solay letter.” That sounded kind of reasonable, and I signed some papers for her to take back to the temple..
When I was seeing her out, a woman of about thirty came across the bridge, talked to the priestess briefly, then walked purposefully towards the inn. I thought she wanted to speak to me so I waited just inside the doorway, but she looked past me, then slapped her forehead as if she’d forgotten something and walked away. I followed her with my mind for some time, as she crossed the harbour-quarter and disappeared into another neighbourhood I’d gone through the previous day, but then someone jostled me and I lost her. I had a sudden thought that she might not have wanted to speak to me, but only to see if I was there; and combined with the man who wanted to go to Veray or to Lenay it was more than a little suspicious.
I didn’t feel confident enough around Essle to do my own shopping, so I sent the boy to the apothecary with a couple of shillings and a note about maiden-herbs and a seasickness remedy. And with all the things happening yesterday I’d plain forgotten about clothes. I asked one of the serving-girls who was just going out “do you know anyone who can sell me some decent tradeswoman’s clothes?” and she promised to send her uncle.
A short while later a portly man arrived, with an apprentice, both carrying large bales. Apparently the niece had told him what size I was because what he had mostly fit. It was all really good quality, not new (but that was a good thing, having everything new would stand out too much) and slightly large on me, but mostly lace-up so it didn’t matter. “Are you on Temple business? I have a nice embroidered stole here.” I was tempted for a moment, but to pass for a priestess of Mizran I’d need a lot of knowledge that I didn’t have, so I said “No, private enterprise.” I ended up with a skirt and two bodices that I could wear one or both of, underskirts, several shirts in different styles and thicknesses, breeches to wear on the ship, a pair of riding breeches in black velvet, stockings, a lace-edged coif and a pair of very pretty embroidered slippers; it cost me more than the contents of the Eraday purse and I signed a paper to get the rest from the Temple. I didn’t want to haggle –didn’t know how to do that, anyway– and it did seem to be value for money. And except for the winter clothes he’d taken back because I wasn’t going to Rizenay or anywhere else very cold, I seemed to have bought his entire stock.
“I suppose you need shoes, too?” the tailor asked. “I’ll send my neighbour.” And yes, some time later an elderly woman and a somewhat less elderly woman appeared, laden with boxes. They knew the size of my feet because the tailor had told them about the slippers! There was a pair of black lacquered boots with a little heel that suited my new pretty clothes — I didn’t think I could walk in heels, but they were surprisingly comfortable. “It’s the fashion with the young nobles to let the tops flap loose, but of course you can lace them up all the way,” the shoemaker said, and that made them even more comfortable and I could even wear the knife-sheath inside. When I showed my worn boots, “these are worn through, I really need new ones” I saw the woman blink, the boots were probably shouting “Order issue!” But then she gave me a pair of very soft supple ankle-boots, “all the fencing champions are wearing these, try them!” And when I put them on and tried some stances, I thought I’d never want to take them off again. “Two pairs?” “How much are they?” “Eighteen riders a pair.” I’d been spending so much money already that it didn’t seem to count. “Yes, please!” “Three pairs?” That was all she had, and I took them all, because she said that if one wore them for every practice they’d last about a season. I signed another paper for the Temple of Mizran. I hoped Lyse knew how much it cost to get outfitted for travelling!
“Do you need luggage and things?” the shoemaker asked. “I’ll send my cousin.” But Athal stopped her, “No, Halla, we don’t mind giving you business but I’ll have my own people come for that.” And when the two women had left, “Reshan is a good man but he does charge twice as much. I always have Arni for outfitting. You’ll need a lot more than you’ve thought of, but she can do it all, and quickly too, you’re not the first we’ve had to hurry out of here.”
There seemed to be no end to this strange day. Nothing happened for hours on end and then yet another person came to provide me with something. Arni was next, a brisk businesslike woman who got my measure within moments. “Hm. First voyage, eh? And you’ve got nothing.” “Nothing?” I asked, indicating the piles of clothes and shoes. “Nothing in the way of luggage, or cabin furnishings. What ship are you sailing on? The Narwhal? Good choice, you’ll get a cabin of your own as a passenger, but it will be empty. You’ll need two trunks, a hammock, bedding–” I was getting the hang of it. “A rug,” I said. “Curtains.” “Definitely. Cutlery, crockery.” “Ink? I’ve got pens and paper but I do a lot of writing.” “Ink. A water butt. Provisions.” “Do I need to bring my own provisions?” “Yes, do you think a ship is an inn? And you’ll want to ask the captain to dinner occasionally. Your servant can cook for you and wash your clothes.” “I thought I would be travelling alone!” I said. “I wouldn’t know what to do with a servant,” I said, “well, pay them I suppose.” “That depends on whether you get one here, or from Solay,” Arni said with a grin and was warned off by a glance from Athal. “I can provide a servant if you like.” But I didn’t think I’d know how to handle one, and we left it at that. I could do my own cooking, even for the captain, and my own laundry.
In the end Arni promised to have everything packed in my trunks that could already be packed, and to provide me with everything on the ship that I would need. “Two seventy-five,” she said, and I had to swallow but said yes and signed and sealed her paper. (Later, Athal said that Arni had charged me heftily but not exorbitantly. I really didn’t know travelling was so expensive!)
“Do I really need a servant?” I asked Athal. I really didn’t know the first thing about travelling by sea. “Well, it might be useful, and it might be expected of you in the state you’re travelling in, but I didn’t have the time to find you someone I trust.” What he wasn’t saying was clear enough: that he didn’t trust any servant Arni might provide me with. “I do think I’ll need another seal,” I said, “I only have the one from the Order and one from the House Eraday, and obviously most of the time neither will do.” Athal got out a box of seal rings, all different. “Ooh, do you have one with an ear of corn? If I’m going as a corn merchant’s agent that would be splendid.” He didn’t, but he found one with a bunch of grapes surrounded by grape leaves which I liked a lot. “It’ll have to be tightened for you,” he said, and sent one of his servant boys away with it. I have it now so I must have got it back in time, but I don’t remember.
I was burning to try my new fencing boots so I asked Athal for another bout. It really worked to have my feet in something so supple and responsive, I could feel the ground through my soles and root in it, almost impossible with the Order boots. Suddenly Athal faltered, and I touched his defense — not that I got through it, he recovered too quickly for that, but I’d brushed the edge. “What happened?” I asked. “I got distracted. Gods, I might have known that we’re being watched.”
When the priestess of Mizran came back with the copied letters I sealed them all with my Order seal, and also Athal’s own bill — large for an inn bill, but reasonable seeing what he’d done for me. “To the Order house in Valdis, right?” the priestess asked. “Yes, I said with a sigh. Poor Lyse! If I had to earn all that teaching merchants’ and nobles’ children to fence I’d be doing that until I was a hundred years old.
The next day dawned painfully early again– it was barely dawn, in fact. It was a different boy who came to knock on my door, in his teens, called Lan. “Captain Sinaya sent word that she’s ready to sail,” he said, and I hurried downstairs with my satchel and pack. I wanted to say goodbye to Venla, who was still in bed fighting morning sickness. “When I come back I’ll want to hold your little one! And you, little one, don’t make your mother’s life so difficult.”
“Do you want an escort to the harbour?” Athal asked. “Or can you manage alone?” I didn’t doubt I’d be able to find the harbour, or even the ship, but I did appreciate having someone who knew their way about Essle better than I did. It was Lan who came with me, grabbing a piece of bread in passing as I had done. I made sure I had all my knives where they belonged, sword on my back, leather cap on my head with the pedlar’s hat over it. The seaman’s breeches and shirt were surprisingly comfortabe.
Lan took me through some very narrow streets that I really wouldn’t have wanted to be alone in, even with all my weaponry, in this gloomy early-morning light. All we saw was a couple of rats scurrying out of our way, until the street widened out a bit at an intersection. There two women came through an alley, and as we came out of our own alley we saw another woman coming from the other side. They were dressed skimpily, and I thought they might be whores for whom this was the end of yesterday rather than the beginning of today. As I was trying to decide whether to ignore them or give them a civil greeting, they all drew knives and came at us. Robbers rather then whores, then, or more than that. I had a knife in my left hand immediately and started to draw my sword, praying I’d be quick enough that someone wouldn’t reach my unprotected armpit or, Anshen forbid, have a throwing knife. Though none of them was wearing enough clothes to hide more weapons than they already had in their hands.
Something boffed me on the head –I was grateful to the leatherworker for the cap! But it did throw me off balance long enough that the other woman could close in with her knife. She made a slash at my throat but I stepped aside and she only grazed the front of my shirt at the collarbone. Then I slapped at her wrist with the flat of my sword to make her drop the knife. but overbalanced and fell headlong into the mud, on top of my weapons. In passing I’d seen Lan driving the third woman with her back against a wall, so I’d have only the two to contend with– if I could roll on my back and recover fast enough.
Yes, thank all the gods. I tried to stick my left-hand knife under the nearest woman’s midriff — I wanted to be on my feet to use the sword– but didn’t get far enough. That did mean she couldn’t reach me either, and I was standing up soon enough to get her with a sword stroke. I was astonished to see it go right through flesh and bone and take off her left arm at the shoulder. The other woman was still behind me, but she had only a club — I’d seen the knife fly past me earlier– and I could stick the knife where I hadn’t been able to do it to her companion.
Meanwhile Lan had finished banging his opponent’s head against the wall and came to see if he could help me, but my two were dead — at least, one was still sort of alive but that didn’t last long. (Later, I chided myself for not looking if one of them was gifted, but I was occupied at the time!)
As I was trying to wipe my bloody weapons on my bloody sleeve, Lan gave me his opponent’s shirt, “here, take that off and wear this one, at least it’s cleaner!” Not very clean, and really skimpy at the top, but better than my own at the momet. I finished wiping, with the not-so-bad back of the shirt this time, and wadded it up and took it with me. Probably sea-water would wash most of the mud and blood out.
“What does one do with dead bodies, here, in cases like this?” I asked Lan. “Leave them.” he said, “someone will find them.” I looked if they had anything to identify them, but they only had their clothes, knives and a purse with some copper and a bit of silver, not even a lucky charm.
At the quay we found Sinaya on the gangplank, looking agitated. “What took you so long?” And I could feel her thinking you look a fright too but fortunately she didn’t say it. “A little run-in with someone who wanted my purse,” I said. “But they’re beyond wanting anything now.” I ran aboard, completely forgetting to tip Lan — and he deserved silver at least for what he’d done! I hoped Athal would take care of it.
Sinaya had a seaman take me to my cabin. It was in the raised part at the back (there was also a raised part at the front): through a tiny door into a low corridor, with the captain’s cabin right at the end and mine to the right. It was even smaller than the room I’d had at the Drunken Seahorse, just jhigh enough to stand up in between the roof-beams. Very neat, though, with my trunks against one wall and a sort of low box made up as a bed hanging from hooks I’d thought a hammock was just a length of sackcloth hanging from ropes, but this was flat, a bit shorter than me and half the width of my bed at the Order house, but I thought I could get used to sleep in it with my legs pulled up, the way I sleep anyway. .The seaman showed me where the provisions were, behind a curtain, and a cupboard with cups and plates, and washing stuff in another closet. Beneath the small window (with glass in it, no less) there was a tiny writing desk that opened upwards to reveal paper and pens and an inkhorn, with a little drawer in the front that held all my travel money and papers from the Temple. When the seaman had left I put my burglar tools there as well and sealed it firmly.
There was a jug of water that looked as if it was for washing, so I cleaned up and put on a more decent shirt before saying some much neglected prayers. When I looked out of the window I saw that the ship was moving, though I didn’t feel any movement yet, so I went outside to look what was happening, trying to stay out the way of everybody who was doing nautical things around me. Four large rowboats were pulling the ship out of the harbour. Presently sails were let down and the boats let go of their tow-ropes, and the ship was really underway.
I think I got a chance to exchange a few words with the captain in between all that, but I don’t remember much of the first week or so because I was as sick as a dog as soon as the wind hit the sails. I must have got to my cabin somehow, because that was where I woke up, weak and confused and thirsty but no longer feeling horrible. I ventured on deck. The ship was lying still –that explained a lot– off a high white coast dotted with patches of green, and a smallish town in a valley that came spilling down from the heights. “Oh, you’ve recovered,” Sinaya said, who appeared next to me. “It takes some people worse than others. There”s no real remedy.” “Yes, there is,” someone else said, I thought he must be one of the officers. “A glass of brandy every morning and every afternoon. If you’re still seasick after that at least you’re drunk enough not to care.” “I do have some medicine from Essle,” I said. “Yes,” Sinaya said, “your servant gave you some and it came right back out.” “My servant?” And at that, Orian appeared, carrying a tray with teacups –mine– and tripped over his own feet and sent them flying across the deck. Fortunately they were made of tin and only got dented.. “Yes, I was surprised too,” Sinaya said, “I’d understood you were travelling alone.” “My associates in Essle must have done me a good turn,” I said, thinking quickly. Had Athal sent him after all, or had the boy taken it into his own hands and stowed away before I was there? Probably the latter.
It turned out that I’d been out of things for six days. “That’s Selday,” Sinaya said. “We’ve just finished reprovisioning.” That meant fresh bread and sweet-tasting water, and I was really hungry and thirsty, but first a small rowboat came alongside with two very dark women it in –Ishey, I realised, they held the harbour in Selday– and a pale red-haired man who must be a clerk of some sort, because he gave Sinaya a handful of papers. “Everything in order,” he said. “This is your passenger?” “Yes, I said, “I haven’t been able to enjoy the voyage much until now!” “You’ll get used to it,” the man said. “Or not.”
That was encouraging! But I did manage to eat something and drink enough not to be thirsty any more before the ship was moving again and I got sick again. But after another week or so I really did get used to it, at least when the ship didn’t move up and down too much. Sinaya asked me to dinner, “and you haven’t even seen the ship yet! I’ll give you a tour.” She showed me where the steering was done, and the cooking, and a sort of open pit just in front of the main mast where there were two pigs and two sheep, looking unhappy. Also a whole wall of cages with chickens in them. “That’s a good idea, to take the meat along fresh!” I said. “Do people have a share, or can I buy a share?” She grinned, “The pigs and sheep belong to the ship, and we’ll kill and eat the first one when we round the bend.” I didn’t know then where the bend was, though someone showed me later on a map, but it sounded like a milestone. “But tonight we’ll have chicken,” Sinaya said. “Could I buy a chicken then, when I want to return the favour?” “Some of those chickens are yours! It’s all in your sailing papers.”
The captain’s cabin had windows along the whole back wall and part of the sides, so we had a great view. There was one other guest, Sinaya’s first mate, a grey-haired man who looked as if most, but not all his ancestors had been Valdyans. I think I heard his name but I’ve now forgotten it, probably something quite common. The chicken was nice and spicy, the bread still almost fresh, and Sinaya had a flask of sweet wine from Idanyas, much better than the one in my provisions cabinet.
It was a very pleasant evening, and when the first mate got up because his shift was beginning Sinaya and I sat talking and drinking for a while. Finally she poured us both a thimbleful of really strong brandy, and when that had been drunk shooed me out because her shift would come very early iin the morning. In my cabin, Orian had made a nest of blankets on an empty bit of floor and was fast asleep in it.
There was some more wind a couple of days later, and I was sick once again but not as violently as in the beginning. I started to teach Orian to cook, but when I invited the captain back I took care of the chicken myself, rubbing it with salt and spices and roasting it in front of the cooking fire with the ship’s cook glaring at me. Half of my brandy turned out to be gone– either someone had been dosing me with it when I was seasick, or Orian must be a secret drinker. That would explain some of his clumsiness, but I rather thought it was from being nine years old because I’d seen my little brother at that age. He was somewhat useful at washing, though. But the bloodied shirt was ruined. “I can’t get all the blood out!” he said, desperately, and there was also a thin spot where the knife hadn’t been sharp enough to pierce it. “Never mind, I can wear it for dirty work, you’re doing a great job!” I told him.