I packed a couple of saddlebags with my dress uniform, fencing leathers, a regiment-of-Valdis uniform that someone from the palace had delivered while Lyse and I were behind a seal, a spare uniform shirt, plain farmhand’s clothes, underlinen and stuff, horse-grooming tools (riding! all the way to Essle! and I didn’t even like horses!), the leather-bound notebook that the folks back home gave me at the harvest feast and that I hadn’t even written in yet, and I was pondering whether to take my really-falling-apart other boots when Lyse came in with a leather satchel full of papers and a plate of bread and cheese. My stomach started to grumble at once: I’d forgotten all about dinner, and I realised that when Lyse sent me to pack she’d started the evening service right afterwards. As I wolfed it down Lyse showed me what was in the satchel. Letters for just about everybody from herself and from the palace, including Vurian’s letter, addressed in his own large shaky letters and also, more legibly, in a clerk’s writing. A copy of Vurian’s deed of ownership. A packet of copies and extracts of the things the king and the queen had been reading to us from earlier, one even in tiny regular writing that I realised must be the queen’s own hand. A sea-chart with the important places marked on it.
“Here’s a purse of silver for your travel expenses,” Lyse said. “There’s a letter for the Temple of Mizran in Essle in it as well, so you can pay for whatever you need there. Best travel to Essle openly and disappear there, I don’t care how, flamboyantly or secretly, whatever you prefer.” I could even now think of several ways to disappear, and I’d have weeks of travel to choose one. I’d been to Essle once before, as a raw journeyman at Arin’s side, and I could remember thinking that if someone wanted to vanish completely from the face of the earth Essle was the place to do it.
“Oh, and here’s the list to learn by heart. And I can tell you now that in Solay you can trust the king’s sister, Ayneth, she’ll give you gold for your expenses.” “And Raith?” I asked. “Well, you can trust her, but better not tell her what your purpose is or she’ll want to take it in her own hands. In Dadán your best bet is a young man called Ktab, and the captain of what’s left of the regiment. In Albetire–” “I can’t trust anybody,” I said, because that’s what Shayari who I’d learnt tradespeak from had always told me. “Not quite so bad,” Lyse said, “there’s an Order house there, and Vurian –yes, he’s called that too– is completely trustworthy. There are some more people on your list. I don’t know if any of them are still alive, though.”
I sat down with the list and studied the names, trying to imagine a face for each of them though the real people would of course look completely different. Sleep on it, and do it again tomorrow.
Someone banged on my door the moment I fell asleep, or at least that was how it felt. It was Erian with warm water and breakfast. “Thank you! Is it that late already?” “Lyse said you’d be leaving early. Sent to Essle by the king, right? Makes me envious. But then I’m not a master yet.” “Your time will come soon enough,” I said. “You’ll be a master when I get back!” He nodded. “Midsummer, I expect. You’ll be back by the feast of Naigha if the weather stays good.”
I went to the temple to say my prayers –too early for the morning service, and if Lyse sent Erian to wake me she must really mean it about leaving early– and found Rava there in her smith’s smock and apron. She never did wear anything else unless she really needed to be neat and properly uniformed. “I hear you’re off on your first runner’s job,” she said. “Here’s something for you. Don’t open it until you’re underway and alone.” She handed me a large flattish parcel wrapped in a linen cloth. “Thank you,” I said, mystified, but I didn’t ask her what was in it, I’d see that when the time came.
When I came out Lyse was there, holding the mare that I’d ridden to the palace on, all ready with my bags behind the saddle. Well, at least this was a horse that I could get on with. I put Rava’s parcel in the bag that still had a little room in it, earning a raised eyebrow from Lyse. “Have a blessed journey,” Lyse said. “If we haven’t heard from you in half a year we’ll send someone else.” “If you haven’t heard from me for half a year, I’d say,” I said. “I’ll make a point of sending word whenever I’m somewhere I can.” We embraced, and I was about to leave when I thought of something. “You must really swear Erian in soon!” “Yes, he’s as good as ready,” she said, “I’ll send him and a couple of the others to the house in the swamp before winter so he can prove himself.”
I couldn’t leave by the little gate and ride past the training grounds, because that would put me on the wrong side of the river for most of the way to Lenay and make the going a lot slower. The South Gate was just opening for the early market people when I crossed the bridge, leading the mare. Shayari was opening the shutters of the Dog when I passed and waved at me. “Off to travel? Good!” she called in tradespeak, and I answered in the same, “Off to practice what you taught me!”
It was splendid riding weather once the sun had risen properly, crisp spring air warming up. It felt almost like a holiday. The mare and I were getting used to each other, and though I’d probably be sore later the saddle was more comfortable than I’d expected. I made Tal-Sorn in a day, not bad for someone who isn’t really used to riding. At the tollhouse inn people were painfully polite to me — it must be the uniform. That was something I didn’t remember from going to Essle with Arin! The landlord called me “Lady Master”, but he thawed a bit when I praised his beer — or rather his wife’s beer, as the Velihan-looking woman dressed as a smith who sat next to me pointed out. Two young men eating fish at the next table asked me where I was going. “Essle,” I said, “and you?” “Rizenay, if the roads are clear yet. “I don’t think so,” I said, “it’s only one week after Timoine, Rizenay is likely to be still snowed in if you go on now.” “See, Seran, I told you!” one said, and the other poked him in the ribs. “What are you going to Rizenay for?” I asked. “Work? There’s a lot of work in Valdis, too, you can stay there until the traders go north.” “Yes, but in Rizenay all the girls are blonde!”
I got a little room under the sloping roof, and went up early, thinking I’d read some of my papers in private. When I was saying evening prayers someone banged on the wall, “Keep it down, will you!” so I lowered my voice a little, but then the people on the other side started to make very noisy love. “I thought you lot weren’t supposed to fuck!” the first voice shouted. “It’s not me fucking, it’s the neighbours!” I shouted back, and that brought a lot of cursing from both sides that made it impossible to read, or to sleep for that matter. I must have slept after all, though, because once again there was a knock on the door far too early. It was a boy with washing water, and I remembered that I’d asked him myself to wake me before dawn and gave him a penny.
There was porridge in the kitchen, and a parcel of bread and sausage, and the stablehand had my horse already saddled and looking so smug that I suspected oats in her recent past. I tipped the stablehand too — I was starting to see why there were so many pennies in the travel-expenses purse.
The next couple of days were still full of holiday feeling. I came to a village that was four houses and an inn filled to bursting with people, where I ate trotters –pork jelly on a bone, really– and drank indifferent beer and got tired from watching my saddlebags. There was no room inside to sleep, so I said “I’ll sleep under the shed-roof, shall I? I’ll pay you a shilling.” It was so crowded that the landlady took my shilling and I didn’t see her any more, so I went outside and rolled myself in my cloak, bags and all. In the morning it wasn’t a boy with warm water who woke me, but a dog licking my face, probably because I still tasted of pork. When I opened my eyes he startled and growled, but I get on with dogs, I rubbed him behind the ears said “Sit!” and he sat, expecting a treat, but I didn’t even have a trotter-bone any more so he ambled away in search of someone more profitable. This time I had to do my own horse-feeding and saddling, but at least the horse was inside the shed, right on the other side of the wall from where I’d been sleeping, and there was plenty of hay and fresh water.
The next day’s stop was a larger inn with its own landing-pier where river boats were moored. I’d had boats overtaking me all the time for the past couple of days; couldn’t I travel by boat and send the horse back to Valdis? It would be faster and more comfortable. I took the mare to the stable first, where a very grumbly groom found a stone in her hoof, “nobility! Always neglecting their horses!” and refused to believe that I was from a farmer family and not a noblewoman, but promised to put salve on the foot and brush her. Then I asked a man and a woman who were just at their boat “Are you going south? Do you take passengers?” and yes, they were going to Tilis, and they could see by my clothes that I was of the Order, they were of Anshen themselves, they’d done it before. “Usually we stay on our boat, but our young mate has a girlfriend here, we like to give them some time together.” I’ll talk to you later, then,” I said, “first I’m going to find someone to take the horse back!” I’d seen a group of young men bound for Valdis to find work, two journeyman carpenters and two journeyman kettlesmiths and the obvious leader, an almost-master plasterer. They were in the taproom now, jostling each other and joking. “Say, would you like to earn a shilling each?” I asked them. “Take my horse to town and bring it back to the Order house, or else to the palace?” They would, of course, and I gave them a shilling each which they gave to the plasterer to put in the common purse. “And don’t think you can sell the horse and pocket the money,” I said, “Not a bad idea actually,” one of the carpenters said, “I hadn’t thought of that yet!” “She’s going to send a letter, of course,” the plasterer said. “Anyway she’s one of the Sworn, you don’t cheat them.”