The use of soldiers
If Anshen hadn’t been so positive at the prayer, Sedi would now be wondering how much they destroyed and whether it would have been better not to meddle. Her time in Kushesh is up, that’s absolutely clear.
Hm, and I’m using “some deliberation” to mean “much bickering” because I don’t remember enough of the bickering to do it justice.
Surprisingly, it was still only the middle of the day. I felt strangely disconcerted; the workshop accident, and possibly losing Merain as an ally, seemed to have overset my plans to muster the Guilds. We talked about what we had to do now — I really wanted to find whoever was responsible for the anea drain, and put and end to it if we could, not leave other people to solve the problems like in Solay. Kushesh was too small to leave it to its own devices, or they wouldn’t have been so relieved that I was there in the first place!
Eventually we decided to go back to the whores’ quarter, as ourselves this time and as invisibly as we could, We passed the eating-house where we’d had the pasties and the Síthi woman waved at us– not all that invisible! “Hey, weren’t you a girl last time?” she said to Thulo. “And you a man? I knew you by your walk.”
I went up to her and pulled her close. “Secret assignment,” I said. “Don’t tell.”
“Secret! If it’s secret, is it for Seran? It’s not for Seran, is it?”
“No, not at all for Seran– for the people who are against Seran. You do know that Seran is dead? My — associates — killed him in a fight. Now we’re after Seran’s boss.”
She looked genuinely scared. Shocked, even. “His boss! The dandar!”
I knew the name of only one local dandar. “Dushtan?”
“No, Dushtan is all right, the other dandar, the scary one– excuse me, my oil is getting too hot!” And she ran into the kitchen.
Thulo followed her and came back a while later. “She’s gone! There’s a back door but the ground’s too wet there to leave any tracks.” I tried to find the woman with my mind, but as she wasn’t gifted she hadn’t left a trace I could find either. “Gone to warn them?” Thulo asked.
“She was dead scared of Seran, why should she warn them?” But perhaps she’d been threatened, “if you hear something come and tell us or you’re for it”. “So much for being invisible” I said. “Let’s just go. Ask Arin to lend us some soldiers to cover our backs.”
That turned out to be a bit more complicated than I’d thought, because we hadn’t thought it through in advance and I got a company of soldiers in civilian clothes but with all their armor and weapons because I’d wanted them inconspicuous. But it was sorted out– Jeran, the sergeant with the Síthi wife, took me by the shoulder and asked in a whisper: “Not been an officer for long, have you?”
“Frankly, no,” I said, “first real assignment in fact.”
“I’ll teach you the magic words, then,” he said. “The magic words are ‘Sergeant, do what needs to be done’.”
“Thank you!” I said from the deepest of my heart. “Do what needs to be done, then.” And then Arin and the sergeant decided that it would be a good opportunity to get in some training and close off the whole neighbourhood while we did what we had to do there.
We went back to the house to tell Mialle and the general where we were going– best to have someone who would worry about us if we didn’t come back in good time. When the general heard about the soldiers’ training, he warmed to the idea immediately and sent his own troops to secure and search the harbour. “Could you exempt my ship from that?” I asked. “Or at least warn Sinaya in advance.”
At the barracks we found a dozen soldiers assigned to us specifically, with two gifted corporals, so I thought it would be expedient to split them in two groups; I’d be able to call one or both as needed. One of the corporals was in the Guild of the Nameless, though. “I must ask to be excused,” she said. “You’re in the Order, I can’t take orders from you.”
“You’re in the king’s army,” I said. “I’m a soldier of the king’s, too.” But I could see her problem. “All right, I’ll make do with one.” The other corporal was a journeyman in the Guild of Anshen, and now we’d seen each other I was certain I’d be able to call her. “We’re going up the hill,” I told her, “I’d like you to follow but stay out of sight, and I’ll call you if we need you. Chances are we won’t need you at all, but I’d like to be sure that there’s help available.” She saluted and turned to instruct her troop while Thulo and I went into the whores’ quarter.
“Same route as last time?” Thulo asked. “Or another way?”
“Let’s try another way,” I said, “as long as we keep going up. When we were at Dushtan’s house I could see where the power was going, there,” and I pointed upwards, where sea-fog or smoke was obscuring the houses.
Very soon we were somewhere we didn’t recognise at all, the only way to know that it was still the right direction was that we kept climbing. It was still too early for most houses to be open. We were in really poor territory now, shacks rather than houses. Someone leading a firewood-laden donkey passed us, and a man was sitting on a doorstep rolling something from a basket in leaves from another basket. A door opened, and a girl came out, young and thin and not at all pretty, about half Valdyan and half everything else.
“Hey, handsome!” she said as soon as she saw Thulo. “Come all the way up to visit me?” (Well, I must admit that he is handsome, but she’d probably have said that if he’d been as ugly as a Khas with warts.) And then she saw me and got a bit confused, but when we’d talked a little and she’d mentioned Dushtan I thought she probably knew things we didn’t yet I promised her two shillings if she took both of us inside.
“Sebaba! I’ve got customers, you can bring the wine,” she called, and a fat woman came out of the back room with a jug. The girl kept trying to offer her usual work, and we kept trying to explain that that wasn’t what we wanted, we just wanted to talk. I threw a seal around the room when Sebaba was gone and the girl noticed. “What are you doing?”
“I’m closing the room so nobody will barge in.”
“You’re not going to hit me, are you?”
“Of course not. We just want to talk in private.”
“I don’t do the kinky stuff! It’s quite enough that there are two of you. Only two shillings, four shillings for the whole night, eight and you can give me dinner.” We assured her again that we only wanted to talk, but she still wasn’t completely convinced. “I’m trustworthy! They call me Honest Sedi!”
That made me laugh, and I told her that was my name too and I hoped I was honest. “Hm,” Thulo said, “I had a mate back home who we called Tiny, and he was five times my size!”
“You mentioned Dushtan,” I prompted. “I think you know more about her than we do. Tell us, please?” But she didn’t know much, only that she’d tried to get work in one of Dushtan’s houses and Dushtan had slapped her in the face because she wasn’t pretty enough. “So this isn’t one of Dushtan’s houses. Does anyone own it, or is it your own, yours and Sebaba’s? Are there only the two of you, or do more women work here?”
“There’s me and Sebaba,” she said, “and Tala used to come in the evenings but we had to take her into the forest last night.”
“But where does the money go? Is there someone you give it to?”
“Well, sometimes a man comes, a Valdyan man, one of those who paint only some of their hair black. You don’t have to do that,” she said to Thulo, “you have beautiful hair!”
I was beginning to suspect something. She’d seen my seal; perhaps she’d be able to see what I showed her. I took her hand and thought Seran at her as clearly as I could. She flinched and screamed.
“Is that the man?” I asked. She nodded timidly. “Well, I can tell you that he’s dead. You’re free to go.” And then she showed the rope that tied her ankle to one of the posts of the house, which we hadn’t seen before. “Sebaba is tied up, too.” Everything in me protested– surely we could buy these two women’s freedom even if we couldn’t free everybody!
But as I was thinking how to ask, there was a noise outside, a man’s voice speaking harbour Iss-Peranian but probably a Valdyan voice because his accent was like mine. I learned some new swear-words right then. “—! There’s a fucking seal of the Nameless on the house! Open up right now!” And when we didn’t open up, “Oghir! Bash the door in.”
We didn’t hesitate one moment: Thulo cut the rope from Sedi’s ankle, and we ran through the kitchen and I cut Sebaba’s rope and we pulled the two women with us out of the back door, across a ditch and into the wood. When we were out of sight of the house I called my corporal, can you see where I am? Good. There’s a house near here where someone’s bashing the door in. I’d like you to go there and clean up. Don’t come after us, just see to the house.. At least that would keep them busy for a while.
This was a strange forest — some of the trees were high enough that if one of us had been able to climb one we could have looked out, but while I could climb ordinary trees perfectly well I needed branches to do that! These had only leaves, going straight up, each layer growing from yet another cup of leaves. There were bunches of green and yellow fruit at the top of some of the trees, a kind I’d seen at Mialle’s house. I’d tried them and found them deliciously sweet, but of a strange substance, like thick pudding. The forest floor was full of sharp dry leaves and slippery rotten fruit, and I had to carry my namesake for a while because she was barefoot. At least Sebaba had a sort of sandals, a bit of leather tied to her feet with string.
Behind us we heard shouting and fighting. I looked cautiously with my mind and saw that the soldiers were now at the house. “Let’s go down,” I said. “To the sea, can’t miss it.” We were completely missing the town, but that didn’t seem to be a bad thing now.
“Where are we going? Where are you taking us?” Sedi asked in a timid voice.
“Away from that house first. Then we’ll find a place where you can wash and get better clothes” –I realised that Sedi wasn’t wearing anything at all and we’d left her clothes at the shack; Thulo wrapped her in his shirt– “and have something decent to eat. There’ll be somewhere to work for you. As kitchen maids or something,” I added hurriedly. Even if they’d never learned any other work, well, I’d started learning a completely different job at sixteen and this Sedi couldn’t be much older.
We’d left the wood by now and could see the sea glittering at the bottom of the hill. We ended up quite close to the harbour, where there was a lot of commotion– apparently Arin had sent all of his soldiers on exercise, and the general had sent at least part of his army too. In fact there was so much chaos that four people in a state of disarray, as we must look now, wouldn’t turn any heads.
“Where do we go now?” Thulo asked, and I wasn’t completely sure but after some deliberation we decided to take the women to Mialle’s house, the general’s palace. “Let’s see who comes after them,” Thulo said.
When we had slowed down to talk, I noticed that we were being followed: two strong-looking middle-aged men who caught up with us as soon as were out of sight of all the soldiers. One caught me by the shoulder, the other stood behind Thulo. I got out a knife with my other hand but he caught that wrist and bent it back, “shall I break it?”
It was a bit of a stalemate: we could have broken loose, perhaps easily, but that would mean abandoning the women. On the other hand, the women seemed to know these men and they didn’t look as if they wanted to get rid of them, on the contrary! The men didn’t look particularly nasty either, only uncultured and determined.
“Sedi?” I asked. “Is this really your own man?” She didn’t answer, but held on tighter to the one holding me.
“Where are you going to take our women?” the other man asked.
“To a place where they can get a proper meal,” I said. “And possibly a decent job, away from that brothel.” I didn’t want to tell them right now where exactly we were planning to take them, I didn’t want to cause any danger or annoyance to Mialle.
“We’ll have to tell Merain,” one man said to the other. Now that was convenient! I tried to find Merain with my mind and found him in Mialle’s house, where we’d left him that morning. Of course, because he didn’t have a workshop any more.
“Telling Merain is a good idea,” I said. “Shall we take you there? I know where he is.” That threw the men a little, but they assented.
“Sure you’re not tricking us?”
We entered Mialle’s house through the front door and greeted the day porter. “We’ve brought some people who need to see Master Merain,” I said. “Is he still here?” He was, using the side room that Mialle had lent him. He had three women with him now, all gifted, none trained, one young, one middle-aged, one in between. He came out to meet us in the first courtyard. The men were really subdued now, apparently they hadn’t expected that we really had a right to be here.
“Bahar! Ukim! I told you not to seek me out.”
“That’s my fault, I’m afraid,” I said. “I told them I could take them to you.”
Merain sent his women to the kitchen (“yes, Master”, they said), took us into his room and gestured to all of us to sit down. The men didn’t want to, they stood awkwardly, caps in hands. It wasn’t completely clear what had been going on, but apparently these men had brought the women from a brothel in Albetire to set up a house for themselves. They actually wanted to work as whores. Well! But right now they weren’t in any state to work at all, and when Mialle saw them she called for servants to give the women a bath and food. A bit later, the men also got into the bath.
“They came here from Albetire, my associate there sent them,” Merain said, “and I let them work for me here so they could earn money to go to Essle with. But apparently their women thought they could earn more here. They’re … not all that clever.”
“We’ve noticed,” I said. “I think they need a doctor, too.” And food, and a bath, and clothes, but it looked as if all of that was being taken care of.
Just as Thulo and I thought we’d have a bath as well, the doorman came and announced the corporal, Lysna. “Asking for the commander of the Order of the Sworn, that’s you, madam, isn’t it?”
“Yes,” I said, “I’ll speak to her in the courtyard.” Not only the corporal was there, but also four of her soldiers restraining two men who looked slightly the worse for wear. One was clearly Khas, the other one’s ancestors must have been all over the map. The one who wasn’t Khas was clearly in the Guild of the Nameless.
The corporal gave a full report of what they’d done at the house to apprehend the men, all in the kind of elaborate soldier language that never fails to make me laugh (and I can’t reproduce, unfortunately, or it would be much easier to impersonate wa sergeant), but clear enough: they’d found the men wrecking the house and tried to take them, they’d resisted and insulted the corporal (“You and which army?” “Me and this army.”) but been taken nevertheless. And what would I do with them?
Just at that moment a doctor appeared, a solid middle-aged Valdyan man, accompanied by a young apprentice. He tutted at the two prisoners and left the apprentice to look them over while he went to care for the women and their men who were still in the bath. The moment the doctor was gone, the apprentice gave the Khas man a hard punch in the side, and the other a whack to the lower back. “Take that!” And as I looked appalled, “That’s how to hurt someone without leaving any marks. It’s how they keep the girls obedient. Shall I do it again?
“Shouldn’t you wait until your master comes back?”
“Why do you think he went to see to the others first and left me here with them? Believe me, I’ve treated those girls in their houses. It’s time they felt it themselves.”
“I think you’re right,” I said. Gods, was this country making me so merciless?
The boy –he was hardly more than that, perhaps fifteen– spat at the men’s feet. “No, I’m not going to patch you up. Bleed to death, won’t you?”
I was hesitating whether to interrogate the men now –the corporal clearly expected that I would– when the doctor himself came back and started treating their wounds. “They’re all yours now,” he said when he’d finished. Then he turned to me, “Better write to the queen that Kushesh needs a hospital. We’re depending on Mialle’s hospitality now.” “I’m writing to the court anyway,” I said, “I can easily add a paragraph!”
The problem was that I didn’t really know what to ask the men. Clearly they weren’t the ones who made all the money disappear– Oghir was a brothel doorman, the other one looked like a heavy rather than a behind-the-scenes schemer too. It was the doctor’s apprentice who knew something to ask: “What happened to Doshta? She hanged herself, didn’t she?”
“Didn’t know her place,” the man who wasn’t Khas muttered. “Needed a mile of rope to her behind. Like all of those bitches. Most of them just suck it up.”
“Oh, I see,” I said. “Bullied to death.”
I was so disgusted by these men that I couldn’t really stand talking to them, but Merain had less trouble. “Shall I? I have a bone to pick with this man anyway.”
I thought of the way that Aldan had tested Thulo, but this did seem to be different– the man was in Merain’s Guild and he was technically his boss. “Better go and take your bath now,” Merain said, “this is my work.”
Thulo and I went through the archway to the bath, but we could still see everything– Iss-Peranian palaces don’t have doors between their courtyards. Merain knocked his man to the ground and I could see him take anea in his hands and pull it out of the man’s chest, give it a twist –making the man moan, then whimper– and slam it back. Then Merain pinched a smaller bit of anea between his fingers and yanked it off.
I went back to tell the corporal to lock the men up, I’d deal with them later. Also, it would be good to see who would come after them. When I said that out loud, the man who wasn’t Khas –I still hadn’t caught his name– scowled and said “Do you think anyone would come after us? If he” –meaning Thulo– “was caught and imprisoned would you come to his aid?”
“Yes, of course I would!” I said. No question at all.
While the corporal and the soldiers marched the two men out, Merain said to us “This man ought to have reported to me and didn’t– I’ve remedied that. I’ve also learned a lot, but I don’t know how much of that I can share with you, if anything. I have to sit by the fire and pray to Archan first.”
We thought we’d finally have our bath, but Merain was back before we could even put our weapons aside, looking as white as a sheet. “It seems… complicated. Archan has not abandoned me.”
“That’s a good thing at least!” I said.
“Yes– but there’s another who aspires to lead the Guild, and Archan has not abandoned that one either. We shall have to fight it out, and the stronger will prevail.” He sank to his knees, stricken. “It’s not a good day to scour the harbour.”
We couldn’t make anything of that, and Merain disappeared into his borrowed room, so we asked for buckets of clean water and washed and got in to the bath, where Sedi and Sebaba and their men were still enjoying the water. The women as well as the men had shaved heads –lice, of course– and Sebaba’s head had strange ring-shaped patches of white skin on the brown, possibly from illness, but if that was infectious the doctor would have warned us, I thought.
We were barely soaking when I got an urgent mind-call from Mialle, you have to come to the harbour! Now! Thulo had heard her calling too, though not what she had said. We dried in a hurry, grabbed our clothes and weapons in passing, and were dressed and armed the moment we were out of the door. Sebabai’s man followed us, while Sedi’s man stayed to guard the women.
We found Mialle on the harbour-front. fighting with semsin, The person she was fighting was standing on the stern of a ship that was still half-moored, the bow cast off and sticking out into the harbour. The Rizenay ship, in fact. Behind it, the harbour seemed to be blocked by all kinds of different ships so it couldn’t have sailed away if it had tried.
It was a woman who looked Iss-Peranian, but was definitely a grand master in the Guild of the Nameless. She was standing on the rear of a ship. That’s who Merain meant, I thought, but then I didn’t have time or attention to think any more because I was completely taken up with helping Mialle defend against her. Mialle’s seals were strong and effective, but she was almost breaking under the strain and I needed all of my strength to prevent that.
I don’t know how long we fought, but after an interminable time the woman fighting us toppled to the deck with a knife stuck through her throat. Just at the moment that neither of us had any strength left, and we fell too, Mialle into the water, but someone got her out right away and revived her, with brandy I think, while I pulled myself together and sat up, dazed.
It had been Thulo. While Mialle and I were fighting, he’d taken a small boat with Sebaba’s man and they’d climbed on board the ship, against all protests of the sailors who said it was a masters’ fight and it shouldn’t be interrupted. There was indeed a sailor saying that right now in my hearing, so I said “No! It was attempted murder and we’ve prevented that.”
That sobered the sailor a little, and he said, uncertainly, “You’re of the Order, right? There’s something you should see.” And he took me on to the ship, past the dead body, down a hatch, through a passage much like the one leading to my cabin on Sinaya’s ship, and into a cabin much like mine.
Senthi was lying there with her throat cut.
“Who did that?” I asked, but he didn’t know. Perhaps Kanye had ordered it. I understood that Kanye was the dead body, and what she had also ordered was for the captain to be put in irons because he was too dangerous. “Get the captain for me, please,” I said, “and send to the temple of Naigha.” I searched Senthi’s body and her cabin but all I found was a painted miniature of a man and a child who looked Iss-Peranian. There was nothing on her body, even the inner pocket that I’d seen her take a Guild-of-the-Nameless master’s ribbon from had been ripped from her shirt. No papers, nothing personal except the miniature. Someone had been very thorough.
Presently the captain appeared, looking shaken. I had to tell him what had happened –what I knew of it– because he hadn’t been able to see or hear anything in the brig. “She was a good person,” I said, and held the picture out to him.
“That’s her family in Albetire,” the captain said, “her husband and son. I’ll write to them.”
“I’m going to Albetire anyway,” I said, “I’ll go and visit them. I’m staying at the general’s house, if you deliver it tomorrow I can take the letter and the picture. Do you know an address?” Yes, he did, and he’d do that. Another thing on my list, but it was a small service that I would gladly do for Senthi.
I got back to Mialle’s house somehow, and what I wanted most was another bath. Fortunately, being a palace, the house could provide it. Thulo was almost as tired as I was and much more upset — after all he’d killed the enemy with his own hands. With the other man’s knife, though: his own had missed when he threw it. “I was hoping something would distract her,” I said. but he said that we had been doing the distracting so he could do the killing!
Orian met us at the baths, grinning from ear to ear. “You won, didn’t you? No danger any more? When are we leaving?”
“Day after tomorrow, I think. Sinaya will have to round up her crew. We’re done here.”
“Awesome– can I go and see Parandé one last time?” Thulo and I looked at each other and said, both at the same time, “No.”
Orian went away, looking disappointed, and I sent a servant to Sinaya with a note. I still wanted one day of rest on dry land with baths and good food, and in the company of Mialle and her siblings and husband.
“Could you show me how you do that, praying to Anshen at the fire?” Thulo asked, startling me out of a half-dream.
“Why, sure.” Praying was the next thing I wanted to do anyway, but I’d been using candles and lanterns on the ship for so long that I’d never even thought of a real fire.
On our way to the kitchen Merain met us, still pale and shaken but looking somewhat less worried. “Well, at least I’ve got one answer,” he said. I’m on my own now. I will have to build up the Guild again.”
“I wish you strength,” I said. Suddenly a thought occurred to me. “The fire in the kitchen, where you prayed– is it… impartial?”
The look on his face was almost a grin. “All fires belong to Archan,” he said.
“Then all fires belong to Anshen, too,” I said, and took Thulo to the kitchen and asked for the use of one of the cooking-fires. We knelt in front of it, and I took Thulo’s hand and sought the core of the fire with my mind, taking him along. Of course Anshen was there, and if the Nameless was there too he had to take second place for now.
There was a great sense of relief in the image of Anshen in the fire. Fierce joy, too, pride, and surprisingly concern for Sedi and Sebaba and their men, enveloping them with warmth, a feeling that this was what we were in his Guild for. And even a little thread of warmth extending to Merain, indulgent tolerance, spiced by something that felt like a teenager shouting “the Nameless is stupid!” — as if Anshen had taken lessons from all people under his protection.
We emerged after a while, and Thulo looked thoughtful as well as satisfied. “Thank you,” he said, and I couldn’t be sure if he meant me or Anshen.
There was food and drink then, a feast, Mialle lying with her head in her husband’s lap while the general fed her little delicacies. “I’m so glad I’m not in the Order!” she said, “after such a fight you can’t even lie in the arms of your beloved!” That wasn’t entirely true, but I hadn’t wanted to explain any more exactly and talk myself into a corner. Anyway, I didn’t have anyone in whose arms to lie, and it wasn’t my way to lie in just anyone’s arms. Thulo had no such inhibitions and he went in search of entertainment after dinner.
Sedi and Sebaba and their men dropped in as we were finishing. “Thank you once again,” they said. “We’re going on the ship tomorrow, to Essle, to start our own house there. Master Merain has given us a letter to take to Radan of the Dawn, he will help us.”
“Radan!” Mialle said to me. “That’ll be his grandson by now, I wouldn’t be surprised.” I’d heard of old Radan of the Dawn, that he was a ruthless but honourable man, but I hadn’t been in Essle long enough to see anything of him or his descendants.
I thought to sleep the sleep of the just, but in the middle of the night noises woke me: Thulo’s voice, a woman’s voice –could that be Parandé? They were clearly having fun. Good for him– for them.