Trial

Sedi only knows it from Thulo’s showing and telling, of course. She wasn’t there for the other significant scene either, and neither of the participants of that have told her anything.

It turned out that the only masters left at the Order house apart from Rhanion himself were Jeran, in his sixties with a stiff leg from a badly healed break, and me. “I’m completely at your disposal,” I said to Rhanion, and he sent me to the gate to organise the guard and find someone to send semsin reports to Jeran. Just as I thought everything would run itself and I could go back for another job, I suddenly lost the awareness of Thulo that I hadn’t realised I had.

I hurried back to the hospital, in time to find him sprawled on the floor unconscious and Maha getting out of bed to help him. I was about to say “don’t do that!” but she looked so well and strong that I bit my tongue and we got him into the bed together. “What happened?” I asked, but before Maha could answer Thulo woke up –a little– and I saw that he was a journeyman.

“What happened?” Thulo asked too.

“You had your journeyman’s trial, apparently. You look battered enough for it.” His anea was in tatters, and his body was full of bruises and scrapes as if he’d been climbing naked over sharp rocks. I got vervain tea, which pulled him together enough to talk. The trial had come upon him when he was watching over Maha. It had involved carrying her body to where her spirit was, at the top of a gorge, climbing up and up against running water and wind and rain. At the bottom there had been light and music and dancing, the obvious choice between the hard and the easy way, but Thulo had known that the spirit-of-Maha he saw at the top was the real thing, and the image at the bottom a false image.

He sang as he climbed, first everything Maha had taught us, switching to what I had taught him –invocations, to start with– when he ran out. The moment he’d invoked Anshen, Anshen had been there to help him– none too early, he was at the end of his strength.

It hadn’t only made Thulo a journeyman, it had also reunited Maha’s spirit with her body and healed the body at the same time. The broken ribs and the bruised liver and spleen were whole. She had a couple of new bruises from falling on the steep hillside, but those were only on the surface.

We all slept in the hospital room, Maha and I on pallets and Thulo on the bed. Doctor Arin came in to look at Maha in the morning and was surprised to find Thulo there, and Maha as good as new — “I don’t think there’s anything wrong with you any more! You can stop taking up room here.” So we all went to the Order house, hoping for a bath, as the bath-house was closed. Arin did give us a jar of ointment for bruises, very welcome.

I sent a journeyman to hang a kettle over the fire, while we went into the temple first. “Shouldn’t I wash before I pray?” Thulo asked.

“Anshen’s seen you dirty and battered before,” I said, “but you can pray, and wash, and pray again, no problem!”

When we were kneeling at the fire, suddenly there were four of us. We all saw him, but he had his arm around Maha. “Wow!” she said when we left the temple, “I don’t pray a lot but for this I’d do it every time!”

The tub was just large enough for the three of us, and when I’d soaked a bit I got out to knead Thulo’s shoulders, because if he felt as stiff as he looked he must be very uncomfortable, That was a good opportunity for him to show us everything. Maha was as interested as I was: though she had been there, she hadn’t been herself, and she definitely hadn’t been whole.

That had been a gruelling climb. No wonder he was bruised– that they were both bruised, he’d been carrying Maha’s body all the time. “If you’d dropped me right there I think I’d have been lost!” she said, and Thulo and I both thought the same. It had been close anyway, Frighteningly long before he’d thought of calling on Anshen, and even then it had been almost accidental. If he’d grown up in Valdyas, the Invocations would probably have been the first thing coming to mind, but half a year’s learning is no substitute for a whole lifetime’s habit.

What he hadn’t told us the first time was that the Nameless had been taunting him, “give up, man, you won’t make it anyway, come down before you fall down!” Apparently the Nameless doesn’t know that that’s exactly the sort of thing that doesn’t work on Thulo.

Just when we were standing in the yard draped in damp towels, the printing press was brought in. It was all in pieces, the largest and heaviest being a large rectangular stone basin. “Now we need to figure out how to put it together!” Rhanion said. I’d seen the one in Kushesh, and studied it while it was working, but there seemed to be lots of things here that the press in Kushesh hadn’t had. “Never mind, I think we have the person here who used to operate it, and he’s tractable enough.”

And yes, when we were dressed and came back to the room –one of the spare training rooms– that the press had been carried into, Kejalat had assembled it and was making it ready for use. Maha didn’t go into that room, she had good reason not to want to be in the same place as Kejalat, but Thulo and I got a good look at the machine. This didn’t work the same as the one in Kushesh, it pulled a sheet of paper between rolls like a laundry wringer and the ink got on it somehow while it was rolling. “I invented this!” Kejalat said proudly. “Works a treat on fingers. I thought of it by watching laundresses.”

He explained more of the working, but interesting as it was it also was hard to listen to because he kept comparing it to acts of torture. A bronze stamp to make clay models to cast lead letters in was like a branding iron– it did look the one we had for the cows at home, though we’d never had trouble with whether to use the sign or the mirror image like with letters because it was just a line with two crossbars, the same both sides.

Now the Order had the printing press, we could use it to print pamphlets with the signs of the sickness and what to do when you had it. The problem was that we ony had Valdyan letters, not Iss-Peranian ones, and people in Little Valdyas probably knew what to do anyway– get to the hospital. I thought vaguely of a plan to get schoolchildren to make the clay models now there was no school, but what had to be made were the bronze stamps and that was smith’s work. Or Master Nakhast’s work, but we couldn’t reach him either.

Then the service bell rang, and we went to the temple again. Thulo got congratulated by everybody who hadn’t seen him yet, of course. But it wasn’t all celebration: at the end of the service Rhanion asked for prayer for a master and a journeyman who were in the hospital, and commemorated the people who hadn’t come back from the north side of the city– the ones who had still been away when our squad came from the foundry.

There was still a shortage of power in the city– I’d seen that when thinking of fellow Sworn who were in the other quarters. We couldn’t do anything about that right now, not even investigate, because we couldn’t leave Little Valdyas. Even Maha was having trouble now.

The next two weeks were so busy that I hardly had time to think about that. We didn’t even see each other much– though Thulo and Maha must have had an awkward talk, because they were uneasy around each other. I could only understand it as one or the other –or both– having fallen in love and not knowing what to do about it. Well, none of my business, as long as we could still all get on when we could finally go south.

There was one small matter– the prisoners from the ship, “What do you want me to do with them?” Rhanion asked. “Do you need any of them any more?”

“Well, the captain and the mate were only complicit,” I said, “they were victims of the circumstances more than anything. Is there any useful work they can do?”

“I’ve already lent those two to the hospital to carry stretchers,” Rhanion said with a grin. “If they survive they’ll have learnt their lesson and we can let them go, I think. Without a ship and their goods they’ll have to crawl back up, serves them right, No, it’s the Síthi I’m worried about.”

“Those apprentices are probably harmless, you could lend them to the hospital as well,” I said.

“Them, I’d rather lend to the cremation ovens, I wouldn’t trust them with living patients.”

Yes, he had a point. And I didn’t trust the master at all but I was loath to pronounce judgement on him, I probably didn’t have that power anyway. Rhanion agreed, “let’s keep him here until this trouble is over and Mehili comes back, then she can hang him.”

Rhanion had me and Jeran overseeing food supply –things were going to run low very soon now– and set Thulo to getting reports from the other quarters of the city and adding up the numbers. Thousands of dead on the first day, but it did get better: after a week there were as many cures as deaths, and at the end of the second week the sickness was officially declared gone and the gates opened.

We wanted to see if people were still alive. With our eyes. We went to Maham’s house first and found Felan there, who said that they’d been lucky, all had been spared, and there was no school so he could really get ahead with the work. “And you’ve found the princess!” he said when he saw Maha.

When we got to Phuli’s house it was boarded up, and so were several other houses in the street. We asked a street-sweeper — they always know what happens to people. “Dead,” he said, “first the little children, and then herself. Oh wait, do you happen to be Thulo? There’s a message for you at the temple.”

“Which temple?” Thulo asked.

“Of Dayati, of course!”

The temple was much quieter than the previous time. Maha had a couple of little children hanging on to her immediately, and I absently stroked a passing cat, while Thulo talked to the clerk. Phuli turned out to have written several letters on her deathbed, not only to Thulo but also to Khopai, and she’d made her will, leaving all her trade assets to Thulo. It came to thirty-eight thousand wainwheels, which made Maha gasp. “So you’re really really rich!”

“Phuli writes that I should use it to buy a share in a caravan, she recommends the saray of Master Azbabe,” Thulo said.

“She was an impressive woman,” the clerk told us. “Trustworthy– trusted by all. When she first came to Albetire she was scraping out a living in the harbour, half a whore, half a thief. But at eighteen she’d set up a ship-goods shop, and a year later she was Khopai’s agent. And the man she married — a big man, half Iss-Peranian and half Síthi. Worked as her porter, but she saw more in him. Gave her two daughters. But he died in the uprising at the old king’s death. And at the end, her husband dead, her children dead, well, she wanted someone she trusted to have the money.”