Coran is somewhat aware, fortunately, that he’s small and not very strong. Being brave and fierce doesn’t completely make up for that.
That was nice work! I spent half the time hauling big logs up the hill with a pulley, and the other half helping to put them in place so other people could hammer them down. And Veh had been right, nobody told us what to do, just what needed doing so we could pick something. He took us to the smith too, so we could be measured for knives, though they were more like small axes! It turned out that I wasn’t half as strong as I’d thought, the smith was ten times stronger –that’s what smiths are, of course, but he wasn’t a very big man– and he also thought that I wouldn’t grow much more. Jilan was going to grow, he said, but he could make knives for both of us and he’d just make a bigger one for Jilan later. And the smith also promised that he’d teach us to wrestle, because if you’re a big man you can get by with fisticuffs, but if you’re a slight little man you have to know how to make someone use his own weight against himself.
I had an idea how to get hold of Capo at least, because he was Síthi and so were the boys who had brought the pastries to the bath-house, and if they were food-sellers they probably knew a lot of people. Veh thought that was a good idea and showed me where they worked. They were just closing up and I gave them a hand. “Oh, you’re one of the people we fed the other day!” they said, and I asked about Capo, and they asked me to come to their house so I could help them finish the leftovers. They were talking all the time, about everything there was to see in town, so I knew they were going to tell me things but not where people could hear us. When we came to their house there was a woman there, young, not pretty I think, feeding a baby. She had a very hard name that I don’t remember, I don’t think she was all Síthi, something else foreign as well. She lived in the boys’ house, because she didn’t have a house of her own, and worked in the bath-house near the west gate but she came home when the boys were still out and did the housework.
“I know the man called Capo,” she said, “he comes to the place where I work, he’ll be there the day after tomorrow.”
Well, at least that was something! “Thank you,” I said, and then we ate the leftover filling in leftover dough, strange shapes but just as delicious.
I came back when it was dark already, one of the Síthi boys pointed me the right way, and Arvi fussed a bit but nobody had been worried, they’d known where I was.
The next day was another day working on the house, together with some people from town and a couple more lads from the brickworks who wanted to have a job to do. The Ishey didn’t have money to pay us either, but the work was pleasant and we got good food, fresh bread with meat that someone roasted over a fire, I think it was a rabbit. The boy who had been driving the hospital cart came in the afternoon. He belonged with the Ishey too though he’d been born in the north, his name was Jeran and he lived in doctor Cora’s house too, I just hadn’t seen him there yet because we’d been in different places all the time.
We came home sweaty and dirty and satisfied, and then we got to use the bath in the kitchen with the water that came from the wall. And then there was food! And a clean shirt, because Veh and Jeran and I were going to night school. Asa combed Veh’s hair, and Jerna combed Jeran’s hair, and I didn’t have any hair to comb but Arvi washed my neck and behind my ears. “You don’t have any kids, do you?” I asked, and she said “What’s this all around us?” pointing at the little ones.
“No, I mean, you’re not someone’s mother?” Because she was exactly like my own mother when I was a kid.
Arvi gave me a folded letter, “could you please give that to Lara? She’s the housekeeper at Lady Rava’s house.” Lady Rava was the lady who taught the night school. Veh and Jeran knew where it was, they even knew a shortcut! It was wettish weather, sleet turning to snow, so we arrived with muddy feet at a door in a long blank wall. There were some more people arriving, all older than us, because the night school (Arvi had told me) was mostly for people who had never been to school when they were kids.
A woman with light hair opened the door, and when she saw me she said “You’re new, right? I’m Lara. Please put your shoes in the scullery!” And we all did, shoes, boots, clogs, and everybody followed Lara into the house in their stockinged feet or even bare feet. “Oh!” I said. “The letter!” “Oh, that’s from Arvi,” she said, “thank you!”
This was a very rich house, the kitchen alone was as large as the whole of doctor Cora’s house! And it smelt nice, of roast meat and bean soup with bacon. We went upstairs to an even larger room where there was a huge table, but people started to take the table apart to make little tables. The room was all covered in carpets, on the walls as well as the floor, and the ceiling was decorated with flowers and leaves and fruit in painted plaster. The wall carpets were pictures, one of dogs and foxes and horses that looked as if they’d start barking and whinnying at any moment, and one of a king on a throne, with red hair and strange clothes. (I saw our king when he came to Veray when I was little, but I was too far away to see anything else than that he had red hair, too.)
Then a great lady came in, in clothes of satin and velvet and wearing a gold chain, old enough that her hair was going grey but still very beautiful. Everybody stood up so I did too. Then she said “sit, please!” so we all sat.
This was Lady Rava! She noticed that I was new, and asked me what I could already do, and I said “I can do arithmetic, and write my name,” because that was true. She put me at a table with a woman who smelt like fish so I thought she must be a fish-wife, who was better at letters than me but a bit worse at arithmetic, and we worked together for a while, me teaching her sums and her teaching me letters. There are lots more letters than I use to write my name! And I think she taught me all of them.
After a while we stopped working because Lara came in with a tray full of bread and cups of something that smelt wonderful. I asked what it was and someone said “Mulled wine, you’re so thin that I think you should have only a little!” so I did, and it made my head swim a bit but not much, especially as I ate a lot of the bread. There was meat on the bread, and cheese, and fried onions, and sharp sauces! Some people who went to night school came straight from work so they hadn’t eaten yet, and there were also growing lads like me and Jeran, so it was a good thing that we got filling food.
While we were eating, a man sitting behind us talked to the fish-wife, “didn’t you need a new cart? The wainwright on South Gate Street has one, standing in front of his doors, a bit battered but with brand-new wheels with iron rims!” That sounded like a cart I knew so I kept listening, but I didn’t learn much more, except that the wainwright “had picked it up somewhere” and there was no horse with it. When I talked to the man after the next set of lessons (he asked me what kind of work I did, and I said I was a builder’s apprentice — true enough! and I felt proud of it!) he couldn’t say much more either, he’d heard that someone had sold it but that was all. Well, I’d go and have a look at it myself!
Finally we went home, me with a letter from Lara to Arvi in my pocket. Not by the same shortcut. but the long way round. We passed a place where there was light, and music that I liked a lot, but Veh said we shouldn’t go there because it was a place where Ishey weren’t welcome. Sabeh had been turned away at the door, even though she’d been with a young man and they’d just wanted to dance, because they said there that Ishey only wanted to fight. “That’s not true, is it?” I asked, and Veh said “Well…” but it was clear that it was unfair anyway, anybody should be able to go everywhere!
When the hospital came in sight I knew why Veh had taken us this long way: this must be South Gate Street, and there was the wainwright’s workshop and a cart was standing outside it that I could recognise, by the light of the lantern hanging over the wainwright’s door, as Arin’s, iron-shod wheels and all! “I’ll go and have a look tomorrow, perhaps the wainwright can tell me something!” I said, and Jeran promptly offered to go along, he was a cart driver after all. “Perhaps the Ishey settlement needs a new cart!” he said with a grin.
In Cora’s house there was light and warmth and lots of people, some I hadn’t seen before. One of them was an old woman with a scarred face, who had expensive-looking clothes on but still looked as if she was one of my kind of people, not the noble kind of people. “Oh, you’re one of the boys from the brickworks,” she said, “I’m Raisse. From next door.” She wasn’t beautiful or anything, but I couldn’t stop looking at her for some reason.
We all had something hot to drink –it was getting really cold– and then Arvi let the dog in, because not even a dog should stay outside in the snow, and didn’t let us go up to the attic room except to get our blankets, “we’ll all sleep here!” Raisse went home, taking two girls with her who were her apprentices. One had to be carried, because she couldn’t walk. I hadn’t noticed that at all! She was the sister of one of the pairs of twin girls, called Halla. And the other was Lyse, the sister of Lara the housekeeper.
We slept near the fire in a heap, as if we were all puppies. In the morning it was a bit less cold, and Jilan and the elder twins went to school, and the younger twins and the other little kids helped Arvi and Jerna, and Jeran and I and Veh went out to talk to the wainwright. Well, in fact Veh stayed at the other end of the street in case we needed him, we didn’t want to mob the poor wainwright and Veh was sure that we could handle it.
There were two men standing by the cart (and now it was light I was sure that it was Arin’s): one with a leather apron with tools in the pocket, who had to be the wainwright, and the other a rich-looking man in a sheepskin jacket, so broad that if he was on a driving seat there wouldn’t be room for even a very thin apprentice. They were talking about how the wainwright got the cart, “found abandoned, I usually don’t take those but it was Fian and Riei who brought it, and Fian’s son is married to my daughter. Don’t know who left it, though, nor where they went either.”
“Excuse me,” I said, “I think I can tell you who left it, but I’d like to know where he went, too!” So I told him about Arin and the time the cart had gone into the ditch and he’d had to have new wheels made.
“Who are you to know that?” the rich-looking man said (the dean of the carters’ guild, called Perain, he told me). So I had to tell him a lot more, but he didn’t look as if he’d fuck me over like Arin had.
“Hmm,” he said, “that’s a guild matter! Where do you live so I can find you again?”
“In doctor Cora’s house for now,” I said, “but when the Ishey house is finished I’ll probably move there.”
Jeran had been inspecting the cart and climbed down from it, “this is too heavy for us, we don’t have a horse like my father has, it needs one of those big northern horses!” A horse like Arin’s, in fact, and I was practically sure he’d ridden off on it when he left the cart on the road. Perain didn’t take Jeran seriously at first, “aren’t you of an age to want a cart on a string to pull behind you?” but when he saw that Jeran really knew what he was talking about he treated him like a real carter.
Jeran went off to the hospital, I think, and Master Perain went away on guild business, so I asked the wainwright “I really want to know where this man went whose cart it was!” He told me where the man lived that he’d bought it from, his son-in-law’s father, and I went there to ask. This was an oldish man who was carving wooden spoons. “Yeah,” he said, “found it near the ford and it was too good to let it go to waste, so I thought I’d get some money for it! But I don’t know who left it, perhaps Alyse the washerwoman saw it, she lives near the bridge and she sees everybody who passes!”
So to the bridge I went, and there was a woman hanging out a lot of laundry that looked like all sheets and towels. “You’re Alyse, right? Fian the spoon-maker sent me.”
She was very helpful when she heard what I wanted to know, “oh, Brick-Arin! Yes, I saw him come in over the bridge, on his horse, but he never went back! No, didn’t have a cart either.” So Arin was still in this part of town beyond the bridge. Alyse said he couldn’t have gone south unless he’d turned into a fish, because the road ran into steep stony hills there, and I knew he couldn’t have gone north because he’d be caught by the Ishey, and he sure hadn’t gone west into town or Alyse would have seen him, so he could only have gone back into the wood! Or hide in a house somewhere, of course, but at least his horse would be easy to see.
I thanked Alyse and promised to tell the people at the hospital that they’d forgotten to pick up their two baskets of laundry. I thought I could take them, but they were very big baskets and I could barely lift one, that really needed a cart.
When I was in the hospital anyway I looked up the people from the brickworks who were still in there, men, women and children, each in their own ward. In the children’s ward there was only Aylin who had breathed smoke at the brick oven, wheezing but looking much happier than a few days before. “You’re working?” she asked. “Building houses? That’s good! I don’t know what I want to do yet, perhaps I’ll go into the Temple.”
A priestess who was working as a nurse heard that, and stroked her bald head –because of course she’d been shaved for the lice too– and said “You take care to get better first, and then think about what you want!”
I stayed for a bit longer, and we talked about where Arin could have gone. “I wouldn’t be surprised if he’d gone back to the camp!” she said, “the last place people will look for him!”
“But there’s nothing to eat,” I said, “we ate all the food in the shed!” But Aylin thought that Arin could always eat his horse if he was starving. Well, that was the next place where I’d go to look for him, but not without a knife –Veh was right about that– or some lessons in wrestling, because Arin was a big man and he’d hit me on the head before, and I didn’t feel like facing him unprepared and alone.