Coran got his revenge: he knocked Arin on the head. Not once, but twice. And getting bad-mouthed by him three times has some bragging value too.

I got him! I got him! Honest Arin, that is. Socked him on the head with a club. But I’ll tell it from the beginning so it’s more exciting, because this was a real adventure.

In the morning I woke up together with everybody else including the dog, and the house was bustling at once. There wasn’t anything to eat! And we had to dress up nicely because we were going to the temple. Of Anshen, because it was the Day of Anshen. “Doesn’t Anshen approve of breakfast?” I asked, but Arvi didn’t know, it was what doctor Cora did so the whole household did it. “But do we get something to eat later?”

“Yes,” and she smiled, “definitely! Doctor Jeran said he’d start cooking early.”

I had only my ordinary clothes, of course, the only really nice thing I had was Serla’s jacket. “Veh?” I asked. “This is the neatest thing I’ve got but it’s a jacket of the Nameless, can I wear it anyway?”

“Er, rather not,” he said, “but wait! You’re not all that large, and neither is Jilan, I’ll get something.” And he went upstairs and came back with two blankets like the one he was wearing, only smaller, “they’re not quite finished yet,” and showed us how to dress in them. “You’re Ishey, after all!”

Then we went to the big house next door where I’d got half a chicken in the kitchen, to a long room that I remembered going through in a hurry with Khahid, but it was full of people now, and on the other end a fire was burning in a sort of bump in the wall. That had been there before, too, but I’d been too busy to really see it.

“Is this the temple?” I asked.

“It’s the school refectory,” Arvi said, “but it’s also a temple of Anshen.”

Refectory? And what school? I’d ask later. I could hardly see or hear what was going on, but people were saying invocations, and then there was singing, and I rather liked it, it was very quiet though there was a great big crowd with lots of little kids in it. I saw a lot of people I knew, everybody who had been at the meeting (except Serla of course), and Lord Radan and the Síthi doctor and the sergeant.

The service ended and most people went out, us too, and in the courtyard there was the hospital cart with the big mule in front of it. All of doctor Cora’s household piled on it, and the neighbours too, Raisse and the girls I’d met before, Halla and Lyse. Well, of course some of us had to walk, and in fact most of us did after a while except white-haired Jeran who was driving the cart and Halla and Raisse and Asa. We were going to the bath-house, but we’d eat first, because this doctor Jeran had been cooking since early morning and lots of us were very hungry. We’d washed our faces and brushed our teeth in the morning, anyway.

I walked with Lyse for a while, she was a nice blonde girl taller than me but almost as thin and I think a bit younger. “Do you get hungry all the time too?” I asked, “or is that just for boys?”

“No, it’s not just for boys,” Lyse said. “Me and my sister lived for years on a penny or two a day.”

“Yeah,” I said, “I could see by your face that you’ve had hard times, too.”

Then we got to a street with lots of workshops, almost like at home when I was a kid, carpenters and tinsmiths and coopers and saddlers, things like that. We went into a house, not a very big one, that smelt of delicious cooking! There was a thin man with a little ginger beard at the stove, stirring a pot of porridge. “Welcome!” he said. “Everybody got a place? Then let’s eat!” There was the porridge, and bread, and sausage, and pancakes filled with meat, and pancakes with honey, and cheese, and pie, and apples and more! And there was milk and herb tea and weak beer and well-water. So nobody talked for a long time, but then when we couldn’t eat any more (and some of the food was running out) everybody talked. A young Síthi man and woman came in with a little boy and got a seat and some food, this was the doctor’s apprentice (well, a doctor himself now) Kancho and his wife Anju who worked at the bath-house. And I suddenly saw Keti and her Arin across the table, they must have come in when I was busy eating.

I said to Jilan, “I had such a good plan to catch Arin! But I think I’ll have to think again because today didn’t go the way I expected.” And then Jilan and Lyse and Halla and Veh were all around me to talk about it, and we made a plan to get people from downtown, from Master Fian’s school, and go into the woods to find him.

“No younger than ten,” I said, “but all young people, strong and clever people who can run fast. And Veh to call when we need anybody.”

“Can’t we take the mule?” Halla asked. “Then I can come too. I’d love an adventure!” She couldn’t run, of course, but I knew she was clever, and when she said “Then I could call people– I’m going to be a grand master like Raisse, she’s already taught me a lot!” it was clear that we were going to take her, and we wouldn’t even need Veh so he could be with Asa.

Jeran was coming too, and the bigger twins, none of them were quite ten yet, I think, and neither was Jilan, but we couldn’t stop them and the twins knew people from the school. “Can we borrow the dog to catch bandits?” I asked, but Veh had already thought of that himself.

“But bath first!” Arvi said, but Veh argued with her and she let us go, “ah well, you can wash when you come back, you’ll get dirty again anyway!”

So off we were, and I felt very important because this was my revenge, and not only that but Lord Vurian had asked me to do it. But I had to ask the school-kids to lead me to the downtown neighbourhood where the school was, because I’d only been there once and I wasn’t sure I could find it again. It went through all sorts of streets I hadn’t seen before, but suddenly we were at the smith’s house! The smith himself was sitting on a bench in front of his house drinking beer, with a little girl on his lap and his arm around a woman I recognised, she was a nurse in the hospital who I’d seen carrying a baby on her back. This baby was asleep in her arm now, and there was another little kid running around, probably a boy.

“Good afternoon, Master!” I said. The smith grinned at us and wanted to know where we were going, we were such a procession: boys, girls, a mule and a dog. So I told him everything, because there was something about him that made me trust him, like he didn’t look honest, like Honest Arin, but I knew deep-down that he was. “Only I haven’t learnt any wrestling yet,” I said, “can I borrow a knife please?”

The smith put his daughter and his beer mug down carefully and said, “Your own knives happen to be ready. Arin!” And a young man came from the house, also with a beer mug. This Arin was ugly! Broken nose, cauliflower ears, missing teeth, a big scar running along his cheek. But he had the same something. “Those two Ishey knives we made this week? They’re for these lads.”

Jilan and I got a knife each, and mine felt very puny, while Jilan was having trouble holding his. “The other way round!” the smith said, and when I had the right knife it felt as if it didn’t weigh anything at all. It was a very strange shape, with bends in it, and it had a sharp point and a sharp edge and a blunt edge. “Be careful with it,” the smith said, “or you’ll kill someone with it without thinking!” And I could hear a voice in my head, perhaps Veh’s voice, saying that an Ishey knife was a tool even more than a weapon, so I nodded and put the knife back in its sheath and stuck the sheath through my belt.

“You’d better take Arin along,~” the smith said, “he knows a lot of people.” Arin looked a bit doubtful, but the smith said “I know you’re going straight now, and Lord Radan knows it too,” and then Arin grinned and put a knife of his own in his belt.

“Let’s take a coil of rope to tie him up when we catch him,” I said. “I promised to bring him back alive. But I am going to knock him out first, the way he did me!” The smith laughed, and Arin said that he’d get hold of Vurian the roper’s apprentice for rope, and Lyse blushed, I think she was sweet on the roper’s apprentice!

When we left I remembered saying “Thank you, master!” to the smith. Then we went over the bridge into the poor neighbourhood. It was poorer here than where I grew up, but not as dismal as at the harbour where I spent my orphan years. Nobody was working, people were sitting outside their houses drinking and gossiping, and when we came to the open place near the washerwoman’s house –I recognised it now– there was music and dancing, a bit rougher than in Veray but catchy, I almost started dancing myself! But I spoke to the washerwoman and said we were here to catch Honest Arin, and soon enough a lot of people were listening.

“I want young people,” I said, “this is for us! Nobody younger than them” –Sedi and Rani– “or older than him” –Arin Scarface–, strong and quick and clever! Are you with me?”

They were, more than a dozen of them, boys and girls, one boy with large hands rubbed rough who made sheep’s eyes at Lyse. “You,” I said, “you’re Vurian the roper, right? Can you get some rope to tie them up when we catch them?” And then everybody seemed to know that I was the boss, it made me dizzy with– well, I don’t know, bossiness I suppose.

When we got to the edge of the wood there were two roads in, one that looked as if a mule could use it, and one that went up against the sheer hillside. “That’s the hillside that you and I kept running into!” I said to Jilan. “No wonder we couldn’t go any further.” Some people went up the hill, others –Jilan and I, Lyse, Halla on the mule, the little girls and a lot more– down the path. It wasn’t the straight road where I’d dropped the brick, but this one went into the wood all right, it seemed to be the right direction, and after a while –must have been a couple of hours even– we reached the place where the camp had been. The house was still standing, though the door flapped open. “Arin might be in that house,” I said, “perhaps someone else, too.”

“Wait!” Halla whispered. “I can see if there’s someone in there. Lie low!” And we all stayed back in the wood while Halla did her semsin thing. “There are three people in there. Yuck! They’re all vile.”

“Can you see what they look like?” I asked.

“No, only how they think of themselves. One is a nice person who fell in with bad friends, one is just ordinary but the world did them wrong, and one –yuck!– even thinks of themself as evil.” That last couldn’t be Honest Arin, but either of the other two could. The dog growled a bit, and Jeran told it to sit and not to bark, and it sat, watchful, but didn’t make another sound. The mule did, though, no use telling a mule to be silent. If anyone was listening they knew we were there now!

“All right,” I said, “let’s be careful, there are more of us than of them but they’ve probably got swords, and they’re a lot bigger.” But Halla said they were moving away from the house, further into the forest.

“After them?” Jilan asked, and I said yes, but the mule couldn’t go further, and Halla said that she’d rather stay here –Lyse could call her and then she could call to town if necessary– and take care of the mule. “And you two,” her sisters, “please stay with me to take care of me!” I said to the nearest twin that the house was empty now, and that there were probably some kitchen knives or at least sticks in there that they could use to defend Halla, and they went to investigate.

It was harder going in this bit of the forest, hard not to make a noise, and we had to spread out because there was simply no room for all of us in the same place. Then suddenly the dog bounded forward, still not barking, and we heard a shout and a lot of cursing. Jeran ran after it and called back “We’ve caught one!” It was a man with curly hair, not Arin, this one had grey eyes in a narrow face that was now covered in dog drool. He wasn’t moving, stiff with fear probably, imagine having a dog as big as yourself standing over you ready to bite! “Let’s tie him up,” I said.

Lyse came to bring the rope, but she was too disgusted to do the tying, “he’s so dirty! I can’t touch him!” So I did it myself, I’m used to dirty work after all, hands and feet and elbows. Some of the downtown lads hoisted him up into a tree, feet up, so his shoulders just touched the ground. We could probably leave him here safely, and we went on to where Lyse said she saw the other two.

Suddenly we heard a whistling sound and a thwack! And one of the downtown lads grabbed at his shoulder. Another one pulled him back at once. They knew where we were, and they had at least one bow. We were even quieter now, if we rustled it was only like deer. Then the forest gave way to a rise with only a few bushes, and I heard the sound of water. There was someone sitting behind the ridge, and when we came closer I could see that it was a woman in a leather jacket. There was a bow next to her, and three short arrows stuck in the ground, and she was playing with the fourth arrow, licking the point. I grabbed the first useful piece of wood I could see, a branch about as thick as my arm and almost as long, and crawled behind her and clubbed her on the head. She fell forward with a thump, and when the others came and we turned her over we could see she had the arrow stuck through her cheek!

Now for Arin. Lyse could point to where he was, but we had no cover here and had to go back into the wood. We heard him running noisily and shouting, “Faran! Erne! Where are you? They’ve found us!” And then he saw us, and we saw him, as he poked his head up from behind the ridge. I was too far away to hit him, and I wasn’t sure if he had a bow too, so I ducked, and just at that moment a whole herd of deer came charging from the wood and ran between him and us so we could really take cover. Jeran! I’d seen him go in that direction, but I thought he was just spreading out. “Fucking brutes!” I could just hear Arin shouting, and then he was coming our way and I signalled to Lyse on one side and Jilan on the other to stay back so I could get my revenge.

Thwack. Not as neatly as I’d have liked, I hit his face and broke his nose and took out a couple of his teeth, and he was still cursing, but he fell backward and hit his head on the ground and lay there unconscious. “Right, parcel delivered.” The others had caught up and were coming out of the wood too, and Vurian tied Arin up and we dragged him behind us, and the woman as well, back to the clearing and Halla and the twins.

“What happened to Arin’s horse?” I asked as we were preparing to take our prisoners back to town. “There should be a horse, a big one, that can pull a heavy cart.”

And Jeran went into the wood with the dog and they came back with Arin’s huge horse. “It was tied up at a shed with some hay,” Jeran said. “And there’s a pair of saddlebags too, bloody heavy, haven’t looked inside yet, too busy with the horse.”

I did look inside, and both bags were full of money! Mostly silver with some copper. “That’s our year’s pay I suppose,” I said. “Let’s take it to Lord Radan so he can pay us!”

Arin Scarface and a couple of other tall strong people lifted all the prisoners on the horse, and the saddlebags on the mule with Halla on top (she spread her skirt over the bags to hide them), and we went back to town in triumph. Arin came to his senses after a while and started bad-mouthing me. “Do you want another pat on your head?” I asked. “Yes, please!” so I clubbed him again.

Then the people who had gone up the hill came back and they’d also caught someone! This was a man I didn’t know, and I think nobody else knew him either, but he recognised Arin and the others so he was one of them, too.

By the time we came to the bridge there were lots of people following us, some of them looking as if they’d never crossed the bridge before. There must have been a hundred or more! Fortunately I remembered where to go, it would have looked bad if I’d had to ask the way. Lord Radan came from somewhere else when we reached the town hall, he’d probably been having his day off too. “I think Lord Vurian will want to see this too,” I said, “after all he told me that Arin was mine to catch!” And it wasn’t long until Lord Vurian came too, and Lady Rava, and Raisse, and I saw Veh too, a big grin on his face.

I don’t really remember everything that happened then, I was slapped on the back by everybody who could reach me (and I think all the other people were, too) and Raisse hugged Halla and Lyse and me and Jilan, and our prisoners were taken away and put onto the lockup under the town hall. It was strange, now I’d had my revenge on Arin and I felt all small and empty.

… Wait, empty! “It’s made me so hungry!” I said, and Lord Radan grinned and wrote a letter that he sealed and gave to me, “give this to the landlord of the Apple and it’ll be taken care of! You and everybody who comes in with you will get food and drink there.”

I didn’t know where the Apple was, which surprised Lord Radan, “doesn’t everybody?” but I said I’d only been in town four days. (Has it been that long? Perhaps only three days.) It was easy to find, though, a small inn on a little square, and I knew the innkeeper, he was Arvi’s husband! So I gave him the letter and he opened it and read it aloud, “‘… food and drink to be given to the bearer of this letter and all of his company, until they can stand on their legs no more, to be paid for by the town’ — great gods, lad, what did you do to deserve that?” So I told him about catching Arin and the others and he agreed that we deserved it, so we all got pie and beer and apple-wine. “I refuse to serve anyone who can’t stand on their legs any more,” he said, “but you’ll eat and drink until you’re sated, don’t worry!”

A couple of girls came in, looking like whores but they weren’t looking for custom, they were holding hands like any girls who are best friends, and wanted a drink. “Ooh, a party? Are we invited?” There was enough anyway, how much can two girls eat? But the letter said it was for people who had come in with me. “Oh, we can pay, we nabbed Faran’s change-jar, we’d just like to sit here and join the fun.” The innkeeper gave them their pie and wine for free anyway, I think. “Is it true that Faran is in the clink?”

“If it’s the Faran who was going around with Honest Arin, yes,” I said. “We caught them, that’s what we’re celebrating.”

“He had it coming!” one of the girls said. “That Faran, I can’t begin to tell you…” and I thought of what Halla had said, and shuddered, and said “No, please don’t.” They told us that he had a place near the West Gate, and that he was forever writing letters. “Oh!” I said. “I think you’d better come and tell Lord Radan about that, I’m sure he’ll want to read those letters!”

“The bailiff! Can he read then?” one girl asked, and I said “Sure, I’ve seen him write so I suppose he can read.” But neither of them dared go near Lord Radan, so Jilan and I went, after the girls told us where to go (an alley near the gate, up a flight of wooden steps).

Lord Radan was already sitting on the town-hall steps, wearing a leather jacket and riding boots and with a sword at his side. “Were you expecting us?” I asked.

“Sure,” and he laughed, “with Halla and Raisse and everybody there, word gets here quicker than feet do.”

We also took a large city guardswoman along, “better have some protection,” Lord Radan said, as if he couldn’t have done that himself, he sure looked as if he could fight. Faran’s place was in a really obscure street, I’d never seen something so poky even in Veray! And the flight of wooden steps wasn’t much more than a ladder. The guardswoman went up first and called down that it was safe, so all of us went up and saw that it came out on the flat roof of a house. Someone had built a sort of hut with a straw roof there, with a straw pallet and a chest and a fire-pot in it. The chest looked as if it was full of clothes but there were lots of papers under those, and there were also half-burnt papers in the fire-pot.

“Better take the whole fire-pot, Cynla, wrap it in the blanket!” Lord Radan said, and he took the chest on his shoulder himself but thought of something before he carried it down. “Would you look inside the straw pallet?” he asked me, and yes, there was a purse there that felt heavyish. I opened it and there was silver in it, and one gold coin that I took out and stared at.

“Is that a crown?” I’d never seen one before.

“Yes,” Lord Radan said, and I tried to make out whose head was on it but I could only see it must be a king or a queen because the head was wearing a crown, too.  “Your reward, I’d say,” Lord Radan said, “you two split it.”

When we were back at the town hall with Faran’s stuff I took out the crown again to look at it, and noticed that it had tooth-marks as if someone had tried to take a bite out of it. “Why would they do that?” I asked, and Lord Radan said “Try to fit your teeth in it,” but they wouldn’t.

“Do you see? It’s to make sure that someone is the right person, even if you’ve never met them. See, there are two sets of tooth-marks.”

Oh! It was suddenly clear. “Everybody’s teeth are different!” I thought of Vurian the roper, whose teeth sort of crossed in front, and Arin Scarface who missed a couple. “So if I had one and bit it, I couldn’t give it to Jilan and make him pretend he was me because he can’t bite the same way that I can bite.”

“Exactly,” Lord Radan said. “But this is still money and it belongs to both of you, you can spend it together.” But I didn’t want to spend it, it was a trophy! I’d talk about it to Jilan, we could divide up the rest, but the gold piece I really wanted to keep unless we were so broke that we’d die if we didn’t spend it.

I asked about the money in the saddle-bags too, “is that our year’s wages?” and Lord Radan said probably not all of it, but he’d see that everybody who had worked in the brickworks would at least be paid something.

“I don’t need any money!” Jilan said, “I’m Ishey, we’ve got all we need!”

“But you’ll want to give presents, and take people out for pie, and things like that,” I said, “at least I will. We’ll count the purse tomorrow.”

Then Lord Radan told us that the trial of the people we’d caught would be in a week and sent us back to the inn. We had more pie, different sorts we hadn’t tasted yet (the one with meat and egg was best, I thought), and I drank some beer, and I think Jilan did too.

The girls wanted to know how it had gone so we told them, and they said they didn’t have a place to go now because they’d been sleeping at Faran’s and it was bad to sleep in someone’s house who is in prison, so I said “there are a lot of rooms in our house, I’m sure there’ll be a place for you at least for tonight!”

We went back to Cora’s house, where Arvi took one look at us and said “You didn’t have a bath at all! Well, it’s late for that now but I’ll fill the bath anyway.” And of course the girls could stay, she showed them where there was an empty room and where they could find bedding.

But as we started to prepare for the bath, different things started happening all at once: Asa who was in the cushion corner of the room called for Veh, and the door opened and a lot of people came in, and Sabeh bustled around trying to get people out of the house. Asa was having her baby! And she wanted everybody to stay, but Sabeh wanted everybody to leave. This was quite a battle until one of the women who had come in said “Of course if Asa wants to have her baby with everybody present, they can stay!”

I felt uneasy not having anything to do so I asked Arvi if I could help, and she sent me to the wood-merchant to get firewood because it had run out. That was a very nice man who came with me with the hand-cart to save me having to bring the hand-cart back, and helped me stack the wood.

While I’d been out Jilan had filled buckets and kettles with water, and more people had arrived, neighbours I think, and finally the midwife. Just in time, it seemed, because moments later I could hear the wail of a small baby. I think Sabeh did something with the baby (and again tried to keep Veh out of it, but they got it sorted out) and gave him back to Asa, and things quieted down, there was a lot of cleaning, and I think at some point Jilan and I were about to go upstairs when one of the new people spoke to us.

Wow! That was a beautiful woman! We hadn’t really seen her yet because she’d been busy and there were always a lot of people between us. But when she talked to us I could understand why older lads lost their heads over girls. Not that I was going to lose my head over her, she was way too old for me, she already had a baby!

But that was doctor Cora. She wanted to know who we were, and it turned out that she and her apprentices had found the brick I’d dropped! I’d seen the apprentices too, quite pretty foreign girls, one darkish brown with long braided hair and one light brown with frizzy hair like a dandelion, sitting close to Asa now and talking with her. (And I wasn’t going to lose my head over them, too, they were clearly head over heels in love with one another!) So she already knew most of the things I’d have had to tell her otherwise to explain why I was living in her house. But she didn’t know yet that we’d caught the crooks, so I did have something to tell her. (And she knew our names, without anyone telling her. Clever.)

“And who might you be?” she asked the girls from the inn when she noticed them. “More Ishey?” “No,” they said, “but we didn’t have a place to go and he” –that was me– “said we could sleep in the house where he was sleeping. This house.”

“Coran was right about that,” she said, “now go to your room and don’t be afraid, and we’ll sort you out tomorrow. I have a couple of friends who– well, were like you a while ago but they’ve made good now, and they’ll probably be able to put you up.”

The next morning we slept late because everybody had been up practically all night, but Veh came along while we were having breakfast and asked me and Jilan “Will you be coming to work today?” And of course we would! “Asa doesn’t need me so much now, she’s got all her friends, I might as well go somewhere I’m useful.”

I pondered for a while whether to wear Serla’s coat or Veh’s blanket, and decided on the blanket because the coat was for neat, and the blanket was for being Ishey. I put it aside anyway while working because it was a lot of sweaty work, hauling heavy stuff, and I worked in only breeches like most other people. What we did was lay floorboards for the stable loft so we’d know how deep to dig out under that, and then started to dig out the stable itself. “We’ll be able to use this by the Feast of Naigha,” Veh said confidently.

There were also another pair of Ishey men –definitely a pair I think– who had come from the north with the doctor. They’d caught crooks too, but much worse ones than ours: someone who had tried to kill Queen Raisse in Rizenay. One of them sat down with me, his skin was very black and his teeth very white and there was something kingly about him. He said “so you’re Ishey too? What makes you Ishey?”

I had to think about that, and I don’t know if I gave all the right answers, but I said something like “I knew I could do it and I did it” (catching Arin, that is) and I think he was satisfied with that.

When we walked back Serla was waiting for me along the way, and I let Veh and Jilan go ahead because it was clearly me she wanted. “You’re not wearing your coat?” she asked.

“No, I want to keep it for best, and I was working today,” I said.

She could understand that. “I just wanted to make sure you were all right. Those people you caught– well, thank you.”

“Are they yours?” I asked. She shook her head, “No, they may say they’re of my Guild but they’re none of my responsibility, thank Archan!” And she walked me to the door of doctor Cora’s house, and left me there, thinking.