A letter for the journey
Cora gave this letter to Aidan when he left to go to war, with the injunction not to read it until they can’t see one another’s mind any more.
Valdis, the Royal Palace, feast of Mizran
From Raissei Cora astin Velain to her beloved lord husband, Alysei Aidan astin Velain.
Dear beloved lord husband, your obedient wife begs you for permission to present you with the expression of her devoted affection and to write you a letter in the Iss-Peranian style, though in the Valdyan language, since the teacher of languages has not yet taught your obedient wife the correct Valdyan style to use when writing to one’s beloved lord husband.
Dear beloved lord husband, when writing this letter, which your obedient wife intends to give to you when you leave, she is still in your presence, since she has no hope that any letter she will write while her beloved lord husband is gone will reach you. It is the devout hope of your obedient wife that her beloved lord husband will take out her silly scribblings now and then when he is making his journey to the war, as well as when he returns victoriously, and remember his obedient wife with fondness and love.
Dear beloved lord husband, when dipping her brush in that lovely black ink that was among our wedding presents, your obedient wife cannot help look over her shoulder at our shared bed, where her beloved lord husband is asleep after having exerted himself so much to give his obedient wife pleasure beyond belief.
Dear beloved lord husband, the little light your obedient wife has made with her feeble mind, which was white when your obedient wife started writing, is turning warm as the summer moon over the Rycha, when your obedient wife is gazing over her beloved lord husband. Your obedient wife’s eyes rest on her dear beloved lord husband’s arm, still open and inviting, where it held your obedient wife just moments ago in the strong, warm embrace your obedient wife cannot imagine living without for a day, let alone six months!
Dear beloved lord husband, there are still little drops of sweat shining like pearls on my your breast and forehead, drops your obedient wife should have kissed and enjoyed. She will miss, dear beloved lord husband, so much the intoxicating scent of your sweat. When he is with her, she is never truly sober! To think that my dear beloved lord husband will be going into a battle, and that his obedient wife cannot be there to kiss his sweat after the battle, to kiss his wounds and dress them, to make sure that it is with her and not with any camp follower that he celebrates his glorious victory!
Dear beloved lord husband, if that happens — I forgive you! — just come back to your obedient wife. However, your obedient wife demands, and expects, and trusts, that her dear beloved lord husband will be generous as befits a prince, and also that if the child we will be begging the Gods to give us in the next two weeks will come to have a half-sibling, that her dear beloved lord husband will not hesitate and bring the mother to our house. Your obedient wife promises to model her conduct on the advice given in Mizaram’s precepts! Also, if the war causes any suffering that your generosity or the shelter of our house can help with, do not hesitate! Your obedient wife expects that the Temple of Dayati in Aumen Síth will barely be functional for many years to come, and thinking of all the children suffering from the war pains her. Also, she wishes she were already a full doctor, so she could go with the army and offer her humble services herself. After all, Solay is not Albetire.
Dear beloved lord husband, a little sigh in your sleep, your other arm moves over to hold my hips, that are absent! Your obedient wife’s little light seems to show every little hair on your thighs, your buttocks. Such a strong back! Your obedient wife can go on looking at the enchanting charms of her dear beloved lord husband without cessation until the day of her death, but she has promised herself to give her dear beloved lord husband some words to take with him, so she will tear away her eyes from his generous mouth, the eyes, so innocent when closed, and, also, so innocent when open. The red hair that in the little light her feeble mind can provide looks dark, and that your obedient wife knows to be so soft and curly and sweet smelling. The left side of your nose, which she loves to kiss, as much as she loves to kiss the right side — the lobes of his ears, detached from the parent head that can be taken between the lips of his obedient wife and gently tugged. She sees, now that her dear beloved husband has turned himself on his belly the curve of his spine, and the marks her nails have made on his shoulder blades, that are strong and broad like spades. The servant girls next door are still giggling! They must have heard your obedient wife’s sighs when the prowess and gentleness of her dear beloved husband made her clouds break and the spring rains gush forth — the bed is soaked with our pleasure! She is so tempted to dry the brush and leave her letter and snuggle against her dear beloved lord husband’s back, and see if she cannot awake his interest again!
Dear beloved lord husband, but no! Your obedient wife will be firm with herself. She will now look forward, to that which has not yet passed, instead of that which could come to pass now.
Dear beloved lord husband, in her mind’s eye, your obedient wife will follow every step you will take towards Essle. Indeed, though she will exert the utmost of her willpower, will she be able to avoid following her lord husband in the spirit, leaving her body a husk to wither? But no, a child will surely be growing in your obedient wife’s belly, my dear beloved lord husband, and she will guard its health and her own.
Dear beloved lord husband, then you will be gone. To your obedient wife you have said you will take care of her beloved brother-in-law, the King of the North, East, South and West, the mightiest king under the Gods, when he sails. Dear beloved lord husband, your obedient wife was a witness, hidden as is proper behind the lattice-screen, seeing your mighty brother when he arrived in Albetire. His strength is enormous! Despite being so weak, so sick, so tired, so very, very exhausted from his journey over the seas, he still walked erect, proud, careful of his wife, his child and his every servant. He will need you so! Do not forget to give him now and then a glass of sweet white wine with the juice of fresh ginger, or in which ginger has been left to soak for some time, added to which peppermint (which, in wine, tastes foul, your obedient wife admits, but it is efficacious), added to which fennel, caraway and sweet (not bitter!) wormwood.
Dear beloved lord husband, since the mighty King’s weakness at sea is a spiritual complaint as much as a physical, he will sorely need your assistance in addition to any relief the herbary can afford him. Dear beloved lord husband — thinking back to that time you invited your obedient wife to enter your spirit world, she recollects the smell of the wet earth, the leaves turning into mould, the mould suckling into trees. The rootedness of the hunting lodge that is the centre of your self — do not forget about that, even when you are aboard a filthy, sour-smelling ship. Your obedient wife is convinced that if her beloved lord husband takes his brother there, that her brother-in-law’s suffering will be lessened. It is the earth, the true, fruitful earth of Valdyas that is the strength of your spirit, beloved lord husband, the fresh scent of the mist in the forest that is rooted in the earth: your obedient wife knows this through your spirit, despite not yet having had an autumn in Valdyas. Wrap your brother in your mind, beloved lord husband — do not hesitate. You are not counted as strong as he is, according to the Valdyan way of measuring these things, but, believe your obedient wife, your strength is as the strength of ten.
Dear beloved lord husband, your obedient wife has had to study the history of many great battles involving many hundreds of thousands of soldiers, and not just the study of ancient history, but also the news of recent battles were brought to your obedient wife’s ears when she was still in Albetire. Your obedient wife begs permission to beseech you to remember that these battles are larger, crueller and bloodier than any ever fought in Valdyas, heroic though the history of Valdyas is. There is glory and honour in victory, without doubt, but the true glory and honour is in the treatment of the vanquished, and it is this glory and honour the Iss-Peranian armies always forego. Please remember Fikmet and Selmet — the Khas are people, even if they were enemies.
Dear beloved husband, your obedient wife will be proud as any wife if her beloved lord husband vanquishes a thousand enemies, which she is certain her beloved lord and husband will do, but she will be proud beyond all measure if her beloved lord husband protects just one vanquished foe from the revenge of the army or just one innocent Sithi man, woman or child from the anger, the revenge or the unbridled drunken lust of a victorious army. Those are laurels that will never fade in the eyes of your obedient wife!
Dear beloved husband, your obedient wife’s brush now turns from the battlefield of Solay to Turenay.
Dear beloved lord husband, your obedient wife’s tears will night after night soak the bed that will feel so empty and so lonely: Mizaram commands the wife whose lord husband is travelling to sleep with the elder women of the household, but to whom can your obedient wife turn? Raisse — but she snores! But your obedient wife promises you that she will not show her distress to anyone but her closest friends and that she will work as hard as ever in her studies, at her loom and with her patients, and she will not neglect the teaching of our servant, Arvi. Though your obedient wife will sorely miss the guidance of her beloved lord husband, she counts herself fortunate to have the counsel of so many friends who have the trust and love of her beloved lord husband.
Dear beloved lord husband, when you come home, your obedient wife will be ready for you. The precepts of Mizaram for the conduct of the wife in the absence of her husband prescribe that she should be wearing her plainest clothes on his arrival, to show her husband that she has been working hard and has not been going out to improper amusements, but your obedient wife will ask her friend Sinaya to tend to her charms, and she will be wearing her best clothes and with her servant Arvi she will prepare a meal suitable for a hero. Bedecked with her most auspicious jewelry, smelling sweetly of herself and burning with her love for her beloved lord husband, she will await the return of her husband. When your obedient wife has washed your feet and your body, and given you of the best wine of Veray to drink, she will sit at your feet, and holding your hands, your knees, your hips, your back, your breast, and showering kisses and tears over your face, she will listen patiently — she who is so notoriously a chatterbox! — she will listen to all you have to tell.
Dear beloved lord husband, your obedient wife prays the gods that she will conceive of her beloved lord husband’s seed before we part; and that, if that comes to be, that he will be restored to his obedient wife before the child is born. Do come back before the child is born! Who else can bear your obedient wife on his knees according to the Valdyan custom of giving birth or plant the tree according to tradition?
Dear beloved lord husband, your obedient wife humbly begs leave to profess her love and to prostrate herself three times and signs,
Dear beloved lord husband, your obedient wife begs to be allowed a postscript in the informal style.
Dear Aidan, my beloved who fills my heart and all my body and mind, all my love, all my thoughts will be with you every lonely night until you return. The Gods, I am sure, will watch over you and return you to my arms safely. Please also find enclosed in this letter a small drawing of my face and my breasts made by Shab Hafte (I will ask him tomorrow to make it!). I am sure you do not mind him having seen me in undress, since he was also present and making sketches when we arrived in this Palace. I so dread the moment you will be so far away that your thoughts no longer touch mine! But we will be together again — and soon after, we will be three. (Or four, counting Arvi, of course.)
Dear Aidan — we have only been together for six months, but such wonderful months! I must confess to you that from the first moment I sat down at the large table in the school refectory, and saw you, I was in love. I had never been in love before, but suddenly all the ancient songs made sense. I there and then decided that I would try to make your acquaintance. Also, Kheti was in a similar situation.
Oh Aidan! The next morning I learned that you were the Prince, the one man I was forbidden to love. Had I known before I had seen you, I might have obeyed — I was so very obedient in those days. But I decided, having seen your friendship with Alyse, Arin and Jichan upon the (I hope!) innocent little subterfuge of asking Alyse to teach us to dance. I was so happy that it was your arms I ended up in! No matter how old I will grow, I will never forget that moment, when I for the first time basked in your scent.
Aidan, dear beloved — I suppose I should still be ashamed about what we did to Turenay, that evening a few days later when we both had duty in the refectory, and could no longer hide from each other that we were in love. Were you as certain of me as I was of you? Or were we both not quite certain? When we kissed it was not lust (although being held by you never ceases to awaken me!), but the coming together of two halves. You were so sweet — rescuing me from lady Ailin’s stern rebuke and taking me to the apothecary. The air was cold, and did I imagine it, or were the streets quieter than normal? I hope that Lyse, around the festival of Naigha, will allow me to help her bring all the young life into the world that was created when we kissed. I should be ashamed, but I feel nothing but exultation!
Did we indeed never continue exploring — after that afternoon during which you showed me the forest and I showed you my mind? There was this place belonging to Dayati… But maybe that is gone now I have grown and become your wife, only to return when I am with child. Before you go, I want to do that again — not just be in you and you in me when we make love, but touch each other, and revel in each other’s safe place.
Beloved husband, it is strange — I remember every twig, every leaf, every drop, every rustle in the quiet little place where Raisse married us. I remember your voice, I remember mine unsure, almost stammering. I remember Raisse’s voice — but I do not remember the words anymore. It’s as if I have become the words, instead of keeping them in a safe place, locked away. If the Khas win and the world ends, there will still have been that one summer without a blemish in Gralen, that summer when you made me happier than any woman ever could be.
I love you, Aidan. Come back to me soon.