A play, and various visitors

Athal is not very coherent about what happened and especially in what order things happened. Also, he’s squeamish about the children. I’m cautious myself: parts of this will be very brief.

A day full of events, and it’s as if I was dreaming all of them. Except the play, which I’ll come to later: that was more real than any dream.

Getting the children out of the palace: the two boys and two girls the Khandihan gave me “for my pleasure” turned out to be pitiful child-whores, drugged into submission, and they even sent us the drugs as well! Raisse touched a root and it gave her a painful yellow rash on the skin. Moyri didn’t want the children, the Order didn’t know what to do with them though they put them up for a night, and finally I thought of Talvi, who took them into her house and made them call her “granny” because “aunt” is what they called the woman who trained them to be what they are. The historian we were also “given” turns out to be able to speak a language very close to theirs, and as the only person who can talk to them he’s now staying with Ferin and Talvi as well. He played children’s games with them –not Ferin and Talvi, but the children, who are like babies one moment and like sixteen-year-olds the next– and they were almost like real children then.

We had three doctors to look them over: Roushan from Iss-Peran, Janam Isal from Solay and our own Hinla (who, I think, the historian is more than a little infatuated with). Roushan said that they would be dead in a few years –at fourteen at most– and if we stopped giving them their medicine now they’d be dead in a week; Hinla said that we should stop giving them the medicine and see what happened; Janam Isal said that he could probably cure them but we’d have to keep giving them their medicine until he could get different medicine from Essle.

With all that, I’d almost have forgotten that we’d been invited to the –well, I must call it a play, though it was much more than that– that our guests were putting up. Sometime in the afternoon Hinla came and put me in a contraption like a too-tight leather cuirass. Astonishingly, it stopped my broken ribs hurting, though it also effectively stopped me moving at all. Raisse and I, Ferin and the Khandihan, and most of his inner circle piled into the sedan chairs ready for us. We were carried to the camp outside town, where someone had built graded rows of seats around an empty place like at the Town Games in Veray, only huge. Someone pointed us all the way to the top –other people in front of us went to sit left and right– and we had a splendid view.

It started with music; at least, I thought it was music. It was done with things that looked like lutes and flutes, and with drums and voices, but there was nothing in the sound that I could make head or tail of. Raisse looked as puzzled as I felt and the Khandihan was impassive, but I’ve hardly seen him otherwise. There were dancers, people doing elaborate acrobatics, jugglers. The elephants and the tigers took part in the performance: one conjuror pulled a small child from a tiger’s mouth. The Khandihan said that it was an allegorical representation of the creation of the world, and that performances like this lasted for days in Iss-Peran, but of course for us they’d shortened it. The main singers, a man and a woman, were very special, the second-best in the whole country; the best hadn’t been able to come because they couldn’t cross deep water. I looked with my inner senses and saw that there was a whole lot of anea about, most of it coming from the main singers and making patterns that all the rest depended on. If they got all that anea from the earth (as it looked) I could imagine that they couldn’t cross the sea. I told the Khandihan that I understood because I had trouble crossing water too. That made him look thoughtful; he’ll probably think even more than he does already that I’m very brave.

After the play everybody went home without speaking; I’d have liked to talk to the Khandihan about what I’d seen, but that will have to wait until later.

I slept fitfully and had strange dreams of elephants, but that was only to be expected.

In the morning Raisse went to look at the old meat market, which she’d heard would probably be a good building to convert for her new school, while I looked through the stack of papers that had grown on my desk for the last few days. While I was doing that, a delegation from the Academy in Ildis presented itself. Just now that Raisse wasn’t there, of course. I had them shown in– three men and two women with dried-parchment faces, dressed in robes that were twenty years out of date, and the document they gave me looked two hundred years out of date. The writing could have been the spidery hand of a clerk before Mailei Halla designed the clear letters; the language was so convoluted that I had to read it at least twice to understand it. Of course they feared unfair competition. I said that this was the Queen’s affair, and she wasn’t there, so they’d have to wait; I tried to explain that a school in Valdis would complement Ildis, not compete with it, but I don’t think I made myself clear enough. I had the page take them away and give them refreshments while they waited.

Sitting up all morning, and dealing with the teachers from Ildis, made my ribs hurt again; I’d probably been taking too much out of myself. Fortunately Raisse came back, who made me lie in bed and came to lie beside me. Just after I’d sealed the room –that’s so much second nature that I do it without thinking however tired I am– I felt something scrabble at the seal, something I didn’t recognise. It hit me hard when I tried to see what it was; when Raisse did the same it bowled her over completely. It was clearly of the Nameless, strong enough to come from a grand master, but completely unlike anything I’d seen before.

I called Lyse, and she came over to look at it from close up. It was like a bump in the fabric of the world, a seal but not of our kind. And it was in the Khandihan’s apartments, probably one of his servants; we’d have recognised him much earlier if it had been himself. I held on to Lyse while she sent her anie to look closer still. She became very cold, so cold that the ankle of her spirit was brittle, before I had the wit to pull her back, and then her foot turned out to be broken, the foot of her body! Neither of us had ever seen anything that could do something like that.

We had to have the doctor come yet again. She set and splinted Lyse’s foot (“you’re not going anywhere much for a while, my girl”), took one look at me and ordered a couch to be brought to the workroom so I could work lying down.

No lying down for me for a bit yet, though: the Khandihan would have to know what he harboured among his servants. I took Moryn, who was in the palace anyway because he had been talking with Ferin about the situation in Lenyas, and one of the palace guards, to visit the Khandihan in his apartments where he was entertaining the main singers from the play. He was startled and flattered, saying that the singers had told him that they would feel honoured to meet me personally. It could be done, of course, and I said so, but not now: there was another matter. (And in fact I could sense the “other matter” right behind the far door, where it seemed to be ironing napkins.)

The Khandihan promptly became more serious. “I will take matters in hand,” he said, disappeared behind the door and came back almost immediately; the disturbance had vanished. “My linen maids,” he said. “I shall have to purchase replacements.” He proceeded to throw himself at my feet, begging for forgiveness, only getting up when I said that of course I forgave him, it wasn’t his fault to begin with.

I didn’t dare go and look, but Moryn went into the other room while I went back to Raisse. When he came back his face was grey and he wouldn’t accept a glass of wine, very much out of character for him. He’d looked at the Khandihan’s work. He had killed three maids, none of them more than fourteen years old; it had been very clear to Moryn, trained as he had been in the Guild of the Nameless, which of them had been the intruder. Not that she had been a grand master in the Guild of the Nameless herself– after some speculation back and forth we concluded that either she had been possessed or set up as a weapon by whoever wanted to hit me– surely not the Khandihan himself. Expendable, both ways, and probably as innocent as the other two. The other three, really: another maid had been out of the room and Moryn had taken her along. She was with Selmet and Fikmet in Raisse’s room. They couldn’t understand her or she them, but that was a very good thing at the moment.

Moryn spoke enough of the Iss-Peran trade language to have figured out that all the girls had come from the same orphanage, and that the intruder girl had belonged to a kind of society of the Nameless– not really a guild, or an Order, but an organisation of slaves and other people without status or privileges who seemed to want to overthrow the king and his chosen few, but could only be a thinly veiled attempt of the Nameless or his servants to gather followers in Iss-Peran, because they had less and less opportunity in Valdyas.

“We shall have to go to Iss-Peran right away,” I said to Raisse, “not wait until after the Feast of Mizran when the baby is born.” She agreed; with any luck we’ll be in Essle when her time comes and we can have Alaise for midwife. But it would be wise to take a midwife of our own along all the same; perhaps Imri can lend us one of her apprentices.

It was a long time before I slept, because the whole thing had made me feel dirty, guilty as if I had killed three innocent people with my own hands, and reluctant to face the Khandihan. I knew already that their way of thinking was different from our own, but so different was still a shock. That they didn’t see slaves as people had until now only been theory, and now I’d seen it in practice. They didn’t even need the Nameless for that– wait, that was, of course, what made it so easy for the servants of the Nameless to gain ground there, they didn’t have to convince people of it.

We were startled awake in the fitful part of the night just before morning, when it’s cold and grey, the town wakes up, people roll barrels which seem to make more noise than later in the day and birds hesitatingly start to sing. For the first time in days I didn’t feel my ribs hurting at all. There was someone sitting between us on the bed, someone small: a redheaded boy of around seven. He was clearly waiting for me to say something. “I know only two who can get through my seals without me noticing,” I said, “and I know which of them you’re not; what do you want?”

Timoine, for it could only have been him, rolled his eyes at us. “I want you to stop it! With the children! You can make it stop!” Somehow I knew that he meant all the children in Iss-Peran being taken from their homes and trained as whores, not the particular ones in my care. I was about to ask him how, but he went on: “I know that you can make it stop, and I will help you, and my mother will help you too!” I could only nod at that, and say that we had already decided to leave for the south as soon as possible. Suddenly something occurred to me and I grabbed his wrist –it felt quite normal and alive– and asked him “And what about the children we already have here?” “Janam Isal is right about them,” he said, “they’ll be all right.”

I didn’t see him go away, but I slept better than I had for ages, and woke refreshed and without pain. Raisse, too, slept very well until the baby kicked her awake: obviously Timoine had touched him too. She, of course, had seen a girl where I had seen a boy.

My ribs still didn’t hurt. Hinla came, summoned by Raisse because she was curious. “Am I being called in for divine miracles as well these days?” she asked. “Very well, I release you from my care.”

I kept her back when she was about to go, “Hinla? This historian from the south–” which made her blush, “well, I just wanted to say that if you’d prefer to stay here, and I don’t need you all that badly any more anyway, perhaps you have a journeyman you can send when we travel so you can stay in Valdis.” She said that she would think about it, still blushing like a maiden.

I’ll have to get hold of Janam Isal and tell him that Dayati visited me and told him that his, Janam Isal’s, treatment is right. I can let him have a court messenger to send to Essle and order whatever he needs, if Ysella doesn’t have it in her stores.

But first there’s a delegation from the “government of Aumen Síth in exile” coming, which I didn’t know existed; and an embassy from the Western Plains is on its way which will be here in a few days; and in the afternoon we’re having the meeting about the situation in Lenyas that Raith sent a letter about. She’s going to have Moryn with enough troops to keep things under control. The meeting was to be in the palace, but because of Lyse’s foot it’s at the Order house now; safer, too. Good thing that I can walk or ride and I’m not hampered by broken ribs any more, thanks to Timoine.