Aidan writes to Athal
He was spirited away while unconscious. Not that he could have done any more fighting, even against doctor’s orders.
Alysei Aidan astin Velain to Alysei Athal astin Velain, king of Valdyas, probably in Solay; otherwise please forward.
I hope this reaches you in good order. Someone will know where you are, I suppose, it’s not as if you can disappear into the crowd. Not even I can, it turns out: as soon as people noticed that I was in Essle they came to me to sign their papers and settle their disputes. Now I’m writing on a river-boat on the swollen Rycha, so if the letters are wobbly and the ink runs it’s from that, don’t imagine I’m crying or my arm is still busted.
I was very surprised to wake up on the ship, and even more surprised that it turned out to be the White Whale! It must have been easier to repair those whopping big holes in the side than it looked. Oh, and I was very surprised that Raith was there too, spirited away by Dushtan while she was knocked out. She told me that she does tend to fall unconscious for a while after the sort of mind-work she did, but of course Dushtan doesn’t know that. Raith was positively livid and she intends to take Dushtan to task when she gets back. I couldn’t very well make the ship turn back immediately, for all it was my own, because there were about three hundred more wounded soldiers on it, but I offered to negotiate a place for Raith on the next ship back. She said she would think about it.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. I spent most of the time on the ship having nightmares with a lot of blood, and dreams about Cora with unfortunate effects (as I heard later), but one morning I woke up and my head was clear, though my body was as weak and limp as a rag. There was a small boy at the foot of my bed, and a young woman who didn’t quite look old enough to be his mother hovering near, and when she saw that I was awake she went and got Raith (who was still angry with Dushtan, even after six weeks!) It turned out that the girl had been nursing me all that time, and she did it very well too, she ought to be a hospital nurse! She didn’t speak any Ilaini or even Iss-Peranian trade-speak, only Síthi and Khas– she looked half of each, so it figured. I got her to say her name, and the little boy’s name, but it’s so strange that I keep forgetting it.
When I got on deck for the first time it was marvellous to breathe fresh air but I could hardly stand, so weak were my legs –though those, miraculously, were still completely whole. I could see land, Raith said it was the desert, not even alongside Idanyas yet. But we got to Essle after a while, and there Raith said she was coming along as far as Veray now that she was in Valdyas anyway. The ship was full of wounded veterans, most in about the same condition as me but some were worse and a few had died on the voyage and been thrown overboard by the priestess of Naigha, that seems to be the usual thing to do at sea. I suppose the fishes eat them. There was a whole committee at the dock to meet us, Rhaye among them, who took me and Raith away to the house that used to be your palace. The Mighty Servant was there too, and if Cora did something to make him not love Rhaye any more he’s got over it, because they were being very soppy. Rhaye did ask me “do you want to stay at my palace, or at the official palace?” (that is, Koll Neveshtan’s house) but all I wanted was a good bed and a plate of squid and onions.
So there I was at Rhaye’s house, and I did get squid and onions and a good bed. Raith and I were sharing a room because they had only the one guest-room free, so ornamented and scented that Raith asked “what is this, a brothel?” with her usual lack of tact. I thought I’d have a day of rest after the voyage, and the young doctor –not much older than me!– who had been looking after me on the ship had prescribed exactly that, but I didn’t get the chance: suddenly everybody wanted to see me. People who wanted veteran’s bonus papers signed (which I could do), people who wanted more elaborate paperwork done (which I couldn’t, and I sent them to the other palace where there are lots of clerks), people who wanted disputes settled (which, being a prince, I had to do even if I couldn’t. You have that worse than me, being a king, I suppose). Two men who both called themselves Arin from Torin’s regiment, and accused each other of having deserted and collected the other’s bonus; I was willing to give them both the benefit of the doubt, but one of them would only accept a judgement from Anshen himself, so I lit the fire –I can do that with my mind now, by just thinking of Cora!– and asked Anshen. Immediately the man who had seemed to have the best case started to look icky, as if he was dripping with black miasma, and I sent him out and apologised to the other one. That turned out to have made me a master in the Guild! I must have been on the brink for quite some time, only there seemed to be no occasion.
I slept for a few hours after that, I think, and then Moyri’s Uznur came with a lot of letters. We talked a bit, and called each other Your Highness to both of us’ amusement, and I told him about the two veterans, and suddenly it occurred to me that I was a wounded veteran and I’d get a bonus too! Three hundred riders, a sergeant’s bonus. “I can buy Cora something nice with that,” I said, and Uznur promptly sent me merchants with wares and pressed it on me that I ought not to talk about the price, “that’s not done if you’re a prince”. The clothes and fabrics weren’t as good as anything in the cargo of the White Whale, and of the jewellery I really only liked a very plain ring made of “silver that doesn’t blacken” according to the jeweller, so I took that, and I bought her a few books but I had to trust the bookseller, because I’ve never known anything about books. I could show him the ones Raisse had lying ready to send to her, though! “Do you think she wants something old, or could it be something new?” he asked, and frankly I didn’t know but the books Raisse had picked out were probably proper old literature, so I said new would be all right. Eventually I got her an Iss-Peranian book and a Síthi book, one to teach obedience and the other to teach independence, or something like that.
In the evening there was a banquet, with everybody who was somebody in Essle present, and the young doctor had given me something to stay awake but not necessarily alert, so I only remember that I ate quite well and people seemed to like me.
We started for Ryshas the next day. There were about fifty of us, out of three hundred, bound there. Two men of my own battalion went on to Valdis– someone told me they were all there was left of it. Poor Erian! I wrote a letter to his widow, too. And the two men with the dispute told me they’d seen your brother-in-law Torin fall, but I don’t know for sure that he’s dead so I won’t pray for him yet when I go to the Temple of Naigha in Veray to pay tribute to Dhamir and Erian and Jilan.
Raith said that looking at me made her want to hire a horse in Tilis and speed to Ayneth immediately– do I look so much like her? I’m the only one with curls, but I do have the same colour of hair and almost as many freckles. I said “why not?” but she wanted to stay with me, sort of to protect me, I think. Veray seems to be more dangerous these days than the last time I was there.
We tried to keep the girl and her little brother at the Order house in Essle, but she turned up on the boat! Either she’s so gifted that she can breach any seal, or she’s an accomplished burglar. We can’t see her gifts, though– I’m not surprised that I can’t, being only just a master, but that Raith can’t is something else. On the other hand, perhaps that’s what’s kept her alive among the Khas for, well, sixteen years or so.
Athal, please win the war– all I’m hearing now is that you’re already doing just that. I’m praying for you, which is just about all I can do in my condition.