Arrival at Essle

It’s clear that she’s good at languages, though she doesn’t really know that yet! I also like her image of “a kind of tiny yoke with baskets” for a pair of scales.

We were on that ship I don’t know how long. I do like being on a ship, I knew that from the voyage from Kushesh, but it can really become boring, especially if you’re on a ship full of wounded soldiers and soldiers going home and wives and husbands and kids of soldiers. There was no room to walk around so I sat in my spot trying to keep little Dayati happy. Big Dayati and the boy-without-balls were good at that, too, until the boy-without-balls got sick, his belly swelled up and he got ever more feverish. He said there’d be a doctor in Essle who could cure him, but he didn’t make it to Essle, he died and we threw him overboard for the fishes to eat. There was no priestess of Naha on the ship and I didn’t dare offer to say the prayers, suppose people would want me to be a priestess of Naha forever! But I said the prayers silently, even though he never told me his name, I’m sure Naha knows it.

I spent a lot of time teaching little Dayati to talk. She already knew a few words in a language I didn’t know, and she couldn’t explain what they meant, of course, but I talked to her in my own language, if only to speak it again properly after all this time, and she picked it up very fast as toddlers do. And she picked up Ilaini from the soldiers, and I think a bit of Síthi from big Dayati but I don’t understand enough of that to know which words. I learnt some Síthi from big Dayati too, and some of the Albetire trade language from one of the crew, “just in case you want to be a sailor,” he said. Well, it wouldn’t be a bad thing to be, I suppose, but first I wanted to go to Veray and meet Erian’s wife and daughter.

Then we got to a city that was about the opposite of Solay, not shut up behind walls but all spread out and open, with water between the buildings that the ship went past to reach the harbour. All the smells were different, and the people, and the houses! But I’ve seen so many different things now that they didn’t scare me much, I can get used to new things like little Dayati can learn words.

All of us soldiers and people belonging to soldiers were taken to a house where someone asked who we were and where we wanted to go. I went in with big Dayati, though I didn’t know her beyond what we’d talked about on the ship, but someone took her away –probably someone who lived here and knew her– and left me to try and explain myself. “You’re young for a soldier’s girl, aren’t you?” the man asked, and I had to explain yet again that I hadn’t been Erian’s girl, but his adopted daughter because I’d lost my family, and that I’d promised to go to Veray and tell his wife and real daughter how brave he’d been, and that little Dayati wasn’t my child but I was taking care of her because she didn’t have any family either. “Hmm, sounds like a case for Uznur,” he said, and that made me cringe because of the Uznur that Hala had talked about, who had taken him like a girl. The man asked what was wrong, and I told him, and he said “not this Uznur! He has a wife and four little kids in Valdis and he misses them so much that he won’t even look at anybody else, even though he’s as Iss-Peranian as they come!”

Then he showed us into a room where a man sat who could only be a prince– dressed in colourful shiny clothes with a shiny white cloth wrapped around his head and rings on his fingers and a jewel on his forehead. He had a princely face, too, but very friendly, and I saw when I got used to him that he wasn’t all that old, but looked tired as if he’d been working too hard for a long time. That figured, really, helping people like us all the time.

I told the whole story again, but this time it was easy because Prince Uznur asked all the right questions. He even knew about Erian, or at least there was something written down about Erian, his name was with lots of names of people who hadn’t been seen dead but probably were. “Veray, right?” He wrote something on a paper for me, first with his left hand in Iss-Peranian and then with his right hand in Ilaini, and told me to show it to people if they didn’t believe me when I said who I was, and also another paper with a big seal on it that he gave to me saying something that puzzled me greatly, “Travel money, five people on horses, can’t do more.”

He told me where to go for a river-boat that didn’t go to Veray, but it did go somewhere where I could get a boat to Veray so that was all right. And then I stood outside the house on the other side, and I think I’d come in through the back door, because this was a very large empty place like the place in front of the gates in Solay, with houses on all sides. I was getting very hungry and followed my nose, and found a man and a woman frying something that smelt deliciously of onions and something fishy. I held out a handful of coins to the man so he could pick one, but when he did the woman slapped his hand so all the coins fell to the ground, and she picked them up and scolded him and gave the money back to me, saying “You’re a veteran, you get a free portion!” and then she gave me a bowl full of what they’d been frying, indeed somehting fishy with lots of onions, and stayed close to me and Dayati until we’d finished. “You go to the temple of Mizran, get that soldier-money changed,” she said, and explained which building was the temple: the big white one with the pillars.

When I was standing there with my bare feet on the cool white stones and Dayati on my arm, a man in embroidered clothes wanted to push me away, “we don’t want any beggars here!” But I wasn’t begging, and I could prove it with Prince Uznur’s paper in two different languages. “I want to swap my soldier-money for real money,” I said. Then he showed me where to go to do that, a woman behind a table who was counting money and giving it to people. She put my soldier-money on one side of a kind of tiny yoke with baskets, and some metal on the other side to make it balance, and then gave me a few silver and copper coins. Then I remembered what Uznur had said about travel money, so I showed her the “five people on horses” paper, and she explained what it was for: she would take the paper, and give me five Valdyan coins called riders: that’s what “people on horses” was, like the soldier-coins called “pig” because you can buy a pig for it. “I suppose you want it in small change,” she said, and I didn’t know exactly what she meant but if she supposed that she was probably right, so I said yes. Then I got a whole pile of little silver coins, and an even bigger pile of copper! “Do you have a bag to put that in,” I asked, “or at least a piece of cloth?” and then she rummaged under her table and came up with a linen bag. First the woman explained “this is a shilling, and this is half a shillling, and this is a penny, and there are twelve pence in a shilling and twenty shillings in a rider” and counted it all again for me so I could see that I did indeed have a hundred shillings in silver and copper, and also four shillings and seven pence that she’d given me for my soldier-money.

Now I had a bag full of money! I knew that I’d have to make it last until Veray, and I didn’t know what things cost here, but if I didn’t have enough I could always try to find work to do. Or even sell some of Bat’nu’s medicines, though I didn’t know to whom, doctors didn’t seem to want them.

Then she told me where to go to the boat that went to the place with boats to Veray, and it was really very easy and I got on a boat and wanted to pay, but the boatman said that he’d been told to let veterans travel for nothing. I still didn’t know what ‘veteran’ meant, perhaps a soldier’s girl, but later someone told me that it means someone who has been in the army, and I was still wearing my best uniform (I’d made a little dress for Dayati from the worn-out one) so everybody could see that.