He’s quite pleased with how he handled the doctors. The difficult thing is that I can’t tell whether he really did well, because his self-confidence gets in the way (and makes me think that because he thinks he did it right, he must have done it wrong).

I don’t think I got any sleep at all that night. As soon as I was back at the house, there were other things to be done. First of all, to get hold of a woman doctor willing to sail to Iss-Peran at short notice. I asked the house-master where to find the doctors’ guild, but he didn’t know. Then it occurred to me to ask the only doctor I did know where to find: the one who had treated Kare’s hand.

I sat in the waiting-room with a bunch of other people. A small boy came to talk to me, “do you want to know what’s wrong with me? I have a crooked leg, look! But it’s almost straight again, I’m getting my last brace today.” I told him that there was nothing wrong with me, but that I wanted to ask the doctor something. Then the other patients said that if it was only that, I could go first, no trouble at all.

The doctor could indeed tell me where to go: beyond the Temple of Mizran, and I couldn’t miss it because of the sign. “Old Erne is head of the guild now,” he said, “we take turns.” The guild-house proved to be easy enough to find. It was well appointed, whitewashed, the pillars on each side of the entrance painted blue. A girl showed me into another waiting-room because Erne was in a meeting. Another girl –this one clearly Síthi– gave me wine and something to eat. “Are you a doctor’s apprentice?” I asked. “Yes,” she said. I told her what I was there for and she knew what I was talking about, “I’ve got a boyfriend in the Order, I’ve heard about the case. Of course it sucks if your boyfriend is in the Order, it’s all right to make love but he’ll never commit to you.”

Finally Erne came out of her meeting. She turned out not to be as old as I’d expected, only a few years older than my mother, but daunting nevertheless. I introduced myself as the queen’s envoy and explained the situation. Haltingly, as I remember it, but she had no trouble understanding what I was looking for. “Would you take someone of any nation at all?” she asked. “Yes,” I said, and went on to qualify it, “I’d probably think twice about a Khas doctor– are there any Khas doctors?” I knew, though not from my own experience, that not all Khas are enemies, and said so. “I think I can find you someone suitable,” Erne said, “someone who wants to leave Essle as soon as possible, would you take her unconditionally?” I thought about that for a bit. “Not completely unconditionally,” I said, “it does depend on the reason she wants to leave Essle, if it’s for malpractice for instance…” I couldn’t think of any other good reasons, but Erne nodded: “If you’d said you’d take her unconditionally I wouldn’t have sent you anyone. It’s going to take a bit of time, but you can count on us.”

As soon as I got back I was taken to a staff meeting to talk about the last preparations. Boring –and all the more sleep-inducing because I was starting to feel my sleepless night– but all the same instructive. I told the sergeants we were waiting for the doctor, and that turned out to be the only thing that kept us from leaving now. A woman doctor was a good thing, the eldest sergeant said, “the army is mostly men, and some of them will drop their breeches for any man and they don’t mind a woman poking them, and the rest will drop their breeches for any woman and they won’t mind either.” Poor doctor– but then it’s likely that she’s used to it.

At the house three women were waiting for me already: a girl in her teens, a tall woman a few years older than me, and a middle-aged Síthi woman with a look of “of course you want me and neither of those upstart girls” on her face. The Síthi one was Baryati, the elder of the two others Vauri from Rizenay, and the younger another Vauri, from Essle. Neither Vauri was a full doctor yet, though Vauri from Rizenay was very close. Gifted, too, the only one of the three, though she looked as if she’d steered clear of both Guilds until now. There was something between the two Vauris that looked like my sisters quibbling, but I put it down to professional rivalry.

My first impression was that I wanted Vauri from Rizenay but ought to take Baryati. I stowed that away carefully and talked to all of them first, telling them about the army and Naravati. “I’ll take you to meet her if she agrees,” I said. She did, provided nobody touched her. I let them in one by one, “you can talk to her, but please don’t do anything medical yet or touch her at all.”

Vauri from Essle was in the room for quite a long time, and I could hear them talk animatedly. When she came out she was outraged: “What did those [word I can’t even remember] do to her! Has Alaise seen her?” Fortunately I could say that she had. “Good! She saw my sister too when…” I didn’t ask what happened to her sister, because obviously she didn’t really want to tell.

Vauri from Rizenay needed much less time to come to a conclusion. “I can believe her body is all fucked up,” she said, “but there’s much more wrong with her head! I don’t know if I can actually do anything about that, but I can always try.”

Baryati came out of Naravati’s room with a look that was close to fury on her face. “If a doctor and a patient don’t get on, there’s nothing for it but to seek another doctor. Anyway, I think she’s too ill to travel.”

I put the doctors back in the dismembered sitting-room, had someone bring them refreshments, and went to ask Naravati how she’d got on with them. She was livid. “Didn’t you tell them not to touch me? That Síthi woman pulled the sheet off and pawed at me!” She permitted me to hold her by the shoulders– I’d have thought that a good sign but for the look on her face. “I intend to take Vauri from Rizenay,” I said. “Perhaps both of the younger ones.” “No,” Naravati said, “don’t do that, they’ll fight all the time, they’re far too much in love with one another!” I hadn’t noticed that, and Naravati said “You’re a man, you wouldn’t know, you haven’t lived in a house where everybody who can still fall in love is a girl.” She didn’t prefer one Vauri over the other, though, so I could go with my choice of the more experienced one.

The three doctors were talking shop when I came in –not even about Naravati, just general doctor talk– and it was some time before they noticed me. I spoke to Baryati first; she already knew I wasn’t going to choose her, but that didn’t keep her from being haughty about it. The younger Vauri scowled at me, exactly like my sister Selle when she doesnb’t get her way –well, she was still a teenager– and disappeared.

I sat talking things over with the other Vauri for a while. She’d need to find a replacement for herself as assistant to an old alcoholic doctor, and to get her own equipment and supplies, because she couldn’t very well take his. Lydan was just coming in, so I sent him with her to kit her out. “Your quarry or mine?” he asked as he went out. “Yours, by all means,” I said. “I’m giving up the hunt until we’re on the other side.”

We sailed the next day, Vauri with a case and two huge baskets full of whatever. She immediately proceeded to give all the soldiers a health exam. Lydan and I were last: I was completely healthy, but Lydan needed copper salve. “It must have been that girl at the inn!” he said to me later. “Chucks every chance I ever had with Vauri, too.”

Vauri said that the servant girls would need the upper deck to themselves for at least an hour each day, so they could get some air without being bothered by the soldiers. They didn’t mind the helmsman, and he didn’t bother them, so that was all right, but after a few days the men had to get away from the girls instead of the other way around!

Sailing is boring, and apparently I don’t get seasick, so I’m going to ask the sergeant whether he has some good sword-fighters that I can train with. I must learn to speak some more Iss-Peranian too, and at least a veneer of Iss-Peranian manners, but I can ask Naravati for that.