Events in Essle

Hard to find a title for this that doesn’t give the whole story away.

I wrote part of this in longhand on the train to Utrecht, six pages, four of which standing up.

If our son had been born anywhere except Essle, he would have been called Radan.

But he’s Raissei Vurian astin Velain, five weeks old by now, no longer so red in the face except when he’s hungry. And he’s hungry often; the sea has the opposite effect on him than it has on me.

But let me start from the beginning. Everybody left the place where Erday had been, in different directions: Reshan to the west to help the Plains people, Moryn to the south-west to mop up the rebellion, Raith to the east to help the people of Erday settle, we to the south along the river. We did have to cross some fields and vineyards with the whole entourage, but Raith said it didn’t matter: she was going to compensate the farmers anyway. I hope she can get hold of some heir of Fian astin Eraday’s and get the compensation money from them.

There was a long stretch of uneventful travel– too long for my peace of mind, because Raisse was starting to look more and more as if her time was near. I’d have wanted to stay at Tilis if we hadn’t had the Khandihan and the promise to Timoine to make us hurry. The baroness of Tilis offered me half of her army: ten “marsh-trampers” as she called it, and I said yes, because I’d heard that the north coast of Iss-Peran has its share of marshes too. Indeed, they stood there the next morning, in neat dark green uniforms, and I sent them to join my depleted guard.

Someone had gone ahead and announced us in Essle, because there were flags hanging out of some windows along the route, and people leaning from windows waving and cheering. Aldin met us on the main island, investing me with his mayor’s chain because, he said with a grin, he obviously couldn’t give me the keys to the city. I promised to give it back.

Our “royal residence” was as we’d left it, except that Rhaye had obviously been living in it. But that was part of the deal. There were a lot more servants than last time, too. We were so tired the first evening that we just collapsed into the large scented bed.

The next day started late and consisted mostly, in my memory, of getting dressed in the latest Essle fashion. Pearls in Raisse’s hair! And deerskin boots with gold embroidery for me. The clothes were magnificent, but so bulky –especially for women– that Raisse didn’t look much more pregnant than Rhaye, who definitely wasn’t. I had a midwife come, frankly out of anxiety; she pronounced mother and child perfectly fit and healthy. When I asked “how long?” she said, rather worryingly, that it could be tomorrow or in four weeks, or anything in between, nothing certain about it. Ah well.

They had cleared the Temple of Mizran for the banquet. It was clearly the city hosting it, not the trading-houses, because the whole city council was with us and the Khandihan at the high table and the representatives of the trading-houses, even Radan, at the side tables. There were toasts, and more toasts; I said a few words myself, and stopped drinking more than a sip at each toast after a while. There was a girl behind Raisse who poured her rose-water instead of wine.

Raisse was looking decidedly uncomfortable. I warned Aldin that we might need a midwife, and might have to leave the gathering early. He said he’d had a room made ready for us already in case we needed it.

And need it we did. Halfway through the meal –it had been three hours already– Raisse felt something that didn’t feel like little knees and elbows any more, and we called the midwives, and a servant brought her to the reserved room while I stayed for a while to excuse us.

It was quite hard to find the room, because there was a maze of little passages and while I could see Raisse perfectly with my mind, getting to her was a puzzle. Finally I ended up in what must have been the Mighty Servant’s own apartment, where I found Raisse being fussed over by midwives and servant women. When I wasn’t called on to hold her hand I fidgeted with things, finding a cupboard full of women’s underwear all clearly labelled with names. The Mighty Servant’s hobby, and I would have giggled about it with Raisse if we hadn’t both been too busy.

I realised that, while we had discussed names, we hadn’t decided on one, and it was urgent now. “Do we call him after your father or mine?” The problem was that my father’s name is Radan, and it would be embarrassing to call the crown prince that with Radan of the Dawn so prominently present! So we decided on Vurian, the first Vurian astin Velain in history.

After some time –all our sense of time was gone by then– I was called on to hold Raisse’s hand really tightly, and I tried to give her strength, but the midwife started fussing about “those Guild people, always putting too much into it, better let the body set its own pace”– and suddenly the body had set its own pace and there was our son, red and slippery and, without any encouragement, bawling. He found the breast without any encouragement too, which made him stop bawling soon enough.

As soon as I could I rushed to the temple, where the feast was still going on, to shout “I have a son!” I should have shouted “We have a son!” of course, it was Raisse’s effort more than mine, but at that moment the only important thing for me was that I was a father. There was a lot of cheering, people slapped me on the back, someone thrust a cup of wine into my hand which I promptly carried back to the Mighty Servant’s room because I didn’t want to be away from Raisse too long.

By now she was almost asleep, the mattress had been turned (the Mighty Servant will probably have to buy a new one) and the midwives were washing the baby. They packed him in linen cloths and gave him to me to hold: small, with an unfamiliar smell, almost asleep as well. A miracle. After a while all of us slept.

In the middle of the night I started awake: there was something different! Sure enough, the baby was gone from the bed. When my eyes got used to the gloom I saw a woman sitting on the other side of the room, suckling him. Presently she gave him back to Raisse and left silently. I thought for a moment we’d had another apparition, then it dawned on me that it must be the wet-nurse. But surely we didn’t need one?

The next morning it seemed as if everything had been a dream, but the baby was of a different opinion: hungry! The morning went by with getting used to everything: we to being parents, the baby to being in the world. In the afternoon we could no longer keep the people away who had been waiting outside. “Not all at once!” I said, and they came in in threes and fours, admiring the baby and bringing him presents. Silver rattles and ivory teething-rings, tiny embroidered clothes, nappy baskets –we’ll be able to keep him in new nappies every day until he’s a year old– and even a little sword on a sky-blue silk cushion and a tiny bow and arrow in a carved box. When I saw how tired Raisse was getting I shut the door on the next lot, “sorry, it’s been enough”.

The wet-nurse came back, with her own baby, a boy a few weeks old sleeping peacefully in a basket. It turned out that her name was Senthi and that Rhaye had employed her. She said that our baby would have to get used to her and her milk, so if she was ever really needed it would go without trouble; that made sense to me. We still thought that she wouldn’t be really needed, but it was good to have her just in case. And our son will have a milk-brother, Rovan, and according to Senthi milk-siblings tend to become good friends.

Rhaye was shocked that we hadn’t intended to have a wet-nurse; apparently it’s unheard of, among the upper class of Essle, to nurse one’s own baby.

We had little Vurian’s name-giving the next day, in the Mighty Servant’s private garden, only Raisse and me and a few select people present. It was raining, of course; it had been raining relentlessly for days. Phuli came, with a raging hangover from celebrating all night and possibly all day, and kept the Nameless away from us. Then I showed him to the people– it looked as if all of Essle had come to the square in front of the Temple of Mizran!– and we took a boat back to Rhaye’s house, our residence, along a route strewn with banners and flags and full of more people cheering and waving.

Rhaye’s dining table was full of even more presents. There was a sealed letter that could only be from the Khandihan, which I couldn’t read (apart from the carefully lettered “Vurian astin Velain” halfway down the first page) because it was all in Iss-Peranian script. I called for a translator, who had never seen anything like it before, but he made it out to be a deed of gift of a village in the province of, well, Something, with everything in it, above it, below it, which lives in it, which is unliving in it, which dies in it, etcetera (the Iss-Peranians are very good at etceteras) to Vurian. Me he gives child-slaves, Raisse scholars, and our child a whole village, people and all!

I’d already told the Khandihan privately that our son had been born and we could sail in ten days –to be on the safe side– and I went to inspect the ships. Some were still in the harbour with most of the entourage of the Khandihan aboard, some had already sailed. The elephant ships, the harbourmaster told me, were really grain ships and they’d sailed full of grain: about half the grain that had been in the Essle storehouses. He was quite concerned, but there’d been a good harvest so Essle wouldn’t starve. The town council had kept the Iss-Peranians from taking more than that. I wondered what Iss-Peran needed so much grain for, had their own harvest been bad? And if so, how would they have known?

I wanted to talk to Arvin, and one advantage of being the king is that it’s easy to get to talk to someone if you want to. He told me that, yes, he and Rhaye had forbidden the sale of more than half the grain stores. He didn’t know why Iss-Peran suddenly needed all that grain, either, but there was someone from Iss-Peran who kept to himself but knew everybody, the name eluded him… “Koll Neveshtan!” I said. It would be good to speak to him, not only about this matter but also about the recruiting work of the Nameless. Arvin said he’d arrange it; I implored him to make it clear that I didn’t want to see him as the king, but as a grand master in the Guild of Anshen.

In the evening, a journeyman in the Guild came to our house in a boat, well camouflaged, with a dark cloak and neck-cloth for me. I camouflaged myself too, of course, and we set out. Koll Neveshtan’s house was exactly as Moryn had told me, almost a little white city on an island of its own. A servant took my cloak, another gave me a towel to dry my hair, yet another brought rose-water to wash my hands. Koll Neveshtan was in an inner room –the house was a beehive– and I could see that he was far from well: his hands and feet were swollen and deformed and he moved painfully. Suddenly it became clear to me –perhaps Moryn had told me and something at the back of my mind remembered– that Koll Neveshtan, too, was an unmanned man.

He knew about the grain shipments. And he knew that the Enshah was getting up a very large army. That must be what the grain was for! I told him about the exploits of the Nameless, and I think (but I can’t remember exactly) also that Timoine had entrusted me with something, but not what it was. He said that he wouldn’t mind if the dynasty of the Enshah would end, but he didn’t agree at all with the way the followers of the Nameless were going about that; if I needed any help in Iss-Peran which wouldn’t interfere with his own plans, I could count on his people there.

I could see that the talk was wearing him out, and a servant girl brought him medicine too, so I took my leave, thinking all the while how to go about things in Iss-Peran. I didn’t have any opinion on the Enshah, at least not yet; I’ll form one when I’ve seen him. It’s useful, of course, to know that there are other people working towards the same ends.

Do I owe the Khandihan any loyalty? Personally yes, I think, whether politically as well will depend on the situation when we arrive. I pledged him my military help, but I don’t think it’s my task to interfere in his local politics unless it’s directly to do with the Nameless’ efforts.

More days went by. More and more people wanted to see Vurian, to cheer all of us, to bring presents. Now it was the common people giving presents: the most touching one was a rag doll, much used and very dirty, which we had the servants wash and put back together when it fell apart. That will be a really useful toy when Vurian is a little older. We sent the sword and the bow to Valdis to wait until he can use them, and most of the baby clothes and nappy baskets to Raith for children who had lost their home in Erday.

Then, suddenly, we found ourselves on board a ship. I’d asked a doctor for a seasickness remedy and showed it to Arvin to check: he said it would alleviate the symptoms at least, so I drank a cup of vile-tasting herb infusion morning and evening and I didn’t get sick, though I was completely disoriented. Vurian, on the other hand, was as happy as he’d been on dry land.

We sailed along the coast of Idanyas until we landed at what had been Dol-Rayen, where Raisse’s brother Torin greeted us and admired his nephew. There’s a lot of rebuilding going on there, north and east of where the city used to be: Ishey as well as Valdyans getting their lives back in order. No underground entity any more, either: when I’d been on land for just an hour I felt normal again.