In the city

She’s getting more and more confused because things are less and less like what she’s used to. But confusion is her normal state now, so I don’t think she really notices.

Now we were really getting somewhere. There were still very few people in the street, but the ones we saw all seemed to go the same way, to the harbour, Suna said. That was where the palace was with the king and all the soldiers. Only a small group of men were going the other way– they were coming for us in fact! I was all ready to run, but Suna gave me the babies to hold (as well as the little girl, and my sack and Bat’nu’s basket) so I couldn’t, and then she stood in the middle of the road baring her breasts at them, “come get me!” She was going to do it again, and I was all burdened and frightened stiff so I couldn’t keep her from it. But then when the first man made to grab her she grabbed him instead, and put her fingers in his eyes just like that! He fell down of course, I couldn’t see if he was alive but he must at least have been blind, and all the rest took one look at him and at Suna and ran away. She gave one of them a kick in the behind as he passed for good measure.

Then I was sure that Suna was mad. I ought to have been scared of her but I wasn’t, I knew that it was the only way for us to stay alive. We did more walking that I don’t really remember, looking back it’s all one thing. The only thing I do remember is that we rested once and I thought I’d try to see Erian the way I’d seen people before, and I was so thin and translucent from talking with the gods and the witch looking at me and not eating that I saw every living soul in the whole city, each one separately like a grain of sand, but Erian wasn’t there. The little girl saw I was crying and came to comfort me, and I held her until Suna could go on walking again.

Then suddenly we were in a large open space with a great white stone gate on one side, with soldiers in front of it. They weren’t wearing the same colours as our troop, or our first troop, but I could tell they were Valdyan soldiers. I went up to them and asked after Erian, but they’d never heard of him, and they said the whole regiment of Turenay had been wiped out. I think they thought I was a painted woman, the way they talked to me, even though I was wearing the uniform of the soldiers from Turenay! But when they saw Suna and the babies they took pity on us and told me where there was a house where we could get papers written. I knew about writing papers, Khahid had some that said that he was with Arin and not someone’s slave, so that would be a good thing, and anyway there would be people there who knew how to get a doctor for Suna and food for all of us.

There was a low white house, only a bit damaged, with more Valdyan soldiers in front of it but these didn’t try to keep us away, and inside there was a woman sitting at a table writing on papers, so i went there and asked her if she could write papers for us. “Have you been raped?” she asked, and I said “no, but my friend has, by ten soldiers”. Then she got all solicitous and called people to take Suna to a bed and get the doctor, because this was the house for wounded people, not the writing-house! I don’t know who got it wrong, me or the soldiers, but it was a good thing because now someone was taking care of Suna and the babies. There was a Valdyan doctor, a bit like the one at the camp but younger and less grumpy, and she looked at Suna and agreed that she was mad, and said there was probably no cure for it in this place, but they could do something for her body at least, and it was a good thing that she had milk because they had a lot of orphan babies. They went to work on her right away, all women, one stroking her forehead and talking to her while the doctor looked at her woman-parts and another woman gave her babies to hold and to nurse. I wanted to help but they were so used to working together that there was nothing for me to do so I wandered off with the little girl who was by now very hungry. I found a large kitchen where they were making porridge, so I boldly went in, but the cook wanted to chase me out, “this is no place for soldier-whores and their brats!” He thought I was a painted woman, too! “Excuse me,” I said, “I was only looking for something to eat for my little sister, she’s very hungry.” Then the cook saw the little girl and gave us a bowl of something that looked like porridge but tasted like nothing I’d ever tasted –not very nice– but the little girl was too hungry to protest, and when she’d had enough there was still plenty to fill my belly.

I went back to be with Suna, and she was awake but now that people were looking after her and she didn’t have to be strong any more she looked much worse. She said a lot that I didn’t understand, probably her own language that was less like mine than what she’d been speaking before, but I could make out that she meant I ought to go to the harbour and ask for help there. So to the harbour I went, little girl and all, and looked for someone to ask for help. I made a picture in my mind of who I’d want to ask, a Valdyan woman, not young, like a mother, and I saw one immediately, a soldier with decorations so probably a sergeant like Erian. She’d heard of Erian all right, “but I’m afraid he got killed” she said, and I could only nod at that. “There’s a ship leaving just now, if you run they’ll let you on,” and I ran and tried to climb the rope thing that everybody else was climbing, but of course I was carrying a basket and a sack and a squirming toddler, and a young man helped me up. We found a space on the wooden ship floor (that’s called a deck, I know now) and got talking. He was a man without balls like Khahid, though he’d been born in Valdyas and was now going home. I didn’t ask him whether he’d had an accident, I knew better now.

There was also a young woman with us called Dayati, and I hadn’t known that people could be called after the goddess, but apparently in the city they could! And I didn’t know the little girl’s name, and she couldn’t tell me either, so I told her she was called Dayati from now on.