Kushesh

I know that I’m leaving out lots of things, but Mousy probably doesn’t remember everything either –for all she’s from a culture without writing– because so much is happening to her.

I’d never been in a city before though I’d heard much of cities, but even I could see that Kushesh wasn’t much of one, it was more like a village built of stone, smaller than an army camp. Some of the houses were really big, though, like two or three houses stacked on top of one another, and painted white. We made the camp outside the city, of course, because there was no room for all of us, but the general and the officers and the witch and her apprentice lived in some of the houses. What we mostly did in Kushesh was waiting, and when I asked Erian what we were waiting for he said that it was for the king. His king, the king of Valdyas, who was going to fight with us and take Solay from the Khas. When he said the word Khas I thought, as I’d thought before, that it was strange that we hadn’t seen any Khas since we’d come out of the canyon, nearly half a year ago. The people from the ships had seen some Khas at sea, but there hadn’t been any on the land to fight. Our army couldn’t have killed them all! Perhaps they’d been so afraid of us after the big battle that they’d all run to Solay.

I don’t know how long we waited, it was just like living in a village and doing normal living things except that we were living in the camp, but one day a very big ship came and it was shouted that this was the king’s ship. We all went to look. I was on Erian’s shoulders so I could see over the crowd, and Erian saw over most of the crowd too, and we saw a small boat come from the ship with some people in it, Valdyan people. The general and the witch were waiting for them on the land. First a young man came out with blazing fire-red hair, but that wasn’t the king, Erian said, it was his brother. Also a big man in very bright clothes who looked like a prince, but that wasn’t the king either, his skin was brown. Then there was a smaller man, with hair almost the same red-brown as the skin on my arms, and skin the colour of cotton before it’s bleached in the sun, but that was because he was so sea-sick, Erian said, he wasn’t usually that pale. This was the king! I’d always imagined a king to be bigger. “He may not be a big man, but he’s a great man!” Erian said, and I remembered the stories, that the king could make earthquakes, and get the gods to help him, and had destroyed a part of the palace that Khahid used to live in and even dropped a whole city on top of a demon to kill it, after he’d held it up long enough so that all the people could get away.

The king and the general embraced like brothers, and the king and the witch like brother and sister, and he was becoming a little less pale already. Now I could see that the gods were with him the same way they were with the witch, because I saw them side by side. I wanted to say something about that but I couldn’t find words that I thought Erian would understand, and Arin Hayan wasn’t anywhere in sight, but I decided to talk to him later.

Back at the camp everybody was talking so much about the king, and the war, that we only noticed that Arul was missing when Arin Hayan wanted him to help with the letter-writing board. I’d last seen him in the crowd in the city looking at the king, and said so, and the captain and some other people were very angry, fortunately not at me but at him. “We said he wasn’t to let himself be seen!” the captain said and told two other men to go with him after Arul. I’d always found him a little strange, he didn’t seem to be a soldier, and anyway he wasn’t Valdyan so if he’d been a soldier he’d have been with a different captain, and he didn’t belong with anyone the way I did with Erian. He wasn’t a whore or a craftsman either, just hung around doing whatever needed doing, and he wouldn’t tell me or anyone else anything about himself except his name and that he’d been with the army for a long time. But he was always friendly to me and taught me things, and I hoped the men would find him and he’d be all right.

But the captain and his two men didn’t come back that day or the next, and Arul didn’t come back either. The sergeants got together and divided the captain’s work among them. Nobody knew what had happened, it could be something very bad or something very silly like getting on a ship and the ship sailing away before they could get off.

Then we heard that the king and his brother had left to take the city and everybody had to get ready to go after them, and there was so much work to do that we didn’t have time to wonder any more.