Leaving the city

Once again, Sedi has to leave unfinished business behind. Only this time serendipity (or a judicious GM) brings her to the right place to at least continue.

In the morning, Thulo and I sat in the kitchen bleary-eyed with some of the Sworn, eating gruel. “Sorry I ignored you last night,” I said, “but I was too knackered myself to take care of you. I’ll teach you to protect yourself, though, so things from outside don’t come through.” “Don’t nightmares come from inside?” he asked. “Not all nightmares,” Rovin said, “it’s perfectly possible to send someone a nightmare. Goodness! Before my master’s trial my enemy sent me nightmares every night for a fortnight to keep me from sleeping so I’d be too weak to fight.”

Aldin came in, looking as if he hadn’t slept at all, and poured himself a cup of tea. “Eat something!” I said, and he took a piece of bread but didn’t start eating it. “Up all night with the prisoners. You can say a lot about the late emperor of Solay but he did build serviceable dungeons!” He said that the former priestess of Naigha hadn’t said much, but what she had said was “Tonight you will all be gone and I shall be free!” which reminded me of last night’s conversation. Then he took us to his office to look over the papers from the chest. “It’s mostly letters,” he said, “but perhaps you can make more of it than I can.” Those letters that were actually in languages we could read –trade Iss-Peranian for both of us, Síthi for Thulo, Ilaini for me– were mostly to confirm that people and things were being sent to places, annoyingly one-sided but it was clear that everything ultimately came from Albetire and nothing was going to Albetire. At least we were on the right track. There was also a chart with boxes with writing in them, some crossed out and some circled, which we couldn’t make anything of because though it was in Iss-Peranian letters the words didn’t make sense. “This first column could be dates,” Thulo said, “they’re all the same pattern. But the letters look just random.” “Perhaps it’s a code,” I said, and he agreed, but we couldn’t crack it.

The last sheet of all looked like a pamphlet, in trade Iss-Peranian, headed “The Resurgence of Archan”. It was a poem, or a song, and as I tried to read it it set itself in my mind with melody and all, really rousing! The subject matter made me feel ill, though, I can’t really remember every word –fortunately!– but it was all swollen language about justice for the oppressed and retribution for injustice done. I felt like I had to wash my hands, and I wanted to wash the inside of my mind too! And some of the other papers had clearly been written by the same hand. Something told me that it was likely the woman who looked so much like the princess, who was probably from Velihas where they write with semsin as much as with ink.

We went to the kitchen to wash our hands and ran into a palace messenger asking for Aldin, “Prince Namak wants to see him,” and we pointed him out, pacing in the yard. I followed them with my mind– I had a bad feeling about it for some reason. “The prince probably just wants to know first-hand what happened,” Rovin said, but that didn’t take the bad feeling away. “I think we should be very vigilant,” I said, “double our watches, as if we’re under siege.”

I went through the list in my head of people here who I could trust unconditionally. Aldin was on it, which didn’t help, and Princess Ayneth, which helped even less, but also a sergeant in the palace guards, Morin, a master in the Guild. I called him with my mind, and he was surprised to see me, but as soon as I’d told him who I was he said “Your commander is with Prince Namak and he’s just been accused of abduction and murder! They say that he bought two girls, abused them and killed them,” “I don’t believe it,” I said. Nor did Morin. “There’s a priestess of Dayati there who doesn’t believe it either, but also a man who says he’s the girls’ father. The prince is going to have it investigated.” “I’m coming,” I said, but Morin said “Better not, you’ll just be arrested too, there’s nothing any of us can do right now.”

I told all of that to Rovin and Thulo. “My bad feeling was right,” I said. We considered looking for dead bodies ourselves, because they’d surely have been planted on the Order grounds, but we didn’t know what to do if (when?) we found any. “Er, wouldn’t it be better if you weren’t here?” Rovin asked me, and of course he was right: Thulo and I packed our things. Thulo wondered whether we should take the papers so they wouldn’t incriminate Aldin further, and I thought that was a good idea too, so he wrapped them in linen and tucked them under his arm like an ordinary bundle. Then we went to the ship at an amble as if we were just any people going to the harbour.

“I want to sail as soon as possible,” I told Sinaya when we came aboard. She promptly made ready to sail the ship round to the trade harbour where she could more easily get in the last supplies and collect her crew. I briefly contemplated staying for another day to see what happened, but as Morin had implied, chances were that the whole Order would be rounded up and that would include me and possibly Thulo, We could be much more useful outside. Moreover, we had the papers which Aldin had said he wanted to send to Valdis. Now for a way to get them there– The sailors! Who were still quartered in the storeroom in the Order house! Thulo’s young messengers were hanging round the harbour, as well as Orian, so we sent them, “let the sailors out of the room and tell them that the person who gave them pork chops wants them to come to the trade harbour”, no letter, nothing to endanger the children.

“Back to Essle?” Sinaya asked when she heard what was going on. “No, to Albetire,” I said, not only because I wanted to carry out my mission, but also because that was where the trouble seemed to be coming from. We sailed to the trade harbour, and it turned out that Thulo was an even worse sailor than me, perhaps because he’d never been at sea yet. Fortunately it wasn’t far, and we both felt better the moment the ship was lying still at the quay.

Thulo talked to the cook who nodded, took his money, and went to buy Thulo’s travel goods. Sailors came aboard and set to work quickly, talking excitedly about the pretty girls who awaited them in Kushesh. Our messengers came running, with the two sailors close behind. I showed them the papers, “these need to go to the Order in Essle, and if that’s too daunting, leave them at the Drunken Seahorse.” Come to think of it, Athal was my best bet anyway, so I sent Orian to my cabin for writing things and wrote Athal a letter while the sailors talked to the boatswain who knew of a ship going to Essle. I packed the letter with the papers in the cloth, tied it up with string and put a seal on it. “Athal will be able to open it,” I told the sailors, “don’t try to open it yourselves, I don’t think you can anyway, and it’s important that it arrives still sealed.”

That done, there wasn’t really much to do any more. The cook came back with a handful of people carrying Thulo’s things, “even got you an extra bacon ration! Oh! you’re Síthi, aren’t you, you don’t eat bacon. Well, she” –meaning me– “can have it then.” Orian went to put everything in the cabin. “Looks like we’ve got a servant between us now,” I said, “or do you want to take those two?” Thulo put it to them, but they shook their heads vehemently, “we can’t leave the city!” They did have news for him: they’d seen the man who had said the girls were his daughters, and they knew him, he was one of Black Kamari’s people. “Go tell that to Khopai,” Thulo said, “you’re right, you can’t leave the city, you’re important witnesses.” “Witnesses! That’s with the law, isn’t it? We don’t want to have anything to do with the law!” “But witnesses get protection,” Thulo said, “just go tell Khopai and he’ll take care of it. And reward you, I expect.”

I tried to reach Aldin, and he was distracted but could talk to me. “They’ve found bodies all right,” he said, “but the doctors say they’ve been handled and dragged a lot after they were already dead, so they want to investigate further. There’s not so much rush at the moment.” I told him who the children had said the alleged father was and that Khopai would be on the case. “That is good news!” Aldin said.

There was nothing to do until the tide was right to sail, so we went to sleep for a couple of hours. “Shall I protect you?” I asked Thulo. “I’ll want to teach you to protect yourself but now is not the time for that.” He climbed into his hammock and I put a seal over him, “it’ll go away when you get up, but nothing can touch you now.” He was already asleep, I think, before I finished saying that. I slept surprisingly deeply too, I don’t even remember whether I thought of protecting myself.

When I woke up I was so hot that I thought for a moment that the ship was on fire, but it was just the sun at mid-day. Thulo had had the same idea: he arrived on deck not long after me. Just in time, it turned out, to see a squad of soldiers arrive, with a captain on a horse, and break down the door of Doryn’s jewellery shop! Orian was at my elbow, excited. “They say in town that she has a curtain made of emeralds and diamonds and opals!” “Yes, she does,” I said, “I’ve seen it!” “I wish I’d known that yesterday, we could have got in and taken some with Doryn in the dungeon!” “No, you couldn’t have, she’s got an apprentice with a face like this (I made a long disapproving face) and eyes like gimlets.” “Oh, but the apprentice wasn’t there either in the night, was she?” I cuffed Orian, just hard enough to startle him, “Don’t let me hear that you’re stealing while you’re in my service!”

We still had a couple of hours before the tide, so I sent Orian into the city to collect rumours. He was back in the nick of time, when the sailors were already doing things with sails and ropes. “I went to that priestess, the one who came to the house, you know? And she said something strange, they were already saying Aldin had been arrested last night, before you even went to catch all those people! How would they know something’s happened before it’s happened? That must be a lie!” “Yes, in that case you can be sure it’s a lie,” I said. “Thank you!” And I didn’t only give him his wages for the voyage from Essle that I somehow hadn’t got round to paying yet, but I rounded it up from sixteen shillings to a whole rider. “Do you want gold or silver?” “Gold, of course!” so I gave him a gold cartwheel. I should perhaps have told Thulo that part of the money was his tip, because Thulo gave him a gold cartwheel too. Well, if a boy can get double wages by doing a lot of extra work, I don’t blame him!

Aldin was almost cheerful, and glad to know that the priestess could be a witness too. “They’re pretty sure I’ve been framed,” he said. “They only need the evidence from the chest to close the case. You have the papers with you, right?” “I sent them to Essle,” I said, “with those sailors we had in the Order house for a while.” The sailors, the boatswain said, were on the Heart of Ryshas which we could see leaving the harbour right at that moment, just ahead of us. “Never mind,” Aldin said, “I’ll send a messenger after them to get the papers back. We’ll come out of this– the whole Order has house arrest now, but that’s just about all.” That made me feel a whole lot better about leaving while things were still going on. I felt better anyway: though the ship was sailing out of the harbour now I was hardly seasick at all! And neither was Thulo.

I remembered my promise to teach Thulo to protect himself, so I took him down to my cabin –hot, but private– and made him sit down on a stool and feel, at first, where his body was, and then his anie in the same place as his body. “Now make your spirit just a little larger than your body,” I said. “Imagine that there’s a layer of spirit all around you. That’s what you do when you want to be invisible, too.” I’d seen him do it, so that was probably the best way to have him learn. “I thought I made my spirit smaller to be invisible!” he said, but when he tried to do as I said his eyes grew big and he said something in Síthi that I couldn’t understand. “You’re right! I never knew that!”

We emerged from the lesson satisfied, but tired and hungry. Orian went off to cook for us, and we sat on the high part of the ship where the officers worked, because that was where were least in the way. A little in the way, yes: a crewman came with a rope with knots in it and let it out over the side, bit by bit, counting. I remembered that from the voyage from Essle and could tell Thulo that it was to see how fast the ship was going, though I didn’t know how it worked. Orian came up with a pan and two plates, “do you want to eat here?” and we said yes, the weather was still splendid. He gave us each a plate and ate from the pan himself. It was hard to see what the food actually was — it looked most like porridge with bits of vegetable in it, and I think bits of bacon, though we all had the same, even Thulo. It was edible and filling though, and I was really hungry from working hard and not being seasick.

“Two days to Kushesh,” Sinaya said, “if we’re to go to Albetire we need to take in more water. What exactly is the rest of your mission?” “Three things, really,” I said, “investigate what’s going on at Albetire –that’s linked to the Order upset– but first visit the king’s regiment in Dadán.” She didn’t know where that was, and I didn’t know either except that it was somewhere on the coast west of Albetire. That meant it must be between Albetire and Kushesh, because Kushesh was the furthest west on the Iss-Peran coast, with a narrow strait between it and Solay. “I’ll see if the harbourmaster has a map,” Sinaya said, “I wanted to pay him a visit anyway.” “And third,” i said, “there’s another regiment of King Athal’s that went to a village east of Albetire, Pegham, and it’s never been heard of again, he wants to know what happened to those troops. It’s touching, really, the king of Albetire gave the village to the crown prince as a name-giving present, and the prince wrote a letter to read to his people there. That’s the thing I want to do even if I don’t get to do all the rest.”

In the morning of the second day –we’d made good time– we could see Kushesh, a little town that seemed to be made of mud. Part of the shore in front of it was green, probably with trees, and part was greyish-white with shiny flecks. “The salt plain,” Sinaya said. I’d never given any thought to where salt came from, but obviously it came from the sea, there was nothing as salty as sea water. Small as the town was, it had a huge harbour. I saw a couple of ships larger than any I’d seen in the trade harbour at Solay. The sailors were cheerful, Kushesh had the nicest and prettiest girls, they said. Someone said there were more than a hundred whorehouses. But then it was a garrison town, where King Athal and the allied forces had gathered to take Solay, so I wasn’t really surprised. “Can I go ashore?” Orian asked me. “I don’t see why not,” I said, “as long as you come back on time and in one piece.” “Last time I wasn’t allowed,” he said, “but I’m almost old enough for the girls!”

We had to go ashore in small boats, and I was glad to be on solid ground again, even though this had been a really comfortable and even pleasant voyage. Sinaya went off to the harbourmaster’s office immediately, and Thulo and I stood on the quay. “What shall we do?” Thulo asked, and I looked around for someone in the Guild of Anshen to talk to. I saw someone close by, a master, with an air of authority about her. “Thank Anshen!” she said when I showed myself, uniform and all. “So Aldin got my letter! Have you come to set up an Order house here?” “Unfortunately not,” I said, “I’d better come and talk to you.” She was in a house (made of mud, though larger than most) guarded by Iss-Peranian soldiers. “Tell them Miallei Mialle wants to see you,” she said, so I did that and we were shown into a roomy office with several people in it, both Iss-Peranian and Valdyan. Mialle was easy to recognise, and she introduced the rest: her husband General Koll Dishab, her brother Arin, captain of the Valdyan troops (I realised that this must be the Captain Arin on the list in my head), governor Shishe Khob Sai (whose name Sinaya had mentioned) and Shab Hafte Bahar, the harbourmaster. “Oh!” I said, “my captain is on her way to your office.” “Someone will look after her,” he said. Another Valdyan woman came running in and sat down on the table because all the seats were taken. She was Arin and Mialle’s sister, the quartermaster Jerna.

Mialle told me about the situation in Kushesh, that there were so many different groups of people –because it still was a garrison town, it supplied the soldiers in Solay– that an Order house was really needed. “I wrote to Aldin, and to Essle, and to Valdis, and now you are here, so I thought it was an answer at last!” “No,” I said, “I’m a runner on a mission from King Athal, I’m only passing through here. But we’re staying at least a couple of days, perhaps I can help.” “Well,” one of the men said, “we’ve got a problem here. A dandar problem, I think.” I must have had a “tell me more” look about me, because Mialle took over and said “There’s far too little anea in some places, the town has a real shortage of it. It can’t just disappear– there are two known causes of that, the work of Khas mages and of dandar. We know there aren’t any Khas mages around here, not any more since the victory, but there’s been rumours of dandar all right.” “We do have Khas,” the general said, “some who stayed behind after the war, even one who calls himself a Khas prince– Oghir astin Khas he styles himself. But he’s a –argh, don’t know my own language any more– well, he stands in front of the door of a brothel to keep bad customers out.” “A bouncer,” I said. “Yes, that. But well, that is not our problem. Mialle? Better show them.”

Mialle took my hand, and Thulo’s as well, “he’s your apprentice, right?” “What do I do?” Thulo asked. “Just watch, listen, with your mind,” I said, and I think he got it because his eyes grew wide as Mialle showed us the town as she saw it, with blank spaces like the place behind Doreyn Doryn’s curtain. “I think I can be more help than I thought,” I said, “and you can help me, too.” I told them everything I knew about the people we’d captured, the dandar Thulo had knocked on the head, the eunuch captain, the first mate who had died in the fire. They nodded, “those sound very much like people we had here! But if that dandar is now a captive in Solay, or even dead by now, there must be others in town because it’s still going on.”

Mialle had even talked to the head of the Guild of the Nameless in town, who ran a sailmaking business, and he’d been willing to work together to solve the problem. “I’d like to meet him,” I said, and Mialle and the general took me and Thulo there. On the way, she informed us that Merain, or Myravid as he sometimes called himself, was of the House Eraday, “as much as that exists now”. “Does he have a big nose?” Thulo asked. “Yes, he does in fact!” “What does it mean exactly that he is of the House Eraday, apart from the nose?” “Treat him like a Valdyan prince,” I said, “just to be on the safe side. It’s likely that he is very proud of his heritage.”

The sailmaker’s house looked as if it had as many as three stories, but once we were inside we could see that it was all one room, a huge hall with sails hanging from the ceiling while people worked on them. “The master is expecting us,” Mialle said, and an apprentice led us between the sails to an office at the back. It was decorated strangely, as if someone had tried to have an Iss-Peranian house and a Valdyan house at the same time, while they had to make do with what was available here. The most salient thing was a wooden table that could have been made by the best joiners in Valdis, surrounded by cushions to sit on. A tall brown-skinned man –with a big nose all right– welcomed us, introduced himself as Merain and invited us to sit down. “Mialle! You look flourishing.” “Yes, it’s all going very well, the midwife says she doesn’t need me to come back for another four weeks.” “You’re fortunate,” Merain said. “Twins!” “Well, we can’t see that yet,” Mialle said, and I wondered if Merain could in fact see it. i hadn’t even seen that she was expecting.

Merain poured us wine and had plates of tidbits brought before saying anything beyond small talk. Then he grew very serious, “I normally wouldn’t work so closely with my adversaries, but this is a different matter. You know that in our Guild it’s mandatory to report to the master when you enter a town, don’t you?” Yes, I did, and I realised that I’d done the same thing inadvertently and couldn’t suppress a chuckle. “Well, I’m used to people coming from the ships to check in with me all the time, and some still do, but not all of them. And some come and then disappear. Into the whores’ quarter, mostly, it’s easy to disappear there, but they’re gone. I just don’t see them.” He poured himself more wine and started pouring more for us, but none of the rest of us hadn’t drunk more than a sip. “There was this sea officer, sort of a relative of mine–” “Arin astin Eraday?” I interrupted him. “First mate of the Eagle?” “Yes, how do you know? He came here, showed me his credentials, said ‘I have a new and important proposal for you,’ and then he suddenly snatched up his ribbon and walked out of the room. I watched him because I wanted to know where he was going in such a hurry, but before he was out of the street he disappeared completely. Into thin air.”

“Like this?” I asked, and took his hand with a small shudder and showed him the emptiness in the house where we’d caught the conspirators. “Yes!” he said, startled. I jerked my hand back and shook it, “eek! It’s like picking up a hedgehog!” making Merain grin. “Can’t be helped that you’re of the Nameless. So you know this sailor?” “Not know as such,” I said, “I heard a lot about him in Solay, and I can tell you that he’s dead, I’ve seen his body. Died on the ship when someone set it on fire.” And now I was at it, I also told him about the captain and the dandar, because it was clear that they’d been in Kushesh.

“Any idea what they want?” Merain asked. “Set up a second Guild of Archan?” Now I had to be very careful– I wasn’t completely sure myself and a master of the Nameless was an uncertain ally. “As far as I know it’s part of a large plot to discredit the Guild of Anshen, and especially the Order of the Sworn. They kidnapped a woman of the Order in Cuytim, got her pregnant, killed her, pickled her in brandy and planted her in a whorehouse in Solay to give the impression that someone of the Order in Solay had been misbehaving. She was meant to be planted in Valdis, I think, but they happened not to have a ship any more.” “Hmm,” Merain said, “we need the Guild of the Nameless.” “He means Anshen,” I said to Thulo because I could see that it confused him. “Why don’t you call them by their Síthi names if it’s so hard to use one another’s name?” Thulo asked, so I tried to use ‘Anchuk’ and ‘Anasagga’ in the conversation but couldn’t keep it up.

“If your Guild stopped existing,” Merain continued, “we couldn’t have our trials, and the other way round of course.” (Did the other Guild only have trial by combat? I resolved to find out, but this wasn’t the opportunity.) “And the Order, though they are of the Nameless, are very good at keeping the peace wherever they are.” “Yes, so they did in Solay before the trouble,” I said. “Trouble?” Merain asked, and I realised that I’d told the story so often now that it felt completely like I’d already told it to him, too. “A false accusation of kidnapping, rape and murder,” I said. “It was mostly cleared up when we left but it’s made the Order powerless for quite some time to come. We have reason to think it’s another part of those people’s work.”

“It does seem like we need each other, then. Let’s drink to our cooperation.” More wine; it was beginning to make me queasy. Mialle got up and thanked Merain, and when we all stood outside she asked “Are you two sleeping on your ship, or will you come home with us? Have something decent to drink to take away the taste of Merain’s wine.” “I’d love to sleep on land, thank you!” I said, and Thulo agreed.

Mialle and Koll Dishab took us to a new house just outside the town proper, on the green hillside. It was built in high Iss-Peranian style as far as I could tell, with marble steps leading to the entrance and a marble-paved courtyard with a pool large and deep enough to swim in. “Ooh, a swimming pool!” I said. “Could I use it?” I needed a lot of water to wash myself of Merain. “We’ll all bathe,” Mialle said, and called for tubs and towels so we could all have a wash before getting into the pool. There were linen robes for everybody, and large cups of steaming vervain tea, and then we went through the archway to a room where a table was set with delicious food and really good wine. “You’ve got a splendid house here!” I said to Mialle. “Yes,” she said with a grin, “being married to the local general has its advantages!”

After dinner there was music, and Mialle leant her head against Koll Dishab’s chest and they exchanged couplets of poetry. It was all in the literary language, it seemed made up on the spot, and I didn’t understand any of it except a stray word here and there. Thulo understood more, and ever now and again he made an amused face at a phrase. “Now it’s time for a pipe,” Mialle said, “and then to bed!” A large water-pipe was brought with four smoking-tubes attached to it. It smelt delicious, a bit like brus, a bit like southweed, a bit like rose oil, but I’d never smoked before so it made me cough and splutter and get dizzy. Thulo enjoyed it a lot, at least, and said that he knew this particular mixture but had never had such a good variety.

We got a little room each, with a soft bed, and I don’t remember anything of the night because I spent it in a dreamless sleep.

I woke up with what I thought was a good idea in my mind: scan the town for a place that looked empty and bare and see if we could find a dandar inside, like we had in Solay. I wanted to put it to Mialle, though: it was her town as the Guild went. I went to see if there was any breakfast, and indeed there was, on a table in the cool courtyard. Delicious light food, cold cucumber soup, fruit, flatbread, something that looked like soft cheese but tasted bright and tart. Orian was sitting at that table, absently stirring a bowl of cucumber soup. I was a bit surprised that he’d found the house at all, let alone got in, but I said “Morning!” only to meet with a starry-eyed gaze. “She’s so beautiful!” he said, “so lovely! Such eyes! And she said that I was the only man for her.” Then Thulo came in, and Orian said to him “I’m sorry we can’t both marry her, but Dushtan has a lot of houses and there will be someone else for you! Perhaps nearly as lovely as my Parandé!” “My boss doesn’t allow me to marry yet, anyway,” Thulo said. “And of course you can’t marry at all,” Orian said to me, “and I can’t marry until I’m twelve, so we’re in the same boat for now. But she’s so lovely!” I had to smile at him, apparently taken in by some nice whore who had preferred playfully indulging a lovestruck young boy to pleasuring a rough sailor. He’d come round soon enough, I’d seen so many apprentices in that state.

We left him there, still stirring his soup and singing the praises of Parandé, and went to see Mialle in her office. She thought that looking for the blank spaces was a good idea too, “have you tried it yet?” “No,” I said, “I wanted to take it up with you first, we could do it together.” I suddenly remembered what Merain had said, that people disappeared in the whores’ quarter, it would be sensible to search there first. “Our servant boy went to the girls!” I said, still laughing a bit. “He’s all moon-struck.” “That boy who came looking for you last night?” Mialle asked. “Isn’t he a bit young for it? How old is he anyway?” “Almost ten, I think. I used to teach swordfighting to craft apprentices, I know the symptoms. He kept talking about this girl with the beautiful eyes…” Suddenly it dawned on me what it was much more likely to be, “Oh gods! Great Anshen! Eyes! Thulo, remember what happened to me when Kheili looked at me?”

I ran back to the house and found Orian still dreamily stirring his bowl. “You,” I said, “are coming with me immediately.” I grabbed his wrist and half dragged him to the office. Halfway there, I felt his hand creeping to my purse. “No, you don’t.” I slapped his wrist and put the purse around my neck instead, under my clothes. “I only need two more cartwheels!” he whined, “for Parandé!” “No, you don’t,” I said, “because she’s a dandar and she’s bewitched you!”