Leaving the city

A short one this time because much of what happened is, in Ayneth’s words, “all in a big pile that I’ll have to sort out when I’m not so busy.”

In the morning I found Surtaunu crying, and he didn’t have words for what distressed him but took me to the room where the milk-mother and her family were living. “He’s my brother! And now he’s his brother!” It took some explaning, and a lot of cuddling, to make it clear to him that the fact that someone else was feeding his baby brother didn’t mean that he couldn’t be his big brother any more; moreover, that he could now have not only a baby brother, but also two other little brothers and a baby sister. The milk-mother helped by letting Surtaunu suck at her breast too– he couldn’t get much milk, babies suck a lot more strongly, but it did give him solace. “And if you need milk for the other two,” I said to the father, “there’s an out-of-work goat somewhere around here. Ask Surtaunu, he’s very good at milking.”

Raith found me there and took me to the top of the gate immediately. The legion in the square seemed to have multiplied. “Twenty-five thousand at least,” she said. “If I were a betting woman I’d bet on you going to the fort with thirty-two thousand tomorrow.” For the first time –not exactly, I realised, but for the first time consciously– I was aware how large this was, but heady like wine, exciting and only a little frightening. “It’s like you wrote to me, right?” I asked Raith. “The big weather patterns.” “Well, not completely,” she said. “I think this is the beginning of an order in which the Síthi don’t have to be ashamed any more.” They were all ashamed now, she said, after twenty years of oppression. And, I thought silently, perhaps centuries of living in a society with such ridiculous skew between people. “It started with only one man,” I said, “a carpenter, he wouldn’t have any of it but I talked him round.” “That may have been the real beginning, then,” Raith said. She asked whether I’d eaten yet, and I had to admit that I was hungry. One of the watchmen, hearing that, shared his bread and fried fish with me.

Then there was a day of nothing but logistics. Raith was off to the Iss-Peranian quarter to talk to dandar, but she wouldn’t have been any use to me for this anyway. “You’re going to need Faran,” Athal said, and Faran was indeed the man I was already on my way to see. I learned more about the day-to-day planning of all kinds of things in one day than in all of my twenty-two years before this, but it’s all in a big pile that I’ll have to sort out when I’m not so busy. The gods know when that will be!

I think Raith would have lost her bet: the next morning there were close to forty thousand people, the new captain of my guard estimated. There were horses, and a train of supply wagons –as well as everybody who had some food to carry carrying it– and even two very large elephants, which seemed at the moment to serve mainly for children to gawk at. They’d be useful to clear a path too, I thought, but there was a horse for me and I’d have to ride right at the front with the captain and a few of the guards.

I spent a few moments alone with Raith in the gatehouse. “I believe you can do it,” she said. She would be working closely with the dandar to hold off the clouds with what Athal considered a seal, but the dandar called boundary-stones. I wouldn’t be so far away that she couldn’t keep track of my progress; comforting idea. We kissed, and I left glowing with her blessing.

Left… well, it took hours for even me to get out of the city, and most of the rest of the day to get the whole legion out, and when we camped I could still see Solay and guessed I could have walked back on my own in three hours or so. I walked through a bit of the camp, greeting people I recognised, to get a feel of the mood: cheerful, expectant, almost like a holiday but with a serious undertone.