On the boat

Either she understood only -e-ay, or the boats to Veray and Lenay were leaving at the same time and she ran and got on the wrong one by mistake.

I think I fell asleep on the boat right away, because someone kicked me awake and told me that we were in Tilis. This was a really wet village, not with pieces of land and pieces of water like Essle but the water everywhere in the land so it was all just a little firmer than mud. There were houses there where you could pay to sleep, but I didn’t really want that and was already looking for a quiet place for me and Dayati when someone came and said that some lady had a place for everybody who didn’t have anywhere to sleep and we could have soup and bread too. So I went with a lot of other people and we got rather nice soup with pieces of meat and vegetable and little white beans in it. Also bread made from sieved flour which was soft and very nice. Later we saw the lady come home on a horse, she looked like a princess with grey hair and beautiful clothes and a friendly face.

We got to sleep in a large building with a lot of horses, on a floor above the horses so we could hear them breathe and move, but that was kind of comforting. There were lots of mice and rats, though, and bugs that bit us, but I suppose that can’t be helped if you have a room full of horse food where people are sleeping too. I think we picked up lice there again, unless the lice got on my head and Dayati’s head while we were on the ship.

In the morning the boats came to go to different places –they had different rivers there that all came together in that place– and there were signs that were hard to read because they’d been in the rain so long, but fortunately the boatmen called the name of the place where the boat was going as well. But then Dayati said she wanted to poop, and I took her to the place I’d been shown with a hole in the ground and a bucket without a bottom that you could sit on, but it wouldn’t come however much she tried and however much I encouraged her. Then I heard someone call Veray, so I picked up Dayati, protesting and all, and ran and got on the boat just as it was leaving. Once again I didn’t have to pay because I was wearing soldiers’ clothes, I only had to pay a few pence for food when the boat stopped for the night. There was bread and dried fruit and something white that tasted sharp and salty and altogether delicious. I asked “what kind of meat is this?” and the woman I’d asked, dressed all in grey with a braid over her shoulder, laughed and said “it’s not meat, it’s cheese, made of milk.” Of a goat, she thought. Dayati wouldn’t eat, she still hadn’t pooped either, and she was very miserable, and the woman asked “how long hasn’t she gone?” and I said “since we were at Tilis,” and also that I had medicines for if you couldn’t stop pooping but not for this, you’d need to eat over-ripe fruit but we didn’t have any.

This woman –called Jerna, and she was a priestess of Naha, it turned out– asked the boatman for a bit of his southweed –I’d never heard that word for it but I’d seen the stuff, it’s called dahun or tutun and Grandmother used it for lice poison, but the boatman put it in a bowl on a stick and lit it on fire and drank the smoke– and she chewed it and blew the juice into Dayati’s mouth, and gave her a lot of water to drink, and then we had to hold her over the side of the boat naked because she pooped, and a lot too!

Then Jerna and I got talking and I was telling her about going to see my new mother and sister in Veray, and she said that the boat wasn’t going to Veray but to Lenay! I’d talked to a woman from Lenay at the harbour, and she’d said that Lenay was best of all, but there had been something about her that was like Erian but not as comfortable, so I didn’t really want to go to Lenay if I could help it, but I couldn’t very well wait on the shore until there was a boat going the other way. It was easy to get from Lenay to Veray, Jerna said, we could walk or get a ride on a cart, and she’d first take us home with her to the Temple of Naha to wash and eat and rest.

It was a long time on the boat, but there were two little boys a little bigger than Dayati that she could play with, and the weather was nice but not very warm, Jerna said that it would be warmer later, but now it was “spring” which means the season between the cold and the warm season. It rained a little at times, but not so you’d call it a rainy season. We got to a city built on the banks of the river which were very high above the water so we had to climb on steps hacked out of the rocks to get there. There were lots of people waiting for us at the top, and when they saw that some of us were veterans they wanted the doctor to see us to make sure that we hadn’t brought any diseases. I knew about those diseases, it’s what the painted women get from the soldiers and the soldiers from the painted women, and I couldn’t have them because I hadn’t fucked with any soldiers, but this doctor didn’t believe me but when he’d looked at me he had to admit that I was right. But I did have lice, and so did Dayati, and they took us to the bath-house and shaved our heads and washed us, I wasn’t allowed to wash myself but I was allowed to wash Dayati. I had to wrap us both in towels because they’d taken our clothes away and I didn’t have anything else.

Then Jerna came and took Dayati and me away to the temple of Naha and gave us clean and whole clothes, me a dress made of something that looked like cotton but heavier, and Dayati breeches and a jacket and a hat made of cloth with little hairs like a mouse’s pelt. She also gave us nice things to eat, porridge with purple fruit in it and bread and more of the white cheese, and found us a place to sleep just outside the praying-room.

The next morning I woke up because people were praying in the praying-room, and I could feel that Naha was there. I stood at the back until they were finished and an old priestess came and talked to me, not really a witch but full of the gods, especially Naha of course, and she asked me what I wanted to do so I told her that I was on my way to Veray. That was a good thing, she said, because Jerna wanted to go to Veray too to work in the king’s sister’s house for sick and wounded people that she’d built there. I only had to stay in the temple for a few more days while Jerna got her things together and we could find a cart to take us there. In the meantime, I could explore the city all I wanted, as long as I was back in time to eat and sleep. She said that if I wanted to be a priestess of Naha I was welcome to stay forever, but if I wanted to serve any of the other gods, Timoine (who is Deimede or Dayati) or Archan or the Nameless or Mizran, that was all right too. She left out Mother Assa, who my grandmother and my mother and I have served all our lives, and I think that she meant Ansah by the Nameless and the other one by Archan and I wouldn’t have any of that, but I knew what she meant and I was very sure that Naha wasn’t the one I wanted to serve, at least not yet.