Raith writes to Ayneth
This is the letter of which she said, in her letter to Athal, “there’s nothing in her letter that I haven’t said to you, except the kind of things I’d never say to you”. Well, in that case there’s a lot that she’d never say to him: things that make it PG-13 at least.
Hallei Lenye Raith, in Dasht Dadan if it’s called that, to Alysei Ayneth astin Velain, in Valdis (or please forward as appropriate).
As far as I know you have your brother back, magnified beyond expectation by the fame that’s gone ahead of him. That’s why I’m not at all sure where to send this letter– I wouldn’t be surprised if you’d left Valdis for a change of scene, and you know you’re welcome to my castle though it’s probably a bit lonely, but I expect that you’re in Turenay with your father and other brother. I would have liked to have you with me –a very strong reason later– but the heat and the strangeness would likely make you unhappy, and frankly I wouldn’t trust myself not to be worried about you and spend time and attention taking care of you instead of doing the work I’ve been conscripted for.
They think I’m a mighty mage. I’ve even been complimented on the fine weather that wasn’t at all my doing, though I did raise a wind at sea when we were becalmed. A little too strong, as it turned out, blowing us off course. I didn’t have any firm ground to balance it and forgot to take that into account. I see why Athal is hopeless without firm ground! As it was, it took me half a day to get used to walking on a surface that didn’t move. Not as bad as some of my soldiers, though. One sergeant came to ask me to ask a day’s respite before marching to the front: tomorrow instead of today, giving me time to write.
This place here is the capital city of the country called Il Ayande, liberated weeks ago by our army– I can truly say ‘our’ because it’s got Ayran Brun, and Talvi from Ildis, and most of their soldiers, as well as Rhyn and almost the entire regiment from Turenay, but Rhyn seems to be even further forward than the actual front, fighting actual Khas as far as I know. The city is supposed to be white, but half of it is blackened by fire and half of it is in ruins (meaning that very few buildings are white and whole, and some are ruined as well as scorched).
The general’s wife met me, Mehili, a little dark woman of forty-five or so. She speaks very little Ilaini (and most of it straight from folk songs), and she can understand my smattering of Iss-Peranian trade-speak but I don’t understand a word of her native language and only a few words of the Iss-Peranian court language if that’s the other thing she tried on me, so we have to have an interpreter. That doesn’t keep us from getting on very well. Once we had established that I don’t have any use for men in my life, and that I’m not someone’s first wife who can negotiate for the right second wife –as the general’s first wife seems to have done for her– I felt confident enough to tell her about you. That had the effect that I was put to bed by what looked like pretty boys but were probably young eunuchs –gelded men– but awakened by pretty girls, making me think I was still dreaming.
In the evening I’d shared a bath and a meal with Mehili, lots of dainty little dishes with hardly any fish, a blessing after weeks and weeks of not much else. There was shrimp, and squid, but most was probably made of vegetables, also strange fruit, something that looked like small birds’ legs but turned out to be marzipan, and meat of actual birds as well, I think, and small parcels of dough filled with something that looked like the inside of a pork pie but tasted very strong and pungent. (Can something taste pungent? Hot, but not like pepper.) A confusing meal, combined with confusing talk through the interpreter, so I was glad in the morning to be led to a balcony looking out over the sea and left alone with a breakfast of some kind of sweet cakes. A girl came with a jug of wine, and I drank some of it but it tasted off somehow, it tingled inside me. I thought it was more of the strangeness and ignored it, but the tingling went all through my body and settled firmly in my belly and made me annoyingly horny. Surely I hadn’t fallen for that girl? I’d hardly seen her, and realised then that that had been because she’d been hiding herself. Already, when eating with Mehili, I’d had to scare off a pair of what Mehili called dandar, witches, and this was likely to be one of the same kind.
I called for Mehili, and she came, bringing two doctors: Jeran who I brought from Lenay, and his Iss-Peranian colleague who is also gifted but not in the same way, as is usual with Iss-Peranians. Jeran said, when I suggested going off somewhere and taking care of the horniness by myself (all I could think of was the inside of your thighs with those delicate freckles!) that it would be a bad idea, because that would accustom me to it and whoever did this to me would have less trouble getting through to me later, like protecting your house with a seal every day so after half a season you can do it without using much anea at all. I wish I knew whether it was a political thing –compromise the mighty foreign mage– or a personal thing –I want that woman no matter what– so I could take the right kind of action. In any case, I’m not going to let myself be seduced with poison.
I’m not completely sure when the queen of Il Ayande came –being poisoned does that to one– but she did, perhaps twice. An impressive woman with a melodious low voice. She was the Enshah’s guest in Albetire while her country was occupied, and she still seems to be a guest in her own palace, or she’d have granted me an audience instead of coming to visit me. It’s the queen who complimented me on the weather, come to think of it. I’m now toying with the idea of raising a really big storm when we reach Solay, but that depends on whether there are any ships of ours at sea. If it’s only Khas, I’m not sure whether I’ll be able to resist the challenge. At the very least, Athal should be on the shore if I do that, not on a ship, poor man.
I don’t know whether I’ll be able to send more letters, but I’ll write some, even if you won’t get them until I’m back as well. I intend to come home in one piece, knowing that you are there to come home to. All the pretty girls in Iss-Peran don’t measure up to you.
With all my love,