Turenay

She’s found a sister, and everything is so strange that she’s taking it all in stride, leaving the next bout of culture shock for later.

Turenay was full of flags and decorations, and I thought that it was to celebrate that the king had won the war, but it was because the king was there! His father and brother lived in Turenay, Jerna said. Perhaps I could even see him! The carter asked us where we wanted to go so he could drop us off there. Jerna wanted to go to the temple of Naha, of course –I’ll have to learn to call her Naigha as she’s called here — and I said I wanted the soldiers’ headquarters. Ruyin, the soldier, wanted to go there too, because even if he did decide to leave the army he still needed to talk to an officer about that. It was on the way to the temple, very convenient. The headquarters was a big whitewashed house almost like the one we’d hidden in in Solay, only not all on one floor but three on top of each other like most Valdyan houses. It had a large courtyard where soldiers were exercising. Most of them were either very young or very old, and some of the rest had been wounded and were getting better, I could tell by the way they moved. Ruyin found someone in sergeant’s uniform and talked to her, then she came up to me and said she was Sergeant Lyase. I wished I’d put on my uniform, worn as it was! But I was wearing the breeches and shirt I’d made at the carter’s wife’s house.

I told Sergeant Lyase that I’d come from Iss-Peran, and I’d been in Solay when the king conquered it, and I was here to find my adopted father’s wife and daughter to tell them how brave he had been, and that he was called Erian from Veray but he’d fought for the Turenay regiment because the Veray regiment had all been vanquished except him. She asked me if I knew what the wife and daughter were called, and I said Halla and Alaise. Then she went to talk to someone else and came back and said “You’ve come to the right place! Because I think that’s the Alaise who lives with doctor Cora.” And she told me that Halla had died of a sickness that lots of people had died of, and Alaise had gone to live in a house with other children without parents, and doctor Cora had adopted her when she was in Veray along with her little brother, only it wasn’t her real brother but like me and Dayati. The sergeant sent a soldier to take me to doctor Cora’s house and he left me at the door and waited until it opened after I’d knocked. I’m sure now that he’d have got a mug of beer or a few pennies if he’d come in with me!

This was another large house that looked very new, and there were a lot of people in it, mostly women. There were two ordinary-looking young women, a slightly older woman who looked like a painted woman only not so garish, a very old woman, a girl about my age sitting on cushions with two smaller girls, a thin boy who might be the girl’s twin brother, a little boy crawling about, a young woman who looked for all the world like an Iss-Peranian princess who was nursing a small baby, and a woman with a serious face who somehow looked like a great lady though her clothes were stark and simple, also with a baby. I must have looked very silly standing in the doorway saying “Er, excuse me,” because the princess gave her baby to the old woman and came to the door and said she was doctor Cora and what could she do for me?

I think I fell into her arms and cried, and I don’t know any more what exactly I told her that day, but the women gave me something to eat and filled a bath for me –water comes out of the wall there, through a pipe from an underground spring– and let me wear a shirt that fit me exactly, it could even have been doctor Cora’s because she is about as tall as me. She’s a real princess! In fact she used to be the second queen of Albetire, but when the old king and queen died and the king made the earthquake she ran away to the queen of Valdyas, who sent her to Turenay to learn. There she married the king’s brother, who was the captain of the regiment of Turenay, not Rhyn’s regiment because that was the regiment that went to war much earlier, but the regiment that’s here now. The little baby is called Raisse after the queen and also after another Raisse. And it’s really true that doctor Cora adopted Alaise, though she’s only about sixteen years old herself, but Alaise was at school and doctor Cora sent the great lady to fetch her for me. She called her Raisse, too, and if I hadn’t known Ilaini already I’d probably have thought that it meant ‘girl’ or ‘friend’ or something, but it turned out that this was the queen, Queen Raisse! Ordered about by doctor Cora, just like that, instead of ordering around other people!

While we were waiting for the queen to come back with Alaise doctor Cora introduced all the other people to me, and I know who they are now but I couldn’t remember them all the first time: Arvi and Jerna, the housekeeper and maid, and old doctor Leva who is doctor Cora’s teacher, and the twins Halla and Arin –Halla has been ill and can’t walk– and their sisters Rani and Sedi, and little Jeran who is Alaise’s adopted brother, and Alyse who used to be a painted woman but she lost a baby and she’s now too weak to work, but the woman who loves her, Arni, is working as a maid in the house next door. And the queen’s baby was Princess Alyse. They were all so nice to me, but I didn’t know what to say, and I was too tired to cry, so I sat there with Dayati on my lap while she made big eyes at Jeran and Jeran at her until the door opened and the queen came in with a girl.

I got a shock, because this girl really looked like Erian! I think she’s exactly as old as me, but much taller, and she has skin that will probably get red in the sun, and she’s speckled in the face though her hair is not red but brown. And her eyes are brown, too, not blue like Erian’s. But she had the same nose and the same chin, and when she smiled, the same smile. We looked at one another for a long time and then she asked “you’re really my sister, aren’t you?” and I nodded, and then she took me up the steps to a room painted white on the inside but with nothing in it, which was her room only they all slept in doctor Cora’s big bed, and we sat in the window and talked and talked and talked, about Erian, and Alaise told me about her mother Halla, and I told her about my father and mother and brother who I thought were dead, but I didn’t say anything about how I’d fled from the village, not that time.

Then Arvi came to call us downstairs for dinner and there were two men at the table, one was the king’s brother Prince Aidan who was doctor Cora’s husband, and the other one was the king! He looked a lot better than he had when I last saw him in Kushesh, not seasick of course, and not so worried either. And he was a very nice man, not at all kingly, or perhaps that’s really kingly if you can just be ordinary and not be the great king that nobody dares talk to all the time. He said that they have two little princes, and the elder boy’s milk-brother, but they were back at the house where they were staying just out of town with their nurse. Only they’d had to take Alyse with them because she needed milk, and when his brother had asked them to eat with him –with us– he’d accepted that at once because he didn’t like dinners with stuck-up people at all.

In the evening the king and his brother went out, “to drink beer together” the prince said, and Arin took his little sisters to the small house next door where they lived, and all the rest got mending and sewing. All the time people were coming in to sneak a look at the queen, but she didn’t seem to mind and doctor Cora didn’t mind either, they got a cup of wine and a smile and if they wanted to help with the mending they were welcome. It was almost like sitting with the women in the army camp. Late at night we all went to sleep on a very large pallet with smooth shiny sheets. The king and the prince came back after we’d gone to bed, and they were the cheerful kind of drunk, and looked even more like brothers than they had already. (And the king and the queen made love, and so did doctor Cora and the prince, but we girls pretended not to see them.)