A slap in the face

From memory because I didn’t take any notes — things were too exciting to break the flow by writing. (I admit that Venla was unconscious part of the time, but it was too exciting even then.)

We woke up late, and the first thing we heard was the sound of people arguing in the passage outside the wards. We thought it must be the large man and his even larger wife, but we couldn’t have been more wrong: it was Orin and Doryn! It hadn’t quite come to blows yet, but their words were hard enough. “You couldn’t do anything for me, you quack! And these young women did! It’s time you faced facts.” Orin was calling us fake doctors again, and then he went for Doryn’s throat. I tried to throw myself between them but stumbled and fell, and Arieth who had come to help me fell right across me.

While we were picking ourselves up from the floor the large man came and grabbed Orin by the arms, and the large woman did the same with Doryn. They were taken back to their wards, still shouting invective at each other.

“Doryn kicked him in the balls!” Serla said with a grin. “Hylse, let’s see what we can do for him.” She was clearly looking forward to embarrassing Orin — and he did deserve it! Amre went with them, probably to keep them out of too bad mischief, while I went to the women’s ward to check on Doryn. (And while I was there, the other women patients as well.)

“Do you have an errand boy?” Doryn asked.

That was an unexpected question. “Is there anything you need that we can get you?”

“No, an errand boy. I want to send a message.”

That threw me so much that I looked for an actual boy to send, when I could have sent the nearest nurse. I found Merain in the yard. “Can you take a message for Master Doryn? And if you don’t know where to go, you can ask Nisha to come with you.”

“Sure,” Merain said. Doryn had probably never had such a small errand boy to take her messages!

“I suppose you’re not letting me out of here today?” Doryn asked when I was back at her bed.

“No, we’d like to keep you here for another couple of days,” I said.

“I was afraid of that. We’ll have to have the council meeting here, then.”

A council meeting! “We’d better have it in the kitchen,” I said, “we’ve got a large table there. Not in the ward, that would disturb the other patients.”

Aine was resigned — “I suppose there was no way for you to know that a week in advance — but she went out of the front door at once, taking Halla. Grocery shopping, I supposed.

Jeran and the children were making school slates: cutting a groove in wooden slats that the side of a piece of slate fit in. “The school didn’t have enough slates!” Nisha said. Apparently Merain hadn’t needed her. “I didn’t need one last year but now I do because I can write all the letters. Except ‘f’ because that’s an angry letter, it blows at me, fff! fff!”

“Then you could write it very small so it won’t blow so hard,” Amre said.

“Or blow back at it,” I said.

Yulao took a slate and a piece of chalk and wrote ‘f’ as small as he could, and then blew at the slate. “See!” he said. “It works!” I hadn’t known he could write any letters yet that weren’t in his own name, he must have picked that up from Hinla.

“When you know all the letters, then you’re the boss,” I said to Nisha. “And if we don’t go to the bath-house now we’ll never get clean. All of you, get your clean clothes!”

“Doctor?” That was Ardyth. “If it’s bath day today, and you’re going now, can we go later when you’re back?”

“Of course,” we said, “ask Aine for the money. When she is back.” Whenever that might be, and I rather thought Aine and Halla would have to go to the bath-house tomorrow.

Now which bath-house would we go to? The one at the foot of the hill, just outside the whores’ quarter: the people there were nice, and it was still so early that it wouldn’t be crowded.

So early, in fact, that the boss and one of her daughters were still stoking up the fire under the coppers. The girl called her sister, who was still half asleep, to wash our hair. Hylse’s hair was in a coil at the back of her neck, and when she unbound it it turned out to be so long that she could sit on it!

Now that enough water was warm there were so many of us who wanted their hair washed at the same time that the girls called their brother as well. He was called Jeran, like our own Jeran, and he was gifted enough — that’s how his sister had called him — but not in any Guild.

Then he saw Hylse, and he was speechless.


Amre and I smiled at them and sat down on the underwater bench to talk about a lesson plan, because we had not only a new apprentice doctor, but apprentice nurses as well. They could all learn the basic things together, we could set half an hour apart every day or an hour every other day.

We were interrupted because Hylse and Jeran were shouting at each other, standing knee-deep in the basin, Hylse’s hair dripping and clinging to her. “You must choose!” Hylse shouted. “That’s my business, not yours!” Jeran retorted. “Archan will have you, you only need to ask!” “I don’t care about the gods!” “Watch out, the gods do care about you!”

But before we could interfere the argument suddenly seemed to be over and they were kissing. Hylse was just as smitten!

Jeran got out of the water and went to his mother in the office. “I quit!” he said. “Now!”

“Then you won’t get the rest of the week’s pay,” she said calmly. “The queen forbids slavery so I can’t keep you here.” And when he turned to go out, “When you want to get married you know where to find me.”

If he was coming with us he could train as a nurse, we thought: he already knew how to wash and shave other people than himself. “Perhaps I’ll want to learn to be a doctor,” he said when we proposed that, and of course if he was suited for that he could do that as well! But what we needed right now was nurses, and we knew from experience that a stint of nursing is a good foundation.

“Are we going to get more brothers and sisters now?” Asusu asked when she saw Hylse and Jeran kissing and fondling each other again.

“Perhaps,” I said.

It was kind of hard to get everybody home; eventually our own Jeran had to carry Jeran over his shoulder, and Serla dragged Hylse by the arm. Or they’d have stood in front of the bath-house all day snogging!

We found Coran at the house when we got back. “We’ve got the bandits,” he said, “safely in the mushroom cave.”

“Did Rava close up?”

“Yes! She’s amazing with that.”

“We do want her back,” I said.

“Yes, she wants to go back, too. She’s fed up with all those bad guys, I think.”

We spent some time writing letters for Coran to take with him. “Someone we trust should go with them to Veray,” I said, “if Rayin has taken over as baron he shouldn’t get the letter.”

“It’s all right, I’m going myself,” Coran said.

So we wrote a letter to the rafters: ‘these people are all robbers and bandits, they should stay out of sight of Tylenay, take them to the baron of Veray if that’s someone the king or queen appointed, or else to Turenay and deliver them to Lord Radan.’ And to the baron: ‘here are bandits we caught, this is what they did’ — that letter could go along to Turenay if the baron turned out to be Rayin. And then there were the letters to Cora (containing everything) and the queen (mostly about money, and the state of the hospital) which were already almost finished, and we only needed to add the latest news.

While we were doing that it grew dark outside, as if there was a huge thundercloud. Chickens came in clucking nervously, geese, ducks, cats with tails bristling, the dog carrying her puppies one by one. Even a calf crowded into the kitchen. “I didn’t know we had a calf!” I said, but Aine had bought it cheap in the market for milk next year.

It wasn’t actually thundering or even raining, but the air felt heavy. The last time we saw the teenagers they were all in the little temple, talking, and now I looked for Jeran with my mind to see if he’d noticed and was taking care of the animals in the stable.

But there was a huge seal of the Nameless around the little temple.

We found the source pretty soon, too: Orin, on the ward side of the temple, not the kitchen side, keeping up the seal by pressing his hands to the wall and praying the Second Invocation incessantly. Cold radiated from him as if he was a block of ice; there was already a small crack at the nape of his neck.

I got the urge to bash him on the head with a stick or something, and Aine handed me a poker. Bashing him was easy! But the poker froze to his head, and the iron got so cold that the skin of my hand froze to the poker, and that was the last thing I noticed for a while.

So this is what I heard from Amre, when I came back from waking up in the hospital confused and with a bandaged hand. (I think someone told me that Orin had fallen unconscious too, but I can’t be sure.)

She heard the teenagers pray in the temple too: to Anshen, all of them, Serla and Hylse as well as the boys. She joined in on the outside, and that weakened the seal so much that they could be together in the mind at least. Suddenly Archan stood in front of her, in the image of handsome young man that we’d seen before, very angry. He slapped her in the face so hard that it actually broke her nose, and turned and stalked away.

Anshen appeared as well, holding Tal-Rayen in one hand and Silvermine in the other, so Amre knew that he wanted her to be his hands. She opened what was left of the seal, or the teenagers did, or they did it together. All the teenagers were firmly of Anshen now — Jeran from the bath-house, and Hylse, and even Serla. “He stood in the hearth,” Serla said, “and he wanted to keep us from talking! I don’t want any part of that!”

Amre told me that when I was sitting in the kitchen still a bit confused. All the animals were outside again, except a cat that climbed into my lap immediately. Serla came in and healed Amre’s nose, but couldn’t do anything about my skinned hand — “skin is a lot of work! it’ll grow back by itself!”

Then Aine started filling the table with all kinds of delicious-looking food. The council meeting! The first person who arrived was Master Ardan, who already knew us, of course. Then an elderly woman we hadn’t met yet, Senthi, not gifted but she looked very intelligent, as if she didn’t miss anything. Arlyn we’d seen already, when her brother took us to their house, and old Lathad, of course. The nurses wheeled Doryn in on the wheelbarrow bed, “the doctors say you’re not supposed to get up yet!” — that wasn’t strictly what we’d said, she could very well sit quietly on a chair, but it was a good thing anyway because we didn’t expect Doryn to be able to sit quietly, especially if the talk was about something that excited her.

Rayin, of course, was in Veray so this was all of the council that we were going to get.

Amre and I wanted to leave the kitchen but Doryn asked us to stay. The teenagers did leave, and someone (Arlyn, probably) said to Serla in passing “Oh, you’re the one who defected just now. We saw the darkness.”

Doryn proposed stripping Orin of all authority in the town and only letting him serve the workers’ camps. Arlyn was against it; Ardan was in favour but Arlyn stopped him saying that. Senthi said “I’m with you, Doryn,” and then Lathad said “I don’t have a strong opinion on this but I’ve seen the work of these doctors, I’m with you in this, but don’t take it as a precedent!”

“So that’s five in favour, one against?” Doryn asked. “We will designate this hospital as town hospital. Orin will be relegated to the workers’ camps. Where is he, anyway?”

“In the ward,” Amre said, “he was much stricken when he failed on the seal.”

Then, of course, we had to tell the council the exact circumstances of what had happened to our teenagers. Doryn and Ardan, at least, were so outraged that they decided to banish Orin from the town entirely — which meant that the workers’ camps were now our responsibility too. We needed more doctors and nurses so badly! Two masters, a journeyman, an apprentice, and a handful of half-trained nurses just weren’t enough. Also, we had enemies — very nasty enemies if Orin ended up in Veray and banded together with Rayin.

Now everybody was leaving. Doryn got wheeled back to the ward — by Jeran and Serla, because the nurses had gone to the bath-house after all. Lathad, the last to leave, said “You keep a very good table, my compliments!”

“It’s our housekeeper Aine who deserves the compliments,” I said.

Now we were really tired! It turned out to be evening, too, so that wasn’t so strange. We went to bed — but Jeran and Hylse were in it, fast asleep, and we could see that Hylse was already pregnant. The other bedstead was full of children, who woke up when we tried to push them out of the way gently.

“They were making love!” Hinla whispered.

“Yes,” we said, “we know!”