All’s well that ends well

After this, we go visit the Khas. For some values of “we”, anyway.

We left Tal-Morn as soon as we could now that we had our boys back. We couldn’t go very fast because of all our patients, of course, but there were enough people to carry stretchers and Mazao could ride a horse.

Kisif called me as we were leaving, “I can manage here, but do you have any sage and brandy left?” “Yes,” I said, “but I don’t think we can make a detour to bring it, can you get someone to fetch it?” and she promised to come and pick it up herself at the side of the road. There she stood after the first bend, a small woman with an enormous cloud of wiry red hair. Her mind was easy to recognise! “I won’t come too close,” she said, and we put the basket with sage and brandy down and moved on. “Hug Cora for me and tell her not to worry, only three children and two adults died and everybody else is getting better now.” “How do you know you’ve got measles?” I asked, because neither I nor Amre had had it yet, and I think the boys hadn’t either! “First you feel bad, then you start itching all over, then you get red spots and a fever and if you’re unlucky you die,” Kisif said, “but when you’re with Cora it won’t get to that.” Then she turned and walked back to the village, a boy and a girl with her, both as red-haired as she was and perhaps as gifted, especially the boy.

When we got back to the white house Selle was sitting on a bench outside, a baby on each arm! “Oh, you’re all right!” I said, and we ran to hug her while Arin got the maids to make sure that everybody got something to eat and a place to sleep. All the prisoners went into one room, with a guard at the door, and I sealed the door for good measure. “Do we untie that woman’s hands?” Arin asked, and Cora said “No! Then she’ll kill Lyan!”. Later, when she wouldn’t stop yelling at him, someone put her in the calving-shed which had a bar on the door and I sealed that as well. I thought there was no need for the guard any more now, because those men weren’t in any condition to run away, but of course Lyan didn’t have to run far, just crawl to the stable and steal a horse.

Cora looked at the work we’d done and praised everything we’d done for Lyan –“I couldn’t have done it better”– but didn’t have a good word for Tyan’s leg. She could understand that we hadn’t had the right tools, though, and that we hadn’t been strong enough to cut it off in one stroke and the sergeant had done it the army way, but she told us how we could have done it so that there would be a stump for a wooden leg. “But they’ll hang me anyway,” Tyan said, “no use getting a peg-leg!”

“I wish I could teach you in Iss-Peran,” Cora said, not for the first time. There, you could practice on convicted criminals, while they were still alive. And if they survived they might even go free! “You can get months of use out of a good criminal,” Cora said, a bit wistful. “Ah well, we’ll do some more work on this one when we get him to the hospital. I don’t know what to do with you!” This sounded a bit strange after the other things she’d said, but she meant that there was so much we still had to learn before we could be journeyman doctors, but we had done much too much real work, on our own as well, for apprentices. “Well, let the doctors’ guild break their heads over that.”

The Ishey boys (and also Ebru) and the boys from Velihas were having a kind of storytelling contest, in fact they’d started before we went up to look at the patients, but now it had got to the point that the stories were completely unbelievable! The stories were about the stars now, and Ebru said that on the Plains the stars hung so low that you could lie on your back at night and pluck them. “And eat them?” I asked, because that was a lot like fruit. “No, everybody knows that stars are made of glass! Beru, the first ancestor of my tribe, once picked eighty stars and set them in the hilt of his sword, and that’s why the stars aren’t in the sky regularly but in patterns so you can see by them where you are!” And then the boys had to concede that she had won the contest.

That night our room was very full: Amre and I and Hinla in one bed, Cora and Jerna and Khahid in the other. In the middle of the night a sound woke me up and something very large came in that went “whuff!”– a dog, which I pushed out and closed the door on. But when I tried to go back to bed I tripped over a smaller dog, and when I tried to steady myself on the bed I put my hand on a cat! Cora was awake now, and made a light –I should learn that properly!– and we shooed the dogs (three by now) out of the room and told the cats to go catch mice, and I don’t think there were any mice in the room because we slept the rest of the night, or at least until the babies got hungry.

The next day we left very early so we could reach Turenay in one day. Tao and Mazao and the soldier from the king’s army had set out to bring Lyan back to Rizenay, but everybody thought bringing him to Turenay was a lot better now that they were so close. After all, the king’s father was the bailiff there and could deal out justice too. Lysna walked behind the cart, bound to it, cursing, with Tao and Mazao bringing up the rear behind her.

The boys from Velihas didn’t want to come along all the way to Turenay: it was such a big city, it wouldn’t feel right to them. But there were some of their people at Ryath Hayan’s house, so they agreed to come that far. One of them stayed behind: the very first evening he’d met a girl he wanted to stay with, at least for a while. The rest of us went on, in the dusk, and arrived at the gate just as it was closing. But I think that if it had been closed already Cora would have got us in!

We went home with Cora at once, while other people took Lysna to the town hall (or at least the lockup under it) and the other two to the hospital. We’d already seen that Veh and Asa were there, in Cora’s house, and found Asa sitting on the cushions in the Iss-Peranian corner looking very uncomfortable. “You’ve come in time!” she said. “I was hoping you would.” It turned out that she was having the baby right now! There was already a bit of milk coming out of her breasts, and little Athal had sucked it up but it wasn’t the right kind of milk for big babies, it was the special kind of milk for small babies.

Sabeh arrived and said that Veh and indeed all men and boys had to go out of the house, because this was only for women, but Asa became very bossy and said that he had to stay. “It’s my baby, and he’s my man, and I want him here!” But it was a good thing that Sabeh was there, because she was the only person who knew how to make a baby Ishey. I wondered if we could make Hinla and Athal Ishey too, but it had to be done the moment they were born, so they’d just have to be Ishey without being made so, like us.

The midwife came too, Lyse, who was Raisse’s daughter but not by far as scary, she was a woman you felt comfortable with at once. That’s a good thing for a midwife to be, of course. Everything was going right, she said. Then Cora took the seat out of the big chair at the head of the table –it was Aidan’s chair, that used to belong to a noble family that didn’t exist any more, carved beautifully– but the chair had been made especially so you could take the seat out to have babies in. Jerna put a big bowl under the chair, and Veh carried Asa to it, and it wasn’t long until she had a little boy! The moment Lyse had cut the cord Sabeh took the baby from her and washed him with wine and said words to him that Veh seemed to understand but nobody else did (it must have been women’s Ishey, that we would still have to learn some time) and sheared part of his hair. Then I saw that the hair wasn’t black or brown as I’d expected, but red-blonde like the hair of the little princess!

We got everything cleaned up, and Veh and Asa and the baby got the side room because then they wouldn’t have to go upstairs. All the doors and windows were still open because it was a very warm night, but Jeran and Ebru slept outside under the roof-with-pillars to keep the dogs out. Our huge dogs all love Jeran so they slept in a pile with him and didn’t even think of coming in in the night, though one of them did in the morning to sniff at the new baby (she liked him and gave him a big lick as if he was her puppy). We should perhaps train the dogs to watch little kids.

On the morning round, when we got to Tyan with one leg, we noticed that it was really festering now and Cora got a couple of other doctors to have a look. One of them was Faran, the journeyman doctor we hadn’t seen yet because he’d been doing a round outside the town. He’s a very handsome young man, and he flirts with all the girls, even the priestesses of Naigha! But Cora says he’ll make a good doctor. “We’ll clean him up,” Cora said, and sent me and Amre and Faran to prepare the operating room and put our whites on. The room was scrubbed, and all three of us were scrubbed and wearing clean white linen clothes and headscarves (even Faran, his hair isn’t any shorter than mine is now) when Cora and the nurses brought in the patient. “Have you been working by lamplight? An oil lamp?” Cora asked, and we said yes, it had been a grease lamp in fact. “I can tell,” she said, and showed us where soot had got into the wound. We got everything out –fortunately Tyan was unconscious– and Cora made me slap a seal over the stump, and Amre had to tie up the arteries with a thread, and Faran got to sew up the skin over the stump, leaving the threads hanging out so we could pull them out when the wound healed. It looked almost decent when we were done!

And then, in the afternoon, Cora took us to the Guild school. We’d already seen Rava once, who was the head of the school. She took us to her office and gave us a schedule of classes, every afternoon except the Day of Anshen. She’d arranged with Cora that we could work mornings in the hospital and go to school in the afternoons. And there was a class in reading and writing at Rava’s own house two evenings a week, mostly for craftspeople but we could come there as well because we had to miss the morning class at the school.

Rava told us that we wouldn”t allowed in the hospital in the afternoons at all! She was still talking to Cora about that when it was time for us to go to lessons.

First we went upstairs to the library, where a teacher called Aylin (pockmarked, but made up very expertly, she must have had lessons from Cora) showed us where to find which books. There were hundreds of books! I could see which were the books about herbs and said so. “And how do you know that?” Master Aylin asked. “By the sage plant on the front,” I said, “and also because we have the same book in the hospital and doctor Cora said she’d had two copies made!” It was a strange sage plant, though, with rounder leaves than the ones in the herb garden. But Master Aylin said there were probably different kinds of sage in different countries, and most of what was in this book came from Aumen Síth.

The next lesson was sealing, and the teacher was a man of about fifty called Vurian. He seemed to be as thorough as the other Vurian we’d learned from. We’re starting from the beginning yet again, I thought, and almost sighed about that when I realised he was going a lot faster, and he was teaching us not only what to do but also what happened, the theory behind it. When he noticed I was interested he said “It’s all in a very boring book, and I’m going to make you copy a couple of chapters from it later.” “Well, that’s good writing practice,” I said, and then he looked at me and said “Oh! you’re Cora’s apprentices, you’re in my wife’s class.” This was Rava’s husband, the queen’s father!

Then the lesson became practical, he explained that different people used different images for their seals, and I told him about the “door-closing stuff” that I’d first seen when I didn’t even know what I was doing. “So close the door with it, then!” he said, and I did, not even bothering to smooth it, just slathered in on like butter on bread. And the next person whose turn it was painted over it with her seal that looked like glue, and that stuck to my thumb and I had to think up some brandy to dissolve it. And we also practised taking someone else’s seal away so that they didn’t notice, but Amre and I both failed horribly at that, we really need lessons! Vurian showed Amre how to do it by lifting her seal from a cup with a kind of spider-web that the seal stuck to.

And then we suddenly had a bit of afternoon in which we weren’t allowed to go to the hospital, so we went to the new house. There was a floor and walls and stairs (Veh was very proud of the stairs), and a roof that kept rain out, and partitions (but only curtains, not yet walls) so people could have their own rooms. Also a big fireplace and a small fireplace, and a mill-wheel (which Veh was also very proud of) in the stream that turned but didn’t drive anything yet. Mazao couldn’t do heavy lifting while the wound in his chest healed so he was decorating the woodwork with carvings. I asked Veh what had come of the affair with the bricks, and he told us that Lord Radan’s people had found a brick oven in the wood where it wasn’t allowed, and they made children work there as slaves (they only got food, no pay, and not much food at that). Lord Radan had allowed the Ishey to buy the bricks for a reasonable price so the money could be used to pay the workers and give them other things they needed.

Then Tao and one of the boys from the brickworks (called Coran, he’s about ten years old and is an orphan from Veray) came back from hunting, carrying a large deer between them. They went home with us to give it to Cora. On the way we met some young men on horses who looked like noblemen (the men, not the horses). “What is that?” one asked. “It’s a deer,” Tao said. “Hunting season doesn’t start until the Feast of Mizran!” the nobleman said, “who told you that you can hunt?” “Lady Ryath Hayan,” I said, “and the king as well!” They rode away, still grumbling, when we showed them the papers. “I hope not al the nobles are like that who come to Turenay for the season!” Amre said. Later Cora said that these were a particularly annoying kind, from the noble house that didn’t even exist any more because the king had abolished it. “I don’t even know if they’re noble any more, but they think so!”-

We brought the deer to Arvi, who said to take it to the school where they had a big fireplace with a spit. Jeran came with a bucket with the deer’s entrails for the dogs –one dog was still with Asa, and Ervan’s dog had come with Sabeh and stayed around, and some dogs from the neighbourhood thought that Arvi would feed them all! But just as Jeran upended his bucket in the trough outside a butcher’s apprentice came with another bucket, “twenty pounds of offal for Doctor Cora!”

At the school dinner was just over, so we could use the fireplace for the deer. The boys stayed in the school kitchen to cook, and we washed in a hurry and were clean when Cora came home. She was very distracted, and it wasn’t until later that it became clear why: Aidan was coming home! She could see him in Halfway, almost a day’s ride south. She had her friend Sinaya from the bath-house come to do her hair, and Sinaya brought her sister and the sister brought her little baby. When Veh saw the baby –very dark like its mother– he took me and Amre aside and said “I don’t believe one moment that Asa’s son had an Iss-Peranian father, his skin and hair are much too light! She might want to talk about things that happened to her, perhaps you can talk to her, it’s something for women, I think.” We promised to talk, but not right away of course because we were far too busy helping to clean the house and getting everything ready. Dayati and little Raisse got their hair done, too, with chains of jewels in it. (It’s a pity that Hinla is too small for that, and moreover her hair is so slippery that anything will fall out at once, even a ribbon.)

We thought that Cora would stay up the whole night waiting, but then she said “He didn’t stop at Halfway! He’s coming here!” Then Arvi said to the boys, “You’d better take the dogs away, and when you’re at the gate anyway tell them that the captain is coming so they’ll leave it open for him or he’ll barge right through!” and they went away, with not only the dogs but also Ebru and Sabeh, “we’ll sleep with the herd!”

Cora sat staring at the front door, but then the back door opened and a man came in who looked a bit like the king, but younger and taller and broader, with curly bright red hair instead of straight dark red hair. If I hadn’t known he was his brother I’d at least have thought he was family! And she was so in love with him. She sat on his knee while he hugged every child that came close enough, even Aine and Arvi. “Do we have more twins, now?” he asked. “And who is that?” –meaning Hinla. Apparently Amre and I didn’t surprise him so much, perhaps because we looked like some of Cora’s friends. But then Veh came in and he was surprised. No opportunity to get it sorted out, though, because Cora got him into the bath and climbed in with him. Jerna said “you go upstairs, I’ll handle things here,” and we went to our room and found Arvi there nursing little Athal, and Selevi from next door as well.

“It’s always the same when Captain Aidan comes back from being away!” Selevi said. She told us that when Cora and Aidan were first in love, they’d spread so much love in the town that three seasons later all the midwives had been working day and night. “She’s learnt to curb it a bit,” she said, “but not much! I’m not going home right now or I won’t sleep a wink! It’s not as if I don’t want any more babies, but he can wait one night.” I think Selevi has twelve or thirteen children! The eldest is a grown man and the youngest is quite a small baby.

We got all the children in our room eventually, except Asa’s little one, and most of them slept in our bed while I sat on the floor with Amre. I couldn’t keep my eyes off her, and after a while not my hands either, so the other women laughed and said “Go next door, you two! We’ll do babysitting duty.”

When we came downstairs in the morning Arvi the housekeeper was there, and she said that none of us had to go to school or even to the hospital, because other doctors had taken over for today. “The town is full of doctors!” she said. “Cora thinks she has to do it all herself, but that’s not true at all!” We all helped her pick up bits of jewellery that Cora had dropped last night. Dayati was best at that, being small with very keen eyes.

I don’t remember much about that day, except that we did go to the hospital at some point but only to look at our prisoner patients, and that Lord Radan sent a message to say that the judging would be the next day. In the afternoon Cora gave Amre and me two riders and told us to go to Ruzyn’s house, “that’s where we go when we want to be alone together without all those children!” It was strange to go to a brothel, but this was a house where you could have someone who worked there in the room with you, but it was mostly for couples to be alone and have something special. There was a room that looked like a ship’s cabin (Amre shuddered at that), and a room that was completely dark when you closed the door, with black silk on all the walls (I shuddered at that) and a room that looked like the palace in Albetire, and a room with nothing but pillows, and a room with a bath almost the size of the whole room. We took the one with all the pillows, and Amre convinced me that I’d be safe in the dark so next time perhaps we’ll go there.

The next day we were called to the trial hall very early. It was in the Temple of Mizran because nowhere else was big enough, except perhaps the school refectory. The prisoners were already there, the nurses had brought the two from the hospital. All of us were called as witnesses, almost the whole Ishey tribe, and we told all we knew about what Lyan had done in Rizenay and after he’d left Rizenay. Lyan was very angry and wouldn’t listen to Lord Radan, “you have no right to judge me, I’ll only be judged by the Order of the Sworn or by the head of my own Guild!” Lord Radan let him choose: be taken to Veray to the Order of the Sworn, or get the head of the Guild of the Nameless. I knew who that was: Serla the weaver, who had chased our goat out of her workshop. “I’ll have the head of the Guild of Archan,” Lyan said, and someone got Serla. She listened to what he had to say and then asked to be excused “to confer with Archan”, and stayed away for a long time, perhaps an hour. When she came back she said to Lyan “You have made two mistakes. One, that you tried to kill the queen; two, that you didn’t succeed.” And then she cut his throat, just like that!

That made me go stiff all over, and I think I fainted or nearly so, because when I was all there again, with Amre holding me, Lyan’s body was gone and most of the blood had been mopped up and Serla wasn’t there any more. Now it was the turn of Lysna and her brother. “Now I wish we’d had the cases the other way round,” Lord Radan said, “we’d have had Lyan as a witness. Please call Lord Moryn for me.” A guard went out and came back with a man who looked as if he’d gone through a lot of bad things, gaunt and wild-eyed, and he took one look at Lysna and said “What did I tell you last time we met? What I would do to you if we met again in Valdyas?” and he turned to Lord Radan and said “Whatever these two are accused of, it’s true,” and he went out looking completely broken. “Lord Radan,” I asked, “can you spare us? I think he needs someone to take care of him.” “Yes, go by all means,” and we caught up with Lord Moryn and went home with him.

Fortunately he could still find his own way home, anyway it was easy because it was very close, in the same street as the school. It was a little perfume shop. There was a middle-aged woman there who had probably been a stunning beauty when she was young and was still very beautiful, and four little kids who looked as if they were half Iss-Peranian, the eldest reading to the other three. The woman took Moryn in her arms and said “Radan should have known not to do that! That war is over. He needs doctor Airath now.” I knew where to find doctor Airath so I ran, while Amre stayed in case she was needed.

Doctor Airath was busy, but his secretary understood that it was an emergency and fetched him. “Yes, of course I’ll come.” When he saw Moryn he was as angry at Lord Radan as Moryn’s wife had been, but he didn’t fume about it, he just sat down with him and talked to him softly. Moryn’s wife took us to the back room with the children, “he’ll be all right now– it’s just too much for him and Radan has rubbed it raw again.” She said she was Ysella, and the little kids were her grandchildren, her daughter had been married to an Iss-Peranian but she’d died of a weak heart. “Uznur is in Valdis,” she said, “on the king’s business, he’s the chancellor of the royal army.” She invited us to come back when Moryn was better, because she wanted to make some scent for us! When we got back the trial was over and everything seemed normal again, we even went to school in the afternoon.

Hospital in the morning and school in the afternoon became the pattern of our lives, with most of the day off (well, the service, the bath-house, and a couple of hospital rounds) on the Day of Anshen. And two days a week we went to Rava’s house for reading and writing lessons, with some craftsmen and craftswomen and also with Jeran and Coran who liked that a lot better than going to school with the little girls. And we went to the house a lot too. Veh and Asa had their own room there now. Cora said that Asa had to learn proper semsin too, but Asa said “Not from Raisse!” because she was terrified of her. “Then ask Vurian at the school, he’s not terrifying at all!” I said, and she did, and got on with him very well.

After a couple of weeks like that –we were really getting used to it!– Cora took us to the meeting of the doctors’ and midwives’ guild. It was in the upper room of the largest and richest-looking inn in town, the Crown, and it was almost too small to fit everybody in. “Next time we’ll have to do it in the Temple of Mizran too,” someone said. There was a jar that every master put a rider in, and every journeyman and apprentice a shilling. We didn’t have any money with us, so Cora paid for us. This was “the pot”, and the first one to be called away during the meeting got everything. Usually it was one of the midwives. Cora introduced us, and we had to tell everything we’d done up to now, who we’d learned from and what we could do. Then we got to write our names at the bottom of the roll where everybody else had already written their names.

Now we were really apprentices in the doctors’ guild! We had to drink to that, of course, and wine was brought up from the inn. Also a lot of food, but when the food came Cora was just telling the midwives about the young woman she hadn’t been able to save, and the Síthi midwife knew what had been wrong and what to do if it happened, and used the sauce from the chicken to draw a picture on the tablecloth. It was so exciting, all those people who knew different things, and nobody felt stupid even if they happened not to know that thing, because we were all learning from each other. The chicken got cold, and someone brought more food from downstairs and that got cold too.

We left long after midnight. The people at the Crown kicked us out when they wanted to clean up and to go bed, but we weren’t done talking. We walked home with Cora and Faran and Lyse and her apprentice, and at the door of Lyse’s house, next to the hospital, we were still talking. We hadn’t known until now that this was also part of being a doctor. One of the best parts, Cora said, and we could both agree because we want to learn new things all our lives.