Along the Rycha
The player knew what was going on; the character not until it was well and truly finished.
When everybody was preparing for the party, two men on horses rode into the village. One was clearly a farmhand on a farm horse, the other one who was riding a proper riding-horse we recognised, we’d seen him in the hospital at Veray! He recognised us, “you were here before me!”
“Yes,” we said, “we were going this way anyway! Would you like to see the patient?”
“Sure,” he said, and he had to concede that he couldn’t have done what we had done, at least not what Amre had done: anybody could have fixed the shoulder if they knew what they were doing, and any capable doctor could have coped with the inflammation and fever. But the knee was Guild master’s work, and this doctor from Veray wasn’t even gifted. He was a bit envious, of course, but when it dawned on him that he could only stay because it was already growing late he joined the feasting like everybody else. “It’s a couple of days of work that I’ve missed!” he said. “But I must say that the food is good.”
Not so early in the morning he went back to Veray and we went on to Gralen. The road didn’t run as close to the river here, but through rolling fields planted with something green and tendrilly that didn’t look like vines, but that the goats were very interested in. “Goats aren’t allowed to eat that!” I said, and Monster stood between the billy-goat and the delicious plants at once.
A woman working in the field stepped into the road when she saw us. “Strangers!” she said with a grin. “I’m Jerna. On your way to Gralen? I’ll call Ervan so he knows to expect you. All those animals! Are you Ishey or something?”
“Yes,” we said, “from the Ishey house in Turenay.”
There were strange buildings in the fields, looking most like the body of a windmill, some round, some six- or eight-sided, with a pointy roof on top. We didn’t ask Jerna about them, because before any of us could think of it she’d gone about her work again.
Over the next hill there was a sprawl of buildings, from small sheds to what almost looked like a manor-house with stables and more sheds built against it, and a huge barn with a sweet malty smell coming from it. People came to greet us: a young woman in a striped apron, carrying a jug. “Welcome! Jerna told Ervan we were having guests. You can put your mules and sheep and goats in that pen there.” There was an old donkey in the pen already, but it didn’t seem to mind, and the mules got friendly with it at once.
“Are you Ishey?” a girl of about ten asked.
“Do you know about Ishey?”
“Yes, they’re the tall black people who are always lying. But you’re not very tall,” and she looked more closely, “or very black either.”
“We are Ishey, though,” Amre said, “from Turenay. Our king says that no Ishey should travel without a herd.”
“And we don’t always lie either,” I said. Tall black people? Mazao and Veh were the blackest of the tribe; Mazao was broad rather than tall, and Veh was a bit taller but not much.
“We had an Ishey here a while ago,” the young woman with the jug said, “he had a Brun wife and a herd of one sheep. He was very tall, and he could boast better than any village grandfather.”
That made me laugh. “That’ll be Jalao,” I said, “I’ve never met him but I heard a lot about him in Turenay.”
There was very good beer in the jug, and we got bread and soft fresh sausage too. Our children were already running off with the brewery children, and the middle-aged man who was coming in our direction sent a young man after them. “Just so they don’t run into the barn,” he said, “lots of dangers there that they won’t know about even if ours do. Welcome. I’m Ervan.”
We named our names and told him that we were doctors from Turenay.
He laughed. “We don’t need a doctor here, not now at least, everybody is healthy!”
“Oh, but we’re on our way to Tal-Serth,” I said, and because I could see that this man was to be trusted, “and then to Tylenay to found a hospital.”
“Tylenay! Poor things! Well, enjoy yourselves while you’re here, Jerna will find you a place to sleep. And I’ll show you round the brewery if you’re interested.”
Yes, we were interested! Ervan took us into the barn, where brewing in various stages was going on, and explained everything — too much to remember all, though I’d seen brewing on a smaller scale at home, of course. “Oh!” I suddenly remembered. “What are the strange buildings in the fields?”
“What strange buildings? Show me?” And I did. “Those are the hop-drying towers. In the hop fields.”
“Oh, it’s hops growing there! No wonder the goats were so interested.”
“Yes, we used to get our hops from Turenay but my father-in-law started planting some of our own and it’s taken beautifully. Goats do love it, it’s hard to keep them away.”
“We’ve noticed that! Fortunately we’ve got a good dog.”
“Yes, I’ve seen that dog. Northern wolfhound?”
“Mostly. And some of every other kind of enormous dog.” The pure wolfhounds of the tribe were large enough already, but Monster came easily to my armpit.
“Now this is what we’re most proud of, our cooling basin,” Ervan said.
It was a shallow square basin made of hammered copper, about thirty feet on each side. “That must have taken a coppersmith half a year to make,” I said.
“It’s completely seamless,” Ervan said, which made me change my estimate to three coppersmiths. He explained why it needed to be seamless — not only so it wouldn’t leak, but also because if any of the not-quite-ready beer got into the seams it could go bad and taint the rest. And it needed to be so large and shallow to make the beer cool quickly, so it couldn’t go bad while it was all exposed to the air. I was beginning to understand that brewing was as exact a science as medicine.
When we came out of the brewery, all the children — not only our own — were in the pen with the animals, admiring two very new kids, a billy and a nanny! We’d known that one of the goats was with young, but not when it would happen — a good place for it, much better than on the road.
Dinner was in the huge kitchen, fresh bread and more of the soft sausage and young greens and stewed pork. “Trotters in beer,” Jerna said. Of course in beer! It was delicious. Afterwards, everybody gathered for evening prayers, gifted or not. It was a prayer to Anshen — everybody gifted was in our Guild. Serla stayed near the wagon, praying defiantly to the Nameless.
Later we saw her and Jeran sparring with semsin. Hinla and her friend from the brewery — a girl about her age called Venla — were mirroring them, but with their hands only, not with their minds. She’s strong! Stronger than me! Jeran thought to me, but that was too much of a distraction and Serla threw him headlong into the mud. She was courteous enough to offer him a hand to pull himself up by.
Jeran stayed with the herd — that’s what Ishey herdsmen do when there are new kids or lambs, after all — but the rest of us got a room upstairs in the manor-house, with a feather bed!
We woke up at cock-crow, because the beastly bird did its crowing on our windowsill! And we all needed the chamber-pot, but Yulao beat the rest of us to it so I stayed with him while Amre and Serla took the little girls downstairs. Once we got down too I saw that there was a privy with half a dozen places, but a queue to use it. Once we were done there was another queue at the pump for washing. “If it was summer we could all go wash in the river,” a young man said, “well, in the pool, that’s how I first met Doctor Cora…” And a young woman cuffed his ear for that. “I was fourteen!” he said, “I’d never seen any woman in the nude, and anyway you were only twelve then!”
When we left, Ervan gave us a barrel of beer so large that Serla had to curl herself around it in order to sleep in the wagon. We put the kids in a large basket — they were probably too little to think of chewing a way out — and stopped every two hours so they could drink milk. That made it three full days to Tal-Serth instead of the day and a half that it usually took! But it felt so much like a holiday that we didn’t mind.
We passed the village of Gralen, which wasn’t any larger than the brewery. One house had a seal of the Nameless on it, so we asked Serla “do you want to visit?” but she said that she was with us, she had no business with them.
On the second day we passed a village so we went into it to see if we could get water from the well, buy some provisions, and especially to see if we could help anyone. The priestess of Naigha suffered from the usual old women’s rheumatism, so we could help her! I showed Serla where there was chalky stuff between the little bones of the back, and how to push it out. “That helps!” the priestess said, and yes, she was a lot more limber. We admired her nice bright temple, and she said that her mother who had been priestess before her had made people set windows high in the walls for the light, “we have to read and write, don’t we? Can’t do that without enough light. Not that my old eyes can manage even with enough light. I should have asked for help from Veray twenty years ago, but well, you know how that goes, don’t you?”
Yes, we did, indeed. “But there are lots of young priestesses working as nurses in the hospital in Turenay,” I said, “I’ll write to ask if they can spare one to help you. There are six, seven of them each year, I’m sure they’re not all spoken for already!”
The priestess gave us a shilling for our work, and Serla wanted to write it in our book. “What do you want, write the cases and the money matters as they happen, or have separate sections for cases and money?” she asked. Amre had already written all our expenses in Veray at the back of the book, so we thought it was better to have all the money at the back and the cases at the front.
We hadn’t gone half an hour from that village when two men on horses overtook us and blocked our way on the road. They were both in the Guild of the Nameless, a master and a journeyman. I looked at Serla to see if she knew them, but she shook her head.
“You don’t need to be afraid,” the master said, “we’ve come to rescue you!”
“But I don’t need to be rescued!” Serla protested. “And I’m not afraid at all!”
“You don’t have to go with these servants of the Nameless,” the master said.
“But I’m their apprentice! They’re really good doctors and I’m going to be a really good doctor too!”
“They’re not coercing you?” He beckoned to Serla to follow him. She looked over her shoulder at us. “I want to talk to you in private,” he said, and Amre and I nodded, and they talked for a while out of earshot while the journeyman stayed with the wagon, glaring.
Then Serla came back, looking angry but satisfied. “I convinced him,” she said, but wouldn’t tell us more.
The master followed her. “I must apologise to you,” he said. “We were concerned that you were kidnapping this young woman, but she’s been very clear that she’s with you of her own will and with her mother’s consent.”
“Thank you,” I said, “it’s good to see decent people in your Guild.”
“That goes for us, too,” he said, a bit reluctantly.
Serla spent some time in the wagon, thinking, writing and scratching the little goats behind the ears. “We’ll have to get a cat when we have the hospital,” she said, “so she can have kittens in the goat basket, we’ll never get it clean again!”
“We’ll only use it for dirty laundry until then,” I said. “But a cat is a good idea! Mice are such dirty creatures that you don’t want any in a hospital.”
Then we saw Tal-Serth from the distance, or at least we saw the clouds of smoke above it. When we entered the village it turned out to be divided in two, one part an ordinary village with houses and a temple of Naigha and a large prosperous-looking inn, the part on the river bank taken up with huge sheds and workshops, which the smoke was coming from. In front of the inn three men and a woman were drinking beer, all old, most of them wth visible scars.
“Good day!” we said to them, and after some pleasantries we knew that we were very welcome here, because Doctor Cora hadn’t been for three years and the foreman, Aine, would welcome a checkup of all the workers like Doctor Cora used to do. Well, we could do that! But what we needed first was a place to put the herd, and a place to sleep, and something to eat.
“Put the animals on my grandson’s farm,” the oldest of the men said, “just down this alley past the inn and up the hill a bit. Ferin’s his name, tell him Grandpa Arin said you could.”
We all went, leading the mules, and found the farmer working in a field near the house. “Do you happen to be Ishey?” he asked, and when we all burst out laughing, “There’s the meadow up there, if you don’t mind there’s a horse in it already.”
The horse was old and mellow and made friends with the mules at once. The kids, released from their basket, frolicked all round the field before coming to their mother for milk, tails wagging. Monster looked around warily, then sighed and plopped down in the gate so we had to move her to close it.
Ferin’s wife came to bring us bread and weak beer and more of the fresh soft sausage that we’d had everywhere else — pity that it wasn’t dry sausage, I liked it so much that I’d have liked to buy some to take with us. “Goodness, is that a dog?” she asked.
“No, it’s a monster,” I said.
Hinla protested: “Monster is her name!”
The woman laughed, “Good name! Will you stay with us, or at the inn?”
“I’m staying with the herd,” Jeran said, but we wanted the children to get a good night’s sleep — that would be hard if they could sneak out to pet baby goats — and if we were going to talk to Aine, it would be better to be where she was likely to turn up.
The landlady of the inn was happy to see us. “You’re doctors? We need your help– my daughter-in-law had a baby a couple of weeks ago, and she won’t stop bleeding, the midwife’s tried and the priestess of Naigha too and they can’t do anything. You’re semte doctors, right? I think Doctor Cora could have helped.”
“She taught us,” Amre said, “so we’ll see what we can do.”
The landlady took us upstairs, Serla trailing behind. One of the maids caught the children, “we have a cat in the kitchen who’s got kittens, do you want to see them?” That was so much of an attraction that they hardly looked at us for permission. “Don’t worry, we’ll take care of them,” the maid said.
We went into a room that stank, even though the window was open and there were bunches of herbs hanging in all the corners. “Hinla?” the landlady said, “I’ve got doctors from Turenay here.”
In the bed there was a young woman with a little baby. “I don’t blame him!” she said.
“Of course not,” I said. The baby looked healthy and happy. “You do have enough milk, right?”
“Yes,” she said, “it’s just that I’m still bleeding like anything, it’s not as if Mother here doesn’t keep the bed clean, but she puts a clean sheet under me and it’s all soaked again!”
We turned the sheet back. “May I wash?” Serla said.
“Yes,” I said, “get two buckets of hot water, one with sage and one plain, and the softest soap they have, and as many clean linen cloths as you can carry.” We heard her run downstairs noisily, and we looked Hinla over without touching her while she was away. Everything seemed to be torn, but before she was washed we couldn’t even see that properly.
Serla came back remarkably quickly. “They were already boiling water in the kitchen! And the kittens are so cute.” She started to wash her hands unasked.
“Well done,” we said, and washed our own. Then we let Serla do most of the washing of the patient. She did that thoroughly, biting her lip all the time.
“Do I wash inside as well?”
“Not yet,” I said. “Let’s see what we have to do.” Meanwhile, Amre was holding Hinla’s hand, soothing her. “I don’t mind if it hurts,” Hinla said, “it can’t hurt much more than it does now!”
“I’m afraid this is your last child,” I said, because even if I could mend some of the ruin I wasn’t sure I could mend all. The womb was intact — she could probably carry another child — but bearing it was likely to kill her. I’d be able to tell her everything when we were finished. “Still, it doesn’t have to hurt so much. Serla, can you get some brandy?”
This time she stayed away a lot longer, and came back upset, carrying a small flask. “The boss said he’d put it on the bill! And it’s for his own daughter-in-law! It’s not as if we’re going to get drunk on it!”
“We’ll work that out with him later,” I said, “at least we’ve got it now. There’s money for things we need.” Amre gave Hinla some of the brandy to drink and we wet a cloth with some more. “Can you put her to sleep, Amre?” I asked, but Hinla resisted — not consciously, I think — until we tried it together.
Now I went inside with my mind, showing Serla at the same time what we were going to do. “Now I can wash inside!” she said.
“Yes; careful, leave the healthy parts alone as much as you can because we need there to be something if we’re going to repair it. We can’t make flesh and skin, only make whole what’s broken.” I gave her gloves of ryst like Cora had done for us when we couldn’t make them ourselves yet. “You should still wash your hands, the gloves only protect you, but what you’ve touched can get on a place you’ve already cleaned.”
She nodded and worked on, missing only one place where scar tissue was trying to grow where no flesh ought to be. “There’s no way you could have known that,” I said, “it’s not something we can mend, but something that doesn’t belong there.” I took the moon-sickle knife from the Veray kit to cut the flesh away. “Brandy. And then we mend.”
So we mended. I did most of the mending, with Serla and Amre giving me strength when I ran out, because there was no way more than one of us could have worked on Hinla’s devastated body together. I must have called on Anshen at some point, because he was there, making me stronger still. Serla didn’t notice; she must have understood what I said last time, do the work and concentrate only on that.
A maid brought a couple of lamps because it had grown dark; we hadn’t noticed. “Thank you,” I said, “and can we have two new buckets of hot water?”
It was so much work. Difficult precision work, like Amre’s mending of Rovin’s knee. I was glad of Serla, who was a very good apprentice, doing exactly what I asked her to do but not without thinking.
Then it was done. Hinla tried to sit up, and Amre steadied her with an arm. “It doesn’t hurt at all any more!” she said.
“You’re whole,” I said, and knew that it was true.
The landlady was in the doorway — how long had she been there? — and we let her come in to change the sheets once again. This time they stayed clean; there was perhaps a trickle of what looked like water and could well be nothing but water and brandy.
“I think I ought to eat something,” I said, because I was swaying on my feet. What time was it? Night, I supposed. But I got to the kitchen somehow and got a large bowl of cool water, which I drank most of and upended the rest over my head, and something to eat that I don’t remember but it must have been filling.
“Congratulations,” Amre said. What? Oh right, it had been my master’s trial, of course, I had it coming. No wonder that it had been me doing all the hard things and teaching while I was at it.
It turned out that we had a room called “the lords’ room”, because that’s where any nobility that came to Tal-Serth slept. It had a bed large enough for all of us — in fact the children were already in it, though they woke up when we got in — and a privy in the room itself. We didn’t get to enjoy it for long, though: the children woke us up, and though we had enough food and drink in the room we did want to go out and wash, and check on our patient.
Hinla looked all right: weak, but no longer feverish, and she hadn’t bled at all in the night. “It’ll take you a whole season to recover,” I said, “don’t let your husband persuade you too soon. And if he wants to, tell him the doctor said no.”
“If I can manage! He said he’ll go to the whores if he can’t have me.”
“If I were you I’d get another man,” I said, quite bitterly.
“That would mean another house, another family! My mother and his mother are best friends, and my mother-in-law is a good woman.”
The baby was squirming in the crib and Serla handed him to Hinla to nurse. “What’s his name?” she asked.
“He doesn’t have one yet, I couldn’t stand up for the name-giving! And it’s not as if his father cares.”
“What’s today?” I said. “Day of Anshen, I make it. Well, next Day of the Mother you can probably stand up long enough to do it.”
“You’ve got children here, don’t you? Can I meet them?”
When we were going downstairs to fetch them we met Hinla who was on the way up with a kitten in her shirt. “We can take a kitten with us! They’re big enough to leave their mother. This is the best one, she climbed all the way up my skirt.”
“I want the other one!” Yulao said. “That’s the best one. She’s got a white bit on her chin and a white tip on her tail!”
“Well, if they’ll let us take both it’s all right, two cats catch twice as many mice,” I said. “Would you like to see a cute little baby?” And yes, both of them and Asusu too went to meet the cute little baby and his mother.
Jeran met us at the kitchen door. “Are we staying another day? Because two of the sheep are lambing.”
“Yes, we’re going to look at all the workers today. We’ll probably stay tomorrow as well.” So we’d have any number of lambs as well as the baby goats, at least two but it could be up to six! “Better see if you can make a crate or something to put them all in. Then we can put the cats in the goat basket. If they don’t climb out.”
At the glassworks we found everything in order already: the scullery of the large communal kitchen scrubbed, with a large sanded table, seats for us and the patients, a little table with writing materials and the book that Doctor Cora had used, the last entry three years ago. The first lot of workers were already waiting. “Take me first,” Aine said, “I’ll set an example. There are seventy-two workers, counting me.”
She had scars, of course — one couldn’t do this work for long without some burns and scrapes — and a badly healed break in one ankle, at least thirty years ago, which explained her slight limp. But she was completely healthy. So were most of the workers — the usual little things, yes, but not much vermin and only one woman who needed copper ointment. “But I only sleep with my own man!” she said.
“Then he must have had someone else,” Amre said. “At least once.”
“Oh! There was this lute-player at the feast — I was drunk, and my man was –”
“Too drunk to know where his bed was?”
She scowled. “I suppose he needs copper ointment too. He’s in the next shift.”
We sent her to tell him the bad news — they’d probably have an argument anyway, but solving that wasn’t our work.
Serla was doing all the writing in the book, asking all the right questions. When we were having a break between shifts she asked “Amre? May I borrow your little mirror?”
“Of course,” Amre said, looking intrigued. After a while Serla came back with a drawing of her own private parts in her own notebook, childish but clear and detailed, exactly what a healthy twelve-year-old girl looked like between the legs.
“Very good! Now can you draw from memory what Hinla looked like when we were finished with her?”
“I’ll try that, but not now, I have work to do here!”
There was only one woman who we really had to send to Turenay because she had nasty growths in her breasts. If we’d had the whole hospital we could perhaps have done it ourselves, but we’d much rather leave it to Cora who had the resources and the experience.
At the end of the day, there were eighty-five entries in the book. And we were sure that Serla hadn’t made any mistakes!
We found Aine talking to a man who looked like a rich merchant. When she saw us she excused herself and came to talk to us. “Yes,” she said, “that happens, people send their family as well when the doctor’s there! But it’s hardly ever more than a dozen.”
“Tal-Serth should really have a doctor of its own,” I said, “even though the people are healthier than I thought they would be! The work is so hard and dangerous.”
“Yes, we take care of our people. Have you seen the row of cottages at the end of the village? That’s where the people live who are too old to work. You won’t see that in Tylenay.”
“We talked to someone from Tylenay who said ‘if they can’t work they can go elsewhere, we’ve got enough workers!'” I said.
“That would be Ruyin? Yes, he’d say that. The difference is, here everything belongs to all of us together, there’s not one owner or a couple of owners. Every worker has their share. We all take care of each other. And all the rules are in the rulebook, like the law, if you’re not sure of something you can look it up.”
“Can I see the rulebook?” Serla asked.
“Of course! And I’ll show you round the works while I’m at it.”
There were five glass-melting ovens, but only three were working. “We clean every one each week, and it needs a day to cool, half a day to clean and half a day to fire up again. We could do with two more ovens but we don’t have the people to work them.”
And if every worker had their share, it would be hard to get workers from other places, I could understand that.
I told the children to stay outside, “you may look in from the doorway, you may ask questions, but any of you who sets only one foot over the doorstep will go back to the kitchen at once and stay there!” And they behaved wonderfully. I don’t know what we’ve done to give them such good manners, but we definitely did something right!
We saw all kinds of different glassware being made, and that made us remember what we were in Tal-Serth for besides checking the workers’ health. Aine knew what the hospital in Veray had ordered, and she promised to give us a sampler of everything, and once we were settled we could have the same again at no cost — as payment for our work — and order as much more as we needed at the normal price. That sounded good!
That night the merchant had the lords’ room, so we slept in the farm’s hayloft where there was hardly any hay left. Jeran spent the night with the herd again: there were five new lambs, three black and two white.
The next morning we went to visit the old people in the cottages. One man wasn’t so old, not yet sixty, but he’d lost a leg in an accident and had moved in with his father. The last was a very old woman, “ah, you’re together, good! I like to see beautiful girls being happy. I’ve kissed a lot of pretty girls in my life.” She’d been foreman of the glassworks for thirty years, “but my youngest daughter does that now.”
“Oh! You’re Aine’s mother!”
“Yes, I am. And I’m proud of my little girl, she’s doing a very good job.” She shuffled to the back of the room and got out a handful of something that glittered. “This is something I made a while ago. I made the beads myself, but the silverwork is from Iss-Peran, I’ve been told. I’d like you to have it because you’ve been so good for us.” And she gave each of us a necklace of colourful glass beads linked with bits of wrought silver.
“Yes, it’s from Iss-Peran,” Amre said, “I made things like that when I was younger!”
The old woman raised her eyebrows. “Really?”
“Yes, I was a jeweller before I became a doctor. In Albetire.”
“And I was a sailmaker,” I said. We thanked the old woman and left her shaking her head at such strange young doctors.
It turned out that Serla had coaxed Jeran to help her copy everything from the rulebook that would be relevant for us — not the history, but the rules about who was responsible for what, and what to do when various things happened. And Amre and I were without any work! It was splendid spring weather, so we found a sunny spot in the meadow with frolicking lambs and goats and the children playing on the other end, and had a bit of a holiday.
The farm-wife — not the young one we’d seen on the first day, but a middle-aged woman who might be Ferin’s mother — came to bring us food and drink. “You remind me of my daughter,” she said, “she and her lover have an orphanage on the other side of the Rycha, for the boat people’s children.”
Hinla wanted to know what an orphanage was. “That’s sad!” she said. “Children ought to have parents!”
“Yes,” I said, “but if their parents have died or can’t take care of them, it’s a good thing when there are other grown-ups who can. All your brothers and sisters from the North who are Asa’s children now, that’s like an orphanage because their first parents wouldn’t take care of them.”
Hinla thought about that for a while and nodded. “It’s good. Not sad.”
“Do you want an orphanage as well as the farm?” Amre asked me with a grin. “Apart from the hospital, of course?”
“Of course,” I said, “then the orphans can tend the farm while we run the hospital!”