Apprenticed

They’re learning what it really means to be a doctor: long days and no time for anything, except when you suddenly have time for everything. They won’t be living in the new house any time soon!

Sabeh arrived at the house together with us, looking for all the world like a cat who had got at the cream. She wouldn’t say anything, though, and anyway the housekeeper took one look at her and asked “You’re Ishey too, aren’t you? Do you want to sleep with the men– with the– shall I make a bed for you in the– All right, I’ll make a bed for you.”

There was a delicious smell of food, and people were laying the table– we immediately got things in our hands to put on the table too. The house was very full, there weren’t only Cora’s two friends nursing babies, but two other friends as well! And they were both Iss-Peranian women, Dimani from Albetire who used to be a merchant but was a painter now, married to a Valdyan painter, with her son who was about little Raisse’s size, and a woman whose name I didn’t catch but who made barrels and tubs, together with her husband, for the brewery that Cora owned, with a two-year-old boy and a tiny girl. We all had to sit at the large table because there were so many of us. Arvi pulled out another piece of the table that had been under it, and it reached into the corner with the cushions.

When we were eating some more people came in, a man and a woman dressed in silk and velvet. Cora hugged them, “Halla! Radan! How good to see you! Find a seat and grab something to eat.” And they did exactly that, Radan next to me as it turned out. “I think you are the Lord Radan who is the sheriff and the king’s father,” I said. He did look a bit like the king, though his hair was dark with a bit of grey in it and his nose was larger. “Yes,” he said with a smile, “I’m that Radan.” “We have letters for you,” I said. Amre got them out of the goat bag. First the letter from the court secretary for the town of Turenay, “I’ll read that tomorrow in my office,” Radan said, and then the one from the king to his parents (well, father and stepmother, Lord Radan had married a widow after the queen died), and he handed that to Halla, “and we’ll read that at home, first tell us of your adventures!” So we told the whole story again, Amre talking while I ate and the other way round.

Then, when Radan and Halla had gone and Cora’s friends had taken their babies home, and Jeran was outside talking to Arin, Cora asked us “Do you dance?” “Yes, a little, I learned from my mother,” Amre said. “And she taught me,” I said. “For the gods,” Cora asked, “or for men?” “Only for ourselves,” we said, “and perhaps a little for the gods.” Then Cora said that she and Dimani always disagreed about dancing, because Dimani danced with her clothes on and that wasn’t proper. “We dance with clothes on too,” Amre said. and then we couldn’t agree on how to dance so we decided that we wouldn’t do it now, but Cora would teach us as soon as we all had time. I wondered when that would be– we’d been here for only one day and we were already busy! And then she told us that when she’d just arrived she’d danced in the temple, for Anshen, completely naked because that’s the way you dance for the gods, and how shocked people had been, all because she hadn’t known the Valdyan way of doing things yet.

Cora took us for another hospital round– most people were doing a bit better, the old man with a bad heart who we’d seen the first time had died, but that was to be expected, and the little boy Cora had operated on was awake and hungry. “Then you should eat,” I said. “Black pudding!” Cora said, “do you like that?” “Er, yes,” he said with an anxious glance at Cora; he knew that it wasn’t done to contradict her! We took a whole pile of papers home, which Cora started to sort and write on the moment we got back. “You’ll learn to do that,” she said, “it’s really Khahid’s work but he’s so busy with the school and the Guild, he can’t do all of it.” I looked towards the cradle, but of course it wasn’t little Khahid but Cora’s secretary, who she’d called the baby after.

We ended up in bed eventually, and I woke up very hot from a dream of young men with hair as red as flame. I noticed strange red spots on my arm, they didn’t feel like one of the children’s sicknesses with spots (which we’d talked about at some time in the evening, we’ll probably have to get the ones we haven’t had so we’ll never get them again and can go near the children who have them), more like being hot from love rather than fever. And Amre had spots in her face, too! “You got some extra freckles in the night,” she said when she looked at me, but when I looked into the copper mirror I only saw the ones I knew I had. I thought I’d ask Cora if this was some strange thing that needed to be treated, but once we got downstairs we were both normal again and Cora was sitting in the kitchen looking sheepish. “Did I make you dream?” she asked. “Sorry! I was missing Aidan so much!”

“Today we go downtown,” Cora said, “tomorrow is really my day for it, but I want you to see it first thing.” She took us into the herb-room. “These are poor people, labourers, they are badly nourished, what do we need to take?” She talked us to getting the kit together, medicines for various things, sage, goose-fat, bandage linen, sharp knives, a little flask of brandy “but be careful someone doesn’t steal and drink it!” “Can’t you put something in brandy so it’s so nasty nobody wants to drink it?” I asked, though I think brandy is nasty enough by itself! “Nothing you can add to brandy makes people not want to drink it,” Cora said. I thought of Maile, who had drunk the nasty-smelling brandy from the ship’s stores, and grinned so I had to explain it.

“Can you tell the virtue of a herb with your mind?” Cora asked, and when neither of us understood the question, “can you tell what it does?” We’d never tried so we didn’t know if we could, so she gave us a jar with dried greenish leaves in it and told us to try. I could see that it had virtue, and that it was stronger at the top than at the bottom. When I said that Cora took the jar from me and scowled, “You are right! They should have thrown the old stuff out, not topped it up.” Amre could tell something at least: when she had the jar in her hand she felt a stinging in her mouth as if she’d eaten something far too hot, or the stinging kind of pepper. “That’s what it does!” Cora said. “It works against sores in the mouth. You take a couple of leaves and chew them and keep it under your tongue, then spit it out. Tell me, what do you think happens if you swallow it?” “Your stomach gets sore?” I ventured, but Cora laughed and said “No, you vomit a lot. Which can also be useful. When?” “When you’ve swallowed something poisonous,” we both said– we knew that!

Cora was pleased with us. “It’s good to teach people who have some idea of what they’re doing,” she said. “I’d be so bad at teaching the other kind! I’m not so sure whether I’m good at teaching at all, come to think of it.” Well, as long as we can learn from her, I don’t think I mind whether or not she’s any good at teaching.

When our kit was ready we loaded it on a flat cart pulled by a very old little donkey. I could understand that the hospital had wanted to borrow our mule! Cora sat on the cart too, with little Khahid, but she didn’t need to drive because the donkey knew the way. It was all along the main street again, stopping at the cart where we’d bought pastries earlier from two Síthi boys, but the doctor got more pastries for the same money. “They didn’t cheat you,” she said, “but the hospital always gets a discount.” We also had a basket of apples to give to the poor children; Amre had thought of healthy food, and the doctor had complimented her for the thought and said she always brought apples, and sometimes other food as well. “But we can’t stop them being poor,” she said, “not all of them, anyway. They have to want it, and they’re so used to the way they’ve always lived that most of them don’t. And these are the people who built the town! Are still building it!” She got very worked up, but then we came to a little square with cherry trees –with ripe cherries on them, I wanted to pick some to eat but I didn’t know if the trees belonged to someone who might get angry– and she stopped the cart, or rather made us stop it, and climbed off. “Here’s where the women of easy affection work,” she said, “well, the neat and proper ones, there are some streets there–” pointing “– where it’s not so clean and pleasant.” Well, we’d seen some of that in Valdis with doctor Roushan!

“I’ll introduce you to doctor Erne,” Cora said. We told her we’d already met the doctor, with Master Fian. “Yes, of course,” and then she told us that the doctor and the schoolmaster were very fortunate that they’d met, they’d both been so unlucky in love. The doctor had worked in the cherry-tree square herself, and a nobleman had liked her so much that he proposed to her, and then when she said yes he left her! And the schoolmaster had been married to a wife who didn’t like it that he worked in the school all the time, and she had left him. But now they had one another, and neither minded that the other worked a lot and they still had time to be together.

We went into an alley and then another alley, and there was a door into a room where several women were waiting. “Hey, doctor Cora!” one of them said with an appraising look at us. “Have you brought new girls?” “We’re her apprentices,” Amre said, “we’re not going to work here!” “Pity,” the woman said, “you’re very pretty, you’d do well!” But no, that wasn’t the kind of work that we’d come for. Cora knocked on the other door and a tall woman opened it. This was doctor Sedi, doctor Erne’s assistant. It was a good thing that Cora had warned us that she looked strange, because this woman’s head was shaven and locks of hair were painted on with ink! Her eyebrows, too. I want to cut my hair because it’s warm and it wants to go everywhere I don’t want it to go, but not that short, just so short that it covers my ears but doesn’t touch my shoulders. (Amre says that that will make it stick out in all directions, but I don’t think I mind.)

There was a woman lying on the worktable, naked from the waist down and with her legs apart. We were promptly asked to come and have a look at what was wrong with her, and she turned out to have a kind of little bugs under her skin. “How do you kill those?” I asked, but they were very hard to kill, all you could do was wash with warm sour wine and then keep very clean so they wouldn’t spread. There was a Síthi medicine for it, but it was a root that only kept for a few days after harvesting. “But I’ve written to Princess Ayneth to send me some I can plant,” Cora said, “see if they grow here, after all ginger roots do, too.” “Now don’t let anyone touch you down there,” doctor Erne said to her patient, “use your mouth if you must!” “That’s only one shilling,” the woman said, “otherwise four shillings!” “Then use your toes,” doctor Sedi said, “that’s eight shillings!” “I’ll write a note for your boss, and for all the houses in fact, you must look out for this because it’s rare, but very catching once you have it.”

“What happens if you’re too sick to work?” I asked. “When you work here, I mean?” “It used to be that you either worked anyway or starved,” doctor Erne said, “but the girls look out for each other. They could be better at saving money, though– some of them do have savings, but most of them just spend everything.” “Or you can take up another trade,” Sedi said with a grin. “Like you and me.” Then Cora told us about her friend Doryn who had married the cook of the house where she worked and they’d started an eating-house together.

The next patient was a woman who’d been beaten up badly by a client.. “You should have said no!” doctor Erne said, and doctor Cora backed her, “you know there are things you don’t have to do, even if they pay!” “I did say no but he did it anyway,” the woman said, “and I tried to run away but he grabbed and beat me!” The doctors let me and Amre look at the bruises to see if there was deep-down damage, and we found a hard warm spot somewhere in her belly. “He didn’t hit me there! But it does hurt when you poke it.” Now Cora looked, and said that it was some kind of inflammation and swelling and she had to treat it in the hospital. “Come tomorrow morning,” she said, “it’s not that urgent, but it does have to be done.”

Cora took us to a house close to where we’d first seen Master Fian. This house had a stone floor and parts of the walls were also stone, but the rest of the house had been built from wood on top of it. This must have been a big stone house that had become ruined. A woman came out of the house, carrying baskets of clean laundry. She turned out to be the washerwoman who washed everything for the hospital, called Hinla. “Do you know why we don’t do our own washing?” Cora asked us — another lesson! We’d done enough hospital laundry ourselves to know: because it was better to have someone else take care of it so you’d have your hands free for other work, because the dirty stuff would get mixed up with the clean stuff, because there was simply no room for it, and last but not least because Hinla would now be able to do work and earn money.

We settled down to work, and doctor Cora soon let us do the simple things when she saw that we could, the things a nurse might do, only being a doctor means knowing when something isn’t simple and needs more work. Cora sent a couple of people to the hospital too because she couldn’t treat them right there. After a while a boy came along with a basket of fish, “I don’t need a doctor! My mended foot is still whole. I just wondered if you wanted some fish.” Cora counted on her fingers, “eleven of us– yes, I’ll have the lot. Can you bring them to my house? Arvi will pay you.” The boy went away with a scowl, and Cora said “Arvi probably doesn’t pay him as much as I would have, she knows much better what things ought to cost!”

After everybody who needed a doctor and could walk by themselves had come to us, we went to the houses of people who were too old or too sick to come. One old man’s house was very dirty, though the neighbour had promised to help, and Cora bullied the neighbour into cleaning. That had made her so angry –not the bullying, but that the woman hadn’t kept her promise and nobody else had helped either– that she took us to the edge of the wood, on marshy ground, and said “Now I’ll teach you to make fire!” “Here?” Amre asked. “Isn’t it too wet?” “Then there’s less chance of setting everything on fire!” Cora said, and explained that she was best at heating up something living, like a growing tree. She glared at a pine sapling growing just outside the wood and it burst into flame and burned to ashes! “I can do that with animals and people too,” she said. “Make their blood boil. Very scary.” She’d done it only once– only to give someone a fever and scare him, though he’d mistreated a friend of hers so badly that she’d been tempted to kill him.

“Your turn,” Cora said, but we didn’t even know how to begin. “Well, can you make light?” “Venla can,” Amre said. “Only a little,” I said, “and I don’t even know how I did it, it just happened when I needed it.” “Anyone can learn to make light, really, by the time they’re a master,” Cora said. Then she thought for a moment, and told us to find the centre of our power inside ourselves, the place where it came from. Mine was in the hollow just under my breastbone, the place where you feel butterflies in your stomach. That figures! I realised then that I’d always known, when I put a seal on something it comes from there too. “Now use that to heat up the tree,” Cora said. “Point at it, or just look at it, whatever helps you.” Amre threw a double handful of –something– at the tree, and it did look a bit warmer but that was all. Then I pointed at it and sent a stream of warmth at it, like water, and it smouldered but didn’t catch fire. “Good enough for the first time!” Cora said, and we went to the stream to cool our hands and feet and catch our breath.

“Have you been here before?” Cora aksed, but this wasn’t the part of the wood where we’d been to find a place to build. “I’ve never seen this path before.” There was indeed a path leading into the wood, with two deep grooves as if someone had been hauling a heavy load on runners rather than wheels. We didn’t see any people at first, either with our eyes or with our minds, but Amre found a brick! Then when we looked more closely with our minds –Cora wanted us to look, not only so we’d learn, but because most people knew her and might notice her– we could see a couple of people deep in the wood. Amre and I would probably have gone to investigate if that hadn’t meant leaving Cora alone, and neither of us wanted to go alone, and Cora didn’t want to go into the wood, and anyway we had work to do!

So we took the brick with us and went back to our patients: the old man with the dirty house needed a potion against worms, which I ran to get from Torin at the hospital because we hadn’t brought it, and then we had so much time left over that Cora decided to go to the workplaces to see if everything was all right there, and also to introduce us. “Doctor Jeran has the craft workshops in the north part of town,” she said, “you’ll be working with him as well, we swap our apprentices so everybody gets to learn everything.”

We came to a tanning workshop, where the boss was worried about one of the workers, “Halla hasn’t been herself! She came in this morning but it’s just as if she doesn’t hear you. She’s been throwing up too, I thought it was a hangover but that’s never that bad, is it?” Cora let us do everything ourselves, just asked questions so we’d know what to look for! “I think she may have hit her head on something,” Amre said, because of the way her eyes looked, not like she’d drunk too much or had a stroke. And when we felt her skull carefully we did find a big lump. “Her son works in the ropery down the road,” the boss said, “I’ll send for him.” And soon after a boy of about fifteen appeared (who did look like he had a hangover) who told us that he’d heard a bang in the morning and his mother had been picking herself up from the floor when he went to look. We told him to take his mother home and put her to bed in a dark room, and watch her, and send to us if it looked as if she was becoming less alert. “She can drink water, but nothing else, and she shouldn’t eat anything,” I said, earning approval from Cora.

When we got back to the washerwoman’s house the schoolchildren were just arriving, hoping for pastries and apples. Our own girls were among them, and Sedi and Rani as well, and Master Fian was coming behind. Just as he was telling us that Jeran hadn’t been to school, there Jeran himself came, covered in scratches, and Veh and Asa as well, and two tall young men who were going to help them cut down trees and saw them into boards to build with. “They’re builders,” Veh said, “and they don’t have another job right now so they’ve agreed to help us.”

All of us wanted to wash, and we ended up in a bath-house where we hadn’t been yet, very simple and clean with tiled floors and whitewashed walls. Arvi came to bring us clean clothes! Cora had called Hediyeh at the school to say where we were, and Hediyeh had gone to tell Arvi. I’d already been thinking that I really didn’t want to put my muddy clothes back on, not to mention everything else that a doctor or a nurse gets on her clothes.

In the bath Cora told us how she’d come to Valdyas and fallen in love with Aidan before she knew he was the prince– she’d been told very clearly not to fall in love with the prince! But it had happened, even without using any dandar skill because she hadn’t started learning yet. “I did learn some!” Asa said. “But it didn’t work on Veh, I had to do it the hard way.” Veh put an arm around her and grinned.

“Now you must have axes,” Veh said to me and Amre, and Cora took us to the best toolsmith in town, an old friend of hers. There was a woman outside the house with a very young baby on her arm and a small boy and a smaller girl were playing in the sand. Cora hugged the woman, Maile, also a friend, head nurse in the hospital when she didn’t have such a little baby. “I’ll be back in a few weeks!” she said. “Nice of you to come, are these the new apprentices?” Cora introduced us, while Veh and Jeran (and also Asa, but without letting on) admired the knives and tools on the display shelf. The smith himself was a master in the Guild of Anshen, but there was something strange about him, a touch of the Nameless, and really bad scars from something I couldn’t determine. (Cora told us later that he’d been with the Nameless for most of his life, and that someone had tried to take all his anea away; the king and queen had prevented that, and it had brought Mernath over to Anshen.)

We were measured, and we had to pick up heavy things and push against the smith’s hands to figure out exactly how strong we were. The smith was surprised that we were both so strong, but that comes from nursing and doctoring and travelling, I suppose. And hunting as well. Veh showed his axe, and the smith said “Yes, I can do that, come back in a week.” Then Jeran was measured for an axe too, even if he was likely to grow a lot, because he couldn’t work on the house without one. Veh picked up a small sharp knife, made of wonderfully light metal, it weighed hardly anything! “This is splendid,” he said, “how do you make that?” “Ah, that’s my secret,” the smith said, “come and be my apprentice and I’ll teach you!” But Veh didn’t want to become a smith so he’d never learn.

Back at the hospital there was the woman who was supposed to come the next morning! “I didn’t expect you yet,” Cora said, but she’d wanted to come in early because she really couldn’t work that evening, and if she’d stayed her boss would have made her. So we found her a bed in the women’s ward.

At home we found Jerna who had done all the cooking (as Arvi whispered to us when we came in). Most of it was fish cooked in different ways, dished up as if it was Iss-Peranian food (though it was Valdyan food). Everything was very good! Raisse came to dinner too, with a girl about who used a little cart to push herself along on because she couldn’t walk, and another girl who I’d seen among the schoolchildren. The girl who couldn’t walk was Halla and the other girl Lyse, and they both lived with Raisse. I could see that Halla was very gifted, but perhaps a bit shy. I sat down next to her so we could talk –it was very noisy with all the children– and we found out that we liked one another a lot. She hadn’t had an illness that made her legs useless, like some other people I’d seen, but she’d been born that way, perhaps because she and her brother hadn’t had enough room in their mother’s womb together. (This brother is Arin who is in Valdis to learn building and doesn’t write letters.)

As we were washing the dishes –Jerna didn’t have to, she’d done all the cooking, Cora sent her away to go dancing– there was a knock on the door, and a girl who looked like an apprentice said “Doctor Cora? Lyse would like you to come and help.” She went at once, looking worried. (Asa could tell us that Lyse was a midwife, because she’d already seen her. And she turned out to be Raisse’s daughter.)

When Cora was gone, Raisse beckoned me to come and sit with her. I was anxious because I thought this was going to be the serious talk that she wanted to have with me– I wanted Amre with me! Fortunately Amre came over too, even before I had time to ask. But it wasn’t the serious talk, I think, though she did say something serious: “You must take care of yourself– we grand masters tend to keep going, I know it from experience, and Cora has that tendency too. She’s already been sick for a couple of days from overwork more than once. Being a doctor makes it worse.” I could only nod and say I’d try, and then remembered doctor Serla at the war hospital in Albetire who had worked herself to death. “She sent us home to sleep, but now I think she never got any sleep herself!” “That’s exactly the point,” Raisse said, “you have to know when to stop and do it. I know that’s hard, especially when you’re still an apprentice and you see your master going on and on.”

Cora didn’t come back until very late when all the children were in bed, the guests had left, and we were sitting at the table with Arin and Arvi and the babies. Arvi the housekeeper had gone home with her own Arin, and Jerna was still out dancing. Then Cora was suddenly there, her clothes sticky with blood, and she pulled them off and tossed them in the bath while the nearest person, I think Veh, opened the water hatch. “It was so horrible!” she cried. “They’re both dead, I couldn’t do anything.” “The mother and her baby?” I asked. “Yes, she was only fourteen, the baby was lying wrong, one leg forward and we couldn’t turn him.” Amre and I hugged her each on a side, and Asa came and hugged all of us together. “Would you like us to sleep with you tonight?” we asked. “Oh yes,” she said, “I don’t want to be alone.” Not that she would be alone with all of the children in bed, but we knew what she meant, and when we were all clean again we went upstairs and pushed the children aside who were already there, and slept in Cora’s big bed, Amre and I with Cora between us, as if we were all sisters.

In the morning we were up early, but the maids had already taken the children downstairs! (Cora told us later that they always did that to give her and Aidan a chance to make love without all those little ones in the bed.) Both pairs of twins were eating bread and honey at the kitchen table, and Lyse came from next door to pick them up to go to school. Jeran was already gone –with Veh and Asa– to work on the house. He’d never get to school at this rate! But he wanted to learn all the other things, too. Our babies were both asleep in the crib, looking satisfied, but little Khahid was flailing around and started to cry when Cora came down. Clearly Arvi could feed two but not three!

After the morning round in the hospital Cora first took us to the shoemaker, behind the house of Dimani the painter who had been at the house the other night, because we were both wearing very worn shoes and that was awkward to work in the hospital with. And mine were much too small, because I got them in Solay, I think from Princess Ayneth herself, and I’d grown since then, my feet too! Cora picked out simple shoes with a strap over the foot, the same kind that she was wearing herself (well, carried them in her hand most of the time) because those were practical and still pretty. We could pick out a colour, they had different dyed skins hanging on a rack to choose from. Beautiful dark green, to go with my light green skirt from Valdis.

“Now I want to go to the temple,” Cora said, “breakfast is over at the school, everybody is in class, it’ll be quiet enough to dance for Anshen now.” The eating-hall with the temple was indeed empty, but Cora sealed it just in case. Then she went to the fire and took off all her clothes and danced! It was clearly a prayer, and Amre and I prayed too but we didn’t dare dance, not yet, not until we’d practiced dancing for Anshen.