Asa’s house

Ten hours on a train (well, two different trains) is very good for writing. Though I didn’t have an electric outlet on the way out so I had only about an hour and three-quarters that I could actually write in. This was more than compensated for by the first-class compartment with electricity and plenty of room that we had on the way back (actually cheaper than second class with a special-offer ticket).

They’re in Turenay now! End of the campaign is near, unless we want a very different campaign that we’ve been having until now.

Just back from the war, and there were more patients for us! The queen didn’t know much about doctoring, but fortunately she did know how to clean and bandage a wound, so our work was easy: two head wounds, sword cuts and things that needed stitches, and a broken arm. “What happened?” I asked, and Sabeh said that Lyan and some other people of the Guild of the Nameless had come and asked for an audience with the queen because great injustice had been done to them, and of course the queen had granted that, and they’d drawn weapons the moment they were inside. “I hope Lyan got cut up too,” I said, but Sabeh said that he’d stayed at the back.

When we were finished we looked at one another and said, almost at the same time: “Sleep! A bath! Food!” So we went back to Jeran’s mother’s house, where there was a tub of hot water –Jeran had run ahead, of course– and soup and straw pallets. Jeran’s mother knew something we didn’t know yet: “Those boys of yours are off to chase Lyan.” “So he’s run away?” Amre asked. “Yes, to the east. They’ve gone after him with some people from here, and a couple of the king’s soldiers, and those huge dogs.” I wondered how long we’d have to wait, but then Veh came, with one dog, and said that the queen wanted us to go to Turenay right away, with Arvi, and that Tao and Mazao would probably take the eastern route to Turenay whether or not they caught Lyan. “There’s a kind of fort on that road,” he said, “and it used to be full bandits, all of the Nameless. but the lord of Turenay went and cleaned them out, and even came as far as Rizenay. He’s the king’s father.” I boggled at that, until I realised that the king was still young so his father probably wasn’t really old either.

So we didn’t go to bed just yet, but packed our wagon and made sure we had everything we needed to travel. Jeran’s mother said we’d better stay here if we had to go off early in the morning, so we’d all be together. “Will you have time to look at Coran?” Airyn said, and we went to her house where Coran was sitting with his foot on a stool, scowling. “I’d have gone on my crutches to fight them!” he shouted. “That coward!” It wouldn’t have been a good idea, though his knee was healing well. “Give it time,” we said, and hugged him and Airyn and the maid and little Jichan and went back to Jeran’s house.

Now Jeran’s father was home as well. “We’ve been talking it over, Jeran and I,” he said. “We’re glad to have him back –and we’d like to keep him– but well, he’s grown such a lot, and he’s got things of his own to do.” “So I’ll drive you to Turenay and go to school there and come back every summer when the school is closed,” Jeran continued. “Asa and Veh need to come here in summer anyway, they’re going to need a driver too!” That was great, not only because of Jeran but also because I hadn’t been looking forward to having Arin as driver, he wasn’t gentle enough with our poor little mule and our worn wagon. “So I’ll go and tell the schoolmaster that I won’t be coming back, right?” and he was gone, leaving all of us grinning.

Finally we went to sleep, for what sleep we got with so many people trying to share the loft and babies waking up all the time. We got up early, so we could go and see the queen first– even if she’d sent us away, it wasn’t done to leave without a word! She was already holding audience in the temporary royal palace. With guards and all: some were her young bodyguards, looking very proud, some were ordinary royal soldiers. “Girls!” she said. “How good to see you!” We said that we were off to Turenay that very moment, and she told us that it was an easy straight road all the way to Valdis and gave us a purse full of silver. “Travel money,” she said, and hugged us, and then the king came from the back room, his eye now bandaged with only a strip of linen, and hugged us too. “It’s just like Ildis,” he said, “we have to stay for a while to put things right.” And they both looked as if there was a lot to put right and they weren’t looking forward to it.

I knew that there was something I’d intended to ask, and remembered it at the very last moment: “We have a paper that says we may hunt, could we also have a paper that says we’re allowed to settle somewhere? So nobody can chase us away when we build an Ishey village?” I thought then that perhaps Mazao should have that paper, but when I said that the king said “Mazao already has one, yes, but it’s a good thing if you have it too, so you can settle if you’re in Turenay before they are.” And they got a clerk to write it, and sealed it with wax and with their mind and gave it to Amre to put in her goatskin bag. And then they also talked to Asa and Veh and Jeran and Arni and Arin and the little girls, so it was quite some time before we could really be away. There was a little problem with the herd– Tao and Mazao weren’t there to take charge of it with Veh, and anyway they were sheep and Veh preferred goats, and it would be a hassle to travel with them. So we decided to give them to Jeran’s parents.

We were a large company again: Sabeh and Atash were coming with us. “I haven’t seen this part yet,” Atash said, “and there are maps of it but I don’t think they’re accurate, just like in Lenyas.” It was true that the road was straight and easy. First we saw White Tower a bit to the west off the road, and decided to go there and see if we could spend the night there instead of at an inn. They were very glad to see us, and we ate mutton and told everything they hadn’t heard yet, and the people from White Tower who had been at the fight told us things we hadn’t heard yet. “Would you like to sleep in a bed with linen sheets tonight,” the old lord’s daughter asked us, “or do you prefer the hay-loft?” Well, a bed with linen sheets was very tempting, and we got a room with a huge bed, but still not everybody fitted in it so some people had to sleep on the floor, but nobody minded. The sheets smelt of lavender, and then I remembered that I’d wanted to buy Lord Fian a piece of sandalwood soap to give to his wife. Well, perhaps I’d be able to buy some in Valdis or Turenay and send it to him!

In the morning we got porridge and pancakes and before we knew it we were on the road again. It was very uneventful travelling! Sometimes we stayed at an inn, and sometimes in shelters that someone had built at the side of the road for travellers (and which Veh grumbled about, and even I could see that most of them were built very badly) and occasionally in the wagon (with some people sleeping in the tent or under the wagon). We could go off the road and hunt, but there was only the Valda to fish in and I think all the fishes had fled.

After a while we came to a place with a large waterfall, and there was a bridge to cross the river because the road was on the other side after that. (There was a road on the west side too, but it was mostly for the people living in villages on that side.) This was Gulynay, and a road ran west and a little south from it that could only be the road the queen had come on. Atash showed us on the map: Cherinay, Lanyasinay, and the road running just under the hill-ridge. It was a lot hillier on the west side anyway; on the east side it was all rolling green hills, on the west it was more rocky.

South of Gulynay the river was wide and deep enough for boats. The road was even busier here, with more people going north than south because the wool market in Rizenay wasn’t until all the shearing had been done, well after Midsummer. It was easy travelling, with a lot of opportunity to talk about the house we wanted to build once we settled down. Everybody had something they wanted in the house! I wanted a roof terrace to sit on when it was nice weather, and to sleep on when it was very nice weather, just like at home. And we’d want a room for the boys and a room for the girls– Jeran wanted to sleep over the stable, so we said we’d have the boys’ room there, and then the little girls said they wanted to sleep over the stable too, so we’d have to have the girls’ room there as well!

Eventually we went over a little hill and saw a castle –no, a village– a huddle of stone houses with several big towers rising up from it. But before we could investigate it, we passed a side-arm of the river where an old man and half a dozen young people were fishing with spears. “Greetings!” he called when we were close enough. “Welcome!” And then he saw Veh and bowed to him and said something about the noble Ishey. The young people with him looked as if they’d heard it a hundred times before, especially when the old man (he was Lord Ayran astin Brun) told us how he’d met another Ishey who had taught all of them spear-fishing. That must be the young man with the mice again!

Ayran and the others took us to the houses, carrying a lot of fish. “At least there’ll be enough fish, even for all of us,” I said. “There’s always enough for everyone,” the old lord said, “this is Liorys!” It turned out to be the home place of the Brun family, and some of the buildings were hundreds of years old. Not as old as the Ishey carvings in Vestynay or the half-oval tower and the city in the north, but some of the oldest buildings in Valdyas. There was a fat round tower, and a higher slim round tower, and an eight-sided tower that was so much of Anshen– “Is that the temple?” I asked. “Sure,” a young man said, “Can I go in?” “Everybody can go in,” he said. “But we’ll give you water to wash the travel off you first!” He was right, it wouldn’t do to go into a temple dirty if you could also do it clean.

The bathroom was in the cellar of one of the buildings, under the kitchen. “This is a very old-fashioned house,” the young man said. “You should see our great hall! Lord Ayran doesn’t like change. But I’m going to marry my cousin soon, and then we’ll have a new house in Valdis.” Until now I didn’t mind old-fashioned at all if that meant a large room full of tubs of warm water. We washed ourselves and the babies, and people brought us clean clothes because all we’d got was travel-stained — very simple shirts made of white linen, and someone lent me a pair of breeches he’d grown out of anyway.

Then Lord Ayran took us into the temple. It took a while for my eyes to get used to the dark, the only light came from the fire and through slits high up in the wall — the tower had no upper floors, it went up all the way to the top. But I didn’t need light to see Anshen! The tower was full of– well, I have to call it light because there isn’t any word that fits better, but it wasn’t something I could see, but something I felt with my whole being. It was like the king hugging me in Rizenay, only more so. Also like the temple in the Order house in Valdis, but much thicker, like some soup is thicker than other soup. “Now I can see it too!” Jeran said behind me. And Hinla, in my arms, opened her eyes wide and flailed her arms as if she was in warm water.

But we couldn’t stay in the temple forever, for one thing we were hungry! Dinner was in the great hall. I couldn’t see what was so old-fashioned about it because I’d never seen any great halls like this that weren’t old-fashioned. The hall was immense, with carpets on the walls and little high-up windows like the tower, only more of them. There was a table on the far end with a longer table set against the middle and going all the way to the other end, with benches at he long table and chairs at the short one. Everybody (we too) helped lay the table, first white linen cloths and then silver plates and cups. Lord Ayran made Veh sit at his left hand with Asa next to him, and me at his right hand with Amre next to me, and the rest of our company also at the lord’s table, it was clear that we were the guests of honour. The rest of the household was now coming in and sitting at the long table. People brought huge pies, some with meat and some with cheese and some with vegetables and some, yes, with fish. Just like the king’s table: good plain food on linen and silver.

Before we ate, there was a prayer to Anshen, and while we were eating someone was reading aloud from a book about history. “It’s somewhat out of fashion,” Lord Ayran said., “but we like to keep to the old ways.” After a while the reader stopped reading so she could eat too, and then we talked. “Reading at table is a good thing, talking at table is a good thing too,” Lord Ayran said, and of course he wanted to know what had happened in the north. When we mentioned Fian he got almost angry, “so he’s married a village girl? When we had Cynla astin Hayan lined up for him, he didn’t even wait for her! And he seemed to think that he’d only married the village girl because she was pregnant by him. “At least he can’t look at other women any more,” Lord Ayran said a bit bitterly. It was a bit hard for me to know what to say, because I’d liked Fian and I also liked Lord Ayran, so I nodded a bit and hoped he wouldn’t ask what I thought of it.

Then a very old priestess of Naigha came in, and when she came to pay her respects to Lord Ayran Veh poked Jeran in the side and they both knelt to kiss her feet. And all the other Ishey did that too, though we were all women and girls and according to Tao it’s something that men do. But this priestess was very holy! She looked at Amre and said, “I can see that Naigha has been very close to you. She is standing behind you.” It alarmed Amre a little, but the priestess said that it was good. “It’s probably because of what you did for Ruang,” I said.

After dinner everybody went outside because it was still light and very nice weather. We did some staff-fighting, and Amre had a serious talk with Jeran because of what he’d seen in the temple: he wanted to learn what it was all about. He’d seen something that he could give a name to, but he didn’t know what it was. Well, he was only nine years old, young to discover that you’re gifted. Or perhaps it was the same kind of thing as with me and Amre: that he was a lot more gifted in the company of Anshen. (For me, it was in the company of Amre, of course. Though Anshen clearly had something to do with it as well.)

We got a guest room with an enormous bed, with posts and a roof and curtains, big enough for six people. Jeran slept in the stable, and Aine and Arvi in a drawer that came out from under the bed (they liked that a lot!) and all the grown-ups in the bed, made up with linen sheets. In the morning there was breakfast in the hall, fresh bread and pancakes. “Grandfather is still asleep,” a young woman said, “he likes to stay up late and sleep late.” Then one of the boys gave each of us a little pin made of tin, in the shape of the sun. “This is to show that you’ve been in Liorys.” We pinned them on our clothes, and Jeran pinned his on his cap, and I put Hinla’s pin in the box with my pearl necklace to keep for when she grows up.

We had to cross the river again to get to Valdis, and there was a ferry to do that: a large flat thing (a barge, Arin said) that we could pull the wagon on from one side, and off on the other side, because it had a broad straight front instead of a point like a boat. Then it went back for the mule and the horses. They didn’t like it one bit –to them it must have looked like a bridge that ended all too soon– but Jeran could calm them and they stood on the barge shivering but didn’t shy and make it wobble.

It wasn’t long until we came to the north gate of Valdis. The city looked very different from this side, especially because we were on a hill when we first saw it. I called Lyse with my mind, easy to do from here, and I felt her put something else aside to listen to me. “Do you have a place to sleep? Or you can have our guest room again. We’ll have to talk when you’re there, I want to hear the news. Oh, take care of yourselves.” And she was off again being busy. Of course, half her people had gone with the king! “We can sleep in my house,” Asa said. In fact she’d been talking about it for ages, and I thought it was risky –suppose she had enemies, they’d look for her there first!– but Veh had lost all his reservations by now.

There wasn’t a large escort to meet us, only two cheerful guards at the gate who asked us to write down our names in a book. Then one of the guards saw Sabeh and grinned at her, “I thought you were with the queen!” “And I thought you were in the palace,” she retorted. “They’re with me. Do they still need to write their names?” “Everybody needs to write their name who wants to enter the city,” he said, “even you!” Fortunately we all could, except the babies but Sabeh wrote their names. Asa wrote hers in Iss-Peranian letters and the guard squinted at it and said “I’ll believe it’s your name, miss, but I can’t read one letter of it!”

The part of Valdis near the north gate turned out to be the Iss-Peranian quarter. “My house is nearby!” Asa said. I still hesitated, but we were really all very curious. We left the horses and the mule and the wagon in a stable nearby for a shilling, and if we paid another shilling the boss would get his nephew to keep watch over the wagon. Arin and Arvi wouldn’t come along, they said they’d sit in an inn in the market, we’d find them easily enough.

Asa took us through a honeycomb of small streets –one of them Half Moon Street, where Roushan had taken us to see to the girls. Around the corner there were slightly more respectable houses, and Asa tried to open the door of one of those, but it was not only locked but also sealed –I recognised Lyse’s touch– and it had a sign on the door saying “Locked and sealed in the name of the king”. “Never mind, there’s a back door,” Asa said, and we went round the block and into an alley between two brothels, but the back door was just as locked and sealed, though it didn’t have a sign.

Then Asa said a word that I was glad was in Iss-Peranian, because the children shouldn’t learn it (or at least not yet) and thought for a moment and said “I don’t think she’s sealed the secret entrance! It’s through a friend’s house. Only she and I know it, not even her employer!” And she knocked on the back door of the next house, and an Iss-Peranian woman opened and went grey with shock. “Asa! You’re alive!” “Yes,” Asa said, “but nobody is to know!” “Yeki has a new man for you if you like!” “Oh, but I’m already married,” she said and pulled Veh to her side. “But let us in, please, these are my friends, I want to show them my house.” Then the woman (called Parandé, like me) took us into the cellar, and through that cellar to another cellar with huge barrels. “Someone has moved the barrels!” Parandé said, “I hope they didn’t bar the door!” But the wooden panel still opened, and there was a passage behind it that came out in another cellar, where light came in through little windows near the ceiling. Amre and I looked around with our minds but didn’t see anyone. Then we dared go up the stairs and through a long corridor that had a stone floor and plain whitewashed walls. Eventually we came out in a garden! “This is my garden,” Asa said and hugged Veh and started to cry. “Our garden!” There were lots of plants that I’d last seen around Albetire, a bit straggly but still easy to recognise, and a pond where something made a small splash as we went past.

There was a gallery around the garden with doors under it, and we followed Asa through one of the doors into another corridor, this one with mosaic walls and a tiled floor. Obviously this was the owners’ part of the house, not the servants’. I wondered how they’d been able to build such a large house with such a small front, and Asa said offhand “Oh, my husband bought everybody’s gardens so we could have courtyards. The Valdyan house at the front is only part of it.” “How will they grow vegetables then?” I asked. “And hang out their washing?” “That’s their problem,” Asa said. “They were glad enough of the money!” (See, that’s where I can’t understand Asa, and probably never will. Perhaps it’s because she grew up rich and I grew up poor.)

“Here’s my room,” Asa said, and gasped as she opened the door, and we all did as we came in. Everything had been ransacked! “It’s not as if there’s anything really valuable here,” Asa said, and she took some gowns out of a chest that didn’t look as if you could buy them for a few shillings in the market. “The first wife, now she had expensive things.” She took another gown out, and another. “My blue one with the birds is missing! And that’s the very best one! It would look good on you, Zendegî, I’d lend it to you if I could only find it!” She gave up on searching and opened a door in the other wall, “And this is the first wife’s–” This room was larger than Asa’s and the first thing we saw was a great collection of, well, toys for grown-ups, all strewn on the floor. The little girls picked some up and giggled, “that’s a pecker made of leather! And this one’s made of bone!” “Elephant’s tooth,” Asa said absently, picking up one thing after another and muttering that some were missing. “Ah well, I’ll show you the men’s rooms now. We can all sleep here tonight, I’d like that, sleeping in my house!”

There was another courtyard with a garden and a pond on the other side of the gallery. Veh was cautious and went in front, knife in hand, because he thought he’d heard a sound. Then he stopped: there were footsteps in the sand here, of small bare feet and large feet in boots. And in Asa’s first husband’s room we found the bed rumpled, but no people at first, until Amre looked under the bed and found a naked girl. The girl glared at her, “who are you?” “I’m Zendegî,” she said. “And you are Pati,” Asa said. “You can come out now.” She did, and then a very large hairy naked man with brown curls and a week’s growth of beard appeared from behind the headboard of the bed, who admitted a bit sheepishly that he was Arin. “What on earth are you doing here?” “Making love,” Pati said, and she didn’t even blush. There was a lot of talking then that I don’t remember half of –about who was the master of the house, with the usual “You are the boss! No, you are the boss!” between Asa and Veh, but eventually Arin came clear about what had happened: he was one of the soldiers in Pati’s escort, and he’d fallen in love with her, and she wit him, and then he’d hit the other soldier on the head and gone off with her. “Did you kill him?” I asked. “I hope not! I know how to hit!” Pati knew about the secret entrance, so they’d been living in the house for a while, getting money to live on from selling the first wife’s toys to bawdy houses in the neighbourhood.

It was getting late, and I thought that Lyse should know where we were or she’d be worried. So I called her to tell her, and she said “But I sealed that house myself! How did you get in– I didn’t notice anything.” “Through the secret entrance,” I said. “Asa knew about it.” “Asa!– Didn’t she get abducted? No, that was her servant who got abducted. I’m coming, I want to know what’s going on, I want to talk to that Asa! I’ll be with you in an hour.”

Asa was all the mistress of the house again, bossing everybody around to get the house back in order. I took her aside and said “Lyse is coming.” “That scary woman!” Asa said, and became almost invisible again. “She’ll want to talk to you anyway,” I said, “it’s a lot better to do that in your own house, where you are in charge, than in her office where she is.” Yes, that was reasonable, Asa thought, and bossed us around even more to be able to receive a guest. Arin and Pati had to get out of sight, though. “You two go to the market,” Asa said, “and stay away as long as you like, and longer!” Pati got dressed –in Asa’s blue gown with the birds! Asa frowned but didn’t say anything.

Lyse was a long time in coming, and the babies got hungry. I remembered the woman in this street who we’d visited with Roushan, who had been very pregnant then– surely she had a baby now. I took the babies and went to see her. She did indeed have a small son, and she was happy to feed one but she couldn’t manage two. She had a friend, though, who came and cooed over the babies’ cute little noses and their large dark eyes. “I have a meeting,” I said, “I’ll come and get them when we’re done. Thank you!”

When I got back all the others were in Asa’s room, looking excited. “Look what we’ve found!” In the niche behind the bed where Arin had been hidden, there was a door, and behind the door a closet the size of a small room, with shelves on both sides laden with papers. “I never knew this was there!” Asa said, “honestly!” Amre was inside, examining the back which seemed to be only a thin wooden wall. “That’s the sweet-shop next door,” Asa said, and with those words the door slammed shut, with Amre inside! She must have touched a hidden lever or something. Veh had to break the door with his axe, and he and Arin pulled all the heavy pieces of wood away.

Lyse came not long afterwards, through the front door –of course she could lift her own seal!– and the first thing she noticed was our dog. “Is that a northern wolf-hound?” she asked. The dog growled at her. “Sit!” And the dog sat and wagged her tail! Lyse scratched her under the chin. “Splendid beast. But I haven’t come here to admire your dog– let’s talk.” We talked in Asa’s husband’s reception room, in the Valdyan part of the house. It took a lot of convincing before Lyse would believe that Asa really hadn’t known about the kidnapped children– yes, she’d known her husband and the first wife were smugglers, of course they were, how else would a merchant make enough money? But of the children Asa hadn’t known anything. She looked so disgusted that Lyse laughed and said, “yes, I believe you!” Then we showed Lyse the secret closet and the papers we’d found in it. “Those will have to go to the king’s office,” she said and looked at Sabeh. “No way I’m going to court!” Sabeh said. “Ezeh might make me stay!” Lyse laughed and said “I’ll take this lot, and have some of the clerks collect the rest.”

Sabeh offered to get Arin and Arvi, and I asked Lyse to open the back door as well, “I can’t break your seals.” “Well, you probably can if you put your mind to it,” she said, “but it would be very uncomfortable for both of us, to say the least.” And Amre showed her the secret entrance, too. “But we’ll seal it ourselves,” we said. “Do that,” Lyse said, “and take care, you’re still in danger, we haven’t found the people who hit Ervan on the head and kidnapped Arin and Asa’s maid, they’re likely to be after you as well.” Then we had to tell Lyse about Pati and Arin, of course. “Hm, that’s not my business, I’ll send the sheriff round.” “They won’t hang him, will he?” I asked. “Was Ervan killed?” “No, only badly concussed, he’s working again. But the deserter will probably have to do some time in the palace prison.” Then Sabeh came back with not only Arin and Arvi, but the babies as well, fed and sleepy. Lyse said to me and Amre, “Come and see me in the morning, just the two of you. I do need to hear about Rizenay.”

Asa found us all rooms: she and Veh in her late husband’s room, where the bed had a mirrored ceiling (“you can use it in the morning, we’ll call you!”) Arin and Arvi in the first wife’s room which was very quiet because it was right at the back, and the rest of us in Asa’s own room. There was carpet on the floor, so soft that nobody who didn’t fit in the bed (Jeran and the little girls, that is, Sabeh was in the bed with us) needed a straw pallet. Pati and Arin had to go in one of the servants’ rooms, perhaps even the room that had been Pati’s before they’d left the house. “Never mind,” said Asa, “I’m only taking my own things, then you and Arin can have the house for all I care, I’m giving it to you. I don’t mind if you sell it or start a brothel in it or raise a brood of children in it, it’s off my hands.” When Pati heard “start a brothel” she said thoughtfully, “hm, perhaps I can buy a couple of girls from Mehtar…” and when Arin looked shocked, “only Iss-Peranian girls! Valdyan girls are forbidden now, but Mehtar still sells Iss-Peranian ones. And boys, too, but I don’t want any.”

And then Asa showed us the bathroom: basins sunk into the floor, tiled, with an enormous copper kettle to heat the water. “I might take the kettle,” she said, “I can’t imagine having a house without one!” But we decided that this kettle was too big to take, it was about the size of our wagon if you tilted the wagon on its end, we’d have to find a coppersmith in Turenay to make us a new one.

We didn’t use the bath (though we did wash a bit, which we’d completely forgotten with all the adventure) but fell into the soft bed (we even remembered to seal the doors, including the hatch leading to the secret door) and slept until morning, when Veh came and touched Amre’s hand, “do you want to have the bed with the mirror now? It’s fun!” so we tried, and he’d been right. It was especially fun that the image wobbled a bit because the mirror wasn’t completely straight, and it was strange to see Amre’s image above my head when the real Amre was right beside me! After a while the little girls came and wanted to look in the mirror too (and make faces) so we took a bath in one of the tiled basins.

When we were washed but not dressed yet, Veh came –also naked– to tell us that breakfast was ready, and one of the girls came running with a strange thing in her hand, a sort of belt with one of those leather peckers fixed to it. “Where did you find that?” I asked, and took it to have a closer look. “In the bed with the mirrors! Aine was lying on it!” Then there was a knock at the door, and Veh, who was closest, opened it without thinking.

It was a woman with greying hair, wearing something that looked like a richer version of the uniform of the city watch. The sheriff! She looked from Veh to me, to Amre, to little Arvi’s quickly disappearing back, and said “I didn’t expect to find a house full of naked girls! Lyse only told me I should come for the deserter Arin.” The dog growled at her like at Lyse, but the sheriff didn’t say “Sit!” and Jeran had to come and take the dog away, because both the sheriff and the two men she’d brought who were waiting at the door seemed to be a bit afraid of it.

“Pff!” I said to Veh when Asa had come out of the bedroom, fully dressed, every inch the mistress of the house, and showed the sheriff to the room that Arin and Pati were using. “She thought you were a girl, too!” “Well, I do look like one when I’m naked,” he said. Well, of course that was true, but I knew him so well that I didn’t even notice any more.

The sheriff’s men took Arin away– he was resigned about it, “will you come and see me?” he asked Pati. “It’s true, I did wrong, I’ll have to pay for it.” Pati said that she’d buy some girls in the meantime and start a business, so he could work as handyman and bouncer when he came back. “Wait,” the sheriff said, “buy girls?” “Yes, from Mehtar, he’s got this shop in the second street behind the academy, he’s got a licence from the queen to buy and sell Iss-Peranian boys and girls. I wanted to buy a maid to do the housework for me, but I didn’t have enough money for what he was selling!” “I don’t think there’s any such licence,” the sheriff said, “and thank you for telling me, he won’t be in business much longer!”

When we were all dressed and had finally had breakfast, Asa went to the temple of Mizran to have the house put in Pati’s name. Pati and Jeran and the little girls set out to clean the ponds –“and yes, you may catch frogs as long as you take care to put them back when it’s clean, frogs are lucky!”– and it became a splashy fishing-for-frogs affair that made even big Arvi smile. Amre and I went to see Lyse. She was busy, of course, and we had to wait until she’d finished talking to someone else before she could talk with us. We told her everything about the north, Rizenay, the king’s exploits in Hostinay and his injury (Lyse said “never careful, that man! Well, I’d have done the same, I suppose.”) and then she thanked us for all we had done, though we didn’t think we had done all that much except bring the children back. Well, and help catch the child-thieves in Rizenay. “You’ve done more than you think,” Lyse said. “Anything you need from me now? As long as it isn’t an escort, I’m more short-handed than ever before.” But she could do nothing for us, we had everything we needed, and knew the way, and could defend ourselves. Then Lyse hugged us too, she felt strong, and wished us a good journey.

When we came back to the house Asa was furious. “They said it wasn’t mine! They said it’s been seized by the Crown! I’m the widow, it should belong to me! But I’ve told Pati to live here anyway, and sell anything she doesn’t want to use, and also where the secret stores of money are that nobody’s found, they can come and seize it all they like but they won’t get it!” Pati thought about the same, she’d start her business and see what came of it.

Asa had packed everything she wanted –only her gowns and perfume and some jewellery and one small casket full of Iss-Peranian coins, “real money” as she called it– and we didn’t have much to pack, so we collected the cart and went through the city and out of the south gate to collect the herd. We saw the goats before we came in sight of Venla’s house, and there were lots of kids too. Venla greeted us, and wondered where the other two boys were, and hesitated for a moment because she didn’t know who to do business with if Tao wasn’t there, but Veh was the real herdsman among us so he took it in hand. “Let’s see, you brought fifteen goats, and you’re taking fourteen and their kids, one died in the kidding, and we ate two or three of the little billies. And milked of course. I don’t think either of us owes the other.” “No, I don’t think so either,” Veh said, and we all drank to it (with goats’ milk) and took the herd away.

The next part of the journey was sort of tame, through faintly hilly country with some wood and some fields and not many villages. The most exciting thing that happened was the spectacle we made on the road, being cursed by carters because we had a herd of goats with us (and an immense dog that could curse as well as any carter). We stopped at a couple of inns, where people seemed to think that we were all one large family (well, sort of true) and Arin was the father. If anyone was the head of this family, I think Veh qualified more!

Finally the hills became steeper and there were vineyards and more fields and more villages. Then we came to a little town with a wooden wall around it: Turenay! “It’s full of the Nameless,” Arin grumbled. We all went in anyway. There was a guard at the gate who asked where we were going and if we knew the way, and Jeran said “To the school! Because we’re Ishey!” “Oh, that’s easy to find,” the guard said and gave us complicated directions that included going across the market, “and if those goats eat any of the market wares, it’s one rider a cabbage! Lord Radan is strict, but just!” “Is that the Lord Radan who is the king’s father?” I asked. “Yes,” the guard said proudly, “and he’s our sheriff!”

We all had to walk, at least everybody who could, to keep the goats from eating anything in the market. But the school turned out to be easy to find after all, if only because it smelt almost as much of Anshen as the tower in Liorys. We ended up in a courtyard where boys and girls around our age were reading books or talking, with the wagon, the mule, the horses, the goats and the dog. Some of the boys and girls were very scared of the dog and stood on the benches shrieking. That made the dog bark, of course, and then a door opened in a wall and a small woman came out, Iss-Peranian, even more beautiful than Amre or Asa if that’s possible, and very angry. “Don’t you know that there’s a hospital here? And what do you mean bringing those goats in here? Are you Ishey or something?” Then she saw Veh and calmed down a bit, “Oh, I see you are. I’m doctor Cora. Any of you sick? Everybody else out.” There was some confusion in which Arvi was taken through the door, Arin with her, and Asa and I ran after them with a baby each. Then I saw that the doctor had milk stains on her shirt as well, “do you have a little one of your own?” “Six of them,” the doctor said. And then another woman came through another door, this one ugly (at least compared with the doctor), with straggly grey hair and scars in her face, not much taller than the doctor, but with a mind that felt to me as if it was as large as all of Turenay. If I’ve ever wanted to fall at someone’s feet, it was now! “Take those goats away,” she said, “then come back in an hour and I’ll speak to you. Especially to you,” meaning me. I was still too impressed to say anything, not even “and to Amre too, please”.

“I saw a place from the hill where I think we can put the herd,” Veh said, “at least for now.” And we went on until we’d passed through the whole town, but on the way our guard must have slipped because we had to chase a goat that had found its way into a weaver’s workshop. Veh went in and pulled it out by the horns, and a woman who was clearly of the Nameless came out after him, cursing. We went out of another gate, and a bit further on there was a field with a horse in it and a man who was leaning on a gate and chewing a straw. Veh negotiated with him, and he nodded and led the horse out into another field where we could put our horses too, and let us put the goats in the near field. “This one’s got a stronger fence,” he said, “come back when you’re settled and we’ll arrange something. My name is Ervan. I’m usually here.”