Buying a house
And not only that, but a farm as well (note: not “THE farm”). They’re really grown up now. The GM is probably right when he says he doesn’t know enough medicine for us any more; I had the same problem with Cora. We should probably handwave most of it in the future and concentrate more on, er, harder problems.
It might be the end of the day, but we followed Rhanion’s mother upstairs to look what we could do for her father anyway. “I don’t want the doctor!” he called before he saw us. “This isn’t Doctor Orin,” his daughter said, “it’s the young doctors from Turenay.”
“Well, they breed pretty doctors in Turenay!” he said when he saw us, and was perfectly willing to pull his shirt up to let us have a look at his hip. The socket of the joint had broken right in two, front and back, and there was a gap between the pieces of bone. If he’d try to stand up on it now his leg-bone would end up in his stomach! And Doctor Orin had only told him to stay in bed and take his vile pills, because everybody knew that you couldn’t splint a hip.
“We might be able to fix most of that,” we said, “but not today, we’ll come back in the morning and see what we can do.” We did tell him not to take Doctor Orin’s pills any more, because they were poison, even though he said they gave him sweet dreams. “But I’ll just dream of you instead,” he said to Amre.
Then we went to fetch the children from school. It was already late, but there were about twenty schoolchildren sitting around the large kitchen table eating pea soup, with Rovin and Hylse and a couple of other adults. It smelt so good that I almost asked if there was anything left.
Hinla ran up, “I wrote a whole slate full!”
“Full of what?” Amre asked.
“My name! Hinla!”
“But you could already write that; did you write your other name too?”
“No, because Master Fian says he doesn’t know the letters to write that with, so he can’t teach me!”
“We’ll have to teach you those letters, then,” I said.
We asked which inn was safe and clean to stay at for a couple of days, because much as we liked Luthjul (and she liked us) we didn’t want to take up all that room in her tiny house any longer. “The Crown of Valdyas,” someone said, “there’s also the Sow and Piglets but that, well, sort of lives up to its name. The little doctor from Turenay stayed at the Crown when she was here.” Well, if it was good enough for Cora it was definitely good enough for us!
The inn was in the old city, an old grey stone building with a huge gate that a much larger wagon than ours could get through. Just inside the doorway on the left a middle-aged woman was sitting at a desk, doing the bookkeeping. We waited patiently until she could interrupt it, but she saw us before that and greeted us. “New guests?” she asked.
“Yes,” we said, “we’d like to stay for a couple of days, with our family.”
“How many rooms?”
I was counting on my fingers — the two of us, Orian, Jeran and Serla, the children. “Perhaps you have one large room? We’re eight people, but three are small children.”
She thought for a moment. “Well, the big apartment is free for another week — it’ll be very busy later, everybody will be coming for the yearly fair at the Feast of Archan. But if it’s only for a couple of days– I’ll show you.”
It was really an apartment: two bedrooms, one on either side of a wide passage, and a small, bright sitting-room at the end with a couple of easy chairs and a writing-desk. Exactly what we needed; we could lock and seal the door behind us. “How much would that cost?” Amre asked, prudently.
“Well, I know who you are now, and it’s a good thing that you’re doing. One doctor isn’t enough in a town this size. You know, I’ll let you have the room at no charge, you only pay for the food. And,” she said with a wink, “our prices are as steep as our staircases. By the way, my name is Satha.” That sounded like a Velihan name, She did look a bit Velihan, slightly built with a head of curly hair much like mine, but greying red instead of sun-faded auburn.
“We’ve got a wagon and two mules,” we said, “and quite a large dog.” Satha immediately gave orders to make room in the stable and the yard and to ask the kitchen for meat scraps.
When we were back at Luthjul’s house a man came rushing in, “Master! You need to come NOW!” so Luthjul grabbed her basket under one arm and embraced us with the other. “See you later, then!”
We took the road along the river, crossing both bridges, because that was much easier for the mules and the wagon than all the little streets. A groom came to stable the mules, then did a double-take: “Is that a dog?”
“Yes,” we said, “we warned that she was large!”
“It’s a monster!”
“Yes,” Hinla said, “that’s her name, isn’t it, Monster?” The groom scratched the dog under the chin and she didn’t mind that one bit.
There was a table laid for us with a huge pie and an almost as huge dish of salad, all culled seedlings of different vegetables. “Ooh!” Asusu said. “But I’m full of pea soup!”
“Well, then you eat only some of the salad, you don’t need to eat any pie,” I said.
“But we had a dare at school who could eat most pea soup and I’m Ishey and Ishey can always do everything so I said I could and I did!”
“Now you know how much is too much,” Amre said. “You’ll probably have a belly-ache tonight!”
Orian ate a quarter of the pie all by himself, as much as the other four together. Then we carried the children up to bed — it was so soft that they almost disappeared in it. Jeran took the room across the corridor, and Orian took some of Jeran’s bedding (there was enough of it, anyway) and lay down across the door.
In the morning we found not only washing-water, but also breakfast on the desk in the sitting-room: a steaming jug of herb tea, a jug of ale, soft white bread, honey and fresh sheep cheese. The children got up before us, sneaked out of the room with Serla, and were already sticky when we came in. Jeran was very late, “I’ve never been in a bedroom all by myself! And I couldn’t find the way out of the bed!”
“We wouldn’t have found the way out either if Hinla hadn’t dug a tunnel,” I said.
Jeran got the children to school, while we went back to Rhanion’s grandfather with Orian as an escort. We didn’t see Jeran the whole rest of the day, and forgot to ask him later where he’d been, but it was likely that he’d stayed at the school to see if he could lend a hand with repairs. If he’d been exploring the town he’d surely have told us.
The old man was glad to see us. “I did have nice dreams!” he said, with a wink at Amre. I scraped the hard deposit from the ball of the hip joint first — he was over seventy — and he winced at that, but didn’t object. “Fifty years in the mines, started at twelve. A man learns to bear something there. Good thing my daughter married a glove-maker so those boys can go to school and learn a trade.”
Then I was so tired that I could only keep watch while Amre and Serla fixed the break. “There’s something in between,” Serla said, “is that all right?” No, it wasn’t: the bones had been apart so long that new tissue had grown in between.
“I’ll have to cut,” Amre said. I went downstairs to get more hot water — next time we get the chance we’ll have to have some aprons made! — and found Amre and Serla already stripped naked.
“Oh!” Serla said, “shall I go and ask for cheesecloth or something to wrap around our hair?”
“Put your shirt on first!” I said, but it was a very good idea.
“Now you take a pill,” I said, “you don’t want to be awake for this!” It was some time until the man was really asleep, but we used that to get everything out of the way that might get dirty and to wash ourselves and his skin.
It was a lot of work, but everything went back into place, and I did the stitching-up while Amre and Serla washed the blood off their hands (and arms, and front: we really did need aprons!). I was almost finished when there was some commotion outside. Serla hastily slapped a seal on the door, but it was ripped away: doctor Orin wanted to come in. Serla slapped another seal on the door, and Amre reinforced it.
“You bandage,” I said to Amre, “I’ll talk to him. I suppose you don’t want to come, Serla?”
“No,” Serla said, almost trembling.
“Then just let me through and seal it again behind me.” I slipped through the tiniest possible gap and found a very angry doctor on the landing.
“You’ve stolen my patient!”
“Yes,” I said, “you weren’t helping him, and we could.”
“That’s possible,” we said, “but he’ll be able to walk again by the Feast of Mizran, and if we hadn’t done this he’d never walk.”
“I don’t think that word means what you think it means,” I said, and only then he made a face at me because he noticed that I had no clothes on either. We’d put them on the landing, though, so I put on my shirt and breeches, as calmly as I could manage, while he fumed on.
“I want to see my patient!”
“Yes, when he’s awake, in a couple of hours.” Then the glove-maker came upstairs and started to tug at Doctor Orin’s arm. “What’s that, barging into my house after you beat up my wife? Be gone!” And he pushed him down the stairs and out of the house.
Rhanion’s mother was all right after all, the beating was only a couple of bruises: the doctor had grabbed her by the arm and pushed her aside to reach the stairs and she’d fallen against the kitchen table. But still! I almost called the watch — Master Ardan’s twin sister, who was the only one with any authority over the watch who I could reliably reach — but I realised that she might be on Orin’s side. It wasn’t necessary anyway: there were already some of the watch in the street, telling everybody to calm down and go home.
“Is he gone?” Rhanion asked next to me. I hadn’t seen him! “I hid myself,” he said, “like she can,” pointing to Serla who was just coming into the kitchen, “when the doctor came, I didn’t want him to see me!”
“That’s very clever of you,” I said.
“I was here because I couldn’t go to school and that was a shame because Master Leva was going to tell all about the big war against the Khas!”
“You can ask your brother to tell you,” I said.
“Seran doesn’t tell stories right, it’s always boring!”
“I’ll promise you something,” I said, “we weren’t in the Khas war ourselves, but when we come back to check on your grandfather we’ll tell you about the king fighting the bandits in Hostinay.”
We gave his mother some ointment for the bruises and went next door, to the tailors. I was still shaky — I didn’t know if I could have kept up facing down Doctor Orin if the man hadn’t come upstairs — but doing something useful always helped with that.
The tailors were a man and woman and their daughter, hard at work. Making us all new clothes for the Feast would be fairly difficult because it was really only weeks away. “We don’t mind something that’s already made and only has to be adjusted,” we said, but what swayed them was that they realised we were the doctors.
Serla was talking with the daughter about the cut of the clothes: the daughter showed what was in fashion here, a high-laced bodice with a full skirt, and Serla promised to bring the dress she’d got at the Feast of Timoine to show what was the latest fashion in Veray. That actually got us a discount on our order! We were all measured, and promised to bring the children and Jeran so they could be measured too.
“Aprons, you said?” the father asked. “How many?”
“Six, to start with,” we said, “two each, of tough linen, with ties at the back and long sleeves we can bind shut. And we’ll need much more later, when we have nurses.”
“You’re really going to stay here, aren’t you?”
“Yes, at least for a couple of years, and then we will move on but other people will take it up. There will always be work for the hospital.”
“Hm, if I have all this extra work I can take on a couple more journeymen. I wouldn’t like to take them on now on expectations, and next time you go to someone else!”
We hastily assured him that we had no intention to shop around, and the tailors’ guild probably wouldn’t allow much difference in prices so shopping around would be useless as well as a lot of hassle! And we’d much rather buy from our neighbours than on the other side of town.
“Would you know someone who does laundry?” I asked as we were leaving. “For a living, I mean? We’re likely to have a lot of it.”
“There’s my cousin, Serla,” the woman said, “she lives at the riverside on the other side of the Temple of Mizran.” Another problem solved, or at least easy to solve.
Across the little square there was a carpenter’s workshop. It was easily as large as the front part of the workshop of soon-to-be-our house, with more than a dozen people working in it, perhaps as many as twenty. “Master?” I called, and a solidly-built woman with grey hair left her work and came towards us.
“We’re your new neighbours,” I said, “we’re buying the house and workshop opposite.”
“The wainwright’s house!” she said. “You’re the doctors!” Apparently everybody had already heard of us. “I’m Doryn. What can we do for you? You’ll need a lot of furniture, of course.”
“And new doors and windows, and repairs, and alterations, and construction work. Perhaps you know a reliable builder, too.”
She nodded. “When can I come to look? Tomorrow? I’ll take my clerk to make a list. I may have to speak to the guild as well, it’s probably too much work for only this one workshop.”
Just as we left Doryn, Rhanion’s mother came to talk to her: to arrange how the neighbourhood was going to help us clean the house!
We went back to the Crown to dress up for the Temple of Mizran. It had to be the Ishey and Iss-Peranian clothes: we didn’t have anything else that hadn’t seen a lot of wear from travelling! But everybody thought we were exotic foreigners anyway, so that was all right. We took Orian and also Jeran, who had turned up at the inn; they had no stylish clothes but people would think they were servants anyway.
Jinla was already waiting for us at the Temple of Mizran. She took us to the niche where we’d talked to her before, but this time a very small, very old woman with white hair and shrewd beady eyes was sitting there already. “I’m Eireith Layse,” she said. “So you want to buy my grandson’s workshop? It’s two hundred and fifty riders.”
“Yes,” we said, “we can afford that.”
“What are you going to do with it?”
“We hope to make it into a hospital.”
The old lady nodded. “That’s a good thing. A very good thing. Well, give me the money, children. No letters, only hard shiny silver.”
Jinla had already taken our letters of credit and opened an account for us, so she only had to send a clerk to get it. It was a large linen bag full of clinking coins, which Layse insisted on counting herself, spreading them out on Jinla’s desk. There was one gold eagle in the bag and she gave that to Jinla and demanded six silver riders. Finally she swept all the money back on one heap and watched while Jinla put it back in the bag.
“Are you going to enjoy your retirement now?” Amre asked.
“Child, I’m already enjoying my retirement.”
Amre asked her about the little house in the middle too. “That’s of the Nameless,” Layse said.
“Yes, that’s clear,” I said. “We don’t mind at all.”
She looked at me with her head cocked, like a bird. “Oh, it’s like that. I don’t see that kind of thing myself but I can imagine that it would be an asset for you. Well, do with it as you like, it’s all yours now. Now go away because I need to talk to Jinla in private.”
We waited by the iron statue, where Orian came to join us. Jeran was leaning against one of the pillars at the entrance with Monster at his feet.
Jinla came a short while later with a bunch of keys. “I’ll go with you,” she said. When we were outside, she handed us the bag of money. “The old lady donated this to you on condition you use it to start a hospital. I’ve taken the Temple fee off it, of course.” One shilling in the rider: that made it two hundred and thirty-seven riders and ten shillings if I’d done my calculation right.
“I don’t think it’s going to be the Master Rayin Hospital,” Amre said, and carefully wrote the old lady’s name in her notebook. Perhaps we wouldn’t even give the hospital a name until the old lady died, so we could call it the Eireith Layse Memorial Hospital!
“Now don’t go back inside to thank her, she won’t appreciate that. She’s ninety-six years old, she’s allowed to be as strange as she likes.”
“Does she have any family in town?” Amre asked.
“No, she lives alone with her maid, the maid is seventy-five or something like that.”
First we went by the school to collect the children. “To the house!” they clamored. “We have a house!”
“And there’s a surprise in the house, it’s a secret, you have to find it for yourselves,” I said. That made them even more excited, of course.
When we came to the house there was a crowd outside: all the neighbours with buckets and brooms and brushes and cloths. Jinla let us into the house first, then all the rest could come in to start cleaning. The carpenter was at my elbow, “here’s my clerk, now let’s see what you need first,” and we went through the house with them. Shutters that didn’t shut, doors that didn’t open easily, bedsteads that weren’t good for anything except ripping out, “though this room is the warmest place in winter, it can get very cold here”, but Doryn promised to have a couple of simple beds that we could put a straw mattress on in about a week. “We’ll be in and out of each other’s doors all winter, I expect,” she said.
At the door of the little house of Anshen we found Serla, looking uneasy. “The little ones are in there,” she said, “it’s not a place for me.”
Yulao and Asusu called from inside. “Is this the secret thing? We can all sleep here! It’s a whole house inside the house!” Hinla was much quieter, running her hands over the walls.
Jinla found us there, “you don’t need me here any more, do you? When is it convenient to go and see the farm?”
“Tomorrow?” we asked. After all, we didn’t need to organise the cleaning any more.
Outside we found the tailor’s daughter taking measurements of Jeran and the children. I gave Jeran and Serla a handful of coins, “go to the bakery on the corner and buy as many sweet buns as you can get, to treat everybody after all that work,” and they came back carrying a huge basket between them.
Then we had to go back to the inn, even though we had a house and it was a lot cleaner than it had been.
Dinner was a whole roast lamb. Monster got leg-bones with a lot of meat on them and was very satisfied.
Serla and Jeran wanted to go dancing, and we’d already said “all right, but only if you take Orian along, there’s probably a place here where young people go,” but before they could start a pair of musicians started to play dance music, a man with a lute and a woman with a flute. “We’ll dance here!” Serla said, and pulled Jeran on the dance floor and taught him court dances.
Amre and I danced together for a while, and then a young man bowed to us, “may I ask one of you splendid ladies to dance with me?”
He looked friendly and innocuous. “Certainly. Which one?”
“I can’t really choose between you, you’re equally lovely.” He danced with Amre first, and then with me. His name was Meruvin and he was a merchant. “In what?” I asked, and it turned out to be ham — this region was full of oak forest, and that meant very tasty pigs. His friend, Lydan, came later: a cooper, who made barrels for the brine to salt the ham and the rest of the tasty pig in.
When they’d left, we remarked to Satha, “They don’t have a chance. Even though they’re both nice enough.”
“Poor lads,” Satha said. “Is it true that you’re married, that you can marry in Turenay when you’re both women? Then I should perhaps take a little trip.” And she called the cook from the kitchen, Raith, a middle-aged woman like herself, and they were clearly a couple.
The children were all asleep — the twins on top of the sleeping dog, Hinla between her forelegs — and we carried them to bed. Then we came back downstairs because Satha and Raith had asked us to share a glass of Raith’s special apricot brandy. Very strong, but still sweet, interesting and delicious. With the brandy came more talk. “When we started working here,” Satha said, “”Raith as cook and I as bookkeeper, Tyan was still the boss, but your Doctor Cora got rid of him. Good thing because then we could make the inn into what we wanted it to be, a clean and healthy place.”
They also promised to take us to the farm that supplied them with winter stores, because we were going to need to buy ours well before the Feast of Mizran. Perhaps we’d also have a couple of pigs killed and salted. “How many people in your household? A dozen?”
Well, if we counted Orian for three, it was about that. We didn’t have a hospital with patients to feed yet, but we still wanted to have plenty, and we were going to need someone to take care of the house because we’d never be able to keep something this size clean by ourselves while we were also working.
So the next morning I asked Orian, “that girl of yours in the village, do you think she’ll want to come here to be our housekeeper?”
“Jerna doesn’t like town much,” he said, “but I can ask her.”
He looked as if he wanted to ask us something as well, and I thought I knew what it was. “We’ll pay you wages, of course,” I said, “both of you.”
He nodded. “Good.” It was clear that he’d expected it — his mother had lent him to us as a service between friends, but if we were going to keep him on (and how could we do without him?) we’d better employ him officially. We could always ask Erne or Varyn what was a decent wage to pay a handyman-and-bodyguard and a housekeeper. They’d probably get married if they were both here. And we might need another maid as well, but we wouldn’t know that until we actually lived in the house.
And that would be soon enough: on the Day of Archan our room would be needed. And today was the Day of Mizran, a good day to do business!
[Note: Venla doesn’t know, and neither do I-the-player, whether in Tylenay –and indeed any place that belongs to Archan– the Day of Archan is when the Day of Anshen is elsewhere, so in five days, or if it’s at the end of the week after the Day of Timoine, the day after tomorrow. I trust that the GM will pick the option that gives most opportunity for drama.]
We went to the farm on the wagon, because we wanted to take the children and it was three hours’ walk, two hours with the wagon. Master Fian grumbled a bit that they weren’t coming to school, but when Hinla said “Then I can tell everything in class tomorrow!” he grinned and waved us off.
First we brought the kittens to the house: time for them to start their work! As soon as they were out of their basket they sniffed around and ran upstairs. Serla and the children had barely finished putting a sand-tray and a water-bowl down when one was already back with a dead rat almost as big as itself. “Can they eat that,” Serla asked, “or do we need to leave food as well?” But the kitten was already starting on the rat, and the other kitten came down with a mouse and ate it in two bites as soon as she was confident that we’d seen it. Cats wouldn’t starve in our house, at least not soon!
Then we picked up Jinla at the Temple of Mizran and rode out of town, to the north, into the mountains. After a very pleasant trip we got to a tiny village, no more than six houses and a little Temple of Naigha.
“Hey Caille!” Jinla called to the priestess who was weeding her vegetable garden. Obviously they were old friends.
“Jinla! Have you found a buyer?”
“I think so, I’m showing them round.”
The house was on the far edge of the village. It was built on top of its stable as we’d seen in other villages, a single large room with a fireplace in the middle and a half-loft partitioned into cubicles. “Look at this!” Jeran said, and opened the lid of a box in a corner that proved to be a well that went all through the house. That was convenient, as long as the water didn’t freeze! There was still a lot of furniture, even a chest full of clothes for men, women and children, and a full set of kitchenware.
Next to the house there was a barn suitable as a stable, with enough room for the mules and the wagon as well as the ox and the ox-cart when they arrived — Coran and Jilan were due any day now.
“What you need,” Jeran said, “is a small cart that you can lay down one person on and a little donkey to pull it.” True! We needed to go to the cattle market anyway for some chickens and a pig. Only if we left the wagon at the farm we’d have to walk there with all the children on the little cart, because we thought we might like to spend every Day of Anshen out of town with the whole family — not only to keep track of the farm, but also, and mostly, to prevent overworking ourselves.
Another, larger barn was a real hay-barn with the tops of the sides open; beyond that an overgrown market garden, grain fields, and the pasture Jinla had promised, on the steep slopes of the mountain.
“I’ll show you the vineyard too,” Jinla said. Another hour to reach it, and it was in a sorry state: it hadn’t been tended for two years and it showed. “The farmhand stayed for half a year after the family died of the lung sickness, but of course he couldn’t stay without pay, and he couldn’t do everything on his own. It needs five, six people to run the farm, another two or three for the vineyard. The farm would yield enough for eight people here to live on and for your family in town, and when the vineyard was in full production it brought in another sixty riders a year.”
That reminded us of the question we hadn’t dared ask: how much?
“In its current state, I’d offer four hundred and fifty, it’ll probably come out around five hundred and fifty after some back-and-forth. I’ll try to buy it from the heirs provisionally, sell it to you and keep the money at the Temple until the baron’s decision comes in.” Serla scowled at that behind Jinla’s back. “When they hear that we already have a buyer for the property they may get sensible and decide to split the money. What’s your maximum?”
Goodness, those were amounts of money I couldn’t even imagine. “Six hundred?”
“That gives me very little room to negotiate. It’s already cheap at the price because of the state it’s in, usually farms go for twenty times the yearly yield.”
“Warn us if it’s likely to go over six hundred? Otherwise you have a free hand.” The money was there, and the farm would probably pay for itself in two years if not already after the next winter when the Ishey had been at it.
Jinla nodded. “It’s good for the village to have the farm operative again. You were going to send convalescents here to work?”
“Yes, we’ve already met some people we can send.” I thought of the couple with the baby who we’d met on our very first night: working on the land might do them a lot of good. The air was much clearer here than in the town itself, though there was a building at some distance that spewed black smoke. “What’s that?” I asked, pointing.
“The village has its own foundry. Its own iron mine, too, though that doesn’t yield much. The lords and ladies in town don’t like it one bit, they’re eager to get their hands on it.”
It wasn’t until much later that I realised we’d completely forgotten to ask what the village was called. Well, we’d find that out at the Temple when we went to sign the papers.