They try to catch up on the Feast. It works. Sort of.
We slept the whole morning: when we woke up we were surrounded by sticky children. Good for Aine that she’d found them some sweets for the Feast, because we hadn’t been in any state to take care of it!
Serla was in the corridor, with a smug feeling about her. Rightly so — she and Jeran had sorted all the wounded in the workshop and stopped them fighting, or at least trying to fight. When we asked about Hylti, she said “Nisha’s brothers came and took her away! I’d got most of the wounds closed, it was a lot easier when she was asleep, at least she wasn’t fighting me.” And it would also be a lot easier for all of us if she could recover far away from us and in the clean air of the village.
“Thank you,” we said, “well done!”
Most of the wounded could walk now so we sent them home. There were three left: a man with two broken legs whose family was out of town for the Feast, a man with a bad concussion and a skull fracture next to his eye, and a woman with a cut — not deep, but ragged and nasty — from throat to belly. “Ran into a blunt knife?” I asked.
“Broken roof-tile,” she said. “And I know what you’re going to say, so you don’t have to say it.” She was visibly pregnant. “I was only keeping watch for my man. I don’t belong to any Guild but if you doctors are with Anshen, then Anshen is the good one.” The two men didn’t agree with her, and if they’d been able to get up there would have been more fighting.
A builder appeared, we’d left the door open after all. “Is this where the roof needs fixing?” he asked. If there’d been a broken roof-tile in the first place, probably yes. “I think so,” I said, and called for a maid –Ardyth appeared– to show him where to get up on the roof.
Amre coaxed the bits of bone next to the concussed man’s eye back into place, and only then we noticed that neither of us had washed yet or had breakfast. It was mid-day, and Aine had set up a trestle table under the fruit trees with the benches from the kitchen table next to it, and made pancakes filled with spinach and nettle and white cheese. There was also a large bowl of seedlings salad and another of peas with butter and fresh mint. “I’m afraid the salt pork is gone,” Aine said, “what we still had wasn’t fit for people to eat.” I knew that probably meant that the pigs had eaten it, and I still found it strange that they didn’t mind eating their own kind!
“I see you’ve treated the little ones to sweets,” I said.
“Wasn’t that all right?”
“Yes, it was, more than all right! They’d have had sweets in Turenay too, it’s good of you to think of it.”
One of the jugs on the table wasn’t full of water as I’d thought, but of lemonade, made with the same kind of syrup that we’d had in Albetire! Aine was a bit bashful about it, “the household budget is generous, I thought we could afford it for the Feast.”
“Well, yes! And it tastes like home, too.”
It was already mid-afternoon, and we sat in the shade writing — Amre letters to Valdis and Turenay, me a list of what we still needed for the herb garden and the pharmacy, and Serla a letter to Tal-Serth to ask for a replacement beaker. She gave it to me to read, and I found it good enough and praised her handwriting. “We can go by the Temple on our way to the fairground, and send them right away,” I said.
Aine kept the children with her, “the summer fair isn’t a place for little ones!” and Nisha protested at first, but Hinla took her to the garden to play with the letter-blocks. Her brothers hadn’t got round to making a full set, so I thought we should perhaps ask Master Fian to borrow his so we could get the carpenter’s apprentices to copy them. And then, at the end of the summer, there would either be another set for the school, or any children in the hospital could use them.
“I’m giving Ardyth and Arieth the day after tomorrow off to go dancing,” Aine said, “and I’d like to go myself as well, if you don’t mind.” Of course we didn’t mind! Especially because we knew that Aine loved to dance. So it was only Amre and me and Jeran and Serla going to the fair today.
In the Temple of Mizran we found a very young bored-looking priest. He perked up when we gave him our letters. “Would you like a cup of wine?” he asked.
“Well, we’re going to the fair, we’ll have plenty to drink there.”
“Everybody’s gone to the fair. I’m the youngest so I’m on duty. I can’t very well have a cup of wine all by myself!” We laughed and sat down with him. “Next year you’ll able to send someone else, I’m sure!” I said.
As we reached the fairground, Jeran and Serla went off together — but not before Jeran had stuck a little bit of ryst to each of our backs. Serla must have taught him that! She looked very pleased when he did it, too. I raised an eyebrow at them. “That’s to find you if we need you,” Jeran said.
“Yes that was clear,” I said, “but isn’t it a … somewhat Nameless way to do it?” That made them both laugh and stick out their tongues at us as they disappeared into the crowd. Teenagers!
“Well, what shall we do?” Amre asked. We decided to just browse the stalls and see if there was anything we wanted. One of the silversmiths’ stalls had a long hairpin with two prongs, perfect for holding Amre’s knot in place, ending in a wonderfully detailed swan with a ruby eye. “I want to buy that for you,” I said, and the silversmith let me put up Amre’s hair with it and brought us two mirrors so she could see the effect.
Those were excellent mirrors! Silver, with a layer of glass over it, and without a single flaw so the reflection looked exactly like the real thing. We were so impressed that we forgot the hairpin for a moment. “Where did you get the mirrors?” I asked.
“My mother makes them,” the silversmith said. “We sell them, too, not these, they’re for the stall, but others like them. They’re very expensive, though, we need to make ten for each one that’s good enough.”
That got me interested. “What do you do with the other nine?” Perhaps they’d sell them to us at a discount so we could have an operating room like Doctor Cora’s, flawed mirrors reflected the light just as well as perfect ones!
“Take them apart,” the silversmith said, “we can melt the glass and silver again and start over.”
I explained what I’d been thinking –and who we were, because the man was completey baffled– but that it wouldn’t be for some time, not until we had the hospital set up completely. “Well, just let us know?” he said. “We’re from Silvermine village, it’s to the southeast, very small, only about twenty people. We would like to see a doctor every once in a while.” Who isn’t Doctor Orin, he carefully didn’t say.
“We’ll look in on you when we can,” I said. We hadn’t been to any of the outlying villages and mines and workers’ camps yet, so we could start anywhere we liked. “And about the hairpin, how much is it?”
It was actually very reasonable: half again the value of the silver. I haggled for propriety’s sake and then paid more than it could have been, but less than the silversmith’s original price, and everybody was satisfied.
“You’re very pretty,” the silversmith said to Amre, “but I see that I don’t have a chance. You’re like my sister and her woman. But can I at least have a dance?”
“Of course you can,” we said.
Then Amre wanted to buy me something too, of course, but we couldn’t really find anything. There was an alley with goldsmiths’ stalls, with Ranaise at the entrance, who greeted us cordially. Gold doesn’t do much for me, but I like to see good work, and there was enough to see. A young couple, farmers by the look of them, were trying to choose something to buy for each other: he wanted something beautifully made, but she was more practical: a necklace with gold eagles hanging from it, so they could take them off and spend them if the money ever ran out. After all, the farm was doing well now, but who knew what it would be like later?
At the back of the goldsmiths’ alley we saw even more gold eagles: a whole waistcoat made of them, like the one from Amre’s adventures! But wouldn’t that be much too heavy to wear if it was gold? I picked it up and handed it to Amre, and we both thought the same thing: that can’t be gold, it must be gilded tin!
“Anything that appeals to you?” the salesman asked. “A vest, a belt? It’s an investment for the future!” We shook our heads and quickly left to catch up with the farmer couple, out of any goldsmiths’ earshot.
“You were looking so strange at that waistcoat,” they said, “was there something wrong with it?” We told them what we thought was wrong, and they said, “It was much too cheap at the price anyway, we’re not surprised! But is that allowed, make coins that look exactly like real coins? Shouldn’t the Temple of Mizran know about that?”
“Yes, they should,” we said, and they promised to tell them when they went there anyway. We talked a little more with them — they were prosperous young farmers, from a village somewhat to the north of the town, “and it’s got its own land, it doesn’t belong to the town lands!” I made a point of remembering that, because that was exactly what we needed for High Penedin and it might be possible to cause it, buy the land from the town or something like that.
We came to the fire-pits where people were roasting an ox and a sheep whole, and also many pieces of meat and sausages on smaller fires. We each got a piece of the sheep, wrapped in bread and topped with fresh cheese, and a bowl of tart but nice beer.
That finished, it was time to dance! There was a large clear space on one side, where people were playing fiddles and whistles and shawms and drums and a thing that I’d seen once before and knew was called a hurdy-gurdy, a sort of fat fiddle with a handle that turned a wheel that touched the strings. We danced with each other, with the silversmith in a ring dance as well as each in a couple, with strangers, and then we ended up sitting at the edge of the dance floor with Satha and Raith of the Crown. “We closed the inn!” they said. “Not completely, people can still sleep there, of course, but we refuse to cook or serve until the feast is over.”
Jeran and Serla came to drink some of our beer, but then they went back into the crowd of dancers. “Don’t wait for us!” they said, “we’ll make our own way home!”
And they did: we’d come home after midnight and joined the people already sleeping in the garden because it was much too hot in the house, and when it was already light and children were waking up Jeran and Serla came home, sweaty and happy. “We danced all night! And now we’re thirsty!” They drank water from the well and poured some over their heads and found a place that wouldn’t get the sun all day, and fell asleep like a couple of kittens.
That day we tried to work, but we were still tired and anyway everybody was still feasting so our only patients were the three in the workshop. In the afternoon we went to Luthjul’s house to invite the midwives and herbalists to come to dinner on the Day of Anshen — not the day after tomorrow, but in nine days, Aine would need time to plan. She wasn’t there, but Eirith was, doing laundry. She was glad to see us, everybody else was either at the feast or at work but she, like us, had missed the feast because of working. “It went well though,” she said, “a nasty breech, but everybody made it. Luthjul said it would have been my master’s work if I’d been a year further along. But there’ll be another, I suppose.”
The next couple of days we were really running our practice. Rounds in the morning, receiving patients in the afternoon, getting into a routine. It wasn’t very busy yet, people were still learning that we were here. Our patients from the workshop were gone too, collected by friends and family.
Then, on the Day of Anshen, between two afternoon patients, a grey-haired woman appeared at the front door with a little boy.
“This is Merain,” she said, “he’s coming to live here.”
It took me a moment to realise who these people were. “You’re Aine’s son!” I said to the boy, who nodded shyly.
“And I’m Aine’s mother,” the woman said, but Aine was already there, hugging her son like anything.
Immediately — she didn’t even sit down for a cup of wine — Aine’s mother started to run her finger over surfaces to check for dust, criticising everything, that I was still nursing the twins, that we didn’t have a husband, that we sent the laundry out, that Serla was unescorted with Jeran around (little did she know). And she gave advice, most of which we said yes to and ignored. But she cooked, too, and even better than Aine! And when we showed her the pharmacy and distillery that we had in the former wash-house she couldn’t help being impressed. I was impressed, too! Serla had put everything in its proper place, and there was a set of scales that I hadn’t seen before, obviously made by Ishey, all of wood, each chain cut from a single stick. We’d have to buy weights, though, because the wooden weights they’d also made looked good but didn’t have the proper, well, weight.
Meanwhile our children were making Merain feel at home. I heard him say “I don’t know who my father is,” and Hinla said “I don’t know who my father is either, or who my mother is! But I know who my parents are. They’re my mamas who rescued me when my other father and mother put me in a bowl to die.”
“They put you in a bowl to die?” And then, of course, Hinla had to tell the whole story, getting Merain more and more confused but also intrigued.
When Aine had installed her mother in one of the little rooms upstairs that we’d been cleaning, and the old lady had retired for the night, we sat in the kitchen for a while. “That she wanted you to get a man,” Aine said, “you know, she had to marry for the farm and that made her lose her girlfriend.” At least that explained that she’d been so bitter about it! It was a good thing that she’d be leaving in the morning.
She left very early, showering Aine and Merain and us with more advice. We hitched the donkey to the wagon — just the bottom of it now, we’d taken down the whole top — and took the whole family to the farm as we’d already planned. Only now Merain was with us as well! It looked like he really felt part of the family already, with the other children teaching him the Ishey words for all kinds of things we saw on the way.
We paused for a late breakfast along the way. There was a sheltered place near the shallows with enough room for all of us to sit and eat the stuffed pancakes that Aine had made and the first ripe apricots, and drink weak beer or lemonade. A young otter came and sniffed at us, but when someone tried to give it a bit of pancake it recoiled with a sniff like a sneeze and disappeared into the water. “Can we swim, too?” Hinla asked, and when we said yes she and the twins pulled Nisha and Merain along, promising to teach them — the three of them had grown up in a house with a pool, after all! Jeran and Serla had found another place out of sight; we could hear them talking quietly.
Then we noticed a man and a youth sitting together on a bit of higher ground. When we greeted them, the younger one grinned and went off to where the children were splashing in the water, and the other came and sat behind me and Amre, an arm around each of us.
Aine’s face was full of shock. “Both of them!” she managed to say.
“The other one came for the children,” I said, and then the children came out of the water, bouncy with happiness. “Dayati came to swim with us!” Yulao said.
“Yes,” Amre said, “we saw Dayati too. And Anshen was with us but he’s gone now.”
“What are you when the gods concern themselves with you so?” Aine asked.
“Perhaps we did them a good turn,” we said.
Jeran and Serla appeared too, doing something with semsin that I didn’t recognise at first, but Hinla did: they were playing cat’s cradle!
It was about mid-day when we got to the village; we’d spent quite some time at the waterside, and the donkey wasn’t as fast as the mules either. There was a whole welcoming committee: Coran, Jilan, Jeda, Malao, all of them completely white, even the ones who were usually black, and a huge dog with white splotches that had Hinla hanging round her neck at once. More young people were coming now, most of them from the village but I recognised Ran’s son. “You didn’t tell us you were coming today!” Coran said, “or we’d have washed or something.”
No, we hadn’t, come to think of it. We’d only got the idea because we’d been talking to the farmers from a village that didn’t belong to the town.
“Come look!” Now we could see why everybody was white: they’d been whitewashing the house, all of it, inside and out. “And we’ve closed all the holes in the roof, only we can’t see if it’s really done until it rains again. And sowed the fields with clover to dig under, we won’t have any crops yet this year anyway.”
We went to talk to the priestess of Naigha about the ownership of the lands and the mine. “Haven’t you got all the papers? Oh, not about the farm, about the land. Yes, I can find those for you.” She handed us a little stack. “The Temple will copy them for you, or if you copy them yourself you can ask Jinla for a seal if you want it official. Your people go back and forth all the time anyway, I’ll get them back sometime.”
“How are they settling in?” we asked.
“Splendidly. They do a lot of things differently, of course, but it’s not wrong. And our young people work harder too, not only when they’re helping them, in their own work as well.” We seemed to have done a good thing, bringing Ishey and their way of working into the village!
Outside the temple some of the young people were waiting to talk to us. About the house and the farm, but also a girl who asked “is it true that you have a paper that says you’re allowed to hunt? And does that mean the farm people are allowed to hunt, too?”
“We have a paper that says we are allowed to hunt, and everybody who belongs to our household,” I said. “The king and queen wrote and signed it. It says that Amre and I and the rest of the Ishey who were with us at the time may hunt anywhere except on the king’s own lands around Valdis.” That included Jilan, but probably not Coran, because he hadn’t joined the Ishey until we’d settled in Turenay.
“The king! And the queen! You see, if the king and the queen say that the game belongs to everybody, the land that the game is on belongs to everybody too! And everybody, that’s us!”
Hm, that definitely wasn’t what the permit was for; it was so the Ishey could eat. “It’s at our house in town, I’ll have a copy made and we can see what it says,” I said, rather more cautiously than usual.
It wasn’t until we got home — after sundown, all the children were sleeping on the wagon, but the fair was still on so the gate was still open — that we remembered Hylti.
We called Coran, who said that she was all right, she was staying with a family where she could probably work too when she recovered. Not for us to worry about, at least not at the moment! He also told us that the couple with the baby who we’d sent there to get healthy and work on the farm had turned up almost the moment we left, we must just have missed them on the road.
The next day was another work day, with rounds in the brothels again. We hadn’t been back for half an hour when there was a woman at the door. Very large, even larger than Orian. “I’ve heard you need someone,” she said. “To hit people for you.”
“Not to hit people!” we said.
“When they hit you I hit them,” she said.
“Oh!” we said. “To protect us. A bodyguard.”
“Yes. That.” She was silent for a moment. “You must know, I’m not nice.”
I’d like to give her a chance, I said to Amre.
But we don’t know her.
Does that matter? We can get to know her.
“I’m Venla,” I said, “what’s your name?”
She shrugged. “Don’t have one. They call me ‘hey you’.”
“That’s not a name!” Amre said.
The woman shrugged again. “I’ll work for you. When you say hit, I hit. I worked in the mine, boss made me hit people who didn’t work, but some people were too sick to work and I don’t want to hit sick people. You make sick people better, I work for you. Somebody hurt you, I hurt them.”
“You don’t need to hurt them,” we said, “just keep them away from us, chase them away.”
The woman nodded, clearly not understanding the difference. Amre still had some misgivings, but I thought we could take the risk. Anyway, we needed a bodyguard! “How did you hear that we needed someone?”
“Selle told me, at the Blue Fish,” she said. One of the not-all-that-bad whorehouses up the hill, where we’d rid half a dozen girls of lice.
I nodded. “You can come and work for us. Let’s see how it works out.”
“Mind, I want my keep,” she said, “and clothes twice a year.”
“And money, of course,” Amre said.
The woman shook her head vehemently. “No money. I’m too stupid for that.”
We’d see about that, I thought. We sat her down at the kitchen table and gave her ale from the jug. Hinla came and snuggled against her, “What’s your name?”
“They call me ‘Hey you’.”
Hinla was properly indignant. “That’s not a name! Let me think. I’m going to call you Rava, because you’re so big, you look like a smith.”
“Rava.” She tasted the name on her tongue. “Yes. Rava. I like that.”
We left Aine to find Rava a place to sleep and take care of whatever else she needed, and started working. In the middle of the afternoon Arieth knocked on the practice door. “There’s a man at the door,” she said. “I won’t let him in because he’s not a patient. He’s got soldiers with him.”
“The city guard?” I asked.
“No, I’d recognise those. But they’re soldiers all right, in uniform.”
We sighed and went to see what the man wanted. He was well-dressed in a sloppy way, as if he had more money than civilisation. Behind him, there were half a dozen uniformed men who looked if possible worse than the city guard.
“I’ve come to retrieve my property,” he said.
While were frowning at him — we didn’t remember taking anyone’s property — Rava came up behind us. The man pointed at her. “Hey, you! Come along with me right now! You’re behind in your work!”
“I’m Rava,” Rava said. “I’m not yours.”
“We offered her a job and she took it.” I said. “She’s working for us now.”
He ignored that. “You know what I can do to you if you don’t do your work,” he said to Rava. “You’ll feel the cat with nine tails. Tails with nails. You know how that feels.” His voice became almost oily, making me shiver.
Rava pushed between us and closed the door with a bang. “Closed,” she said.
“That was very good,” we said. “Is he your boss?”
“Works for my boss. He’s the –” She didn’t know a word for it. “In the mine. Makes the people work.”
“Overseer?” Amre ventured. “Which mine?”
“That one.” Rava pointed. “Closest to town.”
We’d probably see the man again, but he seemed to have gone away when he realised he wasn’t going to come in. That was for later. I did wonder whether we’d have to protect Rava as much as she was protecting us.
When we finished work, Jeran was in the corridor, “can I borrow some money to buy tools, and nails and things? It’s for our –” He shut his mouth and blushed.
“For the thing you were planning?” Amre asked. “We’re going to need tools anyway. You can go to the smith.”
The following day was a market day, but the market was almost empty! Everybody was watching the New Bridge. Or– new bridge? It looked like an old bridge, not of wood like the New Bridge we knew but of blackened stone, hundreds of years old like the Ishey bridges in Lenyas. It was carved with figures and also letters: “Ishey boys are the best of all boys and Ishey girls are the best of all girls!” And in another place: “This bridge was built two thousand years ago by the Ishey, who weren’t here at the time.”
“We were planning it for next year, but we thought you’d need a diversion,” Jeran said at my elbow. Coran and Jilan were there too, and Malao and Jeda, and several of the young people from the village.
“We carved all the stones in advance, and pissed on them to weather them,” a girl said, “you can do it with vinegar, but Coran said he needed the vinegar for pickles. You can’t make pickles with piss. Well, you can, I suppose, but then you won’t want to eat them any more.”
“I couldn’t reach you at all yesterday!” Coran said, “there was a seal on the house, not yours, but very strong, I didn’t get through. So we thought we’d just go ahead and do it.”
Gods, that must have been Rava closing the door! She must be gifted, I could see that when I looked closely, but completely clueless about it. She’d told the door to be closed and it was closed; that needed no thinking.
The moment we got home Jinla was on the doorstep. “Did you build the bridge? I mean, did you commission the bridge?”
“Not exactly,” we said, “the young men in our household did it as a stunt, I suppose.”
“And you don’t want any recompense for it?”
“They didn’t do it for money, they did it to have something that would be talked about. That’s what Ishey are like.”
“Well, whatever it’s for, it means that we won’t be charging you Temple fees for anything to do with the house or the farm as long as you live here! Replacing that rickety wooden prestige thing with a sturdy stone bridge, in one night, costing the town nothing at all, that’s definitely worth something!”
“Er, thank you,” I said, and Amre, “now you’re here anyway…” and we put Caille’s papers about the mine in front of her. “We were talking to some people from a village that’s got its own land, it’s not on town land. We wondered if High Penedin could be like that, so the town doesn’t own the mine that the village is working.”
“Hm, you have a point. Can I take the papers? I’ll look into it.” I mentioned the hunting permit too, but Jinla said, “One thing at a time, please” and went away with the papers.