Choosing

The village is all right — more than all right. But now we’ve got a dozen bandits on our hands.

Rava asked (probably after the night in the temple) either how to start with semsin or to talk to the gods, but I don’t remember any details! Will edit when I do.

We woke up because a cockerel was searching for worms in Amre’s ear and made her shriek. “Do that again and you’re soup!” Amre cried, and I tried to catch the bird but it fluttered out of reach and scratched in the hay. We were still tired but it was day, so we went down to wash at the well. There were more people there than the villagers: a man who was clearly of Anshen, and more men and women, with laden donkeys. The man introduced himself as Geran. “We saw the waterspout,” he said, “and we thought you might need some supplies!” There was enough food for everyone, and clothes and household things that would serve until everything was cleaned up.

Old Jarn put an arm around Geran. “Cousin, you’re an excellent man, in spite of our differences.”

Now we were going to have the name-giving first. I really wanted to stitch up Caille properly, but we didn’t have any needles to do that with. “Can you stand?” I asked, and she could, though she felt like her legs were made of wax.

Aldin held the baby up to the gods and named her Pái. “We wanted to name her after you,” Caille said, “but there are three of you and we have only one daughter!”

“It’s not wrong to name her after her great-grandmother!” I said.

I asked if anyone could lend me a silver needle. “Does it have to be silver?” someone asked, “won’t bone work?”

“If there’s only bone it will work, though it’s probably not fine enough,” I said. “As long as it’s not copper!” But old Jarn sent some of his family to make needles, “it’s not as we don’t have silver here! And people to work it! Do you want them straight or bent?”

“Both, if you can,” we said, and I said, “only the point bent, can you do that?”

“With a cutting edge on the inside?” Ashti asked.

“Yes, please!”

We got six needles, two straight, two bent, and two with only the point bent. So I stitched — it wasn’t easy, especially as I’d done it in a hurry the other day, but Serla did much of the healing of flesh and skin and the new needles were splendid.

Amre had already gone to see to Reshan and the woman in the workshop. When Apparently she’d asked Reshan some questions; when I came in I could just hear the woman say “and I don’t suppose your boss is going to pay up now either!”

He said that the town council sent him, Amre said to me, but I don’t believe one word of it!

No, me neither. But I wouldn’t be surprised if Rayin was behind it all on his own.

It was clear that both of them had been thrown high in the air by the water or the wind, and dashed back on the hard ground from that height. Bruises, abrasions, broken bones, but both of them alive and angry. We did what we could, helped by the fact that I saw my bag standing in a corner — I must have taken it with me by reflex! — so at least we had some of our instruments and medicines. I’d have given something for the knives from Veray, though! (Perhaps we should ask the weaponsmiths’ son to make us some more.)

The two other patients were doing all right; Jarn had told both of them that they could stay if they wanted, there would be enough work for them to do when they recovered.

Rava was standing guard at the workshop door, carefully out of sight of Reshan.

We wondered what to do with Reshan and the woman: we could hardly take them back to Tylenay for justice, because all they would get there was a job with the city guards! We’d seen Arin among the dead, there must be more vacancies for the same reason. And wherever we were taking them, they were in no condition to walk or ride a horse and we didn’t want to saddle the village with them.

“Ferin!” I said. “When is he due, tomorrow?”

Amre counted on her fingers. “Today,” she said, “at the crossing, anyway.” A couple of teenagers went to explore — we’d need to know if there was any road left after the waterspout, too!

They came back with not only Ferin and some of his guards, but also some of the bandits who they’d rounded up on the way! “Anyone need a doctor?” we asked, and yes, we found some fractures that hadn’t kept them from trying to get away. “Nobody with broken legs?”

“We left them, couldn’t carry them!” And then the village sent out people to see if the others could be saved, because there were wolves and bears and mountain lions.

One man had apparently hit his family jewels on a rock. Serla was very interested, but she noticed soon enough that that was’t what was bothering him, it was that he’d been to a whorehouse twenty years ago or more, and never gone to a doctor though he’d needed one! “I can’t fix that“, she said.

“No, neither can we,” Amre said.

“I think you can at least fix it so he can piss without pain,” I said, and she shuddered but put her mind to it anyway. Hylse kept close to her becasue she wanted to see what was happening. “Oh!” Serla said, “you’re of Archan too, I can just show you!” And then the girls were working together, just like that.

I’m going to write a journeyman’s letter for Serla when we get home, I said to Amre. And an apprentice letter for Hylse, I think. Serla had definitely done something a different way than we’d taught her! And Hylse had already said she wanted to come with us to learn, though we were thinking more and more that it would be better to send her to Turenay to learn at the hospital.

Serla and Hylse were definitely best friends now, and Jeran was more than a little jealous! And I could see that Hylse found Jeran handsome — Well, let the young people solve their own problems.

Now the bandits were brought in who were too wounded to walk: one was dead, and had been savaged by something with impressive teeth, the other two alive but battered. By now we were all very tired, but we did what we could, and then all the captives were tied to the rings that usually held horses. A dozen in all, not counting the two in the workshop.

Now how would we get them away without having to go through Tylenay? Everything went through Tylenay from here. Ferin was willing to lend us some guards — the bandit problem had been mostly solved for now anyway– and to transport the wounded who couldn’t walk, but he went through Tylenay too, of course.

Amre had been talking to Tarn in case he had a bright idea, and he had! There was a smugglers’ road, which obviously everybody knew about, but the adults had learned over the years not to mention it. It went through the densest part of the wood and came out in, of all places, High Penedin. The village where our own farm was! And from there it was quite easy to get to Low Penedin where the rafts started that went to Veray on the river. I wasn’t completely at ease about Veray, for all I knew Rayin was about to seize power there, or had already done it, but we could hardly go along all the way to Veray to see if everything went right. If we went to town and on to Low Penedin, we’d arrive before the others, so we could talk to the raft people. (And if we were going there anyway, we could look them over, too!)

As for Veray, I just hoped that the court had sent someone capable who was holding the fort until a new baron could be appointed, and I also hoped that that new baron wouldn’t be Rayin! If we sent Reshan to Rayin now, things were guaranteed to go very wrong…

Night was falling. Grandfather Jarn came up to us and said, “with all that’s happened, do you remember we had an appointment?”

Yes, we did remember! “Let’s talk in the temple,” we said. All the gifted villagers trooped into the temple, except Hylse who stayed outside with Serla.

When we all had a place — most people on the floor, but Jarn and P&aaucte;i on chairs and Amre and I on stools — Jarn started out by asking us what had brought us to the gods, being foreign and all. I said that I hadn’t looked for the gods, but the gods had looked for me, and told them how I’d fled from the servants of — well, call him by his name — Archan and taken refuge with the servants of Anshen.

Jarn wanted to know how I’d known to flee, of course. “It didn’t feel right!” I said. “It didn’t taste right!” I didn’t have the words for it, except the words of the twelve-year-old that I’d been, but Jarn seemed to understand, and Mialle really understood.

“Remember when I ran away? And came back pregnant? One night they were both there, Archan and the other, and I didn’t know which was which but one of them promised me that I could earn good money and make a name for myself in town, with his help! And the other one didn’t say anything but I sort of knew that he’d be there for me if I needed him. But at the time I didn’t want either of them, I’d take care of myself!”

Jarn grumbled a bit — if she’d come back pregnant, but without the father, taking care of herself clearly hadn’t gone exactly like he’d wanted. But he admitted that Mialle had a point. “We’ve been of Archan here for generations,” he said, “and we’ve always felt supported in our work, we’ve got prosperous, we have come through bad times together. But now you’re here, showing us what the other one can do for people — we’d like to hear more.”

So we told them more. It must have gone on for most of the night. Then Jarn stood up stiffly — he’d been sitting in the same position for hours, listening and thinking — and said “Children. Grandchildren. Great-grandchildren.” Pái squeezed his arm and I could hear her think I’m with you. As I’ve always been. “I don’t ask of you to join me in this, but I make a choice now. Every one of you can make their own choice, but I choose Anshen.”

And eventually most of them chose Anshen — some of the teenagers expected that they’d be able to make lightning like us, but we disabused them of that at once. Mialle was still in two minds, as she’d probably been even before each of the gods tried to get her on his side. Aranin didn’t decide on the spot: he was perhaps the only one in the whole village who was of Archan from conviction, not custom.

“Will you lead us in prayer?” Jarn asked. We did, of course, and promised to send someone to teach them because we couldn’t stay to do that. They needed a real master; the only ones who had ever learned to use semsin were the two woman born in Velihas, and that tradition was so different that it wouldn’t work for the others unless they went to live there.

The next morning came far too early. Ferin and his guards hadn’t been talking and praying all night, they were as fresh as could be! We took Tarn with us, because Amre had talked him into going to Valdis to study with the city engineers, and Hylse to send on to Turenay, and Moyri who we’d trussed up like a sausage and tied to some logs on the last wagon. Tarn had taken to Jeran, especially as Jeran had promised to teach him to use a sling, “a catapult without the stick”!

“I’ll take this piece of baggage to justice for you,” Ferin said, “I suppose that’s Arlyn.” Reshan wasn’t with us; he’d have to ride a donkey on the smugglers’ road, because we couldn’t risk taking him through the town gates.

When we were half a day on our way a man came walking towards us from the west. “Is that the way to Silvermine?” he asked, pointing with a hand that lacked all the fingers. His face was scarred as well, and he looked very familiar. “I think we know each other,” he said.

“From Tal-Rayen!” I said. I couldn’t recall his name, but he was a master in the Guild all right.

“I was told that they needed me there,” he said.

“So they do!”

He grinned and walked on, waving. When we turned to wave back we saw that the village was protected the same way as Tal-Rayen now, with a veil of power from Anshen.

Moyri might be trussed up and tied down, but she could still use her mind. Amre hurriedly slammed a seal between her and the people she was trying to reach. Perhaps she’d been too late, because in the night we woke from a noise — two young men were bothering Hylse and Serla, but they were giving as good as they got. Ferin was there at the same time as us, “hey, you don’t go bothering girls in the middle of the night!”

“Or at all,” I said.

“But we heard that there were people of the Nameless here!”

“Yes, that’s us two, not those girls you were bothering, seeing who it is that you are calling the Nameless. So if I were you I’d just go home.”

They muttered a bit and retreated, while Jeran came from the wagons. “Come see what I’ve got!” he said.

Two men and a woman were lying on the ground, one of the men dead and the other two unconscious, all from slingshots. “Oh!” Jeran said. “I didn’t mean that! They were about to steal the horses.” And yes, some of the horses’ leads were loose already.

“It’s hard to see where you’re aiming in the dark,” we said, “that was an accident!” Ferin laid the dead man on the wagon, next to Moyri, to take to the temple in town.

The other two were coming round now; anyway it was almost day. “Stay in the shade for a couple of hours,” we told them, “then you may go home, slowly and carefully, and lie in the dark for a day or two until your headache is over.”

There was much less of a fuss at the town gate, because everybody was busy clearing up the mess. We didn’t tell anyone that we had made the mess! The wooden bridge was gone, but the new Ishey bridge had stood, only it had been scoured completely white!

“There goes our work to make it two thousand years old,” Jeran grumbled. He could hardly collect all the people who had helped making the stone old and piss on it again!

And now we were going home to our children! The house was looking almost smug: the roof had been mended, the woodwork painted, and there was even a cobbled bit of street in front of the house. We didn’t have time to look at it with any attention, because the moment we showed our faces we were covered in little boys and girls. “Mama Amre! Mama Venla!” Even Merain was hugging us, perhaps because Hinla and Nisha were.

Then a woman we hadn’t seen yet came from the garden. Thin, about sixty years old, with hardly any teeth left. “I’m afraid I took on another maid,” Aine said, “Halla, she’s very good at brewing. She used to brew for one of the miners’ mess halls but she’s getting too old for it. It does make a difference whether you brew for twenty or two hundred.”

“Yes, it does,” we said, “good work! And welcome!”