Lots of firewalling, too. What she wants to be is, of course, a Guild runner, but she doesn’t know that it exists or what it’s called. This session was full of player knowledge getting in the way of character knowledge– I actually refrained from doing something more than once because I was afraid it was player knowledge I was using. Also, if Venla wasn’t so expletive-deleted conscientious, she’d have run off on her own already– probably a good thing that she is, then.
(Note that ‘Khahesh’ is Coran’s other name)
I am so confused. If people could die of confusion I’d surely die of it. I went and asked Anshen at the Order house but all he said was “the ways are open, take the next step” and that didn’t help much, as if I didn’t know that myself! The problem is that there are so many ways and they all look equally open to me!
Well, I’ll start at the beginning. When we went to sleep, still on the roof, I saw an outline of someone on the higher part, and I said “Who is there?” and it turned out to be little Jilan, keeping watch over us “because the other Jilan can’t do it, Father asked me to.” I’d almost have stayed awake to keep watch over him because he’s so young, but I couldn’t help falling asleep. When I woke up in the middle of the night I saw him walking back and forth with a long stick over his shoulder, exactly like a grown-up wall guard. In the morning he was still there, looking ragged but determined. “Coran should have taken the second watch but I could’t get him to wake up!” he said. “Well, he can keep watch tomorrow,” I said, “now go eat something and sleep, watchmen are allowed to sleep by day!”
Father wanted to come along to Master Nakhast’s workshop, so the three of us went through the gate. There was nothing against going back to work, but I didn’t want to, the world had changed so much in the last two weeks that I couldn’t even imagine going back to the workshop, all days the same, for the rest of my life. There was so much more world out there! And I’d only seen a very small bit, but it had given me the taste for it.
Zendegî’s parents were working on a house on the same square as the jeweller’s workshop. It looked as if something very large had crashed into it — it turned out to have been a war elephant! “Yes, they do fall when someone cuts their hamstrings,” Zendegî’s father said. Well, lots of work for them! There was already part of a new wall that they’d built. The syrup-seller was back in his place too, sitting on a stool instead of standing: he showed us his scar once again. His dog had given birth to six puppies while he was in hospital! He’d thought she’d only eaten too many sweet cakes and got fat from those.
In Master Nakhast’s workshop who did we find but Ferin! He was all in splendid Iss-Peranian clothes. But when I called him by name, he put a finger to his lips and said “I’m called Doran here.” I took that at face value then, but I’ve been thinking, and perhaps it’s because he doesn’t want people to know where he is because he’s deserted from the army. He never looked like much of a soldier to me. But that’s none of my business, if he wants to tell me he’ll tell me, I’m curious but I don’t bug people. He did say that Erian hadn’t made it, poor man. I told him what I’d been doing, and he said “Good work! Did they pay you for it?” and I had to say no, they hadn’t– and I’d never thought of it that they might! It wasn’t work as such, after all, just people helping each other.
Master Nakhast took one look at Zendegî and gave her the day off, so I asked her to go to the harbour with me. First we met Shayad, who had been a slave but wasn’t any more by decree of the queen. He told us what was written on the large piece of paper on a wall on the square: that he was a lot better off than Zendegî. It was a proclamation from the queen of Valdyas saying that all slaves would get all the money they’d have earned if they’d been working for money, and wouldn’t have to pay back what their owners had used for their food and clothes. Then they were indeed better off, because if you work for pay you have to buy your own. But he had an idea: he’d propose to Master Nakhast to let him keep the food-and-clothes money and in exchange become a partner in the business. “And then I can marry you,” he said to Zendegî, after all, she wouldn’t need a dowry because he had plenty of money. But she wouldn’t have any of it, however much he wheedled. And as he was trying to get her to say yes, I saw him ogling a pair of pretty twins across the square!
It was now too late to show up at work and just start working, but I wanted to see how things were in the workshop anyway. There had been fighting in the harbour, I didn’t even know if it was still standing! And I could see smoke rising as if there was something on fire, but that looked as if it was more to the west.
Zendegî had never been to the harbour in her life! And it isn’t all that far, even closer to her house than to mine. So I showed her around first. The white tower had fallen, there was only a pile of rubble where it had been. At the quay there were three large Valdyan ships and some smaller Iss-Peranian coasters, some being unloaded and some loaded. We talked to someone from one of the Valdyan ships, who said it would be going to Essle in two days. I thought of going to Valdyas in it, but then I’d have to take Zendegî and I didn’t think she could leave her parents right now, even if my family was all right without me.
From one large ship people were coming: most of the men and some of the women were wounded soldiers limping along or being carried on stretchers, not to the hospital in Little Valdyas but to a large warehouse where they’d apparently made a temporary hospital. Well, I didn’t feel called to volunteer this time! There were also a lot of women and little children who weren’t wounded but came along anyway. I talked to a woman carrying a baby and holding a toddler by the hand. She talked even more western than the soldiers who had come with Lord Fian! But I could understand her: she said they’d come from Il Ayande, where the witch had burned the forest to get rid of the Khas, and the soldiers had fought and been wounded and they were coming here now because they couldn’t stay in the burnt land. Then she had to go after her man, “MY man!” she said. Someone next to me said, “three children from at least two different men, I hope she stays with this one!” Then I realised that there was another child in her belly, so soon after the baby at her breast. And she had hardly any clothes on, but perhaps that’s what they do in the west, Lord Fian’s soldiers had had few clothes as well.
While I was talking to that woman, Zendegî had seen something astonishing: her jewel-thief! He’d had very different clothes on, and his skin was lighter now, but she’d recognised him by the way he moved and talked. But of course she couldn’t catch him, and even the two of us together couldn’t have caught him. She did hear where he was going: to Essle on the White Hind, that same evening, because he was in a hurry. He’d said that his mother was ill, but of course Zendegî didn’t believe that.
We had to find someone to catch the thief for us! While we were looking for a soldier or something who looked dependable, Biruné was suddenly next to us and I introduced Zendegî to her. “What are you wearing!” Biruné said, and she was right because I’d lent Zendegî my other shift, but I had only one skirt, and her clothes were still at the hospital so that was all she was wearing. “Come to my house,” Biruné said, “we can lend you something!” So we went to the place where Biruné lived, a large block of small stacked dwellings, where I’d never been before. Her mother was there, shelling peas, and she was blind. “Here’s Parandé and her friend,” Biruné said, “her friend doesn’t have any proper clothes, is it all right to lend her something of Dadan’s?” “Let me touch you,” the blind woman said, and felt Zendegî’s face and hands and hair. “Yes,” she said, “you’re about her size, I’m glad we didn’t sell the clothes, it’s so much better to give them away.” So Biruné gave Zendegî a skirt and a jacket and a head-cloth, all red with painted patterns, and she looked splendid in it, she was so pretty! Biruné’s mother was sorry she couldn’t see it.
Biruné told us that her sister had died of a wasting disease, coughing and wheezing, and they’d called in the Valdyan doctor at the end but he couldn’t do anything any more, she was too far gone. “You should call the Valdyan doctors right away,” I said, “if you don’t have any money you don’t have to pay!”
Then Biruné had to go back to work, and Zendegî and I kept looking for someone to ask for help. We finally settled on one of the Greys because being dependable is what they’re for. We couldn’t find any we recognised from when we were at the Order house, but there was one who looked stolid and fatherly. “Master?” I said. “Excuse me, we’re looking for a thief– no, we’re looking for someone who can catch a thief for us.” “I’ve seen the thief,” Zendegî added, “and I don’t know where he is, but I do know when he’s going to be where!”
“You’d better come into the office,” the Grey said and took us to a wooden house next to the sailmaker’s workshop, which I’d never noticed though it looked as if it had been there forever. “I’m Orian,” he said, and at that name I had to look at him twice but he wasn’t at all like the Master Orian we’d met. We told him who we were and where we worked, and then he gave me that look that everybody has been giving me lately and said “Indeed, the sailmaker’s workshop? Next door? Why haven’t I ever noticed you?” so I had to explain all over again what Sergeant Alyse had said, that neither I or Zendegî had been gifted at all, or at least not known it, until we’d met one another and worked together. When I mentioned Jilan, he became very thoughtful and said “Oh, now I understand” or something like that, but he wouldn’t tell me more. “Curiosity is the besetting fault of all young girls,” was all I could get him to say.
Then Master Orian wanted Zendegî to show what she had seen, and I told her “hold his hand and think very hard!” because I could remember doing that, perhaps in the hospital, but it didn’t work. Then he said “may I come in and look?” and then Zendegî thought too hard so he flinched, but eventually he could describe the thief even though Zendegî had never said what he looked like! “We’ll have to wait until he actually gets to the White Hind,” he said, “don’t go too far away, we’ll want you around for it.” He also told us where to go for food, through a door on the other side of his office.
Here was a big common-room or kitchen, where a girl a bit older than us dressed in grey was stirring a big pot of fish soup. “Excuse me” I said, “Master Orian told us to come here for food!” “It’s not done yet,” she said, “he can tell you so much! But sit down, anyway. I’m Serla.” She looked half-Valdyan like me, but she was as pretty as Zendegî, and her hair was splendid, glossy black and curly and hanging down below her hips. Then a young man came in, called Mernath, who did get soup, and so did we then, and it was very good! Serla and Mernath told us lots about how they and many other young people had come to join the Order, according to Serla because they’d tasted her fish soup. While were eating, the common-room filled up with men and women in grey, and also in normal clothes, Valdyan and half-Valdyan and Iss-Peranian. They all seemed to belong with the Order in some way, even though they weren’t all in grey.
Serla had to go to the market then and took us along, for company and to carry some of her baskets. When she plaited her hair into a thick braid, I complimented her on it. “My father was a real Velain,” she said, “and my mother one of the palace beauties. Then, eighteen years ago or so, they met. But there’s another story, that it was my mother who was a Valdyan princess and my father a lad from over here. So you can tell that I’ve never known either of them.” She put a hat on her head that was more like a pot-lid than anything, and took us to the harbour market. I’ve never seen anyone bargain so well! Zendegî said that even her mother didn’t get such good prices.
Then I took Zendegî to the workshop so she could see where I worked. Biruné was stitching a seam all by herself, and my hands itched to pick up the punch and hammer and punch a stretch for her but I knew that if I did that I wouldn’t leave ever again. So I showed Zendegî the window we’d seen Lord Fian’s ship from, and took her all the way up to the cutting floor, and then it was getting so late that we went back to the Order office where Master Orian and some other people were waiting for us to come to the White Hind.
I didn’t know what a ‘hind’ was, but the ship had a kind of antelope painted on the side so it must be that. We climbed aboard, and Master Orian talked to the captain, but he denied having any passengers, so some of the Greys searched the ship while we and Master Orian stayed on deck with the captain. The captain looked intimidated, but I didn’t think Master Orian was at all intimidating. Perhaps because it wasn’t me he was trying to intimidate.
Master Orian’s people came back saying they hadn’t found anything, but Zendegî and I weren’t satisfied –after all the man had said he would sail on the White Hind– so we went along when they searched again, and I tried to see if I could find any stuff like the stuff the other Master Orian had used to lock his door with. I thought I saw something for a moment, but nobody else could see it, and where I’d seen it was an empty cabin with only a kit-bag lying on the bunk. “Whose is that?” one of the Greys asked, and it was the first mate’s. The first mate himself couldn’t be found, none of the men on board seemed to be him. I kicked the bag out of frustration, but it didn’t rattle or anything, there only seemed to be clothes in it.
“Now you’ll never believe us again!” I said to Master Orian when we were back in our little boat. But he did believe us, after all he’d seen the thief in Zendegî’s mind. Only, the thief had tricked us! The captain of the White Hind had been nervous enough to be in on the trickery. Angry, too, because the search had made him miss the tide.
Now there was nothing to be done. The Greys would go on searching, but Zendegî and I were sent home. It was getting dark already, and I thought I’d just make it to the gate, but there was another gate in the way that hadn’t been there in the morning, still half-built but it could be closed and was about to close. A Valdyan and an Iss-Peranian guard were guarding it. They asked our names and occupations, and wrote those down, and made us dip our thumbs in ink to stamp on the paper, and all of that made us so late that I couldn’t get through our own gate so I had to spend the night in Zendegî’s house. It was a good thing that our houses had only the moat and the wall between them, because I managed to give Coran a shout, who was on the roof preparing to stand watch.
Zendegî’s parents were delighted to have us. Her mother said “we don’t have guests often, and we’re very glad that Zendegî has a friend.” I said I was glad to have Zendegî for a friend too. Zendegî’s mother (who is called Kheili) was making flatbread on the hearthstone, and Zendegî went to get water at the big house and came back with some food at well. We had the flatbread and several kinds of small dishes, some green, some red, that all tasted differently delicious, most of vegetables but one must have had some fish in it. “We don’t have much,” Kheili said, “but it’s good to be able to share.” There was also wine, and Zendegî’s father asked me if I could dance. Well, I can, though not very well, and only little girls’ dances that Mother taught Rava and me, but Zendegî and her mother could dance so I watched them and tried to do as they did. It was great fun! When we were all sweaty and tired we shared the last drop of wine, and then we made a bed for me and Zendegî downstairs, and her parents went to sleep on the roof. We heard shuffling and giggling, and the roof creaked, it was clear that they were very much in love!
In the morning I asked if I could do anything, so Kheili sent me to fetch water. The well was in the courtyard of the big house and several people were already waiting in line for it. A grey-haired woman asked who I was, and when I’d explained it was all right. When I came back with the water, she gave me an earthenware pot, “that’s for Kheili”. It was full of something sand-coloured that smelt very nice, of peas or beans with spices, and Kheili put it on the fresh flatbread and it tasted very nice too. “If you’re as poor as we are,” she said, “you shouldn’t be too proud to take what’s given to you.”
Zendegî wanted to go back to work now, but I wanted to go home first, if only to talk to Father and Khahar about what had happened. Also, I wanted to find someone to ask about learning what I wanted to learn– reading and writing, first, and then all the stuff with my mind that I didn’t even know what to call it. It was strange to go the other way in the morning, and stranger still to find the house empty of everyone but Khahar and the little ones. “They’ve gone with a Valdyan woman,” Khahar said, “I don’t know where — I didn’t understand all of it — but Hava said it was all right.” I asked Serla, who was a bit miffed that she’d been too young to go along, and she said “to the cool!” I could imagine that: it was warm enough. “Where?” I asked, and Khahar thought it was in the royal palace or somewhere around there. “Oh, and you’re wanted at the hospital,” she said. “That doctor asked for you, but you weren’t here.” Well, I was going to talk to some people anyway, so I might as well go to the hospital. To pick up Zendegî’s clothes, I thought, but Khahar had washed those and folded them neatly. Perhaps for some more work, then; I’d see.
When I arrived at the hospital Doctor Ruyin was there and gave me sixteen shillings! And also sixteen shillings for Zendegî! It was a journeyman’s pay for two weeks of work, because that was what we’d been doing. I tied it in the hem of my shift, and Zendegî’s portion on the other side. Four times as much as I’d have earned in the sailmaker’s workshop. It was a strange rich feeling that I didn’t have to get back to work right away just for the money, and it went to my head a bit. Then I thought that perhaps the doctor would know where someone had taken the children and asked him. “Oh, that would be Lady Cynla,” he said, “… do you want the whole story?” Of course I did. “Well, Lady Cynla talked to Captain Rhanion, and he had heard from one of his journeymen that he’d met two young women who couldn’t read or write at all, so Lady Cynla got furious and said ‘if the Queen heard of that she’d explode!’ and got people to collect all children in Little Valdyas for lessons.” “That would have been us,” I said, “my friend and I, we were at the Order house and Jilan taught us a bit. Do you know if there’s something for people who aren’t exactly children any more?” but the doctor didn’t know, he only thought I’d find the children and Lady Cynla in the royal palace, just as Khahar had thought.
So to the royal palace I went, in Orange Blossom Square, and I found Lady Cynla in the courtyard surrounded by about eighty children between six and eleven –my sister Rava was about the eldest– learning a song with all the Valdyan letters. I sat at the back and learned the song with them. Then, after a while, the smallest children got fidgety and the lady called a break. Parents and elder brothers and sisters went up to her to ask questions, so I joined them and managed to get her alone for a moment.
“I’m a bit too old for this,” I said, “is there anywhere I could learn?” She looked at me curiously, then recalled something: “Oh, you’re that girl! You were cleaning in the hospital, weren’t you? Well, usually your master in the Guild takes care of that, or else your master at work.” “I’ve got two problems,” I said, “one, my master at work can only write Iss-Peranian, and I can speak two languages so I think I should learn to read and write two languages, and two, I think I want to learn another trade. Oh, and I don’t have a master in the Guild yet either, if it’s the Guild of Anshen you mean, I did have one, Doctor Serla, but she died. I suppose I could go back and work in the hospital and learn from Doctor Vauri, but I don’t think I want to be a doctor.”
“Good chance you’ll end up a doctor if you learn from Vauri,” Lady Cynla said. “You know what, there’s a Guild meeting in two weeks and I’ll arrange for you to be invited so we can find a master for you. What do you want to learn?” And I explained, haltingly, that what I wanted to do most of all was to make people understand each other, not only what they said but also what they meant. She told me a lot of ways that I could do that, ending with “… work for the king and travel around the world” — and that seemed the best thing I could do, but I felt that she personally wouldn’t like that at all, she seemed to want me to stay in the city. “I have sixteen shillings,” I said, “I suppose I can spend eight weeks on finding out what I can do.” “Oh, if it’s only that,” she said, and fished in her embroidered bag and closed my hand around a handful of coins, shillings and copper and large silver riders. “As for the other thing, I think I could get you apprenticed to one of my clerks who would be willing to teach you right from the beginning. Think about it.” I promised to think about it, and went away confused– so confused that I could only think that it was Anshen I needed.
I must have tied up the money with the rest, because I wasn’t clutching it any more when I arrived at the Order house and my hem felt heavier. Jilan was there, his arm still in a sling, and he waved to me but I didn’t really see him, I went straight to the fire and sat on the ground in front of it, just being with Anshen and basking in his glow. Eventually, I prayed, rather desperately, “what shall I do?” but the only answer he gave me was “All the ways are open, you must take the next step now.” Great help, that! If I could only see where to step, if I wasn’t so confused– Gods!
Then Jilan came and sat with me, and I told him about Lady Cynla’s proposal. “Did you promise her anything?” he asked. It was hard to recall, but I was sure that I’d only promised to think about it. “Oh, then it’s all right, you can keep the money,” Jilan said. Then his eyes glazed over for a moment, and he said “Your friend is at the harbour! Well, you won’t get there in time, better run home and help your sister-in-law with the cooking, I’ll probably come for dinner. And perhaps Alyse too. If you go through the kitchen, they might give you something.” And indeed, I got a bag of vegetables and a whole chicken!
The moment I got home I gave Khahar two shillings, “this is my week’s money.” She didn’t ask any questions. “I can give you money for the last two weeks too if you want.” Khahar shook her head. “No, that was the war, it’s not necessary.” Then both Jilan and Alyse showed up, and Father too, looking satisfied. Alyse said to Father “I’m staying tonight– for the last time, three times is enough.” That confused Khahar, and I found myself explaining to her that people in the Order may not marry but that they may take lovers as long as they don’t take on responsibilities– even though Jilan, or Alyse herself, could have explained that much better. Am I beginning to learn to do that already? People have been telling me all the time that I’m a grand master’s apprentice, which probably means that I’ll have to find a grand master to learn from– after all, if you want to be a smith’s apprentice you go and learn from a smith. But, as Master Orian said, there aren’t any, not of Anshen nor of the Nameless (as if I wanted to go and learn from someone of the Nameless!), and one of the people in Serla’s kitchen said I should go and learn from the king (as if the king would even notice me! But he also said that he’s the king, he notices everybody).
We ended up eating with a lot of people, not only our own family and Jilan and Alyse, but most of the neighbours as well. We made some long tables outside, everybody brought something to eat, and it was just like a party. But Khahar was looking grey and sad. Only then I remembered a conversation between Zendegî and her parents –half overheard when I was coming in with the water– that Coran was now the eldest son of the house, so he would have to marry his brother’s widow, as Zendegî’s father had done. I’d been too busy after that to work out something to do about it. Coran! Not even ten years old yet! I couldn’t imagine that it was what Khahar wanted, either. I was still looking for a way to talk to her about it when she said “Can I ask you something? Do you think Khahesh would be very angry if I brought (… I don’t remember his name) into the house, and married him? He’s an orphan without any family, and…” I was so relieved! I couldn’t very well say that, of course, so I said very cautiously “I don’t think so; shall I talk to him?” She looked relieved too, “yes, please, if you think it’s proper”.
That night was the first Zendegî and I had slept apart since we met. I woke up with a brother on either side of me, Jilan very annoyed with Coran because he had failed to take over the watch again. But I knew what was bugging Coran, and I took him apart when the girls and Jilan had taken the little ones away to wash. “Really?” he asked when I put it to him. “I wanted to, you know, speak to Lysna, she likes me a lot and she’s eleven already, but– really?” “Really,” I said, “Khahar knows someone she’d like to marry if you agree.” “But,” he said, suddenly too serious for his years, “I can’t very well shirk my duty, can I? I can’t live in a house with a strange man and a strange woman.” “But Father is still here, too,” I said, “and Khahar is your sister now, she’s not a strange woman.”
I didn’t even have time to decide whether or not to go to work this time, because before I could eat breakfast someone from the Order and an Iss-Peranian soldier were at the door to fetch me. “What has she done?” Coran asked, but it wasn’t that: Master Orian wanted me and Zendegî at the harbour to see someone. “The thief?” I asked, but no, it was someone else, they didn’t know exactly who. We passed by Zendegî house and took her along too. When we went through the new gate the soldiers jeered about “pretty prisoners”, but our guards made it very clear that we hadn’t been arrested.
Master Orian was in the Order house next to the workshop, with Serla and Mernath and some of the other people we’d seen yesterday. A man was brought in who I didn’t recognise but Zendegî did: the one who had told the thief that the White Hind would be sailing. He protested: “I haven’t done anything! I’m just a commissionaire, I get the ships paying passengers and take my cut! It’s not as if I am a thief!” “I know you’re not a thief,” Master Orian said (though the look on his face said as plain as could be that he didn’t trust him one bit, and frankly neither did I), “it’s just that we are certain that you saw the man we’re looking for, and we’d like you to tell as much about him as you can.” “I didn’t notice anything!” the man said, “he was in a hurry and he said he could pay, for all I know he went on the White Hind.” Master Orian snorted and sent someone to his office, who came back with the kit bag. “Do you recognise this?” he asked. No, the man didn’t, but we did! Master Orian took out one thing after another: clothes, underclothes, a razor in a leather case, a comb, a knife, nothing a traveller wouldn’t have with him; and finally a shiny striped jacket and a pair of breeches with a large stain on one leg. “That’s what the thief was wearing!” Zendegî said. “Look, there’s still blood on it.” “Well, that’s conclusive evidence at least,” Master Orian said. “Now where did he go? There haven’t been any ships going north after the White Hind sailed.” “Er, there have been,” one of the others said, “there was a ship, one of the coasters.” So the thief could have taken that ship, and arranged to be put on the White Hind later! “You’ll understand that I can’t send anyone after him now,” Master Orian said, “he’s out of my power. And even if he is on the Pride of Ildis” –that was the other ship, due to leave within hours now– “we can’t very well search that one too, we held up the White Hind half a day already.”
I thought I could perhaps see the man the way I’d seen something just before we found the kit-bag, but Master Orian and the others shook their heads and grinned at me. “You’re not even an apprentice yet!” Then I told them what Lady Cynla had said, and Serla scowled, “So she wants you for her pet grand master? Offer you a clerk job, keep you in the city, have you apprenticed to one of her flunkies? In five years she’ll be dead and you’ll work under her successor for a few more years, and then you’ll be rich and powerful and boring and never go anywhere, is that what you want?”
Now I knew why I’d been so uneasy with Lady Cynla. She hadn’t been as obvious as Master Orian-the-murderer, but she’d had some of the same kind of graspiness, wanting to possess me for herself. “No, that’s not what I want,” I said, “and I wish I knew what I did want.”