Leaving town

On the road again. It’s not the same without the children!

Hinla and Nisha had taken it on themselves to teach Rava her letters, but Nisha’s set of letters didn’t include ‘r’ or ‘v’ yet so it was hard to even teach her to read her name. The school was open but there were no lessons: the old couple were looking after the children whose parents were working. The children there might want to play with the letters so it wasn’t a good idea to borrow all of them, but we might borrow a couple at a time to have the carpenter’s apprentices copy them. The Ishey boys who had made the letters that Nisha already had, were all in the village! We sent Jeran to take care of it: the only Ishey boy (well, not couting Yulao) who was still here.

I don’t know how we came to agree that this was a good time to go to Silver Village, but if we didn’t do it now we’d probably keep putting it off. It was hard to make a plan! Amre wanted to take all the children, I only the little ones, but both of us were uncertain about it. I asked Hinla how big she was, big enough to do without us for a week? She was in two minds about it as well, but I think Nisha and Merain convinced her that she was at least as big as them. (And Merain was taller, but probably not older!)

That would still mean the large wagon: the two of us and the twins, Serla, Jeran to drive, and Rava to protect us. “No, Rava has to stay here to close the house when bad people want to get in!” Hinla said. She had a point, I thought, but I didn’t think Jeran could do all the protecting on his own, and we could always ask the neighbours to keep an eye open.

I looked for someone who would know with my mind and found Luthjul between jobs. Do you know you can’t reach it with a wagon? she asked. The road is all right until you get to the forest path, then you can only ride or walk. And you can’t take children on the horse with you, that’s much too dangerous and they slow you down. But Faran goes every week with a couple of large wagons and an armed escort, you can probably go with him. He’ll be at the Drunken Donkey near the north gate.

“I think all children are big children now,” I said. “You’re all going to stay home and take care of each other, and Auntie Aine will take care of all of you.” My milk would probably dry up if I was away for a week, but the twins were more than ready to be weaned completely.

We went to look in on the man with the broken legs, who was still waiting for his brother to come back with a wheelbarrow to take him away. “Is that the monster from Rayin’s mine, here in the house?” he asked.

“Her name is Rava and she’s working for us now,” we said, because it was clear who he was talking about.

“Well, watch out for her!” And he told us that she’d come from the little camp of feral children up on the mountainside that Rayin and Arlyn had cleaned up some years ago: who could work went into the mine, the smaller and weaker ones to Veray where the baron would take care of them. (“They’ve got a real baron there, one of Archan!”) Rava — then stil unnamed — had been five at the time, eight years ago, he said. I couldn’t believe that she was only thirteen, hardly older than Serla! And though she’d obviously seen terrible things and probably done terrible things, I couldn’t believe she was a monster either.

Rava wasn’t actually in the house now, she’d gone with Serla and Jeran to rent horses from the livery stable next to the Crown. She’d need a large horse, of course, with her size, and Serla had promised to teach her to ride.

We finally got round to doing the afternoon practice. One man clearly had a concussion, and we found out that he’d been in a brawl at the feast and someone had hit him on the head with something sharp. It had even made a dent in his skull! Amre could put that right with little effort — she’s really good at putting bones in the right place — but he’d have to lie in the dark for a couple of days. “I’m my own boss!” he said when we suggested telling his boss, “if I don’t work I don’t earn any money!” But he was a porter, and it wouldn’t do now to carry heavy packs, not until his head was all right again. We gave him the pallet that the man with broken legs didn’t need any more. When we come back we really need to have at least a couple of proper hospital rooms built!

Then Serla, Jeran and Rava came back with horses, Rava sitting on a large sturdy gelding. “It’s not so hard!” she said, “I haven’t fallen off yet!” The other four were nice placid mares, too placid for Serla who was a really good rider, but excellent for me and Amre who can only ride barely well enough.

After dinner we went to ask the neighbours to watch the house. Rhanion was sitting on the bench outside, his twin rolling a hoop in the road. They were eager to watch, “and you should ask Grandfather, too, he sees everything!” The old man was downstairs now, telling gripping stories about fights between bandits and the baron’s soldiers. “Ooh!” the boys said. “Were you a bandit when you were young?”

“Well, a bit of a crook perhaps,” he said, “but no, I fought the bandits, but the bandits were in the baron’s pay so I lost everything after all!”

Aine had already packed much of what we needed on the journey. “I’d have liked a couple of days’ warning!” she said. “Why the hurry?”

“Because otherwise we’ll keep putting it off,” we said.

“Ah, can’t sit still, I see. But do give me time to prepare next time.”

Then we remembered Faran at the the Drunken Donkey, and went there with Rava as an escort. “The Donkey!” Rava said. “That’s a swell place! They don’t hardly dilute the beer with dog piss!”

Several people on the way obviously knew Rava, and all of them took a step backwards when they saw her.

The Drunken Donkey was built for large wagons: there was a great yard, part of it fenced off and full of heavy horses. Three youngish men were leaning on the fence with their beer mugs. Inside we saw Faran, who greeted us heartily and got each of us a mug of beer, too. It was thick and cloudy, and Amre took only one polite sip, but I rather liked it except the very dregs, and Rava finished hers in one draught and then Amre’s as well.

“I don’t think you’re here just to drink beer with me,” Faran said. “What can I do for you?”

We explained what we needed. “I’m going north early tomorrow. That your guard? I don’t want her to play games with my guards.”

“I don’t play games!” Rava protested. “I only hit people who want to hit the doctors.”

“Well,” Faran said, “come to the north gate at sunrise and we’ll take you as far as the dirt road. There we go further north, and you turn to the west.”

We slept outside, because our bed was full of children, and not very long, because the sun rose very early and we had to be up at first light. We instructed Ardyth and Alieth how to care for the man in the dark room — if they wanted to be nurses here was their chance to start! “Let him drink plenty of water, and give him something to eat if he wants but not too much.”

“And help him on the piss-pot from time to time,” Alieth said. “We can do that.”

Amre took a broom handle out of the shed when we left; too short and too light to be a proper quarterstaff but better than nothing. I took another one. If that left Aine short of broom handles she could go to the carpenter herself!

At the north gate we saw the horses being hitched to the wagons: three huge wagons with four horses each. The wagons were still empty, but they’d really need all those horses when they came back full of logs! Jeran helped with the horses, talking to them, and it all went much more easily.

Faran called, and half a dozen armed men and women came out of the inn, looking more than a little hungover. Rava scowled at them but she said nothing.

At the gate we all have to give our name and age, but Rava didn’t know how old she was. “Put fifteen,” I said, and as the guard was writing that down the other guard stopped him, “hey, wait a moment, she looks exactly like the one we were watching out for!” He went into the watch-house and came back with a written note. “She has an outstanding debt to Rayin’s mine,” he said.

“She’s in our employ,” I said.

There was a bit of a standoff, but then Faran said, “stop that nonsense about debts to the mine already!” and the first guard agreed, “especially you, Orian!” clearly embarrassing him.

“All right,” Orian said, “I’ll write a new document without her name.”

“But I’d get farmer’s clothes to come back in if I were you,” Faran said. “Much less conspicuous than mine-worker’s clothes.”

Now we were on a long road between bare steep mountain-walls. Dust whirled up from the horses’ hooves, and the front driver yelled at Serla and Jeran who where having a race ahead of the wagons because with the dust they were kicking up he couldn’t see a thing. Every couple of hours we stopped to rest, once at a very deep dark pool with cold clear water. Jeran wanted to swim, but Faran stopped him, “it’s much too cold, one moment in that water and you don’t feel your legs any more.”

By evening we were in a small village. While Faran and his people sat in the village square drinking beer with the villagers — Rava somewhere at the side, also with a mug — we went to see if anyone needed us. The usual village stuff — an old woman stiff with rheumatism, someone who’d got a branch of a tree on his leg and it was healing badly, nothing we hadn’t seen before. The priestess of Naigha let us use her temple yard.

There were two men, just back from a stint in the ruby mines, who needed copper ointment. One of them had got married half a year ago, when he came back rich, but there was no sign of children yet! “Bring your wife,” we said, and it turned out that he’d given the clap to her, of course, and it was slowly making her barren.

“Can you cure that?” she asked.

We probably could, but the treatment would have to be done in the hospital, every day for two weeks. “You can ride with Faran when he goes back,” we said, “we don’t have to start right now, if it’s been so long already one more week won’t make a difference. If you have any work you can take with you, pack a basket, or else our housekeeper will find something to do for you.”

Another woman did have children, but she hadn’t stopped bleeding after the last one, and the baby was already a year old. “You can come to the hospital too,” we said.

“Can you really fix that?” Faran asked.

“Usually, yes,” I said.

“Hm, I don’t know if I can convince Ailin, but I’ll try.”

“Your wife?”

“My daughter-in-law.”

We really needed a proper ward! Three women at the same time who all needed to be in the hospital, even though none of them needed to be in a bed all the time. (Well, I didn’t know that about Faran’s daughter-in-law, but it was unlikely.)

Then, evening prayers. Rava was hesitant when we invited her. “That’s not for my kind of people,” she said, “only for people who shine when they think!”

“The gods are for all people,” I said firmly. Jeran joined us, and one of Faran’s guards, and somewhat later a teenaged boy from the village. A girl stood a couple of yards away, scowling.

“Lyse will come round,” the boy said, “she’s been learning semsin from her uncle for a while, he’s with the Nameless.”

Meanwhile, Serla and the priestess were talking in the temple. The priestess was very interested in Serla’s book because there was a lot of stuff in it that wasn’t in her book. And that was only Serla’s own notebook, not the one written by Doctor Cora!

We slept in the temple and got fresh pea pottage in the morning, even with bits of salt pork in it! Midsummer, and it hadn’t run out yet. Priestesses of Naigha tend to be frugal, of course, but this one didn’t look frightfully frugal.

The next day was more travel on the dusty road. The landscape seemed to flatten out a bit — I think because the road lay higher, not because the hills were lower. First we passed the village’s fields, then pastures with goats and a cow or two. We — especially Amre — tried to talk with Rava, but Rava had great trouble finding words. She remembered that she was little in the camp, and when she was bigger but not really big in the mine. “And then I did something that wasn’t allowed but I can’t talk about that. Then I had to hit people because the other one couldn’t any more, that’s fair! But then there was the bright girl, twelve years old, in the Blue Fish, and she said to go and work for you.”

I had an idea about who that girl might have been.

At the end of the day we stopped at the roadside near where a trail went off to the left. “That’s the road to Silver Village,” Faran said, “but you’d better go tomorrow morning or it will be dark and you won’t be able to find it! We bought a sheep last stop, it’s been stewing in the wagon all day.”

“I wish you’d bought two lambs so we could roast them!” someone said. But no, a sheep was half the price, and stewed in the strange kettle that they had for it, with glowing coals in a heap in the middle and a pot built around that, it was as tender as anything. Everybody got half a loaf of hard bread hollowed out and filled with stew, which had vegetables and herbs and pepper and a lot of onions in it.

We saw a little clump of people, not where Silver Village must be but on the other side of the road, some of Anshen and some of the Nameless. Perhaps we’d have time to visit them later.

Serla was eating and talking at the same time, in a fierce discussion with those of the guards and drivers who were of the Nameless. “Hey!” Faran said, “talking about the gods is all right, but yelling about the gods I don’t want!”

This time, when we were about to start evening prayers, two of the guards came up to us. “We saw what you did in the village,” one of them said, “we want to belong to…” (with a pained look on his face) “… Anshen… too. The other one never did anything for anybody!”

“Let’s sit down and talk about it,” Amre said, and we did, teaching from the beginning. I hoped Rava picked up a few bits and pieces too, but we didn’t push her. It did end in prayer, of course, in the dark under the stars.

When it was light again we took the trail through the wood. A couple of hours, Faran said. He did warn us that Doctor Orin had been there a week or so ago, and he’d done something at least, the people who had gone mad from the work were a lot less agitated now.

This was dense wood, very green, and we could hear and almost see and smell lots of game. It made me feel like hunting! Just as I was thinking that, we met a hunter who was gutting a deer. And he knew who we were! Aldin, the silversmith, had told the whole village about the beautiful young doctors who wanted to buy the not-quite-perfect mirrors for the hospital.

He took us to the village, which was very small but had a strong stone wall around it. On a bench in the middle a couple of people were sitting, no older than middle-aged, but they looked really unhealthy; perhaps these were the people who had gone mad from the work!

We found the silversmith too, or rather he found us, and he brought his wife who was very pregnant. “You’re here already! Caille, didn’t I tell you they’d come?”

While we were talking we noticed that there seemed to be something wrong with the baby. Serla grabbed Amre’s arm and said “I think it’s alive! I’m not sure, though.”

“Whether it’s alive or not,” I said, “it’s best that it’s born right now, if it’s dead you shouldn’t keep carrying it in your body and if it’s alive and needs help we can do that much better outside of you.”

“I was pregnant three times before,” Caille said, “but never had a living baby!”

“If this one is a living baby we’ll do all we can to keep it that way,” I said. “Do you have a priestess of Naigha here?” I didn’t think there would be a midwife, or she’d have seen something.

“She died,” Aldin said, “and her daughter died before her. The daughter was eighteen, and the mother forty-three. But you can use the temple.”

The villagers, those who weren’t at work in the silver mine, scrubbed the stone table in the temple hall, so we could put our own clean linen sheet on it, and Jeran went to boil as much water as he could, people swept the floor, chased cats out of the temple and threw out the straw mattress that was full of mice.

Amre was taking care of Caille herself — it turned out that her heart was weak — and Serla of the baby, who she was practically sure was still alive. I did the actual midwife work, get the contractions going and then make sure it didn’t go too fast. People came to help us — one man who said “I can’t do much, but I can make a light!” and several people who could give us anea.

I even felt hands on my shoulders with a force behind them that was SO MUCH of the Nameless that it made me shudder. “You probably won’t like this,” the old man the hands belonged to said, “but she’s my granddaughter, I’ll do what I can.” I could feel that he got the power directly from the earth, the way a tree got its food and water through the roots.

By the time the baby was born Caille was too tired to push, close to fainting. It was a little girl, bluish-white, and Serla got her out of my hands at once and did something I didn’t see, but the baby suddenly cried and moved. “There was something in her throat that was so dirty!” Serla said. “Not even slime, it was like — well, noxious stuff. Spirit stuff.”

“I think there’s milk here,” I heard Aldin say, and then he gently took the baby from Serla and put her to Caille’s breast. Caille came to her senses and saw what had happened, “a baby, a daughter!”

She needed stitches, and I did that quickly and loosely so she wouldn’t tear further but I’d have to do it more neatly later, with Serla to help close the wound, when we were all less tired.

Someone gave us bread and meat and onions, and we got a new straw mattress without any mice, but I don’t remember much more after that.