They were so eager to celebrate the Feast of Anshen with the Guild. But well, they’re doctors…
It was two days before Midsummer and the school had closed for the season. No more school until the Feast of Mizran! Of course, many of the children wouldn’t have come to school anyway because this was the time to have all hands on the land, but what about the town children? Not that I begrudged the masters their free time to rest, study, and get the school back in shape for the next season.
Nisha was particularly angry: just now she was finding a way to learn to read without pain! But we had the house full of Ishey, and we heard her bossing her brothers about to carve letters for her. Perhaps we could borrow Master Fian’s set to copy, because she hadn’t had time to learn them all yet. It didn’t help that Yulao and Asusu were sitting in the chickens’ enclosure, heads together, and sent her and Hinla away! “We need to be together sometimes,” they said, “otherwise we’ll be angry with each other in ten years!”
Jeda and Malao were standing watch at the front and the back door; they looked idle — they were whittling things from wood — but I could see that they were alert. And during the day, more and more coat-hooks appeared in the front hall, each one an image of the person whose coat it was for! They’d made Amre even more beautiful than she was already, a real princess; Aine had a round full-moon face; my hair was exactly like a dandelion; and Jeran had a longer and straighter nose than his own, as if he was of the House Eraday. “We won’t make fun of Ardyth and Arieth,” Jeda said, and indeed they had ordinary women’s heads, mirror images, looking at each other.
“It’s clear that you’re real Ishey,” I said.
“You don’t even know what we’re planning for next year!” Jeran said in passing. “Coran and Jilan and me. It’s going to be the talk of the town — of the country!”
Hm, if it was to be a prank like Tao and Mazao’s herd of goats in the royal palace, I was glad I wasn’t included this time.
I ran into Aine, who said that she’d pay Ardyth and Arieth two riders a quarter each from the household purse, as well as their room and board and clothes. Though it would be hard to get them dressed within two days now! When Malao and Jeda heard that they asked “may we go to the market and buy some white linen to make Ishey clothes for them?” and we thought that would be a very good idea.
Serla had a good idea too: make the wash-house into a distillery and apothecary’s workshop. Aine didn’t like it, because where would she do the washing then? We said that we’d already arranged for a washerwoman to collect and deliver our laundry — only we hadn’t had enough to collect until now — but Aine said “you’ll get it back all torn!” “Well, she does mending too,” I said, earning a scowl. But we were still the mistresses of the house and having the apothecary’s workshop where the patients wouldn’t barge in by mistake would be a very good thing.
In the brew-house, meanwhile, people were delivering big sacks of grain and hops, and Aine directed them to pour the grain into the big kettle and sent the boys to fetch water from the well to soak it. “From the bottom!” she said, “I’ll have no newts in my beer. That we have newts at all means that the water is clean, I’m not complaining, but they don’t belong in the malt kettle.”
Ardyth came to fetch us, “there’s a lady! I’ve let her in the front room, no further. I haven’t told her that you’re at home yet so if you want not to be at home I can tell her to come back later.”
A peek in the front room with my mind showed that this was someone in the Guild of the Nameless, who at least thought she was important. “Did you get a name?” Amre asked.
“Ernei Ranaise, she said.”
“That’s the head of the Guild of the Nameless!” I said. Not a grand master, we’d heard from Luthjul, and not one of the seven councillors either, but a lady to be reckoned with all the same. “All right, we’ll see her. Thank you.” And thank the gods for intelligent maids, I thought.
We left Serla to set up the equipment: the room had already been scrubbed, all she needed was the chest of glassware from Tal-Serth and some of the things from Turenay. She could get the boys to help her bring everything. I heard her saying things like “I need another shelf there” as we were leaving.
Ardyth hadn’t said too much: there was a lady. She was in her sixties, with fair freckled skin and hair that might once have been red but was now pinkish-white, pert curls peeping out from under a lace cap. That, and something about the way she held herself, made me think she’d had at least one grandparent from Velihas. Alieth was hovering in the room with a jug of wine, having already poured the lady a small cup. I motioned with my hand that she could leave.
There were polite and cautious introductions — the caution wasn’t only on our side. Then Ranaise asked Amre, “Aren’t you a goldsmith as well as a doctor?”
“I was an apprentice goldsmith,” Amre said, “when I was young, in Albetire. I’ve found another vocation since.”
“But don’t you miss it — wouldn’t you like to have the chance to develop those skills further? If only in your free time?”
Well, if she had any free time. Doctors don’t, it seems.
I thought Ranaise was going to offer the use of her workshop — I knew she was a goldsmith herself — but no, she didn’t, she came to the point instead. “Your apprentice — I gather that she’s learning the physician’s craft from you, but she will need a master in the Guild as well. I’d like to invite her to our Midsummer celebration so she can meet people in a … rather more casual atmosphere than otherwise. She would be permitted to take her friends, of course, so she’s not all on her own.”
“I’ll put it to her,” I said.
Ranaise seemed taken aback. “You’re her masters — surely you have a say in it?”
“We promised her mother to teach her to be a doctor, and not to interfere in her dealings with the gods and the Guild. We won’t impede her if she wants to go, but we’re not going to make her go. She and her friends already have plans for the Midsummer night, I’ve heard.”
That didn’t please Ranaise one bit. “May I come back later today to hear her decision?”
“Yes, of course you may,” we said. But she went on and on, telling us how much Serla needed to learn in the bosom of her own Guild. She was so convincing that I was afraid all the time that we’d actually be convinced and keep Serla from making her own decisions.
“There’s one other thing,” Ranaise said finally, “the news from Veray is in. You must be aware that Serla will not have an inheritance to look forward to.”
“She wasn’t looking forward to an inheritance anyway,” Amre said, “all she wanted was to become a doctor.”
“Her parents have been invited to Valdis to … explain themselves.”
“At least we won’t have to tell Serla that she’s an orphan,” I said. Not yet at least, I thought to Amre.
“No, the court’s messengers prevented that.” Hm, how to understand that? Either the messengers had kept the baron and baroness from killing themselves, or they’d kept someone else from killing them.
“Who is taking care of Veray now?” I asked.
“Ernei Merain from Valdis has been temporarily appointed until there’s a proper candidate,” Ranaise said.
We thanked her and got her out of the door. “Is it just me,” I asked Amre, “or is she as insidious as a dandar?”
“Its’s not just you.” Amre was lost in thought for a moment. “Let’s go to the little house.”
It wasn’t until we were sitting there — someone, probably Aine, had thoughtfully hung a kettle of ironweed tea over the fire, so high that it would stay warm without getting bitter — that she said, “If Serla goes to the party at the great house, we probably shouldn’t go out of town.”
I didn’t want to miss my first Midsummer feast with the Guild of Anshen here, but I saw her point. “We’re keeping her promise to her mother,” I said. “I won’t like it if she goes to the party at the other Guild but we’re not entitled to prevent her. And if she doesn’t go, it’ll be because she doesn’t want to, not because we don’t. She may have to apprentice herself to one of the masters here anyway, but she’s perfectly entitled to choose in her own time.” I didn’t say that I was still hoping that she’d choose otherwise, though bound by our promise not to try to cause it.
“You’ve got it all worked out, haven’t you?” Amre asked.
“No, I’m just stating what we already know.”
Then we heard from Serla herself: The big beaker is all cracked! I can’t use it!
Then we’ll get another one from Tal-Serth, I told her. Aine said we could order the same again at no extra cost. You can write the letter yourself, good practice.
We’d have to tell her everything before Ranaise came back, but we had to sit in Anshen’s presence for a moment. “I want us to do the herb garden ourselves,” I said, “I know that Serla can do it, after all she made the whole plan and she did it right, but I want to have my own hands in the earth.” And I knew that Anshen approved.
Serla had no intention to go to a party with a lot of masters of the Nameless who she’d never met before, just as we’d thought. And we’d been right to tell Ranaise that she had other plans already. The other news hit her hard — “I have to talk to Jeran,” she said, and ran to the distillery, into his arms.
We started to plant the herb garden, all we had, which was about half of what we’d eventually like to have in it. But at least we had enough sage: not for a whole hospital, that would probably have to come from the farm next year, but for our immediate need.
As we were doing that, we heard something scrabble at the back door. It was a woman, a bit older than us but not much, thin and filthy and in skimpy tattered clothes. “I heard one can come here?”
“For the doctor? Sure.”
“And for work?”
“Well, you’ll have to talk to our housekeeper for that. But you do look as if you need a doctor, we’ll look you over first.”
Serla appeared too, probably because she’d smelt interesting work. The woman –Hylti– had a bad case of scabies, and it looked as if it was the first time that Serla had seen it. “Let me at it!” and she pushed all the little insects out of Hylti’s skin with her mind.
Jeran was prepared to set fire to the pests, like in Tal-Rayen, but the chickens got in first and ate all the bugs!
Serla had been too harsh, though: Hylti’s skin was all rough and bleeding as if she’d been brushed with a stove brush. She fainted at one point, but that wasn’t a bad thing because we could wash her and heal most of the damage without hurting her more.
We had to wrap Hylti in a linen sheet because she literally had nothing to wear. The clothes we’d taken off her were not only worn to shreds, but also alive with bugs, and Aine had taken them away to burn already. “Can you sew?” I asked, but she couldn’t, so I took her to the workshop and cut enough rough hospital linen for a simple skirt and shirt. I taught her to sew a straight seam, so she could do the skirt while I did the shirt: it took about an hour until we were both finished. It wouldn’t hold for long — at the speed I’d been sewing it was so rough that it would come apart in the first wash — but at least she was decent.
Then it was time to eat. We’d feed Hylti, of course, but it was up to Aine if she’d take her on as a maid. Eventually she agreed to take her on probation for a couple of days, until after the Feast.
Then Malao and Jeda came back from the market, with the children and Monster on their heels, and Hylti panicked. “That dog!”
“She won’t hurt you,” Amre said. “Let her sniff you.” But Hylti wouldn’t, and sat at the foot of the table like a terrified little bird.
“Look at this!” Malao and Jeda said. A whole bolt of sheer white linen, so large that they’d had to carry it between them. “Got it in exchange for work, mend the warehouse roof after the Feast. One day’s work for the two of us. It must have taken them a week to make this, isn’t that a good bargain?”
We left them to dress Ardyth and Arieth as Ishey — Nisha would know what her brothers didn’t — and took the dog away to visit Varyn. On the way we ran into Master Ardan. “Lady doctors!” he said. “I’ve heard you’re settling in.”
We talked about the house a bit, and somehow the conversation came round to war. “War is a good thing,” he said, “makes us all prosperous! Before the wars there was never enough to go round, we didn’t have the leisure to fight one another! That’s why the Guilds aren’t very fierce in Tylenay.”
“But the war is over now,” I said, “what will happen to the town?”
“Oh, there’ll be new wars, don’t worry. The kingdom is so large now, there’ll always be trouble round the edges. And even without the weapons industry we’ll be all right, there’s a new contract to supply iron to Albetire. They don’t have much in the way of metals there. There’s no answer yet, of course, it’s a long way away, but a letter went to Master Bist, you may have heard of him as you come from around there.”
“Yes, I have,” I said with a grin, “he’s my father. I don’t know about the contract, though.”
“But he does have a foundry?”
“Yes, he does now,” I said, “not when I left home, though!”
“Fortunes are going up everywhere,” Master Ardan said. “We’re about to open up a new mine, you probably haven’t heard of that place, High Penedin.”
“Don’t they have a mine there already?” I asked. “Belonging to the village?”
“Oh yes,” he said dismissively, “that’s nothing, they’re farmers scrabbling in the ground a bit. It’s land belonging to the town, though, fortunately the law says we can do it. The queen’s law, nothing will invalidate that!”
I resolved to look it up in the law book at the first opportunity. I could so imagine our farm and the whole village being swallowed by the town and the mine, and I couldn’t imagine the queen and her law-people allowing people to be turned out of their homes for that.
Varyn was surprised to see us: it wasn’t our day for a checkup round, after all. When we told her we had business to talk about, she took us into her office, sending Monster to the kitchen.
“We wanted to speak to the head of your guild,” we said, “but we understand you don’t have one.”
She laughed. “No — it would be like herding minnows. We can’t choose a leader without arguing, and if we’re going to argue anyway we might as well go on the way we are. There are several officers besides me, and it just works. But tell me, this is about the sisters from up the hill, right?”
“Yes, Ardyth and Arieth. We’ve taken them on as maids, and it turns out they can work and our housekeeper doesn’t object to them. They really needed a different line of work.”
“Many do. Not all get the chance. Not all really want to, either. They do say ‘once a whore, always a whore,’ and that may not be completely true but there’s truth in it. You know what they all want? To meet their true love and marry him. Or her as the case may be. Believe me, it never happens. They borrow money, they spend it all, they go downhill. Our guild has the funds, we can afford not chasing someone down who isn’t productive any more, but we have to set an example.”
“We were willing to pay the guild fees,” I said, “but when we heard of all of the debt it was too much.”
“Girlie, I know that the queen’s purse is your purse, you could have afforded it easily. But I know what you mean, yes.”
We told her about Hylti too, but she couldn’t do anything: the house at the top of the hill that Hylti came from wasn’t affiliated with the guild. Ah well, that meant she didn’t have any guild fees in arrears, either. We collected Monster — who looked satisfied — and went home.
When we passed the house where we’d left the two men who had been after the twins, they were sitting outside on a bench. They flinched when they saw Monster, and would probably have run if they’d been able. “Is that dog going to bite us every time now?” they asked when she growled at them.
“Only if you misbehave,” Amre said. We checked their bandages now we were here anyway, but the girls had been changing them and there was nothing to do.
When we got home, Ranaise was there, sipping wine in the front room as if she hadn’t been away. She was trying to convince Serla, who was holding out, with Jeran giving her strength from the bench between the bedsteads. Just as we thought we should interfere Ranaise put her cup on the table and got up, saying “Well, then,” and left.
Arieth came from the shadows where she’d been hiding with a jug of wine. “I’d rather have a man with a knife!” she said.
“I’d rather have a man with a knife, too,” Jeran said.
“I don’t want anything to do with the Guilds this year,” Serla said. “It’s complicated enough already!”
Arieth came up to us. “Don’t I have to let her in any more?” she asked, anxious.
“No,” we said, “you don’t, especially not when we’re not there.”
At dinner, Malao said, “Rhanion’s grandmother is very clever!”
“The grandmother with a pecker,” Jeda said, when we looked surprised. Then they switched to Ishey. “He’s warned the boys, and now Seran is coming to keep watch with us tomorrow night. And Rhanion can come to keep watch too if we may use the wheelbarrow.”
“Of course you may use the wheelbarrow,” we said, “and better take two chickens for the feast. Or better still, a chicken and a goose.”
It was a good thing to be reminded of Rhanion’s grandfather! We had time to look in on him now. He was doing well: he could use the chamberpot by himself, though he couldn’t walk yet. “After the feast you can start trying crutches,” we said. “You’ll walk by the feast of Mizran, and dance at the feast of Naigha.”
“Will you dance with me then?” he asked.
“Of course, we promise!”
He whispered something in Serla’s ear, and Serla nodded and stayed behind for a little while. She came down giggling and blushing. “He wanted to see my tits! Nothing creepy, sort of sweet, he’ll have nice dreams tonight.”
It turned out that Rhanion didn’t need the wheelbarrow after all: he could already walk on crutches. “But sit on a stool when you’re on watch,” we told him, “and get away if there’s trouble, we don’t want to have to fix you again.”
In the morning we got up to find our leather medical bag gone, along with some of our papers, mostly the new letters of credit that Coran and Jilan had brought. And Hylti was missing, too. Of course we hadn’t sealed the inner door of the room, only the front doors! But Hylti had somehow got out of the house too, probably over the garden wall.
I called Jinla at the Temple of Mizran, making her (and myself) wince. If someone comes with a letter of credit made out in our name you can be sure that it’s stolen! We couldn’t find Hylti herself — it was inconvenient that she wasn’t gifted — but it occurred to me that the bag itself must be full of our anea, and yes, we found it that way.
Ardyth and Arieth thought that Hylti might have gone to Ruby Village. “May we borrow the dog?” they asked, and went in search of her, while we followed the bag, with Mulao and Jeda as bodyguards, and ended up in the brothel in New Town where we hadn’t been yet. We convinced a sleepy young man that no, we weren’t coming to work there, and yes, we did need to see the boss.
He took us to a room at the back where a little man was reading letters. Our letters! “Excuse me,” I said, “those belong to us, they were stolen from us, and we’d like to have them back.”
“Is that so?” He whistled sharply, and two large men came in. “These ladies are mistaken,” he said, “show them out.”
Amre and I got the same idea at the same time: she grabbed a broom, and I a rake, that were standing in the corner, and we swatted at a goon each. When Mulao and Jeda came in the men were already down, mine with a lump on his head from falling against the mantelpiece and Amre’s with a dent in his head from the broom. We made the little man very nervous by insisting on seeing to their wounds while Mulao and Jeda held him each by one arm. “A week in a dark room will do,” I said, “then he’ll be as good as new.”
“Mine, two weeks, and he’ll always have the dent in his skull,” Amre said. Then we took the letters and the bag — the little man had probably had enough time to take wax impressions of the seals, but that couldn’t be helped unless we searched his whole room — and went to the Temple of Mizran to put the letters of credit on our account.
We were barely finished when Serla called, you must come here at once, there’s lots of blood!
It turned out that Monster had caught Hylti. “I’ve done everything,” Serla said, “washed her with sage water, and then with brandy, and it’s perfectly clean but the wounds won’t close!” She had really been thorough: not a trace of dog spit, which might otherwise be the cause.
“We’re going to the village now,” Malao said, “with Monster, a dog that’s bitten three times has to be retrained if you’re ever to trust it again.” That made Hinla cry, but Jeran could explain that Monster would have to learn again which people to protect and which to scare, it was just like going to school, only for dogs.
We worked, but whatever we did, it didn’t make a difference. “No strength to recover with,” I said, “too thin, too tired.”
“Too hopeless, I think,” Amre said, “I’ve been thinking that perhaps she wants to die!”
But we kept working, and when Serla fainted because she’d given us all she had, Jeran took over, and even Aine let Jeran borrow some of her strength. It still didn’t make a difference.
When we paused for a moment it was completely dark, and someone — Ardyth, it turned out — handed me a roast chicken leg. The children were in the garden, dancing around a small fire. We’d completely missed the feast! And now there was commotion outside as well.
“We still have some of Orin’s pills, don’t we?” Amre asked. “Let’s give her one, if she really wants to die she can do that in her own good time, and otherwise she’ll at least be comfortable until tomorrow.”
While we were doing that, the commotion ended, we only heard some moaning. Seran knocked on the front door. When we opened it we could see several wounded people in the street, and we opened the workshop doors and dragged them all in. Then we noticed that Seran and Rhanion hadn’t been our only guards when Jeran was helping in the surgery, but they’d called in some of their friends: boys and girls from the school and craft apprentices. Some were in the Guild of Anshen, some too young to tell, some not gifted but they’d wanted to help protect us.
We had five of the Nameless in the workshop, three of Anshen, two of the neutral allies: with dislocated arms, broken ribs, black eyes, concussions. So we worked again, until it was getting light.
“We’ve missed the whole Feast!” I said. “I haven’t even prayed! I’m going to do that right now.” But when I was in the little house, we were both too tired to do anything at all, and slept in the arms of Anshen.