This was what I call adventure! It could almost have been a module. And, as it turned out, we did very classic-game things to get out of trouble.
Great gods, we saved people’s lives and now they’re afraid of us! Or they’re ashamed in front of us, but it’s got the same effect. They’re probably embarrassed because they weren’t as brave as they think we were– but we weren’t all that brave, it was just that there were things only we could do so we did them.
After we left the harbour of Il Ayande it was work, work and more work. We had more than twice as many patients and most of the new bunch were more seriously wounded than the ones we already had, or perhaps it was because the old patients had been getting better so it just seemed that way. It was really useful to have the three other people! The young ones were especially good at keeping the hospital deck clean and tidy so that didn’t fall to Zendegî and me, and Elave had done nursing work in the war in Il Ayande, like we had in Albetire, only she hadn’t learned from a real doctor so there were things she didn’t know that we did. It turned out that of the three of us real nurses I was best at stitching up wounds, probably from all that stitching of sails before I started on people.
There were so many people now that we didn’t have time to visit them all in one day, so when Elave and Halla came and said “there are some patients here we want you to see” those were people we hadn’t even seen before, except briefly when they came on board. “Don’t say anything when we’re there,” she had said, “we want to talk about it later, I don’t trust it.” Five men, a group of friends by the look of them, all bandaged in various places. “I want the doctor to look at your head wound,” Elave said to one, and before we could protest that we were only nurses the bandage was off. “I’ve put this salve on it,” — what we used to stop scars itching, really only goose fat with a bit of sage. But I nodded, because she obviously had some plan with it. It was a nasty-looking head wound all right, angrily red, but not bleeding much, it looked more like an infected scrape than a sword slash! “Hmm,” I said, hoping I sounded doctorly. After Zendegî had done some doctorly muttering too, the four of us went to the captain’s quarters because that was the one place where nobody would disturb or overhear us. “I think,” Elave said, “that they’re deserters and are doing it to themselves, pretend they’re wounded so they can go home to Valdyas. You can do a lot with a knife and some pepper and dirt, keep a wound open so it looks pitiful enough.” “That’s plausible,” Zendegî said. “Let’s go and make sure and then tell the captain.” So we went back to the corner, and Zendegî asked another of the men to see his wound, but he grabbed her under her jacket! Luckily she was fast and strong enough to slap his hands away. “Let’s tell the captain right now,” she said, and we found him in the back of the ship fixing the steering. Kuchik had come along, and the captain immediately made him hang on to some ropes instead of himself so he could come with us.
But when we arrived on the hospital deck with the captain and some of his men, those five cots were empty! “They’re gone!” Elave said. “Where can they be?” We didn’t find them anywhere near, and the little boat was still hanging on the back of the ship so they couldn’t have rowed away, and nobody had heard a splash let alone five splashes so they were unlikely to have tried to swim away, and anyway every land was much too far away to swim. “They’re probably hiding in the hold somewhere,” the captain said. “We’ll have to search the whole ship.” I asked if there was any food in the hold, and when the captain said yes I supposed that they could very well stay there until the next harbour and then sneak off, they didn’t have to come up again until then. And they could make off with some of the valuable cargo, too. “Some of the cargo?” the captain said. “What if they want the whole ship?” And he put a guard at every place where someone could come up from the hold, and we all went back to our work more than a little uneasy.
When we finally sat down to eat Khat’ came to fetch us, “there’s someone here who’s very sick! You’re needed at once!” It was one of the soldiers we’d taken on board in Il Ayande, a woman with grey hair who didn’t have any visible wounds but had breathed fire and smoke so she was coughing up blood. She looked very gaunt and grey as if she could die within the hour. “Don’t bother, ducky,” she said, “nobody can help me now,” and then she gave me the look that I knew all too well, “–come to think of it, perhaps you can. I’ll teach you.” Not another one who wanted to make me her apprentice! “Will you learn from me?” she asked with a grin, and I was kind of frightened for some reason but I did want to learn. I nodded, and she took my hand as Serla had done, but sort of roughly, her touch was like a cat’s tongue if the cat had been the size of a donkey. “I’m Maile,” she said, “you ought to know who it is that you’re learning from.” I gave her my name, both of them in fact, and she took me inside with her mind.
Now I could see that there was something in her lungs that looked like grit or gravel to me, grey and hard stuff that had damaged almost everything. I imagined picking the bits out one by one, but I realised that would take years and she didn’t have that much time, even if I could take the time to do it. Serla had encouraged the healthy parts of the body to do some of the work, so I tried to find something healthy– and yes, the top part of one lung looked more like mine, and less like a field trampled by oxen.
Then I turned to ask Zendegî to help me, because we’d both learned the same things from Serla after all. But she wasn’t there! She was by the hatch, talking to the bosun. He’d come asking if Halla was on the hospital deck because nobody had seen her for a while. No, we hadn’t seen her either, not since we’d talked in the captain’s quarters. “I may be able to see her,” Maile said, “in fact you may. Come on.” And there was the rough touch again, and she guided me through the whole ship and we found Halla in the cargo hold, being together with a man. “Oh, she’s always doing that,” Maile said, but I wasn’t sure whether she was doing it of her own will. According to Maile we couldn’t tell, and when she looked closer she noticed that she couldn’t see the man at all, only what he was doing with Halla. “Have they hidden themselves?” I asked, but Maile found no trace of door-closing stuff or any way of hiding oneself with one’s mind that she could recognise.
We went to tell the captain that we’d found Halla and had some idea of where the missing men were. He sent the bosun down with some strong sailors. First we didn’t hear anything for a while, then we heard fighting, then the bosun came up through the hatch carrying Halla over his shoulder, all limp and unconscious! But before Zendegî and I could take her over to take care of her, a man came up and stabbed the bosun in his side with a knife and pulled Halla down again by her legs.
The captain ordered the hatch closed and barred, and I got out thread and a needle and stitched up the bosun’s side as he told the captain what had happened. There were ten men down there, he said, and they wanted the ship or they’d kill Halla. “And what if you give them the ship?” Zendegî asked. “Then they’ll kill all of us,” the captain said.
Now we were in a situation that I’d never thought possible! The captain seemed to have given Halla up, but I didn’t want to do that, and Zendegî didn’t either, and Maile was completely on our side though she was too sick to do anything. But she did get all the people together who could do things with their minds, the man with one leg who had said he could wield a sword even though he couldn’t stand up to do it, who seemed to be a kind of leader but not on the same side as Maile. I worked out that Maile was of the Nameless, and one-legged Arin was of Anshen, but they were working together for now. I thought I could blow sleeping powder into the hold, but some of the sailors said that there were too many gaps and it would blow right out. What they did sometimes when something like this happened was to close all the gaps and cracks with rope or cloth and throw smouldering sulphur inside so all the mutineers would die. “But then Halla will die, too!” I said. “We’ll think of something else!” What we did first, in order to think, was to go and sit by the fire in the kitchen and pray to Anshen. Anshen seemed to think that we could do it by ourselves, and that was very heartening because he thought that we could do it, but also difficult because we still had to think of something.
I think we talked for hours about what to do, and then the thought came to me that I could make myself almost invisible, after all I’d done that in the hospital in Albetire so even Doctor Vauri hadn’t seen me until I’d spoken to her. If I went into the hold invisibly I could leave a flask of brandy laced with poppy oil, and they’d certainly drink it and fall asleep! And even if they gave it to Halla to drink she’d only be asleep too, not dead. “Why don’t you kill them right away if you can go in invisible?” Zendegî asked. I didn’t think she wanted me to kill them, she was only curious why I wouldn’t, but still floundered. I didn’t know a real answer, because I knew that if I put them to sleep they’d be hanged anyway and it would be the same as if I’d killed them. I couldn’t say anything except “I don’t want to kill them, I can’t do that,” but Zendegî was satisfied with that. But she did want to go along, she wouldn’t let me go by myself.
We asked Maile to help us again to see where the men and Halla were, and when she heard what we were planning to do she said “you’ll need some more teaching!” and even Zendegî consented to being taught by her. She taught both of us to see people’s minds reliably, and talk to one another in our mind, and then she taught Zendegî to make herself invisible the way I’d somehow taught myself, and that went so well that when I came back from the kitchen with the brandy I’d promised Maile I didn’t see Zendegî at all until Maile told me to look with my mind!
Maile was very tired now, but she didn’t look quite as sick, I thought it was the brandy, but it turned out that while I was away Zendegî had found a way to make her lungs a bit better. It looked like a film of oil to her, and she’d somehow been able to scrape that away. When she saw us both together again, she said “You know, you really need one another, I don’t know if either of you would be gifted on your own, especially you” –but I couldn’t make out which of us she meant by that.
“We have to do it now,” I said, “if we put it off I’ll lose my nerve!” So we went to find the captain, but he wasn’t there– he’d locked himself in his quarters. Zendegî tried to climb down from the roof of the ship’s castle and look through the window, but she couldn’t find a place to climb, and I suddenly realised that I could see through the wall if someone was alive and I saw him being alive, but sleeping very deeply as if he’d drunk from my flask of drugged brandy. He must have had a flask of drugged brandy of his own! So we told the bosun, because that was the obvious person in charge. He said that he’d put a guard at each hatch that someone might come up through, and when I ventured “can you put one of the gifted people with each guard, who can’t fight but can still watch and call each other?” he thought that was a good idea and did it.
Then we went back to the kitchen and blackened our clothes and skin with soot and made ourselves as invisible as we could, and crept down through the hole where the anchor-chain was. That hole was in a kind of closet, which Halla used as a sleeping-place– also a lovemaking place, apparently, because it smelt of men. But there was a tin figure of Naigha there, and some of her clothes, and the black book I’d seen and a writing-stylus.
The anchor-chain made us even blacker because it was covered in grease. Then we were in the hold, and we could hear people’s snoring even above the ship’s noise (there’s always noise on a ship!) but it was too dark to see anything. We crept past crates and bales until there was a place that looked cleared, where we could see bulges that must be sleeping people. Our eyes were more used to the dark now, and I could make out Halla, who was moaning a little in her sleep, and there were two men keeping guard and a handful asleep. It was very easy to put our flasks with other food and drink, and I thought at them very hard “you’ve been here all along!” though I knew that flasks of brandy don’t have a mind to listen with.
I was so tempted to rescue Halla at that very moment, but I knew that it could only go wrong if we did, so I took Zendegî’s hand and we went back to the anchor-chain and sat there waiting until something happened. It was a long time, but then eventually we heard shouting and loud laughing and other noise, and screams that died down and a strange scraping sound. Then we went to look, and it was Halla dragging a man’s body. When we came in sight she shrieked, but then she saw it was us and said “I can’t move these bodies! They all got drunk and then tried to rape me but they fell asleep, one after the other, so I could cut their throats! How could that happen?” “It’s because I put poppy juice in their brandy,” I said. It was clear that Halla didn’t really understand it, she was too upset and hurt and confused to understand anything, so we said “We’ll get someone to move the bodies for you, come up on deck with us now!” But we couldn’t drag Halla through the anchor-chain hole and the hatch was closed so we knocked on it, “it’s us! Zendegî and Venla! And Halla too, all of us are alive and the crooks are all dead!” Only then they opened for us, still very cautious because, as it turned out, some of the mutineers had come up earlier and fought the guards and some were wounded and one was dead, but they’d killed those mutineers too.
We put Halla down on a pallet in the nurses’ corner and when we’d made her as comfortable as we could we went to wash the black off ourselves with warm water in the kitchen. The cook and his helper were making a soft bed there, “let Halla sleep here, this is the safest and quietest place.” That was true– I’d have liked to sleep there too, but there was more stitching and bandaging to do after all the fighting.
We tried to work as usual, but people were suddenly fearful around us, as if we’d been dead and come back to life, or as if we’d killed all these people with our own bare hands! (In fact Halla had killed each one with the first one’s knife, that’s a thought that makes me shudder.) Even the captain, when he emerged from his cabin, wouldn’t speak to us or even look at us. And Kuchik looks away every time he has to work with us, which makes it very hard to work. I don’t know how to go on, but we need to go on anyway.