On our own

I’m trying to avoid being too technical because though I may know anatomical terms, Venla doesn’t; also Cora will use a lot of terms in Iss-Peranian even if there is an Ilaini word for something. Valdyas needs a Boerhaave, I suppose. Perhaps Cora will settle down to teaching and writing down her knowledge in a couple of decades, but somehow I doubt it.

I got so immersed at one point that my body was shaking, and I knew it was mostly Venla who couldn’t take it any more but I could do nothing to stop it except go with the flow. I suppose that if it had been worse, I’d have called a break. As it was, Venla prayed and went to bed and woke up slightly fresher (but still not at full energy) the next morning.

When we left the temple Cora was looking much better. “We’re going to do the operation now,” she said and sent Amre to the school to fetch some students to help while I helped the nurses clean the operating room. Then the nurses pushed the woman’s bed with her on it right through the men’s ward. “Hey, Jichan! ” she called to one of them, “I haven’t seen you for ages, where were you?” “Well, in here of course,” he said, “for a week now.” She scowled, “I haven’t seen you for much longer, don’t you like me any more?” But she didn’t get to hear the answer because we’d gone through the door by then. “That ride was fun,” she said, “but I can walk, you know!” She had to get off the bed anyway because we had to put a clean sheet on it.

Amre came in with several students then, two of them I knew already because they’d been at the other operation too, and Cora hugged every one and thanked them for coming. “You should go back to school!” one boy said, “you may be a grand master but you need us for this!” Cora glared at him, but I could tell she didn’t really mean it, and neither did he.

“Now you” –that was me– will cut through the skin and the flesh, but stop at the–” and she used an Iss-Peranian word that I didn’t know, but showed me exactly where it was and how deep to cut to reach it, a sort of sack of skin that all the insides were in, exactly what you find when gutting a deer. Then she took a bit of charcoal and drew a line on the woman’s belly which she wiped off immediately, but it had been there long enough for me to remember where to cut. I had to choose the knife, and the one I took –with a blade curved like a five-day-old moon– seemed to please Cora. It wasn’t even very hard to cut, because she’d shown it so clearly.

Then Cora herself cut the sack of skin, very fast, while Amre and I looked through her eyes. It was amazing to see the way Cora did, like a landscape with mountains and forests and rivers! She put a hand through the cut and took out something –it looked like a handful of raw flesh, and I knew it was the thing that had been bothering the woman– and had the cut closed in no time. “That has to be done with the mind,” she told us, “it won’t hold thread. Venla, you can stitch up the skin.” But I think I was too tired after last night and made a mess of it, so Amre had to do it after all. Cora sent me to get tea for us and “the little ones there” though all of them were older than me, and most of them were older than Cora.

Then the woman woke up from the sleep that Cora had put her into and said “Have you started yet?” “It’s already finished!” we said. “I didn’t feel a thing!” “That’s the idea,” Cora said. “Now I won’t be able to work for a long time, right?” the woman asked, and I said “you have to heal first, we stitched you up but if you strain it you’ll damage it again!” The nurses washed her and gave her clean sheets and wheeled the bed out again, and we cleaned the room while Cora taught us about working fast, “you don’t want to leave a wound open too long, it wears out the body” and compared it to running, “if you run to the school you’re not tired at all, and if you run to the North Gate without stopping you’re winded, and if you run to Valdis without stopping you’re dead! It’s the same with having a wound, the shorter it’s open the better. And the faster you work, the less time there is to make mistakes.”

“I’ll take you north to my friend Selle,” Cora said, “take a couple of days off, and anyway I have some patients there I want to see. It will be busy enough in a few weeks where the nobility season breaks out!” Apparently the nobility season was when half of Valdis was going to descend on Turenay, everybody who was noble or wanted to seem that way, and there were going to be fencing tournaments, and people riding horses who weren’t good enough at it, and arguments turning into fist-fights: no end of work for doctors! “If we go now we’ll be back in good time. Better go and pack!” But we weren’t leaving right away, because first we did a hospital round and Cora took us to the herb-room to see if they’d filled the jar properly this time (they had) and to fill a basket with medicines for the priestess of Naigha in Selle’s village. Then we had to eat and babies needed to be fed, so we went home.

It was surprisingly empty! Only Arvi and Jerna and our little Hinla and little Khahid were there, not even Athal or Raisse. “Where have they all gone?” we asked. “To see the new house,” Jerna said. I felt a pang of envy, but Cora said “Well, we’ll have to go and see the new house too, won’t we? I won’t leave town without Raisse. Will you drive the cart, Jerna?” So we all went to pack, Jerna too. We took the big hospital cart, our own mule pulling it. Doctor Leva’s little old donkey would never be able to pull it up the hills.

We went over the bridge, but could only get the cart as far as the first houses there, because the road further on was too muddy. When we got to the site of the house it looked like there was a party going on: the small kids playing, Arvi and Aine watching them, big Arvi nursing baby Athal, and all the men (including Jeran) and Asa busy with the building. There were already several poles standing, and beams on top of them, and they were hauling planks up that looked like floorboards. Jeran ran up to us, “I’ve drawn a map of the house, look!” and gave us a grubby sheet of paper. He showed us who would be in which room, and that all the rooms would be on a gallery looking out on the hillside. “And it goes all the way round so we can play tag around the house!” Arvi said.

Veh came down from the floor-to-be and said that in a few weeks we’d have a room with walls as well as a floor, and then the kitchen, and after that the stable, and if they got that done before winter we could really move in! “Something strange happened, though,” he said, “a man came and offered us bricks so cheap that it was probably fishy.” I immediately thought of the half-brick Amre had found in the wood, and the dragging tracks. “Perhaps someone is stealing bricks,” I said, “or making bricks without permission.” Asa promised to go to the sheriff to tell him about it. “What did he look like?” I asked. Not tall and not short, a bit pudgy, bald on the top of his head, a gap between his front teeth; Veh or Asa would be able to recognise him if they saw him again.

“Oh, and Lady Ryath’s steward was here, he said we were building on the best hunting land.” Well, yes, that was one of the things we’d chosen this place for, and we had both a hunting licence and a building licence signed by the king and the queen! “Yes, we showed him the papers, but we have to go and talk to him anyway.” “We’ll be back in a week or so, we can go together,” I said. I did want to be in on it, especially as it was me who asked the king for the hunting licence in the first place.

We collected Raisse and went back to the cart, over the bridge again, and out of the north gate. It wasn’t long until the big house came in sight that we’d seen from the hilltop. But before we reached it, we passed another large thing being built, from stones cut out of the hills themselves, it seemed. A man was cutting a stone in half with a long saw! Cora knew him. of course (I’m beginning to take it for granted that she knows everyone) and we stopped to talk to him. It was going to be a house for the king when he was in Turenay! “The steward doesn’t like it one bit, this is some of the best hunting land!” (More of the best hunting land?) “But the king arranged it all with old Lady Hayan and she says he can have a palace built here.” He showed us where the hall would be, and the bedrooms, and the kitchen, but there wasn’t going to be a stable because the king would put his horses in Lady Hayan’s stables.

Before we got to Lady Ryath astin Hayan’s house we passed lots of fields with horses in them, some with very cute foals. The house itself was more like a small village, not only an old solid-looking stone house but also stables and workshops and wooden houses where people lived. Lots of people around, too, and pigs and chickens and goats. Two red-haired very gifted boys came to unhitch the mule and see if we needed help getting off the cart (which we didn’t, but it was nice of them). I heard later that they were from Velihas, to the east across the mountains, and that they’d got stranded here the winter before last because the mountain pass had fallen down between where they were camping (that’s what young people from Velihas do to become men or women, camp for a couple of moons with only boys or only girls) and their home. Lady Ryath had offered them work at the stud farm, and they’d liked it so much that they’d stayed.

A tall old lady came out of the house, with a staff to lean on but standing very straight. I thought that if the boys had been with us they’d have prompted us to fall at her feet, but this lady didn’t look as if she’d appreciate it. She welcomed us as if we were all old friends, not only Cora. “That’s a fine mule you have there,” she said. “You may want to take her to my farrier before you leave, she’s pecking a bit on the left fore.” She went down on one knee in front of the mule and made her lift the foot so she could look at it. “See? The shoe is working loose.” We got a bath in the wash-house off the kitchen, and the lady stayed with us to talk. She was very interested when she heard that Amre and I were some of the people building the house at the little waterfall. “On my land! Not that I care, I don’t hunt any more myself, I leave that to the clerk and the steward. And if Athal says you may, I couldn’t forbid it even if I wanted to.”

Even here everybody knew Cora! The stablehands, the maid who brought us towels and clean linen shirts to wear after the bath, the kitchen maid who Cora had helped when her son was born (now a chubby toddler a bit older than Raisse), the smith, the brewer. Every time when Cora needed a break she went north to visit her friend a few days away, but she always did some doctoring on the way so Lady Ryath’s house was part of her practice.

Lady Ryath saw immediately that Amre and I belonged together, and I think she thought it touching, because she said something about it that I’ve forgotten (but it was nice). Then she became thoughtful, and said “I miss Alyse a lot.” “Did she die a long time ago?” I asked, because I was sure it was that and not that Alyse had left her. “Thirty years or more,” she said. And from the other things she said about Alyse I could work out that she had been the queen before Athal’s mother (also a Queen Alyse), so Lady Ryath was sort of the king’s grandmother’s widow.

“What would you like,” Lady Ryath said, “eat in the hall, or with the other young people?” The lady wouldn’t be eating in the hall herself, she said she was too old to do that every day, it was too exhausting. We looked at Cora, who said that we deserved the evening off, and perhaps there’d be music and dancing. “Let me take the baby, I’ll find Raith, she must have had hers a couple of weeks ago.”

So we looked for the boys from Velihas, who were easy to find: they were behind the stables. There were several other people there too, as well as a pack of dogs that looked like sheepdogs but were only knee-high. “These are ours, we brought them from Velihas,” one of the boys said, I think his name was Lathad. “Aren’t they very small?” Amre asked, and Lathad shrugged, “that’s what they’re like!” I showed him our dog and he was impressed. “The people we got it from have two dozen of those dogs, they use them to chase bandits,” I said. Lathad got even more enthusiastic. “I dare say they can bite bandits in half! Is it a bitch? If she has puppies can we have one?” Well, Ervan’s dog had been trying. “Perhaps she will– the father’s not quite that size, though!”

There was a kettle of thick soup with lots of bread. A girl of about ten who looked like Lathad (and was his sister Mizna, in fact) was sent to get the beer. “Can we do anything?” we asked, and went with Mizna to the kitchen where we got a large pitcher each. “I can carry two pitchers, now we get three because there are three of us! It’s one pitcher for two people.” Amre and I looked at one another and decided that someone else could share ours. “But it’s weak beer,” Mizna said, “you can drink more of it!” The brewer didn’t like that, “are you insulting my beer?” but I said that it was a good thing that the beer wasn’t so strong. Then he looked at us closely, and said “You’re the girls who came with the doctor, right? Can you ask her to come look at my feet in the morning? My corns arey killing me.” “Oh, corns, we can do that,” we said, “no need to bother the doctor for that, we’ll come and see what we can do for you! We can always get the doctor if something is too hard for us.”

It was nice to talk to people from yet another country! In Velihas Anshen and the Nameless are really the same, not like on the Plains or with the Ishey where they are one god with two faces, but one god who can show himself in one way or another, his light side or his dark side. “If you go to the little temple of the dark side in Turenay,” Lathad said, “you see him exactly as he is without everything the Valdyans loaded on him! The woman who keeps it will let you in.” “If that woman is a weaver, I don’t think she’ll let us in, especially after we had to keep one of our goats from eating her work!” I said. “You were in town with goats?” Lathad asked, and then we had to tell the whole story about how we’d arrived with our herd, and were building a house at the waterfall. (But I would like to see the temple of the Nameless now, if the weaver will let me in without goats!)

After we’d eaten –and Mizna made her brother and his friend wash the dishes because they hadn’t helped with fetching the food– we all went to a field just outside the castle grounds, where there was music and dancing! Strange music though, it looked like someone was blowing a lot of whistles at once with a smith’s bellows. “That’s a squeeze-box,” the boy called Fekemme said. “Horrible music!” Mizna said, “but you can dance to it.” And dance we did, first some dances from this part of Valdyas which we found quite easy. Several young men –all nice, all smelling of horse through scrubbing-soap– wanted to lead us and get to know us. Later the dances became faster and more complicated, but we were caught up in the movement. Suddenly Cora was there too, dancing with all the rest.

Amre and I and Cora sat down together at the end of that dance, somewhere at the side where a chubby young woman was minding the babies. Her own baby was a lot younger than Hinla but already larger. I got to hold him until his father came –a big man– and took him from my arms.

“Are you coming with us for the night, or do you have a room in the house?” one of the boys asked. We hadn’t arranged anything yet so we let Lathad and the others take us to a long narrow house made of wood and hides, “our travelling-house,” Fekemme said. “Do you take it with you like a tent, or make another one in the next place?” I asked. “Leave it for whoever wants it,” he said, “and make another one, there’s enough wood and hides if you’re travelling in the forest.” That sounded practical to me, almost Ishey. We all found a bit of floor, and straw and blankets to sleep on. I felt Cora’s touch just before I slept, a bit of a seal, a bit of a hug, and knew the people from Velihas had noticed it too.

The first thing we did in the morning –well, except for washing our faces in a bucket of water that Mizna brought– was to look in on the brewer with his corns. And it turned out to be real work, half an hour on each foot! I did one foot and Amre the other, cutting the calluses away with the smallest knife and treating the sores with ointment. Just as we were finished Cora came in and approved of our work, but scolded the brewer. “Jarn! Why aren’t you wearing your shoes?” “Oh, doctor, they don’t fit me any more and they’re all holes.” “I’m not surprised, you’re a lot heavier than last time I saw you. But the cobbler is going to be here on the next full moon and then you are going to have new shoes made!” “All right, doctor,” the brewer said, as meek as a lamb.

Lady Ryath came out when we were leaving. “Can you girls ride?” “Yes, a little,” we said. “Then could you ride these two mares that my kinsman ordered? They’re very gentle.” This made Cora giggle, and she told us that her friend had met Arin astin Hayan when he was in the hospital because he’d broken his leg falling off a horse. “He’s not as stupid as he looks,” Cora said, “not by far! And he is a really good lord for his villages. But riding, no, that’s not one of his skills.” I climbed on one horse and Amre on the other; strange to be riding again! But after a while I got my skill back, and this horse was really more comfortable to ride than the soldiers’ horses.

On the ride Cora gave us a lesson about medicines: different root plants, all in one plant family (which you could see because they had the same kind of leaves and thorns). There was the yellow root that the crooks had given to the children, which kept your body from growing up; and calesh, which messed with semsin; and a blue root that made you learn much faster but had lots of nasty side-effects, like nightmares, and keeping you small. Cora had had it as a child, and that was probably why she was so small and also why she’d known such a lot of things much earlier than most people do who learn at a normal pace. “Are those all poisons?” I asked. “All medicines are poisons,” Cora said. “You have to learn how much is effective and how much is still safe.”

It wasn’t long before we were out of the pastures and came to a thick wood, full of deer and other game. “Do we bring your friend a deer or something?” we asked, but Cora said that Selle had goats and geese and pigs, and if they wanted venison Arin could hunt. Anyway, it wasn’t really hunting season yet, if we’d wanted a deer we’d have had to be very careful not to disturb does with fawns. (And both of us were wearing skirts, not very handy for hunting.)

Then we heard hooves in the distance, coming right at us from the north. It sounded as if someone was in a hurry, so we put the cart as much to the side as we could, and made our horses stand in the wood off the road and stood there ourselves too to let the rider pass. It was a big horse, with a gangly man on it, who went up and down a lot in the saddle so it looked as if he was going faster than he actually was. When he saw us he reined in the horse and jumped off, and Cora ran at him and embraced him, at least threw her arms around his waist. “Arin! Did you know we were coming?”

“I was hoping you were coming,” he said. “Selle should have been in labour by now, she should have delivered! Nothing is happening. She hasn’t slept for days, you should come at once!” He swept Cora into the saddle in front of him, and Cora called to us “Take the basket and follow! Jerna can bring the cart with the children.” So Amre took the basket because she was the better rider, and we went as fast as we could on the placid mares. Cora was quite far ahead and we didn’t have a chance of catching up before she got to the house, but she kept us informed by semsin— at least she tried to do that, but I had so much trouble to listen to her and cope with the horse breaking into a gallop at the same time that I lost my balance and fell off, on the side of the road, on something hard. “You go!” I told Amre, “you have the basket anyway, I’ll follow!”

It turned out that I couldn’t stand on my right foot– I must have wrenched my ankle, because when I managed to pull myself together and look with my mind nothing seemed broken. Jerna arrived with the cart and helped me up and I sat on the front seat, fuming.

We came out of the wood into a little valley, and on the other side there was a large white house at the top of a rise. “That’s the house,” Jerna said; she usually drove the cart for Cora so she’d been there several times already. A small stream ran through the valley, with a little water-mill –just the mill part, no house– in it. Further on there were more houses, it looked like a proper village, but we were going straight for the big house.

Jerna helped me off the cart, and it’s not really clear to me what happened, perhaps I fainted from the strain (or rather, of the strain suddenly stopping). There was another young man from Velihas there, Kemné, quite a good nurse, washing the places where my skin had been scraped off (my butt, too, I must have fallen on a tree-stump. My good blue skirt is ruined!) and putting ointment on them, and he was just about to bind up my ankle when Cora appeared and put it right. “Don’t walk on that for a couple of days,” she said, “but it’s not broken. I suppose you’ve seen that for yourself. Oh, and Kemné too, he’s almost a doctor already.”

“I’ll ask Ruzyn to give you something to wear,” Kemné said, and a large woman gave me a wrap skirt, “it’s the missus’s, but she’s got dozens, she won’t miss it”: a long strip of linen so fine that you could see through it, and it didn’t start to cover anything until I’d wrapped it around myself six or seven times. “She gets that from Veray,” Ruzyn said, “she loves it! And so does the master.” Then I got a thick soft feather pillow to sit on, on a bench in the hall of the house, where Raisse crawled and played with two other little girls. Cora had disappeared again, “it’s not going well,” after sending Kemné and Amre to the temple of Naigha to raid the herb cupboard for something she needed but had left in Turenay. The priestess herself had gone north to another village, where there was an outbreak of measles. “And there are a lot of our people living there,” Kemné had said, “we don’t handle measles well.” That made me wonder how Amre and I would handle measles, most Valdyans seemed to get them as children, but we were already so grown up that a children’s disease could be dangerous.

The oldest of the little girls came to talk to me. She was about three. “I’m Aine,” she said. “I’m Venla.” “Did you fall of your horse?” “Yes,” I said. “Just like my daddy!”

Then Amre and Kemné came back with the right herbs, and Cora taught us to make a sleeping-draught without any poppy juice in it, “that would be bad for the babies!” For there were two, lying in a position that ought to be easy except that the labour wouldn’t start. “She should have a good night’s sleep first,” Cora said, “and then tomorrow there are several different things we could do. But first the sleeping-draught,” and she sent Amre to the kitchen to heat up the mixture we’d made in a bowl on a pan of water so the draught itself couldn’t boil. “How long?” Amre asked. “As long as it takes. Until it starts working. And let us watch what you’re doing.” And I could indeed see, through Amre’s eyes, that the mixture in the bowl changed and became alive in a way.

Cora went to give the sleeping-draught to Selle and took Raisse and Khahid with her because Selle wanted to see them before she went to sleep. Amre and I went too, because I hadn’t even met Selle yet. As Cora had said, Selle looked very like her, except that her hair and skin were very light (and she was very pregnant, but I’d expected that). But she had the same sort of face, and the same shoulders and tiny hands. She made a face at the sleeping draught, “bitter!” but she drank it all and fell asleep, for the first time in days.

We left the babies and Raisse with her –also asleep by now, without any draught– and went back to our corner of the hall. Cora drew me and Amre close, and Kemné as well, he was kind of her apprentice too though she was only there to teach him a couple of times a year. “You’re probably not going to make a midwife,” she said to him, “but you’ll be a doctor yet! Why don’t you come to Turenay to study?” But he’d met a village girl, and married her at Midsummer! “Expecting yet? Good.”

Now the talk became very serious and technical. The herbs from the temple of Naigha would probably bring on labour, but then Selle would have to do a lot of the work and perhaps she wasn’t strong enough for that. Or there was a dandar way that Cora had learnt from a midwife in Valdis, who had learnt it in Solay (I think), that made the womb push out anything that was in it. She’d almost had that done when her husband was leaving for the war, so she could conceive immediately, but she was glad she hadn’t because Raisse had already been conceived! It was also effective if what was in the womb was already a fully-grown baby, or even two, but it was very dangerous and could kill both Selle and the babies. And if there was no other way, she could cut open the belly and get the babies out alive, but she’d only do that if Selle was going to die anyway because she’d never heard of any mother who had survived that. It was too big a wound to heal with one’s mind, and it would take far too long to stitch it up.

“But we’ll try the gentlest way first,” Cora said. “You” –that was me– “make it.” And she gave me a glass bottle, and a funnel also made of glass with a linen cloth in it, and put the leaves in the linen cloth and let me pour brandy over it, drop by drop, so the leaves got wet and released their juice. I sat there for hours! People came and talked to me, a soldier called Arin who had been to Kushesh with the army and lost a leg there, and half of his other leg on the ship home. But apart from having only half a leg he was healthy and happily married.

After a while Ruzyn came with a large bowl of herb tea, “doctors’ tea! Let Arin hold the brandy bottle for a bit.” Arin first took a sip of the brandy! The tea was ironweed and mint and something that tasted like lavender but wasn’t, and more things I didn’t recognise (but probably would have if I’d been concentrating on that) and it restored me wonderfully.

When the extract was done Cora smelled it and pronounced it good. “This is a bottle Selle uses to make her perfumes, and the funnel too.” Then she closed the bottle with a glass stopper and sent us away. “To sleep! All of us!” She went to sleep in Selle’s bed herself, and Amre and I got a bed somewhere in the house, and I was so tired that I didn’t even remember falling asleep.

I woke up very stiff, from riding, and the fall, and holding the brandy bottle in the same spot all evening, but Amre took care of my sore muscles with her hands and mind. Then we had a very large breakfast, pancakes and porridge and bread and cheese and salt pork and eggs. “You should be firm,” Cora said, and pressed even Amre to eat enough.

Then we all went to Selle’s room, Cora and Amre and I and Kemné. Cora sent Arin to do something, I don’t remember what, because otherwise he would only be worrying and having him in the room would be completely useless. “Women’s work!” she said, earning a snort from Kemné.

Selle was awake, looking much brighter than the day before. Cora explained what she was going to do, “Anything that will help!” Selle said, and Cora put me at the head of the bed, “Venla had an accident, she isn’t very mobile, so I need her to keep you steady”, and Amre at the foot, and Kemné at her side to help with anything she needed help with. The little girls were watching from the doorway, but Cora shooed them away as if they were cats and closed the door.

I gave Selle the herb brandy to drink, with Cora watching closely. “You’ll know when it’s enough,” she said, and I did, I felt it starting to work almost immediately. “Now it could go fast,” Cora said, and yes, Selle’s body started working as it should, as I’d seen with the sergeant in Dadán and Amre’s sister outside Trynfarin. (Both times it had also been twins!) I made myself as solid and steady as I could, like a mountain, rooted in the earth, and kept Selle with me while the others helped the babies being born. Then Cora put one hand all the way inside Selle, “I wish you were a cow!” and pulled out a very small wet bloodied baby girl, rubbed her with a linen cloth and put her at Selle’s breast. “That’s one! Kemné, go and help Venla, she’s falling over.” I hadn’t noticed yet but she was right! Cora pushed on Selle’s belly to get the other baby to move down, and after a while she could do the same thing again, and a just as small baby boy was born.

“Someone get Arin,” Cora said. “And some nursing women from the village.” This wasn’t for Selle’s babies –they were sucking like anything on their mother’s breasts– but for Hinla and Khahid, who had both woken up and were howling with hunger. “And let’s get her cleaned up and stitched.” Somewhere in the middle of things I’d heard her think –though she hadn’t said it aloud– “this is your last baby, sweetheart!” Fortunately Selle was not gifted at all, as if all semsin just flowed off her like water from a duck’s feathers. Amre did the stitching with a lot of help from Cora. I’d have wanted to help too but I still had to hold Selle with my mind, or she’d have slipped away from us.

There was a moment that someone told me I could stop holding on, and that was a good thing because I didn’t have anything left to hold on with. I ended up in the kitchen eating something, I don’t know what it was because I was too tired to taste, and too hungry to sleep. Lots of people had come from the village and were milling about in the hall (and also several chickens; Rusla swept them all out except one, which she grabbed by the legs and took to the kitchen). Every one of them asked us if Selle was all right, and if the babies were all right, and it was a blessing that we could say yes!

It turned out to be night again, and once again we were so tired that we slept before we realised we were in bed. In the morning we went to look in on Selle and the babies –me leaning on Amre’s shoulder– and found her awake and nursing, Cora curled up asleep against her. When we came in she woke up a little and said “oh, you’re here, good” and went back to sleep. We checked that everything was all right and Amre got some strong broth for Selle. She was just eating it when Ruzyn came in and said “There’s a messenger from Tal-Morn, they need a doctor, someone is very badly wounded.” Cora woke up again and said “You two go” to us, so we went to see the messenger.

It was a young man, about twenty, and he looked as if he’d walked through woodland all night. And indeed he had! The village was at the bottom of a sheer hill, and a man had fallen or been thrown off the top and ended up in the village. “I don’t think there’s one bone in his body that isn’t broken! He looks like he’s been on the smith’s anvil anyway. I came for the priestess really, but she there” –that was Ruzyn– “said that she’s in Tal-Myshas for the measles. Figures, that’s where ours is too, If I’d thought of that I’d have gone there, it’s just as close!” “Don’t worry, we’ll come with you,” Amre said. “Doctor Cora has to stay here, but we’re apprentice doctors.” “And we’re good at wounds and broken bones,” I said.

It was a whole day’s walk, but we took the two gentle mares, and Arin gave us the commander of his guard as an escort, who had been a sergeant in the war. Not the war against the Khas, but a war against someone who wanted to invade Valdyas thirty years ago, he’d fought at Tilis. (I’d never heard of Tilis, but it’s near Essle, no wonder we didn’t pass it.) I rode in front of the sergeant, and Amre in front of the messenger. Riding was only a little faster than walking because it was all through the wood and each horse had to carry two people, but it was much more comfortable, for me and my wrenched ankle at least! The sergeant cut a staff for me when we had a rest, so I could walk a bit better. And also fight if I needed to!

After a while we had some of the sheer hills on our right, as if a whole piece of the mountain had broken off and fallen down. On our left we could see smoke curling up into the air, “at least there’s someone still alive in Tal-Myshas,” the sergeant said.

Tal-Morn was a tiny village, four houses and a little temple of Naigha at the bottom of the rise. A stream came crashing down from the mountain in a waterfall and made a pool, then flowed further south — I think it may have been the same stream that ran through Selle’s village. There was a light in one of the houses, and a man came out and said that he was Ardan, the village headman, and were we doctors? Apprentice doctors and experienced nurses, we said, and he took us into the house where the patient was lying.

It was Lyan. We barely recognised him, the messenger hadn’t exaggerated. He’d had a knock on his head, many wounds on his body, one eye was swollen closed, he was missing his front teeth, it looked like his fingers had been broken on purpose one by one, there was nothing left of the bones in his ankles, and he had a raging fever. I looked at Amre, and Amre looked at me, and we set to work.

When we’d got rid of most of the fever and mended some of what could be mended –it was too much to do in one go– he opened his good eye, recognised us and was appalled. “You!” he said, as well as he could with his battered mouth, and then lost consciousness again. We took two arrowheads out of him with the tooth-pulling pliers, ugly barbed war arrows that we had to cut the flesh open for, and when we were done he looked like a rag doll that’s been half eaten by the cat and sewn back together.

Ardan came in to ask if he could do anything. “He doesn’t look like a soldier,” he said. “Much too wimpy.” “He’s not a soldier,” I said, “he’s a wainwright.” “Do you know him?” “Well, know is too strong a word, we met him in Rizenay. He’s– well, he’s a crook, but we’re doctors, we’re doing what we can so we can take him to the sheriff.”

While we were working the village took care of us, bringing food and warm water and clean linen and whatever we needed. Then when we thought we couldn’t do anything but wait –and we were about to go to sleep in another house– more people arrived, an angry-looking woman who was very much of the Nameless, leading two horses, each carrying a wounded person, one sitting up and one lying over the saddle. “Gods!” Ardan’s wife said, “it’s beginning to look like a hospital here, I’ll get some more straw pallets.”

The angry woman said that she was Sergeant Lysna, the man who could sit on his horse was her brother Tyan, and the person hanging over the horse was Ardyth, with a very bad belly wound, she’d been hit with a sword first and then kicked or punched in the belly. We got them all into the house, and Lysna saw Lyan! “Is Lyan here? I’ll kill him!” “He’s our patient,” we said, “if he deserves to die the sheriff can kill him, or Lord Arin, or the king or whoever, but not us doctors! Get out everybody except doctors and patients!” but it took our own sergeant to get Lysna to leave the house.

We couldn’t do anything for the woman with the belly wound. She’d almost been cut in two and everything inside her body was broken. Whatever we did to her, she would die anyway. I was desperate, not even Amre could do anything for me. Then the sergeant came in and put an arm around me and another around Amre, “she won’t make it, right?” “No,” I said, “and I’m not a priestess of Naigha.” “Hm,” he said, and took out his dagger and cut Ardyth’s throat, just like that. “I’ve been in the war.” So had we, twice now, but killing someone even if they couldn’t live was still too much for both of us. The sergeant saw that the body was taken to the temple of Naigha, and someone cleaned the blood off the floor as best they could, while we worked on the wounded man. It was just like being in a war hospital again!

Tyan had such a bad leg wound that all we could to was cut the whole leg off before it festered and killed him. That was another thing we couldn’t do– it had to be a clean cut, and to be cauterised at once, before he bled to death. The sergeant could help us again, “you’re not strong enough, right?” We discussed some tools we could use, and then he went and got a kind of reaping sickle, and we soaked some cloths in oil and set them on fire on the end of a poker. We gave Tyan a piece of wood to bite on. Then the sergeant cut off the whole leg in one movement, Amre burnt the wound closed with the burning cloth, and I put a seal on the wound as well so it would heal better. We put the leg in the temple of Naigha as well, it would be best to bury it!

Now I was so tired that I couldn’t stand on my feet, and Amre was little better. But I was walking on my bad foot without pain! I’d been walking with the staff, but I didn’t really need it any more.

We got to the house where we’d eaten and almost slept earlier, where a woman called Sidhan lived with her twelve-year-old daughter. “I suppose you want a bath,” the girl said. “Yes! Can I stand under the waterfall?” I said, because I hadn’t felt so dirty since the hospital in Albetire. “You mustn’t do that, you’ll get stones falling on you.” We got a bucket of cold clean water, and then a tub of warm water, and lavender soap, but I still felt as if my hair was soaked in Lyan’s blood. “Do you have a pair of shears?” I asked. “I want to cut my hair off!” And when Amre looked alarmed, “just beneath my ears, I’m not going completely bald!” They didn’t have any shears but they did have a sharp knife, and the girl plaited my hair and then cut off the whole plait. “Burn it,” I said, “it’s got Lyan’s blood in it!” And I ran my hands through my hair, which now touched my ears, just as I’d been wanting it for a long time, and decided to go to the Síthi bath as soon as we were back in Turenay and have the nice girl who was Cora’s friend cut it into shape.

Alieth came looking for us, “that man from the north is asking for you!” So we went to Lyan, who said –we could just understand him– “Lysna is a murderess, she’s the head of a gang that goes about the country robbing inns. She’s not to be trusted!” And then he seemed to faint again, but it was clear that he wasn’t as unconscious as he looked. We heard our sergeant outside arguing with Lysna, so I went out and told him what Lyan had said. “Oh! Well, I already wanted to arrest her but had nothing definite on her, thanks!” and he collared her and put her in the pig-sty. (Which had been swept, and the pig was outside, but it had a strong rail to tie her to.) When Ardan heard Lysna cursing he said “Now I know who she is! I met her in Tilis but she comes from Tal-Borin.” We said that we’d been in Tal-Borin but that Lysna hadn’t been there at the time. “That’s a bad place,” Ardan said, “it’s all of the Nameless!” So we told him what had happened there, and that the smith and her family were now in charge.

Gods, I was so tired. I thought for a moment of trying to reach Cora, but she was probably too far away and she was busy enough herself, I couldn’t fetch her away from Selle. I looked around anyway, just to see if there was anyone I could call for help, and found someone very strong and quite close, who looked up from some work when she noticed me and said “Can I help you? I can’t do much, I’m up to my elbows in work.” That must be Kisif, Cora’s friend from Velihas! “We’re apprentice doctors, and we have wounded criminals here but we want to help them anyway, and we’re doing things we can’t do and I don’t know what to do!” “I’ll call Cora,” she said, “tell her what’s happening, I know where she is and I think I can reach her from here.” That was already a relief (though I still didn’t think Cora should come out here), and when I looked further I saw Tao! And Mazao too, but he was wounded and his mind was a bit faint, and a lot of other people I didn’t know. I hugged him with my mind and he hugged me back. “We’re chasing Lyan,” he said. “We’ve got Lyan here! But there’s not much left of him.”

Tao and the others were so far away that they wouldn’t arrive before morning, especially as they were travelling with wounded people. The other patients would have to go in another house, we weren’t going to put Mazao in with Lyan! But first I had to sleep. No, first of all I had to pray. I was already praying to Anshen in the yard of Sidhan’s house, but she took me inside to the fire, and Amre was there too, who put me to bed in Sidhan’s bedstead and sat there for a while keeping watch because she couldn’t sleep. I found her beside me in the morning.

While we were having breakfast Sidhan’s daughter went out with a bowl of porridge for Lysna. “If she’ll eat it!” But she came back with the empty bowl and a big grin on her face. “She wasn’t nice, and angry that she was still chained up in the pigsty, but I said if you behave like a pig you get treated like a pig!”

Not much later Tao and Mazao came into the village from the north, with Sergeant Jeran from the king’s guard, and a youngish man we didn’t know, and six boys from Velihas who we could hardly tell apart, they all looked a bit like the king except the leader, Mindé, who looked very much like the king. Two of the boys were wounded, and Mazao had an arrowhead in his chest. Fortunately it was a hunting arrow without barbs, not a war arrow like Lyan, but it had bent and the point was hooked around a rib. It was hard to get that out, I tried to push it with my mind but it wasn’t alive like a bone so I couldn’t get hold of it, and then we tried pull it out and hurt Mazao a lot, but eventually we had it. The other boys only needed to have their wounds cleaned and sewn up. “And you, Jeran!” Tao said to the sergeant. “You’re trying to hide it but you do have a fever!” That wasn’t wound-fever, though, but marsh-fever, and we had a little of the medicine but not enough to last until Turenay. Most people don’t die of marsh-fever, though, at least not soon, it’s only very annoying. And perhaps there would be more fever medicine in the priestess’ house in Selle’s village.

When I was shaky with exhaustion again, Tao took me by the shoulders and gave me strength and I could stand up and think! Then he did the same to Amre. He said that Jeran had taught him that. “When the king is at sea he has to be put straight,” Jeran said, “and that’s what Tao did to you.” “Oh!” Amre said, “now I recognise it, I have to be put straight when I’m not at sea any more, then I get land-sick.”

Now we really had to get to Turenay, with three prisoners, two of them too wounded to walk! Or at least back to Selle’s house, where our wagon was. We had Tao and Mazao back, though, and told them all about the house– of course they were annoyed that they hadn’t been in on it, but when we showed them how splendid a place it was they were pleased after all. “And the herd? Did you bring the herd?” So I told them about the goat almost eating the priestess of the Nameless’ weaving, and that made Mazao laugh so much that his stitches hurt.