Out in the world
Amre and Venla revisited. Exciting! They have little kids now…
It started as a morning like so many mornings, one of the better ones, because the weather was getting really nice so close to the Feast of Timoine. Hinla was up before us, as usual, skipping along with a pancake in each hand. I was confident someone had made her wash if she hadn’t thought of it herself, so I picked up one twin and Amre the other and we washed them and ourselves.
When we arrived at the hospital the first person to greet us was one of the young priestesses. She took me aside, “could you have a look at me? It was my first time out, and I think it might have taken!”
I thought I could see something but I wasn’t quite sure, and told her to remind me in a couple of weeks. “Are you happy with it?”
“I suppose so, it was a nice fellow, young and strong! Better than some! And if I do have a baby, well, that’s the gods’ blessing.”
Oh yes. The gods had blessed us with first Hinla, then the twins, even though only the twins had come from my body.
Before we could even hang up our cloaks another nurse came up to us. “Oh, there you are! Doctor Cora wants to see you in the tea room.”
She was sitting on the edge of a chair, looking excited. “Sit down. Have a cup of tea.” We sat down and had a cup of tea. I was getting more and more intrigued. Why didn’t she just go ahead and tell us, if it was so exciting?
Now she came to the point. “You have been here for, what is it, five years? And in those years I’ve taught you everything I can. There is nothing more that you can learn from me, in this hospital.” But there were still things we couldn’t do! Was she sending us to the hospital in Veray to learn from other people? But it was something completely different: “Go home now and dress in your best and come back at mid-day, we’ll go to the Temple of Mizran in procession and I’ll give you your master’s letters. Bring whoever you like.”
We needed another cup of tea. While we were drinking it, a girl came in who we’d seen around the hospital — in fact seen her around a lot, not a doctor’s apprentice or a regular nurse but always at one’s elbow when one needed something. “Sorry! I didn’t know there was someone in here. I need a travel bag.”
“You do it for her later,” Cora said. And as an aside, because she knew that nobody ever remembered that girl’s name, That’s Hylti. The girl disappeared as quickly as she’d come in. Cora sealed the door this time, looked at us very seriously, and said, “There are enough master doctors in Turenay right away. I have something to propose to you– Turenay and Veray have good hospitals, but there are towns in this region that don’t and badly need one. I’d like you to go to Tylenay, to Ironlode, to set it up, recruit nurses, prepare for other doctors to take over when you go on to Istila.”
“Istila!” I said. “That’s in Velihas!”
“So it is,” Cora said, “and it has challenges all of its own, it’s half Velihan and half Valdyan for one. We’d rather have you cut your teeth on something closer to home, where you can reach us more easily when you need us.”
“When do we go?” Amre asked. “Right away?”
“You’ll need some time to prepare,” Cora said. “After the Feast of Timoine, at least. You wouldn’t want to deprive your children of that.”
I hadn’t even thought of the children yet, but if we were going to be away long enough to set up a whole hospital, yes, we couldn’t very well leave them behind. On the other hand, we couldn’t very well take them away from their friends and the rest of the family. “Hinla is old enough to understand,” Amre said, “we can just ask her!”
When we were on our way back we passed Vauri the washerwoman. “Off work today?” she asked.
“We’re going to be made masters this afternoon!” Amre said, and I added, “At the Temple of Mizran. Are you coming? I think there’ll be food and drink, too.”
“Oh yes!” she said, “I’ll go and put my nice skirt on. Can I take the little ones?” We didn’t see why not; after all we were going to take ours as well.
At the house, Hinla ran up to us. “Are you back already? Will you come hunting?”
“No,” we said, “we’re going to take all of you to town because Doctor Cora is making us master doctors!”
Amre put on her prettiest Iss-Peranian clothes, and I my most embroidered Ishey clothes, while Asa rounded up the children and dressed them in their best too. Eventually more than half the house went into town with us, joined by lots of downtown people, even Master Fian with his entire school. Vauri must have told everybody!
Across the bridge there was already a crowd. After five years, there probably wasn’t a single family in town who hadn’t met one or both of us. Everybody wanted to see “the little doctors” made master. Most of the school was there, and lots of artisans and shopkeepers, and everybody from the market (which had had to be cleared for the crowd anyway), and when we passed the town hall Lord Radan and his two clerks came out and followed.
Doctor Cora was waiting at the steps of the Temple of Mizran to take us inside. We had to leave the children behind –by now we were each carrying one of the twins– but there were enough people willing to take care of them. The Mighty Servant was sitting behind a table, with the dean and the secretary of the doctors’ guild beside her: Doctor Airath and Doctor Jeran. First, Cora told them who we were, where we had come from, all the things we’d learned, and then the two doctors asked us all kinds of questions, mostly describing a situation and asking us what we’d do. Finally the doctors spoke to the Mighty Servant, who said, “There seems to be no objection to taking these two journeyman doctors into the guild as masters,” and everybody cheered, we could even hear cheering from outside.
Then the Mighty Servant gave us each a parchment with a red seal, saying that Amre also named Zendegî, and in my case Venla also named Parandé, was an accredited master in the Doctors’ and Midwives’ Guild of Turenay. I showed mine to Hinla, who had somehow escaped Asa and pushed through the crowd to the front, and she could puzzle out “Venla”.
There was food and drink, yes. Outside, though it was only barely spring, because no place inside was large enough for all the people. “We thought of using the new palace,” Doctor Cora said, “but they’re working on it again, something about a decorated ceiling, I seem to recall.” She looked very hard at Veh, who would have blushed if he hadn’t been too dark for it. I knew he was working on woodcuttings for the ceiling of the great hall.
I think every innkeeper had brought a barrel and all the bakers had brought baskets of bread and cakes and all the butchers had brought sausages, because there was plenty of everything.
Many people had already left the party when we went up the hill: the doctors Torin and Ghamri and most of the nurses first, because of course the hospital had to go on, and the various people who still had work to do, but Doctor Cora and some others came home with us.
Cora told us a lot of things that she knew about Tylenay. There had been a baron but the king had deposed him and he’d run away, and now a council of six owners of water-mills and mines and a charcoal oven (some of them owned two or more of those things) was running the town. “Ask Doctor Faran, he was born there,” she said, “well, in a village very near to it.”
“Is there some kind of a road?” I asked.
“You’ve said it. Some kind of one. There wasn’t when I went, but my husband and his regiment have done a lot of good work since then.”
By now Hinla knew what was going on, though we hadn’t had any opportunity to talk with her in private yet. “You’re going away to build a hospital? I’m coming!” she said. “And Yulao and Asusu must come too.”
“Yes, we won’t leave any of you behind,” I said, “or you’ll all know all your letters before we come back, I want to see you learn! I’m sure there’s a school where we’re going, and if there isn’t we’ll build one as well.”
“We must take Monster,” she said. Her favourite dog, a grandchild of one of the dogs the shepherds on the northern plains had given us, now posing as a rug in front of the fire, except that she snored louder than any rug had a right to.
“And we’ll come,” Coran and Jilan said, “if you’re going to build, you’ll need a couple of Ishey men who know about building.”
“That’s a very good idea,” Cora said, and I saw Mazao’s approving grin on the other side of the fire. We did some more planning — we’d need more than one cart, and Jeran promptly offered to drive the first one with us and the things we’d need immediately in it while the others would prepare everything we’d need for the hospital and follow with slower and heavier ox-carts.
Most of the little children were already asleep, and now Asa called “Everybody under twelve, feed the animals and to bed!” so we were left with only the adults; Mazao poured us all some of his strong wild-honey wine. Then Tao took Cora home — not that it was dangerous for her in any way, especially not downtown, it was pure courtesy — and we collected our children from the pile of little kids and cats and puppies that they’d fallen asleep in.
We didn’t sleep much that night. Some of the time we talked, some of the time we just held on to each other. In the middle of the night we reached out to Cora, who was as awake as we were — but what kept her awake was missing Prince Aidan, who was away to the south with his regiment for the war against the emperor of Ashas.
Do we come in tomorrow?, Amre asked her.
Yes, of course! You have to make a list of everything you need, at least. I knew that Princess Ayneth had made such a list for the hospital in Veray, and that must be either in the hospital or in the school; if we started from that we could hardly go wrong.
We’d barely started searching for the princess’ list when a nurse barged into the office, pale-faced. “Fire in Mill Alley ! Wounded coming in.” And before long we were working as hard as we ever had. The mousy girl –Hylti– was there, and we noticed that some of the burns had already been cooled, burnt clothes cut away, and there was a bucket of clean cold water whenever we needed it.
Suddenly we were finished, and Doctor Cora took us all to her house to use the bath. Amre noticed that all that Hylti was doing was hand other people the towels — all the while making big puppy eyes at Cora — so she urged her to get into the bath herself, and Hylti looked surprised as if she’d expected to stay invisible. Why go to a house with a bath when you don’t want to bathe? Oh, I know, to make puppy eyes, I know a crush when I see one.
We did find Princess Ayneth’s list: it was in Cora’s house, on a desk, under a heap of other hospital papers that she let us search because she thought (rightly) that she’d seen it there. And we did go back to the hospital with Hylti to fill her travel bag. Once we were out of Cora’s house she didn’t stop talking. So much for being invisible!
“They’re sending me to — it hasn’t even got a name of its own, it’s called Valdyas, do you believe it? The villages south of Valdis on this side of the river. Master Rava doesn’t even let me finish school! Are you the same way? No, you’re masters already, you’ve got your letter from the Temple.”
We told her that we were going to build a hospital in Tylenay, and she blanched, as if she wasn’t pale enough already. “That’s even worse! But at least there are two of you.”
Amre laughed at that. “We can’t work half as well separately as we can together! We found that out when we first met, seven years ago, in Albetire.”
Hylti told us that at least half a dozen of the last-year students had been sent out, Maile to Essle, Jeran to Veray, Rath to Rizenay, Erne the downtown leatherworker’s daughter to Ildis. We knew Erne, of course — we’d sent her to school ourselves! — and Maile was the no-nonsense girl from Veray who kept the workshop in order, but we couldn’t think of faces to go with the rest of the names. “Well, if they need travel bags too, send them to us,” we said.
One did poke his head round the tea-room door later: darker skin than mine but not as dark as Amre’s, rakishly handsome. Now I knew his name: Rath, with a Síthi father and a half Iss-Peranian mother, or vice versa. And he was going to Rizenay! “I suppose you need a travel bag,” I said.
“No,” he said, “well, yes, I guess, but that’s not what I’m here for. I’ve come to say goodbye. I’m off to the most splendid town in the whole country, full of tall blond boys!”
“You do realise they’re all of the Nameless, don’t you?”
“Oh, I’ll deal with that, don’t worry.”
But we did worry. At least Amre worried. Tylenay was also full of the Nameless, and we’d just committed to taking our children there for a couple of years at least. “You’re looking forward to it, aren’t you?” she asked me when we were walking home.
“Yes, I am,” I admitted. “I’ve missed travelling, seeing other places, meeting new people where they live, not only the people who come to us because they need us.”
Life went on for a while. Even though Cora had said there were more than enough doctors in the hospital, there was still plenty of work. The Feast of Timoine came and went, our children taking the downtown children into the wood to dance and gather the first greens and then meet the Síthi children in the square in front of the bath-house to gorge themselves on more sweets than they’d otherwise get in half a year. We acquired a wagon of the kind that’s called an Ishey wagon since Jalao and his wife got one to travel through the world in, wooden sides halfway up and a thick linen arched hood on top. Everybody who passed it and had some time to spare and a tool in their hand did something to decorate it, so the sides were all carved and every surface painted in bright colours. We wouldn’t be able to travel incognito, at least not without the strongest invisibility seal on the wagon that we could manage!
We talked to Faran, who could tell us that Tylenay currently had no hospital at all and barely a doctor. Perhaps a priestess of Naigha or two who could handle the simple things, and a midwife, and it was just possible that the lords had their own doctor but for the common people who weren’t dying or giving birth there was nothing. Enough work for us! The nearby leper village, Tal-Rayen, did have a doctor, most of the time at least: Aldan, who was in Turenay some winters to keep his skills honed and in his own village the rest of the year. “And then there’s Penedin,” Faran said, “where the iron gets loaded on boats, and according to Doctor Cora nobody has married anyone who isn’t their brother or sister or cousin for generations.”
Jilan and Coran, meanwhile, had our list — about half of Princess Ayneth’s list for Veray, the town was a tenth the size of Veray but mining is much less healthy work than wine-making — and were equipping the ox-carts to follow us.
We started for Veray on a splendid spring day, again with a crowd of all sorts of people to wave at us. A pair of mules pulled the cart, and we even got part of the herd to take along: Mazao said “no Ishey should be without a herd” and calculated carefully how many animals were our share, taking into account every person who had been born into the tribe, joined the tribe, how long they’d been with us, what they’d brought in. We ended up with a ram and five ewes and a billy-goat and three nannies. Jeran took it all into stride. “They’re animals,” he said with a shrug, “I can handle them.” Anyway, it was mostly the dog Monster who did the herding.
We had a leather satchel under the seat of the cart containing our master’s letters, a map of Tylenay and the land around it that Master Atash had made, letters of credit for our expenses, and a fresh copy of the hunting permit that the queen had written for us in Ildis! I’d asked about a hunting permit because we’d need to eat, and our huge dog would need to eat, and we didn’t know who would object to us taking game they thought of as theirs. We didn’t know either where and when we could settle down and keep chickens and plant a vegetable garden. And a herb garden! We had cuttings and seeds of all herbs that would grow anywhere, and some that might grow if we took good care of them.
Before we reached the Halfway Inn we passed the carter Ervan who was going the other way and stopped to talk. He knew one of the councillors of Tylenay, “he’s actually in Veray! At least he was when I left. Saw him leaving the Queen and Hanged Man with the most expensive whore in town on his arm. Didn’t look happy, though. Silly man, if such a woman smiled at me like that it would make me very happy indeed!”
Amre reminded him that he had a wife in Turenay. “Yes, I do,” he said, “but don’t tell that to my wife Lyse in Veray!”
At the Halfway Inn, Monster found her match for the first time: a white dog almost her size that she put her head low on the ground for. The dog belonged to a boy of about ten, who said that it was very clever and could understand almost a hundred words, To prove it he said “Count sheep!” and the dog scratched its paw on the ground six times. “Can he count goats?” I asked, but the boy said that the dog didn’t like goats.
“Goats are clever too!” Hinla said, but whatever she did she couldn’t get the goats to count dogs, so she counted them herself: “One! Two! See that, goat!”
When the people from the Halfway Inn and the nearby village heard that we were here, they all came in to have a drink and talk to us and congratulate us on becoming masters, it became a real party! There was even dancing, some of the villagers had brought instruments.
Two girls came up to us, clearly sisters, who looked a bit Iss-Peranian. “Do you dance? The traditional dances?” We said that we did, but we’d rather do it somewhere private, just us girls. They showed us an empty barn — well, empty of people, there was hay in it and barrels and a wheelbarrow — and we all danced, Amre and I naked for the gods, though the two girls kept their clothes on, and Hinla who had followed us stripped to her shift and whirled around in the middle, falling over whenever she tried to put both legs in the air at once.
Then the door opened — we’d forgotten to seal it! — and a young man came in and immediately stood still. A young woman was right behind him and put her hand over his eyes while we got dressed. “Sorry! We didn’t know it was occupied.”
“We’re leaving it to you,” we said, “we were just about finished anyway!” And yes, we were all sweaty, and the sisters got warm washing water from the kitchen.
In the afternoon of the next day — it’s always surprising that the Halfway Inn isn’t actually halfway, it’s much closer to Veray — we saw the town lying in its valley, grey under the smoke from the smithies. There were boats on the Rycha but we didn’t know if any of them carried iron from Tylenay. Some ought to — the river that Tylenay was on, with all the water mills, flowed into the Rycha at Tal-Serth. And with all the war we’d had lately both the mine owners in Tylenay and the weaponsmiths in Veray must earn very good money. We just hoped that some of the money would go to our hospital.
“Big house on the hill!” Yulao said, pointing. The children hadn’t been to Veray since they were babies. “Yes, that’s the baron’s castle,” I said. “All made of stone.” Then all three got into an argument about what was better to build houses with, stone or wood or bricks, and that kept them busy until we got to the gate.
There were guards at the gate, who had already looked at our wagon suspiciously from a distance but got even more suspicious when they saw that we had three little kids with us, and one didn’t look like either of us. “Hm, have to get the captain,” the older of the guards said, and got a youngish man who was clearly in the Guild of the Nameless, who started to ask questions. It was Hinla who he asked; first she told him her that she was called Kheili, which he didn’t even seem to recognise as a name, and then she said “You’re not the captain! You don’t have red hair!”
“I think it’s Captain Aidan you’re thinking of,” the older guard said. “This is our Captain Eldan.”
“You’re creepy,” Hinla said to him. I’d already been thinking she might be gifted, and now I was quite sure.
He laughed. “You’re all of the Nameless, I can see that. But you don’t look like child thieves to me. The baron hanged two of those a while ago, you’ll understand that we’re extra observant if people try to enter the town with children who don’t look like them.”
“This is my mummy Amre!” Hinla said, clutching Amre’s arm. “And this is my other mummy Venla!”
“I notice that you’re not suspicious of the other two,” I said.
“It’s clear enough that they’re yours!” the captain said, indicating Amre. Well, yes, the twins are almost the same shade of brown that she is and have thick dark hair like hers.
“In fact they’re mine,” I said. “Ours, that is, but from my body.” We left him wondering at that, and rode on into the town, herd and all.
On the town square there was indeed a large banner announcing that two men had been hanged for child abduction, at the baron’s command. Fortunately the men themselves weren’t still hanging there — this wasn’t Albetire! We got our whole menagerie to the Order house, not without lots of attention from the townspeople (and then, when we were through the gate, from the Sworn).
First Ebru, then Maurin came to greet us. “Travelling? Are you staying here? I’m afraid we can’t feed your animals.” But we had enough feed for a couple of weeks, because we didn’t know how much we’d have to travel through barren landscape, so that was no problem. We stabled the mules and a journeyman helped Jeran make an enclosure for the goats and sheep, while we told a short version of our story (that we were going to Tal-Serth to buy glassware for the hospital; we didn’t say which hospital. Amre was worried about telling too much, and I could agree with her concern, though it was hard for me as always not to do that.)
Then, when Ebru got us out of earshot, she asked “And where are you really going?”
“Tylenay,” we said, “but we do intend to pick up some glassware in Tal-Serth. And what we said about travel being good for children is also the truth.”
“I didn’t think you weren’t telling the truth,” she said, “only not all of it. Well, you’re masters now, you’ll be able to handle just about anything.”
“Only master doctors,” I said, “not in the Guild yet!”
“We’ve never taken a trial.” We’d done enough things that could have been a trial, but they’d never been acknowledged as such!
“We of the Plains, we don’t think that’s all that important. You do look like masters to me, believe me!” That made me think; I haven’t stopped thinking about it yet.
We prayed in the temple, then went into town because we wanted to visit Maile’s parents, the weaponsmiths. Jeran stayed behind to spar with the journeymen, but we took all the children along. It was almost dinner-time, so we looked in the market if there was an already cooked chicken or something that we could take to share — we ended up with a beautiful fat capon, but frightfully expensive, two and a half riders! Fortunately they wouldn’t need to know that or we’d embarrass them. We did get a covered basket for it, to keep.
Before we got to Merain and Arni’s worshop, we ran into a doctor we’d met the last time we were in Veray. She greeted us, congratulated us when she heard we’d become masters, then called into an alley: “You can come out now, I know these people, they’re doctors like me, they won’t bite you! Anyway it’s time to go to dinner, you might as well tag along with them.” A scrawny girl came out, hardly more than fourteen years old, dressed as a whore, and clearly gifted. “Here’s Mialle,” the doctor said, “she eats at Arni’s table most evenings.”
The girl went with us, grudgingly, and was bustled into the house as soon as we arrived, together with Amre and the children and the basket of chicken. Merain took me into a side room. “Have you come from the school to fetch Mialle?” he asked. “She badly needs to go and learn there, but she insists on earning her own fee. We’ve told her so many times that if you really can’t pay you don’t have to, but she’s so stubborn.”
“We’ve come from the school — well, from the hospital. But we’re not going back there, we’re going on to the east. I can write a recommendation letter, though. Ervan could take her to Turenay if she can’t travel on her own.” I took out my writing stuff and wrote a letter in the name of the hospital –because I was a master doctor, not a schoolmaster– inviting Mialle to come and learn, and sealed it with the hospital seal, and I also wrote a note to Cora to explain and ask her to put Mialle where she needed to be, not necessarily as an apprentice doctor.
While I was doing that, Arni and some of the others were taking the capon meat from the bones and making it into little balls with almonds, so there would be much more to go round. This was a house almost like Cora’s house in Turenay, or even our own house: I think there were more than a dozen people at dinner, not counting our children and the handful of other little ones running around.
Mialle and some of the others put a couple of pennies in a jar. “Thank you,” Arni said, and later, to me, “I’ve told them they don’t have to, but they do it anyway because then they feel they’re not taking charity.”
I gave the letter to Mialle. She read it laboriously — good thing the school has a crash course in reading and writing, the same one we’d done — and then sniffed the wax seal. “You wrote this just now, right?”
“Right,” I said, “because I’m a master from Turenay and I’m entitled to invite people if they’re suited to it.”
“But I don’t have the fees yet!”
“We didn’t when we came either,” I said (though that wasn’t strictly true in my case: I had the purse of silver, my reward from Trynfarin), “and both of us are master doctors now! There are enough people who give the school money so someone who doesn’t have money can go and learn. Go to Turenay, keep your money in your purse or put it in an account with the Temple of Mizran in case you need something, like new clothes.”
“Really?” And then we got Arni on our side too, “Definitely. And now I’ll take you to Lyse’s house, she’ll put you up until Ervan is back so you can ride with him.”
We didn’t tell Mialle about Ervan’s other wife in Turenay. But she did tell us about the man from Tylenay who Ervan had seen with the most expensive whore in town. “He wasn’t satisfied with Lyase at all, and I said, go with me and I’ll be nice to you! And I was, and he liked it and gave me four shillings! He’s probably got a nasty prune of a wife at home.”
We went back to the Order house late, satisfied, carrying one sleeping twin each, with sleepy Hinla holding on to Amre’s skirt. “Well, we’ve done one good deed already,” I said when Maurin opened the gate for us. “But we didn’t buy any knives, and that’s what we went to Merain and Arni for in the first place.”
The next day we didn’t buy any knives either, because we wanted to see the hospital. “Have you come to work here?” the head doctor, Teran, asked.
“No,” we said, “we thought Cora might send us but she sent us to the east instead! She said the hospital had enough doctors.”
“The hospital has enough doctors, true! But we’re sending teams out to the surrounding countryside, a doctor and two nurses, and an apprentice if we can spare one, to make the rounds. All the way to the new villages in the south, and Nesh in the west, and Tal-Serth in the east.”
“We’re going further east than Tal-Serth,” I said. His eyebrows went up a long way.
“Tylenay? Or Tal-Rayen?”
“Both, probably, but it’s Tylenay where we’ve been sent.”
“Have you talked to Master Rayin yet? He’s in town for business.”
“No, but we know he’s here. If we could have an introduction?”
“That’ s easy — I know the baron, and the baron knows Master Rayin, I’ll make sure you’ll get to talk to him.”
Then Doctor Teran gave us a tour of the hospital. We’d seen it before, of course, but we’d never had such an extensive tour of it: built in a square around a spacious courtyard, all the wards large and straight instead of being crammed into a couple of existing houses, isolation rooms, a workroom with a glass roof like in Valdis, everything! But I still wouldn’t have given the hospital in Turenay for it.