Settling and busy
Wrote the outline on the train to Berlin and didn’t get round to writing the whole story until more than a week later, so not as much detail as usual. Everything that happened and we shouldn’t forget is there, though.
All in all we still didn’t do a round, even after morning prayers. First, Jinla was on our doorstep, saying there was a meeting in the village in the afternoon about the farm, and would we please come and bring the people we wanted to run it?
Oh yes, we would! If we took the wagon it would be much quicker than on foot and Jinla could ride with us. We were still talking about it when a small round young woman appeared on the square, checking something on a little note. She arrived at our door and said “I’m your new housekeeper!”
“Jerna?” I asked.
“No, she wouldn’t go to town, I’m Aine. But Orian told me about you. He’s my brother. Well, half-brother.”
Obviously she hadn’t had such a large father as Orian! Because Orian’s mother wasn’t particularly large.
“Well, can I see the house?”
We showed her the house. She was pleased with the things we’d already done and bought and ordered, and very pleased with all the livestock. “I love geese!” she said. “Mind you, I haven’t said I’m staying yet.”
We sat down at the kitchen table with her and worked out how much we were going to pay her — good thing that Jinla was still there, we wouldn’t have known what was reasonable; it came out at four riders a quarter as well as her board and clothes — and that she’d need at least one maid to share the work because the house was so big. We’d give her a purse with household money. “Have a household account in the Temple,” Jinla said, “that Aine can draw from and refer the merchants to, and you can go over it together every once in a while.” She wrote out the papers at once and let us sign them, then went off to the Temple to set it up. “I’ll be back before noon,” she said, “we’ll be in good time then.”
“You know,” Aine said when she’d gone, “I’ve never been in a house where the women were all doctors, or the man of the house so young.” That made Jeran blush, and I didn’t think Aine really knew yet that Amre and I were a couple. “What I haven’t seen yet is your wash-house, your bake-house, your brew-house. House this size ought to have at least two of those, perhaps all three.”
We said we were planning to let a laundress do the washing, but Aine insisted that a house this size ought to have its own place for it. Perhaps in the little alley that went off past the stable? Everything was overgrown with ivy there, but we had four enthusiastic young people pulling at it, two on each side. Serla and Jeran were the first to uncover something, by way of Serla getting a whole clump of ivy on top of her. “A door!”
The door itself fell off its hinges when we tried to open it, but behind it there was a neat shed-like room with walls that had once been whitewashed, containing a large copper kettle.
“Wash-house, I think,” Aine said, “for brewing there’d be jugs and barrels.” And sure enough, in the counterpart across the alley we found not only a kettle quite as large, but jugs and barrels as well, mostly no longer fit for use but easy to recognise. “Hm, I’ll have to ask that baker on the corner if the wainwright had all the bread from them, or else where to go instead.”
Then Jinla turned up, and we hurriedly washed and took her and ourselves and Jilan and Coran to the village on the wagon. We learned on the way that it was called High Penedin, making the other one Low Penedin, but that was usually called plain Penedin because it was much larger and better known. We passed our oxen, placidly grazing in a meadow. On the road we met up with a man who was going to the meeting too, because he did business with the farmers and would like to know what was going to happen to the farm. When we passed a place where wagons and tents were being set up, he told us that that was the Midsummer fairground, and that he’d definitely go there and dance and get drunk. “That’s when you’re not of Archan, of course,” he said, “when you are, you go to the great house to dance and get drunk.” He didn’t say where people went who were of Anshen, not just not of Archan, but I suppose he didn’t know.
As we came close to the village we saw two small groups of people all riding strangely assorted animals: mules, donkeys, a stocky pony, a huge carthorse carrying two young men. They had no carts, but no lordly horses either.
Apart from the priestess Caille, the smith and the village headman, the heads of seven important families were waiting for us. “Now we only need the owners,” the smith said, and at that moment the people on the strange animals rode in, who turned out to be the owners: Arni, with her husband and two grown children, and her half-brother Venlei Ran, with his wife, daughter and two teenaged sons.
Jinla started the negotiations, invoking the “written and unwritten regulations and customs of High Penedin”, and stated that each of the heirs was entitled to half of the sale price, three hundred riders.
“That’s ridiculous!” Arni scoffed.
There was a lot of talk back and forth, not quite between the heirs, I noticed it went through Jinla or the family heads or the village elders most of the time. “By the feast of Mizran the property will have been empty for three years,” Jinla said, “and then the village has the right to seize it.”
“But then it will be too late to make the land ready for the winter crops,” the priestess of Naigha said. “If you have any heart, take the offer now and don’t wait until there’s no choice.”
“You can have half, or you can have nothing,” Jinla said. With that, Arni spat “I will have nothing!” and turned on her heel and walked away, her family following her.
We stared after her for a while. Ran went as white as a sheet. Now he wouldn’t get anything either, and it was his father’s legacy. His wife and daughter were as distraught — his sons were gone, and when I looked with my mind I found them in the farmhouse with Coran and Jilan.
The farm belonged to the village now, and nobody objected to having our people working it (well, except Arni I supposed, but she’d made it clear that she didn’t have a say in it any more). Ran had already paid for his share of the winter stores because the farm wasn’t yielding anything. We wanted to do something to compensate him; after all we would only have to pay Jinla’s fees and could use the rest of the money to set up the farm! The priestess of Naigha took us and Jinla and Ran into the temple and we drew up an agreement: for the next ten years, starting this year, Ran would get fifteen riders from the village and fifteen from us, coming to three hundred total, and we would get the farm under the obligation to restore and maintain it.
When the villagers heard we had six oxen for the farm, they were very pleased. If they could be kept alive in the winter, they could use them to expand the mine and to start on clearing some of the mountainside. “An ox in town is only good on your plate!” someone said.
Then came the paperwork, as intricate as in Tal-Serth! Serla would have loved this: checks and balances, obligations, freedoms, all the little things that went into buying oneself into a village. Jinla had brought two copies of everything, one for the Temple, one for the village (which went into Caille’s chest).
Meanwhile, Coran and Jilan and Ran’s sons explored everything. “If your boys want to come and help, they’re welcome!” Coran said. Everybody accepted that Coran was the man in charge. He did look like a man: though he was small and wiry, he seemed much older than his nineteen years.
“Do you know about farm work at all?” the smith asked.
“We weren’t born to it,” Jilan said, “neither of us, but we’ve been working on a farm for the last couple of years. It’s different here, of course, but much the same work.”
“We’ll be glad of some help, though,” Coran said, “what Jilan and I are really good at is building in wood. We can trade work, learn from each other.” That was as good a piece of news as the oxen, judging by the villagers’ smiles.
When we got home the house was full of people: not only the children and the teenagers and Aine, but also the carpenter and her apprentices who had brought more furniture. Aine had talked to everybody on the square and around it. “I think I’ll stay,” she said, “but we do need a maid, perhaps two!” Well, that probably wouldn’t be a problem: we knew enough people who would know someone who wanted the job.
After dinner — and yes, Aine could cook — we sat talking in the garden until dark, and we noticed that Aine looked wistful when the children went to bed. “I’ve got a little one of my own,” she said, “back in the village. He’s your Hinla’s age, five, don’t know who his father is. There were soldiers…”
“Well, send for him!” we said. “He can go to school with ours, there’s always room for another child in the house.” She wiped her eyes and nodded. “I’ll write,” she said.
That evening, when we were in bed, we heard Serla and Hinla and Nisha giggle and sneak out of the room. We were curious enough to go after them, and found all the teenagers and children except the twins on their backs in the garden, looking at the stars! Aine was watching them out of the kitchen window, more amused than anything else. We just let them be, and in the morning found them all still there, waking up. We did want to wake up early because we’d promised Serla that we’d design the medicine garden before going off on our round.
Coran and Jilan were away early too, to the village. “We’d like to get settled so we can go to the Feast as people who belong there,” Coran said. “And meet the girls,” Jilan said, poking Coran in the side. “Well, yes, that too,” Coran had to admit. They’d call in on us at the evening exercise, so all we had to do was to watch out for them.
We could design the medicine garden but not actually plant the herbs, because the soil needed to be worked first, but Serla had it all planned out in her book and copied it to a sheet of paper so the Ishey twins could lay out the beds.
Then we finally went out on a round of the whorehouses. We wanted to do the ones we’d missed the first time, but first we went to Varyn’s house for her son with the lung sickness. He was glad to see us, and we told him we had a practice now so he could just drop in on the days that we weren’t on rounds.
Right on top of the hill there was a house that was the dirtiest we’d seen, and the people there didn’t want us. “Only if it’s for free,” the madam said, and we might have done it for free because we were really needed here. We made it clear that if anyone wanted a doctor, they could come to the house and we’d help them — we’d figure out a way to get money from the boss if the workers themselves couldn’t afford it — and left, discouraged. How could we have been to good houses, and some not very good but still decent, the first time, and end up here today?
We didn’t have much time to think it over, because just down the street there was a house with two sisters, women between thirty and forty. We wouldn’t have thought it was a brothel at all, so small was the house, if the lantern we’d come to recognise the houses by hadn’t been over the door. They were dirt poor, and the hard life had made them old before their time, and they desperately needed other work. Well, we needed people to work for us! As nurses in the hospital when we got that set up, but we had enough work for them before that.
They were sceptical at first, but they could see the appeal of it. “You’re used to taking care of people, after all!” I said. We sent them to the house with a note for Aine, with Serla to show the way and explain and Monster for safety. They took a small bundle each — all their worldly goods.
After a few houses that were neither very good nor very bad, where we did our work and earned our two riders and promised to come again next week, we got to a house that had really interesting patients: two men with deep flesh wounds on their arms and legs. “We got attacked by a giant dog!” one said. “A real monster!” the other added.
“Just like that?” Amre asked in that innocent way she has. And yes, they’d only been sent after the two sisters who had packed up and gone just like that, fleeing out of town!
“Into town, rather,” I muttered, but nobody was listening. The sisters were behind in their guild fees. Well, if it was that, we could probably advance it until they could pay it back from their earnings! But it turned out to be more than that: they’d borrowed money to live on when one of them was ill last winter, there was rent for their little house, working clothes, all with interest, and it came to about fifty riders each. We got to understand that this was normal for whores, to get into so much debt that they were completely in the power of their bosses, and that was one of the reasons that it was so hard to leave the profession. “They all think they’ll be bought out and get married,” the madam said, “but it doesn’t happen, once a whore, always a whore.” I didn’t agree with that completely, thinking of Doryn and Doctor Sedi and a few others in Turenay, but I could see that it was hard, especially for people who didn’t have the discipline to save.
We did come to some sort of agreement: we’d help the men without payment, and have the sisters work for us, and perhaps pay the guild fees but that needed an officer of the guild to decide. One of the officers who dealt with things like that was Varyn, so I thought we’d probably get it solved.
Serla came back with one of the Ishey twins instead of Monster. “She was so upset, Jeran went to the lake to let her swim,” she said. Now we had the whole story: the men had indeed tried to seize the sisters, and they’d gone about it so aggressively that the dog had defended the women as if from bandits!
We did the rest of our visit — this was an all-girls house, mostly clean, nobody was sick but almost everybody had lice. “What did I tell you!” the madam said, and started to wash heads with something filthy-smelling. Doctor Orin’s formula, with tar and some copper in it. We shaved all the other hair from the girls’ bodies, “just tell people it’s the new foreign fashion, all the princesses from Iss-Peran do it!” (Which made Amre think we’d better find a bath-house before going home, even though she wasn’t a princess.)
The bath-house was on the edge of the whores’ quarter, a bit more luxurious than the workers’ bath-house where we’d been before, half a whorehouse itself. A very pretty redhead saw our Ishey bodyguard and purred at him, “can I be of service? Two riders, but because you’re so young and tender it’s half price for you.” Shall we let him make his own mistakes? I asked Amre, but he turned her down anyway because he didn’t have any money, he was too Ishey to bother about that.
Serla had picked up a louse, but lice had never liked my hair or Amre’s, however much we deloused other people.
Now we were clean we went by the tailor for the last fitting of our clothes. We also bought new clothes for the feast for Nisha, a blue skirt and green shirt that were just a little too large but she’d grow into them soon enough. And of course it was no use giving new clothes to Ishey boys.
Aine didn’t like it one bit that we’d sent her new maids, it was her work to select and engage them! “But it’s all right, they can work, we scrubbed the wash-house and we’ll start on the brew-house tomorrow.”
There was also a fence around the fruit trees which also had the chickens and the geese in it. “Didn’t they fight?” I asked, and they had fought at first, but they were now sitting stubbornly under the trees, the chickens under one and the geese under another. “They’ll sort it out yet,” Aine said. And the boys had brought buckets of horse manure from the Crown and dug a plot for the medicine garden behind the workshop, and one for the kitchen garden behind the kitchen with a space for the kitchen herbs in the middle.
At dinner, the sisters (Ardyth and Arieth, we knew now) sat right at the foot of the table, bashful, but we asked them to come and sit with the rest of the family.
“About the order at the farm,” Aine said, “I agree — that farmer knows what she’s doing — but yes, I’d like to go there myself. And I’m definitely staying, it’s a strange household, but a good one. Not nearly large enough yet, though.” She’d talked with Jeran and Serla about what they’d do for the Feast; obviously we couldn’t take Serla to the Guild of Anshen party, and Aine was gifted but not in a Guild like many people from the villages, even though her mother and brother were of Anshen, and Jeran preferred to stay with Serla, so they’d roast a chicken or a goose in the garden and have a party with the Ishey. That sounded like a good idea! And of course the Midsummer fair would last for days so we could all go and dance later.
At our evening practice we did indeed hear from Coran and Jilan: they’d made themselves a place to sleep, cleared the well, closed some holes in the roof and started to dig the vegetable garden, with help from the neighbours.
In the morning, Serla sneaked all the children out of the room when we were barely awake yet, and we could hear her tell Hinla as they were leaving: “Mothers need some time alone sometimes, or in ten years they’ll be angry with each other!”