Silver Village

We’re not done with the village yet, nor it with us. But right now we’re too tired to do anything except sleep.

We woke up because there were cats and chickens walking over us, I suppose. Or perhaps it was just the chickens, because there was a cat asleep on top of me that I hadn’t even noticed (just like at home, after all, though this cat was quite a lot larger). And a girl a bit older than Hinla who was noisily chasing the chickens out.

“There’s breakfast!” she said when she saw we were awake. She bounced up and down. “And we’re going to have my little cousin’s name-giving! I’m not the smallest any more!”

“I think we’ll have to do some more healing before we have the name-giving,” I said, “your cousin’s mother will want to be able to stand up for it!”

There was a long trestle table in the village square — well, the open space between the houses where the well was, with people sitting around it. This must be the whole village, except Caille and her baby. Most people looked somewhat Velihan, two women (one old, one middle-aged) looked completely Velihan. And more than half were gifted, even the little girl. All the teenagers — no, all but one, a boy of about ten, who clearly couldn’t follow the others who were talking in the mind more and more, even Jeran and Serla. The old man who had given me strength last night grinned at him and stroked his hair.

We looked in on Caille and the baby first — they were both asleep, so we didn’t disturb them, but looking well. Then the little girl, Aule, showed us the village. She told us exactly who was living in each house: “That’s Uncle Jarn and Aunt Ledu’s house. That’s my house and mummy and daddy’s house. That’s Aunt Ashti and Uncle Felen’s house, Uncle Felen is very sick.” I couldn’t remember it all! But I was sure I could ask Aule if I wanted to know anything.

Outside the gate was a jetty, with some of the teenagers on it, fishing in the small lake that the river made here. “That’s to bring the silver to town when people come with a boat!” Aule said. A bit further on there was a wooden bridge across the river: any boats would be very flat and low to go under that.

“And here’s the workshop,” Aule said. “I’m not allowed in the workshop without grown-up people. Are you grown-up people?

We asserted that we were and she took us into the workshop — an assortment of workshops, in fact — where people were starting work now, doing things with metal that I couldn’t make much sense of. On the other side of the workshop there was a pair of heavy doors, open at the moment, that led to a huge cave with the mine entrance behind it. “Can you make a light?” Aule asked. “I can but not so well yet.”

Seven years old and already able to make a light! But we did it, shining the light on a stream that ran right through the cave. The water was icy cold. “You can drink it,” Aule said, “but don’t eat the fish, they’re creepy, they don’t have any eyes!” Then we went a little way into the mine, until the passage split into several others going into the mountain.

“I think I want to go back,” I said.

“But it’s easy! You can’t get lost! Just turn right every time and you’ll get back. And you can see where the people are anyway!”

“I don’t like deep dark places,” I said. “Even when I know it’s safe.” Aule didn’t understand that at all — it was only the mine! — but she took us back out.

In the Temple of Naigha, two women were finishing the cleaning. “You’d better sleep here,” one said, “none of us have enough room in our house for all of you, and you can leave all your work stuff out too.” Serla and Jeran had already made the temple hall into a surgery while Aule was taking us around, everything set out neatly, we could start work any time.

“Could you please come and look at my husband?” the other woman asked. “He’s not well.”

This was one of the people we’d seen the other day, and he did look a lot worse now. His heart was giving up, he’d been poisoned by whatever he’d been working with all his life, only one lung was sort of working any more. “I know I’m going to die soon,” he said, “but I don’t want any pills! I want to say goodbye to everybody, and I can’t do that if I’m asleep from the pills all the time.”

“We won’t give you any pills,” we said, “but you’re right, we can’t do much more for you than make you a bit more comfortable.” He nodded, and we eased what we could.

Then one of the redheaded twins came running into the village. “Jarn and Aranin saw campfire smoke!” she cried.

“Bandits?” the sick man’s wife asked.

“Probably. We have to pull in the bridge!”

The bridge had been made so two or three people could easily pull it all the way on to the river bank, and that’s what the two women and the girl did. Anyone who wanted to attack the village now would have to use a boat or get very wet.

When everybody was inside, including Jarn and Aranin who had been on watch, Rava closed the gate as firmly as she’d closed our front door. We told her “if anyone wants to come into the village who doesn’t belong here, you may hit them!”

All the teenagers and some of the adults were sitting on the wall — the outside had been smoothed with mortar but it was easy to climb from the inside — trying to spot the bandits. Amre and I climbed on too. The boy who wasn’t gifted, Tarn, got very frustrated because the others were talking with their minds again, and scrambled down to feed the pigs. “That’s where he belongs!” a girl said, “with animals as smart as he is!” But someone, I didn’t see who, cuffed her for that. Amre got down too and went after the boy, but I stayed up because I’d seen something moving at last.

“It’s that Reshan,” one of the men said, “from the town guards in Tylenay!”

“Reshan isn’t from the town guards,” I said, “only from Rayin’s mine.” This was the man who had come for Rava! I’d have to tell her that it was him so she wouldn’t have another shock.

“But last time he said he was!”

“He’s been here once before?”

“Once? Five times before today! He says he’s been sent to claim the mine for the town, but we have papers saying it’s ours, it belongs to the village forever.”

I told Rava that Reshan was on his way, not to fetch her, he probably didn’t know that she was here, but to steal the silver mine from the village. “I won’t let him come in,” she said with determination.

I found Amre talking to Tarn and his grandfather. It turned out that the boy had invented the way to pull the bridge on to the bank. “Another thing he’s invented,” his grandfather said.

“What else have you invented?” I asked Tarn.

“How to make the gates so they don’t fall out of the hinges,” he said. “They did, before, because they’re so heavy.”

“And to make the big drill grease itself,” grandfather said, “and a lot more nifty things in the workshop. He’s not at all stupid!”

Only not gifted. Perhaps we could convince the other teenagers of that, or else send Tarn to Valdis to learn from the city engineers there.

Now there was a lot to see outside the wall. There were about two dozen people, some in uniform, others in ordinary clothes, shooting burning arrows at the wall and at the bridge but most missed. One hit a rose-bush and set it on fire. They didn’t manage to shoot any over the wall, and arrows that hit the bridge just sizzled out because the bridge was too wet to burn from having been dragged through the water.

“What if they do reach the village?” we asked.

“It’s all stone, only the pigsty can burn.”

The people we’d seen shooting arrows turned out not to be all of the bandits, or whatever they were if Reshan was the leader. (Rayin’s irregular troops? Reshan’s own idea?) There were twelve coming down the river on a raft now, bringing a large log. Tarn climbed next to us, interested again. “Battering ram,” he said. “The hinges will hold but the latch won’t.”

“There are four of them in the mine too,” Aule said. “They’re lost.”

Well, if they were lost they couldn’t do much harm right now, but middle-aged Jarn shouldered his pick-axe and went to guard the mine entrance.

Meanwhile, the teenagers were trying to explain all at once why exactly Reshan wanted the mine. “The prince — not from Tylenay but it sounds like it — Turenay! — his daughter is the queen! — he buys silver from our mine because it’s so pure — to make holders for glass so old people can see better. — Grandmother could use one of those, she doesn’t see colours any more — she can’t see sparrows either — or even cranes! — she can see crows though, because crows have spirit.”

Suddenly I got an idea. “Can’t we set the log on fire?”

“With lightning,” Amre said. “Like Raisse taught us.”

We got down to making a plan. It had to be a very quick plan, because the raft with the log was already quite close. “Can you really make lightning?” thirteen-year-old Jarn asked. “Can you teach us?”

“We can show you how to do it and then we’ll all try together,” we said. So we took a couple of people at a time to run them through Raisse’s early lessons, as much as we remembered, but we didn’t dare do anything yet.

“They’re stranded,” Tarn called from the watchtower. “They’re stuck on the other side and the raft is in pieces!”

That gave us time to practice! And we got it right after a couple of tries: a bunch of straw went up in a puff of smoke and the sand under it turned to glass.

“Right, now the log,” we said, and we raised power and made the lightning and let it loose. Much stronger than we’d imagined, with everybody joining in for real! And the lightning was going to strike the village instead of the log if we didn’t do something very fast. Amre and I together just managed to aim the power at the lake, where it struck with a great crash. Otherwise the whole village would have been glass!

It was a while before anyone dared climb the walls to look. There was a column of water in the middle of the lake, as if something was sucking all the water upwards. “That’s because the lightning made the air hot,” Tarn said, “hot air wants to go up, and it’s pulling the water with it.”

We could see people at the bottom of the lake, we couldn’t see whether they were alive or dead, and lots of fish, probably boiled. There was a wind so strong that we had to get off the wall to avoid being blown off. “To the mine!” someone was shouting. “To the mine!”

Everybody rushed into the workshop and through the cave doors, Rava carrying Caille and I the baby. Then Rava closed the doors and fainted: she’d used all she’d got.

Aranin and Mialle went to look if Jarn in the mine was all right; he wasn’t gifted so he couldn’t call, and there was no sound from the passages. Perhaps that was because nobody could hear at all for a while, either because the air with sound in it had been sucked away with the water, or because of the crash of the lightning. Then our ears popped and there was sound again. Still not from Jarn or the enemies, but Aranin called with his mind. We found them, they fell into a sinkhole! Not Jarn, of course, but the others. I think they need the doctors.

When we got there Jarn and the others had got one of the enemies out of the hole, a woman, her spine broken in several places. “I’d like a live one now,” I said, but the next they hauled up was dead as well. The others didn’t seem to be willing to come out, but we called down to them, “Either you die down there or we get you out and give you a chance.”

Eventually they did come: a man and a woman, wounded but alive, and we carried them into the cave where the village was making itself comfortable. It was clear that they’d done it before: families each had their own place, there was room for the animals, a cooking fire was being started, people got water from the stream.

Speaking of water, we heard rain from outside now. “It’s like half the lake is pissing down,” someone said, and another, “No, the whole lake is pissing down!” Thunder as well, sounding like an ordinary thunderstorm, but perhaps we’d made that too.

Now Rava needed our attention, because what she’d closed the door with was all of her spirit. We had to scrape it off and give it back to her. We got eighteen-year-old Hylse to help, and one of the teenaged Jarns, who both figured out how to make a sort of funnel with their minds. “I really want to learn more,” Hylse said, “to be a midwife or a herb-woman, but I don’t want to be a priestess of Naigha because I like to make love!” And Jarn also wanted to learn; perhaps we could take on a couple more apprentices! But we didn’t say that yet, we wanted to get all of this over with first.

Now that the seal was off the doors we still couldn’t get them open! A couple of people went around, through the mine to the back exit, to clear away whatever was blocking the doors.

This took a couple of hours (during which we ate pork, because a pig had broken its leg and was roasted) and then we saw that the whole village was buried almost knee-deep under mud and debris. All our equipment that Jeran and Serla had set out so neatly was ruined: jars broken, bandages filthy, and the set of knives from Veray was an unrecognisable mess of metal. Serla’s notebook looked intact, but all the pages were blank! The ink had just washed off the parchment. “My book! I’ll never be able to make some of those drawings again!” she wailed.

“But you’ve made them once and learned from that,” I said. It didn’t help much.

People were busy piling up the dead. “Pái can do the prayers,” someone said, “she’s a priestess of the Mother, not of Naigha, but she still knows how. Felen died, we’re putting him in the mountain but we’ll burn the rest.” Two of the bandits were brought in alive; one was Reshan! But we asked to have them put in the temple and went to see what we could do for the people who had fallen into the sinkhole first.

The woman was easy enough, she had only a couple of simple fractures and she’d lost some skin that Serla could fix, but the man had broken almost everything on his right side, even his cheekbone, and it was threatening to put out his eye from the inside. Amre was good at fixing awkward bones, so she did most of the work. “Are you really going to put me back together?” the patient asked.

“We already have,” we said. (Later, we heard that he was really only an ordinary guy who’d been landed with a dirty job, and that he’d like to stay in the village after he was recovered if they’d have him. Well, new blood in a village so small was probably a good thing.)

“If we do Reshan now we can question him,” Amre said.

She was already drained. “I won’t let you,” I said.

“He may not be around tomorrow if I don’t.”

You may not be around tomorrow if you do. Remember Serla in Albetire.” And old Pái came to my aid, “I’m a priestess of the Mother, remember that you’re a mother, even though you didn’t bear any children yourself. — You should, you know. — Go to sleep in the arms of your wife.”

So we went to sleep, in the only hayloft that wasn’t completely soaked.