I think Venla spent most of this session angry and/or frustrated. Also, confused and uncertain. At least now this has all been resolved, except the uncertainty– though it’s uncertainty of a different kind. She can depend on people again.
Some order-of-events issues, some missed conversations because I know what was said but not who said it and where to fit it in.
Now we’re somewhere we didn’t know existed! But that’s better than being in a place where everybody is afraid of you, I suppose.
After half a day of trying to work with people looking at us as if we were the scariest thing aboard, we went to see how Halla was. She was awake but very weak. We asked “what can we do for you?” and she said “I’d like to wash” so Zendegî got warm water and I got clean cloths and she washed herself, then dressed in a sort-of-clean shirt we’d found. It was clear, now that she was clean, that she needed stitching– I was better at quickly stitching up a fresh wound, but this was a matter of precision and Zendegî had become better at that, so she did it. It hurt Halla a lot but she didn’t mind that, and after it was finished she asked for a mirror so we found the cook’s copper one. “How long before I can make love again?” she asked. “If it’s too long I’ll never dare, and I might just as well become a dry stick of a real priestess after all!” “Well, first you have to be able to walk again, and then you have to be able to piss without pain, and then it’s probably some time before it will stretch without hurting you,” I said. She scowled, and looked away from her reflection, and asked for food so the cook brought her porridge. We ate some porridge too– we hadn’t even realised we were hungry.
Halla asked what had happened to the dead bodies, and we told her they were still lying on the deck because the sailors hadn’t dared throw them overboard without the priestess. But she couldn’t stand, let alone carry bodies! So she asked us to read the prayers, but of course neither of us could read yet. I went to the hospital deck and asked Elave if she could read, but she couldn’t either, and while I was thinking about what to do then Maile sat up and called from her bed “I can do it. Help me up and I’ll read the prayers. Someone else will have to do the chucking overboard, though.” She got a big sailor to carry her up the ladder and put her somewhere she could see the corpses, while I got a cushion for her to sit on and Zendegî got Halla’s black book. Maile leafed through it, chuckling at some of the writings and drawings, until she got to a page with the corner folded. “One at a time,” she told the sailors, “and wait until I give the word.” She rattled off a prayer, pointed, and the first dead man went overboard.
We didn’t think we were needed, so we went back downstairs to see what we could do there. There we found one-legged Arin and some other patients we’d seen were gifted when practicing with Maile: the man who had broken his back so he could only lie flat, the woman who’d been hit on the head so her mind was addled, the man wounded in his throat so he could only croak instead of talk, and the handsome young man who had lost both of his arms. They were all waiting for us around the hatch, wanting to talk to us urgently. “Don’t do it!” Arin said. “We really have to warn you.” “Don’t do what? Warn us about what?” I asked. “Don’t get yourselves apprenticed with Maile,” Arin said, “before you know you’ll be in the claws of the Nameless.” “I don’t think we’re her apprentices,” I said, “there’s a difference between learning something from someone and getting apprenticed with her!” But I couldn’t really explain what the difference was, and Arin and the others were very concerned. “The master of the Greys told me that it doesn’t matter who you learn from at the beginning,” I said. “Well, just be careful, won’t you?” Arin said, and then I saw that for all he’d said he was eighteen, he couldn’t really be much older than we were. He seemed to be the leader of the group, but that was only because he was strong and passionate, not because he knew more or was more experienced. He’d told us about his home, a village on a river where it was always green, and that he was the smith’s son– that’s probably what had made him strong enough to go and fight even though he was really too young.
Maile was so comfortable in the sun that we got her a cushion to sit on. She bared most of her skin to bask– she was already brown for a Valdyan, she probably wouldn’t burn. “So my mother got her way after all,” she said. “Did she want you to be a priestess of Naigha?” I asked. “Yes, village priestess like herself. But I left home and went on to do other things.” “Arin warned us against you,” I said, “we shouldn’t apprentice ourselves to you.” “Well, I wouldn’t mind, buy a house in Essle, two apprentices as gifted as you, I’ll be set for life! If you go and apprentice yourself to the Nameless, I know exactly what will happen. Let’s see, who do they have in Essle, Phuli for one, and the old fool who claims to be related to the king if he’s still alive, and if they get you, you’ll spend the first night in the old fool’s inn and then you’re packed off to Turenay on a boat and sent to school until you think the light of the Nameless is shining out of every orifice in the king’s body– and then put to work for the king.” Working for the king sounded like something I really wanted, but I wasn’t going to tell that to Maile. “But no,” she said, “that’s not for me, I’m going to die anyway.” We tried to convince her that she wasn’t going to die right away: she was really much better, and the sun and air were doing her good as well. She was very tired by now, though, and had the sailors carry her downstairs again.
The captain had disappeared into his quarters again, and the bosun was upset about it; I was about to offer to look through the wall when he got the carpenter with an axe to cut away the lock. There he was, alive but blind drunk, lying in a pool of vomit with a flask at his side and another empty one on the floor. We were nurses– our first impulse was to help him, wash his face and get a clean shirt on him. That woke him up, and he protested, but we did it anyway. Then the bosun came in and sent us away, “we have some seaman stuff to do, we can’t use you now” — and sure enough, a while later he came out of the captain’s hut with two strong sailors, holding the captain each by one arm, and they held a kind of meeting on the deck to accuse the captain of incompetence and to make the bosun acting captain. Not everybody agreed, there was a lot of discussion, but in the end they voted and the captain was voted down and they took him downstairs to lock him up. At least he’s got a clean shirt! I thought. We could hear him cursing for quite some time.
When we got to Halla to see if she needed something she asked “what was going on?” so I told her, carefully saying “the captain” instead of “your father” so as not to upset her more than she already was. She nodded, “good!” with a satisfied grin. I can’t imagine that someone is on such terms with her father that she’s satisfied when he’s thrown out of his job and locked up! But I’d never understood Halla, even before things happened. She was very tired, but didn’t dare sleep because she got nightmares. We offered to make her a sleeping draught so she’d sleep without dreaming. The cook said “this is the safest place on the ship, nothing can hurt you here!” but she wanted it anyway and we went to make some– and when we got back with it she was already asleep. We left the flask in the kitchen in case she’d need it later, it was in sweet wine so it would keep.
Now we were almost out of poppy juice, but I remembered smelling poppy in the hold. I went to the captain’s quarters and found the bosun there. “Can I ask you something?” He nodded absently, apparently busy with finding out how to be captain instead of the captain. “Who does the cargo belong to?” That was a question he didn’t seem to have expected. “Well, Prince Aidan I suppose,” he said. “A Valdyan prince?” “Yes, the king’s brother. Why do you ask?” I explained about the poppy juice, and that I’d like to take some from the cargo if we had an emergency that made us need it. “I don’t think the prince would mind,” the bosun said. “But we’ll get to land soon, I hope somewhere there’s a Valdyan regiment, I don’t want to make the crossing without some soldiers aboard.”
In fact after a few days we did land somewhere, but it was a small island where we only took in fresh water from a spring. I’d have liked to feel sand under my feet, but nobody asked us to come along, and we’d only have been in the way because we weren’t strong enough to move barrels or tall enough to row the launch. I thought that before the trouble, the sailors would have taken us along because they liked us! But they were still avoiding us, even Kuchik, though Khat’ and Elave had come round a bit. Some of the patients were uneasy too, but not so much because of us but because they didn’t trust each other any more, after all anybody could have evil plans.
Then we saw the real shore come closer and closer, and threw out the anchor off a coast with a forest and a village. There was no real harbour, only the beach. It was sandy, full of fishing-boats with strange sails, made of something like matting. We asked Kuchik whether he spoke any language likely to be understood here, but he said it was the east of Jomhur and they had any number of languages there –he named them– that he didn’t speak, so we’d be on our own. We took money from the casket in the medicine cabinet to buy linen and sleeping potion and whatever else we’d need if the village had it, and put on our best clothes and straw hats, and climbed down the swaying rope ladder with the bosun to be rowed to the village.
There was a small whitewashed building in the place with the boats, with a Valdyan soldier in front of it: a very pregnant woman. She told him that the place was called Dadán, and there wasn’t really a regiment here, only about a dozen of the king’s soldiers. We waited outside and talked to her while the bosun went inside to talk to the commander. “My man’s from here,” she said, “I don’t understand a word of his language, and he only a few words of mine, but it’s a good man and we love one another. I’m staying here, it’s a good place, isn’t it little one?” — with a pat on her large belly. “When is it due?” I asked, but I knew it would be any day now.
The bosun came out of the guard-house shaking his head, “They can’t spare anyone. Ah well, I’ve heard there’s a market and a trading-post, go shopping by all means! We’ll be here for a few days.” He pointed us up the hill where the main part of the village was, “you can’t miss it, it’s completely safe.” The soldier added “That’s old Parandé at the trading post, she’s from Albetire.” I said I was called Parandé too, and also from Albetire. “What a coincidence!” the soldier said, “you’ll get along splendidly!”
It was good to be on solid ground –neither of us got land-sick– and especially good to be off the ship, just the two of us. It seemed to have driven Zendegî as mad as me, only it didn’t make her as angry, but she was as relieved as I was.
As we came into the village, a young man came along, about as tall as we were but a bit older. We didn’t understand him, but he didn’t look as if he minded. He pointed to a house and made a drinking gesture. I shook my head and pointed at my linen bag and rattled the hospital purse. He made an “Ah!” gesture, and took the bag from me and carried it over his shoulder though it was still empty, then escorted us to the market. “Ktab,” he said, pointing at himself, and we pointed at ourselves and said our names too. “Venla, Zendegî,” he repeated solemnly.
The market was fun! First we walked along all the stalls, which was easy as it wasn’t very large, only one or two of each kind, fruit and vegetables and fish and spices and flour and kitchen things. There was one stall with barrels of oil that we’d want some of, and one with different kinds of honey that the woman behind it let us taste –that would be good for medicines too– and then I got hungry for fruit and wanted to buy some, but Ktab insisted on paying with a tiny pearl he got from his loincloth. (He wasn’t wearing much more than that, anyway.) He even held a big leaf under our chins as we were eating it, to keep the juice from staining our clothes.
The trading-post was on one side of the market, clearly a shop, it even had a large roll of bleached linen outside! The soldier had told us that cloth was scarce here, and indeed her own uniform –what she could wear of it with her pregnant body– was threadbare and much repaired. There was a woman sitting on a bench in front of the trading-post, and she was indeed Parandé. “You must be from the big ship,” she said, and when we said we were the nurses, “aren’t you very young for that?” and I sighed and told her that we’d helped in the war hospital so we’d offered to be nurses on the ship when we got the opportunity. Fortunately she didn’t ask why we’d left the city! It turned out that Ktab was her grandson, and his mother, her daughter, was the midwife here.
Zendegî did most of the bargaining, she’s very good at that! We got the linen for a scandalous amount of money but less than half of what Parandé had asked for it, and when we asked for sleeping draught Parandé said that they had very good stuff, but it took some time to get because it was a root that had to be harvested at night. “We’re staying for a few days anyway,” we said, and she promptly invited us to come to dinner and stay the night with her. “It’ll be fish and vegetables,” she said, “we don’t have much meat, the Khas have done something to the forest so we can neither hunt nor trade.” But that was all right with us: at least it wouldn’t be ship’s porridge!
Ktab went with us to buy the stuff in the market, and we had everything packed and sent to the trading post so we could take it on board easily. Then it was time to eat, and it was a real party! The pregnant soldier was there (she was called Ruzyn), and her husband Radu, and Parandé’s daughter the midwife, and we and Ktab and some more people we couldn’t understand or even remember their names, but everybody was friendly and the food was nice.
When it was really dark another soldier came from the guardhouse. He looked around for us, and said “Wasn’t your ship going to stay a few days?” and when we said yes, “But it’s just sailed away!” Sailed away? Without us? “Who will take care of Halla now?” I cried. We ran to the harbour, but it was too dark to see anything. I looked with my mind, frantically, to see if I could find anyone I recognised, and I saw Maile and Halla and Arin who were coming our way. “Halla and Maile and Arin are coming here!” I said to Zendegî. “In the launch, I think.” Parandé translated that, and then two of the villagers took a boat and pulled it into the sea and not much later they came back with those three, all wet as if they’d fallen overboard. “They’ve deposed the bosun,” Maile said, “he’s in irons in the hold.” “With the captain?” I asked. “Yes,” Arin said, “he didn’t want to leave without you, but the men said they were better off without the witches and overpowered him.” In the confusion, Arin and Maile had taken Halla and sneaked off, and Arin had thought he could row the launch but it had turned over and they were all in the water, but they’d been rescued just in time.
I was so confused that I could only think of what would happen to the patients without us, and without the linen and oil and honey, and sleeping medicine, and the rest of the money from the medicine cupboard! And the ship without its launch! But at least Halla was here with us, and perhaps the midwife could do something for her as well.