And not only that: the colliers’ village and a little bit of Tylenay.
That night we didn’t get much sleep because a kitten woke me up by biting my toes, so I sat up and woke up the twins, who demanded milk, and that got both kittens so excited that Hinla woke up, then Serla and Amre, from the general bouncing-around. Serla and Hinla got out of the wagon to poke up the fire and make breakfast, but then they noticed that it wasn’t day yet. They did take the twins and the cats, and all of them spent the rest of the night under the wagon, giving Amre and me some privacy and freedom from toe-biting. Serla even made a seal over the wagon for us.
We got up late, of course, and it was sort of hard to leave the village: Serla and I packed the wagon while Jeran rounded up the herd and Amre wrote a letter to Cora, but then we’d lost all the children who’d run to Orian’s house for more pancakes. They came back excited and sticky just when Amre had finished the letter and given it to Tylse’s friend to take to Turenay, so all we had to do then was wash them. Finally we were on the road again, laden with gifts of food and drink from the villagers who still didn’t understand that we weren’t asking them for money.
This was a very different landscape. The road was carved out through a peat bog which rose to above our heads on both sides. It was much better than when we were first here with Cora years ago: the army had used it and improved it on the go. Stretches that had been mud were now gravel or even cobbled with larger stones. But it was still not the pleasant ride we’d had in Ryshas — because I didn’t think this was properly Ryshas any more.
In a day or so we’d be at the crossroads and have to choose whether to turn right and go to Tal-Rayen — where we’d been with Cora, and they’d be glad to see us again, and we them — or go straight on to Tylenay. I was in favour of Tal-Rayen, Amre was in two minds, and Serla was understandably terrified of Tal-Rayen. But until the crossroads we wouldn’t have to decide anyway.
After a couple of days we met a group of people going the same way: men and women in their late teens to late twenties, all a bit rough but pleasant enough. They caught up with us, of course, because we were still travelling slowly because of all the lambs and though they were on foot (with a donkey or two) they were making good pace. One recognised us, “it’s the little doctors!” and we recognised him too: it was Arvin who we’d cured of something, I didn’t remember what, only the man himself. “Good to see you!” he called, “oh, you’ve got the little ones with you!”
“Do you work in the town now?” I asked, but they were all raft-workers, who took rafts full of pig-iron and wrought iron and ingots downstream to Veray where the smiths took delivery of it and used the rafts for firewood. Then the workers bought all kinds of things in Veray, anything that Tylenay didn’t have enough of, as much as they could carry on their backs or have a donkey carry, and took it back to Tylenay to sell. That was what made them money, what they got as pay for the rafts was just about enough for their keep.
We decided to travel to the crossroads together as we were all going the same way anyway. They would have four weeks in town until another raft departed, so one or two slow days didn’t matter much. They liked the children and the dog (the children and the dog liked them too) and our herd amused them. We offered to do any doctoring they needed, but hardly anybody needed it: most did have scars and several lacked some fingers and toes, which promptly made the children play hospital and bandage them with dock leaves, but only one woman, Rusla, had a badly set shattered knee that hurt her.
“We can fix that,” we said, “but we’d have to break it again and put it back together the right way, that’ll take a couple of weeks to heal.” And if she did want that, we’d do better to take her to Tal-Rayen for it, because there would be enough people there to help her while she was laid up unable to walk.
That evening we shared food, some of ours and some of theirs, cooked on peat those same people, or people like them, had dug out of the ground the previous year. More was dug and stacked to dry. I didn’t know earth could burn! But most of it was tangled roots and other bits of plants, so it figured that it would when it was dry enough.
At our evening prayer we got the company of some of the workers, even one in the Guild of Archan. “At least you pray!” he said. “We usually don’t get round to it.”
In the morning the peat pit had filled with water. When Serla went to fetch some to wash her face, she found a grisly thing: a human finger-bone! “Creepy! I’ll stay dirty, thank you!”
“Oh, that’s a bog body,” Rusla said, “they’re everywhere. There’s one bit that has dozens of them, some with their skulls bashed in, and weapons too, knives and axes made of stone. There must have been a battle long ago.”
Even though Serla had pronounced it creepy, she did get Jeran and some of the younger workers to join her in digging further from the pit, and they found two bodies who had clearly been buried with care. “Don’t you think they were Ishey?” Jeran asked. “He’s got a blanket, see!” And the other body — a woman by the dried-up breasts — was wrapped in what once must have been white linen, just like Ishey still bury the dead, men in their blanket and women in a white cloth.
“I think we must bury them again,” I said, “with a prayer to Naigha.” Jeran and Serla did that, and Hinla said “I know the prayers!” and rattled off a very credible version of a prayer to Naigha in women’s Ishey. Sabeh must have taught her!
Eventually not only we and Rusla, but also Arvin turned right to Tal-Rayen when the other raft-workers went on to Tylenay. We wondered whether to send Serla with them, because if any place in Valdyas is of Anshen it’s Tal-Rayen, but we’d rather not leave her out of our sight. If she really couldn’t stand it, she and Jeran could stay outside the village with the herd while Amre and I paid a visit.
The landscape changed again: from bog it became chalk, then sandstone, then granite, steadily rising. And then we went over a crest and saw Tal-Rayen in its valley, bathing in light that wasn’t only from the sun.
“Excuse me,” Serla said, “I must pray.” And pray she did, a little way away from the wagon and facing the valley. It looked like an argument with an unseen god. She came back flushed and determined. “It’s all right,” she said, “he’s letting me in.”
“You prayed to Anshen?”
“Yes, who else? Archan can’t even come near here.”
That was a fact. The whole valley was of Anshen, even more than an Order house was.
We passed some well-kept fields, but no people were working in them until we came close to the village where a boy of about eight was weeding a vegetable patch. “You’re the doctors!” he called. “I remember you! Do you remember me?”
I did remember him, but not his name. That wasn’t a big deal because he said, “I’m Erian! No longer Seven-Fingers! But I’ve still got all seven.” He held up his hands, one missing only the little finger and the other the ring finger as well. “I’ll take you to Rava.”
The village was much improved: all houses had slate roofs, and there was an eight-sided temple with a little dome where there had only been the low wall around Anshen’s fire last time. Rava lived in the house next to it, keeping the school.
We’d expected Aldan as well, but Rava told us that he’d died last winter: a stupid accident, a fish-bone in his throat! “Well, all people die,” Rava said, but while that was true it didn’t make it any less sad that she’d lost her beloved husband.
“We’ve come with Rusla to fix her knee,” we said, “but if there’s anything else we can do of course we’ll do that as well!” And yes, there was: there was a family, man, woman and child, who had come into the village with something that looked like the silver sickness but wasn’t. They’d put them in the quarantine house just outside the village itself. “Good thinking,” we said, and went there immediately while Jeran put the animals with the village livestock.
The quarantine house was new, built inside a low eight-sided wall so people knew to stay out. Every morning someone from the village brought food and water, but as long as there was sickness in the house they couldn’t come out or give anything to anyone from outside. The people who were inside now had been there for about a week and there was a pile of dirty crockery in one corner. The man and woman were lying on a bed, the child who wasn’t as sick as his parents building towers with the bowls and plates.
Yes, it was like the silver sickness, but as if the silver sickness had grown teeth and claws, the better to bite into someone with and to defend itself! Even while we were examining the patients, it put its teeth and claws into both Amre and Serla, but there wasn’t enough of it yet to grab and eradicate. But try as it might it didn’t get a hold on me, so I stayed outside and arranged for a trestle table and buckets of water. Jeran rounded up several gifted young people to burn any silver sickness that Amre and Serla got out of the patients.
They treated the child first, a boy about Hinla’s age. Serla is really good with children! She kept him calm and interested while Amre teased the sickness out, even though it took them until dark. Jeran and his mates got every bit of sickness before it even hit the floor, with sparks like Síthi fireworks, even prettier in the dusk. Then I got the boy to take care of — Hinla immediately took him along to find something to eat and to wear, because, she said, she’d already explored everywhere.
That night Amre and Serla slept in the quarantine house too, of course. The next day they treated the woman, then the man, and finally each other — they wouldn’t even let me help, only check if they hadn’t left anything behind. We wrote a letter to the doctors in Turenay about this new kind of silver sickness, so they’d be warned if it came their way. Serla wrote it all up in her book, too.
I hadn’t wanted to take on anything big while Amre and Serla might need me in the quarantine house, but I had my hands free for Rusla now. Serla had already made a very detailed drawing of all the little bits of bone and how they’d grown together crooked. “Does that knee of mine look like that inside?” Rusla asked, and I had to say yes, it did. “No wonder you want to break it again.”
I did, and it took me hours and hours to steer every little bit to where it ought to be and encourage them to start healing. “No weight on it for four weeks at least,” I said, but fortunately the village was full of people who could do the walking for her, and Arvin liked her enough to stay with her until she could travel again.
That evening we had a bit of a party. It ended with me and Amre and Rava talking quietly by the fire, when everybody else was already asleep or at least somewhere else. We discussed leaving the children here, where it was safe, for a while rather than taking them to Tylenay before we even knew if we could find a place to make our own. And arriving with a wagon that looked like it belonged to summer-fair folk probably wouldn’t give a good impression either.
To make a long story short: it didn’t work. Amre was away in the morning to pray to Timoine, I spent half the day in the temple of Anshen trying to clear my mind, Serla and Jeran went ahead with a small cart we’d borrowed, and eventually everybody knew that we had to stay together. “You gave us such a fright!” Hinla said. “Don’t ever do that again!”
“No,” I said, “I’ll never do that again if I have any say in it.” And I think Amre said the same thing, though she had one twin on each knee and was talking too softly for me to understand.
Now we had to decide whether to go via the colliers’ village, where the headwoman, Tylse, was in the Guild of Anshen, or straight to Tylenay on the shorter road via Penedin. Well, the villagers of Tal-Rayen were willing to look after the herd while we were finding a place, so we could travel much faster: taking a day or two to make the acquaintance of someone in the Guild of Anshen with some authority was a good thing. So the colliers’ village it was.
It was really small, no more than six houses, surrounded by charcoal kilns. We found Tylse easily — or rather, she found us. “It’s good to see the real doctors here!” she said. “Have you been to Tal-Rayen?”
“Yes,” we said, “they told us there that you’re here and we wanted to meet you.”
“Not much to do here,” she said with a grin, “us colliers get the black lung but the doctors can’t cure that.” That was true — we could do something, it was like the yearly visit of the stonecutters in Turenay, but there was no cure as long as they didn’t stop working in the trade.
When she heard what we were planning, she asked, “What about Master Orin? Won’t he want to get his hands on that apprentice of yours? Pretty young girl, gifted, in his own Guild…”
“If he does that I’ll stand right between her and him,” I said.
“Hm, I’ll send my son with you. He’ll be harder to push over.” She called the son from the kilns, the largest man I’d ever seen, more than a head taller than his mother and at least two heads taller than me or Amre, and wide to go with it.
“Orian, these people are going to town to be doctors there, I want you to protect them. Especially the apprentice.”
Orian looked at us for a long time as if he was learning us by heart, then he nodded. “All right.” He was clearly gifted, very much of Anshen, a good man as far as I could see, but not clever at all.
The children liked him right away, especially as he let them take turns riding on his shoulders.
From here to Tylenay it was less than a day. A straight wall between two mountains shut the town off completely. We could see the lake glitter behind it, but the only way to get there was through the town, so through the gate. We stopped before any guards at the gate could see us and looked first with our minds. Most gifted people I saw were in the Guild of the Nameless, some of them very strong; but some were in the Guild of Anshen and I made myself known to them. We’ll meet you at the gate, one said. At the same time Amre said “Someone’s coming to meet us at the gate”, someone different, because she’d been talking to other people than I had!
At the gate there were two guards, both men, one young and one middle-aged. “You’re under arrest!” the young guard said when we came in sight. I realised with a shock that this was the boy we’d sent to Tylenay for justice because he’d taken advantage of Jilan! So he’d either escaped his guards or, as I thought more likely, they’d delivered him to the authorities and he’d wheedled his way out. Before he could tell us what we were under arrest for, the other man said, “Arin, you’re in the guards on probation, you’re not authorised to make arrests yet!” He made a face that was half angry, half sulky, and though the other guard made room for us to enter the town he didn’t budge. Orian looked uneasy, as if he was waiting for us to tell him to move Arin aside, but then two men came from inside the gate to meet us. One was obviously a smith, dressed in leather and carrying a hammer: this was the man who had told me he’d meet us. The other was slighter, more richly dressed, and he was the one Amre had talked to. “We’ve been expecting you,” they both said, and to the guards, “These people are our guests.”
They didn’t introduce themselves until they’d taken us through half the town, to a neighbourhood that looked reassuringly ordinary, all low houses and small shops. The wagon got a place in the yard behind a somewhat larger house, and this house turned out to belong to the midwife Luthjul, who Cora had said was the head of the midwives’ and doctors’ guild.
“Come in!” the midwife said, “bring your children, let our people care for your mules!” But Jeran insisted on taking care of the mules himself, with Orian as his shadow. Amre and I and Serla and the children did go in and immediately got water to wash our hands and faces and herb tea to drink. “I’ve called the rest, they’re on their way. If we’re lucky we have an hour — nobody is telling Orin but he’ll know.”
People came in, introducing themselves to us. It was strange that they were all midwives and herbalists and apothecaries: Amre and I were actually the only doctors in the room! I could understand that they hadn’t invited Orin from what I’d heard of him, but shouldn’t a town the size of Tylenay have more doctors? There was Luthjul the midwife — a priestess of the Mother from Velihas –, her associate Eirith, Eirith’s husband Faran who was a herbalist, two apothecaries (one of whom was Ran, who had greeted Amre at the gate), and Eirith and Faran’s teenaged son who was his father’s apprentice. Also Master Fian, who taught the youngest children in the school that his wife Leva was head-teacher of. “I’m here because I see the little children,” he said, “and if anything is wrong I’m the first to notice.”
We told them what we’d come to do — “the bosses won’t let you start a hospital for the workers,” Faran said, but it was clear that these people would help us find a way around that, it was in fact what they were already doing. Then we told them of our adventures until now, everything we’d done in the villages. Luthjul and Ran were outraged about the opium pills: “that’s for knocking someone out to work on them, one dose is enough! How many did he prescribe? And how much was he asking for them?” It turned out that Master Orin hadn’t even asked a higher price for the pills than he himself paid to Ran. “I don’t understand it at all,” the apothecary said, “what does he think he’s doing?”
I wondered about that too. And just as we were talking about that, everybody fell silent and a large richly dressed man came in, with presence to fill the room, who could only be Master Orin. He looked around the room like a king — though all the kings I’d seen in my life, admittedly not very many, didn’t give themselves such airs.
“Ah, you must be the young foreign ladies from Turenay,” he said when his glance fell on me and Amre. “Thank you that you’ve brought me my apprentice.”
“Our apprentice,” I said, “we promised the her mother the baroness to teach and protect her. Not to deliver her to another master.” I prodded Serla with my mind, you have no obligation to him!
Serla stood up very straight. “I’m Doctor Amre and Doctor Venla’s apprentice,” she said, “my mother and they and I all signed the letter!” And I could produce the letter, but I held it up for Master Orin to read so he wouldn’t pocket it and make it disappear.
“Hm. You seem to be apprentices of the foreign quack Cora. Well, if you choose to associate yourselves with this rabble” — he made a sweeping gesture with his hand to include everyone in the room, even Jeran and Orian who were standing in the doorway with the dog between them — “there should perhaps be two guilds, the real doctors’ guild and the guild of the riffraff.” He swept out of the room, leaving us all silent for a moment.
Luthjul was the first to speak. “Well, the riffraff is doing fine, thank you very much. Let’s hear how you fixed that man’s ribs.”
Now it was exactly like a guild meeting in Turenay: there was even a girl who came to fetch the midwife “because my mum is having another baby right now!” “You go, Eirith,” Luthjul said, “you should be able to handle it.”
“May I go, too?” Serla asked, first of us and then of Luthjul and Eirith.
“Yes,” Amre said, “but you must take Orian along to protect you. You don’t know the town yet.” Not only Orian went, but Jeran and Monster too. I told the others about the jar the Turenay guild had that masters put a rider in and journeymen a shilling, for the first who was called away to collect, usually a midwife. “Hm, perhaps we should do that,” Luthjul said, “but though I’m a master I don’t think I can spare a rider!”
We talked far into the night — some people left because they were going to have to work very early in the morning, others stayed, our children were sleeping by the fire — and then there was some commotion outside, barking and shouting, and Orian came in with a man in each hand, literally. “What shall I do with them?” he asked. “Dog bit them.” One man had been bitten on the arm, the other on the ribs, and I rather thought Monster had been keeping herself in check. We dressed their wounds and let Perain take them away, perhaps to the town guards.
“I think Orin sent them,” Jeran said, “they came out of an alley when we were on the way back. Eirith and Serla are washing.”
Serla came back with one hand closed, still bloodied. “Would you look at that?” she asked. “We have to go back tomorrow, you too, there’s something wrong with her! And with the baby too.” She opened her hand and let us smell the blood and examine it with our minds.
“Copper poisoning!” I said. I’d seen it once before, a man who had been in Tal-Rayen the first time we went there with Doctor Cora.
“Oh, is that what it is? It smelt bad, I thought you should know.”
“Good work,” we said, “now you can wash that hand, too!”