The baron arrives
That was a very full day, with lots of revelations. The GM called the session “sedate” but Venla, at least, doesn’t think so.
Was that really only one day? It feels like weeks, and also as if I’ve known Zendegî forever, though it was only yesterday that we first met. Or perhaps it’s the day before yesterday now, I think it’s almost morning.
We had a shipwreck –well, not us, though both of us got involved in the end– and a party, and Zendegî earned a lot of money, and I think I know what I want to do instead of being a sailmaker if I can, and we danced with two very nice young men from Valdyas (the real Valdyas in the north, not Little Valdyas), and I learnt things about myself that I can hardly believe! And Father and Zendegî’s master turned out to be old friends and they may start a business together.
But I’ll take it from the beginning. This morning (or yesterday morning) I woke up and found Zendegî awake between Hava and me, and Coran and Jilan peeking at her through the curtains, so I sent Coran downstairs to get washing water. He went down the stairs head-first, “like a tiger”, and Jilan followed him, but I took Meran by the feet when he wanted to do it too and said “tiger cubs get carried!” but he wouldn’t be carried, he wanted to walk on his hands with me holding his feet. Brothers! Especially little ones!
I let Zendegî wash first because she was the guest, and then we ate maize gruel, and as it was becoming light I thought we’d make for the gate. When I said “I’ll give you a turnip” Khahar got out an oiled-paper package she’d made of salted turnip and gave that to Zendegî, but I wanted to give her something myself so I pulled up a couple of the big yellow carrots too.
It was much busier than usual at the gate because everybody wanted to go to the harbour: the ship was coming in! And there was a Valdyan nobleman aboard, and an Iss-Peranian woman too, so perhaps it was really the little queen and her husband the king’s brother! But one of the Greys said that it wasn’t them, it was someone called Lord Fian on the king’s business, and the Greys are usually right about that sort of thing so I decided to believe him.
I’d promised to go with Zendegî to her workshop so that was what I did, but first to her parents’ house to put the vegetables on the mouseproof shelf. I’d be late for work but everybody would understand that it was hard to get through the crowds, so I’d probably be able to get away with it, or else be docked a few hours of pay, but it was in a good cause. We also passed Zendegî’s parents’ workplace and talked to her father, then went to the workshop where everybody else already was, including the man who had ordered the thing that the thief had stolen! He was more angry at the thief than at Master Nakhast, but he did want his money back of course, and the master was very worried. After a while the customer wasn’t being angry any more, the men were talking about how to solve the problem, and I had a cup of tea with Zendegî and the other girl, Fadri, until I felt I really couldn’t stay any more and went to push through the crowd.
Our workshop was still closed, and that was because everybody was on the quay looking at the ship trying to come in. I couldn’t see anything until the Greys and the soldiers and the harbourmasters started to clear the way, and then I ended up right at the sea-front and had to sit down on the ground to avoid being pushed into the water. Lots of other people did the same, I saw Biruné just too far away to talk to her, but I could wave to her and she waved to me.
Now I could see the ship! It was tacking back and forth to come in while staying out of range of the catapult on the tower. I saw people on it, too. I’d hear someone say six hundred, and I could well believe it, it was completely packed.
Suddenly something flew from the tower, and there was a bang and a splash and the people closer to where the ship was cheered and cried “Missed!” but the next missile didn’t miss, it took out two of the three masts in one blow. And there were fast galleys coming in from the west side, painted in the king’s colours, ready to attack. Then another hit from the catapult made a great big hole in the side of the ship, and it turned and lost the wind in the sails on the mast that was still standing and started to sink. Some people fell overboard, and other people jumped, and lots of rowboats set out to rescue them. One man in noble-looking clothes –well, a noble-looking shirt, he’d taken his jacket and breeches off at the first dunking– was swimming like a rat and pulling one person after another out of the water. I wondered if that was the envoy– the king of Valdyas had made a good choice then!
Then Uncle Kamel came and poked me with his cane, and Biruné and some other people too, and we got the big flatboat from the shed and rowed out to join in the rescuing. Almost as soon as we got there we had thirty soaking wet people in the boat, and ten more hanging on to the back, so we could barely row! And we did that a lot of times until only dead bodies could be hauled aboard, and after that cases and crates, but the harbour workers did most of that.
We were standing on the quay dripping and panting, when one of the Greys came up to us. First he looked at me, with a “do I know you?” look on his face, and then he shook his head as if there was water in his ears and spoke to Uncle Kamel, “are you the boss?” And when he nodded, “Lord Fian and the noble ladies Zahmati and Roushan invite you, everybody involved in the rescuing, that is, for a reception in Little Valdyas. There’ll be food and drink.” I knew about the noble ladies, they were the ones Uncle Kamel always called “the Terrible Twins” when he thought nobody was listening. They were so rich that giving food and drink to everybody who had been in the water, or pulled someone out of the water, wouldn’t make their purse feel any lighter.
Then there was a huge procession along the Imperial Way that leads to the Little Valdyas gate just as the normal road does, and not even with a great detour, only we tend not to use it. There were elephants at the head of it, two very large ones! On one elephant, under one of those cloth awning-things you get on elephants, there were some noble-looking Valdyan people, I think one of them was the man who had swum like a rat, and one Iss-Peranian-looking woman. On the other elephant there was Princess Cynla with some other people, two very beautiful women who looked exactly the same and must be the Terrible Twins, and another woman in black who must be their dandar, though I’d never seen any of them before except for Princess Cynla, who is old and respectable and really good.
There were also lots of soldiers on horses, and people who weren’t soldiers on horses and mules, and soldiers on foot, and finally all the other people who had been rescued or who had rescued them, including us, but mostly soldiers as well. I could tell by the way they walked, because hardly any of them were wearing anything like uniform, most of them only a loincloth and some a shirt. Even the little children marched rather than walking. I asked a boy about Jilan’s age “are all of you soldiers? Are you a soldier too?” and he said “Yes, we’re the garrison, my father is a sergeant and my mother is a captain and I’m a soldier of the first class, and my brother a soldier of the second class, and my little brother a soldier of the third class!” All in a kind of speech I could only just understand, as if he came from very far away. “And do you have any sisters and are they soldiers too?” I asked. “No, I had a sister but she didn’t get to be a soldier because she got bitten by a snake and she died.” I told him that I’d eaten a snake once, a yellow one, and that gave him so much of a fright that he wouldn’t talk to me any more.
At last we got through the gate, elephants and all, and the nobles and merchants went on to the square in front of the hospital and the king’s palace but the rest of us stayed in the square with the fig tree because that was where the food and drink was. Merchants had set up stalls there, hoping to sell to the Valdyans I suppose, and who was under the fig tree with a tray full of jewellery but Zendegî! “What are you doing here?” I asked. “I might ask you the same,” she said, and I told her how I’d been one of the rowers of a rescue boat, and she told me that her master had sent her (and a slave-boy to guard her, a handsome fellow who was trying to be unobtrusive but didn’t quite succeed because he couldn’t keep himself from making eyes at pretty girls) to try and sell whatever rings, bracelets and brooches she could while the going was good. She was looking very pretty herself, kohl on her eyes and her hair oiled and tied up with a ribbon, and she smelt of the bath-house.
I stayed with her for a bit to talk to her and translate for her, because of course all those Valdyan soldiers and sailors spoke only Ilaini. Then a well-dressed man appeared, with a woman at his side a head taller than he was. They were obviously much in love, and the man bought the woman a lot of trinkets, even the heavy gold anklets that had looked out of place because they weren’t as dainty as the rest. They talked to us while they were picking out things: the man was Lord Fian’s aide Lydan, and the woman wasn’t his wife yet but would be tomorrow. “How much is it?” Lord Lydan asked, and Zendegî blushed a little –it’s a good thing that she’s so dark that Valdyans probably don’t notice– and said “Fifty riders.” That was outrageous, of course, but Lord Lydan seemed to think it was normal. He didn’t give her money, though, but wrote something on a bit of paper and dripped wax over the writing and stamped the wax with his ring so there was a pattern on it, some kind of animal I thought.
“But that isn’t money!” Zendegî said, and the woman laughed and explained that it was a letter of credit, and it was written on it that she’d get the money at the Temple of Mizran. “Did you write her name on it, or can anyone get the money if they have the letter?” I asked. Anyone could get the money, it seemed, so Zendegî gave it to her slave-boy for safekeeping, but he gave it back promptly because he didn’t trust himself with it: it was enough money for him to run away with, and she’d do better to give it to Master Nakhast. So she put it under her clothes, against her skin so she could feel it.
I asked the woman what she did for a living –somehow she didn’t look like a noblewoman or a trader– and she said she was a doctor, called Vauri. “Oh, I suppose you’ll want to see the hospital then,” I said, and yes, she would, what she wanted first of all was a bath. Zendegî pointed her to Riei’s bath-house in Pinchpenny Lane– she wisely didn’t mention the name of the street, but she did say it was only for women. I took her there, though it was easy to find and Riei can speak Ilaini as well as I can, her mother was Valdyan like mine. I’d have loved a bath myself, but I didn’t have even a penny let alone a shilling! And I’m too proud to beg, though the doctor looked as if she could easily have paid for mine as well. So I sat in the little hall where the teapot is, drinking tea and waiting, but suddenly I heard Zendegî call my name.
There was someone there handing out bath tokens and money! “Why did you go away?” he asked. “Everybody who was in the rescue gets a bath token and a shilling, but if they’re not there I can’t give it!” And he also painted a broad red stripe on the back of my right hand, I suppose so I wouldn’t get another bath token by mistake or by malice. Now I could go and have a bath and still have a shilling! I went back to the bath-house and found Doctor Vauri still there, having her back scrubbed while lying on the hot stone.
After the bath we went to the hospital together, and Zendegî joined us too because she’d sold almost all of her things and sent the slave-boy to fetch her master so he could go to the temple himself to take care of the money-letter. The man at the gate recognised me and Zendegî and said that he had good news for us: the syrup-seller was a lot better, sitting up in bed and cheerful, and he’d be as good as new in a while. Did we want to visit him? Yes, of course we did. The gatekeeper got the doctor who had stitched him up. When Vauri told him who she was and that she and Lydan would probably be staying for quite a while so she could work in the hospital, he was very glad: “it’s good to have a Guild fellow here.”
The gatekeeper had been completely right about the syrup-seller: he still looked pale –probably because all that blood had run out of him– but he sat propped up on pillows and he was delighted to see us, even lifted his shirt to show where the doctor had stitched up his belly. “I wish we could catch the thief,” I said, but the syrup-seller was against it, “it doesn’t matter if I get stitches across my belly, but if you do nobody will want to marry you!” Then Doctor Vauri wanted to look at the scar, and she and the other doctor laid their hands on his skin and closed their eyes. How could they look, without their eyes? But she said that both of them could look inside a person’s body from the inside like that, with their hands. That’s handy when you’re a doctor! No wonder Valdyan doctors are so good if they can do that.
Outside the hospital Lord Lydan and Master Nakhast were waiting, and we went into the Temple of Mizran –which is right next to the king’s palace, part of it really– and talked to the priest about Master Nakhast’s fifty riders. If he left it at the Temple, they would make him pay money for keeping it, one shilling for every rider, so he’d have only forty-seven and a half riders but they could never be stolen or lost, not even if the temple or the whole city burnt down! It took a long time for the priest –and me, translating all the time, my head was starting to spin with it because I didn’t know so many words about money– to convince him that it was really wise, but having the vest of coins stolen from his shop did a lot to convince him too. The priest had a book that he wrote the amount of money in –at least he wrote Valdyan numbers, I can recognise those– and Master Nakhast wrote his name under it, and the priest stamped it with wax like Lord Lydan had stamped the letter and gave Master Nakhast another letter that said that his money was in the Temple.
Then I wanted to talk about something that I’d been thinking of all day really: I’d found out that I was good at translating for people who otherwise wouldn’t understand each other, couldn’t I do that for a living? With all those Valdyans I’d probably be able to earn more than two shillings a week, and it was much more interesting than sailmaking. The priest rubbed his chin and thought a bit and asked me if I could read and write, and I had to say no. “But I can learn!” I said. It was still a problem, though, because I was a bit too old to go to school, and anyway there was only the school that the noble children went to, I could hardly go there! “Hmm, you’d have to write letters too,” the priest said. He gave me twopence for the translating I’d done for him and Master Nakhast, and sent me away to think about it.
Zendegî also had some business: it turned out that one of the guards had told her she needed a permit for selling, and she and her master hadn’t known that. So Master Nakhast bought one for her and the slave-boy so they’d be able to come to Little Valdyas whenever they wanted to sell jewellery. The permit was another letter stamped with wax, and it cost twelve shillings for a year. (I can read 12 in Valdyan numbers!) The master grumbled about all the money that he now didn’t have in the Temple any more, but he did take away a bag of shillings to replace the ones that had been in the vest, I think to make another one.
When we came back to the square there was a real party going on, and all my family were there too, and most people I knew. Father was just coming from the gate and came to congratulate me because of the rescue. When Master Nakhast saw him he first stared at him and then went up to him and embraced him– they turned out to be old friends who hadn’t seen one another for twenty years! They went away together, and we stayed in the square because there was music and dancing. Coran and Jilan dared one another to ask Zendegî to dance, and eventually it was Coran who got up the courage, and I watched them on the dance floor spinning round.
“Do you dance?” someone asked me. It was a young man I didn’t know, looking very Valdyan: tall, with curly fire-red hair and skin burnt red by the sun. “Er, yes,” I said, though this music wasn’t suited for Valdyan dancing. “Oh, I’m forgetting my manners, I’m Ferin,” he said, and I gave him both my names and explained why I had both. Then Zendegî came back with Coran, and Ferin called his friend, Erian, so we could each dance with one of them. They couldn’t dance to what they called “Iss-Peranian wailing”, so Erian went and got beer in those wooden cups that look like a little bucket. I like beer, though it makes me dizzy, but Zendegî had never tasted it and she didn’t like it at all. “This beer,” Ferin said, “is completely unlike any beer I’ve ever had at home. But any beer is better than no beer.” I asked whether it was really true that all Valdyan men only married one wife, and Zendegî wondered how large a dowry that wife would have to bring. But according to Ferin a Valdyan wife didn’t bring a dowry at all, but it was good if she knew a trade so man and wife could both earn money for the household. And was it true what Doctor Vauri had said, that Iss-Peranian men could have more than one wife because the doctors sewed the parts they’d hacked off the ox-men on to the other men? “She’s been teasing you,” I said, “that’s impossible!” My father and my brother have never had more than one wife each, and I’ve seen them naked and they’ve only got one set of parts; Zendegî’s master has two wives, and she’s never seen him naked, but it’s not likely that he has something extra either.
There was Valdyan music by now, “civilised at last,” Ferin said. Zendegî protested that she didn’t know how to dance to that, but Erian took her by both hands and led her so well that she never missed a step. “He does that with his mind,” Ferin said. “I can’t do it, but the upside of that is that we can talk while we dance.” And talk we did– he’d grown up in Ryshas, which is a part of Valdyas where they have good wine and it’s always nice weather, and he’d come here to learn how to make statues from wax or clay and then cast them in bronze, because he’d heard that Albetire is the place where you have to learn that. “You’ll have to talk to my father,” I said, “he used to make statues in the palace, when there was still a palace with a bronze workshop.” Ferin was shocked: he’d come all the way from Valdyas and now the place he’d come to find didn’t exist any more! But I promised to introduce him to Father anyway.
We danced some more –Erian took me for a breathtakingly fast Síthi dance– and then we talked some more.”Tell me,” Erian said, “what kind of work do you girls do?” I said that I was an apprentice sailmaker, and Zendegî said that she was an apprentice jeweller, and he seemed surprised. “I thought –do you agree, Ferin?– that all women in Iss-Peran were dandar. Gifted women, I mean. How old are you anyway, fourteen?” “Thirteen,” I said, “and Zendegî is still twelve.” “That’s old enough– well, I can see it as plain as day, you could start learning.” “But I don’t want to become a dandar!” I wailed. “Well, in that case you could join the Guild,” Erian said, “that’s for Valdyans, and you’re half that I suppose.”
The doctor at the hospital had talked about the Guild too. “Is that with the Greys?” I asked. “They don’t get married, do they? I’d like to get married, well, not right now of course, but in a few years.” Erian laughed, “no, the Guild is not the Order– well, everybody in the Order is in the Guild of course, but not the other way round. Doctor Vauri is in the Guild and she is practically married.”
I realised then that I didn’t even know how you became a dandar, I didn’t know any except one very old woman who sometimes came to speak with Uncle Kamel in the outside office. What if she found out that I had talent to become a dandar too and took me away to teach me? The thought made me shudder. I’d have to find out about the Guild; I resolved to ask Doctor Vauri.
By now the party was quieting down. Father was at a table with Master Nakhast catching up on twenty years of friendship, Serla and Meran curled up asleep at their feet. Kafi was on someone’s lap further along the table, a Valdyan woman soldier by the look of her, being fed fruit and having fun. I waited for a lull in the conversation and touched Father’s arm, “here’s Ferin, he’s come all the way from Valdyas to learn from you.” That was enough to get all three of them talking: apparently Father and Master Nakhast had been planning to get the bronze workshop going again, even though there was no palace any more. Erian got a small barrel of wine from somewhere, and when that was finished Father sent me to round up the children and we took Ferin home with us, and also Zendegî because the gate was closed again of course.
So now Zendegî is in our bed again for the second time in two days. Downstairs Father and Master Nakhast and Ferin have been talking far into the night, until Ferin couldn’t keep up any more because he doesn’t understand half of what they’re saying (and I was too tired to stay up to translate, anyway I don’t know all those words about molten metal and statues and things). Then he must have fallen asleep, because now I can hear only Father and Master Nakhast talking about making small bronze statues and decorating them with jewels and sending them to Valdyas so the Valdyans can give them lots of money. That sounds like a very good idea! Zendegí can decorate things with jewels, so there’ll be more work for her too.
We talked about the Guild a bit more; Erian said that we could both be dandar, so if we don’t want that we should both join the Guild, but I’m not sure if it isn’t only for Valdyans. I’ll have to ask Doctor Vauri that, too. But first, sleep.