They’re getting settled. Cora seems to like them, especially Amre, either because she’s so Iss-Peranian or because of a personal liking. Venla is so in awe of Raisse, more than I’d expected, and I still don’t know why.

It was late afternoon when we came back to the hospital, without the goats, and also without Sabeh who had stayed behind to watch them (and, I think, to avoid meeting people who’d want to send her back to Valdis), but we seemed to have acquired Ervan’s cheerful dog. I think it was our bitch he was interested in more than us, in fact. When we were somewhere we recognised I tried to find doctor Cora, and that was very easy, because she stood out like a lamp in the dark. “That way!” I said, but that way ended at a pair of huge painted wooden doors with faint letters written above them. “Can you read that?” I asked Jeran, and he puzzled out ‘Wagon and carriage maker’. “But it says ‘hospital’ on that sign,” he said, and pointed to a white sign next to the doors that nobody else had seen yet. We didn’t want to go through, but we found that we could go around, and ended up on a small square where some kids were playing. There was a fountain in the middle with a bronze statue of a girl who lifted her skirt and pissed water in a neat little arc. Veh laughed at that and said “See?”

A man came out of one of the houses on the square, a copper kettle in his hand. “Ah,” he said, “you’re the people who want the doctor? My wife is with her with our youngest, in there.” He pointed at another house, and that house looked like a merchant’s house in Albetire, three stories and an attic, whitewashed, with a veranda with carved pillars! We hesitated for a bit –we were early after all– and then decided to knock anyway, and immediately a girl about our age in an apron and a headscarf opened the door. “Come in!” she said. “Cora is expecting you.” Veh made the dogs lie down outside the house, “if you don’t bark you’ll get sausage later!” and we all went in.

We came into a large room that took up most of the ground floor of the house. The doctor was sitting in a corner of the room done up with cushions and a low table, like an Albetire merchant’s receiving room, with two other women, all nursing babies. And two of the babies were our Hinla and Veh and Asa’s Athal! She made us all sit down on the cushions and gave Athal to Asa –“that one is yours, right? And then this one must be yours,”– and Hinla to Amre, then I got a small girl with skin like honey to hold, and Veh got charge of quite a large toddler boy who kept trying to get away. “Well,” the doctor said. “These are my neighbours, Selevi and Aine– that’s Selevi’s Teran, that’s Aine’s Jichan, the little one on your lap is my Raisse, and Jeran is the escape artist. And Dayati should be around here too– oh, there with Jerna, she loves to help.” That was a girl of about four, very dark, with bright eager eyes, putting away dishes for another young woman who was washing them in the kitchen. “Sedi and Rani will be home from school in a moment, but all my big children have left home.” I couldn’t keep track of everything! And big children, too? The doctor couldn’t be much older than Asa. But somehow I thought she’d come by her children much the same way that we’d come by ours.

“Raisse sent you, didn’t she? She’s always doing that.” She stood up and reached into the crib behind her, where another small baby made itself heard. “Yes, Khahid, I know you’re hungry. But the other little ones needed it more.” Her husband was away, she said, with the regiment, and it was only then that I realised that this husband was the king’s brother Prince Aidan, and doctor Cora was the little queen of Albetire who had disappeared when Amre and I were children in Albetire! So that was why she had blanched when Asa had told her her name: it had been her own as well.

Then our own little girls came in with a pair of slightly older girls, protesting “We are twins! And they say that they are twins!” “Well, what keeps you from all being twins?” Amre asked, and then they had to argue about that. The other girls looked as much the same (as each other, I mean) as Aine and Arvi. “And Halla and Arin are twins, too,” the doctor remarked. “They can’t be!” one of our twins said, “they’re a boy and a girl!” “They’re some of my big children,” the doctor said, “but Halla is apprenticed to Raisse and living with her, and Arin went to Valdis with Alaise. And they haven’t even written yet! Well, Arin isn’t much of a writer but I think Alaise could have.” “Are they married?” I asked. “Goodness, no,” Cora said, “they’re fourteen years old!” This earned her a grin from the housekeeper. “I know, Arvi, I was far too young too. They are in love, though, I wouldn’t be surprised if they come back married.” Arin had gone to Valdis as a builder’s apprentice, and Alaise to learn to be an apothecary, it turned out. And the doctor had another daughter, Dayati’s big sister, who had also gone away as someone’s apprentice. It was getting more and more confusing, but it did look as if this was another tribe like our Ishey tribe, everybody being family even though they weren’t family by birth.

There was some noise outside and one of the children from next door came in, saying “Are those your dogs? They’re making puppies in the square!” That made Veh rush out and pull them apart, one dog in each hand by the scruff– not that we’d mind puppies, but they’d been told to behave! When he came in again, the doctor said “Raisse will be here in a moment” and that confused me even more, how could the queen have travelled faster than us? It wasn’t the queen, though, but the grey-haired woman whose feet I’d wanted to fall at, and also a taller slightly younger woman who reminded me of the queen a bit. “Oh, you’ve brought Rava,” the doctor said. “Good, then we can talk about the school too.” Veh promptly did fall at the grey-haired woman’s feet, and poked Asa to do it too, saying “All Ishey fall to their knees when they’re faced with a great dangerous dandar!” “Dandar!” the woman called Raisse protested. “Never!” “Well, a great enchantress then,” Veh said. And then I couldn’t help myself any more and knelt too, but Raisse made us all get up, “don’t be so silly! I’m just the Guildmaster here. Come to think of it, is it Guild business that you have to tell? In that case I’ll get Orian too.” “Some of it, perhaps,” we said, “but most of it is our adventures.”

“Cora,” the housekeeper said, “the firewood man hasn’t been, and I’ve filled the bath, could you, please?” And the doctor went to the bath –which was in the kitchen, a raised part of the large room with a fence around it so crawling babies and toddlers couldn’t get underfoot or too close to the fire; clever!– and put her hands over it and it started to steam. “Ooh! Could I learn that?” I asked. “Depends where your talents are,” Cora said. “You’ll find out soon enough once Rava gets her hands on you.” “Well, I want to be a doctor,” I said, “both of us in fact.” “That’s what we’ve come to Turenay for,” Amre said. “And to find a master in the Guild.” “Looks like you got yourself a couple of apprentices, Cora,” Raisse said to the doctor. “I don’t need to teach all the grand master apprentices in town!”

The bath was a tiled basin, large enough for two people to sit in comfortably, with a hatch on one side to let the water in and another hatch on the other side to let the water out. “There’s a spring under the house,” Cora said. It was a cold spring, though. There was room for a wood-fire under the bath, but that was empty because the firewood man hadn’t been. First we washed the babies and little kids, then both pairs of twins got in –they just fit–, then Asa and Amre and I squeezed in and washed each other’s hair, and finally it was Veh and Jeran’s turn. Jeran had insisted to go last with Veh, as he was a man too! When the women saw Veh one after the other stopped doing whatever she was doing and stared open-mouthed. Amre grinned, “we’re used to it! You’ll get used to it too.”

When we were all clean, everybody wanted to hear our story. It was a long story by now, even though we didn’t tell all of it –didn’t tell half of it, I think– and some of the things we did tell we didn’t try to tell in full. At some time the housekeeper and the maid put food on the table, I remember pasties we could eat with our hands and rolled-up pancakes. The neighbours with the babies went home, but Raisse and Rava stayed.

It was already quite late when Cora stood up and said “you two apprentice doctors, would you like to come on my evening round?” and of course we would! So she took us to the hospital, first the men’s ward, then the children’s, and finally the women’s. There was a girl in the children’s ward with the red-spot sickness, almost better but still feverish. “Can you take away fever?” Cora asked, and we said yes, we’d done that before. “But wait!” she said, and covered our hands with a kind of seal like a glove. “Now you can touch her safely. I’ll teach you how to do that for yourselves yet.” She approved of what we were doing –it’s different when a master is watching!– and showed us a little boy who had a fever too, “Can you see what’s wrong with him?” she asked. “It looks like there’s something angry in his belly!” I said. “Right!” the doctor said. “There’s a piece of his gut that’s sick, and I have to operate on him to take it out, but I’m not going to do it now because he’s had a long journey and I want him to be rested and a bit stronger.” “It won’t help to take the fever away, will it?” Amre asked, and no, it wouldn’t help, because the sick gut would just keep burning and make him feverish again.

After the wards the doctor showed us the herb-room and the treatment rooms and the room where the doctors and nurses had their tea-breaks. “We used to have only one room apart from the herb-room and the wards,” she said, “to do everything in, examine patients, treat patients, talk to people, and have a quick cup of tea if it happened to be empty. It’s such a blessing that we’ve expanded.”

A young woman in grey with a short braid over her shoulder came into the room. “Oh!” she said. “Are you the new nurses?” “My new apprentices,” the doctor said. “I’ll set them to mopping floors tomorrow.” And to us, “The temple of Naigha sends the novices for a stint as nurses, good for them and good for us!” Then she told the girl which patients needed extra attention. “I’ll be at home, call me if I’m needed.” “I can call doctor Faran, he’s on shift,” the young priestess said. “You should get a good night’s sleep!” But Cora scowled at her and took us home again. “I’m worried about that boy,” she said. And indeed, when we’d talked a bit more with Raisse and Rava the novice came to get her, and she took us and made us scrub and put on hospital clothes in the nurses’ room. “I’m not going to let you help with the operation,” she said, “but watch closely, and I may need you later.”

When we came into the operating room the boy was already on the table, and there were some students from the school there, Ayran and Lyse and another boy whose name I don’t remember. Raisse had come too, and a couple of nurses or novices were standing aside in case they were needed. “Raisse is here for the light,” Cora said, and yes, it was as bright as if there were candles on all the walls. “And these are fourth-year students to help me, I still can’t get power from the air like everybody else.” “It’s not as if I haven’t tried to teach you,” Raisse said, and she and the doctor exchanged looks as if they’d had this discussion many times before.

“You’re going to sleep now,” the doctor said to the little boy, and held his head in her arm and he closed his eyes and was asleep. As easy as that! She made a cut in the boy’s belly with a small very sharp knife, holding in the blood with a seal much like the one she’d made on our hands. She scooped out a handful of guts, exactly like gutting a deer, and we could see the bit that was sick, all red and inflamed. After cutting it off with the sharp knife she dropped it into a bowl that one of the nurses was holding and closed the wound with her mind. One of the boys –the one called Ayran, I think– collapsed on the floor, fainted, I knew it was because he’d used all his strength to support the doctor.

“You can suture, can’t you?” the doctor asked Amre. “You stitch up his belly.” I didn’t say that we both could, Amre’s stitching is neater anyway, but I did wonder whether the doctor trusted Amre more than me– perhaps because they’re both Iss-Peranian? Or because Amre looks as if she knows exactly what she’s doing, even when she’s uncertain really? But I held the flesh together, and she did her small neat stitches, and the doctor approved, especially when she saw that we used semsin as well as the skill of our hands.

One of the nurses carried the boy to his bed, still asleep, and Cora and the others cleaned up, and we started to go home. “We do still need to talk with, what’s her name, Raisse,” Amre said. “What’s her name Raisse is me,” Raisse said, “and yes, I do want to talk with you but this is not the time for it. Both of you together, yes, it seems that you need one another.” And to me, “Look around before you go to bed.” And with those words she was gone. Ayran was helped up by the other two students, and the nurses shooed us and Cora out of the room, “you go home now, we will call you if you’re needed!”

When we came back to Cora’s house Arvi was cleaning up, Rava had gone home and the cradle was full of babies, ours as well as Cora’s. Not little Athal, Asa and Veh must have taken him upstairs. “I didn’t know how you’d like to sleep,” Arvi said, “I’ve put you two in one room and Veh and Asa in another, and I think Jeran has gone with Veh and your girls are with ours.” “That means they’re in my bed,” Cora said. “You must see my bed, it’s splendid!” And indeed it was, not as large as Asa’s first husband’s bed in the house in Valdis, but with a beautiful carved head-board and posts. There were indeed girls sleeping in it, five of them, and Cora put her babies down among them and showed us our room across the hall.

“You do your looking-around now,” she said to me, “and then I can seal.” So I did, looked around the town– so many minds! So many gifted people! Most of them of Anshen, too. There were about half a dozen grand masters among them. Cora to start with, and Raisse a short way up the street, another one right there with her, and yet another not far away though there was something awkward about that mind, as if it had a limp. And further away another one, perhaps still a journeyman like me. I stood there, boggling, and Cora asked “Can I seal now?” so I shook myself and said “Yes, of course”. I felt the seal go down over the house, much more like curtains or drapes than a blanket but just as firm as our Ishey blankets.

The next morning –well, after getting up several times because Hinla was hungry and needed to be changed too– we went downstairs to find almost everybody in the kitchen, but only the little children got breakfast. “It’s the day of Anshen.” Cora said, “we go to the service in the temple, and eat afterwards, do you want to eat something now or can you manage?” We didn’t mind eating later, and our babies would have minded but the neighbours were there again to feed them. “We’ll go and see your Arvi later,” Cora said, “the doctors are with her now.”

Then we went to the school, because that was where the temple was, in a large bright room that looked like a great hall, with folded-up tables against the walls so I thought it was usually an eating-hall. On one of the short sides there was a large niche, five sides of an octagon, with a fire burning in it and a strong presence of Anshen. Raisse was there, and Rava, and several other people I sort of recognised, last night’s three students, some of the nurses, and our whole household. The babies enjoyed it a lot, just like in the eight-sided tower in Liorys. We were at the back, so we didn’t really notice that the service had started until we heard the invocations –perhaps that was what the service started with, anyway– and then there was a lot more singing, and prayers, and people coming forward and tending the fire, but we saw only parts of it because there were so many people between us and the fire. When it ended, most people went away but students started to put the tables together and to haul benches, and lay the tables with tablecloths and plates and cutlery, and bring food from the kitchen. Everybody helped, teachers and guests and students alike, I saw Rava come in with a large basket of bread.

I ended up at one of the tables with Hinla on my lap, between Lyse from last night and a young man who said he was Erian astin Hayan and came from somewhere near Valdis. They both admired Hinla’s cute little nose –all the Valdyans like it, I hope that doesn’t change when she grows up– and wanted to know where we came from and what we were going to do. “Doctor’s apprentices!” Erian said. “We won’t be seeing much of you then, you won’t have time for anything!” There was also a girl who looked very Iss-Peranian, and when she came to sit between Erian and Amre (who was on Erian’s other side) we heard that she was called Hediyeh and she’d been born in Essle, but both her parents were from Iss-Peran, her mother a merchant and her father a rich sea-captain. “He never noticed me until I pestered him to be allowed to leave home, and then he gave me a lot of money to be rid of me.”

Then Cora came to take us to the hospital for the morning round. The little boy was a lot better, he didn’t have much of a fever any more and he was sleeping like a kitten. “I did that for my master’s trial,” Cora said. “Different little boy, the same thing.” In the nurses’ room another doctor was just coming off duty. She was a Síthi woman called Garmi, but she spoke excellent trade Iss-Peranian because she’d been a slave in Albetire! “What a night!” she said, and started to talk about a patient who was clearly Arvi, though she didn’t know that we knew who that was. “Airath is with her now,” doctor Garmi said, “she’ll be all right!” Then she drank her tea in one gulp and looked as if she was about to collapse. “I think Torin is already at the Apple,” Cora said to her, “take the rest of the day off and go join him!” Then she told us that Torin and Garmi were married and that her housekeeper’s husband Arin was one of the owners of the Apple. Erian astin Hayan had talked about that inn, it was the place where everybody in the school drank beer or apple-wine and ate pie and did their schoolwork.

“Bath!” Cora said. “No, first I’ll take you to Arvi. Let’s get the babies.” Someone had taken Hinla home, seen that she was fed and changed and put her in the cradle; probably Asa, who was there with Veh and Athal. We picked up our babies and went back to the hospital, to a part where we hadn’t been yet, private rooms on an upper floor. Only one of the rooms was occupied: Arvi was there, and her Arin, and a man holding Arvi’s hand and talking to her in a very soft voice. This man wasn’t gifted at all, but he was as solid as a rock, so safe that when he was with you you’d never have to be afraid of anything again. When Arni saw us –when she saw the babies in fact– her face lit up and she wanted to hold both of them. She really looked a lot better!

One of the nurses came and asked us “That mule in the stable, is she yours?” “Yes,” I said, “is she in the way? We can take her somewhere else.” “No,” the nurse said, “it’s the other way round, I wonder if we could borrow her for the hospital cart, our little donkey is getting so old.” “Sure!” I said. “She likes to work.” First the mule was going to pull the cart to the Síthi bath-house, though, with Cora’s whole family on it. (Well, except her husband the captain who was away.) Raisse came along too, and the person with the limping mind I’d seen the night before: Raisse’s sister Riei who was a dressmaker. She got talking with Amre immediately, because she could make clothes for Cora and wanted to make clothes for Amre that she could move in while it still looked like the Iss-Peranian style. “Come to my workshop and I’ll see what I can do,” she said.

It turned out that Cora knew everybody at the bath-house, because she owned part of it –“also a ship, a share in a mill, a vineyard, a weaver’s workshop and a brothel!” she said– and the girl who came to take us to the bath was a good friend of hers. It was very crowded, it was the Day of Anshen after all and many people had their day off, but we got a corner of the main bath screened off so we could be “with only the family” — apparently Cora counted us as part of her family too.

This was a bath built on a hot spring, like Jerna astin Rhydin’s or the one in Vestynay. Turenay was built on a whole lot of springs, some warm, some cold, some with medicinal water, and in fact the one that fed this bath smelt a bit medicinal too but it was mostly nice and warm. When we were all clean and soaked and oiled, Veh said “Let’s go to the herd, and then find the place for our house!” and Cora offered to take our babies home and see that they were fed. “Shall we take your girls, then?” we asked. “Ask them!” Cora said, and all three of her girls said yes, they wanted to go with Aine and Arvi and see the goats. “We’ll take you to Master Fian,” Sedi or Rani said, “he knows everything!” “That’s very sensible,” Cora said, “I don’t know if he knows everything, but he does know a lot about how things are on that side of town.”

We went out of the south gate first, though, and found Ervan and Sabeh in front of Ervan’s house drinking ale. Sabeh got some for us too– she’d become very familiar with the house in one night! The goats looked perfectly all right. “Have they behaved?” Veh asked. “No,” Ervan said, “what did you expect? They’re goats!” But he didn’t mind keeping them until we had a real place for them.

On the way to Master Fian’s school we crossed a bridge where several couples were kissing. “It’s the Kissing Bridge!” Rani or Sedi said with a giggle. And then Veh and Asa tried it too, and Amre and I, and we set all the girls giggling, even Dayati. Jeran was either disgusted or didn’t want us to see him giggle too, so he ran ahead. On the other side of the bridge the ground was muddy and the houses small and ramshackle, a really poor neighbourhood like the one we’d seen in Ildis. There were many people there, most of them working, and many of the children we saw were working too. Sedi and Rani knew a lot of the children, they were all in school together, so they ran everywhere to show off their new friends. “Are they going to our school too?” one girl asked, and Amre said “yes, we’ll arrange it as soon as we see your schoolmaster.”

The schoolmaster was sitting on the doorstep of a house, one of the very few houses in this part of town that were even partly of stone, with his arm around a woman. I knew that this must be Doctor Erne, who belonged with Master Fian (I don’t know if they’re actually married). She’s the doctor for the whores, and Doctor Cora said that if we become her apprentices we’ll have to work with her for a while as well, “but I suppose you can handle that”. That was probably clear from what we told her about working with doctor Roushan. When the schoolmaster saw Sedi and Rani, he said “You’re diligent! But the school is closed today.” Then he saw all the rest of us and stood up to greet us. It took a while to sort it all out, but Amre eventually arranged for Aine and Arvi to go to school for a whole year, which cost eight shillings in all. It seemed almost nothing, but Master Fian said that if it was too much, perhaps he could do something. “Oh, no, not at all,” Amre said and paid the eight shillings. “And you, young man,” the master asked Jeran, “will you be coming to school too?” “Perhaps in winter,” Jeran said with a shrug, and that seemed to be a right answer because the master didn’t insist.

Then we told him about our plans for a settlement and asked whether he knew a good place for it. “I know someone who does,” he said and called “Radan!” A ragged-looking boy of about twelve appeared and took us to the very outskirts of the town, into the hills. “Here’s where Arin used to live with his sisters” he said, “lower down it floods every spring, but here it’s dry all year” There was a hole in the ground here, a sort of tiny cave, where we could see people had lived. “They’ve moved away now,” Radan said, and that was clear, because all the signs of living were old. “I think we can do something here,” Veh said, “either here, or further up on this hill in the wood.” “But the wood belongs to Lady Ryath!” Radan said, and pointed out where Lady Ryath lived, in a stone house in the fields to the north-west. “We’ve got a letter from the queen saying that we can build a place to live,” I said, thinking that we could always go and talk to this Lady Ryath, it wasn’t far away.

“Hey, I’ve got to go back to work,” Radan said. “Went to school with Master Fian, and I still do things for him when he needs me, but I’m thirteen now and working.” “What work do you do?” I asked. “Rope-maker,” he said, and showed us the palms of his hands worn red by the rope. “Good job, people always need rope.” “We can give you something to put on that skin,” I said, but he said that Doctor Erne had given him some ointment, and anyway in two years’ time he’d have real calluses and he would hardly feel it any more.

“Let’s go up the hill a bit,” Veh said, “there’s a stream down there, it must come from somewhere!” We found a place where the stream ran down the slope and made a little pool at the bottom. “Ooh!” Asa said. “Here’s our house!” And she was right: the more we talked about it, the clearer it became that this was the perfect place. We could leave the waterfall where it was and build the house around it, and even run a small water-mill in the stream. “What shall we mill?” Asa asked, and Amre said “Thoughts!” But I thought wheat would probably be nicer to eat. We could have a house to live in upstream, and sheds and workshops downstream, and hunt in the wood and use the land we cleared when cutting timber to plant a vegetable garden. “That’s women’s work,” Veh said with a scowl, but we reminded him that most of the rest of us were women, so he shouldn’t grumble. Not that Amre or I would have much time to work in the garden! But if we had a vegetable garden and our own mill, and could hunt in the wood, we could probably give away some food to poor neighbours.

Then we thought people would probably be expecting us, so we went back to Cora’s house, just in time for dinner. When we told Cora we’d enrolled the girls in Master Fian’s school, and the fee seemed so low, she said that the queen had arranged with the Temple of Mizran that Amre and I would get a stipend –that is money– of twenty riders a year, as if we belonged to her family, as long as we were learning! “It’s meant for living expenses,” Cora said, “but you can live here while you’re my apprentices, as long as you put a few shillings in Arni’s jar from time to time for the shopping it’ll be all right. –Oh, and Arvi and Arin are down here, in the little room” –she pointed at a door– “that’s Aidan’s office really, but my master lived in it before she died and we’ve never used it as an office since.”