They didn’t expect to have an apprentice yet, though it’s a completely natural and expected thing when you’re — oh wait.
Not long after we’d got back from the hospital a messenger came to the Order house with a note for us. It was from the baron, Torin, inviting us to the castle for the evening meal. That would be to meet this Master Rayin — Doctor Teran had said that he was staying at the castle. Some of the young journeymen volunteered to look after the kids, while we got the use of the Order’s horse-litter and another journeyman to take us to the castle. It was at the top of a steep winding road, it was a good thing we didn’t have to walk there in our best clothes and a better thing that we wouldn’t have to walk back!
Near the bridge, when we were waiting for some ox-carts laden with barrels to cross, we heard a small sound under the seat. “You can come out now, whoever you are,” Amre said. It turned out to be Asusu. “Jeran lost!” she said with a giggle.
“But you’re going back too,” I said. Our journeyman unhitched the front horse and mounted it bareback, reaching for us to hand Asusu up. She protested –we’d taught her too well never to ride with someone she didn’t know and wasn’t sure we knew– but we said it was all right, and she rode happily in front of him.
It was a strange ride, with the litter leaning back as steeply as the road. “They should have a small horse in front and a large one at the back!” I said. “And change them round on the way down.” But then, of course, you’d run into problems on the flat road.
At the top we rode into the courtyard of the castle. There were two men waiting for us there: one with sparse grey hair and sallow skin (I was trying very hard not to look at him with doctor’s eyes, but that’s hard) who was the baron, and another, very large, his arms and shoulders all muscle and his belly decidedly fat, with old burn scars down one side of his face. That was Master Rayin. “Are you a smith?” I asked, because his hands and the burn scars and the kind of muscles he had reminded me of that.
He grinned and shook his head. “Thirty years in the foundries,” he said, “now I own two, as well as a mine.”
Inside, a well-dressed woman with two long greying braids greeted us. She was in the Guild of the Nameless — neither of the men was gifted. “Welcome to my house,” she said, “I’m Halla. Didn’t you bring your children? My daughter will be disappointed. She loves little ones.”
“Not today,” I said, “but we promised them to ask you if they could come and see the castle. We didn’t want to inflict them on you right away.” I wasn’t even surprised that they knew that — obviously Doctor Teran had told the baron’s family that we had the children with us.
She called her daughter, a twelve-year-old girl with a strong look of her mother, perhaps even more gifted, who introduced herself as Serla.
“You’re the doctors who were at the battle of Hostinay, aren’t you? Who came from Albetire.”
“Yes,” I said, “how do you know that?”
I expected her to say that she’d had an older brother or sister in that battle, but she said “I paid attention in my history lessons!” And she came closer and whispered, “I’d like to be a doctor too, but Mother is against it because all the hospitals belong to the Nameless! I wonder why. Perhaps because all the doctors do.”
I had a wild thought that we might take her to Tylenay as a nurse, to see if she had what it took to be an apprentice. But then we were of the Nameless too, in her mother’s eyes, so that probably wouldn’t work. Anyway, we’d have to set something up first, it would be hard to find out how to start and to train someone at the same time.
“I don’t know,” I said, “there are some doctors in your Guild, and some aren’t gifted at all, I know a very good one in Turenay who isn’t! And Doctor Teran isn’t gifted, and he’s the head of the hospital.”
“Yes, but all the other good doctors are in the Guild of the Nameless!”
“I can’t do anything about that,” I said, “but perhaps you can be a good doctor in your Guild if you can find a place to learn.”
While talking we’d got to a large hall where servants were going round with trays of goblets. They were filled with sweet yellow wine, so cold that there were droplets of water on the outside. “Is that wine from around here?” I asked the baron who was standing next to me.
“The hills north of Veray,” he said, “with snow, Doctor Arin recommends that, it’s good for the liver.” He was already on his third goblet himself.
I wasn’t going to contradict him, at least not in public. “It’s also delicious,” I said. I drank a little, Amre hardly anything at all, and when Serla came to stand next to us again she was carrying an untouched goblet as well.
“Come, I’ll show you,” she said, and took us to a corner of the room where a statue of a dancing couple was standing. There was a hole at the back of the base that Serla poured her wine into, and we did it too, leaving a bit so servants wouldn’t want to refill it.
“Arin is a quack,” Serla said scathingly. Amre raised her eyebrows. True, she thought to me. We’d seen Arin, a spare disapproving-looking man of about seventy who served as the baron’s household physician. She knew that he’d studied at Ildis, and we knew that they taught lots of things there but definitely not medicine! Serla went on cataloguing almost every doctor in the kingdom — she must have read much more than her teachers gave her to read! “Ferin, in Rizenay, that’s a doctor in our Guild but he started out as a quack too, and perhaps he still is!”
Well, Rath would find that out and send word to the queen, sure enough. “Perhaps the queen will send real doctors to Rizenay,” I said.
Then someone claimed Amre to talk to, and Serla took me to a little anteroom, “I want to show you something.” And she took a knife and scratched the inside of her forearm with it so that it just bled, and healed the cut with a stroke of her hand!
“Very good,” I said, “did you find that out on your own?”
“It was in the book,” she said, thinking so clearly of the book — Cora’s textbook for beginning students — that I could see it. “I have to practice on myself because I can’t practice on my little brothers and sisters, I’m the youngest.” That made me smile because I thought of Hinla who played hospital with the twins, bossing them around to be patients with broken legs and fevers and all kinds of things. “And Mother wouldn’t like me to do that, anyway, if I had any.”
“The students in Turenay usually catch rats to practice on,” I said.
“We don’t have any rats here,” she said. Such a large castle and no rats? I couldn’t believe it. “Not even in the cellars?”
“Mother is scared of rats, she makes a seal every night.”
Hmm. Good for Halla. I wondered what else she did, but I thought of something else first. “Can you heal other people at all?”
“I don’t know, I haven’t tried.” I held out my hand for the knife so she could try on me, but then we heard Halla coming our way, and anyway the bell rang for dinner. We all crowded into the dining room, and Rayin took advantage of the press to pinch first Amre’s bottom and then mine. We’ll have to teach him not to do that if we’re going to do business with him, I said to Amre.
They weren’t quite sure where to put us, perhaps because there were two of us, but Amre ended up next to Rayin at the top of one side of the tables, and I kitty-corner from Serla, who was sitting at her father’s left hand at the head of the table, with Arin on my left. He didn’t pay any attention me — I was probably way beneath his notice — so I could hear Rayin telling Amre about Tylenay, and saying something myself from time to time.
I’d have thought he was bragging about his wealth and his business if his body didn’t speak so clearly of all the things he’d done. We already knew that he had two foundries and a mine, and now we heard about Senthi who had three mines, and Lathad who came from the east did forestry and charcoal-burning. “I’d like to speak with you in more detail later,” he said, and we told him we’d be in town for another couple of days.
Between all the talk there was food, lots of it: first a course of birds with different stuffings and little buttered turnips and freshly baked bread, then a whole deer and tureens of broth — which I couldn’t eat much of because I’d eaten a quail and a pigeon and lots of bread and turnips, I hadn’t expected more meat! — and finally different cheeses and all kinds of sweets, including a huge castle made of marzipan. Now I was sorry we hadn’t brought Hinla and the twins! When everything was being cleared away, I caught Serla and asked her if we could have one of the corner towers to take home for the children, and she said “Sure, I’ll get it for you!” And later she brought us three of the towers, one with a little figure of a princess on top, one with a prince, and one with a bear. (That made us wonder what had been on the fourth tower.) We wrapped each one separately so we didn’t know which was which.
The baron had fallen asleep in his seat, and I saw him being hauled off by two liveried servants.
Now there was music in what was called “the little hall”, which was admittedly only half the size of the dining room, and a third of the great hall, but still very large. We got a seat at the front, and there was indeed music — very sedate tinkly lute music, not at all like what King Athal played when he was being Blind Arin — and a thin girl wearing only a scarf around her hips came and did what she probably thought was Iss-Peranian dancing. Rayin leaned over to us and asked “Do you girls do that kind of dancing too?” with a lecherous look in his eyes, and Amre said “Not exactly that kind.”
After the dancing, the music went on but the seats were cleared away and everybody milled around talking to each other. We were both getting tired of protecting ourselves against all the people in the Guild of the Nameless, and we announced that we would be leaving soon. “But you’re coming back tomorrow, right?” Serla asked. “With your little ones. I have lessons in the morning, but if you come in the afternoon I can show you around.” And then, out of her mother’s hearing, “I do wish I could come with you to learn. Even though you’re of the Nameless. You’re not scary at all.”
We found our litter ready in the yard, our journeyman next to it with an empty tankard and a plate full of bones. “You can take that to the kitchen,” Halla said, pointing, and when he was out of sight, “Serla really wants to be a doctor, and if she can learn from you I wouldn’t be against it.”
Well, we were master doctors now. We could take apprentices. I hadn’t thought of it like that before.
“We can talk more about this tomorrow,” Halla said.
We found the children wide awake. I nursed the twins — the milk would run out very soon, I thought, but I’d been thinking that for a year and there was still enough for a nightcap — and Hinla crawled on Amre’s lap and asked for stories. We told them about the castle, and how we’d all go there tomorrow and Serla would show them everything, and sang the sleepy-time song, but completely forgot about the marzipan towers.
Praise Anshen for the children who had us awake early enough to catch the morning service. It was very crowded: lots of women wearing skimpy working clothes, scruffy children, people of all ages in dirty rags. Hinla was angry, though: no Rava, no Cora, no Raisse, it couldn’t be a proper service! It took some effort to explain that this was Veray, and all those people were in Turenay, and it was a proper service because Anshen was there. “Where?” she asked, and we pointed, and I think she saw him.
At the end of the service I saw someone I recognised from school, I think his name was Jeran, in threadbare clothes and clogs, leaning against the back wall. I winked at him, and just before everybody left he gave me a very slight wink back.
Then we counted the children and missed Hinla. She was outside, holding the hand of a girl about her age, a slightly older girl with them. Amre ran to catch her and carried her back into the yard kicking and screaming. “I went with my friends! We were going to play! Ask for coins!”
“When those girls ask for coins,” I said, “they’re not just playing, they’re doing it because otherwise they don’t have enough money to buy food and they’ll go hungry.”
“Then they should go to Turenay and ask Captain Aidan and Doctor Cora for coins because they’ve got enough and everybody will have enough to eat!”
I sighed. “Some people don’t want to leave the place where they were born. Not everybody is Ishey.”
When we got to the refectory all the people who had been in the temple were just leaving, hunks of bread in their hands. There were also great stacks of empty bowls. “Who is going to do all the washing-up?” I asked the nearest Sworn. “Can we help?”
“Nice of you to offer but no, we have a schedule, it’s somebody’s turn today and somebody else’s tomorrow.” That figured — they must feed the poor every day!
So we went to the knife-smith, because we’d gone there earlier to buy knives and that was just about the only thing we hadn’t done! We were held up in the market because there was a bit of a commotion, someone being chased out of town by what looked like a small crowd of craft journeymen. Others were picking up shiny metal things — blue-steel Iss-Peranian knives! They blunted each one by running the edge across a grindstone and threw them into a basket. I went up to one of the journeymen and asked him what was up. “Spoiling the market!” he said. “If knives from Veray aren’t good enough for people they can do without a knife!”
We told the knife-smith what we’d seen when we got to his workshop. “Yes,” he sighed, “that’s a pain, they’re a lot cheaper than what we make here too! I don’t understand it, they have to come all across the sea, they have to pack them in oil against the salt! And because they’re cheaper people will buy them.”
“We’ve come to buy from you,” we said, and he showed us all kinds of hospital knives and shears and kitchen knives, which we bought rather a lot of. After all, iron came from Tylenay so there must be smiths there, but we hadn’t seen their work yet and we had seen Merain’s work.
“Hospital, eh?” Merain said. “I want to show you something.” He got a flat box from a drawer, and what was inside struck us dumb for a while. Twelve different tiny sharp surgical instruments, more delicate than any of Mernath’s work, with smooth silver-plated handles. “That’s Geran’s masterpiece. Can’t sell it now, of course.”
Amre and I looked at one another. “How much?” Amre asked.
“Geran!” Merain called, and a gangly young man came from the workshop. “There are people here who’d like to buy your masterpiece.”
“Really? You’re the doctors from Turenay, right? I made it last year, but now everybody is buying the Iss-Peranian stuff, even the hospital here. I’d hoped to get twenty-four riders for it but now I’ll be lucky if I get twelve. There’s already four riders’ worth of silver in it.”
“I’d say we can afford eighteen,” I said, and he accepted. The same moment I regretted that, because of course we could have afforded the twenty-four, but it was too late for that. “Let’s go to the Temple of Mizran.”
At the Temple, I drew out the other six riders as well and had them put in a linen bag. We went to retrieve our children, who were in the kitchen with a maid, baking cookies. “Come see what we’ve made,” and they showed us the ones they’d cut out and stamped with a wooden stamp. “And we ate some, too.”
“Don’t eat too many before they’re baked,” Amre said, “or your stomach will bubble like a barrel of beer!” That made them all giggle, and Asusu showed me her face that was completely covered in honey. “I licked the honeypot! Because it was empty!”
“Not all that empty, I see,” I said. “All the honey that’s on your face now was still in it. Let’s go to the bath-house.” But before we went, I gave Merain’s wife the linen bag with the six riders. “For the poor children,” I said.
The bath-house was quite close, tiled blue and white like one in Albetire. And the man behind the counter spoke trade language to us! We answered in the same, but he was shocked that the children didn’t understand. “Don’t you teach your children the old language?” he asked.
“Not yet,” I said, “they speak three languages already.” Ilaini and Ishey to start with, and they had so many Síthi playmates that they’d picked up Síthi much more easily than the Iss-Peranian that Amre and I still spoke together at times, though to be private it was easier to speak mind to mind.
He offered them some sweets, and Amre taught them to say “thank you” in the old language. Then the children all thought Ishey was the same as Iss-Peranian so they thanked him again in Ishey, which he didn’t understand.
The bath-house was a proper Iss-Peranian bath-house all right! They even had the only kind of oil that could get my hair to behave. “Do you like it?” the bath-girl asked. “It’s our own recipe. Fresh green oil from Velihas, sweet almond oil, cinnamon and cardamom and lemon peel, some sandalwood, and of course our secret ingredients that I’m not telling you about. We sell it by the flask.” Yes, I wanted to buy some! And she was so good at selling that we also ended up with soap to wash ourselves, soap to wash clothes, and a tiny bottle of scent ‘especially for little girls’. “Which of us said yes to that?” I asked Amre later, and she rather thought both of us. Well, we’d save it for feast-days.
While the (now very clean) children were having their nap, we persuaded Ebru to practice staff-fighting with us, so when we started for the castle we were quite bruised. This time we didn’t go in the litter, but in a donkey-cart, and Jeran drove it, or rather walked along beside the donkey. “How do we get down?” I asked, and he said “With the brake on. Either that, or we all fall down the hill and die.”
Serla was already waiting for us. She and the children took to each other at once — Asusu, especially, was thrilled because this was a grown-up with the same name as herself! “What do you want to see?” Serla asked, and eventually they decided to see the stables, the tower where you could look out over the town, and the kitchen. “And now I’ll show you the painted room!” Serla said, and took us to her mother’s sitting-room. Halla was indeed there, reading a letter, and she offered us cool drinks and sweet biscuits but didn’t stop reading while we looked at the sights in the room.
For sights there were! Decorated panelling to shoulder-height, leaves and fruit and birds, and above that plastered and painted walls. “There’s a horse with a horn on his head!” Yalao said. Yes, several of them even, in lush woodland. Hounds too, ridiculously small, barely reaching the people’s knees.
“Those are eastern horses,” Serla said, “that’s a hunt in Velihas, all the animals are smaller there.”
When the children were tired of the paintings Halla got out a golden ball that tinkled when she shook it as if there were little bells inside. She gave it to Asusu to play with. “I know you’re not a baby any more but everybody likes this pretty thing,” she said, and to us, “It’s been in our family for two hundred years. I think it might be Iss-Peranian work.”
Amre knew that, of course, and it was, with writing on it (Sleep well, grow strong, defeat all your enemies) and the openings in the ball itself were also letters. I thought it might have been made for a baby prince.
The children soon got a roll-the-ball game going and persuaded Serla to join them. Halla beckoned me and Amre to the room behind the sitting-room, a little office with a desk full of papers. “I’ve been thinking,” she said, “I’d reallly like you to take Serla with you. You’re doctors, you’ve seen the state Torin is in, he’s not really capable for the barony any more. When the king comes back we’ll go to Valdis. I’d prefer for Serla not to be here then.” She looked at us for a moment, measuring us. “I trust you. Even though you’re with the Nameless. It’s a good thing you’ve brought your children — I wouldn’t trust anyone who doesn’t know what it is to be a mother.”
“It won’t be as comfortable a life as she’s used to,” I said. (And I almost said “not everybody is Ishey” but Halla wouldn’t understand that.) “If she can stand that…”
“I think she’ll be so eager to learn that she’ll put up with it,” Halla said. “You see, the situation is that we’ve come to be much indebted to Rayin, and he’s a widower and likes women very much… Leaving a marriageable daughter here wouldn’t be the right thing to do.”
I wondered whether taking Serla to Tylenay where Rayin lived would be the right thing to do. “We won’t let anyone come close to her if she doesn’t want it,” I offered. Gods, I’d shield Serla from Rayin with my own body if I had to.
“I’m trusting you with her welfare,” Halla said, “but I do want your word that you won’t try to get her into the Guild of the Nameless.”
“Doctors don’t care much about the Guilds,” Amre said, and though that wasn’t everything there was to say about it, it was mostly true. Serla would be in our household, of course, and we were firmly in what Halla called the Guild of the Nameless and wouldn’t hide that from anyone; if Serla wanted to come to our side of her own choice we wouldn’t stop her. But I didn’t tell that to Halla.
“You’re on your own now, aren’t you?” I asked, looking at the stacks of paper. I could feel Amre being tempted to offer to help, but she held herself in check. That would keep us in Veray much longer than we wanted.
Halla sighed. “Yes. But this is a whole weight off my mind already.”
Serla had taken the children to the yard already, where they were all petting the donkey. I could see something in Jeran’s face — well, he was fourteen, and she was twelve, pretty, clever and gifted. I didn’t blame him.
“We’re leaving tomorrow,” I said to Serla. “You’d better pack.”
She didn’t need much time to understand what I meant. She hugged first me, then Amre, and ran into the house without a word, then turned in the doorway. “Thank you!” And she was gone again.
When we got back to the Order house there was a note from Master Rayin to invite us to the Golden Crown. “Shall I come?” Jeran asked, and that was actually a good idea, it would definitely be more comfortable than just Rayin and us. He talked to Ebru and she took him into the weapons room and he came out wearing a sword.
“Are you weapons master now?” I asked Ebru.
She shrugged. “Someone had to do it. Arin was getting very old.”
We dressed in our best again. Jeran hesitated whether to go as full Ishey, with a blanket over his shoulder, but I said “wear the Ishey breeches and that embroidered linen shirt” so he did that, with a borrowed cloak, and looked very much like a man-at-arms in our service. It was immediately useful too: after Rayin had again pinched Amre, he couldn’t reach me because Jeran was between us.
Rayin showed us to a table in a quiet corner. There was wine — a huge goblet for him, smaller ones for us, and again I drank very little — and after a while a platter full of tiny roast suckling-pigs. Amre and I shared one. Jeran was too aghast to eat, they should let them grow until they can be bacon and sausage, not eat them as babies! so he deftly moved bones from our plates to his to make it look as if he had, and ate only bread and greens while Rayin devoured all the rest.
We talked, of course. At first it was hard to convince Rayin that a hospital was necessary at all. The workers had nothing to complain about, even the people who started out as wall-builders got three riders a month, and the foremen six. “Most of them last three years, then they’re done for,” he said.
“Healthy workers last longer,” I said.
“Girlie, if someone’s sick and can’t work he can go elsewhere! There are new workers every week.” But he got interested when he realised that if he laid out money for the hospital, he’d have his name attached to it. “The Master Rayin Hospital in Tylenay! I’ll drink to that.” He did, deeply. “I don’t like to spend without some kind of return, and hospitals don’t make money! Not that I’m hard up, I lent thirty thousand to Torin and I offered him another ten thousand if he needs it — and I think he might — but his wife is in the way. She won’t stand for it. Recalcitrant creatures, women.”
After the piglets, there was a fish pie, and Jeran caught up with the eating. Rayin really seemed to accept him as our man-at-arms now. “Young ladies shouldn’t be out without an escort,” he said, “not that Veray is like Albetire.” Then he went off on a story about his trip to Essle to get workers (who hadn’t been strong enough so he went with farmers from the mountains now), when the foundries in Albetire were just starting up. “If I could get the secret of that steel it would be worth perhaps a hundred thousand riders to me. Do you really come from Iss-Peran, I mean, you weren’t born here?”
“We were really born in Albetire,” I said, “we met when the king’s envoy was there, who was murdered not a day after he arrived. We started as nurses in the hospital then.”
“Do your parents still live there?”
“Mine do,” Amre said, and I said “I only have a father left, but yes, he lives in Albetire too. You may have heard of him, he’s the bronze-caster Bist.”
“Master Bist! He’s really your father? When did you last hear from him?”
“Yes, I’m his eldest daughter, and I got a letter from someone who had talked to him, let’s see, about a year ago.”
“I don’t think Bist is much of a writer,” Rayin said. “But he’s made good. Do you think you’ll be writing to him soon? I would appreciate a partnership of some kind.”
That made me laugh. “I’m not in that line of work at all! Neither metalwork nor business.”
“Well, if you can just mention my name? That would already be a boon.”
“If I write to him, yes, there’s nothing against mentioning your name.” I said cautiously.
After the fish pie we got a salad of all kinds of fresh spring greens, shoots and radishes, and finally dainty little cakes and sweets. “This was my late wife’s favourite,” Rayin said, holding up an airy-looking cream puff. “Aren’t your husbands coming along? Or are they already in the east?”
I didn’t really know what to say, but Amre said “We don’t need any,” and Rayin nodded sagely, “Ah, it’s like that.”
We made want-to-leave noises, pleading small children, and Rayin showed us to the door with all courtesy. He obviously had a room at the Golden Crown.
“Is he a nasty creep,” Jeran asked when we were well away, “or is he a harmless loudmouth and I’m just seeing things?”
“I think he’s a nasty creep,” I said.
“But when he was tellling us about his thirty years in the foundries he wasn’t bragging,” Amre said. “Yes, he’s a loudmouth all right.”
But we didn’t think he was harmless. We didn’t need to say that. He didn’t care about other people at all.
Hinla and the twins were fast asleep — at least until we crept into the room. And they’d found the marzipan towers. “You’ve eaten them all!” I said.
“No!” Yulao said, “There are crumbs left!”
“Well, better eat those too or the mice will come and crawl all over you. And then you’ll have to eat the mice.”
They’d saved the little figures for us: the bear for Amre because Amre was thin and the bear was fat, but they couldn’t decide whether to give me the prince so they could give the princess to Jeran, or to give me the princess because she was prettiest.
“Did you have dinner with that man Serla doesn’t like?” Hinla asked.
“Yes,” I said. Serla must have been really worried, that Hinla had picked it up from her!
“But did you have nice food at least?”
“Not really,” I said. “We had roast baby piglets.”
Hinla was almost as shocked as Jeran. “You don’t eat those!”
“They don’t even taste of much,” I said. “But we had fish pie too and that was nice. And radishes. I’m sorry I didn’t bring you any, but they were sliced very thin and I couldn’t take one and put it anywhere.”
Then milk, and cuddles, and the sleepy-time song, with everybody asleep before it was even finished.
Serla was at the Order house door after the service, but she didn’t dare come in until we came to fetch her. Then she got another fright: Monster wanted to sniff her, and she stood petrified and pissed her skirt. “She’s not scary!” Hinla said. “She’s the sweetest dog in the whole world!”
“That’s not a dog, it’s a monster!”
“Yes! Monster is her name!”
Then Jeran came to the rescue: he knelt at Monster’s side and put an arm around her neck. “We’ll let you get used to each other slowly. She’s a bitch, she doesn’t bite or bark or do anything except herd sheep and goats. And defend us from crooks and creeps.”
Serla was still shaking, and Ebru took her into the house and she came out a while later wearing clean breeches, with her skirt rolled up under her arm. “Go count sheep, Monster!” Jeran said, and the dog obediently trotted around the herd.
Before we left we first took the children to the temple of Dayati. Very soon they were playing with little Iss-Peranian kids — there are as many Iss-Peranians in Veray as there are Síthi in Turenay, I think. Serla looked around wonderingly. “You know,” I said, “I’ve never been inside here!”
“Not even when you were little?”
“No — and now — well, Timoine and I said goodbye to each other a year ago.”
“When you started bleeding, I suppose,” I said. “And talking of that, we’ve got herbs so you don’t bleed while we travel. Amre and I take them too.”
“Mother says it’s a gift of the Mother,” Serla said, “I don’t know if it’s all right to refuse it!”
“Well, I’d say you can put it off until you can deal with it,” I said, “you can stop taking the herbs when we’re living somewhere, you shouldn’t take them too long at a stretch anyway.”
She nodded. “Yes, all right then.”
Then we were suddenly away, driving along the river, singing songs. First the Ishey counting-song, and it was clear that the children had all learned it from Sabeh, because they were using the girls’ number-words which Amre and I hardly knew. We had to explain to Serla that Ishey is a different language for men and for women, especially a lot of different words, and that we’d learned the men’s language when we were travelling with Tao and Mazao and Veh. Then Amre remembered an Iss-Peranian children’s song so we started to teach the old language right away — to Serla, too, who could read Iss-Peranian poetry but not talk to people in the trade language.
It was a nice day to travel, fresh spring weather, and we made good pace until we found a meadow at the riverside where we could put up a makeshift pen for the animals. “You make camp,” Jeran said, “and I’ll go to the village and see if they’ll sell me a loaf of bread and let me use their well.” He took Monster with him, with Hinla riding on the dog’s back, while we laid a fire with some of the wood we’d brought, because there were only juicy wet willows and alders here.
“I can light the fire,” Serla said, and she did, with her mind, without apparent effort. Amre raised an eyebrow but didn’t say anything. Then Serla told us about her brother who was with the army, and her other brother who was in Ildis at the Academy, “but Mother says he’s got bad friends. I think he’s quite stupid, anyway, I don’t know what he’s doing there, I used to wish I could go instead to study law and astronomy. But now I’m going to learn to be a doctor, that’s even better.”
“We’ll go to the village later to see if someone needs us,” Amre said, “then you can start learning at once!”
When we got there, looking for someone to ask, there were three old men sitting on a bench under the lime tree in the middle of the village green. They were drinking beer and smoking southweed, and complaining that things weren’t as they’d been — “there was more beer in the tankards too, even half an hour ago!” When they saw us they got up and bowed, “young ladies! Have you come to choose yourselves a husband each?”
We laughed. “No, we’re travelling doctors, if there’s anyone who needs our help, here we are!”
One of the men took Amre and me each by an arm and almost dragged us into a farmhouse a short way from the green. “Here’s Rovin. He fell off his cart and then the mule and the cart went right over him. And the load fell on him, too.”
The man in the bed looked a fright — at first sight hardly anything was still whole, but when we looked more closely we could see that his left shoulder was broken, he had a nasty gash in one leg, the other knee was completely shattered, and the wounds were festering. “There was a doctor here,” the man who had taken us in said, “a week before it happened! We sent to town, to the hospital, but they didn’t answer. Or are you the people they sent?”
“No, we’re travelling anyway,” we said, and then everything became very busy because this house was the village headman’s house and his two daughters came in, girls about our age, asking if they could help.
“Yes,” I said, “we need fresh water boiled in a kettle, and linen cloths, as clean as possible. And some sage if you have it, otherwise I’ll ask Jeran.”
“Is that the lad with the dog?” the younger girl asked. “Ever so handsome.” That earned her a scowl from Serla.
I set the shoulder first because that was easiest. “May I look?” Serla asked, and I let her put her hand on mine and showed her what I was doing. “Look at his other shoulder,” I said, “it should look like that. Only the other way round, of course.” I could see her look inside her own shoulder as well. “It’s broken as well as in the wrong place, right?”
“Right. So I’m putting it right first, like this — the man moaned but didn’t move much, good — and now I’m mending the broken bone. See what I’m doing? Just like you with your skin.” She did see it. “Now it’s whole but still very tender, he can’t use it for a while and it needs to be fixed in place with a bandage.”
“I know how to do that!” Serla said. “From Doctor Cora’s book!” I showed her how to get the bandage tight enough but not too tight, and she could do it almost by herself. When I tucked the end in, Serla said “In the book it says to tear the last bit and tie it,” and I let her think for herself why that was hard with a shoulder. “But there’s nothing to tie it around!”
The water was hot now and Amre had already cleaned the leg wound. “Do you have any brandy?” she asked the man who had just come in, who must be the headman.
“Does it have to be made from wine?” he asked, a bit dubiously.
“No,” Amre said, “as long as it’s strong! The stronger the better.”
He fetched an earthenware jug, and when he uncorked it the whole room smelt of apples. “Apple brandy! Excellent,” we said, and first let Rovin take a deep draught of it and then soaked a piece of wood in it so he could bite on that. I did the stitching — a good ten inches — and Amre coached Serla in cleaning the other leg which was swollen with putrid flesh. Serla thought it was all very exciting. She didn’t faint or gag or even flinch — she’d probably make a doctor, or at least a nurse!
Then came the real work. I held everything in place, while Amre coaxed the bits of shattered kneecap to their right places. Jeran came in and made a light — we hadn’t noticed that it had become dark, but it was very useful. “Can you do that?” I asked Serla.
“No,” she said, “I can’t make light, only fire.”
“Never mind, you’ll learn.”
After some time Jeran gave the light to Serla — it didn’t go out — and put his hands on Amre’s hips to give her strength. I stood even more rooted to the ground than before, letting the world’s anea flow through me.
Suddenly we heard a shriek and Serla dropped the light and ran away. But there was light anyway, and another pair of hands, and when there was the faintest glimmer of dawn through the door Amre stood up and said, “I think it’s done.”
We leaned in the doorway, the three of us, exhausted. People came and brought us food and drink and washing-water, and Serla was there too, bashful. “I can stand blood and dirt and rot and vomit and open wounds but he was too much for me! But next time I’ll be braver.”
“It was very good of you to hold the light like that,” I said. “Next time, it will probably help to concentrate on the work, never mind the gods.”
“Doctor’s work doesn’t have much to do with Guild stuff,” Amre said. “Only with helping when someone needs your help. This is what I became a doctor for.”
“Yes, master,” Serla said.
Master? Yes, definitely. I grinned at Amre. “Congratulations! Probably my turn next.”
There was a priestess of Naigha now, with a long dark braid. “He’s all whole again!” she said.
“He’ll have scars,” I said, “and probably a limp, there was a lot of skin and flesh missing.”
“But I thought we’d lose him,” the priestess said, “and we won’t, not yet anyway!”
We slept in the bed of the headman and his wife, and Jeran in their son’s bedstead and Serla in their daughters’, almost the whole day. I woke up ravenous, of course, and even Amre had an appetite, but we got bread and thick soup. One of the daughters came to tell us “your kids are in the pig pen playing piglets, I’m afraid they’re very dirty! We did undress them first.”
We didn’t find only our own offspring in the pig pen, but also a couple of village children, as well as real piglets who thought it was all a huge joke. “I’m a piggy!” Asusu shouted. “We’re all piggies!”
“But pigs eat nasty food,” Hinla said, wrinkling her nose. “Food that people can’t eat any more.”
“Well, if you want people food, you’ll have to stop being piggies,” I said. “Wash, dress, eat.”
We got our piggies turned back into people, and learned that the villagers hadn’t only put the children to bed when Jeran brought them in but also taken care of the animals, and then Amre and I sat close together, wondering vaguely if more people needed a doctor but really too tired to do something about that. Anyway, the villagers were planning to celebrate. “It’s like Dadán,” I said, “a feast at every occasion!”