Villages

From very skimpy notes; in particular I’m not sure who said what, or what exactly happened on which day. Also, I don’t remember exactly when Asa was with us and when she wasn’t. But if it matters I trust that someone will put me right. (But the fight thing is fixed; thanks!)

We travelled steadily north in heavily wooded hilly country. There were lots of animals in the wood, both game and things that wanted to eat the game– foxes, cats, lynxes (the boys say that a lynx is a kind of huge cat with tufts on its ears) and even a few bears. When we were practising semsin one evening I saw a bear eating the deer entrails the boys had left as an offering for Mizran. “We can expect wolves too, soon,” Mazao said, “real ones!” “How is the one that took a bite out of you not real?” I asked. “Bigger ones!” Jeran said. Well, the wolf that took a bite out of Mazao was big enough for me!

The road climbed up and up until it came to the crest of the mountain and stayed there, right on top, but we couldn’t see anything even from that height because there were trees everywhere. It was very good hunting country. We –all of the Ishey nation– hunted, and the king did though he didn’t really have good enough eyesight to hit anything, and the pages, and a clerk called Yssa –I think Sabeh got her into it– and Moyri of the Order, but the palace soldiers didn’t, they stayed mostly with the king’s wagon.

We practised semsin some evenings but not every day, because all the travelling and hunting left us little time and it made us very tired, too. And we were coming to the end of what we could learn by ourselves. It was a bit worrying, and Amre got so worried that she had to talk to someone who was a master in the Guild. She mulled it over for a long time and in the end we went to talk to the queen. “You have a good point,” the queen said, “especially as we’ll reach Rizenay all too soon, and it might be difficult at Midsummer.” “Will there be fighting?” I asked, half scared and half eager. “It’s possible,” the queen said. But she didn’t know either what would be best for us to do, because it’s customary to have the same master for your whole time as a journeyman and we hadn’t even started out as journeymen that way! “Athal has had a couple of apprentices,” she said, “but it wouldn’t be a good thing to take you back to Valdis and keep you there for years! I’m afraid you’ll have to manage a while longer, and then find a master in Turenay.”

Then she asked Amre “Didn’t I see you at the soldiers’ tents the other day?” “That must have been Asa,” Amre said, “we look a bit alike. I’ve never been there!” The queen nodded and asked how how we’d been getting on with Asa, and we told her that we were trying to teach her things but that we couldn’t really understand her. “She’s so convinced that she can do nothing!” I said. The queen seemed to think that that was what Iss-Peranian girls were like, but Amre and I were also Iss-Peranian girls and we did know we could do things, and we’d always known too! But perhaps she was talking about girls from rich families. “Are you teaching her semsin too?” she asked. We’d thought about that –after all, the boys had learnt from us too, though they’d given their own twist to it– but we didn’t know where to start because she didn’t believe in herself!

That evening, though, we sat down with her and started where Vurian had started with us, to see herself, to find her place in the world. It was hard because she didn’t really have a place in the world, at least she didn’t think she had. And when I let her see through my eyes she was startled, “you see that?” — and when I looked through hers, I knew why, because the world she saw was much duller and bleaker than mine. The work gave her a headache, of course, and we made ironweed tea and I tried to put her head right a bit, “the advantage of being a doctor’s apprentice,” I said. But at least we’d made some progress! (We practiced other nights too, later, and she started to learn, though slowly and hesitantly.)

The boys and Ebru came back late and told us they’d caught what Tao said was a kind of goat but Veh knew was a kind of sheep: a really big ram with a woolly coat and huge spiral horns. Asa needed a blanket, and Veh said he’d get the wool back from the royal field-kitchen where they’d left the sheep and help her make one. He went to get it at once, and it came in a leather sack crammed full. “Now you have to get it wet and let it rot first, or you’ll never be able to make felt out of it,” he said. I smelt the wool, and it did smell of sheep and not of goat, like the grease we got in Trynfarin to make herbal ointments from. “And tomorrow it’s your turn to hunt,” Tao said to us, “yes, you too, Asa.”

The next morning we went into the wood, Veh and us three girls, and we found a large herd of the big woolly sheep. They were wandering around a bit aimlessly. “Lost their ram,” Veh said with a grin. They should be easy to hit! We decided to get a half-grown lamb, Amre and Asa and me together, so at least one of us would hit it (and Asa could think it was her). And indeed it was Asa who hit, she and Amre very close together on the lamb’s neck, because I felt my sling slip and the stone went wide and hit the mother sheep in the butt. She bolted, and the rest of the herd with her, but that was all right because we didn’t need much more meat, we just wanted to eat roast lamb and let Asa have a skin for herself. “You can make a sheep bag like my goat bag,” Amre said. “With legs on!” Asa said, but Veh told her how to turn the skin into a kind of basket to carry a baby on her back in and she thought that was a good idea too.

Asa was wearing Valdyan clothes now, rough linen breeches and a shirt with embroidered borders that looked like a man’s shirt. “Where did you get those clothes?” I asked. She became defensive at once: “I got them honestly! Traded for them!” It wasn’t until later that we realised exactly what she’d traded for the clothes, when Asa was already asleep –it had been a hard day’s hunting for her, she wasn’t used to anything– and Roushan sat down at our fire and put down a basket. “Copper ointment,” she said. “But if Asa is asleep I won’t bother her with it, you can take care of it. I’ve just taken care of the other ones.” “The soldiers?” I asked, thinking back to what the queen had said, and what Asa had said about her clothes. “Yes. Three of them, two are infected, if she’s lucky they’ve picked it up in Ildis and she hasn’t had it for long, otherwise she won’t be able to carry the baby to term.” Privately I thought that probably Asa wouldn’t mind that, but I didn’t tell Roushan or even Amre. “Meruvin, Orin and Eldan,” Roushan said. “They’re under arrest now, chained to a wagon. They should know better than dallying behind the wagons with a girl who doesn’t know that she can say no. I never thought the palace guard would acquire a regimental whore!”

I don’t remember whether I was shocked at the time, but I was later, when I realised that Asa had really been trading her body for things she wanted (and she talked to us about it as if it was the most normal thing in the world). The next morning, when we treated her with the copper ointment –she was indeed lucky– and tried to talk about it, she said “Do I have to give the clothes back now? And what shall I wear then?” So we got our roll of linen and started to teach her to sew her own clothes, as Hinla had taught us in Nesile. But nobody seemed to think she had to give the clothes back to the men, nor the leather pouch with a few small coins that the third man had given her. But the sergeant came to shout at her that she was undermining morale, in front of everyone, and that embarrassed Asa more than any punishment would have done. Veh looked very angry and glared at Asa and stormed away into the forest, and Ebru went after him but neither of them came back all day, though we saw them together, talking. Well, at least Veh and Ebru both had enough hunter’s sense that they wouldn’t be eaten by bears.

When we were settled for the night there was great shouting from the wood. It was Asa and Veh! Asa was shouting in a very low-class Iss-Peranian dialect and Veh in what must be the Ishey women’s language, and Amre and I could understand about half of what each of them was saying and they couldn’t understand one another at all, but that didn’t matter for the argument. Finally Asa ran away again, Veh after her, and we were worried so we kept an eye on Asa, but after a while we saw that they were together, talking.

That evening, when we were practicing semsin, I could see people somewhere to the north, and when we all looked together we saw that it was a village. About thirty people, and none of them were gifted! I went to ask the king if he’d seen it, and indeed he had. Of course, he can see much further than I can, even than all of us together. “We’ll be there tomorrow,” he said. “By the way, I see your friend has taken to wearing a headscarf, doesn’t that mean for Iss-Peranian women that they’re married? I don’t think we have any women of the right age around here. To perform marriages, I mean.” That made me blush and stammer, because she’d done it for me, though I didn’t really care one way or another. Well, I did appreciate that she did it for me, but I’d never force or even expect her to. “Engaged,” I managed to say. “It’s to show that she belongs together with someone, so everybody knows that they can’t just pinch her bottom for fun.” And if anybody does, I thought, they’ll have to deal with me; but I didn’t tell that to the king.

The next day we did indeed get to the village. It was called Chelynay, “honey village”, and yes, there were a lot of bees! Aine and Arvi were excited, because they loved honey. The whole village had come to greet us, or rather the king –he’d sent one of the pages ahead to tell them he was coming– and they’d made an arch of leaves and flowers just like in Glan. Some of the people had come straight from their work, and it was work that made them all black with soot or something, perhaps at the little smoking mounds we’d seen on the far side of the village. The villagers looked a bit like the people in Glan, most of them large with light skin and brown or yellow hair. The people in front to greet the king and queen were a plump woman, a man with such an important look on his face that he was probably the village head-man, and two very beautiful girls of about seventeen who looked so alike that they must be twins, with straight white-blond hair long enough to sit on and little upturned noses.

Asa had gone invisible as soon as we were in sight of the village, but when there was food and drink (and dancing!) I saw her from the corner of my eye taking enough food for two, and disappearing into the wood. When I followed her with my mind I saw that she was with Veh again. We had a camp outside the village, because there wasn’t enough room for all of us –the royal party was more people than the whole population!– but the eating and dancing was in the village square, or at least the empty space that all the houses stood around. The young people came to talk to us and dance with us, and one young man explained what the smoking mounds were (to make charcoal) and offered to take us round and show how it was made. He said that the charcoal from this village was the best in the region, and the silver-mines up north used it all the time.

Then there was some commotion, an old man was trying to get at the king, and he looked angry! Our companion shrugged and went to talk to the man and took him gently away, but not before the king had said to him “It’s all right, I’ll come and talk it over with you tomorrow.” One of the girls showed me a straw she had in her pouch and explained “that’s old Jeran, he spoils every party by being obnoxious, we draw for the duty of taking him home– don’t want to saddle the adults with that.” It turned out that Jeran had accused the king of sending the lung sickness. “Because he’s of –well– the Nameless, and everybody in the Guild died.” “King Athal would never do that!” I said. “No, we don’t believe that he did, but, well, that’s Jeran for you. He’s so old, he can’t really help it.”

In the morning we broke up quickly –but I saw the king talking to old Jeran all right, while people were packing his things around him– because it was one day’s travel to the next place if we started early. The boy who had taken us round ran after us and gave us an earthenware pot full of charcoal, “the best there is!”.

When the sun was already going down we came to a kind of cliff with a village at the bottom, or perhaps it was a town because it had a earthen wall around it with a wooden wall on top. This was Tal-Ven, “silver town”, where most of the silver came from that the silversmiths in Ildis worked. A stream ran off the cliff and splashed its way to the Ilda beneath it, and several people were standing in it, doing something that looked like straining the water with sieves! Later, I heard that they found silver that the water had worked loose from the rock.

Tal-Ven was a much larger place than Chelynay, and the king and queen got real quarters in town while we made camp outside. Asa and Veh were still camping in the wood, we saw them on the hillside where they could look down on the town. I wasn’t sure whether he was protecting her, or she was chasing him, or whether they were just being friends together. They came back eventually, and neither of them said anything but we could see it was all right.

Amre and I and the boys went into town the next day, while the king was holding court (not like in the palace, but pronouncing judgements), and the queen was talking to people about trade. There was a temple of Naigha, and a temple of Mizran, and squeezed between the two a shop that sold just about everything. We bought new silver needles –silver was a lot cheaper here than in Ildis, and that figured, it came out of the ground here!– and they had beautiful goat-wool blankets that looked not quite Ishey, at least not as we knew them. Veh bought one; he was still wearing Halla’s horse-blanket. But Asa had to make her own, from the wool of the sheep she’d caught, because that’s part of becoming an Ishey adult, Veh said. There were also splendid knives with a black steel blade, “that’s from Iss-Peran”, the shopkeeper said, and a worked silver handle. She apologised that they were so expensive, five shillings! Well, we could afford that! When we went on to buy linen, both to make clothes and for bandages, the shopkeeper brought a bolt of faded silk from the back of the shop and said her grandmother had traded for it, it was about eighty years old, and she’d never had any use for it but Amre should wear it, she was so beautiful and exotic! It was only the bit that had been on the outside that was faded, really, when she unrolled it it turned out to be a beautiful deep red shot through with gold. Enough to make something for both Amre and Asa!