Not two weddings, like the children wanted, but as Arni said, one is quite enough.
The moment Hylse and Jeran appeared in the kitchen, Halla took them away. It took them a while to come back: they’d been to Jeran’s mother, too. There were congratulations all round, and then we claimed both of the newlyweds for the lesson for apprentice doctors and nurses. This first lesson was mostly about keeping things clean, and how to protect yourself from everything that could make you sick. Serla was good enough at protecting her hands with a seal that she could teach Hylse and Jeran, and Cynla –one of the new girls– could actually see it so she’d need some extra teaching too.
When Ardyth and Arieth got up to see to the patients and took Halla with them to show her the ropes, the gifted people stayed behind and we gave them another lesson in the basics of semsin. “Do you need me?” Serla asked. “Yes!” we said, “you and Hylse learned in a different tradition and it’s useful to address both!”
Then it was time to see our patients ourselves. We found a strange woman at Doryn’s bed: her secretary, who she was dictating letters to! “You shouldn’t work yet,” Amre said to Doryn, “right now it’s your business to recover, not to overwork yourself!” But Doryn was adamant. “If you want to kill yourself working, that’s your own business, don’t do it in our hospital!” we said. “You can go home and rest or work, you’ll be out of our hands.”
“You will come every morning for a consultation, I expect.”
“When we have time for that with our other work, we may,” Amre said.
“Girl, I am your work.”
Amre went dark red, didn’t say anything, but turned on her heel and left the ward. Serla and Hylse and I followed, and it wasn’t until we’d closed the door behind us that we all burst out laughing because that was better than bursting out in anger.
We asked Jeran to take Doryn home in the cart; the secretary could have a ride if she wanted. “Good riddance,” Serla said, “let her work herself to death if she wants!”
In the men’s ward, the little boy was a lot better but he couldn’t go home yet until we were sure his bowels were working properly. The two men with bruises and fractures were mending, but there wasn’t much left of Orin. His skin was cracked from freezing and thawing, but that could be treated with sage ointment; his mind was a different story. It looked as if all the gods had deserted him. I could see Anshen hovering nearby, still somewhat hopeful, but none of the others were forthcoming, not even Naigha.
“Shall I call the priestess of Naigha?” Arieth said. “He looks like he’s almost dead.”
“Not dead yet,” I said, “but yes, I’d like to hear her opinion.”
When the priestess came she said, indeed, that Orin wasn’t dead or even dying yet, though he might not last long. “I can’t do any more for him than you can,” she said, “let his housekeeper fetch him, she can care for him.” We did that; another good riddance, though we were still frustrated that we couldn’t do more. We retreated to the kitchen and found it full of excited children.
“We’re having a whole pig tonight!” Hinla said.
“Arni dug a pit!” Nisha said, “with a fire in it! It’s not on yet but she filled it full of firewood. It’s for the wedding. Are you getting married tomorrow?” she asked Serla. “Then we’ll have two parties in a row!”
Serla shook her head. “Not right away.”
“One party in a row is quite enough!” Arni said when she came in with her hands full of herbs.
Hylse and Jeran asked for the afternoon off to buy things for the room Arni had given them in the attic. “We want to make it pretty! We’ve got some ideas.”
“Do you need any money?” Arni asked.
“No, Mother gave me my last couple of weeks’ wages after all, and Hylse is from Silver Village, she’s rich!” I hadn’t realised that, but of course they wouldn’t have sent her off without at least part of her share.
After we’d eaten a hasty bite of bread and cheese — Arni was too busy preparing for the party to do anything elaborate, and we were too busy to appreciate it anyway — we opened the ordinary practice, which miraculously wasn’t busy at all so we had time to do a short round of the whorehouses. Only the things that really couldn’t wait — and that had been waiting for a week or more because we hadn’t been there. Well, they’d managed without us for years, so they could manage for a week.
We got home at the end of the afternoon and found the fire in the pit burning. What was lying on a rack over it didn’t look like a pig at all. “That’s a big sheep!” Asusu said, but it was a bullock, a present from Jeran’s mother. “I had to do something,” she told us, “and this was a thing I could do!”
Not only Jeran’s family was there with some friends, but the neighbours as well. The nurses had given the patients a corner of the garden too, where they weren’t in the bustle but could enjoy the party, and given them something to drink. All we lacked was the young couple! We went to the attic room to get them — they were sitting there quietly, looking each other in the eyes. The room was splendid, hung with colourful cloths that hid the plain rafters, and furnished with a couple of small tables and an old carved chest that looked as if they’d bought it in the jumble stall in the market and cleaned it up.
“Your room is beautiful and I’m sure you love each other, but we can’t celebrate without you!” I said. They laughed, and shook their clothes into place, and came along.
Then there was feasting! Good food, and plenty of good beer, and dancing — there were even musicians, who our own Jeran whispered he’d borrowed from the Crown. I sat down next to a richly dressed woman who I didn’t know so she was likely to have come with Jeran’s family. She turned out to be the head of the weavers’ guild, Ainei Erne.
“Now you’re the official town hospital –” she began. “I wanted to say, we’re having the meeting of the heads of the guilds at first snow, not the council but the crafts and trades, and–”
I knew what she wanted. “I’ll give you a list of everything we need, each week or each season depending on what it is. We have suppliers for some of the things already, but we’ll need some good deals for the rest.”
Her face cleared. “You want stuff?”
“Thank you! That’s much easier for the guilds than money!”
“We have enough money,” I said, “time is what we don’t have enough of, and if we make a good enough list we won’t have to worry about ordering things. We need a lot of linen, for instance, but there’s no need for doctors to choose that themselves. Or even for our housekeeper, though she does want to choose the household linen.”
“If there’s anything else we can do for you…”
Yes, there was! “Well, we’d like a messenger,” I said, “a boy or girl just out of school, who can read and write, follow instructions, and knows the town. We’d train them as a clerk, Serla is doing our books now but she could teach them that. The hospital needs a messenger, and at least one clerk as well when it keeps growing.”
“I think I’ll be able to find someone,” Erne said. “By the way, your beer is excellent.”
“You have to thank our Halla for that!” I said, pointing to where Halla was enjoying a beer herself.
Amre and I danced together for a bit, and I could feel Jeran’s mother being wistful. We sat down on either side of her. “Do you want to dance, too?” we asked. But that wasn’t it — she was envious of our love. “I had a thing with Erne once,” she said, “it didn’t last, but she’s still kind of family. What’s more we’re buying all our towels from her.” She was more than half drunk, and became very garrulous, telling us about the man who came along every once in a while and left her with yet another child. Three daughters and a son. “The first time, he was on his way to the whores but he wanted a wash first. Then he saw me, and I was good enough so he ordered me upstairs.”
I wondered why she’d never said no, but didn’t say anything. Perhaps the man had used semsin on her. “Now I’m afraid for my daughters if he should come back,” she went on. “He’s with that rabble in the north.”
Good chance that he was currently on a river-boat bound for Veray, or even dead in Silver Village, but I didn’t say that. “We’ll lend you Rava if that happens,” I said instead, “she looks impressive, and what she closes stays closed.” I could see Rava from where I sat, dancing alone, looking very happy. Later, she had one of the twins on each arm and twirled around with them. “Rava is a giant!” they shrieked. “A good giant!”
It grew later. The newlyweds had excused themselves and gone upstairs, Arni had bundled the children to bed, Jerna’s mother had taken the family and friends away, the patients were back in the ward, the teenagers and nurses had disappeared. Only the neighbours were still sitting under the apricot tree with me and Amre and Arni and Halla.
“I’ve got something nice at home,” the baker said, and fetched a sack of sweet buns and a stoppered flask. It turned out to be very strong herb brandy. “You really need to eat something with it,” he said, “that’s why I brought the buns. Sweet and heavy, that’s good.”
I took him at his word. I had only a thimble-sized cup — the baker had brought the cups, too — and Amre one small sip, but it seemed important that we all took part.
It must have been past midnight. There were more neighbours now than there had been at the party itself: the carpenter’s tall dour journeyman, the baker’s wife, the butcher’s husband and two grown sons. Some had brought more food and drink and everybody was sharing.
I don’t know when or how it happened, but we were all standing then, Amre and I in the middle of a ring of neighbours. I felt protected, not threatened. “Whatever happens,” someone said, “you’re of our own.”
I had to say something, too. “Whatever happens, we’re at home here.” And at that moment, I felt I never wanted to leave.
Then Serla appeared, bleary-eyed and in her shift. “You were using semsin! It woke me up!”
“You can go back to bed,” Arni said. “You doctors too. We’ll do the cleaning up.”
We found our bed full of children but didn’t bother to move them to the other bedstead, just crawled in between them.
We woke up late and with a hangover, of course, even Amre who had eventually had more than one sip but no more than one tiny cup of the baker’s strong brandy. Arni was hardly in a better state; she came to bring us breakfast in the front room and sat down at the worktable with us to drink her own tea. “It’s bath-house day today, I think,” she said.
“That’s a good idea,” we said, and drank more tea and nursed our aching heads. Other people came drifting in, as if it was the kitchen, and it was so full that we didn’t notice that there was someone we didn’t know until he cleared his throat.
It was a boy of about eleven, dressed in silk and velvet like a little prince, pheasant tail-feathers on his beret. “Excuse me,” he said, “which of you ladies is the doctor?”
“Amre and I are the doctors,” I said, making him blush because we were the most scantily dressed people in the room. “Do you have an emergency?”
“I’ve come for the position,” he said. “Of errand boy.”
“Oh! Could you wait in the kitchen until we can receive you?” Arni bustled him out and we hurriedly got dressed.
This was Ernei Erian, the head of the weavers’ guild’s son. “How old are you?” I asked.
“Mother said twelve,” he said, and clapped a hand over his mouth and blushed again.
“And what do you say?”
“Not until Midwinter.”
“Well, what can you do?”
“Read, write, figure, history and stuff I learned at school. And I can run very fast. And I shot the pheasant for my hat feathers myself. With a sling.”
Hm, being a good shot with a sling might be useful. “Can you run errands in town? Do you know where to find everything?”
“I know all the streets. Except where I’m not allowed to go.” He really blushed very prettily. The princely clothes didn’t help.
“You may have to go to some places where you’re not allowed to go, when you’re working for us. But we’ll send our bodyguard with you if it’s dangerous. Are you all right with that?”
He nodded. “I can take care of little kids, too.”
“That’s a good thing, because in about three seasons we’re going to have a new baby here and we’ll need all hands.” That made him smile. “What do you want to do?” I asked.
“Expand my career possibilities and discover my goals,” he said solemnly, then broke into a giggle. “That’s what Mother told Father I was going to do. She’d have sent my brother who is half an hour older but he’s called Jeran and you already have too many of those here.” He caught his breath. “I don’t know, I think it’s fun to learn to be a clerk in the hospital. And I like running errands. Especially when I get to go everywhere.”
“You shall go everywhere, I promise. Can you do any bookkeeping?”
“I can make the sums come out right. But I don’t know what it’s all about.”
We called Serla, who immediately wanted to take Erian away and teach him. “Can I go home first and tell Mother I’ve got the job? Oh!” He reached into a pocket and took out a purse. “Here are my twelve riders. As I’m going to be apprenticed.”
“Thank you.” I put the purse away. It was time to have a drawer like Master Rava at the Guild school, where she kept everybody’s apprentice fee until they left and got it back.
Erian came back surprisingly fast, dressed in much more useful clothes and carrying a bundle. We gave him one of the small attic rooms, and when he’d put his things away, his very first job. “Go to Master Senthi’s house and announce us. We will pay her a visit as soon as possible.” We really wanted to know about the workers’ camps, and Senthi was at least somewhat on our side and wouldn’t take advantage of our ignorance.
Erian ran. We dressed with some more attention, made sure that we weren’t needed urgently in the hospital, and set off to Senthi’s house where we found Erian in a heated discussion with the doorkeeper.
“Yes, they’re the doctors! I’m here to announce them! I can tell you ten more times but that won’t change what it is!”
“Thank you, Erian,” I said, and only then the doorkeeper seemed to believe that he really was our messenger. “The mistress isn’t receiving,” he said. “She is expecting the doctor.”
“We are doctors,” Amre said. Never mind that it wasn’t exactly why we were here.
We were shown into Senthi’s bedroom. Everything was closed, the fire was stoked up high, and a maid was burning herbs on it. Some of those would have been useful in tea or ointment, but burning them only made a noxious stench. The first thing we did was open the curtains and the window and send the maid away, even before we talked to Senthi.
“I was expecting Orin,” she said, “did he send you?”
Had she forgotten what she’d said only yesterday? But she had a high fever, and that she was swathed in lots of blankets didn’t make that better. “Master Orin had … an accident, and he’s unlikely to recover soon. His housekeeper is taking care of him.” We left her with only one blanket, and with the window open the air in the room was getting better, too. “Let’s have a look at you.”
She had the stonecutter’s lung, of course. Whether she’d cut the stone herself in the past or only stood too close to the mill-driven hammers, the dust would get in her lungs. There were ways to deal with that — better to prevent it but we were about fifty years too late.
“We can ease that but I must warn you that it’s going to hurt,” Amre said.
“Then I’ll take a pill first,” she said, and grabbed for the box. I took it out of her reach. “Those won’t do you any good.”
We got most of the crud out of her lungs, but it was sharp stone dust that left her throat as rough as if someone had run a grater over it. We called for the maid and had her bring tea with honey. Senthi did want to answer our questions — “I’ll just think it and you can understand, right? Lathad does that.”
We had to admit that we weren’t as good as Lathad, but with what Senthi could rasp and what she thought around it we got a good enough idea. The camps were where people lived who worked in the mines and the mills, and some people worked in the camps themselves, keeping little shops or cooking or brewing, like our Halla had done. The camps were mostly on the hillsides to the north and east of the town. Rayin and Arlyn had ‘greater plans’ with the camps, but Senthi didn’t know what those plans were.
“Thank you,” we said, “we’ll leave you to rest now, we’ll be back in a couple of days to see how you’re doing.”
In the anteroom, Senthi’s clerk paid us “the usual fee”: nine riders and nine shillings! No wonder that Orin seemed to be lacking for nothing, if he was all the rich people’s personal physician.
Now to the bath-house! It was easy to see where everybody was: not Jeran’s mother’s bath-house, where nobody had wanted to go, especially not Jeran and Hylse, but the new bath-house near the Ishey bridge.
The bath-house people seemed pleased to have the doctors and all their family. We had the attendants wash our hair, and I had mine cut even though Amre protested, and Hinla and the twins swam and Merain and Nisha paddled. It turned out that Erian could swim like an otter, but he was too tall to do that in the large bath so he was reduced to paddling as well.
It was such a nice place to be! We did get out eventually, of course, and when we were leaving we saw that there was really some kind of protection over the whole bath-house, and it felt like it was of Anshen.
“One moment,” I said, and I went back to find someone to thank.
In a small room off the entrance, an old woman was sitting, adding up accounts. She looked enough like the bath-house keeper to be her mother. I knew that this was the person I needed to thank, and when I did so, she took both of my hands and said, “You couldn’t come to the feast, and neither could I, but that doesn’t mean we don’t belong together!”