A party!

In the morning I told Ashti what the neighbours had said but she said it was nonsense. “They were born on the Feast of Timoine, we’ll name them on the day of Anshen!”

So I went into town with Lady Rava’s purse. First to the Apple, where the landlord was just opening shutters and putting stools upright that had been on the tables. “Hey, you’re early!” he said, then recognised me. “You’re the painted woman’s man, right? How is she?”

“Splendid, and so are the twins! We’re having the name-giving tomorrow. I’d like a barrel of apple wine, and a barrel of beer. Our eldest kid brews these days, but not nearly enough!”

He laughed. “And pie?” He started writing on a slate.

“And pie! There are a lot more people coming than we’d thought. Dozens.” I rattled the purse. “I can pay, no problem.”

“Oh, we’ll send you a bill. If it isn’t what you expect –”

“I’ll pipe up,” I said.

“No, you won’t,” he said with a grin that made it clear that the bill would probably be too low rather than too high.

“Do I get sweets in the Síthi quarter?” I asked.

“Yes, the best shop for that is the one behind the bath-house, can’t recall what the woman is called. She’ll have to put her sons to work, the eldest daughter got sent on a runner’s assignment.”

“Oh! That’s Khushi and Aldan who went away. We had a drink with them only last week, and they left the day after.”

I went by the butcher on my way to the Síthi quarter, the one who had the best sausages. “You’re having a party? Smoked or fresh?”

“Some of each? The neighbours will cook the fresh ones, I’m sure of that.”

“You live on the other side, right? I’ll have it delivered to your master.”

Well, Master Mernath and the whole workshop were invited, they could take the sausage with them. We talked a bit about how much I needed and it came to eight shillings. Then the butcher’s wife came from the cold room and whispered in his ear. “Six shillings. The wife says it’s for the name-giving. Present from us.”

“Thank you!”

The sweet-shop was very small and dark and there was a girl of about twelve behind the counter. And the sweets still in the shop didn’t look very nice, all sticky and molten! “Three days after the Feast of Timoine, what do you expect? And I’m on my own here. I’ll kill my sister when I next see her! She escaped!”

“She was sent,” I said, “I don’t think she did it to spite you!”

“Not to spite me, no, but it does get Mother and me stuck with all the work! You Valdyans have it easy, you men work as well as the women. Well, how many pounds do you want?”

“Two pounds? All the neighbours’ children are coming too. And some guests are bringing theirs.”

“Better have four pounds then, grown-ups like sweets too. It’s two shillings a pound, or three if you want lemon and orange as well.”

“Yes, I’ll have lemon and orange.” I paid her, and she shouted to the back, “Mother! A big order! Get the boys out of bed!” And she shut the shutters when I left the shop, because they’d probably be working on it all day and have no time to sell to anyone else.

The last thing was music! I knew that Rovan in the ropery could play the cornett, and he surely had friends he played with. He did, two of them who he could wrangle from their masters. “I’ll pay you two shillings each,” I said, after all the Day of Anshen was probably a working day for them!

“You don’t need to,” Rovan said, “twopence is enough!” But I had plenty of money for feasting and I wanted them to have a share in it. “A shilling, and all the food and drink you want!” I said, and we clasped hands on that.

I went home to tell everything to Ashti, and there I found Arni cleaning the beer barrel while Raisse and the older twins were at school. “Those people last night finished everything!” she said. “But the new brew is coming along fine. Raisse really knows about brewing! The things she says, “the wind is from the north-west, we should put some more hops in,” and we did, and I don’t think it would have come out so well if we hadn’t!”

“It shows that she was born in a brewers’ family, ” I said. “If she wants an apprenticeship in five or six years I think I know a brewery to send her to.” Or at least I knew someone who knew a brewery because she’d been born there!

“Does she need to be apprenticed? She can already brew!”

“Well, she might want to learn from other people, if they know things she hasn’t been able to figure out by herself,” I said. “I might go and learn more from another master, too.” I wondered if the next master I went to would want twelve riders as well, or if I’d get something back from Master Mernath, but I didn’t need to think about that right now.

I’d finished my errands in town much sooner than I’d thought! “I’ll go to the hospital now and find Vurian,” I said, “because he must come, and Mialle too!” Ashti agreed, and she thought Vurian would just forget it and keep working if I didn’t actually go there and ask.

On the way I met Rhinla. “Can I come and draw Ashti when she’s feeding the twins?” she asked.

“You should ask her that, not me,” I said. “Anyway it’s all right with me.” Then she asked me if I’d carry her on my shoulders. Well, she’s small enough for that, so I lifted her up, and I felt that she put something on my head — her drawing pad! “Stop here,” she said a couple of times, and when I stopped I felt something moving on my head that must be her drawing. Lucky that I wasn’t in a hurry! When we got to the hospital I even had to wait for Vurian, because he was busy sawing off someone’s leg.

He came out of the operating room very white, except where he was red. I spread out my arms so he could lean on me. “You’re so firm!” he said. “Wait, I’m all bloody.” So we went to the pump to wash, my shirt and breeches as well as all of Vurian, and I had time enough to ask him to the party. “Mialle, too, of course,” I said.

“Did you hear that we got married?” Vurian asked.

“Yes, from Lady Rava, a Síthi marriage, whatever that is. And you’re getting married for real at Midsummer. In Gralen. Oh, perhaps the Síthi marriage is for real, too.”

“I’m not sure,” Vurian said, “the Síthi have a lot of mystical waffle around it.” He told me all the waffle, and I couldn’t understand half of it let alone remember it! But it was something about Mialle not being able to learn properly if she wasn’t married to the man she was fucking.

“You’re getting married at Midsummer too, right?”

“Yes, only not in Gralen.”

“It would be strange if everybody went to Gralen to get married!” Vurian said. “But my aunt and uncle asked us to come to the brewery with them and Uncle Athal and Aunt Raisse.”

“I wish I could take you for a drink somewhere,” I said, and he took me to the nurses’ room where there was at least herb tea. (Also some nurses, and one was Master Mernath’s wife! I knew she was head nurse at the hospital but I’d never seen her at work.)

Rhinla had been somewhere else in the hospital while Vurian was washing, but now she came into the room too, and it looked like she and Vurian were playing mind-games! Frankly, she was teasing him. He shook her off after a while, “I have to get back to work,” but he promised to come to our house after the temple service and bring Mialle.

I took Rhinla home again, and she asked “Can Lesla and I sleep in your house tonight? Master Jeran has a girlfriend over.” Of course they could! And it was a good thing that Master Jeran had a girlfriend and didn’t want to sleep with the girls, who weren’t interested at all. “Lesla tried kissing a boy but she didn’t like it one bit.” She made a face. “And I don’t even want to try.”

“Perhaps Lesla should try kissing girls if she doesn’t like kissing boys?” I asked, but Rhinla didn’t know about that.

That girl can’t stop drawing! She asked me to take all my clothes off and lift something heavy so she could see how all the muscles worked. I took a full barrel and lifted it over my head. Yes, that was really heavy, and I couldn’t hold it up for long but she didn’t need long to draw. And then she made several drawings of Ashti and the babies, too.

Then Lesla came, and we ate something — if Ashti wasn’t hungry all the time from making milk we’d probably forget to eat — and we tucked all the children into bed.

Early in the morning someone from the Apple came to bring the barrels and the pies, and the girl from the sweet-shop with four boxes made of wood strips. “Keep the boxes,” she said, “give my brothers something to do!” We could give them to Raisse and Sidhan and Arvin to keep their treasures in!

Outside, the neighbours had swept the yard and decorated everything with streamers and ribbons. I was about to go and scritch the unhappy pigs when there was a knock on the front door. It was the queen! And the king, who I’d never seen before, he was shorter than his wife and had a red beard and a patch over one eye and looked really friendly, more like someone’s uncle than like a great king (and I knew he was one!) And a gaggle of little kids, I recognised the redhead who had come on our tour of the palace. Our children swept them away to the yard at once.

I hadn’t been shy with the queen in Valdis, but it’s different when the king and the queen come to your house! But the queen went to Ashti to coo over the twins and talk about babies, “you have a lot of milk, good! Two seasons and I’ll have milk again, too,” and the king wanted to know all about Raisse and Arni’s brewing, he’d been apprenticed to Lady Rava’s father for a summer when he was a boy. “I’d be a brewer now if the gods hadn’t destined me for something else,” he said. “Or a lute-player.”

“You are a lute-player,” the queen said from the other room. “And you’ve brought the small lute from the music-room so I know you’ll play later.” Better not tell Rovan and his friends who the lute-player was until they found out by themselves, then, or they’d be too shy to play!

Then everybody else started coming in. I suddenly thought of the sausage and tried to reach Master Mernath. He was on his way, with his family and some other people –Lady Rava!– and the whole workshop. We’ve got the sausage all right, he said, and the lads banged together a couple of grills, too. I told that to the people making a fire, and they made room for it.

Then the Ishey came, all of them, King Mazao and Asa and Veh and all their children and people who had been there when we visited and people we’d never seen before! And half the hospital, Vurian and Mialle with them. And I saw the baroness of Sarabal and her husband standing with Lady Rava and Lord Vurian.

Now everybody had to be here that we wanted to be here, so Ashti found a place to stand where most people could see her — just at the back of the house — and I gave her the twins one by one and she named them to the gods, Lysna after her grandmother and Doran after my father. I was so touched! Then she had to sit down, of course, on the chair full of cushions that I’d put outside for her, and the twins needed more milk.

It was a party! It was an enormous party! The Ishey had brought food too, and so had other people, and there was wine that someone told me was from Doctor Cora’s vineyard near Veray. I saw King Athal talking with King Mazao, joking together like they were brothers, and the queen talked very seriously to our neighbour Halla, but it didn’t look as if she was telling her off, more like she wanted to know things.

Then the king got out his lute and played so Rovan and his friends could have something to eat and drink, but after a while they joined in again. There was dancing! I saw the old baroness dance with Lord Vurian, and then with the king, but after that she sat down with us (I was in the chair now, with Ashti on my lap) to talk. “I recognise you,” she said to me, “there’s some of your spirit in the sword.” I could only say yes. “I’ll be staying in Turenay for the rest of my life, probably, it won’t be very long but it will be pleasant. You’re good people.” I didn’t know if she meant everybody in town or me and Ashti in particular, but it sounded like a blessing.