Beginning to learn

I had some gender confusion as a player, because Lesla is persistent, so Ferin, roughly the same age in the first couple of sessions, ended up with some girly manners. Just as I was deciding I might retcon him into a girl after all I thought of a perfectly plausible in-world explanation: he grew up as the youngest in a house full of women, of course he’s got girly manners! Let’s see if the smithy will beat those out of him. (But he’ll probably stay fond of nice fabrics and just a little vain. If he’d been small and weak instead of big and strong, he might have become a tailor instead.)

So there I was in Master Rhanion’s workshop! There were four of us sleeping in the attic, Jeran and I on one side of the blanket that hung in the middle and Ayneth and Layse on the other side. Layse was a journeyman already, the other three apprentices.

I woke up to the smell of pancakes. But Alyse wouldn’t give us any before we’d washed at the pump again. I wet my hair to make it stay out of my eyes. “It’s too long, I want it off,” I said to Jeran, and he said that Alyse had a pair of shears and she’d cut it for me, “on the day of Archan, we get a bath-house token then too”. Well, I’d tie it back for another couple of days, no problem.

Mialle was there too, sent to wash before breakfast, with the coppersmith’s other apprentice, a boy called Lochan. We talked while we washed, “tomorrow is the day of Mizran, then we can go to the market!”

“I don’t even have a penny,” I said.

“If you don’t have a penny and you do want a beer, you have to wait until you’re a journeyman and then you can go to the Left Hand,” Lochan said. “And by that time you’ll probably have a penny too.”

“And what if you do have a penny?” Mialle asked. I knew she had a shilling! Unless she’d had to buy a leather apron from her master too.

“If you do have a penny you still have to wait until you’re a journeyman,” Lochan said.

We had pancakes — enough! — and Alyse gave me a piece of string to tie my hair with, and we settled down for a day full of work. After pulling the bellows all morning I got to sharpen nails with a file, together with Jeran. He did twice as many as I did, he’d probably done it much more often, but I still did four dozen! Then Jeran scowled at his file and asked “is yours getting dull too? Let’s ask if we can sharpen them!” So we went to ask Rhaye, the senior journeyman, and she showed us where to find the steel brush and the crock of strong vinegar to do that with. The master came along when we were at it and said “good work!” and that meant we got more: a whole basket of dull and rusty files and rasps! A woman with a baby on her arm brought them, I think she was the master’s daughter.

It was very hard work, and it left us black all over, so the master gave us each a coin with a hole in, and he gave Jeran two shillings, “go and wash up in the bath-house, and get yourselves something to eat in town!”

On the bridge we found Mialle who was black all over too: she’d been polishing a copper mirror all day. “The polish was pink, why did it leave me all black?” she wondered, but we didn’t know the answer.

Jeran knew where the bath-house was: right on the other side of the town. We went past a big square with some really grand buildings on it: the temple of Mizran, and next to that something that Jeran said was the school, where he’d been until he was twelve.

“Is there so much to learn then, after you can read and write and figure?” I asked.

“Well, I started at ten,” Jeran said with a laugh, “because there wasn’t any school before that! But yes, history and geography and astronomy.” I didn’t know what those things were, well, history was about kings and stuff, but Jeran explained that geography was knowing where places were and what kind of things there were in those places, like cities and forests and rivers, and astronomy was about the stars. And if people stayed at school longer there was more difficult reading and writing and figuring to learn!

Some other buildings were houses of rich people, Jeran said their names but I’ve forgotten, and there was the Guild House with wonderful stone decorations on the front where the Guild of Archan met each week. “The master goes,” Jeran said, “and his sister the coppersmith.” Mialle and I hadn’t known that our masters were brother and sister!

Then we went through a little street where there were three bakeries next to each other — the smell made me hungry! The one in the middle had a sign outside with a pie painted on it and “PIES 2 PENCE, with meat 4 pence” underneath. But we couldn’t eat while we were still dirty, bath-house first.

We passed the Temple of Naigha, where a priestess was shelling peas on a bench outside, watching two little kids playing in the yard. Then a younger priestess came out of the temple-house, I thought she could be the little kids’ mother, and probably the other priestess’ daughter. She recognised Jeran, because she was the schoolmistress!

On a smaller square there was a house with a wooden sign painted exactly like one of Ma’s towels, white with red checks woven in! That must be the bath-house. And yes, it was. “Do you know what to do in a bath-house?” Jeran asked, and we said “wash, of course!” but he was teasing Mialle, saying she had to kiss him first thing. “I don’t want to kiss you or anyone!” Mialle said. “And anyway I’m too young to kiss!”

We got water and soap to wash the grime off, and then more water and soap to wash the rest of the grime off, and finally a large tub that we all fit in together, full of water that was almost warm enough. And towels exactly like the wooden one (but made of linen). Then it turned out that none of us had thought of bringing our clean clothes, so we had to put the dirty ones back on.

Then pie! Jeran went round the counter and grabbed the girl there by the middle and kissed her on the cheek, because she was his sister! The bakery belonged to his family. We paid our twopences — Jeran had both of our shillings but he gave me the tenpence change, it was my shilling after all — and got our pies, but we took them to the back room where Jeran’s parents were, and they gave us beer to go with the pies. Why pay twopence extra for meat, my pie was full of onions and pieces of egg and it was so good!

Jeran and his parents (and his sister when she closed the shop) talked about lots of things in the town that Mialle and I mostly knew nothing about but were interesting enough, and then it was suddenly dusk and Jeran’s parents sent us home. Jeran had to go for a piss first when we got to the smithy — I’d done that behind the bakery — so I crept up the ladder as softly as I could so I wouldn’t wake Ayneth and Layse.

But they were still awake! There was a light behind the blanket, and I could hear someone saying prayers, it sounded like invocations, but they said the name of the Nameless! But then my foot hit the step that creaked and the light went out, and when I was in bed and Jeran had come up too we heard a snore that meant “I’m ASLEEP, you hear, I’m SNORING”.

If I hadn’t been so tired and so full of the baker’s beer (bakers brew the best beer, Jeran’s sister had said) I’d probably have lain awake to think about what I’d heard, but I was asleep at once.

The next day Master Rhanion came into the workshop in really smart clothes. “Where’s my stole?” he asked, and Rhaye got it from a chest. It was an embroidered thing, like a stiff scarf. “You carry it, Rhaye, you’re almost a master anyway. You’re coming with me. The rest of you, clean the workshop, thoroughly, and then you have the rest of the day off. We’re off to a meeting in the Temple.”

That was a lot of time for the market! And I still had tenpence from yesterday’s shilling, too.

When we were done with the cleaning and on our way to the market we met Mialle and Lochan and one of the coppersmith’s two journeymen. We saw other groups of young people going that way, clearly also apprentices and journeymen whose masters had given them the day off!

There was so much to see in the market! (And to smell, and to hear, and to taste if you had money.) But what caught my eyes first was a stall where they had cloth so red as I’d never seen, wonderful thick soft wool, and I wished I could have some of that to make a jacket from to wear at feasts. So after I’d stood there looking at it so long that the others got impatient and moved on, I went and asked what it cost. But it was so expensive that I wouldn’t be able to afford even two yards of it for years! And anyway a woman came and bought the whole bolt for her master.

I caught up with the others, and Jeran knew that they sold cheaper cloth in the other market, and also clothes that people had made and worn already. Well, I could make my own, no problem! There was a place, it wasn’t a stall but a mat laid on the ground with a whole heap of pieces of cloth on it, where I found something that would make a sleeveless vest, a strange corroded-copper shade of green, and when I picked it up it turned out not to be cloth but thin soft leather. All the better, it wouldn’t need hems! And it cost ninepence, however much I tried to haggle (but perhaps I’m not very good at haggling). But now I’ve got something to make up for the next feast and wear over my embroidered shirt when it’s not warm enough any more for the shirt on its own.

Mialle bought a piece of cloth too, a very thin sort of sky blue linen (“it’s from foreign parts,” the seller said, perhaps they’ve got thinner linen there). “Can you sew?” I asked, and yes, she could, or I’d have offered to trade my sewing with her for something.

I had one penny left, and that wouldn’t even buy an onion pie! But we’d had a large breakfast and everything was so interesting that if my stomach grumbled I could ignore it. When we passed the Temple of Mizran again, in the other square, and just then the priests and important people came out in a procession. I could see Master Rhanion and Mialle’s master Valyn, and even Rhaye, who didn’t have any special clothes but she was walking behind Master Rhanion as if she belonged. Jeran told me who some of the people were but it was too much to remember.

When we got home Alyse gave us bread and cheese and boiled eggs and weak ale, and Mialle and the other people stayed too to eat and talk with us. One of the carpenter’s journeymen came in, saying “next time will you take me along?” and he stayed to eat and drink and talk, I understood he was a friend of Layse’s and they were making something together. Jeran was in it too, and Lochan, and soon enough they were talking about springs and wooden handles and grades of steel, all very technical.

Then the masters came home, both quite drunk! And Master Valyn’s husband the tinsmith. Alyse promptly made a lot of tea for them, and for us apprentices and journeymen too.

“Now let’s see what you’ve been up to,” Master Rhanion said, and they brought a knife that didn’t need a sheath because it folded back into the handle! “Layse wanted to make it all of iron,” the carpenter said, “but I knew the handle needed to be of wood!” “And the springs of copper,” Lochan said, “with a bit of tin mixed in so it’s tougher. But not so much that it becomes bronze and it’s all rigid.”

Master Rhanion took the knife and folded it back and forth a couple of times, and tested the edge, then folded it closed and put it in his pocket. “Right,” he said to Layse, “I’ll keep this, and use it for a while, and if hasn’t broken yet on the Feast of Mizran I’ll take it as your masterpiece.” And to Jeran he said, “You have a lot more to learn before you’re a journeyman but I’m keeping this in mind.” And then he and Master Valyn and the tinsmith started talking excitedly about making a lot of these knives if it really proved to work, and selling them in Valdis!

And that wasn’t the only news! The masters were sending Rhaye and Mernath — not only the young master who worked under Master Valyn, but also Rhaye’s sweetheart — to Gulynay to set up a workshop there! Right where the boats went south, so it would be easy to send things to Valdis. And of course, when the workshop started to make money, they’d be able to get married. “I’m going to need a new assistant though,” Master Rhanion said, and to Layse, “chances are it’ll be you, it’s a choice between you and Aidan. Where is that scamp?” And just then Aidan came in, heard the last of the talk, scowled and turned and stalked out.

“That does it,” Master Rhanion said, “I think he’ll have to start looking for another master.”