Ashti took me home from the temple of Dayati. Well, not at once, because we were talking about what Doctor Airath had said about Arni, and Ashti thought it would be a good thing to ask Doctor Cora for the money. After all she was the owner of the brothel!
The children that our children had been playing with asked if they’d come again, and we said “perhaps you should come to our house to play next time! Wade in the river, catch fishes!” A little boy said that it was all right to catch fishes, but they’d have to put them back, because you didn’t eat fishes! Well, we’d catch our fishes for eating another time.
“Let’s go to Doctor Cora right away,” Ashti said. “She lives next to the Guild school, doesn’t she?” We didn’t even have trouble finding it, we were getting to know our way around Turenay.
We got to a little square where there was a fountain that made me laugh and Ashti blush: a copper statue of a girl lifting her skirt and pissing water! “She needs a piss-pot,” Arvin said, and when I asked Raisse and Sidhan if they could piss standing up like that they said, “No! We squat down in the river and the piss falls straight down!”
We thought the house with the little pillars would be the doctor’s, and yes, when Ashti knocked on the door the doctor opened it. “Ah, it’s you,” she said, “come in!” This was a large house, the kitchen floor a bit higher than the rest of the space and with a little fence around it. Some of the doctor’s children were here –we’d also seen a couple of them playing outside — and cats, and a woman in the kitchen kneading dough.
We explained that we’d seen Doctor Airath, and that he thought he could help Arni, and we didn’t know if we could afford to pay him. “Oh! Of course,” Doctor Cora said, “come in here for a moment.”
‘Here’ was through a door into a small writing-room, and two of the walls were all books! “Is this the largest library in town?” Ashti asked, and the doctor said, “no, the school has more books!” I hadn’t known there were this many books in the world!
The doctor wrote two letters and gave them to us. “This is for the Temple of Mizran, to pay Doctor Airath for whatever treatment Arni needs. And the other one is for Arni to have ten shillings each week until she’s cured, and after that she’ll have to learn a trade. Other than the blossoms-and-butterflies trade.”
“Perhaps she had a trade before,” I said. “I don’t think she was a smith, I think she’s the smith’s widow, because the forge in the house hasn’t been used for years.”
“There’s a forge in her house?”
“Yes — I’ve thought of asking Master Mernath if I can use it.”
“You don’t ask Master Mernath that, you ask Arni.”
“Well, but I don’t know if I’m allowed to work if it’s not in his workshop. And people have been so helpful, perhaps I could do something for them in return.”
“You can’t do smith-work for other people in your own workshop until you’re a master,” the doctor said. She tried to get a book from a high shelf, but couldn’t reach high enough. “Lift me up, if you please.” So I lifted her and she got a small fat book and gave it to me. “Guild regulations. Read that tonight.”
Tonight! I was intending to sleep.
When we got home the house was quiet, and it didn’t look as if anyone had been cooking. “I’ll peek upstairs,” Ashti said, and yes, Arni was in her bed asleep. Ashti sent the children to get water and started to make soup, and when it was bubbling Arni came down, yawning. While we were eating I asked, “you didn’t do any smithing yourself, did you? What did you do before — the accident?”
“I used to spin,” she said, “can’t do that any more, my hands are no good.”
If I could sew with my work-rough hands, why wouldn’t she be able to spin? I held out a hand for hers, and then I saw why. I’d heard Aunt Alyse and my sister talk about “a steady hand” so often that I knew it must be impossible to spin with hands that trembled like Aine’s.
We showed her the letters, but she couldn’t read and we had to read them to her. “Really? she asked. “Ten shillings?”
“Until you’re fit again and you can work for your living,” I said.
She shook her head, disbelieving, but she didn’t go to work that night. We asked if she had ordinary clothes, and she opened a chest in her bedroom and took out a faded red linen skirt and bodice and a shirt that had once been white. “I haven’t worn those for years.” But they still fit, and she looked like a completely different woman!
There were more women’s clothes in the chest, and men’s clothes that would have fit me, and even a dress that would have fit me! Arni’s husband-who-was-a-woman had clearly been my size.
The next morning Ashti said, “you take the letters to the Temple in your midday break, I promised to stay over the break today for the children who can’t go home.” I put them in my shirt and ran to work.
“We’re not going to work on that today,” Master Mernath said when he saw me eyeing the sword. “I’m going to have you work on edges.” And he showed us several different ways to make and keep a knife-edge really sharp. That made me ashamed of the knife I had on my belt; it didn’t hold its edge for a day if I cut anything serious with it.
Towards the end of the morning the master beckoned me over. “I haven’t had time to tell you yet,” he said, “but every Day of the Mother, of Naigha, and of Timoine I have semsin lessons in the evening. And I’ve been teaching you semsin during the work as well, I don’t know if you’ve noticed.”
“I have!” I said.
“Good. I’ll expect you, and your young woman if she likes.”
“Today is the Day of Naigha,” I said, and tried to think how to tell Ashti, who was certainly very busy at the moment.”
“I’m letting you off today because I understand you have to talk it over. From the next day of Timoine, an hour and a half after work. Speaking of the Day of Timoine, any of my apprentices and journeymen who want to take weapons training can use the afternoon to train at the House with the Otters. You’re a strong fellow, and you already have a sword, I suppose you want to get some practice.”
“I’m no good with the sword,” I said.
“No good with the sword yet,” he said.
“I’m strong enough but not fast enough.”
“And smith-work doesn’t teach you to be fast enough? Anyway, there’s also stick-fighting and archery and wrestling. You’ll probably be called up to serve in the town militia for a season once you’re anything like proficient, we don’t seem to have much of a regiment at the moment. Until the captain comes back from the war, I suppose.”
“I heard he’ll be back by the Feast of Mizran,” I said.
“Yes, I heard that too. A good thing. Now tell me what else you have on your mind, because there’s definitely something.”
“Yes, two things,” I said. “Three things.”
“Well?” And I told him about Arni and Doctor Airath and the letters. “Can I go off to the temple in the break? I’ll be back in time.”
“I’ll go with you this afternoon,” he said, “I need to deposit some money at the Temple anyway. That was two things, your landlady and the letters, I suppose. What’s the third?”
I held out my knife. “I’d like to remake that, but the right way. I know it’s not good — it’s not wrong either, but it’s bad. The first knife I ever made. I made one for Ashti in Valdis and that’s much better.”
“We will do it,” Master Mernath said. “The same type, but not the same metal. Keep this one, the first knife you ever made, to remind you of how much you’ve learned already.”
“Four things, in fact, “there’s a forge in Arni’s house, she’s a smith’s widow. I’d like to use it in my time off. –I know I’m not allowed to sell things, I read a couple of pages of the regulations, Doctor Cora lent me the book.”
“Yes,” Master Mernath said, “until you’re a master you can make things for your own use, or for practice, but not to sell, and not even to give away, for then the people you give it to won’t pay another smith for the work.”
And it would have been so nice to help the neighbours. But I supposed I could repair some small things that I didn’t need the forge for, handyman work rather than smith work, and make some kitchen and house things for ourselves if it turned out we needed them. (A trivet! So we won’t always have to hold the pan in our hand when we make pancakes. Makes it much easier.)
As we were walking to the Temple, Master Mernath said, “Don’t you have a purse of money from the queen? Wouldn’t it be safer to put that in a Temple account too?”
“I’ll talk to Ashti about it,” I said.
At the temple a priestess took both of my letters and read them through. “Give me your hand,” she said and I thought she wanted to shake hands, but she pressed it on an ink pad and then in the day-book like Master Rhanion had done when I came to work for him! “I can write my name,” I protested.
“But you’re from the north!”
“We had a priestess of Naigha in the village, we can all read and write!”
The priestess looked as if she didn’t believe me, and even more when I asked for a copy of the letter about the ten shillings. I got one, and Master Mernath said it would be best to collect the money every week on the Day of Anshen when we went to the temple anyway.
When we were outside, Master Mernath looked at me with a “we’ve taught them a lesson” grin. “Have some more time off,” he said, “go tell Doctor Airath that the matter has been settled.”
“Thank you,” I said, and ran to Doctor Airath’s house. On the way I found a fountain and scrubbed my inky hand.
Doctor Airath’s waiting room was full, and an apprentice was in the corner writing in a book while she was sorting out the people. “Do you have an appointment?” she asked.
“No,” I said, “but I haven’t come to see the doctor — I mean I have come to see him but only to ask him a question.”
Just then someone came out of the doctor’s room. The apprentice slipped in, and out again almost at once. “You can go in,” she said, and I did.
“You are Ferin,” he said, “and we talked about your — landlady? The widow sick of grief.”
“Yes,” I said, and then told him about the letters and the money. “So can we come here with Arni soon?”
“I know something better,” he said, “you live in her house, don’t you? I’ll come to dinner tonight. You have a lot of children, I suppose you can be occupied with them and give Arni and me the opportunity to talk.”
“That would be wonderful!”
“One thing,” he said, “I eat everything, except meat and fish. Shellfish, yes, and cheese and eggs.”
“We eat mostly vegetables anyway,” I said. “And bread and pancakes. Do you eat crayfish? The children can catch some.”
He nodded. “I’ll see you in the evening.”
I went back to work for the rest of the day, and didn’t think of calling Ashti until it was almost done. Doctor Airath is coming to dinner. He doesn’t eat meat or fish but crayfish is all right.
We can do that.
I met Doctor Airath on the bridge and we walked home together. Ashti was cooking, I saw the piece of salt pork from the pot out of sight in a dish, and a handful of bright red crayfish floating in the stew. Mushrooms, too, the large fat ones you can pick in the wood in summer. “From the Ishey,” Ashti said. “They’ve really got a whole village up the hill! And their king has a letter from our king saying that they can use the whole wood on the hill for gathering and hunting.”
Arni was surprised that Doctor Airath had come to dinner but I think she supposed he was a friend of ours, so she wasn’t as suspicious as she could have been. We talked about a lot of things while we ate, and afterwards when we’d sent the children to wash the dishes in the river Arni and the doctor sat at the table together, talking too softly to overhear but Arni didn’t look as unhappy as we’d seen her before.
Then Doctor Airath took his leave and met us at the door. “She needs rest,” he said, “and to eat good food but the ten shillings will take care of that, and to drink more tea.”
“And less wine,” Ashti and I said together.
“Exactly. I’ll look in on her in a couple of days.”
It was so warm now that we didn’t want to sleep in the house, so we all took blankets outside and slept on the slope between the house and the river. Most of the neighbours had done the same thing, we heard sounds of talking and lovemaking.
The next day Master Mernath had something new for us: timing! He gave us each one of the large hammers and we had to pound exactly on the beat, as if we were a mill-wheel. We’d already been working on knives and other things all morning, and we were at the hammering almost all afternoon. It was hard, and exciting, and it made my muscles ache more than I’d expected.
But when I got home Raisse grabbed me, “Daddy! See what we’ve got!” And she showed me a bag of grain and a large glazed pot and some things I didn’t recognise and a wooden spoon the size of a paddle. “We’re going to make beer!”
“And we have a sieve too but it’s not made yet!” Arvin said. And yes, there was a ring of bent wood and a handful of horsehair. “We went to the Ishey for the hairs, they have so many horses! My hands and Sidhan’s hands and Raisse’s hands all together and there are still more to count. So they gave us the hairs and the brown prince bent the twigs for us and showed us how to put it together.”
“Well, you have time enough to make the sieve,” I said, “the beer needs to get bubbly first, right?” Raisse nodded. “Boil it, sprout it, dry it, pound it, boil it again, and then it’s three days or five days or however long it takes. And then you need the sieve.”
Then there was a knock on the door: a dark woman almost as beautiful as Doctor Cora but not quite, but the same sort of looks so she was probably from Iss-Peran. She had two children with her about the age of the twins, but looking very different (from them and from her): flat faces and turned-up noses, and a sort of sallow skin. “I’m Asa,” she said, “I heard from the men that you’ve come to live here. I’ve come to offer you a boar as a welcome present, when hunting season starts after the Feast of Mizran. If you salt it you’ll have enough for the winter, even with all your family.”
That would mean that we only had to buy salt and a barrel! And perhaps some spices, but Ashti would know that. “Thank you,” we said. And then we talked about how we lived, and how they lived. People called Asa a queen because the king had a husband instead of a wife (he was Arvin’s ‘brown prince’) and there had to be someone who was the queen. She had the best man in the world, she said. (Later Arni said “yes, Veh is really something, you’ll see” with a strange look in her eyes)
Asa said that she had a pair of twins every year, which puzzled me a lot but then it became clear that they got them somewhere else and they were all orphans. She’d taken these two along because they were the same age as our children and she hoped they’d become friends — and they were all playing together already so that was no problem. She went home before dinner, which was a good thing because we only had enough food in the house for all of us, not for another grown woman and two children.
It was getting dark when we heard a man’s voice outside the front door shouting something raucous. “I’ll go,” I said, “do what you hired me for!”
There was a large drunken man at the door, two women behind him who tried to hold him back but he shook himself free. “Arni!” he shouted. “If you don’t come to work I’ll come to your house!”
“She’s not receiving,” I said.
“And who would you be? Her strong-man?”
“They call me Ironfist where I come from,” I said, and tried to push him away.
He stumbled but pulled himself together, and lashed out at me, with his fists, fortunately not with a knife. I tried to duck but I wasn’t quick enough and he socked me square on the jaw. I thought I heard something crack, and it hurt like anything, and I fell on my butt but I couldn’t let him past so I tripped him as he tried to walk over me, and he fell and I grabbed him and turned around so I was on top of him.
Ashti was at my side at once. “We have to go to the hospital!” she said. “And call the sheriff for this man.”
“The sheriff doesn’t come here,” Arni said.
One of the women called from outside, “We’ve called the Ishey.” And they and some other people came in to hold the man while Ashti picked me up. I could hardly stand, and not see out of my left eye at all, and my ear started to hurt, and when I tried to talk only a piglike grunt came out of my mouth. “It’s broken, I think,” Ashti said.
When I was in the street trying to stay upright I heard hoofbeats and then saw two men dismounting from what looked like mules. They wore only a loincloth and a rolled-up blanket over their shoulder, but one of them, a bit stockier than the other, looked sort of kingly. Their skin was so dark that it looked black in the dusk. The other man, taller and slighter, turned around to tether the mules and I could see that he had a pair of breasts on his chest. I supposed that was Asa’s Veh!
I didn’t really have time or attention for them, because I was trying to stay upright and walk to the hospital. When we arrived a nurse (she looked like a young priestess of Naigha, and I knew they had apprentice priestesses working as nurses) got the doctor on duty, Faran, a young man with a huge grin. “Got in a fight, eh? Never mind, I can fix that. Sit down here.” He sent the nurse to fetch water and cloths to wash my face, and then grabbed my jaw in both hands. “Nasty break. This’ll hurt.”
I didn’t think it could hurt any more than it did already, but it did, and I think I squeaked. But then it stopped hurting, and I could move my jaw again and even talk!
“Thank you,” was the first thing I said. And Ashti, more practical than me, asked “How much do we owe you?”
“Where do you live?”
“Across the bridge,” I pointed.
“Then it’s twopence. Don’t eat anything tough for a couple of days, like Iss-Peranian toffee or Ishey roast goat, and you’ll be as right as rain.”
(I don’t remember where or when, but I talked to a man later who said “if you’re very quiet you can hear my daughter’s daughter by Doctor Faran cry, she was only sixteen when she had her, that man fucks everything in a skirt — but I must admit he’s a good doctor”. And Doctor Faran hadn’t tried to do anything to Ashti but it must have been very clear that we were together and we wouldn’t let anyone get between us.)