On watch

The Ishey royalty came in at some point but I don’t remember when, so let’s just go with the royalty we’ve got.

When I came back to work I got up the courage to tell Master Mernath that I’d like to learn from a smith who wasn’t a weaponsmith, and that I really wanted to learn locksmithing because once I was a master using my own forge I’d probably get to make lots of locks. And then he arranged with Master Geran the locksmith to lend me to him for half the week! This was one of the two masters who’d come on the Feast of Mizran to light the fire, so we’d seen each other already.

It was really spring now, it already felt like summer to us northerners, and all the nobles were leaving, but the town was busy enough without them. When I came home one day there were visitors, as noble as it got: the queen! And the king! Sitting on stools in the yard, talking to Ashti, and drinking Raisse’s latest brew. And their children were playing in the river with ours.

“I wasn’t home to welcome you,” I said, “but welcome!”

They were going to Gralen because, for the first time in years, there was no war going on that the king had to go to. “Will there be another war?” I asked. But the king said that he’d now conquered so much of the world that he thought there wasn’t any reason for another war soon.

A young girl came out of the kitchen — I didn’t know she was in our house, though I had seen her before: she was the girl who had made all the sweets for the name-giving party, Khushi’s sister. And I could see that under her long sleeves and long skirt, she was bruised and battered. The king and queen and Ashti saw it too. “Goodness,” the queen said, “what’s happened to you?”

She couldn’t tell us. The queen looked blank for a moment as if she was calling someone with her mind, and a while later Lady Rava came along. I poured her a mug of ale too. Lady Rava asked the girl a lot of questions, and us too, because she didn’t know if it was the usual thing for Síthi men to beat their wives and children! But we didn’t know any Síthi, not even Mialle’s master, we’d only heard of him. If he beat Mialle we’d probably know — Lady Rava would probably know already! — but there was no way we could know if he beat his wife and children, if he had any.

“Anyway,” Lady Rava said, “we’re in Valdyas, and here it’s not done to beat your daughters, or your wife, or indeed anyone!”

Then we got more visitors: Rhinla and Lesla! “Can we stay with you tonight? The master has his girlfriend over again.”

“Sure,” I said, “and for the future, we’re going to make the house bigger anyway, then you can come live with us! We bought the house up the hill where we’re going to build the school, any timber that’s still good we can use, and the rest we’ll put on the Midsummer fire.”

“What would the Ishey say if we got wood from the forest?”

“They’d probably want you to ask first, and they’d come to help us build. You can’t build with wood straight from the forest, though, it has to dry out first or it’ll warp. But asking the Ishey is a good idea, we’ll do that for the school.”

I saw from the corner of my eye that the Síthi girl’s mother had arrived, and a still smaller sister. Lady Rava must have sent someone to fetch her, she was talking to them in a corner of the yard. Later, they all went to sleep in Arni’s room — not Lady Rava of course, she went home, and to talk to Doctor Cora, but all three of the Síthi.

The king came to talk to me. “Ferin,” he said, “I’d have killed myself trying to look after everybody in the country if it wasn’t for people like you. Honest Valdyan people. You are Valdyas.” And that was ‘you’ meaning me, not ‘you’ meaning people like me. I didn’t really understand it, and it made me feel big and small at the same time, as if I was carrying the whole country on my back. Is that how a king feels all the time?

Then he put an arm around my shoulders — he’s a lot shorter than me so he had to stand on his toes to do that — and said, “Can we stay here tonight and be undisturbed? You’re on watch.”

So the king and the queen were in our bed, making love! Ashti and I sat in the kitchen, Arni had taken all the kids somewhere — perhaps camping out in the yard, the princes and princesses would probably like that — and Arni’s own bed was full of Síthi.

Rhinla and Lesla were still around, Rhinla drawing everything, even the king and queen making love. She’d asked permission, and the king and queen had talked with their minds for a bit, and then the queen said “Yes, you may make a sketch but not show it to anyone, and then you may make a painting and we’ll buy it from you for five hundred riders!” and that had actually made Rhinla bashful.

“The king said such a strange thing,” I said to Ashti, and then it turned out that the queen had said almost the same thing to her! “We’re really friends now,” Ashti said.

Just then the queen herself came into the kitchen, stark naked, and asked if we had a bit of oil for her. She went away with the flask, and Ashti said, “she’s so beautiful! When I see her like that, it makes me want to …” And she pulled my shirt up and kissed me on my chest and before we knew it we were using the kitchen table just as we’d done when she was so pregnant.

Then there was loud banging on the front door. I hurriedly put on breeches and a shirt — I had to go to the bedroom to do that but the king and queen didn’t even see me, I think — and went to see who was there. It was an angry Síthi man, and two angry young Síthi men, and most of the neighbourhood behind them. “I’ve come to collect my property!” he bellowed, but I was in the doorway and I didn’t let him through.

“Nothing in my house belongs to you,” I said.

“Are these people bothering you?” one of the neighbours asked. “Do they need to be on the other side of the river?”

“Yes, please,” I said, and the three men got taken away.

“Neighbours are welcome here, strangers are not,” I said.

“Quite,” another neighbour said. “By the way my ma wants a word with you.”

“Well, let her come,” I said. Even though it was the middle of the night now, we were all awake anyway.

So I got a little old woman on my lap — she was really little, smaller than Ashti and thin and wiry. “You’re the bloke with the big dick, aren’t you?”

“They tell me that, yes.”

“And you and your painted woman want to get married at Midsummer.”

“Yes, we do. Oh! You want to marry us.” She smiled and nodded. One less thing to worry about.