The Feast of Naigha

Halla and I got the letter done, and on the day of Mizran Mialle and I — Halla really didn’t want to come — were going to take it to Relsinay. I put the letter under my cap because I wasn’t going to let anyone see I had it before I needed to give it to someone! It was easy to go over the bridge, lots of people were going over the bridge but we saw nobody we knew, except one of the bridge guards, I think Coran, who spoke to us but we promised we’d be back.

There was a busy market on the other side, but it didn’t look as if it was the kind of market where people went to buy vegetables or clothes or pots and pans, but more like a cattle market only without cattle, men and women talking to each other about loads and shipments and prices. And we hadn’t been in the crowd for a count of ten before a girl came up to me and showed me her tits and said she wanted a kiss.

“I don’t kiss strange girls,” I said, and then she thought Mialle was my girlfriend and made me blush and Mialle scowl. The girl tried to grope me and I tried to push her off and then she ran away and I didn’t have my purse! Not that it was a big loss, there wasn’t more than about sixpence in it, but I was angry anyway and I ran after her but when I thought I’d got her she was already away and I fell headlong in the mud. My cap came off but Mialle picked it up, letter and all, before someone else could make away with it.

We were trying to find someone we thought we could trust with the letter but nobody looked like we could trust them! Then Mialle had the bright idea to find an apprentice, someone about our age, who would probably know people, and know who was trustworthy! But while were trying to do that, a big lout grabbed Mialle and tried to kiss her. I punched him off her, but not without everybody looking at us. Mialle had already found a corner out of the way and I pushed through the crowd to find her there. I was getting serious second thoughts about coming here! But there was nothing for it, we were here already. With the letter burning in my cap. I was so glad I’d put it there and not in my purse!

But then we got to a wainwright’s yard where a boy was working who looked okay. He looked a bit like Halla, pale and mousy, and when I said that it turned out that he was her cousin, Jarn! “I’ll give your letter to someone who is going to Valdis,” he said, “for a beer or a kiss!”

“I’ll buy you a beer,” Mialle said, because of course I didn’t have money for beer any more.

“I’d give you a kiss if I thought you’d want it,” I said, and that was safe, because I’d seen him making eyes at Mialle but not at me.

“I’ll do it for the beer,” he said, “come to think of it, I’ll just do it, I wouldn’t have done it for a stranger but you know Halla.”

“Well, next time we see you we’ll buy you a beer anyway,” I said, because next time I’d probably have some money again! I gave him the letter and he put it away in his shirt and we left Reshinay as soon as we could. We did go to the market for a while so we’d be able to say we’d been to the market, and I sort of cleaned my front in a horse-trough but it didn’t get much cleaner, I’d have to wash my shirt and breeches later.

… And then we each felt a hand on our shoulder. It was Master Merain.

“Where have you been? And how did you get so muddy?” he asked.

“A girl stole my purse in the market and I fell into the mud when I tried to catch her,” I said. The truth!

“You have been to Relsinay,” Master Merain said. “What were you doing there?”

“We wanted to know what it was like,” I said. “But it’s not a place where we’ll want to go again.”

“I shall have to tell your masters.”

Okay, that meant a beating, I could bear that. At least the letter was on its way. If Master Merain had known about that he’d surely have mentioned it.

And yes, I did get a beating, and I got sent to bed without my supper (and I hadn’t eaten anything since breakfast, so I was really hungry!). But when I woke in the night there was a little basket of bread next to me, and a jug with a check cloth over it. Someone had taken pity on me! I thought it was Alyse but the cloth was stuck on the jug with what looked like power, anie, and Alyse couldn’t do that. It was hard to pry off, but I did it, and found the jug full of beer! Then I heard some giggling behind the curtain, and I moved very softly so I wouldn’t wake Laran and shook the curtain because there was no way to knock on it, and asked “what’s so funny?” but got no answer.

I drank the beer and ate the bread, and went back to sleep, and when I woke up I was stiff but otherwise all right. Master Merain had to give a lecture about obedience, of course, and I resolved right then that I’d learn to hide myself from him.

(“Who are you going to learn that from?” Mialle asked when I told her. “From me,” I said, but I didn’t know how. Perhaps I’ll have to ask Layse. I still wonder whether Master Merain has seen the patch that Layse put on his seal on me, but I didn’t dare ask him, I’m too scared that I’ll give Layse away, and she may be of the Nameless but she’s a good person and I don’t want her killed for doing good things! It must be her who gave me bread and beer, can’t be anyone else.)

There were some more ordinary days, and then it was the day before the Feast of Naigha and half of my gate was finished! We’d borrowed Mialle to do the delicate leaves, and Ayneth had made the hinges, and Halla had filed the burrs off, and of course Layse had been overseeing it all the time and told me where to strengthen the structure with crossbars (which I immediately disguised as branches and vines) but most of the work was mine. I blacked it carefully (getting myself so black that I needed to ask Alyse for a bath-house token), and then someone came to take it away in a cart and hung it in place. He came back and told me that it fit exactly!

“If only Master Rhanion would be in the workshop more often. I’m of a mind to recommend you for journeyman for this,” Layse said. “How long have you worked with your mother at home, before you came to town?”

“Ever since I could walk, I suppose,” I said, “Ma had me making nails when I was eight, I couldn’t lift the big hammer before that.”

“Hm, if we count that with your apprenticeship you’ve even got the years. And your friend next door is making work that would be almost a masterpiece in different circumstances, too. Well, off to the bath-house with you, get the blacking off.”

When I came back from the bath-house I had to pass Master Valyn’s new house to see how the piece of gate fit! Master Rhanion was there too and even he said “good work, lad!”

It did look good, even better now it was in place than it had been in the workshop. And now I could work on the other half knowing that would fit too.

Then Ashti was suddenly next to me, “can I ask you something?”

“Sure,” I said.

“It’s not exactly regular, but — it’s the Feast tomorrow, and — could I come and visit you tonight?”

Me? The priestess of Naigha visiting me? I didn’t know what to say, and I think I said really stupid things, like “I suppose you know what to do because I don’t”, and “why me?”

“I like you,” she said, “and my children like you. You know, my first Feast as a priestess I was no older than you are now, and the year after that I got pregnant with the twins! Arvin is going to live with his grandfather, I think his father is dead, at least he went missing in the war.” She sounded a bit sad, I think more about Arvin going away than about his father being dead or missing.

“Will he still be around this summer so I can teach him to swim?” I asked, and yes, he would, anyway the grandfather lived in town too so I could teach him even when he didn’t live in the temple any more. It was just like having a kid brother!

When I got home everybody already seemed to know it and teased me about it, except Alyse who said “I’ll make a guest room ready for you!” Better than the apprentices’ attic with everybody looking on. They were teasing me already, “you’re one of the lucky ones, she’s only slept with a man four times in her entire life!” “Well, that’s four times more than I have,” I said, and of course that made everybody laugh at me.

It was already late when we heard a knock on the back door. And there she was, and I took her upstairs into the guest room. Alyse hadn’t only made the bed with clean linen sheets and put out washing water and clean towels, but there was also a jug of wine (wine!) and a plate of little pasties. I was so glad I’d been to the bath-house! Even though there probably still was some blacking behind my ears. At least I smelt clean.

Well, she did know what to do. There was some fumbling and blushing, all mine, but we laughed about it, and once I got the hang of it it was a lot of fun! Then we washed each other and got between the sheets and we must have fallen asleep because we woke up later and had some more fun.

“Now I’ll have to be off soon,” Ashti said, “should be back at the Temple before sunrise!” I knew it was morning by the sounds from the kitchen but it wasn’t even beginning to get light yet. We washed again — Alyse knocked on the door softly and there was a jug of warm washing water! — and got dressed and found everybody in the kitchen, grinning. Even Mialle and Lochan and Yssa from next door, and Jichan the potter! Of course most young people liked Ashti a lot because they’d been at school with her and I think she was a good schoolmistress. (And anyway, what’s not to like about Ashti?)

Ashti polished off a slice of pie and wiped her mouth and smiled at me. “Thank you,” she said, “that was nice!” And she was gone. I think I said thank you to her too.

Jichan slapped me on the back. “I saw her coming and I hoped it would be for me!” he said. “But good for you. I’m not going to ask you to tell everything, but was it fun?”

“Sure,” I said. That, at least, I was sure about!

I got more pie, and more beer, and more teasing, Then we cleaned the workshop really quickly, because today was the Feast itself and we could all go into town to the market. There was a special place where apprentices and journeymen could sell the work they’d made, and Mialle actually had things to sell: five enamelled copper brooches she’d made to learn enamelling. A flower, a leaf, a butterfly, a wonderful blue kingfisher, and a hedgehog with a winky green eye. And we all had money even without selling anything, because Alyse gave us our ten shillings for the Feast. I didn’t have a purse to put it in, but I tied it in a scrap of linen and bought some leather in the market to make a new purse.

Mialle was having success with her brooches! She’d sold two already when I found her in the apprentices’ corner, and I gave her a shilling for the hedgehog because it was almost exactly like the hedgehog on my gate, but she gave it back at once. Because she was selling them for lots more money than Yssa had said she could ask, so she could afford to give this one away. I’m keeping it for when I get a girlfriend!

A boy a bit younger than us, of a very rich family (he had a bodyguard with him, a woman with a big sword) gave her ten shillings for the flower, and took a lot of time explaining why it was worth that much: the copper, and the enamel, and her work-time (not worth a lot because she was still an apprentice), and more than that because when you buy something you always pay more than it’s worth, whoever made it has to make some money or they’ll starve to death. No wonder he was going to Ildis to the trade school, he was plenty clever enough for that.

And a rich woman bought the kingfisher but she wanted it gilded! Now Mialle would have to learn to gild, but Yssa was going to teach her that anyway.

At the end of the day we all piled into our kitchen for Alyse’s pea soup. Mialle gave most of her earnings to Yssa to put away safely, and she gave me one silver rider to keep for her, so I went upstairs and sewed it into the lining of my green leather jacket that I wear only at feasts anyway and folded the jacket and put it at the bottom of my trunk, where it always is when there’s not a feast.

But the children in the knife workshop were still working, and they’d worked all day, no feast at all for them! I was tempted to go and bring them a pitcher of cider but they had an overseer and it was likely that the overseer would drink it all. “If that’s not different by the Feast of Timoine, I’ll go and complain to someone about it!” Lyase said, but nobody knew who to go and complain to. Well, there was a letter on its way.

The next day was an ordinary working day, of course. I was already preparing for Master Merain, but he appeared late and seemed distracted and said that Mialle wasn’t coming because she had some important work to finish, and anyway the masters’ meeting for the feast had run very late, so he’d postpone the lesson for today. Well, I didn’t mind one bit! A whole day of working on my own things, without interruption, so Halla and I got the frame of the second half of the gate made.