Sometimes we say “all our campaigns end up either at court or in Turenay”.
This time it’s both.
After the Feast of Anshen it was back to work. I was still plodding through the pile, Mialle was making beautiful things, and Vurian followed the hospital doctors around. The epidemic was over but he was still running himself ragged, and Mialle worried about him a lot but she tried not to show it when they were together. Only Ashti had no work to do because the school was now closed for the summer. She spent her time making new clothes for herself and me and Raisse, even a shirt for me with a band of lace in each sleeve.
Then one afternoon Mialle and Vurian burst into the workshop. They knew enough not to interrupt me — I was finishing Ashti’s knife. But when it was hanging on the rack Vurian said, “The queen is in Liorys! She’ll be here tomorrow.” The queen would have a horse, of course, so she could ride to town in one go, and nobody was chasing her so she wouldn’t have to hide on a little island in the Valda overnight.
I looked for Ashti with my mind and found her in the market. When we got there, she was at a stall with Raisse, haggling for a barrel of butter. “No way I’m giving you more than two shillings for last year’s butter!” she said. “It may be going rancid already even though it’s salted!” But when we’d told her the news she paid two shillings and fourpence for it and made me carry it. “Never mind if it’s going rancid,” she said, “we’ll just melt it down! It’s cheap at this price too.”
We dropped the butter and the beans and carrots she’d bought earlier at the school, and then Vurian said, “the family curse has caught up with me!”
“What?” I asked. “Are you all right?”
“Sure,” he said, “but I was getting that Brun thing, “last night in town, let’s eat at the Three Kings and make a night of it! But I’d rather go to the meadow outside the Order house with you and have some food and drink brought in.”
We all felt like we had a sudden free afternoon. Once we’d talked with the queen, we’d be going to Turenay! It was wonderful weather, and once we’d closed a gate between us and the goats (which Raisse promptly climbed over to play with one of the billy kids, head-butting each other) it was nice and quiet too. So quiet that Vurian fell asleep with his back against a tree! So when a man and a woman came with covered baskets and asked for money, I got it from Vurian’s purse.
Raisse had never seen food such as this, and honestly Mialle and Ashti and I had never seen it either until we came to Liorys! The whitest bread you could imagine, three or four different cheeses, cold meat, a whole cold chicken, a pot of mustard, fruit preserves, a jug of beer and a jug of wine. I went to borrow some plates and cups at the Order house and brought a jug of water from the well, too.
Just when Raisse was over the gate again, the farm-wife came and picked up the goat she’d been playing with. “What are you going to do with my friend?” she asked.
“Perhaps she can roast another goat?” I asked, and the farm-wife put the goat down and grinned and picked up another of the small billies. “I won’t roast your friend today,” she said.
We hung the baskets high in the tree so goats couldn’t get at them, and gathered some dead wood, and Vurian built a fire and lit it with his mind, saying “I am going to be a grand master!”
“I said at the feast that I’d like to learn lighting the fire, when the midwife did it,” I said, “but Anshen said there were other things I was going to learn.”
“Anshen said that?” Vurian asked.
“He didn’t kiss you, did he?” Ashti asked.
“He only laid a hand on my shoulder,” I said. “And then he went away. But Anshen is the only person except Ashti who may kiss me if he likes. Well, grown people. I don’t mind little ones kissing me.”
We talked about a lot of other things, and then when I said I’d never be any good with a sword Vurian wanted to have a bout with me because he’d seen Master Aldin ragging me and he thought he could do better! And I did learn things from him that I hadn’t learned from Master Aldin. He was so patient! And I understood what he was doing. After that we wrestled, and I wanted to teach him how to use my weight against me but he already knew how to do that.
We sat around the fire until it was dark, Raisse asleep on my lap. None of us wanted to go home. So I went to the Order house again to borrow horse-blankets and get some more water and we slept under the stars.
What woke us up in the morning was a goat that had got the gate open and was chewing on a blanket. “Away with you!” Ashti said and chased it back into the meadow, and just then the farm-wife came to milk. “Hey, you’re still here,” she said, “would you like to come back with me for pancakes?”
Yes, of course we would! We all sat in the huge kitchen of the farmhouse and got thick pancakes with bacon and tree-syrup. There were lots of farm people eating pancakes, and the farmer came in after seeing to the cows and ate a stack of pancakes too. We offered to do chores, it was no use going to the palace until late in the afternoon anyway, and we could all help, even Raisse who the farm children took along for the weeding.
“I might have a look at your gate lock,” I said, but it turned out that there was already a triple bolt on the gate and still the old nanny-goat got out! And when I rattled the bolts she looked at me with those goaty eyes that see everything. The only thing that would help was a lock that only opened with a key, but that was a bit much against goats!
Then Vurian noticed that the queen was almost in town. “She’s inviting us to the palace. She’s got your grandmother with her!” he said to Ashti. “And your twins.” I couldn’t make anything of the look on Ashti’s face, as if she was happy and frightened and ashamed all at the same time. But then she grabbed my hand and more or less dragged me back home, where we washed and put on our good clothes.
We all met at the palace gates. Mialle looked splendid! She was wearing her new blue dress and the necklace she’d made. I’d seen both things before but not together.
When Vurian said who we were the guard looked us over, counted us, and said “The invitation was for four, and there are five of you!” But it was easy to convince him that we couldn’t very well leave little Raisse behind.
A girl of about ten took us to “the small reception room” which wasn’t really small, but it was full of people, so perhaps it looked smaller than it was. I saw Master Seran of the Order, and Master Rava too! She was talking with Master Jerna just inside the room, and when she saw me she took me by both arms and said “I’ll see you tomorrow! Jerna says you did some good work.” Then both smiths went to have a beer together — Master Rava said “after all that apple wine I need one”.
The queen was at the back of the room talking to people and nursing a toddler at the same time. We’d probably talk to her later. But first a couple of little kids ran up and hugged Ashti’s legs, one leg each. “Mummy!” And then they saw me, “Uncle Ferin!” and hugged my legs too.
Raisse was a bit shy. “Who are they?”
“They’re Arvin and Sidhan, your new brother and sister,” I said. They all looked at each other, and I could see that they didn’t know if they should laugh or cry or fight, but then a girl with red hair, about Raisse’s age, came along and took them all to a corner of the room to play with a huge pile of wooden blocks.
Ashti’s grandmother waited until she wasn’t covered in little children any more and then hugged her, too. And me — she came to my chest, she wasn’t any taller than Ashti. “We’ll have to talk,” she said, “but I’m coming to stay with you, go and talk to Her Majesty first.”
The queen put the toddler on the floor, and he crawled to where the other children were. “I see that my daughter has taken charge of the twins,” she said. “Who is the other girl?”
“We took her in when her mother and sister died in the epidemic,” Ashti said. “She didn’t know her name, so we named her after you.”
“‘Raisse’ is a good name,” the queen said with a grin. “I never thanked you properly, and I did promise you a reward, but first I’ll tell you what happened in Nalenay. You deserve that.”
Lots of things had happened! They’d caught the people who had ordered the murder of the envoy, and one of them was Master Mernath! “He pretended to be concerned about the workshop, but at the same time he was one of the people behind it, together with both of your former masters,” the queen said. “I sent him to Rizenay to be judged by his Guild. The Guild of the Nameless is very strict with people who pretend to be grand masters when they’re not, and they hanged him.”
“He asked us to keep an eye on the workshop and tell him about it,” I said, “and we did keep an eye on it, but we never told him anything.”
“Yes, that letter you and Halla wrote was very clear. When we got there some children were still only assembling knives, but some were extracting gold from ore–” and to Mialle, “you know how dangerous that is and how bad for your health. Some of the children were so sick from it that we sent them to a friend of mine on the south coast, a woman who used to be a priestess of Naigha but is now the baroness of Sarabal. The sea air will do them good, and I trust Senthi with my life.”
I wanted to know one more thing. Well, two more things. “Is Layse still alive?”
“Layse — oh, the foreman, the undercover master in the Guild. She and her friend went back to, what’s it called, the village where she came from. Telhynay, I think. It’s best that she’s not in town for a while. That goes for you, too, in fact.”
“Vurian is taking us to Turenay,” I said.
“Turenay! Yes, that might be an idea, you’re all gifted after all. I had the idea of sending you to my sister-in-law, in Solay, but it’s a long way to travel, especially with the children along. And more children on their way, I see.”
“And what about Master Merain?”
“He was transported to Essle to row the viceroy’s boats.”
“Oh! Like the people who assaulted us in the market!” Then I had to tell the queen about that, of course. And we couldn’t keep silent about the thing that was worse than throwing manure at Ashti: her own sister priestesses being so nasty to her, saying she wasn’t pulling her weight and calling her a whore.
“Leaving town is a very good idea,” the queen said. Then she reached behind her and gave each of us a beautiful leather bag, worked with gold embroidery and with a gold cord, heavy with what must be coins. “You can start a new life with that.”
Someone else wanted to talk to the queen, but I remembered to ask if we could come and see the palace as she’d promised, and she told us to come the next day and someone would give us a tour. Then we only had time to say “Thank you” and get out of the way. I could smell horse on the queen’s clothes: she hadn’t even taken the time to change and have a bath.
We got our children –all three of them– from the playing corner. “Lys is nice!” Raisse said, “she’s our friend, she can build higher towers than us!”
“Perhaps her big brothers taught her,” I said. I hadn’t seen any big brothers, only the toddler and a blonde girl smaller than the red-haired princess but bigger than the toddler, but I knew there were some princes, too.
At home, Ashti’s grandmother –Lysna, she was called, I remembered– asked us for a few pence so she could buy some more vegetables to cook dinner, the beans and carrots we had would have been enough for Ashti and me and Raisse, not for all these people. I gave her two shillings from the jar where we kept the household money. I’d been shocked when I first came to Valdis how expensive everything was, she was probably going to be shocked too!
Lysna came back with turnips and fresh greens and a couple of trotters and made really nice soup. Just before it was ready Vurian and Mialle came along, so we asked them to stay and help us eat it. That made us have to lay a table in the school, because there wasn’t room for all these people! And Mialle ran to the inn with the jug and got us some beer.
“I came to tell you that my aunt arranged for a cart with two horses,” Vurian said. (He didn’t say which aunt, it could be Aunt Arni or the queen, probably not an aunt I hadn’t heard of yet.) “You can drive a cart, can’t you?”
“Yes,” I said, “but it’s years ago since I did, and only one horse at a time!”
“Never mind, I can drive a pair, I’ll teach you. But that’s that problem solved, we don’t need an escort, two of us can drive, everybody has a knife, you and I have swords.” And when I made a face at that, “Don’t bristle, just draw it when you see robbers and they’ll run away before they can notice that you don’t have much experience with it.” That reminded me of Ashti’s knife that I’d left in the cooling rack at the smithy. Well, Master Rava wanted to see me in the morning anyway.
All the children fit in the bedstead drawer together — with a lot of giggling– and we let Lysna have the bedstead while Ashti and I took the floor. But in the night first Raisse, then the twins ended up on top of us.
In the morning, when Ashti was downstairs washing the children, Lysna beckoned to me. “I want a word with you, young man.”
I’d been waiting for that. “Well, I’m here.”
“I don’t think Ashti will go back to the temple any time soon,” she said. “That’s why I insisted that the queen take the children. And I came along because I didn’t want them to have nobody they knew on the journey. I’ll be going back, of course. I trust you two.”
“Thank you.” Then I suddenly thought of something. “Aren’t there any other girls who want to be priestesses of Naigha? Or do you need to be the daughter of a priestess?”
“Well, that’s a problem. When it’s been in the family for so many generations… There’s one girl from the workshop who may have been called, we took her in, she’s been sleeping in Ashti’s bed.” I got a good image of the girl from her mind, and I thought it might be Halla’s friend from overseas.
“If she becomes a priestess there’s no need for Ashti to come back if she wants to do something else with her life, right?”
Lysna didn’t answer but I saw her thinking, and then Ashti and Raisse and the twins came back up so we had to stop talking anyway. Lysna made pancakes, and then she went to the Temple of Naigha and I went to the Order house.
I showed Master Rava everything I’d done. When she saw the armour in the weapons room, she spent a lot of time looking it over and then said, “It’s a pity that kind of thing isn’t worn any more. This one was on the pile as scrap metal, in fact, but you did well.”
“Coran and Halla, too,” I said, “we worked on it together.”
“Sure, it’s too much work for one person. Taking it to Master Jerna was a good decision, too.”
“I learned such a lot from her! But I’d have liked to finish the whole pile, only the city guards kept coming in and throwing things on it. And I left all the swords for you because I don’t know what to do with a sword yet.” And when she looked at me, “Not in the smithy and not on the practice ground! Master Aldin says I’m no good.”
“That’s Aldin,” Master Rava said with a scowl. “You shouldn’t listen to him.”
“That’s what Vurian said, and he taught me what to do with a sword, I learned much more from him than from Master Aldin. But I don’t need it anyway. I don’t think I’m made for the Order.”
“That’s a pity. I really wanted an apprentice here!”
“I’m sorry, but all of us are going to Turenay. Could you write a letter that I can show to a smith there so they’ll take me as an apprentice?”
“A letter. Yes. That’s a good idea. I think it’s time for it.” And she took me to the side room that she used as a writing-room. But what she wrote wasn’t a letter to a master, but a journeyman’s letter! It was in ink, but she took a silver stylus and scribbled at the bottom, “Ferin is young and needs to learn a lot more yet but I have found him reliable.”
“Master Sidhan said she could see I was still an apprentice and not a journeyman yet because I was thinking of what I wanted to make, and not of what the metal wanted,” I said.
“Sidhan is a goldsmith!” Master Rava said. “Gold is soft and squishy, no wonder she says soft and squishy things! Iron and steel, now, that’s real metal.” And yes, I agreed.
“Do you know any smiths in Turenay who could take me on?” I asked.
“There’s this weaponsmith who could teach you a lot,” she said, “but he’s of the Nameless, can you handle that?”
“I can try? I’m used to the Nameless, anyway.”
“Good. Mernath, that’s his name. Better than most of the weaponsmiths in Veray, in fact. — Speaking of weapons, there’s quite a good knife here, looks like you made it, do you want it?”
“That’s the one I made for Ashti. Because she didn’t have one.”
“A priestess of Naigha who doesn’t have a knife?”
“Not that kind of knife. So I made her an ordinary one.”
Master Rava nodded, and gave me the knife, and slapped me on the shoulder. “If you ever think you’re made for the Order after all, you’re welcome back. Otherwise, good luck to you.”
I met Ashti and Vurian and Mialle outside — they’d been waiting for me! With all the children, because Grandmother Lysna had gone to the temple. I showed them my journeyman’s letter. “I’m taking you out for beer!” I said. and of course the Spotted Dog was nearby so that was where we went. There was small beer so weak that the children could drink it, and Ashti wanted that too, but the rest of us had dark ale, and we had a pie brought –that Khas woman really made the best pie!– and we all got very merry before we realised that we would be leaving Valdis first thing in the morning. Ashti said she’d already packed most of our things, even the barrel of butter.
But first there was the palace tour! There was a girl waiting for us, about our own age, looking very noble, with the little red-haired princess. “I’m Rusla astin Hayan,” she said, “and you’re the people who get the extra very special tour of the palace? Alyse said she hoped you’d bring her new friends, and I see you have.” She showed us around, bragging about everything, but I recognised that way of talking now from Vurian and I could take it as a joke. “Raisse says to show you her toy collection, too,” she said, and got a guard with a bunch of keys who opened a small door for us.
“Everything glitters here!” the princess said. Well, not really everything, because lots of the jewels were in boxes, but the guard and Rusla opened them one by one so we could see them all. Then Rusla got something that looked like a short skirt, made of silver and jewels, and put it round her waist. “This is an Iss-Peranian dancing girdle,” she said, and wiggled her butt and the girdle fell off because it was too large for her. It was too large for Mialle and Ashti too.
“There’s a vest with it, but I never wear that,” the queen’s voice said from behind us. “It was made for a smaller bust than mine.” Then it was the queen showing us her favourite things, and some very special goldsmithing work that she thought Mialle would be interested in, and yes, Mialle was! “Most gold comes from Solay these days,” the queen said, “when Athal conquered it they found a treasure room that stretched almost a mile under the sea.”
I tried to imagine a mile of gold and it made my head spin.
The next morning, before dawn, and dawn was very early because it was summer, we all went to the palace again. Lysna too, who got two soldiers from the queen to bring her back to Nalenay.
“I gave Grandmother my purse from the queen,” Ashti said, “I hope you don’t mind that we have only half now! Because if she has the extra money they can afford to take on another apprentice than me over the winter.”
“That was a really good thing to do,” I said, and gave her the knife.
“Oh, splendid! Because I gave my priestess knife to Grandmother too. I don’t need it now, and the girl who sleeps in my bed probably will.”
Vurian did teach me to drive a pair of horses — not really so different from driving a single horse, because the right-hand horse was the boss and what it did, the other one picked up. It was much easier to get the hang of than I’d thought, and once we were out of the city gates we could take turns.
The cart didn’t go any faster than walking, so Ashti and Mialle walked most of the time, and the children some of the time, and whoever of me and Vurian who wasn’t driving walked as well once he’d taught me so much that I didn’t need him beside me all the time any more. At a farm along the way Vurian bought straw hats for all of us (and for the horses!) but the children all got as brown as nuts anyway, and Ashti and Mialle and I burnt and peeled and burnt again and then started to get brown.
There were some farms along the way where we bought milk and bread and vegetables, and sometimes slept in the shed or the haystack, but often we had to sleep in and under the cart. Good that we had a lot of food in the cart, and blankets, and everything else we needed. It was a much better way to travel than our walk from Nalenay to Liorys.
The landscape first got a lot flatter, with wood on one side of the road and grain fields on the other, then there were hills again (spikier than the roundish hills near Valdis, but not as steep as the hills at home), and finally we got to a hilltop where we could see a town lying below us in the valley, with a wooden wall around it though most of the houses were of stone. “Turenay,” Vurian said. “I’ll take you to my aunt’s house.”
“You have a lot of aunts, don’t you?” I said.
“Plenty. Sometimes too many but Aunt Rava is all right. She’s the head of the Guild school.”
We saw lots of small shops, a temple of Mizran with a weigh-house next to it that had a pair of scales in yellow bricks set into the red-brick wall, and then we turned into a street and through a gate and we were in the courtyard of Aunt Rava’s house. Immediately there were people to take care of the horses. A tall woman with white hair came out of the house and said “Welcome, I’m Rava astin Brun,” and we all said our names (she knew Vurian already, of course). “Are you all going to school?”
“I’m going to find a master goldsmith,” Mialle said.
“A goldsmith! There are some around the Temple of Mizran, you could inquire there. What about you?” (That was me.)
“Master Rava of the Order said I might want to learn from Master Mernath, the weaponsmith,” I said. “She said he was with the Nameless, though.”
“With the Nameless? Mernath? He used to be, yes, but not for nearly ten years now. You’ll see.”
Then she said to Ashti, “Somehow I don’t think you want the Temple of Naigha.” Ashti blushed and shook her head. “I’d like to work as a schoolmistress again,” she said. “I taught a class in Nalenay, and at a school in Valdis while I was there.”
“I’ll tell Master Fian,” Rava said, “he’s said more than once that he really needs another teacher. — And are all those children yours?” She looked at me, “They can’t all be from your seed.”
“No,” I said, “only the two who are on the way. These two are Ashti’s, and this is Raisse, we took her in when her other family died in the epidemic.”
“The measles epidemic in Valdis,” Vurian said, “have you heard of it?”
“Yes, the news came here, fortunately not the measles too. Well, I’ll see that there’s a bath for you, and something to eat, and a place to sleep.” She started ordering servants around. “Vurian, you run to the school and ask the cooks to come and help, there’s no school anyway now. Tell them we have twenty or twenty-five extra people. I’ll invite some other people you’ll want to meet.”
The rest of us got baths in a large wash-room, and Vurian climbed into the tub where Mialle already was the moment he came back. “Doctor Cora is coming too, with her children,” he said. “She’s got a lot of children! And some of them are older than she is.”
“Oh, she got them like we got Raisse, I suppose,” I said.
After weeks on the road with only the seven of us, the dinner party felt like a crowd! Doctor Cora turned out to be a very small woman, half a head shorter than Mialle or Ashti, but so beautiful that she made not only Vurian but also me blush. And there was the schoolmaster and his wife, another doctor, with their children; and a short man who looked very strong, not only from the muscles in his shoulders but from the inside, like he was a rock that had been in fire and water and had cracks all over but hadn’t shattered. “Mernath,” Rava said to him, “this is Ferin who I told you about.”
Mernath nodded at me. “Ferin. I see that you’ve done the same thing that I have.” I knew he didn’t mean learning to be a smith! “Yes,” I said.
“Hm. And you want to be my apprentice.”
“I’ve got my journeyman’s letter, but yes. I can’t make swords, I’d like to learn that. And all the other things I don’t know yet.”
He thought for a while. “I can take you on, but know that I’m not a soft master. And it’s on two conditions: I’ll have your twelve riders, and I’ll be your Guild master as well. Come to my workshop tomorrow at dawn. You can find me.”
“Thank you,” I said.
Then we talked to a lot of other people. One of Doctor Cora’s adopted daughters, a dark brown girl Ashti’s age called what sounded like “Little Mouse” but it meant “Sweet Fruit” in her own language, Tamikha. She was just back from years of travelling with her teacher to learn languages because that was her great gift. A small thin pale old woman who was probably ugly if you only looked at her outside, but she had a very great and shining mind; this was another Raisse. “The head of the Guild in Turenay,” Vurian whispered to me. “The queen was called after her because she’s her father and mother’s best friend.” And then I remembered that Rava was the queen’s mother!
We slept in a feather bed that night. And early in the morning I grabbed some bread from the kitchen and put two crowns from the queen’s purse in my pocket and set out to find Master Mernath. But I couldn’t find him with my mind at all! So I asked people in the street, and ended up outside a smithy where a young woman was just opening up.
“We’re still closed! Master Mernath is still asleep.”
“He asked me to come,” I said. “I’m Ferin.”
“Oh, the bloke from Valdis. I’m Cynla. Come in.”
It wasn’t long until Master Mernath himself appeared. “Ah, you’ve found me,” he said.
“I had to ask the way, though,” I said.
“At least you’re honest. Come with me.” He took me to a little writing-room just like Master Rava’s, held out his hand for the journeyman’s letter, grinned at Master Rava’s scribbling and put the letter in a box on a shelf. Then I handed him the two crowns and he lifted an eyebrow.
“I got those from Her Majesty,” I said.
“We don’t brag here.”
“That wasn’t bragging! It was just the facts.”
Master Mernath lifted his other eyebrow too and took me to the workshop. “It’s arrowheads today. Grab an apron and get Cynla to show you where everything is.”
In the evening I came back black and satisfied, Vurian all bloody (“Ruptured appendix,” he said, but I didn’t know what that was except that there must be a lot of blood involved) and Mialle tired and confused. She’d found a master goldsmith all right, and he’d taken her as his apprentice, but he was Síthi and he worked in a way that puzzled her a lot. But she did want to go on learning from him, because he made wonderful things in ways she’d never seen before.