Visitors

Having new babies in the house is exhausting! Only the babies got enough sleep. Ashti and I didn’t, and not even Arni who did all the shopping and most of the other work we didn’t get round to. Thank the gods for the neighbours who were in at all hours with food and drink and clean laundry!

Just as we thought it was finally quiet there was a knock at the door. More visitors! The children were just back from school so Raisse ran to open. We heard her voice, “You are the lady who we stayed with and you said we couldn’t live in your house forever.”

“Yes, I am,” we heard Lady Rava’s voice say, “and I see you now have a house of your own to live in!”

“And you are the lady that everybody had to make a seal so the whole town wouldn’t hear you fuck,” Raisse said.

“Yes, that’s who I am,” we heard Doctor Cora’s voice say. And then both of the ladies came in and cooed over the babies. Neither of them had ever had twins, though Lady Rava had eleven children. “You know, I think I’m pregnant again,” Doctor Cora said, “and I could look at it myself but somehow I never do. It would be nice to have two in one go!” I tried to look but didn’t see anything, but Ashti said, “It’s only one, and it’s a girl!”

We talked about the name-giving, and decided on the day after tomorrow, the Day of Anshen.

Then a lot of children — only some of them ours — ran through the house and out the other side, to the river. “I’ve brought some of my little ones,” Doctor Cora said. And Ashti called after them, “Raisse! Sidhan! Arvin! Take care they don’t drown.”

“Ours swim like otters,” I said.

You taught them!” Ashti said to me. And to the ladies, “Ferin promised Arvin to teach him to swim before I even properly knew him. That’s one of the reasons I wanted him.”

We had some of Raisse’s latest brew — it was a particularly good one — and then Arni came in with the bread. She saw Lady Rava, and Doctor Cora, and went down on her knees and kissed their hands! The doctor rolled her eyes, “come on, Arni, you know me, let’s step outside for a moment, I want to talk to you.” They talked in low voices, but I caught Doctor Airath’s name.

Lady Rava looked a bit surprised, but Ashti said, “That’s Arni, we bought the house from her, she’s renting from us now.” I hadn’t known that! But it was the right thing to do, I thought.

“Why are you living here?” she asked.

“Because we could afford it,” Ashti said.

“And we have a lot of good neighbours,” I said.

Lady Rava nodded. “We always hoped there wouldn’t be two separate towns, but there’s nothing we can do against that. You — the two of you, your family — are some of the people who most live on both sides. We started Master Fian’s school, Cora and I, hoping it would help, and it does help, but most children from this part of town don’t go even to that school even though the fees are low and there’s a fund for really poor pupils.”

“The children next door don’t go to school,” I said, “because Halla doesn’t want them to cross the bridge by themselves.”

“Yes, that’s the biggest part of the problem. We do want the bridge to be more than a place where boys can grope under their girls’ skirts. Any chance you can build an extension to your house so you can have a school here? We’ll fund it and give you” –Ashti– “a stipend as schoolmistress.”

“When I’m done being a cow,” Ashti said.

“The house up there is empty,” I said, and pointed, “the man who lived there got married and moved in with his wife.” And if it wasn’t big enough we could pull it down and build something that was, I  supposed.

“You’ll be a master in about a year, I suppose,” Lady Rava said. “It’ll be good to have a forge here.”

“A year! More like two years, perhaps three. I’m learning a lot from Master Mernath but there’s so much more to learn!”

“You’re not really a weaponsmith, are you? What about learning more from another master?”

I couldn’t imagine not learning from Master Mernath. But there were things I was better at than swords and knives, and things I liked better. “Not for the Guild, though.”

“No, you’d keep Mernath as your guildmaster,” Doctor Cora said. “Shall I ask around for you?”

“Yes, please.” I wasn’t looking forward to talking about it with Master Mernath, and especially not to asking him who else to learn from!

“Can I speak to you alone for a moment?” the doctor asked, and we left Lady Rava with Ashti and went into the kitchen. She took a handful of papers out of her bag. “I have a present for your children,” she said. “You do know a priest of Mizran who would recognise your face, don’t you, not only go by marks on a piece of paper?” Her gaze went to where Halla’s house was beyond our wall, and I knew what she was talking about.

“Yes,” I said.

“You should go to the temple and give them these. I must admit that I only had some for the twins at first, but my husband convinced me that it would be best to think of all your children. After all, you have a family much like mine, not all of them from your own loins.” And she gave me the handful of papers. “They’re shares in my fleet. If you leave them with the temple while the children grow up they’ll each have enough to learn a trade and set up business in it.”

“I would like to give them the twelve riders myself, though.”

“Hm, five times twelve riders is an awful lot. And it may be seven times, or nine times.”

“Yes, Ashti does want more children. I wouldn’t mind more children either.”

“I can’t very well keep you from it. Anyway, this will give them a good start in life. Unless the whole fleet sinks, of course.”

“But if it does we won’t be any worse off than we were yesterday, will we?”

“Exactly.”

“Do I” — thinking very hard about what it was called — “open an account for each of the children, and put the money in that? I’ll do that after the name-giving so I can tell the priest what they’re called.”

Lady Rava had a present too: a silver spoon for each child, with different animals on the handle so each could have their own. “Can I come to the name-giving?”

“Yes, of course, you’re invited!”

“Can I bring my husband?”

“Of course!”

“Can my daughter come?”

“Any of your daughters who want to come are welcome.” I wondered where this was going.

“Can my son-in-law come?”

Now I knew where it was going. “If he wants to, yes.” The neighbours would be shocked but they were used to us shocking them. “We’ll have lots of people here. My master is coming, and all of the workshop. And I’d like Vurian and Mialle to be there.”

“Have you seen my nephew lately? No, I thought not. They’re keeping him very busy. And his wife is kept busy too. –Yes, I can call her that, they had a Síthi wedding on the Feast.”

“What’s that like?”

“I don’t know. Her master insisted on it. They’ll have a Valdyan marriage in Gralen when we all go there for the Feast of Anshen.” Lady Rava put a purse on the table. “Don’t worry about food and drink. I know it can be hard when you have a family like yours, or Cora’s. Ours isn’t half as complicated! But at the brewery where I grew up it was tight enough at times. Your Ashti is an excellent housewife, but if you need anything at all for your family that you can’t provide yourselves, don’t hesitate to ask.”

“We’ve usually got enough,” I said, “but thank you.” Now we could have a real name-giving party! I could get all kinds of nice things to eat and drink tomorrow. And if the king and queen were really coming, I wanted it to be extra good!

Now several neighbours were coming in, and the ladies left silently. I gave everybody ale until it ran out. By that time the men were all in the kitchen with me and the women were all in the back room with Ashti. They talked about how their ancestors had come here and built the town that they ever had enough money to live in, and they were still living here, ignoring the duyin and being ignored by them. “It’s a good thing if you get that smithy going again,” one man said.

“When I’m a master, in a year or so,” I said.

“We have ropers here, tanners, leatherworkers, dyers, but we really need a smith so we can all improve our houses. Real nails! Locks! Can you do locks?”

“A bit, but I’ll learn to do them better,” I said. “I’m good at gates and hinges already.”

“When are you having the name-giving?” an old man asked me.

“Day after tomorrow,” I said.

“Better have it tomorrow. The moon is right for it.”

“I’ll have to talk about that with Ashti, can’t decide on my own.”

Someone brought a flask of brandy, and I got the small cups — there weren’t enough cups to go around, but we shared. At the back of my mind I felt Ashti, very sleepy. When that was finished too, we went to the other room where Ashti was now asleep in the bed — so much for talking about moving the name-giving — and the twins were asleep in the crib. Someone had moved the crib under the window and the light of the full moon was shining on them.

Then the neighbours started to pray. Invocations, but in such broad Turenay speech that I couldn’t follow along. They were for the One, the Mother, Timoine, Anshen and Naigha — no use for Mizran, apparently, and having Anshen meant leaving the Nameless out, I was so glad of that! But then Turenay belonged to Anshen, most of it anyway.

When the prayer was finished, everybody started to leave. I stopped the man who had said the moon was right. “I’d like to learn to pray like that.”

“You’ll pick it up, lad, don’t worry.”