A letter from Cora to the queen

Lots happened, and she got most of it in as well!

Turenay, one month before the Feast of Mizran

Dearest Raisse, dear Elder Sister,

Your younger sister bows before you in profuse apology for her negligence. It is now two months since I last wrote you — and so much has happened! I seem to be mother to at least three and possibly seven children, for one thing!

But let me begin with what must be the most important thing for you: your brother Torin is going to pull through, I am sure of that. I did spend more than a week in Veray helping him heal and when I left I could leave the rest of the work to his body. He now lives with his fiancee Hinla in a house she has rented for them in Veray. Your Father is still in Veray, but Lady Rava has returned to Turenay, so as not to neglect the School, for which I am very grateful.

My dear Elder Sister, as you will have guessed from my last letter, Aidan and me have decided to adopt Alaise and Jeran. We are so glad we did! We are so happy to have them with us: Alaise is polite, clever, determined and her hands are never idle. She already knew she wanted to become apprenticed to an apothecary, and I have introduced her to Lady Halla, Prince Radan’s wife. After school — she goes to school in the poor quarter of town, Master Fian’s school, together with Lyse, the sister of Lara who is apprentice housekeeper with your mother, and who stays with Raisse. That was her own decision, she had befriended Lyse when we arrived in Turenay and didn’t want to be alone on her first day. And Master Fian is a very good teacher, all the teachers in their guild agree and have made him their dean. Though that might also have been because he’s the youngest and they wanted him to do all the work!

And Alaise (and also Halla, about whom later) are gifted and Aidan and me, we teach them a little already. Just feeling around, being with each other’s mind. I once made Alaise and Halla feel and smell what life was like in Iss-Peran. I now and then miss the warmth, and I sometimes have forgotten enough about my life there to be a bit home-sick. And then I remember what it was really like, and send up a prayer thanking you for your generosity in bringing me to Turenay, because I am so happy with Aidan, with my work and with my children! But the winters are cold, and cabbage is horrible!

If your husband and you are not coming down to Turenay for the winter, my Sister, I will come up to Valdis to present Alaise at the Court. After all, she is my daughter now, and I want her to have this chance, next year she will be apprenticed to Lady Halla, and I don’t think she or Lord Radan will go up to Valdis anymore. Besides, as their apprentice, it wouldn’t be fitting to present her at Court. I am sure Alaise would love it, but we would love it even more if the Court could come down to Turenay! Then we can show you our new house!

When we came back from Veray our new house was nearly ready, but it still took a month before we could move in. Maybe also because when we came back with Jeran and Alaise it seemed a good idea to put another story on the house, under the root. I couldn’t even help since it was my day for helping Erne!

The house really is perfect. We built it on the corner where Tylse’s house used to be, so it has windows all round. In front, there is a raised platform on the outside with pillars that support our bedroom. Here, I can sit outside in the dry season and watch the children play, and in the rainy season, guests can shelter while I dress to receive them when they arrive unexpectedly. The front door is in the middle; there are two windows on either side. There are also windows on the side-street side. On the other side, there is a front door for Arvi and Arin that opens on a little place and a stair to the second floor, where they have their apartment.

Inside, there is a small room to the side of the front door for Aidan to work in, it is his office. The whole ground floor is one big room; there is no wall between the kitchen and the hall, but the kitchen is on a raised platform with lattice-work as high as my hip comes. This is for keeping children in or out! We have our big table in the middle of the hall, and at the head of the table Aidan’s big chair, that we found in the attic of Otter House. I guess it actually belongs to the Eraday family, but, well, it’s Aidan’s chair now.

In the brightest corner of the hall, there’s a corner that’s all Iss-Perianian. A low table, cushions on the floor, cloth hanging from the ceiling and gauze draperies, and on the other side, against the wall of Aidan’s office, our Iss-Peranian tapestries — Dimani helped me put everything in its place, since she knows what an Iss-Peranian house looks like. I only know palaces!

We have a cellar, of course, and it’s very nice, clean and dry, even though our house is built quite near a wellspring — there is some black stuff on the outside of the cellar walls that keeps the water out, apparenlty.

And the water! Oh, Raisse, sister! This is so wonderful: we have a pipe from the well to the kitchen, and there is a big, long bowl made out of glazed clay and there is a little sliding door, and if I slide it towards me, the water will fill the bowl, and if I slide it back, the water will take another way. And there is a fireplace underneath the bowl, and if the bowl is full and the water warm, you can go and sit in the bowl and it is a bath! And you can also use it for washing the dishes or for doing the laundry, except that we give the laundry to a friend of mine who lives down-town. And with another sliding door, if I slide that open, all the water leaves the bowl, and it can be dried out.

Then, there is a door to the little yard: it will be a larger yard once we demolish our old house, but that will have to wait since Arin, Halla, Rani and Sedi live there now, well not now, since Arin is in hospital, and his sisters live with me, but I will tell you about them when I am done telling you about my house.

If you go upstairs, there a landing with windows on both sides; and on the front of the house is our bedroom, and in the back are two rooms, one for girls, one for boys. But Alaise wants to sleep in our bed, with me and Aidan, and the babies are too small to sleep alone, so those rooms aren’t used yet. Our bedroom has five windows overlooking the square, but no windows on the sides, and we have ordered a really large bed with a canopy and a mirror in the back and in the canopy — but that isn’t ready yet. There are tapestries on the walls, and the chests with our clothes.

Up again, the front half of the house is Arvi’s apartment, divided into two rooms. There are two rooms again at the back; either for more children of ours, or for children of Arvi’s. Up again, there’s a floor, but the roof already begins here, for it is very steep, with no rooms yet. It is just spare space, for when we need it! We can ask Geran the builder to make walls here whenever we want.

Then there’s the attics. Here there are six small rooms. In one of them our maid, Jerna, lives. She came to stay with us three days ago. A house this big is too big for one girl, even if she’s Arvi and can cook dinner for ten without any warning! Here, the walls in front and back are still straight, but near the ceiling the slope of the roof in front and back begins. And the sides are sloped, but very steep. Every room has a window, of course! But in winter, when it gets cold, we will need to find a way to heat them, since not all of the rooms have access to a chimney, only the middle ones.

And then you can go up even higher, and here every wall is sloped. This is storage space, and the angle of the roof isn’t very steep anymore. Our house is almost as high as the school!

The house is filling up quite rapidly, though. As I said just now, we have a new maid, Jerna. She had just finished at Master Fian’s school. Arvi went there to find a maid because I had told her it was her job to hire her people: she’s the housekeeper, but that I wanted final approval, of course. Jerna is a sweet little thing, she’s not much taller than me, and quite cheerful, especially when faced by dirty nappies. Though we are trying to house-train Jeran already — he must be something like eleven months — before the rainy season starts. He no longer wears nappies around the house, so if he lets go, he notices. That idea came to me when he was trying to expand his vocabulary: he insisted on calling his morning porridge “poop”, at least he now knows the difference!

And then there’s Arni… One day when I was having my day with doctor Erne in her practice at the Willow Square (well, there are no willows, but there should be) a young whore came running for us, she was afraid her girlfriend was dying. And she was pretty much right at that, as we saw when we arrived at the second floor of an old decrepit soon-to-be-demolished house in the slum behind the willow square. The poor girl was having a miscarriage, the worst I’ve ever seen! Her baby had been growing, not in the womb, but a little more up, in the the left of the two appendages that grow out of the womb, and it had ruptured. My sister — we got her to the hospital in time, and Leva, Lyse and me, we were busy for hours. In the end, I just cut into her belly, cut off the appendage and closed her womb again. But if she ever becomes pregnant again, I want to be close to her all the time. She will survive, her name is Alyse. Arni is Alyse’s girlfriend, and she staid with us while Alyse was in hospital, and now that she is out again, they still stay with us, until Alyse is fit for work again. They have one of the small rooms in the attic together, Arni works in the neighbourhood, cleaning houses. She’s not gifted, Alyse is, but she’s very bright and cheerful, especially now that Alyse is with her again.

I’m so afraid that if Alyse gets pregnant again I have to do to her what I also did to Bebakshi. Bebakshi is a friend of Raith’s and also your husband, so please let him read this letter and have this news about her.

Bebakshi, despite being a dandar, has managed to become pregnant, but then she had to come to our hospital because she was pregnant of twins, and one of the twins had died in her womb! Lyse couldn’t do anything about it, but I went inside in my spirit and I broke the baby loose from her connection to the womb and — this was more horrible than I can express! — ground the dead body to paste so Bebakshi could pass it out without also losing the living baby. That one does well, but Bebakshi has to stay in the hospital because even moving her to my house would be too dangerous. And I check every day, but for the past four or five weeks the baby has grown normally and everything feels healthy. But I was so sick with myself after having done this! Fortunately, Aidan had not yet gone on campaign so he could comfort me.

What with all the children in the house, and Leva being not strong enough to handle all that happens in the hospital all the time — she mostly just does practice these days, while I do the emergencies and the visits to down-town Turenay — I don’t have time to study enough, and I wonder how long it will be until I become a master doctor myself. There’s so much I don’t know yet! I am a master in the guild of Anshen, of course, and that takes some attention as well, although I don’t care whether my patients are with us or with the Nameless. This is the case with Arin and his sisters. I would have liked Jerna to be in our Guild, since then I could easily tell someone at home when I am going to be late again, because Arvi isn’t gifted either. But she isn’t, or at least, if she is, it is not visible yet.

I have to say that Aidan was very surprised when he came back from his campaign: Jerna and Arni were completely new to him, and while he already knew Halla, Sedi and Rani and Arin, they were living in our old house when he left. I have to tell you all about this, because it is very important, also politically.

It was actually Alaise who found them: she noticed there were children living in a hut hidden in the swamp near the river. I decided to go to them to see what they were doing there and whether they were healthy or not. There were four of them: two pairs of twins. Halla and Arin are about twelve, and Halla has had a wasting sickness of the legs so she cannot walk (although she can use her muscles a little when in water). Their sisters Sedi and Rani are six and couldn’t speak Ilaini when I discovered them, but had their own language. Senthi is now teaching them Ilaini.

I convinced them to come with me, but they thought I was the enemy at first. There was a strong scent of the Nameless about them. They told me that their mother had been killed by the Sworn of Veray just after Sedi and Rani were born. However, it turns out that these “Sworn” wore uniforms of the Baronial Guard of Veray! And there is more that doesn’t fit, it looks as if the money I spent when I was the Queen for the North in Veray to weaken the Guilds was well-spent, because there is a group in Veray which tries to push the Guilds into fighting each other. Raisse has sent Kheti’s Arin to Veray to look into the matter.

We took Arin, Halla, Sedi and Rani to the hospital to clean up: they had all kinds of vermin, even mange! And Arin, he has always cared for his sisters, he was so frustrated, but then he got his bow and arrows and started exterminating the rats that are always around the hospital, no matter how many cats we have.

They couldn’t go back to their hut; we had a thunderstorm and it had demolished the roof, so I let them stay in our little old house. Halla liked that because that meant she was close to Raisse, and Raisse has sort of adopted Halla, just like she has adopted me. Everything seemed fine: all four of them got special lessons from your Mother, and Arin would go with Geran the builder in the afternoon to earn some money and learn the builder’s trade, and Halla would go to Riei to learn sewing and embroidery.

And then Arin was beaten up by people from Veray! He had to be in the hospital for many weeks, so we took Halla, Sedi and Rani in our house. Now they feel like my children — as does Arin. Arin has been so messed up by all this care and sorrow that I treat him like one of my children and let him drink at my breast. Alaise still does that as well, now and then…

But now Alaise has decided she rather likes Arin! And either they are my children, and then they cannot fall in love with each other, or they aren’t. This is very complicated. Arin will come and live with us as well when he leaves the hospital, I hope. But I’m not sure how to solve this problem!

I need to speak to Lord Vurian very badly because I have been borrowing the master of the ground-glasses shop! I first had two childen in Master Fian’s school who needed glasses. Alaise told me about the first, Rusla, telling me Rusla was not nice at all, very grumpy all the time. I thought at first that there might be something wrong with her mind, but I told Alaise to tell Rusla to come to me when I was down town anyway, and I thought it might be worth it to check in your Father’s shop. The man there, the master, he is very nice, not stuck up like that priggish lady behind the counter, he looked at Rusla and made Rusla look at a painting, and then he made her try several different glasses.

And then she burst out crying, because for the first time in her memory she could see the other side of the street! I bought the glasses for her, but we have a problem here, the glasses are held by a silver frame, and that’s too expensive for poor people like Rusla’s parents to keep in the house. My solution was to buy a little safe box and have Master Fian keep the glasses in there, so the children with glasses wear them at school, and maybe make their homework in class. The other boy, Lyse, the sister of Lara who works in your mother’s household is sweet on him, and he can dance, I took him there as well, and he got glasses as well.

But it’s too expensive for me or the hospital to pay for glasses for all poor children who need them, so I want your Father to pay! He is very rich, I’m sure he will like this idea. But he hasn’t been in Turenay yet. And I need his permission for my other plan. His Master, Seran, he has already been to the doctor’s meeting to tell us all about how to recognize bad eyes and what kinds of bad eyes exist. But I also want to take him with us when we go to school to check for lice, vermin and hidden illnesses. Do you think your Father will let his master come with me?

My elder sister, kisses, greetings and devotion to you from your younger sister and everyone in her household. I might be visiting you this rainy season after all!

Raissei Cora astin Velain