A letter from Cora to the queen

This will probably catch up with Raisse in Valdis. Incidentally, if we ever make this into a book, it needs major continuity work because there’s no way Cora could have known of some of the events in Essle two weeks before they in fact happened. I’m letting it stand for now, because I can’t be hedgehogged to do the continuity work now and screw up the flow.

Turenay, eleventh week of Mizran

Dushtanei Asa Cora astin Velain astin Zameshtan, in Turenay, to Ravei Raisse astin Brun, hopefully still in Essle.

Elder Sister,

My beloved Queen Raisse, my Elder Sister to whom I will always turn when searching for a shining example of virtue and great wisdom, your younger sister thanks you for the letter you have sent her and humbly begs leave to send you this answer.

My Queen, what an admirable plan — to found schools in the poorest part of Essle! This will truly make your name go down to posterity as the fountain of wisdom and the bringer of knowledge to all who live! Oh, I am sure that this will be the founding stone that will lead these benighted poor back into the shelter of King Athal’s shield!

Dear Elder Sister, we seem to be so rich now –the White Whale will have brought us more money than we ever could need– so, could we help not out and pay for one or two teachers? In Essle, or elsewhere, I do not mind about that, as long as they agree to teach all comers, children and adults, of any nation and belonging to any Guild.

And if there going to be a teachers’ guild in Essle, could you write me about that and send me a copy of their charter? It would be good for the teachers of Turenay to be in a guild, too, so their dean can take a seat in the town council. And so they can talk to each other and help each other with problems. If they know there is a guild in Essle, and that the Queen approves of it, they might decide to work together. And there are already apprentice masters in Turenay, in the school for the poor quarter, too. It would be good for my dear friend Master Fian to be part of a proper guild!

My elder sister, my mistress, my saviour, please do not hesitate to send me those books you wrote about. The person you spoke about is Khahid, who used to be my spymaster in Albetire. Has Aidan shown you my notes on how Valdyas and the Valdyans are interpreted in Albetire? Khahid taught me all I know about the politics of Valdyas: as you know, my task as Younger Queen was mastering the politics of the North, while the Elder Queen’s responsibility was the politics of the South, those were reckoned more important by those unattuned to the sign of the times.

Of course my former bondservant Khahid (who is now happily together with an admirable Valdyan man, former sergeant in the King’s Army, now the manager of my new weaving workshop, it’s such a pity they cannot marry!), Khahid will be very glad to help you, our queen and mistress.

And I must say that I, too, will be glad of something capably written to read again. The Valdyan people are –always excepting your majesty, my elder sister, whose prowess in literature is famed in all three continents, though she keeps the results to herself out of a becoming modesty– brave, kind and gentle (which compensates for their unfortunate lack in courtesy), but in all fairness almost unlettered. I have not found a single thing worth reading in Turenay! (Apart from herbaries and similar scholarly works, but no poetry, no stories, no romances, no histories!)

Please, my elder sister, if the Gods allow you some more time in Essle, could you try to acquire for the benefit and instruction of your younger sister some of the more widely read Síthi and Iss-Peranian books? I am thinking of such ancient works as the Odes by Nayamdana, Juvaini’s Chronology or Ghabus’ Mirror for Princesses, that are known to be in every properly regulated household, so much so that the Iss-Peranian well-wishers (misguided though they were!) did not think it necessary to put those titles among their wedding gifts to us.

Of the books we received for our marriage portion, the one on History is in your majesty’s Library, the one on statecraft has gone with Athal and Aidan, the book with ancient songs I have finished, and of the pillow book I can only say that it has excellent illustrations, which are much admired by Arvi and also by my other friends.

But I do long to read something difficult again, so in the inconceivable case that Khahid cannot uncover all the meaning, hidden and public, in those notebooks you mention, I will gladly take a look at them myself.

Please, Elder Sister, you do not need to worry about me not paying enough attention to my studies to satisfy my master. Leva is a kind, generous and easy mistress: she gives me every evening, every night and one day a week off!

Almost every night I spend in idle chatter with the women of my household, maybe sewing, maybe embroidering, sometimes even weaving, but I seldom need to be working.

I am very worried that Leva is not asking enough of me and that I am, as my Elder Sister fears, not paying enough attention to my destiny, and am not studying enough, nor working hard enough! But it is the will of my master that I should regulate my working hours.

I do want to tell you this, about what happened in Turenay. Doctor Erne, who cares for the improper women, was very, very tired, in her mind even more than in her body, and when I came back from visiting my beloved friend Selle (I hope Aidan let you read that part of my letter, I think it would interest my elder sister), I decided that she should take a break, a vacation. I am so proud that I have mastered this Valdyan idea this summer!

Since Erne has always cared a lot for our friend Selle, and since Selle harbours a deep and abiding love for doctor Erne, I proposed that she should spend the remaining weeks of Autumn in the King’s Castle, which no longer belongs to your Husband, but to Lord Arin and Selle, and Erne agreed with me. And then!, I had the care of Selle’s practice!

I took care of the improper women of Turenay for weeks, six days a week– the seventh day was when I swapped with Kancho, only it is not proper for a man to take over Erne’s practice, so he would go to Leva, and I would go to Jeran, whom I have told you about when we were together in Valdis.

In Erne’s stead, I did almost everything on my own, visiting the houses of illicit pleasure, making sure every girl and every woman was in good health, treating all who were ill, even going into the warrens behind the Cherry Blossom Square (only there are no cherry trees there, for some strange reason), and telling the girls there to mind their health, too.

I learned a lot, but then there was this emergency: an epidemic of a very contagious lung sickness, caused by visitors coming from Valdis. We commandeered the big shed outside town to shelter the sick and all doctors and nurses worked in turns, all day long, to help the sick and keep those untouched by the sickness healthy. Even some improper girls –even some from the warrens!– came to help us, and one of them, Sedi, has become the proper apprentice of doctor Erne, only she is given to speaking her mind too much, and two girls have now gone to Veray, to work in the hospital. One of them has a Síthi grandmother, and she was the first person of Síthi descent I found working in the brothels.

(Oh! The herbaries your majesty’s scriptorium was preparing haven’t arrived yet — do you know whether the lung sickness has prevented my Elder Sister’s scribes from finishing the work?)

Since my Elder Sister was interested in my attempts to bring Síthi, Ishay, Khas, Valdyan and Iss-Peranian together in Valdis, I want to tell you this: one night, I was called away by Lyse, the midwife, to assist a certain Síthi midwife, Bashi, who was struggling with a very difficult birth. The placenta blocked the egress, and the boy was coming out feet-first. And the boy was big and the mother small! (That reminds me of my sorrow: our first is going to be a girl! I am going to, no, I am already loving her very much, but I really would have wanted to give Aidan a son!). So, I had the picking out of the placenta, since my hands are so very small and the stitching up of the mother, while Lyse received the boy into the world. And now the Síthi midwife, Bashi, and her mother have become members of the doctors’-and-midwives’-guild! And this means that the other Síthi also have become aware of the necessity of joining a guild if they trade with or work for Valdyans.

To me, being a member of this guild feels like a sort of ennoblement, more important and more truly noble than the nobility from which I was born, though, of course, the noble house of Velain is more honoured still.

Beloved elder sister, I do feel flattered when you call me a perfect wife, but nothing could be further from the truth! Should I not have followed my man wherever he goes, as the old sages prescribe? But then I would have been a worthless, thankless apprentice. But now I have brought shame on me by deserting my husband!

Is it right, after all, for a woman, a wife, to have an occupation outside the household? Now my loyalty is divided in two: to Aidan, and to Leva. And then there is the third loyalty: to everyone who is sick or wounded — should I not have gone with the army after all, to treat the casualties of this true and justified war? There can never be enough doctors, and oh! I pity the poor men, women and children in Solay who have lived first under the hand of the Khas, and now will live through a siege and, I trust, a victory.

The only thing that comforts me is the firm knowledge that King Athal will do his best to prevent any cruelties, any sack, as far as his power reigns. There is no nation more gentle than the Valdyan!

Beloved Queen, I will finish my letter now by greeting you: I join you in your wish that we were together, but I am sure you will visit Turenay, or that I will visit Valdis once the war is over.

Please accept my apologies for this hurried and confused letter, but your younger sister has to leave for the temporary hospital now, she has night duty.