Cora writes to her husband from the east

But as she says, the letter won’t reach him until she returns with it, unless someone wants to go to Turenay right now to find someone to marry.

Penedin, Fifth Week of Mizran

To her Husband, her children, her Mother and her friends

Dearest, dearest husband, Aidan my love. I know this letter won’t reach you until I return with it — there is nobody to take it for me, and no road to take it along. But give my love to all our children, to Alaise, Tamikha, Jeran, Arin, Halla, Sedi, Rani, Alyse and Arni. Give my love to my mother Raisse, to your parents Radan and Halla, to my beloved friend Arvi and to our Jerna, to all my sisters in Turenay — but I know you will do that, every day, wherever I am. If Raisse would not be so busy sitting up and falling down, I am sure she would ask me to give you all her love as well.

I miss you all so much! I only share my cart (if that’s the right word) with Faran and the cartographer Atash — and Raisse, of course. Atash is an Iss-Peranian, a eunuch, which is why he shares our blankets. At least I don’t have to worry about him dreaming boyish dreams in the night and trying to get hold of me. I’ve had to ask Faran to go outside for while a couple of times already — not that he is in love with me or tries to seduce me, but he is fifteen and it is time for him to find a girlfriend, so he dreams… I am most continent and well-behaved, falling asleep with your eyes before my eyes and waking up (two times a night, still) to feed Raisse and to think of you. I have one shirt of yours packed away and now and then I take it and become drunk on the scent of your body that still clings to it — when nobody sees me!

But the gods forbid he finds one in the village where we are now! I don’t think anyone has married anybody but his sister or her brother for ten centuries here! Still, the King has apparently found an apprentice, but more of that later, I first want to tell you of our journey.

It was very miserable weather, drizzling cold rain all the time. First we went to the south-east, towards Veray, but just before Midway, we went straight east, over a forest trail. Well, you know — you have been there. It was quite beautiful, in a sort of sad way, but we made good progress over the old road your regiment had cleared.

And then we must have done something wrong, because after a week or three, we arrived at a deserted village at the edge of the forest and a sort of swamp, but a very strange one since the swamp was higher than the forest edge, and there was a stream of water between the swamp and the forest. We could see another village in the middle of the swamp and thought we had to cross. That was very difficult, but we reached this village.

There were many dead people, only their bones remaining, and for a while our priestesses were busy with their holy task. Athal in the meantime started looking around with his spirit, searching for signs of Ironlode — but finding nothing. The scouts who went ahead came back to report that there was no road and no way to cross the swamp for carts but that on the contrary, it was very dangerous. Athal and Raisse decided to go back on the morrow, and follow the edge of the forest along the swamp.

When we passed a small waterfall tumbling towards a decrepit old mill, we made camp again and here was enough water to finally take a real bath. Also, Athal had seen the spirits of two cowherds, one very gifted, in the distance, and we wanted to make a proper royal appearance. After four weeks of slipping a bit of water over my face, breasts, between my legs and over my hands, a real bath was so nice! Especially because we were all very cold, there was a nasty north-east wind blowing down over the swamp. Raisse tells me it isn’t a swamp actually, but a bog. It’s a dirty, sombre, gray and eerie thing. Brrr! I wish I was home with all of you, fire in the kitchen, hot tea, sitting on your lap with Raisse at my breast and your hand under my skirt. (You don’t have to read that sentence out to our children — but then, they have seen us, and they won’t get this letter until I have returned!)

The next day we met the two cowherds. They were nice boys, one of them not very clever, the other far too clever for a cowherd. Though I think that you need to know a lot about cows, and healing of cows and so on to be a cowherd if you’re going to be away from the village for many months, as these two were. They were on their way home from the summer pasture, in fact, and many cows were heavily burdened with the product of their own milk: very nice cheese, also, they have goats, and it’s long since I had such good goat’s cheese.

From the place where we met to the village was barely a day, but we had to go down very steep, the bog rises over the eaves of the houses, it seems, though the road down was sand, or rather mud. The houses of this village, Penedin, that is Cattle Crossing, are dotted around a place where the river can be forded, and it’s on the road to Ironlode, even though I think you haven’t been here with your regiment, have you?

I was very surprised: although most of the people seem to be family and the fields, stores and everything are very poor, there aren’t many sick. But when I asked and asked very insistently, it seems there’s a leper colony near Ironlode where all the disfigured sick go. There will be many people with leprosy and other sicknesses of the skin, as well as people who have become sick through lack of good food and everthing else. I will go there — and if I die because of a contagious disease, do not be angry with your wife. I am a doctor, I have to be there. If that happens, you will have this letter, and know I have loved you and our children and everyone in Turenay so much it foams over the brim of my heart.