Letter 1 to Aidan
Cora did write to Aidan before but he took that letter with him; this is the first one she’s actually sending while he’s off to war. Now he’ll have to find a way to get letters back to her. He’ll get this one in Essle –easy, if he isn’t kept too busy to write– but at sea he’d need a carrier albatross.
Turenay, third week after the feast of Mizran
From Raissei Cora astin Velain to her beloved lord husband, Alysei Aidan astin Velain, with the King at the Valdyan Army Camp
Dear beloved lord husband, your obedient wife begs to be allowed to write her beloved lord husband a letter in the informal style.
Dear Aidan, my beloved who fills my thoughts every waking and my dreams every sleeping hour, I do hope this letter will reach you before you board the ship to Solay. I have handed it to Lady Moyri — she should arrive in Essle before the Army departs. If not, I am sure that there will be a regular messenger service between Essle and the Army, if only for the sake of Athal and Raisse! I have addressed this letter with all your titles so everyone will know it’s important!
Oh, Aidan — it is now five weeks since I stopped preventing us from becoming parents, and four weeks since we first saw the life the Gods have made to grow in my belly. It feels so very familiar already — I do hope you will not be too disappointed with your obedient wife, since it is most likely a daughter the Gods have given us, not a son, for our first. As of writing this, it feels well, though there is still much that can go wrong, of course!
Dear beloved — I must admit that I haven’t dared sleep a single night alone since you left me. I have always had friends with me — at first during the journey to Turenay, Arvi, Hediyeh and Cynla, the girl Arvi has hired to make the horses go where they should — what is that word in Ilaini again? Ebru was with us, but she preferred to sleep under the cart, because she said she could keep better watch that way! I did cry, but only very softly — and Arvi did comfort me.
And now in Turenay, yesterday, we had many visitors, also Kheti, whose husband is in Essle, on the King’s business. So Kheti stayed the night with us, too. I am sure you would have laughed — that you will laugh if you picture this in your mind: in our bed, Kheti in the middle, belly already nicely round and swollen with Arin’s child. Left of her, me, right of her, Ebru. Then closely packed against each other, the outside-most girl flattening her buttocks against the tapestries, left, Arvi and Hediyeh, right, Cynla. Six little spoons, giggling at first, then snoring! I am blessed with so many good friends who help me to bear my loneliness!
(I just realize that the only other letter of mine you’ve ever seen, apart from the one I gave you to take with you, was the one I dictated to the Queen. I’m afraid you’ll find me just as garrulous in my letters as when speaking! Do you mind? But then, you know I’m already using my third notebook.)
I must tell you that when we left Valdis, we passed that farm where they allowed me to wash and dress properly before entering Valdis. You remember? We stopped there again, and I gave the farmer’s wife a little present of twenty riders. I am not sure what the Valdyan custom is in these matters, but since we have become so very wealthy, and also because I still felt more like a queen and a princess than myself, I think, I made bold to wrap this money in a little silk handkerchief and gave it to her.
I was so ashamed when she unwrapped it and showed my niggardly gift to all! But she seemed satisfied anyway — do the Valdyan nobles lack so much in generosity that it is possible that she wasn’t used to it? — and she presented us with a wonderful round cheese in her turn, which we enjoyed very much during our travels. She told us times were getting hard, with the army taking away most of their farm hands, as well as her son, as well as much of the harvest to feed the soldiers. She was expecting a very lean winter. Should I have given her more?
We had a very quiet journey, the only exception being when we encountered a group of young noblemen returning to Valdis. Most people we encountered seemed rather charmed with three girls on the — what’s that thing called again? — of a cart, with a fourth on a horse carrying a large fighting-stick guarding them. At least, we got lots of smiles and polite greetings. But these boys had very improper intentions and did not hesitate to make those clear to us! Ebru hit a few heads, but then I suddenly was sure that one of them was the man who had jilted Erne — I am sure I have told you about that. So I went up to him and gave him a piece of my mind. They did not pose any threat to us afterwards!
And why those worthless boys haven’t joined the army will always be a mystery to your obedient wife! But perhaps the army didn’t want them, I wouldn’t be surprised.
Oh my love, our little house, it’s so nice now! The cellar is quite big and nice and and dry. And your father, the dear, and Lord Vurian, too, had already stocked it with two barrels of wine, one each! The floor is polished and very light and Arvi declares it’s so easy to keep clean. Today Arvi and I went to the joiner, because her room is bare now, and she needs at least a bed, a chair, a desk with a mirror and a chest. That she will come and live with us is now definitive: not in the least because her sister’s lover has come to live with her in Arvi’s mother’s house, and they need the whole of the room Arvi and her sister shared.
Did you know that during the weeks we’ve been in Valdis Arvi has had at least five boyfriends? The youngest was eleven, the oldest about twenty! She says she’s still a virgin, but I’ve told her to drink the tea every morning nonetheless. Once a woman gets such an appetite, it can’t be long before she’s found someone she wants too much! But I love Arvi very much, she’s such a good friend, never complaining about anything. Tonight we had, unexpectedly, about twenty people for dinner, and she never ever raised an eyebrow!
But, beloved, we will need more room when you return and our child is born. Tylse has already told me the house she and Aldin share is too big for her. I do think that once I know how much my ship — the Swan, not Attima’s ship — has profited me, that I will offer Tylse to buy her house. Meran, Aylin’s husband, thinks it will be between five hundred and eight hundred riders. Four hundred I want to invest in other ships, two hundred per ship, but the remainder I want to use to buy us more room. If it is much more, I might even want to replace the current building with something in brick or stone. Do you agree with your obedient wife that this is a wise course to take?
So, the night we arrived in Turenay, we had Leva, Hinla, Raisse, Dimani and her children, Selevi’s children, Kheti and Lyse for dinner, we were all women and were very silly! Tonight more or less the same, but not Dimani’s children nor Leva, but instead Kancho, Sinaya and Anju, Master Jilan and many more people. Father and Lady Halle were here, too. I have not had a chance to really speak with Father, though. Lady Halla has congratulated me on my condition, as have Raisse, Leva and Lyse.
Lyse says that everything is as it should be, and that I should keep to the diet proposed by Imri, that is, not drink over-much wine. But I have never been given to that anyway! And eat a lot of Síthi food. I think I can manage that! I only hope the winter isn’t going to be too bad. I still remember arriving in Essle around the festival of Death, and then taking the boat to Veray. I had nothing to wear except for a spare shift and the cotton seaman’s trousers and shirt I had worn on board of the ship, which were stiff with salt and dirt — I had even offered in them — and even I was cold on the boat to Veray! And the tummy-ache I had from all the cabbage and salted meat… But I’ll be brave. Besides, I won’t be travelling this winter, except for visiting Selle and Khisif. We are leaving tomorrow.
That is, me, Arvi (of course) and Cynla. Cynla is a very sweet friend of ours now. I do suspect Arvi of having planned this all along. The situation was this: on the morning of our departure I suddenly realized that we had no-one to drive the cart. Arvi said she’d ask the girl who brings vegetables to the Palace — and within twenty minutes she was back with Cynla. Cynla turns out to have a good reason for wanting to leave Valdis: her father has an apprentice who wants to marry Cynla, but Cynla thinks he’s a creep. She had to tell him “No!” a hundred times a day! I never have said no to anyone — but that’s because no-one dares to ask me anything improper unless I use semsin on them, and even then… Except for my first husband, whom I was not allowed to say no to, my mistake, and you — and I am so glad you asked me! I will never say no to you — except if you want me to leave Turenay and Leva, as you know.
But Cynla now thinks of becoming a nurse in the hospital. She’s not pretty at all, but very strong and cheerful and kind. And she laughs easily, too. I can see why her father’s head apprentice fell in love with her. Her hands are about as big as yours, I think, so I am using her to measure the growth of my belly!
I spent most of today running around town, seeing people. I did visit Lady Rava to return Erlyn’s clothes, but they no longer fit her, but there will be another daughter along, I’m sure, so I did not ask to keep them. Staying at Lady Rava’s house are Lady Moyri and Prince Uznur: you must have heard me tell about Prince Uznur: he’s the nephew of Prince Attima and was, way back in Albetire, quite the most desirable bachelor. For one thing, because he is handsome and was reputed to be very kind (I can confirm that now), for another thing because, while he had some lovers, he used to be very faithful to them for as long as it lasted, and that is something of a rarity at the Iss-Peranian courts! There were many girls in the Palace who would sigh meaningfully and turn the conversation to him whenever they got a chance.
But, as you perhaps know, he got hurt in the sea-battle before the Ryshas coast and had lost the use of his right arm. Leva had made it much better, and when I took a look at it, just from curiosity, he told me Leva had finally made him feel his arm was his again. Well, that gave me the clue I needed, and I used all my spirit to tell the bones, the muscles, the tendons and the sinews in his arm that they were his, his, and nobody else’s! That was quite hard work, since the injury is already three years old, and there’s nothing I could do about the scarred bones.
But it worked! And when Lady Moyri came back, Prince Uznur could embrace her with both arms! Of course, he cannot lift his injured arm above his shoulder, his shoulder is so delicate I cannot do anything about that, so if Lady Moyri had been taller than him, he wouldn’t have been able to embrace her. But she is even smaller than I am and her health is not very good: she was born with a disease of the heart, and it is a wonder she has four healthy children and not a single miscarriage. And her children are so cute! Oh, Aidan — think of it, we will have children that are just as cute and beautiful, I’m sure of it. After all, Serla, Bahar and the twins have a Valdyan and an Iss-Peranian parent, too. Maybe we should put our daughter in purdah, too, for her safety! (Do not take this seriously! I tried to make a Valdyan joke…)
I went buying a bed, a desk, a mirror, a stool and a chest for Arvi’s room — I am so glad we met her! She is truly wonderful. When we had all those people for dinner last night, she just made sure they had enough to eat, as if it wasn’t difficult at all! I also visited my little friends from down-town, with the presents I had bought for the girls in Valdis and sweets from the Síthi shop. You will be pleased to know that the temple for Dayati is progressing nicely: there are already some walls and Selevi told me she goes there to offer davat already. Also, my patients from downtown, the couple, the man who works at the glue-cookery and his wife, they are healthy. I inspected the man’s seed and the woman’s belly, and they are healthy enough to beget children.
Aidan, beloved lord of my life, I am chattering and chattering about Turenay — I am probably boring you to death with all the little things that happen here, while you are in the middle of the most important army march in history, charged with keeping safe the very people who, not so long before we were born, thought they owned the world and the gods. Whether knowing that will help you keep your patience with those very tiresome people, or make you lose your temper more easily, I don’t know… But I have never seen you lose your temper unreasonable: I so admire you for that. Me, I’m prone to spitting like a snake and scratching like a cat.
That reminds me! Our cats are doing well, and they recognized me and climbed in my clothes, and also Arvi. The word-picture I painted you above of the six girls in one bed, it should have been complemented by a a description of a black stripe of fur and a mottled stripe of fur draped over their buttocks!
I’m going to sleep now — the rest of the girls are asleep already. Tomorrow morning I will leave for Selle and Khisif. Cynla will drive the cart again, and Arvi will accompany me. Ebru will take the letter for Khastane’s son with her to Veray. I do hope he and his wife will forgive Khastane and welcome her!
Aidan, center of my soul, I love you so much. Writing this letter, I feel as if I am close to you again, even though I cannot feel your spirit at all anymore — which never happened since we met first, except when you went into the forest with the army, but back then, I was ill and didn’t feel anything but fever. But I don’t want to stop writing, since I love you so much. But I must stop, otherwise I will fall asleep when travelling and fall off the cart. My love, my love — go back in your mind and find the place where you have stored my kisses, I’m sure it is there. I am kissing you in my spirit everywhere, even that little place down your spine where it tickles you. I will kiss this letter — maybe it will carry a trace of my spirit or my scent to you. I will write to you as soon as I am back from Selle, my love — be brave, be wonderful, be sure I am yours for always.
Ps. I number this letter 1, so you can see when you get another letter from me whether any has gone missing.