Sayeh writes to her family in Albetire
This is one of the Iss-Peranian women who came home to Turenay with soldiers. Cora, Valdyan as she has become, is still firmly their queen.
From Sayeh to her honoured Father, her Mother and her sisters Vadhri and Priya,
Dear Father and Mother, dear Elder Sister and younger sister, your obedient daughter and sister has the honour of informing you through the hand of her friend the painter Dimani that your obedient daughter’s marriage to Eirein Ayran has been blessed by the birth of a boy, who has been named Aidan, in honour of the husband of our Queen, Prince Aidan.
Your obedient daughter gave birth to her husband’s son in the house of the painter Dimani and she begs you to find enclosed a picture of herself and her husband’s son painted by the Court Painter of the Valdyan King, Shab Hafte.
(Dear sir, ladies — the painter Dimani regrets that her friend Sayeh does not allow her to continue in the proper style but instead insists that your servant, the painter Dimani, takes down her exact words. Her husband is now insisting that your daughter Sayeh learns to write her own letters.)
Father, mother, Vadhri, Priya! I have given my Ayran a son! He’s a beautiful boy, small as Valdyan babies go, but big compared to the babies at home. The prince, I mean Captain Aidan, the brother of the Valdyan King, who is married to our Queen, Asa, who is a doctor here in Turenay, in Valdyas, he thought Aidan was small, but he’s bigger than his daughter, Raisse. I have given my husband a son, and the Queen has only given her husband a daughter, but her house is full of children anyway.
There is so much to tell you — I have never even thought of writing you a letter, since I know nobody at home can read anyway, but Dimani, she is a merchant and a painter and married to a Valdyan master painter, and his given him a son as well, she says there is bound to be someone who can read it to you. And who knows? Maybe Vadhri or Priya have learned their letters by now.
As you know, when I was given to the former King as a concubine, joining the two thousand, nobody expected me to be more than yet another servant to the Queens and to the King, though it was a very great honour, of course. I was very safe in the women’s Palace since the King was too old to bother the girls, and the Chief Eunuch too efficient by half to let any man in. Only the Queen, she got pregnant through the dark arts of the Dandar! And not from the King!!!
But then the Valdyans came, hundreds of them, and the earthquake when the Queen’s unborn child was killed by the dark gods — and there was chaos and confusion and people were killing each other! The women’s palace was half rubble, half a burning hell, and we had to flee. Some went this way, others went that way, there was nobody to help us, guard us, take care of us, and rumours told about the madness of the new King, who had killed the Master Eunuch. And Queen Asa had disappeared, and the old Queen had died as well!
Well, I fled as well, together with a friend of mine from the palace, and we came upon a group of Valdyan soldiers, and instead of properly raping and killing us, they gave us food and shelter, they were very nice and polite to us. There were men and women, officers and soldiers, and they making a camp to guard the entrance to small Valdyas.
And there I met Ayran. He makes tuns and baskets and things by trade, his father had his own workshop which Ayran’s elder brother had inherited, so Ayran went to the war. He — I could see he liked me very much from the beginning, even though we couldn’t understand each other at all. But he never touched me — he only shared his food with me and smiled at me and asked a doctor to tend my wounds.
There were others like me, concubines, servants, eunuchs, who found shelter with Valdyan soldiers that week. The town was being wrecked by the Red and Blue parties, and I do hope you have found shelter and are still alive! And that this letter finds you. Like the others, I was no longer sure what to do — I couldn’t marry another Iss-Peranian man, and I couldn’t go home, because of the war. And at night, Ayran gave me his blanket and then I was worried that he wanted to keep me to sell me, because he still didn’t touch me, but when I woke up in the morning he was looking at me, and he gave me some food and told me his name. And then I decided to come with him, because no man had looked at me like that, except Farazh next door, who died in the plague the year before I entered the Palace.
And it took a very long time, and we had to walk all the way to the west, so far! You wouldn’t believe there’s so much world outside Albetire. And some place I don’t know the name of (but Ayran tells me it was Il Ayande) the Valdyan Witch joined us and she started frying Khas with the heat of the air! There was so much war, and so many Valdyan soldiers died — almost everyone from my Ayran’s regiment died, and almost everyone from a place called Veray as well.
And still Ayran had not touched me, other than to wake me in the morning or to give me something. He did learn our language, and I learned his language, until he spoke our language well enough to ask me to marry him! I was so surprised, and I told him he could have me without marrying him, since I had been a concubine already, but he said he wanted me as his wife, and to take care of me like I had cared for him. But he had all the time cared for me, because whenever there was someone with bad intentions, he had chased them away, and one night, he even killed a soldier who had tried to snatch me away from him, but I had thought, he was defending his property. But I had cared for him as well, of course, with all the skills you have taught me, Mother, and when he insisted that I marry him, well, then I decided to double my effort.
And then he started telling me about himself, about his parents, who have both died in a plague, his brother and his brother’s wife, his country, and I told him about you, about home in our street in Albetire and I felt so happy! It was war, and people were dying, and we had to walk, walk, walk, walk! But at night, when I was cooking his food, or when I was tending his wounds, I felt I had been blessed by the Gods to have found a man who wanted me to be to him what you, Mother are to Father. No longer a concubine — I am pretty, I know that! But now I would be the only pretty woman for Aidan. At least, the only one he would take with him, I’m not saying that he doesn’t notice that other women can be pretty as well, but I am the one who gets the compliments and the kisses. That took a long time — he was so shy at first, hardly dared talk about my charms, I think the Valdyan language lacks the words.
And then we were properly married! The Witch, she married hundreds of people when we had arrived in a strange country, it was Midsummer, which is a holy day to the God my husband serves, he is called Anshen, and not to be confused with the Deceiver, whose holy day is also Midsummer. My husband is a very great, very magnanimous man. He did not even notice that I had had a man before, poor Farazh, but then, nobody of the palace had noticed either — and he did not even ask! He also didn’t ask for a dowry, that apparently is not the custom in Valdyas.
I gave my husband happiness, and he gave me peace — in the middle of the war! And now I have given him a son!
We had to march on, but in a fishing village, we had the choice: continue to Solay, which is also called Aumen Síth, and earn a double bonus, or leave the war. My husband consulted me, and told me he had earned a large sum in silver already, and that we could earn gold in Solay, but that it would be very dangerous and that his “tour” was over and that he was allowed to return to his native place, which is called Turenay.
I was in favour of going for gold, but I was pregnant for the first time then, and when the army doctor had told my husband that, he was very afraid of leaving our child an orphan and me a widow. And then the tales of Solay started coming in, it was the last stronghold of the Khas, and bigger than Albetire. So we decided to take the first ship to Valdyas, but that only went after all the others had gone to Solay, so we had to stay in Kushesh, that is what the place is called, a long time, three, four months, before we could go on board of the ship, that is called “embark”.
And at sea, I lost my first child, it would have been a daughter, so it was perhaps for the best, but my husband Ayran was so sad! He wept when the priestess of Death packed whatever came out of my belly — I didn’t want to see it! — in clean linen and prayed when she cast it overboard. It would have been a daughter, and Ayran was so sad, I did not understand him, but I loved him all the more. I told him that these things happen, if the Gods wish it — and he said he knew, since his brother’s wife had never carried a child to live, though she gets pregnant quite easily.
Then we arrived in Essle… Essle is just like home, but flat and wet. My husband received his papers from the King’s office — there’s an Iss-Peranian prince working for the Valdyan King there! But Essle is not Iss-Peranian, it is very Valdyan. We received the news that Prince Aidan had already passed through on his way to Turenay. There were more people coming from Kushesh and from Solay, and there was a sergeant, he formed a company of people from this country, it is called Ryshas, and we were put on a ship that was going to a town called Veray.
The countryside, dear Father, is so green, you cannot believe it. The houses here are either brick, or made like you can make them so well, but I have noticed that there are holes in the walls quite often, so I think that you have more skill than the Valdyan builders. Either that, or the Valdyan rains are worse! We travelled through this green countryside, first passing a large fort called “Tilis” and then along a river with little villages but no towns, no forts, no estates that I could recognize along it, until we arrived in Veray. This took three weeks!
Veray is counted as a big town here, but I think it is quite small, although very crowded and the streets are narrow. My Lord Husband tells me very good wine is made here — and he shared a cup with me. More than half of our troop was staying in Veray, some going to the villages in the neighbourhood, some living here. Some of the people in our company had been very foolish with their money, gambling it away or spending it recklessly, but my Lord Husband is very wise and had not spent anything, but here in Veray he gave me a beautiful silver necklace — I look like a queen now, the necklace is made of little swallows biting each other’s tails, as if they are flying around my neck.
We were so close now! We had to walk — there is no good river between the town of Bath, which is what Turenay means, and Veray, and it is two days walking. We weren’t used to that anymore! But everyone was eager to be home and see whether their family was still alive or not. There has been a bad plague in Valdyas this winter, we had learned in Veray.
Turenay turned out to be about as big as the Palace — at least, about as many people live here as used to live in the Palace. I think the town itself is a good bit smaller — and there aren’t very many nice buildings. But there are so many bath houses!
The first thing we knew was that the Queen, Queen Asa!, she took all of us to a bath house, men, women and children, made us take off our clothes, and with many hugs, kisses and tears of happiness at our arrival examined us for sicknesses, wounds and vermin. Anyone who was sick was separated, but neither me nor my lord husband were sick. Then we were allowed to take a bath! I was allowed to tend to my lord husband, but there many bath maids and some boys ready to wash us. Valdyas is a civilized country!
And then there was a huge celebration in our honour!
That evening we slept in the back room of my lord husband’s parents’ house, and I met my brother-in-law, Jeran, and my sister-in-law, Halla. I find it hard to have the proper attentive and obedient attitude to my sister-in-law, since she is very unpleasant in the way she treats me and my lord husband; our neighbour tells me Halla had expected to receive the bonus Ayran had earned! And while she can conceive, she cannot carry children to the end, it seems. And she distrusts all foreigners, including the wonder-working doctor-witch-queen, our Asa! How stupid can you be!
Well, our Queen wanted me to work in her weaving workshop, but that didn’t work out very well, since I do not possess the skill. She is amazing — if she sits down to show one of the girls how to make a proper brocade, well, she’s finished before anyone has seen what she is doing. But I decided to help my lord husband, so now I am selling baskets and tuns and things on the market, and from the remnants and splinters and so on I make useful things and sell them for a little extra, like clamps for holding up the wet laundry and so on.
Then I noticed I was pregnant again. And now I have a son!
All my love, my love, my love to you my dear parents and sisters. I miss you so!