A very different Arin and a very different Raisse– not a journeyman butcher in Valdis reporting to the queen, but a Guild runner in Turenay (well, currently in Veray) reporting to the head of the Guild.
Eirein Arin astin Hayan to Hallei Raisse in Turenay
This time I’ll put my report in writing to make doubly sure that I don’t forget anything. I’ll be staying on for a few days to test my theories.
I arrived in Veray at the tail-end of the wine fair, the cellar clearance. I should have known, of course, but I was so occupied with my assignment that I had barely noticed the time of year. It was convenient, because there were still many people left in town talking to merchants, waiting for the best deal or just staying to enjoy themselves, and someone going around asking questions wasn’t very remarkable. I did in fact buy some wine at the cellar clearance, a merchant’s last lot of four small barrels of pretty decent East Mill that needs finishing this year; one for us, one for Father and Mother, and two for Grandmother. I don’t know whether, after I left, the man got another last lot of four barrels from the cellar behind the almost-empty one he was selling in, but that’s beside the point. The fifth barrel was open –that’s how I know it’s pretty decent– and I stayed to talk with him for a while. I managed to steer the conversation to the altercations between the Guilds, and he said that those tended to spring up without any apparent cause –as I had already seen last time– but some of the same people were always on the scene, and he pointed one out to me as he walked past. My effort to commit him to memory must have looked like hesitation to the wine merchant, because he offered me yet another discount on the wine, making a good-enough deal into an excellent deal.
But I digress. I found my man again at a small riverside inn, drinking something much worse than what I’d just bought four barrels and drunk three cups of. I considered playing more drunk than I actually was –you know that I’m Hayan enough to hold my drink– but I didn’t want to risk being thrown out and making myself conspicuous, so I sat down next to him and ordered a cup of the same and made a face at it. “Vile stuff, isn’t it?” he asked, trying to assess me at the same time. Good thing I’d put the protection on myself that you taught me, making me look barely gifted if at all.
By the time we had established that we were both called Arin, and Hallei Arin at that –I took the liberty of borrowing your mother’s name, as that of my own mother is probably all too well known in Veray– and that he was a journeyman wheelwright and I a nobleman’s under-footman (“underfoot man” was how he presented me to his friends later), and that I was twenty and he twenty-two, I was his friend forever and he invited me to a raid. Think of the story about Small Jilan caught between the two big robbers, poking one with a stick to make him think the other had hit him and escaping in the fight– they do that sort of thing all the time. For sport, I thought at first, but when I got Hallei Arin drunker still (easy for me not to drink the vile stuff, especially after the East Mill; I changed our cups around every time that his was nearly empty) he waxed lyrical. What he and his friends were striving for was to eradicate the curse of semsin, making the Guilds destroy each other by creating as much confusion and mutual distrust as they could. I asked “don’t the Guilds distrust each other enough already?” but no, the king, and also his mother, had brought about so much tolerance and concord that even in Veray the Guilds lived peacefully side by side unless someone poked them with a stick.
“The curse of semsin” was new to me, so I inquired what happened to people so unlucky as to be cursed that way, were they eradicated too? Oh no, they weren’t murderers, it was enough to pit them against each other and they’d take care of it all by themselves. He had to admit that there’d been accidents in the past, but not in the last few years, not since he had come in. I couldn’t very well ask about the one specific accident you sent me to investigate, but I don’t doubt that that was, among other things, what he was talking about.
Hallei Arin’s friends started to trickle in then, a handful of young men and one young woman who I would have thought stunning two years ago before I met Keti. When Arin introduced me they all welcomed me like a long-lost brother and slapped me on the back and poured me more wine. There was some roughhousing, and their language got coarser, until someone suggested that I must be the nobleman’s by-blow as well as his flunky. (I do wish I had a less noticeable face– after all, there’s no mistaking the Hayan nose.) The girl shut him up and came to sit by me, “don’t let him get at you, he’s just a stupid oaf”. I wondered whether to tell her that I had a wife and a baby daughter at home to discourage her, but before that was necessary the leader, Aldin, beckoned us and outlined a plan. We’d first create a disturbance near the Order house, then get both the Order and the Guild of the Nameless to come and investigate it, and spread the rumour that the other party had started it. I wondered whether anyone would still fall for that if it had happened so many times before, and also whether to go along with it or to try to bow out gracefully.
In the end I didn’t have to decide, because it came to nothing– the stupid oaf, Doran by name, got thrown out for trying to grope the serving-maid, and someone took Hallei Arin home because he was really too drunk to stand, and the others sort of drifted away, all except the girl and a boy who looked a bit like her and turned out to be her brother. “You’re not really the nobleman’s by-blow, are you?” he asked me, and I shrugged and said that my grandmother might have been a Hayan, and we had a good laugh about it. I bought a jug of better wine than the vile stuff, claiming with a wink that I had travelling money from the boss. Which is mostly true; never mind that the money comes from the Guild in Turenay and the boss is you.
I got some more out of them, and I’ll write down the names and anything else I know now, and seal and send this letter at once so nothing will get lost:
- Aldin, carter, unquestioned leader of the group. Twenty-five or so, tall, brown hair in a tail, noticeable scar on back of the right hand as if he was on the wrong end of a sword once like Jichan.
- Doran, labourer, the stupid oaf, about nineteen. Big, heavy, short dark hair.
- Aine, journeyman glazier, about sixteen, dark hair and tinted skin, very pretty, possibly an Iss-Peranian or Síthi up her family tree.
- Teran, Aine’s brother, apprentice glazier, no older than thirteen, dark hair and tinted skin, big eager eyes. I wouldn’t be surprised if he actually turned out to be gifted, and what will they do then?
- Hallei Arin, journeyman wheelwright, twenty-two, dark hair, badly shaven (though that may not have been structural). Garrulous when drunk; gets drunk easily.
- Aivan, journeyman weaponsmith, about twenty, small and neatly built but muscular, smooth dark hair. Might be the smartest of the group.
- Erian, builder, about eighteen, large and loose-limbed, red hair. Questions everything, a healthy attitude but it does slow down operations.
I’m convinced that there is something behind this, not just a bunch of disgruntled people who aren’t gifted themselves and try to annoy semti out of spite. It was already going on six years ago, and it can’t all have been the same people: Aine and her brother are really too young for that, and arguably most of the others too. Anyway, Arin told me the “accidents” happened before he was in. Aldin may be the group leader, but he’s not the brain– and if the brain is Aivan, he must have had a predecessor because six years ago he too was still a boy. From what Aine and Teran told me the group has “always” existed, people come across it and come in. They didn’t say that anyone had ever left; I didn’t dare ask them directly for fear of giving myself away. It may simply be that people get married, or become masters and get their own workshop, and have no time for pranks.
I must talk to these people again. Perhaps I’ll go on one of their raids after all to see what exactly they’re up to. I’ll talk to Maurin of the Order first, under cover of darkness, so he’ll know what I’m here for in case I’m spotted. After all, there’s no mistaking the Hayan nose that I got from my grandmother.
Veray, at the Fishing Otter,