To the north

Five days, they said.

When I woke up I heard Jerna’s father and the priestess talking softly. I stretched, and the priestess said “Ha! They’re awake.” Dayapati wasn’t really awake yet, but Jerna had been awake longer than me.

There was a skirt for Dayapati too, and knapsacks for all of us, full of food. “It’s five days to the river by the road,” Jerna’s father said, “so we packed food for six days. You’ll be able to get on a boat to Tilis then, that’s where you go to find a boat to Valdis. Mind you eat the fresh meat first, there was some left from last night’s pig.”

“A boat!” I said. “Do they get wrecked a lot?”

“On the river, usually not,” Jerna’s father said with a smile.

It felt like a feast day, the way everybody hugged us and wished us good speed. Jerna talked to the dog for a while and then pulled his ears and sent him to stay with her sisters. He didn’t really understand it, but went to watch the little girls as if they were sheep!

Then we were away. It was a beautiful day to travel, cooler than in the south but that made it easier to walk. Fields, then open land, a tree or a bush here and there. Clouds were coming in, and a few drops of rain fell on us, but that didn’t keep us from going on.

A little bit ahead there was an old woman trying to get her heavy-laden donkey to go forward. (I’d seen donkeys in the village and asked what they were, or I’d have thought it was a small horse with large ears! But donkeys are quite different, much more stubborn for one.) Jerna went and whispered in the donkey’s ears, and it shook its head and started to walk again, just as it started to rain for real.

The old woman spread her cloak over all of us. “Let’s walk together for a while,” she said. And the cloak was large enough to cover four people and rain didn’t get through!

I don’t know how long we walked, but the rain stopped and we ended up at the edge of water. There were very small waves, and you could see right to the other side! “Is this a river?” I asked.

The old woman smiled. “This is the Rycha.”

We’d never been walking for five days! The fresh meat in our bags was still fresh, too, so we shared it between us and the old woman. And when were done washing our hands and faces at the waterside, she and the donkey had disappeared!

“That can only have been Naigha,” I said.

“Will you pinch my bottom please?” Dayapati asked, and I did, and she yelped. “I’m not dead, then. Or perhaps we’re all dead and this is what it’s like.”

“Now we need a boat,” Jerna said. And there was one, on the other side of the river, with three men in it. When we waved our arms and called “Hey!” they came over to our side and the oldest of the men hailed us. “Young ladies! Can we help you?”

“We want to go to Tilis,” we said. And it turned out that they’d had a girl touched by the gods in their boat before, and they were willing to take us as a service to the gods. Or something like that, I didn’t even understand everything they were saying because they talked very differently from us or even Jerna. But they were taking us to Tilis and they didn’t want money or work for it. Good thing, because none of us had any money, and we didn’t know any of the work that’s needed on a boat.

It was a father and son, Lydan and Rhanion, who ran the boat with their deckhand Aldin. There was a mother too, but she’d stayed home in Veray for some business or other. They were in the Guild of Archan, and when I said my mother was of Archan they grinned and Rhanion wanted to practise with us. He got an earthenware pot and closed it with something, and gave us each a cup of water and told us to pour it in! None of us could pierce the stuff on the pot with our fingers, but it felt a bit like wax. “Boil the water and melt it, would that work?” Dayapati asked, and we put heat into the water like we did to start a fire until the cups were too hot to hold, and yes, it melted through the covering!