Introducing Lathad who is on his way, with Fikmet, to bring children back to their homes in the East.
Talk about bad memories… Why do so many people remember me, Lathad. I never tried to be memorable! And it’s two years since left Istila. Well, left. I was snatched, first and only and last time I got drunk. I was ten or eleven. It had been a pretty bad day, well, week, for me. No pickings, no gleanings, nothing. Couple of “friends” had disappeared a week or two before, and now they were swinging their goodbye. Harbour master caught them, sentenced them, got permission from Baraz, hanged them. Well, they’d deserved it, had stopped behing honest thieves and had taken up with some people from Iss-Peran.
Not me, I’ve got nimble fingers, but I’m a honest thief, you know? Well, was. Back then. My master was swinging, too, and I had just found a little nitch of my own, up a wall, under an over-hanging roof. Got some valuables hidden there, decided I could make it, on my own. Got cocky. Got swagger, you know? We’re, that’s, I am Lástalfái — kin to the King of Valdyas, right? I was stupid. Well, all boys eleven years old are stupid, I guess, I’m thirteen now, I got wise, I can tell you that.
Well, I got caught, I was shipped out to Iss-Peran where there’s some kind of emperor, which, as far as I can tell, is a king who thinks he’s better than other kings, who wanted to collect children. In particular, children who aren’t deaf and dumb, most everyone in his “realm” being afflicted with being mute and hard of hearing. Turns out our king’s daughter, Maha, wasn’t agreeable to that, and when there was no land visible anymore, she turned up, in our ship, where there wasn’t just me, but a dozen others from Velihas, and half a dozen kids from the East, and she started making plans to get us out and back home.
Long story… Let’s make it short. She did get us out, and on another ship, together with a bunch of Khas, Sithi and Valdyan children and we went back home over West. That’s, Albetire, Kushesh, Solay, Essle, Sarabal, Tal-Havin, Cuytim and finally Istila. Lots happened during that trip! We met another Princess — Princess Ayneth, that is, she could be be one of us, Lástalfái, I mean, and we saw Essle. And in Sarabal, yet another Princess, Lyse, I mean, and our Prince, Fekemme, joined us. Princess Lyse needed only one look at me to figure out what kind of rat I am, or was, and she decided I needed a real job…
So now I’m a ship’s carpenter’s apprentice. Which is pretty good, even though it ruins the touch! You need olive oil and care to restore fingers that have sanded down a bunch of chocks so they can lift a purse again. We did see wonderful things… Princess Lyse dancing with a Sea Being higher than the highest mast, the same being gently lifting a ship over a reef, and back again. Justice done by Her and Prince Fekemme. And She, the Princess, just seems to take care. I mean, no-one in the Tribe, no one, has ever thought of me. She found me a job, a master and never even forgot my name. I can see why Prince Fekemme married her, even though she’s a girl.
When we got back in Istila, I had a job! I couldn’t join the remaining kids, mostly from the east, who hadn’t found their parents yet, when She and Prince Fekemme went to the capital, to Baraz, because I had a job. But I had been in Baraz before; when the clan, Lástalfái, had a meeting there. So I had been there already, so it wasn’t something to feel bad about.
By the time they got back, I was really settled in my job! It’s not bad at all, you get to work with lots of tools and because it’s a Valdyan ship, the tools are all good iron! And I got really friends with Merain, who’s the cook, and my master, Ailin.
So when it was the Feast of Mizran, they took me with them on shore to drink beer and watch the actors and acrobats. Captain Rovin, he’s married and his family lives in Istila, he was home, and Dilshad and Ferkov hadn’t gotten leave. They’re also friends, Dilshad is one of the deck hands, and Ferkov is ship’s boy.
Dilshad and Ferkov can speak Velihan, they aren’t deaf, but both Merain and Ailin are deaf, like most Valdyans, but everyone speaks Ilaini on the waterfront anyway. But they couldn’t see the tricks the little Khas acrobat was doing: she was juggling with four real balls and five balls made out of ryst!
I went to watch closer, though, and when she had finished her turn, we got talking. Because it’s quite rare, to see a Khas who isn’t dead deaf and blind! She told me the priests in her country used to burn every child who could hear and see! That’s incredible, but I believed her.
She also turns out to have been stolen from her mother when she was little, but that was long ago, she’s nearly ten now. Her name is Fikmet and she knows Princess Lyse and Prince Fekemme really well! So when I told her that they were back in town, she said she wanted to visit, and I got permission to go there, too, it was my day off after all.
I took Fikmet to the Palace, by the shortest way, that is past where I used to live, before I was taken on the ship. When we climbed up to my cubby hole under the overhanging roof of an old warehouse, I could smell that someone else had taken over my place, a girl. There also was a little embroidered girdle stuck between the straw, but she hadn’t found my cache, and all my treasures were still there: some Valdyan silver coins, some bronze coins from the East and my good knife.
When we got down on the street again, we met Prince Charpatong and his mate, Vidus. They’re real friends, Bamen is too young for them and Jakham and Shiri are girls. Charpatong and Vidus were walking down the ally as if it were perfectly safe! Well! Istila is not Essle, and this was dumb.
They wanted to go to the harbour, came from the Palace. It was a good thing I was there, because two old mates of mine, who had been with Morug, too, they were already following them, and wanted to rob them, but prince Charpatong hired them as bodyguards instead! And that was a good thing, too, because a little later we met Lédu, who used to be a friend of mine, too, and she had wanted to pick their pockets.
When I ran after her, I couldn’t catch her, but I called out, she recognized me, and she came back. She told me that my little hiding place had been taken over by a girl who had left together with the army. She was doing well, she was earning money without stealing, but didn’t want to tell me how. As if I couldn’t guess!
But we took her with us, so she could meet Princess Lyse, because the Princess, she always is thinking of ways of making people learn their letters and get real jobs, and Lédu, she isn’t a bad sort, not like my old master, Morug, who was hanged by the harbour master.
But Princess Lyse was really busy: she had to go out on something official and had to be made pretty, which is really hard for someone as big and homely as she is! She did have lots of time for Fikmet, of course! Fikmet just couldn’t believe Princess Lyse was pregnant!
And then she sat down and told us they’d got problems: she was going to have to stay in Velihas, close to real doctors, maybe even in Baraz, and with the King gone and Prince Lathad, and Princess Maha, the Queen also wanted Fekemme to stay in Velihas. And she had promised to bring back the remaining children, to the East.
Fikmet’s spirit started to gleam, and she proposed she would go! She had been Princess Lyse’s best friend for ages, and everyone agreed this was a very good solution!
So we went back again… And I showed Fikmet the ship, and the place where she could sleep, but it turns out she didn’t have anything, no blankets, no bedroll, no warm clothes, and it will be very cold part of the voyage, because we have to hug the north coast to get to the East, and there is ice and snow, and it’s already Mizran, so winter is coming! Fortunately, we could tell the shop to send the bill to the Palace, to Lyse, and we could get everything she needed, and a nice warm cap for me, too.
She went back to the palace after we had delivered everything back to the ship, and I went back to work: a piece of round wood had to be replaced. While I was doing that, my other master arrived, Jeran, who is going to teach us Valdyan semsin work. He’s the First Mate, so he is really important, but he was also really friendly.
Well, I think we’re all set now! Tomorrow, the children will come on board, together with Prince Charpatong’s tutor, Anuman Khun, and then we will leave!