Well, it turns out the Emperor’s City is not that far way, we are already quite close now. We have had quite a few real adventures along the way! We’ve seen not just the little beings of spirit that lives near Kalyana’s village, but also much friendlier beings of spirit that live in the forests — they are like weasels or stoats, but friendly. It’s strange that we never see those in Velihas! Maybe there aren’t any — or maybe here they just come out to see us, because we’re a really strange group of people! We’re almost all foreigners, and we would be foreigners wherever we would be, and we’re all really gifted as the Valdyans count that.
We’re also really together with each other, and I will miss people when they stay home. We can trust each other, and how strange is that? Eleven people who can trust each other!
Some days, maybe two weeks? We’re not going fast, we arrived at the edge of the plains where Kalyana’s people live, and there the road went steeply down, really steeply, so we had to help our poor horse. The dog was down half a day before us! And when we came down, we found two people, man and wife, with a cart with a broken axle. They’d also lost a wheel and had eaten their ox!
Well, I am an almost half-trained ship’s carpenter, and together, we knew how to fix this! The next day, we had located the lost wheel, reinforced it, fixed the axle, repaired the suspension and patched their canvas covering. When doing that, we discovered that these people (they were nasty, they were bickering all the time), they were carrying a load of chains, manacles and handcuffs, all steel! Shiri told us that Tsengeya was famous for its smiths and we started to think that these people might also be working for the emperor of Ashas!
But they didn’t have an ox anymore, so they were not going anywhere fast, and we wanted to go south. But Garhan, our Khas guard, he had a horse, and because we were fed up with him anyway, we said he could go with him, and take his horse. But they were slow going, especially mountain-up! I don’t think they realized that almost all of us used to be trade goods for the Emperor in Ashas!
A few days later, still in the forest, we met Charpatong’s dad. He’s a nice old guy, but not what I would call a king. Still, we gave him back the seal, and he let us keep the money and when we said that, no, we didn’t want any of his forty soldiers he smiled, and didn’t make us take them with us. It’s not like he won’t need every loyal soldier he can get when he gets back to Sutharam! And he let Charpatong come with us. That was touch and go! Because Charpatong is now the last living heir, but as Charpatong said, his dad can always marry another girl and make more children, if he dies.
So we went on, and had nice travels. We did lots of semsin exercises, did lots of hunting and cooking, got pretty filthy and sang a lot! Then one night, after we’d been warned about bandits, we started teaching each other to fight. Well, that’s to say, me and Fikmet really know how to fight, and Charpatong knows how to strike a pose with a sword in his hand. Fikmet is decent with a knife at close quarters, and really good throwing knives. Me, I’m really good with a knife in close quarters.
Problem is, I have been taught to wound, to kill — I’m a nasty fighter, I’ve been taught to be cruel and not care. And if my training takes over, I become scary. That’s excellent of course! If you’re fighting, you should fight to win, and the only reason the bandits ever got me was because I was drunk! I’m never ever going to be even a little bit drunk again!
But teaching knife fighting gave me the shivers, really badly, not even Feneng could do anything much about that. They had to subside…
Pretty soon afterwards we came to Tsengeya, it was already dusk. The gates were closed, and the guards didn’t want to let us in, even though we were dying for a bath. So we wanted to make camp right then and there, but they chased us back to the forest. At least I set fire to the sergeant’s trousers! (We’re getting really good with the Valdyan semsin.)
I had looked into the town with my mind, and found someone else who was gifted, who said, I’ll talk to you tomorrow. I don’t know why, maybe I was just pissed at the guard, or whatever, but, duh, I wanted to go into the town and show that person that I could come and go when I wanted! So we looked around, and found all kinds of huts squatting against the town wall in places, and I was sure that there would be back entrances. There always are: and if there are people who are so poor they cannot live inside the walls, well, those are the people who work in the wine shops and brothels and have to go in and out all night!
So Tanu and I went there to look for a way to sneak in, and we found one — it wasn’t even hard. A postern gate that was always open and opened onto a brothel’s courtyard. It wasn’t hard at all to sneak in, clamber up the wall and roof and check out the street in front of the brothel. Well, and there was the person I had seen before with my mind!
When I saw her with my eyes, I was looking deep inside her shift, because it was very low-cut. I sort of blushed, then nudged her to warn her I was coming down, and in the shadows clambered down. She turns out to be really short and her hair is like Kalyana’s — black and fuzzy. She spoke my language! With a horrible accent, but she spoke Velihan! I was really amazed, but I was even more amazed when she told me her owner had put her there in the entrance to the brothel to check the customers, whether they were to be trusted or not, and she does that with semsin. And in a few years, she would have to work inside, too, and already there were customers not bothering to ask her and feeling her up. I was really angry, I don’t want people to be owned by other people, and she’d be owned since she was born, and her owner wanted to breed from her, too!
So I promised her that we would steal her tomorrow and give her to herself, and then I clambered up the wall and we went back to the camp, where we told everyone of the situation. Fikmet was a bit obnoxious, she thinks I had fallen in love with her, but I didn’t even know here name! And she asked if I had a plan, but that was easy. I always have a plan — and an extra plan, in case of, and most often also a third plan. So I told everyone my plan: we’d go in tomorrow, do some shopping, make sure we were noticed everywhere. We’d do laundry, wash ourselves, buy clothes and so on — and then leave. But Tanu and I would remain behind and steal this slave who should be her own person!
Everything went without a hitch! It was expensive, we bought lots and lots of clothes, and I hid one pair of girl’s clothes under my shirt, and we had our knives sharpened, and our clothes washed, and ourselves, and I don’t think there was anyone left in town who hadn’t heard about us, and who hadn’t heard the whole gang had left before dusk!
When it was really dark, we came in again, Tanu and me, and I started looking around, and I found her almost immediately. She wasn’t at her post at the brothel, but inside some house in the market square: a really posh house! But posh houses have side entrances, and this house wasn’t an exception. Just when I made to fumble open the door, it opened, and she was there! She was wearning what I think are servant clothes, so it was a good thing we had a change for her! And she told us she’d put a sleeping draught in the evening meal, so everyone was asleep! I asked her if there was anything she wanted to keep, and she said, no, only she wanted to cut her owner’s throat. I said, don’t do that, you’ll have nightmares, and then we went on. She was just about as good as Tanu and me, and we went over the roofs like cats! And before you could say knife, we were outside the walls.
As soon as we were outside, we stopped, and I put my hands on her shoulder and said, “I stole you, so if we get caught, I am the thief, not you, and now I’m giving you to yourself!”
Then we went south. But we were cunning: we didn’t join the others for a day or two, we drank water from the ditches, and didn’t eat much, but that was fine. We saw soldiers riding out searching for her, and when they came back, Fikmet warned us, and we could hide in the ditch again. And then we were all together!
She told us her name was Manyene — which sounds nice but means jackall! So we asked her whether she wanted to choose another name, and after a bit of discussion, because she didn’t want a Valdyan name since the children thieves her ex-owner met regularly had Valdyan names, too! They had wanted to buy her from her ex-owner, but he had refused, because he had heard that the Emperor in Ashas breeds gifted children and had wanted to breed from her!
Before long, she belonged to us, and we had told each other our stories, and were doing semsin together, hiding, sealing, mind-seeing, everything. Singing, doing languages and traveling. I had bought chickens and a rooster in Tsengeya — not to eat, but to throw at our enemies if we would happen to be pursued. There’s nothing better for stopping a horse than a big, well-spurred rooster, I’d say! But we weren’t being pursued, so we ate the chickens.
When we camped out and did our semsin exercises, there was another group camping out and we got friendly, because they were also gifted and saw what we were doing, they were going to Tsengeya, but promised they wouldn’t give us away.
A few days later we arrived in a largish village, Nyeredzi. It was a ring of houses around a market, and in the middle of the market was a temple to Muzran. Well, we still had the rooster to spare, so we went inside and gave the rooster to the priest. He killed it immediately and gave us a big smear of rooster blood on our foreheads.
It was a nice kind of village: we found a place to sleep in a big barn belonging to one of the two inns, and could do our laundry and wash ourselves — yes, we do get dirty, but all of us like to be clean! And in the evening, there was food, and music, and Fikmet had lots of fun learning new tunes, at least, when the inn cat had been carried away, because it was trying to sing together with Fikmet.
That night before we went asleep we made a game of sealing every entrance to the barn with semsin! And I’m sure we did a good job, because when I had the watch, we heard some people trying to get in through the trapdoor between the barn and the stable, and failing. So I roused everyone and we were ready to trap them!
I took the seal away, and first one person came in, and then the second one, and we caught them all! They were Iss-Peranians from Ashas, and they had seen us play with semsin mice, and decided to catch us and bring us to Ashas! They had all kinds of money and letters and horses, and rope, but there was only the two of them.
Well, we handed them over to the village priest, who promised they would be transported to Tsengeya and sentenced — I hope that happens.
In any case, we had a lot of gold now, so I gave some to the temple and some to our hostess at the inn, to make earrings from.