Valdis felt like vacation. It was vacation! There were no fights, nothing really important going on. Fikmet took us to visit her mum, that was a bit uncomfortable. All the old Khas were all the time wondering whether this person or that person “was still a real Khas, or not”. Apparently the most important thing in the world! And as far as I can tell, being Khas means eating horrible stew, drinking fermented milk instead of beer and sitting by the fireside telling tall tales. To be fair, most of their young men had gone away with the King, so it was the old fogeys and the young children and the women who had stayed behind in the Khas village near Valdis. But we left as early as we could, before down, after spending a long night in a tent. At least Fikmet’s pet snake was happy!
Me, I was pretty happy as well. I’d discovered the Palace carpenter’s workshop, and the Master, Master Hynla, she was glad enough of an extra pair of hands, after I’d shown her my Journeyman’s certificate. That’s really handy, it counts for a lot with Valdyans! There was all kinds of work to be done, small repairs, but soon we were making hoists and joints for a complete replacement of one of the tower roofs!
Fikmet had found acrobat friends, nice people from Solay, and was training with them. The eve of Muzran was getting really close, and on Muzran’s day everyone had the day off, except for the acrobats, singers, musicians and tavern folk, of course. Oh, and some guards. It was quite a wild festival, with dancing in the streets — people taking leave of Summer, I guess, and preparing for the butchering next month, and then winter. Fikmet’s stunts were well done, and the troupe made good money, or so I heard. She’s said she’ll join them on their winter tour, in Ryshas.
Charpatong and Muhori (who everyone in Valdyas calls Moyri, but that isn’t the same name), they had discovered the library, and except for the festival day, that’s where they were. Well, when they weren’t training over at the Order House. I would’ve been jealous, if I could’ve been jealous. Anyway, Charpatong was still making eyes at pretty Valdyan girls every evening, when we’d go dancing, in the streets or at the Mill.
And then the King arrived. Together with Commander Sedi! And some other people. With their fastest horses they had outdistanced the returning army, and arrived right there in the courtyard of the Palace when we were working on the internal structure for the new tower roof. The king… He’s a great semte, but he’s a very small person, and he does look like me. No wonder Radan mistook me for the King’s brother! He’s also very nearly blind.
Of course, nobody paid any attention to us — we were just a bunch of kids hanging around! Except that then and there Commander Sedi noticed us, and beckoned us close. Charpatong and me, we hugged her! She said, she felt like she really had been welcomed home as well, and spent the next quarter of an hour asking us about our adventures and telling us about hers. Then she had to go — to the Order, though she was not staying there. She also wasn’t in uniform anymore.
The next days we had plenty of time with her. She taught us how to make a travel Temple, and we showed her how we prayed, and how there’s a bit of everyone who’s been with us on our travels in the prayers. The king, we didn’t see so much. He had a lot of ruling to catch up with!
Only when the Queen returned from Valdyas (that’s apparently what the province east of Lenyas is called…), did we get invited for a dinner. That took some days as well, but that wasn’t a problem, we were happy enough. Besides, one would expect to be kept waiting by kings and queens! And the Queen was very tired, a captain in her guard told me she had condemned to death and had hanged more than twenty brigands in a town called Three Hills.
But then the big night came. Charpatong had prepared himself properly, he had borrowed a princely suit from someone, but the rest of us, we weren’t so natty! But that didn’t matter. We were taken to a room that wasn’t so large, where the King, Queen, their children, Lady Talvi and her husband, Lord Ferin, and our Sedi were waiting for us.
There was also dinner waiting! (We were a bit late, because Fikmet was out with her acrobat troupe, and had to run home to be in time.)
So we told the King and Queen everything. And I mean, everything. We didn’t hide that I’d been a thief, and that Muhori still is technically stolen property. And we told her that we, Muhori and me, that we wanted to spend the rest of our life working for the Queen, to spread her decree that nobody shall be owned by someone else.
She nodded, smiled, glanced at Sedi, who wasn’t in the Order uniform, and said, “Well, and I can guess you’re not going to be in the Order! But you’re practically begging me to send you to school, aren’t you?”
And I answered, “Well, I had already guessed that we’d end up at school. But we can pay for it!”
And Muhori added, “And I, I really want to go to school! They have a library!”
In the end, Muhori and I were sent to Turenay, as we’d already been expecting, with the Queen’s blessing, and Charpatong was to join us. No way he could go home during the winter season anyway, and since he’s my best friend, the one I’ve had longest, I was really glad he decided to come with us!
Kalyana and Leying were coming with Sedi, who was going to spend the winter on her parents’ farm, and after that — the King and Queen have promised to help them find a farm in Valdyas, for the two of them.
And since there was a suspicion of snow in the air, the three of us started out the very next day already!