An uncomfortable meal
Several people said that Leva should have stayed in Turenay and gone to school there, but I don’t remember who and in which context! The page, perhaps, and at least one of the guildmasters at the high table.
A page — a girl a bit older than us, in the same livery as the Velain-but-really-Eraday boy — came to take us to the great hall, but before that she took us to a side-room where we could wash our hands and faces with warm rose-scented water. “Shall I do your hair, too?” she asked, and that was really nice because we’d got a bit mussed up in the donkey-litter and not done anything about it yet.
“You know what to do with hair like mine!” I said.
“Yes, we get people from a lot of different places here,” she said. And at the same moment, while she was touching my head, I realised that she was gifted but hiding. I said that silently to Riei, but I thought the girl would have her reasons. Riei obviously didn’t care about that: she sealed the room, startling the girl. “You’re hiding,” she said, “why?”
The girl shrugged and stared at her feet. “It’s better if all those guildmasters don’t pay attention to me.”
“Ah, right,” I said. “They already know about me so I don’t need to hide.” And then I suddenly recognised her: she’d been at the Donkey’s Head listening to the boy from Halfway telling Ishey stories. “See you at the Donkey’s Head on the day of Timoine? Or better, the day before so we can sleep in on our day off.”
“I don’t know when I’ll be off but I’ll try!” she said, and then she took us through to a really large hall with a hearth on either end. The door we’d come in through was next to the hearth on this end, and there were three people standing at it, all masters in the Guild of the Nameless, and one man a bit further away who didn’t look gifted.
The masters were a middle-aged man and woman, the man perhaps a bit older, and a very old woman. They were talking among themselves — it was clear that at least the middle-aged man and woman didn’t quite agree about Archan but they could be civil about it and get on — and we stood around until one of them noticed us. “Ah, you must be Leva,” the younger of the women said. “I’m Erne, head of the weavers’ guild. And head of the Guild of Archan in Veray.”
She looked friendly enough but I was wary. “I’ve heard that you’ve been working on the water-powered loom,” she said, and I nodded and smiled. “Aren’t you afraid it will be putting people out of work if it catches on?”
I’d already been giving that some thought, so I had an answer. “We think that the same number of people would be able to weave more cloth,” I said.
“Hm, yes, definitely a good thing,” she said, and then she introduced me to the man, Jichan, the head of the weaponsmiths’ guild. He’d heard I’d spent a couple of days with Maile’s parents. “They don’t have a large workshop,” he said, “but they do make the sharpest knives. I’m more of the hacking and slashing tools.”
“He’s losing business because criminals get hanged these days, not beheaded,” the old woman said, but Erne poked her in the ribs. “Don’t tease, Jinla.”
Jinla turned out to be the head of the wine merchants’ guild. “Do you want lessons?” she asked me out of the blue.
“I’ve already got a master,” I stammered, and when she asked Riei the same question Riei said, “I’ve been learning from my mother.”
The man who had been standing aside took pity on us. “I’ll take you up to the head table. My name is Lochan, I’m the harbourmaster.” He took us each by an arm and led us to the other side of the hall, to a long table that was already laid (the hall was full of other tables, but they were empty). The baron and baroness were already there, as well as the Mighty Servant and
Captain Prince Aidan, and Doctor Cora came from a door at the back and said to the baroness, “They’re in bed. Delightful children, excellent manners!”
We ended up on either side of the Mighty Servant, with the baroness on my other side and one of the guildmasters on Riei’s other side, either Erne or Jichan, I don’t remember. When we had sat down, a small crowd of people came in and very quickly laid the other tables, and then what looked like everybody else in the castle sat down at those! Food was brought, through a door behind us for our table, and through a door on the other end for the other tables. I wondered if they had two kitchens or just a corridor running behind the wall.
We got wine, and Riei asked for water for herself and me, and then Doctor Cora said “For me as well, please, I’m pregnant. Thank you for asking,” she added to Riei with a nod.
“How many now?” the baroness asked, and she had to count on her fingers because she had adopted so many children (a few older than herself, even, but those had mostly moved out) that she couldn’t remember how many she’d borne! But this was the fifth from her own body.
Then suddenly Jinla got up and walked round the table, to the tables in the rest of the room, and took half a pheasant from a young man’s plate and came back to put it on her own plate! “My pheasant is no good,” she said, “someone else has already eaten from it!”
I didn’t know what to do, and Riei was as petrified as me, and the baron looked as if he was balling his fists under the table, but Doctor Cora said sweetly, “That was you, Jinla. See, the marks of your teeth.”
“I don’t have any teeth!” the old woman said.
“Oh yes you do,” the doctor said, “I made you some last time I was here, remember?” (But if she did, it didn’t look like she was wearing them!)
Eventually the doctor got Jinla out of the room, into what I could work out were the family’s rooms, but not until she’d ranted a lot, some of it at me and Riei, “when did you get married? As unnatural as the old queen and that Hayan woman, but at least that was decently under wraps.”
“Were we doing anything indecent?” I asked the baroness when Jinla had gone.
“Not you,” she said, “it’s just — well, let me put it like this, her marriage was never happy, and her husband was the more unhappy one.”
The young man without a pheasant came up to our table with his plate and asked, “may I please have my pheasant back?” The baron smiled, put a napkin over one arm, took the plate and put the pheasant on it. Then he walked to the young man’s place, motioned for him to sit down and served him as if he was the page and the young man was the lord!
“I suppose everybody agrees that the wine merchants’ guild needs a new head,” the Mighty Servant said when the baron was back in his place. The remaining two guildmasters sighed. “We have said that for a long time. Now it’s time to do something about it.”
The doctor came back then, sat down and said, “She’s safe now. I’ve called Airath. She does insist there’s nothing wrong with her head so she doesn’t need the head-doctor, but I asked him to come here from Turenay especially in case this would happen. It was bound to happen sometime but I didn’t count on it happening so — spectacularly. Loryn, we’re going to stay the night, because now I want to take my husband along and I want to fuck.”
The baron laughed. “There’s already a room ready for you,” he said, and sent a page to take them there.
“I’ll seal after them,” Erne said, “if you don’t mind.”
“Of course I don’t,” the baron said. “You know Ruzyn and I can’t do that.”
“I think I want to call the woman with the nice donkeys and go home,” I said to Riei, and she agreed completely.
“I’ll take care of it,” the baron said and sent another page. “Now I think we all deserve a bit of the best brandy to take the edge off the shock. Even you young ladies, it won’t get you drunk, the glasses are tiny.” It was apple brandy! And even in a tiny glass (I’d probably want to have a better look at those glasses later, they were very well made) I could feel that it was strong.
Suddenly I had a wild urge to grab Riei and kiss her, surely the brandy couldn’t have been that strong? But Erne jumped up and said “My fault, I promised to seal and forgot all about it. Jichan, you and I together. And you,” she said to Riei, “if you dare.”
“All right,” Riei said.
“And you,” Erne said to me, “if you dare.”
All I did was give power to Riei as we’d done before, I didn’t want to be too close to two masters of the Nameless who I didn’t know yet! But the seal was done, and I didn’t feel so strange any more.
Mialle was outside waiting for us when we left a while later. We sat very close together in the litter, my head on Riei’s shoulder. “What Jinla said,” I said, “should we go to Three Hills and make it so, so people will stop gossiping so much?”
“People will gossip anyway,” Riei said, and then she took my head in both hands and kissed me on the mouth, but then she went all stiff.
“What’s wrong?” I asked. “Did I do anything?”
“Not you,” she said. “I can’t– I do want to kiss you but I’ll have to learn again that it has nothing to do with–”
“Things you don’t want,” I said.
“Yes.” And then she put her head on my shoulder, and in no time she was asleep.
We woke up in a bedstead. And when I was completely awake I saw that it wasn’t our bedstead, because there was no shelf with a reading lamp. (And no cats either.) I opened the door and saw we were in the kitchen and Alyse was beating eggs in a bowl.
“You were so fast asleep that we put you to bed in our bed,” she said.
“But where did you sleep?” Riei asked.
“Here, on a straw mattress on the floor. It’s all right, my old bones can take that. Now go and do your fighting.”
We weren’t even late! Captain Aidan wasn’t there, and the commander said that he’d sent a message that he’d been unavoidably detained at the castle. “Yes,” I said, “we were there, we expected him to stay.”
He looked searchingly at us. “I saw your work in the seal.” And then he said, “Now I’ll show you that swords are sharp. If I cut you, or you cut each other or yourselves, there’s a nurse through that door. If I cut your head off, carry it under your arm.” And he made us attack him both at the same time, but he defended himself without any difficulty. And he cut me in the belly, and Riei in the thigh, only a little cut through our clothes and skin but it bled a lot. “Not bad,” he said. “Now go and have yourselves seen to.”
The nurse — a journeyman in the Order, and I think she was learning to be a doctor — washed our wounds and passed her hand over them and the skin grew back together. “Take care with that for a couple of days,” she said, “it’ll be tender, but nothing time won’t cure. Maurin isn’t gentle but he’s precise. You’ll have to do your own mending, though.”
When we came back to the house to change, Alyse started to drop spoonfuls of the stuff she’d beaten into a pan of oil, and we got wonderful things for breakfast, fritters so light they were like bits of tasty cloud. “What’s that, your clothes torn? Give it to Cynla.”