When the doctor and the captain had gone to the Order House where they were going to spend their first night in Veray, we had an early dinner with Alyse and the rest of the family. Then we went into the garden to see if there was some work to be done. Hinla was there already, and she promptly set us to weeding — it was weeding season, with the spring air everything was coming up at the same time. We got quite good at telling the difference between weeds and vegetables! “This is nice work,” I said, “I can think while I’m doing it!”
And talk, too! We talked about all kinds of things. When Hinla heard that we knew Prince Vurian, she wanted to know how that had happened, and I said “the king employed us to take him and his milk-brother to Turenay,” without telling all the rest.
“So he’s of the Nameless too?”
“The same Nameless as his father, yes,” I said.
“What’s he like?”
“Nice,” I said, and “serious,” Riei said, “doing his best to learn to become a good king. And I think he wants to marry my little sister. But she’s only eight, and he’s barely eleven, so it’ll be a couple of years yet.”
The talk went on to other things, as talk does, and we found out that Hinla had a boyfriend! “You should come along when we go to the Donkey’s Head again, both of you!” I said, but he wasn’t allowed, Hinla said, he was Síthi and his father made him study all the time.
“That’s nonsense, a person can’t study all the time!” Riei said. And I asked, “does he make music?”
“Yes,” Hinla said.
“Then he must come to the Donkey’s Head and play for people and learn other people’s songs!” And Hinla said she’d find a way.
And then we were suddenly talking about kittens, and we said that if Hinla wanted a couple they’d be ready to leave their mother pretty soon. “Better ask the baker first, his cat ran away!” she said. And at the same moment our cat came by and head-butted our hands. Hinla rolled her eyes. “I believe that is the baker’s cat!”
“Well, she’s living with us now, kittens and all.”
“I wonder what the cats eat!” Riei said. “Well, the kittens are still having their mother’s milk, I suppose.”
“I saw our cat with a rat this size the other day,” I said. (Probably from the baker’s storeroom, even!) “But perhaps we should go to the butcher and ask for some scraps.”
“Oh!” Hinla said. “I completely forgot, but the priestesses say thank you for the onions, and you’re invited to come and eat onion soup sometime this week.”
“Then we’ll buy them a round of hard cheese to grate into it,” I said.
“Grandfather thinks the middle priestess might be his daughter,” Hinla said, “and that makes her my aunt, strange idea! But they are about the same age, the old priestess and Grandfather, I mean.”
The weeding was done, and all of us were muddy all over. “We still have time to go to the bath-house,” Hinla said, “I’ll ask Grandfather if he’s coming.” But he was busy counting up the shop accounts, so only the three of us went. There was a bath-house in the next street, and it cost only sixpence (eightpence if you wanted soap but we’d brought our own). We scrubbed our grubby hands with pumice stone, and I resolved to buy one of my own because I expected to have hands as black as this or blacker from the work in the school.
Riei oiled my hair — the oil from the oil shop really was the right kind — and we went home when it was already getting dark. “We should have stopped weeding earlier!” Hinla said, “fortunately it’s not far, there’s the Order House already.” Where the captain and Ebru were standing outside the gate, looking as if they were measuring something out with their hands.
“We’ll be there tomorrow morning!” I called to Ebru, and she answered, and then we saw two people hurry into a side street in the dusk. “Even here?” the captain asked, but we didn’t hear the answer because we were already inside our house. Hinla came in through the front door with us and went home through the garden, and while we were seeing her off the cat ran past us, carrying a whole roast pheasant!
“That’s a strange kind of vermin to have running around in the garden,” I said.
“I wonder who she stole it from,” Hinla said. And we promised to find whoever it was and pay them sixpence, oh wait, a shilling because it was definitely plucked. “One and a half,” I said, “for being roast!”
We had a final cup of tea in the kitchen and went to bed, after Riei had collected the pheasant bones and thrown them in the cesspit. We’d have to be up at the crack of dawn in the morning!
I was awake early enough at least: it was barely getting light. I climbed over Riei and pulled at her until she tumbled out of the bedstead half-awake. We washed and put our riding clothes on, and Riei wore her Khas coat too, it wasn’t warm yet this early in the year (and the day) and perhaps it would block some stick-strikes. “I wish I had a leather jacket,” I said, while I put on my coat as well. “But perhaps I can get one when I’ve learned a bit more.”
The bit of ground in front of the Order House gate had been swept, and there were already several people trying out weapons and sparring against each other, though we didn’t think we were too late. Ebru was busy with some stick-fighters, but the captain was there too and he came up to us. “Morning. Come to learn?”
“Sure,” we said, and then he asked us what we could already do. “Neither of you is strong or tall enough for a quarterstaff, really. It gives you reach, but it needs a lot of strength. Can you fight with a knife?”
I shook my head. “I can fight with my bare hands.” And Riei blushed and said that she could handle a cosh or a sock full of gravel.
“Hm, I think I’ll give you swords,” he said, and ran into the Order yard and came back with two swords in sheaths which he belted around our waists. “First lesson, draw it,” he said and drew his own.
We tried to draw ours the same way, and then the captain said to Riei, “Oh, I see” and moved the sheath to her other side. “Now try with your other hand. Are you left-handed for writing too?”
“No,” she said, “we weren’t allowed.”
“What kind of school is that?” the captain said, and I said, “When I learned to write we could try with both our hands until we knew which one went best.” (Except Síthi, of course, that’s always with your left hand, and Iss-Peranian, that’s always with your right. I can write about as well with either hand but there were people in school who never got the hang of Iss-Peranian because they were very left-handed, or of Síthi because they were very right-handed.)
Riei shrugged. “Not a school. In the house.”
“Hm.” I could see that the captain wanted to ask more questions but kept himself from it. “Now try this.” And he showed us where to put our feet, and how to move the sword. It was easier now Riei had the sword in her left hand because we could move as mirror images!
Now I noticed that I’d been holding the sword for a while but it didn’t feel heavy at all. “What’s it made of?” I asked. “Steel, right?”
“A kind of steel,” the captain said, “not Iss-Peranian steel, but… Well, I don’t know much about metal. You’d have to ask a smith.”
“But it’s made from iron, isn’t it?”
“Oh yes, definitely. Not from copper or anything.”
After a while the captain even attacked us, and expected us to defend! And then I noticed that the sword felt like it was part of me, like my arm was a lot longer, and that made it easy. “Well done!” the captain said. Riei managed to defend herself too, but she needed a moment longer to think. Then the captain took his own sword in his other hand, and that was easier for Riei but harder for me.
“So it’s easier if you both use the same hand?” I asked.
“Yes, and that’s why left-handers have an advantage because most people are right-handed and the left-handers train more against right-handers than the other way round.”
That figured. And then the lesson was over, it was full daylight, and we were sweaty and thirsty. The Order had set out jugs and buckets of water, and cups and towels, and everybody could have a drink and a quick wash. There were more people around now, men and women and children who apparently hadn’t come to watch the fighting but they all went through the gate: they looked very poor, and I thought the Order was going to give them breakfast because it was a temple, and that’s what temples do.
“Only the Temple of Mizran though!” Riei said when I mentioned it, “and at the back door!”
“The Temple of Dayati too,” I said, “and the Temple of Naigha when you’re brave enough to go in and ask.”
“I’m only staying a week,” the captain said to us, “but I’ll ask Maurin to teach you while Ebru teaches the staff-fighters. She’s got plenty of talents but splitting herself in two isn’t one of those.”
“Where do we put the swords?” I asked, because we were still carrying them and didn’t know where he’d got them from.
“Keep them — it’s a gift from me.”
“We can afford to buy our own swords!” Riei said hotly. “We’re plenty rich enough.”
“I don’t doubt that, but I do want to give you something for the service you did to Cora sending that letter. You may want a better sword of your own anyway after you’ve learned a bit. Veray seems to be full of weaponsmiths.”
Doctor Cora herself appeared then, in a gown over a nightshirt, looking sleepy. “Anyone wounded?” But there was only someone who had tripped and grazed his knee, and that didn’t need the doctor, washing it was enough.
We went home and dressed in ordinary clothes and ate porridge, and then we set out for the Temple and the school. We took the swords with us — I’d wanted to leave mine in the chest, but Riei was going to hang hers up in the Temple with her coat, and she could hang mine next to it easily enough, so we’d be in the street wearing a sword and at least looking as if we weren’t defenceless.
“Can you take Arin to Jichan’s workshop?” Cynla asked. Senthi had already gone to work, even before we were off to the Order House.
“She’s making far too long hours,” Riei said, “it looks as if she could do with two more clerks! But she promised to show me the work when she’s closing the quarter.” She looked at me and said, “I know what you were going to say! But I want to see it first.”
“I wasn’t going to say anything!” I said. “But I was thinking that there might be a couple of older orphans who have what it takes to be clerks.”
Arin was already in the doorway, looking a little nervous. “I’m starting work today! Today everybody is working!”
“That’s because everybody is grown up now,” I said. “You, too.”
In sight of Master Jichan’s sign Riei paused and called me close. “Let’s protect him, you and I together.” And she said to Arin, “You’re uneasy about being with a lot of people, right? We can make that easier for you.”
“I get a headache when there are too many people,” he said.
“I had that too when I came to Essle,” I said, “and there was someone who helped me with that.”
“You have it too?”
“Yes, but I know what to do about it now, and we’ll tell your mother what we’ve done so she can do it. We’re going to make you an invisible hat.” And we did that, close around Arin’s head.
“It’s funny! I feel like I’m deaf, but I can still hear you when you talk. And I can hear the sounds in the street.”
“But you can’t hear people think, and people thinking is what gives you the headache. And people can’t hear you think either,” Riei said. “This’ll hold until evening, I promise.”
When Master Jichan saw us he came to the front of the workshop and greeted us. “Young ladies! Your shutters will be finished soon. When I saw what happened at the Feast I started on them at once, another customer didn’t mind waiting. Ah, and this is Arin. Welcome!”
Arin smiled a shy smile. “I’m going to sweep for you.”
“Yes, sweep and do other things if you can. I’ll take you to the workshop now so you can meet my other apprentices and journeymen, and then we’ll see what work I have for you.”
“I think he’ll be all right,” I said when we were in the street again.
“Yes, me too.”
It wasn’t far to the temple and the school from here, and there were already a handful of people outside the school waiting for the door to open. Riei took my sword and gave me a kiss on the lips, and several of the people made admiring noises. Riei thumbed her nose at them and disappeared in the direction of the temple, grinning.
“You’ve got a pretty girlfriend!” someone said, and then they (and I) went on about the properties of different metals, because that was what they’d been talking about when we arrived. “Hey, your friend works at the Temple of Mizran, could she get me some gold?”
“Don’t mind Liase, she wants to turn gold into lead.”
“Not the other way round?” I asked.
“Hah, doesn’t make a difference, it’s practically the same weight anyway.”
“That’s why it’s so easy to make counterfeit money from gold-plated lead!”
“But lead is much softer, if you think you have a gold coin and you can bend it with one hand you know it’s fake.”
“Except Iss-Peranian wainwheels, those are thin enough to roll up like a pancake anyway!”
Someone took a piece of charcoal out of his sleeve and started to write calculations on the whitewashed wall. Just then Seran opened the door from inside, scowled and tossed him a cloth.
“Come in, all of you,” he said, and the charcoal-writer finished wiping the wall in a hurry and was the last one inside.
We ended up in the large room where I’d first talked with Seran, with a writing-table in the middle and bookshelves on two sides, and we all stood around (more than a dozen but less than twenty of us, I think) while Seran held a beginning-of-the-term talk. There were three new students: Sidhan, Arvin and me.
“Only the new students get to introduce themselves,” Seran said, “or we’ll have rounds and rounds of introductions every time! Just pick up the rest as we go.” So Sidhan started, and she told us she was from Tylenay, which was even rougher than Veray, but the young doctors had come there and when there was a lot of trouble that they’d had to clean up after (she didn’t say what kind of trouble) she’d had a lot of work to do because she and her mother and grandmother were soap-makers, and when it turned out that she, Sidhan, could make soap that cleaned better than any other soap the doctors had told her about the school and she’d walked there.
“That would be a long time to walk!” I said, but she said it was only a couple of weeks.
Arvin said he was from Tal-Serth, and he’d always been fighting with his brother because each of them was convinced he was a better glass-blower than the other. But then Sidhan had come by on her way to Veray and she’d told him about the school and taken him with her.
“You and your brother were bashing each other’s heads with bottles!” Sidhan said.
“Those were no-good bottles anyway!” Arvin retorted.
While he was talking I could see that he was struggling to stay in one piece, just like Arin! “Excuse me,” I said, and I made him an invisible hat like Arin’s. “Does that help any?”
“Yes, it does! Thank you!” he said, and I could see Seran look at us first searchingly and then approvingly.
Then it was my turn, and I told everyone that I’d lived in Essle and Albetire and Valdis and that I’d been learning from my neighbour the clockmaker, and then from a goldsmith and a toymaker. (I didn’t tell them that I was the heiress to a trading-house; Seran knew that and it was nobody else’s business.)
We new students got a tour of the school next, and then we each got our own space in the workshop (with low walls between the parts of the table, so you wouldn’t accidentally use someone else’s tools or push yours into their space, nifty!) and we each got assigned to a working team. That was for a couple of weeks, someone who was doing something they needed work-mates for, each in turn, my turn to do my own project with my own work-mates would come after a while! But for now I was with Venla, who was making a new kind of loom that could run on power from a water-mill and do much of the weaving on its own. I’d been thinking of something like that already, let a machine do the things that were the same every time so people could do the things that weren’t.
“This is the model,” Venla said, showing a tiny loom. “That can be run on a spring or just hand-cranked, but what we’re trying to do is to harness the power of the water — there are three waterfalls around Veray, and only the grain-mill and the paper-mill are using those, so there’s definitely room for a weaving-mill. Our problem now is that the power of the water is too great, and it tends to break the thread, so we’re working on gears that will convert the power to be fast and gentle at the same time.”