In the morning I remembered the eggs and we had some for breakfast. Then Arni put the rest on a kitchen shelf in a bowl “for people who need them”. That was exactly what I wanted! Jichan turned up to take us to the house he’d been talking about. It really was in a bad neighbourhood, worse than what I’d seen in the places in Valdis that Erne had warned us against. The house was in a narrow dead-end street that smelt as if the night-soil collectors didn’t call here.
He knocked on a door and after a while we heard shuffling footsteps and a woman opened. She wasn’t young (or old either) and looked tired and unhealthy. “Oh, it’s you,” she said when she saw Jichan, then looked suspiciously at us.
“These people might want to rent your upstairs rooms,” Jichan said.
“Hm. Well, come inside.”
The front room was clearly the landlady’s workroom, the back room was a kitchen, but everything was so dirty that Riei and I would have to do a lot of cleaning before we’d even think of cooking anything there.
Jichan stayed to talk to the woman while we went up the staircase in the kitchen. It came out in one room the size of the whole downstairs. There was a fireplace with a hook for a kettle, but we couldn’t do any serious cooking here, even if I could somehow make a contraption to put a pancake-pan on. The room was as dirty as the kitchen and there were tracks of rat and mouse feet in the dust on the floor. “It doesn’t only need cleaning, but a cat as well,” I said to Riei.
We said we’d have to think about it, and fled.
“It’s the safest for you that it can be!” Jichan said, “nobody dares go there, at least not the people who are after you.”
“But I don’t want to be kept awake all night by the landlady and her, er, guests,” Riei said..”And it’s not only masters of the– of the Guilds, but also…”
“Just plain crooks,” I said, “thieves, bully-boys.”
“Exactly. Well, we’ll think it over,” I said to Jichan when he had to go and do whatever else he was doing.
We’d been walking while we talked, and we’d got to a much better part of town, still not very rich but there were shops and workshops and inns and eating-houses here, and the streets were clean and the woodwork was painted. I felt really at home here, and the reason became clear when we got to a square that had the Order house on one side!
“This would be safe,” Riei said. “Perhaps we can live here. But how do we find out if there’s anything for rent?”
“There’s an inn right here,” I said, “people might know!”
It was still early, and there were only a couple of old people sitting in front of the inn, drinking their morning ale. We sat down too, asked for herb tea, and got huge steaming bowls.
“Young ladies!” an old man said, “don’t you have to go to school?”
“Not any more,” Riei said, and I said “not yet, but I want to go to the inventors’ school here.”
“Ah, the big school,” another old man said, nodding. “Have you just arrived from the south?”
“Well, from Valdis, but yes, from Essle before that. We’re looking for a place to live.”
“Didn’t you have your upstairs room free, Alyse?” the old man asked an old woman.
The old woman got up and beckoned for us to follow. “I want to pay for the tea first!” I said, but she said “You’ll be back, it’s just across the square here.” And she took us there, across a small garden with herbs and fruit trees that was the centerpiece of the square.
“Whose garden is this?” I asked.
“Everybody’s,” Alyse said, “the people around here work it together.”
“Oh, like the one we had in Valdis,” I said. And then we were at the house, smaller than the ones on either side. The door wasn’t locked — no need for that when she could see it from where she sat drinking her ale, and it did really feel safe around here, too.
“Cynla!” she called. “I’m here!”
The front room was neat and sparkling clean but it didn’t look as if anyone ever used it. We went through to the kitchen, where a woman sat making lace. “Guests, mother?” she asked.
“These girls might want to rent the upstairs,” Alyse said. “Schoolgirls.”
“I’m not,” Riei said, “I’m going to the Temple of Mizran to see if they’ll have me as a clerk. Or otherwise there’s surely someone else who needs a clerk.”
“That’s good work,” Cynla said. “My daughter works for the weaver’s guild, doing their bookkeeping. And her children are in the Temple school, a boy and a girl, they’ll be a bit older than you.”
If they were older than us, why would they still be in the Temple school? But the old woman said, “They’re not very clever. But they’re good children.”
We climbed the steep stairs to the upper room –Alyse was too old to go up, it was almost a ladder, and it turned out that Cynla couldn’t walk at all– and found it empty except for a large empty chest. It needed sweeping and perhaps a coat of whitewash on the walls, but there wasn’t any sign of mice or rats. The room was shorter than downstairs because part of it was a balcony on the roof of the kitchen, looking out on another garden that was probably common to the houses around it.
In the front part of the room there was a bedstead with a drawer underneath and shelves next to it. We couldn’t see through of the window because it had oiled paper in it, but but it opened easily so we could look out on the square. (If I craned my neck I could even see the Order house!) And under the window we found the reason that there weren’t any mice: a cat with a litter of kittens! “Pss pss,” Riei said and put out her hand, but the cat was suspicious. (Well, so would I be if strangers invaded my family room!)
“We could even cook up here,” Riei said, “but I don’t mind sharing with these people!”
“No, me neither.”
Downstairs, we asked about the garden. “We’ve had to give up our share,” Alyse said. “I’m too old, Cynla can’t, my granddaughter often works very late, and the children can’t manage by themselves.”
“Perhaps we can put in some work,” I said, “we did that in Valdis, too! We might be able to get the share back.”
“You’re taking the room?” Alyse asked.
“You must know,” Cynla said, “we’re not fond of — gentlemen callers. Any gentlemen who are your guests have to be out before dinner.”
“Or just after dinner, at least,” Alyse said.
We had to laugh at that. “We don’t expect to have many gentlemen callers,” I said, “likely none at all.” I didn’t know what friends we’d make at work and school, and of course we knew Jichan and he’d probably want to see our place, but we weren’t about to have the sort of guests I thought Cynla was thinking of!
And yes, we took the room. Then we went back to the inn, finished our tea (which was still not completely cold) and Alyse her ale, and asked the way to the inventors’ school. It was on the very next square, right next to the Temple of Mizran!
So we went to the Temple of Mizran first. It was almost as large as the main temple in Essle! And it was all tiled, the floor and the walls, with coloured panes of glass in the windows. The statue of Mizran looked all silver. It was probably wood covered in silver, but that was still a lot of silver!
A young priest came up to us and asked “Are you here for business, or are you just feasting your eyes on the splendour?”
“I’m here for business,” I said, “I have an account here.” And when I said my name, the priest knew who I was. “Does everybody know me?” I asked.
He laughed. “We were expecting you, we have your letters from Essle and Valdis. Welcome. The Mighty Servant will be pleased to see you.” And he took us through some back corridors. Those were tiled and had coloured windows as well, but it looked like there had been damage from a fire. “Yes,” the priest said when I asked, “we had a bad fire here a couple of years ago, many documents were damaged or even completely lost, we’re still recovering.”
We came to an anteroom where the young priest gave us to another priest, probably the Mighty Servant’s secretary, and the other priest knocked on the door behind him and then waved us through. Riei didn’t come, though, “I’ll ask about work while I’m here, this is your affair.”
The Mighty Servant was a woman of about forty with a friendly smile. “Miallei Leva,” she said. “Heir to Miallei Ferin’s trading-house. It’s a pleasure to have you in Veray. You might not know that your father is — was, I must say, my condolences — the only person who supplied us with a commodity this town sorely needs: Iss-Peranian steel.”
I couldn’t suppress a little gasp.
“We’ve now learned that there are applications that well-tempered Valdyan iron is better for,” she said, “but we still buy extensively from your agents in Albetire. Our temple and the one in Essle have been handling your affairs, of course.”
“I’m glad of that,” I said, “because I’m going to school here, I wouldn’t have time for it for the next couple of years.” (Or enough knowledge because I hadn’t gone to the trade school, but I wasn’t telling her that. And I hadn’t known the trading-house was still active, I thought I’d only inherited the money and trade was lying fallow, waiting for me to take it up again!)
Now the Mighty Servant looked a little uneasy. “Of course we attempt to handle our clients’ affairs as honestly as possible,” she said, “and especially an esteemed client like you, but would you verify — with semsin — in front of Mizran — whether we have been trustworthy?” She took me to the temple hall, stood at the silver Mizran’s feet and held out her hands for me to take. This woman wasn’t gifted, how could I verify anything? But I took her hands anyway and prayed to whoever would hear me, and then I felt rather than saw a dozen or more foxes running around us and rubbing their sides on my legs like so many cats. “Mizran approves,” I said with a smile.
“Thank you,” the Mighty Servant said, and then she took me back to her secretary’s room and we did all the paperwork. The trading-house had quietly been making me money while I was travelling and living in Valdis and travelling again! I hadn’t expected to be getting richer without doing anything about it. No wonder the Temple liked me so much.
In the middle of the paperwork Riei suddenly appeared at my side and said “I’ve got a job!”
“Reconstructing burnt records?” I asked.
“Not exactly — I told them that I’d been learning the Selday method of telling the difference between real and fake documents, and they gave me a pile to show my skills on, and I did so well that they wanted to keep me! It pays very well, too, a rider a week.”
Well, even if my trading-house hadn’t been making money, we wouldn’t have any trouble affording rent and food.
The Mighty Servant offered us a meal, but we declined, we wanted to be together and talk. In a small eating-house on the square, over pies and weak ale and herb tea, I told Riei about the trading-house and the Mighty Servant and the foxes, and she told me more about the documents she was going to handle. “There’s so much dishonesty!” she said. “Not from the Temple, from the merchants. And they haven’t learnt anything here, not like I’ve been learning. Well, I can teach them.”
“No wonder they’re paying you so well,” I said. “Are you going to be a priestess of Mizran now?”
“Gods, I don’t know,” Riei said. “Probably, yes.”
Then there was a loud bang outside, and another, and the man who’d brought our food said, “It’s those inventors again! They’ll blow up the whole town one of these days.”
We ordered another tea because we didn’t want to call at the school just now, but eventually we rang the school bell. (It had a bell-pull, and I badly wanted to see how it worked from the other side.) A youngish man opened the door. “Ah! You’re Miallei Leva,” he said to Riei.
“No, I’m Miallei Leva,” I said, and he laughed. “I got your letter but of course I had no idea what you looked like. And you?” he asked Riei.
“We belong together,” I said, “but she just got offered a job in the Temple of Mizran.”
“Ah, that’s good. Come in. I’m Seran, I’m the principal of the school. Find a place to sit and I’ll tell you a couple of things.”
We were in a room that looked like a cross between an office and a workshop, and we had to push papers and half-finished work out of the way to sit down.
“First, everybody at this school teaches. And everybody learns. We can all learn from each other. There isn’t a set programme of what we’re teaching and learning, that depends on the people who are here. Do you know how the school was founded?”
We didn’t, so he went on, “Someone started it, in fact, because they thought it would be a good thing for Veray to have an advanced school too. That was the woman who is now the Baroness of Selday’s wife, who’d studied in Turenay. Some young masters who’d never have a workshop of their own — stupid guild rules! — set it up, we’ve been attracting bright young people in all the crafts, we want to make new things, teach each other, combine our efforts. You won’t see anyone working alone here, every project is a collaboration. We have a library, of course, but there’s also a room we call ‘The Book’ where we keep records of every single thing we do, whether it was successful or not. Learning from our failures is just as important.”
“Sounds good to me,” I said.
“Second, we don’t mind whether you’re in one of the Guilds, the Nameless or … well, the Nameless …”
“I understand that, I call both of them the Nameless too now.”
“You’ve got it. Well, using semsin in your work is okay but only if it’s permanent, like the tower in the palace in Valdis. Not to make the work easier.”
“I do all my work with my hands anyway,” I said, “semsin is for other things!”
“Exactly,” Seran said. “You’ll have to pass a test of skill before we admit you, and at the end of each quarter, we — those we call the masters, the three who set it up, I’m one of them — see what people have done, and if it’s clear that you’ve only been playing and not learning, you’re not invited back. That’s to discourage the people who think they can just coast along and make the others do the work. Joy in what you’re doing is a good thing, but not without any advancement.”
I nodded: that sounded good to me too. “Well, test me?” I said.
“One more thing,” he said. “The money. Rich students pay more, so we can afford materials for everyone. It’s a steep fee, one-fifth of your income.”
“I have money, I can pay,” I said. More money than I’d thought, even. I hadn’t realised I had an actual income — literally, money coming in rather than sitting in my account in the temple of Mizran — until this morning.
Then Seran tested me. In another workshop, where there was a smelting oven much like Sidhan’s, he told me to make a brass spring of the weight and strength he gave me on paper. I had to make the right kind of brass from its components first, then cut and bend and test it, and write down everything I did while I was working.
It would be tricky: brass needs time to cool down, and though there was both water and oil to speed up the process, I needed everything Sidhan had taught me to pull it off. I think it took me the whole afternoon, and I mostly forgot Riei while I was at it, though she did hand me tools and notepaper a couple of times so she hadn’t left me alone.
But I had a spring. It was still warm to the touch when it was finished, but I knew it wouldn’t change much when it cooled completely.
“You’re admitted,” Seran said. “Come with me and we’ll enter you properly.” More paperwork. When I estimated what my fees would be, Seran was very pleased. “There are some people working on projects now, you’ll have seen them, but it’s the end of term and we’re starting the next term a week from today, after the Feast.”
“That’s all right with me,” I said, “we need to move house anyway.”
As we went out, we passed three young people bent over one crucible together, and I stopped to look. I couldn’t see what was in it, except that it was glowing like some kind of molten metal. “Yes!” the girl in the middle said. “We did it!”
“You run and write it up, Aine,” one of the others said, and he and the third held the crucible while the girl sprinted away. If that was how they worked here, I was sure going to like it. Riei agreed. “This is exactly your sort of thing!” she said.