We had breakfast in bed, all of us together, then washed and dressed (Riei and I in the new Khas coats!) and set out to do some house-hunting, even little Arni who big Arni said was excused from school today. We did meet Vurian who was going to school, and he made us a compliment about our coats. “They were expensive, though!” Riei said, and I said “I could just afford it!” so then Vurian wanted to know what we’d paid, and when he heard three riders for the two he blushed and said “My undershirt was ten riders!” That made me try to calculate in my head what all of his clothes together would have cost, but I lost count very soon.
Then Riei and I took the others to the neighbourhood where we’d talked with the locksmith and his wife. When we passed the lace-makers, Arni and Erne stopped to admire their work (they’d made a whole lot more) and talk with them, and little Arni said “Is this where the garden is? I’d like to see the garden!” so I asked one of the lace-makers if we could go and get a drink of water, and of course they said it was all right.
Arni was so taken with the garden and the fruit trees and the herbs in pots and the vegetable patch! She liked orderly plants much better than a wood were everything was mixed up. While Riei and I were getting water from the well and Arni was looking at all the different fruit trees, an old man came along with a big basket full of cabbages.
“Hey, girls,” he said. “I saw you yesterday, too. Not all of you, though.”
“That’s my little sister,” Riei said. And then the man told us lots of things about cabbage, how it grew and when to harvest it and how he cut it up very small and put it in large earthenware pot with salt so it became sour.
“Sour?” I asked. “Not salty?” So he went back to his own shed and got us each a pinch of cabbage that looked boiled but wasn’t, it was kind of crispy and a nice sort of tart. “At the end of the winter it’s much more sour,” he said, “that’s when it’s best!”
“I’d think pork would go with that,” I said, “salted belly, or a sausage.”
“Exactly! Or you can put it on your bread, or eat it with apples and onions, or just like that. And if you eat a handful every day in winter your teeth won’t fall out even if you don’t have any fresh fruit or vegetables! All ships should have a barrel of sour cabbage on board for that.”
Then big Arni called us because they were going on, and we said goodbye to the cabbage man and went back through the house. On the way to the locksmith Arni shook her head a couple of times as if she was clearing a hangover, and it looked like she had to make an effort to go on, and when we got to the workshop the locksmith’s wife was standing in the doorway with a big smile on her face.
“You didn’t need to do that!” Arni said to her, and the locksmith’s wife –now I know she’s called Lysna– smiled some more and invited us in. “I saw you coming from a long way off,” she said, “thought it would be useful for you to know that we’re here.”
We got herb tea with honey and talked a bit, and then Lysna shooed me and Riei and Arni out of the room to have a grown-up talk with Arni and Erne. As if we’re not interested in houses, too! But it wasn’t a bad thing, because the master showed us a piece of steel that I promptly recognised as coming from the big factory in Albetire, and he and I spent a lot of time figuring out how to make a spring for a lock from it so that the lock would fall closed at a touch and nobody could open it without the key. Riei was very interested in that, of course, because she’s very good at opening locks without the key! When we had something like a prototype she asked to try, and broke two picks on it and admitted that she couldn’t. The locksmith’s face broke into a grin from ear to ear and he said, “Excellent! Now I can say that nobody in Valdyas has been able to pick it. Perfect selling point.”
It turned out that the women had been cooking while they talked, because there was a whole spread of food: soup (and even the apprentice got it hot this time), fresh bread, cheese pastries, apples and a platter of spiced vegetables. And Arni and Erne knew about three different houses for sale in this neighbourhood and another one a bit further on, which had been an old farm. “I still think we might be better off living nearer the walls,” Erne said, “for your work and mine! Or in the Síthi quarter.”
“Nothing is too far away to walk,” Lysna said, “and you can always rent a workshop where you’re working. There’s a temple with a very good school near that old farm.”
We went on into the street where Riei and I had turned back because we hadn’t felt safe enough, but it was different now that big Arni and Erne were with us. Then we arrived at a big house that was standing a little apart from the others, with the sign of a bear hanging over the front door, and that was the neighbourhood’s temple of Mizran! There was only one priest there (and I think a couple of young clerks), a middle-aged man who liked to hear himself talk but Arni could deal with that and got him to show us the houses. The house, I should say, because we went to the house that had been a farm first, deeper into the poorer part of the neighbourhood. It didn’t look like much from the outside, the roof was falling in and all, but when we were inside we saw that it had a passage running through the whole house with a front room off it, and a kitchen at the back with three large bedsteads in the walls and a hearth on the fourth side.
“I could have a practice in that front room!” Erne said.
“Oh, you’re a doctor?” the priest asked.
“Not exactly — I help women with women’s problems.”
“If you go just a bit further south there’s the inner harbour, there are a lot of women wanting help with women’s problems there.” If Erne had been a cat she’d have pricked up her ears at that, it was exactly what she needed!
And now the grown-ups sent us away again, to the garden this time, while they looked over the rest of the house and negotiated.
This was a garden that belonged to a whole block of houses, just like the garden behind the lace-makers’ house. There was an outhouse, also with the roof fallen in, and a well a whole lot further on (good thing or all the stink from the outhouse would get into the water, I’d learned that in Albetire). A very old woman was carefully picking herbs from some of the raised beds and putting them into a basket. When she saw us, she came in our direction and said, “New neighbours?”
“I hope so,” I said, “our mothers are perhaps going to buy the house!”
“That was young Jeran’s farm,” she said, “well, not so young when he died, he was a child when I was a young woman. It was all orchards and vegetable gardens here at the time.”
“Orchards!” Arni said. “That’s fruit trees, right? And what kinds of vegetables?”
“She wants to learn that,” I said when the old woman looked a bit surprised. And then she took Arni along, with Riei and me trailing behind, and told us lots of things about which herbs have which properties, and when to harvest them, and which ones were still good to harvest at this time of year. When we were all tired (and Arni’s hands were very grubby because she’d been digging in the ground) the old woman took us to her house on the other side of the garden and gave us bread and cheese and mint tea with honey. (And she gave Arni warm water and soap first.)
“We share the produce from the garden,” the old woman said, “but only between people who help with the work!” We all promised to come and help if Arni and Erne bought the house.
And buy the house they did! For three riders. “That’s what our coats cost!” I said, but Arni said that the owners’ son lived in Selday now and he’d be glad to be rid of the house for any sum of money, and it would cost a lot to have the house put right. The roof had to be tiled, for one, and if we could build a new brick front it would be even better. If a house-owner did that there was money from the Crown to pay for part of it. Arni estimated that it would cost fifty riders or more to get the house into a state that we could live in it. “I want a copper in the kitchen to heat the water,” she said, “we’re civilised! We’ll have to sacrifice one of the bedsteads for that, so you three will have to share.”
Well, that was no trouble, we’d been sharing a bed ever since I came to live with Riei and big Arni and little Arni! And Riei and I would be leaving in the spring anyway, then Arni could have the whole bed to herself.
Then we went to the temple of Naigha at the end of the street, where a priestess was just sending the school-children away. Little Arni thought she wouldn’t mind going to this school, because there was a shelf full of different books on the wall. “Are you two coming to school as well?” the priestess asked me and Riei, but no, Riei was going to work as a clerk and I was going to be apprenticed, even if it wasn’t official and only for one season.