In the new house
Suddenly it was almost the Feast of Naigha. We’d been living in our new house for weeks! It almost didn’t feel like a new house any more. It was all ours, there’d been a whole stack of letters from Essle saying that Arni’s and Riei’s inheritance had been released, a separate portion for each because all of old Radan’s possessions were forfeit and they were both claimants. (I’m learning Temple of Mizran terms! I knew about trade before, but not any legal stuff about inheritances.) And some of the letters were for me saying I had seven hundred and fifty riders in Valdis and the rest of my inheritance in Veray. So I could pay off what I owed the temple, and Arni could pay off what the king and queen had been lending us to live on. I hadn’t known that, but it made sense!
Rusla was living with us now, Arni had a little room made for her between the kitchen and the parlour so she could be alone if she liked. She didn’t like to go outside with a lot of money on her, though, so Riei and I did most of the shopping after work and on our free day. That was the day of Mizran now, because we weren’t priestesses so we didn’t have to be in the temple then, and my other two masters didn’t care on which days I came except that Sidhan’s free day was the day of Anshen.
So we went to the market a couple of days before the feast. Everything was very expensive now, and when we said something about that a woman next to us said, “yes, rich people stock up in autumn and poor people can’t afford to do that so they get poorer still because food is so expensive in winter!” I’m sure that Arni would have stocked up if we’d had a house when it was still autumn.
The woman had some onions and turnips in her basket and something long and hard and white that we didn’t recognise right away. When she saw us looking she said “Stockfish! Didn’t you have any where you come from?”
“We did have dried fish but those were whole fishes,” Riei said, “this must have come from a much bigger fish!”
“Let’s get some,” I said, “Rusla will know what to do with it!”
We paid for our own onions and turnips, and a cabbage, and some oranges, and the woman pointed out where the fish stall was. The biggest pieces were almost as long as I was tall! The piece we got was about as long as my arm and it looked a bit silly sticking out of the basket.
“I want to cross the river here,” Riei said, “that’s where all the best butchers are. We’re having a lot of guests on the Feast.”
“Erne’s patients?” I asked, because we’d had one or the other of them at our dinner table often enough.
“No!” Riei said, “guess again, I know that you know if you think hard enough.”
“Oh!” I said, “Vurian and his family!” I was careful because I didn’t know who would overhear us, there are more people in the world (and I think in Valdis) called Vurian.
“Then we’ll have to get some sausage because Vurian likes that a lot,” I said.
“If they have fresh sausage we can grill it in the yard,” Riei said, “I don’t think there’s much slaughtering now, though.” But when we came to the street with the butchers (and also poulterers, that’s a special butcher for birds, I hadn’t known that until I came to Valdis) we saw fresh sausage hanging from a hook outside one of the butchers’ shops.
There was a large man in an apron in the shop, and we put on our innocent little girl faces because we knew it got us better deals with men old enough to be our father. When we said we wanted sausage for a Feast of Naigha party with friends, and Riei counted on her fingers, “three boys, parents, Rovin’s mother, the little sisters won’t eat much but they do eat some, five of us and let’s not forget Rusla” the butcher laughed and said, “you didn’t get a pig slaughtered this autumn? I have a deal for you, if you want it.”
He took us to the little yard at the back of the shop where two large pigs were grunting and trying to dig up the hard ground. “I can kill these two for you, make sausage and black pudding and head-cheese, salt the meat, deliver everything to your house on the eve of the feast.”
“Do we get the whole pig?” Riei asked.
“Yes, all cut up in nice pieces, but you get every bit of what comes out. Not the guts, I need those for the sausages, but everything else. The skin, too, you can sell that directly to the tanners and get a good price for it.”
“I’ll ask my mother,” Riei said, and talked to Arni in her mind while I scratched a pig behind the ears. It liked it as much as the mule had. “Mother wants to know what it costs.”
“Six riders each,” he said, “and two for the work, one for the barrels, and twelve shillings for salt and spices. It would have been much cheaper if you’d done this by the Feast of Mizran!”
“We were still travelling then,” I said, “and when we came to Valdis we stayed with people at first because our house wasn’t ready!”
But Arni didn’t think it was very expensive, and we should do it.
“Mind you, they’re city pigs,” the butcher said.
“Does that mean they’ve been eating rubbish?” Riei asked, because we’d seen pigs in the streets.
“They’re from a family with a town farm,” the butcher said, “and they get the vegetable peels from the whole neighbourhood, I know what I’m selling! Only pigs from the country taste better still because they eat acorns in the woods all autumn.”
“Our house used to be a town farm too,” I said.
“Where do you live?” And we told him as well as we could, “it’s where there’s a temple of Mizran with a bear sign,” I said.
“Oh! It must be Jeran’s old farm! My wife comes from that neighbourhood.”
Riei wrote a Temple of Mizran letter and sealed it, and then the butcher really didn’t know any more whether we were little girls or serious customers, especially when I asked if he could leave the bladders whole for me. I think he decided that we were both.
Then we also went to one of the poulterers and bought two geese, and they were two riders each! So the geese were much more expensive per pound of meat than the pigs. “Do you take them with you on their feet or shall I kill them for you?” the poulterer asked, and we said please kill them because we didn’t know how! (But perhaps Rusla would have known, we thought much later when we were carrying very heavy limp dead geese.) We got the feathers in a bag too, some good enough to cut into pens.
We passed the cloth market on our way home, and I went to see if the stall where I’d got the rabbit skin had some more skins. “I can make three mice out of one rabbit!” I said and that made the stallkeeper laugh.
“I don’t have any rabbits right now,” she said, “but you might like this. If you’re not put off by it, they’re water-rats.” The fur was short and a bit coarse, not as soft as rabbit or cat (Riei had shuddered at a cat-skin a couple of weeks ago so I hadn’t bought it), dark brown and strong-looking. “I can make only two mice out of one rat,” I said, “so I’ll have both, please. And some of those long strips of leather for mouse-tails.”
“Can you make a mouse that sits on its haunches and beats a drum?” Riei asked, and we talked about how to make that all the way home.
Rusla told us to put the stockfish into the wooden tub, cover it with water, turn it often and change the water when it became cloudy. “It’ll be ready tomorrow.” When we told her about the pigs she said, “Who sold them to you? I’ll go and have a look, I don’t trust any pigs I haven’t seen with my own eyes.” So we told her the name of the butcher, and she said “Oh, I think I know who that is, he married someone from around here.” But she put a cloak and headscarf and wooden shoes on and went away, saying “You girls cook, and don’t forget to turn the fish!”
Arni came home from school then, and she was excited about the pigs too. When she heard that Rusla had asked us to cook she started to make a pie crust immediately, because she’d seen all the onions we brought and someone had given Erne a cheese that had “fallen off a boat” so we could have a cheese and onion pie. I fried the onions in a bit of oil until they were brown and put pepper and vinegar on, and Riei made a thick cheese sauce, and then we put it all together in a big flat dish and shoved it in the oven. (Because there was an oven in the wall next to the bath, it had been there all the time but the builders only found it when they broke the wall of the bedstead to put the copper kettle and the bath in.)
Erne came in very hot and tired and we made her some tea. “Do I smell cheese and onions?” she asked. “And do I have time for a bath first? Arni, you and I fit in the bath together.”
They did, and after that the water was still warm enough that Riei and I could have a bath together after them, so we were all clean when Rusla came back. “Nice to talk to Arin and his wife again,” she said, “and those are decent pigs all right! Well done, girls.”
Arni wasn’t there yet, Riei found her still at the school. “It’s the day of Mizran,” I said, “she’s often late then, I think that teacher can’t stop teaching!” So when the pie was done we kept a piece for her and ate all the rest, and it was delicious. We talked about all kinds of things, Riei said that we could take the mules and go to the fire that never goes out south of the city because that was only a day’s ride, and we could sleep in someone’s barn because it was near a village and ride back the next day. We had four mules anyway so little Arni could come with us and we’d still have one to carry our baggage. I wasn’t so sure it was only a day’s ride, but suddenly Arni said “Ruzyn says it is!”
Riei asked “Have you seen her then?” but Arni said “no, but we talk every evening before I go to sleep!”
Rusla shook her head over that, and Erne said “I’m used to it by now, living with all those people who are gifted while I’m not!”
When Arni came in she sat in Erne’s lap, “the lesson went on and on, and then we all went for a drink because of the holiday, and I’m so tired and ravenous! — That’s really good, Rusla!” she said when she bit into her piece of pie. We all giggled so much that she looked at each of us in turn and shook her head.
“We made it!” Arni said.
“Arni did the crust, and I the onions, and Riei the cheese sauce!” I said.
“There’s stockfish for tomorrow,” Rusla said. “And the day after tomorrow we’ll probably have black pudding already. I’ve seen those pigs.”
Then it became clear that Erne didn’t know about the pigs yet! So we told the whole story again.
The next evening Erne said that she wanted to give a piece of salt pork to all of her patients, and Arni said “better give them each a loaf of rye bread and a jar of sour cabbage as well!”
“We’ll go to the cabbage man first thing in the morning,” Riei and I said. But the next morning when I woke up there was blood in my bed, I’d got my courses for the first time! Arni put the sheet in the wash-tub at once, and Rusla was surprised at that because she’d worked in several houses with daughters and usually the daughters didn’t start to do housework things on their own until they were at least ten or so. But then Arni had lived with only her mother and sister all her life, of course everybody had to share the work.
Everybody said we had to celebrate, except me, my belly hurt and my legs felt strange, and even when Riei had given me a loincloth with a folded linen cloth in it I was afraid I’d drip blood everywhere. “It’s not as much blood as you think,” Riei said, “especially not the first couple of times! But do you want to stay home while Arni and I go to buy the cabbage?”
“I’d like to go, I’ll just take a spare cloth, perhaps walking makes my legs feel better,” I said.
Rusla made oil-cakes for breakfast, with honey and raisins and sugar grated off the loaf on top, because if people insisted on celebrating I wanted to celebrate with something sweet!
Then we went to where we knew the cabbage man lived, behind the house of the lace-makers. Arni came along too because she didn’t have any school until a week after the feast.
We had to knock on the lace-makers’ door this time, because it was too cold now to work outside. They let us in, “you’re too late to see the veil, someone came to collect it the day before yesterday!” That was a pity, but it wasn’t what we’d come for.
“Oh, you want Faran!” They laughed, “just walk round the block and you’ll see his sign!” So we did that, and yes, round the next corner we could see the sign hanging over a large open door. “It’s the girls!” he said when he saw us. “All three of you! What can I do for you?”
We explained about Erne’s patients and said we wanted a barrel of sour cabbage. “Best have some for yourself as well,” Faran said.
“A large barrel and a small barrel?”
“Just get one large barrel and fill the jars from that,” he said, “the rest will stay good until there are fresh greens again.” So that was what we did, and when we said where we lived so he could have it brought, “oh, old Jeran’s farm? Don’t you have a garden of your own? You could plant your own cabbages next year, it’s easy enough to preserve it. You just need salt and spices and a clean barrel to put it in.”
Arni was interested at once and told him what she’d been learning from our neighbour the old herb-woman.
“Give Alaise my love,” he said. “And here’s something specially for you.” He gave Arni a little linen bag and opened it to show that there were seeds inside. “Don’t plant them until after the feast of Timoine, and only when your finger doesn’t feel cold when you push it into the soil. Cool, all right, but not cold. And you need to plant the seeds a finger deep, too. A finger of yours, only half of mine. Alaise will help you. And I’ll have the barrel delivered this afternoon.”
“Thank you!” we said, and then I suddenly felt homesick because I’d been thinking that I didn’t belong to Timoine any more, but I could still belong to Dayati, and I missed the temple in Albetire. When I said that to Riei, she said, “let’s go to the temple in the Síthi quarter then!”
That was a good idea! It was full of cats and little kids, just like a temple of Dayati should be, and we’d been there before, of course, so a priestess recognised us and came to greet us. “What makes you come here today?” she asked, so I had to tell her, and she took me to a room behind the main temple hall where I’d never been before, with a statue of Dayati nursing, and said “you can leave your offering on that dish!” And I knew she meant money, not blood, though the Iss-Peranians and the Síthi called one’s courses “offering to the Mother”. But I put a shilling on the dish and prayed to Dayati and she at least was still there.
On the way home we talked about riding to the fire again, and Riei said we might take Vurian and Rovin too, when I’d just been thinking the same thing. So Riei called Vurian, who was brushing his horse, and he thought it was a good idea and he’d ask his parents.
When we got home not only the barrel of cabbage was already there, but also a lot of barrels of salted meat! And hams and fat belly and sausages to hang up in the chimney, and head-cheese and black pudding that needed to ripen in a cool place, and links of fresh sausage that looked as if it was a couple of different kinds with different spices. Rusla had a huge cauldron of soup going with all the trotters in it. “Winter soup,” she said, “we’ll keep adding to it and eating from it and not clean the pan until the feast of Timoine!”