We were so tired from the whole day that we wanted to go up to our own place really early. “Wait!” Alyse said, and tapped a small jug full of ale from the barrel for us. “To celebrate.”
“Hey,” Arin said while she was doing that, “did Jichan really say I can work for him?”
“Yes,” we said, “he can use a strong young man to carry things and sweep the workshop, and he might teach you to do the sanding when he sees that you can work.”
“I can work! I know I’m not smart enough to be a real apprentice but that doesn’t matter. I know the Temple of Dayati would have me but there are too many people there, I’d get all upset.”
“It’s only Jichan and one journeyman and two apprentices in the workshop,” I said, “and they were very quiet when we were there, just going about their work.”
Arin nodded and thought for a moment. Then he took something from his pocket: a piece of the candied orange that Riei had bought. “Do you think Timoine will have that if I give it to him?”
“Just try it,” I said. “She’s nice that way.”
“Timoine isn’t a giri!” Arin said, and his sister protested, “Yes, she is!”
“Timoine wants to be the same as you are,” I said.
Senthi held us back when we were about to climb the stairs. “We’re expecting some trouble tonight,” she said, “could we seal the house, the three of us? She looked at Riei with a bit of a frown. “It’s not at all a bad thing if there’s a bit of — Archan — in the seal. Let them see it!”
“And let them see that we’re working together instead of fighting,” I said. So we made the strongest seal we could manage together, that nothing would come through until we let it.
“One of us will have to take it off tomorrow for the children to go out,” Senthi said.
“That’ll have to be you or me, Riei isn’t all that awake in the morning.”
Once upstairs we opened the bedstead doors because there was nowhere else to sit, except the chest, an the top of that was full of cats right now. The cat immediately started carrying her kittens into the bed, and they kept escaping because they were at the climb-everything stage by now. We sat on the bed and drank the ale and talked about the very busy day.
“I’m glad we’ve got a place of our own,” I said, “and I’m also glad that we’re not living alone.”
“Yes,” Riei said, “and that we’re living with people who like it that we’re here. By the way– did you notice that Arin is gifted?”
Probably I hadn’t been paying attention, because I hadn’t noticed anything.
“We’ll have to tell Senthi so she can teach him to keep his thoughts in. He’s positively leaking. When you said that Timoine wants to be the same as him, he was thinking that Erian at school says Timoine is a girl for him, and it confused him, Arin I mean. He doesn’t know that people like Veh exist, all he knows is that someone is either a boy or a girl.”
“Perhaps Erian is like Veh only the other way round?” I wondered. But I agreed that we’d have to tell Senthi, because it would be very dangerous for Arin otherwise, if people got hold of him and tried to use him for things he didn’t understand, like taking the blame for stealing and such.
But we couldn’t do anything about that right now, so we snuggled up in our own bed and fell asleep, with a cat or two between us.
In the morning I was awake before Riei, and also before the cats, so I climbed over her and from under the cats very carefully and left them all sleeping while I went downstairs. There everybody was up already, and Senthi had opened the seal. Not too early either because there was a knock on the door and it was the children’s procession! There was one girl (well, Arin would say it was a boy) who winked at us and welcomed Selevi and Arin to join the others.
“It’s likely the last time,” she said.
“But tomorrow I start work in Jichan’s workshop, then I’ll be a man!” Arin said. “And Selevi is going to learn lace-making from Grandma Cynla.”
I hadn’t heard that before, but it was probably a better thing for Selevi as well, I knew she could work really precisely and she didn’t like noise and crowds either.
When the children were gone I sat down at the kitchen table and I had to cry a little. “Last year was the last time for me,” I said. “I never thought I’d miss it so much!”
Riei came down soon after and we all had breakfast. Then there was another knock on the door: it was one of the neighbours. We’d completely missed that there had been trouble after all: the front of the house was dripping with rotten vegetables and eggs! (How people could even have eggs this time of year, let alone waste them, I didn’t know, but perhaps the eggs had gone rotten because they hadn’t eaten them when they were fresh.) “We’ve ordered shutters,” I said.
All the neighbours helped clean up, and when we were finished we sat around on the benches almost everybody had in front of their house and people brought out ale and tea and things to eat. The fruit trees and herbs were all right — it had just been our house. “Those other-siders,” a man said, “I hear you put four of them out of action yesterday, may have been revenge.” This man was gifted in a way I recognised, as if he’d been learning in Iss-Peran from a wife who had a trade the queen forbade in Valdyas. And sure enough, an Iss-Peranian woman with two little kids came out of another of the houses who kissed him and sat down next to him, nursing the larger of the two while the other was asleep in a sling on her back.
Our neighbour was living on his army bonus, he had been in the Iss-Peranian army! “Were you a sergeant?” I asked, because to live on a bonus it had to be a big one. “More than that,” he said, “commander of a hundred. A bit bigger than a sergeant, a lot smaller than a general. Met my wife there.”
The wife handed the little girl in her arms to her father and put the other one, who had woken up and started to wail, to her breast. All the time we were talking in Iss-Peranian, the wife and I and Riei in ordinary trade Iss-Peranian and the veteran in a horrible but understandable harbour dialect, and the other neighbours couldn’t make anything of it!
“My daughters are too little for the procession,” the wife said. I tried to tell her that she could have some of the older children carry them, but I don’t think she understood me. Well, next year!
When the neighbours started to drift away to their own houses I said to Riei, “Let’s go into town and find a place to eat! And perhaps go dancing later.”
“Then we’ll have to find a place to find something cheap and cheerful to wear, too,” Riei said. “There must be a clothes stall in a market or something.”
The first thing we passed was the Order house. Riei paused at the gate. I expected her to ask me if I wanted to in, but she wanted to go in, “let’s get those fighting lessons sorted!”
There was a young woman with some kind of poleaxe at the gate, who studied us and said, “I’ll tell Ebru.” And then a solid brown woman came towards us from one of the buildings. “You’re Leva and Riei,” she said (of course she knew! everybody knows!), “I’m Ebru,” and took us further in.
This was a courtyard not much larger than Lord Vurian and Lady Rava’s. There was a stable with a donkey, a mule and a very old carthorse, a building that looked like a storage shed, a largish two-story house, and in the middle an eight-sided pit where a fire had been laid but not lit. Riei looked at it with a bit of fear, “you do remember the story of the eternal fire near Three Hills, right? I hope they won’t want me to–”
“Probably not,” I said, “not all fires can be eternal!”
Ebru then put an arm around each of us. She was really large and strong! “We’ve come for the fighting lessons,” I said.
“Can’t you fight already?”
“Yes, with my bare hands, but I’d like to learn to fight with a stick too, and perhaps with a knife.”
“Then come every morning an hour before the market bell,” she said, “that’s the only time of day I’m not busy with other things so that’s when the lessons are. And then all the students can still go to work and school.” I felt Riei stiffen, even though she was on Ebru’s other side. Also, how do you know when it’s an hour before the market bell? But “very early in the morning” would do it. “All right,” I said.
“And another thing,” Ebru said. “Leva, you’re the only grand master apprentice in town, so you shouldn’t be surprised that people are aware of you. Not just us, but those of Archan as well.”
“I know,” I said, a bit sadly. “Everybody is telling me to go to Turenay but I want to go to school here.”
She nodded. “You’ll find Veray sort of rough. But I think you’ll do. Wait a moment.”
She ran into the house and came back with a sheet of leather with a fox’s head cut into it in open-workpieces, so you could use it as a stencil. “Wait until the Day of Mizran and push soot or ashes through the holes on your front wall, then whitewash over it. I’ll have it back when you’re finished. It’s a superstition of my people, but it might just work.”
“All right?” we said, and Riei asked, “Can I take it to the temple, too?”
“Of course, it’s of Mizran. For Timoine we have a rabbit.” And then she had us out of the gate and into the street. I think she had something to say to Riei too but I didn’t catch that.
We got to the main street of Veray (called “Main Street” so it was easy to find) and walked down that, and there were boys or young men walking along with us! One on Riei’s left side and one on my right side, looking very alike. Riei’s wasn’t talking to her but they seemed to understand each other anyway, but mine had a lot to say. “Won’t you come and dance with me?” was the refrain, and after a while I got so pissed off (and I knew who he was) that I said “No! I’m only dancing with people!” Riei, and the nice paper-mill apprentices we’d met earlier, and their friends, and people I hadn’t met yet but were a decent sort, but all people and not gods. And after a while Riei’s young man disappeared into a side street on the left, and mine into a side street on the right.
“What the–” Riei said, and I found that I was saying the same thing, and then we collapsed giggling, in the middle of the street.
“That makes me so hungry,” I said.
“Here it smells good!” Riei said and dragged me into a doorway. It was an eating-house all right! It looked very posh, though. “Good thing we’re rich,” Riei said, “I’m not leaving here until I’ve eaten something, and you too!”
A woman greeted us at the door. “Good day, young ladies! Have you come for the midday meal, or only for a drink?”
“For a meal, please,” we said, and she took us to one of a lot of small chambers walled off with wicker screens, each with a table where four people could sit.
“Are you familiar with our local dishes?” she said. Of course she could see and hear that we weren’t from here!
“No,” I said, “but I’d like to get to know them because we’re living here now!”
That made the woman smile. “I’ll see to it.” And then she went away, but another woman came and gave us bread and butter and a small jug of wine and a large jug of water and four glasses, “so you can adjust it to your taste”. The wine was sweet and delicious, and Riei said “it’s a pity to mix it with water!” and I agreed, so we drank the wine neat and the water on the side.
Then the soup came. It was pink! “Rycha soup,” the waitress said (yet another waitress). “This time of year it’s best.”
It smelt fishy, and there were crayfish in it all right, and pieces of vegetable and perhaps pieces of meat and things we didn’t recognise but it was all wonderful and we ate all of it, with more of the bread.
The woman who’d greeted us at the door brought the next dish, called “young ladies’ fingers”, and those were wings of different kinds of birds fried in batter, with a sauce to dip them in. “You should know,” she said, “that we keep a clean establishment, and it’s permitted to belong to one Guild or the other here, but we’re staying impartial, and we expect our patrons to keep their disagreements outside our doors.”
“We don’t have any disagreements!” we said. “Not between us, anyway.”
“That’s a good thing.” She was gone, and we ate our birds’ wings. Then I saw a fox next to Riei on the bench, looking as if it wanted a tidbit, and I gave it the half-eaten wing I had in my hand.
“What are you doing?” Riei asked, and I told her, but she didn’t see the fox. She did hold out a wing of her own, though, and was surprised that it got eaten too. After a while the fox was gone, I didn’t see it disappear.
Another waiter came — a young man this time — to bring the vegetable dish, which was white strips of something in a creamy sauce. “I think it’s turnip,” Riei said, and that was what it tasted like, but it was very interesting turnip and we ate it all.
The last thing we got was a cake of chopped dried apples and some kind of pastry, dripping with honey, with a lot of spices. It fell apart but that was no problem because we could eat it with our fingers and we got bowls of warm water to wash our hands in afterwards.