When the boat came back Arni climbed into it cheerfully, but Riei looked as if she was in two minds about it. I grabbed her hand and said “Let’s go!” and she came with me, but she didn’t let go of my hand and leant against me all the while.
I saw a lot of Essle from the boat! First it was islands full of houses, then islands with huts, then smaller islands with only trees and shrubs. It didn’t look like the town at all any more. “Is this still Essle?” I asked Maile, and she said “sort of”. We must be in the Valda, I thought. “Yes, the delta of the Valda. There are a couple more rivers flowing into it, though.”
Then we came to land at a jetty where people were already waiting for us. “Riei!” a couple of teenagers called, “good to see you, will you teach us pickpocketing later?”
Riei was still grumbly, but she said yes, and I resolved to ask if I could be in on the lesson as well. Then we unloaded the boat, and Arni ran away. Not that there was much “away” on a smallish island, it was completely flat and I could see the other side from where we were. Maile said “she’s probably gone to find Moyri” as if it was a normal thing.
Riei warned me that Moyri wasn’t like other people — she couldn’t walk or talk well — but she and Arni were great friends.
The island was full of houses and vegetable gardens and animals and people. A man came and took Maile in his arms and she introduced him as her husband and baby Raisse’s father, Lochan.
I got a tour of the island — workshops! A small forge in a shed, where some young people were working, and my hands itched to work too but I hadn’t brought my work-bag and there didn’t seem to be anything I could help them with.
When I was alone with Maile she said, “it’s good that Riei has a friend, she really needs one!”
“She can be very grumpy but that doesn’t keep me from being her friend!” I said. “I think she’s afraid that you’ll take me over because– I can’t say either of the names now, I call them both the Nameless!”
“I name them both,” Maile said, “depending on who I’m talking to, and when I feel someone is hostile I name neither.”
Then we found Arni in a fenced-off bit where pigs wallowed in the mud and chickens pecked, with a smaller girl who grinned at us and said “You, sister” to Riei. “And I’m their friend,” I said, “I’m called Leva.”
“We have to wash,” Arni said, “she’s shit herself, but she had a whole litter of kittens in her lap so we didn’t want to get up!” The kittens were all over the place now, batting at clods of earth and stalking something I couldn’t see. Arni took Moyri to the shore, she really couldn’t walk well but crawled on her hands and feet, and they came back dripping, giggling, and a bit cleaner.
I petted the cats and a large three-legged dog that ambled up to us. Then a lot of young people came to ask Riei to do the lesson, and before I could ask to join Riei asked me! Some were about as competent as me, some had learned more. Lochan came along and asked “is it wise to teach them that, Riei?” and one of the other people said “that’s handy for when we’re Guild runners!”
“But which Guild, I wonder,” Lochan said, and Riei scowled at him.
I learned a lot! As much from the other people as from Riei. Everybody thanked her after the lesson, but at the end they were all talking in groups and she was left alone. I went up to her and put an arm around her, and then Maile came and said that she’d like it if we helped in the kitchen so we went there. I peeled and chopped a lot of onions while Riei was making pasties from circles of dough with a filling of vegetables chopped up very small with a bit of cheese, very skillfully, making a folded edge that looked like it was plaited. When the whole stack was finished they went into a basket over a pot of boiling water (I think there was something cooking in the water as well, probably eggs).
Then we were called to dinner. There were a lot more people on the island now, who had come in little boats, and some of them had brought food too, so there was enough for everybody: bread and vegetables and eggs and a lot of fish. We asked for the blessing of the gods on the meal, kind of like invocations but different, most of it was in a language I didn’t really understand but still I somehow knew what it was about. “Velihan,” Riei said, “it’s Lyase-Lédu’s language, half of it is in the mind.” That was the girl who had rowed the boat, I’d heard her name earlier.
We shared all the food while it got dark, and then it was time for more lessons! Maile taught things of the mind, Riei got roped in to teach writing and figuring to a handful of children, and a couple of youngsters asked me if I could teach them to work with metal.
“I have to ask Maile first if I can use the workshop,” I said, but she said it was all right. “Come to me later,” she said, “I need to talk to you, you and Riei both, something’s the matter.”
In the workshop there was a man I’d seen at dinner, dressed in what looked like a very battered soldier’s uniform, with a sword at his side, but his legs ended at the knee. He said he was called Moryn, and it was his job to protect people. I didn’t know if I needed to be protected, but it was a good feeling.
I’d never taught anyone before! But I thought it would be best if we found out what everybody knew already (not very much) and show them how to use tools safely (always useful). Riei came along about at that stage and wanted to join in. There was a pretty decent copper die in the workshop, so I showed them how to draw out copper wire, and Riei and one boy got the hang of it at once though the rest needed more practice. When we stopped because I felt like I was falling over, Riei and the boy had each made a thing that they said was a good skeleton key, and the others had all managed to make good enough copper wire.
“Maile wants to talk to us,” I said to Riei when she wanted to take me to a place where we could sleep.
“All right,” she said, and we went to find Maile, but she was very busy, making love with Lochan! “Let’s get them some wine and wait until they’re finished,” Riei said, so we went to the kitchen to see if there was any. Moryn was in the kitchen drinking wine from a large mug and showed us where the barrel was, and Riei also got a jug of water and four cups.
When we came back to Maile and Lochan’s room they were sitting upright in the bed, and Lochan took all the cups and poured a bit of wine in each and filled them up with water.
“I understand you’ve already had a run-in with Senthi,” Maile said. “How much do you know about the Guilds?” Well, not much, and when I told her what I did know she filled me in on some more things, some of which I’d heard, that the Nameless –Archan– had split himself into different parts, and Senthi was of the part that wasn’t civilised, not the same one who Riei’s family served who the other Guild could at least reason with. “Do you know why Senthi wants to get her hands on you?” Maile asked.
“Because she’s stinking rich!” Riei said.
“I don’t think it’s only that,” I said, “she said it was because of something I could do.”
“You,” Maile said to me, “and little Arni too for that matter, have what it takes to be a grand master when you grow up and learn more. Either in the Guild of Anshen or the Guild of Archan, depending on what you choose at your journeyman’s trial. Riei, tell her what the difference between grand masters and ordinary master is, please?”
“Grand masters can make new things,” Riei said, “invent things to do with your mind, and when they’ve invented something other people can use it too.”
“Can’t everybody do that?” I asked.
“Well,” Maile said, “it requires bending the fabric of the world, and most ordinary masters don’t have the strength for that.”
I’d never thought I was special in that way! I wondered if Uncle Rhanion had known, but then I hadn’t known I was gifted at all before I left Albetire.
“It may be better if you take yourself out of Senthi’s reach in the near future,” Maile said. “Valdis will be better than Albetire, because back to Albetire is where she’ll expect you to go.”
“If you have to go away, will you take me?” Riei asked.
“Of course!” I said. “We’ll manage, the two of us.”
“The four of you, perhaps,” Lochan said. “The only reason Senthi is leaving Arni alone is that she can’t afford to offend the Dawn by seizing their grandchildren, but when Arni comes into her power she’ll be either a danger or an asset depending which side she’s on. You’re not one of the Dawn’s grandchildren, so she had no such compunction about you.”
“And we can’t leave Mother if we take Arni,” Riei said, sensibly.
Well. That was something to think about. And protect myself while I was thinking, so nobody would overhear it.
I don’t really know how, but we ended up in a shack where Arni was already sleeping, with a defiant seal of Riei’s over it. And we got woken up far too early in the morning by Lyase-Lédu. “Sleepyheads! The boat is leaving! There are oil-cakes so you can have breakfast on board.”
When Lyase-Lédu put us ashore on our own island she and Riei had a small shouting match, I learned a lot of new curse-words! But to me she whispered “Take care of Riei, please!”
“The more Lyase-Lédu likes someone, the more foul-mouthed she is!” Riei said when we were in the house and Lyase-Lédu was out of earshot.
“Then she can’t like me much,” I said.
“I suppose she doesn’t know you yet. It’ll change, I’m sure of that.”