Meeting the king
And the queen, and the little princes and princesses, and Rovin’s mother. But the king was the most memorable.
When we woke up in the morning, big Arni and Erne were in the bed with us. There really was enough room for them! And someone was knocking on the door. “Who is there?” Riei called, and it was the princes with washing-water. “We’ll put it down and go away,” I heard Rovin’s voice saying. And Vurian, “Find us when you’re done.”
“I can do that,” I said, and Arni and Riei said they could do it too.
I crawled out of bed at the foot-end and got the water (two jugs, and two basins, and a pile of towels, and yet another piece of scented soap, violets this time). I felt justified in washing first because I’d gone to get it, but I was finished quickly and let Riei and Arni at the jug and basin, let the grown women have the other one!
When we were all clean and dressed I tried to find Vurian, and he wasn’t far away. “We’re finished,” I said.
“Good, because Their Majesties my parents would like you to attend at breakfast.”
The princes were dressed alike, in the same sort of clothes I’d seen some of last night’s table-mates wear, blue and golden yellow. I thought it might be pages’ livery. (I say “the princes” knowing that Rovin isn’t properly a prince, but he’s been brought up as one and he behaves like one, so why not?)
They led us through what felt like the whole palace, I didn’t even begin trying to remember, into a part that looked newer and straighter, and we ended up in a bright pleasant room, with scrubbed floorboards and rugs and wall-hangings. The wall-hangings were of the seasons: I could recognise summer and winter, at least. Under the winter wall-hanging was the hearth, and next to that a table where a man was sitting who could only be the king. He had only one eye, the other one was covered with a patch, and he used only the arm on the missing eye’s side, the other one was lying in his lap. It looked like he didn’t see much with his other eye either because he kept missing the food on his plate.
When we were near he noticed us. “Ah, the guests,” he said. “Arni. Erne. Riei. Leva. Arni.” And when he said my name I could feel his attention on me. “Welcome.”
I knew the king had been wounded in several different wars but I hadn’t expected him to be so damaged! And I could see how great his mind was but he didn’t have the strength to do as much with it as he wanted. He couldn’t be forty yet, but he looked almost as old as my father had. Shorter and much slighter, though, and his hair was dark red (and thick, and it needed cutting if he wasn’t growing it long to tie in a tail).
I couldn’t help myself, but knelt at his side and took his good hand in mine and asked, “What can I do?” And I knew that he couldn’t answer that but I did suddenly know exactly what to do, and put my other arm around his shoulders and hugged him tight. He hugged me back, mostly with his mind, and I still feel warm inside when I think of that.
The queen was sitting at the table too, the top part of her gown open because she was nursing a tiny little baby. That must be Prince Vurian’s new sister! At that moment I wished I looked more like the queen, she was so tall! And she had such beautiful hair, in a braid as thick as my arm that she could almost sit on!
“We talked with your mothers last night,” the queen said, “but now we want to hear from you, too.” So we told all our adventures again, and the king became a little brighter as we were talking. When I mentioned that I’d made clockwork things the king and queen wanted to see them, and I found a servant boy (I was getting used to having servants around again, just like at home) and sent him to get my work-bag.
Before he got back with it, a woman with light hair came in with a toddler on her arm and two little girls and a boy following her, and she put the child on the floor and he crawled to the king and climbed on his lap. She looked so much like Rovin that I whispered to him “Is that your mother?” and she was.
The boy was dark-haired like the queen and Vurian scowled so much at him that I knew he must be his younger brother. He didn’t look particularly obnoxious, more serious, as if he’d rather sit in a quiet place and read a book. But he was as interested as his sisters when the servant came back with my work-bag and I showed everybody the singing bird and the pecking bird and the half-finished music-box and the still naked monkey that at least stopped climbing now when it came to the end of its stick.
“You can keep the bird,” I said to the biggest of the princesses, a redhead about six years old. “I’ll show you how to wind it.” I gave the other bird to her sister, dark-haired and only a little younger. (They’re called Alyse and Moyri, and their brother is Radan, and the crawly kid is Aidan and the baby Cora. There are three and a half years between Moyri and Aidan because the king was off to Ashas then and they couldn’t make any babies.)
“That’s impressive,” the queen said, “but you can learn so much more!”
“That’s what I want to go to school in Veray for,” I said. (I wasn’t at all shy with the queen! Or with the king, either. They’re such friendly people.)
“Not to Turenay?”
“It’s the inventors’ school I want to go to and that’s in Veray,” I said. I’m nothing if not stubborn!
“But you have to train your mind as well — you’ll need a master. Well, I’ll write to Veray and there’s bound to be someone who can take you on. Both of you,” and she looked at Riei. “It will be easier in Veray for Riei, unless you” (that was me) “intend to join the Guild of Archan as well.”
She left us with that, and went on talking to big Arni, it sounded like they’d stopped talking at that point last night and were going on now. “You can learn law here in Valdis, my legal adviser teaches at the Academy, and he is in your Guild.” (I wondered if that was the person who had written most of the law book together with the queen.) “Or we can set up lessons here in the palace, but it will be safe enough for you to go out into the city.”
And then we were suddenly planning all of our futures! And having breakfast in between, at least I must have had breakfast because I didn’t leave the room hungry but it was all so exciting that I don’t remember what I was eating.
The king said that he could send me and Riei to Veray to people we could lodge with, but he wanted us to do something for him in return.
“What is it?” I asked.
“It’s time that Vurian here goes to school in Turenay,” he said, “and I don’t intend to separate him from his milk-brother, but it’s not a good time for boys of ten to travel from Valdis to Turenay on their own. Though my esteemed father-in-law,” and he looked lovingly at the queen, “did the same when he was eleven, all the way from Tal-Nus. But then he wasn’t so well known as these two scamps. No, I want them to have a dependable escort, that is, the two of you.”
Arni thought she’d go with us as well, but the queen said that she should stay with her mother, at least for the next few years. She was indignant, of course, but when the queen says you should do something you do it, she’s that sort of bossy!
“It won’t be for a few months, though,” the queen said, “not until it becomes easier to travel.”
“Oh!” I said. “It’s going to be winter soon.”
“Yes, and though both Valdis and Ryshas tend to have mild winters there’s a lot of land in between that can get badly snowed in. You might get stuck in Three Hills — not that that’s a bad place, but I’d rather you had an easy journey.”
Well, a few months here didn’t seem a bad thing, especially not if I could learn from the coppersmith!