We wanted to bring Alyse and Cynla and the rest of their family something for dinner, so we went to the shops again to see if there was anything we liked. One shop had a whole lot of birds hanging outside under the awning, some drab brown, some bright red-brown with long tail-feathers. “Can you eat those?” Riei asked, and just then the shopkeeper came out and said “Sure you can eat them, young lady, best pheasants in town!”
Then we remembered we’d had pheasant at the palace, and it had been very good! “It’s one for two people,” the shopkeeper said, so I counted on my fingers (to seven) and we bought four. They were only two shillings for the lot of them! “Four if I clean them for you.” I almost said yes to that, though I did want the feathers, but Riei said “Cynla and her mother can probably do that!” so we got them in all their feathers in a limp reed basket.
I wanted to buy some fruit for the children, and Riei’s idea was sweet cakes, but when we came to a sweet-shop they had something that was both: slices of orange, boiled in sugar so they were all firm and sweet. I’d paid for the birds, so Riei spent two shillings on sweets, and they turned out to be expensive, she got only a little bag full.
When we got to the house there was a woman at the door who we hadn’t seen before: about thirty, looking very tired. “You must be the new tenants,” she said, “I’m Senthi. I could get off work early today.” We went to the kitchen with her and gave her the bag of birds. Then Senthi called her children in, who were in the garden weeding. A boy and a girl, about Riei’s age or perhaps a little older, twins called Arin and Selevi. I could see by their faces that they weren’t clever, but both of them looked nice. The children had bad news: they wouldn’t be allowed back in school after the feast of Timoine! “But will Dayati come for us on the feast?” Selevi wanted to know.
“I think she will,” Senthi said, “but it may be the last time.”
“She won’t come for me any more,” I said a bit sadly, and Arin looked at me and said “Because you’re a woman! You are a woman and you have a woman.”
“You’re right,” I said, “I’m a woman now, but on the Feast of Naigha I was still a girl.”
“We’ll have to find you some work,” Senthi said to her children, “you (that was Selevi) can sew quite well, and you (Arin) can carry heavy loads, and you’re both good at sweeping and scrubbing. The Temple of Dayati needs someone to clean and paint and mend, we’ll ask if you can work there.”
“But there are so many people there!” Arin said, “I don’t want to be with a lot of people.”
“They’ll help you,” Cynla said, “they’re the Temple of Dayati! They know what people need.”
Then we showed Arin and Selevi how to pluck the pheasants. “They can work really well,” Senthi said, “but you have to ask them one thing at a time, very clearly.” So I showed Selevi first, and then Arin, “here’s a bird, this is how you hold it, this is how you pull out the feathers”, and asked them to keep the feathers whole if they could. Selevi got a basket from under the kitchen counter to put the feathers in, “I’ll be very careful!” They did one bird each, and Riei and I one each, and when all the birds were naked Arin picked up one by the leg and showed us the spurs and said “This is a boy bird. And the other birds are girl birds.” I hadn’t known that about pheasants! But we’d had a bright one with a long tail and three drab ones, so it figured.
Senthi motioned to us to come into the garden with her. “If you’re coming to live here,” she said to me, “does that mean we’ll have apprentices of the Nameless at the door, picking fights with you?” (She was a master in the Guild of Anshen, I noticed now, but either she wasn’t very strong or she was hiding herself, or perhaps both.)
“If they do we’ll call the Order,” I said. “And seal the door,” Riei said, “I’m good at that.”
“Hm, you are of the Nameless but you don’t look much like it,” Senthi said.
“I’ll decide that when it’s time for my trial,” Riei said.
“And do you want lessons from me?” Senthi asked.
“Yes!” I said, and Riei nodded a bit more cautiously.
“You must know that I’m working late most days — though with the rent I can probably work fewer hours.”
“You’re a clerk for the weavers’ guild, right?” Riei said. “If you have too much work you can take some home and I’ll give you a hand.”
“She’s a really good clerk,” I said, “just got a job in the Temple of Mizran.”
“Perhaps I can teach you something,” Riei said.
“She’s a really good teacher, too!” I said, and we all laughed, and then we started talking about the garden instead. Senthi was surprised that the common gardens worked the same way in Valdis, but we didn’t know if it was only in the part of Valdis where we’d lived. If Riei and I could take the share of the garden, then it would help with the housekeeping too, not only the occasional handful of thinned-out shoots that the neighbours gave the children for the raking and weeding.
When we came back into the kitchen the birds were clean and in pieces, Alyse was frying onions, and Cynla was cutting up turnips. We talked about all kinds of things while dinner was cooking, and I asked Arin “Do you think you can whitewash our room?” because I’d just thought of that, but he shook his head and said, “No, I’m scared on the ladder, when I have something in my hands I fall off. And then I hit my nose. And then my nose hurts.” Clearly, that had happened to him exactly like that!
“Then it’s better when you whitewash things that are downstairs,” I said.
“Yes, like the Temple of Dayati!” he said.
When we were just finishing dinner there was a knock on the door. “There’s a man outside!” Senthi said. “Do you know him?”
“Oh, it’s Jichan,” Riei said, “probably wants to know where we’re going to live, he knew another house but that was no good.” Senthi knew who Jichan was and the women didn’t mind him coming in, or even looking at our room, but he wouldn’t, he’d just come to take us home. “It’s getting dark, and if you don’t know your way yet it might be dangerous!” he said.
We hadn’t gone half a street when I said “Now we’ve forgotten to give them the candy!” and Riei ran back, leaving us standing there, Jichan with a frown on his face. But she was back soon enough. Anyway, from this house to Merain and Arni’s house the way was almost familiar already, but even so we were glad to have Jichan with us. “I suppose you’ve eaten?” he asked.
“Yes, we brought them pheasants to celebrate that we’re moving in. Probably tomorrow.”
It was another pleasant evening in the weaponsmiths’ house, and Merain brought out a bottle of brandy and gave us all a share. Riei and I had ours with water, but we still woke up with a headache. “Come here,” Arni said at breakfast, and she laid her hands on our foreheads and made the headache go away.
“Can I learn that?” Riei asked.
“Every day of Anshen a doctor from the hospital comes to the Temple of Dayati to teach, what does she call it, household medicine for general purposes.”
“We’ll come!” we said.
Headache or no, I’d woken up with a very good idea in my head! “What if we lend the mules to the orphanage?” I asked Riei. “Then that girl who knows about mules can ride them, and everybody else who needs one, and we can have them when we need a ride. We can pay for the stabling and the feed.”
“Brilliant!” Riei said. “I thought of something too. You’re paying a fifth of your income as school fees, what if I give a fifth of mine to the orphanage? That would be four shillings a week. Just enough to buy every orphan one piece of orange candy,” she added a little bitterly.
“That’s very fair!” I said.
“Yes, isn’t it? I thought of giving them the whole rider, but I don’t want to live only on your money.”
“You do need money of your own! We’ll have to have a purse and each put some money in, and then that’s to buy food and things and we don’t need to care who put how much in, only how much there is.” Perhaps I could get one rider a week out of the Temple and see if we could manage with that. But it was a comfortable idea that we had not just enough but plenty.
We didn’t take the mules to the orphanage at once, but went there first to ask if they thought it was a good idea too. At least we tried to go there– at one point we looked at each other and asked “Do you know where to go now?” “No, do you?” and I said I thought we had to go back up the hill, where the big yellow house was, and go around that and then down.
“Exactly!” someone said next to us. “If you want the orphanage, that is, I thought I heard you talk about that. I’m going that way too.”
He was called Ferin, and worked at the paper-mill just out of town, and he was going to meet his friend who worked there too and lived a bit closer to the gate. After talking for a while he stopped and said “You’re hiding!” and yes, we had been, without thinking about it.
“I’m hiding too. But I’m better at it than you.” And yes, he was in the Guild of Anshen! More practice from living in Veray all his life, I suppose.
Then his friend came out of a side street. His name was Jichan (“not the one from Turenay, obviously” — they did know him!) and it was clear that they weren’t just friends but boyfriends. We gossiped a bit about Jichan from Turenay, “he’s so right!” I said, “even when he’s wrong!” and they also knew things about our landladies, but those were all things we knew too and could live with. But I think we’re making friends, because they told us where there was a barn that was the best place in town for people our age to dance!
This time there was another girl at the gate who asked “Are you coming to live here?” but we said that we had a house of our own but we wanted to talk to the orphanage father.
This was a man of about forty called Arin. He rubbed his chin and nodded when we explained what we were proposing. “You will pay for all the feed? And for the farrier when they need shoeing or get sick? We do have an empty stable, and enough of the children who want to learn the work. But it’s so often that people give us something that seems useful but turns out to be a liability.”
“Sure,” I said, “we’ll take on all the cost, and we can come in once a week, I think, to give riding lessons if anyone wants to learn.”
He laughed. “Erne can do that! But come and visit by all means, or they’ll forget you.”
Then Riei sent me and Erne to get the mules because she had something to talk to Arin about, and of course I knew what it was: the four shillings! And we also wanted to pay a couple of orphans to do our whitewashing while we went into town to buy things we needed.
Erne immediately showed that she knew how to saddle a mule. Once the saddle was on she climbed into it and rode off, while I led the other three mules, and we talked on the way. “I hope I’ll turn out gifted!” she said, and I said she was almost old enough to find out, I hadn’t been much older. “I like your friend. She’s prickly though.” That was as good a sign as any that she was gifted, but I didn’t say that, only “She is, a little. But not as prickly as a hedgehog!”
When we came back, Riei had organized the whitewashing as well as the four shillings, and written a letter for the Temple of Mizran so Arin could send all the mule bills there, I only had to sign it. We gave the mules a final pat — they seemed to like all the attention they got from the children — and went into town.