While walking we made a list in our heads of which things we needed, and what we’d need first. A table and at least two chairs, a rug, curtains, fabric and straw for a mattress, bed-linen and blankets, a desk, a bookcase! Also dishes, cups, pans, a kettle and other cooking stuff because we had a hearth we could use to cook, we wouldn’t have to share with the downstairs neighbours all the time. “Will it be cold in winter?” Riei wondered, and I thought it wouldn’t because Veray is in Ryshas and according to Vurian it’s never really winter there. But just then we passed a girl of about five who was sweeping a porch while her grandmother did some other work nearby.
“Hey,” Riei said, “I’m Riei, what’s your name?”
“Lyse,” the girl said.
“Say, Lyse, we’ve just moved here from the south, do you know if it gets really cold in winter here?”
“Sure!” the girl said. “And the wind comes down from the mountains and then it blows into your house and you have to shut the shutters!”
“Shutters!” Riei said. “That’s a good idea. Where can we find someone who makes shutters?”
“Uncle Jichan made ours,” the girl said.
“Where does your Uncle Jichan live?” I asked.
“Above his workshop!” the girl said, but she pointed to the next corner. Which was the corner of our own block!
“Shutters help against stones the apprentices throw when they’re out for trouble, too,” the grandmother said. “You’re the girls who rented Alyse’s upstairs, right? Their downstairs shutters got torn off in a riot.”
“I think we’ll go and visit your Uncle Jichan,” we said to Lyse, “and have him make shutters for both upstairs and downstairs.”
“He lives just round the corner!” she said. And yes, when we rounded the corner the first thing we saw was a carpenter’s workshop. A thin man was working on what looked like one panel of a chest, and looked up when he noticed we were watching.
“Young ladies!” he said. “What can I do for you? A chest for your school-books?”
“Well,” I said, “perhaps? But we’ve come for shutters. Your niece told us where you live.”
“Little Lyse?” He laughed. “Well, tell us where you want shutters and we’ll see what we can do.”
“We’re moving into Alyse’s upstairs,” I said, “and we need shutters, but we’d like to pay for new shutters downstairs too.”
“Ah, yes, I heard that Alyse had rented the room to a couple of young women. The question is, can you pay?”
“Yes,” Riei said, “we’re both heiresses.” That made Jichan laugh, but it did convince him! And we told him that there was nothing in the room yet except a chest too large to go down the stairs.
“That’ll be the one my father made,” he said. “It’s good for your winter blankets, but you’ll need a clothes-press each, too. And what about your school-books?”
“We’d like a bookcase,” Riei said. “And a desk. I’m a clerk at the temple of Mizran.”
“And I’m going to the inventors’ school,” I said, “I might want a tool chest!”
“Oh, then if I were you I’d wait a couple of seasons until you know exactly what tools you need, then come here and tell me and I’ll make you a chest to measure. And for a desk and a bookcase you should go next door — to my wife’s workshop.”
Jichan sent a journeyman to measure for the shutters, “and if it needs new ironwork, that’ll double the price,” but we didn’t mind that, we knew that ironwork was more expensive than woodwork. We went next door, where a joiner and her apprentices were making furniture.
“That’s beautiful,” I said of a bookcase with leaves and flowers carved on the uprights.
“Thank you,” the joiner said (by her sign she was Jerna). “What can i do for you?”
We explained that we needed a table and chairs and a bookcase and a desk and a workbench. “A standing desk,” Riei said, “for reading and writing, with a slanted top.” And Jerna sat down with her and they talked for almost an hour about exactly what Riei needed and how it could be made. Then it was my turn, and she said the same thing that her husband had said, start school first and then I’d know exactly what I needed. But she’d send her apprentices with a simple table, and a high table with a slanted top for Riei, so we’d at least have a place to work while the rest was being made.
For the dining table she offered benches instead of chairs, and two low chairs to sit by the fire. And a shelf in the bedstead to put a lamp on, and shelves next to the hearth for pans and dishes.
We came out of the workshop a bit dizzy. Had we really ordered all that furniture? It had taken a lot of time, it must be late morning now.
On the corner there was a small temple of Naigha. We went in to talk with the old priestess in the temple hall, while we could also hear sounds of a school and see someone in what looked like a kitchen, so there had to be three priestesses, I wondered if they were three generations. (Later I heard that they were, the old priestess had been the schoolmistress before.) We talked about lots of things, our new house, Senthi’s children who might get work at the temple of Dayati, food (there was usually enough for everybody, but they were short on onions). Then the priestess said that in a moment, all of the school would be here to have their mid-day meal, so if we didn’t want to be crowded out better leave now!
“Shall we see if we can buy a sack of onions somewhere to give them?” I asked, and Riei agreed. But first we smelt a bakery! “Bread, too,” Riei said, and we arranged with the baker to have a sack of bread delivered to the temple three times a week. “That covers the other three days then!” the baker said — we weren’t the first people to do this. She gave us each a currant bun, fragrant and sticky.
A boy on crutches came in, he had only one leg, and she gave him a currant bun too. “I’ve come to sweep!” he said, but the baker made him sit down, “Eat first! Then sweep.”
We asked where to buy onions, and the baker said, “The farm on the corner will have some!” We’d seen vegetable gardens beyond the well (which we now knew was behind the temple of Naigha), so that must be the farm, and it was easy to find, because it had big barn doors with a little door opening in one for people without animals and wagons to go through. The front part was walled off to make a shop, where a girl in her teens was doing sums on a slate (probably accounts, Riei would know) and looked up when she saw us.
We ordered the onions for the temple, one sack a week and some garlic as well, and as the girl was adding that up an old man came through the back door and noticed that we looked and sounded southern. “You’re from Iss-Peran, right?” he asked me. “Was in the army there. King’s first campaign.”
“Grandfather, don’t go on about the army again!” his granddaughter said.
“Shh, Hinla, you can see they’re interested.” And we talked about Iss-Peran a bit, until the old man said, “That’s for the temple, right? You’ll need some for yourselves, too. I know who you are, you’re the girls who’ve rented Alyse’s rooms.” (Did everybody know about us? But then the whole block shared one garden and one well, they probably did.)
So we ordered more vegetables, and a little barrel of sour cabbage, and paid a bit less than we’d expected, perhaps some of it was the farmer’s present to the temple of Naigha as well.
“So what else do we need?” we said, when we were outside again. “Plates, cups, a frying pan. We need a potter. And bed-linen.” We decided to walk around the whole block to see what else we could buy from neighbours, before trying anywhere else. But the first shop we saw was a bookshop! “Shall we go in?” I said, and Riei, “Yes!” Perhaps they could sell us some paper and ink, too, we hadn’t taken much from Valdis. And I needed a new notebook because the one I’d brought from Albetire was almost full.
In the front part of the shop there were small stacks of schoolbooks for the temple school. An elderly man stood up from behind the counter, “what can I do for you?” and we said we’d come in because we wanted to see the books. “But do you sell ink and paper?”
“Ink, paper, penknives, blotters, ink sanders, all necessary supplies for writing. And the best southweed in town, but you don’t look as if you’re interested in that.” No, we weren’t. “You probably don’t smoke brus either?” No, not that either! But when we explained that Riei was a clerk and I was going to be a student he said, “Ah, I have the right thing for students and clerks. A clerk’s kit, costs one rider, notebook, slate, styluses, pens, notepaper, ink, enough for one month. Refills are cheaper because you only use up some of the things.”
That was a good idea, and we got one each. But then we wanted to see the real books! He took us to the back room, where there were about a dozen bound books and a dozen or more still unbound books. Then he looked at me with a searching eye, “can you read classical Iss-Peranian? Here’s something you might be interested in, a treatise on metals and their origins. Very cheap at thirty riders.” I heard Riei gasp, but I could afford it, and it sounded as if it would be very useful.
This book wasn’t only bound, but printed! “That was made on a letter-press,” I said, “I’ve seen those in Albetire!” And it was very strange: the letters were classical Iss-Peranian, which I can’t read without reading aloud (because that’s what it’s for, after all) and when I did that Riei understood me, because the words were trade Iss-Peranian! And it went even further, “it’s a code!” Riei said, “the recipes, not the explanations, it doesn’t make sense in Iss-Peranian but if you translate every word literally it’s in Ilaini!”
I want this book, I said to Riei in my mind. I’d gladly pay thirty riders for it, and even if there was nothing else to read in the world I’d have something exciting to read for the next year or more.
“Anything else?” the bookseller said.
“Something to read to each other at night?” Riei said, and he showed us a book that was still in loose sheets, in trade Iss-Peranian, called “Stories of King Mazao”. “I can’t read that myself,” he said, “but I see you both can. This book is from Kushesh. I’ve been told that the stories are a bit lascivious, I hope you young ladies don’t object to that.”
No, we didn’t, especially not for a bedtime book! And Riei found something else, a small handwritten book. “Look, Leva, these are letters Queen Alyse wrote to her lady-friend, Lady Ryath Hayan!” That was King Athal’s grandmother, not his mother who had also been an Alyse. “How did those get into a book?”
“I bought them bound like this,” the bookseller said, “I think either Lady Ryath had them bound for her own use and the book got sold with other things after her death, or a servant took them to make themself some money. But I see they’re going to a good home.” (And Riei had picked out another book but I don’t remember what it was, that will be a surprise when they arrive!)
“Do you sell law-books too?” I asked, because we’d left ours in Valdis with Arni.
“You can get those for free at the sheriff’s house,” the bookseller said.
The total came to a hundred and twenty riders! (Three times Vurian’s yearly allowance!) We had to reassure the bookseller once again that we were both heiresses to trading-houses, and we could afford it, but then he agreed to bind the King Mazao book in leather of our choice and have everything delivered.
“Bed-linen, pottery, a rug,” I said.
“Candles. Or oil lamps and some lamp oil,” Riei said. “Hey! Look! That’s better than a rug!” And there were a middle-aged couple and a young man all making rush mats in their open shop-front. “Looks nice, smells nice, and if you spill anything on it you can just rinse it off!”
“Exactly,” the man said, “rush mats are the best floor-covering there is. Cool in summer and warm in winter, too. You’re the two girls who are coming to live in Alyse’s house, right?”
It was becoming funny. “Yes,” we said.
“We can start yours when we finish these,” the woman said, “will take a week or so.”
“That’s all right,” we said, “they’ll probably be ready before the furniture is, anyway!”
We found the potter on the opposite side of the street — so not on our block but close enough. On one side of the shop there was all red pottery, on the other side grey. As we were looking at it, a boy came from the workshop and said, “Are you customers, or are you just here to look at my handsome face?”
I tried to see if he was handsome at all, and there didn’t seem to be anything wrong with him: he was about our age and had pale freckled skin and long arms and legs and a shock of curly red-blond hair. “You’ll do,” I said, “and we are customers, we need plates and cups and bowls and a frying-pan.”
“Red or grey?” he asked. “The red is cheaper, the grey heavier and more durable.”
“The red is prettier, too,” I said. So we ended up with plates, soup bowls, small cups, tea-mugs, four of each. Also a frying-pan and a couple of serving bowls and dishes of different sizes, all of the red pottery. “A honey jar?” I asked, but honey came in a jar when you bought it. “And if you want a kettle and a stockpot,” the boy said (his name was Faran), “better go to the coppersmith on the next corner and get tinned copper! You’ll want to keep those hanging over the fire all the time.” And when we paid and told him where to deliver, he threw in two oil-lamps as a gift — we’d completely forgotten to buy those. “Oil right over there,” he said, and pointed to a shop on our own side.
Not only oil! The shopkeeper was a cheerful woman (“Ah, you’re Alyse’s new tenants! Good!”) who sold us lamp oil and cooking oil and hair oil (all different kinds of olive oil) and vinegar and soap and candles and soft wax and salty black olives and little pickled onions and a small barrel of sweetish red wine. “You should have some wine in the house even if you don’t drink much!” she said. “You’re from Essle, right? Then I have something really nice for you.” And she opened a jar full of pieces of octopus tentacle, preserved in butter! Riei and I looked at each other and our stomachs started to rumble. “It’s not cuttlefish,” the shopkeeper said, “but it might soften your homesickness a little. Fry it up in its own butter, with an onion and some olives!”
It was expensive, but we wanted it! “We can eat some of it on the feast of Timoine,” I said, “and the rest to celebrate when our things have all been made!” Then the shopkeeper made us a present of a small flask of really sweet wine for our celebration.
“Thank you,” we said. “Do you know where the most pleasant bath-house is?”
That was the bath-house near the Temple of Dayati, and it was even an Iss-Peranian bath-house. Only they were a little short-handed at the moment, because their two best attendants had left for Selday and the new girls were still learning the work. They were Síthi, there was a large Síthi community in Veray (and that was probably how they had a Temple of Dayati at all). “Perhaps I can teach them how to handle my hair,” I said.
Now all we needed was the coppersmith. But on that same corner was the sheriff’s house. “Law book or kettle?” Riei asked. “Law book!” we both said at the same time and climbed the steps to the sheriff’s house. A man in clothes that looked like uniform greeted us.
“We’ve heard that you’re giving law books away,” Riei said, “we left ours in Valdis with my sister, and now we’ve moved here and we don’t have one.”
“And we like to read to each other from it,” I said.
The man nodded. “That’s a good thing, young people who like to read the law.” And he got one from a pile behind him, bound in red linen like the one we’d left in Valdis, only newer. And there was a card tied to it with some encouraging words and a scrawled signature. “The baron signed those cards with his own hand,” the man said. “He’s very serious about the law.”
“I can imagine,” I said, “because the queen appointed him, and she wrote the law book!”
Now all we needed was the coppersmith, who had a sign out proclaiming her as Rusla. We couldn’t disturb her just yet, though: she was very carefully drawing out a great length of copper wire. I hardly dared breathe– I knew how difficult it was, so thin and even.
She finished, and wiped her hands on a cloth, and turned round. “Thank you for not interrupting me,” she said.
“You were busy!” I said. “And it’s wonderful, I’d like to buy a couple of yards of that.”
“But first a kettle,” Riei said.
The smith had a kettle, and also a sieve in a copper frame strung with horsehair, and a stockpot we could hang above the fire. And a griddle that fit on our hearth-hook that we could roast meat or fish on — she made things from iron too, not only copper. I noticed that everything she had in the workshop was very well made, but there weren’t many different things, as if she made a point of doing a few things as well as possible rather than experiment or branch out. And now we also noticed that she didn’t have any journeymen or apprentices working in her workshop, as all the other craftspeople did! (I was sure Faran in the potter’s shop was an apprentice or a journeyman too, there’d been more people working in the back of the house.)
“I see you don’t have any apprentices,” I said.
“They all run away,” the smith said. “I’m not a nice woman.”
I didn’t think someone needed to be nice to be a good master! I can’t really say that Sidhan is nice, though I know she’s good, not only in her work but also with people. Rusla had never heard of Sidhan, but we did talk about work a bit. And then I found out why people didn’t stay: she didn’t only expect herself to be perfect all the time, but everybody who worked for her as well! If you have to be perfect on the first try, how will you ever learn?
She did have great admiration for Doctor Cora, who had cured her of cancer in her belly. “That’s why I never had any children,” she said, “and because of that my husband ran away, too.”
“Stupid man,” Riei said with a bitter sound in her voice.
The smith shrugged. “I can do without. Didn’t you say you were living upstairs at Alyse’s? Do you have bed-linen yet? A nephew of mine is selling everything from his house –parents both died and he’s off to school in Turenay– and I think bed-linen is all he’s got left. You must know that they died of the pox, though. But everything’s been washed, I took care of that myself.”
“We won’t get the pox anyway,” Riei said, “we’ve been scratched!” The smith didn’t know what that was, so we showed the little scars on our arms that the doctors in Albetire and Essle gave to all children so they got only a little bump on their skin and a couple of days of fever, and never got the pox any more in their life. “We must tell that doctor at the Temple of Dayati, if they don’t know that here!” Riei said.
“Well, his name is Coran and he lives three houses back,” and she pointed in the direction we’d come from. “Tell him I sent you.” And that was a dismissal if I’d ever heard one. But she called Riei back when we were leaving and said “Perhaps I can teach you a couple of things. More than that Senthi can, anyway.”
When we knocked on the door of the third house a young man opened it. He was pale and pockmarked. “Your aunt sent us,” we said, “Rusla. She said you had bed-linen you wanted to sell.”
He shrugged and nodded. “Come in.” The house was mostly empty. “I’m off to Turenay as soon as I can,” he said. Unlike his aunt, he was in the Guild of Anshen. “There wasn’t even much of the pox here. My father came back from a business trip, and then he came down with it, and Mother and I after him.”
“And they both died and you lived,” we said.
“Yes. All the linen has been washed though!”
“We know,” Riei said, “and we have this.” And she showed her scratch-mark again. Coran had never heard of it either! “We’ll have to write to Doctor Cora about it, I think.”
There was enough bed-linen that we could make our bed and have two changes in the chest! “I have a fire-screen too,” he said, “do you want that?” It was a very different kind of screen than the ones I was used to, not to shut off part of a room from view, but to keep warmth in when you were sitting by the fire! “Yes, please!” we said, “how much do you want for everything?”
“Well, I have six riders for my school fees,” he said.
“Ah, you want the other six riders.” And we gave him seven, one for travel expenses. We went home with our arms full of bed-linen and Coran carried the screen after us.