On our way
On the Day of Mizran the boys came to our house to plan, just as we’d arranged. They’d both travelled before, but not without any adults (“sorry, Riei!” Vurian said, but she wasn’t offended, she might be the oldest of the bunch but she didn’t have much experience either). It would be cold, especially in the nights, and we’d have to sleep in the open a few times because there were whole stretches without any houses. And we’d have to bring enough water for ourselves and the animals, because after Three Hills there was a two-day stretch without any streams. There might be a few rainwater pools because it was early spring, but we shouldn’t count on that. Anyway, good chance those would still be frozen. “We’ll have to bring a bucket too!” I said, and it went on the list. “And things to make a fire,” Rovin said.
We ended up with a really long list. “Better let someone look at it who has done it before,” I said, “then we won’t be stuck in the middle without this one thing we need and everybody forgot.” Riei scowled at that, but Vurian and Rovin thought it was sensible and they’d find someone to ask.
Now it was some more weeks of work. Very hard work! Rava gave me a set of needles and hooks on my last day, the ones I’d been working with, “so you’ll have your own, better than getting used to all new stuff!” She knew me all right! And I had to run back to Sidhan’s workshop because I’d left the squid pendant hanging on a hook on the wall. She was surprised to see me again, she was sure I’d already given it to Riei. “No, I had to do that one leg again when the enamel didn’t stick, remember?” and I wrapped it in linen and put it in my pocket.
“I’ll miss you,” Sidhan said, “I’d have liked to teach you more!”
“I’ll miss you too, I think this is where I learned the most.”
“I hope you haven’t told that to everybody!” she said, but no, I’d told Rava she’d taught me a lot, and the Temple that I’d learned some useful things I’d never have known if I hadn’t been on the inside. Both things were true!
“You did learn from Rava too, though. I can only teach you how metal works, but Rava taught you how to make it look cute. To tell a story with it.”
That was true, too. “If the school in Veray didn’t exist,” I said, “I think I’d want to stay here as your apprentice.”
“Then I’d want you six days a week!” she said. “Learning from three different masters at the same time works for a season, not for a whole apprenticeship.”
I ran home –well, most of the way, it was almost on the other side of the city– and gave the little package to Riei. “You’ll have to get a leather thong or something to put it on,” I said, “I didn’t learn to make a chain as well!”
She unwrapped the parcel and stood looking at the pendant for a long time. Then she pulled three hairs from her head and twisted them into a cord and hung it from her neck. “I could have pulled hairs from you,” she said, “your hair is long enough now!” And she hugged me very hard as soon as she had both hands free.
That evening the palace sent a cart for our luggage, and early the next morning we got up and ate a large breakfast and dressed in our warmest clothes. One of Erne’s patients had knitted us both woollen stockings, and we’d had riding boots ever since we’d started to make long rides. (We got them at the palace, I think they were some that pages had grown out of because they were good but not new.)
Big Arni was crying, and Riei cried a little too. Then I hugged Arni and said “Thank you!” and she said “thank you” to me too. Little Arni –back from the Temple a couple of weeks ago– had a look on her face that I couldn’t really place, angry and envious and relieved and excited all at the same time. “Well, see you in four years,” she said, and suddenly I knew what she was upset about: not because we were going, but because Vurian was!
We walked to the palace, and Rusla caught us at the last moment and gave us a large bag full of food. “You should eat the pie today,” she said, “and the bread in a couple of days, but the rest will keep until you need it.” I could feel a hard sausage through the burlap and grinned, I’d seen her take it off the hook.
In the palace yard Rovin and Vurian were waiting, wearing Khas coats like ours. They had not only their mares, but two pack-horses each! Enough room for Rusla’s bag as well. Four people and ten animals, it was a whole expedition.
Vurian’s parents and Rovin’s mother and all the little brothers and sisters were there to say goodbye. “You could have taken a wagon,” the queen said.
“We showed the list to Uncle Ferin and he agreed!” Vurian said. “And he said to take the extra horse.”
The king took Riei and me aside. “Take good care of our sons,” he said.
“We will! We promised!”
And then all the little brothers and sisters wanted a hug before we could leave, but finally we were riding through the city and out of the gate into a misty landscape. It wasn’t really light yet, and a wettish kind of cold. We’d still set out so early that we could get to Three Hills in one day if we didn’t stop for long on the way.
In the middle of the day we stopped at the eternal fire, prayed, ate Rusla’s pie and tried out the leather bucket to water the mules and horses. The weather was a lot better now: the sun started to shine and the sky in front of us was clear blue. It felt a lot colder, though, and I was glad of my Khas coat and knitted hat and stockings.
“Someone likes us,” I said. “But I like this cold!”
Vurian grinned and tossed me a small jar of goose fat. “Rub that on your face,” he said, and yes, the skin was all chapped from the cold. Riei did my cheeks and nose, and I hers, but the boys said “It’s all right for us to look rugged!”
I slapped a dollop of fat on Vurian’s face anyway, and he said “No! I wanted Rovin to do that!” So much for looking rugged!
When we came to Three Hills it was already dark. The same guard was at the gate. “Oh, it’s Vurian astin Something,” he said. “Now I want all your names, I got into a bit of trouble for that last time.”
While we were writing our names –I was a bit slow, because I didn’t know what “place of residence” I should write, but decided on Valdis in the end– I could see that Vurian looked as if he was talking to someone in his mind. “We’ll spend the night in the manor-house,” he said, “but Hylti has just invited herself and all the children there, too!”
“They probably have a big enough stable at the manor-house for all our horses and mules!” I said.
“Yes, we could stable them at the inn again, but there are ten of them and that will be expensive! I know you’ve been saving,” he said to Rovin, “but I want to live on my stipend in Turenay, and it’ll be a whole rider for ten animals!”
“I have some money too,” I said, because I’d emptied my Valdis account before I left, “but we’re going to need that in Veray, we’ll probably want to rent rooms.”
“I’ll probably sleep in the school dormitory,” Vurian said, “and Rovin with his master. Or in the Ishey house!” Neither of them looked happy about that, of course they hadn’t really been apart for long since they shared a cradle. “But that’s how it is. All things I do are things I have to do, not things I want to do.”
“That’s not true!” I said. “When we first met you, what the two of you were doing, finding out things and figuring out how they all fit together, that’s something you thought of by yourselves and were doing because you wanted to do it! I know it’s what a king does but you didn’t have to do it yet, not for years!”
Vurian didn’t look happy about going to the manor-house either. “Don’t you like the baron?” Riei asked.
“The baron is all right. But he has a daughter, a couple of years older than you, and she’s — Well, I think she’s all right too really. Gifted, just not very clever, and she’s still lovesick about a young man she met two years ago at the summer fair!”
“A trader?” I asked. But no, it was someone from the school in Turenay. “Perhaps he didn’t like girls?”
“Oh yes, he does. And he already had a girl with him, they were going on an assignment together, but that girl didn’t want him either. That’s Khushi who’s now married to the baroness of Selday.”
“Oh, perhaps she doesn’t like boys!”
“Well, as far as I know, before she got married she made love with anybody she liked, men and women, even very old women! But she didn’t want him. I don’t know what became of him, he went to Iss-Peran or something. Anyway, people keep shoving their daughters at me because I’m the prince, so I’m glad I’ve got you with me, she won’t be the only girl there.”
“Do you need to marry someone gifted? I asked. “Or someone noble, or both?”
“I’d like to marry someone gifted,” Vurian said, “it’s much nicer to make love then! That’s what my parents say, anyway. When they think we’re not listening. And no, I don’t need to marry someone noble, as long as they’ll make a good queen.”
Then we saw Hylti and Arni and their children coming from the hill, and we got off our horses and mules and let the little ones have a ride. “That mule did a poop!” one little girl said.
“Someone will pick it up and put it on their herb garden,” I said. “That’s good for herbs.”
“Then all the herbs are going to smell of poop! So we have to eat poop!”
“No,” I said, “the herbs eat the poop and that makes them smell of herbs.” But it’s impossible to argue with a two-year-old who is convinced of something about poop, I suppose.