Staying up all night
The house was a mess. Lyase-Lédu took one look at it and tied up the boat so she could help clean. We carefully worked around the woman sleeping in a corner of the kitchen and managed not to wake her up.
“I’m working in the temple this afternoon,” Riei said, “you can come if you want! You’ll need a letter of introduction but I can take care of that. I’ll need your help, though. Yours too, Lyase-Lédu.”
She took us to a small room where I hadn’t been before, the walls lined with shelves, papers and books crammed into every space. There was a desk with a stool that Riei had to kneel on because she wasn’t tall enough to write comfortably otherwise.
“Now how do I say this? Recommended? Introduced? Wait a moment.” She took a reed from a bunch in a jar and cut a new pen, got a sheet of paper out of a drawer, and mixed some ink from an inkstone. “Good ink, to show the writer isn’t poor!” But she used an old pen and thinner ink and already-used paper to write a draft of her letter, several times over, reading it to us to see if we could spot anything that was off.
“This one is just like the letter our new clerk brought at home!” I said eventually. “Not exactly the same, but the same kind of thing.”
“That’s what we need,” Riei said. “Do you know why I’m using this paper?”
We didn’t, and Riei said “It’s the last sheet of a dozen that we took from — the old house. I want them to think my uncle wrote it. From Albetire.”
She dipped the new pen in the thick ink and wrote the letter all in one go, then let me and Lyase-Lédu read it for mistakes. “I don’t see anything wrong,” I said, and Lyase-Lédu didn’t see anything either. “Good!” Riei said, sanded the letter and took a seal from another drawer, not a ring, but a brass stamp on a block of wood.
“Now I need you for the seal. I can’t seal it all by myself, I want a mix of power or they’ll notice.”
“Why do you need to seal with semsin at all?” I asked.
“To show that it’s the Dawn that wrote it, of course! When I put the wax on, give me your power. Think of something fitting.”
“I’ll think of Albetire,” I said.
“But don’t think about being homesick!”
“I’ll think of the harbour, the ships, trade!” I said, and I did that, and I could feel that Lyase-Lédu mostly thought of anger.
“Done!” Riei said. “Now we have to make it look as if it was written half a year ago, not half an hour ago.” She crumpled it, straightened it out again, rolled it up and put it into a map-case with some sand and rolled the case across the desk. “That’ll do it.”
“Couldn’t you dip it in salt water for just a moment?” I asked.
“That’s been done too often lately,” Riei said, “it doesn’t work any more. Not on the assistant Mighty Servant, anyway.”
Lyase-Lédu took us to the temple and stayed around long enough to share the pasties and water-with-a-dash-of-wine that Riei bought. “Hey, bitches, see you later,” she said before rowing off, a sure sign that she’d come to like me too.
We entered the temple through the back door, and Riei looked around for someone she couldn’t find. She asked a young man in an embroidered stole, who said “Merain? In the archive, I think.” We went down a flight of steps and ended up in a low, dark room where a man was sitting between huge piles of papers.
“Didn’t I see you here earlier?” he asked when he saw me.
“She’s coming to work now,” Riei said.
“I’ve got a letter,” I said and held it out to him. He read it, then read it again.
“Did you see this being written?” he asked. I could say yes to that, without lying!
Then he looked at Riei. “Good work,” he said. “Very good work.” Riei couldn’t help herself and burst out laughing.
“Go on, both of you. You’re on bills of lading today.” He waved us away.
RIei took me to a room where some other clerks were already working, all in pairs. We got a pile of papers, each one about some cargo from a ship, and we had to write in a book which ship it was, what cargo, the registration number, and the value in riders and shillings, then add it up per day, and note the totals on a list. We took turns doing the addition and checking it. At the end of the afternoon someone came and collected all our lists to take to the Mighty Servant, and we all trooped into a room behind the temple itself where there was a lot of drink and some nibbles. I drank as little as possible and tried to eat as much as I could!
Merain came to talk to me. “How did your first day go?” he asked.
“It wasn’t half bad!” I said.
He looked puzzled. “How can it have been even half bad? Few things are more interesting than bills of lading. You see where the ships go, what they bring back, how much it’s all worth!”
“That’s what I meant!” I said. “I liked it a lot!”
On the way home, on the boat, Riei told me that Merain had been in Selday for a while, and gone to a school to learn forgery! “Well, perhaps not exactly to learn forgery, but it’s a school for the baroness’ clerks, and they have to recognise forgery when they see it so they first learn to do it! Merain gives us forged bills sometimes to train us, and the first time I got one it was so clearly a forgery that I went to his office and wiped my butt with it where he could see.”
[Note: later we retconned this to Riei having had a year in Selday to learn forgery.]
“We didn’t have any today, did we?” I was afraid there’d been one and I hadn’t seen it.
“Alyse did, didn’t you see her leave the office? All of ours were real.”
As soon as we got home, big Arni sent us to the evening market for cockles. We got a whole bucket full, and some flat loaves of bread. Then we roasted them over the fire and ate them and drank wine with water and talked all night, little Arni as well! We must have talked about all kinds of things but I think we all drank too much and I don’t really remember what those things were.
When it was almost light, a woman came in. “Oh, you’re still up! Good! I wondered if I could sleep here.”
“Sure,” Arni said, and I said, “Do you want something to eat? I think there’s some left,” and she ate the last of the bread and the cockles.
“I haven’t seen you here before,” she said to me, stroking my hair. “You’re cute.”
“I’m from Albetire,” I said, “I’m going to the trade school — er — the day after tomorrow.”
“Good! I was afraid for a moment that you were going into our profession.You’re far too cute for that.”
“No,” I said, “there are two things I want to do, learn trade and make toys.” And I wanted to learn semsin too, but I didn’t tell her that because I didn’t know her well enough yet.
“How old are you anyway, fourteen?”
“Twelve,” I said, “about exactly now.”
“That’s too young for our profession, anyway. I was twelve when I –”
But she didn’t tell me anything more until we happened to go to piss at the same time. She was from Veray, and she’d been a nobleman’s girlfriend but he’d had a fiancee lined up for him, so she left for Essle when she was expecting his child.
“Did you have the baby?” I asked. “Or was it an unwanted child and did Vauri take care of it?”
“Neither,” she said, “I lost it about halfway to Essle.”
“I don’t want babies just yet,” I said. “Perhaps when I’m sixteen.”
She stroked my hair again. “Good girl. You are cute. Oh, and one thing: never EVER ask after Riei and Arni’s father.”
I shrugged. “I don’t have a mother, they don’t have a father, I don’t think it’s an issue.”
“Everybody has a mother. And a father for that matter.”
“My father died last year, and he never talked about my mother but I think she was Iss-Peranian. And I think she died when I was born or not too long after, because I don’t remember her at all.”
“Don’t you even know which house she worked in?” the woman asked. Goodness, I never even thought my mother might have been a whore! But it would explain a lot.
Then we all went to bed, and Riei said “Don’t wake me up tomorrow morning! Wait, this morning.” And little Arni said “I’ve never been up all night! But Mother didn’t send me to bed so I stayed up.”
And we all slept, well into the day.