I woke up and stretched and yawned. “Hey!” Hylti said from beside me. “I was going to do that!”
Riei stirred and went “huh?” and then came awake all at once. “There are three of us in the bed!”
“Yes, Hylti stayed the night, don’t you remember?”
“Oh yes. So much happened.”
“The head of the weavers’ guild is a crook, right?”
“Right. A fish rots from the head, and the former baron was rotten through and through, so it’s no surprise. Probably the heads of some more trade guilds, too. The wine merchants for sure.”
“I thought Jinla had gone mad because she’s so old,” I said.
“Perhaps. Or she’s so old that she couldn’t handle the things that were going on and went mad from that. We’ll probably never know.”
The weaponsmiths, too? Jichan, who I’d actually liked? I started to say something about that, but then there was a knock on the door and a boy of about eleven stood there with washing-water and towels. “Hey, Hylti,” he said, “sleeping with the guests again?”
“Will you curb your tongue with guests present, little brother?”
“All right, big sister. Esteemed guests, as there are supply problems from the town at the moment, everybody is invited to take breakfast in the low kitchen.” He grinned at Hylti and stuck out his tongue.
“Correct words, bad attitude. You can go now, we can wash without you.”
“Is he really your brother?” I asked when the boy was gone.
“Yes,” Hylti said and sighed. “The next cohort and all. Well, he’s learning.”
“You’re getting a bit too grown-up for this work, right?”
“Right. But I hope Loryn — Lord Loryn I must say — will get me sent to Solay.”
“Solay!” Riei said. “To do what?”
“Learn diplomacy. Negotiation. That’s something I really want to do.”
“Vurian says that his father saw a treasure room there under the sea, a mile long,” I said. “Full of gold.”
“Gold doesn’t interest me so much. People who handle the gold do. And what gold does to people.”
The low kitchen turned out to be where most of the night before last’s food had come from; the high table got it from the high kitchen. That was, Hylti said, because the last baron before Loryn (the one who was rotten) had been fed up with his food being cold when it came to his table, so he’d had another kitchen built for the high table only! And there was yet another kitchen in the baron’s personal apartments, but that didn’t get used much at the moment.
There was an assortment of different food but not very much of anything, as if it was mostly leftovers. And if it was hard to get food in from town, that was exactly what you’d expect! I had something that at least looked like breakfast, sweet yellow porridge with raisins, though it had probably started out as dessert. Riei was eating bread and meatballs, and Hylti thick soup with vegetables and bits of sausage. Hylti finished first and excused herself, “work to do!”
A man came into the kitchen, neither young nor old, neither fat nor thin, neither dark nor fair, neither short nor tall, the most unremarkable man I’d ever seen! He talked with one of the cooks, who nodded and gave him a plate. He came to sit down next to us with it. “May I join you?”
“Of course.” There were mushrooms and vegetable stew on his plate, and he ate some of it before saying, “I find that Síthi food agrees with me.”
“Then you’re right to eat it,” I said, and suddenly I knew who this was. “You’re Doctor Airath!”
“Plain Airath will do,” he said. “My colleague Cora asked me to advise you. Riei, I’ll see you later, you’re wanted in the counting-room for another couple of hours. You (that was me) and I will take a walk on the battlements first.”
From the battlements we could see smoke rising in several places in the town. No wonder there’d been trouble with bringing in food! After a while we sat down on the stone bench that ran all around the wall. Airath took a flask and two small cups from his pocket and poured us both a cup of mushroom broth, tepid but tasty.
“I wanted to talk with you alone,” he said, “because in cases like this, before I see the person I’m concerned with, I want to know their situation, their surroundings.”
“Of course,” I said, “like you don’t start building something until you’ve seen the place where it goes.”
“Exactly! I knew you’d understand. I know you’re still very young, and what I’m going to ask of you is perhaps too much for you, but are you prepared to stand by Riei whatever happens? For the rest of her life?”
“Yes!” I said.
“There is no young man in the offing for you?”
“No! Well, there’s Rovin in Turenay, he’s my best friend, at least of all the boys. His brain works just like mine, he’s a maker, an inventor. But he’s only eleven anyway, hardly a man. Though if we want children when we’re grown up I’ll probably ask him.”
“That might make Riei very angry. Who is this Rovin?”
“He’s Prince Vurian’s milk-brother. And Riei knows all about it, we all travelled together.”
“Oh, that Rovin, I’ve met him. You are sure you’re not in love with him, you won’t want to marry him?”
“Oh no! Well, to have children we’d have to make love, and when we’re making love we might kiss, but I’m not in love with him. I don’t know if I’ll ever fall in love with anyone.”
“Hm, you’re not in love with Riei, you only love her very much? Usually it’s the other way round, first you fall in love, then you come to love the person.”
I shrugged. “I don’t know. Well, I do know that I love Riei very much.”
“To be completely sure that both of us know everything relevant, you’re aware that her grandfather is also her father?”
“Yes. Well, was, he’s dead now. And would have been her child’s father if we hadn’t escaped from him, all of us together.”
Airath nodded. “Some people’s fathers.” He sighed.
“My father was completely all right!” I said. “I learned everything from him. Well, everything before I came back to Valdyas.”
“You never knew your mother, did you?”
“No, she died when I was a baby.” I dreamed of her sometimes, but only as a shape and a scent and a voice, and perhaps I was even making that up.
“I’ll go and speak with Riei soon,” Airath said. “And you– don’t hesitate to seek help if you need it. Find someone you can trust, someone you can talk to. You’re not alone.”
“I know a lot of people,” I said. I was sure I’d know who to trust when I needed it, I seemed to have a knack for that. “Even after less than a week in Veray.”
He nodded again. “Tonight I’m going to see your neighbours, the veteran and his wife. Perhaps I shouldn’t be saying that to you — but I want you to know that people may have needs you can’t see from the outside. Now, I’ll liberate Riei from her calculations. You might like to wait for her in the rose garden.”
We walked that way together, and I got a key to the garden from a housekeeper. The rose-bushes were putting out tiny green shoots, no leaves yet that blocked my view, and on one side I could see the baron’s twins who were poking at something with a stick. The garden must be behind the baron’s apartments, with a door leading there directly!
One of the twins saw me. “Hey, it’s Leva! Come and look! We’ve found ants!” It was indeed an anthill they were poking at, with lots of ants running around in a panic. “Ants are so clever, they build houses.”
“Well, don’t scare them then!” I said.
“Won’t they come into the house? We don’t mind ants outside.”
“If you rub chalk on the doorstep they won’t like to cross that,” I said. “Or wash it with vinegar so it smells all sour.”
Now I got a whole tour of the garden, including a fallen birch that had a lot of small mushrooms growing on it. “We’ll tell doctor Airath about that,” one of the twins said, “he loves mushrooms!”
“We don’t know which ones are poisonous,” the other twin said, “but I bet he does!”
Then Riei was suddenly in my arms, she must have come into the garden when I was busy talking with the twins.
“Oh, they’re going to smooch,” one twin said, “let’s go to the stable, see donkeys being shod!”
I knew very well which donkeys: they must have run their shoes off last night. That reminded me that I wanted to ask the baron if I could pay for it, the farrier as well as the damages and Mialle’s bonus.
We found a bench to sit down on, and smooch we did, at least I stroked Riei’s hair and kissed tears off her cheeks.
“Doctor Airath says you get to be my doctor,” she said.
“He told me to stand by you. I don’t know if that makes me your doctor, I’d rather be your–” and I didn’t know the right word, “friend” was too weak, “wife” too grown-up, and what I really needed was a word that meant that I’d always be there as a firm point. A builder’s word. “Your foundation.”
“He said it’s never going to go away and that I’ll have good and bad days, I can learn to live with it, but sometimes it’ll all come back.”
“And if it does I’ll be here and I’ll hold you. Well, not here, we don’t want to spend the rest of our lives in the rose garden.”
“Cora wants to send Senthi and the children to Turenay,” Riei said. “She was there when I talked with Airath, Cora I mean. I am worried about Cynla and Mother Alyse.”
“We can ask the neighbours to look after them,” I said, “the veteran and his wife. I think we can trust them.”
Riei nodded. “Cora has a village near Tylenay,” she said. “There’s a temple there — she thinks it’s a good thing for me to go there. But you can’t get away, of course.”
“Tylenay!” I said. “But I was going to ask you if you could get away. Venla wants to go to Tylenay with all the people who are working on the water-loom because they have other things that run on water power there.”