To the baron’s castle
Riei was up first the next morning, and had used the chamberpot before I could, and now it was so full that I had to go downstairs with it very carefully. It didn’t help that the kittens were following me around whenever they saw me now, and they wanted to follow down the stairs too, tumbling when they lost their footing. I almost dropped a pot full of piss (and a dead mouse that the cat had probably brought in for the kittens to practice on) on top of myself, but could just rescue it. The cat ambled down after the kittens when the stairs were clear again.
“Hey! Isn’t that the baker’s cat?” Senthi said.
“I think she moved into our room to have her kittens,” I said. “When it was empty. Cat, we’ll take you back to your old master soon. And you, kittens, are ready to be given away and earn your keep.”
“Can we keep one?” Arin asked. “The black one with the white front.”
“One cat will be handy for the mice,” Senthi said, and then got caught by Riei who wanted to talk to her, out of Arin’s earshot but still in mine.
“You’re right,” Senthi said, “he is gifted and it will be hard to protect him, especially with all of us out of the house all day.”
“Prince Aidan has offered — Lord Vurian would have a job for him — but he’s so happy now.” (And indeed, Arin was dispatching a bowl of porridge with a big smile of anticipation on his face. He’d told me earlier that he’d held a cupboard steady while ‘Uncle’ Jichan hammered the pegs in, and swept the workshop, and put the sawdust into bags. And then he asked me how my work had been, and I said “the work was so good that we forgot to eat, and when we did finish we were so hungry.”)
“Senthi,” I said, “if you do send him to Turenay, send Selevi as well, don’t separate them. There’ll be a job for her to do too. Lord Vurian has a very good housekeeper.”
“I’ll go and talk to Doctor Cora,” Senthi said. “I’ll go with you right now. And take Arin and Selevi along, I’m not going to talk about them without them.”
When we arrived at the Order House Captain Aidan greeted us with a smile, “Young recruits? No, I understand, go through there, second door on the right. I’ve told my wife you’re here.” After Senthi and her children had gone he said to us, “Just a moment” and started to make motions as if he was hauling in a rope hand-over-hand. I could see he was doing something with his mind but not exactly what, but Riei did see and burst out laughing.
Then the object of what he was doing came in sight, and now I could see it clearly too: young men and women, all tied together with a rope made of ryst. Some of them, at least, were the same from last night. “Master Aidan!” one of the boys said. I think it was the boy who had tried to draw the knife.
“Yes,” the captain said. “I’m Prince Aidan, and Captain Aidan, and Master Aidan, and right now very angry Aidan. “You wanted to watch, right? You’re welcome. You can stay there until we’ve finished.”
I wasn’t sure I liked that, because now we wouldn’t be able to intimidate them with our swords any more, they’d see that we were complete beginners! But it didn’t seem to matter much because the captain was a very good teacher and it probably didn’t show.
“If we get lessons from you every day for a week we’ll learn so fast!” I said.
“Yes, we’re staying a week,” the captain said, “only the day after tomorrow I won’t be giving lessons, then we’ve got another appointment. Next week we’re off to Tylenay, but we’ll be back here in five, six weeks. In the meantime Maurin can teach you.”
“He’s the commander, right?” I asked, and then the man himself came towards us and said “Yes, I am.” I didn’t have time to tell him that my adopted uncle was the commander of the Order in Albetire, because the captain released the watchers from the rope and sent them on their way, and Senthi and Arin and Selevi and Doctor Cora came through the gate and we all went home together. (Well, not the captain and the doctor; they just said “See you tonight at the castle!”
We washed, and put on work clothes, and ate breakfast, and Riei promised Senthi to work on the weavers’ guild papers together on the day of Timoine. “There’s hardly anything I like better than getting into someone else’s papers!” she said.
“I’m tempted to do absolutely nothing on the day of Timoine,” I said, “but I’ll clean our room, and perhaps go to the orphanage and give a riding lesson if you’re still busy when I’m finished.”
Then we took Arin to work and went on to the Temple and the school. We weren’t even late, though it felt that way because we’d done so much already.
Now we could just start working on the loom without all the start-of-term stuff, and we did — Venla even remembered to order the pie, but it stood on a workbench forgotten until late in the afternoon. Someone thought of making a flywheel to tame the water-power (that was very interesting, it was the first time I’d heard of it), and that needed a belt, and we were trying to figure out what material to make that from — leather would be too stretchy, and linen wouldn’t be durable enough, and then I said “Sailcloth!” and two people ran off to the harbour immediately to get some and two others sat down to do calculations. And then we saw the pie. Fian and I ended up putting pieces in people’s mouths while they worked, not forgetting to eat some ourselves. “Hey!” I said when it was almost finished, “half is meat and half is cheese, and I missed all the meat! Not that I mind, I love cheese, but why didn’t I know earlier?”
Riei came to collect me then, and she had our good clothes with her! And the letter for the baron, which I put in my pocket. We dressed in the front room of the school, so Venla said “Wow, going out?”
“We’re having a fancy dinner,” I said.
“Another one? We had a fancy dinner yesterday!”
“That was with my friends, this one is kind of work,” I said.
Riei had a litter outside, carried by two donkeys. They were beautiful, very well kept too, and we made friends with them at once. “Those are nice donkeys!” I said, and the donkey-driver smiled, and I told her that we had mules but they were currently at the orphanage. “And who is paying for their keep?” the woman asked, suddenly almost angry.
“Why, we are, of course,” I said. “They’re boarded there, and the orphans learn to take care of them and ride on them, but we pay for everything, they’re our mules after all.”
“Hm. I thought it might be another of those so-called gifts that turn out to be a liability.”
“I sent for the litter from the Temple, Serla recommended you, we don’t want to arrive at the castle with a pair of bony mangy donkeys like you see at the harbour!” Riei said. And then the woman laughed and patted her animals on the flank.
“I’ve only been in a litter once,” I said when we were inside. (It was small and musty-smelling, but clean enough.) “Strangely, to meet a baron too, the new baron of Albetire. We could choose between a litter and an elephant, and I’d have preferred the elephant but Father was terrified of them so a litter it was. But it had people carrying it, four of them.”
When we were well underway (it was a long way up the hill) Riei bent close to me and said “I’ve had word from Essle. My cousin, nephew, brother, whatever, anyway the one who fled to Albetire, he’s back with his wife and child, and the viceroy Prince Uznur divided the Dawn. One part for the viceroyship, that was inevitable, one part for him — bother, what do I call him?”
“Call him ‘young Radan’?” Because it was inevitable that that was his name.
“Anyway, him. And one part for Mother and Arni and me in equal parts. If I sold my share to young Radan right now, it would come to some eight– eighty–” She rolled her eyes and used the Iss-Peranian number. “Eight hundred thousand riders.”
“Goodness, you’re almost twenty times as rich as me.”
Riei sighed. “And I don’t really want any of it. But I’ve got a plan. There should be a safe house in every town and city for girls who are in danger from– well, for girls like me, and like Mother was. I think I’ll talk to Doctor Cora about it. I’m definitely not going to set it up myself.”
“But she will probably know someone who can,” I said.
“Exactly.” Then the donkey-driver stopped the litter and opened the curtain. “You’re talking so loudly that I could hear everything. And you didn’t think of making a seal either. Don’t worry, I’m not a tattle-tale. But one thing: don’t forget the boys.”
Riei looked thoughtful for a moment. “Could you come to our house tomorrow night to talk about it? We live at the widow Alyse’s near the Order House.”
“Can I bring someone?”
“Men visitors are not allowed,” Riei said.
“Oh, it’s not a man.”
Only then we noticed that we hadn’t only stopped because the driver wanted to talk to us, but because we were in the courtyard of the castle! We climbed out, and another litter stopped behind us and the captain and the doctor climbed out of that.
“Mialle!” the doctor said. “How is Riei?” Riei looked a bit confused, but apparently this Riei was our donkey-driver’s wife or girlfriend.
“As well as can be, only her legs aren’t growing back,” Mialle said.
“She had an accident with an ox-cart,” the doctor told us. “Fortunately I happened to be in town.”
At the door of the house a young woman met us. “I’m Lyse, Lord Loryn’s assistant,” she said. She looked very messy, her face and hands and skirt spattered with ink (I saw how that last had happened: she kept wiping her hands on it), her hair in an untidy knot held together with two graphite styluses. “That’s a good idea!” I said. “I’ll do my hair like that, too!”
“No, you don’t,” Riei said.
“Why not? It’s black already, you’d never notice.”
“All the little itchy bits that rub off and end up on your head!”
“Oh, I’ll use a silver stylus instead then.”
The woman looked at us and said, “You two I know, Aidan and Cora. You” (that was me) “must be Leva, then you are Riei. Lord Loryn is expecting you in his private rooms.”
She handed us over to a young boy who took us through several courtyards and corridors — this was a large castle! Easily three times as large as the royal palace! But Riei said that it had been built for a regiment to protect the region, not just for a king who protected the whole country. We ended up in a room where a man and a woman were sitting, both about thirty, each with a little girl on their lap.
“Ah!” the man said, “excuse me for not getting up. I’m Loryn. Aidan and Cora I know, you must be the young ladies from Essle and Albetire.”
We introduced ourselves (the lady was called Ruzyn, and the little girls their twin daughters Caille and Cynla) and gave the baron the letter, too. He started to read it, and before he’d finished the assistant came in again with a stack of papers. “Thank you, Lyse, I’ll look at those later. Here’s the letter from Turenay. It does say what I thought it would say. Make a note to invite Prince Vurian and his brother to the fencing match at Midsummer.”
“It’s already been scheduled,” Lyse said, and took the letter away.
“You know where to file that,” the baron said. When Lyse was going out of the room he looked at her with something in his eyes that looked very much like love, and I wondered what his wife thought of that. But she said, “I don’t know what we’d do without Lyse. She knows everything. I know what it’s like, I used to be a clerk myself — we had a small trading-house in Valdis, and the queen knew us and came to ask Loryn — tell Loryn that he was the new baron of Veray and I had to go along with it.”
“Before I forget,” I said, “I have to say something. Thank you for the card in the law-book.”
Then the baroness put her daughter on the floor and came over and hugged me. And the baron did the same. “You’ve gone and asked for a law-book!”
“Well, we had one, but we left that in Valdis with Riei’s sister.”
“We agree so much with Her Majesty that everybody should know the law. Oh!” And then he said to his daughters, “You may play for half an hour more, and then you’re off to bed. Doctor Cora, will you take them to their room, please?”
The doctor did that, and Riei looked after them with a bit of envy, she’d have liked to talk to a couple of little girls too!
“Next time I’ll bring them a present,” I said, “clockwork toys!”
“Ah, yes,” the baron said. “You are in the inventors’ school. Does it agree with you?”
“Perfectly!” I said, “though I’ve only been there for two days.”
“We’ll be glad to have you here for the next four years, and however longer you stay.” And to Riei, “And you are in the Temple of Mizran, unearthing forgeries, I’ve heard.”
“I’m good at forgeries,” Riei said, “discovering them and making them. And picking pockets, and burglary.”
“You do realise that now you’ve admitted that in front of a servant of the law, said servant of the law is entitled to call on you in case one of those skills is needed?”
Riei thought for a moment, then broke into a grin. “Definitely.”
Then a young man in livery appeared with his arms full of clothes. “The other guests are here,” he said. He helped the baron dress in baronial clothes, while the baroness dressed herself (and I think Riei did up her laces at the back, because she could never have reached those on her own).
He was a bit cheeky to the captain, who called him on it, “when we’re in the family you may call me by my name all you like, but when you’re on duty and I’m a guest you know what to say to me, Erian astin Velain!”
“Yes, your majestuous highness,” the boy said, and disappeared.
“That’s not–” The captain shrugged. “He’s only an honorary Velain,” he said, “because the House Eraday doesn’t exist any more.”
“Someone up his family tree?” I asked.
“Way up his family tree.”
“I have to tell you about my other guests,” the baron said. “They’re the heads of the weavers’, wine-merchants’ and weaponsmiths’ guilds, and they’re all of Archan, and all of them–”
“Of different kinds of him?” I asked.
“Yes, precisely. And the master weaver is the head of the Guild of Archan, too. So I advise caution. My wife and I aren’t gifted, fortunately, but we know about the difficulties.”