There was some more talking and dancing, and it got very late, and we were so tired that we started talking about going home. A man in his twenties I’d been talking to — Faran, who told me he was the representative of the weavers’ guild on the school board, he wasn’t doing anything at the school himself, but helping run it, I think — said, “Would you mind if I walk you two home? I don’t mean anything by it, just for safety.”
“Oh yes, please!” I said, and he took us each by an arm and we left the Donkey’s Head.
“You’re living with Grandmother Alyse and her family, right?” Faran asked. He was already going the right way.
“Yes,” Riei said, “they’re good people to live with!”
Faran was so broad that he could walk behind us with his left hand on Riei’s left shoulder and his right hand on my right shoulder, while Riei and I held hands. It felt very safe. Two more people had come along, and after a while we heard some commotion behind us but Faran said “never mind, Erne and Jeran will take care of it.”
When we got to the house Faran, Erne and Jeran said goodbye and we went in. Everybody was already asleep, it must be far past midnight! I made both of us a last cup of tea and we went upstairs with it to sit on our bed (between the cats, of course) and drink it.
“That was fun!” I said. “I’d like to do it again. Perhaps not every week. Every other week perhaps.”
“Yes,” Riei said. “Hey, that Faran wasn’t gifted at all but he was so solid! I’m glad he walked us home.”
Then we didn’t say much more because we were tired enough to fall asleep at once.
When I woke up I found Riei gone. And by the light it was already afternoon! I went downstairs in a hurry to wash at the well, where I found Riei and Senthi doing some washing. “You’re not even in school yet but you’re already a real student!” Senthi said to me, and that made me blush as well as laugh. Tomorrow we’d have to be up at the crack of dawn to go to the Order House for a fighting lesson! But fortunately the day after a feast was a free day for most people, apparently for Senthi as well.
I was barely dressed when there was a knock on the front door. “Guests?” Senthi said. “Could you go and see who it is, Riei?”
It was a tiny very beautiful woman, and a man with red hair, and it took me a while to recognise Doctor Cora. She stormed in, the man behind her, and said “Which of you wrote that letter? Let me embrace you!”
“Er, that was me,” Riei said, and the doctor embraced first her and then me and everybody else. “Why didn’t I know about the pox scratch? People have died because I didn’t know!” And the man added, “My mother died of the pox. Not that Cora was around to know, she was an infant somewhere in Iss-Peran at the time. But we’re being very rude — I’m Captain Aidan astin Velain of the Turenay regiment.”
“You’re Vurian’s uncle!” I said.
“I’m the king’s brother, yes.”
Now the doctor looked at me with a searching glint in her eyes. “I do know you,” she said, “but I can’t remember ever seeing you!”
“You were asleep when I saw you,” I said. “In Turenay. You were worn out. I gave you some strength, I had more than enough.”
“I can imagine you did!” she said. And to both of us, “Well, tell me about the pox scratches. Riei wrote that all children get them in Essle and Albetire now.”
“Yes,” I said, “I had a bit of a fever and a bump on my arm but that went away. I think I was three or four.”
“You have to use cow pox juice,” the voice of Alyse came from the kitchen. “Not people pox. Then you don’t even get a bump and hardly a fever and you still don’t get the pox.”
“Do you mean everybody knows about this in Veray too?” the doctor asked.
“I grew up on a farm. Dairymaid.”
Doctor Cora got out a notebook and talked with Alyse for a long time. It looked like she wrote down everything Alyse said, but it was in tiny letters that I couldn’t read. Meanwhile Captain Aidan talked with us, and sometimes the doctor poked him in the side with her right hand without stopping writing with her left. I don’t remember everything we said, but Arin came in at one moment from the garden and the captain looked at him and asked him if he had work. “Yes!” he said, “I’m starting tomorrow.”
“My uncle — well, my father’s cousin — would have work for him otherwise,” the captain said when Arin had gone out again.
“I think he’ll be all right,” I said, “he’s going to work at the carpenter’s workshop. But if it turns out he’s not happy there we’ll remember.”