Why we didn’t go dancing
We delivered Arin to his work — it was already the third day, we were getting used to it! — and went on to the school and the temple. Nobody looked strange at Riei kissing me and taking my sword any more, either. We worked the whole morning, and then when we were having a break I said “I’ll take tomorrow off, okay? That’s Riei’s free day too and we want to go dancing tonight.”
“Put it on the board,” Venla said, and pointed me to the chalkboard where everybody entered what days they would and wouldn’t be there. “Hey, how was your fancy dinner? Where did you go in a donkey-litter?”
“We’d been invited to dinner at the castle,” I said.
“Oh? Queen Asa and Prince Aidan were at the castle too, I know.”
“Yes, they got us the invitation in the first place.” I didn’t want to say too much for fear people would think I was bragging again! (Not bragging again, I hadn’t been bragging the first time, but think it again.) But I had to say something or they’d think I was surly. Also, I didn’t know how much of the embarrassing things I could tell. “They’re off to Tylenay in a couple of days.”
“Hmm, Tylenay,” Venla said.
“If anyone has any letters or messages I could give them to the captain, he’s teaching us until he leaves.”
“Well– can you ask him if it’s all right that some of us go with them when they go?”
“To Tylenay? To buy materials?”
“No, we want to look at the slope of the river, and the waterworks they have there. It would be good if all of us who are working on the water-powered loom went. And if we go with the captain, he’ll see what we’re doing, and the word may get to court, to Queen Raisse, and that’s good for the name of the school!”
So I would have to go, too! “I don’t want to go without Riei,” I stammered.
“It’s no business of ours whether Riei goes or not,” Venla said with a grin.
No, that was the business of the Temple of Mizran, and they surely wouldn’t give her a couple of weeks off right at the beginning! But I resolved to talk about it with Riei tonight anyway.
That didn’t happen, because I got a frantic call from Riei in the middle of the afternoon. No dancing tonight! I’ll be at the castle all evening and I think through the night as well. You come to the castle after school too, I’ll send a litter.
Erne of the weavers’ guild is about to get arrested for fraud. We found her shadow accounts.
I found that I’d dropped the piece I was working on and had been standing stock-still for moments. “What’s wrong?” Fian asked. “You look like a ghost.”
“Trouble with the weavers’ guild.” Then I got an idea and asked Riei, Is it a good idea if I bring Venla? She’s a weaver, the water loom is her project.
Yes, a very good idea, thanks!
So I told Venla what was up and she promised to come. But my hands wouldn’t do any work any more that afternoon, so I got sent upstairs to do some indexing on the Book. At least my writing wasn’t any worse, and I didn’t make any stupid mistakes either, at least not that I knew.
With half an ear I could now hear that Erne was downstairs, arguing with Seran, and I tried to hide myself from her. Aule came upstairs and asked “shall I help you with that?”
“Yes, please,” I said, and she laid a seal around mine so Erne probably wouldn’t think “that’s Leva being hidden”, if she spotted it at all, because Aule was in the Guild of Archan (the sort-of-practical kind, though, like Master Jichan). That was an interesting seal! I could see that Aule was making it by playing cat’s cradle with threads of light.
When the work-day ended Erne was still downstairs arguing! But with Venla this time. There was also a lot of noise outside. A young priestess of Mizran I didn’t know stood in the front room with my sword and I thanked her and put the belt on, then crept past behind Erne, winked to Venla, and slipped out of the door. Mialle was there with her donkeys, and also four soldiers in a uniform I didn’t know (but I later heard it was of the regiment of Turenay and they’d come with Captain Aidan) and four of the Sworn including Ebru.
“That’s a big escort!” someone said, perhaps Aule.
“Last time I had anything to do with an escort I was the escort,” I said. “Part of it anyway.” I tried to scramble into the litter with my sword but had to take the belt off or it was in the way. As soon as I’d managed that, Venla ran out of the school and squeezed into the litter with me. She’s a lot bigger than Riei so it was a tight fit! I think those litters are really for one person and two can only fit in if they’re small.
The donkeys broke into a fast trot, and we heard Mialle curse — not at the donkeys, but at people who were in the way. And later at people who threw things at the litter. I hastily made a seal — they’d still see us (and I can’t hide donkeys anyway; at least I can’t hide mules, believe me, I tried) but perhaps I could make sure that whatever they threw didn’t get in. Those must be the people I’d seen near the back door of the Temple of Mizran (they have their back door on the square, Riei says the Temple thinks they’re so important that they don’t need to face the town centre): some of our ‘neighbours’ from the other side!
When we arrived at the castle Mialle said, “I want a bonus! And damages!” Because the sides of the litter were all battered from the stones and filthy with the poop that the people had thrown at it. To me she said, “A good thing you sealed because otherwise some of that might have gone through.”
Riei came out of the castle and hugged me as if she’d never let me go, saw the litter over my shoulder and said, “Who did that?”
“The other-siders,” I said.
“Oh! She’s roped those in then. Come in.” Someone must have paid Mialle, I didn’t see who, but I’d gladly have paid both her bonus and her damages from my own pocket.
Venla and I went in with Riei, and there we found the baron and told him what had happened at the school. He immediately called for a horse and rode away on it, with the soldiers of our escort and some of his own soldiers. Riei took us to a room at the back, it looked like the baron’s office, where there were two large chests, both empty, and piles and piles of papers. And also Captain Aidan, and Senthi, and Venla’s Arin. Of course, he was a clerk of the weavers’ guild! Riei started to explain to me and Venla what exactly had happened — she and Senthi had discovered forgeries in the books when they were doing the yearly audit, and investigating those had uncovered more, up to finding a whole chest of duplicate papers that had the real numbers. More of the weavers were involved in it, and she told us a whole list of names, including Alyse and Lyse, the two women who had been weaving the hospital linen and who had disappeared from Veray completely! It soon became so technical and detailed that the captain threw his hands in the air and said, “The only person who can understand this apart from Riei is the Mighty Servant herself!”
“But what did they want with me?” I asked. “And what did Erne come to the school for? To stop Venla working on the loom?”
“I suppose to take you away,” Riei said, “so she could bargain for the papers with me. And I’d have given them to get you back. And stolen them back the next day. But then you’d have been in the grasp of a nasty woman and I’m glad she didn’t succeed.”
“You’d have stolen me back!” I said. “You did that before, steal me back from a nasty woman.”
I think we got something to eat, but I can’t be sure, and Riei asked me if I could reach Maurin and ask him to have the house watched because she and I and Senthi were all here so there was nobody gifted. Of course, Maurin said, it’s already being done.
Doctor Cora came in then and took me aside. “Airath wants to see Riei tomorrow,” she said.
“Can I come too?” I asked. “If Riei wants me to, of course.”
That was exactly what the doctor wanted to hear. “I think it will be a good thing if you’re there. I shall probably be there, too.”
Then the same page we’d seen last night came to say that the baroness had sent her to urge Riei to go to sleep and that there was a room for us.
The page –her name was Hylti– found us some nightshirts and brought washing-water and towels and a pot of tea, and we talked for a bit, and then when Riei had mostly stopped shaking and we crawled into bed she asked “Are you two going to make love, or just to sleep?” so I said “I’m going to hold her really tight and we’re going to sleep,” and Hylti stripped to her undershirt and crawled into bed with us, me in the middle.