Proof that no plan survives contact with the players. I’d actually rehearsed what Koll Neveshtan would say (on the bike) and he surprised me by saying something completely unintended. (Well, not by him, obviously.)
Also, the plan to travel the whole west side of Valdyas wasn’t in my plans, though it suits me perfectly!
Ysellei Moyri astin Rhydin, Royal Palace, Essle, Dochein Hanre, seventh week of Mizran
To her Father and Mother
Dearest Father and Mother,
It is such a good thing that it is quite impossible to open a letter with a proper semsin seal, since I’m going to tell you some things that really should be secret. But I have to tell someone! And there’s one thing that I don’t even want to tell Uznur — but I’m running ahead of myself, as usual.
It’s been five days since we arrived in Essle, three days since Athal and Raisse and their court and army arrived. The army is enormous! There are two thousand men and women from Ryshas, Athal brought about six thousand men from Valdis. And there are still people arriving, from all over the country, every day. And a ship with wounded soldiers and veterans whose six months are up returned yesterday; they tell me there’s at least one of those ships every week. Most veterans seem to have money plenty to spend, above and beyond the eight shillings they get a week, but that’s to be expected. They also bring with them wives and husbands from Iss-Peran.
About the new recruits, who mostly are completely untrained and tend to arrive full of bluster with their great-granddad’s sword, family heirloom from the troubled times, the Order of the Sworn, together with the fencing schools of Essle and some veterans from the Idanyas or Iss-Peran campaigns, round them up, organize them, and give them some basic training.
(The fencing schools, by the way, are, I am convinced, more a sort of private militias than just places where one learns to fence. We are using them also as Royal Guard in Essle. Of course, in this city there’s nothing much in the way of a town guard, so they do have their uses. But it is something I should draw Raisse’s attention to, she might want to apply her legal mind to the situation that there are a thousand trained swordsmen swaggering through the streets who are accountable only to their fencing master, who is accountable to no-one.)
Every week a ship with soldiers is leaving for Kushesh, a small port city quite near Solay. Solay is rumoured to be packed with Khas. Some reports say two-hundred-fifty-thousand! And they are said to have scoured the countryside around Solay for Síthi peasants and refugees and have penned them in the City. I am horribly afraid they want to use the Síthi to deter Athal or Raith. They seem to fear Raith very much! Reports say that whenever she gets near them, the Khas actually flee! Athal, Beguyan and Raith will have to devise some very clever plan…
I am feeling very well, please believe me. I have been running around having fun, organising things for Athal and Raisse. Like, the first night they arrived, we had an official dinner with the City Council. Oh! Before I forget, I have delivered all letters — including the one for Aidan.
Could you please tell Cora that her husband is doing very well? He is currently lodging with the Order of the Sworn, with his detachment and the prince from Solay. He was completely lost for the world when I gave him Cora’s letter, read it three times, and every time he had to blush a deeper crimson. I’m not sorry I didn’t catch him for myself when I had the chance, but it’s easy to see what Cora sees in him.
I’ve also met Aidan’s charge, the Prince from Solay (not of!), we gave him a banquet with dancing girls this night. He seems a nice enough young man, he came alone, without his court, with the army with the idea of fighting for his people. There aren’t many Síthi in the army at all, by the way. Well, he’s a bit of a weird type. On the one hand he was full of the comradeship of the army and the wonders of sharing a tent with the men. On the other hand, he’s shied away from taking part in the daily training and excercises, probably because he knows he won’t be any good in them. He’s a bit pudgy, though not lacking in charm. He might even be handsome, if he could manage to look a little bit brighter. But he’s promised Aidan to start training. Otherwise he won’t have a chance if it comes to fighting.
Don’t tell Cora this, but I am getting the impression that her husband’s duty isn’t going to be all that ceremonial, as she thinks it is. This Imperial Prince, he really intends to fight — be first over the wall, and that sort of heroic nonsense. I only hope Aidan is smarter than that!
What else… Well, the official banquet was official and boring. One weird thing though, is that the Mighty Servant, Aldin, has given up all women! Most of his women have given up on him, of course, by now — but Rhaye is still very much in love with him and she is so sad! And it is not natural. Raisse says it’s probably Cora’s fault, but I cannot believe that. It smells a bit like dandar. Dushtan says she can try to help him, but that it might break his heart. Nevertheless, Aidan was very embarrassed to meet the Mighty Servant.
And then she should stay with him, and couldn’t go with Athal, and that’s much, much more urgent. Athal will leave within a few days, and even though he won’t have to cross the deep of the ocean, but can stay within sight of the coast, he will be very sick and will need his doctor. And his brother.
There’s also this, which I want to tell you. Don’t get too worried when you read it! One morning, Athal and Raisse were invited to visit that old gelding, Koll Neveshtan. He has a whole gaggle of geldings — pretty young boys who are no longer any good for any girl. And he turned out to be very, very ill, he is probably already dead when I am writing you this letter.
We, that’s me, Athal, Raisse and Halla, immediately went to visit him. He stank as if he was dead already and was bloated like a pig bladder filled with water. But still very sharp. Athal wanted to know his loyalty and his opinion about Koll Konande. Koll Neveshtan was very clear: he was going to disinherit his nephew and he also had a clear idea of whom he wanted on the throne of Albetire instead.
When he said that, I’m afraid my heart got the better of me, and they tell me I turned blue and fell on the ground. It’s not me, or Uznur that I was so frightened for, but our children. I don’t want them to grow up in a palace in Albetire! The girls in purdah, the boys turning into Iss-Peranian nobles. Never! And I wouldn’t like myself either, nor would Uznur.
I haven’t told Uznur that I had gotten a heart attack at Koll Neveshtan’s place, but I did tell him about this idea.
In any case, I had a much better idea: why not find a lusty young Valdyan nobleman and ask him whether he would like to become the first husband of Zahmati and Roushan, the merchant guild twins? And then the princes and kings of Albetire’s dependent countries could send, instead of their daughters, their sons to Albetire to marry Zahmati and Roushan as second, third etc. husbands, leaving their sisters to ascend to their father’s thrones.
I wasn’t completely serious, not about the latter part, though I was about Zahmati and Roushan going on the throne. They are young, allied to Athal, Raisse tells me they are clever and well-liked, despite their immorality, at least immorality according to Iss-Peranian customs. Koll Neveshtan liked the idea, and we might have a candidate: our cousin, Fian. Fian has been trying to get Halla in his bed for more than a year, not because he likes the girl so much, but because he thinks that she’ll teach him everything she can do when she’s his lover. It suggests, at least, a certain intelligence and a preference for smart women. And he’s here in Essle, he’s come with the skeleton Court that travels with Athal and Raisse. Or he was still chasing Halla, that’s possible too.
In all probability, I won’t be back in Valdis before spring. As we have discussed in Turenay, I have proposed to Raisse that we visit Idanyas to witness the reconstruction, then travel along the Mera and the Ishey settlements to the plains, to meet with Ersen astin Ökgelen and Reshan astin Ökgelen, and then through Tal-Crun and Ildis. (Retracing more or less your journey of twenty years ago!) Raisse did like the idea, and these are parts of the Kingdom that haven’t seen a royal visit, sometimes for centuries.
And since we are in this war, and the war will bring many changes to Valdyas once the veterans return and once all important ports will be open to Valdyans, it seems important that we make sure all of the kingdom feels united under Athal and Raisse.
That’s also the reason for the other plan, one I am not sure you will like… We intend to visit the poor parts of Essle the day after tomorrow. We, that is, Athal, Raisse, me, our children, the High Priestess of Naigha, some of her novices. Some other people, and a guard, of course. The temple of Naigha has about a hundred priestesses in the poorest area, but they have to care for sixty times ten-thousand people!
We have been discussing this in detail, and I think it is a really good plan. We’ll first visit two or three islands in rapid succession, in the morning. Raisse will teach the children while Arvin (who comes from there himself and is now a carpenter and part of the City Council) will have his apprentices build a real school. I will probably be talking to the wives, while Athal will confer with the men.
Then we’ll make it clear we’ll visit the large flatland to the west, that’s so near to where the forests of Lenyas begin towards the end of the afternoon, to give the people a chance to assemble. We really want to make a bridge between this poorest half of the Valdyan people, who have been mostly cut off, ever since their ancestors fled to Essle during the troubled times, and the rest of us. Take a first step, and then hope that there will be more steps. None of the people from these areas are in the army, despite the very good pay, that alone is telling!
It might be dangerous, but I don’t think it will be. We’ll bring the children, and just like there’s a sign in Albetire, apparently, saying “Prince Vurian was suckled here”, there’ll be a Prince Vurian School in the poorest part of Essle.
I don’t have the illusion it will solve the very great issue of poverty and division all at once. But if we don’t do anything, nothing will ever change!
Dearest Father and Mother, I will write to you again before Raisse and I leave on our journey. I have been so happy in Turenay, visiting you and enjoying the wonderful hospitality of Vurian and Rava. I’m feeling quite strong, really, despite that little accident I told you about above, and I feel I can think again and do my proper duty to Raisse.
All my love, also from Uznur and the children,
P.s. Please don’t hesitate to let Vurian read this letter, too, and Radan. They might want to know what’s going on in Essle, and I don’t think I wrote anything too private. Nothing about the skimpy, little silk sailor suit I’ve had made for myself to surprise Uznur with, for instance. He said he thought I would be bad sailor!