Yet another letter from Essle

Not even the characters’ plans survive contact with the players. I do hope they’ll do the tour in reverse order after the war, so I can use all the things I’ve been researching.

Ysellei Moyri astin Rhydin, Royal Palace, Essle, Dochein Hanre, eighth week of Mizran

To her Father and Mother

Dearest Father and Mother,

It is only a week since I last sent you a letter, but so much has happened in between! The most important thing first: we saw Athal off today. Very early in the morning, too. These days we spend some effort doing things properly instead of just anyhow, so I was a bit annoyed when the Royal Guard that was going to parade us to the harbour actually went so far as to knock on the door as if we were lazy recruits who needed waking up!

The advantage of Rhaye’s house is that it is possible to actually walk all over land (and some bridges) to the harbour, and we made a very fine sight, too. What was really nice is that some of the people we met in the poorest part of Essle (later more about that) went to come and see us off. All in all, it was clear that Athal is indeed a king and a leader of many soldiers, and it is also clear that Athal is the first king Essle actually has accepted as theirs.

Athal is travelling on Aidan’s ship, the White Whale, because that is apparently famous for being a fast but still steady ship. Besides, it’s Aidan’s and the young sergeant is very proud of it, too! We were standing on the quay for an hour or so, until we couldn’t even really feel Athal’s anie anymore — that must have happened when they crossed from the brackish to the real salty sea water, it was a sudden cut-off. Poor Raisse! She is a queen — she never shed a tear, kept her dignity all the time. That the Gods give that they return safely, victoriously and with all important parts still attached!

Oh! Before I forget. We’ve got a bit of a problem here, and it’s caused by Cora, actually. Our hostess in Essle, Rhaye, used to be Aldin’s (the Mighty Servant, you know) ‘friend’. Ever since Cora visited him, he hasn’t been with her, although he still lets her live in the house and spend as much money as before. Rhaye is getting really fed-up! Although she still loves Aldin, she is beginning to think of finding another friend before she is too old. Raisse seems to think Cora has somehow bewitched Aldin, although I can hardly believe that! Could you discreetly try to figure out what has gone on, and whether there is anything that can be done about it?

I told you in my previous letter that we wanted to go Idanyas, the area where the Ishey have settled and then through the plains to Ildis and Valdis, but we’ve had a change of plans. We learned that there is or has been an epidemic in Valdis, and we decided to go back there. There has been suspiciously little news from Valdis, and we think Raisse might have to do some reigning. A great pity that Uznur has to stay in Essle to keep an eye on business and another eye on the army provisioning effort! I trust Uznur with all my heart and mind, but I will miss him, and there will always be a little nagging that perhaps my injunctions about having a second wife won’t have completely sunk down. Prince Attima, who already has a wife in Essle (and one in Idanyas, and a couple in Valdis), has been chasing another woman, or so the rumour goes!

Athal’s last deed in Essle was to visit the poor quarters. This was quite an expedition! We had found a couple of people who wanted to become teachers in schools Raisse was going to found. Raisse was going to give the actual first lesson to the children, I was going to talk to the women and get them to trust us a bit and figure out whether there were any other things we hadn’t thought of, while Athal was going to speak to the men.

Of course, all sorts of things happened — at one place, we found an island with hardly any adult men, but a lot of Valdyan women and children who obviously had an Iss-Peranian father. The oldest one, Hylse, told us that the men had been murdered by a group of Iss-Peranians who had then taken the island over, used the women for their pleasure and sometimes went out into the city. I think they were either spies or pirates, the former being very likely.

At the same place, a boy, Eldan, threw a mudball at Athal, and hit him! Athal kept his calm, though, and merely made the ground under the boy’s feet tremble — tremble enough that he had to fall on his knees for Athal! This boy, by the way, is now becoming a doctor’s apprentice with the special task of setting up a doctor’s post on one of the islands when he has become a master. He’s being taught by a doctor who had just come back from the war, a certain Faran from Veray.

The “little islands”, as they are called, are mostly visited by runners from the guild of the Nameless, we have very little presence there, except for our resident Grand Master of Essle, a Síthi woman called Phuli. We haven’t seen her yet, but Raisse tells me she was present at the namegiving of Vurian, with a horrible hangover from drinking the crown prince’s health the evening before! Hey! Isn’t this Phuli the same you brought with you from Solay?

It’s impossible to describe the squalor, the poverty, the wetness, the ill health and malnutrition, the isolation of the Little Islands. Even though there is no barrier, and even though some people go out to the other parts of the city, the people live there as if they are no part of Valdyas.

But now there are three schools, there will be four teachers (we made the Teachers’ Guild Charter tonight with the teachers), the Temple of Naigha has promised sending out more people up there — and they have seen the King and Queen, and Athal has spoken with them — he even gave a long speech to more than ten thousand of them at the end of the day, people came from everywhere to see the King and listen to him. We’ve got a toehold in the minds of these people now, and I fully expect that soon we won’t be talking about “them”, but just of “we”.

If Cora can see her way into coming to Essle to help poor Rhaye, there will be a treat for her, too: I saw Alaise yesterday heal a mother we had met in the Little Islands, Halla. Halla had given birth about a year ago, but she was still bleeding. Apart from healing Uznur’s arm, I have never seen something as impressive as Alaise healing Halla. With all our children playing around, with Eldan and Faran looking on (and Eldan in particular looking as if he was memorizing everything), she healed Halla with her fingers and her spirit, never using anything else!

So much is happening that is so very important to our country and to our friends that I almost feel ashamed by spending time telling you how your grandchildren are doing. But I will anyway! As I told you in my previous letter, we took all our children to the Little Islands. I think they all had fun — they made friends, Prince Vurian even swapped trousers with a boy, telling everyone that while Rovan was his milk-brother, Erian was now his trouser-brother. We had a festive open-air meal at every island, for which we had brought food and beer, and all children were stuffed when we returned. And dirty! Only Serla had managed to remain spotless — I don’t know how she did it, since even the adults had gotten a fair amount of mud all over their clothes.

I do think that Serla is perhaps a little too prim, while Bahar is a little too boisterous. But what can I do about that? They are both sweet and considerate in their own way. The twins didn’t do anything but drink, sleep and cry, of course, but they stole every woman’s heart, and the women on that island who had been kept as concubines by the Iss-Peranian pirates or spies, they were so astonished to see children so like their own! And the children themselves, who had been made to feel that they were different by the neighbouring children, they were really proud of having princes and princesses that looked like them!

Oh, I am so truly blessed with these four healthy children!

So, I’ll end here! All my love, also from Uznur and the children, and Raisse, of course

Ps. The sailor suit was a big success! I think we will be leaving in a week, so I’ll have a few more chances to give it a try, but last night I stayed with Raisse, to give her comfort. Besides, Uznur had a business dinner and didn’t come back until it was nearly light again. My next letter will very likely come from Valdis again!