Along the Rycha
The boss woman gave us a piece of paper each and said that we’d be able to swap those for food in the palace yard, so we went where a lot of other people were going and coming back with food. And yes, we got a bowl of beans and green stuff and a bit of meat each, and a mug of something to drink, but when we made faces at that because it was bitter the person handing out food and drink took it away and gave us water with herbs steeped in it instead.
Someone asked us what cargo we had, and when we didn’t understand what that meant, what we were carrying in our boat. “Ourselves!” we said. “Then you could perhaps carry letters,” he said. “Ask at the temple.”
“What does the temple look like?” I asked.
“It’s built of wood, over there. With a blue stripe over the door.”
It was already late, getting dark, but there was a light in the temple and a woman was sitting at a table writing something. She had only one letter: for Veray, but we would pass that on our way to Turenay anyway. She gave it to me, and I peered at it and could read “Mizran”. “It’s for Mizran in Veray?” I asked.
“Sort of. Just give it to the temple there.”
“Does the temple in Veray have a blue stripe over the door as well?”
“I don’t know, probably not, but you can ask around, they’ll know where it is. You get one shilling from me now, and two when you deliver the letter.” And she gave me a silver shilling!
Then we went to sleep in the boat. We’d already asked where Turenay was: go past the bridge and take the right river-arm, not the left, and go against the stream. That sounded easy enough!
In the morning we caught a fish for breakfast and set out. There was a lot of water here, and it was hard to see exactly where the river-arm was, but we saw some other boats going that way, faster than us but we could follow them until it was clear where to go. Each of us rowed until she was tired, then the other one, and then we paused to catch fish, and eat, and feed the cat. Because the cat was still with us too, mostly sitting on a bench in the boat and looking out.
In the middle of the day a boat overtook us. We were careful in case they had someone with a bow and arrow on board, but they didn’t, not that we could see anyway. It was full of barrels. “Hey!” I called. “What’s in those barrels?”
“Air,” the people in the other boat said. “Going to Veray to have them filled with wine. Wine doesn’t grow in Essle.”
They were going faster than us so we went out of their way. A bit further on another boat started to overtake us, and they did have someone with a bow and arrow! So we hid in the reed field and ducked below the edge of the boat and I made us invisible. The cat didn’t like being invisible! She kept shaking and washing herself as if I’d doused her with water.
We travelled like that for some days, and then the river was more like water between pieces of land and less like a lot of water with some random reeds and bushes at the edges, and we could actually sit on a little island to eat. The cat liked it a lot: she wanted to catch tiny mice that were climbing the reeds, but the reeds weren’t strong enough to bear her weight and anyway the mice were too quick for her. She did catch a rat once, and ate it, and later she came back from hunting with a dead duck! “You eat it, cat,” we said, “we can’t!” But I saved some of the big wing feathers because they were like the feathers that the thankful man at the palace had been writing with. I think you need to cut a piece off the end because I saw him do that, but I haven’t tried it yet even though Rhinla has a sharp knife now.
Then there was more land, and some of it was higher than the rest, like an island on the land, though the water stayed flat. We saw a big island (in the water, not on the land) with something that looked like a house on it and a tree next to the house. We dragged the boat all the way to the tree to tie it up, because we didn’t know if the water would rise like at home. (It didn’t!) The house was all broken and the only useful thing in it was a broken jug, not right through but the rim had broken off so it was a bowl. We could light a fire in the fireplace and make fish stew in the broken jug! Then Rhinla thought of taking the fire with us in the bowl (after we’d eaten the stew, of course) so we wouldn’t have to light a fire every time. After that we ate our crayfish roasted every time! But the fishes were too large for the small fire so we ate them raw, not bad for fish that’s so fresh that it was swimming a moment before.
By now there was a path next to the water and we saw a couple of boats being pulled by animals, so Rhinla got an idea, she tied the boat-rope around herself and pulled the boat while I steered! That went faster than rowing against the stream, but the steering was difficult and she became just as tired as from rowing so we swapped after a while like we’d done with the rowing.
We hadn’t counted the days we’d been travelling! But it was perhaps more than one handful. And our small fire in the bowl was still going! We got dry sticks for it from any trees we passed, standing on the land or half in the water. And we took care to keep the reeds under it wet so it wouldn’t burn through the boat. That’s easy, to keep something wet, when you’re on the water!
There was still more and more land on our left and right, and higher and higher islands on the land, and sometimes everything was flowers! We got out of the boat and picked flowers and made garlands from them that we put on ourselves and the boat and the cat, but the cat shook them off and went away to catch things until the smell of fish called her back.
When we passed a couple of houses we thought that it might be Veray, but if it was, Veray was very small! There wasn’t room for a temple with a blue stripe over the door! And the people living there said it wasn’t Veray, it wasn’t even Nesh yet, it was one day to Nesh and four days from Nesh to Veray, if you were going upstream, if you were going downstream it was two days from Veray to Nesh. That figures, you don’t have to row or pull so hard if you’re going downstream because the water is already going that way.
Then we saw someone standing in a field, and it looked as if they were holding something large and white! “It’s a person,” I said, “but they’re standing still, they can’t be lost, can they?” I went to see what the person was doing, and it turned out to be a man, with a kind of rack in front of him with a piece of paper that he was making a picture of the landscape on! “Oh!” I said. “I’ll get my sister, she’ll be interested!” Not that I wasn’t interested but I thought Rhinla would be even more interested, and someone had to stay with the boat.
Rhinla was away a long time! And the boat was swaying so gently and the flowers smelt so nice that I fell asleep until she shook me awake. “Lesla! This is Jeran, he paints pictures, and I painted some pictures too!” And she showed me a picture of flowers that had the river on the other side, all in blue, and a picture of flowers with a bug crawling on them, as big as a mouse!
“I promised that we’ll take him to Nesh in the boat, that’s where he lives, and then he’ll give us things to eat. He doesn’t have any beans but he does have bread.” It was the rest of the day to Nesh where Jeran lived, but he was strong enough to take his turn pulling the boat too. And he knew a way to put fish on a stick to cook it over the fire!
It started to rain then, but Jeran had a piece of leather to keep his pictures from getting wet. And then I remembered the letter! Of course the letter was wet already, but Jeran put it between pieces of paper and the paper under his piece of leather. “That’ll dry it out,” he said. We talked a lot in the boat and after we got to his house. We said that we’d come from Essle and wanted to go to Valdis to ask the queen what to do but the boss woman in Tilis had said that the queen wasn’t in Valdis and would send us to Turenay anyway, she might even be in Turenay, so that was where we were going now.
“It’s time I went back,” Jeran said.
“To Essle?” I asked.
“No, to Turenay, that’s where I come from, too. Would you like to travel together?”
Yes, we would! Jeran was a nice man and it was great to have someone to talk to who wasn’t each other. “Let’s go tomorrow, then. From what I can see it would indeed be a good idea for you two to go to the school.”
“Is it for learning to count and figure, too? And read and write?” I asked.
“It’s for learning everything you need to learn,” he said. Rhinla still looked a bit dubious but I really wanted to go to that school now! Counting and figuring are so nice to learn. And it became even better when Jeran started to pack his paintings in a chest: he had six with paint on, and six without any paint on, and I was trying to count them all all, and it was too much to count them all on my fingers, for each hand I needed a finger of the other hand to make up the count. “Why not make an extra finger from light?” he asked, and I did, so I could count to two-more-than-ten easily! And he told me that two-more-than-ten is called “twelve”.
We slept on a rug on the floor, and Jeran slept in a tiny room in the wall with the doors closed, but he put something over the whole house that looked like paint to keep everything out that he didn’t want in. Only he’d forgotten the chimney! Rhinla tried to close the chimney with light but that didn’t stay in, not even when I helped, so we knocked on the doors of his tiny room to tell him the chimney wasn’t closed, and he laughed and closed the chimney. In the morning we had to piss! There was a little house behind the big house with a hole to piss in, but we couldn’t open the doors because the paint was still over the whole house. I tried to make a knife of light, but that didn’t do much, and then Rhinla tried with the real knife with light on it. That woke Jeran up but still didn’t open the door, but when he was awake anyway he opened the door for us.
In the days that we needed to go to Veray, Jeran told us that we’d all have to hide ourselves because Veray was full of people of the Nameless! That reminded us of Arin, and when we told Jeran about Arin he wanted to meet him. “It can’t be the Nameless’ son,” he said, “he doesn’t have any children! That made us talk a lot about the gods and whether they can have children and make love and get married, but that didn’t distract Jeran, he still wanted to meet Arin. “I don’t want to meet him ever again!” I said, but Jeran insisted, and we called Arin but he didn’t come.
Never mind, Jeran said, and we practiced hiding ourselves. The way Jeran did it was to pull his light into himself so that it was smaller than he was, but when Rhinla did that she disappeared completely, she’d disappeared inside Jeran’s head somehow! When they’d sorted that out, I thought I knew what to do so I sat in the hut in my head with the rain curtains down. “Not so far!” Jeran said, “just inside, you need to see what’s going on when you walk in the streets.” That made sense, we didn’t want to bump into people while looking for Mizran to give the letter to!
The next evening we called Arin again and he was there. I really didn’t want to see him, if Jeran wanted to see him he could talk to him! Rhinla thought the same so we went to catch crayfish, but when we got back Arin and Jeran were still talking so we shared the crayfish with the cat — Jeran would have to get his own supper! — and went to sleep. And in the morning Arin was gone.
“I still don’t know who he really is,” Jeran said, “I think he’s the Nameless a bit, and a bit not the Nameless. Perhaps he’s confused himself. I’ll have to tell this to the people in Turenay, there are some who might know more, and they’ll certainly want to know more!”
Then we saw a place that was big enough to be a town, though not by far as big as Essle, and that was Veray. But there was something like a cloud hanging over it, like light only dark! “Now we hide,” Jeran said, “they’re fighting!”
“Who?” we asked.
“People of the Nameless.”
“Other people of the Nameless, they’re fighting among themselves, that’s all I can make of it.”