Back in Essle!

After all the hard work we put ashore and made a small fire and sat there eating some more of the pancakes. Not all, so we’d have some left for breakfast, but a lot, because we were all very hungry.

Rhinla thought of making fireworks! She took a willow-twig, lit it in the fire and threw it up and towards the water so it made an arc of sparks first and then hit the water with a psssh! and a splash. Vurian and I joined her, until we were so tired that we couldn’t help falling asleep.

In the morning we caught fish first, and then we swam (and taught Vurian to swim a bit) and then ate the fish. And the last pancakes, too. I rinsed the barrel in the water, we’d find a use for it! We took turns poling, that was another thing we taught Vurian. He was strong in the shoulders, so when he got the hang of it he did well enough.

We went on like that for a couple of days, stopping at dusk, fishing in the shallows. catching crayfish and sharing them with the cat. (The cat was catching water-rats too, but we all liked fish much better than rat!) And when it was my or Vurian’s turn to pole Rhinla used the slate to draw pictures of everything, and when it was her turn I used it to practice letters and do sums. Sums with money! I counted everything in the purse and there were ten and ten and ten and another four big silver riders in it, thirty-four! And at least as many of the smaller silver coins that were shillings, and little silver half-shillings, and copper pennies.

Then it became dark before it was evening. A huge storm-cloud! Rain, too, and thunder. We dragged the boat to high ground — we were in the wetlands now, not much ground at all, but some parts were so high that they stood above the water like islands — and turned it so we could sit under it. Rhinla played with light, making garlands, and little pigs that ran around us. “Can you do rats and mice?” I asked, but she didn’t want to do that because she thought the cat would chase them. She made kittens, though, but the cat didn’t even seem to see them!

We taught Vurian a lot of words on the way, and also when we were waiting out the storm. He was sort of all right now he didn’t have the hole in his head any more, except that it’s hard to be friends if you can’t understand each other properly. And of course he still had the Namelesses in his head, and that made it hard to be friends too.

But we could show each other things! We showed him Essle, the places we knew best, and he showed us something like a city only it was inside, with a roof over it, and a large place like a square (only with a roof) where people about our age were fighting with swords and sticks, it looked like practicing. Perhaps they were practicing for fighting the rivals!

Then the rain stopped, and I caught a big fish, and we wanted to roast it because the rain had made us cold as well as wet! But all the wood we could find was too wet to burn. “Wait, I can do that,” Rhinla said, and she got so angry at the wood for being wet that it became hotter and hotter and it dried itself out and caught fire! There was still a lot of smoke because some of the wood had stayed wet and not caught fire and it smouldered, but smoked fish is just as nice! After we’d eaten the fish Rhinla put the rest of the fire in the empty barrel, and we caught a lot of eels and put those on top so they’d get smoked too.

We’d looked around with our minds to see if we could find other people, and we did find some: a woman with two children who had passed us earlier. The children weren’t much younger than us but I didn’t think they got to pole or row or scull, they’d probably get very bored! And when we caught up with them it was clear that they were, because they were fighting and their mother was yelling at them. We joined them on their boat (it was lying near the bank) and I pushed the boy into the water. The girl jumped after him, and when they’d cooled off a bit we all swam and talked. They were going to Essle to bring stuff in their boat — we forgot to ask what kind of stuff, but it was all under oiled cloths. We all left at the same time, but their boat went faster, perhaps because the mother was taller than us and could scull faster!

When it started to get dark we could see Tilis, so we went on, and we were there when it was completely dark but Rhinla had made a light that she held up like a lamp so we could see where we were. We put the boat under the big house where a lot of other boats were too, and Rhinla gave me the purse to get something to eat. “Soup!” she said, and gave me the bucket. “And bread!” I said.

There was someone on the bridge to the big house, with a poleaxe, so I asked him if he was a bridge guard. “Sort of,” he said, “do you want to go in?”

“No, I only want to ask where to get soup and bread.”

“There’s the White Swan right across that square,” he said, “they’ll still have some.”

The White Swan was a large inn, on stilts like the big house, but there were horses under it, not boats, because the stilts stood on land instead of water. I climbed the stairs to the main room and found it full of people eating soup, that was encouraging! And they filled my bucket in the kitchen for a couple of pennies, and gave me some bread for another couple of pennies. There were little white beans in the soup and pieces of all kinds of vegetables and some kind of meat, and it smelt so yummy that it was hard not to start eating right away! But I got the whole bucket to the boat and we shared it out in the bowls and there was enough to fill the bowls again when they were empty.

In the morning we asked the guard (it was a different guard now) if he could watch the boat, and yes, he would, that was his job! So he was a boat guard, not a bridge guard. We told him we were going to see if the White Swan had any pancakes, and he said “could you bring one for me too?” But in the White Swan everybody else was eating porridge or bread-and-cheese. Rhinla was bold, though, and just asked for them. “How many would you like?” the cook asked, and Rhinla said “Ten! Ten each!”

And we got them! We were so full of pancakes! And we got another one for the boat guard and rolled it up with treacle on it. It didn’t cost much, all those pancakes for one half-shilling, and we got a cup of milk each and the cook said we didn’t have to pay for that. Perhaps the people in Tilis like kids who like their pancakes that much!

Then it was not very far to Essle, but it still took us longer than from Essle to Tilis because then Arin had been pushing us! And now even if he’d been there to push we’d say no to him because now we know he’s some sort of the Nameless.

We were kind of scared to come back to Essle because we didn’t know who had died of the sickness, perhaps everybody! But the priestess was in her temple. And once she’d seen us she asked her neighbour to watch the boat and took us inside and we told her everything.

“Hm,” she said, “there is something wrong with you. You’re sick in your spirit.” Now we did have a hole in our spirit, Rhinla and I both, but that didn’t make me feel sick! But we’d go and find a doctor who knew about spirits. Or Cynla, because she also knew about spirits. Or someone else in the house where Cynla belonged, the house of the Order.

“Stupid gods,” Rhinla said. “You can’t trust them! Well, except Naigha, she is honest at least.” The priestess could only agree with that, of course. She stroked our heads, and that felt good, as if something that had been too hot before was now nice and cool.

Now we asked what he hadn’t dared ask before. “Are Jerna and Faran and Rovan still alive?” They were! And even Arin was still alive. We didn’t ask about the witch, and especially Rhinla didn’t want to go and see her.

Then we went to our own island! Faran was there, mending something. “Hey! It’s you! We thought you were gone but now you’re back!”

“Yes,” we said, “but we’re not staying long, we’ve got a job to do!” And we told Faran everything too, though I don’t think he understood everything. That wasn’t so bad because after all we didn’t understand everything either. “Where’s Rovan? And Jerna?”

“Jerna went fishing, she’ll be back soon. Rovan went into town.”

“By himself? But he’s only six!” (But then we’d been going into town when we were that small, too!)

“He didn’t go far, I think.” And then Faran called him, and soon enough he came swimming through the reed field and hugged us. He wanted to hear everything too, of course. And he said a couple of things that sounded very wise for someone who is only six (but I don’t know what the things were now, only that he sounded wise when he said them).

“Things have changed in town,” Faran said. “You should watch out for the people in the black boats.”

“Do they try to shoot you dead?” Rhinla asked.

“Sometimes,” Faran said. “Mostly they’re nasty to other people in boats.”

Then Jerna came back and we hugged her like anything. “Are you staying?” she asked. “At least tonight?” We weren’t; we had to find the doctor! But I’d picked wild garlic and mint and fennel to eat with the fish, and we did stay to eat it.

We went south then, past Master Jeran’s house (and we didn’t stop to talk to him), past the boat-house, to the under-king’s palace. We did see a couple of black boats! The first had one person sculling and two people sitting in it, the other two no passengers at all but the people sculling it each had a bow at their side. I hid our boat a little and they didn’t seem to notice us. When Vurian noticed what I was doing he helped me, he had a lot of strength to hide things!

Once we were at the palace we asked a palace guard where the house of the Order was, because if Cynla was there at all that was the place to find her! He told us a lot of complicated things but it ended with “and ask again there” so we’d probably find it. Then I hid the boat again, and we went the right way while Rhinla searched for Cynla. And she found her!

The house was on the other end of a wooden bridge that we could tie the boat to. There was a guard on the bridge, a young man, who wasn’t sure that he could let us in but when we asked for Cynla he called her. And then she wasn’t sure that she could let us in, because Vurian had at least three Namelesses in his head, she said! “Is he a friend of yours?” she asked, and we said “yes” and “we’re taking care of him” and “Anshen said that we should”.

Well, we got over the bridge at least. And we told everything to Cynla. Then Cynla said “excuse me” and disappeared into the temple that was in the middle of the house (it wasn’t one house really, but houses all around the edge of the island, with a large space in the middle that had the temple on it and room for people to train with weapons). And when she came back she said that Anshen had told her, without words, that it was none of her business. When she’d just decided she wanted to come with us!

“You can’t anyway,” we said, “Anshen said he wanted us to go because we haven’t learned too much, people who know everything you know can’t do it.” But we still didn’t know exactly why so we couldn’t tell Cynla exactly why either.

Now I wanted to be in the temple too! It was just like the one in Turenay only really big. Rhinla and I sat by the fire (I think Rhinla was glaring at Anshen) and then Vurian came in too, very shy. He still had the Namelesses in his head, the ordinary one and Arin, not the really scary one. And Anshen was in his head too, arguing with them. I thought of the squabbling kids at the boat and pushed the Nameless (the ordinary one) into the water — I had to imagine some water for that first, but that was easy. He didn’t go away or anything, but he was startled enough to stop arguing. Now only Anshen was arguing with Arin, and Rhinla tried to cover the ears of Vurian’s spirit so he could think for himself for once. She took him out of the temple, too.

I stayed, and Anshen filled me, all of me, the hole in my spirit too (but it was just filled up, not closed, it was still a hole). Cynla saw that later, but I said to her “I don’t want to join the Order! At least not now!”

We wanted to know if Vurian really wanted the Nameless out of his head, and we thought it would be best to do that in a dream, so we could at least understand each other! Cynla thought that was a good idea and offered us a room as close to the temple as possible. “Would you like me to stay with you?” she asked, and I asked her to stand outside and keep watch.

Then the doctor came back! He had brown skin, and we asked if he was from Iss-Peran, and he was! And he could talk to Vurian in a language that he understood! He told us that Vurian was from Ashas, far in the south of Iss-Peran, and his name was really Vurian, it wasn’t a name he was using because he was in Valdyas, some people from Ashas do have Valdyan names.

The doctor took us into his room and looked at the holes in our spirit. “Can you fix it?” I asked, but he said no, people can’t fix that, only the gods can. But he’d teach us a way to stop spirit leaking out of us. We had to think of our own way to do that, because then it would work best. Rhinla made something like very hard eggshell, and I made something like the poultice that Rovan had put on the dog, and Vurian made something like a very straight and flat bit of wall, and they all worked.

“You do that every day when you get up,” the doctor said, “when you’re saying your morning prayers. And in the evening too, twice a day.”

“For the rest of our lives?” I asked, and the doctor said “yes, unless the gods fix it.” “Perhaps the rest of our lives won’t be long,” Rhinla said, “we might all die in Dol-Rayen!”

Then we asked for headache tea, and got some, and a bunch of mint when I said I liked the tea (the doctor didn’t) but with mint it was even better.