In Turenay!

Lesla doesn’t have such an urge to draw but she does want to learn to read All The Books!

Rhinla had made such a nice painting of the white dog! It wasn’t really a painting of the white dog, but of everything around the white dog, and its eyes and tongue because those weren’t white (and the paper was). But you could see it was the dog! She spattered some mud on the painting and then it looked even more like the dog because the dog was spattered with mud too.

Jeran said that we ought to wash before eating, and we wanted to use the goose-pool for that but of course we could wash in the washing-house next to the kitchen. There were much fewer geese in the way there! And we got towels to dry ourselves with, of such nice cloth that Rhinla said we should make a skirt of it. Or if you had two towels a shirt, and with another towel for the sleeves.

Then we got to eat at a long table with a lot of other people. I’d already seen a pot in the kitchen with turnips and beans and bits of bacon, and that was on the table all right. But there was also a large piece of pig on the table! And each person at the table had a knife (I think some of the knives were the people’s own knives but we got one each next to our plates) and one of those sticking-things with prongs that they’d had at the palace. “A fork,” Jeran said. “That’s what civilised people eat with. Just do as I do.” But it was a lot harder than it looked.

“You stick the fork in the meat and then cut off a piece,” Jeran said, and we did that and put it on our plates, and then we had to cut little pieces off the meat on our plate. “Cut off a piece and give it to the cat!” Rhinla said, but that wasn’t the idea, you had to cut off a piece that fit in your mouth and eat it.

After a while nothing was left of our pieces of pig except the bones. “We should put them back in the pot for soup!” I said, but Rhinla took them outside to give to the white dog.

We went outside again and Master Jeran sat in the inn drinking wine. He drank so much wine that Rhinla teased him about it, but he didn’t seem to get weepy drunk like Faran or angry drunk like Arin!

Then we were so tired that we wanted to go to bed, so we asked the woman in the kitchen where we could sleep. We had to take Jeran upstairs too because otherwise when we closed the room he wouldn’t be able to get in! But we went to the little house in the yard first, all of us, and Jeran told us to wash our hands and faces again. But that was a good thing, because we were all greasy with pig fat.

There was a big soft bed in the room that we all fit in, and Rhinla and I snuggled each on a side of Master Jeran, but he wasn’t Jerna. (He snored more than Jerna, too! But he didn’t sound like a pig at all.) When I have a house of my own I want a bed like that, with a bag of feathers to lie on. We opened the bag to see what kind of feathers, and we thought the goose feathers that geese drop anyway in summer. And even if they were from dead geese, we weren’t going to eat them so that was all right.

In the morning we were awake before Master Jeran and we went to the kitchen to get something to eat. “What would you like?” the kitchen woman asked. “Bacon!” Rhinla said. “And bread!” I said, at the same time as Rhinla said “beans”. “Bread is better for breakfast,” the woman said. “Do you have eggs?” I asked, and she fried some eggs for us with bacon and gave us a tray with that and large pieces of bread and a jug with beer in it. “Could we have something to drink that isn’t bitter?” I asked, and we got a bowl of milk as well.

The tray was so big that we had to carry it up the stairs between us, Rhinla at the top and me at the bottom because I’m taller, and it was heavy too, but we managed without dropping or spilling anything. Master Jeran was a bit awake when we got back to the room. He drank some of the beer (but not all, and Rhinla teased him about that as well) and we all ate bread with eggs and bacon, and Rhinla and I shared the cup of milk. Master Jeran said that this beer wasn’t bitter, but we tried it and both of us thought it was!

Then we carried the tray down the stairs the same way, except that I had to go backwards now.

When we were hitching the donkey to the cart the cat came running up. She looked ragged as if she’d been fighting, with scratches in her fur. Rhinla stroked them closed with light, and that made the cat want to wash herself. We lifted her on top of the wagon, where she just went on washing.

It was only half a day to Turenay now, Master Jeran said. There were fewer trees here, not everywhere like where we were earlier, there were green open fields between them, some with animals. Master Jeran pointed out sheep and goats and cows. Goats mostly have horns and sheep mostly don’t, and goats look a bit more sly and sheep a bit more silly. And cows are bigger than a donkey and they have very beautiful eyes. And they all eat grass from the green fields.

Then we could see the town! There was a wooden wall in front of it but we saw the tops of tall houses over the wall. But we first wanted to see something on this side: in a field full of sheep there were two large ones with big curvy horns on their heads, and they wanted to fight! They ran at each other over and over again and knocked their horns together with a lot of noise. Rhinla said to Master Jeran, “I want some paper!” and she got a sheet of paper and a bit of charcoal and she drew the fighting sheep.

Then a tiny sheep that had been looking at the fight ran right between the two big ones! And they stopped just in time that it could get through. When they weren’t fighting any more they weren’t interested any more either and wandered away.

Rhinla’s drawing was splendid! But the charcoal was so soft that it came right off. Master Jeran said he’d got stuff to fix it to the paper with, but that was at home, in the town. So Rhinla tried to fix the drawing to the paper with light, and it worked, when she’d put a lot of layers of light over it like we’d done on the door. That made her so tired that she could hardly walk any more so Master Jeran lifted her on the cart and let me walk beside the donkey by myself, through a gate in the wooden wall.

There was a wall-guard at the gate but he knew Master Jeran and let him through without asking who he was or if he had any papers saying he could get through.

This was a strange town! No water in it at all. as if it was all on one huge island. “Oh, there’s a lot of water,” Master Jeran said, “but it’s not around the town, it’s under the town and it comes out of the fountains everywhere.” And yes, we could see fountains where the streets met each other, with water coming out of them, and at one fountain someone was filling a bucket under the spout. So that’s how people get water here!

Master Jerain pointed out a big stone house, “that’s the school! But we’ll go to my house first.”

That was a nice house! It was built of wood with what looked like the kind of straw stuff in between that you could break away and get in, but Master Jeran told us that most of it was stone with just the white layer over it. And once we were inside we could see the stone between the wood. “That’s to prevent fires,” Master Jeran said, and of course stone doesn’t burn as quickly as straw! (But the house in Veray had been mostly of stone and there’d been a fire there too! Perhaps it was the wood between the stone that burned.)

Inside there was one big room with a fireplace and a table and a cupboard, and stairs going up. “You bring the stuff from the cart upstairs,” Master Jeran said, “and I’ll take the donkey to the stable.”

That wasn’t easy! Because the chest was so heavy that we had to haul it up the stairs one step at a time. But we got it there, and the room there was full of chests so that looked like a good place for it. There were more stairs in that room which went to a room full of painting stuff and paintings, so we put the painting stuff and paintings from the cart there.

“Where do you think Master Jeran sleeps?” Rhinla asked, and we found a little room to sleep in in the wall of the chest room. There was a bag of straw in it, and when we lifted that lots of critters ran out. The cat caught a mouse at once, and then another one, but a lot of other mice ran away and all the bugs ran or flew away too. The bag smelt so dirty that we took it outside behind the house and set fire to it with the tinderbox we’d found beside the fireplace.

Then Master Jeran came back with a big bag full of straw, not the right shape to put in a bed, just to carry the straw in. But he said that it was a good thing we’d burnt the old one, “that happens when you’re away for a while.” And he said that it was a good thing that the cat had caught the mice, and he hoped she’d catch the rest of the mice too. So the cat could live at Master Jeran’s house!

“I’ll take you to the school now,” Master Jeran said, “but first we’ll go to the bath-house. And you’ll need some new clothes, you can tell you’ve travelled all the way from Essle in these.”

“We’ve got money to pay for clothes,” we said, but the money from the boat was for the school, I think to pay for the food we’d get there and the paper and ink and other things that we were going to use.

“It’s all right,” Master Jeran said, “I’ll get it back from Rava.” We knew that Rava was the mistress of the school, and also the mother of the queen! She must have enough money to pay for things. So we went to the market and got a skirt and a shirt each, and bits of leather with a thong to bind to our feet, called ‘sandals’, because Rhinla said she wasn’t going to wear wooden shoes. And then we went to a bath-house and a woman washed us in a tub, just like Jerna, our hair as well, with soap that smelt of flowers, delicious! And another woman washed Master Jeran, and a boy washed our old clothes and rolled them up still wet and tied them in a cloth so we could carry them to somewhere we could hang them to dry.

Then we went to the school! We’d seen that it was a big stone house, and now we saw the yard too. There were a lot of people there, some only a little older than us, talking or reading or just sitting around. In one corner, boys and girls were having a fight with long sticks, in pairs, and it made as much noise as the two sheep! And every so often one of them fell to the ground and the other one waited for them to get up, we could see that it was a friendly fight. I stared at it so much that Master Jeran pulled at me to come along.

“Can I learn that too?” I asked. “I hit someone on the head with an oar, that’s even longer!” “Yes, I think you can learn that, and I think you won’t be allowed to do it until you do learn!” That was silly, how can I learn something if I’m not allowed to do it?

Master Jilan took us into the house and up the stairs and went through a door but he left us sitting on a bench in the passage. The wall opposite us was all white and plain and Rhinla painted on it with light, the stick-fighters and Master Jeran’s house and the mice and bugs running and flying away.

Then Master Jeran came out and said we had to go in, but he went away himself. There were two women in the room, one tall and old with pale skin and a sort of greyish-blonde hair, and one young and no taller than us, with brown skin, very beautiful. And the room was full of books! I saw where Rhinla was looking, not at the books but at the ink-pot on the table that the two women were behind.

The old woman said that she was Rava, and the other woman was Cora. I knew she wasn’t the queen, because the queen is called Raisse, but I did ask her if she was a queen because she was so beautiful. “No,” she said, “I’m not a  queen, I’m a doctor.” Rhinla said “then you must be ever so rich!” and she smiled and said “I’ve got enough.”

“Master Jeran told us some of your adventures,” Rava said, “but we’d like to hear it from you. After all, he didn’t know everything!” And we told them everything. Perhaps we told some things more than once because they asked questions and a bit of the story belonged to the answer. Rava smiled when she heard that the baroness of Tilis had said that the queen would send us to Turenay anyway, and if she wasn’t in Valdis she’d be in Turenay, and one should always do what the queen says because she’s so bossy! Then we realised that the queen was Rava’s daughter, and I said sorry, but she said “who do you think she gets it from?” But the queen wasn’t in Turenay at the moment, though she’d probably come soon.

Rava and Cora looked at each other as if they were talking but we couldn’t hear it. Then Cora nodded, but she looked a bit sad, and Rava said “You’d better live in my house for a while, and go to school to learn.”

“Can I learn to fight with sticks?” I asked. “And to read and write and count?”

“You must learn to read and write and count,” she said. “We’ve got a teacher who is very good at teaching people to read and write who never got the chance when they were little. And yes, you may learn to fight too.”

“And to draw?” Rhinla asked. But there wasn’t any teacher who could teach that, Master Jeran had been that teacher but he’d gone away to paint pictures of the fields near Veray and he’d said he wasn’t going to come back to the school. “Then I don’t know if I want to go to school here!” Rhinla said. Cora had her hands on Rhinla’s shoulders now and Rhinla was cuddling against her, but she still didn’t look happy.

“I do!” I said, “I want to learn to read all these books!”

But then Rava asked “Would you like to see the school?” and I would! And Rhinla said yes, she’d come along. There were two girls at the door who were going to show us around, Halla and Venla. They were older than us but not much. And Venla had almost the same colour of skin and hair as me!

We saw some more of the room with the books — there was a book full of maps and I could have looked at them forever but we were going on — and the room at the top of the house where the girls who lived in the school slept, with the room for the boys on the other side but we didn’t go in there, just like our men’s and women’s houses on the island, you only go to the other side when you’re invited. And we saw some rooms where people were learning but we didn’t go in either, only looked through the doorway of one. And the big room for eating with a fireplace at one end where a fire was burning.

“Is that a fire of the gods?” I asked.

“It’s for Anshen,” Venla said, and we stood at the fire and prayed, Venla and Halla knew all the words of course, but we knew most of the words too.

Then I asked “do you have a little house to piss in?” and Venla laughed and took me there, several little houses in fact, between some sheds at the end of the yard. When we came back Halla was talking to Rhinla in a voice that sounded as if she were threatening her, and Rhinla was getting more and more unhappy. Then Venla said something to Halla and Halla turned and walked away, with a glance over her shoulder at Rhinla that said “I’ll get you yet!” (Later we told Rava, and she said that it wasn’t good and she’d speak to Halla about it. I hope that doesn’t get us into more trouble.)

“What did she say?” I asked.

“She said that I was different, and that she’d keep an eye on me!”

“But everybody is different, right?” I said.

“I don’t know!” It was clear that Rhinla needed a place to think, to be alone, and Venla knew one: the temple! I was confused, wasn’t the temple the part of the eating-room with the fire? But there was a small building with eight sides near the school, not quite in the yard but on a square behind it, and there was a fire in the middle and the fire was full of Anshen. “Do you mind if I stay?” Venla asked, and Rhinla said she didn’t, and I didn’t mind either.

Then Rhinla drew on all the walls of the temple with light. Everything she was thinking of, all the parts of our story, and when she ran out of walls she started again on the first wall and the drawing that was already there disappeared. It didn’t seem to make her tired at all, as if she got all the light from the fire. I was happy to just sit there and watch her do it.

Venla and I talked about Anshen and the Nameless but I don’t remember much of what we said, because we went back to the school then and from there to Rava’s house. We got a room with one of those very soft beds full of feathers, and the woman who took us there asked if we wanted to eat first or to sleep first, and we said ‘eat’, but Rhinla tried the bed and fell asleep at once and I was so tired that I crawled in next to her and fell asleep too.