School and fishing and things

We’ve already been in Turenay for weeks! And I know all my letters now and can write words with them, and even Rhinla knows all her letters because they’re all birds for her. I like her letter-bird drawings! And I’m learning to do sums and to fight with a stick. But it’s not called a stick, it’s called a staff! I don’t have one of my own yet so I’m using one that the school has for people to practice with. The staff needs to be one hand longer than you are, and they do have one in my size!

School is nearly over because it’s summer and lots of people are going home because they only live at school when there’s school and they live with their family when there isn’t. Master Senthi is still teaching us, but not the people she’s teaching languages from far countries because there’s only one still here, Venla who we met on the first day, and then the others would have to catch up later anyway.

We have a lot of time to do fun things! We took Radan fishing, because Rhinla wanted to teach him to catch crayfish, and we tried to take Halla too but she turned up her nose at it. I think she wants to be a lady, not a girl.

We went upstream of the town because the river is full of dirty stuff downstream, that’s because there are lots of workshops that need water but make it dirty, like tanning and dyeing. We know that it’s clean at the Halfway Inn, we waded in it and caught fish and washed ourselves! I wonder where all the dirty stuff goes. Lady Rava says it’s the same river and it flows from Turenay to Veray so it must lose it somewhere.

Radan was very good at catching crayfish! He filled more than half the bucket by himself once we’d showed him how to stick his hand in the mud under the crayfish so they don’t notice you and scuttle away. And we caught some trout and a big fat fish with a small head and shiny scales, we didn’t know what it was but it looked tasty.

Then we saw someone sitting on the other side of the water! It was a man with very dark brown skin like Master Tao, but a lot younger, and he looked as if he’d been looking at us for a while. “Hey!” Rhinla called to him, and he jumped up and came over. “Is your name Tao?”

He grinned. “No, Mazao,” he said. And he almost said something else, I could see that, but he didn’t.

“Are you of the Nameless?” Rhinla asked, but I could see that he wasn’t there was nothing about him that was scary that way. (Not about Master Tao either, not like his friend who had prayed with us at the fire. She had been of the Nameless all right!)

“No,” he said with a laugh. “Why did you think that?”

“I wanted to know,” Rhinla said. “Because you’re so black.”

“Being of the Nameless or of Anshen has nothing to do with the colour of one’s skin,” he said. “I’m this colour because I was born that way. I’m Ishey.” We didn’t know what that was, but it was the people who lived up the hill on the far side (he pointed) and they weren’t all so black, only some of them.

“Is this your river?” I asked him, but it wasn’t, he just lived near it. And the fish wasn’t anybody’s fish either so whoever wanted to catch it could do that.

We’d got our bucket full now! So we said goodbye to Mazao and washed the worst of the mud off Radan and took the fish to the house. Halla in the kitchen was very pleased with all the fish! “I know what we’ll eat tonight,” she said. And she could tell us that the fat shiny fish was a river bream, and that they are very tasty indeed! She was going to make a stew with all the fish so everybody could have some of each, and that was fair though it was a pity that we couldn’t roast the bream and hold the crayfish over a flame, they taste much better that way.

But the stew was delicious! And Radan got to brag to his parents and brother and sisters about catching all the crayfish.

We got sent to bed early again but that wasn’t bad because we were tired enough after all that traipsing in the river. But I was suddenly awake in the middle of the night, and Rhinla wasn’t in bed next to me! Instead she was drawing on the walls with light, a strange landscape with mountains and storm clouds and little people who looked as if they were frightened by the storm and running away from it. I called her but she didn’t look up, and then I took her wrist and I saw that her eyes were closed and she was still drawing. I thought of calling Lady Rava, but before I could do that she was at the door already.

“Oh, I’m so glad you’re here!” I said. “Rhinla is drawing in her sleep!” But just as I opened the door for her, Rhinla had crawled back into bed. Her drawing was still on the walls, though, fading a little but you could still see what it was.

“Do you know that place?” Lady Rava asked, but I didn’t, it looked a bit like the hills we’d seen near Veray but not enough to say it was there. And there wasn’t a big stone house on one of the hills like in Veray, either.

Lady Rava didn’t seem worried. “Isn’t it dangerous?” I asked.

“Not as dangerous as sleepwalking,” she said, “she doesn’t go outside and fall off things or into the river or anything.”

The next morning it was so much like a strange dream that I completely forgot to tell Rhinla! Only when we were at the hospital to see if we could help, and Doctor Cora asked if we’d done anything interesting, I remembered. And Rhinla was so surprised! I showed her what she’d drawn — another thing Master Senthi taught us how to do properly — and she didn’t recognise it either. Doctor Cora called Lady Rava at the school, because she thought it was dangerous! And they had a bit of an argument about it, without us.

We went to the children’s ward to talk to the sick children, and we saw that a girl was glowing, Doctor Cora later said that was the fever, but she had no holes in her light . And there was a little boy with a broken leg. “How did you break that?” I asked.

“Fell out of the tree,” he said. “Mum said to come down quickly! But I came down too quickly.” We promised him to bring the painting of the doesn’t-exist-bird, and that gave Rhinla such a good idea! When Doctor Cora came back she asked if she couldn’t paint some paintings for the children’s ward, happy ones, with things to see on them! Like doesn’t-exist-animals, and things we’d seen on the water. Doctor Cora thought that was a good idea, and said that the hospital would pay for the paper and paint and they’d give Rhinla some money for the work too.

Then Doctor Cora said she was going to fix the boy’s broken leg, and yes, she’d like our help because she couldn’t get light (I should call it anea, power, that’s what it’s called in the lessons) from the world and most of the people who usually helped her with that had gone home for the summer, or they’d finished school and had gone away forever. And some people couldn’t help Doctor Cora because they were busy showing the teachers that they had learned enough to finish school.

So this time Rhinla went to sit by the fire in the little temple where Anshen would give as much anea as anyone needed, and I found a place halfway where I could pass it on, behind some high plants in the school’s herb garden. There were some people looking out from a window in the school who could perhaps see me but I didn’t even bother going invisible, I didn’t think anybody would bother me.

After a while I could feel that Doctor Cora needed anea, and I asked Rhinla for it and the stream started to stream. It was hard to push it in the right direction at first, but I thought up a bucket like the ones we’d been shown to use when there was a fire and filled it and handed it to my other hand and sent it on to Doctor Cora. There was a new bucket every time, so that worked! Only my arms got sore after a while, even though anea doesn’t weigh anything and thought-up buckets don’t either!

Then it was suddenly done and Rhinla came from the temple and we went back to the hospital and found the little boy asleep with his leg bandaged between two pieces of wood and Doctor Cora cleaning up. We helped, of course, and then we all had herb tea. Doctor Cora was surprised about the buckets, she’d had to get used to getting the anea in gulps instead of as a stream! But that was what I found easiest.

When I said I’d got hungry from the work she laughed and said “Oh! You’re one of those!” and called for a nurse, who brought sweet buns. (It turns out she had an apprentice who left just before we arrived to be a doctor in a distant town, and doing things with anea always made her very hungry too!)

Then Rhinla thought of a way to convince Master Jilan to teach at the school! She went and asked Lord Vurian for a small barrel of wine to give to Master Jilan. He laughed, and asked if a jug wouldn’t be enough? And then he filled a big jug for us from a barrel in the cellar!

We went to Master Jeran’s house with it, pausing at the door to stroke the cat. “How did you manage to convince the cat?” Master Jeran asked, “she’s been bringing me the tails but eating the mice! But I think she’s finished all the mice in the house now, so I’m letting her out so she can hunt in the gardens.” He had some pie left as well, and shared it with us! And he was very pleased with the wine. He had already drunk two cups of it (and remarked that it was very good) when he started to think that we probably wanted something from him. “You want to make me drunk so I’ll say that I’ll come and teach?” but Rhinla said “No, we want you to drink wine because it makes you happy and when you’re happy you tell the truth!”

“Yes, maybe you’re right,” he said, and then he fell silent and drank another cup. “Maybe I should really come and teach. But, mind you, I teach people how to paint like me.”

“Can’t you teach people how to paint like themselves?” Rhinla asked. “I mean, when you painted the stars and explained how you do that with the little white lines, if you explain things like that people can paint like themselves and still learn what you’re teaching them and use that.”

“That’s a very wise thing to say,” Master Jeran said. “I’ll talk to Master Rava.” And then he was so woozy that we had to help him into his bed and he fell asleep at once. We gave the cat clean water in her water-dish, and washed up the cup and the jug and the plate, and put the plate near the door where the baker’s errand boy or girl would find it, and took the jug with us.

When we came back to Lord Vurian and said that Master Jeran was going to do it, he wanted to know what else we’d been learning. And we found, when we were telling him, that it was all letters and numbers and maps and stuff, not much with the mind at all. “Well, what can you do?” he asked, and
Rhinla said she could make things from light and I said I could make myself invisible and sometimes other people too. And we told him about giving anea to Doctor Cora, but he’d heard that already, and I made a bucket to show him how I’d done it.

Then he asked us to get a jug of water from the kitchen and taught us different ways to keep it closed! Well, in fact he showed us one way and made us think of our own different ways. Rhinla wrapped the whole jug in a lot of layers of something that looked like thin cloth made of light. And I smeared the top with a sort of thick paste. And after that I just told it that it was closed. We found that some ways worked much better than others, and we got very wet too and had to go and fill the jug again about five times!

We’d completely forgotten to tell Master Jeran about Rhinla going to paint pictures for the children in the hospital, so we went to his house again the next day. He still knew what he had promised! And he thought it was a very good idea of Rhinla’s so he took us to the market to buy things to make paint from. This was at a little stall where they sold things that looked like different coloured kinds of sand and stone. Some of them really were sand or stone, Master Jeran said. Red sand and blue stone! We got a small bags of different ones and a jug of oil to grind them up with, and a lot of little earthenware pots. He didn’t pay any money but wrote his name on the stallkeeper’s slate, and said that he’d arrange everything about the money with the hospital. I could read and almost understand the numbers on the slate and I thought it was really a lot of money! I didn’t know stuff to make paint from was so expensive.

Then Master Jeran took us back to his house where we learned to put some of the sand in a heavy pot (a mortar, he said, made of bronze) and pound it with a thick stick with a round end (a pestle) until it was as smooth as dust. And then pound it some more with oil until it was as smooth as pancake batter. Some of the sands got a very different colour when you pounded them! Every colour went into its own little earthenware pot.

That evening Lord Vurian called us to his study again. He said that it was almost Midsummer, the Feast of Anshen, and who did we want to celebrate it with? We could stay at the school and celebrate with whoever was still there for the summer, or go with him and his whole family to Lady Rava’s family at Gralen, or even with Doctor Cora and her family who had a vineyard further up the river. We didn’t know what a vineyard was, but that’s a field where grapes grow to make wine from, and the wine we’d given to Master Jeran was some of the wine from Doctor Cora’s grapes!

“If Master Jeran doesn’t have anyone to celebrate the feast with we’ll stay with him,” Rhinla said. “We can ask him.”

“You don’t have to decide right away,” Master Vurian said, “it’s a few days until we leave. But please know that you’re welcome to go to Gralen with us.” And then he asked what everybody else was always asking us, but it didn’t seem so bad from him: what did we want to learn at school?

“Drawing,” Rhinla said, “and things to do with light that I don’t know about yet. And when I can do all those things I want to have a house with an oven and live there.” And I said that I wanted to learn to fight with a staff and to learn things to do with anea and lots of sums. “Sums with money,” I said.

“Those are the best sums,” Lord Vurian said with a smile.