There, and back again (to the Viceregal Palace)

Waterbirds, 3

Oh gosh! Oh joy! I bet you’ve never, ever in your life had such a wonderful waking-up as Lesla and I had! We had our bellies still full with bacon and bean soup! I woke up because Lesla made a noise with her behind, and then so did I. Bacon! Beans! Onions! And there was still some left!

But Jerna said, we shouldn’t eat it all, we should bring some to the Swamp Lady. I didn’t think we should, and said, isn’t that like Arin bringing part of his catch to his “master”, but Lesla agreed, and said we should share. Well, sharing is fine! So we took a big earthenware bowl full of good soup between us, and went up to the Swamp Lady’s place.

She was right there, and wasn’t being weird with weird herbs or stuff, and she did like the smell of the soup, and said, she’d eat it later on. She didn’t even hint at sharing it with us! But well, that’s swamp ladies for you. Bring ’em stuff, and they take it all. But Lessla, she was interested, and wanted to know if we could help her. So, she said, you can gather herbs and flowers for me. And here’s a drawing of the most important flower, the one I want most.

It was a really good drawing! So we went out and deeper into the marsh. We collected a lot of the herbs and flowers! And then we saw a boat drifting in the deeper parts of the swamp. Someone was lying down in it. And it looked like there was an arrow sticking out of his back!

So we put our flowers and herbs with the man in the boat and started pushing the boat back to the Swamp Lady’s lake, the man had lost his pole or his oars. The Swamp Lady had no idea what to do with a dead man, though, and she said, we’d better bring her to the Priestess. And she didn’t want to come, not because she was afraid othersiders would start throwing stones at her, but because she and the Priestess didn’t like each other.

The boat was heavy, and there wasn’t enough water between the Swamp Lady’s place and the river in many places, so we had to drag boat over mud and bog, that was really hard work! But we managed it, and, of course, crossing the river with the boat was easy. It’s a splendid boat, completely made out of wood instead of reed, and solid, and painted blue and white, and lots of place! Maybe we can keep the boat, we did find it, after all…

The Priestess was surprised to see us, and asked us to help bring the dead man into the Temple, before the statue of Naigha. There she looked through his clothes, and she found a sack with some money in it and also a round thing, a tube, like a reed stalk, hollow and and all. But it was closed and the Priestess couldn’t get it open! Well, neither could we! And he also had a ring on his finger, made out of gold! There was something weird on the ring, made out of bits of glass or something like that.

The Priestess didn’t know who he was, and she was wondering how she could find out when we had a great idea: we’d ask the beans man, because he’s got books and paper and things, so he must know everything! So we took the boat, without the dead man, but with the tube and the ring, and borrowed the Priestess’s neighbour’s oar, and set out again to visit the bean-and-bacon man!

And we knocked on the front door! That was actually great fun, because there is an iron knocker, and we tried who of us could make the biggest noise. Lesla won, and the beans man opened the door for us! And we went in and told him about the dead man and the arrow and the ring and tube, but he couldn’t open the tube either, but he knew someone who might! And he said that the ring showed that the man belonged to a very rich, very important family. Well, the rich, duh! Of course he was rich, he had a sack full of coins, awesome clothes, shoes and a ring of gold!

And then disaster struck! The beans man wanted to see the boat! And he recognized the boat, and knew it belonged to someone else on the island, someone who has more than ten boats! And he went to fetch the man, and the man recognized his boat. At first he wanted to be angry with us for having lost the oars, and it was really hard to make him understand. He then said that we could row his boat for him! And he would give us some money for it. But it wouldn’t be our own boat.

But first he tried to open the tube, and he couldn’t either! So he said, Jeran, maybe they should go to Tao, and now we know what the beans man is called, he is called Jeran.

And then the boat man got into the boat, and asked us to come, and we went deeper into Essle than ever before. In the end, we got to a small island where the houses were almost all made out of stone, and he knocked at a door, and a dark man opened the door and let us in. And then it turned out that this Tao also couldn’t open the tube.

He asked us to go home, and leave the tube and the ring with him, but we didn’t want to do that! We found it, and we didn’t know Tao at all, even though the boat man said he could be trusted. Besides, it was already getting late, and we weren’t sure we could make it home before dark, and we were hungry! So Tao went out to get some food, and after the food, gave us some blankets to sleep under, we were going to sleep on the floor, he didn’t have hammocks, only a small room behind two small doors where he slept himself. And we weren’t going to sleep in the bed of a man we don’t know — there’s a word for girls who do that, but Jerna says we shouldn’t use that word.

Next morning, we went out to get bread, and while we were eating the bread, Tao asked someone called Serla to come with us. He expected that Serla could open the tube. I’m still not sure about that Serla. She was pushy! When we were back in Tao’s house, she said, hold my hands, and look at the fire and pray. And then she started saying things I didn’t understand at all, and when I wanted to let go of her hand, she held it tight.

And then there appeared a face in the fire! A man’s face, but he didn’t say anything.

And when Serla was done, and we asked her how that was possible, and who that was, she was surprised, and she started using us things about the Gods, but we only know about Naigha. She asked, not even Timoine, but we’d never heard of Timoine.

So then she and Tao both started pulling at the tube, and it opened! There was paper inside, with ink on it. They looked at it and then said that it had to go to the Palace. The Palace! Where the King lives! Only it isn’t the king-king, but a sort of city-king. And they wanted to send us home again, but nothing doing! We found the tube and the ring and the dead man, so we were going to stick with the tube and the ring until we were sure the right people had them!

That made them think, and they told us we’d have to wear better clothes, and be cleaner and wear clogs or shoes, otherwise we wouldn’t be allowed into the palace! Things like that cost money! But that wasn’t a problem, so a little later on we both had a real skirt, and a real shirt, and wooden clogs with leather on top. And then we went into a house where you can wash, and it had a big barrel with hot water, too small to swim in, and a big pool made out of stone where you could swim in, but first you had to throw hot water over yourself with a bucket, before you were allowed to swim. And Serla put something in our hair that made it go all white and stung in our eyes, and now Lesla’s hair isn’t black anymore, but red! And it where we stood, it looked as if someone had poured ink on floor, but it wasn’t us!

The clogs were horrible, though.

And then Serla decided she didn’t want to come to the Palace after all, and she didn’t want to tell us why not, but she stayed behind, so it was just the three of us who went to the Palace. There were bridge soldiers on the steps to the Palace, only their clothes were a different color. And they let us in!

And we were brought into a really nice room, where a man was seated at a table full of paper and ink. And we told him everything, and he was obviously the right person to have the ring and the tube and the message, since he was hired by the King to say “thank-you” to everyone who did something the King liked, and the King has other things to do than saying thank-you, though the thank-you man couldn’t exactly explain what.

He wrote a letter for the Priestess with the name of the dead man — oh, I had forgotten, the Priestess also had made a drawing of the man’s face, the thank-you man recognized that as well — and said, you have to go back now. And he wanted to know if we could count and read and so on, and Lesla said she could count, but he said, counting to 10 is not enough, not even counting to more than ten is enough. So he also wrote in his letter that the Priestess should teach us.

So we went back, with some palace soldiers, first to Tao’s house, then to Jeran’s house, then the to boat person’s house, then to the Temple… It was a very long way.

The Priestess was happy with the letter, but the soldiers said they were going to take the dead man to the Palace, and she had to give him up, and she wasn’t so happy about that. And she said she’d visit us the next morning, to talk about teaching…

Then we swam home, and Jerna and Faran were really worried about us! So we told them everything and gave them hugs, and then we got some food and went to sleep.