Too many gods

I slept through most of the feast! But Rhinla (and everybody else) told me I’d been almost dead after I fell off the horse. Or perhaps I fell off the horse because I was almost dead. Someone had hit me inside of my head!

I think I woke up a little because Anshen was poking me but I told him I was too tired to listen, so I only got to the bonfire when it was almost out. And Lady Rava told me not to do anything with my mind for a week, but I could swim and practice stick-fighting and climb trees, no problem! So I swam and practiced stick-fighting (there’s a farm boy about my size only fatter, and he’s really good at it, so I practiced a lot with him) and climbed the trees. Apple trees are easy! And willow trees are fun, they’re in the water and they’re very bendy so you can pick a branch that can just carry you and swing and then drop, or pick a branch that bends over so far that you can swing in and out of the water. Rhinla made drawings of everything!

But after a few days Lord Vurian said we were going back to Turenay. That was a bummer! Because we’d wanted to stay all summer. But we convinced them that everybody would at least stay another couple of days so we could teach Halla and Radan to swim properly, instead of Halla like a scared kitten and Radan like a baby otter, on his back and very splashy.

And Master Rovan promised to teach me some horse-doctoring. (People keep asking me if I don’t want to be a people-doctor instead, but I like animals! And I want to help them when they’re hurt or sick or sad or scared.) There wasn’t any horse-doctoring to be done, though, all the horses were healthy. But I talked to the horses a lot and got to know them. Those are huge horses! They have to be so they can pull the really big wagon with really big barrels of beer on it. There are only four horses that belong to the brewery, two for each wagon, but all the village people who have horses bring them to Master Rovan too so he can make the horseshoes. They need to wear shoes because otherwise their feet get hurt from the stones in the road. Master Rovan let me hold the horses he was putting shoes on and keep them calm, and that was a nice easy job that I didn’t need to use my mind for, only my hands and voice. And my shoulder, to lean against the big mare when she was frightened of the stink when the hot horseshoe hit her hoof. Rhinla thought nailing iron shoes to the horses’ feet would hurt them, but the feet are made of something that looks a bit like wood but Master Rovan says it’s more like your nail, only thicker, and they don’t feel a thing.

Before we’d finished with the horseshoes a man from the village came running, without a horse! “Rovan,” he said, “can you come over, my dog’s not well.” And I asked if I could come along, and Rhinla trailed along because nobody said she shouldn’t. The dog was lying on its side in a field full of goats, it was probably the goat-herding dog. It looked very unhappy. It hadn’t eaten or drunk water since last night, the man said. Rovan (he didn’t want me to call him ‘master’ any more) let me look at the dog first. I wasn’t supposed to look with my mind yet, but I tried anyway, and all I got was a headache. I’d wanted to see if the dog had eaten something wrong that was now in his stomach bothering him! But Rovan pushed the dog’s stomach and said it felt normal, only empty.

Then I saw that there was a bloody spot behind one of the dog’s ears, as if someone had hit him with something hard! It could be a goat’s horn, or a person with a shovel or even a knife. It was all red and angry-hot. It must hurt him so much that he couldn’t even drink! I pointed it out to Rovan and he poured something from a flask on the skin, probably brandy-and-water, then dried it and poured on brandy without water (while I kept the dog quiet by stroking his muzzle and paws) and put some ointment on it and a bandage.

“Won’t he scratch it off?” I asked, and then Rhinla tried to stick it on with light and she couldn’t, so she called to Lord Vurian to come and help her. And he came! And helped her stick the bandage on firmly. Rhinla didn’t want to come close to the dog when he growled, but I held his jaws so he couldn’t bite even if they hurt him by mistake.

When everything was in place the dog seemed to feel a bit better and I could make him drink some water. Rovan went back to the horses, but now Rhinla was teasing Vurian and play-fighting with him and I wanted to see that! Such a pity that I couldn’t join in yet. She stuck herself to him with light and drew a smiling sunflower on the bald spot on his head. Then they tripped each other a few times, until Rhinla got really tired, and we all went back to the brewery. The horses were all done but I found the farm boy and we practiced some stick-fighting. That at least didn’t give me a headache. We weren’t hitting each other on the head! if it had been a real fight it would be allowed, but not when you’re just playing.

“Do you think someone cut the dog with a knife?” Rhinla asked me later when we were eating.

“Yes, or hit him with a shovel or something,” I said. “Oh! I know! Perhaps it was someone who wanted to steal the goats.”

“Let’s go and keep watch.” And we did, as soon as it was dark enough that goat thieves wouldn’t see us. We found a place between some bushes and made ourselves comfortable there. I really had to lie down and sleep, I must have been working with my mind even if I’d tried not to, but Rhinla stayed awake and made finger-traps along the fence.

And she caught someone in one! She woke me up and we went to look who it was. A boy! No bigger than us, and probably not much older, darker brown than Rhinla, with hair like dirty pondweed. All he had on was a sort of leather skirt and that was dirty too. He couldn’t understand us at all! Rhinla put her forehead against his forehead and tried to think right into his head but that didn’t work either because his thoughts were as scrambled as his hair. So I stroked his hair just like I’d calmed the dog and it worked a little, then I thought up a brush like the one I’d been brushing horses with and used that, and it worked even better. We could see in his thoughts that he was running away from something, and also trying to go somewhere, and something else that we couldn’t understand. I brushed all the ruffles one way, in the direction of ‘trying to go somewhere’.

When the boy was almost untangled he fell asleep. He had a knife and I took it away, I didn’t want him to cut up any more dogs, or us! Because there was a lot of the Nameless inside his head. And outside his head too, the ordinary Nameless and the other one who he’d been fighting with in Veray and also that pesky Arin. And Anshen was there too! I made my safe place to be inside of to keep the Nameless out, but of course the boy was inside it with us full of the Nameless. But at least I could keep the three Namelesses out who were standing around. I said to Anshen, “you can come in if you like!” and he did, and it was very crowded with three children and one god in my safe place because it was really only big enough for me and Rhinla to sit very close together.

Anshen wanted to talk to us! I thought he was a god who never talked. But he did, lots! He said that he needed our help to decide something, and for that we had to go somewhere and take the boy with us because he knew exactly where to go. He wouldn’t tell us anything precise, bummer! Not what he needed to decide and why he was asking us, anyway. Only that the boy was called Vurian (“he can’t help it”) and that the place was called Dol-Rayen. And that it was the place that Rhinla had been drawing on the walls in her sleep.

I’d heard about Dol-Rayen! “Isn’t that the place where the king threw the whole town on the town?” I asked, but Anshen said he’d kept the town from falling until everybody could get out, but it was that place all right.

“Shouldn’t we take someone who knows more than we do?” Rhinla asked. “Like the king?”

“No, the king absolutely mustn’t go to Dol-Rayen,” Anshen said. “This isn’t work for people who have learned a lot of things already so they can’t invent new things any more, like you can.”

“Isn’t it good to learn things?” I asked.

“Learning in itself is good,” Anshen said, “and you’ll learn a lot on the way. But the grown people have learned too much in set ways, and they’ll only see what they already know.”

“Well, I do want to learn everything!” I said. Rhinla wanted to learn things too, but not what other people told her to learn, “I’ll decide for myself!” she said. Well, I don’t mind people telling me what to learn if that’s meant to teach me something! Except when it’s something I think is stupid.

I don’t remember all the other things that Anshen said, but when we asked if the boy was dangerous he said yes, but we were dangerous too. And he wouldn’t chase the Nameless away that was inside the boy because that was part of why he could take us to the place where we wanted to go, or something like that. I saw myself brushing him with the imaginary brush all the time, every day and night, while we travelled, and that wasn’t how I’d imagined my life! I’d imagined going to school and learning sums with money and reading and writing and different languages and maps and stars and stick-fighting and doing things with light power! (Well, I think brushing with the imaginary brush is doing things with power. But you know what I mean.)

Then Anshen went away, and all the Namelesses outside my safe place went away too, and only the bit of the Nameless inside the boy Vurian was still there (but I’d expected that). And he woke up and he was tangled again but not so much, so we could take him back to the brewery with us. Rhinla tried to talk to him but she knew only words to say to sailors, and it was clear that the boy wasn’t a sailor because he didn’t understand anything.

It was almost morning now, getting light already though we were back before anyone else got up.

We filled a tub with water and Rhinla made it warm with her mind! I didn’t know she could do that! (She didn’t know she could do it either, and I certainly can’t do it.) When we washed Vurian his hair became a sort of watery light brown but his skin stayed darker than ours. I found a linen cloth to put on his hips instead of the dirty leather, and we could get a shirt for him later.

Then people started to come down and we each got a bowl of porridge with pieces of dried apple in, Vurian too, and he ate it without saying anything. Then we went to tell Lord Vurian what had happened in the night because we’d seen him looking at us and not knowing who that strange boy was. And he talked to the boy and he could speak his language a little. He said the boy was from Iss-Peran, as we’d thought, but he spoke a different Iss-Peran language than the sailors so that’s why he hadn’t understood Rhinla.

We were so tired from being up all night that we went to our room to sleep, with the boy between us. And I had such a strange dream! I was somewhere in a field where I could see dark buildings, and everybody was wearing dark clothes, me too, and the boy Vurian, and Rhinla, and a lot of other people. We were all going to the dark buildings. We and Vurian could understand each other now! We talked a bit and then Rhinla said “this is a stupid dream, I want to wake up!” and she was gone, but I wanted to talk to him more now I could understand him and I asked where we were going. “There,” he said, and pointed to the buildings, “but we’ll have to fight, it’s full of rivals.” And yes, other people came and I suddenly had my stick and I fought two people at once who wanted to catch Vurian and knocked one out and chased the other away. I heard someone calling whose voice I knew but I was too busy fighting. Then Vurian came and cut their throats, and I was so angry about that that I didn’t know what to do, but I heard the calling again, and it was Lady Rava who called me out of the dream.

Vurian was still dreaming but it was very hard to wake him up. I told Lady Rava and Lord Vurian about the dream, and about the rivals (“aren’t those people who want the same as you want and you fight over it?” I asked, and that was a good way to say it, Lord Vurian said). And then we got to sleep in another room so we wouldn’t be next to Vurian and catch his dream.

But the next morning we knew that we’d really have to go or we’d be worrying about it forever. When we said to Lord Vurian that we wouldn’t be going to school any time soon he didn’t try to tell us what to do! He didn’t even ask what we wanted to do like everybody else, he only asked us what we needed, and we said we needed a boat to go to Tilis so we could find a way to go to Dol-Rayen, and money to pay for food and things with, and a bucket made of wood so it would float, and three bowls and three spoons.

Rhinla started to make a reed boat at once, and I got things together for the journey, the bucket and bowls and spoons and a change of clothes for all three of us. And I showed Lord Vurian how I’d made an imaginary brush to brush the boy Vurian’s thoughts with, and he said “not everybody can do that.” Perhaps that’s because nobody ever taught me to do it, like Anshen said!