Waterbirds, 5

People have tried to kill us! They have tried to shoot arrows at us and kill us, and we were only bringing Jerna to Master Jeran! And we didn’t want to let ourselves be killed, so we fought back, and now I have killed two people! I have bitten them and drowned them and… And now I feel horrible and I feel those people I killed in my mouth all the time, and taste them all the time, too. It’s really icky, killing people.

We do have two boats, now, because we took the boat of the people who attacked us. Or rather, one boat belongs to the boat man, but the other one properly belongs to us. We were punting towards the main channel when the other boat came at us, and then we saw a woman take a bow and arrows, and she was firing at us! She missed at first, so I jumped overboard and swam to their boat, and tried to upend it, but that was hard, but I managed to make the two men fall into the water.

Well, I bit them so they had to let go of me, and I sat on their faces so they drowned, and then let go of them. And Lesla managed to hit the woman with the bow and arrows with an oar, and made her fall overboard, so we won, and we had saved Jerna, too.

So we took Jerna and the two boats to master Jeran’s house, and he fetched someone who knows about sick people, but he couldn’t see the holes in Jerna’s light, but he did say that we should keep Jerna warm, not cold. And he gave Jerna something to drink, and said she wasn’t going to die yet. He also said lots of people all over Essle were falling ill, and getting spots on their skin, and dying, too.

But master Jeran promised to take care of her, so I gave him my coins that we’d earned from the boat man, for her food. And master Jeran gave us lots of food. I could eat that food, but right now, I don’t want to eat food. The longer ago the fight has been, I think, the less I want to eat. Bah!

When we ate, we told Jeran about the fight. He wasn’t angry at me for having killed two men and I worried that I was going to be hanged for it, but he said, no, nobody was going to hang me for defending myself and Jerna. It was easy for him to say, though, he hadn’t killed them!

And then he wrote a long letter with everything we told him in it, and I offered to bring it to the Palace in our own boat, to the thankful man. Master Jeran took a bit of persuading, but he allowed me to go. And the boat man allowed Lesla to borrow his boat a bit more, so she could go back to Faran to tell him that Jerna was being cared for by a doctor. Even if it isn’t a doctor who can see holes in people’s light.

But when I arrived at the Palace, I wasn’t allowed in! I have to admit I wasn’t wearing my Palace clothes, but that wasn’t it — they were just not letting anyone in because they were afraid that they’d let in someone who was sick. I swore I wasn’t sick, I mean, I can see that I don’t have holes in my light, but the guards didn’t want to listen at all.

So I sneaked around the back, and got in through the kitchen. I first made myself hard to see, like Lesla, and when I was in, I grabbed a silver thing and put cups and so on it, just like the silver thing that was carried in when we were here last time, and I walked around with it, and nobody looked twice at me, even though I was all wet and half naked and wearing my old shirt for the rest! And when I couldn’t find the thankful man, I asked someone I met in the corridors, and she took me most of the way, chatting all the time.

I recognized the corridor where the thankful man has his room, so I thanked the girl who helped me find it and walked in. I didn’t knock because the girl who had brought in the silver thing with food last time also didn’t knock, and besides, I had both hands full with the silver thing. The thankful man was really surprised to see me, but he did like that I had brought food, and then I gave him the letter.

He tried to explain to me that I shouldn’t have gone into the palace because of the sickness in Essle, so I explained about knowing that I wasn’t sick, because I don’t have holes in my light. He looked up at me when I told him that and asked me whether I could take a look at him as well, and I did, and he didn’t have holes in his light either.

Now he was really interested!

So I explained again, and he asked whether Lesla could do that as well, so I said, yes, we’d both learned it from the Swamp Lady. He then wanted to know where Lesla was, so I explained about that as well. He promised to send help to Jerna and master Jeran, if I would go and get Lesla to come to the palace. I told him I wouldn’t be let in again, but he smiled and gave me a let-me-in letter! So now I can always go into the Palace if I want to!

Lesla was already on her way, so I met her at master Jeran’s house, and visited Jerna, but she was asleep in one of the boxes upstairs, so she didn’t see us. At least she didn’t have more holes in her light!

Back in the Palace, the thankful man put us in a room with a table with cloth on it, and from that moment on people came into the room, and we had to look if they had holes in their light or not, and if they had, send them on through one door, and if not through another door. It was hard work! We were soon sweating and swaying on our feet, but there were still people coming! And nobody brought us food or anything to drink, and only when it was really dark did someone light a lamp. But that was just before everything went black, and I don’t remember anything for quite a bit, until it was morning again.

Then someone brought us food, but when I tried to eat it, I had to think of the men I had killed, and I had to go into the corner where we had done our business, and puke, and then I tried to eat again, but I had to puke again! And it was good food, but with every bite I had to think of how I had bitten the fingers and ears and and cheeks of those men, and I had to puke until there was nothing left inside me, and even then I felt like I had to puke!

And then the thankful man visited us and he went red when he learned we had worked until midnight, and had slept in the other corner, where we hadn’t done our business, but he said it wasn’t red from being angry with us. And we didn’t have to see anyone’s light that day. But we did look at our own light, and Lesla saw that I had tiny holes in my light! But she could close the holes with her own light, so I wouldn’t be sicker than I was anyway.