Working and learning
We got bored when we weren’t allowed to do anything! So we went to the thankful man and Rhinla asked him for paper and ink to draw and I asked him for a slate and a stick to write on so I could practice letters and numbers. We got a whole stack of paper, and black, blue and red ink! There wasn’t any green ink and that was a pity, but Rhinla made a blue river with black and red fishes swimming in it, and a red sunset with black clouds.
Then it became dark and we had an oil lamp but it wasn’t on, so I went to the kitchen to ask if they had some fire to light it. And they filled the lamp full of oil for me! And gave me a jug of water and a lot of food that was left over from the posh people’s dinner. But Rhinla still wouldn’t eat anything, however yummy the food smelled, she only drank some water. I was worried about her! But I couldn’t do anything about it.
Then we went to sleep, I on the sack of reeds and Rhinla in a nest of drawings.
In the morning someone knocked on our door! We knew from Master Jeran’s house that we ought to open the door if they did that, and it was a woman in grey clothes but we could see that under the clothes she had a bandage around her ribs and a bandage on her arm. And there was blood seeping through the bandages, it was red, like she’d only been wounded a short while ago! She had a sword on her belt, but there wasn’t any blood on the sword.
She said her name was Cynla, and we said our names too, and then she wanted to know everything that had happened when we fought the people on the boat. And when we didn’t want to tell that to just any strange woman she told us a lot about her own life, that she knew what it was like to kill someone because she’d done that too, but mostly because her boss had told her to do it. I don’t think it’s any better when your boss tells you to do it! But I do think it’s less bad when you kill bad people because they’re doing things like trying to kill you or someone else.
When Cynla was a little girl she fought some people who belonged to a different god than she and her mother did, and then they went to her house and beat up her mother and she was so angry that she stuck a knife in one of those people’s belly and killed him, and then went home and cried a lot. When she was done crying her mother told her about some people belonging to Anshen, the god of fighting, so she joined them and learned to fight properly with a sword. Those people were in order, or an order, or something like that. She mostly fights people who belong to Archan, I don’t know who that is the god of but he’s got a lot of bad people belonging to him. Perhaps he’s the god of bad people, but then why would people want to belong to him?
I was thinking whether I’d like to join those fighting people too, but I don’t like to fight, not even against bad people! I like to find out things, and to count, and to write letters and numbers! I want to learn a lot more of that.
Cynla sent me to get her something to eat and drink then, but I thought that was because she wanted to talk to Rhinla alone. She could have said that, I’m not stupid! But something to eat and drink was a good idea, and I also found the tiny room over the water again where you could piss into the water instead of in a bucket so I did that too.
In the kitchen I got a jug of water and a plate full of pancakes with cheese inside! And apples and berries, too. And when I came back to our room Cynla was still listening to Rhinla talk about the fight, so I hadn’t missed anything. Now she asked us to look at her to see if she had holes in her light, and she didn’t, but she looked as if her body-of-light had bruises on the head. “Did they hit you on the head too?” I asked.
“Yes, sort of,” she said. Rhinla was already stroking it better, and when I saw how she did it I could do it too. It was like polishing! And it made it shine more, like polishing a shiny thing does.
“Can’t everybody who can see people’s light see if there are holes in it?” I asked, because I couldn’t imagine that we were the only two people in the palace who could see that! And if there were a lot of people why did we need to see everybody? We’d been doing it all day and there were still people we hadn’t seen. But Cynla didn’t give an answer that we had any use for, or that we even understood. (That’s probably why I don’t remember what she said exactly, but it was about different people seeing different things.)
I don’t know how we got to it –perhaps because Rhinla asked “can’t all the bad people see you too if you give that much light?”– but Cynla said that you could shut it off, like closing your eyes. I closed my eyes but I could still see people’s light! “Close the eyes of your closed eyes!” Cynla said, “and it doesn’t stop you from seeing, but it stops people from seeing you. Would you like to learn that?”
Yes, we would! If the bad people who could look through houses couldn’t see us, it would be a lot less scary.
“Lesla can make herself invisible!” Rhinla said, and then I had to do it, of course, go into the corridor and be invisible and someone in blue clothes with ribbons (a servant, I knew now) almost bumped into me. But when I went back into the room Cynla and Rhinla saw me anyway because I hadn’t learned yet how to make the light invisible too, and it didn’t help that I’d closed the door when I went out so they saw it open.
“I see what you’re doing though,” Cynla said. “I’d like to see you looking at people to see if they’re ill!” But we noticed that she was bleeding worse again, and got another servant in the corridor to fetch someone to bring clean bandages. And when that someone came, with a basket full of linen and wound-cleaning stuff, we looked at him and let Cynla watch and we saw that there was nothing wrong with him. Perhaps she’d have learned more if there had been something wrong, but we couldn’t help that.
Then Cynla really needed to sleep and we went to a place where we’d been before, an outside place but sort of inside because it had walls all around it (but no roof) with trees and bushes and a pool of water, to wash ourselves. There was a cat there, white with red and black patches, who didn’t mind that we carried her inside, she just kept purring and went to sleep on Cynla’s feet.
We were worried that nobody had asked us to do more work! Because Master Jeran would need a lot of money to pay the man who was making Jerna better. Just as we wanted to go and ask the thankful man he came, to see if Cynla was all right, we said, and we asked him right then and he looked a little strange as if he hadn’t expected it but let us sit in the same rooms again and look at more people. And then it ended! There were no more people to look at, we’d seen them all.
“Why couldn’t we be in the same room?” Rhinla asked. But that was because they wanted to make sure that if someone was ill we both saw it without telling each other, so they could be double-sure. And still nobody told us if anyone who could see light could have done that. Every time we asked they said things that weren’t the answer.
So we went back to Cynla but she was still asleep, and we went to sleep too, on the floor in Rhinla’s nest of drawings with the cat between us. And later, when we were all awake, we talked some more about the gods, that Anshen mostly doesn’t say anything but when you pray to him (that was a word we didn’t know but it means talk to the gods, ask them things, that kind of thing) it could happen that you know what he would have said if he’d said it, and that Archan talks a lot but that’s mostly lies. And she took us each by a hand in front of the fire (I had to get an armful of firewood first and make a fire in the hole in the wall that is for making fires in) and said things that we had to repeat, like a song, but the sound didn’t move around much like songs, it stayed in the same place in her voice. “I don’t think I can remember that!” I said, but we didn’t need to remember it right away.
The next day we went to the thankful man and asked if there was any more work to do because we needed to pay a lot of money for making Jerna better, but he said we’d earned more than enough money for that! When we came back and said that to Cynla, she said that she would be in the palace for a couple of weeks to let her wounds heal and she could teach us as much as we could learn if we stayed with her. (And the thankful man had said that we could stay, so that was no problem.) But we did want to go and see Jerna, and then home to Faran because he was sure to be worried and perhaps he was angry! And tell the priestess why we hadn’t come to school. (Cynla said she could teach me more letters! I want to learn all the letters! The letters I know already are about half the letters there are, if you don’t want to write foreign languages because those have their own different letters, she says.)
We had a boat of our own now! No oars, because they’d both escaped in the fight, but we could use a pair from the palace. Cynla came with us because she wanted to talk to Faran too and perhaps to the priestess. And she had a sword, and nobody needed to know that she was too wounded to use it, she could just hold it up and chase people away. We had to help her into the boat but once we’d put the long pillow from the bed at her back she was all right. Rhinla rowed and I steered the first part of the way, to Master Jeran’s house.
Master Jeran was surprised! Not that we were there, but that we had Cynla with us. “This is Cynla, she’s in order,” I said, and that surprised Master Jeran some more. Then we went up to where Jerna was lying in bed, and she was a lot better! “I think I can go home in a couple of days,” she said, and she was well enough now to come downstairs and meet Cynla. It was strange to see them together, I don’t know how to say it, as if they didn’t both fit in the same world though they both belonged with us. Because after even one day I had a feeling that Cynla was the sort of person who belonged with us, or we belonged with her. Perhaps because she was teaching us things.
Then I rowed the next part and Rhinla steered. We didn’t see any people with bows and arrows, and nobody who watched us through houses either, but we passed a boat full of bridge-guards and more than one boat with dead people. We couldn’t see if the dead people had died of illness or of getting a sword or a knife in their body, they were wrapped in cloths.
“It’s secret where we live,” Rhinla said to Cynla, “we have to blindfold you!” But she didn’t mind, she even had a cloth herself to use as a blindfold. That was a good thing, because otherwise one of us would have had to tear a strip off our new shirts!
Faran wasn’t angry, but he had sure been worried! He kept asking after Jerna even when we’d told him a couple of times. Then Cynla took him aside and talked to him very softly, so we couldn’t hear, and we saw him nod and bite his lip like he does when someone tells him something he knows already but he doesn’t know that he knows. And while they were talking, Rhinla and I took Rovan into the swamp to catch crayfish becaue Rhinla said she might be able to eat that. A lot of beautiful crayfish! They’d come back to the places where we’d caught them earlier because we hadn’t been there to catch them. When we got them back home and cooked them Faran ate a whole pile, and Cynla too, and Rovan and I, but Rhinla ate one and that was enough, she said. But at least she’d eaten something!
Cynla wanted to teach us something right here! We needed a place that we could close, so we took her to the women’s hut and let the rain-flaps down, and she closed it even more with light! And she tried to teach it to me too when I asked, but it was very difficult and I couldn’t do it yet. Then she asked us where we felt the most safe, and I said “Here!” so she made me have the place in my head so I could come back to it when I didn’t feel safe somewhere else. Strange to go to a place in my own head! But I think I got it right, I even hung my hair-ribbon on the hammock to show it was my place. And when Rhinla had to have a place, she chose the temple of Naigha, with the priestess in the doorway to keep the other-side children away. “If Lesla can have a ribbon can I have stuff too?” she asked, and Cynla said yes, “anything you can think of”. So there she was in the temple in her head, with a lot of bottles of ink around her, in all colours, more than I could count!