Worried

(Later part sketchy but I think the gist is there. May have missed some of the back-and-forthing.)

Waterbirds, 4

We were out in the reed-field catching breakfast fish when we saw a little boat coming with the priestess in it! She’d said she’d come but we’d thought she didn’t know where we lived. We caught another fish in a hurry in case she wanted breakfast too and then we went out to where she could see us,. She said that Master Jeran had sent her money to teach us. Master Jeran, that was the beans man! “But you can’t teach us,” I said, “we can’t come to the school because of the otherside children, they chase us away!”

“Not when I’m watching,” she said. But she wasn’t always watching! There was before school and after school, and the otherside children would probably find enough ways to be horrible to us even when the priestesxs was watching! “I do want to learn to count! And to write! But not with those children around, we really can’t.”

Then she said she’d teach us in the afternoons when the other children weren’t there. “Only if Jerna says it’s all right,” we said, and she went with us to ask Jerna.

Jerna was so tired! She’d been asleep when we went out, and she was awake now but not very much. Jerna is always a bit slow, but now she was very slow, sometimes the priestess had to say things twice to her before she understood. But she agreed to us going to learn, anyway. Faran was nowhere to be found so we didn’t need to ask him as well. “We’ll come this afternoon!” we said.

And just when the priestess was leaving another boat came, with the boat-man in it! I thought we were hidden! But the boat-man knew were we lived, too. He said his name was Coran, and what he wanted was to offer us work, to row the boats for us and earn money and give it to him so he could pay us. (Why couldn’t we just keep the money? That sounded like Arin’s boss. But he explained that it was so the people who rowed his boats would always earn enough money even if they didn’t have much work, because there was extra money coming in when it was busy. Well, that makes sense, I suppose.)

We said we couldn’t work every day but we could work on the day of Naigha because there was no school then. We could of course work mornings but then we’d never be sure if we’d be back on time, so it was better to take only the day that we were sure we had all day. And the day of Naigha was the day after tomorrow! He said that was all right and we promised to be at the boat-house as early as we could. That meant leaving when it was still dark, but we didn’t mind that.

When Coran had gone we found that we had to worry even more about Jerna! She was all weak and hot. “We should go to the witch!” I said, “perhaps she can make medicine!” Rhinla went to fetch the witch, and she came and gave Jerna something she’d brought. “That could clear it up,” she said, “mind you keep her warm! We’d thought to keep her cool because she was so hot, but now we got every scrap of cloth we had in the house and covered Jerna with it, even our new long skirts. A short skirt is easier to move in anyway!

Now the sun was in the place where the priestess had said it should be when she expected us, so we had to leave Jerna! But she was asleep and warm and looked comfortable. So we swam across to the temple, and there were no otherside children there at all, just like the priestess had said! I said I wanted to learn numbers so she taught me the letters that you write the numbers with, and some of those were already in my name so she taught me the other letters in my name too, and now I can write my name! We wrote on a slab of black stone with a stick of grey stone, the slab is called a slate and the stick has a difficult name that I don’t remember.

Rhinla wanted to learn to draw so the priestess gave her a book with a picture of a duck and told her to draw the duck on her slate. Then she took us outside and told Rhinla to draw a duck that was on the water. “Draw what you see,” the priestess said, “not what you know!” Because Rhinla had given the duck from the book two eyes on the same side of its head, after all ducks have two eyes! But the new duck ended up with a lot of different heads all at the same time, looking this way and that. “That’s what I saw!” Rhinla said. “It was moving all the time!”

We swept the temple floor before we left as thanks for the lessons. “We’ll be back tomorrow afternoon!” we said.

But we were back earlier, very early in the morning, because Jerna had become sicker in the night. We’d put our reed boat inside to sleep on so we wouldn’t be in her way in the hammock. The priestess borrowed her neighbour’s boat again and came back with us.

“Is she going to die?” we asked.

“Not now, I think,” the priestess said, and I believed her, because Naigha would have told her, right?

And then the priestess went to the witch! She stayed away so long that I went to look, and found them arguing about what medicine to give Jerna. I couldn’t stand it. “If you two waste all day arguing Jerna may die! Do something!” And they listened to me and started to make medicine, together!

Faran stayed home that afternoon to take care of Jerna so we could go to the priestess to learn. This time she talked about the gods. Not only Naigha but there seem to be lots of gods that we never knew about! “Not even Timoine?” the priestess asked, but we’d never heard about any gods except Naigha. She shook her head about that and told us a lot of stories that I can’t all remember, but they were exciting! All about the world and how it was made!

Then we tidied and swept the priestess’ house again, and Rhinla chopped some firewood and I carried it in.

Jerna wasn’t any better, she was even worse, very hot, and it was as if she didn’t hear us talking to her. We got the witch again, and she had different medicine but she looked as if she didn’t believe in it herself! “Is she going to die?” we asked, but the witch didn’t know. “You have to watch her,” she said, “I’ll teach you how!” And she took us both by the hand and did something with her mind that Rhinla understood at once but I didn’t, and Rhinla could see what was wrong with Jerna! “She’s got holes in her light!”

“What?” And then the witch put thoughts into my head and showed me what Jerna looked like if you looked a special way, made of light. I had some trouble looking at people like that, but I got the hang of it! And then I looked at other people and everybody is made of light inside. But yes, Jerna was full of holes like a sieve. Rhinla tried to take some of her own light and smear the holes closed with it, but that didn’t work at all, even when it seemed to work it just opened up again.

We sat up with Jerna all night, watching, but it didn’t change much, and we couldn’t do anything either. But in the morning when Faran came to watch Jerna we went to Master Jeran because he had so many books, perhaps one of them said what we could do. Or perhaps he could do something himself!

Master Jeran couldn’t do anything, and his books were all for other things too, but he said that he might know someone who could help, and he’d try to find them but he couldn’t do that until the evening. That was a pain but on the other hand it didn’t matter much because today was the Day of Naigha and we were going to work for the boat man, Coran! So we went to the boat-house and there he was with one of the wooden boats.

“Today, you’ll learn all the important places in Essle,” he said. “Which do you already know?” We told him all the places where we’d already been, and then he got into the boat with us and told us to take him there. We went everywhere. Master Coran had to buy us food, of course, because we’d left home without breakfast, it had been so early! But we got bread and weak beer, and again in the middle of the day when we were weak with all the rowing.

And at the end of the day, when we got back to the boat-house, we said “We didn’t get to do any real work! But do we still earn money?” And he gave us a shilling each!

Then we went to Master Jeran’s house to ask if he’d found the person who could help Jerna, but he said we’d have to take Jerna there. So we had to borrow the boat again! But we couldn’t take Jerna anywhere before the next morning because it was too dark to see anything now, and perhaps the person was asleep now too.