I am truly grateful to be human, to be well, to be able. As my body begins to adjust to being on my feet for the main part of the day, I find myself both exhausted and enervated. The work I do is not complex, nor world ending, but it requires precision and craftsmanship nonetheless. The people who come into the boarding house for meals expect quantity and flavor, and have little patience for any error. It is exhilarating, and I am reminded how much I have missed people and movement and air. Oh, I am nervous, but nerves are a product of inactivity, and they disappear in the morning air like mist.
The children are stuck inside by the rain. They are restless, and speak in the codes that they have learned on the streets. I am not sure what a pigeon is if it is not a bird, nor why they should shake it, but I really must find time and words for them.
I am blessed with friends. My dear Mishta recognized me at temple today, disguise or no, and she held my hands and smiled at me and could not find words. Oh, I missed her. It made me realize how many people I miss, my family and my servants and my friends. So many people think I am dead or gone or worse. It is a tender place in my heart, and I walk lightly for fear of shattering.
This is not forever. We went and meditated forever, her in her robes and me in my old woman guise, and after a while, we spoke.
“What can I do for you?” she asked me.
“Naught, naught. Except… counsel, perhaps. I am engaged in things that touch on the domain of the gods, and I would have their wisdom.”
“Which domains?” she asked.
“Thrones and kings,” I said softly. “And their mandates.”
“That… that is more a matter of the Son and the Father than the Daughter. Are you….”
She did not complete her thought, but watched me with sweet worry in her eyes.
“You need to speak with someone with more ears to hear than I,” she said. “I am not so vain as all of this. I am so very glad to see you.”
“I thought, perhaps, the high priest, but I know not if you can….”
“It would take time. I do not know if I can, but if I can, only with time.”
“We have time. Best to be careful, and sure. I am-”
I could not explain, not even to a priestess. She had been careful not to say my name. Who knew what echoes might reach other corners of the marbled temple?
“I will be careful,” she promised. “If it is important.”
“If I am right, it is most important. If I am wrong, and before the gods I do not claim to know more than they may, then I need to know while there is still time. Please, while the rain holds, seek counsel for me. I have nothing to give you, no offering, except my thanks.”
“To see you again is a blessing. But you should go, now, for they will wonder-”
“I’ll return in a week’s time.”
I left, then, out into the rain pouring off the arching tiles of the temple roof, and made my quiet way home, wrapped in an oiled cloak and the silence of the rain.
I add the chili oil, and stand back a moment while the worst of it rises, steam rising redolent with a sting that gets into my nose and my eyes and makes me think of good memories. I stir the pot, take out a piece to taste on a long spoon. Too spicy for children, but perfect for adults, with tiny shrimp and water chestnuts.
I love the cooking. I do not enjoy the people, who treat me like I am stupid because I do not speak. Everything is miming and rolling their eyes and calling me a simpleton to my face, for they think I do not understand them.
There is a brand of poetry that says that peasants and herdbeasts are most truly one with nature and the gods, for their simple fates are at peace with the world and we would do well to imitate their simplicity. To this I say, simply, no. They are as foul, depraved, and cruel as we are. More than this, they are as crass as the crassest member of the nobility I have ever met, which is a wonder and a half.
Let others praise those without noble blood. I shall cook spiced food and cry tears of joy at its taste.
I have had, it seems, only a little time for my children these past weeks. I had grown used to being occupied with them most of the time, without the utility of tutors and maids. Now, with the babe, I find Heiye a comfort, for he can keep them from sticking their hands into burning fires and running in front of horse-drawn carriages.
There is a feeling, watching the sun rise after a long night spent awake, when you have wondered if you really were the only one left in the world who felt the stirring to action, irrevocable and not to be checked by anything so mundane as darkness. Then, as the light grows paler and paler, as color creeps back into the streets and the rooftops, painting the long-winged birds that nest there in shades of scarlet and peach. The sounds of the streets and household begin to build around you, until the day has dawned, and it will never know that you got there first this time.
I feel that now, as if everything is waking up and this whole human web of ours is beginning to really work, not just hide indoors from the fog, as if everyone I know is beginning to put the strength of their arms and hearts to right action. I begin to feel pride in this rebellion of ours, this awakening, as I hear the peasants in the cookshop speak of it, as I hear the children speak of it at night in matter-of-fact tones, as if it is a foregone conclusion that Sev will bring his lords to triumph. There is such power in being part of a society. I forget that, sometimes, when I feel like I must guard against everyone and everything, but I do love this country, even down the smelliest peasant.
I plan to visit the temple soon. I have not decided on a day.
Dec 5, 2008
The market was wreathed in fog. Everywhere there is the press of hundreds of bodies, and more arrive daily. Here in the capital there are jobs and food, while the countryside finds itself riven with shortages and dissention. I would not have realized this, one peasant looking very like another to me, if not for the complaints among the shopkeepers of the thieves and dullards of the outcountry. I call them shopkeepers, but they keep to nothing so civilized as shops. Anything is a place to sell, whether it be a barrel, a barrow, or a basket. Girls sell flowers and lift their skirts in blatant hints, men roam shirtless carrying racks of roasted scorpions.
I bought one of those and ate it. It was very good, hot and crunchy in the cold fog, even if the flavor was painfully uncomplicated.
I was a child raised in simple, elegant rooms, with my quiet servants and gardens. The market is chaos beyond my imagining, and my mind cannot separate it into disparate parts that have some order, though I am sure there is order there, hiding. Sev says every man works within his own natural order, even if we don’t immediately see the why or wherefore.
My needs were simple, fresh fish for the stewpot and ginger to spice it, sweet and spicy peppers, and flour for buns. It took me far too long to accomplish my task, despite knowing the way and having nothing else to do. I kept finding the market swirling around me, splashes of color and motion in the fog, the meaning of the words and calls lost in a cacophony of noise that allowed for no discernment. I found myself frozen, silent, as the world moved around me. I saw Heiye in the distance, watching me, but he did not approach. That was very proper.
Eventually the press eased upon my mind, even if the crowds did not cease to exist. I overheard interesting rumors as I waited for myself, an odd way to put it but it was an odd few moments. The peasants can tell all is not well, and are freer to say so than I would ever be. One man even laughed when someone said, “Haven’t you heard? The emperor’s said the war’s over. Everything’s going to be pastry and slavegirls for the next few years.”
In my experience, no one mentions the emperor, let alone laughs at a mention of his name. An odd day, but not a bad one.
Dec 4, 2008
A good excuse not to go to market today, a torrential rainstorm come down from the jungles. A quiet day, which I spent alternatively minding the baby and Meyni and having Meyni explain to me at some length recipes for fried dough and for dumplings and for a clear soup, again with dumplings. I do wonder if commoners love dumplings so much because they do not have to think what goes into them. Chicken or fish, she tells me, as those are cheap, and whatever green stuff comes to hand.
She has forgotten to be ill at ease with me, in a way that makes me realize she was ill at ease with me from the beginning – not startling, given that I caught her like a beast in a trap, but still not something I’d thought about.
My children are not sure what to make of the baby and the attention it receives. Both children have consented to hold her, but only Pang seems interested. I do find that strange.
If the weather breaks I will visit the market tomorrow.
Dec 3, 2008
Something about the decisions I have made the past few days leaves me feeling lighter. It is not my normal time of writing, in the evening, but the evenings here are different. I have worn myself out with sewing, cooking, and much brisk activity, and it is not the time of quiet contemplation I used to have at my last home. This place is beginning to feel like home, though it lacks art or refinements. It has my children, and they are happy. I have decided to write in my spare moments throughout the day. Today it is morning, and with my morning tea I write. The steam drifting from it reminds me of temple incense, pungent and heady.
My wild beasts have not repeated their escapade of a few days prior. I spoke to Heiye, who spoke to her, and the necklace she took to sell for her little friends turned up. In exchange, I fed each of their merry band at dinner time last night, small bowls of millet soup flavored with chicken and mushrooms. My new guise, a peasant’s dress and hair dyed grey and dank, with something on my face to give me terrifying wrinkles, served its purpose. No one remarked on our similarities. I find that being silent suits me better than pretending that my first language is something it is not, so for now I am a mainly mute old woman.
It is terribly amusing, if I may be so bold. I do miss Sev, but I feel quite clever for this little exploit, Meyni’s idea though it may be. If I am honest, the idea of going out to market, with all those people and noises and strangers, terrifies me. I have not been around people except for my family and Nima’s family in half a year, and even then I did not go to markets. I fear doing something wrong. I fear discovery. I fear people, and is that not the silliest thing? They’re just peasants.
I will go to the market. I will not go to the market today.
The weather today is both dreary and foggy. Pen was sweet and made breakfast today, a savory, spicy porridge they serve in quantity at this place and places like it. Lodging houses.
I spoke with Meyni today about the changes. I apologized for not being more help – she is still weak from childbirth, and really should stay abed.
“It is because I do not look the part,” I explained to her. “My accent is not ideal, either.”
“Is that all?” She said. “You should have said something. I have – herbs. And you can just choose a regional dialect and speak that, your accent isn’t nearly so cushy in Himeran.”
Which is insulting, because I worked very hard on my Himeran, but perhaps it will do. She was tired, but tomorrow we are going to work out a disguise for me. I am pleased by the idea, as long as I do not need to cut my hair. Meyni says I will make a convincing old woman she hired to help.
I am making sure to remember my sense of humor.
I will be able to go to the market and do the shopping. I will be able to go outside. I pray this is the right decision.
Dec 1, 2008
I spoke with Sev today. In short, we are agreed that we must simplify things so that the children may have routine, even as he prepares for war. We have never before tried to balance his time on a campaign with his time with us, and it is wearing in a way I did not expect. He is to go away, for the winter months, and take up rooms elsewhere under the duke’s auspices. I will keep the children here, and take care of Meyni and the baby.
In all good humor, it will be a relief not to have his bad moods and mine feeding off each other. Given a little distance, we have not been as good to each other as we could have been, the past few months.
He takes the majority of our silver with him, leaving me with my jewelry to sell as I need to and my earnings from working on sewing in the evenings and in the kitchen during the day. The children, with their habits of theft, provide for themselves ably enough, though they are thin these past few months. Best not to think about what would happen if the crops had not been good this past season, but it was a good harvest, the better to feed the armies.
Sev leaves in the morning. I shall be very lonely.
Nov 30, 2008.
Pen has stolen from me, and Sev was delayed because he was followed and had to avoid the followers. I do not think this is feasible.
The baby is grumpy today but very beautiful.