“So is there anything I should know about how this works?” Morganzer asked. “I’ve been a bucket girl in the baths above, but I can’t imagine it’s done like that down here.”
Kholach smirked. “It certainly isn’t. There’s no ceremony here and no big display of service. I’ll help you with the pipes and maybe sluice you a bit. But mostly I’ll sit on a stool in case you want to chat. It’ll keep other people from coming up to chat. Well, it will keep most people from it. Some might have to be glared at.
Here, this is a bath robe. The nemen drape themselves in large towels, but we tend to use a robe for cover and two towels for drying. If you hood one over your head and keep your eyes down, no one will talk to you on your way there. That’s tradition. It’s enforced. Ready?”
“Sure. How hot will it be?”
“Do the nemen still brag about how hot they can take it?” Another smirk. Morganzer noticed that Kholach’s face fell into creases when she smirked. Otherwise her face didn’t look very lined at all.
Morganzer wondered if that was a sign that the smirk was a standard expression. She thought about how often she frowned and wondered if she eventually become one of those aunts whose face lines scared small children.
“Thinking deep thoughts already? Good. That’s what a bath’s for. Let’s go.”
There were four hallways to walk between Kholach’s rooms and the bath room. Morganzer was just familiar enough with the turnings to take a good look around as they walked.
The hallways were bare stone, not rough, but not polished either. If you looked carefully, you’d see that they bowed out slightly in the middle. They were a darkish grey with none of the flecking or pebbling that you saw in some rocks. It was all one solid shade.
Lanterns of some sort were placed just barely above head height. The were staggered, one on one side, the next on the other. The didn’t give off as much light as you saw in most rooms, but you could see all of the floor with no shadows. The floor was the same rock as the walls, but there was a waffle pattern etched on it. To prevent slipping, Morganzer thought.
There were no decorations or anything else hanging on the walls. That hadn’t been true in any of the rooms that Morganzer had seen. She wondered if that was tradition, too, or if there was a purpose in keeping them clear.
Two left turns, two right turns and they were there. No talking on the way. Inside the bath room, Kholach turned to the right and walked slowly along until they came to the first empty tub. They passes four old women being tended by four other old women.
Morganzer looked around and counted. Twelve tubs altogether. Seven of them in use. She hadn’t thought to count up how many aunts she’d seen, but there were more than a few. The aunts in here were mostly murmuring and chatting. A wash cloth or two were in use, slowly and gently, as if washing a toddler. Different from the scrubbings the nemen got.
“I usually like to get the water settled before I get in. Others sit in the tub and pour the water around them.”
“Doing the water first sounds fine.”
There was a disturbance two tubs over. A very old woman had started slapping the water and making incoherent unhappy noises. Morganzer was shocked to see that the sounds were mumbly only partly because the woman had lost track of forming words. The woman had no teeth!
“She must be scrying again,” Kholach sighed. “It’s a pity she’s still so good at it.
She scries on her husband, over in Farside. She’s probably seeing his granddaughter tucking his blanket around him and giving him a hug or something. Her mind wanders enough that she forgets the girls are his relatives. She thinks he’s taking other wives. It upsets her.”
The slapping continued, becoming softer and more rhythmic. There were soothing words coming from the woman tending her, but Morganzer couldn’t make them out.
Morganzer frowned, then thought about wrinkles and worked at letting the frown go.
“Why would that upset her?”
“You’ll pick up the idea if you travel much. Men and women get attached to each other. Some call it love. Some call it possession. Whatever you call it, it happens. It happens between friends, too. Isn’t there someone you’ll be unhappy about leaving behind? We don’t see you coming back, you know. Although we haven’t looked more that a year or so ahead. “
Morganzer hadn’t thought of leaving, really. Not really leaving. Going, yes, but not leaving. Her stomach bubbled uncomfortably. She leaned to run the wash cloth over the top of her toes. Old skin was beginning to roll off as she rubbed. It happened some with sluicing, but happened more after a soak. She had heard that and never thought to be testing it for herself.
Why not? She was obviously going to be an aunt at some point. Everyone grew up. Maybe she wasn’t going to grow up. Maybe that was it.
No. She was here, now, and doing it, so not growing up couldn’t have been the reason. The warm water was soothing, coaxing her muscles to relax. Unfortunately, the muscles were resisting. She didn’t know why, she was just tense.
“Close your eyes and I’ll sluice your head.”
Morganzer did, tipping her head so that her nose would stay clear.
“How does that feel.”
Kholack slowly tipped bowl after bowl of warm water over her head. For some reason, the warm water on her face called tears out of her eyes. She wasn’t crying, really. At least, she wasn’t sobbing, but the tears came and came. She snuffled.
“Do you need a towel?”
“No. Can you keep doing that for a bit?”
“Yes. Are you having a hard time relaxing? We could give you a massage.”
“I don’t think that would help.”
Kholach didn’t ask why. She just poured bowl after bowl slowly over her head.
“I think there’s something else I need to do.”
“And what would that be?”
“Well, I think of it as loose scrying. It brings things up.”
“What kind of things?”
“Things I should be thinking about. Plans I’ve made without knowing that I’ve made them. Ideas I have that are wrong. Stuff.”
“I’ve heard that word. Aren’t you supposed to be looking at the ocean or something when you do it?”
The aunts Topside meditated. Children weren’t supposed to bother an aunt who was meditating. It was an aunt thing.
Morganzer frowned. She was an aunt now and she knew very little about aunt things. She had been around aunts all her life, she could have been watching them and figuring things out, but had just ignored it all. It wasn’t her concern. It wasn’t of interest. There was something wrong about that. Or something important.
“That’s one way. Most people don’t scry and meditate at the same time. You can scare yourself good that way. You can also get lost.”
“I know. But it’s easier to See afterward. It’s like clearing rocks off of a path. It’s easier to walk it after.”
“Would you mind if I watched? Just to reassure myself that you were all right?”
“As long as you’re not looking into the bowl.”
“All right. Across the room. Knitting, maybe.”
“That would be fine. And not too much noise, at least not in the room.”
“We can arrange that. I can wash your hair, if you lean back.”
The feel of firm fingers kneading her scalp and nape was very relaxing. Morganzer could feel muscles all over her body surrender and relax. The tears came again, but only as a little leak.
“I don’t know why I’m crying.”
“Maybe you’ll find out when you meditate. Or maybe not. Sometimes its just the stress.”
“Stress? As in emphasis?”
“As in tension. The tightening that your body does when you’re dreading something, or just preparing to do something. You have a lot on your mind. A lot of responsibility. You can’t just forget it, drop it from your mind. You have to hold it in your thoughts. That causes stress.”
“I almost feel like I have a headache. Or a stomach ache.”
“That’s probably stress, too. The body reacts to your thoughts.”
“Another aunt thing. Will it be like this all the time?”
“No. You’ll learn to relax. You’ll learn to trust yourself to handle what’s coming. But it will take a little practice. And there will always be times when it comes back. That’s just part of life.”
“I think I’m going to see myself saying bad things about mean aunts.”
“You can hear things when you scry?”
That hadn’t been one of the responses that Morganzer was expecting.
“No. Almost never. Sometimes it feels like I almost can, but never, really.
You people aren’t doing anything the way I expected you would.”
There was a plaintive tone to Morganzer’s voice, which she didn’t like hearing. Kholack chuckled.
“Tip your head back and I’ll rinse you. You don’t want soap in your eyes.”
Much sluicing later, Kholach said: “Onions.”
“I hated raw onions when I was a child. I could never understand why the grown women would slice them and dice them and put them on top of perfectly good food. At one point I thought they did it to keep some of the food child-free.
Now my tongue has aged and regular food sometimes tastes like pap. A good bit of onion can perk it right up.”
“Mmmm,” said Morganzer. It wasn’t exactly what she had been thinking of, but it got close to it. She could start the scry by thinking about onions. She didn’t like onions either.
“How long should I stay in the tub.”
“An hour isn’t too long for a start. Maybe not much more than that, though.”