While Ranulf and the two younger boys were napping I went to see Valla.
“You look troubled Peng?” Valla observed.
“I am, I rescued a child from the snow last night and we managed to save his life. He has no one in this world. His name is Ranulf but there is more to it. I believe Freija guided me to him. I could have easily left my office work until today. But I felt compelled to go out. I found him nearly covered by snow and took him home. He’s perfectly healthy but his parents and whole family are long dead. Do you remember the story I told you about Edgar?”
“Yes, I know it hurts you to think of him,” Valla replied.
“Ranulf looks just like Edgar, just smaller. I want to adopt him when we get married. Mother and Father will keep custody of him until then but then I want us to adopt him. I believe I’m meant to do that. Please think about it and give me your answer when you’re ready,” I entreated.
“I don’t have to think about it. We will adopt him as soon as we’re married. I know someone who can help with that,” She grinned.
I kissed her with as much passion as I could muster. “I love you my darling, thank you for understanding,” I whispered.
My next hurdle was speaking with my parents
“How will we do this, can I treat him as my son for the two years yet to come?” Are you willing to be his grandparents?” I asked.
“I think it would be better if he thought of you as his papa from the start. It might be awkward at times but that’s a minor concern. His welfare is what matters and I can see that you have that in mind. I think you should discuss your plans with Ranulf and let him have a voice in what happens to him,” Mother suggested.
“I think that’s right,” Father agreed.
I thought my head might fly around the room by itself. Instead I cried from sheer joy. I was sure Freija was giving me another chance to help Edgar by proxy. Mother and Father comforted me and shared my joy.
I went to find Ranulf to get his opinion. He cried too. I joined him but when we had recovered he said he would love for me to be his papa. I held him tight and kissed him.
“Papa, should I take another room and have Ranulf stay with me or would he be happier sleeping with Bolly and Ivy?”
“I think that would hurt Rilla and I also think Ranulf would be happier sleeping with boys closer to his age.
The next morning it was warmer and I took Ranulf out shopping. The shop had ready-made suits for little boys and I bought a nice one for Ranulf. A heavy coat and a hooded thick winter cloak were next. Finally winter boots. They were already waterproofed so I just had to show Ranulf how to care for them. I found slippers and dress shoes for him. I would make him a set of leathers for outside. We would shop more later but for now he had drawers, socks and undershirts. I also found a set of long underwear for later in the season.
Dressed in his new suit and cap I dressed nicely and returned to the palace with Ranulf.
I carried him over the messiest parts and enjoyed his antics. He was inquisitive and bright and he would keep us all busy.
The guard asked no questions at all. I asked for Valla to join me and I waited in the lounge.
“Hello, are you Ranulf?” She asked.
“Yes, who are you, you’re beautiful,” The boy answered.
“My name is Valla but soon you will call me Mama. Once Edrich and I are married we will add you to our family. How old are you now?”
“Ranulf shrugged his shoulders so I answered for him. He’s just gone four. I will tell you the details later but it’s a sad tale. I wanted you to meet our future son. I’m sure he’ll have plenty of company,” I chuckled.
“Do you want to keep the name Ranulf?” Valla asked.
“It’s my name, do you want me to change it?” he asked.
“Not necessarily, I wondered if you were happy with it,” Valla assured.
“It’s okay, but I’ll think about it. I might like to be an Erik, I like names that start with E. I know my alphabet and I can read a little,” He said cheerfully.
“That’s pretty good for four years,” Valla nodded. Would you like to sit on my lap?
“Yes please, I like being held. Edrich is very good at it,” Ranulf chirped.
Valla had an appointment with a dressmaker so Ranulf and I made our way to the street and on to my office. I checked my mail and signed things. There wasn’t much.
“Let’s go back to the house and see what games we have that you like and then we can go toy shopping,” I suggested.
“How do you feel about sharing a room with Ivy and Bolly?” I asked.
“I like them, they’re very nice to me. Ivy loaned me some clothes to wear and Bolly hugged me and gave me a kiss,” Ranulf told me.
“Well then, let’s sit down and talk with them about you coming to join them,” I proposed.
“I hope they will want me,” Ranulf peeped.
He had a lot of stamina for a boy his age. Ivy would have given out before we reached home but Ranulf made it all the way on his own. It began to snow again just as we arrived.
I rounded up Ivy and Bolly, and they jumped right in and asked if Ranulf could share their room. Ranulf grinned broadly and turned to me. I agreed and there was jubilation.
Rilla asked what all the noise was and I told him. Then we carried one of the other beds from the common room to Ivy and Bolly’s room.
With fresh sheets and a trunk at the foot of the bed, all was ready. We hung up the outfit he was wearing and he put on play clothes that we had selected. His socks and underwear were neatly placed in the trunk. There was still room for another bed and trunk without any crowding.
“I knew you’d be a papa before any of us, I’ll bet you understand why Father loves us now, yes?” Rilla smiled sweetly.
“Yes, I didn’t know I would react this way but here I am,” I agreed.
As days went on we discovered that Ranulf only got grumpy when he couldn’t get the best of something fast enough. Whatever the task he would keep at it until he got it right or melted into frustration. It only took a kind word and encouragement to bring him round though. Father was very patient with him and often compared him to Rilla and I, that was a Bestefar’s role after all. Despite his waifish appearance, he was not a baby. He could hold his own with five and six year olds if they got pushy with him or his friends. I also discovered he knew most of the street vendors who congregated near the brewery.
“Ulfy my boy, is that you?” a man who sold fruit inquired.
“Hello Dans, thank you for all the fruit you gave me. Everyone was so nice to me here at least most of them,” Ranulf remarked.
“I was very sorry to hear about Mikka, we think it was his heart. We couldn’t find you anywhere,” Dans related.
“I was looking for Mikka, I thought he must have died. He never did anything to get arrested. I’ve been living on barley and pigeon since he went away. Then a man kicked me out of our place and I went to look for a warm place. I fell down and almost died in the cold and Edrich saved me. I have a new home now. I have brothers too,” Ranulf grinned.
“You needn’t worry about him, he has a nice home and plenty to eat. We will love him as our own,” I assured the man.
“Come by and see us once in a while, I know you like my apples,” Dans grinned.
We walked on and talked about nonsense.
That evening we bathed the three younger boys together with a great deal of giggling and tickling. We dried them and dressed them and turned them loose to play with tops or puzzles until bedtime. They all ended up in one bed once again. Bolly didn’t need our help but he enjoyed the attention. Bolly was more like myself in character. He was more self-assured than Olaf. Olaf was absorbed by his love of his Birgit. She was a charming girl and seemed to be captivated by Olaf’s wonderful mind.
I was tired but had trouble sleeping, so I got up to read. Rilla came over and pulled up a chair.
“I received a letter from Astrid today. She says she’s sorry we couldn’t be together but she was happy that I found someone new. She said one of her friends told her. She has found another boy who seems to like her but she says he’s not me and he has big shoes to fill. I’m glad for her, especially since I’ve found Trina. Her real name is Katrina but she likes the short version. It’s strange, we haven’t argued about anything yet, is that normal?” Rilla asked.
“I really don’t know, I don’t claim to understand girls or their ways. They are another race apart from us. But they are so alluring we can’t stay away,” I chuckled.
“I think you’re right, I’ll just tread carefully. Besides if she gets mad I can buy her candies and flowers. I buy them anyway but I’m told it is traditional when your girl is angry,” Rilla sighed.
“I bring Valla flowers quite often, she loves them. Either that or she loves that I made the effort. It’s harder to do this time of year. But there are hothouse flowers to be had. The florists think they are made of gold,” I laughed.
“We are almost the same age but you are so much older than me in so many ways. Why do you think that is?” Rilla asked.
“I don’t know, I had to be my own father for quite a while before Papa found me. The business at the monastery aged me quite a bit and then there was Edgar’s situation and his death. That sort of thing will have an effect on you. Mother says much of it is my personality and that I have always been more mature than my years. You and I share that to some extent. Losing your parents as you did and going from family to family as you did must have made you stronger. Did your clan protest at all when Father took you away?” I probed.
“Not really, I tried to be helpful but I wasn’t their child at any of the places I stayed. I often fed myself in the wild rather than take what I could get at a strangers house. They were kin but not exactly welcoming. I would carry half a dozen freshly killed ducks to the market and trade for what I needed. I was on my way there when I met Father. He frightened me at first but after we spoke I felt he was a kind man. I never went back to the wintering place to say goodbye and I doubt they missed me much.
“I’m sorry to hear your story, you never told me before. Orphans are such a strange thing among our people. Some treat them well and some just ignore them unless they’re very young. But if you can feed yourself it’s up to you to make your way. I had to hide myself away because of the monks. I never really knew my mother’s people, but my father’s were close by much of the year. I talked to the elders and people would feed me if I was hungry but no one offered me a home. I was able to learn things like healing and leather work. I knew quite a bit about goats and I had money for salt. I was doing quite well when Father found me. He frightened me at first too. But then I saw that he was kind and cared about children that weren’t his own. Sisters and brothers will take in their nieces and nephews but my father had been away from the clan for quite a while. Perhaps the river people are different but when I was with them in spring they all kept a watch on us children. Bears were often a problem when large catches were piled up. A fox might dart in and steal a fish but bears would try to take over all you had. We couldn’t kill a bear without a Noaidi’s permission unless it was attacking a person. I always felt welcome with my father’s people but he didn’t have any brothers and I didn’t know where his sisters were. I had to depend on myself the same as you,” I explained.
“I’m glad we both ended up here and I’m happy to call you my brother. You are treating little Ranulf as you should have been treated when you were orphaned. When I am married I will adopt a child or two myself. I won’t marry a girl who won’t agree to that,” Rilla declared quietly.
“I am glad to hear that Rilla, you are a kind soul and you made me feel welcome as soon as I arrived here. I love all my brothers but you and I are different,” I told him.
I hugged him tight and we moved on to other topics.
“Can I ask you something very private?” Rilla inquired.
“Of course, we have been as close as it is possible for two boys to be,” I replied.
“You can tell me it’s none of my business but when you say you please Valla with your mouth, how is that done?”
“Mostly by licking her quim, have you seen one up close?” I asked.
“Not really. I’ve seen babies but that’s probably not the same,” Rilla blushed.
I took out a sheet of paper and drew a diagram of Valla’s lovely quim.
“Now then, this place here is called a vagina but it is where your kuck goes and where the baby comes out. This spot above it is where she pees from. And this spot here is a little lump of flesh that is very much like the head of your kuck. It gets harder when you touch or lick it. I saw an anatomy book in the upperclassmen’s library. So I know it’s called a clitoris and if you lick it gently at first she will enjoy it immensely. Just remember that if you let your seed out in her vagina she might have a child. I don’t recommend trying to pull out because you can get so involved in the feelings that you forget to pull out before your seed comes,” I explained.
“So you and Valla have….” Rilla whispered.
“Well yes, but only for a short while and then we use our mouths. She is almost as good at it as you are,” I chuckled.
“I wonder if Trina will let me do that and I wonder if she’ll suck on me,” Rilla mused.
He had a rigid kuck in his night shirt and it showed plainly. I slid my hand up his leg and grasped it.
Lift that nightshirt up so I can relieve you,” I instructed.
Rilla slipped the nightshirt off and I went to work. It was silent in our room except for the creaking of my chair as Rilla plunged his kuck into my throat. There were also sucking and slurping noises which were the same as Valla made when she sucked me.
Rilla’s curly hair tickled my lips as I engulfed his entire Kuck. I felt him swelling and prepared for the flood. He grasped my shoulders and emptied himself into my greedy throat. I hadn’t done this with any of the other boys in a while. I knew Kiva and Olaf still did it and Bolly and Ivy were really only getting started. I would no longer play with them that way, but they had each other and other boys. I would discuss Ranulf with them concerning the subject.
“Well?” Rilla asked when he had recovered.
“What?” I asked.
“Pull off that nightshirt so I can have some fun with you,” He giggled.
Rilla liked me to sit while he saw to me. I leant back in the chair and slid my hips forward opening my legs wide. My balls hung off the edge of the seat and Rilla went after them first. I had enjoyed slurping his shiny sack and he did the same. I was as hard as my dagger when he was finished. He swallowed me and gasped a little. He was persistent and found a way to accommodate my full length. I could feel his tongue searching every contour as he sucked and swallowed for my enjoyment. The twitches began deep inside me and soon they were spasms of intense feeling. I felt my balls getting tight and knew I was approaching the moment. Rilla could tell by the swelling and by feeling my balls and he became more forceful with his tongue and lips. My seed erupted across his tongue and he shoved me down his throat to catch the rest. Kiva had been squeamish about taking seed in his mouth at first but he warmed to the idea later. Rilla had no such hesitations, he wanted whoever he was playing with to enjoy themselves thoroughly. He held me in his mouth trying to keep me hard but I was tired and my kuck didn’t cooperate.
“Perhaps tomorrow night you can pierce me with that spear of yours? Rilla said.
“It’s possible, and perhaps you can do the same,” I smiled.
We cuddled up in my bed and didn’t wake until the sun peeked in. I timid tap at the door told me that Ranulf wanted his morning kiss. He brought his socks drawers and undershirt and I helped him put them on. I held him and cuddled for a few minutes and then led him to the toilets. We peed into the wall funnels and he watched me intently as I shook and tucked away. He tried but he didn’t have much to shake.
“Just squeeze at the bottom and bring your fingers to the end and it will bring out the last few drops. Can you pull your skin back?” I asked.
He pulled it back and exposed the head of his little twig.
“You should do that when you pee, then it won’t drip out later, and having dried pee in there can make it itch,” I explained.
He pulled up his drawers and we went in to get him dressed. Bolly and Ivy were still sleeping. They roused when I pulled their toes and tickled their ears. I sent them to the toilets to drain and finished dressing Ranulf. He was so adorable in his play clothes, but then most four year olds are adorable in any state of dress.
Ranulf watched intently as Ivy and Bolly dressed themselves. Not just their bodies but the order that they put on their clothing. He had rarely been out of his clothes when he came to us. An occasional bath in the river when Mikka could get soap or just a rinse off. It was why he was so grubby when I first bathed him. I treated his skin with a lanolin and herbal mix and that took care of a few blemishes and rough spots. He was smooth as a baby now.
Ranulf gained weight as well as confidence. He wrestled with Ivy and Bolly and often got the best of them. I think it was care on Bolly’s part but Ivy needed training up. He wasn’t that much bigger than Ranulf. They got along well and any outsider that targeted one would have the other two down his neck in short order. There was a simple explanation, Ranulf had been an abandoned child until Mikka found him wandering the streets. Bolly had been a clan boy and was robust and smart about his environment. He did what he could to help Olaf to find food and shelter. He was only limited by his age and strength. Ivy was slight and had always lived in relative luxury. He just needed more exercise and rough and tumble. He often rode with Rilla or Kiva and handled the reins under their watchful eyes. I would do the same with Ranulf as soon as it was practical.
Watching the three play and rough house together was entertaining. They were rough but also careful not to actually hurt anyone except us older boys when we joined them.
I sat Bolly and Ivy down and explained that Ranulf was not old enough play with them as they played with each other’s kucks. When it comes to it he will have to make the first move and then I suggested they be careful not to scare him. He already had the natural curiosity of boys and was keenly interested in mine and my brothers kucks when we bathed. The younger boys heeded my words and promised not to get out of hand with Ranulf. During the day he went to a children’s school where they did creative things and learned the numbers and counting, plus the alphabet and simple spelling. The Teachers were impressed that Ranulf could read. I picked him up every day from his school and met his friends. They were cheerful and occasionally one would come home with us for a visit. Birgit or Mother would take him to school mid-day and I collected him after my classes or one of my brothers would if I was delayed.
One day I had to take a day away from school to speak to visiting dignitaries at the palace. They wanted to know about my Freyanhjem program and how it was managed and progressing.
I explained that two hundred and twelve farms had been established and twenty-five thousand hectares were now under cultivation. It was a good beginning and I expected more in the spring. The farmers came from towns, clans and the Sami people. The two schools had been completed and were offering classes.
“And what of their spiritual growth, what steps are you taking to convert the pagans to the word of Christ,” One old and taciturn man inquired.
“None what so ever. I have appointed Pastor Lindquist as Bishop of Haluken. He is a good man and I won’t have to worry about him spending his budget on ornate coaches and a fancy mansion. He will take over the unused apartments of the former Abbot of Haluken. Father Michael is converting the monastery to Lutheran service as there are very few Catholics in the area. There are more September bibles in use than any other. There is also a small Jewish population. We have broken the hold of the Roman church on our people. Who they worship is their business Herr Trausch,” I told all present.
I suspected Trausch was a Calvinist and I had little time for them and their theatrical piety.
He looked somewhat dumfounded that I would speak to him in such a manner without any deference. But his question had been foolish and designed to trip me up. But I didn’t shy from the subject with anyone. Halkar grinned at me from his seat at the head of the table. He shared Christian’s disdain for pompous and blustery clergy of any stripe.
Upon my release from the meeting I rode away to collect my son. It was the first time he had seen me in my uniform with all my medals and badge of office.
One of the teacher’s bowed, but I told them all it wasn’t necessary.
I slid off my horse and picked up my boy. I cuddled him close being mindful not to poke him with any of the hardware on my chest.
“I’ve just come from a state meeting at the palace. I didn’t have time to change.” A sea of little faces gazed up at me and grinned.
“Is that a real sword?” one boy asked.
“Yes it is, perhaps with your teacher’s consent I can visit your school and show you what equipment I carry in the King’s service,” I proposed.
Squeals and applause erupted and the teacher nodded at me.
As Christmas drew near I obtained skis for each of my brothers. Knut had been training me on both alpine and cross country skiing. I made snow suits with fur collars and hoods along with leather skull caps with fur lining. A store had glass lensed goggles that didn’t fog up. They had vent holes that let in air but not moisture. I went overboard with toys for the little ones and I found books for each of my older brothers. I made fur lined suits for Edrom and Ulrich and bought them more toys than any child needed. They were only nine months old but my enthusiasm overrode my good sense. Privately I gave each of my older brothers a marriage manual from France. It had techniques and illustrations of anatomy that would help them with their love making. Kiva had just begun to see a vivacious redheaded girl and she seemed quite enamored of him. On the last day of the month I turned Fourteen. Two more years and I would be married and overseeing a huge county.
My protocol lessons intensified as did my work at school. Since it had been a mild winter and an early spring I took Rilla, Kiva and Olaf to see the sawmill and the homesite. We slept in the mobile office caravans at the sawmill and they got to see the big gantry crane feeding logs to the mill and stacking cut lumber. It rolled along its wooden tracks drawn by oxen, depositing lumber in various stacks by dimension.
The mill itself had incorporated improvements provided by Olaf and Kiva. It made the saws more efficient.
At my home we took over the great room because the soldiers had moved on. They had assisted several stranded travelers during the worst of the winter weather. It was the closest to camping we got but the caretaker had a well equipped kitchen and we had brought along plenty of food for cooking. I taught the caretaker a few recipes and learned a few of his. The builders were already busy. They were already preparing to install the formal front doors with all their iron cladding. A man would have to chop all day and night to make a dent in such a door, and then he would find iron rods passed through all the planks every foot or so. With the door locked bolted and barred it was impassible. The other doors were of similar construction but not as ornate.
With low fires burning in all hearths the plasterers and carvers were beginning to finish walls and carve trim work so it could be put up. Men planed wainscotting and built kitchen shelves. We had to move the care takers kitchen to a store room But the stove would arrive soon so he would have that to try out. The stove was one unit and a double stacked oven was another. It would arrive after we left and be assembled by the men who were delivering it. Once it was in place it would never move again. The scratch coat of plaster had wintered well and there was no replastering that would need to be done. I went to my office upstairs to look around. I had designed it with a view of the road. The curved windows were fourteen feet off the ground and there were solid shutters in case of intruders.
Valla’s studio had excellent lighting and it was larger than the one at the palace. I had arranged for a staircase behind a wall panel of shelving. It would lead to the anteroom of our bedchamber. It was unneeded but I thought Valla would enjoy it. Our bedchamber would be spacious. The nursery adjoined it and it was spacious as well. A nanny’s bedchamber was next to the nursery. Nothing was finished. There would be stenciling in the nursery but that would happen later.
“How will you maintain this place?” Rilla asked.
“I’ll need a stablemaster, and gardeners plus a handyman dog’s body to fill in. My secretary will help me recruit suitable people and they will be well paid. There will be more buildings put up to house staff for the estate and servants quarters in the house There is still the secretaries house to build and several other outbuildings. Barns, stables and various sheds. A root cellar must be done and a wine cellar in addition to that. I may find other requirements. It’s a huge estate and it is naturally terraced so that I can build at various levels.
“I can see you sitting back with a glass of wine and a Forest cat in your lap with an Elghund at your feet. What a picture,” Rilla snorted.
“I do plan to have Elghunds, they are loyal smart and very good with children. I love Forest cats but mother is allergic to cats and dogs. I think I’ve developed a taste for good wine too so your vision is accurate, I know you meant it as a jibe but it is reasonably accurate. Except there will probably be a child on my knee. The cat will probably be lying an whatever I’m trying to read,” I chuckled.
There were guestrooms for my parents and in-laws as well as more rooms for my brothers on the third floor. The servants quarters were on the third floor as well in another wing. I planned to use the cellar as an athletic area for the children when they couldn’t go outside. I had such confidence that we would have a houseful of children it never occurred to me it might not come to pass.
Sergei the caretaker was a Finn. He was inured to winter weather as most Finns are. It was said they had eight months of cold and snow followed by a month of heavy freezing rain and then three months of occasionally sunny weather.
I would make another trip here soon. I would bring Knut with me because he accepted my job offer. I was very glad of that and we went out together with Valla and his wife Laurelei. She was very pleasant and she and Valla got on well. We discussed children and I told them about our plans to adopt Ranulf on our wedding day the way Father had adopted me and my brothers.
I made a note because inclement weather and school entered my mind. I would commission the building of several sleighs to bring outlying farm children to and from school. We would have a couple at home for general use during the winter and delivering our children to school. It would require more staff but I had over budgeted for school staff in any case. School would start earlier with a gap for planting and harvesting four times per year. The children would still get a full education, it would just be interrupted occasionally. I believed that the frequent breaks would allow children a bit of time to absorb what they had learned. There was a requirement for children to attend school through the fourth grade. Fifth and sixth were optional and secondary school was the same. A boy or girl might leave school to work the family farm or learn a trade. There were a lot of factors. These were the things that kept me awake at night. Not which god or gods they followed.
Our ride back was uneventful and we received a very nice welcome at home. Ranulf, Ivy and Bolly mobbed each of us and moved on to the next. I told Ranulf later that his window looks out over a brook where I saw deer, fox and other animals drinking and playing in the water. He was quite pleased with that. I told him I needed to go and see Valla and that he would accompany me on my next visit.
I found her in her studio and she flew to my arms. She squeezed me tight and demanded kisses. I obliged and she released me and opened the panel in the wall. He handed me a lamp and pointed to the stairs. I followed my orders and heard the panel close behind us.
I led the way and Valla followed.
“I have two or three days before my menses start again, I need you like never before!” She told me. An hour later we were enjoying the warmth one receives after making love. It had been too much for Waxy and he suffered a fracture. The core of string held him together long enough to remove him. She already had a clay mold ready for the next one. She just needed more wax. The process of making the mold was pleasant for me. She sucked and rubbed me until I was hard as possible and then pressed two sides of a soft clay mold onto either side of my kuck and tied it in place for a few minutes. Once it was removed it took two months before hot wax could be poured in to create the next Waxy. As a result, Waxy was always smaller than my actual kuck.
With Valla satisfied I was free to tell her about the progress at the house.
“I wish there was a way to make a picture of things that could show other people what something looks like,” Valla sighed.
“I think next time you will go with me. The babies will be weaned by then and we might get both our mothers to come along,” I said.
“Do you think children are like puppies? It takes almost two years to wean a baby. But your mother can hire a wet nurse to fill in for her while she is gone. She can express her milk to stay productive. If it’s a short trip there should be no difficulty though,” Valla chided me.
“Well that aspect of children is a mystery to me. I know women make milk but I didn’t know they made it for so long. I have to be ignorant about some things. A man can’t know everything,” I told her to her amusement.
“Stefan assures me that everything can be done over the next two years as long as we have suitable weather at the right times. The main house will be done by the end of summer. The other residences will be framed and roofed as well. If we have a mild fall they’ll get them clad. The cellars are what take most of the time. But the other structures are considerably smaller. Knut’s house and then the landsmen’s houses first and then outbuildings We will build three landsmen’s cottages capable of housing two large families each. Six men with casual labor should take care of landscape and maintenance. I could bore you with details if you like but that’s how I spent my time there. My brain is so tired it may just shut down. I think we should go dining this week, do you have plans for Wednesday?”
“No, I’m free all week. Where will we eat? There’s a new restaurant near your offices. It’s a chop house and I’m told they are very good at what they do,” Valla suggested.