The mounted man had a whip in his hand.
I flew on back to where Killane waited and resumed my own form. ‘That has to go,’ I told him very firmly.
‘Th’ village? Tis unsightly t’ be sure, me Lady, but th’ serfs’ve got t’ live someplace.’
‘I’m not talking about the village, Killane. I’m talking about serfdom itself.’
He blinked. ‘But th’ whole o’ society’s based on it, me Lady.’
‘Then I’ll just have to rebuild the society, won’t I? We’ll get to that in a little while, but keep it in mind. I will not live my life on the backs of slaves.’
‘A serf ain’t no slave, me Lady,’ he objected.
‘Oh, really? Maybe someday you can explain the difference to me. Let’s move along, Killane. There’s a lot more to see here than I’d imagined.’
We stopped in secluded places rather frequently, and I spent a great deal of time wearing feathers as I snooped out the reality that lay just under the surface of my seemingly placid realm. The lives of the serfs were miserable beyond imagining, and the nobility lived in idle luxury, spending – wasting actually – money that grew out of the sweat and misery of their serfs. I found my nobles to be stupid, cruel, lazy, and arrogant. I didn’t like them very much. That was also going to change.
We reached Sulturn and then turned north and rode on to Medalia, stopping frequently so that I could look into things. The land was fair, I found, but the society definitely wasn’t.
After we passed Medalia, we rode on up to Seline, then turned east toward Erat. I tried as best I could to keep my equanimity. This wasn’t Killane’s fault, but he was the only person handy, so I don’t imagine that he enjoyed the trip very much.
‘If y’ don’t mind me sayin’ it, yer Grace,’ he said one afternoon when we were about half-way between Seline and Erat, ‘y’ seem t’ be a bit waspish. Is it somethin’ I’ve done?’
‘It’s not you, Killane,’ I said. There are a lot of things wrong here – terribly wrong.’
‘Well, fix em, Lady-O.’
‘That’s sort of what I had in mind, me boy-o.’
‘If I kin be persuadin’ y’ t’ set aside yer peevishness, y’ might want t’ give some thought t’ where y’ want t’ build yer capital, yer Grace. Yer title suggests Erat, but I’ve been there a time or two, and it ain’t th’ prettiest town in all th’ world, don’t y’ know, an’ th’ name “Vo Erat” ain’t all that pleasin’ t’ th’ ear.’
‘Let me think my way through this before we make any quick decisions, Killane,’ I suggested. ‘I’m not entirely sure that I want a capital city.’
‘Tis a cruel woman y’ are, Lady-O,’ he accused.
‘I didn’t exactly follow that.’
‘This’d be me one chance t’ design and build an entire city, don’t y’ know, an’ now y’ve gone an’ dashed me hopes. I could build y’ a palace that’d make th’ emperor of Tolnedra turn green w’ envy.’
‘What on earth do I need with a palace? I know who I am, and I don’t need some grand display to remind me. But that’s beside the point. My main concerns are still down in Arendia proper. Those clever little boys who put me here might prefer to have me get so involved in things up here that I’ll lose track of what they’re doing, but that isn’t going to happen. I’m definitely going to keep my house in Vo Wacune. I want them all to realize that they’re not going to get out from under my thumb this easily. Let’s move on, Killane. I want to have a look at Erat before I decide just where to set up shop.’
Erat, as it turned out, was totally unsuitable for a seat of government. North central Sendaria had changed hands so many times over the centuries that the place was a hodgepodge of run-down and conflicting architecture. The whole thing would have had to be leveled and rebuilt to make it at all acceptable. The problem with that, however, lay in the fact that it was situated on the marshy north shore of the lake, and no matter what was ultimately erected there, it was still going to look like some town in the Drasnian fens.
Once again I took wing and scouted things from the air. The spot that ultimately caught my eye was located on the south side of the lake where a fair-sized river fed that body of water. It was a long, lushly green meadow that sloped down to the lake-shore with the river bordering it to the south. The river bank was lined with ancient white birch trees, and steep, wooded, dark green hills embraced the meadow on the other two sides. The snow-capped Sendarian mountains rose above those wooded hills to the east. There were no villages nor roads in the vicinity, and so everything was fresh and new, awaiting only my hand to make it perfect. I could view the sunrise over the mountains and the sunset over the lake. I immediately fell in love with it.
The spot was perhaps six leagues northwest of the village of Upper Gralt, and about ten leagues northeast of where the farm of a good-hearted man named Faldor is now located.
Garion should be quite familiar with the region, since he grew up there.
Killane studied the location I’d chosen, trying to find something wrong with it, I think, but he finally gave in. ‘Tis adequate,’ he grudgingly conceded. ‘An’ as luck would have it, ‘tis on one of yer own estates, so there’ll be no hagglin’ about buyin’ th’ place.’
‘Adequate?’ I protested.
‘Well – perhaps a trifle more than adequate, I suppose. I’ll be after makin’ a few sketches, if we’ve got th’ time. I see about three locations where y’ might want me t’ build yer manor house. If we’ve got good sketches, we kin spend th’ winter arguin’ about ‘em when we git back t’ Vo Wacune.’
I’d already more or less decided where I wanted my house, but I didn’t want to seem arbitrary, so I let Killane amuse himself with his sketch-pad while I explored the surrounding meadow and forests.
It was late autumn by the time we returned to Vo Wacune, and by then my vassals had all responded to Alleran’s summons and had been impatiently waiting for me in the palace for over a month.
‘They aren’t happy, Aunt Pol,’ Alleran warned me. ‘Their families have been sworn to mine for generations now, and I’m giving them away like so many old saddles or suits of clothes. You might want to ease into this gradually.’