Duke Borrolane, the successor to old Duke Corrolin, seemed a little puzzled by what I was doing and by my obvious success during our meeting in the summer of 2340.
‘It’s really nothing, your Grace,’ I told him. ‘Odd though it may seem to you, women are far more practical than men – perhaps because we’re the ones who do the cooking. Men are dreamers, but no matter how exalted a dream is, it won’t bake a loaf of bread. When you get right down to it, anyone who can run a kitchen can probably rule a domain – large or small.’
The actual business of the day-to-day ruling of the Duchy of Erat fell largely on Killane’s shoulders. He was in his mid-fifties by now and he was a substantial-looking fellow with a no-nonsense air about him. Technically, he was my reeve, the administrator of my personal estates, but my vassals, assorted counts and barons, soon realized that his opinions carried great weight with me, and so they all tried to stay on the good side of him. He didn’t abuse his position or put on airs that might have offended the nobility. His standard response to petitions, complaints, disputes, and the like was fairly simple: ‘I’ll be after sendin’ word of yer proposal t’ her Grace, me Lord. We’ll see what she has t’ say.’ Then he’d wait for a couple of weeks and deliver my ‘decision’ about matters I wasn’t even aware of. His function in my realm was much the same as Kamion’s had been on the Isle of the Winds. He served as a buffer – a filter, if you will – that kept petty details out of my hair. In effect, I gave him a general idea of what I wanted, and then he made sure that I got it without offending too many people. In many ways, though he probably didn’t realize it, my humorous friend was an administrative genius. To put it succinctly, he ran Erat while I ran the rest of Arendia.
By 2350, however, age was beginning to creep up on him. His hair was a kind of sandy grey now, and his hearing was failing him. He took to using a staff to aid his faltering steps and an ear-trumpet to hear with. Increasingly, my visits to my lakeside estate became medical house-calls. I restricted his diet to some degree and stirred up compounds of some fairly exotic herbs to control an increasing number of infirmities. ‘You’re falling apart, Killane,’ I shouted into his ear-trumpet on one such visit in the autumn of 2352. ‘Why didn’t you take better care of yourself?’
‘Who’d a thought I was gonna live s’ long, Lady-O?’ he said with a rueful expression. ‘Nobody in me family’s ever lived past fifty, an’ here I am at sixty-eight. I should o’ bin in me grave twenty years ago, don’t y’ know.’ Then he squinted at the ceiling. ‘When y’ git right down t’ it, though, in th’ rest o’ me family, gettin’ killed in a tavern brawl is what y’ might call dyin’ of natural causes, but I ain’t been in a good brawl since th’ day I first laid eyes on yer Grace. Y’ve gone an’ spoilt me entire life, Lady Polgara. Aren’t y’ after bein’ ashamed o’ yerself ?’
‘Not very much, Killane,’ I told him. ‘I think you’d better start dropping some of your duties in the laps of whichever of your relatives seems competent. You’re not getting enough rest, and you’re spending too much time worrying about petty little things. Let somebody else take care of the little ones. You save yourself for the big ones.’
‘I ain’t dead yet, Lady-O,’ he insisted. ‘I kin still carry me own end.’
And he did – for another two years. Then a number of things which had been creeping up on him pounced all at once, and I hovered over his sick-bed for several months. I sent word to Alleran asking him to make my apologies to the other dukes that summer. I was not going to leave my friend even for the annual meeting of the Arendish Council.
It was about midnight on a blustery autumn night when Rana shook me awake. ‘Himself wants t’ see y’, yer Grace,’ she said, ‘an’ I’m after thinkin’ y’d better hurry right along, don’t y’ know.’
I hastily pulled on my robe and followed her through the empty halls to the sick-room.
‘Ah, there y’ are, Lady-O,’ the dying man said in a weak voice. ‘Go along w’ y’ now, Rana. There’s somethin’ I’ll be after wantin’ t’ tell our Lady that y’ don’t need t’ hear.’
His youngest sister kissed him gently and then sadly left the room.
‘Now, don’t y’ be buttin’ in on me, Lady-O,’ Killane admonished me. ‘There’s somethin’ I’m after wantin’ t’ get off me chest, an’ I want t’ spit it out before I pull th’ dirt over me fer th’ long sleep. You an’ me, we’ve come a long way t’gether, an’ we ain’t never beaten about th’ bush when we had somethin’ t’ say, so I’ll come right out wi’ it. It might not seem proper, but I’m goin’ t’ say this anyway. I love y’, Polgara, an’ I’ve loved y’ since th’ first time I set eyes on’ y’. There. I’ve said it, an’ now I can sleep.’
I kissed the dear man gently on the forehead. ‘And I love you too, Killane,’ I said, and he somehow seemed to hear me.
‘Ah, an’ aren’t y’ th’ darlin’ girl t’ say so?’ he murmured.
I sat at the bedside of my dear friend holding his hand, and I continued to hold it for quite some time after he’d died. Then, with tears of gentle regret streaming down my cheeks I folded his hands on his chest and pulled the sheet up over his peaceful face.
We buried him in a small grove of trees near the top of the meadow the next day, and the wind, seeming almost to share our sorrow, sighed in the evergreen trees on the hillside above us.
Killane was gone, but he’d left me a rich legacy. We hadn’t really planned it that way, but his extended family, almost without my knowing it, had become my hereditary retainers as generation followed generation in my service. There was a comfortable continuity about that. They all knew me, since I’d personally delivered most of them when their mothers had gone into labor. Mine had been the first hands that had ever touched them, and that automatically brought us closer. They knew me, and they’d been raised and trained from childhood to enter my service.
The benefits of the arrangement worked both ways, since continuity’s very important to someone in my peculiar situation. As Killane himself might have put it, ‘If yer after plannin’ t’ live ferever, yer bound t’ git lonesome once in a while, don’t y’ know.’ My hereditary retainers, both in my house in Vo Wacune and in my country estate on Lake Erat, filled in that enormous gap that the mortality of loved ones always brings into our lives.