Once I’d come face to face with that fact, several decisions followed automatically. I needed a safe, well-hidden den first of all. Mother’s cottage would not serve that purpose. It was too exposed and too many people knew where it was. Next, I needed a reliable source of food. The answer, of course, was obvious. My rose-choked manor house on Lake Erat had long since been forgotten, and it was virtually invisible. Moreover, the grounds around it were fertile, and I could easily grow vegetables among the rose bushes and periodically drift out on silent wings at night to poach rabbits and an occasional sheep. The manor house would provide safety and food. Prince Geran might be a little wild and uncivilized when he grew up, but at least he’d still be alive.
I also discovered that thinking wolfishly gave me a tremendous amount of insight into mother’s character. Everything she’d done – even including her seeming desertion of my sister and me – had been done to defend the pack.
‘Naturally, Pol,’ her voice came to me out of nowhere. ‘Are you only just now coming to realize that? You really ought to pay more attention, you know.’
Geran was so overcome with grief that we didn’t really talk very much during the two days we were at sea on our way to the coast of Sendaria, but when we reached a cove some five miles north of Camaar and went ashore, he pulled himself together enough to be able to speak coherently with Brand. He asked the Rivan Warder to take care of his people and to guard the Orb. Geran’s family has always taken those two responsibilities very seriously, and despite the fact that the boy had been far down the line of succession before his entire family had been murdered, he’d clearly received instruction in the important things.
After Brand left for Camaar to commandeer a crew for his return voyage to the Isle, I spoke briefly with father, advising him of my plan to hide my new charge at my manor house on Lake Erat He had objections, of course. Father always has objections when I tell him that I’m going to do something. He should have saved his breath, because, as always, I overrode his quibbles. You’d think that after two thousand years he’d have learned not to try to tell me what to do, but some people never learn, I guess.
Geran, his small face very serious, asked his ultimate grandfather to chastise the Serpent Queen for murdering his family.
Then father left for Val Alorn to begin gathering forces for his intended invasion of the land of the Snake People.
‘Where are we going, Aunt Pol?’ Geran asked me.
‘I have a house here in Sendaria, Geran,’ I told him. ‘We should be safe there.’
‘Have you got lots of soldiers there?’
‘No, Geran. I don’t need soldiers in that particular place.’
‘Won’t that be sort of dangerous? What I mean is that the snake lady probably still wants to kill me, and she’s got those people with poisoned knives working for her. I’m not very big yet, so I couldn’t really protect you from them.’
He was such a dear, serious little boy. I took him in my arms and held him very close for a while, and I think we both rather liked that ‘Everything’s going to be all right, Geran,’ I assured him. ‘Nobody knows that the house is there, and it’s very hard to get to it’
‘Did you put a spell on it?’ he asked eagerly. Then he flushed slightly. ‘That wasn’t very polite was it, Aunt Pol? I’ve heard all kinds of stories about how you can do magic things – like casting spells and turning people into frogs and things like that – but you haven’t given me permission to talk about those things, so I shouldn’t have just come right out and said it that way, should I?’
‘It’s all right, Geran,’ I said. ‘We’re part of the same family, so we don’t really have to stand on ceremony, do we? Let’s go back in among the trees. This beach is right out in the open, and we do have enemies out there looking for us.’
‘Whatever you say, Aunt Pol.’
We struck out from the beach in the general direction of Lake Sulturn, staying on the back roads and country lanes. I bought food at an isolated farm house, and the young prince and I camped out that first night. After the boy had fallen asleep in my arms, I started to think about logistics. We hadn’t really covered very much ground that day, and I definitely wanted to get further inland. That open beach was just too close for my peace of mind.
I immediately dismissed the notion of ‘tampering’. Father’s warning about Grolims was probably quite close to the mark, and ‘tampering’ makes a characteristic noise that would draw every Grolim in Sendaria right to me. Geran was a sturdy little boy, but his legs weren’t very long yet, so walking wasn’t getting us away from the beach fast enough for my comfort. Obviously, we were going to need a horse. I checked the purse I always keep tucked under my clothing and found that I had adequate funds with me, so I sent out a probing thought, searching for a farm of some size along the road ahead. Fortunately, I found what I was looking for only a few miles away.
I dozed from time to time during that long night. Under the circumstances, a deep sleep might not have been a good idea. Then, when dawn began to touch the eastern sky, I stirred up our small fire and began cooking breakfast.
‘Good morning, Aunt Pol,’ Geran said when the smells of hot food woke him. ‘I’m really hungry, you know?’
‘Little boys are always hungry, Geran.’
‘How far is it to your house?’
‘About ninety leagues – almost three hundred miles.’
‘My feet are really sore, Aunt Pol. I’m not used to walking all day.’
‘It’ll get easier in just a bit, Geran,’ I assured him. ‘There’s another farm just ahead. I’ll buy a horse there, and then we can ride.’
‘That’s a very good idea, Aunt Pol.’ He seemed quite enthusiastic.
There was one brief problem about that when we reached the farm and I’d chosen the horse I wanted.
‘Ah – these are very old coins, ma’am,’ the farmer said dubiously. ‘I don’t think I’ve ever seen any quite so old.’
‘They’re part of my inheritance, good farmer,’ I lied quickly. ‘My family’s a bit on the tight-fisted side, and once they get their hands on a coin, they tend to keep it’
‘That’s a commendable trait, but I don’t really know what these are worth in today’s money.’
‘Silver’s silver, good farmer. It’s the weight that’s important, not whose picture’s stamped on the front of the coin.’