But there was another, less wolfish, reason for my ready acceptance. I was fully convinced that the death of Ontrose had closed certain doors to me. I was certain that I’d never marry or have children of my own. The rearing of my sister’s descendants would fill that aching emptiness.
The following morning I was seized with an almost overpowering urge to leave the Vale. It was as if my reaffirmation of my pledge had opened a whole new chapter in my life, and I wanted to get on with it. Looking back, however, I’ll confess that my motives were a little less admirable. My pledge had made Geran mine, and I wanted to keep him all to myself.
Isn’t it odd the way our minds work sometimes?
Anyway, my sandy-haired charge and I left the Vale after a few days, and the dependable, mottled Squire carried us back up into the Sendarian mountains. I was really in no great hurry to get home, so our pace was leisurely. I’m sure Squire approved of that. I’ve observed that horses lie a lot. A horse loves to run, but he always behaves as if it’s a terrible imposition when you ask him to do that.
‘What was it like, Aunt Pol?’ Geran asked me one evening after supper when we’d spread our blankets on the ground, the camp-fire had burned down to embers, and the close and friendly darkness was enfolding us. ‘I mean, what was it like to grow up in the Vale surrounded by magic and sorcerers the way you were?’
‘My sister and I hadn’t really known any other kind of life, Geran, so it didn’t really seem particularly unusual to us.’
‘She was my grandmother, wasn’t she? – your sister, I mean.’
‘Your ultimate grandmother, yes.’ I stepped around some things rather carefully. Geran didn’t really need to know about mother just yet. I lay back and looked up at the stars. ‘Our father was off in Mallorea when we were born,’ I told him. ‘He and Bear-shoulders and the boys were stealing the Orb from Torak.’
‘It wasn’t really stealing, was it? I mean, the Orb belonged to us in the first place after all. Torak’s the one who stole it.’
‘Well, he stole it from the Master, but it amounts to the same thing, I guess. Anyway, my sister and I were raised by uncle Beldin.’
Geran giggled. ‘I like him,’ he said.
‘Yes, I noticed.’ Then I continued with a slightly sanitized version of my childhood in the Vale. Geran listened eagerly. If you want a little boy’s undivided attention, tell him stories. After a while, however, he drifted off to sleep, and I fell silent. I watched the endless progression of the stars for a while, noting that a couple of the constellations had moved since I’d last taken a good look at them. And then I too slept.
When we reached my house I noticed something peculiar. I’d visited it any number of times since I’d buried it in roses, and it’d always seemed almost unbearably lonely. It was an empty place that hadn’t been meant to be empty, but now that sense of loneliness wasn’t there any more. Geran was there with me, and that was all I really needed. I decided that we could probably forego the house-cleaning. Geran had learned to live with the loss of his family, and he now seemed to want to spend most of his time in my library with my copies of the Mrin and Darine. Eventually, he reacted to the Mrin with the same sense of frustration it stirred in all of us. ‘It doesn’t make sense, Aunt Pol!’ he exclaimed one evening, banging his fist on the table.
‘I know,’ I replied. ‘It isn’t supposed to.’
‘Why do we all waste so much time on it then?’
‘Because it tells us what’s going to happen in the future.’
‘But if we can’t make any sense out of it, how does that help us?’
‘Oh, we can make some sense out of it if we work with it. It’s all jumbled together that way to keep people who don’t have any business knowing what’s going to happen from finding out.’
‘You mean it’s written in code?’
‘You could put it that way, yes.’
‘I think I’ll stick with the other one – the Darine. It’s easier to read and it’s not so splotched up with ink-smears.’
‘Whatever suits you, Geran’
I was more than a little surprised – and pleased – to discover that my young nephew had a surprisingly quick mind. He’d been raised as an Alorn, and you don’t really expect to find brains in an Alorn – except for the Drasnians, of course. A Drasnian’s intelligence, however, is devoted almost exclusively to swindling his neighbors, so he doesn’t waste it on things philosophical.
Geran and I lived quietly in our secluded house for several years. He needed time to grow up, and I needed time to get used to my new occupation. He was about twelve or so, and his voice was beginning to change, when a notion came to him that was surprisingly acute. ‘Do you know what I think, Aunt Pol?’
‘What was that, dear?’
‘I’ve been working on this for a while, and it sort of seems to me that you and grandfather and our uncles live outside of time and the world the rest of us live in. It’s almost as if you lived someplace else – only it’s right here at the same time.’
I laid my book aside. ‘Go on, Geran,’ I urged him.
“This other world you live in is all around the rest of us, but we can’t see it. There are different rules there, too. You all have to live for thousands of years, and you have to learn how to use magic, and you have to spend a lot of time reading old books that none of us can understand. Then, every once in a while, you have to come out into our world to tell the kings what they’re supposed to do, and they have to do it, whether they like it or not. Anyway, I’ve been sort of wondering why. Why do we need two worlds this way? Why not just one? Then it came to me. It’s even more complicated than I thought, because there aren’t just two worlds, but three. The Gods live in one world – out there among the stars – and ordinary people like me live right here on this one where nothing very unusual ever happens. You and grandfather and the uncles live in the third one – the one that’s between the world of the Gods and the world of ordinary people. You live there because you’re our connection to the Gods. The Gods tell you what’s supposed to be done, and you pass the instructions on to us. You live forever, and you can do magic things and see the future and all that because you were chosen to live in that special world between the Gods and the rest of us so that you can guide us in the right direction. Does that make any sense, Aunt Pol?’