‘Well, I didn’t lie to her, Aunt Pol, but there were a few things I sort of glossed over.’
‘You kept secrets from me?’ Eldara asked accusingly. ‘I didn’t keep any from you, Geran.’
‘He was obeying my orders, Eldara,’ I assured her. ‘We’re talking about a family secret here, and Geran’s been forbidden to reveal it to anybody without my explicit permission.’
‘Didn’t you trust me, Aunt Pol?’ she asked, sounding a little hurt.
‘I had to get to know you a little better, Eldara. I had to make sure that you knew how to keep things to yourself. Your father’s very good at that, but now and then I’ve come across young ladies who just have to talk about things. I’ve noticed that you’ve got very good sense, though, and you don’t blurt things out. You’ve probably noticed that your husband’s not a Sendar.’
‘He told me that he was bom in one of the Alorn kingdoms,’ she replied. ‘We were sort of busy when he told me, so –’ she stopped and blushed.
‘I don’t think we need to go into that, Eldara. Actually, Geran’s a Rivan, and he’s a descendant of a very important family on the Isle of the Winds.’
‘How important?’ she asked.
‘You don’t get much more important. It was about eleven years ago when Geran’s family were all murdered by a group of Nyissans. My father and I managed to save Geran, but we were too late to save the others.’
Her eyes went very wide at that.
‘Does it help at all to know that you’d be the Queen of Riva if certain things hadn’t happened, love?’ Geran asked her.
‘You don’t act all that much like a king.’ She said it almost accusingly. ‘Are kings supposed to snore the way you do?’
‘My grandfather did,’ he replied, shrugging.
‘I’ll let you two discuss the finer points of regal behavior when you’re alone,’ I told them. ‘Let’s stick to the point here. Geran has some very determined enemies who’d like nothing better than to kill him – and to kill your baby as well.’
She drew her sleeping infant closer to her breast. ‘I’d like to see them try!’ she said fiercely.
‘Well, I wouldn’t,’ I said firmly. ‘Geran’s enemies are very powerful, and they can hire murderers by the dozen and spies by the hundred. I’m sure they’re out there looking for us right now. The safest thing for us to do is to see to it that they don’t find us. There are two ways to do that We can go way out into the mountains and hide in a cave, or we can stay right here in the open and be so ordinary that when they look at us they don’t even see us. We’ll try that second one for right now. I’ve talked things over with your father, and the first thing tomorrow morning, Geran’s going to start out on his new career.’
‘What career is that, Aunt Pol?’ Geran asked me.
‘Your father-in-law’s going to take you into the cattle business, Geran.’
‘I don’t know anything about cows.’
‘You’re going to learn, and you’re going to pick it up very quickly. Your life depends on it, so you’ll have lots of incentive.’
And so it was that the heir to the Rivan throne started getting up early so that he could go to work every morning. He was totally confused at first, but Hattan brought him along patiently, and, more importantly, introduced him to the Algar clan-chiefs. It wasn’t too long before Geran was pulling his weight in the family business, and Hattan was quite proud of him.
‘He’s very good, Pol,’ Eldara’s father told me after Geran had struck a bargain with one of the Algar clans that involved driving a herd of cows north along the Tolnedran causeway that crossed the fens to Boktor instead of over the Sendarian Mountains to Muros. Everyone did well on that venture – except for the Tolnedrans. They provided the highway, of course, but that was the total extent of their involvement. I’m told that the screams in Tol Honeth echoed for ten miles in either direction along the Nedrane River, and the next year the causeway became a toll-road.
When Geran was at work, he was surrounded by Hattan’s men, who were for the most part transplanted Algars, and so he was quite safe as he roamed around out in the cowpens. This gave me the opportunity to get to know Eldara better – and to play with the baby, of course.
Young Davon was cut from the same cloth as his father, and his father was very much like my sister’s own son, Daran. Certain characteristics have always bred true in the Rivan line. For the most part, they’ve all had that same sandy blond hair, for one thing. Iron-grip’s black hair showed up only occasionally. Moreover, they’ve all been very serious, earnest little boys with a wide streak of good, solid common sense. Of course, that could be cultural rather than hereditary, since most of them have been born and raised in Sendaria.
The seasons turned and the years went by, and Davon grew like a well-watered weed. By the time he was twelve, he was quite nearly as tall as his father. I’ve never really liked Muros all that much, given the perpetual dust and the smell of the stockyards, but we were happy there.
Then, a few days after Davon’s twelfth birthday, Hattan stopped by, and he and I went into my library to have a long talk. ‘Do you remember that chat we had before Geran and Eldara were married, Pol?’ the tall Algar, whose scalp-lock was turning iron grey now, said to me.
‘Very well, Hattan. We’ve been following the course you laid out for us quite well, haven’t we?’
‘All except for the fact that you’re not visibly aging,’ he said. ‘Could you possibly use magic to make your hair turn grey? That should put a few years on you.’
I sighed. ‘Someday we’re going to have to have a talk about what you call magic, Hattan,’ I said.
‘Do you mean you can’t?’ He sounded startled.
‘Oh, I could,’ I told him, ‘but grey hair isn’t really grey, you know.’
‘It looks grey.’
‘Look a little closer, Hattan. Your scalp-lock looks grey because it’s a mixture of black and white hairs. I’d have to turn half of my hair white – strand by strand.’
‘That might take a while,’ he conceded.
‘Quite a while, actually. There are some chemicals I can cook out of certain common weeds that’ll color my hair. It won’t look quite the same as yours, but it should get me by. There are a few cosmetics I can use to make myself appear older, too.’