And so it was that in the late fall of 4068 we packed some ‘sensible’ clothes, closed up the manor house, and went on up to the port city lying on the Gulf of Cherek, posing as relocating tradesmen. We took lodgings in a comfortable inn far enough back from the waterfront to avoid the characteristic odor of the harbor, and Davon and Alten went exploring almost before we were unpacked. I knew them well enough to know that it’d be useless to forbid their exploration, but I did manage to get them to wear nondescript clothing.
‘It’s awfully cramped, isn’t it?’ Alten observed when they returned. ‘Are all these northern towns so jammed together?’
‘No cows,’ I explained.
‘I didn’t follow that, Aunt Pol,’ he confessed.
‘Muros has wide streets because Algars drive herds of cattle through town from time to time. The houses in northern towns are built next to each other in order to save money. When you build your house between two others, the side walls are already in place. All you have to build is the front and back – and a roof, of course.’
‘Are you teasing me, Aunt Pol?’ he accused.
‘Would I do that, Alten?’
Davon was quite enthusiastic about having a house built for us, but I advised against it ‘We’re fugitives on the run, dear,’ I reminded him. ‘Any time there’s a danger of discovery, we have to take flight. When you build a house, you get attached to it, and that attachment can be fatal. When the time comes to run, you don’t want anything holding you back. This inn will serve until we can find a suitable house that’s already standing.’
‘I’ll nose around a bit, Aunt Pol. I’ll be out and about anyway.’
‘I need to find something to do.’
‘Another shoe factory?’
‘I’m not sure. I suppose I can fall back on that if I have to, but it might not be a bad idea for me to try something new. That inquisitive Murgo back in Muros probably found out about the family business and passed the information on to Ctuchik.’
‘I’m sure he did.’
‘We’d probably better stay away from tanneries and shoe shops then. Wouldn’t that be the first place a Murgo would look?’
‘Almost certainly. You’ve learned your lessons very well, Davon.’
‘You’ve spent enough time pounding them into us, Aunt Pol. We can live as other people do – up to a point. About the only difference is that we have to keep our eyes and ears open and not go out of our way to attract attention.’
‘That sums it up fairly well, yes.’
‘I probably shouldn’t say this, but father wasn’t really very good at that. Sometimes he seemed to forget that we didn’t want to be noticed.’ He held up his right hand and looked at the pale splotch on his palm. ‘Should I hide this birthmark, Aunt Pol?’ he asked. ‘Does Ctuchik know about it?’
‘I’m not certain. He might.’
‘I’ll hide it then. I’m a tanner, so I know all about dyes that change the color of skins.’ He stood up. ‘I think Alten and I’ll take another turn around town. I’m getting fidgety.’
‘I need something to keep me busy, Aunt Pol. I haven’t made any money for years now, so I’d better get at it before I forget how.’
‘You sound like a Sendar, Davon.’
‘I am a Sendar, Aunt Pol. Isn’t that the idea?’
I think that of all the heirs to Iron-grip’s throne, Davon had the clearest idea of just exactly what we were doing.
He and his son Alten wandered around Darine together for a week or so, but then Alten caught cold, and I made him stay home. Davon went out alone several times, and then one snowy day he came back to the inn with a small bundle under his arm. Alnana, Alten, and I were sitting by the fire when he came in, his cheeks ruddy from the cold. ‘What do you think of this?’ he asked us, unwrapping the fur he was carrying.
‘Oh, Davon, it’s lovely!’ Alnana exclaimed, touching the jet-black fur. ‘It’s so soft! No cow ever had fur like that. What is it?’
‘It’s sable, dear,’ Davon replied. ‘It comes from a large weasel that’s common in the mountains of Gar og Nadrak. I know quite a bit about animal skins, but I’ve never seen anything like this.’
‘It was highly prized by the nobility in northern Arendia quite a long time ago,’ I told him.
‘It’d take a lot of these to make a coat,’ he said.
‘Sable coats were very rare, Davon. They were terribly expensive. Most ladies had one or two coats with sable collars and cuffs, though. Sable was more in the nature of an accessory rather than a garment itself.’
‘I wonder if that custom might be revived,’ he mused. ‘I know where I can get my hands on these, but I’d need a market’ He handed the fur to his son. ‘You’ve worked with leather, Alten,’ he said. ‘Would this be very hard to sew?’
Alten, who was about twenty-seven by then, pursed his lips, turning the pelt this way and that. ‘It’s thinner than cow-hide,’ he noted, ‘so it’s not as strong, and I don’t think we’d want to make shoes out of it. It’d take a very fine seam, though.’
I gave him a speculative look. Alten was a handsome young fellow, but the years of isolation in the manor house had made him bashful, and I thought I saw a way to get him past that. ‘I know a bit about dressmaking,’ I told them. ‘Alnana and I can come up with some designs, and Alten can sew them up. There are rich merchants here in Darine, and rich men’s wives love to spend money and show off. A furrier’s shop in the better part of town might be profitable.’ It was an innocuous enough proposal, but its real purpose was to put Alten in a situation where he’d be around women all day long every day. His bashfulness would soon go away, and then I could get him married off. Bachelorhood was not an option in this particular family.
Davon found us a house near the south gate of Darine. It was an old house, but it was still solid, and at least the roof didn’t leak. We moved there from the inn, and the task of finding workmen to repair it fell to me, since Davon and Alten were concentrating their attention on our business venture. Before we could open a fur-shop, however, we were going to have to create a demand, so Alnana and I drifted around Darine that winter wearing coats with luxurious collars and cuffs, glorious turban-like fur hats, and rich-looking fur muffs to keep our little hands warm. The fur-cuffed leather boots might have been a little excessive, but we were walking advertisements, after all.