‘I thought I said that. This is the first time I’ve ever proposed to anybody, so I probably didn’t do a very good job. What do you think?’
‘I think you’re insane. We don’t even know each other.’
‘There’ll be plenty of time for us to get to know each other after the ceremony. Well, yes or no?’
You couldn’t fault Anrak’s directness. Here was a man who got right down to the point. I laughed at him, and he looked just a bit injured by that. ‘What’s so funny?’ he demanded in a hurt tone of voice.
‘You are. Do you actually think I’d marry a complete stranger? One who looks like a rat hiding in a clump of bushes?’
‘What’s that supposed to mean?’
‘You’ve got hair growing all over your face.’
‘That’s my beard. All Alorns wear beards.’
‘Could that possibly be because Alorns haven’t invented the razor yet? Tell me, Anrak, have your people come up with the idea of the wheel yet? Have you discovered fire, by any chance?’
‘You don’t have to be insulting. Just say yes or no.’
‘All right. No! Was there any part of that you didn’t understand?’ Then I warmed to my subject. The whole notion is absurd,’ I told him. ‘I don’t know you, and I don’t like you. I don’t know your cousin, and I don’t like him either. As a matter of fact, I don’t like your entire stinking race. All the misery in my life’s been caused by Alorns. Did you really think I’d actually marry one? You’d better get away from me, Anrak, because if you don’t, I’ll turn you into a toad.’
‘You don’t have to get nasty. You’re no prize yourself, you know.’
I won’t repeat what I said to him then – this document might just fall into the hands of children. I spoke at some length about his parents, his extended family, his race, his ancestors and probable descendants. I drew rather heavily on uncle Beldin’s vocabulary in the process, and Anrak frequently looked startled at the extent of my command of the more colorful side of language.
‘Well,’ he said, ‘if that’s the way you feel about it, there’s not much point in our continuing this conversation, is there?’ And then he rather huffily turned and strode back up the Vale, muttering to himself.
Poor Anrak. I was feeling a towering resentment over the fact that some unknown Alorn was going to take my sister away from me, and so he had the privilege of receiving the full weight of my displeasure. Moreover, mother’d strongly advised me to steer clear of any lasting entanglements at this stage of my life. Adolescent girls have glandular problems that sometimes lead them to make serious mistakes.
Why don’t we just let it go at that?
I had absolutely no intention of going to the Isle of the Winds to witness this obscene ceremony. If Beldaran wanted to marry this Alorn butcher, she was going to have to do it without my blessing – or my presence.
When they were ready to leave, however, my sister came down to my Tree and ‘persuaded’ me to change my mind. Despite that sweet exterior that deceived everyone else, my sister Beldaran could be absolutely ruthless when she wanted something. She knew me better than anyone else in the world did – or could – so she knew exactly where all my soft spots were. To begin with, she spoke to me exclusively in ‘twin’, a language I’d almost forgotten. There were subtleties in ‘twin’ – mostly of Beldaran’s devising – that no linguist, even the most gifted, could ever unravel, and most of them stressed her dominant position. Beldaran was accustomed to giving me orders, and I was accustomed to obeying. Her ‘persuasion’ in this situation was, to put it honestly, brutal. She reminded me of every time in our lives when we’d been particularly close, and she cast those reminders in a past tense peculiar to our private tongue that would more or less translate into ‘never again’, or ‘over and done with’. She had me in tears within five minutes and in utter anguish within ten. ‘Stop!’ I cried out finally, unable to bear the implicit threat of a permanent severing of all contact any longer.
‘You’ll come with me then?’ she asked, reverting to ordinary speech.
‘Yes! Yes! Yes! But please stop!’
‘I’m so happy about your decision, Pol,’ she said, embracing me warmly. Then she actually apologized for what she’d just done to me. Why not? She’d just won, so she could afford to be graceful about the whole thing.
I was beaten, and I knew it. I wasn’t even particularly surprised to discover when Beldaran and I returned to father’s tower that she’d already packed for me. She’d known all along just how things would turn out.
We set out the next morning. It took us several weeks to reach Muros, since we traveled on foot.
Beldaran and I were both uneasy in Muros, since we’d never really been around that many people before. Although I’ve changed my position a great deal since then, at first I found Sendars to be a noisy people, and they seemed to me to have a positive obsession with buying and selling that was almost laughable.
Anrak left us at Muros to go on ahead to advise Riva that we were coming. We hired a carriage, and the four of us, father, uncle Beldin, Beldaran and I rode the rest of the way to Camaar. Frankly, I’d have rather walked. The stubby ponies drawing the carriage didn’t really move very fast, and the wheels of the carriage seemed to find every single rock and rut in the road. Riding in carriages didn’t really become pleasant until some clever fellow came up with a way to install springs in them.
Camaar was even more crowded with people than Muros had been. We took some rooms in a Sendarian inn and settled down to wait for Riva’s arrival. I found it rather disconcerting to see buildings every time I looked out the window. Sendars appeared to have a kind of revulsion to open spaces. They always seem to want to ‘civilize’ everything.
The innkeeper’s wife, a plump, motherly little woman, seemed bent on ‘civilizing’ me as well. She kept offering me the use of the bath-house, for one thing. She rather delicately suggested that I didn’t smell very sweet.
I shrugged off her suggestions. ‘It’s a waste of time,’ I told her. ‘I’ll only get dirty again. The next time it rains, I’ll go outside. That should take the smell and the worst of the dirt off me.’
She also offered me a comb and a brush – which I also refused. I wasn’t going to let the Alorn who’d stolen my sister away from me get some idea that I was taking any pains to make myself presentable for his sake.