Despite his youth, Gelane gained a certain celebrity that day. Good fortune had positively rained down on him all at once, and that’s a very rare occurrence. It was rare enough, at any rate, to arouse a great deal of envy among the other apprentices in Seline, and there was a fair amount of spiteful gossip among them on the fairly frequent occasions when they slipped away from work for those quick visits to the local taverns. Nobody pays much attention to the idle backbiting of assorted mediocre apprentices, but even the more substantial merchants and craftsman noticed what had happened. I heard one burger put it rather succinctly. ‘The lucky dog married a beautiful girl and became the owner of his own business all on the same day. I’m going to keep my eye on that one. He’s a comer, mark my words.’
Looking back, I think I might have been wiser to have deferred the transfer of the barrel-works to Gelane for a year or so. I’m sure Osrig would have agreed to such a delay had I given him my word that from that day forward Gelane would open the shop every morning. Maybe the chance to get everything all accomplished in one day seemed just to good to pass up. Sometimes my sense of economy gets ahead of me.
Gelane’s celebrity wore off, of course, and after a year or so he was merely ‘Gelane the cooper’ instead of ‘that lucky dog’. People bought barrels from him because he made good barrels, but other than that, no particular fame attached itself to him.
That brief time when he was ‘special’, however, reawakened Gelane’s sense of his own importance, and that’s very dangerous for someone whose major goal is supposed to be staying out of sight.
In retrospect, I’m sure that Brand’s attempt to cleanse the world of Angaraks hadn’t succeeded nearly as well as he’d hoped it would. There weren’t any Murgo ‘merchants’ sitting in nearly every tavern in the west, but the Murgos weren’t the only Angaraks on our side of the Sea of the East. Chamdar had access to the Dagashi, and they’re a lot less visible than Murgos.
Anyway, after a year or so, Master Osrig had quietly faded out of our lives and Gelane converted the loft over his shop into living quarters. That’s when Aravina suffered a recurrence of that deep, incapacitating melancholia; and I was forced to devote all my attention to her. After the initial crisis had passed, I noticed that our usually sunny Enalla was showing some signs of discontentment. ‘What is your problem, Enalla?’ I asked her pointedly one morning after Gelane had gone downstairs to open the shop for business.
‘I don’t think Gelane loves me any more, Aunt Pol,’ she replied disconsolately.
‘Don’t be absurd. He adores you.’
‘Why does he find excuses to go out every night then? If he isn’t “looking into a new place to buy oak boards to use for barrel staves” – after all the lumber yards have closed, he’s “trying to find a fellow who hasn’t paid his bill”. He’s so obvious sometimes. Do you know what I think, Aunt Pol? I think some tavern wench – or worse – has taken his eye. He doesn’t even seem interested in –’ she suddenly blushed. ‘Well, you know – that.’
I knew exactly what she meant by ‘that’. ‘I’ll look into it, Enalla. How long’s this been going on?’
‘Almost two months now. You and I were both very concerned about mother Aravina, and something happened to Gelane while neither of us was watching.’ She paused. ‘Do we always have to do that, Aunt Pol? – keep an eye on them every minute of the day or night, I mean?’
‘Don’t they ever grow up?’
‘Some do. Some don’t. My father hasn’t managed it yet, and he’s much, much older than Gelane. Does our boy go out every single night?’
‘He has been lately.’
‘Good. I’ll follow him tonight then. Let’s find out where he’s going and who’s become the center of his attention.’
‘He’ll see you if you try to follow him, Aunt Pol.’
‘He might, but he won’t know that it’s me. I’ll give Aravina something to make her sleep this evening. You can watch over her while I go find out what Gelane’s up to.’
As it turned out, what Gelane was ‘up to’ took me totally by surprise. I’d been periodically in contact with my father, so I knew that uncle Beldin had found the cave where Zedar was hiding his comatose Master, and I also knew that father was in Tolnedra, hot on the heels of a man who called himself ‘Asharak the Murgo’.
I’m sure that name rings a few bells. It turned out to be Chamdar’s favorite pseudonym.
Anyway, Chamdar was supposedly sprinkling most of Tolnedra with blood-red coins in his efforts to locate ‘a dark-haired lady with a white streak in her hair’. Chamdar wasn’t slow, by any means, and he’d neatly filched a page from father’s book. Before the Angarak invasion, father’d spent centuries leading Chamdar a merry chase around Sendaria, and now Chamdar returned the favor by doing exactly the same thing to father in Tolnedra.
Father’s response was absolutely brilliant. It didn’t work, but it was brilliant all the same. The ‘new hair style’ that suddenly erupted in Tolnedra, Arendia, and Sendaria would have driven Chamdar to distraction, I sure. He’d spent centuries looking for me, and now he’d be coming across me every time he turned a corner in every town from Tol Borune to Darine. The only problem with that was that as it turned out, Chamdar already knew exactly where I was.
After supper that evening, Gelane mumbled a highly unconvincing story about an elusive debtor. Then he went downstairs, fetched something out of a cupboard that supposedly contained only some tools, and then left the shop. Once he was out in the street with a canvas bag over his shoulder, he looked around furtively for any signs of pursuit, but he didn’t look up at the rooftops, so he didn’t see the brown-spotted owl watching him intently.
I’m certain that had Silk been there, he’d have groaned at just how inept Gelane was in his efforts to be inconspicuous. Tiptoing isn’t really the best way to escape notice. At any rate, he finally reached the edge of town where it bordered on Lake Seline, and he followed the lakeshore to a fairly extensive grove of trees lying about a mile to the east of town. It was a dark, moonless night, and Gelane was virtually invisible as he crept though the undergrowth. I was up among the branches of the trees above him, and it wasn’t long until I began catching fleeting glimpses of the ruddy glow of a fire just a ways off. The fire was obviously Gel-ane’s destination, so I drifted on ahead to have a look.