We were all very happy there, and the centuries moved by at their stately pace almost unnoticed. I even lost track of the years, and I’m usually careful about that. I think it was in 5250 – or maybe it was ‘51 – when father stopped by for one of his infrequent visits. This time it wasn’t a purely social call, though. “The twins are starting to dig some hints out of the Mrin that we’re getting close to the Godslayer, Pol,’ he said gravely.
‘Is it soon, father?’
‘Well, no, not too soon, but definitely within the next century or so.’
‘If we’re getting that close, I’d better start thinking about relocating to Sendaria, hadn’t I?’
He gave me a quizzical look.
‘I can read the Darine and the Mrin as well as you can, father,’ I told him pointedly. ‘I know where the Godslayer’s supposed to be born.’
‘Don’t jump just yet, Pol. The twins might be able to dig out a more specific time for us to work with, and I don’t want you wandering around in Sendaria when I don’t have Chamdar’s location pinpointed. Who’s the current heir?’
‘His name’s Geran, father. I like to keep that name well-polished for some very personal reasons. He just got married, so I don’t think his son’s going to be the one we’ve been waiting for.’
‘Oh? Why not?’
‘His bride’s a Cherek, father, and a friendly glance is enough to make a Cherek girl pregnant. She’ll probably go into labor before I can get packed and move us to Sendaria.’
‘Are Chereks really that fertile?’
‘Why do you think they all have such large families?’
‘I thought it might have something to do with the climate.’
‘What could the climate have to do with it?’
‘Well, there are all those long, cold winter nights with nothing to do but –’ He broke off abruptly.
‘Yes, father?’ I said sweetly. ‘Do go on. I find your scientific speculation absolutely fascinating.’
He actually blushed.
It wasn’t too long after father’s visit that mother also paid me a call – figuratively speaking, of course. ‘Pol,’ her voice came to me.
‘Yes, mother?’ I replied, setting aside the pot I’d been scrubbing.
‘You’re going to have to go to Nyissa. Ctuchik’s trying to subvert Salmissra. Somebody’s going to have to set her straight.’
‘Why me?’ I didn’t mean it, of course.
There was a long pause, and then my mother laughed. ‘Because I said so, Pol. Whatever possessed you to ask such a foolish question?’
‘It’s a family trait, mother. I’ve been listening to young boys ask that same question for twelve centuries or so now. Isn’t it infuriating?’
‘How do you usually answer?’
‘About the same way you just did. I’ll speak with the twins and ask them to fill in for me here. Then I’ll go talk with the snake woman. Is Ctuchik corrupting her personally?’
‘No. Ctuchik almost never leaves Rak Cthol. He’s got Chamdar handling it.’
‘Ah, that’d explain why father hasn’t been able to find him.’
‘How is he?’
I shrugged. ‘About the same – unfortunately. You know father.’
‘Be nice.’ And then she was gone.
I sent out my thought to the twins, and they came winging in about two days later.
‘I think I’d rather that father didn’t know where I’m going,’ I said just before I left. ‘He always seems to muddy things up when he sticks his nose into things I’m already taking care of.’
‘You shouldn’t talk that way about your father, Pol,’ Beltira chided gently.
‘Well, doesn’t he?’
‘I suppose he does, but it’s not nice to come right out and say it like that, is it?’
I laughed and then introduced them to my little family. I wasn’t too specific about the reason for my business trip, however. Then I went out into the surrounding forest and took my favorite alternative form of the falcon. I could have used the eagle, I suppose, but eagles are just a little too impressed by their own overwhelming nobility for my taste. In a peculiar way, eagles are the Arends of the bird world. Falcons are far more sensible, and they have an obsessive love of flying fast. Any time two falcons get together, there’s almost always an impromptu race, which does sort of interrupt things during the mating season.
I winged my way down over the Cherek Bore and that patchwork quilt of greens and browns that’s called Sendaria. From my vantage point several thousand feet above I was able to see just how neat and orderly Sendaria really was, and I heartily approved of that. Neatness is not perhaps one of the major virtues, but it does count.
I settled down for the night in a tree in the Asturian forest just south of the Camaar River, and I took wing again at first light the next day. I passed on down across Mimbre and on into Tolnedra before I stopped again.
Go ahead and say it. Yes, as a matter of fact, it is over a thousand miles from Val Alorn to Sthiss Tor, and no bird alive could possibly cover that much distance in three days, so I cheated. Does that answer your question?
It was humid in Sthiss Tor, and I hate places where the air’s chewy. I came to rest in a tree outside the garishly colored walls of the city of the snake people and considered my options. I immediately discarded the notion of my favorite alternative form. The snowy owl isn’t indigenous to Nyissa, and white birds do tend to stick out at night. The answer was fairly simple, of course, but I didn’t care for it very much. I’m sure that bats are hard-working, industrious, and nice to their mothers, but I’ve always had an unreasoning sort of prejudice against them for some reason. They have such ugly faces! I gritted my beak and changed form.
It took some getting used to, I’ll admit that. The flight of a bat is not at all like the flight of a bird. Feathers are sometimes inconvenient, but they make it much easier to fly. A bat has to literally claw his way through the air. I managed that part after a while, but it took me even longer to get used to the business of steering by echoes. Did you know that bats do that? They aren’t squeaking just for the fun of it, you know. A bat can fly in total darkness without ever running into anything. You would not believe how sharp their ears are. Once I’d assumed that form, I could hear the whine of a mosquito from a hundred yards away.