‘I think it’d be kinder if we left him here, Aunt Pol,’ Darion told me. ‘He won’t leave mother’s grave anyway, and I don’t think he’d understand why it’s necessary. Why don’t we just say that we’re going on a trip and let it go at that? After a month or so, he probably won’t even remember us. I’ll get someone to stay with him here, and he’ll be all right.’
I didn’t like it, but Darion was probably right. Geran was doddering on the edge of senility right now, and I knew of no quicker way to kill him than to uproot him at his age.
Darion, his wife Esena, and their ten-year-old son, Darral, went with me to Val Alorn, and we took ship for Darine and traveled on down to Medalia, where I bought us a house and set Darion up in business as a stone-cutter. The products that came out of his shop were tombstones, for the most part, and that’s a gloomy sort of business. Darral learned his father’s trade, and when he was sixteen or so, he married Alara, the daughter of a local dry goods merchant.
Father pestered us almost continually until, in 5329, Alara finally gave birth to a baby boy. Father’s face fell the first time he looked at the baby, Geran. ‘He’s not the one, Pol,’ he reported.
‘That’s not my fault, father,’ I told him. ‘Oh, by the way, in just a few years, I’m going to be moving Darral and his family.’
‘Medalia’s right on the main road between Darine and Muros, and there are just a few too many strangers passing through town for my comfort. I want a place that’s just a little more remote.’
‘Oh? Where have you decided to settle?’
‘It’s a little village up in the mountains.’
‘What’s the name of the place?’
‘Annath, father. It’s right next to the Algarian border, and there’s a big stone-quarry there, so Darral should be able to find work that doesn’t involve tombstones.’
Did you perhaps notice that my explanation of the decision to move my little family to Annath was slightly less than candid? I thought you might have noticed that. I’ve found over the years that it’s not really a good idea to give my father too much information. Father has an overpowering urge to dabble in things, and his dabbling frequently ends up being disastrous. I suspect that my father thinks of himself as an artist, but his definition of art and mine are worlds apart.
Actually, I’d never even seen Annath, and my decision to move there was based entirely on its proximity to the Algarian border. Mother had told me that Geran was destined to marry an Algarian girl named Ildera, and I thought it might be a good idea if the two of them were to grow up in the same general vicinity.
As it turned out, though, our move was delayed by old Darion’s final illness, which was unfortunately quite protracted. I dislike lingering illnesses even more than I hate those sudden heart stoppages. A decent illness would run its course in a week or ten days, and the patient would then recover or die. Death has little dignity if it’s either too quick or too slow. Anyway, Darion hung on until 5334, and after his funeral, a change of scene was definitely in order. Everything in Medalia reminded us of our loss.
Darral sold his stoneworks and our house, and we packed up such possessions as we wanted to keep in a pair of wagons and left Medalia early on a summer morning with Darrel driving one wagon and me driving the other.
Yes, as a matter of fact, I do know how to drive a team of horses. Why do you keep asking these silly questions? We’ll never reach the end of this if you keep interrupting me like that.
It was summer, as I recall, and summer’s a nice time to travel in the mountains. There was no real hurry, so we took our time. At one point, Darral reined in his team, looking speculatively at a mountain stream that was gurgling over smooth round stones and joyously plunging into deep quiet pools. ‘What do you think, Aunt Pol?’ he called back to me. ‘This might be a good place to camp for the night, and we really ought to rest the horses.’
‘It’s only noon, Darral,’ Alara pointed out.
‘Well, this is a good place, and we have pushed the horses pretty hard. It’s all been uphill, you know.’ He sounded sincerely concerned about the horses, and he seemed to be making a special point of not looking at the stream. I knew the signs, of course. I’d seen them often enough back in Emgaard. I looped the reins of my team around the brake handle of my wagon and climbed down. ‘Over there,’ I said, pointing at a mossy little area under some low-hanging cedar trees. ‘Before you get started, unhitch the horses, water them, and stake them out in that meadow. Then build a fire-pit and gather enough firewood for supper and for breakfast.’
‘I sort of thought – ’
‘I’m sure you did, dear. Get the work done first, and then you can go play.’
He gave me a sort of sheepish look and then absolutely flew into his chores.
‘What did you mean by that, Aunt Pol?’ Alara asked me. ‘Darral’s a grown man now. He doesn’t play any more.’
‘Oh, really? You have a lot to learn, Alara. Take a look at your husband’s face. He hasn’t worn that expression since he was about nine years old.’
‘What’s he going to do?’
‘He’s going to offer to provide supper, dear.’
‘We’ve got dried beef and flour and peas and all in the back of your wagon.’
‘Yes, I know. He’ll say that he’s tired of the same old thing every night, though.’
‘Why would he do that?’
‘He wants to go fishing, Alara. That little steam’s seducing him for all it’s worth, and he’s not resisting very hard.’
‘He can’t catch enough fish to feed us all in one afternoon.’
‘Well, he might, and there’s always tomorrow.’
‘Tomorrow?’ Her face grew indignant. ‘That’s absurd! We’ll never get to Annath if he stops every time we come to some little brook.’
‘You’d probably better get used to it, Alara. I think it runs in the family. Tomorrow morning, one of the horses will be lame, or a wagon wheel will have to be greased – and of course it’ll be too late to start out by the time he’s finished.’
‘How long will this last?’
‘That probably depends entirely on how the fish are biting. I’d give it about three days – unless Old Twister has some relatives here in these mountains.’