‘You’re taking a lot of the fun out of this, you know,’ he accused.
‘Just do as you’re told, and don’t ask questions, Javelin. All shall be revealed unto thee in the fullness of time.’ I just threw that in.
Javelin picked up on it immediately. ‘I shall be guided by thee in this, your Grace,’ he replied extravagantly. ‘I will, however, will thee or nil thee, make a few guesses.’
‘Guess all you want, dear boy, but don’t start dipping your fingers into it just yet.’ I rose from my chair. ‘Absolutely splendid talking with you, old chap,’ I added lightly. ‘Oh, incidentally, remind my father to bring lots of money with him when he comes to Yar Nadrak. I think he may be a bit surprised to discover how much I’m really worth.’
Javelin set aside his normal business and made the trip to Annath in person. I was a sort of living legend, after all. That can be tiresome now and then, but there are a few advantages to it, I suppose.
Father took his time getting to Yar Nadrak, naturally. Father takes his time about almost everything. After you’ve lived for seven thousand or so years, time doesn’t really mean all that much to you, I guess. Then again, it’s altogether possible that he had some trouble making a decision about buying me. He was extemely fond of that gold he and Yarblek’s ancestor had extracted from that stream-bed up near the lands of the Morindim, and parting with some of it may have been causing him a few problems.
Eventually, however, he passed the test – and make no mistake about it, it was a test – and he showed up in Yar Nadrak with a saddle-bag filled with gold. Apparently I was worth something to him, after all.
I sensed his presence when he was a couple of miles out of town, and I accompanied Gallak to his place of business that morning. Gallak had a warehouse, of course, but he did most of his business in a tavern. Where else?
I waited until the old vagabond was about three doors away from the tavern, and then I told Gallak that I felt like dancing. I thought that might be a nice way to welcome father to Yar Nadrak – and let him know that he was getting his money’s worth.
He entered the front door unobtrusively. Father’s very good at unobtrusiveness. He seemed just a trifle surprised when he saw what I was doing. I definitely got his attention. Then, to entertain him, I exaggerated the performance just a bit. The tavern patrons started cheering, and father’s eyes hardened into a kind of possessive belligerence. What a dear man he was! He still cared for me, even as he had before Beldaran’s wedding. Three thousand years slipped away, and we were right back at the same place we’d been when I was only sixteen. My grip on him hadn’t slipped a bit.
I concluded my dance to deafening cheers and then strutted back to Gallak’s table. Father pushed his way through the crowd trying his best to conceal his pugnaciousness. ‘That’s quite a woman you’ve got there, friend,’ he observed. ‘Would you care to sell her?’
They exchanged a few wary pleasantries, and then we got down to some serious haggling about my price.
Father started out with an insultingly low bid, and I stepped in and countered with an absurdly high one. Then father raised his offer, and Gallak reduced his price. I started to get irritated when father stubbornly refused to go higher than ten bars of gold. What is this thing men have with the number ten? There’s nothing magic about it, is there?
Along toward the end, I once again added my own voice to Gallak’s. The ultimate price wasn’t really all that important. I just wanted to push my father off that ten. Eleven would have satisfied me, but Gallak surprised me by holding out, and he and father eventually settled on twelve. That’s a fairly respectable price, I suppose. Father’s gold bars weigh ten ounces apiece, and a hundred and twenty ounces of gold – sixty of which would be mine – isn’t bad, I guess.
It was late summer by the time father and I left Yar Nadrak, and we traveled west at father’s usual pace, which ranges from a slow walk to a dead stop, and so it was autumn by the time we reached the range of high mountains which forms the spine of the continent. Father took a look at the turning leaves and the mountains lying ahead of us, and he picked up the pace a b t. By then, of course, it was too late. Winter’s been catching up with my father for eons now, and he always seems surprised and slightly offended when it does.
The blizzard which caught us on the eastern slopes of the mountains was fairly savage, and it howled around our makeshift shelter for three days. I’m rather proud of the fact that I didn’t once use the word ‘dawdling’ or the expression ‘poking along’ during our conversations in those three days.
Then we set out again, but it was obviously not getting us anywhere. The snow on level ground was about four feet deep, and the drifts were much deeper. ‘There’s no help for it, father,’ I said finally. ‘We’re going to have to change form and fly out of here.’
His refusal surprised me just a bit, and his excuse, ‘There might be Grolims around,’ was really very flimsy. If we went falcon, we could be over Drasnia long before any Grolim got to within five miles of our present location. We plodded on through the snow, and we must have covered almost an entire mile before that first blizzard’s second cousin swept in, forcing us to put up another rude shelter.
The wind howled all night, and about the middle of the next morning, we heard someone hail our makeshift little hut. ‘Hello, the camp,’ a voice called to us. ‘I’m coming in. Don’t get excited.’
He was old. My father’s old, but father seems to ignore it. This fur-garbed fellow in some peculiar way seemed to have outgrown it. His hair and beard were of that rare silvery-white, almost luminous color, and his eyes were of a deep blue. I got the strange feeling that he saw everything. His face almost nestled in the deep fur of his collar, and his lushly-furred hat was nearly rakish. ‘Looks like you two got yourselves in trouble, didn’t you?’ he suggested humorously as he trudged up to our shelter.
‘We thought we could outrun it,’ father replied with some resignation.
‘Not much chance of that. These mountains are the natural home of snow. This is where it lives. Which way were you bound?’
‘Drasnia,’ father said.
‘I’d say you got a late start – too late. You won’t make Drasnia this winter.’ He sighed. ‘Well, there’s no help for it, I guess. You’d better winter with me. I’ve got a cave about a mile from here. Gather up your belongings and bring your horses. I guess I can put up with some company for one winter.’