‘I’ve always rather liked wildflowers,’ Belkira added.
‘I’m fond of them myself. If you hear from my father, give him my regards, would you?’
‘Of course, Pol’
I was rather smug about the way I’d managed to tell them about Ildera’s condition without actually coming right out and saying anything about it As it turned out, however, I seem to have underestimated Chamdar by more than a little.
In the years following what happened at Annath, father, my uncles and I have pieced together Chamdar’s movements during the fourth decade of the fifty-fourth century. Father in particular became almost obsessed with the project and he was the one who finally verified Chamdar’s involvement in what happened to Darral. He happened across a talkative old fellow in one of those rowdy taverns in Muros who, after some prodding, dredged up an incident out of a nearly dormant memory. He recalled that a Murgo matching Chamdar’s description had been asking for directions to Annath in 5349 – ‘On accounta that wuz th’ same year my old ox, Butter, died. Calt him Butter ‘cuz he wuz alluz buttin’ his head aginst me.’
At some point in his shady past my father had developed the knack of winnowing not only thoughts, but also images, out of other men’s minds, and so when the somewhat tipsy old fellow remembered the incident, father was able to recognize Chamdar from his informant’s rather blurred recollection. Chamdar had passed through Muros in 5349, and he had been looking for Annath just before Darral had been killed. I wouldn’t want to have to pursue our case against Chamdar in a court of law, but it had never been our intention to take him before a magistrate. We had quicker, more certain ways to obtain justice.
Anyway, after I’d confirmed Ildera’s pregnancy, we talked things over with Geran, and we decided not to try to keep it a secret from Alara. As it turned out, the news that she was about to become a grandmother made Alara very happy, and if things had turned out differently, it might even have restored her to sanity.
It was quiet in Annath that spring and summer. The menfolk went to work in the quarry every morning, and the women cooked, cleaned, washed clothes, and gossiped. Ildera bloomed – slowly of course – and she frequently gave vent to the pregnant woman’s universal complaint, ‘Why does this have to take so long?’ All in all, it was a fairly normal pregnancy.
I thought things over frequently during the late spring and early summer, and I decided that after the baby was bom, our family should probably move again. We’d been in Annath for twenty years now, and even though Annath was isolated, I felt that it wouldn’t be a good idea for us to remain there much longer. I ran through my mental catalogue of all the towns and villages in Sendaria, crossing out all the places where I’d previously lived, since local folklore will cling to incidents that took place generations ago. I definitely didn’t want to run across someone who might be able to dredge certain memories out of the long gone past. All it takes sometimes is for some idler to say to his friends, ‘Have you noticed how much she looks like that lady they say lived over on Shadylane about three hundred years ago?’ and my secret’s out. Ultimately, I settled on the town of Wala, some miles to the south of the main road between Muros and Camaar. I hadn’t lived in southern Sendaria for centuries, and Wala was a fairly new town, founded less than two hundred years ago.
To avoid any possible discovery, the twins and I relied rather heavily on the members of Ildera’s clan to carry messages back and forth to each other. When there are unfriendly ears about, it’s not a good idea to shout – figuratively speaking – back and forth. It was late summer when a horsehide clad Algar brought me a letter from them advising me that they’d finally located my father. Actually, I believe it was Mandorallen who tracked him down and gave him the message that ‘a certain kinswoman of thine is with child’. Mandorallen’s the perfect one to carry a message like that, since he wouldn’t even think of trying to puzzle out what it meant.
Father immediately returned to the Vale, but – wisely, I thought – decided not to come to Annath. We didn’t know where Chamdar was, and father didn’t want to lead him right to me and my family. Instead, father went off to central Sendaria and started thrashing around in order to attract Chamdar’s attention.
It was late autumn when Alara’s condition took a turn for the worse. All during the spring and summer, she’d been so caught up in the progress of Ildera’s pregnancy that she’d seemed at times almost normal. Then as the leaves began to turn, she quite suddenly developed a fixation that Darral was lost somewhere in the surrounding mountains. I know now who it was who’d implanted that fixation, but at the time it totally baffled me. I simply couldn’t let her out of my sight for a moment. The minute I turned my back, she was gone. I frequently – after hours of searching – found her wandering aimlessly in the surrounding forest, plaintively calling out her husband’s name. Those pitiful cries tore at my heart, and I couldn’t bring myself to scold her.
In retrospect, I’ll concede that Chamdar was no ordinary Grolim. He was extraordinarily skilled at concealing himself. I never once caught any sense of his presence nor any hint of what he was doing to Alara’s mind. Moreover, he knew me far better than I was prepared to admit. He knew, for example, that all it took to send me off into the surrounding forest was Alara’s absence. Most Grolims wouldn’t have had any conception of my love for the members of my family, since love’s an alien concept to the Grolims. Chamdar not only understood it, but he also used it to skillfully pull me out of Annath at the critical moment.
Winter came early that year. The first heavy snowfall swept across the mountains before the aspen trees had even finished shedding their leaves, and that combination always makes for a very cluttered forest. When a thick, wet snow piles up on unshed leaves, its weight breaks branches, and it’s very difficult to wade your way through the resulting brush-pile. After Alara had escaped me a few times, I gave some thought to throwing caution to the winds and conducting my searches for her from the air. I firmly set that idea aside, however. There was no point in announcing my location to Chamdar just to keep my feet dry.
I’m sure the irony of that didn’t escape you. In essence, I was trying to hide from somebody who already knew exactly where I was. Chamdar was playing me like a lute. Every time I think of it, my blood starts to boil. If I knew how to do it, I’d resurrect him so that Garion could set fire to him again.