They won’t mean very much to him if he can’t read, will they?’
‘Pol! He’s going to be a king! You can’t put an illiterate on a throne!’
‘Dras Bull-neck worked out fairly well, as I recall.’
That was three thousand years ago, Pol. The world was different then.’
‘Not all that much different, father. If it bothers you so much, you can teach him how to read after he’s been crowned.’
‘Me? Why me?’
I gave him a smug little smirk that spoke volumes, and then let it drop.
The twins arrived the following morning to take over father’s guard-duty, and my vengeful parent went off in search of Asharak the Murgo.
I spent the rest of that winter in the kitchen with Garion – and with whichever of the twins wasn’t on guard duty at the moment. I planned to leave just as soon as the weather broke, and I didn’t see much sense in heating the whole house, so I kept the kitchen doors closed. The kitchen had a large iron stove, and that suited me right down to the ground. The other rooms had fireplaces, which are pretty, but not very efficient.
Garion and I grew very close during those interminable months. He was a loveable baby, and I owed him a great deal because of my ghastly failure at Annath. His mind was barely awakened, but a bit of gentle probing gave me a few hints about what he’d become, and a few more hints about how much trouble I’d have raising him without losing my mind. This boy was going to be a challenge.
Spring eventually arrived, and after the mud had dried on the local country lanes, I selected a few of my most nondescript dresses, some odds and ends of clothing for Garion, and bundled them all up in a slightly threadbare blanket. Then I bade the twins goodbye and set out with my bundle slung over one shoulder and Garion in my arms and my goat trailing along behind me.
I reached the village of Upper Gralt, which wasn’t at all like Outer Gralt, by late afternoon. I went to a seedy-looking inn and haggled down the price of a single room for the night. I wanted to give the impression of teetering perilously on the brink of poverty. After I’d fed Garion and put him down for the night, I went on back downstairs to have a word with the innkeeper. ‘I’m looking for work,’ I told him.
‘Sorry, but I’m not hiring right now.’
That wasn’t what I had in mind,’ I told him. ‘Do you know of any local farmers who might need a good cook or housekeeper?’
He frowned, scratching at one cheek. ‘You might try Faldor,’ he suggested. ‘Some of his farmhands were by last week, and they said that Faldor’s cook’s starting to slip quite a bit. She’s getting old, and she’s slowing down. Faldor’s men were complaining about the meals always being late and only about half-cooked. It’s coming on toward planting time, and if a farm kitchen’s falling apart at planting time or harvest time, the farm hands start looking for new jobs. Faldor’s got a big farm, and he can’t plant it all by himself. If there’s not an opening for a cook right now, there probably will be in just a few weeks.’
‘Where’s his farm?’
‘About a day’s walk off toward the west. Faldor’s a good-hearted fellow, and even if he can’t hire you right away, he’ll make sure that you and your baby don’t go hungry. Just follow that road that leads west out of here toward the Medalia highway. Faldor’s place is the only one on the south side of the road, so you can’t miss it.’
‘I’ll find it,’ I assured him. ‘Thank you for the information.’ Then I checked on my goat out in the stables, climbed back up the stairs, and went to bed, nestling Garion close in my arms.
The next morning dawned clear and bright. I fed Garion and we were on the road leading off toward the west soon after the sun had peeped above the horizon. I knew exactly where I was going and I now had a sense of purpose, so my goat and I stepped right along.
It was about mid-afternoon when we topped a rise and saw a large neat farmstead lying about a half mile south of the road in the next valley. It looked almost as if it were walled in, but that wasn’t actually the case. The farm buildings were laid out in a square, with the barns, stables, and work-shops on the ground floor and the sleeping rooms for the farm hands lining a second floor gallery. All the buildings faced inward onto a large open compound, and everything was all in one place. The largest building stood at the back of the compound opposite that main gate. It was neat, well-organized, and convenient.
I definitely approved of what I saw, though it all may have been arranged so that I would well in advance. I went on down the hill and entered the compound, a little puzzled at what sounded very much like a bell singing out in measured tones.
As soon as I entered, I saw that what I’d been hearing hadn’t been a bell, but the sound of a smith hammering on a glowing horseshoe in his open-fronted smithy.
That, of course, explains how I missed the sound of that secret personal bell of mine. It was artfully concealed in the sound of that hammer on the steel anvil.
The smith’s hammering had a steady, no-nonsense rhythm to it, announcing that here was a fellow who was serious about his work. He was a rather plain-looking young man, about twenty-five and of medium height and deceptively medium build. The heavy sound of his hammer spoke volumes about just how strong he really was. He wore an ordinary tunic and a bum-spotted leather apron. That made a lot of sense. When you work with white-hot metal, you should really have something sturdy between your skin and the work.
I waited until the smith turned and quenched the horseshoe in the water barrel beside his anvil, sending up a cloud of steam. ‘Excuse me, Master smith,’ I said politely, shifting Garion in my arms, ‘have you any idea of where I might find farmer Faldor?’
Then he turned to look at me. I rather liked his open, honest face. ‘He’s probably in his counting-room at this time of day, Mistress,’ he replied politely in a pleasant voice.
‘Thank you,’ I said, inclining my head. ‘Now we come to the more technical questions. Exactly where is farmer Faldor’s counting-room?’
He laughed, and I noticed that he had very even, white teeth. His laugh was open and honest. I was taking to this man right away. I knew instinctively that he could be a very good friend. ‘Why don’t I just show you the way, Mistress?’ he offered, laying down his hammer. ‘My name’s Durnik, by the way.’
‘And mine’s Pol.’ I curtsied slightly. ‘I’m happy to make your acquaintance, Goodman Durnik.’