He nodded. ‘You seem almost happy here, Pol,’ he observed.
‘I like what I’m doing, and I like the people here on this farm. I wouldn’t exactly say that I’m happy, though. That might change after father and Silk dispose of Chamdar.’
‘Prince Kheldar. It was his nickname at the academy. I’d better get back to the kitchen. My helpers all mean well, but they need a lot of supervision. Give my best to uncle Belkira.’
‘I will, Pol. We love you, you know.’
‘Yes, as a matter of fact I do – and I love you too. Now scoot.’
‘Yes, ma’am.’ And then we both laughed.
Garion started crawling shortly after Beltira’s visit, and my life suddenly became much more interesting. He was in a kitchen, after all, and a crawling baby underfoot in a place where there are knives, cleavers, pots of boiling water, and scurrying kitchen workers added a certain amount of excitement to my life. I could never be exactly sure of where he was. Dear Gods, that little boy could move fast! I soon became adept at herding him around with my feet. I’m sure I frequently looked like an acrobat – pinching a pie-crust with one hand, seasoning a bowl of dressing with the other and scooping a very active little boy out of harm’s way with my foot. Garion thought that was lots of fun, but it didn’t entertain me all that much. I really wasn’t looking forward to the day when he started walking, and I began to give some serious consideration to putting him on a leash or something.
Harvest time on a farm is the busiest part of the year for the people who grow food for a living, and my kitchen was no exception. Notice that I could call it my kitchen now. Mistress Nala’s legs finally went bad on her, and so she went off to live with her youngest daughter on the northern end of Lake Medalia. Anyway, Faldor’s farm hands had to be fed four times a day during the harvest, and that kept my helpers and me busy from well before dawn until several hours past sunset. I think everybody on the farm was very happy to see the last wagonload of turnips come in out of the fields.
And then after the harvest was done and all the leaves had fallen from the trees, an itinerant storyteller stopped by to cadge a few meals out of Faldor. He was a shabbily-dressed old rascal with mismatched shoes and a piece of rope for a belt. His hair and beard were white and close-cropped, and he had glue on his fingers. He must have had, since everything he touched stuck to them. I knew that he was coming of course, since I’d sensed his familiar presence when he was still five miles beyond the gate.
No, I didn’t even consider locking the gate before he arrived. Well, not very seriously, anyway.
My goat recognized him, of course, and she smoothly jumped the gate of her stall and ran out to greet him, her tail wagging furiously. He smiled and scratched her ears, and then he asked Durnik the smith where he might find ‘the owner of this fine establishment’.
He introduced himself to Faldor, pretending to be ‘the greatest storyteller in all of Sendaria’, which might even have been true, now that I think of it, and then he gravitated to my kitchen where all the food and drink was. He turned on his not inconsiderable charm and entertained my helpers while we prepared supper. He made it look as if he were trying to ingratiate himself with me when he took some time out from his random pilferage to play with Garion. I was being careful not to watch him too obviously, but I did happen to catch a glimpse of the tears that filled his eyes once or twice while he and Garion were playing a little game of ‘tickle-tickle, giggle-giggle’. My feelings for the Old Wolf softened noticeably at that point. Though he tries to hide it, father does have his sentimental side.
He paid for his supper that evening by telling stories after we’d all eaten. The one that got the most applause was the one he called ‘How Belgarath and four companions stole back the Orb of Aldur from the One-Eyed God of Angarak’. The farm hands went absolutely wild over that one. ‘My friend,’ Faldor said at the end of the story, ‘that was absolutely amazing! You told that story almost as if you’d actually been there in person!’
I had a little trouble keeping a straight face along about then. I’ll admit, however, that if he really sets his mind to it, my father can hold an audience spellbound for hours on end, and he never seems to tire of the sound of his own voice.
Then, after Faldor and his farmhands had all retired for the night and I’d shooed my helpers off to their beds, father, Garion and I had the kitchen to ourselves. I blew out most of the lamps, leaving only one still burning to dimly light my kitchen. I laid out a few things in preparation for tomorrow’s breakfast, and father was sitting off in a corner holding the sleeping little boy on his lap.
I caught a faint flicker of movement at the kitchen door, and I turned quickly. It was my little nanny goat, and her golden eyes glowed in the dim light. ‘You,’ I commanded her, ‘go back to the stables where you belong.’
‘Oh, leave her be, Pol,’ father said tolerantly. ‘She’s a member of the family too, you know.’
‘Peculiar notion,’ I murmured. Then I looked him squarely in the face. ‘Well, Old Wolf,’ I said quietly, ‘did you finally run Chamdar down?’
‘We didn’t even get close to him, Pol,’ he admitted, dropping his characterization and speaking very seriously. ‘I’m giving some thought to taking a run down to Rak Cthol and jerking out Ctuchik’s liver.’
‘Interesting notion. What’s he done lately that you don’t like?’
‘He’s sending counterfeit Chamdars into the west.’
‘Would you like to clarify that?’
‘He’s modified some ordinary Murgos – or Grolims, for all I know – to make them look exactly like Asharak the Murgo. That makes Drasnian intelligence absolutely worthless. Silk was terribly upset when I told him that he’d been following the wrong man. That was the only good thing to come out of the whole affair.’
‘That one went by a little fast, father.’
‘Our Prince Kheldar’s terribly impressed with himself, Pol. He was in dire need of a large dose of humility. His face almost fell off when I told him that he’d been wasting his time on a forgery.’
‘Then you haven’t really got any idea at all of where the real Chamdar might be?’
‘Not a clue, Pol. Not a clue. About the best I can do to distract him is to go Up into the Alom kingdoms and thrash around, making a lot of noise and spreading rumors. Chamdar’s got access to a lot of gold, so he can hire spies in addition to the Dagashi who’re probably standing at every crossroads from Val Alom to Sthiss Tor. The best way I know of to distract his Dagashi and his home-grown spies is to flop around waving my arms to make sure that a lot of Alorns are talking about “that funny old man who tells stories”. That’ll be the easy part. All it takes to get an Alom to start talking is a couple of tankards of ale, and all it takes to make him stop is about two dozen more.’ He looked at me gravely. ‘It isn’t much, Pol, but if s about the best I can come up with for the moment. You’re awfully exposed here, you know. Maybe you’d better go back to your house on Lake Erat.’