He was much relieved when the Countess – or whatever – came back up about an hour later to retrieve Beldaran. He was getting into putting the final touches to his art-work, and he really wanted to concentrate. After much consideration, he decided that the carrots he’d used for noses were just too comic-looking, so he replaced them with turnips. That was much better, he decided. He’d been working on these snow-sculptures for a week now, and they seemed to be coming along splendidly. Seven fierce, though bulbous, white soldiers already lined the battlements to glare down at the harbor, and Prince Geran was confident that if winter just lasted long enough, he’d have a whole regiment to command.
‘Isn’t that one bully, Wolf?’ Geran asked his companion after he’d put the finishing touches on the seventh sentinel.
‘One does not see the purpose of this,’ Wolf noted politely. Geran thought he detected a note of criticism in his friend’s observation. Wolf was so practical sometimes.
Prince Geran fell back on his grandfather’s suggestion at that point. ‘It is a custom,’ he explained.
‘Oh,’ Wolf said. That is all right, then. Customs do not need a purpose.’
Grandfather had taught Geran the language of wolves during the summer the boy had spent in the Vale. It had really been necessary at that time, since grandfather and grandmother spoke exclusively in Wolvish. Geran was rather proud of his command of the language, though Wolf sometimes gave him peculiar looks. Quite a bit of Wolvish is conveyed by movements of the ears, and Geran couldn’t wiggle his ears, so he moved them with his fingers instead. Wolf seemed to think that was just a bit odd.
Geran was very proud of Wolf. Other boys on the Isle of the Winds had dogs, and they called them pets. Wolf, however, was Geran’s companion, and they talked together all the time. Wolf, Geran had noted, had some strange attitudes, and it was sometimes necessary to step around him carefully to avoid giving offense. Geran knew that wolves do play, but Wolvish play is a kind of affectionate romping. Wolf couldn’t really understand the complexity of human play, so Geran frequently fell back on the word ‘custom’.
Geran seldom thought about Wolf’s origins. Grandmother had found Wolf as an orphaned puppy in the forest near Kell over in Mallorea, and Geran concentrated very hard on erasing all his own memories of what had happened in Mallorea. He did have occasional nightmares about Zandramas, though – mostly involving the tiny points of light that glowed beneath her skin. Those nightmares were becoming less and less frequent, though, and Geran was confident that if he refused to think about them, they’d eventually go away entirely. He firmly pushed those fleeting thoughts out of his mind and concentrated instead on his snow-sentries.
Evening was settling over the battlements high above the city of Riva when father came up to fetch his son and Wolf. Geran knew that father was the Rivan King and ‘Overlord of the West’, but in Geran’s eyes those were simply job-titles. Father was just ‘father’, no matter what others chose to call him. Father’s face was sort of ordinary – unless some kind of emergency came along. When that happened, father’s face became the least ordinary face in the whole world. Those rare emergencies sometimes obliged father to go get his sword, and when that happened, most sensible people ran for cover.
Father gravely surveyed his son’s work in the gathering twilight. ‘Nice soldiers,’ he observed.
“They’d look a lot better if you’d let me borrow some of the things from the armory,’ Geran said hopefully.
“That might not be a very good idea, Geran,’ father replied. ‘Not unless you want to spend the whole summer polishing the rust off them.’
‘I guess I hadn’t thought of that,’ Geran admitted.
‘One is curious to know how your day has gone,’ father said politely to Wolf.
‘It has been satisfactory,’ Wolf replied.
‘One is pleased that you have found it so.’
Father and Geran made a special point of not speaking in Wolvish around mother. Mother didn’t like ‘secret languages’. She always seemed to think that people who spoke in languages she didn’t understand were speaking about her. Geran was forced to admit that quite frequently she was right about that. People did talk about mother a lot, and secret languages, be they Wolvish or the finger-wiggling Drasnian variety, tended to keep the noise level down on the Isle of the Winds. Geran loved mother, but she was excitable.
‘Did you have a nice day, dear?’ mother asked when Geran and father entered the royal apartment after dutifully stamping the snow off their feet in the corridor outside. Wolf, of course, didn’t stamp his paws, but he’d already chewed the ice out from between his toes, so he didn’t really track in very much water.
‘It was just bully, mother,’ Geran replied. All the boys Prince Geran knew used the word ‘bully’ every chance they got, and Geran was very fashion-conscious, so he also sprinkled his speech with ‘bullies’. It was the stylish thing to do, after all.
‘Your bath’s ready, Geran,’ mother told him.
‘I’m not really all that dirty, mother,’ he said without thinking. Then he bit his tongue. Why did he always start talking before he considered the consequences?
‘I don’t care if you don’t think you’re dirty!’ mother said, her voice going up several octaves. ‘I told you to go bathe! Now move!’
Father flickered a quick ‘you’d better do as she says’ at Geran with a few barely perceptible moves of his fingers. ‘You’ll get in trouble if you don’t.’
Geran sighed and nodded. He was very nearly as tall as mother by now, but she still loomed large in his awareness. Prince Geran was seven years old, and Wolf considered him to be an adult. Geran felt that his maturity entitled him to a little respect, but he didn’t get very much of that from mother. He didn’t really think that was very fair.
Living in the same house with mother was a constant adventure, and Geran had long since discovered that the best way to hold down the level of excitement was to do exactly as mother told him to do. Prince Geran had noticed that he was not alone in making that discovery. The unspoken motto of the entire castle – the entire Isle of the Winds, most likely – was ‘don’t cross the Queen’. The Rivans all adored their tiny queen anyway, and it wasn’t really all that much trouble to do exactly as she told them to do. Keeping Queen Ce’Nedra happy was a national pastime, and making sure that everybody understood its importance was one of the major parts of the job of Kail, the Rivan Warder.