After Prince Geran had taken a rather rudimentary bath, he joined the rest of the family in the dining-room of the royal apartment. He had, however, made sure that the insides of his ears were slightly damp. Mother had this thing about clean ears. Prince Geran felt that as long as he could still hear, his ears were clean enough, but he always ducked his head under the water at the end of his bath just to keep mother happy.
He joined his family at the table, and the serving maid brought in dinner. They were having ham that evening, and Geran liked ham. There was, however, one major drawback to a ham dinner, and that was the traditional inclusion of spinach. For the life of him, Prince Geran could not understand why mother felt that ham and spinach went together. Geran privately felt that spinach didn’t really go with anything. To make matters even worse, Wolf didn’t care for spinach either, so Geran couldn’t furtively slip forkfuls of the awful stuff under the table to his friend the way he could with chunks of the roast goat the kitchen periodically delivered to the royal table. Geran didn’t care much for goat, but it ranked way above spinach in his opinion.
‘How’s your dinner, dear?’ mother asked him.
‘Bully, mother,’ he replied quickly. ‘Real bully.’
She rolled her eyes upward at his choice of language. Geran felt that mother didn’t really have a very well-developed sense of style.
‘What did Captain Greldik have to say?’ mother asked father.
Geran knew Captain Greldik, the vagrant Cherek sea-captain, and he rather liked him. Mother, however, didn’t approve of Captain Greldik. So far as Geran knew, no woman approved of Captain Greldik. They all seemed to feel that Greldik had a few too many bad habits. Worse yet, he didn’t even care.
‘Oh,’ father said, ‘I’m glad you reminded me. He says that Velvet’s expecting a baby.’
‘Silk’s going to be a father?’ mother exclaimed.
That’s what Greldik says.’
‘I think the whole institution of parenthood’s going to have to be redefined,’ mother laughed.
‘With Silk and Velvet for parents, we know what the baby’s profession’s going to be,’ father added.
Geran didn’t quite understand that part, since he was pondering a strategic dilemma just then. He’d put on a robe after his bath, and the robe had pockets – nice deep ones that were certainly large enough to hold and conceal the spinach on his plate until he could find an opportunity to dispose of the awful stuff. The problem with that lay in mother’s unfortunate habit of conducting impromptu searches of his pockets without any warning. Geran had lost a whole pocketful of perfectly good fishing worms that way one day last summer. He was fairly sure that the echoes of the scream she’d emitted when she’d reached into his pocket and encountered the worms were still bouncing around in the rafters somewhere. Deciding that concealing the spinach in the pocket of his robe was just too risky, Geran reluctantly choked it down, vowing once again that his first act when he ascended the throne would be to issue a royal decree banishing spinach forever from his realm.
Prince Geran might have tried to outlast mother on the spinach business, sitting stubbornly in his chair without touching it until dawn or later, but it was rapidly coming up on the high point of his day. For the past several months, mother had been reading to him after she’d settled him down in his bed, and it was no ordinary book she was reading. This book had been written by his very own Aunt Pol, and he knew most of the people who appeared in the later pages. He knew Barak and Silk, Lelldorin and Mandorallen, Durnik and Queen Porenn, and Hettar and Adara. Aunt Pol’s book was almost like a family reunion.
‘Have you finished?’ mother asked him after he’d laid his fork down.
‘Have you been a good boy today?’ Geran wondered what mother might do if he said, ‘No.’
He prudently decided not to try it. ‘Very good, mother,’ he said instead. ‘I didn’t break a single thing.’
‘Amazing,’ she said. ‘Now I suppose you’d like to have me read to you?’
‘If it’s not too much trouble, mother.’ Geran knew the value of the polite approach when he wanted something.
‘Very well,’ mother said. ‘You go pop into bed, and I’ll be along just as soon as I get Beldaran settled in for the night.’
Geran got up, kissed his father good night, and went to his bedroom. He set his candle down on the little table beside his bed and looked around quickly, giving his room a quick pre-emptive survey. It wasn’t too bad, but just to be on the safe side, he kicked the worst of the clutter under his bed.
‘One is curious to know why you do that each night,’ Wolf said.
‘It is a new custom,’ Geran replied, moving his ears with his fingers. ‘One believes that if one’s mother does not see what is lying on the floor of one’s den, one’s mother will not talk about it.’
Wolf’s tongue lolled out in wolfish laughter. ‘One notices that you are quick to learn,’ he said. Then he hopped effortlessly up on to the bed, yawned and curled himself up into a furry ball the way he always did.
Prince Geran looked around and decided that the room was probably neat enough. Sometimes Geran’s ‘things’ got ahead of him, and the only real disadvantage of having mother read to him every evening was the opportunity it gave her for a daily inspection. It seemed to Geran that mother had an unwholesome obsession with neatness. He’d frequently tried to explain to her that when he had his ‘things’ spread out on the floor, he could find exactly what he wanted almost immediately, but that when he put them all away as she wanted him to, it took hours to find what he wanted and that the search immediately returned everything right back to the floor where it had been in the first place. She’d listen patiently each time, and then she’d repeat the rather worn-out command, ‘clean this pig-pen up’. He had once – and only once – suggested that the chore was beneath his dignity and that one of the servants should do it. He still shuddered at the memory of her reaction to that particular suggestion. He was positive that had there been a good following wind that day, mother’s speech would have been clearly audible on the Sendarian coast.
He climbed up into his bed and placed several pillows on the side nearest the candle so that mother could prop herself up while reading. He reasoned that if she were comfortable, she might read longer. Then he snuggled down under the bolster, wriggling his feet down underneath Wolf. The really keen thing about having Wolf sleep with him was how warm Wolf was. Geran’s feet never got cold.