Meet The Parents
It is one of these Storm Season days that is occurring from time to time in Pavis and the valley, when you get the feeling that anything can happen, because the wind is blowing every which way, and I for one always take this as a sign that something may blow into Pavis from somewhere. So I go to the Old Gate, and sure enough, although it is still early for caravans to be coming in, you can see the dust that is usually raised by one, blowing over the plains, so I find myself a spot that is out of the wind and settle in to wait.
Well, the caravan comes up, and it is coming all the way from Sartar, but there is nothing particularly interesting about it, for all the people are just ordinary merchants and guards and so forth, and I am commencing to think that my hunch blows, and am just about ready to move on, when I hear a voice calling me, and this is a voice that I recognise from somewhere.
"Over here, Olaf," says the voice, and who do I see but Felissa, Hanufa's sister, waving to me, and the reason I do not see her and some guy who is with her is because they are behind some waggon and cannot be seen. So I go over, and she is looking pleased to see me.
"This guy can give you a line on your daughter, if anyone can," she says to the guy with her. "He knows everybody in this town, and most particularly Griselda, in fact I think he knows more about her doings than she does, for always he is telling stories about her. Olaf, may I present Hereward, Griselda's father, and Hereward, this is Olaf, known to one and all as the Storyteller."
Hereward looks me over. He is by no means a tall guy, in fact he stands only a little taller than Felissa herself, so I see where Griselda may get her short size, and he certainly does not look anything special, what with being not very muscly and having lines all over his face and grey hair and all. But from what I can recall of everything Griselda is saying about him, this is a guy of much experience, so I greet him with respect. He gives me a nod of a kind that suggests he is doing me a favour in noticing me.
"Can you tell me where my daughter is to be found?" he says in a rather snooty voice. "I have urgent business to discuss with her."
"Well, I know where she lives," I say, "but at this time of day she is just as likely to be found in Loud Lilina's."
"Ah yes," he says. "I recall Herubrand mentioning that place. Let us go there, then." He does not state that he wishes me to take them there, but he does not need to, for I can tell that this is a guy who is used to being obeyed by one and all. So, although Felissa will do just as well to show him the place, I lead the way, for I am most interested to see what will happen when they meet. For the way this Hereward is talking, he has some problem with Griselda, and naturally I figure that any meeting between them will be something to see.
Well, it is not much of a step from the Old Gate to Loud Lilina's, and clearly this Hereward does not feel any need to engage me in polite conversation, but instead he is looking all around and seems to be taking everything in with great interest. But Felissa is nothing if not a gabby doll, and shortly she is plying me with questions about how Hanufa is doing, and how is Griselda herself, and all this and that. It is quite a while since she is in Pavis, so there is much for me to relate, and I am barely halfway through when we reach Lilina's joint. By this time I realise that we are being followed all along by a guy who is carrying bags and stuff, and this is clearly Hereward's henchman, and he looks a pretty rough guy, at that.
So into Lilina's we go, and sure enough, there is Griselda in her usual chair, with others around her, such as Hilda, and Hanufa, and Sweet-Talking Shamus, and Topknot, and Elsa from Adari, and they are all gabbing away very cheerfully. But when Griselda catches sight of Hereward, she stops talking in the middle of a sentence and jumps to her feet, looking very taken aback, and cries, "Father!" Naturally, at this everyone turns round, and Hanufa jumps up too when she sets eyes on Felissa and comes to give her a big hug.
"Greetings, Griselda!" says Hereward fairly heartily. "You are already known to Felissa, my travelling companion, I believe."
"Why, yes," she says. "But what are you doing here, father?"
"We do not receive any report from you for some time," says Hereward. "We let things go for a while, because after all, you do very well for us in Adari, and we know that there are various matters preoccupying you when you get to Pavis. But now your mother is concerned." Now he says this in an offhand kind of way, as if it is nothing very much, but I see that Griselda seems to go white. Before she can say anything, Hereward waves his hand and says, "But this is not a matter to be discussed in detail now. We can consider it later. Sit down, sit down, and introduce me to your friends."
So Griselda does this, and I notice that she gets all mixed up and stammers quite a bit while she is doing it, but Hereward acts like he does not notice. When she is done, he says, "A drink for the table!" and waves to Lilina as if he expects her to come wait on him. Now, ordinarily Lilina never stirs out from behind her bar, and any customer who makes like he is expecting this will get the blast put on him very good, but Lilina must feel that there is something about this Hereward that makes him special, and deserving of much respect, for she comes and takes his order without a murmur, though she gets Shamus to help her bring over the drinks. Hanufa and Felissa go off to another table to talk, but the rest of us sit together, and one and all are expressing appreciation of the free drinks to Hereward, who nods in a patronising kind of way, except for Griselda, who is regarding him with some wariness. Hereward pulls on his drink, and sighs.
"That is better," he says. "The worst problem with going anywhere by caravan is the dust, no question about it, and there is plenty blowing about out there today. So, how are things in Pavis these days? Do you get along with these Lunar bosses, Griselda?"
"I have as little to do with them as I can," she says. "They have nothing on me, and I stand good with the Pavis priesthood now, along with cousin Wolfhead. We are working for them from time to time."
Hereward smiles. "Ah yes," he says. "We are hearing about all that. A nice caper, Griselda, that chart thing, but I hope the aftermath teaches you a lesson. It is possible to be too smart for your own good. Still, I wish I am capable of cooking up such a scam, back when I am young. But we are getting the word that maybe you have some ... close connection with a member of the Lunar administration. Is this story false?"
Griselda flushes. "It most certainly is," she says. "Where do you get this from?"
"Oh, your aunt Harsandra mentions it, saying she hears something from Lucilla," says Hereward casually. "But I for one have my doubts, because you know how Harsandra disapproves of what she is always describing as your bad influence on Lucilla, when you are children together, and will take any opportunity to badmouth you, and furthermore, as you know, she and Regina do not get on at all. I am certainly glad to hear that you have no ... intimate links with any Lunar. You know how such links are discouraged in the family, for the harm they may do to this thing of ours." Then he looks around, and the look in his eyes is suddenly so cold that it makes me shiver. "I hope, by the way, that you all understand that this conversation is not to be reported at large. I take you for sensible persons, who know what is to be spoken of and what is not."
We all nod and say yes, and Griselda says hastily, "These are indeed sensible guys and dolls, father, I assure you."
Hereward nods and looks approving. "That is what I like to hear," he says. "But you have quite a high profile here, do you not, if there are stories told of your doings?"
His tone is as lazy as always, but there is something in it that makes Griselda stiffen a little. "Olaf only tells of my run-ins with the people involved in Rory's demise," she says, "and with others whom I encounter, like that Ragna the Wrestler. It is all personal stuff, nothing to do with ... business."
Hereward nods again. "Good." He finishes his drink and makes a sign to Lilina, who bustles over with another. Hereward takes a pull and seems to relax. "So, how are opportunities in the adventuring dodge these days?" he says, looking at Topknot and the others. "I and my brother and Regina, who is now my wife, and some others do a fair bit of Rubble Ranging when we are young, but we never hit any big score, and I never hear of anything really major being found since. So, do any of you have any exciting adventures in there, at least?"
Suddenly Griselda giggles. "Olaf can tell you," she says. "He has some great stories. How about the one about Swifty, though it does not really happen in the Rubble?" She looks at Topknot and Elsa with a grin.
"Well, I have no objection if you do not," says Elsa. "It makes a good story, I admit."
And as Hereward looks at me expectantly, I feel bound to tell the story, and then Griselda makes me tell the one of how I get signed up for a patrol in the Rubble, and what comes of it when I claim to have magic protection amulets, and Hereward laughs like anything at all of them, and really loosens up. In fact, he takes on board more drinks than somewhat, and so do we, all at his expense, and we are gabbing away about this and that, and it becomes clear, to me at least, that a major part of this business he is speaking of is smuggling, and that Griselda is in Pavis as an agent of the business, to size up opportunities and such. She does not seem too pleased to have this get out, and is trying to get her father to be more discreet, but he waves away her protests, saying we are all friends here and he does not say anything that you can hang a dog on, anyway, and by this time he no longer has any high-toned airs but is very friendly with one and all, and it is evident that the way he comes on when I first encounter him, and when he is first in Lilina's, is all a front.
Well, what finally happens is that Hereward becomes rather drunk, and it becomes clear that this is by no means a new experience for Griselda, for she sighs in exasperation and looks over at Hereward's henchman, who we discover some time before is called Hard Barni, and who is evidently known to her.
"Do you have a place to stay set up, Barni?" she says. "And if not, how much are you carrying in the way of funds?"
"I know of nothing set up," he says, "but, as you may see from the amount of drink your father buys, we have no problem with funds."
Griselda looks thoughtful. "I guess Jareen's may be the best bet," she says. "Okay, come on, dad, let's get you to a place where you can go to bed."
"I will go to bed when I am good and ready," he says in a slurry way. "Say, are there any good gambling spots in Pavis these days?"
Griselda groans and rolls her eyes. "You are in no shape to do any gambling," she says sternly, and I can see that she no longer has any nervousness of her father and is ready to boss him around the way she does everyone else. "Save it for when you are sober, if you must. Right now, the best thing you can do is sleep off the load of booze you take on."
He grins at her. "It is all very well for you, Grizzie," he says. "I do not have many opportunities to get off the leash."
Griselda grins back. "I know that," she says, "and that is why I am not more mad at you for getting drunk. But you really ought to go to bed."
"Okay, okay," he says, levering himself up and staggering somewhat. "Hey, Flissie!" he bellows all of a sudden, and Felissa startles and looks at him from where she is still gabbing with Hanufa.
"We are gonna find some place to lay my weary bones," he says, leaning on Hard Barni and swaying somewhat. "You coming?"
Felissa meets Griselda's eye and raises an eyebrow. Griselda grins and gives a little nod, and says, "Up to you."
Felissa acknowledges this with a smile, and bustles over, saying, "Now, Hereward, how can you let yourself get into this state? You know how drink affects you."
"My first chance for a good drink since we leave Sartar," says Hereward, giving her a big drunken smile. "So, where is this Jareen's? That name is familiar, it seems to me."
"Just around the corner," says Griselda. "Okay, let's pay the tab and go, Barni."
Barni settles up with Lilina, from a bag that makes many an eye bulge, it is so full, and we all form a party to help Hereward along, for as Griselda says Jareen's place truly is just around the corner. But as we cross Sword Street, who do we encounter, coming along the street with several of his Trollkin watchmen, but Constable Jorjar? Now it is is still well before curfew time, so none of us is worried by this, since none of us has anything on their conscience, or anyway not much, but Hereward straightens up and makes like he is looking really hard at Constable Jorjar, and then he yells out, "Jorjar, you old rascal! I do not set eyes on you since Storm Season of eighty-nine! What are you doing these days?"
Constable Jorjar looks very surprised for a moment, and then he gives Hereward a great big smile, though for my money this smile is as phoney as a friendly Broo. "Hereward!" he says in a hearty-sounding voice, as if he is greatly pleased to see him. "Long time no see. What brings you to these parts?"
"Oh, family business," says Hereward, waving a hand vaguely at Griselda. "And you?"
"I am Constable here," says Constable Jorjar with a certain pride. "Which means I am responsible for good order in the streets. So I hope you are not aiming to go on one of your tears."
Hereward laughs and shakes his head. "I am getting a little old for that."
"I am glad you recognise it," says Griselda, rather sharply. "We are just taking my father to Jareen's," she explains to Constable Jorjar.
He nods. "A good idea. But before you go, Hereward, tell me - do you hear anything of Regina, these days?"
Hereward looks most astonished. "Why, do you not hear? I marry her. She is Griselda's mother; do you not perceive the likeness?"
Constable Jorjar's mouth drops open. He looks hard at Griselda while you can count three, and then he starts to laugh, and this time his laugh is genuine.
"Hereward, Hereward, Hereward!" he cries, slapping his thigh. "How do you get suckered into marrying that cold-hearted little bitch? And after she does us out of our fair share of our last haul, too."
Hereward tries to draw himself up, but staggers, and Felissa has to catch hold of him. "You are speaking of my wife, Jorjar," he says. "As for why I marry her, well, for one thing she is pregnant with our son Roderick, who comes to his death here two years ago. So much for good order in Pavis!"
Constable Jorjar looks very taken aback, but he says, smoothly enough, "His death takes place outside the area of my jurisdiction, so I am informed. I cannot concern myself with what goes on in the Rubble. Well, I will bid you a good evening." And he turns on his heel and goes off with his Trollkin.
"I never know you are adventuring with Jorjar in your youth," says Griselda.
"Oh yes," says Hereward. "He is quite a rapscallion in those days. How we all do change, to be sure. To think that he becomes a lawman!"
"What is this share that Mother does both of you out of?" Griselda enquires, as she gets him moving again.
"Old tales, Griselda, old tales," says Hereward airily, smiling to himself. "Not for young ears. But now that I think about it, this connection may prove helpful to our interests, yes indeed."
Just then we fetch up at the entrance to Jareen's, and she herself is sitting in the doorway watching the world go by.When she catches sight of us she gasps and jumps up. "Hereward!" she cries, and throws her arms around him. "Where do you spring from?"
"My word!" says Hereward. "Here is our little Jareen, all grown up! Do you go into adventuring, as you always state is your dearest wish?"
"Indeed I do," she says, "but I am now retired, and run this joint, and if you are looking for a comfortable place to rest your head, you are certainly coming to the right place." She tousles his head. "You are changed, of course, but not so much that I will not recognise you." She grins at Griselda. "When I am just a young thing, sweeping and clearing pots and such in my mama's inn, Hereward is frequenting our place, and he is always most encouraging of my dream to be an adventurer. I kind of hero worship him in those days. But I never realise that you are his daughter." Suddenly her mouth drops open, and she looks at Griselda again. "And now I realise who it is that you are reminding me of! Oh Hereward ... you do not marry Regina, do you?"
"Why, yes," says Hereward, looking perplexed. "Why does this bother you, and also amuse Jorjar, come to that?"
"Oh, he is amused, is he?" she says. "Well, he has the reputation of a guy who will see humour where no one else can. No, I better not say any more about this. Do not worry your head over it, Hereward: it is all long ago, and best left in the past." She looks at him with her head tilted. "Anyway, it looks to me as if you ought to be getting into your bed."
Hereward gives a great yawn. "You are right," he says. "Well, Griselda, will you come round to talk tomorrow?"
"Sure," she says. "Oh, and Dad ... promise me you are going to bed."
"Do not worry, Griselda," says Jareen, winking at her. "I will ensure that he gets a good sleep, if I have to tie him down."
"No need for that," says Felissa, who is looking as if she feels Jareen is horning in on whatever she has going with Hereward. "I shall be taking good care of him."
Jareen looks at her. "If you say so," she says in a tone of voice that does not sound as if she believes a word of it.
Hereward looks all pleasured up to have Jareen and Felissa fighting over him, but then he gives another great yawn, and Jareen takes over and leads them all off to a room. Everyone else but Griselda goes their separate ways, but she stands there looking thoughtful, and when she notices I am still there she faces me and raises an eyebrow.
"Well, what do you make of all that?" she says. "Quite a lot to take in all at once."
"Well, Griselda," I say, "I do not wish to speak out of turn, but it seems clear to me that Constable Jorjar may be carrying the torch for your mother when they are both young, and Jareen knows something about this, and other things. And I have to say that it does not sound as if your mother is an altogether nice person."
"Too right," she says. "That is why I am staying away from home. She uses people, and from what Jorjar is saying she gets a very early start on that. But do you think he is on the level?"
Well, this is a strange question, to be sure, and I cannot think what she means by it. So I shrug my shoulders, and say, "I have no idea what is going on in Constable Jorjar's mind, but I do hear that he is tricky."
"That is to be expected in lawmen, if they are any good," she says. "Well, I will have to try to get more out of my dad tomorrow. See you, Olaf."
So she goes on home, and I also go to the flearidden cubbyhole where I lay my head, since I do not figure that there will be anything more doing that night, and since this is really quite early for me to go to bed, I am up bright and early the following morning, by which I mean that it is by no means noon or anywhere near it. Now at this time I am still in funds, thanks to the dough that I get from my excursion into the Rubble with Griselda and Wolfhead and what I clear on the sale of the amulets afterwards, even though they shake me down for half of it, and so I go to buy myself one of Bob's Bisonburgers.
"Hey, Olaf," he says in greeting. "Say, do you hear what is just coming off at Jareen's this morning?"
"Why, no," I say. "I only just get up. Tell me more."
"Why," he says, "it seems that Constable Jorjar goes in there with a bunch of the watch and arrests Griselda's father, and when the doll who is with him and Griselda and Jareen herself raise quite a beef he tells them to desist, or he will throw them in the slammer also. Can you beat it?"
Now this is news, to be sure, and I think it over while I am trying to dispose of what I have in my mouth, which is a definite impediment to clear speech, for it has to be said that Bob's Bisonburgers may be cheap and filling, but they take quite a bit of chewing. Finally I get it down, and ask him if he knows what the charge is, which he does not, but by that time Old Gil shows up, on the mooch as usual, and offers the information for a clack or two, and because he treats me to a meal or two in the past when he is in funds and I am not, I cough up and even offer him a burger on my tab, but he declines.
"As I understand it," he says, "the charge has to do with smuggling. It seems that Constable Jorjar puts together a lot of information that he acquires here and there, and what is the upshot of it but that Griselda's father is a wheel in a smuggling gang that operates all over Dragon Pass."
Now, to judge from what Hereward is saying in Loud Lilina's, this may be no more than the truth, though it sounds to me as if Griselda's mother may be an even bigger wheel, but anyway, things look by no means good for Hereward, and I am wondering if even Griselda can think of a way out of this one. Just then Hilda, who seems to become Griselda's trusted sidekick recently, appears on the scene and tips me the wink that I am wanted. So, still eating my burger, I follow her, and we are going to Jareen's. There, gathered in the eating room, are Jareen, Felissa, Hard Barni, and Griselda, who is pacing up and down, while the other two are seated.
"My mother is going to kill me," she is saying in some agitation as we enter. "She is bound to blame me for this." Then she catches sight of me. "Ah, at last! Well, Olaf, it is a long shot, but I am desperate. You know the situation?"
I indicate that I do.
"Well, can you think of anything to do?" she says. "Jorjar is here before I arrive: do you know anything about him that we do not? If you come up with anything, be sure I will be grateful."
So I sit down and commence to think back over the years since Constable Jorjar is coming to Pavis at the invitation of his pal Jotaran Longsword. "He runs a protection racket, but I guess you know that," I say.
"Nothing there," says Hilda. "The Lunars do not care; it means they can pay him less."
"Will you get anywhere, appealing to him in your mother's name?" I ask.
Griselda makes a noise of disgust. "It is that which is behind it all, I will wager," she says. "I guess it will only make him more determined to keep my father in jug."
So we sit and think a bit more, but no one can come up with anything, and Griselda's face gets longer and longer. Then suddenly we are hearing some commotion at the front door, and Jareen goes to investigate. We hear her cry out in surprise, and then she hurries back in.
"Griselda, prepare yourself for a shock," she says, and hard on her heels come some other people, and the one in the lead really makes me blink. For it is clear at once that this must be Griselda's mother Regina, for I never see anyone who looks more like Griselda herself, although of course she is older, and her face, which has lines, especially in the forehead as if she frowns a lot, says to one and all that here is a doll who is used to having everything around her exactly the way she wants it, or she will be asking a lot of people why.
"Mother!" cries Griselda, going perfectly white. "How in the name of Orlanth and Ernalda do you get here so fast?"
"I do not know what you mean by that," says Regina tartly. She holds open her arms. "Come here, girl."
Rather reluctantly, or so it seems to me, Griselda goes to be embraced and kissed, and we can all see that she is if anything slightly smaller than her mother. The embrace and kiss do not look what you may call warm to me, indeed they look downright frigid, and I get the impression that Regina is only doing it because this is what mothers are bound to do, and that Griselda is very relieved when she is done.
"Where is your father?" Regina asks.
"Why, he is in jail," says Griselda, most perplexed. "Surely you know that, or why do you come here?"
"In jail?" cries Regina. "By our guardian spirit, this is worse than I am thinking. I most certainly do not come because I hear that he is in jail, but because I hear he is keeping company with a well-known dip and gold-digger, who I presume is this yellow-haired floozie here," and she points at Felissa.
"Hey!" cries Felissa in outrage, jumping up. "I am a working girl, and if I am keeping company with Hereward, it is not because I wish to steal him away from you, you can be sure."
"I have every wish to believe you," says Regina in tones that convey absolutely the opposite of what she is saying. "But I am bound to be suspicious when a nobody like you starts making up to a man of importance. It cannot be for his looks, so what are you aiming to get out of it?. But anyway, this is now of no importance. Griselda, how can you allow your father to get himself into a situation where he is put in jail?"
Griselda hangs her head like a little girl being told off, and shuffles her feet, and goes red, and stammers without getting out a whole sentence, and everyone can see that she is scared of her mother. Hilda looks at her sympathetically and speaks up.
"You are not to blame Griselda," she says. "Hereward does nothing wrong, except maybe get drunk. Constable Jorjar is pinning this rap on him."
"Jorjar?" cries Regina, looking ready to explode. "He is Constable here?"
"Most certainly," says Jareen. "He gets hired when the Lunars come in. We have a most interesting conversation with him last night. It appears that he is not aware that you marry Hereward. Come to that, neither am I, until last night."
Now for a moment it seems to me that Regina is somewhat put off her stride, but then she regains her poise. "Yes, well, that is neither here nor there," she says. "This is a nice little place you have here, Jareen. Do you have a room spare, for old times' sake?"
"Will you not wish to share Hereward's?" says Jareen, and anyone who does not know her well will think this is simply an innocent question, but I can see that she means it to get under Regina's skin, and it certainly does that, for Regina stiffens and shoots her a most venomous glance, indeed.
"Our sleeping arrangements are none of your concern," she says icily. "Well, Jareen? Are you going to turn away such an old friend as I?"
Now, Jareen does not seem nearly as intimidated by her as Griselda, and she looks her straight in the eye. "For Hereward's sake, and Griselda's, I will give you a room," she says, "but do not give me any guff about being an old friend. I remember the old days much better than you seem to do."
Regina laughs shortly. "Still the same biting and scratching cat, I see," she says scornfully. "Is it my fault that you will not see where your best interests lie? Now here you are, reduced to running a second-rate place in this dump on the edge of nowhere, when you can have a high position in the Temple and be rich and maybe even famous."
"Gods preserve me from being in any place that you or your sister Elfrida have an interest in," retorts Jareen. "If you think being an initiate of Uleria is such a great life, why are you not there yourself, like Elfrida? You have the looks for it, and the cold heart that will help you to rise to the top of the profession, maybe."
Regina throws her hands in the air. "There is no reasoning with you, any more than with Griselda," she says. "Why you are so squeamish about using your bodies, when they are the one thing the gods give us that provides us with an advantage over men, is more than I can see. Well, anyway, this is all beside the point, and I am getting no pleasure from it. You men," and here she turns round to some hard-looking guys who are behind her, holding bags and stuff, "take my stuff to the room that Jareen will show you, while I find out from my daughter and her friends precisely what the situation is, and you," and here she fixes a most beady eye on Felissa, "get your stuff out of my husband's room."
"I shall be glad to," says Felissa, "for I have no wish to be in your presence a moment longer than I must, even for Hereward's sake, the poor guy," and she marches off.
Regina sits herself down at the table where I am with Hilda, and points at a stool, looking at Griselda, who shuffles up and sits there. Then she begins to question all of us on everything that we know about the rap on Hereward, and everything that Constable Jorjar says the previous night, and at every answer she is looking at Griselda most critically and sighing, as if she cannot imagine how Griselda can be so foolish. Presently, Jareen and the men return, but while they go outside, Jareen sits down at the table, despite Regina's look that seems to be trying to warn her off. Right behind her comes Felissa, and somehow she manages to trip over the stool that Jareen is pulling out, and to fall against Regina and then on the floor, dropping her stuff. She gets up all flustered and apologetic, while Regina looks at her most fiercely, indeed, and gathers it all up, and hurries away. But Hilda looks over at me and winks when Regina cannot see, and I notice there is one less jewelled pin in Regina's hair than before, for I omit to mention that she is all decked out like the Governor's Palace, with pins and rings and necklaces and such all over her.
"Okay, okay," she says finally, when we are all feeling worn out answering her questions. "I see that you are maybe not so much to blame, Griselda, though you are at fault in letting your father get drunk. Now another matter: what is this I hear about you getting mixed up with do-gooders and Lunars and stuff?"
"Why, what can you mean by do-gooders?" says Griselda, greatly puzzled. "Surely not Lucilla. She is no do-gooder, as I know well now."
"Vingans, do-gooders, what is the difference?" says Regina, shrugging. "You should stay away from politics of any kind."
"I do!" cries Griselda, sounding aggrieved. "It is Lucilla who is all mixed up with the Vingans, and before you ask, I have nothing to do with any Lunar either. Father asks me that, and I tell him so."
Regina looks sceptical. "Okay, if I must believe you, I must. But what about this great hero guy, Batulco?"
Griselda goes white again. "That ... that is all over," she says, stammering. "He ... he dies in the Rubble, do you not hear? And I will not call him a do-gooder, really. Half of what he is doing is plain old adventuring like what I and Hilda do."
Regina regards her narrowly. "It is clear you are in love with him, though - but if he is dead, no more of that. Why you choose to be interested in such types, when I can make such a match for you back in Sartar, that will be most advantageous for this thing of ours as well as for you, is more than I can understand."
"I have no feelings for the man you mean," says Griselda, who is looking whiter than ever. "Is it not enough that he ..." and then she stops, and goes red, and looks at the floor.
Regina tuts. "Such a fuss some of you girls make, about trifling matters like love, and losing your virginity, and all that. I am never bothered by such things."
"Clearly not," says Jareen acidly, while Griselda looks ready to sink through the floor. "But are we not getting off the point, which is what to do about Hereward?"
"Ah yes, Hereward," says Regina, looking at her like a snake may look, or maybe some such terrible creature as a basilisk, and I think I see where Griselda learns her stare from. "I never understand why all the women fall for him, you, and that Felissa, and Uleria knows who else. But you are right. His being in jail will be very bad for our business, and I am bound to do something about it, and if you will only stop talking I will have a chance to figure out what."
"I am talking?" mutters Jareen, just loud enough to be heard. Regina glares at her, but before she can say anything Griselda bursts out, "Mother, do you have no feeling for father at all?"
Regina looks at her in surprise. "Why, I bear him children, and am a good wife, am I not?" she says. "And I am more faithful to him than he is to me. What more can he wish?"
Griselda simply shakes her head and looks down again. No one else has a word to say, and we sit there looking at Regina, who seems lost in thought. Presently she sighs.
"I must see Jorjar," she says. "There is nothing else for it. Come, Griselda." She stands up, and Griselda jumps up too, upsetting her stool. Regina looks at her again with scorn, and Griselda goes red again.
Hilda stands up also. "I will come to side Griselda," she says, and when Regina fixes her stare on her she looks right back with her mouth set. Finally Regina gives a small smile.
"I see there is plenty of backbone in you," she says, sounding rather approving. "Well, all right." She marches out, with them following, and Hard Barni also, and I sidle along in the rear, because I am feeling that if I do not see the end of this I will not be able to live with myself. The hard guys that are accompanying her fall in around her when she comes out, one or two going ahead like scouts and others to her side and behind, and I think to myself, if I ever see a bigtime crime boss, this is her.
We march round the corner into Holy Street, and then turn into Parade Way, with Regina stepping out most briskly indeed, and looking extremely determined. When we come to the main entrance of the administration building, there are a couple of the watch there, and one says, as Regina is about to enter, "No admittance without we know who you are."
Regina stops and fixes him with a glare that seems to freeze him on the spot. "I am going to see the Constable," she says, "and he will see me, not only because it is my husband that he has locked up on some nonsensical charge, but because I know him before you are born." Then she suddenly turns on the charm." But perhaps you will be good enough to show me to his office."
The watchman seems to reel, and says, "Certainly, ma'am, certainly, this way," and he leads her in, and we all follow, and the other watchman is so taken aback that he does nothing to stop any of us, though I am well known to him. When we reach Constable Jorjar's office, he has Hereward with him, and both are looking angry, but when Regina appears both of them look most perturbed and jump to their feet.
"Regina!" gasps Constable Jorjar. "What are you doing here?"
"I come to ask you to let my husband go," says Regina in a quite new, softish sort of voice, "for old times' sake."
"You appeal to me in the name of old times?" he says, sounding most astonished. "When you are dropping me like a stone - and now I hear that, all the time I am thinking you love me, you are carrying on with Hereward behind my back, and even get pregnant by him?"
"Jorjar, back then I think you have no prospects," she says, "and I have to look out for myself, for there is no one else to do it for me. Hereward has prospects, if he can only be bothered to make something of them, as I manage to get him to do. If you let him go, be sure you will not lose by it. You will be rewarded most handsomely."
"But this case against Hereward is my best chance of getting out of this dump!" cries Constable Jorjar, clutching his brow. "No payoff can equal that."
"Jorjar," says Regina in her soft voice, "I must tell you this," and she looks at him most earnestly. "I wish your forgiveness. To tell the truth, I have no desire to lose you, none at all," and now her voice sounds as if she is about to bust out crying. "But I know you wish to go on fooling around with the adventuring game, when there is no future in it at all, and you refuse to listen to a word I say on this subject, and I have to think of myself and my child."
It is strange how they are talking to each other like there is no one else in the room, but I for one am grateful, because I know that I will not get a chance to hear all this personal stuff otherwise.
"But it is his child!" cries Constable Jorjar. "How can you expect me to forgive ...?" And then he stops dead, and looks at her. Her back is to me, and so I cannot see her face, but I see her nod, and I hear her give a little sob.
"Yes," she says, "it is your child. My dear Roderick, killed in the Rubble here two years ago. He does not grow up tough, like Griselda and Ferdinand, but I cannot bear to be hard on him, because he is yours. So, in his name, Jorjar, will you release my husband, who helps me raise your son?"
A lot of people take deep breaths around the room as she says this, and among them, naturally, is Hereward.
"So you con me into marrying you, by letting me think Roderick is my son?" he cries.
She turns on him, and I can see that she is showing her basilisk look again, although there are tears on her cheek. "Yes," she says, very fiercely, "and you should be grateful, for without me you will not even amount to what Jorjar does. You are a great schemer, yes, but your schemes fail as often as not. And your children by me are still alive!" She whips away and faces Constable Jorjar again. "Well, Jorjar?" she says in her soft voice.
He gives a long sigh. "It is a low blow, Regina," he says. "But okay, you shall have your wish. I will tell my superiors I get a bum steer. I do not yet divulge to them the evidence that I have concerning the smuggling ring that you are clearly the brains behind. But in return I ask one thing, apart from this payoff you speak of, which of course I shall be most happy to receive, as long as it is done discreetly. Drop any plans you have for expanding to Pavis, and," and here his voice begins to shake, "and get Hereward out of my sight!" He draws a deep breath. "The sooner you leave Pavis, the better, and you can take Griselda with you."
"No," says Griselda firmly. "I shall not go. Instead, I will do no more work for the organisation, at least," and here she gives one of her grins, "not anywhere within your jurisdiction, Constable sir. I believe that if you try to expel me, the priests of Pavis may intervene to protect me, for I am quite useful to them, and you cannot give a very good reason. My parents are not of my choosing, after all."
"I have your word on that?" says Constable Jorjar, looking at her keenly.
"If you will trust it," she says. "But I am not my mother." She turns to her mother. "Good day to you, mother. This is a most illuminating conversation that you have; I believe you must forget that we are all here, in the excitement of being reunited with your old love. Come, Hilda," and she marches off, but turns at the door. "Goodbye, dad," she says. "Try not to drink too much, although I now know why you do it," and then she is gone. At this moment Constable Jorjar's eye falls on me, and I remove myself hastily before he has time to ask what I am doing there, and almost run out into the street, and I have to say that I am feeling most relieved to get away from that room, for there is more emotion there than I care for, personally.
When I come out I almost collide with Griselda and Hilda, who are standing close to the entrance. They look at me, and I can see that there are tears in Griselda's eyes, while Hilda is looking very sad. But when she claps eyes on me, Griselda frowns.
"So you hear all that?" she says. "Every word?"
I admit that I do.
"Well, now you will understand better why I am the way I am," she says, "though maybe I will be a little different from now on, with what I now know about my parents. But be a pal and do not spread it around too much, okay? It is very ... personal stuff." And for once she is not putting on her frightening look, but almost seems to be pleading.
"That is okay, Griselda," I say. "I will keep my lip buttoned on a lot of it, for I know that even if you do nothing to me, your family may not wish to have things that I am hearing repeated. But one thing I wish to know that is not personal stuff, and maybe you can enlighten me. What is this haul that Constable Jorjar speaks of, that your mother does him and your father out of?"
Well, Griselda looks at me while you can count three, and her look is one of pure astonishment, and then she starts to laugh. She laughs so much that she almost loses her balance, and has to cling to Hilda for support. We both look at her in surprise, for it does not seem to me that I say anything so very funny, at that, and clearly Hilda is of the same opinion. Finally, when Griselda regains control of herself more or less, she shakes her head at me.
"Olaf, you are incorrigible," she says. "You should join the Sages, for they too love to acquire useless information. But I cannot satisfy you on this, for I do not know myself. I do not have the chance to ask my dad before Jorjar hauls him away, and anyway I have no interest in it at all. No, the question to which I want to know the answer, and never shall, is, who is Ferdie's father? For anyone can see that he does not look like my father or me."
"Griselda," I say, "is this not a most shocking insinuation to make about your own mother?"
"Not at all," she says coolly. "You get plenty of evidence in there of what she is like."
"Well, I know nothing but what I hear," says Hilda, "but if I am guessing and have just one guess, I will say – " and then she leans in and whispers in Griselda's ear.
Griselda looks at her with her mouth open. "Yes," she says slowly. "You may well be right. That certainly fits. Okay, let us go and have a drink, which I certainly need after all that strong stuff in there, and Olaf, you are included. But never ask what Hilda tells me, or anything else about my family, okay?"
Author's Note: I have had more than one indication that the ending to this story is really too obscure, and no one can figure out what I am getting at. So here it is, plain and simple: Regina had an affair with some other important figure in the north Sartar underworld, almost certainly several years younger than her, of which Ferdy was the result. This man evidently was 'around' a good deal (presumably leading whatever other organisation there might be in or around Alone), and Regina wanted Griselda to marry him, not only to make an alliance valuable to the business but to use Griselda as her surrogate since she cannot have him herself (I think this is psychologically plausible). One way or another he took Griselda's virginity, quite probably when she was very young, even underage; but if she had a youthful infatuation with him this certainly cured it, perhaps because the circumstances involved something very like 'date rape'. It is quite likely that this is what drove her to leave home and go adventuring, although this might well be expected of her and considered a 'rite of passage' in the family. Somehow she will have been recruited into the family criminal organisation. NB that she still feels ties and obligations to her family; she just wants to keep far away from her mother. That's how I see it; if anyone is using her in their campaigns, they can embroider on this (which only developed as I was completing the story, on the day before the con started!), but I'm quite happy to advise on what I do and don't think possible. I will certainly not countenance any suggestion that she became pregnant from her first time.
© 2002 Oliver Dickinson
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