The Lady of Alone
Introduction This is the final version of the story that I read originally at Tentacles Untapped in May 2007 and in a shortened form at Continuum 2012; I have altered the text slightly in places, but have changed nothing important. It gives an outline of what Griselda did after she took part in the defence of the Giant's Cradle, as told in "The Cradlesnatchers". For those interested in the chronology of Griselda's life, the defence of the Cradle took place some weeks before her 29th birthday; so by the time of this story, which has to be set in the earlier 1630s, a period of success for Sartar under Prince Argrath, she is past 40, and Olaf the Storyteller should be some years older.
I cannot emphasise too strongly that this is not official Gloranthan history. It is up to Games Masters and Narrators to decide whether they want to incorporate any of it into their version of the Hero Wars.
When this story starts, I am walking along the middle of a dusty road to Alone, thinking of not much, except that I must be some kind of a sap. For I am travelling all this way to Griselda's birthplace, when so much time is passing, and all kinds of wars and troubles keep happening, just in the hope of getting some news of her, when I am not even knowing for sure that she is still alive. But I keep going, which shows you what a very big sap I am, indeed.
I am already a long time on the road this day, and am beginning to feel that I am in bad need of a nap, in fact, I am looking out for some likely spot, when suddenly there is this loud voice behind me, which makes me jump half out of my skin, and what this voice says is, "Make way there! Way for the Lady of Alone!"
I move to the side of the road very fast, and look around to get a view of this important personage, and if I am not all shook up already I will be now, for who do I recognise, riding a bit ahead of a small procession, but Hilda, who I last see in Pavis years back. She is changing quite some since I last see her, for she is rather broader than I remember, but she certainly seems to be in the money, for she is riding a pretty fair horse and all her gear is fine quality, so I judge that she is highly placed among the persons who work for this Lady of Alone.
Now to see this familiar face takes me right back through the years, and I commence to remember many things about Hilda. When I am first encountering her, she is the bond servant of the Patromas, a rich Lunar family who carry much weight in Pavis at that time, and she is the companion of Viridia Patroma, who visits Loud Lilina's because she is crazy to meet Griselda. This Viridia has plenty of looks, but no brains to speak of, while Hilda is not such a looker but has plenty of brains, as is quickly becoming evident. For Griselda perceives that she is by no means content with her situation and talks with her some, and a little while later Hilda vanishes, and so do the contents of Viridia Patroma's jewellery box. But, although it seems a sure bet that Griselda will have something to do with this, Constable Jorjar can pin nothing on her, and Hilda gets away clean. Later she is coming back to Pavis in disguise with a bunch of adventurers, and all sorts of things are happening which I will not tell you about now, because it will hold up the story. But one of the results is, Hilda starts hanging out with Griselda, and it is clear that Griselda trusts her, and takes considerable pleasure in her company.
But something must go wrong between them, because Hilda does not go aboard the Cradle with Griselda. Of course, the way I see it, this shows that Hilda has even more brains than Griselda, for it is generally agreed that going on the Giant's Cradle is as surefire a way to get yourself killed as any you will find in Pavis, where there are many ways to get yourself killed. And even when word comes upriver from Corflu, that the Cradle is getting through everything the Lunars throw at it and sails out to sea, still, everyone goes around saying that only heroes like Argrath and Rune Lords and such will have much chance to survive, and of course this is not including any persons that will be known to us ordinary folks, such as Hanufa, and Red Hot, and Carver Donan, and Wolfhead, and Big Nygg, and Snakefang and his gang The Rowdy Boys. We know that all these persons are boarding the Cradle, because it is in Rowdy Djoh Lo's dive that Argrath is recruiting them, and Rowdy Djoh Lo names Griselda as the last to decide to join in; and since none of them are seen around Pavis after the big storm that sends the Cradle floating downstream again, nobody has any reason to doubt him.
Now, it is well known to one and all in Pavis, and many parts of the Rubble too, that Griselda is far tougher than you will expect from simply taking a look at her. In fact, she is so tough that she has plenty of respect all over town. But nobody can see how she can last the distance against all that the Lunars are throwing into the attack on the Cradle, and there is general agreement that she must be a goner, finally. I find this thought really quite depressing, and for some time I do not have the heart to do much except sit in Lilina's and talk with those of the regulars who are left about those who are gone, and especially Griselda. And it is quickly evident that Griselda is widely missed in Pavis. Lilina herself is so quiet that sometimes people are looking at the bar to check that she is still there, and there are long faces at Jareen's, and it is reported that there is much lamentation among the Javis clan of Trolls, and there is even a very quiet rumour going around that priestess Broosta holds a secret service in the Pavis temple in Griselda's memory..
Now, before this time Hilda is hardly ever coming into Lilina's unless she is hoping to meet Griselda, but now she takes to sitting with us and listening to our stories of times past, and she will often buy me a drink to encourage me to tell some tale of Griselda's doings before Hilda knows her. We all like to talk of those times, because one and all are agreed that ever since the Cradle shows up life in Pavis changes for the worse. For once it becomes clear that the Lunar forces take bad damage, and are much shaken up, some excitable persons start going around saying that this is a first class opportunity for staging a rebellion and throwing the Lunars out, and while such persons do not get much support at this time there is growing restlessness in Pavis, and I begin to feel uncomfortable, for I am such a guy as likes things to be quiet and peaceful at all times.
In fact, in next to no time after the Cradle business Sor-Eel gets recalled, and a new guy comes in as Governor, who is none other than Duke Raus of Rone. He is coming up to Pavis with a bunch of his most experienced fighters, who are so tough that no one around town wants any part of them. And because he is new in the job, and wants to show how well he is doing it, and especially that he is finding out all conspiracies and suchlike, this Duke Raus has his people, and the watch, and the garrison, all running around poking their noses in everywhere without any respect for anyone. And they are going into the Rubble to capture rebels, and chase around bandit gangs, and roust out Chaotics, and many citizens start saying that they are doing a grand job, making Pavis and Manside much safer for ordinary folks to live in.
Of course, there is much to be said for this point of view, but if your profession is adventuring in the Rubble to find items of value, but you are omitting to get yourself registered as such with the authorities, all this patrolling and such will put a terrible crimp in your operations, and you can hear serious beefing in Lilina's on just this topic from such persons as Topknot and Elsa from Adari. And if Hilda is registered it will be under a false name, and she will not wish to run the risk of being discovered, and I judge that she is concerned about how she will support herself, for she is generally looking depressed. But though she sometimes speaks of going elsewhere she never does it, which makes her fit in with the regulars at Lilina's very well.
Well, one day when she is sitting with us I am telling the story of how this cousin of Griselda's named Lucilla shows up, who comes on very innocent but turns out to be anything but, and suddenly she interrupts me.
"This Lucilla," she says. "You say she is some kind of agent for the Free Sartar people, and goes all over?"
"That is correct," I say stiffly, for I do not care to have my stories interrupted.
She nods and says, "Sorry, Olaf, keep going." But after this she is not paying much attention to the story, but rather appears to be thinking something over, and when I finish, she stands up very suddenly, likes she decides something, and says like this.
"It sounds to me like this Lucilla will have many contacts," she says, "so she will be as likely a person as anyone to find out what happens to persons who embark on the Cradle, and she will particularly want to know what is happening to Griselda. So," she says, "I will go in search of her, to see what information she has. For I cannot believe that Griselda is dead," and at this point her voice seems to waver a bit, "and neither do I believe that she will stay aboard such a magical item as the Cradle any longer than she can help, because she is not such a person as cares to have much truck with magical stuff. This is the best way I can figure to spend my time, and anyone else who wishes" – and here she looks at me – "is welcome to join me."
Well, of course, I will be very interested to hear anything certain about the fate of Griselda, but Pavis is the town of my birth, and despite all the troubles I have no wish to leave it at this time. So I bid Hilda farewell, and good luck, and say that if she hears any news of Griselda maybe she will send word back some way.
She inclines her head. "I will do that, if I see a way to," she says, and off she goes. And from that day on I do not see hair or hide of her, until this day I am speaking of.
It is clear to me that Hilda is not recognising me when we meet again, in fact she barely gives me a glance, and this is not so surprising, at that, because of all the years that are passing, and also I am covered in dust from my travels. But although I know it may be asking for trouble I cannot resist the urge to call out to her, and so I do.
"Hilda," I cry, "do you ever get news of Griselda?"
At this she reins in her horse very sharply and turns in my direction, peering at me.
"Olaf?" she says. "Is that really you?"
I am pleased that she recognises me, and puff out my chest proudly and say, "None other."
"Oh my ancestral gods!" she cries, and then she turns to the others, who are only just behind now, and yells, "My lady, you have to come – it is Olaf the Storyteller!"
And before I can even take this in, up comes someone at a fast trot on an even better horse than Hilda's, and I perceive that this is none other than Griselda herself, and I am so overcome by the sight of her, when I am so often ready to believe that I will never see her again, that I seem to lose all strength, and everything goes dark, and I feel myself falling.
In a moment I am able to see again, and I find that I am being held by Griselda, and she is looking at me with real worry in her eyes, and says, "Olaf, you old rascal, it is really you! Are you okay? What in the name of Orlanth and Ernalda are you doing out here?"
I take a drink from the flask that she holds out, which contains something strong enough to make me cough, and I finally manage to say, "I am looking for you." Seeing her up close, I perceive that her face fills out a bit, and there are lines here and there, but to my eyes she is still beautiful, especially because she is grinning at me like she is really pleased to see me, which I find most cheering.
"Once, I am thinking you are likely dead, and so does everyone in Pavis," I say. "None of us can believe that any but real heroes can survive on the Cradle – "
"You'd be surprised," she says, with a little quirk to her mouth, "but go on."
"Well, after the Cradle business Pavis starts getting to be a dangerous place to be, for a peace-loving guy like me," I say. "And in the end I go to Adari – "
"So I understand," she breaks in, "for this scholar Carina who is running me down in Boldhome some years ago tells me that she is meeting you in Adari and hearing your stories. You must tell me what you think of Adari. In fact, let us make a deal: you tell me about people we know back in Pavis, and how you are making out in Adari, and I will tell you some of what I am doing in the years since the Cradle business, and how I meet up with Hilda again," and here she smiles at Hilda, who is now off her horse and is standing there with arms folded, looking impatient.
"May I respectfully suggest that we push on to Alone first, my lady?" she says rather sharply. "And save storytelling for later?"
"Of course you may suggest it," says Griselda, "and what is more, I will agree. Olaf, can you ride?"
I shake my head, for I am never on any kind of animal in my life, and then I finally pick up on something Hilda says for a second time, and I say straight out to Griselda, "You are this Lady of Alone?"
Griselda grins. "I am," she says. "Quite a step up in the world, eh? Now, if you cannot ride, someone must take you up," and she looks at Hilda, and says, "Sorry, Hildy, but you are lighter than anyone else here but me, and it does not look as if there is much to Olaf, so your horse should be able to carry you and him both."
Hilda looks ready to argue for a moment, but then says grumpily, "Oh, all right," and I am lifted into place behind her. It seems a very long way up from the ground, to be sure, and I hang on like she tells me to, and off we go. After a while she tells me not to grip her quite so tight, for she is finding it hard to breathe, so I try to relax.
I figure this is breaking the silence between us, and I say, "So Griselda really is the boss of Alone?"
"Right," she says. "As you may remember, her family is carrying some weight there in times gone by."
"So, are her parents still living?" I ask, for I am previously meeting with Griselda's father and mother both.
"No," says Hilda very shortly, and from the way she says it I suspect that this is a touchy matter, so I hastily change the subject and say that clearly she is working for Griselda now.
"Yes," says Hilda in a proud sort of way, "I am the chief of her bodyguard, and I act as a sort of steward as well."
I give her my congratulations on her success, and she seems pleased, and says, "Griselda is doing very well, which means that I am, too."
Now, I find I am feeling very weary, but I cannot fall asleep, for I am feeling very nervous about being up on this horse, and by the time we reach a big house in Alone that seems to be Griselda's I am ready to drop. Griselda orders me to be given blankets and shown where to sleep, which I do with great pleasure until I am woken in the evening, and the house servants get me washed and put into clean clothing, and then I am taken to see Griselda, who is now wearing fine robes and jewellery and I do not know what, and she looks a very fine sight.
"That's better," she says, running her eyes over me. "Not looking as if you already have one foot in the grave, though I have to say, Olaf, you are really pretty thin."
"I am not getting so much to eat recently," I explain.
"Why, where are my manners?" she cries, and claps her hands, and orders refreshments brought, and before long I have a better mug of beer in front of me than I ever taste in Pavis, and all kinds of delicacies to nibble on, and I express great gratitude to Griselda for her hospitality.
She waves a hand. "So what are you doing in Adari, anyway?" she says. "Are things really so bad in Pavis that you feel you have to leave?"
I tell her what is happening after the Cradle business, and how there is so much heat around and about, and furthermore that most of the people I know well are disappearing.
"Topknot is getting shown the door," I say, "as an unlicensed adventurer, and Old Gil is found dead in an alley one morning, and Sweet-Talking Shamus is taking up with one of Duke Raus's Bows and actually marries her. So there is just Elsa from Adari and me left from the old days, and though she registers as an adventurer she is not making any dough, and one day she says to me that she figures she will go back to Adari, her birthplace, because she is deciding it is not so bad, after all, and she suggests that I go with her. She tells me that Adari is rather like Pavis in some ways, and it is out of the way of the big fighting, and eventually she persuades me into it."
"Are you by any chance drinking, when you decide?" says Griselda, with a twinkle in her eye.
I have to confess that this is true, but I say that the following day I am still having this feeling that I am sick and tired of all the heat in Pavis, and if I am going anywhere else it may as well be to Adari with Elsa, for she is a tough doll and can look out for me. So we go off with one of the first caravans, late in the Storm Season that comes after the Cradle business, and we finally make it to Adari.
"And how do you like the place?" says Griselda, like she really wants to know.
I have to think about this. "It is not so bad," I say finally. "There is plenty of stuff to take an interest in, one way and another, and I get used to seeing Trolls all over, even more than they are in Pavis, though the Trollball matches," I shrug my shoulders and shake my head, "all the ones that I am ever seeing are rubbish. But the nomads are putting on good races."
"Yeah, give you something to bet on, and activities you can tell stories about, and you are a happy man," she says, grinning. "I guess you must be telling your stories about me, or this Carina will not hear of you and track you down."
"They are all wanting to hear stories of you," I say. "There are even some people in Adari who know your name, from that time when you are there before."
Griselda looks really pleased. "Well, it is good to know that I make a name that is remembered," she says. "Of course, round here they do not know so much about my activities in Pavis. In fact, most people are believing I must be working for the Free Sartar cause there, which is not at all the case, as you know, but it does no harm to let them think so. They certainly have no reason to be discontented with me as their ruler, for I give them good government, though I say it myself."
Then she leans forward, like she is really interested. "So, if you find Adari an okay place to be, and think I am probably dead, why do you leave again and start looking for me?"
"It is a matter of some two years ago," I say. "This Carina is showing up in Adari again, to tell me in person that she runs you down in Boldhome, in the Troll area, two years after our first meeting. She has great difficulties in getting to Adari again, but she is bound and determined to tell me to my face that she is finding you, because she dast not send a letter that someone else may read, and anyway she does not know if I can read. So I go to Boldhome to look for you, but once I am there I can get no word of you and am told very seriously that it could be harmful to my health if I keep on asking questions. So I am starting on my way back to Adari, but on the way I get an idea, that if you are alive they will know something in your birthplace, and so I decide to travel to Alone. But I have to go a long way round, for safety's sake, and of course I am walking, and I have to stop every now and then to get enough dough to continue with, and it all takes a very long time."
Griselda is smiling at me in a way I never see before, almost like she is my sister or something. "I am flattered," she says in a kind of soft voice. "You are a very loyal guy. Well, you need have no more worries about dough and such trivial matters. I will support you as long as you wish – while I am Lady of Alone, that is, because you must know that people can go up and down in these troublesome times – or I will send you off with a good stake, if that is what you prefer."
"I am very grateful for these offers, Griselda," I say, "and I will think most seriously about them. But will you now tell me how you come to be Lady of Alone, and even before that, how you come to survive fighting the Lunars for the Cradle? For the Lunar soldiers who are coming back to Pavis say that you defenders are fighting well at first but are overwhelmed, and it is only Argrath coming with big magical stuff that is turning the day against them. Do the Trolls help you escape? I remember hearing, there are Trolls on the Cradle."
Suddenly Griselda is looking most peeved, indeed. "Let me tell you," she says most earnestly, "we are slugging it out with those sonsabitching Lunars toe to toe, right to the end, and anyone who is telling you different, even if he claims to be there, is a liar. Maybe these soldiers are ordered to go along with the official story, because the Lunars cannot afford to look weak enough to be fought to a standstill by a scratch bunch like us. Of course, it is true that lots of the defenders are going under, including most of the Rowdy Boys, but not Snakefang himself, or any others that you know, except for Carver Donan, and he only gets his right at the end, which is kind of a shame when he is fighting so hard. I will admit, it is just as well that Argrath is arriving when he does, because at the end there we are mostly wounded, and out of magic, and so forth, but we are still putting up a fight, yes sir.
"But those of us who survive can by no means go back to Pavis, because anyone will guess that if such characters as Snakefang and Red Hot and myself are known to be absent from Pavis, the chances are that we are on the Cradle, and our lives will be no price at all if we return, even though we are making enough gold on the deal to bribe just about anybody, in normal circumstances."
"You get paid off in gold?" I say.
"Whole sackfuls," she says, "but of course this is giving us a big problem, because we will have to carry it about with us, or get to someplace where we can change it into something we can carry more easily, like jewels. So when Snakefang puts up this idea that we all head for Casino Town, which is way away from anywhere the Lunars can get to easily, I am ready to go along with the idea. But not everybody is feeling like that. Belladonna decides to join Argrath and travel on the Cradle wherever it is heading, for the adventure of it, and, if you will believe it, so do Wolfhead and Kroked, and Hanufa too, and I am never hearing of any of them again. I guess they do not last out the fighting. But Big Nygg and Fylchar are ready to head for Casino Town with Snakefang and the two of his gang who survive, and Red Hot says she has various purchases in mind before she goes back to her people, and Casino Town will be a good place to make them, so she will come with us too.
"And then all these helpful humans and ducks and newtlings are showing up in little reed boats, ready to take us off the Cradle and back to shore ... for a price, of course." She pauses, and seems to shudder. "Are you ever in a boat, Olaf?"
"No," I say, "not even on the River."
"I am taking boats across rivers sometimes, in my travels," she says, "but a boat out in the open sea is a very different proposition. The Cradle is big, so we are not noticing much movement. But when we are in those little reed boats, rocking to and fro …" She shudders again. "Well, no need to go into detail, but sooner or later we all get to feeling very ill, except Red Hot, who just sits there laughing at us. We are in no shape to look after ourselves, in fact, but the boatmen do not attempt to take advantage of our weakened state. They are looking after us very well, in fact, and get us to shore safely, for of course little reed boats cannot be travelling all the way to Casino Town, and we will need a bigger boat to get us there. It costs us to find one, and more to be taken there, but finally we are reaching Casino Town in one piece.
Now she yawns, and stretches. "I am seldom talking for so long," she says. "Can we leave over the rest to another night, Olaf? And maybe I should say now, there is much that I cannot tell you, because it relates to the security of Sartar, and I am bound to consider this now." She sighs. "I miss the old days, when my only obligations are to my companions and my family. But I am not so young any more, and this job certainly has its compensations, like not having to keep an eye out at all times for persons employed to enforce the law."
Now it seems to me that Griselda may be trying to divert me from my wish to know all about her life since the Cradle, and so I say, "But what happens to you all in Casino Town, and where do you go after that? Can you not give me an outline, at least?"
She grins a little, and nods. "Okay, well … I get my gold changed, though I have to pay a hefty commission, and then, well," and here she looks a little embarrassed, "there are so many opportunities for gambling, and we all think we will try our hand, and I am getting into some high-stakes dice games, because I am very fond of craps, as you know. But I quickly realise that I must be using up most of my luck suriving on the Cradle, so I drop betting for high stakes, although I continue to try my hand at this and other games now and then for much lower stakes, and at these I do all right." She winks, but then looks serious again. "But Snakefang," she shakes her head, "he is always a gambling man, and it is like a madness takes hold of him. He is there at the tables morning, noon and night, and my guess is that he will go on until he is flat broke. And the others mostly like the atmosphere of Casino Town, and want to stay – in fact, Big Nygg is buying into a partnership running one of the gaming establishments – so they are still there when I leave. Indeed, I regret to state that Fylchar is there for ever, because he is killed for his dough one night, and though Snakefang is pulling himself away from the tables for long enough to help us run down the persons responsible, Fylchar's dough is mostly gone."
"What about Red Hot?" I ask, for I find her a more interesting character than these hoods.
Griselda smiles. "You will not believe this, but what Red Hot does with her haul is really quite sensible. She spends on good quality gear, and buys a horse she can handle, and gets training in riding, and she has herself got up to look something like the way she is after Jareen's people get through with her, that time she is sweet on Jaxarte. And when all this is done, off she rides to her people the Solanthi, looking most impressive. I am quite sorry to see her go, for she and I are getting along much better after we defend the Cradle together, and she makes a good training partner and fair company. But what becomes of her after that I cannot say, though for sure, if she stays a Storm Bull, she will go down fighting Chaos sooner or later, as all Storm Bulls are bound to do.
"Now," she says, "as to myself, well, I do some thinking, and talk with the others about what I can do with my life, but the only sensible thing I or anyone else can come up with is to go back to my family and work in the family business. Of course this means I must be dealing with my mother, but I believe that I can just about stand that, now that she knows that I know family secrets and cannot be pushed around. So, I go back to Alone and sign on – "
"Hold on, Griselda!" I cry. "It must be a very long way from Casino Town to Alone, and will there not be Lunars and bounty hunters and such looking all over for you?"
"You are right," she acknowledges. "Well, as to that, I will not say much, because this all relates to the stuff that must be kept secret. I will just say this: my family's organisation has contacts, and the contacts have contacts, and furthermore I have my own contacts, mainly with Trolls here and there, and by making use of these contacts I am able to return to Alone without exposing myself to too much risk, although of course it is quite expensive.
"You can bet my ever-loving mama is not too pleased to see me, but my dad is, especially when I am making a valuable contribution to the family treasury, and he is even more pleased when I state that I am wishing for a job, as long as it does not require me to get too close to Lunars anywhere, and I explain why. Everyone is most impressed with my story, even my mother, or so I think, though of course she is not showing it openly.
"So, well, things go along okay for the next few years, and I am having many adventures, but I never come to the attention of any Lunars who are actively looking for me, nor do I put my life in serious danger. Then the great Lunar disaster happens, and the whole of Sartar is in turmoil. But in Alone we are far from the centre of things, and while the trouble means that business is more risky, it is also more profitable, because normal trade is disrupted and people cannot get what they want. But" – and here she closes her eyes for a moment – "that is the ruin of my whole family, just about."
"Why, what can you mean, Griselda?" I cry, most alarmed at her expression.
"You know that Pavis is captured by pro-Sartar forces, a while before the big event at Boldhome?" she says.
"Sure," I say. "Argrath takes it."
Griselda pulls a face, like she bites something sour. "Yes, Argrath," she says. "What you have to understand, Olaf, is that there is more than one person who is doing great deeds against the Lunars under the name of Argrath. I am not sure I have it all straight, even now, but this much I can say: the Argrath that is organising the defence of the Cradle may be the same guy as the one called Argrath White Bull, who leads the forces that capture Pavis. But he is certainly not the same guy as Argrath Maniskisson, who is having my parents arrested, and my brother Ferdy, and all our people that can be found. He cannot touch aunt Harsandra, because she is a Healer, nor my cousin Lucilla, who is well known to work for Free Sartar – but he has all the rest executed out of hand as traitors!" She spits out these last words with her fists clenched, and she pulls a face like she is only just holding back from busting right out crying.
I am so astonished, I say nothing, I just gasp. But right at that moment Hilda is entering, and she goes straight to Griselda and places her hand on her shoulder and says, "Do not take on so, Griselda. You get a good recompense later, do you not?"
Griselda sighs and relaxes, and looks up at Hilda with a smile. "You are right; I do." She turns back to me. "Argrath Maniskisson is stating that he considers my family traitors because they collaborate with the Lunars in their smuggling activities, and it is certainly true that to keep things running smoothly we are paying off Lunar officials here and there and providing some supplies that they are needing. But we provide nothing that will be useful in a war, or anyway not much, and we smuggle a lot more that is useful to the Free Sartar cause. But Argrath will not be persuaded by such arguments, for he claims that he has first-class information that we are working against Sartar – and who do you suppose he is getting that from?"
She fixes me with a very intent look, but of course I have absolutely no idea and just shake my head.
"Why, that misbegotten get of a witch and a runaway slave, Jorjar!" she cries in a voice of rage. "The guy buys his life, when Pavis is captured, with what he claims is important information about a secret network of Lunar supporters in Sartar. But in all the troubles, the information is not getting through to the leaders of the uprising in Sartar for a long time."
"Ssh, ssh," goes Hilda, rubbing her shoulders. "You pay him out."
Now Griselda gives the smile that I remember so well from times past, which has no warmth in it at all. "Oh yes, I pay him out, all right. Obviously I am not getting caught with the rest. I am lucky, for I am out seeing to business at the time, and I get word from I will not say who, in time to go to ground. With the help of my contacts I make my way to Boldhome, to the hideout in the Troll area where that scholar Carina is finding me. Of course, I give her another story about why I am hiding out, and she buys it.
"Well, I may be in hiding, and under sentence of death, but I still have some resources, and I still have my contacts. So in time I get word through to Pavis, and one night Jorjar and his trollkin, who are still working for him, are disappearing. Nobody sees what happens, but there are rumours that Trolls are seen in Pavis that night."
Well, this is all much more characteristic of the Griselda that I remember, to be sure, and I feel nervous that maybe I am upsetting her by causing her to recall this sad time. But she seems to relax again and gives me an ordinary smile.
"So," she says, "what more can I tell you?"
"Why, how you are able to come out of hiding and get your present position," I say.
"Oh, that," she says. "Well, that is not so hard to tell. You see, Kallyr Starbrow herself is making use of our organisation now and then, working through my cousin Lucilla, and she is most put out to learn, when Lucilla can get an audience with her, how Argrath Maniskisson is refusing Lucilla's plea for the lives of her relatives. So Kallyr has an announcement of a reprieve for me sent all over Sartar, and this is passed on to me by Old Herb, who carries much weight in certain parts of Boldhome and is making sure that no one who cannot be absolutely trusted gets near me. I am still unsure if it will be safe to come out, but Kallyr is also putting out a call for previous associates of mine, and so, who is walking into my hideout one day but Hilda? She tells me the reprieve is on the up-and-up, and so out I come, and not a moment too soon, for my resources in hand are really getting quite low."
"All those years I am looking for word of Griselda," says Hilda to me, "for, as you will remember, I refuse to believe she is dead. It is the greatest day in my life when I see her again, in Boldhome." Her eyes are shining and she looks really happy as she says this.
"And do you know what this blessed woman is doing?" Griselda says, turning to me with a great big grin on her face. "Why, all that time she is carrying around my Pavis stash, for before I go on the Cradle I send word to her, to tell her where it is hidden."
"I have to use some, for necessary expenses," Hilda points out.
"But you are preserving most of it," says Griselda in a very approving manner. "So there I am, with a fair bit of dough again, so I can doll myself up and look good when I go to see Kallyr, who is wishing to interview me. She offers me this position, as recompense for the loss of my parents and my brother Ferdy, if I will promise to use my contacts to gather information that will be of benefit to Sartar, and only collaborate in smuggling activities with the Lunars if I can get useful information. And I accept, for I am sick and tired of hiding out, and I feel this is a reasonable settlement of my grievances."
"But Kallyr is dead now, and Argrath is the Prince," I say. "Why does he not throw you out of Alone again?"
"Oh, I have my uses," Griselda says, tapping her nose. "My links with the Trolls and my other contacts can be used for the benefit of Sartar, whoever is the Prince. And I am helping things along by making a sizeable donation to the Boldhome treasury, to be confirmed in my post here. And furthermore, I am taking great care to see that all the tax revenues that are due to Boldhome get paid." She nods and smiles. "Oh yes, I have my uses, and even Argrath can appreciate that I am more use to him alive than dead."
Hilda shudders. "Do not be speaking of your death," she says. "You know how it upsets me, after all that we go through."
I notice that her hand is again on Griselda's shoulder, and to my surprise Griselda puts her hand up and takes hold of Hilda's hand, which she seems to squeeze.
"I'm sorry," is all she says, but she says it in a way that I find most striking, indeed, and suddenly I am realising something that is right under my nose all the time. And I am about to speak when Griselda fixes her eyes directly on me, and though she is smiling the look in them is one that I am recognising well, the look that she puts on when she does not wish something to be spoken of – so naturally I do not say a word.
 See Bad Example.
 See First Class Protection.
 See Ogre Hunt.
 See Different Shades of Red.
 See Respect.
 See Hanufa's Little Sister
 See The Trouble With Nephews.
 Griselda is referring, here and in speaking of "the big event at Boldhome", to the appearance of a dragon that swallowed virtually the entire Lunar occupation forces in Sartar in 1625, see Greg Stafford's King of Sartar, pp. 153-4.
© 2012 Oliver Dickinson
"Glorantha, RuneQuest and HeroQuest are trademarks of Moon Design Publications and used with their permission."
updated 2nd October 2017