The Lady of Alone

Introduction: I had intended this to be called The Last of Griselda, and make it the last story I ever wrote, but somehow, after getting back into it, I'm not sure now … This is not quite a story in the usual sense, because its main purpose is to answer the question that must have arisen in the mind of many a Griselda fan, "What happened to her later?" Anyone who has read The Cradlesnatchers will know that Griselda was one of the group of persons who constantly feature in the stories who boarded and defended the Giant's Cradle in 1621 – some weeks before Griselda's 29th birthday, in fact. What she might have been doing between the date of A Day at the Races the latest of the stories in chronological order (Sea Season 1618), and the Cradle affair 3 years later remains to be revealed.

The interview which The Cradlesnatchers records dates in 1627, because Griselda states herself to be 5 years older than her interviewer, the Lhankor Mhy initiate Carina, so 35 or near enough, and, if anyone has not read the Cradlesnatchers, it shows Griselda hiding out in the Troll section of Boldhome. The present story refers to a time later still, in the earlier 1630's, a time of success for Sartar under Prince Argrath, when Griselda is past 40 and Olaf the narrator should be pushing 50.


Where I am when this story starts is walking along the middle of a dusty road to Alone, thinking of not much, except that I am getting too old for this sort of thing. I am also thinking that I must be some kind of sap, for I travel all this way to Griselda's birthplace, when so much time is passing since she leaves it, and all kinds of wars and troubles keep happening in between, just in the hope of getting some news of her, when I do not even know for sure that she is still alive. But I keep going, which shows you what a very big sap I am, indeed.

I am a long time on the road this day, and I am getting to feel I badly need a nap, in fact I am looking out for some likely spot at the side of the road, 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 at the head of what looks like a small procession, but Hilda, who I last see in Pavis many years ago. She changes no little since I see her last, in fact, she broadens out no little, but she certainly seems to be in the money, for she is riding a pretty fair horse and all her gear is good quality and there is gold on her here and there. So I am guessing 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 remembering many things about Hilda. When I first encounter her, she is the bond servant of the Patromas, who are a rich Lunar faimly who carry weight in Pavis at that time, and she is the companion of Viridia Patroma when she 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 quite such a looker but has plenty of brains, as quickly becomes evident. For Griselda perceives that she is by no means content with her situation and does some talking to her, and a little 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.1

Later Hilda comes back to Pavis in disguise with a bunch of adventurers, whom I personally become involved with, much against my will,2 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, for when Griselda goes off on the Giant's Cradle, Hilda does not go with her.

Of course, the way I see it, this shows that Hilda has even more brains than Griselda, because 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 the word comes upriver from Corflu, that the Cradle gets through everything the Lunars throw at it and sails out to sea, still, everyone goes around saying that only great heroes like Argrath, and maybe Rune Lords and such, will be surviving, and of course this does not include any persons that will be known to us ordinary folks in Loud Lilina's, like Hanufa, and Red Hot, and Carver Donan, and Wolfhead, and Snakefang and his gang, who are called The Rowdy Boys because they hang out at Rowdy Djoh Lo's. All these persons are known to board the Cradle, because Rowdy Djoh Lo sees them agree with Argrath to do this, and he names Griselda as the last one to decide to join in. And none of them are seen around Pavis after the Cradle gets refloated in a big storm and heads off downstream, so nobody can find any reason to doubt him.

Now with all these persons gone from Pavis things are really very quiet, and Constable Jorjar is heard to remark that the only good thing to come out of the whole affair is that Pavis is almost clean out of major hard cases, and he only has small-timers to deal with. But a guy in the watch that I know tells me that he is also heard to remark that he cannot understand what such a smart doll as Griselda is thinking of, getting involved in such a crazy adventure, and that he is really going to miss the little scamp. Of course, unless some stoolie tips him off he cannot know for certain that Griselda goes on the Cradle, but when suddenly she is not seen around Pavis any more, and there is no word of her going anywhere else, it just naturally seems likely to him and the Lunar authorities that Griselda must be on the Cradle.

Now the way I see it, Griselda is smart, and she is tough, but she is not going to last the distance against all the Lunars throw into the attack on the Cradle. I figure that she must be a goner, finally, and I find this surprisingly depressing, and for some time I do not care to do much except sit in Lilina's and talk with those of Lilina's regulars who are left about those who are gone, and especially Griselda. And it seems that many people in Pavis feel similarly, and in fact Lilina herself is so quiet that sometimes people are looking at the bar to check that she is still there. You can see 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 rumour going around very quietly indeed, that priestess Broosta holds a secret service in the Pavis temple in Griselda's memory. But nobody will admit to being present at such a service, because naturally the Lunar authorities consider that Griselda is an enemy of the Empire, and no ordinary persons dast admit to feeling sorry for her death, or they may just as well cut their own throats and save the Lunar executioners the trouble.

Now, before this time Hilda hardly ever comes 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. In fact, 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.

Now in next to no time Sor-Eel gets recalled, and a new guy comes in as Governor, who calls himself Duke Raus of Rone. He holds land downriver, which he takes over in the years just after the Lunar conquest of Pavis, and he comes 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 go into the Rubble to capture rebels, and chase around bandit gangs, and roust out Chaotics, and many citizens say they are doing a grand job and making Pavis and Manside much safer for ordinary folks to live in.

Now, 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 omit to get yourself registered as such with the authorities and also to kick in any percentage of a good haul, as adventurers are bound to do, all this patrolling and such will put a terrible crimp in your operations, and you can hear serious beefing in Lilina's from Topknot and Elsa from Adari on just this topic. And if Hilda is registered it will be under a false name, and she will not be running the risk of getting questioned by some eager-beaver patrol, so she too is likely to be affected, and I judge that the worried expression which she often has relates to concern about how she will support herself. 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 she is sitting with us, and I am telling the story of how a cousin of Griselda's named Lucilla shows up, who comes on very innocent but turns out to be anything but 3, and suddenly she is interrupting 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, and Elsa from Adari is saying that Lucilla sounds like she is as tough as Griselda, sure enough, Hilda stands up likes she decides something and says, "It sounds to me like this Lucilla will have many contacts, so she may know what happens to everyone who goes on the Cradle, if anyone does, and it figures that she will particularly want to know what happens to her cousin Griselda. So," she says, "I here and now state that 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 as good a way to spend my time as any, 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 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 she does not recognise me when we meet again, in fact she barely glances at me, and this is not so surprising, at that, because of all the years that are passing, and also I am covered in dust and dirt from my travels. But although I know I am 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 whether Griselda is alive or dead?"

At that 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 when she takes a look she does know who I am, and I puff out my chest proudly and say, "None other."

"Oh my ancestral gods!" she cries, and then she turns to the others, who are stopping a little way behind, and yells, "My lady, you have to come – it is Olaf the Storyteller!"

And before I can even realise what this means 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 often out of hope that I will ever 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 I am being held by Griselda, and she is looking at me with real worry in her eyes, and she 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 a drink strong enough to make me cough and splutter, but 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, especially on her forehead, but to my eyes she is still beautiful, especially because she is grinning at me like she is really pleased to see me, and I find this very cheering.

"Once I think you are 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, you may know that after the Cradle business Pavis starts getting to be no place to be, for a peaceloving guy like me," I say. "And in the end I go to Adari – "

"So I understand," she breaks in, "for this scholar who is running me down some years ago meets you in Adari and hears all your stories. You must tell me what you think of Adari. In fact, let's make a deal: you tell me about people we know back in Pavis, and how you make out in Adari, and I will tell you some of what I am doing in the years since the Cradle, and how I meet up with Hilda again," and here she smiles at Hilda, who is now dismounted from her horse and is standing there with her 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 pick up on something Hilda says, 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.

"Sorry, Hildy," she says, "but even though you are putting on weight you are lighter than anyone else here but me, so it will be less of a burden for your horse to carry you and him both."

Hilda looks ready to argue, but Griselda puts on a little of that special look that I remember so well, and Hilda says grumpily, "Oh, all right, though the best idea may be to switch him round from mount to mount."

"You are right," says Griselda. "Do that. Okay, let's get going."

I am lifted into place behind Hilda, and it seems a very long way up from the ground, to be sure, and I hang on tightly like she tells me to, and off we go. After a while she tells me not to grip so tightly, for she is finding it hard to breathe, so I try to relax. I figure this breaks the silence between us, and say, "So Griselda really is the boss of Alone?"

"Right," she says. "As you may remember, her family carries some weight there in times gone by."

"So, are her parents still alive?" I ask, for I previously meet with both Griselda's father and mother.4

"No," says Hilda very shortly, and I suspect that this is a touchy subject, so I let it drop. But I get to wondering just what Hilda's position is, so I say that she is clearly working for Griselda now.

"Yes," says Hilda, sounding more relaxed. "I am the chief of her bodyguard, and I act as a sort of steward as well."

I give her my congratulations for doing so well.

"Oh yes," she says in a pleased way. "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 nervous whatever horse I am on, and by the time we reach this great big house in the centre of 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 take me in hand, and get me washed and put into clean clothing, and then I am taken to see Griselda, looking really quite presentable, and she 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 like you already have one foot in the grave any more, though I have to say, Olaf, you are pretty thin."

"I do not get so much to eat recently," I say.

"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 best are disappearing.

"Topknot gets shown the door," I say, "as an unlicensed adventurer, and Old Gil is found dead in an alley one morning, and Sweet-Talking Shamus takes up with one of Duke Raus's women soldiers and actually marries her. So there are 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, because after all it is not so bad, and furthermore she suggests that I go with her. She tells me that Adari is really not unlike Pavis, and it is out of the way of the big fighting and so on, and she is so persuasive that finally I decide I will try 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 that the following day I still have this feeling that I am getting sick and tired of all the heat in Pavis, and if I go anywhere 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, as if 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 around and about even more than they are in Pavis, though the Trollball matches", I shrug my shoulders, "they are rubbish, all the ones that I ever see. But the nomads put on good races."

"Yeah, give you something to bet on, and something to tell stories about, and you are a happy man," she says, grinning. "I guess you must tell your stories about me, or this scholar Carina will not hear of you and track you down."

"They all want to hear stories of you," I say. "There are even some who know your name, from that time when you are in Adari before." 5

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 much about my activities in Pavis. In fact, most people think I must be working for the Free Sartar cause when I am there, which as you know I am not. But it does no harm to let them think so, and 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 dead, why do you leave again and start looking for me?"

"It is a matter of some two years ago," I say. "This Carina finally shows up in Adari again, to tell me in person that she runs you down in Boldhome, in the Troll area, two years after she meets me first. She has great difficulties getting to Adari again, but she is bound and determined to tell me to my face, because she dast not send a letter that someone else may read, and furthermore she does not know if I can read. So I set out for Boldhome, but I cannot get any word there, and eventually I am scared off by some heavies that tell me it will be harmful to my health if I go on asking questions about you, and back I go to Adari. But then one day I get to thinking, maybe they will know something in Alone, where you are born, and so I set out to come here, but I have to go the long way round, for safety's sake, and of course I am walking, and also I have to stop every now and then to get enough dough to continue with, and so it all takes a very long time."

Griselda is smiling at me in a way I never see before, almost like she is my loving sister or something. "I am flattered," she says in kind of a 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 know as well as I do that people can have ups and downs 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, and I will think most seriously about them," I say, feeling very good that she is so concerned for my welfare. "But will you 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 come back to Pavis say that you defenders fight well at first but are overwhelmed, and it is only Argrath coming with big magical stuff that turns the day against them. Do the Trolls help you escape? I remember hearing, there are Trolls on the Cradle."

Suddenly Griselda is looking considerably peeved. "Let me tell you," she says most earnestly, "we slug it out with those sonsabitching Lunars toe to toe, right to the end, and anyone who tells 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 such a scratch bunch as we are. It is true, lots of the defenders go under, including most of the Rowdy Boys, but not Snakefang himself, or any of the others that you know, except for Carver, and he only gets his right at the end, which is kind of a shame when he is fighting so hard. Of course, it is just as well that Argrath arrives when he does, because at the end there we are mostly wounded, and out of magic, and so forth, but we are still resisting, yes sir.

"But those of us who survive do not go back to Pavis, because we have a very good reason to stay away. For anyone will guess that if such characters as Snakefang and Red Hot and I myself are known to be absent from Pavis, the chances are that we are on the Cradle, and so we will be no price at all if we return to Pavis, even though we make 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 gives 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 suggests we stick together, so we can mind each other's backs, and head for Casino Town, which is way away from anywhere the Lunars can get to easily, I for one 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 join up with Argrath, and Hanufa too, and I never hear of any of them again. I am guessing, they do not last out the fighting. But Big Nygg and Fylchar and the two Rowdy Boys who survive are all ready to head for Casino Town with Snakefang, and Red Hot says she has various purchases in mind before she goes back to her people, and Casino Town should be a good place to make them, and she will come with us too.

"And then all these helpful boatmen, humans and ducks and newtlings, show up in these little reed boats, ready to take us off the Cradle and back to shore for a price." She pauses, and seems to shudder. "Are you ever in a boat, Olaf?"

"No," I say, "not even on the River."

"I take 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, and so we do not notice 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 all of us get to feeling very sick, and the worst part of it is that Red Hot does not, and sits there laughing at us. We are in no shape to look after ourselves, in fact, but luckily we pick trustworthy persons to take us to shore – in fact, we do not pick humans at all, but ducks, because they have a name for honesty. And indeed, they do not take advantage of our weakened state to demand more money, and Snakefang is so pleased that he gives them some extra dough.

"But of course little reed boats cannot be travelling all the way to Casino Town, so we need a bigger boat to get us there. But these ducks are so grateful for Snakefang's tip that they agree to put effort into finding a real sailing boat that will take us, while we lie up in hiding, and they bring us food and other supplies, and though this comes at a high price at least it is fair quality. We all get a chance to rest up, and by the time they find a boat we are feeling pretty much okay again.

"None of us cares for the look of the men handling the boat too much, but the ducks say this is all they can come up with in a hurry, and so Snakefang tips them some more and dickers with the captain of the boat. We have to pay a stiff price to get to Casino Town, and even more to get the crummy food which is all they have on board, but beggars cannot be choosers, as they say. My guess is that if we are ordinary adventurers this captain will set his crew on us, to knock us on the head and take all our possessions, but he must decide we are too tough a proposition, even though some of us are still getting sick from time to time, and so we reach Casino Town without incident."

And now she yawns, and stretches. "I seldom talk 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 the only obligations I have are to my companions and now and then 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 in law enforcement."

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 pretty hefty commission, and this is after I am already using up some." She looks slightly embarrassed. "There are so many opportunities for gambling, and I have so much, I feel I will try my hand at dice, but I find my luck is quite out, so I quickly drop this and preserve most of my funds. But Snakefang is always a betting man, and it is like a madness takes hold of him, and he is there at the tables morning, noon and night, and my guess is that he will go on until he is flat broke. Anyway, all the others like the atmosphere of Casino Town, and want to stay a good while – in fact, Nygg buys into a partnership running one of the gaming establishments – so they are still there when I leave. In fact, I regret to state that Fylchar is there for ever, because he is killed for his dough one night, and though Snakefang pulls himself away from the tables for long enough to help run down the persons responsible, Fylchar's gold is 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 may be the most sensible of all. You can get anything you like at Casino Town if you can pay, and so she spends on good quality gear, and getting some training in riding, and a horse she can handle, and having 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.6 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. But what becomes of her after that I cannot say for sure, but if she stays a Storm Bull, she will go down sooner or later fighting Chaos, as all Storm Bulls are bound to do.

"Now," she says, "as to myself, well, I spend some time thinking over what I will do with my life henceforth, and the only thing I can think of 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 I know some family secrets, and she knows that I know them. So, I get 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, by which I mean with Trolls here and there. So by making use of these contacts I am able to return to Alone without exposing myself to too much risk, though of course it is quite expensive.

"You can bet my loving mama is not pleased to see me, but my dad is, especially when I turn over a fair bit of what remains of my haul from the Cradle to the family treasury, and he is even more pleased when I state that I wish for a job, as long as it does not require me to travel back into Sartar and Prax, and I explain why. Everyone is most impressed with my story, even my mother, or so I think, though she does not show it openly.

"So, well, things go along okay for the next few years, and I have many adventures, but I am never putting my life in serious danger, and then comes the great Lunar disaster, and the whole of Sartar is in turmoil. But in Alone we are far from the centre of things and do not seem to be in real danger, 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, as if she bites something sour. "Yes, Argrath," she says. "What you have to understand, Olaf, is that there is more than one person who does great deeds against the Lunars under the name of Argrath. In fact, I understand it is like a title rather than a name. I am not sure I have it all straight, even yet, but this much I can tell you: the Argrath that organises the defence of the Cradle and meets up with the Wolf Pirates and all that, he 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 as Argrath Maniskisson, who has my parents arrested, and my brother Ferdy and all our people that can be found. He has to lay off aunt Harsandra, because she is a Healer, and also 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 eyes squeezed tight shut and her face screwed up, 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 enters, and she goes to Griselda and places her hand on her shoulder and says, "Do not take on so, my lady. You get 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 states 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 pay off Lunar officials here and there and provide some supplies they need. But we provide nothing that will be useful in a war, or at least not much, and we smuggle a lot more that is useful to the Free Sartar cause and all that. But Argrath will not be persuaded by such arguments, for he states that he has first-class information that we are working against Sartar – and who do you suppose he gets that from?"

She fixes me with a very intent look, but 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."

"Ssh, ssh," goes Hilda, rubbing her shoulders. "You pay him out."

Now Griselda gives her fierce smile, the one I remember so well from times past, that has no warmth in it at all. "Oh yes. You will perceive that I do not get executed 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 a hideout in the Troll area, which is where that scholar Carina finds 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 a fair bit of dough, and I still have contacts. So in time I get word through to Pavis, and one night Jorjar and his trollkin, who are still hired on for the night watch, just seem to disappear. Nobody sees what happens, though 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, actually that is not so hard to tell. You see, as it turns out, Kallyr Starbrow herself makes use of our organisation now and then, working through my cousin Lucilla, and she is most put out to learn from her, when Lucilla can get an audience, what Argrath Maniskisson does and how he refuses Lucilla's plea for the lives of her relatives. So Kallyr has an announcement of a reprieve for me sent all over Sartar, and Old Herb, who runs most of everything illegal in Boldhome and makes sure that no one who cannot be absolutely trusted gets near me, he passes this on. I am still uncertain if it will be safe to come out of hiding, but Kallyr also puts out a call for associates of mine, and so, who walks into my hideout one day but Hilda? She tells me that 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 cannot 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 do use some, for necessary expenses," Hilda points out.

"But you preserve most of it," says Griselda in a very approving manner. "So there I am, with a fair bit of dough in hand again, so I can doll myself up and look good when I go to see Kallyr, for she wishes 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. I also help things along by making a sizeable donation to the Boldhome treasury from my own resources, and what the family has hidden away, to be confirmed in my post here. And furthermore, I take great care to see that absolutely 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 realise 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 recognise well, the look that she puts on when she does not wish something to be spoken of, and so naturally I do not say a word.






© 2002 Oliver Dickinson
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1 See "Bad Example".

2 See "First Class Protection".

3 See "Different Shades of Red".

4 See "Meet the Parents", published in The Shadows of Pavis (Tentacles Press).

5 See "Respect".

6 See "The Trouble with Nephews".