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|Home Sweet Home, they say - but sometimes a homecoming is rather bittersweet...||
Part IV: A Farewell, Of Sorts
The rest of the journey passed without incident. That night, they slept under the stars again, but around noon the following day they could see Berlia in the distance, and Daran announced that that night, they would be sleeping on the comfortable Berlian down-filled mattresses, which triggered a cheer among the traders. Ashen only smiled, but had to admit he was looking forward to sleeping in a real bed, as well. His sore body protested with almost every movement, and especially every time had to get back on his horse. He’d take some time to rest in Berlia, he promised himself. It was no use running if he could hardly walk.
The road they were on joined with a broader, more travelled road, and suddenly they were surrounded on all sides by travellers on foot, horse or wagon, most of them heading for Berlia. Its grey-brown outer walls, and the tops of houses, churches and a palace or two, loomed on the horizon and came gradually closer. There were guards at the gates, but they seemed to take hardly any notion of the passers by, and not once stopped a traveller. As Daran’s caravan came through, one of the guards waved at Daran, and Daran waved back.
‘Do you know every guard in Gerny?’ Ashen asked Daran, who laughed.
‘Hardly,’ he said, and winked. ‘Just the ones that matter.’ Ashen smiled, and Daran shrugged. ‘I come here every year, and that since I was twelve. Some of those guards have seen me grow up; I guess that creates some sort of bond. Plus, we Mahons are a much respected family in these parts, and some people just try to get on our good side to get a discount on our fabrics.’
‘Something tells me you don’t do discounts,’ Ashen said.
‘Only in bulk, Ashen. Only in bulk.’ Daran leaned up in the saddle to look ahead.
‘Damn crowds,’ he mumbled, then turned to Ashen. ‘Look, we’re going left at the house with the red shutters, to store the merchandise. I’ve got a house in the trading quarter, and the men stay in a nearby inn. You’re welcome to stay with us.’ He looked at Ashen hopefully, and Ashen had to admit it was an appealing offer. But there were things that had to be done; and they needed to be done in privacy. He’d better go to the manor, and stay there.
‘I’ve got a place of my own where I can stay,’ he said, ‘but thanks for the offer. If you like, I can come by tomorrow.’ Daran nodded, seeming a little disappointed, Ashen thought.
‘I’d like that,’ the man said, and offered Ashen his hand. ‘Until tomorrow, then.’
Ashen shook Daran’s hand firmly, turned his horse and began to thread his way through the crowds, to what he hoped was still a safe haven.
As Daran watched Ashen fade away among the throngs of people, a sudden thought emerged in his mind, and, acting upon it, he halted a small boy ambling past.
‘Hey, do you want to earn some money?’ he asked, and got an enthusiastic nod in return. ‘Great. Do you see that man on the grey horse? The one in the green tunic, and the fair hair.’
‘I want you to follow him, and tell me where he goes. You can find in me the trading quarter, at the Mahon & Son Warehouse. Ask for Daran. Got it?’
‘Yessir!’ the boy replied and dashed after Ashen’s retreating form.
Daran straightened up in the saddle, and caught Grad’s grin.
‘I didn’t think you were gonna let him walk away just like that,’ Grad said.
‘I don’t pay you to think,’ Daran grinned back. ‘Come on, let’s go unload these carts.’
He forced Ashen out of his thoughts until all the wagons were empty, the bundles of fabric checked and stored, and his guards sent off to the inn with money for food and boarding. Only when he was back in the small house attached to the back of the warehouse, did he allow himself to think of Ashen.
The man puzzled him. There was definitely something more going on in Ashen’s life than he was being led to believe. That business in Feranza – it was unfortunate, and he trusted Ashen’s account of that. But there had to be more going on than that; every time Ashen’s past had come up in conversation the man had retreated into himself, drawn back and become sad and sullen. Daran suspected there was either a big secret or a big trauma somewhere in Ashen’s past. Maybe even both.
His thoughts were interrupted when Klaus, the elderly servant who took care of the house while he was away, entered his study with some food.
‘Thank you,’ he said, suddenly realising he was starving. Klaus smiled.
‘There’s a boy outside asking for you, sir,’ he said. ‘Shall I send him away?’
‘No, no, let him in. And get some food for him as well. Oh, and could you send a message to the notary, if he could come by? Preferably tonight, but not if he’s got anything more important to do.’ Klaus nodded, quietly left the room, and when he returned he was followed, shyly, by the street kid. Daran beckoned the boy closer, and drew out a chair for him to sit on. Cautiously, the boy sat down and eyed the food that was offered to him by Klaus suspiciously.
‘Go ahead, eat,’ Daran said. ‘I know boys need plenty of food to grow.’ The boy gingerly took the plate from Klaus, sniffed the food, and then assaulted it as if he had not eaten for weeks.
Hiding a smile behind a hand, Daran watched the boy eat.
‘So, what’s your name?’ he asked when the boy paused for breath.
‘Guntha,’ the boy murmured with his mouth full.
‘Alright, Gunther, why don’t you tell me what you saw?’
‘Well, I followed the guy all the way to Posh Hill – Rosenbaum Strasse,’ he added. ‘There he stood looking at this big, old, house for ages, and then left again. He went straight for Der Einhorn, you know, the inn just below Posh Hill? He saw me there – didn’t suspect a thing about me following ‘im, though. He just wanted me to get a message someplace.’
‘Did he get a room at the inn?’ Gunther nodded.
‘I guess so. He got his horse stabled and everything.’
‘And the message?’
‘Something about a Junker Von Aschen coming for a short visit to check the house and something else he wouldn’t put in the message but he would tell them when he got there. I had to get it to the same old house at Rosenbaum Strasse he’d been gawking at.’
‘So, now it’s Junker Von Aschen?’ Daran said to himself. Perhaps the family had just chosen to make their name more Feranzean when they went from Gerny to Feranza, at least a couple of generations ago, if he remembered Ashen’s story about his ancestor who saved the king correctly. But somehow he had a feeling that not many people knew that Lord D’Ashe and Junker Von Aschen were one and the same.
‘You delivered the message?’ he asked Gunther.
‘Yep. They said he’d be welcome anytime. I’ve got to go tell him that, now.’
‘Can you tell me which house it was?’
‘I dunno its name, but it’s big and white, and has this picture of a bird on fire above the front door. ‘S right in the middle of Rosenbaum Strasse.’
‘Wonderful, thank you,’ Daran said, reached for his pouch and gave the boy a few silver crowns. It was far too much, of course, but the boy’s report had intrigued him and he was feeling generous.
‘Whoa, thanks, sir,’ Gunther said, and, having finished his meal, he quickly tucked the money safely away.
‘You’re welcome. Don’t go spending it all at once.’
‘I won’t, sir. God bless you, sir.’
With those words, Gunther darted excitedly out of the room, and bumped into Klaus who came to announce the arrival of the notary, Herr Stehn.
‘Come in, come in, Stehn,’ Daran said.
‘Good evening, Herr Mahon,’ Stehn said. ‘How was your journey?’
‘Fine, fine. How’s the family?’
‘Wonderful. My son’s joining me in my business this summer, and the girls look every day more like their mother. Katarina sends her greetings.’
‘Thank you.’ Stehn sat down in the same chair Gunther had sat in just minutes earlier.
‘So, what can I do for you?’
‘Do you know a certain house on Rosenbaum Strasse? Right in the middle, with a flaming bird over the front door. I suppose that’s meant to be a phoenix.’
‘Ah, yes, old Phoenix Manor,’ Stehn nodded. ‘Yes, I know it. Why?’
‘I want you to find out who owns it, and if anyone lives there.’
‘I can tell you the second right away. No one lives there but a pair of servants, who keep the house clean and in order. Personally, I can’t remember anyone else ever living there. I think the owners are abroad.’
‘Well, I want you to find out who they are. Also, I’d like you to do some digging. You might need some help on this one.’
‘What do you want me to dig for?’
‘Anything you can find about a family called D’Ashe. And a family called Von Aschen. And,’ he added, struck by inspiration, ‘anyone of a similar name you can find. If you have the time.’
‘I can’t guarantee I will have found all this out before you depart again,’ Stehn said.
‘Then just tell me what you could find the day before I have to go,’ Daran said. Stehn nodded, and stood.
‘I will do my best. Goodnight.’
It was growing dark by now, but instead of lighting the lamps, Daran chose to sit in the gloom and allowed himself to think of Ashen as much as he wished, remembering in particular one instant, one mesmerizing stare, a sudden, unexpected breathless moment. If he had not been attracted by Ashen’s beauty before, he definitely was after that moment. The man had a perfect, classical face, enveloped by thick blond hair, which, granted, had been dirty and slightly matted. His grey-blue eyes could hardly make him any more handsome, and yet, somehow, they did.
This was pure physical attraction, and he knew it. He had been getting small glimpses of Ashen’s character every day, but the man was incredibly adept at hiding behind a sullen mask and a deliberate silence. He suspected the man could be cheerful, maybe even show some sense of humour – his little joke regarding Daran’s name had seemed to promise more, but in vain, to Daran’s disappointment – but so far little of it showed, and he wondered what it would take to lure Ashen out from under his protective mask. At any rate, he was determined to try his best.
He wasn’t falling in love, he told himself. They’d met only two days ago, and he wasn’t looking for a relationship anyway.
But he wanted… to know more of Ashen, to see more of Ashen. The thought that the man might leave and keep on running without him somehow filed his heart with dread and even loneliness. Above any kind of physical attraction, he liked Ashen’s company, liked to talk with him. He truly considered the man a friend, and would certainly miss him, should he never see him again.
The moment he laid eyes on the house, Ashen knew he couldn’t possibly stay there while he was in Berlia. The memories would prove too much for him, he was sure of it. He probably should have sold the house years ago. But, it was not too late for that…
Taking one last, lingering but painful look at the old, white house, with its red brick roof (the phoenix above the door always made him smile; that had been Caeli’s idea, a little joke regarding his name, and his nature), he turned his horse and went back the sloping road, looking for an inn. There had been one at the end of this street – and it was there still; Der Einhorn, a good, but not too expensive inn with better beds than in some nobles’ houses.
Dismounting in front of the inn and calling for the stable boy, he saw a young boy in dirty and old clothes hanging idly against the inn wall. Acting on an impulse, he beckoned the boy closer and asked him if he would like to deliver a message for a small reward.
Hesitant at first, the boy’s eyes lit up at the prospect of money, and he nodded eagerly.
‘Good. Wait here while I write the message,’ he instructed the boy and took his bag and went inside to ask for a room and writing materials. Both were obtained easily, and he scribbled a note for the caretakers of the manor, that he would be visiting. He thought it wiser not to say anything about selling the house just yet, and left it at ‘an important matter to discuss.’
The boy was still waiting outside, and he gave him the message with the instruction to return with a reply. Back inside, he ordered something to eat, and asked if there was somewhere he could take a bath, as well. After weeks, months even, on the road, he felt he needed a good bath. Luckily, the inn had its own bathhouse, and when he had finished his meal he took his things upstairs, and then went out the backdoor to the bathhouse at the other end of the inn’s courtyard.
The warm water did miracles for his sore muscles and for his troubled head as well. Perfectly content to soak and concentrate on nothing more challenging than his breathing, he leaned back in the wooden tub and closed his eyes, only moving when the water began to turn cold. Then, he quickly finished washing up, got dressed and returned to his room, where his young messenger was waiting for him.
The boy grinned when he entered, his damp hair hanging all to one side, and him trying to comb it back with his fingers.
‘And? Did you deliver the message?’ he asked.
‘Yep,’ the boy said. ‘They said anytime you want to come by is fine with them. I think they were surprised by the message, though.’
‘Yes, well, that’s nothing for you to worry about, is it?’ Ashen smiled, and took out some money.
‘Here, the last of my cash. Spend it well,’ he said, and the boy made a mock boy, all the while with a big grin plastered onto his face, and hurried quietly out of the room.
Sighing, and feeling nice and sluggish, he took off his boots and shirt, lay down on the bed and was vast asleep before he could count to ten.
Late the next morning, he went out into the city. It surprised him to realise he had missed Berlia; the grey stone buildings, tall and low, the familiar shape of the great church looming over the city from the edge of the market square. There were new buildings everywhere, but still the city felt much like the last time he’d been here. The people certainly had not changed. Sure, fashion was a bit different, on all layers of society, but they behaved the same.
A side street of the market was his goal; if, at least, Adenauer Banking and Notaries had not moved while he had been in Feranza. He walked along the edge of the market until he reached the street, and then was pleased to find that the bank not only was still there, but had expanded into the flanking buildings as well. A large hardwood sign hung over the front door: ‘Adenauer Banking and Notaries, est. 1458’.
The front door was closed but it had a large, decorated knocker, and he didn’t hesitate to use it. Upon his knocking, a butler opened the door.
‘Yes, how may I help you?’ he asked. Ashen nodded politely.
‘I am Junker Von Aschen, and I would like the see the notary in charge of my account.’ The butler nodded and opened the door a little further.
‘Please come in, mein Herr,’ he said. ‘Make yourself comfortable while I inform Herr Adenauer.’
Directly behind the front door was a hall, with two doors on the left and the right, and stairs leading up and out of sight at the far wall. There were chairs and benches along the walls, and a set of comfortable chairs and a table right in the middle of the hall. The floor was made of marble and the walls were decorated with paintings and tapestries. The ceiling was high, with oak beams running across.
Remembering who he was around here, Ashen sat down in one of the comfortable chairs without seeming to give the other seats the slightest thought. There were more people waiting on the benches and chairs; tradesmen, bourgeois, and one man in expensive-looking clothes who was probably an aristocrat but who was nevertheless sitting on a plain chair, and who eyed him with something like envy. Ashen smiled, crossed his legs, and waited calmly.
Not long after, though, one of the doors opened and the butler reappeared, accompanied by an elderly man with a large grey moustache and two small tufts of white hair on either side of his head. His eyes were clear blue and bright, though, and something like recognition flashed through them when the man saw Ashen. He bowed politely once he reached the chairs. Ashen stood and bowed back.
‘Herr Von Aschen,’ the old man said. ‘It has been too long since we were honoured with a visit from a member of your esteemed family. Why, my own father could not recall ever having had the pleasure of doing business with you directly.’
‘It pleases me to see that your business is doing so well. My ancestors were very fortunate to have chosen you as our bank.’
‘Ah, but it is we who are fortunate,’ Herr Adenauer said. ‘Please follow me, and we shall discuss whatever matter it is that brought you here.’
The old man led Ashen through the same door that he had used to enter the room, along a corridor and into a roomy, bright office. There, he offered Ashen a chair and sat down himself behind a desk once Ashen was seated.
‘Please, how may we be of service to you,’ he said.
‘A simple matter,’ Ashen said. ‘I’d like to withdraw a small sum from the family account, and I would like you to arrange the sale of Phoenix Manor.’ This last request seemed to surprise Herr Adenauer.
‘Have you no wish for it any longer? Or do you want us to find you a new residence?’
‘No. I will not be settling here,’ Ashen said. ‘And it seems useless, and perhaps even unfair, to keep a house I shan’t be needing.’
‘Well, whatever you wish, it shall be done,’ said Herr Adenauer. ‘In fact, I may even already have a buyer. This morning, a clerk from Stehn & Sons expressed some interest in the house, on behalf of one of their clients.’
‘Really?’ Ashen said, surprised. ‘Well, the sooner it is sold the better. You may sell it furnished, too. I will visit it this afternoon, and see if there is anything I would prefer to be kept in storage, but I suspect I will have no need of most of it.’
‘Just let us know, and we’ll take care of everything,’ Herr Adenauer said, a little obliging smile peeping out from under his moustache. ‘Now, how much would you like to withdraw?’
‘One thousand gold crowns,’ Ashen said. In itself, it was in fact a rather large sum, but not compared to the vast bulk of wealth stored in the account.
‘Very well,’ Adenauer nodded. ‘We will have to have it retrieved from the vaults, so I cannot give it to you now. If you return this afternoon it will lie ready for you.’
‘Perfect,’ Ashen said and rose. ‘Thank you.’
‘Thank you, for doing business with us.’
On the way back outside, his eye fell on a portrait on the wall in the hall. At first he thought he was looking in a mirror, until he realised that the image did not move, and was wearing rather outdated clothes, and that if it was a mirror, it was one of very poor quality.
‘Ah, your honourable ancestor, the second Herr Von Aschen. The spitting image of his father, it was told. You yourself are much like him; I see this portrait every day, and I immediately knew you had to be a Von Aschen.’
‘Yes, the resemblance is striking,’ Ashen murmured. It was something he’d be hearing for the rest of his life, he knew. A bit of an annoyance, sometimes – occasionally he wondered if he should just have no portraits made – but necessary.
Herr Adenauer, not noticing anything of Ashen’s ponderings, wished him a pleasant remainder of the day, and then he was back outside again.
He thought about going back to the inn for lunch and his horse first, but decided that the sooner his business with Phoenix Manor was concluded, the better. He’d stop by, search the house for anything he might like to keep, which he thought very unlikely, and get away as soon as possible.
It was a long walk on foot, but he appreciated the extra time to prepare himself mentally for the imminent confrontation. Still, even though he had seen the house the day before, the sight pained him. Again the phoenix made him smile – but also it deepened the pain. Caeli had been wonderful like that, and he was almost sorry to never see the relief again, but then again, seeing it would always remind him that those days were gone, long gone, and that he would never see Caeli again.
Taking a deep breath, he walked past the iron gates and up the path leading to the front door. There were three steps in front of it, and he hesitated slightly before ascending them and giving a quick rap on the door.
An elderly woman, in plain a grey and green dress, and long, thin white hair, opened the door.
‘Yes?’ she said, peering out at him with her old blue eyes. Ashen was about to introduce himself, when her eyes suddenly focused and widened, and she gasped.
‘Oh, but you must be young Herr Von Aschen!’ she said with a shrill voice. ‘Do come in, my lord, do come in! I hope your journey went well?’
‘Well enough, I suppose,’ Ashen said, entering the house. It was all there; the chequered marble floor, the wooden beams across the ceiling, the fireplace opposite him – he couldn’t quite remember why they’d had to have a fireplace in almost every room in the house. ‘I’m sorry, Frau, I can’t remember your name…’
‘Hilda, my lord,’ the old woman said pleasantly. ‘Can I take your coat, my lord? Would you like something to eat?’
‘Yes, please,’ Ashen said, suddenly hungry. ‘But I’m afraid I won’t be able to stay long.’
‘Stay as long as you like, my lord, the house is yours. Rudi and I have been taking good care of it, as you will see.’
‘I do,’ Ashen smiled. ‘One would almost think it was built but a year ago.’ Hilda beamed at him, bowed and moved to the kitchen, and he followed her. The red floor tiles, the large oven and the round wooden kitchen table radiated warmth and welcome, and again it hurt to think of losing the house. While he took everything in, Hilda moved about to put together a lunch.
‘Please, my lord, why don’t you wait in the living room, it’s hardly proper for someone such as yourself to dine in the kitchen like a servant…’ she said when she realised he was standing in the doorway.
‘I would like to eat my lunch here,’ Ashen shook his head.
‘Are you sure, my lord?’
‘Yes, quite sure,’ he smiled. She squinted at him for an instant, then shrugged and put a plate heavy with food on the table for him.
‘Thank you,’ Ashen said and sat down to eat. ‘Would you fetch your husband, please? I have something I need to discuss with you both.’ Hilda nodded and curtsied.
‘Yes, my lord,’ she said and vanished. Ashen ate in silence, waiting for the couple to return. He had wondered what to do with them on his way from the bank, and decided there were several options. He could either dismiss them, as he suspected whoever bought the house would have his own servants; or have Herr Adenauer include their contract in the sale. But either way, it would be their choice; he felt slightly guilty, having them take care of the house all this time only to see it being sold to the first bidder.
Rudi was a tall, wiry man, whose arms and legs nonetheless seemed to have quite a bit of strength in them. His hair was as grey as that of his wife, but considerably thinner. He bowed, as did Hilda, when the two of them entered the kitchen, and stood waiting for him to speak.
Ashen leaned back in his chair, thought for a second, and decided to come straight to the point.
‘The reason of my visit, and of my wish to talk to you, is that I have decided to sell the house,’ he said, and winced as he saw their expressions sag. ‘However,’ he said, before either of them could say anything, ‘I appreciate all the effort and hard work you have put into this house over the years, and that is why I have decided to give you more than one option.’ He watched them exchange looks as he explained, and by the time he was done he could see they had made up their mind.
‘We’d prefer to stay, m’lord,’ Rudi said, brushing his old hair out of his eyes. ‘We have spent our lives so far looking after this house; we’d like to spend the rest of it doing the same.’
‘Then so shall it be,’ he said, and pushed back his chair. ‘I’ll have the bank arrange everything. Now, I’m going to see if there is anything I wouldn’t want to be sold along with the house.’
‘Do you wish me to show you around, m’lord?’ Rudi asked, but Ashen shook his head.
‘Thank you, but I’d like to do this on my own.’
‘Well, if you need anything at all, my lord, just call for us,’ Hilda said.
‘I will,’ Ashen nodded and made his way back out into the hall, and then into the living room.
He was greeted, instantly, with two familiar faces staring back at him from above the hearth, and he gasped before regaining control over his breathing. After staring back at the painting for a while, he walked over to it, and grasping it firmly by its frame, lifted it clean off the peg in the wall and set it down on the sofa to his right. He sank to his knees in front of it, and stared some more, his hand hesitantly reaching out to touch the old paint.
A life-size and startling lively Caeli gently and lovingly looked at him from the canvas. He remembered they’d chosen this artist for his talent in portraying people, but right now the very accuracy they had sought back then made him uneasy. He trailed his fingers across green eyes, pale skin, flaming red hair… Of them both, Caeli should have been the phoenix, he thought, the relief over the front door still firmly in his mind.
This painting… he could not possibly leave it here, it was far too personal. But to keep it… where would he keep it, then? And for what use, if he wasn’t to return here in a long time? If he was to run further east, away from Calvin? Should he ever make it back, what good would this picture do but to remind him, all over again, of what he had lost? He had the medallion around his neck to remind him of what had been, and though he knew he would never willingly get rid of that, keeping paintings such as this suddenly seemed foolish and uselessly painful.
He tried to avoid looking at the other figure in the painting, but it was no use. They had been painted in a family portrait style, close together, his left hand on Caeli’s shoulder. And although Caeli was looking away, at whoever viewed the painting, there was the slightest inclination in his head that suggested it was him, his mirror image on that old canvas, who held his attention. The artist had realised their relationship soon enough, but had only given the slightest, subtle hints in his painting. To Ashen’s eyes, now, they were blatantly obvious.
Suddenly unable to look at the painting any longer, he rose and turned it face to the back of the sofa, and to distract himself, inspected the rest of the room.
Everything else was still the same. Rudi and Hilda had kept the house in perfect order, had even managed not to move anything around when cleaning. It felt… a sudden thought emerged, and he shook his head in frustration at himself. It felt like a shrine, this house. A shrine in remembrance of the joyful, carefree days of the past, when they had both been young and in love.
And now he was still young and in love, but Caeli was long gone, save for the portrait and the little painting hidden away in his medallion.
Resolving to deal with the portrait later, he decided to first search the house. The living room, aside from the portrait offered no clues as to who the previous owners were, and most of the things, the furniture, the old clock – he no longer felt connected to them. His memories belonged to him, not to the house, and whoever bought it would create his own memories here, never knowing about him and Caeli.
Leaving the living room, he went through the dining room and the large study, where they had once both worked, and then upstairs: the master bedroom, the guestrooms. But everything was as detached and empty, and the only other portrait he found was one of himself, in the bedroom; companion to the piece around his neck. He clasped it to his chest and, taking a deep breath, said farewell to the old, familiar room. But without Caeli, the room was simply that; a room.
Back downstairs, he collected the large portrait, and then went to find Rudi to ask him if there was a safe spot in the garden to burn the paintings. The old man looked a little surprised by the request, but nonetheless showed him to a small terrace at the back of the garden, next to the compost heaps. Producing a flint and some dry straw, Rudi quickly got a fire going, and when it started to roar, Ashen added the two paintings. He had to step back a little as the smoke began to grow thicker, sharper and heavier, but stayed to watch the flames consume the wooden frames, canvas, and lick away at the paint. Soon, the faces were unrecognisable, and when the frames collapsed around thin air, he turned away, breathing in fresh air and made his way back to the house, followed at some distance by Rudi.
It was time to go, now. Even though the house had not yet been sold, it was no longer his. It ceased to be the day Caeli died.
He thanked the old servants for their care and promised them he would arrange everything. They thanked hi profusely for thinking of them, and then he was outside again. While he had been busy inside the house, it had grown late in the afternoon, and he decided he should stop by the bank again – and get a message sent to Daran that he would like to come by later the evening. He needed to forget about the past for a while, and being around Daran – and possibly accepting Grad’s offer of a drinking contest – would be an excellent way to do so.
Already looking forward to an evening with the easygoing merchant, he went on his way, leaving behind a part of his past he should have said farewell to a long time ago.
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