The Ways of Watching
Durnik did not know when the habit began. Truly, he could not recall the exact moment. But one day he just realized that he could not seem to stop himself from watching her. Whenever she was in view, he watched her. Whenever he was nearby, she was the subject of his attention. Only in the midst of his work could he remain focused on anything that wasn't her.
She was beautiful, of course. That much was obvious to every person who saw her. More beautiful than any woman anyone had ever seen at Faldor's farm or perhaps in all the world. But she did not carry herself with the air of a beautiful woman. Durnik had known girls who grew up very pretty and were well aware of their charms, sometimes even to the point of vanity. Such traits were not valued in a Sendar. But Mistress Pol was not a Sendar. And she certainly was not vain.
No, what caught his attention after the initial shock of her beauty was her practicality and efficiency. She started out as a kitchen worker with that baby nephew of hers, somehow managing to do everything asked of her and care for the child without anything ever being harried or out of place. Never did she make a mistake. She always knew what was happening around her, always knew what Garion was doing, always was in complete control. And though Durnik did not believe in or approve of such things, he somehow thought she had some magic about her that allowed her to be so efficient.
There was nothing in all the world more attractive than someone so skilled and dedicated in their work. Durnik took immense pride in his work, knowing how important it was to do the best he could at everything he approached. There could be no other way to do a job, to his mind. Most of the others on Faldor's farm agreed, though not all. Many were less steadfast in their devotion to their duties than Durnik. That was alright. Not everyone was lucky enough to be able to do work that enjoyed the way he did. But Mistress Pol, Durnik believed, was of his way of thinking. As soon as she became head of the kitchen, Mistress Pol turned it into the workshop of a master craftsman. The food was all exquisite and perfectly cooked. They'd never starved before, but under Mistress Pol's dominion, Faldor's farm feasted at every meal.
Durnik admired her. In every way, he admired her. That was all. He would never do anything to bother her or insert his presence into her life any more than was necessary. He did not seek out her friendship anymore than he did with anyone else on Faldor's farm. He merely watched. And admired.
There was usually a time in the early mornings when Durnik went to start the fires of the forge where he had to patiently wait for the heat to increase enough to be a working temperature for the blacksmith. During that time of waiting, Durnik would linger in the doorway across from the back door of the kitchens and gaze across the small courtyard. That was one of the few times in the day that he could catch a glimpse of her. She always went to collect water from the pump for little Garion while the rest of the kitchen staff started their bustling work with breakfast. And when the jug was full, she would look up to him and give the softest smile of recognition and greeting. He would give a small nod in return, not giving indication that his whole being filled with light and unparalleled joy at that little interaction each day.
The other time he saw her was in the evenings for supper. She was busy in the kitchens when he went in for breakfast and lunch, but she would join everyone in the dining room with little Garion for dinner. Durnik never dared sit near them, keeping instead to the place he always had for himself even before she had come to Faldor's farm. But as he ate the magnificent food she had worked so devotedly to prepare for him and everyone else, he thought of how wonderful she was and he watched her. He watched her eat her own food in a manner more elegant than he had ever seen. He watched her spoon food into Garion's mouth and help him try to hold the utensils himself and wipe his sweet baby face when he got messy. He watched her talk to those around her in a charming and altogether lovely manner.
Though she was charming to be sure, Durnik noticed that she was never too friendly to anyone. She engaged in conversation and she treated everyone politely and kindly, but there was a sort of distance she kept from those around her. Durnik himself was not the most outgoing man; others were very gregarious and full of laughter and always eager to engage with their friends. Durnik was quiet and often kept to himself and to his work. But even he did not think he possessed that same aloof quality of Mistress Pol. Perhaps it was that elegance about her that left a lofty impression. Perhaps it was the effect of her great beauty that kept her apart from others. Whatever it was, Durnik knew that it was yet another of her traits that he admired.
Although he was the last man anyone would have expected such a thing about, Durnik had a secret. It was not an ordinary secret, not one that could have been guessed by looking at him. Durnik had a very special and very secret friend.
He had always had a good relationship with animals. It had started when he apprenticed to become a blacksmith and worked so closely with the horses to craft their shoes. But his special friend was not a horse.
It appeared by surprise one night when he was in the smithy late one night after dinner. He was putting away some tools when a gust of air blew the side of his face, ruffling his hair. He turned to see a snowy white owl perch on a table and fold its mighty wings.
"Hello," he said softly, thinking it only polite to greet a visitor.
The owl gazed at him with intelligent eyes, wide and yellow and beautiful. Durnik had never seen anything like it before.
"I'm afraid I haven't got anything for you to eat. We have cats that keep away any mice that might get in. And the food that I eat stays in the kitchen and dining room. All we have here is metal and wood and a bit of hay. I don't imagine you'd like that," he said. Perhaps it was strange to talk to an owl. But the presence of an owl in itself was strange.
In response, the owl hooted at him. A beautiful sound. Noble. Elegant, almost.
Durnik smiled at the bird. "How did you manage to find your way in here, I wonder? I don't imagine you get very cold with all those beautiful feathers. But is the warmth from the last of the fires nice? I like being in here when it's quiet, though it's not quiet at all during the day," he explained. He was not sure why.
The owl hooted again and spread its beautiful wings, beat them twice and took off, flying into the night sky.
That would have been the last that Durnik thought of it, had that been the only time the snowy owl appeared to him. But a few nights later, it was back. Again, Durnik spoke softly to it for a little while, not saying anything of interest, before the owl flew away again.
The owl started coming to him two or three times each week. For months. Years, in fact. And the owl became his friend. Durnik called it Owl, for he had no other name to give it. He also did not know how to tell the difference between a male and female owl, and he did not want to guess incorrectly and offend it. He had a vague idea that it might have been a female, but he did not know for certain. But something about the way it looked at him, the way it stood, the way it kept on returning…there was a beauty and an elegance and a dignity to the bird that made Durnik think it must have been a female.
"You know, you remind me of someone I know. She lives here. She is our kitchen mistress. And she is wonderful." Durnik smiled as he told Owl about Mistress Pol.
Owl hooted, seemingly interested.
Durnik chuckled softly. "She is masterful at every task she undertakes. I like to watch her. Like watching an artist. I think she must love what she does very much, because she is very devoted to her work. I admire that about her," he said.
As Owl continued to visit him, Durnik continued to tell it more and more. He would talk about his day. He would talk about Mistress Pol and Garion, sharing with Owl how the boy was growing and what wonderful thing Mistress Pol had done that day. Owl always hooted approvingly at those stories. At least Durnik thought it was an approving hoot. He did not know for sure. But whenever Owl came to see him, Durnik went to bed feeling very pleased indeed. He always slept better having talked to Owl.
Polgara silently went up to the room she shared with Garion, knowing that the boy had slept through her nighttime wanderings once again. She did not dare go any more frequently, lest anything happen and she was not there when he woke up. He had started having nightmares sometimes. Those children he played with on the farm were not good influences on him. But her boy was growing up. He, like all those she had raised before him.
Faldor's farm had been the best place for Garion to be brought up, she knew. The Sendars were the very best people in all the world to her mind, and the boy would do well to be raised among them. And Faldor's farm was in one of the few places in the world that she called home. It was special in that it was her home alone. It was not the home of her father, nor was it the home of her sister. Erat in Sendaria was Polgara's home all to herself. Though no one living there now had any idea about such a thing at all. Still, she knew, and that was enough.
Garion shifted in his sleep as she came to check on him. His right hand was open by his sweet little face, and the mark of Riva on his palm seemed to glint in the moonlight. Absentmindedly, she brushed back the white sorceress's lock of her hair. She liked that about them, that she and all her little boys had marks that indicated their specialness.
But Garion slept on, and Polgara wandered to the window. From there, she could see the dim lights in the smithy. She could see the signs of movement as Durnik finished his work for the night. It was so rare that she was able to watch him like this. And she liked to watch him. She liked it more than she had any right to, actually. He watched her, she knew. It seemed that every time she sensed him near and looked up, he was watching her.
The way Durnik watched her inspired something quite odd. Men had watched her in the past. Many, many men. Sometimes they inspired anger and annoyance—usually that was the effect of most men. Sometimes they inspired pride—though that only happened when she was doing something to specifically attract attention. Sometimes they inspired a dark feeling of foreboding—that was how she always knew when a Grolim was watching her. But Durnik was something different altogether. It was not quite pride that she felt when he watched her. It was certainly never anger. It was…curiosity, perhaps.
It was curiosity that had caused her to try and watch him, to see what sort of man he was when he did not know that she was watching him. And once she had started visiting him in her mother's favorite form, Polgara found that she could not seem to stop. For years now, she had flown into the smithy to watch him and listen to him speak to her. And she enjoyed it more than she really should have. It was just that he was so kind and so dedicated to his work and so gentle and so incredibly good. Most Sendars were good men, for she had encouraged such traits within their people. But none exemplified the perfect hardworking Sendar like Durnik. Her admiration for him, however, extended beyond his Sendarian qualities. It was him. Something about Durnik himself caused her to keep returning to see him in the evenings like this.
Durnik put out the lights in the smithy, taking only his small lamp to guide his way to his sleeping quarters. He paused in the middle of the courtyard and looked up, right to the window Polgara watched from. She knew he could not see her. But he took a moment to look up at her window anyway. And Polgara smiled.