‘What’s happening, mother?’ I demanded. To be honest about it, I was quite nearly as frightened as my sister was.

‘It’s a natural process, Polgara. It happens to all women.’

‘Make it stop!’

‘No. It has to happen. Tell Beldaran that it’s nothing to get excited about.’

‘Mother says that it’s all right,’ I told my sister.

‘How can it be all right?’

‘Shush. I’m trying to listen to mother.’

‘Don’t you shush me, Polgara!’

‘Then be still.’ I turned my attention inward. ‘You’d better explain this, mother,’ I said. ‘Beldaran’s about ready to fly apart.’ I didn’t really think it was necessary to admit that my seams were starting to come undone as well.

Then mother gave us a somewhat clinical explanation for the bloodstains on our bedding, and I passed the information on to my distraught sister.

‘Is it going to go on forever now?’ Beldaran asked me in a trembling voice.

‘No, only for a few days. Mother says to get used to it, because it’ll happen every month.’

‘Every month?’ Beldaran sounded outraged.

‘So she says.’ I raised up in bed and looked across the room toward Uncle Beldin’s bed – the place where all the snoring was coming from. ‘Let’s get this cleaned up while he’s still asleep,’ I suggested.

‘Oh, dear Gods, yes!’ she agreed fervently. ‘I’d die if he found out about this.’

I’m fairly sure that our misshapen uncle was aware of what was happening, but we never got around to discussing it, for some reason.

Uncle Beldin has theorized about when the members of my extended family develop what father calls ‘talent’, and he’s concluded that it emerges with the onset of puberty. I may have had something to do with that conclusion. I think I was about twelve or so. It was ‘that time of the month’ for Beldaran and me, and my sister was feeling mopey. I, on the other hand, was irritable. It was all so inconvenient! Mother had mentioned the fact that ‘something might happen’ now that Beldaran and I had reached a certain level of maturity, but she was a little vague about it. Evidently, it’s sort of necessary that our first venture into the exercise of our ‘talent’ be spontaneous. Don’t ask me why, because I haven’t got the faintest notion of a reasonable explanation for the custom.

As I remember the circumstances of that first incident, I was dragging a large bag of wheat down to the Tree to feed my birds. I was muttering to myself about that. Over the years my birds had come to depend on me, and they were not above taking advantage of my generosity. Given half a chance, birds, like all other creatures, can be lazy. I didn’t mind feeding them, but it seemed that I was spending more and more time hauling sacks of wheat from the twins’ tower to the Tree.

When I reached the Tree, they were all clamoring to be fed, and that irritated me all the more. As far as I know, not one single bird has ever learned how to say ‘thank you’.

There were whole flocks of them by now, and they cleaned up my daily offering in short order. Then they started screeching for more.

I was seated on my favorite perch, and the shrill importunings of the birds made me even more irritable. If there were only some way I could have an inexhaustible supply of seed on hand to keep them quiet.

The jays were being particularly offensive. There’s something about a jay’s squawking that cuts directly into me. Finally, driven beyond my endurance, I burst out. ‘More seeds!’ I half-shouted.

And suddenly, there they were – heaps and heaps of them! I was stunned. Even the birds seemed startled. I, on the other hand, felt absolutely exhausted.

Father has always used the phrase ‘the Will and the Word’ to describe what we do, but I think that’s a little limited. My experience seems to indicate that ‘the Wish and the Word’ works just as well.

Someday he and I’ll have to talk about that.

As is usually the case, my first experiment in this field made a lot of noise. I hadn’t even finished my self-congratulation when a blue-banded hawk and two doves came swooping in. Now, hawks and doves don’t normally flock together – except when the hawk is hungry – so I immediately had some suspicions. The three of them settled on my limb, and then they blurred, changing form before my very eyes.

‘Seeds, Polgara?’ Beltira said mildly. ‘Seeds?’

The birds were hungry,’ I said. What a silly excuse for a miracle that was!

‘Precocious, isn’t she?’ Belkira murmured to uncle Beldin.

‘We should probably have expected it,’ Beldin grunted. ‘Pol never does anything in the normal way.’

‘Will I be able to do that some day?’ I asked the twins.

‘Do what, Pol?’ Belkira asked gently.

‘What you just did – change myself into a bird and back?’

‘Probably, yes.’

‘Well now,’ I said as a whole new world of possibilities opened before my eyes. ‘Will Beldaran be able to do it too?’

Their expressions seemed to grow a bit evasive at that question. ‘No more of this, Pol,’ uncle Beldin said sternly, ‘not until we’ve explained a few things to you. This is very dangerous.’

‘Dangerous?’ That startled me.

‘You can do almost anything you put your mind to, Pol,’ Beltira explained, ‘but you can’t uncreate things. Don’t ever say, “Be not”. If you do, the force you’ve unleashed will recoil back on you, and you’ll be the one who’s destroyed.’

‘Why would I want to destroy anything?’

‘It’ll happen,’ Beldin assured me in that growling voice of his. ‘You’re almost as bad-tempered as I am, and sooner or later something will irritate you to the point that you’ll want to make it go away – to destroy it – and that’ll kill you.’

‘Kill?’

‘And more than kill. The purpose of the universe is to create things. She won’t let you come along behind her and undo her work.’

‘Wouldn’t that also apply to making things?’

‘Whatever gave you that idea?’

‘If unmaking things is forbidden, it seems logical that making them would be too.’

‘Making things is all right,’ Beldin assured me. ‘You just made about a half-ton of birdseed and you’re still here, but don’t ever try to erase what you’ve done. If it’s not right, that’s just too bad. Once it’s been made, you’re stuck with it.’

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