I considered several options, but the solution was really quite simple, and it came to me one glorious spring evening as I stood on the terrace of the south wing looking out at the lake and at the veritable jungle of my untended rose-garden. What better way to conceal and protect my house than to bury it in roses?
I set to work the following morning ‘encouraging’ my rose-bushes to expand and encroach on the fair meadow that stretched on down to the lake. When I was done, they were no longer bushes, but trees, and they were so tightly interlaced that they’d become a thorny, impenetrable barrier that would keep my beloved house forever inviolate.
It was with a great deal of self-satisfaction that I returned to mother’s cottage and my continuing studies. Now that I’d preserved the past, I could turn my attention to the future.
It’s an article of my family’s faith that the future lies hidden in the Darine and Mrin Codices, and studying the collected ravings of a senile old Alorn warrior and a profoundly retarded idiot who’d had to be chained up for his own protection can be very frustrating. I kept coming across veiled references to my father and me, and that was probably what kept me from throwing my hands up in disgust and taking up ornithology or horticulture instead. I gradually came to grasp the idea that there was another world superimposed on our mundane, day to day reality, and in that other world tiny events had enormous significance. A chance meeting between two tradesmen on the streets of Tol Honeth or an encounter between a pair of gold-hunters in the mountains of Gar og Nadrak could be far more important than a clash of armies. Increasingly, I came to understand that those ‘incidents’ were EVENTS – those very brief confrontations between the two entirely different prophecies, only one of which would ultimately determine the fate of not merely this world, but of the entire universe as well.
The study of something of that magnitude so totally engrossed me that I began to ignore time, and more often than not I couldn’t have told you what century it was, much less what year.
I do know – largely because I checked some Tolnedran history books later – that in the year 3761 the last emperor of the second Borune Dynasty chose his successor rather than leaving the choice up to the infinitely corruptible Council of Advisors. That childless Borune emperor, Ran Borune XII, was obviously a man of great foresight, because his decision brought the Horbite family to the imperial throne, and the Horbites – at least at that particular time – proved to be extraordinarily gifted. In many respects, the Horbites had largely been an appendage of the Honeths, in much the same way that the Anadiles are an extension of the Borunes. The first of that line, Ran Horb I, immersed himself in the Borune hobby of building highways to link Tolnedran commerce to the rest of the world. It was his son, Ran Horb II, however, who took that hobby to the point of obsession. Almost overnight, you couldn’t look anywhere in the west without seeing Tolnedran construction crews carving out new highways. The Tolnedran diplomatic corps dropped everything else and concentrated on ‘treaties of mutual cooperation for the good of all’, thus creating the fiction that Tolnedra was just being neighborly, when in fact the highways were quite nearly for the sole use of Tolnedran merchants.
When word of all the road construction taking place in my former domain reached me at mother’s cottage, I decided that I’d better set my studies aside and go to Tol Honeth to have a word with Ran Horb II to find out just exactly what his intentions were.
For once, I decided not to just pop in on the emperor, but chose instead to rely on the good offices of the Drasnian ambassador. Despite their faults – and they do have faults – the avaricious Drasnians are well respected by the Tolnedrans. I had to introduce myself to Prince Khanar, the nephew of King Rhalan of Drasnia, since I’d been more or less in seclusion for the past eight centuries. Khanar was no Dras Bull-neck by any stretch of the imagination. He was a small, wiry man with a quick mind and a perverted sense of humor. I was fully prepared to give him a quick demonstration of my ‘talent’, but oddly, that wasn’t necessary. He accepted me at my word and took me across town to the palace compound. After we’d waited for an hour or so, we were escorted into the large, cluttered office of his Imperial Majesty, Ran Horb II. The emperor was a stout, businesslike fellow with receding hair and a preoccupied expression. ‘Ah, Prince Khanar,’ he said to my small companion, ‘so good to see you again. What’s afoot in Boktor?’
‘All the usual chicanery, your Majesty,’ Khanar shrugged. ‘Lying, cheating, stealing – nothing remarkable or out of the ordinary.’
‘Does your uncle know how you speak of his kingdom when you’re in the presence of strangers, Khanar?’
‘Probably, your Majesty. He has spies everywhere, you know.’
‘Aren’t you going to introduce me to the lady?’
‘I was getting to that, your Majesty. I have the distinct honor to present the Lady Polgara, Duchess of Erat and the daughter of Holy Belgarath.’
Ran Horb looked at me skeptically. ‘All right,’ he said, ‘just for the sake of argument, I’ll accept that – tentatively, of course. I’ll hold off on asking for proof until later. To what do I owe the honor of this visit, your Grace?’
‘You’re a very civilized man, your Majesty,’ I noted. ‘Most of the time I have to perform a few little tricks before people will listen to me.’
‘I’m sure you could startle me out of my shoes, if you chose to,’ he replied. ‘What can I do for you?’
‘I’m just seeking information, your Majesty,’ I assured him. ‘You’re building highways in Sendaria.’
‘I’m building highways almost everywhere, Lady Polgara.’
‘Yes, I know. I have a certain interest in Sendaria, though. Is this construction a prelude to annexation?’
He laughed. ‘Why on earth would I want to annex Sendaria?’ he said. ‘I’m sure it’s a nice enough country, but I don’t really want to own it. Those highways I’m building up there are just a way to keep the Chereks out of my purse. They’ll provide a route to Boktor that bypasses the need to transport goods through that whirlpool in the Cherek Bore. Those bearded pirates in the north charge outrageous fees to carry Tolnedran cargoes from Kotu through the Bore, and that’s cutting into my tax revenues.’
‘It’s all strictly commercial, then?’