The next morning I went a ways out of Aldurford, changed form and flew on down to the Vale to spend several days with father’s medical library. The twins told me that father was off in Sendaria merrily leading Chamdar around by the nose. Subtlety’s never been one of father’s strong points, so his normal method of luring Chamdar to another village involved the murder of any Murgo who was handy. Chamdar, of course, assumed that the murder was an indication that the Murgo had been hot on my trail, so he’d immediately rush to the village in question to try to pick up that trail. Chamdar was no fool, so after about five or six of these casual murders, he knew exactly what father was doing, but he still couldn’t ignore the chance that this murder was significant, so he had no choice but to follow up on it. I’m sure it entertained my father enormously, and it did keep him out of mischief – more or less – and the whole business kept Chamdar so preoccupied that the idea that I might not be in Sendaria apparently never occurred to him.
I finally tracked down the proper concoction of herbs to normalize Adana’s chemical imbalance, and then I flew on back up to Aldurford and mixed up a large jar of the ‘tonic’. Adana didn’t much care for the taste of it, but she religiously drank three doses a day. It wasn’t too long before Darel came out of their bedroom one morning with that silly look on his face that all young men display when they’ve just been told the happy news. ‘Adana’s going to have a baby, Aunt Pol!’ he said excitedly. ‘I’m going to be a father!’
‘That’s nice, dear,’ I replied calmly. ‘What would you like for breakfast?’ I just love to do that to young men when they get too full of themselves. Parenthood in a male-dominated society is one of those profoundly unfair things. The woman does all the work, and the man takes all the credit.
‘Could you fix something nice for Adana, Aunt Pol?’ he almost begged me. ‘I think she’s entitled to breakfast in bed, don’t you?’
‘Oh, dear,’ I sighed. It was going to be one of those. Every now and then I’ve come across a young man who’s absolutely convinced that pregnancy’s a form of invalidism, and he inevitably wants to chain his wife to the bed for nine months. It took me several days to clear away that idiocy.
It was in the year 4841 that Adana gave birth to a son, Garel – a good Rivan name – and I heaved a vast sigh of relief. This was the first time I’d encountered infertility in all the years of my stewardship, and the possibility that it might recur was a continuing nightmare that’s haunted me for centuries.
It was in the year 4850 that the eclipse which has become so famous occurred. I’d seen eclipses of the sun before, but this one was somehow quite different. Primitive man – and that term encompasses most of humanity – looks upon an eclipse with superstitious awe. Astronomers know what causes them, and can even predict them with a fair degree of accuracy. The eclipse of 4850, however, was an EVENT of the first magnitude, and its sudden appearance had been totally unpredictable, but the simple fact that it was necessary hasn’t yet occurred to them. All the prophecies speak of the eclipse, so it had to happen. It’s entirely possible that Torak himself simply obscured the sun to fulfill the prophecy which announced his coming. He could have done that, you know.
Did you want me to run through the mathematics involved in predicting an eclipse for you? No? I didn’t think so.
Anyway, while the world was still enveloped in that noontime darkness, mother’s voice startled me by its intensity. ‘This is what we’ve been waiting for, Pol,’ she declared triumphantly. ‘Start getting ready.’
‘Ready for what?’
‘Torak’s coming. He’s left Ashaba, and he’s on his way to Mal Zeth. He’ll set aside the current king and assume total control of all of Mallorea. Then he’ll come west to reclaim the Orb.’
‘How much time have we got?’
‘Probably not enough. You’ll lose more than your share of battles, but that won’t matter. This is one of those things that have to be settled by an EVENT. The Child of Light and the Child of Dark will meet in Arendia.’
‘Is Darel the Child of Light?’
‘No. The EVENT that involves Torak and the Rivan King’s still quite a ways off.’
‘Well, who is the Child of Light?’
‘At the moment, I am.’
‘I won’t be the one who meets Torak in Arendia, though, and neither will Darel. We’re involved in a series of EVENTS that’re preparing the way for the major one.’
‘Must you be so cryptic, mother?’ I asked with some asperity.
‘Yes, actually I must. If you know too much, you’ll do things differently from the way you’re supposed to do them. Let’s not tamper with this, Pol. This isn’t a good place for unrestrained creativity.’
And then she was gone.
An eclipse, that unnatural night at high noon, is normally followed by an equally unnatural-seeming brightness when the sun returns. The eclipse of 4850 was different. It didn’t get light again after the eclipse had passed because thick, heavy clouds had rolled in while the sun had been blotted out. Then it started to rain.
And it rained off and on for the next twenty-five years.
A day or so after ‘Torak’s Eclipse’, I sent my thought down to the twins in their tower in the Vale. Perhaps I should note in passing that I’m far more proficient in this mode of communication than the rest of my family because I’ve had more practice. I did, as you’ll recall, run my duchy from mother’s cottage following the fall of Vo Wacune. I kept Malon Killaneson hopping during those years, so I’m almost as good at thinking to people as I am at talking to them.
‘Uncles,’ I said to get the twins’ attention, ‘where’s my father?’
‘We haven’t heard from him, Pol,’ Belkira replied.
‘He’s probably running around warning everybody,’ Beltira added. ‘Wasn’t the eclipse spectacular?’
‘So’s the eruption of a volcano – or a tidal wave,’ I replied drily. ‘If the Old Wolf happens to check in with you, tell him that I need to talk with him – soon.’
‘We’ll pass it on, Pol,’ Belkira promised.
‘I’d appreciate it.’
The months rolled by, however, and there was still no word from my vagrant father. I started to grow irritated with him.