‘Ah,’ mother said, rising calmly, ‘there you are. Would you like a cup of tea?’ Her almost domestic greeting startled me.
‘An it please thee, Poledra,’ the God responded, taking a seat at the table.
‘You remember Polgara, of course,’ mother said to him.
The ancient God inclined his head slightly to me, and then he fixed me with a penetrating gaze that probably saw everything. ‘Thou art to be commended, Poledra,’ he said to mother. ‘Thou has wrought a masterpiece.’
‘She did turn out rather well, didn’t she?’ mother replied modestly.
‘She is equal – and more than equal – to her task.’ Then he looked at me again. ‘Well met, Polgara,’ he greeted me. ‘How fares thine ancient father?’
‘He is well, most Holy,’ I replied. ‘The matter currently at hand doesn’t give him much leisure to pursue his bad habits, so he isn’t destroying his health the way he usually does.’
He actually laughed at that, and I began to feel a bit more at ease.
‘I have summoned thee for a reason, Polgara,’ he said then. ‘Much as I delight in exchanging pleasantries with thee, something will soon come to pass of which thou must be aware, lest the sudden surprise unseat thy reason.’
‘That sounds ominous, most Holy.’
‘Methinks it will not be so, Polgara. Thou hast ever been close to thy mother, but in this particular time thou wilt be even closer than thou and thy sister were whilst ye were both still enwombed.’
I gave him a puzzled look.
‘It hath long been the practice of the members of thy family to assume forms other than thine own.’
‘Yes,’ I admitted.
‘Necessity now requires that thou and thy mother assume the same form.’
‘We’ve done that already, most Holy. We’ve spent many happy hours flying together as owls.’
‘Thou has misperceived my meaning, Polgara. When I spake of “the same form”, I was not speaking of two separate owls. There will be but one owl, and it shall encompass both of ye within its substance. In short, at the proper moment shall ye both in combination create the image of but a single owl, and all simultaneous shall ye both cause your separate beings to flow into that image.’
‘Is that possible?’ I exclaimed.
‘My son Aldur asked that self-same question,’ he said. ‘Thy thought is much as his.’
‘To what end, most Holy?’ I asked, puzzled. ‘What’s the purpose of this experiment?’
‘In this merging shalt thou and thy mother become so totally entwined and closed in that no hint of thy presence – either to the eye or to the mind – shall escape the enclosed sphere of your combined being. Thus, no man or God shall be aware of the fact that what he says or does is being heard and observed.’
Truly? What an amazing thing! And who is to be honored by having mother and me spy on him?’
‘Who else, Polgara? Thou and thy mother will seek out the rusting habitation of my son, Torak, which even now doth roll and rattle across the plains of Algaria. My son is very lonely, as he hath been since he raised Aldur’s Orb and with its power did rend the earth asunder. Now is he outcast and despiséd, and he doth feel his. isolation most keenly. Oft doth he talk at some length with his disciples – random talk with no purpose other than to fend off his aching sense of isolation. At this particular time, his most constant confidant is Zedar the apostate, and their conversations are wide ranging.’
I took it up from there. Then mother and I will perch in the rafters of his rusty tin palace and eavesdrop on all his plans, strategies, and goals?’
‘The information thou must obtain doth have no bearing on military matters, Polgara. Torak knows of thee. Indeed, thou and thy father do fill his thoughts. He has a design of which thou must be aware. Thine awareness of that design shall be a preparation for a choice which thou wilt be obliged to make at some day in the future. I would not alarm thee for all this world, but the fate of the universe shall hinge upon thy choice.’
Holy UL may not have intended to alarm me, but he did nonetheless. ‘Couldst thou not advise me of thy son’s design, most Holy?’ I asked. ‘Coming face to face with Torak – even if he can’t see me – isn’t the sort of thing I look forward to.’
‘Thou art braver than whole armies, Polgara,’ he said, ‘and we all have supreme confidence in thee.’
‘I’ll be with you, Pol,’ mother assured me. ‘I won’t let Torak hurt you.’
‘I’m not really worried about that, mother, I’d just rather not be compelled to look into that diseased mind.’ I realized what I’d just said. ‘Nothing personal intended there, most Holy,’ I apologized to UL.
‘Thou hast not offended me, Polgara.’ Then he sighed. ‘Torak hath not always been as he is now,’ he said sadly. ‘Through no fault of its own, the Orb hath brutalized and corrupted my son. He is lost to me and to his brothers, Polgara, and his loss doth sear our souls.’ Then he rose to his feet. ‘Thy mother – as always – shall instruct thee in this. Be guided by her, and steel thine heart for that which thou art doomed to discover.’
And then he was gone.
‘He didn’t even touch his tea,’ mother complained.
Father and I left the caverns of Ulgo the following morning, and when we came out once more into the snow-clogged and empty city of Prolgu, he suggested that we might as well have a look at Torak’s army before returning to Riva. I didn’t come right out and say it, but his proposal startled me just a bit. In ordinary times father can best be described as a monument to indolence. Once I even heard uncle Beldin apologize to the twins for a temporary lapse in his own industriousness by saying, ‘Sorry, brothers, I’m feeling sort of Belgarathy today.’ The twins, of course, knew exactly what he meant by that. When a situation arises that requires his attention, though, father can go for weeks with little food and almost no sleep at all. His almost superhuman endurance in those situations never fails to astound me. As a physician, I know that ‘storing up sleep’ is a physically impossible absurdity. Father, however, has never made a study of medicine, so the term ‘physical impossibility’ doesn’t have much meaning for him.
Now there’s something for you to think about. If you don’t know that you can’t do something, isn’t there a remote possibility that you’ll go ahead and do it anyway in absolute defiance of physical law? That might be one of the drawbacks of education. If you don’t know that you can’t pick yourself up by the scruff of the neck and hold yourself at arm’s length, maybe you can.