‘You picked that up very quickly. Come back to the Tree and then we’ll release them.’
‘In a moment,’ I said. Then I located my father and turned his mind off, too.
‘Why did you do that?’ mother asked.
‘Just practicing, mother,’ I replied innocently. I knew that wasn’t really very nice, but somehow I couldn’t resist.
In the weeks that followed, mother taught me other ways to tamper with the human mind. There was the highly useful trick of erasing memories. I’ve used that many times. There’ve been occasions when I’ve been obliged to do things in out-of-the-ordinary ways, and when I didn’t want the people present at the time to start telling wild stories to others. Sometimes it’s much easier to just blot out the memory of the event than it is to come up with a plausible explanation.
Closely related to that trick is the trick of implanting false memories. When you use the two tricks in tandem you can significantly alter someone’s perception of what really happened during the course of any given event.
Mother also taught me how to ‘grow’ – to expand myself into immensity. I haven’t used that one very often, because it does tend to make one conspicuous.
Then, since every trick usually has an opposite, she taught me how to ‘shrink’ – to reduce myself down to the point of near invisibility. That one’s been very useful, particularly when I wanted to listen to people talking without being seen.
These two tricks are closely related to the change of form process, so they were quite easy to learn.
I also learned how to make people ignore my presence. This is another way to achieve a kind of invisibility. Since I was still infected with adolescence at the time, the notion of fading into the background didn’t appeal to me very much. All adolescents have a driving urge to be noticed, and virtually everything they do almost screams, ‘Look at me! See how important I am!’ Invisibility isn’t the best way to satisfy that urge.
The business of ‘making things’ – creation, if you will – was in some ways the culmination of that stage of my education, since, if looked at in a certain way, it encroaches on the province of the Gods. I started out by making flowers. I think that might be where all of us start. Creation is closely related to beauty, so that might explain it, although flowers are easy and making them is a logical place to begin. I cheated a little at first, of course. I’d wrap twigs with grass and then convert the object thus produced into a flower. Transmutation isn’t really creation, though, so I eventually moved on to making flowers out of nothing but air. There’s a kind of ecstasy involved in creation, so I probably overdid it, dotting that shallow swale where the Tree lived with whole carpets of brightly colored blooms. I told myself I was only practicing, but that wasn’t entirely true, I guess.
Then one morning in the late spring of my eighteenth year, mother said, ‘Why don’t we just talk today, Pol?’
‘Of course.’ I sat down with my back against the Tree, waving off a few birds. I knew that when mother said ‘talk’, she actually meant for me to listen.
‘I think it might be time for you to let your father know what you’re capable of doing, Polgara. He hasn’t fully grasped the idea of just how fast you’re maturing. You have things to do, and he’s just going to get in your way until he realizes that you’re not a child any more.’
‘I’ve mentioned that to him any number of times, mother, but I can’t seem to get the idea across to him.’
‘Your father deals in absolutes, Pol. It’s very hard for him to grasp the notion that things – and people – change. The easiest way to change his mind is to demonstrate your abilities to him. You’ll have to do it eventually anyway, and it’s probably best to do it now – before he gets his concept of you set in stone in his mind.’
‘What’d be the best way to do it, mother? Should I invite him to come outside and watch me show off?’
“That’s just a little obvious, don’t you think? Wouldn’t it be better just to do something during the normal course of events? An off-hand demonstration would probably impress him more than something that had clearly been carefully staged. Just do something without making a fuss about it. I know him, dear, and I know the best way to get his attention.’
‘I shall be guided by you in this, mother.’
‘Very funny, Polgara.’ Her tone wasn’t very amused, though.
I suppose we all have an urge to be theatrical, so my demonstration of my ability was rather carefully staged. I deliberately let father go hungry for a couple of days while I pretended to be deeply engrossed in a book of philosophy. He raided my kitchen until he’d exhausted the supply of everything remotely edible, and my father has absolutely no idea of where I store things. Eventually, he had to say something about his incipient starvation.
‘Oh, bother,’ I replied with studied preoccupation. Then, without even looking up from the page I was reading I created a half-cooked side of beef for him. It wasn’t quite as pretty as a flower, but I know it got father’s attention.
It snowed on the eve of our eighteenth birthday, one of those gentle snows that settle softly to earth without making much fuss. Blizzards are very dramatic, I suppose, but there’s something restful about a quiet snow that just tucks the world in the way a mother tucks a small child into bed after a busy day.
I awoke early, and after I’d built up the fire, I stood at one of the windows brushing my hair and watching the last of the clouds move ponderously off toward the northeast. The sun mounted above those clouds to reveal a clean, white world unmarred by a single footprint. I wondered if it had snowed on the Isle of the Winds as well and what Beldaran might be doing on ‘our’ day.
Father was still asleep, but that wasn’t really unusual, since he’s never been an early riser. As luck had it, he wasn’t even snoring, so my morning was filled with a blessed silence that was almost like a benediction. I made a simple breakfast of porridge, tea, and bread, ate, and hung the pot on one of the iron hooks in the fireplace to keep it warm for father. Then I put on my fur cloak and went out to face the morning.
It was not particularly cold, and the damp snow clung to every limb of the widely scattered pines in the Vale as I trudged toward the Tree and my regular morning appointment with mother. A single eagle soared high over the Vale, flying for the sheer joy of it, since no other birds or animals had ventured out yet. ‘Polgara!’ he screamed his greeting to me, dipping his wings to show his recognition. I waved to him. He was an old friend. Then he veered away, and I continued on down the Vale.