And that was my introduction to the study of medicine. Alorns are a blunt, practical people, and my four teachers – Arell, Argak, Salheim, and Balten – taught me a no-nonsense approach to healing. I think I took my cue from the brutal bone-setter. ‘If it’s broken, fix it. If it’s not, don’t.’ I’ve studied medical texts from all corners of the world, and I’ve yet to find anything more to the point than that pithy instruction.
This is not to say that I spent all of my time immersed in afterbirth, broken bones, and internal organs. I spent hours with my sister, and there was the business of persuading my former suitors that I didn’t want to play any more.
Merot the poet was fairly easy to deal with. He advised me with some pride that he was currently engaged in writing the greatest epic in the history of mankind.
‘Oh?’ I said, shying back from that foul breath of his.
‘Would you like to hear a few lines, Lady Polgara?’ he offered.
‘I’d be delighted,’ I lied with an absolutely straight face.
He drew himself up, struck a dramatic pose with one ink-stained hand on the breast of his somber doublet, and launched himself ponderously into verse. If anything, his delivery was even more tedious and drawn out than it’d been the last time. I waited with a vapid expression on my face until he was deeply immersed in the product of his own genius, and then I turned and walked away, leaving him reciting his masterpiece to a blank wall. I’m not sure if the wall was impressed. I never had occasion to ask it. Merot was impressed enough for both of them, though.
My new-found expertise in the functions of the human body helped me to dispense with ‘mighty Taygon’. I innocently asked him about the contents of the assorted digestive organs he’d been so liberally strewing about the landscape. For some reason my graphic description of a bit of half-digested mutton made Taygon’s face turn green, and he fled from me, his hand tightly pressed over his mouth to keep his lunch inside where it belonged. Evidently Taygon had no problems with blood, but other body fluids disturbed him more than a little.
Then I drifted around in the large, gaily decorated room where the children played. I knew many of them from my last visit, but the whole purpose of the place was to pair off the young, and marriage had taken its toll among my former playmates. There were new ones to take their places, however, so the numbers remained more or less constant.
‘Ah, there you are, my Lady.’ It was the blond, super-civilized Baron Kamion. He wore a plum-colored velvet doublet, and if anything he was even more handsome than before. ‘So good to see you again, Polgara,’ he said with a deep, graceful bow. ‘I see that you’ve returned to the scene of your former conquests.’
‘Hardly that, my dear Baron,’ I replied, smiling. ‘How have you been?’
‘Desolate because of your absence, my Lady.’
‘Can’t you ever be serious, Kamion?’
He neatly sidestepped that. ‘What on earth did you do to poor Taygon?’ he asked me. ‘I’ve never seen him in that condition before.’
I shrugged. Taygon pretends to be a total savage, but I think his poor little tummy’s just a bit delicate.’
Kamion laughed. Then his expression became pensively thoughtful. ‘Why don’t we take a bit of a stroll, my Lady?’ he suggested. ‘There are a few things I’d like to share with you.’
‘Of course, Baron.’
We left the room arm in arm and strolled down an airy corridor that ran along the garden side of the Citadel, pausing now and then to admire the roses. ‘I don’t know if you’ve heard, Polgara,’ Kamion said, ‘but I’m betrothed now.’
‘Congratulations, Kamion.’ I’ll admit that I felt a small pang. I liked Kamion, and under different circumstances it might have gone even further.
‘She’s a very pretty girl, and she absolutely adores me, for some reason.’
‘You are a rather charming gentleman, you know.’
‘That’s mostly a pose, dear lady,’ he admitted. ‘Under all that polish there’s still a gauche, insecure adolescent. Growing up can be so trying – or had you noticed?’
I laughed. ‘You have no idea of just how trying I found it, Kamion.’
He sighed, and I knew that it wasn’t a theatrical sigh. ‘I’m very fond of my intended bride, of course,’ he told me, ‘but candor compels me to admit that one word from you would put an end to my betrothal.’
I touched his hand fondly. ‘You know that I’m not going to say that Word, dear Kamion. I have much too far to go.’
‘I rather suspected that might be the case,’ he admitted. ‘The entire purpose of this little chat has been my desire to have you as a friend. I realize that actual friendship between men and women is unnatural – and probably immoral – but you and I aren’t ordinary people, are we?’
‘No, not really.’
‘Duty’s a cruel master, isn’t it, Polgara? We’re both caught up in the coils of destiny, I suppose. You must serve your father, and Iron-grip’s asked me to serve as one of his counselors. We’re both involved in affairs of state, but the problem lies in the fact that we’re talking about two different states. I’d still like to have you for a friend, though.’
‘You are my friend, Kamion, like it or not. You might come to regret it in time, but you’re the one who suggested it in the first place.’
‘I’ll never regret it, Pol.’
And then I kissed him, and a whole world of ‘might-have-beens’ flashed before my eyes.
We didn’t talk any more after that. Kamion gravely escorted me back to my rooms, kissed my hand, and went on back the way we had come.
I didn’t see any reason to mention that little interlude to Beldaran.
It was at my suggestion that father took Riva, Anrak, and Algar up into one of the towers of the Citadel for ‘conferences’ during the final days of Beldaran’s pregnancy. That’s not really a good time to have the men-folk underfoot.
Beldaran’s delivery was fairly easy – or so Arell assured me. It was the first time I’d ever witnessed the procedure, though, so it seemed moderately horrendous to me, and after all, Beldaran was my sister.
In due time, Beldaran was delivered, and after Arell and I’d cleaned the baby boy up, I took him to Riva. Would you believe that this ‘mighty king’ seemed actually afraid of the baby?