‘Why does Beldaran have one, then, mother? I love her, of course, but she doesn’t seem to have “talent”.’
Mother laughed. ‘Oh, dear, dear Polgara,’ she said to me. ‘In some ways Beldaran’s even more talented than you are.’
‘What are you talking about, mother? I’ve never seen her do anything.’
‘I know. You probably never will, either. You always do what she tells you to do, though, don’t you?’
‘Well –’ I stopped as that particular thought came crashing in on me. Sweet, gentle Beldaran had dominated me since before we were born. ‘That isn’t fair, mother!’ I objected.
‘First she’s prettier than I am, and now you tell me that she’s more powerful. Can’t I be better at something than she is?’
‘It’s not a competition, Polgara. Each of us is different, that’s all, and each of us has different things we have to do. This isn’t a foot-race, so there aren’t any prizes for winning.’
I felt a little silly at that point.
Then mother explained that Beldaran’s power was passive. ‘She makes everybody love her, Pol, and you can’t get much more powerful than that. In some ways, she’s like this Tree. She changes people just by being there. Oh, she can also hear with her amulet.’
‘She can hear people talking – even if they’re miles away. A time will come when that’ll be very useful.’
Ce’Nedra discovered that quite some time later.
It was almost autumn when father returned from Rak Cthol. The sun had gone down when he came clumping up the stairs of his tower where I was preparing supper and talking with uncle Beldin. Making some noise when you enter a room where there’s someone with ‘talent’ is only good common sense. You don’t really want to startle someone who has unusual capabilities at his disposal.
‘What kept you?’ Uncle Beldin asked him.
‘It’s a long way to Rak Cthol, Beldin.’ Father looked around. ‘Where are the twins?’
‘They’re busy right now, father,’ I told him. ‘They’ll be along later.’
‘How did things go at Rak Cthol?’ Beldin asked.
Then they got down to details.
My concept of my father had somehow been based on the less admirable side of his nature. No matter what had happened, he was still Garath at the core: lazy, deceitful, and highly unreliable. When the occasion demanded it, though, the Old Wolf could set ‘Garath’ and all his faults aside and become ‘Belgarath’. Evidently, that was the side of him that Ctuchik saw. Father didn’t come right out and say it, but Ctuchik was clearly afraid of him, and that in itself was enough to make me reconsider my opinion of the sometimes foolish old man who’d sired me.
‘What now, Belgarath?’ uncle Beldin asked after father’d finished.
Father pondered that for a while. ‘I think we’d better call in the twins. We’re running without instructions here, and I’ll feel a lot more comfortable if I know that we’re running in the right direction. I wasn’t just blowing smoke in Ctuchik’s ear when I raised the possibility of a third destiny taking a hand in this game of ours. If Torak succeeds in corrupting every copy of the Ashabine Oracles, everything goes up in the air again. Two possibilities are bad enough. I’d really rather not have to stare a third one in the face.’
And so we called the twins to father’s tower, joined our wills, and asked the Master to visit us.
And, of course, he did. His form seemed hazy and insubstantial, but, as father explained to the rest of us later on, it was the Master’s counsel we needed, not the reassurance of his physical presence.
Even I was startled when the first thing the Master did was come directly to me, saying, ‘My beloved daughter.’ I knew he liked me, but that was the first time he’d ever expressed anything like genuine love. Now, that’s the sort of thing that could go to a young lady’s head. I think it startled my father and my uncles even more than it startled me. They were all very wise, but they were still men, and the notion that I was as much the Master’s disciple as they were seemed to unsettle them, since most men can’t seem to accept the fact that women have souls, much less minds.
Father’s temporary disquiet faded when the Master assured him that Torak could not alter the Ashabine Oracles enough to send Zedar, Ctuchik, and Urvon down the wrong path. No matter how much Torak disliked his vision, he would not be permitted to tamper with it in any significant fashion. Zedar was with him at Ashaba, and Zedar was to some degree still working for us – at least insofar as he would protect the integrity of prophecy. And even if Zedar failed, the Dals would not.
Then the Master left us, and he left behind a great emptiness as well.
Things were quiet in the Vale for the next several years, and our peculiar fellowship has always enjoyed those quiet stretches, since they give us a chance to study, and study is our primary occupation, after all.
I think it was in the spring of the year 2025 – by the Alorn calendar – when Algar Fleet-foot brought us copies of the complete Darine Codex and the half-finished Mrin. Algar was in his mid-forties by now, and his dark hair was touched with grey. He’d finally begun to put some weight on that lean frame of his and he was very impressive. What was perhaps even more impressive was the fact that he’d actually learned how to talk – not a great deal, of course, but getting more than two words at a time out of Algar had always been quite an accomplishment.
My father eagerly seized the scrolls and probably would have gone off into seclusion with them at once, but when Algar casually announced the upcoming meeting of the Alorn Council, I badgered my aged sire about it until he finally gave in and agreed that a visit to the Isle might not be a bad idea.
Fleet-foot accompanied father, Beldin and me to the city of Riva for the council meetings, though the affairs of state weren’t really very much on our minds. The supposed earth-shaking significance of those ‘councils of state’ were little more than excuses for family get-togethers in those days, and we could quite probably have taken care of the entire official agenda with a few letters.
In my case, I wanted to spend some time with my sister, and I’d clubbed my father into submission by suggesting that he ought to get to know his grandson.
That particular bait might have worked just a little too well. Daran was about seven that year, and father has a peculiar affinity for seven-year-old boys for some reason. But I think it goes a little deeper. I’ve noticed that mature men get all gushy inside when they come into contact with their grandsons, and my father was no exception. He and Daran hit it off immediately. Although it was spring and the weather on the Isle was abysmally foul, the two of them decided to go off on an extended fishing expedition, of all things. What is this thing with fishing? Do all men lose their ability to think rationally when they hear the word ‘fish’?