‘That’s what the Mrin Codex says,’ I replied.

‘Don’t worry, Brand,’ Cho-Ram assured him. ‘Nobody’s going to get over the walls of the Stronghold.’

‘We’re talking about my King, Cho-Ram,’ Brand said. ‘I won’t throw dice for his safety.’

‘I’ll go there myself, Brand, and I’ll stand on top of the wall for twenty years and let Torak throw everything he’s got at me.’

‘No, you won’t, Cho-Ram,’ I told him firmly. ‘I’m not going to let you get locked up inside the Stronghold. Any colonel can defend that place. I need the Alorn Kings where I can get my hands on them.’

‘I’d still feel better if my Lord Garel were here,’ Brand said.

‘That wouldn’t be a good idea. If he comes anywhere near the Orb, Torak’ll know about it immediately. If he stays at the Stronghold, he’ll still be anonymous, and Torak won’t even know he’s there.’

‘He’ll have to come here eventually, Belgarath.’

‘Oh? Why’s that?’

‘To get his sword. If he’s going to meet Torak, he’s going to need that sword.’

‘You’re getting ahead of yourself, Brand,’ Pol told him. ‘Garel’s not the one who’s going to meet Torak in Arendia.’

‘He’s the Rivan King, Polgara. He has to meet Torak.’

‘Not this time.’

‘Well, if he isn’t, who is?’

‘You are.’

‘Me?’ To his credit, he didn’t add that inevitable ‘why me?’ His eyes were a little wild, though.

I recited the passage to him. ‘It looks like you’ve been elected, Brand,’ I added.

‘I didn’t even know I was a candidate. What am I supposed to do?’

‘We’re not sure. You will be when the time comes, though. When you come face to face with One-eye, the Necessity’s going to take over. It always does in these situations.’

‘I’d be a lot more comfortable if I knew what was supposed to happen.’

‘We all would, but it doesn’t work that way. Don’t worry, Brand. You’ll do just fine.’

Eldrig and Rhodar joined us at Riva a month or so later, and we started mapping out our strategy. Beldin advised us that Torak didn’t seem to be in any hurry to start west. He was concentrating instead on consolidating his hold on the hearts and minds of the subject races in Mallorea. I wasn’t really worried about any surprises. Torak was far too arrogant to try to sneak up on us. He wanted us to know that he was coming.

After our first few meetings, we invited King Ormik of Sendaria to join us. Ormik’s mother had been an Alorn, so his inclusion was right and proper. The fact that we were all spending a lot of time at Riva didn’t go unnoticed. Ran Borune’s intelligence service wasn’t as good as Rhodar’s, but even the most half-witted spy in the world could hardly miss the fact that something was in the wind.

Torak spent a dozen or so years establishing his absolute domination of Mallorea - all unaware that Garel had married an Algar girl, Aravina, in 4860, and that a year later she had given birth to her son, Gelane. Then in the fall of 4864 the Murgos and Nadraks closed the caravan routes to the east. The howls of anguish in Tol Honeth echoed from the jungles of Nyissa to the arctic wastes of Morindland. Ran Borune sent diplomatically worded protests to Rak Goska and Yar Nadrak, but they were generally ignored. Ad Rak Cthoros, the King of the Murgos, and Yar Lek Thun of the Nadraks were taking their orders from Ctuchik, and neither one of them was going to cross that walking corpse just because Ran Borune had his feelings hurt. I don’t know if Ctuchik even bothered to tell Gethel Mardu of the Thulls about the planned invasion of the west, since Gethel probably didn’t even know which way west was.

The closing of those trade routes was a clear signal that Torak was about to move, so Brand declared the port of Riva closed ‘for renovations’, and Eldrig’s war-boats enforced that declaration. Things were definitely going downhill for the merchant princes of Tol Honeth.

After the sealing of the port of Riva, we gathered once more in the Citadel. ‘Things are coming to a head, father,’ Polgara noted. ‘I think it’s time for you to go have a talk with Ran Borune.’

‘Maybe you’re right,’ I conceded glumly.

‘Why so long a face, Belgarath?’ Brand asked me.

‘Have you ever met Ran Borune?’

‘I’ve never had the pleasure.’

‘That’s not the right word, Brand. The Borunes are stubborn and contentious, and they absolutely refuse to believe in anything the least bit out of the ordinary.’

‘Shouldn’t we alert the Arends, too?’ the leather-clad Cho-Ram suggested.

‘Not yet,’ I replied. ‘It’s probably a little premature. If Torak’s more than two days from their eastern frontier, they’ll forget that he’s coming.’

‘The Arends aren’t that stupid, father,’ Pol protested.

‘Really? Oh, Cho-Ram, see if you can get word of what’s afoot to the Gorim of Ulgo, and Ormik, why don’t you move your supply dumps down to the north bank of the Camaar River? If we’re going to have a war in Arendia, we’ll need groceries.’

‘We can live off the land if we have to,’ Rhodar said.

‘Of course - for maybe a week. After that, we’ll be eating our shoes, and you wouldn’t care for that.’

I left for Tol Honeth the following morning and arrived there two days later. Ran Borune IV was a young man who’d only been on the imperial throne for a few years. The Third Borune Dynasty was still in its infancy, and the Borunes hadn’t yet shaken all the Honethites and Vorduvians out of the government. The Honeths in particular were very upset about the closing of the trade routes to the east and the ‘renovations’ at Riva. A day without profit sends a Honethite into deep mourning, and so a steady stream of officials, high and low, were beating on Ran Borune’s door imploring him to do something. As a result, it was several days before I got in to see him.

Over the centuries, the various imperial families in Tol Honeth have devised a fiction that makes them comfortable. They sagely assure each other that the names ‘Belgarath’ and ‘Polgara’ are hereditary titles. Accepting an alternative would have been out of the question for them, so I came at Ran Borune rather obliquely to avoid a long argument about something that wasn’t really that important. ‘Have you heard about what’s happening in Mallorea, your Majesty?’ I asked him.

‘I understand that they have a new emperor.’ Like most members of his family, Ran Borune was a small man - probably the result of their Dryad heritage. The Imperial throne of Tolnedra had been designed to be impressive, so it was quite large and draped in imperial crimson. Ran Borune IV looked a great deal like a child sitting on a piece of grown-up furniture.

‘How much do you know about that new emperor in Mal Zeth?’ I asked him.

‘Not all that much. Mallorea’s a long way away, and I’ve got things closer to home to worry about.’

‘You’d better start worrying about Kal Torak, because he’s coming this way.’

‘What makes you think so?’

‘I have sources of information that aren’t available to you, Ran Borune.’

‘More of that tired old nonsense, Belgarath? That might impress Alorns, but it certainly doesn’t impress me.’

I sidestepped that rather smoothly. ‘I’m not referring to that, Ran Borune. The information comes from Rhodar’s intelligence service. Nobody can hide things from a Drasnian spy.’

‘Why didn’t Rhodar let me know?’

‘He is letting you know. That’s why I’m here.’

‘Oh. Why didn’t you say so? I’ll send emissaries to Mal Zeth to ask the Mallorean emperor what his intentions are.’

‘Don’t waste your time, Ran Borune. He’ll probably be on your doorstep in a few months, and then you’ll be able to talk to him in person.’

‘What sort of man is he? And why did he choose that particular name?’

‘He’s arrogant, implacable, and driven by an overwhelming ambition. The word “Kal” means King and God in Old Angarak. Does that give you any clues about him?’

‘A madman?’ Ran Borune looked startled.

‘He probably wouldn’t see it that way - and the Angaraks certainly don’t. He’s convinced them that he’s really Torak - largely by having the Grolims gut anybody who didn’t believe. He’s coming west, and he’ll be driving all of Mallorea in front of him.’

‘They’ll have to get past the Murgos first. Murgos despise Malloreans, and they certainly won’t bow down to a Mallorean emperor.’

‘The Murgos do what the Grolims tell them to do, Ran Borune, and the Grolims have accepted this Kal Torak as the real Torak.’

He began to gnaw on one of his fingernails. ‘I think we might have a problem,’ he conceded. ‘Have Rhodar’s spies found out why he wants to invade us?’

‘To rule the world, I suppose,’ I said with a shrug. ‘We don’t know exactly why, yet, but his ultimate destination seems to Arendia.’

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