‘Arendia? That doesn’t make any sense at all!’
‘I know, but that’s what Drasnian intelligence is picking up. If we don’t do something to stop him, you’re going to have a very large, unfriendly army camped on your northern border.’
‘He’ll have to come through Algaria to get to Arendia.’
‘That’s our best guess, too.’
‘Are the Algars ready for him?’
‘The Algars have been getting ready for an Angarak invasion for the past three millennia. So have the Chereks and the Drasnians. Alorns and Angaraks don’t get along at all.’
‘So I’ve heard. I think maybe I’ll put the legions on standby alert.’
‘I’d go a little further than “standby”, Ran Borune. I had a look at some of your legionnaires on my way here. They’re pitifully out of condition. You’d better toughen them up a bit. I’m going back to Riva now. I think it’s time to beef up the defenses of Algaria. We’ll keep you advised if Rhodar’s spies pick up anything else.’ Then I bowed and left.
I’ve used that ploy many times in dealing with Tolnedrans. The supposed omniscience of Drasnian Intelligence can be very useful at times. It’s easier to lie to them than to tell them where I’m really getting my information.
In the spring of 4865, Kal Torak led his Malloreans across the land-bridge to Morindland, and then he started south along the coast. After he’d passed the mountains of Gar og Nadrak, however, his entire army disappeared into that vast primeval forest that blankets the north.
I’ve been involved in a lot of wars over the years, and I think that might have contributed to my failure to predict what Torak was going to do. A human general will take the shortest, easiest route to get to a battlefield. He doesn’t want to waste the lives of his troops, and he doesn’t want them to be exhausted when the fighting starts. Torak, however, was most definitely not a human general. The lives of his troops meant nothing to him, and he had ways to make them fight, no matter how exhausted they were.
At any rate, the Alorn Kings and I were so convinced that Torak would continue down the coast to Mishrak ac Thull that we were taken completely by surprise when he led his army of northern Murgos, Nadraks, Thulls, and Malloreans down out of the mountains in western Gar og Nadrak and out onto the moors of eastern Drasnia early in the summer of 4865.
Torak himself made the journey in a silly-looking iron castle, complete with useless towers and ostentatious battlements. It had wheels on it, but it still took a herd of horses and about a thousand Grolims to pull it. I shudder to think of the amount of labor it took to clear a road through the forests of Gar og Nadrak for that ridiculous thing.
It became clear almost immediately that Kal Torak came not as a conqueror, but as a destroyer. He was not interested in occupying Drasnia and enslaving the people. He wanted to kill them all. Such Drasnians as were captured were immediately sacrificed by the Grolim priests.
In retrospect, I can understand what he was doing. He had to reach Arendia, of course, but he gave himself enough time to exterminate the Drasnians before he proceeded into Algaria or Cherek to do the same thing there. Arendia was secondary in his thinking. He wanted to wipe out the Alorns before he got there.
Our mistaken assessment of his probable strategy had pulled us seriously out of position, and his hordes had destroyed Boktor before we could get enough forces north to offer any serious resistance. Since we were hopelessly outnumbered, we didn’t even pretend that we were making war. We rushed north on a rescue mission instead, gathering such refugees as we were able to find. Eldrig’s war-boats took large crowds of terror-stricken Drasnian civilians off the islands at the mouths of the Aldur and Mrin rivers, and Algar cavalry rounded up those who had fled south toward Lake Atun and escorted them to the relative safety of the Algarian Stronghold. A large column of refugees from Boktor made a truly astounding trek north from their burning city to reach the valley of the River Dused, where it forms the border between Drasnia and the Cherek peninsula. For the rest of the population, the only escape was into the fens. Very few of them survived.
Once it became clear that there was no way that we could match the army Kal Torak had hurled at us, we concluded that Drasnia was lost. I had to do some fairly brutal things at that point to salvage as much of the superb Drasnian army as I could. I didn’t even bother trying to argue with the grief-stricken Rhodar. I simply drove him and his pikemen south onto the plains of Algaria. I was fairly sure I was going to need them later.
And so, by the midsummer of 4866, Drasnia had perished. When we went back there after the war, we couldn’t find so much as a single house still standing, and there were only a few thousand survivors hiding out in the fens.
When it was over, Kal Torak paused to regroup. Our problem at that point was trying to guess which way he’d go next. Would he sweep on across the north and invade Cherek? Would he go southwest in an attempt to reach Arendia by marching across Sendaria? Or would he lead his hordes south into Algaria? The most frightening prospect of all was the distinct possibility, given the size of his army, that he’d simply divide his forces and do all three at the same time.
That strategy would have defeated us. I’m really rather surprised that he didn’t think of it himself.
King Eldrig of Cherek was an old man with white hair and a long white beard by now. He stood at the window looking out over the rain-slashed harbor at Riva. It was about two weeks after we’d managed to extract the last survivors out of Drasnia. ‘You know him, Belgarath,’ he said. ‘How does he think? What’s he going to do next?’
‘I think you’re asking the wrong man, Eldrig,’ Rhodar said bitterly. In many ways, Rhodar of Drasnia was a broken man now. He only lived for vengeance. ‘Holy Belgarath hasn’t had much luck with his guesses lately.’
‘That’ll do, Rhodar,’ Brand said firmly in that deep quiet voice of his. ‘We’re not here to chew old soup. We’re here to decide what we’re going to do now, not what we should have done last month.’ The revelation that Brand was going to be the Child of Light during this particular EVENT had given him a great deal of authority, and the Alorn Kings all automatically deferred to him.
‘We know that he’ll ultimately wind up in Arendia,’ Ormik of Sendaria said. Ormik was one of the most ordinary-looking men I’ve ever known. Even people who knew him probably couldn’t have picked him out of a crowd. ‘Doesn’t that mean that he’ll turn south once he’s regrouped his forces?’
‘And leave his rear exposed?’ Eldrig scoffed. ‘Not very likely. I think he’ll be at the gates of Val Alorn before the month’s out.’
‘Don’t expect him to do what’s rational,’ I told them. ‘I think that what happened to Drasnia more than proves that. He had no business coming through the Nadrak forest, but he did it anyway. He doesn’t think the way a human general would.’
‘Why did he destroy Drasnia?’ Rhodar demanded with tears in his eyes.
I shrugged. ‘Revenge, most likely. The Drasnians almost wiped out the Nadraks in that battle during the third millennium.’
‘That was nearly twenty-five hundred years ago, Belgarath,’ Rhodar protested.
‘Torak’s got a very long memory.’
‘The main question right now is whether or not he’ll divide his forces,’ Cho-Ram said. Cho-Ram was idly sharpening his saber, and the sound of his whetstone on steel set my teeth on edge.
‘It’s out of character for him,’ I said, ‘but we can’t really be sure this time.’
‘I’m not sure I follow that,’ Cho-Ram said, laying his saber and whetstone down on the table in front of him.
‘Torak doesn’t like it when his people get out from under his thumb. Back before the war of the Gods, the Angaraks were the most tightly controlled people on earth. Things have changed a bit since then, though. Torak’s got disciples now, and he leaves a lot of things up to them. Ctuchik might suggest a division of forces, and Zedar certainly would.’
‘Would Torak listen to them?’ Polgara asked me.
‘I can’t really be sure. He wouldn’t like the idea, but he might be able to see the necessity for it.’ I squinted out through the rain-spattered window. ‘This is only a hunch,’ I admitted, ‘but I don’t think he’ll divide up his army. If he were going to do that, he’d have done it when he came out of the mountains onto the moors of Drasnia. That would have been the logical time for him to send a column south into Algaria, but he didn’t. He tends to have a one-track mind. Obsessive people are like that, and maybe obsessive Gods are as well. I just don’t think he’ll divide his forces. Whichever way he decides to go, he’ll take all his people with him. He’s not really here to win battles. He’s here to destroy, and that takes a lot of troops.’
‘Then the only real question is who he’ll destroy next,’ Eldrig said. ‘I think he’ll attack Cherek.’
‘What for?’ Cho-Ram demanded. ‘All your men are on your war-boats where he can’t get at them. I think he’ll invade Algaria next. He’s got an appointment he has to keep in Arendia, and that means he’s got to get past me first.’