‘Or me,’ Ormik added quietly, ‘and my people aren’t very warlike. If he wants to get to Arendia in a hurry, he’ll come through Sendaria.’
‘Isn’t this all a little contemptible?’ Rhodar asked pointedly. ‘You gentlemen saw what happened to my kingdom, and now you’re all coming up with reasons why we should mass our forces inside your borders.’
‘Aloria is one, Rhodar,’ Eldrig told him. ‘We are all aggrieved for what happened to Drasnia.’
‘Where were you when I needed you, then?’
‘That was my fault, Rhodar,’ I told him. ‘If you want to throw rocks at somebody, throw them at me and leave your brother kings out of it. The Mrin Codex tells us that Torak’s going to lay siege to the Algarian Stronghold - eventually. It doesn’t tell us if he’s going to go someplace else first.’
‘When does he have to be in Arendia?’ Eldrig asked.
‘We don’t know,’ I replied sourly.
‘Does he know?’
‘Probably. He’s the one who’s moving this time. We’re making counter-moves. When Cherek and his boys and I went to Cthol Mishrak, we knew when we had to be there. Torak didn’t know when we were coming. We had the advantage that time. He’s got it this time.’
‘Then about all we can do is wait,’ Brand said. ‘We’ll have to watch him and stay mobile. Once he starts to move, we have to be able to respond immediately.’
‘That’s not much of a strategy, Brand,’ Cho-Ram objected.
‘I’ll be happy to listen to alternatives.’
‘There is something else we can do,’ Polgara told them. ‘I think it’s time for us to bring in the other kingdoms - Tolnedra in particular. We’re going to need the legions.’
‘Ran Borune doesn’t like Alorns, Polgara,’ Eldrig told her. ‘I don’t think he’ll even listen to our diplomats.’
‘Maybe not, but I think he will listen to me - and to my father. We’ll talk to the Arends as well - and the Nyissans.’
‘I wouldn’t waste my time on the Nyissans,’ Cho-Ram said disdainfully. ‘They’re so drugged most of the time that they wouldn’t be any good in a fight.’
‘I wouldn’t be so sure, Cho-Ram,’ I told him. ‘If I can get one good Nyissan poisoner anywhere near Torak’s field kitchens, he’ll kill more Angaraks than an entire Tolnedran legion could.’
‘Belgarath!’ Cho-Ram exclaimed. ‘That’s horrible!’
‘So was what happened to Drasnia. Torak’s got us outnumbered, so we’ve got to come up with ways to even things out.’ I stood up. ‘Stay flexible, gentlemen. Polgara and I are going south for a while.’
It took Pol and me more than a week to locate the encampment of the Asturian duke and his green-clad archers. In part that was due to the weather. The endless, accursed rain wreathed down through the trees like mist, obscuring everything on the ground. Even when Pol and I resumed our own forms for brief periods, she smelled like a bag-full of wet feathers, and I’d imagine that I reeked like a sodden dog. Neither of us mentioned it, but we sat on opposite sides of our campfire each night.
I hesitate to use the word, but it was only by chance that we finally found the Asturian encampment. A very brief break in the weather cleared away the prevailing mist, the wind dropped, and Pol was able to see the smoke rising from their campfires.
The Asturian duke’s name was Eldallan, and he was a lean, youngish man dressed, as were his men, all in green - people who hide out in a forest usually do choose that color. The Asturian encampment was quite extensive. There were a few tents scattered about, but most of the archers lived in crudely built huts that closely resembled the homes of the serfs. I suppose there’s a certain justice there. Eldallan’s archers were young noblemen for the most part, and sleeping in mud and wattle huts gave them a chance to see how the other half lived.
Eldallan was less than cooperative - at least right at first. He’d had his men build him a crude chair, and he sat in it as though it were a throne with his eight-year-old daughter, Mayaserana, playing with a doll at his side. ‘That’s an Alorn problem,’ he rejected our appeal. ‘My problem’s the Mimbrates.’ In what had probably been an effort to distinguish themselves from their countrymen to the south, the Asturians had discarded the ‘Thee’s and ‘Thou’s and ‘Forasmuch’es.
‘I’m sure you’ll have second thoughts about that when you’re stretched out on an altar with two or three Grolims carving out your heart, your Grace,’ I told him bluntly.
‘That’s just a fairy-story, Belgarath,’ he scoffed. ‘I’m not gullible enough to believe Alorn propaganda.’
‘Why don’t you let me talk with him, father?’ Pol suggested. ‘I know Arends a little better than you do.’
‘Gladly,’ I agreed. ‘This skeptic’s right on the verge of irritating me.’
‘Please forgive my father, your Grace,’ she said sweetly to the duke. ‘Diplomacy’s not one of his strong points.’
‘I’m no more inclined to accept your horror stories than I am his, Lady Polgara. Your one-time affiliation with the Wacites is well-known. You have no reason to love Asturians.’
‘I’m not going to tell you horror stories, your Grace. I’m going to show you what the Angaraks did to Drasnia.’
‘Illusions,’ he dismissed her proposal with a shrug.
‘No, your Grace. Reality. I speak as the Duchess of Erat, and no true gentleman would question the word of a noblewoman - or have I erred in assuming that there are gentlemen in Asturia?’
‘You question my honor?’
‘Aren’t you questioning mine?’
He struggled with it. ‘Very well, your Grace,’ he agreed reluctantly. ‘If you give me your word of honor that what you propose to show me really happened, I’ll have no choice but to accept it.’
‘Your Grace is too kind,’ she murmured. ‘Let’s go back in time, and north to Drasnia. This is what truly happened when Kal Torak came down onto the moors.’ I heard - or felt - the surge of her Will, and she made a small, curious gesture in front of his face as she released it.
I didn’t see a thing, naturally, but the duke did.
‘Why, father,’ the little girl at his side said when he cried out in horror, ‘whatever’s the matter?’
He wasn’t able to answer her. Polgara held him frozen in place for about a quarter of an hour. His eyes grew wider and wider, and his face turned deathly pale. After a few minutes, he was begging her to stop.
But she didn’t.
He began to weep, and his daughter stared at him incredulously. I’m sure he wanted to cover his eyes with his hands, but his limbs were frozen, and he couldn’t move. He groaned. He even screamed a few times, but Pol refused to relent. She kept him locked in place until he’d been forced to witness the entire horror.
He fell out of his chair when she finally released him, and he lay on the ground, sobbing uncontrollably.
‘What did you do to my father, bad lady?’ the little girl demanded.
‘He’ll be fine in a few minutes, dear,’ Pol told her gently. ‘He just had a nightmare, that’s all.’
‘But it’s daytime - and he isn’t even asleep.’
‘That happens sometimes, Mayaserana. He’ll be all right.’
It took Eldallan about a half an hour to regain his composure, and when he did, he was ready to listen.
‘I’m not going to insist on a direct meeting between you and the Mimbrate King,’ I told him. ‘That might be pushing things a bit.’
‘He’s not the king,’ Eldallan corrected me almost absently.
‘He thinks he is, but that’s beside the point. My daughter and I’ll go to Vo Mimbre and talk with him. We’ll hammer out the details of a truce between the two of you, and I’ll arrange for some Sendars to act as messengers. Sendars are neutral, and they’re honorable people, so there won’t be any danger of trickery. Tell your archers to quit wasting arrows on Mimbrates. You’re going to need every arrow you can lay your hands on when the Angaraks come.’
‘It shall be as you say, Ancient One.’ He was suddenly a very agreeable fellow. He definitely didn’t want Polgara to show him anything else.
Pol and I went on to the yellow-walled city of Vo Mimbre. Mimbrate poets have written all sorts of nonsense about their ‘city of gold,’ but the plain truth of the matter is the fact that the quarries of the region produce yellow building stones. There wasn’t anything mystic or even significant about it at all.
After the destruction of Vo Astur in 3822, the Mimbrate dukes had taken to calling themselves ‘The Kings of all Arendia,’ but that was a fiction. The authority of that throne in Vo Mimbre stopped at the edge of the Arendish forest.
Arends aren’t quite as stubborn as Tolnedrans are about certain peculiar things, so when Pol and I reached Vo Mimbre and identified ourselves, we were immediately escorted to the throne room of ‘King’ Aldorigen XII. Aldorigen was a bit older than Duke Eldallan, and quite a bit bulkier. Mimbrates start wearing full armor when they’re still children, and the sheer dead weight of all that steel puts muscle on them. It doesn’t noticeably add brain-capacity, however.