‘Why are you doing this, Belsambar?’ Beldin once asked our normally self-effacing brother. ‘It’s only a buttress, and you’ve been arguing about it for weeks now.’

‘It’s the curve of it, Beldin,’ Belsambar explained, more fervently than I’d ever heard him say anything else. ‘It’s like this.’ And he created the illusion of the two opposing towers in the air in front of them for comparison. I’ve never known anyone else who could so fully build illusions as Belsambar. I think it’s an Angarak trait; their whole world is built on an illusion.

Belmakor took one look and threw his hands in the air. ‘I bow to superior talent,’ he surrendered. ‘It’s beautiful, Belsambar. Now, how do we make it work? There’s not enough support.’

‘I’ll support it, if necessary.’ It was Belzedar, of all people! ‘I’ll hold up our brother’s tower until the end of days, if need be.’ What a soul that man had!

‘You still didn’t answer my question-any of you!’ Beldin rasped. ‘Why are you all taking so much trouble with all of this?’

‘It is because thy brothers love thee, my son,’ Aldur, who had been standing in the shadows unobserved, told him gently. ‘Canst thou not accept their love?’

Beldin’s ugly face suddenly contorted grotesquely, and he broke down and wept.

‘And that is thy first lesson, my son,’ Aldur told him. ‘Thou wilt warily give love, all concealed beneath this gruff exterior of thine, but thou must also learn to accept love.’

It all got a bit sentimental after that.

And so we all joined together in the building of Beldin’s tower. It didn’t really take us all that long. I hope Durnik takes note of that. It’s not really immoral to use our gift on mundane things, Sendarian ethics notwithstanding.

I missed having my grotesque little friend around in my own tower, but I’ll admit that I slept better. I wasn’t exaggerating in the least in my description of his snoring.

Life settled down in the Vale after that. We continued our studies of the world around us and expanded our applications of our peculiar talent. I think it was one of the twins who discovered that it was possible for us to communicate with each other by thought alone. It would have been one - or both - of the twins, since they’d been sharing their thoughts since the day they were born. I do know that it was Beldin who discovered the trick of assuming the forms of other creatures. The main reason I can be so certain is that he startled several years’ growth out of me the first time he did it. A large hawk with a bright band of blue feathers across its tail came soaring in, settled on my window ledge, and blurred into Beldin. ‘How about that?’ he demanded. ‘It works after all.’

I was drinking from a tankard at the time, and I dropped it and went into an extended fit of choking while he pounded me on the back.

‘What do you think you’re doing?’ I demanded after I got my breath.

He shrugged. ‘I was studying birds,’ he explained. ‘I thought it might be useful to look at the world from their perspective for a while. Flying’s not as easy as it looks. I almost killed myself when I threw myself out of the tower window.’

‘You idiot!’

‘I managed to get my wings working before I hit the ground. It’s sort of like swimming. You never know if you can do it until you try.’

‘What’s it like? Flying, I mean?’

‘I couldn’t even begin to describe it, Belgarath,’ he replied with a look of wonder on his ugly face. ‘You should try it. I wouldn’t recommend jumping out of any windows, though. Sometimes you’re a little careless with details, and if you don’t get the tail feathers right, you’ll break your beak.’

Beldin’s discovery came at a fortuitous time. It wasn’t very long afterward that our Master sent us out from the Vale to see what the rest of mankind had been up to. As closely as I can pinpoint it, it seems to have been about fifteen hundred years since that snowy night when I first met him.

Anyway, flying is a much faster way to travel than walking. Beldin coached us all, and we were soon flapping around the Vale like a flock of migrating ducks. I’ll admit right at the outset that I don’t fly very well. Polgara’s made an issue of that from time to time. I think she holds it in reserve for occasions when she doesn’t have anything else to carp about. Anyway, after Beldin taught us how to fly, we scattered to the winds and went out to see what people were up to. With the exception of the Ulgos, there wasn’t really anybody to the west of us, and I didn’t get along too well with their new Gorim. The original one and I had been close friends, but the latest one seemed just a bit taken with himself.

So I flew east instead and dropped in on the Tolnedrans. They’d built a number of cities since the last time I’d seen them. Some of those cities were actually quite large, though their habit of using logs for constructing walls and thatch for roofs made me just a little wary of entering those freestanding firetraps. As you might expect, the Tolnedran fascination with money hadn’t diminished in the fifteen hundred years since I’d last seen them. If anything, they’d grown even more acquisitive, and they seemed to spend a great deal of time building roads. What is this thing with Tolnedrans and roads? They were generally peaceful, however, since war’s bad for business, so I flew on to visit the Marags.

The Marags were a strange people - as I’m sure Relg has discovered by now. Perhaps their peculiarities are the result of the fact that there are many more women in their society than there are men. Their God, Mara, takes what is in my view an unwholesome interest in fertility and reproduction. Their society is matriarchal, which is unusual - although the Nyissans tend in that direction as well.

Despite its peculiarities, Marag culture was functional, and they had not yet begun the practice of ritual cannibalism that their neighbors found so repugnant and which ultimately led to their near-extinction. They were a generous people - the women particularly, and I got along quite well with them. I don’t know that I need to go into too much detail. This book will almost certainly fall into Polgara’s hands eventually, and she has strong opinions about some things which aren’t really all that important.

After several years, we all returned to the Vale and gathered once more in our Master’s tower to report on what we had seen.

With a certain delicacy, our Master had sent Belsambar north to see what the Morindim and the Karands were doing. It really wouldn’t have been a good idea to send Belsambar back into the lands of the Angaraks. He had very strong feelings about the Grolim priesthood, and our journeys were supposed to be fact-finding missions. We weren’t out there to right wrongs or to impose our own notions of justice. In retrospect, though, we could have probably saved the world a great deal of pain and suffering if we’d simply turned Belsambar loose on the Grolims. It probably would have caused bad blood between Torak and our Master, though, and that came soon enough anyway.

It was Belzedar who went down to the north side of Korim to observe the Angaraks. Isn’t it funny how things turn out? What he saw in those mountains troubled him very much. Torak always had an exaggerated notion of his significance in the overall scheme of things, and he encouraged his Angaraks to become excessive in their worship. They’d raised a temple to him in the High Places of Korim where the Grolim priesthood ecstatically butchered their fellow Angaraks by the hundreds while Torak looked on approvingly.

The religious practices of the various races of man were really none of our business, but Belzedar found cause for alarm in the beliefs of the Angaraks. Torak made no secret of the fact that he considered himself several cuts above his brothers, and he was evidently encouraging his people to feel the same way about themselves. ‘It’s just a matter of time, I’m afraid,’ Belzedar concluded somberly. ‘Sooner or later, they’re going to try to impose their notion of their own superiority on the rest of mankind, and that won’t work. If someone doesn’t persuade Torak to stop filling the heads of the Angaraks with that obscene sense of superiority, there’s very likely to be war in the south.’

Then Belsambar told us that the Morindim and the Karands had become demon-worshipers, but that they posed no real threat to the rest of mankind, since the demons devoted themselves almost exclusively to eating the magicians who raised them.

Beldin reported that the Arends had grown even more stupid - if that’s possible - and that they all lived in a more or less perpetual state of war.

Belmakor had passed through the lands of the Nyissans on his way to Melcena, and he reported that the snake-people were still fearfully primitive. No one’s ever accused the Nyissans of being energetic, but you’d think they might have at least started building houses by now. The Melcenes, of course, did build houses - probably more than they really needed - but it kept them out of mischief. On his way back, he passed through Kell, and he told us that the Dals were much involved in arcane studies - astrology, necromancy, and the like. The Dals spend so much of their time trying to look into the future that they tend to lose sight of the present. I hate mystics! The only good part of it was that they were so fuzzy-headed that they didn’t pose a threat to anybody else.

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