It was a very expensive afternoon for Kal Torak of Mallorea, and his demoralized army withdrew as a smokey sunset decorated the western sky.

We’d survived the first day. Kal Torak had lost thousands of men, and he was still outside the walls.

We dumped heaps of dried brush and stacks of cord-wood off the top of the walls, doused the resulting jumble with naphtha, and set fire to it. The smoke was a little inconvenient, but that ring of fire surrounding the city made sure that there wouldn’t be any surprises during the night.

Then we all gathered in the throne room. King Aldorigen was almost beside himself with glee. ‘A most fruitful day!’ he gloated. ‘I salute thee, my Lord Baron of Wildantor. Thine archers have saved the day for us.’

‘I thank your Grace,’ Wildantor replied with a modest bow, ‘but much of the credit should go to my friend, Mandor, here. All my men did was drive the Angaraks away from their engines. Mandor sent the axemen out to hack them to pieces.’

‘There’s credit enough to go around, gentlemen.’ It was Mergon, the Tolnedran ambassador to the court at Vo Mimbre. He was a weedy-looking little fellow, whose short stature proclaimed him to be a Borune, a fact confirmed by his silver-trimmed blue mantle. Tolnedrans have an elaborate color code to identify members of the various families. ‘All in all, I’d say that it was a fairly successful day,’ he continued.

‘It’s only the first day of the battle, Mergon,’ I warned him. ‘I’m not going to start gloating until we get through tomorrow.’ I looked around. ‘Where’s Polgara?’ I asked.

‘She left just after sunset,’ Belkira told me. ‘She thought it might be a good idea to listen in on Torak and Zedar this evening.’

‘You can stand on the walls and listen to Torak, brother,’ I said. ‘He gets very loud when he’s angry. When Cherek and I went to Cthol Mishrak and stole back the Orb, we could hear him from ten miles off.’

Mergon’s face grew pained. ‘Please don’t say things like that, Belgarath,’ he pleaded. ‘You know it’s a violation of my religion to listen to that sort of thing.’

I shrugged. ‘Don’t listen, then.’

‘What can we expect tomorrow?’ Wildantor asked me.

‘I haven’t the faintest idea,’ I admitted. ‘Why don’t we wait until Pol gets back with some solid information rather than waste time on wild guesses.’

It was shortly after midnight when Polgara returned, and we gathered in the throne room again to listen to her report. ‘Zedar seems to have fallen out of favor,’ she told us with a faint smile. ‘He was supposed to take the city yesterday, and Torak said any number of highly uncomplimentary things to him about his failure.’

‘It wasn’t entirely Zedar’s fault, Lady Polgara,’ Mergon told her. ‘We had a little bit to do with it, after all.’

‘Torak’s not known for his forgiveness, your Excellency,’ Beltira said. ‘He tends to hold grudges.’

‘That he does,’ Pol added. ‘He made quite an issue of the fact that Zedar’s failed before. He raised the point that it was Zedar’s failure in Morindland that made it possible for father to retrieve the Orb, and that was almost three thousand years ago.’

‘That’s a very long time to hold a grudge,’ Wildantor noted.

‘Torak’s like that,’ I said. ‘Were you able to pick up any hints about what we should expect tomorrow, Pol?’

‘Torak didn’t say anything specific, father, but I think I can make a few guesses. He told Zedar that he would be inside the walls by nightfall, and Zedar’s supposed to use any means to accomplish that.’

‘Sorcery?’ Mandor guessed.

‘Torak didn’t say it in so many words, but the implications were there. I think we can expect Zedar to resort to his gifts to try to get inside. Tomorrow’s his last chance. If he fails again, Torak’ll probably incinerate him.’

‘I can face that prospect with a certain equanimity,’ I said. Then I looked at Beltira. ‘Would it violate the rules of this particular EVENT if Zedar tries to use sorcery?’ I asked.

‘That’s not too clear,’ he replied. ‘Torak isn’t supposed to, but the Mrin doesn’t say anything about his disciples.’

‘If the prohibition’s absolute, Zedar might be in for a nasty shock,’ Belkira added. ‘I’m not sure what it would do to one of us if nothing happened when we spoke the Word to release the Will, but I’m fairly sure I wouldn’t care to find out.’

‘Zedar’s probably desperate enough to try it,’ Polgara told him. ‘Torak gave him an ultimatum.’ She frowned. ‘We all know Zedar well enough to know that he’d rather not risk his own skin, but there are Grolims out there. He might order them to try to use Will and Word against us. If a few Grolims get turned to stone, Zedar could use that as an excuse when Torak called him to account.’

‘We could speculate all night about that,’ I told them. ‘To be on the safe side, we’re going to have to assume that they’ll try it, and that it’ll work. If it doesn’t, fine; if it does, we’d better be ready.’

Mergon’s expression was very pained.

‘We’re just talking shop, your Excellency,’ Pol told him. ‘It’s a family trait, and it doesn’t really concern you. I’m sure Nedra won’t be angry with you if you happen to hear some things you aren’t supposed to.’

‘My cousin might be, though,’ he replied.

‘Ran Borune’s not entirely unreasonable, Mergon,’ I said. ‘A lot of things have happened recently that he doesn’t understand. A few more won’t unhinge him.’ I looked around. ‘I think we’ve covered just about everything,’ I told them. ‘We might as well try to get some sleep. I think we’ll all need to be alert tomorrow.’

I didn’t follow my own advice, of course, but I’ve learned to get along without sleep when I have to. I caught Pol in the dim corridor outside the throne room. ‘I think we’d better start moving people,’ I told her. ‘I’ll go tell Cho-Ram and Rhodar to start closing up the gap between them and Torak’s east flank. Then I’ll go talk with Brand and Ormik and have them ease down from the north. I want those soldiers to be in place and fresh when Beldin gets here day after tomorrow.’

‘Do you want me to do it?’ she offered.

‘No. I’ll take care of it. I couldn’t sleep tonight anyway. Keep an eye on things here, Pol. Zedar might decide to get an early start.’

‘I’ll take care of it, father. Would a suggestion offend you?’

‘That depends on the suggestion.’

‘Use the form of an owl. That falcon of yours doesn’t see all that well in the dark, and Zedar might have alerted his troops to keep an eye out for wolves.’

‘I’ll think about it. I’ll try to be back by morning, but if I’m not, you’ll have to handle things here for a while. Don’t let Mandor open that gate again.’

‘I’ll see to it. Have a nice flight, father.’ I think that Polgara’s the only person in the world who can say something like that without sounding ridiculous.

I took her advice about the owl, but I did not assume Poledra’s favorite form. I used an ordinary horned owl instead. Once I got out past the Angarak armies, though, I went wolf. Owls don’t really fly very fast, and I was in a hurry.

I woke Cho-Ram and Rhodar, and they sent for the Ulgo, Brasa, who commanded the Gorim’s forces. ‘Don’t make any contact with Kal Torak’s army,’ I cautioned them. ‘He knows you’re here, but he isn’t going to do anything about it unless you force him to.’

‘Can Vo Mimbre hold?’ Rhodar asked.

‘I think so. The Mrin says that Torak’s going to be engaged before the golden city for three days. It doesn’t say anything about him getting inside.’

‘That could be open to interpretation, Belgarath,’ Cho-Ram objected.

‘Just about everything in the Mrin’s open to interpretation, Cho-Ram, but I think it’d mention it if Vo Mimbre were going to fall. That’d probably be an EVENT, and the Mrin doesn’t miss very many of those. Get your people together, gentlemen. Move out at first light, but stay at least five miles back from Torak’s left. The Mimbrates are going to have to hold out alone for one more day.’

I went northwesterly from their encampment, and it was very close to morning when I found the Rivans, Sendars, and Asturian archers. ‘It’s time to move, gentlemen,’ I told Brand, Ormik, and Eldallan. ‘I want you to be within striking distance of Kal Torak’s rear by this evening. Don’t engage him, though. I’ll need every man I can get when tomorrow rolls around.’

Brand was holding the shield with my Master’s Orb embedded in the center of it, and, probably without even being aware that he was doing it, he was idly stroking the glowing jewel almost as if it were a puppy. ‘Don’t play with it, Brand,’ I cautioned him. ‘It’ll do some strange things to your mind if you keep your hand on it for too long. Has your friend told you what you’re supposed to do yet?’


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