He shook his head. ‘Not yet. I imagine he’ll get around to it when the time comes.’

‘You seem to be taking this all very calmly,’ Ormik accused him.

‘It won’t do me any good to get excited.’ Brand looked at me. ‘You’ve been the Child of Light once or twice, haven’t you, Belgarath?’ he asked.

‘Once,’ I said. ‘At least once that I know about. Your friend might have slipped a couple of others in on me without bothering to tell me about it. Why do you ask?’

‘Did you feel - well - sort of distant from what was going on? I’ve been feeling just a bit abstracted for the past few days. It’s almost as if I weren’t going to be personally involved when I meet Torak.’

‘That’s the Necessity working. And you’re at least partly right; your friend’ll sort of take over.’

‘And Torak’s friend will take him over as well?’

‘I’m not too sure about that, Brand. The two Necessities are different, and they might do things differently. Ours just steps in and takes charge. Torak’s might not do it that way. Torak’s not the sort to take something like that philosophically anyway. Maybe we’ll find out when the EVENT rolls around. Start your men south, gentlemen. I’d better get back to Vo Mimbre and see what Zedar’s up to.’

Zedar had evidently been up to no good. There were a dozen or so mangonels emplaced just beyond the range of Asturian arrows as I flew back to the city, and they were already hurling huge rocks at the walls. A mangonel’s an oversized catapult, about the size of a small house, and it can throw thousand-pound rocks for a long distance. There hadn’t been any of them among the other engines the previous day, and their sudden appearance this morning was a fair indication that Zedar’d had a busy night. He hadn’t thrown the Will and the Word directly at the city or its defenders, so I couldn’t be certain whether or not he was breaking the rules yet. He was pushing at the edges of them, though, and that gave me an idea. If he could do it without getting himself exploded, then so could I.

I settled onto the battlements, resumed my own form, and went looking for the twins. ‘When did the mangonels start?’ I asked them.

‘Just before dawn,’ Beltira replied. ‘They’re doing a lot of damage to the walls, Belgarath. There are several places where the foundations are starting to crack. We’d better do something - and soon.’

‘I was just getting to that. Did you hear Zedar working during the night?’

‘Quite clearly,’ Belkira replied. ‘He was in a hurry, so he didn’t even try to hide the fact that he was using his Will. What are we going to do?’

‘The same thing he did. He got away with it, so we can, too, I think. Let’s go build some mangonels of our own.’

‘They take a long time to aim, Belgarath,’ Beltira objected, ‘and thousand-pound rocks would be very hard to move, even for us.’

‘A thousand one-pound rocks should be manageable, though,’ I said. ‘We’ll be shooting at the engine crews, not at a solid wall. We won’t have to be accurate if all we’re trying to do is fill the sky with smaller rocks to rain down on the Thulls manning Zedar’s mangonels. Then, once we’ve got the range, we can start dropping burning pitch on them. I think they’ll lose interest at that point. Let’s go get started.’

I had some of the same reservations about the idea as Belsambar’d had during the war of the Gods. I didn’t like the idea of burning people alive, but I had to neutralize those engines. If the walls of Vo Mimbre fell, Torak’d be in the city by nightfall, and he’d win. I wasn’t going to let that happen if I could possibly stop it.

It didn’t take the twins and me very long to manufacture our mangonels. Zedar’s engines were sitting out in plain sight, so we plagiarized. Aiming them wasn’t a particular problem either. Among his other talents, Belmakor had been a mathematician, and he’d given the twins several centuries of instruction. It only took them about fifteen minutes to compute angles, trajectories, proper tension and weights. Our first throw dropped half a ton of fist-sized rocks directly on top of one of Zedar’s engines. The second one engulfed that monstrosity in fire.

Did you know that people almost always run when they’re on fire? It doesn’t do any good, of course, but they do it anyway. Burning Thulls fell back into the ranks of Torak’s other troops, causing a great deal of confusion, and after an hour or so, we’d eliminated the problem. Zedar’d lost a whole night’s sleep for nothing.

At that point, he didn’t really have any choice but to mount another frontal assault. I knew that something was coming, because I could feel his Will building even as his troops were forming up for the charge. When he released it, a howling windstorm struck the walls of Vo Mimbre.

No, he wasn’t trying to blow us off the top of the walls. He was trying to deflect the arrows of our archers. I shudder to think of the effort his windstorm caused him. Moving that much air’s a great deal like trying to pick up a mountain.

The twins took steps without even bothering to consult with me. Working in tandem, they erected a barrier of pure Will about a mile out from the walls, neatly dividing Zedar’s windstorm and sending it streaming off to either side of the city. The air around Vo Mimbre became dead calm, and the Asturian archers cut down whole battalions of charging Malloreans. The attack faltered, stopped, and then reversed.

Polgara came up and joined us on the walls late in the morning. ‘You three have been busy, haven’t you?’ she observed. ‘You’re making so much noise that I can’t even hear myself think. Zedar’s right on the verge of exhaustion, you know.’

‘Good,’ I said. ‘I’m getting a little tired of playing games with him.’

‘Don’t start gloating yet, father. Zedar’s not the only one out there, you know. I’m getting the sense of a lot of other minds at work. Zedar’s called in the Grolims to help him.’

‘Can you get any idea of what he’ll try next, dear sister?’ Belkira asked her.

‘Nothing specific,’ she replied. ‘They seem to be thinking about dirt.’

‘Dirt?’ Belkira objected. ‘What’s dirt got to do with anything? All that’s out there right now is mud.’

‘They’re drying it out. Zedar’s got his Grolims concentrating on extracting the last trace of moisture out of that plain.’

‘What on earth for?’

‘I’m not privy to that information, uncle,’ she told him. ‘Zedar doesn’t confide in me, for some reason.’

‘Zedar’s always been a tacky sort of person,’ Belkira said. ‘I don’t want to hurt your feelings, Belgarath, but I’ve never really liked him all that much. Are you sure you didn’t leave a few things out when you were educating him?’

Beltira would never have said that. My brothers weren’t exactly identical, I discovered. It’s very easy to miss these subtle little variations. Identical twins look alike, but no two people are ever really the same.

Pol’s left eyebrow was already up before she even looked at me. ‘Yes?’ she said. ‘Was there something?’

‘Never mind,’ I said. I’ve never been entirely sure just how deeply Polgara can reach into my thoughts, and I think I’d like to keep it that way. Durnik doesn’t have any secrets from Pol, but I’ve got secrets that I don’t even want to look at myself. If you’re going to maintain any kind of self-respect, you’re going to have to keep secrets from yourself.

It was late afternoon before we discovered why Zedar had been spending so much time and effort drying out dirt. The windstorm he’d kicked up earlier in the day to deflect the Asturian arrows was still blowing harmlessly off to either side of the city, but now it changed direction and came swirling across that now bone-dry plain picking up great clouds of dust. After a few minutes, it was impossible to see anything out there. The dust-storm was obviously meant to conceal another assault. Wildantor’s archers would have to shoot blind, and that’s not particularly effective.

‘We’d better do something, Belgarath!’ Beltira shouted over the scream of the wind.

‘I’m working on it,’ I told him, but try as I might, I couldn’t come up with a thing.

Polgara was already ahead of me, though. ‘We’ve got a river right here, father,’ she said, ‘and Zedar’s half-killed himself raising this windstorm for us. What does that suggest to you?’

‘Nothing in particular. What does it suggest to you?’

‘Oh, father, have your brains gone to sleep?’

‘Don’t be coy, Pol. Out with it.’

‘We need to lay all that dust, don’t we? I think a waterspout would probably take care of it, don’t you?’

‘Pol, that’s brilliant! Get the twins to help you. They stirred up all kinds of bad weather during the war of the Gods.’

‘We could probably use a little help from you, father.’

‘I’ve got something else to take care of right now, Pol.’


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