‘In the name of Belar I defy thee, Torak, maimed and accursed,’ he said. His voice didn’t sound all that loud to me, but I was told later that it was clearly audible inside the walls of Vo Mimbre. ‘In the name of Aldur also,’ he went on, ‘I cast my despite into thy teeth. Let the bloodshed be abated, and I will meet thee - man against God - and I shall prevail against thee. Before thee I cast my gage. Take it up or stand exposed as craven before men and Gods!’
Now that got Torak’s immediate attention. He’d armed himself before he’d emerged from that silly iron castle, and he was wearing that same archaic armor he’d worn during the War of the Gods. His huge shield was strapped to his maimed left arm, his high-plumed and visored helmet covered the polished mask that hid his ruined face, and he had that black sword he called Cthrek Goru clenched in his right fist. Brand’s insulting challenge enraged him, and he shattered a dozen or so large boulders with the sword before he got control of himself. The Angaraks in his immediate vicinity pulled back several hundred yards, and Zedar bolted like a rabbit.
‘Who among mortal kind is so foolish as to thus defy the King of the World?’ Torak roared. ‘Who among ye would contend with a God?’
You have to admire the cunning of the Necessity which spoke through Brand’s lips. Torak had been very reluctant to meet Brand in single combat, but his rage overcame his better judgement. Torak, always the sublime egomaniac, absolutely had to respond to those insults.
‘I am Brand, Warder of Riva,’ the Child of Light replied, ‘and I defy thee, foul and misshapen Godling, and all thy putrid host. Bring forth thy might. Take up my gage or slink away and come no more against the Kingdoms of the West.’
That was really pushing things. Torak was still a God, and prohibition or no prohibition, that particular speech might very well have pushed him over the edge. I had a momentary vision of a repetition of the cracking of the world at that point. He didn’t do it again, however, but he did bash a few more boulders with his sword.
‘Behold!’ he roared in a voice that probably broke windows in Tol Honeth, ‘I am Torak, King of Kings and Lord of Lords! I fear no man of mortal kind nor the dim shades of long-forgotten Gods! I will come forth and destroy this loud-voiced Rivan fool, and mine enemies shall fall away before my wrath, and Cthrag-Yaska shall be mine again and the world, also!’
In spite of everything that had warned him against it, he’d accepted Brand’s challenge.
The exchange between the two of them had caused a vast silence to fall over the battlefield. Many soldiers, both mine and Zedar’s, seemed paralyzed by the sheer sound of those two thundering voices. The fighting stopped, and the only sounds were the groanings of the wounded and the dying. The challenge and its acceptance laid the full burden of the Battle of Vo Mimbre on Brand’s shoulders - and on Torak’s.
Torak strode north, and his Malloreans melted out of his path as he came. Brand, equally implacable, marched south to meet him. I went wolf, and I trotted along at his side. There was a snowy owl drifting above him.
Brand was a big man with heavy shoulders and powerful arms. In many ways he closely resembled Dras Bull-neck, though he wasn’t quite as tall. His shield was strapped to his left arm, and he’d taken some pains to rivet a grey Rivan cloak to the face of it to conceal my Master’s Orb. The sword he was carrying wasn’t quite as large as Iron-grip’s sword, but it was large enough that I wouldn’t have wanted to swing it.
Torak was wearing that antique black armor, and he was brandishing Cthrek Goru as he came. The agreement between the Necessities kept him from swelling into immensity as he did at Cthol Mishrak when he met Garion, but he was every bit as big as Brand. So far as I could tell, the two of them were evenly matched. Since neither of them had any particular advantage - either in size or weaponry - this promised to be a very interesting duel.
They advanced on each other until they were about twenty yards apart, and then they both stopped, evidently acting on instructions. Brand spoke once more at that point. ‘I am Brand, Warder of Riva,’ he introduced himself in a civil tone of voice. ‘I am he who will contend with thee, Torak. Beware of me, for the spirits of Belar and Aldur are with me. I alone stand between thee and the Orb for which thou hast brought war into the west.’
Torak didn’t answer him, but spoke to me instead. ‘Begone, Belgarath,’ he told me. ‘Flee if thou wouldst save thy life. It occurs that I may soon have the leisure to give thee that instruction I so long ago promised thee, and I doubt that even thou wouldst survive my instruction.’
I’ve never been sure why he bothered with that. He should have known what my answer would be. I bared my teeth and snarled at him.
Then he spoke to the owl hovering in the air over Brand’s head. ‘Abjure thy father, Polgara, and come with me,’ he said in an oddly wheedling tone of voice. ‘I will wed thee,’ he continued, ‘and make thee Queen of all the world, and thy might and thy power shall be second only to mine.’
That marriage proposal has given Polgara nightmares for five centuries now. It’s also seriously confused the Grolims. They’ve always stepped rather carefully around Pol ever since. They did not want to offend the chosen bride of Torak. I suspect that he’d gotten the idea from the Ashabine Oracles, and it was probably that same passage that’d given Zedar the idea for his cruel deception of Illessa.
The scream of an owl is usually just a scream, but Pol managed to fill the one she threw into Torak’s teeth with all sorts of defiance and scorn to let him know just what she thought of his proposal of marriage.
‘Prepare then to perish all,’ Torak roared at us, rushing forward with his black sword upraised.
That made me a little nervous. I’d just seen him shatter a number of large boulders with that sword.
Brand didn’t even change his expression when he raised the shield to ward off that massive blow.
If you’ve ever seen a fight between a couple of men armed with broadswords and shields you know how badly the shields get dented and gashed. Brand’s shield, however, showed no visible effects as Cthrek Goru bounced harmlessly off its face. Torak’s huge blow didn’t even cut through the grey cloth that covered the shield. My Master’s Orb was clearly taking steps.
Torak’s shield, however, didn’t seem to be quite so impervious, because Brand’s return blow sliced deep into its rim.
Torak struck again, and his second blow had no more effect than the first.
Then it was Brand’s turn, and his stroke left a deep dent in the face of Torak’s shield.
That went on for quite a while. They banged at each other with those huge broadswords, raising a dreadful amount of noise and spraying sparks in all directions every time their sword-edges met. They reeled back and forth, struggling to keep their balance on the uneven ground. Brand still seemed to be in the grip of that unnatural calmness, but Torak grew increasingly enraged. He bellowed at the grave-faced Rivan facing him, and his sword-strokes came faster and faster. Despite the huge weight of Cthrek Goru, Torak was swinging it almost as rapidly as an Algar horseman might swing a saber. The sheer fury of his attack was driving Brand backward.
Then, with a stroke that changed direction in mid-swing, Torak gashed open Brand’s left shoulder.
‘Well, finally!’ that familiar voice said. ‘I thought they were going to be at it all day. Go ahead and give the signal, Belgarath. Let’s finish this right now.’
I did it without even thinking. I didn’t have to think. The instructions had been floating around in my head for almost three thousand years. I dropped to my haunches, lifted my muzzle and howled. And, at exactly the same instant, the white owl screamed a piercingly shrill scream.
Brand jumped back and scraped the edge of his sword down over the face of his shield, ripping off the grey cloth that had covered it.
Kal Torak flinched back violently as my Master’s Orb blazed forth its baleful blue fire. The smoldering fire that always glowed behind the left eye-slit of his steel mask suddenly blazed forth like a small sun.
He screamed, and Cthrek Goru fell out of his violently trembling hand. He shook away his shield and tried to clutch at his face. His right hand covered his right eye, but he had no left hand to cover the other.
Then Brand struck the final blow of their duel, and it was not an overhand stroke. It was a thrust. He seized his sword hilt in both hands and lunged forward, and his thrust wasn’t aimed at Torak’s chest or throat or belly.
It was aimed directly at Torak’s burning left eye.
Brand’s sword made a terrible sound as it slid through the visor of Torak’s helmet and an even worse sound as it crunched through that flaming eye and on into the brain of the maimed God of Angarak.
Torak screamed again, and it was not so much a scream of pain as it was one of unutterable loss. He clutched at the blade protruding from his eye and jerked it away. Then he threw away his helmet, and then clawed away that steel mask.
It was the first time I’d seen his face since the day when he’d cracked the world. The right side was still unmarred and beautiful.
The left side was hideous. The revenge of my Master’s Orb had been too horrible to imagine. There were still inflamed scars, of course, but there were parts of Torak’s face where the flesh had been burned away and bone showed through.