‘I wouldn’t have believed that could ever happen,’ I said, ‘not to Angaraks. Religion’s the only thing they’ve ever been able to think about.’ Then I thought of something. ‘How did Belsambar react when you told him about this?’
Beldin shrugged. ‘He didn’t believe me. He can’t accept the fact that Angarak society disintegrated. Our brother’s having a lot of trouble right now, Belgarath. I think he’s feeling some obscure racial guilt. He is an Angarak, after all, and Torak did drown more than half of mankind. Maybe you’d better have a talk with him - persuade him that it’s not really his fault.’
‘I’ll see what I can do,’ I promised. ‘Is that the way things stand in Mallorea right now?’
He laughed. ‘Oh, no. It gets better. Here about twenty years ago, Torak stopped feeling sorry for himself and came to his senses. Back in the old days, he’d have simply stamped Mal Zeth into a mud-puddle and let it go at that, but now he’s got his mind on other things. He stole the Orb, but he can’t do anything with it. The frustration’s making him more than a little crazy. He winnowed through Mal Zeth and Mal Yaska, took the most fanatic of his worshipers, and went to the far northeast coast - up near the lands of the Karands. When they got there, he ordered his followers to build him a tower - out of iron.’
‘Iron?’ I said incredulously. ‘An iron tower wouldn’t last ten years. It’d start to rust before you even got it put together.’
‘He ordered it not to, I guess. Torak’s fond of iron for some reason. Maybe he got the idea from that iron box he keeps the Orb in. I think he’s got some strange notion that if he piles enough iron around the Orb, he can weaken it to the point that he can control it.’
‘That’s pure nonsense!’
‘Don’t blame me. It’s Torak’s idea, not mine. The people he took with him built a city up there, and Torak covered it with clouds - gloomiest place you ever saw. The Angaraks call it Cthol Mishrak - the City of Endless Night. Torak’s not nearly as pretty as he used to be - not with half of his face gone - so maybe he’s trying to hide. Ugly people do that sometimes. I was born ugly, so I’m used to it. That’s pretty much it, Belgarath. The Angaraks have three cities now, Cthol Mishrak, Mal Yaska, and Mal Zeth, and they’re going in three different directions. Torak’s so busy trying to subdue the Orb that he’s not paying any attention to what’s going on in Mal Zeth and Mal Yaska. Angarak society’s disintegrating, and it couldn’t happen to a nicer bunch of people. Oh, one other thing. Evidently Torak was quite impressed with us. He’s decided to take disciples of his own.’
‘Oh? How many?’
‘Three so far. There may be more later on. I guess the war taught Torak that disciples are useful people to have around. Before the war, he wasn’t interested in sharing power, but that seems to have changed. Did you know that an ordinary priest is powerless once he gets past the boundaries of his own country?’
‘I don’t quite follow you.’
‘The Gods aren’t above a little cheating now and then. They’ve each invested their priests with certain limited powers. It helps to keep the faithful in line. An ordinary Grolim - or one of the priests of Nedra or Chaldan, and Salmissra certainly - has some ability to do the kinds of things we do. Once they leave the region occupied by the worshipers of their own God, though, that ability goes out the window. A disciple, on the other hand, carries it with him wherever he goes. That’s the reason we could do things at Korim. Torak saw the value of that and started gathering disciples of his own.’
‘Any idea of who they are?’
‘Two of them used to be Grolims - Urvon and Ctuchik. I couldn’t find anything out about the third one.’
‘Where was Belzedar during all of this?’
‘I haven’t got the slightest idea. After we flew in and went back to our own shapes, he gave me a few lame excuses about wanting to survey the whole continent, and then went off toward the east. I haven’t seen him since then. I have no idea of what he’s been doing. I’ll tell you one thing, though.’
‘Oh? What’s that?’
‘Something’s definitely gnawing on his bowels. He couldn’t wait to get away from me.’
‘You have that effect on some people, my brother.’
‘Very funny, Belgarath. Very funny. How much beer have you got left?’
‘Just what’s in the keg. You’ve been hitting it fairly hard.’
‘I’ve managed to build up a thirst. Have you ever tasted Angarak beer?’
‘Not that I recall, no.’
‘Try to avoid it if you can. Oh, well, if we run out here, we can always go pay a call on the twins, I suppose.’ And he belched, rose, and lurched back to the beer-keg again.
He came in from the west, and at first we thought he was a blind man because he had a strip of cloth covering his eyes. I could tell by his clothes that he was an Ulgo. I’d seen those hooded leather smocks in Prolgu. I was a little surprised to see him, since as far as I knew, the Ulgos had been exterminated. I went out to greet him in his own language. ‘Yad ho, groja UL,’ I said. ‘Vad mar ishum.’
He winced. ‘That is not necessary,’ he told me in normal speech. ‘The Gorim has taught me your tongue.’
‘That’s fortunate,’ I replied a bit ruefully. ‘I don’t speak Ulgo very well.’
‘Yes,’ he said with a slight smile, ‘I noticed that. You would be Belgarath.’
‘It wasn’t entirely my idea. Are you having trouble with your eyes?’
‘The light hurts them.’
I looked up at the cloudy sky. ‘It’s not really all that bright today.’
‘Not to you, perhaps,’ he said. ‘To me it is blinding. Can you take me to your Master? I have some information for him from Holy Gorim.’
‘Of course.’ I agreed quickly. Maybe now we’d find out what was really going on in Ulgoland. ‘It’s this way,’ I told him, pointing at the Master’s tower. I did it automatically, I suppose. He probably couldn’t see the gesture with his eyes covered. Then again, maybe he could; he seemed to have no trouble following me.
Belsambar was with our Master. Our mystic Angarak brother had grown increasingly despondent in the years since the cracking of the world. I’d tried to raise his spirits from time to time without much success, and I’d finally suggested to our Master that perhaps it might be a good idea if he were to try cheering Belsambar up.
Aldur greeted the Ulgo courteously. ‘Yad ho, groja UL.’ His accent was much better than mine.
‘Yad ho, groja UL,’ the Ulgo responded. ‘I have news from Gorim of Holy Ulgo.’
‘I hunger for the words of your Gorim,’ Aldur replied. Ulgos tend to be a stiff and formal people, and Aldur knew all the correct responses. ‘How fares it with my father’s servants?’
‘Not well, Divine Aldur. A catastrophe has befallen us. The wounding of the earth maddened the monsters with whom we had lived in peace since the first Gorim led us to Prolgu.’
‘So that’s what it was all about!’ I exclaimed.
He gave me a slightly puzzled look.
‘I went through Holy Ulgo a few years back, and the Hrulgin and Algroths were trying to hunt me down. Prolgu was deserted, and the she-dragon was sort of hovering over it. What happened, friend?’
He shrugged. ‘I didn’t see it personally,’ he replied. ‘It was before my time, but I’ve spoken with our elders, and they told me that the wounding of the earth shook the very mountains around us. At first they thought that it was no more than an ordinary earthquake, but Holy UL spoke with the old Gorim and told him of what had happened at Korim. It was not long after that that the monsters attacked the people of Ulgo. The old Gorim was slain by an Eldrak - a fearsome creature.’
Aldur sighed. ‘Yes,’ he agreed. ‘My brothers and I erred when we made the Eldrakyn. I sorrow for the death of your Gorim.’ It was a polite thing to say, but I don’t think my Master had been any fonder of the previous Gorim than I’d been.
‘I didn’t know him, Divine One,’ the Ulgo admitted with a slight shrug. ‘Our elders have told me that the earth had not yet finished her trembling when the monsters fell on us. Even the Dryads turned savage. The people of Ulgo retreated to Prolgu, thinking that the monsters would fear the holy place, but it was not so. They pursued the people even there. Then it was that UL revealed the caverns to us.’
‘The caverns,’ Aldur mused. ‘Of course. Long have I wondered at the import of those caverns beneath Prolgu. Now it is clear to me. I have also wondered why I could not reach my father’s mind when Belgarath told me of his strange adventures in the mountains of Ulgo. I was misdirecting my thought if he is in the caverns with thy people. I marvel at his wisdom. Are the servants of UL safe in those caves?’
‘Completely, Divine One. Holy UL placed an enchantment upon the caves, and the monsters feared to follow us there. We have lived in those caverns since the earth was wounded.’