‘Your brother’s curse reaches very far, Master,’ Belsambar said somberly. ‘Even the pious people of Ulgo have felt its sting.’
Aldur’s face grew stern. ‘It is even as thou hast said, my son,’ he agreed. ‘My brother Torak hath much to answer for.’
‘And his people as well, Master,’ Belsambar added. ‘All of Angarak shares his guilt.’
I wish I’d paid closer attention to what Belsambar was saying, and to that lost look in his eyes. It was too easy to shrug off Belsambar’s moods. He was a thoroughgoing mystic, and they’re always a little strange.
‘My Gorim has commanded me to advise thee of what has come to pass in Holy Ulgo,’ our visitor continued. ‘He asked me to entreat thee to convey this news to thy brethren. Holy Ulgo is no longer safe for mankind. The monsters rage through the mountains and forests, slaying and devouring all who come into their sight. The people of Ulgo no longer venture to the surface, but remain in our caverns where we are safe.’
‘That’s why the light hurts your eyes, isn’t it?’ I asked him. ‘You were born and reared in almost total darkness.’
‘It is even as you say, Ancient Belgarath,’ he replied. That was the first time anybody ever called me that. I found it just slightly offensive. I wasn’t really all that old - was I?
‘Thus have I completed the task laid upon me by my Gorim,’ the Ulgo said to my Master. ‘Now I beg thy permission to return to the caves of my people, for truly, the light of this upper world is agony to me. Mine eyes, like twin knives, do stab into my very brain.’ He was a poetic rascal; I’ll give him that.
‘Abide yet a time,’ Aldur told him. ‘Night will soon descend, and then mayest thou begin thy journey in what to us would be darkness, but which to thee will be only a more gentle light.’
‘I shall be guided by thee, Divine One,’ the Ulgo agreed.
We fed him - that’s to say that the twins fed him. Beltira and Belkira have an obsessive compulsion to feed things.
Anyway, our Ulgo left after the sun went down, and he was a half-hour gone before I realized that he hadn’t even told us his name.
Belsambar and I said goodnight to the Master, and I walked my Angarak brother back to his tower in the gathering twilight. ‘It goes on and on, Belgarath,’ he said to me in a melancholy voice.
‘The corruption of the world. It’ll never be the same as it was before.’
‘It never has been, Belsambar. The world changes every day. Somebody dies every night, and somebody’s born every morning. It’s always been that way.’
‘Those are natural changes, Belgarath. What’s happening now is evil, not natural.’
‘I think you’re exaggerating, brother. We’ve hit bad stretches before. The onset of winter isn’t all that pleasant when you get right down to it, but spring comes back eventually.’
‘I don’t think it will this time. This particular winter’s just going to get worse as the years roll by.’ A mystic will turn anything into a metaphor. Metaphors are useful sometimes, but they can be carried too far.
‘Winter always passes, Belsambar,’ I told him. ‘If we weren’t sure of that, there wouldn’t really be much point to going on with life, would there?’
‘Is there a point to it, Belgarath?’
‘Yes, there is. Curiosity, if nothing else. Don’t you want to see what’s going to happen tomorrow?’
‘Why? It’s just going to be worse.’ He sighed. ‘This has been going on for a long time, Belgarath. The universe broke apart when that star exploded, and now Torak’s broken the world apart. The monsters of Ulgoland have been maddened, but I think mankind’s been maddened too. Once, a long time ago, we Angaraks were like other people. Torak corrupted us when he gave the Grolims sway over us. The Grolims made us proud and cruel. Then Torak himself was corrupted by his unholy lust for our Master’s Orb.’
‘He found out that was a mistake, though.’
‘But it didn’t change him. He still hungers for dominion over the Orb, even though it maimed him. His hunger brought war into the world, and war corrupted all of the rest of us. You saw me when I first came to the Vale. Could you have believed then that I’d be capable of burning people alive?’
‘We had a problem, Belsambar. We were all looking for solutions.’
‘But I was the one who rained fire on the Angaraks. You wouldn’t have; not even Beldin would have; but I did. And when we started burning my kinsmen, Torak went mad. He wouldn’t have broken the world and drowned all those people if I hadn’t driven him to it.’
‘We all did things he didn’t like, Belsambar. You can’t take all the credit.’
‘You’re missing my point, Belgarath. We were all corrupted by events. The world turned cruel, and that made us cruel as well. The world’s no longer fair. It’s no more than a rotten, wormy husk of what it once was. Eternal night is coming, and nothing we can do will hold it back.’
We’d reached the foot of his tower. I put my hand on his shoulder. ‘Go to bed, Belsambar,’ I told him. ‘Things won’t look so bad in the morning when the sun comes up.’
He gave me a faint, melancholy smile. ‘If it comes up.’ Then he embraced me. ‘Good bye, Belgarath,’ he said.
‘Don’t you mean goodnight?’
‘Perhaps.’ Then he turned and went into his tower.
It was just after midnight when I was awakened by a thunderous detonation and a great flash of intense light. I leaped from my bed and dashed to the window, and stared in total disbelief at the ruins of Belsambar’s tower. It was no more than a stump now, and a great column of seething fire was spouting upward from it. The noise and that fire were bad enough, but I also felt a great vacancy as if something had been wrenched out of my very soul. I knew what it was. I no longer had the sense of Belsambar’s presence.
I really can’t say how long I stood frozen at that window staring at the horror that had just occurred.
‘Belgarath! Get down here!’ It was Beldin. I could clearly see him standing at the foot of my tower.
‘What happened?’ I shouted down to him.
‘I told you to keep an eye on Belsambar! He just willed himself out of existence! He’s gone, Belgarath! Belsambar’s gone!’
The world seemed to come crashing down around me. Belsambar had been a little strange, but he was still my brother. Ordinary people who live ordinary lives can’t begin to understand just how deeply you can become involved with another person over the course of thousands of years. In a peculiar sort of way, Belsambar’s self-obliteration maimed me. I think I’d have preferred to lose an arm or a leg rather than my mystic Angarak brother, and I know that my other brothers felt much the same. Beldin wept for days, and the twins were absolutely inconsolable.
That sense of vacancy that had come over me when Belsambar ended his life echoed all across the world. Even Belzedar and Belmakor, who were both in Mallorea when it happened, felt it, and they came soaring in a week or so afterward, although I’m not sure what they thought they could do. Belsambar was gone, and there was no way we could bring him back.
We comforted our Master as best we could, although there wasn’t really anything we could do to lessen his suffering and sorrow.
You wouldn’t have thought it to look at him, but Beldin did have a certain sense of delicacy. He waited until he got Belzedar outside the Master’s tower before he started to berate him for his behavior in Mallorea. Belmakor and I happened to be present at the time, and we were both enormously impressed by our distorted brother’s eloquence. ‘Irresponsible’ was perhaps the kindest word he used. It all went downhill from there.
Belzedar mutely accepted his abuse, which wasn’t really at all like him. For some reason, the death of Belsambar seemed to have hit him harder even than it had the rest of us. This is not to say that we all didn’t grieve, but Belzedar’s grief seemed somehow excessive. With uncharacteristic humility, he apologized to Beldin - not that it did any good. Beldin was in full voice, and he wasn’t about to stop just because Belzedar admitted his faults. He eventually started repeating himself, and that was when Belmakor rather smoothly stepped in. ‘What have you been doing in Mallorea, old boy?’ he asked Belzedar.
Belzedar shrugged. ‘What else? I’ve been attempting to recover our Master’s Orb.’
‘Isn’t that just a little dangerous, dear chap? Torak’s still a God, you know, and if he catches you, he’ll have your liver for breakfast.’
‘I think I’ve come up with a way to get around him,’ Belzedar replied.
‘Don’t be an idiot,’ Beldin snapped. ‘The Master’s got enough grief already without your adding to it by getting yourself obliterated following some half-baked scheme.’
‘It’s thoroughly baked, Beldin,’ Belzedar replied coolly. ‘I’ve taken plenty of time to work out all the details. The plan will work, and it’s the only way we’ll ever be able to get the Orb back.’
‘Let’s hear it.’