‘No, I don’t think so. I don’t need help, and I definitely don’t need any interference.’ And with that he turned on his heel and walked off toward his tower with Beldin’s curses chasing after him.

‘I wonder what he’s up to,’ Belmakor mused.

‘Something foolish,’ Beldin replied sourly. ‘Belzedar’s not always the most rational of men, and he’s been absolutely obsessed with the Master’s Orb since he first laid eyes on it. Sometimes you’d almost think it was something of his own that Torak stole.’

‘You’ve noticed that too, I see,’ Belmakor said with a faint smile.

‘Noticed it? How could anyone miss it? What were you doing in Mallorea?’

‘I wanted to see what had happened to my people, actually.’

‘Well? What did?’

‘Torak didn’t do them any favors when he cracked the world.’

‘I don’t think he was trying to. What happened?’

‘I can’t be entirely positive. Melcena was an island kingdom off the east coast, and when Torak started rearranging the world’s geography, he managed to sink about half of those islands. That inconvenienced my people just a bit. Now they’re all jammed together in what little space they’ve got left. They appointed a committee to look into it.’

‘They did what?’

‘That’s the first thing a Melcene thinks of when a crisis of any kind crops up, old boy. It gives us a sense of accomplishment - and we can always blame the committee if things don’t work out.’

‘That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard in my life.’

‘Of course it is. We Melcenes are a ridiculous people. It’s part of our charm.’

‘What did the committee come up with?’ I asked him.

‘They studied the problem from all angles - for about ten years, actually - and then they filed their report to the government.’

‘And what were their findings?’ I asked.

‘The report was five hundred pages long, Belgarath. It’d take me all night to repeat it.’

‘Boil it down.’

‘Well, the gist of it was that the Melcene empire needed more land.’

‘It took them ten years to come up with that?’ Beldin demanded incredulously.

‘Melcenes are very thorough, old boy. They went on to suggest expansion to the mainland.’

‘Isn’t it already occupied?’ I asked him.

‘Well, yes, but all of the people along the east coast are of Dallish extraction anyway - until you get farther north into the lands of the Karands - so there’s a certain kinship. The emperor sent emissaries to our cousins in Rengel and Celanta to explore possible solutions to our predicament.’

‘When did the war start?’ Beldin asked bluntly.

‘Oh, there wasn’t any war, old boy. We Melcenes are far too civilized for that. The emperor’s emissaries simply pointed out to the petty kinglets the advantages of becoming a part of the Melcene empire - and the disadvantages of refusing.’

‘Threats, you mean?’ Beldin suggested.

‘I wouldn’t actually call them threats, dear boy. The emissaries were very polite, of course, but they did manage to convey the notion that the emperor would be terribly disappointed if he didn’t get what he wanted. The little kings got the point almost immediately. Anyway, after the Melcenes established footholds in Rengel and Celanta, they annexed Darshiva and Peldane. Gandahar’s giving them some trouble, though. The people in the jungles of Gandahar have domesticated the elephant, and elephant cavalry’s a little difficult to cope with. I’m sure they’ll work things out, though.’

‘Do you think they’ll expand into the lands of the Dals?’ I asked him.

Belmakor shook his head. ‘That wouldn’t be a good idea at all, Belgarath.’

‘Why? I’ve never heard that the Dals are a particularly warlike people.’

‘They aren’t, but no one in his right mind crosses the Dals. They’re scholars of the arcane, and they’ve discovered all sorts of things that could make life unpleasant for anybody who blundered into their territory. Have you ever heard of Urvon?’

‘He’s one of Torak’s disciples, isn’t he?’

‘Yes. He more or less controls the Grolims at Mal Yaska, and Ctuchik runs things in Cthol Mishrak. Anyway, a few years ago Urvon wanted a survey of the native people of Mallorea, so he sent his Grolims out to have a look. The ones he sent to Kell didn’t come back. They’re still wandering around in the shadow of that huge mountain down there - blind and crazy. Of course, you can’t always tell if a Grolim’s crazy; they aren’t too rational to begin with.’

Beldin barked that ugly laugh of his. ‘You can say that again, brother.’

‘What are the Dals at Kell up to?’ I asked curiously.

‘All sorts of things - wizardry, necromancy, divining, astrology.’

‘Don’t tell me that they’re still into that tired old nonsense.’

‘I’m not entirely positive that it is nonsense, old boy. Astrology’s the province of the Seers, and they’re more or less at the top of the social structure at Kell. Kell’s been there forever, and it doesn’t really have what you could call a government. They all just do what the Seers tell them to do.’

‘Have you ever met one of these Seers?’ Beldin asked.

‘One - a young woman with a bandage over her eyes.’

‘How could she read the stars if she’s blind?’

‘I didn’t say that she was blind, old boy. Evidently she only takes the bandage off when she wants to read the Book of the Heavens. She was a strange girl, but the Dals all listened to her - not that what she said made much sense to me.’

‘That’s usually the case with people who pretend to be able to see the future,’ Beldin noted. ‘Talking in riddles is a very good way to keep from being exposed as a fraud.’

‘I don’t think they’re frauds, Beldin,’ Belmakor disagreed. ‘The Dals tell me that no Seer has ever been wrong about what’s going to happen. The Seers think in terms of Ages. The Second Age began when Torak broke the world apart.’

‘It was a sort of memorable event,’ I said. ‘The Alorns started their calendar that day. I think we’re currently in the year one hundred and thirty-eight-or so.’

‘Foolishness!’ Beldin snorted.

‘It gives them something to think about beside picking fights with their neighbors.’

The she-wolf came loping across the meadow. ‘One wonders when you are coming home,’ she said to me pointedly.

‘She’s almost as bad as a wife, isn’t she?’ Beldin observed.

She bared her fangs at him. I could never really be sure just how much she understood of what we were saying.

‘Are you going back to Mallorea?’ I asked Belmakor.

‘I don’t think so, old boy. I think I’ll look in on the Marags instead. I rather like the Marags.’

‘Well, I am going back to Mallorea,’ Beldin said. ‘I still want to find out who Torak’s third disciple is, and I’d like to keep an eye on Belzedar - if I can keep up with him. Every time I turn around, he’s given me the slip.’ He looked at me. ‘What are you going to do?’

‘Right now I’m going home - before my friend here sinks her fangs into my leg and drags me there.’

‘I meant it more generally, Belgarath.’

‘I’m not entirely sure. I think I’ll stay around here for a while - until the Master thinks of something else for me to do.’

‘Well,’ the wolf said to me, ‘are you coming home or not?’

‘Yes, dear,’ I sighed, rolling my eyes upward.

It was lonely in the Vale after Belsambar left us. Beldin and Belzedar were off in Mallorea, and Belmakor was down in Maragor, entertaining Marag women, I’m sure. That left only the twins and me to stay with our Master. There was a sort of unspoken agreement among us that the twins would always stay close to Aldur. That particular custom had started right after Torak stole our Master’s Orb. I moved around quite a bit during the next several centuries, however. There were still marriages to arrange - and an occasional murder.

Does that shock you? It shouldn’t. I’ve never made any pretense at being a saint, and there were people out there in the world who were inconvenient. I didn’t tell the Master what I was doing - but he didn’t ask, either. I’m not going to waste my time - or yours - coming up with lame excuses. I was driven by Necessity, so I did what was necessary.

The years rolled on. I would have passed my three thousandth birthday without even noticing it if my companion hadn’t brought it to my attention. For some reason she always remembered my birthday, and that was very odd. Wolves watch the seasons, not the years, but she never once forgot that day that no longer had any real meaning for me.

I stumbled rather bleary-eyed from my bed that morning. The twins and I had been celebrating something or other the night before. She sat watching me with that silly tongue of hers lolling out. Being laughed at is not a good way to start out the day. ‘You smell bad,’ she noted.


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