We had argued extensively about curtains, however. What is this thing women have about curtains? All they really do is get in the way. They don’t hold in any appreciable heat in the winter time, nor keep it out in the summer, and they get in the way when you want to look out. For some reason, though, women don’t feel that a room is complete without curtains.

She may have gone through that period of morning-sickness that afflicts most pregnant women, but if she did, she didn’t tell me about it. Poledra’s always up and about at first light, but I tend to be a late riser if I don’t have something important to attend to. Regardless of what my daughter may think, that’s not a symptom of laziness. It’s just that I like to talk, and evenings are the time for talk. I usually go to bed late and get up late. I don’t sleep any longer than Polgara does, it’s just that we keep different hours. At any rate, Poledra may or may not have endured that morning nausea, but she didn’t make an issue of it. She did develop those peculiar appetites, though. The first few times she asked for strange foods, I tore the Vale apart looking for them. Once I realized that she was only going to take a few bites, however, I started cheating. I wasn’t going to sprout wings and fly to the nearest ocean just because she had a sudden craving for oysters. A created oyster tastes almost the same as a real one, so she pretended not to notice my subterfuge.

Then, when she was about five months along, we got into the business of cradles. I was a little hurt by the fact that she asked the twins to make them instead of having me do it. I protested, but she bluntly told me, ‘You’re not good with tools.’ She put her hand on my favorite chair and shook it. I’ll concede that it wobbled a bit, but it hadn’t collapsed under me in the thousand or so years I’d been sitting in it. That’s sturdy enough, isn’t it?

The twins went all out in building those cradles. When you get right down to it, a cradle’s just a small bed with rockers on it. The ones the twins built, however, had elaborately curled rockers and intricately carved headboards.

‘Why two?’ I asked my wife after Beltira and Belkira had proudly delivered their handiwork to our tower.

‘It doesn’t hurt to be prepared for any eventuality,’ she replied. ‘It’s not uncommon for several young to be born at the same time.’ She laid one hand on her distended belly. ‘Soon I’ll be able to count the heartbeats. Then I’ll know if two cradles will be enough.’

I considered the implications of that and chose not to pursue the matter any further. There were some things I’d decided that I wouldn’t even think about, much less bring out into the open.

Poledra’s pregnancy may not have been remarkable to her, but it certainly was to me. I was so swollen up with pride that I was probably unbearable to be around. My Master accepted my boasting with fondly amused tolerance, and the twins were quite nearly as ecstatic as I was. Shepherds get all moony at lambing time, so I suppose their reaction was only natural. Beldin, however, soon reached the point where he couldn’t stand to be around me, and he went off to Tolnedra to keep watch over the second Honethite Dynasty. The Tolnedrans were establishing trade relations with the Arends and the Nyissans, and the Honeths have always been acquisitive. We definitely didn’t want them to start getting ideas about annexation. One war between the Gods had been quite enough, thank you.

Winter came early that year, and it seemed much more severe than usual. Trees were exploding in the cold in the far north, and the snow was piling up to incredible depths. Then on a bitterly cold day when the sky was spitting pellets of snow as hard as pebbles, four Alorns bundled to the ears in fur came down into the Vale. I was able to recognize them from a considerable distance because of their size.

‘Well met, Ancient Belgarath,’ Cherek Bear-shoulders greeted me when I went out to meet him and his sons. I wish people wouldn’t call me that.

‘You’re a long way from home, Cherek,’ I noted. ‘Is there some sort of problem?’

‘Just the opposite, Revered One,’ Dras Bull-neck rumbled at me. Dras was even bigger than his father, and his voice came up out of his boots. ‘My brothers have found a way to reach Mallorea.’

I looked quickly at Iron-grip and Fleet-foot. Riva was nearly as tall as Dras, but leaner. He had a fierce black beard and piercing blue eyes. Algar, the silent brother, was clean-shaven, and he had the rangy limbs of a coursing hound. ‘We were hunting,’ Riva explained. ‘There are white bears in the far north, and mother’s birthday is in the spring. Algar and I wanted to give her a white fur cape as a present. She’d like that, wouldn’t she?’ There was a strange, boyish innocence about Riva. It’s not that he was stupid or anything. It was just that he was eager to please and always enthusiastic. Sometimes he almost seemed to bubble.

Algar, of course, didn’t say anything. He almost never did. He was the most close-mouthed man I’ve ever known.

‘I’ve heard about those white bears,’ I said. ‘Isn’t hunting them just a little dangerous?’

Riva shrugged. ‘There were two of us,’ he said - as if that would make a difference to a fourteen-foot bear weighing almost a ton. ‘Anyway, the ice is very thick in the northern reaches of the Sea of the East this year. We’d wounded a bear, and he was trying to get away from us. We were chasing him, and that’s when we found the bridge.’

‘What bridge?’

‘The one that crosses over to Mallorea.’ He said it in the most off-hand way imaginable, as if the discovery of something the Alorns had been trying to find for two thousand years wasn’t really all that important.

‘I don’t suppose you’d care to give me a few details about this bridge?’ I suggested.

‘I was just getting to that. There’s a point that juts out to the east up in Morindland, and another that juts toward the west out of the lands of the Karands over in Mallorea. There’s a string of rocky little islets that connects the two. The bear had gotten away from us somehow. It was sort of foggy that day, and it’s very hard to see a white bear in the fog. Algar and I were curious, so we crossed the ice, following that string of islands. About mid-afternoon a breeze came up and blew off the fog. We looked up, and there was Mallorea. We decided not to go exploring, though. There’s no point in letting Torak know that we’ve discovered the bridge, is there? We turned around and came back. We ran across a tribe of Morindim and they told us that they’ve been using that bridge for centuries to visit the Karands. A Morind will give you anything he owns for a string of glass beads, and Karandese traders seem to know that. The Morinds will trade ivory walrus tusks and priceless sea-otter skins and the hides of those dangerous white bears for a string of beads you can buy in any country fair for a penny.’ His eyes narrowed. ‘I hate it when people cheat other people, don’t you?’ Riva definitely had opinions.

Bear-shoulders gave me a rueful smile. ‘We could have found out about this years ago if we’d taken the trouble to spend some time with the Morindim. We’ve been tearing the north apart for two thousand years trying to find some way to cross over to Mallorea and pick up the war with the Angaraks where we left off, and the Morindim knew the way all along. We’ve got to learn to pay more attention to our neighbors.’

As nearly as I can recall, that’s fairly close to the way the conversation went. Those of you who’ve read the BOOK OF ALORN will realize that the priest of Belar who wrote those early passages took a great deal of liberty with his material. It just goes to show you that you should never trust a priest to be entirely factual.

I gave Cherek Bear-shoulders a rather hard look. I could see where this was going. ‘This is all very interesting, Cherek, but why are you bringing it to me?’

‘We thought you’d like to know, Belgarath,’ he said with an ingeniously feigned look of innocence. Cherek was a very shrewd man, but he could be terribly transparent sometimes.

‘Don’t try to be coy with me, Cherek,’ I told him. ‘Exactly what have you got on your mind?’

‘It’s not really all that complicated, Belgarath. The boys and I thought we might drift on over to Mallorea and steal your Master’s Orb back from Torak One-eye.’ He said it as if he were proposing a stroll in the park. ‘Then we got to thinking that you might want to come along, so we decided to come down here and invite you.’

‘Absolutely out of the question,’ I snapped. ‘My wife’s going to have a baby, and I’m not going to leave her here alone.’

‘Congratulations,’ Algar murmured. It was the only word he spoke that whole afternoon.

‘Thank you,’ I replied. Then I turned back to his father, ‘All right, Cherek. We know that this bridge of yours is there. It’ll still be there next year. I might be willing to discuss this expedition of yours then - but not now.’

‘There might be a problem with that, Belgarath,’ he said seriously. ‘When my sons told me about what they’d found, I went to the priests of Belar and had them examine the auguries. This is the year to go. The ice up there won’t be as thick again for years and years. Then they cast my own auguries, and from what they say, this could be the most fortunate year in my whole life.’

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