‘When will you be leaving?’

I cast a spuriously inquiring look at Cherek. ‘Tomorrow morning?’ I asked him.

He shrugged, overdoing it a bit. ‘Might as well,’ he agreed. ‘The weather in those mountains isn’t going to get any better. If we’re going to have to wade through snow, we’d better get to wading.’

‘Stay under the trees,’ Poledra advised. ‘The snow isn’t as deep in thick woods.’ If she did know, she was taking it very calmly.

‘We’d better get some sleep,’ I said, standing up abruptly. I didn’t need any more lies to try to talk my way around.

Poledra was very quiet in our bed that night. She clung to me fiercely, however, and along toward morning she said, ‘Be very careful. The young and I will be waiting when you come back.’ Then she said something she rarely ever said, probably because she felt it was unnecessary to say it. ‘I love you,’ she told me. Then she kissed me, rolled over, and immediately went to sleep.

The Alorns and I left early the next morning, ostentatiously going off toward the south and Maragor. When we were about five miles south of my tower, however, we circled back, staying well out of sight, and proceeded on toward the northeast.

Chapter 12

This all happened about three thousand years ago; long before the Algars and the Melcenes had begun their breeding experiments with domestic animals, so what passed for horses in those days were hardly more than ponies - which wouldn’t have worked out very well for a group of seven-foot-tall Alorns. So we walked. That’s to say they walked; I ran. After trying to keep up with them for a couple of days, I called a halt. ‘This isn’t working,’ I told them. ‘I’m going to do something, and I don’t want you getting excited about it.’

‘What have you got in mind, Belgarath?’ Dras rumbled at me a little nervously. I had quite a reputation in Aloria back then, and the Alorns had exaggerated notions about the kinds of things I could do.

‘If I’m going to have to run just to keep up, I’m going to run on all four feet.’

‘You don’t have four feet,’ he objected.

‘I’m going to fix that right now. After I do, I won’t be able to talk to you - at least not in a language you’ll understand - so if you’ve got any questions, ask them now.’

‘Our friend here is the most powerful sorcerer in the world,’ Cherek Bear-shoulders told his sons sententiously. ‘There’s absolutely nothing he can’t do.’ I think he really believed that.

‘No questions?’ I asked, looking around at them. ‘All right then,’ I said, ‘now it’s your turn to try to keep up.’ I formed the image in my mind and slipped myself into the familiar form of the wolf. I’d done it often enough before that it was almost automatic by now.

‘Belar!’ Dras swore, jumping back from me.

Then I ran off a hundred yards toward the northeast, stopped, turned, and sat down on my haunches to wait for them. Even Alorns could understand the meaning of that.

The priest of Belar who wrote the early sections of the BOOK OF ALORN was quite obviously playing fast and loose with the truth when he described our journey. He was either drunk when he wrote it, or he didn’t have the facts straight. Then again, he may have thought that what really happened was too prosaic for a writer of his vast talent. He declares that Dras, Algar, and Riva were waiting for us a thousand leagues to the north, which simply wasn’t true. He then announces that my hair and beard were turned white by the frost of that bitter winter, which was also a lie. My hair and beard had turned white long before that - largely because of my association with the children of the Bear-God.

I was still not too happy about this trip, and I placed the blame for it squarely on the shoulders of my traveling-companions. I ran those four to the verge of exhaustion day after day. I’d resume my own form every evening, and I usually had enough time to get a fire going and supper started before they came wheezing and staggering into camp. ‘We’re in a hurry,’ I’d remind them somewhat maliciously. ‘We’ve got a long way to go to reach this bridge of yours, and we want to get there before the ice starts to break up, don’t we?’

We continued in a northeasterly direction across the snow-covered plains of what’s now Algaria until we hit the eastern escarpment. I had no intention of climbing that mile-high cliff, so I turned slightly and led my puffing companions due north onto the moors of present-day eastern Drasnia. Then we cut across the mountains to that vast emptiness where the Morindim live.

My spiteful efforts to run Cherek and his sons into the ground every day accomplished two things. We reached Morindland in less than a month, and my Alorn friends were in peak condition when we got there. You try running as fast as you can all day every day for a month and see what it does to you. Assuming that you don’t collapse and die in the first day or so, you’ll be in very good shape before the month is out. If there was any fat left on my friends by the time we’d reached Morindland, it was under their fingernails. As it turned out, that was very useful.

When we came down out of the north range of mountains that marks the southern boundaries of Morindland, I resumed my own form and called a halt. It was the dead of winter, and the vast arctic plain where the Morindim lived was covered with snow and darkness. The long northern night had set in, although as luck had it, we’d reached Morindland early enough in the lunar month that a half-moon hung low over the southern horizon, providing sufficient light to make travel possible - unpleasant, but possible. ‘I don’t know that we need to go out there,’ I told my fur-clad friends, gesturing at the frozen plain. ‘There’s not much point in holding extended conversations with every band of Morindim we come across, is there?’

‘Not really,’ Cherek agreed, making a face. ‘I don’t care that much for the Morindim. They spend weeks talking about their dreams, and we don’t really have time for that.’

‘When Algar and I were coming back from the land bridge, we stuck to these foothills,’ Riva told us. ‘The Morindim don’t like hills, so we didn’t see very many of them.’

‘That’s probably the best way to do it,’ I agreed. ‘I could deal with an occasional band of them if I had to, but it’d just be a waste of time. Do you know how to make curse-markers? And dream-markers?’

Iron-grip nodded gravely. ‘A combination of those two would sort of make them keep their distance, wouldn’t it?’

‘I don’t understand,’ Dras rumbled with a puzzled look.

‘You would if you’d come out of the taverns in Val Alorn once in a while,’ Algar suggested to him.

‘I’m the eldest,’ Bull-neck replied a bit defensively. ‘I have responsibilities.’

‘Of course you do,’ Riva said sardonically. ‘Let’s see if I can explain it. The Morindim live in a different kind of world - and I’m not just talking about all this snow. Dreams are more important to them than the real world, and curses are very significant. Belgarath just suggested that we carry a dream-marker to let the Morindim know that we’re obeying a command that came to us in a dream. We’ll also carry a curse-marker that’ll tell them that anybody who interferes with us will have to deal with our demon.’

‘There’s no such thing as a demon,’ Dras scoffed.

‘Don’t get your mind set in stone on that, Dras,’ I warned him.

‘Have you ever seen one?’

‘I’ve raised them, Dras. Aldur sent me up here to learn what I could about these people. I apprenticed myself to one of their magicians and learned all the tricks. Riva’s got it fairly close. If we carry dream-markers and curse-markers, the Morindim will avoid us.’

‘Pestilence-markers?’ Algar suggested. Algar never used more words than he absolutely had to. I’ve never fully understood what he was saving them for.

I considered it. ‘No,’ I decided. ‘Sometimes the Morindim feel that the best way to deal with pestilence is to stand off and shoot the infected people full of arrows.’

‘Inconvenient,’ Algar murmured.

‘We won’t encounter very many Morindim this far south anyway,’ I told them, ‘and the markers should make them keep their distance.’

As it turned out, I was wrong on that score. Riva and I fashioned the markers, and we set out toward the east, staying well up in the foothills. We hadn’t traveled for more than two days - nights, actually, since that was when the moon was out - when suddenly there were Morindim all around us. The markers kept them away, but it was only a matter of time until some magician would come along to take up the challenge.

I didn’t sleep very much during the course of our journey along those foothills. The north range is riddled with caves, and I’d hide the Alorns in one of them and then go out to scout around. I very nearly froze my paws off. Lord! it was cold up there!

It wasn’t too long until I started coming across counter-markers. For every curse, there’s a counter-curse, and the presence of those counter-markers told me louder than words that magicians were starting to converge on us. This was puzzling, because Morind magicians are all insanely jealous of each other and they almost never cooperate. Since the magicians control all aspects of the lives of their assorted clans, a gathering such as we were seeing was a virtual impossibility.

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