I raised my candle and saw that the two cradles were gone. Evidently Beldin had transferred my wife and children to his tower. That was odd. Poledra had a very strong attachment to this tower. Why would Beldin have moved her? As I remembered, she didn’t particularly like his tower. It was a little too fanciful for her taste. Puzzled, I went back downstairs.

It was only about a five-minute walk to Beldin’s tower, and I didn’t really hurry. But my sense of anticipation was fading toward puzzlement.

‘Beldin!’ I shouted up to him. ‘It’s me. Open your door.’

There was quite a long pause, and then the rock that formed his door slid open.

I started on up the stairs. Now I did hurry.

When I reached the top of the stairs, I looked around. Beltira, Belkira, and Beldin were there, but Poledra wasn’t. ‘Where’s my wife?’ I asked.

‘Don’t you want to meet your daughters?’ Beltira asked me.

‘Daughters? More than one?’

‘That’s why we made two cradles, brother,’ Belkira said. ‘You’re the father of twins.’

Beldin reached into one of the cradles and gently lifted out a baby. ‘This is Polgara,’ he introduced her. ‘She’s your eldest.’ He handed me the blanket-wrapped baby. I turned back the corner of the blanket and looked into Pol’s eyes for the very first time. Pol and I didn’t get off to a very good start. Those of you who know her know that my daughter’s eyes change color, depending on her mood. They were steel-grey when I first looked into them, and as hard as agates. I got the distinct impression that she didn’t care much for me. Her hair was very dark, and she seemed not to have the characteristic chubbiness babies are supposed to have. Her face was expressionless, but those steely eyes of hers spoke volumes. Then I did something that had been a custom back in the village of Gara. Pol was my first-born, whether she liked me or not, so I laid my hand on her head in benediction.

I felt a sudden jolt in that hand, and I jerked it back with a startled oath. It’s a bit unfortunate that the first word Polgara heard coming from my mouth was a curse. I stared at this grim-faced baby girl. A single lock at her brow had turned snowy white at my touch.

‘What a wonder!’ Beltira gasped.

‘Not really,’ Beldin disagreed. ‘She’s his first-born, and he just marked her. Unless I miss my guess, she’s going to grow up to be a sorcerer.’

‘Sorceress,’ Belkira corrected.

‘What?’

‘A sorcerer is a man. She’s a girl, so the right word would be sorceress.’

Sorceress or not, my first-born was wet, so I put her back in her cradle.

My younger daughter was the most beautiful baby I’ve ever seen - and that’s not just fatherly pride. Everybody who saw her said exactly the same thing. She smiled at me as I took her from Beldin, and with that one sunny little smile, she reached directly into my heart and claimed me.

‘You still haven’t answered my question, Beldin,’ I said, cuddling Beldaran in my arms. ‘Where’s Poledra?’

‘Why don’t you sit down and have a drink, Belgarath?’ He went quickly to an open barrel and dipped me out a tankard of ale.

I sat down at the table with Beldaran on my knee. I probably shouldn’t mention it, but she wasn’t wet. I took a long drink, a little puzzled by the evasiveness of my brothers. ‘Quit playing around, Beldin,’ I said, wiping the foam off my lips. ‘Where’s my wife?’

Beltira came to me and took Beldaran.

I looked at Beldin and saw two great tears in his eyes. ‘I’m afraid we’ve lost her, Belgarath,’ he told me in a sorrowing voice. ‘She had a very hard labor. We did everything we could, but she slipped away.’

‘What are you talking about?’

‘She died, Belgarath. I’m sorry, but Poledra’s dead.’

PART THREE

The Time of Woe

Chapter 18

I won’t be able to give you a coherent account of the next several months, because I don’t really remember them. I had a few rational interludes, but they jump out at me with stark clarity, totally disconnected from what happened before or after. I try very hard to suppress those memories, since disinterring a period of madness isn’t a particularly pleasant way to pass the time.

If Aldur hadn’t left us, things might have been easier for me, but Necessity had taken him from me at the worst possible time. So it seemed to me that I was alone with only my unbearable grief for company. There’s no real point in beating this into the ground. I know now that what happened was necessary. Why don’t we just let it go at that?

I seem to remember long periods of being chained to my bed with Beldin and the twins taking turns watching over me and ruthlessly crushing every attempt I made to gather my Will. They were not going to let me follow the examples set by Belsambar and Belmakor. Then, after my suicidal impulses had lessened to some degree, they unchained me - not that it particularly meant anything. I seem to remember sitting and staring at the floor for days on end with no real awareness of the passage of time.

Since the presence of Beldaran seemed to calm me, my brothers frequently brought her to my tower and even allowed me to hold her. I think it was probably Beldaran who finally brought me back from the brink of total madness. How I loved that baby girl!

Beldin and the twins did not bring Polgara to me, however. Those icy grey eyes of hers cut large holes in my soul, and Polgara’s eyes would turn from deep blue to steel grey at the very mention of my name. There was no hint of forgiveness in Pol’s nature whatsoever.

Beldin had shrewdly watched my slow ascent from the pit of madness, and I think it was late summer or early autumn when he finally broached a subject of some delicacy. ‘Did you want to see the grave?’ he asked me. ‘I hear that sometimes people do.’

I understand the theory, of course. A grave’s a place to visit and to decorate with flowers. It’s supposed to help the bereaved put things into perspective. Maybe it works that way for some people, but it didn’t for me. Just the word brought my sense of loss crashing down around my ears all over again.

When I crept back toward sanity once more, it was midwinter and I was chained to the bed again.

I knew that setting all this down was going to be a mistake.

I more or less returned to sanity again by the time winter was winding down, and after the twins had questioned me rather closely, they unchained me and let me move around. Beldin never mentioned that ‘grave’ again.

I took to walking vigorously through the slushy snow that covered the Vale. I walked fast because I wanted to be exhausted by nightfall. I made sure that I was too tired to dream. The only trouble with that plan lay in the fact that everything in the Vale aroused memories of Poledra. Have you any idea how many snowy owls there are in this world?

I think I probably came to a decision during that soggy tail-end of winter. I wasn’t fully aware of it, but it was there all the same.

In furtherance of that decision, I began to put my affairs in order. On one raw, blustery evening I went to Beldin’s tower to look in on my daughters. They were just over a year old by then, so they were walking - sort of. Beldin had prudently gated the top of his stairs to prevent accidents. Beldaran had discovered how much fun it was to run, although she fell down a lot. For some reason that struck her as hilarious, and she’d always squeal with delighted laughter when it happened.

Polgara, of course, never laughed. She still doesn’t very often. Sometimes I think Polgara takes life a little too seriously.

Beldaran ran to me with her arms outstretched, and I swept her up and kissed her.

Polgara wouldn’t even look at me, but concentrated instead on one of her toys, a curiously gnarled and twisted stick - or perhaps it was the root of some tree or bush. My eldest daughter was frowning as she turned it over and over in her little hands.

‘I’m sorry about that,’ Beldin apologized when he saw me looking at the peculiar toy. ‘Pol’s got a very penetrating voice, and she doesn’t bother to cry when she’s unhappy about something. She screams instead. I had to give her something to keep her mind occupied.’

‘A stick?’ I asked.

‘She’s been working on it for six months now. Every time she starts screaming, I give it to her, and it shuts her up immediately.’

‘A stick?’

He threw a quick look at Polgara and then leaned toward me to whisper, ‘It’s only got one end. She still hasn’t figured that out. She keeps trying to find the other end. The twins think I’m being cruel, but at least now I can get some sleep.’

I kissed Beldaran again, set her down, went over to Polgara, and picked her up. She stiffened up immediately and started trying to wriggle out of my hands. ‘Stop that,’ I told her. ‘You may not care much for the idea, Pol, but I’m your father, and you’re stuck with me.’ Then I quite deliberately kissed her. Those steely eyes softened for just a moment, and they were suddenly the deepest blue I’ve ever seen. Then they flashed back to grey, and she hit me on the side of the head with her stick. ‘Spirited, isn’t she?’ I observed to Beldin. Then I set her down, turned her around, and gave her a little spank on the bottom. ‘Mind your manners, Miss,’ I told her.

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