It was a warm, sunny morning in late summer, and it seemed to me that there were an unusual number of birds flying around as I walked through the tall grass toward the tree.

There were even more of them about when I got there. The air around the tree was alive with them - and it wasn’t just one variety. There were robins and bluebirds and sparrows and finches and larks, and the sound of all that chirping and singing was almost deafening.

Polgara was lounging in the fork of a huge branch about twenty feet up with birds all around her, and she watched my approach with cold, unfriendly eyes. ‘What is it, father?’ She demanded when I reached the foot of the tree.

‘Don’t you think this has gone on long enough?’ I asked her.

‘This what?’

‘You’re being childish, Pol.’

‘I’m entitled to be childish. I’m only thirteen. We’ll have a lot more fun when I grow up.’

‘You’re breaking Beldaran’s heart with this foolishness, you know. She misses you very much.’

‘She’s stronger than she looks. She can endure almost as much as I can.’ She absently shooed a warbling lark off her shoulder. The birds around her were singing their hearts out in a kind of ecstatic adoration.

I decided to try another tack. ‘You’re missing a splendid opportunity, Pol,’ I told her.

‘Oh?’

‘I’m sure you’ve spent the summer composing new speeches. You can’t very well try them out on me when you’re perched on a limb sharpening your beak.’

‘We’ll get to that later, father. Right now the sight of you makes me nauseous. Give me a few dozen years to get used to you.’ She smiled at me, a smile with all the warmth of an iceberg. ‘Then we’ll talk. I have many, many things to say to you. Now go away.’

To this day I don’t know how she did it. I didn’t hear or feel a thing, but the sounds those thousands of birds were making suddenly became angry, threatening, and they descended on me like a cloud, stabbing at me with their beaks and flogging me with their wings. I tried to beat them off with my hands, but you can’t really drive off that many birds. About all the song-birds could do was peck at me and pull out tufts of my hair and beard, but the hawks were a whole different matter. I left in a hurry with Polgara’s mocking laughter following me.

I was more than a little grumpy when I reached Beldin’s tower. ‘How far has she gone?’ I demanded of him.

‘How far has who gone with what?’

‘Polgara. Just how much is she capable of?’

‘How should I know? She’s a female, Belgarath. They don’t think the way we do, so they do things differently. What did she do to you?’

‘She turned every bird in the Vale loose on me.’

‘You do look a bit mussed. What did you do to irritate her so much?’

‘I went down to the tree and told her to come home.’

‘I take it she refused the invitation?’

‘And then some. How long has she been doing this sort of thing?’

‘Oh, I don’t know - a couple of years, I guess. That’d be consistent.’

‘I didn’t follow that.’

He gave me a surprised look. ‘Do you mean you don’t know? Haven’t you ever been the least bit curious about the nature of our gift?’

‘I had other things on my mind.’

He rolled his eyes upward. ‘Have you ever seen a child who could do the sort of things we do?’

‘I hadn’t thought about it, but now that you mention it -’

‘How’ve you managed to live this long with your head turned off? The talent doesn’t show up until we reach a certain age. Usually girls pick it up a little sooner than boys.’

‘Oh?’

‘It’s related to puberty, you dunce!’

‘What’s puberty got to do with it?’

He shrugged. ‘Who knows? Maybe the gift is glandular.’

‘That doesn’t make any sense, Beldin. What have glands got to do with the Will and the Word?’

‘Maybe it’s a built-in safety precaution. A gifted two-year old might be a little dangerous. The gift has to be controlled, and that implies a certain maturity. You should be glad that it works that way. Polgara’s not very fond of you, and if she’d had the gift when she was a toddler, she might have turned you into a toad.’

I started to swear.

‘What’s the trouble?’

‘I’m going to have to get her down out of that tree. She’s going to need training.’

‘Leave her alone. She’s not going to hurt herself. The twins and I explained the limitations to her. She isn’t experimenting. About all she does is talk to birds.’

‘Yes. I noticed that.’

‘You might think about rolling around in the creek before you go home.’

‘Why would I want to do that?’

‘You’ve got bird droppings all over you, and Beldaran might find you just a bit offensive.’

The Master paid me a visit that night, and he gave me some very peculiar instructions. He seemed to think they were important, but they didn’t make very much sense to me.

As Poledra had pointed out, I’m not really very good with tools, and the task my Master set me involved some very tiny, meticulous work. Fortunately, I had a fair number of Tolnedran silver imperials in my purse, so I didn’t have to go up into the mountains in search of ore deposits. Free gold isn’t too hard to find, but refining silver is a lot of work.

The sculpture itself wasn’t too hard - once I got used to using those tiny little tools - but making the chains was very tedious.

It was autumn by the time I finished, and then one evening I completed the last clasp. ‘Beldaran,’ I called my blonde daughter.

‘Yes, father?’ she replied, looking up from her sewing. I’d taught her to read, of course, but she preferred sewing.

‘I have something for you.’

She came over eagerly. ‘What is it?’

‘Here.’ I held out the silver amulet I’d made for her.

‘Oh, father! It’s lovely!’

‘Try it on.’

She draped it around her neck, fastened the clasp, and flew to the mirror. ‘Oh,’ she said, ‘that’s exquisite!’ She peered at the reflection a little more closely. ‘It’s Polgara’s tree, isn’t it?’

‘That’s what it’s supposed to be.’

‘It means something, doesn’t it?’

‘Probably. I’m not sure exactly what, though. The Master told me to make them, but he didn’t bother to explain.’

‘Shouldn’t this one be for Pol? It’s her tree, after all.’

‘The tree was there a long time before Polgara was, Beldaran.’ I held up another of the amulets. ‘This one’s hers.’

She looked at it. ‘An owl? What a peculiar thing to give to Pol.’

‘It wasn’t my idea.’ I’d suffered a great deal sculpting that owl. It raised a lot of memories.

Yes, Durnik, I know I could have cast them, but the Master told me to sculpt them instead.

I knew what my amulet meant, and it was easy. I’d taken the form of a wolf so often that I could have carved that one with my eyes closed. I put it on, sighed, and snapped the clasp.

‘Ah - father?’ Beldaran said, her hands at the back of her neck.

‘Yes, dear?’

‘Something’s wrong with the clasp. It won’t come undone.’

‘It isn’t supposed to, Beldaran. You’re not supposed to take it off.’

‘Not ever?’

‘Not ever. The Master wants us to wear them always.’

‘That might be a little awkward sometimes.’

‘Oh, I think we can manage. We’re a family, Beldaran. The amulets are supposed to remind us of that - among other things.’

‘Does Polgara’s amulet lock, too?’

‘I hope so. I built it to lock.’

She giggled.

‘What’s so funny?’

‘I don’t think she’s going to like that, father. If you lock something around her neck, she’s probably going to be very unhappy about it.’

I winked at her. ‘Maybe we’d better wait to tell her until after she’s got it locked in place, then.’

‘Why don’t we?’ she said, rolling her eyes roguishly. Then she giggled again, threw her arms around my neck, and kissed me.

Beldaran and I went down to the tree the next morning to give Polgara her amulet.

‘What am I supposed to do with this?’ she demanded.

‘You’re supposed to wear it,’ I told her.

‘Why?’

I was getting a little tired of this. ‘It’s not my idea, Pol,’ I told her. ‘I made the amulets because Aldur told me to make them. Now put it on and stop all this foolishness. It’s time for us all to grow up.’

She gave me a peculiar look and fastened her amulet about her neck.

‘And now we are three,’ Beldaran said warmly.

‘Amazing,’ Polgara said tartly. ‘You do know how to count.’

‘Don’t be nasty,’ Beldaran told her. ‘I know that you’re more clever than I am, Polgara. You don’t have to hit me over the head with it. Now come back home where you belong.’


Tags: David Eddings Books Science Fiction Books
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