‘I’d appreciate it. I think it’s time I got cleaned up. I don’t really have any reason to be dirty any more, do I?’
Somehow that one escaped me.
‘Why don’t you go out and buy me a decent dress, father?’ she suggested then.
‘Of course, Pol. Anything else?’
‘A comb and brush, perhaps.’ She took hold of one tangled lock, pulled it forward, and looked at it critically. ‘I suppose I really ought to do something about my hair, too.’
‘I’ll see what I can find. Would you like a ribbon as well?’
‘Don’t be ridiculous, father. I’m not a maypole. I don’t need decorations. Go talk to the innkeeper. I really want to take a bath. Oh, incidentally, just a plain dress. This is Beldaran’s party, not mine. I’ll be in my room.’ And she went off down the hallway.
I located the bathhouse for her, and then I went looking for Anrak. I found him and Beldin in the taproom on the main floor of the inn. ‘Go find me a dressmaker,’ I told him.
‘Polgara wants a new dress.’
‘What’s wrong with the one she’s got?’
‘Just do it, Anrak, don’t argue with me. Oh, she wants a comb and brush, too. The dressmaker should be able to tell you where to find them.’
He looked mournfully into his half-full tankard.
He sighed and went on out.
‘What’s this all about?’ Beldin asked me.
‘Polgara’s had a change of heart. She doesn’t want to look like an abandoned bird’s nest any more.’
‘What brought that on?’
‘I haven’t got any idea, and I’m not going to ask. If she wants to look like a girl instead of a haystack, that’s up to her.’
‘You’re in a peculiar humor.’
‘I know.’ Then I jumped into the air and crowed exultantly.
We were all stunned when Polgara came into the room the next morning. The plain dress she wore was blue, of course. Pol almost always wears blue. Her long, dark hair was pulled back rather severely and tied at the nape of her neck. Now that she was clean, we saw that her skin was very fair, much like her sister’s, and she was startlingly beautiful. It was her manner, however, that took us all by surprise. Even at sixteen, Pol was as regal as any queen.
Riva and Anrak both rose to their feet and bowed to her. Then Anrak sighed lustily.
‘What’s the matter?’ his cousin asked him.
‘I think I’ve made a mistake.’
‘There’s nothing new about that.’
‘I think I’m going to regret this one, though. I might have had a chance with Lady Polgara if I’d pressed the issue. The Vale’s pretty isolated, so she didn’t have any other suitors. I’m afraid it’s too late now, though. As soon as we get her to Riva, every young man on the Isle’s going to pay court to her.’
Pol gave him a warm look.
‘Why did you let her get away?’ Riva asked him.
‘You saw how she looked yesterday, didn’t you?’
‘No, not really. I had my mind on other things.’
Beldaran blushed. They’d both had their minds on other things.
‘Please don’t be offended, Lady Polgara,’ Anrak said to my eldest daughter.
‘Not at all, Anrak,’ she replied. She seemed quite taken with the idea of being called, ‘Lady Polgara.’ Just about everybody in the world calls her that now, but I think she still gets a warm glow every time she hears it.
‘Well,’ Anrak said, choosing his words carefully, ‘Lady Polgara was just a little indifferent to appearances when I first saw her. I think she’s a sorceress - like her father. Of course, he’s a sorcerer, not a sorceress, but you know what I mean. Anyway, all sorcerers are very deep, you know, and she’d probably been thinking about something for several million years, and -’
‘I’m only sixteen, Anrak,’ Pol corrected him gently.
‘Well, yes, I know, but time doesn’t mean the same thing to you people as it does to us. You can make time stop and start again any time you want, can’t you?’
‘Can we do that, father?’ she asked me with some curiosity.
‘I don’t know.’ I looked at Beldin. ‘Can we?’
‘Well, theoretically, I suppose,’ he replied. ‘Belmakor and I discussed the possibility once, but we decided that it wouldn’t be a good idea. You might get time all mixed up - one time in one place and a different time in another. It’d probably be very hard to get it all put back together right again, and you couldn’t just leave it that way.’
‘Because you’d be in two places at the same time.’
‘What’s wrong with that?’
‘It’d be a paradox, Belgarath. Belmakor and I weren’t sure what that might do to the universe - rip it to pieces, maybe, or just make it vanish.’
‘It wouldn’t do that.’
‘I wasn’t going to try it to find out.’
‘You see what I mean about how deep these people are?’ Anrak said to his cousin. ‘Anyway, the Lady Polgara had flown up into a tree, and she was doing sorceress things. I sort of suggested that I might consider marrying her - since her sister was going to marry you, and twins always like to do things together. She didn’t think too much of the idea, I guess, so I didn’t press the issue. To be honest about it, she wasn’t very tidy when I first saw her.’ He stopped, looking at Pol with a certain consternation.
‘I was in disguise, Anrak,’ she helped him out.
‘Really? Why was that?’
‘It was one of those sorceress things you mentioned.’
‘Oh, one of those. It was a very good disguise, Lady Polgara. You were an absolute mess.’
‘I wouldn’t push that too much further, Anrak,’ Beldaran advised. ‘Why don’t we have some breakfast and start packing instead? I really want to see my new home.’
We set sail later on that same day, and we arrived at Riva’s city two days afterward. His people were all down at the beach waiting for us - well, for Beldaran, actually. I don’t imagine that the Rivans were very interested in looking at Beldin and me, but they really wanted to get a look at their new queen. Riva hovered protectively over her. He didn’t want anybody admiring her too much.
I’m sure they got his point - at least where Beldaran was concerned. There were other things to be admired, however.
‘You’d better get yourself a club,’ Beldin muttered to me.
‘A club, Belgarath - a stout stick with a big end.’
‘What do I need with a club?’
‘Use your eyes, Belgarath. Take a long, hard look at Polgara, and then look at the faces of all those young Alorns standing on the beach. Believe me, you’re going to need a club.’
I didn’t, exactly, but I made a special point of not letting Pol out of my sight while we were on the Isle of the Winds. I suspect that I might have been more comfortable if Pol had held off on emerging from her cocoon for a while. I was proud of her, of course, but her altered appearance made me very nervous. She was young and inexperienced, and the young men on the Isle were obviously very much taken with her.
My strategy was quite simple. I sat in plain view and scowled. I was wearing one of those ridiculous white robes people are always trying to foist off on me, and I carried a long staff - much as I had in Arendia and Tolnedra. I had quite a reputation among Alorns, and those absurd trappings enhanced it and got my point across. The young Rivans were polite and attentive - which was fine. But they didn’t try to lure Polgara off into dark corners - which wouldn’t have been.
Pol, of course, was having the time of her life. She didn’t exactly encourage that crowd of suitors, but she smiled a great deal and even laughed now and then. It’s a cruel thing to suggest, but I suspect that she even enjoyed the fact that young Rivan girls frequently left the room where she was holding court so that they could go someplace private. Gnawing on your own liver isn’t the sort of thing you want to do in public.
We’d been in the Hall of the Rivan King for about a week when a fleet of Cherek war-boats sailed into the harbor. The other Alorn kings had arrived for Riva’s wedding.
It was good to see Cherek and his sons again, although we didn’t really have much chance to talk. Pol assured me that she could take care of herself, but I didn’t feel like taking chances.
Yes, Polgara, I was jealous. Aren’t fathers supposed to be jealous? I knew what those young men had on their minds, and I was not going to leave you alone with them.
A couple of days after Cherek and the boys had arrived, Beldin came looking for me. I was in my usual place wearing my usual scowl, and Polgara was busy breaking hearts. ‘I think you’d better have a talk with Bear-shoulders,’ he told me.
‘Riva’s wedding’s starting to give Dras and Algar some ideas.’
‘What kind of ideas?’
‘Grow up, Belgarath. Regardless of how Riva and Beldaran feel about each other, this is a political marriage.’