‘Who’d want to go near a place like Cthol Mishrak?’

‘We did,’ Algar told him. ‘There was something there we wanted.’ He looked at me. ‘Has Beldin heard anything about where Zedar might be?’ he asked.

‘Not that he mentioned.’

‘I think maybe we ought to keep an eye out for him. We know that Urvon’s at Mal Yaska and Ctuchik’s at Rak Cthol. We don’t know where Zedar is, and that makes him dangerous. Urvon and Ctuchik are Angaraks. If either one of them comes after the Orb, he’ll come with an army. Zedar’s not an Angarak, so he might try something different.’

I could have saved myself - and a large number of other people - a great deal of trouble if I’d paid closer attention to what Fleet-foot said. We didn’t have time to pursue the question, though, because it was just about then that the messenger Pol had sent found us.

‘Lord Riva,’ he said to my son-in-law, ‘Lady Polgara says that you’re supposed to come now.’

Riva stood up quickly. ‘Is everything all right?’ he asked.

The messenger was a bearded Alorn warrior, and he seemed a little offended by his errand. Polgara tends to ignore rank, and when she needs something, she’ll send the first person she sees to get it. ‘Everything seems normal to me,’ the messenger replied, shrugging. ‘The women are all running around with pails of hot water, and your wife’s yelling.’

‘Yelling?’ Riva’s eyes got wild.

‘Women always yell when they’re having babies, my Lord. My wife’s had nine, and she still yells. You’d think they’d get used to it after a while, wouldn’t you?’

Riva pushed past him and went down the stairs four at a time.

It was the first time that Pol had officiated at a birth, so she was probably just a bit premature about summoning Riva. Beldaran’s labor continued for about another four hours, and Iron-grip was definitely in the way the whole time. I think my daughter learned a valuable lesson that day. After that, she always invented something for the expectant father to do during his wife’s labor - usually something physical and a long way away from the birthing chamber.

In the normal course of time, Beldaran delivered my grandson, a red-faced, squirming boy with damp hair that dried to sandy blond. Polgara emerged from the bedroom with the small, blanket-wrapped bundle in her arms and a strange, almost wistful look on her face. ‘Behold the heir to the Rivan throne,’ she said to us, holding out the baby.

Riva stumbled to his feet. ‘Is he all right?’ he stammered.

‘He has the customary number of arms and legs, if that’s what you mean,’ Pol replied. ‘Here,’ she thrust the baby at his father. ‘Hold him. I want to help my sister.’

‘Is she all right?’

‘She’s fine, Riva. Take the baby.’

‘Isn’t he awfully small?’

‘Most babies are. Take him.’

‘Maybe I’d better not. I might drop him.’

Her eyes glinted. ‘Take the baby, Riva.’ She said it slowly, emphasizing each word. Nobody argues with Polgara when she takes that tone.

Riva’s hands were shaking very badly when he reached out to take his son.

‘Support his head,’ she instructed.

Riva placed one of his huge hands behind the baby’s head. His knees were visibly trembling.

‘Maybe you’d better sit down,’ she said.

He sank back into his chair, his face very pale.

‘Men!’ Polgara said, rolling her eyes upward. Then she turned and went back into the bedroom.

My grandson looked at his father gravely. He had very blue eyes, and he seemed much calmer than the trembling giant who was holding him. After a few minutes, Iron-grip began that meticulous examination of his new-born offspring that all parents seem to feel is necessary. I’m not sure why people always want to count fingers and toes under those circumstances. ‘Would you look at those tiny little fingernails!’ Riva exclaimed. Why are people always surprised about the size of babies’ fingernails? Are they expecting claws, perhaps?

‘Belgarath!’ Riva said then in a choked voice. ‘He’s deformed!’

I looked down at the baby. ‘He looks all right to me.’

‘There’s a mark on the palm of his right hand!’ He carefully opened those tiny fingers to show me.

The mark wasn’t very large, of course, hardly more than a small white spot. ‘Oh, that,’ I said. ‘Don’t worry about it. It’s supposed to be there.’

‘What?’

‘Look at your own hand, Riva,’ I said patiently.

He opened that massive right hand of his. ‘But that’s a burn mark. I got it when I picked up the Orb for the first time - before it got to know me.’

‘Did it hurt when it burned you?’

‘I don’t remember exactly. I was a little excited at the time. Torak was right in the next room, and I wasn’t sure he’d stay asleep.’

‘It’s not a burn, Riva. The Orb knew who you were, and it wasn’t going to hurt you. All it did was mark you. Your son’s marked the same way because he’s going to be the next keeper of the Orb. You might as well get used to that mark. It’s going to be in your family for a long time.’

‘What an amazing thing. How did you find out about this?’

I shrugged. ‘Aldur told me,’ I replied. It was the easy thing to say, but it wasn’t true. I hadn’t known about the mark until I saw it, but as soon as I did, I knew exactly what it meant. Evidently a great deal of information had been passed on to me while I’d been sharing my head with that peculiar voice that had guided us to Cthol Mishrak. The inconvenient part of the whole business lies in the fact that these insights don’t rise to the surface until certain events come along to trigger them. Moreover, as soon as I saw that mark on my grandson’s palm, I knew there was something I had to do.

That had to wait, however, because Polgara came out of the bedroom just then. ‘Give him to me,’ she told Riva.

‘What for?’ Iron-grip’s voice had a possessive tone to it.

‘It’s time he had something to eat. I think Beldaran ought to take care of that - unless you want to do it.’

He actually blushed as he quickly handed the baby over.

I wasn’t able to attend to my little project until the following morning. I don’t think the baby got very much sleep that night. Everybody wanted to hold him. He took it well, though. My grandson was an uncommonly good-natured baby. He didn’t fuss or cry, but just examined each new face with that same grave, serious expression. I even got the chance to hold him once - for a little while. I took him in my hands and winked at him. He actually smiled. That made me feel very good, for some reason.

There was a bit of an argument the next morning, however. ‘He needs to get some sleep,’ Polgara insisted.

‘He needs to do something else first,’ I told her.

‘Isn’t he a little young for chores, father?’

‘He’s not too young for this one. Bring him along.’

‘Where are we going?’

‘To the throne room. Just bring him, Pol. Don’t argue with me. This is one of those things that’s supposed to happen.’

She gave me a strange look. ‘Why didn’t you say so, father?’

‘I just did.’

‘What’s happening here?’ Riva asked me.

‘I wouldn’t want to spoil it for you. Come along.’

We trooped through the halls from the royal apartment to the Hall of the Rivan King, and the two guards who were always there opened the massive doors for us.

I’d been in Riva’s throne room before, of course, but the size of the place always surprised me just a bit. It was vaulted, naturally. You can’t really support a flat roof safely over a room of that size. Massive beams criss-crossed high overhead, and they were held in place by carved wooden buttresses. There were three great stone firepits set at intervals in the floor, and a broad aisle that led down to the basalt throne. Riva’s sword hung point-down on the wall behind the throne, and the Orb resting on the pommel was flickering slightly. I’m told that it did that whenever Riva entered the hall.

We marched on down to the throne. ‘Take down your sword, Iron-grip,’ I said.

‘Why?’

‘It’s a ceremony, Riva,’ I told him. ‘Take down the sword, hold it by the blade, and introduce your son to the Orb.’

‘It’s only a rock, Belgarath. It doesn’t care what his name is.’

‘I think you might be surprised.’

He shrugged. ‘If you say so.’ He reached up and took hold of the huge blade. Then he lifted down the great sword and held the pommel out to the baby in Polgara’s arms. ‘This is my son, Daran,’ he said to the Orb. ‘He’ll take care of you after I’m gone.’

I might have said it differently, but Riva Iron-grip was a plain-spoken sort of fellow who didn’t set much store in ceremonies. I immediately recognized the derivation of my grandson’s name, and I was sure that Beldaran would be pleased.

I’m almost certain that the infant Daran had been asleep in his aunt’s arms, but something seemed to wake him up. His eyes opened, and he saw my Master’s Orb, which his father was holding out to him. It’s easy to say that a baby will reach out for any bright thing that’s offered to him, but Daran knew exactly what he was supposed to do. He’d known about that before he was even born.


Tags: David Eddings Science Fiction
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