‘My uncle, actually,’ he replied.
‘I thought there might be some connection. I need a dispensation from him to permit the son of the House of Borune to marry a Dryad princess.’
‘Belgarath, that’s an absurdity!’
‘Yes, I know, but I need one anyway. The marriage must take place.’
‘I’m manipulating history, Ran Vordue. This marriage really doesn’t have much to do with what’s going to happen in Tolnedra. It’s aimed at Torak, and it’s not going to hit him for about three thousand years.’
‘You can actually see that far into the future?’
‘Not really, but my Master can. Your interest in this matter is sort of peripheral. We have different reasons for it, but we both want to keep the Honeths out of the Wood of the Dryads.’
He squinted thoughtfully at the ceiling. ‘Would it help if my uncle went to Tol Borune and performed the ceremony in person?’ he asked me.
That idea hadn’t even occurred to me. ‘Why, yes, Ran Vordue,’ I replied with a broad grin, ‘I think it might.’
‘I’ll arrange it.’ Then he grinned back at me. ‘Confusion to the Honeths,’ he said.
‘I might want to drink to that.’
And so Dellon and Xoria were married, and the House of Borune was inseparably linked to the Dryads.
Oh, incidentally, the groom’s mother didn’t attend the wedding. She wasn’t feeling very well.
The whole business had taken me almost three years, but considering how important it was, I felt it was time well spent. I was in a smugly self-congratulatory frame of mind when I started back for the Vale. Even now, when I look back on it, I nearly sprain my arm trying to pat myself on the back.
It was late winter when I went through the Tolnedran mountains, so I made most of the trip as a wolf. Wolves are much better adapted to making their way in snow-covered mountains than men are, so I fall back on my alternative form in those situations almost out of habit.
When I came down out of the mountains into the southern end of the Vale, I resumed my normal form, and the sound of the twins’ combined voices was roaring inside my head almost before my tail disappeared. ‘Don’t shout!’ I shouted back at them.
‘Where have you been?’ Beltira’s voice demanded.
‘In Tolnedra. You knew that.’
‘We’ve been trying to reach you for a week now.’
‘I had to cross the mountains, so I went wolf.’ That had always been one of the drawbacks involved in taking another form. It interfered with our peculiar method of communication. If the brother who was trying to reach you didn’t know that you’d changed, his thought was very likely to miss you entirely. ‘What’s the matter?’ I sent out the question.
‘Beldaran’s very ill. Polgara’s gone to the Isle to see what she can do.’ He paused. ‘You’d better get there in a hurry, Belgarath.’
A cold knot of fear settled in my chest. ‘I’ll cut up across Ulgoland to Camaar,’ I told them. ‘Let Polgara know that I’m coming.’
‘We might need to reach you. Are you going wolf again?’
‘No. I’ll fly - a falcon, I think.’
‘You don’t fly very well, Belgarath.’
‘Maybe it’s time I learned. I’m changing right now.’
My concern for Beldaran was so overpowering that I didn’t even think about the things that normally interfere with my flying, and after about half an hour I was cutting through the air like an arrow shot from a bow. I even experimented with translocation a time or two, but that didn’t work out very well - largely because I reverted to my own form in the process and found myself ten miles from where I’d started and trying to fly without benefit of wings. I gave up on that idea and did it the old-fashioned way.
I was exhausted by the time I reached Camaar two days later, but I grimly pressed on across the Sea of the Winds.
I’d made very good time, but I still got there too late. Beldaran had already died.
Polgara was inconsolable, and Riva was almost in the same condition as I’d been after Poledra’s death. There was no point in trying to talk to either one of them, so I went looking for my grandson.
I found him atop the highest tower of the citadel. It appeared that he’d cried himself out, and he was standing, puffy-eyed and somber, at the battlements. He was full-grown now, and he was very tall.
‘All right, Daran,’ I said to him harshly, ‘get away from there.’
‘I said to get away from there.’ I wasn’t going to take any chances with him. A sudden upsurge of despair could very well push him into doing something foolish. I’d have time for my own grief later on. Right now I had to concentrate on his.
‘What are we going to do, grandfather?’ he wept.
‘We’re going to go on, Daran. It’s what we always do. Now tell me what happened.’
He pulled himself together. ‘Mother’s been catching cold every winter for years now. Aunt Pol told us that it’d weakened her lungs. This past winter, it was much worse. She started coughing up blood. That’s when father sent for Aunt Pol. There was nothing she could do, though. She tried everything, but mother was just too weak. Why weren’t you here, grandfather? You could have done something.’
‘I’m not a physician, Daran. Your aunt knows far more about that than I do. If she couldn’t save your mother, no one could have. Does your father have a prime minister? Somebody who takes care of things when he’s busy?’
‘You mean Brand? He’s the Rivan Warder. Father depends on him to handle administration.’
‘We’d better go talk with him. You’re going to have to take over here until your father recovers from this.’
‘Me? Why me?’
‘You’re the crown prince, Daran, that’s why. It’s your responsibility. Your father’s incapacitated right now, and that drops everything into your lap.’
‘I don’t think that’s very fair. I feel just as badly about this as father does.’
‘Not quite. At least you can still talk - and think. He can’t. I’ll help you through it, and Brand knows what has to be done.’
‘Father will get better, won’t he?’
‘We can hope so. It might take him a while, though. It took me twelve years after your grandmother died.’
‘Nobody’s going to pay any attention to me when I tell them to do something, grandfather. I don’t even have a full beard yet.’
‘You’re twenty years old, Daran. It’s time you grew up. Now, let’s go talk with Brand.’
I’ll admit that it was brutal, but somebody here on the Isle had to be able to function. Riva quite obviously couldn’t. The Orb absolutely had to be protected, and if word of Riva’s state got back to Ctuchik - well, I didn’t want to think about that.
Brand was one of those solid, dependable men that the world needs more of, and he understood the situation almost immediately. He was unusually perceptive for an Alorn, so he was able to see not only what I told him, but also the things I couldn’t tell him in front of Daran. There was a distinct possibility that Iron-grip would never really recover, and Daran would have to serve as regent. We were going to have to bury my grandson in details to the point that his grief wouldn’t incapacitate him as well. I left the two of them talking and went to Polgara’s quarters.
I knocked on her door. ‘It’s me, Pol. Open up.’
‘Open the door, Polgara. I need to talk to you.’
‘Get away from me, father.’
I shrugged. ‘It’s your door, Pol. If you don’t open it right now, you’ll have to have it replaced.’
Her face was ravaged when she opened the door. ‘What is it, father?’
‘You haven’t got time for this, Polgara. You can cry yourself out later. Right now I need you. Riva can’t even think, so I’ve made Daran regent. Somebody’s going to have to look after him, and I’ve got something that absolutely has to be done.’
‘Not you too, Pol. Why does everybody keep saying that to me? You’re elected because you’re the only one who can handle it. You’re going to stay here and help Daran in every way you can. Don’t let him sink into melancholia the way his father has. The Angaraks have eyes everywhere, and if there’s any sign of weakness here, you can expect a visit from Ctuchik. Now, pull yourself together. Blow your nose and fix your face. Daran’s talking with the Rivan Warder right now. I’ll take you to where they are, and then I have to leave.’
‘You’re not even going to stay for the funeral?’
‘I’ve got the funeral in my heart, Pol, the same as you have. No amount of ceremony’s going to make it go away. Now go fix your face. You look awful.’
I’m sorry Pol, but I had to do it that way. I had to force both you and Daran back from the abyss of despair, and piling responsibilities on you was the only way I could think of to do it.
I left my daughter and my grandson deep in a discussion with Brand, and made some pretense of leaving the Isle. I didn’t, however. I went up into the mountains behind Riva’s city instead and found a quiet place.