‘Where else would I be, you old fool?’

I let that slide by. ‘Stay where you are,’ I told her. ‘Brand’s coming around with a small boat.’

‘What took you so long?’

‘We had to wait until it got dark. I don’t want anybody to see what we’re doing.’

‘What were you talking about earlier - that business about hiding the Rivan King?’

‘We don’t have any choice, Pol. The Isle of the Winds isn’t safe for the boy. We have to get him away from the Orb. Torak knows exactly where it is, and if the boy stays anywhere near it, we’ll be able to count on a steady stream of assassins coming here to try to kill him.’

‘I thought Salmissra sent the assassins.’

‘She did, but somebody else put her up to it.’

‘Who?’

‘I’m not sure. The next time I see her, I’ll ask her.’

‘Under the circumstances, you might have a little trouble getting into Sthiss Tor.’

‘I rather doubt that, Pol,’ I answered grimly. ‘I’m going to take a few Alorns with me.’

‘A few?’

‘The Chereks, the Rivans, the Drasnians, and the Algars. I’m going to take all of Aloria with me when I go, Pol. I don’t think I’ll have any trouble getting into Sthiss Tor at all.’ I glanced over my shoulder and then looked back out to sea. ‘Here comes Brand with the boat. We’ll get you and the boy safely aboard ship, and then we’ll sail.’

‘Sail? Where?’

‘Sendaria, Pol. We’ll decide what we’re going to do when we get there.’

PART FIVE

The Secret

Chapter 33

Even though the assassination of Gorek and most of his family was foreordained and necessary, I still have twinges of guilt about it. Maybe if I’d been just a bit more alert, I’d have interpreted that passage in the Mrin an hour - even a half-hour - sooner, and Pol and I could have reached Riva in time. Maybe if Pol hadn’t argued with me for quite so long -

Maybe, maybe, maybe. Sometimes it seems when I look back on my life it’s nothing but a long string of regretful ‘maybe’s. The ‘maybe’ that really stands out, though, is the one that suggests that I’m not emotionally equipped to deal with predestination. It makes me feel helpless, and I don’t like that. I always seem to think that there might have been something I could have done to change the outcome. A turnip can just sit there saying ‘What will be, will be.’ I’m supposed to be a little more resourceful.

Ah, well -

It took us the usual two days to reach the Sendarian coast. Brand’s eyes got a little wild the first time I reset his sails without even getting up from where I was sitting. That happens fairly often, you know. Despite the fact that people are intellectually aware of sorcery, when the real thing happens right in front of their eyes, it tends to upset them. I’m not sure what he’d expected, though. I’d told him that Polgara was going to be lending a hand with the mechanics of sailing that ship, but he should have known better. Prince Geran was only about six years old, and he’d just watched his entire family being murdered. He needed Pol far more than I did. I’d only said it to Brand to head off one of those tiresome arguments about the possible and the impossible.

Have you ever had that peculiar feeling that what’s happening now has happened before? One of the reasons you have is because it’s really true. The interruption of the Purpose of the universe had locked everything in one spot, and time and events were simply marching in place. This might help to explain those ‘repetitions’ Garion and I used to talk about. In my case, though, I not only get the feeling that something’s happened before, but also a slightly different feeling that something’s going to happen again. I got that feeling with bells on it as we approached the Sendarian coast.

It was a blustery morning in early summer with the clouds playing ducks and drakes with the sun, and Polgara and the young prince had just come up on deck. It wasn’t particularly warm, and Pol drew the little boy protectively close and half-enclosed him with her blue cloak just as the sun momentarily broke through. Somehow that brief image seemed to freeze and lock itself in my mind. I can still call it back with absolute clarity - not that I really have to. I’ve seen Polgara hovering over a long succession of sandy-haired little boys with that obscure pain in her eyes once or twice in every generation for the past thirteen hundred years and more. Protecting those little boys wasn’t the only reason she’d been born, but it was certainly one of the important ones.

We dropped anchor in a secluded cove about five miles north of Camaar, and then we went ashore in the ship’s longboat. ‘Camaar’s that way,’ I told Brand, pointing south.

‘Yes, Ancient One, I know.’ Brand was polite enough not to take offense when somebody pointed out the obvious.

‘Round up a crew and get back to Riva,’ I instructed. ‘I’ll go to Val Alorn and tell Valcor what’s happened. He’ll be along with his fleet to pick you and your army up in a couple of weeks, I’d imagine. I’ll talk it over with him when I get to Val Alorn. Then I’ll go talk with the Drasnians and the Algars. I think we might want them to go overland while you and Valcor sail south. I want to come at Nyissa from both sides. We’ll probably all get there about midsummer.’

‘Good time for a war,’ he noted bleakly.

‘No, Brand. There’s no good time for a war. This one’s necessary, though. Salmissra needs to be persuaded to keep her nose out of things that don’t concern her.’

‘You seem to be taking this very calmly.’ It was almost an accusation.

‘Appearances can be deceiving. I can get angry later. Right now I’ve got to map out this campaign.’

‘Will you be coming down with Valcor?’

‘I haven’t exactly decided yet. In any case, we’ll all get together again in Sthiss Tor.’

‘See you there, then.’ He went over and dropped to one knee in front of Geran. ‘I don’t think we’ll see each other again, your Majesty,’ he said sadly. ‘Good bye.’

The little boy was red-eyed from weeping, but he straightened and looked his Warder full in the face. ‘Good bye, Brand,’ he said. ‘I know I can count on you to take care of my people and to guard the Orb.’ He was a brave little boy, and he’d have made a good king if things had turned out differently.

Brand rose, saluted, and started off down the beach.

‘Are you going back to your mother’s cottage?’ I asked Pol.

‘I don’t think so, father. Zedar knows where it is, and I’m sure he’s told Torak about it. I don’t want visitors showing up when I’m not expecting them. I still have that manor house at Erat. That should be safe enough until you get back from Nyissa.’

‘You haven’t been there for a long time, Pol,’ I objected. ‘The house probably collapsed years ago.’

‘No, father. I asked it not to.’

‘Sendaria’s a different country now, Pol, and the Sendars don’t even remember the Wacite Arends. An abandoned house almost invites somebody to move in.’

She shook her head. ‘The Sendars don’t even know it’s there. My roses have seen to that.’

‘I don’t follow you.’

‘You wouldn’t believe how big a rose-bush can get if you encourage it just a bit, and I had lots of roses planted around the house. Trust me, father. The house is still there, but no one’s seen it since the fall of Vo Wacune. The boy and I’ll be safe there.’

‘Well, maybe - for the time being, anyway. We’ll come up with something else after I’ve dealt with Salmissra.’

‘If it’s safe, why move him?’

‘Because the line has to be continued, Pol. That means he has to get married and produce a son. We might have a little trouble persuading some girl to break through a rose thicket to get to him.’

‘Are you leaving now, grandfather?’ Geran asked me, his small face very serious. For some reason all of those little boys have called me that. I think it’s in their blood.

‘Yes, Geran,’ I told him. ‘You’ll be safe with your Aunt Pol. There’s something I have to attend to.’

‘I don’t suppose you’d care to wait a little while?’

‘What did you have in mind?’

‘I’d sort of like to go along, but I’m too little right now. If you could wait a few years, I’ll be old enough to kill Salmissra myself.’

He was an Alorn, all right.

‘No, Geran. I’d better take care of it for you. Salmissra might die of natural causes before you grow up, and we wouldn’t want that, would we?’

He sighed. ‘No, I suppose not,’ he agreed reluctantly. ‘Would you hit her once or twice for me, grandfather?’

‘You have my absolute word on that, boy.’

‘Hard,’ he added fiercely.

‘Men!’ Polgara muttered.

‘I’ll keep in touch, Pol,’ I promised her. ‘Now get off this beach. There might be more Nyissans lurking about.’

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