‘I do. Sit down and I’ll fix it for you.’
And so I sat in a chair and let my sister fuss with my hair. She was very serious about it, her blue eyes intent and her still-chubby little fingers very busy. Her efforts were wasted, of course, since nobody’s hair stays combed for very long; but as long as it amused her, I was willing to submit to her attentions. I’ll admit that I rather enjoyed what became an almost nightly ritual. At least when she was busy with my hair she was paying attention to me instead of brooding about our father.
In a peculiar way my resentment may have shaped my entire life. Each time Beldaran’s eyes grew misty and distant, I knew that she was brooding about our father, and I could not bear the separation implicit in that vague stare. That’s probably why I took to wandering almost as soon as I could walk. I had to get away from the melancholy vacancy in my sister’s eyes.
It almost drove uncle Beldin to the brink of insanity, I’m afraid. He could not devise any latch on the gate that blocked the top of the stairs in his tower that I couldn’t outwit. Uncle Beldin’s fingers have always been large and gnarled, and his latches were bulky and rather crude. My fingers were small and very nimble, and I could undo his devices in a matter of minutes whenever the urge to wander came over me. I was – still am, I suppose – of an independent nature, and nobody is ever going to tell me what to do.
Have you noticed that, father? I thought I noticed you noticing.
The first few times I made good my escape, uncle Beldin frantically searched for me and scolded me at some length when he finally found me. I’m a little ashamed to admit that after a while it even became a kind of game. I’d wait until he was deeply engrossed in something, quickly unhook his gate, and then scamper down his stairs. Then I’d find someplace to hide where I could watch his desperate search. In time I think he began to enjoy our little entertainment as well, because his scoldings grew progressively less vehement. I guess that after the first several times he came to realize that there was nothing he could do to stop my excursions into the outside world and that I wouldn’t stray too far from the foot of his tower.
My adventuring served a number of purposes. At first it was only to escape my sister’s maudlin ruminations about father. Then it became a game during which I tormented poor uncle Beldin by seeking out hiding places. Ultimately, though it’s very unattractive, it was a way to get someone to pay attention to me.
As the game continued, I grew fonder and fonder of the ugly, gnarled dwarf who’d become my surrogate parent. Any form of emotionalism embarrasses uncle Beldin, but I think I’ll say this anyway. ‘I love you, you dirty, mangy little man, and no amount of foul temper or bad language will ever change that.’
If you ever read this, uncle, I’m sure that will offend you. Well, isn’t that just too bad?
It’s easy for me to come up with all sorts of exotic excuses for the things I did during my childhood, but to put it very bluntly I was totally convinced that I was ugly. Beldaran and I were twins, and we should have been identical. The Master changed that, however. Beldaran was blonde, and my hair was dark. Our features were similar, but we were not mirror images of each other. There were some subtle variations – many of them existing only in my own imagination, I’m sure. Moreover, my excursions outside uncle Beldin’s tower had exposed my skin to the sun. Beldaran and I both had very fair skin, so I didn’t immediately develop that healthy, glowing tan so admired in some quarters. I burned instead, and then I peeled. I frequently resembled a snake or lizard in molt. Beldaran remained indoors, and her skin was like alabaster. The comparison was not very flattering.
Then there was the accursed white lock in my hair which father’s first touch had bestowed upon me. How I hated that leprous lock of hair! Once, in a fit of irritation, I even tried to cut it short with a knife. It was a very sharp knife, but it wasn’t that sharp. The lock resisted all my sawing and hacking. I did manage to dull the knife, however. No, the knife wasn’t defective. It left a very nice cut on my left thumb as my efforts to excise the hideous lock grew more frantic.
So I gave up. Since I was destined to be ugly, I saw no point in paying any attention to my appearance. Bathing was a waste of time, and combing merely accentuated the contrast between the lock and the rest of my hair. I fell down frequently because I was awkward at that age, and my bony knees and elbows were usually skinned. My habit of picking at the resulting scabs left long streaks of dried blood on my lower legs and forearms, and I chewed my fingernails almost continually.
To put it rather simply, I was a mess – and I didn’t really care.
I gave vent to my resentment in a number of ways. There were those tiresome periods when I refused to answer when Beldaran talked to me, and my infantile practice of waiting until she was asleep at night and then neatly rolling over in our bed to pull all the covers off her. That one was always good for at least a half-hour fight. I discarded it, however, after uncle Beldin threatened to have Beltira and Belkira build another bed so that he could make us sleep apart. I was resentful about my sister’s preoccupation with our father, but not that resentful.
As I grew older, my field of exploration expanded. I guess uncle Beldin had grown tired of trying to find me after I’d escaped from his tower – either that or the Master had advised him to let me wander. The growth of my independence was evidently important.
I think I was about six or so when I finally discovered the Tree which stands in the middle of the Vale. My family has a peculiar attachment to that Tree. When my father first came to the Vale, it was the Tree that held him in stasis until the weather turned bad on him. Ce’Nedra, who is a Dryad, after all, was absolutely entranced by it, and she spent hours communing with it Garion has never spoken of his reaction to the Tree, but Garion had other things on his mind the first time he saw it. When Eriond was quite young, he and Horse made a special trip just to visit with it.
It surprised me the first time I saw it. I could not believe that anything alive could be that huge. I remember the day very well. It was early spring, and a blustery wind was bending the grass in long waves atop the knolls in the Vale and scudding dirty grey clouds across the sky. I felt very good and oddly free. I was quite some distance from uncle Beldin’s tower when I topped a long, grassy rise and saw the Tree standing in solitary immensity in the next valley. I’ll not cast any unfounded accusations here, but it just so happened that a break in the clouds permitted a single shaft of sunlight to fall like a golden column upon the Tree.