Father endured my ill-tempered diatribe with a calm grace that irritated me all the more. I finally even lapsed into some of the more colorful aspects of uncle Beldin’s vocabulary to stress my discontent – not so much because I enjoyed profanity, but more to see if I could get some kind of reaction out of father. I was just a little miffed by his calm indifference to my sharpest digs.
Then in the most off-hand way imaginable, father casually announced that my sister and I would be moving into his tower to live with him.
My language deteriorated noticeably at that point.
After father had left uncle Beldin’s tower, Beldaran and I spoke at some length in ‘twin’.
‘If that idiot thinks for one minute that we’re going to move in with him, he’s in for a very nasty surprise,’ I declared.
‘He is our father, Polgara,’ Beldaran pointed out.
‘That’s not my fault.’
‘We must obey him.’
‘Have you lost your mind?’
‘No, as a matter of fact, I haven’t.’ She looked around uncle Beldin’s tower. ‘I suppose we’d better start packing.’
‘I’m not going anyplace,’ I told her.
‘That’s up to you, of course.’
I was more than a little startled. ‘You’d go off and leave me alone?’ I asked incredulously.
‘You’ve been leaving me alone ever since you found the Tree, Pol,’ she reminded me. ‘Are you going to pack or not?’
It was one of the few times that Beldaran openly asserted her authority over me. She normally got what she wanted in more subtle ways.
She went to a cluttered area of uncle Beldin’s tower and began rummaging around through the empty wooden boxes uncle had stacked there.
‘I gather from the tone of things that you girls are having a little disagreement,’ uncle said to me mildly.
‘It’s more like a permanent rupture,’ I retorted. ‘Beldaran’s going to obey father, and I’m not’
‘I wouldn’t make any wagers, Pol.’ Uncle Beldin had raised us, after all, and he understood our little power structure.
‘This is right and proper, Pol,’ Beldaran said back over her shoulder. ‘Respect, if not love, compels our obedience.’
‘Respect? I haven’t got any respect for that beer-soaked mendicant!’
‘You should have, Pol. Suit yourself, though. I’m going to obey him. You can do as you like. You will visit me from time to time, won’t you?’
How could I possibly answer that? Now perhaps you can see the source of Beldaran’s power over me. She almost never lost her temper, and she always spoke in a sweetly reasonable tone of voice, but that was very deceptive. An ultimatum is an ultimatum, no matter how it’s delivered.
I stared at her helplessly.
‘Don’t you think you should start packing, dear sister?’ she asked sweetly.
I stormed out of uncle Beldin’s tower and went immediately to my Tree to sulk. A few short answers persuaded even my birds to leave me alone.
I spent that entire night in the Tree, hoping the unnatural separation would bring Beldaran to her senses. My sister, however, concealed a will of iron under that sweet, sunny exterior. She moved into father’s tower with him, and after a day or so of almost unbearable loneliness, I sulkily joined them.
This is not to say that I spent very much time in father’s cluttered tower. I slept there and occasionally ate with my father and sister, but it was summer. My Tree was all the home I really needed, and my birds provided me with company.
As I look back, I see a peculiar dichotomy of motives behind that summer sabbatical in the branches of the Tree. Firstly, of course, I was trying to punish Beldaran for her betrayal of me. Actually, though, I stayed in the Tree because I liked it there. I loved the birds, and mother was with me almost continually as I scampered around among the branches, frequently assuming forms other than my own. I found that squirrels are very agile. Of course I could always become a bird and simply fly up to the top-most branches, but there’s a certain satisfaction in actually climbing.
It was about midsummer when I discovered the dangers involved in taking the form of a rodent. Rodents of all sorts, from mice on up the scale, are looked upon as a food source by just about every other species in the world with the possible exception of goldfish. One bright summer morning I was leaping from limb to limb among the very top-most branches of the Tree when a passing hawk decided to have me for breakfast.
‘Don’t do that,’ I told him in a disgusted tone as he came swooping in on me.
He flared off, his eyes startled. ‘Polgara?’ he said in amazement. ‘Is that really you?’
‘Of course it is, you clot.’
‘I’m very sorry,’ he apologized. ‘I didn’t recognize you.’
‘You should pay closer attention. All manner of creatures get caught in baited snares when they think they’re about to get some free food.’
‘Who would try to trap me?’
‘You wouldn’t want to find out.’
‘Would you like to fly with me?’ he offered.
‘How do you know I can fly?’
‘Can’t everybody?’ he asked, sounding a bit startled. He was evidently a very young hawk.
To be absolutely honest, though, I enjoyed our flight. Each bird flies a little differently, but the effortless art of soaring, lifted by the unseen columns of warm air rising from the earth, gives one a sense of unbelievable freedom.
All right, I like to fly. So what?
Father had decided to leave me to my own devices that summer, probably because the sound of my voice grated on his nerves. Once, however, he did come to my Tree – probably at Beldaran’s insistence – to try to persuade me to come home. He, however, was the one who got a strong dose of persuasion. I unleashed my birds on him, and they drove him off.
I saw my father and my sister occasionally during the following weeks. In actuality, I stopped by from time to time to see if I could detect any signs of suffering in my sister. If Beldaran was suffering, though, she managed to hide it quite well. Father sat off in one corner during my visits. He seemed to be working on something quite small, but I really wasn’t curious about whatever it might have been.
It was early autumn when I finally discovered what he’d been so meticulously crafting. He came down to my Tree one morning, and Beldaran was with him. ‘I’ve got something for you, Pol,’ he told me.