‘I don’t want it,’ I told him from the safety of my perch.
‘Aren’t you being a little ridiculous, Pol?’ Beldaran suggested.
‘It’s a family trait,’ I replied.
Then father did something he’s very seldom done to me. One moment I was comfortably resting on my perch about twenty feet above the ground. At the next instant I was sprawled in the dirt at his feet. The old rascal had translocated me! That’s better,’ he said. ‘Now we can talk.’ He held out his hand, and there was a silver medallion on a silver chain hanging from his fingers. ‘This is for you,’ he told me.
Somewhat reluctantly I took it. ‘What am I supposed to do with this?’ I asked him.
‘You’re supposed to wear it.’
‘Because the Master says so. If you want to argue with Him, go right ahead. Just put it on, Pol, and stop all this foolishness. It’s time for us all to grow up.’
I looked rather closely at the amulet and saw that it bore the image of an owl. It occurred to me that this somehow very appropriate gift had come from Aldur instead of father. At that point in my life decorations of any kind seemed wildly inappropriate, but I immediately saw a use for this one. It bore the image of an owl, my favorite alternative form – and mother’s as well. Part of the difficulty of the shape-change is getting the image right, and father was evidently a very talented sculptor. The owl was so lifelike that it looked almost as if it could fly. This particular ornament would be very useful.
When I put it on, something rather strange came over me. I’d have sooner died than have admitted it, but I suddenly felt complete, as if something had always been missing.
‘And now we are three,’ Beldaran said vapidly.
‘Amazing,’ I said a bit acidly. ‘You do know how to count.’ My unexpected reaction to father’s gift had put me off-balance, and I felt the need to lash out at somebody – anybody.
‘Don’t be nasty,’ Beldaran told me. ‘I know you’re more clever than I am, Pol. You don’t have to hit me over the head with it. Now why don’t you stop all this foolishness and come back home where you belong?’
The guiding principle of my entire life at that point had been my rather conceited belief that nobody told me what to do. Beldaran disabused me of that notion right then and there. She could – and occasionally did – give me orders. The implied threat that she would withhold her love from me brought me to heel immediately.
The three of us walked on back to father’s tower. He seemed a little startled by my sudden change of heart, and I believe that even to this day he doesn’t fully understand the power Beldaran had over me.
Perhaps it was to cover his confusion that he offered me some left-over breakfast. I discovered immediately that this most powerful sorcerer in the world was woefully inadequate in the kitchen. ‘Did you do this to perfectly acceptable food on purpose, father?’ I asked him. ‘You must have. Nobody could have done something this bad by accident.’
‘If you don’t like it, Pol, there’s the kitchen.’
‘Why, I do believe you’re right, father,’ I replied in mock surprise. ‘How strange that I didn’t notice that. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that you’ve got books and scrolls piled all over the working surfaces.’
He shrugged. “They give me something to read while I’m cooking.’
‘I knew that something must have distracted you. You couldn’t have ruined all this food if you’d been paying attention.’ Then I laid my arm on the counter-top and swept all his books and scrolls off on to the floor. ‘From now on, keep your toys out of my kitchen, father. Next time, I’ll burn them.’
‘Somebody’s going to have to do the cooking, and you’re so inept that you can’t be trusted near a stove.’
He was too busy picking up his books to answer.
And that established my place in our peculiar little family. I love to cook anyway, so I didn’t mind, but in time I came to wonder if I hadn’t to some degree demeaned myself by taking on the chore of cooking. After a week or so, or three, things settled down, and our positions in the family were firmly established. I complained a bit now and then, but in reality I wasn’t really unhappy about it.
There was something else that I didn’t like, though. I soon found that I couldn’t undo the latch on the amulet father had made for me, but I was something of an expert on latches and I soon worked it out. The secret had to do with time, and it was so complex that I was fairly certain father hadn’t devised it all by himself. He had sculpted the amulet at Aldur’s instruction, after all, and only a God could have conceived of a latch that existed in two different times simultaneously.
Why don’t we just let it go at that? The whole concept still gives me a headache, so I don’t think I’ll go into it any further.
My duties in the kitchen didn’t really fill my days. I soon bullied Beldaran into washing the dishes after breakfast while I prepared lunch, which was usually something cold. A cold lunch never hurt anybody, after all, and once that was done, I was free to return to my Tree and my birds. Neither father nor my sister objected to my daily excursions, since it cut down on my opportunities to direct clever remarks at father.
And so the seasons turned, as they have a habit of doing.
We were pretty well settled in after the first year or so, and father had invited his brothers over for supper. I recall that evening rather vividly, since it opened my eyes to something I wasn’t fully prepared to accept. I’d always taken it as a given that my uncles had good sense, but they treated my disreputable father as if he were some sort of minor deity. I was in the midst of preparing a fairly lavish supper when I finally realized just how much they deferred to him.
I forget exactly what they were talking about – Ctuchik, maybe, or perhaps it was Zedar – but uncle Beldin rather casually asked my father, ‘What do you think, Belgarath? You’re first disciple, after all, so you know the Master’s mind better than we do.’
Father grunted sourly. ‘And if it turns out that I’m wrong, you’ll throw it in my teeth, won’t you?’
‘Naturally.’ Beldin grinned at him. ‘That’s one of the joys of being a subordinate, isn’t it?’
‘I hate you,’ Father said.
‘No you don’t, Belgarath,’ Beldin said, his grin growing even broader. ‘You’re just saying that to make me feel better.’