I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard that particular exchange between those two. They always seem to think it’s hilarious for some reason.
The following morning I went on down to my Tree to ponder this peculiar behavior on the part of my uncles. Evidently father had done some fairly spectacular things in the dim past. My feelings about him were uncomplimentary, to say the very least. In my eyes he was lazy, more than a bit silly, and highly unreliable. I dimly began to realize that my father is a very complex being. On the one hand, he’s a liar, a thief, a lecher, and a drunkard. On the other, however, he’s Aldur’s first disciple, and he can quite possibly stop the sun in its orbit if he wants to. I’d been deliberately seeing only his foolish side because of my jealousy. Now I had to come to grips with the other side of him, and I deeply resented the shattering of my illusions about him.
I began to watch him more closely after I returned home that day, hoping that I could find some hints about his duality – and even more fervently hoping that I could not. Losing the basis for one’s prejudices is always very painful. All I really saw, though, was a rather seedy-looking old man intently studying a parchment scroll.
‘Don’t do that, Polgara,’ he said, not even bothering to look up from his scroll.
‘Stare at me like that.’
‘How did you know I was staring?’
‘I could feel it, Pol. Now stop.’
That shook my certainty about him more than I cared to admit. Evidently Beldin and the twins were right. There were a number of very unusual things about my father. I decided I’d better have a talk with mother about this.
‘He’s a wolf, Pol,’ mother told me, ‘and wolves play. You take life far too seriously, and his playing irritates you. He can be very serious when it’s necessary, but when it’s not, he plays. It’s the way of wolves.’
‘But he demeans himself so much with all that foolishness.’
‘Doesn’t your particular foolishness demean you? You’re far too somber, Pol. Learn how to smile and to have some fun once in a while.’
‘Life is serious, mother.’
‘I know, but it’s also supposed to be fun. Learn how to enjoy life from your father, Polgara. There’ll be plenty of time to weep, but you have to laugh as well.’
Mother’s tolerance troubled me a great deal, and I found her observations about my nature even more troubling.
I’ve had a great deal of experience with adolescents over the centuries, and I’ve discovered that as a group these awkward half-children take themselves far too seriously. Moreover, appearance is everything for the adolescent. I suppose it’s a form of play-acting. The adolescent knows that the child is lurking just under the surface, but he’d sooner die than let it out, and I was no different. I was so intent on being ‘grown-up’ that I simply couldn’t relax and enjoy life.
Most people go through this stage and outgrow it. Many, however, do not. The pose becomes more important than reality, and these poor creatures become hollow people, forever striving to fit themselves into an impossible mold.
Enough. I’m not going to turn this into a treatise on the ins and outs of human development. Until a person learns to laugh at himself, though, his life will be a tragedy – at least that’s the way he’ll see it.
The seasons continued their stately march, and the little lecture mother had delivered to me lessened my interior antagonism toward father. I did maintain my exterior facade, however. I certainly didn’t want the old fool to start thinking I’d gone soft on him.
And then, shortly after my sister and I turned sixteen, the Master paid my father a call and gave him some rather specific instructions. One of us – either Beldaran or myself – was to become the wife of Iron-grip and hence the Rivan Queen. Father, with rather uncharacteristic wisdom, chose to keep the visit to himself. Although I certainly had no particular interest in marrying at that stage of my life, my enthusiasm for competition might have led me into all sorts of foolishness.
My father quite candidly admits that he was sorely tempted to get rid of me by the simple expedient of marrying me off to poor Riva. The Purpose – Destiny, if you wish – which guides us all prevented that, however. Beldaran had been preparing for her marriage to Iron-grip since before she was born. Quite obviously, I hadn’t been.
I resented my rejection, though. Isn’t that idiotic? I’d been involved in a competition for a prize I didn’t want, but when I lost the competition, I felt the sting of losing quite profoundly. I didn’t even speak to my father for several weeks, and I was even terribly snippy with my sister.
Then Anrak came down into the Vale to fetch us. With the exception of an occasional Ulgo and a few messengers from King Algar, Anrak was perhaps the first outsider I’d ever met and certainly the first whoever showed any interest in me. I rather liked him, actually. Of course he did propose marriage to me, and a girl always has a soft spot in her heart for the young man who asks her for the first time. Anrak was an Alorn, with all that implies. He was big, burly, and bearded, and there was good-humored simplicity about him that I rather liked. I didn’t like the way he always reeked of beer, however.
I was busy sulking in my Tree when he arrived, so we didn’t even have time to get acquainted before he proposed. He came swaggering down the Vale one beautiful morning in early spring. My birds alerted me to his approach, so he didn’t really surprise me when he came in under the branches of my Tree.
‘Hello, up there,’ he called to me.
I looked down from my perch at him. ‘What do you want?’ It wasn’t really a very gracious greeting.
‘I’m Anrak – Riva’s cousin – and I came here to escort your sister to the Isle so Riva can marry her.’
That immediately put him in the camp of the enemy. ‘Go away,’ I told him bluntly.
There’s something I need to ask you first.’
‘Well, like I said, I’m Riva’s cousin, and he and I usually do things together. We got drunk together for the first time, and visited a brothel together for the first time, and even both killed our first man in the same battle, so as you can see, we’re fairly close.’
‘Well, Riva’s going to marry your sister, and I thought it might be sort of nice if I got married, too. What do you say?’
‘Are you proposing marriage to me?’