‘What’s that?’ I asked a sleepy-eyed sailor who’d just come up on deck, and I pointed at the disturbance in the water.
He squinted over the rail. ‘Oh,’ he said in an off-hand way, ‘those be whales, my Lady.’
‘Big fish, my Lady.’ He squinted at the sea again. ‘It’s the time of year when they flock together. I’d guess that there be quite a few down there.’
‘Is that why the water’s bulging up like that – because there are so many?’
‘No, my Lady. One whale all by himself can make the sea heave that way.’
I was sure he was exaggerating, but then an enormous dark form erupted from the water like a mountain aborning. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing! Nothing alive could be that big!
Then he crashed with a boom back into the sea, sending great sheets of water in all directions, and he slapped his tail down against the surface with another huge noise and disappeared.
Then he jumped again, and again.
He was playing!
And then he was not alone. Other whales also came surging up out of the sea to leap and play in the morning sun like a crowd of overgrown children frolicking in a play yard.
And they laughed! Their voices were high-pitched, but they were not squeaky. There was a profound depth to them and a kind of yearning.
One of them – I think it was that first one – rolled over on his side to look at me with one huge eye. There were wrinkles around that eye as if he were very, very old, and there was a profound wisdom there.
And then he winked at me and plunged back into the depths.
No matter how long I live, I’ll always remember that strange meeting. In some obscure way it’s shaped my entire view of the world and of everything that’s hidden beneath the surface of ordinary reality. That single event made the tedious journey from the Vale and this voyage worthwhile – and more.
We were another two days reaching Riva, and I spent those days filled with the wonder of the sea and of those creatures she supported as a mother supports her children.
The Isle of the Winds is a bleak, inhospitable place that rises out of a usually storm-tossed sea, and when viewed from the water the city seems as unwelcoming as the rock upon which it’s built. It rises steeply from the harbor in a series of narrow terraces, and each row of houses stands at the brink of the terrace upon which it’s built. The seaward walls of those houses are thick and windowless, and battlements surmount them. In effect this makes the city little more than a series of impenetrable walls rising one after another to the Citadel which broods down over the entire community. Whole races could hurl themselves at Riva with no more effect than the waves have upon the cliffs of the Isle itself. As the Master said, ‘All the tides of Angarak cannot prevail against it,’ and when you add the Cherek fleet patrolling the waters just off the coast, you have the potential for the extinction of any race foolish enough even to contemplate the notion of making war on the Rivans. Torak’s crazy, but he’s not that crazy.
Beldaran and I had taken some rather special pains to make ourselves presentable that morning. Beldaran was to be Queen of Riva, and she wanted to make a good impression on her future subjects. I was not going to be the queen, and my target was a certain specific segment of the population. I was rather carefully taking aim at all the young men, and I think I hit most of them. What a glorious thing it is to be universally adored! My father’s slightly worried expression made my morning complete.
‘Don’t let it go to your head, Polgara,’ mother’s voice cautioned me. ‘What you’re seeing on all those vacant faces isn’t love. Young males of all species have urges that they can’t really control. In their eyes you’re not a person; you’re an object. You don’t really want to be no more than a thing, do you?’
The prospect of incipient thinghood put a slight damper on my enjoyment of the moment.
Traditionally, Rivans wear grey clothing. As a matter of fact, the other western races call them ‘grey-cloaks’. Young people, however, tend to ignore the customs of their elders. Adolescent rebellion has been responsible for all manner of absurd costumes. The more ridiculous a certain fashion is, the more adolescents will cling to it. The young men crowding the edge of the wharf with yearning eyes put me in mind of a flower garden planted by someone with absolutely no sense of taste. There were doublets down there in hues I didn’t even have names for, and some of those short jackets were varicolored, and the colors clashed hideously. Each of my worshipers, however, was absolutely convinced that his clothing was so splendid that no girl in her right mind could possibly resist him.
I felt an almost uncontrollable urge to burst out laughing. My father’s concern about what he felt to be my fragile chastity was totally inappropriate. I wasn’t going to surrender to some adolescent whose very appearance sent me off into gales of laughter.
After the sailors had snubbed up the mooring ropes, we disembarked and started up the stairs that lead from the harbor to Riva’s Citadel. That series of stair-stepping walls that are part of the city’s defenses were revealed as a part of the houses in which the Rivans lived. The houses seemed bleak on the outside, but I’ve since discovered that the interiors of those houses are places of beauty. In many ways they are like the Rivans themselves. All the beauty is on the inside. The streets of Riva are narrow and monotonously straight. I strongly suspect that Riva had been guided by Belar in the construction of the city. Everything about it has a defensive purpose.
There was a shallow courtyard surrounded by a massive wall at the top of the stairs. The size of the roughly squared-off stones in that wall startled me. The amount of sheer physical labor which had gone into the construction of the city was staggering. We entered the Citadel through a great iron-bound door, and I found the interior of my sister’s new home depressingly bleak. It took us quite some time to reach our quarters. Beldaran and I were temporarily ensconced in a quite pleasant set of rooms. I say temporarily because Beldaran would soon be moving into the royal apartment.
‘You’re having fun, aren’t you, Pol?’ My sister asked me once we were alone. Her voice seemed just a bit wistful, and she spoke in ‘twin’.
‘I don’t exactly follow you,’ I replied.
‘Now that you’ve decided to be pretty, you’ve got every young man you come across fawning all over you.’
‘You’ve always been pretty, Beldaran,’ I reminded her.