That afternoon was my last unsupervised excursion into the untamed jungle of the adolescent mating ritual. From then on, father sat scowling in a spot where everybody could see him. It wasn’t really necessary, of course, but there was no way that father could know that mother was already keeping an eye on me. His presence did set certain limits on the enthusiasm of my suitors, and I was of two minds about that. None of my suitors were likely to go too far with him sitting there, but I was fairly sure that I could take care of myself, and father’s insistence on being present robbed me of the chance to find out if I could.
For some reason Kamion made father particularly nervous, and I couldn’t understand exactly why. Kamion had exquisite manners, and he never once did anything at all offensive. Why did my aged sire dislike him so much?
Got you that time, didn’t I, Old Wolf?
Then King Cherek and his sons, Dras Bull-neck and Algar Fleet-foot, arrived for the wedding, and things began to get just a bit more serious. Despite the way Beldaran and Riva felt about each other, my sister had been right. Theirs was an arranged marriage. The possibility that my father might also decide to arrange one for me – just to protect me from all those fawning suitors – raised its ugly head. There was in those days – probably even still existing – the idea that women are intellectually inferior to men. Men did – and many still do – automatically assume that women are empty-headed ninnies who’ll fall prey to the first glib young man who comes along with certain ideas in his mind. The result, of course, is the virtual imprisonment of almost all women of a certain rank. What my father and all those other primitives can’t seem to realize is that we’ll resent that imprisonment and go to almost any lengths to circumvent it. That might help to explain why so many girls become involved with inappropriate young men. In most cases the character of the young man doesn’t make a job of difference. The girl in question is driven by a desire to show them that she can do it, rather than by empty-headed lust.
That’s frequently the reason for so many arranged marriages. The father marries his daughter off as soon as possible to ‘protect’ her. After she marries, any dalliances she chooses to take up to amuse herself are her husband’s problem.
The possibility that father might choose to shackle me to either Dras or Algar made me distinctly uneasy for a while.
For some reason, mother had always been a bit vague about father’s now-famous trip to Mallorea, and I felt that I might need some information in order to counter any absurd notions that could come popping into his head. I went looking for uncle Beldin.
I found him high in one of the towers of the citadel. He was nursing a tankard of beer and looking out at the sullen black waves surging under a threatening sky. I broached the subject directly. ‘How much can you tell me about father’s expedition to Mallorea?’ I demanded.
‘Not much,’ he replied. ‘I wasn’t in the Vale when Cherek and the boys came to fetch him.’
‘You do know what happened, though, don’t you?’
‘The twins told me,’ he said, shrugging. ‘As I understand it, Cherek and the boys came slogging through the snow in the dead of winter with some kind of half-wit notion that the priests of Belar had dredged up out of what the Alorns call “the auguries”. Sometimes Chereks can be awfully gullible.’
‘What are auguries?’ I asked him.
‘Supposedly a way to foretell the future. The priests of Belar all get roaring drunk, and then they got a sheep and fondle his entrails. The Alorns have a quaint belief that sheep-guts can tell you what’s going to happen next week. I’d rather strongly suspect that the ale plays a large part in the ceremony. Alorns are enthusiastic about it. I don’t imagine the sheep care much for the idea, though.’
‘Who could possibly be gullible enough to believe something that absurd?’
‘Your incipient brother-in-law, for one.’
‘Oh dear. Poor Beldaran.’
‘Why this sudden interest in quaint Alorn customs, Pol?’ he asked.
‘It occurred to me that father might want to get me out of his hair by marrying me off to Algar or Dras, and I don’t think I’m ready for marriage just yet. I want to come up with some arguments to nip that in the bud.’
He laughed. ‘Not to worry, Pol,’ he told me. ‘Belgarath’s a little strange sometimes, but he’s not that strange. Besides, the Master wouldn’t let him get away with it. I’m fairly sure he has other plans for you.’
As it turned out, that proved to be a gross understatement. Although I was fairly certain that there was no Alorn husband in my immediate future, Dras and Algar hadn’t heard the news as yet, so a pair of Alorn kings joined my crowd of suitors.
Dras was the more aggressive of the two, since he was the eldest. I found his attentions something of a relief. He was direct and honest, unlike the adolescent Rivans with their clumsily contrived conversational ploys. Dras already knew who he was, so he wasn’t inventing it as he went along. ‘Well,’ he said to me a couple of days after he, his father, and his brother had arrived, ‘what do you think? Should I ask my father to speak with yours?’
‘About what, your Majesty?’ I feigned innocence.
‘Our wedding, of course. You and I could get married at the same time your sister and Riva do.’
His approach didn’t leave me much maneuvering room. ‘Isn’t this all coming just a little fast, Dras?’
‘Why waste time, Polgara? The marriage would be advantageous to both of us. You get to be a queen and I get a wife. Then we can both get all this courting nonsense over with.’
That didn’t go down too well. I rather resented his off-hand dismissal of my entertainment. I was having fun, and he was trying to take all the adventure out of it. ‘Let me think it over, Dras,’ I suggested.
‘Of course,’ he said generously. ‘Take all the time you want, Pol. How about this afternoon?’
Can you believe that I didn’t even laugh in his face?
Algar’s courtship was very trying for me. The niceties of the courtship ritual require the female to respond to the overtures of the male. I’ve seen this again and again among my birds. It’s always the male bird who has the bright plumage. He’s supposed to strut and shake his colorful feathers while the female admires him. Humans are much the same. The male shows off, and the female responds – but how can you possibly respond to someone who can go for days on end without saying a word? Algar was very intelligent, but he talked almost as much as a rock does. To be honest about it, I found his silence rather intriguing – and irritating at the same time. ‘Don’t you ever talk about the weather, Algar?’ I asked him once in a fit of exasperation.