It was midsummer by the time father and I reached the Vale, and the twins were eagerly awaiting our return. They’d prepared a feast for us, and we ate in that airy, pleasant tower of theirs as evening settled golden over the Vale. I’ve always liked their tower for some reason. Father’s tower is messy and cluttered, uncle Beldin’s is fanciful on the outside, but quite nearly as cluttered as father’s on the inside. The twins, however, had the foresight to build closets and storerooms on the lower levels of their tower, so they can put things away. Father probably won’t care for this comparison, but his tower’s very much like a single room set on top of a pole. It’s a solid stone stump with a room on the highest level, and uncle Beldin’s isn’t much better.
After we’d finished eating, uncle Belkira pushed back his plate. ‘All right,’ he said, ‘now tell us about the wedding – and about this monumental change in Polgara.’
‘The change in Pol is easy,’ father replied. ‘She just slipped around behind my back and grew up.’
‘Young people have a habit of doing that,’ uncle Belkira noted.
‘There was a little more to it than that, father,’ I said. ‘Beldaran was always the pretty one.’
‘Not really, Pol,’ uncle Belkira disagreed. ‘She’s blonde, and you’re brunette. That’s the only real difference. You’re both beautiful.’
I shrugged. ‘All girls want to be blonde,’ I told him. ‘It may be a little silly, but we do. After I realized that I’d never be as pretty as she is, I tried to go the other way. When we reached Camaar and she and Riva finally met each other, I saw that how I looked was the farthest thing from her mind, so I cleaned myself up.’ I laughed a little ruefully. ‘It took me hours to comb all the snarls out of my hair. Then we reached the Isle of the Winds, and I discovered that I wasn’t as ugly as I’d thought.’
That might just be the grossest understatement in history,’ father said. ‘Now that she’s cleaned off all the dirt, she’s moderately presentable.’
‘More than moderately, Belgarath,’ Beltira said.
‘Anyway,’ father continued, ‘when we reached the Isle of the Winds, she stunned a whole generation of young Rivans into near-insensibility. They absolutely adored her.’
‘Was being adored nice, Pol?’ Belkira teased.
‘I found it quite pleasant,’ I admitted, ‘but it seemed to make father very nervous. I can’t for the life of me understand why.’
‘Very funny, Pol,’ father said. ‘Anyway, after the wedding, we had a talk with Bear-shoulders and his sons. They’ve had some contacts with the Angaraks, and we’re all beginning to grope our way toward a greater understanding of the differences between the Murgos, Thulls, and Nadraks. We can thank Pol for that.’ His sidelong glance was as sly as mine had been. ‘You didn’t think I noticed what you were doing, did you, Pol? You were very smooth about it, though.’ Then he looked ruminatively at the ceiling. ‘As Pol so gently pointed out, we’re more likely to have some luck with the Nadraks than with the Murgos or Thulls. The Thulls are too stupid and too much afraid of the Grolims to be of much use, and Ctuchik controls the Murgos with an iron fist. The Nadraks are greedy, though, so a bit of judicious bribery might win them over – at least enough to make them a useful source of information.’
‘Are there any signs that more Angaraks are coming across the land-bridge?’ Beltira asked.
‘Not from what Bull-neck’s been able to discover. Torak’s evidently biding his time, waiting for the right moment. Beldin went back over to Mallorea to keep an eye on him – at least that’s what he says he’s going to do. I still think he might want to take up that discussion about white-hot hooks with Urvon, though. Anyhow, he pointed out that the Murgos, Nadraks, and Thulls are just an advance party. The game won’t really get started until Torak decides to come out of seclusion at Ashaba.’
‘He doesn’t have to hurry for my sake,’ Belkira said.
We spent the next couple of weeks giving the twins greater and greater detail about our visit to the Isle and about Beldaran’s wedding. From time immemorial the twins have very seldom left the Vale, largely because, as Beltira humorously notes, ‘somebody has to mind the store.’ We’re all a part of the same family, however, so they’re naturally hungry for information about our various adventures in the outside world.
I was quite melancholy during the weeks that followed, of course. I still felt the pain of my separation from my sister most keenly. Oddly, that separation brought father and me closer together. In my eyes, father and I had been competing for Beldaran’s affection ever since he’d returned to the Vale after his extended bout of drunken debauchery. With Beldaran’s marriage that competition had vanished. I still insulted father from time to time, but I think that was more out of habit than anything else. I certainly wouldn’t admit it, but I began to develop a certain respect for him and a strange back-door affection. When he chooses to be, my father can be a likeable old sot, after all.
Our lives in his tower settled down into a kind of domestic routine that was easy and comfortable. I think a lot of that may have come about because I like to cook and he likes to eat. It was a tranquil time. Our evening conversations were stimulating, and I enjoyed them.
It’s an article of the religion of every adolescent that he – or she – knows far more than his elders; the half-formed mind suffers fools almost ecstatically. Those evening conversations with my father rather quickly stripped me of that particular illusion. The depth of his mind sometimes staggered me. Dear Gods, that old man knows a lot!
It was not only my growing respect for this vast sink of knowledge that prompted me to offer myself up as his pupil one evening while we were doing the dishes. The Master – and mother – had a hand in that decision as well. Their frequent suggestions that I was an uneducated ninny probably had a great deal to do with my offer.
Father’s initial response set off an immediate argument. ‘Why do I need that nonsense?’ I demanded. ‘Can’t you just tell me what I need to know? Why do I have to learn how to read?’
He was diplomatic enough not to laugh in my face. Then he patiently explained why I absolutely had to be able to read. ‘The sum of human knowledge is there, Pol,’ he concluded, pointing at all the books and scrolls lining the walls of the tower. ‘You’re going to need it.’