The eternal Tree was dormant during the winter months, but he was not really asleep. I could sense his drowsy awareness as I topped the rise and looked down into his protected little valley.
‘You’re late, Pol,’ mother’s voice noted.
‘I was enjoying the scenery,’ I explained, looking back at the single line of tracks I’d left in the newly fallen snow. ‘What’s Beldaran doing this morning?’
‘She’s still asleep. The Rivans held a ball in her honor last night, and she and Iron-grip were up quite late.’
‘Were they celebrating her birthday?’
‘Not really. Alorns don’t make that much fuss about birthdays. Actually they were celebrating her condition.’
‘She’s going to have a baby.’
‘Your sister’s pregnant, Polgara.’
‘Why didn’t you tell me?’
‘I just did.’
‘I meant, why didn’t you tell me earlier?’
‘What for? She’s mated now, and mated females produce young ones. I thought you knew all about that.’
I threw up my hands in exasperation. Sometimes mother’s attitude toward life drove me absolutely wild.
‘I don’t know that you need to tell him about this. He’d start getting curious about how you came to find out about it. It’s easier just to keep quiet about these things than it is to invent stories. I think we should concentrate on something new this morning. Humans have a very well-developed sense of the awful. The things that frighten them the most always seem to lurk at the back of their minds, and it’s not very hard to tap into those thoughts. Once you know what a man’s truly afraid of, he’ll cooperate if you show it to him.’
‘He’ll do what you tell him to do, or tell you things that you want to know. It’s easier than setting fire to his feet. Shall we get started?’
I was melancholy for the rest of the winter. Beldaran’s pregnancy was but one more indication of our separation, and I saw no reason to be happy about it. I sighed a great deal when I was alone, but I made some effort to keep my feelings under wraps when father and the twins were around, largely to keep mother’s ongoing presence in my mind a secret.
Then in the spring Algar and Anrak came to the Vale to bring us the news and to escort us to the Isle of the Winds.
It took us the better part of a month to reach the Isle, and Riva himself was waiting for us on the stone wharf that jutted out into the harbor. I noted that Beldaran had finally persuaded him to shave off his beard, and I viewed that as an improvement. Then we mounted the stairs to the Citadel, and I was reunited with my sister. She was awkward-looking, but she seemed very happy.
After they’d proudly shown us the nursery, we had a rather lavish supper and then Beldaran and I finally got the chance to be alone. She took me along the corridor that led from the royal apartments to a polished door that opened into those rooms Beldaran and I had shared before her wedding to Iron-grip. I noted that there had been a number of modifications. The hanging drapes that covered the bleak stone walls were almost universally blue now, and the golden lambskin rugs had been replaced with white ones. The furnishings were of heavy, dark-polished wood, and all the seats were deeply cushioned. The fireplace was no longer just a sooty hole in the wall, but was framed and mantled instead. Candles provided a soft, golden light, and it all seemed very comfortable. ‘Do you like it, Pol?’ Beldaran asked me.
‘It’s absolutely lovely,’ I replied.
‘These are your rooms now,’ she said. ‘They’ll always be here when you need them. I do hope you’ll use them often.’
‘As often as I can,’ I assured her. Then I got down to business. ‘What’s it like?’ I asked her as we seated ourselves on a well-cushioned divan.
‘Awkward,’ she replied. She laid one hand on her distended belly. ‘You have no idea of how often this gets in the way.’
‘Were you sick every morning? I’ve heard about that.’
‘Right at first, yes. It went away after a while, though. The backache didn’t come until later.’
‘I’m carrying quite a bit of extra weight, Pol,’ she pointed out, ‘and it’s in a very awkward place. About the best I can manage right now is a stately waddle, and even that puts a lot of pressure on my back. Sometimes it feels as if I’ve been this way forever.’
‘It’ll pass, dear.’
“That’s what Arell tells me. You remember her, don’t you?’
‘She was the lady who supervised all that dressmaking, wasn’t she?’
Beldaran nodded. ‘She’s also a very good midwife. She’s been telling me all about labor, and I’m not really looking forward to it.’
‘Are you sorry?’
‘About being pregnant? Of course not. I just wish it didn’t take so long, is all. What have you been doing?’
‘Getting educated. Father taught me how to read, and I’m reading my way through his library. You wouldn’t believe how much nonsense has accumulated over the years. I sometimes think the Tolnedrans and the Melcenes were running some kind of a race with absolute idiocy as the prize. Right now I’m reading “The Book of Torak”. The Master’s brother seems to have some problems.’
She shuddered. ‘How awful! How can you bear to read something like that?’
‘It’s not the sort of thing you’d choose for light entertainment. It’s written in old Angarak, and even the language is ugly. The notion of an insane God’s more than a little frightening.’
‘Totally. Mother says that he always has been.’
‘Does mother visit you often?’
‘Every day. Father tends to sleep late, so I go down to the Tree and spend that part of the day with mother. She’s teaching me, too, so I’m getting what you might call a well-rounded education.’
Beldaran sighed. ‘We’re getting further and further apart, aren’t we, Pol?’
‘It happens, Beldaran,’ I told her. ‘It’s called growing up.’
‘I don’t like it.’
‘Neither do I, but there’s not much we can do about it, is there?’
It was rainy and blustery the following morning, but I put on my cloak and went down into the city anyway. I wanted to have a talk with Arell. I found her dress shop in a little cul-de-sac not far from the harbor. It was a tiny, cluttered place littered with bolts of cloth, spools of lace, and twisted hanks of yarn.