‘It keeps the weather off us,’ she replied indifferently. Luana wore a plain grey dress, and her hair was pulled back into a severe bun at the back of her head. The fact that she was so profoundly cross-eyed must have shaped her entire life. She’d never married, and probably never would, and, though she was neat, she made no attempt to make herself attractive. It hadn’t been so long ago that I’d been ‘ugly’ myself that I’d forgotten how it felt.
‘Does your father have those “spells” very often?’ I asked her, broaching the subject rather carefully.
‘All the time,’ she said. ‘Sometimes he goes on like that for hours.’
‘Does he ever repeat himself?’
‘That’s what makes it so tiresome, Lady Polgara. I’ve heard those “speeches” of his so many times that I could probably recite them myself – not that I really have to.’
‘I didn’t quite follow that, Luana.’
‘There are certain words that set him off. If I say ‘table’, I’ll get one speech – that I’ve already heard a dozen times. If I say ‘window’, I’ll get another – that I’ve also heard more often than I care to remember.’
We were safe! Mother had been right! Luana could call up the entirety of the Darine Codex with a series of key words. All I needed now was a way to get her cooperation. ‘Have your eyes always been that way?’ I asked her. I rather suspect that mother might have had something to do with that blunt question.
Luana’s face turned pale with anger. ‘I don’t see where that’s any of your business,’ she retorted hotly.
‘I’m not trying to be insulting, Luana,’ I assured her. ‘I’ve had some instruction as a physician, and I think the condition can be corrected.’
She stared at me – well, at her nose, actually, but I think you get the point. ‘Could you really do that?’ she asked me with an almost naked longing.
‘Tell her yes,’ mother advised.
‘I’m sure I can,’ I said.
‘I’d give anything – anything’. Lady Polgara, I can’t even bear to look in a mirror. I don’t leave the house because I can’t stand to listen to all the laughter.’
‘You say you can make your father repeat all those speeches?’
‘Why would I want to endure that?’
‘So that you can look at yourself without shame, Luana. I’ll give you some money so that you can hire scribes to write down what your father says. Can you read and write?’
‘Yes. Reading fills empty hours, and a woman as ugly as I am has a lot of empty hours.’
‘Good. I’ll want you to read over what the scribes take down to make sure it’s accurate.’
‘I can do that, Lady Polgara. As I said before, I could probably recite most of my father’s speeches from memory.’
‘Let’s get it right from his own mouth.’
‘Why are the ramblings of that senile old fool so important, Lady Polgara?’
‘Your father may or may not be senile, Luana, but that’s not really important. The speeches are coming from Belar – and from the other Gods. They’re telling my father and me what we’re supposed to do.’
Her off-center eyes went very wide.
‘Will you help us, Luana?’
‘I will, Lady Polgara – if you fix my eyes.’
‘Why don’t we take care of that right now?’ I suggested.
‘Here? Right in front of the men-folk?’
‘They won’t even notice what we’re doing.’
‘Will it hurt?’
‘Will it?’ I asked mother.
‘No. This is what you do, Pol.’ And she gave me some very detailed instructions.
It was not a surgical procedure. Balten’s tools hadn’t been quite tiny enough for that kind of precision, so I did it ‘the other way’. It involved the muscles that held Luana’s eyes in place and some other things that had to do with the way her eyes focused. The most time-consuming part of it was making those minute adjustments that eliminated all signs of her previous condition. ‘I think that’s got it,’ I said.
‘Pol,’ father said after Bormik had broken off his extended proclamation.
‘In a minute, father,’ I waved him off. I looked intently at Luana’s now-straight eyes. ‘Done,’ I told her softly.
‘Can I look at them?’
‘Of course. You have very pretty eyes, Luana. If they satisfy you, will you stick to your part of the bargain?’
‘Even if it costs me my life,’ she replied fervently. Then she went to the mirror hanging on the far wall. ‘Oh, Lady Polgara!’ She exclaimed, her now straight eyes streaming tears of pure joy. ‘Thank you!’
‘I’m glad you like it, dear,’ I told her. I stood up. ‘I’ll check with you from time to time, Luana. Be well.’ Then I followed father out through the door.
‘I think I’ll turn Hatturk into a toad,’ father muttered.
‘What on earth for?’ Then I frowned. ‘Can we actually do that?’
‘I’m not sure. Maybe this is the time to find out, and Hatturk’s the perfect subject. We’ve lost more than half of this prophecy because of that man’s idiocy.’
‘Relax, father,’ I told him. ‘We haven’t lost a thing. Luana’s going to take care of it for us. It’s all arranged.’
‘What did you do, Pol?’ he demanded.
‘I fixed her eyes. She’ll pay me for that by getting scribes to write down the whole prophecy.’
‘But some of it’s already slipped past us.’
‘Calm down, father. Luana knows how to get Bormik to repeat what he’s already said. We’ll have the whole prophecy.’ I paused. ‘The other one’s in Drasnia, isn’t it?’
He gaped at me.
‘Close your mouth, father. It makes you look like an idiot. Well, are we going on to Drasnia or not?’
‘Yes,’ he replied in an exasperated tone of voice, ‘we are going on to Drasnia.’
I smiled at him with that sweet expression that always drives him absolutely wild. ‘Were you going to hire a boat?’ I asked him, ‘or would you rather fly?’
Some of the things he said at that point don’t bear repeating.
The Gulf of Cherek is an Alorn lake in many respects. That’s largely because of the Cherek Bore, since only Alorns are brave enough – or foolish enough – to attempt a passage through that howling maelstrom. I’ll admit in retrospect that the relative isolation of the Gulf served a purpose in antiquity. It gave the Alorns a place to play and kept them out of mischief in the rest of the kingdoms of the west.