‘He’s probably enough,’ Beldin said. ‘Oh, he’s moved, by the way.’
Father nodded. ‘I’d heard about it. He’s supposed to be at a place called Rak Cthol now.’
Beldin grunted. ‘I flew over it on my way home. Charming place. It should more than satisfy Ctuchik’s burning need for ugliness. Do you remember that big lake that used to lie to the west of Karnath?’
‘I think so.’
‘It all drained out when Burnt-face cracked the world. It’s a desert now with a black sand floor. Rak Cthol’s built on the top of a peak that sticks up out of the middle of it.’
‘Thanks,’ father said.
‘I’ve been meaning to go have a talk with Ctuchik. Now I know where to find him.’
‘Are you going to kill him?’ my uncle asked eagerly.
‘I doubt it. I don’t think any of us – either on our side or theirs – should do anything permanent until all those prophecies are in place. That’s what I want to talk with Ctuchik about. Let’s not have any more “accidents” like the one that divided the universe in the first place.’
‘I can sort of go along with that.’
‘Keep an eye on Polgara for me, will you?’
‘I don’t need a keeper, father,’ I said tartly.
‘You’re wrong about that, Pol,’ he told me. ‘You tend to want to experiment, and there are some areas where you shouldn’t. Just humor me this time, Pol. I’ll have enough on my mind while I’m on the way to Rak Cthol without having to worry about you as well.’
After father left, life in the Vale settled down into a kind of homey domesticity. The twins and I took turns with the cooking, and Beldin spent his time browsing through his extensive library. I continued to visit the Tree – and mother – during the long days, but evenings were the time for talk, and Beldin, the twins, and I gathered in this or that tower for supper and conversation after the sun had gone down each evening.
We were in uncle Beldin’s fanciful tower one perfect evening, and I was standing at the window watching the stars come out. ‘What sparked all this curiosity about healing, Pol?’ Beldin asked me.
‘Beldaran’s pregnancy, most likely,’ I replied, still watching the stars. ‘She is my sister, after all, and something was happening to her that I’d never experienced myself. I wanted to know all about it, so I went to Arell’s shop to get some first-hand information from an expert.’
‘Who’s Arell?’ Belkira asked.
I turned away from the stars. ‘Beldaran’s midwife,’ I explained.
‘She has a shop for that?’
‘No. She’s also a dressmaker. We all got to know her when we were getting things ready for Beldaran’s wedding. Arell’s a very down-to-earth sort of person, and she explained the whole process to me.’
‘What led you to branch out?’ Beldin asked curiously.
‘You gentlemen have corrupted me,’ I replied, smiling at them. ‘Learning just one facet of something’s never quite enough, so I guess I wanted to go on until I’d exhausted the possibilities of the subject. Arell told me that certain herbs help to quiet labor pains, and that led me to Argak the herbalist. He’s spent a lifetime studying the effects of various herbs. He’s even got a fair-sized collection of Nyissan poisons. He’s a grumpy sort of fellow, but I flattered him into giving me instruction, so I can probably deal with the more common ailments. Herbs are probably at the core of the physician’s art, but some things can’t be cured with herbs alone, so Arell and Argak took me to see Salheim the smith, who’s also a very good bone-setter. He taught me how to fix broken bones, and from there I went to see a barber named Balten to learn surgery.’
‘A barber?’ Belkira asked incredulously.
I shrugged. ‘You need sharp implements for surgery, uncle, and a barber keeps his razors very sharp.’ I smiled slightly. ‘I might have actually contributed something to the art of surgery while I was there. Balten usually got his patients roaring drunk before he started cutting, but I talked with Argak about it, and he concocted a mixture of various herbs that puts people to sleep. It’s faster and much more dependable than several gallons of beer. The only part of surgery I didn’t care for was grave-robbing.’
‘Grave-robbing?’ Beltira exclaimed, shuddering.
‘It’s part of the study of anatomy, uncle. You have to know where things are located before you cut somebody open, so surgeons usually dig up dead bodies to examine as a way to increase their knowledge.’
Uncle Beldin looked around at the groaning bookshelves that covered almost every open wall of his lovely tower. ‘I think I’ve got some Melcene texts on anatomy knocking around here someplace, Pol,’ he said. ‘I’ll see if I can dig them out for you.’
‘Would you please, uncle?’ I said. ‘I’d much rather get that information from a text-book than carve it out of somebody who’s been dead for a month.’
They all choked on that a bit.
My uncles were interested in what had happened on the Isle of the Winds, of course, since we were all very close to Beldaran, but they were really curious about the two Prophets. We had entered what the Seers at Kell call ‘the Age of Prophecy’, and the Master had advised my father that the two Necessities would speak to us from the mouths of madmen. The problem with that, of course, lay in the whole business of deciding which madmen to listen to.
‘Father seems to think he’s found the answer to that problem,’ I told them one evening when we’d gathered in the twins’ tower. ‘He believes that the Necessity identifies itself by putting the words “the Child of Light” into the mouths of the real prophets. We all know what the expression means, and ordinary people don’t. At any rate, both Bormik and the idiot in Braca used the term.’
‘That’s convenient,’ Belkira noted.
‘Also economical,’ I added. ‘Bull-neck was a little unhappy about the expense of paying scribes to hover over every crazy man in his entire kingdom.’
It was during that time of homey domesticity that mother explained the significance of the silver amulet father had fashioned for me. ‘It gives you a way to focus your power, Pol,’ she told me. ‘When you’re forming the idea of what you want to do – something that you’re not really sure you can do – channel the thought through your amulet, and it’ll intensify your will’