The note my father left for us was characteristically vague about little things like destinations, equipment, and food supplies. Poor Beldaran worried herself sick about what our irresponsible father was up to, but there was nothing she could do. Father can evade the most determined searchers.
I was worried more about something else. My twin seemed very pale, and there were dark circles under her eyes. She coughed quite a bit and was at times listless almost to the point of exhaustion. I spent quite a bit of time with Arell and with our resident herbalist, who concocted several remedies for his queen. They seemed to help my sister a little, but I was still very concerned about the condition of her health.
Inevitably, Beldaran and I were growing further and further apart. When we’d been children, we’d been so close that we were almost one person, but after her marriage, our lives diverged. Beldaran was completely caught up in her husband and child, and I was involved in my studies. If we’d lived closer to each other, our separation might not have been so obvious and painful, but we were separated by all those empty leagues, so there wasn’t much opportunity for us to stay in touch.
This is very painful for me, so I don’t think I’ll pursue it any further.
After a month or so, father, Beldin, and I returned to the Vale and to the waiting Darine Codex.
It was late summer when we returned home from the Isle of the Winds. It’s nice to visit loved ones, but it always feels good to come back to the Vale. There’s a peace here that we find in no other place. I suppose that when you get right down to it, the Vale of Aldur is hardly more than an extension of the southern tip of Algaria, but I think that if you come here, you’ll notice the difference immediately. Our grass is greener, for some reason, and our sky seems a deeper blue. The land is gently rolling and dotted here and there with dark pines and with groves of snowy trunked birch and aspen. The mountains of Ulgoland lying to the west are crested with eternal snows that are always tinged with blue in the morning, and the starker mountains of Mishrak ac Thull that claw at the sky beyond the Eastern Escarpment are purple in the distance. My father’s tower and the towers of my uncles are stately structures, and since they were in no hurry when they built them, they had plenty of time to make sure that the stones fit tightly together, which makes the towers seem more like natural outcroppings than the work of human hands. Everything here is somehow perfectly right with nothing out of place and no ugliness anywhere to be seen.
Our fawn-colored deer are so tame as to sometimes be a nuisance, and underfoot there are always long-eared rabbits with puffy white tails. The fact that the twins feed them might have something to do with that. I feed my birds, too, but that’s an entirely different matter.
It’s probably because our Vale lies at the juncture of two mountain ranges that there’s always a gentle breeze blowing here, and it undulates the grass in long waves, almost like a sea.
When we returned home father seemed quite fully prepared to go into absolute seclusion with the Darine Codex clasped to his bosom, but my uncles would have none of that. ‘Hang it all, Belgarath,’ Beltira said with uncharacteristic heat one evening as the sun was touching the sky over Ulgo with fire, ‘you’re not the only one with a stake in this, you know. We all need copies.’
Father’s expression grew sullen. ‘You can read it when I’m finished. Right now I don’t have time to fool around with pens and ink-pots.’
‘You’re selfish, Belgarath,’ uncle Beldin growled at him, scratching at his shaggy beard and sprawling deeper into his chair by the fire. ‘That’s always been your one great failing. Well, it’s not going to work this time. You aren’t going to get any peace until we’ve all got copies.’
Father glowered at him.
‘You’re holding the only copy we have, Belgarath,’ Belkira pointed out. ‘If something happens to it, it might take us months to get a replacement.’
‘I’ll be careful with it.’
‘You just want to keep it all to yourself,’ Beltira accused him. ‘You’ve been riding that “first disciple” donkey for years now.’
That has nothing to do with it.’
‘This is ridiculous!’ Beldin burst out. ‘Give me that thing, Belgarath.’
‘Hand it over – or do we want to get physical about it? I’m stronger than you are, and I can take it from you if I have to.’
Father grudgingly handed him the scroll. ‘Don’t lose my place,’ he told his gnarled little brother.
‘Oh, shut up.’ Beldin looked at the twins. ‘How many copies do we need?’
‘One for each of us, anyway,’ Beltira replied. ‘Where do you keep your ink-pots, Belgarath?’
‘We won’t need any of that,’ Beldin told him. He looked around and then pointed at one of father’s work-tables which stood not far from where I was busy preparing supper. ‘Clear that off,’ he ordered.
‘I’m working on some of those things,’ father protested.
‘Not very hard, I see. The dust and cobwebs are fairly thick.’
The twins were already stacking father’s books, notes, and meticulously constructed little models of obscure mechanical devices on the floor.
My father’s always taken credit for what Beldin did on that perfect evening, since he can annex an idea as quickly as he can annex any other piece of property, but my memory of the incident is very clear. Beldin laid the oversized scroll Luana had prepared for us on the table and untied the ribbon that kept it rolled up. ‘I’m going to need some light here,’ he announced.
Beltira held out his hand, palm-up, and concentrated for a moment. A blazing ball of pure energy appeared there, and then it rose to hang like a miniature sun over the table.
‘Show-off,’ father muttered at him.
‘I told you to shut up,’ Beldin reminded him. Then his ugly face contorted in thought. We all felt and heard the surge as he released his Will.
Six blank scrolls appeared on the table, three on either side of the original Darine. Then my dwarfed uncle began to unroll the Darine Codex with his eyes fixed on the script. The blank scrolls, now no longer blank, unrolled in unison as he passed his eyes down the long, seamless parchment Fleet-foot had sent to us.
‘Now that’s something that’s never occurred to me,’ Beltira said admiringly. ‘When did you come up with the idea?’