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Belgarath the Sorcerer (Page 119)

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We all rose to our feet. ‘Good luck, gentlemen,’ Pol said gravely. Then the meeting broke up. The kings went across town to the imperial palace to advise Ran Borune that they were leaving, and then Cho-Ram and Rhodar rode west to swing around Kal Torak’s left flank to join their armies in the mountains, while Brand and Ormik of Sendaria rode north to join theirs at the verge of the Arendish forest.

Pol and I lingered while I had a few words with the twins. ‘Try to keep Ran Borune from getting hysterical,’ I told them. ‘If he loses his nerve at this point, we’ll be in trouble.’ Then Pol and I left the embassy, crossed the north bridge across the Nedrane, and went into a birch-grove to change form.

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‘I’m going to do something you aren’t going to like, father,’ Pol told me. ‘I have to use mother’s form during all of this. I’m acting on instructions, so don’t waste your time getting indignant.’

‘I’ll try to control myself,’ I replied. I knew a great deal more about what was going on than Ran Borune did, but there were still many things happening that I didn’t know about. It was probably just as well, I suppose. If I’d known everything, I’d have been the one going into hysterics.

The weather had begun to moderate – slightly. At least it wasn’t perpetually raining any more. The forces that had been building since Kal Torak had left Ashaba had reached their climax in the blizzard that had buried Urvon, but it would still take a while for things to settle back down to normal. The skies over northern Tolnedra and southern Arendia were still cloudy, and even though it was early summer, it wasn’t really warming up very much.

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Pol and I reached Vo Mimbre in the middle of the night, and we settled down on the battlements of Aldorigen’s palace. We waited until the steel-clad sentry had clanked past, and then we changed back into our own forms and descended to the dimly lighted throne room. ‘Why don’t you let me handle this, father?’ Polgara suggested. ‘I know Arends much better than you do, and I can explain things to Aldorigen in a way that won’t offend him. You just sit there looking impressive and let me do the talking.’

‘Gladly,’ I agreed. ‘Trying to talk with an Arend makes my teeth itch.’

‘Oh, father!’ Strangely enough, she said it almost affectionately.

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Dawn was murkily starting to peep through the windows of the throne room when the great doors opened and Aldorigen and his seventeen-year-old son, Korodullin, entered. Pol and I were sitting back in a corner, so they didn’t see us right at first. ‘He is a miscreant, sire,’ Korodullin was saying hotly, ‘an outlaw. His presence here would profane the most sacred place in all Arendia.’

‘I know that he is a scoundrel and a rogue, Korodullin, but I have given mine oath. Thou shalt not speak disparagingly unto him, nor offer him any impertinence whilst he is within the confines of Vo Mimbre. If thou canst not restrain thine ire, remain in thy chambers until he doth depart. He will be here ere noon, and he and I must speak of diverse matters concerning the forthcoming battle. He will be here under safe-conduct, and no man – not even thou – shall stain mine honor by word or deed. I will have thy pledge to that effect, or I shall have thee confined.’

Korodullin drew himself up. He was a handsome young devil, I’ll give him that, but his face was filled with anger, and it was frighteningly devoid of anything even remotely resembling good sense. ‘It shall be as my King commands,’ he grated out from between tightly clenched teeth.

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What was going on here?

I’d have eavesdropped a bit longer, but Polgara was already moving down toward the dais where the two were standing. ‘Good morrow, your Majesty,’ she greeted Aldorigen with an exquisitely graceful curtsey. ‘Mine agèd father and I have but recently arrived from Tol Honeth, and, though all bemused by the splendor of this most renowned of cities, have we come hither to consult with thee and to divulge unto thee certain information concerning that which hath come to pass which doth concern thee and thy realm most poignantly.’

How could she possibly manage to get all of that into one sentence?

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Aldorigen bowed deeply to her. ‘My poor city is honored by thy presence, divine Lady Polgara,’ he responded, ‘for thou, like the sun itself, do bring light and joy to all that thou lookest upon.’ If you give a couple of Arends a little bit of leisure, they’ll keep on exchanging involuted and increasingly complicated compliments for days on end, and once Polgara lapsed into the ‘thee’s and ‘thou’s, her good sense went out the window, and she became an Arend to her fingertips. I knew that I’d just be wasting my breath if I tried to hurry them along, so I pulled a small, tightly wound scroll out from under my tunic, sat down in a chair not far from the dais, and tried to look studious and preoccupied.

After about half an hour or so, during which my daughter and the so-called King of Arendia compared each other to suns, moons, rainbows, summer mornings, stars, eagles in flight, roaring lions, and gentle doves, Polgara got down to the point. She impressed the necessity of waiting for the signal to attack upon the witless Aldorigen by the simple expedient of repeating it over and over and over again, couching it in different similes or metaphors with each repetition. Gradually the light of understanding began to flicker, dimly, in his eyes.

‘Prithee, my Lord King,’ she protested, ‘I would not dare presume to give instruction to the paramount monarch of all this world,’ … and that went on for about another half-hour as the two of them tried to outdo each other in a cloying display of humility. Then, finally Pol got around to asking him what he and his son had been arguing about when they’d entered the throne room.

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‘The miscreant Asturian, Eldallan, hath besought me that I provide him safe-conduct that he and I might confer at some length on diverse matters of concern to us both in regard to the forthcoming battle. Methinks, however, that there is some faint odor of subterfuge in his request. Our battle-plans are clear, and they are not complex. There is no need for this meeting.’

‘The rogue hath seized this opportunity to spy out our defenses,’ Korodullin asserted hotly. ‘He is Asturian, and therefore a knave by definition. Should the battle exhaust us, Eldallan will descend upon Vo Mimbre with all his might. Moreover, since he is Asturian, it is well within the realm of possibility that he hath concluded some secret accord with Kal Torak to betray us at a crucial moment during the battle.’

I sent my thought out to my daughter. ‘You’d better head that off immediately, Pol. This entire alliance is teetering in the balance here.’

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‘Right,’ she replied. She looked at the two of them with artfully feigned astonishment. ‘I can scarce believe mine ears,’ she told them. ‘Are ye truly so timid? Is the legendary bravery of Mimbrates no more than a sham? Doth the antagonism of a few Asturian outlaws so greatly concern ye? Fie, gentlemen, fie! These womanish suspicions bring shame upon the both of ye!’

I almost choked. That wasn’t the way I’d have done it. If that was Polgara’s idea of the best way to smooth things over, she and I needed to have a long talk.

Astonishingly, it worked. She continued to berate them until she had them squirming like a couple of embarrassed schoolboys, and then she let the matter drop.

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Duke Eldallan arrived on the stroke of noon, and he had his daughter, Mayaserana, with him. The implications of that were obvious. He was offering himself and his daughter up as hostages as proof of his good faith. Rather astonishingly, Aldorigen got his point immediately. Mayaserana had grown considerably since I’d last seen her. She was almost eighteen now, and astonishingly beautiful, a fact that Korodullin noticed right away. Her beauty was only slightly marred by the fact that her large, dark eyes were as hard as agates.

‘I’ll get right to the point here, Aldorigen,’ Eldallan said briskly after he and his daughter had been escorted into the throne room under heavy guard. ‘You and I aren’t particularly fond of each other, so there’s no point in dragging it out. I’ve given my word to her Grace, the Duchess of Erat, that I’ll come to your aid when Kal Torak assaults your city, and I’ll do that. In return, however, I want your oath that when the battle’s done, my people will be permitted to return to Asturia unmolested by Mimbrate knights.’

‘Asturia no longer exists,’ Korodullin asserted.

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‘Come up to our forest and say that, foolish boy,’ Mayaserana told him. ‘Mimbrate bones are turning green and mossy under every bush. One more set won’t seriously add to the clutter.’

They were getting along just splendidly.

Polgara stepped in at that point and badgered Eldallan and Aldorigen into exchanging oaths. Eldallan swore to take his assigned place beside the Rivans and Sendars on Kal Torak’s north flank, and Aldorigen vowed that the Mimbrate knights wouldn’t interfere with the Asturians on their way home. The entire matter could have been resolved by the Sendarian intermediaries, of course, but Eldallan had another reason for coming to Vo Mimbre. He broached it after he and Aldorigen had exchanged oaths. ‘It occurs to me that we’ve got too good an opportunity to pass up, Aldorigen,’ he said in an insolent tone of voice.

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